Category Archives: WeekEND Reading

WeekEND Reading: NYT Bestselling author or THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR talks about being an emotional writer, why we like being frightened (in a safe environment), new beginnings, and more in her stunning new psych thriller, A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Last summer, Shari Lapena burst on the psychological thriller scene with her runaway bestseller, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR. They were young, attractive, a sweet baby…and yet.

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She’s back with another stunning story—one that will have you flipping the pages so fast, they might ignite. A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE (Viking, August 15) is perfect for those who love fast-paced domestic psychological thrillers ready for the beach, or backyard, or airplane, or wherever you happen to be reading from. And trust me, you will read this in a weekend. Easy.

A woman with a secret—multiple, faceted secrets—and a husband who doesn’t know what to believe when his wife is found on the wrong side of town in a car crash she doesn’t remember, or is trying hard to forget. A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE is one of those stories, that once you think you  have it figured out, it changes a bit. Signature twists and turns only Shari Lapena can do; I raced through A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE and didn’t want it to end.

Join me in welcoming Shari Lapena back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Shari, I loved this book. I read it on vacation—the driving sort—when I wasn’t helping my husband navigate or taking in the scenery, or minding the kiddos, my nose was in this book. The story haunted me as I read it, so I wonder: what was haunting you as you wrote this one? What was the seed?

Shari Lapena: Thanks, Leslie! I’m so glad to hear it haunted you!  I’m interested in the secrets people keep from one another and the very different kinds of lives one person can live within one lifetime. Sometimes people have pasts that they are running from, or want to keep buried because they want a new beginning. That was the situation with Karen. I wanted her to have her new beginning, but it’s hard to outrun your past.

L.L.: You have a former career as a criminal attorney. How does that experience color your fiction world? For example, there were some lawyer-meetings and legalese in A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE. Perhaps had you not had a background in law, you would have had to do some research?

Shari Lapena: Oh no, I was never a criminal attorney. I practiced commercial law mostly, and only for a couple of years. I’ve never thought my law practice influenced me much in my writing, but I did find that this one started turning into a bit of a legal thriller, which surprised me. I probably would have had to do more research than I did had I not gone to law school.

“Smart, twisty and compulsive. Suspense and suspicion accumulate relentlessly, toying with your expectations and your emotions right up until the packs-a-punch ending. Don’t miss it, and don’t expect to be able to put it down.”

—Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of WHAT SHE KNEW

L.L.: There are definitely some unsettling situations in A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE—the main character—Karen is badly injured in a car accident on the ‘wrong’ side of town (not a spoiler, it’s all on the back cover). There’s the friend/neighbor who’s a bit ‘off’…a reference to infertility, another to domestic violence. It’s all very authentic and a bit of a wreck, yet we can’t stop reading, we can’t stop worrying about these characters. Why do you think we enjoy feeling unsettled?

Shari Lapena: I’m not entirely sure. Why do people enjoy horror movies and riding on roller coasters? We seem to like to be frightened, but in relatively safe circumstances. Perhaps it’s a way of letting off steam or exploring emotions without the actual danger.

L.L.: Can you talk a little about your process? I am curious if a situation (plot) presents itself to you first or if a character sort of ‘appears?’ Or is there something else that influences your writing?

Shari Lapena: With me it always starts with a situation and a character. I have never been able to come up with a plot fully formed without writing most of the book first. I start with a premise that interests me and has a lot of potential to take off in different directions and different ways. For instance, I had the idea of a housewife who has an accident in a bad part of town, and I knew a murder would soon be discovered. There are so many ways that can go that it gives me a lot to work with as I get to know the characters and what they’re like. Other than this starting premise, I really didn’t know what the book was going to be about. But the characters take shape and do things that affect the plot and things happen that affect the characters and it progresses. It’s all very organic for me.

L.L. Creative folks are inspired by other ‘Creatives.’ In fact, on vacation, I stumbled into several art galleries, feeling moved by the landscapes, the sculpture, the instrumental music in the background. It made me want to write. What (or whom) influences—or ignites—your writing?

Shari Lapena: I love paintings, but I can’t say they inspire me to write.  My inspiration is all from ideas, feelings, and situations that elicit an emotional response in me. I’m an emotional writer. I like to keep my eyes and ears open for inspiration. The rest is discipline.

L.L.: What was the last thing that scared you? Does anything frighten—or provoke anxiety—in your writing?

Shari Lapena: Yesterday an idiot in a truck cut across four lanes of traffic and almost hit me. That scared me. Random things like that, where other people behave badly, even murderously, over which you have no control, scare me. When I’m writing, I love it when my characters have that feeling of chaos, of losing control, of escalating dread. For some reason, my readers seem to like it too.

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

Shari Lapena: Q: What are you looking forward to reading next?

A: I’ve just got A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, about an old aristocrat held captive by the Bolsheviks and then the Soviets under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel for thirty years.  I’ve heard it’s brilliant.51YCzUi5OJL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_ (1)

L.L.: Shari, it’s been a pleasure, as always! Thank you and enjoy the rest of summer.

Shari Lapena: Thank you—for reading and for inviting me to your comfy blog couch!

For more information, to connect with Shari via social media, or to get your own copy of A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, please visit: 

DSC_0481-300x200ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shari Lapena worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before turning to writing fiction. She has written two award-winning literary novels, and her suspense debut, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, was a New York Times and an international bestseller. A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE is her second thriller.

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

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Penguin Random House/Viking. Author photo credit: Tristan Ostler.]

WeekEND Reading: Holly Chamberlin talks about mouth-watering New England summertime foods, her obsession with jewelry, paring down, and overcoming grief and heartache in her new novel, HOME FOR THE SUMMER.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Three generations of one family–a grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter–escape to a beautiful coastal town in Maine to find healing in the wake of heartbreaking loss in bestselling author, Holly Chamberlin’s twentieth (!?!) novel, HOME FOR THE SUMMER.

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When both her husband (Aaron) and youngest daughter (Ariel) die in a tragic accident on vacation, Frieda Braithwaite is left a bereft mother and widow. There’s survivor guilt and financial and emotional struggles; fearing she’ll lose her remaining daughter, Frieda and Bella leave their home for Maine, where Ruby, Frieda’s mother has always lived in an old farmhouse.

With the help of new friends and old—plus, the healing balm of family, Frieda and Bella mend their broken hearts. HOME FOR THE SUMMER is a sweet, tender read set in a tranquil coastal town that will carry along with those who yearn for simpler times and readers who resonate with the works of Karen White, Diane Chamberlain, Elin Hilderbrand, and Nicholas Sparks.

Come along and join me as I chat with Holly about her newest book, HOME FOR THE SUMMER (Kensington, June 2017).

Leslie Lindsay: Holly, welcome! ‘Coming home’ seems to be a major theme for you and your books. As does summer and the beach. In HOME FOR THE SUMMER, we’re thrust into the world of a grieving wife and mother. Can you share your inspiration for this one?

Holly Chamberlin: Hi, Leslie. Many thanks for having me! Coming home . . . The older I get the more I’m drawn to contemplate my past before late adolescence and early adulthood changed things so radically as they do for all of us. Exploration of my early past is my way of figuratively coming home and yes, the theme in all its variety fascinates me. In this book Ruby, the matriarch of the family, literally summons her daughter and granddaughter to spend the summer with download (31)her so that together, all three women hopefully can heal. Many of my novels take place during the summer months because ideally summer provides a bit of a respite from the daily grind. Even if a person doesn’t get much of an actual vacation, summer brings with it a state of mind in which a person can dream of positive change and a fresh start and that’s conducive to telling the sort of stories I tell.

L.L.:  I’ve been to Maine and loved it. There’s something old-school and simple about it, and yet a bit progressive. I’m always curious about the towns where the books I read are set. I looked up Yorktide, but came up empty-handed. Is it a purely fictional town, or a composite of several? Is it related to York Harbor, Maine?  And why Maine?

Holly Chamberlin: Yup, Yorktide is fictional and a bit of a mash-up of Ogunquit, Cape Neddick, Kennebunk, and yes, York Harbor. At times, I mention actual stores and restaurants but I’ve also created a variety of fictional places. Wainscoting and download (28)Windowseats is a creation; Cross Jewelers is not – and my credit card can attest to that. My husband, Stephen, and I have lived in Maine since 2003 so we’re very much still ‘from away’ which is what Mainers say about people who arrived recently, i.e. less than 30 years ago, and we love it here. And you’re right – there is something old-school and simple about Maine; people here seem to possess a fierce sense of fairness and an impressive work ethic. In addition, the state attracts large numbers of artists, writers, and musicians which makes for a lively environment.

L.L.: I love that Bella works at Wainscoting & Windowseats, though she’s a bit cranky about it. She doesn’t care about candlesticks or drapes…but I do! Can you talk about the character of Bella a little bit? And are you as taken with home décor as I?

Holly Chamberlin: I think Bella can be described as a good egg. She’s fundamentally honest and loving. Her sister’s tragic death has rattled her badly to the point where she’s become a shadow of her true self. By the story’s end Bella has definitely changed from the girl she was before Ariel’s and her father’s deaths, but for the better. She’s mature in ways that she probably wouldn’t yet be if her father and sister were still alive but she hasn’t lost her native optimism and an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world around her.

On to home décor. You’ve caught me at a time when we’re preparing to downsize rather radically so I’ve been going through my credenzas and closets selecting items for Goodwill. Let’s just say that I’ve amassed quite the collection of table linens, vases, candlesticks, serving platters, milk glass objects . . . The list goes on. When we designed this house, the theme was ‘faded elegance’ and boy, did we achieve that look! In our next home, we’re going for a brighter, lighter, and cleaner look though we’ll incorporate some of our current furniture and as much of the art work as possible.

L.L. I have to admit, every time Ruby was in the kitchen, my mouth watered. I was thinking about lobster rolls, fresh corn on the cob, blueberries…and all of the other decadent things she whipped up. What are some of your favorite foods from HOME FOR THE SUMMER and what role would you say food had in the novel?

Holly Chamberlin: In pretty much all of my recent novels gathering for meals has a fairly big role. I mean, it’s traditionally around the family table that feelings are expressed (sometimes to disastrous effect!) and information shared (ditto!). The person providing the meal is offering a gift and to partake of that meal is a way of thanking the provider. Gathering for family dinners isn’t as typical as it used to be download (29)for all sorts of reasons, but in my books, I force the issue. As for favorite foods from the book, I’d have to say the fish! I love a big red lobster fresh from the steamer – especially on a wharf by the harbor – but all the fish is amazing here. Diver scallops, fresh cod, swordfish, oysters! The fish markets on the waterfront are amazing. It’s one of the best things about living here by the sea. And we do have the most amazing wild blueberries, which are quite different from the blueberries you find in grocery stores – smaller and sweeter.

L.L.: Frieda is dealing with a huge amount of grief and change with the death of her husband and daughter (not a spoiler—I promise!). What do you think happens with her in the end?

Holly Chamberlin: Without revealing the specifics of the ending for those of your readers who haven’t read HOME FOR THE SUMMER, I foresee a very positive future for Frieda. She comes to realize that she’s a lot stronger than she thought she was. The very fact that she chooses to engage with her estranged father is an indication that she’s not one to fold up and die. And the fact that she learns to find a balance between caring for her daughter and for herself, between respecting the needs of others as well as her own needs, bodes well for the future. Not all of the characters in my books face as bright a future.

L.L.: Now that summer is a little more than half over (sniff, sniff) how are you doing on you summer ‘bucket list?’

Holly Chamberlin: Summer would be a washout if I didn’t get to enjoy a big bucket of steamers at Chauncey Creek, our favorite lobster dock; hear a local band on the deck at Portland Lobster Company; and spend an evening by the harbor at David’s in Kennebunkport eating truffle potato chips and oysters. But what I love more download (30)than anything is a long walk on the beach in the late afternoon light, collecting interesting stones and beach glass.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why? For me, it’s what color should I paint my kitchen cabinets. Really. I will wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this.

Holly Chamberlin: My current and longtime obsession is jewelry. I’m a collector and enjoy learning about new designers and their techniques and reading about jewelry in different periods of history. At the moment, I am lusting after a grey, rose-cut diamond ring. Several contemporary designers are creating beautiful pieces using ‘imperfect’ stones in this lovely old-fashioned cut. The truth is that I spend way too much time on jewelry websites, blogs, and Instagram accounts. Wait. It’s not too much time! I love it!

L.L.: Holly, it was a pleasure! Thank you for popping over. Is there anything else you’d like to add that I may have forgotten?

Holly Chamberlin: I’d just like to say that, maybe more than a lot of my other characters, I really came to love and respect Frieda, Bella and Ruby as I got to know them. They’re vulnerable but such a strong family, and strong as individuals, too, in the end. I hope my readers agree!

For more information about HOME FOR THE SUMMER, to purchase your own copy, or to connect with Holly on social media, please visit: 

Chamberlin%2c Holly.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Holly Chamberlin was born and raised in New York City. After earning a Masters degree in English Literature from New York University and working as an editor in the publishing industry for ten years, she moved to Boston, married and became a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband now live in downtown Portland, Maine, in a restored mid-nineteenth century brick townhouse with Betty, the most athletic, beautiful and intelligent cat in the world. Readers can visit her website at:  www.hollychamberlin.com

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Kensington Books and used with permission. Summer porch retrieved from House Beautiful, Cross Jewelers from Google+, images of seafood/lobsters/Adirondack chairs from TripAdvisor, all retrieved on 7.6.17]

 

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

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By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

I kind of wanted to shake these people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

L.L.: What’s next for you?

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

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

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

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

Julie Buntin: Thank you, Leslie!

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

YOU WERE HERE Jacket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Gian Sardar: Thank you, I did as well!

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

WeekEND Reading: What happens when your spouse is ‘suddenly struck’ with a major mental illness? Mark Lukach talks about this, stigma, raising their son, mountain biking, and more in his memoir, MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD

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By Leslie Lindsay 

An honest and unflinching view of what it’s like to be the caregiver of someone with a serious mental illness, told with compassion and rawness. MyLovelyWifeinthePsychWard final cover

When I stumbled across MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD (Harper Wave, May 2017), I knew I had to read it. Not only does the author/husband share his name with my dad, but the strikingly similar story of a woman in the prime of her life suddenly falling victim to a strange and disorienting psychosis also rang true. Very true.

My own mother suffered a similar fate at 29, almost the very age Giulia was when psychoses came hunting her. I watched, as a child as my mother spewed delusion after delusion, her fingers blanched as she gripped the car door in protest, and then, as she attempted to exit the moving vehicle on the way to the hospital. I saw too, her mangled mind and tortured thoughts.

The difference is, I was a child. Mark is very much an adult.

I am so, so honored to have Mark on the blog couch today. The entire month of May has been Mental Health Awareness Month. We’re at the tail-end, I realize but that doesn’t negate it’s seriousness. Most everyone will come in contact with someone who has a mental illness—whether it’s a spouse, a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, and awareness is key.

Leslie Lindsay: Mark, thank you so much for popping over. I’m so in awe with this story. Not only did it take a terrible amount of courage to write, but the similarities with my mother are striking. Before we get into all of that, I’m curious what your inspiration was for writing this story? Was it really the ‘Modern Love’ column in the New York Times?

Mark Lukach:

I’d say that the motivation to write about this was two-fold: the first is personal, the second more universal.

On the personal front, after Giulia’s first episode, she and I were worlds apart. She was finally feeling better after almost a year of a mental health crisis, and she wanted nothing more than to just enjoy herself. Meanwhile, I was completely and totally wiped out by the caregiving experience, and so I slipped into my own depression a bit. She wanted to feel joyful and worry-free, and here I am dumping all of my pent-up anxiety and sadness on her. We tried talking about this, on our own and even in couple’s therapy, but we never really got anywhere and butted heads a lot.

So instead, I turned to writing. I had done so much writing over the year, almost entirely in email form to keep our families updated on what was going on, and I found the writing to be extremely helpful for me to process. So instead of write emails to our parents, I tried to reconstruct the year, in book form, Giulia as the sole audience. I needed her to be able to understand me a bit more, and as it turns out, the writing, reading, and subsequent discussions turned out to play a huge role in our ability to reconnect as a couple.  images (7)

The further I got into writing, the more I suspected that I might have something that was worth publishing, and so the Modern Love column was my way to try and get the book idea out there. That gets to the universal reason to write. As you say in your intro, mental health struggles come with surprisingly universal themes, but when Giulia was hospitalized, I felt more lonely than I’ve ever felt. It was like I was the first person to ever have to do this. I’m a history teacher, so I went online to try and find resources and narratives that could help me make sense of my experience, but I couldn’t find any, which made the loneliness even worse. I knew there were others out there like me, I just couldn’t find them, and that this book might be able to speak to people. It took us a while to decide to go for a fully published book, and in fact, it didn’t happen until well after the Modern Love column and Giulia’s subsequent hospitalizations, as well as the birth of our son, but the motivation really became about trying to help people.

L.L.: And now the similarities. My mom was 29 when this happened to her; Giulia was 27. My mom heard voices of God and the devil speaking to her. She did not want to go the hospital. She tried jumping out of a moving car. At one point, she was discharged AMA (against medical advice). It happened again and again.  My dad—also named Mark—is an avid athlete. He competed in marathons and triathlons; but we were land-locked in Missouri, so no surfing. There are differences, though. I think what this comes down to is the universality of mental illness. Can you talk about that, please?

Mark Lukach: I am constantly shocked by just how common these things are. I’ve received a humbling amount of email from readers over the years, due to the Modern Love column and also a magazine article I wrote in Pacific Standard, and at times I almost feel like I’m reading from myself. I remember speaking with one of the social workers during Giulia’s first hospitalization, and of the 30 or so people who were on the psych ward at that time with Giulia, there were several others with religious delusions that looked almost the exact same as Giulia’s. It’s remarkable. Although I have to say Leslie, your parents’ story seems to be the most similar from anyone else I’ve met. It’s so cool that we connected.

But what does this all mean? I’m not really sure. I do think it means that mental illness is more prevalent than we let on. I understand why people are hesitant to talk about it. It’s such a terrifying thing to experience, whether it’s happening to you, or to someone you love, and we don’t go around telling everyone about life’s biggest struggles. But if we could look inside the homes of all of our neighbors and coworkers, I think we’d be shocked about how many of us suffer in similar ways.

Sometimes I go the way of Yossarian from Catch-22 when I think about this stuff—it’s a crazy world, so the only reasonable response is to go crazy as well, and maybe that’s why mental illness is so prevalent. The world does seem to get more and more pressured and impersonal, so maybe that’s part of it. But I only sometimes download (10)think that way. My most go-to answer is in a mantra that we say a lot in our family—“We’re all in this together.” We say it before dinner, sort of like our version of grace, and the more I connect with people about mental illness, the more I’m convinced that it’s true. We’re all in this together—in our joys and also in our struggles.

L.L.: The biggest difference in MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD and my mom’s mental illness is my parents divorced. I’m not entirely sure if it was the illness that tore them apart, or the symptoms and after-effects; or if there were issues all along. What this speaks to is the tenacity to love someone in sickness and in health. That includes mental health. I can’t imagine how challenging this must be (has been). Can you share a bit of your coping skills and marriage maintenance tips?

Mark Lukach: This really is what the book is about at its core. Giulia and I were thrown this curve ball of a major mental illness, and we responded in desperation and in survival mode. Once the dust settled, we had to re-evaluate who we were, and what our relationship looked like, so that we could continue to stay together. And that’s not an easy thing to do. Crises forced us to take a close look at our relationship, and neither of us necessarily liked what we saw all the time.

But we had this shared history of falling in love so young, and basically growing into adulthood together, and also a belief that we could make it work, so we tried to find ways to reconnect. I think one of the core things that we both had to learn to do better was to listen. I did a lot of talking at Giulia while she was sick, and acting on her behalf. I essentially managed her life for her when she was sick, because I worried so much about what she might do on her own, like hurt herself. In all of that, I didn’t really listen to her that much. What she said was so heartbreaking to her, that I ended up trying to talk her out of her feelings. It took me a while to realize this. I thought I was doing the right thing by trying to comfort her when she felt suicidal, but I realized I was actually, in a small way, denying her experience by trying to talk her out of how she felt.

Similarly, Giulia had to learn to listen to just how difficult it was for me to support her, which as I said above, we largely accomplished through the writing process. I realize looking back just how desperate I was for validation that my struggles were being acknowledged.images (8)

We try to take this lesson of listening to heart every day in our marriage. Of course, not every day is a mental health crisis, and it’s so easy to get busy multi-tasking your way into half-listening, or to shut down things that you don’t like to hear, and I think those can be so damaging to a relationship. We still make mistakes to each other, but we have this anchor now that we always return to—when things are going bad, we try and remind each other how important it is to listen, and that ends up being the first step toward reconciliation.

http://www.today.com/health/too-much-stigma-too-little-awareness-mental-illness-t110946

L.L.: In MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSCYCH WARD, it’s mentioned that Giulia did not have a family history for mental illness, yet so many mental illnesses have genetic roots; they often run in families. I’m curious if you all did any more digging into her family history to find any sort of suggested mental illness?

Mark Lukach: We did do a lot of digging and asking, but Giulia is from Italy, where the conversations around mental illness are much different than they are in the US. I talked to her parents a lot about this, and they certainly didn’t know about any family members with mental illness, but over time they both admitted that just because they didn’t know about them [family members with mental illness], it didn’t mean that they didn’t exist. It just meant that they didn’t know, since this type of thing is basically never talked about over there.

L.L.: And you have a son together. How my heart broke as I read about little Jonas and his elephant costume, his mother away in psych ward, his insisting that there were monsters in the house.  How is he doing? What are some of his passions? And most importantly, can you reiterate the advice you received from your pediatrician about protecting kids in situations like this? 

Mark Lukach: Jonas is the light of our lives. I’ve wanted to be a dad for as long as I can remember, and I feel like we won the lottery with Jonas. He’s an active, curious, kind-hearted little boy. He’s just so much fun to be around. He loves books, sports, especially baseball and hockey, Star Wars, Harry Potter, legos. He’s very spiritual, and asks a lot of questions about the bigger questions in life, which I can’t help but to wonder if it’s connected somehow to his mom being hospitalized for delusions twice in his life. But I think his most telling trait is that Jonas likes to be together as a family. It seems like as long as we’re together as a family, he is up for anything. I’m hanging onto these days as tightly as I can, because I know that at some point, he’s going to grow away from always wanting his parents nearby, so I’m trying to treasure it now.

When Giulia was hospitalized for the third time, Jonas was 2 ½ years old, and his pediatrician told me that there might come a situation where I would have to choose to either protect Giulia or Jonas. For example, I knew that Giulia was really anxious to come home, and it felt like she might end up being discharged before she was ready to be around Jonas again. Jonas’ pediatrician was adamant: you have to protect your child first. He was so young, and didn’t have the words to process what he was experiencing, so I had to keep him safe and happy at all costs. Even if that meant rejecting the doctor’s recommendation that Giulia could come home, which can you imagine what that would do to my relationship with Giulia? Thankfully we didn’t have this sort of confrontation, because when Giulia came home, she was the one to realize she probably needed a few days to settle in at home before Jonas was home as well, so he stayed with my parents during that time.

When I became a parent, I never imagined that I would have to at some point crazy-love-4make a choice between my wife or my child. I didn’t know that came with part of the territory. But it’s something I think all parents have to confront at some point or another, and I honestly don’t know if there’s a harder position to be in.

L.L.: And Giulia? How does she feel about this story being out for public consumption? I ask because in the book there’s a line that says something like, “It might be your illness, but it affects us all.”

Mark Lukach: Giulia has been incredible about this. I knew that it took a lot of courage for her to share this story, but I didn’t actually realize just how much courage. Whenever you Google her name, this book comes up. She is the lovely wife, the one whose medical history is shared for anyone to read about. And she’s up for it because she thinks this book can help people, and I find that amazing.

We’ve been doing book readings here in the Bay Area, and Giulia always comes and we do a Q&A together with the audience after I’ve read some passages, and I am so blown away by how she does with the questions. I think it’s the most empowered I’ve ever seen her. It really is incredible. I have always loved and admired Giulia, but that has only grown to see her be so gracious through all of this.

L.L.:  What was the last thing you Googled?

Mark Lukach: Ha, I like this question. The last thing I Googled was for techniques to manage poison oak. I got a really bad case of the rash recently, which comes with the lifestyle of how much time I spend out on trails running and mountain biking. So I usually get poison oak a few times each year—it’s unavoidable. But I went hiking recently and saw this vine climbing up a tree, and I tried to climb up it, not realizing the vine was poison oak. The leaves were way up in the tree, so I couldn’t identify the plant, and I got the worst case of poison oak I think I’ve ever gotten. All over my face, arms, chest, everywhere. It is the worst. When I get poison oak, I race to the internet to find ways to cope with it. Granted, I already have like 50 techniques, but I hope that maybe some new trick has been discovered, and so I have been spending a lot of time trying to Google my way to some new solution that will somehow speed up the healing process. But I think I’m just stuck with it for the next two weeks, no matter how much I Google.

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

Mark Lukach: I’d love to talk about artistic inspiration for the book. I am an avid reader but even more than that, a fan of music, and I think that music inspired this book more than anything. I listened to Sufjan Stevens’ album “Carrie and Lowell” on repeat for much of the writing process, and I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. I would literally listen to the album 4 or 5 times a day while writing. The album is download (11)Sufjan’s way of mourning his mother, who battled mental illness as well, and I found the album helped me fully reconnect with the emotions that I wanted to embed into the book.

L.L.: Mark, thank you so very much for your words. MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD is an important read and so courageous. I applaud you for telling your story.

Mark Lukach: I really appreciate your interest in having me on your site, and for the support for the book. I’m a high school history teacher, and it’s so flattering to be included with such an impressive assortment of writers.

For more information about MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD, to connect with Mark via social media, or to purchase your own copy, please visit: 

profilepicsmall.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Lukach is a teacher and freelance writer. His work has been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Wired, and other publications. He is currently the ninth grade dean at The Athenian School, where he also teaches history. He lives with his wife, Giulia, and their son in the San Francisco Bay area.

Mark first wrote about Giulia in a New York Times “Modern Love” column and again in a piece for Pacific Standard Magazine, which was the magazine’s most-read article in 2015.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Harper Wave and used with permission. Lukach family photo retrieved from Pacific Standard article/author’s personal archives. Catch-22 image retrieved from Wikipedia, “Carrie and Lowell” album cover retrieved from Wiki.en, all on 5.25.17]

WeekEND Reading: Heather Gudenkauf on her most personal thriller yet, who her favorite character is, why nurses aren’t boring, grit, determination, oh–and a dead body–in her new book, NOT A SOUND

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By Leslie Lindsay 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf churns out her most personal, and powerful story yet with NOT A SOUND, rife with medical mysteries and a murder, too. 

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When a tragic accident leaves ER nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose anything she ever cared about: her career, her husband, and her 7-year old stepdaughter, Nora.

It’s two years after that fateful night in which Amelia loses her hearing when she stumbles across a dead body in the dense brush by the river where she likes to paddleboard–someone she knows. I don’t want to give away too much, but it goes without saying that she gets wrapped up in the murder case. Clues seem so familiar to her own, earlier accident which caused her deafness. Could the two be related?

Told entirely from Amelia’s first-person POV, the writing in NOT A SOUND is taut, emotional, fast-paced, and Gudenkauf’s research clearly shows.
Amelia Winn is strong, capable and I was definitely rooting for her. And her service dog, Stitch, who really kind of became the star, at least for me.

I’m super-thrilled to welcome Heather back to the blog couch to chat about her amazing new novel, NOT A SOUND (Park Row, May 30). Plus, it’s a REAL SIMPLE magazine pick of the month! 

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome back, Heather! I practically devoured NOT A SOUND. It was a rainy weekend in Chicagoland and I couldn’t put it down. I might be wrong in saying this, but I felt the pace of this one was much faster than your other books. Can you speak to that, please?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie! NOT A SOUND does have a swift pace. I think I structured the novel this way for several reasons, the first being that at its heart NOT A SOUND is a thriller and the brisk pace lends itself to the tension and suspense that I hoped to achieve. Also a good amount of the novel is set along the Five Mines River and like a fast moving river, the events in NOT A SOUND tumble along at a break neck speed. timthumb

L.L.: I guess before we get too far into the narrative, I’m very curious why this story, why now? I know two things: 1) you’re partially deaf yourself and 2) your son has battled cancer. Those two things alone are hugely personal and sometimes personal things make great fiction, sometimes not. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for NOT A SOUND?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, I tend to weave little snippets of my life – locations, some small experiences – into my novels. And while NOT A SOUND isn’t autobiographical it is the first time that I included such personal topics. I was born with a profound hearing loss that was discovered when I was in elementary school. I’m deaf in my left ear which makes it hard for me to be able to tell where sounds are coming from and in noisy situations I can have a very difficult time understanding others, but most of the time I don’t think twice about it.

My son did battle cancer as a young teen and is now doing great! The entire experience was heartbreaking, painful and absolutely devastating but we also found many blessings during this very difficult time. We had an incredible medical team, family, friends and community there to support us the entire way.

I’ve always wanted to write a story that featured a heroine that happened to be deaf and I knew I wanted to explore the topic of health care and cancer in one of my novels. Writing from the point of view of a character who happens to be deaf was challenging and it was important for me to portray a deaf character accurately and respectfully – I hope I did Amelia justice.

download (5)L.L.: And Amelia! I loved her. A writer friend once said long ago (I’m paraphrasing), “Nurses as characters are boring. Nothing ever happens to them; they are always conscientious and thoughtful and busy saving lives.” I chewed on that a bit. I’m a former R.N. I don’t think of myself as ‘boring.’ I’ve toyed with the idea of a nurse protagonist, too but…well, I lived it and discounted it. Can you talk a little about your research into the nursing profession, procedures and terminology? [P.S. May is also National Nurse Appreciation Week/Month]

Heather Gudenkauf: I absolutely don’t think of nurses as boring! I grew up watching medical dramas like M*A*S*H and Trapper John, MD and was entranced by the capable, methodical nurses who always kept their cool. I knew early on that the nursing profession wasn’t for me, I get a bit woozy around blood, but I’ve been in awe of nurses my entire my life. My mom was a nurse, as was my sister-in-law. Then, of course, there were the nurses who took care of my son during his illness.

For the novel, when it came to the technical aspects of the medical profession, I definitely relied on the experts ~including a great friend who is a nurse and my sister-in-law who is a physician.

L.L.: Amelia isn’t your ‘typical’ goody-two-shoes nurse. She paddle boards and lives in a cute little A-frame on the banks of a river. She’s getting divorced. She has some demons. And then she finds this dead body. How did Amelia’s character evolve for you as you wrote her story?

Heather Gudenkauf: Amelia is definitely not a typical wife, mother or nurse. She came to me in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I knew she was going to be strong and independent, but her other character traits emerged as I wrote the novel. At the outset, Amelia is just getting her life back together after hitting rock bottom. She’s starting from scratch and finally lands a new job and gets to spend time with her step-daughter when she comes upon a grisly discovery while paddling boarding. Immediately Amelia is thrust into a mystery that threatens her own well-being and she needs to utilize every bit of her determination, grit and intelligence to survive.

L.L.: In the terms of medicine, we’re always under the impression that ‘doctor 41m+qEX4S7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_knows best.’ When we’re in the throes of a medical emergency or a grim diagnosis, we have to put our trust in the trained professionals. In fact, there’s a brand-new memoir [THE TINCTURE OF TIME] out about a mother whose infant was having mysterious strokes and she put all her faith in the medical community. Not everything turned out for the best. So if you were to complete this sentence, “Putting your trust in medicine is____,” what might you say?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love reading memoirs ~ I’ll have to check this one out. I would say “Putting your trust in medicine is absolutely necessary.” But that said, it’s imperative to listen to that little internal voice that tends to pipe up once in a while. Ask the questions, get the second opinion. It can be scary when you have to rely on the expertise of others especially in life and death situations. It’s important to feel comfortable with the care you or a loved one is receiving. Fortunately, my son received top-notch care while he was battling cancer ~ and we are forever grateful for this.

L.L.: What, in your real-life might make a plot for a mystery?

Heather Gudenkauf: Oh, wow! I live a completely boring, nondescript kind of life so I’m afraid that the extent of intrigue in my life comes down to remembering where I lay down my glasses and the book I’m currently reading!

“Twisting, atmospheric and dark, Heather Gudenkauf’s Not A Sound will draw you right into the silent world of Amelia Winn and keep you riveted. This is a thrill ride to be sure, but it’s also a gripping tale of tragedy and redemption. If you haven’t read Heather Gudenkauf yet, now’s the time.”

—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hunter

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

Heather Gudenkauf: I’m trying to make healthier meals at home so I Googled a recipe for fried cauliflower rice. It was surprisingly delicious!

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

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie ~ I always enjoy chatting with you!   I do want to give a shout out to who is perhaps my favorite character in NOT A SOUND – Stitch, Amelia’s service dog. On more than one occasion Stitch manages to steal the show. He’s a loyal, loveable and excellent in a crisis!images (5)

For more information about NOT A SOUND, to connect with Heather via social media, or to purchase (pre-order, available May 30 2017) your own copy of the book, please see: 

HeatherGudenkauf credit Morgan HawthorneABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel.

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

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of nurse retrieved from iStockphotos.com, image of service dog retrieved from anythingispawasble.com. Image of Tincture of Time retrieved from Amazon, all on 5.19.17]

 

WeekEND Reading: Lynne Branard talks about her addiction to Mike & Ike candy, how she’d love to write all day, doing what’s right while still being pleasing, & so much more in this graceful story of being open and TRAVELING LIGHT

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By Leslie Lindsay

From the bestselling author and masterful storyteller of THE ART OF ARRANGING FLOWERS, comes a new novel about the search for what really matters in life, discovering oneself, all while doing the ‘right’ thing.

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Inspired by real life events, Lynne Branard was working at a hospice agency when an unclaimed box of cremains—with her agency’s business card attached—was discovered in a storage facility. Branard was intrigued. How could remains of someone get lost—and how could no one seem to ‘care?’ It became a catalyst for change—and the perfect inception for a work of fiction.

Branard’s writing flows effortlessly, a jaunty rhythm much like the road trip that becomes the narrative. TRAVELING LIGHT (Berkley, January 10 2017) is quirky fun, but the smooth and polished writing makes it so easy to settle in with the characters, Al (short for Alissa) and her seventeen year old traveling companion, Blossom as they attempt to return the unclaimed ‘found’ ashes of Mr. Roger Hart to his proper home.

Our protagonist is a reporter, so we get a good deal of background and research on the places we “travel” with Al(issa) and Blossom, which I loved. Even though I am quite familiar with many of the locations along the way, I found myself immersed in the details and fully enjoying the new tidbits of information. images-20

As for Roger Hart, there’s some good that comes of that, too but it’s not nearly as neat and tidy as one might expect; there’s some potholes along the way. TRAVELING LIGHT is a light mystery, but mostly it’s good ol’ fun ala THELMA & LOUISE with a slight, *very* slight spiritual bent. It’s mostly about traveling the open roads with an open mind, delightful and unique. 

Join me in welcoming New York Times bestselling author and masterful storyteller Lynne Branard to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay: Lynne, it’s a pleasure to have you join us today. It’s January and so we’re all doing a good deal of re-assessing—looking at where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Is that some of what got you interested in this story?

Lynne Branard: Thank you, Leslie! I always enjoy a little self-reflection so that certainly influenced this story idea. I also was interested in thinking about the “scripts” we get handed or try and find as a way to live our lives. Sometimes just considering why we do what we do helps us know what we most want

L.L.: You have a background in Divinity. Though TRAVELING LIGHT is not at all spiritual reading, there’s definitely a thread of that intertwined throughout the narrative; and how can there not be, your characters are driving cross-country with someone’s ashes. Would you call this a spiritual book, or not?

Lynne Branard: I mostly think everything has a spiritual bent, that there is a thread
somewhere leading to what gives us meaning and purpose or what doesn’t but yet manages to capture our attention.
I do think this kind of “journey” lends itself to being called a spiritual one; so then, I vote yes, it’s a spiritual book!

L.L.: Still yet, there’s something appealing to “traveling light,”—the idea that we take too much with us in life. What aspects of your life might you attempt to shed if you images-19were ‘traveling light?’

Lynne Branard: Whew, that would take more than a paragraph. I carry so many fears of disappointing others, of trying to “do right,” be pleasing. It so often trips me up in trying to be authentic. I’m also a bit of a control freak; it’d be nice to let loose of some of that heaviness. Overanalyzing everything, an addiction to Mike and Ike candy, the fear of loss, worrying if something is in my teeth. Well, that’s enough, don’t want to give away all of my crazy.

L.L.: So back to the story, Alissa and Blossom tickled me so much. They are definitely a pair of unlikely companions. For one, Alissa is nearly twice as old as Blossom. Blossom’s a wise gal, but she’s still only seventeen. In many ways, Blossom teaches Alissa a thing or two about life. What would you say is the biggest lesson(s) they each bring to one another?

Lynne Branard: Blossom is definitely the teacher in this story. The young one knows about an open heart, not really going by any script. She’s easy, nonjudgmental. She’s out there! Alissa, I suppose, teaches Blossom to trust women, to be open to a new, unexpected friendship, and maybe since Alissa comes to love her so much; sees how smart she really is, maybe this helps Blossom find clarity and confidence for her life too.

L.L.: And their travels! Oh, how I smiled and nodded when you mentioned towns like Shamrock, Texas and Amarillo, too! I’ve been to both places—as well as Tucumcari, New Mexico. I know all about The Big Texan and the Cadillac Ranch (not in the book, but still in Amarillo). There was more, too—things I didn’t know. Do you have any connection to these places?

Lynne Branard: My husband and I make that trip down Interstate 40, East to West and back again A LOT! I love that passageway across the country. I have great connection to almost everything on that road!!catus-in-front

L.L.: There were times when TRAVELING LIGHT almost read like a memoir. What’s your take on realistic fiction vs. creative non-fiction vs. using a kernel of truth (as you did in this book) in storytelling?

Lynne Branard: That’s a very smart question and I don’t really have a take on that. I love stories and on some level they are all true; so I don’t think too much about the genre, I just pick up a book and get ready to be taken somewhere new.

L.L.: What’s next for you?

Lynne Branard: Finished a book about a woman who lives in a tree for a few weeks. So far, no publisher wants it. I thought that idea was the easiest thing to believe but apparently, it’s too far-fetched for a lot of city folks. I could go live in a tree in a like a minute.

L.L.: What keeps you inspired? What do you do when your mind needs a break for writing? For me, it’s decorating…in fact, I’m thinking of a new wall color right now.

Lynne Branard: Well, it’s clearly not decorating! =) Come see my house! I like running half marathons. Well, let me rephrase that: I like running one half marathon and the rest of the year getting ready for it. The stories people tell me inspire me. I’m a co-pastor; I hear amazing stories of survival and grace. I am so privileged in this way. So far, I’ve never really wanted a break from writing. I think if I had my way I’d write all the time. I mean, never bathe, eat bad food, never see anyone, just write. Maybe that’s why I have to work another job, keeps me from becoming some weird old woman with bad hygiene!

L.L.: So I’m dying to know (bad pun), whatever happened with the unclaimed ashes with your agency’s business card attached? Any happy endings there?

Lynne Branard: We never heard. The person who called said her sister had actually found them a year before she made her call. She said the sister liked keeping them in her car, gave her a sense of comfort. I guess they’re still strapped in the back seat of that woman’s SUV.

L.L.: Lynne, I so appreciate your story, your words, and for being with us today. All the best to you!

Lynne Branard: This was fun!! Thank you for your kind words, thoughtful questions, and for caring about what I think. I hope our paths cross one day! Thank you, Leslie. You make the world a better place!

For more information, to connect with Lynne Branard, or to purchase a copy of TRAVELING LIGHT, please see: 

Jackie Lynne Hinton.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynne Hinton was born and raised in North Carolina. She attended Wake Forest University and is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro. She also attended NC School of the Arts, School of Filmmaking and graduated with her Masters of Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and has served as a hospice chaplain and as a senior pastor in North Carolina and in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as well as the interim pastor in northeastern Washington.

Lynne is the author of twenty books, including the NY Times Bestseller, Friendship Cake and Pie Town, the 2011 NM Book of the Year: Fiction/Adventure, Drama Category and 2011 National Federation of Press Women’s Fiction Book of the Year. She has penned a mystery series under the name, Jackie Lynn and has one nonfiction collection of essays. She also has two books under the name Lynne Branard: THE ART OF ARRANGING FLOWERS and her latest, TRAVELING LIGHT. She is a regular guest columnist in the Faith and Values Section for The Charlotte Observer and was the 2008 Lucy B. Patterson Author of the Year by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs in NC. In 2010 and 2015, she was the recipient of a Louisville Institute Pastoral Study Grant and was named 2012 Favorite Local Writer in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Albuquerque, The Magazine.

She has been endorsed by authors Sue Monk Kidd, Rita Mae Brown, Silas House, Malachy McCourt, Jacquelyn Mitchard, and her favorite, Dr. Maya Angelou, who wrote about the novel, FRIENDSHIP CAKE, “I would welcome a friendship with Lynne Hinton. I would welcome an invitation to sit down at her table, but mostly I would welcome her next book.”wp_20170109_12_46_48_pro_li-2

Her work has been compared to great writers like Eudora Welty, Rebecca Wells, and Jan Karon. And the journal Publishers Weekly has written, “Hinton has a knack in her novels for tapping into a woman’s longings for lifelong, authentic, messy friendships.”

Lynne is married to Bob Branard; they live in Guilford County, NC where she serves as the Co-Pastor of Mount Hope UCC. Learn more here and also at Lynne Hinton’s Books on Facebook.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Penguin Random House and used with permission. Image of man in field from , The Big Texan from their website, both retrieved on 1.21.17. Book with VW model from L.Linday’s personal archives]

WeekEND Reading: Jessica Teich on her sublime memoir, which is more of a ‘shared autobiography,’ touching on very tragic & real issues of suicide, rape, victimology, & teaching our daughters self-preservation skills

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By Leslie Lindsay 

At once a story of heartache and trauma, interwoven with a bit of mystery following the suicide of a not-quite schoolmate, fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY is an interior memoir at the core with very strong writing.small-cover-image-copy

It was an honor to be awarded the exclusive and prestigious Rhodes scholarship, particularly as a woman. In THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, Teich sets out to render those old gender stereotypes outdated, while  simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that she is, indeed, worthy of the award. Meanwhile, things in Jessica’s past bubble to the surface. She suffered horrendous abuse in her youth at the hands of a 30-year old male dancer. Routinely, Joe would sexually and physically assault her, threatening death if she told anyone. Yet, she succumbs, and later, attempts to put the past behind her.

Fast-forward some years and Jessica is married, a mother, and consumed with dread. OCD-like symptoms explode. She can’t sleep; she worries. When she comes across an obituary in the Oxonian, (the Rhodes Scholar bulletin), she glimpses the name of a fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, who recently took her life at age 27. Why would this smart, young, and recently married woman take her own life? This thread becomes the pull through Jessica’s life, as she begins to explore Lacey’s death.

Jessica continues to ask, “Why would a woman described as ‘brilliant, beguiling,’ and so widely admired, deeply cherished, commit suicide?” Seeking answers, Jessica hires a private investigator and tracks down Lacey’s survivors: her adoring brother, a wounded sister, the widower. While unraveling Lacey’s life, Jessica learns truths about her own life as a mother, wife, scholar, and survivor.

Join me as I chat with Jessica about this deep and thoughtful book.

Leslie Lindsay: There are so many things going on in THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY (Seal Press, September 27th, 2016), that it’s hard to determine exactly what genre it falls into. Ultimately, it’s a memoir, but there are themes of abuse, survival, suicide, mystery, mothering, and so much more. Where did you draw your initial inspirations?

Jessica Teich: I was largely inspired by the kinds of memoirs that blur boundaries; that are reflective and lyrical and vivid and visceral.  Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES is one.  I also love Lorna Sage’s BAD BLOOD.  It’s wildly funny and poetic, introspective, at the same time.  I do think my book is a memoir, or perhaps, a shared autobiography.  It’s Lacey’s story, and mine, and there is a third thread that’s part of the narrative weave: the story of my older daughter, poised on the brink of adolescence, the moment smart girls can be swallowed whole.  Strangely enough, memoir is a genre I’ve fallen in love with relatively recently.  I tothelighthousewas a big reader as a child—I still am—but it wasn’t until I discovered Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as a college student that I began to appreciate how rich and fully dimensional an interior voice can be.

L.L.: As a teenager, you were a ballet dancer. Graceful pirouettes come to mind, pink leotards, delicate steps, but what happened in the attic room of that dance studio was anything BUT graceful and delicate. I know how challenging this must be, but can you talk about that briefly, please?

Jessica Teich: For me that time takes place behind a scrim.  It feels like so many lifetimes ago.  Yet my memories are visceral: lying on Joe’s bed while he molested me, staring at the nails piercing through the ceiling of his attic bedroom. It was like being in a coffin, except a coffin would have been safer. In a coffin, I would have been alone.  Instead, as I say in the book, “there was Joe, lusting, pumping, groaning, rutting like a malevolent machine.”

For me, that passage captures the sense of helplessness I felt as a teenager, and also the confusion: why is this man behaving so brutally?  Why doesn’t anybody help?

Only later did I learn that many victims of violence never tell anyone they’re in trouble.  They don’t think there’s anything anyone can do to help.  If you’re a poised, confident child—at least on the outside—you’re probably pretty good at solving child-sized problems.  But you can’t think of a way out of the violence, the terror, the aloneness, and you’re only 16, so you can’t imagine anyone else would know of a way out, either. And I didn’t grow up in a family where you could talk about how you felt.  You couldn’t say, “I’m afraid.  I need you.”

Looking back now, I see that I was trapped in a perfect storm of susceptibility: distant parents; teachers I didn’t want to disappoint; a sense of myself as inadequate in some way, not truly desirable, not fully female or adult.   I was vulnerable at 16, but the abuse doesn’t stop when the clamor, the chaos, ends.  The experience of violence is a depth charge that continues to detonate.p2-w2-ballerina-a-20140529

L.L.: There was a vague sense of closure with what happened with Joe, but what happened with him, do you know?

Jessica Teich: I don’t know if he’s still alive.  If he’s still married.  If he’s still dancing.  I know he took the dancing away from me, for a very long time.  As I was writing my book, over so many years, I would often imagine some kind of rapprochement: a conversation in which I could ask why he hurt me, and he could explain what happened.  But there was no explanation— there never is— for that kind of brutality, that awfulness.  Or rather, there is no excuse, but there IS an explanation; that he had been abused by his father, and that the cycle of violence, passed down in families for generations, is exceedingly difficult to break.

Experts think that it’s very unwise—for obvious reasons—for survivors to go in search of their abusers.  Not only because of the threat of more violence, but because, on the simplest level, there is no satisfaction in confronting someone so damaged, so depraved.  There isn’t anything Joe could tell me that would make what happened better.  I needed to make it better myself, by freeing myself to feel the love of the people I chose to be vulnerable to, the people I’d embraced.

L.L.: This brings up the urgent call to end violence against women, in their homes, on college campuses, even in the workplace. How can we help victims bring their attackers to justice?

Jessica Teich: There are so many ways to help, legally and logistically.  There’s still so much work to be done.  We can help lift the restrictions on access to DNA rape kits that still exist in some states.  We can ensure the preservation of DNA forensic evidence and expedite its analysis.  But there is an enormous cultural shift that needs to happen as well.  We have to believe people when they say they’ve been molested.  Statistics show that it’s extremely rare for someone to invent a story of abuse, even though those instances have gotten a lot of attention in the press.  What’s more, abusers are serial predators.  It’s not like some college freshman drank too much and lost control.  They say everything in life is about sex EXCEPT sex, which is about power.  This kind of violent abuse is a desperate, broken way for people to exert power.  There’s no romance in it.rsa1

What’s more, it’s often the victim whose life is forever altered. She— and most survivors are women— is forced to flee with her children, or withdraw from college, while the predator carries on unhindered, free to violate someone else.  That’s got to stop.  We’ve got to believe these victims, and arrest their attackers, and give the assailants a punishment befitting the heinousness of their crimes.  These aren’t frat boys, misbehaving.  They are serious serial predators.  It’s quite frightening to send your daughter to college knowing there is a 1 in 4 chance that she will be the victim of assault.  That’s indecent.  It’s unforgivable.  I read recently that some colleges are hosting seminars for women on “how to avoid rape.”  As one young woman pointed out, what we should be teaching, mandating, is an end to rape, not a strategy for avoiding it.

L.L.: When the book opens, you write about “stalking” your own daughter as she goes to ballet class. Were you fearful the same thing would happen to her, and where is she now?

Jessica Teich: Yes, I was terrified. And I came to realize how unfair that was, most especially to her, but also to the world she lived in, which was safe and nurturing.  She wasn’t nearly as vulnerable as I thought she was.  In fact, she’d twice taken a self-defense class—I think every girl should take a class like that— and she feels quite strong.  I hope she won’t be tested.  But she is exceedingly smart and thoughtful and vigilant. I trust her.  And I trust the world more than I ever thought I would.

L.L.: The story of Lacey is intriguing to me, as well. I’m a survivor of death by suicide. My mother, a little over a year ago, took her own life. I can see the grisly intrigue, from someone on the outside, but as an insider, this is raw material. How did your investigation into Lacey Cooper-Reynold’s life begin? And how did it spiral out, going deeper and deeper into your own fears and frustrations?

Jessica Teich: I’m so, so sorry to hear of your loss. I can only imagine how anguishing that is, based on the writing and thinking I’ve done. I’m sorry to say, too, that it can be something one struggles with for a long time.  Not just the final decision, but the feeling of not being able to help.  Not being allowed to help. That’s why I wanted to write about Lacey.  To help.

You know, my investigation into her death began serendipitously.  One night I couldn’t sleep and I wandered downstairs to my living room and stumbled upon the obituary of a stranger.  I was captivated by her story.  Before I knew it, I had become consumed with thoughts of her, and I wanted to know why someone so talented and beloved would choose to end her own life—on the very day her new husband was arriving in Los Angeles.  But I think the real question was: why did she feel she wasn’t enough; would never be enough?  That’s a question I realized I had to ask myself.

L.L.: Did you ever find out what ‘really’ happened to Lacey? What do you suspect now, after your research and writing?

Jessica Teich: There is no “aha!” moment in the book. Nor, I might add, is there always, or even often, a moment like that in life.  I have my own epiphanies—mostly about where I left my sunglasses—but rarely is there a single revelation that explains the arc of heart-love-window-winter-frostsomeone’s life.  For me, there is always a central, impenetrable mystery at the heart of every relationship.  We are all, always, strangers to each other in fundamental ways.  What’s amazing to me is that any two people can be “intimate” for any length of time: lovers; parents and children; colleagues; teacher and student.  It’s so hard to be open and honest, respectful of boundaries but transparent, vulnerable.

Why did Lacey “do it?”   The answer is both too easy to imagine and forever beyond our ken. I think the more important question is: what can we do about it?  How can we reach the next person who feels ragged and desperate and alone?  As Lacey’s closest friend said, “We must keep these things alive. It’s common when these things happen for people to tell each other that no one could have known, but I think it’s fair to ask what more could have been done.”

That’s why I wrote THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, to help keep her alive, and to keep alive the questions raised by her tragic death: How do we tell the truth about who we are?  How do we metabolize our pain?

L.L.: Suicide rates among young women have continued to climb, even more alarmingly, among teenage and preteen girls. Since 1999, suicides among girls ages 10-15 have tripled, according to a recent CDC report. These statistics are harrowing. As a mother of girls ages 9 and 11 whose grandmother died by suicide, it’s particularly shocking. Can you speak to that, please?

Jessica Teich: I think our culture places enormous pressure on girls, and women: to be perfect, to need nothing, to give everything, to ask for very little. Even to this day, I think we’re expected not to take up too much space.  I remember reading an article in the New York Times years ago, about a group of girls in a New England town who were like supernovas: bright, accomplished, philanthropic, athletic.  They had everything 17-year-old girls might seem to need, from perfect test scores to a close cohort of friends.  But they said they spent a lot of time wondering if the boys thought they were “hot.”   They calculated their value as people using the most superficial metrics.  I think that’s still the case.01girls-large5

Our culture, with its perpetually revised, homogenized images, exerts pressure on all of us to seem “publically perfect.”  I don’t think perfection of any kind is a value to aspire to.  To be oneself, to fill out the contours of one’s life, to step into one’s own skin; that’s what’s important.  And that’s the best way to make a contribution to the lives of others, which I think is a huge source of self-esteem.

In doing research for THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, I discovered that girls who volunteer are less self-focused and self-critical.   Connection, collaboration; these are the ways to help girls shore up their sense of worth, to say nothing of the benefits to others.  Too often schools encourage students to volunteer for the minimum number of hours, to meet their “service” requirement.  But that’s not enough time for the relationships, the benefits, to take root and grow. Realizing that our lives are inextricably entwined with the lives of others; that can be healing, buoying. Engagement is also a great antidote to depression and hopelessness.

I sometimes think of what Robert F. Kennedy said: “We must tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of the world.” Making gentle. I think that’s our job.  “Gentle” is one of those words— like “lovely” or “cozy”— frequently assigned only to women.  But “gentle” can be fierce.  I like it as a verb: to gentle.   The more we do that, the more I think our lives, our hearts, will mend. It turns out the ancient Greeks had a word for people who didn’t perform public service.  Our word “idiot” derives from it.

L.L.:  There’s another statistic I’d like to mention, and while I don’t have definite numbers on this one, it has to do with the ‘middle school girl slump,’ where smart, self-reliant girls are made to ‘dumb-down’ to appear more soft, likable, and more attractive to the opposite sex.  How can we get society to stop sending these messages to our girls? Or, does the message come from elsewhere?

Jessica Teich: The messages are everywhere.  What’s important is for parents and teachers to say to our daughters (and sons): I see who you are.  I see what you’re struggling to achieve.  Maybe it’s to understand Robert Frost’s poetry.  To join the Red Cross team at school.  To get along better with your brother.  To stop saying the word “like.”  We’ve got to help our children achieve a sense of scale, so they can see where they fit in, what they have to contribute, what’s worth achieving and what is just mindless, meaningless, purposeless acquisitiveness. 

My husband and I chose to send our daughters to an all-girls school, but initially, I was very resistant to the idea.  I’d grown up with downloadbrothers.  I kept walking around the school thinking, “Where are all the boys?”  Then we sat in on a science class, and the classroom had been redesigned to accommodate the ways girls like to learn: in groups.  The lab stations were enlarged to make it possible for the girls to work collaboratively. One girl raised her hand and asked, “What’s an autoclave?” She was an eleventh grader and I thought, “How can she not know what an autoclave is?”  (But then, I was a doctor’s daughter.)  The woman giving the tour turned to me and said, very patiently and without judgment, “At least she’s not afraid to ask.” That’s when the penny dropped. I realized that what we want most—for our children, for ourselves— is the courage to take chances, to heed our own instincts, to acknowledge our mistakes, to ask for help.  I think that’s what we all long for: freedom from fear.

L.L.: Is there anything else I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Jessica Teich: No, but I’m very moved by your willingness to talk about your mother’s death.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  Your willingness to be open about it, despite your pain, is very courageous.  The Buddhists say our children choose us, to teach us, to free us.  I think your daughters chose very well.

L.L.: Jessica, it was a pleasure chatting. Thank you!

Jessica Teich:  Thank you so much.

“An honest, compassionate memoir… Teich’s book is not just compelling for the way it plumbs the psyche of an outwardly driven and ambitious woman; it is also provocative in its questioning of what female success really means.”

—Kirkus Reviews

For more information, or to connect with Jessica, please see: 

screen-shot-2016-08-10-at-4-04-02-pmAbout the Author: JESSICA TEICH graduated summa cum laude from Yale and received an M.Phil degree from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar. Her previous book, Trees Make The Best Mobiles: Simple Ways To Raise Your Child In A Complex World, appeared in Vanity Fair, People, Us, and The Chicago Tribune, and was featured on the Today show. For almost a decade, Teich worked as a literary manager at the Mark Taper Forum, commissioning and developing plays. She subsequently received a grant to write and direct a movie for the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Teich served as head of the Biography committee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, by clicking on the various links: 

[Cover and author images courtesy of L. Rossi-Totten and used with permission. Girls in science lab retrieved from , rape statistics image retrieved from, Ballerina image from, Virginia Woolf cover image from Wikipedia, all on on 9.23.16] 

WeekEND Reading: Debut author Bryn Greenwood talks about being a stubborn flat-lander, reading (and writing) about uncomfortable things, what ALL THE UGLY & WONDERFUL THINGS taught her about herself, and how’s it’s totally NOT autobiographical.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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