Wednesdays with Writers: B.A. Paris talks about her runaway bestseller BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, psychological & emotional abuse, letting the characters do the ‘talking,’pottery, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Oh wow. What a story. What pacing. Already a runaway bestseller in the U.K. with movie rights sold, B.A. Paris’s debut psychological thriller is sure to top many “must read summer lists.” BehindClosedDoors_COVER

And it should.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (forthcoming August 9th 2016) is completely unsettling and addictive, a true page-turner. Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he’s got looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better but it’s a challenge. She can’t meet up for coffee at a moment’s notice. When her friends call, she’s conveniently ‘out’ or ‘in the shower.’ She’s a gifted cook, but how on earth does she remain so slim?

And why are there bars on the window?

It may seem as if this so-called ‘perfect’ marriage is a lie.

And well, it is.

Today, I am thrilled to have B.A. Paris to the blog couch to chat with us about her gripping thriller, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.

Leslie Lindsay: Oh, I am so glad you could pop by! I know Grace’s story was inspired, in part, by your suspicion that a friend was caught in a situation with very little control, unable to do as she wished. To me, this is a little bit of a relief, because if Grace’s story was based on truth…yikes! Can you share a little more about your inspiration for BEHIND CLOSED DOORS?

B.A. Paris: Thank you so much for inviting me today, I’m thrilled to be talking to you about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. Yes, you’re right, Grace’s story was inspired by my suspicions about a friend’s marriage but it could be that she is very happily married and it was just my imagination – I have a very vivid one! My story was also inspired by some articles I read about women who were controlled by their partners to such an extent that they felt incapable of functioning without them.  

L.L.: I think it’s very unsettling to know that there are some really horrific things that *do* go on out there and they may never get the redemption they deserve.  Can you talk about that, please?

B.A. Paris: The problem with psychological abuse is that there are no physical signs, so it is even harder to talk about than physical abuse, simply because it’s harder to prove. Also, if someone in this sort of situation were to confide in a friend, the most likely reaction would be ‘well, just leave.’ It’s difficult for someone on the outside to understand the amount of control involved. In one case I read about, a woman was allowed to go to the shops to buy some milk but while she was there it never occurred to her to try and escape, or to tell someone what was happening, she just went straight back, as she had been told to do. These sort of controlling relationships are based on fear, fear of what will happen if you step out of line, so the perpetrator often gets away with it simply because the victim doesn’t dare say anything.

L.L.: The character of Grace is well-drawn, but so is her sister Millie, who has Down’s syndrome. And Jack…well, what a creep! Was there a character or situation that came to you first?

B.A. Paris: In the beginning there were only Jack and Grace; it was their relationship I wanted to explore. But I knew that if Grace didn’t have something to anchor her into the relationship – a reason why she couldn’t leave – people would say that it wasn’t a believable situation. I don’t remember consciously creating the character of Millie, she was just suddenly there, writing herself into the story!download (10)

L.L.: I’m curious about some of your research that must have gone into BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. For example, you may have had to research the psychological concept of ‘gaslighting,’ and whatever psychological disorders you gave Jack. Can you share a bit of your process?

B.A. Paris:  As soon as I knew the sort of story that I wanted to write, I searched the internet for stories of people that had been controlled by their partners and who had eventually got away. I wanted to understand several things – what has pushed them to finally escape, how they had done it and why they hadn’t tried before. I read some particularly harrowing cases – one woman was kept prisoner in a pit for eight months and only fed twice a week. As for Jack, I knew from my reading that men in controlling relationships take great pleasure in instilling fear into their victim, so once I knew that, his motivation fell into place.   

L.L.: I think we all want to ‘side’ with Grace, but the truth is, she has some skeletons in her closet, too. Without giving too much away, can you share how both individuals in a gaslighting situation need to have a little imbalance to make it come across successfully—and yes, I use that word, ‘successful’ loosely.

B.A. Paris: Yes, definitely, both individuals need to have a little imbalance for this sort of relationship to function. The dominant partner, who is manipulative, exploits a weakness in the other. In Grace’s case, her weakness is her sister Millie – Jack recognizes from the outset that she would do anything for Millie and uses this as a weapon against her. But Jack has his weaknesses too – his arrogance and his conviction that he is invincible. And I’m afraid I can’t say anymore than that!

L.L.: I enjoyed your forays into Thailand. Not because what was going on there, but simply as a change of scenery. Have you been to Thailand and how did that come into your novel?

B.A. Paris: No, I haven’t been to Thailand – yet! – but I chose it for two reasons; first of all, it’s a popular honeymoon destination and secondly, I think it would have been possible for Jack to indulge in his love of fear there in a way that he couldn’t have in England. And I only really needed a hotel there, so that was easy enough to research on the internet!

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L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from BEHIND CLOSED DOORS?

B.A. Paris: I would like them to take away an awareness that this type of mental and psychological abuse does exist and to hopefully recognize the signs so that if they have any worries about someone close to them, they can reach out to them. Or if they are going through something similar themselves, to ask for help. The most rewarding thing for me since writing the book have been the messages I’ve received from people thanking me for bringing this type of abuse into the open, because they were once in similar situations themselves.

“Debut-novelist Paris adroitly toggles between the recent past and the present in building the suspense of Grace’s increasingly unbearable situation, as time becomes critical and her possible solutions narrow. This is one readers won’t be able to put down.”

— BOOKLIST, Starred Review!

L.L.: As a writer, I am more a pantser, following whims and letting the character’s sort of tell their story. Plotting makes me want to run for the hills. But there are writers out there who swear by plotting. Where do you fall on this continuum?  And how was BEHIND CLOSED DOORS composed?

B.A. Paris: Writing BEHIND CLOSED DOORS was an amazing experience because I often felt that it wasn’t me writing the story but the characters. They seemed to take over to such an extent that sometimes, when I read over what I’d written the day before, I didn’t remember writing it and I was often shocked by what I was reading. This was especially true in relation to Jack. I never imagined when I started out that he would be so evil!

L.L.: I find that sometimes I have to get away from things I am writing and work on something else. It gets the creative juices flowing. Right now, I’m obsessed with how to re-do a bathroom. Silly, I know but somehow I will weave that into the next piece I write. What’s inspiring you nowadays? What has your attention?

B.A. Paris: When I’m writing, I tend to become a bit obsessed so it’s just as well that I work as a teacher, as it forces me to put my computer aside and concentrate on something else for a while. But I know what you mean – I’ve just taken up pottery and I know that somewhere, in a future book, I’ll somehow weave it into the story!

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

B.A. Paris: I have another psychological drama EVERY LITTLE THING coming out in 2017. And then I’ll be on to the next one.

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

B.A. Paris: No, your questions have been great and I think we’ve covered pretty much everything!

L.L.: Thank you so very much for spending some time with us today, we so enjoyed it!

B.A. Paris: Thank you for letting me come and talk about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, it’s been a pleasure to spend time with you!

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

Author Photo_BA Paris_No Credit Needed.jpgAbout the Author: B.A. Paris is from a Franco/Irish background. She was brought up in England and worked in London for three years before moving to Paris, where worked in corporate banking and as a trader in an international bank. After the birth of her first daughter, she became a stay-at-home mother and went on to have another three daughters. She spent four years in the Netherlands, where her fifth daughter was born. Returning to France, she decided to re-train as an English teacher and worked for some years in an international school and then at the Université de Marne la Vallée, teaching English to Architecture students. In 2009 she set up a language school with her husband and now teaches Business English in Paris.  

[With special thanks to J. Preeg at St. Martin’s Press. Author and Cover image provided by author’s publicist and used with permission. Gaslighting image retrieved from, Thailand image from, both retrieved 7.20.16]

Wednesdays with Writers: Laura Lippman Talks about how Memory is a Myth we Create, Being AWFUL at titles, Exploring our Childhoods, & How TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD connects to WILDE LAKE & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

“The truth is messy, riotous, overrunning everything. You can never know the whole truth of anything. And if you could, you would wish you didn’t.” ~From WILDE LAKE

 For twenty years, she was a journalist. She understands space and economy of words. She ‘gets’ motivation and the messiness of people. And it shows. She’s been awarded The Edgar, The Anthony, The Agatha…and so many others. All well-deserved. download (9).jpg

And then she churns out WILDE LAKE, a complex coming-of-age story set between the 1960s and present day released May 3rd by William Morrow. Baltimore native Laura Lippman delivers a tale of justice and loyalty, all of which mingle with their friends truth and memory.

Lu (Luisa) Brant, younger by eight years is fascinated by her brother, A.J., his friends and his life. She’s the pesky younger sister, but a smart, observant one. As an adult, she gets her “first murder,” thrusting her back to her younger days, when everyone lived in the planned community of Columbia, all divided into succinct villages with a certain number of homes. On high school graduation day, 1980, Davey, a quietly eccentric black friend of Lu’s brother is accused of rape by his girlfriend.

Now, thirty-five years later, as Lu prepares for trial, the events of 1980 seep into her consciousness. The past events catch up in the present-day narrative, intermittently weaving the two stories together.

WILDE LAKE is another smashing stand-alone in Lippman’s repertoire, and I’m super-honored to chat with her about her book, writing, and life.

Leslie Lindsay: Laura, such a joy to chat with you today. I’ve read about all of your stand-alones and have enjoyed every one. But WILDE LAKE, while stunningly good, is different, almost memoir-like in the storytelling. What was haunting you enough to spin this story?

Laura Lippman: It started in a very impersonal way: I was thinking a lot about what we now call “rape culture” and how my attitudes toward certain narratives had changed. For example, when the Woody Allen-Mia Farrow separation first happened, I’m sorry to say that I took a he said/she said attitude, I was very quick to buy into the idea of a “woman scorned.” But when Dylan Farrow wrote that letter for the New York Times website, affirming that she had been victimized, I began to rethink how I had seen that story. As someone wiser than I said: If you are a woman who believes her child has been assaulted, what response can you have other than rage? I then began to see how that change in perspective could shift our view of fictional stories. Years ago, I alluded to the very confusing Luke and Laura story on General Hospital, in my book I’d Know You Anywhere. So in WILDE LAKE, I took on TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Of course, in MOCKINGBIRD, Tom Robinson is innocent. That’s the point. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But that’s the 1930s. What happens if you bring the basic facts of that story into an era in which “good” people feel themselves enlightened on the topics of race, sex and class?

And then my dad died while I was in the middle of writing it, and that changed everything.

L.L.: You have just an uncanny ability to get inside the heads of your characters in such a way that it feels like you *are* them, or know them intimately. Can you talk a bit about character for a minute? Do they sort of ‘reveal’ themselves to you, or are they the result of careful construction?

Laura Lippman: I acted in high school and, amateur as I was, it did teach me a lot about thinking about things from someone else’s POV. And I was a kid who liked to play pretend — I’m a unicorn! I’m an otter! My Barbie doll games were elaborate soap operas and my dolls were always the “poor” ones because, unlike my perfect sister, I was forever losing those tiny little shoes. So I create the characters and I follow the blueprint of my creations. I will never force a character to do something for the sake of plot.

 L.L.: The novel meanders between time periods, but all are told from the POV of Lu (Luisa) Brant, the county’s first female* (and newly elected) state’s attorney in Howard County, Maryland. Symmetry isn’t far behind; her father once held this position when Lu was younger. What is it, in your opinion that often brings the past to light? Is this a conscious decision on the part of the author to draw those parallels, and do they typically happen in “real life,” too? [*the first actual Howard County state’s attorney was actually someone else and used creatively within WILDE LAKE.]

Laura Lippman: Early in my adult life, I noticed that I could store facts that made no sense, waiting for the day that they would have context. Here’s a story I’ve never told anyone: I was dating a guy, a bit of a bastard, and there was an impromptu social gathering at his house, where one woman struck me as strangely chummy with my boyfriend. She mentioned where she lived — the block, not the exact address. Several weeks later, I couldn’t find my boyfriend one evening. We both worked night shifts at the newspaper and he was supposed to call me when he got off at midnight. I got in my car and drove to that block, saw his car there. That tiny, inconsequential fact had waited for me. This still happens to me. I have a poor memory, but my mind seems very intuitive when it comes to knowing what information I should have later.

L.L.: WILDE LAKE is not a crime/thriller/mystery in the traditional sense, but more of a literary read with the crime sort of shoved to the back. Oh, but it’s very present. WILDE LAKE mostly about truth, justice, loyalty and the tricky effects memory has on our mind. In fact, I love how you braid those concepts together, particularly memory. Can you speak to that, please?

Laura Lippman: This is controversial, but I don’t believe in anyone’s memory, including my own. And I think it’s strange to argue over memory. I’m a huge fan of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the 3-part musical that Joss Whedon made. Do you know it? Dr. Horrible’s nemesis is Captain Hammer, a superhero who almost kills someone and is then credited with her rescue. When Dr. Horrible points out this inconvenient fact, Captain Hammer says simply: I remember it differently. Isn’t that the truth behind every disagreement that centers on memory? And who gets to referee? I think we need to recognize memories are the essential myths we have created for ourselves.

L.L.: I have to say, I was absolutely fascinated with Lu and AJ’s mother. She really doesn’t make an appearance in WILDE LAKE, but she’s there, lurking in unanswered questions. Without giving too much away, how did you conceive this piece of the narrative?

Laura Lippman: Think about who’s missing in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Then think about the real-life story of Harper Lee’s mother, if you know it. I can’t say more. I might have already said too much!

L.L.: Lately, I’ve been interested in titles. Do you start working with one in mind? Do they echo throughout your work-in-progress? Or maybe they appear at the end of draft one? And what factors work to their overall success?

Laura Lippman: I am AWFUL at titles. They are inevitably the last thing I write and I need lots of help. WILDE LAKE was my editor’s title, I think. My editor or my publisher. But once it was suggested, I saw how perfect it was. Wilde Lake is man-made, which promotes the dangerous illusion that it can be controlled. But it has all the risks inherent in any body of water. The book begins and ends by its shores.

L.L.: What’s inspiring you now? What has your attention?

Laura Lippman: Without being aware of it, I’ve moved into a phase where my work is more influenced by other books than real-life stories. Right now, I’m doing something that can only be described as a mash-up of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and Anne Tyler’s LADDER OF YEARS. And it even has a title: PINK LADY. Which, by the way, was suggested by my editor after she read the first 40 pages.

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

Laura Lippman: Not a thing. You’ve made me feel very smart. Thank you!

L.L.: Laura, it’s been a pleasure chatting. Thanks for popping over.

Laura Lippman: It was a pleasure.

download (8)Author Bio: Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.

Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.

She also has been nominated for other prizes in the crime fiction field, including the Hammett and the Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association. Ms. Lippman grew up in Baltimore and attended city schools through ninth grade.

After graduating from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, Md., Ms. Lippman attended Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Her other newspaper jobs included the Waco Tribune-Herald and the San Antonio Light.

Ms. Lippman returned to Baltimore in 1989 and has lived there since. She is the daughter of the late Theo Lippman Jr., a Sun editorial writer who retired in 1995, and Madeline Mabry Lippman, a former Baltimore City school librarian. Her sister, Susan, is a local bookseller. [Special thanks to E. Homonoff at WilliamMorrow. Author and cover images retrieved 7.18.16 from the author’s website] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Kate Hamer on her debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, how being a writer was a dream akin to being a rocket scientist, taking the plunge, characters as images first, a trip to Scotland & much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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 First, the reviews:

“Kate Hamer’s novel is both gripping and sensitive — beautifully written, it is a compulsive, aching story full of loss and redemption.”–Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty Ones

“Hamer’s debut novel poignantly details the loss and loneliness of a mother and daughter separated”~Kirkus Review

“Telling the story in two remarkable voices, with Beth’s chapters unfurling in past tense and Carmel’s in present tense, the author weaves a page-turning narrative.”~Publisher’s Weekly

An Amazon Best Books of February 2016, British writer Kate Hamer’s THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT (Melville House, 2016) has been nominated for a Costa First Book Award, a prestigious recognition in the U.K and there’s already talk of a film. It seems THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is the next literary sensation.

The first few chapters of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT had me completely absorbed and frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next…but I absolutely adored the wonderful world of the bright, sensitive, and slightly dreamy 8-year old Carmel.

While THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT appears, at first blush, your garden-variety tale of child abduction, it’s so much more than that. Recently divorced British mother Beth is working hard at making a life for the two of them. Beth is caring and loving and wants the best for her daughter. They take a train to a children’s literary festival where they become entrapped in the world of fairies and make believe.

And then–poof–she’s gone.

Today I’m thrilled and honored to welcome Kate Hamer to the blog couch. Welcome, Kate! Please, grab a cuppa  [tea] (or coffee!) and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: As a writer myself, I often get “the bug” to write through an image that comes to me—from my waking life, a dream, or perhaps just a name. What was it for you that propelled you to sit down and write THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT?

Kate Hamer: It was exactly that – an image. I kept ‘seeing’ a young girl in a red coat. She looked lost and sad but strangely also with a strong sense of her place in the world. She was there for several weeks before I sat up in bed one night and wrote the first chapter straight off. It wasn’t in her voice though – it was her mother’s, Beth. Beth spends the first chapter talking about her daughter – missing, remembering her. Something painful has happened but we’re not sure just what. That was the introduction to that little girl, Carmel, in the red coat – it was through her mother’s eyes.

L.L.: This is your first novel—congratulations! I understand you have two grown children, and I presume, a career before THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. How did time and perspective prepare you for your breakout novel? Can you speak to that, please?

Kate Hamer: I’ve always written – even at a very young age I was writing my own stories, images (4).jpgillustrating them and stapling them together into books! But when you are eighteen or so and deciding what to do with your life the idea of being a writer sounds in a similar league to being a rocket scientist. Over the years I continued to write – short stories and fragments of novels and in all honesty life experience is very good material. I worked for many years in the media and that helped too because in a way it’s still storytelling in a different way. But it was only when my children left home that I really thought, this is my life’s ambition – it’s now or never – and I made the leap.

L.L.: I have to say, I adore the distinctively beautiful prose of both Beth and young Carmel, but I love, love, love Carmel’s voice. Can you talk about how you created those characters? Were they drawn from anyone you know? Personal experience?

Kate Hamer: Once I had the image of Carmel her Mum came very soon – almost like she was chasing after her. I think Beth has a little bit of me in her – she’s a worrier too but Carmel is not based on anyone I know in particular. She was fairly fully formed right from the start almost as if she was telling me what she was like rather than the other way round!

L.L.: I’m interested in structure these days. THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is told in alternating POVs, how did you come to that decision? Did it grow organically from the story you wanted to tell, or was there more thought behind that?

Kate Hamer: Ah, yes! For me structure is a major, major thing too. Happily with this book the structure happened very organically. Once I had Carmel, then the first chapter in Beth’s voice it seemed the only natural thing to do to tell it in both their voices – to hear their stories side by side. Plus I always knew I wanted to tell a story about mothers and daughters and this seemed the best way to put their relationship at the heart of it.

“Keeps the reader turning pages at a frantic clip . . . What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.” —Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

L.L.: Carmel’s captors are not exactly “bad,” they feel Carmel has spiritual gifts. This is a diversion from your typical child abduction thrillers. Can you talk more about that?

Kate Hamer: It’s hard without too many spoilers! What I would say is that from the get go Carmel is quite an unusual child. Her parents think that she might be on the autistic spectrum or similar. As the book goes on we begin to realize more and more that the key to the mystery of Carmel’s disappearance lies in that very strangeness. To anyone who worries that this might not be a book for them because of the subject matter I say: ‘it goes in a direction you might not be expecting.’

download (7)L.L.: A handful of reviews are comparing THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. Somewhere else I read that you were essentially raised on Grimm’s fairy tales. Was that your intention all along?

Kate Hamer: It’s funny how it worked out. I was steeped in fairy tales growing up. We had lots of old books in the house (my Mum is a second hand book fan) so I had a really old version where the stories are not sugar coated one bit, they were really very dark. While I was writing the red coat was such a potent image for me, but it was only when I’d finished the first draft that the penny dropped. I have an old Victorian print of Little Red Riding Hood hanging in my hall and I looked up at it and thought, ‘ah, of course!’ I find writing works like that because you are working at such a subconscious level.

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

Kate Hamer: I’ve such finished my second novel and I’m working with the editor on it which is incredibly exciting. It’s a dark coming of age tale about family secrets set in a forest in Britain and is out in the UK in February next year. I can’t wait to see the cover designs – this time I feel I can consciously enjoy it all more. With ‘The Girl…’ it all happened so quickly I didn’t really know what hit me sometimes!

L.L.: What is obsessing you?

Kate Hamer: Oooh, good question. Does it have to be literary? If so at the moment it’s Elena Ferrante and her wonderful books set in Naples. They’re quite unlike anything I’ve read before and the fact that no one knows her true identity really intrigues me. On a personal note I’m renewing my wedding vows with my husband in October on the West coast of Scotland and I’m currently obsessing about what to wear! hidden-treasures

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

Kate Hamer: What I’m currently reading? It’s ‘Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down’ by Anne Valente. It’s a proof copy I’m reading as it hasn’t been published yet but I think it’s going to be a very exciting debut.

L.L.: Kate, it was lovely having you. Best wishes on your literary journey!

Kate Hamer: Thank you so much. It’s been great fun. Best wishes on yours too.

For more information, or to follow Kate Hamer on social media, please visit:

kate-hamerAuthor Bio: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel and has been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and is a finalist for the Dagger Award. 

[Special thanks to J. Fleischaker at Melville House. Cover image retrieved from Melville House Publishers, author image retrieved from , western coast of Scotland retrieved from, finally child writing image retrieved from, all on 6.23.16]

Writers on Wednesday: “Life is in the telling,” Italian treats, ‘borrowing’ the title from a Bronte poem, how fate steps in, and so much more in SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY by Ariella Cohen

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By Leslie Lindsay 

What an amazingly insightful and inspiring read; SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY (releasing June 28, 2016) literally took *my* breath away and I’m so excited to share it with you. sweet breath of memory(1)

Ariella Cohen is absolutely at the top of her game with this tender and gorgeously written tale about the enduring nature of love, the importance of friendship, and the eternal longing for peace. It’s a rare find to come across a book which encapsulates so many aspects of a good read–but this one did. Cohen weaves a narrative that takes readers on quite a journey; from the small fictional town of Amberley, MA to the Lodz Ghetto, London, and Jerusalem, it’s about finding one’s place in the world, but about coming to terms with what you’ve been dealt.

The characters are brimming with depth, compassion, warmth, resiliency, and smarts. In fact, there are so many dogeared pages in my copy with some insightful quip a character said, something about the meaning of life, or mustering through, and so much more. In fact, here’s one now:

“If you give up and throw in the towel, it impacts others. We all send out ripples—of kindness, need, and love. We don’t always appreciate who they impact or how far they travel; that’s part of the mystery of life. We can’t see the whole picture, but it’s there regardless.”

Today I’m pleased as punch to welcome Ariella to the blog to chat with us about her new book, SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY.

Leslie Lindsay: Ariella, I’m so happy to have you pop by. I know it’s sort of bad form to ask writer’s what inspired their story, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What was niggling you enough to sit down and write SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY?

Ariella Cohen: Great question, Leslie, and thanks so much for inviting me to drop in. What drove me to write SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY was the desire to examine how war shreds women’s lives. I wanted to shine a light on those who mother, marry and mourn the warriors, and the civilians who find themselves caught in the crossfire. But just as soldiers thrive in a community of brothers-in-arms, on the home front, there’s an incredible sense of sisters-in-arms that needs to be celebrated. Of course, women nowadays so often go to war themselves – an awe-inspiring thing I didn’t tackle as the novel covers a seventy-year period when that wasn’t really the case.

L.L.: There are some writers who swear they can’t start writing till they have a title…or until a character ‘speaks’ to them…or until they know the ending. Where do you lie on this continuum, and what got your writing juices flowing for this particular title?

Ariella Cohen: I’d wanted to write about the Lodz Ghetto for some time. Readers may know a bit about Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto but not the others that Germany established during WWII. Lodz was a slave labor camp and a huge money maker for the Reich. The character Miriam is imprisoned in the Ghetto and, although we only meet her indirectly, her story lies at the core of the novel. Since you mentioned the title, I should acknowledge that it was taken from an Anne Brontë poem; my editor and I have convinced ourselves that Anne wouldn’t mind my ‘borrowing’ such a great phrase! It captures that essence of memory that is as fleeting and life-sustaining as a breath.

L.L.: Okay, so I have to confess. I’m reading SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY and I fell asleep. (I know, I know!!) In my defense it had been a long day, a long week actually. But, my dream was a strange mash-up of a Jewish wedding (in which I was a little Catholic girl from Missouri in attendance), a snow storm, and some guest at the wedding trying to tell me how to say ‘please’ in Yiddish…I wasn’t able to say it properly and the woman kept giggling at me. I think this dream was a result of the merging of both Catholicism (Fr. Sullivan) and Judaism (Miriam’s story, WWII, Lodz Ghetto), and your own background filtering through. Can you speak to that, please?

Ariella Cohen: Well, not the dream bit – I don’t know Yiddish! But as to Father Sullivan, Ireland 2014 168.JPGhe was super easy to write. Some family members are Catholic and I have visited Ireland often, so I know a lot of priests. Issues of faith weave their way through the book but I didn’t want it to be about religion, if you take my meaning. Since the protagonist, Cate, is estranged from the Church, she connects with Father Sullivan much as Miriam did half a century before – as a friend. His role is to draw Cate out of the box she’s built for herself – the four walls being: widow, failed writer, friendless loner and reluctant caregiver. Inspired by the advice offered on the plaque outside his office – Life is fragile, Handle with prayer – Father Sullivan counsels, prods and encourages her to rebuild her life.

L.L.: The book is inspirational, sure but it’s not exactly religious. There are some other genre-bending elements here with flavors from women’s fiction, mystery, historical fiction, and well…there’s a great breadth of storytelling here and it’s all done so well. What’s your overall message, and what do you hope readers take from SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY?

Ariella Cohen: The overall message is that we are interconnected. Acts of kindness, and of cruelty, ripple through time in ways we can’t foresee or control. I explore this on many levels, one being through the Jewish concept of tikkun ha-olam – repair of the broken world. Each of the novel’s characters is in some way broken, but not until strangers move to town – Miriam and Cate, fifty years apart – is the extent of that brokenness laid bare. Miriam comes to Amberley to right an historic wrong. Although her efforts fail, her struggle impacts other women whose lives have been altered by war. When widow Cate finds her way to Amberley, she completes the circle by both picking up Miriam’s fallen standard and ‘rewriting’ the last chapter of her life – something Cate must accept she can never do for her husband.

We suffer loss alone, but we heal in a community, Ariella Cohen says toward the end of her compelling debut novel.  This talented new author explores issues ranging from misleading first impressions to the Holocaust through four women who, as so often happens, becomes unlikely friends.” – Meg Waite Clayton, NYT bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters and The Race for Paris

L.L.The main protagonist is Cate Saunders. Still reeling from the death of her soldier husband, down on her luck and near penniless, she relocates to the tree-lined streets of Amberley MA. She works as a care assistant at a local hospital, which I can relate to as I used to be an R.N….and then I totally related to her drive to write. I absolutely loved reading about her struggles and triumphs with her craft. Any autobiographical inspiration there?

Ariella Cohen: A bit. Much like Cate, my life path took a turn I hadn’t seen coming when family members fell ill and I stepped into the role of caregiver. I think many women find themselves in this position, and although caregiving is a privilege, it’s also an incredible challenge. An unexpected one. I always smile when people announce what they’ll be doing in five years because we have no idea what Fate has in store. Sometimes, like a twig in a stream, we can’t control where we’re going. All we manage to do is keep our head above water. No small feat! That I finally found my writer’s ‘voice’ at such a difficult time is surprising, or perhaps not. Caregiving strips one to the core. Being vulnerable and open like that – free of ego and the rubbish that attaches to it – is the first step to writing authentically. Or so I told myself when, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I set out to tell this story.

L.L.: I loved all of your characters, from Mary Lou (Lulu) the woman mechanic, to Gaby the slightly-psychic diner waitress, Sheila at the Italian grocer, Helen the nurse, and Miriam, whose story comes through in old journals. Was there a story within one of those characters you were more eager to write? One you felt a particular kinship?

Ariella Cohen: I love everyone in Amberley, but Miriam’s story and what it represents is the novel’s heart. The challenge was to portray her unique journey but not let it overpower the novel, as Holocaust narratives often do. So there was a bit of a tug-o-war in my mind as I weighed each character individually and in relation to the whole. No one has a monopoly on suffering and writers don’t want their characters to be competing on those terms.

italian-pastriesL.L.: My stomach rumbled as you wrote about the delicious treats Sheila whipped up in her Italian grocer. Oh, how I have a love affair with all things Italian! Can you share a favorite recipe inspired by the book?

Ariella Cohen: Oh, that would have to be Sheila’s almond crescents – sometimes called horns. Crescents are dead easy to make, provided you can secure almond paste – not marzipan. You can make almond paste but it’s nearly impossible to get it smooth enough so I buy my ingredients from a Brooklyn company that’s been in business since the 1920’s. And I don’t dip the finished cookies in chocolate; as my mother would say, ‘No need to gild the lily!’ Although many recipes call for flour, butter and a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, the Italian version is a simple trinity. Combine 1 10-ounce can almond paste with ¾ cup white sugar and 1 egg. Roll each ball of dough between your hands and then shape into a crescent and dot with sliced almonds. Bake about 15-18 minutes (less if you don’t want them brown) at 375 degrees F on parchment paper. THAT’S IT! These cookies keep for days, if one has self control. I never do.

L.L.: And shifting gears a bit, but I have to ask: what was the Lodz Ghetto research like? It’s such a horrific time in our history and I can only imagine, completely Bundesarchiv_Bild_101III-Schilf-002-30,_Polen,_Ghetto_Litzmannstadt,_Bewohnerhaunting to research and write about. Can you share a bit about your process?

Ariella Cohen: You’re right; because it is so horrific, the Holocaust is off-putting. As Cate would say, the topic is too difficult to get one’s head around so we tend to avoid reading or thinking about it. So what’s a writer to do? In telling Miriam’s story, I decided to focus on the role Jewish women played during the early days of the occupation of Poland since that dovetailed with other themes in the novel. The bit of history woven in is meant to enhance our understanding of Miriam, not weigh down the narrative. For every line of historical background that made the manuscript cut, one hundred were rejected. It was a balancing act of tough calls, but readers will learn more about Miriam in book II.

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

Ariella Cohen: So much! I’m a member of the UK’s Richard III Society and have been researching Fifteenth Century merchant guilds for years. I’m working on a series of historical novels that will explore the fascinating world of Yorkist London, introducing readers to the real ‘kingmaker’ of the time: the merchant class. There’s still a lot of research ahead before I sit down to write.

L.L.: Are you working on other books? Can you tell us a bit about what’s next for you?

Ariella Cohen: I’m writing the sequel to SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY and doing the final edit on a Young Adult novel partially set during Ireland’s Great Famine.

L.L.: Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, but should have?

Ariella Cohen: All I would add is that I hope the novel starts a conversation about how the wives, mothers, daughters and girlfriends of soldiers should share their stories – with friends, family, and the men in their lives. While crafting the novel, I often thought of my mother as her work during WWII so informed the writing. The only woman in her war plan qualified to test radio crystals, she left school and stepped up when the Siren song drew men to war. Like so many sisters-in-arms, she stepped back in line when the men came home. And she buried her story. We women do that SO much – whether we are drafted as caregivers or tasked with holding the home front together. Putting aside the amazing women who go to war, historically our role has been behind the lines – raising children, running factories, growing crops, nursing the wounded. And sacrificing in silence. The stories beneath that silence need to be shared. As my characters remind us, “Life is in the telling.”

For more information, or to follow on social media, find Ariella at: 

AriellaCohenAuthor bio: Ariella is a graduate of Barnard College, the Hebrew University and the University of Michigan Law School. She makes her home in New England, although her dream self resides in County Mayo, Ireland. SWEET BREATH OF MEMORY is Ariella’s debut novel and she is hard at work on the sequel.   @ariella_cohen

[Special thanks to L. Martinez at Kensington Publishers. Author and cover image courtesy of A. Cohen. Lodz Ghetto image retrieved from Wikipedia on 6.09.16. Italian pastries image retrieved from, stone church with flowers taken in County Mayo and is from Leslie Lindsay’s personal archives] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Self-sabotage, fear of failure, handling rejections, the S-word, and amazing writing advice from Robin Black’s CRASH COURSE, even when it rains in the summer

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Oh my goodness. This book. Every writer, would-be-writer, aspiring writer, closet-writer, bestselling and debut writer *needs* this book. Trust me. It’s like Robin Black crawled inside my head and accessed every single thought I’ve had about crash-coursemotherhood, the writing life, and the life in writing. It makes me want to be a better writer. And that, right there, is hugely powerful.

CRASH COURSE is an insightful, beautiful, and searingly honest account of the writing life told with wisdom, humor, and self-awareness you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. It’s fantastic. I laughed, nodded in agreement, gasped, and maybe, quite possibly could have shed a tear or two.

Just listen to this:

“I wasn’t more than two pages into Crash Course when I pulled out a pen and started underlining like crazy. In these essays, Robin Black is simultaneously a wise teacher, an encouraging mentor, and that friend who gives you the real dirt on what the writing life is like. Crash Course is an invaluable resource and reassurance for any writer.”

—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

Exactly. My copy isn’t underlined or highlighted—yet—but it should be. It definitely has been dog-eared. And water-logged. CRASH COURSE was read poolside as a cluster of little girls splashed and created synchronized swimming routines in a hotel pool. It was one of those girls’ birthday. Mine. And I so, so wanted to write. But reading about writing was a close second. Watching the smiles on those girls faces fueled my love for them and made me understand that I’m a better mom because I write.

Today, I am honored to sit down with Robin Black and share this amazing collection of essays about the writing life. Trust me, you need this book. Now.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Robin! At one point in CRASH COURSE, you mention something about the conception of stories. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of, ‘it’s so unique, to every story and every writer, almost like asking, where was your child conceived?’  So, I want to know, how was CRASH COURSE conceived?

Robin Black: Very gradually. When my first book came out in 2010 I started blogging, supposedly just to promote the book, but while doing it I discovered a real desire to share my experiences coming to writing “late” and also to synthesize that with some of what I’ve learned about writing – craft lessons. I was surprised by how strong an urge I felt to share those things and by how responsive people were. It seemed like the more I took risks about sharing tough stuff, the greater the rewards. In 2011 I was invited to join an amazing group blog called Beyond The Margins. It’s gone now, but for several years I wrote a post every few weeks, taking turns with an incredible group of writers. And by the time my second book came out in 2014 I had a couple hundred pages of blog posts. It was a pretty easy decision then to try to make that into a book though it still took a lot of work to shape those essays into something cohesive. A LOT of work!!

L.L.: You speak so openly about things that might be challenging to speak of: your own struggle with AD/HD and your daughter’s special needs. I applaud this vulnerability. Hugely. In fact, both of those struggles resonate with me as well. My daughter has AD/HD and childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), both of which stumped me a bit, but from those struggles, a book emerged for parents raising a child with apraxia. And a sensitivity arose in parenting. Her struggles might have made me a stronger writer and a better parent. Can you speak to that, please?

Robin Black: It’s so wonderful that you were able to use your experience with your daughter to help other people. I truly admire that.

I think that parenting my daughter has made me a better mother for sure. Her issues have forced me to be more patient than comes to me naturally, and have taught me to think less in any given situation about me, me, me. Because truly her needs trump mine – most of the time. I’m not sure though that I think the whole ongoing process has made me a better writer. Some of that is simply practical. Parenting a child with so many needs is exhausting, and to some extent that weariness has slowed me down, I think. But she has certainly enhanced my life, brought me great joy and incredible pride, in her. But in the end, as I write in CRASH COURSE, her life is her story. Whatever she has brought me, amazing and also at times exhausting, she’s the person who matters the most. And I have endless admiration for how she handles her life.

L.L.: So I’m reading CRASH COURSE at a time I really, really needed it. Everyone, essays in this book included, keep saying, “Don’t stop. Keep going. Never give up on your dream…blah, blah, blah.” But guess what? I want to give up. I want to say, eff-it all. One of your essays is titled, “A Life of Profound Uncertainty.” I’m nodding because—yes—I get it. There are no absolutes in writing. Except, maybe, writing. What would be your advice to a fledgling writer?

Robin Black: My advice is to keep writing – by which I don’t mean anything as simple as “write every day” because writing every day is only good advice for some. I mean something more like, “don’t give up thinking of yourself as a writer.” And don’t be too focused on specific goals. Unless it helps you to be. And there’s the rub, with all writing advice: It’s all good except when it isn’t good. And it’s all bad, except when it helps. So the real trick for a fledgling writer is to plow through and sort through the tons and tons of advice out there and only take the advice that keeps you on course. And stay on course.

sm-bkL.L.: And let’s talk about that S-word. Subjectivity. For awhile, a critique partner and I were raking in, I mean RAKING IN the rejections. And nearly 90% of them said, “of course, this is just my opinion, some other agent may feel differently.” The next part of this question deals with the R-word. Rejection. Does any of it matter?

Robin Black: That’s such a tough question. It would be so nice if we came equipped with a way to weight these things appropriately, if rejections came with footnotes saying things like *Ignore this, this guy is a fool.” The problem is that some rejections contain wisdom, and it’s a shame to miss out on those by just ignoring all rejection as unimportant. I guess the closest thing to a rule that I can articulate is, if the person seems wholly outside your project, just brush it off. If they seem like they get what you’re doing, and appreciate it, but feel you haven’t fully realized your own intent, then it makes sense to pay attention.

But in general the main point about rejection is that we all experience it. So the fact of having a lot of rejections is kind of like knowing it will rain on some summer days. It may be a bummer but it’s not a portent of anything terrible.

L.L.: I think I connect so much with CRASH COURSE because you write about all of the things we writers obsess about: self-sabotage,  fear of failure (a big one for me), fear of success (“Oh my—I made it, now what?!” Also, a pre-emptive fear of mine), and just general unease about being able to produce anything—ever. Can you talk more about that, and how might we get over it?

Robin Black:  I think the goal is not exactly to get over it, because the temperament that writes is probably nearly always also one likely to be plagued by doubt. I think, as with rejection, the goal is to try to learn not to attach extra significance to those fears. Every single time I am in the thick of a project I go through at least one long period of being “certain” that I can’t finish it. And now, after years, I have a strange two level response to that. On one level, I sort of buy into the panic – that’s my heart or my spirit. But intellectually I know that the fact of doubting that I can finish something doesn’t really have much bearing on whether I will or not. It’s just part of the process. (I admit, my husband usually has to remind me of that. . .) It’s incredibly helpful to try to remember even as one is panicking that all of that stuff is just noise – and also never to let it let you give up.

images (6)L.L.: My mother was an interior decorator who worked from home. Nearly daily, I would be greeted with a bolt of fabric wrapped in a newsprint-like casing propped up on our front porch. A sparkly iridescent or a flowing Damask, or a floral Chintz. Sometimes, I would prop the bolt on my shoulder, haul it into the house, and slide it down the stairs to her studio. It always amazed me that she could churn out a dramatic jabot or a flirty balloon valance from those bolts of fabric. Yet I had no desire to do it myself. Instead, I became a keen observer. Of life. Of human behavior. The long and short of it is: you talk about material in CRASH COURSE. And material isn’t always tangible, like for you in on Fourth Street, or my mother’s clients. Can you talk more about that?

Robin Black: So interesting, because if I weren’t a writer, I probably would be some kind of designer. Or a therapist. And, as an aside, a writer is a bit like a combination of the two, making arrangements and also delving into motivations. (I admit that’s a bit fanciful!) Material for me, in fiction, is very close to never something that appears whole in real life. I never think: “Oh, that would make a great story!” And then go write it. Material for me is much more a matter of stumbling over some odd situation that then makes me think of a different situation, one I make up. I guess the fabric I use in my work – to stretch the metaphor – is just what you describe: a lifetime of observing human behavior. And having a pretty deep well of thoughts about why people do what they do. And also a desire to communicate all of that.

L.L.: And homes! Oh my how I love them. And how you talk about them in “House Lessons.” You say, “We have lived novel after novel in this home.” But there’s so much more to it than that? What is it about houses that tell our story?

Robin Black: Everything! A lived-in home is a form of narrative. Not just because of the history it carries, but because homes are formed by the habits and needs and failings and strengths and wants and excesses of their occupants. And because of that they are incredibly rich resources for writers. A room tells you so much about its occupant, from the things they have chosen, to the things that are out of their control. Like, I am incredibly homepage-book-covermessy and anyone walking into my house knows that. But they’ll also learn that I am into decorating, because my messy living room does look like someone took care to set it up. So right away, there’s a character contradiction: A person who cares a lot about her environment but also keeps it kind of messy. And of course there are an infinite number of such traits to be found in homes, real and fictional too.

L.L.: One of your essays in this collection talks about your to-do list. Novel, novel, novel! Is on mine today (yes, I borrowed your mantra). What’s on yours today?

Robin Black: Today, I need to work out, to make sure I eat 3 decent meals instead of garbage snacks, to read a book I may blurb, to catch up on some other reading, to walk my dog, to run some errands with my son, and to try to have time to paint in the afternoon. It’s summer, so a pretty fun day!

L.L.: Oh, I have one more—you just accepted a new position at Rutgers Camden MFA Program (Fall 2016). What excites and terrifies you about this? And can I come?!

Robin Black: I love teaching. So that’s the exciting part. I never tire of watching people figure out that it [writing] isn’t all hocus pocus, that there are craft techniques to learn, and approaches that will help. It’s just fun. And I also always learn a ton when I teach. So often it’s difficult to work through your own writing issues only by looking at your own work, or even by reading works that’s published and fully-realized. There’s a kind of lesson that can learned from other people’s work in progress that’s incredibly helpful. And it’s a real privilege to be trusted to read that work. What scares me always is that I won’t do justice to the students’ work. I really do see teaching as a kind of sacred trust and I very much don’t want to let anyone down.

L.L.: Robin, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you, thank you for popping by!

Robin Black: Thank you so much for inviting, and for the great questions – and also for your generous words about CRASH COURSE

To connect with Robin on Twitter, please see: @robin_black,and more on her Website

REBHiRes-cropped (1).jpgRobin Black‘s story collection, IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS, was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Story Prize, and named a Best Book of 2010 by numerous publications. Her novel, Life Drawing, was longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the Impac Dublin Literature Prize, and the Folio Prize.

Her works of fiction have been translated into six languages.Her new book, CRASH COURSE: Essays From Where Writing And Life Collidehas been
called “an oasis for writers at any stage,” by Karen RussellRobin’s essays and stories can be found in such publications as One Story, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Southern Review, The Rumpus, O. Magazine, and Conde Nast Traveler. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, and will begin teaching in the Rutgers-Camden MFA Program, Fall 2016.
[Author image courtesy of R. Black. Cover images retrieved from author’s website, fabric image from

Wednesdays with Writers: Ultimately a story of hope, debut author and voracious reader J.L. Callison talks about pantsing, flunking college composition,survivalist skills, & more in ROMSON’S LODGE

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By Leslie Lindsay

A quick read, STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE (Morgan James, May 2016) is the debut of J.L. Callison, a mature author with an inspirational message of love, hope, and redemption.  stranded_Cover_web

Kidnapped and flown to a remote lodge in upstate Maine, high school seniors, Jed Romson and Elizabeth Sitton are stranded when their kidnapper crashes on takeoff. What then becomes a tale of who and why, Jed and Lizzie embark on a survivalist adventure reminiscent of Jean Craighead George’s tales for young adults, JULIE OF THE WOLVES and THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.

Callison’s chapters are short and crisp and he ought to be applauded for his brevity, break-neck pacing, and element of suspense. At the heart of this Christian inspirational tale is a quaint, wholesome romance. STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE will appeal to idealistic  young readers with an adventuresome spirit.

Today, I am honored to welcome J.L. Callison to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay : Like every other writer, you’re a voracious reader. And then, the writing bug hit. You mentioned that you had several ‘throw-away’ short stories and the start of a novel that just didn’t go anywhere. How was ROMSON’S LODGE different?

J.L. Callison: For years the concept of Stranded at Romson’s Lodge bounced around in my mind. The “coming of age” movies and books of the early 80’s triggered the questions in my head of “What if two Christian teens were placed in such a situation? How would they handle it?”

I didn’t want to write a “Christian” book, but as a Christian, my values will show through. What I wanted to do with this story was demonstrate Christianity from a realistic standpoint rather than try to “preach.” Perhaps that is why the story wouldn’t leave my mind. I started the story and threw it away more times than I have any idea, but I couldn’t throw away the idea.

L.L.: We talked before about you ‘not knowing what you were doing’ when you set out to write ROMSON’S LODGE, that it was all kind of a fluke; you went to a writing conference and pitched your idea to an agent and…well, the rest is history. Can you talk about that, please?

J.L. Callison: Believe it or not, I flunked English Composition in college, and I thought I couldn’t write, so I never tried. It was not until well after I started writing Stranded at Romson’s Lodge that I understood that my failure was because of the style of writing they tried to make me do. I’m very much a seat-of-the pants type of writer, and I did not do well with outlining, note cards, and the formulized style they wanted.

After I had written Stranded, I knew that if I was going to do anything with the book, I needed some help, so I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson Indiana, looking for advice and some teaching. I didn’t know we each got a 15 minute interview with someone in the writing/publishing industry. When the young lady at registration asked me who I wanted, I had no clue. She suggested Terry Whalin because he is an excellent teacher, and he has been in the industry for many years on both the writing side and as a publisher. Terry is now an acquisitions editor for Morgan James Publishing.

logline1I sat down with Terry and told him I had no clue what I was doing and that I needed advice on how the system worked. He was very helpful, and when my fifteen minutes was up and the next guy didn’t show, he asked if I had written anything. I said yes, and then began to tell him about the story. I was so green I didn’t even know I was supposed to have a 30 second “elevator speech.” I rambled for about five minutes. He said Stranded was different than anything they had seen in a number of years and that it might fit with what Morgan James was doing. Would I send him the manuscript?

I had no idea I would sell the manuscript that day. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and I give God the credit for putting me there.

I still don’t claim to know what I’m doing! I just tell a story.

L.L.: And what kind of writer would you say you are? Do you carefully plot and outline, or are you more organic, going where the characters take you?

J.L. Callison: As I mentioned earlier, I’m very much organic! I start off with an idea for the beginning and the ending, plan for a couple of waypoints in between, and then I let my characters tell me what happens. I guess the difference between me and someone being treated by a psychiatrist is that when I hear voices in my head, I write down what they say.

L.L.: I was particularly impressed with the survivalist skills you gave Jed. Was this something that grew from you as the author, some life experience, or were his skills merely a result of careful research?

J.L. Callison: Some of the skills are things I learned hunting and fishing as a kid. Other skills, I have learned from close friends who are military veterans, and the rest of it was gleaned from careful research. I like to think if I was stranded in such a situation I would survive, but I know I would not do as well as Jed and Lizzie did!

L.L.: STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE is told in short, crisp, alternating chapters in which we see the grieving families and their tireless search for Jed and Lizzie, and then we “join” Jed and Lizzie at the Maine lodge. Was there a storyline you were more eager to get back to, one you felt a particular affinity for?

J.L. Callison: Obviously, Jed and Lizzie are my protagonists, and I identified with them closely, but as I got further into the story, Charles began to play a bigger role than originally intended. Of all of my characters, I think he is the one I developed the most respect for, for his integrity and the character that he displays. If I decide to do a sequel to the story about a return to Romson’s Lodge, he and Jimmy will play major roles.

L.L.: And so, you’re from the Midwest. How did you decide to set the story in Maine? 

J.L. Callison: I played around with the idea for a long time with a number of scenarios for their marooning. It was not until I drove through Maine going to the Maritimes that the location became plain to me. Maine_population_map

Maine is a beautiful state, but other than along the coast and along its northern border, much of it is extremely remote. Just how remote became apparent when I started researching the state. Just a little over half of the landmass of Maine has no local government because there aren’t enough people in the territory to form local government. They call these areas, “Unorganized Territory.” It is in such an area that Jed and Lizzie find themselves.

In the story, Jed says there is less than one person per hundred square miles, but in the area I set the story, it is less than one third of a person per hundred square miles. It is the most remote area in the lower 48 states.

L.L.: And it’s also the summer of 1985. We get a glimpse into that world, the Baby Boom parents, the coming of age in Reagan’s era, and the remnants of the Vietnam war. Can you speak to your decision to set the story in 1985 versus present-day?

J.L. Callison: Simplicity was the biggest reason for the time of the setting, a time before computers, cell phones, and other electronics that would detract from the story concept. The same story could easily be told in the present day, but it would add a whole layer of complexity that I didn’t want to bother with. In the modern day, Romson’s Lodge would still be without any form of electronics, unless they had solar panels or a wind turbine or something to power satellite communication, but then Pete would have destroyed them, too. I just thought it was easier to keep it simple.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from ROMSON’S LODGE?

J.L. Callison: In a word, hope. There are a couple of areas in particular. I wanted to get across the idea that no matter what the situation, there is hope. Even if you are stranded in a remote area, there are ways to survive if you don’t panic. Just stop and think .

Secondly, I wanted to demonstrate the idea of moral options. Unlike in most media where no options for living one’s values are shown—if a guy and a girl like each other, the next step is for them to sleep together—my hope was to demonstrate that one always has a choice and the option to live differently than the “norm,” and that not everybody is “doing it.”

L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on another book?

J.L. Callison: My second novel, a middle-grade mystery called Davy Faraday and the Secret of the Spiral Staircase, is under consideration by a publisher that is very interested in its concept.625.151109

In the story, Davy’s family inherits an old Victorian mansion that has a nearly hundred-year-old mystery. I plan to make this into a trilogy or possibly even four books.

I also have a novella, Rotund Roland, that I may self-publish in the near future. It has to do with bullying. I also am toying with another story idea.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why?

J.L. Callison: I’m working on the Davy Faraday series.

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

J.L. Callison: I can’t think of a thing.

L.L.: It was such a pleasure chatting with you today! I wish you the best of luck with ROMSON’S LODGE.

J.L. Callison: The pleasure was indeed mine! Thank you so much.

For more information, or to purchase ROMSON’S LODGE, please visit:

Author PicAbout the Author: J.L. Callison was an early reader, whose third-grade teacher encouraged his love of reading. He read over 300 books that year, and was reading on an eighth grade level by years end. He developed a wide range of reading interests, including volumes A-H of the World Book Encyclopedia! He loves to collect books, and has well over a thousand in his library, most of which he has read at least once. Young adult is his favorite genre, for as he says, he refuses to grow up. He studied for the ministry, and has served in lay capacities for much of his adult life in prison and rescue ministies, but always with a youth ministry focus. He has been, along with his wife, a junior-high youth sponsor and teacher for most of the last twenty-five years. He and his wife of 38 years live in Illinois. They have five grown children and are blessed with four grandchildren with another on the way very soon.

[Cover and author images courtesy of J.L. Callison. Maine population density map retrieved from Wikipedia on 6.20.16. Spiral staircase diorama retrieved from on 6.20.16, logline infographic retrieved from. For all of my reviews, follow me on GoodReads]

WeekEND Reading: Celebrating Family, Food, and Dad with Dawn Lerman’s MY FAT DAD, how childhood memories are attached to food, growing up in 1970’s NYC, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

“Every story and every memory from my childhood is attached to food.”
Dawn Lerman spent her childhood constantly hungry. She craved good food as her father, 450 pounds at his heaviest, pursued endless diets, from Atkins to Pritikin, and everything in between—and insisted the rest of the family do the same, though no one else had a weight issue. book
On the other hand, Dawn’s mother could barely be bothered to polish off a can of tuna standing over the kitchen sink, corded phone in hand. She didn’t understand why Dawn was obsessed with “good” food, spending money frivolously on expensive pears, cleaning the house, and helping her father maintain his diets.
A chaotic and lonely childhood, Dawn helped her younger sister get starring roles in Broadway plays, sending her on the road for a couple of years, and later a stint on the popular show, “Charles in Charge.”
Set alternatively in Chicago and New York City, MY FAT DAD is more than the title suggests, but a memoir of love, family, and food, It’s about coming-of-age in the 1970s, about being Jewish, about the ad men of New York, and so much more.
Today I am so, so honored to have Dawn with us to chat about her book.
 
Leslie Lindsay: So I completely devoured MY FAT DAD. It triggered some of my own memories of food, grandmothers, and dysfunctional family happenings. What moved you so much to sit down and write this story?
Dawn Lerman: I originally set out to write a health book for kids about snacking. While I was compiling recipes, I realized that each one of them had a memory attached to it. The memory was as important as the recipe —it was the people I was with at the time; where I was when I tasted it; and the smells that made it so important.
 
Nourishing yourself and your family is about the love you put into it, which led me to want to share about my family and my maternal grandmother Beauty, whose recipe cards saved me and gave me a purpose. I was able to focus less on the chaos and loneliness I felt in my day-to-day life. The story of how home cooked food had such a positive impact on my life, even in the face of my father’s 450-pound weight, felt like an important story. I wanted to provide the color and context around the recipes that were woven into the fabric of my life.
 
6-Beauty & Dawn 2yrsL.L.:  Like you, I had a grandmother who was an amazing cook. I’m not sure that she ever formally taught me how to cook, but I watched. And we corresponded through letters, over boys and my parent’s divorce, but never with recipes. The other grandmother was a horrible cook, bless her! Still, both of their styles have influenced my cooking style today.  How does one’s culture and familial heritage shape their overall attitude toward food?
Dawn Lerman: In the words of my grandmother Beauty, “Good food is not fast. Fast food is not good and if you know how to make a pot of chicken soup, you can nourish your self for life.”
It was not what my grandmother Beauty cooked that influenced me, but the love she put into everything she prepared. We spent every weekend until I was 9 years old together. We would shop for ingredients and spend our evenings creating the most wonderful soups, stews and cookies. It was in her kitchen that I learned what it felt like to be loved and nourished. After my family moved from Chicago to NYC for my dad’s life changing job as a creative director at McCann Erikson, where he would be the head writer on Coke and Nescafe, Beauty sent me a recipe card every week with a 20-dollar bill. That way the warm sweet smells from her kitchen could always stay with me.  “If I am cooking brisket for Papa you can cook brisket, for your sister. Sharing recipes will always keep us connected.”
 
L.L.: I hate to say it, but cooking—real cooking—is almost as obsolete as other crafts like needlepoint and sewing. It’s easier (and sometimes cheaper) to go to the store and purchase a sweater than say, knit your own. Same goes with food. We can just go out to a restaurant, pick something up at the WholeFoods bar, rather than “waste” our time slicing and dicing. Can you speak to that, please?
Dawn Lerman: While I think that is true and convenience often overrides home preparation, I think cooking real food is making a big comeback. The whole organic and farm to table movement has inspired a new generation of cooks. In the 60’s and 70’s the- women —especially my wanna-be actress mom, longed to be modern– rebelling against both the traditional family values they grew up with and the old world food. Frozen dinners were a novelty and were a luxury that the generation before them did not have.

 

L.L.: I love how each chapter in MY FAT DAD begins with a topic and the food that fed you—either emotionally or physically—during that time. For example,Chapter 2: My Baby Sister. Aunt Jeannie’s Apple Strudel, Chocolate Chip Mandel Bread, Russian Borscht, Family dinner at my Bubbe Mary's houseSure to Make You Feel Special Shirley Temple. Plus, the food offerings were often (but not always) indicative of the social and political times our country was experiencing. Was it more about that for you, or was it more about the comfort of food? (P.S. I still remember that my great-aunt made me spaghetti with meat sauce, green beans and garlic bread the night my sister was born; and I threw it up all over her white sheets I was so excited).

Dawn Lerman:  Every story and every memory from my childhood is attached to food, the food I craved, the food I was not allowed to eat and the food that made me feel loved. My father, a brilliant copywriter in the Mad Men era of advertising, was known for his witty ad campaigns—he was responsible for such iconic slogans as “Fly the Friendly Skies of United,” “Coke Is It,” “This Bud’s for You,” and “Leggo My Eggo”—and being able to solve any image problem that was thrown his way. Unfortunately, he was not able to use the same problem-solving skills when it came to his weight. My dad was fat while I was growing up—450 pounds at his heaviest. His weight would go up and down like an elevator, depending on what diet he was on or not on that month. For six months, he only ate white rice; another time, he only drank shakes; and another time he only had Special K—hoping that after a week of eating the cereal, there would be only an inch to pinch. What was most vivid to me about those early years with my parents was the constant feeling of hunger that consumed me as my obese father rotated from diet to diet.
But on Friday nights, I was never hungry. My maternal grandfather would pick me up for the weekend, and when we arrived at my grandparents’ home, the table was always set with beautiful china. There was always a pot of something cooking on the stove, a freshly drawn bath, and a fluffy, lavender-smelling nightgown waiting for me. It was at my grandmother’s house where I learned what true nourishment was. It is where my tears were dried.
When I walked into her kitchen, life transformed from processed packages of salty MSG instant soup to the delicious warm, fragrant smell of homemade chicken soup. Giant salads, fresh fruits and the aroma of just-baked muffins filled the air and my world. It was the only place I can remember feeling happy, safe and nourished. It was what I craved.
 
L.L.: Just yesterday, my 11 year old was sitting on the couch reading. A massive storm had just blown in, the sky was dark, claps of thunder could be heard in the not-so-distant distance. She looked up and said, “Mom! Nothing tastes better on a rainy day than homemade brownies. Will you make some?” I didn’t have all the ingredients right then (nor the time), so the brownies are on hold. Still, it got me wondering…like smell, do you believe food is connected to emotion and a certain time in personal history? I think I know your answer.
Dawn Lerman: My Papa used to say, “There’s nothing like Beauty’s soups and roasts to make all the problems of the world go away.” Before I even had words to describe the delicious, thick-as-fog split pea soup flavored with bone marrow, I knew what he was saying to be true. No matter what I felt during the rest of the week, the anticipation of Beauty’s food and of time spent in her kitchen lifted my spirits. Little Beauty is what she called me, and beautiful and special is how she always made me feel.Cooking is how she showed her love and when I became old enough that is the way I learned to show mine
L.L.: This same daughter has a list of food she loves. She created it one day at school and presented it to me at dinnertime. Quiche, chicken pot pie, corn casserole, fresh strawberries with sugar, fudgy brownies, sugar cookies. So the kid loves rich, sugar-y foods! But my other daughter is all about salty things. Angel hair pomodoro, tomato foccacia sandwiches with fresh mozzarella; she has an aversion to meat (so do I, being vegetarian). Do you think somehow we are “wired” to like different foods? How does that happen?
Dawn Lerman: I think everyone’s tastes, cravings, and food preferences are unique. Everybody always made fun of me because as a child I hated greasy and salty food. It always gave me an awful stomach. During the summer my family spent at the fat farm, I had the opportunity to speak to a nutritionist I asked why some people craved salty food while others craved sweet food. My sister craved fish and chips, the greasier the better. I loved things plain and was happy munching on cucumbers, carrots, and unsalted shelled sunflower seeds all day. My mom had an adverse reaction to all fruits. My dad seemed to be fine with all foods, but maybe that was because he was used to not feeling particularly great. As a child people were amused with my interest but no one really was able to answer my questions. This is a topic that I have dedicated my career to. What I learned is there is no one diet for everyone–bio individuality.

 
L.L.: I have to say, I’m a huge fan of MAD MEN. And I just loved hearing all about your dad, the ad man, on Madison Avenue creating slogans. As I was reading, I’d shout to my husband, “This guy came up with ‘Coke is it,’ ‘TaB, it keeps you light on your feet,’ ‘Leggo my Eggo,’ and well—there are more! What was his influence over you as a writer?
Dawn Lerman: I always saw my dad write and my mom was an English teacher. But the type of writing each of them did was very different from me. I wrote as an escape. As a child, my words and my thoughts were something that was very private. I used to carry around a little journal and pretend I was Harriet the Spy. Writing was my escape from my chaotic childhood. It was a place to put my feelings. It transported me into a world where I felt safe. 
 
L.L.: It seems like there were a good deal of appearances and disappearances with your family members. You moved as a child from Chicago to New York, leaving behind Grandma Beauty. Your dad left for the “fat farm” at Duke University, leaving behind you, your mom, and sister. And then mom and April leave when April gets cast in “Annie.” And then your parents get divorced. Can you talk about that, please?
Dawn Lerman: Great question. I think the constant disappearances of my family members, is why I started cooking. It was a way to control my surroundings.  When I made a chicken soup with dill as my grandmother did for me, it was like she was with me. The same with my sister.Whenever I would make her a care package of cookies, I felt the excitement she would have when she opened the box. Nourishing others was my calling from a very young age. Even as a child, I understood that my family was different, and that made me different. The pain and loneliness I often felt gave me a sense of empathy that would eventually give me a unique voice
 
L.L.: Since tomorrow’s Father’s Day, let me just share that when my parents divorced, my dad tried so hard to cook for us. We often had “glue” green beans (green bean casserole), instant mashed potatoes, and Jenny-O turkey loaf drenched in gravy atop of a slice of wheat bread. It was disgusting. But he tried. And I remember that. Meanwhile, I yearned for my mother’s “real” food, but somehow she stopped cooking, resorting to Tuna Helper and the like. Why the role-reversal and did your parents go through a similar phase when they divorced?
 
Dawn Lerman: Since we never had family dinners and my mom never really cooked, not much changed. I had already been cooking for myself and my little sister April since age 9. However my dad found a new girl friend who was a wonderful Italian chef and as much as I did not want to like her, she made the most amazing veal tonnato and tiramisu. 
Me with my mom and dadL.L.: And your mom. She sounds a bit mercurial at times. My own mother had a tough life as well. We had an oil-and-water relationship due to her mental illness and personality issues. Still, you seem to have broken free of that slightly toxic relationship. How can others wade through?
Dawn Lerman: As a child I remember wishing that my mother would be more like my grandmother, her own mother.  My mother was not very domestic and she found the things I loved boring, but through our battles I knew my mom loved me and she did the best she knew how. I think managing expectations of our parents is important.  As a mom now, I see that the things I care about are very different than what my son values. I also think forgiveness is very important.
L.L.: What advice would you give to those who are interested in writing about family and their relationship with them?
Dawn Lerman: Write from your heart. Write what you know. 
L.L.: Where is everyone now? Can you give us an update?
Dawn Lerman: My dad is now 210 pounds and vegan. My actress sister is now a family therapist and my mom was recently in a play as the star character instead of being on the sidelines. And I am a  writer and a nutritionist working with kids.
L.L.: What question should I have asked, but forgot?
Dawn Lerman:
Q: What do you want people to remember about your story?
A: I hope my story helps families create happy memories around food.  I also hope that “food” is seen to be more than just the macronutrients, protein, fat, or carbs from which it is composed.  I have always had a passion for taking any family recipe and making it healthier—I hope readers can see that good food can taste good and you don’t need to give up your traditional favorites if you are willing to exchange a few ingredients (There is an index at the back of My Fat Dad that explains what you can use as a substitute for most of the basics that go into every recipe).
 
L.L.: Dawn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for inspiring us with your tale of food, family, and culture.
Dawn Lerman: Thank you, Leslie!
For more information, to purchase MY FAT DAD, or to follow on social media, please visit:
Dawn Lerman Family

Dawn Lerman Family

About the Author: Dawn Lerman is a Manhattan based nutritionist, best selling author of My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes, and a contributor to the NewYork Times Well Blog . She has been featured on NBC, NPR, Huff Post TV as well as several other news outlets. Her company Magnificent Mommies provides nutrition education to student, teachers and corporation. You can find dawn@dawnlerman or Dawn Lerman.net 

Well.blogsnewyorktimes.com/author/dawn/lerman/ 
[All images courtesy of D. Lerman]
 

Wednesdays with Writers: Finding the deeper truth in fiction, his favorite place in the world, fear of the blank page and rediscovering lost love, Thomas Christopher Greene talks about his stunning new book, IF I FORGET YOU

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I closed this book for the last time with my heart in my throat and a deep visceral sigh. If I had been alone and not in a car traveling at eighty miles an hour filled with the giddy sounds of 5th grade girls, I might have shed a tear. And then I looked over at my husband, who was driving, and thought, “This life.” IF I FORGET YOU

IF I FORGET YOU (released yesterday, June 14 2016 from St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books)began for the author as many books do for many authors. It began as a question, “What if?” Simple as that. We all wonder from time to time about that first love, about that person who made such a mark on our lives, it’s stamped on our psyche forever. And then the muse takes over. A story told from a series of fragmented memories, wonderings, a compelling force drawing the ‘what if’ to fruition. .

Told from such raw, simple honesty, IF I FORGET YOU is wrapped in an delicately-spun tale of secrets, love, and finding one another again. 

Today, I am more than honored to sit down with Thomas Christopher Greene and chat about his story, the one encased in just glittery prose it might just make your eyes hurt to read it.

Leslie Lindsay: The story behind the story is almost as compelling as the story itself. This is often the case in many books. And they all vary widely. IF I FORGET YOU is based on a kernel of truth, as most every novel is. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration?

Thomas Christopher Greene: One of my best friends, who I have known since college, came over my house for dinner one night. After a few glasses of wine, he asked me if he could take a look at my Facebook page and when I asked why, he told me it was because I was Facebook friends with the girl he had loved in college. He’s a happily married guy with children but I remember the relationship he had with his college girlfriend from back in those days and how I thought they would be together forever.  I logged onto the computer for him and I saw something give in his face when he saw her all these years later, as if all that passion from youth came roaring back for him. I left him alone with her image. And later, I began to think, what if? What if they were to run into each other this many years later? That was the germ that started this novel.

L.L.: There are so many things in IF I FORGET YOU that are told from this well of raw, uncensored, personal anecdotes. But it’s not autobiographical; it’s fiction. Where does the truth in fiction lie for you? Can you explain?

Thomas Christopher Greene: All fiction, for me, is somewhat autobiographical. I mean, I draw on my own experiences and sometimes my characters are composites of me and of other people, but mostly I draw on places I know and things I feel. Fiction, at its core, is an artifice that allows us to find a deeper truth, an honesty we might not tap into fully without the device of the story. There are parts of Henry that are very true to me. I went to a real college in western New York that is strikingly similar to Bannister and there I became a writer. In some ways, Henry’s arc of discovering his desire to write mirrors my own. But finding that deeper truth is what it’s all about.  It’s the reason I write.

L.L.: In the novel, Henry goes to this lovely Vermont cabin for summer work. But I understand it’s a favorite hideaway for you and your family. The cabin exists, not just in the minds of readers and characters, but in a real, tangible place. Can you describe how the cabin came to be in IF I FORGET YOU and the way it speaks to you in the sense of a muse?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I own this small, seasonal cabin on a lake in northern Vermont, about thirty miles north of my year round house. It’s my favorite place in the world and I represented it in the book pretty much exactly how it is. It was there on a hot summer night watching the fireflies skim above the lake that I first started writing about Henry img-4292-vermont-rentaland Margot. It’s a terrific place to write for me, sitting outside on the deck above the water, just the glow of my laptop and the stars out. I wrote probably half the book there and then the season ended and we closed up for the year. But I decided to give my cabin to Henry in the novel, both as an act of solidarity between us, but also because it’s such a romantic place in many ways, and I just wanted to have him take Margot there. I knew she would love it.

L.L.: I’m enamored by your lyrical, fluid prose. And instead of asking where you learned to write like that, I think I’ll ask how you continue to sharpen the saw when it comes to writing?

Thomas Christopher Greene: Well, thank you. To be honest, I don’t really know how I do the thing I do, though I’ve been doing it a long time. I can tell when I am writing well, though, because it doesn’t feel forced, or like writing, but more like music that you hear in your head and have to get it out onto the page. But all language, words and sentences, exist for one reason, to serve story, in my mind. But I would say the way I stay sharp is to read. The most important thing a writer can do is read. And then write.

L.L.: In the novel, Henry is a poet. And oh, how I adore reading about writers! I can almost always tell when reading if that author fancies him or herself a poet. It’s that glittery use of words that give it away. Do you write poetry? How has it shaped you into the novelist you are today?

Thomas Christopher Greene: The only poem I have ever written in my life is in this book, and it is Henry’s poem. I confess that I am mildly hoping none of my poet friends read it. The other night I had a drink with Matthew Dickman, a brilliant poet who is on my faculty, and was telling him about this and my horror when folks like him read this novel. He said if he had known he would have written the poem for me, for a note in the acknowledgments. Kicking myself I hadn’t thought of that.

L.L.: Mostly, IF I FORGET YOU is a love story. But love is a prickly, thorny thing. And there are stories of rekindling love, lost love, first love, etc. In what ways do you see this one as being ‘different?’

Thomas Christopher Greene: I think I have mostly been telling some variation of the same story over and over, which I think a lot of writers do. Some people believe there are really only four or five different stories—stranger comes to town, two people meet, etc. The differences are in the particularity of perspective you give your characters: how do their own experiences influence the way they see the world? I admit it’s hard to say new things about love, so in some ways I am not trying to do that. Instead I am more focused on saying things about love that hopefully speak to something we all have felt and can relate to.

L.L.: I’ve heard that this story poured out of you very quickly, that is was almost like a damn bursting and all of these little stories that make up IF I FORGET YOU  just flowed. Can you talk about what kind of writer you are? A plotter? A pantser? And does it matter?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I don’t really plot. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the story before I ever write. I try to understand who they are and how they would behave, and then I think about how to get them in trouble and see how they react. By the time I sit down to write, I generally have in my head the general architecture of the novel, the arc of the story. And then I write to plot points and I revise as I go.

L.L.: What ever trumps you in the writing life?

Thomas Christopher Greene: Time is always a challenge. I run a very busy college. But there is always a fear somewhere inside that you won’t be able to do this again, that the next time the blank page confronts you you’ll have nothing to give. But then you put that out of your mind and just work. Somehow it works out. download (6)

L.L.: What might be obsessing you now, and why?

Thomas Christopher Greene: The new book I’m working on. It’s a very suspenseful literary thriller about a young married couple who realize they don’t actually know each other as well as they thought they did.

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

Thomas Christopher Greene: As usual, I think you really covered it. So, no.

L.L.: Tom, it was a pleasure chatting with you. And I so loved IF I FORGET YOU. It’s certainly a story I won’t.

Thomas Christopher Greene: You’re very kind, Leslie. The pleasure was mine.

For more information, or to follow on social media, please visit: 

Thomas Christopher Greene by Beowulf Sheehan  www.beowulfsheehan.com

Thomas Christopher Greene by Beowulf Sheehan

Author Bio: Thomas Christopher Greene is the author of four previous novels: The Headmaster’s Wife, Envious Moon, I’ll Never Be Long Gone, and Mirror Lake. His fiction has been translated into 13 languages. In 2008, Greene founded Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top graduate fine arts college, making him the youngest college president in the country at the time. He lives and works in Vermont. Visit him at www.thomaschristophergreene.com. [Special thanks to K. Bassel and K.Kamm at St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books. Author and cover image courtesy of SMP. Vermont cabin image retrieved from and bears no resemblance to the author’s actual cabin.]

Wednesdays with Writers: Getting to “know” characters, Lisa Unger talks about the dichotomy of ordinary and extraordinary, how she ‘found’ the title to INK & BONE, how writing is a delicate union of observation & imagination, of intuition & creativity

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From her stunning debut, BEAUTIFUL LIES, to last year’s critically-acclaimed CRAZY LOVE YOU, New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger is a force to be reckoned with.Ink and Bone

Today, I’m super-excited to welcome Lisa for her third visit and book chat. Join us as we delve into the dark world of a reluctant, edgy young psychic, the granddaughter of Eloise Montgomery. If you’re an Unger fan, you’ll know exactly who Eloise Montgomery is—we’ve met her in THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS series as well as a token appearance in CRAZY LOVE YOU. And if you’re not yet familiar with the complex, fearless, and original mind of Lisa, then it’s time to get you acquainted.

Visited by apparitions and haunted by dreams since she was just a child, 20-year old Finley Montgomery has never been fully able to control the things that happen to her, from her personal life to other psychic-related events. She moves from Seattle, WA to the fictional town, The Hollows where she lives with her grandmother in hopes of understanding and harnessing her gifts.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, I can’t believe it’s been three years! Welcome back. I’ve loved all of your books and just find them so original and fascinating. And now, INK & BONE makes its way into world…what was it keeping you up at night that lead to the conception of INK & BONE?

Lisa Unger: Has it been three years?!  Thank you, Leslie, for your very kind words and for inviting me to your blog again.  It’s always a delight to “chat” with you.

Mainly it was Finley Montgomery, the wild child at the center of this book, that drew me into INK AND BONE. With her gleaming purple Harley and her tattoos, her hot pink hair and her strength of spirit and the ghosts she’s trying to outrun.  Then, of course, there’s my ongoing obsession with a fictional town called The Hollows. And, finally, it was Eloise Montgomery, Finley’s grandmother who I’ve been getting to know for a couple of years.  Last year, I had the opportunity to explore Eloise in the e-novella, The Whispering Hollows.  The novella, spanning thirty years, and weaving in between the novels in which she’s featured, allowed me to dive into her character in a way I hadn’t before.  She’s had a number of her own books, but INK AND BONE is really an important evolution in her journey.  The novella is also where I first started to get to know Finley.  She was so compelling, so different from Eloise, I knew she was going to need her own story.  And even though there are a number of powerful voices in the novel, I think INK AND BONE is really her book.

L.L.: But you don’t have to read THE WHISPERING HOLLOWS before enjoying INK & BONE, do you?

Lisa Unger: No, definitely not.  All my books are written to stand alone. And although the novels set in The Hollows are often chain linked by character, it’s not a series in the traditional sense.  You’ll see some of the same people, their stories may evolve, and certainly The Hollows is changing.  (Of course, as the author, I have a preferred order, and you can find it by visiting my website)   But each story is its own universe, and is an experience unto itself.  No one will feel lost entering at any point.

L.L.: I understand you worked closely with John Edward, a psychic medium (and book publicist!) who specializes communicating with the dead. Can you tell us what that experience was like?

Lisa Unger:  Actually, I worked on John Edward’s book, ONE LAST TIME as a book publicist.  He wasn’t a book publicist! I was an assistant on the project, so I didn’t work with him very closely. But he definitely had an impact on me.  onelasttimehardcover
Some of the readings he did for people I knew were nothing short of amazing. I have always been curious about the idea of psychic ability, and John Edwards is clearly tapped into some other plane of existence.  But he’s also this very kind, down-to-earth and normal guy.  It was that dichotomy, of the extraordinary and the ordinary dwelling side by side in the same person, that was the germ for Eloise.  It was many years after I worked with him that Eloise found her way on to the page.

L.L.: Twenty-year old college student Finely is covered with tattoos. In that regard, she reminded me a bit of the elusive character in NBC’s THE BLINDSPOT. And your descriptions of the tattoo-ing process is remarkable. Can you share with us a bit about how you decided to give Finley these tattoos, what it symbolizes, and the research you must have done to make it appear authentic on the page?

Lisa Unger: I haven’t watched BLINDSPOT, though it’s on my TBW list! Is it good? Nor do I have any tattoos of my own!  I suppose if I were really dedicated to my fiction, I’d have gotten one. But I’m too much of a chicken!

I often have a three-pronged approach to research.  Mostly, it starts online – the whole universe is at your fingertips these days, for better or worse. Then, if I need more in-depth information, I turn to books.  And if I’m still lacking information, I’ll generally find someone to interview.  For this one, my research was all online.  I read as much as I could about download (5)the process, and watched videos of people getting tattoos, as well as a number of episodes of “Miami Ink.”  Plus, my husband has a few tattoos, so he filled me in on some of the details, as well.  If it comes up again in another book, or if Rainer has a bigger role in the future, I’ll probably find a tattoo parlor to hang out in for a while, just to keep learning more of the finer points.  Research is ongoing, a part of my life.

For Finley, there’s a deep fissure between her inner life and outer life.  She’s struggling with that split, with her abilities, with understanding herself.  Eloise worries that the tattoos are a form of masochism.  And I think that might be part of it.  But more so, it is Finley’s way of aligning her inner world with the world outside.  It’s a way she has of grounding herself in her flesh, of reminding herself that she dwells in the real world, not in the world beyond, that’s she’s solid, and in charge of herself.  Hence the title, INK AND BONE.

L.L.: And then you have Finley studying psychology—specifically, Jung—who had a ‘thing’ for the paranormal, much unlike his counterpart, Freud. Can you speak to that, please?

Lisa Unger: Jungian themes run through my whole body of work.  But it was Finley that really required of me some deep research into his life and his fascination with the supernatural.  Carl Jung was a believer.  His mother was a psychic medium, he experienced a number of synchronistic events in his therapy with patients that he felt were evidence of another plane.  He had a vivid and affecting near death experience, where he felt he glimpsed the other side – and wasn’t too thrilled to come back.  And he had a spirit guide that he named Philemon, and with whom he consulted regularly.  Unlike his counterparts, Jung believed that psychic phenomenon should be explored even though its exploration often defied the traditional scientific method.  The anomalous event, the thing that is rare, unrepeatable, or “acausal” is dismissed by science.  But Jung’s idea was that so-called psychic abilities might just be an extension of normal human ability.  At least it was something to be explored.

So I approach Eloise and Finley, and Agatha, too, in that way.  They’re just normal people, with abnormal access to energies.  There’s a rush to categorize any book that takes on these kinds of topics as “paranormal” or “supernatural” and those words have a kind of charge.  But to me, Eloise and Finley aren’t any different than any of my other characters.  They just have this different thing going on that I love exploring.

L.L.: As a writer, I’m often intrigued with structural choices authors make (and there are so many!). How did you decide to structure INK & BONE in the manner you did; Finley’s story braided with the current child abductions in The Hollows, coupled with Eloise’s journey? In fact, it seems there are a least 4 different POVs…there were lots of voices that needed to be heard.

Lisa Unger: Weirdly enough, choice doesn’t play a big role in my process. It’s not like I have something I want to say and try to find a perspective from which to say it.  All my novels weave themselves through character voice.  Sometimes it’s just one voice, sometimes it’s a few.  I hear those voices, dwell in those perspectives and have faith that they are going to stitch themselves together into a novel.  Every story has multiple facets, in fiction as in life.  Sometimes I just have access to one person’s perspective, sometimes I get to see the story from multiple angles. That was the case in INK AND BONE. 

L.L.: In many ways, being a writer is akin to being a psychic. We have to intuit our characters, their motivations, ‘see’ them in our mind’s eye, while at the same time, be especially observant of the details of life. I’m thinking your ‘only gift’ is that of a writer, but do you ever feel as if you have any intuitive abilities of your own?images (3)

Lisa Unger: I do think of myself as intuitive, as well as empathetic. But probably first, I’m a careful observer.  I listen, watch, absorb detail – in other words, I pay close attention to people and the world around me.  You touch on something interesting here.  How writing is a delicate union of observation and imagination, of intuition and creativity.  We have to inhabit our characters with compassion and an open heart in order for them to tell their stories through us.  There is a deep connection, one that goes beyond the act of the writer “creating” character.   As I experience this process, it’s more like listening to the characters who are already living in my head, trying to tell a story.

L.L.: I love how you say, you love sitting down at your desk and finding such ‘magic and joy in what pours out, that there’s no way of knowing what amazing things you’ll find. Truth be told, that’s my favorite way of writing, too. But sometimes those ‘found literary surprises’ pucker your narrative. How can a writer reconcile that?

Lisa Unger: Hmm … interesting.  How do you react when surprises “pucker” your life?  You’re either broken by it, derailed, or you flow with it and allow it to take you into whatever phase comes next.  So with fiction. Either you’re writing from an organic, authentic place where you’re letting story flow through you.  Or you’ve come to the page with a rigid idea of what you’re going to put down.  If the latter, then you’re going to be annoyed and frustrated with new ideas, thoughts, and directions because they’re taking you away from what you planned. I am not sure that’s the best way to write or to live.  Even the writers I know who work from an outline are available for the magic, the unexpected.  Because that’s the whole point.  It’s not about you, the author, what you wanted or what you thought was going to happen.  It’s about the story and, like life, we don’t always control that. Sometimes we just have to go with it.

L.L.: Oh, I feel as if I could ask questions all day, but alas, we have books to read—and write! Thanks for popping by, Lisa and best of luck on your summer tour.

Lisa Unger: We do!  Thanks so much for having me, Leslie!  I always enjoy talking with you!

For more information, or to follow on social media:

  • Facebook: authorlisaunger
  • Twitter: @lisaunger
  • Instagram: @launger

Lisa Unger (credit Jeff Unger)LISA UNGER is an award-winning New York Times and internationally bestselling author.  Her novels have sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into twenty-six languages.  She has been selected as an International Thriller Writers “Best Novel” finalist, a Silver Medal winner in the Florida Book Awards, and a Prix Polar International Award finalist.  Most recently, In the Blood won the Silver Falchion Award for Best Crime Thriller and was also named a Best of 2014 suspense thriller by Suspense Magazine.  Unger lives in Clearwater Beach, Florida with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.  Visit her at http://www.lisaunger.com.

[Author Photo credit: Jeff Unger. Cover image courtesy of Touchstone Books/Simon&Schuster. John Edward’s book image retrieved on 6.2.16 from his website, Miami Ink image retrieved on 6.2.16 from]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Marion Pauw talks about her stunning thriller, THE GIRL IN THE DARK, how a trip to Panama changed her, creating circumstances in which you flourish, shitty first drafts, thearpy for writer’s block, how the body doesn’t lie, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In the vein of blockbuster thrillers such as THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and THE GOOD GIRL and the GIRL IN THE RED COAT, among others, it’s no surprise that GIRL IN THE DARK jumped out at me recently. GirlintheDark.JPG

Internationally bestselling author Marion Pauw  makes a splash with her riveting mystery/psych thriller GIRL IN THE DARK (Feb 2016, HarperColloins/William Morrow).

This domestic thriller has taken the Netherlands by storm with its psychological twists, high concept plot, and unique characters…and now, the U.S. can get a glimpse.

Iris is a single mother struggling with raising her behaviorally-challenged young boy while working part-time as a lawyer. In a very deliberate, yet organic manner, Iris uncovers facts that lead her to believe she has an older brother her mother never spoke of (NOT a spoiler, this is mentioned on the jacket flap). What’s worse, is this brother is institutionalized for a horrific crime he did not commit. Or, so he says.

Ray, meanwhile tells his story, through the eyes of a loveable, but “off-kilter” grown man in an autistic unit at a hospital. He loves fish. He’s obsessed with his saltwater aquarium and knows everything about it. Through flashbacks, we become the fabric of Ray’s life before his crime, we meet the woman and her young daughter who live next-door, and the family secrets buried so deep they’re bound to resurface.

And they do.

GIRL IN THE DARK is an irresistible combination of suspense and murder, lies, unrequited love, and the complicated bonds of family that survive–perhaps, barely–in the face of insurmountable odds.

I’m honored to welcome Marion Pauw to the blog. Thank you for joining us, Marion!

Leslie Lindsay: I know what’s haunting me about GIRL IN THE DARK—there are several images holding on like barnacles, as well as moral conundrums I keep thinking about. I don’t want to give it away, but I do want to know what was haunting you when you penned this story?

Marion Pauw: I always have been fascinated by nurture vs nature. What does it take to push a person over the edge to commit a horrible crime? Is there a scientific formula of personality traits x upbringing x events? In that way I am not interested in psychopaths or organized crime. I like thinking and writing about normal people who trip over the edge. Because of course I wonder if it could ever happen to me.

download (1)The other thing is that it would be the most horrible thing in the world to be confined to a mental institution for the criminally insane if you were innocent. Being in a prison would be bad enough, but this would be an even bigger nightmare as you are not sure if and when you will ever get out. In the case of Ray, being the way he is, he would have a hard time defending himself as he cannot read between the lines and has a very linear way of thinking. Because of him being different, his conviction would always include spending time in an institution.

L.L.: I really liked Ray. I know he’s been accused of this horrific crime and comes across as a little weird, but he’s likeable. And I think, autistic. In all honesty, I think I’ve read maybe two other books with an autistic protagonist. Where did the idea for Ray come from? Can you share a bit about his development with us?

Marion Pauw: My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was small. I as a mother always felt we were trying to push the round shape through the square shape of the block box. It was at times very frustrating because our whole system is built around a certain range. If you are too far on either side, there is just no place for you.

I wanted to give a 360 degree view on what it would be like to have Asperger’s. Having said that, nowadays I have a different view on Asperger’s when while writing the book. A visit to an indigenous tribe in Panama with my children changed a lot for me. I remember arriving and my daughter, my ‘normal’ kid took one look at the bare chested women and men wearing loincloths and said : ‘OMG mom, I don’t know if I can get used to this.’ Not my son. He got out of the boat and from that moment on he was there. I mean, really there. He would be fishing, playing soccer with an old torn ball, roaming around the jungle with the other kids. And at times I would have lost him and would find him in someone’s hut laughing and teaching each other local words. It was amazing to see this. And at that moment I realized: my son is not an autist, he is just a nature person. images (1)

When you come to think of it, if you lived in the jungle, all your senses would have to be wide open. You would have to be able to smell your prey, hear the faintest ruffle of the wind, see the bird hidden in the tree. Then imagine having to live in the modern day world with senses that wide open. If you would hear, see, smell, feel everything, all these details, you would go absolute nuts. You would have to find ways to protect yourself. You would figure out rituals to soothe yourself, you would try not to make too much contact.  All these symptoms we like to place in the autistic spectrum. So in my point of view, autism is not a disorder, it is a matter of being wired differently. And you have to create circumstances where your wiring helps you flourish in stead of lock down.

One more thing: imagine placing a real city kid in the jungle. He would probably show some very disturbing behaviour and the indigenous people might think he had a disorder.

“Gut-wrenching and relatable. A must-read for fans of character-driven stories, such as Tana French’s Faithful Place.”

Booklist

L.L.: Speaking of protagonists…the way I see GIRL IN THE DARK, there were dual-narrators, Iris and Ray. Others will argue that there can only be one protagonist in a story, one single person we are fighting for, but still…I didn’t see it that way. Can you speak to that, please?

Marion Pauw: Haha, this actually is the first time someone has ever said that to me. I like having two narrators as you can see them coming closer to each other throughout the book.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you let the pen do the leading, or do you carefully craft plot?

Marion Pauw: I really admire people that have the discipline to plot out the whole book and have a wall full of post-its. I have been doing screenwriting as well, and then I am forced to work that way and I am always so relieved when I can just start writing instead of plotting! I really love the process of being behind my desk and trying to let inspiration take over. I like being surprised! But on the other hand, I always do make a basic outline, because you have to have some point at the horizon.

L.L.: So revisions…I’ll be the first to say that I hate them. There are many writers who say things like, ‘write a junky first draft; just get it down.’ And then there are people like me who say, ‘make the first one pretty good so you don’t have to do much work later.’ Where do you stand on this?

Marion Pauw: I am a ‘real shitty first draft’-kind of writer. I believe I read this in Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. Whenever I try to write something really good, I get so stressed out, I completely lose my mojo as a writer. When I write my first draft I just make myself go from a to z on intuition. After that is done, the real crafting begins. I also like that phase, because then I am not so worried about if I will be able to complete the story. I know I have, all I have to do now is make it better! I think it is very normal for a writer to be totally insecure, as the pressure is so high. You just have to figure out ways to encourage and soothe yourself every day. I have also had writer’s block for a couple of months. I felt like I was a little kid trying to make a drawing while behind me there were people looking over my shoulder saying ‘Now draw, dammit’. I had to go into therapy to get over that. Seriously.

L.L.: As a writer with two young boys, what do you find the most challenging aspect of balancing your writing life?

Marion Pauw: My kids are almost mature now. My son is 17 and my daughter is 18. This makes all the difference. Now I can just give them money and say ‘It’s your turn to get groceries and cook.’ But that is just the practical part. Honestly I feel super guilty for being so preoccupied with my work so often. When I am writing, I am just not completely there. A part of me is always wondering off, thinking about the story. My kids can sometimes talk to me and I do not completely hear what they say. Or they go to school and I realize I have not one time really looked them in the eye. I really do not like that about myself, and I am trying to do better. What I really prefer is just going somewhere for a month by myself and just write, write, write. In that way I can get a lot of work done and by the time I come home again, I am more present.

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

Marion Pauw: Right now I am actually studying! I had wanted to do something completely different for a while and I had done this body based therapy that really helped me, so now I am doing the course myself. The whole theory is that the body cannot lie. You can fool yourself thinking all kinds of thoughts, but your body will always tell the true story. Also lots of old emotions get stored in the body etcetera. It is super interesting. After I have finished this study of 4 years, I would like to write a book on this subject.

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

Marion Pauw: Ehmmm. ‘Is it true that all people in Amsterdam smoke pot?’ Haha, that is what most people ask me when they hear I live in Amsterdam. The answer is no, by the way.

L.L.: Marion, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Just loved GIRL IN THE DARK and wish you the best of luck!

Marion Pauw:  Thank you, Leslie!

 

5389aa5fddf0c0.83985404About the Author: Marion Pauw is an author and screenwriter. Her novel DAYLIGHT (aka GIRL IN THE DARK) won the Golden Noose Award in the Netherlands and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Europe. GIRL IN THE DARK is her US debut.  Pauw is one of the bestselling writers of The Netherlands whose books have also been published in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, and now the U.S.  She made her debut with Villa Serena in 2005.  Her big breakthrough to a wider readership and the critics came with Girl in the Dark (2008). The Dutch film rights for the book were sold to Eyeworks and successfully adapted to a movie. Next, she wrote the thrillers Sinner Child, Jet-Set and Kicking the Bucket.  As a screenwriter, Pauw has adapted several series for Dutch television, including In Treatment and Diary of a Callgirl. Pauw lives in Amsterdam with her two children.

[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow. Asperger’s image retrieved from on 5.4.16. Nature vs nurture retrieved from on 5.4.16]