Author Archives: leslie1218

About leslie1218

Author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) frantically working on a novel that should be ready for submission this fall. Mom of two spritely redheads & one chubby basset hound whose stories & images appear in my writing from time-to-time.

Wednesdays with Writers: Thriller/Action writer and creator of the RAMBO series, David Morrell talks about writing the story you were born to write, why psych suspense might be a dying trend, his fear of the marketplace being saturated with too many stories (including original scripted TV series), ROSEMARY’S BABY 50th anniversary & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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It’s a dreary morning here in Chicagoland. The landscape is bathed in a white mist, and the trees are changing color, leaves dropping one by one. There’s a hush about the air, a tentative pull on the senses that makes us a little more alert, a little more intuitive.

So it might be time to settle in with a classic horror story.

Originally published in 1967, at a time when the ordinary became menacing, ROSEMARY’S BABY brought readers to the brink of what appeared to mundane details that might actually be hiding tragic truths.

Ira Levin, the author of seven books, ranging from horror to mystery to science fiction, among others received an Edgar in 1954 for A KISS BEFORE DYING (his Ira_Levin_novelist.pngfirst novel) and again in 1980 for his play, DEATHTRAP. He received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association in 1996. Stephen King referred to Ira Levin as the “Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel.” In 2003, he received yet another accolade: the Mystery Writers of America’s Grandmaster Award. ROSEMARY’S BABY sold millions after The Today Show interviewed him, surging the title onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Ira Levin passed in 2007 at the age of 78 in his Manhattan home. Despite the kind of works he’s famous for, Levin was considered mild-mannered and modest.

It would be in true horror fashion if I had Mr. Levin on my blog couch today. Alas, I do not live in a haunted manse shrouded in cobwebs and the wedding cake uneaten. But that’s another story for another time.

Please join me in welcoming David Morrell, who is just as decorated as Ira Levin—220px-Firstbloodbookperhaps more. He’s the author of FIRST BLOOD (from which “Rambo” was created), as well as numerous NYT bestsellers. He’s also the recipient of several major accolades, including the Thriller Master award from International Thriller Writers and three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association.

Leslie Lindsay: David, it’s an honor. Thank you for popping by. What draws you to the thriller/horror genre?

David Morrell: I had a tough childhood. My father died in combat. My mother couldn’t take care of me and earn a living, so she put me in an orphanage when I was three. A year later, she remarried, but my stepfather didn’t like children, or maybe it was me in particular he didn’t like. They argued all the time. Lots of verbal violence and sometimes physical. Afraid, I slept under my bed, telling stories to myself in which I was a hero rescuing helpless people. Novelist Graham Greene believed that “an unhappy childhood is a goldmine for a writer.” You could say I was programmed for the thriller and horror genres.

L.L.: In your introduction to ROSEMARY’S BABY, you mention how Levin—and many of his predecessors—take the mundane and spin it into something dark and menacing. This tactic is hugely successful. Why is that?

David Morrell: Using familiar, mundane elements to make horror believable seems obvious, and yet it took a long time for the technique to emerge. In the 1950s, Richard Matheson (THE SHRINKING MAN), Robert Bloch (PSYCHO), and Jack Finney (THE BODY SNATCHERS) are generally credited with inventing it. I quote Douglas E. Winter about how these authors brought “fear from the Gothic landscapes of misty moors and haunted mansions, (inviting) terror into our shopping malls and peaceful neighborhoods—into the house next door.” A decade later, Ira Levin (ROSEMARY’S BABY), William Peter Blatty (THE EXORCIST), and Thomas Tryon (THE OTHER) further developed the technique. Then came the next stage of realistic horror with Stephen King and Peter Straub, etc. So, Levin is solidly in the middle of this trend. His mundane details—the best place to buy swordfish steaks in Manhattan, for example—made what Levin called his “unbelievables” believeable. It was a horror novel that didn’t feel like a genre novel.

L.L.: There is a good deal of religious references in ROSEMARY’S BABY. For one,A1Vmrrc2S+L._SY445_ (1).jpg the second half of her name—Mary. But also: “Oh God!” “hell” and “what the devil” in the dialogue. It’s all there, but one has to be an observant reader. What is your understanding about how Levin structured this tale? And what—if any—research did he do to get it “just right?”

David Morrell: Yes, most of the expletives in ROSEMARY’S BABY have a religious context, but they’re so carefully embedded that readers feel the implication more than notice it. Levin thought it would be interesting for Rosemary (you noted the irony of the second part of her name) to give birth to the Devil’s child on June 25, 1966—a date that’s a version of the sign of the Devil, 666, and that’s also the
calendar opposite of December 25, Christmas. He counted nine months backward and collected newspapers about all the important things that had happened in New York City around September and October of 1965. An electrical blackout, a New York Times strike, John Lindsay’s mayoral campaign, and especially a visit by Pope Paul VI who officiated at a mass in Yankee Stadium on October 5. All of these formed the realistic foundation for the novel. The implication is that Satan impregnated Rosemary during the Pope’s visit.

L.L.: I read, too that the movie adaptation of ROSEMARY’S BABY is “one of the most faithful ever” (I think Levin said that himself); whole pages of dialogue are in the movie, so too are specific colors. But it’s hardly the case that movie adaptations are as exact as the book.  Number one, why is that?  Two, what has been your experience of your book to movie adaptations—I’m especially thinking of RAMBO?

David Morrell: Director/screenwriter Roman Polanski was inexperienced with Hollywood’s ways and thought that a film necessarily had to be faithful to its source material. By the time he found out otherwise, he’d crafted a perfect distillation of the novel, quite an achievement given that the book is several hundred pages long while many screenplays are 110 pages long, with a lot of white space. Too often, directors and screenwriters change things to show how creative they are.51xanpEpeqL._SX342_

As for my experience with the film adaptation of my novel, FIRST BLOOD, there were 26 screenplays written for various studios that owned the movie rights at one time or another. Some of the screenplays were unintentionally funny, such as a character referring to Rambo as “the Bobby Riggs of guerrilla warfare.” The final result (released in 1982, ten years after my novel was published) is remarkably similar in terms of plot, but it interprets Rambo differently (as a victim rather than someone who’s furious about what the Vietnam War did to him). Because the character was softened, the ending was changed. Also the role of the police chief was diminished. Despite these differences, I like the film. It’s very well made, and the action scenes get better each year because the stunts are real, not computer generated. For the U.S. Blu-ray DVD of the film, I recorded a full-length audio commentary in which I compare the two.

L.L.: As for writing—what might be your best tips for writing thrillers and also today’s hot genre (domestic) psych suspense?

David Morrell: I teach writing at various conferences, and I always emphasize these two mantras. 1. Be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of another author. 2. Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside. These days, domestic psychological suspense is the hot subgenre. It can be summarized as “The person closest to you is your worst enemy.” It’s accompanied by the technique of the unreliable first person in which everyone is basically a liar. The subgenre started with Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL in 2012, and after only five years, every agent and editor I speak with complains that this is mostly what’s being 51-89vmRIiL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_submitted [to them.] There are too many followers. You can’t have a long career unless you establish your own identity and make other people imitate you. I talk about this in my The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.

L.L.: Of all your books and your multiple series, is there any one that stands out as something you are most proud of? I know, a bit like choosing your favorite child.

David Morrell: Over 45 years, there’ve been many books. But four of them stand out for me. FIRST BLOOD (1972), because that debut novel set everything in motion for me and has been called “the father of the modern action novel.” THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE (1984) made a difference also, because it was one of the first espionage novels to blend the British and American spy-novel traditions. The British had authentic spy tradecraft but almost no action. The Americans had plenty of action but laughable spy tactics. I thought it would be interesting to merge the strengths of the two. FIREFLIES (1988) is personally important to me because it’s a meditation about grief after my fifteen-year-old son, Matthew, died from a rare bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma. Finally, in response to another death, that of my 14-year-old granddaughter, Natalie, from the same disease, I escaped into 1850s London with three Victorian mystery/thrillers (MURDER AS A FINE ART, INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, and RULER OF THE NIGHT). They feature a notorious real-life literary celebrity of the time, Thomas De Quincey, who invented the word “subconscious.” De Quincey’s daughter, Emily, is a strong character in these books and represents the 220px-Thomas_de_Quincey_by_Sir_John_Watson-Gordonindependent woman that I wanted my granddaughter to have the chance to become.

L.L.: Besides scary stories, what’s keeping you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

David Morrell: For 7 years, while I wrote my Victorian novels, I convinced myself that I was on the gothic fogbound streets of 1850s London. When my imagination returned to the present, the hostile tone of the modern world bludgeoned me. FIRST BLOOD came out of the cultural violence of hundreds of riots in the late 1960s. I worry that we’re headed that way again.

L.L.: David, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

David Morrell: Just a thought about the almost 500 original scripted TV series that are currently being shown either on network TV, cable, or via streaming. No exaggeration. That’s how many there are. When I’m at social events, I don’t hear people talking about books as much as what they’re binge-watching on TV. Add to this the 800,000 self-published books that were released last year, and you have the most competitive [book/publishing] market I’ve ever seen. More and more, I advise beginning authors to write the book they were born to write rather than what’s currently hot, because trends are ever-changing. As I said earlier, if we chase the market, we’ll always see its backside.

For more information, to connect with David Morrell via social media, or to purchase the 50th anniversary edition of ROSEMARY’S BABY, please see: 

DavidMorrell_auphoto.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR:  David Morrell is the author of First Blood, the acclaimed novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a PhD from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include The Brotherhood of the Rose, the basis for the only television miniseries to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. An Edgar, Anthony, and Arthur Ellis finalist, an Inkpot, Macavity, and Nero recipient, Morrell has three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association and the Thriller Master award from International Thriller Writers. Bouchercon, the world’s largest conference for crime-fiction readers and author, gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Visit him at www.davidmorrell.net.

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. Image of FIRST BLOOD original cover retrieved from Wikipedia, image of Ira Levin from Wikipedia, image of Blu-Ray RAMBO and SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, and DVD cover of Rosemary’s Baby retrieved from Amazon, Thomas De Quincey from Wikipedia, all on 9.25.17] 

 

WeekEND Reading: Rachel Khong talks about how we’re all taking care of one another imperfectly, as best we can, memory, her fondness for random facts, how long drives feed her creativity well, and so much more in GOODBYE, VITAMIN

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Off-beat, slightly quirky but oh-so well done tale of love, loss, fathers and daughters, and memory. 

download (1)Clever, tender and wry, GOODBYE, VITAMIN is a study of one family, their descent into decay and then back out again…maybe. It’s a poignant read that sneaks up on you and is filled with such beautiful vignettes of life, love, relationships (romantic, between siblings, father-daughter, mother-daughter). I laughed, I cried, I was reminded of my own childhood, sweet things my father did (Post-It notes every morning), and so much more.

Ruth is 30 years old and recently disengaged from her fiance, Joel when her father’s heath declines and she is ‘called home’ to San Francisco from the east coast to support her mother and mind her father. Her father was once a prominent history professor but now is doing odd, flaky things. Yet his love for his daughter is palpable. 

I’m so honored to welcome Rachel Khong to the blog. Pull up a chair and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Rachel, it’s a pleasure to chat with you about your debut, GOODBYE, VITAMIN. As I was reading, I had to flip to the back jacket to make sure this wasn’t a memoir. It’s not—as far as I know. What prompted this story? Are there any parallels to your real-life?

Rachel Khong:  What prompted this story was the voice of the main character, Ruth. I wrote a short story in her voice and loved it so much I decided to keep doing it in novel format. This book was definitely inspired by my experience as a woman, thinking about the things that a lot of young women think about—namely, failed relationships and whether or not they “count” for something. And I was thinking a lot about memory, and the role that it plays in our relationships, whether with our friends or family, or with ourselves. Memory is so flawed, and yet it makes us who we are.

“A CATALOGUE OF DAYS, A LOVE SONG TO THEIR EPHEMERA, A COLLECTION OF SNAPSHOTS OF QUOTIDIAN CELEBRATIONS AND FAILURES. THE SUM OF THESE BEATS IS A BOOK THAT UNEXPECTEDLY STRIPS YOU DOWN AND LEAVES YOU FEELING MORE FORGIVING—AND FORGIVEN.”

—STEPHANIE DANLER, AUTHOR OF SWEETBITTER

L.L.: GOODBYE, VITAMIN is slightly unconventional in terms of storytelling. There are no chapters; instead, each section is a date over the course of a year; it’s book one could easily finish in a single sitting. But I am sure it took you at least a year to write. Can you tell us a little about your structure and also your time line for writing?

Rachel Khong: It took me more like six years, actually! I always intended to write a book that could be read in a single sitting, because I wanted to be a really 16906138immersive book— a book that would take you away from your real life, and into the lives of these characters, however briefly. I love when an author can get his or her rhythms lodged into your brain, and I wanted that to happen with this book. As for the structure itself, I really wanted it to mimic the day-to-day miscellany of life—for it to contain both the ups and the downs, and for it to be a reflection of those sometimes quieter moments that don’t make it into the grand story we tell ourselves about our lives. But because the book’s form isn’t a straightforward A to B, or particularly plot driven, the revision often wasn’t straightforward either: the process of writing it involved a lot of reflection and accumulation of small details that got layered into the book.

L.L.: I found that there are so many factoids in GOODBYE, VITAMIN that caught me by surprise—not just about Alzheimer’s but about not flushing your (presumed dead) goldfish down the toilet. (I actually had to look those images up on Google!) The origin of the word testify…only fresh materials on the floats in the Rose Bowl parade…I’m curious what—if any—research you did for this book?sZaypU6v

Rachel Khong: For me, writing fiction is a big tangled mess of autobiography, observation, imagination, and also research. You also asked about the writing process—sometimes, when you can’t do one kind of writing, or when your imagination well has run dry, you can at least draw from autobiography, or observation, or just straight-up reading. When I didn’t know what would happen next in the book, sometimes it was useful to do research on topics I was interested in. I did a lot of reading about Alzheimer’s caregivers on online forums, but it’s also true that I have a fondness for fun facts. Again, this is a book about memory, so I’m interested in what random things get lodged in our brains. All our brains are repositories for such strange things.

L.L.: Ruth is given this beautiful gift from her father—a notebook of musings and observations he kept of her younger days. How I love this (and wished I had done something similar for my girls—guess it’s not too late, they are 10 and 12). Is this something your dad has done for you? Mine left rhyming Post-It notes for me each morning which I still treasure.

Rachel Khong: Definitely not. My parents are both civil engineers and not big readers or writers—I’m a black sheep in that way. My dad did make me lunches throughout school—they were always the same: one or two slices of cold cut turkey and a thin layer of mayo, between wheat bread. Keeping a journal is something I hope to do for my kids if I ever have them, though!  Fresh lemons on the rustic tale

L.L.: I think GOODBYE, VITAMIN is a bit of that reversal we all experience in life. First our parents care for us and then we care for them. Was this your intention when you set out to write?

Rachel Khong: I didn’t have any clear-cut intentions when I set out to write, more questions than answers. I was interested in this idea that we are all sort of winging it through life. Your parents are winging it, even as they’re parenting you. We’re all taking care of one another imperfectly, as best we can. 

L.L.: What was the last thing you forgot to do? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Rachel Khong: This year has been so crazy (two books, lots of travel, I also got married) that I forgot to get a smog check for my car for, oh, six months? In that time, I’ve gotten two tickets for expired registration. I finally just got my smog check, so I hope the DMV sends me my sticker soon!

L.L.: Where do you draw your creative inspiration?

Rachel Khong: Good books! And good comedy. And long walks are helpful for shaking ideas loose. Also long drives.

L.L.: Rachel, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for chatting with us today—and congrats on GOODBYE, VITAMIN. Is there anything else I should have asked?

Rachel Khong: It was my pleasure and honor! Thank you for having me!

For more information, to connect with Rachel via social media, or to purchase a copy of GOODBYE, VITAMIN, please see: 

200058641ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Khong grew up in Southern California, and holds degrees from Yale University and the University of Florida. From 2011 to 2016, she was the managing editor then executive editor of Lucky Peach magazine. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in JOYLAND, American Short Fiction, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Believer, and California Sunday. She lives in San Francisco. GOODBYE, VITAMIN is her first novel.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt. Image of trivia brain from brainblasttrivia.com, rustic lemons from actively.com, day-at-a-glance image retrieved from target.com, all on 10.7.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Abigail Lawless is ‘good company’ in brooding 1816 Dublin as she uncovers secrets of a Christian sect, mysterious deaths, and more in Andrew Hughes’ THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER, plus writing advice, real-crime TV binges, & a historical female hangwoman

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Spunky and bright Abigail Lawless, uncovers evidence that a recent suicide may have been murder in 1816 Dublin. 

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It’s October and that officially means all of us who love a tale of the gloomy and grisly can be at home reading. Even better if rain is drumming down your windows and a you live in a derelict country manor.

A young nursemaid has concealed a pregnancy and then murdered her newborn in the home a prominent family in a radical Christian sect known as the Brethren. Rumors swirl about the identity of the child’s father, but before an inquest can be made, the maid is found dead of an apparent suicide.

And so it begins, a lovely relationship between Abby Lawless and her father, the town’s coroner. Abby is a spunky, slightly quirky young woman with an adventuresome spirit; I was taken with her almost immediately. Plus, she loves science.

Ireland 2014 249But it’s 1816 in Dublin and young women just don’t run around with their academic fathers who teach at Trinity College dissecting the dead. At one point in the story, Abby says [and I’m paraphrasing]:

“Well, if I were a man and had this interest, it would be considered a fascination but I’m a woman and so it’s a macabre fixation.” 

There are a few twists and turns in THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER, some good action scenes, and a little romantic relief as well. Hughes does a considerable job of ‘laying the ground,’ and setting a compelling scene of brooding Irish landscape. His research is evident, too and accurately displays a historical tale of murder, suicide, and forensic science.

I am honored to welcome Andrew Hughes to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Lately, I’ve been interested in beginnings. THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER begins like this:

“For my eighteenth birthday, Father promised me the hand of a handsome young man, which he duly delivered mounted in a glass bell-jar.”

What instigated the beginning of this tale for you and what advice would you give to writers looking for a really fantastic ‘hook?’

Andrew Hughes: Thanks, Leslie. One of the challenges I had early on was to capture Abigail’s voice, her wit and her appreciation of the macabre, particularly as the story was told in the first person. I was imagining a Jane Austen type heroine loose in Regency Dublin, and was thinking about some of the tropes in period fiction when the line popped into my head. I liked it as well because it hints at the relationship she has with her father, his humor and his indulgence of her more morbid interests.

As for advice for writers, I’d say just concentrate on voice and character and don’t get bogged down. Get the plot started as quickly as possible and don’t look back.

L.L.: Andrew, you do a wonderful job depicting 1816 Dublin. The year is known as, “the year without summer.” Can you tell us a little about your research? 

Andrew Hughes: My first book was a social history of Dublin called LIVES LESS ORDINARY, which looked at all the people who lived in one of the city’s Georgian squares. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all that research was giving me a terrific yearwithoutsummersetting for historical fiction and a ready-made cast of characters.

I read about “the year without a summer” a while ago. A dust cloud from the eruption of Tambora in Indonesia settled over Western Europe, bringing frost to mid-July, crop failures and hardship. The sun turned blood-red, and black dots scattered about its disk became clear to the naked eye.

At the same time in Dublin there was a growing conflict between students of the Enlightenment and a burgeoning evangelical movement whose proselytizing would become known as the Second Reformation. For me, the eerie weather, religious fervor and rationalist zeal created a perfect tinder-box atmosphere for historical crime fiction.

In terms of specific research, I found newspaper transcripts of 19th Century inquests to be a great source. Each inquest was its own mini-drama – the description of the victim, particulars of the crime, the testimony of witnesses, often people from the poorest backgrounds whose voices would otherwise have gone unrecorded.

L.L.: I’ve always loved science, but forensics and forensic psychology really fascinate. In fact, I looked up some of the books you mention in the novel, Male’s EPITOME OF FORENSICS, for example. I didn’t find it. I imagine it’s likely in a special collection somewhere? Trinity College, perhaps?

Andrew Hughes: I used a slightly abridged title! In full it’s An Epitome of Juridical or Forensic Medicine; for the use of medical men, coroners, and barristers, and it’s available online here. 

It was published in 1816, which was perfectly timed for me. Male was a surgeon who had grown increasingly frustrated at the inability of coroners to identify cases of murder because of a lack of medical knowledge. He wrote a clear guide outlining the procedures for inspecting a body, the marks associated with violent deaths, the scientific tests to establish poisons, and so on. It became my textbook for Abigail and her forensic adventures.

L.L.: And Abigail Lawless! What a fun, quirky, adventuresome young woman. How did you dream up her character? Is she based off anyone you know?

Andrew Hughes: For me, Abigail was a reaction to my first novel, THE CONVICTIONS OF JOHN DELAHUNT, which was based on a true-life murderer and police informer in 1840s Dublin. That was a first-person narrative told from the murderer’s point of view, and while at times it was fun to inhabit his amoral head, I knew that for my next book I wanted the main character to be the hero. I also wanted to write about a young woman rather than a man, and since she would need plausible access to cases of murder and their investigations, the idea of the coroner’s daughter came to be.

I didn’t base her on anyone in particular. I imagined a modern Irish girl having to make her way in that society, the constraints and prejudices she would have to face. She’s headstrong and rebellious, but also a loving daughter, a kind friend. One of the reviewers over here [in Ireland] called her “great company”, which I liked.31b975f8b7633c47d7a1ba1d3a863ac8

L.L.: Also, I loved the derelict manor of Kilbride. There’s something brooding and intriguing about the obscure, bringing a sense of doom and tension to writing. Does the place exist and if not, what was your inspiration?

Andrew Hughes: Yes, Manor Kilbride is a village about an hour south of Dublin. I remember passing the church there once, St John’s, and being struck by the setting.
It’s a simple chapel perched on a hillside with listing headstones and dark woods surrounding – the perfect gothic location. Mr Darby’s ruined vicarage I just made up myself. I found out later that the village and church were used as sets in the Anne Hathaway film Becoming Jane. Their location scout obviously felt the same way I did.

L.L.: Can you talk a little about the Christian sect, the Brethren, mentioned in THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER? Was this purely fictional, or based in history?

Andrew Hughes: That came out of my LIVES LESS ORDINARY book. The Plymouth Brethren were an evangelical movement that first began meeting in Fitzwilliam Square in the 1820s. Their gatherings in England took place in Plymouth so that’s where they got the name. In a general sense, they were an inspiration for the sect in Plym.jpgTHE CORONER’S DAUGHTER, and their charismatic leader was also called Mr Darby. But in Ireland in the early 19th Century there was a growing evangelical reaction to revolutionary politics and the campaign for Catholic emancipation, not just confined to the Plymouth Brethren. Of course, any such conservative movement would find a natural antagonist in the curious, inconvenient, and intuitive Abigail.

L.L.: What’s keeping you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary (and hopefully it’s not grave robbers)!

Andrew Hughes: Apart from worrying about the daily news, I’ve been catching up on a few true-crime series lately. I got through Making a Murderer and The Keepers on Netflix with unseemly haste. Also listened to the latest Serial podcast, S-Town. That was an excellent portrait of an intriguing man, but in the end I got tired of the hooks and cliffhangers that were never quite resolved. I’ve been writing a lot these past few months and have to catch up on my TBR pile, but I’ve started reading THE GINGER MAN again after the death of J.P. Donleavy.

L.L.: Andrew, it was a true joy. Thank you for chatting with us about THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Andrew Hughes: I’ve just finished a new novel, more Irish historical fiction, this time based on a real-life 18th Century character: Lady Betty, the merciless hangwoman of Roscommon! The ink is barely dry on that one, so I’ve not much more news, but keep an eye out for it in 2018.

 For more information, to connect with Andrew Hughes via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CORONER’S DAUGHTER, please see: 

AndrewHughesABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Hughes was born in Ireland and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. It was while researching his acclaimed social history of Fitzwilliam Square—Lives Less Ordinary: Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Square, 1798-1922—that he first came across the true story of John Delahunt that inspired his debut novel, The Convictions of John Delahunt. Andrew lives in Dublin.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Pegasus Books and used with permission. Image of ‘the year without summer’ retrieved from The Paris Review, image of St. John’s Church/Kilbride retrieved from, image of The Plymouth Brethren retrieved from Wikipedia, all on 9.28.17. Trinity College library from L.Lindsay’s personal archives] 

Special Pub Day Edition: Debut author Bryn Greenwood talks about ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, how writing about the hard stuff is important, how this is NOT autobiographical, and more–now available in PAPERBACK!

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is as raw as it is compassionate. A writer I know sometimes says, “I was brave on the page today,” and that’s exactly what I think of Wavonna (Wavy), the main character in this title, as well as the debut author Bryn Greenwood. She was brave on the page and there’s truth to it right here–she’s the daughter of a (mostly reformed) drug dealer just like Wavy, and she has a habit of falling in love with much older men, and perhaps she also not just brave on the page, but “writes what she knows.”

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This is a brave, insightful read from a very talented new writer and I thoroughly enjoyed the language and rhythm to the prose, however, I will say that this is not a book for everyone. It’s a bit like LOLITA meets…I’m not sure. Be prepared for some rawness and uncomfortable things going on in ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

We first meet Wavy (short for Wavonna) when she is just 5 years old. She’s got a creepy-goofy mom whom she’s often scared of, especially when mom’s high. Her dad’s no better. Wavy keeps her mouth shut and stays out of sight. Selectively mute, she eats in secret, and finds many others hard to trust. That is until she meets Kellen (Also known as Jesse Joe Barfoot). Kellen is much older than Wavy (who is now 8 years old), yet they are in love. Or perhaps it’s more brotherly at first, him protecting her while she’s a vulnerable child and her parents are too strung out to parent. But then a love definitely develops.

Tragedy rips the family apart and well-meaning aunt steps in. There’s foster care, drugs, jail time, death/murder/suicide and so much more in this gorgeously told literary suspense ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

So, grab your cup of coffee and join me as we get to know Bryn Greenwood.

Leslie Lindsay: Oh goodness, I just finished ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS and I have to say, the title is quite fitting. Are you one of those writers who can’t set pen to paper before knowing a title, or does it develop organically?

Bryn Greenwood: It’s important for me to have a working title that resonates with me, but always with the awareness that it probably won’t end up being the title the book is published under. The working title for ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS was rather unimpressively THIRTEEN, in reference to Wavy’s age when her life changes dramatically. It’s a good thing I don’t get too attached to my working titles, as this book actually went through three title changes on its road to publication. The line referencing “all the ugly and wonderful things” existed from the first draft, however, so it was fitting that it ended up being the title.

L.L.: So…”writing what you know,” I have to say, I also love memoir and as I’m reading, there’s so much truth and raw honesty with your characters and the situations they get themselves into, yet ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is not a memoir. Can you discuss your understanding of the difference between “writing what you know” and a full-fledged memoir?

Bryn Greenwood: Writing a memoir would require me to take careful stock of a lot of memories, and do a lot of research to fact check the events of my life. It would also require me to decide how many people I’m willing to be estranged from. Writing what I know, however, allows me to pick and choose from the things I remember vividly and fill in the blanks with people and events of my own imagination. Still, I feel that fiction calls upon the same level of introspection and emotional honesty as memoir. In terms of ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, is some of it true? Yes. My father was a drug dealer, and I’ve done and seen some pretty crazy things as a result. Do some of the characters resemble people I knew? Without a doubt. At the age of thirteen I started an intense love affair with a man more than twice my age. He and I are both in these pages in some very filtered form. Does it approach autobiography? Absolutely not.

L.L.: Many folks are comparing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS to LOLITA. Talk about a narrative with lots of uncomfortable situations! How do you respond to those comparisons?220px-lolita_1955

Bryn Greenwood: I’m a big fan of Nabokov, and I think LOLITA is an incredible novel, perhaps even one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Breaking it down to its bare bones, though, it doesn’t have anything in common with ALL THE UGLY AND
WONDERFUL THINGS. Humbert Humbert is a sexual predator who marries a single mother and, following her convenient death, kidnaps her daughter for what I can only describe as a cross-country pedophilic rape-fest. As a first person narration, we have only Humbert’s perspective on his relationship with Lolita, and I don’t trust him. ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS has none of those plot elements, and the characters involved are quite different, as is the dynamic of their relationship. Yes, there’s an increasingly uncomfortable and inappropriate relationship between a young girl, Wavy, and Kellen, a man thirteen years her senior, but I do not consider Kellen a predator or a pedophile. Also it is my hope that the multiple narrative angles allow readers to see a much more balanced view of their relationship and come to their own conclusions.

“Greenwood’s powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair… It’s no storybook romance, but the novel closes on a note of hard-won serenity, with people who deserve a second chance gathered together….Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.”

~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

L.L.: What did you learn about yourself writing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I learned that there are things I thought I’d let go of that still have their hooks in me. This was simultaneously a happy and a sad lesson, because some of the things that still have a hold on me are full of sorrow, while others are full of joy. Accessing some of those memories allowed me to release a lot of the shame that other people had pressed upon me. As a society, we have a few set narratives about certain things, like the way “inappropriate” relationships between young people and older people are viewed and discussed. The approved narrative is that the younger person is a victim. If you have an experience that doesn’t fit, or if you decline to identify with being a victim, people will try to shame you. If you won’t be a victim, then there must be something wrong with you seems to be the message. Writing this book, I was able to shrug off that shame for something more constructive.

I also learned that I’m more stubborn than I knew I was, and I thought I was pretty stubborn. I received a lot of rejections on this book, but at no point did I consider giving up.

L.L.: There are so many things going on in this story, but it’s all handled well. In some ways, it feels like a mystery/thriller and in other regards, it feels a bit like…well, a coming of age romance, though I cringe to liken it to romance, because it’s not really that. Plus, the writing is very lyrical, polished, and emotionally resonate. Perhaps it’s literary fiction. What genre do you feel ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is? And in the end, does genre matter?

Bryn Greenwood: I think of it primarily as literary/mainstream fiction. It obviously has many hallmarks of a coming of age story–for several of the characters–but there are a lot of other elements at play within the story, as you observe. Like you, I hesitate to think of it as romance, because romance novels tend to glorify and glamorize the love stories they tell. Although ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS definitely contains a love story, it’s not particularly romantic. That said, I suspect genre only matters as much as we tell ourselves it does. I read across all genres, and I know from the contents of my inbox that readers of all kinds have connected with my book.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away after reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I hope that most readers will simply spend some time thinking about the issues that surround the characters: drug abuse, neglect, family, love, loss, food. As much as we want life to be black and white, there’s a whole lot of gray. I think we get to that understanding, and to sympathy, by acknowledging the issues that inhabit that gray area.

For readers who find that the book makes them uncomfortable, I hope they will spend a little time thinking of other readers for whom this book is a mirror. Wavy and Kellen’s lives may seem alien or repulsive, but there are people who have lived or are living these lives. Those people deserve to see their stories told with sincerity just as much as anyone else.

“It’s a troubling tale, but the rich characterization makes it all but impossible to set aside.” 

~St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Best Books of 2016

L.L.: I’m a bit curious about place and how that affects us as writers. Or, does it? I understand you’re a fourth generation Kansan. I’m at least a fifth generation Missourian. I’m drawn to raw, uncensored stories about family, love, and human behavior. Could just be me, but perhaps there’s some mid-America influence there. Can you share your thoughts on that?

Bryn Greenwood: Although I’ve written about other places, I feel like much of my writing is informed by my family connection to Kansas, and to the West. [See Bryn’s website to glimpse her other writing] Part of that is this sense of a massive, flat, open space, of being able to see not just the next town twenty miles away, but the actual curvature of the earth. I always feel like I’m trying to bring that breadth of vision to my writing. The other element of place that crops up in my work is this damned impenetrable stubbornness. During the Dust Bowl, when a 220px-dust-storm-texas-1935lot of people fled from Western Kansas, my family stayed, possibly out of pure bullheadedness. That bleeds through in how we feel about our relationships and our place in the world. We can be very insular, but are passionate and loyal. 

L.L.: In fact, as I’m reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, I’m reminded of several other titles that are written (and set) by Missouri authors (Laura McHugh’s THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD comes to mind as does Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE). What stories, authors, and genres influence you? What ignites your creative spark?

Bryn Greenwood: I read all different genres, because I never know where I’ll stumble across the kinds of stories and characters I love. I enjoy sci fi and fantasy, often because I feel like the same thing that lets them cross the boundaries of our reality lets them access emotions and relationships that we don’t always find in contemporary fiction. (Some of my current recommendations are Sherri L. Smith, Holly Black, and always Ursula K. LeGuin.) I’m a big believer in reading work by women, because we’ve so often been silenced. Some of my favorites are Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, and Isabelle Allende.

L.L.: I understand you used to work with Planned Parenthood. Can you tell us a bit about that? This particular experience netted you a good number of publications.

Bryn Greenwood: In the 1990s I worked at Planned Parenthood of Kansas (Now PP Great Plains) as a sex educator. As is the nature of teaching, it was hugely educational for me. I did hundreds of presentations for high school students, social services clients, inmates at juvenile and adult facilities. I saw so much of humanity and heard so many stories that I was radically changed in my understanding of the world. I can’t help but feel a lot of that experience comes through in my writing as well. In terms of what I tweeted about in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings last year, that whole experience is a great illustration about social media. You cannot control what catches people’s attention. It turned out that a lot of people wanted to know more about what I’d experienced as a Planned Parenthood employee.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but forgot?

 Bryn Greenwood: One of my favorite things to ask other writers is what newspapers, websites, etc. they like to read on a casual basis, because I’m interested in people’s daily mental perambulations. Of course, having mentioned this, I now have to admit that I love reading trashy tabloids online. I think it’s that underneath all the celebrity gossip and Florida crime reports, I know there are real stories. I like to imagine what has really happened behind all the sordid and sensationalist nonsense. Tabloids render it all as grotesque– “Famous Athlete Arrested in Altercation at Strip Club” or “Florida Woman Shoots Husband and His Lover, Her Own Mother” –but I enjoy trying to develop narratives for the headlines that reveal actual people having actual human emotions.

L.L.: Bryn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Bryn Greenwood: Thank you for inviting me to talk about my book and all my random obsessions. It’s been wonderful, Leslie!

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ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS is now available in PAPERBACK. You can also find Bryn Greenwood ON TOUR this fall in the Midwest:

For more information on ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS, or to connect with Bryn Greenwood via social media, please see: 

bryn-greenwood-credit-jennifer-stewart-newlinAuthor Bio: Bryn Greenwood is a fourth-generation Kansan, one of seven sisters, and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She earned a MA in Creative Writing and continues to work in academia as an administrator. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is her debut novel. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is married to an extensive home remodeling project, and is raising a small herd of boxers and hairless cats.

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

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to K. Bassel at SMP. Author and cover images courtesy of SMP and used with permission. Lolita cover image retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.8.16, Dust Bowl image also retrieved from Wikipedia.] 007.JPG

Wednesdays with Writers: Veronica Henry talks about how books are really very comforting and nourishing, imagination, saving bookstores, the Cotswolds, and so much more in her recently-released-in-the-U.S. HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP

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By Leslie Lindsay 

As an avid reader, there’s no feeling quite like exploring a beautiful old (or new) bookstore. In fact, many years ago before my husband was my husband, we were at the Grand Opening of a local Barnes & Noble, giddy and holding hands. It was an official date and solidified our love for books—and each other.

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When I came upon Veronica Henry’s HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP, I knew it would bring the same sense of whimsy and wonderment as that bookstore date nearly eighteen years ago. There’s something magical about browsing the shelves, touching the spines, turning the pages, and getting lost in the imaginary worlds of beloved authors.

Emilia Nightingale is all grown up and grieving the loss of her father, who raised Emilia alone after her mother died during childbirth. Add in the charming English countryside town of Peasebrook, several long-held secrets, and it’s a haven for literary-minded locals and readers alike. HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP (Viking/Pamela Dorman Books, August 15 2017) is ultimately about its grieving owner, a literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart. I absolutely loved this book.

I am thrilled to have Veronica Henry here to chat with us about the book, and all things literary. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Veronica, it’s great to have you. I devoured this book, mostly because I so appreciate the hub of a great bookstore. But also because your characters were so relatable. Why this book, why now?

Veronica Henry: Firstly, thank you so much for having me on your blog and your questions are all fantastic! I wrote this book because a few years ago it seemed as if books were going to vanish, and along with them bookshops. But I noticed that after a couple of years’ excitement over digital books, people were really missing the person-reading-red-covered-book-near-grass.jpgcomfort and pleasure of holding a real book in their hands, and went back to buying them. And as a result bookshops had a renaissance. I wanted to reflect that
phenomenon. I also love to write books set in places where I know my readers will enjoy going – and pretty much everyone who reads books loves bookshops! They are my own safe place and comfort zone, so it felt very natural to set a book there.

L.L.: I adored all of these characters! HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is not a banquet of ‘too many’ characters, name dropping, etc., but almost like reading several novellas. For each character’s story, we are drawn in, given a clear sense of their backstory and it makes me love them more. How did you decide on this structure? Did you have a particular character(s) who really spoke to you?

Veronica Henry: I used to be a script writer, and wrote for lots of British long running drama series, so I am used to juggling lots of stories and characters. So it comes very naturally to me to structure a book like that. I always decide on my setting first – a sense of place is the most important decision for me before I start – then I choose one character whose story will be the book’s spine. All the other characters have to fit in around them. This book is centered around Emilia, but 6fe1c589e796bff64c81da223cb0c48f_XLeveryone else gets their moment in the sun!

L.L.: I think at the heart of HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is the community—the people who venture into Nightingale Books. Did you base this tale off any particular bookstore or town?

Veronica Henry: I worked in a couple of bookshops before I was a writer so I am familiar with what it’s like the other side of the counter, which helped with the story and Emilia’s dilemmas. One of the shops I worked in was the famous Foyles in Charing Cross Road, which was very eccentric. But Nightingale Books is a mixture of all the bookshops I’ve been into and come to love, mixed in with a bit of
imagination – Peasebrook is fictional, and is my ideal town. I adore the Cotswolds – they are so breathtakingly pretty and so atmospheric. The book is my fantasy life, really! My favourite book as a child was Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge, which had a glorious bookshop in it that was a big influence.

L.L.: I came upon a story today on the Internet about reading and why we should. The world is a messy place and when we get sick of it, go read. A proper book, not the news. Why, in your opinion, do we like to escape into a good book? [Here’s the article]

Veronica Henry: I think the wonderful thing about reading is that it engages your imagination. We are spoon-fed so much these days, but you have to work quite hard when you read a book, subconsciously, and I think that is immensely satisfying. It also means that your version of that book is very personal to you. So your vision of what Emilia looks like and how the shop is laid out will be very different from the next person’s. A good writer gives you an impressionistic sketch and you get to fill in the rest. So books are nourishing and satisfying in a way that other mediums aren’t.download (50)

L.L.: I have to say—I really ‘got’ Bea. She might have been my favorite character—mostly because she’s a mom and is dealing with expectancy violation. The country is just a little too bucolic, a little too saccharine for her. Motherhood is boring. She yearns for her old career at a glossy home décor magazine. I loved reading about her ideas to make Nightingale Books better. I think this excerpt summarizes my zest for her best:

“We’re creating…a complete experience. This won’t be just a bookshop. This will be…an emporium of delight. A feast for all the senses. A place of comfort. An escape.”

In fact, designing a bookstore would be the ultimate job! Can you talk more about her character and how she came to be?

Veronica Henry: I love Bea too – she doesn’t want to accept the stereotype and she’s a bit of a rebel and dares to do things other people might not. And she is prepared to admit she is not living the dream she thought she would – but is brave enough to figure out how to make it work. She’s creative and she wants to help other people make their dreams come true too. She’s a do-er. I love people who make things happen – I guess that’s where she came from – but I wanted to shock people too. We all have to pretend to be so perfect, but not everyone is, and I think Bea reflects that.

c998630281e1b2fe10ae13f45f42e330L.L.: Thomasina and Lauren are lovely chefs and caterers. From the potato gratin to the loin of venison coated in a mushroom duxelles and wrapped in puff pastry to the delicate pear mousse with a rich chocolate sauce right in the middle…well, let’s just say, I did a fair amount of snacking while reading. Are you a foodie yourself?

Veronica Henry: Oh yes … I am never happier than when reading about food, cooking food, eating other people’s food … Right now I am poaching a chicken and I’m going to try a new dish my friend told me about – a Greek soup with lemon and egg and rice – and I can’t wait. It brings me such pleasure. Food is a really important part of my writing. Mealtimes are perfect dramatic backdrops. They bring people together. Add in some wine and the drama begins! Thomasina is a great character – I love how she is so quiet yet brings people so much pleasure without showing off.

L.L.: Emilia often talks about her childhood living above Nightingale Books. Do you have anything from your childhood you wished you still had—a toy, book, item of clothing?

Veronica Henry: I’m really trying hard not to hold onto stuff anymore as I think it does hold you back and stop you growing as a person. Living in the past isn’t healthy, but it’s important to keep a few key pieces. I have a lot of my childhood books which bring me joy and I often re-read them. I also still have the teddy bear my father gave me for my first birthday – he died last year so that bear gives me a lot of comfort. It was weird – I wrote about Julius’ death just before my own father died (I didn’t know he was going to), and it was so odd re-reading the book afterwards as I felt so many of the things Emilia felt. 7484_picture_1f.png

L.L.: It’s been a pleasure, Veronica. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Veronica Henry: It’s been a pleasure for me too – I just want to remind your readers to visit their local bookstore as often as they can. We must keep them alive. And you never know what you are going to come out with. Happy reading everyone!

For more information, to connect with Veronica Henry via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP, please visit: 

Veronica Henry © Jenny Lewis.jpegABOUT THE AUHOR: Veronica Henry worked as a TV scriptwriter before turning to fiction. In 2014, she won the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year with A Night on the Orient Express. Henry lives by the sea in North Devon, U.K.

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

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these venues:

 

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Viking/Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. Cotswolds cottages retrieved from, reading outside from, Cotswolds bookstore retrieved from, collection of childhood books from, all retrieved on 9.25.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: A riveting new look at ‘the quest for rest,’ the mysteries of sleep, dreams, its tie to creativity; how structure for books is like the frame of a house; his worry about teen screen time, and so much more in Michael McGirr’s SNOOZE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A fascinating and insightful collection of essays and thoughts on sleep, why we do it and so much more. 

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I absolutely loved this book! 

SNOOZE: The Lost Art of Sleep is a great read and so very different from anything I’ve ever read on the subject.While it’s billed as non-fiction, it is not a textbook;  it’s not a how-to sleep hygiene book, either. One might call it part memoir, part essays on sleep-related topics, part survey in western civilization, and part pop psychology intermingled with a little hard scienceIn fact, SNOOZE is a bit like FREAKANOMICS, Sleep edition (if there were one) or Malcolm Gladwell meets Bill Bryson…on sleep.

Here’s a sampling of topics: Sleep disorders, beds (making those beds), staying in bed, medications designed to help induce sleep (and side-effects), philosophy, the demise of sleep in our fragmented world, famous people and their quirks (Flo Nightingale, Charles Dickens, Homer, Plato, Thomas Edison, Shakespeare, etc.), even the effect of war/PTSD on sleep. 

There were some laugh out loud moments as McGirr, a former Jesuit priest talks about his sermons, life as a priest, then parenting…not just *a* child, but a toddler and *then* a set of twins. Not to worry, the narrative doesn’t get bogged down with parenting asides; SNOOZE is very focused writing (and reading).

I found McGirr witty and delightful and kind of think this would make a great download (48)audio book read by the author. 

Oh, and he’s here today to chat with us about his book, what keeps him awake and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Michael, it’s a great pleasure. Thanks for popping by. Sleep is by far one of my favorite…uh…pastimes. Does that make me seem dull? Actually, I work and play hard, too. What prompted your interest in the subject?

Michael McGirr: Thanks Leslie for your great response to Snooze. I was delighted by your kind words. Sleep came at me from three directions. The first was my own struggle over many years with a couple of sleep disorders without realizing how serious they are. People laugh at snorers or are annoyed by them but don’t always understand they are engaged in a life and death battle to breathe. Next, I found myself in my early forties suddenly with 3 children under the age of two, including twins, and none of them understood the meaning of a decent night’s sleep. But most of all, the book came at me from a profound sense that we are living in a culture that is approaching exhaustion and its main response seems to be to keep people more and more tired. A city that never sleeps is one that is never fully awake.102150-The-City-That-Never-Sleeps.jpg

L.L.: I was fascinated by your sleep study. And I learned about sleep latency…that time period between lying down to go to sleep and falling asleep. [Hint: if it’s less than 10 minutes, you’re probably sleep deprived]. Can you walk us through the process?

Michael McGirr: You’ve explained it very well. At present, I am a school teacher doing marking [grading] late at night. I am asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. This is not great. Nor is it great to be awake for an hour before you fall asleep. A good night’s sleep begins with a process known as fading. It actually starts before you get into bed: the brain responds well to rituals and pre-bed rituals can be a great help: brushing your teeth, hanging up your clothes, etc. in the same order every day and trying to go to bed at the same time. Ideally, this will allow you to gently fade into sleep once you are in bed.

[Leslie’s note: You may like these tips about establishing sleep rituals]

L.L.: I tend to fall asleep reading. (But certainly not SNOOZE!) In fact, last night, I sat down to read (not in bed).  It was only 8:14pm. “Wow…all kinds of glorious time to read,” I thought. “Maybe, I’ll finish this book!” Ah, such lofty aspirations. My lids grew heavy and my head started bopping. I was out. It wasn’t even 9:00pm [the time your research in SNOOZE says my body starts producing melanin in earnest].  And I happened to really like the book I was reading. What’s up with that?

Michael McGirr: It’s fine. Your brain and body have had enough of you for the day. They want you and your agenda out of the way so they can get on with their most important work, which happens when you are asleep. Sleep is the most creative part of the day because it is when our ego gets out of our way. You can get up early to keep reading. I love doing that. I love the half-hour before the next person in the house wakes up. But don’t forget there are millions of books. You are never going to read them all. Accept that there is only so much you can fit into a single day, not to mention a single lifetime, and you will rest in greater peace. Sleep means letting go. 

L.L.: The structure of SNOOZE is so clever, so fun. Its chapters are arranged in clock times when folks might be asleep. The first chapter, for example, begins at 8pm. Along with a time, a date is given. So Chapter One is 8pm and 1969. The narrative does not follow a linear time frame. Well, wait—it does. Can you talk about how you discovered this structure?

Michael McGirr: Thank you. Finding the structure of a book is always a big deal for me. It’s like building the frame of a house. Then you can start to sort out what will actually fit in the house. I always have more material than I can use and the amount available on sleep is endless. My book before this, called BYPASS, was about download (49)the Hume Highway which is the main road between Sydney and Melbourne, the two biggest cities in Australia. I found the structure for that book by riding a pushbike along the 900km of the road. In the case of SNOOZE, I tried several ideas. Finally, I settled on structuring it as a night’s sleep, choosing incidents from history, both recent and ancient, that can be associated with different times of the night. I liked it because it gave me an eclectic structure. The book is a bit of a salad with many different flavours!

L.L.: Here’s another thing I learned from SNOOZE: “the dreamer has the dream, or the dream has the dreamer.” I’m not sure who to attribute that quote to, but what more can you tell us? I am fascinated by dreams and find they definitely help with not just my self-awareness, but creativity, too. Can you tell us more, please?

Michael McGirr: I think I may have made up that phrase. Dreams are fascinating. But not as simple a guide to the unconscious as Freud may have thought. For example, you never dream as much in your life as when you are in the womb. This is when almost all your sleep is REM sleep, which is the phase in which dreams take place. The next dreamiest time is when you are a baby. The amount you dream decreases over a lifetime. 

[Consider]: If dreams at some level involve the processing of your waking experience, why do we dream most when we have least experience? Why do we dream least when we have most to deal with? I don’t know the answer. One theory is download (47)that dreaming is essential for testing synapses in the brain before we are born. We continue to dream because it is pleasurable, a bit like continuing to have sex after you’ve had your kids. But some dreams are not pleasurable. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be literally a nightmare of bad dreams. There is an awful lot to think about. The tendency to forget dreams is one of our major defense mechanisms.

L.L.: What kind of research did you do for SNOOZE? I see there is a very extensive “sources” section at the end of the book…but how much time did your research take, what aspect of sleep might you want to explore further?

Michael McGirr: I was lucky with this topic. Almost every major thinker in history has had things to say about sleep and I enjoyed jousting with a good number of them. This is because sleep is such a fundamental part of human being that you can hardly explore the human condition without coming across it. Someone’s attitude to sleep reveals their entire attitude to life; I found this to be the case with many philosophers and writers. In one sense, I spent my whole life researching this book because I have spent such a lot of my life reading. When I settled on this topic, I went back to writers and thinkers who have been my companions for years, from Plato to Dickens. I am not drawn to a project unless I think I am going to enjoy the research. It needs time.

L.L.: I think anyone who has parented young children, infants especially, know just what it’s like to be exhausted. We tried Ferberizing as well. Horrendous. But the kid sleeps like a log now. How are your twins, Clare and Jake? And Benny? (Just this morning, I smirked as I recalled his comment about making beds and, “If God made the world, why can’t he make my bed?”)

Michael McGirr: I told him God made the world so he might have a place in which to make his own bed.  I don’t think that is the only reason God made the world. The twins are now twelve and Benny is 14. They are an endless source of existential joy and financial grief. I am concerned about the intrusion of screens in their lives. Benny has his first speaking part in a play which starts at school tonight. Clare is learning bassoon. She is a force of nature. Jacob wants to be a high jumper and movie maker. We are working on an internet site for oldies. We are going to call it Thou Tube.

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

Michael McGirr: I am writing a book about reading. It is called (at the moment) 52 THINGS TO READ BEFORE 25. It has my students in mind: it is a challenge to them to have crucial reading experiences in the years after they leave school when their brains are fresh and can bend to all the yoga postures of the mind that a rich reading life asks for. Young people will commit to the gym and their career. But they are much less likely to take the growth of their minds as seriously. So I want to stir them up.

L.L.: Michael, it’s been such fun. I could probably ask you questions all day…or night. What might I have forgotten to ask but should have?dsc_3626a2__880

Michael McGirr: I have loved your questions. This has been delightful. Thank you. SNOOZE is really a book about the quest for rest. That is broader than sleep, although sleep is a big part of it. The world is restless. It keeps screaming at us like an over-tired baby demanding attention. Tired people are vulnerable because they can’t think. They resort to clichés. They are comforted by meaningless platitudes. Sleep and rest are the wells of creativity.

[Leslie’s Note: Oh my gosh! You have got to visit this amazingly creative momma’s website, boredpanda.com. She’s turned her baby’s naptimes into clever dreamscapes]

For more information about SNOOZE, to connect with Michael McGirr through social media, or to purchase a copy, please see: 

MichaelMcGirr_auphoto_creditBill Spierings.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael McGirr is an essayist, reviewer, prize-winning short-story writer and teacher. A former Jesuit priest, he is also the author of Things You Get For Free and Bypass: The Story of a Road. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, Jenny, and their three rapidly growing children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these venues:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Pegasus Books and used with permission. ‘City that Never Sleeps’ image retrieved from , sleep at night image from http://www.everydayhealth.com, sleeping baby from dailymail.uk.co, Sleeping baby with crane, from, which I highly recommend a visit to! All on 9.13.17]

WeekEND Reading: New York Times Bestselling Author Ken Follet talks about the third book in his Kingsbridge series, A COLUMN OF FIRE, how his wife’s characteristics sometimes appear in female characters, religious freedom, and kick-ass women of the 16th century

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH and WORLD WITHOUT END comes the next epic novel in the Kingsbridge series: A COLUMN OF FIRE. 

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In 1989 Ken Follet published the historical epic THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH, a departure for the bestselling writer which stunned reader and critics alike with its ambitious scope and unforgettable cast of characters. That was nearly 30 years ago!. It reached #1 on bestsellers lists across the world, and since become Follet’s most popular novel. Ten years ago, Oprah selected THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH for her Book Club, and the second book in the series was published, WORLD WITHOUT END.

The saga continues with Follet’s new epic, A COLUMN OF FIRE (September 12, Viking). This one introduces a world of spies and secret agents in the 16th century, a time when Queen Elizabeth I ruled. Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, this novel is one of Follet’s most exciting and ambitious works yet. It’s perfect for longtime fans of the Kingsbridge series, but if you weren’t around 30 years ago, it works well as a stand-alone, too.

A COLUMN OF FIRE begins in 1558. The ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral peer over a city torn to shreds by religious conflict. Power in England shifts precariously
between Catholics and Protestants, high principles clash with friendship, loyalty, and love.

I’m honored to welcome Ken Follet to the blog. 

L.L.: Ken, it’s a honor to chat with you. While A COLUMN OF FIRE is part of a series, it still needs to be something you are willing to spend a significant amount of time with. Where did the inspiration for A COLUMN OF FIRE come from?

Ken Follet: I read somewhere that Queen Elizabeth I started the first English secret service. That intrigued me, and I read several books about spies and secret agents in the 16th century. I felt sure this could be the basis of an exciting novel.

L.L.: Let’s talk titles for a moment. Why did you choose to call the book A COLUMN OF FIRE? It sounds quite ominous. 

Ken Follet: [It is]. It’s biblical, like THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH. Spies are sometimes referred to as a Fifth Column. And a lot of people were burned at the stake in the 16th century.

L.L.: So were you excited about returning to Kingsbridge? [There are numerous towns called Kingsbridge, but the one in Follet’s THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH is fictional]. 

Ken Follet: You bet. We’ve watched the place grow from an Anglo-Norman settlement to a thriving medieval town, and now we see it at the start of the English Renaissance. Kingsbridge is England in miniature. article-1331731-0C1D9C90000005DC-968_634x398

L.L.: We know that A COLUMN OF FIRE is about spies and secret agents in the 16th century. What other themes surround the book?

Ken Follet: Most of my recent books are about people struggling for freedom in one form or another: Welsh coal miners, Russian factory workers, Jews, African Americans. This is about religious freedom.

L.L.: Can you talk about how these themes relate to your own life?

Ken Follet: I’ve always hated people who assume they have authority over me. This made my schooldays a challenge, obviously. A bully makes me angry. I empathize with fictional characters who fight against tyranny.

L.L.: I can’t get over the historical scope of this book. Not to mention, it’s over 900 pages! What sort of research did you do for A COLUMN OF FIRE?

Ken Follet: There’s nobody left to interview, of course. As usual, most of my information comes from history books. I also visited houses and castles built in this period. I looked at 16th century clothing in the London Museum, and I went several times to the National Portrait Gallery to study the faces of Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, Francis Drake and many others.

L.L.: Did you visit the locations of the key events in A Column of Fire?

Ken Follet: Scotland for Loch Leven, the prison from which Mary Queen of Scots escaped; Belgium for Antwerp, then the banking centre of the western world; Spain for Seville, the richest city in Spain; Paris because it was the headquarters of those who conspired to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.300px-Lochleven_west_wall

L.L.: Plenty of historians have written about this era. Who among them do you particularly like or respect?

Ken Follet: Robert Hutchinson has written well about espionage at this time. Geoffrey Parker is the authority on the long and bloody war in the Netherlands. Perhaps the most useful book was Conyers Read’s three-volume biography MR. SECRETARY WALSINGHAM, about the man who was he Elizabethan equivalent of “M” in the James Bond stories.

L.L.: So, I have to ask, are any of your fictional characters based on real people?

Ken Follet: Not really. I might give a villain the hair style of someone I dislike, and of course the female heroes all have something in them of Barbara, my wife; but my fictional characters are never portraits of real people.

L.L.: A COLUMN OF FIRE  has a number of real historical characters, including several heads of state. Who did you particularly admire?

Ken Follet: Three great 16th century leaders understood the need for religious tolerance, and interestingly they were all women: our Queen Elizabeth I; Caterina dei Medici, who was queen of France and then Queen Mother; and Marguerite de Parme, governor of the Netherlands. In an age of relentless bigotry, each of them tried to persuade people of rival religions to live in peace. For that they were hated. Their efforts were only partly successful.220px-MargarethevonParma01

Each of them was undermined: Elizabeth by repeated plots to assassinate her, Caterina by the ruthless Guise family, and Marguerite by her half-brother King Felipe II of Spain. I admire their idealism, courage and persistence in the face of bloodthirsty opposition.

L.L.: You’ve had a long, illustrious career; what are you most proud of?

Ken Follet: It was a pretty good achievement to write a novel about the rather unpromising subject of building a cathedral in the Middle Ages and turning it into an international No.1. We’ve sold about twenty-six-million copies of THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH. That’s pretty good for a book a lot of people thought would be too dull.

L.L.: How long did it take you to write?

Ken Follet: The whole thing took three years and three months. After two years I only had about 200 pages, and I felt this was a crisis. And as a novelist the only thing you can do if you want to write faster is work more hours. So I started to work Saturdays and then Sundays as well. The difficulty is simply that you’ve got to keep on making up more and more stuff about the same people. If you write 100,000 words of a thriller, then it’s finished. But after 100,000 words of THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH that’s like that much. [He holds open first quarter of the book.] I had all that to go. [He holds open the final three-quarters.] That was the great difficulty. uk_the_pillars_of_the_earth

L.L.: Some writers dread of their books being turned into films or TV series. But have you enjoyed the experience?

Ken Follet: Seeing good actors giving good performances, bringing to life characters I’ve invented and speaking some of the lines I’ve written is a huge thrill. When it all goes well it’s great. When it goes badly you cringe when you see what’s on the screen, but you have to take that risk.

I’m pleased and proud that some of my stories have made good film and TV. It confirms the strength of the story that it can be transformed from one medium to another. And I’m also pleased that my stories have been turned into a stage musical, several board games, and a computer game.

L.L.: Wow! Do I dare ask what’s next?

Ken Follet: I’m working on a new story, but I’m not yet ready to talk about it—sorry!

For more information, to connect with Ken Follet via social media, or to purchase a copy of A COLUMN OF FIRE, please visit: 

Ken Follett.headshot credit Olivier Favre (1).JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Follett is one of the world’s best-loved authors, selling more than 160 million copies of his thirty books. Follett’s first bestseller was Eye of the Needle, a spy story set in the Second World War. Follett lives in Hertfordshire, England, with his wife Barbara. Between them they have five children, six grandchildren, and three Labradors.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Viking. Other images retrieved from Wikipedia, PILLARS OF THE EARTH television adaption image retrieved from Daily Mail, all on 8.26.17] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Hiking through Ireland, lush prose, a woman at the brink, the environment, and the healing power of art, plus Irish myths and so much more in Julie Christine Johnson’s new book, THE CROWS OF BEARA

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By Leslie Lindsay CROWSCOVER.jpg

Gorgeous landscapes intermingle with the moods, magic, and mysticism of southwest Ireland in this story of self-discovery and environmentalism. 

Julie Christine Johnson has a gift for writing lush, glittery prose. Each and every word is literally dripping with spark. And her stories are as much self-discovery as they are armchair travel. Having been to both Ireland and France (where her first book, IN ANOTHER LIFE is set), I can attest to her vividly capturing both the ‘feel’ and setting of each place.

Annie Crowe is battling severe demons in her Seattle life: she’s a recovering alcoholic, her marriage is in disrepair, and her job at a PR firm is hanging in the balance. She’s at a very brittle place in her life. Of course, there’s an opportunity, however perilous to her mental health to travel to Ireland with work on an environmental mission of sorts.

When she arrives to the Beara Peninsula, Annie learns the copper mine which she is advocating for encroaches on the endangered life of the red-billed Chough where it makes its home (and nesting grounds). Residents of the area are fiercely protective of that mine, including Daniel Savage.

But Daniel, a visual artist, is struggling in multiple ways. He and Annie don’t immediately see eye-to-eye about the mine, or much about anything…yet…there’s something that continues drawing them together.

I’m honored to welcome Julie back to the blog couch. So, grab a delicious buttered scone and a cup of Irish Breakfast and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Julie, it’s a pleasure to have you back. THE CROWS OF BEARA is such a lush, lyrical read. I was right there with Annie and Daniel on that Irish peninsula. I am always eager to know, why this book, why now?

Julie Christine Johnson: Hi Leslie! Thank you so much for hosting me again, and for your beautiful review. When I began sketching characters and ideas for a novel in January 2014, I knew it would be set in Ireland and have an Irish legend or some element of magical realism woven through it. I just didn’t know where in Ireland or which legend.

I happened upon the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who was raised on the Beara Peninsula and teaches poetry at University College Cork. Her collections, An download (45)Chailleach Bheara, which tells the story of the legend of the “Hag of Beara, and The Mining Road,” which was inspired by the late 18th century copper mining industry and the miners who toiled there, brought me, almost overnight, to my novel.

I knew before I began that my central character, Annie, would be an addict trying to put her life back together. Once I had my themes of environment vs. economic growth, an Irish legend based on the strength and resiliency of women and of the Irish culture, and the healing power of art, the words poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in ten weeks.

Even though it’s been over three years since I first conceived this story and these characters, the novel’s central theme—the healing power of art—seems even more relevant today. America has become so polarized in this anxious, stressful time. Art, whether visual, literary, musical or theatrical, provides a way to cope with, articulate, escape from and celebrate all that speaks to our hearts.

L.L.: I know that you are a hiker and a yogi. How did those experiences influence and inform your writing of THE CROWS OF BEARA?

Julie Christine Johnson: I first traveled to Ireland in 2002 to hike the Beara Way, the same route which Daniel leads hikers, where Annie falls in love with the Beara and Tourist-board-walking-1with Daniel. The peninsula, and the experience, turned my soul inside out. Never have I been more homesick for a place I couldn’t actually call home. Many hikes in Ireland later and I knew I’d be writing about it someday. I hiked the Wicklow Way, the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas, parts of the Burren and Co. Galway. It’s a brilliant way to explore a place: the country unfolds before you slowly, giving you a chance to savor, to meditate, to take it all in. You become a part of the land you walk on, the sky above you, the rain as it falls, the sun as it warms you. And at night, there’s a hot shower and a cold beer.

L.L.: And your publisher, Ashland Creek Press, is focused on ecofiction—animals, the planet, the environment. It’s a diversion from your first publisher. [IN ANOTHER LIFE]. What more can you tell us about Ashland Creek?

Julie Christine Johnson: There couldn’t have been a more perfect home for THE CROWS OF BEARA than Ashland Creek Press. To work with publisher committed to using the literary arts to educate readers about the strength and fragility of the environment speaks to my heart and my intellect. Often, fiction can reach us and teach us in ways that creative non-fiction and journalism cannot. We lose ourselves in a story and from that, our hearts shift and change and we understand viscerally what’s at stake. Stories speak in ways that perhaps facts and figures cannot. Ashland Creek is at the forefront of ecofiction, or “cli-fi” and I’m honored to be part of the vanguard.

L.L.: Annie’s an alcoholic [not a spoiler, this is all covered in the first few pages]. As I’m reading, I’m thinking, ‘oh no…Julie is an alcoholic, too.’ That’s because you do such a good job of conveying the alcoholic’s struggles. Plus, I didn’t realize AA was in Ireland. I’m guessing it’s worldwide? Can you tell us more about your research into this piece of Annie’s character?

Julie Christine Johnson: It’s amazing to me that you say this. I’m honored to know that my approach touched you, for it was critical to me to get it right. When I wrote the first drafts of THE CROWS OF BEARA in 2014 and 2015, addiction had touched me, but only tangentially. Friends had shared their own struggles or that of 45f68edf62488232d797fad7d8921aec--tree-tattoo-back-tree-tattoosloved ones, and much of Annie’s experiences were informed by those conversations.

But last year, as I worked with my publishing editors on revisions of CROWS, I fell in love with a man who had long struggled with substance. A redemptive ending is easy to come by in fiction; much harder in real life. Our relationship ended recently, and I am forced to accept my limitations to affect change in another’s life, but I do not regret my capacity to love. I will continue to pray for this beautiful soul, to hope for his healing. His experiences brought truth to my work. CROWS is in fact dedicated to him and it stands in tribute to all that he has lived and shared with me, to the man I know him to be when alcohol is not present in his life.

L.L.: So The Old Woman on the hill…the Hag. You have to tell us more about her magical, mystical presence. Is this myth real(ha!), because it’s something from Ireland I am not familiar?

Julie Christine Johnson: An Chailleach Bheara. She’s as real as Ireland’s rain and stone fences and green, green hills. Her legend extends from Ireland through Scotland and it has dozens of variations, but at the heart is a goddess who is associated with water, stone, and animals, a deity who controls the weather. In Ireland, she became a mother figure, a goddess who represents all phases of a woman’s life; seven, to be exact. So I created seven women in THE CROWS OF BEARA who serve as spiritual guides to Annie.300px-Lightmatter_cliffs_of_moher_in_County_Clare_Ireland

L.L.: And the crows. I found this on your website, and thought it gives such a wonderful insight as their presence, and your writing style:

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. The name begins at the lips and rolls down the throat in an elegant lamentation for the endangered birds with blue-black feathers and crimson beaks that congregate on the side of a cliff overlooking the North Atlantic[…]A fragile population of Red-billed chough has found refuge on the Beara Peninsula, a lean claw of land off Ireland’s southwest coast[…]”

What more can you tell us?

Julie Christine Johnson: Without making a conscious choice to do so, I seem to be featuring birds in my novels: an eagle, a falcon, and a dove in IN ANOTHER LIFE; the Red-billed chough in THE CROWS OF BEARA; a main character in my novel-on-submission is named Tui, which is a native bird of New Zealand, where the story is set.

My process notebook contains pages of notes about the chough, a species of crow, but I couldn’t tell you how I landed on this little creature. I must have been Chough_(Pyrrhocorax_pyrrhocorax)_(8)researching endangered species in southwest Ireland, and found my bird that nests on the Beara Peninsula. It’s no longer endangered in this particular area, but as Daniel points out in the story, the chough is a harbinger: if something goes wrong with the chough, it signals a greater breakdown of the environment.

L.L.: Is there anything that scares you about writing?

Julie Christine Johnson: Not writing scares me. Between a full-time day job, promoting my first and now second novel, managing a freelance editing business and teaching, generating new material seems to have fallen to the bottom of the priority list. I do have another novel on submission and I’m starting a fourth project, but I’m not writing to my soul’s full need or potential.

L.L.: What’s on your to-do list this fall? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Julie Christine Johnson: I’m saving my pennies to get started on my first 200 hours of yoga teacher certification, for starters. I’m also returning to the writing classroom for the first time in about 15 months: I’m teaching a flash-fiction workshop starting in October, and a few stand-alone writing workshops in the autumn, as well. I’ve decided to take a different approach to building my platform and spreading the word about my works. Teaching instead of bookstore appearances. So much more satisfying. And the pay is better! I’ll also be working to increase my manuscript and editorial consultation business. I love working with writers!

Looking forward to finding a home for my third novel, and to digging into writing the opening pages of my fourth.remette

L.L.: Julie, it’s been great catching up! Is there anything I forgot to ask?

Julie Christine Johnson: Q: The most recent book I read and loved!

A: I have two: Sarah Perry’s historical fiction THE ESSEX SERPENT and Dani Shapiro’s memoir HOURGLASS: TIME, MEMORY, MARRIAGE.

For more information, to connect with Julie Christine Johnson, or to purchase a copy of THE CROWS OF BEARA, please visit: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Christine Johnson is the award-winning author of the novels In Another Life (Sourcebooks 2016) and The Crows of Beara (Ashland Creek Press September 2017), as well as numerous short stories and essays. Visit juliechristinejohnson.com for more information about her writing, and to learn about Julie’s developmental editing and writer coaching services.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of J. Johnson and used with permission. University of Cork image retrieved from ucc.ie.co. Beara Way image of tourists hiking retrieved from myiefinder.fr, tree growing from book retrieved from Pinterest; typewriter image retrieved from Ashland Creek Press, seriously cute–I may need to order! Cliffs of Moher, chough, both retreived from Wikipedia on 9.8.17] 

WeekEND Reading: This woman’s transformation from nomad shepherd girl in Somali to Mayo Clinic R.N. is nothing short of incredible. CONQUERING THE ODDS, refugee camps, teenage depression, suicide awareness & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Inspiring–and often devastating–story of one Somali woman’s tumultuous childhood as a shepherd girl in the sub-Saharan desert to successful Mayo Clinic R.N. Aport

This book might be slim, but it’s message is mighty and powerful. Born to teenage parents through an arranged marriage, Habibo wailed in her bassinet in a Somali hospital as her young mother was deprived of food and emotional support (at the time, it was the custom of Somali friends and family to provide nourishment to their patients, and not the hospital’s responsibility). When her father came to the front desk, he asked the nurses, “What is the sex of the baby?”

When told she was a girl, he turned and walked away. 

So begins Habibo’s life. Shuttled between her birth parents (who soon divorced) to her grandfather’s home, and then raised by her maternal grandmother, Habibo’s life was rift with emotional neglect, physical and sexual abuse.

At four, she was a shepherd girl caring for 150-plus goats, sheep, cows, coaxing them across the countryside to fertile pastures and clean drinking water. At seven, she reunited with her mother briefly–because the city of Mogadishu had better facilities–to treat her malaria. She was returned to her primitive, nomadic life, and her no-nonsense grandmother who was often harsh, never telling her granddaughter a job well done, or even that she loved her. Through years of starvation, depression, and more, Habibo learns to conquer the odds.

But her journey takes time, heartache, and just when you think nothing is going to improve for this young woman, it does. 

While living in the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab in Kenya, Habibo and her cousin decide to apply for a seemingly untouchable lottery: the selection to leave the camp for America. 

The girls check the lottery postings religiously, every Thursday or Friday afternoon as they are posted on the doors of the UN Center. Weeks go by, then months. Finally, the news they’ve been waiting for–they’ve been chosen.

It’s August of 1998. In a Midwestern college town, thousands of miles away, I am beginning my second year in a 4-year nursing program. My skin is white. My eyes are blue. As I child I had oodles of Barbie dolls, attended Kindergarten, and was given every opportunity to receive an education. I did not witness a crocodile devour a small child, I had not walked for miles in the desert, tired and thirsty and wondering when–or if–I would ever receive a drop of water or find a piece of fruit to stave off the thirst.

Habibo and I are alike in that we are both nurses. We are both women. We both work(ed) for one of the world’s top medical institutions. And while our similarities bind in some ways, our differences are striking.

I am so honored to welcome Habibo to the blog couch. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Habibo, it’s funny the way people are connected. Twenty years ago, I would never have guessed our paths would have crossed. But they did and I find that inspiring. So why this book, why now?

Habibo Haji:  I wrote this book because I want to give people hope. I want them to know that regardless of our past we can always influence how our future turns out.  We do not have to live in our past. Our past does not determine our future. We can leverage our pain to harness our future. Often, people are stuck on the past, the pain, the failure, get into blame game, and lose sight of what is really important.

L.L.: When you look back on your life in Somalia, what three vital lessons stand out?

Habibi Haji:  I have learned that life has many lessons such as pleasant and unpleasant ones. I do not have to live in pain because people who were supposed protected me let me down. I can forgive, work hard, and live my life on my own terms.  In our life whether we are young or old people will disappoint us because they are human but it is up to us not to take things personal.

L.L.: I’ve had the opportunity to travel, but I’ve never been to Africa. Can you set the scene for us? What is Somalia like, geographically? Can you describe the hut you grew up in?

Habibo Haji:  My grandmother lived in a small village called Balcad, which is located eastern Somalia about three miles north of the Indian Ocean. The Shabeelle River runs through Somalia, where everyone in the village got their water, washed their clothing, swam, and watered the animals. Balcad, like many of the villages around it, has about thirty huts, each one surrounded by a fence made from poles and branches to keep the domestic animals in and the wild animals out.  Approximately three hundred men, women, and children live there, along with all their cows, sheep, goats, donkeys and a few chickens here and there.  Surrounding the village life thousands of miles of grasslands, scrub, bush, and forested areas where the people graze their animals. 06512f47fefcfb0ba84a511ef66734ef.jpg

My grandmother’s hut, like all the rest of the huts in the village, was made of tree limbs tied together like an igloo and covered with grass woven mats, which can house an average of about four people.  The huts are built of long grass, woven into many “filiq,” or rugs, which are used to cover a frame made from about twenty tree limbs tied together to form a rounded structure with a wide open door on one side which can be covered by a filiq in bad weather.  The Filiq is handmade by the ladies.

[Leslie’s note: You may appreciate this website of The Somali Museum of Minnesota, which describes the customs and culture of the Somali people]

L.L.: This passage, in CONQUERING THE ODDS, resonated with me, maybe it’s because my daughter is 12, as you were at the time: “I lost a lot of weight due to tape worms, in addition to head lice. You could tell by looking at me that I was not very happy. I was exhausted, tired of being afraid and fighting abuse. I was lonely.” This speaks volumes. You then speak of happiness and becoming a loner. Can you talk more about that, please?

Habibo Haji:  That time was the lowest time in my teen life. I was very depressed, lonely and desperate. I had no one to turn to. I felt abandoned and unwanted. I felt as though the cows were more important than me. As I look back on that experience I am still unsure how I survived. All I know is that something greater was looking out for me.  Because of my childhood experience of being alone and not having much interaction with people especially peers my age made me a bit loner as I gotten older.

L.L.: What might you say to a 12 year old girl now—perhaps your own, or a patient—who confides in not being happy?

refugee-camp-kenyaHabibo Haji:  We have to teach our children how to learn to love themselves.  Help them build self-esteem because when he or she has a good self-image, they are less likely seek approval from others. We have to teach them failure, and disappointment is a part of life but they can lean ways to develop their resilience muscle.  I would tell the young girl to surround herself with positive role models to help her reach her potential.  Ever heard the expression “Birds of a feather flock together”?  She HAS to choose her friends wisely!

L.L.: I’m in such awe about you leaving Dadaab. You mention that your odds of leaving the camp were very slim (about 1 in 150,000). What was that process like and what might have happened had you not been selected for America?

Habibo Haji: WOW!  That was a miracle.  The process was long and it took us about a year interviews, medical check-ups, orientations, and travel plans. My ticket was $892 which I had to pay back to the government once I got a job here in the States.

Had I not being selected, MY life WOULD have been VERY different. I probably would have about 10 kids all living in a tent in the refugee camp(compare to 3 kids now living in a beautiful suburb 4 bed 2 bath home).  I would not have the education I have today. I wouldn’t have a job and would have depended on hand-outs from the World Food Organization which is given once a month.

[Leslie’s note: This June 2016 Washington Times article indicates the refugee camp has subsequently been closed.]6_192016_refugee-18201.jpg

L.L.: What factored into your choice to become a nurse?

Habibo Haji:  I had two jobs paying minimum wage ($4.75 per hour) and I was barely surviving. A neighbor told me about working in a nursing home and getting paid ($10.75 per hour).  I thought wow, now I can become rich!  I took the nursing assistant entrance exam and failed miserably because I did not speak English and did not have any education background.  I was told to study and come back in 3 months.  I went to the library got books and tape, asked for a tutor at the library. After 3 months I took the test and passed. I took the nursing assistant course and got a job at the local nursing home.  That is how I started my nursing careers. I fell in love with the older people in the nursing home. They would share their stories which made me warm and loved.  They use to call me “smiley” they said I always had a smile on my face. I guess I did because I was grateful for being in America and having a job.

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your family—your daughters and son? And also the family left behind in Africa?

Habibo Haji:  I have two lovely daughters, 16, and 14. They are becoming amazing young ladies. We laugh and joke about my childhood sometimes.

My son is 8 years old, and he is super adorable.

It is not easy to be a single mother of 3 children, but I am thankful every day that God chose me to be their mother. I am honored and grateful for the things I have in my life.  Everything I do today I do it because of them. I want to be the best version of myself. They make me better human. They inspire me. They changed my world view.  

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CONQUERING THE ODDS?

Habibo Haji:   CONQUERING THE ODDS will inspire people to take bold actions in their life. We all have struggles big or small.  It is important not to settle in setbacks and adversity but rather take risks and develop high resiliency in order to overcome the hardships.  Are we holding back from becoming the best version of ourselves because we are afraid of what others will say about us?  Whenever I feel overwhelmed about what other people are saying about me or feel judged, I recite this quote from Les Brown:

“Other people’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality.” 

L.L.: Habibo, this has been so touching and so enlightening. Thank you! Is there anything I forgot to ask that you would like to share?

Habibo Haji:  Thanks, Leslie for giving me this opportunity to share my journey with your readers.  One of the many reasons, I wrote this book is connect with the youth. I want to use my journey and help them learn they too can be resilient in their own struggles whether that is peer pressure, bullying, alcohol or drugs.

Per the CDC: Suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for ages 10-24. (2015 CDC WISQAR). 4/5 teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.  I want to be able to reach as many teens as I possibly can to enlighten them about resilience.  I have been going to schools around the Midwest sharing my journey.  I know with force we can help our youth make better decisions. C3nsavEVMAAd5wD

[Leslie’s Note: 2017 World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th and outreach usually continues the week following. My own mother is a victim of suicide. As a former child/adolescent psych R.N. and mother of two tween girls, this is real, this is important.]

For more information, to purchase a copy of CONQUERING THE ODDS, or to connect with Habibo through social media, please see: 

Haji_1554.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  From shepherd girl in the dessert of Somalia to a bestselling Amazon author and Registered Nurse at Mayo Clinic, Habibo’s extraordinary story of how she went from struggling nomad and refugee to working at the number medical facility in the world. Habibo has helped people transformed their lives to be the best version of themselves. Habibo helps people realize struggles and hardship can be harnessed to build resilience and positive outlook in life.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, here:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of H. Haji and used with permission. Image of Somalian hut retrieved from Pinterest, no source noted, image of children getting water from ibtimes.uk.co, refugee camp tents retrieved from June 2016 Washington Times article, Habibo at Longfellow School via Twitter, all on 9.3.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Marcia Willett takes us on a sun-drenched stroll through the moorlands of the UK, how characters beckon their stories, never wanting to be a writer, and so much more in INDIAN SUMMER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A gentle, cozy, tender read about ‘autumn’ friendships in the English countryside. 
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INDIAN SUMMER is Willet’s sixteenth book to be published in the U.S. and it’s almost exactly what I needed as I settled into a busy new school year with two active kiddos. Grab a spot of tea, this is a story you’ll want to settle in for; and it’s a fast read so you might need only one ‘warm up.’

Sir Mungo is a retired actor living in his family’s cottage in rural Devon. It’s summer and friends and family flock to the parcel of land to join in camaraderie, seek advice and solace. James is a self-published author working on something new, Kit an interior decorator who is tired of being the ‘expert’ in the room, but there are others, too and all bring a colorful array of antics, needs and loyalties to the gathering.

INDIAN SUMMER is a subtle, relaxing read with the undercurrent of secrets and old memories chipping at the surface.  Willett’s strength lies in the setting: a bucolic trip through Devon’s countryside.

I’m honored to welcome Marcia Willett to the blog couch to chat about writing, INDIAN SUMMER, friendships and pets.

Leslie Lindsay: Marcia, it’s lovely to have you. Thank you for popping over. I really love the Devon setting. I understand it’s also home for you. Can you talk with us a bit about your charming little town and if it’s challenging to set a story there?

Marcia Willett: From the very first book this beautiful, magical west country, Devon and Cornwall especially, has played a major part. It’s really the main character. Small market towns, fishing villages, long sandy beaches and little coves, high moorland: what’s not to like? 220px-Land's_End,_Cornwall,_England

L.L.: Much of INDIAN SUMMER is about memories and also friendship, how do these two themes play off of one another for the characters in this story

Marcia Willett: It’s always good when characters reappear unexpectedly from previous books so I was delighted when Kit Chadwick turned up with all her past which included Mungo. So exciting for me to watch it all play out in the present! Then when Jake reappeared, too, I knew it was going to be full of drama!!

L.L.: Like many of your characters, you are also in the ‘autumn years’ of you life. In fact, your first book was written rather reluctantly at the age of fifty at the suggestion of your writer husband.  Clearly, he was on to something! You have written—how many books—twenty six?! How do you keep up with the relentless pace?  What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Marcia Willett: I think that one of my advantages was that I had no desire to be an aspiring writer. An avid reader, yes. But not a writer. When, because of a financial crisis, I reluctantly decided to give it a go, I discovered, as I walked the moors and the cliffs with my dogs, that the characters and my alternative universe were all waiting for me. They come and tell me their stories, they decide the location, I simply write it all down. So far, they haven’t failed me. The stories are there waiting to be told.1431739935516-151119-dog-on-lead-nt-jv.jpg

L.L.: I have to say, I loved the animals in INDIAN SUMMER.  I’m an animal lover, anyway, but Sammy and Boz, Bozzy and Sam! Can you share their inspiration? Do you have animals yourself?

Marcia Willett: I don’t have a dog at the moment but I love them. Whereas the characters are always new to me the dogs are very familiar and I feel I’ve known them always.

L.L.: What do you hope others get from reading your books?

Marcia Willett: Escapism, amusement, hope, a sense of identity.

L.L.: I always feel as if September is a good time to settle in, clear the slate, and gear up. What’s on your to-do list this fall? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Marcia Willett: Oh, but it will be!  The copy editing for the book to be published next year has just arrived! And a new story is beginning to beckon . . . I need to go and find my people in their own environment: to note the flora and fauna, what they see and hear, where they walk their dogs – the beaches and the moors – where they go for coffee, which pubs they use. Sigh. Research is so exhausting!! wine-graphics-2001_1018901a

L.L.: Marcia, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask?

Marcia Willett:  I can’t think of anything. Thank you so much for having me on your blog sofa, Leslie. It’s been great fun.

For more information, to connect with Marcia via social media, or to purchase your own copy of INDIAN SUMMER, please visit: 

Author photoAUTHOR BIO: Born in Somerset, in the west country of England, on the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, MARCIA WILLETT was the youngest of five girls. Her family was unconventional and musical, but Marcia chose to study to be a ballet teacher. Her husband, Rodney, himself a writer and broadcaster, encouraged Marcia to write novels. She has published many novels in England and around the world.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these sites:

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