Friday, October 13, 2017

Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin

Among the Branded
by Linda Smolkin

Among the Branded  by Linda Smolkin

Author Linda Smolkin stops by today for an interview and to share an excerpt from her debut novel, Among the Branded. You can also read my review. This blog post is brought to you by Kate Tilton's Author Services.

What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life?
While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision - one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.
Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, Among the Branded explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs.

My phone pinged, and I grabbed it from my pocket. These days, I had to put all my reminders in the phone, or I’d forget to take care of them. Everything was in there. Change the sheets. Take Jack to taekwondo. Pay the bills. Water the plants. This time it was a more interesting reminder about our getaway.
We decided to take a short trip after dropping Jeremy off at college, and Jack would choose the place, within reason. For the past few months, we’d been so busy finalizing college plans, shopping for supplies, stockpiling food for Jeremy, and now it was Jack’s turn for attention. I cleared the reminder from my phone and asked if he’d made a decision.
“Let’s go to the Bahamas, to that resort in the commercials.”
“Sweetie, it’s hurricane season, and I can’t take that much time off work. What if we hit a few theme parks?”
“That’s boring.”
Sveta walked in, overhearing our conversation. “Since you like costumes so much, why don’t you go to Valor of the ’40s?”
“What do costumes have to do with it?” I asked.
“You were so good as Ripsie. Maybe you’ll want to reenact a war.”
I rolled my eyes. “You’re joking, right?”
“Only about dressing up. Jack would love it. They have World War II planes, tanks, all that cool stuff. And it’s near Jeremy’s college.”
“Mom, can we go?”
“Sounds interesting. But maybe something more relaxing?”
“You just said theme parks. How’s that relaxing?”
Jack had a point. He always had a point. He was twelve after all, and he was onto me like my expression lines.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Perhaps the best part of this book is the wonderful friendship between Izzy and Steph, not to mention the rest of her family. While the circumstances that brought them all together are tragic, the resulting relationships are priceless. The story also gets into interesting issues of personal morality as Steph struggles with her company's client and whether she can work with him and keep a clear conscience. This is a beautiful and fascinating novel that will keep readers hooked." ~ San Francisco Book Review
"Among the Branded offers something for everyone. The book reads easily and is well-edited, and the supporting cast of characters are interesting and believable. The story of Steph and Izzy will keep the reader engaged throughout, and without giving away too much, the story reaches a satisfactory conclusion while delivering a clear message." ~ Awesome Indies
"The plot is highly engaging, and the burgeoning friendship and connection between Stephanie and Izzy is both heartwarming and intriguing. The book touches on important themes, such as the bonds of family, the overlooked horrors of history, and the lessons they can still teach us today. Linda Smolkin shows off her storytelling skills in Among the Branded, and the power and gravitas of the story make this a successful and enjoyable tale." ~ SPR
"Really enjoyable; well-written, engaging, and page-turning from beginning to end." ~ Kirsty, The Literary Sisters
"Among the Branded is a feel good novel with a conscience. It was a quick contemporary read with a touch of the historical. The context is the Holocaust, but a big discussion throughout is whether you have a responsibility to tell your story, whatever it may be." ~ Christina, Tomes and Tequila

My Review
I received this book in return for an honest review.

By Lynda Dickson
Steph and Greg's oldest son Jeremy is off to College, and their youngest son Jack gets to pick the destination of their family getaway. He selects Valor of the 40s, a World War Two re-enactment event. There, Steph buys some old war-time love letters at a market stall. An extraordinary coincidence compels her to find out more about the person who wrote the letter. This leads to her meeting Izzy, who has a profound effect on her life and the lives of those around her.
More than just the story of a Holocaust survivor, this is a story of family, friendship, bravery, determination, and loyalty. The main characters are all likable and relatable, and we come to care for each of them. My favorite character is Jack, Steph's youngest son, who is compassionate and wise beyond his years. While there are a lot of seemingly irrelevant details, they all work to flesh out the characters and the plot. The epilogue, set two years later, wraps it all up nicely.
A feel-good, bittersweet read.

Some of My Favorite Lines
"Some people put a time limit on grieving, like a college exam you didn’t quite finish or an expired coupon you never got to use."
"I held back the tears, and before going into the studio, I looked up at the light in the hallway to intimidate them, to make them go back to their hiding place."
"But we couldn’t go around not having people in our lives because we were afraid we’d lose them one day."
"You need a sense of humor when you’ve gone through a life like Izzy’s. Makes everything better when you laugh."
"Sometimes when he looked out the window and didn’t talk much, I wondered if he was thinking of Diane. And when he made all his silly jokes, was it his way of masking the pain?"
"Life, whether good or bad, was etched on her face."
"My mom’s closet, organized and full for years, now had an empty space, like a grieving heart that makes room as memories fade to help us move on."

Interview With the Author
Linda Smolkin joins me today to discuss her new book, Among the Branded.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
Among the Branded is adult fiction, so it’s best for 18 and older.
What sparked the idea for this book?
When I’m not writing or editing, I’m always thinking up new book ideas. I knew I wanted to write a contemporary story where my main character, Stephanie, had to deal with a moral dilemma at work. So I thought: What if Stephanie found out something about her client that tested her beliefs? How would she handle it, especially if she didn’t own the firm? From there, I developed the story and it turned into much more. It also became about friendship and family.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
Definitely the idea for the novel; I always think of ideas; whether I can keep it interesting and fill the pages, is another story!
I think you've succeeded there! What was the hardest part to write in this book?
On an emotional level, it was writing Katherine’s part; she’s my main character’s mother. Without giving anything away, there are other scenes in the book that should have probably hit me harder, but I had a soft spot for Katherine. As far as writing, it was keeping track of everything because it takes place over several years. More than once, I printed out the manuscript and kept a running list of dates and ages by chapter to make sure everything lined up correctly.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope people are moved by the friendship between a few of my characters. One of my Amazon readers said, "the friendship between Izzy and Stephanie leaves you feeling good about the world", which really touched me. I also hope people understand there’s more than one way to mourn. Just because you joke or use humor to get through the day, doesn’t mean you’re not hurting. Also, the way Stephanie deals with her situation at work isn’t the way everyone would deal with it. As a writer, I wanted to make it realistic and not far-fetched. I wanted her to remember her choice affected other people.
I think it was perfect. Exactly what I would have done. How long did it take you to write this book?
Between the writing, research, revisions, and editing, it took over three years.
What is your writing routine?
My writing routine includes telling myself to do the best I can with the time I have. I work full-time as a writer, so I can’t write my novels during the day. It’s all done in the evening or on weekends. That’s why it takes so long! I’m in awe of those who get up at 5am to fit in their writing and authors who have full-time jobs and put out book after book, year after year. It takes a lot of discipline.
How did you get your book published?
I went indie. After hundreds of rejections, I decided to self-publish and let readers decide if it was a story they’d like to read. So far, the experience has been amazing, and it seems my book has resonated with many people.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Honestly, I wouldn’t listen to too much advice. Everyone’s experience is different. I would say, though, that there’s no right or wrong approach because there are many paths to publication. If I had to give advice, it would be to write what you want to write and put your heart and soul in it. If you want to be traditionally published, stay determined and don’t give up. If you’re going the self-publishing route, make sure you treat it like a business and, if you can afford it, hire an editor. You want someone to be honest with you and tell you if your novel still needs work.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m either taking my dog for walks, binge-watching Netflix, reading a good book, or drumming. My favorite hobby is drumming, and it’s great to put on the headphones and escape!
What does your family think of your writing?
They’re very proud of my accomplishment. My husband is always my first reader because he’s an avid reader and because he’s brutally honest!
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I had a great childhood, but my parents worked a lot. When I was nine, we moved to a small town in North Carolina. I spent most of my days riding my bike around the neighborhood and hanging out with friends. I spent a lot of time outdoors, but I also sat on the sofa for hours watching TV shows.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes, once I found a writer I enjoyed. I was completely hooked on Judy Blume books.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing poetry as a young girl, but when I saw my first TV commercial, I knew I wanted to become a copywriter and write ads, catchy headlines, taglines, etc. And that’s what I’ve been doing for most of my professional life. I started writing novels about ten years ago, and published Among the Branded this past May.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I’ve received some emails out of the blue from readers, and I always get emotional. One reader told me that she loved my book and was staying up way past her bedtime. Another reader told me she was totally engrossed in my book and loved my character Izzy. The fact that they emailed me out of the blue warmed my heart.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
If all goes as planned, my next novel will come out in Spring 2018. It follows three generations of women, their relationships with one another, and a secret that only two of them know. The story takes place over a few decades and a few locations, including Russia. I’m really excited to get it out into the world.
Sounds great! Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Linda. Best of luck with your upcoming novel.

About the Author
Linda Smolkin
Linda Smolkin always wanted to be a writer - ever since she saw her first TV commercial and wondered how to pen those clever ads. She got her degree in journalism and became a copywriter. Linda landed a job at an ad agency, where she worked for several years before joining the nonprofit world. When not in front of the computer, she’s behind the drums (slightly) annoying her husband, son, and their 70-pound dog.