Hi Deb and welcome to HJ! We’re so excited to chat with you about your new release, The Secrets She Keeps!
Please summarize the book for the readers here:
THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is about two sisters with troubled marriages who gather at their aunt’s now crumbling Nevada “divorce ranch.” Told in both past and present, it’s a story of love, marriage, female friendships, and the losses life sends our way.
Please share the opening lines of this book:
“She isn’t one bit sorry. Not right now. Not when she closes the door of that car and the window is down and there are crickets and millions of stars and miles and miles of open road.”
Please share a few Random facts about this book…
The novel takes place at a former divorce ranch. What is a divorce ranch, you ask? In the 1930’s-1950’s, when divorces were difficult to get, high-society women and Hollywood celebs stayed at such Nevada ranches to establish residency and secure a divorce in a state where one was easier to obtain. The six weeks at the ranch was generally a time of drinking, talking, cowboy-ing (wink-wink), and self-discovery. When I first heard about the ranches, I knew I had to write about one.
The time period is both the present day at the crumbling ranch, and 1951,the ranch’s heyday.
Please tell us a little about the characters in your book. As you wrote your protagonist was there anything about them that surprised you?
The main character of the novel is Callie McBride, a previously level-headed woman who, along with her sister, Shaye, suddenly flee to their Aunt Nash’s former divorce ranch. While there, Callie meets Kit Covey, a Bureau of Land Management cowboy who is managing a wild horse roundup near the property. The sisters’ present-day conflicts collide with the history of a group of women who were at the ranch in the summer of 1951, and with a particular secret their Aunt Nash is keeping about that time. The women from the past are all a little different, and each reveal their own particular views and experiences with relationships: Hadley is a strong caretaker, Veronica is bold and independent, Ellen is naïve and trusting, Lilly is drawn to what might harm her.
What surprised me about my main protagonist, Callie, though, was how romantic she turned out to be. She is “the practical sister,” and yet, after everything that happens, she may be the one who believes in love most of all.
What, in your mind, distinguishes this book from other books out there in the same genre?
Since the novel takes place in both the past and present, it’s historical, yet also has much to say about contemporary marriage. THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS explores our timeless struggles with love in a way that (I hope) is thought-provoking, humorous, and page-turning.
Do you think there’s a common trait or a je ne sais quoi that your protagonist must have?
I like my heroes/heroines to be complex enough to feel real. Kit Covey (who might be called the hero of the story), is the strong, silent type, but he’s also compassionate and communicative. However, I think the real “hero” of this novel is Callie and Shaye’s old aunt, Nash, whose own story of “true love” is the heart of the book, as well as the secret that brings past and present together.
Did any scene have you crying or laughing (or blushing) while writing it?
Since I’m too much of a book lover to give away anything that happens later in the book, I’ll choose an early passage. A scene that makes me smile comes shortly after Callie arrives at Nash’s ranch. Callie’s sister, Shaye, has just unexpectedly shown up, right after a band of wild horses has stampeded through the property. Both Callie and Shaye have supposedly come to help their aging aunt, who has lately been acting bizarrely, but both are there for their own reasons, too. The way Callie and Shaye immediately revert to their childhood selves is something I think is both funny and true:
She looked good. She’d lost weight. I guess weight was something sisters always noticed about each other right off. An unwelcome but permanent reflex of sibling rivaly.
“Oh my God! Those horses! I was in my car. I thought I might die in there.” Shaye dropped her suitcase to her feet, held her hand to her chest. “Did that really just happen? I gotta sit for a minute.” She grabbed my arm, pulled me down beside her to the hanging porch swing.
“Girls!” Nash said. “Don’t—“
Too late. There was a crash and a terrible clatter, and we were up and then we were down. Nash had her hands over her ears. Tex ran inside the house. Something hurt – my leg, my butt. Shaye had splinters in her hair from where the hooks had dislodged from the porch roof. I spit out a piece of sawdust from the 1930’s.
“What are you doing here?” we said at the same time.
“Jinx,” Shaye said. “I think I broke my tailbone.”
“Me, too. Jesus.”
“Don’t tell me. Mom called you.”
I looked at Shaye and she looked at me. I knew those eyes. I’d been looking in those eyes since the day she was born. We both had our mom clothes on. Shaye wore a PTA parent no-sleeve shirt and shorts, and those white tennis shoes you get at Rite Aid every spring, and I wore one of Amy’s hand me down tank tops and jeans, and we were a far cry from the girls in summer dresses we were years ago.
“That chain hit me in the shoulder,” Shaye said, rubbing her bare arm. I looked over my head. The wood above us was clearly rotted, and two new ragged holes gaped like frightened eyes where the hooks once were.
“Quit whining and help me up,” I said.
I don’t know what it was, but this made Shaye laugh, which made me laugh. It began as ordinary laughing, and then turned to the bent-over stomach holding variety. The two of us, Laura and Almanzo, back at the prairie in our mom clothes, it was beyond hilarity. What a mess both our lives were, too – I could barely catch my breath with the calamity of it all. “Jesus,” Shaye said. “God.” And then her little white Rite Aid mom shoe made a farting sound as she tried to get up, and this sent us over the edge again.
“Girls!” Nash barked, as if we were seventeen and had just come home drunk from a party. Poor thing – we’d come uninvited and now this. It was shocking the amount of trouble well-meaning people could cause.
If your book was optioned for a movie, what scene would you use for the audition of the main characters?
The two major scenes I’d choose are complete spoilers, so instead, I’d use the scene where Callie first meets Kit Covey. The dilapidated ranch is around her, and she’s out there doing one thing she can – working on a broken fence. Kit is also “mending fences” – the upcoming wild horse gather is taking place near Nash’s property, and Nash is outraged about it. When Kit sees that two new cars have arrived at the ranch, he drives up to make one, last attempt to explain the situation to avoid trouble. He meets Callie, and they talk for a while. Then:
Kit Covey laughed again. He took his hat off, wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He gave me a good look. I felt like I knew him from somewhere. That happens with certain people. You’re sure that maybe you went to high school together, but you didn’t go to high school together. Anyway, high school was years ago. Kit Covey was a grown man. The look in his eyes, and his broad shoulders made that clear. “I think a strong arm runs in the family,” he said.
“Yeah?” I smiled.
“It’s much improved already.”
He meant that fence. I hadn’t realized how much progress I’d made. I only needed to do another mile’s worth, but it was true. It looked kind of great.
“I might win this battle, but not the war. There’s a buffalo.”
“I saw him. I ran him off with a few choice words, but he’ll likely be back.”
“Well, thank you. I am trying not to use the expression ‘hell in a hand basket.’”
He reached into his open truck window with one arm. “My parents went to Nevada, and all I got was this lousy pamphlet,” he said, handing me one.
“I’ll pass this to my aunt.”
“She’s already ripped up one or two. This is for you.”
“We’d rather work with her than against her. Protests and television cameras make for a bad day.”
“I’ll do what I can,” I promised.
“Wait,” he said. He reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet. “This too. My cell, in case that woolly thug makes you nervous.”
Kit Covey. Bureau of Land Management.
“I appreciate that.”
I held the card as he nodded a good-bye. His tires kicked up a storm of dust as he drove off. The spinning column of it disappeared into the distance, and it made me feel a hundred things. Some rumbling desire for far-off places merged with a vague but powerful longing for the young woman I was before I met Thomas. That dust had made me thirsty, too, my throat as dry as a long-forgotten road. Still, I stayed there and watched that truck until I couldn’t see it anymore.
What do you want people to take away from reading this book?
That love, like those wild horses, is passionate, messy, unpredictable, and stunning. Also timeless, as are our problems with it.
What are you currently working on? What other releases do you have planned for 2015?
I just finished my next young adult novel, ESSENTIAL MAPS FOR THE LOST, releasing in April of 2016.
Thanks for blogging at HJ!
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Excerpt from The Secrets She Keeps:
This is the excerpt available online, which includes the brief Chapter One, and part of Chapter Two:
She isn’t one bit sorry. Not right now. Not when she closes the door of that car and the window is down and there are crickets and millions of stars and miles and miles of open road. For once, she is not the one making the careful, thought-out decisions that make her the practical sister, because there is no question that this is a mistake. This is a doomed mission of the heart, and Veronica May Fontaine says no life worth living is absent a few of those. Of course, Veronica May Fontaine had tipped back more than one Moscow Mule before she said it, and Nash’s mother had only rolled her eyes. By that time, Alice had heard it all.
But this night, no theory of love matters. No consequences do. There is a thin, yellow curve of moon in that big, big desert sky. The night air smells like dry grass and horse manure and summer. Nash is flying down that dirt road with her true love beside her, and she is filled with all the complicated themes of two people bound together by circumstances of fate – rescue and renewal, joy and fear, connection and inevitable loss.
She has made a promise. A vow. She may only be eighteen years old – Jack Waters called her Peanut before he stopped seeing her as a child – but you don’t grow up on a divorce ranch and not learn to take a vow seriously.
Honestly, though? It may seem terrible to say, horrible, a betrayal, but even the vow, the terrible night of it, the metallic smell of blood and the sound of thunder that wasn’t thunder but horse hooves, hundreds of them, has retreated in the face of this. This soaring. This rise in her whole body now, as they pick up speed and the ranch falls away behind them and there is only the sweet catastrophe of what’s to come.
Thomas washed his wallet by accident, and that’s what changed my life. He left it in his pants. My mother always told Shaye and me never to do a man’s laundry, but as I watched him spread out soggy receipts and dollar bills on the foot of our bed, I wished I’d never listened. He looked defeated. He was bent over this small, wrecked pile, and it seemed as if all the annoyances of living had suddenly caught up to him – the cracks in the cement and missed planes and calls to the cable company. Two minutes later, our marriage as we knew it would be hanging in some awful balance, but right then, I felt bad for him. I thought maybe he’d lived a life of quiet desperation, only I hadn’t known it. My mother – she ended up alone, anyway. She’d say that’s how she wanted it, but we were two different people.
It was Saturday morning, and I was still in my robe. I sat cross-legged on the bed. Thomas wore that T-shirt with the sailboat on the back, and his favorite old cargo shorts. I always thought he looked cute in those. Thomas was still a very good-looking man, no doubt about that. He was fit and strong, and that dark hair, well, even now it got to me, these many years later, the way it had that slightly-mussed mind of its own.
“Did it make it?” I asked him. The wallet looked battered and soaked, but also like it just had the ride of its life. Thomas set it up at an angle on the dresser. It was not any usual old day for that wallet. No flat, dull outing in a back pocket for that adventurous leather accessory.
“I hope so,” Thomas said. “It better have.”
He seemed to mean it. I was surprised he cared so much about it. It might have been a Christmas gift years ago, and God knows he could do with a new one. He never bought himself the things he needed. He still had coats from his college days, and he could go miles with the sole of a shoe flapping. He was smug about all the things he could do without. It could drive you insane.
“I think it’s okay.” He exhaled his relief, unfurled a photo from the small stack of wet paper in his hand. There you had it – we’d been talking about two different things, and to that I can only say No Comment.
He set the small square of paper on the comforter to dry. It was an awful picture of the four of us from the time of shoulder pads and high-waisted jeans – I’d forgotten how high. My hair was permed for the first and last time, and if you saw it, you’d know why. I did it at home from a box, and the curls were as tight as an Airedale’s. Thomas’ own hair was long in front, and he was wearing an Alpine sweater that worked so hard at being cheery, your heart went out to it. Amy and Melissa wore the dresses Thomas’ mother bought them just before cancer scare number one. I made them wear scratchy lace because we thought she was dying, but naturally, she wasn’t. Those kinds of people go on forever. I think we had the picture taken for free in the back corner of a J.C. Penney or somewhere like that; at least, we were in front of a cloudy blue background. It was the sort of photo they show on crime programs after someone’s been murdered.
“Look at us,” I said. Who knew if J.C. Penney even had photo studios anymore.
“I thought it was done for,” he said, before moving on, peeling away a sodden ticket stub and a Voter registration card. He held up the damp, noble face of Andrew Jackson, torn in half by the spin cycle. “Great. Terrific.”
“A little tape will fix that right up,” I said.
“What time is it?” He didn’t wait for answer. He leaned over to look at the clock on the bedside table. “Shit. I’m already late.”
He exhaled the frustration of the morning. I felt a curl of guilt for my wifely shortcomings. Thomas was the sort of husband who brought you a cup of coffee and made sure the snow tires had been put on, though maybe, too, you could always feel a sigh in there somewhere. Folding his socks wouldn’t have been such a big deal, though he probably would have lost a lot more wallets had I been in charge of the washing.
“How about if I go get her?” Amy, our daughter, was at the last Global Citizens meeting before her post-graduation trip to Costa Rica. The group was leaving in the morning. I should also mention what a good father Thomas was. He was even one of the parents who helped at the fundraising car wash. He did it for Melissa, too, a few years before. I wanted to be with Amy every chance I could get right then, but I can’t truthfully say I minded missing out on the jumping and screaming and sign waving of the girls on the street corner. T-shirts with glitter could get the better of me. Thomas woke up early, though. He said, Rise and shine, Sunshines! and made the rounds of the house, rousing us with the sock of a pillow. He put a baseball cap on over his tousled morning hair, and even got donuts for the kids on the way.
“I’m going! I’m going right now.”
“It’s no big deal. She can wait,” I said.
He had that look, the one he often had when he came home from work and it was an endless day of weighing what was best for whom, studying zoning laws and park space and the height of bus stop shelters, making decisions when there were no real right answers. He’d had that look quite a lot lately. Clearly, there was a greater thing on his mind. A greater thing that made all other things irritating intrusions.
And that’s when it happened. He palmed a sodden business card and crushed it into a ball. This alone did not make me understand that life as I knew it was changing before my very eyes. It was what he did just after that – the way he glanced up to see if he’d been caught. All it takes to unravel or undo is one lost stitch, one tiny tear, and that’s what that glance was.
You know way too much about each other when you’re married, that’s one of the problems. Another is that you know way too little. Still, I’d have recognized that look on anyone. On Shaye when we were kids, or on my own children, or a stranger, for that matter. Even Hugo. He had that same look whenever he tried to run off with someone’s Kleenex.
Our eyes met. Thomas dropped his away.
“Mack?” I said. It was my love name for him. I felt a little sick inside.
“What is that?”
“In your hand.”
He shook his head, as if I’d just been the one to do something disappointing. “Jesus, Callie,” he said. A Je-sus of disgust, drawn out to two syllables to underscore how irrational I could be.
More than anything, more than anything I wanted my life to stay as it was. I loved my life. I loved Thomas and our daughters. I loved my house. I loved that house so much. Sometimes, you’d put up with almost anything if it meant not losing that brick pathway you’d planted with perennials. It could get confusing. Whether you really did want things to stay as they were, or whether you just didn’t want things to change.
Thomas grabbed his license and a credit card and a few still-wet bills and he stormed out of our bedroom. The storming felt like something you’d see on TV. The boat on his back, Kailua Yacht Club, from the last trip we took as a family before the kids got too old for that kind of thing, sailed down the hall in a sitcom huff.
I didn’t follow. I didn’t ask him questions, or demand answers. Not right then, anyway. I kept the information to myself, as if I had a plan. That’s the thing about change. Sometimes you think it’s something that happens to you, when actually you’re right there, acting as its naive yet diligent assistant.
Late Sunday afternoon, we dropped Amy off at the airport. I wasn’t used to seeing her hair so short. She looked even lovelier, changed already, with her eyes shining and that enormous backpack on the floor next to her. Don’t worry, Mom, she’d said. I’ll be fine. I’ll be great! The group had all just graduated from high school, but the girls still snuck self-conscious glances into reflective surfaces, and the boys still punched the arms of their friends. We’d known a lot of these kids since kindergarten, and they mostly seemed their same selves, only larger. I remember when Sam lost his lunchbox and cried so hard he threw up, and here he was, with those same vulnerable shoulders. Amy looked back at us and gave a last wave, and for a moment it was like my heart had just walked off and I was left with a vacant body. For a second, I wasn’t sure what to do. I was at a total loss. Thomas and I just stood there together like we were college freshman just dropped off by their parents and assigned to room together.
We picked up some Thai food and watched a movie Thomas ordered. I had moments where I forgot all about that guilty look he gave me, until the ugly memory butted back in. My head spun, and then the hit of denial kicked in, as helpful and soothing as any sedative. I love denial; I admit it. It’s the best drug – plentiful, and free, besides. Thomas, scooping Pad Kee Mao out of a Styrofoam container, looked like old Thomas.
That night, after we turned out the light, the red digital numbers of the bedside clock stared me down. I tried to ignore it, but of all household objects, bedside clocks are the most insistent, more than beeping refrigerators and door alarms, more than kitchen timers and even blaring radios. It’s the strong silent types that get you.
“Are you awake?”
“If you’re talking, you’re awake.”
“I wasn’t talking.”
“I don’t want you to get mad, but I’ve got to ask you something.”
“Cal, what, it’s almost midnight.”
One of the digital numbers blinked, six to seven, and then stared. Okay, all right! I set my hand on the hill of Thomas’ hip. “Yesterday, when you washed your wallet… You crumpled something up.”
“I don’t remember.” His voice was clear now. It had lost the muffled quality of near sleep.
“I think you do.”
He sat up, then. Actually, he didn’t just sit up; he rose with a pissed off tussle of blankets, yanked the quilt to cover him. I could see the outline of his face turned to me in the dark, and I knew by the set of his jaw how upset he was. “Jesus, Cal. Really? Why are you going on about that again? Do you think I’m having some affair? It was a piece of paper.”
Should I have stopped there? Would that have ended it? Well, I couldn’t, because if it were nothing, I’d still be seeing the motionless curve of his body, the hump of him, under the covers. He would not have sat up like this, fuming now. He’d have stayed close to sleep, offering the tired explanation that would finally settle the matter.
“What kind of piece of paper?”
“A business card.”
“Do you think this is in any way reasonable? You wake me up after midnight to interrogate me about a stupid card from some, I don’t know what his name was, Jarret? Jarret Smith? Some guy, who came by the office offering financial services. Okay?”
“Okay,” I said.
He punched his pillow, made his feelings clear through fist and down feathers, and then dropped his head again. I knew he was awake, though. I had that heightened awareness that speaks of possible danger, the feeling you get after there’s been a wrong sound in the house, and you wait, just as I was doing then, to see if you might hear it again. After a while, there was the familiar rhythm of his breathing. He’d fallen asleep. But I lay awake for a long time, the glowing red numbers of that clock sending their steadfast message, telling me something I was sure I already knew.
Excerpts. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
“You don’t grow up on a divorce ranch and not learn to take a vow seriously.”
When Callie McBride finds a woman’s phone number written on a scrap of paper her husband has thrown away, she thinks that her marriage is over. Callie flees to Nevada and her Aunt Nash’s Tamarosa Ranch, where she’s shocked to see that the place of so many happy childhood memories is in disrepair. Worse, Aunt Nash is acting bizarrely—hoarding stacks of old photographs, burying a book in the yard, and railing against Kit Covey, a handsome government park ranger who piques Callie’s interest.
But Aunt Nash may prove to be saner than she seems once Callie pulls back the curtain on Tamarosa’s heyday—the 1940s and ’50s, when high-society and Hollywood women ventured to the ranch for quickie divorces and found a unique sisterhood—and uncovers a secret promise Nash made to her true love. Callie will come to see is that no life is ever ordinary. No story of love is, either.
Meet the Author:
Deb Caletti is an award-winning author and National Book Award finalist. Her many books for young adults include “Stay,” “The Last Forever,” and “Honey, Baby Sweetheart,” winner of the Washington State Book award, the PNBA Best Book Award, and a finalist for the PEN USA Award. Her books for adults include “He’s Gone,” and her latest release, “The Secrets She Keeps.” She lives with her family in Seattle.
My website: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook Author Page (where I’m very active): https://www.facebook.com/DebCaletti
Twitter (where I’m not as active): https://twitter.com/debcaletti