Write On, Wednesday: Meet Author Kathryn Craft of THE FAR END OF HAPPY

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By Leslie Lindsay

You may know her from her January 2014 fluid, lyrical debut about a dancer, THE ART OF FALLING.

FAR END OF HAPPYHer second novel, THE FAR END OF HAPPY (May 2015) takes us on a poignant and emotionally charged glimpse into an unraveling marriage, the sadness draped around the characters like a shroud, and the hope that everything will work out in the end. It’s a tough read for the subject matter alone: suicide. But it’s the tenderness and compassion Craft brings to the narrative that will have you walking away feeling a strange brew of optimism.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Kathryn. I’m so honored to have you on the blog today. I guess I have to start with the obvious: THE FAR END OF HAPPY is based on an event in your life: your own ex-husband’s suicide. What a challenging topic—and how did you decide on the structure of the novel, i.e. why fiction over a memoir?

Kathryn Craft: Hi Leslie, thanks so much for having me here. The answers to the two parts of your question are interrelated. In the seventeen years since my husband died I’ve drafted a lot of memoir in the form of essays, blog posts, and what I came to think of as chapters. I came to realize, though, that there was no way I could write about my early marriage without the foreknowledge of the standoff to come. I’d think, “Were there clues here?” Once my fiction career powered up I started to think more creatively about a structure that would evoke the way the standoff had seared itself into my consciousness. Constraining story events to its twelve hours seemed the best way.

​​​Kathryn Craft author

I also came to believe that writing from one point of view would make it seem as if the suicide had happened only to me, which was not my experience. I knew for a fact that many people in my community, even strangers, were deeply affected. These two choices—the twelve hour structure and the three point-of-view characters—planted my feet firmly in the realm of fiction, even though my intent was to seek a greater truth.

L.L.: In the back of the book, you answer some questions about what was really true and what had been fictionalized, including your name. In fact, you maintain that you are *not* Ronnie, yet you are both very much alike. In what ways are you like Ronnie and in what ways do you differ?

Kathryn Craft: Most of the differences have to do with ripple effects that resulted from the way I fictionalized Ronnie and Jeff’s source families. Beverly is nothing like my mother—my mother was much too controlling to ever let me take the reins—and I had no lifelong relationship to my husband or his mother, so Ronnie related to these women much differently than I did with their real life counterparts. I fictionalized the mothers so I could force more conflict on the day of the standoff, since achieving believable character arcs for these women within twelve hours was a challenge. Yet doing so felt imperative; the promise of change needed to equal the depth of the loss. I also knew and idolized my father, and was one of five children. Ronnie’s and my emotional arc, though, in terms of trying to find a sense of self within a marriage, was one in the same.

L.L.: Suicide is one of those faux-pas topics; you just don’t go there. Yet you handle it so sensitively. How might we gain more awareness of this tragic mental health consequence?

Kathryn Craft: Thank you so much Leslie. I had two miscarriages, too, and my mother about died when I needed to talk about them to push through my grief. But you know what? In one such conversation, I found out a good friend of my mother’s had suffered five such losses—five!—and my mother never knew. Why did I know? When I shared, this woman opened up to me. At book signings I’ve had people hold up the line while pouring their hearts out about suicides in their own lives. Holding in all that pain and perceived shame is what causes suicide. We need to talk about those things that have so deeply wounded us. It is not shameful or weak to do so—it is real, and human, and has the potential to bond rather than divide.

Some great resources where you can learn more include To Write Love on Her Arms, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Take 5 to Save Lives. People who have been entertaining thoughts of self-harm should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Readers, if you would like to add your voice to my #choosethisday initiative on Twitter by posting uplifting quotes and thoughts about what makes you come alive, I’d love to re-tweet what comes through with that hashtag. We may feel unequal to the challenge of helping others. Ill equipped. But it is so much better to have brought all of our human imperfection to the task of trying rather than ignoring.

L.L.: What advice do you have for writers interested in exploring their own truth of an event without offending other parties/family members? And to extend that a bit—how has your own family received the book?

Kathryn Craft: My advice would be to wait to write about the event until you’ve restored the kind of balanced perspective that will allow you to give each character in the story a relatable goal. Now you’re not vilifying, you’re exploring relatable conflict. People who write memoirs in order to drag readers through the muck and mire of their existence will not win friends—or, frankly, readers. There is a lot of soul work and healing to accomplish before you can offer up the kind of context a reader seeks from a great story.

As for my family, my sons, now 25 and 27, gracefully and courageously allowed me to base Ronnie’s sons on them, and I did so right down to dialogue I recorded in my journals. Both came to the launch party. My older son introduced me and let me tell you, that was a moment of full-circle healing I will never forget. They’ve both expressed interest in reading The Far End of Happy but I am thrilled to say they live full, vital lives and don’t have a lot of spare time for reading right now! One has started the book and it will be there for the other when he’s ready. Sadly, my parents will never read any of my novels; my dad died shortly before I got my agent and my mother has dementia. As for my siblings, I’ve given them a pass on this one. I chose my husband, they didn’t. No one wants to go through a suicide and I wouldn’t expect them to take it on again, although I do know that one sister is doing so. My husband was an only child and his parents are both gone so I faced no repercussions there.

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

Kathryn Craft: How to step it up for book three. 

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

Kathryn Craft: Is it okay to skip this one since I answered the last as I did? Plus this is probably way longer than you’d hoped!

L.L.: Thanks so much for such an illuminating book—and for taking the time to be with us, Kathryn!

Kathryn Craft: Leslie, I sense a soul sister in you—your questions dug deeper than most. Thank you for the opportunity to entertain them.

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft Bio:

Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves any event that brings together readers, books, food and drink, and mentors other writers through workshops and writing retreats. A former dance critic, she has a bachelor’s in biology education and a master’s in health and physical education from Miami University in Ohio. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and spends her summers lakeside in northern New York State.

You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter:@kcraftwriter, her Website , and Goodreads    . Special thanks to publicist Suzy Missirlian @Suzy4PR for connecting us. Author and cover images courtesy of K. Craft.

 

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Alexandra Robbins of THE NURSES: A Year with the Heroes Behind the Hospital Curtain

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By Leslie Lindsay

Happy National Nurses Week! As many of you know, I’m a former R.N.-turned-book-enthusiast. Wait—I’ve always loved books. So when the combination of one of the world’s most vital—and dangerous—professions pairs with investigative journalism, I’m all over it. We’re super-lucky to have New York Times Bestselling author Alexandra Robbins (former credits include PLEDGED, THE OVERACHIEVERS, THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH, and others) here to celebrate nurses and answer a few questions.

Leslie Lindsay: First of all—thanks so much for being with us today, Alexandra! I practically devoured THE NURSES. It’s lively, well-paced, and a stunning portrayal of life as an R.N. I have to ask how you conceived the idea of writing about nurses—do you come from a family of medical professionals? Did you dream of being a nurse yourself? What was the seed of inspiration?

Alexandra Robbins: Actually, I don’t have any background in medicine or family with medical credentials, which makes this book different because it’s written by a complete outsider-turned-insider. I wrote the book because nurses had been asking me for years to write it. They wanted a book that represented their voices – and told their secrets – in a way that is fun for the general public to read. They said they wanted their story told in my beach-read kind of style. When they started telling me their stories, I was hooked.

L.L.: This is a book I feel is so important for so many reasons: nursing (and medicine in general) tends to be glamorized in movies and television shows like ER and Gray’s Anatomy, but the truth is, it’s a pretty dangerous job (mentally/physically/emotionally)—nurse-to-nurse bullying, doctors berating nurses, and patients attacking/assaulting nurses—was this a surprise to you as you dug into the ugly underbelly of the profession, or something you suspected all along?

Alexandra Robbins: Oh, I had no idea what actually went on behind the curtain. I was continually shocked by what the nurses had to say. Nursing is the third most dangerous profession in the country – and the violence is preventable, but nurses are rarely protected! That’s bananas. It was astonishing to me that people who are such compassionate heroes are subjected to so many unnecessary hardships. I think it comes down to respect; there needs to be more of an awareness of just how vital nurses are so that the profession gets the respect and appreciation it deserves.

L.L.: Even so, many nurses identify “a calling” to go into the profession. Can you describe some of your experiences with nurses who had that particular calling?

Alexandra Robbins: Most nurses have that calling, I think. I asked nurses repeatedly why they put up with so much, and what they told me really captured my heart. They said, “Nursing isn’t just a job. It’s who I am.” Nurses generally see themselves as people whose purpose is to help, to heal, to comfort, to teach, to connect. I can’t say enough about what incredible people they are.

L.L.: I’m recommending everyone in the health profession read this book. I think it’s super-important for those considering a career as a nurse, those already in the trenches of care-giving, and yes—even doctors, paramedics, just about anyone who works side-by-side with an R.N. needs to know exactly the struggles and triumphs we endure. What is it you hope others glean from THE NURSES?

Alexandra Robbins: Thank you! I hope readers come away with a strong respect and deep gratitude for nurses and a resolve to treat them like gold. The nurses and I also hope readers remember the secrets/tips we included to help patients and their loved ones get better hospital care, because in some cases that advice could be life-saving. And I think you’re right – if medical schools required students to read The Nurses, for example, then future physicians would have a much better understanding, and hopefully, empathy, of their teammates.

L.L.: Thanks again for being with us today—we so enjoyed it! And for those of you out there saving lives day in and day out—we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Alexandra Robbins: Thank you for spreading the message that nurses are heroes!

Alexandra Robbins is also the author of Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities and The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids. She says that in high school she was a "floater."Bio: Winner of the 2014 John Bartlow Martin Award for Public Interest Magazine Journalism, Alexandra Robbins is the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including PLEGED and THE OVERACHIEVERS. Her previous book, THE GEEKS SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH, was voted GoodReads “Best Non-fiction Book of the Year.” She has written for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and other publications, and has appeared on numerous television shows, from 60 Minutes to Oprah, to The Colbert Report.

Write On, Wednesday: Author Deborah Lincoln Talks about AGNES CANON’S WAR, historical fiction, discipline & more

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By Leslie Lindsay

Agnes Canon's WarYou can’t not love Agnes Canon. Fiercely independent and strong, she loves books—and hates corsets. Folded beneath the cover—stunningly simple yet evocative landscape with Agnes front and center—unfurls a truly amazing story of Missouri during the Civil War. And then there’s the author—with a name like Deborah Lincoln, how could she not write historical fiction set in a time when the freedoms of not just African Americans were restricted but those of all women? I’m thrilled to welcome Deborah as we talk about her book, AGNES CANON’S WAR (Blank Slate Press, 2014).

L.L.: Thanks for being with us, Deborah! It’s a joy to read AGNES CANON’S WAR. I just love the highly engaging opening chapters. The rendering of the hanging is drawn so effortlessly—so vividly—that I can’t help but feel the torment. And yet, it’s a joy to read…riddle me that!

Deborah Lincoln: If it’s a strong opening that promises a good story to come, then no matter how gruesome, I consider it a joy. I take it as a compliment; thank you. Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE opens with a couple of hogs playing tug-of-war with a rattlesnake. Ivan Doig’s DANCING AT THE RASCAL FAIR opens with the drowning of a horse . . . each a joy to read.

L.L.: Okay, that was a tough question. Let’s start with some basics. I understand Agnes Canon was a real-life person—can you tell us what you know about her and how you conceived the idea for this book?

Deborah Lincoln: Agnes was indeed a real person: my great great-grandmother, to be exact. Agnes Canon Robinson I came across her story when a cousin of my mother’s researched it and typed up a manuscript (onion skin and carbon paper: the old days) that she circulated among her family in the 1960s or 1970s. The characters were so memorable, the events so stark, their lives so emblematic of life during the inconceivable disaster of civil war that I could not let the story disappear. It was easy – well, relatively – to fill in the blanks with Agnes’s and her family’s thoughts, actions, hopes and dreams. One of my relatives (also a descendent of Agnes’s) says I channeled her during the writing. Sometimes it seemed so, that she was determined her story would not be forgotten.

L.L.: Historical fiction is a highly ambitious genre. There’s always a real-life event, person, time period, etc. to capture—and not ‘just’ following your imagination. How did you get invested in historical fiction and do you write in other genres as well?

Deborah Lincoln: Historical fiction is the only fiction I’ve ever written. I love it for all the usual reasons: the reader learns about the great events of the past at the same time she’s learning about how everyday people dealt with them, which is not something history classes teach. Also, I don’t have much imagination for plot, and the stories buried in our ancestors’ lives are of the you-can’t-make-it-up variety. At book signings, people are eager to tell me the stories of their many-great grandparents: the great grandfather shipwrecked on the western Canadian coast and held by Indians for a year before being ransomed to the Hudsons Bay Company; the several-great grandmother who emigrated to Kansas to care for her dead sister’s children, only to encounter John Brown on the run after Pottawatomie. The great uncle who decamped with his wife’s niece who bore the marvelous name of Phoebe Diamond. All the writer needs to do with material like this is fill in the blanks and enjoy the act of bringing them to life.

L.L.: I love Jabez’s admiration for the written word, “Ahead, an open-fronted tent sported a banner that read simply: BOOKS. Now here was a place Jabez could never pass by. Stacks of books teetered on tables, on the ground, in barrels…” I have a feeling you and I and Jabez would get along just fine. What is it, in your opinion that is so alluring about books?

Deborah Lincoln: Oh, wow. It’s like trying to describe what’s so alluring about the blood that runs through my veins. It’s the smell of the old Carnegie Library and the tiny leather chairs in the children’s section when I was small; the dreamy sound of my mom’s voice telling stories about a flying rocking horse as dusk grew deeper; it’s imagining what I would have done had I been in Nancy Drew’s sensible shoes, Pan at the Gates of Morning, a way to touch and be touched by souls from other times and other places that are otherwise untouchable and unknowable. For Jabez, and Agnes too, books back then must have meant so much more, since they had no other way of seeing pictures or hearing voices from far away. They must have craved what books could give them.

L.L.: At our house, we’re constantly talking about names…I know, strange topic of conversation! I think it’s because I’m a writer and often searching for the perfect character name and because my daughters are often busy naming their Barbie dolls! So, I have to admit we’ve never discussed the name Jabez. My only 8 - Jabezexperience is the Bible. Did Jabez Robinson really exist as well?

Deborah Lincoln: Yes, indeed; Jabez was my great great-grandfather. He and Agnes’s marriage and life together followed the basic pattern of the story in the book. He came from Maine, he was a secessionist, he did go adventuring in California and the Southwest in the 1840s, he did emigrate to Montana. The name Jabez was prominent in his branch of the Robinson family; it was his grandfather’s name and shows up several times before that. The last mention I’ve seen of it in the family is his grandson’s middle name: William Jabez Robinson, my great uncle. The Biblical passage is interesting: given how hot-headed and strong-minded Jabez was, I’m guessing his mother really did bear him “in pain.”

L.L.: Oftentimes, we really identify with our characters. Is there one you felt a particular affinity for? One who “surprised” you?

Deborah Lincoln: Agnes, first of all. But I became quite attached to some of the others. Billy, Agnes’s cousin’s son, became more and more prominent in the story as it developed; his moral struggles throughout the war were painful to witness. And I really liked James, the little boy with the black arrowhead whom everyone petted and loved; I would like to have followed his progress through the war and his later life. Maybe some day I’ll track him down. The one who really surprised me was Jake, one of the southern guerillas, who turned out to be a more complex character than I’d first envisioned. And his father, Reuben. That family, by the way, is a product of my imagination. I suppose a writer tends to have a soft spot for people she completely makes up.

L.L.: Let’s shift gears to the writing process. Do you have any routines or a process you follow?

Deborah Lincoln: I don’t. I’m not a disciplined writer – I wish I were. I don’t use an outline, though I usually put together a timeline so I know the context for my story: what’s going on in national and state politics, for example, even if it doesn’t have any bearing on the story. I spend lots and lots of time reading all sorts of obscure histories, kind of burying myself in the time. Sometimes that’s just a good excuse not to sit down and actually write, which is hard for me. I’m the worst procrastinator. But I’m working on changing my careless ways.

L.L.: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

Deborah Lincoln: Write every day; don’t give up. That’s a cliché, but the reason it’s a cliché is because it’s true.

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

Deborah Lincoln: I’m working on a novel that takes place in Montana Territory just after the Civil War: a besotted governor, Irish rebels, the invasion of Canada and a love story that stretches from St. Louis to Virginia City. I’m also researching a sequel to AGNES, because I’m not ready to let her go.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us, Deborah! We so enjoyed hearing from you!

Deborah Lincoln: Thank you so much for having me; it’s been a pleasure.

Author Picture 3Author Bio: Deborah Lincoln has lived in South Tillamook County, near the village of Neskowin, for ten years. She grew up in the small town of Celina, Ohio and earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Michigan. She and her husband have three grown sons.

Of her passion for historical fiction, she says: “I’m fascinated by the way events—wars and cataclysms and upheavals, of course, but the everyday changes that wash over everyday lives—bring a poignancy to a person’s efforts to survive and prosper. I hate the idea that brave and intelligent people have been forgotten, that the hardships they underwent have melted away like a rim of ice on a warm spring day.”

Agnes Canon’s War is the story of her great great-grandparents, two remarkable people whose lives illustrate the joys and trials that marked America’s tumultuous nineteenth century.

For more information, follow on social media, and to purchase AGNES CANNON’S WAR, please visit:

Website: http://deborahlincoln.org

Facebook: Agnes Canons War https://www.facebook.com/deborahslincoln?fref=ts

Twitter: @dslincoln51

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21882293-agnes-cannon-s-war

Amazon (Kindle & Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/Agnes-Canons-War

Barnes & Noble (Nook & Paperback): http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/agnes-canons-war-deborah-lincoln/1120148377?ean=9780985808662

Available to your local bookstore through Midpoint Trade: http://www.midpointtrade.com/

[Cover image and author image courtesy of author. Images of Alice Cannon and Jabez Robinson from author’s website, http://www.deborahlincoln.org. retrived on 4.20.15]

 

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay SLANT OF LIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Wiegenstein:

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

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

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

Steve Wiegenstein: Thank you!

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter: @paulahwrites

Facebook:www.facebook.com/PaulaHawkinsWriter

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Web:www.SuzanneRedfearn.com

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

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

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

Fiction Friday:

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

Jo Ellen

January 20th 1989

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

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

Doubt and guilt. Me and Mallory.

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

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

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

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

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