Tuesday, July 29, 2014

**GIVEAWAY** Interview with Elaine Hussey - The Oleander Sisters

I'm so happy to invite back to the blog Elaine Hussey who was here a year ago talking about her novel The Sweetest Hallelujah and is here today about her brand new just released today novel, The Oleander Sisters.
She's also offered two signed copies of The Oleander Sisters for a Giveaway, details below.
Congratulations Elaine and thanks!

  • ISBN-13: 9780778316435
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 7/29/2014
  • Pages: 352


An emotionally riveting tale of the bonds of family and the power of hope in the sultry Deep South

In 1969, the first footsteps on the moon brighten America with possibilities. But along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a category five storm is brewing, and the Blake sisters of Biloxi are restless for change.

Elaine has generously offered 2 signed copies of
The Oleander Sisters
Please use the Rafflecopter form below to enter
Thanks Elaine!!
Good Luck!

Read an Excerpt:

The girl came out of nowhere.
Cleo Churchill stamped on the brakes in her tiny rental car, gasping as the car swerved before coming to a jolting halt in the narrow little alley of a road somewhere deep in the twisting, ancient heart of the capital city of Jhurat.
For one panicked heartbeat, then another, she thought she'd been seeing things. The blazing desert sun was only then beginning to drop behind the ornate historic buildings, making the shadows lengthen and stretch. She'd lost her way in the tangle of old streets and one city looked very much like another after six months of traveling all around Europe and into the Middle East. And more to the point, there was absolutely no reason a girl should dive in front of her car—
But there she was, young and wide-eyed and startlingly pretty behind her flowing scarves, right there at the passenger window—seemingly unharmed.
I didn't hit her, thank God.
"Please!" The girl spoke through the car's open window, desperate and direct. "Help me!"
Cleo didn't think. The adrenaline of the near miss hummed through her with an almost sickening electricity, but she motioned toward the door, aware as she did it that her hands were shaking.
"Are you all right?" she asked as the girl wrenched open the door and threw herself inside. "Are you hurt? Do you need—?"
"Drive!" the girl cried as if pursued by demons. "Please!
Cleo didn't wait to find out before what. She'd escaped her own demons, hadn't she? She knew how it was done. She stepped on the gas pedal, scowling as she concentrated fiercely on the narrow road in front of her, which she dearly hoped led back out of this maze of ancient narrow streets that wound erratically around Jhurat's central palace, home to its governing sultan. Beside her, the girl breathed heavily and high-pitched, as if she'd been running.
"You're okay," Cleo said, trying to soothe her—or even herself. "We're okay now."
And then a man stalked out of the shadows, directly into the car's path, as if daring Cleo to run straight into him. She heard herself gasp out a curse, but her eyes were fixed on him as surely as if he'd demanded it.
He was tall and fierce, forbidding and uncompromising in the loose robes that marked him a local—a wealthy local—and did nothing at all to conceal his markedly powerful form. The sun was behind him and hid his face, but Cleo could still feel the weight of his stare. Like an impossible knot in her own chest.
He stood there in the center of the road, imperious and bold. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and waited—and it wasn't until she realized he wasn't moving that she also realized she wasn't, either. That she'd stopped the car directly in front of him as if he'd held up his hands like a police officer and commanded it.
When all he'd done was stare.
Despite herself, Cleo shivered. Foreboding. Fear.
And something else, maybe, beneath it, that she'd never felt before.
He bit out something ferocious in Arabic that made the girl beside her jerk in her seat as if he'd slapped her, and Cleo's stomach twisted.
This is not good, she thought.
"Get out of the car," he said then, his voice deep and autocratic, and it took a long, shuddering moment for Cleo to realize that this time, he was speaking directly to her. Issuing an implacable order in a language she could understand, right through the glass. "Now."
"Who is that?" she whispered, still unable to pull her gaze away from him. He was simply too mesmerizing. Too powerful.
The girl beside her let out a sound that was something like a sob, but far angrier. When Cleo finally managed to yank her attention away from the dark and dangerous man taking over the road before them, the girl's jaw was set in a stubborn line, and her mouth trembled. Making her look even younger than Cleo had originally thought she was.
"That," the girl said bitterly, staring out the front window at the man who still stood there, not moving an inch, as if he expected it to be nothing but a matter of moments before he was obeyed, "is His Excellency, the Sultan of Jhurat."
This was, Cleo realized dimly then, a great deal worse than not good.
"What?" she asked weakly, that thudding panic hitting harder, sending out shock waves. He didn't look like a sultan. He looked like some kind of warrior angel, sent down to smite and awe. She felt both smitten and awed, the sensations too hot and almost painful inside of her. "Why would a sultan—the sultan—chase you down an alley?"
"Because he is a demon from hell." The girl's mouth twisted. "He is also my brother."
Cleo swallowed, hard.
He stood there, waiting. And now she understood what that proud ruthlessness meant. What that thing was that emanated from him like a force field, rendering the whole city small and inconsequential beside him.
Cleo's mind raced, and for some reason, she thought of Brian then. Weak, lying Brian. Brian, who had humiliated her. Brian, who had said he loved her but couldn't possibly have meant it, could he? Brian, who she'd believed so completely when he'd never had even a shred of the intensity or authority the man before her simply… oozed.
The sultan jerked his head in a silent yet remarkably eloquent command to exit the vehicle.
And Cleo forgot about stupid, cheating Brian and the girlfriend he'd kept on the side for almost the entirety of their doomed engagement.
This was exactly the kind of thing she'd promised her parents back in Ohio would never happen to her, because she'd imagined she was too smart, or too cynical, to fall prey to scenarios like this. This was exactly what her mother and her hysterical aunts had predicted would happen if she did something so radical as explore the world by herself. She could practically hear the doom-and-gloom predictions they'd all shared with her whether she'd wanted them to or not, like a going-away present, as if they were whispering it in her ear from across the planet.
They'd begged her not to do this. They'd told her running away from her problems was only running straight into new ones. And now look what had happened.
The sultan waited. Less patient by the moment.
"Just drive over him," the girl beside her demanded. "Mow him down where he stands."
"I can't," Cleo said, except she found she was whispering. "I can't do that."
And everything seemed to slow down, as though the air was made of syrup and there was nothing but him. That man. The sultan. She shifted the car into Park. Beside her, the girl let out a frustrated noise, but Cleo's attention was riveted on the man at the end of her bumper. Still. Watchful. Ferocious.
Her neck prickled with a deep foreboding. With anxiety. With the sense of immensity, as if what she was about to do was already sealed in stone, as ancient and unmoving and inevitable as the venerable city around her, as the old streets beneath her.
As the man before her. The sultan of all he surveyed.
Who couldn't be weak, she knew somehow, if he tried.
Cleo turned off the rental car's ignition with a decisive click and then opened her door, ignoring the girl in the passenger seat as she got out and stood there.
The sultan moved then. He nodded at someone behind her and men in military uniforms appeared as if from thin air, surrounding the rental car, all wearing machine guns that dwarfed their bodies.
Cleo didn't understand a single word of the rapid-fire Arabic, all shouted back and forth in so many harsh and loud male voices, and yet somehow she couldn't bring herself to look away from the sultan as he continued to stand there staring back at her.
One of his men appeared beside her and held out his hand, making Cleo flinch. She glanced at him, then back at the sultan, aware then of how fragile she was. She felt it in ways she never had before. Fragile and exposed and frighteningly vulnerable.
And it was still better than how Brian had made her feel, two weeks before their wedding, when she'd come home early from work and found him on the living room floor of his condo with that woman.
The sultan said something, and she realized it wasn't the first time.
"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you," she said, and she hardly sounded like herself.
He paused, and she wished she had something more than this shadowy impression of his face. That the sun would hide behind the buildings at last so she could look at him without her eyes watering. So she could convince herself that he was neither as cruel nor as inhuman as he appeared while backlit like a god.
So she could tell herself that the twisting heat that knotted her belly, low and hot, was based on something more than the intuition she'd learned better than to trust.
But his voice, when it came, was as calm as it was deep, despite the tension she could hear beneath it, and for no reason at all, it eased her. Even as it set her on fire.
"Do you know who I am?"
A faint nod. "Give my man your keys."
An implacable order delivered in perfect English, with a crisp British accent to boot. Cleo knew she should ask questions. Demand to know what was happening to her, what he planned to do next. Instead, she simply obeyed.
She opened her hand and the man beside her took the keys from her palm, and the whole time she was lost in the will of the powerful man whose face was still in shadows before her.
Why couldn't she seem to breathe? Why did it feel as if the earth were buckling beneath her feet when she could see—because no one else was reacting to it, no one else was moving, the car was solid and unmoving beside her—that it was only happening inside of her?
Everything seemed to stretch out, slow and taut, but then the car engine turned over beside her, the men and the car and the angry girl disappeared after a brief consultation, and Cleo was standing alone in an alleyway in a foreign country with a man so great and powerful he held a title she'd half believed only existed in books.
He moved then, and she wished he hadn't. He was like liquid, a threat wrapped in poetry, athletic and menacing at once. The knot inside her pulled taut, red and hot. Cleo stood still as he walked in a slow circle around her. He held something in his hands and she realized it was the wallet she'd left sitting in one of the cup holders in the car. One of his men must have—
"Eyes on me," he ordered her, his voice a silken command.
And when she jerked her attention back up from her wallet to his face, she could see it, finally. Could see him.
Beautiful, something whispered inside her, though he wasn't.
He was much too fierce. He reminded her of those remote villages she'd found in her travels, clinging to the sides of rugged mountains long days from anywhere, proud and breathtaking and unimaginably tough. He had thick dark hair and a poet's face made shockingly masculine by a warrior's cool, light gaze and the sort of tough jaw Cleo associated with soldiers and martial artists—and thugs. A blade of a nose. Faint lines around his eyes suggested he must have smiled at some point in his life, but she couldn't imagine it. He seemed carved entirely from stone.
He looked so masculine and so inarguably fierce it was almost as if he and soft, round-faced,nice-looking Brian were of a different species. She told herself that was why her heart beat so fast. Because he was the not Brian.
And because he really was beautiful.
"You are American."
It wasn't a question.
His gaze moved over her and she had to fight not to squirm. She was wearing dark trousers and scuffed boots beneath a loose-fitting T-shirt, and a dark jacket as much to cover herself in this conservative part of the world as to block the faint chill in the air, hinting at the coming fall night. She'd twisted her long hair back, but the long day had coaxed some of it down again, strands falling forward messily and making her feel much younger than her twenty-five years.
Cleo didn't want to ask herself why, exactly, she wished there was something more in his dark gaze then. Something to match that heat inside her.
He flipped open her wallet and looked inside. "You are a very long way from Ohio."
"I'm traveling," she said, and her voice sounded strange. Huskier than usual. Raw, somehow. "Backpacking."
She didn't want to admit that, for some reason. For a hundred reasons. But he lifted his gaze from her wallet and the license he was presumably studying, and she felt hot. Caught.
"Yes," she said, fighting to sound normal. "It's been six months. I fly home in two weeks."
And the truth was, she didn't want to go back. Not yet. Maybe not ever.
"Unless, of course, you find yourself detained," he said, as if he could read her mind.
She frowned. "Why would I find myself detained?"
"A prison sentence would be considered a lenient penalty in this country for a foreign national caught in the act of kidnapping a member of the sultan's family," he said, almost casually.
It was undoubtedly suicidal to scowl at this man. But Cleo only thought about that after she did it.
"I didn't kidnap anyone. Your sister ran in front of my car. Should I have flattened her beneath my tires?" She didn't remember herself so much as see that incredulous expression on his face, and she coughed once. Delicately. "I thought I was helping. And also not committing vehicular manslaughter."
The sultan stared at her for a moment, that incredulous expression shifting to something else. Something far more dangerous.
"What do you imagine my sister was running from?" he asked, and it occurred to her that his easy, casual tone was in truth neither of those things.
"Maybe you're marrying her off? To some ally or other?"
The day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon marked a summer where anything at all could happen. The brother you'd given up for dead in a war everybody hated could suddenly turn up alive, and the sister you'd protected all her life could finally be getting married. Any other woman would have been happy with the sudden turn of good fortune, but not Sis Blake. She was scared of happiness. Let too much joy seep into your life and you'd soon find yourself hunkered beside twisted wreckage wondering what you did to make everything turn out so wrong.
As if Sis needed any more evidence than her own history to tell her something awful was heading her way, the Amen cobbler cooling in the kitchen at Sweet Mama's Café gave off the scent of secrets, a spicy smell so sharp it could cut away everything you held dear.
Still, Sis kept her troubled thoughts to herself. There was no sense spoiling things for her sister. Emily was humming as she sliced into the cobbler, serving up hope by the spoonful.
"Eat up, Sis." Emily's face was radiant with happiness and heat from the ovens. "It's the best I've ever made."
Sis forced herself to eat so she wouldn't be the one who wiped the smile off her sister's face, and Emily went back to her baking and humming, every now and then glancing out the back café window.
What was she seeing besides a backyard lit up with red and blue Christmas lights, though it was July and so hot in Bi-loxi the seagulls abandoned the beaches along the Mississippi Sound and pecked at Sweet Mama's display windows trying to get inside where it was air-conditioned? Was Emily seeing a six-year-old son who needed a daddy? Was she seeing a little boy born out of wedlock and tagged with ugly rumors by a few vicious gossips Sweet Mama had run out of the café with a broom? Or was she seeing what Sis did, an endearing little boy in an outgrown Superman suit who was thriving in a family of women?
Even that worried Sis. Get too complacent and bad luck would hunt you down. The bite of Amen cobbler went down hard and sat in Sis's stomach like an accusation.
"I've gotta get going or I'll be late." Glad for an excuse to push aside the cobbler, she hugged her sister, then hurried out the door, climbed into her sturdy black Valiant and headed toward the bus station.
Sis whizzed along the beach road, replaying the evening two weeks earlier when Emily had walked into Sweet Mama's Café on the arm of a stranger and announced, "This is the man I'm going to marry." Then she'd gone to every table and booth to show off her engagement ring, a stone so big it was bound to be a cubic zirconia.
Many of the diners were regulars who had watched Emily grow up, mostly at the café, shielded by the wide skirts and fierce heart of Sweet Mama. They knew how Mark Jones had gotten her pregnant, then run off to join the army to get out of marrying her, and they were happy she'd finally found somebody who would love her back.
Sis tried to be, too, but she was not the kind of woman to be swept off her feet. Emily's fiancé was handsome in the too-slick way that made her skin crawl. Every time Sis glanced at him, he was checking his reflection in the Coca-Cola mirror behind Sweet Mama's soda fountain.
Still, Emily had obviously seen something in her fiancé that Sis missed, so she'd trotted over to her future brother-in-law, determined to learn more about him.
"Larry, I guess you already know I'm the watchdog of the family."
"You don't do yourselfjustice, Sis." His smile was wide and easy, this pharmaceutical salesman named Larry Chastain, who had swept Emily off her feet six weeks earlier when she'd gone to Walgreens to get some Pepto-Bismol for Andy's upset stomach. "I'd call you Emily's guardian angel."
He oozed sincerity, and in spite of her reservations, Sis found herself smiling back.
"Tell me about yourself, Larry."
"Ah, the dreaded inquisition."
His smile was still in place, but Sis thought she'd seen a flash of irritation. Or maybe she was just looking for reasons to keep her trusting sister from racing to the altar with the wrong man.
"I'm blunt, Larry. Maybe too blunt. But I need to know my baby sister is going to be in good hands."
"I love your sister and make more than enough money to give her and Andy everything they want and need. Emily tells me you're a worrier, but rest assured, you have nothing to worry about, Sis."
Emily had walked up then and whisked him off to the kitchen to meet Beulah. It wasn't until they'd gone that Sis realized Larry Chastain hadn't told her one single thing about himself. She stood there looking down at the floor as if she expected to see a greasy spot where he'd been standing.
What was it about Larry that set her on edge? Sis hadn't been able to put her finger on the cause during that meeting two weeks ago, but driving along the beach road to pick up a brother who had received a Purple Heart, she wondered how Larry had managed to avoid the draft. The very idea of a draft dodger in a patriotic family where the men had served and sacrificed for their country made her want to snatch Emily up and run.
By the time Sis parked her Valiant at the bus station, she had to deep breathe in order to collect herself. It wouldn't do for her brother to see her in this shape. She adjusted the rear-view mirror in the off chance her reflection would show some magical transformation. Unfortunately, there she was—plain and chubby with a perpetual worry line creasing her forehead, and hair so curly it always looked like it had been styled by an eggbeater. Still, she tried to pat it into place, and even dug around in her purse to see if she could find a tube of lipstick, as if a little slash of red could turn back the clock. It had been two long years since she'd seen her brother, and she liked to think the sight of her would remind him of catching fireflies on summer nights and fishing off the pier and playing baseball in the backyard.
She turned up nothing in her purse but a wallet, a wad of tissue, two pieces of bubble gum and the stub of a pencil. Sighing, she pinched her cheeks, bit her lower lip to add some color and then put on a smile she hoped would make her look like a woman who had everything in the world she'd ever wanted.
As she stepped out of the car, Sis held out hope that her brother would be the one to turn her hornet's nest of worry into something manageable, a funny story they'd all laugh at a dozen years from now when Andy was graduating from high school and Emily was baking a celebration cake at Sweet Mama's. But Jim was leaning against the wall on his crutch, blowing smoke from a Lucky Strike into the humid evening air, his face as closed as a fist. "Jim. Oh, my God, Jim!"
"Sis," was all he said, and when she wrapped her arms around him, she understood that's all he could manage. His flesh had vanished from his bones, and with it the buoyant spirit that used to radiate from him in waves that made him almost hot to the touch.
Without another word, she led him to her car and headed back to the café. He stared at the Gulf as they barreled down Highway 90, the breeze from his rolled-down window blowing his yellow hair straight back from eyes turned as glassy and unseeing as the blue china plate Sweet Mama had picked to serve his welcome-home cake. Sis's hope flew right out the window. She imagined it sailing across the water like the favorite kite she'd loved and lost when she was six years old, before Emily and Jim were born, before their pink Victorian house across from the seawall became a place where a little girl had to grow up too fast.
"Jim, I know it must have been awful for you over there."
He didn't say a word, and who could blame him? Awful could hardly begin to describe it. The prosthetic leg he'd tossed into the car along with his duffel bag was a testament to the horrors he'd endured.
"If you want to talk about it, I'm a good listener."
"Give it a rest, Sis. I don't want to talk about it."
"That's okay. Maybe some other time."
That didn't seem likely. As she turned her attention to the radio, Sis tried to keep her despair from showing. She found a station where Elvis Presley was crooning "If I Can Dream."
Were there any dreams left in that car? Sis quickly switched to a station that wouldn't remind both of them of all they'd lost.
"You won't believe how Andy's grown. And Sweet Mama's still feisty as ever. She wanted to invite everybody in town to your homecoming, but I finally talked some sense into her. I thought it would be easier for you with just family."
Jim turned her way with a shut-down face full of sharp angles and shadows, then swiveled toward the window to stare at the water. Was he watching the whitecaps? Remembering Vietnam? Wishing on the moon?
"Do you want to hear about Emily's fiancé?"
"Not particularly."
"Well, you ought to. He's a jackass."
"They run the world."
"Not my world, not while I have breath."
Sis had been taking care of her family since she was fourteen and that awful accident took their parents. She didn't plan on stopping just because Emily was trying to outrun her past by racing toward the altar. And maybe that was Sis's fault. She'd always encouraged her baby sister to be the fairy princess in a fairy-tale world.
Sis took a sharp left in order to avoid Keesler Air Force Base. No sense giving Jim any reminders that the military had mowed the Blake family men down like ninepins, leaving only him behind to pick up the slack. Not that Sis held out any high hopes of that happening. A man who wouldn't even carry on a conversation about his family was as likely to see after their welfare as Sis was to have somebody stop her in the street and tell her she was beautiful.
Just look at the pair of them. She was an old sourpuss and Jim was still in the killing jungles somewhere on the other side of the world.
It was a pure relief to see the café, a fine, old building of moss-covered brick, reflecting the style of the Gulf Coast's Spanish history, shaded by a couple of hundred-year-old live oaks and lit up like a rocket ship on blast off. Christmas lights and silver tinsel circled the plate-glass windows where gold lettering proclaimed Sweet Mama's Café, and underneath in red was etched Home of the Famous Amen Cobbler!
Beyond the front window was Sweet Mama with her coronet of silver braids and a pearl brooch on her green linen dress, laughing at something Emily had said. That was a talent Emily had—making her grandmother laugh, making everybody around her smile. Everybody except Sis, who hadn't found much to smile about since she discovered she hated the idea of spending the rest of her life selling pies, Amen or otherwise.
The flush on Emily's cheeks could have been excitement or summer heat. With blond curls escaping from her pony-tail, she looked sixteen. A strap of her yellow sundress had slid off one shoulder, and the blue apron she still wore was dusted with flour. Even disheveled, Emily was beautiful.
Sis would never be beautiful, with or without a dusting of flour. She would never look sixteen, even if she could get her frizzy brown bob into a ponytail. She would never be the kind of woman men wanted to sweep off her feet.
Envy ambushed her, so unexpected she almost crashed her car into a live oak.
"Watch out!" Jim grabbed for the steering wheel, but Sis slapped his hands away.
"I've got it. I'm just excited, is all."
How could you envy the sister you'd dressed and fed and soothed at night with silly, made-up stories so she'd sleep with the lights off?
Perhaps it wasn't envy but longing fueled by the perspective of age. How could Sis have known at fourteen that once you set out on a path, it can take you so far from your dreams you'll end up at the age of thirty-four not even remembering who you once wanted to be?
She'd given up everything for her family, even her name. Beth. Nobody called her that anymore. Everybody just called her Sis, as if she were nothing more than the role she played.
The sign on the door of Sweet Mama's read Closed for a Private Party. There was nothing private about it, of course. Tomorrow, word would be all over town. Sweet Mama would tell the breakfast regulars, and Emily was too gentle to refuse details to anybody who asked. By ten o'clock, everybody in Biloxi would know that Sweet Mama had made Jim's favorite red velvet cake, and Emily had forgotten to take off her apron and Jim had refused to wear his leg.
There it lay on the backseat of Sis's Valiant, another piece of sand in her craw. What do you say to a brother just returning from the hell of Vietnam? Why don't you let me strap on your prosthetic leg so you'll look normal and Emily won't cry? Or do you just stand there with sand drifting into your sandals while Emily races out the front door, already crying before she gets close enough to hug her twin, the Gulf breeze blowing both of them sideways?
Maybe the Gulf was blowing all of them sideways, and had been for so long Sis didn't know what normal was anymore. She thought about a brother coming home broken and a sister smiling as she raced toward disaster. She thought about a life gone so far off track she didn't even remember the direction she'd been going.
Best not to think too far into the future, to simply put one sandy sandal in front of the other until she was standing in Sweet Mama's, surrounded by the smells of cake and pie and fried chicken and freshly cut tomatoes from Sweet Mama's prize crop, just standing there silent, gnawing on a chicken leg and watching over her brother and sister as she always had; watching as Emily laughed through her tears and Jim was engulfed by the ones who loved him best and would love him always, even if he never got his mind back from Vietnam and his leg out of Sis's car. "Aunt Sis! Aunt Sis!"
The TV perched on the edge of the serving bar was blaring wide-open. Andy sat so close he was crossing his eyes to see.
"C'mon over! They gonna land on the moon!"
For two cents Sis would get on that rocket ship with the astronauts. And she wouldn't care whether she found the moon or not. All she wanted was to be as far away from her current life as she could get.
Sweet Mama was relieved when Sis quit glaring over her fried chicken leg at What's His Name and walked over to join Andy at the TV. Why, from the look on her face you'd think What's His Name was a fly set to land on Jim's celebration cake and Sis was a flyswatter.
Larry Chastain. That was the name of Emily's new fiancé. Sweet Mama would write it down this very minute if she thought she could do it without getting caught. But Emily might see her and start worrying all over again about her for-getfulness. And Sis was bound to notice. That girl didn't miss a thing. And she wouldn't stop at calling Sweet Mama forgetful, either. She'd use the scary words senile and hardening of the arteries and dementia.

Elaine, Hi welcome back to The Reading Frenzy.
I love the cover of the new novel.
Tell us a little about the novel.
In The Oleander Sisters, I explore the bonds of family, particularly that of sisters of blood and sisters of the heart. I ask the hard question, How far would you go to save someone you love?

In the summer of 1969, the Blakes are in an uproar, and the weight of the entire family falls on Sis’s shoulders. Her emotionally fragile sister Emily, an unwed mother, is getting married; her brother Jim, wounded in body and spirit, is returning from the killing fields of Viet Nam; and Sweet Mama, the grandmother who raised them, is getting senile. Only the indomitable Beulah is left to lend Sis a helping hand and a strong shoulder.

One of the things I loved most about writing The Oleander Sisters was peeling back the layers and uncovering the Blake family secrets. There are many, and I hope you’ll enjoy discovering them and discussing them at your book clubs!

Speaking of the cover I’m always interested in the who, what and why of them.
Tell us how it was chosen.
My publisher, MIRA, has a fantastic team of editors, artists, and marketing experts who discuss the cover. They are looking for stunning visuals, sales appeal, and artwork that will capture the flavor of the story. Once the concept is committed to art, my agent and I get to take a look and add our two cents. It’s a heady process, coming as it does in the final stages before a book is released.

Elaine your last novel and this one are both set in the near past.
What was the catalyst of the year(s) this novel is set in?
The Oleander Sisters is set in Biloxi in the summer of 1969 between Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon and Hurricane Camille’s devastating sweep through the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I love the contrast between hope and despair, between finding dreams and losing them. I choose my time frames carefully. My settings are more than place; they impact the story in ways that allow me to test my characters, to rip away everything they hold dear and then discover whether they can rise again, stronger than before.

Elaine there is something really special about Southern Fried Fiction, they have a unique voice and pace to them.
Is it a result of nurture or nature, do you have to originate from the South to write like this?
I was born in the Deep South and grew up hearing the cadences of the Southern drawl and the colorful expressions that are unique to this region. The storytelling tradition is strong here, and was particularly so in my mother’s family. Like Billie in The Sweetest Hallelujah and Andy in The Oleander Sisters, I got my best information from eavesdropping.

I am lucky enough to have spent my entire life on the doorstep of the great Southern literary writers William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and the inimitable playwright, Tennessee Williams. I can’t imagine how I would give an authentic voice to The Sweetest Hallelujah or The Oleander Sisters if I didn’t have that background. Somehow the richness of my heritage mixes with the stories I tell. I am deeply grateful to call Mississippi my home.

Elaine you taught writing at the college where my son is a Fine Arts Professor, Mississippi State University.
Do you still teach?
No, I don’t. I loved my teaching stint at Mississippi State and would still be there if I could clone myself so one of me could teach and the other could write. 

Elaine you’ve written under several aliases.
Is this your last incarnation, do you think?
Oh my goodness, I hope so! And I’m glad Elaine Hussey is the one. That’s my real name, you know. I was born Peggy Elaine Hussey, then years later started my career with my married name, Webb.
Eating for two is fun, but writing for two, blogging for two, Face Booking and Tweeting for two, and going on book tours for two is not for the faint of heart.

Elaine you’ve been a published author for many years.
What’s different about you the author today vs. when you started?
That’s a great, thought-provoking question. I still have the same fire in my belly to tell a story. I still write with the same intense love of language. But the very act of creating more than seventy books has fine-tuned my writing skills. Too, this long career has given me the confidence to take risks in my writing, to dig really deep into the lives of my characters and mine the story for every nuance and detail.

Unlike many writers who carved a niche and stayed there, I’ve penned books in multiple genres. Each genre demands a certain set of skills from the writer. Though I now focus primarily on writing literary fiction, I still occasionally write comedic mysteries as Peggy Webb. When I am in that mode, I wade in the shallows and race along telling the story in a light-hearted manner, making myself laugh and hopefully creating a book that will entertain the reader.

When I write literary fiction, I dive into a deep ocean of creativity and meander along, uncovering the wonders I find. This type of exploration takes longer. It requires me to pay strict attention. And it leaves me utterly exhausted but absolutely exhilarated.

It also garnered me an invitation this year to become a member of PEN. I am thrilled. 

Elaine you’re also a talented musician. What’s been going on in your musical life lately?
Every Sunday I sing first soprano in the choir at First United Methodist Church in Tupelo, Mississippi. What a joy!

Though I once played piano for church services and the occasional local concert, I now play strictly for my own pleasure. Yesterday I sat at my antique baby grand, channeled the spirit of the original owner, a professional jazz musician, and challenged myself with some new blues arrangements of old spirituals by Mark Hayes. I played a few Broadway show tunes, too, and sang along.

Next week, my family will arrive from Florida and New Hampshire, and we will gather around the piano for a song fest. My son plays guitar and harmonica, my daughter sings alto, my oldest grandson plays ukulele, my youngest grandson plays piano, and my two granddaughters sing with the voice of angels.

Elaine thank you so much for being here today to let us into your life just a bit.
Will there be any events/signings for this release?
There will be a launch party on Tuesday, July 29, at Reed’s Gum Tree Books, a really great Indie bookstore in my hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. 4:00-5:30. We’ll be serving up refreshments and fun!

The following Saturday, August 2, 2:00 – 4:00, I’ll be in Barnes and Noble in the Barnes Crossing Mall, north Tupelo. I’m cooking up more fun with the great folks at B&N. Expect food and door prizes!

The fabulous Indie booksellers at Page and Palette have invited me to the Grand Festival of Books in Fairhope, Alabama, Saturday, October 4. Details TBA.

My publicist at MIRA is still working on events in between!

Thank you so much for letting me chat with you at the Reading Frenzy. I invite readers to visit www.elainehussey.com to read an excerpt and early reviews of The Oleander Sisters, as well as watch my video interview with filmmaker, Roy Turner.

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Elaine Hussey is a writer, actress, and musician who likes to describe herself as “southern to the bone.” She lives in Mississippi, where her love of blues and admiration for the unsung heroes of her state’s history served as inspiration for The Sweetest Hallelujah. Visit her at www.elainehussey.com.

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  1. Southern novels are captivating and unique. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

    1. you are so right traveler, it's a very unique voice

  2. I love these types of books because they are so interesting and fun.

  3. I enjoy novels that have that historic feel to them. 1969 surprisingly is a time I know very little about other than the really big events we all know.

    I do love the cover on this as well, it is gorgeous!

  4. Oh that sounds good. And oh my word yes I can't imagine doing entire social medias for two names. Eek!

    1. I know right Anna it's hard enough to keep our own name visual :)

  5. The interesting premises