Write On, Wednesday: Julie Christine Johnson on her gorgeously written debut IN ANOTHER LIFE, featuring southern France, reincarnation, love, and her ‘addiction’ to re-invention

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously written with a descriptive hand, this debut is one not to be missed. I was immediately transported to the southwestern region of France (Languedoc, to be precise), and found the poetic writing had me yearning for the luxuries found only in Europe. Through Julie Christine Johnson’s evocative use of words had me bathed in a richness of wonder, scent and visual images. Be sure to scroll to the end of the interview where you can link to Julie’s website and learn all about her editing services, query clinic, and story development services. IN ANOTHER LIFE

Lia Carrer, a historian by education finds herself seeking out southern France as a grieving widow, following a freak accident of her cyclist husband. She plans to rebuild her life, but she does not plan to fall in love.

Blending romance, mystery, history, and suspense, IN ANOTHER LIFE is ultimately about love and loss, but it harbors an ancient murder, a fantastical view of reincarnation and time travel, presented through the lens of an alternating time period between present-day and medieval France.

Today I am honored to welcome Julie Christine Johnson to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Julie! I am so excited to have you pop by and chat with us about your deeply moving and poetic debut, IN ANOTHER LIFE. I understand the story was inspired by the Languedoc region of France and that you have many France-based stories tugging at your heart. Can you speak more to your inspiration for this particular story?

Julie Christine Johnson: Leslie, what a joy and honor it is to be here with you. Thank you for hosting me and spreading the word about In Another Life.

My husband and I spent a few weeks in the region in spring 2011. We’ve both lived in France and traveled all corners of L’Hexagone, but it was the first time we’d explored Languedoc in depth. We were enthralled by the scenery, the history, the culture—which are inextricably linked. History lives and breathes in the medieval ruins and Roman roads, the vineyards and the mountains. It is a culture shaped by the contours of its lands and one that worked its way deep under my skin. I left with a mental image I couldn’t shake: a woman standing on a cliff’s edge; below her stretches a valley laced with vineyards and studded with wind towers. Behind her, a man steps out from the ruins of a Cathar citadel. I was aching to find out who they were, but I knew she was from the present, he from the past. Then I read about the Cathars’ belief in reincarnation and I had my way into the story.

L.L.:  So I have to admit, I had never heard of a Cathar before—heretics, yes, but Cathars, no. Can you give us a tiny history lesson where this is concerned, and how does it fit into Lia’s story in IN ANOTHER LIFE?

220px-Cevennes_Florac_Mimente_depuis_Causse_MejeanJulie Christine Johnson: Catharism was a migratory faith that came to western and southern Europe by way of different Gnostic religions founded in Persia and the Balkans. The faith as represented in the Languedoc of In Another Life took root in the 11th century A.D. The Cathars considered themselves Christians, but because of their disavowal of the resurrection of Christ, their views of the afterlife, and the radical ways they practiced their faith, including integration of women and rejection of tithing, the Catholic church declared them heretics and worked to convert the Cathar faithful to Catholicism. The assassination of prelate Pierre de Castelnau in January 1208, which was blamed on a nobleman sympathetic to the Cathars, launched a crusade against them. The Cathars were all but eliminated from Languedoc by the mid-1200s, just three decades after In Another Life. 

Lia made the Cathars and their faith the subject of her dissertation, but her research focused on their beliefs in reincarnation and the afterlife. Yet the questions of why Pierre de Castelnau was murdered and by whom needled her. Since history never shows who wielded the weapon and committed the murder, I took that and ran with it, straight into the story!

“Johnson’s heartbroken researcher wends through the lush landscape and historical religious intrigue of southern France seeking the distraction of arcane fact-but instead, like the reader, is transformed by the moving echo of emotional truth. An imaginative, unforgettable tale.”

Kathryn Craft, author of The Art Of Falling and The Far End Of Happy

L.L.: The first portion of the book reminds me a bit of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN, and also a bit of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, both feature an independent woman struggling with a loss and personal tragedies (death, divorce) and the desire to reinvent herself in another country.  Because I found IN ANOTHER LIFE so riveting, I wonder if you were inspired by some of your own personal discord to pen this story? Can you explain?

Julie Christine Johnson: What a wonderful question. I lead writing workshops and just yesterday, I took my class through a writing exercise where they identified symbols, and metaphors, and themes that appear consistently in their work. I made my own list, and this theme of reinvention, of how a change in geography forces a change in the soul, is something I write to quite often.

Without a doubt, my own experiences living, working, and traveling abroad have affected me profoundly. They have brought me to an understanding of who I am as a woman, an American, an artist. They led me to a career coordinating study abroad and exchange programs for university students; they brought me to my husband, whom I met in a French class. Most recently, in the late 2000s, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold everything we owned, and immigrated to New Zealand. I think I’m rather addicted to reinvention. Certainly, experiencing life outside my borders, whether literal or figurative, is of enormous importance to me. And I love writing about it. lr9

L.L.: I absolutely love how you go back and forth in time between contemporary Lia and medieval France. As E.M. Forster writes, “a good mystery should always have the reader brooding in the past.” Was there a particular time period you found more enjoyable, or more challenging to write?

Julie Christine Johnson: Oh, wow, I love that! <author madly scribbling quote on Post-it note>

I found myself downshifting when I slipped into the thirteenth century. My language changed, the cadence and rhythm of the sentences became richer, more symphonic. It was the first time I’d written something set in the past and it touched the part of me that craves to disconnect from the present world, from the pace and virtual chatter that leave me breathless.

Now that I think of it, this may be part of the reason I write so often about characters changing borders and living in unfamiliar places: there is a certain dream-like quality, a filtering out of the non-essential, when you are learning to exist in a place where you have few familiar social cues. You live completely in the present, becoming a blank slate that is filled by sensory information. There is a rawness, a vulnerability, to being a “foreigner” that is inexplicable and priceless, as long as that foreignness is a choice, and not something thrust upon you by war or economic or political crisis. There is nothing romantic about being forced from your home. This forced dislocation is something I’ve been excavating in my writing and it’s taking me to some painful places, past and present.

Lia is definitely brooding in the past, and it comes back to capture her completely.

L.L.: Your use of colors and sensation is remarkable. In fact, I recently read an article from The New York Times that describes just how evocative a descriptive word can be for the reader. Was this a conscious effort on your part, or is it more of a pleasant byproduct the reader experiences as a result of historical fiction well told?

Julie Christine Johnson: Thank you so much. When writers speak of voice, I think this is it. It’s just me, my style. Maybe it comes from writing shelf talkers for wine when I was a retail wine buyer. You know, “This Pinot Noir tastes like walk through a late-November forest, where scents of woodland mushrooms and fallen leaves waft from the ground and the air carries the notion of woodsmoke and fresh-baked apple pie Burgundy_Pinotfrom the nearby village.” Ha!

I’ve been working hard on learning how to earn those descriptives by writing flash fiction—stories told in 1000 words or fewer—to sharpen and punctuate my language with urgency. And poetry. I attended my first poetry workshop last year and it transformed me as a writer. Poetry is about capturing the fullest of emotions in the fewest words, the most perfect words. It’s good, hard work for someone with a natural tendency to layer it on thick.

But In Another Life, flirting with fantasy, in a place that is so haunting and mystical, seemed to call for a dreamy, generous, lyrical voice. When I think of writers who make my blood quicken, it’s Virginia Woolf, Thomas Hardy, Ron Rash, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They craft lush and creamy sentences I want to scoop up with a spoon.

L.L.: Let’s move into the business side of writing. I understand IN ANOTHER LIFE is your first published novel. Can you share a bit about your journey?

Julie Christine Johnson: Mine is a bit of a faerie tale. But it’s proof that not every writer has a long and terrible road ahead. I began writing fiction in 2011, after taking a series of writing workshops in Seattle. At my first writers’ conference in June 2012 I realized I could, I must, try to write the story that was nattering around my brain. Two weeks later I wrote the first words of a novel that became In Another Life.

After two years of writing and revising, I ended September 2014 with a draft of In Another Life that I felt was ready to query. Before I sent out any query letters, however, I decided to give in-person pitching a go. I attended a writers’ conference in October and there I met the two women who would, a few weeks later, become my agent (Shannon Hassan of Marsal Lyon Literary, and the editor of In Another Life, (Anna Michels, Sourcebooks).

What I learned along the way is that developing a writing practice, and for me that means writing every single day, was critical to my success—the success of completing a first draft. I had to plan for my writing time and guard it jealously. A writer must write. A writer must read. And a writer must send her work into the world, hear “No” over and over again, pick herself up each time, rinse and repeat. Although my first novel was quickly signed and set on the road to publication, I have stacks of rejections for other work. Those Nos are badges of honor because each one represents belief in myself, and if feedback is offered, they are learning experiences that make me a better writer.

L.L.: What advice would you give your younger writing self?

Julie Christine Johnson: Why did you wait until you were 41 to begin writing? I know why. You were afraid that if you took the dream off the high shelf where you shoved it so many years before, and you failed, you’d have nothing left to hope for. Pshaw, girl. The only failure is in not trying. Glad you got yourself sorted out.

L.L.: Are you writing more France-based fiction? What’s next for you?

Julie Christine Johnson: My second novel, The Crows of Beara, will be published September 2017 (Ashland Creek Press). I’m in the midst of working with my editor on revisions. It’s set in contemporary southwest Ireland, with a thread of magical realism woven through (of course, it’s Ireland!). I sent a draft of a third novel to my agent recently. Set in New Zealand, it’s perhaps the most personal of my stories. At least it started out that way. It became something else entirely by the end. It’s the first time I’ve written a child as one of the main characters.Ireland 2014 175

But I don’t think I’m finished with Lia. I’m researching a sequel to In Another Life. Tentatively titled The Salt Road, it will be set on the border between France and Italy with Lia on a modern-day pilgrimage through the mountains, following closely in the medieval footsteps of a character from In Another Life, whom we met only briefly. Who else returns from In Another Life will be a surprise—even to me, at this early stage!

L.L.: Julie, thank you so very much for chatting with us today, it was much illuminating. Best wishes with IN ANOTHER LIFE.

Julie Christine Johnson: Leslie, you made this so easy and so enjoyable. My gratitude to you, and to your followers, for supporting writers with such grace and enthusiasm. All that we write is for you; readers are our raison d’être. Thank you.

Julie Christine JohnsonBio: Julie Christine Johnson is the author of the novels In Another Life (February 2016, Sourcebooks Landmark) and The Crows of Beara (September 2017, Ashland Creek Press). Her short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Emerge Literary JournalMud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt, the anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss and featured on the flash fiction podcast, No Extra Words. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs.  Julie also teaches writing workshops and is a freelance story/developmental editor working with writers preparing their query letters and synopses. “Bringing others to the page is nothing but joy!”

A runner, hiker, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state with her husband. In Another Life is her first novel.

For more information, or to follow Julie Christine Johnson on social media, please see:

IN ANOTHER LIFE can be purchased from:

[Special thanks to Suzy Missirlian. Author and cover images courtesy of Julie Christine Johnson. Languedoc region and wine images retrieved from Wikipedia on 1.14.16. Ireland image from L. Lindsay’s personal archive] 

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Anne Girard, author of the dazzling PLATINUM DOLL, how Jean Harlow influenced Marilyn Monroe, writing routines, and the glitz & glamour of early Hollywood

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Jean Harlow didn’t ask to be a star.Platinum Doll Final Cover

At seventeen years old and a love-struck newlywed from Kansas City, Missouri, Harlean Carpenter and her husband, trust-fund orphan Chuck McGrew move west to the promising neighborhood of Beverly Hills, California, with dreams of doing nothing more than lunching at the country club, taking up tennis and living in a cute stucco house in the hills. But it’s only a matter of time—and the result of a dare that turns Harlean Carpenter McGrew into the ravishing Jean Harlow.

Gorgeously written and fabulously drawn from the life of young Harlean Harlow Carpenter, Anne Girard returns with PLATINUM DOLL (previous historical fiction MADAME PICASSO), and pulls readers into the enchanting fairy-tale world of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Today, I am super honored to have Anne Girard pop over and chat about her glowing, page-turning historical fiction, PLATINUM DOLL.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome Anne! It’s such a pleasure to have you on the blog couch today. I just devoured PLATINUM DOLL, felt seduced by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and even felt compelled to do some of my own research on Jean Harlow—I wanted to know more. That is what I call darn good historical fiction! What sparked your interest in writing this particular story?

Anne Girard: Hi Leslie, thanks very much. It’s my pleasure, and I’m so thrilled that you enjoyed the book! I’ve always been drawn to writing about real characters from history—the more complicated or misunderstood, the better. What sparked my interest about Jean Harlow’s story were two things. I loved exploring what it took to become a star in early Hollywood, that was really fun, and I was equally pulled into the portrait of a young, fragile marriage dying as her star is rising. Biographers have not been kind to Chuck McGrew, so I also wanted to try to represent what that whole thing must have been like, not just for Harlean, but for her him, knowing he was outmatched by his domineering mother-in-law, as well as by the fateful pull of Hollywood. I actually felt a lot of compassion not just for Harlow but for them both.

L.L.: And so your research is evident in this novel. You clearly did your homework. I think it would have been easy to become overwhelmed with the vast amount of information out there on Jean Harlow. Yet, you deliver such a well-rounded, yet compact slice of her life. How did you decide what to include, and what not?

Anne Girard: With this book it was a little easier than it often is. My publisher wanted only that slice of her story, kind of “A Star Is Born” theme, so that simplified things. Knowing that before I began, I really committed to putting as many details—and characters—into the book as possible to hopefully make that period which I was given really live for readers. There really wasn’t much I left out, or wanted to!

“A fascinating, page-turning, behind-the-scenes look at what it took to be a celebrity in early Hollywood.”

~Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Poe and Twain’s End

L.L.: Was there anything that surprised you about Jean Harlow?

Anne Girard: Learning how smart and well educated she was surprised me, considering the stereotype of a platinum blonde movie star. It was also great learning how much she loved to read, and that she even wrote a novel. I wouldn’t have guessed any of that.

225px-Harlow-publicityL.L.: I have to say, Jean seemed like a girl I would like—she loves animals, reading, and writing. I think, for me, I enjoyed learning she was just a sweet, tenderhearted girl from Missouri who stumbled upon fame. In your opinion, is this how things “work,” that luck is elusive, or carefully cultivated?

Anne Girard: I think it’s probably a little of both. In Jean’s case, she really didn’t seek out fame or, initially, even a career, while her friend Rosalie did pursue it and had nowhere near the same luck. Once she had tasted a bit of that success though, I do believe Jean (and her mother!) worked very hard at cultivating the opportunity fate had given her—and cultivate they both did! Harlow was an inspiration to Marilyn Monroe and countless other girls afterward.

L.L.: There are sections of the novel that are hard to read. Namely, the tumultuous relationship she had with her mother. Gosh, their relationship was oddly complex. Can you speak to that, please?

Anne Girard: Wasn’t she something?! Jean Bello certainly was the quintessential, cliché controlling stage mother, my goodness! Hard to read and certainly difficult to write about when needing to present an accurate representation! They were very enmeshed, stemming from Harlow’s having been an only child, and her mother’s sole companion on their first trip to Hollywood where they very much depended on each other. The first Jean Harlow also saw possibility in her daughter, things that she was never able to achieve on her own. Their nicknames for each other, “Mommie” and “The Baby,” say a lot I think.Jean_Harlow_and_mother_1934

L.L.: Were there other disturbing scenes for you to write? (There were sure a few that made me cringe!)

Anne Girard: Absolutely. The scene in the backseat of the car when they are on the way to the hospital… that was tough to write, and to put myself in Harlow’s shoes under the strictures of those times. I wanted to show the mix of panic, fear and anger—and ultimately resignation, she was feeling. Also there is a last scene between Harlow and her husband when he comes to her house that final time. His desperation to keep his wife, mixed with the growing death of a marriage, made me sad for days afterward, but it was real life, what really happened, and I wanted to share that respectfully, but realistically too. I hope I did that.

L.L.: Let’s switch gears a bit to your writing process. Do you outline first, or let the pen lead? Do you research first, then write or does your research fall into place as the narrative unfolds?

Anne Girard: It kind of depends on the story. Usually though, once I’ve done an initial exploration of the characters, some scenes and dialogue do just tumble out. It’s the ‘get acquainted’ period between the characters and me. I jot those down and store them to add later to the text. Then I begin the lengthier research; biographies (all of them), historical time reference books, food, fashion and travel to the destination where the story is set. That’s a must. Then I write an initial outline of the scenes as they really happened from history so that I know, in a general way, where I will be going with the characters. The writing—all on yellow legal tablets—happens after that.

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

Anne Girard: Ah, obsession is the perfect word! I’m onto a new story—another real character from history, which is top secret for now. But I’m in the phase where the characters and I are getting acquainted, and I’m beginning to hear ‘their’ story. I love when that happens! It really is the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the writing process. I can’t wait to share it with the world. Hopefully, that will be soon and I will do justice to the characters and their amazing story.

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

Anne Girard: Hmm… how ‘bout what I’m reading at the moment? That would be “At The Water’s Edge” by Sara Gruen. Fabulous writing and a great story; can’t ask for more than that!

L.L.: Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by, Anne. It was such a pleasure!

Anne Girard: Truly, Leslie, the pleasure was all mine! Wonderful questions!

 

Anne Girard HeadshotBio: Diane Haeger, who currently writes under the pen name Anne Girard (Madame Picasso), holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from UCLA. A chance meeting with the famed author Irving Stone 25 years ago sharply focused her ambition to tell great stories from history, and write them only after detailed research and extensive travel to the place her character lived. That determination has provided a fascinating journey that has taken her from the halls of Chenonceaux, to a private interview with one of Pablo Picasso’s last surviving friends, and most recently an invitation inside Jean Harlow’s home.

Since the publication of her acclaimed first novel, Courtesan, in 1993, a novel that remains in print today, her work has been translated into 18 different languages, bringing her international success and award-winning status.

Platinum Doll, a novel about Jean Harlow, is her 15th book. She lives in Southern California with her husband and family.

Learn more about the author of PLATINUM DOLL: 

Order/Download PLATINUM DOLL: 

[Special thanks to S. Missirlian. Cover and author image courtesy of Anne Girard. B&W images of Jean Harlow and her mother, as well as the Hollywood headshot were retrieved from Wikipedia 1.1.16] 

BooKs on MondaY: Meet the Experts–NURTURING LANGUAGE & LEARNING in Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Infants & Toddlers

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By Leslie Lindsay 

As a former child/adolescent psych RN and mother of a child with apraxia of speech (CAS), I gravitated toward this book for several reasons. But one that stands out is that I have a friend raising a son with mild-moderate hearing loss. Four years ago, they didn’t understand why he failed his newborn hearing test.9780199931323 (1)Several years (and hearing aids later), they now have a much greater understanding of hearing loss in infants and children, the slower language acquisition, as well as the benefits of early intervention (EI). Plus, they have an amazing 4 year old who is making strides in social and academic settings; he’s not much different than any other preschooler.

Authors and researchers Spencer and Koester have culled the research for you, placing it between two covers and making the world of hearing impaired and deaf infants and toddlers more accessible.NURTURING LANGUAGE & LEARNING: Development of Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Infants & Toddlers is a wealth of information on “typical” infant-toddler development, paired with struggles of the child with hearing impairments. What might be different for a parent and child if hearing, a vital sense is affected? Spencer and Koester will show you through various examples and research.

Today, I am honored to have Patricia Spencer and Lynne Koester talk with us about the challenges faced by child and parent when hearing is compromised.

Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for popping by today, Pat and Lynne. I am absolutely amazed at the wealth of knowledge poured into NURTURING LANGUAGE & LEARNING: Development of Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Infants & Toddlers. Bravo! Can you tell us what inspired you to write this book, and who is your intended audience?

Pat Spencer: Our goal was to create a kind of “handbook” for parents whose little ones are identified to have hearing loss either at birth or during the early months and years of life.  What developmental accomplishments can be expected?  Which ones remain special challenges? What can parents do to best encourage and support these accomplishments?  We even put together a series of lists of developmental steps that might be expected at different ages, noting when limits to hearing (or to vision) present special challenges.  Despite remaining challenges, we wanted to emphasize the great progress that is being made by so many deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers. We have included stories about the relatively large proportion of young children with limited hearing who have multiple disabilities.  These children can also make much more developmental progress than in the past—but supportive early intervention services are required.

Lynne Koester:  Much of our writing together in the past has been primarily for academic audience, and we felt it was time for some of the “scientific” information to be made more accessible to parents and professionals involved directly with children in the early years. We also wanted to highlight – through vignettes at the beginning of many chapters — some of the cultural and economic variations that can have important influences on the development of children with any kind of disability. The progress being made depends on availability of supportive services, but early identification, early intervention, and even appropriate educational practices are still not available in many parts of the world.

Mother_signing_childL.L.: As much as we want our children to be exceptional, we are often saddled with things that aren’t so-perfect. My oldest daughter suffered from childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) when she was younger. I have other friends who have children with Down’s syndrome, Cru di Chat, AD/HD, and mild-moderate hearing loss. What might you advise parents who are grieving the loss of the so-called “perfect” child?

Pat Spencer: Just as each infant and toddler is unique, so is each parent.  We bring our own experiences and personalities, as well as our expectations of what our children will be like, to our roles as parents.   When our little one doesn’t act in the way we expect—or, importantly, when we have been led to believe that he or she faces overwhelming barriers—we can be thrown off kilter.  We worry whether we can be “the right kind” of parent for this baby…and  fears about our babies’ challenges can lead to some pretty devastating parental emotional reactions.  We want to emphasize, however, that this is not always the case.

“Parents find a variety of paths to overcoming their worries and finding their own and their baby’s strengths:  support from family and friends; sharing information as well as experiences and feelings with other parents; getting to know deaf and hard-of-hearing adults and their accomplishments; making use of support provided by early intervention and other professionals.” ~Patricia Elizabeth Spencer

It is most important, however, that a parent reach out to others—family members, friends, their intervention specialist—if he or she feels overwhelmed, becomes unusually sad, begins to withdraw from others, or even no longer finds that playing with or cuddling the little one is rewarding.  The intervention team should make sure that emotional support from a professional such as a social worker or a psychologist is obtained…whatever helps the parent, also very directly helps the baby.

Lynne Koester: […]social and emotional development are just as important to the overall health of any child as are advances in other realms (intellectual, language, physical, etc.).

L.L.: Full-disclosure: Our first-born failed her newborn screening test for hearing. As a new mom, I was puzzled. The nurse explained that there are sometimes false positives and recommended we re-test in a week or two. Her hearing was just fine when we returned. Still, it caused alarm. How do those newborn screening tests work and why are they important?baby-with-hearingaid

Pat Spencer Hearing screening(the newborn test) essentially asks “Does she respond to these sounds the way we expect for her age?  If not, let’s wait awhile and test again.”  Results of the screening can be thrown off by fluid or other material in the baby’s middle or inner ear for some hours or days after birth.  Or, screening findings can be influenced if the baby moves around or is crying.  As a result, it is not uncommon for a baby to be referred for further testing but turn out to have no hearing loss at all.

When screening for most things, we would rather miss by over-referring for further testing than miss by under-referring.  This is certainly true for infant hearing loss.  Why?  Good data—piles of information—show us that finding limits to hearing early, if early intervention services are then provided, it really promotes developing language, thinking skills, even social and emotional abilities…faster, more complete, more easily than if support for development doesn’t happen until later.  It can be really scary for the parents of a newborn to be told “more testing needed.”  We don’t mean to downplay the anxiety…but the benefits of finding those who are deaf or hard of hearing are so great.

 L.L.: As with hearing issues (deafness/hard-of-hearing/loss) in newborns, I am sure the causes vary. Can you speak to that please?

Pat Spencer:  Currently, about half of newborn or early hearing loss is “genetic,” resulting from different patterns in a baby’s  chromosomes or genes.  These patterns can be “recessive” and “hidden” for generations; others are “dominant” and tend to show up generation after generation.  Some tend to cause hearing loss only, while others (for example, Alport  or Usher Syndromes) present with disabilities in multiple areas.  In some cases, the hearing loss is not present at birth but occurs over the first few years.

In perhaps another quarter of cases, illness is thought to have caused  loss of hearing.  Sometimes it is an illness the mother has during pregnancy. These include viruses like CMV (cytomegalovirus) and (in parts of the world where vaccinations are not common) rubella or German measles.  Some viral diseases can be so mild in the mother-to-be that she doesn’t even know she has been sick.

Infants and toddlers can also contract illnesses after birth that can affect hearing—for example, viral meningitis.  Certain types of antibiotics, which may be needed to save a baby’s life, can cause loss of hearing.  In addition, birth trauma, prematurity, breathing problems, and even severe jaundice can—but do not always—result in hearing loss. 

Medical and genetic specialists are still unable to identify the cause of hearing loss in about a fourth of cases.  Knowing what caused limited hearing can help us predict special challenges that will be faced—and occasionally how we can best address them.  However, in many cases, knowing the cause doesn’t tell us how a baby will progress.  Even babies with the same identified cause have great individual differences in how they can best learn and the paths they take developmentally.

L.L.: What specific challenges does a parent of a child with deafness (or hard-of-hearing) encounter on a daily basis? Can you provide a few examples of how a parent may successfully overcome some of those?

Pat Spencer: Many parents report that the biggest challenge is having enough time–Time for visits to doctors and audiologists, time for home visits from the early intervention specialists, and time for other children or family members.   All this in addition to all the time that any baby or toddler requires!

The primary concern for parents of a deaf or hard-of-hearing baby is how to best support communication and language skills.  We emphasize in the book (based on solid research) that if there are no other developmental challenges, hearing loss should not delay basic communication skills.  These include expressing emotion, gesturing, actions with toys and other objects.  Learninglanguage is, however, a different matter and requires that babies and toddlers have an accessible language model used in their daily activities. This can be  language received through vision (sign language or cued speech) or through hearing, using a hearing aid or cochlear implant.  Many deaf and hard-of-hearing children benefit from combining both approaches.

josh01_MDL.L.: I understand early intervention is highly recommended. The sooner a child is fitted with a hearing aid, the better. Can you describe what that process looks like?

Pat Spencer: Younger brains are more flexible and much early learning is supported by naturally-occurring, everyday experiences. (Later, more structured activities may be required.)  Babies learn how to use their hearing better if they begin wearing a hearing aid before rather than after 6 months of age….and 3 months seems even better.  This also prevents them from falling farther behind on listening experience.

For the baby, getting a hearing aid tuned up and in the ear is easy; it doesn’t hurt!  It is not so easy, however, for the audiologist (hearing specialist). Special training and experience working with babies is necessary.  Parents need to be directly involved in the process, too: making sure the hearing aid is actually worn, and reporting to the audiologist how the baby reacts to sounds during daily activities. Parents may respond to special questionnaires to help the audiologist know whether the aid is increasing various sounds as best possible.  Repeated audiology visits will be required to monitor the effectiveness of the hearing aid over time.

Hearing aids aren’t magic.  They often don’t provide full access to sounds, especially when the hearing loss is severe.  Although the technology continues to advance, sounds received through them may be distorted—and it is especially difficult to hear clearly when in a noisy situation.  These are some of the reasons that signs or cued speech are also often used with deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers.

L.L.: But early intervention is more than “just” a hearing aid. It may involve parent education and support, small group work, and more. Yet, it seems state funding for such programs are decreasing. What might parents do to ensure their child (and themselves!) receive the supportive programs they need?

Pat Spencer: Federal legislation, Part C of the IDEA  (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), extended intervention services down in age to birth to 3 years. These services are to be available to all little ones with developmental delay or “potential for developmental delay” due to physical, cognitive, or medical issues.  The definition of “developmental delay” is made at each state level, however, so parents need to find out what is available in their own state.Intervention services should be in place by the time an infant is 6 months old. A team of professionals should be involved, including a case manager or primary intervention specialist who is trained and knowledgeable about little ones with limited hearing.  Services should be provided to the family as a whole and not focus on the child in isolation. 

Parents may have to advocate for their child’s needs.  Current information about recommended services is available from the American Speech Language and Hearing Association.  Parent organizations, such as Hands and Voices can be helpful . The CHIP (Colorado Home Intervention Program,) provides a model for proven high quality services for deaf or hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers.  In addition, Dr. Marilyn Sass-Lehrer’s new book “Early Intervention for Deaf and Hard-of Hearing Infants, Toddlers, and their Families: Interdisciplinary Perspectives” is a good resource about recommended serviceshandsandvoices

L.L.: Is there anything I may have forgotten to ask that you’d like to share?

Pat Spencer: The impact of warm, responsive interactions between parents or caregivers and young children cannot be over emphasized.  Many of the skills and behaviors that most adults “intuitively” use with little ones seem amazingly well designed to support their development…development of social and emotional abilities as well as motor (or physical), visual attention, communication, and language abilities. EI

We tend to use lots of sensory channels during interactions (holding and cuddling, crooning, smiling and nodding in rhythm with the baby’s movements), an we tend to show and direct attention to toys and people, while assuming that the baby’s behaviors have meaning and responding to that meaning.  These kinds of experiences provide the base from which later skills will develop regardless of the baby’s hearing abilities.  Parents  should recognize the power of these naturally-occurring behaviors…perhaps increasing some of them as their individual baby or toddler shows them what is working best, what is most appealing or engaging.  Despite remaining challenges for deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and toddlers (and their parents), great progress continues to be made.

L.L.: Thank you so very much for this very important book and for taking the time to chat with us, Patricia and Lynne.

Patricia and Lynne: Best wishes and congratulations on all you are contributing.

Final Note: As for that sweet four-year old mentioned above, he’s doing great! His mom, Meghan recommends these books and resources for more information on deaf and hard-of-hearing children:

A strong, supportive foundation for optimal learning is achieved from early, positive, and responsive 9780199931323 (1)experiences. With Nurturing Language and Learning, Patricia Elizabeth Spencer and Lynne Sanford Koester provide the expert information and guidelines needed for professionals and parents in order to build that critical foundation. ~Oxford University Press, 2016

  • For more information, please take a look at Oxford University Press’s page.
  • Available in print and ebook.

Patricia Elizabeth Spencer, Ph.D. has been a teacher, assessment specialist, and educational advocate for deaf Patricia Spencerand hard-of-hearing students (including those with multiple learning challenges) across the age range of infancy through post-graduate levels. Her work at the Gallaudet Research Institute focused on early interaction, play, and language development. She has worked internationally as a researcher and educational consultant and has written extensively on issues related to development and education of deaf and hard-of-hearing children.

Lynne KoesterLynne Sanford Koester retired after 25 years of teaching developmental psychology at the University of Montana and at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. She has also worked in Ethiopia, Austria, and Germany, and is the former Director of the Intercultural Youth and Family Development graduate program at her university. Her research has focused primarily on infant development within the family context – parenting behaviors and cultural influences, early parent-child interactions, and intuitive parenting.

[With special thanks to C. McCarroll at OUP. Cover image used courtesy of OUP. Author images provided by P. Spencer and L. Koester and used with permission. Mother signing with child retrieved from on 1.23.16, baby with hearing aid retrievedfrom the CDC on 1.23.16, boy with instructor retrieved from on 1.23.16]. 

 

Write On, Wednesday: NYTimes Notable Author Emily Arsenault talks about THE EVENING SPIDER, motherhood in the 19th century, living in old houses, ghosts, and more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A fascinating and gripping blend of psychological drama and historical true crime fiction from the late 1800s and inspired by a real-life murder on the east coast, THE EVENING SPIDER melds two young mother’s lives in this suspenseful ghostly tale by New York Times notable author Emily Arsenault.

EveningSpider pb
Told alternatively via (fictional) diary/journal entries and actual newspaper clippings from the 1800s and through a contemporary first person POV of young motherhood, THE EVENING SPIRDER is a suspenseful historical read. Could the house have something to do with the fact that both of these young mothers seem to be losing their mind, or could it be other, unresolved secrets harboring in the house, or the residents themselves?

I am absolutely honored to have Emily with us today.

Leslie Lindsay: Emily, thanks for popping over today. As a person who is very intrigued with old houses, motherhood, and madness, THE EVENING SPIDER was right up my alley. What inspired you to write this story?

Emily Arsenault: The initial spark was an experience I had in my own home—very much like my modern-day narrator’s. When my daughter was a baby, I would occasionally wake up the sound of her crying and someone shushing her over the baby monitor. It really terrified me at the time—I never came up with a satisfactory explanation for why it was happening. One might argue that it was static, or that new-parent anxiety was playing tricks with my brain—though I’m not really convinced! Anyway, a year or so later, after it stopped as mysteriously as it began, I felt removed enough from the situation to play with that experience and turn it into fiction. Doing so reminded me that I’d always wanted to write something that was, on some level, a ghost story. I’ve always loved ghost stories.

 L.L.: So how did you come across the Mary Stannard murder?

Emily Arsenault: My maternal grandmother was a Stannard, and her family hailed from the same part of southern Connecticut as Mary Stannard. I didn’t know about the Mary Stannard murder until recently, however. Oddly, I grew up hearing that an ancestor of my grandmother had been hanged in New Haven for poisoning her husband in colonial times. A few years ago, I asked my mother for specifics. She said she thought the woman’s name was Mary Stannard. I casually Googled something like “Mary Stannard New Haven poison,” and all of this information came up about a very different case—in which a Mary Stannard was the victim, not the murderer. It was in the late 19th century, rather than the 17th or 18th. I asked my mother if the story could have gotten mixed up over the years. She said no—she’d also heard of the 19th century Mary Arsenic Under the ElmsStannard murder in the past, but had probably just confused the names in her head. I’m still not sure of the veracity of the colonial era story—but in any case, I got hooked on the Stannard-Hayden case rather quickly. I read many of the New York Times accounts—and an excellent book called Arsenic Under the Elms by Virginia A. McConnell—before I really decided how I wanted to position the real murder case in the broader story.

L.L.: Let’s talk structure for a minute, something I often struggle with as a writer. I am sure there are several ways you could have told this story—it could have been a single person POV, completely historical, or more contemporary. How did you choose the method of part-ghost, part-historical, and part-present-day and multiple POVs?

Emily Arsenault: This happened pretty organically. I knew I wanted to have a modern-day narrator in a possibly-haunted house—inspired, somewhat, by my own experience. So that’s where Abby came from. But I also knew I wanted to have a story happening at the same time as the Mary Stannard trial. Naturally, then, someone from that era would be the “ghost” visiting Abby in modern times.  The voice of Frances’, the 19th century character, came to me pretty clearly early on. I really enjoyed writing a character struggling to maintain her sanity. I’m not sure what that says about me. Perhaps it just made it easier to take chances in the narrative.

L.L.: I particularly liked the 1800s account of Frances Barnett and 1886_report_drawingfound her story quite compelling.  As with any bifurcated novel (my favorite style of writing and reading, by-the-way), there have got to be sections or characters you were particularly excited to delve into. Weighing both France before Northampton Lunatic Hospital, Frances at Northampton, and Abby in contemporary 2014, was there a POV you enjoyed writing or researching more?  I know…kind of like choosing your favorite child!

Emily Arsenault: I enjoyed writing Frances at the Lunatic Hospital best. Unlike with her narrative of a few years earlier, she can be completely honest in that setting. She’s already in an insane asylum—what does she have to lose? But the really fun challenge here was making her sound peculiar enough that the reader isn’t sure if she’s trustworthy.  Her years in the hospital have taken a toll on her psyche.250px-Northampton_State_Hospital_grounds


L.L.: I understand you are a mother yourself. How did your own experiences as a mother inspire, or drive your writing?

Emily Arsenault: On the surface, I probably resemble my modern-day narrator more than my 19th century one. (I have a young daughter and live in an old New England house). And of course I drew some small details from my own experience for Abby’s narrative. However, I felt equally inspired by Frances’ situation. She might not be crazy—she might just be a little odd. Still, “odd” isn’t really acceptable for a young wife and mother in her era. I feel like mothers still aren’t really allowed to be “different” today. I love my daughter and I love spending time with her—but sometimes, when we are around other mothers, I find myself trying to pretend to fit into a certain mold of a mother. I feel like there is less of this sort of pressure for dads. There are weird and quirky and distracted dads everywhere, and everyone finds it charming, as long as the dads are putting in some sort of effort to be good dads. Moms, on the other hand, are supposed to want to make organic baby food and speak to their children like early childhood education experts and enjoy arts and crafts and singing If You’re Happy and You Know It with great enthusiasmTruthfully, I find this pressure to be more of an annoyance than a real burden—but I’m lucky I live in the twenty-first century rather than the nineteenth. Frances pretends to be a certain type of mother—and when she fails, the stakes are pretty high for her. Certainly higher than they would be for me.

L.L.: What advice might you give to aspiring novelists?

Emily Arsenault: My advice would be to avoid self-editing too early. I know a lot of aspiring writers who can’t seem to get past their first chapter or two because they read their work too early and get frustrated that it’s not as good as their favorite authors’ work. You need to give yourself time and space to improve and find the elements of your work you like enough to develop. Try to write several chapters before looking back. Later you’ll certainly have to learn how to tear apart a manuscript. But save that for when you have a manuscript. Or two or three.

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L.L.: Is anything obsessing you now…what?

Emily Arsenault: I’ve been reading a lot of books and watching a lot of documentaries about the death penalty. The topic is very likely to come up in a distant future project. I obsess over this issue occasionally. Especially during football season. While my husband hogs the TV watching NFL, I go upstairs and watch death penalty documentaries on my computer.  It’s kind of an unhealthy dynamic, actually.

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

Emily Arsenault: Right now I’m revising a young adult novel that will come out in 2017. It’s called The Dragon in the Leaves (although it’s possible the title might change), and it’s about a sixteen-year-old who reads people’s tea leaves. She ends up getting involved in the case of a missing classmate who might’ve been murdered. I’m also working on another adult book, but it’s too early to say much about it.

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

Emily Arsenault: No, these were great questions and I appreciated the opportunity to participate in your blog!

L.L.: Thanks, Emily! It was such a pleasure reading THE EVENING SPIDER and catching up with you.

Emily Arsenault: Thanks, Leslie!

Emily Arsenault author photoBio:
 Emily Arsenault is also the author of The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, and Miss Me When I’m Gone. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter.

Learn more about Emily and her books:

  • on her website
  • Like her Facebook Page
  • Join her newsletter for periodic updates about her books
  • I found this website absolutely mesmerizing and rife with photos and history of the Northhampton Lunatic Asylum, perhaps you will, too.

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers/publicist K. Steinberg. Cover image of Arsenic Under the Elms retrieved from Amazon on 12.20.15, E. Arsenault’s other book images from the author’s website and retrieved 12.20.15. Northhampton Lunatic Asylum images from Wikipedia]

 

Write On, Wednesday: Heather Gudenkauf talks about her new psych thriller/mystery MISSING PIECES, Family secrets, trying something new (writing-wise), and the beauty of Iowa

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By Leslie Lindsay 

NYT bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf delivers a heart-racing, tightly plotted whodunit mystery which spans the course of about a week with glimpses into the past in her forthcoming MISSING PIECES (Feb 2, 2016).missing-pieces-cover-198x300

Sarah and Jack Quinlan seem to have the perfect life–married twenty years and having just sent their daughters off to college–they are polite and caring toward one another as any couple in a long-term relationship is. When Jack receives a call that his aunt has taken a fall and is seriously injured, Jack and Sarah travel to his hometown of Penny Gate, IA, a place he’s spent very little time in the last twenty years. And with good reason.

I’m thrilled to have Heather join us as we chat about her fifth novel, MISSING PIECES.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather, I am honored to have you pop over. I fell in love with your writing with your debut, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE. I have to say, there seems to be a theme in your novels involving secrets. Can you speak to that?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my writing. I’ve long been intrigued by news accounts documenting the shock and surprise loved ones experience when they learn that a loved one wasn’t quite the person they thought they were. I trusted him implicitly, says the woman whose husband has a secret family. She was always a reliable, hardworking employee, says the boss of the woman who embezzled thousands.  While I was writing MISSING PIECES, in my THE WEIGHT OF SILENCEhometown, there was the case of a purportedly normal family man who was accused of shooting a family member over fifteen times.  Police arrived to find him sitting in a chair in his living room, with a bag of ammunition and gun cleaning supplies sitting next to him. How could you be so wrong about the person sleeping next to you, sitting next to you or living next door to you? People keep secrets ~ but how long are they able to keep them hidden and what are the ramifications? That’s what I try to explore in my novels.

L.L.: MISSING PIECES is about lies, betrayal, and how secret-keeping can destroy those we care about. Like your other novels, this one is also set in your home state of Iowa. The scenery is gorgeous, and I could almost feel myself in those corn fields and old farm houses. What ultimately inspired you in this one?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, Iowa has a beauty all its own. Whenever I’m driving through the countryside and see an old farm house I immediately begin to create a history for it ~I imagine the children who played in the yard, the men and women who worked the fields, the births and deaths that occurred there. I love reading books where the setting is almost a character itself ~ with its own soul, its unique heartbreaks and joys ~ and I attempt this in my own writing as well.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit…I understand you are a very busy writer, Rural Iowawife, mom of three, and title 1 reading coordinator. I’m always amazed at these super-woman heroics of juggling so many balls. How is writing an accessible career choice for women—you—today?

Heather Gudenkauf: I am so fortunate to be able to pursue careers that I am passionate about. I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a young girl and have spent the last twenty-three years in education. I didn’t seriously consider writing until I had been teaching for several years and my three children were in school. I think the key to be able to juggle multiple roles is to truly love what you do. For me writing is an escape, an opportunity to explore new ideas, new characters, a chance to express myself creatively.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals or obsessions?

Heather Gudenkauf: I wouldn’t say I have any particular rituals obsessions except I do like to have music playing while I write. With music playing in the background I’m still able to focus on my writing without being too distracted by the world around me. Otherwise, I can pretty much write anywhere. I write in coffee shops, in bed, in front of the fireplace, in the car, outdoors.

L.L.: What are you currently reading? Does your reading influence your writing?

Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I’m reading The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas. It’s a historical novel about a midwife from a small Colorado mining town and the mystery surrounding the death of a newborn. Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors ~ she has a magical way of transporting me into the past and sweeping me up into the intricate lives of the characters she creates.

Every word I’ve ever read has, in some way, influenced my writing. I think we all carry the books we’ve read with us – it becomes the fabric of who we are. I think I may have just mixed my metaphors there ~ but that’s the best way I can explain it.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I am obsessed with working on my newest novel. I am trying something completely new in my writing and developing what I hope is a very unique main character. It’s challenging and exciting ~ I can’t wait to see how it ends!   THE END

L.L.: What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love chatting with readers and talking books ~  I can be reached at heather@heathergudenkauf.com.  Also, please come see me at heathergudenkauf.com for my most recent blog post, giveaways and other bookish fun!

L.L.: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and share MISSING PIECES. It was a pleasure, Heather!

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for thinking of me for your blog ~ it’s been a lot of fun!

heather_bioAuthor bio: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and One Breath Away. Her newest novel, Missing Pieces, will be available on Feb. 2, 2016. She lives in Iowa with her family.

For more information, or to follow on Social Media: 

[Author and cover image courtesy of Heather Gudenkauf. THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE cover image retrieved from H. Gudenkauf’s website on 1.1.16. Iowa farm house found on Pinterest, original source unavailable. “The end” image from www.giphy.com on 1.1.16] 

 

 

Write On, Wednesday: Gilly Macmillan talks about her smashing psychological debut WHAT SHE KNEW, the role social media plays to our insecurities, obsessing over the third book, CALL THE MIDWIFE, writing ‘the end,’ & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay WHAT SHE KNEW

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: in a blink of an eye, their child goes missing. Gone. Without a trace. What could have happened? How could a parent have been so careless as to misplace her child?

What unspools in a frantic search for missing 8-year old Ben, Rachel Jenner loses herself, casts blame on others, has the reader doubting just what is real. To make matters worse, the public turns on this distraught mother following a single,   momentary mistake.  [What She Knew is the US edition of Burnt Paper Sky, published Dec 1 2015.]

WHAT SHE KNEW is an amazing debut by a highly talented writer, an emotional and enthralling tautly-paced and plotted ride to its chilling conclusion.

I’m so honored to have Gilly Macmillan with us to chat about her psychological thriller debut.

Leslie Lindsay: Gilly, thanks for taking the time to pop over the blog couch with us today. I read WHAT SHE KNEW in a breathless two days. I really wanted to know what happened that fateful afternoon in which your character, Rachel Jenner, lets her 8-year old son run ahead on their walk in the woods. Was this your intention when you set out to write WHAT SHE KNEW? What ultimately inspired you?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you very much for inviting me Leslie!  I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the book.  When I set out to write WHAT SHE KNEW my overall goal was to write a page-turner, because I really love to read them myself.  However, I was also very keen to try to make it a powerful and personal and relevant story also, so WHAT SHE KNEW is my attempt to bring all of those things together in one novel.

L.L.: I understand, like Rachel, you are also a photographer and mother. Can you share a bit about balancing your desire to write, as well as also carry on with your other work?

Gilly Macmillan:  Well I must admit that having written the bulk of the first draft of WHAT SHE KNEW in my spare time, with no clue as to whether it would be published, as soon as I got an agent I decided I should probably prioritize writing, as I needed to do a lot of work to get the book finished to a good enough standard for submission to publishers.  I was very aware that this was probably my one shot at getting a novel into print.  Once I’d made that decision, it was soon apparent that producing a finished novel is such an all-consuming activity (even when I’m not at the computer typing, I’m thinking about the book all the time), that it’s as much as I can manage to keep my household running and get my kids fed and out of the door to school on time!  Juggling everything can certainly feel like a challenge at times.  However, I do feel that I’m very lucky to be able to work at home, and to enjoy the flexibility of fitting work around my family when I need to, and I make sure I pack my cameras whenever we get a chance to go away for a break, so the photography is not forgotten. 

Indie Next Pick for December 2015
Target Book Club Pick for December 2015
Romantic Times Top Pick for December 2015
Shortlisted for RT Reviewers Choice Award (First Mystery)
Featured Pick for Book-of-the-Month Club December 2015

L.L.: I’m amazed at the amount of research you did to make WHAT SHE KNEW such a compelling—and honest—exploration of a child gone missing. Kudos!  Still, it’s an emotionally visceral read. Can you to speak to that, please?

Gilly Macmillan: Thanks Leslie!  I love to research, partly because I’m naturally very curious but also because I think that it can lend an element of truthfulness to a novel, in as much as that can be achieved in fiction.  Having said that, I should admit that I wrote the first draft of WHAT SHE KNEW without doing any research at all.  I wrote it entirely from Rachel’s point of view, and just tried to imagine myself into her situation and record her journey and her feelings, however raw or challenging, as honestly as I could.  It was when I came to do the second draft that I began to look into the more concrete detail of the story, researching child abduction and speaking to retired police officers to make sure the procedural element was correct.  As I redrafted I built my research into the story, and introduced the detective character to act as a foil to Rachel’s narrative.  The difficulty at that point was to be careful not to lose the emotion of Rachel’s narrative so I’m delighted (and relieved!) to hear that you feel that both elements are there in the book.  I wanted very much to incorporate emotional truthfulness as well as factual truthfulness in the novel.

L.L.: Including social media into the novel is just brilliant! It seems like we spend so much time in front of our screens that we forget to look at the world around us. Is that what prompted your interest in adding social media to WHAT SHE KNEW? Did you have other motivations or inspiration?

Gilly Macmillan: Well, the irony is that until WHAT SHE KNEW was accepted for publication I wasn’t a user of social media at all!  Now I can definitely spend hours online if I’m not strict with myself, but at the time of writing the book it was my research into child abduction cases that led me to understand that so much of what people experience when they read about these cases comes through traditional media first of all, but then gets appropriated by social media, where it takes on a life of its own.  It’s can be a circular, self-generating thing too, as very often traditional media then reports on social media reaction, which stokes up online reaction further.  I watched one particular real-life case here in the UK unfold via social media as it was happening, and I was amazed at how personal people’s responses were and how emotionally close some of them seemed to feel (in both sympathetic and very unsympathetic and judgmental ways) to something that, while truly dreadful, was in reality removed from their own lives.  It was then that I felt that I should treat social media almost as a character in its own right in the novel, partly so that readers could experience my fictional case in the same way that they might experience a real life case, but also because I wanted to explore how the influence of social media can swell, and as this happens in WHAT SHE KNEW it affects the characters and the case profoundly.

[Click here to read an excerpt of WHAT SHE KNEW via Gilly’s FB page.]

L.L.: I kept wondering, like the title, what does she know? It seems there are many different ways the novel could have ended, how on earth did you decide on this ending? [without giving too much away, of course!]

Gilly Macmillan:  I wrote three different endings before the book was published because it was so hard to get it right!  I was always sure of one element of the ending, but as for the rest many conversations were had with my family, my editor and agent along the way to try to work out what would be best.  In the end I hope I’ve created an ending that feels truthful as possible, to the story and the characters. It’s been fascinating to have feedback from readers about the ending, and I’m always interested to hear what people think because it was such a difficult thing to do.

L.L.: I read somewhere that your son is a regular on the cast of CALL THE MIDWIFE. Oh, how I love that show! Can you share a bit about what character your son plays? How does the storytelling of television mirror that of novels?

Call_the_Midwife_titlecardGilly Macmillan:  My son Max plays Timothy Turner, the son of Dr Patrick Turner, and he’s just finished filming Season 5 so we’re all getting excited about that being on air in 2016.  Timothy has grown up on screen and we’ve been very privileged to read many of the show’s wonderfully written scripts over the years that Max has been involved, and watch his own storyline develop as well as the characters around him.  I definitely think we can draw comparisons between storytelling in television drama and novels, because it’s the job of both to bring us stories – either fresh ones or old tales – in intelligent, but also absorbing and entertaining ways.  Although they’re different mediums, the ways in which novels and TV drama achieve this are similar: both rely on the absolutely core ingredients of convincing characterization, careful pacing, and strong, believable stories.  When these elements work well together, both mediums can achieve a powerful integrity in their storytelling, and I think viewers and readers respond favorably to that.  It’s certainly something I look for when I watch drama or read a novel.  If a book or a TV show achieve that sort of integrity, it allows you to believe in the world and the characters you’re reading about, or watching, and then you care about what happens to them.  That’s what makes you turn pages in a book or watch every episode in a series.  It’s a challenge for every writer, producer or director.

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

Gilly Macmillan: I’ve just finished my second book, which is also a psychological thriller.  It has a complex plot and a cast of characters who both thrilled and unnerved me as I was writing. The action takes place over a short time scale and is intense and claustrophobic.   The main cover_bitdcharacter is Zoe Maisey – a child genius and musical sensation – who, several years earlier, caused the death of three teenagers.  She served her time, and now she’s free.  The story begins with her giving the performance of her life, but by midnight, her mother is dead.  The book is an exploration into the mind of a teenager burdened by brilliance, and it’s also a story about the wrongs in our past not letting go.

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

Gilly Macmillan:  My third book is obsessing me!  All of the time!  I’ve just begun it and for this one I’m returning to Jim Clemo, the detective character from WHAT SHE KNEW.  He’s going to have some involvement in a new case, which is a tough one.  I’m currently working out what’s going to happen to him personally and professionally and I’m developing the characters that will populate the rest of the story.  One in particular already makes my heart race when I write her sections of the story.

L.L.: Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask but forgot that you’d like to share?

Gilly Macmillan: I would like to share how delighted I am to be published in the US!  My family is from the UK but we lived in Northern California for a few years when I was a teenager, and I have very fond memories of that time, so it’s a real privilege, and probably a dream come true, for me to think of WHAT SHE KNEW being available to American readers.

L.L.: Gilly, thanks so much for spending some quality book time with us today, it was a pleasure!

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog, and it’s been an absolute pleasure answering your questions.

gillyGilly Macmillan grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in California in her late teens. She studied History of Art at Bristol University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and worked at the Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time lecture in A Level photography. Gilly lives in Bristol with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.

[Special thanks to L. Truskowski at William Morrow/HarperCollins. Cover image and author image courtesy of William Morrow Publishing. Butterfly in the Dark cover image retrieved from the author’s website on 12.3.15. Call the Midwife screen shot retrieved from Wikipedia on 12.3.15] 

 

 

BookS on MondaY: Dr. Laura Choate on raising girls in a toxic culture, her book SWIMMING UPSTREAM, the importance of family dinner, coping & self-esteem in tween girls

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By Leslie Lindsay  SWIMMING UPSTREAM

Girls these days have a lot to live up to. Not only does society harbor the impression that girls ought to be bright, thin, beautiful, thin, hot, sexy, and strong yet soft and feminine. They need to be divas, yet liked by peers and adults. They should exude kindness, but still “get ahead.” The world gives our girls a lot of contradictory images to uphold and it’s no wonder we falter in supporting them. Laura Choate, therapist and mother to a daughter (and son), has taken it upon herself to present a balanced approach to parenting a daughter in this so-called “toxic culture,” this concept of SWIMMING UPSTREAM.

As a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. with a strong interest in supporting adolescent girls in self-esteem and coping skills, and a mother to two pre-teen daughters, I get it. It’s not easy raising a daughter. Yet, as parents we have such an important job to convey our messages of love and support, and being there with the tough gets going.

Today, I am honored to have Dr. Laura Choate pop over to chat with us about  SWIMMING UPSTREAM: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture.

Leslie Lindsay: Laura, it’s wonderful for to you swing by! You’re a counselor, professor, and mom. What ultimately inspired you to write SWIMMING UPSTREAM? Was there an ‘ah-ha’ moment?

Laura Choate:  In 2013 I had just finished a book, Adolescent Girls in Distress: a Guide to Mental Health Prevention and Treatment (Springer Press), and it was geared to counselors so that they could better understand cultural influences directed towards girls, girls’ development and mental health, and how to treat common mental health problems in girls. After it was published I had a “light bulb” moment when I realized that while counselors need these types of resources, it is parents who are in need of information about today’s culture, how it can affect their daughters, and about what they can do to help their daughters stay resilient in the face of cultural influences. As a parent of a 10 year old daughter, I also recognized how toxic the culture is for today’s girls and how much support parents really need. So I decided to write a new book specifically geared towards parents, and that’s how this book came to be.

L.L.: Because of these seemingly unattainable standards, many girls experience stress, anxiety, eating disorders, self-doubt, depression, and even suicidal ideation.  Can you speak to that, please?

Laura Choate: I agree, and it is a real concern that these problems are on the rise in adolescent girls, and that they disproportionately affect girls and women more so than boys and men. For example, boys and girls experience similar rates of depression until around age 12, but after 12 girls are twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with depression. We also know that rates of depression triple in girls between the ages of 12-15 – from 5% at age 12 to 15% by age 15. It is clear that the transition to puberty and early adolescence is a high-risk period for girls.  They really need our support during this time.

L.L.:  I really love the fabulous text boxes sprinkled throughout the book. They contain activities readers can try (and discuss) with their daughter(s), as well as self-reflection activities for parents.  It makes the narrative so much more accessible for busy families. What are some of your favorite activities mentioned within the book? And have you tried them with your own daughter?

Laura Choate:  I am glad you like them! I tried to make the book as practical as possible so that parents would have some actual tools for applying the concepts described in the book. One thing that is always important and fun to do with my own daughter is co-viewing media and asking her e481fbed721f29d2-163x255questions about what we are watching (e.g., “Why is the female hero in Jurassic World wearing a tight white tank top, skirt, and heels while running through the jungle, while the male hero is wearing hiking boots? or “Why do you think they are using these images to sell this product?” or even “What do you like about this show?” ) I don’t overdo it because it can become annoying when she is just trying to enjoy a show, but I think it is important to instill critical thinking skills in our daughters at a young age.  It is also great to ask questions with print ads as well: “What is the product they are trying to sell? Why did they choose these particular models? What image are they trying to convey? Will using this product bring about the lifestyle being promoted in the ad?” These are great conversations to have and they work well to promote media literacy in our daughters.

I also like to use exercises to help girls evaluate their friendships. To see if their friendships are healthy, they can ask themselves some of the questions I describe in the book: (1) List 5 qualities you are looking for in a friend (2) Do your current friends have these qualities? If not, what draws you to these friendships? (3) Do you have these same qualities? What can you do to work on these qualities in yourself? And finally, (4) Does spending time around your friends cause you to feel better or worse about yourself? Do they support you and build you up, or are they a source of stress in your life?

L.L.: One piece of advice I came across in SWIMMING UPSTREAM is the importance of face time, family rituals, parent self-care, and family meals. Can you share more?

imagesLaura Choate:  A big theme in the book is Love and Acceptance.  A girl needs to feel accepted as she is, not according to who the culture tells her she should be. If she looks to the culture for acceptance, she will feel that she never measures up—not pretty enough, thin enough, accomplished enough, popular enough.  But if she feels loves and accepted just as she is by her parents and support system, this builds resilience and keeps her from desperately looking to others to validate her or pay attention to her.  So accept your daughter just as she is, not who you wish she could be…not if she loses a few pounds or makes better grades or wins first place. Let her know that you love her and that you like spending time with her. Help her know that she is wonderful just as she is!

L.L.: But sometimes there are issues and concerns that go beyond family dinner and listening. How do we know when our girls need a little more assistance than we can provide at home (i.e. therapy, in-patient hospitalization, medication)? What threshold should we be looking at?

Laura Choate: I agree, and that is why I included a chapter in the book about signs and symptoms of common mental health problems in girls: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and sexual trauma.  Parents should be familiar with these symptoms and pay attention to any changes in their daughter’s attitudes and behaviors that might be of concern. It is hard to state all of the warning signs here, but I would say that if you notice changes that concern you, seek professional help earlier than later. Prevention and early intervention is always more effective than waiting until her problems have become deeply entrenched.

L.L.: You mention this wonderful coping skill set that I wanted to reiterate. It goes something like this: 1) Find something fun to do 2) Find an activity to release energy/stay healthy, 3) engage in a soothing/relaxing activity, 4) increase social support, and 5) find a way to change the way you think about a situation. Wow! That’s an amazingly simple and effective recipe. Can you talk more about that?

Laura Choate: Yes, these are suggestions for developing a coping skills repertoire—the idea is that you need to have some coping strategies in place to help you manage multiple types of stressors. For example, sometimes you need something to release energy in order to feel better, while other times you just need to relax. It’s important to realize what you need and to have a go-to strategy when you need it! These strategies are drawn from the ACTION treatment program, a research-based program designed for the treatment of childhood depression, but I find that they are helpful for everyone.

L.L.: What advice would you give to parents of t(w)een girls in four words?

Laura Choate:  Love her, Accept her, Validate her, Like her!

L.L: What other books or resources might you recommend for raising girls?

Laura Choate:  I have a recommended reading list in my book, but some resources I used heavily in the book are: Ginsberg (2011) Building resilience in children and teens; Homayoun, A. (2012) Myth of the perfect girl; Helping our daughters find authentic success and happiness in school and life; Deak., J (2003). Girls will be girls: Raising confident and courageous daughters; Hemmen L. (2012) Parenting a teen girl; Crash course on conflict, communication, and connection with your teenage daughter; Levin, D. & Kilbourne, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids; Steiner-Adair, C. (2013). The big disconnect: Protecting childhood and family relationships in the digital age, and finally Levine, M. (2012). Teach your children well. download (1)

And I write as a parenting expert blogger on Psychology Today.com and address these issues regularly, so that is another place you can go for additional reading!

L.L.: Oh, I feel like I could go on and go…alas we both have other things to attend to! Is there anything I should have asked, but forgot?

Laura Choate:  Just a final note that parenting is hard, and parenting tween girls is both a blessing and a challenge!  I think it is important that parents become aware that the current culture is toxic for our daughters, and so we need to take action to decide how we are going to respond. I encourage parents not to throw up their hands and accept that “this is just the way things are…”; instead we can make decisions as to what we want for our families and what kind of adults we want our daughters to grow up to be, and then parent from those values. We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. As I say in the book, we can choose to swim upstream.

L.L.: Thanks, Laura for being with us and sharing your wonderful book, SWIMMING UPSTREAM: Parenting Girls For Resilience in a Toxic Culture.

Laura Choate: Thank you so much for your careful reading of the book and for giving me an opportunity to share some of the highlights!

Laura ChoateLaura H. Choate, EdD, LPC, is a Jo Ellen Levy Yates Endowed Professor in Counselor Education at Louisiana State University. Dr. Choate is the author of three books:  Girls and Women’s Wellness: Contemporary Counseling Issues and Interventions (2008), Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Counselor’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment (edited; 2013), and Adolescent Girls in Distress: A Guide to Mental Health Treatment and Prevention (2013) with her fourth book, Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture, published in November by Oxford University Press. She lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and preteen son and daughter.

Laura is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and tweets @DrLauraChoate.

[With special thanks to E. Hallick at Oxford University Press. Cover and author images courtesy of OUP. Image of tween girl selfie from on 12.3.15, family meal image from ] 

BookS on MondaY: SWIMMING UPSTREAM author Dr. Laura Choate on raising girls in a toxic culture, assessing friendships, coping skills, family dinners & what kind of adults we want our girls to become

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By Leslie Lindsay  SWIMMING UPSTREAM

Girls these days have a lot to live up to. Not only does society harbor the impression that girls ought to be bright, thin, beautiful, thin, hot, sexy, and strong yet soft and feminine. They need to be divas, yet liked by peers and adults. They should exude kindness, but still “get ahead.” The world gives our girls a lot of contradictory images to uphold and it’s no wonder we falter in supporting them. Laura Choate, therapist and mother to a daughter (and son), has taken it upon herself to present a balanced approach to parenting a daughter in this so-called “toxic culture,” this concept of SWIMMING UPSTREAM.

As a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. with a strong interest in supporting adolescent girls in self-esteem and coping skills, and a mother to two pre-teen daughters, I get it. It’s not easy raising a daughter. Yet, as parents we have such an important job to convey our messages of love and support, and being there with the tough gets going.

Today, I am honored to have Dr. Laura Choate pop over to chat with us about  SWIMMING UPSTREAM: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture.

Leslie Lindsay: Laura, it’s wonderful for to you swing by! You’re a counselor, professor, and mom. What ultimately inspired you to write SWIMMING UPSTREAM? Was there an ‘ah-ha’ moment?

Laura Choate:  In 2013 I had just finished a book, Adolescent Girls in Distress: a Guide to Mental Health Prevention and Treatment (Springer Press), and it was geared to counselors so that they could better understand cultural influences directed towards girls, girls’ development and mental health, and how to treat common mental health problems in girls. After it was published I had a “light bulb” moment when I realized that while counselors need these types of resources, it is parents who are in need of information about today’s culture, how it can affect their daughters, and about what they can do to help their daughters stay resilient in the face of cultural influences. As a parent of a 10 year old daughter, I also recognized how toxic the culture is for today’s girls and how much support parents really need. So I decided to write a new book specifically geared towards parents, and that’s how this book came to be.

L.L.: Because of these seemingly unattainable standards, many girls experience stress, anxiety, eating disorders, self-doubt, depression, and even suicidal ideation.  Can you speak to that, please?

Laura Choate: I agree, and it is a real concern that these problems are on the rise in adolescent girls, and that they disproportionately affect girls and women more so than boys and men. For example, boys and girls experience similar rates of depression until around age 12, but after 12 girls are twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with depression. We also know that rates of depression triple in girls between the ages of 12-15 – from 5% at age 12 to 15% by age 15. It is clear that the transition to puberty and early adolescence is a high-risk period for girls.  They really need our support during this time.

L.L.:  I really love the fabulous text boxes sprinkled throughout the book. They contain activities readers can try (and discuss) with their daughter(s), as well as self-reflection activities for parents.  It makes the narrative so much more accessible for busy families. What are some of your favorite activities mentioned within the book? And have you tried them with your own daughter?

Laura Choate:  I am glad you like them! I tried to make the book as practical as possible so that parents would have some actual tools for applying the concepts described in the book. One thing that is always important and fun to do with my own daughter is co-viewing media and asking her e481fbed721f29d2-163x255questions about what we are watching (e.g., “Why is the female hero in Jurassic World wearing a tight white tank top, skirt, and heels while running through the jungle, while the male hero is wearing hiking boots? or “Why do you think they are using these images to sell this product?” or even “What do you like about this show?” ) I don’t overdo it because it can become annoying when she is just trying to enjoy a show, but I think it is important to instill critical thinking skills in our daughters at a young age.  It is also great to ask questions with print ads as well: “What is the product they are trying to sell? Why did they choose these particular models? What image are they trying to convey? Will using this product bring about the lifestyle being promoted in the ad?” These are great conversations to have and they work well to promote media literacy in our daughters.

I also like to use exercises to help girls evaluate their friendships. To see if their friendships are healthy, they can ask themselves some of the questions I describe in the book: (1) List 5 qualities you are looking for in a friend (2) Do your current friends have these qualities? If not, what draws you to these friendships? (3) Do you have these same qualities? What can you do to work on these qualities in yourself? And finally, (4) Does spending time around your friends cause you to feel better or worse about yourself? Do they support you and build you up, or are they a source of stress in your life?

L.L.: One piece of advice I came across in SWIMMING UPSTREAM is the importance of face time, family rituals, parent self-care, and family meals. Can you share more?

imagesLaura Choate:  A big theme in the book is Love and Acceptance.  A girl needs to feel accepted as she is, not according to who the culture tells her she should be. If she looks to the culture for acceptance, she will feel that she never measures up—not pretty enough, thin enough, accomplished enough, popular enough.  But if she feels loves and accepted just as she is by her parents and support system, this builds resilience and keeps her from desperately looking to others to validate her or pay attention to her.  So accept your daughter just as she is, not who you wish she could be…not if she loses a few pounds or makes better grades or wins first place. Let her know that you love her and that you like spending time with her. Help her know that she is wonderful just as she is!

L.L.: But sometimes there are issues and concerns that go beyond family dinner and listening. How do we know when our girls need a little more assistance than we can provide at home (i.e. therapy, in-patient hospitalization, medication)? What threshold should we be looking at?

Laura Choate: I agree, and that is why I included a chapter in the book about signs and symptoms of common mental health problems in girls: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and sexual trauma.  Parents should be familiar with these symptoms and pay attention to any changes in their daughter’s attitudes and behaviors that might be of concern. It is hard to state all of the warning signs here, but I would say that if you notice changes that concern you, seek professional help earlier than later. Prevention and early intervention is always more effective than waiting until her problems have become deeply entrenched.

L.L.: You mention this wonderful coping skill set that I wanted to reiterate. It goes something like this: 1) Find something fun to do 2) Find an activity to release energy/stay healthy, 3) engage in a soothing/relaxing activity, 4) increase social support, and 5) find a way to change the way you think about a situation. Wow! That’s an amazingly simple and effective recipe. Can you talk more about that?

Laura Choate: Yes, these are suggestions for developing a coping skills repertoire—the idea is that you need to have some coping strategies in place to help you manage multiple types of stressors. For example, sometimes you need something to release energy in order to feel better, while other times you just need to relax. It’s important to realize what you need and to have a go-to strategy when you need it! These strategies are drawn from the ACTION treatment program, a research-based program designed for the treatment of childhood depression, but I find that they are helpful for everyone.

L.L.: What advice would you give to parents of t(w)een girls in four words?

Laura Choate:  Love her, Accept her, Validate her, Like her!

L.L: What other books or resources might you recommend for raising girls?

Laura Choate:  I have a recommended reading list in my book, but some resources I used heavily in the book are: Ginsberg (2011) Building resilience in children and teens; Homayoun, A. (2012) Myth of the perfect girl; Helping our daughters find authentic success and happiness in school and life; Deak., J (2003). Girls will be girls: Raising confident and courageous daughters; Hemmen L. (2012) Parenting a teen girl; Crash course on conflict, communication, and connection with your teenage daughter; Levin, D. & Kilbourne, J. (2008). So sexy so soon: The new sexualized childhood and what parents can do to protect their kids; Steiner-Adair, C. (2013). The big disconnect: Protecting childhood and family relationships in the digital age, and finally Levine, M. (2012). Teach your children well. download (1)

And I write as a parenting expert blogger on Psychology Today.com and address these issues regularly, so that is another place you can go for additional reading!

L.L.: Oh, I feel like I could go on and go…alas we both have other things to attend to! Is there anything I should have asked, but forgot?

Laura Choate:  Just a final note that parenting is hard, and parenting tween girls is both a blessing and a challenge!  I think it is important that parents become aware that the current culture is toxic for our daughters, and so we need to take action to decide how we are going to respond. I encourage parents not to throw up their hands and accept that “this is just the way things are…”; instead we can make decisions as to what we want for our families and what kind of adults we want our daughters to grow up to be, and then parent from those values. We don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. As I say in the book, we can choose to swim upstream.

L.L.: Thanks, Laura for being with us and sharing your wonderful book, SWIMMING UPSTREAM: Parenting Girls For Resilience in a Toxic Culture.

Laura Choate: Thank you so much for your careful reading of the book and for giving me an opportunity to share some of the highlights!

Laura ChoateLaura H. Choate, EdD, LPC, is a Jo Ellen Levy Yates Endowed Professor in Counselor Education at Louisiana State University. Dr. Choate is the author of three books:  Girls and Women’s Wellness: Contemporary Counseling Issues and Interventions (2008), Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Counselor’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment (edited; 2013), and Adolescent Girls in Distress: A Guide to Mental Health Treatment and Prevention (2013) with her fourth book, Swimming Upstream: Parenting Girls for Resilience in a Toxic Culture, published in November by Oxford University Press. She lives in Baton Rouge with her husband and preteen son and daughter.

Laura is a regular contributor to Psychology Today and tweets @DrLauraChoate.

[With special thanks to E. Hallick at Oxford University Press. Cover and author images courtesy of OUP. Image of tween girl selfie from on 12.3.15, family meal image from ]

Write On, Wednesday: Poet & writer Patrice Vechhione talks about her book STEP INTO NATURE, no such thing as a non-creative, teaching poetry to kids, & so much more

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step into nature sm cover image

Absolutely spellbinding, timely and topical for today’s society. As we’re bombarded daily by technology, multi-tasking, and man-made devices, we often forget to commune with what’s in front of us: nature.

STEP INTO NATURE is a beautifully written guide to help you replenish your connection to the natural earth, while at the same time sharpening your creative skills and inspiring motivation. It’s almost like THE WAR OF ART (Pressfield) on a natural high. Vecchione will take you on a personal journey of reflection with her practical advice laced with her poetic narrative. When you empty your pockets at the end of reading, I am almost sure you’ll find a sparkly rock, a feather, and tiny grains of sand when you do.

I’d like to say I’m sitting next to her listening to the waves crash at Big Sur—my personal song—but alas we are separated by miles, a different time zone, and an entirely different climate.

Leslie Lindsay: Patrice, thank you so very much for being with us today. The back cover blurb goes something like this, “Consider this book a companion. Dog-ear the pages. Let sand get in. Nature accepts us exactly how we are—bedazzled or bedraggled, lonely or lively, willful, or wistful. Wander for a little while, and wonder what will take hold.” And I love that! And I did that—dog-ear the pages, that is—there’s just a wealth of practical advice here. What ultimately inspired you to write STEP INTO NATURE? Please tell me it was nature herself!

Patrice Vecchione: Yes, you’re right, nature herself inspired me. I used to be a distance road bicyclist, bare to the air—loved going fast down hills and pulling hard up them, covering 20, 30, 50 miles in a morning. But I injured my neck and was unable to continue riding. What to do? Go to a gym for exercise? Hardly appealing.

fiekdNear my home is a 900-acre wood. I took to the forest, placing one sneaker-clad foot in front of the other, for the banal reason of getting my heart rate up, to feel my breath quicken stride upon stride, and to be outdoors. Then something happened that I would have never anticipated—the trees began whispering to me. Mind you, not in the way that humans do, but in the way of leaves rubbing together, and within that sound my imagination heard more than just rubbing leaves, it got awakened as never before, and my writing began to come with less effort; the art-making did as well. Out of so many walks the idea for Step into Nature came. The book was purchased by Simon & Schuster/Beyond Words from a proposal, so not only did nature give me the initial inspiration, she inspired the entire process, the six short months, I spent writing it.

L.L.: I have to admit that I am insanely jealous of your California residence. California, to me is the U.S. equivalent to Italy, and I am deliciously in love with all that is Italian. What might you tell someone who lives in a place that is less-ideal, say North Dakota or the far reaches of Minnesota, or a bustling city like New York? How do we get truly enjoy nature—even if it’s out of reach, or simply too dangerous, or bitter?

Patrice Vecchione: Nature isn’t far and we don’t have to face the wind for hours in a snowstorm in order to be out there in it. Even short forays out into the elemental world will inspire. The imagination and spirit are fortified by even bits of nature, small enclaves—a city park, a birds nestbackyard, the riverbank that borders town. It’s funny that you mention New York City as I’m on a plane heading there right now. Though I love the rush and excitement of the city, the art museums and bookstores, I’m never in New York long before I find myself walking toward Central Park or another bordered bit of open space. Central Park and Ft. Tryon Park were two of the first places where, as I child where I was introduced to nature.

Nature is everywhere; that’s what all our human stuff stands on. Feeling far from her, just stop and look up at the sky to view a wide expanse or a narrow culvert between buildings: Nature.

L.L.: As an artist, do you identify most with poetry because it is language of nature, or nature of language?

Patrice Vecchione: In effect, my first language was poetry. Before I was born, and nearly until her death, my mother recited poems to me. From her I learned the beauty and music of language, poetry’s power to go deep with few words, that language could bring the faraway near, make the unfamiliar recognizable. From my father and my New York City Italian family I learned another kind of poetry that language can be—the staccato of force and rapidity, the beauty of cacophony. Though Step into Nature is nonfiction prose, not poetry, a number of people, my editor included, have remarked that it is a poetic book, and that makes me really happy.

L.L.: What might you say is the greatest reason to connect with nature?

Patrice Vecchione: We come from the earth. That’s our first place. Once upon a time everyone lived close to nature; they had no choice. When we return we reconnect with the essence of who we are. Doing so can restore our hearts and minds, slow us down, free us from our screens, lessen the weight of life’s difficulties, reinvigorate our imaginations and enliven our spirits. Oops, that’s kind of more than one reason, but kind of not.

L.L.: Can you give us some examples of how non-creatives can tap into their latent creativity by simply reconnecting with nature?


Patrice Vecchione: Non-creatives? No such thing!
We all use our imaginations everyday—what blouse to wear with those slacks? How to phrase a marriage proposal? What to make for dinner? One of the first things to do is to begin to notice how your imagination is a part of your life, how it serves you, even in the simplest ways, and then to build on that. The imagination is partial to being tickled behind the knees!

If you go out into nature, even that small neighborhood park, you’ll likely find the demands of the day scooching to the background, at least a little bit. The balance of priorities will shift; the air gets in and moves around, rearranging the to-do lists. There’s freedom in that, space into which your ability to observe will heighten. Your senses will come to the fore—what do you see at the base of that tree over there? Who’s is scurrying in the upper branches? The sound coming from a distance, is it water or wind? The smell of pine needles may rekindle childhood memories. How else might I solve this problem?

Monterey pineI’m not much of a meditator; I like to move; I encourage people to walk, not hard and fast, but slow and easy, and to allow thoughts to drift. As I write in Step into Nature, “The mind thinks differently when the feet are in motion.”

Bring a notebook to jot down what you see, hear, and generally experience. You don’t have to stay out long if the day’s responsibilities are calling, but come back, and do it again. Your imagination will be glad you did!

L.L.: As a writer, I am going to guess that you are a “pantser,” that is, you don’t follow a rigid outline. In fact, I think you give reference to that in STEP INTO NATURE, that allowing nature to take over your creative mind, you often drum up some really unique art form, a sentence, or line of poetry. Can you expand on that, please?

Patrice Vecchione: That’s a new term to me, a panster! I made an outline before I began writing the book and then as I wrote the outline changed and change again. My job was to follow where the essence of the book was leading and to trust myself as a writer, as an imaginer. The imagination throws out a bunch of what-ifs. I find that writing is like following a lead, like walking down a curvy path. What if I go this way? If I take that turn where might I end up? If I’d held rigidly to my original plan, the book would have turned out rigid too, and less authentic.

L.L.: I understand you teach poetry to children. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Patrice Vecchione: When I was 19-years-old I began teaching poetry to children and have worked as a poet-in-the-schools for many years, not as a credentialed teacher, but as a poet. I come into classrooms kindergarten through high school to encourage children to follow their own ideas when it comes to writing, to not worry about making sense, to flee predictability, to take chances and let themselves be surprised by what they write. I read them poems from around the world, from various points in history, and then we get very quiet and we listen inside and outside and we write. It’s one of the few ways children get a chance to reflect these days, to pull back from the requirements put upon them, and then to be listened to, closely.

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

Patrice Vecchione: My father died several months ago. I’m not obsessed by grief but it sure does have my attention. Beyond that Step into Nature continues to wholly engage me. I did a 10-city book tour and I continue to offer workshops and give talks based on the book. Lately I’ve been offering workshops through libraries for people to come and make their own nature journals. We collage the fronts and past pocket at the back to hold nature–finds.

There’s a new book churning inside me but it’s too soon to talk about that.

Oh, and one more obsession, as it were: I’m offering a Step into Nature Spring Writing Retreat at a gorgeous retreat center in Santa Barbara hills, May 11 – 15. There are a few openings.

L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, that you’d like to share?

Patrice Vecchione: You asked such great questions, Leslie! What could I possibly add, except to say, I write a monthly blog about nature and imagination that often includes inspirations of various kinds. More about that at patricevecchione.com.

During the month of December I’ll have copies of Step into Nature available as signed books for holiday gifts and will include a chapbook I’ve just completed about making art with my father at the end of his life. Those interested can get in touch: Patrice@patricevecchione.com.

L.L.: Patrice, it was an absolute pleasure having you pop over today. Thank you!

Patrice Vecchione: Here I am on this plane, hurtling through space, but thanks to you, Leslie, your great questions, I found myself—my imagination and spirit—out walking along Lower Ridge Road at Jacks Peak park in Monterey. Thanks so much!

Connect  with Patrice on social media:

Patrice3519Author bio: About Patrice Vecchione’s new book Step into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life, the poet Jane Hirshfield said, “Step into Nature illumines the intimate connection between inner and outer, contemplative and wild, and shows the reasons these matter.” She’s also the author of Writing and the Spiritual Life, about which The Writer magazine said, “Trust the voice of Patrice Vecchione,” and two collections of poetry. The editor of many acclaimed anthologies for children and young people, these titles include Whisper & Shout: Poems to Memorize, Truth & Lies, and The Body Eclectic. Patrice offers creative writing and collage workshops—inside and out—at universities, libraries, parks, and community and spiritual centers. In the spring of 2016 she will offer a 5-day Step into Step into Nature Writing Retreat at a retreat center in the gorgeous Santa Barbara hills. Patrice lives in Monterey, California with her best beloveds—her husband, two cats, and a garden often in bloom. patricevecchione.com

[Author and cover images courtesy of Patrice Vechhione. Nature images retrieved from author’s website under “blog” and are not my own images. Please visit patricevecchione.com to read Patrice’s thoughts on these images and how they have enhanced her walk with nature.] 

 

 

Books On Monday: Casey’s Bright Red Christmas

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By Leslie Lindsay Casey's Bright Red Christmas

Calling all cookie lovers and tractor fans! That’s right–we’re bringing the farm to you this holiday season with this delightful storybook for children ages 4-8. CASEY’S BRIGHT RED CHRISTMAS.

Books for the youngest tractor fans

Real equipment and cartoon characters converge in new children’s series that makes
modern farming the hero. 

In a fabulous new series, we spend the holidays on Happy Skies Farm with Casey, Tillus and friends and their beloved farm. But there’s so much to do with regular farm chores, plus decorating, cocoa and carols, that the task seems almost impossible…and where’s Casey?

Readers will delight in the bright, colorful illustrations, as well as the classic message of slowing down to enjoy the festivities. Oh, and that cookie? Well, there’s a lovely frosted sugar cookie recipe at the back of the book…cause ya know, all of those farm chores sure works up an appetite!

Got a farm guru on your hands? How about a little person who loves tractors, combines, and cultivators? Maybe you live on a farm?! Check out the rest of the fabulous titles from Octane Press.

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Meet the Author & Illustrator:
Holly Dufek
has spent nearly 15 years writing and working with educational curriculum for publishers such as Holt McDougal, National Geographic Education and Riverside Publishing. Holly has worked to develop content to enrich the National Common Core Standards for elementary through high school classrooms. She holds a master’s degree in Education and lives in Kenosha, WI, with her husband,Matt, and their three children.

Paul E. Nunn is a full-range artist who has worked for Disney, Nickelodeon and Sesame Street. He lives in Racine, WI, with his wife, Amy, and their two children.

For more information: 

[With special thanks to PRbytheBook]