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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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 In THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, Teich sets out to render those old gender stereotypes outdated, while  simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that she is, indeed, worthy of the award.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Teich:  Thank you so much.

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

—Kirkus Reviews

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

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

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

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

Wednesdays with Writers: Two Women. One Birth. ELEVEN HOURS. Pamela Erens talks about ‘helper characters,’ how the presidential election is not part of her fictive life, “emotion recollected in tranquility” & so much more.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ELEVEN HOURS is one of the most realistic and harrowing stories about labor and delivery I think you’re likely to encounter. But don’t read this book if you’re pregnant, it’s that realistic, and it’s that visceral, darkly somber, and candid.Eleven-Hours-cover 2nd run.jpg

Lore Tannenbaum arrives at the hospital alone, in labor, and with very specific instructions, ones she isn’t willing to budge on; the all elusive birth plan. Her nurse, Franckline, a Haitian refugee and also pregnant and on the cusp of showing (though her husband doesn’t yet know this), is compassionate, patient, and caring–it’s what we all want in a nurse. Together, these women go through the trials and tribulations of child birth, the unsaid stories, the ones that are, as they come to terms with desire, fear, crushing losses (physical and figuratively), and the tiny, imperceptible pieces of joy they find in the crevices of each contraction, each pain of birthing a new human.

Today, I welcome Pamela Erens, author of THE VIRGINS, which was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New Yorker, and other prestigious organizations. She’s also the author of THE UNDERSTORY, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

Leslie Lindsay: Pamela, thank you so much for joining us this morning.  Wow. I just finished reading ELEVEN HOURS yesterday and well…I kind of feel like *I* just gave birth. The story is so visceral, so somber and yet life-giving that I think I need a day or two of ‘rooming-in’ with the after-effects. Did you have a similar response when you were working on ELEVEN HOURS?

Pamela Erens: I guess I’m good at compartmentalizing! Birth was something I’d been through twice and remembered well in some ways, but it no longer felt like this extremely immediate experience. It was more like “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Besides, the process of writing a book is always slow (for me, anyway) and involves a lot of trial and error, a lot of being more and then less connected to what I’m trying to do over a period of many, many months . . . so, no, I have to admit that the intensity was a (hoped-for) end product, not something I constantly experienced while writing!

L.L.: When I first heard of ELEVEN HOURS, I was under the impression the women were both in labor, two very different women experiencing a universal life-giving moment; that is not the case. Exactly. Though there may be some subtle subtext that suggests this. The story centers around Lore mostly, but in between we hear of the+virgins+book+coverFranckline’s backstory, creating a sort of balance to the memories a partnership of the business of bringing new life into the world as only a woman can do. Can you speak to that, please?

Pamela Erens: Franckline was not part of my original conception of the novel. Lore initially had a husband, and her life and background were very different than they ended up being. At some point early on I realized that if Lore had a partner then the relationship between them would have to become central, and that felt like a distraction. I wanted the process of childbirth to be central, without competition. So Lore had to be alone, and once she was alone, whoever was helping her had to become a much more significant character. And that character became Franckline.

L.L.: When we write, we’re working at such a subliminal/subconscious level. Was there anything about writing ELEVEN HOURS that surprised you?

Pamela Erens: Maybe it was the moment when I realized that Franckline ought to be pregnant, too. I was worried all along about Franckline being a robust enough character. She’s in a helper position. Characters in helper positions can easily get too subordinated and flattened out. And more importantly, Franckline is not the one going through the birth. So she’s necessarily secondary, but I wanted to make her as little “second” to Lore as I could manage. When I realized she might be pregnant also, her story opened up to me and I felt she achieved more of her own weight as a character.

L.L.: I found ELEVEN HOURS to be literary and visceral. Disturbing and sad. Compelling, but empty. It reads as if you’re in a dream, under water, swaying in the amniotic fluid of life. I’m curious  how you made the decision to structure this novel. It’s slim, but hugely powerful. And there are no chapters, and very few scene breaks. Mostly because we get very few scene breaks in the real-world of labor. What are your thoughts on all of that?

Pamela Erens: I prefer novels with chapters myself! I need pauses like anyone else, chances to catch my breath or permission to put the book down for a bit. But it was clear chapters were not going to work for this novel. The time period is too compressed, and as you mention, a labor is one long extended action. You don’t break off from it and go somewhere else. All the small moments that make up that long action mattered to me and the+understory+book+coverI didn’t want any major jumps in time. That said, there are a few minor jumps, which are signaled by space breaks. So maybe the novel has a very few pseudo-chapters.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from ELEVEN HOURS?

Pamela Erens: I hope they take away that it’s possible, and possibly interesting, to write about physical or emotional processes that are normally overlooked in fiction because they’re seen as too intimate or (somewhat contradictorily) too universal and banal.

L.L. What’s keeping you up at night? What do you feel driven to explore?

Pamela Erens: What’s keeping me up at night is the imminent Presidential election, but I don’t see myself writing any fiction about it. Taking on politics directly doesn’t seem to be my fictional bag. Plus, political events move so fast: you can barely write about them before they’re over. But you never know. I would never say I could never end up writing about this or that.

L.L.: Pamela, it was a delight to have you! Thanks for stopping by.

Pamela Erens: Thank you for having me, Leslie!

For more information, or to follow Pamela, please see her website. 

One of “23 Contemporary Writers You Should Have Read By Now”

Reader’s Digest

Erens-103 copy-Edit Pamela Erens is the author of the novels Eleven Hours, The Virgins, and The Understory, all from Tin House Books. She has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, and the John Gardner Fiction Book Award. The Virgins was named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and a Best Book of 2013 by The New Yorker, The New Republic, Salon, and Library Journal. Erens’s essays and criticism have appeared in publications such as Vogue, Elle, The New York Times, The Millions, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Los Angeles Review of Books.Reader’s Digest has named her one of “23 Contemporary Writers You Should Have Read by Now.”

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, by clicking on these various social media links:

[Special thanks to Tin House Press and the author. Cover and author images courtesy of P. Erens and used with permission. Author image credit: Kathryn Huang.] 

 

 

WeekEND Reading: Veteran R.N. Juliana Adams talks about reclaiming the nobility of nursing, finding joy in the work, and how memoir is about relating to others in THE JOY OF NURSING

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By Leslie Lindsay

If you’ve been following the blog for any length of time, you probably know that I’m a former R.N. turned writer. That’s not to say that I didn’t find joy and passion in being a nurse—I did! For years, I worked with children and adolescents, helping them understand their feelings, cope with life’s curve balls, and so much more. But, oh how the books and writing life called to me.BookCover_TheJoyOfNursing

A veteran R.N. for 50 years, Juliana Adams will say one gets the calling to be a nurse “if you’re lucky.” As a kick-off for the Association for Nursing Professional Development Week, I’m sharing a special “WeekEND Reading” segment with veteran R.N. and author Juliana Adams.

THE JOY OF NURSING: Reclaiming Our Nobility (Steamboat Springs Publishing, May 2016) is about the author’s journey to be the best nurse possible, challenges in the profession, reevaluating her concept of nobility, and so much more. 

The stories are often raw, unfiltered, and revealing in nature, but done in a tasteful way in which the beginning (or aspiring nurse) can get a stunning glimpse of what the profession is really like. From her first job as a graduate nurse at a more cushy hospital, to one in a grittier E.R. (Denver General), through nursing administration/management, going back to school, and speaking/advocacy, Juliana will take your hand through the bowels of critical care nursing and help you rekindle your nursing spirit, reinforce your decision, and just be a gentle presence to lead the way.

THE JOY OF NURSING is at once a memoir of the profession, but also a guide for the disillusioned, and those in the trenches.

So grab your coffee (stat!) and join us for a little morning shift report.

Leslie Lindsay: Juliana, I’m so honored to have you pop by! Thank you for joining us and congratulations on a fulfilling career and the book. Writers will say it’s bad manners to ask what inspired a particular book, but I find the inspiration so powerful, almost as much as what’s between the pages! Can you tell us why you felt compelled to write THE JOY OF NURSING?

Juliana Adams: I wrote The Joy of Nursing: Reclaiming Our Nobility as a sequel to my documentary (Exposure, Reclaiming Our Nobility) that I produced two years prior to writing my book. While producing this film I realized that there was a depth to the nurse patient relationship that the film could not delve into and still be compatible with the primary goal of the film. I elected to produce a film just prior to deciding not to go back for a PhD in nursing, which had been a part of my career plan. As much as I loved my thesis idea, I realized that I was not resume building any longer; rather, I wanted to learn a completely different medium of communication—that of film making.  I wanted to engage the consideration of “the best and brightest students” to view nursing as an exciting professional career choice . . . and I had not seen this in media at that time.

The goals for my book initially were to explore nursing from the perspective of novice to expert, over a long term perspective.  This became even more of an issue when I encountered the first nursing career choice that I found myself in that led me to feel disillusioned, frustrated and then angry.  The concepts of nobility, Camelot Nursing, Dialogues of Discontent, and ultimately the role of inspiration in what being a nurse means to each of us then became the focus of The Joy of Nursing: Reclaiming Our Nobility.

L.L.: At one time or another, most people will have come in contact with a nurse, whether because they have been hospitalized themselves, or a have been with someone who is. It’s often a nurse’s dedication, touch, and connectedness one remembers. The “bad” nurses are remembered, too–the ones who made you feel uncared for, download (7)unimportant, invisible. Can you speak to that, please?

Juliana Adams:  My nursing career has been characterized by one position after another that was exciting and challenging.  I did not discover until well into my 2oth  – 25th years that what I had first thought of as being “really hard jobs” and even positions that I wondered why I had taken them in the first place, ALL had lessons that taught me a lot about myself—and how being a nurse had similarities and differences that were represented by the wildly diverse arenas that nurses could choose to practice.  Figuring out what inspired me led me to discover that I needed to revisit, reframe and update what being a “great nurse” looked like. I think that this is a valuable consideration for many nurses at some time in their careers.

We know a great deal about why nurses stay in nursing and why they leave (this has not changed over the last 2o years), but creating environments that promote the hands-on nurse became a very different issue for me when I decided to do “just one year” of hands-on nursing before going back to school.  To my complete surprise, what would become the toughest and ultimately the most rewarding decision I have ever made came as a result of this nursing position that was so unexpected.  I stayed in this position that I disliked to try and figure out why for 12 years!

I didn’t want to be the negative, burned-out nurse that I had been at one time in my life as the Associate Director of Nursing—the nursing leader that was the Go-To person —to rediscover the joy of being a nurse.  I wanted to figure out what conditions contributed to finding myself in this position. This journey was eye-opening from the perspective of me the nurse and the patient’s perspective.

I am often asked: “What can I do if I get a nurse that I do not like or trust?”  We can discuss this if you would like.  It is a concern that if we don’t discuss this then patients, families and visitors will take their concerns elsewhere, justifiably concluding that we as a professional group are powerless to recognize or resolve their concerns.  Once again, the hallmarks of a “profession” are that its members oversee the behaviors of their members and enact needed changes within their ranks to clearly state to the public what they can expect from the care that a Registered Nurse provides.

L.L.: I bet I’m not the only mother who will say this, but I so, so remember my OB nurse. Her name was Jen and she had long dark hair and the kindest eyes, and the efficiency and no-nonsense approach that seemed to put me and my husband at ease. This was my first baby, too, so greatly appreciated. The second experience was different. I had more than one nurse during my labor and delivery, but only one stays in my mind, the one who was there to swaddle my baby and hand her to me.  My perception was that she was a little more brusque.  I don’t recall her name. This bothers me. Do nurses remember us—their patients—as much as we seem to remember them?

Juliana Adams: YES! If you go to my Facebook page I have a quote that has received over a thousand responses, and that is: “Nurses bring care to patients but what we as nurses get back in return, is a whole lot more.”  There are so many “firsts” when you are a nurse, but as I often state, this sentiment of feeling valuable to patients is on the back of my book as a quote: “You know when you have a great nurse, you can just feel it.” Patients expect competence and they expect to feel cared for. There are so many professions that much of what they “do” is at some future risk of being replaced in some manner, but assessing patients holistically while in the process of delivering a skill that reflects the education and experience that a professional registered nurse is educated to provide—in a CARING manner—is unique to our profession. This is not BS.  Valuing this uniqueness is at the heart of “reclaiming” our nobility. For our profession to remain “the most trusted profession,”  the concept of caring is integral to the “value” that nursing and all other health care members are challenged now to explicitly articulate to the payers of healthcare and the recipients of care, our patients.

L.L.: THE JOY OF NURSING is about reclaiming our nobility. Even in nursing school, this concept nursing was highly controversial. In many regards, it was all very “noble,” while at the same time, there were heated debates about nursing being an “occupation vs. profession,” a “career v.s. a job.” How I detested these download (1)delineations!  How can a nurse (or aspiring nurse) make sense of it all?

Juliana Adams: I remember thinking that “Theoretical Perspectives, Professional Issues and the History of Nursing” all were SO uninteresting as a student and even for the first decade or more of my practice!  They would later become very important as I worked and experienced competing missions of  providing care, deciding whether to take a position or not, and figuring out what was working and what was not within the 3 pillars of nursing: academia, leadership and the hands-on nurse. Theories on Trans-cultural nursing became a huge issue in my life when I went to Europe to work in several foreign countries as did the recognition that what characteristics were the hallmark of a professional nurse verses being viewed as a “trained” (not educated), skill/task oriented employee.  Not valued as more than what a time-motion study employee had to offer (and that could be delivered by a less expensive LPN or paramedic) delineates that tasks alone do not encompass what a professional nurse contributes. Our contributions are more complex then the way that they are often portrayed on TV.

I have asked myself throughout the years: Do I look like the nurse that I envisioned a great nurse looking like when I dreamed of becoming a nurse? Leah Curtain describes this as “caring presence.” I get this concept now.  It’s not something you can be taught; it’s something you learn along the way, hopefully from more experienced nurses that model this attitude, this characteristic.

L.L.: I’ll be honest: I became disillusioned with the life of a nurse. I was commuting 1-hour each way for three 12-hour shifts at a pretty major institution. While I loved psychiatry/psychology/pediatrics (my chosen field), I felt discouraged with recidivism rates, the toll it took on  my body, mind and spirit. Caring for other children was just too much when I had my own precious babies at home who needed a mother. Can you talk about that, please?

Juliana Adams: I worked the entire time I was pregnant and had children. I have been paying for tuition for myself, my husband, and our children since . . . forever! I worried and felt guilty that I wasn’t as good a mother as I thought I should be. I also had kids later in life (age 37 and 39), and it did help to share my angst with other working-moms, my fellow nurses. It was also at this time that I realized that with all of the variability within nursing, I could make choices that reflected what was most important at that time in my life ( working days or evenings, going for high paying jobs when my husband was in medical school, having flexible hours doing research, going part-time and then back to full time).  I knew I was valuable to my employers and I knew that I had to value my feelings, stress and mental and physical health.  I was determined to make work work for me. That being said, I know what you mean when you just can’t give, especially to children when you have children at home. Frustration, exhaustion and stress are ALL opportunities to have new doors open in your life.

“How do you know when it’s time to quit” is a valuable question that I was once asked at a job interview. Why was this being asked at a job interview? I wondered. But it was a great question.  In my book, I describe the exact moment to why and when I left the Emergency Department position that I had loved. I knew exactly when that now was.

L.L.: Aside from the myriad stories (which are great!) of being in the trenches as critical care/E.R. nurse, you assert on several occasions in THE JOY OF NURSING that nursing care is *not* “like medicine, only less,” but “about caring,” it’s about the nurse’s ability to connect, show compassion, and be there for the patient. Would you say that’s right? Or did I read that wrong?

Juliana Adams: Nursing is NOT less than medicine’s contribution to the health of patients and we are also not as simplistically often stated by the phrase Nurses care, Doctors cure. In fact, download (8)we are there when there are no cures; we are there to assist patients and families in finding meaning to their unique health, wellness, illness, living and dying experiences. I remember when I first realized that longevity was not a value to everyone, or that fighting to live was not what I was needed for, or that where and how patients met their own destinies would often be a mystery, all of which were sacred. The nobility of nursing, I realized, did not come from what we gave to patients or because we washed their butts and did other icky things.  The nobility in nursing has always come from our patients.  Being a part of some of the most tender, painful, courageous, inspiring times in people’s lives is an honor that we are gifted by them.

The following is from a blog posting that I wrote after the shootings that have been intense over the last 30 days—that MedPAgeToday (CNN)  is reviewing for publication. “As a side note, the paradox of caring in healthcare is that because most physicians and nurses chose our respective roles precisely because we cared, sometimes the expression of how we care is unique to our roles as physicians and nurses. This caring—the compassion and the application of the physical skills we provide—is done with a unique caveat.  The truth, the facts about who did what to whom, who is good versus bad, cannot enter into the care we provide.  Sometimes not knowing all of the whys makes our jobs easier.”

Discovering “the facts” implies a level of revealing and possibly understanding someone else’s reality.  But where there are variations of what is true, disagreements result, opening the door to judgments being made.  After forming a judgment, looking for someone to blame often follows. With blaming comes the belief that some type of punishment is justified. But not by us.

L.L.: And since we touched briefly on medicine, I have to ask: how’s your daughter doing in medical school? Was her decision to become a doctor influenced by your work as nurse? Her father as a physician?

Juliana Adams: Her decision came as a complete surprise!  She was an architecture major from an Ivy League school, completely uninterested in medicine. Our son, the West Point graduate, now in Special Forces, had always wanted to become an ER Doc but then said, “For my first career I want to go in the military and then I’ll go to medical school.” Go figure!  We supported their decisions as zig-zagged as they seemed to us and were just pleased that they both chose lives of service.

L.L.:  What do you hope readers get from THE JOY OF NURSING? Who would you like to see me recommend the book to? 

Juliana Adams: One of the hoped for intentions in writing a memoir is that because the author has changed over a long period of time, hopefully so a wide variety of readers can engage with the book and see themselves somewhere within the story of stories.

Inspiration comes from so many places in life. Reflecting on life for me always was based on the fact that we are not given the gift of many years on this planet to have exactly the same values, goals, belief systems, etc. How boring that would be! It is often because of the “bad” times that we find opportunities for paths that we never would have even considered had we only been comfortable and content with our lives.

Be open to developing mantras or sources of inspiration that work and speak to you. These are yours, so they can be classed any way you make them up to be!

*For example my “external guiding principal” is: When in doubt, do the right thing.

*My internal mantra is: Go home to yourself.

* What makes me sigh and know that everything is OK is: “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you‘ that is enough.

*This is so seemingly small but so powerful: Do you remember the first person that told you that you were good at something? Remember . . . give this gift.

L.L.: What has captured your energy lately?

Juliana Adams:  Epigenetics and neural plasticity. Absolutely fascinating concepts that will revolutionize not just Mental Health but Physical Health!

L.L.: What should I have asked, but may have forgotten?download (9)

Juliana Adams: The profession of nursing is strong enough and needs the input of all of its members. It is within the purview of all of us to be able to poke, prod, question and challenge directions in which we see nursing moving. I have concerns that the distance between academia, leadership and the reason we are all here—the hands-on nurse—has in some places become to0 separate. In 5o years I have walked the walk.  I have been in many realms of nursing, and when I could not, with all of my experience, friends, education, zeal, and determination, make an environment “better,” I realized that this frustration was being experienced by many other nurses out there.  We as a profession must have life-lines that come from academia and leadership. We are all guardians of this laying on of hands profession. And for those nurses that are working in wonderful environments and might be wondering why can’t those nurses get it right, our experiences may be harbingers of change that you never thought would be coming your way but could be.

L.L. Juliana, it’s been a pleasure…and now what time would you like that lunch break? Is 10:45a.m. too early?

Juliana Adams: Lunch?  Really? I took a 5 minute Pepsi/Pee break and thought that was it till I got off 45 minutes after my shift was supposed to have ended!  Heck yeah, I’ll take a break and eat my lunch for breakfast!☺

For more information on Juliana, THE JOY OF NURSING (Steamboat Springs Press, 2016), or to connect via social media, please see:

Website
Facebook 
Twitter 
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You can connect with me at: 

AuthorPhoto_JulianaAdams.jpgAbout the Author: Juliana Adams, BSN, MSN, MA Psychology, is an author, documentary film producer and practicing nurse. In 2012, she produced a documentary film, Exposure, Reclaiming the Nobility of Nursing. The focus of her film began by highlighting the excitement of the nurses working in the inner-city emergency room that Eugene Richard’s made famous by his controversial book, The Knife and Gun Club. Where the film ended … what it exposed … led her to further explore her own journey of moving from novice to expert.

[Special thanks to A. Barbazon. Cover and author image courtesy of J. Adams. Brain image retrieved from Wikipedia, image of nurse in scrubs retrieved from  , medical staff from on 7.28.16, nursing quotes from quotesgram.com]

Writers on Wednesday: How characters are like ‘lost souls’ at the airport, ghosts, old farm houses, and more in Elizabeth Brundage’s ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR is like a slow boil, starting out  with tender delicate prose  and reaching a gritty climax.all-things-cease-to-appear-1

The story is  harrowing. Spooky, even. The characters are cold and stiff (quite literally, and that’s not just for the ones who are dead). ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR is written almost in a frame style, that is, the book opens with a murder, then becomes filled in with a deliciously creepy and unsettling backstory/character study into the mind of sociopath, finishing off with an end-cap to the murder set in the first few pages.

It’s at first blush, a ghost story, but there’s so much more to it, combining dark noir with gothic in a story about two families, one farmhouse, all of whom are wrapped in their own unhappiness, with a ribbon of art history, like a river running through connecting the gruesome unsolved murder.

I am super-honored to have Elizabeth Brundage sit down and chat with us about her inspiration, her process, and the book. Please, join us.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand there’s a real-life house that inspired you to write ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR. Can you talk about that, mainly because I’m completely intrigued with houses, architecture, and the stories they encompass, but also because I love a little tingle up my spine, too.

Elizabeth Brundage: Who can resist a good ghost story?  We all know that house in town with the dark windows, the rusty swing set in the back – we can’t seem to pull our eyes away from it.  We know that something happened there, something bad.  There are actually two houses that inspired me to write this book.  First, there was the house where the real ax murder occurred, in an upstate New York suburb.  I went to look at houses with a realtor who originally told me the story about a horrific murder that had happened in the neighborhood and was still – and still is – unsolved.  That actual case served as inspiration, the underlying foundation upon which I built this novel, but the characters are all inventions – just about everything in this book is made up except for some of the details of that case and the frustrating reality that the murderer was never brought to justice.  Years passed and three books later I finally decided to download-1write about it.  At one point over all those years we rented a little house in a rural town near where my husband was working.  It was an early nineteenth century cape in an historic country hamlet and it turned out to be haunted.  I had never lived in a house with ghosts before!  I was as skeptical as the next person, but after living there and experiencing some of the weird things that happened (you can read the full story on my website) I became a believer.  I decided these true experiences could come together in one novel that ultimately considers some of the abstract questions so many of us consider when we think about death.

L.L.: You start the story with the murder of Catherine Clare and then go backward in time to an amazing backstory, shaping the lives of all these characters. In that sense, it’s very noir. But it also sort of reads as a frame story. Can you talk about how you decided to structure ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR? Was the murder your ‘hook,’ to use a writerly term, or was it just the most organic way to lay out your story?

Elizabeth Brundage: Organic is the key word in your question, which is to say that I wasn’t conscious of writing a “frame” story although it very much seems to be the definition of one.  And while the murder serves as an essential “hook” to involve the reader, it wasn’t what interested me most; I was much more interested in exploring the relationships of the people whose lives were affected by the murder.  I think when something like this happens in a town, the townspeople never forget and the story is told again and again and the scene of the crime becomes as much a landmark of the place as the church on Main Street or the post office or the bar that fortifies the legendary town drunk.

Brundage’s searing, intricate novel epitomizes the best of the literary thriller, marrying gripping drama with impeccably crafted prose…

~Publishers Weekly [boxed review]

L.L.: And there are a lot of characters. Almost all of them—even the unsettling, creepy ones—I liked. Because they are flawed, because they are real. Do you have an affinity for any one in particular? (I know, I know…kind of like choosing your favorite child.)

Elizabeth Brundage: My favorite character is Cole for his sweetness, kindness, his perceptions about the people around him.  I also have a soft spot for his brother, Eddy, because he reminds me of my husband in his early 20s.  Justine is my favorite female character because I recognize her as a woman I would be friendly with.  I admire her strength and courage and determination to do what’s right and good in life.  She is someone who has become the best or at least the most honest version of herself – I think so many of us strive to be that.

L.L.: There’s a fun, late-1970s, early 1980s vibe about the book, I’m curious what your research (if any!) was like to get things ‘right?’   

Elizabeth Brundage: I did a lot of research, but I grew up in the 70s and a lot of the period details I relied on came from memory.  The Country Squire Station Wagon that Catherine drives, for instance, was the car I was allowed to drive in high school to get to my ballet lessons.  I can still remember rolling down the windows to smoke (sneak) a cigarette on the way home. download-2

L.L.: What was your timeframe for writing this novel? It’s complex and so well done, and spans about twenty years, it’s in a sense, a beast. But a good beast, a darn good one.

Elizabeth Brundage: Thank you, you’re right – it is a beast!  The book is loosely based on a real cold case that I heard about back in the 90s.  It stayed in my mind for over 20 years before I could actually write about it.  I wasn’t really keen on writing a story about an ax murder and years passed, years of thinking and thinking, before I found and understood the other characters, the farm, the boys, the people of the town, and could make them real on the page.  That may sound strange when I use the word “found” but, in the early stages of writing a novel, finding your character(s) is something like trying to find one person in a crowded airport – until you find him, you are just fumbling along like a person with jetlag, disoriented, confused, weighed down with heavy bags.  Once you find your character, the trick is getting him into your car, hearing him speak, smelling him, searching his pockets, trying to get your hands on his passport to see where he’s been and where he’s going.  Writing a novel takes time.  There’s just no way around it, you can’t really do it fast.  This book took me years to write because I kept having characters show up at my door – lost souls.  They’d stand there looking at me, their suitcases at their feet, waiting for me to invite them in.

L.L.: The story is about how guilt shapes the present, how sometimes it’s not just places that are haunted, but people, circumstances. It’s about finding truth, it’s about *being* the truth. At least that was my read. What do you hope readers take away from ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR?

Elizabeth Brundage: I really like your summary, Leslie, and I hope other readers take away what you did.  I think it’s true that as life goes on we all become a little bit haunted by some of the bad things we experience in life.  We can recover and move on, but we never forget. As life happens to us, we change shape – under dramatic circumstances, we can even become a different version of our original selves.  I was interested in the old farmhouse being a kind of monument to hard times, the landmark of a terrible crime.  I suppose I’d like readers to take away whatever strikes them as meaningful.  All readers are certainly not alike.  People read certain books for different reasons.  I am always looking for something new when I read – I want to be gently enlightened by a character’s perspective or insight.  I would hope that readers empathize with Catherine, who is stuck in a bad marriage to an increasingly dangerous man and can’t seem to find her way out. The theme of loss runs through the book and I think we all experience loss in our lives, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a home or the sense of safety, the loss of our childhood selves, the loss of love – but there are also the elements of light and love that guide us forward, the beauty of nature, faith, trust, the relationships that bring us joy and keep us safe. download-3

L.L.: What’s keeping you up at night? What’s inspiring you? And hopefully it’s not ax murderers!

Elizabeth Brundage: To write fiction, you need to be a close observer of life, a keen listener.  You want to try to understand what motivates behavior.  I think it’s important to know the world of your characters, whatever world that is.  You have to know your people.  Like most writers, I am trying to reflect some aspect of the world I see around me.  People are the reason I write.  There is no shortage of interesting people out there – our lives are rich with problems and struggle – conflict – and when you come right down to it we are all just trying to get through the day.

L.L.: What did I forget to ask, but you’d like to answer?

Elizabeth Brundage: Your questions were wonderful, Leslie, and I was so happy to have the opportunity to answer them.  Thank you!!

L.L.: Elizabeth, it was such a pleasure! Thank  you so much for your time and wonderful read.

Elizabeth Brundage: My pleasure – thank you right back.

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

elizabeth-brundage-author-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Brundage graduated from Hampshire College, attended the NYU film school, was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and received an MFA as well as a James Michener Award from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has taught at a variety of colleges and universities, most recently at Skidmore College, where she was visiting writer-in-residence. She lives near Albany in upstate New York.

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

[Cover and Author images courtesy of H. Tobin at Viking and used with permission. Cape Cod style home and Ford Country Squire station wagon retrieved from Wikipedia; winding road image from all retrieved 9.12.16].

BookS on MondaY: The Happiest Country for 40+ years and the values we can adopt for raising kids from THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Denmark, home of Hans Christian Anderson and Lego toys, has been voted the happiest country in the world for 40 consecutive years, most recently in the 2016 World Happiness Report. What is the secret to this consistent success? Can happiness become the new Danish export? Photo-Nov-28-2-21-23-PM-1024x735-1024x735

That’s what THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING (TarcherPerigee/RandomHouse, August 2016)  And I have to say, the concept became intriguing to me. When I learned the U.S. ranked 17th in “the most happy,” just under Mexico, I wanted to know why and what did the Danes have on us? Here’s a breakdown of the book, which spells out  P-A-R-E-N-T and is how each chapter is organized:

P – Play: Why free play creates happier, better adjusted, more resilient adults.

A – Authenticity: Why honesty creates a stronger sense of self and how praise can be used to form a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

R – Reframing: How shifting our perception can improve relationships and well-being.

E – Empathy: How fostering an empathic household can help your children be more tolerant and less judgmental of others.

N – No Ultimatums: Why avoiding power struggles and using a more democratic parenting approach fosters trust.

T – Togetherness and Hygge (Coziness): Why a strong social network is one of the biggest factors in our overall happiness and by creating hygge we can give this powerful

THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is simply written, yet jam-packed with supporting evidence as to what and how we can parent better. And there’s always room for growth, right? The authors, one raised in the U.S. and married to a Dane and now living in Rome, and the other, a family and child counselor in Copenhagen tell us exactly how the Danish Way is different. Hint: the one major difference has to do with something called hygge, meaning togetherness. Read on to find out what this encompasses. And then consider trying it as early as tonight. 

Leslie Lindsay: The premise of THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is that Denmark is the happiest country in the world in large part due to their upbringing. It seems there may be multiple variables at play (such as parental leave policies),  but what are some things parents in the United States can implement immediately that can have a positive impact?

Jessica: Two major things we could do here at home everyday is to try to teach more empathy and learn how to “hygge” (pronounced hooga) which is cozying around together with those you care about in a drama-free environment. Danes value hygge time highly and it’s something we can easily incorporate here if others agree to try, too. In Denmark, empathy is a crucial part of education and it starts being actively taught in pre-school. It is just as important as teaching Math or English. Seeing that social connectedness has been proven to be one of the number one predictors of happiness, I think that teaching more empathy as a skill at home and incorporating hygge, we could make a big difference in in our overall wellbeing.  shutterstock_415695742-600x381

L.L.: We’ve heard the “Tiger Mother” philosophy and the French parenting angle, so what distinguishes the Danish Way from these other cultural parenting perspectives or styles?
Jessica:
In Tiger parenting and French parenting, what the parent says goes without question, period. It is very authoritarian. This is a generalization of course but it’s pretty common in these cultures. Tiger parenting is all about blind obedience. In French parenting, children are expected to have “allegiance” to parents, which is again authoritarian. It is literally all work and no play and Danish parenting is just the opposite.

Danish parenting is about respecting the child’s integrity, listening to their needs and encouraging learning through play, trusting them to trust in themselves and having empathy for others. In Denmark, children are encouraged to question rules they don’t understand so that they feel they are fair and exist for a reason. They focus more on democracy and avoiding problems by respecting children’s integrity and believing in their goodness. I firmly believe this is why Danes, overall, have a good self-esteem and are happier. When you grow up believing your feelings and thoughts matter and the world can be just, you feel good about yourself. The philosophy of Danish parenting is teach respect, be respectful and you will be respected.

L.L.: What are a few striking differences in the way Americans parent on a day to day basis versus how Europeans parent?

Iben: Americans in general strive to make their children better than others. This is subtly dividing not connecting. It doesn’t come from a bad place, it is just how you are raised. You all want to be more special and more individual. Because it makes you feel like better parents, better human beings. And being the best is prized. You are by nature competitive because you are raised to know that the “better kids” get rewards, praise, trophies, love and their pictures on the walls etc. In a dog-eat-dog world you do everything to try to make your kid the best. You were told for a long time that nature was built on survival of the fittest. So “I” have to survive against all the others. Denmark is built on a totally different foundation. We are collectivist and raised on teamwork, democracy and togetherness. We are programmed not to stand out, but always emphasizing the “we” and that which is created jointly.

L.L.: Jessica, as an American expat who married into a Danish family, can you describe the more Danish concepts of ‘reframing‘ and ‘hygge‘ and why they were surprising to you at first?

shutterstock_231997051-600x400Jessica: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” my husband would say if he had to go out in freezing rain. He had such a knack for finding the silver lining in things and reframing them. He was also often making me aware of when I used extreme language such as “I hate that” or “I am terrible at that” and he would correct me to get a more exact. He was very focused on the importance of language and not being hyperbolic. But when I realized he was also doing this with our daughter’s language around her general experiences of the world, I understood that reframing was a kind of Danish skill that gets passed on through the generations. Her fears became curiosity or her negativity became more tempered all through that language altering. This ability to reframe has a profound effect on long-term happiness because how you choose to see the world greatly affects how you feel about it.

In terms of ‘hygge,’ this was something I saw from day one with my husband’s family but it took me a lot of years to finally get how powerful it is and the breakdown of its psychological components. I describe the crux of hygge as a sacred mental space you enter into with those you love and care for which is free from competition, bragging, complaining or too much negativity. It’s a limited time when you are just there to connect with others and be in a nice environment and cozy around. Many people talk about mindfulness these days, but Hygge_oath_2.jpghygge’ is a sort of “we-fulness.” The purpose is simply to be together stress free, and that feeling of safe social connectedness makes you happy. It was hard for me at first because I wasn’t used to so much “we”-time that was controversy-free, but now I love relaxing into those peaceful moments and I see how much kids absolutely thrive in this we space.

L.L.: What inspired you to write this book?

Jessica: The day I was inspired to write the book was when I was reading the newspaper and Denmark had just been voted (again) as the happiest people in the world. At the very same moment I could hear my husband altering our daughter’s language around her fear of spiders as they talked about one. I reflected on how that was going to change her future. [My daughter] would be more curious, less scared and more open. It was so Danish what he was doing (reframing) and I suddenly felt incredibly lucky to have this influence in my children’s life because I never would have known about these Danish ways otherwise. And then it hit me. The light bulb went off. There is a Danish way of parenting! And it must be one of the reasons why they grow up to be the happiest people in the world! And so the book idea was born.

Iben:  I am Danish and have been brought up on the basis of Danish culture and norms, I am deeply aware that a Danish (or Scandinavian) upbringing differs from that of many other cultures. I believe very much in the importance of learning throughout life, and I am passionate about what I do. When Jessica asked if we should collaborate about writing a book, one could say it was a perfect match. I hope the book will offer a change in perspective or a paradigm shift for someone, which at the end can change children´s life to the better.

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

IbenAbout the Authors: Iben Dissing Sandahl is a certified coach, author and a licensed narrative psychotherapist, MPF, with her own private practice just outside of Copenhagen. She specializes in counseling families and children. Originally trained as a teacher, she worked for 10 years in the Danish school system before earning her degree in narrative psychotherapy. She is a frequent guest expert in magazines, newspapers, and Danish national radio. She is a wife and mother of two girls, Ida and Julie.

Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American author, columnist and cultural trainer. She Jessicagraduated with a BS in a psychology and went on to teach communication and writing skills in Scandinavia and central Europe. Married to a Dane for 13 years, she lives in Rome with her husband and two children, Sophia and Sebastian.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at: 

[Special thanks to K. Platte at Tarcher Perigee/Peguin RandomHouse. Cover and author images courtesy of Tarcher Perigee and used with permission. All other images retrieved from the DANISH WAY website on 8.31.16]

WeekEND Reading: Debut author Bryn Greenwood talks about being a stubborn flat-lander, reading (and writing) about uncomfortable things, what ALL THE UGLY & WONDERFUL THINGS taught her about herself, and how’s it’s totally NOT autobiographical.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is as raw as it is compassionate. A writer I know sometimes says, “I was brave on the page today,” and that’s exactly what I think of Wavonna (Wavy), the main character in this title, as well as the debut author Bryn Greenwood. She was brave on the page and there’s truth to it right here–she’s the all-the-ugly-and-wonderful-thingsdaughter of a (mostly reformed) drug dealer just like Wavy, and she has a habit of falling in love with much older men, and perhaps she also not just brave on the page, but “writes what she knows.”

This is a brave, insightful read from a very talented new writer and I thoroughly enjoyed the language and rhythm to the prose, however, I will say that this is not a book for everyone. It’s a bit like LOLITA meets…I’m not sure. Be prepared for some rawness and uncomfortable things going on in ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

We first meet Wavy (short for Wavonna) when she is just 5 years old. She’s got a creepy-goofy mom whom she’s often scared of, especially when mom’s high. Her dad’s no better. Wavy keeps her mouth shut and stays out of sight. Selectively mute, she eats in secret, and finds many others hard to trust. That is until she meets Kellen (Also known as Jesse Joe Barfoot). Kellen is much older than Wavy (who is now 8 years old), yet they are in love. Or perhaps it’s more brotherly at first, him protecting her while she’s a vulnerable child and her parents are too strung out to parent. But then a love definitely develops.

Tragedy rips the family apart and well-meaning aunt steps in. There’s foster care, drugs, jail time, death/murder/suicide and so much more in this gorgeously told literary suspense ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

So, grab your cup of coffee and join me as we get to know Bryn Greenwood.

Leslie Lindsay: Oh goodness, I just finished ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS and I have to say, the title is quite fitting. Are you one of those writers who can’t set pen to paper before knowing a title, or does it develop organically?

Bryn Greenwood: It’s important for me to have a working title that resonates with me, but always with the awareness that it probably won’t end up being the title the book is published under. The working title for ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS was rather unimpressively THIRTEEN, in reference to Wavy’s age when her life changes dramatically. It’s a good thing I don’t get too attached to my working titles, as this book actually went through three title changes on its road to publication. The line referencing “all the ugly and wonderful things” existed from the first draft, however, so it was fitting that it ended up being the title.

L.L.: So…”writing what you know,” I have to say, I also love memoir and as I’m reading, there’s so much truth and raw honesty with your characters and the situations they get themselves into, yet ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is not a memoir. Can you discuss your understanding of the difference between “writing what you know” and a full-fledged memoir?

Bryn Greenwood: Writing a memoir would require me to take careful stock of a lot of memories, and do a lot of research to fact check the events of my life. It would also require me to decide how many people I’m willing to be estranged from. Writing what I know, however, allows me to pick and choose from the things I remember vividly and fill in the blanks with people and events of my own imagination. Still, I feel that fiction calls upon the same level of introspection and emotional honesty as memoir. In terms of ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, is some of it true? Yes. My father was a drug dealer, and I’ve done and seen some pretty crazy things as a result. Do some of the characters resemble people I knew? Without a doubt. At the age of thirteen I started an intense love affair with a man more than twice my age. He and I are both in these pages in some very filtered form. Does it approach autobiography? Absolutely not.

L.L.: Many folks are comparing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS to LOLITA. Talk about a narrative with lots of uncomfortable situations! How do you respond to those comparisons?220px-lolita_1955

Bryn Greenwood: I’m a big fan of Nabokov, and I think LOLITA is an incredible novel, perhaps even one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Breaking it down to its bare bones, though, it doesn’t have anything in common with ALL THE UGLY AND
WONDERFUL THINGS. Humbert Humbert is a sexual predator who marries a single mother and, following her convenient death, kidnaps her daughter for what I can only describe as a cross-country pedophilic rape-fest. As a first person narration, we have only Humbert’s perspective on his relationship with Lolita, and I don’t trust him. ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS has none of those plot elements, and the characters involved are quite different, as is the dynamic of their relationship. Yes, there’s an increasingly uncomfortable and inappropriate relationship between a young girl, Wavy, and Kellen, a man thirteen years her senior, but I do not consider Kellen a predator or a pedophile. Also it is my hope that the multiple narrative angles allow readers to see a much more balanced view of their relationship and come to their own conclusions.

“Greenwood’s powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair… It’s no storybook romance, but the novel closes on a note of hard-won serenity, with people who deserve a second chance gathered together….Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.”

~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

L.L.: What did you learn about yourself writing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I learned that there are things I thought I’d let go of that still have their hooks in me. This was simultaneously a happy and a sad lesson, because some of the things that still have a hold on me are full of sorrow, while others are full of joy. Accessing some of those memories allowed me to release a lot of the shame that other people had pressed upon me. As a society, we have a few set narratives about certain things, like the way “inappropriate” relationships between young people and older people are viewed and discussed. The approved narrative is that the younger person is a victim. If you have an experience that doesn’t fit, or if you decline to identify with being a victim, people will try to shame you. If you won’t be a victim, then there must be something wrong with you seems to be the message. Writing this book, I was able to shrug off that shame for something more constructive.

I also learned that I’m more stubborn than I knew I was, and I thought I was pretty stubborn. I received a lot of rejections on this book, but at no point did I consider giving up.

L.L.: There are so many things going on in this story, but it’s all handled well. In some ways, it feels like a mystery/thriller and in other regards, it feels a bit like…well, a coming of age romance, though I cringe to liken it to romance, because it’s not really that. Plus, the writing is very lyrical, polished, and emotionally resonate. Perhaps it’s literary fiction. What genre do you feel ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is? And in the end, does genre matter?

Bryn Greenwood: I think of it primarily as literary/mainstream fiction. It obviously has many hallmarks of a coming of age story–for several of the characters–but there are a lot of other elements at play within the story, as you observe. Like you, I hesitate to think of it as romance, because romance novels tend to glorify and glamorize the love stories they tell. Although ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS definitely contains a love story, it’s not particularly romantic. That said, I suspect genre only matters as much as we tell ourselves it does. I read across all genres, and I know from the contents of my inbox that readers of all kinds have connected with my book.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away after reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I hope that most readers will simply spend some time thinking about the issues that surround the characters: drug abuse, neglect, family, love, loss, food. As much as we want life to be black and white, there’s a whole lot of gray. I think we get to that understanding, and to sympathy, by acknowledging the issues that inhabit that gray area.

For readers who find that the book makes them uncomfortable, I hope they will spend a little time thinking of other readers for whom this book is a mirror. Wavy and Kellen’s lives may seem alien or repulsive, but there are people who have lived or are living these lives. Those people deserve to see their stories told with sincerity just as much as anyone else.

L.L.: I’m a bit curious about place and how that affects us as writers. Or, does it? I understand you’re a fourth generation Kansan. I’m at least a fifth generation Missourian. I’m drawn to raw, uncensored stories about family, love, and human behavior. Could just be me, but perhaps there’s some mid-America influence there. Can you share your thoughts on that?

Bryn Greenwood: Although I’ve written about other places, I feel like much of my writing is informed by my family connection to Kansas, and to the West. [See Bryn’s website to glimpse her other writing] Part of that is this sense of a massive, flat, open space, of being able to see not just the next town twenty miles away, but the actual curvature of the earth. I always feel like I’m trying to bring that breadth of vision to my writing. The other element of place that crops up in my work is this damned impenetrable stubbornness. During the Dust Bowl, when a 220px-dust-storm-texas-1935lot of people fled from Western Kansas, my family stayed, possibly out of pure bullheadedness. That bleeds through in how we feel about our relationships and our place in the world. We can be very insular, but are passionate and loyal. 

L.L.: In fact, as I’m reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, I’m reminded of several other titles that are written (and set) by Missouri authors (Laura McHugh’s THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD comes to mind as does Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE). What stories, authors, and genres influence you? What ignites your creative spark?

Bryn Greenwood: I read all different genres, because I never know where I’ll stumble across the kinds of stories and characters I love. I enjoy sci fi and fantasy, often because I feel like the same thing that lets them cross the boundaries of our reality lets them access emotions and relationships that we don’t always find in contemporary fiction. (Some of my current recommendations are Sherri L. Smith, Holly Black, and always Ursula K. LeGuin.) I’m a big believer in reading work by women, because we’ve so often been silenced. Some of my favorites are Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, and Isabelle Allende.

L.L.: I understand you used to work with Planned Parenthood. Can you tell us a bit about that? This particular experience netted you a good number of publications.

Bryn Greenwood: In the 1990s I worked at Planned Parenthood of Kansas (Now PP Great Plains) as a sex educator. As is the nature of teaching, it was hugely educational for me. I did hundreds of presentations for high school students, social services clients, inmates at juvenile and adult facilities. I saw so much of humanity and heard so many stories that I was radically changed in my understanding of the world. I can’t help but feel a lot of that experience comes through in my writing as well. In terms of what I tweeted about in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings last year, that whole experience is a great illustration about social media. You cannot control what catches people’s attention. It turned out that a lot of people wanted to know more about what I’d experienced as a Planned Parenthood employee.

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

 Bryn Greenwood: One of my favorite things to ask other writers is what newspapers, websites, etc. they like to read on a casual basis, because I’m interested in people’s daily mental perambulations. Of course, having mentioned this, I now have to admit that I love reading trashy tabloids online. I think it’s that underneath all the celebrity gossip and Florida crime reports, I know there are real stories. I like to imagine what has really happened behind all the sordid and sensationalist nonsense. Tabloids render it all as grotesque– “Famous Athlete Arrested in Altercation at Strip Club” or “Florida Woman Shoots Husband and His Lover, Her Own Mother” –but I enjoy trying to develop narratives for the headlines that reveal actual people having actual human emotions.

L.L.: Bryn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Bryn Greenwood: Thank you for inviting me to talk about my book and all my random obsessions. It’s been wonderful, Leslie!

For more information on ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS, or to connect with Bryn Greenwood via social media, please see: 

bryn-greenwood-credit-jennifer-stewart-newlinAuthor Bio: Bryn Greenwood is a fourth-generation Kansan, one of seven sisters, and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She earned a MA in Creative Writing and continues to work in academia as an administrator. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is her debut novel. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is married to an extensive home remodeling project, and is raising a small herd of boxers and hairless cats.

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

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to K. Bassel at SMP. Author and cover images courtesy of SMP and used with permission. Lolita cover image retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.8.16, Dust Bowl image also retrieved from Wikipedia.] 007.JPG

Writers on Wednesday: Gilly Macmillan on the challenges of a sophomore novelist, finding inspiration from real-life, getting to the truth in fiction, never tiring of new ideas, and more in her domestic thriller THE PERFECT GIRL

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Last year, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Gilly Macmillan burst onto the scene with her critically acclaimed and Edgar-nominated debut, WHAT SHE KNEW.  She returns this fall (William Morrow, September 6 2016), with THE PERFECT GIRL, her second hypnotic literary domestic psych thriller. Perfect Girl
Set in Bristol, in the southwest corner of England, a beautiful young piano prodigy (Zoe) is living a privileged Second Chance Life with her blended family, consisting of her mother, step-father, step-brother (also a pianist) and new baby (half) sister, Grace. Lurking under the surface, however are some dark secrets Zoe Maisey and her mother are harboring. Though she has a genius IQ and can play the piano darn well, moments from the past continue to haunt both she and her mother, events so tragic the mother hasn’t even told her new husband–demanding Zoe to do the same. But the cat is out of the bag fairly early in the book when someone from Zoe’s past shows up at performance at a local church.Twenty-four hours later, her mother is dead. Macmillan’s writing is razor-sharp, blending suspense and a compelling plot, told by various POVs as the aftermath of Zoe’s mother’s death unfold. I flipped the pages at a frantic pace as I wanted—demanded—to know what really happened. Macmillan does a fine job of breathing breath into different characters and highlighting blended families, domestic violence, infidelity, substance abuse, moving forward with one’s life, and the extent to which we go to maintain our secrets, and perhaps, even our innocence.

So, join me as I sit down with Gilly and chat all things writing and THE PERFECT GIRL.

Leslie Lindsay: Gilly, thrilled to have you back to discuss your second book. Thank you for taking the time to pop by. I had a tough time putting this one down. I was reading with a frantic clip and I’m curious, was it that way for you too, as you were writing? What ultimately inspired this story?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you so much for having me!  I’m thrilled to be back and delighted to hear that you enjoyed THE PERFECT GIRL.  You’re right, I did write it at a bit of a frantic clip.  I think it was partly because it’s such a claustrophobic set-up in the book, and set over such a short time-frame, that it rewarded that kind of immersive approach to the writing.

The inspiration behind the story was a real-life case that I heard about a few years ago.  It concerned a teenage girl who was sent to jail after being convicted of causing the death of some friends in a car crash, just like Zoe in the book.  This girl served her time, but never got back on track after that, in spite of having a loving and supportive family.  I was so saddened by the story, and by the idea that a foolish teenage mistake could result in such a devastating life-altering outcome.  The idea for the book took off when I began to wonder what might happen if you tried to move on after that: who would you become, and how would you make a future?

L.L.: I’ve heard some second-and –third-time authors lament about how challenging subsequent books can be to write. WHAT SHE KNEW thundered out of the gates and seemed to become an over-night success. Can you give a little glimpse into the world of a sophomore novelist? The challenges and also the benefits?

Gilly Macmillan: The world of a sophomore novelist is a strange place.  Sometimes thrilling, but often terrifying!  The learning curve is steep when your first book goes out into the world.  I was advised to write my second novel before the first was published and I was very glad I did because the promotion work and all of the other things that happen around publication can be very distracting and time-consuming. 

The challenges of writing my second book included writing to a deadline and for an audience that was wider than just myself and my regular readers (who were my husband and my writing partner) for the first time.  I felt under a spotlight in a way that was new WHAT SHE KNEWand threatened to feel uncomfortable at first.  My solution was to tell myself to hold my nerve (this is my mantra!  Sometimes hourly!) and write a book that I would like to read myself.  That’s how I got through WHAT SHE KNEW, and it was the key to writing THE PERFECT GIRL as well.

The advantages were many.  I had had no instruction on how to write when I started WHAT SHE KNEW so I made a ton of mistakes during the writing process that took a lot of time and patience to correct during edits.  However, that rather painful experience meant that I had a much better understanding of structure and pacing and the whole craft of writing a novel right as I worked on THE PERFECT GIRL.  It was good to feel that I’d learned a lot and meant that the editing process was much smoother.

“With tightly drawn characters, a fascinating storyline and absolutely exquisite narration, THE PERFECT GIRL is sure to keep readers up at night. Gilly Macmillan proves once again to be a master of the written word and is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. Literary suspense at its finest.”

—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Baby

L.L.: I have to applaud your attention and sensitivity to emotionally shaken adolescents in THE PERFECT GIRL. In my former life, I was a psych R.N. working in a place quite similar to what you refer to as ‘The Unit.’ Can you talk about how you developed this piece of the narrative and what did your research consist of?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you.  It’s very important to me to try to remain as sensitive as possible to my characters and the situations they find themselves in, so it means a lot to hear that.  In terms of research, for starters I read everything I could find about teenage incarceration.  The material I found included first-hand accounts of the experience of being incarcerated written by teenagers, interviews with people who had worked with young people in detention units, and government inspection reports of juvenile detention centers.  I wanted to try to understand the system from every angle I could so I also did face-to-face research.  I interviewed a solicitor friend about how the law might treat teenagers in Zoe’s situation and also spoke to two retired detectives.  Additionally, I visited a police custody suite, spent a morning in court, sat in on a police interview with an adult who was under arrest, and visited an adult prison.  It was only after I’d done all of that that I felt able to try to imagine what Zoe’s experience might have been like and put it into her words.  What I learned during this process made fascinating but also very difficult material and certainly made me feel somewhat desperate about how we treat some of our teenagers and young people who are in detention.

L.L.: In fact, there’s a lot of issues that pop up in THE PERFECT GIRL: divorce/re-marriage, blended families, infidelity, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and secret-keeping. In fact, I think there’s a line in the book that goes something like, ‘A good lie is one that is very close to the truth.’ When we write about all of the things that make up the world we live in—even these not-so-pretty-things, I think there’s that much truth in our fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Gilly Macmillan: Truth in fiction is something that I think about a lot, and something that I’m always striving for.  It’s one of the reasons I love to write in first person and it’s why I take my research very seriously.  I think the best fiction in any genre can tell us something about ourselves and our world, however uncomfortable, and the act of reading gives us time to reflect on those things. images

I try very hard to write characters whose predicaments grip us emotionally because there’s something recognizable and true in them.  I think there’s room for that in crime and thriller writing, alongside intricate plotting and all of the other devices we can use to pull a story along.  If the story isn’t tugging at the reader’s feelings in some way, I don’t think I’ve done my job.

L..L.: In what ways were you influenced by some of the teen culture mentioned in THE PERFECT GIRL?

Gilly Macmillan:  My children are teenagers (well, almost, in the case of the youngest) so I’m surrounded by teen culture at home and I’m always surprised at how much of it is based around what’s online.  I love it and I loathe it!  I think it can be wonderful when they make connections with new people and share recommendations and ideas online.  It’s a completely new way of creating and maintaining friendships and experiencing popular culture, and so different from my generation’s experience of being a teenager.  Having said that, I’m also afraid of its darker side, as many parents are.  I researched some nasty message sites as I was writing THE PERFECT GIRL and was shocked by the severity of some of the bullying that can go on.

Online teen culture felt like a really important part of Zoe’s story, especially as she’s rather shielded from it by her family and perhaps, as a result, a bit more naïve when she encounters it.  I think there’s some safety to be found in education around online culture, though it’s probably impossible to protect our teenagers from all of the pitfalls.  It’s certainly a rich source of material for psych thriller writers as a result.

L.L.: And since I’ve typed the title a handful of times, I have to ask, what are your thoughts on all of these books coming out in the last four years or so with ‘girl’ in the title? Because at one time, this book was originally called BUTTERFLY IN THE DARK.

Gilly Macmillan: ‘Girl’ titles are definitely a ‘thing’ right now, aren’t they?  The book was originally going to come out in the UK under the title BUTTERFLY IN THE DARK cover_bitdbut it was decided, rightly, that having different titles here and in the US can be confusing.  When THE PERFECT GIRL was first suggested I was pleased because I think it’s a great fit for the book, and for Zoe’s character, regardless of the trend for ‘girl’ titles.  I would like to think that ‘girl’ titles have become popular because we’re living in a time when we’re developing (finally!) more positive associations with the word.  ‘Girl’ nowadays can mean somebody feisty and brave and smart and engaging, and I think that qualifies it immediately as a potentially interesting title for a book. 

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

Gilly Macmillan:  I’m working on a sequel to WHAT SHE KNEW which sees the return of Detective Inspector Jim Clemo.  He has a new case to work on, which involves two teenage boys who are involved in an incident that leaves one dangerously ill after almost drowning and the other so shocked that he’s unable to speak about what happened.  It’s been great to return to a character I know so well and am very fond of and it’s an exciting challenge to write a follow on for him.

L.L.: What’s keeping you awake these days? What’s inspiring you? It doesn’t have to be literary, but if it is, then by all means…

Gilly Macmillan: That’s a tough question!  I sometimes feel as if my mind will never rest, there’s so much to think about and so much going on the world at the moment.  In terms of writing, I was inspired a great deal by a book I read last year called ALL INVOLVED by Ryan Gattis It’s a brilliant, heart-breaking, raw story of what happens during the LA riots while the police are occupied and some of the gang neighborhoods are left essentially lawless.  My third book is the thing that’s keeping me up at night at the moment.  I can spend hours fretting over characters or plot points, and even in the small hours I feel compelled to write down any ideas I have right then and there because if I don’t they’re gone by the morning!

L.L.: What question have you been asked a lot lately?

Gilly Macmillan: I’m often asked if I think I’ll be able to keep having ideas for new books.  The answer is ‘yes’!  I find life, and people, so endlessly fascinating that I’m sure that, all being well, I’ll be finding stories that I’d like to tell and characters that I’d love to explore for a very long time.

L.L.: Gilly, just a pleasure as always! Thank you!

Gilly Macmillan: You’re very welcome, it’s been a pleasure.  Thank you so much for having me!

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

Website

Twitter: @GillyMacmillan

Facebook 

“Tightly focused and fast-paced. You won’t rest until you really know what happened.”

—Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty One, on What She Knew

Gilly Macmillan -¬Gilly Macmillan.JPGAuthor Bio: Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew. She grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in Northern California in her late teens. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time lecturer in photography, and now writes full time. She resides in Bristol, England.

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

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to L. Truskowski. Cover(s) and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Truth and fiction quote by Stephen King image retrieved from on 8.24.16]

WeekEND Reading: The horrific truth of human trafficking, keeping our kids safe, writing with a psychology background, & so much more from Rena Olsen in her debut, THE GIRL BEFORE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I have a thing for new authors. There’s inspiration and awe within the pages you hold in your hands. There’s potential and excitement. It’s all about newness of exhilaration.

Clara is in the midst of brushing her daughter, Daisy’s hair when armed men invade her home, taking Clara away from her husband and beloved daughters to an investigation room where they demand answers.  the-girl-before

But Clara isn’t talking.

Alternating between past and present in a “now” and “then” format without specific chapters, we learn the horrific story of Clara’s fractured life. We see her grow up in a captive brothel-like environment under the guise of a happy home in which she “trains” girls for their clients. She falls desperately in love with her captor’s son, the second in command of this…operation.

Now, she’s sequestered in a barren room, questioned by men and women who only want to help her, but she’s not convinced anything is wrong. Her past and present collide with new revelations about whom she was and who she’s become. In this sense, the title, THE GIRL BEFORE is spot-on. Also, the cover is mesmerizing and lends to the shattered self-image Clara harbors.

Join me as we welcome debut author Rena Olsen to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay: Rena, I’m looking at your sweet, smiley face and I think, ‘no…there’s no way this woman could have written a book so dark and sinister. Not to mention that your father is a minister.  While Clara, your main protagonist is a bit naïve, THE GIRL BEFORE is anything but sweet and wholesome. Why this book now?

Rena Olsen: Haha! Well thank you for that assessment. I contain multitudes. While the book may seem dark and sinister, it is reality for so many. I may look sweet, but I don’t shy away from the tough issues. I’m a therapist, and I spend my days hearing about the horrors human beings inflict on each other. In some ways, writing this sort of psychological, and yes, dark, book, helps me process what I hear. As for why now? Awareness of human trafficking is slowly gaining traction, but there are so many myths about its prevalence and the “type” of people involved. While Clara started speaking to me just to tell her story, explain why she might seem naïve to many, I have hopes that this book can at least raise awareness of this horrific thing that happens all over the country and the world.

L.L.: I found the subject matter of human trafficking completely repulsive and disturbing, yet it’s done in a tasteful, non-graphic manner. Can you tell us a bit about the real life of these girls? Perhaps a little glimpse into your research?

Rena Olsen: Honestly, the content of the book is toned way down from reality. Many people want nothing to do with learning about this particular subject simply because it is so horrific. However, for me it was never an option not to be as realistic as possible without turning people off more. This is the reality that millions of victims live, day in and day out. In my research, I watched a few documentaries, my favorite being Nefarious. I read a lot of stories and researched organizations working to stop the practice of human trafficking and raise awareness, and I went to several speakers on the subject.

L.L.: While pretty rare, I understand that this kind of thing [human trafficking] goes on all over the place. In fact, I think right here in an affluent Chicago suburb, there was some kind of…compound in which something very similar was going on. I once heard about a group taking children to hotels in St. Louis for this purpose. Can you speak to that?

Rena Olsen: Though it’s difficult to estimate, there are anywhere from 20-30 MILLION people trapped in slavery around the world today. This includes bonded labor, forced labor, and sex trafficking. Human trafficking has been reported in all fifty states and Washington, DC, and there are an estimated 60,000 victims trapped in slavery in the United States today. It’s not as rare as people would like to believe, unfortunately. It’s the second largest global organized crime. I could go on, but I will leave a few sites here to peruse if you are so inclined. (enditmovement.com, a21.org, polarisproject.org)

L.L.: I have to say…after reading THE GIRL BEFORE, I feel much more protective of my own children as they hop on bikes and ride to school or the park. Things like this are rare, but sadly, they happen. How can we prepare our children for the world,  and what dialogue might we have with them regarding stranger danger?

Rena Olsen: Some of the sites listed above give some good resources on that as well. Awareness is key. This is why I am so adamant about education on the subject. It may be more pleasant to pretend it doesn’t happen, but being prepared is more important. Not that we should all live our lives in fear either. Teach kids about stranger danger. Make sure you have a plan in place should they feel as if they are in danger. Create a code word so if someone tries to trick them into coming with them, they know whether to trust them or not. Practice how to get away (running, screaming for help, etc).

L.L.: I understand you are a marriage and family therapist as well. How (or did) your experience and background influence your writing?

Rena Olsen: My background was a very important part of my writing. THE GIRL BEFORE is built on its characters, and in order to create layered, nuanced characters, I needed to dig into the psyche and understand how each one ticked. My 14 years of combined education and practice in psychology and therapy have taught me a lot about how different people think and react to different situations. It has also given me insight into the abuse aspect of the book. While many people may see Clara as naïve or get angry at her for not knowing better, I used my education and knowledge to really consider how someone in her situation may react. I have gotten some very positive feedback from those who have come from abuse situations, thanking me for portraying her as I did.

Be sure to click here and watch this eerily creepy-good trailer of THE GIRL BEFORE.


L.L.: Clara is such a fractured character. She is both a victim and perpetrator. She feels a sense of guilt about what’s happened in her “home,” yet she feels responsible for it and wants to be punished. Did  this response from her come as a surprise to you?

Rena Olsen: Not at all. As stated before, many might see Clara as naïve, but I have always seen her as strong. She was working with the information she’d been provided. Once she got new information and assimilated it into her worldview, she wanted to be held accountable for the things she had done. She could have taken the easy way out and assumed she couldn’t be held accountable for things she knew nothing about, but she stepped up. That is the very definition of courage, and exactly what I would have expected from her.

L.L.: A bit about your process: do you like to plot, or fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants?

Rena Olsen: I’m typically a pantser. I know my destination, how the story is going to end, but the route is a mystery. My characters are always surprising me, and that’s truly where my creativity works best. However, it’s also a good way to get stuck sometimes, so this next time around, I’ve created an outline. How well I follow it remains to be seen!

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

Rena Olsen: I tend to have a pretty obsessive personality but lately I’ve been so wrapped up in the book release, that’s had most of my attention. Between that and working my day job I don’t have time to obsess over anything else. I suppose my one obsession that doesn’t go away is Twitter. I can spent hours there.

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

theo_jamesRena Olsen: Well, you didn’t ask what my favorite food is, so you wisely avoided my continuous monologue pitting pizza against tacos. Also yes, I would cast Theo James as Connor in the movie of THE GIRL BEFORE, if it ever became a movie, and if I had any say in casting.

L.L.: Rena, it’s been enlightening having you here today. I wish you the best of luck with THE GIRL BEFORE.

Rena Olsen: Thank you so much! It’s been lovely chatting with you!

For more information, or to connection with Rena via social media, please see:

About the Author: Rena Olsen is a writer, therapist, teacher, sometimes singer, and DSCN0173eternal optimist. By day she tries to save the world as a marriage and family therapist, and at night she creates new worlds in her writing. Her debut novel, THE GIRL BEFORE, is now available from Putnam! Represented by Sharon Pelletier of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
You can reach me, Leslie Lindsay via these social media channels:

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Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

[Cover and author images courtesy of R. Olsen and used with permission. Theo James image retrieved from on 8.30.16]

Writers on Wednesdays: How five women intersect in this gorgeously told debut, Ella Joy Olsen talks about being inspired by her hundred-year old bungalow in ROOT, PETAL, THORN, the permanence of place, family lore, & how reading is definitely a perk to being an author

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By Leslie Lindsay 

What an amazing read! Five fascinating women. The same historic home. One hundred years. Interconnected stories of love, courage, and heartbreak. root, petal, thorn COMP

When I first read this description of ROOT, PETAL, THORN (Kensington Publishing, August 30, 2016), I fell in love.  The first home my husband and I owned was a two-story stucco built in 1920. The front was flanked with a charming three-season porch, a maple tree, oodles of peonies, hydrangeas, and more charm inside: wood floors throughout, fireplace, claw foot tub, and small built-ins. I often wondered what families had inhabited the house before us. Obviously, we knew who we purchased from: a childless artist couple, their impressive art lining the plaster walls. Once, we met a little girl dressed up as a fairy princess on Halloween, who rang our doorbell and boldly told us, “I was born at this house.” And we knew who built the house: a minister and his family. Apparently, it was on the grounds of the church, the church long gone, ironically.

And then ROOT, PETAL, THORN came along. Immediately, I knew I had to read it. Ella Joy Olsen writes beautifully, tracing the lives of Emmeline, Cora, Bitsy, Lainey, Eris, and Ivy through tumultuous times, from two World Wars (the first inhabitant of the house is Emmeline, 1913), the Great Depression, Korean war, Vietnam war, and ‘present-day.’ Set in Salt Lake City, Utah, ROOT, PETAL, THORN is different than the history of my Northfield, Minnesota home, but ultimately it’s about the permanence of place and the impermanence of people.

So grab your coffee, or bubbly late-summer beverage and join me with Ella Joy Olsen as she chats about her inspiration and the story behind ROOT, PETAL, THORN. 

Leslie Lindsay:  Stephen King tells us its bad form to ask a writer what inspired them to write a particular story; that it’s akin to asking what you ate for dinner last night or where your children were conceived. But I’m going to do it, anyway. What were your inspirations behind ROOT, PETAL, THORN? And feel free to tell us what you had for dinner, too.

Ella Joy Olsen: I actually love this question because you could say ROOT, PETAL, THORN is the book of my heart. I think most authors would agree the first book written lingers in the author’s mind the longest. That doesn’t mean it will be their best book (or even the first published) but it’s the one dreamed about well before the nitty-gritty process of putting words on paper. And so it was with me.

My inspiration came from two places. First, my home: I live in a hundred-year-old bungalow very similar to the one in the story. My husband and I have spent years remodeling, fixing things, making it ours, but as we worked we found crazy things: a trapdoor at the bottom of a closet leading to a tiny dirt-floor enclosure (where we discovered a single button-down shoe). We think it was the laundry chute that was boarded up when the basement was remodeled, but who knows?  There were other odd discoveries, all of which I won’t list here, but many found their way into the book. I don’t know who left these items (or improvements) behind, or why, but I love to imagine.

The second inspiration: My across-the-street neighbor, George. He lived on my street for fifty years helping the neighborhood evolve, watching his children grow. He went from young man, to old man, to gone – all in the same house. When he died, I was newish to the neighborhood and had my own young children. I couldn’t imagine the passage of so much time under one roof. Now I’ve lived nearly twenty years in my home. I figured it was time to tell the story.george

Regarding dinner, thanks for asking (giggle). Last night I grilled pizza and my husband and I shared a bottle of wine. Two of the three kids were home, which made it delightful!

L.L.: ROOT, PETAL, THORN is told from the perspective of five different women, their stories bound by a common ground: the house. But there’s more, too. It’s about being a woman in uncertain times, about history, and the bittersweet passage of time (we’ll get to that later), but I’m curious to know if there was a particular character who ‘revealed’ herself to you first? One you felt a particular kinship with, and if there was one that provided more of a challenge for you?

Ella Joy Olsen: For anyone who has already read the book this answer will be a surprise. Most readers think the modern day character, Ivy, is based on me. She’s the one researching and imaging the other women, after all. But she was actually a late addition. I’d written all of the other stories (in rough form) and handed them to a couple of beta readers who said they weren’t sure what the book was supposed to be – A short story compilation? A disjointed novel? I knew I needed a character to entwine the stories into a cohesive narrative. So I created Ivy (and now you know the meaning behind her twisty name). Once I wrote her, I realized how closely her story mirrored many of my own experiences, but not until she was fully written.

Emmeline came to me first. Probably because I’m such a fan of historical fiction and I love the history of my hometown. My great-grandma wrote several essays detailing events in her life. They are a treasure trove of family lore. I incorporated many details from her experiences into Emmeline’s story.  Lainey was the hardest (more on that later).

L.L.: The house on Downington Avenue stands sentry to a world spanning 1913 through ‘present-day,’ roughly one-hundred years. It covers a lot of ground (the house and the story). But what I’m really getting at is the permanence of place and the impermanence of people; that structure stays, but people go. Can you talk to that, please? ry

Ella Joy Olsen: I love that you asked about this! Permanence of place and impermanence of people is at the heart of ROOT, PETAL, THORN. It is the very nature of home for all of us. Think about the time spent in one comfortable spot, the only place you can truly let it all hang out. Think about the money and careful detail incorporated into remodeling, painting, decorating – an expression of self. In the novel, the house on Downington Avenue is an anchor and an oasis for each of the women. But like the characters in the novel, no matter how much we adore our homes – at some point, for one reason or another – eventually we all must move on.

I want to add a few more thoughts (slightly off topic) in response to this question. Like many, I’m crazy about the typical historical sites like the Acropolis or the Empire State Building, places with a traceable past. But more often, I find myself considering the garret where we stayed in Paris rather than the Notre Dame cathedral. I like to ponder the less noteworthy places. Maybe it’s because I get to imagine the history of those locations rather than reading the facts. I seek out places or things that give me only a tiny glimpse of the past – forgotten barns surrounded by weeds, amusement parks which had their heyday decades -261cc9cc7fac1ae3earlier, historic houses with mismatched additions and rusted clothes lines, a crumbling grand hotel on the corner of a busy intersection. Who created these places? How did they evolve into their current state? What were the stories of the people who frequented them?

L.L.: And so, the passage of time. I tend to look back on memories, well…fondly. I still think of that old house in Minnesota and wonder who is living there now, and our very early beginnings as husband and wife. But there were hard times there, too. We were miles away from family, from the life we knew in Missouri, and I felt like my work at the time wasn’t my true calling. Are you the type of person who looks back on your life, or do you look forward to things with giddy anticipation, and does it really matter?

Ella Joy Olsen: Again a very telling question. Leslie, you’re super intuitive because this is currently a hot button at my house. My impulses are in opposition to each other on this point. I anticipate grieving over my college-bound son’s empty room (looking back) so much that on several occasions I’ve shopped for office furniture to fill the void (desperately looking forward). My husband insists I’m hiding my heartbreak with an unnecessary purchase, which is true. So I won’t turn my son’s room into my office because I ache for him to come home, but still, his echoing room…how can I bear it?

On that same point, I’ve already informed my husband we’re moving from my beloved bungalow (inspiration for Root, Petal, Thorn) just as soon as all the kids are in college. It would seem I lack sentimentality based on these hasty retreats, when I’m actually overwhelmed by it. So to answer your question, I must look forward with giddy anticipation to avoid being swallowed by the bittersweet passage of time.

L.L.: But part of my life wasn’t always so rosy. My mother, like your character, Lainey suffered from a myriad of mental health issues, among them, bipolar disorder. I have to applaud your accurate portrayal and sensitivity to this stigma. I can only imagine what it must have been like in the 1960s, when the character of Lainey inhabited the house. Can you share your research and why you chose this particular issue to highlight?

Ella Joy Olsen: Lainey was the last of the historic characters I explored. I could see her but I didn’t know her story. I’d already written characters intensely affected by world events and I wanted to write a character whose life was more affected by personal circumstance. Originally, Lainey was in an abusive relationship but I found I was spending too much time on her husband. I needed something different. Personally, I’ve had several bouts of depression and found an invisible illness so much more difficult to deal with than one where you can point to a wound and say, “See? This is why I feel yucky.” Through Lainey, I wanted to express the double edged sword of mental illness.

Regarding research, I read several non-fiction accounts, but most importantly, my sister-in-law suffers from bipolar and I’ve seen the effects on her life. She has a very supportive relationship with her daughter and she was nice enough to talk with me about some of the emotions, medications, and trials she’s experienced throughout her life. Thanks Linda!

L.L.: Still, ROOT, PETAL, THORN is about grief and the bittersweet connection to people, place, and time. Ivy is dealing with the recent accidental death of her husband, Eris is fraught with sending her son off to war, and Emmeline can’t decide who to marry, or why to marry…was this your intention all along, to create a sort of vignette of grief?

Ella Joy Olsen: I would say it wasn’t my original intention to write a vignette of grief, but I firmly believe in the sentiment expressed in the novel – the one Ivy uses to help her move beyond the death of her husband – that “everyone has a little sad in their story.” People seek out different reassurances when life throws lemons. Many turn to a higher power to 635898753504476015-1619945331_grief-angelexplain the unfair things. I started writing this novel a couple of years after my sister died (she was overcome by carbon monoxide in a freak boating accident). Writing the stories of these five women was, in retrospect, part of my grieving process. Originally, I simply wanted to challenge myself to write a book – but ROOT, PETAL, THORN is what emerged.

My sister’s death is still a turning point in my life (and in the lives of my family), but over the years I’ve come to realize there are an awful lot of people out there, going about their business, harboring a secret grief. So, yes, there is a little sad in every story. Learning this certain truth made me a more empathetic person. Understanding it confirmed that despite heartache, joy returns and life is worth living.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, what’s keeping you awake lately? What has your attention?

Ella Joy Olsen: Launching ROOT, PETAL, THORN has taken most of my attention and has at times kept me awake – which is good, because as I mentioned, my oldest moved away for college in the middle of August. For the first time in eighteen years he’s not shuffling up the stairs for breakfast before school. His absence would kill me (or keep me continually awake) if I thought on it for too long, so I’m forcing attention on book launch details! And there are a bunch of details.

L.L.: What are your must-read fall books?

Ella Joy Olsen: One of the best parts of being an author is mingling in a community of other authors. They understand the journey and are so generous with their help and encouragement! I have many new favorite authors (and friends)! I try to read several of their books each month so I can support my “co-workers” and so I can recommend their books widely. Truly, this is a huge perk of my job! There are tons of debuts I’m excited about but I don’t want to leave anyone out, so I’ll mention a couple of books that have been sitting on my nightstand that I fully intend to finish before Christmas: DEAD WAKE by Erik Larson and FURIOUSLY HAPPY by Jenny Lawson.

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

Ella Joy Olsen: People always ask me if I’m writing another book. I’m in the thick of it, so I’ll reveal. The title is Where the Sweet Bird Sings and it will publish about this time next year. It’s a companion (not a sequel) to ROOT, PETAL, THORN and is told by Emmeline’s great-granddaughter. download (11)

Here’s the teaser: Though she has a loving husband, Emma Hazelton is adrift, struggling to rebuild her life after a tragedy. But one day, a simple question and an old black-and-white photograph prompt her to untangle the branches of her family tree, where she discovers a legacy of secrets. What connects us to one another? Is it shared history? Is it ancestry?  Or is it love?

L.L.: Ella, it’s been a joy connecting with you and sharing ROOT, PETAL, THORN. I just loved it!

Ella Joy Olsen: Leslie, thank you so much for talking to me about my book. I love your interviews and feel honored to be among the fantastic authors you’ve featured!

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

biophoto1.3.jpgAbout the Author: Ella Joy Olsen was born, raised, and currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah – a charming town tucked against the massive Rocky Mountains. Most at home in the world of the written word, Ella spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library System (and four decades browsing the stacks). She is the mom of three kids ranging from pre-teen to edge-of-the-nest teen, the mama of two dogs, and the wife of one patient husband.

Though she’s crazy about words, Ella is also practical, so she graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Finance. After years spent typing boring stuff, Ella eagerly gave up her corner cubicle and started writing fiction. She has also lived in Seattle, Washington & Savannah, Georgia.

She is a member of Tall Poppy Writers and Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association.

ROOT, PETAL, THORN (September 2016, Kensington) is her debut novel. And coming in September 2017-WHERE THE SWEET BIRD SINGS.  [Special thanks to Kensington Press. Author and cover image provided by the author and used with permission, as well as the image of neighbor George and rose bush(es). Grieving angel retrieved from, mossy tree from, Alabama’s Shelby Hotel from, all on 7.20.16]. 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

And it’s a debut.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doomy domestic thrillers are what readers want now.”

~From Terrance Rafferty in The Atlantic

June/July 2016 issue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shari Lapena: I can’t think of anything.

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

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

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

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @ShariLapena


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

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

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Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

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