Write On, Wednesday: Cynthia Swanson on Identity, Grief, Motherhood, and so much more from THE BOOKSELLER


By Leslie Lindsay 

It’s at once delightful, yet haunting; a unique examination of love, loss, and identity. When I came across THE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson, I was immediately drawn. It might have something to do with that cover—a book Cynthia Swanson The Bookseller Jacketwith a book—well, it’s like a Russian doll of books. Of course, there’s the piece about the blurring of dreams with reality coupled with a historical touch thrusting us back to the early 1960s of Denver, Colorado. Are you smitten yet? I’m pleased to have Cynthia with us today.

L.L.: I’m always so interested in learning about the moment an author ‘knows’ she (or he) has a story. What was your inspiration for THE BOOKSELLER?

Cynthia Swanson: I was at the gym at 10 AM on a Tuesday, with one kid in the gym’s childcare area and two at school. All of the sudden, just for a moment, I wondered what I was doing in my own life. I wondered what happened to the life I’d had not long before – single, living alone with my cat and dog, writing whenever I felt like it, living completely on my own terms. As anyone with a family can tell you, that goes right out the window when kids enter the picture. It got me thinking about a character who was caught between two lives – one who begins to doubt her own reasoning skills in knowing which life is which.

L.L.: I just love how this story is so universal in the sense of that ‘what if,’ question we all ask ourselves, especially mothers. Coupled with that inevitable mommy guilt, grief…well, it was very moving.  Are those the themes you set out to explore?

Cynthia Swanson: Definitely. The book is by no means autobiographical, but I think those themes are shared by many women. We want it all – careers and families – and that’s not easy for anybody, but particularly for women, because we have such high expectations of ourselves. I think it’s interesting that women still struggle with this in 2015, the same as a character might have back in 1963. I think it’s getting better – our ideas of “work” are more creative than they were back then, in terms of job sharing, working from home, and so on – but it’s still a challenge.

L.L.: I had read somewhere that you worked on THE BOOKSELLER in15-minute increments. I’m nodding and smiling because I get it. Those staccato bursts of creativity can be so rejuvenating and fuel the creative process all day. What tips might you give a busy at-home parent who feels overwhelmed with the possibility of writing a novel?

Cynthia Swanson: You just have to get started and keep going. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s really true. It’s like exercise: any exercise is better than no exercise. Some days all you can manage is a walk around the block. Other days, you get an hour to yourself to go running or biking. Both days are valuable in terms of your physical and mental health. In the same way, shorter creative periods are just as important for your creative health as longer sessions. My other piece of advice would be, when writing a first draft, resist editing as you go. Just get the basic story down, knowing it has issues and big gaping holes. The sense of accomplishment that comes with a finished first draft is what drives me to keep going with subsequent drafts.

L.L.: How about that time period in THE BOOKSELLER? I just loved the combination of the colors (gold and turquoise), the way my imagination filled in shag carpeting, dark paneling, and clean lines of furniture ala Frank Lloyd Wright (though he was a little earlier). How did you decide to set the novel in the early 1960s?
Torquise and gold 2

Cynthia Swanson: When I first started writing THE BOOKSELLER, it was set in the present day. But I quickly realized that it needed a historical setting. Events needed to unfold slowly, in a way that could only happen before our technology-driven society came into being. The 1960s – particularly the early 1960s, before JFK was assassinated – made the perfect setting. That time period had just the right combination of optimism, growth, change – and a sense of nostalgia – to make the story engaging and believable.

L.L.: Full-disclosure—like you, I dreamed of being an architect. But I also liked to write. And complex math made me want to run for the hills. In your opinion, how does fiction and design dovetail? Or, does it?

Cynthia Swanson: I come from a wannabe design background; it’s a hobby and a passion, but not a vocation. I was an architecture major for the first couple years of college, but I kept taking creative writing classes as electives. Finally, an English professor sat me down and told me that while she didn’t know anything about my work as a designer, I was a great writer and no matter what my future held, I should always keep writing. That was so validating for a 20-year-old. I think the two disciplines require some of the same skills. For both, you need to see through another’s eyes. For authors that means understanding a character’s viewpoint, and for designers and architects that means envisioning how clients will use a space.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit—have you read any of the books listed in the bookseller, the ones Kitty sells in her bookshop? What might be your favorite(s)? [I found a lovely listing of those books here

Seven Days in MayWinterSilent Spring 2Green Eggs and Ham

Cynthia Swanson: Yes, I’ve read most of them. Certainly all the kid ones! Of the adult books mentioned, my favorites are Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Like Kitty does, I find Miss Brodie entertaining and engrossing. And like Kitty, I tried to read the Cold War thrillers, but found they weren’t my cup of tea. Maybe someday – but there are a lot of books on my To-Read list, so who knows.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Cynthia Swanson: I’m deep into writing a second novel. It’s set in the same time period – early 1960s – but it features very different characters and locale. I started working on a first draft after I submitted the final edits of THE BOOKSELLER to Harper. Working on something else at that time kept me from fixating on how my debut might do once it was out in the world. These days, about half my workday is spent on BOOKSELLER promotion and half on the new novel.

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you now?

Cynthia Swanson: Honestly, it’s that work/life balance. We have two kids who just started middle school and one in third grade, so we’re having to find new rhythms with two schools instead of one. As far as THE BOOKSELLER, I need to keep up the momentum on promoting it, so I think about that a lot. I frequently meet with local book groups who read THE BOOKSELLER, and I have several Denver-area events coming up this fall. (See this more for details.) And the new novel is constantly on my mind.

L.L.: Anything I should have asked, but didn’t?

Cynthia Swanson: I don’t know about “should have” but one thing I’d like to mention is how much I appreciate it when readers recommend THE BOOKSELLER. These days, many of us decide what to read based on Goodreads, Library Thing, Amazon reviews, book bloggers, and social media in general. If you love a book – not just my book, but any book – please take a moment to rate it and/or write a review on your favorite sites, tell your friends, recommend it to your book club. Authors depend on their current books’ popularity in order to keep their careers going and write more books! I’m so grateful for everyone who supports my work, as well as other authors.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Cynthia! Such a delight.

Cynthia Swanson: Leslie…thank YOU! 

Cynthia SwansonAuthor Bio: Cynthia Swanson is an author and a designer. Her debut novel The Bookseller was published to critical acclaim in March 2015. She has published short fiction in numerous journals and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. The hardcover version of The Bookseller is in its second printing in the US, and the novel is being translated into 11 languages. Cynthia lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and children. You can reach her at www.integritymodern.com.

Social Media:

Twitter: @cynswanauthor



[Cover and author images provided by the author and used with permission. Turquoise and gold decor retrieved from pfgrenada.com on 8.29.15 and has no connection to the THE BOOKSELLER or C. Swanson, but is used as illustrative purposes] 

Write On, Wednesday: Margaret McMullan on Honoring the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Maintaining Family Connections, & So Much More


By Leslie Lindsay 

On August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed 955 homes of the small coastal town on Pass Christian, Mississippi. With a 28-foot storm surge, the highest recorded in U.S. History, 55-foot waves, and winds reaching 120 mph, the down was wiped off the map–at least temporarily. cover-standard-aftermathlounge-285x380

Meanwhile, I was experiencing my own little whirlwind at the time: new motherhood. Tucked in the insular little community of Northfield, Minnesota, we weren’t affected by the tumultuous winds of Katrina, but the late-night feedings and wailings of “Baby Kate.” Still, we heard devastating stories of how lives were upturned at the hands of the greedy sea, the FEMA tents, the floating coffins in watery graves. Our hearts ached.

Today, I am honored to share a virtual cup of coffee with award-winning author Margaret McMullan as she describes the small town historic jewel of Pass Christian, the witness of small acts of heroism, and a compelling tribute to the residents of the Gulf Coast.

Leslie Lindsay: Aftermath Lounge honors the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Can you tell us about your experience during those days when the storm hit?

Margaret McMullan: Shortly after the storm hit, my husband and I drove down from Evansville, Indiana to Pass Christian, Mississippi. We saw aerial footage of the town and we could see that the roof on my parents’ house was mostly intact – that’s all we could see. We brought water and a lot of supplies to donate. There was a gas shortage then, and limited cell phone coverage. The closer we came to the town, the more it became like a war zone. The National Guard was there to keep people away, but we got through, thanks to a relative.

The night before we left, my mother told us to forget about everything else — all she really wanted was the painting of her mother, which had been smuggled out of Vienna during WWII. We had house keys but there were no doors. When we got there, the house was gutted – the storm surge had essentially ripped through the house. We put on rubber gloves and spent the day sifting through the debris, dragging out any salvageable pieces of furniture. The water had shoved through the closed shutters, plowed up under the foundation and tore open the back walls, bashing around the furniture, sinks, toilets, stoves, washers, driers. We never did find the painting. Elizabeth Bishop wrote a wonderful villanelle called “One Art.” She wrote about losing small items like keys and an hour badly spent, then she progresses to the greater losses — her mother’s watch, a house, cities, rivers, a continent, and finally, a loved one.

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” she starts. “So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.” I thought of that poem a lot.

L.L.: Your family played a key role, helping Pass Christian rebuild. What were a few moments that influenced you during that time?

Margaret McMullan: We saw so many people from all walks of life and they were suddenly homeless. My father organized financial donations. There were no fire trucks left after the storm, so he made sure Pass Christian got a fire truck. We were always big supporters of the library too. The Pass Christian Policemen had stayed during the storm to make sure everyone was safe. They had tried to stay safe in the library, but then when the water rose, they had to shoot out the windows to swim away to safety. I used that information in the title story of Aftermath Lounge. These men were real heroes.cover-standard-everyfathersdaughter-285x380

L.L.: Did you know from the moment the storm hit that someday you would write a novel about it? Or did a later experience give you the idea? If so, can you share?

Margaret McMullan: At first I just witnessed. I think that’s what writers do mostly. We witness. Then the material lets us know what it wants to become. I just took notes. Later stories started taking shape and they were all in different voices. It was the only way I could work at this material.

L.L: Part of your inspiration for the novel came from your family’s beautiful mansion. How did your own experiences in that house shape each of the stories you wrote?

Margaret McMullan: Well, it’s hardly a mansion, but I was surprised to discover just how much a house could mean. Everyone always says it’s just stuff, but there were so many collective memories there. When we stood and looked at everything so undone, it felt like our times spent there were gone too. Katrina had such a huge impact on the coast, on my family, and on me. I am always telling my students to write what they most care about, to write what keeps them up at night.

I had to write about Katrina. I had written about the Civil War, Reconstruction and WWII, so I saw Katrina as an historical event. I treated the hurricane more as setting. It’s in the background. The human drama is in the forefront. I’m always interested in what people do or don’t do in the face of real catastrophe. I didn’t want to write from one point of view either. I wanted to give voice to a variety of people because Katrina affected everyone.Pass Christian

L.L.: What was your writing process like for this novel? Did you know from the start it would be a novel in stories? Or did that become apparent only after you began writing?

Margaret McMullan: There were so many news stories coming out at the time. I write nonfiction, but I couldn’t get my thoughts together. I couldn’t make sense of anything. Out of habit, I took a lot of notes. I could only deal with writing about all that was happening a little bit at a time. And my own personal story just wasn’t that interesting. I personally witnessed and experienced the best in human nature. People and communities came together and helped one another in the most meaningful way. They endured with a great deal of kindness and grace. So I chipped away at the material. I wanted to tell a community’s story.

L.L. Wow–what a powerful, and important undertaking. I just loved it. The stories are still with me.Thank you, Margaret. 

Margaret McMullan: Thank you!Southern Home

Upcoming Events: 

SEPTEMBER 10 | 12:30 PM1:45 PM

University of Missouri-St. Louis


Inklings Book Group, Unnamed Venue, Evansville, IN


Kaskaskia College, Unnamed Venue, Centralia, IL

Margaret McMullan

Bio: Margaret McMullan is the author of six award-winning novels including In My Mother’s House(St. Martin’s Press), Sources of Light (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt),Cashay (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), When I Crossed No-Bob (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and How I Found the Strong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Her writing has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Ploughshares, Southern Accents, TriQuarterly, Michigan Quar erly Review, The Sun, and many other publications. She received an NEA Fellowship in literature for Aftermath Lounge and a Fulbright award to teach at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary, for her upcoming non-fiction work, Where the Angels Live.  Her anthology of essays by 25 well-known female authors writing about their fathers, Every Father’s Daughter (McPherson & Company), is also available in Spring 2015. She currently holds the Melvin Peterson Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Evansville in Indiana.
For more information, or to read an excerpt, please visit Ms. McMullan’s website
Find my AFTERMATH LOUNGE review on GoodReads


  • Twitter: @margaretmcmulla
  • Hashtag #aftermathlounge

“…a diverse gallery of characters grapple with their lives in Katrina’s aftermath…McMullan opted for fiction to deal with the emotional truths of the lives impacted.” Read full review.

– Chicago Tribune

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook. Author and cover images courtesy of publicist. Pass Christian sign and home retrieved from Huffington Post on 8.42.15] 

Write On, Wednesday: Deb Caletti on her newest book for adults: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS


By Leslie Lindsay 

You may know her from the award-winning YA fiction she’s churned out. You may know her from her 2013 Secrets-She-Keeps_Caletti-193x300psychological suspense debut for adults, HE’S GONE [excerpt and more information here], or you just may know Deb Caletti because she’s been a judge for the National Book Awards.  In her “spare” time, she loves to paint, travel and spend time with her kids. And maybe mosey around in some lovely pink cowboy boots. Simply put, this gal is busy.  I’m honored to welcome Deb back to the blog. So, grab a Moscow Mule. Or coffee, depending on what time of day you’re reading, and come along with a journey to the 1950s “Divorce Ranches” of Reno, Nevada.

L.L.: Deb, thanks so much for popping back over to the blog couch. I’m honored to have . I just finished reading THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS and promptly had to run out and order a Mule. Not the kind that is a cross between a horse and a donkey, but the kind with ginger beer and a few other tasty things. That’s what I call “immersive fiction.” What other fun foods did you get a—let’s say, hankerin’ for—while writing SECRETS?

Deb Caletti:  I have to admit, I had to get the copper mugs so I could make Mules at home.  They are so delicious and refreshing!  The ladies knew how to do it right.  But I did crave other foods from the book, too, and not just from the storyline of the past.  My main character, Callie, and her sister, Shaye, are at the ranch of today, struggling with their own issues of marriage, family, and the passage of time.  While there, they reminisce about the lost things from their childhood, and Shaye starts cooking all the food of their youth.  So, yes – veal cutlets (from the time when we forgot to think about what veal was)!  The frying of them in the novel made me both remember them and crave them.  The sisters also do quite a lot of snacking, and once they started in on those Fritos, I needed to start in on some Fritos.

L.L.: Okay, in all honesty, that was kind of a silly question. Here’s a more serious one: what sparked your interest for the setting of this book?

Deb Caletti:  A few years before I started writing the novel, I’d come across a single line in a book that mentioned the term, “divorce ranch.”  Having never heard it before, I looked it up.  Divorce ranches operated in the 1930’s to early 1950’s in Nevada.  High-society women and Hollywood celebs stayed at such ranches for six weeks to establish residency in the state, in order to secure divorces that were impossible to get elsewhere.  Often, this was called, “The Six-Week Cure,” or, alternately, “Getting Reno-vated.”

After learning about the ranches and the transformative experiences that were had when women gathered together there, I was intrigued.  But when I realized how little there was about them in the popular culture, I had one of those writer-moments where your heart beats fast and you think: This.  Here was all of my favorite stuff in one beautiful, dusty, desert locale: marriage, heartbreak, women of varying ages supporting each other and attempting to understand themselves and their relationships. The setting – the ranch itself (in today’s time and in its glamorous past) and the sweeping vistas of its locale were a place I wanted to spend some time in.

[To read an excerpt from THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS and find out more about the ranches, click here.]

L.L.:  So these “Divorce Ranches” were actual places women would travel, become residents for the six-weeks required before they could legally procure a divorce, head back to wherever their lives were, and sort of “wash their hands” of the man who sent them there. What happened to the ranches? Are they part of the Wild West “ghost towns” we hear so much about?Bust1

L.L.: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is a bifurcated novel in which you weave together two women’s lives, two different time periods, similar secrets, failing marriages, and an overarching camaraderie of women. Was this your plan all along, or did it sort of evolve as you wrote?Deb Caletti:  No, they aren’t a part of ghost towns.  Most are in the Reno vicinity.  Some have become working ranches again, or have remained in the families who owned them.  Many began as working ranches, but when the divorce business boomed, they became divorce ranches for this brief period of nearly-forgotten history.  Of course, as divorce laws changed in other parts of the country, ranches for soon-to-be divorcees were no longer necessary.  

Deb Caletti: It was my plan all along.  What seemed most important thematically, as well as what was most important to my main character, Callie, who is struggling with a marriage of many years, was how timeless our struggles are in terms of love.  The dual time periods underscore this.  Divorce laws have changed, and so have the daily pieces of our lives – the food, the music, the mores, the openness, the technology, our understanding of the land around us – yet the big pieces remain the same.  How do we manage our relationships to the people we love over the years?  How do we make good decisions about love and partnership?  How do we weigh what’s best for ourselves and other people?  How do we sisters and friends support one another through the hard stuff?  How do we deal with our grief over the passage of time and how life marches forward?  Love, marriage, family, sisterhood, the ticking clock – they are all ageless struggles.

L.L.: Is there a character’s story you felt particularly drawn to; someone’s chapter you couldn’t wait to write?EP-140419800

Deb Caletti: Every character has a bit of the author in them, I think, even the villainous ones.  But I was most looking forward to exploring Callie’s issues of longtime marriage.  Her children have just left home.  When her youngest daughter gets on a plane, she says, “For a second, I wasn’t sure what to do.  I was at a total loss.  Thomas and I just stood there together like we were college freshman just dropped off by their parents and assigned to room together.”  There’s this whole piece of a marriage that comes as children grow older, when a couple mourns what was and then must figure out what comes next.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you outline, or follow the pen?

Deb Caletti: I call it “free falling.”  I generally know where I’m starting and where I’m ending up.  The trip along the way is a process of discovery.  This method is much like life itself, and I like that.  There are surprises and pitfalls, but, for me, the story has a natural evolution this way. Don’t you sometimes wish you could outline life and have it follow that plan, though?  It might be pretty dull, but it also sounds awesome.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Deb Caletti: I’ve just finished my next novel for young adults called Essential Maps for the Lost, coming in April of next year.  My fingers have started tap-tapping on my next novel for adults (coming 2017).

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you now?

Deb Caletti: Since reading Hampton Sides’ fantastic In the Kingdom of Ice I’ve been on a huge polar exploration/disaster-at-sea book binge.  After KINGDOM came Erik Larson’s DEAD WAKE, books on Ernest Shackleton’s expeditions (ENDURANCE, and others), various Titanic reads, and then PIRATE HUNTERS.  You never know what will sweep you up.  The stacks of books in my office grow while I sleep, I’m sure. 

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS? I’ll tell you my take-away, and it’s kind of silly one, but it resonated nonetheless: “Daily life snatched things from a couple. Mattress sales stole intrigue; shirts ruined by that damn spot of bleach grabbed desire and wrung its scrawny neck.”

Deb Caletti: I guess I can answer that with my own quote, my intended take-away:

No life was ever ordinary, and no story of love was, either, not even mine.  Whether tragic or commonplace, each attempt at the damn thing, each shot at love and life itself was brave.  Every effort at it was flawed and messy, complicated, oh yes, occasionally triumphant, often painful, because how else could it be?  Look at the mission we were given, look at the stunning, impossible mission – imperfect love in the face of loss.  Any sane person with the facts would turn their back on a mission like that.  And yet we loved, of course we did…  The courage that took – there was nothing ordinary about that.” 

L.L.: Ahh…thanks for being with us, Deb! We so enjoyed it.

Deb Caletti: Thanks for having me, Leslie!

5x7_to_useBio: Deb Caletti is an award-winning author and a National Book Award finalist whose books—He’s Gone; Honey, Baby, Sweetheart; The Queen of Everything; The Secret Life of Prince Charming—are published and translated worldwide. She lives with her family in Seattle.

For more information or to follow: 

Twitter: @debcaletti

Facebook: Deb Caletti

Instagram: @debcaletti

Read Deb’s essay on divorce ranches/The 6-week Cure via Random House here. 

[Author and cover images courtesy of Ms.Caletti’s publicist, M. Oberrender 6-Week Cure image retrieved from on 8.18.15, Flying Me image retrieved from on 8.18.15]

Write On, Wednesday: The Fabulous Erika Swyler of the Amazing BOOK OF SPECULATION


By Leslie Lindsay 

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I did. And I’m in love. With both. THE BOOK OF SPECULATION is gorgeous, inside and out. A woman clad in a deep teal dress clutches a stack of antique books at her hips. The pages are yellowed and ragged, and indented with finger grooves reminiscent of old-fashioned dictionaries. Seriously, the cover art is so spectacularly striking; I just may leave it on my coffee table as a work of art. Today, I’m honored to have debut novelist Erika Swyler with us. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and come along for the journey.

L.L.: Erika, thanks so much for joining us today! I’m always so intrigued by what sparks a story for a writer. What three elements would you say collided in your writing world that propelled you to write THE BOOK OF SPECULATION?

Erika Swyler: Thanks very much for inviting me! It’s hard to put a finger on the exact moment that birthed this particular book, but as with most things, I think it was brought about by sudden change. Shortly after graduating college, I lived at home for six months. It was a weird time. I was facing the fact that I wasn’t good enough to pursue a career as an actor, grieving my father who had passed away the prior year, and once again living in my childhood home. I was home, but I was also displaced. The town where I grew up is also right on the Long Island Sound where there’s a constant struggle against land erosion. It’s beautiful and vulnerable. That’s book fodder, right there. It just took a long time to figure it out.

L.L.: So the book is really a complex family saga with a lot of folklore, mysticism, and ultimately erosion—of water, of family, of homes, and land. Can you talk a bit about that? What do you hope readers take away from those themes?

Erika Swyler: It’s an odd writer who uses erosion as plotline, right? But what I’m asking people to do is think about themselves, their lives and their families, in a larger sense of time and history. Years ago I read Graham Swift’s Waterland, and the way he entwined his characters with the land resonated with me. It posited that personal history is as essential as world history, and all of it is tied to land. This got me thinking about how we tell these personal stories—through oral histories, folklore—and what that looks like. The most painful parts of personal histories often get mythologized, and through that storytelling people find healing, or even a sense of wonder. I’m hoping readers are able look at themselves and with an eye towards time and history, and to think about the ordinary with that same sense of wonder. It would brilliant if people left the book thinking about their concept of family and what it means to them. But, I’m delighted if they simply enjoy the story.

L.L.: I am so very amazed at your knowledge of the Tarot. I know virtually nothing. Well, I’ve had my palm read once at a Renaissance Fair…does that count? Are you blessed with psychic abilities yourself? How did you learn so much about fortune tellers?

Erika Swyler: Getting your palm read absolutely counts. I’ve had mine read. A very nice man told me that water rules my life and that all my creativity comes from it. I wonder if he Googled me. When I was in school I was fascinated by Tarot (like so many college girls). When we’re feeling the most insecure we grasp at things give direction, especially if it’s direction from “the universe.” Tarot was great fun and I fell in love with the art. When it came time to find a way for my mute character to speak, Tarot was a natural fit because at heart, it’s a symbolic language. I dove
into all my old books on it, found new ones, and got my hands on whatever decks I could. I may have had to make a trip or two to witchcraft shops, but I’m no psychic. I’ve written some things that have come true—my life has come to mirror Simon’s in a ways that would have shocked me when I started writing The Book of Speculation. Mostly I think that’s because people write about life, and life has certain common story threads.

L.L.: I absolutely adore the feel of the book. The edges of the pages are ragged…there’s that stunning cover…and your very own illustrations! Wow. As I’m reading this, I’m looking back on the front matter and pleased I own first edition. How did your art work evolve and did you need to convince a publisher to include it?

Erika Swyler: Oh, I love the deckle edge on the hardback. Deckle edges ask you to take time with a book, don’t they? Oddly enough, St. Martin’s had to convince me to include the illustrations. The artwork started as a way to engage editors. I sent out a very unusual manuscript when I was searching for a publisher. Essentially, I sent an art object. I figured that if someone connected with it, they’d likely connect with the story inside. I hand bound, aged, tea stained and gilded sixteen copies of the manuscript so that it looked like the old book in that Simon, my protagonist, receives. Between the pages, I nestled tea stained illustrations mentioned in the story, and distressed tarot cards. This way anyone reading it would experience what Simon did when he receives this strange old book. I didn’t realize that I was actually illustrating a novel. St. Martin’s bought the art as well as the story, and I was floored. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d been presenting the illustrations as part of the book. Obviously, that’s exactly what I’d done, but I’m always the last to know what I’m up to. erika-swyler-2

L.L.: The book is receiving lots of praise. Lots! What can you tell us about maintaining your humility, confidence, and efforts on the next novel. Does it make you more or less nervous when you sit down at the desk?

Erika Swyler: For every one person who loves a book there are always five more lined up to tell you it’s a heap, so staying humble isn’t too difficult. I’m stunned at the reception, honestly. This book spent a long time in a desk drawer. I was certain that no one but my mother would read it. That so many people have responded so positively towards it is a gift I couldn’t have imagined. It’s difficult to finally put these characters to bed. I think it takes a long time for the voices of your last book to quiet down and let new characters announce themselves. That said, there are new characters I’m figuring out. It’s interesting in that it’s a bit like learning to write all over again. I wouldn’t say that I’m more nervous when I sit down at the desk, but I’m definitely more aware of how long I might have to live with a character. That’s a little intimidating. I have to ask myself, “Do you really want to get into all that, Swyler?” Sometimes I really don’t. Oh, and I’m more mindful of accents now. Writing characters with accents is great fun, but it eventually gives public readings an unnecessary layer of difficulty. My Russian accent is bad. Really, really bad.

L.L: Okay…maybe I should back up a bit. Can you give us a glimpse as to what you are working on next?

Erika Swyler: Sure. I’m in the very early stages of a new project. It’s set in Florida in 1986. It’s centered on the relationship between an inventor father and his science-minded daughter. I’m playing around with concepts about space and time. So, nothing major.

L.L.: I keep thinking of that first chapter of Wild Boy…as his creator, do you have any—dare I say, speculation—of what became of his parents?  Why they did what they did?

Erika Swyler: It’s so easy to hate them, isn’t it? That’s because we’re applying our modern sensibilities to a

situation that doesn’t have our contemporary options. Eunice misses her son until the day she dies. I think she’s haunted by the memory of Amos’s scent in the same way he keeps dreaming of the smell of home. I’m certain there’s a draft with that scene in it lying somewhere in my office. Being a woman in that era Eunice couldn’t have much say in her husband’s decision to abandon Amos. This is still a time of public shaming. Her husband’s decision is based on Amos looking like his biological father, the lack of speech, and being a visual reminder of his wife’s infidelity. I wish I could say he was miserable, but as a domineering white man, he likely died fat and happy. Oh, wow. That’s terrible. Forget I said that. He died of an abscessed tooth. Really awful, drawn-out, excruciating pain. There. I feel better now.

L.L.: Thanks for being here today, Erika! We so enjoyed it.

Erika Swyler: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

erika author photo bj enrightErika Swyler is a writer living in Long Island, NY. Her work has appeared in WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Litro, various anthologies, and most recently The New York Times. The Book of Speculation is her first novel. Find her on twitter at @ErikaSwyler, or at erikaswyler.com.

[Author image credit BJ Enright. Circus carriage retrieved from www.circushistory.org on 8.5.15. Tarot card image from Wikipedia on 8.5.15. Author at work retrieved from http://www.momadvice.com/post/sundays-with-writers-the-book-of-speculation-by-erika-swyler 8.13.15]

Write On, Wednesday: Keeping Up with Lori Rader-Day of LITTLE PRETTY THINGS



After having read Lori Rader-Day’s award-winning debut THE BLACK HOUR last summer, I was equally intrigued and honored to dive into her next read, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, a mystery in self-examination, a dash through teenage angst, and a solid whodunit. Welcome back, Lori!

Leslie Lindsay: I’m always intrigued about what sparks the initial drive to write a novel. What, would you say propelled you to write LITTLE PRETTY THINGS?

Lori Rader-Day: I had read a mystery novel that was supposed to be about a character with a bad job, but the job didn’t seem that bad to me. I’ve had some dirty, menial jobs in my day, and I know lots of people who work far worse jobs than the one in that book. I really love the book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, about the hard jobs and bad pay that so many Americans live with every day. I wanted to do a Nickel and Dimed murder mystery.

L.L.: I’m always so captivated by your protagonists, so much that I often think they are you. Your first book featured a professor from a lakeside university and in LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, it’s a 28 year old Juliet working at a dead-end job at a rinky-dink motel in middle America. Could it ‘just’ be fabulous characterization that draws me to Juliet (and Professor Amelia Emmet), or is there truth in the pudding, as they say?

Lori Rader-Day: I did start to think about the jobs I might have had to live with if I hadn’t gone to college or hadn’t been able to leave my small hometown. So really, Juliet is a version of a person that I might have been—except I was certainly never an athlete. But I’ve had really intense friendships like the one Juliet and Maddy had at one time—maybe a little less competitive!—so some of that emotion is borrowed from real life, too. They say write what you know, but what that really means is that you should write from your own emotional experience, and so much of your own life is transferable, if not literally what you use it for.

L.L.: And that motel, the Mid-Night Inn! Oh my gosh…loved that place! Not really. You know what I mean. In this case, I almost felt as if the Mid-Night was another character. Do you know of a motel like this? Did you do research?

Lori Rader-Day: I borrowed the location of the Mid-Night from a spot near my hometown that used to have a Holiday Inn there, but I was really thinking about some of these roadside motels you still see around Indiana and the rest of the Midwest. There was one near my grandparents’ house called the Sunset, a single row of rooms. It was long closed before I was born, I think. But the office had been turned into a diner, and my grandparents took us there for cheeseburgers all the time. I wanted a little bit of that place in the story, too.

L.L.: There seem to be a good number of books diving into the high school angst of teenage sexuality, success (or lack thereof), a backward journey through time…and a bit of self-examination. I’m thinking of THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE (Knoll, 2015), WHERE THEY FOUND HER (Kimberly McCreight, 2015) AND RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA (McCreight, 2013). And then there’s humankind’s shared history of ‘having been there.’ Heck, I still have high school anxiety dreams! What is it, in your opinion that makes us look at high school in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde kind of way?

Lori Rader-Day: It was the best of times and the worst of times? Oh, but not for everyone simultaneously. I didn’t have a bad high school experience, actually. I found my people and found something I was good at (yearbook staff) that gave me a role to play. I got lucky. It must be that so many people struggle all the way through graduation and long beyond—like Juliet—that high school stories are popular for writers, and a way to revisit the horrors. At least when we look back, we know we never have to GO back. It’s a safe distance from which to look at whatever went wrong back there.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit…what’s been on your summer reading list? And what books are you looking forward to this fall?

Lori Rader-Day: A couple of titles I’m excited about (and have already read, so I can really squeeeeee about them): Catriona McPherson’s The Child Garden, out in September; Jennifer Kincheloe’s The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, out in November. I’m also reading a huge backlog of stuff I wanted to read so badly I pre-ordered and then didn’t have time to read. It’s my secret shame.   Black Hour cover web2

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

Lori Rader-Day: I am obsessed with the TV show Vera. I’m reading the book series it’s based on now by Ann Cleeves. I talk about Vera all the time. She’s just this character that people dismiss, who is frumpy and a little hard to like—and I love her. As a writer, I want to understand how Cleeves pulls off that trick. I wrote a guest post for Jungle Reds about obsession that I’m really proud of.

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

Lori Rader-Day: Oh, you probably want to know what I’m working on next! My third mystery is planned for next summer with a title so tentative I’m not using it yet. It’s about a handwriting expert whose carefully revised life starts to fall apart when she consults on a small town kidnapping case.

L.L.: Thanks for being with us today, Lori ~ we so enjoyed it!

Lori Rader-Day: Thanks so much for reading and for having me!

Rader Day_Lori 2Lori Rader-Day (Chicago, IL) is the author of The Black Hour. She has also published fiction in Good Housekeeping, where she won first place in the magazine’s first short-story contest; The Madison Review, which awarded her the 2008 Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction; TimeOut Chicago; Southern Indiana Review; Crab Orchard Review; and other journals and magazines. She lives in Chicago, where she is active in the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter, Sisters in Crime Chicagoland Chapter, and International Thriller Writers. In addition, she is an instructor for Story Studio Chicago, where she teaches mystery writing.

[cover and author images courtsey of author’s publicist. Motel image retrived from www.suggestkeyword.com on 7.29.15]


Write On, Wednesday: Meet Mary Kubica, author of Smashing New Psych Thriller, PRETTY BABY


PRETTYBABY3By Leslie Lindsay

Having read Mary Kubica’s debut psychological thriller last summer, I was equally piqued to jump into the new one, PRETTY BABY (which released yesterday, July 28th). And now I know why…it’s brilliant, riveting, and at times absolutely devastating. I plowed through PRETTY BABY in about two days. And today, I am honored to sit down with Mary and chat about her second book.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome back, Mary! I loved having you last summer and so appreciate you popping by again today. You tackle so many issues in PRETTY BABY—homelessness, foster care, abuse, and mental illness—yet it’s handled with such aplomb, I’m curious how you were able to knit together such a riveting and complex storyline? What was the initial inspiration for you?

Mary Kubica: Thank you so much for having me back, Leslie!

This image of Heidi coming across a young homeless girl holding a baby beside the Chicago ‘L’ train was the first inspiration for this novel, and that image became the opening pages of the manuscript. I didn’t yet know who the girl was or what her story would be, and initially planned to make Heidi and her husband, Chris, the focal point of PRETTY BABY. But once I plunged into the writing process, I knew that Willow, our homeless girl, needed to be able to tell her side of the tale as well. Her voice needed to be heard, and I’d have to guess that for most readers, she is the character whose narrative will leave a lasting impression. Willow has quite a story to tell.

 L.L.: How has your writing routine evolved since your first book, THE GOOD GIRL (Mira, 2014)?

Mary Kubica: In all honesty, it hasn’t changed much. I’m a true believer in If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and so have tried to stick to my same writing routine. As with THE GOOD GIRL, I had little ones I home while writing PRETTY BABY, and so got in the habit of waking early in the morning to get my writing done. I try not to impose rules on myself as a writer; if the writing is flowing well, I write, and if it’s not, then I find other things to do and come back to it at a later time. As with THE GOOD GIRL, I didn’t outline PRETTY BABY, but rather allowed the THE GOOD GIRLstoryline to take a natural flow. For me, I find this works quite well.

L.L: So no more writing in secret?!

Mary Kubica: Ha! No, no more writing in secret, though to be honest, I’m certain there are some people in my life who still don’t know I’m an author, and even for those who do, I’m quite guarded about it. I find it hard to call myself that – an author – out loud for some reason, and tend to be a bit of an introvert anyway; I try hard to avoid talking about me. But it’s been wonderful getting to share the experience the second time around with family and friends who have been so supportive, and even more, getting to meet other authors this past year with whom I’ve been able to bond over our shared experiences.

L.L: PRETTY BABY is written from the perspective of three main characters—Heidi, a do-good middle-class wife and mother, Chris—her financial-driven corporate banker, and Willow—the young homeless girl with a baby. Can you tell us a few truths you learned from each of these characters? Did anything surprise you?

Mary Kubica: Without giving too much away, I can tell you that these characters are quite multi-dimensional, and with them, you can never take anything at face value. They’re all harboring secrets. They truly did surprise me each and every day, Leslie. Again, as an author who doesn’t outline, I literally make the story up as I go. It’s such a fun endeavor to witness the twists and turns the characters and storyline will take from that first day I sit down and begin the novel. Back in January of 2013 when I started PRETTY BABY, I could never have dreamed of the way the storyline would play out.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit…a few years ago, you were ‘just’ a suburban mom and wife volunteering in an animal shelter and now…a national bestselling author on tour. First of all—congratulations!! How might an author maintain her (or his) humility and stay true to the craft of storytelling?

Mary Kubica: It’s a very strange conundrum, in all honesty. I find it hard to talk about things like agents and book tours in my suburban mom life, and really do keep the two very separate. Though most everyone knows I’m an author, I keep specifics – regarding the writing process, book sales, publicity, etc. – to myself. My life has changed quite significantly as you may imagine, and yet in some respects it hasn’t changed at all. I am still the animal shelter volunteer and suburban mom who writes novels in whatever spare time I can find. The only difference now is that from time to time I pack a few dresses and hop on a plane, and get to play the role of bestselling author. I supposed I live two very separate lives.

L.L.: What’s your favorite diversion from writing?

Mary Kubica: My kids! Now that they’re in school over 6 hours a day, I look forward to any and every time I have with them, and try to pack our time together with fun stuff. They’re growing up far too quickly for me.

L.L.: What books have you read recently—and what would you recommend?

Mary Kubica: Oh gosh, I have read so many terrific books lately, so these are just a few of them: Pam Jenoff’s World War II historical fiction novel THE LAST SUMMER AT CHELSEA BEACH, Karma Brown’s debut women’s fiction novel COME AWAY WITH ME, and Holly Brown’s A NECESSARY END, a truly twisted psychological thriller that I couldn’t put down.I also got a sneak peek at some ARCs by T. Greenwood and Carla Buckley – be sure to look out for them. They’re certain to please!

L.L.: Can you tell us what’s next for you?

Mary Kubica: I’m finishing up edits on my yet-unnamed third novel, which should release in 2016, and have also begun working on my forth! If all goes according to plan, that will release in 2017. Be sure to stay tuned for more details!

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Mary—and best of luck on tour!!

Mary Kubica: Thank you so much for having me, Leslie. The pleasure is all mine. Mary Kubica3

Bio: Mary Kubica is the national bestselling author of The Good Girl. She holds a bachelor of arts degree in history and American literature from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and two children. Pretty Baby is her second novel.

For more information, head over to Mary Kubica’s website, Find her on Twitter, and connect on Facebook.

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Lauren Acampora, author of THE WONDER GARDEN


By Leslie Lindsay WONDER GARDEN

Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t stop thinking about Lauren Acampora’s debut. It’s dark, it’s brilliant. It’s utterly amazing. I wanted to finish reading because I loved the stories, the words, the depth and perception. Still, I wallowed in book limbo when I closed the cover for the final time; nothing compared to the carefully cultivated words that is THE WONDER GARDEN. Today, I am thrilled and honored to have Lauren on our blog couch.

L.L.: Lauren, thank you so much for popping by. I knew I was going to fall into the tangles of your prose after reading the first line. And then when the second line had something to do with a house, well, I was all over it. Can you tell us how the stories in THE WONDER GARDEN came to be? What was your inspiration?

Lauren Acampora: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me. I’m so glad you loved the book—and that you share my infatuation with houses! The stories in THE WONDER GARDEN sprang very much from looking at, and into, the houses in my area. I grew up in an upscale suburban town in Connecticut, which as a teenager I considered too polished and sheltered to be any fun, but after living for many years in the city (less polish, more fun), I moved to a New York suburb not far from my hometown. This time around, the suburbs are fascinating to me. From the very first weeks in our new home, I started thinking about the lives of the people inside the neighboring houses, how varied and unusual they were sure to be, despite the conventionality of the exteriors. I had the idea of writing stories about people in their homes—how they think of themselves and their neighbors—but thought I wouldn’t get to it until much later.

L.L.: Much of the theme has to do with darker secrets festering under the clean-cut façade of suburbia. Was your intention to sort of “unearth” those truths?

Lauren Acampora: I really didn’t set out to expose the festering secrets of suburbia, per se. I’m always driven by character first, and there’s rarely a character (or real person, for that matter) without a secret or problem or insecurity of some sort. To me, that’s where fictional interest lies. My only conscious intention was to reflect as accurately as possible how I thought these characters viewed themselves and others; to capture their most private, unfiltered thoughts, judgments and desires. But there is undoubtedly a stark contrast between the jagged interior lives of these characters and their manicured surroundings. Perhaps that’s why I’m so often drawn to suburban settings, rather than urban or rural. There’s a special clash of dark and light there that seems to create a kind of natural statement about the American dream. That’s a further dimension that holds interest for me, and hopefully for readers too.

L.L.: Homes, neighborhoods, suburbia…there’s something so very transparent—yet veiled—about our interior lives. What, in your opinion, is so alluring about the homes we inhabit?

Lauren Acampora: It seems to me that we, particularly as Americans, put so much stock in real estate; that we almost consider our homes to be extensions of ourselves. Just look at the proliferation of home-centered magazines and TV shows in this country! Perhaps it’s a byproduct of our pioneering history, this notion of journeying out to stake a piece of land, erect a structure, and fashion it in a way that is fully ours… In any case, the contemporary frenzy for home improvement and décor sends a strong message about our hunger for (or anxiety around) creative expression. So many of us aim to use our homes—inside and out—as a means of projecting an ideal self.

The other thing I find interesting about our homes is how they represent the push-and-pull between individuality and community. There’s a narrow boundary between individual freedom of the property owner and responsibility to the community. I find the conflicts that arise in this boundary to be rich mining for fiction. As a private property owner, one has the right to behave and express oneself freely—up to a point. After that point, there’s an expectation and a duty to function as part of a community; to conform. In a suburban neighborhood, there’s an unspoken expectation that neighbors will keep their property up to a certain standard, that they’ll respect the interdependency of property values. The conflicts that arise when someone flouts this communal responsibility say so much about the identities we desire. As a new homeowner in the suburbs, I was immediately and keenly aware of this responsibility, and of ever-churning feelings of pride and shame in my home. My identity felt so strangely wrapped up in what color we chose to paint the front porch!

And then there’s a whole other layer of internal conflict, I find, in people trying to reconcile their domestic preoccupations with awareness and concern for the outside world. In privileged communities, in particular, there can be a vacillation between seeking engagement with the outside world, and a competing desire to shut it out; to retreat into these comfortable, customized sanctuaries.

L.L.: I don’t want to give away too much of THE WONDER GARDEN, but the stories vary so greatly—from an under-the-table deal with a surgeon to a man who leaves his corporate job to become a healer—yet they are all interconnected. How did you dream up this structure? Do you have any personal experiences or connections with any of the stories?

Lauren Acampora: I’d actually been working on a novel about the man who leaves his corporate job to become a healer, told from the perspective of his anxious wife, but wasn’t happy with the final result. After a short period of despair, I resolved to salvage whatever I could of the characters, even if that meant turning a three-hundred page novel into a short story. At the time, I happened to be reading Elizabeth Strout’s wonderful OLIVE KITTERIDGE, and was impressed by how the linked-story format gave rise to something that was more than the sum of its parts. It occurred to me that I could use this model to expand my abridged healer story into something much more interesting. So I took some of the ancillary characters from the novel (friends and neighbors of the protagonist) and gave them their own stories—then roped in a few earlier stories with a similar setting. That’s when the sparks started to fly.

There’s not too much in the way of personal experiences or connections to the stories. We did have a home inspector visit our house before closing, of course, and my curiosity about that particular line of work spawned “Ground Fault.” My husband happened to have been at a corporate advertising job when we moved to the suburbs, and were expecting our first child, just like the couple in “The Umbrella Bird,” but he hasn’t become a New Age healer—at least not yet. And as for “Moon Roof,” I admit that I’ve sat at a stop sign far too long waiting to make a turn, berating myself for missed opportunities, and have sometimes wondered if I’d end up spending the night there.

L.L.: I understand you have a little one of your own now. Was she, or your new motherhood, inspiration to any of the stories?

Lauren Acampora: My daughter was, in a way, inspiration for all of the storiesin that I found it impossible to write a novel after she was born! Part of the reason I abandoned the original novel was that, with a newborn, I could barely keep the plot straight in my head. Short stories were much more manageable in the short bursts of writing time I could grab. I wrote all of “Ground Fault” with the baby sleeping on my lap, literally reaching over her body to type on my laptop. My back ached, but it was worth it to be able to hold up that story and know I could still finish something.

As for whether my experiences and thoughts about motherhood found their way into the stories themselves—absolutely. Motherhood is such a complicated role, and at least in this small part of the world, it can sometimes seem a package of draconian rules and expectations and judgments. Depending on the day, I can feel a thousand different ways about it all. And parenthood stirs up such a mix of love and guilt and frustration and pride. The story “Floortime” directly explores the conflict that arises between creative work and parenthood; in that case, heightened by the additional demands of a special-needs child. “Sentry” is about parental self-delusion, failure to acknowledge one’s own failings as a parent, and instead projecting failure and neglect onto other parents. And “Visa” channels the frustration of having to subsume one’s younger, freer identity to the mature role of parent. Camille is the embodiment of this frustration, a single mother plotting an escape from the suffocating expectations of the “mommy police.”

L.L.: Can you tell us a bit about your writing life? Have you always been a writer? How have you honed the craft? Rituals, routines? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Lauren Acampora: I was a big reader as a child, and always wanted to be a writer. It took a while to get there, though. I wrote poems as a teenager and through college, but didn’t really tackle fiction until I was in my mid-twenties. I was writing these sort of dreamy prose poems, and was rejected from a number of MFA programs, but finally attended the night program at Brooklyn College, which was wonderful for me. I’d been writing in isolation and desperately needed validation, and that’s exactly what I got. After that, I had the confidence to continue, and to push through the years of rejection from literary journals. My writing has matured as I’ve matured. I’ve always felt that you can only write as much and as deeply as you understand life. There’s a certain amount of wisdom that you can’t fake, but have to actually earn through living. That’s what I love about writing; it grows and deepens as you do. It’s a bottomless repository for understanding, and for trying to understand.

Now, what’s a “pantser”? Flying by the seat of the pants, I guess? I’m definitely not a pantser, then! I take preliminary notes that outline everything, beginning to end. Then I add as much detail to those notes as I can. That outline serves as my skeleton. Then I putter around, adding more details and dialogue, fleshing out the bones of the skeleton bit by bit, until full sentences begin to form. I work on the computer and keep the document single-spaced through the whole note-taking stage. Eventually, when I’ve turned all the jotted outline notes into full sentences—fleshed out the body, so to speak—I move stuff around, smooth out transitions, and so on. That’s how I sculpt my way to a rough draft. Then, and only then, do I double-space the document and begin to really edit. Finally, I’ll print it out and go through it again with a pen.

Then my husband reads it. Then my friend, who I met in my MFA program years ago and who’s a gifted reader and editor, gives it the business. If it gets past her, it goes to my agent.

I used to have all kinds of neurotic little writing rituals—a certain snack, a cup of tea (or whiskey), a table and chair in the absolute middle of the room—but parenthood has eliminated all of that.   I’ve learned to write anywhere, under all kinds of circumstances: in someone’s basement with kids stomping and screaming above, in a cafe with the TV news blaring, in the driver’s seat of the car. My only preferences at this point are a window and a glass of water.

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

Lauren Acampora: You might say I’m obsessed with the obsessed. I’ve always been drawn to subcultures, and I really think there’s one for everything. If you can imagine it, there’s a subculture around it. I think it’s so interesting how people with obscure interests or eccentricities seek out kindred spirits and form tight-knit communities with some commonality at the core, whether it’s croquet, Legos, fishkeeping, or foot fetishization. And now with the internet, there are safe havens where people with even the most far-out, bizarre, or aberrant enthusiasms can find their place and feel normalized. And these communities, whatever their focus, tend to generate their own rules, generosities and trivialities—which are all so telling of human nature.   For the story “The Virginals,” I really enjoyed learning about the vibrant Living History community, people brought together by their shared love of Colonial-era America. It’s an expansive, multi-layered community with its own hierarchies, industries, and social circles, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

L.L.: What are you currently working on?

Lauren Acampora: I’ve extensively revised a novel, also with a suburban setting, and will be getting that ready as a follow-up to The Wonder Garden. I’ve also been working on a new novel with a completely different setting, which explores some of the subcultural theme I just mentioned.But right now, today, I’m fleshing out the skeleton of a stand-alone short story, getting back into the writing routine after the publication frenzy. Feels good to be back at it.

L.L. Lauren, thank you so much for being with us today! We so enjoyed it!Lauren Acampora c Sarah Landis

Lauren: I’ve really enjoyed [it]…such thoughtful questions!

Lauren Acampora’s fiction has appeared in the Paris Review,Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, and Antioch Review. Raised in Connecticut, she now lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband, artist Thomas Doyle, and their daughter.

[Author and cover images courtesy of author/publicist. Green house image retrieved from http://www.bookdrum.com, black & white colonial from hookedonhouses.net, adirondak chairs from connecticut.mommypoppins.com, all retrieved on 6.22.15]

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Margaret McMullan of EVERY FATHER’S DAUGHTER


By Leslie Lindsay

“What is it about the relationship between fathers and daughters that provokes so much exquisite tenderness, satisfying communion, longing for more, idealization from both ends, followed often if not inevitably by disappointment, hurt, and the need to understand and forgive, or to finger the guilt of not understanding and loving enough?” writes Phillip Lopate, in Every Father's Daughter Coverhis introduction to Every Father’s Daughter,a collection of 25 personal essays by women writers writing about their fathers. The editor, Margaret McMullan, is herself a distinguished novelist and educator. About half of these essays were written by invitation for this anthology; others were selected by Ms. McMullan and her associate, Philip Lopate, who provides an introduction. The contributors include many well-known writers—Alice Munro, Jayne Anne Phillips, Alexandra Styron, Ann Hood, Bobbie Ann Mason, Maxine Hong Kingston, among others—as well as writers less well-known but no less cogent, inventive, perceptive, lacerating, questioning, or loving of their fathers.

I was particularly touched by the stories, which run the gamut of successful dads to distant and indifferent ones; the book truly embraces every type of father-daughter relationship…and if you’re a writer yourself, you’ll probably be inspired to pick up the pen and write your own. We’re honored to have Ms. McMullan with us today.

L.L.: How did you decide which authors to reach out to for this collection?

Margaret McMullan: In the last month of my father’s life, I read to him Alice Munro’s essay, “Working for a Living.” We had one of our last book discussions about that fox farm, the cold work, and the landscape of Canada. She was the first person I contacted. I wrote her a letter and a few months later she called and said yes, of course you can reprint my essay. I was just stunned. The other authors followed. I invited the authors my father loved or had met at some point in his life. He had dinner with Lee Smith once and she was so quick to respond. Lee led me to Jill McCorkle. I also included three former students. In the end, this collection of women writers became one big circle of friends.

L.L: How did your vision for this collection evolve from the start to end of this project?

Margaret McMullan: At first I saw this as a collection of southern writers, men and women. But then I realized I just wanted to hear from women, daughters. I moved away from regionalizing it when I began thinking of my father’s literary tastes and what kind of man he was. He was southern but he was also very much shaped by Chicago and the Mid-West. Each time I read an essay, I would think, Would Dad like this?

L.L: What most surprised you about the creation of Every Father’s Daughter?

Margaret McMullan: I was surprised how difficult such a great collection was to get published. Jane Smiley had a Pulitzer, Maxine Hong Kingston won the National Book Award, and Alice Munro had just won a Nobel Prize. I felt this book was no-proof. Who wouldn’t want to read these writers on this particularly personal subject? And who wouldn’t want to read about fathers? I’ve always thought this collection was a sure thing, but it was much more difficult to find a publisher than I had imagined. Apparently, anthologies were no longer fashionable in the publishing industry. One editor, who declined the book, has since contacted me to tell me how she genuinely regrets not taking it.

L.L.: In your introduction, you talk about how this book was a way for you to grieve. How did you come to realize this?

Margaret McMullan:This particular work felt meaningful because all along I thought so much about my father. I started soon after my father died. The work – reaching out to other women, asking for their stories, and then reading them was therapeutic because it reminded me that there are other emotions besides grief. After a while, after I organized and put together the book, after I wrote my own essay, my grief transformed. It felt less like sadness and more like love.

Margaret McMullan: I have encountered so many readers who have read the book and want to talk about an essay, and then, inevitably, these readers begin to tell me about their fathers. A conversation starts. This book has a power. We are remembering our fathers, and, in some cases, bringing them back to life.

L.L.: Did you come to realize anything about your relationship with your father as you read through the essays in this collection?                                                                                                

Margaret McMullan: I knew from the start that we were close, and that a good part of that closeness was how we stayed connected through literature. Now, I realize exactly how close we really were.

L.L.: Thank you so very much for being with us today, Margaret.

Margaret McMullan: Thank you!

See my full review on GoodReads.

Margaret McMullanAbout the Author: Margaret McMullan is the author of six award-winning novels includingIn My Mother’s House (St. Martin’s Press),Sources of Light(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Cashay (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), When I Crossed No-Bob (HoughtonMifflin Harcourt), andHow I Found the Strong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Her writing has appeared in The ChicagoTribune, Ploughshares, Southern Accents, TriQuarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Sun, and many otherpublications. She received an NEA Fellowship in literature forAftermath Lounge and a Fulbright award to teach at theUniversity of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary, for her upcoming non-fiction work,Where the Angels Live. Her anthology ofessays by 25 well-known female authors writing about their fathers,Every Father’s Daughter (McPherson &Company), is also available in Spring 2015. She currently holds the Melvin Peterson Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Evansville in Indiana.

[Images courtesy of the author via PRbytheBook. Grief quote retrived from meetville.com on 6.15.15]


Awareness Wednesday: Experts Drs. Nadeau and Quinn Speak about AD/HD in Girls & their Updated Book


By Leslie Lindsay

I *might* have once considered myself a quasi-expert when it came to girls with AD/HD, after all, I am raising a bright, beautiful, super-creative 10 year old daughter addled with distractibility, impulsivity, skinned knees, and an aptitude for art. And once upon a time, back when I didn’t bear the scars of childbirth and motherhood, I worked in child/adolescent psychiatry where I saw, first-hand, the manifestations of AD/HD in both girls and boys. Today, I am completely honored to have the *definitive* experts on girls and AD/HD. A hearty welcome to Drs. Nadeau, Littman, and Quinn!

L.L.: Thank you so very much for being with us today. I so enjoyed UNDERSTANDING GIRLS WITH AD/HD: How they feel & why they do what they do. In fact, I breezed through as though reading a novel because it was *that* engrossing. This is a revised and updated edition—and I have to say—well done!

What, in your opinion makes this an updated version? What do you hope readers glean?

Patricia Quinn: When the first edition of Understanding Girls with ADHD was published in 1999, little research had been done that included girls with ADHD and the research that had been done certainly did not look at gender differences in ADHD. At that time, we wrote from our combined clinical experiences to address this need. This second edition includes the research that has been done to date and not only validates what we had voiced earlier, but also calls attention to recently uncovered issues for girls with impulsive behaviors, such as eating disorders and self-injurious behaviors. This edition focuses to a much greater extent on what parents can do to prevent such fall-out and help their daughters who have been suffering.

L.L.: As I read the first few pages, I equally nodded in agreement and felt a strange brew of emotions as tears pricked behind my eyes. I knew these feelings. I’d seen them on my daughter’s face, heard them in her words, and sensed them from stories I’ve heard of my husband’s mother as a child. AD/HD among girls is a real and often misunderstood developmental disorder. What advice might you give to skeptics who feel AD/HD is due to “poor parenting, too much sugar, or the result of lazy teachers?”

Kathleen Nadeau: While parents and teachers can make a positive (or negative!) difference in the lives of girls with ADHD, ADHD is clearly a well-documented neurodevelopmental condition. In fact, there is more research on ADHD than on any other psychiatric disorder that occurs in childhood. There are documented differences in brain structure, in levels of brain activity in particular parts of the brain, differences in brain wave activity, and differences in neurotransmitter activity. The public has a reason to be skeptical, however, as ADHD diagnoses have exploded in some areas of the country, while remaining much lower in other areas, suggesting that factors other than ADHD itself can lead to more diagnoses in certain areas. Overall, however, statistics show that ADHD continues to be under-diagnosed in light of studies showing that up to 8% of the childhood population qualifies for an ADHD diagnosis. Parents should also realize that an ADHD diagnosis doesn’t mean automatically putting a child on medication. There are many things that parents can and should do to help their daughter with ADHD aside from medication.

L.L.: Your ability to blend research with the real-world of raising girls is to be applauded. Sure, the stats are sobering, but it’s not all gloom and doom. What are some of the most powerful, most vital thing(s) parents/caregivers/teachers can do to help their daughters/students be the best they can be?

Kathleen Nadeau: At home and at school, girls with ADHD thrive on structure and support. We work to teach parents how to provide a more structured ADHD-friendly home life – much has been written in our book about the types of support that girls need at each stage from preschool through high school. Teachers also need to recognize and support girls with ADHD who may look very different from the “typical” ADHD student that most teachers have come to expect. Girls struggle with tremendous anxiety because they have difficulty keeping up with assignments along with the many after-school activities that so many students participate in today. The more teachers and parents can work as a team to reduce stress and provide support, the better off girls with ADHD will be.

We also teach parents the importance of adequate sleep, protein-rich nutrition that can provide fuel for the brain throughout the day, good nutrition including B vitamins and fish oil that support good brain functioning, stress management (stress can worsen ADHD), and daily aerobic exercise (aerobic exercise puts the brain in an optimal learning ready state).

L.L.: Where do you think the future of AD/HD research is headed?

Kathleen Nadeau: I believe that our understanding of this syndrome that we currently call ADHD will continue to evolve. Even now, there is a growing emphasis on seeing ADHD as a disorder of executive functioning – which is a far cry from the hyperactivity/impulsivity image of 20-30 years ago. Research has recently begun to be published about treating ADHD with nutritional supplements, something that has been emphasized by nutritionists for years, but that is now being documented by research. Another fascinating approach is the research on using mindfulness meditation to reduce ADHD symptoms. Lastly, my hope is that we begin to see what we now call a “disorder” as a type of brain with not only areas of weakness (the executive functions), but also areas of strength. There is a small body of research – much more is needed – showing that those with ADHD perform much better than average on a broad range of measures of creativity – showing that these brains that have so much difficulty staying focused on a single thing, may have a great gift in connecting many disparate ideas.

L.L.: What are some of your favorite parent-friendly resources for managing AD/HD as well as supporting that bumpy ride?

Patricia Quinn: To smooth out the ride at home, I am a great proponent of holding weekly family meetings and having stress-free, fun outings together. Both can go a long way to resolving issues and improving family cooperation. I also like to offer books for girls to read on their ADHD and have written a book for the 8- to 12-year-old girls called, Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All About Your ADHD. In it they not only learn about their ADHD, but also find ways to deal with it. Girls should also be encouraged to read about other topics that may be bothering them (such as anxiety, making friends, handling anger, etc.) or on finding ways to practice mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Magination Press has many great books for children that deal with these areas on their website.

In addition, I feel parents need support. They can get that from national organizations like CHADD (Children and Adults with ADHD), which holds monthly support meetings and also offers an education program called “Parent to Parent.”

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

Kathleen Nadeau: We haven’t talked about the dangers of girls growing up with undiagnosed, untreated ADHD. While many used to think that girls had a “paler” version of ADHD because they tended to be less difficult and disruptive, we now know that girls are at a greater risk than boys of developing significant psychiatric disorders, making suicide attempts, and undergoing psychiatric hospitalizations than are boys. It’s important that we understand the risks, and how these risks can be greatly reduced by understanding these girls and providing the with the support, encouragement and treatment that can help them to reach their potential and grow up with their self-esteem intact.

L.L.: Thank you for such an insightful resource and a wonderful interview.

Kathleen Nadeau: Thank you, Leslie!

Kathleen Nadeau PhDKathleen Nadeau, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist that has specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD for most of her career. She is a popular speaker on ADHD-related topics both nationally and internationally and is the author of over a dozen books on ADHD-related topics. Dr. Nadeau received the CHADD ADD Hall of Fame Award in 2000 for her work focused on women and girls with ADHD. She is the director of the Chesapeake ADHD Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC, where she continues in clinical practice.

Patricia O. Quinn, MD Dr. Quinn, a developmental pediatrician, is a well-known international expert and speaker on the topic of ADHD. For the last two decades, she has devoted her attention professionally to the issues confronting Patricia Quinn MCgirls and women with ADHD, as well as high school and college students with disorder. In addition, she has authored several bestselling and groundbreaking books on the topic, including Understanding Girls with ADHD, 100 Questions and Answers about ADHD in Women and Girls, and Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All about Your ADHD. Her book, ADHD and the College Student: The Everything Guide to Your Most Urgent Questions, was released in May 2012. In 2000, Dr. Quinn received the CHADD Hall of Fame Award for her work in these areas.

[Cover images retrieved from Amazon.com on 6.10.15. Author images courtesy of Quinn and Nadeau. Image of group of girls retrieved from CHADD on 6.10.15. See my full review on GoodReads]



Write On , Wednesday: Meet Sarah McCoy of THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN (Crown, May 2015)


By Leslie Lindsay

“The old house on Apple Hill Lane shuddered against the weighty snow that burdened its pitch. The ancient beams moaned their secret pains to the wintering doves in the attic…”

Aren’t you just taken by this beautiful prose? I know I am. When I come across a book whose author has taken the time and care to meld the old with new, lost hopes with future dreams, and share the journey with a reader, it’s an elegant gift. That’s how I feel about Sarah McCoy’s THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN (Crown, May 2015).

Today, I’m honored to welcome Sarah to the blog.

L.L.: Sarah, thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us today. I just finished THE MAPMAKER’S CHILDREN over a delicious sunny morning on the patio, caffeinated beverage in hand. Like the setting, I wanted to savor and soak up every last word. For you, I know this novel was a savoring of sort, as well. You spent four years writing and researching. Can you briefly explain your process and that instigating moment that set the pen in motion?

Sarah McCoy: Thank you for having me, Leslie, and for that incredibly humbling introduction! I’m honored that you consider The Mapmaker’s Children a gift that you savored and slurped up like a good summer libation! I consider reader friends like you an equal prize and am so happy to connect online—and through my stories.

The inspiration for each of my novels has come to me differently. Published friends tell me how they are consistently inspired through a specific story vehicle: a historical character, political agenda, visual image, emotional struggle, color, food, etc. I can’t say that I have one. I guess my Muse likes to throw her bolts in various forms. I’ve never had a story come to me in the same way. The Mapmaker’s Children began with a sentence being spoken …

“A dog is not a child,” the woman, Eden Anderson, kept saying. And it was the way she said it that wouldn’t let me be. Confident, angry, and yet, deeply wounded by the very words she spoke. I couldn’t shush her no matter what I did. Months of hearing this over and over in my head nearly drove me crazy. That’s when I knew: this wasn’t just a passing statement, it was a character haunting!

In an effort to find relief from my insomnia, I wrote the sentence and its corresponding scene in the journal. I realized then that the voice was echoing through and out the front door of an old house—the house in New Charlestown. It was calling me to solve its Underground Railroad mystery set between Eden Anderson in present-day West Virginia and Sarah Brown 150 years ago.

The Underground Railroad has always been a dog-eared page in the history books for me, but it wasn’t until Eden and Sarah’s home called that I became completely absorbed in it. The research for this story took me from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, to Concord, Massachusetts, to Red Bluff, California. I followed Sarah’s trail, piecing together her legacy map. I wrote about that extensive research process in the “Author’s Note” in the back of the novel.

L.L.: Let’s talk a bit about structure. Some folks (like me) absolutely love the dual-period novel, multiple POVs, but others, not-so-much. How did you decide on the overall structure of the book, which is very precise: a chapter in the late-1850’s/early 1860s, followed by one in 2014. What challenges did you face?

Sarah McCoy: I’m so glad you enjoy this structure, too! I happened to love books that require my active reading participation. It makes the story come alive for me in a way that it doesn’t when I’m reading a book in which I sort of Lazy River ride through the chapters.

The historical-contemporary dual narrative seems to be my organic way of processing whatever fictional worlds I’m working in. History seen through this kind of Alice in Wonderland looking-glass filter of the present. I wrote that way for The Baker’s Daughter and now again in The Mapmaker’s Children. I’m fascinated by how the people of the past can reach across generations and impact the present; how mysteries of the present have their solutions in the past; how issues we face and decisions we make today are strikingly similar to ones our forebears made—with good and bad outcomes. I’m riveted by that interplay.

I think it’s important we don’t just read and compartmentalize the past as an “interesting story.” I want my readers to see that the history is a key, a manual, a lesson guidebook for us to learn and implement change in our present lives.

That all being said, it does not make for easy or simple novel writing. I’m sure my agent and publisher wish I would just do a conventional narrative instead of two books in one, but hey… where’s the fun in that!

L.L.: I have to say, I fell a little in love with Freddy Hill. Is there a character—or characters—you felt particularly fond of? I know, I know…kind of like choosing your favorite child.

Sarah McCoy: And just as any devoted mother would reply: I love all my children equally and eternally. That said, I can tell you that I gave more blood, sweat, tears, and time to the characters in The Mapmaker’s Children than any of my previous books. I think it’s my best work yet, and I’m praying my guts out that readers agree. I’m always trying to take it up another notch in my fiction. It keeps the writing—and reading— fresh and exciting.

A side note to your Freddy Hill devotion: I must say I fell hard for him, too. I was recently on My Book, The Movie blog where I was asked to cast The Mapmaker’s Children with any actors—living or dead. I chose Jonathan Crombie (a.k.a. Gilbert Blythe from the Anne of Green Gables series). Swoon.

L.L.: One of the main characters shares your namesake. And it’s often true that there’s a little bit of ourselves in our artistic creations. What connections/similarities are present between you and Sarah Brown?

Sarah McCoy: Technically, my momma stole Sarah Brown’s name 134 years later, so she claimed it far before me. Had John Brown’s only unmarried artist daughter been named Clementine, one of The Mapmaker’s Children’s protagonists would be named after a fruit. It just so happens my name is Sarah, too. Perhaps that’s what made her story spirit seek me out—a sister Sarah. But I can confidently say she was and is her own autonomous person. I learned from her; I admire her greatly for the legacy she left behind. Through the writing of this novel, I’ve integrated aspects of her into my own life that I didn’t have on page 1. She inspired me to be a braver, bolder, stronger woman, unafraid to map my own life outside of the constraints of convention. She told me, You’re okay, Sarah. You’re okay, Eden readers out there. We’re okay, sister women. That was her inheritance to me, and I pray to everyone who picks up this book.

L.L.: I so loved your essay on Writer UnBoxed in which you talk about the eve of your pub date. You reference the maelstrom of emotions to be comparable to that of moving, marriage, and childbirth. How do you ultimately calm yourself before a big reveal, not just of your artistic work, but you personally? What advice would you give?

Sarah McCoy: Thank you, Leslie! That column in Writer Unboxed was actually a huge factor in my calming process—putting it OUT there, giving my anxiety and solitary neurosis voice. Growing up, my momma always told me that once you shine a light on the monsters in the dark, they disappear. They’re merely shadow demons, but they that can evoke a mighty turmoil if you give them the power to do so. It’s a choice. I can’t ignore my worries. I won’t deny their existence. But I can face them and call them out: “I see you in the light, and I refuse to be terrorized by you.”

The Writer Unboxed column provided me the outlet, and in doing so, I was amazed by how many fellow writers and readers it also spoke to. My professional and personal advice? Always choose courage over fear, especially if you’re fearful of being courageous, as I was before the publication of this novel.

L.L.: What’s next on the horizon for you?

Sarah McCoy: I’ll continue to tour for The Mapmaker’s Children this summer: online blog visits, bookstore events, Skypes with libraries, summer author series, and book clubs, etc. Then I’m headed to literary festivals across the country in the fall. When I’m not on book travels, I’ll be hunkering down in my writing office working the next novel. I don’t typically breathe a word about the subject matter of my book babies until they are ready to be hatched. What I can share is that it’s another contemporary-historical dual narrative, turn of century and today; but the location is quite different from anywhere I’ve ever gone before. To quote my husband, “Book 1 was 1960s Puerto Rico. Book 2, WWII Germany. Book 3, Civil War Virginia. And now this?? After 17 years together, you’d think I’d know your imagination.”

Don’t blame me; I’m just the writer. I go where the characters point. And oh boy, am I having a mighty good time journeying to exotic, ancient territories with this next book!

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

Sarah McCoy: Hmm, I think we’ve chatted about quite a bit but we didn’t talk about pet love, which shows up in The Mapmaker’s Children. (I won’t spoil anything for your readers by elaborating.) But I believe you share my penchant for the fur-darlings with your sweet Sally Mae. I’m pretty much, completely obsessed with my dog. He’s a four-year-old, 10-lb. Frenchman of the Coton de Tulear breed. His name is Gilbert—Gilly for short—and he rules our house like Napoleon. He fancy’s a hound girlfriend, too. Ahem… he’s snipped, single, and ready to mingle.

L.L.: Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us today, Sarah. It was a joy!

Sarah McCoy: My pleasure, Leslie. Thank you for being such a ray of sunshine and a newfound friend in the book blogging world. This interview was great fun. Let’s keep in touch on Facebook and Twitter. I’d love to hear from you and your readers!

Sarah McCoyBio: SARAH McCOY is the New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker’s Children, The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico.

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Connect with Sarah on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, Goodreads or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.

[Special thanks to Hannah Frail at Crown. Images courtesy of author, with exception of The Baker’s Daughter which was retrived from the author’s website.]