Category Archives: Write On Wednesday

Wednesdays with Writers: Sheena Kamal talks about her fierce, ‘difficult woman’ character, Nora Watts, gender violence, the ‘red market,’ how this is a different kind of missing girl thriller, mining in Vancouver, and so much more in her debut, THE LOST ONES

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Dark, Edgy, psychological suspense debut, the first in a series featuring a brilliant, fearless, slightly chaotic and deeply flawed heroine much like Lisbeth Salander.

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Nora Watts: deeply troubled, edgy and dark yet clear and distinct; she’s complex, disturbed, and not one you’ll easily forget. Residing somewhere between DEAR DAUGHTER (Elizabeth Little) and THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Stieg Larsson) meets THE GATES OF EVANGELINE (Hester Young), Sheena Kamal’s debut, THE LOST ONES (William Morrow, July 25 2017) will toss your into a tailspin of controversy, conflict, and a good amount of action intermingling with psychological suspense.

Nora Watts receives a phone call early in the morning. A girl has gone missing. She’s a P.I. assistant and so this isn’t entirely out of the realm. But the girl is also happens to be the baby she gave up for adoption fifteen years ago. She never wanted that baby; and now the police are labeling the girl a chronic runaway. Her adoptive parents are desperate and so they’ve hired Ms. Watts. Do they realize she is also the girl’s birth mother? Wasn’t it a sealed adoption? Nora discovers a dangerous conspiracy and embarks on a journey of deception and violence that takes her from the rainy streets of Vancouver to the snow-capped mountains of the Canadian Rockies to the island where she will once again face her past and the daughter she wished had never been born.

I was stunned by the twists and turns, the lucid writing from Sheena and also the ‘why’s’ behind Bronwyn (Bonnie’s) disappearance.

Please join me in welcoming Sheena Kamal to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Sheena, wow! What a tale. I have heard that writers ‘ought’ to write about something they obsess about, but rarely talk about, or rather, is not ‘polite’ conversation. There are so many controversial themes in THE LOST ONES: foster care, adoption, multicultural race, immigration, the ‘red market,’ runaways, rape, alcoholism, and so much more. What was haunting you when you set out to write this?

Sheena Kamal: Thank you, Leslie. It’s lovely to be on the blog couch with you. Haunting is a good word for what got me started, actually. Gender violence was the primary motivator for this story, and I couldn’t ignore how it intersects with class and race. I wanted to write about a difficult woman, one whom it is easy to dislike and dismiss. I wanted to show her humanity and guide her through her own complicated feelings toward motherhood in a different kind of ‘missing girl’ thriller. Nora’s character compelled me, first and foremost. All the other issues came about in the writing.

L.L.: So I have to ask about the title, THE LOST ONES. Bronwyn (Bonnie) is obviously missing, but she’s not the only one who is lost. Can you elaborate on that, please? Also, the U.K. title is EYES LIKE MINE and there’s definitely a reason for that. Can you elaborate? 

Sheena Kamal: Ah, the title drama. The reason there are two titles is because different publishers had their individual preferences. Neither liked DEEP CURRENT, which was the original title of my manuscript. EYES LIKE MINE (the UK title) was lifted from the text and THE LOST ONES (US) spoke to Nora’s character, as well as the situation faced by her missing daughter, Bonnie. I love both titles and I can see how they both fit the book.

L.L.: Backing up a bit: can you tell us more about the ‘red market’ and what that research you did to get that piece ‘just so?

Sheena Kamal: The red market is the underground market for blood, organs, human parts and human bodies. This book is about family, so I thought it was fitting to bring the corporeal elements of blood connections to the forefront. I spent most of my research time looking into the shady world of blood and organ harvesting, and how the wealthy benefit at the expense of the poor. It’s quite chilling what money can buy. It can buy life. There’s a fantastic book called The Red Market by Scott Carney that was my jumping off point to this research, which also introduced me to the term ‘red market’.

“Sheena Kamal has created a fresh and original character who grips the reader with her grit and courage. We’re rooting for Nora Watts from the outset and I can’t wait to read more of her story.” ~Sarah Ward, CRIMEPIECES

L.L.: I’m also curious about your touches of eco-fiction in THE LOST ONES. There’s a good amount of mines and the environment. What inspired that? And do you consider this to be a work of eco-fiction?

Sheena Kamal: I personally don’t consider it to be eco-fiction, but I understand why people would think that. I didn’t set out to write with any kind of agenda other than to tell a good story, but I wanted to write place authentically. Give a snapshot of the concerns of the region. The mining angle, as well as the focus on the environment both came about because these are topics that shape Vancouver, and the west coast at large. Canada as a country has an interesting relationship to the global mining community, one that continues to interest me.

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L.L.:  THE LOST ONES is the first in a series. How long is the series predicted to be? Can you give us a little glimpse of what’s coming up?

Sheena Kamal: The second book in the series is called IT ALL FALLS DOWN and will take Nora to Detroit, to look into the mystery of her father’s past. I’ve long found
Detroit
to be a fascinating place and every time I go there I like it even more. It’s very different from Vancouver, but I chose it because I wanted to take Nora out of her comfort zone and have her get into some trouble in a place where she doesn’t know the rules and still, somehow, has to survive. IT ALL FALLS DOWN will be out summer 2018. I’d originally planned a trilogy, but I have a feeling I won’t be done with Nora after the third book. Just a little inkling.36341212

L.L.: What are you excited about reading this year?

Sheena Kamal: Poetry. I’ve left this literary landscape unexplored, mostly out of fear and confusion, but I have vowed to be moved by some poetry this year, damn it. What kind of poetry, I have yet to decide.

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

Sheena Kamal: You forgot to ask me to give writing advice and I, for one, am thankful for it because now I don’t have to come up with any.

L.L.: Sheena, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you for chatting with us and all the best in 2018!

Sheena Kamal: Thank you! Wishing you a wonderful 2018 as well.

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of THE LOST ONES, please see:

S. H. Kamal ap (c) Malcolm TweedyABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sheena Kamal was born in the Caribbean and immigrated to Canada as a child. She holds an HBA in political science from the University of Toronto, and was awarded a TD Canada Trust scholarship for community leadership and activism around the issue of homelessness. Kamal has also worked as a crime and investigative journalism researcher for the film and television industry. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, and enjoys beaches and Dark ‘n’ Stormys.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Harper Collins and used with permission. IT ALL FALLS DOWN cover image retrieved from GoodReads, Vancouver image from]WP_20171208_11_32_26_Rich_LI (5)

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Author-Editor Team Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen Pen First Psych Thriller Together, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, about exes, lies, perception, memory; plus friendship, movie deals and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay

Spectacular, mind-bending, romantic thriller about all sides of a marriage, infidelity, betrayal, and more.

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When a copy of THE WIFE BETWEEN US (forthcoming, January 9 2018 from St. Martin’s Press) landed on my doorstep, I was immediately intrigued. It’s co-authored (Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen), which lends well to the ‘wife between us’ concept; that is, there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to complex relationships like marriage.

What calls to mind with THE WIFE BETWEEN US is a smart, edgy psychological thriller in the vein of THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE meets Gillian Flynn’s earlier work (SHARP OBJECTS), meets DEAR DAUGHTER (Elizabeth Little), a subtle twist in vein of HER (Harriet Lane) with a flavor of GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Paula Hawkins); but it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

Vanessa’s seemingly perfect husband, Richard abruptly leaves her. She’s forced out of their four-bedroom Colonial and into her aunt’s apartment. She drinks. She worries after her aging aunt. She reluctantly takes a job as a sales associate at Saks. She keeps a close eye on her “replacement,” the new, young assistant Richard is now engaged to marry. download (57)

But it’s not just about a jealous ex-wife. It’s not even about her being lonely and worried. It might not even be about the new woman.

There’s definitely a twist with THE WIFE BETWEEN US, and I guarantee you’ll be flipping the pages frantically to discover the truth, which will reveal itself by the end.

Please join me in welcoming Greer Henricks and Sarah Pekkannen to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: Greer and Sarah, it’s such an honor to have you! I understand you have worked together in the past—but not as co-authors. Can you talk a bit about how you came to collaborate on THE WIFE BETWEEN US? And what was the instigating moment for this particular title?

Sarah: After working together on seven novels as an author-editor team, we knew we had a unique relationship.  Not only do we share strikingly similar narrative instincts and approaches to storytelling, but we get along beautifully as friends. When we discovered we were both itching to write a psychological page-turner – one as twisty, complex, and fresh as possible – it almost seemed predestined.

Greer: We both studied journalism and psychology, which makes us curious students of human nature.  In THE WIFE BETWEEN US, we wanted to explore how memories are colored by the lenses through which we view our worlds – and how people can share an experience but carry away markedly different perspectives and emotions. Little did we know that it would take every ounce of our collective brain power to keep track of the literary kaleidoscope we wanted to create.

L.L.:  In watching your YouTube video, I can see that your working chemistry is so natural. It really seems like you had fun with this title. Were there any challenges co-authoring?

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Greer: Our biggest challenge is technology. Because we write every word together we rely on google docs and google hangouts. Most of the time these tools work beautifully, but when they don’t it’s incredibly frustrating.

Sarah: Aside from technological glitches, we did have a lot of fun!

THE WIFE BETWEEN US delivers a whip smart, twisty plot in a taut, pacy narrative. It’s terrific and troubling. This is one scary love triangle where you won’t know who to trust. I loved it.”

Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew

L.L.: As for the story, my read was that a complex relationship like a marriage is so very multifaceted it’s hard to tell where one truth begins and another ends. It’s not just marriage; those lines can be blurred in just about any romantic entanglement. Can you elaborate on that, please?

Greer: There are three sides to every marriage: the husband’s, the wife’s and the truth. This is true for any relationship.

Sarah: One of our hopes was that THE WIFE BETWEEN US  would cause readers to reevaluate their own perceptions.

L.L.: I have to admit, my mind was reeling as I read THE WIFE BETWEEN US. I had to read ‘very carefully,’ for fear I might miss something. I had lots of theories. I can only imagine you did, too. Did you ever write yourself into a corner, and if so, how did you back out?

Greer:  We have two words for you: Cake Topper.

Sarah: We definitely backed ourselves into a corner with that one. It only took about 80 hours of conversation before we figured out a way to fix it!

L.L.: I understand THE WIFE BETWEEN US is to become a major motion picture. From the producers of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, no less! How thrilling! What can you tell us about the process and when might it be in theaters?

Sarah: We spent a day talking to various producers who were interested in our manuscript, and signed a contract with Amblin Entertainment, which is Steven Spielberg’s production company. They are currently working with a screenwriter to create the script based on our book!

L.L.: Are you collaborating on something new?

Greer: Yes, our next novel is also a psychological thriller, tentatively titled You’re Invited. It features twists and turns, of course, as well as strong female protagonists.

L.L: What’s keeping you awake at night? And let’s hope it’s not a faulty alarm system.

Greer: The plot of our new novel is as twisty and complicated as our first book and I think we are both becoming quite obsessed with all the potential twists and turns. We often email each other in the middle of the night with random ideas. Most of the time they still make sense in the morning.

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

Sarah: Please check out our website for more information on our book – and hopefully we’ll get to meet a lot of readers on tour!

L.L.: Ladies, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being here today. Happy New Year!

Greer and Sarah: Thanks for having us!

For more information, to connect with the authors, or to get a copy of THE WIFE BETWEEN US, please see:

Greer:

Sarah:

Buy the Book!

Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks_photo credit Bill MilesABOUT THE AUTHORS:  Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally and USA Today bestselling author of seven previous novels. A former investigative journalist and feature writer, she has published work in The Washington Post, USA Today, and many others. She is the mother of three sons and lives just outside Washington, D.C.

Greer Hendricks spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Greer lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children. THE WIFE BETWEEN US is her first novel.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Image of split wedding couple retrieved from, frustrated writer image from, unboxing image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 1.5.18] 

Wednesdays with Writers: James Han Mattson on developing rich characters, 2018 reading goals, how technology can help but also harm; writing stories about events on the fringe, and so much more in his debut, THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES, inspired by the Tyler Clementi case

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By Leslie Lindsay

An intimate portrayal of one boy’s search for his place in this world, connection, intimacy, and, ultimately, love.

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Add in the complexities of grappling with one’s sexual identity, the allure and anonymity of the Internet, and yet the isolating power of bullies, drama, and tragedy all lurk there and in one’s own backyard.

Meet Ricky Graves: He’s vulnerable. He’s confused. He’s reaching out. What does that even mean, ‘reaching out,’ he wonders? But he’s there, on-line. A gay chat room. A cyber crush. A call for help. And yet…

Told in alternating POVs of six intertwining lives, THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES is about our relationships with one another, with social media, the faces we show to the real world, and the ones we must confront in our darkest moments.

Sparked by the 18-year old Rutgers student (Tyler Clementi) who was a victim of a horrific act of cyber-harassment and humiliation, THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES (Little A Publishing, December 1, 2017), touches on the “It Gets Better Project,” survivors, and the ultimately—love and friendship.X8HDaU7FThis is a tough read. But it’s so, so important. As the first interview of 2018, I challenge you to look within, seek a deeper meaning, and realize that kindness, empathy, and karma are all part of this life, however brief.

Please join me in welcoming James Han Mattson to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: James, I was so taken with THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES It pulled me in right away. You bring such compassion and depth to the story. What propelled you?

James Han Mattson: Thank you! I prefer writing stories about people on the fringes, and as you mentioned earlier, the Tyler Clementi case inspired the book’s beginnings. I wanted to somehow meld the themes of bullying, culpability, and technology, but I wanted to do so in a non-didactic way—there’s enough written on the inherent dangers of social media, the insidious effects of bullying, and the fault of (insert issue here) for America’s violent crimes. My main aim, then, was to complicate these ideas and show them in a more nuanced light: sometimes the bullied becomes the bully, sometimes nobody and everybody is at fault, and sometimes technology helps and harms.

“Mattson’s first novel is an excellent, character-driven work of literary fiction that will continue to resonate with the reader long after the final page.” —Booklist

L.L.: I had to remind myself that THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES was not a memoir. Can you talk about how you brought such authenticity to the narrative?

James Han Mattson: Authenticity is tricky to talk about, especially when discussing fictional characters. It often gets construed in umbrella-experience terms, assigning categories to complex existences. For example, I often get asked how I write women, how I’m able to write about an experience I know nothing about personally, and my response is usually: I don’t “write women.” I don’t actually know what that means. Every woman is unique, and is a culmination of myriad factors, so to say that someone, especially a man, “gets” the “female experience” is really short-sighted. I write characters, and I try to write characters with rich interior lives, and while race, gender, and sexual orientation, curate these characters’ lives, the demographic details are not all-defining—what’s more important to me is painting a holistic, complicated life, focusing both on how characters perceive the world and how the world perceives them.

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L.L.: Since the book is inspired by the case of Tyler Clementi, the college student who took his own life due to gay bullying and humiliation, it is not exactly that story. Can you tell us more? What research did you do?

James Han Mattson: This book is very voice-driven—each section is told by a different character in first person. As such, I needed to really “hear” the voices. I spent three summers in southern Maine, mostly just listening to the people around me, noting voice inflections, cadences, and tics. Since the story takes place in present day, I didn’t have to do a whole lot of historical research, and the town itself is fictional, so I just had to make sure I understood it spatially. (I drew a couple maps.)

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES? And what might we do to prevent such atrocities from happening?

James Han Mattson: I’d love if the book elicited some nuanced conversations about the three themes I mentioned earlier—bullying, technology, and culpability. I don’t have a tidy answer regarding teen bullying/suicide prevention, but I do think a good place to start is through deep, penetrative self-examination—that is, understanding the differences between current adult selves and former adolescent selves. Momentarily seeing the world through former adolescent eyes before reaching out to troubled teens will enlarge empathy, and perhaps generate efficacious suicide prevention programs.

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L.L.: Switching gears a bit, I understand you semi-recently traveled to Seoul, South Korea to reunite with your biological family after nearly thirty years separation. What was that experience like and does it have any place in a future book?

James Han Mattson: The experience was very intense. I was there for two years, and it took a huge toll on me, both mentally and physically. I’m not sure if I’ll write a book about it specifically (though I think about it from time to time), but themes of alienation, isolation, and cultural ambiguity always tend to creep into my work.

L.L.: What’s on your literary to-do list this year? Books to read, classes to teach, writing to do? Something else?

James Han Mattson: I’m so far behind on reading, but I’m going to make sure I finish at least 25 books this year. I just started Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and am really enjoying it. I’m also excited to read Nicole Chung’s memoir All You Can Ever Know. Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s Sightseeing, Taylor Brown’s River of Kings, and Oliver Sacks’ The River of Consciousness are also on my list. (Admittedly, I’ve already read Sightseeing, but I found the stories so beautiful and evocative that I can’t wait to read them again.) I hope to finish a draft of my new novel sometime next fall—an ambitious goal, I understand, but I’m hoping this summer will prove productive. 

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

James Han Mattson: I can’t think of anything off hand! Thank you for asking such incisive questions!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES, please see:

Jim Mattson_c Tara Mattson (002).jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Han Mattson was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in North Dakota. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has taught at the University of Iowa, the University of Cape Town, the University of Maryland, the George Washington University, and the University of California – Berkeley. He has worked as a staff writer and editor for Pagoda Foreign Language Institute, the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, and Logogog – South Africa. In 2009, he traveled to Korea and reunited with his birth family after 30 years of separation. His first novel, The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves,was an Amazon Literature and Fiction Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a Publishers Lunch Bookseller Pick, a Kindle First Pick, and was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. He currently lives in Maryland.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Little A/Shreve Williams Public Relations. Author image credit: Tara Mattson; used with permission. ‘Not Going to Be Easy’ retrieved from , Southern Maine coastal town image retrieved from

Wednesdays with Writers: Elizabeth Berg on the busyness of the season, Christmas cards, exhaustion, and everything our mothers did to make the holidays great. Oh, and her newest book, ARTHUR TRULUV

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I recently had the opportunity to read this very poignant story by veteran author, Elizabeth Berg.

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THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV is thought-provoking, endearing, and oh-so-sweet. In fact, I woke up at 2:30 in the morning just to finish! Click here to read my review on GoodReads. Serioulsy, this is a book for anyone and everyone; I was so thrilled Random House sent me a copy.

Truluv is a novel for these contentious times. We could all use a bit of Arthur’s ego-free understanding and forgiveness of fellow human beings.”

USA Today

Today, I have a lovely guest piece from Elizabeth, about the busyness of the holiday season, about holiday cards, and trying to out-do our mothers. I’m pretty sure you’ll find truth and humor and nostalgia all wrapped up in this one. Enjoy!

THE YEAR I RUINED CHRISTMAS

by Elizabeth Berg

As a child, I saw my mother prepare for Christmas every year, and it never occurred to me that labor was involved. I thought it was my mother’s joy and privilege to hang tinsel on the tree strand by strand, to make sure that every room in the house had a touch of Christmas, down to the Santa-themed rug and hand towels in the bathroom. She would sit at a card table night after night to carefully and
creatively wrap gifts, she baked hundreds of Christmas cookies,  hand-wrote messages on Christmas cards that went near and far, and she planned, shopped for and served a Christmas dinner
that was nearly unbearably delicious: turkey, stuffing, ham, green bean bake, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, reception salad, cucumbers in sour cream, rolls and butter, and cranberry sauce that in later years, courtesy of Susan Stamford, got fancied up. I always wanted to drink the gravy my mom made right out of the boat. (And if there was any left after dinner, I did exactly that. And then I used a Parkerhouse roll to scrape up out any remains.) For dessert, there were homemade pies and Christmas cookies and chocolates you could pluck out of the king-sized box of Whitman’s that my parents bought every year. Oh, that messenger boy!vintage-christmas-list1

When I grew up, I realized the truth. My mother prepared for the holidays joyfully, but she also labored mightily. Still, when she was well up into her eighties, she continued doing it.  Oh, she lightened her load a little bit: she prepared certain dishes the day ahead, and guests brought some side dishes that she always used to make. But she still did the bulk of the labor, including laying a tablecloth beneath the elegantly set wedding china that was older than I and guess how many stains were on it? Zero, that’s how many, because all her life, up until the day she went into the hospital for the last time, my mother was a laundress extraordinaire.  If there were a category in the Olympics for laundry, my mother would have been a gold-medal winner.  Year after year after year, my mother prepared and served and helped clean up after huge holiday dinners. And the woman did not even have a dishwasher until she was 89 years old, when she moved into an apartment for independent living, where, ironically, she finally stopped hosting holiday dinners.

It was after she had moved into independent living that we were on the phone one day when Christmas was a few weeks away, and she told me how much she missed getting Christmas cards. “Nobody sends them anymore,” she told me. “Or if they do, they send emails or those pre-printed photographs, and that’s not the same.”

She was right. It wasn’t the same as getting all those envelopes in your mailbox, and opening them to find all those different, often glittery images, all those verses written in the card as well as a handwritten note—or even a multi-page letter!– from the person who’d sent it to you. When you got those cards, you understood that this was from someone you knew, who knew you. My mom used to keep all her Christmas cards in a basket bedecked with red ribbon, and I used to love to look at them all, and read all the letters. All those people, still keeping in touch.  I even liked reading the letters from people I didn’t know, because it was an honest and reassuring peek into
someone else’s life.
But by the time my mom reached her 90s, many of the people who used to send her cards had died. And the people who were left mostly didn’t send cards anymore. I always sent my mom the most beautiful card I could find, and she displayed it like it was a Van Gogh. My sister and brother sent her beautiful cards, too. But that was about it.bce8c8e26748afb0bc85c289bbeef83b--vintage-christmas-cards-vintage-cards

So that Christmas, her last Christmas, as it turned out, I got an idea. I asked everyone on Facebook to send my mom a “real” Christmas card. I thought she might even get one hundred or so, and wouldn’t that be fun?  I told my sister, who lives in Minnesota where my Mom lived, and we decided to keep it a secret from my mother.

Several days after I made the request, my mom called me and said, “You know what? I got six Christmas cards in the mail today, and are they ever pretty, and I don’t even know these people!”

“Oh, really?” I said, and even though we were on the phone, I fought to disguise my smile.

Well.

By time the experiment was finished, my mom had gotten well over 1,200 cards. My sister had to start opening the envelopes for my mom because it wore my mom’s hands out, slicing open so many envelopes. The cards were arriving in those big plastic mail bins and were delivered straight to her door, since there was no way they’d fit in her mailbox. They came from all over the U.S. and from a few places outside the U.S. And not only did the people send cards, they sent notes along with them: Stories. Memories. Good wishes. Compliments to my mother for being a good writer—after the cards first started coming, she wrote a thank you letter that she asked me to post on Facebook and so, for the first time, she was both was on-line and published. (She had always had a dream of being a published writer. In fact, when I became a writer, my father told me, “You got HER job!”)  My mother became a minor celebrity in her building. There was a story done about her in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

I still have one of those cards that my mom kept with her when she went into hospice. It features three angels shown in a kind of 3-D way. In dim light, you’d swear they were real, and floating in the air for the sake of your consolation. After my mom died, I put the card face out on a bookshelf and if I’m having a bad day, I sit and look at it.

So. When the first Christmas without my mom came around, I felt I needed to do something really special. I invited my out-of-town daughter and her husband and three children to spend the holiday with me. Also, I invited my son-in-law’s mother. With my other, nearby  daughter and her husband and my partner Bill and me, it would be a full house. I was thrilled. I wanted to recreate all the things my mother used to do.  And I intended for everything to be perfect, just as it was when she did it. I suppose I was hoping to bring her back, at least in some way.

I decorated the house. Each room had something: mini Christmas trees or snow globes or whimsical things like dogs dressed as angels.  By the fireplace was a big basket holding Christmas-themed books for both children and adults, and in the TV room, I lined up all the Christmas movies, including my favorite, “A Christmas Story,” which I could hardly wait for us all to watch together. I bought tickets to the Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker” so that I could take my three grandchildren to it and we could all thrill to it snowing on stage.

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I wanted to make all the food on Christmas Day, so that it would be as fresh as possible. The pies—all homemade, of course, including the crust—would be made in the early morning. (Maybe it would snow! I thought. Maybe I would be rolling out dough while everyone was upstairs sleeping, and huge, lacy flakes would be beautifully drifting and Christmas music would be softly playing and when people got up the coffee would be ready and they’d sit at the table in their pajamas and say, “Ohhhh, something smells so good!”)

 I decided I wouldn’t make the white bread and the cornbread that would be used for stuffing, and I would buy dinner rolls, that was my only concession. Otherwise, everything would be made from scratch. (My son-in-law’s mom once joked, “When you cook, you make the hydrogen and the oxygen for the water you use.”) I figured I would cook my brains out all day and the others could amuse themselves in any way that they wanted: playing games, talking, taking walks in the neighborhood, going downtown, maybe reading together from the big pile of Christmas books.

You see where this is going, no doubt. You know what happens when your expectations are as high as the moon.

Things did not go well. People kind of didn’t know what to do. When my sweet granddaughter came in the kitchen and said she wanted to make a pie of her own, I did not delight in this but instead thought, NO NO NO, I don’t have TIME! She made her little pie, but everything about the experience was off. There was no joy in Mudville.

At one point, when everything was prepared and the turkey was roasting in the oven, I realized how exhausted I was. I truly felt like I was going to keel over. I told my partner I was going to go upstairs and take a nap.  And that’s what I did. With a houseful of people whom I loved and had invited to spend Christmas with me, I went upstairs to my bedroom and went to sleep.  It was like throwing a party, opening the door to the guests and saying, “What the hell are you doing here?”

I will say the food was great. And I will say things marginally improved when my grandchildren and I decided to write a play (The Ugliest Cat at the Shelter) and perform it to an admittedly biased audience of a few relatives who applauded it heartily.

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After my guests left, I did a post-mortem, and I realized a few things. I am not my mother, and I am not honor-bound to try to do all the things she did in the way that she did them. I don’t have the stamina or the patience or the foresight or the skill or even the desire. I am now and forever the one who gets tired easily, who becomes overwhelmed by too many people in the house or too many things to do. And I can’t get stains out of anything, not even with OxiClean.

No, I am not my mother. I am deeply, endlessly grateful for what she did and who she was, but I am a different kind of person. And as appreciative as she was of tradition, I think she would be the first to say, “For heaven’s sake, you don’t have to do what I did!”

There is one way I tried to be like her that I don’t regret, though, and that is in trying to bring back the idea of handwritten cards. And I am happy to say that that idea took root in other ways, too. After the experience with my mother, one Facebook friend asked that cards be sent to honor her parent’s 75th wedding anniversary; one inspired people to send beautiful cards to nursing homes, to be given to people who rarely if ever got mail.  It reminded me of what Christmas is supposed to be about. Good Will. Kindness. Sharing. Wonder. Spontaneity. Generosity. Small but meaningful things that take root in the heart, and blossom, and stay.

Incidentally, the year after the year I ruined Christmas, I went to my daughter’s house for Christmas. It was wonderful. I had such a good time I cried.

For more information, to connect with Elizabeth via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV, please see:

Elizabeth Berg (©Teresa Crawford)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels, including Open House (an Oprah’s Book Club selection), Talk Before Sleep, and The Year of Pleasures, as well as the short story collection The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted. Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year. She adapted The Pull of the Moon into a play that enjoyed sold-out performances in Chicago and Indianapolis. Berg’s work has been translated into twenty-seven languages, and three of her novels have been turned into television movies. She is the founder of Writing Matters, a quality reading series dedicated to serving author, audience, and community. She teaches one-day writing workshops and is a popular speaker at venues around the country. Some of her most popular Facebook postings have been collected in Make Someone Happy. She lives outside Chicago.”

“Fans of Meg Wolitzer, Emma Straub, or [Elizabeth] Berg’s previous novels will appreciate the richly complex characters and clear prose. Redemptive without being maudlin, this story of two misfits lucky to have found one another will tug at readers’ heartstrings.”

—  Booklist

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

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[Cover, author image, and guest piece courtesy of Random House and used with permission. Image books from L.Lindsay’s archives. Image of  woman with list from , woman decorating cookies is a 1948 General Mills ad and retrieved from, holiday card writing from,]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Amy Impellizzeri is back with a mind-bending tale on truth, reinvention, addition, social media, and so much more in THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA

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By Leslie Lindsay

Dark, intricate, mind-bending tale of truth, addiction, and reinvention. 
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THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA is the third book for Impellizzeri, and it’s such a twisty, gripping ride, you’ll have to buckle up to follow the labyrinth through social media, addiction, and deceitful behavior.

Will is a recovering heroin addict turned counselor, for whom truth is important to recovery. But his past is dark and shrouded with secrets. Now, Will has Thea in his counseling group at Juniper Lane. Thea has been diagnosed with a pathological addition to social media and creating false identities for clients. But there are secrets, and lots of them as Will and Thea unwind this torrid web of deceit.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA is a dark, complex and gripping read. At times, it’s very mind-bending.

I can’t really say much more, or I may give away too much! Kudos to Amy Impellizzeri for this deeply plotted, richly told story.  Please join me in welcoming her back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Amy! Welcome back. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA. Can you tell us what was haunting you when you set out to write this, and why now?

Amy Impellizzeri: Wow. You hit the nail on the head here. I was indeed haunted at the time I wrote this book. I was struggling with the big enormous difference between the selves we hold out to the world and the selves we are stuck living with.  I’ve always thought of myself as a truly authentic person and trusted the authenticity of those in my private circle, but in the last few years the myths of social media and other private struggles (both my own and those of people close to me)  have made me question that perception. Writing this book was really cathartic, but it also helped me understand how truly layered the “truth” really is. 

L.L.: I found the writing dark, edgy and the voice of Thea very well developed. In many instances, I felt I really had to “read hard” to unravel the subtext. Also, I felt I might miss something. Was this intentional on your part, or maybe it was just being a bit…dull?

Amy Impellizzeri: I definitely hoped readers would respond to Thea Brown’s many layers in a positive way – and so far they have! I absolutely loved developing her. I love her voice – it was so different for me to write, and really freeing to write. There are hidden clues all the way through this story to lead you to the final twist – but no one has admitted to picking up on them yet! Kudos to you for the hard read of the subtext! At the same time, though, I don’t really want anyone to guess the ending. My hope is that readers will indeed by stunned, and then want to go back and re-read once they get to the end.

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L.L.: There’s a big, giant piece of reinvention in THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA. Many of the addicts at Juniper Lane are restructuring their lives. I enjoyed meeting the characters in the inpatient substance abuse unit. I felt the portrayal of their stories very authentic. Can you tell us what research you did to get that part right?

Amy Impellizzeri: The characters at Juniper Lane were so important to “get right.” I’m sure – like so many – my life has been touched by many beautiful souls struggling with depression, addiction, and other demons. The patients at Juniper Lane became the aggregate of that personal experience. I love them all, but I confess a special soft spot for Cassandra – who is based loosely on a real person, with her permission.

L.L.: And following up on that reinvention theme. Names become a big deal in THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA. Thea is derived from a figure in Greek mythology meaning ‘truth,’ and also Will Cann comes about his name in an organic sort of way. Plus, there are a few others in the mix that have a deeper subtext. Cassandra, though it’s not spelled out in the story, is also based on  a Greek myth about truth. Can you talk about how these names worked their way into the narrative?

220px-Cassandra1.jpegAmy Impellizzeri: Ah! You’re the first person to pick up on the Cassandra reference. I love your careful eye! Names are often a hard thing for me. I get attached to names from the beginning, making it impossible to change them during the writing process. So I spent some time carving out the names in this story from the beginning. I researched several Greek myths until I came to the “Thea means Truth” revelation. And at the time I started this novel, I didn’t know any Thea’s so it was perfect! Now, of course, I have met lots of Thea’s. Funny how that works.

L.L.: THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA seems like it might require a good amount of intricate plotting. What’s your process like and did anything change drastically during the writing?

Amy Impellizzeri: This was definitely my most ambitious plot to date. I sketched it out carefully from the beginning – which is NOT my usual process.  I knew exactly where I was going. But I confess that there were still some necessary detours along the way.  I had to allow for changes and evolutions – right up until the end. For example, the nuances of Elizabeth Barrett’s storyline developed in a much later draft and surprised even me!

L.L.: I think it would be fair to ask what’s obsessing YOU?

Amy Impellizzeri: Lately, I’m obsessed with authenticity,  empathy, and karma. 

L..L.: Amy, it’s been such a pleasure! Before we go, what’s on your bucket-list for 2018?

Amy Impellizzeri: Finishing my next novel! I’m working on a story that is set in the political scene of one of my favorite cities -Washington D.C. – and yet it’s not really a political book. It’s called WHY WE LIE. I guess I’m not quite done with this authenticity theme yet, can you tell?!

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

Amy Impellizzeri: Well, it’s only just been announced – so you might not have heard – Francis Ford Coppola likes THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA! Well, at least enough to include it in a special new gift from the Francis Ford Coppola Winery as part of their inaugural Books & Bottles package – a curated box of wine, customized recipes, playlists, fiction and more!

For more information, to connect with Amy via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA, please see:

image1ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Impellizzeri is a reformed corporate litigator, former start-up exec, and award-winning author. After spending a decade at one of the top law firms in the country, Amy left to advocate for working women, eventually landing at a VC-backed start-up company, Hybrid Her (named by ForbesWoman as a top website for women in 2010 and 2011), while writing her first novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2014), named a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Bronze Winner (Romance). Her sophomore novel, SECRETS OF WORRY DOLLS was released on December 1, 2016, and was an Editor’s Pick in Foreword Reviews Magazine.
Amy’s third novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA, released in October 2017.

Amy’s first non-fiction book, LAWYER INTERRUPTED, was published by the American Bar Association in May 2015 and has been featured in TheAtlantic.com, Above the Law, ABC27, and more.

Amy is a Tall Poppy Writer, Past President of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a contributor to She is Fierce! and Women Writers, Women’s Books. Amy’s essays and articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Glass Hammer, Divine Caroline, ABA’s Law Practice Today, and Skirt! Magazine, among more.

Amy currently lives in rural Pennsylvania where she works and plays and keeps up on all of the latest research confirming that large volumes of coffee are indeed good for you.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Impellizzeri and used with permission. Image of Greek goddess Cassandra retrieved from Wikipedia on 12.07.17, image of books and ‘believe’ from L.Lindsay’s personal archieves. “Truth” image from.]

Wednesdays with Writers: Bestselling author and award-winning journalist Robert Kolker talks about the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK), the evolution of sex work, how our justice system isn’t always fighting, his forthcoming book, and more in his true-crime narrative LOST GIRLS

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A PUBLISHERS WEEKLY top ten book of 2013 about an infamous Long Island serial killer (LISK).

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Award-winning investigative reporter, Robert Kolker delves into the LOST GIRLS like someone writing fiction. LOST GIRLS (Harper, 2013) is  deeply researched and backstories of all the girls (who worked as on-line escorts) are explored. For this, I found the writing very compelling and humanizing. Kolker goes back, way back, to the origins of these girls’ lives, namely foster care and other challenging situations. We see how easy it might be to fall into the throes of prostitution: drugs, drama, death, dollars…it seems like an easy way to make a buck.

That would be the first quarter or so of the book. The next half or so is about how these girls–Melissa, Maureen, Megan, Amber, Shannan go missing, end up dead. Is there a serial killer on the loose? Is it just coincidence that their bodies all wash up on the same Oak Beach shore, could it be that death is the fate of sex workers? It’s hard to say. Kolker does an exceptional job of giving a clear and unbiased portrait of each girls’ family. 

And then we dive into the forensics of the matter. There are some ‘whodunit’ moments and cast of suspects, but no one seems to be talking.

Please join  me in welcoming Bob Kolker to the blog couch as we chat about this deeply researched, yet completely unsettling, true crime tale.

Leslie Lindsay: Bob, it’s great to have you. I know LOST GIRLS is a work of nonfiction about five women connected by the same criminal investigation—a suspected serial killer (or killers) operating in Long Island from about 1996 until about 2010. What struck you about this case that you had to dive in? Is it your geographic proximity, being in Brooklyn, or something else?

Bob Kolker: Thanks, Leslie—I’m glad to have the chance to talk about LOST GIRLS.

I first learned about the five women in LOST GIRLS while covering the case of the Long Island serial killer for New York magazine in early 2011, shortly after the first four bodies were discovered along a desolate stretch of highway near the southern coast. By then, people who followed the headlines knew that the five women all connected by this case were oddly similar: petite, in their twenties, and working as escorts online. But when I started to learn more about these women’s lives, and I saw that everything that society might commonly assume about them was wrong. They weren’t social outcasts. They stayed in close touch with their families—their mothers and sisters, and, in some cases, ex-husbands and children. What they had in common, I discovered, was that they all came from parts of the country the media overlooks—poor, struggling areas where becoming a prostitute might not have been the most desirable path, yet somehow has become a valid, almost normal option. 

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What started as reporting on crime and murder became also about misogyny and class, and the shocking differences in how our criminal justice system treats the rich and poor. While I hoped the book would maintain visibility for the case, I also hoped the LOST GIRLS would help explain why these women where more than just what the media was painting them as. I wanted to find out why they felt they had to work in the shadows to survive—and to explain how the shadows sadly became the perfect place for a killer to find them.

L.L.: LOST GIRLS is such an intricate web of drugs, death, drama, and yet you find a way for readers to ‘get to know’ these girls, their families of origin, and little quirks about them. Can you tell us what your research process was like?

Bob Kolker: I’m very lucky to have had spent 17 years as a writer of feature and cover stories at New York magazine, where I got a lot of experiencing interviewing vulnerable sources for articles involving a variety of sensitive issues, including sexual abuse, the loss of family members on 9/11, and the police shooting of Sean BellIn each case, I do what I can to be sensitive and even empathetic in my reporting, while retaining the impartiality and distance that is required for responsible storytelling. That’s a challenging line to walk, but I’m grateful to have a lot of experience walking that line.

When I approached the women’s families about a book, I made it clear that I considered it my responsibility to move beyond the headlines and present complete portraits of each woman. I spent a lot of time in the hometowns of each woman, speaking to friends and relatives alike.  I kept coming back to the families in order to demonstrate that I wasn’t just doing a quick take on their lives, but really wanted to take their stories seriously.  It took a lot of time, but I’m very grateful to all of the families for their candor and trust.

“[Lost Girls‘s] sense of mastery carries over into Mr. Kolker’s lean but ductile prose. Reading this true-crime book, you’re reminded of the observation that easy reading is hard writing.
                                                                       – Dwight Garner, The New York Times

L.L.: We should back up a little and say, the women all involved were sex workers. In the late-1990s and early 2000s, the industry shifted a bit with the introduction of the Internet. Now prostitutes/call girls/escorts could lure johns anonymously through on-line ads on Craigslist and also Backpage. Since LOST GIRLS was published in 2013, how do you see that Internet sex world evolving? And do you believe the investigation would have been handled differently if the women weren’t sex workers?

Bob Kolker: You’re totally right that the Internet has revolutionized sex work. There’s no need to walk down a dark street anymore to be a sex worker, or to have a pimp, or to work for an escort service that takes most of your earnings. You don’t ever have to leave your own house. And so more women who lead more or less normal lives are often drawn into it because it promises an economic freedom they feel is unavailable to them otherwise. All five women I wrote about grew up in families where, in the social sense, prostitution was not seen as a move up. And yet for each of them, the decision felt like an entrepreneurial one: Rather than surrender their financial fate to a minimum-wage job with no benefits and no future, they decided to go into business for themselves.

Since LOST GIRLS was published, the sex work conversation has gone mainstream, with cover stories about legalizing prostitution in the New York Times Magazine and New York magazine.  I’ve seen the coverage of serial-killer cases skew more toward treating the victims as real people and not stock characters in some police procedural. And the inequities of the criminal justice system are getting a lot more attention now, from media outlets like The Marshall Project. If LOST GIRLS played some part in that, I’m of course very happy.

But to answer your question: Yes. I absolutely believe that if these women came from a different social strata, the police would have taken their disappearances more seriously and worked to find them and solve their murders more aggressively. That aspect of the mystery is, at least to me, not unsolved. It’s crystal clear.LostGirls_AF

L.L.:  There are new developments in the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) case. In 2016, Shannan Gilbert’s younger sister killed her mother in cold-blood, it appears. The sister was also diagnosed with schizophrenia and pleaded insanity. Shannan was believed to be bipolar. Does mental illness factor in to this case at all?

Bob Kolker: I continue to follow the case closely, and while there are still no suspects, there’s always something new happening. I didn’t think I could be shocked anymore, but I certainly was brought low by Mari Gilbert’s [Shannan’s mother] murder. Mari is a major character in LOST GIRLS, which of course reflects how large she loomed in real life. She had worked so hard to get justice for her daughter Shannan, and for the police to treat all of the victims with respect and dignity. That her mentally ill daughter Sarra ended up killing her while experiencing delusions seems worse than unfair. Many have suggested that mental illness was something that Sarra shared with Shannan. I’m concerned that might be too pat an explanation for why Shannan disappeared: Just saying Shannan was crazy lets a lot of culpable people off the hook.

I’m also paying special attention to the case of James Burke, the police official in Suffolk County who was jailed recently after rising up to the department’s top spot, even though it was widely known just how jaw-droppingly corrupt he was. It seems clear that Burke worked to keep the FBI away from the LISK case, presumably because the feds were investigating him for various abuses and he didn’t want them anywhere near him. Imagine if the FBI had been able to help earlier. Maybe we’d have a suspect by now. There’s no telling what effect the corruption of the Suffolk County justice system had on this case.download (54)L.L.: There’s also the mystery of Dr. Peter Hackett, and his involvement in Shannan’s disappearance. According to the investigation, Shannan knocked in his beach cottage door demanding help. He denies this. But then he’s also called her mother offering condolences. It seems he’s hiding something. He’s since moved from Long Island and is living in Florida. It seems to me that the authorities would have their guy if bodies stopped piling up on Oak Beach now that he’s not there. But perhaps it’s not that simple?

Bob Kolker:  The police never seemed to take Hackett serious as a suspect, but he certainly seems to be at the center of the events at Oak Beach on the night of Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance. I have an exclusive interview with Hackett in LOST GIRLS, and you can see in our conversation how he seems to dissemble even when asked the simplest, most verifiable questions. I am convinced that Hackett and other neighbors at Oak Beach are hiding something important about what happened to Shannan that night. I think we’d have much to learn from what they know.

As for the overall serial killer case, I’m as astonished as anyone that the police don’t have stronger leads, though that may well be because no one took these women’s disappearances seriously when they first vanished. I’m concerned that this might be a case that’s resolved five or ten or fifteen years later after someone confesses. That seems to happen a lot in serial killer cases. But it’s terrible that the perpetrator is still out there. I hope for an arrest as soon as possible. And I also hope for a greater understanding of what made these women so vulnerable to a predator. Their case is still very much alive, and readers can keep that in mind as they sift through all the clues themselves in LOST GIRLS.

L.L.: I could ask questions all day about the case, but I want to know more about your next book, HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD about a mid-century family who has a virulent string of schizophrenia in their family. How did you stumble across this find and what message do you hope to impart?

Bob Kolker: I’ve been very privileged to be interviewing a large family about everything they went through as mental illness tore through their lives at a moment when even less was known about mental illness than is known now. This family’s case was significant enough to be studied by NIH, but no one has told their story before. Along the way, I’ll also be telling the broader story of science’s search for the causes of schizophrenia. I hope this book does a little of what LOST GIRLS did, which is to offer readers a pathway into a world not quite like their own.

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

Bob Kolker:  My family just adopted a puppy. We did it kind of on impulse, which is very unlike us. None of us have had a dog before, either, so we’re freaking out and delighted all at the same time (shhh, it’s nap time).   On the literary side, I’ve loved Megan Abbott’s YOU WILL KNOW ME and Adam Sternbergh’s THE BLINDS.

L.L.: Bob, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? What you had for breakfast, what’s on your wish list this holiday season, your favorite book, or something else?

Bob Kolker: Once I stop researching my current book, I can’t wait to read KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann.

 

For more information about the book, to connect with Bob via social media, or to purchase a copy of LOST GIRLS, please see:

KolkerAuthorPhoto.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Kolker is the New York Times bestselling author of Lost Girls, named one of the New York Times’ 100 Notable Books and one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Top Ten Books of 2013. As a journalist, his work has appeared in New York magazine, Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times Magazine, Wired, GQ, Oprah, and Men’s Journal. He is a National Magazine Award finalist and a recipient of the Harry Frank Guggenheim 2011 Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting Award from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of R. Kolker and used with permission. PEOPLE magazine image retrieved from author’s website, girls in case retrieved from Boston Globe books in a row from Amazon, ‘reading is my superpower’ from L.Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 11.18.17] 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Ali Land talks about her time as a mental health nurse in the U.K., her ‘insatiable curiosity’ about people, female serial killers, nature vs. nurture, the stress of writing a second book, and more in her international bestseller, GOOD ME BAD ME

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Is it nature or nurture? That’s the overarching question in this debut psychological thriller about a female serial killer and her daughter. 
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When I heard about GOOD ME BAD ME, I knew I had to get my hands on it. So when the publisher reached out with a gorgeous copy (seriously, this is an exquisite package), I was thrilled.

Annie (who now goes by Milly) is 15 and living with a foster family. Her mother is a serial killer awaiting trial. After turning her mother into the police, Milly must start fresh. Living with Mike, a psychologist, his yoga-loving (though emotionally absent wife) and snarky teenage daughter, Phoebe, Milly is doing the best she can to adjust to life without her mother, a new school, and a new identity.

Told in a voice-y dialogue from the POV of a 15 year old, GOOD ME BAD ME straddles the YA genre with that of a psychological thriller. Rest assured, there are many adult themes in this book; it is not a book for younger readers.

The writing is edgy and emotional. While not horribly graphic in detail (not a horror in that sense), the acts committed to children are unspeakable and could cause triggers for some. I found GOOD ME BAD ME complex, chilling, and insightful in terms of a teenage voice plagued by mental illness.

I am so honored to welcome Ali Land to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Ali, when I read that you were a mental health nurse working with children in the U.K., I was hooked. Reading and writing has always been a love of mine, but like you, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. I find the mind such a fascinating tangle. What ultimately inspired, your career in mental health?

Ali Land: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me on your blog! I had an insatiable curiosity about people and their minds from a very young age. I grew up in a boarding school and found it fascinating observing the different ways my friends reacted to the same situation. As I hit my teenage years the observing morphed into a desire to understand the ‘why’s’ – why was a person sad enough to harm themselves, why were they scared, why did one of my closest friends at school stop eating. I wanted to help. Specialising in children’s mental health felt very natural for me, being able to use stories and play and the therapeutic conversations I had with the adolescents will never leave me, in fact, one conversation in particular I had with a teenage girl formed the basis of GOOD ME BAD ME.

L.L.: I know there are plenty of memorable patients from my years as a psychiatric nurse. In fact, I’ve tried (and failed) writing a novel involving one. What inspired GOOD ME BAD ME? And what were some of your challenges?

Ali Land: Years ago I looked after a teenage girl who no longer wanted to live. Her mother had been involved in the serious harm of young children and the girl was convinced she would end up doing the same as her mother. The notion of living with a parental legacy of evil haunted me. The burden this girl, and other children I
looked after, carried, was so apparent. In addition to that I witnessed young people taking on traits of, not just the adults around them, but the absent parents too, the one’s they hadn’t seen since they were babies. Was this girl right? Can the apple ever fall far from the tree? How much choice do we have about who we become? Over the years those questions grew arms and legs inside of me and when I couldn’t hold them in any longer, the first draft of GOOD ME BAD ME was born. 

images (24)The challenges in writing the story were great. Initially I found it hard to talk about the book without crying. I worried I might further isolate children like my main character, Milly, by using the medium of a thriller to push the nature/nurture debate. The idea of using the realities of damaged young people and turning it into entertainment is something I feel very strongly about. My main priority was facilitating an authentic experience, one that would allow readers to inhabit the mind and body of a child who has a complex and disturbing past, and to illustrate that simply desiring to be good isn’t enough. I strived really hard to write GOOD ME BAD ME in a way that ensures it’s thrilling enough so readers have to keep turning the pages, but moving enough so they would want to discuss it afterwards. When readers contact me to tell me I’ve achieved that, that for me is the biggest reward.It tore out of me in five months.

L.L.: Female serial killers are pretty rare. You mention this in GOOD ME BAD ME, but just how rare are they? What kind of research did you do to write this story?

Ali Land: I don’t know that much about female serial killers other than they often operate in co-dependent relationships with men, Rosemary West and Myra Hindley immediately coming to mind. It was a conscious decision I made not to research female killers because the point of the book is that the reader’s eye is on Milly, the daughter. It’s her story. Many people comment on the fact I never name her serial killer mother but I do, only once, with the majority of readers missing it as was my intention. I view my writing as an extension of my nursing and I felt it was my responsibility to focus, not on the crimes, but on the aftermath and the teenager left behind.

 L.L.:  There are so many issues and concepts in GOOD ME BAD ME from the foster system, bullying, nature vs. nurture, mental health, suicide, and more. What do you hope readers take away from Milly’s experience?

Ali Land: Two things. Firstly, an authentic and compassionate understanding of the psychological processes a child such as Milly endures. And secondly, that although nature/nurture has always, and will always be the greyest of grey areas and even if it seems futile at points, we should never stop trying to understand or care for our young people, the product of both their environment and their genes.

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L.L.: What’s obsessing you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Ali Land: Brexit and my second book. Brexit because, well, it’s a horrible reality that instead of the world becoming more united, the opposite seems to be happening. And my second book because 2017, my debut year, has been pretty stellar and it’s hard not to feel paralyzed by what’s next. I used to say to the kids I looked after as a mental health nurse, ‘just do your best and don’t forget to breathe,’ and I’m trying very hard to take my own advice as I begin climbing the mountain of my second book.

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

Ali Land: Not at all, your questions were wonderful, thank you, but if I may, I’d love to add this:

To all the writers out there. I did it and you can too. Read lots, write lots and never give up!

~Ali x

For more information, to connect with Ali via social media, or to purchase a copy of GOOD ME BAD ME, please see:

Copyright lauralewisphotography.co.uk Ali Land 2 0588 2AUTHOR BIO: After graduating from university with a degree in Mental Health, Ali spent a decade working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse in both hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia. Though a voracious reader from a young age and a keen observer of the world, it took Ali over thirty years to put pen to paper but she sure is glad she did! Ali’s debut novel Good Me Bad Me is an international bestseller and will be translated into twenty-three languages. It was short-listed for The Most Unreliable Narrator at the Dead Good Reader Awards, short-listed by the Crime Writers Association for the John Creasey New Blood Dagger and won Book Of The Year at Heat magazine Unmissables Awards. It’s also a New York Times Editors choice and a Richard and Judy book club pick. Ali is now a full-time writer and lives in London and is currently working on her second novel.

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


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[Cover and author image courtesy of Flatiron Books and used with permission. Author image credit: Laura Lewis Photography. Nature vs. Nurture image from. Mental Health Nurse image from zazzle.com. Book wreath from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]

Wednesdays with Writers: Poetic and lyrical Rene Denfeld on our fascination with lost children, memory, imagination, the Oregon wilderness, and so much more in THE CHILD FINDER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

An exquisitely written tale of s little girl lost, her striking imagination and how we often have to be lost in order to be found. 

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I found THE CHILD FINDER to be disturbing and haunting and I was absolutely spell-bound, not wanting to sit the book down. In fact, I didn’t; I read THE CHILD FINDER in one day. While the story is ultimately bleak (there’s hope, though), it’s dazzlingly written. It’s lush, melodic, while at the same time, stark.

A bit about the plot: Maddie Culver goes missing in the Oregon wilderness while her family is cutting down their Christmas tree. It’s been three years. Her parents are beside themselves and insist she’s still alive. But three years is a long time. The Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny ability to find lost children.

Diving into the icy, remote Skookum Forest, Naomi attempts to uncover all possibilities, unearthing old mines, digging up old homesteads, and stalking out the corner grocery. 

And then another–unrelated case–presents itself. Naomi doesn’t like taking two cases at once, but she’s drawn to the circumstances.

Yet, there’s something mysterious about Naomi herself–something tugging at her and making us as readers feel her urgency. Who is Naomi and what does her past hold?

Please join me in welcoming Rene to the blog couch:

Leslie Lindsay: Rene, I devoured THE CHILD FINDER. I know you have a background in journalism, but also investigator work and you’re a foster parent. Was it all of those things that inspired THE CHILD FINDER, or was it something else?

Rene Denfeld: Thank you for having me! THE CHILD FINDER was inspired by my investigative work—I’ve been a licensed investigator now for over a decade. I’ve worked hundreds of cases, including missing persons. It was also inspired by my amazing kids. I adopted three kids from foster care and have fostered others. I think both experiences came together in this novel, along with my love of poetry.

L.L.: I have to say, I haven’t read many books set in Oregon, but now I’m seeking them out. My family and I visited Oregon for the first time this past summer. It’s a beautiful state! And haunting, too…the geological formations, the way one can go from forest to desert to mountains and sea in a matter of hours. I found THE CHILD FINDER to be so atmospheric. Are you an Oregon native? What more can you tell us about the location of the Skookum National Forest?

Rene Denfeld: I grew up here in Oregon. It is such a beautiful state! You can go from the beach to snowy mountains to flinty desert reservations here in a day. Growing up here I also learned about our heritage, which comes through in the novel. I populated
the novel with real Oregonians, from city folk to rural farmers to those who live the same lives their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
But as beautiful our wildernesses, Oregon can also be dangerous. Every year dozens of people go missing in our endless forests. For that reason I named the remote snowy mountain region in the novel after a native word for “dangerous place.” That’s what Skookum means, and the region is modeled after our real mountains ranges.oregon_hike.jpg

L.L.: Madison Culver has such a rich imagination. She loves fairy tales and has a colorful interior world. I think there’s a place in the book that talks about her ability to cope to be extreme. Can you talk about how creativity and imagination lead to resilience?

Rene Denfeld: I love this subject. You know, I’ve written about how I survived extreme abuse and poverty as a child. My sanctuary was the local library, where I lost myself in the world of books. Stories saved my life—literally. I learned to imagine myself into a different world. Doing the work I do, and being a therapeutic foster parent, I believe the key to survival is in power of our imaginations. Think about it. If you have an imagination, you can imagine yourself in a different future.
You can imagine the steps it would take to go to college, or be a better parent than the one you had. This is why it is so important that we teach imagination, and literacy. Once a child has an imagination the future is limitless. They can make claim to their own story, their right to exist in this world. They can create a sense of self.

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L.L.: Lost children seem to be a tormented fascination of mine. I think I’m in good company, because there are plenty of books surrounding this theme. Yet, they are all unique. Why do you think readers are so fascinated with this topic? Why are you?

Rene Denfeld: That’s such a good question. I think it goes layers deep. There is the fear losing something  precious to us—the thought strikes terror into any parent. Then there is the fear of being lost ourselves, of not being able to be found. One reason I think readers are fascinated with the topic is because there are so many times in life we all feel lost or trapped. Right now a lot of people in our country feel lost and trapped. We want to know a way out of the wilderness. We are desperate to find the path home. Much of THE CHILD FINDER is about that journey. It is about our capacity to find each other, even in the worst circumstances when everyone is telling us it is too late. At heart it is a story of hope. It is about courage, faith and redemption. As the novel says, it is never too late to be found.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals or routines? About how long does it take you to get a first draft of a manuscript written? Are you a pantser or plotter?

Rene Denfeld: I am a poetic pantser! Once I hear the voice of a character the story comes pouring out. For me writing is pure deliciousness. It is like falling down the rabbit hole and waking up in a new world. I get so absorbed that my kids can walk in the room and wave their hands in my face and I am just…gone. That said it isn’t all easy. The hard work for me is after that first draft pours out. That’s when I have to take a more sensitive editorial role, guiding the story, which by then feels and is real people to me. It usually takes me about a year to write a novel.

L.L.: I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood. I just completed writing a memoir. There were so many things I had to look up on Google. Toys I played with, books I read, clothes I wore. I wanted to make sure I got it right. Do you think we can accurately recall our childhoods? What, if anything from your childhood do you still yearn for, even a little?

Rene Denfeld: That’s such a wise point. I’m fascinated with memory. I had a therapist tell me once, “it is the feeling that matters.” We approach memory like a court of law, wanting every fact to be right. Of course if it is about a court of law and there is an accusation, that is the way to go! But when it comes to our daily lives I think its okay to let some of our memories be dreams, colored by time and want and desire or sadness. I admire you for writing a memoir. It frustrates me when I see memoirists get criticized for not getting some fact perfect. You can have five people in a family and all will have different memories of the same event, even if they were all there. That’s part of the beauty of humanity to me.

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

Rene Denfeld: It’s been wonderful! The only thing I can think of is great books I’ve read lately. I love to share with readers! Some great books out now include Andrea Jarrell’s memoir I’M THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY, Alice Anderson’s memoir SOME BRIGHT MORNING I’LL FLY AWAY, Jacqueline Woodson’s ANOTHER BROOKLYN, and Gayle Brandies THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS.

For more information about the book, to connect with Rene via social media, or to order a copy of THE CHILD FINDER, please see:

Rene Denfeld author photo 1 (002).jpg

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rene is the author of the acclaimed novels The Child Finder and THE ENCHANTED, as well as essays in publications such as the New York Times. Rene’s new literary thriller, THE CHILD FINDER, explores themes of survival, resiliency and redemption  It has received much acclaim, including a starred Library Journal review, major press, and an Indie Next pick. Landing as  the #1 fiction bestseller at Powell’s within its first week, THE CHILD FINDER became a top #10 bestseller in Canada and a bestseller in the United States.

Rene’s lyrical, beautiful writing is inspired by her work with sex trafficking victims and innocents in prison. Rene was the Chief Investigator at a public defender’s office and has worked hundreds of cases. In addition to her advocacy work, Rene has been a foster adoptive parent for twenty years. She will be awarded the Break The Silence Award at the 24th Annual Knock Out Abuse Gala in Washington, DC on November 2, 2017, in recognition for her advocacy and social justice work.

The child of a difficult history herself, Rene is an accomplished speaker who loves connecting with others. Rene lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is the happy mom of three kids adopted from foster care.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission Image of Oregon forest retrieved from,. Girl in library from bbc.com, childhood memories from; all retrieved on 10.30.17. Fall Wreath from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]. 

Wednesdays with Writers: Fiona Davis on several of my favorite topics–psychiatry, journalism, architecture & design; oh and The Dakota, NYC, and her stunning new historical novel, THE ADDRESS and how she was once a very horse-crazy girl

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Fiona Davis’s brilliant new book, THE ADDRESS, takes readers on a journey to historical NYC and into the famed Dakota Apartment building. 

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With 2016’s debut of THE DOLLHOUSE, Fiona Davis made one of the most stunning entrances as an author who knows her way around historical fiction. I was mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get my hands on THE ADDRESS. Rest assured, this is no sophomore slump; I adored it.

The Dakota. You may know it as the apartment building where ROSEMARY’S BABY was filmed, or perhaps where John Lennon died, or maybe you just think of it as a Bavarian monstrosity on the Upper West End where may playwrights, actors, writers, musicians live.

THE ADDRESS is constructed in dual-time periods, 1884 and 1985 respectively, which draws a natural suspense. The writing is evocative, historically rich, and mysterious.Beginning in London, we meet Sara Smythe, a housekeeper at the Langham and follow her on a journey across the Atlantic where she lands in the outskirts of a developing NYC. 250px-Dakota_Building

Sara is to be the new managerette of the soon-to-be opened The Dakota. She’s aghast at the primitive location–farmland and empty lots, unpaved streets. Still, she’s alone and unwilling to run home. I found Sara to be extremely likable, sympathetic, relatable, and quite strong. She’s not your typical kowtowing woman of the Victorian Era.

One hundred years later, in 1985 NYC, Bailey Camden is an interior designer charged with renovating The Dakota. But she’s not impressed with the design ideas which would trump the original design aesthetics of the historic building.

Oh but there’s more–and to say too much would be giving it all away–let’s just say there’s love and loss, success and ruin, mystery, poor decisions, passion and madness that drive the plotI absolutely loved the clear sense of place in THE ADDRESS, the vivid details and found it to be a very engaging piece of historical fiction.

Slide over on that silk settee and join me in conversation with Fiona Davis.

Leslie Lindsay: Fiona, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back to the blog couch. I was so taken with THE ADDRESS mainly because it combines several of my passions: architecture, interior design, and madness. I know THE ADDRESS was inspired, in part by your work on THE DOLLHOUSE, but what more can you tell us about the origins of this tale?

Fiona Davis: I am so glad you enjoyed it! I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for twenty-five years, and had walked by the Dakota hundreds of times, staring up at those enormous windows, wondering what it was like to live there. I realized that setting a book there would give me the perfect excuse to get inside (and was eventually able to do that, through roundabout connections to a couple of very generous tenants). As I dug deeper into its history, I knew it was the perfect choice for a dual-narrative historical fiction novel. The building had undergone many changes since it opened in 1884 on the edge of Central Park, back when the neighborhood was described by one newspaper as full of “rocks, swamps, goats, and shanties.” By the 1980s, a couple of tenants had torn down the period details from their apartments and replaced them with shag carpets and wall-to-ceiling mirrors. It was the perfect way to compare and contrast two “gilded ages,” as well as the way women’s roles and voices have changed over a century.

L.L.: So I have to know: which characters were ‘real’ and which were from your imagination? I am guessing Sara Smythe was a composite character…but what about Theodore Camden? Henry Hardenbergh? Oh, and Nellie Brown had to have been Nellie Bly?

Fiona Davis: Sara Smythe and Theodore Camden are fictional characters. I knew I wanted to have an architect in the 1880s time line, so that he and Sara Smythe could team up to get the building ready for opening day. Henry Hardenbergh was the actual architect for the Dakota (and the Plaza Hotel and a number of other fabulous buildings), so I didn’t mind having him make a cameo, but I didn’t want to try to fit his life into my story. That’s where Theo came in – he’s in charge of the interiors for the building and I could make him do my bidding without any constraints.

Nellie Bly, a journalist for the New York World during the 1880s, actually went by the name Nellie Brown when she went undercover to expose the injustices at Blackwell’s Island Asylum. She’s the real deal in the book.

L.L.: In my former career, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. To say I am fascinated in psychiatry—especially historical psychiatry—is a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t get over the harsh conditions you depicted on Blackwell Island in the book. In fact, I’ve been searching for Nellie Bly’s TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE for years! (I want it in hardback; it’s a challenging find).  Can you tell us a little about how that piece of the story came to be? What research did you do?

Fiona Davis: I had heard about Nellie Bly when I was studying for a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia, and I naturally gravitated to her first-hand account of life in an 1880’s women’s insane asylum during my initial research. After reading TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE, I took the tram over to what’s now called Roosevelt Island to visit the remaining structure, the Octagon, which today serves as the lobby to a condo. In my book, I hope the harrowing backdrop of the asylum makes an interesting counterpoint to luxuriousness of the Dakota.

L.L.: As with THE ADDRESS and THE DOLLHOUSE, where there any iconic sites you ‘visited’ in your research (or in the book) that will appear in a forthcoming book?

Fiona Davis: In addition to checking out the Octagon on Roosevelt Island, I modeled the library for the ball scene after the one at the Morgan Library & Museum, and used the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street as inspiration for Daisy’s family’s
apartment. Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota, is an important location in the book as well. The next book will be set at Grand Central Terminal – one of New York City’s most famous iconic buildings – and I’m having a blast working on it.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
“A delicious tale of love, lies and madness.”
— People

L.L.: What do you find most rewarding about writing historical fiction? What are 2960-Central_Park-Strawberry_Fieldssome of the challenges?

Fiona Davis: I love the research phase, when anything is possible and the ideas are bubbling away. The challenge comes when you have to narrow down the plot and characters and come up with a story that accurately represents the time periods but also keeps the reader guessing. Another reward is hearing from readers. I’ve been doing a lot of author talks in bookstores and libraries and the response has been incredibly warm and enthusiastic.

L.L.: Childhood plays a prominent role in THE ADDRESS. What item(s) from your own childhood do you still, even occasionally, pine for? (an article of clothing, toy, book, something else?)

Fiona Davis: Back when I was around eight years old, I took a book out of my local library about a girl who’s horse crazy, and finally gets to ride a horse for an entire summer before realizing that taking care of it is a lot of hard work. It was my favorite book – I was horse crazy but deeply moved by the character’s insights and transformation – and I must’ve checked out the book dozens of times to re-read. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name. If anyone has read that book and remembers the title, please reach out to me! It was something like “Ride ‘Em, Sally.” But not that. I know, ridiculous, right?

L.L.: Fiona, it’s been a pleasure.  What might have I forgotten to ask about?

Fiona Davis: Not a thing – I loved these questions – thank you so much!

For more information, to connect with Fiona Davis via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ADDRESS, please see:

FionaDavis_Credit KristenJensen.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, she changed careers and began working as an editor and writer. Her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is based in New York City. You can find her at www.FionaDavis.net.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line hangouts:

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Dutton and used with permission. Image of The Dakota retrieved from Wikipedia, historical images of Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) and Henry Hardenberg from Wikipedia, as is octagon images of Roosevelt/Blackwell’s Island and Strawberry Fields memorial. Fall book wreath from L. Lindsay’s archives.] 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Thriller/Action writer and creator of the RAMBO series, David Morrell talks about writing the story you were born to write, why psych suspense might be a dying trend, his fear of the marketplace being saturated with too many stories (including original scripted TV series), ROSEMARY’S BABY 50th anniversary & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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It’s a dreary morning here in Chicagoland. The landscape is bathed in a white mist, and the trees are changing color, leaves dropping one by one. There’s a hush about the air, a tentative pull on the senses that makes us a little more alert, a little more intuitive.

So it might be time to settle in with a classic horror story.

Originally published in 1967, at a time when the ordinary became menacing, ROSEMARY’S BABY brought readers to the brink of what appeared to mundane details that might actually be hiding tragic truths.

Ira Levin, the author of seven books, ranging from horror to mystery to science fiction, among others received an Edgar in 1954 for A KISS BEFORE DYING (his Ira_Levin_novelist.pngfirst novel) and again in 1980 for his play, DEATHTRAP. He received the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award from the Horror Writers Association in 1996. Stephen King referred to Ira Levin as the “Swiss watchmaker of the suspense novel.” In 2003, he received yet another accolade: the Mystery Writers of America’s Grandmaster Award. ROSEMARY’S BABY sold millions after The Today Show interviewed him, surging the title onto the New York Times bestseller list.

Ira Levin passed in 2007 at the age of 78 in his Manhattan home. Despite the kind of works he’s famous for, Levin was considered mild-mannered and modest.

It would be in true horror fashion if I had Mr. Levin on my blog couch today. Alas, I do not live in a haunted manse shrouded in cobwebs and the wedding cake uneaten. But that’s another story for another time.

Please join me in welcoming David Morrell, who is just as decorated as Ira Levin—220px-Firstbloodbookperhaps more. He’s the author of FIRST BLOOD (from which “Rambo” was created), as well as numerous NYT bestsellers. He’s also the recipient of several major accolades, including the Thriller Master award from International Thriller Writers and three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association.

Leslie Lindsay: David, it’s an honor. Thank you for popping by. What draws you to the thriller/horror genre?

David Morrell: I had a tough childhood. My father died in combat. My mother couldn’t take care of me and earn a living, so she put me in an orphanage when I was three. A year later, she remarried, but my stepfather didn’t like children, or maybe it was me in particular he didn’t like. They argued all the time. Lots of verbal violence and sometimes physical. Afraid, I slept under my bed, telling stories to myself in which I was a hero rescuing helpless people. Novelist Graham Greene believed that “an unhappy childhood is a goldmine for a writer.” You could say I was programmed for the thriller and horror genres.

L.L.: In your introduction to ROSEMARY’S BABY, you mention how Levin—and many of his predecessors—take the mundane and spin it into something dark and menacing. This tactic is hugely successful. Why is that?

David Morrell: Using familiar, mundane elements to make horror believable seems obvious, and yet it took a long time for the technique to emerge. In the 1950s, Richard Matheson (THE SHRINKING MAN), Robert Bloch (PSYCHO), and Jack Finney (THE BODY SNATCHERS) are generally credited with inventing it. I quote Douglas E. Winter about how these authors brought “fear from the Gothic landscapes of misty moors and haunted mansions, (inviting) terror into our shopping malls and peaceful neighborhoods—into the house next door.” A decade later, Ira Levin (ROSEMARY’S BABY), William Peter Blatty (THE EXORCIST), and Thomas Tryon (THE OTHER) further developed the technique. Then came the next stage of realistic horror with Stephen King and Peter Straub, etc. So, Levin is solidly in the middle of this trend. His mundane details—the best place to buy swordfish steaks in Manhattan, for example—made what Levin called his “unbelievables” believeable. It was a horror novel that didn’t feel like a genre novel.

L.L.: There is a good deal of religious references in ROSEMARY’S BABY. For one,A1Vmrrc2S+L._SY445_ (1).jpg the second half of her name—Mary. But also: “Oh God!” “hell” and “what the devil” in the dialogue. It’s all there, but one has to be an observant reader. What is your understanding about how Levin structured this tale? And what—if any—research did he do to get it “just right?”

David Morrell: Yes, most of the expletives in ROSEMARY’S BABY have a religious context, but they’re so carefully embedded that readers feel the implication more than notice it. Levin thought it would be interesting for Rosemary (you noted the irony of the second part of her name) to give birth to the Devil’s child on June 25, 1966—a date that’s a version of the sign of the Devil, 666, and that’s also the
calendar opposite of December 25, Christmas. He counted nine months backward and collected newspapers about all the important things that had happened in New York City around September and October of 1965. An electrical blackout, a New York Times strike, John Lindsay’s mayoral campaign, and especially a visit by Pope Paul VI who officiated at a mass in Yankee Stadium on October 5. All of these formed the realistic foundation for the novel. The implication is that Satan impregnated Rosemary during the Pope’s visit.

L.L.: I read, too that the movie adaptation of ROSEMARY’S BABY is “one of the most faithful ever” (I think Levin said that himself); whole pages of dialogue are in the movie, so too are specific colors. But it’s hardly the case that movie adaptations are as exact as the book.  Number one, why is that?  Two, what has been your experience of your book to movie adaptations—I’m especially thinking of RAMBO?

David Morrell: Director/screenwriter Roman Polanski was inexperienced with Hollywood’s ways and thought that a film necessarily had to be faithful to its source material. By the time he found out otherwise, he’d crafted a perfect distillation of the novel, quite an achievement given that the book is several hundred pages long while many screenplays are 110 pages long, with a lot of white space. Too often, directors and screenwriters change things to show how creative they are.51xanpEpeqL._SX342_

As for my experience with the film adaptation of my novel, FIRST BLOOD, there were 26 screenplays written for various studios that owned the movie rights at one time or another. Some of the screenplays were unintentionally funny, such as a character referring to Rambo as “the Bobby Riggs of guerrilla warfare.” The final result (released in 1982, ten years after my novel was published) is remarkably similar in terms of plot, but it interprets Rambo differently (as a victim rather than someone who’s furious about what the Vietnam War did to him). Because the character was softened, the ending was changed. Also the role of the police chief was diminished. Despite these differences, I like the film. It’s very well made, and the action scenes get better each year because the stunts are real, not computer generated. For the U.S. Blu-ray DVD of the film, I recorded a full-length audio commentary in which I compare the two.

L.L.: As for writing—what might be your best tips for writing thrillers and also today’s hot genre (domestic) psych suspense?

David Morrell: I teach writing at various conferences, and I always emphasize these two mantras. 1. Be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of another author. 2. Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside. These days, domestic psychological suspense is the hot subgenre. It can be summarized as “The person closest to you is your worst enemy.” It’s accompanied by the technique of the unreliable first person in which everyone is basically a liar. The subgenre started with Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL in 2012, and after only five years, every agent and editor I speak with complains that this is mostly what’s being 51-89vmRIiL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_submitted [to them.] There are too many followers. You can’t have a long career unless you establish your own identity and make other people imitate you. I talk about this in my The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons about Writing and Publishing.

L.L.: Of all your books and your multiple series, is there any one that stands out as something you are most proud of? I know, a bit like choosing your favorite child.

David Morrell: Over 45 years, there’ve been many books. But four of them stand out for me. FIRST BLOOD (1972), because that debut novel set everything in motion for me and has been called “the father of the modern action novel.” THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE (1984) made a difference also, because it was one of the first espionage novels to blend the British and American spy-novel traditions. The British had authentic spy tradecraft but almost no action. The Americans had plenty of action but laughable spy tactics. I thought it would be interesting to merge the strengths of the two. FIREFLIES (1988) is personally important to me because it’s a meditation about grief after my fifteen-year-old son, Matthew, died from a rare bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma. Finally, in response to another death, that of my 14-year-old granddaughter, Natalie, from the same disease, I escaped into 1850s London with three Victorian mystery/thrillers (MURDER AS A FINE ART, INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD, and RULER OF THE NIGHT). They feature a notorious real-life literary celebrity of the time, Thomas De Quincey, who invented the word “subconscious.” De Quincey’s daughter, Emily, is a strong character in these books and represents the 220px-Thomas_de_Quincey_by_Sir_John_Watson-Gordonindependent woman that I wanted my granddaughter to have the chance to become.

L.L.: Besides scary stories, what’s keeping you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

David Morrell: For 7 years, while I wrote my Victorian novels, I convinced myself that I was on the gothic fogbound streets of 1850s London. When my imagination returned to the present, the hostile tone of the modern world bludgeoned me. FIRST BLOOD came out of the cultural violence of hundreds of riots in the late 1960s. I worry that we’re headed that way again.

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

David Morrell: Just a thought about the almost 500 original scripted TV series that are currently being shown either on network TV, cable, or via streaming. No exaggeration. That’s how many there are. When I’m at social events, I don’t hear people talking about books as much as what they’re binge-watching on TV. Add to this the 800,000 self-published books that were released last year, and you have the most competitive [book/publishing] market I’ve ever seen. More and more, I advise beginning authors to write the book they were born to write rather than what’s currently hot, because trends are ever-changing. As I said earlier, if we chase the market, we’ll always see its backside.

For more information, to connect with David Morrell via social media, or to purchase the 50th anniversary edition of ROSEMARY’S BABY, please see: 

DavidMorrell_auphoto.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR:  David Morrell is the author of First Blood, the acclaimed novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a PhD from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include The Brotherhood of the Rose, the basis for the only television miniseries to be broadcast after a Super Bowl. An Edgar, Anthony, and Arthur Ellis finalist, an Inkpot, Macavity, and Nero recipient, Morrell has three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association and the Thriller Master award from International Thriller Writers. Bouchercon, the world’s largest conference for crime-fiction readers and author, gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Visit him at www.davidmorrell.net.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Pegasus Books and used with permission. Image of FIRST BLOOD original cover retrieved from Wikipedia, image of Ira Levin from Wikipedia, image of Blu-Ray RAMBO and SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, and DVD cover of Rosemary’s Baby retrieved from Amazon, Thomas De Quincey from Wikipedia, all on 9.25.17]