Wednesdays with Writers: Can Someone Really Reinvent Oneself? Kate Moretti talks about that; her latest obsession with serial killers, secret passages, being a ‘mix’ of plotter vs. pantser, her newest novel THE VANISHING YEAR & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

THE VANISHING YEAR (Atria Books, September 2016) is a stunning domestic psych suspense by Kate Moretti, one that delivers a modern, urgent, cutting-edge slightly different than her contemporaries.

How is it different? Well, for one it’s a bit rags-to-riches where other, comparative titles are not. Zoe Whitaker is living a charmed life in NYC. She has a ‘golden boy’ wealthy husband, a marble penthouse, all the fancy clothing and jewels a girl could want…but she’s not superficial; her character comes across as very personable, yet flawed–you know the girl has secrets, but what are they?

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No one knows, but five years ago Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all.

Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her. As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

The beginning pages read beautifully, I was enthralled with the world Zoe resides, her ‘secret,’ and the words Moretti strings together.

Join me as I sit down with New York Times bestselling author of four books, Kate Moretti.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, thanks so much for taking the time to chat about your latest book, THE VANISHING YEAR. I’m always intrigued by what sparked an idea into a full-fledged book. What was haunting you when you sat down to write Zoe’s story?

Kate Moretti: The ending came to me first. Without spoilers, I wanted to write a story that centered around this idea that in a whirlwind marriage, both people come into it with a whole backstory that neither of them knows. That you can’t reinvent yourself and your past will always come back for you. Most of my books have centered around this theme, so you might say I’m a bit obsessed with it. I’m hoping to move on, one day.what-dissociative-fugue-definition-healthyplace

L.L.: I want to talk about the title for a moment. My first thought was, ‘woman leaves for a year; a fugue state.’ But that’s not exactly the case. She spends a year as Henry Whittaker’s wife—(I hope I’m not giving too much away!)—but then she sort of finds herself. Did you start out with a title and build a story around it, or did the title come after?  

Kate Moretti: I usually come up with my titles around the halfway point. THE VANISHING YEAR means a few things to me. The year she was married to Henry, she slipped into being this person he wanted her to be, and she says it happened so slowly she hardly noticed it. More directly, it relates to the year she literally did vanish – from Hilary Lawlor to Zoe Whittaker nee Swanson. I liked this concept so much, that the events of one year can completely alter who you are. I played with it a little bit in the idea that Tara (Henry’s deceased wife) vanishes a bit, too. She goes from having friends, a life, a job, to being almost sequestered. It worked on a few levels for the book. Titles are tough!

L.L.: There’s so much of this story that is about finding oneself, about coming to terms with the ghosts that haunt our own pasts. Can you talk about that, please?

Kate Moretti: I think everyone, even regular, average, boring people like me, who don’t have these turbulent past lives still have regrets and mistakes and things they’ve done that they partly wish they could undo. I say partly because I’ve learned so much from my slip-ups that even though they’re painful to think about, they become such a big chunk of who I am today. I think, on some level, this theme is hugely relatable, which is why there are so many books like this! Without the confines of reality, you can expand on these mistakes and make them larger than life. I love diving into that place, where moral people do amoral things: where is that line and how hard do you have to push for your character to cross it? The best part is, all my characters are different, so I can explore this in every book, until I’ve exhausted myself.

L.L.: Some reviewers have compared THE VANISHING YEAR to a modern-day REBECCA (Daphne Du Maurier). I see that…rich husband one barely knows…phantoms of a time long forgotten (we hope), but yet there are some key differences. Was REBECCA in any way an inspiration for you?

Kate Moretti: THE VANISHING YEAR was my love letter to REBECCA. Rebecca was the first adult mystery novel I ever read and I read it pretty young, maybe 14? There was a lot I didn’t understand and re-reading as an adult, I couldn’t remember what my young self thought. daphnedumaurier_rebecca_firstBut I fell in love with the atmosphere, the slow unwinding of the plot, the reveal of Mrs. Danvers, and the final plot twist. I’d read Nancy Drew and Christopher Pike and RL Stine but nothing got me the way REBECCA did. THE VANISHING YEAR is my first real attempt at a woman-in-peril mystery. I wanted my character to be a bit sassier than the new Mrs. De Winter, I wanted my Mrs. Danvers to be unexpected, I wanted Henry to be a slight echo of Maximilian. Even the opening line was a hat tip: Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again vs. Lately, I’ve been dreaming of my mother.  The plot is, of course, all very different. A few early readers caught the resonance pretty clearly and that made me happy.

L.L.: There’s a strong element of one’s family of origin in THE VANISHING YEAR, a bit about adoption, as Zoe is on a quest to find her birth mother. I think this is an important piece to discovering who we are. Yet, in the end, we’re just floating…could it be that sometimes ‘our family’ becomes not who we expect?

Kate Moretti: I think family is whatever you make it. Your family, simply put, is your people. The people you surround yourself with, not always just the people who are blood related. Growing up with a large extended family, we called second cousins aunts and uncles, we called friends of the family cousins, there was a great deal of fluidity around familial vernacular. We have good friends that my kids call their cousins, so I’m happy to see that be passed on. In VANISHING, Zoe is propelled by this idea of having a tether to the world. Henry feels very free-floating to her, she’s semi-isolated in his life, her only good friend is tired of her flightiness. She seeks out her birth mother, hoping this can bring her some much needed grounding. I couldn’t even imagine this kind of isolation.

L.L.: There are a good deal of twists and turns in THE VANISHING YEAR, plenty of seedy secrets, and a darkness that pervades. Was this intentional, or did it transpire more organically? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Kate Moretti:  I’m a mix of both. For VANISHING, I did plot pretty heavily, with spreadsheets. I think for a suspense novel, to wind all the pieces together, you either do an enormous amount of rewriting or you plot heavily and braid the plot together before you start. I do a mix. I plot, then write, then re-outline (because I always veer off), then write, then plot, then write. Repeat as necessary.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? Any chance it’s an old house with a secret 511tho7i9il-_sx332_bo1204203200_passageway?!

Kate Moretti: My current obsession is serial killers. I’m such a pleasant addition to holiday dinner parties these days! The book I’m drafting, called THE REMAINDERS, is about a woman whose mother was famed serial killer. I have to learn how serial killers work. I’m reading Confessions of a Serial Killer by Katherine Ramsland, which is the untold story of BTK [bind, torture, kill; a.k.a. Dennis Lynn Rader].

I’d would really love to find that house. I live in a 150 year old farmhouse now, but through the years and various remodels (before we bought it), it’s been fairly gutted so I’m not sure there is a secret passageway. There is, however a little room. Our house has a turret, and from my attic office, you can go inside. It’s dark in there, I’ve only ever 19cov-infogallery-pix-custom6-v2looked in it. It could be haunted! [image to left retrieved from this NYTimes article on secret passages in NYC]

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

Kate Moretti: I’m always happy to talk about what’s next! My next novel, THE BLACKBIRD SEASON is out September 2017. It’s about a teacher accused of an affair with a student, who then goes missing. It’s very different from VANISHING because it’s multi-POV, more character driven, less plot heavy. To me, there are books that are building to a big surprise and then there are books that are about the journey of the story. VANISHING was building, BLACKBIRD is about the story. I love both, but Blackbird was much harder to write. I think it’s a bit more nuanced, a bit deeper in terms of relationships.

L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting and getting to know THE VANISHING YEAR. Thanks for popping over. And have a restful holiday season.

Kate Moretti: Thanks for having me!

For more information, to connect on social media, or to snag a copy of THE VANISHING YEAR, please see:

Kate Moretti_Please Credit Pooja Dhar at PR Photography.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Moretti is the New York Times bestselling author of Thought I Knew You, Binds That Tie, and While You Were Gone. She lives in eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Find out more at katemoretti.com, or follow her on Twitter (@KateMoretti1) or Facebook (KateMorettiWriter).

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Atria Books and used with permission. Image of REBECCA retrieved from Wikipedia. Image of Confessions of a Serial Killer retrieved from Amazon, both on 12.2.16]

 

BookS on MondaY: Who inspires you to do good? How might we teach our children about these individuals? Mary Feliciani talks about Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, & others in her book for middle grade students HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES & YOU

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By Leslie Lindsay

An absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking collection of inspiring individuals, past and present, HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, & YOU is exactly perfect for the middle grade reader, and their parents/guardians/teachers. 

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We read this slim volume aloud to our children (ages 11.6 and almost-10) en route to Thanksgiving in our hometown nearly 300 miles away. It was the quintessential read for this time of year. Thanksgiving, an American holiday epitomizing family, moral good, working for the betterment of a nation when times are tough (Thanksgiving, having been made a national holiday when morale was low during the Civil War).

We asked the girls if they were familiar with the people in the book–many of whom are well-known–Martin Luther King, Jr., The Dali Lama, Mother Theresa, Gandhi–but others who are less-known. They nodded to some, but weren’t sure about others. We read anyway, introducing them to the good deeds, the selflessness of these humanitarians working to build a more holistic, kind, and peaceful planet.

We learned about Craig Kielburger who, as a 12-year old, was moved by the child labor occurring in some countries. He wanted to bring awareness and stop the practice. He’s currently working to do so. And then there’s Terry Fox, a young man diagnosed with bone cancer, who decided to run a across Canada (after a leg amputation) to raise money for cancer research. He efforts were cut short and he was forced to stop; the cancer had spread to his lungs.

Others, too and their contribution to the world were presented, generating a good deal of discussion, which will stay with us and our children for some time, perhaps always.

Join me as I welcome Mary Feliciani to the blog couch to chat about this truly inspiring read.

Leslie Lindsay: Mary, thanks for coming. I so enjoyed reading about these individuals, some I was familiar with, others less so. I’m curious what your inspiration was for writing this book?

Mary Feliciani: I feel privileged to be here, Leslie. Thank you. Years ago, I saw Mattie Stepanak on Larry King Live, and of course, I was totally impressed with his insights. At the stepaneksame time, it took me back to my own youth and my emotional attachment to Martin Luther King Jr. Once I got into this mood, I started thinking of all the humanitarians that inspired me, and  suddenly I developed an overview of how their belief systems all fit together. I thought that their combined voices would be very powerful.

L.L.: Before each individual you present in the book, you give a lovely introduction—perhaps why you chose to include that person, or maybe even your own personal connection, even a conflict. There are so many amazingly inspiring individuals in the world, how did you ever narrow it down as to who to include in HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, & YOU?

Mary Feliciani: I think that when we are young we are the most idealistic. My connection to the older individuals, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., occurred as I was growing up and as I learned about them. In terms of my younger choices, like Mattie Stepanek and Craig Kielburger, I was an adult when I became aware of them. I came to be a fan of theirs because they embodied the qualities of those humanitarians that lived before them. Also, they found their voice at such a young age – proving that young people can make a difference.

I know that there are other youths that have the same potential as my choices for the book. And that is why I have the word “You” in the title. I am reaching out to future humanitarians.

L.L.: I personally enjoyed reading the quotes some of these change-makers are responsible for. “Be the change you want to see,” is accredited to Gandhi, for example. There were others, too. What was your research like, and do you have a favorite quote?

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Mary Feliciani: I wrote all my reflections before I actually did my research. I knew about and had a feel for the individuals because of that earlier connection to them. And you are correct, my reflections also serve as an introduction to the personalities in the book. When I went to do the research, there were many details about their lives that I didn’t know. The most important ones and those that fit well with my reflections made it into the book. There were other interesting facts that didn’t make it into the book. It is my hope that young readers are intrigued enough to want to know more about them and subsequently do their own research.

I have three favourite quotes. One of my favourites is the one you just mentioned, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is the most practical one. We can not control the behaviour of others. We can only control ourselves. But, through our actions and words we can influence people. That is what Mattie did. That is what Craig Kielburger along with his brother, Marc Kielburger, are doing.

The beginning of the “I Have a Dream” speech always, to this day, arouses strong emotions in me. I heard it so many times paired with the news of his death, that I became conditioned to feel connected to him. When I hear or even think the words, a strong feeling of humanity is evoked in me.

The third quote is from Gandhi:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love always won. There have been tyrants and murders and for a time they seemed invincible, but in the end they always fall – think of it,  always.” This statement gives us hope no matter how bad situations are.

L.L.: HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, AND YOU is a perfect companion to grade school research papers and projects, elementary (and middle school) classrooms, social studies, and the like. I’m guessing this was your intended audience. What might you like to see young people do with the information they glean?

Mary Feliciani:  You are right about the intended audience and that I would like to see today’s youth do more research on my choices of humanitarians, but also seek some of their own.

Here is a message that I scribe in the book at book signings, when I know that it is going to be given to a young person:

“Look to a good role model today, and tomorrow someone will be looking up at you.”

L.L.: What’s captured your interest lately? What’s got your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary or humanitarian-related, but if so, please share.

Mary Feliciani: The topic that interests me today is bullying. The type that happens in the school environment. BIG AND SMALL IN THE MIRROR is the first of what will be a trilogy on 51swkzivxil-_ac_us160_bullying. The eBook was published in 2015. I am currently writing the second book. It is entitled THE INVISIBLE BOY and is about a boy who feels invisible at school.

There are two passions in my life, one is writing and the other is traveling. I have been vacationing on cruises for the last few years. You will probably notice that the picture you posted with this interview was taken on a cruise ship.

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

Mary Feliciani: None. Your questions have captured the essence of the book, HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, & YOU.

I hope that you and your followers will be just as interested in my next book, The Invisible Boy.

L.L.: Mary, it was truly lovely reading HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES & YOU. Thank you for sharing it with us. And may you have a warm holiday season.

Mary Feliciani:  Leslie, I wish you and all your followers a wonder holiday season as well. Thank you so much for your interest in my writing.

princess-formal-night-6-3AUTHOR BIO: Mary is a Canadian author, independent publisher and a former elementary school teacher. She attended UTM where she studied psychology and still lives in Mississauga, Ontario.Mary’s background in psychology, work with children and passionate interest in the human condition, which stems back as far as she can remember, are all evident in her writing.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay here:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of M. Feliciani. Image of Mattie Stepanek retrieved from nnbc.com on 12.3.16]

Wednesdays with Writers: Natasha Tracy talks about the delicate diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, the difference between book-ready and blog-ready, how writing is like slogging through swamps, and not sugar-coating mental illness.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Understanding what it’s really like to live with bipolar disorder (BD) is impossible to share with someone who doesn’t have experience with serious mental illness. Natasha Tracy, a writer living with bipolar takes you under her wing and walks you through the labyrinth of questions and quandaries as if she were your cool, more experienced older sister. She gets it; she’s lived it for the last 18 years.

And we all need to care.

At some point in our lives, we will know someone with a major mental illness. It might be invisible to the naked eye; you may never see the affects, but it might still be there, lurking under the surface and it may very well be your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your coworker. And in my case: my mother.

I was just ten years old when she had her first major manic episode. It was about the time when The Bangles song, “Just Another Manic Monday” was playing on the radio. We had a cute house in the suburbs, a so-called ‘normal’ life until one day…it wasn’t. My mom was in the throes of her first manic break and as a child, it was scary. She struggled with bipolar disorder for many years until she finally took her life about eighteen months ago.

All along, I was fascinated with psychiatry and became a child/adolescent psych R.N. My interest hasn’t ended just because I decided to pursue another dream, but instead has continued to be a strong part of my life; it’s pretty hard to sever a connection that strong.

Natasha’s writing style is accessible, easy to follow; she’s honest and maybe not always politically correct, but that’s okay; she talks about that, too. But mostly, the book is expertly researched, laid out, and was…dare I say, a joy to read. While that sounds a little over-enthusiastic, I think you get what I’m saying; there’s no gobblety-gook.

Join me as we welcome Natasha Tracy to the blog couch. She calls herself, “a professional crazy person.” She doesn’t mean to be insensitive or glib, but authentic, engaging, honest. She tells you how it is to live with bipolar and depression, she answers your most pressing questions about these serious mental illnesses, things like: How do I know if I’m hypomanic or just feeling better? What is hypersexuality all about? What should someone say (0r not) to someone with a serious disorder? What’s it *really* like in a psych ward? It’s all there and so, so much more.final_fullcover_Tweaked4a.jpg

Leslie Lindsay: Natasha, thank you so very much for being here. I am just in awe with LOST MARBLES. You spell things out so clearly, so effortlessly. Though I am sure it wasn’t exactly easy. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for writing this book and a bit about the process?

Natasha Tracy:Hi Leslie, thank you for inviting me onto your couch.Thirteen years ago I started writing about my own mental illness and after a year, a writer friend of mine told me that my work was saving lives. Quite frankly, I didn’t believe him. But then I got a comment from someone saying just that – my work had saved her life. It was beyond incredible to me that someone would look at work that way. Eventually, I realized people really were helped by my work and I knew a book was in me.

When it came to actually writing it, it was a matter of picking the best of what I had already written, the most powerful things for readers, and filling in the gaps where they existed. And then it was about rewriting almost everything to get it “book-ready.” Book-ready is a much higher standard than “blog-ready.” images-4

L.L.:  But you’re not a doctor. Or therapist. You’re a writer living with bipolar disorder. Can you talk a bit about the research you did for LOST MARBLES? About how much time did it take you to write it?

Natasha Tracy: You could say that LOST MARBLES took me six years or it took me six months, it sort of depends on how you look at it. Certainly, the content came about over a six-year time span but putting it together took an extremely concerted six months.

As for the research, for the technical parts of the book it was intense. I needed to get it absolutely right. I needed to help people with mental illness decide on treatment in the right way. Luckily, one of my early readers was Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist who pointed me in the right direction and suggested some research tidbits that I didn’t know about.

Although the technical research felt like slogging through a swamp at the time, now that it’s done I’m happy to have answered the question, “What medication should I take?” for many people.

L.L.: You talk about mental illness with such candor; I find it very refreshing. I feel like you are helping break that stigma of mental illness. Can you talk to that, please?

Natasha Tracy: One of my strengths, I feel, is to write about mental illness in a way that is real, honest, gritty and not sugar-coated. I say the things that people with mental illness think but don’t have the words to express. This is why people identify with my work so strongly.

I don’t believe in the concept of “stigma” per se. What I believe in fighting is prejudice and the inevitable discrimination that follows it. I believe that by making people with mental illness three-dimensional people with real emotions and real struggles, we actually start to sound just like everyone else – just amplified. And prejudice is always fueled by fear, usually fear of the unknown, so my job is to make it known.

L.L.: What advice would you give a person who has just been diagnosed with BD? How can they make sense of the diagnosis, what coping skills might help?download (31).jpg

Natasha Tracy: When you’re diagnosed with a serious mental illness like bipolar disorder it feels like the end of the world. It feels like there is no tomorrow. It feels like everything you were is gone. This is normal and natural. There are ways to work through this, though.

First off, it’s important to know that world is not ending, there will be a tomorrow and there is an innate you that will not disappear. That said, the world, the tomorrows and even you, will change in response to the illness. Again, this is normal and natural. Most people never get back to a pre-bipolar state.

But this natural. No one’s life moves backwards. Things change but this is not a negative, this is just a challenge. Every person on the planet changes every day, it just happens that bipolar disorder is a wallop of a change all at once.

There are many things a newly-diagnosed person can do. Firstly, it’s important to get the best bipolar specialist psychiatrist and therapist one can find and create a treatment plan that makes sense for the individual. Then the treatment plan must be followed. It’s also important to lean on loved ones during this time as they will connect a person to who he or she really is.

L.L.: ….And medication. Oh, I feel as I’m opening a can of worms, but how can one reconcile the high cost of medication(s); are there options/resources for lowering the cost?

Natasha Tracy: It’s an unfortunate truth that for many in the United States the cost of medication is very high. That said, the drugs, while laden with issues like side effects, save lives every day. Many people would have taken their lives without these medications. Yes, there is no doubt that they are expensive and have other associated issues, but when it comes down to life or death, a functional life or a life spent in psychosis, there is no doubt that they are still worth it.download (32).jpg

(I will say, however, that this is not such an issue in Canada where prices for drugs are regulated. This is what people in the United States should push for as well.)

L.L.: What’s the best thing a loved one/friend can do to help someone newly diagnosed?

Natasha Tracy: Learn, learn, learn. [LOST MARBLES] will tell people a lot of what it is like to live with a mental illness but it certainly should not be the entirety of the education one seeks. Books and websites, especially those written by healthcare professionals or subject matter experts who have bipolar disorder can also be invaluable. In addition to my site, 513rbp298vl-_sx334_bo1204203200_which holds many more of my writings, I also recommend psycheducation.org, which is written by Jim Phelps MD and Medscape.com for medical facts, also written by doctors for doctors. In terms of books, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder by Julie Fast (who has bipolar disorder) and John D. Preston PsyD is great.

I always tell people you can’t fight an enemy that you don’t understand and this is as true for loved ones as it is for people with the illness.

L.L.: What’s captured your interest lately? It doesn’t have to be bipolar or literary, but if so, by all means…

Natasha Tracy: I love to cook and bake. Now that my book is published I have time for it again. I love meals you can make on a weeknight – short and to the point – like those by Judith Jones but I also love long and impossible recipes such as those by the great French chef Thomas Keller. I also love the challenge of doing things like making my own croissants (which can take days, seriously).download-30

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

Natasha Tracy: Perhaps, what it’s like to manage bipolar while writing, editing and publishing a book?

In my case this was a huge challenge and I will honestly admit that it got the better of my bipolar. The whole process, perhaps because it was so short and intense, sent me into the worst mixed mood episode of my life. In short, the cost of this book was very, very high for me but I still consider it something worth doing (and something I’m planning on doing again). That said, net time I will take better care of my health and this is what I encourage everyone to do. We all face stressors, of our own making or otherwise, but without our health, we can’t face anything.

I am pleased to say, though, that with the help of my psychiatrist and medication changes, I was able to pull out of that episode and now look at it from the other side.

L.L.: Natasha, it’s been such a honor to connect. And insightful, too. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.

Natasha Tracy: I truly appreciate your interest in the book. Thank you so much for having me.

headshot_bigAuthor Bio:Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. She is considered a subject matter expert in the area of bipolar disorder and has written hundreds of articles on it as well as hundreds of articles on other mental health issues. Natasha has spoken to groups from 30 to 300, from ages 12 and up across North America. She believes that education and honest, unvarnished storytelling are keys in fighting the prejudice that people with mental illness face.

Natasha’s first book, Lost Marbles, Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar, was released in October 2016 and has been ranked as a #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in the category of bipolar disorder.

Natasha currently writes the award-winning blogs Bipolar Burble on her own site and Breaking Bipolar on HealthyPlace. Her writing has also been featured on The Huffington Post, Daily Mail, PsychCentral, Sharecare and others. She has spoken at events and conferences including at the National Council’s annual conference as well as Mental Health America’s annual conference.

You can find Natasha:

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:

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[Cover and author images courtesy of N.Tracy. LOVING SOMEONE WITH BIPOLAR D/O retrieved from Amazon. Croissant image retrieved from, sad/diagnosis image from, medication image from psychcentral.com, all retrieved 11.27.16]

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Cathy Lamb talks about her newest book, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, how balancing subplots is like juggling cats, her love for homes & design, quirky families, how she never wants to read her own book again–and so much more.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From acclaimed author Cathy Lamb, comes a warm and thoughtful novel about the secrets that can break or unite a family—and the voices that resonate throughout our lives.

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Reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time; I laughed, I cried, most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was reading. It’s that good.

The Koslovsky family is a big, bustling American-Russian family living in Oregon, immigrants from Communist Russia. They have secrets, they have traumatic scars, but most of all–they have each other.

The main protagonist is Antonia (Toni) Koslovsky, the middle daughter of three sisters (Ellie, the youngest and Valeria, the oldest). They have a brother, Dmitri, too.  The cover of the book would have you believing the sisters are young, but they are grown, adult children with lives, jobs, and families (Valerie) of their own. The cover might also have you believing this is a saccharine story of girls dancing around May poles, but it is a sophisticated romp through grief, heartache, love, family dynamics (and dysfunction); a story of home, a narrative of mystery.

Told in a slightly nonlinear fashion, glimpses of Communist Moscow surface as a dark nebulous coloring present-day shenanigans, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is at once a mystery a poignant story of family told with compassion, warmth, and humor. Honestly, I don’t know how the author pulled this one off…it’s complex in character, and contains so many subplots, yet she pulls them together beautifully. And with humor. Did I mention humor?

Trust me, you’ll want to read this book, and then you won’t want it to end.

Today, I am honored to have Cathy Lamb in my office—not my floating tugboat home—though that wheelhouse window would be wonderful. We even have homemade Russian tea cakes and coffee so strong it will grow hair on your chest.

Leslie Lindsay: Cathy, it is such a pleasure to have you today. Thanks for popping by. So, I’m reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and laughing, laughing, laughing. Sometimes my husband tells me to shut up. Affectionately. And then I start thinking, Cathy has nailed this Russian-American big family thing. First, I have to know your inspiration for this book, and then I have to know how much of it is based on your experiences?

Cathy Lamb: These are a few of the things/visions that inspired me to write The Language of Sisters:

  • Living in a yellow tugboat on the Willamette River.
  • Russian history.
  • A loud family restaurant in Portland, Oregon where the guests sing Russian drinking songs.
  • Communism.
  • Quirky cousins.
  • The experiences of an immigrant family.
  • A state prosecutor.
  • Sewing beautiful pillows.
  • Sisterhood.
  • A mystery, secrets, and the impact of both.
  • A blue heron.
  • A fight between cousins on a bathroom floor over a hair brush.
  • Falling in love with a hot DEA agent. (Uh. Hmmm. Let me clarify. I, personally, did not fall in love with a DEA agent. I have been married for 23 years to Innocent Husband.  He would not appreciate that.)

As for the book being based on my experiences? Very little.  I do have two sisters, and a brother, but – so that I don’t get in trouble with them – NONE of them are in the book. I promise.  I do live in Oregon, but alas, I don’t live on a tugboat in the Willamette River.

I used to write for a newspaper about homes, as Toni does. But I do not have a psychic connection with my sisters and I do not cook well at all. My children say I do not cook, I “re – heat.” Naughty children!

L.L.: I like big books…(and I cannot lie). THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is long. But it doesn’t feel that way. The first time I picked up the book, I read 200 pages straight through. I didn’t even fall asleep—and that’s saying a lot for me, who gets drowsy fifteen minutes after sitting down. I think what I’m trying to say is, good job on pacing. Also, good job on keeping me engaged and throwing me right into the action via media res. And here’s the question: what was your writing process like? Since it’s a longish book, did it take longer to write? Do you outline? Follow the muse?

Cathy Lamb: My writing process…well, it’s a rocky and craggy path, filled with potholes the size of Jupiter, scary looking trees, and monsters with big teeth. First, I grab a journal and start writing and sketching while drinking copious amounts of coffee and eating chocolate.

Then I grab another journal because I have filled the first one with ideas, much of them terrible, horrible ideas, and I need to figure out what the heck I’m writing about.

I start pulling characters together. I give them friends and family, and some are nice and some aren’t. I mutter and talk to myself and talk to the characters and they talk back and I proceed onward.

what-I-remember-Most-3501-e1396982595987.jpgI give my heroine a job and a setting and a home. Or she’s homeless, like Grenadine Scotch Wild in WHAT I REMEMBER MOST. That gal ended up living in her car.

Then I talk to my wise and wonderful agent and editor and they give their input on my proposed plot, and I slug down more coffee and go for drives in the country until I can figure out the first line of the book and tell myself that, “YES. You can write another book, Cathy. You can. Cool your jets.  Pipe down. Don’t lose your mind. Buck up. NO whining.”

Once the first line of the book is in my head, I write 2000 words a day, 10,000 a week until the first draft is done. If I don’t get my word count in by Saturday, I don’t go to bed.

I try to add scenes that will touch women’s hearts. They may end up laughing or crying. Hopefully they will laugh more than they cry and relate to the characters and the plot.

I do eight or nine edits of the book until the book is done and off to my agent and editor. At that point my eyes are fried, my brain is fried, and I think about moving to an old log cabin in the middle of Montana.

There are four more edits after that.

Then, it’s done. 12 edits. Out in the universe, flying around, and I don’t ever want to read it again. And, I don’t. Unless I’m at a reading.

L.L.: There are so many fabulously colorful characters in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and oh my gosh, how I loved them all. Did one ‘speak’ to you first, was it your protagonist Antonia (Toni), or were they all carefully cultivated? Is there one you relate to more? By the way, I loved the parents, Alexei and Svetlana the best. Oh, and Nick!!

Cathy Lamb: I think the sisters – Toni, Valerie, and Ellie spoke the loudest to me because I related to all of them.  They’re a little neurotic, intense, fierce, wild, funny, and driven because of the dangers they endured in their past in the Soviet Union.

They went skinny dipping together, sometimes drank too much, sewed gorgeous pillows, talked about life, and loved each other dearly. I could hear them in my head. It was like sitting down and talking to my own sisters, only I was invisible.

Daisy’s voice came through loud and clear for me because of how she wanted to live her life in her last years, how she insisted on staying on her houseboat, on the river, and was kind to everyone, except the bad guy, who she threw a knife at.

And I felt close to the mothers in the Kozlovsky gang, and how they felt about their kids, as a mother myself.

L.L.: I think I fell a little bit in love with that ‘man with a pistol in his pants.’ I loved him. I wanted his big, muscular arms around my shoulders. I wanted his flowers and chocolates. I wanted to spy on him with my binoculars. But I worried, too about his job as a DEA agent. Does Nick Sanchez really exist? And how can I find him? I have some single friends.

Cathy Lamb: I am so very, very sorry. I know this will crush you: No. Nick Sanchez does not exist. Except in my mind.I always try to create men that women readers will fall in love with. None of this: “Well, he’s PRETTY good, except he’s flawed like all other men.”

No.Will not do that.

I don’t want to read about a flawed man when he’s the love interest.  Really. That part of a book I just want to escape into, and I think other women readers do, too.

They do not want to read about a  man who refuses to do the dishes, or help with the kids because we women know what that means: We work all day and come home and do all the housework and the cooking and that is SO NOT ROMANTIC.

So, I created a man I’d want to be married to…and you got Nick Sanchez. Smoking hot and huggable forever.

L.L.: Svetlana’s Kitchen, the restaurant the Kozlovsky’s run is such a fun place. I love how Mrs. Kozlovsky names the specials after things going on in her family’s life. The food sounds delicious, too.

Cathy Lamb: So, for people who have not read THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS: The mother, Svetlana Kozlovsky owns a restaurant. When she’s mad at her kids she writes it on the Specials Board, along with what she’s serving that night for dinner. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

            Over the next few days I received a number of calls and texts from family and friends who had had my mother’s special named “My Childrens Makes Me Worry.” They wanted to know what we Kozlovsky kids did to make my mother worry. The older people who called from the Russian community also gently chastised me, in Russian, of course.  “Don’t make your mama worry, Antonia. You know better.”

            The regular dishes at my parents’ restaurant all have family names. “Elvira’s Tasty Treats,” which is a selection of desserts; “Valeria’s Dumplings,’ which are beef dumplings on a bed of lettuce; and “Antonia’s Delight,” which are cheese crepes.

            But the specials…well, those are a crap shoot.   download-28

            In the past, my mother has named specials “Alexei Not The Boss,” after she had a fight with my father.

            And “Teenagers Big Trouble” when we were younger.

            And I Wish Valeria Quit Her Job.”

            I had “Antonia Not A Criminal,” simply because I write about crime.

            Ellie endured “Elvira’s Bad Choice” when she got engaged to Gino. It hurt Gino’s feelings.

            As my sister Valerie says, “I’m a state prosecutor. I try to maintain respect, a professional image, then mama puts out a special called “Valeria No Call Mama Enough,” and even the criminals are asking me why I don’t call my mama more.”

It goes on and on. Don’t make my mother mad, or you’ll hear about it on the Tonight’s Specials board of Svetlana’s Kitchen.

 L.L.: There are a lot of juicy little subplots going on in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTSERS. They are handled beautifully. My head would explode if I had the task of tying them together. Maybe yours did, too. How did you juggle so many different plot lines? Did you have a favorite?

Cathy Lamb: Honestly the sub plots were like juggling bottles of wine. Maybe that’s not the best analogy. They were like juggling cats. Eh. That one isn’t so good, either. Juggling…boxes of cookies.

I think my favorite sub plot was what happened to Dmitry in Russia. Who were his parents? How did he and the Kozlovsky family find each other? What’s the secret that the parents want buried forever?  I thought that plot line was key to the whole family.

I also really liked writing about Toni’s family and all their funny and quirky imperfections. Two cousins who make fancy and frilly outfits for strippers. One who steals cars but loves opera. A sister who is engaged but really doesn’t know if she wants to get married AT ALL.  A cousin with a teenage daughter who is pregnant, something so many parents go through with their own beloved children. An actress who is an extreme hypochondriac.

We all have families. Sometimes relationships can get messy/hilarious/odd/quirky.

L.L.: The Kozlovsky family endured such hardship in Moscow. At times it was hard to read, but it was done in such a tender, sensitive way. Communist Russia is something I know little about. Can you illuminate some historical significance for us?

Cathy Lamb: The history of Russia is fascinating. Honestly, read it.  From the Tsar to today. It’s harsh and often horrible. Russia today is better than it was in the past, but there are still, as we all know, many problems. I used that background for my family because it was a time period I knew something about it – although I needed to learn A TON – and it was interesting to me and I hoped it would be interesting for the reader, too.

A few other things I researched? Communism. Marxism. Lenin. Stalin. The Time of Stagnation. Christians in the Soviet Union and their persecution. Social issues. Poverty in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church. The KGB.

L.L.: I have to ask about the title, too. THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is just that: a special communication the Kozlovsky sisters share in which they intuit, or ‘hear’ the voice of their sister(s) when she is in distress. It comes from the mother’s family, through the widow’s peaks of their hairline. I have a widow’s peak. So did my mother. Is there any truth to this?

Cathy Lamb:  My editor thought of my title. He always titles my books because he is so much more clever about titles than I am.  One time I wrote out ten titles for this book and read them to my daughters. They almost wet their pants they laughed so hard.

And no, there is zero truth about people talking to each other through their widow’s peaks. I write fiction which means I get to play.

L.L.: One last question. I think. Toni changes jobs from being a reporter of crime to writing a column about houses, “Living on a Tugboat, Talking About Homes.” How I loved these columns (which are inserted throughout the narrative). What is it about our homes (or other people’s) we are so drawn to? Why do we care? Are we all voyeuristic weirdos?

Cathy Lamb: I love looking at home magazines. I love thinking about remodeling my kitchen, making my garden better, cleaning things up, and being in my home. I think a lot of people feel the same way – especially women.86a9f94455bc160b10b98b1033184fc1

Home has a special place in everyone’s heart and there are so many people who love to relax with a magazine while looking at something beautiful or clever or curious that someone else did in their home. We get to see how other people live and that’s fun.

Plus, I was a freelance writer for The Oregonian’s Homes and Gardens for years. I loved it. I wrote about homes, décor, and design, so I gave Toni my ex – job. (I had to quit freelancing when my first book, Julia’s Chocolates, sold as I didn’t have time anymore.)

L.L.: Okay, I lied. One more question. How would you classify this book? It seems to straddle so many genres: mystery/thriller, romance, family saga/drama, women’s fiction, there’s a lot going on, but it’s so good. Does size matter? Does genre matter?

Cathy Lamb: It’s women’s fiction. I think genre matters in terms of marketing. I have a niche, it’s women’s fiction. I don’t even pretend to write for men. My books aren’t for men. I think people read what they are interested in reading and the genre doesn’t matter.

As for size of the book? Eh? Look at PILLARS OF THE EARTH. That novel was huge and everyone loved it.  Then, there are shorter books, say by Mitch Albom, that everyone adores and they’re not very long.

To me it all has to do with plot.  The plot has to be engaging and gripping and keeping the reader turning the pages. Short or long, you have to do that as a writer.

L.L.: Tell me, did I forget anything?

Cathy Lamb:  Want to see the first chapter?

The Language of Sisters

Chapter One

I was talented at pickpocketing.

I knew how to slip my fingers in, soft and smooth, like moving silk. I was lightning quick, a sleight of hand, a twist of the wrist. I was adept at disappearing, at hiding, at waiting, until it was safe to run, to escape.

I was a whisper, drifting smoke, a breeze.

I was a little girl, in the frigid cold of Moscow, under the looming shadow of the Soviet Union, my coat too small, my shoes too tight, my stomach an empty shell.

I was desperate. We were desperate.

Survival stealing, my sisters and I called it.images-3

Had we not stolen, we might not have survived.

But we did. We survived. My father barely, my mother only through endless grit and determination, but now we are here, in Oregon, a noisy family, who does not talk about what happened back in Russia, twenty-five years ago. It is best to forget, my parents have told us, many times.

“Forget it happened. It another life, no?” my father says. “This here, this our true life. We Americans now. Americans!”

We tried to forget, but in the inky-black silence of night, when Mother Russia intrudes our dreams, like a swishing scythe, a crooked claw emerging from the ruins of tragedy, when we remember family members buried under the frozen wasteland of the Soviet Union’s far reaches, we are all haunted, some more than others.

You would never guess by looking at my family what some of us have done and what has been done to us. You would never sense our collective memory, what we share, what we hide.

We are the Kozlovskys.

We like to think we are good people.

And, most of the time, we are. Quite good.

And yet, when cornered, when one of us is threatened, we come up swinging.

But, pfft.

All that. In the past. Best to forget what happened.

As my mother says, in her broken English, wagging her finger, “No use going to Moscow in your head. We are family. We are the Kozlovskys. That all we need to know. The rest, those secrets, let them lie down.”

Yes, do.

Let all the secrets lie.

For as long as they’ll stay down.

They were coming up fast. I could feel it.

L.L.: These Russian tea cakes really are good. I think I love them more than Nick. Thanks for hanging out with me, Cathy, and talking about books in a basement office.

Cathy Lamb: Thank you, Leslie. Really.

For more information about THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, Cathy Lamb, follow on social media, or to purchase a copy for your own, quirky family (seriously, makes a great gift), please see:

Photo of Cathy Lamb 093.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: I was born in Newport Beach, California and spent my first ten years playing outside like a wild vagabond.

As a child, I mastered the art of skateboarding, catching butterflies in bottles, and riding my bike with no hands. When I was ten, my parents moved me, my two sisters, a brother, and two poorly behaved dogs to Oregon before I could fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a surfer bum.

I then embarked on my notable academic career where I earned good grades now and then, spent a great deal of time daydreaming, ran wild with a number of friends, and landed on the newspaper staff in high school. When I saw my byline above an article about people making out in the hallways of the high school, I knew I had found my true calling.

After two years of partying at the University of Oregon, I settled down for the next three years and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and became a fourth grade teacher.  I became a teacher because I wanted to become a writer. It was difficult for me to become proper and conservative but I threw out my red cowboy boots and persevered. I had no choice. I had to eat and health insurance is expensive. I loved teaching, but I also loved the nights and summers where I could write and try to build a career filled with creativity and my strange imagination.

I  met my husband on a blind date.  A mutual friend who was an undercover vice cop busting drug dealers set us up. My husband jokes he was being arrested at the time. That is not true. Do not believe him. His sense of humor is treacherous. It was love at third sight.  We’ve now been married a long time.

Teaching children about the Oregon Trail and multiplication facts amused me until I became so gigantically pregnant with twins I looked like a small cow and could barely walk. With a three year old at home, I decided it was time to make a graceful exit and waddle on out. I left school one day and never went back. I later landed in the hospital for over six weeks with pre term labor, but that is another (rather dull) story.  I like to think my students missed me.

When I was no longer smothered in diapers and pacifiers, I took a turn onto the hazardous road of freelance writing and wrote over 200 articles on homes, home décor, people and fashion for a local newspaper.  As I am not fashionable and can hardly stand to shop, it was an eye opener  to find that some women actually do obsess about what to wear. I also learned it would probably be more relaxing to slam a hammer against one’s forehead
than engage in a large and costly home remodeling project. I also tried to write romance books, which ended ingloriously for years.

I suffer from, “I Would Rather Play Than Work Disease” which prevents me from getting much work done unless I have a threatening deadline, which is often.  I like to hang with family and friends, walk, eat chocolate, travel, go to Starbucks, and I am slightly obsessive, okay very obsessive, about the types of books I read. I also like to be left alone a lot so I can hear all the bizarre and troubled characters in my head talk to each other and then transfer that oddness to paper. The characters usually don’t start to talk until 10:00 at night,  however, so I am often up ‘til 2:00 in the morning with them. That is my excuse for being cranky. Really, I was just born a little cranky.

I adore my children and husband, except when he refuses to take his dirty shoes off and walks on the carpet. I will ski because my kids insist, but I secretly don’t like it at all. Too cold and I fall all the time.

I am currently working on my next book and I’m not sleeping much.

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of C. Lamb and used with permission. Image of restaurant message board retrieved from TripAdvisor on 11.17.16, image of WHAT I REMEMBER MOST from Ms. Lamb’s website. Image of reading from, also retrieved 11.17.16]

Writers on Wednesday: What do Grace Kelly, Elaine Stritch, & Eudora Welty have in common? Fiona Davis tells us– and so much more–in her interview on her debut historical fiction, THE DOLLHOUSE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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A stunningly lush debut from journalist Fiona Davis, THE DOLLHOUSE (Dutton/Penguin Random House, August 23 2016) is at once a foray into the glamorous and upstanding sorority* of young women far away from home living in NYC for the first time, often alone and in school. But it’s also a mystery of what really happened to one of the [fictional] characters. For me, THE DOLLHOUSE was the perfect blend of historical fiction, society and class, and mystery.

“The Barbizon…filled to the rafters with pretty little dolls, just like you.”

Long before Barbizon 63 was a sleek condo building, it was the famed Barbizon Hotel for Women,* an exclusive residence for New York City’s young, single women. From 1927 to 1981, the buildings 23 stories and 700 rooms were a lush beehive swarming with thousands of aspiring models, actresses, secretaries, editors, writers—among them Lauren Bacall, Joan Crawford, Liza Minelli, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath, Ali MacGraw, Candice Bergen, and Betsey Johnson—who lived side-by-side and adhered to strict rules while attempting to claw their way to fairy-tale success in New York City.

THE DOLLHOUSE is a story of jazz clubs, heroin rings, and women finding their place in a society in which they were groomed for traditional careers.

Davis does a fabulous job blending two time periods (1952 and 2016) as well as two distinct characters, Darby McLaughlin (1952, and enrolled in The Katie Gibbs Secretarial School) and Rose Lewin (2016, network journalist) in this well-researched and imaginative narrative arc. I absolutely adored the historical details of fashion, social mores, right down to the mosaics plastered to the stairwell, to the narrow single bed pushed up against the wall; it truly was Davis’s use of detail that brought the story to life.

So lace up your girdle, and grab your Nestea instant coffee, and join me as I chat with Fiona Davis.

Leslie Lindsay: Fiona, thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us about your debut, THE DOLLHOUSE. I understand the seed for this story was planted when you were apartment-hunting in NYC. You were shown into Barbizon 63 at the bustling corner of Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street. But it did not become your a40a1c853b1f8e5c408ac6f28c982232.jpghome, but the home where your imagination dwelled. Can you talk about your inspiration for THE DOLLHOUSE?

Fiona Davis: I love the way you phrased that! When I went to see an apartment in what used to be the Barbizon Hotel for Women, my broker told me that a dozen or so older residents were still living there when the building went condo in 2005, and were moved into rent-controlled apartments on the same floor. It got me thinking: what kinds of dramatic changes had those women seen, in the building and in the city? For example, in 1966 you could stay at the Barbizon Hotel for $6.75 a week; today, there’s a penthouse apartment for sale for $17 million! I started to wonder what it was like when the old and new tenants bumped into each other in the elevator, and the idea took off from there.

L.L.: I understand the Barbizon Hotel for Women was home to many women who left a mark on the social landscape of America—Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath (if only for a month), among others. Which of these famous woman do you most identify? Did any of them become inspiration for either of your characters—Rose the journalist in 2016, or Darby the secretary in 1952? Or are they purely fictional?

Fiona Davis: The number of famous ex-guests is really off the charts. I would have loved to have lived there and met Grace Kelly, chatted about books with Eudora Welty and hit the town with Elaine Stritch. But both Rose and Darby are fictional characters. I wanted to avoid including famous people in THE DOLLHOUSE, as that would’ve sent the story shooting off in a completely different direction, and perhaps steal the spotlight from my own cast of characters. elaine_stritch_2_allan_warren

L.L.: I’m so curious about your research. As a journalist yourself, I know this is an area you must excel. So many of the details were pulsing with vibrancy in the book, and that’s not always an easy feat, especially when you didn’t live it yourself. Can you share a glimpse into your research?

Fiona Davis: Thank you so much. I love the research stage and would have happily stayed in it forever. Because I live in New York, I took advantage of everything the city has to offer, including going through back issues of women’s magazines from the 1950s at Barnard College library to get a sense of the era, and signing up for a twelve-hour class in bebop jazz at Jazz at Lincoln Center. I also interviewed women who’d stayed at the Barbizon in the 50s and 60s and got lots of color and detail from them.

L.L.: Many of the women in the Barbizon Hotel for Women are pursing very traditional careers—models, actresses, secretaries, editors and writers (it was NYC, after all), but when one thinks of ‘traditional’ and ‘women’ in terms of career, nurse and teacher also come to mind, as do mother and wife. Yet, I don’t think any of the women in the Barbizon were studying to become nurses or teachers. Can you speak to that, please?

Fiona Davis:  It’s all about location. Back in the 50s (and this is still true today), it would have been fairly easy enough to go to nursing school or get an education degree close to your home town. But careers like editing and modeling had to happen where books and magazines were being written and published. Or, say you wanted to be an actress, the Broadway stage would be the big draw. So I think that’s why the Barbizon attracted women pursuing those particular careers. At the same time, being single girl in New York City was considered pretty radical, which is why safe havens like the Barbizon sprung up. 

L.L.: Aside from college sororities, do places like the Barbizon Hotel for Women still exist today?

Fiona Davis: There’s something like ten women’s hotels left, including the Webster Apartments on West 34th Street, which was built back in 1923, and the Brandon Residence on the Upper West Side. According to a recent article in New York Magazine, they serve around 127946592e923614ed195dbbb5a78a88.jpg1,000 women, which is pretty amazing.

L.L.: THE DOLLHOUSE sort of straddles genres: upmarket women’s fiction meets mystery, meets historical fiction. Would you agree with that assessment, and was that your intention all along, or did it develop organically?

Fiona Davis: I would totally agree with you – THE DOLLHOUSE crosses a number of genres. Growing up I’d always been a big fan of mysteries, and I still adore books that reveal a secret at the end, with lots of juicy plot twists along the way. I also enjoy the way historical fiction transports the reader back in time. For pleasure reading, I gravitate to a mix of mystery, women fiction and historical fiction, so I guess it was inevitable that THE DOLLHOUSE would end up being a mash-up of all three.

L.L.: Do you have any particular writing rituals or routines? Do you outline?

Fiona Davis: I do outline, very carefully, as I know eventually I’ll have to weave two story lines together and ensure that the clues and red herrings show up in the right place. As for routines, I prefer to write new scenes in the morning. After lunch, my energy sags and it’s a whole lot harder to hit a daily word count. Editing and revising I can do any time, as I find that the most fun, like figuring out a puzzle made of words.

L.L.: What keeps you up at night? What’s ‘speaking’ to you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Fiona Davis: I’m loving the new episodes of Black Mirror on Netflix, which is about technology and its effect on society. Each episode its own world, like Twilight Zone, so you can watch them in any order, and they’re all pretty mind blowing.

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

Fiona Davis:What are you working on these days? I’m editing my next book, which takes place at another iconic New York City building the year it was built as well as 100 years later. Can’t wait to get it out into the world! Stay tuned…

L.L.: Fiona, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you and best wishes on this, and future books.

Fiona Davis: Thank you!

For more information, or to purchase THE DOLLHOUSE, please see: 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and in regional theater. After 10 years, she changed careers, working as an editor and writer and specializing in health, fitness, nutrition, dance and theater.

She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is based in in New York City. She loves nothing better than hitting farmer’s markets on weekends in search of the perfect tomato, and traveling to foreign cities steeped in history, like London and Cartagena. The Dollhouse is her first novel.

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[Special thanks to R. Odell at Dutton. Cover and author image courtesy of publicist. Interior views of Barbizon Hotel from , image of Webster Apartments from Pinterest, Edith Stritch image retrieved from Wikipedia, all retrieved on 11.12.16]

Writers on Wednesday: The challenge in developing empathy and rendering complex characters, the allure & mystery of lake water, a 1930s Minnesota cabin, decades-old mystery, and so much more in Heather Young’s THE LOST GIRLS

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By Leslie Lindsay

It was the lake house in Minnesota that drew me to THE LOST GIRLS (William Morrow/Harper Collins, July 2016), the spellbinding debut from highly talented debut novelist Heather Young. Having lived in Minnesota briefly as a newlywed and then new mother, I eagerly dove into a narrative about the place I called home, about a place that shaped my early adulthood. In that sense, THE LOST GIRLS was wonderfully atmospheric, I felt the strong to-your-bones frigid winds whipping at my face, saw the thick, opaque ice forming over the lake, and felt the goose flesh on my arms as I imagined the faulty seals on the windows in that lake cottage.

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In the summer of 1935, six-year-old Emily Evans vanishes from her family’s vacation home on a remote Minnesota lake. Her disappearance destroys her mother, who spends the rest of her life at the lake house, hoping in vain that her favorite daughter will walk out of the woods. Sixty years later, Lucy, the quiet and watchful middle sister, lives in the lake house alone. Before she dies, she writes a story of that devastating summer in a notebook she leaves, along with the house.

And then we meet Justine, the grand-niece of Lucy who has recently been gifted the lake house in Lucy’s will. Ready for a change—or perhaps running from her past—Justine flees California for Minnesota, what results is the bifurcated narrative of two storylines, two time periods, yet one family trying to piece together the past.

Young writes with a skilled hand. Her prose is lyrical, haunting, and atmospheric. It’s ultimately a tale of sisters, the price of loyalty, secrets, and coming-of-age.

Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell. Perhaps wrap yourself in that musty throw from the lake house and watch the waves crash along the frigid shore as we welcome Heather Young to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather, I am thrilled you could stop by. I’m curious what was haunting you when you decided to write the story of Emily’s disappearance. Was it a single event, place, or something else that propelled the story?

Heather Young: Thank you for having me, Leslie! I’m happy to sit a spell. What haunted me when I wrote this book wasn’t the disappearance of a little girl, terrifying though that idea is to me as a mother. It was the relationships among her family, especially between her two sisters, 19A-Little-Winnie-Resort-cabin-1930s.tiff.jpgand how the secret of what happened to her slowly destroyed them all. I find family dynamics fascinating, and I wanted to write a story about a family whose bonds, already fraught, are placed in a crucible of loyalty, betrayal, regret, and unhealthy love, and explore how that plays out over decades.

L.L.: Let’s talk about water for a moment. There’s something so life-giving, yet tumultuous and mysterious about water.  It is at once life-giving and primal, yet disaster lurks. Can you talk about that, please?

Heather Young: I’ve always been fascinated by water, especially lake water. When I was a girl, my family spent a month each summer at a lake in northern Minnesota. It was very deep, and though its water was so clean you could drink it, its depth made it look nearly black. At its edges it was a place to play and swim, but at its heart it was so melancholy and full of secrets it felt as if it were alive. I loved the idea of setting a story beside a lake like that, that could become almost a character in itself.

“[T]he delicacy of [Young’s] writing elevates the drama and gives her two central characters depth and backbone…For all the beauty of Young’s writing, her novel is a dark one, full of pain and loss. And the murder mystery that drives it is as shocking as anything you’re likely to read for a good long while.”
— The New York Times Book Review

L.L.: In many respects, THE LOST GIRLS is a family saga spanning a least three generations and sixty years. Each character is sort of haunted by the disappearance of Emily, but for different reasons. Did these characters come to you fully formed, or did they require some careful crafting?

Heather Young: Since this is my first novel, there was a steep learning curve in everything, but especially character. Initially, every character was flat, defined by the one or two traits I needed them to have to service the plot. Yet when I read, I’m drawn to stories with complex characters, so my inability to create characters like that was frustrating. Eventually, I came to see that every character has a personal and specific point of view that needs to be honored. Once I began to honor that point of view, I was able to empathize with them — even pity them — and that helped me shade them in ways that made them more complicated and, hopefully, interesting.

L.L.: …And now I have to ask if there was any one character you had a particular affinity for? I know, a tough question!

Heather Young: It is a tough question! I love all my characters, but if I had to pick one, it would be Melanie, Justine’s ten year old daughter. She has a quiet strength about her, and bears her fear and loneliness with dignity and a complete absence of self-pity. She’s taciturn and prickly and fierce and very hard to love, but, unlike the generations who came before her, she will never find her life diminished by an inability to save herself. So I think she’s pretty cool.

L.L.: As a title, THE LOST GIRLS encompasses so much and has multiple meanings. Of course, the obvious is that Emily is missing, but there are others who have sort of lost their way. Can you speak to this, please?

Heather Young: It’s true, there are many “lost girls” in this story. Emily’s sisters, Lucy and Lilith, spend their lives at the lake where Emily vanishes, surrendering dreams of adventure and quieter hopes of love and family. Lilith’s daughter Maurie is lost in a more literal sense, wandering from town to town looking for the gilded life she thinks she’s owed. Maurie’s daughter Justine is so emotionally stunted she can’t connect with anyone, even her own children. However, even though the book is in many ways a meditation on loss, some of these lost girls do manage to be “found” in the end.images-1

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from this story?

Heather Young: Well, mostly I hope they love it and tell all their friends to read it! But more seriously, I hope it makes them think about their relationships with their own family, and about how those relationships cast shadows, for good and for bad, into the generations that come after.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, I understand you are a former lawyer-turned-writer. How did your earlier career prepare you for that of a novelist?

Heather Young: When I first started writing, I thought my only relevant lawyerly skill was the ability to string coherent sentences together. Then I realized there was another skill I’d been cultivating all those years. As a lawyer, your job is to tell your client’s story. Usually, that means telling a story that makes a deeply flawed person relatable, and maybe even forgivable. It’s excellent training for being a novelist.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you nowadays? What’s captured your interest?


Heather Young:
At the risk of dragging this lovely literary discussion sideways into the muck, I’m obsessed with politics and the presidential election[…]It just seems that there’s so much at stake this time around. I [traveled]  to get out the vote in a swing state [yesterday], so at least I’m putting my obsession to work!

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

Heather Young: You didn’t ask who should play my characters in the movie! But that’s okay, because (1) there is no movie, and (2) I have no idea who should play them. I think that’s because the characters are so specific inside my head that no living person resembles them. So I guess it’s just as well Hollywood hasn’t come calling.

L.L.: Heather, it’s been a pleasure connecting! Best wishes and thanks for chatting.

Heather Young: It’s been my pleasure as well! Thank you for having me.

Heather Young (1).jpgAbout the Author: Heather Young lives just outside San Francisco with her two teenaged children and her husband. When she’s not writing, she loves biking, hiking, skiing, and reading books she wishes she’d written. THE LOST GIRLS is her first novel.

Connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, here:

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[Special thanks to L. Truskowski at HarperCollins/William Morrow. Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins. 1930s lake cabin retrieved from on 10.22.16, Lake Clearwater, Minnesota image retrieved from Wikimedia Commons, also on 10.22.16]

Wednesdays with Writers: Bestselling Catherine McKenzie talks about how Scrivener keeps her organized, the mirror images of her two main characters, her inspiration for the FRACTURED author character, & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

“When do you cross the line from curious to obsessed? From fan to fanatic? Compliment to threat?

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That’s the overarching question of Internationally bestselling Catherine McKenzie’s FRACTURED sets to find out, and it’s done beautifully. I really, really enjoyed the aura of conflict she set up from page one. There’s mystery, a hint of romance, psychological conflict, all intermingling with a touch of women’s fiction ala Jennifer Weiner.

Bestselling novelist Julie Apple Prentice and her family have just moved from Tacoma, Washington to bucolic Mt. Adams, Ohio. She thinks she’s finally put the past behind her, including a female stalker/fan/ex-law school colleague. Yet, her past seems to follow her. Could it be that there’s something ‘off’ about Julie?

Told in alternating time frames from two distinct characters, Julie and John Dunbar
(the married neighbor across the street), FRACTURED (just named one of the best books of fall by GoodReads) is a chilling and tense ride through suburbia where nothing is as it seems. Forget the cute white picket fences, the block parties, the neighborhood newsletter, and the speed bumps, there’s something darker and more sinister growing at the root; yet subtly.

As a writer myself, I loved all of the “tips and tricks” Julie Apple Prentice’s character provided about the writing life; so much of it rang true!

FRACTURED was at once addictive and subtle, thrilling, yet familiar. Readers who enjoy Tom Perrotta’s LITTLE CHILDREN will appreciate this one, as well as THE DROWNING GIRLS by Paula Treick DeBoard, and THE WONDER GARDEN (Lauren Acampora) will devour this one.

Today, I am honored to have Catherine McKenzie join us on the blog couch. So grab your cup of coffee and settle in.

Leslie Lindsay: I grew up in the St. Louis suburbs where kids sped through the streets on Big Wheels; everything appeared well-maintained, normal, innocuous. But there were things amiss, if you dug deep enough (sometimes barely scratching the surface). Still, there’s a strange, dark fascination with suburbia; it’s hardly as simple as it appears. Are these the questions that plagued you when you set out write FRACTURED, or was it something else?

Catherine McKenzie: Thanks for having me Leslie and for your kind words about the book. I don’t think I was trying to explore suburbia, per se, and the area where FRACTURED is set is not really a suburb; it’s very close to downtown Cincinnati. I was trying to explore how a close-knit community can be evasive and how being an outsider in that community can be tough. I also like exploring how class works, how wealth and idleness can lead to so much overthinking of everything.download-20

Leslie Lindsay: You tell the story of FRACTURED through two very distinct characters, Julie Apple Prentice and John Dunbar. How did you make this structural decision? Why those two characters, when there are plenty others?

Catherine McKenzie: I always knew that Julie would be there, but it was actually John’s voice that came to me first. And that first line “I don’t know when I began my morning vigil at the window.” These two characters are at the heart of the story and are also, in a way, mirror images of one another. John is the insider where Julie is the outsider. John narrating the present also lets me keep the mystery central but also hidden.

Leslie Lindsay: I’d say FRACTURED is a very character-driven novel. That said, I loved to hate Cindy Sutton, the neighborhood chair/newsletter writer who would come up with the most outrageous stuff to add to her newsletter. Yet, people like Cindy certainly exist! Can you speak to that, please?

Catherine McKenzie: I think everyone feels the same about Cindy and so do I! Cindy is a catalyst. She is the present threat in Cindy’s life and an example of how bullying still goes on with adults. I may have exaggerated a little for effect, but these kinds of things are actually going on in neighborhoods! I based ineighbor (the neighborhood social network) on something similar I read about that was being used in exclusive neighborhoods in LA.

“Suspenseful, insightful, and cleverly structured, Catherine McKenzie’s Fractured is a page-turning pleasure. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.”

—Leah Stewart, author of The Myth of You and Me and The New Neighbor

 L.L.: How I adore your “tips and tricks” from Julie, the bestselling author in FRACTURED. The way she meets her daily word counts, turning on the MySanity app so she stays away from the Internet, stumbling upon a stranger reader “her” book…in fact, I found myself nodding and then thinking, “ooh…that’s a great idea.” I have to ask: is Julie based on you? Someone else? Or is she purely fictional?

Catherine McKenzie: Not based on me at all! The idea I had in mind for her was Gillian Flynn after GONE GIRL comes out. I can’t imagine what that level of attention and pressure must be Author Photo (credit Heidi Jo Brady)like. But she is not Gillian Flynn, either, as I do not know her or much about her other than she writes kick-ass books. I think the only thing we have in common is word counts-I think most authors have used these at some point or another.

L.L.: I’m working on something quite similar to FRACTURED—in terms of structure: Non-linear. Multiple POVs, deep layering of secrets. It’s hard! Even I’m getting confused, yet I detest plotting. I love the element of surprise (even as an author). Do you outline? What advice would you give writers struggling with structure?

Catherine McKenzie: I don’t really outline, I sort of build an outline as I go along. I use Scrivener, which allows me to see a visual (and color coded) map of the book, and keep chronologies. I also have an awesome assistant who reads behind me and points out all my mistakes.

L.L.: I understand you’re a full-time attorney and manage to publish a book every year or two, plus you also run an online book club. I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Can you talk a bit about how you manage your time and offer any advice?

Catherine McKenzie: It’s important to be organized. That’s for sure. : )

L.L.: Julie Apple Prentice pens a bestselling novel, THE MURDER GAME in which the character and her law school peers create the perfect murder. This comes up throughout FRACTURED. I understand this was a real manuscript for you, too. It was originally written ten years ago and never published…until now. I’m dying to know more. What can you tell us?

Catherine McKenzie: THE MURDER GAME (November 1, by Catherine McKenzie, written as Julie Apple, the character in FRACTURED) is a novel about four law school friends who plan 29619695.jpga perfect murder. Ten years later, the murder has been committed, one person is accused and another friend has the job of prosecuting him. Are they all in on it? Or is the main character being used and manipulated by her former friends?

L.L.: As a writer, we draw our inspiration from all kinds of places: TV, movies, other books, nature…the list really can go on. What inspires you?

Catherine McKenzie: This may sound cheesy but: life. I try to take as much as I can in and then let it simmer and then out it comes in a novel. Hopefully : ).

Leslie Lindsay: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Catherine McKenzie: I really think you hit them all!

Leslie Lindsay: It was great having you, Catherine. Wishing you all the best.

Catherine McKenzie: Thank you!

For more information on FRACTURED, or to connect with Catherine McKenzie through social media, please see: 

Catherine McKenzie credit Jason Trott -¬ 2016.jpgAuthor Bio: Catherine McKenzie is a graduate of McGill University in History and Law, and she practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. Her novels, Spin, Arranged, Forgotten, and Hidden are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages. Her last novelSmoke (2015) was named a Best Book of October by Goodreads and one of the Top 100 Books of 2015 by Amazon. Her just published novel FRACTURED was named a Best Book of October 2016 and one of the 25 Big Books of Fall by Goodreads.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various social media sites:

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[Special thanks to K. Zrelak. Cover and author image courtesy of Lake Union Publishing. Author photo credit: Jason Trott. Image of pub in Mt. Adams, OH retrieved from MtAdamstoday.com on 10.19.16. Image of author Gillian Flynn from her website]

 

 

 

 


Writers on Wednesday: How it’s tough to ‘break the story,’ reconciling the right and left sides of the brain, how swimming in Lake Tahoe is akin to flying, and so much more from ER physician and debut author of GIRL UNDERWATER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Recently released in paperback, GIRL UNDERWATER (August 2016, Dutton/RandomHouse) takes readers on a harrowing ‘what-if’ of an major airline crash in the Rocky Mountains. Author Claire Kells writes with viscerally deep hand, and there’s good reason: she’s also a practicing physician. It’s at once a story of survival, but also the after-effects, how one can ‘pick-up’ where she left off, making sense of what happened in order emerge a better person. girl-underwater_tp-cover

 The novel follows Avery, a competitive college swimmer, who boards a red-eye flight from the West coast to East, along with two team members and two hundred strangers. When the plane goes down over the Rockies, only Avery, three little boys, and her teammate Colin Shea—whom she has been avoiding since her first day of freshman year—survive.

For five days, Avery fights the sub-zero weather, the unforgiving landscape, and creates a make-shift shelter, forages for food, protects those boys and waits for rescue. When that rescue comes, it’s just the beginning. GIRL UNDERWATER looks at what life is like after survival, and how one can come to terms with the blows.

Join me as we welcome Claire Kells to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Claire, thanks so much for taking the time to pop by. I understand there are a lot of truths in GIRL UNDERWATER for you—you’re also a seasoned swimmer, and while in the story it’s the father who is an ER doc, you, too are also a physician. But the story is not a memoir, or is it?

Claire Kells: Thank you for having me, Leslie! GIRL UNDERWATER is indeed a very personal story, and much of it was inspired by my own experiences, but no, it is not a memoir. I have never successfully woken up before dawn to swim, for instance. I’ve set alarms. I’ve tried packing all my things the night before. I even added it to my list of “life goals.” Nope.

L.L.: I really had to keep reminding myself (and flipping to the back jacket) that this was your fictionalized account—a deep-seated fear, really—of what might happen if your plane went down while you were on [medical] residency interviews. Can you talk about that process a bit? The one of interviewing for residencies. I can imagine it’s sort of a disaster in itself! And where are you practicing now?

Claire Kells: Interviewing for residency is a pretty miserable experience for a nervous flyer! I remember I once had four interviews in one week—in Vermont, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia—and the travel really took its toll on me. I always seem to get sick on planes (doesn’t everyone?), and after that whirlwind tour, I had bronchitis for a month and swore GGBridge_Old_Coast_Guard_Station.jpgnever to fly that much again. I endured it, though, because you really have no choice when it comes to residency applications. These programs want to get to know you beyond your resume, which is important, really, because in most medical specialties (mine included), you spend a lot of time interacting with people in difficult situations. I enjoyed the actual interviews; in some ways, I felt like it was my time to shine.

Right now I’m in my last year of residency in San Francisco.

L.L.: Like you, I’ve always wanted to be a writer but I’ve also been very fascinated with medicine; I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. for several years. Some will say you’re either right-brained, or left-brained, meaning art and science are two very distinct disciplines, but I always felt as if I can meld the two. Can you speak to that, please?

Claire Kells: I’ve always been fascinated by the way people think, and like you, I’ve come to right-brain-left-brainunderstand that while most people are left- or right-brained, exciting things happen when we learn to access the other side. When I first started writing in medical school, [writing] became for me a necessary creative outlet from the exams and memorization; now, nearing the end of my training, I’ve found ways to incorporate my artistic side into medical practice. It’s been very satisfying to find that niche, although it took years to get there. I’m also constantly surprised by the number of writers in medicine! I shouldn’t be, though, because medicine is very much narrative-based. Every patient comes into clinic with a story.

L.L.: I’m curious about structure these days, because there are myriad ways a story could go—and be told. In the case of GIRL UNDERWATER, you chose a dual-narrative approach in which readers flip-flop between Avery’s survival in the Rockies and her ‘present-day’ story of surviving post –survival. How did you come to this decision? What advice would you give to writers when they are trying to structure their own story?

Claire Kells: I will be completely honest with you here and admit that I wrote the story in the traditional three-act format, and my agent, Stefanie Lieberman, suggested the alternating timeline structure. I’m not sure I had the confidence early on to plot and execute a novel with an unconventional narrative structure. When Stefanie proposed it, I understood right away how it could work. I would encourage writers to keep an open mind, especially during early drafts. It often takes me many drafts before I really “break” the story. I’ve learned to be patient and trust the process.

L.L.: There’s a huge component to GIRL UNDERWATER that focuses on the psychological toll survivors feel following a major life experience. Can you talk a bit about your PTSD research and how that was integrated into the narrative?

Claire Kells: Every October, Fleet Week comes to San Francisco. I remember rotating in the psychiatric unit at the SF Veteran’s hospital that week during my third year of medical school and thinking how fortunate I was because the hospital is situated on the cliffs overlooking the Golden Gate bridge. We had a perfect view of the fighter planes, etc. As I was leaving work that Friday, though, one of the attending psychiatrists looked frazzled. “Gonna be a long weekend,” she said. “Fleet week is the worst time of year for these vets.”

And then I understood: Fleet Week was a nightmare for military veterans with PTSD (and there were many veterans in that psych unit with PTSD). I would say that that experience really spurred my interest in the subject and inspired me to incorporate it into Avery’s story. I was fortunate in that much of my research was based on my experiences with the patients and providers at the VA.

L.L.: For you, being a swimmer, this story is organic. For me as a reader, I was suffocating with any suggestion that I get into that frigid water and swim to safety. Water terrifies me; yet it can be symbolic of new life, amniotic fluid; still it’s unpredictable, there’s a certain loss of control…can you speak to that, please?

Claire Kells: My mom never learned to swim. I know she had those same fears you mentioned, and she told me later that was partly why she signed me up for swim lessons as soon as the YMCA would take me. I don’t remember those first few days in the water, but I’ve watched young children learn to swim. They fear the water, too, until suddenly, astonishingly, they learn to trust themselves. I’ve seen that moment and honestly, it gives me chills. It’s such a beautiful kind of transformation that takes place. Because you’re right, swimming in deep water requires the ultimate concession of control. I swam across Lake Tahoe this summer as part of a relay, and that lake is over 1,600 feet deep! But what an incredible download-21experience it was, swimming in a body of water like that. The water is so blue, you feel like you’re flying.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What has your attention?

Claire Kells: I’m definitely obsessed with story. As part of our residency requirements, we spend a lot of time reading textbooks, so during my free time I try to consume story other ways. Lately it’s been television. Wow—there are so many exceptional shows out there right now! The Night Of, The Americans, Stranger Things, and Game of Thrones are the shows I’ve followed this year. I’m absolutely in awe of these writers.

L.L.: Are you writing other books? Can you share?

Claire Kells: I’m working on another book now, but that’s all I can say. Sorry to be cagey about it!

L.L.: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? 

Claire Kells: These were all such thoughtful, interesting questions. I also want to thank you and your readers for taking a chance on a debut author—you’re the reason we keep writing. So thank you.

“Skillfully interspersing flashbacks with current events, debut novelist Kells has written an absorbing tale that will grip anyone who enjoys survival stories or psychological dramas.”

– Library Journal (starred review)

L.L.: Claire, it’s been a pleasure to connect. Best wishes with this and future books!

Claire Kells: I really enjoyed being here! Thank you again.

For more information on GIRL UNDERWATER, or to connect with Claire Kells, please see:

 

226567_kells_claireABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claire Kells was born and raised outside Philadelphia. She received a degree in English from Princeton University and a medical degree from the University of California. Currently in residency, she lives and works in the Bay Area. This is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media channels. But not water.

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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[Special thanks to B. Odell at Dutton Books. Author and cover image courtesy of Dutton/Penguin/Random House. Images of Lake Tahoe and The Golden Gate Bridge retrieved from Wikipedia on 10.24.16. Right-brain/left-brain image retrieved from on 10.24.16]

Writers on Wednesday: International Bestselling author EMMA DONOGHUE talks about the “fasting girls,”Nightingale nurses, how her kids are sort of an editorial board, and her THE WONDER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Emma Donoghue will probably always be remembered for the poignant—yet horrific—2010 International bestseller ROOM, a child’s point-of-view of being raised in captivity and then his amazing escape adapted for film in 2015.WP_20160920_11_28_31_Pro_LI (2).jpg

But Donoghue writes other narratives—seventeen published works, to be exact—those which stretch back in time to explore scandal, relationships, the Old Country, famine, class, and equality. All books–and all writers—Donoghue says, are political. Her new book, THE WONDER (Little, Brown September 20, 2016) is based on the real-life “fasting-girls,” a historical and religious phenomenon reported across the world from the 1500s to the 1900s: women and girls (often pre-pubescent) who claim to subsist on, well…nothing.  Whether these girls were mentally imbalanced, spiritually-driven, or something else, they drew crowds (and donations!) from tourists, eavesdroppers, medical and clerical professionals, and more. It’s at once, a wonder.

When Anna O’Donnell claims to live with no food since her eleventh birthday—nearly 4 months ago—Nightingale-trained nurse Lib Wright is commissioned from England to sit vigil, observing the child in hopes of revealing a hoax.160px-sarah_jacob

Donoghue presents the grayed landscape of post-famine Ireland in rich detail, a sort of Gothic horror and rich fascination in which one can sense the peaty landscape, feel the damp breeze, and taste the salty sea air. It’s a book you won’t want to miss, because it will change you.

Hope you have time to join Emma and I for a spot of tea a steamy scone and jam. Because neither one of us is willing to give up luscious baked goods.

Leslie Lindsay: Emma, it is such a delight and honor to have you pop by today. Thank you. Some will say it’s bad manners to ask a writer where she gets her inspiration for a particular work. But I have to know—what inspired you to write THE WONDER? Why now?

Emma Donoghue: I’m not sure why now, because I first came across the Fasting Girls Fasting Girls twenty years ago and have been fascinated by them all this time. I suspect I was just stuck in a habit of always basing my historical novels on one real person – whereas the breakthrough moment for THE WONDER was when I realized that no one of the cases was quite right for my purposes, so I needed to let myself write a completely fictional story. Albeit one that’s haunted by the real Fasting Girls.

L.L.: I’ll be honest, I’ve never heard of “the fasting girls” until THE WONDER was brought to my attention. In some ways, it reminds me a bit of the Salem Witch Trials download-18in the late 15th century America. Can you speak to how it might relate to your story?

Emma Donoghue: Yes, I’m sure Arthur Miller’s play about Salem, THE CRUCIBLE, was one of the texts that influenced me. But so did many other examples of groupthink and mass hysteria, and not all of them historical ones either; only the other day I read about a 13-year-old girl who’s died in India after a 68-day fast.  When I was writing THE WONDER I thought a lot about teenagers (with all their passion and idealism, and gullibility too) who get caught up in bad causes – from cults to ISIS.

L.L.: In my former life, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. I was certainly no Nightingale…still, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about nursing and medicine through the eyes of “your” nurse, Lib Wright in late 1800s. What research did you do to get the details ‘just so?’

Emma Donoghue: I read a lot about the nurses in the Crimean, who really transformed the
job in a single generation. They may not have had much authority (having to apply to doctors for permission to do anything) or many effective tools (no thermometer, even), but a book like Nightingale’s NOTES ON NURSING shows an amazing insight into the nitty-gritties (psychological as well as physical) of how to nurse well.

L.L.: I find the character of Anna O’Donnell quite fascinating. I also happen to have a little redheaded, blue-eyed 11-year old girl just like Anna, well, minus the fasting. Being a mother, I find parts of THE WONDER a challenge to read, dark and slightly disturbing. I’m not sure how I would respond if my daughter claimed to be fed from manna from heaven. Can you share your thoughts on that, please?

Emma Donoghue: My thoughtful nine-year-old daughter was a big inspiration for THE WONDER; a sort of inverse inspiration, in that her radiant health (mental as well as physical) gave me a vivid appreciation for how grueling it would be like to watch over a child whose41iqqgj5pnl-_sx323_bo1204203200_ entire system is beginning to fail. She also supplied me with the riddles the nurse and girl exchange. To answer your question, something I researched in a lot of detail was the agonizing dilemma of the parents of children with eating disorders, who get such conflicting advice about the extent to which they should back off and allow the young person more autonomy, or step in and try to save the young person’s life. I suspect that in that situation I would blunder badly.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, do you have any writing rituals or routines? What is your work space like?

Emma Donoghue: Right this minute it’s a chair in a hotel; tomorrow it’ll be a taxi, then an airport lounge, then an airplane, then a cafe; when I’m home it’s a sofa or a treadmill desk. I don’t care where I am. I just open my laptop and plunge down the rabbit hole.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from THE WONDER?

Emma Donoghue: I never have a one-line message. I hope they have the rich experience of living through this intense two weeks in the lives of my characters.

L.L.: I understand your writing life is quite varied. You have a Middle-Grade (8-12 years) illustrated novel coming out in the Spring. Can you share a bit more?

Emma Donoghue: Sure. THE LOTTERYS PLUS ONE is my first for young readers, and my [own] kids (9 and 12) have been not just its inspiration but a sort of editorial panel for me.  The book aims to handle a very contemporary premise (a gay couple and a lesbian couple have seven kids together) and some painful material (dementia) with a breezy tone.

L.L.: What’s keeping you up these days? What gets you out of bed in morning? It doesn’t have to be literary…

Emma Donoghue: Book tour is what makes me lurch out of my hotel bed before five in the morning! But I have been enjoying lots of reading time on the road, including the sparklingly witty family stories WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple and FATHERMUCKER by Greg Olear.

L.L: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Emma Donoghue: Nothing springs to mind.

L.L.: Emma, it was a complete pleasure. Thank you so very much for your lovely interview.

Emma Donoghue:  Thank you!

For more information about Emma Donoghue, THE WONDER, or to connect on social media, please see: 

emma-donoghue-nina-subinAbout the Author:

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, Emma Donoghue is the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic). She attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 she earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). She moved to England, and in 1997 received her PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in
eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, she has earned her living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since she was ‘sacked’ after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, 41qzk6svewl-_ac_us160_and Canada, in 1998 she settled in London, Ontario, where she lives with Chris Roulston and their son Finn (12) and daughter Una (9).

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various media channels:

 

[Special thanks to K. Myers at Hachette Book Group. Cover image of THE WONDER from L.Lindsay’s personal archives. Image of E. Donoghue retrieved from author’s website. Credit: Nina Subin. Cover image of Notes on Nursing, The Fasting Girl, both retrieved from Amazon on 10.17.16, The Crucible image retrieved from pinterest also on 10.17.16] 

 

BookS on MondaY: Certified health coach and plant-based chef Vicky Marquez talks about her newest book for kids, THE ROOTLETS, how eating healthy begins in childhood, kid-pleasing recipes, & more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

As a vegetarian momma, I’ve always found it a fun challenge to raise healthy, independent food-conscious kiddos. When they were babies, my husband and I often got the question, “Are you going to raise your children as vegetarians?” Sometimes it came across as simple curiosity, other times, it felt judgmental. My response was always something along the lines of, “We’re providing a balanced diet with plenty of protein, fruits, and veggies, though I will not be handling raw meat at home.” That said, I was totally fine if my kids wanted to order chicken fingers at a restaurant, or have a bite of grandma and grandpa’s steak. Trouble-at-Plantasy-Land-.png
Food choices, we determined, were to be determined by the person eating them, what he or she felt comfortable with. In no way did my husband and I try to “force” a plant-based diet on our kiddos, but now, at nearly ten years old, our youngest almost exclusively rejects meat, all her choice. The oldest seems to think chocolate is its own food group!
When I came across THE ROOTLETS series of children’s books, about cute little veggies who have myriad adventures, I knew I had to check it out! 
Join me as I chat with nutritionist and plant-based chef Vicki Marquez, on her darling, children’s books about healthy eating. 
Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Vicki. I’m always curious about what sparks an idea for a story. What inspired you to create the ROOTLETS series?
Vicki Marquez: The idea of THE ROOTLETS popped into my head one day as I was thinking about how I could help inspire kids to want to–and to be excited to–eat their veggies and make good, healthy choices. That thought lit a fire inside of me and I immediately knew that these characters were something special that’s what inspired me to take action, create this series, build this brand and bring these characters to life.
L.L.: How would you describe the dynamic between THE ROOTLETS—Brocc, Carrotina, Cornelius and Kaley?
Vicki Marquez: THE ROOTLETS are best friends, with a special bond and a lot of trust between them. They count on (and value) each others’unique set of talents and strengths, and they operate like a little team…always rooting for and looking out for one another, no matter what kind of trouble their next adventure brings!
L.L.: How did you decide what traits the Rootlets would possess?
Vicki Marquez: It wasn’t actually a conscious decision–they each began taking on certain characteristics with that initial vision I had of them. Right away it was clear who they were and what was important to each one of them. Brocc was smart and into studying, Cornelius was the jokester who loved to have fun. Kaley was a fancy girly-girl and Carrotina was a brave adventure-seeker. It felt like I knew them. A few months after I wrote the first book (Super Rootabilities), my husband said to me that each Rootlet reminded him of me, like they were me–at the core–divided into four. And in retrospect, I can totally see that…
everything that The Rootlets love, I love. So, I guess that maybe I subconsciously selected their traits based on those things…and that each one actually represents a little part of me.
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L.L.: I have a couple of little redheads–carrot tops, much like Carrotina–so I have to ask about one of the most distinct aspects of THE ROOTLETS—their vegetable hair. What inspired that idea?
Vicki Marquez: When I first transitioned to a plant-based diet, my best friend kept calling me her “veggie head.”That nickname was running through my brain when I first had the idea of THE ROOTLETS. I envisioned these adorable kids with big, veggie hairdos:a broccoli
afro, carrot pigtails, blonde kernels, leafy green locks…it was how I saw them, and it was absolutely perfect.

“where super-powered adventures and veggies collide!”

L.L.:  The Rootlets features bright and brilliant illustrations. Did the characters look the way you envisioned while writing the book?
Vicki Marquez: [My illustrator] Jeremy and I actually developed the characters long before I wrote the first story, so I was lucky to have a very clear visual reference of these kids as I
was developing the series. But I will say that when Jeremy sent me those very first
sketches of THE ROOTLETS, he 1000% captured on paper what these characters looked like in my head.
L.L.: Since you are an expert in health and nutrition with years of experience, what types of research did you do to write THE ROOTLETS?
Vicki Marquez: THE ROOTLETS series is all about the evolution of these four young kids who learn that they’re superheroes and who now have to navigate the huge responsibilities that come along with that, so all of my research was focused around character and story development, as well as general writing tips and guidelines for kids literature.
The health and nutrition aspects of this series are indirect and expressed creatively, so that requires a lot less research, and a lot more imagination.
L.L.: In THE ROOTLETS, adventurous kids who love to play and a healthy lifestyle go hand-in-hand. Was that connection intentional?
Vicki Marquez: Yes, it was intentional, but also very obvious. The Rootlets are relatable role models who love to play, explore and go on little adventures, just like most kids–and those
are all really great health-promoting activities to encourage.
L.L.: What is the key to inspiring kids to make healthier choices?
Vicki Marquez: There are two keys: fun and familiarity! Fun is the easy one…kids seek it, love it,have to have it…and they’re motivated by it! So, when veggies and fruits are presented in a fun, exciting way, kids are much more interested in them.Familiarity is the other key. Most kids (and adults) prefer to try (and buy) things that they’re familiar with. The Rootlets series introduces and popularizes healthy, plant-based foods, so that when kids see them in the grocery store or at the farmers market,they’re much more curious and excited to try super-rootabilities-coverthem.
L.L.: Why is reaching and educating kids about healthy choices in elementary school so important for lifelong health?
Vicki Marquez: Because so many of the habits that we have as adults stem from the habits that we developed when we were little. Good habits, like brushing our teeth, are gems that’ll
serve us well our whole lives, but bad habits–especially unhealthy eating habits–are
really hard to break and can lead to serious chronic disease and illness. Teaching kids,
from an early age, about the superpowers of veggies and the importance of making good nutritional choices, establishes the foundation for them to build strong, healthy habits that will stay with them as they grow up.
L.L.: What would you consider to be the biggest challenge to raising healthy kids today?
Vicki Marquez: Time…for sure! Parents are SO busy these days that finding the time to meal plan, shop and cook can be a real challenge. That’s why I’m really excited that our Rootlets blog now features quick and healthy kid-friendly recipes that parents can easily whip up and feel really good about sharing with their little ones.
L.L.: You are a certified plant-based chef. What are some of your most popular dishes among kids?
Vicki Marquez: Ooh, there are so many good ones, but I’d have to say that the most popular dishes are the ones that kids can customize on their own or help make. For example: power
bowls (where you start with a grain and then add your favorite toppings and sauces) tacos, wraps, homemade pizzas, smoothies…all of those are always kid-pleasers! And anything with cacao or chocolate, of course!
L.L.: You also host a healthy living cable TV show,“Nourished.”How does the process of preparing for the show compare to writing THE ROOTLETS? 
Vicki Marquez: Every episode of “Nourished” and each ROOTLETS story is part of a larger overarching series, so while each one has to independently stand alone, they also have to be Nourished.pngable to work well within that series. As for the actual prep process,it’s basically the same. I begin with an outline, then I put on my creativity cap and continue to write and expand on
the story or episode. I edit, get my team involved, consider visuals, edit some
more until I have a concrete finished product…then it’s production time!
L.L.: When did your interest in nutrition and healthy food begin? Which authors inspired you as a child?
Vicki Marquez: In my mid-20s, I started paying close attention to what I was eating and how it was affecting me. I cut back on the highly processed junk food that I had been
accustomed to eating my entire life, and I began eating real, whole, natural foods. Becoming aware of that food/body connection, and how my diet had been directly impacting my overall health, was a huge a-ha moment for me! Once I saw (and felt) the correlation between eating well and feeling good, my interest in health and nutrition grew naturally. As a kid, I loved Valerie Tripp, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Peggy Parish and of course, Dr. Seuss.
L.L.: The Rootlets are superheroes with special powers, which contribute to their big adventures. Which superpower would you choose to possess?
Vicki Marquez: Ooh, good question! I’d LOVE some sort of healing touch
power. To be able to free people and animals from pain, sickness and illness…that would be the greatest!
L.L.:What other projects are you currently working on?
Vicki Marquez:Right now I’m devoting the majority of my time to THE ROOTLETS, writing book three, developing our app, attending school events and marketing the brand–
and when I’m not working on that, I’m writing, creating content and testing recipes for
“Nourished” and coaching my private and corporate clients.
  • Hashtag #TheRootlets

  • Facebook: The Rootlets

  • Twitter: @Therootlets

  • Website
  • To purchase THE ROOTLETS, click here

download-16ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vicki Marquez is a certified health coach, plant-based chef, author and TV personality whose passion for living a healthy, vibrant life has become her mission to help others do the same. After earning her degree in nutrition and health science, Vicki continued her wellness education at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where she studied over 100 dietary theories with the world’s leading nutrition and holistic health experts. Vicki went on to receive her culinary education and training at Rouxbe Cooking School where she earned her plant-based chef certification. In 2013, Vicki launched Inner Figure – her health coaching practice that offers one-on-one lifestyle coaching, robust corporate wellness programs and a monthly plant-based cooking club all built around her philosophy to “live healthy from the inside out.” As Inner Figure’s client base grew, so did Vicki’s desire to help inspire and empower children to make healthier choices. From this inspiration, The Rootlets were born: four veggie-haired, cartoon superheroes on a quest to promote good nutrition by making veggies fun and exciting. Vicki launched The Rootlets, LLC, and authored the first book in her series, The Rootlets: Super Rootabilities, in October 2014. In 2016, Vicki branched into television as the creator and host of the healthy living cable show, Nourished. The program blends wellness how-to tips and delicious veggie-centric recipes into a series that’s structured much like her one-on-one coaching sessions. Through her private health coaching practice, children’s brand and TV show, Vicki aims to make healthy eating and living easy, accessible and entertaining for everyone. Vicki is a founding member of The New Self-Health Movement; a member of the International Association for Health Coaches and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators; and is board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Vicki lives in Chicago with her husband, stepdaughter and two Yorkies. When she’s not writing, coaching or cooking, you can find her on the yoga mat, traveling the world or snuggled on the sofa with her pups and a great book.

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You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at:

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook. All images retrieved from the author’s website on 10.15.16]