Thursday 10 October 2013

Shake Down the Stars by Renee Swindle blog tour


Piper Nelson is stuck. She can’t quite stay away from the husband she divorced. She isn’t always attentive to the high school students she teaches. And even she admits that she’s been drinking too much and seeking out unsuitable men. Piper’s mother, married to a celebrity evangelist, and her sister, who's immersed in plans to wed a professional football player and star in a reality TV show, are both too self-absorbed to sympathize with Piper’s angst. They tell her to get a grip. But how can Piper ever really recover from the blow she suffered five years ago, when a car accident took the life of her young daughter?

When Piper’s ex-husband announces that his new girlfriend is pregnant, Piper is forced to take stock. Realizing that it’s time for a change is one thing, but actually making it happen is quite another. And despite what she thinks, Piper can’t do it alone  Lucky for her, a couple of crazy, funny new friends are ready to step in when she needs them most and show her how to live and laugh again.


1. What was the inspiration for Shake Down the Stars?

I start with voice when I write.  I kind of let the narrator tell me the story.  Shake Down The Stars came to me over time. I was worried when I realized I was dealing with a woman who was dealing with a tragic loss. Five years before the start of the book she lost her daughter. But I didn’t want to write anything depressing and heavy--and added to that, I realized the narrator, Piper, was an alcoholic who slept around. I stayed with her, though, because I wanted to see if she’d find hope and happiness again.  I honestly didn’t know how it would end. I also loved her crazy family and friends and her smart voice, and the men in her life. By the end, I felt the novel was a gift, and luckily, people who’ve read it have really connected with the story.  Several readers and reviewers have said they both laughed and cried, which is the absolute best thing to hear.

2. Who is your favourite character in this that you most enjoyed writing about? 

I’m not trying to avoid the question, but I honestly like all of them for different reasons. I work very very hard on creating characters that move the scene and plot and who add elements of surprise so it’s difficult to choose one over the other.

3. What is your favourite scene in Shake Down the Stars?

I like the opening scene for personal reasons.  During an early draft, Piper, the narrator, was attending a party but hiding out in a room all by herself. Boring! I tried to write the scene a couple of more times with Piper’s sister walking into the room, but it wasn’t taking off.  After the third try a guy named Selwyn walked inside, he was short and funny and odd.  He and Piper could really riff off of each other and the novel took off from there.

4. Where is your favourite place to write? 

I’m lucky enough to have an office.  It’s a small room in my apartment.  I have a nice big desk and basically no distractions.

5. What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Be yourself. Write the story you want to tell and not the story you think you should tell.  Do your best to discover what you’re good at and run with it.  In the meantime, continue to hone the weaker aspects of your writing.  Read a ton. As you read, watch how writers set up scenes and use dialogue and all the rest.  Finally, find a way to make the process of sitting and facing your fears every day enjoyable.  I know that sounds nuts, but it’s such a long haul, the sooner you learn to become your own cheerleader and best friend, the better.

6. What are you currently reading?

The Returned by Jason Mott.  It’s beautifully written. It’s also New York Times bestseller and going to be made into a television show. We’re doing a reading together soon and I’m hoping his mojo rubs off on me!

7. Please describe Shake Down the stars in three words.

Hilarious.  Heartbreaking. Surprising.

8. Shake Down the Stars is your second book. Do you have any other books planned?

My next novel, A Pinch of Ooh La La, comes out July 2014.  Yay!


This time when we kiss, I find myself thinking about a certain activity that would help me relax
even more. I turn away so that he can no longer kiss my face. I then push his shoulders, nudging
him southward.
It doesn’t take him long to get the hint, and he begins to wiggle his way under the sheets like
an excited seal. He stops just before his head is about to disappear. “I’ve been told I’m the best
there is when it comes to certain oral delights.”
“You certainly talk a lot.”
He gives me a wink and disappears under the blankets. I’m feeling better and thinking that things just might work out, when there’s a tap at the door followed by Margot bursting into theroom without the prerequisite “Come in.
I immediately use my thighs as a vise, willing Selwyn not to budge. I then quickly tuck his
robe behind my pillow and rearrange the blankets into a huge mound over my knees, clutching a
second pillow to my chest for good measure.

“I can’t believe this weather,” she says. “Why me? Why today?”One good thing about narcissism: Margot doesn’t notice my erratic behavior for a second; nor does she notice the pile of blankets. Honestly, she’s just that self-centered.

“Haven’t you ever heard of waiting for permission before walking into someone’s room?” I
give my thighs a firm squeeze and speak loudly enough that Selwyn will get the point—Do not
move! He responds by surreptitiously lying flat on the bed and shaping himself into a motionless

Margot takes long, elegant steps across the room. She spent most of her childhood on the beauty pageant circuit and still moves as though balancing a book on her head. She soaked up every pretty feature from Mom and her father, and now serves as a perfect composite of the two: doe-eyed, high-cheek-boned, worthy of every double take she receives. I, on the other hand, took after my father: long-limbed and angular, with a wide mouth and deep-set eyes. No one has ever mistaken us for sisters—half or not.

She stands directly next to the bed and peers out the window. “I guess I shouldn’t complain about the weather when I have so much to be grateful for. I must be one of the happiest women alive.”
“Lucky for the rest of us, your humility remains intact.”

“Seriously, P, I’m truly grateful. Last night Curtis was so sweet. After kissing me all over my face, he fell down to his knees and kissed my—”

“Too much information! I keep telling you, I don’t need to know every detail of your sex life.”

“I was going to say he fell to his knees and kissed my hand, stupid. He proposed all over again.”

“How many times is the man going to propose?”

“As many times as he wants, thank you very much. I can’t believe how God has blessed me.

He’s handsome. Rich. Kind. What more could a girl want?”

“Intelligence?”She cuts her eyes.

I feel the troll give my ankle a shake. Message received, I ask, “So, what do you want, anyway? I was about to take a bath.”

“I wanted to talk. I’m a little down, I guess. I wish Grampy were here is all.”

She sits next to me on the bed. I worry briefly that she’ll catch on to the fact that there’s aman under the covers, but no surprise, she’s completely oblivious.

“I keep imagining how happy Grampy would be if he knew I was marrying the one and only Curtis Randolph.”

Margot’s father raised me from the time I was eleven. His father, Grandpa Wright, or Grampy, died two years ago. My own father, the deadbeat, left when I was barely two months old. He sent Mom money from time to time, but never with a return address. By the time I turned three, he’d disappeared altogether, turning Mom and me into characters from a Dickens novel. Mom worked two jobs, as a waitress and a sales clerk, but money was as elusive as that person you’ve always had a crush on but who never notices you.

After years of life on the poverty line, Mom met Charles Wright, Margot’s father. Charles was a banker at the time, and like some kind of economic superhero, swooshed in, married Mom, and moved us three rungs up the socioeconomic ladder. Margot was born a year into the marriage, and suddenly Mom had the life she’d always wanted: a man, a home, a little girl she could afford to spoil rotten. I, meanwhile, gained a sister eleven years my junior. Then, sometime while I was in high school, Charles announced that he’d been called to serve God. He started a church in a small movie theater, and now that same church is some one thousand members strong.

“I know you miss Grampy, Margot,” I say, “but you should be grateful that your father is alive and present in your life. Try to focus on that.”


Renee Swindle is the author of  Shake Down The Stars (NAL/Penguin) available now.
Her first novel, Please Please Please, was published by the Dial Press/Dell. Please Please Please was also published in Germany as Mehr Mehr Mehr and published in Japan.  Please Please Please was an Essence Magazine bestseller.
Renee Swindle earned her BA from UC Irvine and MFA in creative writing from San Diego State University. She lives in Oakland, California

Connect with Renee!


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