Write On, Wednesday: Carla Buckley talks about her forthcoming title, THE GOOD GOODBYE, juggling dinner plates, domestic fiction, and the search for the perfect bath towel


By Leslie Lindsay 

“The first thing you should know is everyone lies. The second thing is that it matters.” good-goodbye-225

I love this line and it adequately summarizes the fourth novel from Carla Buckley, a spellbinding domestic thriller about an entwined family forced together in the eaves of an ICU in which both of their daughters, cousins-close-as-sisters lie in precarious prognoses.

Today I am honored to have Ms. Buckley with us as we learn more about the dark secrets we all have buried within.

Leslie Lindsay: Carla, I am so honored to have you join us today. I’m always interested in what ‘flipped the switch’ for you when you set out to write THE GOOD GOODBYE. What was your ‘ah-ha’ moment?

Carla Buckley: Hi, Leslie. Thank you so much for having me; I’m delighted to be here today! My “ah-ha” moment for THE GOOD GOODBYE actually occurred several years ago, when I learned about a true event in two college girls’ lives. It made the national news at the time and the two families involved ended up writing a memoir about what had happened to them. Their horrifying experience raised haunting questions in my mind, and I tucked it away for a time when I might be able to explore what it might be like to walk in their shoes.

L.L.: I am in awe with the way you depict the emotional complexity of family life. It’s authentic, it’s engaging, and overall very well balanced. Is this something that comes naturally to you, or is it something you had to work on?

Carla Buckley: You’re so kind—thank you. It means a lot to me, actually, to hear you say this. I never imagined, when I was growing up and dreaming of one day being published that I would end up writing about family life in the suburbs. Oh, no. I planned to talk about grander topics on a bigger stage, and I wrote eight novels along these lines. Every single one of them was rejected. It wasn’t until I turned to my own life to talk about the things that truly mattered the most to me—discovering who you are and what you’re made of when you’re driven to your knees by circumstances outside your control—that I finally broke through. My hope is that my readers see themselves in my stories and ask themselves, what would I do if something like that happened to me?

L.L.: THE GOOD GOODBYE alternates narratives of the two college-aged girls/cousins (Rory and Arden) and Arden’s mother, Natalie. The story crackles with family drama, rift with secrets, and the horrifically mysterious accident that leaves both girls burned and in the ICU, and one friend dead (this is not a spoiler, it happens right away). Was this your intention all along, or did the story take on a life of its own as they so often do?

Carla Buckley: Before I began writing, I knew a few things: my opening scenes, the big central revelation, and my ending line (and who would speak it.) I also knew that I wanted Natalie to be a professional chef because I thought it would be fun to talk about that world (and research it), but most of all I wanted the fire in the girls’ dorm room to feel inevitable, as if nothing else could have happened that terrible night. When I started writing the book, I thought I knew who had set the fire, and why. But as my characters slowly revealed themselves to me, their story took off in an unexpected direction, and my initial assumptions about what had caused the fire proved to be wrong. That was the biggest surprise to me, and the most satisfying.

L.L.: Rory and Arden’s POVs are backtracked in time to when they were healthy college freshman, yet are “told” from their unconscious state. This is a unique structure, and one I would find a challenge to write. Can you speak to that, please?

Carla Buckley: The idea came to me one day when I was thinking about how all things being equal, it’s the structure of a novel that sets it apart and makes it something new. So I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to pick a pivotal event in a woman’s life and have one character tell her story entirely in flashback leading up to the event, while another character told her story from the event onward? I’d never approached writing a novel this way and the biggest challenge for me was balancing revelations in the past and in the present, while keeping both storylines moving forward as one. My editor described it as having to juggle dinner plates without dropping any of them. It turned out to be enormous fun. I really loved writing this story, and only wish I could write another novel using this approach.

L.L.: Reading as a mother, this story really pulled at my heartstrings. It made me want to reach out and hug my girls and keep them close. (Sorry girls, you’re not going to college after all)! You’re a mother as well. Did writing THE GOOD GOODBYE open your eyes to some of the challenges and fears our own kids are facing these days?

Carla Buckley: I actually wrote part of THE GOOD GOODBYE while sitting in my son’s ICU room. I’d been on book tour when my husband called to tell me our son, away at college, had been in an accident. We dropped everything and rushed to be with him. As the surgeon explained when we arrived at the hospital, it was a fluke that had saved our son from being completely paralyzed. I’d already started writing THE GOOD GOODBYE and now I found myself living it. I sat in that dark hospital room and looked at my son. I felt numb. Here was everything I had feared. In the end, my son recovered completely and our lives went on. The entire ordeal reaffirmed my conviction that although parenthood makes us unbearably vulnerable, it also grants us exquisite joy. I hope I reflected that in THE GOOD GOODBYE.

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

Carla Buckley: So many things! The daring mama fox that’s taken up residence in my neighbor’s abandoned backyard, The Walking Dead, Gwen Stefani’s Used to Love You, Ted Koppel’s terrifying Lights Out about a cyber attack, the search for the perfect bath towel, rosemary and olive oil Triscuits, and the tantalizing beginning of an idea for a future book about trying to speak up but no one listening because of who you are…

L.L.: Can you give us a little glimpse into your forthcoming title, THE RELUCTANT MOTHER*?

Carla Buckley: In the novel I’m currently working on, I explore a few questions that have always intrigued me. What makes a family? What holds a family together?  When a woman running away from her previous life finds herself living next door to a family in crisis, she’s forced to confront her own past and fears, only to realize that she’s the only person who can help. [*title is currently in flux]

L.L.: Thanks so much, Carla for joining us today. It was such a treat!

Carla Buckley: Thank you for having me, and asking terrific questions that really made me stop and think. It was a true joy!

carla-buckley-225Carla Buckley is the author of The Good Goodbye, The Deepest Secret, Invisible, and The Things That Keep Us Here, which was nominated for a Thriller Award as a best first novel and the Ohioana Book Award for fiction. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and the Wharton School of Business, and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She serves on the board of the International Thriller Writers as Vice President, Awards, and is currently at work on her next novel.

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For more information, please see: www.carlabuckley.com



Books On MondaY: Meet the 10 year-old Author of THE COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS


By Leslie Lindsay

‘Tis the season when Christian families start looking forward to the fun and festivities surrounding the birth of Jesus. Of course, children get very excited about the celebration to come (hey, I once passed out and had to spend a portion of Christmas Eve in the ER; I was fine just over-stimulated and dehydrated). But really, do the kids in our lives understand why Christmas is such an exciting celebration? Countdown to Christmas

Meet, Theresa the 10 year old author of THE COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: The Jesse Tree Tradition. Theresa comes from a big family–seven in all, including mom and dad. But Jesus came from a big family as well. Every year, Theresa’s family celebrates the Jesse Tree tradition, here’s why:

“First, the Jesse Tree is a small Christmas tree with paper ornaments on it. Each ornament has a picture of a different person from the Bible. The ornaments are really pretty, but the reason the Jesse Tree is so important to us is simple. The Jesse Tree is a family tree. It is His family tree, the tree of the Son of God.”

Here’s how it works:

  • Beginning on the night of December 1st, gather your family and read a story from the Bible.
  • Sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”
  • Hang a paper ornament on a tree to honor a person in the story. There’s Adam and Eve, Sarah and Noah, and Abraham, David…and a host of others.

But THE COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS: The Jesse Tree Tradition is so much more than that. It’s a beautifully illustrated companion book to your holiday traditions (or the start of a new one!), which includes sturdy punch-out ornaments that can be preserved for seasons to come. Each day, a story is presented telling you exactly what to share with your family. It’s a timeless piece of Biblical history and family tradition all rolled into one. Plus, it’s designed by a 10-year old girl, “I wrote this book because I wanted to share the Jesse Tree tradition with you. It is treasured by my family, and good things like this should be shared. I hope you like it, and I hope you might want to make the Jesse Tree part of your family’s Christmas tradition.” 

Check out my interview with Theresa:

Leslie LindsayDo you remember when you first had the idea to write COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS, what inspired you?

Theresa Seidltz: I was 10 yrs old and my Dad kept trying to find kids story books for Bible Stories that we were using for our Jesse Tree. I started to write the story for us to use. I would read them in the bible and then write the stories for my Dad to use when we put the ornaments on the tree. One day we started talking and thought,“hey this should be a book.”

L.L.: Did you always want to write a book?

Theresa Seidltz: Yes, I have always loved writing since I was very young. I also love telling stories.

L.L.: What do you want to be when you grow up? What kind of books do you think you would write if you became an author?  

Theresa Seidltz: I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up but I know I want to write I especially would like to write fantasy books, but right now I am more focused on comedy related to my family and friends.


L.L.: What was your favorite part about writing this book?

Theresa Seidltz: Looking up the stories because I like finding out what happened to the characters in the bible.

L.L.: What do you think the hardest thing about writing a book is?

Theresa Seidltz: The work!! Putting all your thoughts down on paper. It takes time. It is really hard not to give up.

L.L.: What advice would you give to other kids who want to write books?

Theresa Seidltz: Don’t give up!! Keep at it, it is a lot of work but if you keep going, eventually you will finish.

L.L.: What are some of your favorite books to read during Christmas season? I have so many books I like to read at Christmas time.

Theresa Seidltz: I like the book “The New Advent book of Traditions” that have the stories behind all the things we do in December like Christmas cards and candy canes. I also like a book called “The Donkey’s Dream, “St Francis and the Christmas Donkey,”  and “Merry Christmas Curious George.”

L.L.: Which story is your favorite story in Countdown to Christmas? What is the important message that it shows?


Theresa S of COUNTDOWN CHRISTMASTheresa Seidltz: The Nativity is my favorite story. I think it shows patience because throughout the whole Bible, people are waiting for Jesus to come. They go through a lot of difficult things. Then He finally comes and it is a happy


For more information, or to purchase please see: 

Canter Press, the publisher of THE COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS

Follow Canter Press on Twitter  using this hashtag: #countdown2christmas

Buy on Amazo

[Cover and author images courtesy of PRbytheBook]

Write On, Wednesday: Gillian Flynn’s THE GROWNUP


By Leslie Lindsay 

The Edgar Award–winning short story from the author of

Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects, published for the first time as a stand-alone book

What a concise and wacky little story THE GROWNUP is, but what more would we expect from Gillian Flynn?!

Topping out at just over 60 pages, this is not a full-fledged novel and that may be okay, depending on what you’re in the mood for. Personally, I would have loved a full-length novel (ha, and there’s a little pun in that if you chose to read the story), but THE GROWNUP is a full short story that was originally written for J.R.R. Tolkien by Flynn (as mentioned her acknowledgements section) and published as a short story within an anthology in 2014.

Be aware that, like Flynn’s earlier stories, this one is a bit vulgar at times and definitely edgy, but if you like haunted houses, ghost-y things, and have an interest in the occult, THE GROWNUP is right. up. your. alley.

Of course the ending is trade-mark Flynn with a strange little twist that will have you paging through earlier sections to see if you can spot a little set-up.


Why you’ll want to read THE GROWNUP: 

  • To get your Gillian Flynn fix. Last fall, we were gifted with the fabulously creepy movie version of her runaway bestseller, GONE GIRL, but since then…no book.
  • To get your old house fix. Yep, it was the main reason I reached for this one.
  • And the ghostly tale sort of goes intrinsically with the whole old-house thing. 
  • A fun little foray into the whacked out minds of Flynn’s charaters…can you tell who’s being honest, or are we all deceptively crafty at the heart?
  • A perfect stocking stuffer for just about anyone who enjoys short stories. This one is so small, it fits in the the palm of your hand. And yeah, if you read the book, you’ll understand.

For more information, please see Gillian Flynn’s website


GILLIAN FLYNN is the author of the runaway hit Gone Girl, an international sensation that has spent more than one hundred weeks on the New York Times bestseller lists. Her work has been published in forty-one languages. Flynn’s previous novels, Dark Places and Dagger Award winner Sharp Objects, are also New York Times bestsellers. A former writer and critic for Entertainment Weekly, she lives in Chicago with her husband and children.

[Special thanks to A. Rosner at Crown Publishing] 


BooKs on MondaY: Meet the Bestselling Author-Illustrator Team of the Children’s POUT-POUT Books


By Leslie Lindsay 

If you’ve been around children’s literature of late, you’ll know this grumpy little fish has some dreary, weary days. Well, he’s back this holiday season but can’t seem to find any suitable gifts for the folks (fish), on his list…sigh!

Today, I am honored to have bestselling author-illustrator duo Deborah Diesen and Dan Hanna with us to have a merry little chat about their newest creation, THE NOT VERY MERRY POUT-POUT FISH. NOT VERY MERRY POUT POUT

Leslie Lindsay: How did you come up with the original Pout-Pout fish book in 2008?

Deborah DeiesnThe story grew out of an actual pout! One day many, many years ago, when my elder son was a preschooler, he was having a very grouchy afternoon. Hoping to amuse him, I made an exaggerated pouty face at him. He smiled and then pouted right back, which got us both laughing. “We look like fish,” I said. “Like pout-pout fish!” As soon as I said that out loud, it became a story idea. I jotted the idea down and I started writing The Pout-Pout Fish that same day. Years later, I started sending the story to publishers, and in 2005 it was accepted at Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers. The book was published in 2008 and began a series of stories, all featuring Mr. Fish, his friends, and their adventures.

Leslie Lindsay: Since the first book, we’ve seen Mr. Fish go to school, learn to smile, face the dark, discover how to dream and play hide-and-seek. What do kids (and their parents) love most about the series?

Deborah Diesen: I think one of the things that makes Mr. Fish an appealing character for many kids and parents

is that kids and parents alike can identify with his experiences. Toddlers sometimes pout; so do adults! Preschoolers have things they’re scared of; so do adults! Kindergarteners get nervous about starting something new; so do adults! Mr. Fish’s experiences provide a way for kids and grown-ups to explore those issues together. In addition, the stories have rhyme, repetition, and wordplay, which are fun in a read-aloud book. And Dan Hanna’s illustrations! They’re fantastic.They truly bring the stories to life.

L.L.: What is Mr. Fish up to now? Does he have a case of the “dreary wearies” in the latest book, too?

Deborah Diesen: Mr. Fish’s newest adventure is called The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. In it, Mr. Fish is in a bit of a holiday panic, searching for perfect gifts for all of his friends. His shopping trip is unsuccessful, and Mr. Fish is sure that he’s let all of his friends down. But his friend Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart, and she helps him craft simple and meaningful presents to bring to the holiday party. His friends are delighted with their presents, and together everyone celebrates peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!

L.L.: What do you hope young readers (ages 3-6) will learn from The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish? Is there a message here for grown-ups as well?

Deborah Diesen: I hope that Mr. Fish’s latest tale will help children to realize that presents don’t need to be expensive or complicated or splashy. Simple, heartfelt presents that connect us to one another are the best gifts of all. A drawing; a craft project; time spent together; even just a smile! These sorts of gifts are the most cherished and the most enduring. It’s a lesson we grown-ups have to re-learn periodically as well.

L.L.: Do you have any tips for parents of toddlers about the joy of giving presents, rather than just receiving them, this holiday season?

Deborah Diesen: Kids love to give presents, and they especially love having an active role in the process of

creating the presents. Try a craft idea or project that’s extremely simple and stress-free, and then let your child have at it with a minimum of help. The more messy, lopsided, and imperfect the results the better! Have fun with the process, and as you do you’ll create not just gifts but memories as well.   

Leslie Lindsay: Since the first book, we’ve seen Mr. Fish go to school, learn to smile, face the dark, discover how to dream and play hide-and-seek. What do kids (and their parents) love most about the series?

Deborah Diesen: I think one of the things that makes Mr. Fish an appealing character for many kids and parents

is that kids and parents alike can identify with his experiences. Toddlers sometimes pout; so do adults! Preschoolers have things they’re scared of; so do adults! Kindergarteners get nervous about starting something new; so do adults! Mr. Fish’s experiences provide a way for kids and grown-ups to explore those issues together. In addition, the stories have rhyme, repetition, and wordplay, which are fun in a read-aloud book. And Dan Hanna’s illustrations! They’re fantastic.They truly bring the stories to life.

L.L.: Ooh, what a wonderful segue…Dan, what’s your  advice for aspiring picture book illustrators?

Dan Hanna: Buy one thousand parrots and place them in a room with a looped recording saying something like: “Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!” Then release the parrots, using a helicopter, over each of the major publishing houses. When the editors leave for lunch they’ll hear the parrots in the trees screeching,“Aaaaccck, Dan Hanna can sure draw fish!” Now I know this scheme seems rather elaborate, but it worked for me.

L.L.: Do you enjoy researching or do you prefer working totally from your imagination?

Dan Hanna: Initially I let my imagination run wild. Then I knock it out with a tranquilizer dart while I do some research.

Finally, my groggy imagination re-awakes, snarls angrily and then runs wild again. I’ve found that this approach works best for me.

L.L.: What is Mr. Fish up to now? Does he have a case of the “dreary wearies” in the latest book, too?

Deborah Diesen: Mr. Fish’s newest adventure is called The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish. In it, Mr. Fish is in a bit of a holiday panic, searching for perfect gifts for all of his friends. His shopping trip is unsuccessful, and Mr. Fish is sure that he’s let all of his friends down. But his friend Miss Shimmer reminds him that the best gifts of all come straight from the heart, and she helps him craft simple and meaningful presents to bring to the holiday party. His friends are delighted with their presents, and together everyone celebrates peace, joy, and love – what a very merry gift!

L.L.: What do you hope young readers (ages 3-6) will learn from The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish? Is there a message here for grown-ups as well?

Deborah Diesen: I hope that Mr. Fish’s latest tale will help children to realize that presents don’t need to be expensive or complicated or splashy. Simple, heartfelt presents that connect us to one another are the best gifts of all. A drawing; a craft project; time spent together; even just a smile! These sorts of gifts are the most cherished and the most enduring. It’s a lesson we grown-ups have to re-learn periodically as well.

L.L.: Do you have any tips for parents of toddlers about the joy of giving presents, rather than just receiving them, this holiday season?

Deborah Diesen: Kids love to give presents, and they especially love having an active role in the process ofcreating the presents. Try a craft idea or project that’s extremely simple and stress-free, and then let your child have at it with a minimum of help. The more messy, lopsided, and imperfect the results the better! Have fun with the process, and as you do you’ll create not just gifts but memories as well.

For more information, teacher resources, order books, find activities, and more, please pop over to the POUT-POUT FISH website. 

Deborah D POUT POUT FISHDEBORAH DIESEN currently works for a small nonprofit organization and has also worked as a reference librarian and a bookseller. She lives in Grand Ledge, Michigan. You can learn more at her website

Dan POUT-POUT FISTDAN HANNA has over ten years’ experience in the animation industry, and his work has appeared on BBC America and the Cartoon Network. He lives in Santa Barbara, California. He is the illustrator of the Pout-Pout Fish books.You can learn more at his website

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook. Author/illustrator and cover images provided courtesy of A. Wike]

Write On, Wednesday: Historical YA author Courtney McKinney-Whitaker Talks about the Anglo-Cherokee War, her fascination with history, and balancing motherhood with writing


By Leslie Lindsay 

I am in absolute awe of historian Courtney McKinney-Whitaker’s YA historical debut, THE LAST SISTER (October 15, 2014). Set in the rolling South Carolina backwoods, down the spine of the Appalachians, we come to know strong willed, yet fair-minded Catronia Blair (“Catie”), her struggles with a lesser-known war, the Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-61), in a tender coming-of-age story.THE LAST SISTER

Technically dubbed, YA, THE LAST SISTER could very well be one of those cross-over books that both adults and high school students would enjoy. The language is clean, and there’s just a hint of romance, but you won’t get off the hook where violence is concerned. There’s a good deal of scalpings and gun shots—but it is a book about a war, after all.

Today, I am honored to have Courtney McKinney-Whitaker join us on the blog couch and chat with us about the book, the war, and more.

Leslie Lindsay: I read in the back of THE LAST SISTER that the inspiration for the book started as a dare, as in, “I bet you can’t write a historical YA novel and find an audience and publisher.” But you did! Can you speak about your motivations and inspiration, please?

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker: It was actually a dare to myself. I knew writing a YA historical was a risk, and in fact I’d been warned several times that YA historicals are a notoriously hard sell, which is absolutely true. I think it was even more true in early 2012, when I started writing, than it is today. Many great YA historicals have been published just in the last couple of years, which I hope will lead more people in the publishing industry to take the risk on them […] it struck me that I had the perfect combination of skills to write historical fiction […] I wanted avoid those elements that often make historical fiction such a tough pill to swallow—the teachiness, the didacticism, the often unrelatable settings, while highlighting those elements that make any book fun for the reader—the world-building, the fast-paced plot, the characters and their specific struggles within the larger world. I wanted to write a historical where the story came first—before the emphasis on the history itself. In other words, I wanted to let the history fill in around the story, and not the other way around.

L.L.: So full disclosure: I had never heard of the Anglo-Cherokee War until I read THE LAST SISTER. Can you give us a quick historical overview of the time period, touching a bit on what this war was about?

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker: Trust me, you are among many people who have never heard of the Anglo-Cherokee War. That’s probably been my biggest challenge, both in writing the book and in selling it. I had only a passing familiarity with it myself until I dug into researching this time period, and I have a history degree from the University of South Carolina! The century and a half when the East Coast was home to a pile of British colonies is often overlooked, which is a shame because it’s truly fascinating. [above image: Peixotto’s depiction of the Cherokee ambush at Cane Creek from Wikipedia]

I learned in school that the Seven Years’ War and the French and Indian War are interchangeable terms for the same thing, but that’s not true. The Seven Years’ War refers to the global conflict going on between major European powers; it’s the first real world war, and to simplify greatly, it’s about property, like most wars, but here the property is colonies and crowns. The French and Indian War refers to the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War, and the name comes from the British perspective, referring to their adversaries: the French and their native allies. In the middle of this North American conflict comes the Anglo-Cherokee War, a war that neither the British government nor the Cherokee government wants.

By 1759, the British absolutely cannot win control of North America without Cherokee support […] It’s a war that starts gradually and quickly becomes a matter of shoot (or scalp) first and ask questions later. The frontier line is ultimately pushed back a hundred miles and many of the Cherokee towns nearest the frontier are destroyed. I think it’s hard for us to imagine the scale of the destruction and violence.

L.L.: I found THE LAST SISTER to be deeply researched, beautifully written, and glowing with detail. Can you talk about what your research and writing process was like?

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker:  Thank you so much! Sometimes I read an author’s note that says the author has played with the facts of history, and I feel cheated, even if I enjoyed the book. My historical training was too intense to ever allow me to do that. I also hate it when real people’s names are used, but there’s no attempt to be true to what we know of that person. I don’t worship the past, but I do respect it, and it seems unfair to the past to manipulate it like that, and especially unfair to the real people whose names are used without their permission. With that in mind, I’m very particular about sticking to the facts as far as they are known, so once I had a first draft that was just a sketch of Catie’s story framed within the general setting, I knew what I needed to know. I knew which real people would make an appearance, so I researched them more. I knew where Catie would be at different points, so I researched those areas at the specific times when she would be there. I visited Fort Loudoun (beautifully reconstructed in Vonore, TN, by the way. Fort Prince George is under a lake, so I couldn’t visit the exact spot). I read memoirs and other first-person accounts from people who were in similar situations as my fictional characters. Then I wrote several more drafts, taking my new information into account. Around the fifth draft, I did a “research questions only” draft, where I looked at very specific details, like “What is this button made of?” An eighteenth-century reenactor told me she found only one mistake: print fabric didn’t exist yet. All cloth was woven […]It took about a year to write the entire book.  

[Image of the reconstructed Fort Loudoun in Tennessee. Image source: Wikipedia 11.07.15] 

One element of the writing I should probably mention is my decision not to write in dialect. Eighteenth-century writing and speech comes just ahead of a major linguistic change in English at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

L.L.: Catie (Catronia) Blair is such a great protagonist—she’s strong-willed, fair- minded, and imperfect. The imperfect part is something I find particularly riveting; no one wants to read about perfect people. Did you work first with developing character, plot, or premise? 

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker: Again, thanks for your kind words. I developed this story from a previous novel, I’d say premise came first. There’s a girl, and she’s going to be driven out of her home for some reason, and she’s going to meet a guy who’s alone in the woods for some reason, and they’re going to have this lovely, constantly threatened romance.

As I developed the plot, the historical setting informed those reasons, and then the plot informed who the characters ultimately became. They were very different from the characters they were based on from the first novel because the forces acting on them were different.

I’m working on a novel now in which the characters came first, and I’m finding it much harder to feel my way around the plot.

L.L.: I understand you’re a busy mom of a one year old. Can you talk about how you balance the demands of a writing career and that of a toddler? What tips might you give to mom-writers?

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker: I desperately wanted to have a child, and at the same time I was so apprehensive, mostly because people love to tell you how you’ll never do anything other than care for your baby again, and worse yet, you won’t want to. You will lose all other interests, etc. That terrified me, because I didn’t want to lose myself, but luckily it’s not true! It’s one of those ridiculous things people say!

So the first thing I would say is to get ahold of the story you tell yourself about who you are. You are still a writer. You can absolutely be a writer and a mother. We have these misty, dreamy thoughts about writing and the lonely garret, etc., and devoting ourselves exclusively to our art, blah, blah, but the truth is it’s a job that you do. If you can be a teacher or an engineer or a chef or whatever else and a mother, then you can be a writer and a mother. Historical perspective has been key to helping me with this because at no time in history have we looked at mothers and children the way we do now, and it’s helpful to know that there are other perspectives.

The tough thing about today is that we’re simultaneously telling women to mother more intensely than ever before and to cut themselves more slack than ever before. The right answer for me is to do neither of those things. That means that I don’t cut myself slack when it comes to writing. But I do cut myself slack when it comes to Pinterest. The writing matters to me. The Pinterest doesn’t. I play to my strengths, which means my daughter has tons of books and a highly detailed baby book and a few essays already about her babyhood and (inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien) a correspondence with Santa Claus. But she does not have a perfect nursery or homemade baby food or homemade Halloween costumes or homemade birthday cakes. These are the right answers for me. They will be different for every person, but you have to let some things go. This year, I’m letting Christmas cards go.

In a lot of ways, though, the challenges of writing while mothering are the same as writing while doing anything else, like working, or caring for your parents, or gardening. There’s always something else to do, and because writing is really hard (for me, anyway), there’s always something easier or more fun to do. Writing requires discipline, often called “butt-in-chair,” and the thing I find most helpful there is setting and achieving small goal after small goal, like so many words per day, or a draft finished by a specific time. affirmation-for-writers

Also, get a babysitter. It’s good for you, and it’s good for your kid to have fresh attention. That is straight from my mother-in-law, who is a very impressive person in the field of special education, so I trust.

And keep in mind that writing is not just about writing. It’s also about reading. I have read so many books since I had my baby because breastfeeding is basically free reading time. I comforted myself with that thought: whatever happens, I can always read. My e-reader is my best friend. Get one, because you can hold it with one hand, and print books sometimes take two. [above typewriter image retrieved from The Art of Writing Blog, visit for more tips on juggling parenthood and writing]

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why?

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker:

I am always thinking about my new book project, currently in its first draft stage. I am very, very excited about it, although you wouldn’t know it from the slow pace of my drafting, which is not the baby’s fault so much as my own difficulty stumbling through a complex story with an ensemble cast. It is going to be such a great book, if I can pull it off! It’s another historical, set in the last years of the Revolutionary War after the fall of Charleston to the British in 1780. I was inspired by the Rice Kings, those men of extraordinary wealth who owned rice plantations in the South Carolina Lowcountry and had some very interesting reasons for choosing to rebel […]

I discovered this story while researching what I thought was going to be a companion to THE LAST SISTER. I don’t think the companion is going to happen anytime soon, if ever, but I am hoping to put out a short story featuring two favorite characters from THE LAST SISTER this December.

L.L.: What question might I have asked, but forgot?

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker:

Why the eighteenth century? What’s fun about it?

As I was brainstorming my new novel, my husband asked me that question, because there are a lot of opportunities for fun in this new novel that there weren’t necessarily in THE LAST SISTER. It wasn’t all scalping and gunshots, though there was a level of casual violence in daily life that is hard for us to grasp. Here’s a partial list.

–card parties

–group dances

–instruments (I just read about a group of musical spies who communicated with each other through their performance pieces. What?! You can’t make this stuff up.)

–weird food, drinks, and recreational drugs (Snuff, anyone?)

the clothes, especially if you’re rich

–People have far fewer inhibitions about everything than their Victorian descendants (It’s hard to be that inhibited when nobody’s wearing underwear. At least not in the sense we think of it.)

–People still actively use family crests and coats-of-arms and mottos. I love that stuff.

–duels: fun in books, not so much in real life.

-Dragoons (fast-moving cavalry units) go to war with foxhounds to keep the men and horses in shape.

–obsession with being exactly like classical Greece and Rome (This is where we get that ridiculous English rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition. It comes from trying to make English work like Latin, which it doesn’t, because it isn’t Latin. I refuse to follow it.)[…]I wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s an exciting time to visit, in research and in fiction.

L.L.: Courtney, it was such a pleasure to chat with you today—and learn more about THE LAST SISTER. Thank you!

Courtney McKinney-Whitaker: Thank you for having me. It’s always fun to talk about books, writing, history, and THE Courtney McKinney-WhitakerLAST SISTER.

Bio: A native of Greenville, South Carolina, COURTNEY MCKINNEY-WHITAKER lives, writes, and drinks a lot of hot tea in Illinois with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat.

For more information, hop over to Courtney’s website, follow on Twitter, and LIKE her Facebook page

[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. All other images as cited] 


Write On, Wednesday: Melissa Cistaro on her lovely and devastatingly beautiful memoir, PIECES OF MY MOTHER, writing the story within, & finding forgiveness


By Leslie Lindsay 

My own mother essentially abandoned my sister and I, not because she deliberately drove off, never to return, but through the devastating effects of mental illness. She left us for good this summer when she died by suicide. 9781492615385-300

A wife and mother now, I grapple with similar worries and concerns of this illusive mother figure, a similarity in Melissa Cistaro’s PIECES OF MY MOTHER, a hauntingly beautiful and devastatingly real account of her mother’s abandonment when she was just four years old.

We read sometimes to find meaning and understanding in a world that doesn’t align. If you’re looking for hope, forgiveness, and understanding, this is a must-read. But it’s not all roses; Cistaro delves into the depths of despair when she talks about family finances growing up, drugs, alcohol, and her own struggles as a wife and mother: what prevents any of us from just getting in a car and driving away?

Today, I am thrilled to have Melissa on the blog couch.

L.L.: Melissa, thank you for taking the time to pop by. First of all, I have to say how much I really loved PIECES OF MY MOTHER. Its dark, its devastatingly real, and yet so well done. Can you tell us a little more what sparked your muse when it came to actually sitting down and getting the story written?

Melissa Cistaro:

Thanks Leslie. I don’t think I ever could have written this book had I not become a mother. This may sound odd, but in some ways motherhood has been my muse. When I became a mother, my past came into focus in a way I had never seen it before. I started asking a lot of questions about what it meant to be a mother. It was painful to think that my own mother had been capable of leaving her three young children. I felt this need to understand the complexity of where I had come from. Here I was with a new baby – so completely in love and so completely caught off guard by the everyday challenges of caring for this tiny person. I started writing pieces of my story while my youngest napped. Once my son and daughter were old enough to be in school, I spent every free moment I could writing. I had to use my time efficiently. I never imagined that it would take me twelve years of working this way.

L.L.: I love the structure of the story. You weave in and out of now and then, showing us exactly where you are in the present, but how you arrived there. Structure can be a tricky thing for a writer. How did you arrive at this decision?

Melissa Cistaro:

The structure came very late in the twelve year process and for years I struggled with how to put the story together. I wrote a lot of the childhood scenes and the stories of visiting my mom first. It was about two years after my mom died when the structure finally came into focus. I knew I had to write about the last six days I had spent with my mom before she died. These were the most painful and devastating days for me. Emotionally there was so much at stake and I was desperate for some kind of closure or answers during that final trip to see her. And when I realized that I had to go back and write about those last six days, I had a strong intuitive feeling that this was the structure I had been waiting for.

 L.L.: For those of us who have struggled as a motherless daughter, what words of wisdom can you impart? How might she learn from this experience to be a better woman, wife, mother?

Melissa Cistaro:

I was fortunate to be in a long-time writing group with Hope Edelman who wrote Motherless Daughters. Hope inspired me in many ways and when my mom died, I remember coming home to find a beautiful basket of white flowers on my doorstep from Hope. There is a sentence that always resurfaces in me, “Daughters never stop longing for their mothers.” I think this is true, whether our mothers are with us or not with us. I continue to miss my mom and have worn her silver bracelet on my wrist for the past seven years. We wonder and worry because we feel the threads of this bond no matter if it is strong or broken. As a mother to a teenage daughter now, I do my best – and still question every single day whether my best is ever enough.

L.L.: Like you, I have an unsubstantiated fear that I will one day go crazy as did my mother. You share in PIECES OF MY MOTHER that you fear you have a leaving gene, can you speak to that, please?

Melissa Cistaro:

I wanted to understand how my mother had come to walk away from her three young children. Because I had never understood her story fully, I worried about what kind of mother I would be. What if she had passed on a “leaving gene” to me? What if that leaving gene was laying dormant inside of me? Was I capable of snapping and walking out the door someday? It was unimaginable to me but still I questioned myself. I turned this phrase over and over. This is when I began writing the story that became Pieces of My Mother.

L.L.: Im not sure that the book really covers this, but did you ever glean any real answers as to why you mom left? Do you have any speculations?

Melissa Cistaro:  I was desperate for some clear and definite answers before my mom died. I was searching for that “Ah-ha” moment of finally understanding what caused my mom to leave. But what I found is that her story was so complicated and layered that there was no single or “ah-ha” to be found. There was no name for my mom’s struggles as a mother and that is part of what I was trying to explore in the book. Often, we want a title or quick diagnosis for something that troubles us. The last thing I ever expected to find on my final visit was her folder titled “Letters Never Sent.” These letters are really one of the greatest gifts she left behind. In her letters, I meet her as the beautiful free-spirited woman she was as opposed to the mother figure she might have been. I discover my mom’s best and worst self wrapped up in this bundle of letters she left behind.

L.L.: I am assuming your parents officially divorced as in the end, your mother is married to another man. How did that transpire?

Melissa Cistaro:

My father never remarried. My mom married another man for about a week in the late sixties. In her forties, my mom went back to school and got sober for seven years. It was during this time that she met the man she married.

L.L.: Like many readers, I felt a bitter tang of resentment toward your mother. Yikes! I hate to even admit that. Yet, somehow you were able to soften and appear at her bedside as she lie dying. I think that must have taken a tremendous amount of courage. Can you speak to that?

Melissa Cistaro:

It was important for me to understand my mom during her final days rather than judge her for the choices she had made. She was weak and sick and I didn’t want her to die. I felt extremely vulnerable and was afraid of having some sort of breakdown after she died. I didn’t know how her leaving again would impact me.  I wanted her approval right up until the end. And I was also a coward during those days. I wished I could have been more direct with her and asked her more questions, but I simply wasn’t capable. We never know what will surface when we are faced with death so close. I knew that I didn’t want to just tell the story about the poor choices my mom made by leaving her children, but I wanted to get to a place of forgiveness and try to understand her. Occasionally, a reader will comment on the anger – or lack of my anger in the story. My anger usually surfaced as fear. My brother Eden was able to let out his anger with my mom before she died. He says he spent 20 – 30 minutes screaming at her for all the ways she had wronged him. I think this helped him. But this would not have worked for me. I had a much more quiet and introspective way of communicating with my mom. I believe that when we find true forgiveness, the anger recedes and we find compassion.2015-05-31 21.50.52_resized_1

L.L.: What advice might you give to someone who would like to write about something painful? Im thinking of the emotional implications, the way the truth is always different depending on different perspectives, and what one might hope to gain by sharing their story?

Melissa Cistaro:

We cannot betray our truths. If there is a story boiling inside of you – find a way to tell it. Maybe it comes out in a piece of music, a painting or a memoir or a fictional story. But why should we die with the stories we long to share still inside of us?

Our memories will not be the same as our siblings and parents and lovers. Their stories are their own. Emotionally, this was a very difficult story for my father to read. He was not aware of the emotions I held inside as a child – and yet my dad and brothers have been incredibly supportive of the book. Writing this memoir has been a long and painful journey – but I am glad I stayed with it. I am especially grateful now as I hear from readers who express how much the book has inspired them to tell their own stories.

L.L.: Oh goshI could go on and on, but what questions have I not asked but should have?

Melissa Cistaro: I always like to mention that I work in a wonderful independent bookstore (Book Passage) which is really a dream job for me. I’ve had the opportunity to introduce many of my favorite authors and I get to read a lot of wonderful books. Working in a bookstore keeps me both humble and inspired. It is a gift to witness this passion for storytelling and the lasting power of books in our lives.

 L.L.: Thank you so much for being with us today, Melissa. I so enjoyed your story.

Melissa Cistaro: Oh my goodness Leslie, thank you for the wonderful ways that you are supporting authors and their books. It is a privilege to share my story here with you!

headshot1 for launchBio: Melissa Cistaro is a bookseller and the events coordinator at Book Passage, the legendary San Francisco Bay Area independent bookstore, where she has hosted more than 200 authors. A writer and mother of two, she has been interviewed on a number of radio shows and has been published in numerous literary journals including the New Ohio Review, Anderbo.com, and Brevity as well as in two anthologies alongside Anne Lamott, Jane Smiley, and other writers. Melissa graduated with honors from UCLA and continued her education with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She has participated in the Tin House Writer’s Workshop in Portland and The Writer’s Studio in Los Angeles. She lives in San Francisco.

For more information, or to connect with the author, please see: 

Twitter: @melissacistaro

Facebook: /melissa.cistaro

[Cover and author image courtesy of Sourcebooks/L. Williams. Family photo of Melissa, her brothers and father from the author’s personal archives and used with permission. Book trailer is available on the author’s website, http://www.melissacistaro.com 


Write On, Wednesday: Diane Chamberlain on her latest novel, PRETENDING TO DANCE, Dying with Dignity, Playing the Guitar, Character Motivations, & a Sneak-Peek at What’s Next…


By Leslie Lindsay 

Years ago, I was introduced to the wonderful world of Diane Chamberlain when I picked up her KEEPER OF THE LIGHT. And then SECRET LIFE OF CEE CEE WILKES captured my heart. Maybe it was the gorgeous auburn ringlets on the little girl and the teal cover. I have a soft spot for both. And then I sort of developed a crush on Travis in THE GOOD FATHER. But not really—he’s too young for me. And then the rural town in NECESSARY LIES came to life in ways that PretendingtoDancecovermade me yearn for my roots, and question the “good” of eugenics. Of course, I also found THE MIDWIFE’S CONFESSION a touching, yet disturbing read.

What all of these stories have in common is a deep familial thread, interweaving characters with complex moral issues that will have you cheering, crying, and tugging at your heartstrings.

Diane Chamberlain’s newest book, PRETENDING TO DANCE will stir feelings of nostalgia, grief, and adolescent angst.

I am so very honored to have USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author Diane Chamberlain with us to chat about the story and inspiration behind PRETENDING TO DANCE (October 6, 2015).

Leslie Lindsay: Diane, Thank you so very much for being with us today. It’s quite an honor. I am always so interested in what inspired a story for an author. I know your sister Joanne (who, like your character Graham, struggles with MS) partially inspired PRETENDING TO DANCE. Can you speak to that?

Diane Chamberlain: My older sister Joann started having trouble walking in her forties and that was the beginning of her ongoing battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Although, today, many people with the most common forms of MS can lead nearly normal lives, thanks to innovative medications, none of those new treatments worked on the sort of progressive illness Joann has. Like Graham, Jo lives with a 24-hour aide who does everything for her—feeds her, lifts her, rolls her over in bed, etc. And like Graham, my sister is a vibrant person with a very active and creative brain. She still directs plays for her local community theater, for example. But also, like Graham, she’d like to know there is a “way out” of her suffering should it ever become too much for her.

L.L.: Would you say you set out to write a story about Multiple Sclerosis, or was it something that came as a sort of by-product to some of the other themes in PRETENDING TO DANCE (i.e. open adoption, lies, secrets, assisted euthanasia)?

Diane Chamberlain: The inspiration behind PRETENDING TO DANCE absolutely came from my thoughts about death with dignity. Should people have the choice to end their own lives when faced with enormous physical or existential suffering? As I wrote the story, though, other themes emerged such as the family dynamics that surround open adoption etc. It’s always the case that I set out to write about one element in a story and many other elements emerge along the way.

L.L.: I’m a former child/adolescent psych R.N., so I have to say you hit teenage angst spot-on. In fact, I am just about Molly’s age—so I recall many of the fads and trends you spoke about (I was more of a Joey or Jonathan girl myself). What kind of research did you do to be able to slip into the world of a 14-year-old in 1990?

 P-3332 New Kids on the Block Boy Band Music Wall Decoration Poster Size 31"x21"Diane Chamberlain: I’m glad you think I got it right! I am considerably older than the adult Molly, but I remember being 14 very well. For me, it was the Beatles and the Stones and James Brown, but the emotions—the longing and fantasizing—were the same. However, I wanted to tap into the 1990 14-year-old that Molly was and for that I turned to my Facebook readers on my ‘Diane Chamberlain Readers Page.’ I asked them the sorts of things Molly would be into—what she’d be saving her money for, what her longings and dreams would be, etc. As always, my FB readers came through for me big time!

L.L.: In some ways, I kind of feel as if we’re kindred writers in the sense that you also have a background in social work and psychotherapy. How does that experience color your writing?

Diane Chamberlain: Well, as I’m sure you know, that background helps me understand how people tick and what their motivations might be for the things they do. I also had a private psychotherapy practice specializing in teens, which is another reason it was easy for me to tap into Molly’s psychological development. More than anything, though, I think my background gives me an understanding of how strong people are and how they can lift themselves up from the worst things life metes out to them.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit: what would you say is the most important thing a writer can do to enhance his or her story world?

Diane Chamberlain: I think getting to know one’s characters on a very deep level is the most important thing. I often do this by creating what I call a character autobiography. I ask them to tell me how they’re feeling about their life, what’s happening in the story and to their fellow characters. I record their answers in first person using pad and pen rather than the computer. I invariably learn something new and meaningful about them in this way.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you right now?

Diane Chamberlain: Playing the guitar. I’ve had no hobby for many, many years. Not since my writing hobby turned into my career, as a matter of fact! I recently rediscovered the guitar and I love it. I‘m not good at it, but I can play well enough to hang out at guitar meet-up groups and sing along. It takes me completely away from the writing world for a few hours each week and I think that break is important and energizing.

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

Diane Chamberlain: My not-yet-titled book is set in 1944 in a small town in North Carolina and involves a medium, a polio epidemic and a whole lot of people whose stories are crying out to be told! That’s all I can reveal for now.

L.L: Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Diane Chamberlain: I think you’ve done a masterful job!

L.L.: Thanks so much, Diane! We truly loved having you today.

Diane Chamberlain: Thank you, Leslie. I’m thrilled you enjoyed PRETENDING TO DANCE.

For more information, to follow, connect, or chat, please visit:

Diane Chamberlain 
is the international bestselling author of 24 novels. Her 23rd novel, The Silent Sister, hit both the USA Today and Publishers Weekly best seller lists and was a 2014 Fall Okra Pick. Her most recent novel, PRETENDING TO DANCE, introduces Molly Arnette, a woman worried the secrets from her childhood past will ruin her attempt to adopt a baby in the present. Chamberlain lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca.

[Special thanks to Katie B. at St. Martin’s Press. Author & cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Image of The New Kids on the Block retrieved from Amazon on 10.27.15 and is not endorsed by Diane Chamberlain, but is merely an element of her teenage character’s life from her most recent novel, PRETENDING TO DANCE] 

Write On, Wednesday: Paul Tremblay on his post-modern, secular take on exorcisms, peanut M&Ms, New England, being a ‘card-carrying scared-y cat’ & A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS


By Leslie Lindsay 

For one New England family, their world is about to turn into a nightmare. At first blush, A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS (June 2, 2015) appears to be a chilling psychological drama, but emerges a modern horror after a descent into madness. But just who is among the mentally unstable? Playing fast and loose with the supernatural, religion, and psychological storytelling, this dark, gothic narrative will surly capture the imaginations of many this hallowed month.HeadFullOfGhosts (1)

I’m thrilled to have Paul with us today.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for popping by, Paul. I read A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS in about two days…I got an early inkling that things weren’t quite right and wanted to get to the bottom of it. Was that your intention all along—a sort of horror-mystery? What inspired the story?

Paul Tremblay: No problem. Thanks for letting me clutter up your online space.

Back in February of 2013 I was doing research for a different novel and I stumbled across some very cool essays on the movie The Exorcist, and then I thought, “Gee (that’s the PG version of my thoughts), there has been zombie, vampire, and werewolf literary treatments recently but there have been many updates or new takes on the possession story.” So I started thinking about how I would write a possession story, and decided almost instantly that it would be a postmodern, secular (or skeptical) take on exorcisms. I knew that I couldn’t avoid Blatty’s The Exorcist so I decided to address it within the story and use it to my advantage; let the reader know that yeah, I know you’ve seen some of these images and tropes before but they still scare you and it won’t mean you’ll know what’s coming next. It was a fun way to build ambiguity, the multiple layers of Merry as the ultimate unreliable narrator, and to keep the reader off balance by continually questioning what’s real, what isn’t. In some ways the book is very much a commentary on horror; both a love letter to great horror stories and what they can accomplish, and a critique of the nastier politics of some horror stories. But, ultimately, I hope readers’ lasting memories of the book center around Merry and Marjorie, their relationship and the heartbreak and horror of what happened to them and their family.

L.L.: Full disclosure: I love old houses, New England, and…well, ghosts. But this isn’t exactly a ghost story—or, is it?

Paul Tremblay: I’ve lived in New England my whole life. So yeah, I love it too. The house in my novel is a combination of my sister’s house (thanks, sis!) and the house in which I grew up. The author pic for the book was taken in my sister’s stairwell.

This isn’t a spoiler but I purposefully wrote the book so that I didn’t explicitly answer the possession question. Readers can build a strong case that Marjorie was in fact possessed. Readers can also build an equally compelling case that nothing supernatural was happening, that Marjorie was ill and having some sort of psychotic break.

I wouldn’t dream of giving my two-bit opinion on what actually happened.

L.L.: What part does the house play in the sense of it being a character in itself? You have a very cool passage in A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS in which you talk about creepy homes pulled from the pages of fiction—Hill House(Shirley Jackson) for one, as well as the summer mansion from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s THE YELLOW WALLPAPER. Can you speak to that, please?

House-that-inspired-the-exorcist-52a63287bb7c09d6a2000464Paul Tremblay: Within the Gothic tradition the house is most definitely a character, one that actively affects the story and plot. The physical house of A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS at a first glance isn’t all that remarkable, but for the sunroom (where the confessionals are filmed, and maybe one of the most disturbing scenes in the first part of the book happens) and the staircase, of course. But the house itself is a reflection of the deteriorating family that lives inside it, and how it’s invaded by outside forces (TV, media, religion, and yes, perhaps a spirit). It is itself a reflection of the history of horror fiction; the yellow wallpaper in the sunroom itself for example. And, there’s the mini-house in Merry’s room, her cardboard house, a reflection or stand-in for her the actual house, or the mountain cabin in the ‘growing things’ story Marjorie tells Merry.

L.L.: I can’t say I’ve ever read a book in which television crews canvas the house the characters reside, a sort of modern-day twist on reality TV meets fiction. It’s a fascinating structure! Can you tell us more about how and why you decided to structure the book that way?

Paul Tremblay: Part of the decision was motivated by wanting to portray as realistically as possible what would happen to a suburban family considering an exorcism. There is no way something like that wouldn’t find its way into the news cycle somehow. Adding the reality TV show to the mix felt like the perfect way to put the exorcism story under yet another lens, another viewpoint, and all the viewpoints muddies the waters of the story, hopefully adding to the feeling of ambiguity/dread. Was what happened with Marjorie real? Was it staged for the reality TV show? How much has Merry’s memories been altered/affected/compromised by not only being on the show, but by her countless viewings of the show later when she was an adult?

L.L.: I see your author photo on the back jacket and it appears as if you live in a vintage home yourself…is it haunted? Do you have any personal experience with haunted houses?

Paul Tremblay: Nah, no experiences with haunted houses. I don’t believe in ghosts and I’m very much a skeptic. That said, I’m a card-carrying scared-y cat and I still run up dark basement stairs and get spooked very easily. It’d be cool to visit/stay in a supposedly haunted house, I think, as long as I wasn’t staying there alone. Heh.

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

Paul Tremblay: The bowl of peanut M&M’s I just devoured. Seriously, why did I eat all those? I’ll be shortly obsessed with the edits for my next novel which are going to land like an asteroid at my feet any day now.

 L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us. Happy editing and happy storytelling!

Paul Tremblay: Thank you, Leslie. Happy Halloween!

image001Bio: Paul Tremblay is the author of the novel A Head Full of Ghosts. His other novels include The Little SleepNo Sleep till WonderlandSwallowing a Donkey’s EyeFloating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (co-written with Stephen Graham Jones), and coming next summer Disappearance at Devil’s Rock. His fiction and essays have appeared in The Los Angeles Times and numerous Year’s Best anthologies. He is the author of the short speculative fiction collections In the Mean Time and was also the co-editor the Creatures anthology (with John Langan). Paul is currently on the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. He is tall and has no uvula.

“A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS, by Paul Tremblay: Scared the living hell out of me and I’m pretty hard to scare.” 

~Stephen King via Twitter, 8.19.15 

For more information, or to follow: 

[Cover and author image courtsey of Paul Tremblay. Image of brick home from Roadtrippers, retrieved 9.28.15 and is the actual filming location of the movie THE EXORCIST, located in St. Louis, MO. This is an actual, private residence. This listing is for informational/entertainment purposes only.}

BookS on MondaY: Dr. Jessica Vogelsang of PAWCURIOUS & her new book, ALL DOGS GO TO KEVIN


By Leslie Lindsay 

Growing up, I think Dr. Jessica and I could have been fast friends…if we pulled ourselves out of our shells long enough to actually talk. As a self-proclaimed shy nerdy girl, Jessica Vogelsang loved books and dogs and had very little interest in what was fashionable: Velcro tennis shoes and denim jean jackets bedazzled with puffy paint.vogelsang.AllDogsGotoKevin.hc (2)

ALL DOGS GO TO KEVIN is a beautiful legacy to her gifts: storytelling, caring demeanor toward animals, and her practical approach to veterinary science. I laughed, I cried, I nodded my head knowingly as I read through each story, from Dr. V’s early “nerd days” to vet school, first clients, early motherhood, and beyond.

Yes, there are sad parts of the story, and that’s simply because dogs don’t have life spans near as long as humans, but there’s always, always something they can teach about our lives. In the end, it’s the dogs that make us better humans.

Dr. Vogelsang is the founder of the website Pawcurious.com, and her writing has been featured on Yahoo! and CNN, as in Ladies Home Journal, People, Outside magazine, and USA Today.

Today I am thrilled to have Dr. V. on the blog couch. Along with her golden retriever, of course.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks so much for being with us today, Jessica!  I finished the book last night with a basset puppy on my chest. I’m working now so she can sleep (ha!), so we’re a bit on borrowed time. Tell me how you came to the idea of writing ALL DOGS GO TO KEVIN, was it dogs and your experience as a vet, or was it Kevin who inspired you? A little of both?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: I grew up on James Herriot, so writing a book was always something I had wanted to do. But in a circuitous way Kevin also played a role in it. He pushed me to start a blog in 2009, and although I wasn’t into that idea I did think writing a blog would be ok. He’s also the one who came up with the name pawcurious, which I thought was a terrible name. Glad I trusted him!

L.L.: I love at the end of ALL DOGS GO TO KEVIN you talk about how Kevin was very much “like a dog in human’s clothing—full of love, brimming with life, and gone all too soon.” What words might you share with someone who is grieving the loss of a pet? 

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: I think it’s important for them to know it’s ok. It’s so normal, and we are so abnormal as a society in the way we expect people to be ashamed of their grief. I would encourage them to talk about their pet and their grief, and if they aren’t surrounded by supportive people, to find some online.

L.L.: And now you are providing in-home hospice care for dog and cats. What a smart, touching way to use your gifts Can you tell me more about that, please?  VogelsangALLDOGSGOTOKEVINJessica_withDog

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: I sort of fell into hospice when I was writing the book. When Kekoa needed to be euthanized, I called on a friend to come to the house. She asked me a little while later if I might be interested in working with her practice, and I thought I might be willing to give it a try although the idea weirded me out a little. Now that I’ve been doing it for several years I can’t imagine doing any other kind of work in the field!

“Veterinarian Vogelsang pays tribute to the dogs that have played important roles in her life and professional practice . . . She writes movingly . . . A feel-good, bittersweet memoir…”

—Kirkus Reviews

L.L.: My 8-year old has wanted to be a vet since she could say, “doggy doctor.” I know getting into vet school is not exactly easy. What advice might you give to those who want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine?

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: Go into it with a full understanding of the emotional toll it may take on you. Students these days are graduating with an unprecedented amount of debt and an insecure job market. I don’t say that to discourage people from the field, but I would make sure they understand the financial implications.  There are so many ways to work with animals- you don’t have to limit yourself to a DVM!

L.L.: Can you talk a little about your journey to becoming a published author? How might it compare to vet school?

They are very different and yet very much the same for me, in terms of me doing it the wrong way. When you write a book, the traditional path is write the book, find an agent, find a publisher. I did it in the exact reverse order.

I was very fortunate to have an extremely hands on agent in Steve Troha, who helped me formulate my idea for the book. My editor Emily Griffin at Grand Central was such a supportive champion for the book. I have no idea how I would have gotten it done without them! It truly was a team effort. Sort of like vet school in that regard too- you are responsible for your own outcome, but the support of your colleagues is what keeps you afloat.

L.L.: I’ve been enamored with the low-slung, comically defined basset hound for years. Can you tell us any funny basset hound stories?

DSC_3039Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: You know, I really didn’t see too many of them where I lived and worked! They are not a hugely popular dog in San Diego. On the rare occasion we did get one in we would take bets on what it was in for: ears or skin issues. Usually it was both.

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

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: Catching up on my reading! I took such a long break while I was writing the book. I am reacquainting myself with the works of Stephen King and having a grand time doing so. I really feel like reading a ton is the best way to get better at writing so I can excuse this effort as work-related.

I’m also obsessed with pop science and the influence of pseudoscience celebrities on the web. It’s a fascinating study of confirmation bias and how people choose what to believe and why. As someone who tries to be a science educator of sorts, at least in terms of animal health, it’s really important to understand why people just refuse to believe things you take for granted (like the importance of vaccines, for example.)

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

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: What’s the next book! And the answer is I don’t know. I have two ideas in mind I need to mull on. Stay tuned.

L.L.: Thanks so much for such a fabulously fun and touching read. I’m recommending all vets-to-be, vets, and dog lovers read ALL DOGS GO TO KEVIN!

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang: Thank you so much!

For more information, or to follow, please visit Pawcurious:

VogelsangALLDOGSGOTOKEVINJessica_creditPaulBarnettDr. Jessica Vogelsang is a veterinarian, mother, and big-time dog person. She worked in emergency and small animal medicine before settling into her current practice in San Diego providing in-home hospice care for dogs and cats. She is the founder of the website www.pawcurious.com. Visit Jessica at www.drjessicavogelsang.com. Her writing has been featured in or on Yahoo!, CNN,Ladies’ Home Journal, People Pets, Outside magazine, and USA Today.

[Cover image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing. Author photo by Paul Barnett]

Write On, Wednesday: David Jaher on THE WITCH OF LIME STREET, Ectoplasm, Prescient Dreams, & the Cubbies


By Leslie Lindsay 

Maybe it’s the time of the year, maybe it’s just me, but I have a thing with witches, ghosts, psychics, and haunted houses. Throw in the roaring 20s, the Jazz Age, circus freaks, and I’m all ears.The Witch of Lime Street

Is there life after death? That question has been posed for all of human history, but not until the 1920s rolled around and folks were desperate to connect with departed loved ones, those who had sacrificed their lives to the torrents of WWI, or passed on from the devastating Spanish flu epidemic, the search for an answer was at an all-time high.

The bereaved fell out of the shadows, seeking spirit guides and mediums to help them connect to their loved ones. And then the Scientific American magazine got wind and launched an ambitious study into the paranormal, resulting in a contest to find an authentic medium. A cast of five judges were assembled to judge the psychic phenomena.

Today, I am honored to have author David Jaher chat with us about his meticulously researched THE WITCH OF LIME STREET.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for popping by, David! I am in awe with THE WITCH OF LIME STREET. First of all, it’s so comprehensive. Secondly, how or where did you first learn of Margery, the witch of Lime Street? Do you have any family connection—someone perhaps who served in the First World War, or was inflicted with the Spanish flu?

David Jaher: Thanks, Leslie.  I appreciate your taking an interest in The Witch of Lime Street!  Margery makes an appearance in virtually all Houdini biographies, and I believe the first time I heard about her was in Ken Silvermans’ book, Houdini!!!  She came across as such a colorful and controversial figure; the most well-known medium at a time when there was a mainstream fascination with Spiritualism, seances, and psychic research. I remember thinking at the time that her famous rivalry with Houdini deserved a book of its own.  No, I have no notable family connection to the First World War or epidemic, but I have always had a fascination with that war.

L.L.: So much research has gone into the writing. Can you give a brief glimpse into your research—the time you poured into the subject?

David Jaher: As the son of an American historian, I guess I am something of a research fiend, and I may have gotten a little carried away in seeking material.  I researched the book for about 18 months before I’d even started writing.  But I did love the process and have great memories of my research trips, particularly to Houdini’s pictaresque hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin.  You really never know where you are going to find a research gem. Some of the best material came from archives in England.  I loved the detective aspect of searching the world for material. One of my most helpful finds was an unpublished biography of Margery written by the scientist Mark Richardson, a close friend of her’s.  I think it had been in a basement in Maine for half a century.  In general, though, I found the most useful material by combing through the many newspapers of the day.

L.L.: So…ectoplasm. I was always under the impression that it was something created by Hollywood as in “Ghost Busters” and Slimer. But apparently, it is not. Can you touch on that, please?

David Jaher: Well, Hollywood typically imitates rather than invents.  A Noble Prize winning France physiologist named Charles Richet, who sat for seances in Paris with Margery, coined the word “ectoplasm.”  It is a supposedly ethereal substance that mediums secrete from their orifices during séances.  And it is from ectoplasm that ghosts and spectral apparitions are said to form.  In séance photographs of the period, you can see physical mediums like Margery suffused in an ectoplasmic mist.  To authenticate and capture samples of ectoplasm was a kind of scientific grail in the early 20th Century.Margery-300x239

L.L.: Nowadays it seems as if supernatural phenomena is on the on the way out, snickered at, or otherwise disregarded, yet there is clearly an interest, or curiosity, from television/movies and books with a supernatural vibe. Are you aware of any scientific research being done to validate the presence of the supernatural?

David Jaher: Joseph Rhine, who was largely responsible for taking psychic research out of the séance room and into the laboratory, was probably the last well-known researcher of psychic effects.   He founded  and  then ran the parapsychology lab at Duke University until his death in 1980.  Princeton also had an ESP lab that closed in 2007.  Today, the Division of Perceptual Studies at the Univerity of Virginia actively investigates paranormal phenomena.  And there are still private institutions that are dedicated to these studies: The English SPR, the Parapsychology Foundation, Windbridge Institute, and the Parapsychological Association are agencies that come to mind.

L.L.: Have you ever experienced any personal supernatural happenings? Can you share? 

David Jaher:  No, not like the characters in this book.  But I think that everyone has had dreams, which if they remember and pay attention to them, can be construed as psychic.  Once I had a dream that myself and two college friends, one of whom I hadn’t spoke to in many years, were cutting down a tree.  In many mystical traditions the tree is a symbol of life.  The next day I learned that my friend’s mother had died.  And a few days later the three of us were together at the house where the mourning was held.  Of course this can also be perceived as a coincidence but those two friends had not been on my conscious mind before that dream and death.

L.L.: Halloween is right around the corner. I understand there are a group of folks who set out to connect with the spirit of Harry Houdini. Have you ever attended? And what was the outcome?Houdini-300x231

David Jaher: I’ve atttended a couple of these seances, which have been organized for decades by Houdini acolytes. Sid Radner, a magician who was close friends with Houdini’s brother, was responsible for maintaining this tradition until his own death a few years ago.  Sid and others associated with the seances told me some eerie stories and Houdini did make compacts, most famously with his wife, to try and communicate from beyond the grave.  But there have been no convincing messages from Houdini.  I was at one seance that was held at the Massachusetts home where Anna Eva Fay, one of the great mediums of the Gilded Age, used to live and conduct sittings.  The medium had a message for me that day.  She said that she saw me with Barbara Walters. We’ll see how that plays out.

L.L.: What are you obsessing on now? Can you elaborate?

David Jaher: My Chicago Cubs and how well they’re playing.

L.L.: Yes! They are playing well. At least for now. Thank you, David for talking with us about your book, THE WITCH OF LIME STREET. Happy Haunting!

David Jaher: Thanks for having me.

David Jaher - Photo -¬ Laura RoseDavid Jaher received a BA from Brandeis University and an MFA in film production from New York University. At NYU, he was the recipient of the WTC Johnson Fellowship for directing. Jaher has been a screenwriter and a professional astrologer. A New York native and resident, this is his first book.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author’s publicist. Other images retrieved from David Jaher’s website. With special thanks to Dyana Messina at Penguin/Random House]