Write On, Wednesday: Interview with Suzanne Redfearn, Author of HUSH LITTLE BABY


By Leslie Lindsay

In a grippingly honest and electrifying debut, author Suzanne Redfearn has taken us on a horrific journey through the madness and terror of being a victim of domestic violence. The story is masterfully told, the pacing relentless, and the observations terribly realistic. In fact, you may find it a challenging read given the content at times. Still, it’s such an important book to open our eyes to the truth that lies behind some closed doors.

L.L.: Suzanne, thank you so much for being with us today. I was so taken with HUSH LITTLE BABY (Grand Central, Oct 2013), that I found it hard to read, while simultaneously hard to put down. Can you explain how you were able to craft a story that was both heart-wrenching and insightful?

Suzanne Redfearn: Thank you for hosting me and for your kind words.

I kept a box of tissues beside my computer. Just as reading a story that is heart-wrenching can be difficult, so is writing it. The characters become real, and you feel for them the way you do for real people. Part of the emotions come from knowing that, while you are writing fiction, the story is based on reality. This story was inspired by a friend who was going through a difficult divorce, and the characters and a lot of the storyline were based on hundreds of testimonials I read from women who were in abusive relationships. So the compassion I felt as I was writing and that I hope the readers feel when they are reading it is not only for my characters but for all the victims who suffer in similar situations.

L.L.: I was completely touched by the ‘author’s note’ at the end of the book in which you talk about a friend of yours going through a similar experience as the protagonist, Jillian. “My life is good…but what if…” seems to be a common thread throughout much of the book and fiction in general. Can you speak to that?

Suzanne Redfearn: This idea started with three lines written on a napkin during a dinner with the friend you mentioned: 1) Marital sabotage 2) Custody 3) Evil appears good; good appears evil. The idea of what one spouse could do to another was haunting. What if? What if my husband turned on me? What if he wanted to get custody of the kids? He knows my secrets, my failings, my vulnerabilities. What if he were able to convince everyone I was a bad parent, dangerous, unstable? These are universal fears every mother can relate to and which my friend was unfortunately experiencing. Once I had those three lines, I knew I had the germ of an idea for a story that would resonate universally.

L.L.: Domestic violence is such a sticky subject. In some cases, it seems the only logical answer is to run, just like Jillian in HUSH LITTLE BABY. But that’s harder said than done, no matter the resources a person may have. Why is that, in your opinion?

Suzanne Redfearn: The control tactics abusers uses to keep a woman from leaving are paralyzing. One of my goals in writing this story was to expose the truth about domestic violence and how difficult it is to escape. I purposely made Jillian a strong woman who is financially well off. I did not want her to be a stereotypical abuse victim because, the truth is, there is no “type”. The physical, emotional and psychological intimidation abusers use to control their victims are not dependent on wealth, race, or education. Everyone is susceptible regardless of their station in life. Abusers isolate and trap their victims, cut them off from resources that would allow them to flee, make them feel worthless, demoralize them, threaten what they care about most—family members and their children. Viewing the situation from the outside, it might seem cowardice when a victim stays, but in truth, it is often the opposite—the victim remains as a valiant act of martyrdom, heroically enduring the abuse in order to protect their children or others. I am a strong, professional woman…I am a mother…before I wrote this book, I believed, Never, not me. Now I know, I am not immune, merely lucky. Jillian could be any of us, she could be my daughter, my mother, my friend—she could be me.

L.L.: I have to say I got a little connected to the folks in Oregon, Paul and Goat. What do you think became of them in the end?

Suzanne Redfearn: It’s funny how I get asked that all the time. Paul and Goat are two of my favorite characters as well, especially Paul because he is the antithesis or Gordon, a guy who has been in trouble with the law and who appears dangerous but who is wholly good. I’m very glad the Flying Goat and all the Oregon characters came into my life and that I got to enjoy their company for the months I was working on the story. I imagine they continued as they were when Jillian found them, flowing through life in a way that makes me a little jealous, content and at peace with who they are.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, I’m curious about some of the architectural references in Laguna Beach—and if they actually exist. You speak of Jillian’s parent’s home—“a Normandy Revival cottage with a wavy Cotswold roof” as being on the home tour in the northern part of Laguna Beach. Is there really such a house—and tour?

Suzanne Redfearn: There are several cottages in Laguna that fit the description. One of the founders of Laguna Beach was a man by the name of Joe Jahraus and he had served overseas in World War II. He brought the architecture home with him, establishing a design vernacular that can be seen throughout the town. The restaurant my husband and I own, Lumberyard Restaurant, was built by Joe and his son in 1916 and it uses Normandy Revival architecture and has a Cotswold roof. [image retrieved from Laguna Beach Best on 2.5.15]

L.L.: As a first time novelist—and former architect—what advice do you have for others looking to break into the publishing world? Did you take classes to hone your skills? How long did it take to write HUSH LITTLE BABY? And could you speak to the submission process?

Suzanne Redfearn: Write, write, write. HUSH LITTLE BABY was my fifth novel. The first one got me my agent, but he wasn’t able to sell it. The next two weren’t good debut novels. The one after that was a Christmas novel, which I found out after I wrote it, no one wants to buy because the shelf life is limited. HUSH LITTLE BABY was the one that made it through the gauntlet. I wrote it in a panic, afraid I would lose my agent if I didn’t give him something he could sell. It took me four months.

If you know how to tell stories and you have something to say and you are determined, you can learn the rest. I didn’t know how to “write” when I started, I only knew how to tell a story, so that’s what I did. I told a story, then I went to the bookstore and I bought every book I could find on the craft of writing, and I set about fixing what I wrote. I have no idea what advice to give regarding breaking into this crazy world. It feels like it’s a combination of perseverance, luck, and talent—talent being the least important of the three. My first novel is as good as my fifth, but that one didn’t sell. It was luck as much as anything that my query landed in the hands of the great Nick Ellison, an agent who embraces stories that are out of the box. He likes HUSH LITTLE BABY but didn’t fall in love with it the way he did my first novel, so if I hadn’t written that first one, he wouldn’t have offered to represent me, and there’s a very good chance I would never have written HUSH LITTLE BABY and I wouldn’t be answering this blog.

The more mud you throw on the wall, the better chance you have of making it. So I suppose that’s the best advice I can offer, don’t give up and keep writing.

L.L.: What can we expect from you next?

Suzanne Redfearn: I’m very excited about my new novel that is going to be released February 2, 2016. It is titled NO ORDINARY LIFE and it is the story of a young single mother whose four-year-old daughter is discovered from a YouTube video that goes viral and catapults the family to superstardom. The mother thinks her prayers have been answered until the dark trappings of their new life are revealed and she discovers the devastating price of fame. Their world begins to splinter apart, and the mom needs to figure out a way to save them before she loses everything.  http://suzanneredfearn.com

“Last year I read an AHHHMAZING debut novel called Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn. I am STILL beating people about the head and face with this book. I think I’ve made all of my friends read it. Suzanne has a new book scheduled to hit bookstores in 2016 (i’m already excited to read it) and she needs our help!” [image retrieved from D.L. White’s blog, The Sweet Escape on 2.5.15. Contest on this blog is over. Cover and quote used to promote S. Redfearn’s next book]

L.L.: What question have I asked that I didn’t but should have?

Suzanne Redfearn: Who is going to win the World Series next year? The Angels of course!!!

L.L.: Thank you so much for being with us today, Suzanne! It was such a honor.

Thank you. I loved your questions and having the opportunity to talk about my “baby.”

Don’t miss out! Learn more about HUSH LITTLE BABY and Suzanne Redfearn here:


Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SuzanneRedfearnAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuzanneRedfearn

***PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY REVIEW: This snappily paced, cinematic novel about the dysfunctional modern American family from architect and first-time author Redfearn contains heavy doses of violence, danger, and fear. Events hurtle along with great
urgency to a rousing climax. A smart, suspenseful debut***

Suzanne RedfearnAbout Suzanne: Born and raised on the east coast, author Suzanne Redfearn, moved to California when she was fifteen and currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband and two kids, where they own a restaurant called Lumberyard. Her debut novel, Hush Little Baby, was released in 2013 and received rave reviews. RT Book Reviews chose it as a Top Pick and nominated it as Best Mainstream Fiction. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “smart, suspenseful debut.” Kirkus Reviews describes it as “A compelling tale of deceit, violation and anguish that ratchets up the tension page by page.” And Target chose it for its Emerging Author Program and as a Target Recommends selection. Suzanne’s second novel, No Ordinary Life, is scheduled for release in February 2016. Prior to becoming an author, Suzanne was an architect specializing in residential and commercial design.

Write On, Wednesday: Author Interview with Amy Fusselman of SAVAGE PARK (Jan, 2015)


By Leslie Lindsay

I’ll admit it: I hate to play. I think I am bad at it. It’s messy, it’s not always fun and many times it’s very abstract. So after reading Amy Fussleman’s SAVAGE PARK I realize I am not alone. At least from a parent/adult perspective. But not kids. And I now have a better grasp on how to worry less and play more.9780544303003_hres

We’re lucky enough to have Amy with us today to answer a few questions about her latest book, SAVAGE PARK: A Meditation on Play, Space, and Risk for Americans who are Nervous, Distracted, and Afraid to Die (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 13th 2015).

L.L.: Amy, thanks so much for hanging with us today. As I write this, my childrenages 9 and 7 are barking and squawking; they are creating a secret language which they may or may not recall or employ tomorrow. But they are having fun. And I have a moment to write. Which is my fun. Can you describe a bit about your process in writing SAVAGE PARK? Was it really inspired by a spontaneous invitation to Tokyo and subsequent jaunt to Hanegi Playpark?

Amy Fusselman: Thank you for having me, Leslie. Yes, the book was inspired by my trip to Tokyo and to the playpark. I knew I wanted to write something that paid homage to the space. That was my first intention.

L.L.: To be honest, I didnt care about tight-rope walking or banging sticks and nails together, swinging ape-style through a pi-shaped rope in Japan, or baby bath rings till I read SAVAGE PARK, but you *made* me want to care. How and what do you hope readers take away from your book?

Amy Fusselman: Thank you. The book is really meant to encourage and to inspire. I hope that readers find it moving. It’s not a prescription. It’s a book that asks “Why?”

L.L.: So if life is all about living in the moment, how do you explainor get aroundthe busy-ness that is our daily life; do we have to disregard the clock and calendar?

Amy Fusselman:  As fellow mom, I don’t have to tell you that disregarding the clock and the calendar is impossible. But the book is a meditation—and meditation is the practice of being present. One of my favorite things about Savage Park is that it doesn’t seek to add to anyone’s to-do list. It’s a book that I hope will encourage people to think differently.

L.L.: Many of our readers are in the throes of raising young kids. We want the best for them. We hope to give them experiences we never had. But we worry. We shout over our shoulder when we drop them off at school and playdates, Be good! Have fun! While secretly thinking, Dear God, please dont die. Can you speak to that?

Amy Fusselman: In some ways, isn’t it amazing that we ever say anything but “Please don’t die” to our kids? Having children is a risk on every level. For both parents, it’s making yourself open and vulnerable to tremendous fear and love. For mothers, it’s also a physical risk.

One thing I found very compelling about Hanegi Playwark was that it provided a model for a middle ground between those two poles—between “Please don’t die” and “Have fun.” I think that’s the hard part: finding the middle ground.

L.L.: So with all of your musings on parenthood and play, one would think you have a background in child psychology, but you dont. Youre just a mom, an editor, a writer, but you offer a great sounding board on the ways in which we go about life as parents and children. What advice would you give in todays parenting landscape?

Amy Fusselman: Yes, I am not an expert and I embrace that perspective. I write an occasional parenting column for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency called “Family Practice” and I write it as “Dr.” Amy Fusselman. I took on that “doctor” persona, in part, because of what felt to me like the tyranny of doctor/experts and their parenting manuals. So the short answer is that I have no expert parenting advice.

A longer answer is that right now I am very inspired by the work of child psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, who was, naturally, a pediatrician. His book, Playing and Reality is probably the most important book I have read as a parent although I am not sure it is a parenting book. I recommend that book to people.

L.L.: From reading SAVAGE PARK, your daughter, Katie is so very perceptive especially when she speaks of Norikos [the Japanese playpark curator] baby and her experience with SIDS. I was in complete awe with this little angel of yours. What is Katie like now, and how do you suppose she knew so much about that incident?

Amy Fusselman:I don’t think my kid is unusual. Unique, yes, as every person is, but not unusual. Children, especially very young children, are remarkably perceptive in ways that I think are generally dismissed. Maybe what’s unusual is that instead of dismissing that moment, I recorded it.

I think this is actually relevant to the issue of the playground. A playground that is not connected to the environment, that doesn’t offer a child any ability to change it, or to experience cause and effect, discourages the development of intuition and creativity in a way that seems to me to be pretty common in children’s lives today. Savage Park confronts this.

L.L.: And how is Noriko and her family doing now? What do they think of SAVAGE PARK?

Amy Fusselman:

Noriko gave the book her blessing. I would not have published it otherwise. She and her husband have a new baby girl. I hope they come to visit New York soon.

L.L.: What have I forgotten to ask, that I should have?

Amy Fusselman:

I don’t think you have missed anything! But I want to know: what is this secret language your kids are making up?!

L.L.: How can we learn more about you, about play in America and the Hanegi Playpark. What are some of your very favorite resources?

Amy Fusselman: The International Play Association (ipausa.org) is a fantastic resource. I also love Brian Sutton-Smith’s book, The Ambiguity of Play.

As for me, Savage Park is my third book; I do have other books out: The Pharmacists Mate and 8.

L.L: THANK YOU so much for being with us, Amy. Best wishes you and yours and thanks for allowing me to see play in a different way.

Amy Fusselman: Thank you, Leslie, I enjoyed it.

For More Information on Ms. Fusselman, her work and how to connect, please see:fusselman_amy

Website: www.amyfusselman.com/

Twitter: @AmyFusselman

Bio: Amy Fusselman is the author of The Pharmacist’s Mate and 8. As “doctor” Fussleman, she writes the Family Practice parenting column for McSweeny’s Internet Tendency. Her work has also appeared in the New York Times magazine, Ms., Hairpin, and ARTnews. She lives in New York City.

Write On, Wednesday: Interview with Amy Impellizzeri, Author of LEMONGRASS HOPE


By Leslie Lindsay

I’m thrilled to introduce you to a new book, a new author! One you’ve just GOT to read. Layout 1 (Page 1)

Amy  Impellizzeri is a debut author of LEMONGRASS HOPE, just the mere mention of the title slipping from my mouth makes me feel, well…nostalgic, hopeful; it exudes intrigue and evokes another time and place. Say it. Lemongrass Hope.

Before the book, Amy worked tirelessly as a corporate litigator. She now advocates for entrepreneurial women, and is at work on her next book, Lawyer Interrupted (due out in 2015) which takes non-fiction delve into the cutthroat world of corporate law. She’s also a mom and wife.

But back to Lemongrass Hope. Critically-acclaimed, it’s a mutilayered bittersweet romance that will leave you with perhaps more questions than answers. At the very least, it will have you questioning the power of fate, destiny, and second chances. Read my review here. [https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1073361165]

L.L.: Amy, thank you so very much for taking the time to be with us today. I have to say, I am reading Lemongrass Hope right now and it’s written in such a way that really propels me into the narrative. You write so effortlessly about women, wives, mothers…and it’s very relatable. If you were to compare your writing with other female authors, or books that take on some of the same themes, who might you feel most aligned with?

Amy Impellizzeri: Thank YOU! What a wonderful compliment. I read so many genres and writers, but I have to say that there are certain women writers – like Kelly Corrigan, Jojo Moyes, and Liane Moriarty – who write in such a way that I just know, if they lived down the street, we’d have coffee. Do you know what I mean?

And I LOVE the compliment that my story and writing are relatable, because the connections that I have made as a result of Lemongrass Hope are the very best parts of this entire journey.  

L.L. Let’s talk about the book a bit. So, I am reading and nodding my head. I get 4-year olds. I’ve so been in a coffee shop where my kids have wrecked havoc on the store, my nerves, and everything else. I’ve been to the beach with my kids and I’ve questioned past choices. Did you wake up one day and say, “hey—I’ve got to write about this?” How did Lemongrass Hope evolve?

Amy Impellizzeri: Oh, I love that. It’s funny, because all of those completely familiar, relatable scenes involving Kate’s kids might as well have happened to me too, although each one is truly fictional. Everyone asks about “The Question Game,” in particular and the truth is: I made it up. Just like I made up all of those scenes between Kate and her kids. But the “Question Game” is like a caricature of every frustratingly poignant car game/ “why”/ “I spy”/ “where’s waldo” game we’ve all played with our kids, and of course, it played well into the underlying themes of Lemongrass Hope.

The simple truth is that Lemongrass Hope evolved from an idea that came to me at a time in my life when I was really obsessed with second chances and roads not taken – mostly in my professional life. I had just taken what was supposed to be a one-year sabbatical from my 13-year corporate law gig, and I was re-evaluating the decisions I had made up to that point. I think my subconscious was working in overdrive at the time, because I had a surreal dream that ultimately led me to deciding to explore the theme in the context of a unique love story. And what I have found from the beautiful way the novel has been received is that – even more so than the coffee shop and beach scenes – this longing for and confusion about second chances and the decisions we do and do not make – are an almost universal human experience.

L.L. Let’s talk about the past. They say those who dwell on the past are depressed, the ones who think about the future are anxious, and the ones who live in the present are the ones who are truly happy. Can you speak to that and how it relates to Lemongrass Hope?

Amy Impellizzeri: Well, I think there is a little truth in all of that. But I’d like to think Lemongrass Hope explores my own feelings on the topic which include honoring the past, and hoping for the future while truly trying to live in the present.

L.L.: Looking at the structure of the book, you start off in third person, that is, everything is, “When Kate first met Benton…” and then we shift POVs towards the middle of the book to first person, “I asked myself again if I should trust this man I haven’t seen in fifteen years.” Was this intentional?

Amy Impellizzeri: Yes! Thanks for noticing and picking it up. In Part II, we shift to 1st person, which makes more sense in the context of the entire novel. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that I very much wanted the reader to abruptly feel the change in Part II, and to feel that he/she had been an observer – along with Kate – in Part I.

L.L.: I understand you worked with beloved bestselling novelist Caroline Leavitt on the editing of Lemongrass Hope. She’s fantastic, I know because I’ve seeked out her services. Can you give us some highlights of working with her?

Amy Impellizzeri: That’s a great question. There are so many highlights. She is an amazing mentor and brilliant writer and I would scribble notes furiously every time she and I would talk about Lemongrass Hope, or anything else for that matter.

She was a fan of the book from the beginning and validated my hope that the idea for Lemongrass Hope was an original one – she even called it (and the ending) “spectacular.” So, I never really recovered from that, of course!

But she also made me do the work. She had me flesh out the character arcs for the principal characters, revise and revise until the structure of the book was clean and right. Caroline-as-editor is like your best teachers in high school – the ones who refuse to tell you the answer but who keep pushing you to find the answer on your own, and then celebrate right along with you at the end.        

L.L.: In fact, you penned this amazing essay for Ms. Leavitt’s blog, on the angst’s of a first-time novelist. I’m going to share it here.  I am so humbled by your humility and annoyance at writing, but also your tenacity. Can you touch on that a bit?

Amy Impellizzeri: That essay really draws from a time when I was as close as I had ever been to scrapping Lemongrass Hope – tossing the whole thing in the garbage. There was a structural glitch in the book that I couldn’t quite get right, that in hindsight, seems so obvious, but at the time, seemed insurmountable. And so when Caroline said, send me an essay for the Blog about “the writing,” I knew instantly what I would write.

For me, the writing is not the hard part. The putting it out there is the excruciating part. In this sense, being a “first-time novelist” has been equal parts daunting and exhilarating, but I am truly savoring every moment!

L.L.: I could probably ask questions all day about writing and the book, but we both have other tasks to tend to! One last thing—and maybe the most important—if you were stranded on an island, what book would you take to read, what would you want to eat over and over, and if you could write (assuming paper and pencil, laptop), what would you write about?

Amy Impellizzeri: Ok – now I’m daydreaming about peace and serenity on a desert island – bliss! (But not really, because I write best when life is swirling all around me.)

I would take Life of Pi, of course, because I could read that book over and over again – and it seems like the perfect “stranded-on-an-island” read!

I’m hoping I could find a “Jack’s Bar” on the island for perfect conch fritters and island beer, because that would be my dream diet, and besides, I’m not really all that good at fishing and foraging!

And I would write the next novel that is swirling around in my brain – which I think is about nature versus nurture and the way that even though we are all connected, we don’t always need to use that connection as a crutch … we can break free from all that connectedness, if we truly want to. A desert island seems the perfect place to explore that theme!

L.L: Thanks so much for being with us, Amy!!


Amy Impellizzeri is a reformed corporate litigator and author. In 2009, she left corporate law to write and advocate for women entrepreneurs, joining the executive team of an investor-backed startup company, ShopFunder LLC (formerly Hybrid Her, named one of ForbesWoman’s top websites for women in 2010 and 2011).Amy’s debut novel, Lemongrass Hope (Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing, 2014) is an Amazon Best-Seller. Oprah’s very first Book Club Selection Author and NYT #1 Best-Selling Author, Jacquelyn Mitchard, has said “Lemongrass Hope is that fine and fresh thing – a truly new story …. Amy Impellizzeri is a bold and tender writer, who makes the impossible feel not only real, but strangely familiar.”Amy’s first non-fiction book, Lawyer Interrupted, is due out in 2015 (ABA Publishing), and her essays and articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Glass Hammer, Divine Caroline, and ABA’s Law Practice Today, among more.
Please, check out Amy’s links, get the book, and more:

Buy the book! http://www.amazon.com/Lemongrass-Hope-Amy-Impellizzeri/dp/1939288533

Like me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ImpellizzeriAmy

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AmyImpellizzeri

Get updates on my website: www.amyimpellizzeri.com

Write On, Wednesday: Meet ebook Sensation Darcie Chan & THE MILL RIVER series


By Leslie Lindsay

Selling a whopping 700,000 eBook originals of her debut, THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE, Darcie Chan is a force to be reckoned with. She definitely has gumption and the tenacity an author in today’s market needs. Having read the first book, I was eager to jump back into the enchanting fictional world of Mill River Vermont, the very place that oozes kitchy charm and memorable characters; it’s like Mayberry come to life. Plus, it’s fall and who can resist a book with such a lovely autumnal cover?Redemption-cover-final_300

But there is more to Darcie Chan than meets the eye. She’s a mom, a wife, and former attorney. How does she do it all?

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Darcie! We busy writers would love to know how you balance all of life’s demands. Can you share how you managed to write two books, work, move, and have a baby? Wow. That’s like 4 of life’s “top stressors.”

Darcie Chan: It was a busy time, for sure, but perhaps not quite as busy as it might seem. I wrote my first novel in the early 2000s, ten years before I had my son, and put it in a drawer after it didn’t sell to a publisher. After that, it was pretty much just work and normal life until 2007, when I moved to New York with my husband. Our son came along in 2010, and in 2011, I uploaded my first novel as an e-book, which officially launched the insanity.

I suppose I got through the crazy years of 2011 through 2013 by juggling as best I could, taking things in stride, and focusing on getting things done. Leaving my attorney position in March 2012 helped decrease my stress level, certainly. It was a tough thing to do, because I loved my office and my legal job, but I still believe it was the right decision. Also, the changes in my life at the time were mostly happy and exciting, so I always felt more like I was riding a roller coaster than digging myself out of a hole.

L.L.: Tell us a little about how you created and envisioned Mill River Vermont? I understand there is some basis of a real-life town and “recluse” in a small town located in Indiana. Can you expand on that?

Darcie Chan: I grew up in small towns in several states, so I knew that I wanted a cozy, friendly small town as the setting for the first novels I planned to write. I tried to model my characters and the appearance of the town after the places in which I’d lived or visited while growing up. I didn’t base the fictional village of Mill River on any one particular town, though, because I wanted to be able to create and modify aspects of it to fit the story I was trying to tell. And, I selected Vermont as the state in which Mill River would be located because that state (in addition to being the home of countless beautiful small towns and villages) has a unique and longstanding town meeting tradition. Every town in Vermont holds a town meeting on the first Tuesday in March where residents come together to vote on town business. An annual town meeting was the perfect place for Father O’Brien to address the people of Mill River at the end of the novel.

Recluse-Jacket_300It’s true that the character of Mary McAllister and the central story idea for The Mill River Recluse do have a real-life origin. The basic concept for the book was inspired by a certain gentleman named Sol Strauss who lived in Paoli, Indiana, the small town in which I lived during high school and my mother was born and raised. Mr. Strauss, a Jewish man who fled Nazi Germany, operated a dry goods store in Paoli in the 1940s. Even though Mr. Strauss lived quietly alone above his shop and never seemed to be fully embraced by the town’s predominantly Christian population, he considered Paoli to be his adopted community. When he died, the town was shocked to learn that he had bequeathed to it substantial sum, which was to be used for charitable purposes to benefit the people of Paoli.

The Sol Strauss Fund is still in operation today, and Mr. Strauss is still remembered for his extreme generosity. I thought it would be very interesting to build a story around someone who is misunderstood or different in some way, and to show that even someone who is seemingly far-removed from his or her community may in fact be more special and integral than anyone could imagine.

L.L.: Both of your books have some pretty colorful characters. Is there one you feel a particular affinity toward? One who might share some of your personality?

Darcie Chan: I’m not sure that any of them share my personality, but I probably felt the strongest connection with Ivy Collard, a character in The Mill River Redemption, who shares many characteristics with my late maternal grandmother. “Nanny,” as everyone called her, was as loving and giving as Ivy, and she also shared her bawdy streak. Many of Ivy’s funny quotes are things I heard Nanny say countless times growing up.

L.L.: Lots of folks are interested in the self-publishing arena. There are so many ways to get our stories “out there,” more than ever before. What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the e-publishing/self-publishing world? Traditional publishing?

Darcie Chan: Regardless of which avenue a writer chooses to pursue, I think the main thing he or she has to do is figure out a way to get his or her books to stand out from the millions of others out there. If you want to catch a reader’s attention, you need a quality product and a way (or several ways) to get the word out about your books. With those goals in mind:

  • Put your emotions into whatever you write. They’ll carry through to your readers, and that’s so important. Think of the last memorable book that you read. Did it make you laugh out loud? Break your heart? Feel terrified or angry? Chances are that it did at least one of those things. Readers remember books that move them emotionally and often recommend them to others. Those “word-of-mouth” recommendations are what create bestsellers.
  • Put on your editing cap. Do everything you can to polish your manuscript before you show it to anyone, and be tough on yourself. Read your writing aloud to yourself to hear how it flows, how realistic the dialogue sounds, etc. Research your subjects carefully, because there will almost always be readers out there who know more (much more!) than you do about them.
  • Seek out constructive criticism. Write for yourself, but gracefully accept as much constructive criticism as you are able to get. “Test readers” are so vital to my process because they’re not as close to the material as I am and can see areas in need of improvement that I miss. It’s much better to fix problems in a draft early on, before you send it on submission to an agent or publisher or self-publish it for all the world to see. As with anything, you get only one chance to make a first impression.
  • Social media is your friend. These days, increasing numbers of people buy and learn about new books online. It’s so important to have a strong social media presence, and that’s something I’m still working on myself! People won’t become interested in your book unless they hear about it, and the Internet is an amazing tool for spreading the word and getting word-of-mouth recommendations started for books,
  •  Believe in yourself and never give up! It’s true that trying to get a novel published is very difficult. Be prepared for that. Know that you will get many rejections, criticisms of your writing that you don’t understand or agree with, and an occasional mean-spirited note that cuts you to the core. Keep an open mind about the criticisms, as repeated mentions of the same issue might be signaling a problem with the manuscript. Other than that, keep your chin up and continue your quest for an agent and publisher. Keep writing while you’re waiting to hear from agents (or editors, when you find an agent to shop your manuscript). And, above all, always believe in yourself, never stop dreaming, and never give up!

 L.L.: Finally, can you tell us what you are working on next…and when it might be available.

Darcie Chan: The first draft of my third novel, which is also set in Mill River, is currently with my editor. I’m hopeful that it will be published in September 2015, but I don’t have a firm release date yet. Beyond that, I’m not sure what I’ll write next, but I’m working on ideas for other Mill River books, just in case I decide to go in that direction. Time will tell! :)

authorAnd Leslie, I’d just like to thank you for inviting me to do this interview. I truly appreciate it! :)

L.L.: Thank you so very much for taking the time to be with us, Darcie! We so enjoyed you.

For more information:

  • Darcie’s Website where you’ll find a blog, media kit, Q&A, book club information and more.
  • MILL RIVER REDEMPTION is available at Target and where books are sold!

Bio: Darcie Chan is the author of THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE, a debut novel that became a word-of-mouth e-book sensation. With nearly 700,000 copies sold, THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists for 30 weeks and became a heartwarming favorite of readers across the country.

Darcie was born in Wisconsin and grew up in the small towns of Brandon, Wisconsin, La Junta and Cheraw, Colorado, and Paoli, Indiana. Thanks to loving and supportive parents who are both educators, she learned to read and write at an early age. She has two younger sisters, with whom she is very close.

Currently, Darcie lives just north of New York City with her husband and son. Her second novel, THE MILL RIVER REDEMPTION, is also set in the fictional town of Mill River, Vermont, and will be released by Ballantine Books on August 26, 2014.

[Special thanks to Susie Stagland and Darcie Chan. Author photo credit: Carrie Schechter]

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Thomas Christopher Greene of THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE


By Leslie Lindsay

It’s that time of year again. There’s a nip in the air, an excitement humming about campus, and perhaps the ivy is a little greener and a little more lush along those stone and brick buildings.

I am thrilled to welcome author—and president of Vermont College of Fine Arts—Thomas Christopher Greene—who prefers the less pretentious Tom—to our literary blog.

Having just read THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, 2014), the fourth of Greene’s novels, I have to say, this one blew me away. It’s part mystery, part literary academia, and part psych thriller. Definitely a blend of my favorite genres. What’s more, it takes place—in part—at a Vermont prep school.The Headmaster's Wife

Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for being with us today, Tom. I found THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE compulsively readable. While overall the prose is easy reading, the subtext is complex. We definitely get that ominous vibe that something is amiss. Well, okay—it is amiss. In the opening lines, our middle-aged headmaster is wandering around outside in the buff. Was this your intention all along, or, as many things with writing, did the narrative take a life of its own?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I often find the beginning of a novel after writing the first seventy pages or so six or seven times. It’s a horribly inefficient way to write but the only one I know. So in this case, I added that beginning after I had developed Arthur’s voice, and also the in between sections where he is being interviewed by the police.

Leslie Lindsay: Let’s talk about structure. It’s a big obsession of mine of late. You do a wonderful job of creating a sort of bifurcated narrative with framing the story along the lines of now—not now—now; tossed in for good measure are some scenes in which Arthur is being interrogated. The writing just seems to flow organically. But something tells me this was carefully thought out. Can you explain?

Thomas Christopher Greene:When I start a book, I spend a lot of time thinking and living with the characters in my head. Structure is critically important, in that it is the framework for how you tell the story. That said, this idea I came across by accident—I wrote the long first piece that is Arthur’s point of view and initially I thought the whole book would be told that way. But I knew I needed Elizabeth’s point of view and the conventional way to do it would be to alternate it with Arthur’s, which is often done. But then I came across the idea of essentially telling the same story—with different viewpoints, in, as you put it, a bifurcated narrative. And once I had that figured out, the rest of the structure took care of itself.

L.L.: THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE was born of personal tragedy and grief in your own life. Oh, I can only imagine the heartache of losing a precious young baby. Grief is a tricky thing, and yet you write about it so eloquently. What would you recommend to others who are attempting to write about grief without being stereotypical?

Thomas Christopher Greene: The great thing about fiction is that it allows writers to deliberately obfuscate a story in order to find a deeper truth. In this case, I didn’t actually have the resources—emotional, mental etc—to write about my own experience with losing our daughter. But I found that through characters I could write about the emotions and feelings I had, and there was enough distance, paradoxically, to allow a certain measure of honesty. I don’t know that there is any good advice I could give someone writing about grief, just as there is no blueprint for grief itself.

L.L.: Let’s shift over to the business of writing. What is your advice to aspiring novelists?

Thomas Christopher Greene:Read everything you can. Be thick-skinned because that will carry you. Trust your own vision. And come to Vermont College of Fine ArtsJ

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about the writing programs at your college?

Thomas Christopher Greene: We have two low-residency programs, one in writing (poetry, fiction, memoir) and one in writing for children and young adults. They are widely recognized as two of the top writing programs in the country. Next fall we are also starting our first full residency program in writing and publishing. Author Talks and Story Slam at VCFA Montpelier Vermont

L.L.: Can you share a bit about what you are working on next?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I’m writing a novel that for now is called SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW. It will be published by St. Martin’s Press hopefully in early 2016. It’s a story of a great unrequited love and what happens after a chance meeting on a Manhattan street.

L.L.: Finally, how can we learn more about you and your work?


and www.vcfa.edu

Thank you so very much for being here today! We so enjoyed.

My pleasure!

Thomas Christopher Greene

Thomas Christopher Greene was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts to Richard and Dolores Greene, the sixth of seven children. He was educated in Worcester public schools and then Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. He earned his BA in English from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, where he was the Milton Haight Turk Scholar. His MFA in Writing is from the former Vermont College. [book cover image and author image retrieved from www.thomaschristophergreene.com with author’s permission 10.01.14. College image retrieved from http://www.wherezit.com/listing_show.php?lid=423779 on 10.01.14]


By Leslie Lindsay (image source: www.alphabetart.com 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).   www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsI6SmMwUnk

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.”  http://www.chicagotribune.com/classified/realestate/chi-matt-wertz-snoop-1012oct12,0,3258691.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: www.alphabetart.com 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: www.amazon.com 9.4.13)

Write On, Wednesday: Author Kimberly McCreight on WHERE THEY FOUND HER


By Leslie Lindsay

If you all read Kimberly McCreight’s smashing debut psychological thriller, RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA (A mother’s search for the truth behind her dead daughter and NYTimes Bestseller, Target Book Club, etc.), then you are not going to want to miss this next book, WHERE THEY FOUND HER which just released yesterday! The cover is stunning and the story even more so. WhereTheyFoundHer hc c

I’m thrilled to have Kim back with us this year (see my earlier interview from January 2014 of RECONSTRUCING AMELIA) to answer some questions about the book and the writing life.

“A roller-coaster of a novel…. How lucky for us readers—McCreight has once again proven herself to be an insightful writer capable of taking us on a hell of a ride.”
—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leaving Time and The Storyteller

L.L.: Wow—your second book is here—and it’s highly anticipated. Congrats on such a fantastic accomplishment. I’m always intrigued with inspiration, that little kernel of truth lurking behind every cover. Can you share how WHERE THEY FOUND HER came to be?

Kimberly McCreight: The story came from several different places, but especially my own experiences as a mother. Where They Found Her is about many things, including how we navigate life as parents in light of the families we were raised in, which is something I often ask myself. The book was also inspired by real life events. Years ago, I saw a story on television about a young woman accused of killing her newborn. Already a mother at the time, I felt a mix of horror and sympathy for all involved. It was a story that so haunted me I had no choice but to write about it.

L.L.: Many of the threads in WHERE THEY FOUND HER are based on the voices of several women living in the same prestigious college town (Ridgedale, NJ); yet each voice is unique—they are not your typical suburban cookie-cutter women. We often wonder who is being the most reliable. Can you speak to that?

Kimberly McCreight:  I’m glad that you found the voices distinct, they certainly were meant to be. All the point of view characters in Where They Found Her are unreliable narrators to varying degrees, but in a somewhat more ordinary sense than that term is sometimes used. I believe we are all fundamentally unreliable narrators when it comes to recounting the truth of any situation because we are telling our truth, which will almost certainly differ from anyone else’s. My characters are unreliable narrators because they see the world, necessarily, from their own point of view.

L.L.: As a writer myself, I realize it’s not so much the story that is gripping, but what we hope others glean from it. There really is a ‘function in fiction.’ What is it you hope others take away from your books?

Kimberly McCreight:I want readers to be entertained by the mystery aspect of my books, but I also hope they come away asking questions about the relationships in their own lives. In Where They Found Her that central question is: how does our own personal history continue to play out—for better and for worse—in our lives today. I also hope the book makes people reflect on the role of women in the world and how having a child does or doesn’t change that.

L.L.: Much of writing is like running. We train, we persevere, our feet hurt, our muscles tire. Sometimes we think we just can’t make it any farther and we’re tossing out the laptop, burning the manuscript, chucking the Nikes. How can writer’s succeed in such a fickle—and oftentimes—subjective career?

Kimberly McCreight: By recognizing that it is just that: unpredictable. Whether a piece of writing is “good” is always a subjective question. To know that, one need only check out some of the online reader reviews from some recent Pulitzer Prize winners. No piece of writing is going to be for everyone, and very, very few will be for many.

As a writer, you only ever have control over the work you produce. And by “control” I mean, of course, if the writing gods shine down upon you on any given day. But you can still get up every day and sit down in your chair and commit to doing the very best job you possibly can to tell your story—whatever that story is. And then you can be diligent about revising, and get a great critique group, and maybe take some classes to hone your craft. Then revise and revise and revise some more until you can revise no more.

And then you cross your fingers and hope someone will get what you were trying to say. And in the meantime, you get to work on something new. Because the writing is all that ever belongs to you.

L.L.: Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on next?

Kimberly McCreight: I’ve just finished a draft of the first book in my YA Trilogy The Outliers due out June 2016 from Harper Teen. The Outliers is about a girl named Wylie who is still reeling from her mother’s recent death in a tragic car accident. When the book opens her ex-best friend Cassie has gone missing and reaches out to Wylie for help. Along with Cassie’s boyfriend Jasper, Wylie – whose lifelong struggle with anxiety has hit a fever pitch since her mom’s sudden death – heads out to find Cassie and in the process learns that what’s actually going on is far more complicated than she ever imagined. It’s a character driven mystery, but it’s also a speculative story that delves into the question of what would happen if female intuition were a scientifically proven fact. What if women are more emotional, but instead of that being a weakness, it’s finally recognized as a strength? I’m really in love with the characters and the story.   

L.L. What is obsessing you now and why?

Kimberly McCreight: The AMC show Better Call Saul. Often, the writing is so well crafted is leaves me breathless.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Kim. Can’t wait to spread the word on WHERE THEY FOUND HER!

Kimberly McCreight ap1_credit Beowulf SheehanKimberly McCreight: Thank you, Leslie!

Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel as well as an Alex Award. Called Entertainment Weekly‘s Favorite Book of the Year, Reconstructing Amelia was one of CNN’s Reader Favorites for 2013, a finalist for Goodreads Best Mystery of the Year and a Book Club pick for Target, Books-a-Million and Indigo. Reconstructing Amelia has also been optioned for film by HBO and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films. McCreight’s second novel Where They Found Her, will be published by Harper in April 2015. Her teen trilogy The Outliers, to be published by Harper Teen in 2016, has been optioned for film by Lionsgate, Mandeville, and Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with her husband and two daughters.Be sure to hop over to Kimberly McCreight’s website where you can learn more about her, get tour dates, newsletter updates, and more.


“Kimberly McCreight doesn’t just give us an intense, interwoven, multigenerational, multi-household mystery (as if that isn’t enough). She creates a world that pulls us in completely and genuinely, with characters that can enrage, amuse and fill us with empathy. It’s a thrilling, lovely novel.”
Gillian Flynn, #1 NYT bestselling author of Gone Girl

[Author image and cover image courtesy of Harper Collins. Book Trailer via author’s newsletter and can be found on YouTube. Gillian Flynn and Jodi Picoult endorsements from Kimberly McCreight’s March newsletter]

Write On Wednesday: EVEN IN DARKNESS Author Barbara Stark-Nemon Talks about Historical Fiction


By Leslie Lindsay

There are books about love. There are books about war. There are books that combine the two and then there is EVEN IN DARKNESS, an exquisitely and thoroughly researched historical fiction debut by Barbara Stark-Nemon who spent fifteen years—nothing to sneeze at—researching the book. I’m thrilled to welcome Barbara to the blog.

L.L.: What inspired you to write Even in Darkness?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: Even in Darkness is based on the life of my great aunt, who alone among her siblings did not escape Germany during the Holocaust. Her story of survival—the courage and strength she had to remake herself and her life in the face of unspeakable loss—has been an inspiration to me throughout my adult life. Hers is a beautiful story and having come to know it in depth I wanted to share it and create a legacy for her.

 L.L: You researched the book thoroughly. Did you know from the beginning how extensive your research would become?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: Yes and no. I’ve known since one of the visits I made to my great aunt in Germany many years ago, that I wanted to write her story, so I started interviewing her (she was already over 90 years old) and the priest, who is the other main character in this story. I also interviewed my parents and grandparents. I already knew a lot about my grandfather and great aunt’s family from Sunday nights around the dinner table. Then my aunt died, and the priest sent me all her personal papers, including over 50 letters that her son had written to her during and after the war from Palestine, where he had been sent at the age of 12. Those letters deepened and changed what I understood about all their lives in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

L.L.: What was one of your favorite stories that your grandfather told you about his life in Germany?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: My favorite story is one that’s actually in Even in Darkness and describes how, when all hope appeared to be lost for getting a visa to leave Germany, my grandfather chose to try one last time at the bidding of my 12-year-old mother who pestered him that she wanted to go to the U.S. to join her best friend who had already emigrated. My grandfather didn’t want to frighten my mother by telling her that he’d tried repeatedly to see the American consul and been denied an appointment. My mother begged him to go that day; it was her birthday. When he said he might not be able to get in, she told him to tell the diplomat it was his daughter’s birthday. My grandfather stayed all day in line at the consulate, and as he was about to be turned away yet again, he pleaded that it was his daughter’s birthday and he just felt it was a lucky day. The official let him in, and an hour later he had the necessary visa. That was in May of 1938, and they were finally able to leave in October, just a few weeks before Kristallnacht.

L.L.: Where did you begin your research and where did it lead you?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: I traveled to Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and to Israel to trace all the histories and see all the places I learned about in my grandfather’s stories and later, in the trove of personal papers my great aunt left to me. I was able to interview even more people related to this story, walk the streets, photograph the homes, take trains over the same routes to the concentration camp, look out over the hills surrounding the kibbutz where all my characters lived out their lives. In archives and museums I learned details of births, deaths, marriages, businesses, deportations, displacements, escapes and emigrations. All this knowledge fed my imagination for the parts of the story I didn’t and couldn’t know.

L.L.: How did you feel reading letters written by your ancestors? What did you learn from these letters?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: This was one of the most thrilling and challenging aspects of writing Even in Darkness. To translate these sixty-five-year-old letters and hear the voice of my mother’s cousin as a 19-year-old pioneer in Palestine with his description of his escape from Germany and the early years of his life half a world away was both fascinating and did more than anything else to make that time and his character live for me. The exhaustion, desperation and heartache of his parents, having just survived years of persecution under the Nazis, and then three years in a concentration camp and displaced person camp, can be heard in his youthful assurances that one day it would be safe for his mother to visit, brushing off the dangers he faced, and his exuberance for all that he was training to accomplish on the kibbutz he and other young pioneers were starting.

 L.L.: What kinds of considerations were there in incorporating real letters into your novel?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: The biggest challenge was to capture the voice, the history and the language of the letters and still work within the story structure of the novel. It was the most poignant and concrete example of the constant balance I had to maintain as I was writing Even in Darkness between what really happened to the people on whom the book is based, and what worked for purposes of writing a good novel.

L.L.: What was the most surprising part about your research? Did you uncover any family secrets?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: There were some surprises. Through interviews with cousins in Europe I learned a different perspective about other members of my grandfather’s family, whom I knew only though his stories. I learned about my mother’s cousins who were hidden in a convent by nuns. I learned about the personal decisions about faith and influence in the Catholic Church at that time that had enormous impact on my family. I learned that another great aunt was a beautiful singer and evaded arrest by singing for a German officer. And I learned that what people had to do to maintain their safety and their sanity during the dangerous years of the 1930s in Germany resulted in boundary crossing behaviors that were both courageous and painful.

L.L.: What was the hardest part about writing fiction around events and people that really happened and really existed?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: As I’ve said elsewhere, Even in Darkness is not just my first novel. It is a story of my heart and the finest tribute I can craft to two remarkable people and to other Holocaust survivors everywhere. To separate my personal attachment to the real people and events behind the book enough to insure a tight, compelling novel was a really interesting challenge for me as a writer. I also felt very sensitive to and responsible for the privacy and the legacy of other family members. Finally, this is not your typical Holocaust survival story, and the very things that make it unusual might be painful to people who would have a hard time with some of the decisions my characters made.

L.L.: How did your research expand your understanding of living life as a Jewish woman in the twentieth century in Germany?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: I got to ask my great aunt the hard questions about what it was like to watch her whole family leave, and then have to send her children out of the country. I got to hear her nieces tell me how hard their mother begged my aunt to leave, and I got to feel the agony of her decision not to leave without her husband who was ill and had refused to believe the Nazi menace was serious until it was too late, and her mother who was too old to get a visa and refused to go as well. As a mother of three sons, right around the ages of the children Klare sent out, I read the letters she received from her sons and ached for what it meant, for what she lost. I grew to understand that she had to take charge of their lives and save them as best she could; a role that her traditional upbringing couldn’t have prepared her to take on.

 L.L.: Why did you decide to write a novel rather than a biography or memoir?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: The simple answer is, there were too many missing pieces in the story. I didn’t know all the facts, but felt I understood from the point of view of the characters. It was a way to use all the compelling reality of the family story with the immediacy that fiction allows us to maintain. In the first year that I worked on the book, I participated in a wonderful workshop with the author Elizabeth Kostova. I had recently come back from a research/interview trip to Germany with much new information. We worked the story out both ways: as a memoir and as a novel. In the end, I realized I wanted to write a novel, this novel.

 L.L : Were there any unexpected obstacles you encountered when you began writing Even in Darkness?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: I thought I could work full time, finish raising three boys, do volunteer work and write a novel. I had no idea how much I would love the research and the writing, and how much I wanted to devote ALL my time to it!

L.L.: What advice would you give to authors conducting research for their book?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: Do as much as you can; use your network to help you, invest in it. The work you do to inform yourself will exponentially inform your story.

 L.L.: Who’s a character from a book you wish you could meet?

Barbara Stark-Nemon: Bernhardt Steinmann, the publisher that courts Klare in Even in Darkness!

About the Author:  Barbara Stark-Nemon grew up in Michigan listening to stories of the lives of her German ancestors, which became the inspiration and basis for EVEN IN DARKNESS (April 2015). She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan. After a 30-year teaching and clinical career working with deaf and language-disabled children, Barbara became a full-time writer. She lives and works in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.

Hop over to the author’s website, her Facebook page, Pinterest, Follow on Twitter, @bstarknemon #evenindarkness





Write On, Wednesday: Steve Wiegenstein on Historical Missouri Fiction~SLANT OF LIGHT


By Leslie Lindsay SLANT OF LIGHT

This is not your typical historical fiction. I know because the words between the covers resonate as only a Missourian can detect. You’ll hear the Ozark drawl tinged with a bit of Tennessee whiskey, smell the thick, hazy days of the river, and taste the chewy gamey texture of venison. I know because I got my start in Greene County, MO.

A sweet, gripping story of longing, loving, and yes, betrayal too, Steve Wiegenstein’s SLANT OF LIGHT (2012, Blank Slate Press) will have you cheering while simultaneously considering your own values.

And we’re honored to have Steve with us today.

L.L.: Thanks, Steve for taking the time to pop over. I am reading SLANT OF LIGHT now and I’m in awe with your voice. I almost feel as if I’m in a George Caleb Bingham print floating down the St. Francis. Can you talk a bit about imagery? How can writers essentially “paint a picture with words?”

Steve Wiegenstein: Leslie, thanks for having me, and thanks for the kind comments! For me, voice is really important, and it has two elements. One is how characters should sound. I try to maintain fidelity to the regional and educational background of each character, and of course they all have to stay within the idiom of the mid-nineteenth century. Keeping the sound of characters straight isn’t easy – I refer to several etymology sources constantly to make sure that a word was in use at the time I am writing in, and that it meant then what it’s supposed to mean. Word meanings are always shifting, so you have to be careful. The second element is the look of things and other sensory descriptions. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to avoid over-description. Instead of trying to describe all of a scene or location, I try to find the one or two most significant visual elements, or sounds or smells, that will evoke a feeling for what the place is like, and then let the reader’s imagination do the rest of the work. You have to leave room for your reader to imagine.

L.L.: Missouri is one of those states that is often divided in terms of political and social order. Some claim Missouri a southern state, while others maintain a more northern or even neutral territory. Did this affect your interest—and inspiration—in developing the storyline?

Steve Wiegenstein: Absolutely! And not just because I’m a native of Missouri. The story of the Civil War in Missouri is not as well-known as that of the Civil War in the East, but it’s fascinating because it was fought on such a smaller scale. Small groups of soldiers or guerrillas, chance encounters on a road, neighbors betraying neighbors. There was no safe place, no “behind the lines,” and everyone was implicated in the violence. That sort of political division certainly informs the themes of SLANT OF LIGHT in a big way. Nobody is purely one thing or another. Everybody is struggling to find their own best fate in situations that conspire to bring out the worst in people.

L.L.: There are quite a few characters in SLANT OF LIGHT: (James) Turner, a charming writer/lecturer, Charlotte, his down-to-earth bride, and Cabot, an idealistic Harvard-educated abolitionist. Is there one character that felt more like your ‘darling’? One you particularly identified with, or perhaps one most like you?

Steve Wiegenstein: I have to admit, the farther along I got in the writing of this book, the more I fell in love with Charlotte Turner. She was a character I kept returning to in scene after scene, and she grew and surprised me in so many ways. People often think that authors are being coy when they talk about characters “surprising” them, but it’s true! It’s what happens when you turn things over to your unconscious mind and let that guide your creation – things start happening in the story that are unexpected but make perfect sense in retrospect.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit, to the geography of Missouri. In my mind, I see it as a place rooted in grit and humility; a place that grabs a hold and won’t let go. From your perspective is that a function of geography, history, the stock that hails from the “Show Me State,” or perhaps something else?

Steve Wiegenstein: I grew up in the hill country in the southern part of the state, and like most areas that have been stereotyped by the more “sophisticated” outsiders, people in the Ozarks tend to have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. One of the dominant characteristics is not to let someone know how much you know about a subject – there’s a nice documentary about the Branson area calledWe Always Lie to Strangers,” and that title kind of sums up that attitude. The geography of the state makes a person learn to live within limitations – the land isn’t as rich as other parts of the Midwest, the hills are smaller, the valleys narrower – and I think that geography creates what you accurately describe as grit and humility in people. If you’re going to make a go of it, you have to learn to make do with what you’re given. I’ve always liked the old word for farming, “husbandry,” which carries the sense of taking care of what you’ve got, as in “husbanding your resources.” Husbandry is the art of making things flourish under difficult conditions, and Missourians have been practicing husbandry for two hundred years. That character trait appeals to me a lot.

L.L.: I’m a vegetarian living in Chicgaoland now, but I’ll readily admit to missing ‘comfort food,’ my grandma used to make: fried chicken and brisket to name a couple, but there’s so many other delicious Ozark dishes without meat: biscuits, corn bread, fried okra, peach cobbler, grits, sweet tea…am I making you hungry yet?! If you were to create a cookbook companion to go along with SLANT OF LIGHT, what foods might you include?

Steve Wiegenstein: Well . . . if we’re talking country cooking, you have to make some compromises with what we think of today as healthy eating! Remember, those country meals were for people who had been doing hard manual labor all day, so the extra fat and calories would get burned right off. But here’s where I’d start: Fresh-gigged suckers filleted, rolled in corn meal, and dropped into a very hot deep fryer. Suckers are a type of fish that most people avoid because of their bones, but this this type of cooking melts their bones, and they are delicious! Gigging season happens in the dead of winter, so part of the fun of eating them is standing around on a riverbank with your deep fryer bubbling. Then you roll up the remaining corn meal into little balls with some eggs and milk, toss them into the deep fryer too, and you’ve got hush puppies. Some people go all the way and do the same with sliced okra, green beans, or ears of corn, but for me the best vegetable to go with that is fresh-grown cabbage, chopped up fine and mixed with chopped carrots and a little bit of vinegar to make cole slaw. My version of cole-slaw is a lot tastier than the mayonnaise-based stuff, I think, but the cabbage has to be fresh for the flavor to come out. Cabbage gets a bad rap because people eat the flavorless old heads from the supermarket, but fresh-picked cabbage from your garden or the farmer’s market is a lot better. [frying fresh gigged suckers. Image retrieved from forums.ozarkanglers.com530 on 3.17.15]

L.L.: Okay, that was fun—and tempting! Can you tell us a little more about you as writer? Do you plot or let the pen guide your story? I’d imagine you’d have to do a lot of research to make the story as historically accurate as possible—and I bet that’s not a challenge since you’re an academic living in the college capital of Missouri—Columbia.

Steve Wiegenstein: Honestly, I try not to let my research get out in front of my story. I imagine we’ve all read historical novels where you get the sense that the author is thinking, “I did all this research on 18th Century textile manufacturing, and by golly it’s going in the book,” so the plot stops dead while we get a lengthy piece of exposition on textile manufacturing. I try to make the research invisible, so that readers believe everything presented to them without even noticing. If a reader thinks, “Gee, that’s an impressive piece of research,” then it’s getting in the way of the story.

As far as plotting goes, I am not a very detailed plotter. I have five or six moments in my head that I think are going to be important turning points in the story, and the task of the plot is to get from turning point to turning point in a believable way. My focus in writing is much more on character than on plot. It’s important to me that even minor characters are vivid and well-realized, so I’m happy to let a scene play out a long time to reveal character, even if it only has a small component of plot advancement.

L.L.: And now you as a reader. They say writers must read all they can get their hands on. What are your reading habits? What are you currently reading? I’m currently reading for background for the third book in my series, which takes place in the 1880s, so at the moment I’m immersed in history. I don’t read as much in historical nonfiction as I do original documents and source materials, so I look for collections of those. I’m also reading David Thelen’s Paths of Resistance and David Benac’s Conflict in the Ozarks, both of which are books about the social upheavals that were happening in Missouri at that time. Conflict in the Ozarks is specifically about the coming of large-scale lumbering to the state, which changed the economy, landscape, and social roles in Missouri forever.

I’ve also set myself a fiction-reading goal. My second book, This Old World, has been named as a finalist for the M. M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction, and I would like to read the other eleven nominees before the June meeting of the Historical Novel Society, when the winner will be announced. This is not out of a sense of competition, because thankfully, the Historical Novel Society is not that type of organization. Rather, I’m just interested in reading what other authors are up to, and if I don’t win, I’d like to be able to congratulate the winner intelligently!

Steve Wiegenstein:

L.L. Alas, I could ask questions all day…do you have anything to add that I haven’t asked?

Steve WeigensteinSteve Wiegenstein: I’d like to add that I always enjoy conversations with readers. People can contact me through my website, www.stevewiegenstein.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stevewiegensteinauthor, or on Twitter at @swiegenstein. I also love to talk to book clubs, either in person or via Skype, and have a special place in my heart for giving talks at libraries, because my mom was a librarian and I think libraries are one of the great institutions in America!

L.L. Thanks so much for being with us today, Steve. Looking forward to reading the next book in the series!

Steve Wiegenstein: Thank you!

Bio: Steve Wiegenstein is the author of Slant of Light, published in 2012 and the runner-up for the David H. Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and of This Old World, the sequel to Slant of Light, published in September 2014. Both are published by Blank Slate Press, a literary small press in St. Louis, Missouri.

Steve grew up in the Missouri Ozarks, the setting for his novel series, and worked there as a newspaper reporter before entering the field of higher education. He is an avid hiker and canoeist who hits the trails and float streams of the Ozarks every chance he gets.

Steve’s historical fiction grows out of his academic fascination with utopian societies of the Nineteenth Century. He first became interested in the Icarians, an emigrant group that settled in the Midwest from 1848 to the 1890s, and his interest spiraled out from there. The conflict of ideals and reality, passion and reason, and individual desires versus community welfare inspired him in writing Slant of Light; the Southern Literary Review called the novel “an exciting and original take on the history of America becoming America, full of complex characters and rich, realistic dialogue.” In their award announcement, the Langum Prize judges said, “At a deeper level it is also a meditation on the decline of order – social order, sexual order, and political order.”

Steve lives in Columbia, Missouri, where he works as the associate dean for academic affairs at Columbia College. He loves to speak at libraries, civic organizations, and other groups as part of the Missouri Humanities Council’s “Show-Me Speakers Bureau.” His short fiction has appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Nebraska Review, Louisiana Literature, Beloit Fiction Journal, and elsewhere.



Write On, Wednesday: Bestselling Author Lisa Unger on CRAZY LOVE YOU


By Leslie Lindsay

Okay…I am crazy in love with this book. Having been a Lisa Unger fan for some years, I practically *devoured* this one. CRAZY LOVE YOU (Touchstone, 2015) is a delusional love story bringing out the dark, edgy side of the first male protagonist Unger has written to date: Ian Paine. And we’re lucky—so lucky—to have international bestselling author Lisa Unger here with us today.
L.L.: Immediately, I was taken with Ian’s character, his voice, and his insights. He’s dark, he’s edgy, he’s brilliantly talented when it comes to art and writing. Yet, there’s something darker still. I read another interview Lisa in which you say you woke up one day with ‘this male voice in your head’ (Ian’s) and felt like you were out of your element. Can you talk a little about how you were able to insinuate yourself into his psyche so well?
I am not sure I insinuated myself into Ian’s psyche as much as he insinuated himself into mine. His voice, his motivations, his ideas and struggles were very accessible to me, even though his experiences are far from my own. I treated him as I do all my characters – with compassion, empathy and an open heart. When you treat people that way, they reveal themselves to you. It’s not so different with character. He was unreliable in many ways, and his world was unfamiliar to me. But over time I got to know him pretty well.
I didn’t feel out of my element with Ian per se, but with the idea that he was a graphic novelist, a world I knew very little about. I did a lot of research for that element of the story.
L.L.: Ian hails from the fictional town The Hollows in upstate NY (first mentioned in Unger’s, FRAGILE). The town has a life–an agenda–of it’s own. I’ve always been fascinated with the complexities of land/environment as a story device. In your opinion, can the environment actually become a character all on its own?
We are all intimately connected to our environment. Where we live, why we live there, what we love and hate about it says a lot about us as people. If plot flows from character — and it does– so does setting. Where a story takes place is as important as any other facet of the novel. And everything – plot, character and setting– are so intricately connected as to be inseparable. The Hollows takes this concept to another level because, for me, it has become like the other characters I have met. You’re right; The Hollows does have a personality and an agenda. And it is revealing itself to me in the same way as my characters tend to. I never intended The Hollows to become it’s own entity, a place I would have to explore and discover over a series of books. It surprised me, as my characters often do. And it’s not done with me yet.
L.L.: I certainly don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it is a gifted author who can combine so many elements–hauntings, psychological insights, family dysfunction, and psychics into the mix while still keeping her reader’s hooked and turning the pages. Hooks, are indeed one of those elusive tools author’s need in their toolbox. In fact, sometimes we need to show up with a tackle box! Lisa, do you start out with one hook and then continue to up the ante, or do you have many hooks floating around when you begin and carefully craft the whole? [In other words, are you a pantser or plotter?]
I never think of “hooks” when I’m writing. Whatever elements surface in the writing of a book flow from character. Ian certainly has a number of big issues he’s dealing with, and it would be impossible to get to know him without understanding trauma, addiction, family dysfunction, and the rift between fiction and reality. I don’t plot my stories. They evolve in the writing, and the subjects that wind up being addressed in the telling are organic to character.
L.L.: CRAZY LOVE YOU is a darn good psychological thriller but it’s also brimming with a rift of social issues: drugs/alcohol and addiction, post-partum depression/psychosis, child abuse, adult love, imaginary friends…and so it got me thinking about genre. Do you start out with an ‘umbrella’ genre of say, psych suspense and then develop a sort of microcosm of genres as you write? And in the end, does genre even matter?
Much like the concept of “hooks,” I don’t think the writer has any business thinking of “genre.” Those are marketing concepts and have no place in the creative headspace. My advice: write the story that is yours to tell; do it to the best of your ability; hone your craft; get better; do it again. Think about plot, character, prose, setting, atmosphere while you’re writing. But never try to fit your work into a mold created by others. My novels are always going to be dark. I hope they’re suspenseful enough to keep people turning the pages. There will be a deep dive into character, motivation, and relationships. But ultimately it’s up to publishers, booksellers, and readers to decide if they’re mysteries, or thrillers, or suspense, or crime fiction or whatever. I actually have no idea.
L.L.: So, I have to ask a bit about your background. In my “former life,” I was a psychiatric R.N.—I’m no stranger to family dysfunction, addiction, the darkness of depression and the turbulence of psychoses—but do you have a background in psychology, or have you always been ‘just’ a writer’ (1.8 million copies sold worldwide, by the way), or is your writing knowledge a combination of your various jobs and backgrounds?
I have always been a writer, since I was a kid. I have honestly never wanted to be anything else. I will say, though, if I weren’t a writer, I would probably be a psychiatrist. There is nothing more fascinating to me than the human psyche and all it’s various twists, turns and mysteries. So, to that end, I am constantly reading, learning, and researching the topics you mention. All my novels are a combination of my observations, knowledge, imagination, and research. And of course I rely on experts like you when I have questions, or want to spin out possible scenarios.
L.L.: I understand you write daily, you never take breaks (‘too many stories in your head’) and your ‘golden hours’ of productivity tend to be around 5a.m. to noon. And you’re the mom of a little girl. Whew–I’m exhausted just thinking about it! What’s your advice for maintaining balance?
LISA UNGER: Well, the balancing act requires daily adjustments! I used to think there was one perfect (ever elusive) formula for getting everything done every day. But parenthood, like creativity, is a kaleidoscope, changing and shifting with the light. You have to be willing to change with it. My daughter comes first; everything else has to wait until her needs are met. I don’t always get my golden hours, so I tend to think of her school week as my work week, stealing time on nights and weekends to work when need be, or inspiration has been asked to wait. And then I remind myself that it’s a blessing to have a life so full of wonderful things that I love – even when it’s chaotic!
L.L. Okay, I think I’ll stop there. Wait! One more: what happens to Ian’s father in the end?
Aw, come on, Leslie! Did you really think I was going to answer that?! The answer is in there. You have to go back and read it again! (Insert diabolical laughter here.)
L.L. Thanks so very much for popping by and chatting with us, Lisa! Couple of little plugs before we end~Lisa is working on her next book, due out in 2016 and toying with a new-to-her-genre: YA. Stay tuned!
Lisa Unger
New York Times bestselling author of
Lisa Unger is the bestselling author of 13 novels and several short stories. CRAZY LOVE YOU is her latest release. IN THE BLOOD, now in paperback, was a 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Book, Amazon Best Book of the Month, Suspense Magazine Best Books of 2014, Sun Sentinel Best Mystery Novels of 2014 and Indie Next Pick


Write on, Wednesday: Interview with Paula Hawkins of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN


By Leslie Lindsay

When I closed THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Riverhead Books, January 2015), a nearby freight train rumbled through my Chicago area suburb. It was as if the characters in Paula Hawkins’s debut thriller had surreptitiously made a visit to my living room. Of course, they hadn’t. I was just that invested in them, and that, my friends is just good storytelling, plain and simple.GIRL ON THE TRAIN

We’re lucky–so lucky–to have Paula with us today to answer a few questions about her spellbinding new psych thriller.

Leslie Lindsay: Paula, thank you so very much for popping in to chat about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. I’ve been fascinated with psych thrillers from British authors of late. Not sure where that comes from! What do you think it is about England/London environs that brings forth such dark and varied stories? Is it something about the geography, the climate, the pop culture? Something else?

Paula Hawkins: You’re right, there have been a lot of great psychological thrillers coming out of the UK lately – I’m not really sure why that is – it’s tempting to attribute it to our miserable climate (lots of grey, rainy days encouraging a certain darkness of outlook?) – after all, the Scots and the Scandinavians excel at crime fiction. But then a lot of great crime fiction comes out of LA, too…

L.L.: I understand THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN was inspired in part by the folks who ride a commuter train in London. Do you have “composites” of actual individuals you based your characters Rachel, Anna, and Megan on? Did you become sort of voyeuristic yourself in writing this book?

PH: There are elements of me in Rachel, Megan and Anna; there are some characteristics belonging to friends, too – but mostly they are simply works of the imagination.

L.L.: I think it’s human nature to watch others and develop stories about them. In fact, it happens every day, all day long in our interactions with store clerks, strangers, and even those we think we know. How does this aid in your process of creating a story? What advice might you give to aspiring authors?

Paula Hawkins: I’ve always had quite an overactive imagination, so I think stories come to me quite easily. I’m never short of ideas – that for me is the easy bit – the jumping off point. There are so many possible directions to go in when you start a book, endless possibilities present themselves for your characters – I think the tricky part is choosing the right path for them. That’s why I need to plan quite carefully, I’m not one of those authors who can just start writing and see where the characters lead them, I’d find that terrifying. I’m not saying that doesn’t work, however: I think authors just have to find the system that works for them, even though it may take a bit of trial and error.

L.L.: Before you wrote fiction, you were a journalist. How did that influence your career as an author?

Paula Hawkins: In order to be a decent journalist, you need to be organised, precise and economical with your words; you must be tenacious, disciplined and occasionally thick-skinned. And of course it helps if you are fascinated by people and their stories – all of these attributes are useful for an author, too.

L.L.: Almost all of the characters in GIRL ON THE TRAIN harbor some deep, dark secret. Was this your intention when you began writing, or was it something that formed from the narrative? Would you agree that “good characters” often have a secret or flaw buried beneath? How might a writer capture that?

Paula Hawkins: Some of their secrets I knew at the beginning, others revealed them to me as I wrote. As a reader, I enjoy stories in which the characters are revealed to me slowly, so that you get to know them in much the same way you would a real person, uncovering different aspects of their personalities with each meeting. The secrets characters’ harbour may pertain to something they’ve done, or had done to them, but they may also be hidden deeper, they may not be something the character has done, but something they think, or feel – a man in love with his wife’s best friend, for example, or a mother who loves but does not like her child.

L.L.: Writing can be such a subjective and fickle business. One person loves your characters, another might hate them. Another person will tell you the story isn’t ‘as gripping’ as they hoped, still another will say it was ‘compulsively readable.’ How do you—or any writer—compensate for that?

Paula Hawkins: Pick your favourite book, a book which you have loved completely, which you believe to be perfect in every way: go to a review site and you will no doubt find that some people hated it and accordingly awarded it a single star. No book is universally loved, and a book like THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, which has flawed, troubled, not always particularly likeable characters, is bound to have its detractors. I think that from a writer’s perspective, you need to listen to (valid, constructive) criticisms of your book, but try to find a way not to be paralysed by them when you next sit down to write.

L.L. Oh, my…I could ask questions all day! But alas, we both have other things to do. One more…and maybe the most important: If you were to take a train anywhere, where would you go and why? What reading material would you take along?

Paula Hawkins: There are many train journeys I’d love to take: one that I’m thinking about doing when I have time is the Oslo to Bergen train in Norway. Renowned as one of the world’s most scenic journeys, it crosses the Hardangervidda, which is Europe’s highest mountainous plateau. I think I’d have to take along a Jo Nesbo for that journey.

Paula HawkinsAbout: Paula Hawkins worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. She lives in London. The Girl on the Train is her first thriller. It is being published all over the world and has been optioned by Dreamworks.

Twitter: @paulahwrites


Fiction Friday:


By Leslie Lindsay

Okay, so I’ve been a slacker when it comes to “Fiction Friday.” But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. It just means…well, that I’ve been focusing all my efforts on this little nagging thing called a manuscript. It’s pretty much consuming me. I think about at the gym, at Target, while browsing at the bookstore or library. No one else better take my title (it’s not that fabulous, anyway). Oh wait–here’s a great title…what’s this one about?! Oh man…Joyce Carol Oates, yeah…I’ll never be able to write as good as you. Ooh, I like that description: compelling suspense-driven fiction.

Look–a squirrel! Yes, being a writer means teasing out all of the wonderfully creative ideas and telling the voices [characters] to stop, slow down, or change tact from time to time. Like me. And maybe you. We all need to slow down and remember why we got ourselves into this ‘mess’ to begin with.

Here’s a little something from what I’m currently working on:

Jo Ellen

January 20th 1989

Doubt is a difficult entity. You can’t see it but you can feel it lurking under your skin, bubbling at the gut. It is worse than any kind of infestation. Sure, you can have rodents or termites, or a spider problem, ones you can call for help and a white cargo van will appear at your doorstep—the Orkin man or whomever—and poof—gone. But doubt, it creeps in quietly and tenaciously and through the tiniest of cracks, and once inside, it can never be fully extricated.

Mallory played the part of a sulky Freshman home from college well. She bit off comebacks and insults left and right, she barricaded herself in her room for hours, she refused church during Advent and stomped through the house as if she has better places to be. And then, on Christmas Day, after the gifts have been torn open, the Add-a-Bead necklace from Famous-Barr draped around her neck, and the last of the broccoli cheddar casserole consumed, she refused to speak to me. Still, she was sugary sweet to her sister and brother, and the boy next door. When I close my eyes, when I try to remember, there’s a piece of doubt that wears on my shoulder, slithering alongside my arm, and skittering into my very soul. I reach for a fresh pack of Carlton’s in the cabinet above the stove. I was going to give it up; a new year’s resolution.

Doubt and guilt. Me and Mallory.

My daughter was up to something. Or, perhaps it was just normal college angst. Maybe it’s that feeling of being a young woman who has been away feels displaced in her own home. Ironically, this is the way I feel about Tony, even now.

When we first moved to the Dutch Colonial on Bayberry, I walked the empty halls of the house on our final inspection with the Real Estate agent, Mallory’s pudgy fist wrapped in my slightly swollen fingers—I was due with Amy two months later—and Tony scampered along like a child, poking his head into the various bedrooms. The house was nice, sure—the best we could afford at the time. But still, I remember glancing a long, stringy web threaded around a ceiling fixture and feeling a tremor of fear. The Real Estate agent noticed this and tsked, stating the house was owned by the relocation company, the previous owners transferred to Ohio or Iowa or somewhere. “We’ll get an exterminator over here before y’all move in,” she smiled then, “My treat.”

I figured it would come out of her commission, not a real treat. Whatever. It didn’t matter, as long as I didn’t have to foot the bill. I remember patting my stomach then, blooming with baby and just wanting us all to be safe from any kind of pests.

Doubt and guilt, they are both cut from the same cloth. I take a drag from the cigarette, lighting up the room bathed in gray.”

[Thanks for reading! If you like it–wonderful. Please remember that is this an original work of fiction and not to be taken as your own. Comments always appreciated. House image retrieved from http://renewal-by-andersen-new-jersey.com/category/replacement-windows/ on 2.6.15]

Fiction Friday: Book Lady


By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

They say writers should always be writing, coming up with ideas for the next one…and while we don’t jump ship and start right away on the next one (before finishing the current WIP),  it’s okay–encouraged even–to jot down a few lines, ideas, or whatever and keep it on hand. In that case, here’s a little something that “the boys in the basement” are working on while I pound out the first draft of NEXT DOOR.

“I will tell you how I read a book: First, I smooth my hands over the cover, seductively feeling for raised lettering, foil-lined font, the stretchy quality of matte finish, or the smooth luster of gloss. It’s always a better experience if the book is hardback with a jacket. Then I pinch the jacket between my thumb and forefinger, gingerly lifting the paper spine so I can glimpse the real cover, the bare bones that piece the individual pages together, often tied with the tiniest red and white flossing ribbon, or perhaps the binding of rubberized glue. In my mind, this is the cheap way to go, and often a slight disappointment if it is indeed how the book is manufactured.

I then thumb through the pages, taking notice of whether they are deckle-edged or straight-edged, mottled, gilded, organic, newsprint, slick. I fan the pages with my thumb, creating a rush of air unearthing the pleasant melding of ink and paper in an orgasmic release. I bury my nose in the spine and inhale.

Yet, sometimes, the book in question smells yeasty, musty, tart as if it has been stored on a shelf in the archives of a library for far too long. Perhaps, it’s been packed away in a cardboard box tucked into the storeroom at the bottom of the basement stairs of a grandmother’s home. The book is happy that it has found itself in my hands, delicately holding it, ready to fold back its cover, turn the pages, ready to be given new life.

I may begin with the first line. That’s nothing unusual, it is after all what most people do. Some read ferociously from cover to cover, barely looking up to engage in the world around. They forget to dress, to eat, to answer the phone. They forget who they are in the presence of. The characters take over, the story moves them into a new plane.

Others read for awhile, get bored, and place the book on a nightstand, coffee table, or cluttered kitchen counter. The book collects dust and stains from glasses left dripping condensation. If it’s a library book, the patron forgets to return it on time and incurs a fine. The book never gets read.

I read. Really read. After the first thirty pages, or so I flip to the acknowledgements section. I want to know whom the author wishes to thank; who was instrumental in the process of writing, and perhaps a little about who the author is will shine through. Authors almost always thank their literary agent, someone who helped with research, and their family. You can tell who has a spouse, a dog who shares the writing space, or a family. Reading the acknowledgements section is a must.

Still yet, I take special care not to read the last few pages of the story. There will be others who beg to differ. I once heard of someone who read the last line of every book she ever received straight away. That way, if she died before finishing, she’d know how it ended. I beg to differ. If an author does his or her job well, reading the last line won’t really give you all of the insight intended; it’s just a line. A book is made to be read in its entirety. Still, I refrain from reading it.

At this junction, I may choose to read the “about the author” blurb. It’s fascinating to learn if the author is local, or at least in the same state you are living. Maybe you share something in common: a middle initial, number of children, vacation destinations, or a hobby like knitting. Anne Author lives in Chicagoland with her black lab and husband. She enjoys vacationing in Cape Cod and practices yoga daily.

Right then, I know we have something in common. Not only am I reading Anne Author’s personal preferences of pets and hobbies, but I am reading each and every letter she pounded out on a keyboard, it doesn’t get much more intimate than that.”

Fiction Friday: Excerpt from NEXT DOOR


By Leslie Lindsay Ireland 2014 171

Where has the time gone?! Goodness, I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving…wasn’t it just August? What they say is true–finish one project [novel], start anovel. I mean, another. Go ahead and submit to agents, cross your fingers, and hope it all works out. But start the next one. You do this so you won’t go crazy thinking about the other one sort of floating around in no-man’s land wondering if others are going to love it as much as you do. And your hubby. And your dog, too because, after all she kept you company under your desk as you wrote the thing.

Well, it works. Time, once again has marched past and I have gotten lost in my next manuscript. This one has the working title of NEXT DOOR and is all about the things that happen behind closed doors, maybe the ones right next door, maybe the metaphorical ones that you just wonder about, maybe the doors that open into another world. It’s about maintaining the American Dream and family secrets and how sometimes it’s all about facades. Since late September I’ve made some major progress on this one. It may be the fastest 40,000+ words I’ve ever put onto paper. I’m not really sure what the drive has been, but I’m going to take what I can get cause you know there will come a time when I can’t get a darn thing out but a blank page. Maybe my name. Maybe, “the quick fox jumped over the lazy dog.” Or, “there will come a time when all good men must come to the aid of their country.” There will come a time, too that I think it’s all a pile of junk and wonder why I ever attempted another novel.

So that is where the time has gone. Here’s a little excerpt from NEXT DOOR:



My mother never liked to talk about her past. The copper-colored Camaro I saw her standing beside in a faded 4×4 photo was snapped from my fingers as quickly as it got there. Her high school yearbooks: forbidden. “Don’t you still have them,” I asked.

“Well, yes,” she sighed and looked to the window like all she wanted to do was escape, but all she did was complain that they were too hard to locate in the tangle of things that was our basement.

Once, I found a grocery sack filled with photo slides from the 1960s—mom as a teen on vacation to the Lake of the Ozarks, and once to Disneyland when she was a little younger. Her brother had tube socks pulled to his knees and her sister, a teal green tube top concealing her mosquito bite boobs. Guess it was all about tubular things back then. When I wielded the sack one Saturday afternoon, its contents spilled across the kitchen table. Mom rolled her eyes and in a cross voice said, “Where on earth did you find those?”yearbook_cosplay

“The spare room closet,” I replied. I held them to the light from the window, squinting to see. Mom stood near the stove, hands on her hips watching with slight distaste and nostalgia before skirting around to the table, a light brush on my shoulder.

“We can do better than that,” she said. Moments later, she dashed from the kitchen and thundered upstairs returning a few moments later with a torn cardboard box, the Kodak logo slapped on the side. I watched as she extracted a slide machine and plugged it into a wall outlet and flipped a switch. The machine projected a white patch on our green and white gingham kitchen wallpaper. “Close the curtains,” she instructed.

I jumped from my chair and pulled the tie-backs loose, allowing the ruffle-edged ivory curtains to fall, meeting in the center of the bay window. Mom flipped the light switch, darkening the kitchen.

She clicked through tinsel-laden Christmases, confetti-covered birthday parties with homemade Raggedy-Ann molded cakes, stair-stepped siblings on the first day of school. When we got to the slides of mom in a peach prom dress and pearlescent pink lips, she shut down.pretty amazing sight to see.


Sorry to burst your bubble, but the carousels that

“Wait! Who was that?” I ask, “He’s kind of good-looking.”

She pinched her mouth. “No one.”

“Oh, come on—he was someone. He took you to prom.”

Mom closes her eyes, “Evan. His name was—is—Evan Greenburg.”

“Well, whatever happened to him?”

“Nothing. I don’t know. We broke up. End of story.” Mom fiddles with the gold cross at her collarbone. “I think we’re done for today.”

My body lets loose, a small piece of me fallings, slipping deeper into the folds of her past, another clue as to who she is and who I am becoming.

You know how you can just tell that someone has lived a different life than they do now? That’s how it is with my mom. Before, she drove a Camaro. Now, it’s a Mercury station wagon with wood paneling and two bonus fold-out mini seats in the way back. “Kids,” she’ll say. “I had kids and needed another car.” She now wears long wool plaid skirts, a turtle neck, or a blouse buttoned to her neck and her hair pulled into side combs but I know she used to wear halter tops and Daisy Dukes. “Youth,” she told me once. “It will happen to you, too Mallory.”

Most curious of all is the drinking and smoking she does that she doesn’t think I know about. She’s an adult, so I guess she’s entitled. But the smoking is a source of contention, what with Grandpa’s throat cancer scare. She stands outside, out of view in the backyard between the cedar trees and garage taking puffs and then popping a mint Lifesaver in her mouth—as if that will erase the smell. In the cabinet above the refrigerator, an assortment of fine wines and hard liquor. I hear the cabinet open and a splash of amber liquid into shot glasses and mugs. I mean, what kind of Eucharistic minister chain-smokes Carltons and drinks Irish coffee before Sunday mass? One with a past, that’s who.

I found her high school yearbooks once. She wasn’t listed as being part of any clubs, though she claimed to have been in Future Homemakers of America and choir. I should’ve known—she can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Once, she told me she had been in speech and debate, but I think the only time she ever argued with success was with dad and that friend of his—Tom.

Instead, she was kind of a partier, I think. At least that’s what she said when I asked her about it later, “It was the sixties, Mal. It’s what we did.”

How could she explain High, Jo! Let’s get like a kite again. And wasn’t it fun that time at Mary Jane’s? I might go to Catholic school, but I am not dumb. There were inscriptions from boys with names like Glenn and Craig, Danny and Joel—“let’s go deep again.” At first, I thought maybe they had had some really philosophical questions, but then there was a crude little drawing of a penis that made my stomach turn. Now I understood, without a doubt why those yearbooks were “forbidden.”

I slammed them shut, a waft of mildew-y dust let loose, causing a sneeze. I shoved them back into the box I found them and tried to wipe the words from my mind.

If my mother wasn’t the goody-two-shoes choir girl with sites on becoming a homemaker, who was she?

A sea turtle, that’s what.

Sea turtle mamas come onto shore—typically at night—and carve a little hole into the sand with their flippers. They deposit a clutch of fifty to two hundred soft-shelled eggs, cover them up, and drift back into the sea.

Some human mothers are that way, too. They disappear emotionally almost as soon as they give birth. I don’t know what happened with my mom, but she seemed to shut-down. Not after my birth, not exactly, but after dad died. And if truth be told, she probably shut down way before that, but I never really noticed.

[This is an oiginal work of fiction. Please do not copy to share as your own. Comments welcomed. Yearbook image retrieved from http://www.klce.com/are-yearbooks-still-important/ on 11.20.14, and Kodak slide projector retrieved from http://yesteryearremembered.com/?p=2837 on 11.20.14]