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

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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

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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

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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)

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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.]

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.