Let's talk books: 'A Whistling Woman' by Louise Shivers

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Editor's note: Book club readers and local author Louise Shivers will meet Dec. 14, 6:30 p.m., at Friedman Branch Library to discuss "A Whistling Woman," Ms. Shivers' second novel. Leading up to the meeting, Chronicle staff writer Sarah Day Owen, outreach librarian Sherryl James and others are trading observations online about the book.

Their exchange will continue on this page in coming days, and readers are invited to post their own thoughts.

From: Sarah Day Owen

Dec. 2, 2009 10:47 PM

Here's what I thought:

I've found people are more familiar with Ms. Shivers' first novel, Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail, which I read before reading this book.

I liked A Whistling Woman more.

Though Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail has a deeper, more defined (and probably better written) voice in narrator Roxy, A Whistling Woman's Georgeanna is a more interesting character. As a reader, I found I could feel more for Georgeanna and her family than I did Roxy.

The mother, Chaney, is a selfless woman who wishes to save her daughter from the hardships she herself faced from earlier mistakes. Her secrets, which eventually weigh so heavy it pushes her to mental illness, are buried to spare her family.

Chaney is the driving force in this novel.

How do you compare the main characters in Ms. Shiver's two books? Georgeanna's voice?

What was your take on Chaney?

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Marigoldrule
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Marigoldrule 12/03/09 - 11:26 am
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Good morning,. This is Louise

Good morning,. This is Louise Shivers writing under my Suspense Novel name.
I plan to chime in from time to time.
I have to admit that A Whistling Woman is my favorite of the four novels ( two published , two not published yet) I have written.
Any questions?

dashiel
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dashiel 12/03/09 - 02:11 pm
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Ms. Shivers, It's an honor to

Ms. Shivers, It's an honor to have this opportunity to "chat" with an author I so admire. Thank you for doing this. I love your stark, vivid style. You speak volumes in few words, yet both of your novels convey a strong sense time and place. You transport us magically back to the Depression era in one book and just as believably you "channel" the Reconstruction period in this book. Is the ability to make settings come alive part of your gift as a literary artist, or is a lot of historical research involved?

Marigoldrule
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Marigoldrule 12/03/09 - 04:37 pm
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Thank you, dashiel. I always

Thank you, dashiel. I always write out of place ..then the characters grow out of the soil. My place is eastern North Carolina where I grew up.
i write from first person so that I become the character. "Channel" is a good word to use.
As for research, I can't do enough and I love it.My very first job was working in a library in my home town and I worked for years at "Main" here in Augusta.I want every word to ring true...and research helps makes that possible.
And i have a vivid imagination.

S_James
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S_James 12/04/09 - 09:33 am
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I could not help but make

I could not help but make comparisons between Georgeanna and characters in two other novels. Georgeanna although not to the manor born was very much Scarlett O’Hara. Georgeanna is a spirited and passionate child of the Civil War era. She and her mother are survivors; they make many critical decisions that insure their family’s future. Some of their critical acts are not necessarily based on passion or love but on their strong survival instincts. Georgeanna is not passionate about Willy, but she knows he will provide a stable home life for her and her mother. Chaney Weeks snuffs out her own passion for the minister in order to guarantee her family will survive.

The other character that I compared Georgeanna to was Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Georgeanna is as smart and observant as Scout. Georgeanna’s introspective moments are very similar to moments when Scout contemplates the acts of the people in her small town. Unfortunately, after she is bedazzled by John Fleeting her level of intellect drops off a cliff.

Marigoldrule
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Marigoldrule 12/04/09 - 10:41 am
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Dear Sherryl, LOUISE SHIVERS

Dear Sherryl,
LOUISE SHIVERS here, Thank you for your remarks. They let me know that you really got the point of the novel. I like to write about women who survive..by whatever means. I chose to call them "Whistling Women" You never know what is behind that whistle, or that Mona Lisa smile. Women know so much that they never tell.
I appreciate your mention of Scarlett and Scout.I hadn't thought of Scout but I did think of The Scarlett Letter.

S_James
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S_James 12/04/09 - 10:54 am
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The women have so many

The women have so many secrets that they bury deep inside rather than bring shame on their families. I was surprised Georgeanna told her husband about her son. I remember the husband replied that it was obvious that Wilkes was her son and not her mother's. If it was obvious to him it was perhaps obvious to the rest of the town--but nothing was said out loud. I find that southern novels reflect the polite, genteel flavor of the south through showing how southern folks are not confrontational. We know it--but we ain't gonna say it to your face--It just ain't polite.

Marigoldrule
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Marigoldrule 12/04/09 - 11:38 am
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Good point In real life I am

Good point
In real life I am not sure that Georgeanna would have told Willy about her child. I was trying to establish his character by his reaction. I loved that character and wanted her to love him.
In the front of the novel I put two quotations.
One was about "A whistling woman..' the other is this:

'Whoever tells the truth is chased out of nine villages"- Turkish Proverb

You said it..I grew up with that southern , especially small town thing: No confrontations

dashiel
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dashiel 12/04/09 - 04:25 pm
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Here y'all are! Sorry, I had

Here y'all are! Sorry, I had a little trouble finding this "book talk" today but am glad it's still happening. Ms. Owen, I think your comparison of the novels is astute & helpful. And Ms. James, I wouldn't have compared the young Georgeanna with Scout but see many parallels now that you point them out. I will tiptoe around the "plot spoiler" (for those who haven't yet read A Whistling Woman) which is a little like stepping around a ticking bomb, but suspect it must have greatly influenced the novel's structure. Withholding this terrible secret till the book's denoument must have been incredibly difficult, Ms. Shivers. As a result, Chaney comes off early on as a strong but not very sympathetic character. We forgive her her mental problems later on, but we still don't particularly "like" her. Then--remarkably--when you do reveal her terrible secret, we see Chaney in a completely different light! I will now remember her in heroic terms which I never would've imagined I could. Yet you accomplished this remarkable characterization in only a few pages. Was this the most challenging passage to write? And did you ever consider revealing Chaney's secret earlier in the story?

Sarah Day Owen
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Sarah Day Owen 12/04/09 - 04:30 pm
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You both brought up some

You both brought up some interesting points: Sherryl, that much of the critical acts weren't based on passion or love. It seemed to me like the acts of passion (Georgeanna's affair with the younger Mr. Fleeting, Chaney's secrets) moved the action into crisis that had to be survived.

What I'm curious to find out is -- did those experiences give them the strength to be survivors? Or did they have that strength all along?

It was an excellent mechanism that Ms. Shivers used to show who Willy was by Georgeanna's revelation about her son. Another pivotal moment was the passionate moment between Willy and Georgeanna after Willy catches Georgeanna talking to John.

How do you all think that changed their relationship, and why?

auglaney
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auglaney 12/04/09 - 05:04 pm
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I would like to know how I

I would like to know how I can buy a copy of "A Whistling Woman"?

dashiel
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dashiel 12/04/09 - 05:08 pm
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At the risk of sounding

At the risk of sounding mushy, I think Willy proves his love to her with both examples. In one instance he's sensitive and understanding and in the other his response is unmistakably alpha male. There's not a false note.

dashiel
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dashiel 12/04/09 - 05:18 pm
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That scene, at the old

That scene, at the old Fleeting place, proves and strengthens their relationship. It also puts it in context.

jwade100
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jwade100 12/04/09 - 06:04 pm
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Ms. Shivers, thank you for

Ms. Shivers, thank you for wonderful novel. I was extremely impressed with the survivor instincts within the characters of this book. Their ability to overcome obstacles with minimal options was inspirational. I am a very strong woman but, it made me question my ability to persevere, as they did given the circumstances.
Your writing style brought the book to life, as I was able to visualize every detail of the time period and surroundings.
I look forward to meeting you in person and discussing your inspiration for writing this novel.
I was wondering when your book about the Civil War will be released?
Again, thank you for such an wonderful novel.

Wilma Wade

Marigoldrule
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Marigoldrule 12/04/09 - 06:31 pm
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Well, thank you so much,

Well, thank you so much, Wilma Wade. Your thoughts mean so much to me. Writing is lonely and often frustrating. To have people like you care about the work makes us keep going. I look forward to meeting you at the library on the 14th.
'
To auglany: To buy a copy of the book I suggest you try The Book Tavern on Broad street. If they are out you can either try Amazon or wait until the meeting and buy a copy from me. Thank you for asking.
Louise Shivers

Marigoldrule
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Marigoldrule 12/04/09 - 06:34 pm
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Dear Dashiell, I am going to

Dear Dashiell,
I am going to mull over your question about Chaney.
I'll think about that tomorrow..for tomorrow is another day.

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