Susan Henderson talks about her luminous novel, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, taking chances, her favorite movies, & writing advice

By Leslie Lindsay 

A haunting tale of a dying town, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS is tender, lyrical, and poignant in a very illuminating manner about a female mortician, a horrific accident, and taking chances. Susan Henderson is here chatting about so many wonderful things it’s impossible to list them all…seriously, you want to read this interview and then you’ll run out and buy this book. It’s that good. 

TFOODcover with blurb
I was absolutely ensnared with the vivid bleakness of that swell of blue and green of the cover and then the title, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS called to me from some place far away and I had to get my hands on the book. I’m so glad I did.

Susan Henderson is a writer with tremendous grace and empathy, plus she seems to really ‘get’ small town American life, the human condition, and so much more. I read this book on a driving trip through Iowa. And while the story is actually set in a dying Montana town (which goes by the fictional name of Petroleum), I couldn’t help but feel I was there, smack in the middle of this book cover.

Mary is thirty years old and the town’s female mortician. She grew up the only child of Allen (whom is mostly referred to as ‘Pop’) because her mother died in childbirth. There was no funeral home in Petroleum, so Pop studied and took classes to become certified in the art of bereavement and embalming. Mary really had no choice but to follow in her father’s footsteps. Together, they live in the funeral parlor and put the town ‘to rest.’

But years ago, before the story really begins, a horrific accident occurred at the grain elevator, killing the town’s star high school athlete. The granary is closed for good, and the train no longer stopped in town, plus the brother is blamed for the tragedy and shipped off to live elsewhere.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Susan Henderson to the author interview series.


“This novel is so breathtakingly good, so exquisitely written. About a female mortician, about a childhood tragedy that still haunts a damaged young man, about the endless landscape and about those tiny sparks of possibility. Oh my God. Trust me. This book. This book. This Book.”

 —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World


Leslie Lindsay: Susan, I am so, so honored. First, I was so completely struck by the beauty of the prose, the obvious research you did to paint such an authentic portrait of small town life. But it came at a bit of a price. You spent an entire month living in a hotel of the town that became Petroleum. Can you tell us about that experience and was that sort of the ‘birth’ of this tale, or was it something else?

Susan Henderson: My intention with the book was to grapple with the current division in America—between those who want change and those who feel things are changing too fast, and I wanted to do that in a way that was removed from politics and might get each side listening to each other again.

So I was not trying to write about the people from this particular town. In fact, I only desired to set the story in a small, rural town, and chose to spend a month in this one because I was emotionally attached to it. It’s where my father grew up, and I knew how physically unique it was.

Of course, the real town managed to seep into the novel a good bit—particularly the tactile details of homes and weather, the sounds and rhythms of ranchers, the stark beauty of the land, the isolation from other towns and conveniences.

But this is definitely a work of fiction, this is me grappling with a conversation that has become uncivilized in the real world, so I put it into story form. I wanted to dig down deep into the grief and rage and pride of people whose identities are tied to jobs and a way of life that are slipping away. And yet there are some people in the town, and the narrator’s one of them, whose passions and dreams for themselves are not found in the town’s traditions.  My hope is that we might start to hear each other, that we might get tired of being stuck.

L.L.: While there are some elements in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS that are drawn from memory and experience, it is in no way autobiographical, a memoir…yet there are so many truths in fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Susan Henderson: Fiction is where I tell the truth.

If I were to tackle the issues of death and dying and what happens to the body in non-fiction, I would worry too much about exposing another’s privacy and harming them in some way. And that instinct to protect others would make me pull back from the hard truths and create a story that’s much too tepid for my taste.

Fiction allows me to talk about the things polite people avoid in real life. I can walk right towards rage and fear and our imperfect bodies. And whenever I need to buffer some sort of psychic pain, I can add another character or a bridge or completely imagined moment that can heal more deeply than what the non-fiction moment might offer.

The great gift of fiction is that we can see the truth more clearly when we see it from a different angle, when we can climb deeper inside the story and the characters. And when the great writers of our time are at their best, fiction can both reexamine and change the world. Think: Animal Farm, A Handmaid’s Tale, Beloved, The Lottery, Invisible Man, All the Light We Cannot See.

L.L.: Regarding truth, it’s elusive, much like the wind in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, which I noticed came up a good deal, but wasn’t overdone. We can’t see the wind, but we can feel it. We can see the devastating effects the wind can cause land, on buildings. And the wind can provide energy, motion. Did you intentionally make it a metaphor or was that something that grew organically?

Susan Henderson: When I stayed in the real town for a month, it was the wind that made me worry I might lose my mind. It was so loud, I felt like I had to shout over it. When I was inside my motel room, it crashed so hard against the room, I sometimes wondered if the windows would break. And when I walked out of that room, I felt almost tormented by it, like it was purposefully pushing me. So it just became more of a character in the book, like this mischievous soul messing with people’s hair, knocking down signs, slamming doors.

What was so clear to me while I lived there was that the weather and the land were interconnected with the lives there. It would physically change you—your skin, your hair, your ability to hear and be heard. And your isolation from other towns, from others who might help, would force you to become self-sufficient, or you simply wouldn’t survive.

winnett
Susan took this photo while staying in the small town that would become the fictional Petroleum. And the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

L.L.: Of course I have to ask about Mary’s role as an embalmer. This might make someone squeamish, but you took such a gentle, comforting approach, it didn’t bother me. Can you tell us a bit about your research to get Mary’s character ‘just right?’

Susan Henderson: So, the eventual concept of the book, was to tell the story of a dying town via a narrator who could look at death without flinching. She could take us to that conversation that’s so uncomfortable for us to have. She’s seen all manners of grief—raging against the inevitable, going submissively, pretending it’s not happening.

But this meant that I would have to learn how to run a funeral home and how to embalm dead bodies. I learned everything I could about the dead and dying, about mortician’s tools and burial practices. I learned from books and from talking with folks in the funeral and hospice industries.

And then I dreamed up Mary Crampton, kind of a quirky loner who is more comfortable with the dead. And I gave her a story line which would force her into the living world, where she is less confident. And I put her smack in the middle of the conflict I wanted to explore—between an agent of change and those who are trying with all they have to hold on to their traditions.

person holding white paper and typewriter
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

L.L.: In the end, the very end, you talk about your writing ‘tribe,’ how writers are a ‘bunch of introverts, misfits, observers, and deep thinkers.’ This really resonated with me as I read your words. You went on to say how we share the scars of rejection, hounding questions about how long the writing is taking, and so much more. I get it, oh, how I get it. What other writerly things have you learned along the way and how might one keep swimming?

Susan Henderson: I get as much mail about the Acknowledgments section as the book itself. I really felt like I needed to write that note to my fellow writers because it can be such a bruising business.

How to keep swimming… well, for starters, I created my website, LitPark, just for that purpose. It’s where we all share our struggles and successes and tips. I also added a new feature called Words for the Weary, where authors share their advice about surviving in this business.

Beyond that, I think the reality is that we would all have quit by now if we could or if we were being reasonable. But somehow, in spite of the rejections and the uphill climb, we keep waking up with ideas, we keep observing and eavesdropping and dreaming. What that says to me is that we’re writers. It’s in our hardwiring. For whatever reason, we’re driven to tell stories, to look closely at the world, to find music in words.

Once we realize that, there’s only one thing to do, which is to build the support we need to stay in the game. Follow the writers who are emotionally available, attend readings and greet the authors afterwards, find the nearest indie bookstore and get to know the owners. This is how we find our tribe and, some days, this will be lifesaving.


“Great sentences expounding on the complexities and fragilities of the human heart, one that echoes John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner.”

 —Lou Pendergrast 

on THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS


bright countryside dawn daylight
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Susan, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Like…your summer plans, what you’re writing next, what you’re reading, what movie you last saw, or a favorite guilty pleasure?

Susan Henderson: You know, people always ask me about books but never ask for movie recommendations. Here are a few I’m looking forward to: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (because I could use a little Mister Rogers in my life these days), American Animals (because I’ve heard it’s brilliant), and BlacKkKlansman (because I’m a crazy-huge fan of Jordan Peele and Spike Lee).

What have I seen lately that’s memorable? I loved the animation in Isle of Dogs. The movie itself is uneven but worth it for the visual artistry. Moonlight is a gorgeous coming of age story that feels like you’re watching a poem. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie that felt so much like a literary masterpiece. I, Tonya surprised the hell out of me by how terribly funny, poignant, and deep it was, especially in exposing our prejudices about class. The Stanford Prison Experiment was painful to watch but a eye-opener at how quickly we are corrupted by power. I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary about my favorite writer, James Baldwin, and his words are more relevant today than ever. The Zookeeper’s Wife made me want to go home and write. And Get Out made me want to talk about it for hours because Jordan Peele is a genius at getting you to look at society and self from another angle.

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

Order Links: 

Susan_Henderson.2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Henderson is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the author of two novels, The Flicker of Old Dreams and Up from the Blue, both published by HarperCollins. Susan lives in Kings Park, New York and blogs at the writer support group, LitPark.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #smalltowns #grief #amreading #identity #ruralAmerica #mortician #funeralhome

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins. Image of rural fence from the archives of S. Henderson; all used with permission]

Shimming tale set in Chicago and Paris in the 1980s and 1920s about art, AIDS, loss, memory & so much more Rebecca Makkai on THE GREAT BELIEVERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Rebecca Makkai talks about her thrumming new literary fiction that will enrapture you and transport you to 1985 Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic, then toss you back to Paris in the 1920s. Plus, memory, loss, character development, healthcare and more. Please join us. 

The Great Believers Cover.jpg

Every now and then there is a book that makes my heart sing. I mean, really, really sing. And when THE GREAT BELIEVERS (June 19, 2018 Viking/Penguin RandomHouse) came along, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I did.  Seriously, this book is going to be big. I’ve been seeing it on all kinds of lists since this spring–best summer reading, best for book groups, and books set in Chicago, to name a few.

But it’s also a bit controversial. AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. LGBQTA+ issues. Art in France in the 1920s. But the writing! Oh, the writing! I can’t say enough about that.  It’s achingly gorgeous. You’ll read and be a bit blown away at the breadth of beauty and will step back and think, “I wish I wrote that.”

A bit on the plot: The year is 1985 and AIDS has claimed Yale Tishman’s friend Nico. As Yale’s career begins to flourish—many of his friends are dying. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. She finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS catastrophe affected her life and her relationship with her only child. Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster. The two stories are compelling in their own right, but together, they are a masterpiece of fiction that feels entirely real.

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Makkai to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: Rebecca, so honored! Can you tell us a bit about your research process behind learning about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago?

Rebecca Makkai: There wasn’t nearly as much about AIDS in Chicago in book or film form as you would think. Chicago was and is the third largest city in America, but most of what’s out there focuses on New York, San Francisco, and LA. This meant I needed to get out from behind my desk and do some leg work. I holed up in the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago and read every issue of the Windy City Times (Chicago’s biggest gay weekly) from 1985 to 1992. During the four years I worked on the novel, I interviewed people one-on-one, in coffee shops or in their homes: doctors, nurses, activists, lawyers, survivors, people with HIV, and people who had simply been young and gay in Chicago in the 80s. They were so incredibly generous with their time, and in the details and stories they shared. A few of them read the book for accuracy, too, after it was done; while the story is fiction, it was so important to me to get things right.

photo of eiffel tower
Photo by Eugene Dorosh on Pexels.com

L.L.: One of your characters travels to Paris in search for her daughter who became entangled in a cult. What was your research process on that world? 

Rebecca Makkai: I wanted to write about cults after I accidentally went to a restaurant owned by a cult, which led to researching them afterward (I’d tell you which one, but cults are notoriously litigious, and make a lot of their money on lawsuits!). I based the Hosanna Collective, the group that Fiona’s daughter is tangled up in, on that cult, but also on others as it was important to me that it not be identifiable as any particular group. There are some incredibly scary cults out there, of course, but what was so frightening to me about the ones I modeled Hosanna on was how benign and rational it all seemed at first. From the outside, these people really just look like hippies.


“…sure to become a classic Chicago novel…a deft, harrowing novel that’s as beautiful as its cover.”

—Chicago Review of Books


L.L.: [You are] a cisgender heterosexual woman, why was [THE GREAT BELIEVERS] an important story for you to tell? How are you able to lift up the voices of the LGBTQA+ community?

Rebecca Makkai: I thought (and stressed) a lot about whether it was appropriate for me to tell a story about AIDS, and ultimately I felt I needed to satisfactorily answer two questions. 1) Could I do a good job, do this story justice? 2) Would this book detract from the narratives of those who lived through this crisis, or help readers discover those stories? The answer to No. 1 was that I could do it with relentless research, and I hope I’ve indeed done justice to the story. The answer to No. 2 was that my novel is much more likely, if it’s successful, to engender further discussion and writing about AIDS than to squelch it. The way commercial publishing works, a novel’s success means more presses will be willing to back a similar project in the future. I have opportunities now to point people toward both fictional and nonfictional accounts of the AIDS crisis.

This book is about a lot more than AIDS—it’s also about the Paris art world of the 1920s, cults, Chicago, memory, and loss. I do want people to come away knowing, thinking, or feeling more about AIDS than they have previously. I don’t want them to stop with my book—I want this to be the beginning of a lot more reading and conversation about what people remember from that time.

L.L.: Your characters in THE GREAT BELIEVERS feel like very real, dynamic people. What or who inspired your creation of these characters?

Rebecca Makkai: I’ve never based a character on a real person, but there are slivers of different real people (and huge chunks of myself) in every character I write. In THE GREAT BELIEVERS, some of those slivers came from the details that people shared with me about themselves or their friends back in the 80s, and some came from elsewhere. These characters ended up feeling real to me in a way that I’ve never quite experienced before in my previous novels or stories. In particular, my main character, Yale Tishman, is someone I keep thinking of like a friend I just lost. When I get good news about the novel, I wish I could tell him about it. That might make me sound unbalanced, but it was important to my process that I got to the point of thinking of him as a real person.


“…a striking, emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis and its residual effects on the contemporary lives of survivors… Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred & Boxed)


L.L.: THE GREAT BELIEVERS weaves together two stories in two different cities. Both, in my opinion, are quite wonderful. Why did you choose Chicago and Paris as your settings? 

Rebecca Makkai: I grew up in Chicago and live here still, so it was much more interesting for me to explore what happened right here than to force myself to write about New York or San Francisco, which would have been more expected. Chicago is, in a way, the great love of my life. I’ll never get tired of it and I’ll never get tired of writing about it.

Oddly, the origin of my novel was something that’s now only a small part of it: the art scene in Paris between the two World Wars. I’ve always been fascinated by that time, and by the “École de Paris” set—the young artists who came to Paris from around the world—and although that shrunk to a subplot of the novel, something we hear stories about but don’t see firsthand, it’s still there and still important. The 2015 sections of THE GREAT BELIEVERS were actually a later addition to the story. I’d written about 150 pages thinking the book was just going to be about the 80s before I realized I needed to go back and forth in time. But when I thought about what would happen in those 2015 sections, it made sense for Paris to be the setting, echoing the scene we’ve heard about from the 1920s.

painting wallpaper
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

L.L.: Why do you think it is important to contextualize the pervasive pain of the AIDS crisis in the modern day?

Rebecca Makkai: For one thing, that pain is still here. It’s tempting, in the US, to think of AIDS as something of the past, but globally there are 37 million people living with HIV.

Even if we are thinking of the late-80s / early-90s height of the US crisis, and the gay community it primarily impacted: people are still living in the shadow of those years, feeling those losses, and putting their lives back together. It was important to me to write not just about the 80s, but about the reach of the epidemic across decades.

L.L.:  Did you discover between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now? Were there any parallels? 

Rebecca Makkai: Legislation of healthcare is still based on subconscious (or even conscious) prejudices about who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Just this December, Trump disbanded the HIV/AIDS Advisory Council, despite the fact that over a million Americans are still living with HIV. That’s not random; that’s coming straight from homophobia and racism, and the idea that those million lives are disposable. And when it’s not sexual orientation or race, it’s gender, poverty level, education. Certain individuals, some of whom are unfortunately in power, love to blame people for their own illnesses—you shouldn’t have drunk all that soda, you shouldn’t have had sex, you shouldn’t have lived in Flint. I think it’s a way they make themselves feel safer, like nothing bad will happen to them, and I think it’s also a way to sanction mass cruelty. In the 80s, the glee with which some politicians talked about gay men dying was barely contained; most politicians do a better job now of hiding their motivations, but they’re still there, festering. Nothing new under the sun.

L.L.: I love talking titles! Can you give us a glimpse into the significance of THE GREAT BELIEVERS? 

Rebecca Makkai: The title is taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that serves as one of the novel’s epigraphs:

“We were the great believers.
I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, an saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”

Fitzgerald is referring to the Lost Generation, and the quote struck me as so counterintuitive—we often think of that generation as so jaded and worldly. The parallels between that generation and the generation we lost in the 80s is something I explore in the novel. In particular, I was struck by the similarities between the way Paris was a refuge for so many misfit artists, and the role big American cities like Chicago have played for young LGBTQ people. The arts scene in Paris was interrupted by WWI and between the war and the influenza of 1918, a whole generation was decimated. I was particularly interested in those who regrouped in Paris after the war, who tried to recreate some of what had been lost. The lines we can draw between that time and the 80s are fascinating to me.

adventure backlit dawn dusk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: What are the main themes of the book? What do you want people to take away from reading THE GREAT BELIEVERS?

Rebecca Makkai: Ultimately, I do think THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a defiantly hopeful book—or at least that my characters are defiantly hopeful. That’s one of the meanings of the title, I think. As their lives fall apart, they also take on greater direction and conviction. We’re living in a difficult time, and life is hard enough to begin with, but I drew so much inspiration in the past few years from talking to survivors, listening to the stories of how they fought for their lives and for each other even when it seemed utterly hopeless. If my characters can do for readers just a fraction of what these people did for me, I’ll be satisfied.

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

Order Links: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Makkai is the author of The Borrower, The Hundred Year-House, and Music for Wartime. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short StoriesThe Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American FantasyHarper’sTin House, and Ploughshares, among others. She lives in Chicago and Vermont with her husband and two daughters.

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


                           LOVE IT? SHARE IT!The Great Believers Cover

#authorinterviewseries #literaryfiction #authorinterview  

[Cover and author images courtesy of Viking/PenguinRandom House and used with permission.]

 

 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

 

Michelle Frances on her debut–an International bestseller–THE GIRLFRIEND, multifaceted characters, possessive girlfriends, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A slow-burn (and that’s a good thing!) literary domestic thriller with a very unlikable, conniving, master manipulator of a girlfriend.

Plus, Michelle Frances talks about how her career writing TV scripts helped with the narrative, the mother-son dynamic, her summer plans, and what’s next for her.

the girlfriend final WOW. This girl. THE GIRLFRIEND is everything a mother of a son(s) would absolutely deplore. She’s from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ lies, lies, lies, and yet she’s sweet (at least to your face), gorgeous, and your son’s smitten. But something’s off. Does a mother intervene?

That’s what THE GIRLFRIEND sets out to answer. At first Cherry is a bit endearing in her nervousness around ‘the parents,’ but how she quickly–and subtly–worms her way onto the dark side. This gal is sneaky, highly disturbed, and just fun to hate. I was absolutely blown away with audacity of this young woman and also it reminded me of how ‘love is blind.’

A bit on the plot: Daniel is in medical school. He was born into a wealthy family, but seems to be a good all-around guy who wants to work in medicine even though he doesn’t technically *have* to work; he has a trust fund, a Mercedes, and his dad just paid for his fancy new flat. And, as an only child, he has a very doting (enmeshed?) mother, Laura.

Along comes Cherry who works as a Real Estate agent (apprentice) and lo and behold, smart rich boy needs a place to live…

apartment architecture art books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Please join  me in welcoming Michelle Frances to my author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Frances, Wow! You absolutely blew me away with Cherry! First, I want to know if there was a scene or character or situation you wanted to explore most in THE GIRLFRIEND; what was the driving force?

Michelle Frances:  Thank you, Leslie!  This is such an interesting question because this is exactly how the book started.  There is a moment about halfway through the novel when Daniel’s mom, Laura, decides to do the most awful thing and tells a lie like no other.  It was this lie that got me thinking about how such a scenario could exist – how could a character like Laura justifying saying such a thing?  And from there grew the story.

L.L.: While I found the plot to be taut and intriguing, THE GIRLFRIEND is also a very voice-y narrative, but it’s quite literary. Was there a particular character who ‘spoke’ most to you?

Michelle Frances:  I have a soft spot for both mom Laura and girlfriend Cherry, despite their bad behavior.  They both start from a hopeful, positive place but jealousy and insecurity warp their perception of the situation they find themselves in, and lo and behold, things start to spiral out of control.  I feel for Cherry as she’s a classic victim of intergenerational unfairness – for her there’s no state certainty of a safety net and a pension.  Even the idea of owning her own home is a distant dream.  These challenges echo what young people are having to face today and in fact many will be worse off than their parents.  I can understand her struggle and have empathy for her reasoning that you might as well spend time in a geographical place where future boyfriends are more likely to have money, than a place where they’re not.  I also have empathy for Laura’s desire to protect her only remaining child from someone who she believes to be up to no good.   I don’t think any mother could stand back and watch what they believe to be a car crash relationship unfold – although mothers don’t have to go to the extent that Laura does in order to stop it!


“The Girlfriend is a taut psychological thriller, the evil chillingly drawn.  Every character is layered and beautifully twisted.   Makes me consider running background checks on any potential spouses my children bring home!”
– New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose


L.L.: And with Cherry—she’s such a fickle, complex character. Did you have to do any research to get her ‘just right?’

Michelle Frances: Cherry is incredibly complex in many ways, but she’s also very straightforward.  She has simple goals that chime with most of ours: financial stability and a happy relationship.  I didn’t do any particular research to understand her, she actually came alive to me quite readily.  Most of us are young and broke when we’re starting out and the class system in the UK is very much alive and well.  Cherry is also incredibly intelligent so I just pitted that intelligence right into the middle of the scenario of her finding a wealthy boyfriend with a tiger mom and her psychology and motivation became very clear.  As soon as Cherry comes up with the notion that Laura believes she’s not good enough for her son Daniel, Cherry decides she’s going to keep him, whatever it costs.

L.L.: Similarly, does Cherry have a psychological diagnosis?  Cause I’m kind of thinking she should!

Michelle Frances:  Ha!  Well, I do think she has very dark thoughts sometimes – as many of us do – the difference being that most people wouldn’t choose to act on them in the way Cherry does!  She feels she has so much to lose and she is fighting for her place from what she feels is a real disadvantage, therefore she justifies crossing that line – more than once!  Personally, I’m fascinated by how psychotic tendencies in people can become dangerously exacerbated when they feel threatened.

images (3)

L.L.: Was there anything that surprised you during the writing process? Did you learn anything along the way?

Michelle Frances: As this was my first novel, the whole writing process was a learning experience.  I had to feel my way through and found my skills in television script editing came in very useful!  Although the medium of television is very different to a novel, certain elements are true of any form of storytelling: character development, pace, and twists in the story are all essential to an engaging thriller.

L.L.: Do you have any exciting summer plans…perhaps to the South of France? Or maybe whitewater rafting?

Michelle Frances: Funnily enough, I did go white water rafting a few years before writing the book — just days after meeting my boyfriend.  It was a gift for his birthday!  Fortunately there were no accidents but I do remember very clearly the adrenaline rush of the rapids.  This summer I shall be working on my third book, with perhaps a family seaside break in the middle.

L.L.: Who or what is obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Michelle Frances: Oh gosh, I get fired up about lots of things.  I’m a governor at my children’s school, which means I’m involved in the strategic decisions of the school.  Education is something I’m extremely interested in, and how teachers and pupils are affected by government policies and decisions.  I also get very hot under the collar about injustice and in fact the book I’m working on this summer is a ‘David and Goliath’ tale about a mother’s fight for justice for her daughter.

images (21)

L.L.: Michelle, it’s been an absolute pleasure! Please tell me, is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Michelle Frances: Thank you so much for [having me].  I’ve loved [every minute].  If you enjoy THE GIRLFRIEND, then perhaps I can also shamelessly let you know about my next book!  It’s called THE TEMP and is due out in the USA on 29 January 2019.  It’s about a successful TV producer, Carrie, who unexpectedly falls pregnant and reluctantly has to leave her job in the hands of a young, ambitious temp cover.  Emma is smart and charming and Carrie begins to suspect she is maneuvering her way into Carrie’s life, causing turmoil in her marriage and her work.  It’s a thriller about ambition, deception and betrayal. Thank you again!

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

Order Links: 

MF CroppedABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michelle Frances graduated from Bournemouth Film School in 1996 and then from the Masters programme at the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, in 1998. Returning to London, she has worked for several years in film and TV as a script editor and producer for both the independent sector and the BBC.

THE GIRLFRIEND, her debut psychological thriller, has been optioned by Imaginarium Studios for film adaptation.  Translation rights have sold in fifteen foreign territories.

Michelle is currently working on her second novel.  She lives in East Surrey.

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

GoodReads
Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Email:leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
Amazon

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! ~Thank you!

#authorinterviewseries #fiction #authorinterview  

 

[Cover and author images courtesy of Kensington Press and used with permission].

Elaine Neil Orr on her luminous, glittering tale, SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS on racial tension in the 1960s and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS is such a tender, thoughtful, and affecting read on what it means to be touched by another culture–brimming with personal and social issues and told in a gentle, glimmering prose. 

9780425282731 (2)
I’ll admit to having a bit of a cover crush on SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS. I mean, it’s stunning, right? To me, it embodies summer with a nod to a simpler time. Of course, we read because of the story, not the cover. And this one absolutely brings the carefree days of yesteryear to light, but…were they so carefree?

This was my first book by Elaine Neil Orr and here’s what I know:  she’s drawn to tales that take place in distinct locations and is eager to merge them into a seamless whole. Place is not just a setting for her, but a character. SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS takes place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Nigeria, places that couldn’t be more different from one another. Plus, it’s the South in the 1950s-60s, we we’re talking civil rights and a lot of naiveté.


“A perceptive and powerful story told with generosity and grace.” 

~Charles Frazier


Orr’s main characters–Tacker Hart and Kate Monroe–are perfectly flawed. Tacker is a former high school football star turned architect and has traveled–lived–in Nigeria. He comes back home after a misunderstanding in Nigeria and he’s not the same guy. Now, at 25 and working/managing his father’s grocery, he’s thrust into a world that seems a little backward. He doesn’t understand the animosity between whites and blacks.

Kate, meanwhile is dealing with the loss of both her parents and trying to make a living as a photographer. She’s reeling from a troubling relationship with a resident physician and well…it seems she’s ahead of her time.

And then there’s Gaines Townson, a young African-American man who is new to town and not feeling very welcomed. I found all of these characters fascinating *because* of their flaws.

Please join me in welcoming Elaine Neil Orr to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay: Elaine! I’m so honored to have you. I understand you grew up in Nigeria. Was that your inspiration for SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, or was it something else?

Elaine Neil Orr:  I had already written a memoir and a first novel set primarily in Nigeria. My aim with SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS was to lay claim to my U.S. American territory, which is the American South. My inspiration was place. I chose Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before I had a character or a situation or a conflict. I spent one year in Winston, 1960-61, my first grade year. Having grown up among Nigerians, this was my first experience of living among thousands of white people. My school was white, my church was white, the neighborhood was white. This new world was like a negative of a photograph, everything the opposite of what I had known. But I love Winston-Salem now, though I live an hour and a half away in Raleigh. I have fond memories of West End Boulevard, and the grocery down on First Street and Peters Creek and the flora of the neighborhood.

L.L.: Sometimes, I feel we need to step outside our comfort zone(s) to fully understand our role in the world. I experienced this as a junior in high school when I traveled to Greece and Italy. The contrasts between my insular Midwestern world and the clash of modern amidst ancient ruins definitely shaped me. Can you speak more about that, please?

Elaine Neil Orr:  Yes, well as I just suggested, even though I was white I was at home in Nigeria where I was born. All of my early memories are from southwestern Nigeria; my first sense of family and love and belonging is there. “Coming to America” was stepping out of my comfort zone. The contrasts were stark. I still had my family here but the rest of the world was hardly recognizable. What I began to fathom at age six was that there were two worlds and I belonged somehow to both. But Nigeria seemed more real with its mud and plaster houses and the huge rain forest hardwoods and the pounding rains and drums at night. I still see the world from the point of view of a girl in Nigeria. In SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, I wanted to conjure a similar perspective in Tacker. It couldn’t be exactly the same. But he would begin to see the world differently because of his time in West Africa, not just the countryside and the buildings and compounds but the way the Nigerian men invite him into their community.

landscape photography of wild trees over mountain
Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

L.L.: And so for you, place is not just a backdrop, but  becomes a character. Like characters, even settings can be flawed. How can readers learn from those flaws?

Elaine Neil Orr: Place is absolutely a character, always. And all settings are flawed. There’s this wonderful word I learned in graduate school. Bricloeur.  It’s from anthropology and it describes some people and cultures and how they practice “using what comes to hand” to create. I like to think that in the twenty-first century, we can be world travelers (if largely through books), and as we travel we can pick up and create our personal and cultural mindsets by selecting the best from a variety of places. In Nigeria, Tacker learns the hospitality of his Nigerian friends. He transfers this learning to his American landscape where he is able to see that true hospitality requires white Americans to invite African-Americans to the table. Nigeria is also flawed. The character of Joshua is seduced by a form of evangelism that causes him to inflict damage on another person—Tacker to be precise. All cultures and places are sites of good and evil. Yet to get Biblical about it: it’s easier to see the bit of dust in your neighbor’s eye and not the log in your own. I hope SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS helps us see our own flaws and collect the good to create improved moral landscapes and communities.

person holding black pen
Photo by Lex Photography on Pexels.com

L.L.: I have to say—architecture and design! I love when I stumble across this element in a book. What propelled you to give this profession to Tacker?

Elaine Neil Orr: At first I was going to make him a hydrologist. I needed a reason for him to be going to Nigeria as the new country was gaining independence. And I knew from my own experience that more developed countries sent ambassadors to help do this building. But hydrology was a difficult field for me to learn. As an art major in college, I thought I might have better luck learning and writing about architecture. I was influenced by Nigerian architecture growing up, both the traditional building of houses and the new banks and hotels with open concrete designs. Missionaries were sent as architects. So it was a good choice. But I still had to seek out an architect here in Raleigh to teach me how to write about design and the elements of architecture. I’m so glad you enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I love to learn about something ancillary to the plot when I’m reading fiction, whether it’s music or science or math.

L.L.: In fact, both of your main characters have an artistic bent to their character. Kate is a gifted photographer, which, aside from Margaret Bourke White, was predominately a male-driven profession in this time. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Elaine Neil Orr: My husband first suggested Kate’s photography. I like the device of giving a character a significant object. In my first novel, A DIFFERENT SUN, the protagonist, Emma, owns a special writing box. I gave Tacker the Indian motorcycle. Kate needed something to help define her. While she’s conventional in some ways, she also has an artistic mother and she knows she’s smart. So I thought she could take this step. And I learned that the Winston-Salem Journal had a woman photographer on its staff in the late 50s and 60s. Her name was Cookie Synder. She actually started with the paper in 1948. I didn’t put her in the book because it would mean they didn’t need Kate. I left that spot for my character! As far as the decision to make both Tacker and Kate artistic, I suppose that occurred “accidentally on purpose” as we used to joke. These identities are within my range. They’re both sexy, too.

black and gray folding camera on table
Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your writing routines or rituals?  You also teach world literature and creative writing…I’m kind of wondering how you do it all?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m lucky to be a professor at a Research I university. That means that half of my job is to write. Two days a week I go to campus and teach. Two days, at least, I get to write, sometimes three. But in the U.S., where only a very few writers can live on their writing, a teaching job like mine is about as good as it gets. I have almost four months off in the summer and do the bulk of my writing then. But even in the school year, I can write and push forward a large project and I have learned to write any time any where, though I love to go to writing residences such as the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  I also teach in the Spalding University brief-residency MFA in writing program. But I rarely take a full load of students. I don’t really need another teaching gig but I love the program and what I gain from it—in terms of the students and the other faculty—more than compensates me for my time.


“The riveting plot and real-life characters would not let me go.” 

~Anna Jean Mayhew


L.L.: What’s on your summer bucket list? Trips? Must-reads? Manuscript deadlines?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m beginning another novel and hope to keep making progress with it even as I keep hopping around on book tour to Fairhope, Alabama, and Atlanta, and Pawley’s Island. Of course there’s a beach trip planned with our granddaughter.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to weeding my garden and walking the dog and cooking meals with my husband. Normal life sounds sweet right now after two intense months of touring.

scenic view of ocean
Photo by Bruno Joseph on Pexels.com

L.L.: Elaine, it’s been a pleasure! What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Elaine Neil Orr:

Q: You might have asked: When did you first experience racial tension?

A: in Decatur, Georgia, in the ninth grade, while my missionary parents were “home” on a furlough year. No one in Nigeria ever talked about “race.” There was no “race.” We were Americans and Nigerians were Nigerians. No one thought in terms of color. One of the greatest awakenings of my life was encountering the tension in that high school. It had only recently integrated. The hallways and lunch room felt electric with fear and rage.  I was on the “white side.” It was as if we had been branded. I’m sure that experience played a role in my writing SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Elaine Neil Orr credit Elizabeth Galecke Photography 2017.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elaine Neil Orr is a writer of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism. With stories set in Nigeria and the American South, she delves into themes of home, country, and spiritual longing.

Her memoir, Gods of Noonday (Virginia, 2003), was a Top-20 Book Sense selection and a nominee for the Old North State Award. She is associate editor of a collection of essays on international childhoods, Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books.

Orr has published extensively in literary magazines including The Missouri ReviewBlackbirdShenandoah, and Image Journal, and her short stories and short memoirs have won several Pushcart Prize nominations and competition prizes. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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

9780425282731 (2)
LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#authorinterviewseries #fiction #authorinterview  

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL and used with permission]

Carol Goodman on her new Gothic thriller, THE OTHER MOTHER, about postpartum psychosis & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

THE OTHER MOTHER…a creepy Gothic thriller about motherhood and madness with plenty of twists. Plus, she talks about her fascination with the changeling story, her research into mental illness, and those creepy abandoned hospitals, being a Latin major (?!) and so much more

OtherMother_HC

Carol Goodman hooked me years ago with her debut, THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, about a girls’ boarding school and the unsavory things going on there. And then I was mesmerized by THE GHOST ORCHID and still have images from that book lodged in my mind. So when THE OTHER MOTHER (William Morrow, March 27 2018) came to my attention, I knew I had to read it.

This one is all about postpartum psychosis, but there’s more–it’s about identity (mistaken, stolen?), motherhood, trust, love, and so much more.

What Goodman excels at here (and perhaps in all her writing) is her ability to create atmosphere. Imagine a milk-white sky, toss in an old stone home with a tower set on a hill overlooking a mental institution, add a mother and child and reclusive author. See what I mean…

THE OTHER MOTHER explores an unsteady marriage–one that has just experienced the birth of a new baby. It tackles, also, the bond of mothers in a ‘new moms’ group. Daphne Marist is one of those mothers. So, too is Laurel Hobbes. They both have infant daughters named Chloe. And yet neither one are essentially ‘whole.’ Both suffer from some form of postpartum depression/psychosis, yet the women are nearly polar opposites–Laurel is wealthy and sophisticated whereas Daphne is a little more bland and straight-laced. Daphne (a former children librarian) is eager to get away from her controlling husband and establish a life on her own. She applies for a new job as an archivist with a famous author, Schuyler Bennett in the Catskills–under Laurel’s name and credentials!

interior view of wooden house
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

She gets the job. She takes her baby and together, they help the author, (who also happens to be the daughter of the former medical director/psychiatrist of Crantham Mental Institution), organize old papers and write a memoir. There are head spinning twists and a complex tale folded within these pages. Everyone becomes an unreliable narrator.

Please join me in welcoming to Carol Goodman.

Leslie Lindsay: Carol, it’s a pleasure to have you. Years ago, when THE LAKE OF DARK LANGUAGES first came out, I would read it on the bus I took to the Mayo Clinic where I was working my first job as a child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. And now I’m reading about psychiatric disorders and writing my own fiction while raising two girls. Funny how things come full-circle. I’m curious what was haunting you when you set out to write THE OTHER MOTHER?

Carol Goodman: It occurred to me that the period of time after having a baby could be a very vulnerable time. I remember how isolated one could feel and how one’s very identity was fluid. What would happen, I wondered, if someone chose to take advantage of that vulnerability.

L.L.: Being a mom (my two are 11 and 13 years), I so recall those ‘new mom’ groups. There’s a lot of bonding, but also competition. Is that how you saw Daphne and Laurel? What do you feel that kind of group brings to the table of new motherhood?

Carol Goodman: Well, they can be a wonderful resource. As I mentioned above, it’s a time when you feel isolated and your sense of identity is changing. I remember being hungry for the company of new mothers. However, with that bonding can come some judginess and envy and competition. We’re all trying to figure out how to get it right, but sometimes that means acting like there’s only ONE way to do it right. So there can be some preachiness around issues like sleeping, breast-feeding, etc. And then, there’s the temptation to measure your own child’s progress against other children.

affection baby barefoot blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L: There are a good number of journal entries from three women and slips in time which make THE OTHER MOTHER a near-historical novel. Can you talk about that for a minute and why, perhaps there are no dates on the recent 20__ journal entries? Is it that postpartum disorders really have no clear delineation as to when they can occur, whether it’s 1950, 1870s or 2010s?

Carol Goodman: I wanted to make the present time flexible to feel up-to-date for anyone who’s reading it at least in this decade. God knows what new baby-gear will be available in the future—maybe digital assistants who take care of the baby. “Alexa, can you please watch little Atticus?”

L.L: Can you talk about your research into maternal mental health?

Carol Goodman: I started with what I knew from my own experiences and my mother’s. Understanding postpartumI felt isolated and had what I now know are “intrusive thoughts.” My mother told me that after her second pregnancy she was so depressed she thought about suicide. I wanted to know more, so I read a few books, including Teresa Twomey’s UNDERSTANDING POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS: A TEMPORARY MADNESS which I found tremendously helpful. For a historical context, I read a history of the treatment of postpartum mood disorders.

L.L.: Also, a little side note: I love the cover! It shows the ‘mirroring’ as well as the play between Other and Mother, O’s and M’s. Did you have any say in how that all came together? What’s the process like working with an art team?

Carol Goodman: I love it too! The only “say” I had was to tell my editor that I loved it! Yes, I like the mirroring as a way of expressing the confusion of identity that occurs when you become a mother. Also I like the white and red lettering which we can see on the title of the new Hulu adaptation of THE HANDMAID’S TALE which is truly the most chilling novel about motherhood I know!

L.L.: I really loved the setting of Crantham—the clock tower, the country club-like ‘retreat,’ but all along it’s a mental institution. Can you share a bit about your inspiration? Is this a real place?

Carol Goodman: Over the years I’ve passed a few abandoned psychiatric hospitals—and what’s creepier than that! I’m especially influenced the Hudson River State Hospital, the ruins of which I pass often. It was built during the same period as Vassar College, where I went, and has similar architecture, which gave me the idea of making the hospital look Gracefully Insanelike a college. Also I reread GRACEFULLY INSANE: LIFE AND DEATH IN AMERICA’S PREMIER MENTAL HOSPITAL by Alex Beam which describes McLean Hospital.

L.L.: There are some examples of changelings in THE OTHER MOTHER…stories and fairytales. Plus, Schuyler Bennett is an author. How has your reading and literary life shaped the narrative?

Carol Goodman: I admit I’ve used the changeling story before in my fiction (see ARCADIA FALLS and some of my fantasy fiction). I couldn’t resist using it again because I think it’s such an evocative, chilling reflection of the experience of motherhood. That new baby can seem like a stranger left by fairies sometimes! I often like to work in myth and fairy tales into my stories, mostly because I love those stories, but also because I feel like they enlarge the narrative and give the reader a sense of the mystery of everyday experience.

A Gothic thriller deliciously riddled with dark motives and shadowy paths. 

~Publisher’s Weekly, January 8, 2018

L.L.: Can you tell us a few “Carol facts,” maybe some things that would surprise us?

Carol Goodman: I’m really pretty dull. Reading and writing take up most of my life, so my days look pretty tame. I read the New York Times every morning, do yoga, then write in bed for a few hours. Then I take a long walks with my dog—and with friends! Otherwise … hm … does it surprise anyone that I was a Latin major? Or that I write my first drafts by hand? The most adventurous I get is when I go off on research trips. Recently I hiked to an island off the coast of Maine that is only accessible during low tide. I lingered for a bit as the time came in. That’s the most daring I’ve been for a while!

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

You’ve been most thorough and appreciative! It’s a pleasure answering questions for someone who clearly likes to read. I can tell you what my next book is—it’s called THE NIGHT VISITORS and was inspired by my recent volunteer work at a crisis hotline. A woman on the call center receives a call from a domestic violence victim and, against all protocol, takes her in for the night. Then things go awry … as things usually do. I hope you’ll bring your same enthusiasm to that one. Thank you for being such an appreciative reader.

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

Order Links:

the-other-mother-carol-goodman-authorABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Goodman is the award winning and bestselling author of sixteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize, and, in collaboration with her husband Lee Slonimsky, the urban fantasy Watchtower trilogy. Booklist named The Demon Lover, written under the pseudonym Juliet Dark, a top ten science fiction/fantasy book for 2012. Her YA novel, Blythewood, was named a best young adult novel by the American Library Association. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages.

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

OtherMother_HCLOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness #MaternalMentalHealthAwareness 

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Cover images of reference books retrieved from Amazon on 5.25.18]

Special Pub Day Edition: Mary Kubica’s EVERY LAST LIE now in Paperback

By Leslie Lindsay 

When Mary Kubica arrived on the scene in 2014 with her twisty, dark and obsessive THE GOOD GIRL, I was hooked. And I think it’s safe to say that many others are, too. She’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, making her summer books a quick read, and ones I look forward to every year.

High Res EVERY LAST LIE (1)

EVERY LAST LIE (June 27, 2017) takes a desperate and grieving young window to the edge. Clara Solberg is shattered when she learns her husband is suddenly killed in a car crash. She answers the door with her days-old infant son in her arms, wet spots on the front of her shirt. She hasn’t slept in days. Her 4-year old daughter, Maisie, also in the car at the time is unharmed. But Nick is dead.

Maisie starts having nightmares and is talking in her sleep about ‘a bad guy.’ But the crash was deemed an accident; a one-car accident due to Nick’s speeding. Still, Maisie’s response has Clara concerned, and perhaps a little unhinged.  Could someone have been out to kill Nick? But who? And why? He was an upstanding man, a dentist, a father. 

Check out the chilling book trailer of EVERY LAST LIE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsYzpz_z0AY

Clara is plunged into a desperate attempt to find out what *really* happened that late afternoon as the sun bore down on the winding road on the way home from Maisie’s ballet lesson. I felt every raw emotion from pity, sympathy, disbelief, even anger.

Told in alternating POVs: Clara’s “after” and Nick’s “just before,” Kubica does a lovely job of writing domestic suspense, her strength I think, is bringing Chicgaoland to life; her characters are fully developed, flawed, and unique. There are plenty of red herrings, too but they are presented in such an authentic way that doesn’t feel forced; in many cases, everyone becomes a suspect. EVERY LAST LIE is chock full of hair-pin twists and chilling revelations.

So pull up a chair and join me and Mary for a little coffee break. By-the-way, she only drinks hot coffee, not the iced frou-frou stuff I prefer.

Leslie Lindsay: It was a few years ago as we were talking about PRETTY BABY at a local coffee shop that I asked what was brewing for your next book. You had just turned in the edits for DON’T YOU CRY.  You leaned forward and said, “It’s in its very early stages but a father and young daughter in a car. There’s an accident. The daughter remembers things that might make it seem as if the father was murdered.” Of course I was intrigued.  What ultimately inspired the storyline for EVERY LAST LIE?download (16)

Mary Kubica: While most of my novels stem solely from my imagination, EVERY LAST LIE was inspired by a news article that caught my eye.  The headline read something to the effect of: girl’s nightmares help solve the mystery of her father’s death, and immediately I was intrigued.  I knew right away that I wanted to do something with this, but being only partway through writing DON’T YOU CRY at the time, I had to table the idea for a bit.  But of course, the wheels in my mind were already turning, creating Nick and Clara long before I began to write their story down on paper.

L.L.: All of your books have been set in the Chicagoland area, which living here, I know is immense (thanks to some stats in EVERY LAST LIE, I now know it tops out at ten million). PRETTY BABY took place in the city, so too did parts of DON’T YOU CRY (also resort communities across Lake Michigan). THE GOOD GIRL was home to a wealthy North Shore community and remote Minnesota. But this book—EVERY LAST LIE—takes place nearly in my backyard. My daughter played a soccer tournament at Commissioner’s Park where Clara met with Kat. My kids will one day attend the high school on Harvey Road where Nick met his death. I know about the sex shops and seedy motels on Rt. 30; the myriad of dental practices lining Rt. 59. I think I might even know the exposed beam converted warehouse where Maisie takes ballet lessons. I’ve driven Douglas Road and Wolf’s Crossing. On a regular basis. So the question is: why this area? And might it have something images (11)to do with the fact that these tragedies often happen to just about anyone, anywhere, or something more?

Mary Kubica: I set EVERY LAST LIE in the western suburbs of Chicago because like you, this is home to me.  My own children grew up playing at Commissioner’s Park – which they dubbed the hippo park themselves, an anecdote that made its way into the novel – and many of the locations mentioned in the story are based loosely on places I know (the police station and Maisie’s ballet studio, for example, as well as the hairpin turn where Nick meets his death).  My previous novels have all been set in the city of Chicago but for this one I wanted something different and new; the suburbs fit the bill perfectly.    

L.L.: Clara’s mother is suffering from dementia. She reminds me a bit of Alex’s father in DON’T YOU CRY who is an aloof alcoholic. I like how you balance two storylines, often one with medical underpinnings. Is this deliberate on your part, or does it just sort of ‘come’ to you?

Mary Kubica: Rarely in our lives are we able to tackle just one mishap at a time.  How often do we ask ourselves, Why does everything have to happen at the same time?  We take on too much, we give too much of ourselves until we’re pulled in all directions and don’t have a second in our days to spare.  To me, Clara’s mother’s dementia is an example of real life.  Many people in Clara’s generation are dealing with aging parents while trying to raise families of their own.  It puts plenty of stress on an individual.  Add in a newborn baby and the unexpected loss of a spouse, and it’s enough to throw Clara into a tailspin.  Not only does the inclusion of Louisa help round out Clara’s character for me and give her some depth and emotion aside from her immediate family, but it’s authentic.  Many of us are bogged down by more stressors than we can handle.  If a tremendous tragedy were to occur, there’s noburroakdistance telling how we might respond.

L.L. And Clara. She is a brand-new mother having just given birth to little Felix, plus running after 4-year old Maisie when the knock arrives at the door that her husband has been in an accident. You convey a sleep-deprived, grief-stricken mother so well. Please tell me this isn’t based on fact.

Mary Kubica: I think most mothers and fathers can relate to those sleep-deprived days, weeks and months after a baby is born, when the amount of sleep we reap is slim and because of the overwhelming fatigue, we go through the motions, there but not there all at the same time.  This is something I can relate to though, thank goodness, I never had a tragedy like Clara’s to contend with at the same time.  I think some readers will be unsympathetic to Clara; she’s overwhelmed, she’s grieving, and she makes a number of poor decisions, especially where her children are concerned.  I tend to feel sorry for her because I don’t think any of us can know for certain how we’d respond in a similar situation unless we were in Clara’s shoes.

L.L.: I know you’re not a plotter, but do you start out with a sentence, or perhaps only a premise? John Grisham says an author should always know the ending before he even begins writing. I tend to disagree. Where do you sit on that debate? And do you have little hacks to keep your story moving forward…note cards, post-its? Have you ever written yourself into a corner?


Mary Kubica:
I start out with an idea, usually some sort of problem that my characters will spend the next three hundred pages sorting through.  With EVERY LAST LIE, it began with the idea that a recent widow comes to believe her husband’s death wasn’t accidental, but rather a murder.  Rarely do I know the ending of my novels when I begin; I need time to get to know my characters and figure out how the story will go before I can decide how it will end.  I write myself into corners from time to time, mostly because I’m not a plotter, because I don’t rely on notecards or post-it notes to keep my thoughts organized, but have a tendency to dive right into the writing (my favorite part!), wing it a little and see what happens.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it takes a little backtracking and a lot of editing to get my ideas clearly across.  Sounds a little pell-mell on paper, but it’s a method that works well for me.

L.L.: There were so many ways this story could have gone. Do you ever have multiple endings in mind? Do you have difficulty deciding which direction to take? I know I would!

Mary Kubica: Yes, there are always many ways the story could go!  Truly, I consider them all before attempting to rule out the most obvious solutions.  I try and decide how the reader will envision the ending, and then do a 180 in the hopes of taking readers by surprise!  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, my main goal is that readers enjoy tagging along on Nick and Clara’s journey.

L.L.: You’re a busy mom and yet your summer is filled with a Midwest book tour, a bit of a break and then back at it this fall. Plus, you obviously need time to write. download (17)How do you balance the demands of a family with that of in-demand author? Do you ever have to say ‘no’?

Mary Kubica: I do have to say no, and it’s been happening with more frequency lately.  I hate passing up on any opportunity, but my kiddos aren’t so little any more – they’re 9 and 11 now, very soon to be 10 and 12 – and I’m coming to the awful realization that they won’t want to hang out with Mom much longer.  I relish these days we can spend together, and make every attempt to keep my family my number one priority in life, which means that I can’t always do the travel and publicity that’s part and parcel of a writing career.  I do as much as I can from home, and many libraries, bookstores and book clubs have been wonderful to Skype or FaceTime with me to cut down a bit on travel.  Beyond that, my travel has been streamlined to help me better maintain that work life balance.  A day will (unfortunately) come when my kids don’t need me quite as much, and then I’ll have more hours in my day to commit to my career.

L.L.: Can you give us a little glimpse as to what’s next for you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Mary Kubica: I’m just finishing up my fifth novel, called 11 DAYS, which is a story about identity and infertility, and will be released next summer.  Beyond that, my family has a trip to Hilton Head planned this summer.  I’m so looking forward to a little time away!

L.L.: As always, it was a pleasure, Mary. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Is there anything else I should have asked but may have forgotten?

Mary Kubica: I think you covered everything, Leslie!  Thank you for including me again, and I look forward to chatting over coffee sometime soon.  Enjoy your summer!

For more information about EVERY LAST LIE, to connect with Mary, or to purchase your own copy of the book, please visit: 

Mary Kubica-9ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels.  A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children, where she enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of Harvey Rd. retrieved from Trulia.com/public images. Burr Oak tree on Katy Trail in McBain, MO retrieved from bikekatytrail.com] 

 

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Ron Powers on his illuminating title, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

By Leslie Lindsay 

A moving and richly researched blend of history, memoir, and current affairs regarding mental health in America. 

51eE3iEw-5L

First, the accolades:

Written by a New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE (Hachette hardcover, 2017; now available in paperback) is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

…It’s a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.

People Magazine and Shelf Awareness have both called it the Best Book of the Year.

The New York Times Book Review says this of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Extraordinary and courageous . . . No doubt if everyone were to read this book, the world would change.”

NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE has been on my TBR pile, embarrassingly, for over a year. Is that because I don’t care about crazy people? On the contrary. Perhaps I care a little too much. Mental illness runs in my family. Not just in my mother who died by suicide a few years back, but other family members as well. I’m also a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N., so to say I don’t care about ‘crazy’ people, would be wrong. I do.

When I started thinking about my author line-up for May, I knew I wanted to focus on motherhood, for obvious reasons, but also, I had personal reasons. 

May is likely the month my mother took her last breath. We were estranged at the time; in fact, she had driven away many family members then, too. It’s suspected she died, fittingly, on Memorial Day.

So I reached out to Ron Powers. He’s obviously not a mother, but a loving father of two adult sons who have battled schizophrenia. Immediately I was taken with his charm and our similarities. Like me, Ron grew up in Missouri. We both attended the same university. Though different years and entirely different campuses. He worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a time; that’s where I grew up. He worked for the Chicago Tribune; I live in the Windy City now.

And we’ve both been touched by mental illness.

We started exchanging emails. His wife’s mother is from the County Mayo. Had I been? Yes! Do my redheaded daughters Irish dance? At least one does. And when we started correcting each other’s lapses in memory, my husband joked that we were made for each other.

But something tells me he has eyes only for his lovely wife, Honoree.

I adored getting to know the Powers family. From their early days in New York City to time spent at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont, to Kevin’s acceptance to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and Dean’s lyrical poetry and astute childhood observations.  Plus, Honoree is one smart cookie, holding a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.

Powers is a loving husband and father and tireless mental health advocate. I’m honored to welcome him to the author interview series.

light sunset people water
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: Ron, it’s a pleasure. Thank you. First, you say this is the book you worked for nearly a decade *not* to write. You promised yourself, your wife. You weren’t going to do it. So why this book, why now?

Ron Powers: A legitimate question. The answer is that I eventually realized that I could not not write it.

I hesitated for several years because I did not want to revisit the pain of Kevin’s death, and because I was wary of my own motives should I find the strength to plunge in. I did not want to debase the memory of Kevin, who took his life in our Middlebury, VT, household in 2005, a week before his twenty-first birthday. As you know, Kevin had battled a severe affliction of schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder for three years before the voices in his head told him to end it.

Nor did I want to tarnish the dignity and courage of his older brother Dean, who was (unbelievably) stricken by the same horrible disease a few years later. Dean has survived and has even managed to stabilize himself via a regimen of antipsychotic medications. He is one of the most gallant and courageous people I have ever known.

I was wary of several mistakes that authors of such books have made. I did not want to commodify Kevin and Dean—to exploit their terrible suffering as a means of making money. Nor did I want to violate the privacy of these two beloved kids, and their mother, my wife Honoree. And of course I dreaded the prospect of delving into memories, photographs, emails, and other memorabilia of these two glorious boys who had been so dear to my wife and me.

I explain in the book why I changed my mind: I came to realize that writing the book was a kind of dharma, a sacred duty. Schizophrenia and its allied brain diseases–schizoaffective and bipolar disordersremain mysterious afflictions to most people. Their victims are shunned, marginalized, and far too often thrown into jails and prisons under the mistaken belief that they are criminals. Yet these afflictions are not simply symptoms of unhappiness, alienation, depression. They are brain diseases, passed along genetically. Those who are stricken lose contact with rational thought. They need to be stabilized and protected, not punished.

L.L.: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE is a tough read.

Ron Powers: Thank you. Sincerely.

L.L.: It’s academically rigorous, alternating chapters of non-fiction narrative in history, current affairs/politics, and medicine with those of your personal (often emotional) experiences with Kevin and Dean’s schizophrenia. I personally loved this back-and-forth structure. I heard somewhere that you didn’t want to include Kevin and Dean in the book, but there they are. Can you tell us how this structure developed? And also the research that went into this book?

Ron Powers: As I said, I wanted to protect the integrity, the sacredness, of my sons, and I wanted to shield myself from the torture of revisiting the past.

I actually wrote a proposal for the book that did not include my family: it was to be a straight research and reportorial history of madness and how society has dealt with it from the awful era of Bethlem (Bedlam) Asylum in London seven hundred years ago through time present.

My publisher, Hachette, accepted this proposal. Only then did the editors, along with my magnificent literary agent Jim Hornfischer, take me aside to persuade me that it would be a literary and a moral error to exclude the very experiences that had led me to propose this book. At that point, I saw that they were exactly right. And so I expanded the book’s thematic scope to embrace the personal. I am glad I did.

In doing so, I discovered that Kevin and Dean had an important, legitimate function in my narrative. They became the reader’s emissaries from the bright world of the normal into the dark hell of serious mental illness.

old photos in the wooden box
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

When I realized that, I no longer dreaded scouring through the artifacts of their lives—our lives. When I finally dared to retrieve the boxes of their emails and photos and recordings and drawings, I experienced the unexpected joy of re-entering an enchanted realm: the realm of their happy boyhoods, the happiest twenty years of all our lives. This experience led me to re-savor their sunlit personalities and to record their descent into madness with respect and a sense of rightness: Dean and Kevin were living again, for the benefit of all the victims and their families.

L.L.: There’s a passage in NO ONE CARES about the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference that I love:

“None of us had quite overcome the rustic spell cast by the nineteenth-century campus with its right-angled yellow wood-framed Inn and dormitory buildings, all clustered in a mountain meadow and cordoned off from the world by pine forests and the Green Mountains rising behind them.”

Everything seemed pretty ideal. I bring this up because not all who are afflicted with mental illness had such an ideal childhood. What do you make of that?

Ron Powers: You have put your finger on the central argument of my book, Leslie. In fact, ideal or non-ideal childhoods have little to do—necessarily—with the onset of schizophrenia. It’s a rare disease, and still a fairly mysterious one. It strikes only three to four percent of the population. (Well, that really isn’t so rare, is it?)

To oversimplify, it’s the result of a cocktail of flawed genes, inherited in the bloodline. Even people who carry this toxic cocktail do not always succumb to the symptoms.

Here is the mysterious part: the cocktail must be stimulated to its destructive effects by outside, or environmental factors.

The most potent of these is stress: extreme emotional stress suffered in childhood or early adolescence. So, yes, the lack of an “ideal” childhood can be a factor. Our elder son Dean suffered extreme stress as the result of a car accident, with him at the wheel, when he was 16. (This is a typical age of onset, if the flawed cocktail is in place). [The crash] severely injured a 14-year-old girl in the passenger seat. Dean was wracked by guilt and by the fury of the girl’s parents, who pressured the court to have him jailed for six years. This didn’t happen, but the agony of the possibility consumed our son.

Dean’s younger brother Kevin experienced no such psychic oppression. He was a sunny, happy child whose musical gifts—on the guitar—were evident from age 5. Yet Kevin’s affliction was far more severe than Dean’s, and led him to take his life. So, yes, schizophrenia remains largely a malign mystery.

green leafed trees
Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

L.L.: You outline some stressors/triggers/prodromal stages to the possible development of schizophrenia, not just in Kevin and Dean’s cases, but across the board for those who are afflicted with diseases of psychosis. This has all been supported by research.

They are: 1) Stress 2) Exhaustion/lack of sleep 3) Substance abuse and 4) family history/genetics.

You mention almost all of these within the narrative, expect—and I could have missed it—family history. Can you touch on this, please?

Ron Powers: I’m not sure that substance abuse is a trigger for schizophrenia. It can certainly worsen the symptoms for those who are vulnerable. As I said earlier—and I should make clear that I claim no expertise in this exasperating mystery of the brain—that “family history” is an important indicator. But I hasten to add that neither I nor my wife Honoree has experienced symptoms of serious mental illness. Each of us, however, had parents who may very well have been undiagnosed sufferer of schizophremia or bipolar disorder. If this is true, the flawed genes clearly skipped a generation. Please bear in mind that I’m speaking as a writer who has researched the subject extensively, but not as an expert in neuroscience.

ground group growth hands
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Tragically, horribly, your youngest son, Kevin succumbed to his illness when he died by suicide in 2005, just a week before his twenty-first birthday. How did you make it through? What advice would you give to others in the wake of a family member’s suicide?

Ron Powers: This is a hard yet legitimate question, and I want to answer it without any taint of sentimentality or pretended expertise. As I write on the first page of “NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Over the second five years [following Kevin’s death], the infernal process of ‘healing’—adaptation, really—had begun its unwelcome sterilizing work.”

We adapt—if we are lucky. If we are not lucky, or if we lack strong loving connections to others, we may succumb to lifelong depression and regret. Honoree and I—and our dear son Dean—are a family deeply bound by love. We regret Kevin’s loss deeply. To this day, I dream of him several times a week. The recurring dream is not that he has died, but that he has stopped playing his guitar and stubbornly refuses to take it up again. I don’t think I need to spell out the symbolism of that motif.

My advice to others? I guess it would be to cherish the best memories of the lost loved one’s life, to bear in mind the awful necessary truth that life is suffering, and to recall the words of the poet John Donne that have resounded through the centuries:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. . . “

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, please see: 

Order Links:

ron-powers_sarah-junek-05723fee640df64c0c066a69b10a2326d59b2406-s700-c85ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, has studied and written about Mark Twain for many years. His works include White Town Drowsing: Journeys to HannibalDangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, and the coauthor of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers.

He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his critical writing about television during 1972. In addition to writing, Powers has taught for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, and at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Powers is married and has two sons. He currently resides in Castleton, Vermont.

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

 

9780316341172_custom-32e55668193579658a03cb7db817cdca0ed07066-s700-c85LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness 

“Very readable and highly recommend.” 

~E. Fuller Torrey, MD and author of SURVIVING SCHIZOPHRENIA

[Cover image courtesy of R. Powers and used with permission. Other images retrieved from this NPR article, on 5.21.18]

Joanna Goodman on her new novel, HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS, repeating family history, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

More than the title suggests, THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is a multigenerational family saga focusing on historical events in the Canadian Province of Quebec.

Home for Unwanted Girls pb c

Inspired by real-life events, the author draws on her mother’s childhood and spins a tale that is oh-so-good, but also heartbreaking. In the 1950s, the French and English Canadians tolerate each other at best, but there’s hatred brewing under the surface. Maggie Hughes’s father has ambitions for his daughter, and they don’t include anything to do with the French boy, Gabriel Phenix.

But Maggie has other plans. When she gets pregnant at 15 gives birth to Elodie, her parents force her to give up the baby and come back home. Maggie’s heart will forever be with Gabriel.

Told in alternating POVs between Maggie and her daughter, Elodie, we get glimpse into both of their harsh lives. Maggie is married to a businessman but the marriage lacks passion. Elodie is being raised in an orphanage at the cruel hands of the nuns until one day, it’s decided the orphanage will no longer operate as a school, but a mental institution. Elodie is not mentally ill, she’s not ‘slow,’ and not emotionally disturbed, but she will be if she keeps living this way.

Eventually, at seventeen, Elodie is thrust out into the ‘real world,’ lacking any real skills, experience, or confidence. Meanwhile, Maggie won’t rest till she finds the daughter she was forced to give up.

THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is such a terrifically multi-layered tale about tolerance, religion, women’s place in society, historical elements, mental health, and so much more. It hit every emotion and will make excellent reading for book groups as there is plenty to discuss.

Please join me in welcoming Joanna Goodman to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome! I understand THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS was inspired, in part, by the story of your mother. Can you share a bit more about which character was modeled after your mother and what prompted your interest in this story?

Joanna Goodman: The main character, Maggie, was inspired by my mother, Peggy. Like Maggie, my mother grew up in Montreal. Her father was an educated Anglo who owned a seed store (he was known as the Seed Man in real life!) and her mother was a poor, unhappy French Canadian. My mother struggled with her identity – French/English- in her family and in the province her whole life. Language in Quebec represents so much more; it represents class and religion as well. The French were working class, Catholic; the Anglos were protestant and represented the more affluent white collar segment of the province. Being “half-half” had a real impact on my mom growing up. That was the story I wanted to tell, that was my inspiration. 

pexels-photo-236474.jpeg

L.L.: Family can be a great source of material for writers. In fact, I recently came across an old photo of grandparents on their wedding day. I didn’t know when they were married, but could match the church in the image to one on the internet. I emailed the church. I got a date. Little things like this are fuel for a writer’s soul. But what happens when true family tales are fictionalized? And maybe not in the best light. Is there any fall-back?

Joanna Goodman: I’ll let you know!! My mother’s siblings – my aunts and uncles, as well as all my cousins – are all reading it now. So far so good! My grandparents have both passed away and I might not have been able to tell their story as I did if they had been alive.

L.L.: So how much of THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is true? Circle one. Or many.

Joanna Goodman:

  • English and French Canadians tolerating each other with precarious civility? TRUE!!
  • Maggie being in love with a French boy?  FICTION.
  • Maggie’s father owning a seed store? TRUE!!
  • Maggie getting pregnant at 15?  FICTION.
  • Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system? TRUE!!
  • Greater government funds being allocated for mental patients than orphans? SADLY, TRUE.
  • Maggie’s search for Elodie?  FICTION.
  • The newspaper ad?  FICTION.

L.L.: I was struck by Wellington Hughes’s seed store. I could smell the fertilizer and the seeds! But it also has a bit of a metaphorical meaning.  Can you talk about that, please?

Joanna Goodman: The book opens with the line about seeds spawning life. Of course, Maggie being pregnant is the not so subtle metaphor! Elodie is her seed. In a sense, Maggie then abandons that seed and it grows in her absence. It struggles to blossom without being properly nurtured.

When my mother first told me her father was known as the Seed Man, the writer in me instantly fell in love with the symbolism of that. A seed being life. I still love it.


“The novel centers around the definition, the challenges, the triumph of family, but it also acknowledges that Elodie and Maggie’s story is one of many. The ending hits a perfect emotional note: bittersweet and honest, comforting and regretful.”

– Kirkus Reviews


L.L.: Likewise, the title, THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is so multifaceted. It not only refers to the orphanage where Elodie spent her childhood, but also, perhaps the home where Maggie grew up. She was no longer welcome after she got pregnant. And then she’s at her aunt and uncle’s farm…and we know how that went. Once Elodie is no longer institutionalized, she feels displaced in Montreal. Why is home, which is supposed to be loving and welcoming, sometimes not?

Joanna Goodman: The title does work beautifully because it refers to the orphanage, the homes where pregnant girls were sent in that era to have their babies, Maggie’s own home, where it often felt like her mother didn’t want her or her sisters, and most of all, the mental institution where Elodie was raised. But beyond that, and more symbolically perhaps, it refers to anywhere we feel displaced and unloved.

Unfortunately for many people, the family of origin, the home and even the world at large are neither safe, nor welcoming. And given everything that’s been going on in the media with the “Me too” movement, I would go as far as to say that the world can feel like a place where girls (and women) are unwanted.

pexels-photo-992727.jpeg

L.L.:  There’s a piece in the narrative that touches on repeating history. This is something many families see—and my own is no stranger to the phenomenon. Why do you think that is?

Joanna Goodman: I wish I knew! In many ways I’ve recreated my mother’s life. I run her business, I’ve married a French Canadian who was educated in English and has the same identity issues as she did; I seem to share so many of her passions, it’s uncanny. And I see my teenage daughter becoming more and more like me in her choices, habits and interests – unwittingly and against her will!! I guess something gets imprinted on our psyches, and we often grow up living out what’s been imprinted by our parents. 

L.L.: What’s inspiring you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Joanna Goodman: I am easily inspired! I’m an incredibly creative person and I really get excited and inspired quite easily, which I think is an absolute blessing. Here’s a list:

  • Travel. Everywhere I go, there’s inspiration.
  • Business, marketing, merchandising. I truly love my business and seeing a beautiful new line of linens really gets me going. I love brainstorming sessions around marketing and merchandising. All of it inspires me. A great business book, a beautiful store. I’m inspired by entrepreneurs.

pexels-photo-1051073.jpeg

  • A fantastic Netflix series. I get super inspired by a beautifully written series. (Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?) So much so that I have a writing partner in LA at this very moment and we are currently in the process of writing the treatment and pilot for THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS.

nature-grass-leaf-green.jpg

  • Reading. GREAT BOOKS. Nothing like a great book to inspire me and fire me up to become a better writer.

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

Joanna Goodman: 

Q: What’s my middle name?

A: I don’t have one. I really resented my mom for that all my life.

ON a more serious note, maybe:

Q: Did your mom get to read the book before she passed away?

A: Sadly the answer is no. She passed away shortly before I finished. She’d read so many versions, but never the final that’s now published. It has made this experience incredibly bittersweet.

L.L.: Joanna, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about this moving story.

Joanna Goodman: Leslie, thank you! Your questions were fantastic and so, so insightful.

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

  • Website
  • Twitter: @joannagoodman
  • Instagram: Jogoodmanauthor

Order Links: 

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

 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#authorinterview #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth #MaternalMentalHealth 

[Cover and author image courtesy of J. Goodman and used with permission] 

Anna Quinn’s prose glimmers and sings in her arresting debut, THE NIGHT CHILD

By Leslie Lindsay

You’d never know this is a debut. Anna Quinn writes with such a steady hand and full heart, but her words are sparse and poetic. Please join us in conversation as she talks about giving up traditional conventions, listening to the rhythm of language, and so much more. 

cover final

Perhaps the most powerful, most lyrically written book I’ve read in a long time. THE NIGHT CHILD encompasses luminous prose in a tender tale of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile curtain of mental health and motherhood in this arresting debut.

Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives an uncomplicated life with her 6-year old daughter Fiona and husband Paul. But when, one day near Thanksgiving, Nora glimpses a disembodied face with startling blue eyes and then, later, a message and the image deepens, Nora is completely terrorized. What—whom—was that? And what do they want?

Tests are run. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with Nora, so what was going on? Was it microsleep? Was it just her imagination?

Shaken and completely unnerved, Nora seeks the care of a psychiatrist. As the tale progresses, we learn darker truths, family history and secrets surface, and there’s more, too.

I tore through THE NIGHT CHILD. Quinn’s prose is so lucid, so glittering, it absolutely took my breath away. Readers need to be aware that the experiences portrayed are traumatic, yet under Quinn’s gentle hand, they are handled with softness and sympathy, maybe even poetry.

Please join me in welcoming Anna Quinn to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Anna, this book! Oh my. You absolutely blew me away. This is your fiction debut, but you’ve also written poetry and you teach, too. Before we get into all that, I want to know: what was driving you to write THE NIGHT CHILD?

Anna Quinn: First, thank you for having me! And thank you for your wonderful words about THE NIGHT CHILD. So now, to answer your question about the driving forces behind the story. There were many. I wanted to explore the themes of patriarchy, feminism, dissociation, sexual abuse and identity through fiction—I’d written into those themes for a decade as memoir, but I’d become stuck in my singular story, and I wanted more. I needed the perspective my imagination offered, and I also needed freedom from the voices on my shoulders. I wanted to write a survival, triumph story. I wanted to give voice to a child who hadn’t been heard for decades. I wanted to write a story about how essential it is to listen to the child within, how essential loving that child is to survival. I wanted to write about the tremendous urge of the body and mind and heart to heal itself. I wanted to write into destruction and create something life-affirming. I wanted to help in some way to dissolve the pervasive issue of child abuse in our country.

pexels-photo-356353.jpeg

L.L.: How did your work as a poet and essayist inform your writing for THE NIGHT CHILD? Or, did it?

Anna Quinn: It did. I’ve always had a deep interest in form—how it informs content and vise-versa. Poetry and essay influence my fiction and fiction influences my poetry and essay writing—each form brings something to the table.

Essay challenges me to look beyond my familiar story and to explore the “so what” of it. Questioning the significance of content in THE NIGHT CHILD led me to a complete shift of consciousness, urged me to focus on the specific thoughts, feelings and experiences of Margaret and Nora.

And poetry? I’ve loved poetry since I was a child—felt immediately at home with the mystery, beat and pulse of it—it’s how I think really—in sensory fragments. Poetry insists I close my eyes and feel around for heartbeats—it challenges me to question and smell and taste abstractions—to go beyond primary emotions into the layers below, to continually adjust my lens, whether it’s to magnify an image, or blow the image apart and finger the pieces. Poetry teaches me to take words away if they don’t carry essential substance and intensity, to trust and use white space for breath or tension, to spend time with rhythm, and to break way from conventional restraints of structure and language.


The Night Child is an exhilarating debut: Quinn immediately pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the final scene. She commands each page and expertly dives into the inner working of a broken mind. This fast-paced, riveting novel of coping with the past while trying to salvage life in the present is hard to put down.”

Booklist


L.L.: What aspects of writing did you struggle with when you tackled fiction for the first time? What do you think you did ‘right,’ and what might you have done better?

Anna Quinn: I think once I let go of conventional structure, and the idea that I had to do certain things, like create a traditional arc or trajectory or have certain forced plot points, and accepted the role of witness and artistic advisor, rather than a controlling narrator, the story opened up and told itself. Letting go of the voices on my shoulders wasn’t easy for me though, which is why I struggled with memoir. But once I shifted to third-person I was able to step back and trust the story in a new, more imaginative way.

L.L.: There are a lot of psychological goings-on in this tale. Were you familiar with them ahead of time, or did you have to embark on some research? And I don’t want to ask about specifics, because I’m afraid I’ll give it away!

Anna Quinn: Hmmm, well, while the characters and events are imaginative, the emotional experiences in Nora’s life regarding her marriage, mothering, teaching and therapy were very familiar to me—they held the emotional truths of my body, my heart. Margaret’s memories were most familiar of all, and were heart-wrenching to write. I also interviewed psychiatrists and other people who had experienced dissociation and childhood sexual abuse as well.

girls-children-tulips-netherlands.jpg

L.L.: I so enjoyed how you brought the past to light in THE NIGHT CHILD, particularly as you write about Nora’s mother’s passage from Ireland to the U.S. and the trouble that ensued. I’m curious how that piece came to the narrative because it really adds a bit of depth and understanding to the current story.

Anna Quinn: I wanted to explore the generational impact of shaming and blaming the victim—who is almost always a woman. Maeve carried the shame of a teen pregnancy out of marriage in 1950’s Ireland. She was essentially thrown out of her country because of a patriarchal religion that made the consequences of her pregnancy, not only a sin but solely her fault, her disgrace, her cross to bear. This shame manifested as self-loathing and anger, and because it was only 1963, there wasn’t the kind of emotional and psychiatric support in American, then, as there is now.

L.L.:  You’re a busy woman. You own a bookstore and teach writing. Plus, there’s that stuff called ‘living.’ Writing, if it’s going to happen, must be carved out carefully. What are some of your writing routines or priorities? And can you tell us about your [writing] workshops?

Anna Quinn: Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own writing schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days and I sequester myself in my writing studio from 7 a.m. until late into the night, only stopping to take an occasional walk and eat something.

The rest of the week I write at home for a couple of hours in the morning and then head to the book shop to teach, curate books, or organize more writing workshops. ~Anna Quinn 

I started the Writers’ WorkshoppeWriters’ Workshoppe over a decade ago. It began with my own search for a writing group—I’d placed a small flier on a bulletin board in our town and the response was so overwhelming, I decided to open a little space where people could come and find a group that fit their needs—ha, I was kind of like a writing group matchmaker. That little shop kept growing and we began offering workshops and bringing in instructors from around the country. Eventually my husband, Peter, and I bought the Imprint Bookstore in town and merged it with the Writers’ Workshoppe. Now, we have 7000 books and several workshops each day, readings and events, and it’s all rather magical.

nancy_botta_picture_of_our_shopW.59170256_std.jpg

L.L.:  What is your most proud moment as a writer? This could be an actual moment in time or perhaps a piece of writing you’ve completed.

Anna Quinn: Oh, whoa, that’s a tough question, also the word, proud. But I guess if you mean a moment when I bit my lip hard because I did something scary and ha, I didn’t die? Well, it’s funny that the first writing moment that came to mind was winning a writing award in 6th grade. I’d written from the point of view of an onion named Ms. Pearl. She was struggling emotionally with people skinning off her layers.I was super nervous to submit it because it was just so weird, but my teacher nudged me to, so I did, and I won. I remember when my name was called out—I just couldn’t believe it. I remember that same feeling later, magnified a million times over, when my agent called to offer me representation for THE NIGHT CHILD, and then later still, when I signed the contract with Blackstone. But, the best moment of all— when the first box of books arrived, and I held THE NIGHT CHILD in my hands. Yeah, that was a moment.

 L.L.: Is anything obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Anna Quinn:  I’m pretty obsessed with the characters in my second novel right now. I can’t say much more except they are women pushing boundaries, and I’m all for that.

L.L.: Anna, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Anna Quinn: Thank you, your questions were so great. And thank you again for reading my book and offering your insightful comments about it.

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

Order Links: 

anna author picture .jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Quinn is an author, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, Literature Circles and Response, Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment, Instructor, Manifest-Station, Lit Fest Anthology 2016, and Washington 129 Anthology. Anna’s first novel, THE NIGHT CHILD, was published Jan. 30th, 2018 by Blackstone Publishing.

 

 

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


cover finalLOVE IT? SHARE IT!

 

 

#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #PTSD #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth #ChildrensMentalHealth

[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Quinn and used with permission. Exterior image of Imprint Bookstore retrieved from on 5.10.18]. 

Dyane Harwood shares her gripping account with postpartum-onset bipolar in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

By Leslie Lindsay 

Dyane Harwood talks about her stunning memoir on postpartum bipolar disorder, family psychiatric history, & so much more in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

Birth of a New Brain_cover update_v1.jpg
When I was pregnant, my husband heard on NPR that a mother’s brain drastically changes during pregnancy and then again during labor/delivery. It’s why some expecting mothers are a little flaky, a little preoccupied. And then, after the birth, a woman’s brain actually becomes better–she is able to better multitask, sense danger, and even retain more information.

But what happens when a severe mental illness is triggered? That’s what happened with Dyane Harwood. In her touching, unflinching, share-all memoir, she dives right into that abyss of madness. Having a family history of bipolar (her dad was a gifted concert violinist and suffered from regular bouts of bipolar), Dyane never thought she’d bear the brunt of the same diagnosis.

With the birth of her second daughter, Dyane slipped into a full manic episode, with the compulsive need to write (hypergraphia). She wasn’t bonding with her children (she also had a toddler), she wasn’t sleeping, and her thoughts were strung-out. She became suicidal. She was admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Dad and Dyane at restaurant
Through vivid, courageous, and excruciatingly honest vignettes we learn more about Dyane’s battles with medication, alternative treatments, and even her marriage.  BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is working to lift the veil on mental illness, especially mothers with bipolar.

This is an important read for anyone. BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is a look at how bipolar affects not just the individual, but a family. This book should be required reading for spouses/significant others and close relatives.

I applaud Dyane’s motivation and willingness to share such sensitive topics. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Dyane, I tore through the first few pages of BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN. I was so excited and worried for you—having a baby is such a tremendous and joyous occasion and yet it’s rift with uncertainty and exhaustion. And in your case, mania. What was your inspiration for sharing such a tender piece of your life?

Dyane Harwood:  I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was a child. Books have always served as my teachers. After my postpartum bipolar disorder was activated, I searched online for a book that addressed my form of bipolar disorder. I couldn’t find anything so I did what is often done among writers—I wrote the book I had been seeking. I wanted the memoir to help other mothers as they faced this bewildering mental illness.

Ironically, my hypergraphia served as the catalyst to write BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN—I didn’t put any thought into it. I just started writing.  I had been a freelance writer for over ten years before my postpartum bipolar diagnosis and I had always wanted to write a book. However, I never could have predicted my book would be a memoir, let alone focus on a serious mood disorder.

L.L.: I was struck, almost immediately (on pg. 10) when Dr. Alain Gregoire, founder of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said the postpartum period:

“carried the highest risk of developing bipolar disorder in the human lifetime.”

The reasons are unknown, but it’s theorized that exhaustion, hormones, and family history may be triggers. Can you talk more about this? Have you uncovered any other information on ‘why now?’

Dyane Harwood:  Currently there’s a great amount of discussion in the medical community about chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation affects the brain in profound, sobering was and it has been linked to bipolar disorder and depression among other diseases. I have a strong feeling that chronic inflammation served as a catalyst for my mood disorder. What causes inflammation? I’m not a medical professional, but it’s commonly known that it’s generated by foods such as sugar (which has been my 5th food group throughout my life), gut bacteria, chronic stress, environmental toxins, and the disruption of circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms consist of the cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, and eat. It regulates many physiological processes. I [recently completed] an advanced Google search for the phrase “postpartum bipolar.” The results included a 2010 study titled “Circadian clock gene Per3 variants influence the postpartum onset of bipolar disorder.”

I’ve done this exact Google search numerous times since 2010, and I was surprised I never noticed this study pop up on my screen. In any case, I hope there will be additional research about the circadian clock and perinatal mental health since there’s a proven connection between genetics and the onset of postpartum bipolar disorder.

pexels-photo-271818.jpeg

L.L.: My own mother struggled for many years with bipolar disorder, among other diagnoses. For the first ten years of my life she was fairly stable. And then—crack—a fissure in our family. I’ve always worried it could be me.  In fact, you share later in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN that Marilla (your youngest daughter) asked if she’ll be bipolar. There’s no way of knowing for sure. What do you tell your daughters about your illness?

Dyane Harwood: Both of my girls have asked me if they’ll have bipolar disorder. My answer to each of them has been based on the truth. I’ve said, “While yes, there’s a chance you could develop bipolar, if you do, we’ll know how to help you.” I tell them there are researchers working hard to find a cure. I felt compelled to give them honest answers—well, I didn’t really have a choice. My precocious girls have a sixth sense about when I’m being dishonest. (I’m also not the greatest liar!) While I’ve never wanted to give them false hope, I believed it would be helpful to emphasize that bipolar research is happening worldwide. I was most concerned that Marilla and her older sister Avonlea understood that bipolar disorder is a manageable condition.

L.L.: We see, too that there were some early indicators that maybe something was amiss. You share some candid experiences working a high-stress job in your twenties and experiencing some bad break-ups that triggered symptoms of hypomania; can you tell us more about that time—and did anyone ever suggest that maybe, maybe something ‘more’ was going on?

Dyane Harwood:  Hypomania can often be quite deceptive in terms of symptoms. One can simply appear happy and not exhibit any alarming manic behavior. There can be a thin line between the two states of hypomania and mania. When I experienced hypomania after not sleeping for several nights due to work, no one took me aside and said, “Hmmm. You might want to get checked out.” Granted, the environment I was working in was total pandemonium. No one was watching me under a microscope since there was so much going on. I worked for a Silicon Valley special event company and we were setting up a 4th of July music festival attended by thousands of people.

The demise of several significant relationships made me deeply depressed. Again, no one thought my depression was bipolar-related. Everyone in my life at the time thought I was experiencing the typical despair associated with a broken heart including my parents, my godmother and my first psychiatrist.

pexels-photo-269583.jpeg

L.L.:  I want to step back a bit, and ask about your dad. He was a concert violinist and also had raging moods, would shroud himself in his bedroom with the curtains blocking the sun. What were your thoughts then? Did anyone explain what was going on?

Dyane Harwood: As a child, I never received a clear explanation about my father’s bipolar disorder [or manic depression as it used to be called]. I had no idea why he had so many little bottles on his armoire, bottles that were filled with substances I would one day take myself such as lithium and Valium. I didn’t want to know about his bottle collection—I preferred to get lost in my land of books. What I did know was that there was something, very, very wrong happening to my father. I watched him suffer and it haunted me. And this might sound a bit on the “drama queen” side, but part of me sensed that the depression I witnessed would someday be my fate.

DadandBabyDyaneone
Dyane says, “I consider this to be a literal example of, ‘I grew up with bipolar at arm’s reach.’ “

L.L.: And you have a brother as well. How is his mental health? Are there other family members in your family tree with suspected or diagnosed mental health concerns?

Dyane Harwood: My younger brother, my only sibling, has been fortunate to bypass bipolar disorder. He takes care of himself and has a beautiful family. I’ve been certain there must be members of my family who had bipolar disorder or other mental health issues, but I don’t know any specifics. I wish I wasn’t ignorant about my family’s background because it would help in detecting potential or acute mental illnesses in our future generations.

L.L.: You’ve struggled for at least ten years with medication regimes, alternative therapy (LightBox, essential oils, exercise, and my favorite–bibliotherapy). How are you doing now? What’s been most effective for you?

Dyane Harwood: Yes, bibliotherapy remains essential and it always will be!  My most effective tool has been finding the right medications. Due to my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and working with incompetent psychiatrists, it took me years to find medications that worked. In 2013, I found a compassionate psychiatrist who suggested a medication in the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) family called Parnate. I added the MAOI to the lithium I had been taking. My depression lifted in three days. MAOI’s aren’t commonly prescribed for several reasons, including dietary restrictions, but those restrictions have been absolutely worth it.

pexels-photo-981451.jpeg

L.L.: How about Marilla and Avonlea? They are absolutely darling! Can you give us a little glimpse as to what they enjoy doing and what kind of young girls they are growing into?

Dyane Harwood: I could go on and on with this question, Leslie, and since you’re also the mother of two similar-aged girls, I know you can understand my temptation. I’ll try to keep it to a paragraph. Thank you so much for the kind words about my girls!  I’m incredibly thankful they’re doing well despite the traumatic environment they grew up in, i.e. having their mother hospitalized numerous times. Our daughters grapple with some moderate anxiety and behavioral issues. My husband Craig and I sought professional counseling for them so they’d have a helpful, objective outlet.

It’s always incredible to see how certain interests/talents are passed down in a family. Avonlea is artistic and she loves to cook sophisticated dishes for a young girl. Art and gourmet cooking were two of my father’s favorite pastimes. She even loves the same foods he did, like high-end cheeses, avocados, salmon, pesto—all of those were foods I loathed as a child! Marilla is a born writer and avid reader. She sold books at my author events like a pro! Who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing the same task for her at her author events someday…

L.L.: In terms of writing, what challenges did bipolar disorder present as you worked through BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN?

Dyane Harwood:  It took me a decade to write, secure a publisher, and go through the editing process. During those ten years, there were literally years when I didn’t write at all. My commitment to seeing the book through to completion began in late 2013, when I found the lithium/MAOI combo. It was at that point I finally had the motivation, energy, and ability to write the proposal and go from there.

There were many times I wanted to give up my project. Many times! But it felt the book had value because even if it wasn’t anywhere near Kay Redfield Jamison-caliber (Dr. Jamison is author of one of the most acclaimed bipolar memoirs, An Unquiet Mind) no one had written this type of book. I knew the book could help moms who wanted to read about the perinatal mood and anxiety disorder they lived with.

Kona
Dyane says, “This photo is the infamous ‘Depressed in Hawaii ‘shot as described in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

L.L.: What’s the best thing a mother can do if she has bipolar?

Dyane Harwood:  Be open to pursuing and receiving treatment, whether that’s with traditional professionals, alternative practitioners or both types, especially if she finds herself slipping in terms of her mood.

L.L.: I could probably ask questions all day, Dyane. But I won’t. Is there anything you’d like to share that I forgot to ask about?

Dyane Harwood: Oh Leslie, you asked such fantastic questions; very astute ones! Your background with your mother’s bipolar disorder, and your work as a psychiatric nurse have given you a depth of perception, knowledge, and empathy that’s rare in terms of interviewers. I couldn’t ask for better, more interesting and relevant questions. I know bipolar disorder isn’t easy to think about or read about, so I appreciate your doing both of those things in regard to BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN.

L.L.: Dyane, it’s been lovely. Thank you!

Dyane Harwood:  Thank you, Leslie! I’m truly honored to be a part of this amazing series! I look forward to reading your memoir Model Home as well!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Dyane and Lucy pink topABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dyane Harwood holds a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A freelance writer for over two decades, she has interviewed bestselling authors including Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, Anthony Bourdain, and SARK. Dyane founded a chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and facilitated free
support groups for women with mood disorders. She is the author of the Amazon bestselling memoir “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum
Bipolar Disorder” (Post Hill Press) with a foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw.

Dyane has written for numerous publications including SELF Magazine,
BP/Bipolar Magazine, Psych Central, Buddy Lit Zine, The Huffington Post,
The Mighty, The International Bipolar Foundation, MOODS Magazine, Anchor
Magazine, Stigma Fighters: Anthology, and Postpartum Support
International. Dyane lives in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of
California with her husband, two daughters, and Lucy, their Scotch Collie.

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


LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth 

[Cover, author image, and family photos courtesy of D. Harwood and used with permission.]