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Vera Jane Cook

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Member Since: Jun, 2009

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Back Story: Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough
7/24/2009 6:49:32 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

I did not grow up with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, though I read the book. Little Red Riding Hood was introduced to me at a sleepover, and if I remember correctly, I thought it was ďokay fun.Ē The stories in my childhood were stark, but always told with tenderness and humor. My mother was the quintessential story teller, very much like the main character in my novel, Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough. Mom was a showgirl and worked for Billy Rose in the 1940s. She had a bevy of fascinating characters in her past, with lives far more interesting than Grandmaís house, or an empty bowl of porridge to fill my young ears with. Surprisingly, my motherís chronicles of eccentricity, art scams and Mafia buffoons, remained and festered in my memory until I decided to write my first novel. It was then that those tales that had defined my youth as poignantly as acne, first crushes, menstruation and the heartbreak of my fatherís early death, dared me to find more fascination, pathos and hysterics in any other imaginary, fictionalized creation, than in my own family.

Once I started writing novels, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I had to write the history of my motherís outrageous reminiscences, but not as nonfiction. My novel is not a memoir. But I like to refer to it as making sense out of all the blarney. My motherís most poignant tales were mostly about my grandmother. She immigrated to America from Ireland in 1912. In my novel, I refer to her as Hannah. My Irish grandmotherís story was a sad one and my mother often cried when she told it. I wove together whatever I could garner from my motherís memories, especially how much my grandmother loved her piano. My grandfather came home one day and sold it. Nice guy! No one really knows what he did with the money but at least, in the rewrite, I gave him a purpose for his cruelty. Fictional granddaddy Wade became a bootlegger and invested the money in a distillery. Wade does eventually pay for his sins; he dies of asthma; he goes to sleep and dreams of his beautiful Hannah, breathes a bit too deeply, and like a blanket from God, Hannahís hair lies across his lungs. Revenge is sweet!

I grew up with bits and pieces of my grandmotherís painful life, and my motherís flamboyant one. Each woman was defined by a history they couldnít escape any more than I could escape being a teenager in the 1960s. My grandmother never knew the freedom of slacks or a world in which marriage is not altogether necessary. I grew up with a complexity of choices; my mother grew up believing that beauty was the only ace in the hole a woman had.

Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough is a family saga that pretty much spans the twentieth century. I like to think of it as a study of history and how the choices women make are often limited by the times in which they live. Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough tells the tale of three very unconventional generations of women. I needed to understand my grandmotherís youth in order to write the book, and I needed to revisit my relationship with my mother in order to end it. My main character, Vita, was created in my motherís likeness. Vita lives a glamorous life, one that puts her at the periphery of danger, exposes her to the eccentricity of cross dressers, the allure of easy money, the peril of art scams and the revenge of the Mafia. My mother gave me the material for the book, thereís no doubt about it, but my mother had a vivid imagination, so there is no way of substantiating the tales she told, and thatís a good thing, because for me, fiction is more fun than fact.

But there is always a bit of truth in fiction. While writing Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough it was important to both discover and appreciate my roots and honor the women who crafted me with their choices and their sacrifices. When I finally sat down to write my novel I wanted to tell the stories that were passed down to me by my mother. The Irish are great storytellers, always finding humor in the most macabre of subjects. I am, after all, a byproduct of this tendency. Iím also a survivor of imperfect heroes. I hope that both my mother and my grandmother will forgive the liberty I took in sharing the narrative, and embracing the ďblarneyĒ with all the heart I could give it.

Vera Jane Cook
Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough is Vera Jane Cookís second published novel. Her first book, Dancing Backward In Paradise, was published in November 2006. The book received rave reviews from Armchair Book Reviews and Midwest Book Reviews, as well as an Eric Hoffer and Indie Excellence award in the Literary fiction category in 2007. Vera's next book is a sequel to Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough, and will be published in 2010. The sequel, At the End of a Whisper, will be the contemporary culmination of three generations of women. Vera Jane Cook has completed five novels and is also working on a non-fiction book about getting creative in corporate America. Vera plans to give seminars on the subject. To learn more about her books you can visit her web site at To contact the author send an email to

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More Blogs by Vera Jane Cook
• Re-Published: Dancing Backward in Paradise - Saturday, December 08, 2012
• What Remains Behind - Sunday, January 29, 2012
• Believe it or Not - Thursday, January 19, 2012
• Amaleen Ison's Interview with Vera Jane Cook - Saturday, December 31, 2011
• On The Planet Corporate: Survival Through Fiction - Saturday, October 10, 2009
• Canine Characters - Tuesday, August 25, 2009
• So, Loved My Book, Right? Or Where to Really Put the Energy - Monday, August 10, 2009
•  Back Story: Hearts Upon a Fragile Bough - Friday, July 24, 2009  

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