Writers on Wednesday: Shari Lapena on ‘grip lit,’ letting characters tell the story…and being surprised, what’s on her nightstand, and the runaway success of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR

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By Leslie Lindsay

Wow. I just closed the cover of THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (August 23, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking) last night in one breathless sitting. This is the book to pull you through the late-summer doldrums or indulge in a little ‘me’ time as the frantic pace of fall is upon us. Because this book, like others in the ‘grip lit’ category will not let you go. The pacing is brilliant and relentless, a chilling psychological thriller of astounding shock and amazement. Cover.Couple Next Door.Final

And it’s a debut.

I don’t want to give away too much—but here’s what you need to know:

  • Anne and Marcos Conti have a new baby, a beautiful townhouse, and a growing software company with the right investors.
  • One night, when the sitter cancels, instead of skipping the dinner party they’ve committed to—just next door—they decide to check on the sleeping baby every 30 minutes and bring the baby monitor.
  • In the short time between their checks, Baby Cora is snatched. Taken. Without a trace.
  • There’s a host of unreliable narrators. They all have motive.

Join me as I chat with Shari Lapena about her explosive debut, inspiring enthusiastic praise from #1 New York Times Bestselling authors like Sue Grafton, Harlon Coben, and Lee Child—almost from the moment the manuscript sold.

Leslie Lindsay: Shari, I am so thrilled to have you stop by. I just devoured THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. I mean, if I could have had it for dinner, I would have.  Did the story consume you in the same way? And why this story now?

Shari Lapena: Yes, it was a fast book to write. Right from the beginning I got caught up in the premise and I couldn’t let it go. I came up with the idea of a couple that gets left in the lurch by their babysitter, and their solution—to leave the baby at home and take the baby monitor next door with them and rely on half-hourly checks on the baby—leads to every horrible thing that follows.

L.L.: So, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR…Oh, I just can’t stop thinking about it. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? The pacing is just relentless. Was it that way for you as a writer? What was the time frame for draft one, for example? 

Shari Lapena: First I come up with a premise, or a jumping-off point, and then go from there. It has to be something that sparks a lot for me, as this was.  I don’t plan out the entire novel first—I follow where it takes me.  So here, I had a couple stood up by their babysitter, and the baby was clearly not welcome at the dinner party next door.  What do they do? The husband convinces the wife, against her best judgment, to leave the baby at home. That was enough to get me started. I knew the baby was going to disappear, of course—but I didn’t know the who, how, or why of it. But right away I had a setup, a conflict between husband and wife, and enough to propel me forward.

I deliberately set out to create a page turner. I wanted the pacing to be fast, and it felt like that for me when I was writing it. I wrote the first draft in about six months.

SS-RABB-4400-Ballerina_273x0L.L.: There are so many twists and turns and so many little pieces that just sort of ‘fell’ out into the open. Things like duplicity and deception and postpartum depression. Were these pieces carefully plotted, or did they come more organically as you wrote?

Shari Lapena: Some of it I had as ideas in the back of my head, but not carefully plotted out. For instance, I knew that I wanted Anne to have post-partum depression because I knew that would make her a more complex, interesting and unpredictable character. And I knew it would make people suspicious of her, rightly or wrongly. I don’t want to give too much away, but for example, when the onesie arrived in the mail—that surprised me. I didn’t plan for that to happen right from the beginning.

L.L.: There’s a tremendous piece by Terrence Rafferty in The Atlantic that talks of a new generation of women writers tapping into the zeitgeist, taking crime writing to new places and connecting to a huge readership. He writes that woman writers have sort of given up belief in the hero-and-villain model of storytelling, and instead, rely on unreliable narrators to provide a chilling tale. I get that. I love that. What is your general take on the ‘girl grip lit?’

Shari Lapena: That is such a hot topic these days. On the one hand, gripping psychological thrillers written largely by women are not new. Years ago we had Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith. But the focus right now on “griplit” seems to be about books that are psychological thrillers written largely by women, that have a darkness to them and that explore the tensions and the potential for psychological suspense in our most intimate relationships—in our marriages, our families—and in our homes.  That seems to be hitting a nerve with readers.

“Doomy domestic thrillers are what readers want now.”

~From Terrance Rafferty in The Atlantic

June/July 2016 issue

L.L.: I understand THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is your suspense debut, but that you have other novels as well, so it’s not exactly a debut in that sense, but perhaps a ‘genre debut’ for you.  Can you tell us a bit about THING GO FLYING (2008) and HAPPINESS ECONOMICS (2011)?

Shari Lapena: My first novel, THINGS GO FLYING, is about a man named Harold who is depressed, and afraid that life goes on forever. You see, his mother was a medium and he had 51rhSiC+IkL._SX335_BO1,204,203,200_ghosts in the house all the time growing up, throwing the dishes, so he knows life isn’t really over when it’s over, and he just can’t face it. His wife, Audrey, is a control freak with an explosive secret. They have two teenaged sons. Then Harold’s mother comes back from the dead to haunt them and Harold finds he has his mother’s gift for talking to the dead, and if there was ever a gift he wanted to return, it’s this one. Audrey is also terrified—how is she to safeguard her secret now? If she can’t control this world, how is she to control the next one? And how will she protect her good china? Harold must figure out how to find meaning in his life, and how to come to grips with the mostly terrifying idea that life might go on forever. Ultimately he is helped by being counselled by a philosopher, rather than a psychologist, under his Employee Assistance Program.  I like to think of it as a lighthearted book about death.

My second novel, HAPPINESS ECONOMICS, is about a blocked poet, Will Thorne. He is married to Judy, a wildly successful celebrity economist. Pressured by a starving fellow poet, Will establishes The Poets’ Preservation Society, a genteel organization to help poets 4197Co1aFuL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_in need. But when Will meets his muse, the enigmatic and athletic Lily White, he becomes inspired not only to write poetry, but to take guerrilla action in support of poets everywhere, which his wife finds absolutely mortifying. Will ends up doing parkour and splattering graffiti poetry all over the bank buildings in the downtown core. It’s really a book about a clash of values—art versus commerce.

L.L.: Both sound very interesting! And before, you worked as a lawyer and English teacher. How have your previous professional experiences shaped you as a writer? And what advice might you give to those wanting to break in?

Shari Lapena: I would say that my law background hasn’t contributed to my writing particularly—I wasn’t a criminal lawyer who tapped into that to write legal thrillers. I don’t think teaching English makes a novelist either. I think it’s the desire and the disciplined effort that makes you a writer. You have to put the work in. For those wanting to break in—it’s harder than ever, but it’s not impossible. My best advice would be to write a really good story. People want a story. Write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it, and find your own unique voice. Then listen to your editor.

L.L.What are you working on next? Cause I’m dying to read it!

Shari Lapena: Not surprisingly, I’m writing another thriller. I don’t want to say much about it at this point, except that it’s a page turner!

L.L.: What’s keeping you up? What’s captured your attention lately?

Shari Lapena: I’ve just started I LET YOU GO, by Clare Mackintosh. I think it’s going to live up to all the wonderful press it’s received. Before that I read and loved Daisy in Chains, by Sharon Bolton. And on my bedside table to read soon: What She Knew, by Gilly Macmillan; In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware; and The Secret Place, by Tana French. And I’m lucky, I get ARCs—I have The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe and It’s Always the Husband, by Michele Campbell. And I’m looking forward to Linwood Barclay’s The Twenty-Three when it’s out in November.

L.L: What question might I have forgotten to ask? 

Shari Lapena: I can’t think of anything.

L.L.: Shari, it was such a pleasure to connect. Just love, love, loved THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR and wish you much joy and success with the launch!

Shari Lapena: Thank you so much! It’s been a bit of a shock, how well the book has been received. It’s been a bit overwhelming, to say the least!Shari Lapena.credit Joy von Tiedemann

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

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @ShariLapena


About the Author:
 Shari Lapena was a lawyer and an English teacher before turning to writing fiction. She has written two previous novels: Things Go Flying, shortlisted for the 2009 Sunburst Award, and Happiness Economics, a finalist for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. She lives in Toronto. THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR is her suspense debut, and has sold in more than twenty-two markets.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via various social media channels, including:

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Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to M. Burkes and T. Gaffney. Cover image and author image courtesy of Penguin/RandomHouse. Author image credit: Joy von Tiedmann]. 

Wednesdays with Writers: Lisa Scottoline on her favorite Italian foods, writing from the heart, her relentless schedule, and how this is the best time of her life. Oh, and her new Rosato & DiNunzio book, DAMAGED

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By Leslie Lindsay 

She’s back…Lisa Scottoline is here with her 26thcount ‘em—book and it’s a fabulous tail-spin into the juvenile justice system.Damaged--Aug 16 2016

One boy. One lawyer. One day. And one shot at justice.

That’s DAMAGED (which released yesterday from St. Martin’s Press), Lisa Scottoline’s 4th in the Rosato & DiNunzio series featuring go-getter lawyer Mary DuNunzio as the tough-but-fair protagonist.

One a deeper level, DAMAGED
is about 10-year old Patrick O’Brien, orphaned by his mother and father and being raised by his elderly (and diabetic) grandfather. Patrick is small for his age, shy, dyslexic, and as a result, suffers from anxiety. When Patrick is accused of attacking a school aide with a pair of scissors, his grandfather approaches Rosato & DiNunzio for legal assistance.

In Scottoline’s trademark fast-fasted and emotional riveting manner
, she draws readers right into the eye of the storm, working in legalese and child advocacy issues at a break-neck speed, something I am certain legal thriller readers will love.

Meanwhile, Mary is just weeks away from her wedding to a college professor and this provides a nice backstory/subplot to Patrick’s story, tying in a bit of love and romance, though not enough to take away from the primary plot.

DAMAGED is Lisa Scottoline where she shines best: thrilling us with her fast-paced legal mysteries with a good amount of heart. 

I’m honored to welcome New York Times bestselling and Edgar award-winning Lisa Scottoline back to the blog couch for another chat about her newest release. Welcome, Lisa!

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it’s truly a treat to have you back so soon! I understand you are writing at least two books a year—one stand-alone and one Rosato & DiNunzio—plus, you’re co-writing with your daughter, Francesca Serritella. That’s a relentless schedule, how do you keep up?

Lisa Scottoline: I feel absolutely delighted with this schedule, I must tell you. I know it’s a lot, but I really think writing benefits from practice and staying on your toes. And in my personal life, I was a single mother and my daughter is grown up and away, so I truly feel as if this is my time, in my life. And I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing, which is telling a variety of stories, suspenseful family dramas and humorous true stories, anything I want to do, I’m doing, and that’s what I’m devoting my time to. I’m so lucky and blessed to have the readers I do and I hope I keep finding more of them. This is actually the best time of my life.

L.L.: Speaking of your daughter, I came across some fabulous clips of you two working together and wanted to highlight your work with Francesca. I’VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES (July 12, 2016, St. Martin’s Press) sounds like the perfect beach read—and we still have time before summer’s end—what can you tell us about this one? The title is just hilarious and oh-so-relatable.

Lisa Scottoline: I love writing this humorous series, because my daughter and I get to tell 51rNRrrH2cL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_what real life is like between mothers and daughters, and especially in the summertime, when tempers and bathing suits get grittier and grittier. I always think that we’re in the style of the great Erma Bombeck, who told the lighter side of family life, but I think we give it a fresh update and that mother-daughter drama that every family should have. And in summer, it will make you laugh out loud.

L.L.: But really we’re here to talk about another style of writing, a more serious type; DAMAGED is the 4th in the Rosato & DiNunzio legal thriller series. I’m curious about your inspiration for this story. Did the character of Patrick O’Brien sort of present himself to you first, or was there a storyline/plot you wanted to explore?

Lisa Scottoline: Interestingly, the inspiration for DAMAGED came from my best friend, who is a special education lawyer. We’ve been the closest of friends for 30 years, I have watched her dedicate herself to getting the proper programming for children with a wide range of disabilities, and to a certain extent, I really think it’s God’s work. My novels have always been about the intersection between justice and people, and especially in the emotional side, and there is no more emotionality than when you’re dealing with a kid who needs help. And Mary is the perfect character to tell that story, because she is always letting her emotionality lead her lawyering, which is exactly the way I think it should be!

L.L.: There’s so much in DAMAGED that speaks to the heart—there’s Patrick’s dyslexia, his resulting anxiety, the fact that he’s being raised by his grandfather…and then all of the legal ins & outs. Can you talk about the research you did for DAMAGED? Was there anything that surprised you?

Lisa Scottoline: I did so much research for this book, and all it was so surprising, I can’t begin to tell you. But I think most of the point is the research I did for dyslexia, and how much it resonated with me. I spoke with reading specialists, child advocates, and lawyers representing the school district and children, as well as child psychiatrists who specialize in treating the emotional problems, like anxiety, that can go hand-in-hand with dyslexia. It reading-and-comprehension.jpgspoke to me directly because I love reading so much, and the very notion that a child could simply not be able to read, no matter how intelligent he or she was, or how hard he or she tried, just really tore my heart out. When you think of it, learning to read is the first thing that you do in school, and if you can’t learn to read as easily as everyone else, or indeed at all, you begin to have core insecurities that you may never catch up on. One reading specialist told me, first you learn to read, and then you read to learn. So really behind this book is the importance of reading, and there is nothing more important, at least to me.

L.L.: I have to talk about Italy for a moment—but specifically Mary DiNunzio’s father, the Tonys, and their Columbus Day celebration. How I LOVED Mr. DiNunzio (does he have a name, by-the-way? I always saw him referred to as ‘Pa,’ and ‘Mary’s father’).  His booming voice (and heart) comes right through the pages. I wanted him be *my* father and for Mary’s mom to whip up a batch of gnocchi for me.  Was Mary’s family modeled after anyone in particular?

Lisa Scottoline: Thank you so much for saying so, and I think the great beating heart of this family is so much in my own family, so I could write this with my eyes closed, and I love it very much. The unconditional love in the family gives Mary the strength she has to go on, but funnily enough, it holds her back in some ways, and she has to grow beyond them. But I do love writing about her parents and their unique core of friendship, and of course that family is what Mary can offer this little boy, Patrick who has absolutely nobody in the world. And by the way, thank you for saying you don’t mind when the father’s booming voice comes across, in the capital letters. I fought for that early on with another editor, and it makes me laugh every time I read it. And by the way, as a trade secret, it makes it really easy to tell who’s speaking, when you have so many characters in a room excluded!

L.L.: Maybe because I was reading your book, or just because I love pasta, I had a dream that I ordered a delicious dish at an Italian restaurant, but it was missing a key ingredient—garlic. In the dream, they didn’t charge me for it. What are some of your favorite authentic foods?

Lisa Scottoline:  HA! A dream of a meal without garlic is a nightmare! I love to eat and I love so many foods it’s not even funny. But the truth is, when I was growing up, we had spaghetti with gravy, (tomato sauce to the rest of you) every single night and the only variety was that sometimes it was rigatoni and sometimes it was cavatelli. On special holidays or Sundays, we had homemade gnocchi! I could eat spaghetti every night, with gravy, clam sauce, oil and garlic, cheese and butter, or even cold out of the refrigerator, which is when it’s best. That is my absolute favorite food of all time. I went on the South Beach diet once and had to cut out carbs and I thought I might die of sadness.

RX-FNM_030111-Lighten-Up-012_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni18colL.L.: By-the-way, your last name rhymes with fettuccine, right?

Lisa Scottoline: TOTALLY! My father told me to tell people that, but I always thought that made me sound like an entrée, but I go with it. I don’t care how people pronounce my name. I just feel so happy, lucky, and blessed that they read me at all.

L.L.: Okay, back to DAMAGED, what do you hope readers take away from the story?

Lisa Scottoline: You know, the story has so much heart, and I don’t want to give much away, but what I really hope they take away is it the importance of family – and not in some sanitized, sitcom, family-values kind of way, but in what family really can give to someone, nurturing them, sustaining them, and giving them a solid basis of pure love, even when it’s difficult and there are problems to sort out, like Mary has in this novel, in abundance!

L.L.: And since we’re both dog-lovers, I have to ask if you have any new goofy dog/animal family stories to share? My basset just celebrated her first birthday and we celebrated in style with red-white-and-blue sweatbands and fancy dog ice cream. WP_20160720_18_54_54_Pro

Lisa Scottoline: You are a much better dog mother than I am, but I’m crazy about my five dogs, and sometimes I feel like it’s a party in this house, because they are the center of attention. Lately the big story is that poor Ruby, my little Corgi, has a paralyzed hind end and has to drive around in a cart, and now I have to diaper her, which is no picnic. But I will stick it out with her through the end, because nobody is more loyal than a dog.

L.L.: What’s next for you?

Lisa Scottoline: I’m in the thick of the next novel, a standalone, and I’m really loving it, but I can’t say more because it has a major twist that I don’t want to give away! And I tend to be a big blabbermouth: so I’ll just shut up.

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

Lisa Scottoline: There’s nothing I can think of more, I think you really got to the heart of it, and thank you very very much for your support. It’s always wonderful to speak with you, even this way! Stay well.

For more information, or to connect with Lisa via social media, please see: 

Lisa Scottoline waist up April NarbyAuthor Bio: Lisa Scottoline is The New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 26 novels, including her latest work, MOST WANTED. She also writes a weekly column with her daughter Francesca Serritella for the Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Chick Wit” which is a witty and fun take on life from a woman’s perspective. These stories, along with many other never-before-published stories, have been collected in a New York Times bestselling series of humorous memoirs including their most recent, Does This Beach Make Me Look Fat?, and earlier books, Have a Nice Guilt Trip; Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim; Best Friends, Occasional Enemies; My Nest Isn’t Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space; and Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog, which has been optioned for TV. Lisa reviews popular fiction and non-fiction, and her reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has served as President of Mystery Writers of America and has taught a course she developed, “Justice and Fiction” at The University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater. Lisa is a regular and much sought after speaker at library and corporate events. Lisa has over 30 million copies of her books in print and is published in over 35 countries. She lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay here: 

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to J. Karle and J. Sha at St. Martin’s Press. Author image credit: April Narby. Cover and author image courtesy of SMP and used with permission. Child reading image retrieved from  and pasta image from, both on 8.17.16, dog image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives.]

Writers on Wednesday: Laura McHugh on her second novel ARROWOOD, old homes, the longing to return home, memory & truth, and how she always reads the ‘crime section’ in the newspaper.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Set primarily in southern Iowa, ARROWOOD (August 9, Random House/Spiegel & Grau) is McHugh’s sophomore novel, but it’s certainly no slump. McHugh is an astute and observant writer weaving touches of Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri in the languid landscape (which I absolutely adored, having lived in most all of those states) in this psychological exploration of family and the stories our homes contain. ARROWOOD

Arrowood is one of the most ornate and glorious homes lining the banks of the Mississippi River in a dying town where many of the old homes are boarded up and left to decay. The town simply cannot sustain themselves any longer. The humidity is high and one can nearly hear the frogs chorusing in trees. When Arden returns from her grad school program in Colorado, it’s mostly because she struggles with finishing her history thesis, but also to inherit her family home. Not only has her father recently passed, but Arden is haunted by the need to know what happened to her baby sisters, twins, who disappeared twenty years ago when they were just 21-months old.

Determined to find answers, Arden connects with various folks from her past, piecing the story together in a page-turning, powerful story examining how our lives are shaped by memory and the need to find truth in closure.

Join me as I welcome Laura back for a second time as we chat about ARROWOOD, old houses, our Missouri upbringing and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Laura, it’s great to have you back! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I am enamored with this gorgeous cover. I know, I know…we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Did you have any say in the visual appearance?

Laura McHugh: Thank you for having me! I love the cover, too. I’m not involved in the design process, though they do ask my opinion once the cover has been designed. ARROWOOD actually had a very different cover at first, and it was beautiful, too, but I didn’t love it. There was a young woman with long, pretty hair, and she was gazing at some sort of boathouse on a lake. It was lovely and serene, and nothing about it resembled the mood or the protagonist or the house in the book. They were great about tweaking it—most importantly, switching the house out for one that more closely resembled Arrowood’s Second Empire style—but it still didn’t feel right. I wanted to get rid of the young woman, make the whole thing darker, moodier. Later on, after the first set of advance reader copies had been sent out with that first cover, they gave it a complete overhaul. I was thrilled. This version really feels like my book. I don’t even have a copy with the original cover anymore—my only one was auctioned off at a library benefit.

L.L.: I know you grew up in Missouri and the surrounding states, so I’m curious about “the little white house on South Fourteenth Street,” you mention in your dedication, but most of all, I’m interested in the first spark that became ARROWOOD. Can you speak to that, please?

Laura McHugh: Sure. The little white house is my grandparents’ house in Keokuk, which is nothing like the grand homes in the book. My family moved around a lot, and my grandparents’ house was the one place that always felt like home. It was a tiny one-bedroom, yet whenever the ten of us (I’m one of eight kids) came to visit, the house downloadseemed to magically expand to make room for everyone. Years after my grandparents died, I went back to the house to find the door wide open, and I went inside. It was trashed. Squatters had been living there. I was scared. The entire neighborhood, which had once felt so safe, was menacing. I couldn’t reconcile my memories of this place with what it had become. In one sense, ARROWOOD is about that longing to return home, which in many ways is impossible. I also wanted to write about the decline and decay of a small town, and I combined all of that with a character who has been stuck in the past, haunted by a terrible crime. I wanted to see if she could solve the mystery and find a way forward despite everything crumbling around her.

L.L.: We absolutely have to talk homes! I am crazy about old houses, new houses, abandoned ones, and just about everything in between. In fact, I so related to young Arden with the ‘Guidebook to Area Homes’ tucked under her arm (that was me when I lived in Northfield, MN!) What is it about homes that we—and perhaps, especially writers—find so compelling? And do you have a favorite architectural style or time period?

Laura McHugh: I love the idea of a house having a history—that it’s full of stories you might never know. The first house I lived in had been abandoned for years before my parents bought it, and was said to be haunted. It was Carpenter Gothic220px-Springside_gatehouse, with cathedral windows and curved scrollwork and an ornate staircase that my mother had spent more than a year painstakingly refinishing before the house caught fire. The place was eventually rebuilt, minus the characteristic features that had made it so stunning. When we drive by it now, my mother bemoans the missing balcony, the shortened windows, the lack of trim.

I favor the various styles of the 1800’s, including Second Empire, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Victorian, and I love to see different styles on the same block, the way you do in old towns like Keokuk. So many subdivisions now are homogenous—rows of nearly identical houses. We incorporated architectural salvage when we built our house, including an arched church window and doors from old houses that had been torn down—small pieces of history in a house with no past.

L.L.: While Arden is in a sense “haunted” by the disappearance of her twin sisters,  ARROWOOD is not exactly a ghost story, though there are definitely creepy things at play; a slight menacing effect. Was this your intention all along, or did it sort of grow organically as the manuscript progressed?

Laura McHugh: Both, I think. I knew that Arden would be “haunted,” but I like the space in between, where you wonder, is there something going on here, or is this in her head? The details came together as the story progressed.

L.L.: In that vein, do you write to plot points, or do you let your characters tell the story?

Laura McHugh:  I’ve tried it both ways. THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD was written without any upfront planning (though I certainly did a lot of organizational work in revisions). I tried to do more of an outline for ARROWOOD, but I found that it took a lot of the pleasure out of writing when I was working toward predetermined points. I do best when I let the story grow from the characters’ desires and motivations and then clean things up 9780812985337as needed afterwards.

L.L.: There’s this wonderful melding of memory with truth in ARROWOOD, something that is often present in fiction, but in real-life, too. We simply don’t always remember events as we once imagined. Can you talk about how your theme, memory and truth, often become muddled? 

Laura McHugh: I’ve read a lot of interesting material about the unreliability of memory in eyewitness accounts, and I was especially interested in the way such accounts could influence an investigation—possibly moving it in the wrong direction. I suspect part of my interest in memory stems from my own past—I’m the youngest of eight children, and while we have many shared childhood memories, there are plenty of things I can’t possibly remember as clearly as they do. I have memories of certain details and events from houses and towns where we lived when I was very small, but I can’t be sure how much of that is actual memory and how much was woven together from my siblings’ retelling of these things. Is it ever possible to separate true memory from created memory? Is it possible to go back to a case that’s been cold for nearly twenty years and find the truth? These were things that I wanted to explore in Arrowood.

L.L.:  For slightly selfish reasons, I’m a little curious about the second-book process for a published author. I would imagine there would be a good deal of anxiety involved. What’s the overall process like?

Laura McHugh: There was definitely more anxiety with the second book than the first. With the first, no one was waiting for it. I could meander and make all sorts of missteps and then fix them in subsequent drafts, and no one would ever know. With the second book, there are expectations, and other voices in your head. Plus, the first book hasn’t gone away. You want to be fully focused on the new book, but you’re still spending time promoting the old one. It’s hard to ignore all of that and just let yourself write the story you want to write. I learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t while I was writing this second book, and hopefully that will help me going forward.

L.L.: Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on next?

Laura McHugh: The next novel is set mainly in rural Missouri and Kansas. The protagonist is still reeling from her brother’s unexpected death when she’s sent to investigate a deadly accident that has torn apart a rural community. She soon realizes that nothing is as it seems.

L.L.: What’s inspiring you nowadays? What gets your creativity flowing?

Laura McHugh: Being still and observant. That sounds terribly dull, but that’s how it works for me. I’m a people-watcher, and I’m always making up backstories for strangers I see at the library, or I’ll walk by an interesting house and start piecing together what kind of family might live inside. And, of course, I always read the Crime Section of the news.

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

Laura McHugh: Nothing! You always have great questions. Thank you, Leslie!

L.L.: Laura, it was such a pleasure chatting once again. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Laura McHugh: You, too!

***For more information, or to connect with Laura via social media, please see***

Facebook: LauraMcHughAuthor

Twitter: @LauraSMcHugh

Website: www.weightofblood.com

Laura McHugh -¬ Taisia GordonBio: Laura McHugh is the author of The Weight of Blood, which won both the 2015 International Thriller Writers award and a Silver Falchion award for the best first novel, and was nominated for a Barry award, an Alex award, and a Goodreads Choice award. She spent part of her childhood in Keokuk, Iowa, where Arrowood is set, and now lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband and two young children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via:

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriterWP_20160415_13_21_06_Pro

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

GoodReads: LeslieALindsay

[Special thanks to A. Lord and M. Braeckel. Cover and author image provided by Random House and used with permission. Author photo credit: Taisia Gordon. Carpenter Gothic house retrieved from Wikipedia on 8.10.16 and does not represent author’s home, WEIGHT OF BLOOD cover retrieved from the author’s website]

Writers on Wednesdays: Debut author Camille Di Maio talks about finding balance in life, how The Beatles influenced THE MEMORY OF US, her snoring (gasp!) problem, writing a minimum of 500 words a day, and an amazing support cast

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I absolutely fell in love with THE MEMORY OF US, a gorgeous historical fiction debut from Camille Di Maio. Her prose is absolutely stunning, the pacing and emotional arc is quite eloquent and moving. I simply couldn’t put the book down until I knew how everything unfolded.IMG_2831

Julianne Westcott is a gorgeous Protestant socialite from a prominent Liverpool family in the midst of WWII. She has everything at her fingertips, including a mother who could only hope to marry her off to a fine, upstanding gentleman worthy of her hand. But Julianne has other plans; she enrolls in nursing school in London, though her parents aren’t 100% behind her.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. When Julianne inadvertently discovers an institutionalized deaf and blind twin brother, she begins visiting him at his place of residence. It’s there that she first lays eyes on the gardener, Kyle McCarthy, an Irish seminarian.

Falling in love, Julianne and Kyle will do all it takes to end up together; but the stakes are high. Julianne has an obligation to her school, Kyle to his vocation, and then there are her parents who forbid any such union.

Grab your coffee (or a spot of tea) and join me and Camille as we chat about THE MEMORY OF US.

Leslie Lindsay: Camille, I really, really loved THE MEMORY OF US. I found I couldn’t put the book down. The pacing was impeccable and the story of Julianne and Kyle really pulled at my heartstrings. What was your ultimate inspiration, the very first kernel that got you excited about this story?

Camille De Maio: Thank you, Leslie!  I’m so glad that you enjoyed it.  My answer here might surprise your readers.  My original inspiration came from dragging my four kids along on errands, and setting my iPod to shuffle while I drove.  Out of five thousand songs, it picked “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, one of my favorites.  But this time was a different experience for me.  I found myself wondering – who was the lonely priest?  Who was the lonely woman?  What if they had a history together?  And it snowballed from there.  The song was released in 1966 – the 50th anniversary is actually this week – and I counted back to their youth, which I set around WWII.  So, it’s a story of young love in the shadow of war.  I was particularly excited about it when a pivotal scene came to mind – something that changes both of their lives radically – and I couldn’t wait to start putting it on paper.

L.L.: Your characters are vividly rendered, complex, and linked so well throughout the novel. Your sense of place is astute and the story propels the

reader deeper and deeper into the folds of war, love, and family expectations. I’m sort of amazed that this is your first book. Do you have other manuscripts shoved under the bed? Can you talk a bit about the journey to publication?

Camille De Maio: This was my first attempt at a book.  And I’d have to say that I consider myself a reader even before a writer.  That’s essential, in my opinion.  I am a voracious reader, and although I have no formal training in writing, I have hundreds of books that I’ve devoured.  So, I think I picked up, without realizing it, a sense of what works in stories.  Hope for amateurs everywhere!  I do have a second manuscript – this one set in Texas – that will be released in May 2017.  I’m deep in edits right now, so I’m going to be a hermit for the next week or so.

I wrote the first draft of THE MEMORY OF US in six weeks, knew nothing about the process, and sent it out to a bunch of agents.  Of course, I received just as many rejections.  But I used each rejection to understand how I needed to make it stronger.  So, between work and kids, I spent six years working and reworking it until the final version, which is draft seventeen.  Once I was confident that I had something worth sending in again, I submitted it out to several agents, taking the time to really study their lists, and two were interested in it!  I signed with Jill Marsal at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.  Several months later, we had a book deal with Lake Union, and they have been fantastic to work with at every stage.

L.L.: THE MEMORY OF US is an epic tale, spanning several decades (1930s-1960s),  all set in England. How did you decide in which ways to structure this novel? As I’m sure it could have gone lots of different directions.

Camille De Maio: Although the book is not “about” Fr. McKenzie and Eleanor, I did use the song as inspiration for the framework.  I set it in Liverpool, the home of the Beatles.  A key scene takes place in August 1966, the release date of the song.  And, there are lots of little hints for fans of the Beatles to enjoy as they read it.  For example, one scene takes place on a bench in front of the cemetery of St. Peter’s Church in Woolton.  That is actually the church where Paul McCartney and John Lennon first met.  There is also a point in the book where the characters take a trip out to Wales.  The towns that they pass through are the 35300284towns that the Beatles played in during their only tour through Wales.  The setting – time and place – also provided the framework.  I loved the research stage of it.  My favorite was learning about St. Dwynwyn, who is the patron saint of lovers, like our Valentine, but in Wales.  I set a scene there, one that I never intended to write, after reading about her legend, and knowing that I had to incorporate it in to the story.

L.L.: As much as I loved THE MEMORY OF US, I had difficulty placing it in a specific genre. Not that it really matters, does it? Part of me wants to believe the book is historical fiction because its set during WWII, another part of me says it’s romance because of the relationship between Juliana and Kyle. And finally, there’s a bit of mystery in there, too. Does genre matter? And should writers write toward a specific genre, or just tell a good story?

Camille DeMaio: Good question!  I’ve had to come up with this description:  it’s historical fiction with strong romantic elements.  There is a lot more history in it than you usually find in a romance.  But, there is more romance in there than you usually find in historical fiction.  It was important to me, first of all, to tell a good story.  And, as it was set in the past, I wanted the history to be both interesting and accurate.  But I didn’t want it to bog the pacing down.  This is not a story “about” the war.  But, the war does play a role in shaping what happens to the two main characters.  More interesting to me was studying the details of the time and place – fashion, culture, speech, etc.

I think we see more and more blending of genres, and it’s a good thing.  Because of writing this book, I’ve read more romance than I had in the past.  (Although, I’ve learned that I’m a “low heat” reader!  Nothing too steamy for me.)  And, romance readers have told me how much they enjoyed the history.  So, I just believe in telling a good story and not worrying about how to categorize it. 

And you’re right – there is a bit of mystery.  I’ve read every Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and Hercule Poirot that exists.  I’m sure that rubbed off on me!

L.L.: I have to admit, I kind of fell in love with Kyle a bit, too. Did he have a similar effect on you? Was there a character that was more fun to write, that seemed to flow most effortlessly? One that was more of a challenge?

Camille De Maio: Yes, I did fall in love with Kyle, and I’m glad you did, too!  While this wasn’t a conscious action, I think that as a member of  Twilight’s “Team Edward”, I was drawn to a character who is very good, very kind.  And, since he was studying for the priesthood, it seemed natural for his character to have these traits and still (hopefully) seem real.  My favorite scenes with him were the ones in which he was encouraging Julianne to do the right thing in her relationship with her parents. 

Julianne was more of a challenge.  She has to have this arc of being a socialite, somewhat vain, all of which setliverpool her up for a very big fall.  But, in the beginning, I had to be careful to give her these traits and still make her “likeable.”  There are a small handful of reviews from readers who don’t like a particular, radical decision she makes in the book.  However, not only did it have to happen to propel the story forward, but it was appropriate to the time period.  A modern woman with more social resources at her disposal could have made a different choice.  But, a woman in ravaged WWII would not have had the same options.

L.L.: In real life, if a seminarian falls in love, how easy is it to leave the vocation? In THE MEMORY OF US, it appeared to be less dramatic than I envisioned.

Camille De Maio: It is not a particularly dramatic event.  A man is in the seminary for eight to ten years before becoming a priest, and a big part of that period of time is a chance to discern his calling to this tremendous sacrifice.  Perhaps if I had told the story from Kyle’s point of view, there might have been some tough discussions with his teachers at the seminary, but nothing, ultimately, would have stood in his way from the choices he made.  He would not have taken final vows for many years.

L.L.: Aside from your job as novelist, you’re also a homeschooling mother to four and you run a real estate business. I’m tired just thinking of it! Yet, there’s something about busy-ness that sort of lights a fire. Can you speak to that please?  And what advice would you give to others who want to write, but finds that “life gets in the way?”

download (12)Camille De Maio: Isn’t there an expression that says that if you want something to be done, ask a busy person to do it?  Maybe that describes me.  Although, I am having to learn the art of saying “no”.  What I believe in is balance.  Now that writing is a big part of my life, my role in our real estate business is changing, and we’ve hired two people to assist with some of that work.  And, I make sure that my writing time is early in the morning or late at night, so that it doesn’t take away from my family.  In order to bring something in, something has to go. Thankfully, I’m a deep sleeper, and I seem to thrive on less of it.  According to my husband, I snore “like a fright train.”  Yikes!

As to those who say that “life gets in the way”, I offer a thought, which was told to me by my priest:  “You will never find time to do something.  You have to make time to do it.”  I think this is so true.  If you wait until our kids are out of diapers, until there are back in school, until they are out of the house, until you work less hours, etc., you may never write.  If writing is a goal, you have to make it fit.  Maybe that means waking up a half hour earlier.  Maybe that means turning off the TV at night and putting five hundred words on paper instead.  It’s all about choices.  What are you saying “yes” to that is making you say “no” to writing?  Think of this:  if you wrote five hundred words a day over the course of a year, you’d have over 180,000 words – that’s about two books!  And, ask most writers – once you’re in the groove of your story, five hundred words is a cakewalk.  Half hour kind of stuff.  (Side note – that doesn’t mean it’s GOOD writing, necessarily.  First drafts are notoriously awful.  But write them anyway!)

L.L.: What are you working on next? Do you plan to stay with historical fiction?

Camille De Maio: I didn’t set out to write historical fiction, but when I look over all the books I’ve read, I’ve clearly gravitated towards that genre.  I do love the research – it gives such wonderful depth to a book.  My second one, in fact, is set in Texas in the 1940s in a women’s prison.  While reading about that particular time, I discovered that there was an annual prison rodeo, and in that particular women’s prison, there was an all-girls string band that had a national radio following – yet they were all incarcerated!  Talk about fodder for a storyline.  Alternating chapters are set in modern times as a journalist and a doctor try to discover the truth about what happened to two sisters, one of whom was accused of murdering the other.

I’m editing that one right now, but I have been mulling over my third book.  It will be set in New York City between 1890 and 1963, surrounding a very particular piece of that city’s history.  I have my structure in mind, but I need to fill it in with characters.  I should start working on that in earnest this fall.

L.L.: What is obsessing/inspiring you these days? What keeps you awake at night?

Camille De Maio: Some writers excel when they are in a solitary place, perhaps a writing nook, where they are alone with their imaginations.  Other writers (definitely me) do best when they are constantly in different environments.  I am an observer, so if I’m traveling and I have my laptop, I cannot keep up with the words that fly from my fingers.  So, added to the natural addiction I have for travel, I am constantly thinking about the next place I’d like to go.  I’ve traveled to most of the states and four continents.  With my first book set in England, the second in Texas, and the third in New York, I think I might be accidentally creating a pattern for myself of writing books that are set in very distinct places.

What keeps me awake at night?  Well, as a deep sleeper/snorer, apparently, I’m out as soon as my head hits the pillow.  My poor husband – he’ll be in the middle of a conversation with me when the kids have finally gone to bed, and mid-sentence, after being completely coherent, I’ll just pass out in an instant.  But – as to what worries me – I would have to say the state of the world.  I know that sounds like a Miss America kind of answer.  But it’s true now more than ever.  It dawned on me the other day that I’ve seen the flag flown at half-staff more days than not in the past few months.  Or so it seems.  I really want to bring joy and love in to a world that is starved of it right now.

L.L.: What one question did I forget to ask, but should have?download (36)

Camille De Maio: I would like for people to know that although my name is on the front of the cover, writing a book BY FAR is not a solitary event.  It started with my mom encouraging my dreams as a kid.  My dad passing along his enthusiasm for the Beatles.  My husband telling me that I could do it when I didn’t think I could.  My kids for being patient as I did this.  My agent for taking a chance on a debut novelist.  My publisher for doing the same.  My editors for showings me how it could be better.  The cover artist for making it gorgeous.  My friends for reading awful first drafts and telling me that it was the best thing ever.  My publicist for getting the word out.  The book bloggers and promoters (like you!) who write about the books they love.  The readers for spending hard-earned money on it, and the ones who take the time to review it.  My author friends who understand this crazy life in a way that no one else does.  My brother for making my book trailer, and my sister for being a sounding board.  If you look at the acknowledgments in the back of my book, I went on and on.  But I absolutely must emphasize that this does not all happen in a vacuum.  I get all the credit and the mentions, but at every turn possible, I want people to know about everyone who has held me up.

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

You can follow me at:

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About the Author:
 Camille is an award-winning real estate agent in San Antonio who, along with her husband of 19 years, home schools their four children. She has a bucket list that is never-ending, and uses her adventures to inspire her writing. She’s lived in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, and spends enough time in Hawai’i to feel like a local. She’s traveled to four continents (so far), and met Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. She just about fainted when she had a chance to meet her musical idol, Paul McCartney, too. Camille studied political science in college, but found working on actual campaigns much more rewarding. She overdoses on goodies at farmers markets (justifying them by her support for local bakeries) and belts out Broadway tunes whenever the moment strikes. There’s almost nothing she wouldn’t try, so long as it doesn’t involve heights, roller skates, or anything illegal. “The Memory of Us” is Camille’s debut novel. Her second, “Before the Rain Falls” will be released on May 2, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

[Cover and author image provided by C. Di Maio and used with permsission. Image of  St. Peter’s Church in Woolton retrieved from, Ben Franklin quote retrieved from, it takes a village quote from and Liverpool skyline from , all retrieved 7.28.16]

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

And it should.

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

And why are there bars on the window?

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

And well, it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thailand-Travel_banner_3.jpg.1600x565_q85

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

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

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

— BOOKLIST, Starred Review!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laura Lippman: It was a pleasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Girl-In-The-Red-Coat-grey-232x300

 First, the reviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then–poof–she’s gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.L.: What is obsessing you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

Just listen to this:

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

—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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