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Diane Chamberlain had me gasping aloud in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, plus her obsessions, civil rights, letting characters lead and the magic of writing

By Leslie Lindsay

Two seemingly unconnected stories merge into one very thought-provoking, highly emotional read.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book

Leslie Lindsay in Conversation with Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 27 novels published in more than twenty languages. Influenced by her former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she writes suspenseful stories that touch both heart and mind.

One of Marie Claire’s Most Eagerly Anticipated of 2022

January Indie Next Pick

I have long been a fan of Diane Chamberlain’s work, but this one really knocks it out of the park. THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET (Jan 11 2022, St. Martin’s Press), is completely ‘affecting and spellbinding,’ (Publisher’s Weekly, STARRED REVIEW), and is a PEOPLE magazine ‘pick of the week,’ and is sure to pack a powerful punch for readers and book clubs. I loved it.

What Diane does best is mine historical plot points with an emotional heart, and generally it’s something that once touched her own life. In fact, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET was inspired by the 1965 SCOPE project, in which white college students, primarily from the North, traveled to the South to help register Black voters. Diane had heard about that campaign when she was a teenager, but it wasn’t until years later she put the story on paper, creating her own fictional towns and characters.

Photo by L.Lindsay

ABOUT THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET:

Told in dual timelines, 1965 and 2010, we meet two women who seem to be completely unconnected, but of course, they are.

1965:

Ellie Hockley is a well-to-do young white 20-year-old living in Round Hill, NC with a beau she’s as soon as engaged to. He works at a bank, her father is the town’s pharmacist, her mother is a housewife. Ellie has been brought up to believe she’ll work at the pharmacy and marry well. But when she’s chosen to spend her summer as a volunteer traveling to the poorest parts of the county registering Black individuals to vote, she spins a new narrative, upsetting her parents and having the town scorn on her ‘wayward’ ways.

2010:

Architect Kayla Carter is recently widowed and the mother of a 4-year-old girl when they find themselves in Round Hill–a swanky new development now known as ‘Shadow Ridge Estates.’ The home has been custom designed and built by she and her (late) husband, but it’s huge and maybe tainted…haunted. How can she possibly move into the house where her husband died in a tragic accident? And now, she’s getting threatening visits to her place of business, strange phone calls, vandals, and more. Clearly, someone doesn’t want her in Shadow Ridge Estates. But who? And why?

A community’s past sins rise to the surface when two women, a generation apart, find themselves bound by tragedy and an unsolved, decades-old mystery.

What I love about THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET is how these events seem unconnected, but with just enough mystery and intrigue to bring the reader and character together; it’s truly a team-approach between reader and author.

Overall, the story is emotionally powerful, intense, and such a page-turner. Despite the darkness and scandal involved, I found myself reading way past my bedtime. It’s about forbidden love, interracial relationships, family, friendship, heartbreak, loss, death, activism social justice, even mental health.

There are so many ways this story could have gone–it pivots on dramatic tension, narrative mystery, and strong emotions. It’s so well-done. I think this one will stay with me for a long time and I will ponder alternate endings for sure.  And is an ideal book club read.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Diane Chamberlain back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane! Welcome back. I am always so swept up in your narratives, and I think part of that is the emotional resonance and your personal connection to a story. Can you talk a little about your inspiration for THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, please?

Diane Chamberlain:

Leslie, thank you for your kind words about the book. I’ve been so touched by my readers’ reactions. I was fourteen in 1964 when I heard about young civil rights workers for the first time.  Three students in their early twenties, one Black and two white, had been in the South to fight for civil rights when they were  brutally murdered at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. The news was everywhere: on TV, the radio and the papers, and it opened my eyes to the many issues Black Americans faced. At least half of my classmates in my New Jersey middle school were Black and that fact only increased my passion to educate myself to civil right issues. How did my experiences at fourteen translate to a novel so many decades later? That I can’t explain.

Sometimes experiences from the past start tapping at my consciousness and they don’t stop tapping until I set them free.

Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In historical fiction, authors are often plagued with research. Too much and it becomes sort of didactic, too little and readers may find flaws. You always strike the perfect balance. What do you think might be the secret?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Thank you for that compliment. I love research and of course I do much more than ever shows up in the story. I will always remember the words of my editor after she read the manuscript for my second novel about thirty years ago. The book took place in the Amazon Jungle and involved a ton of research, short of a trip to the Amazon. My editor said “You don’t need to put everything you’ve learned into your novel.” I think she was referring particularly to the ‘dung beetle scene’, but her words have always stayed with me.  So I pick and choose from the information I learn, only putting in what will further the story and the character’s development.

“[A] twisty, riveting ride.” ―People Magazine, People Pick

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

With dual timelines—which I love—I am curious about your particular process. Do you first write all of the 1965 pieces, then the 2010 ones and weave them together? Do you write linearly, start to finish, yet not chronologically? What do you find challenging—and inspiring—about this structure?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Yes, you guessed right. I wrote all of the 1965 story first and then all of the 2010 story. I knew the general thread of each timeline and I also knew the first scene from 2010—the very first scene of the book, in which a strange woman comes to Kayla’s office making veiled threats. But I absolutely had to focus on one story at a time to be sure I didn’t lose the thread of what happened in each era as well as the voice and personality of each character. I write linearly, but I never polish as I go because the characters often take me in directions I never planned and I want to have the flexibility to follow their leads. I like when they push me around. That’s when the magic happens.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved both timelines for different reasons. But I think I connected most with Ellie in 1965. Was there one—time period or character—you felt a particular affinity toward? Maybe a character you didn’t love at first, but sort of ‘grew on you?’

Diane Chamberlain:  

Like Ellie, I was smitten by Win, the young Black civil rights worker. He made me think of a guy I knew in college. There was an attraction between us but he was becoming involved in the Black power movement and there was little room for white activists at the time, much less a white girlfriend. Although the idea of “Black power” was nascent in 1965 when the story takes place, I gave Win a little bit of that militancy when he tells Ellie he thinks the battle needs to be a “Black battle.”

I found Win charming, smart, and committed.

 As for Ellie, what I adore most about her as a character is not so much her passion for her work, but the naivete of her youth. Her humanness. I think it makes her relatable because we can all remember the mistakes we made as young adults. My research into the SCOPE program showed me that the mixture of those two sides of young students—their passion and their youth–could be volatile at times.

Leslie Lindsay:

I keep thinking if how THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET could have gone in different directions. Did you have alternate endings in mind, or did you always know how you wanted it to end?

Diane Chamberlain:

Oh yes, I had several different endings in mind. I wanted to avoid emotional pain, my own as well as the pain of my readers. I’m grateful to my editor for helping find the courage to move the story in the direction it needed to go.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ellie was obsessed about social and political activism. What three things can YOU not stop talking or thinking about?

Diane Chamberlain:

I have so many. Clearly voting rights is one of them. We are moving backwards with alarming speed. We have to do all we can to be sure any eligible American can easily vote. A Supreme Court decision in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act Ellie and her fellow SCOPE workers were fighting for, and now we see the result of that action. My other obsessions are more fun. I love singing and playing guitar weekly with a close-knit group of friends. And, of course, I love reading. Books, newspapers, Facebook memes.

Anything that plays with my imagination.

That’s where the next book will come from.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane, as always, this has been so delightful. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or something you might like to ask me?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Thank you for your wonderful, thought-provoking questions. You make me dig deep, as always, and I love that.

Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #alwayswithabook

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH DIANE CHAMBERLAIN, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, PLEASE VISIT:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded a bit of Jodi Picoult in THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, but also it may also appeal to fans of Sally Hepworth, and has some strong connections to Niama Coster’s WHAT’S YOURS AND MINE (paperback available Jan 25) and maybe stylistic comparisons to Heather Gudenkauf’s The OVERNIGHT GUEST, which releases Jan 25th. Heather will be my last featured interview* on Always with a Book.

Get a sneak peak of what I’m excited to read in 2022 HERE.

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 27 novels published in more than twenty languages. Influenced by her former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she writes suspenseful stories that touch both heart and mind.

Photo Credit: John Pagliuca

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

Photo cred: K.M. Lindsay
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #alwayswithabook

LOOKING AHEAD:

Join me for my last ‘in conversation with’ on Always with a Book, Heather Gudenkauf’s THE OVERNIGHT GUEST (Jan 26).

It’s been a joy and privilege to connect with authors and share interviews with you.*

You can find all of my bookish suggestions, reviews, and more on Instagram in 2022, where I’ll be sharing reels and blurbs about books, what I’m reading and writing.

You can learn more about my memoir-on-submission in this Psychology Today Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

Learn more about some of the authors I’ve featured over the years in this essay with Read Her Like an Open Book. You might like this post I shared in December 2021 about an end-of-an-era

Occasionally, I’ll have an author interview published in a literary journal. I’ll be sure to share that with you, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

You can find all of my bookish suggestions, reviews, and more on Instagram in 2022, where I’ll be sharing reels and blurbs about books, what I’m reading, and even writing.

You can learn more about my memoir-on-submission in this Psychology Today Q&A with Caroline Leavitt.

Learn more about some of the authors I’ve featured over the years in this essay with Read Her Like an Open Book. You might like this post I shared in December 2021 about an end-of-an-era

Occasionally, I’ll have an author interview published in a literary journal. I’ll be sure to share that with you, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Ashley Audrian on her debut, THE PUSH–now in paperback–about motherhood, family history, genetics, and more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Deliciously dark and juicy psychological drama–a DEBUT–you’ll be talking about long after you turn the last page, the issues and concerns surrounding motherhood, family history, genetics, and more. 

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

9781984881663

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay and Ashely Audrain in Conversation

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

THE PUSH (now in paperback from Pamela Dorman Books/PRH January 4, 2022) is one of those buzzy–OMG–books you’ll devour in one sitting. Is it a conversation-started? You bet. Will have it have you puzzling out your own maternal history–going back generations? Yes, that too. Here, we meet Blythe Connor, a woman whose experience of motherhood is not at all what she imagine. Blythe is determined to be the warm, caring, generous mother she herself never had. Still, she can’t let go of the disturbing, nagging thought that her daughter, Violet is not like other children. Is something ‘off?’ She’s distant, defiant, stubborn, antisocial, angry. Is she dangerous? Is Blythe just exhausted? Is it because Blythe doesn’t have much of a mother figure and her childhood was distorted? And her mother’s childhood, too? Maybe.

Here we examine motherhood in the most jarring, unsetting way, in this propulsive read. And then: the unthinkable. THE PUSH is about nature versus nurture, it’s about outrunning our past, healing our scars. I was completely swept away with this story, but also the implications. Because I have such a soft-spot for psychology, THE PUSH, truly made me think and puzzle through human behavior. The writing might be a little different than expected–it’s told in second-person ‘you,’ which I think heightens the suspense and paranoia, but see for yourself. Overall, the prose is raw and visceral, razor-sharp, literary, and powerful. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Ashley Audrain to the author interview series:  

*This Q&A previously posted in January 2020

Leslie Lindsay:

THE PUSH is a searing look at motherhood—both the raw, personal experience and the societal expectations and cultural pressures that surround it. Why did you want to tackle this topic?

Ashley Audrain:

I have long been fascinated with motherhood—how society perceives mothers, how they perceive themselves, how motherhood changes women, why women want to be mothers in the first place—and so I always felt this would be the focus of my novel. So many things about motherhood are softened when we talk or write about them. When I became a mother myself, this especially stood out to me in writing and in film—the washed over birth scenes and the idyllic children, the tired but fulfilled mother. I wanted to write from a darker place of motherhood, because it can be very ugly and terrifying at times, even if you are privileged to be raising children in the best of circumstances.

blue and red galaxy artwork
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I always want to know story origins: where did the idea of THE PUSH come from?

Ashley Audrain:

I started writing the novel when my son was six months old—he had some health challenges and we were in and out of the hospital for a while. The experiencing of dealing with that made me think a lot about the expectations of motherhood: how it will be, how we are meant to feel, who our child will be, what life will look like. While thankfully my experience was nothing like that of my main character, those are the seeds of thinking that grew into THE PUSH. There is a lot of fear in motherhood, despite it being something we’re taught is the most natural role there is. As a writer, I find a lot of satisfaction in exploring our common fears, perhaps as a way of understanding them better in myself. I think a lot of us have flashes of nightmarish thoughts cross our mind as we’re expecting children or raising children, no matter the circumstance, and I found it fascinating to let my mind wander further down that path, considering the “what if” scenarios in the lives of these characters.

narrow footpath through snowy winter forest
Photo by Oleg Podlesnykh on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

The narrative of Blythe’s experience is interwoven with memories of her own childhood, and her mother’s childhood. Why did you decide to explore her family history in this manner, and how did you land on the style, which I love, by-the-way.

Ashley Audrain:

It’s hard to understand Blythe without understanding her past, and I wanted to explore the idea of how we learn to mother and what we carry from the women we come from, consciously or not. I experimented quite a bit with the best way to weave this into the narrative—the story of Blythe’s grandmother Etta and her mother Cecilia stands on its own in a way, but I wanted to draw parallels in the experience of all three women as daughters and mothers. I also wanted there to be some ambiguity about how much of her past Blythe knows for sure, how much she was told by her father, and how much she has puzzled together herself—I think this is true of how we all understand our family histories. When we landed on the final format for the backstory of Etta and Cecilia, one of my editors suggested it read like a dark fairytale against Blythe’s present-day narrative; I hope it resonates that way with readers.

afterglow art backlit birds
Photo by luizclas on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As with any story about children behaving badly, THE PUSH touches on the idea of nature vs. nurture – how our personalities are formed and what we owe to each other. What do you think of this age-old question, and how THE PUSH addresses it?

Ashley Audrain:

The degree to which both nature and nurture shape a person is something that fascinates me. What makes a person with a loving, positive upbringing behave unconscionably? How does a person with a particularly traumatic childhood completely break the cycle of certain behaviors with their own families? When I hear or read about a person who has committed a serious crime, I always think about their parents: what did they know about their children?

I think the evolving science of inherited trauma is particularly interesting, the way a severe emotional experience can physically alter the cells and behavior of that person’s own children. And of course, raising children now with my partner, the idea of nature and nurture is often on my mind as we see who they’re becoming and how they behave. It’s incredibly interesting to observe. In THE PUSH, we as readers, alongside Blythe, examine how she was inevitably shaped as a mother, and how Violet is being shaped by Blythe—the answers to these questions aren’t clear cut, of course, which I think contributes to the ambiguity in the novel along the way.

Leslie Lindsay:

Blythe’s expectations of parenthood turn out to be very different from her actual experience. Becoming a mother is not what she thought it would be, and her child is not who she imagined her to be. Though Blythe’s experience is very specific, do you think this is common among parents?

Ashley Audrain:

A friend once told me that one of her friends confessed she didn’t like her own child very much—not just because of a particularly tough phase, but because she genuinely didn’t like who she was. I had never heard such a candid feeling expressed by a mother before. There is more and more room in discourse among women to share our feelings more honestly about the failed expectations of motherhood, but there are still taboo truths that few women will share, like regretting the decision to have a child, or not feeling the love they thought they would. I have never met a mother who has said the experience of motherhood was exactly what she expected (or that her children were exactly who she envisioned them to be), and yet motherhood is often discussed in clichés and themes of commonality that we are taught to expect when we have children: “The most important job in the world,” or “The days are long, but the years are short.” What if it feels like the worst job in the world? What if the years feel like decades? Those opinions aren’t a part of the mainstream language around motherhood, but I think a lot of mothers can relate to them.

young mother with toddler child in rural interior house
Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

THE PUSH is also the story of a marriage, and the pressure that parenthood can place on partners. Can you speak a little bit about Blythe and Fox’s relationship in the book, and how it breaks down over time?

Ashley Audrain:

When Blythe and Fox begin their relationship as young adults, they each find something specific in one another that fills a need—but with that comes lifelong expectations of each other that neither can uphold for long. Blythe can’t deliver on being the perfect mother who pretends they have a perfect family life, and Fox can’t accept that about her. The resentment that grows in their relationship becomes too much for either of them to bear, arguably before they begin to drown in two very different experiences of heartbreaking grief.

I think an interesting debate about Fox is whether or not he’s a good parent: did he sacrifice his relationship in defense of his daughter? Which role—parent or partner—should be the priority in a family unit? I think balancing those two roles is something a lot of parents in a marriage can relate to, especially after experiencing the ways parenthood inevitably changes a relationship.


“Written with  a courage that borders on audacity, and with uncanny emotional and psychological precision,  Ashley Audrain’s THE PUSH is a taut, tour-de-force literary thriller that draws you in from the very first pages and plunges you into the most harrowing of journeys: parenthood.”

— Bill Clegg, New York Times bestselling author of Did You Ever Have A Family


Leslie Lindsay:

Did you do any specific research for THE PUSH, and were there any important takeaways? For example, your epigraph, I completely adore. And now I have to read that book about mothers and rhythm. Can you talk about that, please? 

Ashley Audrain:

I did most of my research in the later revision stages, when I was conscious of ensuring certain things made sense from a psychological perspective. And at one point I asked a psychologist to read the novel through a lens of mental health sensitivity. I did come across some really interesting papers though, in particular one from 1975 in The American Academy of Child Psychiatry titled “Ghosts in the Nursey”—I think that’s such a compelling metaphor for the relationship between a parent’s own early childhood experience and the treatment of their children. And I found a wonderful quote that became the epigraph in the novel while I was reading about theories on matrilineal relationships. It’s from a book called When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm by Layne Redmond, about how a woman who is pregnant with a daughter carries the egg cells of her grandchildren inside of her. I love the way this quote represents the foundation of the novel.

adult book boring face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There are many moments in the book when Blythe feels like she’s lost her mind, like she’s the only one who can see the truth. Yet to the reader, she never feels like one of those unreliable narrators we’re now so used to seeing in psychological thrillers. How did you manage this delicate balance?

Ashley Audrain:

To be honest, I’m not sure! Perhaps it’s because the novel is written as a memoir of sorts in Blythe’s voice, and she addresses the intended reader—her husband—as “you” throughout. This is her side of their story. As readers, this feels quite personal, and we get the sense that she really believes this version of the events—there is nothing disingenuous about her intention, although there is certainly doubt along the way as to what is fact and what is fiction. I also thought it was important that we have a substantial amount of empathy for Blythe and that we relate to her deeply—I didn’t want her to be another trope of a bad mother who can’t be redeemed. I hope readers can see parts of themselves in her along the way.

Leslie Lindsay:

THE PUSH might be particularly relevant for mothers, but it’s also about all the fears and anxieties that weigh on women in general – and what happens when they aren’t heard or believed. Can you speak to this a little bit, and how it connects to our current moment?

Ashley Audrain:

Well, on a broader level, we’re still living in a time when women’s voices are often devalued, ignored, or questioned without merit. We’ve seen this over and over in the way society treats women who speak out publicly, and how issues affecting minority groups of women are often dismissed, rationalized, or underfunded. We are, of course, seeing positive change happening in this respect, but there’s no question this broader societal attitude has an impact on an individual level in the domestic lives of women, in particular minority women, when it might feel like speaking out will be met on deaf ears, or worse.

Being ignored, not believed, or even gaslighted, can be a form of trauma. This idea of the “crazy woman” or the “hysterical mother” has existed for a long time, and it creates fear and silences women, particularly where there is a power imbalance. In THE PUSH, Blythe experiences a form of this from everyone around her: what she believes is inconvenient, unsettling, and has difficult consequences, so the people around her shut her down. They make it her problem, not theirs. There are, of course, impacts on her own mental health because of this, and she is pushed to a place that is hard to come back from.

purple abstract art
Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a former book publicist. What’s it like being on the other side of the desk as a first-time author?

Ashley Audrain:

Working in publishing gave me such valuable insight into the publishing process—and has also helped to manage my expectations! I know from being on the other side that it’s a mix of art and science that makes a book work in the market. There’s often huge unpredictability in the publishing industry, which is part of what makes it so exciting. My experience has also given me insight into just how many people it takes to get a novel into the hands of readers—it’s incredible how many efforts have to come together, from copyeditors to book designers to marketing assistants to sales reps in the field, not to mention the editors you work with so closely to shape the book into the best thing it can be. There is so much passion behind the scenes in publishing, and I can really feel that now on the receiving end as an author. Publicists have a particularly exciting role in the process, and it’s hugely satisfying when a well-crafted plan works…but it’s also a tough job as the media landscape changes, and the expectations of everyone involved can be very hard to manage. Especially now. I am grateful for every little bit of publicity for THE PUSH because I know there’s a tireless effort on the other end.

Leslie Lindsay:

THE PUSH is the ultimate page-turner, easy to devour in one sitting. What are your tips and tricks for cultivating suspense? Are there writers or stories in the thriller genre that you particularly admire?

Ashley Audrain:

Thank you. The pace and intensity of the novel is likely influenced by the way in which I wrote and revised: in short blocks of time, often racing against the clock for when I had to get back to my kids. I like to read stories that have short but powerful chapters, ones that make me pause for a moment before I turn to the next page—I think that’s reflected in the structure of THE PUSH. I also did a lot—a lot!—of revising and chopping (at one point, I rewrote about three-quarters of the novel entirely) and this let me focus layer by layer on each character and thread of the story.

I’ve always gravitated towards darker, more psychological stories that explore the contemporary lives of women, especially mothers (which won’t be a surprise!). I was completely rapt as a teenager by then-popular books like White Oleander by Janet Fitch and The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard, more so than traditional thrillers or mysteries. As a reader, I’ve always loved a book that I can’t put down because I want to uncover the “why” of what’s happened, but I also want the writing to be so compelling that I savor each sentence at the same time. Now, there are so many brilliant writers perfecting this kind of suspenseful read: Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Helen Phillip’s The Need, Marjorie Celonas’ How A Woman Becomes A Lake, and Elizabeth Kay’s Seven Lies are some recent favorites…but I could go on!

pile of books on wooden stool
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope readers take away from THE PUSH?

Ashley Audrain:

I hope THE PUSH is a novel that readers can’t put down, a book they read late into the night—that’s the kind of book I love to discover. I also hope for THE PUSH to be relatable in a way that creates conversation among readers. About the expectations of motherhood, about what we owe our children, about the weight of parenthood on a marriage, and about what happens when we don’t believe women’s truths.

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

IMG_3088

Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Ashley Audrain via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE PUSH, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book at Bookshop.org.

See what else I am featuring in January 2022.

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ASHLEY AUDRAIN previously worked as the publicity director of Penguin Books Canada. Prior to Penguin, she worked in public relations. She lives in Toronto, where she and her partner are raising their two young children. The Push is her first novel.

Courtesy of PRH/Pamela Dorman Books

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Semicolon Literary Journal: Fall 2020, Pithead Chapel, Family Narrative Project, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The Waking, Brave Voices Literary Magazine, Manifest-Station, among others. Cover art featured in Up the Staircase Quarterly May 2020; other photography featured in Another Chicago Magazine(ACM) and Brushfire Arts & Literature summer 2020, works of photography short-listed in Manhattan Review; poetry in Coffin Bell Journal in July 2020; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA available from Woodbine House later in 2020. Leslie has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Her “Reader’s Response” was published in the September 2019 issue of Poets & Writers. Leslie is a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic and has attended writing classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Northwestern University. She resides in the Chicago area.

Photo cred: K.M. Lindsay

~UPDATED, 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA now available from Woodbine House~

MODEL HOME: Motherhood & Madness: on-submission  

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#alwaywithabook #domesticsuspense #mothers #daughters #biology #postpartum #psychology #parenting #grief 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Penguin/Random House/Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #bookstagrammer #alwayswithabook]

#1 AMAZON Bestseller in its category, debut author C.J. Washington talks about THE INTANGIBLE, how he found his agent, books he’s reading, and asks me about my reading and writing life

By Leslie Lindsay

A fascinating and wholly unique twist on ‘bookclub’ fiction featuring strong protagonists, an intelligent and emotional read about two grieving women, their spouses, and what happens when the answer’s to life’s impossible mysteries are…intangible.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book

Leslie Lindsay in Conversation with C.J. Washington

C.J. Washington is a data scientist by day, a writer by night. THE INTANGIBLES is his debut–and it’s astonishing.

I was immediately intrigued with THE INTANGIBLE (Little A, January 1 2022), a debut from C.J. Washington. It has all the elements I crave in a good story: something a little psychological/medical, motherhood, grief, research, but is firmly fiction.

ABOUT THE INTANGIBLE:

Amanda Jackson has longed to be a mother. The early weeks of her first pregnancy is a mixture of joy, anticipation, and uncertainty. But then, a devastating loss. Amanda is heartbroken, and although the doctors tell her otherwise, she is no longer pregnant. The mind is a marvel–good or bad–and Amanda has developed a rare and mysterious condition: pseudocyesis, a false pregnancy, complete with all of the outward signs and symptoms of pregnancy. Amanda turns to neuroscientist Patrick Davis for answers.

Patrick is not immune to grief, the strange twists and turns of the human mind, but he’s struggling, too. So is his marriage to his mathematician wife, Marissa, who is working at a theory to connect with the dead. These two couples work to confront this precarious intersection of math, science, death, emotion, and more.

THE INTANGIBLE (Little A, January 1 2022) is a heady book with pockets of inspiration, research, and interpersonal relationships, full of complex and debilitating twists. I found the characters likable, but also a tiny bit enmeshed; they bounce and collide, making irreparable choices, yet ultimately culminating in a satisfying conclusion.

I am very impressed with this debut from C.J. Washington and will be interested to see what he writes next.

Please join me in welcoming him to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

C.J., welcome! What a head-rush, mind-bending read. I’m always intrigued with beginnings and inspirations. I understand the seed for THE INTANGIBLE was planted years ago when your father was a resident physician and spoke of a patient with a ‘false pregnancy.’ Can you share a little more?

C.J. Washington:

The inspiration for THE INTANGIBLE came from multiple events experienced over several years.

The first was a conversation with my father. He told me about a case he’d witnessed during his OBGYN residency. The patient presented with all the outward signs of pregnancy, and she believed herself to be pregnant, but an ultrasound revealed no fetus. When placed under general anesthesia, her belly flattened, and as she recovered from the anesthetic, her belly distended again. It sounded incredible, and if I didn’t know my father, I wouldn’t have believed him. He couldn’t tell me what caused it or how it worked or even what happened to the patient (she was referred to psychiatry, and he never saw her again), but Amanda, my character, was born on that day.

My imagination had been set afire, and I proceeded to learn everything I could about pseudocyesis.

The next seed came years later when I attended a young boy’s funeral. As I offered condolences to his parents, I wondered how they could accept the reality of their son’s death. Not only how could they deal with it, but how could they bring themselves to believe he was gone. Marissa—a character who wouldn’t or couldn’t accept the harsh nature of reality—materialized beside me at that service.

Still more years later, Marissa’s sister Jenn came to life after my family, like so many others, was touched by the ravages of drug addiction.

These experiences left me with wounds that defied resolution and questions I couldn’t answer. In part, THE INTANGIBLE was my exploration of these events.

Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As with all debuts, they go through multiple iterations. Can you talk about the journey of publication? Because, that’s huge.

C.J. Washington:

My journey to publication moved dreadfully slowly and then astonishingly fast. A version of THE INTANGIBLE entitled PHANTOM PREGNANCY was the first manuscript I ever completed. I couldn’t find an agent to represent it, so I put it away to work on other projects. Several years and a few manuscripts later, I sat down with my initial inspiration for PHANTOM PREGNANCY and wrote a very different novel.

Shortly after finishing THE INTANGIBLE, I was browsing in a bookstore and came across THE EAST END, a debut novel by Jason Allen. I was so impressed by his writing that I sent a query letter to his agent Sarah Bedingfield. I now consider THE EAST END to be the most serendipitous reading discovery of my life. Sarah replied to my query the following day and requested the full manuscript. Exactly three weeks later, I signed with her and became the recipient of her extraordinary talents.

She provided editorial suggestions, I did revisions, and four months later, we accepted an offer from Little A. Working with the team at Little A was awesome and things continued to move quickly. The novel was scheduled to be published in a year, and thanks to the hard work of many people, we managed to stick to that timeline.

Photo by Caryn on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

All of your characters were so fully drawn. I’m curious if there was one you personally identified with more than the other? Maybe one you liked least when you first started writing, but sort of ‘grew’ on you as you understood them more?

C.J. Washington:

When I first started the novel, it was a first-person narrative told from Patrick’s point of view. I was probably 50 or so pages in before I realized that Amanda and Marissa needed voices to tell their own stories. From there, they blossomed, and it didn’t take long for me to see Amanda and Marissa as the stars of the novel.  

As I wrote, I grew to feel most connected to Marissa. I think we see the best and worst of her and all she could have been had things happened differently. While she’s profoundly impacted by events she can’t control, she, I think, possesses the strongest agency of any of the characters. For better and worse, she makes things happen.

My special connection with Marissa became especially apparent during the revision process. Sarah would recommend changes, and I always knew intuitively how Marissa would respond, act, and think in new circumstances. Writing her felt so natural.

“Washington’s first novel is a brilliant portrait of human behavior, specifically how the mind evolves and devolves through time. This performance cements Washington as a powerful new force in fiction.” 

Booklist (starred review)

Leslie Lindsay:

I think THE INTANGIBLE is mostly about human emotion, even though the narrative is sort of ‘backed’ by science and math. So many of our human yearnings, hopes, are…well, intangible. We can’t always manipulate variables, like in math or science, to get what we so desperately seek. Can you expand on that a bit, please? And tell me if I’m wrong here, too!

C.J. Washington:

I agree, THE INTANGIBLE is about human emotion.

Science and math are important insofar as they illuminate the characters’ strivings and desires, and more often they serve as a foil rather than an answer.

Patrick became a neuroscientist because he wanted to help people, but when he needs most to apply his knowledge, he’s forced to grapple with its limitations. Marissa understands reality through mathematics, and when she can’t accept her circumstances, she turns to math for salvation. Amanda’s condition is as much biological as it is psychological and she finds herself stranded between her inner reality, a belief that she’s pregnant supported by her physical symptoms, and the external “true” reality—an ultrasound that shows no fetus.

These characters often turn to science to make sense of their circumstances, but ultimately, they’re dealing with emotion, a realm science can’t currently reach.

I chose “intangible” for the title in part because each of these characters’ deepest yearnings is beyond their understanding.

Simple solutions elude them, so they reach for complex ones with the hope that it will save them.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you find the most satisfying about writing? What challenges you?

C.J. Washington:

I love to immerse myself in fictional worlds, getting to know characters and accompanying them on journeys. I especially enjoy reading long novels and watching protracted television series. Their depth and breadth enhance the immersive experience. Writing my own fiction puts that experience on steroids. That’s what I find most satisfying, getting to spend months thinking about the characters and their world and journeys. It’s a very pleasant way to spend time.

While I enjoy, above all, the storytelling aspects of fiction, I also look to it to explore the big questions of our existence. That’s what I find most challenging.

Writing, for me, is a great tool for asking questions, but it doesn’t necessarily give us the answers, and we all want answers.

How can I, as a writer, chip away at some of those big questions?

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you, writing-wise? And what’s on your nightstand this winter?

C.J. Washington:

I’m working on Book 2, a novel that revolves around a murder. A chain of events is triggered when a killer-for-hire with terminal cancer decides to confess his crimes to authorities. The story is about him and two women whose lives are altered by his revelations.

The New Year puts me in a reflective mood. As such, I tend to revisit books that are important to me. With Anne Rice’s passing last month, I’m wanting to re-read some of her work. I love big, meandering stories, and Rice always delivered on those. I recently pulled out my copy of THE WITCHING HOUR, and I think I’ll start with that, though, I also miss Lestat. There’s plenty there to keep me busy for a while. I also want to re-read THE CLASS and DOCTORS by Erich Segal. I haven’t read those in decades, but they remain amongst my favorites.

A friend gave me BEHAVE: THE BIOLOGY OF HUMANS AT OUR BEST AND WORST by Robert M. Sapolsky. I admire his academic work and look forward to the book.

I’m curious about Andromeda Romano-Lax’s ANNIE AND THE WOLVES, so that is on my list. Thank you for that, Leslie!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

C.J., this has been so illuminating. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have, or maybe something you’d like to ask me?

C.J. Washington:

I love your blog and admire your voracious reading habit. Before you asked, I’ve never had to articulate what I find satisfying about writing. But once I considered it, it was obvious that writing for me is just another form of reading—it’s all about existing momentarily in a fictional world. They fuel each other: reading makes me want to write which makes me want to read.

C.J. Washington:

In your case, you’re not only a reader but also a book reviewer and a writer. How distinct are these three pursuits for you? What is their relationship to each other?

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh my gosh! Yes–all of these things are intrinsically linked. Like you, reading makes me want to write, makes me want to read; it’s a (vicious cycle). It’s a good cycle. It’s like strength training and cardio. Peanut butter and jelly. They just go together, you know? We can’t do anything well in a vacuum. I need books like I need water. It helps my writing life. And reviewing…when I get into the nitty-gritty of what’s working in a book (for me) and what’s not, I am more cognizant of that in my own writing. I try to avoid those things and emulate the stuff I love. This ‘trifecta’ has improved my reading and writing life immensely. But here’s how it can be a problem: sometimes reading and reviewing become a form of procrastination when I should be writing. Sigh.

C.J., I loved this interview. Thank you, thank you for taking the time.

C.J. Washington:

Thank you so much for the interview! I greatly enjoyed it.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH C.J. WASHINGTON, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE INTANGIBLE, PLEASE VISIT:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

Readers might find some intersection in the storytelling style of Jodi Piccoult meets Andromeda Romano-Lax (particularly ANNIE AND THE WOLVES) with a touch of domestic thriller.

See my 2021 interview with Andromeda Romano-Lax HERE

LOOKING AHEAD:

I’ll be re-circulating my 2021 interview with Ashley Audrain, author of THE PUSH on Fiction Friday (1.14.21), about the darker challenges of motherhood, deep familial connections–releasing in paperback, Diane Chamberlain’s novel traversing time periods, a ghostly aspect, social issues, more, THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET, and at the end of the month, Heather Gudenkauf’s stunning new rural thriller, THE OVERNIGHT GUEST.

Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book every Wednesday, but some Mondays and Fridays, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

C.J. Washington is a data scientist and writer. He has a master’s degree in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology and lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife and daughter. The Intangible is his first novel.

Author photo cred: courtesy of C.J. Washington

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

Photo cred: K.M. Lindsay

Year-End 2021 and What’s Ahead in the New Year

By Leslie Lindsay

An end of an era. But all endings are really beginnings, right?

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

Since 2013, I have been remarkably grateful and blessed to have spent so much time connecting with readers on Always with a Book. Each week I have presented very fine authors and titles–from smashing debuts to immediate bestsellers. This has been both a privilege and joy.

The website will remain, and you can always go back and re-read any author interview.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

How do you do this?

Simple:

  1. Have an author or title in mind? Go to the search field (home page, top right magnifying glass) and type in a few keywords. It will ‘take’ you right to where you want to go!
  2. Head over to ‘Featured Authors’ and scroll through all of the…uh, featured authors…and peruse that way.
  3. Find an author or a book you really love? Great! I aim to please. You can add it to your Bookshop.org storefront, GoodReads, Instagram, or wherever else you catalogue your virtual reads. If you feel so compelled to read a book because of one of these recommendations or author interview, can you give me a tag? Stuff like that totally makes my day.

Speaking of all that, that’s exactly where you can find me:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia, GoodReads, and Bookshop.org

You might be curious about where I’m going and what I’m doing.

Fair enough!

I’m still here, just in a slightly different capacity. I might do an Instagram reel about a book I really love, or maybe I’ll chat with an author in-person at a bookstore, or share something on another platform, like I’ve done with Donald Antrim’s book, ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL: A Story of Suicide & Survival (W.W. Norton, October 2021) and Laraine Herring’s A CONSTELLATION OF GHOSTS: A Speculative Memoir, which can be found at Hippocampus Magazine.

I’ll still be reading. And writing. And making art.

I have a book on submission. That means my (tireless and super-supportive) literary agent is trying to sell this darned thing. It WILL sell. It’s just a matter of when and to whom. To be honest, this process is killing me a little. It’s tedious and time-consuming, this quietly exposed vulnerability I’ve put myself in. In the meantime, I am writing essays and submitting short stories, collaging stuff, reading like mad, journaling, working on the next big project.

Plus, I am promoting and sharing things about my first book baby, Speaking of Apraxia: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, now in its 2nd, updated edition. And I even narrated the audiobook this past summer!

[You can get it from Penguin Random House.]

All of these tasks are fulfilling, but they take their toll. Writing is hard. It requires every bit of skill–creativity, thoughtfulness, precision, imagination, mechanics, stamina, rejection, promotion, self-doubt, and more.

But it’s a calling.

LOOKING BACK:

I think the very first author interview I featured was Caroline Leavitt in 2013. She has been a generous and enthusiastic supportive literary ‘mother,’ for many, including myself. In fact, I even worked with her on a developmental edit of my memoir-on-submission.

You can learn more about that memoir HERE.

But I quickly started talking with other authors, too. I believe my second major interview was Lisa Unger.

All told, I have interviewed nearly 700 authors, some more than once (I’m counting those twice/three times because each interview is unique). Others who have appeared multiple times:

Mary Kubica, Heather Gudenkauf, and Tammy Greenwood. Oh! And Shari Lapena and Gilly Macmillan [This is going to get out-of-hand because I am going to list everyone at the risk of forgetting someone…]

But, I’ve featured a ton of literary fiction, memoir, children’s books, non-fiction, poetry, short stories/collections, historical fiction, and more. It’s truly been such a ride! And I am so, so grateful.

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book since 2018 on Bookshop.org

LOOKING AHEAD:

I still have a couple author interviews up my sleeve! Old habits die hard. The lovely Heather Gudenkauf will be back in late January 2022 with her new–and maybe best yet–rural domestic thriller–THE OVERNIGHT GUEST (1/26/22). Perfect reading for those chilly winter days. And a sublime debut, THE INTANGIBLE by C.J. Washington, about a woman experiencing and pseudo pregnancy. And Diane Chamberlain’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE STREET (St. Martin’s Press, January 2022) So, pop in for those.

There might be others, too, I am still working out how I will present these titles. Mary Laura Philpot’s memoir-in-essays, BOMB SHELTER (Atria, April 2022), and Gina Sorrell’s literary fiction, THE WISE WOMEN (Harper, April 2022) have caught my eye.

You can check out some of the books I am looking forward to reading in 2022 HERE.

In January, I will be taking some on-line writing classes and workshops–turning rejections into acceptances, memoir-in-snapshots, emotional resonance, etc. In March, I’ll be joining Joyce Maynard and a group of women memoir writers in Guatemala for a writing retreat, which I think will be a great experience.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

I am so warmed and grateful you’ve spent so much time with me. It truly means the world.

Thank you, thank you!

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

Be well, be safe.

Warm wishes this holiday season.

Find me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #booknerd

ABOUT ME:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

You can read more about me, this book review/author interview gig HERE.

REAL ESTATE + A HOME OF MY OWN

By Leslie Lindsay

Two celebrated authors write autobiographies about home and writing.

Always with a Book| Memoir Monday

A HOUSE OF MY OWN: Stories from My Life by Sandra Cisneros

Leslie Lindsay Spotlight

REAL ESTATE: A Living Autobiography by Deborah Levy

The author of two widely acclaimed novels (THE HOUSE ON MANGO STREET), a story collection, and two books of poetry, Sandra Cisneros is the recipient of numerous awards, including The National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, The Lannan Literary Awards, The American Book Award, a MacArthur Fellowship, Cisneros was born in Chicago but resides in Mexico.

Deborah Levy is of the great thinkers and writers of our time, and here is the highly anticipated final installment in critically acclaimed “living autobiography” series. She is the author of seven novels: Beautiful Mutants, Swallowing Geography, The Unloved, Billy and Girl, Swimming Home, Hot Milk, and The Man Who Saw Everything.. Her work is widely translated.

ABOUT REAL ESTATE (Levy, 2021):

“I began to wonder what myself and all unwritten and unseen women would possess in their property portfolios at the end of their lives. Literally, her physical property and possessions, and then everything else she valued, though it might not be valued by society. What might she claim, own, discard and bequeath? Or is she the real estate, owned by patriarchy? In this sense, Real Estate is a tricky business. We rent it and buy it, sell and inherit it–but we must also knock it down.”

Following the international critical acclaim of The Cost of Living, this final volume of Deborah Levy’s “living autobiography” is an exhilarating, thought-provoking, and boldly intimate meditation on home and the spectres that haunt it.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I was captivated and awed by Deborah Levy’s autobiography, which is a tapestry of literature study–featuring many greats who have inspired her work–and Levy’s own thoughts and experiences, influences, from Leonora Carrington’s “The Hearing Trumpet,” in which this gorgeous quote is pulled:

“Houses are really bodies. We connect ourselves with walls, roofs, and objects, just as we hang on to our livers, our skeletons, flesh, and bloodstream. I am no beauty.”

But there’s also this notion of the past and present existing simultaneously as expanded on in this Gertrude Stein (1940, Paris) quote:

“After all, everybody that is everybody who writes, is interested in living inside themselves in order to tell what is inside themselves. That is why writers have two countries: the one where they belong and the one in which they really live.”

Seriously, there are so many great quotes in this book, from Levy’s own observations and experiences to those of Gaston Bachelard from THE POETICS OF SPACE, Pail Eluard, Maria Rainer Rilke, and Marguerite Dumas.

Here’s another, I can’t help myself:

“All writing is about seeing new things and investigating them. Sometimes it’s about seeing new in old [….] language is the building site. It is always being constructed and repaired. It can fall apart and be remade again.”

–Deborah Levy

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

ABOUT A HOUSE OF MY OWN (Cisneros, 2015):

From the Chicago neighborhoods where she grew up and set her groundbreaking The House on Mango Street to her abode in Mexico where “my ancestors have lived for centuries,” the places Sandra Cisneros has lived have provided inspiration for her now-classic works of fiction and poetry. But a house of her own, where she could truly take root, has eluded her. With this collection of true stories and nonfiction pieces—spanning three decades, and including never-before-published work and an intimate album of personal photos—Cisneros has come home at last.

My memory knows more about me than I do. It doesn’t lose what deserves to be saved.

–Eduardo Galeano

Here, Cisneros contemplates the structures that define us, from her Hydra, Greece island cottage to the neighborhoods in Chicago where she grew up, and everything in between, Cisneros takes us on a virtual, bookish tour into old haunts, homes, streets, and more as she remembers writing the books that are now considered classics. In these homes, she states, she can truly take root, find the inspiration she needs, and reveal intellectual and artistic influences. For me, it’s fascinating to get a glimpse into these museum-like spaces that shaped and supported an artist.

We tell a story to survive a memory in much the same way an oyster survives an invading grain of sand. The pearl is the story of our lives, even if most wouldn’t admit it.

And maybe it’s a little how art is the magic and not so much the foundational construct.

A house. A writing machine. These two go hand in hand for me. A home makes me feel like writing. I feel like writing when I am at home. Nowadays I would add one more thing to make me want to write: my animals. When they are with me, I am at home.

Again, this book is loaded with fabulous quotes.

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

FURTHER READING:

  • You might enjoy this NPR piece about Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE
  • This Washington Post article speaks to Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE
  • For more about Sandra Cisneros’s A HOME OF MY OWN, this NPR piece about boundaries and borders is what inspired my reading of this book.
  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org.
  • These titles may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded, in part, of the memoir, TENEMENTAL by Vikki Warner meets Erica Bauermeister’s HOUSE LESSONS, but also Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE: A Living Autobiography and Anne Elizabeth Moore’s GENTRIFIER.

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book since 2018 on Bookshop.org

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book in October 2021 HERE.

LOOKING BACK:

November titles were are about home and mothers and memoir with featured #MemoirMonday titles from Michelle Orange (PURE FLAME), Violaine Husimann’s THE BOOK OF MOTHER (fiction), but also GENTRIFIER (Anne Elizabeth Moore), Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE and Naomi Kupitsky’s highly anticipated novel, THE FAMILY.

To Browse all books/authors featured in NOVEMBER 2021, click HERE.

LOOKING AHEAD:

Looks for a spotlight of Victoria Chang’s memoir in fragments and snapshots, DEAR MEMORY and also a recently re-released memoir, MY FIRST THIRTY YEARS. December titles will be few and sparse as I wind down some of my own writing while gearing up for the new year.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia, and GoodReads

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Photo credit: K.M.Lindsay

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

NAOMI KRUPITSKY TALKS ABOUT HER RAVISHING INSTANT NYT BESTSELLER, THE FAMILY, WRITING ABOUT GRIEF, FRIENDSHIP AND THE COMING-OF-AGE OF BROOKLYN, MORE

By Leslie Lindsay

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book

Leslie Lindsay in Conversation with Naomi Krupitsky

Naomi Krupitsky is an author, editor, and bookseller. THE FAMILY is her instant-New York Times bestselling fiction.

The Instant New York Times bestseller
A TODAY Show Read with Jenna Book Club Pick

ABOUT THE FAMILY:

A captivating debut novel about the tangled fates of two best friends and daughters of the Italian mafia, and a coming-of-age story of twentieth-century Brooklyn itself.

Two daughters. Two families. One inescapable fate.

Sofia Colicchio is a free spirit, loud and untamed. Antonia Russo is thoughtful, ever observing the world around her. Best friends since birth, they live in the shadow of their fathers’ unspoken community: the Family. Sunday dinners gather them each week to feast, discuss business, and renew the intoxicating bond borne of blood and love. But the disappearance of Antonia’s father drives a whisper-thin wedge between the girls as they grow into women, wives, mothers, and leaders. Their hearts expand in tandem with Red Hook and Brooklyn around them, as they push against the boundaries of society’s expectations and fight to preserve their complex but life-sustaining friendship. One fateful night their loyalty to each other and the Family will be tested. Only one of them can pull the trigger before it’s too late.

I absolutely loved this book. I mean, I cannot rave enough. It’s gorgeously told, with emotional resonance and builds emotional residue. In fact, you might feel a little in awe–maybe a teeny bit jealous–in how you might create a work as impactful as this one. But seriously, it’s just darn good.

Please join me in conversation with the lovely and talented Naomi Krupitsky:

Leslie Lindsay:

I always want to know the inspirations, the seeds of a story. What–or who–was haunting you as you wrote THE FAMILY?

Naomi Krupitsky:

Sofia and Antonia came to me first. I got the image of this polar-opposite friendship, two little girls who grow up in adjoining apartments, who complement and contrast with each other. As they came into focus, the world around them grew also.

As I started to structure and think about that bigger world, I drew on mythology and legends and fairytales, which I have always loved. I like thinking about the stories we tell over and over, the things we pass down, the stories we inherit from the culture around us. I’ve always loved retellings of myths. I like to see what gets left behind or shifted in a modern retelling, and what new things can be revealed about a story we all already know. I engaged with a lot of myths and legends to construct the world of this book. There is the myth of New York, which I was really familiar with because I grew up on the West Coast but spent as much time as I could reading fiction set in New York City. I fell in love with the city first because of the myths about it. I moved there because of them. I believe in their power.

This is also an immigrant story, a love story, a parenting story. And then the Mafia, I think, operates in our collective consciousness the way a myth does. There are things everyone knows about the Mafia—but they don’t know how they know. There is something about that combination of violence and honor and love and integrity that is compelling, that resonates really broadly. Once I began drawing on the rich well of mythology and the canon of work about New York and about the Mafia, I couldn’t stop.

Photo by Mario Cuadros on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

With any art form, I think our ideas of how it will turn out are actually very different from the reality. Was this true for you? How does the finished novel compare to the novel you originally intended to write?

Naomi Krupitsky:

This is my first novel, so if I am being entirely candid, I didn’t intend to write it at all. I spent the first two years wondering if it even was a novel, if it still existed when I closed my computer. I can still feel the wilderness of not knowing, and it still amazes me that I wrote my way through it.

But the whole time I was writing, I knew I wanted action and emotions to coexist on the page.

I think fiction is often either driven by the characters or by the plot.

But I wanted a book so exciting that readers of more emotionally driven fiction feel like it is a guilty pleasure; I wanted a book with such carefully articulated characters that readers of classic action and adventure fiction surprised themselves by loving these people. I wanted to write something that refused to sacrifice either suspense or emotional depth.

Editing this book was a long and intense process. The most salient thing I learned was how to not just express both action and emotion but connect them. The emotions in the final draft are what drive the action. The action feels like a culmination of the emotional arcs.

These two story elements do not just coexist; they are symbiotic.

Learning how to use plot and character as interconnected building blocks has changed me as a writer.

Leslie Lindsay:

The crux of this story lies in the symbiotic, life-sustaining relationship between Antonia and Sofia. Why is this relationship so unique, and why do you think female friendships like theirs are having a literary moment?

Naomi Krupitsky:

I’m interested in the idea of something being unique in fiction. I think the things that resonate widely in fiction are often not unique, but rather universal. Love—how Sofia and Antonia are born into it, how they build it, and how they alternately choose it and avoid it—is as universal as it gets. And friendship is a special kind of love. Sofia and Antonia love each other differently than sisters and differently than lovers. The bounds and boundlessness of their relationship was endlessly fascinating for me. I think anyone who has had a best friend and anyone who has wanted one will find something to connect with in Sofia and Antonia’s friendship.

My suspicion is that female friendship is having a moment in fiction for two reasons. First, women are having a moment in fiction! Women are being published at very high rates; women are writing about things that interest them, and it’s changing what gets focused on in the general fiction landscape. I work as a bookseller, and our fiction shelves are full of multiple generations of women navigating challenges together; of women who are forging into the unknown alone; of teenage girls being the heroines of their own stories rather than the props in other people’s stories. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come; hopefully someday soon, the fiction that is published will reflect the stunning diversity of the world we live in.

Second, I think love is more freely defined, and perhaps more important, in today’s world than it ever has been. Relationships can be, and have to be, intentional, and individually constructed, because there are fewer restrictions on who can relate and how (not, of course, none—and the ways Sofia and Antonia both feel constrained by the outside limits placed on them will probably be relatable to many readers, too). In this contemporary moment, love is revealed in complex glory. And friendship, which is its own kind of love but which can contain the best and the worst of both romantic love and family love, is such fertile ground for exploration.

Photo by Aline Viana Prado on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

The Family is a novel defined by duality—not just in the context of Sofia and Antonia’s relationship, but also in the tenuous lines separating good from evil, old world from new world, and love from violence. What did you wish to accomplish by exposing these dichotomies?

Naomi Krupitsky:

When I studied classics and mythology, I remember learning that the Greeks were special because their gods were flawed—selfish and greedy, violent, motivated by insecurity. The stories passed down about Greek gods enabled people to explore moral boundaries, to see their gods acting out the worst human impulses. That really stuck with me. In my own life, fiction has always been a way I could test my boundaries, complicate my instincts, and explore outside my own perspective. And as much as possible, I hope The Family lives in the gray areas between what we normally see as black-and-white dichotomies.

For example, I want the reader to love Joey. I also want the reader to see him being violent and selfish and making the wrong decisions. Later in the book, I want the reader to empathize with Saul, even as he betrays people he loves—people the reader loves, too. I want the reader to see Sofia being cruel, to see Antonia being cowardly, and still to love them, wholeheartedly, absolutely. I want the reader to see Sofia and Antonia trying to escape the restrictions of the world they were born into, even as each of them, in different ways, realizes that her strength comes from her roots.

When I read, I am more invested in complex characters who are capable of violence than I am in characters who stick to one side of the line between right and wrong.

And from a creative standpoint, the blurry center where good and evil, old and new, love and violence come together, and are sustained and in some ways enabled by one another, is the most interesting place to explore.

Leslie Lindsay:

Antonia and Sofia are opposite in almost every way. As you were writing, did you relate more to Antonia’s or Sofia’s character? Where did you pull inspiration for their unique personalities?

Naomi Krupitsky:

I think Antonia and Sofia’s contrasting personalities embody a duality I feel in myself. For example, I have Sofia’s temper but Antonia’s self-awareness. This has gotten me into trouble at times, but it’s also kept me safe and strong. I can be timid, but I can also be bold. I think in many ways I used their personalities to explore the wide range of self I feel, and I wanted to explore how each of their traits can be a gift or a curse, depending on the situation. As I wrote, I used each of them as a foil for the other: if this is how Antonia navigates falling in love, or anger, or massive change, how does Sofia navigate it, and how can those two personalities be in conversation with each other? But I see myself in both of them, and I feel really connected to both of them.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You had to have done a ton of research to to create such a vivid, panoramic portrait of Brooklyn. Can you talk about that, please?

Naomi Krupitsky:

I did have to do quite a bit of research, but I was so grateful to be writing this book in the time of the internet! Without even leaving my living room, I could look at a map of the subway system in 1930. I could see a block in Brooklyn in 1938 and see that same block in 1940. I read about neighborhood demographics and how they changed over time. I even found Facebook groups where Sicilian Americans discussed how their specific grandmothers made specific dishes.

I will also say that any tangible, lifelike sense of Brooklyn or New York that I was able to create came from fiction. I’ve been an avid reader of New York–specific fiction for all of my life. Fiction felt like the truest form of research for me—reading fiction in order to write fiction; situating myself in the world I wanted to contribute to.

Photo by Narda Yescas on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

One of the most complex characters in the narrative is Saul, a Jewish man who arrives in Brooklyn after fleeing Nazi Germany. How did you come to this character? In what ways does he represent the cultural dissonance of this time period?

Naomi Krupitsky:

I have family who migrated from Europe to Brooklyn during that time, for the same reasons Saul does. I wanted to include that history, and I wanted Sofia to fall in love with someone who surprised her, who came from outside the world she lived in. The better I got to know Sofia, the more necessary Saul became: there is no way she would fall for someone she understood. But while Saul entered the narrative as a secondary character, he really evolved into a central one. Without giving away too much, Saul makes everyone in the Family question their own motivations for the life they have chosen. He is a destabilizing force, and his presence complicates the values of honesty, loyalty, and community that the rest of the characters hold dear.

Leslie Lindsay:

Did you have a favorite scene in the novel, and why?

Naomi Krupitsky:

I have always loved to write grief and fear and sadness. The richness of those emotions, the complexity of them, and the way they make a familiar world feel strange has always attracted me.

I have struggled to find that same richness when writing happiness, love, and satisfaction. But in this book, I loved writing Saul and Sofia’s courtship. It took a long time for me to figure out what their unique relationship would feel like, and what they needed from each other, and what they find in each other that satisfies and surprises them. And it satisfied and surprised me, too, to land on Saul and Sofia’s particular love, to figure out how each of them would feel desire, and to spend time making that clear on the page.

Photo by Kat Smith on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Naomi Krupitsky:

First, I hope this is just an incredibly pleasurable reading experience. I hope it is immersive and rich, the kind of story you think about while you’re not reading, the kind of story you are sad to finish.

Second, the fiction I love takes me out of my own perspective. It gives me access to worlds that I know nothing about. And yet it builds bridges between my world and its own; it reveals surprising commonalities. It is my greatest wish that, while reading this story about another time and place, people might look to a scene or a character or a single sentence and think, I feel that. I think of that warm relief that comes when you read a sentence that articulates something you’ve always felt but never understood in words: There it is. There I am. Here I am. 

Leslie Lindsay:

I think we’re all dying to know: what’s next for you? No pressure. : )

Naomi Krupitsky:

I worked on this book for a long time, and I am still coming to terms with being finished—I’m relieved and excited, but I’ve spent so long in Sofia and Antonia’s world that it’s hard to imagine being as immersed in something new. I’m going to spend the next months reading and thinking and exploring and just seeing what I connect to, and I am really excited to use everything I’ve learned writing The Family for whatever comes next.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH NAOMI KRUPITSKY, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF THE FAMILY, PLEASE VISIT:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded of Cara Wall’s THE DEARLY BELOVED meets THE WARTIME SISTERS (Lynda Cohen Loigman), with a touch of the work of Fiona Davis and Caroline Leavitt, particularly in CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD

LOOKING AHEAD:

We’ll chat about REAL ESTATE by Deborah Levy and also Sandra Cisneros’s A HOUSE OF MY OWN on the next #memoirmonday as we round out November.

Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book every Wednesday, but some Mondays and Fridays, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Photo by Csongor Kemu00e9ny on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Naomi Krupitsky is an author, editor, and bookseller.

She was born in Berkeley, California, and attended NYU’s Gallatin school of Individualized Study, where she graduated in 2012. She lives in San Francisco, but calls many places home. The Family is her first novel.

Author photo courtesy of PRH/Putnam and used with permission.

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

Instagram|Facebook|Twitter|Bookshop.org|Penguin Random House

GENTRIFIER by Anne Elizabeth Moore is more than a memoir, it’s a story about the American housing crisis, community, and maybe even a ghost story or a mystery, exploring Detroit, houses, more

By Leslie Lindsay

A timely and gorgeous exploration of home, culture, community, immigration, and so much more in this memoir of art, gender, work, and survival.

~WRITER’S INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book| Memoir Monday

Leslie Lindsay & Anne Elizabeth Moore in Conversation

Anne Elizabeth Moore has written several critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including the Lambda Literary Award–nominated Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes, which was a Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2017, and Sweet Little Cunt, which won an Eisner Award. Most recently, she is the author of the memoir Gentrifier, out now from Catapult. She lives in Hobart, New York, with her cat, Captain America.

ABOUT GENTRIFIER: A Memoir:

I admit to falling in love with this book based on the eye-catching cover, the title alone, and of course, the fact that it is about a writer in a house. I mean, it hits on so many of my passions. But the love for this book isn’t just superficial. I truly loved the story. GENTRIFIER: A Memoir by Anne Elizabeth Moore (Catapult, October 19 2021) is about a queer woman writer who is ‘gifted’ a house. The catch: you must live in Detroit for two years.

And one might wonder: what’s wrong with Detroit? Growing up in St. Louis, I had a friend move away to the suburbs of Detroit. It wasn’t a big deal. But it was the *suburbs.* And the qualifier: ‘when I was growing up,’ [read: a long time ago]. It’s true, at it’s height, Detroit, like St. Louis, even, was once a very hoppin’ cool place. Factories were pumping out cars. It was lively and a vital to our economy. And then…what happened? I’m not exactly sure. Jobs were moved overseas because labor was cheaper. Company housing was boarded. Factories shuttered. Schools became derelict. The population grew more illiterate. It became less diversified. Then the housing crisis of 2008 and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

GENTRIFIER isn’t *just* about that. It’s about one writer woman’s connection to the house, the community, her work, and also briefly, her autoimmune disease and her cats.

It is written in a spry, darkly humorous investigation, recollecting conversations and tidbits of her time at the Detroit house. GENTRIFIER is a quick read, but it’sone of those books you might fly through initially, but hang on to it, because you’ll want to go back and savor. The book is divided into sections: The House, The Neighborhood, The City, The Work…and so forth, and each section is anchored by a Virginia Woolf quote,which I quite enjoyed, having not really committed any of them to memory, other than the one about a woman who wants to write must have a room of her own.

Sections are short and snappy and do not flow in a chronological manner but sort of spiral and circle back. I personally really like this style, it helps me see the bigger picture and piece together themes and motifs, but that’s just the kind of reader/writer I tend to be.

Things do end with a bit of a twist and that became a bit of the investigative piece I am alluding to, but also, maybe the investigation was more personal and rooted in art.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Anne Elizabeth Moore to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Anne, I loved this book. I always like to start with the inspiration. What was haunting you when you set out to write? What questions—about yourself or the situation—were you hoping to answer? Did you find them?

Anne Elizabeth Moore:

Thanks Leslie! Haunting is a good way of thinking about it. When I first moved into the house, there was definitely a presence there. In the book I give that presence the voice of Virginia Woolf herself, posing a range of questions about art and life from her essay “A Room of One’s Own” to guide each chapter. But in reality, that presence was the former owner of my house. What happened to her? How can such a thing happen to people? What does that say about art and life that Virginia Woolf never imagined needing to incorporate into the woman writer’s milieu? And what does it mean that a much-celebrated gift to me, a white woman, was the site of unacceptable violence perpetrated on a Black woman?

Gentrifier ends up being a story about the American housing crisis. It’s true that I could have written this like a ghost story, wherein I would let the presence of the former owner linger but remain ephemeral.

Instead, as you say, I presented it as a mystery, an investigation. Because the former owner of my house is still alive. Reparations are still possible. The housing crisis, too, is solvable.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I was struck by a conversation you had with one of your neighbors about community. And to paraphrase from GENTRIFIER, it was defined as, ‘community is who shows up.’ I love that. Can you expand, please?

Anne Elizabeth Moore:

So many people love that quote! I’ve been marveling at how well it lands right now. After almost two years of no one being able to show up for anything? I’ve had conversations in art, writing, and publishing communities, where folks think about it in terms of event attendance; in disability communities where people think about it in terms of who can be relied upon in medical emergencies; and among folks raising young kids in the home, where the question is entirely about who will be there to make dinner during the traditional caregiver’s late-running Zoom meeting. My suspicion is that during this pandemic folks have been really thinking hard about what they need, both to survive and to be happy, and they are starting to figure out how to make changes. Obviously quitting a job and retiring early is one potential outcome of such considerations, and that is happening on a mass scale right now. But my friends are also going through a wave of divorces, separations, and breakups. One said to me, not in reference to my book, that the partner they are leaving “just didn’t show up” for them.

Community is built on relationships, and you know in your gut when folks are mentally, emotionally, and physically present to you—it just feels different when they are not really “there”.

Gentrifier celebrates the people who do show up, no matter what is going on in their lives, who are there to meet and even predict your needs, who will jump in during emergencies, who will bring dinner by even when you have already eaten.

These people are not always, or maybe ever, who you think they are going to be. Your community may not look like you in any identifiable way, or have much in common with you at all, because relationships are not in fact built on racial or religious or sexual or even linguistic grounds, although demographic factors can of course strengthen or destroy community bonds.

I think years of marketing and social media have confused the issue of what community looks like, maybe given us a sense that community might be Instagram followers or other people who own Buicks or everyone you work with at Taco Bell. But it’s really just the people who show up in your life to watch—and help—you thrive.

“A heartfelt, funny, thought-provoking meditation on the multifaceted fallacy of the American Dream.”

Booklist (starred review)

Leslie Lindsay:

Just this past week, a conversation from a non-white person went like this, “What do you like about being white?”

Um…well. And I could have a more eloquent response but, it comes down to this: culture and race is about community. This person mentioned feeling very connected to his culture, his race. I don’t feel connected to the white culture. I don’t have a ‘white community.’

I thought more about this. Maybe, at the turn of the 20th century, I would have been more tied to my Irish immigrant ancestors or my German-Catholic church. Or maybe if I were Jewish I might feel connected to the cultural and religious food traditions, my Synagogue. If I hailed from an Italian family, maybe there’d be something else I gravitated toward: A Roman Catholic church versus the German one or I may have chosen to live in an exclusively Italian neighborhood, getting my food from Italian grocers or speaking only Italian at home. You get the idea. I might have identified more with my…whiteness. Because it’s really more about culture, not color. What more might you add to that?

Anne Elizabeth Moore:

This is a complicated question, because I don’t believe that communities are built exclusively or even mostly on race or on shared cultural values. I believe that they are built on care. So while I have plenty of people in my life who are white, I would not be comfortable participating in a community that was primarily devoted to the needs or interests of white folks, which is to say, a white community. I just already have too many people I love that I would have to leave behind. And of course the notion of fostering a white community, particularly one that was deliberately established, gets uncomfortably close to white power movements and white supremacist organizations. Even searching online for resources will pretty quickly land you in neo-Nazi territory, where it becomes clear that white positivity is the face of the project to eradicate Black, Brown, and Indigenous folks from the Earth. So thinking about ways to honor or even engage in white culture get tricky fast, because far more often than not, they end with the destruction of non-white cultures.

So taking the question purely at face value, I posed it to a few friends who are not white at a party the other night and they very quickly generated a list of things they would probably enjoy most about being white were that an option: Being able to go to a doctor about a health problem without automatically being told they have diabetes; Not having men repeatedly ask where they are from, really; Being able to talk to white friends about racist things they said; Being able to get tattoos without being told they’re going to look bad. These are all super helpful for me to think about as someone who would like to see my friends thrive and be comfortable in more and more spaces in the world.

My personal favorite thing about being white is the lack of surveillance. I can generally wander around the world—really, wherever I want!—and no one will bat an eye or shoot me dead. I’m also, now, a middle-aged woman, which means that I’m no longer surveilled as an object of sexual interest either. Practically invisible! Really looking forward to perpetrating a big crime spree.

However the question does point to something deeper, which is the degree to which whiteness relies on indefinability to retain power.

White folks are given to believe that there is no specific need for community, that the entire world is established for and about their desires, no segmentation necessary (except for by “others,” another vague category into which folks of color, people with disabilities, women and nonbinary people, immigrants, or anyone else is apt to fall, depending on what is being defended against). White supremacy only works if you can’t define—or locate—whiteness. Which is to say, it works when it is always already there, so pervasive that we couldn’t live without it, like air, like water, beyond definition and therefore beyond reproach. Nell Irvin Painter’s History of White People is probably my favorite book that starts to pin down not just a history of white people, as a racial construct, but whiteness, as a cultural construct. She reminds us that, although science no longer believes racial distinctions to be meaningful or even valid, that whiteness is an ongoing cultural project that equates cleanliness, colorlessness, and purity with a certain category of people to escalate their sense of entitlement.

Photo by Cup of Couple on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Because I love houses and homes so much, GENTRIFIER really spoke to me. Houses are one small piece of community. But it’s also about the people who may have lived in the house before you. There’s a poignant piece in the book in which a 6-year old neighbor girl is shocked that you lived elsewhere before moving into the house. You mention something about another vacant house… when the family left, what they were like, what came after, the history of empty lots, the scars. I love that because I do the same. Why do you think people find this so alluring?

Anne Elizabeth Moore:

You know, there are so many decaying and decrepit structures in Detroit—some empty, but some still occupied—that entire urban spelunking tour companies exist to guide folks through them so they can marvel at the ruins up close. Of course we know that the factories were all abandoned out of corporate greed, when the auto manufacturers decided to move production overseas to cash in on cheaper labor. And the houses are all empty because a quarter of the city’s housing stock was foreclosed in the last two decades—a statistic that doesn’t even include the pending wave of evictions that will come now that the CDC’s eviction moratorium has been lifted. This was another act of greed, although in this case the benefactor was Wayne County. Both forced evacuations are also acts of extreme violence that continue to reverberate throughout culture, and people love violence. I mean, Squid Games is not the most popular show in the history of Netflix because HoYeong Jung is a household name. (Although she should be. She was amazing!)

Leslie Lindsay:

I could probably ask questions all day—and I know—these are kind of hard. You talk about ‘holes’ later in the book, falling into a depression related to your autoimmune disease, a roofing hole, and while this metaphor of holes and depression is trite, it’s palpable. Let’s turn this into a structure question. Would you say this ‘hitting bottom’ moment helped create the structure of your narrative? The build-up and tear-down, the moving on?

Anne Elizabeth Moore:

For sure the book needed a structure, and because the narrative jumps through about 50 years, all relayed in present-tense vignettes, that structure could not rely on the unfolding of linear time. So I needed to mimic a traditional narrative arc by including some kind of emotional reckoning at the start of the third act. Since this book tells the story of my relationship with this house, that emotional reckoning was going to have to be about the depression that occurred when I realized that relationship needed to end, that in innumerable ways I could not tolerate the city itself any longer. Also I think holes are funny.

But because this is a mystery story, I needed that chapter to seem so all-consuming that the reader would not be aware that something deeper and larger and more dangerous was coming. If you notice, the “hitting bottom” you point to in this chapter is false, a false bottom. It gets worse. Structurally, I didn’t want the conclusion of the book to rest on my feelings about this house, but on the history of municipal violence against Black women that the house comes to represent.

Photo by Caryn on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Anne, this was so thought-provoking and stirring. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Anne Elizabeth Moore:

Ha ha ha no, but I think most folks at this point ask about my cat, Captain America. She’s fine! She wishes I were not on book tour though.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Anne Elizabeth Moore, or to purchase a copy of GENTRIFIER: A Memoir, visit:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded, in part, of the memoir, TENEMENTAL by Vikki Warner meets Erica Bauermeister’s HOUSE LESSONS, but also Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE: A Living Autobiography and Amy Shearn’s UNSEEN CITY.

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book since 2018 on Bookshop.org

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book in October 2021 HERE.

LOOKING AHEAD:

November titles all are about home and mothers and memoir with featured #MemoirMonday titles from Michelle Orange (PURE FLAME), Violaine Husimann’s THE BOOK OF MOTHER (fiction), but also GENTRIFIER (Anne Elizabeth Moore), Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE and Naomi Kupitsky’s highly anticipated novel, THE FAMILY.

To Browse all books/authors featured in NOVEMBER 2021, click HERE.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia, and GoodReads

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

ANNE ELIZABETH MOORE was born in Winner, South Dakota. She has written several critically acclaimed nonfiction books, including the Lambda Literary Award–nominated Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes, which was a Chicago Public Library Best Book of 2017, and Sweet Little Cunt, which won an Eisner Award. Most recently, she is the author of the memoir Gentrifier, out now from Catapult. She lives in Hobart, New York, with her cat, Captain America.

Author photo courtesy of Catapult and used with permission.

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

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Photo credit: K.M.Lindsay

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Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

Violaine Huisman talks about her novel, THE BOOK OF MOTHER, autotheory, structure, legacy; how she is haunted by her late-father’s book collection, and on a personal level: her relationship with her mother is so parallel to my own

By Leslie Lindsay

Gorgeous, dark, moving, and resonate work summoning the author’s late mother, her mercurial moods, her madness, and more.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Leslie Lindsay and Violaine Huisman in Conversation

Violaine Huisman was born in Paris where she lived for her first twenty years. She runs the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s literary series and has also organized multidisciplinary arts festivals across the city. Originally published by Gallimard under the title Fugitive parce que reine, her debut novel The Book of Mother was awarded multiple literary prizes including the Prix Françoise Saga and the Prix Marie Claire.

ABOUT THE BOOK OF MOTHER:

This brave, bold, unflinching, and disturbing book is so beautiful it’s maddening, and that’s exactly what THE BOOK OF MOTHER by Violaine Huisman is about: dazzling yet damaged.

Originally published in France in 2018, THE BOOK OF MOTHER is technically fiction, but reads like memoir, so autofiction, autobiographical fiction…and it seems that’s exactly how the author describes it, saying in Vogue interview with the translator, Leslie Camhi, (the original published in French and recently translated in English and re-released by Scribner October 19 2021), that the term auto-fiction was originally coined in the 1970s by French writer, Serge Dubrovsky. The form has existed for always, and so why not?

The first third of the book describes Violaine as a ten year-old in 1989 as the Berlin wall is coming down. It mirrors the catastrophe, the victory of crumbling stones and debris as how in those ruins, Violaine sees her mother, whom she mentions right away is ‘manic-depressive,’ (bipolar), never once hinting at the fact that she isn’t mentally ill. We delve into the life of Violaine, her sister, Elsa (two years older) and their mother’s chaotic, tumultuous existence. The parents have divorced, the mother is raising the daughters on her own, but struggling in all manners. When the mother/Catherine suffers a breakdown and is hospitalized, everything changes.

Part two is all about the arc of Catherine/mother’s life. She was the result an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, grew up in poverty–in terms of finances and emotion–became a dancer, fell in love…married, but it didn’t work out, married again…divorced, but all along, we live in the perfumed air of Paris, nightclubs, boutiques, sex clubs, a possible lesbian relationship, drugs, alcohol, and more.

Finally, the sisters must parse out the complex legacy their mother has left them as they become mothers themselves.

When I love a book, really really love a book, it’s difficult to articulate why. Because it’s so resonate, because it’s hugely brave and vibrant, because I think: I could have written this myself. Here, I see a striking parallel between my own childhood, my own mother, her life and how I processed it. The prose has the unmistakable sense of urgency, a mystery, too, even though we as readers know what’s going on (the mother is mentally ill), and we have a pretty good inkling of where it’s headed…Huisman sees her mother almost as a marvel, she’s enmeshed with her madness, but never does she flat-out idolize her.

THE BOOK OF MOTHER is intimate, lucid, unflinching, raw, stunning story that digs deep into human behavior, exposing flaws, graces, darkness…ashes, ruins, and transcends the conventional novel, it goes beyond a memoir. It’s spectacular.

“A portrait of a life lived like a swiftly burning candle…gorgeous… Love hurts; Huisman elegantly examines how and why.”

—Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Violaine Huisman to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Violaine, welcome. Oh gosh! I love this book so much. It’s shatteringly brave and bold, and I related on so many levels. In fact, it’s almost like we were living parallel worlds—yours in Paris and mine in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1989, my beautiful, talented interior decorator mother devolved into psychosis. She, too, had a traumatic childhood, had bouts with postpartum depression, a crumbling marriage, a life punctuated with drugs, alcohol, sex. There were animals/pets that mysteriously went ‘missing.’ I too, have a sister, though she is 8 years younger. Our mother died by suicide in 2015. So, welcome. I feel we’re sisters in this murky-child-of-mental illness. Can you tell us what sort of haunted you into this story? Why now?

Violaine Huisman:

Thank you Leslie. It’s powerful to hear that my work resonated with your own experience. And how uncanny to imagine that in St Louis, Missouri, as the Berlin Wall was falling, you, too, were witnessing your mother’s collapse!  

To say that the ambition of autobiographical writing is to make the personal universal is both a cliché and a profound truth. That’s certainly what I hoped for in undertaking this project: to make this story larger than my own, to have it find an echo in others. 

The urgency of the narrative came to me as I discovered its arc, or how I wanted to tell it. After spending years struggling to find the way to put it in book form, I realized that I needed to look at my mother’s story from various angles. First, as she appeared to me as her child, and later as an independent entity, aside from her role as a mother. But this perspective didn’t occur to me until I became a mother myself. Only then did the dichotomy between mother and woman surface as a highwire act, one that is often, if not always bound to failure. As the beautiful English feminist thinker Jacqueline Rose wrote:

“Mothers always fail… Such failure should not be viewed as catastrophic but normal.”

We just can’t do it all, no matter how much pressure is placed on us to do so. As I tried to imagine the challenge presented to my mother given her mental illness, my heart ached horribly. 

Leslie Lindsay:

For me, telling my mother’s story, it was hard, to put it mildly. When I first started writing, she was still living. I wasn’t sure how the story would end. Plus, I felt guilt or…something. It didn’t seem right. Now I worry that writing about her after the fact is doing a disservice to her legacy. How might you respond?

Violaine Huisman:

I understand your uneasiness, and I felt some of it too.

As I was writing, I kept urging myself to be more generous, more understanding, kinder.

I hoped very much that the book would do justice to my mother’s legacy; to that end, I also made a point of including the book she wrote in my narrative.

When my novel came out in France a few years ago, a handful of readers told me that they bought my mother’s book after reading mine! It’s still in print, it turns out. Nothing could have pleased me more, or felt more like an achievement. It’s a marvelous gift to imagine my work allowing hers to reach new audiences.

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I think it’s so important to talk about the idea of fiction versus memoir, and really, all of the different troupes of genre. THE BOOK OF MOTHER is referred to a ‘novel’ on the cover, but reads like memoir. The first third is told from your POV, your mother’s in the middle, and the end is again your POV interspersed with your sister’s experience. Is it because of these conventions that you chose to call it auto-fiction, rather than memoir? I’m not sure if it really matters in the end, because the result is personal and powerful. Can you speak to that, please?

Violaine Huisman:

The first, simplest answer to that question is that I wanted to take liberties with my mother’s life story. I had no interest in researching what happened before I was born, or when I wasn’t in the room. I believe the story to be true to my mother’s spirit, and overall realistic in terms of her experience, but I made it up. I based myself in part on my parents’ (often contradictory) accounts of their marriage, and then I read around that era. I had never visited Marseille before describing it in the novel; I now live there, and I’m proud to see that I got some of it right without any first-hand experience of that city.

I think of fiction, after Ben Lerner, as the mind’s imaginative power to produce order.

Life is messy, chaotic, events present themselves non-hierarchically, illogically. Fiction allows to weave a coherent narrative, including sequencing, causal relations, main protagonists, whereas memories always come with too many characters, too much irrelevant detail.

And then the more complicated response is that I had this fantasy, this wild ambition, to turn my mother into a literary character. I wanted her to be able to exist on a bookshelf beside Anna Karenina or the Duchesse de Guermantes.

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, there’s memory that comes into play. Here’s what I’ve learned in writing—whether fiction or memoir (or autofiction): your version of the truth becomes the truth. It’s how you remember an event and so who is to say if it’s accurate, or not? We often remember the emotional arc of an event, some of the dialogue, but there’s no way we can remember every detail without it becoming too…factual. And does fact even matter?

Violaine Huisman:

I don’t think that facts matter in fiction, unless one deals with historical events. But there is such a thing as fact checking fiction. The New Yorker does it: for accuracy, precision. I find it marvelous, inspiring, and kind of crazy.

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk a little about your writing process? In the acknowledgements section, you write that much of this story was written as it was told to Ben Lerner. How did you go about talking about your experiences with your mother to getting the words on the page?

Violaine Huisman:

In the acknowledgements, I thank Ben Lerner for our ongoing conversation. He is an incredibly generous listener, and we’ve often spoken about my mother, yet my gratitude in this context has more to do with his reflections on literature in general, and my writing in particular. Ben doesn’t read French, but I could describe to him – often at a museum, or on a walk – something I was trying to do in my writing. He would revise a sentence on the fly, suggest ideas for transition, narrative arcs, metaphors. His novels and poetry have had a profound influence on my work. I also translated his essay The Hatred of Poetry as I was writing The Book of Mother (in French my novel was called Fugitive parce que reine). On the first page, I lifted part of a sentence from his book. I asked him for permission; he granted it.

Photo by Chris F on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Violaine Huisman:

My father passed away last winter. It’s terribly lonely to have lost both of my parents while my daughters are still so young. My father was an extravagant book collector. His personal library was housed in a three-bedroom apartment in Paris, lined with books from floor to ceiling. Roughly 80,000 volumes or eight tons of books. I’m haunted by that library at the moment…

Leslie Lindsay:

Violaine, this has been such an honor and delight. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Violaine Huisman:

I’m curious to know if you’re working on a book yourself. Thank you for your thoughtful reading, and gracious questions.

Leslie Lindsay:

My pleasure! I am just in awe with this beautiful translation but also the uncanny similarities between our stories. And yes, I am writing. Currently, the focus is on ancestral connections, making sense of the past and how that has shaped future generations, dysfunction, more. It’s more prose-y and kind of strange, dreamy, rather than a flat-out memoir or even a cultural or social narrative. The stories are all interlined because that’s how I see generations.

My memoir about my relationship with my mother is currently on submission. She was a brilliant and stunning interior decorator/seamstress who devolved into psychosis when I was ten, much like yours. She drove fast and recklessly, smoked like a chimney, was often very angry and there’s so much more. We were estranged on and off from the time I was ten until her death–suicide–in 2015. This story is about complex grief, breaking patterns of dysfunction, interiority, and more.

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Violaine Huisman, or to purchase a copy of THE BOOK OF MOTHER, please visit:

FURTHER READING ABOUT THE BOOK OF MOTHER:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A Perfect Pairing:

I was reminded, in part, of WILD GAME (Adrienne Brodeur), with a touch of Donald Antrim’s ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL: Surviving Suicide, and PURE FLAME by Michelle Orange.

Looking Ahead:

All November, we’re focused on books about mothers, houses/homes, and memoir. Join us for a discussion with Anne Elizabeth Moore about her new memoir, THE GENTRIFIER, A spotlight of Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE and Sandra Cisneros’s A HOUSE OF MY OWN. Donald Antrim’s backlist THE AFTERLIFE, a cultural, social and memoir exploration of legacy in Michelle Orange’s PURE FLAME, a long-banned and recently re-released memoir, MY FIRST THIRTY YEARS by Gertrude Beasley, the poetry and writing of Victoria Chang in DEAR MEMORY, insights on the writing life/poetry of Richard Hugo in TRIGGERING TOWNS, and Marilynne Robinson’s 1980 debut, HOUSEKEEPING.

Browse all books featured on Always with a Book since 2018 on Bookshop.org. Browse all books featured in just October 2021.

Browse all book featured in November 2021

Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book every Wednesday, but some Mondays and Fridays, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia, and GoodReads

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Violaine Huisman was born in Paris in 1979 and has lived and worked in New York for twenty years, where she ran the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s literary series and also organized multidisciplinary arts festivals across the city. Originally published by Gallimard under the title Fugitive parce que reine, her debut novel The Book of Mother was awarded multiple literary prizes including the Prix Françoise Saga and the Prix Marie Claire.

The writer Violaine Huisman (France/USA), Brooklyn, New York, August 30, 2017. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR:

Leslie Camhi is a New York-based essayist and cultural journalist who writes for The New York Times, Vogue, and other publications. She is a frequent contributor to artists’ monographs and museum catalogues. The Book of Mother is her first book-length translation.

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

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Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

Cover and author image courtesy of Scribner and used with permission. Author photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan.

MEMOIR MONDAY: Michelle Oranage’s PURE FLAME is less of a legacy, and more of a heritage, about mothers & daughters, a reckoning with matralineal ties

By Leslie Lindsay

An intellectual, personal, and ultimately ferocious reckoning with feminism, family, and motherhood from a celebrated critic.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook


A New York Times Edi­tors’ Choice

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

MEMOIR MONDAY

Michelle Orange is the author of the essay collection This Is Running for Your Life, named a best book of 2013 by The New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in publications including The New YorkerHarper’s MagazineThe New York TimesBookforumMcSweeney’s, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she is a contributing editor. She teaches in the graduate writing programs at Goucher College and Columbia University.

ABOUT PURE FLAME:

During one of the texting sessions that became our habit over the period I now think of as both late and early in our relationship, my mother revealed the existence of someone named Janis Jerome.

So begins Michelle Orange’s extraordinary inquiry into the meaning of maternal legacy―in her own family and across a century of seismic change. Jerome, she learns, is one of her mother’s many alter egos: the name used in a case study, eventually sold to the Harvard Business Review, about her mother’s midlife choice to leave her husband and children to pursue career opportunities in a bigger city. A flashpoint in the lives of both mother and daughter, the decision forms the heart of a broader exploration of the impact of feminism on what Adrienne Rich called “the great unwritten story”: that of the mother-daughter bond.

“Some­times achingly sad, but often warm and evoca­tive, this reck­on­ing between moth­ers and daugh­ters is a bril­liant work of fem­i­nist cri­tique.” 

–Lau­ren Puckett-Pope, Elle

The death of Orange’s maternal grandmother at nearly ninety-six and the fear that her mother’s more “successful” life will not be as long bring new urgency to her questions about the woman whose absence and anger helped shape her life.

Through a blend of memoir, social history, and cultural criticism, Pure Flame (FSG, June 2021) pursues a chain of personal, intellectual, and collective inheritance, tracing the forces that helped transform the world and what a woman might expect from it.

Told with warmth and rigor, Orange’s account of her mother’s life and their relationship is pressurized in critical and unexpected ways, resulting in an essential, revelatory meditation on becoming, selfhood, freedom, mortality, storytelling, and what it means to be a mother’s daughter now.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Michelle Orange, or to purchase a copy of PURE FLAME, please visit:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 

A PERFECT PAIRING:

I was reminded, in part, of SHADOW DAUGHTER by Harriet Brown, meets IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY by Bobi Conn, along with the work of Ariel Gore, Gayle Brandeis (particularly THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS), and perhaps WILD GAME by Adrienne Brodeur.

LOOKING AHEAD:

 THE BOOK OF MOTHER by Violaine Hussman, Anne Elizabeth Moore’s THE GENTRIFIER, REAL ESTATE by Deborah Levy, more.

Looking for your next book? New authors/titles, author interviews and insights here, http://www.leslielindsay.com|Always with a Book every Wednesday, but some Mondays and Fridays, too.

In the meantime, you can catch me on:

InstagramTwitter, Facebook|Always with a BookFacebook|Speaking of Apraxia | GoodReads |Bookshop.org

If you loved this interview, please consider sharing it on social media. Reviewing books and talking about them with others on-line and in-person is one small way to engage with & support the literary community.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michelle Orange was born and raised in Lon­don, Ontario. After grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto (dou­ble major in Eng­lish and film) she worked as a pro­ducer in the edu­ca­tion and children’s divi­sions of TVOntario.

In 2003, she moved to New York City to join the grad­u­ate film stud­ies pro­gram at New York University. Michelle’s writ­ing has since appeared in Harper’sMcSweeney’sThe NationBook­fo­rum, the New York Times, the New YorkerSlateTin House, 4 ColumnsFrieze, the Vil­lage Voice, and other pub­li­ca­tions. She is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at the Vir­ginia Quar­terly Review, where she is also a colum­nist. She is VQR’s 2019 win­ner of the Staige D. Black­ford Prize for nonfiction.

She is the edi­tor of From the Note­book: The Unwrit­ten Sto­ries of F. Scott Fitzger­ald, a col­lec­tion pub­lished in issue 22 of McSweeney’s fea­tur­ing sto­ries by Sigrid Nunez, Miriam Toews, Lydia Mil­let, and many more. Her work appears in sev­eral antholo­gies, includ­ing Best Sex Writ­ing 2006 and Should I Go to Grad School? (Blooms­bury, 2014), and Best Cana­dian Essays 2020.

She teaches in the grad­u­ate writ­ing pro­grams at Goucher Col­lege and Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity, and has been an invited guest and speaker at var­i­ous insti­tu­tions, includ­ing Yale Uni­ver­sity, New York Uni­ver­sity, Goucher Col­lege, the Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Ontario, and the Uni­ver­sity of San Francisco.

This Is Run­ning for Your Life: Essays, pub­lished by Far­rar, Straus & Giroux in 2013,  was named a best book of the year by the New Yorker, the National PostFla­vor­wire, and other publications. 

Pure Flame, her sec­ond book of non­fic­tion, was pub­lished by FSG in June, 2021. 

She lives in Brooklyn.

Author photo retrieved from July 2021 NYT bookreview on 11.6.21

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series, “Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online, including Psychology Today, Mud Season Review, A Door = Jar, Mutha, Literary Mama, The Manifest-Station, among others. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

An exploration of the memoir that was the catalyst to Donald Antrim’s ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL, a writing workshop, prompt, exercise and more.

By Leslie Lindsay

A tender and often darkly funny portrait of a family ravaged by alcoholism, death, and more, THE AFTERLIFE is about a writer discovering his origins and his future.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK|MEMOIR MONDAY

SPOTLIGHT, WORKSHOP, PROMPTS: The Afterlife by Donald Antrim

Donald Antrim is an American novelist. His first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, was published in 1993. In 1999, The New Yorker named him as among the 20 best writers under the age of 40. In 2013, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. His most recent book, a memoir, ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL (October 12, 2021, from W.W. Norton & Co.) is profound, thought-provoking, and infused with clear-eyed examination of one’s life, but the bigger issue at hand: the human condition, sigma.

ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE:

Last week, I featured Donald Antrim’s most recent memoir, ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL: A Story of Suicide and Survival (W.W. Norton, 2021).

Link to read that Q&A HERE.

ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL struck me in so many ways, maybe it was because it was written about such a vulnerable and yet–vital–time in the author’s life. It’s about his suicide attempt, his psychiatric hospitalizations, his ECT treatments, but it’s also an urge for others to look at suicide–and mental health issues–in a new light. Throughout that book, there are references to his first memoir, THE AFTERLIFE (FSG, 2006). This book was released when Antrim was hospitalized following that suicide attempt in ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL. Can you imagine releasing a book while a patient in the psychiatric hospital? We’ve heard of the challenges of releasing a book during the pandemic/quarantine, but for the world to ‘be open,’ and yet, you, as an author, are unavailable? The books are stand-alone and do not need to be read in order, but I quickly snatched up his previous book after reading ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL.

There are just a few references to THE AFTERLIFE in ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL, but the ones that struck me were along the lines of things about his mother. Antrim’s mother was also a seamstress, like mine, who could be very manipulative at times; both mothers smoked like chimneys and were once quite beautiful. Both of mothers had Southern roots with English and Scottish ancestry.

But it was the writing of this book–a memoir–intended to be about Antrim’s mother’s death, her alcoholism, that catapulted his anxiety and depression leading to his suicide attempt.

Just one day after his mother’s death, winter: 2000, Antrim began writing about his family. In pieces that were excerpted in The New Yorker, and anthologized in Best American Essays, Antrim explores his intense and complicated relationship with is mother, Louanne, but also his relationships to others: a girlfriend, his grandfather, and father, who married his mother not once, but twice.

The AFTERLIFE is not a linear memoir (in my mind, those are the best kind; I’ll explain later). Instead, Antrim follows a sort of flow-of-consciousness, a logic of dreams and memories, vignettes. It veers off-topic (or so it seems), only to come back with a bigger, overarching meaning.

I had the opportunity to speak with Antrim about this book (and also ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL), and was struck with his candor and authenticity, the ease at which we conversed about mothers, writing, mental health, and more, and I learned, too, that his mother was also an artist and seamstress like my own. Antrim attempted suicide; my mother died by suicide. I was a psychiatric R.N., he was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. We both wrote about about our mothers and family of origin.

And while this isn’t that conversation (forthcoming from another publication in December), I will happily share some writing prompts for those who are interested in these topics.

Photo by Meruyert Gonullu on Pexels.com

~WRITING WORKSHOP~

What exactly is memoir? How is it different than an autobiography? Do the two share similarities? Are the terms used interchangeably? When someone says they are going to ‘write their memoirs’ what comes to mind?

Here are my definitions:

An autobiography is a beginning to end of a person’s life. “I was born and then…and I did this…and thought this…and…maybe I learned this and that and then…I died.”

It’s an entire life, almost like a timeline, written by that person. (A biography, of course, is an account of a person’s life written by someone other than that person).

“Writing One’s Memoirs’ is usually undertaken in midlife, maybe at a crisis point (an illness, death of a family member, retirement, etc.). They are a general accounting of life events, often told in a vignette-style, “I remember this…and my bestfriend at the time…” They are often (but not always) loosely jointed, lack cohesion, and are a cobbling of remembrances often passed along to descendants maybe in the form of letters or similarly constructed narrative.

A Memoir is more along the lines of a story about a certain time period in a person’s life; it is not about the whole life. For example, Antrim’s ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL is a memoir about his experience with wanting to jump off a 4-story apartment building, going to the psychiatric hospital, receiving treatment, how he feels the ideas surrounding suicide should be different. That’s it. There are a few backstory moments where we learn about his writing, his significant other at the time, his family of origin, but they are not THE story.

He goes from a desperately anxious and depressed man clinging to the edge of a fire escape to a man receiving treatment and support to getting better, relapsing, and finally, ending with hope.

We see a CHANGE.

There is GROWTH.

A memoir is particularly difficult because the writer must wear many hats. He is at once the author, reader, character, and editor. He must curate and prune what to share. Plus, it’s a challenge to one’s memory.

Photo by Valerio Errani on Pexels.com

~WRITING PROMPTS~

If your mother/father had only just died and you had stories about them you wanted to explore, or maybe a traumatic childhood, would you write about it? Could you extract an event–or three or four–and weave together a story? Here are the elements Antrim took and turned into THE AFTERLIFE:

catalyst–>MOTHER’S DEATH + HER INTEREST IN ART/SEWING + HER ALCHOLISM

exploration–>WHY IS MY LIFE THIS WAY? How can I learn from this and change? Was my childhood traumatic because of mother’s alcoholism?

Which elements might you choose? Where would you start your story?

It doesn’t have be linear.

Antrim begins with his mother’s death, NOT the day he was born, even though he’s writing a memoir.

In my (unpublished) memoir, I start with my mother working on her drapes and quickly move into the last time I saw her alive. I then backtrack and fill in the blanks, adding elements of mystery and suspense (although not as a device, but as truth), plus other characters, scenes of my mother’s psychoses. There are brief pieces of backstory, but overall, it’s an intimate exploration of motherhood, complex grief, the horrific summer my mother devolved, and her death.

Many folks won’t touch memoir because they feel it’s a betrayal, as Antrim felt about his book, THE AFTERLIFE. Others say you can’t write memoir because what if your memory has failed? What if you recall events differently than someone else who experienced the same thing? That’s the beauty of memoir–it’s no one else’s truth but yours. We all see the world through a different lens, based on our life experiences, psychoses, memories, etc. In this sense, one might see memoir as a fluid form. Is it truth or fiction?

Do you feel you have a ‘right’ to pen your own memoir? Permission? If not, why?

If you tried one of these exercises/prompts, let me know.

Photo credits: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Donald Antrim, or to purchase a copy of THE AFTERLIFE, please visit:

If you are in crisis and need mental health assistance, seek the nearest emergency room. You don’t have to fight alone. Additionally, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK(8255), will connect you with a certified crisis center near where you live.

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NEXT:

November kicks off titles about home and mothers with featured #MemoirMonday titles from Michelle Orange (PURE FLAME), Violaine Husimann’s THE BOOK OF MOTHER (fiction), but also GENTRIFIER (Anne Elizabeth Moore), Deborah Levy’s REAL ESTATE and Naomi Kupitsky’s highly anticipated novel, THE FAMILY.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Donald Antrim is the author of three novels, including Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, and a memoir, The Afterlife. He has received awards from the MacArthur Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, among others. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, an audiobook narrated by Leslie from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

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Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay Always with a Book. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook