Monthly Archives: March 2017

Wednesdays with Writers: Have you ever wondered about your ‘soul mate?’ Jessica Strawser, editor of WRITERS DIGEST explores this, as well as guilt, redemption, forgiveness, motherhood in her debut fiction, ALMOST MISSED YOU, plus writing tips you don’t want to miss (see how I did that?!)

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALMOST MISSED YOU is smart women’s fiction with a slight suspense bent, questioning the ties of fate. 

ALMOST MISSED YOU

Violet and Finn have it all: a wonderful marriage, good jobs, and adorable 3-year old boy. When they go on their first family vacation to the beach, Violet can’t help but feel completely at ease…if not a bit spoiled. But then the worst nightmare happens: Bear (her little boy) and her husband are missing, just wiped clean out of the hotel, as if they never existed. What happened to Bear? Did he ever exist? Is Violet a little nuts?

What unfolds next is an examination of deep entanglements, friendships, love/romance, guilt/redemption. And fate, a lot of fate. 

Told in alternating POVs and time periods (jumping from ‘present day’ to five years earlier)  we get a hefty dose of backstory, how these characters Finn and Violet came to be, and some secrets along the way.

 I so wanted to know the reasons Finn had for taking Bear and kept turning the pages, frantically trying to piece together this tale of secrets, lies, and more.

One of the major themes I found completely compelling was this idea of fate/coincidences in relationships and how we might be destined to end up with the one we do, for various reasons. Haven’t we all wondered ‘what if’ or ‘how come’ when it comes to the one we’ve fallen in love with?

Book groups will find a HUGE amount to discuss, and I’m so excited for Jessica Strawser, editor of my favorite writing publication, WRITER’S DIGEST on her debut! Please join me in welcoming her to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Jessica! It’s so great to have you here. I read WRITER’S DIGEST cover to cover every month and when I learned you wrote your first book, well I was all over it. Congrats! How does it feel to be on the other side of the publishing world? Or, maybe I should say, another facet of the publishing world?

Jessica Strawser: Thank you for your kind words about WD—all of us on staff really do put our hearts into those pages, so it means a lot to hear that our work resonates! I’ve written nonfiction for the length of my editorial career, but transitioning to fiction is an exciting leap and a lifelong dream. Novels have been my constant companion and comfort since I was old enough to read them. I admit I was a little nervous, at first, about how my efforts would be received, but the writing community has been warm and welcoming, and I couldn’t feel more grateful for their support.

L.L.: Relationships naturally have unique origins, and this goes with the very nature of people: transient, unpredictable, and yet…we wonder if there’s a stronger force at hand (i.e. fate, destiny, serendipity), drawing us together. What drew you to this story? What was haunting you enough to take pen to paper?download (9)

Jessica Strawser: I’ve always been drawn to the idea of fate, of what’s meant to be—or meant not to be. Is there such a thing as a soulmate—and what if you’re convinced that yours is “the one that got away”? What then? I think our culture places not just emphasis but pressure on these questions—I’ve heard Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond say, on the “Dear Sugar” podcast, that angst over finding “the one” is the No. 1 question driving letters to the popular Rumpus column. In particular I think we place a lot of importance on how people first cross paths—go to a 50th wedding anniversary party, and chances are, people will still be asking the couple how they met. (“How I Met Your Mother” was a question that drove a sitcom for how many seasons? Not surprisingly, I loved that show too.)

L.L.: I’ll admit it: I think my husband and I were meant to be. Not that it’s all roses and ponies every day, but I ‘almost missed’ him. Had circumstances been slightly different, I would have been 6 months away in another state…but things changed. I stayed. Our paths crossed. We’ve been married almost 14 years, have two girls. Are you hearing a lot of stories like this now, with the publication of ALMOST MISSED YOU? What’s your ‘relationship’ story?

Jessica Strawser: I hope to hear a lot of stories like that—I love stories like that! I don’t think of my own relationship as one of near-misses, but then again isn’t everyone’s story one of choices made that led us to where we are today? I moved from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati for a job out of college largely on a leap of faith. I knew no one but I also assumed it would be 130719-Eventually-Soulmates-Meet-For-They-Have-The-Same-Hiding-Placetemporary and I’d soon make my way to New York or Chicago, where there are more opportunities to work in magazine publishing. If I hadn’t come here I never would have met my husband. And I’ve stayed in large part because I did. Likewise, if I hadn’t fallen in love with Writer’s Digest I might have moved on to work at a glossier title that had nothing to do with fiction writing, and perhaps would never have written this novel.

L.L.: Being the editor of WRITER’S DIGEST, I bet you have a bevy of writerly tips and advice. What would you say is the top three lessons learned while working on your own novel?

Jessica Strawser:

  1. Read instructional books or articles about writing while you have a work in progress. So many people study techniques first and then try them out second. But the applications will be clearer, the lightbulb moments brighter, when you’re already muddling through with your own characters, themes and a plot.
  2. Make an effort to connect to a network of fellow writers in three camps: Those who are more beginner than you, those who are at your level, and those who are ahead of you in their careers. All three will enrich your writing life in different ways.
  3. As a working mom whose schedule would be full even if I wasn’t writing, I found it really helpful, especially early on, to treat the writing like a relationship (not a hobby or a job). This is something Patricia Cornwell talked about when I interviewed her for WD years ago, and it’s particularly helpful when developing a routine that is seriously committed and yet not more regimented than necessary/manageable.

L.L.: Oh, and your agent—Barbara Poelle—is the WD columnist for “Funny You Should Ask.” How fun is she! Can you illuminate the author-agent relationship a bit and tell us what we should look for in an agent when the time comes?

Jessica Strawser:  She’s fun and also smart and incredibly good at her job. I think it’s fairly normal to feel a little intimidated by a prospective agent, at least at first—but be sure to talk with the agent enough to get a sense of whether you’ll feel comfortable asking questions (because you will have questions, and often you’ll wonder if they’re dumb questions, and the more you wonder that the more you’ll desperately want answers but fear asking). Be sure you can tell the agent is well-read in your genre, even if he/she is newer and doesn’t yet have a track record of sales in your wheelhouse. And never skip the step of asking for client referrals—and don’t just ask the agent’s top clients what they think of her. I got a glowing endorsement for Barbara from a client of hers who she’d been shopping with no takers for quite some time. That spoke volumes.FYSA-1024x407

L.L.: You’re a busy momma of two young kids, an editor, author…how do you do it all?!

Jessica Strawser: As well as I can, in as many hours a day as I can muster, and with no small amount of worry that I’m not doing it well enough, but also no small amount of support from my wonderful husband.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now? What has your attention? For me, it’s redecorating my bedroom. I find it a fun balance between working on my literary pursuits and letting my brain ‘wander.’

Jessica Strawser: I’m wrapping up a revision on a second stand-alone novel, due out next spring, and that’s getting all of my spare attention right now. But a couple of months after this book launch, there’s a family-friendly resort on a white-sand beach calling my name. I love counting down to a vacation—it’s a total carrot-on-a-stick incentive for me when I’m working in overdrive.

For more information, to connect with Jessica via social media, or to purchase a copy of ALMOST MISSED YOU, please see: 

Jessica_Strawser_credit Corrie Schaffeld.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  By day, Jessica Strawser is the editorial director of Writer’s Digest magazine, North America’s leading publication for aspiring and working writers since 1920. By night, she is a fiction writer with a debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, forthcoming in March 2017 from St. Martin’s Press and another stand-alone novel to follow in 2018. And by the minute, she is a proud wife and mom to two super sweet and super young kids in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Her diverse career in the publishing industry spans more than 15 years and includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. She blogs at WritersDigest.com and elsewhere (if you’d like a guest post, contact me!), tweets fairly regularly @jessicastrawser (please do say hello), enjoys connecting on Facebook, and speaks at writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media hang-outs. Love to see you around!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Image of soulmates from Anita’s Notebook: Life is better with stories]

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Wednesdays with Writers: What happens when you sleep? Could you be capable of murder? Chris Bohjalian explores this and more in his latest novel, THE SLEEPWALKER, plus rising early, following characters onto the page, being a teen magician

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire–the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.

Psychologically astute rift with family secrets, mystery, and a terrifying sleep disorder, THE SLEEPWALKER is at first a family portrait swallowed in the throes of grief.

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With an author like Chris Bohjalian, you’re in good hands; expert hands, in fact. When I learned about THE SLEEPWALKER, I knew I had to read it: missing people, mothers especially, are a fascination of mine. So too is sleep and dreams. Toss in a lovely flawed family portrait and I am putty in your hands.

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. She once spray-painted the front hydrangeas silver, and yet…things always work out just fine.

But this time it’s different. This time, she can’t be found. Days turn to weeks. An investigation ensues. Speculation swirls. What happened to Annalee Ahlberg, a healthy, fit architect?

Infused with lovely snippets of research about sleep and their accompanying disorders, THE SLEEPWALKER is a gorgeously written family drama.

Join me in welcoming Chris Bohjalian to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: I’ve long been a fan of your work, Chris.  Your books cover a lot of ground…YA, historical, mystery, gothic, literary suspense. I’m always curious: why this book, why now? What inspired THE SLEEPWALKER?

Chris Bohjalian: Originally I thought I was going to write a book about dreams, that great Freudian abyss. And so I went to have lunch with a sleep doctor to understand the physiology of the brain when we dream. He had just come from a patient who was a sleepwalker, and our conversation rather naturally went. We discussed how people sleepcook, sleepdrive, sleepjog, sleepsex, sleepmurder – and I was hooked.

Check out THE SLEEPWALKER’S book trailer: 

L.L.: Your research into sleep disorders is evident. Can you talk a bit about that process?

 Chris Bohjalian: I always love my research, but this was especially interesting because sleep study is such a new field. The term “arousal disorder” wasn’t even coined until 1968. Medicine didn’t begin to categorize parasomnias until 1979. And forensic sleep medicine, the investigation of sleep crime? As a discipline, it only dates back to 2007.

L.L.: I personally love to sleep! I find it’s a great place to flesh out some of my creative download (8)processes. The best is when I fall asleep reading. My brain sort of takes over and creates a whole new story. Do you ever dream about your works-in-progress? Do you ever get ideas for novels this way?

Chris Bohjalian: I think you’re on to something. I have heard that sleep really does recharge creativity. Now, I don’t precisely dream of my books, but I know that I have to go directly to my desk when I awake at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.  I do almost all of my writing then. It’s far and away the most productive time of the day for me, and I believe that is not merely because I am most rested: I believe it is because of my mind’s connection to sleep and the subconscious.

L.L.: Let’s talk character for a bit. You do a beautiful job of ‘getting into the head’ of a 21-year old college female. How did you make the decision to tell the story from Lianna’s POV, and not…say, her English professor father who might be more aligned with you as a male author?

Chris Bohjalian: My daughter, a young actor in New York City, once said to me after reading a rough draft of one of my novels, “Dad, take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way. But I think your sweet spot as a writer is seriously messed-up young women.” She’s right. Just think of Laurel Estabook (“The Double Bind”), Emily Shepard (“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands”), Serafina Bettini (“The Light in the Ruins”), or all the young female survivors of the Armenian Genocide in “The Sandcastle Girls.”

There are a lot of reasons why sometimes I write across gender. Originally, “The Sleepwalker” was a traditional, third-person Jamesian novel. But about halfway in, it began to feel to me a lot like a story of mothers and daughters and loss. And so I tried it from Lianna’s perspective and liked where the book seemed to go. I liked the wistfulness of first-person past in this case.

L.L.: Lianna is an amateur magician, giving magic shows for kids’ parties, etc. How did that piece of her character develop? Is it a sort of metaphor for the overall narrative? Appearance/disappearance themes?

Chris Bohjalian: Yes. You nailed it. She can make anything reappear except her mother. Also? I was a teenage magician. Everything in Lianna’s set was in my set. I did those children’s birthday parties.

“Scary, limiting and downright dangerous, sleepwalking inspires a hard-to-put-down story that also mixes sex and a mystery in a polished package. . .Bohjalian is on top of his already stellar game with The Sleepwalker.”
— Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

L.L.:  For you, does structure follow plot points or is it more character-driven?

Chris Bohjalian: Well, I never know where my stories are going. I have no plot. I have only a premise and a character. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story. It is – to paraphrase E.L. Doctorow – driving at night. You can only see 200 feet ahead of you, but you have the confidence that eventually you will get where you’re going. 

L.L.:  Do you have any writing rituals or routines? A few  “Chris facts?” 

Chris Bohjalian:  I begin my day by skimming a dictionary for an interesting word or two. Then I watch movie trailers for ten minutes, usually enjoying three or four. They instantly catapult me into the right head space. Usually they have nothing to do with the book I’m writing in terms of subject. It’s all about the emotion.

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

Chris Bohjalian:  These were great. Thanks!

For more information, to connect with Chris via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE SLEEPWALKER, please see: 

Chris Bohjalian.jpg ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the author of nineteen books, including Close Your EyesHold Hands; The Sandcastle GirlsSkeletons at the FeastThe Double Bind; and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of EdenMidwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media contacts. Love to see ya ’round!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Doubleday. Collage of previous works from author’s website. Image of ‘sleep and creativity’ from YouTube, all retrieved 3.16.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Six-times NYT Bestselling author Margaret George on her love for travel, history, poetry and how competitive sports is like writing in her new historical saga, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

With a perfect streak of over six New York Times bestsellers, and 1.5 million books sold, MARGARET GEORGE turns her gaze to the ‘bad boy’ Emperor of Ancient Rome.

THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO is meticulously researched, gloriously written, and transports the reader to the heart of Rome and beyond.

Margaret George burst onto the scene in 1986 with her historical fiction of Henry VIII…and she continued writing critically-acclaimed biographical novels of historical figures, including MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, MARY, CALLED MAGDALENE, CLEOPATRA, among others.

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 “With conviction and flair, George looks past two millennia of bad press about Nero to reveal an intelligent man of justice and religious tolerance who takes refuge in artistic expression. This is the first of two novels charting his dangerous, outrageous life in first-century Rome; the second will be eagerly awaited.”

—Booklist

Emperor Nero. Many things come to mind at the mention of his name: Spoiled. Murderer. Tyrant. Pervert. Hedonist. Many of these caricatures are put in motion through Hollywood and rumors as ancient as the forum. Having come to power at the tender age of sixteen, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO follow his life in a two-part saga (this is the first book; both are written to stand-alone). Enshrined in power and raised by a cunning and ambitious mother, Nero is the 5th Roman Emperor, the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty founded by Julius Caesar. We follow his young life from about age four to mid-twenties, just before the Great Fire of Rome.

Nero’s life is riddled with murderers, rivalries, plots, orgies, and incest. Sensational on its own—but the story is not just about revisiting these instances—there’s reclamation in Nero as an artist, a musician, an athlete. In fact, George’s book had me cheering for Nero at times, in fact, completely changing my opinion of him.

Today, I am so very humbled to welcome Margaret George to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Margaret, it’s truly an honor. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. I’m so in awe of the breadth of knowledge, your impeccable research, and the magical way you are able to weave a deeply moving, stunningly visual narrative of Nero. Before we get into specifics, I am curious why Nero, why now?

Margaret George: I’ve actually been thinking of Nero for a long time—for over twenty years, in fact.  I was all afire to do this back in the 1990’s.  But all the stereotypes you mention above were in full force then, and people weren’t interested in exploring farther, they were so prejudiced against him.  Since then the climate has changed; in 2003 there was a major revisionist biography, and three big Nero exhibits—two in Rome and one in Germany—have been outstandingly popular, the last one in 2016.  His moment has come, and at last he can make his case.220px-Nero_1

L.L.: You’re known for your meticulous research. In fact—you’ll laugh; I’m no sybil—but I dreamed you researched this book for twenty years!  In your ‘afterward,’ you list some amazing titles referenced in writing; do you have any research rituals?

Margaret George: Isn’t that funny, maybe you are a sybil.  As I said above, I started doing research on Nero back in the 1990s and continued on even as I was writing other books.  The research for HELEN OF TROY (early 2000s) in Greece was also Nero research because he was so nuts about Greece and made a big ‘arts tour’ there that lasted sixteen months.

I don’t have any rituals per se, but I do like to take things in a certain order.  First read the books, then go to the sites, and last of all do the writing.  It’s best to have done the reading research before going to the sites, because then I am more aware of what I need to notice. I also like to write out notes by hand because I think it registers in my brain better that way.

I take a lot of photos on site and buy any kitsch relating to my characters I find, because it shows they are still  ‘real’ to modern people.  As a result I have a 10’ x 4’ Nero flag, Nero candles, Nero matches (what else?), Nero rubber duckies, and Nero tote bags.  There were even bottles of Nero wine at the German exhibit!

L.L.:  Just like with the Internet nowadays, ancient Romans loved gossip. How were you able to tease out what was ‘real’ and not?

Margaret George: It’s hard after two thousand years to be able to sort out the National Enquirer material, because, well, even the National Enquirer has true material.  (Remember the Bruno Magli shoes that O.J. was wearing, caught in a National Enquirer photo?)  I had to take into consideration the source of the material, and whether it was ‘canned’ and repeated elsewhere about other people, or whether it was just unbelievable and obviously a character assassination.  For example, any time anyone died Tacitus, Suetonius, or Dio Cassius (the main three sources for Nero) claimed it was poison, and that Nero did it.  In many instances it made no sense—why would he poison Burrus, his Praetorian prefect? Often the gossip in one is contradicted in the other, for example, one historian says Burrus died of a throat ailment, not poison.  Another silly piece of gossip is that Agrippina and Nero had sex in the royal litter, and when they got out, their clothes were wrinkled and stained, visual proof of it.  In the novel I even have Nero commenting that, since he had a whole palace at his disposal, why would he resort to a litter in the streets in broad daylight?

L.L.: What details, if any, do you invent?

Margaret George: I actually do invent a number of details, if they are plausible. For example, the horse farm outside Rome where Nero selects the team he wants to train for chariot 240px-Ritratto_di_claudia_ottavia,_da_roma,_via_vareseracing.  Now, we know there were horse farms.  We know his right-hand man, Tigellinus, was a former horse trainer and breeder. We know Nero raced chariots But we have no information about where or how he got his horses.  So I imagined that scene, which I thought would show something about horses and the special training they underwent for chariot racing.  And there are other scenes like that: his secret athletic training under an alias when he was a boy, his visit to the Roman brothel, his wedding night with Octavia.

Some of the details that may sound invented aren’t.  We know Nero had bad eyesight and used an uncut emerald held up before his eye to watch chariot races.  (It probably didn’t work.)  We know he had a special drink named after himself (the decocta Noroonis) made of boiled and re-cooled snow.  We know he didn’t like wearing togas and switched to tunics whenever he could, including flowered ones.   

L.L.: You do a beautiful job of reconstructing a stunning visual landscape for ancient Rome. Your visceral details are quite poetic lending to a tremendous sense of place. Instead of asking, ‘how do you do it’—what do you keep the saw sharp?

Margaret George: That’s very kind of you. I worry that I don’t have enough details!  But I am a student of Ray Bradbury’s (figuratively not literally) and his writing is very ‘visceral’ or I would say ‘sensual’—of the senses.  He explained it this way:

“Why all this insistence on the senses? Because in order to convince your reader that he is there, you must assault each of his senses, in turn, with color, sound, taste, and texture.  If the reader feels the sun on his flesh, the wind fluttering his shirt sleeves, half your fight is won.” ~Ray Bradbury

I try to keep that in mind.  Most descriptive writing is heavy on the visual but if you can bring in the other senses it gives a real feeling of being there.autobiography-of-henry-VIII

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your early writing days? What do you think you did ‘right?’ What do you wished you had done ‘better?’

Margaret George: It took me a long time to hit my stride, I think.  My father read over my first handwritten draft of HENRY VIII (what a martyr!) and noted two things: one, that writing in the first person isn’t just writing in the third person and replacing all the ‘he’s’ with “I’s” which he said I did, and second, that I was best when I cut loose from the strict historical recounting and used my imagination. 

I think he was right and I believe I corrected those weaknesses, after much trial and error.  As to what I have done wrong, or wished I had done better—-I have gone overboard in memoirs-of-cleopatra-1including everything, which reached its apex with CLEOPATRAI listened to it all on tape and realized as I did so (since you can’t skim with an audio) that, instead of standing the reader before a bulging closet and saying, “Here it all is!” I should have selected the best clothes for him or her.  That’s the job of the writer—to select and present.

NERO is a lot more spare but I am pleased that you didn’t feel I skimped.  Less is more…maybe. (Although Nero himself wasn’t known for his minimalism.)

L.L.: I have to believe Nero would be beyond proud of THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. I know I was rooting for him! What might he say if he read the book?

Margaret George: Oh, I’d love it if he would say I had gotten it exactly right, and how did I KNOW?  That’s what I strove for, to let him speak again and have it be true to character.  I would love to know what he thinks, but I’d be crushed if he didn’t like it after all!

L.L.: What inspires you? What has your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Margaret George: Poetry is a great inspiration—such economy of words to say so many things.  I have a friend who said, “It’s friends and poetry that get you through the hard times.”  She is right.  Friends, of course, and travel, which is endlessly fascinating and the opposite of navel-gazing, an occupational hazard of writers.

Like Nero in the novel, I like sprinting—100 and 200 meters, because for those seconds the whole world vanishes and all you see is the finish line.  The world of competitive sports is so different from the literary one, although there are similarities, too.  Both have starting blocks, finish lines, medals, rankings, and prizes, and both require a lot of solitary hours spent in practice for just a little while in the spotlight.  

L.L.: I’m curious what the next book entails. I have to read it! Can you give a glimpse?

Margaret George: The second part of Nero’s life is as tumultuous as the first.  It opens with the Great Fire of Rome, the largest fire in antiquity, which burned for nine days and destroyed most of the city.  Nero deals with the aftermath, rebuilds Rome according to new urban planning, builds his revolutionary Domus Aurea (Golden House), punishes the Christians, deals with a far-reaching conspiracy against him, involving some of those closest to him,  holds his second Neronian Games, races in the Circus Maximus (image below), Poppaea dies, he stages a spectacular entrance to Rome for King Tiridates of Parthia, he goes to Greece for a year long round of music and athletic competitions, returns to Rome and is overthrown, finally committing suicide with his famous last words, “Qualis artifex pereo”—“what an artist dies in me!”  And he was only thirty years old by then.  What a life story!

L.L.: Margaret, it was a true pleasure. Thank you!

Margaret George: Thank you for having me, Leslie.

Circus_Maximus_in_RomeFor more information, to connect with Margaret George, or to purchase THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO, please see:

Website

Facebook

GoodReads

Pinterest

Barnes&Noble Best New March 2017 Fiction 

Amazon 

Check out this video of Margaret on her inspiration for Nero

Margaret-George-Hi-RES.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret George writes biographical novels about outsized historical characters: Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Helen of Troy, and Elizabeth I. Her latest, The Confessions of Young Nero, will be published in March. All six of her novels have been New York Times bestsellers, and the Cleopatra novel was made into an Emmy-nominated ABC-TV miniseries.

She especially enjoys the research she has done for the novels, such as racing in an ancient Greek stadium, attending a gladiator training school in Rome, and studying the pharmacology of snake poison.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website, as well as covers of Henry VIII and Cleopatra. Historical images of Nero, Octavia, Circus Maximus all retrieved from Wikipedia on 3.08.17. Special thanks to L. Burnstein of Berkley/RandomHouse] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Bestselling Author Chevy Stevens talks about her obsession with earplugs (!?), travel, her furry writing companions, scrapping drafts, writing in coffee shops, how abuse can take many forms, and more in her psychological thriller, NEVER LET YOU GO.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

 

Do you want to read a book and say, “I NEVER SAW *THAT* COMING?” Read this. 

Chevy Stevens’ 2010 breakout bestseller, STILL MISSING, was at the forefront of the trend of psychological thrillers featuring women protagonists, along with Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. Don’t worry, this one isn’t another ‘Girl’ title, but it does feature a strong female protagonist in psychological peril; the best kind, in my opinion.

Stevens’ 6th thriller, NEVER LET YOU GO (which releases March 14, 2017 from St. Martin’s Press), is an addictive psychological suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat, questioning the ‘good guys,’ the sick, twisted ones, and then you’ll *still* be surprised.

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Lindsey Nash is finally, finally rebuilding her life after a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic husband is locked away. He’s out now, having served his sentence. But…strange, destructive things start happening, all of which point right back to the ex-husband. Stevens does a fine job of braiding past with present to give us an accurate–and chilling–look at the life Lindsey and her husband (Andrew) led before. We also get the POV of their (now almost-18 year old) daughter, Sophie. 

HARLAN COBEN: “Will grip you from page one.”

In NEVER LET YOU GO, Stevens explores the many different forms abuse may take, from alcoholism to psychological/emotional abuse, as well as physical. Spine-tingling scenes fill every page; this tale is highly addictive and quite possibly Stevens’ most astute study in human behavior yet.

Please join me in welcoming Chevy Stevens to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Chevy! It’s a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much for popping over. I read NEVER LET YOU GO in record speed. Mind you, I was busy preparing for the holidays, running after a young dog, and entertaining two school-aged kiddos and their bevy of friends. Yet, I still completed the book in two days. If it drew me in that quickly, I have to ask, what was propelling you to write it? Did the writing come through in the same frenzy as my reading did?

Chevy Stevens: I wish it had come through in a frenzy of writing because that would imply speed, but this book took almost two years to finish. I had originally started with a different book—title, plot, characters, everything–and after nine months, my editor and I realized it wasn’t working. We discussed a few ways to possibly fix it, but the overall premise wasn’t fbcd095037f84dca34bcf6cce10e0c09holding up and I wasn’t connecting with the storyline or the characters. It was the first time I tried to use multiple perspectives with a third person narrative, and it wasn’t for me. I knew in my gut that I had to move on and abandon that book, though it was a hard blow. Needless to say, after that I was concerned with getting the next premise right. The idea of a woman, fleeing an abusive ex-husband in the middle of the night with her young daughter, spoke to me. How did she escape? Would she ever be safe again? I felt it was a story I could tell honestly, from the daughter and the mother’s perspective. I also wanted to show that there is not one “fits-all” profile for an abusive person. Control can manifest in many ways.

L.L.: So many things that go into fiction are stripped from our ‘real life.’ I understand your father struggled with substance abuse and depression. How did that experience color the character of Andrew Nash?

Chevy Stevens:  My father committed suicide when I was twenty-two. Andrew Nash was not based on him and Lindsey and Sophie’s story is not my personal family experience, but the feelings, emotions, and many of the other issues are very similar. While writing this story, I was able to explore some of the unresolved issues I had with my father, through Sophie, and some of the imagined conversations I might have had with him if he had lived.  It also became a way for me to understand and empathize more with what my mother must have gone through and the challenges she faced. 

L.L.: I’d like to talk about structure for a bit. You do a fabulous job of weaving a seamless narrative between past and present. Personally, I love this technique. We get a really good glimpse into the life of Lindsey and Andrew *before* everything went down. Was this conscious on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically?

Chevy Stevens:  I knew that I wanted to show their life “before” so that we understood how Lindsey first fell in love with Andrew, what changed during their marriage, and then how dangerous Andrew was once he was released from prison, but it took me a long time to get those sections right. It was difficult to transition so many years of marriage into snapshot glimpses, to show the evolution of abuse over years and how it changed Lindsey into a mother desperate to protect her daughter. Each chapter had to be unique, riveting, and set the tone for the next chapter in present day.

L.L.: Do you have any writing routines or rituals? How does the life of a typical book work for you, from conception to completion?stillmissing-cvr-thumb

Chevy Stevens: I wish there was a typical book! Each time around I think I’m going to make
the writing process easier, but I have yet to find the magic answer.
Normally I come up with a premise that interests me, then my editor and I have a few brainstorming sessions, and I try to come up with an outline. Then, it changes, over and over again. Every book has taken me a different length of time to finish.  STILL MISSING and NEVER LET YOU GO have been the longest.

My day to day routine has changed with my daughter. When she was a baby, I could work at home, then I moved out to our travel trailer to write. Then she started to sneak out of the house to find me. This last year I have been writing at a coffee shop so I can focus. It’s better if write first thing in the morning, which is when I am most creative, so I try to get out of the house early.

L.L.: Can I ask what you’re working on next?   

Chevy Stevens: My current project has been undergoing a few changes and is still in the early stages so I don’t feel confident enough yet to share much about it. I will say that it is set in Seattle, which is an exciting change for me! The research has been great fun.

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

Chevy Stevens: Well, anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with travel. I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching various destinations and hotels and endlessly scrolling 1_EL-ARCO-2.jpgthrough rentals on VRBO. My husband and I were just on vacation in Los Cabos, trying to soak up some vitamin D, and I was still on my phone Googling other resorts and comparing options.

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

Chevy Stevens: I can share a few random “Chevy Facts.” I love earplugs. I wear them when I’m writing at home and often forget they are still in and walk around with everything muffled. My two furry writing companions are Ziggy and Oona, who have beds under my desk. My daughter also likes to hang out in my office, but she’s usually watching my iPad or building Legos. I’m a morning person, grumpy at night. I don’t watch much TV these days, but I tend to watch light shows, nothing too dark or intense. People think I read a lot of crime or thrillers and I actually love memoirs. I’m shameless when it comes to celebrity memoirs. Love them all. One day I hope to write my own memoir. Morning-Person.png

L.L.: Chevy, it was such an honor. Thank you!  

Chevy Stevens: Thank you for all your great questions!

To connect with Chevy via social media, to learn more, or to purchase NEVER LET YOU GO, please see:

Stevens%2c Chevy_CREDIT Poppy Photography.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR:  CHEVY STEVENS grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. While holding an open house one afternoon, she had a terrifying idea that became the inspiration for Still Missing. Chevy eventually sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book. Still Missing went on to become a New York Times bestseller and win the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.  Chevy’s books have been optioned for movies and are published in more than thirty countries.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband and daughter in the local mountains.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via these social media links. I’d love to see you around!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Image of morning person from; Los Cabos image from. Slide show of C. Stevens’ books retrieved from her website, all retrieved 1.26.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Luscious prose, the immense challenge of weaving two plot lines, creating a ‘likable’ character, how art informs the world, an abandoned house, reinvention, & so much more in T. Greenwood’s THE GOLDEN HOUR

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By Leslie Lindsay

Lush, poetic, mysterious, with a touch of psychological suspense, T. Greenwood’s newest book, THE GOLDEN HOUR is like reading in a sun-dappled dream. 

Greenwood’s prose is absolutely glimmering. Each character is richly drawn and the story itself, hauntingly beautiful. 
the-golden-hour
In THE GOLDEN HOUR, T. Greenwood explores childhood trauma with present-day strife, each in equal balance, and each showing beauty and darkness. Wyn Davies is running from her past–when she was a teenager, she took a shortcut through a wooded path in her New Hampshire hometown, only to become a cautionary tale. Twenty years later, that horrific afternoon is rearing its ugly head. But now, she’s in the midst of a divorce, raising her 4-year old daughter, and struggling as an artist. And then, her friend suggests a Maine retreat. She can get away, paint and the past will just fall away. Or will it?

The Maine house has been empty for years.
It’s nearly falling apart. Abandoned. Yet there’s something so eerily alive about the house. Wyn finds cannisters of old 35mm film yet-to-be-developed. What she finds is shocking, disturbing, and yet has the power to transform. She learns the mystery behind the old photos and determines, the past isn’t all that different from the present. kodak-max-400-35mm-film

I loved every minute of THE GOLDEN HOUR, the metaphor of life and art, and the concept that things don’t always have a happy ending, but in this case, they just might.

Join me, as I sit down with T. Greenwood and chat all things literary.

Leslie Lindsay: Tammy, it’s wonderful to have you back. I love all of your books and would relish reading your grocery list. And I loved THE GOLDEN HOUR. But, I understand writing this one was a bit of a challenge for you. Can you talk about your ‘Epitaphs and Prophecies’ where THE GOLDEN HOUR is concerned?

T. Greenwood: Writing this book was intensely challenging. First, I had a number of plot ideas I wanted to incorporate (hence the dual storyline), and each of them was fairly complex. But the greater challenge was how to depict Wyn’s character in a way that didn’t turn people away from her. We meet Wyn when she is going through multiple personal crises. Her marriage is falling apart, her career is not at all what she had once hoped it would be, and now a secret from her past is threatening to unravel everything. She’s angry. She’s frustrated. And she’s scared. She’s a difficult character to love initially. But she’s also broken, in a way that I hope readers will sympathize with. This book is all about ends and beginnings. And Wyn exemplifies that place that people often find themselves in, when everything seems in flux or on the verge of great change.

L.L.: Almost all of your books feature an artist; a material artist: a painter, a sculptor.  But writing is an art, too.  In fact, your website says, ‘Novelist. Photographer. Mama.’  Is it a conscious decision to make at least one of your characters an artist, or does it grow sort of organically?

T. Greenwood: I can’t help it. I love creative people, and I surround myself by them. I am fascinated by how art informs peoples’ lives, and so it is a recurring theme in my novels. This time around I really wanted to explore how three different artists’ relationship with their work diverged, as they became adults. Gus, Wyn, and Pilar all go to art school together. Gus continues to make art, supporting himself by working at a sign shop. Pilar finds sudden enormous success in the art world after many years of struggle. But Wyn is in a strange limbo – where she has “sold out,” in a sense, by painting on command. And while she is grateful to be making money making art, she can’t help but feel that she’s sold her soul. One of the themes I was interested in exploring in this novel was what happens when art and commerce intersect. And about the concept of art for art’s sake, what a luxury that is.

L.L.: In THE GOLDEN HOUR, you do a beautiful job of separating Wyn’s past from her current situation. I think this has a lot to do with structure. You have these dark, yet beautifully written short chapters entitled, ‘Inquiry’ thrusting the reader back in time. How did you determine this set-up?

300px-peaks_island_maine_landing_11-11-2004T. Greenwood: Wyn was the victim of a brutal crime when she was a child. I wanted to find a way to reveal that crime through the filter of her memory (an artist’s memory). I think artists often use their art to process tragedy, and so these chapters are her attempt to do so. They also give the reader small, palatable doses of that difficult aspect of the plot.

L.L.: And then there’s Maine. I could be entirely wrong, but is this the first time you’ve set a novel there? There’s something about Maine—the remoteness, the old-school vibe, the brooding sea. What was your inspiration for this setting?

T. Greenwood: My second novel is actually set in Maine as well. As a native Vermonter, I have spent quite a bit of time in Maine, mostly coastal Maine. And when I started writing this, my sister was living on Peaks Island. She would describe the winter to me, and I thought it was such a perfect backdrop for this story. It becomes a metaphor, in a way, for the isolation that Wyn feels. Her lies, like her art, have created a prison for her.

L.L.:  Houses fascinate me. I’m always making up stories about old farmhouses slung alongside the road, dreaming of who might have lived there, and why they are gone. Was there a particular home that sparked your interest and you ‘gave’ it to Pilar and Wyn?

Greenwood: I kept envisioning a house in a Wyeth painting. When I was little, my parents had a print of “Christina’s World” hanging in our living room. That was the house I 300px-christinasworldinitially thought of.

L.L.: What is haunting you now? What has your interest?

T. Greenwood: I actually just finished a novel, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in the Spring of 2018. It’s tentatively titled RUST AND STARDUST, and it is an imagined rendering of the true crime (the kidnapping of an eleven year old girl) in 1948 that inspired Nabokov’s LOLITA. And I just started writing a new book that will return to Vermont – I have two whole pages so far.

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

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so.

L.L.: Tammy, it was a pleasure having you! Thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us about THE GOLDEN HOUR.

T. Greenwood: Thank you so much for having me!

For more information, to connection via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE GOLDEN HOUR, please see: 

TGreenwood.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: T. Greenwood is the author of eleven critically acclaimed novels. She has received numerous grants for her writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. She lives with her family in San Diego, California, where she teaches creative writing, studies photography, and continues to write. Please visit her online at www.TGreenwood.com.

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of V. Engstrand at Kensington Press and used with permission. Images of 35mm film, Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” and Peak’s Island all retrieved from Wikipedia on 2/28/17]