Death by Roses by Vivian Probst with Interview and Giveaway

Today I have a unique title, Death by Roses by Vivian Probst. Please read on for my review, check out the Q & A with the author and be sure to enter the giveaway where one US winner will get a paperback copy of DEATH BY ROSES by Vivian Probst.

Death by Roses

A funny and unique mix that explores the afterlife and the choices made while alive, Vivian Probst uses multiple points of view, time jumps and a touch of possession to tell her story.
Mae Rose is, at best, a “difficult’ woman: selfish, a bit unconcerned with others, strong willed and possessed of an acerbic wit that is at times funny or flat, but usually imbued with a solid point.  Her relationship with her husband is most assuredly one of love, but tempered with the offhanded callousness so common in long-term acquaintances, while no great overt attempts are made to disparage one another, the moments of true tenderness are few and far between. Taking a chance, Art buys a dozen yellow roses for the first time in their marriage, as a ‘just because’ gift for Mae Rose, but hours later she dies in a pique, a la Elvis upon the commode.

Here is where the twists start: Mae Rose is given the ‘rules’ and they are clear. No Meddling. Her personality is incapable of following directions, and she is expelled, to find herself in the body of Mary Lee – a horror film writer and director who is refusing to give in to her illness without one more shot at the Oscar.  Another driven, headstrong and opinionated woman that is attempting to make fate and the world bend to her will, Mae Rose’s expulsion thrusts her into Mary Lee, and the two need to coexist and even cooperate.

The unique exploration of afterlife, Mae Rose’s arguments with God to allow her return to the earthly plain, and the last opportunity for the two women to learn and realize what is important keeps readers on their toes following each twist. Multiple points of view appear to narrate the strory: Mae Rose, Mary Lee, Mae’s widower Art, Mary’s nurse Gertie: all of which add a layer to the story, but with some choppy transitions and voices that aren’t always particularly distinctive, could be confusing if you aren’t following closely.  Some moments border on farcical, while others hold surprising depth, layered in nuances that explore ‘life lessons’ as they just as easily portray the fractured nature of ties to family and friends, there are plenty of moments that are laugh out loud funny, yet still carry that ring of truth that cause further introspection from the reader.

An interesting story that presents a spin on the “what happens when I am gone” question that many have: not approached from the more pious view, but a view that is human and all that encompasses: selfish, stubborn, heedless and close-mouthed, even as the true hearts of both Mae and Mary are ultimately revealed.

Death by Roses by Vivian Probst with Interview and Giveaway

Title: Death by Roses
Author: Vivian Probst
Published by: SelectBooks
Published on: 14 February 2015
Pages: 320
Rated: four-stars
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For the first time in nearly thirty years of marriage, Art McElroy Sr. buys his headstrong, disapproving wife a dozen yellow roses. Hours later he discovers her lifeless body seated on the toilet. Mae Rose McElroy's sudden death leaves a void in her family and in the entire Midwestern farming community of Fairview. It's a void Mae Rose will attempt to fill, herself, from the hereafter by meddling directly in earthly affairs.

Mae Rose's meddling leads to her spiritual expulsion from heaven, and she winds up in the body of Mary Lee Broadmoor (Scary Mary), a crusty writer and director of exquisite horror movies. Mary Lee refuses to succumb to stage-4 pancreatic cancer until she gets one final shot at an elusive Oscar. Like Mae Rose, who argues with God for a return to earth, Mary Lee pleads, from her Hollywood deathbed, for more time to complete her work, as her hospice nurse, Gertie Morgan, looks on.

The two women's spirits work together, and Mae Rose provides her host with a new script idea: a love story, based on her life! The script earns Mary Lee her coveted Academy Award, but the movie's release shocks and disturbs Mae Rose's family. They set out to find, and confront, the woman who has somehow co-opted, and publicly revealed, their personal tragedy.

Along the way, new love emerges as the reader meets a caste of crazy, eccentric, but highly memorable characters. "Death by Roses" suggests that relationships don't end at death, but continue until their ultimate purpose is achieved. The universe has every resource at its disposal to get the job done. It also has an amazing sense of humor.

A copy of this title was provided via Media Muscle/Book Trib for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Read a Q & A with Vivian Probst

  1. What inspired you to write Death By Roses?


It had something to do with my older sister’s death from Lou Gehrig’s disease, which had occurred six months before the story began.  I had grown up deeply introverted with an intense fear of death that never relented until I wrote this story.  Somehow, I think my sister’s passing started this story, as if she was telling me to relax, enjoy my life, and not take death so seriously. My older sister had always watched out for me. Perhaps, even now, from her heightened perspective, she knew how to help.


  1. Mae Rose’s pride and joy is her antique VW Beetle. Are you a fan of antique cars? What are your top three favorite models?


I am not a fan of antique cars—furniture, yes; cars no. I want maximum protection like airbags; navigation that tells me where I am and how to get where I’m going; full warranties, and many windows. A chauffeur would also be nice.


Our family, however, spent a lot of time inside VW Beetles as I grew up.  As a child in a family of six people, riding around the country in a VW Beetle was NOT my idea of a good time.  But the affection for VWs was prevalent and in tribute to my sister, who eventually owned a yellow VW Beetle, I couldn’t help but include one in the story. I didn’t understand the important role the VW would play until the story developed.


  1. Mary Lee Broadmoor, the screenwriter known as Scary Mary, interacts with her daughter in the complete opposite way that Mae Rose treats her own children. Do you think that Mary Lee has any regrets in how she treated her daughter Allie?


Mary Lee has masked any possible regrets inside her caustic personality.  Years of brutality toward her daughter and massive doses of narcissism make regret virtually impossible until Mae Rose’s energy “moves in.” My guess is that Mary Lee’s upbringing was pretty brutal and that her self-absorption was longstanding. After Mae Rose begins to notice Allie and admire her, Mary Lee appears to soften.  But I don’t believe she is able to face her regret until she passes into her next life and has an opportunity to explore her attitude toward her daughter.




  1. What was the biggest challenge while writing Death By Roses?


Keeping up with the story. Once it started, DBR wanted to take over my time in a more aggressive way than I could handle in time/space reality. I own my own national consulting business and life kept giving me this amazing work to do in the affordable housing industry so I could not always just “give in and write.” But I got the time I needed over the course of the five years that the story developed. I also believe that life knew I was not ready to be a published author back then—I had a lot of growing to do. So life took care of me during this entire time until the story was complete. But it was hard sometimes to share my life between my work, my writing, and my family. I’m still writing and facing that challenge but it helps to know that this story is complete and making its way in the world.


  1. Mary Lee finally writes a screenplay that wins an Oscar. How do you think she felt when she learned that the screenplay was based on a true story told by her muse, Mae Rose?


My sense is that Mary Lee understood that she was writing something that was real to Mae Rose from the very beginning.  Mae Rose and Mary Lee became very close and I’m sure they shared intimate details of their lives.  Mary Lee saw a great story and a chance for an Oscar—but she had to let Mae Rose write the script. I believe it was a mutual effort and that Mary Lee did not feel at all badly that the story was about Mae Rose’s family.  She cared only about winning an Oscar.


  1. When Art Jr. sees Allie, he falls in love with her right away. What do you think told him that Allie was his soul mate?


Most likely it was his mother’s meddling. Art Jr. was very much like his father in this way.  Love had to “reach out and grab him,” which occurred when he finally touched Allie for the first time but Mae Rose was on the scene and ‘turned up’ the desire he felt.  True love can occur in an instant and finding a soul mate can feel sort of like spontaneous combustion.  Love at first sight happens—it did to me when I met my husband, Tom and I have seen it happen to others.


  1. After Arthur’s sons learn he cheated on his wife Mae Rose, both John and Art Jr. react differently. How does this secret change the relationships in the family, especially between Arthur and his sons?


Both Art Jr. and John lose the innocence of youth when they learn of the affair.  Any illusion they have that their parents relationship was normal, even though they argued so much, dissolved when they found this out.  John was the emotional one who lived with his feelings on the surface; Art Jr., the older of the two, was more careful and perhaps responsible about his emotions.  Both boys had to face their differences as they processed their very private pain. Both refused to talk to their father for some time after they learned about the affair and each had to make their way back to their father on their own. I was touched by how the story resolved these feelings for both young men.


  1. Death By Roses features an intricate web of intertwining characters. Who is your favorite character and why?


That would be impossible to say. Each character endeared him or herself to me although, the toughest character for me to write was Eugene Gregory.  I fought him for quite some time and refused to allow his character to articulate.  However, I learned that no writer has the right to ‘diss’ any character who shows up.  To have left Eugene out the story would have changed an important dynamic that I did not understand until much later.


  1. How would you describe Mary Lee’s doctor, Eugene Gregory? How would you describe him after he meets Gertie?


Mysterious, secretly seductive, sophisticated and illusive.


Eugene has a secret problem that has terrified him from the time he was quite young. His parents do not understand—therefore they cannot help. So Eugene has to deal with this problem in the darkness of his bedroom and later in the bathroom after a patient dies.  He lacks any sense of being loved or being lovable.  Gertie changes that for him in ways that surprised and delighted me as I wrote.  He could have turned out to be a criminal; instead, he learned to face his fear with the help of a woman who understood him.


  1. Mae Rose dies while sitting on a toilet and causes a lot of embarrassment in Mae Rose’s afterlife. Did you consider Mae Rose dying in any other embarrassing ways?


No.  The story made Mae Rose’s death on the toilet clear from the beginning.  I resisted the idea at first but wrote it as it came to me. I then studied “death on the toilet” on the internet. It happens. I also learned early on to allow the plot and the characters to shape themselves.  It is true that I wrote the story, but the plot and circumstances came to me in ways that did not allow me to alter them in any way.  In the end, I understand why.


  1. Which character would you say carries the greatest amount of regret? Which character deserves a “do over” the most?


I believe that both Art and Mae Rose feel equal amounts of guilt and regret. Mae Rose’s death takes both of them into a new way of seeing what their lives could have been. But it is Mae Rose’s sense of duty to correct this that is strong enough to drive them back to each other. Yes, she tries to fix things on earth in inappropriate ways; she risks and loses Heaven in her effort to restore her relationship with Art.  But Art, in his own way, must also confront his guilt about the affair and suffers severely after Mae Rose dies.


  1. Why did you decide to use the VW Beetle as a symbol of Art and Mae Rose’s relationship? What did you like most about the car imagery for their relationship?


Art and Mae Rose had nothing in common when they met so there had to be something else that drew them together.  Mae Rose was reaching a spinster status when she met Art for obvious reasons.  Any man who knew her knew that she would be hell to live with.  Art and Mae Rose did not have a long courtship and their mutual interest in VWs gave them something in common that they thought was love and indeed, eventually changed both of them.


  1. Mae Rose and Mary Lee end up sharing a body after Mae Rose is “vanished” from Heaven and put into Mary Lee’s body. What do you think they learned from each other during that experience?


First of all, they learned about friendship and sharing—something that neither one was good at before.  They had to cooperate, which required them to battle through their differences.  As sometimes happens, once we get through the ugly part of an issue, we arrive at a place of cooperation and friendship and even love.


  1. Would you rather live in a small town, like Mae Rose did, or in a busy city, like Mary Lee?


I’m a devout introvert even though I love to spend time with people and have a consulting business that puts me in front of audiences for hours at a time.  But it is in my retreat time that I nurture myself and find my creative energy.  We live on three acres not too far from a city and it suits us well.  We hope to live there the rest of our lives.


  1. What do you think the reporter Nita Winslow took from her experience covering Mary Lee’s story?


Nita Winslow is the grown up Nancy Drew of the story.  She knows there is a mystery that needs to be solved and she is relentless in her pursuit.  She has given up on any hope of a love life for the sake of her love of mystery and her freedom.  She is immensely and deeply gratified that her courage to go deeply enough into mystical possibilities allows her to find the answers she seeks.  I felt badly for her because she was so alone.


  1. What was your favorite scene to write? Why?


My favorite scenes to write were the ones in which Mae Rose is meddling with life on earth while she is in her afterlife.  These scenes were outrageously funny as they poured out onto the page and I was as surprised and delighted as I believe readers will be by them.


During the entire five years that I wrote (plus a year reworking the story to compete for a writing contest and one year of editing), I had to write in order to satisfy my curiosity.  I was in awe as I wrote these scenes and love how they turned out.  I must express my profound gratitude to my editor, Nancy Sugihara, who made the story and all the events seamless. There was so much going on and for a first-time author, keeping track of each character, particularly because there was no outline to work from, was incredibly challenging.  I learned to trust the muse and my editor!


  1. What would you say is the defining characteristic of Death By Roses? What would you say makes Death By Roses different from other love stories?


Death by Roses touches so many life issues with its characters that it creates a broad appeal. It also ends with brilliant hope for this lifetime and perhaps, if the muse is correct, hope for the next.  It is possible that life and relationships don’t end when we die. Many non-fiction works now exists based on what are considered real life experiences with the afterlife.


As many people have said after reading Death by Roses, “I hope that there is a next life and that it is EXACTLY like what you wrote in the story.” I do, too.

Finally, the creative resolution of so many life issues that occur because the characters learn they have choices about outcomes is perhaps the most mesmerizing theme.  Other than that, it’s simply an outrageously fun read—or so I’m told.


  1. In five words, how would you describe Death By Roses?


Hilarious, transcendent, sassy, mesmerizing, and uplifting.


  1. What do you think readers will enjoy most about Death By Roses?


How much they laugh while they read, the tears they might shed as they recognize tragic consequences, and yet how good they feel when they finish reading!







About Vivian Probst

Vivian Probst (born Ruth Theobald) was raised in a small Midwestern town until the age of thirteen when her parents dedicated their lives to religious work. At the age of fourteen, she was convinced that she would be given stories to write but it would be thirty-four years before those stories began.

In the meantime, Vivian (Ruth) followed in her parents’ footsteps and was trained in the studies of culture, anthropology, and linguistics, graduating from a private religious institution in 1977 with a degree in multicultural ministries. After a brief and deeply unhappy time of missionary service, she gave up everything she knew in order to find life outside the restrictive philosophy in which she had been raised.

Completely unprepared for the emotional or financial whiplash of becoming an outcast from the only life she had ever known, Vivian(Ruth) lived in poverty until she was rescued by The Women’s Center in Waukesha, Wisconsin. An opportunity to work at a minimum wage job in real estate property management eventually led her to a
career as a national consultant and trainer to the affordable-housing indus­try. And during this time a wonderful second marriage occurred.

On March 10, 2000, the stories Vivian had long ago been told about began to appear—first as dreams, then as remarkable events that materialized into characters and plots as she wrote—without any formal training in writing or any preplanned concept or outline.

Vivian’s first published novel, Death by Roses, began after her older sister died of Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2008. She worked through her grief for five years as she wrote her novel. She then submitted her manuscript to the When Words Count Retreat’s literary competition and as the first place win­ner won the prize of having her book published by SelectBooks, Inc.

Vivian and her husband live in Waukesha, Wisconsin, surrounded by their children, step-children, and the most amazing eleven grand­children on planet Earth (or so Vivian claims). She is happily at work, as there are more stories begging to be written.

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