What if you felt trapped by your past–and needed permission to breathe? Jaclyn Gilbert tackles this & more in her debut fiction, LATE AIR

By Leslie Lindsay 

In this piercing, lyrically compelling debut novel, Jaclyn Gilbert tackles marriage, loss, and finding one’s way home. 

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In the shadows of a predawn run, Murray tries to escape what he can’t control: His failed marriage. Grief. Even his own weakness. Murray is a college running coach insistent on his relentless training regimen and obsessed with his star athlete, until he finds her crumpled and unresponsive during a routine practice one morning.

Unable to avoid or outrun reality, Murray is forced to face the consequences of his own increasingly tenuous grip on life—exacerbated by the dangers of his perfectionistic, singular focus as a former athlete and survivor of an unspeakable loss from his past.

Weaving together the strands of two lives that form a union, Jaclyn pieces together  alternating narratives–Murray and his wife, Nancy, as we experience their early moments of hope and desire as well as their fears and failings. There’s time and trauma, grief, and ultimately healing.

I asked Jaclyn a bit about her process, how she discovered the story and what resulted is this sweeping essay on letting go of perfectionism and giving oneself permission to breathe. 

Discovering Late Air

Jaclyn Gilbert

I was running along the Bronx River Parkway in graduate school, when the idea came to me—not for the novel—but for the story that it would later grow out of.  I had run Division I cross country for Yale, and every Monday and Wednesday we trained on the campus golf course.  I remember being too nervous about these grueling workouts to consider what else might happen on the course outside of my legs and lungs burning; I was consumed by own fear of falling short of my coach’s expectation.  In that moment, something about the perspective of looking in on my past life as a college runner terrified of failure took on a new weight as a twenty-nine-year-old woman muddling through an MFA program, set on digging deeper into her past, but unsure of where to begin.   I also knew that I didn’t want to write a story that felt too familiar and close to my own experience, so I chose the vantage point of a coach in his sixties—Coach Murray—not only because he called forth certain aspects of my own college coach’s personality, but also because he had access to a different realm of experience, a wisdom I couldn’t know or fully realize unless I entered his body and began to imagine the range of experiences that had shaped him over time.

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All goes to say that I hit many road blocks along the way, each as difficult as the last, but all as surmountable as my own willingness to confront the unknowability’s of Murray’s pain—the unfathomable loss from his past that he is constantly trying to quiet through his material fixation on the body and his runners.  Gradually, I learned, too, that coming to terms with Murray’s past meant also coming to terms with my own need to use distance running and perfectionism to distance myself from the parts of my life that I am too afraid to look at or remember, the parts that eluded my control during my teens and twenties.  In that sense, the process of writing LATE AIR was, above all, a process of letting go what I thought was true about myself to make space for this other truth: that I found running as a teenager to escape my father’s emotional abuse, and that need for escape veered on compulsive and injurious, even though up until writing this book, I had deemed running a source of salvation, a means of reaching some higher, unattainable version of myself.   But the more I delved into the depths of Murray’s own repressed psyche, and that of his perfectionistic other half, Nancy, more I could see that it was all an illusion.  The pain that I thought I was choosing was really a means of detaching from the deeper, unnamable pains of my past.  Running was my means of coping from my father’s chronic neglect—but his absence also came to define my self-worth in college, when he made impossible requests of me to fuel his own gambling addiction at the expense of my own safety, even though I would have given everything to be affirmed by him, to be present and seen in his eyes.

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Yet any time I tried to avoid that truth—the emptiness I was so afraid of feeling again after my father betrayed my trust when I was eighteen—my writing suffered.  I quickly learned that my readers knew more than I did about myself through the questions they asked about Nancy and Murray’s pasts, their separate childhoods, their broken marriage, their opposite fates.  Every time I returned to a new draft, I knew the answers to their questions lived in what I had to be willing to embrace most honestly on the page—truths about the sudden losses that can mark our relationships, truths about running and the body that required owning my history of chronic injury, truths about my own quest for self-acceptance and forgiveness as a daughter, runner, and writer.   I had to push through the endless rough patches that are revision to learn to sit inside my own body and experiences, rather than escape them through the fiction that tempted me most: that I could hide from myself through my characters.  I had to patiently write toward myself through their own journeys to reconcile what they couldn’t predict or alter about their pasts.

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This book most importantly asked that I interrogate Murray and Nancy’s separate ways of grieving from as many angles as possible.  In tracing their separate journeys inside and outside the limits of their bodies, their opposing needs of running toward and away from their shared pain, I could find greater compassion for my own journey to heal. And that, to me, was how the title for LATE AIR, came into being—in learning from my characters what it would mean to give myself the permission to breathe.   Finding breath also meant relinquishing my desire to control very aspect of this “other” fictional narrative, to open my mind and body to my senses, to receive the moment, in the same way Nancy must learn to toward the end of the book, her body becoming like a map of lived, momentary experience, a vessel for observing language, rather than reacting to it, in motion, and in stillness.

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This process felt much like reading or writing poetry, which is why I think the title LATE AIR fit in the end.  And this title came appropriately “late” in the writing process.  I was working with my agent to find a title that felt amply atmospheric and nuanced enough to capture Murray and Nancy’s elusive divide and later reconciliation.  For weeks, I felt incredibly stuck, trying to find a name for the unnamable truths their story was chasing after—but one afternoon, I resolved to flip through all of my favorite poetry books, copying the titles of poems in a fugue state, and the moment I copied “Late Air” in Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems, something about it I couldn’t explain felt particularly right.  But this naming opened up a whole new layer to the process. I had to earn this title through the final stages of revising the novel with my editor.  Together, we isolated all instances of air and breathing in the story, and I had to immerse in each one of those passages, slowly coming to articulate LATE AIR’S hardest truths about love, loss, and finding breath—in allowing ourselves to let go of what we cannot control or change, by embracing the uncertainty of every moment.


“Late Air breathes some welcome oxygen into the modern novel. The characters, both major and minor, are created with great care, and the story is moving and extremely readable. Jaclyn Gilbert is up and running!”

–Richard Cohen, author of Chasing the SunBy the Sword, and How to Write Like Tolstoy


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LATE AIR, please see: 

Order Links: 

4inAuthorPhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jaclyn Gilbert received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and BA from Yale University.  She is the recipient of a research fellowship from the New York Public Library, a contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and her work has appeared in Post Road Magazine, Tin House, Lit Hub, and elsewhere.  She has led writing workshops at the Valhalla Correctional Facility, the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and Curious-on-Hudson in Dobbs Ferry.  She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and Weimaraner, Phin.  Late Air (Little A, 2018) is her first novel.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #marriage #grief #running #amreading #debut #writinglife #perfectionism #selfacceptance 

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 12.13.18. Special thanks to Little A Publishing].

NYT Bestselling author Lisa Unger is here chatting about dreams, sleep, Jungian psychology & so much more in her gorgeously written UNDER MY SKIN

By Leslie Lindsay

A twisty, captivating labyrinthine of grief, love, and murder in Lisa Unger’s newest psychological thriller, UNDER MY SKIN (Park Row, October 2). 

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She’s a New York Times and International bestselling, award-winning author. Her books have been published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold million of copies, and have been named “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, and the Sun-Sentinel, among others.

*Named one of The Best Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in Fall 2018 by PopSugar*

*Named a Best New Book by Booklist*

*Named one of The Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2018 by CrimeReads*

*Named one of Fall 2018’s Most Exciting New Mysteries & Thrillers by Bookish*

*Named one of The Biggest, Most Anticipated Thrillers of the Season, Fall 2018 Best Mystery Book Pick and Editors’ Pick by BookBub*

*Library Journal 2018 Killer Thriller*

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It comes as no surprise when I say Lisa Unger has been a go-to thriller/psych suspense writer of mine for some time now. Her books always engage and keep me guessing; plus her creativity and imagination, as well as her psychologically astute observations draw me in effortlessly. 

In UNDER MY SKIN, Poppy Lang is grieving. It’s been over a year since her husband, Jack, was brutally murdered on his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. She was supposed to have joined him, but…

Poppy completely unraveled and ended up wearing a red dress she knew nothing of and in the hospital. Where was she during those lost days–and what happened to Jack? A year later and the case is still unsolved, but Poppy is ever the Nancy Drew. She’s haunted by his death, she’s sleep-deprived, she’s trying to move on but just *can’t.* She’s seeing a therapist, has a best friend, attempting to date, continuing to work, but when the nightmares–the microsleeps– start in earnest, Poppy isn’t sure what to believe. Plus, what’s up with that hooded man?

The mind is murky place. Is Poppy’s playing tricks on her? Is something else going on?

I found Unger’s prose utterly stunning with a dream-like lucidity. UNDER MY SKIN is a captivating, tense, complex, and thought-provoking read.

Please join me in welcoming Lisa Unger back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

I think this is book five for us and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have you again. UNDER MY SKIN is such a lucid examination of one woman’s grief. Can you talk a bit more about how this story presented itself to you? Was it a character, a setting, a question, a subject you wanted to explore?

*Lisa Unger*:

I always love our talks, Leslie! The germ for UNDER MY SKIN was actually a Jungian thought that had been kicking around my head for a few a while:

“Between the dreams of day and night, there is not so great a difference.”

It’s so layered if you think about it, and it had me pondering the difference between our waking and dreaming lives, the doorway between those places, the slippery nature of perception.  So, while I was researching these things, I started to hear the voice of Poppy Lang.  The fact that she was in the throes of grief and the aftermath of trauma caused me to dive deep into those areas of the psyche.  Our grip on reality is so fragile.  Even after a couple of nights of bad sleep – as any mom will tell you – the world starts to look like a very different place. So combine that with grief, trauma, addiction and things unravel pretty quickly. And so it was all these ideas, as well as Poppy’s journey toward wholeness that drove me through the narrative.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say—sleep! Dreams! Nightmares! They are such fascinating concepts. The mind is powerful. Sometimes we take information from our waking life and weave it into our dreams, sometimes our dreams reappear in our waking life. Do you remember your dreams? Do they ever inform your writing?

*Lisa Unger*:

That’s so true. The mind can be a magician, a powerful trickster. And we know more about outer space than we do about our brains. So, as I see it, there are more questions than answers about our dreams, our perceptions and memories, what’s real and what isn’t real. I do have a very vivid dream life. And often these dreams inform my fiction. Sometimes narrative problems resolve while I’m sleeping and wake me up at 3 AM!  And my best creative hours are from 5 AM to noon. I am happiest when I roll out of bed and go straight to my novel.  I still feel very connected to the dream brain during that time.  Once the waking mind takes over, it’s always looking for distractions! But the dream brain is always happy to keep telling its stories.


“UNDER MY SKIN is a perfectly dark and unsettling, spellbinding thriller. Told with both eloquence and urgency, Unger knows just how to hook her readers and reel them in. This book is not to be missed.”
Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL


Leslie Lindsay:

At one point you referred to UNDER MY SKIN as a ‘Tilt-a-Whirl of a novel.’ Aren’t they all? What’s your process like? Does it vary project to project? What piece(s) in this one kept you awake at night?

*Lisa Unger*:

So, there’s a germ, usually. A moment where I feel a little zap.  Then there’s usually an obsession and a deep dive into research, as I mentioned. And then a voice, or voices.  And I follow those voices through my narrative. I don’t have an outline. I don’t know who is going to show up day to day, or what they’re going to do. I certainly don’t know how the book is going to end. I write for the same reason that I read; I want to know what’s going to happen to the characters living in my head!

This one was a bit of a Tilt-A-Whirl, because like Poppy, I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t real for her. I wasn’t certain that I could I could trust her judgments and perceptions.  And I wasn’t clear on what really happened during the four days she was missing.  I was worried about Noah. I didn’t know what role he played in what happened to Jack, what was happening to Poppy. And I wasn’t sure I could trust him. There were lots of 3 AM wake ups with this one!

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Leslie Lindsay:

At the heart of UNDER MY SKIN is the lingering toll of grief, and how it is interwoven with love. Can you talk a little more about that please? And do tell me if you think I’ve gotten the theme wrong.

*Lisa Unger*:

That’s true. It did evolve as a big theme in the novel, flowing purely from character; it was Poppy’s journey and I followed her passage though that dark space. In doing so, I wound up exploring how we love each other, how we cling to the past, how it can be so hard to let go. Also, how time and loss can color our memories. It’s part of a larger theme on how our experiences change and shape our perceptions. Love, grief, addiction, trauma – all these states color how we see the world, making it difficult sometimes to know what’s real.

Leslie Lindsay:

Poppy was obsessed with finding her husband’s killer. What’s obsessing you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

*Lisa Unger*:

Oh, I have so many obsessions! I continue to be obsessed by perception, dreams, memories, identity, and all the secret abilities hidden within our very human brains.  I’m still exploring question of psychic ability – what’s normal and what’s “paranormal.” Halloween is coming up – so I’m obsessed about costumes, since that’s a big deal in our family! Let’s see: food, British television, yoga, politics, the environment, my next novel … I could go on and on!

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Leslie Lindsay:

Lisa, it’s been a pleasure. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

*Lisa Unger*:

As usual, Leslie, you’re pitch perfect! I can’t think of a thing you missed. Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I always love answering them.

For more information, to connect with the author via social  media, or to purchase a copy of UNDER MY SKIN, please visit: 

*Read the prologue

*Order Links:

Lisa Unger Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling, award-winning author of sixteen novels. Her new release UNDER MY SKIN is named one of the most anticipated and top thrillers of fall 2018 by BookBub, Bookish, Library Journal, Booklist, PopSugar and CrimeReads! 

Her books are published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold millions of copies and have been voted “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, Indie Booksellers, Goodreads, and Sun-Sentinel to name a few. 

Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR and Travel+Leisure Magazine. Lisa Unger lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida with her husband, daughter and labradoodle.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#amreading #psychthriller #sleepanddreams #authorinterview #domesticsuspense 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Park Row and used with permission. Cover image on patio from L. Lindsay;s personal archives and can be accessed via Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]

 

 

 

What if you committed a heinous act as a teenager & it continued to haunt you? Emily Arsenault explores this & more in THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU

By Leslie Lindsay 

Dark tale about a woman and her younger, troubled days, a murdered psychologist, and a small town cop. Plus, Emily chats about characters flirting with madness, staying disciplined as a mom-writer, and the books that stay with her.

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Dr. Mark Fabian is found murdered in his office. His patients are suspected: including former patient, Nadine Raines, and Johnny Streeter, now serving a life sentence for a mass shooting at a local retirement home. But Nadine and Johnny were patients over 20 years ago, in 1997…what could they possibly have to do with Dr. Fabian’s death? And why now?

THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU (William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2018) is an edgy small town whodunit with alternating POVs and time periods, mostly focused on Nadine and Henry, a police officer-newly-turned-detective. And of course, what happened to Dr. Fabian?

At once a psychological thriller, THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU is also a slight deviation from Arsenault’s previous works as this one is also part police procedural.

Emily Arsenault takes her readers into the dark folds of a disturbed young woman’s mindobsession and secrets—with a great deal of small town edginess that will have you frantically flipping the pages.

Please join me in welcoming Emily to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay: Emily, welcome! I am curious what the instigating spark was for you with THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU? Was it a character, a situation, or something else you wanted to explore?

Emily Arsenault: Thank you, Leslie! It was primarily a character—my female narrator, Nadine. I started with her. I wanted to write about a woman who does something impulsive and violent as a teenager and then has to figure out how—and how long—to atone for it. I wanted to go deep into her psychology to explore her reasons for that one fateful act. I’ve always been interested in adolescent impulsivity and the way our choices or behavior at that age can affect the rest of our lives. This is a theme I’ve touched on in earlier books, but I think I wasn’t yet ready, in those books, to carry this theme to as dark a place as it goes in The Last Thing I Told You.

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L.L.: And yet it’s a bit different from THE EVENING SPIDER, which was more literary and focused on motherhood and hauntings and was almost historical in nature.How did your process differ with THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU? Or, did it?

Emily Arsenault: The Evening Spider wasn’t necessarily a typical book for me, either. That was my fifth book and I had never done a historical novel before. In fact, the process for that and The Last Thing I Told You had some similarities despite content differences. Both have two narrations that I was constantly jumping back and forth between as I worked. Both have one seemingly steadier, more relatable narrator and one who might be flirting with madness. Thematically, I think there are similarities that might not be immediately obvious. Both feature female narrators who think in a dark and perhaps skewed sort of way, and whose peers view them with suspicion.


“Psychologically acute, beautifully written, full of twists and turns, The Last Thing I Told You is a complex, absorbing and satisfying read.”

– William Landay, New York Times bestselling author of Defending Jacob


L.L.: I was intrigued with the therapy piece of this tale—I’m curious what research you did to make this realistic?

Emily Arsenault: I really loved writing Nadine’s therapy sessions. As far as research, I read a few books and articles on the subject of therapy, but the main thing I did was consult with a friend who has worked as a therapist. At first, we just chatted generally about the subject. Then, when I was further along, she read the therapy notes and files of my fictional therapist to help me keep them realistic and professional. When I was revising the draft, she read the whole manuscript. Something we talked about a great deal is that the experience of therapy can vary widely depending on the particular type of training the therapist receives, the accountability structure he or she is in (e.g. hospital setting, private practice, paid by insurance, paid privately), the therapist’s philosophy or approach, and the therapist’s level of competence. I thought it would be interesting for readers to assess for themselves, along the way, if Dr. Fabian is a good therapist—if he’s asking the right questions or calling Nadine out at the right moments. The reader is very much in Nadine’s head for the therapy scenes, but the presence of Dr. Fabian—in the actual therapy sessions and his files—potentially gives readers a different perspective on her.

L.L.:  Can you share a bit about your writing routines and rituals:

Emily Arsenault: It really depends on where I am in a project. When I’m in the early drafting stage, I struggle to stay on task for two or three hours a day. When I’m finishing or revising a project, I tend to want to power through and write all day and night. When I’m in the middle of a tough part, I tend to reward myself with sugar for finishing a certain number of pages or scenes. A miniature can of Coke or a cookie. My process is still in flux. I was very disciplined while my daughter was a toddler and a preschooler because my daily writing time was really limited and I had to use it wisely. Since she went off to full-time kindergarten this past year, I’ve kind of become flaky and unfocused. I’m still working out what my work and writing balance should be as she continues through elementary school.

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L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU?

Emily Arsenault: Primarily I’d like readers to keep turning pages and enjoy the read. But with Nadine, I’d hoped readers would experience a dark female character in a way they might not have expected. I don’t want to say much more than that, because I don’t want to prescribe to readers how they “should” feel about Nadine.

L.L.: What’s the last book you read—and which book do you keep thinking about?

Emily Arsenault: I’m in the middle of The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. A book I keep thinking about is I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara.

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

Emily Arsenault: No—but thanks for your insightful questions, and thanks for having me!

For more information, to connect with with author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE LAST THING I TOLD YOU, please see: 

Order Links: 

Emily Arsenault author photo (c) Ross Gram (1).jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:Emily Arsenault is the critically acclaimed author of six mystery and psychological suspense novels, and one young adult psychological suspense novel, The Leaf Reader. Titles of her adult novels include: The Broken Teaglass, a New York Times Notable Crime Book in 2009, The Evening Spider, What Strange Creatures, In Search of Rose Notes, selected by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Best Mysteries of 2011, Miss Me When I’m Gone, and her latest book, The Last Thing I Told You, which released i n July 2018 and was one of PureWow’s Best Beach Reads of the summer. She lives with her husband and daughter in Shelburne Falls, MA.

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

[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow/HarperCollins and used with permission. Author credit: Ross Gram.] 

Ever thought about calling an ‘intermission’ in your marriage? That’s what captured Elyssa Friedland in her second book, THE INTERMISSION

By Leslie Lindsay 

A witty summer beach read about a ‘perfect’ couple at a crossroads, their secrets, and their unconventional plan to save their marriage. Plus, Elyssa chats with us about her ‘maybe’ green thumb and her favorite dystopian tales.

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THE INTERMISSION (Berkley/NAL, July 3 2018) opens with Cass and Jonathan at a friend’s wedding betting the fate of the just-married couple. It’s a wicked game and foreshadows their own insecurities. Cass had an impoverished childhood and some secrets linger, Johnathan, on the other hand was born wealthy and has an impressive pedigree. But don’t worry—he has a few skeletons in the closet, too. Cass appears to have it all—at least now—but the past haunts her.

They’re five years into their marriage and talking about having a baby and this, we know will complicate things further.
And they’re not having much sex anyway. So Cass proposes a ‘break,’ a six-month separation on distant coasts. Johnathan is left flat-footed. There’s a problem? Told in alternating POVs between both Johnathan and Cass, the reader gets a ‘he said-she said,’ banter, a good glimpse into the past and present.

Friedland is a playful, campy writer which shows through her dialogue and her character’s wit. THE INTERMISSION a fast-paced beach-type read.

Please join me in welcoming Elyssa Friedland to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Elyssa, welcome!  I’ve been on a kick with books related to marriage lately–and for no particular reason. My book club recently read Anne Tyler’s BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS. I read AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE (Tayari Jones) on my own, and now, THE INTERMISSION. All three are completely different takes on a very intricate and complex relationship. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration behind THE INTERMISSION?

Elyssa Friedland: I love stories that delve deeply into character. Writing a book about marriage seemed like the ideal context in which to do just that. In a marriage, two people with different backgrounds, experiences and outlooks voluntarily elect to cohabit and build a life together. The topic is endlessly ripe for exploration in a novel. I’ve been married for twelve years and have been blessed with an excellent partner in my spouse, but it’s still a miracle that any marriage can work when you really think about it.

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L.L.: I’ll admit to not being a fan of the separation concept to heal broken wounds and troubled relationships.  But I was completely intrigued to see how other couples—even fictional ones—handled the situation. Are you familiar with any real-life couples who have done this? How did they fare?

Elyssa Friedland: I know couples who have gone the legal separation route, but never the informal “intermission” that Cass and Jonathan choose. So this was new territory for me as well.


“This entertaining marriage saga … unravels the minutiae of everyday life in a broken marriage. Friedland insightfully dissects motives, lies, and love in this engrossing deconstruction of a bad marriage.”

–Publisher’s Weekly


L.L.: THE INTERMISSION is your second book. Your first novel, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION was all about going cold-turkey on technology, specifically social media. I see a bit of a theme: what happens when we cut out a big piece of our life—marriage or technology? Can you speak to that please?

Elyssa Friedland: It’s like Lent. Maybe I was meant to be Catholic or something. I’m interested in writing about things that are hard to imagine in real life. Would we ever have the guts to quit the iPhone? Would we ever have the courage to ask our spouse for a break? Probably not, but it’s sure fun to think about for a book.

L.L.: Similarly, in what way(s) did writing your first book differ from your second? Are those second books as challenging as they say?

Elyssa Friedland: Actually, I found this one much easier to write. I was more disciplined and motivated because I knew it would actually get published! And I think I just got better at my craft. At least I hope so… In all seriousness, I didn’t waste time writing sections that I knew would all get deleted just to hit a page count every day. I focused more on quality and, if I wasn’t feeling inspired or “in the zone,” I took a step away.

L.L.: What was the last book you recommended to a friend? And what’s next on your to-read pile?

Elyssa Friedland: I’ve been recommending THE HANDMAID’S TALE a lot. I decided to read it after watching the show and I’m so glad I did. Next up for me is VOX by Christina Dalcher. Gosh, I guess I’m really into dystopian novels that explore the subjugation of women. Hmm…

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L.L.: Aside from promoting THE INTERMISSION, do you have any summer plans?

Elyssa Friedland: Hanging out at our beach house with my kids. Two of mine are in overnight camp for July so I’ll be very excited to chill out with them when they get home. I’m also taking up gardening this summer for the first time. I have no idea if I’ll have a green thumb but I’m excited to try.

L.L.: Elyssa, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Is there any I forgot to ask, but should have?

Elyssa Friedland: I just want to thank you for having me on the blog! I was so excited to talk about THE INTERMISSION with your readers and I look forward to connecting again soon. I hope your readers follow me on my social channels – I try to have a lot of fun on them.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE INTERMISSION, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Elyssa.Friedland. credit Lucia EngstromABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elyssa Friedland attended Yale University, where she served as managing editor of the Yale Daily News. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and subsequently worked as an associate at a major firm. Recently, she has written for POPSUGAR, RealSimple.com and Bustle. Prior to law school, Elyssa wrote for several publications, including Modern Bride, New York magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, CBS MarketWatch.com, Yale Alumni Magazine, and Your Prom. Elyssa grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in   New York City with her husband and three young children. Her debut novel, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION, was praised by Cosmopolitan, Glamour and InStyle magazines as well as numerous other publications.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#amreading #summerreading #womensfiction

 [Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL & Kathleen Carter Communications; used with permission]

What happens when a house-swap goes wrong, plus Thailand, reinvention, thrills, and so much more in LAST SEEN ALIVE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Chilling tale of psychological suspense hinging on one woman’s past, her attempt at reinvention, and so much more. Plus, Thailand, finding the time to read, books to obsess over and more. 

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Libby Hall wants a vacation. She’s newly married, a teacher, and has just suffered a miscarriage. She and her husband, Jamie are living in a basement flat in Bath when a leaflet flits through her door offering a house swap in Cornwall. The note indicates the couple selected their home/flat because of its close proximity to the hospital; they have an ailing daughter who needs a specialist at that particular hospital. In exchange, Libby and Jamie can live in their glorious home in Cornwall. For a week.

If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is.

But Libby is desperate. And so they make arrangements. The isolated seaside mansion is everything they hoped for–and more. Panoramic views! A fully stocked fridge! Plenty of sightseeing nearby! But strange things start happening. A sheep’s skull in a tree? A strange man who seems to be lurking everywhere they go? Is Libby just being paranoid, or is it something else?


“Just finished LAST SEEN ALIVE . . . it’s so twisty, turning and grippy. Highly recommend it!

 – Gilly Macmillan, the bestselling author of WHAT SHE KNEW


And then Jamie gets ill. They rush to the Cornwall hospital and Libby must endure a night alone at the Cornwall house.

Told in a bifurcated narrative, the first half of LAST SEEN ALIVE (HarperCollins, June 26 2018) is all ‘front story,’ and there are plenty of twists and turns, dark moments, and page-turning reading. The second half is back story, taking readers into the past and to Thailand, where a group of young twenty-something travelers are finding their way in the world–or escaping it. How these two pieces are tied together will shock and surprise you.

There’s murder, secrets, lies, and plenty of twists in LAST SEEN ALIVE, which alternates between psychological thriller with a dash of horror and a bit domestic suspense.

I’m so thrilled to welcome Claire Douglas to the author interview series. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Claire, welcome! I raced through LAST SEEN ALIVE because I simply had to find out what was going on. I’m curious what inspired this tale? Was it a situation, a character, a theme?

Claire Douglas: Hi Leslie. Thank you for having me on your blog. It was the house swap idea that first inspired me. I read a newspaper article about a house swap going wrong – nothing too sinister, just a family who left the house in a mess – but it got me thinking about what would happen if you were in someone’s home and that family were in your home and you began to realize that they weren’t all that they had seemed. Years ago my husband and I rented a house by the sea. It was beautiful but very remote, and on the last day we found a sheep’s skull in the tree outside our front door. It really spooked us and I couldn’t wait to get out of there! That was the inspiration for ‘The Hideaway.’

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

L.L.: Secrets and lies are a pivotal piece to the story. Were all of these something you carefully mapped out or did they reveal themselves to you as you wrote? Did you have a method to keep track of all the lies, twists, and so forth? Did you ever ‘write yourself into a corner?’

Claire Douglas: It was definitely the most complicated book I’ve ever written. I had to plan the plot out quite meticulously. At one stage I had all these post-it notes with scenes written on them because my brain felt like it might explode with all the information. But I still made sure there was room for the characters to breathe and to tell their own story. For example, I knew the main plot points and the twist, but I wasn’t quite sure of the exact ending. In fact I changed the ending at the editing stages. I also wasn’t sure of how best to structure the story, and in the end decided on the twist being in the middle and the story being split into three parts.

L.L.: About the half-way point, the reader is thrust into the past and an entirely different place: Thailand. I recall traveling after college. It was a bit magical. In LAST SEEN ALIVE, you mention sleeping cars on the train, how traveling companions ‘find’ one another, how there’s an intimacy with traveling with someone that you don’t often get in other forms—after all, you’re eating, sleeping, sightseeing, essentially doing everything together. Can you talk more about this, please?

Claire Douglas: The Thailand part of the story was inspired by my own experiences of travelling to that part of the world. My husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) and I did the same journey on the sleeper train, and we island hopped. We met lots of fascinating people and even though we only traveled with them for a few weeks we built up close friendships. I think it’s fascinating that when you’re travelling – especially if you’re travelling alone and meet people along the way – you can be anything or anyone you want to be. You’re not constrained by how people perceive you at home. And everything is intensified; friendships, relationships. You’re literally spending 24/7 with strangers, and as a result you end up putting your trust in them; it’s quite fascinating if something goes wrong – or that person ends up being a sociopath.

orange and gray hiking backpack on the floor

L.L.: I think a major theme in LAST SEEN ALIVE is identity and reinvention. The other pieces of the narrative mirror this quite well: newlyweds and travel. Do you believe our sense of self is being tested and formulated, or is it more static?

Claire Douglas: I think we are constantly being tested by different situations that life throws at us, good and bad, and as a result that shapes us and makes us the person we are. I hope so anyway; I don’t like the thought of our personalities being static. I like to think we grow and change as we age; get wiser, or calmer, or stronger.

L.L.: I understand you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a child. Whom—or what—has most inspired your writing?

Claire Douglas: I remember being in school when I was about seven and the teacher telling the class about the role of the Author, and I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do. I loved books from an early age, a trait that was passed on from my mum, who reads a huge number of books. I was definitely inspired by authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. I was obsessed with Roald Dahl’s autobiography BOY for a few years.

L.L.: I can’t imagine going through the day without reading something–even for a few minutes. But sometimes it’s hard to find the time. When do you read? What’s on your summer list?

Claire Douglas: I can’t wait to read Lisa Jewell’s new book – WATCHING YOU. I’ve read and loved all of hers since RALPH’S PARTY in the late 1990s. I do read a lot, even when I’m writing. I try to read every night and always have to have a book on the go.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Claire Douglas: No, you’ve been great. Thank you so much for having me.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of LAST SEEN ALIVE, please see: 

Order Links: 

Claire Douglas ap1.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claire Douglas has worked as a journalist for fifteen years writing features for women’s magazines and national newspapers, but she’s dreamed of being a novelist since the age of seven. She finally got her wish after winning the Marie Claire Debut Novel Award, with her first novel, The Sisters. She lives in Bath with her husband and two children.

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


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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission]

Amber Brock on her ‘breezy’ historical novel set in the 1950s, LADY BE GOOD

By Leslie Lindsay 

Captivating tale of glamour and glitz in the early-mid 1950s traversing culture and cities, including NYC, Havana, and Miami. She chats with me about how research is probably her most favorite part of writing, the political and social climate of the mid-century, how she loves CRAZY RICH ASIANS (movie coming!), and so much more

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LADY BE GOOD (Crown, June 26 2018) pairs perfectly with a rum and Coke or a strawberry daiquiri and a sun-drenched patio. 
I found Amber Brock quickly and effortlessly transported me to the time period and the various cities in the story–I felt every scarf and blouse, every hair-do and every pair of sandals, that’s Brock’s greatest strength here– capturing the time period with absolute perfection. She’s clearly done her homework because these characters–Kitty and Hen–practically jump off the page with their accessories and ways of speaking.

Kitty is a rich socialite who primarily lives off her father’s money; he owns several high-class hotels in NYC, but in other cities, too (namely, Havana and Miami). Kitty is at marrying age and her father wants to ensure his precious daughter is married off to the ‘right’ kind of guy; one with status and money. But Kitty isn’t interested in the one he wants for her. In fact, she has her ‘designs’ (to use a lovely 1950s word) on someone else…

Hen is Kitty’s best friend. She comes from the ‘right’ kind of family: connections and old money. Together, the women are inseparable, and a bit of trouble. The real fun begins when Kitty’s father sends them both to the Miami hotel to oversee a few things and perhaps fall for the ‘right’ guy.

But Kitty is intrigued with Max, a musician at the Miami hotel and well, he’s not exactly the marrying type, at least not in Kitty’s father’s eyes.

Of course, Kitty is used to getting what she desires,
and with her charming and delightful manipulations, she very nearly does.

Brock’s prose is witty and graceful, and her descriptions of the glitz and glamour of the time period really bring the narrative to life.

Please join me in welcoming Amber Brock to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Amber, so glad you’re here. I am stunned with your gorgeous descriptions of the 1950s. The sayings, the pop culture, the style, all of it is spot-on. I am curious if this is a period of time that just ‘spoke to you,’ if there was a character you wanted to explore, or perhaps a situation to delve into?

Amber Brock: Thanks so much! Glad to be here, and I appreciate your kind words about the setting. I’ve loved the pop culture of the 1950s since I was young, especially some of Kitty’s favorites in the novel: I Love Lucy and How to Marry a Millionaire, for example. The relief from wartime austerity and the booming postwar economy meant that it was a glamorous era, which felt like a fun backdrop for a socialite like Kitty. But it was only glamorous and prosperous for certain segments of society, and I was intrigued by the simmering social tensions that would lead to even greater changes in the 60s. That questioning of norms felt like a natural setting to push a young woman to question herself and her place in the wider world.

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L.L.: Can you tell us what kind of research you did to bring the time period to life? Do you enjoy the research?

Amber Brock: I love research; it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of writing. I’m fortunate enough to have a librarian in the family, and she got me started with articles and oral histories, especially about Miami and Havana in the 1950s. She also helped me discover Irving Fields, a Jewish musician who played Latin music from the 1940s until his recent passing, and he was a joy to read about.

The best thing about researching in the internet age is that people have very specific, niche interests that they catalog meticulously. So, for example, I found a whole website devoted to PanAm, with photographs and scans of brochures, menus, luggage tags, even playing cards! I watched home movies that people have posted to YouTube of their mid-century trips through South Florida and Miami, which gave me a feel for the tourist experience of that era.

With all of my novels, I want the details to be as authentic as possible. If my characters go to a restaurant, I want to know what dishes they’d have to choose from. I want to see photographs of the interior, so I know I’m describing it the way it would have been. It feels like a nice way to honor and connect with the past.

L.L.: Much of the heart of LADY BE GOOD has to do with race and culture and finding the ‘right’ person to settle down with. There’s a section I wanted to highlight, which really speaks volumes:

“Then it hit her. Those who couldn’t hide being Cuban, or Dominican, or Jewish, didn’t. They had to live with the restrictions or face consequences. Those who could hide, on the other hand, had to choose to bury part of themselves to be accepted. It was more than pretending to be part of the elite. It was pretending to be someone you weren’t. Disowning and disavowing your memories, your home, your family.”

It’s a gorgeous and meaningful passage. Can you speak more to that, please?

Amber Brock: All Kitty wants in the beginning of the novel is to feel accepted by a group that she believes has everything she needs for the best life. She’s so focused on the benefits of inclusion, but she doesn’t see immediately what that might cost her. Inclusion in an elite group necessarily means that some must be excluded, and this is the moment when Kitty recognizes that fact. She also begins to realize that the cost she faces is not as great as the cost other excluded groups might face. A lot of this awakening is due to her relationship with Max. For most of her life, she thought of her family’s immigrant story as a stumbling block, so she’s surprised that he’s proud of his heritage, despite the way he’s treated because of it.

L.L.: I’m so curious how Cuban culture wove its way into the narrative. Obviously, it’s close to Miami (where a piece of the story takes place), so why not just leave the reader—and characters—in Miami?

Amber Brock: As I drafted the novel, I wrestled with whether or not the characters should go to Cuba. I had created Sebastian and fallen in love with him as a character, and I saw the trip as a way to spend more time with him and explore his background in a more meaningful way. Still, as Kitty quickly learns, it wasn’t the ideal time to visit. Though the revolution was still several years away, Fidel Castro was already rallying supporters and causing disruption. Huge numbers of Cubans were suffering under a corrupt government. Eventually, I decided to include the Cuba trip as a way not only to develop Sebastian further, but also to show a beautiful, distinctive culture on the brink of enormous change.

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L.L.: I understand you are also an English teacher. How has—or does—teaching influence your writing?

Amber Brock: Being an English teacher means I hardly ever breeze through a novel. I usually can’t resist digging deeper into what I read, analyzing characters especially. I value a good discussion about a text, so when I write, I know I’m trying to make that kind of discussion possible for my readers. Still, I think reading should be fun, so I want to create something fun for the “breezers”, too.

I teach at an all-girls’ school, and my students are always in the back of my mind when I write. I consider the messages they’re confronted with in the media they consume (including novels—many of them are voracious readers). I want to make sure that, if any of them read my work, they can walk away with a sense of empowerment and a story that makes them think about their own contributions to the world.


“Kitty Tessler, a headstrong glamour girl determined to move up in the world, steals the spotlight in Amber Brock’s latest, a tour-de-force filled with intrigue and surprises.”
Fiona Davis, nationally bestselling author of The Address and The Dollhouse


L.L.: Kitty and Hen have a bevvy of guilty pleasures—from cigarettes to luncheons, high-end fashion, and their taste in men—what’s on your list of guilty pleasures?

Amber Brock: Like Kitty, I can’t resist a good cocktail or a pretty dress. I also have a notorious sweet tooth. Oh, and I love indulging in a long afternoon nap.

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Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

L.L.: What’s the last book(s) you recommended to a friend?

Amber Brock: AI have been handing the CRAZY RICH ASIANS series to anyone who will sit still long enough to let me tell them about those books. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud, and the characters are so wild and fun. Definitely my favorite type of read.

L.L.: Amber, it’s been a delight. Is there anything I should have asked about but may have forgotten?

Amber Brock: It was such a pleasure to chat! Please let your readers know that I will be on tour this summer to talk about the inspiration and research behind LADY BE GOOD. Full details are on my website, and I’ll be in Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida. If anyone is interested in learning more, I encourage them to come see me!

 For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LADY BE GOOD, please see: 

Order Links: 

AmberABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMBER BROCK teaches British literature at an all-girls’ school in Atlanta. She is the author of A Fine Imitation and LADY BE GOOD, which Crown will publish on June 26, 2018. She holds an MA from the University of Georgia and lives in Smyrna with her husband, also an English teacher, and their three rescue dogs.

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

               

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Crown Publishing and used with permission.]

What happens when your dad is a fugitive? You run. Tyler Wetherall talks about the fickleness of memory, writing anyway & more in NO WAY HOME

By Leslie Lindsay 

Emotionally detailed and tense, NO WAY HOME is a coming-of-age memoir of a fugitive family on the run from the FBI told from the POV of the youngest daughter.  Here, we chat about her journey to publication, how once you write it you can never ‘un-write’ it, and how she’s back in the U.K. living out of that iconic red suitcase once again.  

Cover. No Way Home
Secrets are the stuff of memoir and NO WAY HOME is stuffed to the gills with them. Tyler Wetherall writes with beautiful prose and raw honesty about what it was like being born into a ‘fugitive family.’ When she’s born, in 1983, the ‘men in black’ were already living on the family’s California property in a small shack. They watched every move, every coming and going of the family because her father, who goes by series of aliases, but whose given name is Ben, was already a criminal.

Tyler doesn’t know her family’s real surname until she is nine years old. She doesn’t know the reason the family had moved thirteen times in her short life. She has no idea that her dad is actually a criminal, or what he’s done.

We know it’s something deplorable, but it’s not revealed until later.  As a young child, Tyler and her older siblings live in various places in Europe. They ski in the Swiss Alps. They scuba dive in St. Lucia, they have a lovely little villa in the same town Picasso once lived in France. They have homes in Portugal and England. The kids attend boarding school. In some ways, it seemed as though they were army brats with every advantage at their fingertips.

But there are also clandestine phone calls with her father from the depths of a phone booth in the woods. Hidden cell phones in attics. Scotland Yard shows up at their home.

Please join me in conversation with Tyler Wetherall. 

Leslie Lindsay: Tyler! Welcome. I found your story so enthralling, yet so devastating. I wanted everything to turn out for the best. Mostly, it does. That’s what I think readers want to know: is the author okay? Is everyone okay? Had things turned out differently, would you still have written it?

Tyler Wetherall: Everyone is okay. More than okay! I think it’s a testimony to the strength of our family and the support our parents always gave us that despite our unconventional upbringing it turned out fine. My sister is a doctor, my brother is a lawyer, and, well, I’m the most vagrant of the bunch as a roving writer. It’s hard to imagine it turning out differently and whether I would have still written it, because that involves imagining myself as a different person. I am the person I am today because of the sequence of events and decisions that led me here.

L.L.:  Memoir is such a fickle form. It’s not told in a vacuum. There are other people—characters—who are involved. At one point in the narrative, it appears as if you’re seeking approval or consent to tell this story. Your mom said something along the lines of, ‘it’s only one version of the truth, anyway,’ and your father said, ‘go ahead, tell it all.’ Of course, there are your siblings and the other fugitives involved…how does a memoirist reconcile the various ‘voices’ and write anyway?

Tyler Wetherall: Even within ourselves we carry many versions of the past. Our relationship to the past changes as we grow, and stories we might have once told about our lives shift to more closely represent who we imagine ourselves to be in any given moment. And that’s true for everyone in our lives. The process of plaiting this into a singular narrative is flawed; it cannot fully represent the web of experience that makes up the past. It can only be one story. I tried to weave some of this into NO WAY HOME, showing where my memory conflicted with my sisters, or saying when I adopted someone else’s memories because they seemed more reliable than my own. I hope in this way the reader might experience the story as something closer to the complexities and contradictions of the lived experience.

Seeking permission from my family was incredibly important to me, and throughout the process of writing I was trying to do this in a way that would cause the least amount of heartache.

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Photo by Fancycrave on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you talk a little about your road to publication? Early drafts, securing an agent, going out on submission, etc.?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s been a very long road. The book began as a biography of my dad. He had recently got out of prison and he was looking for a ghostwriter to tell his story. At the time, I was 24 and working as a magazine journalist in London, but I didn’t want someone else to tell our story. I quit my job and flew out to LA to begin the process of interviewing him for the book. I soon realized that I didn’t want to write another book about a man’s misadventures with the women and children sidelined to sentimental subplots; I needed to tell it as a daughter who had lived through it. At that point I called it a novel. I was very reluctant to write a memoir, scared of causing any pain, but it was also because I was trying to keep the truth at arm’s length, which never works. After finding an agent in New York – the completely brilliant Emma Parry at Janklow & Nesbit – I started to rework it as a memoir, and the story fell into place.

L.L.: And back to the story. In many ways, your early years were quite magical. You traveled extensively and were able to see and do so much—more than most adults ever experience—do you see that as a bit of a gift?

Tyler Wetherall: I feel incredibly lucky. In between the anxiety of moving and the threat of Dad’s incarceration, we were a happy family. I think that’s what makes it tragic when it falls apart. To this day, you can drop me in any part of the world and I’ll figure out how to get by, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been that way without those years of traveling during my childhood. I’m grateful for that.

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Photo by slon_dot_pics on Pexels.com

L.L.: I was quite intrigued with your mother and father and their family of origin. Your mother left home at sixteen to pursue a modeling career and to get married. Your father was from a New York Jewish family and shared details about his criminal behavior with them. I am astonished. In what ways do you suppose their youth shaped this fugitive lifestyle? Or, did it?

Tyler Wetherall: I don’t think Dad was naturally suited to the fugitive lifestyle; he adapted to it. He likes to travel and he has a sense of adventure, which he shared with us, but his priorities are the relationships with the people he loves. Leaving family and friends was hard for them both. My mum spent much of her youth moving house for a variety of reasons – her parents were stationed in Calcutta after the war – so I think she was better suited to starting again in a new place. But I don’t think it was a lifestyle either of them would have chosen. Not being able to share your real identity and always being fearful of apprehension is a difficult state to live peacefully in.

L.L.: Despite your father’s crimes, you had a bit of a ‘wild’ spurt during your teenage years. Can you talk about that, please and if you think it was typical teenage rebellion or related more directly to your father’s activities?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s hard to know. Drugs never held the taboo for me that they might have for other teenagers, but there was definitely an element of typical teenage rebellion: shaving my head, non-stop Nirvana and underage everything. I was also willful and curious and determined to demonstrate that I was brave, and that manifested itself at times as being reckless. I don’t regret that moment though; I learned a lot and it set me in good stead for the future.


“Wetherall has written a luminous memoir that no one who reads it will soon forget… She conveys her exceptional yet familiar experiences in language that makes the reader stop and savor… Witty and eloquent.”

 —The Washington Post


L.L.: What advice might you give someone who wants to write about family? Especially when less-than-stellar moments are involved?

Tyler Wetherall: Firstly, I think it’s important to get everything on the page without thinking about the repercussions or who will read it or what they will say. If you listen to the voices that condemn what you’re doing, you’ll never get anything written. At that point you know what you’re working with and can approach the story with more consideration. Compassion and empathy are incredibly important. You’re not venting; you’re trying to understand the past and what it means to you and those around you. Also, when you’re nearing publication, it’s important to remember that once it’s out there it can’t be undone, so if there are details you balk at, think closely about whether they’re necessary to the story at large.

L.L: Is there anything obsessing you these days? What keeps you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Tyler Wetherall: I’ve just started work on my second book – a novel – and the fear I can’t do it again certainly keeps me up at night!  I’m also working on a pilot. Between the two I spend a lot of time spiraling down so-called research tangents.

L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, but should have? Maybe what your weekend plans are, if you’re working on something new? Your favorite guilty pleasure…or something related to the book.

Tyler Wetherall: I’m currently back in the UK to see my family and friends (and go to the pub!), and I’m living out of the same giant red suitcase that features in the very first sentence of my book.

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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

L.L.: Tyler, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for sharing this story.

Tyler Wetherall: Thank you for reading.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO WAY HOME, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Tyler Wetherall_Credit Sammy Deigh of C.A.N.V.A.S.®.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tyler Wetherall is the author of No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run (St. Martin’s Press; on-sale April 3, 2018). She is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. She has written for The GuardianThe Times, and The Irish Independent. Her short fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review and others.

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


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[Cover and author images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission.]

Heather Harpham on her exquisite literary memoir, about love & medicine & parenting, HAPPINESS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Powerful, frank, and uplifting medical memoir deeply infused with love, longing, and motherhood. Plus, she talks about her favorite literary memoirs, making time for creativity, and so much more in this luminous interview. 

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I absolutely loved HAPPINESS, which touched on every single emotion with deftness and bravery. I simply couldn’t get enough–from the charming courtship between Heather and Brain, two personalities of polar opposites (she’s a fun-loving California girl living in NYC; he’s an intellectual homebody writer), to Heather’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth, and the medical mystery that enshrouds the baby’s young life.

There’s reconciliation, how they’ll help this baby girl, and HAPPINESS was recently chosen by Reese Witherspoon as…

Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick!

HAPPINESS encompasses a subtle, brave retelling of Brian and Heather’s unconventional relationship progression, how they come together and it’s all told in such a fluid, graceful way that will have you frantically turning the pages.

Harpham does a beautiful job of describing the NICU, her experiences with medical professionals, her passion for parenting, and her reticence toward adult relationships. HAPPINESS absolutely thrums with energy and is infused with such emotion, it’s hard to set it down

I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Heather to the book couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather! This book! Oh my. First of all, it’s gotten all kinds of praise. But it wasn’t exactly easy writing (is any writing ever easy?!). Can you talk about your path and why you wrote it?

Heather Harpham: Leslie, wow! You are a writer’s dream reader –you’re obviously looking for the best in a book. And yes, as you suggest, HAPPINESS was tough to write. I’ve always been a writer, but primarily for the stage; this was my first book and it was daunting. Because this book covers such personal material, and because it describes how my family formed, I felt special obligations to readers and to the people I love most in the world, to get this story as “right” as possible. Or rather to tell it truthfully, but also with respect for what might not belong on the page.

L.L.:  I was telling someone at yoga about HAPPINESS. I said, “It’s like literary fiction meets memoir.” Now, those are two entirely different genres. And yet…that’s how I read it. What’s your response to that? How do you describe the book?

Heather Harpham: Books that bridge genres are the ones I find most exciting. So I take that as a compliment — thank you! My own favorite memoirs include WAVE, THE BRIGHT HOUR, LIT, H IS FOR HAWK and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, all of which fall into the murky category of ‘literary’ memoirs. Let’s call this storytelling that pays as much attention to language’s possibilities as it does to recounting events. As a narrative move, this can be tricky — you don’t want to over indulge a stylistic impulse at the expense of strong, straightforward storytelling. At the same time, writers (especially those of us working with material that inherently evokes pathos) owe the reader the breathing room of craft — metaphor, pacing, prosody, etc. Crafted language lifts a reader slightly above the drudgery or pain of events into a more bearable poetic experience.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

In the other half of my creative life, I teach acting and there is a beautifully thin line in great performances between the emotional reality of the actor and the character. This line can be virtually invisible, but it must exist. Audiences need that sliver of distance between the anguish or loss a character experiences and the true person conveying it. Without that sliver, watching is too anxiety producing, which drains the fun; we’re worried for the actor instead of enjoying the story or achieving catharsis. Similarly, with writing, readers need to know that the teller of a story is ‘okay enough’ to tell it.

In HAPPINESS, because I was (in part) writing about sick kids and the deepest loss, I tried to find humor or beauty or absurdity to offer the reader as a kind of ballast against the demands of the material. I felt I owed the reader, at the very least, a little levity and passing pleasure, or we’d be sunk!

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L.L.: Memoir is such a challenging style of writing. Emotions get in the way. Memory is fickle. And then, you worry about how others—the real-life people in your story—will react. How does one reconcile all of that?

Heather Harpham: While writing HAPPINESS, I had to be sure I was telling the story in a way that was bearable and sustainable for my family. In particular, I wanted to portray a period of extreme rupture between myself and the man I am now married to — the novelist Brian Morton — and to describe early, difficult decisions we made without turning the reader irrevocably against him. For our children’s sake, it was essential I describe our separation and differing choices in a way that represented Brian’s point of view, to the best of my abilities. At the same time, I wanted to be honest about the emotional turbulence I experienced while pregnant and on my own. That’s a tough needle to thread and I wasn’t successful on every page, but the beauty of writing a whole book, rather than an essay or an article or even a poem, is that you have time. If you fumble on one page, you try again on the next! I tried to make the gestalt of the book encompass not only Brian’s early rejection of fatherhood, but also his enormous, rare capacity for transformative change into the most extraordinary father and partner I can imagine.

In terms of writing about our kids, it was a tremendous joy for me, as a writer and a mom, to record moments from their early childhood. Brian and I both took a lot of notes when Gracie was sick – not only on her illness or course of treatment– but also on the many things Gracie and Gabriel said and did daily that touched us, or surprised us.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For the Gracie (who now goes by Amelia) and Gabriel, it’s more complicated. They are both teenagers now and neither of them is fond of having a public portrait drawn of their early childhood or toddlerhood. And, our daughter’s pain is described in detail in the book, in ways that aren’t familiar or recognizable to her. She doesn’t remember the vast majority of what she went through during her bone marrow transplant. Our son remembers even less from that time, which ended when he was only two years old. They both want to be seen as the strong, mature, independent people they’ve become. And I do see them that way, but I also see within them every age they ever were, layered and looping through. But in print, I was only able to capture a snapshot of them, an early version. I hope someday they can enjoy that view. As they enter adulthood, I hope the book can offer them a record of a time that was meaningful or impactful, even as it lies outside of conscious memory. But truly I have no control or insight about what it will mean to them, in the same way we can never know how a reader will receive our work.

L.L.: Without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote HAPPINESS?

Heather Harpham: Kids. Lunches. Laundry. Two attempts at dog adoption. Marital fights. Making up. More fights, more reunions. A growth in partnership.  A long search for an affordable, comfortable home. Success — first ever home ownership! Painting walls. Writing group. The beginning of a college teaching career. A new solo show –BURNING. More lunches and laundry and walks. Writing group. California phone chats. Writing group. Long walks, down to the café for a croissant.


“An extraordinary and bewitching book, HAPPINESS has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.”

Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark


L.L.: And so, your daughter is growing up. She’s okay now. What does she think about her story?

Heather Harpham: Honestly, you’d have to ask her. When she’s been asked in the past, she’s very eloquent on the oddity of having such a personal story – a story that is literally about her deepest physical strata, her bone marrow — told by someone other than herself. She seems to have expected that she’d feel a kind of kinship with the Gracie I describe in the book – that this portrait might offer her a way to recall or even reclaim her younger self – but that didn’t happen. She remembers so little of what I describe, and the little she does remember diverges from what I’ve focused on. I told this story from a mother’s point of view. While she lived it, from the inside. Sadly, neither Brian nor I can ever know exactly what she experienced in that time, as much as we want to.

If you’d like to hear Amelia (aka Gracie) talk about these issues in her own words, she responded to a similar question from Reese Witherspoon in this joint interview (it’s the first question Reese asks her).

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L.L.: Part of what makes HAPPINESS so compelling, at least in my opinion, is the grace and ease you write about the medical professionals, the hospital experience. But at the heart of it all, resides a good deal of fear. Did you ever learn Gracie’s diagnosis? Is it still a mystery?

Heather Harpham: First of all, thanks so much for pointing to the medical professionals described in the book. The gratitude you feel, as a parent (or a sibling or partner or child or friend) for the people who save your beloved, or simply soften their suffering, is indescribable. It’s breathtaking gratitude, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-gratitude. And it never ends. We were lottery winners in medical life — we had many incredible people speeding Gracie’s healing over her four years of treatment. I recently interviewed the woman who was our “primary nurse” during transplant, Bobbie Caraher. For anyone interested in hearing Bobbie’s beautiful philosophy of bedside nursing and the need to humanize medical life, the interview is on the Hello Sunshine website.

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In answer to the second part of your question, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss our daughter’s current medical status publicly – which is a condemnation of the for-profit healthcare system rather than your question! Someday, I shudder to say, the Affordable Care Act might be dismantled enough to reinstate the cruelty of “pre-existing conditions.” This would be very very bad for millions of Americans, including Amelia. At the same time, I can say that she’s totally cured.  And no, bizarrely, we never received a diagnosis.


HAPPINESS is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.” —Star Tribune


L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you still writing? Are you more focused on acting? And what’s your teaching schedule like these days?

Heather Harpham: I’m teaching enough to keep myself regulated. Without the structure of teaching, I drift through loose, baggy time without accomplishing much… Plus, I love witnessing the artistic enthusiasm of the young actors I teach, as they figure out how to tell stories in the most powerful or original way. I learn from them constantly.

And yes, thanks for asking. I am writing. I try to show up at the keyboard for at least two hours a day. I keep a little spreadsheet to hold myself accountable. And that helps. I respect work, and so I try to make writing feel like a job. Something you clock in and out of. In fact, it is my job; it’s the work I do that most meaningfully contributes to our family’s financial well-being. Still, it’s easy for many of us (maybe particularly women) to think of our creative projects as a lark. A private fancy. This is rubbish; we need to take our talents and creative work as seriously as any employment. Of course that’s a lot easier if you’ve had some success and thus have time to write. I’m amazed by writers who struggle to stay awake and work, after teaching or doing an exhausting “day” job. That’s commitment.

I had a teacher once, a famous clown (truly!), who said that you should offer your own talent a commiserate commitment in terms of time and energy. He said, only you can evaluate your talent and potential. You alone. If you think you’re talented, show up for your talent. Give that talent a room, and as many hours as it requires. That can be scary or disorienting or downright disappointing; sometimes we’re not as talented, or creatively facile, as we hoped. But then again, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

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

Heather Harpham: There is a question I wish people would ask, though, alas it is probably a question for the book I wish I’d written, rather than the one I wrote. This question is about the role of spirituality to sustain us, or destabilize us, in times of exigent duress, fear or even celebration. I found that my own spiritual beliefs were fundamentally challenged by witnessing the loss and suffering of so many innocents during our time on the transplant unit. It was incredibly painful and confusing for me as a believer. It awoke a series of questions I’ve yet to answer about the nature of a God (or if you prefer, the organizing intelligence alive in our universe) who allows for misery with arbitrary abandon. Why is catastrophic loss “allowed” to land anywhere, on anyone, at any time?

On the other hand, we encountered many people during transplant who were disproportionately, even inappropriately (!), kind to us–total strangers who offered lifelines. Why? This is a mystery of equal power. I’m guessing that being tender or generous or compassionate felt good to them; it felt right.

I have no idea why humans are built this way – to bend and help, to care profoundly — but I’m very grateful we are.

I stand in that mystery too. I wanted to express more of this spiritual confusion and appreciation within the book than I was able to. Hopefully I can return to it next time, next book. Unless I have the good sense to write about something less complicated!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you, thank you!

Heather Harpham: Leslie, thank you! You read and respond with such care to writers. It’s been a true pleasure.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of HAPPINESS, please see:

Order Links:

ct-life-stevens-tuesday-happiness-heather-harpham-0801ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Heather Harpham (b. 1967) is an American writer and theater artist. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the UK. Her debut memoir, HAPPINESS The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, was published by Henry Holt in the fall of 2017 and by OneWorld in the UK. Happiness was the April 2018 selection for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club; chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series; and was included on the “Indie Next Pick” list by the American Booksellers Association. Originally from the northern California, Harpham now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

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

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#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness #Happiness #hellosunshine #RWitherspoon #Memoir

[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo credit: David Kumin]

WeekEND Reading: Simon Lelic on his psych thriller, THE NEW NEIGHBORS

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if the house you moved into has a story all its own? Simon Lelic talks about the ‘terrifying’ experience of house-hunting, how he wishes he kept more of his childhood books,writing advice & so much more…

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Dark, twisted U.K. thriller with undertones of paranormal and horror.

I have such a soft-spot for tales of houses and so when THE NEW NEIGHBORS (Penguin Random House, April 10 2018) came across my desk, I knew I had to read it. Syd and Jack are a twenty-something couple seeking their first home together (they are not married) and when they come across the perfect London home, they make an offer. It’s low, but the owner wanted someone young. It almost seems too good to be true when their offer is accepted. 

Once they move in, strange things start happening. For one, the previous owner left all of his furnishings, including taxidermy-ied animals. But the walls seem to permeate an odor and what’s with that stuff in the attic? Jack has been wary all along, but Syd is more nonchalant about the new place.

Told in alternating POVs of Jack and Syd in a written journal-like narrative (the characters refer to it as ‘the manuscript,’), the story can be a little challenging to follow in som regards as different perspectives color the story. But when a murder is committed outside their back door, Syd and Jack become suspects.

One begins to wonder if Syd and Jack are really responsible, is it the house, or something (someone?) else more sinister at work?

THE NEW NEIGHBORS is a tale of duplicity, a ‘he-said,’ ‘she-said’ type of read that will most definitely send shivers through, and perhaps, have you looking over your shoulder (or at least in your attic).

Please join me in welcoming Simon Lelic to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Simon, it’s a pleasure. I always want to know why this story, why now? Was there a character, event, or line that kept drawing you to the keyboard?

Simon Lelic: The main inspiration for The New Neighbors was the house-hunting process, which we’ve all been through in some form at one point or another, and as it happened my wife and I were going through it around the time the novel was written. It’s such a terrifying process – you are asked to commit a vast sum of money, and indeed your family’s entire future, on a property you only really get to see two or three times. It’s only when you’re committed, and you finally move in, that you get to discover what’s really buried beneath the floorboards…

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“A raw, tightly wound thrill ride, a nightmare scenario about a home purchase that goes horribly wrong. And then some. This is a fast-paced, intense, and creepy novel that you won’t be able to put down until you reach the end.”

—David Bell, bestselling author of Bring Her Home


L.L.: I understand this is your first psych thriller, but not your first book. How was this one different? Or, was it?

Simon Lelic: I suppose with psychological thrillers, it’s all a question of degrees. My first novel, A Thousand Cuts, dealt with bullying as a motive for murder, and you could argue that you don’t get much more psychological than that. But The New Neighbors definitely takes this up a notch, in that you are never really sure how much of what is happening is only taking place in the characters’ heads.9780143118619.jpg

L.L.: You’re a former journalist. I’ve found that many former journalists turn to writing thrillers. Any ideas as to why that is? How does your background inform your fiction?

Simon Lelic: I’ve never really thought about this before, but I guess journalism teaches you to write sparely, to make every word count, and this style of writing definitely suits the thriller genre. For a thriller to work well, you need to keep the story moving forwards. 

L.L.: In shifting gears a bit, I am anxious to talk about the house as a character. Is that how you saw it, too—as a character—or was it more of a ‘setting?’

Simon Lelic: It started as just a setting, but quickly took on a personality on the page. At least for me – I can only hope that readers will agree! I’ve always loved haunted house stories – from Shirley Jackson to Mark Z. Danielewski – and I wanted the house in my novel to loom just as large in the reader’s mind as it would if they were reading a ghost story.

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L.L.: Syd’s character is complex, vulnerable, and secrets of her family origin leak.  transforming the narrative a bit into one of violence and perhaps madness. Was that intentional or did it sort of grow organically?

Simon Lelic: Syd was always the key to the story. Without giving too much away, her character, and the reasons for her being the way she is, are fundamental to events in the book. Which isn’t to say Jack’s background doesn’t have significance too…

L.L.:  Jack finds a small box filled with childhood treasures in the attic. What item(s) from your childhood do you long for, if only occasionally?

Simon Lelic: Books! For some reason I will never quite forgive myself for, I gave away whole boxloads of books I’d loved as a kid, I think at some point when I figured I was ‘all grown up’. But now I have children of my own (three of them, all turning into avid readers) I would dearly love to be able to pass on some of those books I devoured when I was their age, many of which no longer seem to be in print.

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L.L.: What aspects of writing have you struggled with and how did you work to strengthen those areas?

Simon Lelic: Writing is always a struggle, at least in the sense that you can invariably do it better. That’s partly why I love it so. It’s a craft, and like any craft, the key to improvement is practice.

L.L.: What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Simon Lelic: I’m not sure about the best piece of writing advice I’ve received, but the best piece I can give is, be wary of what advice you follow. Find what works for you, and do it.

L.L.: What question do you get asked all the time, that I forgot to ask?

Simon Lelic: The same question every author gets asked: where do you get your ideas? And I’m glad I don’t have to try to come up with an answer!

L.L.: Thank you, Simon. It’s been a pleasure!

Simon Lelic: Thanks so much for having me. I sincerely hope your readers enjoy the book!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of THE NEW NEIGHBORS, please see:

Order Links:

244784ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simon Lelic is a former journalist and the author of the award-winning A Thousand Cuts as well as the critically acclaimed The Facility and The Child WhoThe New Neighbors is his first psychological thriller, inspired by a love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. Simon lives with his wife and three children.

 

 

 

 

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

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[Cover(s) and author image retrieved from Penguin Random House website. Couple house-hunting retrieved from usatoday.com; all on 4.18.18 ] 

WeekEND Reading: Brad Parks on his new domestic thriller, CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if you went to pick up your child from daycare only to learn he has been taken by social services? That’s what was haunting Brad Park when he set out to write CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW; understanding the emotional arc of his female characters, how being stubborn is his greatest strength at the keyboard, plus Coke Zero & ice cream

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Brad Parks is back with another stand-alone domestic thriller with engaging characters, stunning twists, and chilling discoveries, this time focusing on Child Social Services, a drug bust and more. 

CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW, the latest thriller from Brad Parks, is the perfect encapsulation of everything Parks does so well—shocking twists, compelling, true-to-life characters, and affecting emotional impact.

So when the publishing house reached out to me with this one, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Plus, that cover! It’s so hauntingly typical.

After a childhood spent bouncing between foster care homes, Melanie Barrick finally has the life she’s always wanted. But one day, Melanie goes to pick up her son Alex from childcare and discovers he has been removed by Social Services.

When she arrives home, she learns that her house has been raided by the sheriff’s deputies, who tell her that they’ve found enough cocaine to put her behind bars for years.

Though she maintains her innocence, Melanie knows she will lose Alex forever if she can’t find definitive proof that someone is trying to frame her.

Parks’ first standalone, SAY NOTHING, received rave reviews from top media outlets, genre titans–including Sue Grafton, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver–and readers alike. And CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is just as thrilling. 

Please join me in conversation with Brad Parks. 

Leslie Lindsay: Brad, I’m so thrilled to have you today. I’m always interested to know what inspired a particular title. Can you tell us how you chose to center the plot of Closer Than You Know around the child welfare system?

Brad Parks: As an upper middle class white kid, I grew up with exactly zero experience of the child welfare system. Then I spent a decade as a reporter in Newark, where child protective services was an enormous presence in the lives of many, if not most, poor families. As a political nerd, it fascinated me that in America—a nation founded by guys trying to resist tyranny—we created a system that gives government so much authority over such an intensely personal aspect of citizens’ lives. Think about it: No matter where you live, there is a state or local agency that has legal ability to take your children away from you. Now, most of the time, that authority is only used with great caution and only as a last resort. But what an awesome power. Especially if it was abused. That’s the basic germ that I allowed to take root in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW that someone who understands the system could manipulate it to steal someone’s baby.

L.L.: What research did you do for this novel? Were there any differences between this book’s research into the judicial system and that of your last book, Say Nothing?

Brad Parks: I spoke with people who work for Virginia social service agencies at a variety of levels—from a former secretary all the way up to a director. They were, without exception, dedicated professionals whose hearts were absolutely in the right place. From them, I learned how the system is supposed to work. Then I spoke with, and read memoirs by, former foster kids. From them I learned how the system actually works. There are some success stories, of course. But for a lot of children, particularly those who enter foster care at later ages, the system creates as many problems as it fixes.  I also spent time hanging around Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, talking with lawyers and a judge. The great difficult there is that, unlike adult courts, trials involving children are closed. That was probably the greatest difficulty: Not having the opportunity to observe directly. I found myself asking a lot of my sources questions like, “Okay, how does this go exactly? What does this look like?”hqdefault

L.L.: This is your first novel told from the perspective of female protagonists, Melanie Barrick and Amy Kaye. Did you find writing from the perspective of female characters more challenging? How did you ensure that the tone felt authentic? 

Brad Parks: With forty-three years’ experience thinking like a guy—and none thinking like a woman—the prospect of writing from the female perspective definitely intimidated me at first. And there were a handful of scenes where I was cognizant that a woman would experience the events unfolding in a fundamentally different way. But for the most part, once I got into the story, I was amazed how little it actually mattered. In most of the situations these women faced, gender was probably the seventh or eighth most important thing motivating their thoughts and actions. There were other aspects of their personalities that simply mattered more. They were driven by their wants, their needs, their ideals, their hopes. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t writing female protagonists. I was writing human protagonists who happened to be female.

L.L.: CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is your eighth novel. How is this one different than your previous stories?

Brad Parks: I always have strong feelings for my characters. But I was more attached to Melanie Barrick than I’ve ever been to any of my previous protagonists, even the one loosely based on me. There were times when I felt this horrible guilt about what I was doing to her—ripping her baby away from her, putting her through this horrible ordeal, sending her to prison. I always talk my characters throughout the writing of a novel. I found myself apologizing to Melanie quite a bit.

L.L.: You write a lot about the bond between a mother and her child in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW. How were you able to convey this unique relationship on the page so vividly? And did your own experience as a dad shape the narrative?

Brad Parks: I did a tour of duty as a stay-at-home dad with an infant. For many long hours each day, it was just me and this baby. I came to realize that a big part of what our culture calls “motherhood” is really just having another human being who is wholly dependent on you for every need, all the time. So I certainly drew on that physical and emotional experience. But I also came to understand there is another aspect to motherhood, and that’s because I watched my wife parent this same child. She wasn’t with the baby for huge chunks of the day, like I was, and yet there were ways in which her bond with the baby was undeniably closer. That really helped me flesh out Melanie Barrick, because when Alex gets taken from her, she is no longer his caregiver. But, deep in the very core of her, she is—and will always be—his mother.

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L.L.: This novel is so emotionally resonant, but also quite thrilling in that psych-suspense aspect.How do you balance the plot so they are both something the reader will ‘feel’ but also entertaining?

Brad Parks: I write by feel. If I don’t feel something, chances are the reader isn’t going to feel something. And if the reader isn’t feeling something. . . well, really, what’s to stop them from putting this down and playing Sudoku?

L.L.:  Before you were a full-time novelist, you were a successful journalist. How does that inform your work today?

Brad Parks: One year at a daily newspaper brings you into contact with enough fascinating stories and weird characters to fuel at least twenty novels. It also teaches you how to learn (quickly!) about anything at all.

L.L.: Do you miss journalism?

Brad Parks: I miss the people. The newspaper newsroom of yore was a magical place: A collection of bright, talented, irascible folks—many of them temperamentally unsuited for employment in any other industry—who spent half the morning strangling each other and half the afternoon worrying about lunch. But then somehow by the end of the day, they managed to get their act together just enough to publish the equivalent of a full-length novel, complete with pictures, graphics, and the horoscopes. And then they’d get up the next day and do it all over again. It was magical to be even a small part of the whole crazy show.

L.L.: How did you make the decision to transition into writing novels?

Brad Parks: In some ways, the decision was made for me. The newspaper business began entering its death spiral around the time I turned thirty. I came to realize there was no chance I was going to be able to ride that dinosaur all the way to retirement. I took a buyout in 2008, when I was 34, figuring it was better to jump than be pushed. At that time it was frightening. And depressing. Journalism was all I had ever done, all I knew. But looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Under ordinary circumstances, I am far too risk-averse by nature to do something as outrageous as leaving a steady job for the uncertainty of writing novels. It took the collapse of the industry to make me pursue a dream I otherwise would have been too chicken to chase on my own.

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L.L.: Can you tell us something about your process that might surprise people?

Brad Parks: How—for lack of a better word—physical it is. While I’m working on a novel, particularly in that crucial first-draft stage, I treat myself like a professional athlete in season. I do everything I can to maximize performance: I eat right; I don’t drink much (besides Coke Zero); I try to give my brain lots of rest, whether that’s goofing off in the afternoon, or getting eight hours of sleep at night. Don’t get me wrong, I have distractions, like everyone. But my goal is to structure the other twenty hours a day so that those four hours in the chair can be as productive as possible.

L.L.: What do you think is the most important trait you bring to the keyboard?

Brad Parks: Stubbornness. It’s the gas for my writing engine, and I’d like to think I have more of it than most. When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. There was one test where you had to rearrange blocks. The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop. I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved that second-grade problem. But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I am willing to bash my head against the screen until the words come out right.

“Exciting. . . Parks excels at keeping the pages turning with brisk pacing, relentlessly high tension, and a knotty narrative.”
Publishers Weekly

L.L.: Rumor has it that you’re known to break out into song during author events. Me, too but not at author events…just around the house. And not well. Everyone rolls their eyes. What inspired you to make this a trademark at your events? Were you involved in musical theater during your school years?

Brad Parks: Those rumors are malicious and false. How dare you. . . Uh, okay, guilty as charged. I was all-state chorus, did high school musicals, sang a cappella in college (yeah, I was one of those guys) and have continued to sing in pretty much any forum in which I am not muzzled by either decorum or someone’s hand. It’s just something I love to do. 

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW?

Brad Parks: To my knowledge, there’s never been a thriller that uses the child welfare system as its backdrop. And while I’m not trying to cram a social work textbook down their throats, I would hope readers come away with a more nuanced understanding of that world and some compassion for those involved in it. That’s one of the things I love about the thriller genre: It’s a vehicle that allows you to explore some weighty social issues, yet do so in a way that’s still wildly entertaining. Done right, it’s like ice cream that’s good for you.

L.L.: Thank you, Brad. It was a pleasure…and now, for that ice cream.

For more information, or to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of CLOSER THAN YOU THINK, please visit:

Order Links:

brad-parks-smile-225-shadowABOUT THE AUTHOR:   International bestselling author Brad Parks is the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and have won critical acclaim across the globe, including stars from every major pre-publication review outlet. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks is a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. He is now a full-time novelist living in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website and used with permission from publisher. Images all retrieved on 3.15.18. Sources as follows: stay at home dad image retrieved from, newspaper newsroom image retrieved from, Juvenile and Domestic Relations court sign retrieved from,]