STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY brings poetry and design to life as one grapples with what it means to life a live worth living, plus Sears Kit Homes, helper monkeys, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously rendered novel about love and loss, compassion, and humor, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY absolutely wow-ed me. 

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Some books select YOU and this is absolutely one of them;
I found STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY immensely moving, well-developed, and poignant.

Duncan Wheeler is a 37-year-old successful architect (swoon!) married to a woman who is in art conservation (also, swoon) and they are trying to have a baby…but… Duncan and his intern are in a fatal car accident one day coming home from a site visit. His young intern dies and Duncan is left a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair. Duncan isn’t sure if he’s truly ‘lucky’ as everyone says…everyday is a fractured attempt at living the life he once had.

Duncan’s will to live falters and his wife, Laura, reaches out to the Primate Institute of New England in effort to obtain a ‘helper monkey’ for Duncan. Maybe having Ottoline’s ‘helping hands’ around, Duncan won’t feel so dependent on others, perhaps his faith in life will be restored.

And for awhile, it does. Ottoline is delightful and charming and quite intelligent. She loves Nutella and peanut butter and is tiny and cute. But Duncan is struggling. He can no longer do many (most) things he once did–though he can consult with his architecture partners–still, life has been reduced to a revolving door of PCAs [personal care assistants], an active mind but no way to actualize his dreams.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous: poetic, yet stark. Characters are sympathetic, well-developed, and made a strong impression. I’ve been thinking about this book long after I finished the last page and sharing insights with others– it definitely sparked a conversation or two and would be excellent reading for a book club.

I am so honored to welcome Katharine to the author interview series. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Katharine, I am still reeling after finishing this book. It’s breathtakingly written, with a sympathetic hand, yet there are some real challenging issues here. Can you talk about your inspiration for STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY?

Katharine Weber:

Leslie, first, I just want to say that I am delighted by your appreciation of my novel on so many levels.

It’s not always possible to identify the DNA for every aspect of inspiration that spark my novels. It’s always a combination of details and situations set against other circumstances or events. I have a good friend who has been a quadriplegic for the last couple of decades. Spending time with him has given me a close-up sense of the endless workarounds necessary to conduct anything approaching ordinary, day to day living. I have known about monkey helpers for years, and the what-ifs began to intrigue me. What if someone wanted a monkey helper to assist with a task that is beyond the ordinary sort of help (picking up a dropped remote or phone, turning a page, inserting a CD, flipping a light switch) for which those clever capuchin monkeys are trained And so on. And then there are many other situations and details in the novel that flow from various experiences or passing obsessions of mine over the years. As a novelist I am a bit of a magpie, so most every interesting incident or detail I might experience or hear about is inevitably stored away.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a former R.N., I’ve always had a thing for art and architecture, and I’m a writer, too—so many ways, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY combines all of my passions in one very poignant narrative. I’m curious how you make the decision to make Duncan an architect and his wife…is she an art conservator? I loved them both.

Katharine Weber:

I worked in an architect’s office for a little less than a year, long ago, and I know a number of architects—and I have simply always been interested in architecture, of all periods and styles. I used to draw Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns on my school notebooks. (I could always remember which ones were Ionic because there was a girl in my class named Iona who wore her hair in two curly bunches on either side of her head.)  My husband and I have lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in Connecticut for decades, outside New Haven, the setting of the novel. Appreciating the range of American vernacular building styles over the past couple of centuries is a marvelous way of learning American history. Teaching at Kenyon College in central Ohio, I discovered the numerous charming Sears kit houses that can be found all over the place, including just up the street from the faculty house I live in when I am at Kenyon.  I have to admit that in the years I was writing STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY I developed a real crush on the American Foursquare. If only I could live in Duncan’s Explicated Foursquare!  I hope I evoked for the reader the marvelousness of those proportions in that house. I wanted it to feel inevitable and irresistible, the house you want to come home to, and I certainly sold it to myself!

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Laura being a conservator felt like a natural adjacent profession for her, and it made sense for the story that she would be someone whose job is repairing broken things, or at least doing her best to make them appear to be repaired. I have known a few art conservators, and I have been behind the scenes in various museums over the years because my husband heads the Albers Foundation, and I have over the years tagged along when exhibitions are being installed or paintings are being authenticated. The issue of fakes is chronic and damaging for the legacy of any artist, and the nature of art forgery fascinates me. It was a central plot element in my second novel, THE MUSIC LESSON).  I like the way the mind of a conservator works (especially the mind of the conservator I invented).  I think Laura’s work and Duncan’s work are both really cov_ml_newillustrative of their personalities, and they harmonize. Work is important in people’s lives, but it is often strangely glossed over in a lot of fiction. Annie Dillard famously said:

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”

This is also true for fictional characters.

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, I have to ask about helper monkeys! I know about therapy/service dogs but monkeys were new to me. Can you talk about that, please?

Katharine Weber:

While the Primate Institute in my novel is fictional, it is inspired by the very real Helping Hands nonprofit organization in Boston, where capuchin monkeys are trained—at Monkey College, where else?—to perform the range of tasks that make them into genuine “helping hands” for recipients in wheelchairs. A helper monkey can give recipients autonomy and independence, and there is also a terrific, life-enhancing bond that develops. I support their valuable work, and I urge my readers to support them. Helping Hands Organization has wonderful short videos that show all aspects of training and living with a helper monkey.

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Leslie Lindsay:

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY asks the reader to consider some very intense issues: the will to live and the right to die. Of course, every novel needs stakes…so here it is! What kind of research did you need to complete to provide an unbiased view?

Katharine Weber:

Do I have an unbiased view? I’m not sure. What I brought to this very central moral issue at the heart of the story is the belief that people with mobility issues are surely entitled to have equal rights to make choices about their lives, including end of life decisions, including decisions that they might not be able to enact physically because of their disabilities. Spending time dwelling with this aspect of the novel for some seven years, thinking daily about a wheelchair-dependent life, I became quite aware of the many circumstances when people in wheelchairs are confronted by lack of access to events, blocked entrances, steps into buildings, and all sorts of other small indignities. Having to phone ahead to get in a side door is not equality. Having to request a key to get into a handicap bathroom is not equality. Depending on doors with broken automatic openers is not equality. Separate but equal is not equal.


“STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY is a brilliantly crafted novel, brimming with heart. Pairing poetry with wisdom, this is a story about what it means to live, love, and grow.”

— Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage


On a practical level, I read many books on living with various degrees of paralysis. I really wanted to understand it on the practical level, the endless quotidian issues. I also delved into a variety of sources for advice and emotional support for people with spinal cord injuries, and their families. The two people I knew well who live with spinal cord injuries (the book is dedicated to both) also validated for me the state of mind I gave Duncan over many hours of frank conversations about the profound emotions of their first years of living with this disability.

Having said that, I do hope readers will discern that Duncan’s despair is as much about causing the death of his young protégé in the car accident for which he is responsible as it is about his new physical limitation.

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Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What is obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Katharine Weber:

The monster in the White House is obsessing me.

My four-year-old grandson Wilder is obsessing me.

Trying to decide which of four different novels I am writing at the same time is the one to focus on is obsessing me.

Leslie Lindsay:

Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Katharine Weber:

Yes. What was the publishing process like for this book, your sixth novel and seventh novel?

I ask myself this question on your behalf because it was not a straight shot to publication, though I think this is my best novel, and a number of reviews have agreed.  Publishers were reluctant to commit to a novel about a quadriplegic and a monkey helper. Editors admired the writing, praised it extravagantly, and then made no offer because their marketing departments were against acquiring a novel with a main character whom readers might not find sufficiently “relateable.” (God, how I hate that word.)  The marvelous small imprint Paul Dry Books took the risk, because Paul Dry makes his own decisions. He publishes ‘lively books

“to awaken, delight, and educate’—and to spark conversation”

as it says on their website. I am deeply grateful to Paul for his independent vision as a publisher. I am pretty sure he feels that his gamble on STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY has paid off.

Thank you Leslie, for this great conversation.

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY, please visit:

Order Links: 

Katharine Weber Photo 1 Corbin GurkinABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katharine Weber’s first five highly-praised and award-winning novels have made her a book club favorite.

Her new novel and seventh book, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY (Paul Dry Books), has won advance praise with a starred review from KIRKUS , Tayari Jones, Ann Packer , Roxana Robinson, Brian Morton, and Roger Rosenblatt.

Katharine grew up in New York City and has lived in rural Connecticut since 1976, when she married the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber.  She also spends parts of the year in West Cork, Ireland, and in London.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #architecture #disability #helpermonkey #paralysis 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Shreve Williams Publicity and used with permission. Cover of The Music Lesson from K. Weber’s website, image of American Four-Square retrieved from, all on 12.3.18. Artist image of book cover by L.Lindsay and can be accessed via Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

 

Haunting photograph of four children ‘for sale’ stirs Kristina McMorris’s heartstrings, what results is her arresting historical fiction, SOLD ON A MONDAY

By Leslie Lindsay 

Haunting actual photograph spurs McMorris to pen a tale cast during the Great Depression about desperation, love, loss, and ambition in SOLD ON A MONDAY. Kristina McMorris is here today chatting about the inspiration behind the book, mental illness, single motherhood, health care, and more…and how those topics are not just today’s worries, but they transcend time. 

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe the story behind the picture is worth a thousand more.

It’s 1931 and Ellis Reed is a journalist working hard to get the big scoop on local (Philadelphia) stories. He’s killing time one afternoon when he stumbles across a pair of siblings on a farmhouse porch with a sign nearby: 

“Two children for sale.” 

Stunned, he snaps a photo, and with the help of newspaper secretary. Lillian Palmer, they craft a story to go with the photograph. It’s a feature and national attention is drawn to the tale…after all, it’s the depression and folks are drawn to stories of desperation.

BUT. Might that photo have been staged? What about journalist integrity? 

McMorris does a fabulous job of placing me smack in the middle of the story. And the cover is absolutely gorgeously arresting–plus, my own grandfather was ‘sold’ during this period in history. The man who ‘purchased’ him decided he no longer wanted my grandfather when he learned the boy had lice. Heartbreaking as that is, I wanted to learn more about what that experience might have been like.

While SOLD ON A MONDAY is tangentially about the effects on children during the Depression, the narrative hinges on family secrets, grief, illness, and so much more; McMorris weaves a gentle hand of mystery, intrigue, and devastating consequences, but ending with tears and redemption.

Please join me in welcoming Kristina McMorris to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kristina, I am so honored to have you. This story touched me for several reasons, but mostly I was drawn to my own devastating family history that my grandfather was proffered for sale as a boy. He couldn’t talk about it without tearing up (understandably), and it always haunted me, much like the photograph you discovered prompting your interest in this story. Can you talk more about that, please?

Kristina McMorris:

Leslie, I’m thrilled to know the book touched you, especially on such a personal level. As a mother myself, it’s so hard to wrap my mind around heartbreaking stories like your grandfather’s. So, yes, you’re absolutely right about the photo that haunted me. When I stumbled across the newspaper photo, first published in 1948 in Indiana, featuring four children being offered for sale from their own apartment stoop in Chicago, I had a visceral reaction. I understood a mother perhaps giving up her children in hopes of giving them a better life, but I truly couldn’t comprehend asking for money in return.

Eventually I did some research about the photo. I ended up finding a follow-up article about the kids, now adults, and how several of them had been reunited after decades of being separated. Their stories of being sold as farm labor (for as low as $2!) was absolutely heart-wrenching—so much so, I wasn’t sure I could actually write a novel centered on an experience like that. But then… I discovered a brief mention in that same article—a stunning claim—that involved the reporter who took the original photo. To prevent giving too much away to your readers here, I’ll just say that it suddenly changed my perspective of the picture, and I knew the story I needed to tell.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I understand, too, that you began writing about the 1930s and 40s when you discovered a collection of your grandparents’ WWII courtship letters, ultimately inspiring your debut novel, LETTERS FROM HOME. Do you have any tips or advice on how writers can mine their own family history to propel a literary narrative without making it ‘too personal?’

Kristina McMorris:

Well, for writers looking to create stories that are distanced from their own family histories, I’d suggest that they first figure out their one-sentence “hook.” In other words, their quick, powerful elevator pitch polished and ready for Spielberg! From there, they can use their central premise as a jumping off point and let their imaginations take over. Along the way, I think there are always great opportunities to sprinkle in personal accounts that really help bring the fictional characters and plot to life.

Leslie Lindsay:

What was your research like for SOLD ON A MONDAY? There are a lot of prohibition-era facts woven throughout, but also journalism, the overall time period, etc. What was your process like?

Kristina McMorris:

Fortunately, I’d already researched the era quite a bit for my previous novel, The Edge of Lost (which, by the way, even features a few familiar characters from Sold on a Monday!). For the journalistic aspects, I relied mostly on memoirs from old-time reporters who had incredible stories to tell, as well as newspaper and reporter friends who generously read my early pages with an eye for accuracy. I was also lucky enough to able to draw from my own experiences in the newsroom, since I literally grew up in one. From ages nine to fourteen, I hosted a kids’ weekly TV show for an ABC affiliate station, so spent countless hours watching the hustle and bustle of the news world. A decade later, I even interned at the same station and became a contributing freelance writer for a monthly magazine. All that said, it was amazing to observe how much has changed in the industry over the years, but also how much still remains the same.

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Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What did you learn while writing SOLD ON A MONDAY? Was it what you expected you’d discover, or did something else present itself?

Kristina McMorris:

I think what surprised me most was how much of my story relates to current-day hot topics. While I did realize during the writing of the book that truth in journalism was going to be relevant, I honestly hadn’t intended to touch upon other subjects like… poverty, affordable healthcare, separation of families, mental illness, and even challenges of single motherhood and women in the workplace. It was only after the book was published and readers brought all of these up to me that I became fully aware of how much these issues transcend time. I suppose it’s one more reason books are so important, in that they can help people talk about the tougher subjects and, hopefully, work toward finding solutions together.


“The sale of two young children leads to devastating consequences in this historical tearjerker from McMorris… A tender love story enriches a complex plot, giving readers a story with grit, substance, and rich historical detail.”
~Publishers Weekly

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you? Are you working on something new? Any obsessions…and it doesn’t have to be literary.

Kristina McMorris:

I do have a new idea I’m pretty excited about, another historical (not a surprise!). But since I’m still chipping away at a 50-stop book tour, I’m afraid it will be a little while before I can make significant progress. In the meantime, I can at least share that my sons have said that, if the kids in Sold on a Monday are anything like them, the sequel should definitely be titled Returned on a Tuesday. Naturally followed by Rented on a Wednesday and Leased on a Thursday. (Yes, they think they’re pretty clever!)

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Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Kristina, it’s been such a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Kristina McMorris:

Thanks so much for having me, Leslie! For readers who happen to be in a book club, or just love 1930s recipes and music playlists, I hope they’ll take a peek at my website, where there are all kinds of fun themed features for readers. And since I have events set all the way into June, I hope they’ll check out my schedule and come out and meet me if they’re in any of the areas!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of SOLD ON A MONDAY, please visit: 

Order Links: 

McMorris - high-res headshot2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kristina McMorris is the author of five historical novels, including the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers Sold on a Monday and The Edge of Lost. To date, her works of fiction have garnered more than two dozen literary awards and nominations. Prior to her writing career, she owned a wedding- and event-planning company until she had far surpassed her limit of YMCA- and chicken dances. She also worked as a PR director of an international conglomerate, as well as a weekly TV-show host for Warner Bros. and an ABC affiliate, beginning at age nine with an Emmy Award-winning program. She lives in Oregon with her husband and their two sons, ages twelve and fifteen going on forty.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #historical #journalism #authorinterview #TheGreatDepression 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Sourcebooks and used with permission. Above artistic image created by L. Lindsay. Note photo of grandfather. Please find more like this at Instagram @LeslieLindsay1. 1948 historical photo that inspired author, retrieved from on 11.17.18]

 

 

Margaret George is back extending Nero’s life to the Great Roman Fire, her passion for research, & more in THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK

By Leslie Lindsay 

Ascending the throne was only the beginning for Nero. THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK picks up right after 2017’s THE CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG EMPEROR, beginning with the Great Fire of Rome. 

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Margaret George is at the height of her game. She is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including Mary Queen of Scotland, Helen of Troy, and Mary, Called Magdalene.

Her passion and meticulous research shine in her newest book, the sequel to last year’s THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO (Berkley, 2017), in which she set out to recast the tyrannical, hedonistic ruler of Rome as the truly naive boy he was (having ascended the throne at age sixteen at his mother’s sheer force of will). Margaret–and Nero–won me over then and THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK (Berkley November 6, 2018) captured me just as much, maybe more. confessions-of-young-nero

After just ten years in power, Nero faces his biggest test: the Great Fire of Rome. Flames lick at wooden buildings, entire swaths of the city are reduced to rubble, monuments desecrated. And people are talking–did Nero start the fire himself? Was there another arsonist? Did Nero do anything to prevent it?

Aside from that, Nero is surrounded by false friends, spies, and those who conspire against him.
 He’s trying his best to be a just ruler, compassionate, and loyal, yet he falls in disarray time and time again. Still, I had such a soft spot for Nero and was silently cheering him on

From chariot races to the Grecian Olympics, art and music, THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK has so much to offer just about every reader. There’s love and mayhem, death and destruction, luxury and intrigue, and of course, the ‘insidious effects of power,’ as Diana Gabaldon says.

Told from the POV of three main characters–Locusta (an herbal medicine doctor), Acte (a woman who has stolen Nero’s heart), and (largely) Nero himself, I was in awe.

Margaret George has outdone herself and her passion for the subject matter truly shines. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Margaret George back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, welcome back. I’m not sure I have to ask where your inspiration came from for THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK—your passion clearly shines and you probably felt you had an obligation to Nero to continue his story. Can you talk about that please?

Margaret George:

I believed his story needed to be told, and not just the standard one that reduces him to a caricature.  He was a very complex person and the truth about him is not simple.  Of course he would want the story continued, as the Great Fire of Rome was the defining incident in his reign, the greatest challenge he faced, and one he met with great courage and resourcefulness.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You actively researched Nero for five years, but your fascination with the subject matter has been closer to thirty years. I’m curious if you write while researching, or do you soak it all up, make notes, and then start writing? Can you tell us a bit about your process?

Margaret George:

I always do my research first so I have a foundation to build on.  I start with general histories, then go on to more targeted ones that get closer and closer to the details.  I also attend lectures and visit museums.  There were two large Nero exhibits while I was researching, one in Rome in 2011 and the other in Trier, Germany in 2016, with sculpture and artifacts on loan from all over the world.  Trier even had an enormous commemorative stone of the Panhellenic Games from Greece shipped over!  Last of all I go to the sites where Nero walked and lived—Rome itself of course, but also Baiae and Naples, Antium, and Greece. Only when I feel very much at home in that world he lived in can I start writing.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m also curious about your writing space. I imagine it a cramped office filled with Roman artifacts. Am I close? Do you write at home? On the road? In a coffee shop?

Margaret George:

You are half right!  In my writing room, I do have Roman artifacts, some reproductions and others more silly—like a Nero candle, a Nero rubber ducky, a large poster and a flag from the Trier exhibit.  But the quarters aren’t cramped—it’s a big room with two large bookcases, two desks, and windows on all four sides.

I can write only at home and only if I have several uninterrupted hours.  I know some people write in a coffee shop but I can’t imagine how they do it.  On the road, there’s too many distractions and discomforts.  The downside of that is that I am pretty restricted in where I can psychologically work.

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Margaret graciously provided this photo of her writing space. Loving that giant screen!

Leslie Lindsay:

In the SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK, you set out to ‘set the myths straight’ about Nero. And there were several big ones. Which one left the most lasting impression on you?

Margaret George:

I think the biggest one was that he was a frivolous, effete, incompetent buffoon.  Perhaps he was in the eyes of senators—who had every reason to hate all the emperors, because they effectively ended the power of the Senate and demoted the senators to lesser status.  To them an emperor who seemed to rate the office less important than his artistic pursuits would seem unworthy.  It’s true he did compose music and perform in public, but he was a more capable ruler than they gave him credit for.  His rebuilding of Rome was a magnificent achievement, and he was able to negotiate a peace settlement with Rome’s traditional enemy, Parthia, that had eluded the generals and other emperors.

The Boudicca rebellion in England, which came close to ending the new Roman presence there, he put down effectively, saving the province for the empire, when the Roman army was outnumbered 23 to one.  His reign was stable and he was not given to cruelties like Caligula, absences like Tiberius, or enacting moralizing laws like Augustus.


“Wow! Margaret George—the reigning queen of historical fiction—is back with this epic saga that vividly re-imagines the life of young Nero in all its operatic, dramatic glory.”

—Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of Lily of the Nile


Leslie Lindsay:

Fire has a big moment in THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK. Not only is there the Great Fire of Rome, which lead to the rebuilding of the city, but also there’s a good deal of the funeral pyre, cremation, ‘the Roman way’ of dealing with death. What other symbolism can we draw from fire?

Margaret George:

The Romans had a fire god, Vulcan, who had an altar in the Forum and was considered a very powerful god.  There were many ceremonies connected with fire in the Roman state religion, and of course cremation was a considered the “Roman” funeral preference. They did not go in for mummification or embalming, which is why it was shocking that Nero had his daughter and his wife Poppaea embalmed.

At the heart of the Roman state religion, and situated in the Forum, was the Temple of Vesta, where the sacred hearth fire of Rome burned day and night, attended by the Vestal Virgins.  It was thought that if the flame died out, then Rome would perish.  Any Vestal neglecting her duties, allowing the fire to go out, was beaten, and if  found to be impure and unworthy of the honor of attending this sacred fire, was buried alive!

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Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Along those lines of rebuilding Rome. I loved reading about the roads, the Appian Way, the Golden Palace, even public latrines (with murals!); plus Nero’s innovative ideas for preventing fire in the future. Many of these Roman design features are still in practice today—here and in Europe. Can you tell us a little more about that, please?

Margaret George:

Nero had a lot of modern ideas, like creating green space in an urban area, and mandating fire prevention regulations.  Alas, our public latrines are not nearly as inviting as Nero’s, although at least we have ditched the pay toilets, a really uncharitable modern idea!

You can visit the Golden House today on archaeological tours on weekends (it is still being excavated during the week), and even see a virtual reality reconstruction of it.  The Appian Way is still used today; certain stretches of it are car-free on Sundays and filled with bicycles and walkers, with the cypress trees beside it and the white marble monuments lining the sides.  Our roads today are not as well built or engineered as the Roman ones, which have survived so well for two thousand years.  But the idea of needing an efficient road system connecting all the parts of the empire was first invented in Rome, the direct ancestor of our interstate highway system. The Romans needed to be able to move armies quickly, and President Eisenhower sold the idea of the interstate highway system by saying it was needed for national security and evacuation in time of crisis.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, this book was just so gorgeous, so deeply researched and detailed, I am afraid I will keep you all day talking about it. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Margaret George:

I would like to remind everyone that Nero was so young—only 16 when he became emperor, and only 30 when he died.  Today we say Justin Trudeau is so young to be prime minister, but he’s 46, 16 years older than Nero when Nero died.

Nero had to learn on the job—the biggest job in the world—and learn fast, at the age kids today are getting their driver’s license.  He had very little help in doing this and his ‘advisors’ like Seneca and Burrus, the head of the Praetorians, mainly just lectured him, and his mother tried to rule from behind the throne.  So he had a lot of obstacles to overcome.

Ironically, he was optimistic by nature; roadblocks did not seem to deter or depress him, and he grew into the role. Overall, his reign can be considered a success, and certainly it is a memorable one. I titled the book THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK because after Nero, and the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the glow of the Roman empire gradually faded. It burned bright with Nero—fire image again—but dwindled down to embers after that.

Leslie Lindsay:


It’s been such a pleasure, Margaret! Thank you so much for taking the time.

Margaret George:

I really appreciate your inviting me to join you here, and I enjoyed it.  I truly could talk all day! I also want to thank you for your kind words of praise about the book.  It truly means a great deal to me.

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Margaret George_credit Alison KaufmanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret George is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including The Confessions of Young Nero;Elizabeth IHelen of TroyMary, Called MagdaleneThe Memoirs of CleopatraMary Queen of Scotland and the Isles; and The Autobiography of Henry VIII. She also has coauthored a children’s book, Lucille Lost.

 

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

 

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#Nero #Italy #historicalfiction #Rome #GreatFireofRome #literaryfiction

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Random House and used with permission. Additional photos from M. George’s personal archives and used with permission. Other cover images retrieved from M. George’s website on 11.26.18. Artful book image created by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1

 

 

 

 

 

Julia Fine on her debut, WHAT SHOULD BE WILD, plus the magic of forests, allegorical tales, working with Audrey Niffenegger, creating atmosphere vs setting, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Rare and enchanting (fairy) tale about magic, gruesomeness, women, and so much more, WHAT SHOULD BE WILD is dark, sublimely written, and spellbinding. Join me in conversation with the lovely Julia as she chats about how teaching inspires her, her amazing reading list and so much more. Trust me, you’ll be swept away.

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I quickly fell under the spell of Julia Fine’s debut, WHAT SHOULD BE WILD (Harper, May 2018). We’re talking a gorgeous setting filled with trees, mysterious elements, an old ancestral home, and magical realism. There is so much going on in WHAT SHOULD BE WILD–at heart, it’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s also an abduction tale, an allegory, and just darn good writing. 

Maisie Cothay is a special 16-year old girl–not only because she was born of a dead mother, but because she comes from a long line of cursed women, going back to 591 AD. 
Maisie has never known the touch of human flesh–she was born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch–and therefore has been sequestered to her mother’s ancestral home at the edge of the wood and raised by her anthropologist father.

Peter Cothay sees Maisie more as an experiment than daughter and has warned her of venturing into the woods. Local folks speak of strange occurrences in the forest, people disappearing, etc. but what Maisie doesn’t know is her female ancestors have all vanished in these woods, never to emerge again.

And then her father goes missing. Maisie must venture out to find him. This is where that classic hero’s tale emerges, bringing forth the spirit of allegory, a dark, twisty atmosphere, and also the what it means to be a woman in our society.

A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Summer 2018 Selection

Shortlisted for the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction


I found the writing absolutely glimmered and Fine’s imagination is brilliantly dark, magical, and stunningly extraordinary.
 The backstory of the historical women enticed me most and I loved how far back (591 AD) we were able to ‘travel.’ WHAT SHOULD BE WILD is a study in literary layering, and is strikingly unique. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Julia Fine to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Welcome, Julia! I was so intrigued with WHAT SHOULD BE WILD. I understand the seed for this story came from a radio piece about a brain-dead pregnant women in Texas…you took it a step (or two!) further: what if that mother were entirely dead? What would happen to the child? Can you talk a little about your initial spark—those first few days, or weeks—as the story germinated?

Julia Fine:

I wrote the first paragraph of the book immediately after hearing about Marlise Muñoz, a woman who was declared brain dead after a pulmonary embolism in 2013.  She’d asked not to be on life support if ever under these circumstances, but because she was pregnant the hospital kept her on a ventilator anyway. The legal battle made the news, and as soon as I heard about it I started wondering what it would be like for her child were there any possibility of survival. I was doing a lot of reading about old growth forests—where death is literally fertilizer for new life—and was fascinated by the questions of agency at play in this particular situation. What is it about women’s bodies that both scares our society and simultaneously seems to demand such paternal control? How have issues of female agency changed over the past several hundred years—or have they really changed at all? Why are women socialized to placate and please, and what would happen if we decided to reject those roles? Maisie’s power over life and death seemed like the perfect metaphor to explore female bodily autonomy, legacies of trauma, and the way stories—both those we tell ourselves and those others tell us—form our identities.

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Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Like me, you’re a Chicago writer—but WHAT SHOULD BE WILD isn’t exactly set here. Is it?! In fact, I am not really sure where we are and that leads to some of its charm. Where did you see the setting of WHAT SHOULD BE WILD—and does setting really matter or is it more a sense of ‘atmosphere?’ Also, can you tell us what informed Maisie’s ancestral home?

Julia Fine:

I’m drawing on British history as the model for the situations the Blakely women find themselves in, and the landscape is semi-British, but I really see the book as taking place in a fairy tale space. In keeping with the themes of doubling and shadows, Maisie’s world is a shadow of our own, where folk traditions are still common and mythology is interwoven in the fabric of daily life.

I certainly think setting matters, though my definition of setting isn’t a literal place you can find on a map. Unless a book is really engaging with the culture and history of an actual place, I’m totally fine with not knowing where things are “officially” happening, as long as I have a sense of where they’re happening in relation to the rest of the story. I think about something like [Franz] Kafka’s THE TRIAL, which interrogates a culture of bureaucracy and urbanism without naming the city—setting is such a huge part of that book but we never get any actual names. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s taste, but in attempting to write a genre-blending, semi-allegorical fairy tale, I felt like a once-upon-a-time far off kingdom-type setting made more sense than an actual real world place.

The house itself is a blend of multiple influences. I’m a huge fan of Gothic fiction and so Wuthering Heights and Manderley and other great English literary manor houses were certainly on my mind. Urizon is also a manifestation of one of William Blake’s central poetic characters. Blake wrote and illustrated a whole mythology featuring Urizen, an old testament God figure who represented reason and order, rule-following, constraint, etc. and stood in opposition to the more feminine, rule-breaking, nature-inspired figures in Blake’s work. I loved the name (though changed both spelling and pronunciation to suit my purposes) and loved the idea of the house being a manifestation of the forces that lead to the Blakely ‘curse’.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I love, love the touches of nature. I feel like you must have done some major tree research. I quickly fell under the spell of the forest. Can you talk about your research, particularly when it comes to trees?

Julia Fine:

I did a lot of reading about trees—it’s amazing how magical forests actually are! Trees can send each other warnings, share resources, argue over space. Older trees parent their saplings, and feed the forest once they finally fall. It’s really not much of a stretch at all to imagine and write an enchanted forest, which is one of the reasons the woods are such a lasting character in fairy tales. I read a lot of science books—a highlight being The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben—but also older anthropological books about the influence of trees on European folk traditions and fairy tales, like The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous and The Golden Bough by James Frazer.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m in awe with how historical things get in WHAT SHOULD BE WILD—I mean, we’re talking 591 AD—that’s pretty impressive! What sources did you look to ensure historical accuracy—or did you?

Julia Fine:

Thank you! The historical parts were some of the most fun to write! It was important to me that the Blakely family stories be historically accurate, and much of my research was trying to perfect details and tone. Marina Warner’s book From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers was a huge influence, and inspired the particular women and historical periods I decided to focus on. So many fairy tales we still tell today are direct commentaries on social roles women were forced into at the time they were originally told, and I wanted to pay homage to these histories. I did a lot of index searching to make sure the language and details (proper names for places and characters, meals eaten, clothing worn) were accurate. I also read a lot of historical fiction that helped me get into the minds of the older characters: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I tried to find books that were written with immediacy and would help me tap into to what it would feel like to live in these particular time periods.


“Gorgeous and exhilarating.”  

–Chicago Review of Books, The Best Books of 2018 So Far


Leslie Lindsay:

I understand you teach at DePaul University and also worked closely with Audrey Niffeneger (THE TIME TRAVELERS WIFE, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY) at Columbia College here in Chicago. 1) Is writing harder or easier because you teach and 2) Can you give us a little glimpse in what it was like working with Audrey?

Julia Fine:

I’m currently in between full-time teaching jobs, but hoping to head back soon. I’m still teaching part-time, though! (I have a six-week online course with Catapult coming in January.)

It can be harder to find the extended blocks of time to focus on my own work, but writing is definitely easier because I teach. Teaching helps me attend to the craft aspects of writing in a way I might not otherwise. I’ve always been someone who loves championing the art I’m currently obsessed with, and teaching lets me nerd-out about my favorite things in front of a captive audience while exploring how we all can become better artists and people because of them. I love seeing my students get excited about a piece of writing, or a way of looking at the world. It’s also immensely gratifying to pass along the wisdom I’ve learned from my own teachers, and to watch as students’ work improves over the length of a course.

I’m incredibly lucky to have gotten to work with Audrey Niffenegger—she’s a generous teacher and mentor, and an all around lovely human being. Audrey read my earliest drafts of this book as I was writing, and asked a lot of questions that shaped the direction I eventually took. She was never prescriptive, always just asking “what if” or “why” or “how” in a way that made me think about what I was trying to do, and what might happen if I turned the kaleidoscope ever so slightly.  She also gave me excellent reading recommendations that were great fertilizer for my own work.

Leslie Lindsay:

Julia this has been so fun. One last question—Maisie’s power was to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch—if you had a magical power, what might it be?

Julia Fine:

This is an easy one—I want either power over time, or the ability to live on only an hour of sleep a night. I have a one-year-old and I would love to be able to put him to bed and dive into my own work without feeling exhausted. Plus think of all the good TV I’d get to catch up on, the books I’d get to read…

Leslie Lindsay:

I lied—was there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Julia Fine:

Can I use this space to talk about some recent books I’ve read and loved?

Leslie Lindsay: 

Of course!

Julia Fine: 

Good! I’m going to! This has been such an excellent year for women writers, and I haven’t been able to read as many books as I would like (as we just discussed!) but want to plug a few that really stood out to me: Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt, If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, and Jell-O Girls by Allie Rowbottom. All three are books about subversive, scrappy women figuring out their roles in a male-dominated world. Each is beautifully written, and each made me cry, which is my litmus test for literary excellence.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

JuliaFine cr Nastasia MoraABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julia Fine is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s MFA program. She lives in Chicago with her husband and their son.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #literaryfiction #historicalfiction #amreading #authorinterviewseries #nature #trees #women 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission. Artful book image created by L.Lindsay and remain in personal archives. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1

What Happens when you buy a run-down 1912 Three-Family Flat in Rhode Island? You become a reluctant landlady. Vikki Warner talks about this & more in TENEMENTAL

By Leslie Lindsay 

What happens when that traditional path of marriage-mortgage-baby-takes a different path? That’s what Vikki Warner shares in her (mis) adventures of a landlady in her debut memoir, TENEMENTAL. 

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I adore old houses. I’m entranced by memoir. So when I stumbled upon TENEMENTAL (Feminist Press, June 2018), I knew I had to read it. Vikki Warner and I are just about the same age–she was twenty-six in the early 2000’s, had a bit of a nest-egg and was trying to figure it all out. And so she bought a house. An old house. In Rhode Island. She was single.

At just about that same time, but in Minnesota, my fiance–now husband–and I purchased our first home together. Also old. But not a three-family flat. It was a single-family home and I was overwhelmed. When I think about Vikki doing this herself, on a much grander scale, I am thrown into a full-on panic attack.

I’m a landlady. 

I’m responsible for a big, busted house and the people who live in it. 

Here’s a book about what that’s like.

Suddenly, I am responsible for two stories, a giant yard, and plenty of old-house problems. Meanwhile, across the country, in Rhode Island, Vikki is responsible for a rotating cast of characters/tenants, expensive repairs, and navigating adulthood while trying to pursue a writing career.

Vikki is a delightfully wry writer, with plenty of grit, feminist leanings, and a DIYer-mentality one has to applaud. Life isn’t always perfect and houses aren’t at all. Nor are the people who occupy them. I felt enamored to her lovely Italian ‘grandparent’ neighbors and sensed such anxiety when she’d describe the problems this old house endured (burst pipes and all).

TENEMENTAL is a memoir at heart–we get a glimpse of Warner’s journey, her childhood and even her love life–TENEMENTAL a journey of growth, adulting, and learning to appreciate life’s imperfections via an old house.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Please join me in welcoming Vikki to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Vikki, it’s a pleasure! It’s not exactly novel to write about an old house (but gosh, I love books featuring them).  TENEMENTAL is not *just* an old house and it’s not *just* a memoir. Can you talk a bit about how you came to write this story? Was there something nagging you? Was it the house?

Vikki Warner:

Leslie, thank you so much for having me. And thank you for sharing your own story of twenty-something homeownership!

You’re right that writing about an old house is nothing new—the overconfident home-buyer up against a stubborn, difficult, frustrating—but also lovable—house makes for an irresistible premise. When I began working on the proposal for Tenemental, I looked and looked and didn’t find another memoir about a woman buying a multifamily home, fixing it up, and living in it while also renting to tenants. That meant I had to do it! As I put more work into the project, I felt surer of it than I’d been about any creative endeavor.

My house, of course, is not alive, at least not in the way we usually define the word. But it is a character in Tenemental—a source of constant anxiety that also enfolds me in its reassuring safety. It is not alive, but it contains many lives, and the thrum and twitch of those strange lives held together under its roof gives it a nervous energy. I wanted to capture some of that in Tenemental.

I also felt driven to figure out just what made me take on this job—not only to buy the house, but to stick with it through 14 years (so far) of various mechanical failures, demoralizing tenant crises, break-ins, a big ol’ recession, and a health problem that turned out to be a life-changer. It seemed the house could be a useful filter, a prism through which I might see life more clearly. Though ultra-challenging, writing it was a relief, a safety valve letting off some of the tension that had long built in me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I’m so curious to know more about the house itself. Can you remind us when it was built and who you purchased it from? Had it always been a three-family flat, or had it once been a large single-family home? I keep envisioning the house on the cover, but is that indeed what it looks like?

Vikki Warner:

The house looks just like the illustration on the cover! That is due to the genius of my friend Mandy McCorkle, who did the illustration and cover design. She lived in Providence for a long time, so she really nailed the essence of our old triple-deckers—down to the discarded mattresses, slight crookedness, and faded paint.

My house was built circa 1912. (I’ve nicknamed it PennHenge—as I write in Tenemental, why should only country estates get names?) It’s always been a three-family flat: my neighborhood exploded in population around that time, welcoming thousands of Italian immigrants. Space was coveted and funds were limited, so families shared space. It’s good old-fashioned working-class housing, originally built to house people who went off to work in the mills every day. Simple, staid, and beautiful, it keeps doing its job even after a hundred years of intermittent abuse and lack of investment.

The guy I bought the house from was a small-time flipper. He bought PennHenge for something like $160,000, made only the most essential improvements to it, and sold it to me for $257,500. Far from being a showplace at move-in, the list of needed repairs only got longer when I learned just how nakedly in need the place was.


“Hilarious and down-to-earth…Warner provides a rare glimpse of life as an emotionally present landlady…A wild ride through the Great Recession and into the anti–environmentally conscious era of Trump. Heartfelt and fascinating.”

 —Booklist


Leslie Lindsay:

Much of the narrative—and your experiences with PennHenge—is about survival. There’s a piece somewhat early on that reads, “Like the hardy sailors in my mind, I pictured myself struggling through the storm, persevering to face the next crisis. Sometimes that’s what life is, and it’s not as bleak as it sounds.” Can you expand on that, please?

Vikki Warner:

Well, I don’t want to be overly dire about the challenges I’ve faced as the owner of PennHenge. Having this house in my care has always been, and will always be, a signifier of my privilege. These are not life and death crises. But everything’s relative, and in those old days of just having moved in and being paranoid that something might go wrong, a frozen pipe and flooded basement was the worst of my old-house fears coming true. When it happened, though—when I actually found myself swishing through several inches of dirty water in the cleanup phase—I had a moment of clarity. This emergency had happened; in all likelihood these emergencies would never stop happening. Best to avoid freaking out, and just deal with it.

I went calm. I cleaned up the water, getting into the rhythm of it. I called a plumber, who fixed the problem. Turned out, all I really needed was a bucket, a Shop Vac and a credit card, and it was handled.

That realization changed how I dealt with emergencies (real or anticipated) forever. I do still experience moments of screaming house-related anxiety, but now I can more easily throw them aside and just do the task.

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Photo by Eryk Bojarski on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

All along you’ve resided in the attic apartment of PennHenge. Not all landladies/lords do.  In some sense, it’s a bit like running a B&B but with longer-term residents. How does this sets you apart and does it make for better tenant-relations?

Vikki Warner:

Being an owner-occupant is important to me. It signifies trust between the tenants and owner. It means we know each other. I’m a real person to them, and they to me—not just names on a rent check. To be worth doing, for me this landlady gig needs to be personal. I have zero interest in just making money through this house—I’m seeking to give people a safe and comfortable place to live, and to live in peace here myself.

Owner-occupancy is a crucial tenet of anti-gentrification. If you live with your tenants, you’re more likely to be on the same level. You share space; you understand the neighborhood. I’m not living in a McMansion across town. That means I may be more sympathetic to tenants’ needs: I’m not going to wait a month to fix a bathtub. I’m not going to kick anyone out for a minor infraction. I’m not going to raise the rent sight-unseen every year.

Running the house this way doesn’t result in 100% trouble-free relationships—we are humans, after all—but it helps. I like to be able to give people a bit of a break in an area of life that is notoriously fraught—finding affordable housing and being able to settle into it long-term. I won’t say no one’s ever abused that policy—Tenemental goes into detail on some of those mishaps. But more often, tenants have really appreciated the ease of living here.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Did you ever have thoughts of just throwing in the towel, walking away? And how did you move beyond that? What about in writing TENEMENTAL? Did you ever think, ‘screw it—I’m not writing this?’

Vikki Warner:

Yes, I’ve had my moments of wanting to sell and get the F out of PennHenge. Those moments mostly came during the 2008 recession, though, so I would have lost a lot selling at market value at that time. Really, though, those threats were pretty idle. I never became so truly fed up that I seriously considered putting the house on the market.

Same goes for writing Tenemental. For me, writing on this scale was an unprecedented challenge, every step of the way. I’m not a “natural” writer; I don’t turn out pages and pages just to experiment. I like to have a solid plan, a vision that I follow as closely as possible. And all the while I practically have to attach my chair to my butt to stay in it. I’m very distractible. As I got further along, though, it did gain a wonderful momentum that almost felt separate from me. How amazing to finally feel that elation!

Leslie Lindsay:

But then you had these lovely Italian grandparents next-door. I would be lying if I said I didn’t somehow feel nourished by them, too. I imagined Angelo bringing *me* little basil seedlings and talking with me over the fence. Did you ever learn more about them—like why they stayed when everyone else started moving away?

Vikki Warner:

I sometimes regret that I didn’t work harder to get closer, in a real way, with Angelo and Fiorella. Our communication was difficult due to a language barrier, and I admit that I let that stop me many times from asking the next question or sharing something about myself. The old ways of my neighborhood are secretive—I never figured out if my neighbors were withholding stories of their past because they just didn’t want to talk about difficult times, or because they didn’t feel like conjuring the right words, or something else.

I will try to let it be enough that we had such sweet times talking about our tomatoes and the dirt that collects in a head of escarole and the dog and how the car is always broken. It was so lovely to feel the gentle, unexpected affection that rolled off of them; to kiss Fiorella’s cheek and receive her rough hugs.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’ve done a lot—personally, professionally, and with the house. What’s next on your to-do list?

Vikki Warner:

I work as an acquisitions editor for Blackstone Publishing, which has a three-decade reputation as a top independent audiobook publisher and has more recently begun publishing in print and ebook. I love my job, and it provides me with more than enough to fill my time right now.

I would like to write another book. I’m turning over rocks in my brain, looking for the right topic.

I’m still living at PennHenge, where some renovations are just starting up—that’s going to be another focus of the next few months.

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Photo by Laurie Shaw on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Vikki Warner:

I think we covered so much here, Leslie! Thank you for the thoughtful conversation.

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

Order Links:

vikki_warner_color (1).jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vikki has worked as a copyeditor, resume writer, proofreader, and arts writer. She has written for BUST, The Boston Globe, Zagat, The Providence Phoenix, and other local/arts publications. Her work appeared in The BUST DIY Guide to Life. She has an M.A. in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College. Vikki has worked in the audiobook field for more than ten years. She now works as an acquisitions editor for Blackstone Publishing.

Vikki’s debut memoir Tenemental: Adventures of a Reluctant Landlady (Feminist Press, 2018) is a testy love letter to her house, her tenants, and her Providence, Rhode Island neighborhood. Kirkus Reviews called it “refreshingly original reading,” and O, The Oprah Magazine picked it as a Top Book of Summer in the July 2018 issue.

Here’s a profile of Vikki and Tenemental in the Providence Journal, and another in Providence Monthly. And here’s Vikki’s list of her favorite memoirs by women with unconventional jobs for Electric Literature.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#memoir #housesandhomes #TENEMENTAL #landlady #authorinterviewseries

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Feminist Press and used with permission. Roofline image retrieved from V. Warner’s website on 11.10.18]

 

Emma Healey talks about her most recent book, WHISTLE IN THE DARK, inner demons, missing girls, mothers & daughters, unique structure, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Stunning, psychologically complex atmospheric tale about mothers and daughters, inner demons, and piecing back the shards of a fragile psyche. Emma Healey pops by to chat about her favorite podcasts, how her teenage breakdown–and subsequent depression–informed Lana’s character, and so much more. 

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I am overwhelmed with the subtle absorption of WHISTLE IN THE DARK
(July 2018, Harper), which explores the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, with a wry, poignant, sharply observed style. Emma Healey’s prose is both taut and lush and I was immediately drawn into her atmospheric underworld of 15-year-old Lana Maddox’s teenage depression, unaccountable days, and her eventual reappearance. 

Plus, that cover!

Told in a unique noir style in which we begin with the end, delve into a murky (in a good way) middle ground, and then reemerge on a brighter, more hopeful side, WHISTLE IN THE DARK is written in titled sections that aren’t exactly chapters, but present-day vignettes/memories/back flashes, while also propelling the narrative forward. I have to say, I loved this! I found the smaller sections easier to read (as opposed to an entire chapter), offered just enough information to leave me happily brooding in the past while also forcing me forward. I wanted to savor WHISTLE IN THE DARK.

Ultimately, WHISTLE IN THE DARK sets out to discover: 1) Where was Lana during those four days? and 2) Does she really want to be saved? 

But there is so much more. The psychological complexities, the emotional depth and the astute observations from Healey made my jaw drop. Plus, there’s a slight religious/spiritual/mystical aspect to the narrative twining through as if a glimmering thread.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Emma Healey to the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Emma, I am in awe. Your storytelling in A WHISTLE IN THE DARK is brilliant and yet dark, and so well done. I’m curious what the original seed was that propelled you into this particular world?

Emma Healey:

Firstly, thank you very much indeed for your lovely comments about the book. I’m ever so glad you enjoyed it.

The initial inspiration for the plot came when I was in Australia in 2015 and I heard about a woman who had gone missing in the rainforest in Queensland for 17 days. She was found, not far from where she’d disappeared, suffering from sunburn and heatstroke, but essentially okay. She said she’d just got lost and had quickly become too weak to alert searchers to her whereabouts. The part of the story that really interested me though, was that the press seemed suspicious of her, hinting that she had deliberately gone off, hadn’t really been lost, was lying. I didn’t know what to do with that for about 10 months, but I knew I wanted to use the elements of that story in a smaller way. So eventually Australia became England, 17 days became 4, the media became a mother. Once I had those parameters I realized it was also going to be a book about teenage depression.

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‘…a psychological thriller that meshes the homely with the gothic… Healey broadens the remit of the thriller.’

~ Literary Review


Leslie Lindsay:

There is a slight ‘underworld’ theme, which can be interpreted on several levels. The title, of course, plays on this, too. Can you share how WHISTLE IN THE DARK is both an interior and exterior read?

Emma Healey:

Without giving anything away, I knew that a kind of underworld was the solution to the book very early on, so that physical detail was one layer. And then other features of the book suggested others – it’s about a mother who is afraid of losing her daughter, which of course made me think of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The book focuses briefly on social media and internet research – something that we describe as being like a rabbit hole (especially when we’re procrastinating writers!). Jen is worried about her daughter physically and emotionally, and the action is about reacting to a physical absence, but really the book is about a mother trying to excavate her daughter’s mind – so there’s a tension between exterior and interior there.

I also love adding a hint of the uncanny to my writing. I think most of us find ourselves spooked or chilled by strange things at various times – an unidentified noise in an empty house, a shape that seems to change in the dark, etc. Those moments are a kind of pure drama and are full of possibilities. And they all suggest another kind of underworld. I’m hugely influenced in this by my teenage obsession with Ann Radcliffe’s books – her eighteenth century gothic novels are full of the possibility of something supernaturally dark, but always have frighteningly real-world solutions.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I want to talk about structure a bit. WHISTLE IN THE DARK is told in told in sections ranging from a few lines to a few pages, a technique that really propels the narration, whilest, giving readers plenty to think about. How did this structure evolve? Was it conscious on your part? I fond it very effective.

Emma Healey:

I write in unconnected sections, often only 500 words at a time, and then when I have collected a good number I try to see how these might fit into a narrative. And then I repeat the process – writing another set of unconnected scenes, but with a more definite voice, or perspective, and with a knowledge of the purpose of the story / narrator. And then I carry on like that till I have a first draft. So, in some ways the structure was unconscious, but when I was halfway through I started thinking of Evan S Connell’s novel Mrs Bridge. I love that book, which is written in very short, titled chapters and gives the reader a series of glimpses into the life of Mrs Bridge and her family. It works because Mrs Bridge, her inner life, is kept at arms length, but we get enough (clever, surprising, funny) details to make us think we know her. In fact the overlapping stories act like a series of private jokes – bringing us closer, making us feel like part of the community. I wanted to do something similar, and realized I could formalize my short sections, reduce the span of the novel to include just a few months (rather than a whole life), and also add in a kind of mystery.

Leslie Lindsay:

Many authors (and writing instructors) suggest that you should always know the end [of your story] before even beginning. Where do you stand on this? Did you know how WHISTLE IN THE DARK would end ahead of time?

Emma Healey:

I knew the very very end image and the final bit of dialogue, but actually the plot changed several times while I was writing it. I wrote my first novel in the same way. I’ve only once fully worked out the end of a novel and I ended up abandoning that project after thirty thousand words! I have to feel there is something for me to explore, something to discover, to make the process worthwhile. If I know too much I lose interest. I’m not a ‘pantster’ because I keep a very detailed plan, but I let that plan develop with my book, rather than dictate the content.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

I also really admire the psychological complexity and depth presented in WHISTLE IN THE DARK. Lana is fifteen and is struggling with depression and anxiety. She has a therapist and also some self-injurious behavior. Can you talk about how this piece found its way into the story? And did you have to do any research?

Emma Healey:

I had a breakdown when I was 15 and was suicidally depressed. I dropped some of my exams at 16, and didn’t go on to sixth form college (for 17 & 18 year olds). Instead I spent a year barely leaving the house and reading romance novels, one after another, in order to shut out the real world. I didn’t think I would ever explore that time in my life through fiction, and I still wouldn’t write about it in straightforward detail, but approaching the subject from a parent’s point of view (using my mother as a very very rough template) made it possible to find something new and useful and even entertaining in it.

Having gone through that experience, I was really keen to pose rather than answer questions – I wasn’t interested in providing a reason for Lana’s depression, because I know there isn’t always a reason. The book hints at exam pressure and body issues, and difficulties within friendship groups, but doesn’t use any of them as a solution. Similarly I wanted Jen and her husband Hugh to have a good relationship so the reader couldn’t mistake my purpose and think that I was trying to show how divorce leads to depression, etc. I’m also quite hard on Lana – I don’t paint her as an angel! But was always acutely aware of her suffering while I was writing the book.

Leslie Lindsay:

Emma, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? What you’re binge-watching, if you’re working on something else, if you have a guilty pleasure, what’s on your TBR pile? Something else?

Emma Healey:

Thank you so much for your questions!

I’m unfortunately not binge-watching anything at the moment as I have 16 month old, so we only ever have CBeebies playing on the television. I do listen to lots of podcasts though, my favourite about books and writing are: Slate’s Audio Bookclub, Death of 1000 Cuts, Backlisted, and of course the New Yorker Fiction podcast. I’m also keen on true crime podcasts, especially: Death in Ice Valley, The Doorstep Murder, In the Dark, and Trace.

I’m working on the beginning of a new book, with lots of chapters set in woodland. At least I think I’m working on a new book, I might just be using that as an excuse to get out into the countryside now that autumn is here (I love the autumn).

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Emma Healey, photographed at the UEA campus, Norwich.ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emma Healey grew up in London and is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her first novel, Elizabeth is Missing, was published to critical acclaim in 2014, elizabeth-is-missing-us-coversold over a million copies, and won the Costa First Novel Award. Her second novel, Whistle in the Dark was published in 2018. She lives in Norwich with her husband, daughter and cat.

 

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

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

Stunning fictional portrayal of the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud, & so much more in this glimmering historical fiction, LITTLE–with amazing illustrations–by the immensely talented Edward Carey

By Leslie Lindsay 

Richly imagined novel of the woman who would one day become known as Madame Tussaud is charming as it is eccentric. 

And I was mesmerized.

IMG_0682Edward Carey is here chatting about how the cast  of characters was ‘exhausting and worrying,’ how LITTLE is like a ‘very dark fairytale,’ how Louis XVI was really a ‘pretty bad king, but a great locksmith…and would often go to the top of Versailles to shoot feral cats,’ and so much more. 

Narrated by Marie Grosholtz, the ‘tiny,’ bright and ambitious orphan, apprenticed to a wax sculptor, readers fall easily into her charm, her wonderful, strange, and fascinating world of wax modeling. 

I so loved LITTLE (Riverhead, 2018), which is tumbling with drama, from the challenging early years of Marie’s life (her father died from the Seven Years War) and her mother’s suicide, through her apprenticeship at to Doctor Curtius (who was a physician but also a wax sculptor), the streets of Paris, Versailles, and through the French Revolution. Seriously, LITTLE has so much going for it–love and loss, sharp eccentricities, morbidity, but also hope and art.

I was completely taken and wrapped in this wholly original and immersive narrative. In fact, I found myself reading more slowly than usual because I wanted to savor the spirit of persistence and enchanted rendering of such a special soul.

Scattered throughout the text are pencil drawings by the author as if he were channeling Marie. This really enhances the storytelling and brings such life to the words. 

In short, I loved LITTLE. sLQBjcaM_400x400

But I’m not the only one.

Margaret Atwood says this about LITTLE:

“Don’t miss this eccentric charmer! LITTLE, by Edward Carey, narrated by Madame Tussaud of waxworks fame [on] her strange life and times, including the almost fatal French Revolution, a prime season for heads.” ~via Twitter.

And LITTLE receives a starred review from Kirkus:

“Carey channels the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and the Brothers Grimm, to tell Marie’s tale, populating it with grotesques and horrors worthy of Madame Tussaud’s celebrated wax museum…A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.”

Library Journal selects LITTLE as a Fall Editors’ Pick and says this about it:

“Lavishly illustrated with Marie’s strange and compelling drawings, Edward Carey’s Little is a boldly original reimagining of the life of the woman who would become the legendary Madame Tussaud.”

Please join me in welcoming Edward Carey to the author the author interview series.

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Edward, it’s such a pleasure. I loved this book. I know you say LITTLE took ‘a really long time’ to finish. Fifteen years, in fact. But you’ve published other things in the interim. Can you talk about the original spark for LITTLE, and then a bit about why this one was slow to formulate?

Edward Carey:  

In my early twenties I had a wonderful very bad job as a guard at Madame Tussaud’s in London. The job was basically: look after the wax people, protect them from the flesh people that came to visit. The public came in and pointed and prodded and were not especially courteous to the wax populace, but it was fascinating watching people reacting to these full size dolls. It was while I was working there that I learnt about the real life of Marie Tussaud, that she had been in Paris before after and during the French Revolution and that she had cast Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from life and then, later, their heads after they had been guillotined. She seemed to know everyone, Marat, Franklin, Robespierre, Rousseau, Napoleon. The most fascinating figure in the waxworks was a self portrait she made of herself when she was an old woman. She put this waxwork at the till and would sit down beside it. She had such a wise, winning face. I knew then I would love to write about her someday, her story seemed like a very dark fairy tale…and slowly it seemed to me that I should try to write a novel about her. So this was the original spark. And then, later, when I started to work on it I became a little nervous about how to approach her, about how to properly shape the story. Getting her voice right was probably the hardest part, giving her enough emotion, making her love. To begin with she was too uncanny, something like a doll herself and that didn’t work. So the novel changed size over the years, sometimes it was enormous, at others it was much, much smaller. I had to leave it alone for many months at a time before I could finally see it properly.

Leslie Lindsay:

In publishing, there’s this notion of, ‘write book at the right time,’ and so I’m curious—what pieces had to be orchestrated for LITTLE?

Edward Carey:  

There was no time factor involved really – except the fact that the book took me fifteen years to finish, which is obviously an alarmingly long time. It was under no contract as I wrote it and so I had only myself to spur me on. I think her story is good for all times. She’s a mirror to what human beings are capable of, both the best of humanity and the cruelest.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Your research is evident. I mean, wow. Can you talk a bit about that, please? What advice might you give to writers so they don’t become too bogged down in the minutia and just write?

Edward Carey:

I spent many months doing research in the British Library in London and I spent two six month sessions living in Paris, researching and writing there. This was all at the beginning. My other novels are mostly set in cities that don’t exist so I could make up whatever I wanted to. But here I was writing about Paris and one of the most famous pieces of European history. That often intimidated me. I was so eager that my Louis XVI was credible, likewise Marie Antoinette and  Napoleon[Benjamin] Franklin and Voltaire and Rousseau and Jacques Louis David…all of them! And, at times, I found the fame of the cast of my book exhausting and worrying. So I read a great deal and visited archives. To be honest, living in Paris and London intimidated me even more when writing the book. Moving to Austin, Texas, was incredibly useful! Suddenly Paris and the eighteenth century seemed so far away. I began to relax. And at last began to feel freer with the material. But chiefly what helped me was the writing of Louis Sebastien Mercier, he lived in and wrote about Paris in 1700s but what was so exciting about his writing was that he only wrote about ordinary life, not about the famous people but about the average bloke on the street and how it was to live in Paris then. This was a liberation for me, I adored his writing so much I made him an important character in the book – and the person who guides Marie around Paris (telling her about it, when she’s forced to stay in one house and never leave it).

Leslie Lindsay:

I love the art interspersed throughout the narrative. You’re also a visual artist and these drawings are ultimately your creation, but channeled by Marie. How did this piece come into the story? It really enriches the reading experience.

Edward Carey:

For LITTLE very early on I carved from wood a mannequin of Marie (which features in the book), I wanted to know her size exactly, and this wooden mannequin is her exact size. I also painted a portrait of her in oils that I pretended was painted by the great artist Jacques Louis David, I wanted to have David – who was Robespierre’s chief propagandist – in the book right from the start. I also wanted to know how to make a waxwork so I could describe the process properly, so I made a wax death mask of Marie’s teacher Doctor Curtius. But mostly the artwork involved drawing. I tried to see the world through Marie’s eyes not just with words but with her pencil – I had her sketching fish heads in the kitchen, Mercier’s shoes, Curtius’ tools, extinct monkeys, and also the two people she loved. I tried to litter the book with her observations. Slowly these drawings mounted up. I tried also, when she couldn’t face drawing the actual awful event before her, for Marie to make substitute: for example when Marie’s mother commits suicide she sketches a wood pigeon from the butcher’s; when she sees a dead woman on a Parisian street she draws a deceased rat; when Louis XVI is guillotined she draws the mold she makes of the dead king – so that you see the dead king’s head in negative not the actual head, a sort of ghost of it. I also thought that Marie would never draw herself, so you never see her actual face in the book, you see everyone else, and you have her voice narrating the story, but Marie’s own features are kept a little aloof.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved Marie. Her spunk, her voice, her brilliance. But there are so many other characters presented in LITTLE. Doctor Curtius, Edmond, the widow Picot, Princess Elisabeth. Aside from Marie, did you feel a particular affinity for anyone?

Edward Carey:

I do love Mercier, and I owe him a lot, his prose is simply stunning and I tried to write something in his voice – and I tried to make him the conscience of the novel. As I went about my research I discovered that Louis XVI was rather a shy fellow and that he was much happier tinkering around with locks on his own – he was actually a very accomplished locksmith – I also discovered that he used to go up on the roofs of Versailles to shoot at all the feral cats that lived around the palace (this seemed so extraordinary to me I had to put it in the novel). Louis XVI was not a good king and was often paralyzed with indecision, but also he never expected to be king, his father and brother died before him and so he, unhappily I think, found himself on the throne. Some characters in the book are made up. Jacques Beauvisage (christened by cruel nuns) is a street urchin, an orphan, a frequenter of public executions, and he acts as the human guard dog to the waxworks house in the novel – I tried to make him represent all the bloodiest aspects of Paris at the time. To have the Revolution appear even closer to Marie, I had Jacques be one of the principal actors in the September Massacres where priests and monks were murdered by the hundreds. Suddenly, the Revolution had come home to Marie at the waxworks, formerly they were merely observers but now one of their number was taking part.

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Photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s no getting around the macabre. And it is Halloween after all, so let’s talk about the guillotine for a moment.  And those murders and severed heads in Marie’s lap. Of course, this scene is quite visceral. What two or three scenes stand out in your mind as some of the most memorable?

Edward Carey:

The first (in chronological order) would be the bloody head of the Comte de Launay, Governor of the Bastille. When the prison was stormed de Launay was killed by the mob and his head severed from his body. This was no neatly sliced neck delivered by the guillotine but rather one that was hacked about and then thrust on a pike. I thought of the shock of that, a human head so misplaced, and Marie being forced by the mob to cast it. The second would be the king’s head after his execution, now Marie had in her lap the head of someone she actually knew, and so she must have been both tender with it but also revolted. The third is Jean Paul Marat murdered in his bath. Marat, who was one of the most fanatical and vile of the personalities of the French Revolution, suffered from a bad skin complaint and to soothe this he sat in a slipper bath and worked as he bathed. Charlotte Corday, a beautiful woman from Cannes, pretended to give him information on enemies of the state, instead she thrust a knife into his chest. It was an unusually hot summer at the time and Marat’s body began to decompose with alarming rapidity. Jacques Louis David, great painter and Robespierre’s chief propagandist, wanted to eternalize this ‘martyr’ in oil paint but the body was disintegrating too fast. And so Marie was ordered to cast the body so that it might be preserved and so that he could paint it after Marie had cast it in wax. She did as she was told (which can’t have been pleasant) and the two Marat portraits were in the end strikingly different. Marie’s shows a pock-marked man with sallow skin and mouth and eyes open, the body twisted in agony. David’s shows a beautiful Christ-like figure at peace.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I could probably ask questions all day, but we both have other things to do. What might I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Edward Carey:

I just want to add, if I may, that this is a fictional account of Marie Tussaud’s life. She took liberties with her own autobiography and embellished her story, this gave me the freedom to invent also. The novel is a dark fairytale about history and being dragged into it, but also it’s two love stories (Marie had two enormous loves in her life) and, most of all, it’s a survivor’s tale. About how a small foreign girl managed, despite everything, to walk through a bloodbath and to come out on top in a very masculine world. To me Tussaud is an almost fantastical person, a kind of small, beautiful sprite, a mythical figure: the little woman who collected history.

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

Order Links: 

IMG_0025ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edward Carey is a writer and illustrator whose books include The Iremonger Trilogy: Heap House, Foulsham, and LungdonObservatory Mansions; and Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved a City. His artwork has been exhibited in Florence, Collodi, Kilkenny, Milan, London and Austin; his essays and reviews have been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Observer, Corriere della Serra, La Repubblica, and other places. In addition to his own work, he illustrates other writers, including Bill Wittliff and Jessica Frances Kane. His new novel, Little, is published by Riverhead.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of the author and used with permission. Color illustration retrieved from Edward Carey’s Twitter account and is his original art. Artistic photo of book cover from L.Lindsay’s personal archives and can be viewed via Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

Does our environment shape us? Mindy Mejia is here chatting about the pull of setting and how it can shape or destroy, loss, reinvention & more in LEAVE NO TRACE

By Leslie Lindsay

The mysterious disappearance of a father and his 9-year-old son into the Minnesota wilderness and then the return of that son a decade later on grief, abandonment, family, and more. Mindy Mejia is here chatting about her newest book, LEAVE NO TRACE (Emily Bestler Books/Simon & Schuster, October 2018).

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Mindy Mejia’s 2017 domestic thriller, EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE introduced gritty small-town secrets and the precarious Hattie Hoffman, sending readers in search of ambition, obsession, and the elusive one-day read.

She’s back with another compelling thriller, this time set in the wilderness of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Maya Stark is 23-years old and beginning her career as a speech pathologist at Congdon Psychiatric Facility. Her boss/mentor, Dr. Mehta suggests Maya work with the young ‘back-from-the-dead’ Lucas Blackthorn, who, after ten years of missing (presumed dead) in the wild of Minnesota is back, largely non-verbal and fighting demons. Maya isn’t sure. She’s young and relatively inexperienced.

Yet Maya has secrets, too. Her mother abandoned she and her father years ago and she’s had a series of run-ins with the law. And might Dr. Mehta be more than just her boss?

The prose is gorgeous and alternates in POV, reading much like a slow-burn mystery: why did the father and son disappear? Where have they been all this time? But these other elements meld to bring a more complex narrative to the table. There’s love and loss, family ties, friendship, all wrapped in the tender, delicate cocoon of the fragile shell of Minnesota’s wilderness.

Mindy Mejia spins a tender tale with an ending that is ultimately intrinsically serendipitous and I am thrilled to welcome her to the author interview series.

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Photo by Rudolf Jakkel on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Mindy, thanks so much for popping over. I’m always so intrigued with books set in Minnesota, maybe because I lived there for awhile, maybe something else. Can you tell us why this book, why this setting?

Mindy Mejia:

This book was inspired by a story I read about a father who escaped the Vietnam War with his infant son and they lived in the jungle, completely cut off from the human world, for forty years. I’m a Minnesotan and the US Midwest is the landscape in my head, so one of my first reactions was to wonder if something like that could happen here. And the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was the first place that came to mind.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

LEAVE NO TRACE is a complex, multilayered narrative, dredging up pieces from the past, secrets, and mental health issues. But there’s more: friendship, love, loss, and the wilderness (which almost becomes its own character). At the core, LEAVE NO TRACE seems to be a novel of re-invention and rehabilitation. Can you talk about that, please?

Mindy Mejia:

Both of the main characters in this book have lost their parents in some way, and that shared sense of loss is what initially draws them together. My mother was very sick when I was a child, and I grew up in constant fear of losing her. The first story I wrote when I was five years old was a detailed account of her death and funeral, which naturally got me sent straight to the school guidance counselor. Crime writing, for me, is a way to write into my deepest fears, to walk straight into that worst case scenario, because by writing into it I can write past it and process the fear. That’s where we see the re-invention and rehabilitation. There’s no way for Maya and Lucas to avoid these devastating losses, but they have to dig into themselves and discover how to survive them.


“Mejia’s thrilling tale works both as an engaging mystery and a haunting meditation on grief, abandonment, and the lost places within ourselves. Brutal, devastating, and utterly riveting.”

~Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Leslie Lindsay:

Your first book, THE DRAGON KEEPER, was published by Ashland Creek Press. I’ve read some of their books and have always loved the environmentalist approach, the soft touches of nature. Do you consider yourself an ‘eco-fiction’ writer?

Mindy Mejia:

I love their catalog too! It is eco-fiction, but that’s such a broad category—more of a guiding principle than a genre. Ashland Creek Press offers books for every reader: mysteries, YA, thrillers, romance, and short story and nonfiction as well. In my own approach as a writer, I’ve always viewed setting—which is both the natural and constructed world, the entire ecosystem of our lives—as greater than character. Setting plays a foundational force, it can allow a character to flourish or it can destroy them. Sometimes my characters are oblivious to this, but I never am.

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Photo by invisiblepower on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I dog-eared a page where you talked about other families who cordoned themselves off from society. The Ho Van’s, Chris McCandless of Alaska, Christophe Knight, and the Lykovs. Can you tell us a little about them—and your research in general?

Mindy Mejia:

As I mentioned, the Ho Vans were my initial inspiration for the book and soon afterward someone told me about the Lykovs of Siberia, another family whose lives were in danger in the 1930’s. They escaped to the taiga and lived out their lives in that endless subarctic forest. When I was researching these families, their stories seemed to have a fundamentally different narrative than the accounts of individuals who had left society, such as the Grizzly Man and Alexander Supertramp. Those individuals sought freedom from the constraints of human society, but these families—the Lykovs and the Ho Vans—were afraid for their lives. Their stories were about sacrifice and love; these parents gave up the world to keep their children safe. Maya discovers these stories as she’s trying to find a way to connect with Lucas, and she realizes something must have similarly driven the Blackthorns out of the human world, and that becomes the central mystery of the book.

Leslie Lindsay:

The page is blank. What’s calling to you and how do you fill your time when you’re between projects?

Mindy Mejia:

I’m working on my next book right now, which combines accounting and kickboxing! When I’m between novels and the page is truly blank, I like to work on side projects. I’m planning a blog series right now called Tax Advice for Writers, since I’m also a CPA, in order to help my fellow authors handle the business end of their writing. I also review books, read as much as possible, and catch up on administrative stuff. After I finished LEAVE NO TRACE and was waiting on my editor’s comments, I wrote a 20,000-word piece of fan fiction just to blow off some steam. I’ve never done that before and it was embarrassingly fun.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mindy Mejia:

I can’t think of anything. Thank you so much for letting me share a bit about LEAVE NO TRACE! It’s been lovely chatting!

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

Order Links:

Mindy MejiaABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mindy Mejia is an internationally acclaimed thriller writer whose work has been translated into over twenty languages. She’s the author of THE DRAGON KEEPER and EVERYTHING YOU WANT ME TO BE, which was a People’s Best New Books Pick and listed in The Wall Street Journal’s Best New Mysteries. Her latest novel, LEAVE NO TRACE, is on sale now. You can find out more at MindyMejia.com.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#Minnesota #BWCA #amreading #authorinterview #fiction 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Emily Bestler Books/Simon Schuster and used with permission. LEAVE NO TRACE cover image with ‘read’ from L.Lindsay’s personal archives and can be retrieved via her Instagram account @LeslieLindsay1]

 

 

A fairy tale? A hero’s journey? Something else? Laird Hunt talks about the motifs in his new book, abandoned homes, witches & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Luminous tale of a grim journey about one woman in Colonial America whom is oozing evil but doesn’t realize it–a modern-day fairy tale in Laird Hunt’s new novel, IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS. 

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It’s that time of year when we cast our gazes to the eerie and dreadful. So when this little book (don’t let the size fool you), came to my attention I knew I had to read it. IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS (Little, Brown October 16, 2018) is a contemporary rendering of a historical literary horror; it reads like a classic but was written in 2018.

Hunt takes readers on a harrowing journey to Colonial America where one woman goes missing…or does she leave her homestead? Perhaps she has been *asked* to leave or maybe kidnapped? It’s never really stated one way or another and multiple interpretations can be shed. Alone, barefoot, and possibly lost, the woman meets another woman at a little stone house in the woods and all changes.

IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS is subtly disturbing about woodland magic, witches, hatred and redemption, the unknown. It reads like a dream–or more accurately–a nightmare with a dark surreal-ness.

Please join me in welcoming Laird Hunt to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Wow. I devoured this book. I always, always want to know: why this book? Why now? What question did you set out to explore—did you find your answer?

Laird Hunt:

The world keeps coming up with ghastly answers to the question of “why this book/why now?”  One need look no farther than the recent case of Jamal Khashoggi, the high-profile Saudi journalist who was possibly murdered then dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Some months before that story broke I read of a woman, Wa Tiba, in Indonesia, who went out one night to check on her cornfield and was subsequently found swallowed whole by a python. Then there are stories like those of the kidnapping and enslavement of young women and girls by Boko Haram and Isis.  And of course there is plenty to feed a sense of dark fire on the domestic scene. In that context, the justice meted out on a man, the “handsome singer”, in the novel intersects usefully with the righteous fury of the long-overdue #MeToo movement.  Books bubble up out of the cauldrons of their time. I set out to write something that was more firmly aligned with historical fiction but the novel kept wanting to take up the timeless and the terrifying  that seemed (and seems) to be everywhere around us.

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Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As I read, I got the sense the world is browning at the edges and closing in. Ominous. Perplexing. Dark. Grim. There’s a lot you do in terms of setting and evoking emotion. Can you talk about your process for a bit—did you start with a character, a setting, a situation, or something else?

Laird Hunt:

The book started on a cold, wet late winter/early spring day in upstate New York when my wife and I went for a walk down gravel roads that run through deep woods outside Cherry Valley. We had passed an old, abandoned house that morning, one that had more than a touch of chilling fairy tale about it, and the woods and that house got fused in my mind.  I had been writing novels with female protagonists for a good while so it didn’t surprise me at all when, still on that walk, I got a glimpse of a woman walking with a purpose I didn’t understand yet through the trees. I sat on the image and accompanying feeling of dread for some time before I wrote out a highly compressed version — approx. 35 pp — of what would then only slowly grow into the novel it is now.

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All my recent novels have worked this way to some extent. An image and feeling glimpsed and felt, a subsequent burst of speedy first-drafting, months and even years of expansion and revision. In the case of this one, I have to give particular credit to my agent, Anna Stein, who read it in that highly compressed form and got very excited about its possibilities. In the context of its being short for a while I should note that the manuscript at one time was also almost twice as long as the final version. There too Anna was an important reader – in this case letting me know that she thought I had gotten completely carried away. I’m still interested in revisiting the direction I took the book in that version, but she was right that what I wrote about a little boy who goes to find his mother  (his journey is pointed to in the published novel’s final short section) went off the rails.

Leslie Lindsay:

I so felt compelled to look up metaphorical meanings of the elements and symbols that tend to repeat throughout the narrative: pigs, ships, the sea, cream, berries. Pigs are smart but often perceived as dirty. They root around for what they need and don’t give up easily. Of course, ships are associated with a journey and also tumultuous times. Can you give us more insight—or am I way off-base?

Laird Hunt:

So there were a couple of things going on with those motifs. On the one hand, I was interested in the dogged persistence of key elements in and across traditional tales (tears, teeth, secret rooms, locked doors, strange sounds, woods, elusive treasure), which carry so much power and meaning; on the other hand, I wanted to link this book via key elements (wells, pigs, black bark, knives, necks)  to the ones that had immediately preceded it: Kind One, Neverhome, The Evening Road. Another important early reader of this novel, the poet Anne Waldman, who knows those other books well, remarked after she had gone through a draft of this one, in reference to the scene in which two of the porcine individuals stand up on their back legs, turn toward each other and embrace: “It’s those damn pigs again!” As for what these things represent, what you describe about pigs is certainly part of it for me — as is the connection to the witch-goddess Circe and what she does to Odysseus’ men and what Yubaba does to Chihiro’s parents in Spirited Away — but what I mostly wanted was to make available a system of echoes (or moans) that would set off a series of uncanny associations for the reader and perhaps work against common expectation and understanding.  Goody’s grandmother is always talking up the sea and ships and freedom to her but the boat Goody actually gets to go for a ride in is made of human bones and human skin and it doesn’t float it flies. The grandmother’s vision of boats would seem to be clearer and more pure, but it’s the awful one that carries Goody through the air and thrills and transports her.


“It’s tough to give a simple description of this book, except to say that it tackles witchcraft in colonial America, providing a mythology that’s sure to disturb.”

Bookriot


 

Leslie Lindsay:

Speaking of journeys, is this woman [Goody] a hero? Is she mad? Does she even exist? Perhaps there are multiple interpretations? Can you talk about that, please?

Laird Hunt:

I had an ancestor, Elizabeth Phelps of Andover, whose death of an incurable fever, brought about the death of another woman, Ann Alcock Foster, convicted at Salem after Phelps husband found “witnesses” to accuse Foster of witchcraft. Who is on the side of right in that paradigm? In the late 17th century in New England it was perilously clear whom the community and the law thought had right on their side, but of course we see things completely differently now. Will the commonly accepted idea that the vortex of practicing witchcraft and being bewitched and concomitant, deadly finger pointing are entirely symptoms of gross inequity and oppressive patriarchal systems continue to serve as the optic for these experiences over time? Who knows…?  Goody feels the pulse of all the world’s awfulness banging so loudly in her chest that it must and does burst out of her, but I would like to hope that the gnarled intricacies of human rage and love are seen as just as important. It’s not all down to how much the world sucks.  I feel her as very real. I would not like to meet her, and would keep my distance if I did, but I do like thinking about her.  And about her new friends.

 

Leslie Lindsay:

I love the part of IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS in which Eliza and Goody are in Eliza’s cellar and they are writing—or attempting to write. Goody indicates that she ‘likes it very much,’ and Eliza says she writes as though she were ‘in the middle of a dream that never ended, a painting that was never completed…’ What significance might this scene have on writing in general?

Laird Hunt:

It was terribly important to me that Goody and Eliza and the others in the woods be the ones to tell their stories. This was a central component of their assumption of agency.  The stories are snapped off and middle-started, shards in many cases, or just a few words (“I hate the world, I do not hate the world, I love the world, I do not love the world”), but they are theirs and we are reading them.  The writing in the house in the dark of the woods gets done in the root cellar rather than up above ground; the ink that blackens their fingernails and fingertips is like dirt in that way. They are digging, exploring, questing in the caverns of their imaginations and memories. I’m of the opinion that what they find out with their quills about themselves and about the world is quite revealing.

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Leslie Lindsay:

One last question: What’s haunting you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Laird Hunt:

I feel future-haunted. I’m haunted by the rising of the seas and by ever-growing storms and by microplastics in the ocean and the wars that will be fought over water (like the wars already being fought over natural resources of many varieties). I’m haunted by what my 13-year-old daughter and any children she might have will be forced to confront during her lifetime. Maybe she and her generation will be better stewards than we have been.  You really have to hope so.

Leslie Lindsay:

Thank you, Laird. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Laird Hunt:

I think this is a pretty rich exchange already: thank you for the great questions!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

220px-LairdHuntABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laird Hunt is the author of several works of fiction and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, a two-time finalist for the PEN Center USA Award in Fiction, and the winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award. A former United Nations press officer currently on the faculty of the University of Denver’s creative writing program, he and his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, live in Boulder, Colorado, with their daughter, Eva Grace.

 

 

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

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[Special thanks to Little, Brown. Author image retrieved from Wikipedia. Image of abandoned Cherry Valley, NY home retrieved from Zillow all on 10.15.18. Cover image from L. Lindsay’s personal archives and can be accessed via her Instagram account @LeslieLindsay1]

Fragile 9-year-old boy misses his mother dearly in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE, plus Stephen Giles talks about writing for adults vs. kids, his love for isolated homes, more

By Leslie Lindsay

Sinister and intense story of melancholy and loneliness with an imaginative 9-year-old boy at the center in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE. Plus, it’s just been picked up by New Agency for film! 

Stephen Giles is here chatting about his love for country homes, his distaste for the dentist, and how he misses an old cubby house  in the backyard when he was a kid. 

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Locked doors. An atlas. Attics. Cellar. England. Mystery and, maybe murder. 

Samuel Clay is living in a crumbling old estate in England with his housekeeper, Ruth Tupper. He’s missing his mother terribly, who has ‘gone away’ to America for the last 119 days (he’s been keeping count). Mrs. Clay is now widowed and the family’s finances have fallen to disarray–perhaps there’s some money or bankers in American who will help her get the ‘capital she needs.’ What’s worse, is Samuel’s mother left in the middle of the night, without so much as a word of good-bye to her son, leaving him in the care of the housekeeper.

Beyond sporadic postcards from his mother in America, Samuel hears virtually nothing of his mother. He’s lonely, yet highly imaginative and inquisitive. Samuel’s only friend is Joseph and a little rabbit in the garden he calls Robin Hood.

THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE is a precarious dance between truth and perception, childhood and adulthood, ‘there’ and ‘not-there,’ and so much more.

I found the writing absolutely glimmered. I was immediately thrust into this drab world created by Stephen Giles and wanted to know what happened to Samuel’s mother. This is a perfect, swiftly-paced novel for this dreary time of year as we become a little more turned inward, a little more contemplative, and the fear of little deaths around.

Please join me in welcoming Stephen Giles to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Stephen, it’s a pleasure. I always want to know—what question were you hoping to answer in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE—and did the answer satisfy or lead to more questions?

Stephen Giles:

This is such an interesting question. I suppose the most elemental question I had to ask myself was  why. I had the basic plot outlined and I knew where I was heading but I didn’t know all the whys. Why did Samuel’s mother go away? Why is the housekeeper Ruth the way she is? Why is Samuel so psychologically fragile, so fixated on his mother’s absence? The wonderful thing about questions like these is that they often lead you into places that take you by surprise and demand more of the narrative and that is incredibly exciting for a writer. I think ultimately I was satisfied by the questions though there is no doubt that this is a story that throws up more questions than concrete answers. Rather like life, it seems to me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I understand this is your first book for adults. In what ways do the forms differ? Plus, I can see a nice cross-over between readership. I’d imagine some ambitious YA readers might be intrigued. Can you speak to that, please?

Stephen Giles:

I think the primary difference between adult and middle grade fiction is one of tone. My middle grade books were primarily comic adventures and writing for a readership of 9 – 12-year-olds informs both the type of story I am telling and the way I tell it. So the tone is light and breezy. The challenge with writing my first book for adults with a child as one of the main protagonists, was telling a much darker and very adult story through the eyes of nine year old boy. Your observation about the book crossing over into YA is very interesting and I did wonder about that as I was finishing the book. It’s always hard to know what will appeal to YA readers but I’d be delighted if that happened.


“A fiendishly efficient, gorgeously written, nasty little thrill ride of a psychological thriller. I couldn’t put it down, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll never sleep again. A true tour-de-force of a debut novel.”

—Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham and Jane Steele 


Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a sucker for old homes, estates, mansions…you name it! Was the house in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE modeled after any actual estate? Did you play around with setting, or was it always to be set in England?

Stephen Giles:

I’m a sucker for isolated country houses too and I’ve written one into every book I’ve ever written which is probably a little excessive. The house in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE wasn’t modeled on any particular estate, it only lives in my imagination, but I’m sure it was informed by countless 19th century novels like JANE EYRE or UNCLE SILAS. In terms of the English setting, I did toy with a few other locations including the Hudson Valley but having just finished a middle grade trilogy set largely in England, I felt more comfortable sticking with the same setting. Which is incredibly lazy!

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Leslie Lindsay:

Samuel is a 9-year-old boy longing for his mother. But also his father’s old toys and things are in the attic—which he sometimes drags down into the house to play with. Is there anything from your childhood that you long for, even occasionally—and what is it exactly about these old things that stirs such nostalgia?

Stephen Giles:

It’s not a toy but the house I grew up in had a cubby house in a far corner of the backyard – it was a ramshackle structure that was barely standing but it had a blackboard along one wall and a bunch of old discarded bits and pieces and I spend countless hours playing there. I can still picture it in great detail and sometimes as the adult world crowds in on me, I long for the simplicity and comfort of that cubby house. I think the power of old things or old memories is that they are assure us that there once were better days or less complicated times. Which probably says more about the deceptively warm glow of nostalgia than anything else.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your to-do list this week? What are you most looking forward to and dreading? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Stephen Giles:

This week I have a bunch of interviews to get through in my hometown and I’m also up to my neck in writing a new book, so that is where my real focus is. I’m most looking forward to seeing Crazy Rich Asians and catching up on my reading. I’m dreading the dentist and the feeling of utter defeat at week’s end when I realize I’ve failed yet again to live mindfully or be even slightly in the moment.

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Photo by Stephen Paris on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Stephen Giles:

I’ve enjoyed all of your questions, so thank you. What should you have asked me? Well, if you were like every other interviewer on the planet you would have asked me what advice I would give to aspiring writers. And as I’m never sure how to answer that adequately, I’m very glad you didn’t!

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

Order Links: 

31kedQKjMqL._US230_ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Giles is the author behind the Ivy Pocket children’s series, which has been translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in Australia. The Boy at the Keyhole, now out from Hanover Square Books, is his first work for adults.

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

 

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#neoGothic #amreading #England #homes #boys #mothers #authorinterviewseries

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