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Monday 3 July 2017

ℚ Practicing Normal - Cara Sue Achterberg

Today we have the pleasure of meeting up with author to talk about Practicing Normal (, Fiction Studio Books, 336 pages), a Women's Fiction Novel.

"Practicing Normal takes a deep dive into the dysfunctional dynamics of a 'picture perfect family.' A compelling story about the beautiful humanity in the most ordinary of lives: from first love to a marriage on the downward slide to an unexpected family tragedy. Achterberg handles each thread with tender care and we can't help but root for every member of the Turner family." ~ Kate Moretti (a New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year)

|| Synopsis || Teaser: KCR Preview || Author Q&A || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||

A very warm welcome to author, blogger and dog-rescuer Cara Sue Achterberg; thank you for joining us on BooksChatter!

Here at BooksChatter we love music; do you have a music playlist that you used in Practicing Normal, or which inspired you whilst you were writing it?

"I love music, but oddly can’t write without silence. In fact, if there is music playing I’m completely distracted by it. I do find music inspiring, in fact one of my works-in-progress was spawned from a story told in a country song."
What was the inspiration for Practicing Normal?
"The idea for Practicing Normal came from a regular gripe from my kids as they’ve grown up.

We live on a small hillside farm on a rural road. While I believe my kids have benefitted from the woods, animals, gardens, and the lack of internet, there have been times when one or more of them have lamented that we don’t live in a normal neighborhood, especially at Halloween and on snow days. Most of my friends live in neighborhoods and I’ve been surprised by the fact that even so, they don’t really know their neighbors. In fact, I’d say that despite the fact that our neighbors are sometimes measured in miles rather than feet, we know our neighbors better than most as we’ve borrowed or lent equipment, tools and labor on a regular basis.

I wanted to explore the idea that just because a neighborhood or a family looks perfect (or ‘normal’) that doesn’t mean they are.

I’d say that the book didn’t turn out the way I imagined, but I followed it where it took me."
How much of yourself is reflected in this book, and how?
"I grew up in a neighborhood that was the equivalent to Pine Estates (for the 70’s & 80’s) and I think I channeled the kid I was. While I didn’t break in to anyone’s home, I certainly snooped and I knew what every family on the street was up to – the names of their pets, the cars they drove, and whether or not their moms were ‘nice.’ I loved being part of a neighborhood, playing Kick-the-Can at dusk and chasing fireflies across each other’s yards. I feel a little guilty that my own kids didn’t get that.

It’s inevitable that my own beliefs creep into my writing. I’ve never thought ‘normal’ was a circumstance to strive for and in many ways normal is relative. But there is a pressure on families, especially moms, to create the perfect home life. Kate is striving for that and yet it spins completely out of her control. I’ve been there. You do everything you think is right, and yet things go haywire."
The first thing that draws me to a book is its cover. Can you tell us about your cover for Practicing Normal - why you chose that concept and who the artist is.
"The cover was designed by my publisher, The Story Plant. We had a long back-and-forth over the image to be used, but ultimately agreed on the door opening with the lock pictured.

I LOVE the cover. I love the idea that you can see into the house, but it’s fuzzy so you don’t get the real picture. I was also thrilled to get blurbs for my cover from three authors I admire – Jacquelyn Mitchard, Kate Moretti, and Caroline Leavitt."
Why should we read Practicing Normal and what sets it apart from the rest? What makes your book unique?
"Hmmm….answering this makes me sound a bit full of myself, doesn’t it? You should read this book because it will not just entertain you (which it will, completely), but because it will make you think about what your ‘normal’ is and how well you know your neighbors, or your family for that matter. It will make you consider what it really means to love someone. Plus, there are some wonderful characters that you will fall completely in love with.

A few things that make it unique is that it dabbles in issues you don’t often see in fiction like depression in the elderly, Asperger’s Syndrome, and hospice care."
Can you tell us something quirky about Practicing Normal, its story and characters?
"I never model any of my characters after real people. I just don’t dare go there, plus real people are many times too unbelievable to use in fiction. I did, however, model the dogs mentioned in this story after two of my favorite foster dogs. My family fosters dogs rescued from shelters in the south, helping them to adjust to life in a home and then be adopted into forever homes. It’s heartbreaking to let some of them go, so I had fun bringing them to life in this story in a small way."
Who would you recommend Practicing Normal to and what should readers be aware of (any warnings or disclaimers)?
"I’d recommend this book to pretty much anyone. There are no warnings or disclaimers. I think we’ve all been part of a family and we’ve all had our own normal un-normed. And we all have a thing or two to learn about what it means to honestly love someone. I’d say it crosses the genres of general fiction, women’s fiction, and young adult."
If you could / wished to turn Practicing Normal into a movie, who would be your dream team?
"Wow, I’m the worst person to ask this question of as I rarely go to movies and wait for everything to come out on Netflix. Add to that my stunning ability to never remember names and well, I’m stumped.

If forced, I’d have to go with someone like Meg Ryan to be Kate (because I love Meg) and Ellen Page, at the same age she was in Juno to play Jenna.
As far as Everett, that louse? I guess someone like a Baldwin brother.

Directing though, that’s easy, Ron Howard. I always love his films."
What do you like to write and read about? Do you stick to a particular genre or do you like to explore different ones?
"I love to write stories that explore issues of the heart, and probably because I’m a woman and a mom, mostly those stories revolve around families. Women’s Fiction is my chosen genre. It’s also what I love to read.

Beyond that I love to write about animals. I write a regular blog about our fostering experiences (Another Good Dog) and have a manuscript, currently being shopped by my agent, about how our first fifty foster dogs affected our family. I’ve also written a rough memoir called, Cowboy Mom, about raising my kids while trying to break a difficult horse – the parallels and lessons learned. I hope someday to finish that project."
What is your writing process?
"I’m what you call a pantser, although recently I heard someone call themselves a ‘pantser with suspenders’ and I like that better. I don’t plot and I do mostly write by the seat of my pants, but I do a lot of research and thinking before I start my story – usually at least two months’ worth.

The research is sometimes just plumbing my own heart for gold, but with Practicing Normal, it meant reading several books written by hospice nurses, following ER blogs, talking to parents of kids with Asperger’s and reading books about it, and watching way too many youtube videos of breaking into houses. I also spent time surfing the web for information on elderly depression, suicide, drug interactions, and fire.

Once I sit down to write a story, I just spit it out as quickly as possible. I think Practicing Normal was on the page in rough form in about five or six weeks. And then the hard part starts – months and months (and sometimes years) of editing."
What is in store next?
"As I mentioned, I’m hoping to find a publishing home for my memoir, Another Good Dog, but I’m also at work on two women’s fiction manuscripts. One is very close to being finished and focuses on the aftermath of a texting and driving accident. The other is still pretty rough, but is the story of two young adults- one a waitress who has experienced nothing but heartbreak and the other an almost-lawyer who has just had his heart broken for the first time. It’s sounds kind of depressing, but it’s actually pretty quirky and fun. I’m enjoying it."
And as a final quirky thing, to get to know you a little bit better... do you have a pet or something that is special to you that you could share with us?
"HA! You should never ask me this question as I am surrounded by animals! To date, we have fostered nearly 80 dogs, so there are always plenty of dogs in the house, many times a mama and pups. We do have one ‘personal’ dog Gracie, three cats, three horses, and a whole bunch of chickens. I’ve included a picture of me with some of my foster puppies and one with my favorite foster dog, Frank (who is the main character in a children’s book I’m working on)."
Foster puppies!
Ha! That is exactly why we ask this question! :-D All answers received to date have been fab, and we love learning new and quirky things. However, we are also animal mad and they always melt our hearts :-D
Lots of cuddles to all of the dogs and animals in your life! And, of course thank you for sharing them with us! (tip: check out Cara's YouTube channel and her blog for more of these wonderful babies)

We are also very sorry to hear that at the beginning of June you lost your little fur-baby, Crash; you did the best for him, he was very lucky to have found you xxx

Practicing Normal
Available NOW!

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CMash said...

This was the first book I read by this author, but it definitely won't be my last. Such a good book!

Cara Sue Achterberg said...

I absolutely love this blog and your style! So incredibly awesome to see my kitty Crash on the site! You are beyond generous and so very kind. Thrilled to have my book featured here. Blessings on ya.