Monday, September 7, 2020

Sally Cole-Misch Interview - The Best Part of Us: A Novel

Photo Credit: Susan Adams Photography

Sally Cole-Misch is a writer and environmental communicator who advocates for the natural world through work and play. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, a master’s degree in environmental education and international water policy from the University of Michigan, and a certificate in fiction writing from Stanford University. Throughout her career, she’s focused on communicating our essential connection with nature—particularly the Great Lakes—and the role each of us can play to restore, protect, and enjoy all that nature gives to us. Sally lives in Michigan with her husband and son and enjoys hiking, kayaking, sailing, skiing, and gardening.


Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: She Writes Press (September 8, 2020)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 163152741X
ISBN-13: 978-1631527418


“Sally Cole-Misch’s novel is a lush and lovely homage to the natural places where her protagonist grew up. . . . The plot spanning past and present kept me enthralled and engaged throughout my reading of this exceptionally good book. The Best Part of Us is most highly recommended.” —Readers’ Favorite

“This is not just storytelling, it’s a lived experience. Sally’s description of the cold, crystal waters and magnificent landscape of the North Country is so vivid I feel as though I paid it a visit. The story’s depth and vivid characterization are unforgettable. At a time when we seem to have lost our way in navigating the human relationship with place, Sally has provided a true compass to help us find home. ” —Dave Dempsey, 2009 Michigan Author of the Year, author of ten books and renowned Great Lakes environmental policy expert

“With exquisite descriptions of Canadian lake and forest country and the Ojibway life rooted there, Cole-Misch expertly weaves the elements of those differing cultures, fraught but tightly bound family relationships, young love, old love, and the wonder of coming of age—at every age—into a luminous novel. The Best Part of Us is a beautiful story that will keep you up reading, and then keep you company for a long time afterward.” —Barbara Stark-Nemon, award-winning author of Even in Darkness and Hard Cider

“A story so evocative you can smell the lake and hear the loons. . . . The Best Part of Us draws in lyrical strokes the many shades of grief and the healing magic of place.” —Jenni Ogden, bestselling author of A Drop in the Ocean

“Place plays a key role in this novel, with an island in northern Ontario lovingly observed through the eyes of our protagonist, Beth. Troubles come in the form of her family’s attachment to the land and issues around who rightfully owns it—their Welsh ancestors or the Native peoples of earlier times—and the book raises and explores these important, contemporary questions with care and sensitivity. Their resolution is complicated—at once hopeful and messy, like all imperfect decisions. The Best Part of Us is a lovely, engrossing book about place, family, history, and cultural sensitivity.” —Angela Pneuman, award-winning author of Home Remedies and Lay It on My Heart

Tell us your latest news.
Like everyone else, life has been difficult and inspiring during the pandemic. The extra time with family has been lovely, and I’m grateful to live in a state where the governor set a high standard to protect everyone back in March. In spite of limitations to meet with others for the release of The Best Part of Us, I’m ecstatic about the thoughtful and positive reviews thus far from a wide variety of reviewers, media, other authors, and friends.

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
My education and work as a journalist and in environmental communications influenced what I want to write about, in terms of themes and settings. My professors in the Stanford novel writing graduate program influenced how I write -- how to switch gears from factual reporting to my imagination to create an entire world and characters that will resonate with readers. And my favorite authors provide continual inspiration for how to create images and emotions through the care they take in their writing.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Listening to readers’ responses to the story and characters is magical. The excitement in their eyes when they talk about a scene and how they interpret it makes every minute writing and editing worth the effort, and their thoughts help me to get to know them better as well. I appreciate every person who takes the time to read the novel, review it online and especially share it with others.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope The Best Part of Us will help readers to remember a special place or part of nature they hold close in their heart, whether it’s through family vacations, at national parks, or even just listening to birds in their own backyard or watching the vibrant colors of a sunset. I hope it helps them to consider the valuable and essential role that the natural world holds in their lives. After all, the physical and emotional benefits of spending time in nature are well documented: it feeds the soul, reduces stress, and makes us more aware of the world around us and within.

I also hope readers are absorbed into the setting and story and fall in love with the characters as they read, and that they live on in their hearts and minds after they’ve finished the book. And hopefully they find hopefulness in Beth’s story: that we can always choose to change our perspectives and lives to be who, what and where we are meant to be.

Your debut novel is THE BEST PART OF US, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it?
The Best Part of Us is the story of an American family who renew their bond with each other every summer on a remote island in northern Ontario. Their island is the hub of a warm community of vacationers and permanent residents, including Ojibwe families who live at the far end of the lake. Beth, the youngest child and protagonist, is an intrepid explorer. The landscape through her eyes and adventures makes it clear how important the place is to her, as important as her own breath.

When Beth stumbles upon Ojibwe relics and a healing wall on the island, the revelation brings issues to light: who owns the land, the tribe or Beth’s Welsh grandfather, who bought the island for a song decades ago? Can anyone really own a piece of nature?

After the conflict escalates and other events force the family to leave the island, Beth creates a new life in urban Chicago. She erects a solid barrier between the past and present, no matter how much it costs her -- until her beloved grandfather asks her to return to the island to determine its fate. Will she choose to preserve who she has become, or will she risk everything to discover if what was lost still remains?

The novel immerses readers in a breathtaking natural world, a fresh perspective on loyalty, and a renewed discovery of the essential roles that family, nature, and place hold in all of our lives.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
My son’s college baseball games pulled me away from writing a lot since we traveled around the country to watch them, as did a new, full-time job I started as I was trying to finish writing the novel. Fun and exciting distractions!

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
It would be interesting for Beth to meet Kya Clark, the main character in Where the Crawdads Sing, because they both have a deep love and devotion to nature but their two homes are very different in terms of the land, water, plants, animals and birds. I bet they would have a fun conversation comparing what they most enjoy doing when they are out in the wild.

What part of Beth’s character did you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed exploring Beth’s evolution from childhood innocence to her attempt as an adult to control herself and her life to preserve what sense of self she still had, to her renewed freedom and enthusiasm for life when she returned to the place where she is most at home.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
That the characters created themselves over time was surprising and enthralling. I wrote outlines for the characters before I started the book, but different personality traits took over as the story advanced in each draft. They seemed to respond to other characters’ actions and thoughts, to the point where I wasn’t always sure where a particular scene was going or where it fit in the book until after the twelfth draft. That’s when the pieces fell together, and I could see how the various storylines for each character wove together into a united story. Very fun to just keep writing and let the story evolve in its own time.

  • 1. Beth’s not sure when the fa├žade took over. She can sense them urging her back at holiday dinners: Taid with his sideways glances, Mike hugging her at odd moments, Kobi yanking her sleeves as if he’s trying to pull down the wall she’s raised between them. When the accumulation of tight smiles, controlled conversation, and going along to keep any semblance of family intact forces her so far inside that even Mike doesn’t recognize her.
  • 2. She knows he’s pulling Kobi into the conversation to reach her deepest regret—that it feels normal to her son to grow up in a grit-filled city of concrete and steel, the skyscrapers crowding together like a forest of silver spikes reaching for the heavens in a decadent illusion of grandeur. Around people who crave cramped coffee haunts where they suck each other’s energy dry through idle conversation and tight smiles, rather than open skies and full breezes that cleanse the lungs and soul. Where the constant hum of traffic and human activity whines in her ears and dulls her imagination, while Lake Michigan’s waves urge her to remember another world that’s alive and free just beyond her vision.
  • 3. The bright red sunset had evolved into a sparkling clear night with a hint of brisk air from the north. Millions of tiny beacons twinkled hello as Beth and Evan scanned the sky for their favorite constellations: Cassiopeia, the Ethiopian queen whose zigzag shape keeps her stuck on her throne; her king, Cepheus, who holds up his house with spindly legs; their daughter Andromeda, who reaches for her mother and father across the night sky; and of course Ursa Major, the Great Bear, the Big Dipper of the sky.
  • 4. Taid caressed Beth’s head with his burly hands and pulled her into a tight hug. “Two guarantees in life, pain and happiness. Sometimes one brings the other.”
  • 5. Glutinous fog hung over the lake, the low hum of fishermen’s boats trapped in its blanket. Beth opened the window a bit and lay down again. The damp air fingered its way through the narrow space and hovered above her until it collided with the indoor air’s tense voltage and dropped in a mist onto her face.
  • 6. It happened in an instant, but like every other momentous event in life, the actual seconds lingered.
  • 7. The whole fiasco felt like a massive boulder rolling faster and faster downhill, destined to send them hurtling into the water to be pinned forever on the lake’s floor.
  • 8. “Life happens so fast. I woke up a young man, at lunch I was middle aged, and by dinner I could imagine my own death, I long ago finished my wine, ale, and hors d’oeuvres, the main course was mostly a grand feast. Coffee has been served, and I hope for one last sweet taste of dessert.”
  • 9. Her heartbeat quickens as the trail’s angle turns steep. She reaches for the smooth silver beech and the white birches’ curled bark to pull her along, and stops to hug the wide trunk of the rare chestnut tree still holding court in the middle of the path. “Hello, old friend,” she whispers, grateful for the break to catch her breath, inhale the aroma of pine, fir, and cedar into her heart, and hear the chatter and caw of gray jays and gulls floating across the morning sky.
  • 10. Maybe everything had to happen for her to look in and remember that a place can be as much a part of her as the air she breathes, that it matters as much as the people she loves, and when she honors her own path is when she is truly home. That she can return to this lake, land, and air and to herself with the people she loves may be more than enough payment for the past. The moonlight glimmers off Llyndee’s Peak, the faces beam back at her, the stars dance in the sky. She finds Cassiopeia, Andromeda, and Cepheus, and smiles.
What according to you is your most treasured possession?
Sounds corny, but the memories I’ve had the fortune to experience with family and dear friends, most often outside, is my most treasured possession.

What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?
Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run at a stadium in Toronto on September 5, 1914. The ball landed in Lake Ontario and is believed to still be there.
Best date you've ever had?
My husband and I traveled to Europe after a particularly intense period in both of our jobs, when we were in our early thirties. We didn’t have a lot of money but made the most of every place we visited -- a long, enchanting date!

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
I agree with Alfred Lord Tennyson -- love and heart break.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
My family drove from Michigan to southern California one summer, when I was in my early teens. We stopped at every national park and corny American tourist trap along the way, and the trip opened my eyes to the country’s beauty and its variety of cultures and lifestyles.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
Like most American women, I’ve balanced marriage, motherhood, a full-time job and life’s continual responsibilities in varying degrees of success and calamitous failure, while still trying to stay true to who I am and strive to be. The calamitous moments could make a fairly silly comedy.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
My father’s passing changed everything in my life, in sad and amazing ways. He died suddenly and much younger than expected, but I’m grateful that he was able to get to know his grandson, and that my consideration of what it means to be alive has changed in every possible way.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I wrote about a woman who must decide whether to save herself and her connection with nature in order to explore the same choice humanity faces -- for Earth will survive and heal over time, but our values and actions will determine whether humans and other species can as well. I fear for the impacts that the rapidly changing climate will have on all species, especially those who do nothing to cause climate change, and whether we will do enough, soon enough to slow these impacts.

What was the best memory you ever had as a writer?
As an environmental communicator, I’ve enjoyed the gratification that comes from helping others understand the impacts our daily lives have on the planet, and seeing the positive steps they take as a result to change those habits. As an author, the feeling when imagination and the characters take over the story is exciting, like you’re able to transport yourself into their world.

Beth cherished her childhood summers on a pristine northern Canadian lake, where she reveled in the sweet smell of dew on early morning hikes, the loons’ evening trills across the lake’s many bays, every brush stroke of her brother’s paintings celebrating their cherished place, and their grandfather’s laughter as he welcomed neighbors to their annual Welsh harvest celebration. Theirs was an unshakeable bond with nature, family, and friends, renewed every summer on their island of granite and pines.

But that bond was threatened and then torn apart, first as rights to their island were questioned and then by nature itself, and the family was forced to leave. Fourteen years later, Beth has created a new life in urban Chicago. There, she’s erected a solid barrier between the past and present, no matter how much it costs—until her grandfather asks her to return to the island to determine its fate. Will she choose to preserve who she has become, or risk everything to discover if what was lost still remains?

The Best Part of Us will immerse readers in a breathtaking natural world, a fresh perspective on loyalty, and an exquisite ode to the essential roles that family, nature, and place hold in all of our lives.

You can purchase The Best Part of Us: A Novel at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you SALLY COLE-MISCH for making this giveaway possible.
5 Winners will receive a Copy of THE BEST PART OF US by Sally Cole-Misch.
1 Winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card
SEPTEMBER 13th SUNDAY Author Kelly Riser REVIEW 


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