Monthly Archives: June 2017

WeekEND Reading: How quickly life can spin out of control…Jennifer Kitses talks about this, how she is constantly buying books, her literary inspirations, time loops, and more in this stunning look at 24-hours in a suburban marriage SMALL HOURS

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By Leslie Lindsay

A tipping point of a novel with tense domestic vignettes leading each character deeper and deeper into destructive behavior. 

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SMALL HOURS is a slow-burn, ‘tinderbox’ of a debut novel (Matthew Thomas, WE ARE NOT OURSELVES) in which we are just waiting for the inevitable to explode. We follow the lives of a married couple, Tom and Helen for 24-hours. Told in alternating POVs (Helen and Tom), we dive into a myriad of secrets, promises, deadlines, children, neighbors, etc. It’s one small step into the danger zone with each paragraph read, with each flip of the page, each turn of the hour.

I kind of wanted to shake these people.

Perhaps that is what makes Jennifer Kitses’s debut so palpable. We can *feel* the tensions arising, see the outcome before her characters and we just want to thrust an arm out and say, ‘Stop!’ But the reading is propulsive; I wanted to keep reading. It was like a bad accident on the side of the road: you don’t want to look, but you do.

Tom and Helen have left NYC for a life in a former mill town to raise their twin daughters. Helen is juggling work, kids, the home and none of it is coming together. There are teenagers from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ who torment her and her young daughters at a local park, deadlines and more. Meanwhile, Tom is struggling to keep afloat at his newspaper job in the city, 90-minute train commutes, and a big secret.

What SMALL HOURS does so well is capture the mundane in a universal look at parenting, suburbia, the workforce, marriage, secrets, and so much more. I couldn’t stop reading; I so wanted to see what kind of train wreck they were going to walk into.

I’m honored to welcome Jennifer to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Jennifer, when I first learned of SMALL HOURS, I knew I had to read it. Number one, I was taken with the cover. It gives this torn and mangled look at a domestic setting, much like the story within those pages. Was this your intention all along? Did the design team nail your overall look and feel for the story?

Jennifer Kitses: Thank you so much, Leslie! I love the cover, too and I had no idea what the publisher was planning until I saw the first version. I remember being so happy and excited when I first opened the file, because I loved everything about it: the torn-page illusion, the colors (especially the green, which gets mentioned a lot throughout the book; in my head, that was the color of the novel), and the photo itself, which to me looks just like my fictionalized Hudson Valley town.

The cover designer, Brian Lemus, surprised me by coming to my launch at the Astoria Bookshop in Queens. It was great to meet and thank him in person!storefront cropped

L.L.: I kind of feel like SMALL HOURS is about how little time it takes for our lives to spin out of control. While the premise of the story is to be set within a strict 24-hour time frame, it doesn’t, not exactly. There are some lingering decisions, instances that have occurred in the past (maybe up to three years earlier than the ‘present’ story), yet it all seems to come to a head on this particular day. Can you talk about the structure of the novel?

Jennifer Kitses: Very early on, and to me, this seemed like one of those rare good-luck moments that sometimes happen when you’re writing, I realized I wanted the story to unfold over one day. Back then, when I was starting on my first draft, my own twin daughters were three years old. I was freelancing as a writer and editor, and trying to take care of them at the same time. It wasn’t that unusual for both my husband and me to have work emergencies on the same day, and meanwhile one of our daughters was sick and the other was about to catch it, and then one of us would have a near-explosive encounter with a stranger on the subway or on the street. In those early years, every day felt like a marathon. That was one of the things I wanted to capture with this story, the feeling of how much could happen in a single day.

But I did allow myself a little leeway with the structure. There’s the backstory to get in, how they wound up in these situations, and what they’re already feeling as this day begins, and that’s woven through the early chapters. And even though the clock is pretty much always moving forward, there are a couple of small zigzags in the middle. But I felt that loosening the constraints of the structure made it stronger. At least, that was my hope!

L.L.: I couldn’t stop reading. Your prose is sharp and well-tuned, but it was more of the comedy of errors, the way my eyes would bulge as I read sentence after sentence of what these people were doing (or not).  Were they based on anyone in particular? Inspired by any real stories or people you know?

Jennifer Kitses: A lot of the smaller images and details were borrowed from my own life or moments I’d witnessed, but those details and moments have weird ways of recombining in your head. One of my daughters once spilled Cheerios in a playground and was immediately surrounded by pigeons, and that became part of the story. But the rest of what happens in that scene was drawn from different moments, and also from wondering about what could have happened next.

In her debut novel, Jennifer Kitses spins an intriguing tale about this couple in particular, but also about the choices people make, and what happens when plans go bad… Kitses skillfully builds the tension as our protagonists slide from one crisis to the next. As in a thriller, the reader wants to yell, ‘No! Don’t do that!’
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L.L.: There were some instances that I sort of had the sense SMALL HOURS was a collection of short stories, or even a linked novel. Is this a form you’d be willing to try?

Jennifer Kitses: That’s a really interesting question, and reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten. I did write, or tried to write, a short story that focused on the major problem faced by Tom. At that point, the main character wasn’t Tom, and the other characters weren’t there. Instead of filing the story away, I decided to expand the idea and go bigger.

I don’t know if I’d ever try to do a collection of short stories or a linked novel, because it’s pretty rare that I’ll work on something short. When I do, I think it’s my way of testing an idea. But Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t love OLIVE KITTERIDGE more. And her recent book, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, would be a close second for a favorite linked novel.

L.L.: I want to talk about the ending a bit—but I don’t want to give away too much! There’s a bit ambiguity and can be interpreted in many different ways. My take: there is no ‘re-setting;’ the concept of sleep is elusive; a perpetual time loop. Can you speak to this, please?  timeloop1

Jennifer Kitses: I did want to leave the ending ambiguous, though I think there are hints about how Tom and Helen might move forward, though readers are free to interpret those hints however they’d like. (I can think of a few very different next days or even years in their lives.) But I think it’s fair to say that Tom and Helen aren’t the same people at the end of this day; what they’ve gone through has changed the way they see each other, and also how they see themselves. To me, that’s a big part of the story: the difference between how we see ourselves and who we really are.

You mentioned a perpetual time loop, and I think feeling like you’re stuck in one is also part of the story: you might experience a life-changing day, but it’s not like you can stop the clock and fix all your problems. Now there’s a new day to face, with all of its usual tasks and problems that you have to deal with in addition to whatever you’re facing below the surface.

L.L.: What from you real-life might be a big secret or mystery that would make a good plot for a novel?

Jennifer Kitses: I’ve thought a lot about this, and I am truly stumped! Maybe that’s because I have trouble facing my biggest secrets and mysteries. Actually, this relates to some of the questions I had in mind when I was writing. How are we able to fool ourselves, even for years, about essential problems in our lives? I’m fascinated by self-delusion, and also by an almost optimistic lack of self-perception: how we sometimes tell ourselves that everything is going to be fine, even when we know it won’t.

L.L.: You’re a fabulous, no frills writer with an ear for dialogue, human behavior, and I’d compare your storytelling style to that of Lauren Acampora (See summer 2015 interview: THE WONDER GARDEN), Tom Perrotta (especially LITTLE CHILDREN), and Catherine McKenzie ( See fall 2016 interview: FRACTURED). Others have compared your writing to Richard Russo. What do you think about the comparisons and who/what do you read to keep inspired?

Jennifer Kitses: Thank you very much for those comparisons! Tom Perrotta is definitely an influence, I’m a big fan of writers I consider storytellers, the ones who pull you into a story so completely that you forget you’re reading, and he’s a master of that. I’m also very influenced by writers I discovered relatively recently (in the last 10 years), like Elizabeth Strout and Kate Atkinson. And I’m a huge fan of crime novels, especially those by Richard Price, and I think that genre has influenced how I handle tension, pacing, and suspense.

As this book was going through copyediting and production, I went on an Elena Ferrante tear. I find her books not only addictive, from a reading perspective, but also inspiring, because Ferrante is not afraid of anger. I love the angry women in her books.

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L.L.: Jennifer, it’s been such a pleasure and I am so, so glad we had the opportunity to chat. Is there anything else you’d like add—like  your summer plans or what your working on next, or something I completely forgot about?

Jennifer Kitses: I wish I had elaborate summer plans, but I think Im going to take it somewhat easy. With kids, summer seems to be about family trips (though there’s plenty of opportunity for drama there). I am working on something, but it’s in early stages. What I’m really looking forward to is getting back to reading. I have an enormous stack of books that I’ve been waiting to read, I buy books constantly, whether I have time to read them immediately or no, and among the ones I’m most excited about are Liz Moore’s THE UNSEEN WORLD, Hope Jahren’s LAB GIRL, and Roxane Gay’s HUNGER.

Thanks so much for these compelling questions, Leslie! It’s been a pleasure.

To connect with Jennifer via social media, or to learn more about SMALL HOURS, or purchase a copy, please visit: 

Jennifer Kitses_credit Timothy KuratekABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Kitses grew up in Philadelphia. She received an MLitt in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and has worked for Bloomberg News, Condé Nast Portfolio, and Columbia Business School. She lives with her family in New York. Small Hours is her first novel.

 

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing and used with permission. Image of bookstore front from Astoria Bookshop website, image of Hudson Valley stone house via NYTimes ‘great houses’ section, all on 6.26.17 twisty clock from,] 

Wednesdays with Writers: In her fourth book of domestic suspense Mary Kubica tackles a grieving young mother, a marriage rife with secrets, and the dark folds of one’s mind in EVERY LAST LIE, set in the western Chicago suburbs

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By Leslie Lindsay 

When Mary Kubica arrived on the scene in 2014 with her twisty, dark and obsessive THE GOOD GIRL, I was hooked. And I think it’s safe to say that many others are, too. She’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, making her summer books a quick read, and ones I look forward to every year.

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EVERY LAST LIE (June 27, 2017) takes a desperate and grieving young window to the edge. Clara Solberg is shattered when she learns her husband is suddenly killed in a car crash. She answers the door with her days-old infant son in her arms, wet spots on the front of her shirt. She hasn’t slept in days. Her 4-year old daughter, Maisie, also in the car at the time is unharmed. But Nick is dead.

Maisie starts having nightmares and is talking in her sleep about ‘a bad guy.’ But the crash was deemed an accident; a one-car accident due to Nick’s speeding. Still, Maisie’s response has Clara concerned, and perhaps a little unhinged.  Could someone have been out to kill Nick? But who? And why? He was an upstanding man, a dentist, a father. 

Check out the chilling book trailer of EVERY LAST LIE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsYzpz_z0AY

Clara is plunged into a desperate attempt to find out what *really* happened that late afternoon as the sun bore down on the winding road on the way home from Maisie’s ballet lesson. I felt every raw emotion from pity, sympathy, disbelief, even anger.

Told in alternating POVs: Clara’s “after” and Nick’s “just before,” Kubica does a lovely job of writing domestic suspense, her strength I think, is bringing Chicgaoland to life; her characters are fully developed, flawed, and unique. There are plenty of red herrings, too but they are presented in such an authentic way that doesn’t feel forced; in many cases, everyone becomes a suspect. EVERY LAST LIE is chock full of hair-pin twists and chilling revelations.

So pull up a chair and join me and Mary for a little coffee break. By-the-way, she only drinks hot coffee, not the iced frou-frou stuff I prefer.

Leslie Lindsay: It was a few years ago as we were talking about PRETTY BABY at a local coffee shop that I asked what was brewing for your next book. You had just turned in the edits for DON’T YOU CRY.  You leaned forward and said, “It’s in its very early stages but a father and young daughter in a car. There’s an accident. The daughter remembers things that might make it seem as if the father was murdered.” Of course I was intrigued.  What ultimately inspired the storyline for EVERY LAST LIE?download (16)

Mary Kubica: While most of my novels stem solely from my imagination, EVERY LAST LIE was inspired by a news article that caught my eye.  The headline read something to the effect of: girl’s nightmares help solve the mystery of her father’s death, and immediately I was intrigued.  I knew right away that I wanted to do something with this, but being only partway through writing DON’T YOU CRY at the time, I had to table the idea for a bit.  But of course, the wheels in my mind were already turning, creating Nick and Clara long before I began to write their story down on paper.

L.L.: All of your books have been set in the Chicagoland area, which living here, I know is immense (thanks to some stats in EVERY LAST LIE, I now know it tops out at ten million). PRETTY BABY took place in the city, so too did parts of DON’T YOU CRY (also resort communities across Lake Michigan). THE GOOD GIRL was home to a wealthy North Shore community and remote Minnesota. But this book—EVERY LAST LIE—takes place nearly in my backyard. My daughter played a soccer tournament at Commissioner’s Park where Clara met with Kat. My kids will one day attend the high school on Harvey Road where Nick met his death. I know about the sex shops and seedy motels on Rt. 30; the myriad of dental practices lining Rt. 59. I think I might even know the exposed beam converted warehouse where Maisie takes ballet lessons. I’ve driven Douglas Road and Wolf’s Crossing. On a regular basis. So the question is: why this area? And might it have something images (11)to do with the fact that these tragedies often happen to just about anyone, anywhere, or something more?

Mary Kubica: I set EVERY LAST LIE in the western suburbs of Chicago because like you, this is home to me.  My own children grew up playing at Commissioner’s Park – which they dubbed the hippo park themselves, an anecdote that made its way into the novel – and many of the locations mentioned in the story are based loosely on places I know (the police station and Maisie’s ballet studio, for example, as well as the hairpin turn where Nick meets his death).  My previous novels have all been set in the city of Chicago but for this one I wanted something different and new; the suburbs fit the bill perfectly.    

L.L.: Clara’s mother is suffering from dementia. She reminds me a bit of Alex’s father in DON’T YOU CRY who is an aloof alcoholic. I like how you balance two storylines, often one with medical underpinnings. Is this deliberate on your part, or does it just sort of ‘come’ to you?

Mary Kubica: Rarely in our lives are we able to tackle just one mishap at a time.  How often do we ask ourselves, Why does everything have to happen at the same time?  We take on too much, we give too much of ourselves until we’re pulled in all directions and don’t have a second in our days to spare.  To me, Clara’s mother’s dementia is an example of real life.  Many people in Clara’s generation are dealing with aging parents while trying to raise families of their own.  It puts plenty of stress on an individual.  Add in a newborn baby and the unexpected loss of a spouse, and it’s enough to throw Clara into a tailspin.  Not only does the inclusion of Louisa help round out Clara’s character for me and give her some depth and emotion aside from her immediate family, but it’s authentic.  Many of us are bogged down by more stressors than we can handle.  If a tremendous tragedy were to occur, there’s noburroakdistance telling how we might respond.

L.L. And Clara. She is a brand-new mother having just given birth to little Felix, plus running after 4-year old Maisie when the knock arrives at the door that her husband has been in an accident. You convey a sleep-deprived, grief-stricken mother so well. Please tell me this isn’t based on fact.

Mary Kubica: I think most mothers and fathers can relate to those sleep-deprived days, weeks and months after a baby is born, when the amount of sleep we reap is slim and because of the overwhelming fatigue, we go through the motions, there but not there all at the same time.  This is something I can relate to though, thank goodness, I never had a tragedy like Clara’s to contend with at the same time.  I think some readers will be unsympathetic to Clara; she’s overwhelmed, she’s grieving, and she makes a number of poor decisions, especially where her children are concerned.  I tend to feel sorry for her because I don’t think any of us can know for certain how we’d respond in a similar situation unless we were in Clara’s shoes.

L.L.: I know you’re not a plotter, but do you start out with a sentence, or perhaps only a premise? John Grisham says an author should always know the ending before he even begins writing. I tend to disagree. Where do you sit on that debate? And do you have little hacks to keep your story moving forward…note cards, post-its? Have you ever written yourself into a corner?


Mary Kubica:
I start out with an idea, usually some sort of problem that my characters will spend the next three hundred pages sorting through.  With EVERY LAST LIE, it began with the idea that a recent widow comes to believe her husband’s death wasn’t accidental, but rather a murder.  Rarely do I know the ending of my novels when I begin; I need time to get to know my characters and figure out how the story will go before I can decide how it will end.  I write myself into corners from time to time, mostly because I’m not a plotter, because I don’t rely on notecards or post-it notes to keep my thoughts organized, but have a tendency to dive right into the writing (my favorite part!), wing it a little and see what happens.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it takes a little backtracking and a lot of editing to get my ideas clearly across.  Sounds a little pell-mell on paper, but it’s a method that works well for me.

L.L.: There were so many ways this story could have gone. Do you ever have multiple endings in mind? Do you have difficulty deciding which direction to take? I know I would!

Mary Kubica: Yes, there are always many ways the story could go!  Truly, I consider them all before attempting to rule out the most obvious solutions.  I try and decide how the reader will envision the ending, and then do a 180 in the hopes of taking readers by surprise!  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, my main goal is that readers enjoy tagging along on Nick and Clara’s journey.

L.L.: You’re a busy mom and yet your summer is filled with a Midwest book tour, a bit of a break and then back at it this fall. Plus, you obviously need time to write. download (17)How do you balance the demands of a family with that of in-demand author? Do you ever have to say ‘no’?

Mary Kubica: I do have to say no, and it’s been happening with more frequency lately.  I hate passing up on any opportunity, but my kiddos aren’t so little any more – they’re 9 and 11 now, very soon to be 10 and 12 – and I’m coming to the awful realization that they won’t want to hang out with Mom much longer.  I relish these days we can spend together, and make every attempt to keep my family my number one priority in life, which means that I can’t always do the travel and publicity that’s part and parcel of a writing career.  I do as much as I can from home, and many libraries, bookstores and book clubs have been wonderful to Skype or FaceTime with me to cut down a bit on travel.  Beyond that, my travel has been streamlined to help me better maintain that work life balance.  A day will (unfortunately) come when my kids don’t need me quite as much, and then I’ll have more hours in my day to commit to my career.

L.L.: Can you give us a little glimpse as to what’s next for you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Mary Kubica: I’m just finishing up my fifth novel, called 11 DAYS, which is a story about identity and infertility, and will be released next summer.  Beyond that, my family has a trip to Hilton Head planned this summer.  I’m so looking forward to a little time away!

L.L.: As always, it was a pleasure, Mary. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Is there anything else I should have asked but may have forgotten?

Mary Kubica: I think you covered everything, Leslie!  Thank you for including me again, and I look forward to chatting over coffee sometime soon.  Enjoy your summer!

For more information about EVERY LAST LIE, to connect with Mary, or to purchase your own copy of the book, please visit: 

Mary Kubica-9ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels.  A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children, where she enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

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

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of Harvey Rd. retrieved from Trulia.com/public images. Burr Oak tree on Katy Trail in McBain, MO retrieved from bikekatytrail.com] 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Would you stop to help a stranded motorist? In the rain? What if that person was found murdered the next day? B.A. Paris explores this and more in her smashing psychological thriller, THE BREAKDOWN as well as writing pressure, ideas for the next book, and so much more!

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By Leslie Lindsay 

The highly anticipated second book from B.A. Paris following last summer’s stunning, bestselling BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. 

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I could. Not. Put. This. Book. Down. You know the books that make you ignore your family and other responsibilities like work and feeding your children? This is one of those. If you read 2016’s BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, Paris’s debut psychological thriller and were totally swept away, THE BREAKDOWN (June 20 2017, St. Martin’s Press) is just as good, if not better.

Cass Anderson is a newly married woman living in a quiet little hamlet in England with her very handsome husband. She’s struggling though after spotting a car on a lone winding lane during a torrential downpour, with a woman sitting inside…a woman who is later killed.

She’s trying to put the crime out of her mind, but it haunts her. Should she have done something? Pulled over? Perhaps if she had not taken that shortcut…

And now Cass’s memory is at stake
. Little things at first, then bigger things. But she can’t forget this woman, this car, this murder.

I don’t want to give away too much, other than the writing is breakneck speed, the short, choppy sentences are riveting. I simply did not want to put this book down; a page-turner in every sense of the word.

So, grab a cup of tea or coffee and eavesdrop on our conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: B.A., it’s a pleasure to have you back! I tore through this chilling tale, I simply could not put it down. I even dragged my children to the pool so I could lounge in the sun reading. I have to ask, what was the inspiration behind this one?

B.A. Paris: It’s a pleasure to be back, thank you for inviting me again. I love the image of you lying in the sun reading THE BREAKDOWN – probably safer than reading it at night! The inspiration behind the story actually came from two sources. The first was from a personal experience. I was driving home through some woods one afternoon when the sky suddenly darkened and I found myself caught up in a huge storm. There was no-one around and I began to wonder what would happen if I broke down, or if I saw someone who had broken down. If it was the middle of the night, would I stop to help or would I drive on? I thought it would be a great opening for a story. The second source was images (12)from various friends who had witnessed dementia in their parents and were kind enough to share their experiences with me. I’d already had an idea for a story where the central character feared she was suffering from early onset dementia, so I decided to bring these two ideas together to create THE BREAKDOWN.

L.L.: I think your skill lies in swift pacing, building anticipation, planting doubt and suspicious; truly brilliant. Yet, from the reader’s perspective, everything sort of feels stream-of-consciousness. Are you novels carefully plotted?

B.A. Paris: No, not at all. I always know what the opening scene is going to be, and I know the end I want to get to. The journey between these two points is a voyage of discovery!

“This psychological thriller is even harder to put down than Paris’ 2016 best-seller debut Behind Closed Doors; schedule reading time accordingly. With two in a row, Paris moves directly to the thriller A-list.” – Booklist, Starred Review!

L.L.: There’s so much I want to ask you, but don’t want to give it away! Can you tell us if you did any research on this story? Are the places real? Castle Wells? Browbury? I started Googling them, but came up empty-handed. What can you tell us about the setting?

B.A. Paris: As well as listening to my friends’ first-hand experiences of the effects of dementia on their parents, the internet proved to be a great source of information regarding early onset dementia. As for Castle Wells and Browbury, they exist only in my imagination, although they are loosely based on towns I know in England, around where I grew up.  

L.L. I have to draw a few similarities between BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE BREAKDOWN. First, they both feature young/newly married couples. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS it’s more recent—like Honeymoon stage and THE BREAKDOWN is within the first year. Children are not present in either of the books. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, other than what might intrigue you about young, childless couples?

B.A. Paris: That’s a good question! I don’t think it was intentional that I chose young, childless couples, I think it was more of a sub-conscious thing. People usually enjoy reading about young, newly married couples and children make stories more complicated, which is why I chose not to give Cass and Matthew any in THE BREAKDOWN. The plot was already complicated with the two different strands – the murder and the dementia – running through it.

L.L.: Can you share, without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote THE BREAKDOWN?images (13)

B.A. Paris: Pressure!

L.L.: This is your second book. Was there any more (or different) pressure this time around? Can you talk about that, please? What might you have done better or differently?

B.A. Paris:  This question is great, as it explains my answer to your previous question. There was definitely a lot of pressure whilst I was writing THE BREAKDOWN. When I wrote BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, I didn’t know it was going to be published, so I was basically writing it for myself, with no particular audience in mind. With THE BREAKDOWN, I was writing it for all those who had loved BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, so the pressure to deliver the same kind of reader experience was definitely there. I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, but maybe if I’d had more confidence that I could write another psychological thriller I wouldn’t have felt quite so stressed.

L.L.: What in your real life might be a mystery or a psych thriller?

B.A. Paris: I really have to think about this one […] I would love to be able to tell you something amazing, but I’m afraid my life has always been quite ordinary. However, a few years ago one of my daughters had an experience which I may use as the basis for a future book. I can’t tell you what it was at I don’t want to give anything away!

L.L.: I could probably ask questions all day, but I want to let others get out there and get their hands on this book; it’s that good. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

B.A. Paris: I’d just like to tell you about my next book, if I may. It’s another psychological thriller and also features a couple with no children. But they do have a dog! It’s very different to BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE BREAKDOWN, and will be out in 2018.

L.L. B.A., it was a complete pleasure. Happy summer!

B.A. Paris:  Thank you so much for your questions, Leslie, a happy summer to you too!

For more information, to connect with B.A. Paris, or to order a copy of THE BREAKDOWN, please see: 

BA Paris_CREDIT Ev SekkidesABOUT THE AUTHOR: B.A. PARIS is the New York Time, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors. She grew up in England but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher and has five daughters.

 

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Image of wooded road retrieved from Shutterstock, writer at work from CafePress, all on 6.19.17]  

WeekEND Reading: Julie Buntin explores the deep meaningful teen friendships that shape us over time, plus imagination, memory, death, books and authors who inspire, and so much more in her razor-sharp MARLENA

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A story of two girls–both teenagers–in northern Michigan fighting for their freedom, their passions, and utlimately–their lives. 

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MARLENA is one of those rare gems that feels like the entire dome of humidity that is summer is suffocating you. It’s like peeking inside a 16-year old’s journal and reading all of her dark, intimate thoughts, some that are sharply perceptive, and others that are the general wanderings of someone who doesn’t quite know where she’s going. This is where Julie Buntin’s writing excels; in fact, some may be entirely foiled into believing MARLENA is a memoir; it is not.

Told from a single POV—Cat’s—and Marlena’s bestfriend and in alternating time periods, places (New York present-day and Silver Lake, Michigan about fifteen years earlier), it’s a rare glimpse into deep interiority, of growth and grief. 

Cat and her mother and brother have relocated to northern Michigan after her parents divorce. It’s boring. Cat misses her old life where she attended a fancy prep school. She yearns for her father. And Marlena happens to be there. Two years older than Cat and riddled with her own insecurities and issues (pill-popping, alcohol, among others). Her father is pretty much a deadbeat and her mother, dead. f105071_1295645482

Marlena globs on to Cat, or perhaps it’s the other way around, but needless to say, the girls become inseparable. MARLENA pulls Cat into a litany of firsts: first drink, first kiss, first cigarette, first pill. It becomes insatiable. Cat needs more and more and more, but who is this Marlena, anyway?

Buntin’s skill is that she ‘gets’ screwed up teen girls. Reading MARLENA felt like a long, languid summer day filled with bubble gum lip gloss and the grit of cigarette smoke in your eyes. 

Please join me in conversation with Julie Buntin on her debut.

Leslie Lindsay: Julie, it’s great to have you. I love the first line in MARLENA: “Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.” I settled in and didn’t want to let go. That first chapter blew me away. It also inspired some of my own writing. What was your inspiration for MARLENA?

Julie Buntin: Thank you, Leslie! I love hearing that the first chapter inspired some of your writing – I know that feeling of reading something that gives you the itch to write, and in some ways, the books that did that for me were my biggest inspirations in writing my own novel. Novels like WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL? by Lorrie Moore, BELOVED by Toni Morrison, HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson, the poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Rita Dove, every single word Margaret Atwood has ever put down on paper. There was something about reading those formative books, how magically and perfectly they expressed feelings I had previously thought were inexpressible, that made me feel an urge to try to capture the world in language, too.

So that’s one answer to your question. Another answer is that I was inspired to write this particular story, about teenage girls and the terrible vulnerability of adolescence, the thrill and danger of it, the passion of early friendship, because my own teenage friendships were so volatile and so formative. When I was in my twenties, a friend from my teenage years passed away, and I found that there wasn’t a vocabulary or framework for that loss. I started thinking about adolescent friendships – the ones that flame up and define us, and so rarely last into adulthood.  Why are they so important and so intense, especially between girls? How do they shape the women we become?

“At the center of Julie Buntin’s debut novel is the kind of coming-of-age friendship that goes beyond camaraderie, into a deeper bond that forges identity; it’s friendship as a creative act, a collaborative work of imagination. . .This generous, sensitive novel of true feeling. . . sweeps you up without too much explication, becoming both a painful exorcism and a devoted memorial to friends and selves who are gone.” New York Times Book Review

L.L.: You write with such fearlessness and gritty, forthcoming details. What scares you about writing?

Julie Buntin:  This is an interesting question. In a way, everything scares me about writing. When I do it, even when I’m making something up, I’m more present to my own mind than I am at any other time. In that way, regardless of whether I’m writing fact or fiction, I am putting my imagination fully out there. And when it’s out there, it can be judged – by me, or other readers. So with writing comes a lot of fear – fear of failure in a broad sense, but also the very specific and horrible fear of failing at translating my inner world into the right words, words that will appropriately render the story or scene or feeling I want so badly to convey. But intimacy and intensity doesn’t scare me in writing – I’m not scared of my characters, of their truths, as much as I’m scared I’ll fail them somehow by not being good enough to capture them as they are in mind. Does that sound sort of crazy? Talking about writing always makes writers sound a little crazy. To be honest, though, I think I’m more scared of not writing than anything else.

L.L.: The timeline and structure of MARLENA is unique in that you flip between present-day New York and past Silver Lake, Michigan. Was this a conscious decision on your part, or something that sort of grew organically?

Julie Buntin: It was a decision that arose during the revision process. I always knew that this story would be narrated by Cat looking back from adulthood – I was very interested in exploring the relationship between memory, imagination, and truth, and in trying to capture how friendships that are so brief, that happen 2612871ff9ea1bfca18fe60303ce92a2when we’re so young, can resonate through our entire lives. I also wanted to have access to an adult woman’s voice – I wanted all the psychic matter of the years between Cat at 15 and Cat in her early 30s to have a bearing on how she saw the world, how she interacted with her own memory of that time. Writing from a teenaged perspective wasn’t as compelling to me – I would have been limited to relaying events as they happened, which would have made the story really more plot-driven, more about the moments leading up to Marlena’s death (which couldn’t have been known by Cat in advance if it were told from a teenaged perspective) and less about grief, memory, time.

But it wasn’t until I was revising the book that the very deliberate back-and-forth structure emerged – in earlier drafts, the adult Cat’s observations and insights had been more twined into the teenaged narrative, less clearly pinned to time and place. The more I got to know Cat as a character, the more I realized how important her drinking was to the story, how that adjacent story in New York (which takes place over a relatively compact 48 hours or so) could be used to hopefully deepen and complicate the past narrative.

L.L.: There’s a theory that writers should imagine their ideal reader—age, sex, even give them a name—that becomes the person you’re writing for. Who would you say is your ultimate reader?

Julie Buntin:  Women of all ages, starting from, maybe 13. I know there’s some heavy stuff in the book so I totally understand if parents were not down with kids under say 16 or 17 reading this novel, but I as I wrote it I hoped that it would strike a chord with any woman who has known that feeling of having a best friend. Of course I hope men like the book too, but when I pictured an ideal reader, I saw a girl about Marlena’s age, maybe a little older – in her twenties or so, trying to figure out who she wants to be, and how where she came from does and doesn’t define her.

L.L.: Shifting gears just a bit, I’m totally curious about publishing in literary journals, on-line and in print. I see you have a nice little collection from O, The Oprah Magazine to The Atlantic. What can you tell us about this process and how important is it?

Julie Buntin: I am very grateful to have been published in magazines and journals – so much of what I learned about writing I learned from being edited by places like One Teen Story, or even writing for women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan. That said, I’m not necessarily the best person to ask, but I’m not a diehard submitter to journals even though I love them and read them (and even used to work at a nonprofit – clmp.org – dedicated, in part, to supporting their work). I don’t write short stories, not really – I think I’ve written maybe two. I do love the essay form, and my work in that realm is very idea directed – I write an essay when I feel an urge to, and then I think about where to pitch or submit it. Sometimes it happens the other way around, where an editor will approach me. There are a lot of ways to sharpen your skills as a writer, and I genuinely believe writing for online venues and print magazines is a really smart way to learn how to write quickly and clearly and with a distinct voice. Sometimes I think I learned more from that process than from writing classes in college.

L.L. What’s on your summer ‘bucket list?’ It doesn’t have to be literary.

Julie Buntin:  My husband’s debut novel, STEPHEN FLORIDA, just came out on June 6th, and we’re traveling to the Bay Area at the end of June to do some events at Green Apple Books and Point Reyes Bookstore. It’s been a very hectic spring, and I’m really hoping we can find an evening to eat some oysters and sit by some water and not touch our phones. Does that count as a bucket list thing?511uha1fo9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

L.L.: What’s next for you?

Julie Buntin:  I’m working on a novel set at a boarding school with a section, right now at least, that’s narrated by a ghost. That’s all I can say about it for fear of disturbing the delicate, half-formed idea for the thing that’s buzzing around in my head – but I am really looking forward to (can I add this to my bucket list?) finding some time to really get to work on the story.

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

Julie Buntin: Your questions were so good – thank you so much for reading the book so thoughtfully and for taking the time to talk to me about it. I can think of no question you should of asked, but I will take this opportunity to tell you about a few books I absolutely loved and am recommending to everyone. First, THE ANIMATORS – like MARLENA, it’s about two friends, but it’s also a rowdy and intelligent and super fun exploration of what it means to make art. I also loved the tender and so sweetly funny GOODBYE, VITAMIN, by the talented Rachel Khong, who is truly poised to be a household name. That book is forthcoming in July but you should preorder it now.

L.L.: Julie, it’s been a pleasure…and congratulations on such a dynamic debut.

Julie Buntin: Thank you, Leslie!

For more information about MARLENA, to connect with Julie Buntin via social media, or to purchase a copy of the book, please see: 

download (18)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Buntin is from northern Michigan. Her work has appeared in the AtlanticCosmopolitanOThe Oprah MagazineSlateElectric Literature, and One Teen Story, among other publications. She teaches fiction writing at Marymount Manhattan College, and is the director of writing programs at Catapult. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

 

 

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line sites.

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[Author and cover image retrieved from author’s website. Cover image of STEPHEN FLORIDA retrieved from Amazon, teen girls on porch retrieved from Teen Ink, teen girls at beach retrieved from Pinterest, no source noted, all on 6.13.17] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Lori Rader-Day talks about her summer plans to teach at distinguished writing institutions, her latest book, THE DAY I DIED, and how it got it’s start at a writer’s workshop nearly 10 years ago, handwriting analysis, what she loves (and hates) about being a novelist and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

THE DAY I DIED explores the fascinating and unique aspects of handwriting analysis to help track down a killer/kidnapper told in a dark, glimmering prose. 

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Lori Rader-Day burst onto the literary scene in 2014 with her debut mystery, THE BLACK HOUR, which won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. And then her second book, LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, won the Mary Higgins Clark award and was named a 2015 “most arresting crime novel” by the notoriously cranky Kirkus Reviews.

That’s nothing to sneeze at. Now, with a new publisher, William Morrow, Lori returns with THE DAY I DIED (April 11, 2017), an unforgettable tale o f a mother’s search for a lost boy.

Anna Winger is on the run. We know she has secrets, but what exactly are they? This is part of mystery #1. The second is that there’s a 2-year-old boy missing from the town in which she and her 13 -year-old son are currently living. The sheriff calls her in, asks if she can take a look at some handwriting samples to discern where this young child is and perhaps who may have taken him.

And there’s more, too. Why is there a dead nanny in a bathroom stall? And who killed her?

Anna is working so, so hard to cover up this past of hers, the one she’s running from and trying her best to shield her son from.
But the current events with the missing child is dredging up some dark memories.

Told entirely in Anna’s POV, we travel from small town Indiana to a Wisconsin lake, from present to past, and back again. Rader-Day’s skill lies in writing so authentically about the Midwest, getting into the heads of her characters, and weaving a tangled web of possibilities.

Please join me in welcoming Lori Rader-Day back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Lori, it’s great to have you back. I always think of one of our first chats in which you told me that you could write anywhere, and that you once amassed many pages on a cruise ship. What are your summer plans this year?

Lori Rader-Day: My plans include writing, writing, and more writing, but probably not on a cruise ship. I’m teaching at Yale Writers’ Workshop (I’ll be in New Haven when this post launches) and Antioch Writers’ Workshop this summer, traveling to Mackinac Island to do a library talk and stay at the magnificent Grand Hotel, and did I mention writing?thumbs_grand-hotel-mackinac-island-americas-summer-place

L.L.: I understand THE DAY I DIED was written as a short story during your creative writing program nearly a decade ago (I’m going to come back to that soon), what was it then that was the seed for this story?

Lori Rader-Day: I needed something new to bring to my workshop, so I went to a library and trolled around for inspiration. I found a book on the shelf, facing out, about handwriting analysis and thought, “Well, I don’t anything about that.” The short story is still in the book, though it’s bookended by a new beginning, some new scenes, and about 350 more pages after the story “ends.”

L.L.: And so THE DAY I DIED didn’t become your first published book. Or your second. Sometimes I think our best ideas take time to percolate. Was it that way for you, or something else?

Lori Rader-Day: The idea for THE DAY I DIED was a good one, but it was a complex one and one that I was not ready to perfect. When I finished the first full draft in 2009, I was in the middle of a day-job career transition and I think what I needed was distance from this story. I also needed something new to write in the mean time. The new thing turned into my first published novel, THE BLACK HOUR. After I turned in LITTLE PRETTY THINGS, I thought to return to THE DAY I DIED, to see if I was a good enough writer to make it what I had hoped it would be. The distance I had given it worked really well. It had been about six years by that point, and I was able to see where I’d set myself up badly. Revisions still took time, but at least my vision for the book was clear.

L.L.: I love, love the idea of handwriting analysis.[graphology]. As I was reading, I told my family about the premise of the book and got a few raised eyebrows, much like Sheriff Keller’s view of it being ‘woo-woo.’ What can you tell me about this practice? And I’d love to hear a few ‘truths,’ about handwriting styles, too. Have you ever had yours analyzed?

Lori Rader-Day:  I don’t have the training that Anna Winger does in the book; I’ve only done a little research in order to do the book. That said, I learned a few things, enough to intuit some vague ideas about someone’s handwriting. I have also had the chance to meet a couple of handwriting experts since I published the book; one of them did my Chicago launch event with me. We talked about the book a little, but then I interviewed him about his work and learned enough to do a sequel! He analyzed my handwriting for the audience, which was fun. (And he was kind, maybe suspiciously so.) One story he told that I’m fascinated by was one in which he worked with a farmer who claimed a contract with his “X” on it had not been signed by him. notebook-letter_300His X—he meant this literally—had indeed been forged, and this expert could tell just by the way the fibers in the paper showed the direction of the pen on each hash of the X. One letter, and this guy could tell that the X had indeed been forged. I’m not sure what I think of handwriting analysis when it gets into psychological attributes. I’m probably with the sheriff on this one. [there are several self-tests on handwriting on the Internet, which may be of interest. Here are my favorites. From Reader’s Digest, RealSimple.]

L.L.: Lately, I’ve been curious about life paths and how things end up. Fate, I guess. Happiness, too. And if we’re doing what we’re ‘supposed’ to be doing with our lives. Big deep questions. So…how it is being a novelist? What about the job are you wild about and not-so-wild about?

Lori Rader-Day: I’m definitely doing the thing I should be doing, but even so, I know what you mean. It’s a lot of work for a person who likes to sit around and read books, so even I have my doubts. Being a novelist is both fantastic and challenging. I love the writing and I hate the writing. I love the promotions and I hate the promotions, mostly because it’s exhausting. But then I’m the one who sets up my promotions for the most part. I’m the one in charge. I should just control my calendar a little bit more, right? But it’s been a joy to travel around talking about my book and meeting new readers. Oh, and seeing friends in each city. That is a real perk.

“Beautiful prose and tack-sharp observations round out this slow-burning but thought-provoking meditation on the ravages of domestic violence.”
— Publishers Weekly

L.L.: There’s part of me that sort of kind of feels THE DAY I DIED could be a series. Do you ever think about tossing your characters from one book into a new story?

Lori Rader-Day: I’m not sure I could do it. For each book, someone says it could be a series. Sure, I could figure it out. But the writing is what I enjoy, and part of why I enjoy it is because it’s a new puzzle of character and plot. I love series books and admire those who do them well, but I’m not sure when or if I’ll decide to continue one of my characters because I love the fresh new story so much. It started when I was writing during my lunch hours at a very demanding full-time job. If the story hadn’t been new and compelling to me, I would never have finished the book.
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That said, I did get some ideas for a follow-up from that handwriting expert I talked with. Never say never! My next book, however, is another stand-alone. I love stand-alones.

L.L.: Anna is all about staying off social media, the Internet. But there’s some digging that has to be done in the story. What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Lori Rader-Day:  Hmm. I was Googling author websites this morning to a link to a book cover for a June release I added to Mystery Writers America Midwest Chapter. I’m the chapter president right now, but also apparently the web mistress. Yesterday I went through all my saved links looking for story ideas and organizing them into things I had saved for writing certain projects. I think that’s called procrastination.

L.L.: Lori, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may McGulpin-Point-Lighthouse_72dpi.jpg-nggid0273-ngg0dyn-220x190x100-00f0w010c011r110f110r010t010have forgotten?

Lori Rader-Day: Most people want to know about my next project… As yet untitled mystery set in a dark sky park in Michigan, out from Harper Collins William Morrow in spring 2018. (I’ll let you all Google “dark sky park.”) Thanks, Leslie!

For more information about the book, to connect with Lori via social media, or to order your own copy of THE DAY I DIED, please visit: 

Rader-Day_Lori-lo-221x300ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lori Rader-Day’s debut mystery, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second novel, Little Pretty Things, won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and was a nominee for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original. Little Pretty Things was named a 2015 “most arresting crime novel” by Kirkus Reviews andone of the top ten crime novels of the year by Booklist. Her third novel, The Day I Died, will be released by Harper Collins William Morrow on April 11, 2017. She lives in Chicago.

 

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

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[Author and cover image courtesy of WilliamMorrow/HarperCollins and used with permission. Other images as follows, all on 6.9.17: McGulpin Point Lighthouse Dark Sky Park  MI retrieved from http://www.darkskypark.org, image of exterior of Grand Hotel from grandhotel.com/galleries. Letter and flower from Pinterest, no source noted.]

WeekEND Reading: What if a dream propelled your story into action? That’s just what happened with Gian Sardar’s luminous debut, YOU WERE HERE, plus past lives, a mystery, Minnesota, & more about this story of the unseen.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Debut novelist Gian Sardar takes us on a journey through the murky world of dreams where the past weaves with the present in a chilling crime, told in a gorgeous lyrical prose.

YOU WERE HERE Jacket

I have such a fascination with dreams–nightmares, too–and wonder just what they reveal about our conscious selves, and most of all–our past. That’s what YOU WERE HERE seeks to do; it pulls us into that dream world and reads almost as if you *are* in a dream, but not quite.

Abby Walters is originally from Minnesota but living in L.A. with her screenwriting boyfriend who’s a bit (okay, a lot) commitment shy. She works at an estate jewelry shop appraising and selling antique baubles, yet no ring for her. Like all good stories, we get called away from the known and thrust into the world of the ‘unknown.’ So when Abby starts having those old dreams, the ones she only had in Minnesota, she is called back home to attempt to uncover their meaning.

Unbeknownst to her, there are a grisly slew of rapes and murders happening in her home state. It makes national news within a day or so of her arrival. Her longtime crush from H.S. is there, working now as a detective. But don’t jump to conclusions just yet. YOU WERE HERE is a multi-layered, literary mystery that sweeps you into its arms, pulling you into a sleepy spell.

Back in 1947 there’s another mystery brewing. We learn about several characters from this time period: Claire, Edith, Eva, William and how they are all tied to the present. Or are they? I really enjoyed this piece of the novel–and almost always do in these split-time frame stories.

YOU WERE HERE is at once a mystery, but it’s also a crime novel, literary historical fiction, a love story...it’s a gorgeous melding of several genres, because life just happens to be that way. 

I’m thrilled to welcome Gian Sardar to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Gian, I am so, so fascinated with dreams. I almost always remember mine and will tell them to anyone who will listen. Okay, not really. My hubby, mostly. Are you the same? And was there a dream that started YOU WERE HERE?

Gian Sardar: YES, I am for sure the same, and my husband definitely hears way too many of my dreams. There were actually a couple dreams that were the seeds that in many ways became YOU WERE HERE – but to talk about them I might have to go a bit back in time. When I was twelve I had a dream, one of those dreams when you’re you but you’re not you. Have you had one of them? You know the setting, you know the people, you are YOU and you identify as you, but it’s a you that you don’t know. So I had one of those dreams, and in the dream I was running through a forest with a little boy, a person I knew was my (actual) brother. It was during a war. The sky was bone white, leaves on the ground, trees bare. We were running from something, but stopped at a barbed wire fence. And there, when we turned, was a soldier. We couldn’t see his face since he was bundled up in the cold, but we knew he was there to help us. When I woke up, I opened my eyes and he was in my room. Now, I’ve had a strange life, so this wasn’t toooo crazy….so I just blinked my eyes. And he was still there. I blinked again, and he was still there. Finally he was gone, and I just passed it off as a figment of my imagination, or decided I might have still been asleep. Well, fast forward about a year and my mom decided to take me and my friends to a psychic for my 13th birthday. An odd choice, I now see, but like I said I’ve had a bit of a strange life. While we were there, this woman held my hands and said, “You and your brother have been brother and sister in a past life. I see you in a forest, during a war, and you’re running and then you meet a solider.” Of course then I stopped her, and said, “I just had that dream. When I opened my eyes, he was in my originalroom.” She didn’t look surprised (she was psychic after all), and just said “I know, he’s coming back into your life.” Even now, I wonder, who was it? My son? My best friend? My husband? I have no idea, but the idea that perhaps we’ve been here before, that perhaps we’ve known the people in our lives before, was a concept that just seemed right and stuck with me. When I was in my twenties, I was still fascinated by this idea, and decided to try and ask who I was in the past, every night before going to sleep, since I’d read that sometimes a name could come to you.  Over and over I did this, and then one night I had a dream, and it was just a name, repeated again and again. Now, I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve never investigated the name, but I didn’t know where to begin – what continent, what year, what anything. But it made me wonder, what if a character had a dream of a name, and had just enough to go on? What could she find? In the most basic way, right there, the book was born.

 L.L.: So I have to ask about Minnesota. It was home for a few years. I can clearly see Rochester’s Silver Lake and the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis where the historical part of the story took place. I’m less familiar with Abby’s hometown. But Minnesota, literature-wise is not so well-known. Or is it? Are you aware of other books set there? (Oh wait—I know one: THE LOST GIRLS by Heather Young). And how did you come to this decision to set the story there, being an L.A. girl yourself? 

Gian Sardar: I’ve read some books that are set there, or in the Midwest, not much. What inspired me was my experience in Minnesota. My mother’s side of the family is all from there, and so growing up we’d spend summers there – both in Marshall (where my grandmother lived) and also camping in other parts of the state. Not only did I see how varied and beautiful the landscape is, but I always held the small towns we explored in a rather romanticized, childhood-golden light. Later I Small-Town1.jpglived for a bit outside of Minneapolis, and even later the visits I made there as an adult just sealed the deal: I had to write about it. There are vast, endless plains, which are both breathtaking and haunting. There are forests and lakes and so much that I knew I could have incredibly diverse settings – all within the same state.  And I knew that my almost vintage, romantic, yet slightly haunted remembrance of the small towns would lend itself perfectly for the part of the story that takes place in the past.

 L.L.: There’s a hint of ghosts and reincarnation in YOU WERE HERE. I don’t want to give away too much, but can you talk about how these pieces came into the story?

Gian Sardar: I mentioned the dreams, which is where everything started. But for me, I was always fascinated by the past we can’t see…whether it’s our own past, or even someone who lived in our house a hundred years ago, or someone who took their last breath on the sidewalk where we stand. I love the idea that we are in a living, breathing history, and that maybe we get glimpses of the past – a random feeling in the corner of the room, or an arbitrary thought that we pass off as nothing – glimpses that we ignore because we don’t know their significance. And so showing the past with the present was the perfect way for me to capture and expose one of the layers that composes the current world. images (10)

L.L.: Ultimately, YOU WERE HERE is a story of the unseen. It’s a little obscure, even occult, with flavors of Gothic ruin that might resemble a Poe story and maybe even a little of GONE GIRL [I know, I dislike the comparisons, but there’s a character that just might remind reader’s a bit of GONE GIRL’s Amy]. Can you share with us a bit about how these characters ‘presented themselves’ to you?

Gian Sardar: I love that – “a story of the unseen.” Yes! The characters all evolved as I was writing, but Abby, with her fears and dreams, was definitely inspired by my own worries and dreams. I tend to imagine accidents and horrible things, but not nearly to the degree she does. But it seemed like an interesting jumping point for a character, so I took that and blew it up and created her. I think the rest are people I’d love to know. I love Eva with her brave hope, and her dreams. And I love Claire with her reluctant hope, and her sadness. William and Aidan, the men in the book, they’re completely fictional as well, but again, both are people I would love to know.

L.L.: So, shifting a bit to the more technical elements of writing: do you outline or follow the muse? How many drafts (did you keep count?!) of YOU WERE HERE did you work on? 

Gian Sardar: Oh boy….as far as how many drafts, I don’t even know! It was a lot. For me, so much is discovered in the editing process that I love to have a lot of drafts, because it’s an indication of the evolution of the story. I usually start out with a basic idea of opening and ending, and then I try to loosely fill in the rest in a very basic outline form – but then I just have to wait, and trust that the real meat of the story will appear to me as I’m writing. And it does, and is usually born from the characters that after a while begin to live and breathe and take over.

L.L.: And you are a screenwriter as well? How does that style of writing differ from novelist?

Gian Sardar: I’ve done some screenplay work and worked with an incredible writer or years. For one, with a book or short story I could spend hours on a paragraph, trying to get the description right, finding metaphors and the best way to capture the moment – but with a screenplay you write it just enough description to help set the tone (and show the director etc to your vision), but not too much. Everything is in the choices of what you’re showing, and every line of dialogue better count. You’ve got a fraction of pages to work with, and no one will know if you had a lovely description of the house the characters live in.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from YOU WERE HERE?

Gian Sardar: I hope they wonder about their own lives. About the people they know with whom they always had a connection, or a dislike. Or the places they were drawn to, perhaps places they’ve never been. I hope they start to wonder if maybe it’s not all random coincidence. And I hope they see that in people’s lives there was always a before – reasons for actions, dislikes, and beliefs, reasons we may never know. And sometimes it’s interesting to wonder what those could be, and just how far back they might stretch.

e88e4e8dc9fc1a3ff9d52e9b11f6b647L.L.: What, from your own life might make a compelling mystery?

Gian Sardar: Definitely the story of the dream and the war and the mystery soldier. One day I’d like to write something about him, and about that girl in the forest.


L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel?

Gian Sardar: I am! I don’t want to say too much, as it’s early and I don’t want to jinx it.

L.L. I so get that; kind of in the same boat now. Thank you, Gian; really enjoyed chatting.

Gian Sardar: Thank you, I did as well!

For more information about YOU WERE HERE, to connect with Gian via social media, or to purchase your own copy of the book, please see: 

Author Photo_Gian Sardar (c) Joseph Schwehr.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gian Sardar studied creative writing at Loyola Marymount University and is the coauthor of the bookPsychic Junkie. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and insane dog.

 

 

 

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

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[Author and cover images courtesy of Putnam/RandomHouse and used with permission. Image of ‘dreams’ retrieved from hypeorlando.com, small town minnesota retrieved from minnesotanewcountry.com, old house and girl in forest images retrieved from Pinterest, all on 6.6.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Damian McNicholl talks about his luminous new book inspired by the first American female matador Patricia McCormick, tips on writing realistic characters, sexism, Hemingway, nature, and more in THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

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After a trip to a Mexican bullfight with her father, Kathleen Boyd is mesmerized with the art of bullfighting. She spends her childhood practicing in the family’s backyard with a red cloth and their Great Dane. Now, a discontent 19-year old art student in 1950s Texas and Kathleen still wants to make her dream happen.

I was immediately drawn into the world of Kathleen, her character well-developed and intriguing. In fact, I found myself thinking about her (and the real Patricia McCormick) when I wasn’t reading. The entire concept of the book, I thought, was entirely original. While there are plenty of historical fiction on the shelves, what brought THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (Pegasus, June 6 2017) alive for me was the time period, the unique location (set primarily in Mexico), but most of all–the unique aspirations of bullfighting from a woman’s POV.

Plus, The Houston Chronicle *just* named THE MOMENT OF TRUTH one of the top 10 books to read this June.

Damian McNicholl is a graceful, fluid writer whose words flow effortlessly. His descriptions are rich and textured. Trust me, THE MOMENT OF TRUTH is so wholly original, you don’t want to miss it.

Today, I am absolutely honored have Damian on the blog couch. So pull up a seat and grab a coffee, you’re in for a treat.

Leslie Lindsay: Damian, I’m thrilled to have you. I’ll be honest—I had never heard of Patricia McCormick, the real-life inspiration behind THE MOMENT OF TRUTH. But you got me Googling her! I learned she was originally from St. Louis, Missouri—as am I! What more can you tell us about her? Was Kathleen Boyd in THE MOMENT OF TRUTH pretty much a true composite of her?

Damian McNicholl: Patricia McCormick was an absolutely fascinating character and I didn’t know about her until I stumbled across her obituary while surfing the net. She’d been captivated by the world of the bulls ever since her father took her to a bullfight when she was a very young girl. That experience was seminal and she left for Mexico as a young woman in the forties to train to become an apprentice. The world of the bulls is, as you can imagine, very masculine and, while she did enjoy great success, she was never able to become a member of the matador’s union because no professional matador would sponsor her to take the PatriciaMcCormick1954alternativa, the ceremony wherein an apprentice becomes a matador de toros. She ended up working as a secretary in California and eventually moved back to Texas where she died in 2013. At her peak, she was a celebrity both in Mexico and the US.

Kathleen Boyd’s character, experiences and journey in the novel does not mirror McCormick’s. The goal I had in writing the novel was toexplore the lot of women in the 1950s—the career limitations, sexism and male chauvinism and what would happen if an ambitious, talented and determined young woman wanted to do the same job as a man in the period.

L.L.: I can’t help but chuckle a bit—you’re a man from Northern Ireland with a background in law and yet you’re writing about an American woman who wants to fight bulls in Mexico. Yet you do it so well. I’m curious…what was your inspiration?

Damian McNicholl: I’m lucky in that I’ve never had difficulty writing male or female characters. I grew up in a family of three boys and two girls which helps. That’s not to say I don’t get stuck as I’m creating characters. What I do before starting a novel is do lots of research about the period I want to write about, including the social mores, habits, styles and speech until I feel comfortable. For THE MOMENT OF TRUTH, I read many books and articles on the Internet about bullfighting and women who fought bulls in the period, including Ms. McCormick’s biography (1954), which didn’t really discuss sexism or the obstacles she encountered during her rise. I looked at photos of people who lived during the period. Then I wrote out character descriptions, where they were born, physical attributes, likes, dislikes, strengths and flaws, etc.  And finally I put myself in the head of Kathleen and imagine living the situation or crisis I put her in, what she’d say during a conflict and how she’d react to given situations, etc. If I wasn’t sure how she would react in a very unique situation I asked my female friends. That’s the only way I know how to try and make men and women come alive in the pages. The most important thing is to never feel intimidated about the reality you’re a man writing about a woman or vice versa.

L.L.: I can only imagine THE MOMENT OF TRUTH was pretty research-heavy in order to get the technical aspects of bullfighting just right. Can you walk us through that process?

Damian McNicholl: You’re right. I knew little about bullfighting when I started the novel and research was intense. The names and number of passes the matadors250px-Toreroexecuted both with the cape and the muleta was enormous and I had to become familiar with them to the extent, when I described them, the prose flowed naturally and the technicalities didn’t interfere with the story. I started off with Ernest Hemingway’s writing and went from there. I was surprised about the number of books written on the subject and the amount of material available on the Internet. After the novel was written, I was fortunate to have Terin Miller read the parts when Kathleen is fighting in the ring and his advice on the technical aspects were invaluable. Also John Hemingway, an aficionado, Ernest Hemingway’s grandson, also read the novel and gave it a great quote. That made my day when I got that.    

L.L.: Ultimately, bullfighting is considered an art, theater. I can see that. There’s very much a performance aspect to it. The brightly colored and beaded suit of lights, the roaring crowd. And Kathleen’s an art student. How do you see the two overlapping?

Damian McNicholl: In the 1950s when the novel is set, it was definitely viewed by many as art and/or theater rather than sport. It was seen as man pitting himself against the monster, the battle and triumph of good over evil with the poor bull representing the darkness. Kathleen is very artistic, studies art at college in Texas prior to leaving for Mexico, and immediately connects the way in which the matadors and bulls move closer and closer as they spar with one another as a form of theater.  She saw this as a child during a bullfight and the flashing suits and magenta cape, the band playing and the applauding crowd. At one point, as she enters the arena as an apprentice, she also compares it to ancient Rome and the gladiators entering the Coliseum. The story takes place in an era where bullfighting was extremely popular and bullfighters were feted and adored like movie stars and musicians and it was considered a form of art. Indeed, Ms. McCormick was featured in magazines and newspapers the same way they featured actors. Today, of course, she’d be castigated for comparing bullfighting to art or theater.

L.L.: One of your secondary characters, Sally (Kathleen’s friend) is in New York City becoming a model. I think it shows a very yin-yang view of women in the 1950s. Was this deliberate on your part?

Damian McNicholl: Actually, I don’t see Sally and Kathleen as the yin-yang view of women. In the 1950s women were expected to work as secretaries, nurses and teachers until they married, whereupon their roles changed to homemakers and mothers. During the Second World War, women were ‘allowed’ to serve their country by working for the military machine, working as bomb makers and welding aircraft parts together, etc. ThinkRosie the Riveter. After the war, they were fired because the men were home again and society was patriarchal and wanted them back in the kitchens and rearing their children. You can imagine how frustrating this was to many women who wanted to stay in their jobs or who didn’t want to get married. Women_working_at_Douglas_Aircraft

Kathleen and Sally represent women who were independent- minded and determined to have careers, albeit Sally seeks her fame in the world of glamour and Kathleen seeks hers in the bullringwith all the conflicts and jealousies it creates with men who feel threatened by a women trying to break into that masculine world.

L.L.: Speaking of the time frame—1950s—traditional and conservative view of women and their place in society, I found that several scenes made me bristle. For example, in Mexico women were expected to have a chaperon, not drive a vehicle. Fermin beats his wife, makes fun of her size, has affairs. There’s a violent rape. Kathleen doesn’t see all of her earnings. Have things changed? Have there been more women in the bullring?

Damian McNicholl: As mentioned earlier, women were expected to work in education, nursing and other low paying jobs because society believed their true vocation was as homemakers cooking for their husbands, etc. Women did not protest in the 1950s and women’s liberation groups didn’t exist. A friend in my writer’s group worked at an advertising agency in the 1950s and she told me her job and career was always viewed as secondary to her husband’s, much to her chagrin. She and her husband worked at the same firm and she had to give up her job and follow him when he was sent to work at other corporate offices throughout the US. That’s images (9)what was expected of wives. At one point she didn’t want to leave her work when her husband was sent to live in another city, but her boss, admitting she was brilliant at the job, said they would fire her if she did not go with him because her first job was to be a homemaker.

Major changes have occurred for women since the 1950s, but it would be incorrect to assume women have true equality. Women still do not get equal pay for equal work. The Equal Rights Amendment guaranteeing true equality regardless of gender has still not passed.Also, while much progress has been made, women are still sexually harassed in the work place and women are still raped, physically abused and sexually exploited today. There is much work to do still.

There are female bullfighters in Spain and Mexico today. Three of the most famous women are Karla de los Angeles, Lupita Lopez andHilda Tenorio who are now recognized professionally as matadors, something that was denied Patricia McCormick.  According to news articles I’ve read, the women still encounter sexism and promoters do not hire them because of their gender. Today, the women also face the vitriol of animal rights groups who want bullfighting banned due to its cruelty.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now? What inspires you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Damian McNicholl: I planted flowers seeds in the garden beds several weeks ago and they’re now tender shoots and I’m obsessed with keeping the rabbits at bay. They eat everything. I try to scare them and they scamper a few feet away and they look back disdainfully. We do have a family of foxes including two cute cubs living in the nearby woods and I’ve seen them on patrol at dusk. So the rabbits are increasingly wary and I’m hoping they’ll pack up their bags soon._75618493_497996961

Nature inspires me. After a day’s writing, I love to sit out on the deck with a glass of wine and listen to the birds. We lost a lot of mature trees during Hurricane Sandy, which created glades in the woods and it’s amazing the variety of bird life that’s come to live there. There’s bluebirds, cardinals, wrens, small and large woodpeckers and morning doves. And of course we get deer and foxes. The fawns and cubs are adorable.

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

Damian McNicholl: If I’m writing anything new. My next novel explores an Irish woman who emigrated to the US in the late eighties. At 19, Deirdre got pregnant and gave up her career as a musician to marry an attorney who is quite conservative and becomes increasingly difficult through the years. When she receives a bad diagnosis at thirty-nine, she evaluates her life and marriage and decides to try and reactivate her career. She must overcome obstacles from her husband and two children, including her son who disappoints his father by refusing to go to law school and who wants to marry someone her husband can never accept.

L.L.: Damian, it’s been truly illuminating. Thank you!

Damian McNicholl: Thanks so much for having me, Leslie. I enjoyed it.

To learn more about THE MOMEMENT OF TRUTH, or to connect with Damian McNicholl via social media, please see: 

Damian McNicholl_Courtesy of Ruair+¡ BoylanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Damian McNicholl was born in Northern Ireland, is an attorney and the author of three novels. His critically acclaimed first novel, A SON CALLED GABRIEL (2004) was an American Booksellers Association Book Sense Pick and a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards and independent publishers ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards. THE MOMENT OF TRUTH is published by Pegasus Books and has been chosen as Houston Chronicle’s 10 Books to Read in June. Damian has appeared on CBS, WYBE Public Television, National Public Radio and other media outlets in the United States and United Kingdom to discuss his work. Pegasus Books will republish A SON CALLED GABRIEL in Fall 2017 with a new ending and Author’s Afterword. He lives in Bucks County Pennsylvania and is at work on a new novel.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Pegasus Books and used with permission. Images of Patricia McCormick, muleta, and women working on aircraft in 1942 all retrieved from Wikipedia; image of 1950s-era job poster from Pinterest, no source noted. Bunnies in the garden retrieved from the bbc.com, all on 6.5.17]