What happens when a ‘starving, razor-clawed beast is inside your body flicking to get out?’ Tessa Fontaine talks about this & more in THE ELECTRIC WOMAN

By Leslie Lindsay

Marvels and miracles. Mothers and daughters. Life and death. I promise, THE ELECTRIC WOMAN will stun and captivate you and then you’ll want to read it all over again. Tessa Fontaine is hear chatting about joining a traveling side show, her love of writing, her favorite M&Ms and so much more. 

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I am such a sucker for a fabulous memoir so when this one came knocking, I was mesmerized. And it’s so well-written, THE ELECTRIC WOMAN (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux May 2018) practically sings; I cannot stop thinking about–and talking about–this book.

Tessa Fontaine expertly braids two tales of death-defying acts into one bold, remarkable narrative–that of her 2013 season with the World of Wonders, the last official traveling sideshow in America and that of her mother, who suffered a severe stroke in 2010. Her mother is told countess times, ‘this is the end,’ but she is determined not to let go of this world.

On stages all across America, Tessa is eating fire, charming snakes, and performing as the electric woman–but she’s thinking of her mother–who is on here own ‘world tour,’ of sorts to Italy, a place she and her husband longed to travel. But she’s voiceless and in a wheelchair and maybe she won’t come back.

I fell in love with Tessa’s determination, her willingness to ‘hack it,’ and I was so in awe of her writing and how everything she wrote–the carnies, the misfits, the grit–tied in so effortlessly. This would be no easy feat as the emotional and physical breadth of THE ELECTRIC WOMAN encompasses so much, including a touch of brain science and biology.

This is an enthralling read and will have you pondering your own capabilities, how much you love, what you might be able to withstand, and those brittle relationships that hinge on trust and forgiveness.

Please join me in welcoming Tessa Fontaine to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tessa, welcome! I am raving over this book. I mean, wow. I think I know what was haunting you when you set out to write THE ELECTRIC WOMAN, but can you tell us more about what was going on during that time?

Tessa Fontaine:

Thanks, Leslie. Two and a half years before I joined the sideshow, my mom had a series of massive strokes that left her unable to walk or talk. It happened at the same time my family lost their house, so in many ways, everything got thrown upside down for me. I was overcome with grief. My mom wasn’t dead, but she also wasn’t the person I knew before.

At first, I hope the book could be a distanced, journalistic account of America’s last traveling sideshow, but the monster living in me disagreed.

I felt like a starving, razor-clawed beast was living inside my body, flicking my heart and tearing at my guts to get out.

I’d never felt that before, that obsessive, relentless drive to tell a particular story. The sideshow was inexorably tied up with the story of my mom’s long illness—and watching her suffer, trying to help, failing to help, rethinking the risk we choose for our bodies, all of that was part of my sideshow story. That’s one of the things that struck me so much about the sideshow, that there were these extraordinary performers choosing to do dangerous acts and assume risk over and over again, acts that are sometimes painful—and how surprisingly parallel that was with the way my mom had to suffer in her various therapies as she worked so hard to try to recover, and then chose to suffer as she and my stepdad decided to take a long-delayed trip around the world, from which nobody thought they’d return. That suffering was necessary for the eventual wonder.


“This is the story of a daughter and her mother. It’s also a memoir, a love story, and a tale of high-flying stunts. It recounts an adventure toward and through fear as Tessa Fontaine performs as an escape artist, fire-eater, and snake charmer with the World of Wonders, a traveling sideshow.”

 Southern Living


Leslie Lindsay:

Your mother’s first stroke was in 2010. You joined the World of Wonders in 2013. The book came out in May 2018. I’m curious how long it took you to actually write. It’s a loaded question, I know…but can you give us a sense of the timeline?

Tessa Fontaine:

Sure thing. While I was on the road with the show in 2013, I took obsessive notes. I wrote a few short essays there that were published while I was with the show, sort of “Notes from the Road,” but really I finished the season at the end of 2013 with just a pile of notes. It took two and a half years for me to write the book. I started when I got to the PhD program I was beginning, at the University of Utah, in the beginning of 2014. I finished in 2016, and worked on edits for a year with my glorious, brilliant editor at FSG, Jenna Johnson. Then, once a book goes into the publishing pipeline, it’s a full year after you finish final edits before the book comes out.

Leslie Lindsay:

And the World of Wonders! I am so intrigued and worried and fearful of the feats you endured. That snake! The fire! You had absolutely no training in any of this beforehand. Can you tell us why you choose the carnival and why you didn’t just run away screaming?

Tessa Fontaine:

Years before I began writing THE ELECTRIC WOMAN, before I even knew that the sideshow I’d eventually join, the World of Wonders, existed, I was obsessed with sideshows. My stepdad told me stories about a very early friendship he had with a retired sideshow performer, a little person, whose mother had been a bearded lady. I had no idea what path would unfold when I started doing my own research, even when I joined the show. But I followed my obsession. My mom’s stroke and suffering was another obsession. It was a very hard, very painful obsession that was a big part of my daily life. Nothing I wrote could be separated from it, because it was the defining lens of my experience. I like to think about writing in terms of obsession, because the things we’re genuinely interested in, delighted by, the threads we tug and tug reflect our particular way of thinking—and that is one of the things that makes reading so exciting. But to get back to your exact question—I think not running away is the whole point of the book for me. Yes, feats in the sideshow are scary and painful and things it would be obvious to run away from. The same is true for helping your mother’s severely disabled body get on and off the toilet. But you don’t run. You stay with the pain. You stay with the danger. You stay with the love.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You met so many bright, colorful personalities during your time with the World of Wonders. Are you still in touch?

Tessa Fontaine:

I’m still in touch with a number of the performers, yes! And one of the greatest parts of being on book tour has been seeing some of them pop up at events. I’m so in awe of the performers. And the show still tours around –everyone should follow the World of Wonders on Facebook, and go see the show!

Leslie Lindsay:

And yet you’re a writer at heart. You teach and are working on a PhD in creative writing. I could ask what advice you’d give to writers…aren’t you glad I’m not? Instead—have you always wanted to write? And how do you keep the saw sharp? What inspires—and challenges—you?

Tessa Fontaine:

I’ve always wanted to write and I’ve always written. When I was very young I wrote cautionary poems about guns, and then about being a two-inch tall fairy and what I would use each kind of plant and food item for. Like, acorn: hat. Carrot stick: sled. I wrote the beginnings of a lot of novels in elementary school full of plot twists involving amnesia and diamonds. And then plays featuring circus-performing insects who live in grocery bags. And on and on. I’ve always felt that I understand the world and myself best through writing it down. I’m not a great oral storyteller. I’m mediocre at talking about myself. But I’m happy to write and write, either making things up or processing the facts of the world as I understand them. I keep the saw sharp by always using it. I usually write five days a week, even if it’s only a little bit, even if it’s terrible. I read constantly. Reading books keeps me wanting to write books keeps me wanting to read books keeps me wanting to write. I’m inspired by learning about weird things in the world around me. Like that birds see in UV. Like the way kid logic works when they’re solving problems. Like obsessive subcultures such as the sideshow. I have the same challenges as most writers, which is a pretty constant crippling self-doubt. But I think that’s ok. It’s annoying, but it keeps me having to ask if what I’m working on is worthwhile, is carefully rendered and thought-through.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope others take away from THE ELECTRIC WOMAN?

Tessa Fontaine:

To scratch a wild itch. Do something bold. Sit still with a person who can’t be in the world the same way you are—an older person, a person with a disability, a person you haven’t spent much time with. Talk to them. Go forward with a thing that’s important to you, even though it is painful. It won’t stop being painful. But you just do the thing anyway.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel-length book? Something else?

Tessa Fontaine:

I’m working on a novel! It’s dark. I tried to write funny animal stories instead, but they didn’t pan out.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tessa, this has been so fun. Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, but should have?

Tessa Fontaine:

You forgot to ask about my favorite kind of m&m! Peanut.

Also, one more note: we need all kinds of people to write all kinds of stories to ensure that there isn’t one story that seems like the only story out there. So keep writing. Keep reading. And always read more than you write.

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

Order Links:

200062495.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tessa Fontaine is the author of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, a New York Times Editor’s pick, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, an Amazon Editors’ Best of the Month featured debut & Amazon Best Books of 2018 (so far), an iBooks favorite, and more.

Tessa spent the 2013 season performing with the last American traveling circus sideshow, the World of Wonders. Essays about the sideshow won the 2016 AWP Intro Award in Nonfiction, and have appeared in The Rumpus, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Autre, and elsewhere. Other work can be found in Glamour, The Believer, LitHub, FSG’s Works in Progress, Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, New Orleans Review, [PANK], Brevity, and more.

​Raised outside San Francisco, Tessa got her MFA from the University of Alabama and is currently a doctoral student in creative writing at the University of Utah. She has received awards and fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Taft Nicholson Center, Writing by Writers, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and more.

She has taught for the New York Times summer journeys, at the Universities of Alabama and Utah, in prisons in Alabama and Utah, and founded a Salt Lake City Writers in the Schools program.

​Around the country, she has performed her one-woman plays in theatres ranging from New York to San Francisco. The scar on her cheek from a 2am whip act is slowly fading.

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

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New York Times Editor’s Choice * ​​Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick * Amazon editor’s Best Books of 2018 (so far) *

 ​Amazon Best Book of May * ​iBooks Favorites: MayRefinery29 Best Books of May​A Patch Book You Need to Read in May * Mag the Weekly’s Reads of the Week (Pakistan) * San Francisco Magazine Memoir to Read Right Now * ​​A New York Times “One of Ten New Books We Recommend This Week” * ​Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

Featured in:

The New York Times *Vogue * Southern Living * The New York Post *  WNYC * The BBC  Elle * Shondaland * ​Business Insider * Bookpage’s 11 Women to Watch in 2018

[Cover and author image courtesy of FSG and used with permission. Image of author eating fire retrieved from author’s website on 9.13.18]

What happens to a young woman when her mother dies and she’s thrust into debilitating grief? Mary Kubica tackles this & more in WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT

By Leslie Lindsay 

Twisty, thought-provoking, dizzying, hypnotic, emotionally-wrenching fifth book from Mary Kubica about identity, motherhood, loss, and insomnia. Mary is here chatting about the origins of the book, motherhood, sleep (yes, you can die from lack of sleep!), and so much more. 

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Mary completely wow-ed me with her breakout novel, THE GOOD GIRL, and since 2014, I’ve gobbled up every one of her novels. She’s immensely talented and her writing is always darkly brilliant. Plus, she’s sweet as pie, training for a half-marathon, and completely dedicated to her children and multiple furry babies.

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (Park Row Books, September 4 2018) a slightly different read from Kubica–erring on the side of motherhood, grief, loss, and identity—providing a unique reading experience. 

Jessie Sloane is tired. She’s been caring for her ailing mother for years and her time is coming soon. Dedicated and devoted, Jessie is at her bedside in the hospital but she can’t rest knowing her mother is on her deathbed, that there are just minutes, hours left of her mother’s life.

And then Jessie is hit with a remarkable sense of grief, a horror of living, of trying to re-build. She’s only 20 and suddenly she’s alone, without a home, a mother, and who is her father, anyway?

Told in alternating settings, time periods, and narrators (Jessie and mother Eden), we experience several worldviews and a highly emotional ride.

Please join me in welcoming Mary Kubica back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary, I am always, always thrilled to chat with you. I have to know: what was haunting you when you started WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT? How did this one call to you?

Mary Kubica:

Thank you for having me back.  I always look forward to chatting with you, Leslie!  I can’t say too much on this one – the twist itself was my initial spark of inspiration, and so I don’t want to give anything away!  But my books are heavy on the psychological side.  They’re not whodunits or crime fiction per se, but rather use kidnapping, murder, identity theft and such as a means to explore themes of grief, abandonment and wanting.  When the twist came to me, I thought to myself: what could be more psychological than that, and was quite pleased to have the opportunity to explore a young woman’s psyche from a different angle than what I was used to.  It came with its challenges, but I loved the research involved… all of which I’m hesitant to speak of in any detail for fear of spoiling the book!


“Kubica is a helluva storyteller.”
~ Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay:

You tackle so many emotionally-wrought topics in WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT: motherhood, infertility, miscarriage, grief, loss, identity, insomnia, paranoia…I mean, wow! Many of these go together. Was this intentional on your part, or did they arise organically?

Mary Kubica:

They arose quite organically.  As you know, I’m not an author who outlines in advance, but take my books one page at a time.  There were a few things I knew when I began writing the novel.  One, that twenty-year-old Jessie’s mother has just died and she’s left to fend for herself, only to discover she may not be the person she believes she is.  And two, that Eden, twenty years before, is a woman so desperate to become a mother that she’d do anything to make it happen.  I also knew of Jessie’s insomnia – a blight that plagues her in the days following her mother’s death and complicates her search for self discovery.  The rest just happened, a result of the writing process and of getting to know more characters better.

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Leslie Lindsay:

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT focuses mostly on two characters—mother Eden and daughter Jessie. Did you identify more with one over the other? Do you often write pieces of yourself into characters—maybe even subconsciously? 

Mary Kubica:

There are parts of my life in both of these characters.  Jessie loses her mother to cancer in the opening pages of the novel.  Her memories of the cancer, of chemotherapy, of her mother’s final days are taken from the memories I have of my grandparents’ battles with cancer, and of being beside my grandmother when she died.  Eden is a married woman, struggling with infertility, desperate to become a mother.  Back when I was starting my own family, a number of women I knew struggled with infertility.  Watching that struggle – that frustrating, expensive, gut-wrenching fight – is something that changed me, especially as I became a mother myself and knew the joys of motherhood.  It was heartbreaking and inconceivable to me that this great gift could be withheld from some.  I started wondering what I would have done – what would have become of me – if I’d never been able to be a mother.  These experiences became part of the novel.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say, sometimes reading about Jessie’s insomnia made me tired. I experienced this sort of buoyant, hypnotic feeling…and just wanted to go to sleep! Ironic, right? Sure, I’ve tossed and turned before, but never to the extent of Jessie. Can one really die from lack of sleep?  What research you did to make this piece of the narrative so alive? 

Mary Kubica:

Yes, one can die from lack of sleep.  Chronic insomnia has very serious physical and emotional effects, which can lead to death.  Fascinating fact: the percentage of heart attacks spike as much as 25% on the Monday after we switch over to daylight savings time, therefore losing an hour of sleep.  The longest a person has been reported to stay awake dates back to the 1960s, when a high school student set a world record for a science fair.  Randy Gardner lasted eleven days (an early title for the novel!) before the fatigue got the best of him and he went to sleep.

These days Gardner says,

“You have to have sleep. It’s as important as – it’s the big three. I call it the big three. Water, food, sleep – you’ve got to have them, all of them.”

While death was certainly a danger for Jessie, the focus of my research was on insomnia and the debilitating effects of it: the grogginess, the moodiness, the cognitive dysfunction, the hallucinations and paranoia, in addition to the more physical symptoms that Jessie experiences in her narrative.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sleep and dreams have always been an interest of mine. It’s amazing just how powerful one’s mind can be. And yet it can be restorative, protective. Can you talk more about that, please?

Mary Kubica:

I’m not generally a napper.  But there are days – especially when I’ve been plugging away at a WIP [work-in-progress] for hours and my mind has turned to mush – that a twenty minute nap does the trick.  A quick reboot.  I love a good night of sleep.  Like many of us, I have a way of working out problematic things in my dreams – whether thorny issues in a manuscript, or in life.  It is restorative.  On the flip side though, the lack of sleep, insomnia, is a bear.  Just a single night of lousy sleep turns me into a different person, a much more unpleasant version of myself!

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Leslie Lindsay:

Often in life, with major projects, we start with the end in mind. Eden wanted a baby. Jessie wanted to sleep. And her mother not to die. But sometimes, we don’t always get what we want. Not in life and sometimes not in a narrative. What might you say to those who are expecting one thing from WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT and receive something completely different? Do you think there are multiple ways of reading a book?

Mary Kubica:

I think the ending will surprise many readers!  This book is a bit different than my first few, in that it’s quite heavy on the emotional side and really a hybrid of psychological suspense and women’s fiction.  I don’t want any of my novels to feel cookie cutter, but like to be bold and original and explore new styles and themes with each novel I write.  As with any book (mine or otherwise), I always feel it’s important that a reader goes in blind, not expecting any one thing in particular from the novel, but just enjoying the ride.  There are of course multiple ways of reading a book.  Each reader will walk away with his or her own impression.  That’s the joy of books (and the reason many make terrific book club books – so many different opinions to discuss!).

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask—like: what you’re reading, how the training is going, how the back-to-school craze is going, what you’re working on?

Mary Kubica:

I’ve just finished reading Catherine Steadman’s SOMETHING IN THE WATER (amazing!), and am looking forward to devouring ARCs [Advanced Reader Copies] from Jessica Strawser and Kaira Rouda next.  Half-marathon training is going well, as is the back to school craze!  As for writing – I’m just finishing up the final edits on my 2019 release, which I’m so incredibly excited for.  It doesn’t have a title yet, but this one focuses on a family of four that’s just relocated to Maine for a fresh start after a number of personal hardships force them from their Chicago home.  Their fresh start isn’t so fresh however when a neighbor is murdered in her home across the street, and the family falls under the scrutiny of the community and police.  More to come on this one soon!

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

Order Links:

Mary Kubica 2017-8ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels.  A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.  She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children.

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

 

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Debut Novelist Julie Clark talks about science, motherhood, love, and so much more in her dazzling good read, THE ONES WE CHOOSE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Shattering original and beautifully written book about secrets, science, DNA, mothers, and the trauma of our ancestors living in each and every one of us. THE ONES WE CHOOSE is such a glimmering debut by an author to watch. 

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You’ll read Julie Clark’s debut and think, “this woman has got to be a scientist,” but she’s not. She’s a 5th grade teacher and mother, and while those skills and traits come through in THE ONES WE CHOOSE, it’s her effortless blend of genetics that made me swoon.

Geneticist Paige Robson is struggling. She’s always had everything together, until her son starts asking about his biological dad. Eight-year old Miles was conceived via sperm donor and while he knows this, he can’t help but feel disconnected. He doesn’t fit in with the other children at school, who all seem to have active, engaged fathers. Plus, Paige’s romantic life isn’t all that great (she has difficultly being open), and her father has just returned; attempting to make up for lost time.


“How could I not love a debut about science, secrets, DNA, and how the traumas of our ancestors still live within our very cells? With gorgeous prose, and a deep emotional resonance, The Ones We Choose is about the science of love, how our DNA shapes us, and a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son while confronting what really makes our identity ours, what and who we choose to let in, and what and who we don’t.  An absolutely dazzling, profound ruby of a novel.”

– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU and CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD 


I was so taken with the breadth of science explored in this work of literary fiction, but don’t worry–it’s all infused with a gentle, almost conversational tone 
(ala Jodi Piccoult style) making for a rich, engaging read. I’m an R.N. by training (it’s been years and years and I no longer practice), but I found the information presented in THE ONES WE CHOOSE riveting(and in some cases, new to me) and so enjoyed this piece of the narrative.

I found the piece of artificial insemination fascinating–I don’t know anyone who has gone through this process and so have always been curious as to how it works. THE ONES WE CHOOSE will give the reader a fictional account of one woman’s experience.

Seriously, a fabulous, well-written, thoughtful debut about mothers, science, love, secrets, and ancestors. 

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, welcome! I am so in awe of your debut. I know you didn’t start out writing a book about genetics—you really knew nothing about it—but lo and behold, your character is a geneticist. What was the jumping-off point for you on this narrative and why science?

Julie Clark:

First, thank so much for reading and inviting me onto your blog today! The idea that my main character, Paige, would be a geneticist evolved slowly. At first, she was a manager of a dog rescue! But the more I wrote scenes between Paige and her son, Miles, the more I realized that this is a story of genetics…the things we pass down to our children. And that there are many people in the world – whether conceived via donor or adopted – who don’t have access to this information. The first thing I did was to start reading about genetics, and find myself an expert in the field.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a 5th grade teacher and a mother to two boys. This definitely comes through in THE ONES WE CHOOSE; how did those experiences and roles inform your writing? Or did they? In fact, there’s a section on the book in which Paige is chatting with her friend, Jackie about being a working mother and says, “In fact, I think I’m a better mother because Miles sees me following my passion. He watches me set goals and achieve them.” Can you talk about that, please?

Julie Clark:

Well, I love my job as a teacher. It’s the perfect balance to writing. It allows me to get out of my head and focus on something bigger than myself, bigger than my books or my writing career. Working with students every day reminds me of the obligation we all have to invest in future generations. And teaching really prepared me for writing a book about genetics. My job requires me to constantly take complex concepts and break them down into pieces that others can easily understand. In writing my genetics chapters, I relied heavily upon those skills.

Leslie Lindsay:

The research you most have done to craft such a well-rounded (and informed!) narrative must have been daunting. What was your process like? Did you enjoy the research?

Julie Clark:

I really did enjoy it! As I said earlier, I spent a lot of time reading up on genetics and ancestry. I also connected with a geneticist, Dr. James West, at Vanderbilt who was so generous with his time, answering emails, chatting on the phone, over the course of two years. The genetics chapters came late in the game, and originally I only had about four or five. My editor at Gallery wanted something between each chapter, so I just sat down and started making a list of everything I could think of: chromosomes, DNA, cells, the genome…and once I got that list, I started thinking about how Paige might think about those topics, in relation to what was going on with her at the time. Some of the chapters are more narrative, others are short and informative. But overall, they were a lot of fun to write.

Leslie Lindsay:

The oxytocin inhibitor gene in men…is that a real thing? Can you tell us more about its appearance in THE ONES WE CHOOSE?

Julie Clark:

What is real: Oxytocin is a bonding hormone. Both mothers and fathers produce massive amounts of it at the birth of a child. What isn’t real: an inhibitor gene that precludes some men from releasing it. I worked closely with Dr. West to figure out the best way to present this…and he assures me that while such a thing doesn’t exist to our knowledge, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

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Leslie Lindsay:

And the whole piece of artificial insemination is so fascinating. I’ve been curious about the process before, but never had any reason to look into it or knew anyone who had gone through it. How did this piece work its way into the novel for you?

Julie Clark:

This was the jumping off point for me for the entire book. I wanted to write about a single mother, because I’m a single mother. But I wanted a different take on it. I wanted to write about someone who chose it for herself, deliberately and lovingly. I have many friends who have used a donor to conceive their child/children, and I wanted to see their families represented.

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you feel you did ‘right’ as a first time novelist and what do you wished you had done better or known more about? Can anyone truly prepare for the task?

Julie Clark:

The best thing I did was to allow myself to enjoy the process, and not get caught up in the details. I was writing my second book throughout most of that time, and that really helped keep me grounded in the belief that while I wanted THE ONES WE CHOOSE to do well, it wasn’t going to be my only book. This is what prepares you for the task of releasing a book – keeping focused on doing it again.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What’s keeping you awake at night? It doesn’t have to be literary. [But if it is, ignore the next question]

Julie Clark:

I sleep pretty well! I feel so fortunate to have had such a great experience with such an amazing team. If I’m awake at night, it’s because I’m feeling grateful.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you?

Julie Clark:

I’m working on revisions for my second book, tentatively titled WHEN I KNEW YOU. But most of that is under wraps for the time being!

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Julie Clark:

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! I’m so glad you loved THE ONES WE CHOOSE, and thank you for reading!

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

Order Links:

Julie Clark Photograph by Eric A. Reid PhotogtaphyABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie Clark grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, and a brief stint working in the athletic department at University of California, Berkeley, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse THE ONES WE CHOOSE is her first novel.

 

 

 

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster and used with permission] 

 

Inspired by Agatha Christie, Shari Lapena takes us to a secluded hotel in the Catskills and tosses in a murder or two in AN UNWANTED GUEST

By Leslie Lindsay

Pure WOW in this wickedly good twisted tale of isolation, torturous tension, smart and oh-so-good thriller from bestselling author Shari Lapena. She’s here chatting about writing herself into corners, how this is a ‘puzzle mystery,’ and she doesn’t always know the answers, plus her writing advice, being disciplined and so much more. 

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In 2016 when THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR came out, I was swept away. And then Lapena gave me more chills with A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE (2017) and this book, this one–AN UNWANTED GUEST (Penguin/Viking, August 14 2018) totally knocked it out of the park.

This time, Lapena takes us to a small luxury hotel nestled in the Catskills Mountains with a cast of characters who don’t know one another. Soon, everyone becomes isolated from the outside world as a winter storm rips through the area leaving the inn without power. There is no escape. No Wi-Fi, no phone service, and plenty of tension. Oh, and a killer at large. At least underfoot.

Maybe. Probably. What would explain the death of gorgeous Dana, engaged to a handsome guy from a prominent East Coast family? She’s found at the bottom of the stairs of inn on the first morning…was it an accident or something else? And then the body count rises. Everyone and no one is a suspect. Tensions run high. Accusations mount. Not everyone at the inn is as angelic as they seem.


“An intriguing cast, an isolated location, a raging storm and the threat of death in every dark corner: AN UNEXPECTED GUEST reads like Agatha Christie with a shot of adrenaline.”
Gilly MacMillanNew York Times bestselling author of THE PERFECT GIRL


We all have secrets…but could any of us be killers? That seems to be the overarching question AN UNWANTED GUEST is trying to answer.

Lapena writes with such a fluid hand, such intelligence that doesn’t come across as ‘too much,’ but quickly pulls the reader right into her grasp. Despite the murderous nature of the book, I almost found the reading experience ‘cozy.’Maybe it’s the language she uses or the images evoked with the descriptions of the inn, but I fell under Lapena’s spell almost immediately and didn’t want to let go.

You will have theories and ideas about the end, the twist, but chances are, you’ll be wrong. I was. Seriously, read this.

But first, join me in conversation with Shari Lapena.

Leslie Lindsay: 

Shari, it’s always a pleasure. I’m so, so intrigued with your initial concept of AN UNWANTED GUEST. It feels very classic in terms of storytelling—and that’s a good thing! I’m reminded not just of Agatha Christie but also the new trend in Escape Rooms. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration behind the narrative?

Shari Lapena:

That’s interesting that you suggest Escape Rooms. I hadn’t thought of that! The inspiration behind AN UNWANTED GUEST is actually Agatha Christie’s novel, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.  I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of people trapped somewhere with a murderer among them and the characters (and the reader) trying to figure out who’s doing the killing and who’s going to be next. I tried to create a setting reminiscent of that Golden Age by creating a hotel from that era, full of antiques and old fashioned touches. Also, a few years ago, we had a severe ice storm where I live in Toronto; all the power was knocked out, and it was extremely treacherous. I thought then that it was a great atmosphere for a thriller. I combined the two and came up with AN UNWANTED GUEST.  

Leslie Lindsay:

I love, love all of your twists and turns and the characters in AN UNWANTED GUEST. So I’m curious 1) do you ever write yourself into a corner and 2) did you have a character you felt most aligned with?

Shari Lapena:

Yes, sometimes I write myself into a corner and have to back up and reconsider, but that’s all part of the process. Because I don’t really plan it all out, I do have to rethink and rewrite. This was a particularly tricky book to write, because it’s a puzzle mystery. I would have to say I felt the most affinity with the character of the writer, Candice. She is based a bit on me, I think. I also write in yoga pants, am very disciplined, even driven, and I don’t like to tell people what I’m working on because, as Candice says, “it sucks all the energy out of the project.” I had fun writing her.

Leslie Lindsay:

We all have secrets—and darker truths to our characters than even we’re willing to admit—that’s what seems to be lurking under the surface in AN UNWANTED GUEST. You never know who might be a little unhinged. Can you talk about that, please?

Shari Lapena:

Well, that’s what psychological thrillers are all about—getting to the darkness, the motivations underneath that people are hiding. And there’s certainly a lot of that in AN UNWANTED GUEST. Each of the guests has something going on beneath the surface, something they’re not telling, but is it enough to make them a killer?  And then there’s the question of the rational (if you can call it that) murderer who is motivated by a reason, and the unhinged type of murderer who may have no good reason at all. It could be either in this story. You just don’t know until the end.

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

I’d love to ask writing advice, but I have a feeling the answer will be, ‘read a lot in your genre and write every day.’ So, I won’t ask. But I am curious what inspires you and how you keep the saw sharp.

Shari Lapena:

I would say read a lot in general, not just in your genre. It’s true that writing regularly really does help. Writing in fits and starts isn’t the best way to really discover your own voice. My advice would be to write the stories that really excite you and write them in your own way—only that way will you discover your own unique voice, and that is what writing is all about. Write for yourself, really—write something you would love to read.

What inspires me is the work itself. I start with an idea or a premise that interests or excites me and take it from there. Once I get into it and the characters start to come alive and do things and make things more interesting, I become inspired by the story itself. I become curious about where it’s going and what’s going to happen next. Writing is like reading—you become absorbed in that world.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’ve so enjoyed this, Shari. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Shari Lapena:

Someone asked me recently how I would react if I was a character in one of my own novels. I thought that was an interesting question. I know if I were a guest at Mitchell’s Inn I would be watching everyone very carefully and trying to get a read on their characters. In real life, I like to study people’s behaviour and try to predict what they will do in given situations based on what I know of them. I find human psychology very interesting!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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

Order Links:

Shari Lapena_credit_Tristan OstlerABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shari Lapena is the internationally bestselling author of the thrillers The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House. The Couple Next Door was a #1 Sunday Times Bestseller and a New York Times Bestseller. It has been sold in 35 territories around the world and has been optioned for film. A Stranger in the House was also a Sunday Times Bestseller and a New York Times Bestseller and has been sold in 25 territories so far.

She lives in Toronto with her family. Her next thriller, An Unwanted Guest, will be out the summer of 2018.

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

 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#domesticthriller #amreading #authorinterview #psychsuspense 

[Cover and author image courtesy of Penguin/Viking and used with permission. Photo credit author image: Tristan Ostler.] 

Who knew Grand Central Terminal had a defunct art school? Fiona Davis explores art, history, and the intersection of the 1970s NYC in THE MASTERPIECE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeous book inside and out (total cover crush!) about blazingly unique–and strong–woman separated by two different time periods and combining art, history, NYC, and a bit of woman’s lib. Fiona is joining us to chat about Depression-era art, real-life inspiration behind her fictional characters, how story and art is so important in times of unrest, and an inkling of her next book. 

The Masterpiece

Fiona Davis has wow-ed me once again with THE MASTERPIECE (Dutton, August 7 2018), which I feel is exactly that–her best yet. What she excels at is in this and also THE DOLLHOUSE (2016) and THE ADDRESS (2017) is so apparent: meticulous research makes for a rich reading experience; plus dazzling prose, an element of mystery, and intriguing characters.

It’s 1928 and Clara Darden is a single woman artist living in NYC and teaching at the little-known Grand Central School of Art (which existed between 1924-1944 at the Grand Central Terminal). Clara is an up-and-coming illustrator but many of her contemporaries don’t consider illustrations ‘real art.’ But it’s her dream. She wants to create art for the cover of Vogue and yet she’s not sure if she can break in. And then there’s the Depression. But little will keep her from her dream.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, another woman, Virginia, is met with a new challenge. Newly divorced and having lost her prestigious Upper East Side status, she and her 19-year old daughter, Ruby are struggling to make ends meet. Virginia takes a job at the dangerous and unsavory Grand Central Terminal in the information booth. It’s a landmark building and the bones are gorgeous–if only it could be spiffed up. Then, Virginia learns the building’s very existence is threatened as developers want to construct a skyscraper in its place.

These two plots braid together in a sweeping narrative I found fully transportive. I loved Davis’s prose, the blend of art, history, and fact and fiction. But also the strength and tenacity of women over the years.

THE MASTERPIECE simply glittered and had me thinking about the role of art in challenging times, talking about the book with others, and thinking about how woman have shaped the world.

Leslie Lindsay:

Fiona, welcome back! I am so in awe with this story. I love the time periods but also the infusion of art. I know the idea for this setting came directly from one of your readers. Can you tell us a little more about that? And how does this reader feel about THE MASTERPIECE?

Fiona Davis:

Thank you so much for your kinds words. A couple of years ago, I was doing an author talk for THE DOLLHOUSE in Westchester County, NY, gushing about my love of old New York City buildings, and afterwards an audience member came up to me and offered to get me a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal. I said “You bet!” On the appointed day, we tagged along with a group of architectural students, roaming up to the catwalks overlooking the concourse and into the “war room” where they handle crises like 9/11 and the Northeast blackout of 2003. It was tremendous. I’m looking forward to seeing my insightful reader at the release day author launch at Rizzoli’s Bookstore in New York, and thanking her in person.

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Leslie Lindsay:

The Grand Central School of Art was indeed a real place. I had no idea! Art is ultimately made to be enjoyed by the masses, but it is often created in isolation. So when you think about the Grand Central Terminal filled to the brim with travelers,  one senses energy, an inspiration and yet, cloistered away are the artists. Can you talk a little about the process of creating art and how writing fills that need?

Fiona Davis:

You’ve gotten right to the heart of it, and I love that juxtaposition: this illustrious art school perched on the top floor of the Terminal, with thousands of commuters and travelers roaming the concourse below. The importance of the arts in our lives is a theme that I’m passionate about, and in my books, I’ve enjoyed incorporating art forms like bebop jazz (THE DOLLHOUSE), architecture (THE ADDRESS) and commercial versus fine art (THE MASTERPIECE). For me personally, writing is an art form that continues to challenge and delight. I work in isolation, but then get to go out into the world and meet readers, librarians, and bookstore staff and get inspired all over again.

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, in THE MASTERPIECE, Clara experiences the Depression, and art becomes a frivolous luxury. While we’re not exactly in a depression now, the social and political climate is strained. How can one reconcile? Is art still important?

Fiona Davis:

If anything, art is even more crucial during times of economic or political crisis. While art may have seemed extraneous during the Depression, when there were bread lines and tent cities, the artists who arose from that era – de Kooning, Gorky, Krasner contributed to and changed the modern art scene immeasurably. Today in New York City, artists are struggling to define and depict the current world order, and doing so in an economic climate that makes finding an affordable apartment almost impossible. A one-two punch, but the filmmakers, dancers, artists, and actors are a tough lot, and their messages and mediums will carry on, as they have for centuries.


“With richly drawn characters living in two storied eras, there is much to be enchanted by.”

— Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay:  

I’m curious about your characters—Clara Darden and Oliver and Levon. Were they inspired by real people? How about Virginia and Ruby? Is there a particular character—or time period—you felt most aligned with?

Fiona Davis:

Clara Darden and Levon Zakarian are indeed inspired by real-life faculty members from the Grand Central School of Art: Helen Dryden (an illustrator who did over 90 Vogue covers in the 1910s and 1920s) and Arshile Gorky (an abstract expressionist). They both were bold, brash, impetuous artists whose lives were marred with great tragedy. Oliver, who’s Clara’s love interest, is made up, as are Virginia and Ruby. I have to say that Clara is the character who I’d love to be – her take-no-prisoners attitude is one that I’d love to cultivate, being more of an introverted, geeky writer-type myself. Virginia is dear to my heart, as she’s struggling to figure her life out after suffering a number of setbacks. And she’s doing it imperfectly – I can relate!

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Leslie Lindsay:

THE MASTERPIECE is your third book and all of them have focused on little known gems of NYC. Do you see yourself continuing to write NYC-inspired historical fiction or have you considered exploring another area with historical merit?

Fiona Davis:

I’m hard at work on my next book, set in the Chelsea Hotel during the McCarthy Era, from the point of view of an actress and a playwright. The Chelsea is a true New York City gem, which for over a century has been filled with eccentric poets, playwrights, rock stars, and icons, both famous and infamous. I think it would be fun to explore another city at some point – an excuse to relocate to London for a month, perhaps?

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s the last book you read? Movie you’ve watched? Or daydream you’ve conjured? Because we all need story, no matter what mode it’s ingested.

Fiona Davis:

I agree with you about the power of a narrative – it’s how we make sense of the world. The upsurge of all of these wonderful limited-run series on Netflix is a perfect example of the current-day hunger for storytelling. The last book I read was THE SUMMER WIVES, by Beatriz Williams, who’s a virtuoso in the genre of historical fiction. Reading her books is like taking a master class, as they’re filled with snappy dialogue, three-dimensional characters, and a plot that surprises without being confusing. Beautifully pulled off.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Fiona Davis:

We covered a lot of ground. I’m honored and thrilled to be included, and thank you for everything you do to connect authors and readers.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Fiona Davis high resABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016 and a year later she hit the national bestseller list with The Address. Her third historical novel, The Masterpiece, will be published in August 2018. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and is based in New York City. Learn more at www.fionadavis.net.

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

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#historicalfiction #authtorinterview #NYC #amreading 

[Cover and author image courtesy of Dutton/Random House and used with permission. Images of the interior of Grand Central Terminal retrieved from author’s website on 8.2.18]. 

 

T. Greenwood transforms the true-crime story that inspired Nabokov’s LOLITA in this this shattering gorgeous novel, RUST & STARDUST

By Leslie Lindsay 

Darkly brilliant imagined rendering of Florence “Sally” Horner and her mysterious disappearance in 1948 at the hands of a ‘moral abuser,’ RUST AND STARDUST glitters. She’s here chatting about her charming Golden Retriever, Phoebe, the rabbit hole of research, how she cranked out the first draft of RUST & STARDUST in only a month (and then revised for many more), and so much else.

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It’s 1948 in Camden, New Jersey when shy, lonely, awkward Florence “Sally” Horner is given a dare from a group of girls to steal something from a Woolworths. She’s desperate to join their club and so goes along with them. Just as she’s leaving the store, a man (Frank LaSalle) grabs her and catches her stealing. He says he’s with the FBI and she must go to their headquarters to confess her sins. But really, Frank LaSalle is fresh out of prison.

As the story unfolds, Frank’s lies become deeper and more brutal. Sally is scared but feels she has no way out of her situation. He takes her from Camden to the shore, Baltimore, Dallas, and California. RUST & STARDUST is a true story that has been fictionalized by the author to give it a novel appeal.

And so you wonder…the connection between this book and Nabakov’s LOLITA? The way I understand it, Nabakov was struggling with the manuscript that would eventually become LOLITA while Sally’s case was exposed in the media. It caught his attention and inspired characters in his book.

RUST & STARDUST is gritty but not obscene. Greenwood takes a gentle hand with the brutal aspects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in the narrative. Readers get a sense of what is going on, but never is it blatant. Her words flow and glimmer and while the tale is disturbing, I felt such a soft spot for Sally and worried for her fate.

Greenwood’s research and intrigue with the case is evident in these pages, but so, too is her imagination. We ‘meet’ a colorful cast of characters, including a traveling circus at The Good Luck Motor Court in Texas as well as migrant workers in a citrus field in California. I found I simply could not put this book down. The chapters are short and told from the POV of several characters fully bringing the narrative–and Sally–to life.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Tammy Greenwood back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh, this book! It’s shattering and gorgeous and ruinous and everything else. I know you researched this story for over two years. But I have to ask—what prompted your interest?

T. Greenwood:

I was introduced to Sally Horner as a teenager when I read Lolita for the first time, though I didn’t realize it. A reference to her is embedded in one of Nabokov’s famous parentheticals: (Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?). It wasn’t until nearly twenty-five years later when I read an essay by crime writer, Sarah Weinman on Sally (and the connection to Lolita), that I encountered her again. Sally’s story, the tragedy of it, resonated with me, and I tumbled down the rabbit hole of research.

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Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you lead us into your research a bit? Where did you start and how did you stop yourself from getting too entrenched and still allow the fiction to flow?

T. Greenwood:

I began by looking at every archived newspaper article I could find about the kidnapping. I also studied genealogy sites and census records to determine familial relationships and addresses and occupations of her family members. I haunted obituaries.

This novel covers a large geographical terrain; La Salle took Sally from Camden, N.J. to Atlantic City to Baltimore, then on to Dallas and eventually San Jose. In the 1970s when I was a little girl, my family often drove to Atlantic City in the summer, where I performed (singing and dancing) on the Steel Pier. I have always wanted to write about this old Atlantic City, and so the fact that Frank and Sally spent time there felt almost serendipitous to me. I did a tremendous amount of research about Camden. (I am forever indebted to a marvelous historical website) I read extensively about the neighborhood in Baltimore where she was enrolled at a Catholic School. I also studied the history of their Dallas neighborhood, discovering that the traveling circus often stayed at their trailer park when they were passing through town. I also learned about a neighboring night club which was host to a shady cast of characters at that time. And then, when I had exhausted every resource I could find, I gave myself permission to fill in the blanks. I dreamed up the rest – including several characters. I tried to stay as true to the facts that I did know, but exercised my full creative license in imagining what life must have been like for Sally during this ordeal, as well as for those she left behind.

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Photo by Henk Mohabier on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

You chose to tell RUST & STARDUST from the POV from several characters—Sally, her sister, Susan, brother-in-law Al, her mother Ella. I like this because it gave me a sense of what was going on ‘back home,’ when Sally was in the grips of Frank. Was this telling deliberate on your part, or did it arise organically?

T. Greenwood:

At first the story belonged almost exclusively to these characters. For the first couple of drafts, I wrote around Sally. I think it was too daunting and scary to inhabit her consciousness given all that she went through. But I knew I needed to go there eventually, and when I finally did, I realized that while the narrative was kaleidoscopic, that Sally was always that bright bit of light at the center.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have an eleven-year-old daughter. I think you once mentioned that your youngest daughter was eleven when you started RUST & STARDUST. How did that affect your telling of this story?

T. Greenwood:

I think it was, in part, what drew me to her. Eleven is a magical age. It’s that odd cusp between childhood and adolescence. Everything about eleven is fragile. I wanted to capture that in Sally’s character. Of course, Sally isn’t nearly as savvy as my own twenty-first century daughter – the book opens in 1948 – but there were more similarities than differences, I think: that longing to fit in, that push and pull with her mother, that precarious innocence.

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Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ella, the mother of Sally…I think she had a really tough, bitter life. Not only had she been widowed twice, but she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and scraped by on her sewing and piecework. And then this awful thing happens to Sally. Can you tell us a little more about her character? Do you think she had any psychiatric issues?

T. Greenwood:

It’s important to state first that Ella’s character is fictional. I was inspired by what I knew about her (her occupation, her economic status, her having been widowed by a man who committed suicide). But everything else I gleaned solely from the multiple photographs I located of her and the brief commentary that she offered to the various reporters who interviewed her.

One of the most difficult aspects of this story for people (myself included) to understand is how Ella could have put her daughter on a bus with a stranger. And so, my biggest challenge was creating a character and a scenario in which this would be plausible.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (the symptoms of which are exactly like rheumatoid arthritis). For nearly six months, before my rheumatologist found a medication that worked, I was in crippling pain. Chronic pain is not only physically but mentally debilitating. Pain becomes, quite literally, a cage inside which you exist. I knew right away, that I wanted Ella to be inordinately preoccupied – by grief, by financial struggles, and by physical pain. It was the only way I could justify – to myself anyway – the ease with which Frank was able to snatch her child right out from under her.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand there’s a true crime book coming out this September about the ‘real’ LOLITA. Sarah Weinman THE REAL LOLITA: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World, Ecco]. Are you familiar with it? I so fell in love with Sally through RUST & STARDUST, I feel I’ve got to read it. Thoughts? Also, can you tell us more about that LOLITA connection?

T. Greenwood:

Yes. At the time that I read Weinman’s essay, I was unaware that she had plans to write a book-length non-fiction account of Sally’s life (and her ordeal’s influence on Nabokov). I actually found out about Weinman’s book proposal just as I preparing to submit my own for publication. I worried a little that there would be no need for two books about Sally. However, in the end, I think they are nice companion pieces. Weinman’s research is comprehensive. She interviewed surviving family members and others who knew Sally, and her book provides an ample overview of the crime. She also explores the connection between Sally’s ordeal and LOLITA as well as Nabokov’s reluctance to acknowledge this influence. But while our agendas are similar – to give a voice to this forgotten child – our respective approaches are fundamentally different. She is a journalist, and I am a novelist. THE REAL LOLITA is a work of reportage, RUST & STARDUST is not true crime, but a fictional rendering of this crime. My hope is that my work not only offers information about Sally’s life, but – through Sally – touches on the larger themes of vulnerability and abuse, of motherhood, and of survival. My goal has always been to offer the reader a glimpse inside what it must have been like for Sally and those who loved her. I would say, if you don’t want to know what happens to Sally, you might want to wait to read the factual accounts of her life until after reading the novel so as not to spoil anything.


“Greenwood’s glowing dark ruby of a novel brilliantly transforms the true crime story that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. Shatteringly original and eloquently written, Rust and Stardust is a lot about how what we believe to be true can shape or ruin a life, and the bright lure of innocence pitted against the murk of evil. So ferociously suspenseful, I found myself holding my breath, and so gorgeous and so unsettling in all the roads it might have taken, I kept rereading pages.” 

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


Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us a bit about your writing routines and rituals? Any cute dog stories?  Mine is curled up under my desk. She thinks she’s helping…

T. Greenwood:

Mine (Phoebe – a golden retriever) is curled up next to me right now! When I am working on a book, I wake up early (5:30 or so) and after grabbing a cup of coffee go straight to my home office. I try to avoid email and social media (try being the operative word) and just begin working. I only write for a couple of hours each morning, and then have the rest of the day to do all those other things I need to do: teaching, researching or reading, and driving back and forth to my daughters’ school and the ballet studio where my oldest daughter spends most of her time. I like to write my first drafts rather quickly – usually in four to six weeks. The revision process is the agonizing and lengthy one for me. I wrote the first draft of RUST & STARDUST in a month. And then I revised it for another eighteen months.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your fall reading list?

T. Greenwood:

Probably all those books I didn’t get around to this summer. I am researching a new book, which means lots of reading for that project. But I am looking forward to playing catch up: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is on my list, as is The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris, and Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon. Those are just a few in an enormous, teetering stack.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

T. Greenwood:

Only, “What next?”! My next book,  KEEPING LUCY, will be out next August. I won’t say too much about it yet – except that it explores the lengths to which a mother will go for her child. It’s also about one woman’s staking claim to her own life. Like RUST & STARDUST it’s a period piece – this time set in 1971. The novel begins in a tony Boston suburb and ends at a roadside mermaid show in Weeki Wachee, Florida.

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

Order Links:

  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • BAM!
  • IndieBound
  • iBooks

TAMMYABOUT THE AUTHOR: T. GREENWOOD’s novels have sold over 250,000 copies. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, Christopher Isherwood Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. Her novel Bodies of Water was a 2014 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist; Two Rivers and Grace were each named Best General Fiction Book at the San Diego Book Awards, and Where I Lost Her was a Globe and Mail bestseller in 2016. Greenwood lives with her family in San Diego.

 

 

 

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#amreading #Lolita #fiction #authorinterview

R&S

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

 

The horrific reality of cybercrime, property fraud, and so much more in OUR HOUSE from brilliant UK author Louise Candlish

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if you were to come home and find your beloved home was being emptied of all its belongings and new owners were moving in? That’s what OUR HOUSE sets out to discover. Plus, Louise talks about how sometimes our demise is at our own hand, writing herself into ‘knots and tears,’ and being published for the first time in the U.S.

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I’m a big sucker for books about houses. Seriously, two of my favorite things. So when I stumbled upon OUR HOUSE (Berkley, August 7 2018), I knew I had to read it. I’m new to Louise Candlish, too and her writing is quite beautiful and darkly brilliant, well-plotted, and compelling.

Fiona (Fi) and Bram are at the end of their marriage. Bram has been unfaithful one too many times and Fi is done. But what about the kids and their beautiful home in a desirable London suburb? They couldn’t possibly sell it and split the family, send the boys to a different school. So Fi devises a plan to keep the house and the family as intact as possible in the bird’s nest arrangement: the children will stay in the home and the parents will take turns caring for the boys in the house (while the other parent stays in a nearby flat). Everyone is in agreement that this is the best possible scenario.

But. 

Fi comes home from a few days away with her new beau and lo and behold, there’s a moving van out front, a new couple giddy with their purchase. This couldn’t be happening…could it?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


We hear both sides of the story via Bram (Word Document) and a podcast from Fi
 so it’s a bit ‘he-said, she said;’ plus there are as interspersed newspaper articles, and yet still such a mystery. This technique lends to the overall frantic feel of the narrative.

Overall, OUR HOUSE is a very fresh, darkly disturbing, brilliantly plotted domestic
suspense about property fraud, murder, adultery, secrets/lies, double-crossing, and so much more. The killer ending is a fast-paced rush to the finish line.

Please join me in conversation with Louise.

L.L.: Louise, it’s great to have you! First, the cover is stunning and the writing very gripping, but before we get to all that, what was your inspiration when you set out to write OUR HOUSE?

Louise Candlish: Thank you for having me! The main source of inspiration for the book was the increasing problem of property fraud here in the UK. There’s a perfect storm of rising house prices and burgeoning cybercrime that’s truly terrifying. I wanted to write about a crime I hadn’t seen before in fiction and I knew this was it. One particular real-life case caught my eye in the Daily Mail: a woman was almost defrauded of her million-pound home by a criminal gang, one of whom had even changed her name legally to the owner’s. It was stopped at the last minute.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: I have to admit to liking the bird’s nest concept. I haven’t actually seen it in practice, but I can see the appeal. Can you tell us more about how this came to your attention? Do you know others who have done this successfully?

Louise Candlish: It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Emblematic of our age of conscious uncoupling. I read about it in the Telegraph here and a lightbulb flashed: perfect for my domestic crime set-up! It’s evidently quite a successful custody arrangement, but tends to be an informal thing (as Bram and Fi’s is), rather than a court-ordered one, so it’s impossible to quote data. I would do it myself (while keeping my passport and personal documents under lock and key, of course).

L.L.: Bram is kind of a bad-boy. He’s charming, charismatic, and well-liked by the ladies. And he has a bit of a reckless streak. At some point in the novel, there’s a passage about our undoing being completely on our own accord. Can you elaborate on that, please?

Louise Candlish: It’s so interesting that you picked up on that, because it’s one of the central concerns of the novel. What’s the difference between things going right and things going wrong? It’s one bad call, basically, one unfortunate little bit of poor judgment. Then life can spiral dangerously quickly. Of course it’s not quite that simple. There are complex links between mental health issues and crime and Bram’s got a lot going on in his head. He isn’t in a position to make a good decision.

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Photo by Joe Fitzpatrick on Pexels.com

L.L.: There are a lot of characters in OUR HOUSE, most notably Fi and Bram but also neighbors, as well as Mike and Wendy and the various storytelling techniques used [Bram’s Word Doc and Fi’s podcast]. Was there a character or technique you enjoyed more—or felt most aligned with?

Louise Candlish: I enjoyed writing Fi’s (transcribed) podcast interview, because by definition when you’re giving a interview meant for public broadcast, you have an agenda. She’s quite controlled, but then occasionally she’ll allow some emotion or grievance to burst through. That was fun to write. Bram was a different experience because his account is so raw and confessional. He made me feel quite sad. For me, their narratives exemplify one of the points the book makes: men are straightforward, their faults on the surface for all to see, whereas women are more multi-layered, more ambiguous. I had an inkling readers would find Fi irritating at times, so I used the tweets to provide some human reaction to her.

L.L.: OUR HOUSE is so intricately plotted—or at least it reads that way!—what was your process like and did you ever write yourself into a corner?

Louise Candlish: I was in corners a lot. In knots in corners, weeping. The main problem was how interconnected everything was, so every tiny alteration had its own ripple effect and I had to chase the ripples until they disappeared. It’s been interesting to see the reaction of other writers to this book: to a man (and woman), they have remarked on how hard it must have been to structure. They totally understand my pain. For the reader, of course, I hope it’s seamless!

L.L.: The page is blank. What’s calling to you now?

Louise Candlish: I’m in the late stages of my next novel, about a terrible neighbour who inspires the worst instincts in those who cross his path. Could you hate your neighbour enough to plot to kill him? If the newspapers are anything to go by, yes. I’ve yet to discuss this with anyone who doesn’t offer up a horror story of their own. Bad neighbouring is universal and yet somehow we all think we’re great neighbours. Interesting.


“A high-stakes domestic thriller that is utterly absorbing. Twists and turns abound; OUR HOUSE will have you locking your doors and checking your windows . . . Trust no one!”

HEATHER GUDENKAUF, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF NOT A SOUND


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

Louise Candlish: I’ve always been a big tennis fan and I annually down tools for Wimbledon, but in this digital age I can watch any tournament I like – a terrible temptation. I will be one of the millions who will wear black for a month when Roger Federer retires. Same for Rafa Nadal. If they retire at the same time, well, that will be the end of me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Louise, it’s been a pleasure. One last question: is Alder Rise/Trinity Avenue a real place? Is there anything else I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Louise Candlish: The pleasure is mine. No Alder Rise is fictional, but many people know I live in South East London and know certain areas better than others. Alder Rise is a composite of those areas. It’s the hidden gem with the park and the great school and the farmer’s market and the artisan bakery. These houses never come on the market (at least not to the owners’ knowledge!).

I guess you could ask what it’s like for a British author to be published for the first time in the US?

The answer: so far so delightful. So I thank you.

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

Order Links: 

Louise Candlish (c) Jonny RingABOUT THE AUTHOR: Louise Candlish attended University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before becoming a novelist. She lives with her husband and daughter.

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

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Berkely and used with permission] 

NYT bestselling author Linwood Barclay chats about his new thriller, A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS…thrills & chills & twists galore

By Leslie Lindsay 

Fast-paced summer thriller about a seemingly possessed typewriter will have you thinking you have it all figured out and then…

Linwood Barclay is here chatting about how writing is a job he loves (but words don’t get on the page unless you put in the time), how he’s readying for R&R in Prince Edward County, and his love for typewriters and model trains. 

NoiseDownstairsF
I’m so glad I’ve been introduced to Linwood Barclay. His writing is sharp, compelling, and addictive in similar vein of Harlan Coben meets David Bell meets Stephen King. A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS (William Morrow/HarperCollins 2018) is a fabulous thriller beach read that you can easily finish in a long afternoon because it’s so fast-paced and has all the makings of a terrific read: murder, an unreliable protagonist, and just when you think you have it all figured out…

You’re wrong.

College Professor Paul Davis seems to have it all: house on Long Island Sound, a second wife, a son, a teaching job at a local university. But when he spots a colleague out on the road late at night, his curiosity gets the better of him and he becomes victim /witness to a crime.

And now, eight months later, he’s still struggling with PTSD, anxiety, depression; he hasn’t returned to work. He thinks maybe he’ll write about the situation–a little catharsis couldn’t hurt, right. His wife, Charlotte, purchases a second-hand typewriter for him, but soon Paul is certain he can hear the machine late into the night? Or is it just his mind? His PTSD? An intruder?

Paul starts to question everything. And frankly, so too will the reader. A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS is at once menacing and creepy, but also a good whodunit-and-why; I thought I had it figured out (at least in part), and then new things were revealed, shifting theories. Personally, I love when that happens! This is the kind of read that gives you ‘waves’ of reveals, in that you let out a collective sigh only to be geared up again for yet another…thrill.

So, so honored to welcome New York Times bestselling author Linwood Barclay to the author interview series.


A Noise Downstairs will astound, confound and thrill you. You’ll need to read it with your wits about you and you’ll want to sleep with your eyes open afterwards. A masterful novel.” 

–Gilly Macmillan, author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl


Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for popping by, Linwood. I tore through A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS because it’s so fast-paced, dark, and mysterious. Paul is being haunted by the typewriter, so I have to ask: what was haunting you as you set out to write?

Linwood Barclay: I think what haunted me as I started this book is what haunts me whenever I start writing a new novel: Can I do it again? And more than that, can I do it better? You want every book you write to be better than the one that came before, and sometimes you feel as though you’ve done it, and other times it’s, well, I don’t know. This time, I think I managed it, but readers will really be the ones to make that judgment.

L.L.: I have to say—typewriters! It seems they are becoming a ‘thing’ these days. Tom Hanks has a collection. You’re seeing them in antique stores, even I have a couple; and at the American Writer’s Museum [in Chicago], they even have a bank of old typewriters visitors can try their hand at typing. Do you have a fascination with them as well?

Linwood Barclay: I do love them. I love the look of them, the heft of them, the fact that while using one it will not connect you, within three seconds, to a funny cat video. I love the sound of them. I started in newspapers just before computers took over, and the sound of a newsroom tapping away is the sound of history being recorded. All that said, I still work on a computer. But when I was a kid, I asked my dad, when I was around nine or ten, to teach me how to use our old Royal, and received a three-minute lesson. That was the beginning of my banging out stories.

black typewriter
Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

L.L.: :Paul is struggling with PTSD regarding an incident with a colleague. What kind of research did you have to do to get this part ‘right?’

Linwood Barclay:  I’m delighted that your question seems to suggest I did get this right, especially considering I did not spend a great deal of time researching the subject. Like most people, I’ve been through some difficult times (nothing to compare with what Paul went through, mind you). And like most writers, I made stuff up. But seriously, I worked hard to imagine myself in his position, how what had happened to him would haunt him, give him nightmares, change his perspective of the world around him. I’m hoping I’ve captured that.

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your writing process, if you have any rituals or routines?

Linwood Barclay: I spent thirty years working in newspapers, so writing is very much a job to me. A job I love, but a job. You get up, have breakfast, make some coffee, and had upstairs to the study by 8 or 8:30, and the goal is to write two thousand words. If you can do that, you’ve got 10,000 words at the end of the week, and in two or three months, you’ve got a first draft. For half of my journalistic career, I was a columnist, writing three pieces a week. There was no calling your editor to say, “Gosh, the muse didn’t strike, so there won’t me a column tomorrow.” You produced. Those work habits are drilled into me. So, aside from the coffee, no real rituals. It’s just ass-in-chair and start typing.

L.L.: What’s on your to-do list this week? It doesn’t have to be literary…

Linwood Barclay: What a week to ask.  It’s nuts. I’m trying to finish the very rough, first draft of what might be the 2020 book, am putting together a presentation for some TV types for a series Entertainment One is developing, based on my PROMISE FALLS trilogy, writing a newsletter to let everyone know about my US and UK book tours that will take place the second half of April, reading Carsten Stroud’s terrific novel THE SHIMMER, taking allergy pills so I won’t get asthmatic when we look after our daughter’s dog while she moves, watching The Affair while asking myself why, why, why am I still watching this show when it went completely off the rails not last season, but the season before THAT, hoping to get to our place in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I will sit on the dock and drink several vodkas with lemonade and contemplate whether this is the longest sentence I have ever written. (It’s not. There’s a sentence in A TAP ON THE WINDOW that’s longer.) And may I say, what a great question, which no one has ever asked before.

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

Linwood Barclay: Is it normal for a grown man to have an entire room in his basement dedicated to model trains? (I feel I’m too close to this to give an unbiased answer.)

architecture building daylight garden
Photo by Gary Spears on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Linwood Barclay author photo.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linwood Barclay is the author of seventeen previous novels and two thrillers for children, including the international bestseller NO TIME FOR GOODBYE. New York Times bestselling author, his books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He wrote a screenplay adaptation for his novel NEVER SAW IT COMING and his book THE ACCIDENT has been made into a television series in France. A native of Connecticut, he lives near Toronto with his wife, Neetha.

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

 

 

              

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#summerreading #psychthriller #typewriters 

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins/WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Other Barclay cover images retrieved from author’s website, 6.27.18] 

 

 

 

 

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Susan Henderson: Fiction is where I tell the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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


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

 —Lou Pendergrast 

on THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

Order Links: 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

The Great Believers Cover.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Eugene Dorosh on Pexels.com

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

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


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

—Chicago Review of Books


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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

painting wallpaper
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

adventure backlit dawn dusk
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

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