By Leslie Lindsay (image source: on 9.4.13)

When it comes to priorites, you could say Matt Wertz has them; he’s pretty driven.  You could also say the guy can belt out some tunes, resulting in a fantastic melding of melodies ripe for this era.  His new album, HEATWAVE was released yesterday, August 27th.  You may say Mother Nature was on his side.  Seems the nation is being swept with a heatwave–whether that is the acid-washed, jangly pop sounds of his new album, or the actual searing heat, but it’s fair to say the two events are a trippy coincidence. 

With tracks like Shine and Sunny Day, you may think Matt was channeling the giant star in the sky, but in reality the album isn’t inspired by any one event, person, or theme, but rather a general sound he was shooting for–that of the late 1980′s.  Think Richard Marx and Bryan Adams.  Think boom boxes (hey–weren’t those once called ghetto-blasters) and lace.  Matt admits that to get the sound he wanted he had to change the way he wrote songs, which was  bit challenging.  But the sound–and the feeling–these tracks evoke are positively epic. 

Although I did reach out to  Matt to provide a little piece on defining home, he graciously declined.  “Practice for tour is really eating up at lot of time, plus there are a slew of publicity events…” all of which I can completely appreciate. 

But I can tell you this:  Matt Wertz likes his Tennessean home, a 1920s-era bungalow  where he’s lived for the last twelve years writing, practicing, and entertaining.  In fact, there are several YouTube videos showing Matt doing just that (I adore the friendly banter between band-mates, and the acoustic sound is fantastic).  Take a peek into his life: the mindless ring game on the front porch (Matt indicates this is his favorite place  to unwind and let the new lyrics and sounds percolate–it’s also where he wrote new track, “Get to You”).  You’ll also glimpse the bike riding, the coffee gulping, and a peek at his ever-growing shoe collection in these videos. (He once wanted to design shoes for Nike).

But there’s more:  be sure to read this Trib article from years past–same house, same musician, another little look inside the place he calls “home.”,0,3258691.story

In the meantime, be sure to pick up a copy of HEATWAVE, pop it in your computer, iPod, or cassette player (yes, there is a cassettee version) and see what writing inspiration you get from this number–I assure you, it’s a throw-back, and a good one at that!

So, Write on Wednesday! 


By Leslie Lindsay (image source: 9.4.13)

How do we define home?  Is is an actual building?  The people we surround ourselves with, or is it tangible pieces of things that bring to mind the comfort and stability of home?  Today, we hear from author Amy Sue Nathan on just that:

“For me, home means things I can see and touch. Photos on shelves, pre-school artwork next to high school graduation pictures, a china platter that belonged to my grandmother that sits on the middle of the dining room table. Home is being surrounded by sights and sounds and also, by textures. I often sit with a crocheted blanket on my lap as I write. It’s made up of squares, and baby-size. My grandmother made it when my son was born almost twenty-two years ago.
Let’s face it, crocheted blankets can itch! I never put it on him as a baby, but it has follow us through five homes in five states. It hung over the back of the rocking chair in the nursery when my daughter was born too. And while it’s not the softest blanket in the world, it’s the best one I have. And I think as long as I have it with me, I’ll be home.”
For the sake of extending Amy’s concept of home, here’s an exercise to help you hone in on the things that remind you of home:
  • Close your eyes and drum up some of the items from your past that signifiy “home” to you.  For you me, it’s the water-logged Baby Beth doll I carried everywhere–even the bathtub.  There was also my imaginary friend, Jenn-Jenn, but also the antique dining room table, the old sewing machine, and the slanty part of my closet where I used to hide out and read. 
  • Now go a little deeper.  What were some to the items you held onto into your adolescence and college years?  Was there a particular item that went with you to your first apartment?  Was there an item that stayed with you for a season, only to let it go once you felt more comfortable, confident? 
  • How about your characters in your work-in-progress?  What do they hold onto?  An old key?  A diary?  A person?  A memory?  A book?  A photo?  Make a list for each of your characters, but especially your protagonist and antagonist.  It can be very telling what these “people” hold onto in various parts of their life.  Go ahead…what did your protagonist value when she was a child?  A teenager?  Young adult?  Adult?  Now, in your story?  Can you see a pattern 

[Exercise created by Leslie Lindsay] 

Special thanks to Amy Sue Nathan for sharing her lovely words about her son’s blanket.  For more information on Amy and her books, please see:

 Up Next Week on Write on, Wednesday: Memoirist Tanya Chernov talks about her place of home…at summer camp.
Till then, Write on, Wednesday! (image source: 9.4.13)

Fiction Friday: Little Sally Water


By Leslie Lindsay

I have a senior basset hound named Sally. She has a kidney issue and that means she has some house-training accidents from time to time. Okay, a lot. Was it because little Sally was peeping on the floor that my brain recalled this old nursery rhyme, Little Sally Water or was it the muses at play?

In any case, this old childhood game, jingle, rhyme–what have you–has been floating through my head of late. So I got curious, like all good writers do and did a little research. Here’s the rhyme/song: 

Little Sally Waters sitting in the sun
Trying to find her love
The one & only one
Rise Sally rise
Open up your eyes
Look to the east
Look to the west
Maybe you’ll find the one that you love best

The lyrics actually continue and are quite extensive.

Seems the rhyme/children’s yard game has something to do with marriage. Little Sally Water is sitting in her saucer. In fact, the real story goes: Sally was on her way to her wedding, when she had to step over a saucer of water. Now, is this akin to jumping over broom handles or some other marriage tradition, I don’t really know. Folks believe this nursery rhyme originated in the 1800s–England and has been in the U.S. since at least 1848.

Yet, more contemporary interpretations indicate a name change for Sally. She was Sally Walters in more northern climes of the US, Pennsylvania and New York, for starters. In the South, Little Sally Ann(e). Others say, no, no, no Sally had a last name and it wasn’t Walters, but Waters.

Still others maintained that Sally was of African American (black) heritage. But then that goes to dissuade the England-Marriage version. So, it’s really hard to tell what the meaning and interpretation of this nursery rhyme is.

Little Sally fits into my WIP because, well I found the sing-song sound of it haunting. There’s also a water aspect to my WIP, so it just worked:

“Well, then maybe I’m not alive,” she responded.

Don’t be silly! You’re as much alive as I am.” I reached my toe forward, a playful nudge, a sideways grins.

My toe went right through her.

I startled, glanced back at Leelah and gasped, a surge of panic racked my body as her leg began disintegrating. Help! She needs help. My words would not come forth. Leelah smiled coyly, a smattering of freckles splayed across her face, and a glint in her eye I’d never noticed before. I couldn’t tell if she was crying or laughing.

She heckled and tossed her head back, the wavy hair breaking off in a wisp of clouds. A sinister stare penetrated my gaze. But Leelah, you’re my friend.

My brow furrowed. I screwed my face into a pinched pout, my stomach twisted, my ears rang. “Why? Why are you doing this to me?” I shouted, grabbing my bike, leaving the food, mad as a hornet.

She didn’t respond in words, yet her voice sang softly, deep within my head and yet all around me at the same time. Some childhood song. Little Sally Water…turn to the one you love best. Bye baby bunting. Father’s gone a-hunting.


[this is a work of original fiction. Comments appreciated. Sharing and copying as your own is not. (c)]


Write On, Wednesday: Injecting Symbolism, Part 3


By Leslie Lindsay

The fiction writer knows that there is a lot that hinges on a good story. Some of these elements just happen in the prose, but some of them are more deliberate–but hopefully the reader doesn’t detect that. In fact, injecting symbolism into your work should be very organic and surprise you–the writer–as much as it does the reader and for that matter, the characters.

No pressure, right?

In carefully crafted and researched novels, symbolism just appears because well–it’s been ingrained through your research and comes through in terms of osmosis.  

My little ghost girl, Evelyn brings with her a ragdoll from generations past. In my mind’s eye, I saw a small cloth doll created from scraps of fabric and wrapped in a maroon cloth. She has no face. Evelyn drags this prized possession around with her. She loses her, she deliberately places her in the view of her “chosen one,” in a look at me kind of way.

And so I worked with her. The doll, the ghost girl. I let them know I was there to help tell their story. They listened. They cooperated. (Well, some days, when the writing was flowing). And then I got curious: what are the origins of rag dolls? And what history do they have in the US? Other places?

What I learned may or may not surprise. The small, faceless dolls are that of Amish origin. They don’t have a face because, as one story goes: a little Amish girl received a doll for Christmas. The doll had human-like features. She loved the little doll. Her father snatched it away, cut the head off and said, “Only God can create people!” Yikes. He then replaced the doll’s head with a plain stuffed sock. The doll was now faceless.

This is the exact reason the Amish don’t allow their photos taken. It has a lot to do with graven images and one should not have their faces imprinted on film or other media because it mimics “those in heaven” and “in the ground below.”

Well, this all thrills me to death (okay, bad pun)–because you see–Evelyn is a ghost girl who was accidently buried alive. She graps her little ragdoll and is “in the ground below” with her faceless ragdoll until she is “released” by the protagonist.

Pretty fascinating, huh?

Till next time, Write On, Wednesday!

See also:

[image source: on 7.18.14]

Fiction Friday: What’s in a Name


By Leslie Lindsay

I read recently a list of things that indicate you’re a writer. It went something like: Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

You know you’re a writer when…

  • Everything you do is considered “research” for your novel (or a future one).
  • You proof-read emails
  • You rush to jot down an idea lest it leave you before you can do anything with it
  • You have a baby name website bookmarked on your computer

And so the list went. I found myself nodding and uhuh-ing. But it was the last one–the baby name website–that got me. You see, ever since I can remember, I’ve had a fascintation with names. What they mean, their origins, their conotations, etc. And so it’s no surprise this is one of my most favorite parts of creating a novel. Not that I’ve created that many, mind you but well–you get the idea. Names are easy for me; they just appear. I don’t deliberate, I don’t do much of anything but take what I get. And then I look them up.

One of my characters, Melanie is sensitive–like psychic sensitive. She doesn’t know it until well, the “imaginary friend” from her childhood tells her she’s not really alive and that perhaps she’s a ghost. This imaginary friend/ghost is named Leelah, which has roots and meanings  along the lines of “play, imagination, psychic abilities.” Again, both of these names “just came to me.” (Melanie, by the way, means “dark or black.” As in black magic? Possibly).

And then Mel(anie) grows up. She has weird experiences–ghostly things that haunt her. She gets married, has a baby. Finally. After a series of miscarriages. She names that child Enye. It’s a Celtic name that means Grace. I didn’t know that when the name “popped” into my head.

There are a few other folks in the book as well. Some are just general names–nothing special–but I did look them up to make sure they were consistent with the time period they fell into (James and Benjamin, for example work for contemporary times, but were also very popular boys names in the late 1890s). Della is a ghost woman (bright–as in light? Also, noble). She lived in the mid-late 1800′s. The name checks out (most popular in the US in 1951, but it was ranked 68 out of 1,000 in the 1880s. And the little ghost girl–Evelyn–well, it means “beautiful bird.” And birds, interestingly play a semi-significant role in the book.

But truly, what struck me most was the name of the “imaginary friend/ghost,” Leela(h). And so I write about it:

“….I go to and type in Leelah. There are no exact matches, but there is Leela. No “h.” It means “night beauty” on this website and on another it equates to “devine play,” and also “amorous play” and “amusement.” I smile. Yes, that is what is. Was. Someone to amuse and play with me. As for divine, well it goes without saying that this Leelah is somehow celestial, heavenly.

Who are you, Leelah?

The baby name website says if I like Leelah, then I might also like the names Layla and Ava, Lola and Amelia. I do. It says the name is similar to Leila. All I can think of is the Eric Clapton song, Layla. It runs through my head over and over again.

When you’re lonely and you’ve got nowhere else to go.


The name is not popular. It’s not in the top 1,000 girls’ names in the U.S. and it certainly doesn’t make any International lists. Authors gave this name to exotic female characters in the early 19th century.

On yet another website, I find the name Leelah without the ‘h.’ It says a woman with the name Leela is one who is abstract, spiritual, utopian and dreams of sharing ideas with humanity. She desires to help mankind with some abstract commodity—religion and spiritualism. The occult. I shudder. And yes, even psychic abilities. My eyes dart right then left. She wasn’t here to tease, torment, or make me feel crazy, not like Mother thought.

Leelah came to help.”

For more information, websites to help you name your characters, check out:

[This is an excerpt from my WIP, currently titled "Zombie Road," about an urban legend set in the hills of St. Louis County, Missouri. This is original work and not to be taken as your own or shared as such. (c). Image source for baby names retrieved from on 7.18.14]

Write On, Wednesday: Meet THE GOOD GIRL Author Mary Kubica


By Leslie Lindsay

With about a million accolades already brewing for this dark, gripping psychological thriller set alternately in Chicagoland and rural Minnesota, Mary Kubica is here to chat with us about her debut, THE GOOD GIRL (to be released July 29th, 2014). It’s the most perfect summertime thriller. Read it at the pool, the beach, on the plane. You won’t want to put it down. THE GOOD GIRL

Leslie Lindsay: Mary, I am in the midst of reading THE GOOD GIRL and I must say…I love it! It’s raw, it’s authentic, and highly engaging. Can you explain how you came up with the premise of the book?

Mary Kubica: Absolutely. But first let me say what an honor it is to be here with you today at Write On, Wednesday. Thank you so much for having me, Leslie!

I’d love to say that there was some big, defining moment or event that sparked the ideas behind THE GOOD GIRL, but the truth of the matter is that it was a very conscious effort. When I began writing, I had this notion of a kidnapping that was not exactly what it seemed. I knew I wanted to write the novel in a non-linear, multi-perspective format, but other than that, I wasn’t entirely sure where the novel would go. The bulk of the ideas came to me as I wrote, and on any given day that I sat down to work, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to happen in the lives of my characters that day. But I found myself completely consumed by them – thinking of the characters at all hours of the day and night – and feel fairly certain that they’re the ones who told their story to me.

L.L.: From what I understand, you wrote this book almost entirely in isolation. Your family and friends didn’t even know you were working on a manuscript. How I wish I could keep something like that a secret! Was it fear of the unknown/fear of rejection that kept your lips sealed? Something else?

Mary Kubica: You pretty much hit the nail on the head there, Leslie! I’d definitely say it was the fear of rejection – or rather, the likelihood of rejection – that made me keep quiet about my work-in-progress. I’d been writing since I was a young girl, though as a hobbyist and nothing more. I understood that the chances of having my work published were slim to none. When I began writing, I wrote for me and only me, never imagining that something would become of my work. And so I began THE GOOD GIRL in secrecy, only telling my husband about the project. It wasn’t until I sold the manuscript to Harlequin MIRA that I spread the great news to family and friends – not only had I written a book, but it was going to be published, too! They were certainly surprised!

“I’ve been following her for the past few days. I know where she buys her groceries, where she has her dry cleaning done, where she works. I don’t know the color of her eyes or what they look like when she’s scared. But I will.” From THE GOOD GIRL, 2014

L.L. There’s a wealth of insight a writing community can provide—feedback, instruction, plot twists. Don’t tell me you’re one of the rare lucky ones who can pull it off without a “village.”

Mary Kubica: When I wrote THE GOOD GIRL, I didn’t belong to a writers’ group, and my creative writing education was limited to one college course that I didn’t particularly like. I didn’t have a beta reader; no one – besides me, of course – read the manuscript before it was sent off to agents. That said, I found my village in the publication process. THE GOOD GIRL would certainly not be what it is today without the tremendous effort of my agent, my editor, and the many other brilliant people at Harlequin Books. I’ve connected in the past year or so with a number of authors – both in person and online – and I’m a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, which has offered much advice and enthusiasm throughout this process. I know authors now who I can go to for questions or lean on for support. Fellow Harlequin MIRA author Heather Gudenkauf is certainly one who must be mentioned; she’s been an amazing mentor to me this past year!             

L.L. I had to smile when I read somewhere that you fell in love with THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB series by Ann M. Martin…I’m so there! My friends and I devoured those books and then thought we could start our own club. Or at least write like Ms. Martin. Is this when your love of writing began?

Mary Kubica: I love this question – and I feel obligated to say that my sister and I did begin our own babysitter’s club back in the day; we printed up fliers and passed them around the neighborhood, and earned ourselves quite a few babysitting gigs! But yes, absolutely, this was the time in my life when I first decided I wanted to me an author. It was a cousin of mine who I accredit with my early love of writing; she shared with me a story she had written when I was about 11 or 12 years old. Until then I had no idea where books came from before they magically appeared in bookstores. They were just there. I’d never really thought much about the author behind the book, but I knew then and there what I wanted to do: I wanted to write books.   

L.L.: So, Chicagoland…ironically, it’s where we both live. In fact, several recent books have been set there—even ones featured here—what qualities do you feel Chicago authors bring to the literary table?

Mary Kubica: This is a great question! I can think of many notable Chicago authors off the top of my head – Veronica Roth and Gillian Flynn are two that come to mind, as well as Lori Rader-Day who you spoke with recently and whose debut THE BLACK HOUR I cannot wait to read – though I think every city and state across the country has its own set of notable, distinguished authors. I might be a bit biased here, but I feel Chicago is a highly cultured city, deeply rooted in Midwestern values, and that the cross between urban, suburban and country can make for a very diverse landscape in literature. Our people are unique, too, and stem from all walks of life, a fact that has likely inspired many remarkable characters. All in all it’s a great city, and I feel very proud of the authors who have come from Chicagoland.       

L.L.: And then you toss in Minnesota. Funny, cause I lived there, too! In fact, I’ve been to Two Harbors and Grand Marias—not in the winter like in the book—but in “mosquito season.” How did this remote cabin come into play?

Mary Kubica: It was really about logistics. I needed a remote wilderness where Colin and Mia could disappear – someplace far enough from Chicago where they wouldn’t be found easily, but close enough that they could drive there. Until recently I had never been to Grand Marais or up the Gunflint Trail and relied solely on research to describe the setting in THE GOOD GIRL. My family did, however, just take a trip to northern Minnesota (Yes, in mosquito season! I believe we went through three cans of Off!). I was dying to see the region in person, and on the eve of book publication, it seemed like the right thing to do. I was thrilled to discover the area was exactly as I had imagined it to be, and so excited to see streets and landmarks that are mentioned in the book in person. We even saw a moose and bear!    

L.L.: You’re a mom, a wife, a suburbanite. Even an animal shelter volunteer. As a writer and mom myself, I find I’m constantly juggling things—dropping balls, even. I think of characters at dinner and plots while at soccer games. How do you make your writing life possible…and keep all the balls in the air?

Mary Kubica: I’ll admit I’ve been dropping more and more balls of late, Leslie. Nothing vital, thankfully, but laundry gets done less and the house is not quite as clean as it used to be. These days my writing life happens between 5 and 7 a.m. Once my kids are up and awake, I pack my writing career away and become ‘mom’. My youngest is in half-day kindergarten; the few hours that he is in school are filled with errands and housework, and volunteering as much as I can at the animal shelter. But my mind is always busy plotting and carrying on conversations with my characters in my head, whether I’m at home or watching soccer games or swimming lessons, or driving the kids to and from school. It’s not easy; I’ll be the first to admit it. A few years ago I was the woman who could do it all, and now I must concede that I can’t do everything. I have to rely more and more on the help of family and friends, and I’m so very thankful to everyone who has stepped up to make my dream a reality.

L.L.: I suppose I could go on and on, but I’ll stop with one last question: what’s next?

Mary Kubica: I’m finishing up my second novel, which is about a Chicago mother who encounters a young homeless girl waiting beside the ‘L’ with a baby. She feels a strong desire to help this girl with her plight, and as she does, she discovers more about the girl that perhaps should have remained uncovered. Like THE GOOD GIRL, it has plenty of twists and turns along the way that will hopefully keep the reader guessing!  

Bio: Mary Kubica holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.  She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening, and caring for the animals at a local shelter.  The Good Girl is her first novel.

For more information/connect:


Write On, Wednesday: Injecting Symbolism, Part 2: Doors & Gates


By Leslie Lindsay

If you happened to catch last Wednesday’s post, then you know I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the themes that have cropped up in my WIP. Last week, it was the (now extinct) passenger piegeons that cropped up, darkening the skies of my fictional world. At the time they were written into the manuscript, I had a little knowledge of these creepy birds.

Today, it’s all about gates, doors, thresholds.

At a recent workshop in Madison, Wisconsin a fellow critiquer read an excerpt of a chapter. An old creaky gate blowing in the wind triggered a moment of weirdness for the main character who happened to be looking out her bedroom window at the time.

Another person in the group admits, “I don’t get the gate. What’s the deal with that?”

“Well…” I hemmed and hawed. “I like it.” Plus, it has something to do with the rest of the book. There’s an old gate to an orphange, which we’ll “meet” later.

The first woman said, “Oh, you’ve got to keep it; oftentimes, gates represent a bridge from one life to another. They are very symbolic.”

“They are?” I asked, mildly amazed I pulled out some symbolism without even realizing it.

“Yes. Very.”

And so the gate stays. And it has story purpose. Here are some more things I dug up regarding gates/doors/thresholds in literature, and also the human psyche.

  • According to An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Traditional Symbols, J.C. Cooper notes a guarding and protecting nature of gates, stating, “they are the protective, sheltering aspect of the Great Mother.”
  • She also goes on to confirm that they are indeed, “symbolic entrances into new worlds…entrances can be into a new life or they might represent communication between one world and another world, between the living and the dead.”
  • In yet another study of the symbolism of gates we learn: “Imprinted on the human psyche, [gates] herald the possibility of a new life, a new experience, or a new identity. They offer an opportunity for communion between different worlds: the sacred and profane, the internal and external, the subjective and objective, the visible and invisible, waking and dreaming.”
  • Not only do scholars find gates fascinating, but they make an appearance in Shirley Jackson’s classic, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (1959). I can only assume Ms. Jackson knew this about gates, or did her own homework before dumping them into her novel.

So, you see…there is something to my squeaky gate in Mel Dunbar’s backyard. Now, the hard job of capitalizing on that, making it even creepier, and keeping it all in mind as I plow through this manuscript. Easy? No.  Greater satisfaction? You bet.

[Fall gate/stone wall image retrieved from Fliker on 7.07.14, farm gate from  on 7.6.14]

Fiction Friday: Long, Strange Trip


By Leslie Lindsay

My father-in-law lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He reads the newspaper religiously. And actually, today–July 4th–just happens to be not just the birth of our nation, but his birthday, too. Happy birthday, Pop! It only seems appropriate I’d share this article he clipped from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and sent my way (dated Saturday, June 21st 2014).

The day it arrived in my mailbox, I needed it. You see, I was thinking of shelving the whole “Zombie Road” book and calling it done. It’s not. Far from it. I just wanted to be ‘normal,’ you know enjoy summer, raise my kids, read a book, go on vacation. I didn’t want to slave work on this nebulous thing called a manuscript.

But the article–small that is–stirred the muse within. I showed my hubby when he walked in the door at the end of the day, “Hey, Pop sent this. It’s about Zombie Road.” I waved the clipped article in his face. Eye roll. Mine, not his.

Jim grinned over the clipping, “Hon, you’ve gotta write this book. I want to see it, to hold it in my hands. You’re almost there.”

“First draft, maybe,” I mumbled.

Okay, and so the article:

Blogger Darcy Strange (great last name, btw), noted the top five “weird” spots in St. Louis:

  • The suicide history of the Lemp Mansion
  • The City Muesem
  • Mastadon State Historic Site, visitors can picnic in the former mastadon bone field. Yuck. Hey, wonder if you’ll find any passenger piegon skeletons there, too?!
  • The Alter of Answered Prayers, at the Shrine of St. Joseph in downtown St. Louis, and the areas only recognized “miracle site.”
  • Finally, “Zombie Road,” a spooky 2.3-mile hiking trail in the Wildwood area.

I’m batting 4/5 of these places…never been to the Alter of Answered Prayers, but perhaps I ought go and put forth a petition that this manuscript gets finished.

[Lemp Mansion image retrieved from on 6.28.14, for more information on Darcy Strange's Weird places to visit on her Roadtrippers blog, see Tree-lined path image retrieved from Roadtrippers/Darcy Strange, American flag image from

The 5 best places to get your weird on in Saint Louis

Write On, Wednesday: Finding Symbolism in Your WIP


By Leslie Lindsay

One hundred years ago, in 1914, a bird cheekily known as Martha (after the first First Lady, Martha Washington) died in a Cincinnati zoo. Did she die lonely and broken-hearted? Well, yes. And for good reason: she was the last remaining bird of a species that declined from several billion to one in a mere 50 years.

Hunt of a flock, depicted in 1875

And what, you wonder does this have to do with writing?! Bear with me. We’ll get there.

It is reported these birds–passenger pigeons–darkened the sky for hours or even days at a time, “The beats of their wings would create drafts that chilled the people over whom they flew.”

See where I’m going with this? They’re creepy. And they just happen to appear in my WIP. Not intentionally, mind you but sort of by accident. This, I am finding is the absolute best way to incorporate symbolism into one’s work.

I’ve never been a fan of birds (sorry, Audubon Society). Ever since I learned birds may have an evolutionary root in dinosaurs, they stopped topping my list. And then there was that time my sister’s two parakeets escaped their cage and flew around the vaulted ceiling of our home, their lime-colored wings flapping viciously, their beady eyes taunting. You get the picture. And then I started writing a book with a naturally creepy undercurrent. I threw in some birds that “darkened the sky.”

My critique partner liked them, but quitely scolded their appearance, “Birds are done a lot in books in which there is some ghostly stuff; maybe you could sub butterflies or moths? Locusts?”

I get it–be original. And yes, moths and locusts are equally creepy–if not more–than pigeons.

But here’s what struck me with these passenger piegons:

  • They existed at the time my book takes place (a certain POV takes place in the mid-late 1800s, though it’s mostly a contemporary read)
  • Given such, I find  a certain chill-like factor when these birds make a reappearance after they have technically been extinct. A little remnant of the past, perhaps?
  • Also, passenger Pigeons called to one another with a “loud, harsh, and unmusical call,” referred to as a ‘keck.’ Still yet,  others claimed a scolding call, “kee-kee-kee-kee” or “tete! tete! tete!” Also great because there’s a  little element of music in the book…and if these guys are unmusical, then all the more reason to have them chant, chirp, and caw.
  • Finally, the Wyandot people or Wendat, also called Huron, (indiginous peoples of North America) believed that every twelve years during the “Feast of the Dead” the souls of  deceased changed into Passenger Pigeons, which were then hunted and eaten. …And so the third reason these lovely creatures show up in a book about, well…the dead.

So little bells and lightbulbs are going off in my head. Yes, the birds must stay and they have a story purpose!

But back to those now-extinct birds. Hundreds of thousands of them swooped through the sky in the mid-late 1800s, darkening and causing a chill below, a loud rustling sound deafened communities as their mighty wings flapped. And then they were hunted,  shot…and sold at urban markets–their meat was apparently pretty tasty–for about $1.40 per dozen. That’s how they became exinct, well except Martha who died in captivity, the last remaining passenger pigeon.

So what are you waiting for? Write on before you–or books–become extinct!

For More Information on topics mentioned in this article, please see:

[above image retrieved from Wikipedia on 6.28.14]

Fiction Friday: Culling Novel Images


By Leslie Lindsay

As a visual person, I love coming across images that resonate with the novel I am working on. In yesterday’s mail, I received a catalog: Victorian Times, or something of that sort. It’s filled to the brim with fancy perfume bottles, roses, and doilies. Pretty much stuff I don’t need, never will need and ..then I came across this rather gruesome image smack in the middle of ladies petticoats and tall lace-up boots.

Since the working title of my manuscript is Zombie Road, you can guess what happened next: I tore the darn photo out of the catalog, pasted it on my visual board, and then got myself to Google. Okay, in all honesty, the image was familiar but I had disregarded it, shoved it waaay to the back of the ol’ brain and simply forgot about it. (Def Leppard, Retrospective album, anyone?)

I find it a fun little twist of fate that it came back. Or, perhaps I was just prime to see it?

Victorian pen and ink artist, Charles Allan Gilbert (September 3, 1873 – April 20, 1929), rendered this evocative and doubly-interpreted illustration at the age of 18. It was sold to LIFE Publishing Co., at the time a tiny cartoonish publication in 1902 and was an instant success and became mass-produced. Sadly, C. Allan Gilbert (as he is most commonly known), was not remembered. He died in 1929 of pneumonia at the age of 55 in New York.

This type of work is what is called a double-image or a visual pun. Funny, cause that’s sort of what books are all about, right? Sure, the author has a clear objective in what she wants to communicate, but it may not be what the reader takes away.

Write On, Wednesday: Author Wendy Webb Shares Insights on First Lines, Metaphorical Ghosts, and More


By Leslie Lindsay HalcyonCrane

I am pleased as punch to welcome bestselling Minnesota author Wendy Webb to our literary community today. Ms. Webb pens novels of gothic suspense set in mystical locales where buried family secrets bubble to the surface, seamlessly weaving the past with the present.

L.L.: Wendy, thank you for being with us today. I just completed THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE, your debut into fiction and loved it. The beginning of the book completely tugged at me, urging me to read more. In fact one of the first few lines reads like this, “I was called to a tiny island in the middle of the Great Lakes by a dead woman.” What, in your opinion is so important about the first page of a novel?

W.W.: For me, the first page of a novel, even the first paragraphs, are crucial. When I’m in a bookstore browsing, especially when I’m looking at books by an author whose work I’m unfamiliar with, I usually know within the first pages whether I’m going to like it or not. So I put a lot of care into those first few pages of my books. You know what they say — you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

L.L.: Speaking of first lines, your entrée into the world of fiction was Madeline L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME (mine, too I must admit). Do you believe there’s a certain time or influence in a young person’s life in which books—and the written word—make a strong impact, leading them to a career in writing? (i.e., are writers born with the craft pulsing beneath, or is it a ‘suggestion’ from others?).

W.W.: I can’t speak for anybody else, but it happened like that for me. I loved books when I was a kid. My grandma read to me constantly. I loved The Secret Garden and the Little House books and Little Women (I thought I was Jo March) and when I read A Wrinkle In Time, I was a goner. That was it. I closed that book and knew I had to be a writer for the rest of my life. I started by writing short stories when I was in grade school and haven’t looked back since. I did a reading recently at the wonderful Dragonfly Books in Decorah, IA, and a little girl came to see me. Grace. She was 11 years old and asked if I wrote short stories when I was her age. I told her I did, and she was glad to hear it, because she writes stories — mysterious ones, she informed me — and she wants to grow up to write books like mine someday. I have a feeling she will do just that.

L.L.: Before you wrote novels, you wrote magazine and newspaper articles. What, in your opinion are the challenges and benefits of switching from nonfiction to fiction?

W.W.: It was much more difficult than I expected. As a journalist, you tell a story. As a novelist, you need to show it. Show, don’t tell. I’d think: What does that even mean? I’m a storyteller, why can’t I just tell it? And then another author shared her showing vs. telling trick with me. She said: “When you’re writing a scene, pretend you’re the director of a movie. Visualize everything in the scene, from what people are wearing to what they are doing, and use language to bring that scene to life on the page.” And then she told me the thing that finally made the light bulb come on above my head. “In a movie,” she said, “you wouldn’t hear the words: ‘Jane is angry.’ You’d see Jane throw her coffee cup down and stomp out of the room, and you’d know she was angry. That’s showing, not telling.” Aha.

The benefit of spending my career as a journalist — I’m used to writing a lot, every day. So the idea of writing a 100,000-word novel wasn’t daunting.

L.L.: In THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE, there is a strong element of magical realism/witchcraft lite. What kind of research did you do to successfully carry this out?

W.W.: I’ve always been interested in the paranormal. Whether it was watching old Twilight Zone episodes with my brothers when I was a kid, or reading books like A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle or The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende and countless others, I’ve loved magical realism for a long time. The idea that, while doing something utterly ordinary like pushing a cart through the grocery store, you can turn a corner and run into something strange and otherworldly, that it’s hovering around us all the time.

L.L.: Ghosts in literature aren’t exactly a “new” thing. But they are lovely and delightful reads—sometimes scary. In fact, many readers find gothic tales fascinating and haunting. What do you feel sets HALCYON CRANE apart?

mercyW.W.: Well, I seem to have invented a genre. I didn’t intend to do it. I just wrote the books I’d like to read, and I set them in the part of the country I know best — the northern Great Lakes. So Halcyon and my other two books, The Fate of Mercy Alban and The Vanishing are being called Northern Gothics. Interestingly enough, I have a lot of readers down south who identify with the Southern Gothic genre and love that my books are set in remote locations where they’ve never been — northern Lake Superior, Mackinac Island, and elsewhere. And the other thing is, my books are not straight ghost stories. They’re tales of family mysteries and secrets that bubble to the surface at inconvenient times, and they may have a spirit or two bedeviling things.

L.L.: Could it be that we all have metaphorical ghosts lurking in our past?

W.W.: As we say in Minnesota, you bet. I think that’s why my books resonate with so many people.

L.L.: You have a relentless touring schedule. How do you manage to fit writing time into your busy life?

W.W.: Actually, now it’s easier. My first three books were written while touring and holding down a full-time job. I was the editor-in-chief of a lifestyle monthly magazine until very recently. But now I can focus on my career as a novelist full time. I love it all — the solitude and imagination of writing the story, and the extroversion necessary to get out there, meet readers, speak to groups, do interviews, visit bookstores and bookclubs and generally promote the book. It’s such a privilege and an honor to spend my life this way.

L.L.: What are you working on now? Any new books brewing?

W.W.: I’m about half-way through my next book, and I’m really excited about it. It’s set in Bayfield, Wisconsin at an old tuberculosis sanatorium that has been renovated into a retreat for writers. Although it has since been torn down, the TB sanatorium in Bayfield was a real place — my grandfather was a patient there, and my great-aunt died there when she was just a girl. Because there was very little medical science could do for TB at the time, they called these sanatoriums “waiting rooms for death.” A good place to set a ghost story, don’t you think?VanishgHighRes

L.L.: Anything I forgot to ask that I should have?

W.W.: Because I write ghostly tales, people always ask me if I believe in ghosts. My answer is always the same: If I didn’t before, I sure do now. That’s because, at every reading I’ve ever done for my three novels, no matter where in the country I am, somebody comes up to me and tells me a ghostly experience that has happened to them. Many times, they’re “things that go bump in the night” stories, but most often, they’re experiences they’ve had after a loved one passes on. Oftentimes, they’ll preface the story with: “I haven’t told this to many people…” I’m honored to be among those they tell.

Thank you, Wendy!

Thank you, Leslie.

Wendy WebbBio: Wendy Webb is the award-winning and bestselling author of three novels of gothic suspense, THE VANISHING (2014, Hyperion), THE FATE OF MERCY ALBAN (2013, Hyperion) and THE TALE OF HALCYON CRANE (2012, Henry Holt). She lives in Minnesota with her family and is at work on her next novel.
Twitter: @wendykwebb
[cover images and author image courtsey of Wendy Webb. Author photo credit: Steve Burmeister]

Write On, Wednesday: Introducing Lori Rader-Day and THE BLACK HOUR, literary thriller


By Leslie Lindsay

I am thrilled to have debut author Lori Rader-Day with us as we delve into academic life on the fictional campus of Rothbert University, a prestigious Chicago institution. Her first book, THE BLACK HOUR will debut July 8th and it’s fantastic poolside reading. Black Hour cover web2

With work appearing in a variety of publications, including the anthology Dia de los Muertos, as well as several review journals and mystery magazines, Rader-Day is quickly on her path to a career as a mystery/thriller writer. Welcome, Lori!

L.L.: You write with such deft precision about college life. The smells, the colors, and the overall atmosphere of Dr. Amelia Emmet’s old college office building truly come to life in those opening pages as she lumbers up the stairs. Can you describe your research into the university life?

Lori Rader-Day: I’m not sure you can call it research—I work for a university. I’ve worked for three universities in my lifetime, and I borrowed things for lovely, fictional Rothbert from all of them. The building Amelia works in is loosely based on one of the older buildings on the campus of Northwestern, but the stairs—warped over time from generations of footsteps—I took from Roosevelt University, where I studied creative writing. When you’re writing a novel, you have plenty of space to pull in many layers of your own experience. Of course I make up a lot of stuff, too. I borrowed the lake from the campus where I work, but a lot of its other features are based entirely in fiction.

L.L.: Speaking of your own college experience, you started out studying journalism at Ball State and then switched gears and studied creative writing at Roosevelt University. In what ways did journalism prepare you for a writing career? What might you advise to others who are seeking a course of study in the written word?

Lori Rader-Day: In the same way that all my experiences get rolled up into what I’m writing, all my educational experience contributed to my style of writing. I think journalism is a tremendous proving ground for those who want to write fiction. In journalism you learn a lot about how to write in a way that’s clear and makes its point. And deadlines—don’t forget deadlines. Creative writing lets you get away from shoving the five Ws into the first paragraph. Those classes let you stretch a bit in your efforts to tell a different kind of story. But together, I think they’re good training. I wish I’d taken a few more English classes early on in college, but I’m not sad I wasn’t an English major. Both my journalism degrees contributed greatly to where I am in life and as a writer.

L.L.: You’re firmly planted in the heartland having grown up in Indiana and now residing in Chicagoland. What qualities do you believe a Midwest life brings to your work?

Lori Rader-Day: I sort of want to pull in some kind of John Mellencamp reference here, but I’ll restrain myself. I’ve never lived anywhere but the Midwest, so I’m strangely unqualified to see my work in any way other than Midwestern. Midwestern stories might get away with a certain slowed pacing—but not too slow. It’s still crime fiction. And Midwestern mysteries are probably helped out by that neighborliness that comes from being enclosed with a small group of people. My hometown has fewer than 400 people in it, and my family actually lived outside of town by four miles, surrounded by cornfields. Truly, I should have taken up horror writing. But Midwest life is just as broadly experienced as life anywhere else. I’ve lived in the deep country and now I live inside the boundaries of a huge urban city. Both spots are in the Midwest, but their stories are different.

L.L.: Can you explain a bit about your writing process and how you find time to do what you love?

Lori Rader-Day: My process is a little haphazard at the moment, but I wrote The Black Hour during lunch hours of my day-job, weekends, vacations. I wrote 10,000 words of it on a cruise ship. You find time when you can. I suspect that people with kids have a tougher time than I do finding time, but we all do what we have to do. I could watch a lot more TV. There are movies I want to see that I will probably never see. I don’t have any other hobbies anymore. Oh, and I read a lot less than I used to, which is the one part of all this I regret.

L.L.: THE BLACK HOUR is written in first person, multiple POVs, and focuses on an inexplicable crime in which the main character, Dr. Amelia Emmet, returns to work as a sociology professor after having been shot. It’s part whydunit, part psychological thriller, and part survivor guilt. Was this your initial intention with the book, or did it evolve, as most do, into something different altogether?

Lori Rader-Day: You’re giving me more credit for intention than I deserve. The only thing I had planned when I started writing The Black Hour was that the professor would arrive back to campus after a long recovery, having survived an attack by a student who didn’t survive his own bullet. I knew that the people she encountered would have a lot of questions and a lot of theories—that’s just how closed communities work—but other than that, no plan. This isn’t a great way to write a mystery, by the way, since the way I did it meant that everybody in the book knew exactly whodunit by the time chapter one started. But the story and the characters compelled me. When Nath, Amelia’s graduate assistant, showed up the first time, he was never meant to take over half the book. Some of the other parts of the book came with further drafts, more intentionally. I’ll take credit for that part. I’m a big fan of revision.

L.L.: Here’s a fun one: if you could compile a playlist for THE BLACK HOUR, what songs would you select?

Lori Rader-Day: This is easy, because I MADE A PLAYLIST. I love to write to music, but the music has to be right for the project. For The Black Hour, I listened a great deal to one single song, “Sail” by Awolnation, on repeat. Many of you will not believe me if you know the song, but the dark, foreboding tone of it helped me get the last half of the book right. I also listened to Dawes (especially “When My Time Comes”) and The Head and the Heart. For my next book, which has to do with the girls’ relationships, I’m leaning heavily on Katie Herzig’s “Lost and Found,” Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery,” and Lorde’s “Team.”

L.L.: As a first-time author, what’s it like waiting for “your baby” to make its entrance into the world? (The pub date is July 8th, everyone!)

Lori Rader-Day: I’ve been working on “my baby” since early 2010. My baby should be getting ready for Kindergarten right now, but she’s still not yet out on the shelf. I’m an impatient person normally. Publishing has taught me a few things about waiting, using time, planning ahead, and waiting some more. I’m really looking forward to July 8. Then I can start waiting on something else. Two things have made this time much easier: writing friends and a new project. I would suggest to any writer to get at least one of each.

L.L.: As writers, we’re all on a different leg of the journey. In your experience, what are some of the best things a writer can do for him or herself?

Lori Rader-Day: Read a lot and write a lot. There’s probably a great quote on the topic I’m not quite remembering—Stephen King?—but there’s really no short cut. The only way to get a book written is to prioritize it over quite a bit of the rest of your life. It has to be important to you. Write the story that you’re passionate about writing, for whatever reason, and then spend the time. And then spend more time getting it as good as you can, even if you, like me, are terribly impatient.

L.L.: What are you currently obsessing over?

Lori Rader-Day: Getting the draft of my next novel finished before The Black Hour is published. Using all my vacation time to go to conferences and run book events. I’m also very concerned about what I should wear to all these events I have planned. I’m not a very fashionable person, and yet: cameras.

L.L.: Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have?

Lori Rader-Day: You didn’t ask me what kind of tree I would be. I want to be General Sherman in Tulare County, California, the biggest tree in the world, or El Árbol del Tule in Oaxaca, Mexico, which has the widest trunk in the world. I mean, if you’re going to be a tree, be a big, bad-ass tree.

L.L.: Thank you, Lori! We look forward to a new voice in fiction!

Rader Day_Lori 2Bio: Lori Rader-Day is the author of the mystery The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, 2014). Born and raised in central Indiana, she now lives with her husband and dog in Chicago. Her fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Time Out Chicago, The Madison Review, and others. Best-selling author Jodi Picoult chose one of Lori’s short stories for the grand prize in Good Housekeeping’s first fiction contest. Lori is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers.

To connect:

Twitter: @LoriRaderDay