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


By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Library Journal (starred review)

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

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

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


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

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


Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com



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

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


By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma Donoghue: Nothing springs to mind.

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

Emma Donoghue:  Thank you!

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

emma-donoghue-nina-subinAbout the Author:

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

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


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


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


By Leslie Lindsay 

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

“where super-powered adventures and veggies collide!”

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

  • Facebook: The Rootlets

  • Twitter: @Therootlets

  • Website
  • To purchase THE ROOTLETS, click here

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


You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at:

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

Writers on Wednesday: Bestselling author John Hart talks about REDEMPTION ROAD, writing a female protagonist for the first time, the gritty South, finding zen on the farm, & how writing allows us the ability to explore things we love and loathe.


By Leslie Lindsay 

Since 2011, when his last New York Times bestseller, IRON HOUSE, shot out of the gate, gripping readers and winning resounding praise, fans around the world have been waiting.download-14

Five years later, phenomenal storyteller John Hart returns with his dark, gritty Southern fiction with a literary slant aptly titled, REDEMPTION ROAD (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, May 3 2016). Trust me, if you want to feel as if you’re in the hands of a seasoned pro, get REDEMPTION ROAD, revel in it, and then wish you could write like that (or at least see all story elements that you’re sure to miss the first time around); the man can flat-out write. Set in small town North Carolina, REDEMPTION ROAD is all about tortured souls, traumatized children, corrupt law enforcers, and a serial killer. Toss in a little religious undercurrent, and it’s very emotionally charged powerhouse of a novel that will leave your head spinning. There’s so much going on in REDEMPTION ROAD, it’s challenging to summarize, but that’s the sign of a good book, at least in my opinion.

Elizabeth Black (Liz) is Hart’s first female protagonist and he writes her beautifully. She’s a loner and a giver, a fallen cop trying to do all the right things in the wrong ways. Her first (former) partner (Adrian Wall) has been imprisoned for the last thirteen years and is just about to be released when things to start happening. Could it be that Wall was wrongly accused of his crime? Elizabeth is determined to prove the justice system wrong. Meanwhile, in a cold, damp basement in an abandoned home lies a pretty rich girl badly raped and beaten. Her tormentors shot not once, or twice, or six times…but eighteen.

Way out yonder is an abandoned church. Bodies pile up at the altar. Some of whom have been missing. And why does Elizabeth hate her father so?

Join me as I welcome the only author to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John Hart.

Leslie Lindsay: John, it’s an honor to have you today. Thank you for taking the time to pop over. I’m always fascinated with what inspires an author to write a certain story at a certain time; so why REDEMPTION ROAD, why now, and what were some of your limitations?

John Hart: Hi Leslie. The pleasure is mine. Thanks for the interest in what I do. As I never write from an outline it’s hard to summarize any set of reasons explaining why I wrote REDEMPTION ROAD. I begin with an idea for the main character then try to find a story that allows deeper exploration of what fascinates me about that person. I never thought I would write a “serial killer story.” It’s not what I read. So Redemption Road, as it exists, was the merest glimmer of an idea when I began.

The original conceit was to write a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. I loved the concept of a good man made bitter and hard through wrongful imprisonment, and the 220px-louis_francais-dantes_sur_son_rocherquestions of what he might do once released. I wrote close to an entire book along those lines before realizing that I was telling the wrong person’s story. It wasn’t the released prisoner who fascinated me, but a young detective who’d always believed in his innocence. I started the book over, telling it as her story instead. She’s my first female protagonist, and I’ll admit to a certain trepidation in writing her. I’ve always believed, though, that if a writer is not working in a state of near-constant discomfort then the writer is not pushing the envelope hard enough.

L.L.: I understand you’ve stepped away from your previous career(s) as a criminal defense attorney, but REDEMPTION ROAD deals with so many criminal-like issues: corrupt police officers for one, prison abuse, catching the bad guys…did your background lead organically to the fictional construction of some of these grim realities?

John Hart: No writer should allow background experiences to limit what or how one writes. The world is too big, in my opinion, to simply “write what you know.” That said, there’s always some amount of reality that filters into a novel. My time around cops and jails and prisons certainly colors my perceptions about those worlds. Largely, I remain in terrified awe of the institutional callousness that – by necessity, I imagine – defines so much of life in and around our prison system. It’s easy to build on that reality, to demonize faceless authority and elevate systemic indifference to something brutal and cruel. That’s the beauty of fiction. We get to explore the things we love and fear and hate.

L.L.: I would classify REDEMPTION ROAD as a Southern literary thriller with a strong crime story at the heart. Yet it’s so very character-driven. Do characters sort of “present” themselves to you, or are they carefully cultivated? And you mention trepidation in writing Elizabeth (Liz) Black…I think that’s a normal response.

John Hart: I’d say that characters tend to present themselves, though I’d qualify that statement as oversimplification. So much of writing happens between the lines. Where do our thoughts go as we drive the car, mow the lawn, drift in and out of sleep? I’m always thinking about the book, the characters. What feels “presented” likely derives from more of a slow build than I might otherwise imagine. When I do “see” them though, I see them close to fully formed. That said, there’s always room to be surprised. And yes…the female lead of REDEMPTION ROAD was supposed to be a bit player. She had other ideas.

L.L.: And of course, I love the South! There’s something bucolic about the slower pace of life, the tie to the land, the sun dappling from wrap-around porches, and the connection of generations. Yet this story is dark, gritty. And so, too can the South be tormented. Can you speak to that, please?

John Hart: Life in the South involves all the good things you mention, but our past is virginia-plains-farmhouse-rear2.jpgtortured and bloody. The shadow of slavery and racism lies over everything. So do persistent pockets of endemic poverty. The friction between haves and have-nots makes fertile ground for storytelling. Bear in mind, too, that memories of the Civil War are more vivid here. Cities were burned, families destroyed. That’s rich soil, too.

L.L.: You’re married, you have two daughters…I’m curious how your writing life blends with your family; it’s so challenging sometimes to turn off the stories in one’s head. And what do your kids think of their bestselling dad?

John Hart: I’ve learned to stay present when I’m with the family, and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Writing for a living means that the story is always in your thoughts. Sometimes its more real than the conversation you’re ignoring or the appointment you’ve just forgotten. If you’re making it as a writer then the world forgives those little sins. The same rule should never apply to family. If my daughter is playing hockey, I want to be there. When my wife speaks, I try hard to listen. Believe it or not, that’s a learned skill for a full-time writer. The books work because we immerse ourselves. As for my kids, I think “Dad” is just “Dad.” I go to work. I take out the trash. My career is rarely a topic of conversation.

L.L.: What’s captured your attention lately? What gets you out of bed in the morning? It doesn’t have to be literary.

John Hart: I’ve found my way to an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life. For me, that’s working on the farm. If it’s a pretty day, I can’t wait to hit my word count and get on the tractor. I like to keep the fields cut, the trails clear. My dogs are with me. There’re deer and turkey everywhere. It’s my zen.

L.L.: What’s next for you?

John Hart: I’m wrapping final pages on my next book – THE HUSH – which comes out in July of next year. It’s a sequel to my third novel, THE LAST CHILD [click here to learn more]. It’s the first time I’ve revisited characters I know and love from an earlier book. It’s more fun than I thought it would be.

“Big, bold, and impossible to put down, Redemption Road had me from page one. John Hart is a master storyteller.”

– Harlan Coben

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

John Hart: You forgot nothing. The questions were perfect. I will take a moment to say what an absolute gift the writing life has proven to be. It’s isolating and lonesome at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for retirement, a pile of money or any other career. I consider it the ultimate expression of personal freedom, and encourage any aspiring writers to pursue it as passionately as I have. I wrote two failed novels before my third was published, and I know many famous authors with similar stories. Success in this business demands perseverance as much or more than it requires talent.

L.L.: It was a privilege to connect with you today, John. All the best!

John Hart: Many thanks.

For more information about REDEMPTION ROAD, or to purchase, please see links below: 

download-2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Hart is the author of REDEMPTION ROAD, and of four New York Times bestsellers, THE KING OF LIES, DOWN RIVER, THE LAST CHILD and IRON HOUSE. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His novels have been translated into thirty languages and can be found in over seventy countries. A former defense attorney and stockbroker, John spends his time in North Carolina and Virginia, where he writes full-time.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various social media channels. Hope to see you around.


[Special thanks to J. Velella at SMP. Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. The Count of Monte Cristo original cover image retrieved from Wikipedia on 10.11.16. Virginia farmhouse retrieved from, other John Hart cover images retrieved from author’s website, also on 10.11.16]

BookS on MondaY: Husband-Wife creative team talk about their new children’s book, MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY, the environment, and a mouthwatering discussion on a breakfast staple.


By Leslie Lindsay 

Can a pancake save the world? That’s the question this delightful children’s tale sets out to seek. 

Before going fishing one day, Ethan eats his favorite breakfast–pancakes! As his mom explains how pancakes are made with the help of the sun, clouds, rain, animals, and farmers, Ethan sees the world in a new way. 30764934

While playing outside, Ethan decides to create a big splash by throwing a can of in the lake and accidentally contaminates the environment. Time passes and one day Ethan notices that his pancakes taste different. Could that can in the lake have made that change? Ethan enlists the help of his friends to correct his mistake. Do Ethan and his friends repair that mistake, but most of all–what do they learn in the process?

Today, I am honored to have Bruce Galpert here to chat with us…over a big plate of pancakes! 

Leslie Lindsay: I’m always curious about what inspired the idea behind stories, what drives someone to spend countess hours crafting a story…can you tell us your inspiration behind MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY?

Bruce Galpert: As a young father with two sons, I read a lot to my kids…I also spent most Sundays cooking pancakes with and for them–I ate quite a few myself! Trying to teach my kids life lessons, recycling and protecting the environment were also concepts that were important, but difficult to teach to young kids. I always felt that it was hard for children to grasp how their actions could impact the environment positively or negatively. The idea of MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY! came out of that quest.

L.L.: Tell us more about the character of Ethan. How would you describe him? Is he modeled after anyone in particular, your own son, perhaps?

Bruce Galpert: Ethan is just like my youngest son Evan was at that age. The character of Ethan is built around Evan: Ethan is eight years old, observant, intelligent, fun loving, sweet and kind to nature, animals and others. He loves his pancakes and his mother!  He is smart and funny, has tons of friends, and is always asking questions.  In real life, I now have a three-year old grandson named Ethan by way of my son Matthew, so all bases are covered!

L.L.: Writing is certainly not easy or glamorous–at least not all the time. What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY! ?

Bruce Galpert: Getting started, the beginning, the middle, and the end! Writing is not my strong suit! Fortunately for me, my wife Heather came into my life. Not only did she inherit my family, but she inherited this project of 20 years that I was unable to complete, even after attending children’s book writing workshops given by some of the best writers in the business. She is credited for helping me put a structure around the story and move it from an idea to something I can hold and read to my grandkids.

L.L.: What was the most rewarding moment you experienced while writing this book?

Bruce Galpert: Seeing the beautiful artwork that Barbara Cate did, and how it worked in harmony with the writing to really tell the story. Heather and I have had such a wonderful time working on this together – it’s our baby.

204255_origL.L.: How much research did you do for the book? What type of research did you do?

Bruce Galpert: Countless Sundays making all kinds of pancakes: blueberry, chocolate, apple fritters. Flipping pancakes and spending time with my boys, was the extent of my research, the best kind! And sadly, watching the growing environmental stress and crisis we are facing as the years march on.

L.L.: What does your writing process look like?

Bruce Galpert: A lot of hair pulling and the words just fall into place. Heather is the the writer in the family, I’m a numbers guy. She helped me tease out the story.

L.L.: Writers get their inspiration from all places. Where do you turn for inspiration?

Bruce Galpert: Heather

L.L.: I love children’s books and I know exactly why: they were embedded in my young life as my dad read to me after work, his arms draped over my shoulders. Where did your interest in writing–and reading–children’s books begin?

Bruce Galpert: I have always had my favorite books…The 4 Chinese Brothers, Ferdinand the Bull, A Fly Went By, A Fish out of Water, Go Dog Go…many of these were based on cause and effect…progressive events.  I am also a cartoon addict, still to this day I spend more time watching cartoons than any other medium.  My son Evan is a brilliant voice over artist and my dream is to see him as a character in an animated film.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, what are some ways to get young people interested in the environment and what foods they eat?

Bruce Galpert: Farmer’s Markets, natural groceries, growing seeds from a packet at home. I think getting kids to engage with nature is the best way…sadly this is so hard for many kids around the world. I had the fortune to live in both Japan and the Philippines as a child and young adult, and the differences in the way each of those cultures reveres and cares for their environment is vast. It really begins culturally at a very young age.

L.L.: How should kids be taught about personal responsibility and their role in sustainability?

Bruce Galpert: By their parents, actions speak the loudest.

L.L.: How would you describe the importance of investing in our children?

Bruce Galpert: They are all we have for the future, a dollar invested in them is worth many more dollars in return down the road. You are seeing this in action today with all of the technology innovations from well-educated Millennials

L.L.: So I have to ask, how do you like to eat your pancakes? 

Bruce Galpert: I like putting chopped apples in the batter, adding cinnamon, and then topping with a blend of butter, syrup, and raspberry jam! Don’t forget to sprinkle powdered sugar on at the last minute. [Getting hungry for pancakes?! I am. Check out this delicious recipe from Bruce and Heather] Absolutely-fantastic-peanut-butter-pancakes-with-a-jelly-topping.jpg

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from My Pancakes Taste Different Today!?

Bruce Galpert: I hope that parents read the book to their kids and that the book is also used as an early reader. This will be the best way to teach children how their actions impact their world.

L.L.: What future projects are you working on?

Bruce Galpert: We have two books in the hopper that we are both very excited about.  One thing at a time I am told by my wife, but creativity has no timeline!

To connect with Bruce and Heather, please visit these social media links:

  • Hashtag #ThePancakesBook

  • Facebook: The Pancakes Book

  • Instagram and Pinterest: thepancakesbook

  • GoodReads Giveaway: Enter to WIN! (Beginning October 10-22, 2016)
  • Book & Author Website

About the Authors & Illustrator: Bruce lives with his wife Heather in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He attended the University of Dallas, where he majored in International Finance and Economics. Bruce has two adult sons, Matthew and Evan, and two grandchildren, Ethan and Avery. Growing up, Bruce lived in the Philippine Islands and Japan. He enjoys traveling, writing, skiing, chess, playing guitar, cooking and entertaining, playing tennis and golf. As a professional, Bruce has been an investment advisor for 32 years, he recommends that the best investment is an investment in our children. Heather thinks Bruce makes the best pancakes in the Whole Wide World!

Heather lives with her husband Bruce in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Heather has worked and volunteered most of her professional career in producing special events and fund raising for non profit organizations such as the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, The Santa Fe Community Foundation, and The Santa Fe Botanical Garden. She is a graduate of The Evergreen State College where she studied writing, art and design. Heather enjoys traveling, entertaining, decorating, hiking and playing tennis and golf. Bruce thinks Heather is a gourmet chef and budding tennis star.

Barbara: The Artist

Santa Fe artist Barbara Cate is an illustrator of books and has a greeting card line which may be seen at mesamooncards.com and at GardenandSoul.com. My Pancakes Taste Different Today! showcases her latest paintings. Barbara has lived in Hawaii and enjoys teaching children. Heather and Bruce think Barbara is the bee’s knees. 2892364_orig.jpg

Purchase MY PANCAKES TASTE DIFFERENT TODAY from these fine retailers: 

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

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook for this review copy. Images courtesy of author’s publicist. Interior illustrations retrieved from author’s website. Pancake image retrieved from]

Writers on Wednesday: Caroline Leavitt talks about being a ‘fall chicken,’ list-maker, fixer, mapping out stories via the Truby method, songs that influenced the 1960s & 1970s and so, so much more in her stellar CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD


By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist of PICTURES OF YOU, IS THIS TOMORROW, and GIRLS IN TROUBLE, Caroline Leavitt returns with her eleventh novel, a stellar read intersecting family, new love, and an anxious time in American history.

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Manson Murders, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD (Algonquin Books, Oct 4 2016) is at first blush, a coming-of-age tale, but the story grows immensely darker, about the perils of young love, controlling partners, and responsibility.

Sixteen year old Lucy is about to run away with her much older High School English teacher to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that has dire consequences for she and her older sister, Charlotte.Leavitt_CruelBeautiful_jkt_2MB_HR.jpg

Like most novels, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD is based on a smidgen of truth, a real-life crime concerning a girl who sat in front of Ms. Leavitt in a high school class for two years, who had a relationship with a thirty-year old man. It began for Leavitt as a ‘what-if ‘question, the kind that often propels a story from merely thinking about them, to getting them on paper.

Join me as I chat with Caroline about her inspiration and process behind CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand that CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD has been percolating for some time, that the seeds for this novel first sprouted when you were sixteen. But it wasn’t ready to be written just yet. Can you tell us more about that and why, might some stories have to incubate before getting to the page? And do you know whatever happened to that girl in your high school?

Caroline Leavitt: I have been wanting to write this for so long, but I didn’t have the knowledge I needed. I was sixteen and sitting behind this wonderful, funny, smart girl in study hall, and we always talked. I was dreaming of going to Paris to be a writer and having all these adventures and romances, but she was—to my surprise—engaged, and to a much older and “sort of controlling” man. I just didn’t get it.  When I got out of high school, I found out that she had decided to go back to school, have a life, break up—and her boyfriend murdered her, stabbing her 43 times.

I was haunted and really upset, but I couldn’t write about her because I didn’t understand how she could have stayed with someone like that. Didn’t she see signs?

Fast forward ten years. Two weeks before my wedding, my fiancé dropped dead of a heart attack in front of me. The grief was cataclysmic. I cried so hard in my apartment that neighbors called the police—twice! I roamed all over the country talking to psychics, came back and decided I couldn’t grieve anymore. I decided to get into a relationship, despite my friends and family and my grief counselor’s warning that this was the worst idea ever.

My new boyfriend was at first kind, but gradually became controlling. He spoke in such a soft, gentle voice that I began to believe everything he told me—that at 95 pounds I was too fat summeroflovecolor.jpgand needed to diet, that my black clothing made me look dead and I should wear pastels, that my friends were nuts and I shouldn’t see them. Why would I stay with someone so controlling? Because if I left him, I’d grieve, and that seemed so much worse.  I began to understand my high school friend and I finally got up the strength—when he rewrote part of my novel-in-progress without asking—to leave.

But it wasn’t until four years ago, when I saw an online posting from my high school friend’s sister who was still looking for answers to what happened, that I got the missing piece. I added a sister, I changed the relationship and what happened, and suddenly the book began to make sense to me.

L.L: You do a wonderful job with character development. In the case of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, did the characters of Lucy, Charlotte (the older sister) and Iris (the older mother/aunt/caretaker) come fully formed, or did you carefully cultivate them? Were they composites at all of anyone in your life?

Caroline Leavitt: What a great question. It took about 18 drafts to get it right. At one point, Lucy, Charlotte and Iris were all angry at one another and my genius editor Andra Miller said, “find the love, too”—so I did, and it changed everything.

I have to admit that Iris is based on my mom, who was jilted at 19, married a sullen brute on the rebound (my father), and went into independent living resigned to her life being over—and instead, like Iris, she bloomed! Her story is not really Iris’, but my mom fell in love “for the first time” at 93! She and her beau Walter had four wonderful years together until she got dementia and then he died. But dementia is a sort of gift for her because she thinks Walter is still alive.

Charlotte and Lucy are not my sister and I—but the feelings of “us against the world” certainly were. I also will admit that like Charlotte, I make lists and that like Charlotte, my biggest task in life is to learn to stop trying to fix everything, to just let life wash over me. It’s hard!

“Two sisters — impulsive Lucy and sensible Charlotte — make decisions that will haunt the rest of their lives. Set in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s, Cruel Beautiful World is a riveting novel about love and loss, secrets and lies, and what it means to be a family. Its twists and turns will keep you reading late into the night.”

Christina Baker-Kline, author of Orphan Train

L.L.: Reading CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD was like sitting on a sun-soaked porch and having the wind whisper a story in my ear [and how I relish in that; thanks for the early copy, Algonquin!]. It’s at once alarming and beautiful, thought-provoking, and richly told, but it has a dark undercurrent. Could it be that that is how the world was in 1969 (that was a little before my time, so I can’t say)?  And would you call this historical fiction? IS THIS TOMORROW was set in the 1950s, do I sense a theme?

Caroline Leavitt: Ah, I’m no spring chicken (I call myself a fall chicken). I was really young in the 60s, but not in the 70s, and I definitely felt and saw the change. The 60s were all goofy and wonderful. You were “going to San Francisco to meet some gentle people and wear flowers in your hair”—and I was dying to go but couldn’t because I was too young. But my sister, 220px-san_francisco_be_sure_to_wear_some_flowers_in_your_hair_sheet_music_1967who is older, took me to all the Be-Ins and Love-Ins (which were the same things—big celebratory parties with balloons and free food and music, held outside in some park–) in Boston and schooled me in being a hippie.  Everyone had such hope that there was going to be real, lasting and profound change—and it would be peaceful change, too. I hitched everywhere by myself, barefoot, in full hippie regalia, and I never had a problem. Even something like drugs was done as a spiritual quest, and hoards of people were “going back to the land” to farm and be one with nature. There were also all these free schools popping up where you could learn whatever you wanted, when you wanted. Everyone thought they were building a Utopia. Of course, this was what it was like for middle-class suburban kids, not for those living with the terrifying racism and horrific poverty of the time.

But then the 70s hit. The kids who ran away to San Francisco to meet those gentle people? They were living on the streets. The kids who dropped out of school to farm? They had no idea how to grow crops and they were starving, too. The Peace Movement turned ugly, with groups like The Weatherman and SDS and The Black Panthers—all advocating violence and guns. There was Kent State and the infamous sign at universities “They can’t kill us all” and I began to wonder if maybe they could.

No one hitched anymore. People were dying from harder drugs. And then I entered Brandeis a year after two students, Susan Saxe and Katharine Ann Power had robbed a bank “for the revolution” and killed a cop—the father of 9 kids. They went underground and were on the


Kent State massacre, May 1970. This is 14-year old runaway collapsing at the body of a student shot by the Ohio National Guard  minutes before. The photographer won a Pulitzer for this image.

FBI’s Most Wanted List for years. The Brandeis students I talked to who were there at the time said they were so unsettled, hoards of kids left school to drive up to Maine and stay there for a while.

I was in Madison the day the National Guard in silver riot gear lined the streets because there was a student protest over a student being caught—the kid had blown up a building and killed a professor. I was walking back to my dorm (I’m a pacifist and could never condone blowing up anything), they began to tear gas, and I was so terrified, I ran back to my place and bolted the door.

But more than anything, there were the Mansons. The Beach Boys were the sunniest group around but they actually inadvertently led to the Sharon Tate murders.Sharon Tate murders. Dennis Wilson picked up two pretty hitchhikers and took them home.  They began to talk about gurus. Dennis’ was the Maharishi, and the two girls said, “Our guru is Charlie Manson.” Dennis met Charlie, they wrote songs together—one is even on a Beach Boys record, but not credited to Charlie. Dennis introduced Charlie to Terry Melcher, a record producer, who nixed Charlie. Furious, Charlie began to be threatening. Dennis and Terry cut off ties, and Terry was so frightened, he moved out of his house—the same house that the Mansons approached to do their murders.

It terrified me, seeing those girls in the news. They were all pretty and singing and happy and holding hands. And Charlie was everything to them.

I definitely think this is historical fiction, but my next two novels are set in the present.

the_beach_boys_1965L.L.: Let’s talk structure for a bit, because this can be tricky for a writer, even if she (or he) has plot points in mind. I find structure tough because there are so many directions a story can go, so many possibilities and then…the characters sometimes take over, wrinkling your smooth narrative! Can you speak to this, please?

Caroline Leavitt: Oh, boy. Structure. That’s my thing. I used to write very loosey-goosey, following the muse, and I would end up with 800 pages and have no idea what the heck I had written. Then about ten years ago, a student of mine told me about Truby story structure. John Truby is a Phd from Yale who worked with movie studios and read a zillion books and mapped out their structure and he discovered that the best stories have a deeper moral component. I liked that idea. So I began to study his stuff, and I sort of stalked him until I met him.

I map out everything before I start. That takes me about 6 months. Then I show it to three story structure people I know and that means more rewriting. Then I show it to writers I respect. More rewriting. I end up with a 40 page “writer’s outline” and I know that as I write everything is going to change a bit. And that’s okay!  What never changes is the basic moral idea. For me, in CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, that idea was that sometimes you cannot change or fix things, no matter how much you want to. Sometimes you have to let life wash over you. That informed every decision that I made. If it didn’t have something to do with that, then it had to go!

And I will say that I end up doing at least 20 drafts before a novel is finished.

 L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD?

Caroline Leavitt: I want people to understand what I just said above, that sometimes you cannot fix everything, and that is all right. We are all human.

I also hope people see and feel the incredible hope that was in the sixties and how it soured and failed, but then there was hope again.

I want people to think about all the different kinds of love there are—controlling and dangerous, saving and nurturing, sisterly love mixed with conflict, friend love.

I hope readers will feel that after reading my novel, they see the world a little differently.

L.L.: What’s got your attention these days? What gets you out of bed? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Caroline Leavitt: Oh so, many things. My husband, who is playful and funny and smart. My son who is at college studying to be an actor. My writing. Other writers. My friends. Really, my mother and sister call me Pollyanna, because I tend to have this very positive outlook on everything. I’m always looking for the joy!

Of course, I’m worried about the election, and the world in general.  And I’m fascinated by quantum physics.

L.L.: Did I forget to ask anything?

Caroline Leavitt: Ask me how the songs of that era informed the novel! If you go look up Young Girl by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, you’ll see this truly terrible view of older man/younger girl, which is in my novel. The whole stupid song blames the girl! With lines like, “You’d better run, girl. You’re much too young, girl,” the song is indicating that he is about to attack.  And that was a very popular song of its day!

L.L.: Caroline, always a pleasure to chat with you. Thanks so much for popping by! All the best with CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD.

Caroline Leavitt: Thank you so much! I hope I didn’t go on too long. I’m honored to be interviewed by you! 

***You can connect with Caroline through these various social media channels*** 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eleven novels,including the New York Times bestsellers Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a book critic for People, The Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and she teaches writing online at Stanford and UCLA.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at:

[Cover and author image courtesy of Algonquin Books and used with permission. Author photo credit: Jeff Tamarkin. “Hippie Caroline” photos courtesy of C. Leavitt’s personal archives and used with permission. Scott McKenzie 1967, Kent State 1970, The Beach Boys circa 1964 image(s) retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.9.16]  



BookS on MondaY: Daria Song’s THE NIGHT VOYAGE about Imagination, Fantasy, Magical Places, why wordless books can be beneficial, and so much more


By Leslie Lindsay 9780399579042

We’re back with another amazing round of children’s literature for the next few weeks. I’m in love with children’s picture books and there’s a reason: they’re nostalgic to those days when I’d wait (not so patiently) for my dad to arrive home from work so he could read to me from my Disney mail-order books the floor of my large closet, arm draped over my tiny shoulders, and ‘do’ his voices, making them higher or lower, goofy, or serious, always with a glint in his eye. It was the beginning of a love affair with the written word.

THE NIGHT VOYAGE is highly evocative of PETER PAN meets ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets THE NUTCRACKER (VELVETEEN RABBIT, MARY POPPINS, really I could go on) propelling readers far from the floor of their walk-in closet and into a sort of Narnia…it’s at once delightful, whimsical, and highly detailed.
Daria Song is the author-illustrator and creative mind behind The Time Garden and The Time Chamber comes the third in the series. Technically, THE NIGHT VOYAGE is an adult-style coloring book, but this lovely colorable story is relevant for all, children included. In fact, my artistic 11-year old daughter is in awe and cannot wait to get her hands on this book.
THE NIGHT VOYAGE (Random House, August 2016) is an evocatively illustrated story of a little girl who is swept away on the eve of her birthday by her toy train conductor on a magical journey to distribute gifts around the globe, from London to Paris to Granada. Following the trend of the previous books, Daria Song enchants readers with beautifully intricate art that her fans have come to love, featuring a world of paper cranes, penny-farthing bicycles, trolleys, cityscapes, and hot air balloon-filled skies.
But  you don’t necessarily have to read (or color!) the books in order, I fell right into the magic of this story. Devotees of Daria Song will say this is a continuation of other adventures in the serious, but if you’re just into unique art, magical stories of adventure and whimsy, you won’t need anymore too get launch your mind.
Be Sure to Take a Peek at this flip-through video.
Keep in mind that there are very few words to this story. The first few pages have some text, but then it’s up to you, dear reader, to pull from the depths of your imagination to fill in the blanks. It’s a dream, almost like falling down Alice’s rabbit’s hole.
Here are some discussion points to keep in mind if you read/color THE NIGHT VOYAGE:
  • Why wordless books have meaning.
  • How one person can interpret a series of events differently that someone else.
  • How one’s story vision might be different than someone else’s.
  • Make up your own continuation to THE NIGHT VOYAGE.
  • Draw your own companion art and share with others.
  • Compose a song (or look for one in your collection) that connects to the art within the book. What kind of song did you select?
  • Is the book evocative of a dream? Can you share a dream you had recently that relates?
  • Makes a darling gift for a young/middle grade girl

2116821About the Author: Daria Song is an artist living and working in Seoul, Korea, and has drawn inspiration from time spent in foreign cities as a child. The Night Voyage is the perfect way for coloring enthusiasts to add their own artistic flair to some of the most striking world wonders. 

[Special thanks to B. Leahy at Ten Speed Press/Random House. Images retrieved from Random House website on 10.2.16. With the exception of portion in quotations, all written material and review is my own.]


WeekEND Reading: Kelly Simmons on her “dark & stormy” nights, why she hates the term ‘red herrings,’ the chasm between the supernatural and religious worlds in ONE MORE DAY & why she’s glad I didn’t ask about M&Ms


By Leslie Lindsay 

ONE MORE DAY was so emotionally riveting, so devastating, and so well told that I couldn’t get enough. In fact, when I closed the book for the last time (after reading *everything* including the acknowledgements, discussion questions, and about the author), I still looked Kelly Simmons and her other books up on-line. That, to me, is the sign of good book.  ONEMOREDAY.FINAL COVER.jpg

The plot revolves around young Ben (2 years old) who goes missing from his car when his mother turns her back for just a brief moment to pay the parking meter. Sounds innocuous enough, right? But then we start getting glimpses that this mother just isn’t right, that there’s something ‘off.’ It was her flawed character (in fact, the *entire* book is brimming with flawed characters, from her mother, husband, friends, and more), and that’s very intriguing to me. Two-year old Ben is missing and no one knows where he is, and there weren’t very many witnesses.

Plus, the mother’s alibi doesn’t exactly jive. It’s nearly a year later and it appears Ben isn’t coming back. Until he does. For just one day. He hasn’t changed. And then–poof–he’s gone again. As a reader, you start guessing what’s real and what’s not. Is his mother (Carrie) just nuts? Even the police aren’t sure what’s going on.

I will say that the “twist” wasn’t at all what I was expecting
. And that may be my initial reticence in those early pages. But, I kept with it, and so glad I did. ONE MORE DAY is eloquently told, details of parenthood, grief, and more dazzle, along with family secrets and dysfunctional relationships. Truly an amazing study in spirituality meets psychology, meets supernatural.

Join me as I welcome author Kelly Simmons to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: So, I read ONE MORE DAY in lightening speed, probably because I found the prose to compelling, and that I so, so wanted to know just what the heck was going on. Was it that was for you, too? Did you have an inkling of the direction you wanted to take with this story? Did it grow organically?

Kelly Simmons: I knew the whole story, for the most part.  A few of the twists and turns changed along the way, and some of the characters grew far beyond my original vision.  But I don’t want to leave the impression that writing it was easy, haha! Because I sweat blood over this one, especially weaving in the roles of the detectives and the unfolding of the crime.  Since it’s not a traditional crime/thriller novel, it was tricky using those elements and achieving the right balance.

L.L.: I don’t want to spoil too much here, but ONE MORE DAY is a perfect October read mostly because there’s a little bit of a supernatural element brewing under the surface. In many regards, the characters are unsettling and then there’s the sheer horror of a kid going missing. The mood is dark and the whole thing becomes the stuff of nightmares. In fact, Publisher’s Weekly calls your work, “the perfect read for a stormy night.” Is there a ‘right’ season for a story like this and does that matter?

Kelly Simmons: Originally, the book was slated for October release, but for various marketing reasons, it was moved.  I love the idea of being a “stormy night writer.”  I relate to being a bit gray, volatile, unpredictable I guess! But there is such an appetite now for writing that is gripping and dark – GIRL ON A TRAIN and GONE GIRL have really changed the landscape for that type of story, so more and more, we see gripping books launched in every season – even summer, with Liane Moriarty’s new release.

L.L.: Carrie, the mother of the child who goes missing is quite religious. She volunteers at a church, prays regularly, and generally calls upon religious teaching from time to time. But ONE MORE DAY creates a bit of a chasm between belief and religion and intuitive inklings. Can you speak to that, please?

Kelly Simmons: It’s just something I’ve noticed over the years, that quite a few religious people people seem skeptical of the intuitive realm.  I was fascinated by the idea that you could believe in heaven and yet not believe in ghosts or psychic energy.  And honestly, as I get older, and go to more and more funerals, I hear more stories of people speaking to their dead parents and grandparents; of “seeing” them through symbols and signs.  It’s interesting to me, and I feel left out, as if I’m missing my sixth sense.

“Twisty, psychologically deft and wildly original. It’ll have you guessing to the very end.” — Megan Abbott, Edgar Award Winning Author

L.L.: I was skeptical of almost all characters of Ben’s disappearance. Every character seemed to have a little bit of a motive, however sick and wrong that may be. Was that your intention all along, to have readers question the sanity of every character? And how might a writer make good use of ‘red herrings?’

Kelly Simmons: Yes, I wanted to scatter small seeds of doubt.  But the term “red herrings” actually is troublesome to me, as a writer.  Yes, triangles create tension, and red herrings can manufacture that kind of tension.  But–real life is filled with doubt, with symbols, with possibilities.  Suspicion should be everywhere!

L.L.: I’m going through a phase where structure is a hot issue to me. Maybe it’s because it’s something I tend to struggle with in my own writing. ONE MORE DAY is structured in such that we hear from various characters on different days of the week, yet there’s a good deal of backstory in those sections. How did you devise this framework?

Kelly Simmons: I like having a structure in place before I write; it’s like having a notebook for all your subjects in school!  And while there is a lot of forward momentum in a story in which you know something is happening every day – to me, fiction is all backstory.  It’s all why, not what. images (1)

L.L.: What’s inspiring you lately? What’s got your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Kelly Simmons: When I’m deep in writing mode as I have been all summer,  I don’t read as much as I do when I’m revising. But I’ve been devouring  the TV series Animal Kingdom, with Ellen Barkin and Scott Speedman. I have a little thing for him, not gonna lie.

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

Kelly Simmons: My next novel is about family secrets and prejudice, set on Nantucket.

L.L.: Is there something I should have asked, but forgot?

Kelly Simmons: I’m just so relieved you didn’t ask me how much I weigh. Because when I write, there are M&Ms involved.

L.L.: Kelly, it was a pleasure to read ONE MORE DAY and chat with you. Thanks for coming by!

Kelly Simmons: My pleasure.

For more information, or to connect with Kelly on social media, please see:

KSimmons.PhotoAbout the Author: Kelly Simmons is the author of the critically acclaimed novels STANDING STILL, THE BIRD HOUSE, and ONE MORE DAY. She’s a member of WFWA, Tall Poppy Writers and The Liars Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping fledgling novelists.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay through these various social medial channels.

[Cover, author image, and book trailer courtesy of K. Simmons and used with permission. Notebook image retrieved from on 8.26.19]

Writers on Wednesday: Andromeda Romano-Lax talks about ‘cold’ parenting styles, John B. Watson’s Behaviorism, the little known Mrs. Watson, how the fun to any research is digging into the archives, sipping bourbon, eating crab cakes, & more in BEHAVE


By Leslie Lindsay 

An astonishingly disturbing and well-written account of the little-known Rosalie Rayner Watson, the “second” Mrs. John B. Watson, father of Behaviorism, BEHAVE should be on the top of everyone’s to-read list, if not for the writing, the contribution gleaned from behaviorism. Behave Cover

While that may be a very broad statement, I do mean it. Though I may be a bit biased having a background and strong interest in child psychology/psychiatry. BEHAVE (Soho Press, February 2016) is a fictional biography of Rosalie, a promising Vassar graduate with a keen scientific mind. Yet her story is harrowing in that it’s not as straightforward as one may think. To me, BEHAVE was about the 1920s, science, progress, motherhood, marriage, child psychology, and love.

But there are parts that involve behavioral experiments with infants that may leave parents/those who love kids a little squeamish.

I am so excited to welcome Andromeda Romano-Lax to the blog to chat with us about this deeply moving historical-biographical fiction that shaped the early views of ‘not spoiling’ one’s child(ren), several early parenting books, and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Andromeda! So glad you could join us today. Some people read the last line first, but not me. I often read the first few pages of a book, then quickly flip to the ‘about the author’ and ‘acknowledgements’ section at the back of the book. In your first round of thanks, you mention a psychology textbook editor whom you met at dinner party. She mentioned the case of little Albert B. (the primary test subject in BEHAVE) and that got your gears turning for this book—can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, getting heated up about something can be productive—at least for a writer.

I was sharing my vexation with a textbook editor named Christine about ethics in both creative nonfiction (one of my fields) and psychology (hers).  As an example of questionable behavior, she talked about the experimental practices of “Father of Behaviorism” John Watson.1369713473

John Watson was vaguely familiar to me from old college psych classes. I remembered something about a baby, rats, and conditioning, but I didn’t realize that John Watson had a female assistant—Rosalie Rayner—who helped with those disturbing experiments, which frequently involved exposing babies to uncomfortable or frightening situations.

After the party I drove home and immediately started Googling. By midnight I knew I wanted to write about Rosalie Rayner, the forgotten scientist, scandalous lover, and professionally-sidetracked wife of Watson. I have never felt so sure about a storyline so quickly. I wanted to know the story from Rosalie’s perspective. I felt compelled to understand how a woman scientist could be so easily forgotten when her husband remained famous for decades. I wanted to be with Rosalie, in that lab and later, at home with her first baby, during those early days of confused exhaustion, when she finally had to learn how to parent a real child instead of experiment on a mere subject. I wanted to ask her a hundred questions!

L.L.: It’s funny how those little seeds of a new project can creep into consciousness. But the ‘creeping’ is the easy part! How did you tease out the myriad information I’m sure you uncovered during your research in order to shape it into the story that became BEHAVE?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I started with the Internet and accessible published works for background on John Watson, but when it came to Rosalie, the record was thin. That’s when the fun really starts: when you head to the archives. I visited the Library of Congress, Rayner’s home and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Vassar College in NY, and the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio, for starters. In addition to library-style research, I relished spending time in those places that shaped Rosalie, visiting old neighborhoods, strolling the Vassar campus, eating Baltimore crab cakes and sipping bourbon in a historic bar. (It isn’t all hard work.)17FISHER-facebookJumbo

I loved learning about the era—especially women’s roles in the teens and 20s. It felt like a gift to start connecting the experience of women then with the experience of women in, say, the ‘60s-‘80s—and women now. History repeats itself. So much became clear to me about the lives of 20th century women by following one woman’s life story in detail. And isn’t that why we read historical fiction?

L.L.: John and Rosalie have a tumultuous love affair, marry, and then have children. This part of the story became quite fascinating to me. It’s almost as if they had their own two ‘test subjects’ in Billy and Jimmy. Still, I can’t really say that’s much different than parenting today. Wouldn’t you say that on some level, we’re ‘experimenting’ with our own kids?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: That’s a great takeaway—for good or for bad, we are all experimenting on our children, and the pendulum keeps swinging between styles that are more or less pro-attachment, or more less based on children’s perceived independence or dependence, for example. I do believe parents should take guidance from their intuition as well as what they read or hear from “experts.” But on top of this, I think some historical and cultural perspective goes a long, long way. What did people think 20, 50, 100 years ago? How do people raise babies in other countries? What can we learn by critically examining the evidence for the latest trends and comparing today’s ideas with ideas from other eras and other cultures?LittleAlbertJohnWatson


L.L.: Many of the experiments with little Albert B. made me feel a bit…well, squeamish and then mad at Rosalie and John for doing such a thing to an innocent baby…making him fear bunnies and even Santa Claus. Did you have a similar reaction?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, but perhaps less so than many readers. I understood that psychology was in its infancy and today’s experimental ethics didn’t yet exist. In judging the past we have to put ourselves in that time period, with all its limitations. Watson had extremely good intentions. He thought he was saving future children from pain and emotional anguish. And most of the infants Watson studied were brought into the lab briefly and were not hurt. (Albert was the possible exception because he was brought into the lab on multiple occasions.) DMtz1

Now, what did bother me was knowing that Watson didn’t bother to decondition Little Albert—in other words, to reverse the emotional damage caused. Watson was very flippant about that fact. And what bothered even more was how Watson took such a poorly designed experiment on a single, possibly abnormal baby and then used it as the foundation for some very bad parenting advice which was sold to hundreds of thousands of moms and dads, persuading them to withhold the most basic kinds of affection from their babies.

The experiments are mildly disturbing. The later application via Watson’s and Rayner’s parenting guide is horrifying. The takeaway is not to hate Watson but to evaluate “expert” findings and read parenting guides of the future a little more critically.

L.L.: And their parenting books! Did you have the opportunity to read them? What can you tell us about these guides for raising children? Are they still in publication?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: The Watsons’ 1928 parenting book (Psychological Care of Infant and Child) is out of print. It contains bad advice—like don’t kiss or cuddle your children—and sensible advice, like help your children establish stable routines. It was actually more 97069505_-com-psychological-care-of-infant-and-child-john-b-progressive than other guides of the early 20th century, especially in its recommendation that physical punishment is not necessary. But its main message, the disturbing message, was don’t form attachments to your children—which is as different from my own parenting practices as possible. If John Watson had seen me nursing, reading to, sleeping with, and endlessly snuggling with my two babies he would have pegged me as a child abuser!

As a researcher, my aim was to read about parenting guides as a larger genre, in order to understand where this book fit in the progression from anti-attachment (Watsons) to pro-attachment (Dr. Spock) style parenting. For general readers interested in this topic, I’d
recommend Ann Hulbert’s Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children.


L.L.: I found it absolutely fascinating when John resigned from his post at Johns Hopkins and then became an ad man. This was before the days of “Mad Men,” but still many aspects of psychology play into consumerism. Can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Long before “Mad Men,” the top advertising pioneers recognized that emotional reactions and interest in sex, for example, could be useful in selling products. As psychology blossomed into a more respected science, behaviorists were recruited. John switched from the academic to the advertising world at just the right time, contributing his own interests, including a fascination with the power of fear. We have him and others to thank for making us worry that we aren’t pretty enough, or don’t smell right, or on the verge of making our children sick or miserable if we don’t buy the next new product.

L.L.: And Rosalie…it appears as if I’m not the only one who didn’t know much about her. But I’m so glad you brought her story into the open! It was the roaring 1920s and she had a degree from Vassar, promising future in psychology, and then she met John. Part of me wanted to scream, ‘no…don’t do it!’ and another part of me wanted to see her and John get together. Did any of your research indicate what she may have done if it weren’t for John Watson?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: First, you’re not the in the minority for being unaware of Rosalie. Second, in terms of guessing what other life she might have led, the research can’t lc3v77r5ixt9b7tell us because she got involved with Watson so early. My hunch is that she would have loved to enter the glamorous world of advertising, which (as I hadn’t realized but soon discovered) already included women pioneers, even before the ‘20s. Rosalie was social, fun-loving, interested in city life, the arts and fashion as well as psychology. She would have done a great job selling the excitement of the 1920s to other women.




L.L.: What’s captured your interest these days, anything keeping you up at night?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Most recently, my fiction research takes me into the world of AI, where the robots are not only coming, they’re already here. In the nonfiction world (I write both fact and fiction) I am absolutely obsessed with language acquisition and have spent most of the last two years intensely studying Spanish while living in Mexico.

I won’t mention politics, which keeps everyone up, except to say that while I was writing about John Watson, many people asked me how someone with such inflexible views and a provocative manner could have been such a famous public speaker and celebrity—or why any woman would put up with him. Trump, anyone?

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

Andromeda Romano-Lax: No one has asked me yet what kind of reader I was imagining for this book.

In a general way, I think this book is suited to those with an interest in science or the 1920s. But additionally, I was hoping that some readers who puzzle over the cold parenting styles of their parents, grandparents or great-parents would read this novel and say, “A-ha. Finally, I understand.” I also hoped that any readers who are parents now will feel more empowered to make their own decisions about how to raise their children.

L.L.: Andromeda, it was a pleasure connecting! Thank you for this amazing contribution to literary historical fiction.

Andromeda Romano-Lax:  Thank you Leslie!

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

Twitter: @romanolax

NYTimes Book Review of BEHAVE

AndromedaMID1About the Author: Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, was internationally published in 2012. Her third novel, Behave, was published by Soho Press in 2016 and was chosen as an Indie Next pick and named by Amazon “One of the Best Books of the Year So Far.”  Among her nonfiction works are a dozen travel and natural history guidebooks to the public lands of Alaska, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja’s Desert Coast, which was an Audubon Editor’s Choice and will soon be released in a new ebook edition.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through this various social media outlets. Hope to “see” you there!

[Special thanks to Soho Publishing and A. Romano-Lax. Cover and author image courtesy of A. Romano-Lax. Image of John B. Watson retrieved from, image of John & Rosalie together from, baby experiment image retrieved from, vintage ad from , all retrieved on 9.2.16] 


WeekEND Reading: Jessica Teich on her sublime memoir, which is more of a ‘shared autobiography,’ touching on very tragic & real issues of suicide, rape, victimology, & teaching our daughters self-preservation skills


By Leslie Lindsay 

At once a story of heartache and trauma, interwoven with a bit of mystery following the suicide of a not-quite schoolmate, fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY is an interior memoir at the core with very strong writing.small-cover-image-copy

It was an honor to be awarded the exclusive and prestigious Rhodes scholarship, particularly as a woman. In THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, Teich sets out to render those old gender stereotypes outdated, while  simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that she is, indeed, worthy of the award. Meanwhile, things in Jessica’s past bubble to the surface. She suffered horrendous abuse in her youth at the hands of a 30-year old male dancer. Routinely, Joe would sexually and physically assault her, threatening death if she told anyone. Yet, she succumbs, and later, attempts to put the past behind her.

Fast-forward some years and Jessica is married, a mother, and consumed with dread. OCD-like symptoms explode. She can’t sleep; she worries. When she comes across an obituary in the Oxonian, (the Rhodes Scholar bulletin), she glimpses the name of a fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, who recently took her life at age 27. Why would this smart, young, and recently married woman take her own life? This thread becomes the pull through Jessica’s life, as she begins to explore Lacey’s death.

Jessica continues to ask, “Why would a woman described as ‘brilliant, beguiling,’ and so widely admired, deeply cherished, commit suicide?” Seeking answers, Jessica hires a private investigator and tracks down Lacey’s survivors: her adoring brother, a wounded sister, the widower. While unraveling Lacey’s life, Jessica learns truths about her own life as a mother, wife, scholar, and survivor.

Join me as I chat with Jessica about this deep and thoughtful book.

Leslie Lindsay: There are so many things going on in THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY (Seal Press, September 27th, 2016), that it’s hard to determine exactly what genre it falls into. Ultimately, it’s a memoir, but there are themes of abuse, survival, suicide, mystery, mothering, and so much more. Where did you draw your initial inspirations?

Jessica Teich: I was largely inspired by the kinds of memoirs that blur boundaries; that are reflective and lyrical and vivid and visceral.  Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES is one.  I also love Lorna Sage’s BAD BLOOD.  It’s wildly funny and poetic, introspective, at the same time.  I do think my book is a memoir, or perhaps, a shared autobiography.  It’s Lacey’s story, and mine, and there is a third thread that’s part of the narrative weave: the story of my older daughter, poised on the brink of adolescence, the moment smart girls can be swallowed whole.  Strangely enough, memoir is a genre I’ve fallen in love with relatively recently.  I tothelighthousewas a big reader as a child—I still am—but it wasn’t until I discovered Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as a college student that I began to appreciate how rich and fully dimensional an interior voice can be.

L.L.: As a teenager, you were a ballet dancer. Graceful pirouettes come to mind, pink leotards, delicate steps, but what happened in the attic room of that dance studio was anything BUT graceful and delicate. I know how challenging this must be, but can you talk about that briefly, please?

Jessica Teich: For me that time takes place behind a scrim.  It feels like so many lifetimes ago.  Yet my memories are visceral: lying on Joe’s bed while he molested me, staring at the nails piercing through the ceiling of his attic bedroom. It was like being in a coffin, except a coffin would have been safer. In a coffin, I would have been alone.  Instead, as I say in the book, “there was Joe, lusting, pumping, groaning, rutting like a malevolent machine.”

For me, that passage captures the sense of helplessness I felt as a teenager, and also the confusion: why is this man behaving so brutally?  Why doesn’t anybody help?

Only later did I learn that many victims of violence never tell anyone they’re in trouble.  They don’t think there’s anything anyone can do to help.  If you’re a poised, confident child—at least on the outside—you’re probably pretty good at solving child-sized problems.  But you can’t think of a way out of the violence, the terror, the aloneness, and you’re only 16, so you can’t imagine anyone else would know of a way out, either. And I didn’t grow up in a family where you could talk about how you felt.  You couldn’t say, “I’m afraid.  I need you.”

Looking back now, I see that I was trapped in a perfect storm of susceptibility: distant parents; teachers I didn’t want to disappoint; a sense of myself as inadequate in some way, not truly desirable, not fully female or adult.   I was vulnerable at 16, but the abuse doesn’t stop when the clamor, the chaos, ends.  The experience of violence is a depth charge that continues to detonate.p2-w2-ballerina-a-20140529

L.L.: There was a vague sense of closure with what happened with Joe, but what happened with him, do you know?

Jessica Teich: I don’t know if he’s still alive.  If he’s still married.  If he’s still dancing.  I know he took the dancing away from me, for a very long time.  As I was writing my book, over so many years, I would often imagine some kind of rapprochement: a conversation in which I could ask why he hurt me, and he could explain what happened.  But there was no explanation— there never is— for that kind of brutality, that awfulness.  Or rather, there is no excuse, but there IS an explanation; that he had been abused by his father, and that the cycle of violence, passed down in families for generations, is exceedingly difficult to break.

Experts think that it’s very unwise—for obvious reasons—for survivors to go in search of their abusers.  Not only because of the threat of more violence, but because, on the simplest level, there is no satisfaction in confronting someone so damaged, so depraved.  There isn’t anything Joe could tell me that would make what happened better.  I needed to make it better myself, by freeing myself to feel the love of the people I chose to be vulnerable to, the people I’d embraced.

L.L.: This brings up the urgent call to end violence against women, in their homes, on college campuses, even in the workplace. How can we help victims bring their attackers to justice?

Jessica Teich: There are so many ways to help, legally and logistically.  There’s still so much work to be done.  We can help lift the restrictions on access to DNA rape kits that still exist in some states.  We can ensure the preservation of DNA forensic evidence and expedite its analysis.  But there is an enormous cultural shift that needs to happen as well.  We have to believe people when they say they’ve been molested.  Statistics show that it’s extremely rare for someone to invent a story of abuse, even though those instances have gotten a lot of attention in the press.  What’s more, abusers are serial predators.  It’s not like some college freshman drank too much and lost control.  They say everything in life is about sex EXCEPT sex, which is about power.  This kind of violent abuse is a desperate, broken way for people to exert power.  There’s no romance in it.rsa1

What’s more, it’s often the victim whose life is forever altered. She— and most survivors are women— is forced to flee with her children, or withdraw from college, while the predator carries on unhindered, free to violate someone else.  That’s got to stop.  We’ve got to believe these victims, and arrest their attackers, and give the assailants a punishment befitting the heinousness of their crimes.  These aren’t frat boys, misbehaving.  They are serious serial predators.  It’s quite frightening to send your daughter to college knowing there is a 1 in 4 chance that she will be the victim of assault.  That’s indecent.  It’s unforgivable.  I read recently that some colleges are hosting seminars for women on “how to avoid rape.”  As one young woman pointed out, what we should be teaching, mandating, is an end to rape, not a strategy for avoiding it.

L.L.: When the book opens, you write about “stalking” your own daughter as she goes to ballet class. Were you fearful the same thing would happen to her, and where is she now?

Jessica Teich: Yes, I was terrified. And I came to realize how unfair that was, most especially to her, but also to the world she lived in, which was safe and nurturing.  She wasn’t nearly as vulnerable as I thought she was.  In fact, she’d twice taken a self-defense class—I think every girl should take a class like that— and she feels quite strong.  I hope she won’t be tested.  But she is exceedingly smart and thoughtful and vigilant. I trust her.  And I trust the world more than I ever thought I would.

L.L.: The story of Lacey is intriguing to me, as well. I’m a survivor of death by suicide. My mother, a little over a year ago, took her own life. I can see the grisly intrigue, from someone on the outside, but as an insider, this is raw material. How did your investigation into Lacey Cooper-Reynold’s life begin? And how did it spiral out, going deeper and deeper into your own fears and frustrations?

Jessica Teich: I’m so, so sorry to hear of your loss. I can only imagine how anguishing that is, based on the writing and thinking I’ve done. I’m sorry to say, too, that it can be something one struggles with for a long time.  Not just the final decision, but the feeling of not being able to help.  Not being allowed to help. That’s why I wanted to write about Lacey.  To help.

You know, my investigation into her death began serendipitously.  One night I couldn’t sleep and I wandered downstairs to my living room and stumbled upon the obituary of a stranger.  I was captivated by her story.  Before I knew it, I had become consumed with thoughts of her, and I wanted to know why someone so talented and beloved would choose to end her own life—on the very day her new husband was arriving in Los Angeles.  But I think the real question was: why did she feel she wasn’t enough; would never be enough?  That’s a question I realized I had to ask myself.

L.L.: Did you ever find out what ‘really’ happened to Lacey? What do you suspect now, after your research and writing?

Jessica Teich: There is no “aha!” moment in the book. Nor, I might add, is there always, or even often, a moment like that in life.  I have my own epiphanies—mostly about where I left my sunglasses—but rarely is there a single revelation that explains the arc of heart-love-window-winter-frostsomeone’s life.  For me, there is always a central, impenetrable mystery at the heart of every relationship.  We are all, always, strangers to each other in fundamental ways.  What’s amazing to me is that any two people can be “intimate” for any length of time: lovers; parents and children; colleagues; teacher and student.  It’s so hard to be open and honest, respectful of boundaries but transparent, vulnerable.

Why did Lacey “do it?”   The answer is both too easy to imagine and forever beyond our ken. I think the more important question is: what can we do about it?  How can we reach the next person who feels ragged and desperate and alone?  As Lacey’s closest friend said, “We must keep these things alive. It’s common when these things happen for people to tell each other that no one could have known, but I think it’s fair to ask what more could have been done.”

That’s why I wrote THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, to help keep her alive, and to keep alive the questions raised by her tragic death: How do we tell the truth about who we are?  How do we metabolize our pain?

L.L.: Suicide rates among young women have continued to climb, even more alarmingly, among teenage and preteen girls. Since 1999, suicides among girls ages 10-15 have tripled, according to a recent CDC report. These statistics are harrowing. As a mother of girls ages 9 and 11 whose grandmother died by suicide, it’s particularly shocking. Can you speak to that, please?

Jessica Teich: I think our culture places enormous pressure on girls, and women: to be perfect, to need nothing, to give everything, to ask for very little. Even to this day, I think we’re expected not to take up too much space.  I remember reading an article in the New York Times years ago, about a group of girls in a New England town who were like supernovas: bright, accomplished, philanthropic, athletic.  They had everything 17-year-old girls might seem to need, from perfect test scores to a close cohort of friends.  But they said they spent a lot of time wondering if the boys thought they were “hot.”   They calculated their value as people using the most superficial metrics.  I think that’s still the case.01girls-large5

Our culture, with its perpetually revised, homogenized images, exerts pressure on all of us to seem “publically perfect.”  I don’t think perfection of any kind is a value to aspire to.  To be oneself, to fill out the contours of one’s life, to step into one’s own skin; that’s what’s important.  And that’s the best way to make a contribution to the lives of others, which I think is a huge source of self-esteem.

In doing research for THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, I discovered that girls who volunteer are less self-focused and self-critical.   Connection, collaboration; these are the ways to help girls shore up their sense of worth, to say nothing of the benefits to others.  Too often schools encourage students to volunteer for the minimum number of hours, to meet their “service” requirement.  But that’s not enough time for the relationships, the benefits, to take root and grow. Realizing that our lives are inextricably entwined with the lives of others; that can be healing, buoying. Engagement is also a great antidote to depression and hopelessness.

I sometimes think of what Robert F. Kennedy said: “We must tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of the world.” Making gentle. I think that’s our job.  “Gentle” is one of those words— like “lovely” or “cozy”— frequently assigned only to women.  But “gentle” can be fierce.  I like it as a verb: to gentle.   The more we do that, the more I think our lives, our hearts, will mend. It turns out the ancient Greeks had a word for people who didn’t perform public service.  Our word “idiot” derives from it.

L.L.:  There’s another statistic I’d like to mention, and while I don’t have definite numbers on this one, it has to do with the ‘middle school girl slump,’ where smart, self-reliant girls are made to ‘dumb-down’ to appear more soft, likable, and more attractive to the opposite sex.  How can we get society to stop sending these messages to our girls? Or, does the message come from elsewhere?

Jessica Teich: The messages are everywhere.  What’s important is for parents and teachers to say to our daughters (and sons): I see who you are.  I see what you’re struggling to achieve.  Maybe it’s to understand Robert Frost’s poetry.  To join the Red Cross team at school.  To get along better with your brother.  To stop saying the word “like.”  We’ve got to help our children achieve a sense of scale, so they can see where they fit in, what they have to contribute, what’s worth achieving and what is just mindless, meaningless, purposeless acquisitiveness. 

My husband and I chose to send our daughters to an all-girls school, but initially, I was very resistant to the idea.  I’d grown up with downloadbrothers.  I kept walking around the school thinking, “Where are all the boys?”  Then we sat in on a science class, and the classroom had been redesigned to accommodate the ways girls like to learn: in groups.  The lab stations were enlarged to make it possible for the girls to work collaboratively. One girl raised her hand and asked, “What’s an autoclave?” She was an eleventh grader and I thought, “How can she not know what an autoclave is?”  (But then, I was a doctor’s daughter.)  The woman giving the tour turned to me and said, very patiently and without judgment, “At least she’s not afraid to ask.” That’s when the penny dropped. I realized that what we want most—for our children, for ourselves— is the courage to take chances, to heed our own instincts, to acknowledge our mistakes, to ask for help.  I think that’s what we all long for: freedom from fear.

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

Jessica Teich: No, but I’m very moved by your willingness to talk about your mother’s death.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  Your willingness to be open about it, despite your pain, is very courageous.  The Buddhists say our children choose us, to teach us, to free us.  I think your daughters chose very well.

L.L.: Jessica, it was a pleasure chatting. Thank you!

Jessica Teich:  Thank you so much.

“An honest, compassionate memoir… Teich’s book is not just compelling for the way it plumbs the psyche of an outwardly driven and ambitious woman; it is also provocative in its questioning of what female success really means.”

—Kirkus Reviews

For more information, or to connect with Jessica, please see: 

screen-shot-2016-08-10-at-4-04-02-pmAbout the Author: JESSICA TEICH graduated summa cum laude from Yale and received an M.Phil degree from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar. Her previous book, Trees Make The Best Mobiles: Simple Ways To Raise Your Child In A Complex World, appeared in Vanity Fair, People, Us, and The Chicago Tribune, and was featured on the Today show. For almost a decade, Teich worked as a literary manager at the Mark Taper Forum, commissioning and developing plays. She subsequently received a grant to write and direct a movie for the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Teich served as head of the Biography committee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, by clicking on the various links: 

[Cover and author images courtesy of L. Rossi-Totten and used with permission. Girls in science lab retrieved from , rape statistics image retrieved from, Ballerina image from, Virginia Woolf cover image from Wikipedia, all on on 9.23.16]