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WeekEND Reading: Beloved author of THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS Ann Brashares talks about blended families, houses in the Hamptons, how writers shouldn’t worry about genre, and so much more in her newest novel, THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER. Oh, and lobster salad.

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By Leslie Lindsay

The #1 NYT Bestselling Author Ann Brashares releases new fiction THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER this month (On sale April 25, 2017 Delacorte/RandomHouse)  with a whopping 100,000 copies for the first printing.

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Beloved author of the bestselling THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS series is back with an unforgettable story about fractured families, first love, and loss in her latest novel THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER. You’ll feel the sand between your toes and taste the salty sea air of Brashares’ Long Island beach town setting, the backdrop for Sasha and Ray’s unusual budding relationship.

Summer for Sasha and Ray means the sprawling old house on Long Island. Since they were children, they’ve shared almost everything—reading the same books, running down the same sandy footpaths to the beach, eating peaches from the same market, laughing around the same sun-soaked dining table. Even sleeping in the same bed, on the very same worn cotton sheets.

But they’ve never met.

Sasha’s dad was once married to Ray’s mom, and together they had three daughters; the marriage crumbled, bitterness lingered. Now there are two new families—and neither one will give up the beach house that holds the memories, happy and sad, of summers past.

This summer, the lives of Sasha, Ray, and their siblings intersect in ways no one dreamed. It’s about families, keeping secrets, and most of all, love.

Knock off the sand from your feet, grab a lemonade and join me in chatting with Ms. Brashares about her new look at unconventional families. She also brought along a bit of that lobster salad from the story. 

Leslie Lindsay: Ann, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to the blog couch. Like many, I read (and watched the movie, SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS). I was also captivated by MY NAME IS MEMORY. It seems secrets, shared pasts, and love are a bit of a theme for you. Can you talk about that please?

Ann Brashares: Thank you. Very comfortable blog couch you have here.

Yes, those are big themes for me. Love and secrets are staples of fiction and you’re right that I do seem to go in for characters who share their pasts in unexpected ways. In the case of Sasha and Ray they have a huge amount of overlap and intimacy for two people who’ve never met. I hope it adds depth and tension and a high level of expectation when they finally do meet.

L.L.:  Before we delve into the heart of THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER, I’m curious what was haunting you with this one? Why this story now?

Ann Brashares: I wanted to write a story about a family from multiple points of view. I wanted to write about a divorce from inside out and outside in. I come from an unconventional and “broken” family so I guess I am always drawn back to that subject.

“A gorgeously written novel on love, loss and family.”

—Nicola Yoon, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Everything, Everything

L.L.: Things are pretty unconventional in THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER. There’s a fractured family, one beach house, lots of secrets. But, that’s life. We often hope the fictional world will bring us some semblance of ‘typical.’ Can you talk a bit about the truth in fiction?

Ann Brashares: A lot of it happens on a semi-conscious level, but I guess I want to attach to my reader by making a fictional world that’s accessible and perhaps in some way universal—populated by characters who feel like real people. I start with what we know as familiar or ‘typical’ and then we, the reader and I, move together into psychologically or emotionally unfamiliar territory.  

L.L.: The setting is best. It’s Long Island. It’s summer. I can taste the juicy peaches, feel my shoulders blistering in the sun, and smell that salty sea air lapping at the shore. Plus, houses! What type of research or ‘pre-writing’ do you do when it comes to setting?

Ann Brashares: For this book I called upon a place I used to know. But the reality of it was buffered by many years of absence. Years ago we used to rent this house in the Hamptons much like the one I describe in the book.  So a lot of the pre-writing was remembering—laying out the place, feeling the landscape, the farmstand we used to go to, the old donut-frying contraption at the market in town. I often use memory to distort and enrich real places I’ve known. Somethings-Gotta-Give-Hamptons-house-lg

L.L.: I’m also curious about genre. THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER is considered YA; however there are some very adult themes under the surface. Even within YA, there are subgenres. Do you write for a specific genre, or do you just tell your story? Should writers worry about this?

Ann Brashares: I wasn’t at all sure this book would be YA. It’s really a family story with adult themes and major adult characters. But I figured I’d write it the way I wanted to write it and figure the rest out after. I don’t think it makes sense to shoehorn your writing to follow a specific genre. You should write what you want. Ideally genres should follow content, not the other way around.

L.L.: This story reminds me a bit of MAMA MIA meets MODERN FAMILY. What do you hope others glean?

Ann Brashares: I hope they enjoy it, mainly. It’s hard to be objective about your own writing, to imagine what it might mean to others, so I just hope readers will get some fraction of the pleasure and companionship out of it that I get from books I like.

L.L.: What’s currently obsessing you? What keeps you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Ann Brashares: I am reading a lot of historical fiction right now. I adore Hilary hilary-mantelMantel’s work—at the moment her book set during the French Revolution. I’m loving historical drama on TV too. I just finished watching Poldark, which was super fun and entertaining.

L.L.: Ann, it was a pleasure! Thank you so very much for popping over. And bringing that lobster salad.

Ann Brashares:  Thank you! And don’t forget to try the bean salad as well.

For more information, to connect with Ann Brashares via social media, or to purchase THE WHOLE THING TOGETHER, please visit these links: 

3116ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ann Brashares is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, The Here and Now, 3 Willows, The Last Summer (of You & Me), and My Name Is Memory. She lives in New York City with her family. Visit Ann’s website at AnnBrashares.com.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, around these parts of the Internet:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Dutton/Random House and used with permission. Image of Hilary Mantel retrieved from her webpage. Image of house on Hamptons–in fact the house from movie, ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ –retrieved from http://www.hookedonhouses, all on 4.12.17] 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

ALMOST MISSED YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica Strawser:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so.

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

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

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

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

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see:

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

 

 

WeekEND Reading: What if an Orthodox Jewish New York man was somehow displaced to Alabama? How do authors express hope for our country in these new political times, and so much more in J.J. Gesher’s A NARROW BRIDGE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Blazingly original debut by co-authors under the pen name J.J. Gesher, A NARROW BRIDGE seeks to bring cultural, religious, and racial groups together through music, grief, and more. 
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After a childhood of rebellion, including drug abuse, Jacob Fisher has come to terms with his demons. Living as an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn, his life is one of comfort and peace. Until the unthinkable happens and Jacob’s world crumbles under the ruins of anguish.

What’s a man to do but flee? He finds himself in a completely different world from his ‘norm,’ in the heart of the Alabama south…in the basement of a Baptist church. His life and presence is shrouded in mystique, but Rosie is determined to get to the bottom of Jacob’s secret.

At once a psychological mystery and also a personal coming-to-terms novel. (It’s not really suspense or thriller, but much more literary in terms of ‘what’s going on with this guy,’ but we, the readers know). A NARROW BRIDGE merges the teachings of the Talmud with Christianity, intermingling with race, culture, resilience, the power of love and human connection–topics I find highly timely in this current political climate. 

Written by co-authors Joyce Gittlin and Janet Fattal, the narrative is absolutely smooth and seamless, a strong sense of location, a deep understanding of culture. 

I’m so honored to welcome Joyce and Janet to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay: I did a little cyber-stalking and learned a bit about your inspiration for A NARROW BRIDGE. The way I understand, Joyce was driving along when Ben Harper’s song, “Crying on the Church Steps” came on the radio. Like every other writer, you started thinking about what would make someone cry on church steps. Images infiltrated your mind, a seed was planted. Can you talk a bit about that please?

J.J. Gesher: It wasn’t just the melody that moved us, it was the lyrics:

I sat down upon the church house steps

with all I have lost

with all I have been blessed…

 I hung my head and wept

The story’s evolution was like people watching at an airport. We took the image and worked backwards. We played with the picture, tossing possible identities until we had a fully formed protagonist, a man in all his complexity. What did he look like? What was his background? And most importantly, what would break this man so completely that he would end up crying on the steps of a church? It didn’t take long to cull the answer from the fears that we all share in our post 9/11 world.

The story would be more interesting if contrast was extreme – what if we took Jacob, an Orthodox Jew from New York, and placed him in a small southern town with a Baptist church? 143c523db0830bbb12022d62c3aeb7ecThrough research, we found our small town: Brent, Alabama, formerly industrial, stagnant, depressed, but still proud. We let our imaginations populate the town with compassionate people.

The church itself, the center of life in Brent, gave us our next creative foothold: Gospel music. Music brings people together, soothes our spirits, and makes us – no matter our background – fully human. What if our sophisticated, urban Orthodox Jew shared a passion for music with the church community of Brent? As Jews we are familiar with the Orthodox way of life –the strict guidelines for behavior, the loving community, and the intentional isolation from mainstream culture. What we didn’t know was the world of the Baptist church.

L.L.: I think it goes without saying that music brings people together. There’s something organic that…well, moves us. In A NARROW BRIDGE, we have a least two very distinct music styles merging: Jazz and Gospel. Plus, there’s Jacob’s Orthodox background. I’m curious how these musical styles married to complete a whole within the narrative?

J.J. Gesher: Sometimes music is part of someone’s life for natural reasons. This was true for Janet. Her mother was a concert pianist, music educator, and synagogue choir director.  Music was integral to family life. Joyce’s parents weren’t musical at all. Aside from contemporary music and school orchestra with a rented glockenspiel, she had very little exposure. But Joyce’s father was a dry cleaner, and Joyce spent much of her youth hanging out in the back of his business with the woman who pressed garments. This woman would pass the time by singing Gospel music and teaching Joyce harmonies. Many times, Joyce went with her to church. So to answer the question, music did shape us.  But it’s the type of music and the way it makes you feel about yourself that resonates for storytellers.

Our characters are passionate about many styles of music: liturgical, contemporary, jazz, and gospel.  All forms of music influence other styles, adapting and evolving continuously. It is also interesting that you used the word “married” to describe the coming together of disparate musical styles.  Like any good marriage, the individuals remain distinct but together create a new and richer amalgamation.

L.L.: Overall, I’d say A NARROW BRIDGE is so timely and topical, given our current worldview, regardless of political affiliation. Was this your intention in writing Jacob’s story, or did it sort of develop organically?

J.J. Gesher: In this current national climate that seems to stress division over community, how do we as authors express hope for our country? Differences will always exist, but our commonalities transcend racial, religious, and economic divides. The truest commonality is the will to live. Even when we are faced with unbearable emotional pain, most of us, somehow, put one foot in front of the other and move forward. Whether we are in a bombed out building in Aleppo or a comfortable Brooklyn apartment, survival is paramount. Of course, we continue for ourselves but the will to live must have purpose beyond the physical machinery. All humans have the drive to survive, but our deepest commonality lies in creating life and sustaining those we bring into the world. When we acknowledge our collective purpose then perhaps we will minimize the superficial differences between us.

L.L.: I have to ask, too what it was like to work as co-authors. A NARROW BRIDGE reads so smoothly, so seamlessly, that if I hadn’t known, I’d have assumed it was penned by one author. Did you alternate sections, chapters, did someone else do all proofreading and editing? How did you divvy up the work?

J.J. Gesher: In movies and television, writer collaboration is the norm. Not so in novels. But we didn’t know any better, so we used our established method. Therefore, the first draft adhered closely to the screenplay, but it lacked substance and complexity.  We had to dig deep to flesh out the story.images-21

We followed the process that had worked for us in screenwriting: outlining, dividing scenes, writing individually, meeting to critique, rewriting, and then writing again side by side. The goal was a seamless product where we didn’t remember who wrote what.

The process of listening to constructive criticism was different.  In screenwriting, writers are expected to take notes and rewrite. Everyone involved in the process feels perfectly comfortable telling the writers how to reshape their story.

Certainly, notes are part of writing a novel as well.  While screenwriting notes are dictatorial, editorial notes are Socratic. Our editors asked questions to stimulate critical thinking, pointing out where we had summarized instead of illustrated. They reminded us that we could indulge in backstories, so that behavior was authentic.  Our editors never demanded modifications; rather they guided us to explore our own creative choices.

L.L.: And your pen name. I get J.J. is Janet and Joyce. But Gesher…how did the surname develop?

J.J. Gesher: At our publisher’s suggestion, we adopted a pen name.  The reading public is not used to seeing two names on a novel, though many non-fiction works have two authors, and screenplays can have multiple credits.  We agreed to a pen name, as long as our individual names would also appear on the book’s jacket.  J.J. stands for Janet and Joyce.  Gesher is the Hebrew word for bridge. 

L.L.: You’re both secular Jews yet you get into the world of a black Southern Baptist world so perfectly within the story. Can you talk a bit about your research?

J.J. Gesher: Though neither of us is religious, we are both entrenched in our Jewish identities.  We have experienced the Orthodox world through family members.  Whatever we didn’t know about laws and customs, we asked those family members, rabbis, and the Internet.  We know how an orthodox community looks and feels.

The Gospel research was a treat.  We visited the Broadus Ministry, a church in Pacoima, California.  The gospel music enchanted us, and the welcome was genuine and kind. The download-51congregants invited two strangers, white Jewish women, to share affirmations and fellowship.  The enthusiastic spirituality and the joyful music were so different from anything we experienced in synagogue.  We were determined to convey that warmth in Rosie and the congregation of First Baptist.

As to Brent, Alabama, we have never visited but we researched extensively.  We looked at pictures, newspapers, schedules, and maps; we read about what many southern towns have experienced in recent years. The rest was imagination.

L.L.: What inspires you lately? What keeps you up at night?

J.J. Gesher: What inspires us also keeps us up at night.  Aging parents, semi-launched adult children, our melting bodies, political mayhem, unrealized dreams. Sleep aids help.

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

J.J. Gesher:  What’s next? We’re working on a new book, one which uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of four girls and their families in the summer of 1967.  We explore how the world changed: racial and gender equality, economic opportunity, birth control, abortion, changing morals, military conflicts.  How do all of these transitions affect the individual and the country?

L.L.: Joyce, Janet…it was a pleasure. Thank you!

J.J. Gesher: Thank you, Leslie, so much for your lovely review.  Your enthusiasm gave us confidence that we can reach a broader audience and touch readers with our story.  And perhaps, in some small way, we can make the world a better place.

For more information, to connect with J.J. Gesher, or to obtain a copy of A NARROW ROAD, please see: 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: J.J. Gesher is the pen name for co-authors Joyce Gittlin and Janet B. Fattal. Together, Janet and Joyce have won several prestigious screenwriting awards, including the Geller Prize and the Screenwriting Award at the Austin Film Festival. Their first screenwriting collaboration was produced as a Lifetime Television movie. The co-authors both live in Los Angeles.

janetJanet B. Fattal has a masters in Comparative Literature from UCLA and has taught literature and writing at the college level. The editor of several memoirs, Janet leads many L.A.-area book groups, including for the Skirball Cultural Center, Hadassah, and the Brandeis alumni association.joyce

Joyce Gittlin has written and directed such television shows as Wings, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond and has written more than ten feature films for Disney, Paramount, and 20th Century Fox. She has an MFA from NYU.

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

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Prospect Park Books and used with permission. Image of male/female music notes from Pinterest. Co-writing image from , gospel choir image from newsday.com]

BookS on MondaY: Deepa Remesh talks about her new series MISS TREE TALES designed for middle grade readers on resourcefulness, sustainability, and other ‘seeds for thought’ with expert kid panel

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By Leslie Lindsay 

My two received Kindle Fires for Christmas. They haven’t moved their eyes from the screen in over a week. One of my kids is asking for an iPod for her birthday. To better practice soccer. Because it’s more fun to work on drills with music pounding in your ears, apparently. I’m typing this on a computer. And then, later, I’m going to see a movie. In a theater. With life-sized actors staring down at me while I absorb their story.

And so it begins, the honest-to-goodness truth of spending more time in front of a screen than, say being resourceful. I’ve read somewhere that we only learn when our eyes are moving [this isn’t the exact article I read, but interesting nonetheless]. Are my kids really learning when they stare at the 9-inch screen in front of them? Granted, they might be on Candy Crush a math builder site or researching a celebrity crush burning question, or, surfing YouTube reading a book, but those images dance and flicker for them. Same is true when I sit in a comfy theater seat and take in someone else’s story. Sure, a few things may resonate, a few more may stick, but overall, I’m being entertained, not exactly cultured.

Feel free to disagree.

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When I came across Deepa Remesh’s debut for middle grade readers on sustainability, resourcefulness, and conservation, I knew I had to take a peek. It follows the story of two kids—brother and sister—who are just as gadget-crazed as the next kid. But there’s a catch. They’re forced to be more industrious than the handheld devices we all carry around.

Join me—and my ‘expert panel’ of three kiddos: Kate (11.9 years), Emma (11.6 years) and Kelly (a newly minted 10 year old) as we chat about Ms. Remesh’s new book, THE MIGHTY COCONUTS.wp_20161225_17_58_05_pro_li

Leslie Lindsay: Deepa, I have to say, I love the concept behind MIGHTY COCONUTS and MISS TREE TALES series. Can you tell me what inspired you to write them? [2/3 of ‘Expert kid panel.’ Not pictured: Emma J.]

Deepa Remesh: Thank you for your interest in the concept behind this book series based on trees. Having  grown up in a small town in India, surrounded by greenery and open spaces, I have always appreciated nature and trees. In those days of scarce resources, I grew up among people who cared about the future generation, led a sustainable life by being resourceful and images-17creative, and demonstrated habits of conservation. Fast forward to the present day, we are now in the time of plenty which makes it difficult to cultivate similar values. My initial thought was to write about these values as a series of blogs  highlighting how trees and plants were used for various day to day tasks. However, I wanted this information to interest kids which made me switch gears and weave some elements of fiction into it. That is when Miss Tree magically appeared inspiring me to create a children’s book series. The illustrations from Anjana Prabhu-Paseband, my tech-savvy, artist cousin completed the picture. Both of us strongly believe an idea or concept needs time , space, and the right conditions to grow. By using fiction and light humor, our attempt has been to prepare young minds to plant  the seeds of thought scattered in our books and let these seeds grow into actions to protect, sustain and conserve natural resources. Now, you may be wondering why I started off the series with coconuts. In the culture I grew up in, coconut tree has been considered  to be a tree of life and all significant activities are launched by offering a coconut to others. I guess that indirectly prompted me to start this series based on trees with MIGHTY COCONUTS. [Here’s a sample of the darling illustrations, by Anjana Prabhu-Paseband. Image retrieved from Twitter on 1.8.17]
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Kate L.: I’m in 6th grade and will be 12 in April…are these stories made for kids my age?  If not, who do you see reading them?

Deepa Remesh: Kate, thanks for asking. The story line in these books should appeal to kids aged 6-11. Having said so, I should add that these stories can be read by anyone curious to learn more about a particular tree and how it gets used in daily life. The books are also filled with tidbits of scientific and environmental information which would make them a good pick for teachers and educators working on similar  concepts. An interesting feedback we have received from a professional biologist is how he liked the format of the book, specifically the way it introduces science facts to kids.

Leslie L.: I was recently at my local Arboretum and totally and completely thought of you and the MISS TREE TALES series. Have you considered reaching out to organizations like these to carry your books, or even presenting in-service type things for kids and families?

Deepa Remesh: Leslie, you make an excellent point. I have contacted a few local organizations and some have shown interest in the concept. Nothing solid yet but this is something that is being pursued. In addition to making the book available at such outlets, there are plans to volunteer on weekends at some of these places and introduce kids to crafts and other projects using plants. 

Kelly L.: My Girl Scout Troop is going to be talking about gardening in the near future in order to earn a merit badge. What types of skills and lessons might we pull from THE MIGHTY COCONUTS to be well-rounded girls?

Deepa Remesh: Kelly, your troop has chosen a wonderful topic to discuss. I suggest looking at the extra information provided in the “Seeds for Thought” sections in the book. There are many things in there – understanding the  habitat suited for a plant, natural ways to control pests, composting, seed storage banks, and seed dispersal – that should help gardeners. You will get additional information from the links included in these sections. I would love to hear back download-47your troop’s experience with the facts in the book and also any feedback on topics you would like to be included in future books. Here’s a GREEN THUMBS UP for you and your troop!

Emma J.: I read a lot. Not to brag, but my reading level is pretty high…are there other books with a similar message you might steer me toward that would still touch on resourcefulness, conservation, sustainable lifestyle?

Deepa Remesh: Emma, nice to hear you are interested in topics of  resourcefulness, conservation, and sustainable lifestyle. I am guessing you are asking about fictional books as there are a large number of non-fiction books on these topics. There are also many picture books for younger children. As for young adult fiction, most of the popular ones seem to be based on futuristic or dystopian themes. Currently, those styles do not match my reading interests. I can only recommend older classics like ROBINSON CRUSOE and SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which are mostly stories of survival. A newer book that I like in this survival category is HATCHET by Gary Paulsen. These books talk about being resourceful in extreme situations. I would say applying these skills within practical boundaries in one’s day to day life hatchetwould result in conservation and subsequently make way for sustainable living. I hope you find something that interests you in this area. Happy Reading!

Leslie L.: So back to that movie. We saw PASSENGER. If you’re not familiar, the characters have voluntarily gone to sleep [in a ‘hibernation pod’ aboard a space ship] for 120 years in order to wake up in the future on another planet, much like Earth. They have paid big money to do this; though some are there with little cost because they have ‘desirable skills’ like mechanical engineering, gardening, midwifery, etc. My hubby and I got to talking about this after the show: if we don’t teach our children to be resourceful with their hands and body, we might lose a piece of society. Can you speak to that, please?

Deepa Remesh: I haven’t watched that movie but have read about it. I would say being open to learning new skills will take us a long way. While many may think of college degrees and higher education to increase their skill set, it is the presence of mind and flexibility to adapt and be resourceful that increase one’s skill set and lead to happiness and success. These days, many jobs are looked down upon as they require more effort and do not generate as much income as others. This makes folks gravitate towards the higher paying jobs which may not require any vocational skills. I don’t think there is an easy solution to this imbalance other than creating awareness about being well-rounded individuals who learn to respect and take on any task or job.

Leslie L.: That was kind of a deep question. Here’s an easier one: What’s next for you? I can only assume you’re working on subsequent stories in the MISS TREE TALES series.

Deepa Remesh: I totally agree. Your previous question was profound.  Coming back to MISS TREE TALES, there are a few stories lined up. I can say the next one is going to be sweet where the seed would be more precious than the fruit.  I do not want to shout out the name of the tree as Mia and Nik, the two main characters in the book series, have to solve a puzzle to figure out the name. If you guessed the answer, please keep it to yourself. Ssh! It’s a top secret mission.download-7

Kelly L.: Oh! And I want to know if you have kids and what they think about your book?

Deepa Remesh: My kids are thrilled about this book that is dedicated to them. The younger one who is in second grade likes the chapter that talks about crafts with coconut leaves. The older one who is in fourth grade thinks this book could be used as a survival guide if someone is stranded on an island with just coconut trees. Both are quite eager to help create videos and other promotional materials for the book. We used  PowToon to make an animated book trailer and also did an interesting sink and float experiment with coconuts. The videos  are available in Miss Tree Tales’ YouTube channel. And here is a knock-knock joke they came up with using PSC which is the short form of Miss Tree’s Plant Savers Club:

Knock-Knock,

Who’s there?

PSC

PSC Who?

P.S: See this new book MIGHTY COCONUTS!

 Leslie L.: Deepa, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and best of luck with the MISS TREE TALES series.

Deepa Remesh: Leslie, I loved this interview format and style. It is so nice of you to get your expert panel of kiddos involved in the discussion. I appreciate your time and thank you for your good wishes.

For more information, to purchase MIGHTY COCONUTS, or to connect with the author on social media, please: 

 

About the Author:

81wsihp9vxl-_sy200_Deepa Remesh lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two kids. Through her first book series based on trees, she tries to introduce kids to a simple sustainable lifestyle presenting them with numerous seeds for thought to cultivate the values of resourcefulness and conservation.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media channels. I’d love to hear from you!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Image of family in green space retrieved from timesofindia.com, “seeds for thought” retrieved from Twitter, HATCHET image retrieved from Wikipedia, all on 1.8.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Cathy Lamb talks about her newest book, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, how balancing subplots is like juggling cats, her love for homes & design, quirky families, how she never wants to read her own book again–and so much more.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From acclaimed author Cathy Lamb, comes a warm and thoughtful novel about the secrets that can break or unite a family—and the voices that resonate throughout our lives.

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Reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time; I laughed, I cried, most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was reading. It’s that good.

The Koslovsky family is a big, bustling American-Russian family living in Oregon, immigrants from Communist Russia. They have secrets, they have traumatic scars, but most of all–they have each other.

The main protagonist is Antonia (Toni) Koslovsky, the middle daughter of three sisters (Ellie, the youngest and Valeria, the oldest). They have a brother, Dmitri, too.  The cover of the book would have you believing the sisters are young, but they are grown, adult children with lives, jobs, and families (Valerie) of their own. The cover might also have you believing this is a saccharine story of girls dancing around May poles, but it is a sophisticated romp through grief, heartache, love, family dynamics (and dysfunction); a story of home, a narrative of mystery.

Told in a slightly nonlinear fashion, glimpses of Communist Moscow surface as a dark nebulous coloring present-day shenanigans, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is at once a mystery a poignant story of family told with compassion, warmth, and humor. Honestly, I don’t know how the author pulled this one off…it’s complex in character, and contains so many subplots, yet she pulls them together beautifully. And with humor. Did I mention humor?

Trust me, you’ll want to read this book, and then you won’t want it to end.

Today, I am honored to have Cathy Lamb in my office—not my floating tugboat home—though that wheelhouse window would be wonderful. We even have homemade Russian tea cakes and coffee so strong it will grow hair on your chest.

Leslie Lindsay: Cathy, it is such a pleasure to have you today. Thanks for popping by. So, I’m reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and laughing, laughing, laughing. Sometimes my husband tells me to shut up. Affectionately. And then I start thinking, Cathy has nailed this Russian-American big family thing. First, I have to know your inspiration for this book, and then I have to know how much of it is based on your experiences?

Cathy Lamb: These are a few of the things/visions that inspired me to write The Language of Sisters:

  • Living in a yellow tugboat on the Willamette River.
  • Russian history.
  • A loud family restaurant in Portland, Oregon where the guests sing Russian drinking songs.
  • Communism.
  • Quirky cousins.
  • The experiences of an immigrant family.
  • A state prosecutor.
  • Sewing beautiful pillows.
  • Sisterhood.
  • A mystery, secrets, and the impact of both.
  • A blue heron.
  • A fight between cousins on a bathroom floor over a hair brush.
  • Falling in love with a hot DEA agent. (Uh. Hmmm. Let me clarify. I, personally, did not fall in love with a DEA agent. I have been married for 23 years to Innocent Husband.  He would not appreciate that.)

As for the book being based on my experiences? Very little.  I do have two sisters, and a brother, but – so that I don’t get in trouble with them – NONE of them are in the book. I promise.  I do live in Oregon, but alas, I don’t live on a tugboat in the Willamette River.

I used to write for a newspaper about homes, as Toni does. But I do not have a psychic connection with my sisters and I do not cook well at all. My children say I do not cook, I “re – heat.” Naughty children!

L.L.: I like big books…(and I cannot lie). THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is long. But it doesn’t feel that way. The first time I picked up the book, I read 200 pages straight through. I didn’t even fall asleep—and that’s saying a lot for me, who gets drowsy fifteen minutes after sitting down. I think what I’m trying to say is, good job on pacing. Also, good job on keeping me engaged and throwing me right into the action via media res. And here’s the question: what was your writing process like? Since it’s a longish book, did it take longer to write? Do you outline? Follow the muse?

Cathy Lamb: My writing process…well, it’s a rocky and craggy path, filled with potholes the size of Jupiter, scary looking trees, and monsters with big teeth. First, I grab a journal and start writing and sketching while drinking copious amounts of coffee and eating chocolate.

Then I grab another journal because I have filled the first one with ideas, much of them terrible, horrible ideas, and I need to figure out what the heck I’m writing about.

I start pulling characters together. I give them friends and family, and some are nice and some aren’t. I mutter and talk to myself and talk to the characters and they talk back and I proceed onward.

what-I-remember-Most-3501-e1396982595987.jpgI give my heroine a job and a setting and a home. Or she’s homeless, like Grenadine Scotch Wild in WHAT I REMEMBER MOST. That gal ended up living in her car.

Then I talk to my wise and wonderful agent and editor and they give their input on my proposed plot, and I slug down more coffee and go for drives in the country until I can figure out the first line of the book and tell myself that, “YES. You can write another book, Cathy. You can. Cool your jets.  Pipe down. Don’t lose your mind. Buck up. NO whining.”

Once the first line of the book is in my head, I write 2000 words a day, 10,000 a week until the first draft is done. If I don’t get my word count in by Saturday, I don’t go to bed.

I try to add scenes that will touch women’s hearts. They may end up laughing or crying. Hopefully they will laugh more than they cry and relate to the characters and the plot.

I do eight or nine edits of the book until the book is done and off to my agent and editor. At that point my eyes are fried, my brain is fried, and I think about moving to an old log cabin in the middle of Montana.

There are four more edits after that.

Then, it’s done. 12 edits. Out in the universe, flying around, and I don’t ever want to read it again. And, I don’t. Unless I’m at a reading.

L.L.: There are so many fabulously colorful characters in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and oh my gosh, how I loved them all. Did one ‘speak’ to you first, was it your protagonist Antonia (Toni), or were they all carefully cultivated? Is there one you relate to more? By the way, I loved the parents, Alexei and Svetlana the best. Oh, and Nick!!

Cathy Lamb: I think the sisters – Toni, Valerie, and Ellie spoke the loudest to me because I related to all of them.  They’re a little neurotic, intense, fierce, wild, funny, and driven because of the dangers they endured in their past in the Soviet Union.

They went skinny dipping together, sometimes drank too much, sewed gorgeous pillows, talked about life, and loved each other dearly. I could hear them in my head. It was like sitting down and talking to my own sisters, only I was invisible.

Daisy’s voice came through loud and clear for me because of how she wanted to live her life in her last years, how she insisted on staying on her houseboat, on the river, and was kind to everyone, except the bad guy, who she threw a knife at.

And I felt close to the mothers in the Kozlovsky gang, and how they felt about their kids, as a mother myself.

L.L.: I think I fell a little bit in love with that ‘man with a pistol in his pants.’ I loved him. I wanted his big, muscular arms around my shoulders. I wanted his flowers and chocolates. I wanted to spy on him with my binoculars. But I worried, too about his job as a DEA agent. Does Nick Sanchez really exist? And how can I find him? I have some single friends.

Cathy Lamb: I am so very, very sorry. I know this will crush you: No. Nick Sanchez does not exist. Except in my mind.I always try to create men that women readers will fall in love with. None of this: “Well, he’s PRETTY good, except he’s flawed like all other men.”

No.Will not do that.

I don’t want to read about a flawed man when he’s the love interest.  Really. That part of a book I just want to escape into, and I think other women readers do, too.

They do not want to read about a  man who refuses to do the dishes, or help with the kids because we women know what that means: We work all day and come home and do all the housework and the cooking and that is SO NOT ROMANTIC.

So, I created a man I’d want to be married to…and you got Nick Sanchez. Smoking hot and huggable forever.

L.L.: Svetlana’s Kitchen, the restaurant the Kozlovsky’s run is such a fun place. I love how Mrs. Kozlovsky names the specials after things going on in her family’s life. The food sounds delicious, too.

Cathy Lamb: So, for people who have not read THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS: The mother, Svetlana Kozlovsky owns a restaurant. When she’s mad at her kids she writes it on the Specials Board, along with what she’s serving that night for dinner. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

            Over the next few days I received a number of calls and texts from family and friends who had had my mother’s special named “My Childrens Makes Me Worry.” They wanted to know what we Kozlovsky kids did to make my mother worry. The older people who called from the Russian community also gently chastised me, in Russian, of course.  “Don’t make your mama worry, Antonia. You know better.”

            The regular dishes at my parents’ restaurant all have family names. “Elvira’s Tasty Treats,” which is a selection of desserts; “Valeria’s Dumplings,’ which are beef dumplings on a bed of lettuce; and “Antonia’s Delight,” which are cheese crepes.

            But the specials…well, those are a crap shoot.   download-28

            In the past, my mother has named specials “Alexei Not The Boss,” after she had a fight with my father.

            And “Teenagers Big Trouble” when we were younger.

            And I Wish Valeria Quit Her Job.”

            I had “Antonia Not A Criminal,” simply because I write about crime.

            Ellie endured “Elvira’s Bad Choice” when she got engaged to Gino. It hurt Gino’s feelings.

            As my sister Valerie says, “I’m a state prosecutor. I try to maintain respect, a professional image, then mama puts out a special called “Valeria No Call Mama Enough,” and even the criminals are asking me why I don’t call my mama more.”

It goes on and on. Don’t make my mother mad, or you’ll hear about it on the Tonight’s Specials board of Svetlana’s Kitchen.

 L.L.: There are a lot of juicy little subplots going on in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTSERS. They are handled beautifully. My head would explode if I had the task of tying them together. Maybe yours did, too. How did you juggle so many different plot lines? Did you have a favorite?

Cathy Lamb: Honestly the sub plots were like juggling bottles of wine. Maybe that’s not the best analogy. They were like juggling cats. Eh. That one isn’t so good, either. Juggling…boxes of cookies.

I think my favorite sub plot was what happened to Dmitry in Russia. Who were his parents? How did he and the Kozlovsky family find each other? What’s the secret that the parents want buried forever?  I thought that plot line was key to the whole family.

I also really liked writing about Toni’s family and all their funny and quirky imperfections. Two cousins who make fancy and frilly outfits for strippers. One who steals cars but loves opera. A sister who is engaged but really doesn’t know if she wants to get married AT ALL.  A cousin with a teenage daughter who is pregnant, something so many parents go through with their own beloved children. An actress who is an extreme hypochondriac.

We all have families. Sometimes relationships can get messy/hilarious/odd/quirky.

L.L.: The Kozlovsky family endured such hardship in Moscow. At times it was hard to read, but it was done in such a tender, sensitive way. Communist Russia is something I know little about. Can you illuminate some historical significance for us?

Cathy Lamb: The history of Russia is fascinating. Honestly, read it.  From the Tsar to today. It’s harsh and often horrible. Russia today is better than it was in the past, but there are still, as we all know, many problems. I used that background for my family because it was a time period I knew something about it – although I needed to learn A TON – and it was interesting to me and I hoped it would be interesting for the reader, too.

A few other things I researched? Communism. Marxism. Lenin. Stalin. The Time of Stagnation. Christians in the Soviet Union and their persecution. Social issues. Poverty in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church. The KGB.

L.L.: I have to ask about the title, too. THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is just that: a special communication the Kozlovsky sisters share in which they intuit, or ‘hear’ the voice of their sister(s) when she is in distress. It comes from the mother’s family, through the widow’s peaks of their hairline. I have a widow’s peak. So did my mother. Is there any truth to this?

Cathy Lamb:  My editor thought of my title. He always titles my books because he is so much more clever about titles than I am.  One time I wrote out ten titles for this book and read them to my daughters. They almost wet their pants they laughed so hard.

And no, there is zero truth about people talking to each other through their widow’s peaks. I write fiction which means I get to play.

L.L.: One last question. I think. Toni changes jobs from being a reporter of crime to writing a column about houses, “Living on a Tugboat, Talking About Homes.” How I loved these columns (which are inserted throughout the narrative). What is it about our homes (or other people’s) we are so drawn to? Why do we care? Are we all voyeuristic weirdos?

Cathy Lamb: I love looking at home magazines. I love thinking about remodeling my kitchen, making my garden better, cleaning things up, and being in my home. I think a lot of people feel the same way – especially women.86a9f94455bc160b10b98b1033184fc1

Home has a special place in everyone’s heart and there are so many people who love to relax with a magazine while looking at something beautiful or clever or curious that someone else did in their home. We get to see how other people live and that’s fun.

Plus, I was a freelance writer for The Oregonian’s Homes and Gardens for years. I loved it. I wrote about homes, décor, and design, so I gave Toni my ex – job. (I had to quit freelancing when my first book, Julia’s Chocolates, sold as I didn’t have time anymore.)

L.L.: Okay, I lied. One more question. How would you classify this book? It seems to straddle so many genres: mystery/thriller, romance, family saga/drama, women’s fiction, there’s a lot going on, but it’s so good. Does size matter? Does genre matter?

Cathy Lamb: It’s women’s fiction. I think genre matters in terms of marketing. I have a niche, it’s women’s fiction. I don’t even pretend to write for men. My books aren’t for men. I think people read what they are interested in reading and the genre doesn’t matter.

As for size of the book? Eh? Look at PILLARS OF THE EARTH. That novel was huge and everyone loved it.  Then, there are shorter books, say by Mitch Albom, that everyone adores and they’re not very long.

To me it all has to do with plot.  The plot has to be engaging and gripping and keeping the reader turning the pages. Short or long, you have to do that as a writer.

L.L.: Tell me, did I forget anything?

Cathy Lamb:  Want to see the first chapter?

The Language of Sisters

Chapter One

I was talented at pickpocketing.

I knew how to slip my fingers in, soft and smooth, like moving silk. I was lightning quick, a sleight of hand, a twist of the wrist. I was adept at disappearing, at hiding, at waiting, until it was safe to run, to escape.

I was a whisper, drifting smoke, a breeze.

I was a little girl, in the frigid cold of Moscow, under the looming shadow of the Soviet Union, my coat too small, my shoes too tight, my stomach an empty shell.

I was desperate. We were desperate.

Survival stealing, my sisters and I called it.images-3

Had we not stolen, we might not have survived.

But we did. We survived. My father barely, my mother only through endless grit and determination, but now we are here, in Oregon, a noisy family, who does not talk about what happened back in Russia, twenty-five years ago. It is best to forget, my parents have told us, many times.

“Forget it happened. It another life, no?” my father says. “This here, this our true life. We Americans now. Americans!”

We tried to forget, but in the inky-black silence of night, when Mother Russia intrudes our dreams, like a swishing scythe, a crooked claw emerging from the ruins of tragedy, when we remember family members buried under the frozen wasteland of the Soviet Union’s far reaches, we are all haunted, some more than others.

You would never guess by looking at my family what some of us have done and what has been done to us. You would never sense our collective memory, what we share, what we hide.

We are the Kozlovskys.

We like to think we are good people.

And, most of the time, we are. Quite good.

And yet, when cornered, when one of us is threatened, we come up swinging.

But, pfft.

All that. In the past. Best to forget what happened.

As my mother says, in her broken English, wagging her finger, “No use going to Moscow in your head. We are family. We are the Kozlovskys. That all we need to know. The rest, those secrets, let them lie down.”

Yes, do.

Let all the secrets lie.

For as long as they’ll stay down.

They were coming up fast. I could feel it.

L.L.: These Russian tea cakes really are good. I think I love them more than Nick. Thanks for hanging out with me, Cathy, and talking about books in a basement office.

Cathy Lamb: Thank you, Leslie. Really.

For more information about THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, Cathy Lamb, follow on social media, or to purchase a copy for your own, quirky family (seriously, makes a great gift), please see:

Photo of Cathy Lamb 093.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: I was born in Newport Beach, California and spent my first ten years playing outside like a wild vagabond.

As a child, I mastered the art of skateboarding, catching butterflies in bottles, and riding my bike with no hands. When I was ten, my parents moved me, my two sisters, a brother, and two poorly behaved dogs to Oregon before I could fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a surfer bum.

I then embarked on my notable academic career where I earned good grades now and then, spent a great deal of time daydreaming, ran wild with a number of friends, and landed on the newspaper staff in high school. When I saw my byline above an article about people making out in the hallways of the high school, I knew I had found my true calling.

After two years of partying at the University of Oregon, I settled down for the next three years and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and became a fourth grade teacher.  I became a teacher because I wanted to become a writer. It was difficult for me to become proper and conservative but I threw out my red cowboy boots and persevered. I had no choice. I had to eat and health insurance is expensive. I loved teaching, but I also loved the nights and summers where I could write and try to build a career filled with creativity and my strange imagination.

I  met my husband on a blind date.  A mutual friend who was an undercover vice cop busting drug dealers set us up. My husband jokes he was being arrested at the time. That is not true. Do not believe him. His sense of humor is treacherous. It was love at third sight.  We’ve now been married a long time.

Teaching children about the Oregon Trail and multiplication facts amused me until I became so gigantically pregnant with twins I looked like a small cow and could barely walk. With a three year old at home, I decided it was time to make a graceful exit and waddle on out. I left school one day and never went back. I later landed in the hospital for over six weeks with pre term labor, but that is another (rather dull) story.  I like to think my students missed me.

When I was no longer smothered in diapers and pacifiers, I took a turn onto the hazardous road of freelance writing and wrote over 200 articles on homes, home décor, people and fashion for a local newspaper.  As I am not fashionable and can hardly stand to shop, it was an eye opener  to find that some women actually do obsess about what to wear. I also learned it would probably be more relaxing to slam a hammer against one’s forehead
than engage in a large and costly home remodeling project. I also tried to write romance books, which ended ingloriously for years.

I suffer from, “I Would Rather Play Than Work Disease” which prevents me from getting much work done unless I have a threatening deadline, which is often.  I like to hang with family and friends, walk, eat chocolate, travel, go to Starbucks, and I am slightly obsessive, okay very obsessive, about the types of books I read. I also like to be left alone a lot so I can hear all the bizarre and troubled characters in my head talk to each other and then transfer that oddness to paper. The characters usually don’t start to talk until 10:00 at night,  however, so I am often up ‘til 2:00 in the morning with them. That is my excuse for being cranky. Really, I was just born a little cranky.

I adore my children and husband, except when he refuses to take his dirty shoes off and walks on the carpet. I will ski because my kids insist, but I secretly don’t like it at all. Too cold and I fall all the time.

I am currently working on my next book and I’m not sleeping much.

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of C. Lamb and used with permission. Image of restaurant message board retrieved from TripAdvisor on 11.17.16, image of WHAT I REMEMBER MOST from Ms. Lamb’s website. Image of reading from, also retrieved 11.17.16]

BookS on MondaY: Certified health coach and plant-based chef Vicky Marquez talks about her newest book for kids, THE ROOTLETS, how eating healthy begins in childhood, kid-pleasing recipes, & more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

As a vegetarian momma, I’ve always found it a fun challenge to raise healthy, independent food-conscious kiddos. When they were babies, my husband and I often got the question, “Are you going to raise your children as vegetarians?” Sometimes it came across as simple curiosity, other times, it felt judgmental. My response was always something along the lines of, “We’re providing a balanced diet with plenty of protein, fruits, and veggies, though I will not be handling raw meat at home.” That said, I was totally fine if my kids wanted to order chicken fingers at a restaurant, or have a bite of grandma and grandpa’s steak. Trouble-at-Plantasy-Land-.png
Food choices, we determined, were to be determined by the person eating them, what he or she felt comfortable with. In no way did my husband and I try to “force” a plant-based diet on our kiddos, but now, at nearly ten years old, our youngest almost exclusively rejects meat, all her choice. The oldest seems to think chocolate is its own food group!
When I came across THE ROOTLETS series of children’s books, about cute little veggies who have myriad adventures, I knew I had to check it out! 
Join me as I chat with nutritionist and plant-based chef Vicki Marquez, on her darling, children’s books about healthy eating. 
Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Vicki. I’m always curious about what sparks an idea for a story. What inspired you to create the ROOTLETS series?
Vicki Marquez: The idea of THE ROOTLETS popped into my head one day as I was thinking about how I could help inspire kids to want to–and to be excited to–eat their veggies and make good, healthy choices. That thought lit a fire inside of me and I immediately knew that these characters were something special that’s what inspired me to take action, create this series, build this brand and bring these characters to life.
L.L.: How would you describe the dynamic between THE ROOTLETS—Brocc, Carrotina, Cornelius and Kaley?
Vicki Marquez: THE ROOTLETS are best friends, with a special bond and a lot of trust between them. They count on (and value) each others’unique set of talents and strengths, and they operate like a little team…always rooting for and looking out for one another, no matter what kind of trouble their next adventure brings!
L.L.: How did you decide what traits the Rootlets would possess?
Vicki Marquez: It wasn’t actually a conscious decision–they each began taking on certain characteristics with that initial vision I had of them. Right away it was clear who they were and what was important to each one of them. Brocc was smart and into studying, Cornelius was the jokester who loved to have fun. Kaley was a fancy girly-girl and Carrotina was a brave adventure-seeker. It felt like I knew them. A few months after I wrote the first book (Super Rootabilities), my husband said to me that each Rootlet reminded him of me, like they were me–at the core–divided into four. And in retrospect, I can totally see that…
everything that The Rootlets love, I love. So, I guess that maybe I subconsciously selected their traits based on those things…and that each one actually represents a little part of me.
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L.L.: I have a couple of little redheads–carrot tops, much like Carrotina–so I have to ask about one of the most distinct aspects of THE ROOTLETS—their vegetable hair. What inspired that idea?
Vicki Marquez: When I first transitioned to a plant-based diet, my best friend kept calling me her “veggie head.”That nickname was running through my brain when I first had the idea of THE ROOTLETS. I envisioned these adorable kids with big, veggie hairdos:a broccoli
afro, carrot pigtails, blonde kernels, leafy green locks…it was how I saw them, and it was absolutely perfect.

“where super-powered adventures and veggies collide!”

L.L.:  The Rootlets features bright and brilliant illustrations. Did the characters look the way you envisioned while writing the book?
Vicki Marquez: [My illustrator] Jeremy and I actually developed the characters long before I wrote the first story, so I was lucky to have a very clear visual reference of these kids as I
was developing the series. But I will say that when Jeremy sent me those very first
sketches of THE ROOTLETS, he 1000% captured on paper what these characters looked like in my head.
L.L.: Since you are an expert in health and nutrition with years of experience, what types of research did you do to write THE ROOTLETS?
Vicki Marquez: THE ROOTLETS series is all about the evolution of these four young kids who learn that they’re superheroes and who now have to navigate the huge responsibilities that come along with that, so all of my research was focused around character and story development, as well as general writing tips and guidelines for kids literature.
The health and nutrition aspects of this series are indirect and expressed creatively, so that requires a lot less research, and a lot more imagination.
L.L.: In THE ROOTLETS, adventurous kids who love to play and a healthy lifestyle go hand-in-hand. Was that connection intentional?
Vicki Marquez: Yes, it was intentional, but also very obvious. The Rootlets are relatable role models who love to play, explore and go on little adventures, just like most kids–and those
are all really great health-promoting activities to encourage.
L.L.: What is the key to inspiring kids to make healthier choices?
Vicki Marquez: There are two keys: fun and familiarity! Fun is the easy one…kids seek it, love it,have to have it…and they’re motivated by it! So, when veggies and fruits are presented in a fun, exciting way, kids are much more interested in them.Familiarity is the other key. Most kids (and adults) prefer to try (and buy) things that they’re familiar with. The Rootlets series introduces and popularizes healthy, plant-based foods, so that when kids see them in the grocery store or at the farmers market,they’re much more curious and excited to try super-rootabilities-coverthem.
L.L.: Why is reaching and educating kids about healthy choices in elementary school so important for lifelong health?
Vicki Marquez: Because so many of the habits that we have as adults stem from the habits that we developed when we were little. Good habits, like brushing our teeth, are gems that’ll
serve us well our whole lives, but bad habits–especially unhealthy eating habits–are
really hard to break and can lead to serious chronic disease and illness. Teaching kids,
from an early age, about the superpowers of veggies and the importance of making good nutritional choices, establishes the foundation for them to build strong, healthy habits that will stay with them as they grow up.
L.L.: What would you consider to be the biggest challenge to raising healthy kids today?
Vicki Marquez: Time…for sure! Parents are SO busy these days that finding the time to meal plan, shop and cook can be a real challenge. That’s why I’m really excited that our Rootlets blog now features quick and healthy kid-friendly recipes that parents can easily whip up and feel really good about sharing with their little ones.
L.L.: You are a certified plant-based chef. What are some of your most popular dishes among kids?
Vicki Marquez: Ooh, there are so many good ones, but I’d have to say that the most popular dishes are the ones that kids can customize on their own or help make. For example: power
bowls (where you start with a grain and then add your favorite toppings and sauces) tacos, wraps, homemade pizzas, smoothies…all of those are always kid-pleasers! And anything with cacao or chocolate, of course!
L.L.: You also host a healthy living cable TV show,“Nourished.”How does the process of preparing for the show compare to writing THE ROOTLETS? 
Vicki Marquez: Every episode of “Nourished” and each ROOTLETS story is part of a larger overarching series, so while each one has to independently stand alone, they also have to be Nourished.pngable to work well within that series. As for the actual prep process,it’s basically the same. I begin with an outline, then I put on my creativity cap and continue to write and expand on
the story or episode. I edit, get my team involved, consider visuals, edit some
more until I have a concrete finished product…then it’s production time!
L.L.: When did your interest in nutrition and healthy food begin? Which authors inspired you as a child?
Vicki Marquez: In my mid-20s, I started paying close attention to what I was eating and how it was affecting me. I cut back on the highly processed junk food that I had been
accustomed to eating my entire life, and I began eating real, whole, natural foods. Becoming aware of that food/body connection, and how my diet had been directly impacting my overall health, was a huge a-ha moment for me! Once I saw (and felt) the correlation between eating well and feeling good, my interest in health and nutrition grew naturally. As a kid, I loved Valerie Tripp, Shel Silverstein, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Peggy Parish and of course, Dr. Seuss.
L.L.: The Rootlets are superheroes with special powers, which contribute to their big adventures. Which superpower would you choose to possess?
Vicki Marquez: Ooh, good question! I’d LOVE some sort of healing touch
power. To be able to free people and animals from pain, sickness and illness…that would be the greatest!
L.L.:What other projects are you currently working on?
Vicki Marquez:Right now I’m devoting the majority of my time to THE ROOTLETS, writing book three, developing our app, attending school events and marketing the brand–
and when I’m not working on that, I’m writing, creating content and testing recipes for
“Nourished” and coaching my private and corporate clients.
  • Hashtag #TheRootlets

  • Facebook: The Rootlets

  • Twitter: @Therootlets

  • Website
  • To purchase THE ROOTLETS, click here

download-16ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vicki Marquez is a certified health coach, plant-based chef, author and TV personality whose passion for living a healthy, vibrant life has become her mission to help others do the same. After earning her degree in nutrition and health science, Vicki continued her wellness education at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where she studied over 100 dietary theories with the world’s leading nutrition and holistic health experts. Vicki went on to receive her culinary education and training at Rouxbe Cooking School where she earned her plant-based chef certification. In 2013, Vicki launched Inner Figure – her health coaching practice that offers one-on-one lifestyle coaching, robust corporate wellness programs and a monthly plant-based cooking club all built around her philosophy to “live healthy from the inside out.” As Inner Figure’s client base grew, so did Vicki’s desire to help inspire and empower children to make healthier choices. From this inspiration, The Rootlets were born: four veggie-haired, cartoon superheroes on a quest to promote good nutrition by making veggies fun and exciting. Vicki launched The Rootlets, LLC, and authored the first book in her series, The Rootlets: Super Rootabilities, in October 2014. In 2016, Vicki branched into television as the creator and host of the healthy living cable show, Nourished. The program blends wellness how-to tips and delicious veggie-centric recipes into a series that’s structured much like her one-on-one coaching sessions. Through her private health coaching practice, children’s brand and TV show, Vicki aims to make healthy eating and living easy, accessible and entertaining for everyone. Vicki is a founding member of The New Self-Health Movement; a member of the International Association for Health Coaches and the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators; and is board certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Vicki lives in Chicago with her husband, stepdaughter and two Yorkies. When she’s not writing, coaching or cooking, you can find her on the yoga mat, traveling the world or snuggled on the sofa with her pups and a great book.

Vicki-Homepage.jpg

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at:

[Special thanks to PRbytheBook. All images retrieved from the author’s website on 10.15.16]

Writers on Wednesday: Caroline Leavitt talks about being a ‘fall chicken,’ list-maker, fixer, mapping out stories via the Truby method, songs that influenced the 1960s & 1970s and so, so much more in her stellar CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist of PICTURES OF YOU, IS THIS TOMORROW, and GIRLS IN TROUBLE, Caroline Leavitt returns with her eleventh novel, a stellar read intersecting family, new love, and an anxious time in American history.

Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Manson Murders, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD (Algonquin Books, Oct 4 2016) is at first blush, a coming-of-age tale, but the story grows immensely darker, about the perils of young love, controlling partners, and responsibility.

Sixteen year old Lucy is about to run away with her much older High School English teacher to live off the grid in rural Pennsylvania, a rash act that has dire consequences for she and her older sister, Charlotte.Leavitt_CruelBeautiful_jkt_2MB_HR.jpg

Like most novels, CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD is based on a smidgen of truth, a real-life crime concerning a girl who sat in front of Ms. Leavitt in a high school class for two years, who had a relationship with a thirty-year old man. It began for Leavitt as a ‘what-if ‘question, the kind that often propels a story from merely thinking about them, to getting them on paper.

Join me as I chat with Caroline about her inspiration and process behind CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand that CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD has been percolating for some time, that the seeds for this novel first sprouted when you were sixteen. But it wasn’t ready to be written just yet. Can you tell us more about that and why, might some stories have to incubate before getting to the page? And do you know whatever happened to that girl in your high school?

Caroline Leavitt: I have been wanting to write this for so long, but I didn’t have the knowledge I needed. I was sixteen and sitting behind this wonderful, funny, smart girl in study hall, and we always talked. I was dreaming of going to Paris to be a writer and having all these adventures and romances, but she was—to my surprise—engaged, and to a much older and “sort of controlling” man. I just didn’t get it.  When I got out of high school, I found out that she had decided to go back to school, have a life, break up—and her boyfriend murdered her, stabbing her 43 times.

I was haunted and really upset, but I couldn’t write about her because I didn’t understand how she could have stayed with someone like that. Didn’t she see signs?

Fast forward ten years. Two weeks before my wedding, my fiancé dropped dead of a heart attack in front of me. The grief was cataclysmic. I cried so hard in my apartment that neighbors called the police—twice! I roamed all over the country talking to psychics, came back and decided I couldn’t grieve anymore. I decided to get into a relationship, despite my friends and family and my grief counselor’s warning that this was the worst idea ever.

My new boyfriend was at first kind, but gradually became controlling. He spoke in such a soft, gentle voice that I began to believe everything he told me—that at 95 pounds I was too fat summeroflovecolor.jpgand needed to diet, that my black clothing made me look dead and I should wear pastels, that my friends were nuts and I shouldn’t see them. Why would I stay with someone so controlling? Because if I left him, I’d grieve, and that seemed so much worse.  I began to understand my high school friend and I finally got up the strength—when he rewrote part of my novel-in-progress without asking—to leave.

But it wasn’t until four years ago, when I saw an online posting from my high school friend’s sister who was still looking for answers to what happened, that I got the missing piece. I added a sister, I changed the relationship and what happened, and suddenly the book began to make sense to me.

L.L: You do a wonderful job with character development. In the case of CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, did the characters of Lucy, Charlotte (the older sister) and Iris (the older mother/aunt/caretaker) come fully formed, or did you carefully cultivate them? Were they composites at all of anyone in your life?

Caroline Leavitt: What a great question. It took about 18 drafts to get it right. At one point, Lucy, Charlotte and Iris were all angry at one another and my genius editor Andra Miller said, “find the love, too”—so I did, and it changed everything.

I have to admit that Iris is based on my mom, who was jilted at 19, married a sullen brute on the rebound (my father), and went into independent living resigned to her life being over—and instead, like Iris, she bloomed! Her story is not really Iris’, but my mom fell in love “for the first time” at 93! She and her beau Walter had four wonderful years together until she got dementia and then he died. But dementia is a sort of gift for her because she thinks Walter is still alive.

Charlotte and Lucy are not my sister and I—but the feelings of “us against the world” certainly were. I also will admit that like Charlotte, I make lists and that like Charlotte, my biggest task in life is to learn to stop trying to fix everything, to just let life wash over me. It’s hard!

“Two sisters — impulsive Lucy and sensible Charlotte — make decisions that will haunt the rest of their lives. Set in the tumultuous late 1960s and early 1970s, Cruel Beautiful World is a riveting novel about love and loss, secrets and lies, and what it means to be a family. Its twists and turns will keep you reading late into the night.”

Christina Baker-Kline, author of Orphan Train

L.L.: Reading CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD was like sitting on a sun-soaked porch and having the wind whisper a story in my ear [and how I relish in that; thanks for the early copy, Algonquin!]. It’s at once alarming and beautiful, thought-provoking, and richly told, but it has a dark undercurrent. Could it be that that is how the world was in 1969 (that was a little before my time, so I can’t say)?  And would you call this historical fiction? IS THIS TOMORROW was set in the 1950s, do I sense a theme?

Caroline Leavitt: Ah, I’m no spring chicken (I call myself a fall chicken). I was really young in the 60s, but not in the 70s, and I definitely felt and saw the change. The 60s were all goofy and wonderful. You were “going to San Francisco to meet some gentle people and wear flowers in your hair”—and I was dying to go but couldn’t because I was too young. But my sister, 220px-san_francisco_be_sure_to_wear_some_flowers_in_your_hair_sheet_music_1967who is older, took me to all the Be-Ins and Love-Ins (which were the same things—big celebratory parties with balloons and free food and music, held outside in some park–) in Boston and schooled me in being a hippie.  Everyone had such hope that there was going to be real, lasting and profound change—and it would be peaceful change, too. I hitched everywhere by myself, barefoot, in full hippie regalia, and I never had a problem. Even something like drugs was done as a spiritual quest, and hoards of people were “going back to the land” to farm and be one with nature. There were also all these free schools popping up where you could learn whatever you wanted, when you wanted. Everyone thought they were building a Utopia. Of course, this was what it was like for middle-class suburban kids, not for those living with the terrifying racism and horrific poverty of the time.

But then the 70s hit. The kids who ran away to San Francisco to meet those gentle people? They were living on the streets. The kids who dropped out of school to farm? They had no idea how to grow crops and they were starving, too. The Peace Movement turned ugly, with groups like The Weatherman and SDS and The Black Panthers—all advocating violence and guns. There was Kent State and the infamous sign at universities “They can’t kill us all” and I began to wonder if maybe they could.

No one hitched anymore. People were dying from harder drugs. And then I entered Brandeis a year after two students, Susan Saxe and Katharine Ann Power had robbed a bank “for the revolution” and killed a cop—the father of 9 kids. They went underground and were on the

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Kent State massacre, May 1970. This is 14-year old runaway collapsing at the body of a student shot by the Ohio National Guard  minutes before. The photographer won a Pulitzer for this image.

FBI’s Most Wanted List for years. The Brandeis students I talked to who were there at the time said they were so unsettled, hoards of kids left school to drive up to Maine and stay there for a while.

I was in Madison the day the National Guard in silver riot gear lined the streets because there was a student protest over a student being caught—the kid had blown up a building and killed a professor. I was walking back to my dorm (I’m a pacifist and could never condone blowing up anything), they began to tear gas, and I was so terrified, I ran back to my place and bolted the door.

But more than anything, there were the Mansons. The Beach Boys were the sunniest group around but they actually inadvertently led to the Sharon Tate murders.Sharon Tate murders. Dennis Wilson picked up two pretty hitchhikers and took them home.  They began to talk about gurus. Dennis’ was the Maharishi, and the two girls said, “Our guru is Charlie Manson.” Dennis met Charlie, they wrote songs together—one is even on a Beach Boys record, but not credited to Charlie. Dennis introduced Charlie to Terry Melcher, a record producer, who nixed Charlie. Furious, Charlie began to be threatening. Dennis and Terry cut off ties, and Terry was so frightened, he moved out of his house—the same house that the Mansons approached to do their murders.

It terrified me, seeing those girls in the news. They were all pretty and singing and happy and holding hands. And Charlie was everything to them.

I definitely think this is historical fiction, but my next two novels are set in the present.

the_beach_boys_1965L.L.: Let’s talk structure for a bit, because this can be tricky for a writer, even if she (or he) has plot points in mind. I find structure tough because there are so many directions a story can go, so many possibilities and then…the characters sometimes take over, wrinkling your smooth narrative! Can you speak to this, please?

Caroline Leavitt: Oh, boy. Structure. That’s my thing. I used to write very loosey-goosey, following the muse, and I would end up with 800 pages and have no idea what the heck I had written. Then about ten years ago, a student of mine told me about Truby story structure. John Truby is a Phd from Yale who worked with movie studios and read a zillion books and mapped out their structure and he discovered that the best stories have a deeper moral component. I liked that idea. So I began to study his stuff, and I sort of stalked him until I met him.

I map out everything before I start. That takes me about 6 months. Then I show it to three story structure people I know and that means more rewriting. Then I show it to writers I respect. More rewriting. I end up with a 40 page “writer’s outline” and I know that as I write everything is going to change a bit. And that’s okay!  What never changes is the basic moral idea. For me, in CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, that idea was that sometimes you cannot change or fix things, no matter how much you want to. Sometimes you have to let life wash over you. That informed every decision that I made. If it didn’t have something to do with that, then it had to go!

And I will say that I end up doing at least 20 drafts before a novel is finished.

 L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD?

Caroline Leavitt: I want people to understand what I just said above, that sometimes you cannot fix everything, and that is all right. We are all human.

I also hope people see and feel the incredible hope that was in the sixties and how it soured and failed, but then there was hope again.

I want people to think about all the different kinds of love there are—controlling and dangerous, saving and nurturing, sisterly love mixed with conflict, friend love.

I hope readers will feel that after reading my novel, they see the world a little differently.

L.L.: What’s got your attention these days? What gets you out of bed? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Caroline Leavitt: Oh so, many things. My husband, who is playful and funny and smart. My son who is at college studying to be an actor. My writing. Other writers. My friends. Really, my mother and sister call me Pollyanna, because I tend to have this very positive outlook on everything. I’m always looking for the joy!

Of course, I’m worried about the election, and the world in general.  And I’m fascinated by quantum physics.

L.L.: Did I forget to ask anything?

Caroline Leavitt: Ask me how the songs of that era informed the novel! If you go look up Young Girl by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, you’ll see this truly terrible view of older man/younger girl, which is in my novel. The whole stupid song blames the girl! With lines like, “You’d better run, girl. You’re much too young, girl,” the song is indicating that he is about to attack.  And that was a very popular song of its day!

L.L.: Caroline, always a pleasure to chat with you. Thanks so much for popping by! All the best with CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD.

Caroline Leavitt: Thank you so much! I hope I didn’t go on too long. I’m honored to be interviewed by you! 

***You can connect with Caroline through these various social media channels*** 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Caroline Leavitt is the award-winning author of eleven novels,including the New York Times bestsellers Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow. Her essays and stories have been included in New York magazine, Psychology Today, More, Parenting, Redbook, and Salon. She’s a book critic for People, The Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle, and she teaches writing online at Stanford and UCLA.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at:

[Cover and author image courtesy of Algonquin Books and used with permission. Author photo credit: Jeff Tamarkin. “Hippie Caroline” photos courtesy of C. Leavitt’s personal archives and used with permission. Scott McKenzie 1967, Kent State 1970, The Beach Boys circa 1964 image(s) retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.9.16]  

 

 

Writers on Wednesday: Andromeda Romano-Lax talks about ‘cold’ parenting styles, John B. Watson’s Behaviorism, the little known Mrs. Watson, how the fun to any research is digging into the archives, sipping bourbon, eating crab cakes, & more in BEHAVE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

An astonishingly disturbing and well-written account of the little-known Rosalie Rayner Watson, the “second” Mrs. John B. Watson, father of Behaviorism, BEHAVE should be on the top of everyone’s to-read list, if not for the writing, the contribution gleaned from behaviorism. Behave Cover

While that may be a very broad statement, I do mean it. Though I may be a bit biased having a background and strong interest in child psychology/psychiatry. BEHAVE (Soho Press, February 2016) is a fictional biography of Rosalie, a promising Vassar graduate with a keen scientific mind. Yet her story is harrowing in that it’s not as straightforward as one may think. To me, BEHAVE was about the 1920s, science, progress, motherhood, marriage, child psychology, and love.

But there are parts that involve behavioral experiments with infants that may leave parents/those who love kids a little squeamish.

I am so excited to welcome Andromeda Romano-Lax to the blog to chat with us about this deeply moving historical-biographical fiction that shaped the early views of ‘not spoiling’ one’s child(ren), several early parenting books, and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Andromeda! So glad you could join us today. Some people read the last line first, but not me. I often read the first few pages of a book, then quickly flip to the ‘about the author’ and ‘acknowledgements’ section at the back of the book. In your first round of thanks, you mention a psychology textbook editor whom you met at dinner party. She mentioned the case of little Albert B. (the primary test subject in BEHAVE) and that got your gears turning for this book—can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, getting heated up about something can be productive—at least for a writer.

I was sharing my vexation with a textbook editor named Christine about ethics in both creative nonfiction (one of my fields) and psychology (hers).  As an example of questionable behavior, she talked about the experimental practices of “Father of Behaviorism” John Watson.1369713473

John Watson was vaguely familiar to me from old college psych classes. I remembered something about a baby, rats, and conditioning, but I didn’t realize that John Watson had a female assistant—Rosalie Rayner—who helped with those disturbing experiments, which frequently involved exposing babies to uncomfortable or frightening situations.

After the party I drove home and immediately started Googling. By midnight I knew I wanted to write about Rosalie Rayner, the forgotten scientist, scandalous lover, and professionally-sidetracked wife of Watson. I have never felt so sure about a storyline so quickly. I wanted to know the story from Rosalie’s perspective. I felt compelled to understand how a woman scientist could be so easily forgotten when her husband remained famous for decades. I wanted to be with Rosalie, in that lab and later, at home with her first baby, during those early days of confused exhaustion, when she finally had to learn how to parent a real child instead of experiment on a mere subject. I wanted to ask her a hundred questions!

L.L.: It’s funny how those little seeds of a new project can creep into consciousness. But the ‘creeping’ is the easy part! How did you tease out the myriad information I’m sure you uncovered during your research in order to shape it into the story that became BEHAVE?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I started with the Internet and accessible published works for background on John Watson, but when it came to Rosalie, the record was thin. That’s when the fun really starts: when you head to the archives. I visited the Library of Congress, Rayner’s home and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Vassar College in NY, and the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio, for starters. In addition to library-style research, I relished spending time in those places that shaped Rosalie, visiting old neighborhoods, strolling the Vassar campus, eating Baltimore crab cakes and sipping bourbon in a historic bar. (It isn’t all hard work.)17FISHER-facebookJumbo

I loved learning about the era—especially women’s roles in the teens and 20s. It felt like a gift to start connecting the experience of women then with the experience of women in, say, the ‘60s-‘80s—and women now. History repeats itself. So much became clear to me about the lives of 20th century women by following one woman’s life story in detail. And isn’t that why we read historical fiction?

L.L.: John and Rosalie have a tumultuous love affair, marry, and then have children. This part of the story became quite fascinating to me. It’s almost as if they had their own two ‘test subjects’ in Billy and Jimmy. Still, I can’t really say that’s much different than parenting today. Wouldn’t you say that on some level, we’re ‘experimenting’ with our own kids?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: That’s a great takeaway—for good or for bad, we are all experimenting on our children, and the pendulum keeps swinging between styles that are more or less pro-attachment, or more less based on children’s perceived independence or dependence, for example. I do believe parents should take guidance from their intuition as well as what they read or hear from “experts.” But on top of this, I think some historical and cultural perspective goes a long, long way. What did people think 20, 50, 100 years ago? How do people raise babies in other countries? What can we learn by critically examining the evidence for the latest trends and comparing today’s ideas with ideas from other eras and other cultures?LittleAlbertJohnWatson

 

L.L.: Many of the experiments with little Albert B. made me feel a bit…well, squeamish and then mad at Rosalie and John for doing such a thing to an innocent baby…making him fear bunnies and even Santa Claus. Did you have a similar reaction?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Yes, but perhaps less so than many readers. I understood that psychology was in its infancy and today’s experimental ethics didn’t yet exist. In judging the past we have to put ourselves in that time period, with all its limitations. Watson had extremely good intentions. He thought he was saving future children from pain and emotional anguish. And most of the infants Watson studied were brought into the lab briefly and were not hurt. (Albert was the possible exception because he was brought into the lab on multiple occasions.) DMtz1

Now, what did bother me was knowing that Watson didn’t bother to decondition Little Albert—in other words, to reverse the emotional damage caused. Watson was very flippant about that fact. And what bothered even more was how Watson took such a poorly designed experiment on a single, possibly abnormal baby and then used it as the foundation for some very bad parenting advice which was sold to hundreds of thousands of moms and dads, persuading them to withhold the most basic kinds of affection from their babies.

The experiments are mildly disturbing. The later application via Watson’s and Rayner’s parenting guide is horrifying. The takeaway is not to hate Watson but to evaluate “expert” findings and read parenting guides of the future a little more critically.

L.L.: And their parenting books! Did you have the opportunity to read them? What can you tell us about these guides for raising children? Are they still in publication?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: The Watsons’ 1928 parenting book (Psychological Care of Infant and Child) is out of print. It contains bad advice—like don’t kiss or cuddle your children—and sensible advice, like help your children establish stable routines. It was actually more 97069505_-com-psychological-care-of-infant-and-child-john-b-progressive than other guides of the early 20th century, especially in its recommendation that physical punishment is not necessary. But its main message, the disturbing message, was don’t form attachments to your children—which is as different from my own parenting practices as possible. If John Watson had seen me nursing, reading to, sleeping with, and endlessly snuggling with my two babies he would have pegged me as a child abuser!

As a researcher, my aim was to read about parenting guides as a larger genre, in order to understand where this book fit in the progression from anti-attachment (Watsons) to pro-attachment (Dr. Spock) style parenting. For general readers interested in this topic, I’d
recommend Ann Hulbert’s Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children.

 

L.L.: I found it absolutely fascinating when John resigned from his post at Johns Hopkins and then became an ad man. This was before the days of “Mad Men,” but still many aspects of psychology play into consumerism. Can you talk about that, please?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Long before “Mad Men,” the top advertising pioneers recognized that emotional reactions and interest in sex, for example, could be useful in selling products. As psychology blossomed into a more respected science, behaviorists were recruited. John switched from the academic to the advertising world at just the right time, contributing his own interests, including a fascination with the power of fear. We have him and others to thank for making us worry that we aren’t pretty enough, or don’t smell right, or on the verge of making our children sick or miserable if we don’t buy the next new product.

L.L.: And Rosalie…it appears as if I’m not the only one who didn’t know much about her. But I’m so glad you brought her story into the open! It was the roaring 1920s and she had a degree from Vassar, promising future in psychology, and then she met John. Part of me wanted to scream, ‘no…don’t do it!’ and another part of me wanted to see her and John get together. Did any of your research indicate what she may have done if it weren’t for John Watson?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: First, you’re not the in the minority for being unaware of Rosalie. Second, in terms of guessing what other life she might have led, the research can’t lc3v77r5ixt9b7tell us because she got involved with Watson so early. My hunch is that she would have loved to enter the glamorous world of advertising, which (as I hadn’t realized but soon discovered) already included women pioneers, even before the ‘20s. Rosalie was social, fun-loving, interested in city life, the arts and fashion as well as psychology. She would have done a great job selling the excitement of the 1920s to other women.

 

 

 

L.L.: What’s captured your interest these days, anything keeping you up at night?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Most recently, my fiction research takes me into the world of AI, where the robots are not only coming, they’re already here. In the nonfiction world (I write both fact and fiction) I am absolutely obsessed with language acquisition and have spent most of the last two years intensely studying Spanish while living in Mexico.

I won’t mention politics, which keeps everyone up, except to say that while I was writing about John Watson, many people asked me how someone with such inflexible views and a provocative manner could have been such a famous public speaker and celebrity—or why any woman would put up with him. Trump, anyone?

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

Andromeda Romano-Lax: No one has asked me yet what kind of reader I was imagining for this book.

In a general way, I think this book is suited to those with an interest in science or the 1920s. But additionally, I was hoping that some readers who puzzle over the cold parenting styles of their parents, grandparents or great-parents would read this novel and say, “A-ha. Finally, I understand.” I also hoped that any readers who are parents now will feel more empowered to make their own decisions about how to raise their children.

L.L.: Andromeda, it was a pleasure connecting! Thank you for this amazing contribution to literary historical fiction.

Andromeda Romano-Lax:  Thank you Leslie!

For more information, or to follow on social media, please see: 

Twitter: @romanolax

NYTimes Book Review of BEHAVE

AndromedaMID1About the Author: Born in 1970 in Chicago, Andromeda Romano-Lax worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer before turning to fiction. Her first novel, The Spanish Bow, was translated into eleven languages and was chosen as a New York Times Editors’ Choice, BookSense pick, and one of Library Journal’s Best Books of the Year. Her second novel, The Detour, was internationally published in 2012. Her third novel, Behave, was published by Soho Press in 2016 and was chosen as an Indie Next pick and named by Amazon “One of the Best Books of the Year So Far.”  Among her nonfiction works are a dozen travel and natural history guidebooks to the public lands of Alaska, as well as a travel narrative, Searching for Steinbeck’s Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja’s Desert Coast, which was an Audubon Editor’s Choice and will soon be released in a new ebook edition.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through this various social media outlets. Hope to “see” you there!

[Special thanks to Soho Publishing and A. Romano-Lax. Cover and author image courtesy of A. Romano-Lax. Image of John B. Watson retrieved from, image of John & Rosalie together from, baby experiment image retrieved from, vintage ad from , all retrieved on 9.2.16] 

 

BookS on MondaY: The Happiest Country for 40+ years and the values we can adopt for raising kids from THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Denmark, home of Hans Christian Anderson and Lego toys, has been voted the happiest country in the world for 40 consecutive years, most recently in the 2016 World Happiness Report. What is the secret to this consistent success? Can happiness become the new Danish export? Photo-Nov-28-2-21-23-PM-1024x735-1024x735

That’s what THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING (TarcherPerigee/RandomHouse, August 2016)  And I have to say, the concept became intriguing to me. When I learned the U.S. ranked 17th in “the most happy,” just under Mexico, I wanted to know why and what did the Danes have on us? Here’s a breakdown of the book, which spells out  P-A-R-E-N-T and is how each chapter is organized:

P – Play: Why free play creates happier, better adjusted, more resilient adults.

A – Authenticity: Why honesty creates a stronger sense of self and how praise can be used to form a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset.

R – Reframing: How shifting our perception can improve relationships and well-being.

E – Empathy: How fostering an empathic household can help your children be more tolerant and less judgmental of others.

N – No Ultimatums: Why avoiding power struggles and using a more democratic parenting approach fosters trust.

T – Togetherness and Hygge (Coziness): Why a strong social network is one of the biggest factors in our overall happiness and by creating hygge we can give this powerful

THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is simply written, yet jam-packed with supporting evidence as to what and how we can parent better. And there’s always room for growth, right? The authors, one raised in the U.S. and married to a Dane and now living in Rome, and the other, a family and child counselor in Copenhagen tell us exactly how the Danish Way is different. Hint: the one major difference has to do with something called hygge, meaning togetherness. Read on to find out what this encompasses. And then consider trying it as early as tonight. 

Leslie Lindsay: The premise of THE DANISH WAY OF PARENTING is that Denmark is the happiest country in the world in large part due to their upbringing. It seems there may be multiple variables at play (such as parental leave policies),  but what are some things parents in the United States can implement immediately that can have a positive impact?

Jessica: Two major things we could do here at home everyday is to try to teach more empathy and learn how to “hygge” (pronounced hooga) which is cozying around together with those you care about in a drama-free environment. Danes value hygge time highly and it’s something we can easily incorporate here if others agree to try, too. In Denmark, empathy is a crucial part of education and it starts being actively taught in pre-school. It is just as important as teaching Math or English. Seeing that social connectedness has been proven to be one of the number one predictors of happiness, I think that teaching more empathy as a skill at home and incorporating hygge, we could make a big difference in in our overall wellbeing.  shutterstock_415695742-600x381

L.L.: We’ve heard the “Tiger Mother” philosophy and the French parenting angle, so what distinguishes the Danish Way from these other cultural parenting perspectives or styles?
Jessica:
In Tiger parenting and French parenting, what the parent says goes without question, period. It is very authoritarian. This is a generalization of course but it’s pretty common in these cultures. Tiger parenting is all about blind obedience. In French parenting, children are expected to have “allegiance” to parents, which is again authoritarian. It is literally all work and no play and Danish parenting is just the opposite.

Danish parenting is about respecting the child’s integrity, listening to their needs and encouraging learning through play, trusting them to trust in themselves and having empathy for others. In Denmark, children are encouraged to question rules they don’t understand so that they feel they are fair and exist for a reason. They focus more on democracy and avoiding problems by respecting children’s integrity and believing in their goodness. I firmly believe this is why Danes, overall, have a good self-esteem and are happier. When you grow up believing your feelings and thoughts matter and the world can be just, you feel good about yourself. The philosophy of Danish parenting is teach respect, be respectful and you will be respected.

L.L.: What are a few striking differences in the way Americans parent on a day to day basis versus how Europeans parent?

Iben: Americans in general strive to make their children better than others. This is subtly dividing not connecting. It doesn’t come from a bad place, it is just how you are raised. You all want to be more special and more individual. Because it makes you feel like better parents, better human beings. And being the best is prized. You are by nature competitive because you are raised to know that the “better kids” get rewards, praise, trophies, love and their pictures on the walls etc. In a dog-eat-dog world you do everything to try to make your kid the best. You were told for a long time that nature was built on survival of the fittest. So “I” have to survive against all the others. Denmark is built on a totally different foundation. We are collectivist and raised on teamwork, democracy and togetherness. We are programmed not to stand out, but always emphasizing the “we” and that which is created jointly.

L.L.: Jessica, as an American expat who married into a Danish family, can you describe the more Danish concepts of ‘reframing‘ and ‘hygge‘ and why they were surprising to you at first?

shutterstock_231997051-600x400Jessica: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” my husband would say if he had to go out in freezing rain. He had such a knack for finding the silver lining in things and reframing them. He was also often making me aware of when I used extreme language such as “I hate that” or “I am terrible at that” and he would correct me to get a more exact. He was very focused on the importance of language and not being hyperbolic. But when I realized he was also doing this with our daughter’s language around her general experiences of the world, I understood that reframing was a kind of Danish skill that gets passed on through the generations. Her fears became curiosity or her negativity became more tempered all through that language altering. This ability to reframe has a profound effect on long-term happiness because how you choose to see the world greatly affects how you feel about it.

In terms of ‘hygge,’ this was something I saw from day one with my husband’s family but it took me a lot of years to finally get how powerful it is and the breakdown of its psychological components. I describe the crux of hygge as a sacred mental space you enter into with those you love and care for which is free from competition, bragging, complaining or too much negativity. It’s a limited time when you are just there to connect with others and be in a nice environment and cozy around. Many people talk about mindfulness these days, but Hygge_oath_2.jpghygge’ is a sort of “we-fulness.” The purpose is simply to be together stress free, and that feeling of safe social connectedness makes you happy. It was hard for me at first because I wasn’t used to so much “we”-time that was controversy-free, but now I love relaxing into those peaceful moments and I see how much kids absolutely thrive in this we space.

L.L.: What inspired you to write this book?

Jessica: The day I was inspired to write the book was when I was reading the newspaper and Denmark had just been voted (again) as the happiest people in the world. At the very same moment I could hear my husband altering our daughter’s language around her fear of spiders as they talked about one. I reflected on how that was going to change her future. [My daughter] would be more curious, less scared and more open. It was so Danish what he was doing (reframing) and I suddenly felt incredibly lucky to have this influence in my children’s life because I never would have known about these Danish ways otherwise. And then it hit me. The light bulb went off. There is a Danish way of parenting! And it must be one of the reasons why they grow up to be the happiest people in the world! And so the book idea was born.

Iben:  I am Danish and have been brought up on the basis of Danish culture and norms, I am deeply aware that a Danish (or Scandinavian) upbringing differs from that of many other cultures. I believe very much in the importance of learning throughout life, and I am passionate about what I do. When Jessica asked if we should collaborate about writing a book, one could say it was a perfect match. I hope the book will offer a change in perspective or a paradigm shift for someone, which at the end can change children´s life to the better.

For more information, or to connect with the authors via social media, please see:

IbenAbout the Authors: Iben Dissing Sandahl is a certified coach, author and a licensed narrative psychotherapist, MPF, with her own private practice just outside of Copenhagen. She specializes in counseling families and children. Originally trained as a teacher, she worked for 10 years in the Danish school system before earning her degree in narrative psychotherapy. She is a frequent guest expert in magazines, newspapers, and Danish national radio. She is a wife and mother of two girls, Ida and Julie.

Jessica Joelle Alexander is an American author, columnist and cultural trainer. She Jessicagraduated with a BS in a psychology and went on to teach communication and writing skills in Scandinavia and central Europe. Married to a Dane for 13 years, she lives in Rome with her husband and two children, Sophia and Sebastian.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay at: 

[Special thanks to K. Platte at Tarcher Perigee/Peguin RandomHouse. Cover and author images courtesy of Tarcher Perigee and used with permission. All other images retrieved from the DANISH WAY website on 8.31.16]