Monthly Archives: February 2017

Wednesdays with Writers: What if you were all alone and had cancer? Who might take care of your children when you’re gone? Sally Hepworth explores this, as well as social anxiety, domestic violence in THE MOTHER’S PROMISE. Oh, and Bali, new motherhood, character development…

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A powerful and emotionally riveting portrait of what it means to be a family, A MOTHER’S PROMISE is poignant, breath-taking, and authentic, perhaps Hepworth’s best to date. 

I flew through this book, not because the topics touched upon are light-hearted; but because the writing is so smooth, so effortless, so authentic and engaging. But be warned: if domestic abuse (including rough sex), miscarriage, cancer, and social anxiety are triggers for you, by all means, select this book with caution. Still, Hepworth does a remarkable job of presenting these situations in a veiled attempt so that we get the gist of what’s happening, but don’t have to relive every raw moment with her characters.

Alice is a 40 year old single mother raising her daughter, fifteen year old Zoe on her own
; Zoe’s father isn’t exactly in the picture. But then Alice gets sick and is given a grim prognosis, she is befriended by her R.N. and social worker who attempt (sometimes erroneously) to correct the “problem.”

THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is searingly honest, emotional, and not at all sugar-coated. It’s about who one can trust in their network of love and support; it’s about ‘what would you do,’ when there’s not exactly a clear winner. THE MOTHER’S PROMISE reframes what it’s like to be alone, but dependent, it’s about finding that network of support when your own flesh and blood may fail. mother%27s-promise%2c-the

So pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me and Sally as we chat about writing, THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, and family.

Leslie Lindsay: Sally, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back! I know from our conversation last year about THE THINGS WE KEEP, you tend to get a lot of story ideas from human interest stories you come across in the media and how it might affect your family. (Hint: me, too…it’s my favorite part of the news). And so, this story THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is no exception. Can you tell us a little about what spurred your TTWK Coverideas into action?

Sally Hepworth: Yes, THE MOTHER’S PROMISE was spurred by the news–an article about a single mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer, who was searching for a guardian for her eight-year-old son. The woman’s ex-partner was not in the picture, her own parents had passed away and she was an only child. She didn’t have any friends or colleagues who she felt she could ask. I wondered … how does someone end up so alone? I have a big extended family, so this was hard for me to wrap my head around.  I wanted to explore it in a novel. stack-of-newspapers-high-resolution-image2

The more I thought of it, the more I realized there are many ways a person can be alone. Some people are physically alone, others are alone in marriage or a decision. Some claim to feel alone even when people surround them. Before I knew it, I had begun a total exploration of the ways a person can be alone … and the ways they can rejoin the world, even under the toughest of circumstances.

L.L.: I have to say, I fell into the rhythm of reading about Alice and Zoe so quickly.  They were easy to like, slightly flawed, normal people experiencing the extraordinary (in both regards as Alice has cancer and her daughter has debilitating social anxiety). Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for each of these characters? And a little, too about the secondary characters: Kate, the nurse, Sonja the social worker, George the psychologist?

Sally Hepworth: Honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the characters before I began writing. I didn’t set out to make Zoe a certain way and Alice another way, I wanted to let them reveal themselves to me as I wrote. The same is true for the secondary characters. I tend to be a planner when it comes to plot but characters tend to unfold organically without too much help from me.

L.L.: You do a lovely job of blending several different storylines and characters, all of which have a hint of dysfunction and a trace of authenticity that has readers question their own situations and whether they made the ‘right’ decisions at the time. Did you set out to write a controversial medical/emotional tearjerker, or did it sort of evolve into that?

Sally Hepworth: I wouldn’t say I ‘set out’ to do anything much other than telling a good story. That is my primary purpose: to entertain. But I think the best way to entertain people in fiction is to make the characters feel real, and the conflicts they face relevant. If I suck the reader in enough to make them question their own situations, I’ve probably done my job properly. 

L.L.: Your knowledge of Zoe’s teen culture is pretty spot-on, but you yourself are mom to three young kids, one just a newborn. Can you talk a bit about how you were able to download-55‘get into the head’ of a 15-year old?

Sally Hepworth: I spent a fair bit of time talking to teenagers for this book–my babysitters, to the teenage kids of friends, the neighbor’s kids—anyone I could. I adore young people, so this was a real pleasure. And I also watched a few teen American movies. But ultimately, I had to just imagine what it would be like to be fifteen and suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder. That is sometimes the most challenging (and interesting) part of being an author—stepping into someone’s else’s reality and being that person (at least for a few pages).

L.L.: What do you hope folks take away from THE MOTHER’S PROMISE?

Sally Hepworth:  That we are better together. Humans are relational beings. We aren’t meant to be alone. Sometimes life throws us hardships to force us to reach out and help one another.

L.L.: We’re early in the year, so what’s on your 2017 “Bucket List?” It doesn’t have to be literary.

Sally Hepworth: We’re building a house at the moment so getting it finished is on my
bucket list. I’ve written all my novels to date at the kitchen table, so it will be lovely to have an office with a wall of bookshelves from which to create. We’re also taking a family holiday to download-56Bali this year, which I’ve wanted to do for years. I’d also love to take a trip to the U.S. to meet my editor and the wonderful folk at St. Martin’s, but as I have a newborn, that might have to be on my 2018 bucket list.

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

Sally Hepworth: How about…How am I coping with new motherhood? Let’s just say this. 2+1=150,0000 kids.

L.L.: Sally, a true pleasure! Thanks so much for popping by.

Sally Hepworth:  The pleasure was mine.

For more information, to connect with Sally on social media, or to purchase a copy of THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, please see: 
Sally Hepworth Headshot_highest res_credit Mrs. Smart Photography.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES. New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s debut novel as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”. THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES was also the highest selling debut Australian fiction of the year in 2015.
Sally is also the author of THE THINGS WE KEEP, published in January 2016. The Things We Keep was a Library Journal Pick in the U.S. for January 2016, and an Indie Next Pick in the U.S. for February 2016. NYT bestselling author of The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion praised THE THINGS WE KEEP calling it ‘A compelling read that touches on important themes, not least the different forms that love may take.”
Both novels were published worldwide in English and have been translated into over ten languages. Sally is currently working on her next novel. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children
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[Cover and author image courtesy of K. Bassel at SMP and used with permission. Teens at cafe retrieved from Wikipedia; image of Bali retrieved from Wikipedia]

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. 
anarrowbridgecover
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?!

The Doll Funeral.jpg

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.

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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]