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Diane Chamberlain had me gasping aloud in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, plus her obsessions, civil rights, letting characters lead and the magic of writing


By Leslie Lindsay

Two seemingly unconnected stories merge into one very thought-provoking, highly emotional read.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book

Leslie Lindsay in Conversation with Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 27 novels published in more than twenty languages. Influenced by her former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she writes suspenseful stories that touch both heart and mind.

One of Marie Claire’s Most Eagerly Anticipated of 2022

January Indie Next Pick

I have long been a fan of Diane Chamberlain’s work, but this one really knocks it out of the park. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET (Jan 11 2022, St. Martin’s Press), is completely ‘affecting and spellbinding,’ (Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW), and is a PEOPLE magazine ‘pick of the week,’ and is sure to pack a powerful punch for readers and book clubs. I loved it.

What Diane does best is mine historical plot points with an emotional heart, and generally it’s something that once touched her own life. In fact, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET was inspired by the 1965 SCOPE project, in which white college students, primarily from the North, traveled to the South to help register Black voters. Diane had heard about that campaign when she was a teenager, but it wasn’t until years later she put the story on paper, creating her own fictional towns and characters.

Photo by L.Lindsay

ABOUT THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET:

Told in dual timelines, 1965 and 2010, we meet two women who seem to be completely unconnected, but of course, they are.

1965:

Ellie Hockley is a well-to-do young white 20-year-old living in Round Hill, NC with a beau she’s as soon as engaged to. He works at a bank, her father is the town’s pharmacist, her mother is a housewife. Ellie has been brought up to believe she’ll work at the pharmacy and marry well. But when she’s chosen to spend her summer as a volunteer traveling to the poorest parts of the county registering Black individuals to vote, she spins a new narrative, upsetting her parents and having the town scorn on her ‘wayward’ ways.

2010:

Architect Kayla Carter is recently widowed and the mother of a 4-year-old girl when they find themselves in Round Hill–a swanky new development now known as ‘Shadow Ridge Estates.’ The home has been custom designed and built by she and her (late) husband, but it’s huge and maybe tainted…haunted. How can she possibly move into the house where her husband died in a tragic accident? And now, she’s getting threatening visits to her place of business, strange phone calls, vandals, and more. Clearly, someone doesn’t want her in Shadow Ridge Estates. But who? And why?

A community’s past sins rise to the surface when two women, a generation apart, find themselves bound by tragedy and an unsolved, decades-old mystery.

What I love about THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET is how these events seem unconnected, but with just enough mystery and intrigue to bring the reader and character together; it’s truly a team-approach between reader and author.

Overall, the story is emotionally powerful, intense, and such a page-turner. Despite the darkness and scandal involved, I found myself reading way past my bedtime. It’s about forbidden love, interracial relationships, family, friendship, heartbreak, loss, death, activism social justice, even mental health.

There are so many ways this story could have gone–it pivots on dramatic tension, narrative mystery, and strong emotions. It’s so well-done. I think this one will stay with me for a long time and I will ponder alternate endings for sure.  And is an ideal book club read.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Diane Chamberlain back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane! Welcome back. I am always so swept up in your narratives, and I think part of that is the emotional resonance and your personal connection to a story. Can you talk a little about your inspiration for THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, please?

Diane Chamberlain:

Leslie, thank you for your kind words about the book. I’ve been so touched by my readers’ reactions. I was fourteen in 1964 when I heard about young civil rights workers for the first time.  Three students in their early twenties, one Black and two white, had been in the South to fight for civil rights when they were  brutally murdered at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. The news was everywhere: on TV, the radio and the papers, and it opened my eyes to the many issues Black Americans faced. At least half of my classmates in my New Jersey middle school were Black and that fact only increased my passion to educate myself to civil right issues. How did my experiences at fourteen translate to a novel so many decades later? That I can’t explain.

Sometimes experiences from the past start tapping at my consciousness and they don’t stop tapping until I set them free.

Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In historical fiction, authors are often plagued with research. Too much and it becomes sort of didactic, too little and readers may find flaws. You always strike the perfect balance. What do you think might be the secret?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Thank you for that compliment. I love research and of course I do much more than ever shows up in the story. I will always remember the words of my editor after she read the manuscript for my second novel about thirty years ago. The book took place in the Amazon Jungle and involved a ton of research, short of a trip to the Amazon. My editor said “You don’t need to put everything you’ve learned into your novel.” I think she was referring particularly to the ‘dung beetle scene’, but her words have always stayed with me.  So I pick and choose from the information I learn, only putting in what will further the story and the character’s development.

“[A] twisty, riveting ride.” ―People Magazine, People Pick

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

With dual timelines—which I love—I am curious about your particular process. Do you first write all of the 1965 pieces, then the 2010 ones and weave them together? Do you write linearly, start to finish, yet not chronologically? What do you find challenging—and inspiring—about this structure?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Yes, you guessed right. I wrote all of the 1965 story first and then all of the 2010 story. I knew the general thread of each timeline and I also knew the first scene from 2010—the very first scene of the book, in which a strange woman comes to Kayla’s office making veiled threats. But I absolutely had to focus on one story at a time to be sure I didn’t lose the thread of what happened in each era as well as the voice and personality of each character. I write linearly, but I never polish as I go because the characters often take me in directions I never planned and I want to have the flexibility to follow their leads. I like when they push me around. That’s when the magic happens.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved both timelines for different reasons. But I think I connected most with Ellie in 1965. Was there one—time period or character—you felt a particular affinity toward? Maybe a character you didn’t love at first, but sort of ‘grew on you?’

Diane Chamberlain:  

Like Ellie, I was smitten by Win, the young Black civil rights worker. He made me think of a guy I knew in college. There was an attraction between us but he was becoming involved in the Black power movement and there was little room for white activists at the time, much less a white girlfriend. Although the idea of “Black power” was nascent in 1965 when the story takes place, I gave Win a little bit of that militancy when he tells Ellie he thinks the battle needs to be a “Black battle.”

I found Win charming, smart, and committed.

 As for Ellie, what I adore most about her as a character is not so much her passion for her work, but the naivete of her youth. Her humanness. I think it makes her relatable because we can all remember the mistakes we made as young adults. My research into the SCOPE program showed me that the mixture of those two sides of young students—their passion and their youth–could be volatile at times.

Leslie Lindsay:

I keep thinking if how THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET could have gone in different directions. Did you have alternate endings in mind, or did you always know how you wanted it to end?

Diane Chamberlain:

Oh yes, I had several different endings in mind. I wanted to avoid emotional pain, my own as well as the pain of my readers. I’m grateful to my editor for helping find the courage to move the story in the direction it needed to go.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ellie was obsessed about social and political activism. What three things can YOU not stop talking or thinking about?

Diane Chamberlain:

I have so many. Clearly voting rights is one of them. We are moving backwards with alarming speed. We have to do all we can to be sure any eligible American can easily vote. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act Ellie and her fellow SCOPE workers were fighting for, and now we see the result of that action. My other obsessions are more fun. I love singing and playing guitar weekly with a close-knit group of friends. And, of course, I love reading. Books, newspapers, Facebook memes.

Anything that plays with my imagination.

That’s where the next book will come from.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane, as always, this has been so delightful. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or something you might like to ask me?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Thank you for your wonderful, thought-provoking questions. You make me dig deep, as always, and I love that.

Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #alwayswithabook

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH DIANE CHAMBERLAIN, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, PLEASE VISIT:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded a bit of Jodi Picoult in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, but also it may also appeal to fans of Sally Hepworth, and has some strong connections to Niama Coster’s WHAT’S YOURS AND MINE (paperback available Jan 25) and maybe stylistic comparisons to Heather Gudenkauf’s The OVERNIGHT GUEST, which releases Jan 25th. Heather will be my last featured interview* on Always with a Book.

Get a sneak peak of what I’m excited to read in 2022 HERE.

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 27 novels published in more than twenty languages. Influenced by her former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she writes suspenseful stories that touch both heart and mind.

Photo Credit: John Pagliuca

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

Photo cred: K.M. Lindsay
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #alwayswithabook

LOOKING AHEAD:

Join me for my last ‘in conversation with’ on Always with a Book, Heather Gudenkauf’s THE OVERNIGHT GUEST (Jan 26).

It’s been a joy and privilege to connect with authors and share interviews with you.*

You can find all of my bookish suggestions, reviews, and more on Instagram in 2022, where I’ll be sharing reels and blurbs about books, what I’m reading and writing.

You can learn more about my memoir-on-submission in this Psychology Today Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

Learn more about some of the authors I’ve featured over the years in this essay with Read Her Like an Open Book. You might like this post I shared in December 2021 about an end-of-an-era

Occasionally, I’ll have an author interview published in a literary journal. I’ll be sure to share that with you, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

You can find all of my bookish suggestions, reviews, and more on Instagram in 2022, where I’ll be sharing reels and blurbs about books, what I’m reading, and even writing.

You can learn more about my memoir-on-submission in this Psychology Today Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

Learn more about some of the authors I’ve featured over the years in this essay with Read Her Like an Open Book. You might like this post I shared in December 2021 about an end-of-an-era

Occasionally, I’ll have an author interview published in a literary journal. I’ll be sure to share that with you, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

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