WeekEND Reading: Lynne Branard talks about her addiction to Mike & Ike candy, how she’d love to write all day, doing what’s right while still being pleasing, & so much more in this graceful story of being open and TRAVELING LIGHT

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By Leslie Lindsay

From the bestselling author and masterful storyteller of THE ART OF ARRANGING FLOWERS, comes a new novel about the search for what really matters in life, discovering oneself, all while doing the ‘right’ thing.

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Inspired by real life events, Lynne Branard was working at a hospice agency when an unclaimed box of cremains—with her agency’s business card attached—was discovered in a storage facility. Branard was intrigued. How could remains of someone get lost—and how could no one seem to ‘care?’ It became a catalyst for change—and the perfect inception for a work of fiction.

Branard’s writing flows effortlessly, a jaunty rhythm much like the road trip that becomes the narrative. TRAVELING LIGHT (Berkley, January 10 2017) is quirky fun, but the smooth and polished writing makes it so easy to settle in with the characters, Al (short for Alissa) and her seventeen year old traveling companion, Blossom as they attempt to return the unclaimed ‘found’ ashes of Mr. Roger Hart to his proper home.

Our protagonist is a reporter, so we get a good deal of background and research on the places we “travel” with Al(issa) and Blossom, which I loved. Even though I am quite familiar with many of the locations along the way, I found myself immersed in the details and fully enjoying the new tidbits of information. images-20

As for Roger Hart, there’s some good that comes of that, too but it’s not nearly as neat and tidy as one might expect; there’s some potholes along the way. TRAVELING LIGHT is a light mystery, but mostly it’s good ol’ fun ala THELMA & LOUISE with a slight, *very* slight spiritual bent. It’s mostly about traveling the open roads with an open mind, delightful and unique. 

Join me in welcoming New York Times bestselling author and masterful storyteller Lynne Branard to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay: Lynne, it’s a pleasure to have you join us today. It’s January and so we’re all doing a good deal of re-assessing—looking at where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Is that some of what got you interested in this story?

Lynne Branard: Thank you, Leslie! I always enjoy a little self-reflection so that certainly influenced this story idea. I also was interested in thinking about the “scripts” we get handed or try and find as a way to live our lives. Sometimes just considering why we do what we do helps us know what we most want

L.L.: You have a background in Divinity. Though TRAVELING LIGHT is not at all spiritual reading, there’s definitely a thread of that intertwined throughout the narrative; and how can there not be, your characters are driving cross-country with someone’s ashes. Would you call this a spiritual book, or not?

Lynne Branard: I mostly think everything has a spiritual bent, that there is a thread
somewhere leading to what gives us meaning and purpose or what doesn’t but yet manages to capture our attention.
I do think this kind of “journey” lends itself to being called a spiritual one; so then, I vote yes, it’s a spiritual book!

L.L.: Still yet, there’s something appealing to “traveling light,”—the idea that we take too much with us in life. What aspects of your life might you attempt to shed if you images-19were ‘traveling light?’

Lynne Branard: Whew, that would take more than a paragraph. I carry so many fears of disappointing others, of trying to “do right,” be pleasing. It so often trips me up in trying to be authentic. I’m also a bit of a control freak; it’d be nice to let loose of some of that heaviness. Overanalyzing everything, an addiction to Mike and Ike candy, the fear of loss, worrying if something is in my teeth. Well, that’s enough, don’t want to give away all of my crazy.

L.L.: So back to the story, Alissa and Blossom tickled me so much. They are definitely a pair of unlikely companions. For one, Alissa is nearly twice as old as Blossom. Blossom’s a wise gal, but she’s still only seventeen. In many ways, Blossom teaches Alissa a thing or two about life. What would you say is the biggest lesson(s) they each bring to one another?

Lynne Branard: Blossom is definitely the teacher in this story. The young one knows about an open heart, not really going by any script. She’s easy, nonjudgmental. She’s out there! Alissa, I suppose, teaches Blossom to trust women, to be open to a new, unexpected friendship, and maybe since Alissa comes to love her so much; sees how smart she really is, maybe this helps Blossom find clarity and confidence for her life too.

L.L.: And their travels! Oh, how I smiled and nodded when you mentioned towns like Shamrock, Texas and Amarillo, too! I’ve been to both places—as well as Tucumcari, New Mexico. I know all about The Big Texan and the Cadillac Ranch (not in the book, but still in Amarillo). There was more, too—things I didn’t know. Do you have any connection to these places?

Lynne Branard: My husband and I make that trip down Interstate 40, East to West and back again A LOT! I love that passageway across the country. I have great connection to almost everything on that road!!catus-in-front

L.L.: There were times when TRAVELING LIGHT almost read like a memoir. What’s your take on realistic fiction vs. creative non-fiction vs. using a kernel of truth (as you did in this book) in storytelling?

Lynne Branard: That’s a very smart question and I don’t really have a take on that. I love stories and on some level they are all true; so I don’t think too much about the genre, I just pick up a book and get ready to be taken somewhere new.

L.L.: What’s next for you?

Lynne Branard: Finished a book about a woman who lives in a tree for a few weeks. So far, no publisher wants it. I thought that idea was the easiest thing to believe but apparently, it’s too far-fetched for a lot of city folks. I could go live in a tree in a like a minute.

L.L.: What keeps you inspired? What do you do when your mind needs a break for writing? For me, it’s decorating…in fact, I’m thinking of a new wall color right now.

Lynne Branard: Well, it’s clearly not decorating! =) Come see my house! I like running half marathons. Well, let me rephrase that: I like running one half marathon and the rest of the year getting ready for it. The stories people tell me inspire me. I’m a co-pastor; I hear amazing stories of survival and grace. I am so privileged in this way. So far, I’ve never really wanted a break from writing. I think if I had my way I’d write all the time. I mean, never bathe, eat bad food, never see anyone, just write. Maybe that’s why I have to work another job, keeps me from becoming some weird old woman with bad hygiene!

L.L.: So I’m dying to know (bad pun), whatever happened with the unclaimed ashes with your agency’s business card attached? Any happy endings there?

Lynne Branard: We never heard. The person who called said her sister had actually found them a year before she made her call. She said the sister liked keeping them in her car, gave her a sense of comfort. I guess they’re still strapped in the back seat of that woman’s SUV.

L.L.: Lynne, I so appreciate your story, your words, and for being with us today. All the best to you!

Lynne Branard: This was fun!! Thank you for your kind words, thoughtful questions, and for caring about what I think. I hope our paths cross one day! Thank you, Leslie. You make the world a better place!

For more information, to connect with Lynne Branard, or to purchase a copy of TRAVELING LIGHT, please see: 

Jackie Lynne Hinton.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynne Hinton was born and raised in North Carolina. She attended Wake Forest University and is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro. She also attended NC School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking and graduated with her Masters of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and has served as a hospice chaplain and as a senior pastor in North Carolina and in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as well as the interim pastor in northeastern Washington.

Lynne is the author of twenty books, including the NY Times Bestseller, Friendship Cake and Pie Town, the 2011 NM Book of the Year: Fiction/Adventure, Drama Category and 2011 National Federation of Press Women’s Fiction Book of the Year. She has penned a mystery series under the name, Jackie Lynn and has one nonfiction collection of essays. She also has two books under the name Lynne Branard: THE ART OF ARRANGING FLOWERS and her latest, TRAVELING LIGHT. She is a regular guest columnist in the Faith and Values Section for The Charlotte Observer and was the 2008 Lucy B. Patterson Author of the Year by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in NC. In 2010 and 2015, she was the recipient of a Louisville Institute Pastoral Study Grant and was named 2012 Favorite Local Writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Albuquerque, The Magazine.

She has been endorsed by authors Sue Monk Kidd, Rita Mae Brown, Silas House, Malachy McCourt, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and her favorite, Dr. Maya Angelou, who wrote about the novel, FRIENDSHIP CAKE, “I would welcome a friendship with Lynne Hinton. I would welcome an invitation to sit down at her table, but mostly I would welcome her next book.”wp_20170109_12_46_48_pro_li-2

Her work has been compared to great writers like Eudora Welty, Rebecca Wells, and Jan Karon. And the journal Publishers Weekly has written, “Hinton has a knack in her novels for tapping into a woman’s longings for lifelong, authentic, messy friendships.”

Lynne is married to Bob Branard; they live in Guilford County, NC where she serves as the Co-Pastor of Mount Hope UCC. Learn more here and also at Lynne Hinton’s Books on Facebook.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay through these on-line stops: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Penguin Random House and used with permission. Image of man in field from , The Big Texan from their website, both retrieved on 1.21.17. Book with VW model from L.Linday’s personal archives]

Wednesday with Writers: Enthralling, highly Sensory 17th c. France Scandal, Poisoners, Prisoners, Fortune-tellers, & More in Kate Braithwaite’s historical fiction THE CHARLATAN.

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By Leslie Lindsay

Kate Braithwaite’s CHARLATAN is brimming with intrigue, power, mystique. There’s more. 

Scandal. Panic. Fortune tellers. Scheming woman. Love affairs. Prisoners in dungeons. 

It’s dark, intricate plotting, well-developed characters will pull you in and not let you go even when you’re taken on a bumpy journey in a royal carriage down rutted roads to the execution pyre. You’ll feel the heat, your nose will singe with the scent of burning flesh and hair; you’ll hear the guttural screams and wonder how human nature could be so cruel.

Not being a huge French history connoisseur, I found Kate Braithwaite’s historical depth impressive, her writing highly sensory
(there was a time I had to sit the book down it ‘got’ to me so much), and the braiding of two plot lines impeccable.

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The story centers around Athenais, King Louis XIV’s glamorous mistress and mother to seven of his children. Athenais has left her older two children and husband to play this part for the king. She lives at Versailles in a well-appointed apartment, but has grown older and more plump. She worries she won’t be able to keep the love of the king.

And she would be right.

Together, with her sister, Gabrielle, they scheme and wheedle ways to keep the King within arm’s length. Their methods are manipulative at best, witchcraft-y at worst.

Meanwhile, police chief La Reynie and his new/young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and poisoners operating in the city.
Inquisitions ensue. Trauma and torture, too.

Join me as I welcome Ms. Braithwaite to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, it’s a pleasure to have you. I understand you were born in Scotland, but spent a good part of your life in the UK and Canada. So, not being French yourself, what propelled you to write about King Louis’s 17th century France?

Kate Braithwaite: I think Scottish people have quite an affinity for France. I lived in Edinburgh until I was eighteen and grew up on stories of Mary Queen of Scots French mother and Scotland’s ‘auld alliance’ with France. But my interest in Louis and the 17th century in particular happened quite by chance when I came across a second hand copy of Nancy Mitford’s book THE SUN KING. I was on maternity leave after having my first baby and wanted some non-fiction to read. In THE SUN KING, I read about the Affair of the Poisons for the first time and was amazed that there had been such a scandal and yet I had never heard a thing about it. There was enough detail in Mitford’s book to really pique my interest but definitely not enough to satisfy my curiosity. That’s where the road to this novel really began.

L.L.: Can you set the scene for a moment? Can you take us to the world of CHARLATAN?

Kate Braithwaite: CHARLATAN is really set in two very contrasting worlds. First there is the world of Louis, Athenais and Versailles, a beautiful baroque world conjured up by Louis’ design on the site of his father’s old hunting lodge. The court is governed by strict rules and courtiers compete with each other to gain Louis’ favor using all and any weapons at their disposal. francois-athenais_de_rochechouartFor my main character, Athenais, Louis’ discarded mistress, this might have meant turning to the underworld of fortune-tellers operating in Paris who offered horoscopes, love potions and even poison to their disgruntled clients. But this is also a story of a police investigation. Police chief La Reynie and his assistant Bezons have arrested hundreds of fortune-tellers and priests who have built up lucrative businesses in Paris, selling all manner of charms, love potions and  ‘inheritance powders’ particularly to women at court who have tired of their aristrocratic mates. La Reynie and Bezons’ world is one of prisons and interrogations, of accusations of witchcraft, Satanism and state-sanctioned torture. When those arrested name Athenais as one of their clients, these two worlds collide. [shown at left: Athenias, via Wikipedia, 1.16.17]

L.L.: The story of the CHARLATAN is purely fictional, but you crafted a historical sequence of what might have happened. Your depth of historical research is remarkable. Can you tell us a bit about your research?

Kate Braithwaite: Thank you! I have read as many books as I could get my hands on about Louis, his mistresses, life in 17th century France and particularly the events of the Affair of the Poisons which are central to the plot of my novel. Writing a historical novel requires finding about all kinds of things… from buildings to clothes and hairstyles, to food, hygiene and transport. For CHARLATAN, I needed to also research historical events. Although I have streamlined and simplified the events of the Affair of the Poisons, this is a fiction that could be true and sticks fairly well to times, places and events that actually happened. All the characters in CHARLATAN existed in real life and although their personalities are imagined, they are imagined based on the known facts about them. I read, for example, that Athenais 220px-louisedelavalliere01visited Louise de la Valliere in her convent and had cooked while she was there. That snippet was very important for me in developing her character and the fictional meetings in the book between these two women. Often historical novelists talk about primary and secondary research sources. I was very fortunate that it possible to access an amazing primary source for my novel online. The Archives of the Bastille with transcripts of interrogations that took place in 1680 are only a click or two away. Of course they are in French… that slowed me down a bit! [shown at right: Louise de la Valliere via Wikipedia, 1.16.17]

L.L.: So much of your writing is highly sensory. And that’s a good thing; your descriptions of some of the torture devices were so visceral. In fact, they made me a little squeamish. Yet…I loved them. Can you talk about that please? The torture devices, the research you must have done to get it ‘just right.’

Kate Braithwaite: One of the things that I’ve been surprised about since the book came out is how strong a reaction some of the scenes have provoked in readers. Perhaps because I have written and re-written so much they don’t have the same impact for me. When working on black_mass_01the torture aspects, I referred to a couple of history books that specifically outline torture methods and sadly, of course, torture is still in use today, perhaps more than we know or like to imagine. The internet is full of weird and wonderful (and sometimes not so wonderful) information. I remember for one scene of water torture that I read on the internet that a cloth was stuffed in the person’s mouth and I could see how effective that would be. It’s part of the writer’s job to pay attention to detail. Often it is the tiny detail that makes the whole seem real. When I’m writing I also consciously try to think in a multi-sensory way and ask myself what the characters are seeing, smelling, hearing and touching, as well as what they are feeling emotionally, what they do and what they say.

L.L.: Honestly, I had never heard of a ‘black mass,’ before. Is this a true and real thing, or did you develop it as a story measure?

Kate Braithwaite: A black mass was very much a real thing according to my research. It is an extension of witchcraft: a satanic practice where the trappings and ceremony of a Roman Catholic mass are subverted and the devil or Satan is called upon instead of God. The black mass described in CHARLTAN is very much what was described by the prisoners in Chateau Vincennes when they were interrogated by La Reynie and Bezons.220px-vincenneswatercolor

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from this story? I, for one learned about a time in history I was less familiar with.

Kate Braithwaite: That was certainly one main aim. For me it is a fascinating episode that I knew I would love to read a novel about it if one existed. And so now one does! I also hope that readers will take away a feeling of having engaged with the characters. Although Athenais’ behavior is suspect at many points my starting point in writing about her, was very sympathetic. She was the most beautiful, clever and witty woman at Louis’ court but her only way to advance herself and her family was by becoming the King’s mistress. And after having seven children with Louis she was expected to smile and nod as she was replaced. So I hope the story is interesting from the perspective of women in history. But most of all I hope it is a good page turner. I have been an avid reader all my life and enjoy nothing more than being swept away by a good story.

L.L.: Since we’re in January, do you have any New Year’s Resolutions? They don’t have to be literary.

Kate Braithwaite: I have the usual plethora of resolutions about food and exercise, most of which I have struggled with already! I’m trying to keep a proper writer’s notebook this year by which I mean only having one active notebook instead of five and actually keeping that one in my bag or in my car at all times. I feel like I have writing ideas all the time but I don’t capture them, far less act upon them.

L.L.: Do you have other historical narratives in the works? Can you share?

Kate Braithwaite: I am writing another historical novel based on real events and set in the same time period as CHARLATAN, but in London. In 1679, a young man called Titus Oates shocked Parliament with dramatic revelations of a plot to murder Charles II and make 200px-titus_oatesProtestant England a Catholic country again. My story focuses on a writer, Nathaniel, and his new young wife, Anne. When Nathaniel becomes determined to prove that Oates plot is a hoax he puts himself and his friends and family’s safety at risk. Proving who really killed a prominent magistrate might be the key to bringing down Titus Oates but Nathaniel has to learn to ask for help from others if he his to succeed: and that includes not underestimating Anne.

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

Kate Braithwaite: Nothing springs to mind. I might just add that anyone wanting to know more about the Affair of the Poisons – including all the people and accusations that I simply could not fit in and still make a cohesive (hopefully) novel – should take a look at Anne Somerset’s non-fiction book, THE AFFAIR OF THE POISONS. It’s a great read.

L.L.: Kate, it was wonderful having you. Thank you for transporting us to 1676 Paris.

Kate Braithwaite: Thank you Leslie, and thanks for reading!

To connect with Ms. Braithwaite, via social media, or to purchase a copy of CHARLATAN, please see:

dsc_5299_pp1ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but has lived in various parts of the UK, in Canada and the US. Winner of the University of Toronto Marina Nemat Award and Random House Student Writing Prize, she writes atmospheric historical fiction exploring dark secrets and unusual episodes from the past: the stories no one told you about in history class at school.

Her novel, CHARLATAN, was long-listed for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015.

Kate and her family live in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

You can reach out to me, Leslie Lindsay, via these links:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Images throughout post retrieved from Wikipedia on 1.16.17]

BookS on MondaY: Deepa Remesh talks about her new series MISS TREE TALES designed for middle grade readers on resourcefulness, sustainability, and other ‘seeds for thought’ with expert kid panel

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By Leslie Lindsay 

My two received Kindle Fires for Christmas. They haven’t moved their eyes from the screen in over a week. One of my kids is asking for an iPod for her birthday. To better practice soccer. Because it’s more fun to work on drills with music pounding in your ears, apparently. I’m typing this on a computer. And then, later, I’m going to see a movie. In a theater. With life-sized actors staring down at me while I absorb their story.

And so it begins, the honest-to-goodness truth of spending more time in front of a screen than, say being resourceful. I’ve read somewhere that we only learn when our eyes are moving [this isn’t the exact article I read, but interesting nonetheless]. Are my kids really learning when they stare at the 9-inch screen in front of them? Granted, they might be on Candy Crush a math builder site or researching a celebrity crush burning question, or, surfing YouTube reading a book, but those images dance and flicker for them. Same is true when I sit in a comfy theater seat and take in someone else’s story. Sure, a few things may resonate, a few more may stick, but overall, I’m being entertained, not exactly cultured.

Feel free to disagree.

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When I came across Deepa Remesh’s debut for middle grade readers on sustainability, resourcefulness, and conservation, I knew I had to take a peek. It follows the story of two kids—brother and sister—who are just as gadget-crazed as the next kid. But there’s a catch. They’re forced to be more industrious than the handheld devices we all carry around.

Join me—and my ‘expert panel’ of three kiddos: Kate (11.9 years), Emma (11.6 years) and Kelly (a newly minted 10 year old) as we chat about Ms. Remesh’s new book, THE MIGHTY COCONUTS.wp_20161225_17_58_05_pro_li

Leslie Lindsay: Deepa, I have to say, I love the concept behind MIGHTY COCONUTS and MISS TREE TALES series. Can you tell me what inspired you to write them? [2/3 of ‘Expert kid panel.’ Not pictured: Emma J.]

Deepa Remesh: Thank you for your interest in the concept behind this book series based on trees. Having  grown up in a small town in India, surrounded by greenery and open spaces, I have always appreciated nature and trees. In those days of scarce resources, I grew up among people who cared about the future generation, led a sustainable life by being resourceful and images-17creative, and demonstrated habits of conservation. Fast forward to the present day, we are now in the time of plenty which makes it difficult to cultivate similar values. My initial thought was to write about these values as a series of blogs  highlighting how trees and plants were used for various day to day tasks. However, I wanted this information to interest kids which made me switch gears and weave some elements of fiction into it. That is when Miss Tree magically appeared inspiring me to create a children’s book series. The illustrations from Anjana Prabhu-Paseband, my tech-savvy, artist cousin completed the picture. Both of us strongly believe an idea or concept needs time , space, and the right conditions to grow. By using fiction and light humor, our attempt has been to prepare young minds to plant  the seeds of thought scattered in our books and let these seeds grow into actions to protect, sustain and conserve natural resources. Now, you may be wondering why I started off the series with coconuts. In the culture I grew up in, coconut tree has been considered  to be a tree of life and all significant activities are launched by offering a coconut to others. I guess that indirectly prompted me to start this series based on trees with MIGHTY COCONUTS. [Here’s a sample of the darling illustrations, by Anjana Prabhu-Paseband. Image retrieved from Twitter on 1.8.17]
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Kate L.: I’m in 6th grade and will be 12 in April…are these stories made for kids my age?  If not, who do you see reading them?

Deepa Remesh: Kate, thanks for asking. The story line in these books should appeal to kids aged 6-11. Having said so, I should add that these stories can be read by anyone curious to learn more about a particular tree and how it gets used in daily life. The books are also filled with tidbits of scientific and environmental information which would make them a good pick for teachers and educators working on similar  concepts. An interesting feedback we have received from a professional biologist is how he liked the format of the book, specifically the way it introduces science facts to kids.

Leslie L.: I was recently at my local Arboretum and totally and completely thought of you and the MISS TREE TALES series. Have you considered reaching out to organizations like these to carry your books, or even presenting in-service type things for kids and families?

Deepa Remesh: Leslie, you make an excellent point. I have contacted a few local organizations and some have shown interest in the concept. Nothing solid yet but this is something that is being pursued. In addition to making the book available at such outlets, there are plans to volunteer on weekends at some of these places and introduce kids to crafts and other projects using plants. 

Kelly L.: My Girl Scout Troop is going to be talking about gardening in the near future in order to earn a merit badge. What types of skills and lessons might we pull from THE MIGHTY COCONUTS to be well-rounded girls?

Deepa Remesh: Kelly, your troop has chosen a wonderful topic to discuss. I suggest looking at the extra information provided in the “Seeds for Thought” sections in the book. There are many things in there – understanding the  habitat suited for a plant, natural ways to control pests, composting, seed storage banks, and seed dispersal – that should help gardeners. You will get additional information from the links included in these sections. I would love to hear back download-47your troop’s experience with the facts in the book and also any feedback on topics you would like to be included in future books. Here’s a GREEN THUMBS UP for you and your troop!

Emma J.: I read a lot. Not to brag, but my reading level is pretty high…are there other books with a similar message you might steer me toward that would still touch on resourcefulness, conservation, sustainable lifestyle?

Deepa Remesh: Emma, nice to hear you are interested in topics of  resourcefulness, conservation, and sustainable lifestyle. I am guessing you are asking about fictional books as there are a large number of non-fiction books on these topics. There are also many picture books for younger children. As for young adult fiction, most of the popular ones seem to be based on futuristic or dystopian themes. Currently, those styles do not match my reading interests. I can only recommend older classics like ROBINSON CRUSOE and SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which are mostly stories of survival. A newer book that I like in this survival category is HATCHET by Gary Paulsen. These books talk about being resourceful in extreme situations. I would say applying these skills within practical boundaries in one’s day to day life hatchetwould result in conservation and subsequently make way for sustainable living. I hope you find something that interests you in this area. Happy Reading!

Leslie L.: So back to that movie. We saw PASSENGER. If you’re not familiar, the characters have voluntarily gone to sleep [in a ‘hibernation pod’ aboard a space ship] for 120 years in order to wake up in the future on another planet, much like Earth. They have paid big money to do this; though some are there with little cost because they have ‘desirable skills’ like mechanical engineering, gardening, midwifery, etc. My hubby and I got to talking about this after the show: if we don’t teach our children to be resourceful with their hands and body, we might lose a piece of society. Can you speak to that, please?

Deepa Remesh: I haven’t watched that movie but have read about it. I would say being open to learning new skills will take us a long way. While many may think of college degrees and higher education to increase their skill set, it is the presence of mind and flexibility to adapt and be resourceful that increase one’s skill set and lead to happiness and success. These days, many jobs are looked down upon as they require more effort and do not generate as much income as others. This makes folks gravitate towards the higher paying jobs which may not require any vocational skills. I don’t think there is an easy solution to this imbalance other than creating awareness about being well-rounded individuals who learn to respect and take on any task or job.

Leslie L.: That was kind of a deep question. Here’s an easier one: What’s next for you? I can only assume you’re working on subsequent stories in the MISS TREE TALES series.

Deepa Remesh: I totally agree. Your previous question was profound.  Coming back to MISS TREE TALES, there are a few stories lined up. I can say the next one is going to be sweet where the seed would be more precious than the fruit.  I do not want to shout out the name of the tree as Mia and Nik, the two main characters in the book series, have to solve a puzzle to figure out the name. If you guessed the answer, please keep it to yourself. Ssh! It’s a top secret mission.download-7

Kelly L.: Oh! And I want to know if you have kids and what they think about your book?

Deepa Remesh: My kids are thrilled about this book that is dedicated to them. The younger one who is in second grade likes the chapter that talks about crafts with coconut leaves. The older one who is in fourth grade thinks this book could be used as a survival guide if someone is stranded on an island with just coconut trees. Both are quite eager to help create videos and other promotional materials for the book. We used  PowToon to make an animated book trailer and also did an interesting sink and float experiment with coconuts. The videos  are available in Miss Tree Tales’ YouTube channel. And here is a knock-knock joke they came up with using PSC which is the short form of Miss Tree’s Plant Savers Club:

Knock-Knock,

Who’s there?

PSC

PSC Who?

P.S: See this new book MIGHTY COCONUTS!

 Leslie L.: Deepa, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and best of luck with the MISS TREE TALES series.

Deepa Remesh: Leslie, I loved this interview format and style. It is so nice of you to get your expert panel of kiddos involved in the discussion. I appreciate your time and thank you for your good wishes.

For more information, to purchase MIGHTY COCONUTS, or to connect with the author on social media, please: 

 

About the Author:

81wsihp9vxl-_sy200_Deepa Remesh lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two kids. Through her first book series based on trees, she tries to introduce kids to a simple sustainable lifestyle presenting them with numerous seeds for thought to cultivate the values of resourcefulness and conservation.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media channels. I’d love to hear from you!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Image of family in green space retrieved from timesofindia.com, “seeds for thought” retrieved from Twitter, HATCHET image retrieved from Wikipedia, all on 1.8.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Karen White on her TRADD STREET series, how some of the best ideas come from the shower, ghosts, old homes, mysterious town floods, a GIVEAWAY, and so much more!

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By Leslie Lindsay guests-tour-banner_house

Old homes. Secret Passages. A decades-old mystery. Ghosts.

I’m pleased to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Karen White to the…shall I say—parlor—to discuss her newest book, THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY (just released yesterday, January 3rd 2017 from Penguin/Random House/Berkeley).

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

***PLUS…You’ll want to get in on the re-read tour and enter to win a complete set of Karen White’s TRADD STREET series! Follow instructions at the end of Karen’s interview to learn more. ***

This is my first Karen White book and my attention was drawn to it much for the same reason anyone else who loves old homes, the languid days of old Charleston, and the allure of mystery, intrigue, and well, ghosts. What can I say? I loved Nancy Drew as a kid, Lois Duncan and Joan Lowry Nixon, too. Old habits die hard.

Even though THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY is the fifth in the TRADD STREET series, you can pick right up at any book; they stand-alone quite well.

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Leslie Lindsay: Karen, I’m delighted to have you. Thank you for stopping by on this frigid January day to chat all things literary. First, I have to say, I love old homes. A lot. We lived in a 1920s two-story colonial when we were first married, but it wasn’t haunted. I think that’s a good thing. Do you also live in an old house?

Karen White: I WISH I lived in an old house.  Sadly, my husband is very practical so we live in a new build.  However, I’ve adored old houses since I was very young, my passion turning into an obsession when we moved to London and lived in a gorgeous Victorian building.  Oh, the architectural details!  The history!  Some of the leaded glass bay windows on one side of the building had been replaced with plain glass because they’d been shattered during the Blitz in WWII.  It was a piece of history I could hold in my hands.  I will one day live in an old house again, preferably in Charleston.  Just don’t tell my husband so it will be a surprise.

75a66aa77dff7da9d4fc3ba2f3c9cba8L.L.: I could talk about houses all day, but alas we’re here to chat about THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY. This is the fifth book of your TRADD STREET series. I’m curious what sparked your imagination to write the series? And was THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY drawn from any particular event in your life?

Karen White: I’ve always loved history, and architecture, old mysteries, and the houses that contain all three.  Most if not all of my books have at least one or more of these elements, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when the character of Melanie Middleton smacked me upside the head one day while I was taking a shower and the series was born.  Here was this OCD Realtor who saw dead people asking me to tell her story and she wouldn’t let me go.  So I wrote a few chapters and sent it to my agent (even though I was supposed to be working on another kind of book entirely) and she loved it—so did my editor.  That’s how it all started!

L.L.: I think many of our life’s stories are about facing the ghosts of our pasts. Would you say that is a theme in your writing?

Karen White: Absolutely.  The literal and figurative ghosts of our pasts haunt us for as long as we allow them.  The scary part is turning around and facing them.  I think that theme is one my readers appreciate and can relate to.  It’s the human condition, really.

L.L.: And so with ghosts…are you of the persuasion they exist? Are you sensitive to them like Melanie?

Karen White: My grandmother and dad always talked about ghosts as if they were a natural phenomenon so it didn’t really occur to me to not think they were real (even though I’d never had an experience).  I’m not sensitive (for which I’m sometimes grateful) but my son is.  I’ve been with him (starting when he was four years old) when he’s had an experience.  He’s not happy about this at all.

L.L.: I really enjoyed reading about Lake Jasper in Alabama. In THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY, you talk about the lake being flooded to sort of wipe out an entire town. Is that a real thing? Or purely fictional? 8ae75809c12c11b2

Karen White: It’s a real thing!  The Army Corps of Engineers has created a lot of man made lakes for a variety of reasons—but for this to happen, low lying areas are flooded—including existing towns that just happen to be in an inconvenient place.  I didn’t know about this until a few years ago when there was a really bad drought in Georgia, and lake levels got so low that remnants of flooded towns began to poke through.  As a writer, I was fascinated.  I actually can’t believe it took me this long to use the idea in a book!

L.L.:  There’s some talk of a mental illness in this story. Was that something that sort of organically developed, or was there some careful thought and plotting that went into that? Are you a pantser or plotter?

Karen White: I’m definitely a pantser.  I’d much rather be a plotter because that would make my life a whole lot easier, but I’ve tried and I just can’t.  Being a pantser meant that the story evolved organically.  I knew a child had died in the house—I just needed to figure out how and why, and how her story tied into Melanie’s story.  And so the idea of mental illness came to me, along with the rest of the connecting plot lines.  I’m always amazed (and grateful!) that my brain allows me to figure these things out before I have to type THE END.

L.L.: What’s on your TBR pile this year? Do you draw your inspiration from things you read? Is it hard to ‘shut off’ those voices in other stories?

Karen White:  Pile?  You mean room, right?  Seriously, I have quite the accumulation of books.  I justify it by saying there are FAR worse habits.  I read for escape and don’t read in the genre in which I write (Southern Women’s Fiction) so that I won’t be inspired.  I’m currently listening on audio to THE LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly (a great WWII historical) and am reading an upcoming debut novel called THE HIDEAWAY by Lauren Denton that will be out in April.  Most of my physical reading these days is for research or (as in the case of Lauren’s book) to give a blurb to an upcoming book.  Most of my book ideas are gleaned from true stories in magazines or in the newspaper, on TLC’s Mysteries at the Museum or the Investigation ID channel that hosts a plethora of shows all about true crime.  My particular favorite (aside from Southern Fried Homicide) is A Crime To Remember which is all about crimes from the 50’s and 60’s that had to be solved using pre-modern forensics methods. Ireland 2014 171

L.L.: Karen, it was a pleasure chatting with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to pop by.

Karen White: Thank you!  And so glad you enjoyed the book.

For more information, to follow Karen White on social media, or to purchase THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY, please see: 

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  • Twitter: @KarenWhiteWrite
  • Pre-order THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERYApraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way
  • ENTER to WIN a complete set of Karen White’s TRADD STREET series, a gift from Berkley/Penguin/Random House. Here’s how: Retweet/Forward/Share this interview between now and January 13th (Friday) 2017, then contact me via email (leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com) with your name and that you shared. One (1) U.S. winner will be selected at random and contacted via email (so check your “junk” folder) on Saturday, January 15th. You will not receive any additional emails from me. May the odds be in your favor! 

karenwhite_1ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty previous books, including Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and the coauthor of The Forgotten Room with New York Timesbestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig.

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

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[Cover image, including banner, as well as author image courtesy of Penguin/Random House and used with permission. Image of lock and dam/flooding of Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River in the 1920s contributed by Alabama Department of Archives and History. Image of Southern Home retrieved from Pinterest on 1.4.17, library image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]

 

Writers on Wednesday: The Horrific reality of the Magdalene Laundries, how writing is like ‘a madness that cannot be shed,’ and more from amateur pianist & author of THE MAGDALEN GIRLS V.S. Alexander

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of Dublin’s Magdalene Laundries. Once a place of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses, shielding “fallen women” from ever showing their faces to their families. Some of these women are unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Others are there because their “sin” is being too pretty, too independent, or having a crush on a priest.the-magdalen-girls-cover

Such is the case of Teagan Tiernan, who’s youthful grace and beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young, handsome priest.

Teagan befriends other Magadalen inmates, Lea and Nora, and together, they plot their way out of the institution. Still, the outside world has dangers, too.

THE MAGDALEN GIRLS (Kensington Publishing, Dec 27, 2016) explores experiences of “fallen women” imprisoned within the walls of the Magdalene Laundries in 20th century Ireland. I was completely moved by this historically-accurate, vivid accounting of one of the most troublesome aspects of the Catholic Church; yet ultimately, it’s a story of friendship, hope, and courage.

Join me, as I chat with V.S. Alexander on his beautiful, richly layered, though horrific historical novel.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for taking the time to join me, today. I’ve long had a fascination with the Magdalene Laundries, but I couldn’t really tell you where that originated from. Maybe it was the 2002 movie, THE MAGDALENE SISTERS, but I’m not entirely sure. What spurred you into action when writing a novel about it? What were you hoping to discover or accomplish?300px-magdalen-asylum

V.S. Alexander: Thanks for having me! I could tell you that the idea for THE MAGDALEN GIRLS was mine, but that would be a fabrication. My editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, suggested the concept. He had specific ideas about what he wanted to see in the book, but it was up to me to come up with the characters and the plot. The initial idea came across my desk as an “historical novel set in Ireland.” So, that was my beginning. I wrote three chapters and a synopsis, which were well received. The book grew from there. I had also seen the 2002 movie before I wrote the book, but that was the extent of my prior knowledge about the laundries.

As far as what I was hoping for—I feel my job as a novelist is to be as true, as faithful to the characters as possible in every book. Hopefully, the reader will sense that and take away my desire to tell a “true” story that is fair to every character. I didn’t want, in any way, for the novel to be cartoonish. The Mother Superior is an evil witch…Teagan is goody two-shoes with no faults. That kind of novel. Life doesn’t work that way. Much of the human parade is a shade of gray tinged by human heroism and failings. All characters have their histories of good and bad. I hope I succeeded in getting that truth across to the reader. Also, I believe that at the heart of any great novel is a love story. While THE MAGDALEN GIRLS is not a love story per se, it sheds light on these characters reactions to that emotion.

L.L.: In reading your “author’s note” at the end of the book, I learned the laundries weren’t specific to Ireland; they also were part of America, Canada, Scotland, England, and Australia and mostly run by Catholic nuns. The last laundry was apparently shut down in 1996, and the first came into existence nearly 200 years before that. What can you tell us about the history of the laundries? What fascinating tidbits did you uncover during your research? 

V.S. Alexander: When writing my historical fiction, I keep a three-ring binder for notes and research. I often fill it up by the time the book goes to a first draft. Oddly enough, if you do a subject search on the laundries (books included) you’ll find that the amount of available material is fairly limited. My binder was thin. One of the things I constructed was a list of non-fiction and fiction books that related to the subject. I came up with nine, and several of those were tangential to the laundries. My point is that there wasn’t a wealth of material—and I think that’s because the subject has only recently entered public knowledge. Even today, some readers have mentioned that they had no idea such an institution existed.

So, the history is literally being written in our time, much of it after 2002. The earliest entry referring to the laundries that I could find was a play written in 1980, less than forty years ago! My novel’s details came from my reading: what the girls wore, how they worked, how they were often “broken down” by the system. Videos from women who worked in the laundries were a great help too. One chilling fact—the Magdalens who were interviewed after THE download-33MAGDALENE SISTERS movie came out said their experiences in the laundries were “more brutal” than those depicted in the film. These women endured so much: guilt, shame, fear, isolation, poverty.

L.L.: I’m curious if a character “spoke to you” first, was there a vision or a concept you wanted to explore in THE MAGDALEN GIRLS? Can you talk about that, please?

V.S. Alexander: I wouldn’t say a character “spoke” to me first because, as I’ve said, I knew going in what the parameters of the book would be. One character, however, found her way into my heart in unexpected ways. I found myself admiring the courage, the resilience, the unconditional love demonstrated by Lea. She, who has the gift of “spiritual sight,” sacrifices the most for her friends. Lea is an awkward, gawky girl who passes her time copying the Book of Kells. She is a favorite of the Sisters because she is artistic and compliant. She was also a favorite of mine, a delight to write. Oh, and as a gift to your readers, I’m revealing Lea’s real name. She says in the novel that she doesn’t even think she can remember it because she’s been in the laundry for four years. So, for the first time, character name reveal: Ava Byrne.

All of my books deal, to some extent, with love. One of the themes I explore most often is the misrepresentation of love by any of the values we give it: sociological, psychological or physical. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, wants to reform the girls through love although her methods hardly speak to that. In one of my previous novels I explored how love can be perverted through physical intimacy. It’s a theme I keep returning to.

L.L.: Long ago, I read an accounting of “The Butter Box Babies,” about a maternity home located in Canada in which the matrons who ran the country birthing home and orphanage would wrap deceased infants in small butter boxes for mass burial on the grounds. In some cases, this was an attempt to hide the pregnancies, in others, a form of punishment to the unwed mother. Were you aware of this? Did it inspire any of the plot points in THE MAGDALEN GIRLS?

V.S. Alexander: I was not aware of “The Butter Box Babies;” therefore, it didn’t inspire a plot point in the book. However, a similar occurrence did. That was the discovery in 1993 of 133 corpses in a mass grave on land formerly owned by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity in Dublin. Later, 22 more corpses were found, bringing the total to 155. It’s Lea who sees the burials late at night from a window and tells her friends. They, at first, don’t believe her. Who would believe that the nuns and the caretaker were burying “small bundles” on the convent grounds? download-34

L.L.: Do you believe the nuns who ran the laundries really felt they were doing a “good deed” with these girls? Have there been accounts of regret or wrongdoing on their part?

V.S. Alexander: THE MAGDALEN GIRLS is by nature a controversial book. You have on one side, the women; on the other, the Catholic Church. Both sides have held to their stories. As I wrote in the note, as far as I know, no compensation or formal apology has ever been offered by the Catholic Church regarding the laundries or the actions committed there.* In fact the Church, as an institution, has defended its actions as necessary and beneficial. However, you’re asking my opinion, and I do believe that some of the nuns truly believed they were helping the women who ended up under their auspices. My character, Sister Mary-Elizabeth, comes the closest to being one of those nuns—as a former penitent herself. It would be hard to deny that many of the nuns participated wholeheartedly in the system, possibly as intimidated and broken by their tasks as the girls. [*This article from The Catholic League may be of interest regarding myths and investigation into the Magdalen laundries]

L.L.: What is inspiring you these days? What has your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

V.S. Alexander: Well, we’ve certainly been through the strangest election cycle I’ve ever witnessed. It wasn’t inspiring, but it grabbed my attention. My inspiration these days comes from within. I find myself increasingly grateful to have the opportunity to share my stories with the world. For that, I’m thankful. I’m also an amateur pianist. The piano is a balm for me. I’m currently working on a sonata for cello and piano. I know! It sounds so pretentious, but I approach composition with humility, and also an understanding of my weaknesses as a composer. Music, like writing, is hard work, but I love it and its ability to invoke emotions. 

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but didn’t?

V.S. Alexander: How long have you been in this business? I’ve been working at the craft far longer than I care to admit. Writing is a business of creation, editing, re-writing, submission, rejection, eventual publication (in whatever form that might take) and marketing. PLENTY of rejection. Writing is also a business of patience and working through rejection. My words of advice for someone who dreams of writing would be: Read as much as you can in all genres, and never give up. You must be an avid reader, one who loves literature, to be in this game. There are some who play at writing, but true writers never let go of their dream. In some ways it’s a madness that can’t be shed. download-35

L.L.: What’s next for you?

V.S. Alexander: I’m very excited because I’m under contract to Kensington for three books, and possibly a fourth. My second novel for them, THE TASTER, is scheduled to come out in January, 2018. I can’t give the plot away, but the book is set in World War II Germany and is told from a viewpoint that’s different from most novels set in the period. What’s next? To keep on writing until the ideas or the body wears out. And, I think most writers will agree, there are always more ideas, more books, than you have time to write.   

L.L.: Thank you, it was a pleasure chatting with you! Happiest of New Years.

V.S. Alexander: Thank you, and the same to all your readers!

For more information, to purchase THE MAGDELEN GIRLS or to connect with V.S. Alexander via social media, please see:

v-s-alexander-author-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: V.S. Alexander, who also writes under the name Michael Meeske,  is an ardent student of history with a strong interest in music and the visual arts. Some of V.S.’s writing influences include Shirley Jackson, Oscar Wilde, Daphne du Maurier, or any work by the exquisite Brontë sisters. V.S. lives in Florida and is at work on a second historical novel for Kensington.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Kensington Books. 1902 image of a Magdalene Laundry retrieved from Wikipedia, women ironing in Magdalene Laundry retrieved from daily mail.co.uk, both on 12.05.16] 

Wednesdays with Writers: My Reflections on Jodi Picoult’s SMALL GREAT THINGS, Racism in America, Black Female Professionals, & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I have a black female physician. I love her. She’s gentle and kind and funny. And has a lovely English accent. Plus, she loves to read. I bumped into her at the local post office one day before Thanksgiving. I had recently completed Jodi Picoult’s most recent novel (her twenty-third), and I wanted to shake her by the shoulders (gently, mind you) and say, “Oh my gosh, have you read this book?” Instead, she told me, “You’re gorgeous in those warm, jewel-toned colors.” I probably blushed, because, let’s face it, bumping into your doctor in public, who has seen what’s under that hospital gown is a little akin to being a grade-school student and seeing your teacher at the grocery store. I mean, teachers eat? Doctors go to the post office? book-image-7a8601b14ac1751df6a60de1548e01094985004f143310f10f132bd1c4f95cb8

Our exchange was brief that day. But it stayed with me. And, ironically, it wasn’t about me and those jewel-toned colors, but our interaction; she might be my doctor, but I consider her a friend, too.

In fact, as a parent–a mother–I often find female professionals for my own two daughters. Once upon a time our speech therapist was female. So is the pediatrician. The doctor who delivered those girls, also female. The dentist, ditto. In fact, my girls seem to think only girls can be pediatricians. A far cry from how I grew up, the erroneous belief that only men could be doctors. Once, when I was about three, my dad asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. “A nurse,” I responded, “Because girls can’t be doctors.”

And a nurse I became. 

So, too is Jodi Piccoult’s character, Ruth Jefferson. 

Ruth Jefferson is also black. 

She delivers babies. To mothers of all colors. But when she is assigned to care for a new baby and his mother, who are white, the father has a fit. He refuses to allow Ruth Jefferson to be the nurse. A Post-It note to adhered to the chart outside the door to the mother’s room. “No African American staff” it reads. Ruth is the only African American staff person on the mother and baby unit. She feels chastised. She feels her job is being compromised.

There’s more. A lot more. White supremacy. Awful, horrific acts against Jews, blacks, mentally ill, homosexuals, and more. At times, there were some squeamish parts in SMALL GREAT THINGS making me wince.

“Given the current political climate it is quite prescient and worthwhile….This is a writer who understands her characters inside and out.”

-Roxane Gay, The New York Times Book Review

In true Picoult style, she’s takes us into the courtroom and we have a case involving hot-button issues, cutting remarks, smart characters, and a little bit if a twist. Nothing miraculous, nothing too over-the-top, but most definitely something that will get you to stand up a bit straighter, take notice, and make things better. For race. For culture. For yourself.

I found SMALL GREAT THINGS particularly timely and topical given our current social standing, our political climate. Released just on the cusp of one of the most controversial presidential elections in my lifetime, the messages brought forth in Picoult’s book are especially relevant.  860942ef-001e-4451-96cf-d968b4247f8b

As much as I wanted Jodi to join us today in a lively book discussion, she was unable. I hope she is spending time with her family, or maybe working on her next book.

But I did come across some lovely articles she has written in response to SMALL GREAT THINGS, things on her inspirations, motivations and challenges on writing this book (a topic that has intrigued, challenged, and worried her for at least twenty years). I also found a few other articles written by young black men (who might remind you a bit of Ruth Jefferson’s son if you read the book).

I do urge you to pick up SMALL GREAT THINGS. It might have been awhile since you’ve read a Picoult book, but trust me, you’ll want to read this one. Check out this excerpt.

For more information, to connect with Jodi via social media, start (or join) a discussion, or to purchase SMALL GREAT THINGS, check out: 

jodi-headshot-eb9f0ab8b4e8c0124c29507eda50caea77e9fe6d4161c6e28446684fcdb03de5ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jodi Picoult is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of twenty-three novels, including Leaving Time, The Storyteller,Lone Wolf, Between the Lines, Sing You Home, House Rules,Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, andMy Sister’s Keeper. She is also the author, with daughter Samantha van Leer, of two young adult novels, Between the Lines and Off the Page. Picoult lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, here:

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

image003-3Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 12.13.16. Special thanks to Penguin/Random House for this review copy. All thoughts are my own.]

BookS on MondaY: Mary Felciani shares her inspiration for her children’s book on friendship, THE MAPLE LEAF (hint: it was her hometown), the Roseto Effect, Cognitive Maps, and the magic of friendship

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By Leslie Lindsay 

You just have to mention the words “Italy” and “leaf” and you’ve got me. Throw in a story about friendship and I’m there. Having been an Italian aficionado for most of my life (don’t ask why, according to my Ancestry DNA results, I’m only 1% Italian), I was enamored with this children’s story by Mary Felicani, who I can assume is Italian, penned this charming story of a young Italian boy, Carlo and his quest for friendship.

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Set in another time (medieval), and another place (Italy), the message is universal. Yet it’s Mary’s deft use of sensory detail that brings the story to life, thrusting me back to an ancient time when the values of friendship and belonging were just as resonate then as they are now.

I’m pleased to have Mary back this week to chat with us about her book, THE MAGIC LEAF, her love for Italy, and how we can help our children cultivate friendship.

Leslie Lindsay: Mary, it’s a pleasure to have you join us again. Thank you! I’m just in love with THE MAGIC LEAF, mostly because I love Italy, but you’re Canadian…though guessing by your last name, you’re also Italian? Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for setting THE MAGIC LEAF in Italy?

Mary Feliciani: Leslie, thank you for having me back and making me feel at home. Yes, I am Italo-Canadian. I chose my hometown in Italy as a backdrop because the story has a meaning or a moral. It seemed reminiscent of a simpler time and place. I still had fond memories of the hometown that I left as a child.

L.L.: I had to do a little research and learned Roseto is indeed a real, southeastern roseto_valfortore_075_raboemedieval town in Italy. Like the book, Roseto is hill town nestled in an enclave of low mountains, winding roads, and thick-walled homes to keep out the heat. It reminded me a bit of Corniglia in the Cinque Terre, yet different.

Mary Feliciani: Leslie, I can’t believe how thorough you are. I was born in Roseto, Italy. My family immigrated to Canada when I was 6 years old. Subsequently, all my education has been in Canada. I understand Italian quite well, but like most people who leave a country when they’re young, my comprehension is better than my oral language.

When my children were small, our annual vacations were to the beaches along the eastern coast of the United States and provinces in eastern Canada. It wasn’t until 2011 that we took a family vacation to Italy. We returned again in 2013 visiting neighbouring countries as well.

The Roseto in Italy has a connection to the Roseto in Pennsylvania. If you like research, google the Roseto Effect, and you will learn of an intriguing study conducted there in the 1960s. I wasn’t aware of the Roseto Effect when I wrote THE MAGIC LEAF, but the more articles I read about it, the more meaningful my message of friendship becomes. Roseto is all about a sense of community. download-36

L.L.: I have to talk a bit about sensory details, for a moment, because you use them beautifully here—and I think that’s such an important part of children’s literature. Kids don’t often have the experiences adults have acquired, so we have to bring those experiences to them. Can you talk a bit about how you were able to bring that town to life? 

Mary Feliciani: Believe it or not, I still had a cognitive map of the town. I could visualize the town square and from that point of reference, see the location of my aunt’s house, my maternal grandmother’s house, my paternal grandmother’s house and my own home. I also recalled where my nursery school was and the uniforms we had to wear.

I asked my mother and my older brother to fill in same of the blanks. I also employed postcards, old photos, and made use of a magazine that is published by the town and sent to subscribers in other parts of the world. My mother still receives the town’s magazine.

Feasts in a small town were a really big deal back in the day. Everyone participated – even toddlers were part of the parade. Children would experience sights and sounds that wouldn’t be duplicated until the following festival.

L.L.: Those sensory details pair well with the illustrations. A children’s author has a particular challenge that adult authors don’t usually encounter: they need an images-7illustrator. I’m curious what your experience was like working with Tina Durocher? Did you have a vision for the illustrations, or did she bring those to you?

Mary Feliciani: Thank you for asking, Leslie. Not everybody includes the illustrator when discussing a children’s book. The illustrations are half of a picture book, and just as important as the text.

I was extremely fortunate to have found Tina. Her work is not only beautiful, but unique.  As a small publisher, I hire people that free-lance. Tina and I didn’t know each other before we collaborated on the book. We used to meet at a Tim Horton’s halfway between Toronto and Mississauga (where I live). So much happens at a Tim Horton’s, eh!

I would verbally describe the mental image I had for a specific illustration. She then drew a linear of what she thought that I wanted. The linear was just a partial illustration without any colour, and that is how I decided if we were on the right track. If I agreed to the illustration, then she would complete it. Besides Tina and my first printer, all the other people I have worked with have been online.

L.L.: Without giving too much away, can you talk a bit about the title? Is there, indeed a magical element to Carlo’s story?

Mary Feliciani: Some readers see the magic in the friendship. Other children can relate to a time that a friend has helped them feel better about a problem. Or, they have experienced time flying when they are with their friends. All three of these scenario can apply to the story. Some older children can see a placebo effect, even if they don’t know the terminology.

L.L.: I think friendship is kind of magical…when two people, whether young or old, there’s a bit of an unseen magical connection that takes place. Can you talk about that, please? download-37

Mary Feliciani: When I read the story to school children, I tell them that friendship is just as important as you grow older as it is in your childhood. Sometimes they are surprised I say that.  I wrote the manuscript for THE MAGIC LEAF  while I was at the University of Toronto studying psychology. As a young adult, I was very idealistic and was hoping to find the one theory or the one famous psychologist who had all the answers. But what I learned was that there wasn’t a theory which could explain everything, and even among psychologists, there were differences of opinion. I began to believe that having a good support system in combination with whatever theory one might subscribe to, was very important. I realized that friendships were necessary even as we grow older. Walking life’s journey with a friend makes everything easier.

L.L.: Before you wrote full-time, you were an elementary school educator with an emphasis in psychology. Did you see a “problem” with friendship at the elementary level? What might be done to help ease those years?

Mary Feliciani: I spent half of my career teaching various Special Education classes and the other half in the regular classroom setting (grades 1-6). Children are really good souls; they just want to be accepted by their peers and by their teachers. Some children have the social skills to make friends easily, while others may have a more difficult time. Schools are always encouraging students to be more inclusive in their play and attitudes.If there is a problem, a parent and/or teacher might be able to put it in perspective.

L.L.: Do you have plans for another children’s book? Can you talk about that, please?

Mary Feliciani: I think that bullying has been a hot topic for a number of years. When I write, it is the topic or issue that inspires me. I feel compelled to write. My latest eBook,BIG AND SMALL IN THE MIRROR, is about bullying that happens in the school environment. It is the first of a trilogy about bullying. I am currently writing the second book of the trilogy, THE INVISIBLE BOY. As always, there is a twist to the title.

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

Mary Feliciani: Your questions were wonderful! I have never discussed the setting of the story in the way that I  presented Roseto to you.

Leslie, I could talk to you forever. You are so good at making the conversion flow. We could talk about books, we could talk about teaching, we could talk about travel…

L.L.: Mary, it’s been a pleasure to read THE MAGIC LEAF and connect. Back to those sensory details…I could definitely use some warm Italian sun now that we’re smack in the middle of gray and dreary here in the Midwest.

Mary Feliciani: Well, I’m in Canada. Right now it is warm enough, but damp and cloudy. We are experiencing the same thing. Hopefully I can find the time to take a vacation this summer. Thank you so much for the opportunity to met you and your readers. I hope that we can chat again in the future.

For more information, to connect with Mary, or to purchase THE MAGIC LEAF, please see: 

IMG_2870.JPGAUTHOR BIO: 
Mary is a Canadian author, independent publisher and a former elementary school teacher. She attended UTM where she studied psychology and still lives in Mississauga, Ontario.
Mary’s background in psychology, work with children and passionate interest in the human condition, which stems back as far as she can remember, are all evident in her writing.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay here: 
Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

image003-3Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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[Cover and author image courtesy of M. Feliciani and used with permission. Author is in white at Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy. Image of Roseto, Italy stone houses retrieved from Wikipedia on 12.8.16. Image of newsarticle on Roseto effect from . Image of maple leaf from and hands linking image retrieved from, all on 12.8.16]

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Moretti: Thanks for having me!

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

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

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The third quote is from Gandhi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

And we all need to care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can find Natasha:

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

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