WeekEND Reading: What if an Orthodox Jewish New York man was somehow displaced to Alabama? How do authors express hope for our country in these new political times, and so much more in J.J. Gesher’s A NARROW BRIDGE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Blazingly original debut by co-authors under the pen name J.J. Gesher, A NARROW BRIDGE seeks to bring cultural, religious, and racial groups together through music, grief, and more. 
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After a childhood of rebellion, including drug abuse, Jacob Fisher has come to terms with his demons. Living as an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn, his life is one of comfort and peace. Until the unthinkable happens and Jacob’s world crumbles under the ruins of anguish.

What’s a man to do but flee? He finds himself in a completely different world from his ‘norm,’ in the heart of the Alabama south…in the basement of a Baptist church. His life and presence is shrouded in mystique, but Rosie is determined to get to the bottom of Jacob’s secret.

At once a psychological mystery and also a personal coming-to-terms novel. (It’s not really suspense or thriller, but much more literary in terms of ‘what’s going on with this guy,’ but we, the readers know). A NARROW BRIDGE merges the teachings of the Talmud with Christianity, intermingling with race, culture, resilience, the power of love and human connection–topics I find highly timely in this current political climate. 

Written by co-authors Joyce Gittlin and Janet Fattal, the narrative is absolutely smooth and seamless, a strong sense of location, a deep understanding of culture. 

I’m so honored to welcome Joyce and Janet to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay: I did a little cyber-stalking and learned a bit about your inspiration for A NARROW BRIDGE. The way I understand, Joyce was driving along when Ben Harper’s song, “Crying on the Church Steps” came on the radio. Like every other writer, you started thinking about what would make someone cry on church steps. Images infiltrated your mind, a seed was planted. Can you talk a bit about that please?

J.J. Gesher: It wasn’t just the melody that moved us, it was the lyrics:

I sat down upon the church house steps

with all I have lost

with all I have been blessed…

 I hung my head and wept

The story’s evolution was like people watching at an airport. We took the image and worked backwards. We played with the picture, tossing possible identities until we had a fully formed protagonist, a man in all his complexity. What did he look like? What was his background? And most importantly, what would break this man so completely that he would end up crying on the steps of a church? It didn’t take long to cull the answer from the fears that we all share in our post 9/11 world.

The story would be more interesting if contrast was extreme – what if we took Jacob, an Orthodox Jew from New York, and placed him in a small southern town with a Baptist church? 143c523db0830bbb12022d62c3aeb7ecThrough research, we found our small town: Brent, Alabama, formerly industrial, stagnant, depressed, but still proud. We let our imaginations populate the town with compassionate people.

The church itself, the center of life in Brent, gave us our next creative foothold: Gospel music. Music brings people together, soothes our spirits, and makes us – no matter our background – fully human. What if our sophisticated, urban Orthodox Jew shared a passion for music with the church community of Brent? As Jews we are familiar with the Orthodox way of life –the strict guidelines for behavior, the loving community, and the intentional isolation from mainstream culture. What we didn’t know was the world of the Baptist church.

L.L.: I think it goes without saying that music brings people together. There’s something organic that…well, moves us. In A NARROW BRIDGE, we have a least two very distinct music styles merging: Jazz and Gospel. Plus, there’s Jacob’s Orthodox background. I’m curious how these musical styles married to complete a whole within the narrative?

J.J. Gesher: Sometimes music is part of someone’s life for natural reasons. This was true for Janet. Her mother was a concert pianist, music educator, and synagogue choir director.  Music was integral to family life. Joyce’s parents weren’t musical at all. Aside from contemporary music and school orchestra with a rented glockenspiel, she had very little exposure. But Joyce’s father was a dry cleaner, and Joyce spent much of her youth hanging out in the back of his business with the woman who pressed garments. This woman would pass the time by singing Gospel music and teaching Joyce harmonies. Many times, Joyce went with her to church. So to answer the question, music did shape us.  But it’s the type of music and the way it makes you feel about yourself that resonates for storytellers.

Our characters are passionate about many styles of music: liturgical, contemporary, jazz, and gospel.  All forms of music influence other styles, adapting and evolving continuously. It is also interesting that you used the word “married” to describe the coming together of disparate musical styles.  Like any good marriage, the individuals remain distinct but together create a new and richer amalgamation.

L.L.: Overall, I’d say A NARROW BRIDGE is so timely and topical, given our current worldview, regardless of political affiliation. Was this your intention in writing Jacob’s story, or did it sort of develop organically?

J.J. Gesher: In this current national climate that seems to stress division over community, how do we as authors express hope for our country? Differences will always exist, but our commonalities transcend racial, religious, and economic divides. The truest commonality is the will to live. Even when we are faced with unbearable emotional pain, most of us, somehow, put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Whether we are in a bombed out building in Aleppo or a comfortable Brooklyn apartment, survival is paramount. Of course, we continue for ourselves but the will to live must have purpose beyond the physical machinery. All humans have the drive to survive, but our deepest commonality lies in creating life and sustaining those we bring into the world. When we acknowledge our collective purpose then perhaps we will minimize the superficial differences between us.

L.L.: I have to ask, too what it was like to work as co-authors. A NARROW BRIDGE reads so smoothly, so seamlessly, that if I hadn’t known, I’d have assumed it was penned by one author. Did you alternate sections, chapters, did someone else do all proofreading and editing? How did you divvy up the work?

J.J. Gesher: In movies and television, writer collaboration is the norm. Not so in novels. But we didn’t know any better, so we used our established method. Therefore, the first draft adhered closely to the screenplay, but it lacked substance and complexity.  We had to dig deep to flesh out the story.images-21

We followed the process that had worked for us in screenwriting: outlining, dividing scenes, writing individually, meeting to critique, rewriting, and then writing again side by side. The goal was a seamless product where we didn’t remember who wrote what.

The process of listening to constructive criticism was different.  In screenwriting, writers are expected to take notes and rewrite. Everyone involved in the process feels perfectly comfortable telling the writers how to reshape their story.

Certainly, notes are part of writing a novel as well.  While screenwriting notes are dictatorial, editorial notes are Socratic. Our editors asked questions to stimulate critical thinking, pointing out where we had summarized instead of illustrated. They reminded us that we could indulge in backstories, so that behavior was authentic.  Our editors never demanded modifications; rather they guided us to explore our own creative choices.

L.L.: And your pen name. I get J.J. is Janet and Joyce. But Gesher…how did the surname develop?

J.J. Gesher: At our publisher’s suggestion, we adopted a pen name.  The reading public is not used to seeing two names on a novel, though many non-fiction works have two authors, and screenplays can have multiple credits.  We agreed to a pen name, as long as our individual names would also appear on the book’s jacket.  J.J. stands for Janet and Joyce.  Gesher is the Hebrew word for bridge. 

L.L.: You’re both secular Jews yet you get into the world of a black Southern Baptist world so perfectly within the story. Can you talk a bit about your research?

J.J. Gesher: Though neither of us is religious, we are both entrenched in our Jewish identities.  We have experienced the Orthodox world through family members.  Whatever we didn’t know about laws and customs, we asked those family members, rabbis, and the Internet.  We know how an orthodox community looks and feels.

The Gospel research was a treat.  We visited the Broadus Ministry, a church in Pacoima, California.  The gospel music enchanted us, and the welcome was genuine and kind. The download-51congregants invited two strangers, white Jewish women, to share affirmations and fellowship.  The enthusiastic spirituality and the joyful music were so different from anything we experienced in synagogue.  We were determined to convey that warmth in Rosie and the congregation of First Baptist.

As to Brent, Alabama, we have never visited but we researched extensively.  We looked at pictures, newspapers, schedules, and maps; we read about what many southern towns have experienced in recent years. The rest was imagination.

L.L.: What inspires you lately? What keeps you up at night?

J.J. Gesher: What inspires us also keeps us up at night.  Aging parents, semi-launched adult children, our melting bodies, political mayhem, unrealized dreams. Sleep aids help.

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

J.J. Gesher:  What’s next? We’re working on a new book, one which uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of four girls and their families in the summer of 1967.  We explore how the world changed: racial and gender equality, economic opportunity, birth control, abortion, changing morals, military conflicts.  How do all of these transitions affect the individual and the country?

L.L.: Joyce, Janet…it was a pleasure. Thank you!

J.J. Gesher: Thank you, Leslie, so much for your lovely review.  Your enthusiasm gave us confidence that we can reach a broader audience and touch readers with our story.  And perhaps, in some small way, we can make the world a better place.

For more information, to connect with J.J. Gesher, or to obtain a copy of A NARROW ROAD, please see: 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: J.J. Gesher is the pen name for co-authors Joyce Gittlin and Janet B. Fattal. Together, Janet and Joyce have won several prestigious screenwriting awards, including the Geller Prize and the Screenwriting Award at the Austin Film Festival. Their first screenwriting collaboration was produced as a Lifetime Television movie. The co-authors both live in Los Angeles.

janetJanet B. Fattal has a masters in Comparative Literature from UCLA and has taught literature and writing at the college level. The editor of several memoirs, Janet leads many L.A.-area book groups, including for the Skirball Cultural Center, Hadassah, and the Brandeis alumni association.joyce

Joyce Gittlin has written and directed such television shows as Wings, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond and has written more than ten feature films for Disney, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox. She has an MFA from NYU.

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Prospect Park Books and used with permission. Image of male/female music notes from Pinterest. Co-writing image from , gospel choir image from newsday.com]

Wednesdays with Writers: Family Secrets, dark mysterious English Forests, Battered Cardigans, ‘The Crown,’ Roman Remains, and so much more in Kate Hamer’s next novel, THE DOLL FUNERAL

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By Leslie Lindsay 

After reading Hamer’s 2016 bestselling debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, I was eager to get my hands on her forthcoming title, THE DOLL FUNERAL (due out February 16 2017 by Faber & Faber). Ms. Hamer indicates she’s, “Mostly completely happy, but write dark,” and yes, that’s exactly how THE DOLL FUNERAL reads, a little slice of mirth mixed with darkness.

Plus, isn’t that cover (and title!) just deliciously creepy?!

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There’s a lot going on in THE DOLL FUNERAL, and Hamer’s writing is so poetic, so poised, and yet so imaginative; for that reason, I adored reading her words. She’s truly a gifted writer.  Plot-wise the story is quite simple: 13-year old girl learns she’s adopted and goes on search for her ‘real family.’

Alternating between Ruby in present-day (1983) and also her birth year (1970), the two timelines are braided together in a mostly first-person POV. Note: most of the story is told from 13-year old Ruby’s POV, but she is highly imaginative, mature, and the story telling is not at all ‘softened,’ or abbreviated, in fact there are several instances in which another character will observe, ‘that’s quite a grown-up word, Ruby.’

I’m honored to welcome Kate Hamer back to the blog couch for another book chat. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, it’s a joy to have you back. I’m thinking about THE DOLL FUNERAL and how it compares to THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. There are bound to be similarities, of course, seeing how you’re sort of the ‘wizard’ behind them both. My first thought is that both stories revolve around a young girl cleaving from her family (either on her own accord, or as an abduction). Can you talk about that, please?

Kate Hamer: Yes, the family relationships are central in both books, it’s something that really interests me. THE DOLL FUNERAL begins by Ruby finding out she’s adopted on her thirteenth birthday. When she hears the truth she runs out into the garden and sings for joy because she always hoped beyond hope that there was something more than the brutality of the family she grew up in. But when she sets out to uncover the truth family secrets begin bubbling to the surface – her own and in other families. I wanted to write a tough character and Ruby does have a certain resilience despite everything. That’s something I enjoyed doing. The young girl characters in both books are a bit off kilter, slight outsiders from the beginning and there are other similarities between the two books. THE DOLL FUNERAL is not conventional crime, as THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT wasn’t conventional crime either. Ruby’s journey does eventually lead to a body, though not in the way you might think!

L.L.: So what would you say inspired your falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of THE DOLL FUNERAL? What was haunting you enough to set pen to paper?

Kate Hamer: It was Ruby really – her energy and her hope of getting through despite everything. She’s tougher than Carmel (The Girl in the Red Coat) in many ways, less dreamy275px-symonds_yat_rock_viewand acts on her gut instinct. I really fell in love with her and felt as if I was by her side, a bit breathless and anxious about how everything was going to turn out for her.

It was also the Forest of Dean. I’d tried to write the story several times in different locations but it wasn’t until I visited the Forest of Dean one day that everything truly slotted into place. It’s such a mystical, ancient place yet people live and work there. The forest is definitely another character in the book.

L.L.: I know you sort of ‘grew up’ on fairy tales and that THE GIRL WITH THE RED COAT has been likened to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. This new one is very much ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Was this conscious on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically? 

Kate Hamer: Oooh – I LOVE that description. In fact I think I’m going to adopt it. Yes, if THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is “Little Red Riding Hood” the THE DOLL FUNERAL is definitely “Snow White.” Observant readers might even spot the mirror. Snow White was there from the beginning but Ruby’s beauty is an unconventional kind – she has a large birth mark covering the left side of her face that makes the eye on that side seem extra bright. She is a kind of Snow White mixed in with her hero Siouxsie Sioux. “Alice in Wonderland” came in a bit later. It’s a book I’m a bit obsessed with and my editor very wisely combed a good few of the references out so hopefully the presence is there with a light touch now.

download-52L.L.: Yet you touche on poverty, abuse, adoption, mental illness, and the paranormal. It’s heavy stuff. What do you hope readers take away from THE DOLL FUNERAL?

Kate Hamer:  At its heart I feel that this is a book about how the past and the present intertwine, how the past casts its shadows over everything, and YET if the heart is focused enough, if it’s prepared to go through trials of fire the present moment and the future can always be changed. That’s what I really hope readers  take away with them by the end of the book.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What’s captured your interest?

Kate Hamer: Many things: ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Roman remains. Prehistory. Learning French. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’  Choosing colours for the living room. Lattice crisps. Walking meditation. L’Occitane creams. Anything by Maggie O’Farrell. Making sauerkraut.

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

Kate Hamer:  What do you wear when you’re writing? Answer: an old battered cardi that is nonetheless beautifully warm. One day it’ll disintegrate and I dread that day.

L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting with you once again. Thanks for taking the time to pop by!

Kate Hamer:  Thank you!

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

For more information, to connect with Kate Hamer, or to order your copy of THE DOLL FUNERAL, please visit:

mei-williams-creditABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, around these parts of the Internet:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Faber&Faber and used with permission. Author image credit: Mei Williams. Forest of Dean image retrieved from Wikipedia, Alice in Wonderland image retrieved from PopSugar, all on 2.2.17

Wednesdays with Writers: The cottage at the edge of the woods, a woman leaving, abandoned Texas farmhouses, crickets, and so much more in this interview with the lovely Alexandra Burt on her new novel, THE GOOD DAUGHTER

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By Leslie Lindsay

A tale of family, loss, and coming to terms with ones identity in this richly complex and well-written second novel from international bestselling author of REMEMBER MIA. 

Alexandra Burt weaves a haunting story that grips you, shakes you, and won’t let you go. As a kid, Dahlia Waller remembers being shuttled across state lines from one seedy motel to the next, never formally attending school, and always wondering why she and her mother, Memphis, seemed to be on the run.

Years later, Dahlia’s all grown and has returned to her (longest running) hometown, rural Aurora, Texas and the dilapidated farm that holds secrets upon secrets. Something’s off, something’s always been off–her mother now anxious and paranoid, agitated, and secretive. She’s always been on the brink, but why is it worse now?

Told in alternating POVs with lush, poetic writing, the story slowly unravels. Keep in mind that THE GOOD DAUGHTER is not nearly as fast-paced as Burt’s debut, REMEMBER MIA (which has just been optioned for film!) and has more of a literary, supernatural element than her earlier work.  The overarching story to be horrific and haunting. I promise, you’ll remember the sensory details, the strong prose. the-good-daughter-blue-foil-003

Join me in welcoming Alexandra Burt back to the blog couch as she chats about THE GOOD DAUGHTER and all things literary.

Leslie Lindsay: Alexandra, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back; thank you for popping over. As always, I am curious about what made you write THE GOOD DAUGHTER, now—what, if anything was haunting you?

Alexandra Burt: Thank you for having me!  I often skim papers and magazines on the lookout for inspiration. Headlines make great stories but there are also our very own lives and the stories we witness firsthand that lend themselves to crafting a narrative. THE GOOD DAUGHTER came about as I was confronted with the demise of a marriage. I was a bystander yet it had an immense impact on me. I was left with so many questions and no answers and most of all I had never heard a tale of such proportions. Imagine a middle-aged couple and a ten-plus-years marriage coming to an abrupt end. There are no red flags, no infidelity, and no disagreements on financial decisions. Out of the blue, the husband finds their house void of his wife’s belongings. There are lots of questions but no answers and he makes it his mission to get to the truth. He has to eventually concede that he knows next to nothing about her; thirteen years of marriage during which she had remained a stranger.

Whatever little contact there is sheds some light on her actions; this is not just the whim of a middle-aged woman looking to end a marriage. She is irrational and not much of her reasoning makes sense but eventually her life story unfolds and with every passing day more secrets come to light. Bombshell after bombshell explodes but most of her past remains murky at best. The husband struggles with those revelations, feels he has lived with a stranger all those years, and eventually seeks counseling. He is told that more than likely she suffers from a personality disorder or two, among it paranoia.leave

Witnessing the impact of her actions, the trail of victims she has left in her wake, I struggled with assigning blame, I bounced back and forth between judging her and absolving her from guilt—she was in no way responsible for any genetic predisposition regarding her mental health—but I questioned the choices she made that impacted people around her in a very powerful way. Not so much her husband, but her children. But then, she too was a child once and that just added to the scope of the story. To quote from the novel, Dahlia says the following about her mother:

“Before she committed a crime against me, there were crimes committed against her. And though I know one cannot understand someone else’s pain, I want to say that hers was much heavier, reached much further beneath her skin.”

I still have so many questions. How well do we know the people we love? What are they capable of? Do people show their true colors or are they putting up a front? And if actions are the result of mental limitations, are we allowed to assign guilt at all?

I’m still unsure if I should feel empathy or outrage, but I wrote THE GOOD DAUGHTER as I was attempting to put her story into some kind of order. I felt the need to have a beginning and an end, for her story to conclude itself into some sort of lesson learned and strength gained. When it was all said and done, when the story was written, there was something fathomable; my preoccupation with her life seemed less powerful, like purging ghosts that live within all of us—I ended up prepared to move on, go on, live on, give forgiveness. Her life story still haunts me and I have a feeling it will for a long time.

L.L.:  Once upon a time, the working title of THE GOOD DAUGHTER was THE KILLING JAR. After reading, I’m beginning to understand why; there’s a good amount of ‘crickets in a jar’ within the narrative. I found it deliciously creepy. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of keeping crickets in jars, and then if you could talk a bit about how and why the title was changed?

Alexandra Burt: In Texas, crickets appear like a plague of biblical proportions, come out to mate, have a noxious odor and a shrieking chirp. You can’t escape them. I’ve seen them cover entire streets, sidewalks and buildings, especially after periods of prolonged dry weather.

In the story, crickets are a symbol of the ugly parts of someone’s past that can’t be denied and the secrets we keep that keep us bound to the past. A little known fact about crickets is that they have a tendency toward cannibalism so killing a few makes things worse. In the story all secrets must be exposed or they will grow exponentially, for everything that was done in the dark must come into the light.IMG_02321.jpg

When I start a new project, there’s a title. It’s the first spark that sort of develops, the seed if you will. The initial title I had in mind was Scent Of A Crime. It then evolved into The Killing Jar. A killing jar is part of entomology, the study of insects. It is literally a glass jar in which one kills insects. The jar has a thin layer of hardened plaster of Paris on the bottom to absorb the killing agent, usually some sort of chemical like etherchloroform or ethyl acetate. The insects are killed slowly by the vapors of the chemicals. There is a subsequent process to reintroduce moisture so insects can be pinned and handled without breaking.  It is a much more elaborate process but that’s the gist of it; killing jars are one step in the preparation of pinning insects.

The title ended up being THE GOOD DAUGHTER which is just as fitting; we all strive to be good daughters, we adore our mothers and consider them infallible until we get older and we have to destroy that perfect picture and must see them for what and who they really are; human, flawed, imperfect, and damaged in their own way. In the story Dahlia has been a good daughter for a long time but she eventually must press for the secrets her mother has kept all those years. In order to move on, the past has to be exposed and put to rest.

L.L.: Does that happen often, titles changing? A writer myself, I will deliberate on the ‘perfect title’ ad nauseam, and then still wonder if it’s any good.

Alexandra Burt: Preliminary titles are a way of giving a story oxygen during a first draft, propelling it forward if you will. At the same time lots of expertise goes into cover art and titles so I understand that publishers might feel the need to change titles. A book ends up on a table with lots of other books and has to compete and seduce the reader to be picked up. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was originally titled The Kingdom by the Sea, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth was originally titled The Year of the Rose. Sometimes a story is one thing in its first draft but then develops into something different altogether. Regardless if authors change it or publishers see fit to tweak it a bit, it’s quite common and an interesting process.

L.L.: I loved the old motel, The Lark, the abandoned farm, the supernatural elements, and the present-day mystery.  Were there any real experiences or places/towns that served as the ‘real’ backdrop for THE GOOD DAUGHTER? Is Aurora, Texas an actual place, can you talk about that, please?abandoned-farm-house-near-eddy-texas-1_thumb

Alexandra Burt: Aurora is a fictional small Texas town. I live in Texas and have come across old farmhouses and buildings around rural Texas that have remained abandoned for decades. They sit undisturbed and are left to their own devices. To some, an abandoned farmhouse is just an eyesore, a building with shattered windows and boarded up doors—most people hardly give it a second thought—but there are stories left behind within those walls. Regardless if they are rooted in reality or made up, there are remnants of peoples’ lives. An abandoned building is such a metaphor for time passing, nature taking over, at the same time the building remains stuck in the past. Houses are not just bricks and wood and stucco but they are a state of being.

There was one house in particular that caught my attention. It was up for sale about a mile from where I live. It sat on two wooded acres and was built in the ‘70s. It was a whopping 5,000 square feet, almost unheard of in the ‘70s. The description went something like this: ‘Grand is what this home literally is. Nice yard of two acres, shade trees, 20′ x 40′ pool. Architectural details around every corner, must see this home to appreciate.’ By the time I ran across the listing the house was unfortunately under contract. I found out it had been vacant for decades—the owner had inherited it from his parents but had never lived there, had built a modern bungalow in a newer subdivision—he just never got around to selling it. It came up in a discussion with a friend and she told me that she had actually toured the house and that it was a time capsule; Formica, shag carpet, in-ground bathtubs. Someone’s life had literally been abandoned; appliances were still plugged in, not one fixture, not one lamp had ever been replaced. There was wood paneling, gaudy furniture and décor that hadn’t been touched in decades. I didn’t see it with my own eyes but I was told the highlight of the property was the pool. The online pictures showed it in pristine condition, cornflower blue tile and clean water. Reality belied those photographs: according to my friend the pool was filled to the brim with frogs.

What else does one do with that picture but write a novel about an old abandoned house and its former inhabitants confronting the past? [You might like this article about an abandoned Texas home]

L.L.: THE GOOD DAUGHTER felt like a mash-up of several of my favorite authors–reminiscent of Lisa Unger’s fictional town “The Hollows”(in her books, CRAZY LOVE YOU, INK & BONE, others), Elizabeth Brundage’s ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR as well as Mary Kubica’s PRETTY BABY, Lori Rader-Day’s PRETTY LITTLE THINGS with magical elements of Alice Hoffman interspersed. Bear with me; I’m getting to a question…how-–or who—influences your writing?images-14

Alexandra Burt: I love those authors! I remember reading Alice Hoffman many years back, before I even thought about writing and being completely enthralled. I’ve read all but one of the books you mentioned. I’m not sure that authors influence me, but yes, I see a commonality there. I am a huge fan of magical realism. I think I kind of see the world that way, it’s not a huge leap for me. I get some sort of tunnel vision once I work out a plot in my mind, after all, all authors tell the stories they feel compelled to tell. In the end who we are individually as writers is all we have and that’s what appears on the page. Being mentioned with the above authors is truly an honor. I hope I will always read as a reader, not as a writer. I love being swept away by a story, being consumed by it.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals? What does your writing space look like?

Alexandra Burt: My writing space is pretty average; I have an office with a desk, a laptop. Bookcases, a stocked bar (always comes in handy) and I write with the radio playing in the background. I try to write every day and I try to not think about my characters all the time—but I fail at both ends. Especially during the first draft, there’s no getting away from the story. The time I spend writing is minute in comparison to the time I spend thinking about it. I assign actors to my characters, I print out photographs of settings, and I collect items that the characters own, almost like a prop list in a play. I’ve mentioned obsessions, right? I have my entire novel plotted out on one sheet of paper or a dry erase board. It has to be condensed and I have to be able to take it in all at once.english-cottage-kate-winslet-cameron-diaz-library-office.jpg

Before I begin a new project, I rearrange the furniture and move my desk to a different spot. I clean the entire room, almost like a cleansing ritual to get rid of stagnant energy. It sounds very superstitious but it’s really just a spring cleaning. Out with the old, in with the new.

L.L.: Do you ever ‘write yourself into a corner?’ How can you reconcile the ideas versus the plot? That’s my biggest hurdle.

Alexandra Burt: Yes, I end up in corners all the time. Sometimes I feel trapped and I wonder if I should abandon the project altogether. There are two activities that get me out of such corners; one is walking. I walk obsessively and I believe that the forward motion propels my mind forward. Same goes for swimming; the repetitive and mindless motions allow me to focus. It’s amazing how sometimes I remain in a corner for days but then five focused minutes clear it all up. I guess the important thing isn’t how you get out of a corner but the knowledge that you do every time.

And then there are editors, those magical humans pointing us in the right direction. Worth their weight in gold, if not more.

L.L.: What do you hope readers gain from THE GOOD DAUGHTER? What would you say is the overarching message?

Alexandra Burt: To me the overarching message is that we all have to save ourselves, we can’t look for salvation by and through others. People can’t give us what they don’t have to give. If someone asks you to borrow a certain amount of money, for example, and you don’t have it, the person won’t insist. They understand the concept; you can’t give what I don’t have. The same goes for love or forgiveness. We have to save ourselves. It’s a hard lesson to learn but we must grow beyond the scars of our childhoods, and carve out our own lives.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What keeps you awake at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Alexandra Burt: True crimes are my obsession these days. Crimes that have people divided. Crimes that split opinions right between guilt and innocence. Seemingly average people accused of having committed atrocious crimes and the judgments we are willing to make even with limited information. There’s an unsolved crime that has had people obsessed for images-16decades and it demands I take a closer look.

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

Alexandra Burt: I guess you didn’t touch on the rather odd fact that the story has a witch in it? In the old days, wise women lived on the edges of their communities, making a living with
herbalism, prophecy and divination as well as healing.
In THE GOOD DAUGHTER Aella lives on the outskirts of the fictional town of Aurora. I am paying homage to the wise woman in all of us and she perfectly sums up life; there’s a price to be paid for everything. Nothing goes unnoticed, nothing will be given to you without demanding something in return. So be careful what you wish for.

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

abbwABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexandra Burt was born in a baroque German town in the East Hesse Highlands. She moved to Texas in 1993 and worked as a freelance translator. Determined to acknowledge the voice in the back of her head prompting her to break into literary translations, the union never panned out. She decided to tell her own stories.

She currently resides in Central Texas with her husband, her daughter, and two Labradors. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, a nationwide network of women crime writers.

Remember Mia is her first novel. Her second novel, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, available February 7 2017. She is currently working on her third novel.

I’d love to hear from you! Please, reach out to me, Leslie Lindsay via: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Burt and used with permission. Image of woman leaving from Seema’s blogspot, insect killing jar retrieved from Rice University Entomology blog, abandoned Texas farmhouse retrieved from, writing cottage retrieved from , all on 1.4.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Jane Corry talks about her U.S. domestic thriller debut, MY HUSBAND’S WIFE, what happens when ex-wives need a favor of one another, strong women, lies, inside a high-security prison, and some really spot-on writing advice.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Smart, literary domestic thriller that is utterly and completely addictive, MY HUSBAND’S WIFE (January 31 2017, Viking/Pamela Dorman Books) explores multifaceted and nuanced relationships and you won’t want to put this one down; I know I didn’t. 15871466_360265247672452_6114258333084822345_n

Set in London and Devon, England this is a tale told in two halves: “Fifteen Years Ago” and “Today,” but the narrative is neat, not messy; there is no back and forth between time periods, rather they are very distinct–the first half of the book is the first time period.

When young lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start (all good protagonists have a secret, right?), but then she takes on her very first murder case and meets Joe, a convicted murderer whom Lily is strangely attracted to. Lily’s not the only one with secrets: her next door neighbor, 9-year old Carla from Italy who lives with her single mother; a friendship is forged. Carla has secrets. She knows things.

And then there’s Ed. A fledgling artist who would rather draw and paint than go to work at his marketing job. He’s got secrets, too. An old ex. A wealthy family.

Two lies. Small white ones.But that’s how some lies start. Small. Well meaning. Until they get too big to handle.

~From MY HUSBAND’S WIFE, Viking January 30th 2017

MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is at once a domestic thriller, but so much more. It’s the law, it’s murder, it’s about justice. It’s complex intimacies, motivations, and a relationship study. I found it to be highly addictive, dark, and the writing brilliant. 

I promise, if you enjoy twisty, well-written, upmarket and slightly literary work, you will relish this story. I loved it. 

Join me in welcoming Jane Corry to the blog couch!

Leslie Lindsay: Jane, I am so, so excited to have you here to chat with us about this stunning new book. I devoured MY HUSBAND’S WIFE in two breaths. I feel like I have a ton of questions, but the first is: why this story? Why now?  What ignited your imagination?

Jane Corry: MY HUSBAND’S WIFE was inspired by my three years as a writer in residence of a high-security male prison. It showed me that many criminals look like your intelligent next WP_20170109_12_37_13_Pro_LI (2).jpgdoor neighbor. Some were very calculating and charming just like Joe in my book. I also wanted to include the relationship between first and second wives. I happen to get on very well with my first husband’s wife. The four of us (including my newish husband) have all tried hard to create a good relationship, for the sake of the children and grandchildren. But it did make me wonder what might happen if the second wife needed to ask a big favour from the first. And this found its way into the plot….


L.L.: MY HUSBAND’S WIFE is your first U.S. publication, but you’ve published before. Have you always been a writer, or did this sort of evolve for you?

Jane Corry: I began my career as a journalist after university and wrote for many national magazines and newspapers. I’ve also had several short stories published in women’s magazines. So yes – I’ve always earned my living as a writer. I feel very lucky in that respect. I also run writing courses and helped to found a literary festival in my town. MY HUSBAND’S WIFE reached number Five in the SUNDAY TIMES best-seller list in the UK which was very exciting.

L.L.: There’s a lot going on in MY HUSBAND’S WIFE. Deceit, dependence, lust, justice, infidelity. I truly found it to be a fabulous character study and so true to life. Was there a particular character that ‘came to you’ first? Do you have one you felt a particular affinity for?download-48

Jane Corry: I have a particular affinity with Lily. She starts out in the book as a newly-married twenty-something lawyer whose first job, after her honeymoon, is to defend a murderer on appeal. I identify with her strength in difficult situations and also her frailty. In my kitchen, I have a sign that says ‘A woman is like a teabag. You only know how strong she is when you put her in hot water!” I bought the sign in Lake Placid when I was there with my children after my divorce. I also sympathise with Carla. She learned to be cunning at her mother’s knee. It’s not all her fault! Ed is an artist – and I dabble in watercolours.  My great-great-great-great grandfather was quite a famous painter (his patron was Lord Frederick Leighton).

L.L.: Aside from characters, there’s a good deal of secrets and infidelities in MY HUSBAND’S WIFE. It’s not just love affairs, but deeper things resting in the darkness of our psyches. Can you speak to that, please?

Jane Corry: Some of my friends who’ve read MY HUSBAND’S WIFE have said they’re surprised at how dark it is. They didn’t think I was like that! It surprised me too. I do think we have black elements in ourselves which we’re not aware of. But I also try to be the kind of person who helps other people. I am very involved in all kinds of voluntary causes. To be honest, I think the prison showed me that people could do terrible things without meaning to. Many of my criminal students didn’t mean to break the law. But they crossed the line and ruined other people’s lives. I wanted to show that in  my story.

Carol Memmott, for the Washington Post, called MY HUSBAND’S WIFE “provocative” and “addictive,” and says it “nicely fits into the psychological suspense genre that’s riding a slipstream of popularity, thanks to the success of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.”

L.L.: A decent chunk of the book takes place in prison as Lily prepares her case against Joe Thomas, convicted of killing his girlfriend in a scalding bath incident. You have a unique perspective into the prison system in that you spent your writer-in-residence 400px-prison_crowdedat a high-security jail for men. That creeps me out just thinking about it! Can you tell us a little more about what you learned through that experience and how it made your writing richer?

Jane Corry: I applied for the job after my first marriage broke down. Even though I had maintenance, I still needed the money. To be honest, I really hoped that I wouldn’t get the job because I was terrified when they showed me round during the interview. But when I started, I got hooked.  Men came to my workshops because they were genuinely interested in writing. I learned to forget that they were hardened criminals – it was the only way to cope. Sometimes they would tell me what they had done and I really wished they hadn’t because it made me see them in a different light.  One day, I came in to find a very hushed atmosphere. One man had murdered another. It made me sad and but also confused because both were criminals.

At times, I felt very vulnerable. I didn’t have an officer with me. Instead, I merely had a whistle and a key round my belt. I was never physically attacked although some men made sexual comments and one swore at me. Another kept following me and asking questions about his work. I looked him up and found he had done something really horrible so I made sure I was never alone with him. Many were very kind and friendly so you had to make sure they weren’t ‘grooming’ you. In other words, being very nice so you would lower your guard. I used to get very frightened in case one of them would send a mate round to my house. (It was just me and my then-15 year old son at home).  So I put a pair of my ex-husband’s boots outside the front door.  My children’s Godfather (whom I later married) gave me a personal alarm. Unfortunately this went off by accident in the prison and caused a major security alert. Very embarrassing!

All these experiences, I believe, made my writing richer because I was in a different world with new experiences every day.

L.L.: I understand, too that you run regular writing workshops and speak at literary festivals worldwide, including The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. How I love Italy! If you could pare down your advice to aspiring writers in one sentence (or home_blog1-360x198two), what would you say?

Jane Corry: Write about what you feel passionate about. Write every day even if it’s only a few sentences to keep the momentum going. Have a strong main character who is likeable but has flaws. Give him or her a problem – when that’s solved, set another problem. Revise your final manuscript properly and read out loud from the printed page.

L.L.: What’s next for you? Please say you’re writing another domestic thriller!

Jane Corry: My new book is called BLOOD SISTERS. It’s about sisters, best friends, loves, lies and prison.

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

Jane Corry: What a great question! You could ask what makes me laugh. Answer: my second husband!

L.L.: Jane, it was a complete pleasure. Thank you so much for stopping by!

Jane Corry: Thank you so much for having me.

For more information, to connect with the author, or purchase the book, please see: 

12376137_519461551560790_1785935929031905019_nABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Corry is a writer and journalist and has spent time as the writer in residence of a high-security prison for men—an experience that helped inspire My Husband’s Wife, her debut thriller. Corry runs regular writing workshops and speaks at literary festivals worldwide, including The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. Until recently, she was a tutor in creative writing at Oxford University.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, here:

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[Cover and author image retrieved from J. Corry’s FB Author page on  Image of Matera, Italy retrieved from WFF blog page, image of high-security prison retrieved from Wikipedia, and depicts a California, U.S. prison, not U.K., ‘woman in hot water’ retrieved from, and copy of book with winter foliage from L. Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 1.19.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Luminous debut author Sarah Domet talks about how she struggled with story structure, how her book, THE GUINEVERES is all about the universal themes of hope, suffering, storytelling, when to break the rules, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Let me introduce you to this luminous debut, THE GUINEVERES, brimming with wisdom about four girls caught in the throes of a war, their own burgeoning sense of self, fought with religious strife.

Gwen, Vere, Win, and Ginny, collectively referred to as “The Guineveres,” four girls all sharing the same given name, Guinevere. One by one, they are dropped off at the Sisters of Supreme Adoration Convent by their families in…?? (well, that’s part of the mystery). For one reason or another, the girls’ families made the tireless (and perhaps rash) decision to abandon their daughters, not as infants, as one may believe, but as late childhood closed/early teenage-hood.

This audacious novel has already drawn comparisons to THE VIRGIN SUICIDES by Jeffrey Eugenides as it is a mesmerizing, character-driven narrative rift with deep wisdom and psychological insight.

Domet brilliantly weaves the ordinary and miraculous to tell a timeless story of faith, longing, and female friendship.

Join me in welcoming debut author Sarah Domet to the blog.

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Leslie Lindsay: Sarah, I am always, always curious as to what draws a writer to a certain topic, what was haunting you enough to write THE GUINEVERES?

Sarah Domet: At the time I wrote THE GUINEVERES, I was thinking this: Stories of women matter, yet so often they remain untold. Or, if they are told, they are often downplayed or undercut by a culture that has historically privileged the stories of men. The history of the domestic novel is proof of this, and some of the earliest women novelists were notoriously belittled with insults such as “scribbling women.”

At the same time, I was fascinated with groups of women, how they function, how power is distributed and displayed. Women often bond on such deep levels because of their willingness to be emotionally vulnerable, but this same vulnerability keeps them open to attack. I was interested in exploring these group dynamics, particularly set within a rigid and constrictive environment. How does one find her identity within a group? Can one be a feminist and part of a historically patriarchal tradition?

I wrote the first draft of THE GUINEVERES shortly after moving away from my friends and family and adapting to life in a new town where I knew nobody. It should come as no surprise, then, that themes of home and belonging crept into the novel.

L.L.: As readers we don’t know which war is going on, but THE GUINEVERES is definitely set against the backdrop of war (WWII, possibly?). We also don’t know where this is taking place. Could be England. Could be Massachusetts. And that may bother some readers. For me, I saw it as a literary device in that had me thinking, “does it really matter?” I think what you’re trying to say, is that regardless of where and when this story takes place, the values, thoughts, and trials these young women face are timeless and universal. Can you speak to that?
Sarah Domet: I recognize that not naming a clear time—or geography—can be frustrating to readers who what to know the specifics. I also recognized it’s a risk, especially in novel-length work to present such a gauzy world. When I taught creative writing classes and students would submit stories with vague, hazy settings, I always told them they had to suggest a clear time and setting. That is, unless they had a specific reason for doing not so. You’re absolutely right: In THE GUINEVERE, I wanted to point out that the struggles many young women face are universal, as is their suffering, as is their hope. This may be the same reason I choose the name Guinevere as well. Guinevere—at least to my ear—has a weighty, historic, timeless quality. I wanted to lend a mythic element to the story, much like the stories of the saints that the Guineveres were learning about in their classes at the convent. To name a specific war would have, I felt, shifted the focus from the stories of the Guienveres to the stories of the young soldiers who came to convalesce at the convent. Why were they there? What were they fighting for? Who were they fighting? Instead, I wanted the story to ask: What do these girls want? What do they need? In what ways are these soldiers reflective of that?


L.L.:  It was your construction of back story and insights into Catholic saints that gave THE GUINEVERE a delightful structure set-up. In some regards, this reminded me a bit of Emma Donoghue’s THE WONDER. I curious how you came to this organizational style? And did you deliberate on how to tell the story?

Sarah Domet: I didn’t only deliberate, I downright struggled with the structure and organization!

2016022713ed2.jpgThe stories of the female saints resonated with me since I read THE LIVES AS SAINTS as an adult. While the male saints displayed their faith in public ways, the female saints often demonstrated acts of faith through bodily suffering: cutting themselves, starving themselves, inflicting bodily pain, etc. Many of these female saints were women who defied the conventions of their day: mostly, that of becoming wives and mothers, because they sought something more, something bigger. I knew from the start that I wanted to use these stories to offset and complement the stories of THE GUINEVERES.

In some ways, I backed myself into a corner with the collective/first-person point of view. At times, Vere sees herself as firmly entrenched in the voice of the group. Other times, she feels distinctly separate from them. While the novel begins largely in a collective POV, throughout the novel the POV becomes more and more singular. I wrestled with how to incorporate the backstories of the Gwen, Win, and Ginny; somehow letting Vere narrate their stories didn’t sit right. At some point in the novel-writing process, it became clear to me that the novel was about the act of story-telling itself. This was an A-ha! moment for me: I knew I had to let Gwen, Win, and Ginny tell their stories in their own words.

L.L.: Let’s talk about back story for a bit. I, for one, love it. Other readers feel they get bogged down and would rather it not exist. Still, I see back story as motivation for present behavior. Where do you sit on the subject?

Sarah Domet: I love backstory, too! Too much, in fact. I’m endlessly fascinated with why people behave the way they do or why make the choices they do. Human psychology fascinates me, and I consider myself somewhat of an armchair psychologist. As a novelist, I think you have to know your characters’ back stories regardless of whether or not you use these details. If at any point the back story begins to overtake the “present” of the novel, I have to stop myself and ask: What story am I really trying to tell here? The answer to this question usually reorients my thinking.download (49).jpg

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from THE GUINEVERES? What important truth did you learn as you were writing?

Sarah Domet: What a big question! The short answer is this: I want the reader to understand the power of story—of telling one’s own story. As a writer, that’s the truth I’m always learning and re-learning time and time again.

L.L.: Since it’s January, do you have any reading goals? Literary aspirations? Do you ‘do’ New Year’s Resolutions?

Sarah Domet: I try to read a new book every two weeks or so. Sometimes I read more, and sometimes I read less. The more I read, the sharper my writing becomes, and so I’ve come to see reading/writing as inseparable activities.

I am a sucker for self-improvement. (I may or may not secretly read self-help books on my Kindle.) However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve forsaken yearly resolutions in favor of a yearly theme. (I may or may not get buttons made with my yearly theme on them and pass them out to friends and strangers.)

L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on other novels?

Sarah Domet: I’m currently at work on a new novel. The process has recently picked up momentum, so I don’t want to jinx myself by discussing it yet!

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

Sarah Domet: I think you remembered them all!

L.L.: Sarah, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Take care and Happy New Year!

Sarah Domet: Thank you for the thought-provoking questions! Cheers to 2017!

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase THE GUINEVERES, please see: 

SarahDomet_no credit needed.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Domet’s debut novel, The Guineveres, was released from Flatiron Books in October 2016. She’s also the author of 90 Days to Your Novel (Writers Digest Books, 2010). She holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Cincinnati where she once served as the associate editor of The Cincinnati Review. Originally from Ohio and still a Midwesterner at heart, she now lives in Savannah, Georgia.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay through these social media outlets:

 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Flatiron Books and used with permission. Image of saints retrieved from on 1.24.17] 

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.L.: What’s next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

And she would be right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate and her family live in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

Feel free to disagree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knock-Knock,

Who’s there?

PSC

PSC Who?

P.S: See this new book MIGHTY COCONUTS!

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

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

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

 

About the Author:

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

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

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

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay guests-tour-banner_house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

 

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

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.L.: What’s next for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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