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Caroline Beecham talks about illegal adoptions during WWII, a distant family secret, a woman pioneer in book editing, and so much more in her American debut of WHEN WE MEET AGAIN

By Leslie Lindsay

Hope, love, loss, and the power of reading, WHEN WE MEET AGAIN (Putnam/Penguin Random House, July 20 2021) is about one woman’s struggle with her career, as well as personal matters, set against the backdrop of WWII England and New York.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Caroline Beecham in conversation

WHEN WE MEET AGAIN is Caroline Beecham’s American debut in historical fiction and will most certainly appeal to fans of Fiona Davis meets Christina Baker Kline with a touch of Kristin Hannah’s THE FOUR WINDS. This is an absorbing and emotional story about a mother’s love, but also secrets and redemption.

ABOUT WHEN WE MEET AGAIN:


London, 1943: The war has taken its toll on the book publishing industry. All the while, Alice Cotton, a young, sharp editor is on the rise. She sees books a way to cope, entertain, and distract–her hope is to get them into as many hands as possible. But she falls pregnant–a surprise–and certainly not in line with being a single, unwed woman of the day. She flees her job to give birth in a remote seaside town but her baby is whisked away to ‘baby farmers,’ who plan to put the child up for adoption.

Meanwhile, Alice’s story overlaps with that of Theo Bloom, an American colleague tasked with helping the British procure books for soldiers, the paper shortage, and more, all of which was a new ‘take’ on WWII books, which I found refreshing, if not devastating.

Caroline Beecham does a lovely job of describing the social status of the characters, whom are all fully formed, empathetic, and compassionate. I felt fully immersed in the culture and time period, and found the details of the publishing world wholly fascinating and enlighteningAs for ‘baby farmers,’ this wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon for me, yet still horrific; WHEN WE MEET AGAIN certainly took a unique angle, marrying the concept with war, publishing, and the love of reading.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Caroline Beecham to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Caroline, welcome! I always want to know what answer authors were seeking when they set out to write. Were you hoping to uncover a truth, understand a period in history, or maybe learn something about yourself? What propelled you in WHEN WE MEET AGAIN—and did you find your answers?

Caroline Beecham:

There are probably two answers to this questions.

Firstly, a few years ago I discovered a long-held family secret; that a relative’s illegitimate baby was sold to a childless couple living in a nearby town. I found this quite shocking until I looked into the circumstances and then found out how common these “illegal adoptions” were in England for unmarried mothers during wartime who had to find a way of taking care of their children, often through illegal adoptions. This then led me to learn more about baby farmers, which sound so Victorian but they really existed in the 1940s, because social expectations were still so unsympathetic towards unwed mothers. It must have been so frustrating for women because an important act to protect illegitimate children was shelved in 1939 because of the outbreak of war, just when it was needed the most. So yes, I think there was definitely a sense of trying to understand how this could have happened and how a relative could have succumbed to the social pressures so much that they were driven to this. I was also challenged by the notion of how you would forgive a family member for doing this and how it would change your outlook and life, not to mention your relationship with them. there and while I didn’t find any answers, there is a greater understanding when you try to put yourself in their time and place.

The second reason I wanted to write this story was because of finding out the important role books played during wartime. When I was writing my second novel, Eleanor’s Secret, I learned about the challenges of creating and getting books to the civilians and troops who desperately needed them. It was so fascinating and I thought readers would find it interesting too. The publishing world provides a unique setting for the story and there were so many inherent dramas in getting the books published because of rations, tariffs and other wartime restrictions. As soon as I thought about the setting and Alice’s predicament, the story evolved very organically and it seemed very natural combining these two aspects. And what reader doesn’t love a book or library setting, and a behind-the-scenes look at the industry? There is darkness in the novel because of Alice’s stolen child and the world it takes her into but this is balanced by so much light and hope created through the friendships, the love and the power of books.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

If you were to summarize WHEN WE MEET AGAIN not using full sentences, what would you say the story is about?

Caroline Beecham:

WHEN WE MEET AGAIN is a historical mystery about a determined young woman searching for her missing child

It’s a compelling story about a young woman who cleverly combines the search for her missing child with creating much needed books in wartime

It’s a heart-stopping tale of family betrayal, love and forgiveness

It’s an evocative and heart-warming story that reminds us of the importance of friendship

It’s an inspiring tale of a mother’s love and the importance of stories

It’s a love story bound by hope, secrets, and the power of reading

“A compelling story of a determined young woman and her quest for justice set against the fascinating world of publishing–and even a zoo–during World War II.”

Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved Alice! She was bright, fearless, and had such a passion for books. Can you talk a little more about her character? Was she perhaps maybe an ‘exception to the day?’

Caroline Beecham:

Thank you Leslie, that’s so great to hear. I love finding untold stories of women who defied the expectations of their time, and breathing life into them. I’m sure Alice wasn’t an exception as women showed bravery in so many ways, particularly juggling multiple roles to contribute to the war effort, it’s just that perhaps we haven’t heard as many stories about them. I read lots of testimonials from women as part of my research, which showed how they looked after family, worked jobs and carried out Civil Defence roles and voluntary work, which all in all was a huge contribution to the Home Front and the war effort. Alice was also inspired by Diana Athill, a pioneering woman in the publishing world who wrote some great books including a memoir; Stet: An Editor’s Life. My grandmother worked in the land army in Britain during the Second World War and my great-grandmother was also a very strong character who ran her own business when she was widowed, so there are some real-life influences too! Alice’s passion sprang from loving her job, seeing how she could make a difference and recognizing how it could help her find her missing daughter too.

Photo by Caryn on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, like Alice, we share a passion for books. WHEN WE MEET AGAIN certainly takes a fresh perspective on them. For example, I had no idea Pocket Books originated because they were easy for soldiers to keep in their pockets. It didn’t dawn on me that books were hard to come by due to the paper shortage and rations. Books truly do fill a void: they encourage, distract, add comfort, and more to our lives. Can you talk a bit about that, please, and also, share some of your recent favorites?

Caroline Beecham:

Okay, so this is where I reveal that I am a total book nerd! There are some great facts about these books that I could share from my research, such as how the Allied Services Editions were printed on magazine quality paper because it was cheap and lightweight, that they had to use staples because glue couldn’t withstand the heat in the tropics, and that two pages were printed on one so that another person could read over your shoulder at the same time! One of the reasons that I believe historical fiction is popular is because it allows us to walk in other people’s shoes, which is a good perspective because it means that we don’t take anything for granted when we understand what previous generations have been through. This concept echoed even more when I was working on this book during the pandemic because I thought of our grandparents’ generation with their lockdown and challenges, and then how so many of us turned to books just as they did during the war. In Britain, civilians read more in the blackouts, in underground shelters and for escapism as well as to understand what was going on in the world. In North America the Armed Services Editions were produced for the troops along with a number of specialist books as well as regular fiction. Many of us seem to have found comfort in reading fiction for escapism and entertainment, and non-fiction for interest and information. Surely it can only be a good thing to be reading more, searching for meaning and looking deeper into what’s presented to us in the news cycles?

Some recent historical fiction that I’ve enjoyed include: The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, Circling the Sun by Paula McLain, and Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams. Other fiction favorites are The Midnight Library by Matt Haig because I love the concept of exploring those “if only” moments and Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce for her great quirky characters.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, I am so struck with this dark concept of ‘baby farming.’ What a devasting thing—but also very real. During the Great Depression, things were tough. My grandfather was purportedly ‘sold’ and then returned to his family when the new person discovered my grandfather had lice. He was young child, not a baby, but the practice of selling humans as a way to ‘lighten the load,’ isn’t exactly new, but oh so tragic. Can you shed a little light on this, please?

Caroline Beecham:

I’m really sorry to hear that Leslie. It has come as a real surprise how many people have stories about relatives who were illegally adopted; it really was so much more widespread than you would have thought. As I mentioned, I also thought of baby farming as a Victorian concept but it is essentially human trafficking and remained commonplace in Britain because unmarried mothers had few options because of societal expectations. If society had been more accepting of unwed mothers, then the options wouldn’t have been so limited or drastic. As it was there were an even greater number of unwanted pregnancies during the Second World War. I found it hard to read the newspaper archives about the convicted baby farmers and the conditions that some of the babies and children were kept in. In the novel, Alice is also sickened by the conditions and its partly what drives her to want to help, as well as her search for her own missing daughter. Unfortunately, legislation that was meant to be passed—the Adoption of Children Act—to help protect unwed mothers and their children, was shelved because of wartime and it took social activists like Clara Andrew, who fought to get the Act passed. Also the journalist Olive Melville Brown who followed the story and kept it in the public eye. These were also pioneering women who inspired characters in the novel.

Leslie Lindsay:

Caroline, thank you so very much for all of this. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten….what you’re working on next? What it’s like to publish for the first time in the U.S., what you’re most looking forward to this fall?…or something you’d like to ask me?

Caroline Beecham:

I’m currently working on a novel with the working title, Esther’s Children, for mid-2022. The story is inspired by a woman who helped rescue thousands of Jewish academic refugees from mainland Europe during the 1930s and 1940s. I came across her life story a couple of years ago and now I’ve researched her and know about her incredible legacy, I think that she should be a household name!

It really is so exciting to publish in the US and to work with the great team at Putnam. There are challenges because it’s obviously a tough time with COVID but I am hopeful that people will find When We Meet Again and engage in the historical mystery, get swept along with Alice and Theo’s relationship, and get satisfaction from glimpses into a world they might not know about. Since I can’t travel to the North America I love to see reader’s photos of the book in different locations and I’m just waiting for someone to post a photo from Book Row in New York, an important location in the novel.

I also love to hear from readers either on Goodreads, or by email with thoughts or questions if there is anything they want to know about the characters or the research. As a historical fiction writer I’ve built up a memory bank on some aspects of the social history of the Second World War era and it’s always interesting to talk about. I’ve now written on food, art and publishing so I might be handy to have along on a trivia night if there are any 1940s questions!

The thing that I am most looking forward to in late 2021 is being able to travel back to England to see my family and my heart goes out to everyone else who is missing loved ones that they have been parted from. What are you most looking forward to Leslie?

Leslie Lindsay:

We are in the midst of some home renovations–and while it’s invigorating and exciting (I really do love decorating and creating), I am looking forward to the opportunity to relish in the fruits of our labor. Truth be told, I want to curl up in a comfy chair with a book, and sit in awe at the fall colors. Like you, I’m also looking forward to a trip later this year for some much needed time to reconnect.

Caroline Beecham:

That sounds lovely. Thanks so much for having me, Leslie!

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

For more information, to connect with Caroline Beecham, or to purchase a copy of WHEN WE MEET AGAIN, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

You might also like:

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate, SOLD ON A MONDAY by Kristina McMorris, THE SURROGATE by Tania Carver; and also look to last week’s interview with Michael Rose, THE SORTING ROOM.

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

NEXT:

I’ll be taking the month of September off from author interviews to focus on other writing while gearing up for some fabulous fall titles, including speculative memoir in October as well as highly-anticipated titles like Donald Antrim’s ONE FRIDAY IN APRIL: A Memoir of Suicide and Survival, A CONSTELLATION OF GHOSTS (Larriane Herring), a round-up of Maggie Smith’s poetry, Naomi Kupsky’s THE FAMILY, and others.

You can catch me on:

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook|Always with a Book, Facebook|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:

Caroline Beecham is a novelist, writer and producer. She is the author of four books: Maggie’s Kitchen, Eleanor’s Secret, Finding Eadie, and her US debut, When We Meet Again. Her first novel, Maggie’s Kitchen, was shortlisted for Booktopia’s Best Historical Fiction and it was also nominated as Book of the Year and Caroline as Best New Author by AusRom Today in Australia where she lives. She has worked in documentary, film and drama, and discovered that she loves to write fiction and to share lesser-known histories, particularly those of pioneering women. Caroline studied the craft of novel writing at the Faber Academy in Sydney, with Curtis Brown Creative in London, and has a MA in Film & Television and a MA in Creative Writing. She was born in England and currently lives in Sydney with her husband and two teenage sons, and is working on a fourth novel and adapting Maggie’s Kitchen as a drama series.

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

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Cover and author image courtesy of Penguin Random House/Putnam and used with permission. Author photo credit: Graham Jepson.

Michael Rose talks about his debut, THE SORTING ROOM, about delaying creativity, how business informed his writing life, why he loves historical fiction, modernity, & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

An epic family saga, THE SORTING ROOM is a captivating tale of several women’s struggles, perseverance, and more set in Prohibition/Depression-era NYC.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Michael Rose in conversation

After serving in executive positions in global companies, Michael Rose retired from the corporate world. The Sorting Room is his debut fiction. He grew up on a diary farm and now resides in San Francisco.

COMING SEPTEMBER 2021

ABOUT THE SORTING ROOM:

It’s the beginning of The Great Depression and Eunice Ritter is a living in squalor. She and her brother, Ulrich–Uli–are not exactly close– she’s alone, living on the edges of his world of marbles and friendship. He throws a rock at her, but Eunice may actually be more industrious and skilled than Uli, and even their parents.

She’s just ten years old when she gets a job at a local sweat shop–an industrial laundry–a job no one wants. In fact, Eunice was sort of ‘dared’ into the job by adult men who suggested she would become ill within the first hour of sorting disgusting laundry from diapers and the hospital. Yet, she persevered.

It’s while at the laundry that she meets Gussie, “the first Negro who’d ever touched her.” Gussie takes Eunice under her wings and teaches her the ins and outs of industrial laundry. I was amazed and awed at the horrific–labor-intensive work involvedand that a 10-year-old was able to stomach it. And I loved Gussie.

The narrative shifts from the laundry to Eunice’s home life–which largely surrounds her drunk and disorderly parents, her father spending the majority of his time at saloons, her mother drinking at home. A devastating event occurs at the bar with one of her father’s so-called ‘friends’ and Eunice finds herself pregnant.

The marriage is a sham and Eunice is unhappy, poor, and struggling to care for her child. Her husband is of no help and then another child comes along. Eunice has settled herself into a lonely life of drudgery she sees as her own doing. Decades span and more truths surface as individuals grow and change.

THE SORTING ROOM is an engaging historical fiction debut about the struggle of white and Black women in the Great Depression, but also about hope perseverance, reconciliation, and even redemption.

Please join me in welcoming the talented Michael Rose to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Michael, welcome! I was impressed with the rich, textured detail of THE SORTING ROOM, the care and insight of this time period, particularly the laundry scenes. I found them very haunting, which I think is an apt word. What was haunting you as you set out to write?

Michael Rose:

Leslie, “haunting” is indeed an apt word. I drew much from my own experiences on the family farm, and then subsequently from my part-time job working at an industrial laundry during my high school days. I didn’t pattern any of the full characters from real-life people, but I was inspired by the life story of a man I knew who was born in the late 1920s. He resembled a Native American, although he had been born to an American woman of German ancestry, whose husband was of Swedish descent. Both of his parents were reputed alcoholics and rumors about the child’s paternity cited an affair. As a baby, he was shipped off to live on his maternal grandfather’s farm. His story offered inspiration for a fabricated tale with fictional characters. Additionally, I had a work colleague who had lived on a reservation when he was a kid. His white father was a teacher at the elementary school. His mother was Latina, and he considered her and the members of the tribal community on the reservation to be of common ancestry. His family story was my introduction to the connective roots of indigenous people throughout our western hemisphere.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been exposed to such situations in my personal life while escaping the fates of those trapped in their ruts. I don’t feel my life was deserved or earned. I’m a lucky person. I hope I’ll always remember my luck and not just how hard I worked to fulfill the opportunities presented by fate. Realizing my good fortune “haunted” me as I wrote. Few get near their dream. I now live it at the keyboard and never want to forget that I’m now doing what I’ve wanted for years.

Photo by Jesse Zheng on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Part of my interest in THE SORTING ROOM is that I am currently working on a series of interlinked stories about my ancestors. How lives intersect and resurface when we least expect it. In fact, some of the family lore is centered on laundry. My grandmother took in laundry during the Depression to make ends meet after her husband died. Another generation later, there was a family-owned laundromat. I think this speaks to intergenerational…trauma, maybe? Can you expand on that, please?

Michael Rose:

Leslie, you point me to why I’m drawn to historical fiction, family sagas, and, also, to strong female characters. I love back stories. Who is that person you see with a walker? Is she simply a curled-over old woman with osteoporosis or the protagonist of a full life? Teachers often suggest to student writers to avoid detailed back stories and simply drop the protagonist (and other characters) into the time setting of the novel, which is often close to the current moment. I’ve many favorite authors who do just that and, with a light touch and few words, the expert writer teases out the necessary essence of the back stories. Within a family saga, a writer can cover a lot of time and still respect Sol Stein’s advice that

“all fiction should seem to be happening now.”

I love to show through events (i.e., scenes) how a character evolved over time, which suggests that each character’s “history” must be exposed somewhat. And to your point, family histories highlight how we are linked by much more than DNA to our ancestors.

My experiences in the business world helped inform my writing life. Here’s a trick someone suggested that helped me get along with all types of people: imagine that person as an eight-year-old. That imagining, itself, is an exercise in historical fiction. When I conceive characters, I ask myself what they were like as children. From such imagined children, I often discover what needs to be shown to depict the personalities which must remain true to their developmental roots if the full story is to achieve verisimilitude.

Leslie Lindsay:

Your background isn’t exactly in writing—but in technology and investments. That’s a big shift. Can you talk about your journey to publication? What was your timeline like?

Michael Rose:

Leslie, I love this question! My background was anything but technology and investments when I first thought I might write novels one day. I admire those artists who took a different path, the usual path. As you say, I made a big shift later in life. It was one that I’d intended for decades.

I grew up on a small dairy farm and watched that lifestyle slip away as a norm in our society. After high school, I went to a state university without much of a plan other than to get a degree in four years and find a job. I knew zilch about art and the life of an artist. However, I knew that I didn’t want to be a starving artist. I wanted to have a family and provide a secure life for us all. Many, if not most, hard-working writers must finance their lives with other jobs. We’ve all read stories about writers who sacrificed all for their art. I decided to delay gratification, which is not what anyone with an artistic bent wants to hear from others, much less from the little voice inside their head. So, my timeline was open-ended: I’d write someday once I had earned the opportunity to pursue Maslow’s highest rung, i.e., self-actualization.

Maybe I gave myself an early out whereby I could imagine becoming a writer someday without the pressure and effort inherent in attaining the craft while trying to put food on the table. I’ve known many people who had planned to pursue a passion someday, and then let that passion dull and slip away as life invaded. Being a bull-headed farm boy, I never lost the dream and worked hard to earn the chance to finally pursue it with dedicated focus. For years, I told myself that I would give it all my heart someday. That commitment never faded; the passion never slipped away. It was a risky strategy, yet one that I felt was right for me.

As a cautionary tale that speaks to the level of risk in my strategy, when I finally retired and threw myself into writing, I had scant appreciation for the long road ahead. It has taken me years to achieve a modest level of craft. I’m indeed stubborn and felt along the way that, if I worked hard and lived long enough, I’d someday write well. However, to nascent artists who simply want to test the waters as soon as they feel the urge to get wet, I offer the following quote which I have posted on my refrigerator. It kept me going once I finally took the plunge and found myself treading water and fighting for air:

“The most regretful

people on earth are

those who felt the call to

creative work,

who felt

their own creative            

power restive and uprising, and gave

to it neither power

nor time.”    

Mary Oliver

Leslie Lindsay:

THE SORTING ROOM is about generations, social and cultural standards, a friendship between a white woman and a Black woman, and overcoming obstacles. Would you say this was your hope with the book? Was it something else I might be missing? What do you hope others take away?

Michael Rose:

Leslie, I embrace your summary and wish to expand on the extended family. Eunice was not given many options when it came to her family. Her marriage was foisted on her and she had to raise a baby that resulted from her being raped. That trauma kept on giving throughout her life. I had hoped to stimulate resonance with Eunice’s story among readers who might remember ancestors, or the stories of others, who suffered similar fates. I believe the connection between Eunice and Gussie went far beyond the simple friendship of two women caught in circumstance. Gussie helped Eunice wrestle with her own identity and appreciate the additional burden placed on Gussie as a Black woman and the descendant of slaves. When Eunice confided in Gussie about being trapped legally in a loveless marriage, Gussie:

“Told her how her own great-grandmother had been sold away from Gussie’ grandfather when he was a little sprout. ‘It different for sure, girl. But ya ain’t free, neither,’ Gussie said.”    

                               

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As we sort of ‘wrap up’ the most acute phases of this pandemic, I am reminded of how we as a whole have survived. What do you suppose folks in the future might say about this time? And do you see parallels between THE SORTING ROOM and what we’ve just been through?

Michael Rose:

In the second half of 2021, we in the USA are ahead of much of the world, which might still be facing their worst phases of the pandemic. So, the first thing I suspect will be noted by future historians is that while we were all in danger, we retreated to modern tribalism in many ways. To bring it back to the novel, I think one parallel is how alone Eunice was in a world that whorled around her. Gussie became her bulwark. During the pandemic, I think many people in America and other first-world countries realized who was there for them and, unfortunately, some people realized that many of their personal relationships were simply social and not very deep. As with many times in life, we realized who we can count on or who counted on us to provide support for them. Modernity has attenuated the physical communities we need as humans. The pandemic was a shared experience across all levels of society, but not equally shared. I suppose folks in the future will note that while we all suffered a shared threat, many suffered alone. It was a horror for families who couldn’t touch and comfort their loved ones dying in the ICU. It must have been even worse for those patients who knew no one was crying for them on the other side of the glass.

“Rose has composed an affecting and unpredictable story, unsentimental and unflinching.”
Kirkus Reviews

Photo by Angela Roma on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Michael, this has been so illuminating. Thank you. Is there anything I should have asked about and may have forgotten? Or, maybe there’s something you’d like to ask me?

Michael Rose:

I’m always curious how the interviewer would answer her own thoughtful questions. In addition, are you satisfied with what you personally receive from the contributions you post on your website?

Leslie Lindsay:

Such great thoughts and questions, Michael, and I am honored to shed a little light on my method, motivation, and process. I am quite satisfied and buoyed by the contributions on my author interview series. Humans have so many different ways of looking at the world, at the same story even, and I find this unique lens wholly captivating. So many bright minds working today and collaborating on art, which really inspires.

Do the authors energize you?

Leslie Lindsay: Of course! There’s sometimes a fear that creativity will ‘dry up,’ but in fact, the more you surround yourself with creative people and pursuits, the more you ooze creativity. It’s really kind of amazing.

As a result of your efforts, do you discover inspiration from and find community with the writers you interview?

Leslie Lindsay: Yes, oh my gosh. All the time. Something an author says will often trigger an idea for me, or call me to look into something–a place, a time period, a book, a person, in greater detail. Occasionally, I can be so floored by an interview that I am overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of the thoughts.

How do the contributions you post on your website add to your own sustenance, i.e., the diet that fuels your writing life?

Leslie Lindsay: With The Sorting Room, for example, I was inspired and intrigued with my family’s laundry business. I started asking questions, looking at research. I discovered that in my husband’s extended family, a woman died when a house fire broke out because she was mixing Fels Naptha with another product; she managed to save the bird before she died, in the house. But this happens in other interviews, too. Sometimes, I am drawn to follow a passion or interest from an author, which might lead me to another book or author. Again, it’s that creative well.  

Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram

For more information, to connect with Michael Rose, or to purchase a copy of THE SORTING ROOM, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MAY LIKE:

I was reminded, in part, of the MAGDALEN GIRLS by V.S. Alexander. You may also find some similarities and interest in ZORRIE by Laird Hunt.

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

Next week:

Caroline Beecham talks about her historical fiction, WHEN WE MEET AGAIN, featuring a love for books, a woman forced to give her baby up for adoption, set against the backdrop of WWII.

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 Valerio Errani on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michael Rose was raised on a small family dairy farm in Upstate New York. He retired after serving in executive positions for several global multinational enterprises. He has been a non-executive director for three public companies headquartered in the U.S. The Sorting Room is his debut novel. He lives and writes in San Francisco.

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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Shari Lapena talks about her juicy and dark new domestic suspense about a wealthy family, a murder in which the children are suspects, her writing routines, favorite dysfunctional memoirs, her old farmhouse, travel to Iceland, more

By Leslie Lindsay

Everyone’s keeping secrets, everyone’s a little suspect, and even the dead know a thing or two, the sixth domestic thriller from Shari Lapena is one not to be missed.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book|Fiction Friday

Leslie Lindsay & Shari Lapena in Conversation

Bursting onto the domestic suspense scene in 2016, Shari Lapena is a tremendous force–a #1 internationally bestselling author–no one does claustrophobic suburban paranoia quite like Shari.

I absolutely LOVE Shari Lapena’s work. This is ‘grip-lit’ at its absolute best. Lapena has a way of reeling in readers with a taut plot, plain-spoken yet intelligent (and sometimes unlikable) characters, and more.  The tension is always high, the mood is claustrophobic and yet everything is elegantly–and tortuously–done to perfection.

ABOUT NOT A HAPPY FAMILY:

Meet the Merton Family. They’re wealthy, successful, a bit uppity, and they’re harboring secrets and alliances. Set in upstate New York, where the homes are large and spacious, the grass is green, and yet…the parents are gruesomely murdered.

It’s the last family dinner the Merton Family will share-Easter Sunday. All of the adult children are over: Catherine the eldest (a dermatologist), Dan the middle child (not exactly sure what he does), and Jenna the youngest (a free-floating artist). Everyone is a little on-edge, the father is controlling and probably narcissistic, the mother is anxious, the adult children are all walking on eggshells.

That night, after every one has left, the parents are brutally murdered. An investigation ensues. All three have a good sum to inherit, but did they kill their parents? Are they somehow in conspiracy? Did only one of them do it? And who? Maybe one sibling is more disturbed than the other…did someone snap during that dreadful evening? Did someone else–who?–arrive later that night? These are all the questions and quandaries Shari Lapena lays out for readers to puzzle over–and she does it so well. Everyone seems to have a motive; they all stand to gain something–or have a bone to pick.

In this family, everyone is keeping secrets. Even the dead…

The Merton’s are so dysfunctional, carrying the weight of many secrets, but this may be one of the first books where Lapena drops in a little more backstory than in some of her previous books. And I liked it; it’s backstory that influences our current behavior, helping to paint a broader picture.

I won’t go into any details about the twist or plot, just know that NOT A HAPPY FAMILY is a deliciously dark and detailed ‘whodunit’ with a ton of tension, suspects, dysfunction, psychopathology, investigation, and more. It’s such a dark delight to read.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Shari Lapena to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Shari! Welcome back. I am so thrilled to chat again. Cannot believe this is your sixth book and we’ve talked about all of them, but it never gets old. Before the pandemic, we met in-person and you were wearing a cardigan, skirt, glasses, sensible shoes. You looked every bit like a sweet book-reading person, yet you write these deliciously dark tales. And we love them. Everyone has a dark side, right? What were your motivations and inspirations for NOT A HAPPY FAMILY? 

Shari Lapena:

Thanks, Leslie! It’s wonderful to be back talking to you again.

All thriller readers know you can’t go by appearances, so don’t be fooled by mine. Of course I’m kidding, I wouldn’t kill anybody. But I do love to read—and write—a dark tale.  For this book, I wanted to go a bit further than the troubles between husband and wife that I’ve mostly focussed on in my earlier books. I wanted a broader canvas. I specifically wanted to look at adult sibling relationships, because I think they are so interesting—informed by the present and the past. They’re so complicated. And I wanted to look at expectations—those of parents for their children, and children’s expectations of inheritance—and how these expectations can warp and distort relationships. Of course, the spouses are there, full of doubt and suspicion—but I really wanted to look at an extended family here. So I thought—what better situation than a large, wealthy family with adult children expecting an inheritance? Of course, the parents had to die…

Leslie Lindsay:

There are a good deal of characters in NOT A HAPPY FAMILY. Was there a character you ‘liked’ better than the other? Maybe one easier to write? Perhaps, a ‘hard nut to crack?’ And how do you feel about those characters now, at the end of the book? 

Shari Lapena:

I always love to get right inside the heads of my characters. It’s why I love to write in multiple third person point of view. It helps me get to know them all. I really enjoyed writing all of them. I find if there’s a character whose point of view I don’t love being in, that isn’t working for me, then that character doesn’t last long. I get rid of them. I found Audrey was the one who didn’t come quite as quickly as the others. The siblings I got a handle on really quickly; it took a little longer to nail Audrey’s character. By the end of the book, I feel I know them all very well—they’re like real people to me, and we’ve been through a lot together. When the book is finished, I always feel like my characters have lives that go on beyond the page, having to live with what they’ve done. I’m just not part of it anymore.

Photo by Caryn on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I feel like there was more backstory in NOT A HAPPY FAMILY—or maybe that was just my take. But I loved it. Obviously, you can’t have too much backstory because that slows down the forward momentum. Can you talk about the role the backstory plays in your work, and in literature in general, please?

Shari Lapena:

You’re right, too much backstory slows the pace of a novel down; not enough doesn’t work either, because you have to know your characters and what makes them do what they do. This one did have a bit more backstory in it, because I wanted to understand the family as a whole—the genetics and the history behind the characters. There was a suggestion from my editors that I cut the chapter that tells the rather disturbing story of Fred and Audrey’s childhood, but I wanted to keep it in, as I felt it was really important. I’m glad I kept it.

Leslie Lindsay:

I can only imagine your process. Do you jot down notes? Create timelines? Vision boards? If we were to get a little glimpse into your office, what would it look like?

Shari Lapena:

If you’re hoping for a mad swirl of paper, you’d be disappointed. I do all my work on my laptop, and I like a clean desk. I just have a laptop and my daytimer and one notepad, which is mostly for my to do list! I prefer pad and paper for to do lists and traditional daytimers, but for writing, I do it all on the laptop. I don’t plan, I just start with an idea and go from there. Lisa Jewell calls it “plotting on the page” rather than being a “pantser,” and I like that description. Neither of us plan or outline—we make it up as we go along, at the keyboard. So—no timelines or jot notes or vision boards for me!

Photo by Bruno Bueno on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand you sort of recently purchased an old farmhouse and have been doing renovations. Can you tell us about that? Maybe it’s inspiring your next book? Wouldn’t that be creepy?

Shari Lapena:

I tell you what would be creepy—a story about a contractor who dies in my novel! I think that might resonate with a lot of people.  Don’t think I haven’t considered it. My brother, who lives nearby, has just bought a woodchipper. Seriously, though, we did buy an old farmhouse seven years ago, and we’ve been working on it ever since. It’s massively behind schedule, but it should be done…soon. It’s livable now at least. It was an old, abandoned Victorian wreck in rural Ontario on a hundred acres and I fell in love with it when I saw it. I especially love the floor plan—there’s a grand staircase, but also a servants’ staircase in the back, going from the maid’s quarters to the kitchen. My new office is in the maid’s quarters with a direct route to the kitchen for coffee and chocolate. It’s lovely there. We’ve been going on weekends, but we hope to be able to move there soon.

“The twists come as fast as you can turn the pages.” 
—People

Leslie Lindsay:

What three things are you most looking forward to this fall? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Shari Lapena:

That’s easy. Iceland Noir in November! I’m going to be one of the guests of honour—along with Ian Rankin, Anne Cleves, and Anthony Horowitz. I won’t have travelled in two years and I am SO looking forward to being at a literary event again in person, and seeing people, and talking about books. In Toronto we have been locked down for a very long time, although we’re opening up now.

Other than that, I’m looking forward to (I hope) moving into our farmhouse at last, and reading the new Anthony Horowitz novel, A Line to Kill, the next in the Hawthorne series. I love this series—Anthony is himself a character, a sidekick of sorts to Detective Hawthorne, and this time they’ll be solving a mystery at a literary festival. They’re funny, brilliant books. I’ve got it on pre-order.

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Shari, thank you. I always love chatting with you. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten, or perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Shari Lapena:

I think that covers it for me, but I’m interested in hearing more about the book that you’ve been working on…what stage is it at? I’d love to read it. I love dysfunctional family memoirs—I absolutely loved The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls, and Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club and Look Me in the Eye, by John Elder Robison.

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh! Those are good ones. I devoured The Glass Castle, and always love Mary Karr. But I am not familiar with Look Me in the Eye. Looks like I will be adding more to my my precariously tilting TBR pile. Dysfunctional family memoirs are so intriguing because no matter how ‘perfect’ we think we are, deep down, darkness and tension lie; it’s what makes us human. And if we’re ‘too perfect,’ that might be a bit of a disorder, too.

I was half-way between my tenth year when my beautiful and talented interior decorator mother devolved into psychosis. Up to that point, I was under the impression everything was, well…’perfect.’ It was anything but. Model Home: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory is about uncovering those family secrets, a legacy of mental illness; it’s a matrilineal story about reclaiming oneself, resilience, genetics, but also about unearthing those fractures, bolstering the next generation. Of course, since my mother was a decorator, there are flashes of art, design, and architecture. My mother died by suicide over six years ago, so this is also a story of complex grief.

My agent is in the process of selling it to a publisher, so we’re ‘on-submission.’ I was told this would be a grueling process, but I had no idea. Ironically, I am in the midst of my own home renovations and find a bit of symmetry there. Plus, it keeps my mind off the manuscript! And I would be honored and delighted for you to read it.

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

For more information, to connect with Shari Lapena, or to purchase NOT A HAPPY FAMILY, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

If you haven’t read Shari’s backlist yet–it’s a must! But also, I was reminded of the work of Mary Kubica, Gilly Macmillian (especially TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH), meets Lisa Unger’s IN THE BLOOD.

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

NEXT:

Look for Margaret Kimball’s graphic memoir, And Now I Spill the Family Secrets and also Michael Rose’s debut historical fiction, The Sorting Room.

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 Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Shari Lapena is the internationally bestselling author of the thrillers The Couple Next Door, A Stranger in the House, An Unwanted Guest, Someone We Know, and The End of Her, which have all been New York Times and The Sunday Times (London) bestsellers. Her books have been sold in thirty-seven territories around the world. She lives in Toronto and Not a Happy Family is her sixth thriller.

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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Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/PRH/Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. Artistic photos of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagrammer.

Diana Kupershmit talks about her unbearable decision, second chances, parenting a child with special needs, photography, and more in her moving memoir EMMA’S LAUGH

By Leslie Lindsay

An elegantly raw, and often brutal memoir of a mother’s loss, but also a deep gift of second chances, growth, and more.

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book|Memoir Monday

Leslie Lindsay & Diana Kupershmit in Conversation

Convinced of her inability to love her “imperfect” child and give her the best care and life she deserved, Diana Kupershmit gave her first-born up for adoption. But as with all things that are meant to be, Emma found her way back home. Diana is a social worker, mother, and photographer. EMMA’S LAUGH is her debut memoir.

ABOUT EMMA’S LAUGH: The Gift of Second Chances:

In this hugely moving and harrowing examination of a life, love, and loss, Diana Kupershmit takes a tragic–and seemingly–unfair situation and turns into a EMMA’S LAUGH: The Gift of Second Chances (SWP, June 2021), about her first-born’s rare, genetic condition, and the gifts she bestowed on the family.

Like most eager new parents, Diana imagined a perfect child when she gave birth for the first time to Emma, at the age of twenty-seven.
She wasn’t ‘old,’ or ‘at-risk,’ she lived a healthy life and did everything ‘right’ during her pregnancy, so when Emma was born flaccid, quiet, and different-looking, she was shocked. Convinced of her inability to love and care for her ‘imperfect’ child while providing the necessary round-the-clock medical care, Diana and her husband embarked on a tragic and challenging decision.

But then, as the ties of fate often do, Emma was back and present, in so many ways.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Diana Kupershmit to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Diana, welcome! What a raw, moving, and elegant story. I laughed, I cried, I nodded in recognition. Your daughter, Emma, is the biggest inspiration for this story, but I want to know what was tugging at you—what was so urgent that it had to happen now?

Diana Kupershmit:

At first the story evolved as a process of grief for me. I started writing it six years ago, just six months after Emma’s passing, as a way of making sense of her unexpected death. I did not intend for it to be a book, mostly because I never had writing aspirations, nor the background. But as the paragraphs turned into pages, I realized that I might have something more substantial here. So I took a writing workshop, and the positive feedback from my classmates gave me encouragement to go further and continue to learn the craft of memoir. It took all those years of writing, re-writing, learning for the book to come into the world and I could never have imagined its impact on others and on myself. What started out as a selfish exercise of healing, has become something tangible that resonates with others. The truth is, without realizing it, I wrote a book that I wish existed for me to read when Emma was born.

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

“Diana Kupershmit has written a remarkably honest and unflinching account of her journey from rejection to acceptance raising a special-needs child. A heartbreaking and heartwarming tribute—and a testimony to one mother’s endless love for her extraordinary child.”

– HEATHER SIEGEL, author of The King and the Quirky

Leslie Lindsay:

In some regards, I really sympathized with your plight. My first-born daughter was perfect in every way—at least physically. But when she reached the age where she should be saying her first words, she wasn’t. In fact, she was severely delayed. We worried. She was diagnosed with a rare, but serious motor-speech disorder known as childhood apraxia of speech (CAS). We went through all of the grief of not having a so-called ‘perfect’ child. There were speech pathologists, OTs, and more, granted, not to the extent you dealt with. She probably made me a better parent. That’s what I think Emma did for you. Can you talk about that, please?

Diana Kupershmit:

Emma was non-verbal, non-ambulatory and with a myriad of medical issues. She was also completely dependent on others for her health and well-being. By being her voice and advocating for her needs, whether it was demanding good care from her nurses and doctors or forcing our apartment building to build a wheelchair accessible ramp, I learned to ask for things that she needed, and in turn it taught me to ask for what I needed as well, but was always afraid to, for fear of offending, rocking the boat etc. Emma was intrepid and she taught me by example to be the same way. She taught me what is truly essential in life, and that’s the people that surround you. She taught me patience and resilience and true joy, not from things, but from experiences with your loved ones. With her, I did not feel the conditions to fit a certain mold, to be perfect. With her I felt enough—and that’s not nothing. With her, I learned to be present in the moment and worry less about the future as well as realize how little control we have of outcomes. That was a difficult but critically important lesson to learn.

Leslie Lindsay:

I was struck by your photography, too, which is about portraiture—particularly photographing newborns. Like you, I am a photographer and writer—(though I focus on deteriorating architecture and nature), which—might be intrinsically linked. Growing up, my home sort of crumbled when my interior decorator mother devolved into psychosis. Do you feel it’s important to have multiple art media, to sort of balance the other out? Is it more about self-care?

Diana Kupershmit:

I have always been a creative, but my main profession as a social worker did not offer me the creative outlet I craved. So when photography almost accidentally landed in my lap, first as a hobby that then evolved into a business, I was as surprised as anyone and found it immensely satisfying. It was something of mine. Something that I could pursue on the weekends, since my kids were older and didn’t need me to chauffer them around as much. I got to hold babies, photograph them and hand them back to their parents. I’m not sure about balancing art media. Just as photography was not an intentional pursuit initially (someone asked me how much I charge, after I posted some photos of my kids on Facebook), writing a book about child loss or raising a special needs child, was likewise not something I ever aspired to do. I guess the two mediums found me and I followed them where they lead.

Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope others take away from EMMA’S LAUGH?

Diana Kupershmit:

I hope people can find comfort, solace in our experience, and the knowledge that sometimes gift show up where you least expect it. I feared a dark, insular existence with Emma, which is one of the biggest reasons we initially rejected her. I bought into society’s ableist narrative that people with disabilities live marginalized lives and are to be pitied. I feared existing in that space with her. But what I learned from the eighteen years of life Emma gifted us, was that life can be difficult, and the challenges may often seem insurmountable, but joy, hope and gratitude can also co-exist in that space. Emma illuminated the darkness. She was the light we needed to see the world better.

[Emma] taught us to embrace our humanity and make peace with the unexpected that life sometimes throws our way.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you? What are you obsessing over? It doesn’t have to be literary?

Diana Kupershmit:

Now I’m obsessing about rest. The last six years have consisted of such great loss—Emma, then my mom’s passing two years ago. The years have been years of deep reflection, of stepping away from the rubble and assessing the damage. They have also been years of great finds—lessons, values, evolution. The work of course is ongoing as there is always more growth that takes place if you’re open to it. But for now, I am putting everything down and enjoying life and time with my loved ones. I am learning how to be in the world—the way Emma taught me.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diana, thank you for this. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, maybe something you’d like to ask me?

Diana Kupershmit:

No, just thank you for the opportunity.

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

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH DIANA KUPERSHMIT, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF EMMA’S LAUGH, PLEASE VISIT:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

I was reminded, in part, of Maryanne O’Hara’s memoir, LITTLE MATCHES (medical illness) (HarperOne, May 2021) and also a bit of Miriam Feldman’s HE CAME WITH IT, (psychiatric illness).

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

Next:

Michael Rose talks about his grim portrait of an industrial laundry set in NYC during the Great Depression in THE SORTING ROOM.

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 gokceakyildiz on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Diana Kupershmit holds a Master of Social Work degree and works for the Department of Health in the Early Intervention program, a federal entitlement program servicing children birth to three with developmental delays and disabilities. She has published online in the Huffington Post, Manifest Station, Mutha Magazine, Power of Moms, Motherwell Magazine, Still Standing Magazine, and Her View From Home. On the weekends, she indulges her creative passion working as a portrait photographer specializing in newborn, family, maternity, and event photography. She lives in New York City

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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Amy Koppelman talks about her very personal book–how the feelings & emotions are psychologically resonate, but the story is fiction, plus Amanda Seyfried starring in A MOUTHFUL OF AIR, postpartum depression, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

Stunning and elegant portrayal of the rawness of postpartum depression, told in elegant and authentic, sparse prose

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING AMANDA SEYFRIED, from Sony Pictures October 2021!

Leslie Lindsay & Amy Koppelman in conversation

Amy Koppelman is a writer, director, and producer and is a graduate of Columbia’s MFA program. Her writing has appeared in The New York Observer and Lilith. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children, and is the author of the novels, A Mouthful of Air, I Smile Back, and Hesitation Wounds.

ABOUT A MOUTHFUL OF AIR:

It seems strange to give A MOUTHFUL OF AIR (Two Dollar Radio, August 17 2021) such lavish praise, because the subject matter is really quite dark, but the execution of this near-autofiction is just so gorgeously rendered, I felt truly amazed and almost tremulous in its company.

Compared to classic feminist works such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell JarA MOUTHFUL OF AIR is a powerful, tragic, and haunting examination of one woman’s love for her family but also her interior struggles.

Julie Davis is a young wife and mother torn between the love she feels for her 1-year old son, her husband and the life she feels she ‘ought’ to have: upper middle class Jewish housewife. We meet Julie just several weeks after her suicide attempt, which her husband calls ‘an accident.’ She has been hospitalized, but we never ‘see’ this, it’s all alluded to. She’s home now and it’s the eve of her son’s first birthday. She has plans to bake a cake and chicken dish (for her husband), as well as puree peaches for her son. She goes about her day–and their life collecting groceries, going outside, attempting to be grateful, but she’s plagued with a nagging voice inside telling her that maybe the world would just be better off without her.

Told in elegant, sparse prose that is both gorgeous and accessible, A MOUTHFUL OF AIR is a very interior read, and I loved it. The words dance on the page like poetry, but with such an emotional resonance that took my breath away.

The timeline here is a little wonky–and I think that speaks to Julie’s fragmented state of mind
–there’s the eve of the birthday, the errands outing, some jags to the past, future, and backstory involving Julie’s mother and father, inviting the reader to weave the details together. Julie and her husband, Ethan, leave NYC for the suburbs and so we get a glimpse into their new home, which I loved. Still, Julie is not happy here.

Buried within A MOUTHFUL OF AIR is a bit of a discussion of what depression IS–it’s causes, cures, and what it draws from its victims, none of which is told in a didactic or prescriptive manner, which, yay! Koppelman does a fabulous job of taking a very real, very serious illness and weaving it into a haunting and blisteringly sublime narrative I won’t soon shake.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Amy Koppelman to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay: 

Amy! I am blown away by A MOUTHFUL OF AIR! It’s simply stunning. I understand postpartum depression holds a near and dear place for you. Can you talk about your intentions and inspirations, please? 

Amy Koppelman:

Thank you so much for your kind words, Leslie, and for taking the time to interview me.  I’m so glad the novel resonated with you.  

I didn’t have any intention when I began to write A Mouthful of Air. I just sat down whenever I could find alone time and wrote down the words I heard inside my head.  Quite literally.  Without censorship. I didn’t try to shape them or judge them.  I just tried to hear them. 

Somehow, I had this faith that if I stayed true to the voice inside my head, I’d find what I was looking for.  I didn’t have any idea what it was, but I knew that I would find it.  And I knew whatever it was – whatever I was meant to find – would help me understand the sadness inside of me.  

Sometimes what I wrote scared me.  But that was okay.  Because what I quickly realized is that once I had the ugly thought or dark fear on the page it couldn’t hurt me anymore.  Well, that’s not true.  It just couldn’t hurt me as much as it used to.

Photo by Dom J on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

While A MOUTHFUL OF AIR is fiction, it’s based on some of your own feelings, thoughts, emotions during a trying time for you. Lately, I’ve been talking with others about this nebulous concept of ‘auto-fiction,’ which A MOUTHFUL OF AIR feels it could be (but is fiction). What is your understanding of the autofiction genre? It’s a mash of memoir and fiction? Something else? Why use the term ‘autofiction’ when one can write memoir? 

Amy Koppelman:

I had to google “autofiction”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the term before. (What rock have I been living under?!). The internet defines it as “an autobiographical novel” which I guess it tantamount to historical fiction in a way, the author’s life being the history. In other words, autofiction is a retelling of one’s past, with an embellished narrative the weaves the story together so it reads (functions) like a novel.  

If this is what you mean by autofiction, then A Mouthful of Air while deeply personal is not autofiction. Julie (the novel’s protagonist’s) overwhelming sense shame, her self-loathing and doubt are mine.  I lived on the West Side,  had strawberry wallpaper and a lunchbox collection so “place” is familiar to me. But the story itself –the beats of the story – the scenes in the story are almost entirely  fictional. I wanted to die, but I never actually tried to take my own life. 

You ask “why use the term ‘autofiction’ when one can write memoir?” I’ve thought about this question for a couple days now and I think the answer is dependent on how you define “truth” in memoir.  Memory is both selective and subjective, so theoretically all memoirs have “lies or mistruths” if told from another person’s perspective.  Ask any family what their last Christmas was like and while everyone might remember the ham, rarely will two family members have the same emotional experience of the day. So maybe, if you really want to play games, [you might conclude] that all memoir is autofiction. 

But that’s intellectual mumble jumble. 

Memoirists don’t introduce characters who weren’t there, create scenes or conflict that didn’t happen in order to make the story more titillating or propel the action. Autofiction does. Which makes them entirely different in my mind.

“This is the story so convincing that never again will you pass a new other in the street without wondering what’s behind her mouthful of smiles.”

-The New York Observer

Photo by Wallace Chuck on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

You’re a fierce women’s mental health advocate—and we need more people like you! What can you tell us about postpartum depression/pyschosis and what services and organizations exist to support mothers? 

Amy Koppelman:

In 1995 — when I gave birth to my son — postpartum depression was rarely talked about and remained largely undiagnosed. Today we know that one out of every five new moms suffers from it — and more and more women are willing to talk about it. But most are still too ashamed to share their feelings, so they suffer in silence. I was one of those women. 

But then I got the help I needed. I began to see a psychiatrist and eventually went on Zoloft, which was life changing.  Not a day goes by – and I really mean this – that I’m not grateful to be alive.  

I think what most people still don’t understand is that clinical depression is an illness.  My husband loved me so much and I loved him so much but love doesn’t cure diabetes.  Or Asthma. Or cancer.  

Medication does.  

I want Julie’s story to serve as a cautionary tale.  If you see yourself in her or in someone you love please get help.  Depression is treatable.  People get better.

You might find help and comfort HERE and HERE. [Note from Leslie: Be sure to take a peek at these resources HERE, on my website]

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to ask about Ethan and Julie’s suburban home, because I love homes. They move from a city apartment to the suburbs. What more can you tell us? Do you feel our environment can shape our feelings and behaviors?

Amy Koppelman: 

I think environment very much shapes our feelings and behaviors.  And as powerful as literature is – as much of a bridge as it can be insofar as understanding what it’s like to live in another person’s shoes– it’s very hard to portray (if not impossible) the visceral reaction one has upon returning home (Jeez, that’s a mouthful).  

If you had a happy childhood, home represents safety.  A tumultuous childhood and home becomes associated with danger.  It’s always fascinating how siblings can have a completely different recollection of what their home was like growing up.  Who your parents were when they had you, what their marriage was like, their finances, their health.  All of these variables are deeply impactful on our experience of home.

In many ways, home has very little to do with the structure.  The walls are constructed of memory, the foundation perception.  The roof?  Well, I guess the roof is time.  Because time is often what protects us – what shields us from the threatening parts of home that linger.  So internalized is our sense of home that even when we are removed from the specific place – we carry it within us.  Does that make sense?  This is especially true for Julie.

Home – the idea of home – of what makes a happy home is almost a preoccupation for Julie. She wants her house to feel like a whimsical dollhouse.  On the surface this is an aesthetic choice.  She is drawn to color and pattern. But I think there’s more to it. The pattern prohibits Julie from resting her eyes.  There is nowhere she can look that will allow her mind to roam.  And if her mind is engaged – it’s easier to tune out the voice of doubt and fear that insists the world is better off without her in it.   And color – it’s almost as if all the color she surrounds herself with serves to reaffirm that she is in fact, here.  She is, in fact, alive.  

Having a child forces Julie to reckon with memories that she’s been – more or less —successfully repressing.  Moving to a house in suburbia – a similar house to the one she grew up in –  amplifies those memories.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that being in a house triggers those memories.  

Depression is most often portrayed as an emotional state that’s tinted grey.  But for Julie – and for me for that matter – the sadder I was the more I turned to color.  Blue sky.  Yellow crocus.   White ice.  In the film, Julie is a children’s book author.  So this idea of color is manifested in every frame.

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

And a movie! A MOUTHFUL OF AIR will be out this fall and Amanda Seyfried is starring in it. Tell us more?! I am so thrilled for you. 

Amy Koppelman:

A Mouthful of Air is my first undertaking as a director. It’s told, like my books, in a simple, straightforward, naturalistic manner. Before each scene, I didn’t only ask myself what images I wanted to show but also what I was trying to say in each frame about being human—and about being a mom. I believed if I stayed true to that truth, I could bring the story I had written in my book to the screen in a way that would reveal Julie’s inner thoughts — through her eyes, through her smiles, through the pain behind them — Amanda’s performance does just that, it’s heartbreakingly beautiful.

[Leslie’s note: you may like this piece, from Deadline, reporting Hollywood news].   

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay. Find me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Amy Koppelman, or to purchase a copy of A MOUTHFUL OF AIR, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

I was reminded, of the work of Michael Cunningham’s THE HOURS meets the prose of Helen Phillps (particularly in THE NEED), with a bit of Elizabeth Brundage‘s work, and Anna Solomon’s THE BOOK OF V, but also maybe the tone and style of Lily King. Also, look to Julia Fine’s THE UPSTAIRS HOUSE. While these books are not exactly the same, they offer some overlap.

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

Next week:

Diane Kupershmit talks about her moving memoir about her daughter’s rare genetic disorder in EMMA’S LAUGH.

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.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

AMY KOPPELMAN is the author of three critically acclaimed novels: A Mouthful of Air, I Smile Back, and Hesitation Wounds. She produced and co-adapted the film adaptation of I Smile Back, starring Sarah Silverman, who received a SAG award nomination for the role. The film premiered at the Sundance, Toronto, and Deauville film festivals. Her latest film, A Mouthful of Air (based on this novel), is her first undertaking as a screenwriter, director, producer, and illustrator. Amy lives in New York City with her family. She is an outspoken advocate for women’s mental health. 

Author’s Note: I’ve been writing about motherhood and women’s mental health for twenty-five years. Driving me—always—is a desire to reach through the page and connect to the reader. And to try—in some small way—to remove the stigma of mental illness from motherhood. A Mouthful of Air was my first novel. Though there are aspects of the novel I would write differently if I were writing it now, I would never change the novel’s honesty. 
In 1995, when I gave birth to my son, postpartum depression was rarely discussed and remained largely undiagnosed. Today, we know that one out of every five new moms suffers from the illness—and more and more women are willing to talk about it. But many still suffer in silence. I was one of those women. 


While the book’s plot is not autobiographical, the feelings of shame, self-loathing, and fear are my own. At the same time, I also saw life’s heartbreaking beauty—cherished it—so why did I believe that the only way for my children to be safe was to live in the world without me? In A Mouthful of Air, I tried to explore this dichotomy: how can you love life, love your family, and still want to slip away? 


My son turned twenty-five this past December, and my daughter is twenty-one. Not a day goes by that I don’t stop and appreciate how fortunate I am to be alive. How grateful I am that I got the help I needed, that I didn’t die. I was lucky.

 
I hope that what is in my heart resonates in this book. I hope that the story it tells brings to light the darkness of postpartum depression and women’s mental health, but also the ineffable joy and wonder of motherhood. Because it’s not the sadness that Julie feels, but the happiness she denies herself, that is the tragedy of her story.  


Thank you for taking the time to read this novel. It’s not an easy one.
Stay safe out there. Never be scared to ask for help. 

With gratitude,

Amy, June 2021

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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Joyce Maynard talks about estrangement, love and loss, how COUNT THE WAYS is personal, but not a ‘thinly veiled memoir,’ and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Joyce Maynard in conversation

Joyce Maynard is the author of eighteen books, including the New York Times bestselling novel, Labor Day and To Die For (both adapted for film), Under the Influence and the memoirs, At Home in the World and The Best of Us.

ABOUT COUNT THE WAYS:

After falling in love in the last years of the 1970s, Eleanor and Cam set out to follow their dream to raise three children on a New Hampshire farm, a parcel of land she has purchased with her hard-earned children’s book royalties. Their life is pretty idyllic, if only Cam would step-up and be a bit more of a provider–overall, there’s love and heart and good things happening in this quiet, secluded life of art and merrymaking.

But there’s a tragic accident that brings a chasm between Cam and Eleanor, changing the family forever. There’s grief and blame, resentment, and more, but they will manage. But they don’t. Cam has an affair with the babysitter, the marriage ends (not a spoiler; this is all mentioned on the back jacket).

We follow the family through heartache and loss, life and birth, art and stagnation, days of illegal abortion, the draft, computer age, AIDS, early #metoo era, the Challenger explosion, divorce, and so much more. I wasthrust back to my own childhood–many scenes triggered ideas and scenes quite vividly for me.

Told in 101 short, named chapters, Joyce Maynard is a master at observation, a keen eye for detail not just in the visual sense, but also in social-emotional nuances as she transforms the landscape of words into meaningful connections of home, family, parenthood, love, loss, identity, and also forgiveness. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Joyce Maynard to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Joyce, oh goodness! Welcome. COUNT THE WAYS is a gorgeous exploration of family and love, forgiveness, and so much more. I always want to know what you were trying to discover or answer in your own writing? Much of what we do as writers, I think, is exploration. Is that true for you?

Joyce Maynard:

Every character I write yearns for something she doesn’t have, and struggles with something that’s getting in her way.  For the central character in COUNT THE WAYS—Eleanor—the great longing she carries is for family, something she didn’t have when she was young, herself, and wants to create with her husband, Cam,  and their children.  Her great struggle is with her own bitterness over her husband’s failure to prevent a tragedy in their family.  This destroys the couple’s love for each other, and their marriage.  I’m glad I can say I never lived through an experience like the one that struck their family, but I know some things about holding onto anger in a way that not only hurts another person, but one’s own self.  Eleanor’s journey in COUNT THE WAYS is about learning how to forgive.

Photo by SUNIL PATEL on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’ve loved all of your books, but this one seems much more personal. I think that’s because it is. In your author’s note at the beginning of the narrative, you mention that there are some very stark parallels between your ‘real life,’ and our characters’ lives. Without really asking what’s true and what’s not, I’d like to ask about reconciling ‘story’ with fact. What insights can you share?

Joyce Maynard:

Every novel I’ve ever written—and I’ll even include TO DIE FOR, the one that might seem to have absolutely no connection to my real life—contains elements and obsessions from my life.  But COUNT THE WAYS bears the most obvious resemblance to my actual story.  I fell in love and married in the late seventies, moved to a farm in New Hampshire, had three children—and lived through a painful divorce (is there any other kind) when I was 35.  For any reader familiar with my work over the years, there will be some familiar stories.  (Eleanor, tearing her house apart to find her seven year old daughter’s lost Barbie shoe; Eleanor making little boats with her children, and people to put in them, and launching them in a brook near their house; Eleanor, burnt out on Christmas morning, and at the end of her rope, smashing the elaborate cake she has just finished making in her effort to give her family a perfect holiday…) 

But COUNT THE WAYS is not “a thinly veiled memoir.”  I used experiences from my life, and most of all, feelings that I’d experienced, to create a work of fiction.  I created this family—their love, and their losses—as a way to explore and set out on the page just about everything I wanted to say about marriage and divorce and raising children and seeing them leave home and become their own people.  And I wanted to say these things from the perspective of someone the age I am now—67.  I’ve learned a few things over the forty or so years since my oldest child was born, and the thirty some years since the end of my marriage.  I wanted to offer the perspective (do I dare to say it?  Wisdom)  that can probably only come with the passage of time. 

Photo by Soubhagya Maharana on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s often a very blurry line between fiction and nonfiction because as writers, we borrow experiences from life all the time. We’re good at shifting perspectives because that’s the lens we look at the world. How do you know when you’ve stumbled across an idea that ‘must become a book?’ How might a book-length work be different than, say an essay or an article, flash, or something else? How you decide the ‘shape’ of a work?

Joyce Maynard:

I think I always knew I’d tell the story of a family who love each other a lot, but break apart. I carried this story with me for a very long time.  Maybe it was the death of my second husband, Jim, five years ago, and the experience of losing someone so dear to me, that released me from what I think of as “the old narrative”.  Things that once seemed so important no longer mattered.  Things I once took for granted came to feel extraordinarily precious. 

Leslie Lindsay:

On a personal level, I felt for the kids so much when they struggled with their parents’ divorce, when custody became an issue. This time you write about—the 1980s—divorce was becoming almost ‘the norm.’ My parents split then, too. I choose to live with my father. My mother and I were estranged. It was a complex time; she struggled with her mental illness and the by-products of her poor behavior. While you don’t write about mental health directly, it’s there, sort of breathing in the white space. Can you talk about that, please?

Joyce Maynard:

While I don’t see Eleanor as a person with mental health issues, she certainly struggles—as many mothers do—with what happens to a person when she neglects her own needs for a long time, in the service of her family.  In the novel, I call Eleanor’s melt-downs “crazyland”.  It’s a place she goes when her feelings simply overwhelm her.  I know that place, though I haven’t been there in a long time.  I know what it feels like to be Eleanor at those moments.  And writing this novel allowed me to imagine what it must be like for a child, witnessing them.  It was sometimes painful, doing that.  But also instructive, as it generally is when you hold a mirror up to some aspect of yourself.

The experience of an adult child’s estrangement from a parent—something Eleanor lives through –happens more than we know.  In my life, and from the many years I’ve spent, leading memoir retreats in which I help women to tell their stories I’ve known many women I consider to have been what we you might call “a good mother”—women with flaws, like all of us, but ones who tried hard and did the best they could—whose child has rejected them at some point. There’s so much shame around this.

Sometimes no doubt estrangement from a parent happens for good reason.  Sometimes, it’s a symptom of hurt that has other origins.  In Eleanor’s case, one of her children rejects her in a way that is brutally painful—shutting her out of her granddauther’s life—because Eleanor kept a secret for a long time, in an effort to protect her.  For a woman like Eleanor, the loss of this relationship (two relationships:  with her daughter, and with her granddaughter) feels almost like a death. 

I wanted to explore this, because a surprising number of women have experienced some degree of this kind of estrangement, and hardly anybody ever talks about it. 

That’s what I always do in my writing, I think—my nonfiction and my fiction:

I try to shine a light on the unmentionable.

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand you are back in school—at Yale, no less—what are you studying? How is that going?

Joyce Maynard:

As some people may know—if they read my first memoir, At Home in the World—I dropped out of college when I was eighteen years old.  At the age of 64, I decided to return. I wanted to study all the things I never got to before, and to take in new ideas, at an age when it might have been easy to settle into a comfort zone.  I’m in my third year now, and though I doubt I’ll ever actually earn a Yale diploma, I’ve learned so much.  Some of it in the classroom, a lot of it from my fellow students, who are a whole generation younger than my children. 

I’m a humanities major—which has allowed me to study history and poetry and languages and art– but really, what I wanted most was a new adventure.  I took most of last year off during the pandemic, but I’ll be back in the fall.  I feel so lucky to be there.

As a writer, I think it’s crucial to keep one’s eyes open to the world.  Being at college has opened mine in so many ways.  I’ll just mention one of those, which is seeing how differently young people today approach questions of gender and accept, without judgment, a range of sexual orientation.  For someone of my generation, some of the  ideas and choices young people are making these days may be challenging –like the decision to use the pronoun “they”, for instance.  I know it was the gift of living among young people for much of the last three years that allowed me to create the character of Alison—who transitions to be Al, in my novel.  I wanted to show a woman of my generation, experiencing those kinds of experiences and getting to the place where she accepts and embraces them.

That’s what I try to do in my novels: 

I create a character a reader can understand and identify with , and taker her to some places that reader may never have been.  It opens up your mind.  Plus, it generally makes for a good story.

Leslie Lindsay:

Joyce, this has been so delightful. Thank you for taking the time. What should I have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, maybe there’s something you’d like to ask me?

Joyce Maynard:

Oh, we’ve covered a lot of territory here, Leslie. I’ll just add that I recorded the audio book of COUNT THE WAYS myself , as I have for my last five books, I think.  (All but my novel, LABOR DAY that required a male voice.  That one was recorded, beautifully, by my son Wilson Bethel.)  For anyone who enjoys audio books, I recommend this way of taking in my new story. 

And for anyone who’d like to learn more, by all means visit my website, joycemaynard.com 

I always love to hear from readers. Go there and you’ll find out how.

For more information, to connect with Joyce via social media, or to purchase a copy of COUNT THE WAYS, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

I was reminded, in part, of SO HAPPY TOGETHER by Deborah K. Shepherd for the time frame, age of characters, abortion, and so many other things. Look too at Jennifer Weiner’s MRS. EVERYTHING for similar themes, BENEFICIENCE by Meredith Hall. Also, you might like Elizbeth Brundage’s work–particularly ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR and THE VANISHING POINT. While these books are not exactly the same, they offer some overlap.

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

Next week:

Amy Koppelman talks about her sublime fiction, A MOUTHFUL OF AIR

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 cottonbro on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A native of New Hampshire, Joyce Maynard began publishing her stories in magazines when she was thirteen years old.  She first came to national attention with the publication of her New York Times cover story, “An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life”, in 1972, when she was a freshman at Yale. Since then, she has been a reporter and columnist for The New York Times, a syndicated newspaper columnist whose “Domestic Affairs” column appeared in over fifty papers nationwide, a regular contributor to NPR and national magazines including Vogue, The New York Times Magazine, and many more. She is a longtime performer with The Moth

Joyce Maynard is the author of eighteen books, including the New York Times bestselling novel, Labor Day and To Die For (both adapted for film), Under the Influence and the memoirs, At Home in the World and The Best of Us.

Her latest novel, Count the Ways —the story of a marriage and a divorce, and the children who survived it—will be published by William Morrow in June, 2021.

She is currently at work on a book about her return to Yale University two and a half years ago as an undergraduate, forty-eight years after dropping out at age 18.

Maynard is a fellow of the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. She is the founder of Write by the Lake, a week-long workshop on the art and craft of memoir, held every year since 2001 at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

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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Cover and author image retrieved from J. Maynard’s website 7.27.21. Special thanks to William Morrow. All other images, unless noted, from Leslie Lindsay.

Chevy Stevens is back and talking about the challenge of getting DARK ROADS ‘off the ground,’ being out in nature, the magical healing of dogs, her obsession with the mid-century modern vibe, more

By Leslie Lindsay

A brilliant and unique tale about mysterious disappearances along the Cold Creek Highway, one dark road where you never see the twists coming.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Chevy Stevens & Leslie Lindsay in conversation

Chevy’s books, including Still Missing, New York Times bestseller and winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, have been published in more than thirty countries.

Is it bad luck or the work of one or several serial killers? That’s the overarching question Chevy Stevens’ new book, DARK ROADS (St. Martin’s Press, August 3) seeks to find. 

Some roads deceive you | Some roads betray you | Some roads destroy you

COMING AUGUST 3, 2021

Photo by Adil on Pexels.com

ABOUT DARK ROADS:

For decades people have been warned about the mysterious disappearances along the Cold Creek Highway. Hailey McBride decides to run to escape her unbearable circumstances, thinking her outdoor survival skills will save her. And then there are other girls, too. Amber and Beth, sisters, and one has been murdered on the infamous highway.

Readers are thrust into a lush, rugged landscape where everyone and everything seems treacherous. 

DARK ROADS is about trauma, survival instincts, and so much more. Each of these characters are so nuanced, brave, complex, and struggling with the realities of male violence and women who are often victims. There is a great sense of suspended belief in this tale, and I found this moving and complex, tugging at the heartstrings, leaving me with a wide-open awe in Chevy’s ability to write such multifaceted and emotional stories. 

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

Leslie Lindsay: 

Chevy! It’s lovely to chat again. It’s been awhile…Can you talk about what you’ve been doing since your last book, NEVER LET YOU GO? And your struggles and surprises with DARK ROADS? 

Chevy Stevens: 

I wish I could say that the gap in time was because I was off enjoying myself in an exotic location, picking shells of the beach for hours with my daughter, or doing something noble like working at wild animal refuge and bottle-feeding babies (which I would love), but two of the years were spent working on books that I couldn’t get off the ground. I still have them saved on my computer and I like to tell myself that one day I will find a way to resurrect them. Once I did find the initial concept for Dark Roads, which began with the idea of a woman searching for her sister, and then morphed into something different, it took two more years to tell the story. 

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

I love that DARK ROADS is partially set in the beautiful but intimidating Canadian wilderness. Can you talk a little about what inspired the locations in the book?

Chevy Stevens: 

I have traveled through parts of British Columbia, but not as far north as this book takes place. A lot of the scenery is a conglomeration of my own memories and places I have seen. This book was influenced by the Highway of Tears, a real place in BC, with a tragic history, and though I have not personally been there, I am familiar with the terrain. Even where I live, on Vancouver Island, there are remote highways with dense forests, wild rivers, and areas where it is easy to get lost or hide. Much of BC is still very unpopulated. Cold Creek, the town I created in Dark Roads, resembles many small towns in BC and same with the lakeside campground. There are lots of provincial campgrounds that rarely have staff monitoring them or no staff at all. In the woods, especially at night, those campgrounds can have an eerie, untamed feeling to them. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

One of the main characters, Hailey, runs away from the grip of her controlling police officer uncle, believing she can use the outdoor skills her father taught her to survive the harsh wilderness. Is outdoor survival a personal interest of yours? 

Chevy Stevens: 

I love being out in nature, but I wouldn’t say I am much of a survivalist. I absolutely enjoy my comforts! We used to have a travel trailer, but after we had our daughter, and now that we have two dogs, camping got more complicated and less relaxing. One of the dogs (Ziggy!) is an alarmist and thinks it is his duty to inform of us every tiny sound. Sometimes I think about getting a camper van in the future, but my days of wanting to sleep in a tent are definitely over. 

My husband still enjoys “roughing it” and goes on fishing trips in all sorts of weather. He was a good resource for the book. People who hike, explore, or camp in extreme weather and wilderness are fascinating to me. I admire their bravery and the trust that they must place in themselves and their skills. I don’t like to be anywhere that doesn’t have cell service!

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

How I loved Wolf! Oh my gosh.Dogs are so amazing in so many ways. He serves a sort of guide, confidant, spirit almost. Was he based on your own dogs? I understand you spend a great deal of time hiking with them. Love that! 

Chevy Stevens:

Neither of my dogs are very much like Wolf. One came from the local animal shelter and the other came from a private rescue. Ziggy is smart but also a bit of a scaredy cat so he would more likely run to me to save him. Oona loves chasing bunnies, but she would not enjoy riding around on a dirt bike. Neither of them like swimming so I don’t think they would be good at catching fish for me. In a fun twist, my neighbors got a border-collie puppy this spring and I get to enjoy him. In Dark Roads, I gave Wolf a mixed genetic background as it is common in small farming communities to find dogs that are crossed with border collies, and I know them to be highly intelligent. My dogs are getting older and one of them has had two knee replacements, so our days of long hikes are over, but we still go on regular walks together. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Shifting gears a bit, there’s a lovely epilogue that nearly brought me to my knees. How I found it so completely moving and visceral, magical, almost. Without giving anything away, can you talk about some of your literary influences, or how you wanted the ending to wrap up?

Chevy Stevens: 

In early drafts, the book ended with Beth, but it didn’t have the right amount of emotional intensity I wanted. When I found the narrator’s voice for my prologue, which took a while, I knew she would also narrate my ending. The actual writing of the final scene came quickly and was raw and profound for me. I fussed over language and word choices through each revision, but the essence of that chapter never changed. It felt very real to me, so hopefully it will also feel that way to my readers. I did enjoy writing in that style, a dreamy otherworldliness, so maybe one day I will try to write a book in that style throughout. It was freeing in many ways. 


“Chevy Stevens is back and better than ever with a grisly tale that will make you think twice before driving down any deserted highways at night. DARK ROADS is a chilling, pulse-pounding thriller that also tugs at the heartstrings. It’s everything you’ve come to love from a master of the psych thriller genre!”

-Mary Kubica, NYT bestselling author of THE OTHER MRS.


Leslie Lindsay:

Before we go, Beth was sort of obsessed with discovering her sister’s killer, what’s obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary. 

Chevy Stevens:  

I love mid-century modern and the Palm Springs Vibe, anything that gives me a nostalgic feeling. At the moment I am setting my current book in the late seventies because it worked better for the plot if I removed today’s technology, and it gave me a new interesting challenge. When I am not writing, I like listening to podcasts, reading romances, and doing puzzles. 

For more information, to connect with Chevy Stevens, or to purchase a copy of DARK ROADS, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

I found some similarities between the work of Rene Denfeld, especially regarding the survivalist and natural world, as well as FOX AND I: An Uncommon Friendship (memoir), with thematic touches of David Bell’s new release, KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS, also Hanna Halperin’s SOMETHING WILD.

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

Next week, Joyce Maynard talks about her new novel, COUNT THE WAYS.

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:

CHEVY STEVENS lives on Vancouver Island with her husband and daughter. When she isn’t working on her next book, she’s hiking with her two dogs on her favorite mountain trails and spending time with her family. Chevy’s current obsessions are vintage Airstreams, Hollywood memoirs, all things mid-century modern, and stand-up comedians–not necessarily in that order. Her books, including Still Missing, New York Times bestseller and winner of the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel, have been published in more than thirty countries.

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, soon to become an audiobook 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.

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book

HERE

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Next Week: Joyce Maynard talks about her most ambitious novel to date, families, dysfunction, and a gorgeous New England farm.

Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Artistic images of book cover(s) designed and photographed by L.Lindsay, @leslielindsay1. Let’s connect on Instagram!

B.A. Paris talks about her new domestic suspense, THE THERAPIST, about a London community, how her formative years in the U.K. has shaped her storytelling, hitting a wall, self-doubt, how ideas come best in that liminal state between wake and sleep, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

An unsettling tale of a London couple who move into a gated community rife with dark secrets—a murder and more.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

B.A. Paris & Leslie Lindsay in conversation

With an absolutely gripping central mystery, U.K. author by way of France, B.A. Paris delivers a hit readers will surely devour as quickly as Behind Closed Doors, and joins a cadre of authors who’ve produced unforgettable books, like An Anonymous Girl, The Silent Patient, and You Should Have Known, about tortured and mysterious therapists.

B.A. Paris burst on the scene in 2016 with her break-out bestseller, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, which had me racing through the pages. She’s back now with THE THERAPIST, (St. Martin’s Press, July 13), about a close-knit suburban community where everyone is a little on-edge, and with good reason: there’s been a murder and everyone is still reeling, and grieving, and more. Plus, there are newcomers, a therapist, a private investigator, and so much more. Alice feels compelled to get to the bottom of this sordid situation—but she’s not even sure she can trust her partner, Leo.

ABOUT THE THERAPST:

When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive homes, it’s everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceiving…

As Alice gets to know her neighbors, she discovers a devastating secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.  

Alice quickly becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it, and it’s clear her neighbors are keeping something from her…

THE THERAPIST has all of the B.A. Paris hallmarks: twists and turns galore, relatable relationship drama, and a close-knit, domestic setting that allows the tension to build and build.  

THE THERAPIST is about truth and reinvention, a web of lies, a relationship hinging in the balance, and so much more. It’s a whodunit, but a study in neighborhood dynamics, mind games, and more. The writing style is abrupt and to-the-point, with plenty of dialogue, which lends itself well to these types of domestic thrillers. I thought I had ‘the twist’ all worked out, but I was surprised. The ending is a little convoluted, but readers who enjoy a jarring reveal with revel in this tale.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented B.A. Paris back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Bernadette, it’s lovely to have you back. Alice was haunted by so many things—her sister’s death years ago, her new home, and the neighborhood secrets. What was haunting you as you set out to write THE THERAPIST?

B.A. Paris:

The thought of someone having been murdered in the cottage where I’m now living! Parts of it date back to the 18th century and not long after we moved in, I began to think about its past inhabitants, some of whom would have died here. I was quite happy living with their ghosts until I began wondering if any of them had been murdered in my lovely new home. If there had been a murder, how would I feel about living here, especially if it was recent? Those dark thoughts gave me the idea for The Therapist.

THE THERAPIST: You might have to talk to someone.

Leslie Lindsay:

I found it interesting that both your debut, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS and THE THERAPIST had to do with sisters. Grace has a sister who is in a care home (BEHIND CLOSED DOORS) and Alice has a deceased sister she still obsesses over. Would you call these ‘sister’ books? You’re the mother of five daughters, do you see the sister relationship as driving force for story fodder?

B.A. Paris:

I’d never really thought about it before your question, but yes, I would class both Behind Closed Doors and The Therapist as ‘sister’ books. In each of these books, my protagonists – Grace and Alice – act as they do because of their sisters. Their sisters are the focus of their drive and determination. 

Having five daughters, I think it comes naturally to me to use relationships between sisters as a driving force in my stories. BRING ME BACK is also a ‘sister’ story. In all three books, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to give my character a brother rather than a sister. Maybe it’s something I should think about for future books!

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

“Suspicion, betrayal and dark secrets abound in this tense story—all hidden just beneath the surface of a seemingly perfect suburban life.”

—T.M. Logan, author of The Vacation

Leslie Lindsay:

How do you think your life in France and now the U.K. has influenced you as a writer—both formally and thematically? For example, the place names and also some of the research you must have done?

B.A. Paris:

Although I’ve spent most of my life in France, my books are always set in the UK. I’ve often wondered why this is, as I know France better than I know the UK, and I think it’s something to do with those formative early years. I was born and brought up in England, only moving to France when I was twenty-one, and when I choose the settings for my books, I find myself drawing on my experiences, of the small villages and towns around where I lived, and of London, where I worked for three years. As for the place names, they are usually invented but based on somewhere I know.

Leslie Lindsay:

When you’re writing, what generally brings you the most joy? Is there a time of day—or week—you’re most receptive to story and creativity? What struggles do you encounter with writing?

B.A. Paris:

I always know how I want the story I’m writing to start, and how I want it to finish, but I’m never exactly sure of how I’ll get from one to the other. I’ll have a general idea of what might happen, and what I love most is when my characters, as they develop, take me on a different journey to the one I imagined. The sense that they know something that I don’t is both stimulating and exciting.

My most creative time to write is often the middle of the night – my brain seems to be very receptive when I’m hovering between wake and sleep. An idea will come to me, and I know that if I don’t write it down straight away, I’ll have forgotten in the morning. So I might write for hours.

There are times when I’m not sure how to move my story on, so I’ll go for a walk and by the time I come back, I’ll have found a solution. The other thing I struggle with is self-doubt. I’ll hit a wall about half-way through the story and think that everything I’ve written is rubbish. But then I realize that the only way to get through the wall is to keep writing.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.”

― Henry David Thoreau

Leslie Lindsay:

What are you most looking forward to this summer? Is doesn’t have to be literary.

B.A. Paris:

My daughter, after having had to postpone her wedding three times because of COVID, is finally – fingers crossed – getting married in August in France, and I cannot wait for family and friends to come together to celebrate. Because of all the disappointments, and not having seen so many loved ones for so long, it’s going to be an extra-special time.

Leslie Lindsay:

Bernadette, thank you for this. Always so insightful. Is there anything I should have asked but may have forgotten?

B.A. Paris:

No, but I’d love to tell you that I’m really excited about my next book – working title THE PRISONER. It’s another psychological thriller but there is also a love element. My protagonist is a feisty twenty-year-old young woman, and I can’t wait for you to meet her.

For more information, to connect with B.A. Paris, or to purchase a copy of THE THERAPST, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

I found some similarities between THE THERAPIST and the storytelling style of Louise Candlish, particularly THOSE PEOPLE, but also OUR HOUSE, as well as Helen Cooper’s THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR.

Next week, Joyce Maynard talks about her new novel, COUNT THE WAYS.

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.

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book

HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

B.A. Paris is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, Bring Me Back and The Dilemma. She grew up in England, but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher. THE THERAPIST is her fifth novel.

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, soon to become an audiobook 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

Next Week: Joyce Maynard talks about her most ambitious novel to date, families, dysfunction, and a gorgeous New England farm.

IMG_5298

Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram

Catherine Raven asks: why do we separate ourselves so much from one another? Moving from graph paper to words, she provides reason & intuition to readers in her debut nature memoir, FOX AND I, plus advice and letting go of bitterness

By Leslie Lindsay

Wise, thoughtful, and intimate portrayal of a solitary woman’s relationship with nature, particularly a male fox who sort of befriends her, a lush literary and ecological study.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Catherine Raven in Conversation

A naturalist, writer, and professor, Catherine Raven lives ‘off-the-grid’ in Montana. FOX AND I is her debut nature-memoir.

About FOX AND I: An Uncommon Friendship:

Can humans and wild animals become friends? That’s the overarching question in this debut memoir, FOX AND I by Catherine Raven (Spiegel & Grau, July 7 2021) in which a woman biologist–living remotely–becomes acquainted with a fox. Each day, at approximately the same time, outside her cozy cottage in the woods, a fox would appear. She was intrigued and then began reading to him from THE LITTLE PRINCE, and he’d return. There’s more here, too, mostly about Raven’s life as a park ranger, teaching and leading field classes in Yellowstone National Park, and more. It’s about isolation and nature, how the two meld to bring self-awareness.

As for the story, there’s a growth here, some changes that occur, but FOX AND I is a very interior tale following the author’s thoughts, observations, insights–some scientific and others philosophical. Catherine Raven is mostly a very self-sufficient individual because she had to be, leaving an abusing home at the age of fifteen. I learned about foxes–what they hunt and why–also why we as humans have stopped protecting them (people built sturdier houses and left poison in corners, mouse traps behind refrigerators, therefore no longer relying on foxes to eat the moles, voles, and mice).

Other human-animal type insights came to the forefront, too, like: little wild things do not live long stable lives, etc.

The prose is lush and literary, flow-y and delicate, and sort of meanders; it’s about solitude but also about understanding the greater world around us.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Catherine Raven to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Catherine, welcome and congratulations on your debut memoir. With anything we write, there is always something I think that is nagging us—usually an answered question we are seeking some kind of answer to. What was it for you in FOX & I?

Catherine Raven:

Like most people in the western world today, I had preconceived notions about wildlife when I met Fox. I accepted as a fact that certain personality traits were the exclusive domain of humans. I believed that foxes couldn’t have unique personalities.

Or could they? The readers and I address this question throughout the story. What is the nature of Fox’s character? Relying on observations, science, literature, and interactions with my peers, I parsed that question, while discovering another:

why do we separate ourselves so much from the other members of the animal kingdom?

Knowledge, and therefore the answer, derives from many places. As a writer exploring this question, I altered my thinking process, moving from graph paper to lined paper, from data to words. Fox and I gives readers permission to use both reason and intuition as they decide for themselves. I expect readers will extrapolate from Fox to wild animals they have known. Some readers will recall wild animals to whom they have connected. Others will regret the “ones that got away.”           

Whatever the case, I hope folks will feel so comfortable with me that they’ll share those stories.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a biologist by training, but your writing is so lush and lyrical. I realize there’s a good deal of writing in academics, but the writing in FOX AND I is not technical; it’s a different skill set. Can you talk about that, please?

Catherine Raven:

Yes, it’s a very different skill set. I did not write the memoir using my technical voice. Two jobs helped develop a memoir voice that was distinct form my teaching voice: guiding and teaching undergraduates. I’ve been guiding and instructing field classes in Yellowstone National Park for twenty years and I work hard to avoid jargon and “science speak.” Instead, I use my natural voice, one that is like the voice in the memoir. When I started the book, I was teaching upper division classes for biology majors. I purposely switched to lower division classes designed for non-majors. I knew this would help with my writing. And truly, I have come to enjoy teaching non-majors a lot more, just as I have come to enjoy writing.

Leslie Lindsay:

We get a glimpse into your earlier life—leaving home at just fifteen to flee a dysfunctional and abusive situation—but FOX AND I isn’t really about that, or is it? Would you say that this is a study in human and behavior and self-sufficiency?

Catherine Raven:

You’re right, Fox and I isn’t about that. It is, of course, a story about human behavior and self-sufficiency because the girl, the protagonist, needs to learn the limits of self-reliance and the importance of making and keeping a friend. A large part of the narrative involves her discovering the responsibilities and joys of friendship. But, it’s not until she has spent more than a year hiking, playing, or reading with Fox every day that she is able to answer life’s pressing question:

what do I want to be when I grow up?

The answer could only have been derived through her relationship with Fox. She observes him, comes to admire him, and finally mimics him. Like any successful animal, she chooses her optimum habitat and habits, and settles into a stable home.

Let’s not forget that kids can’t possibly be self-sufficient. Nature studies are place-based and even pet-based and these are two variables that are necessarily under parental influence. This matters a lot for kids with animal empathy and those who are destined to become naturalists. Considering all my heroes, including Jane Goodall, Gerry Durrell, Helen Macdonald, Aldo Leopold, Luna Leopold, among many others, I can see that they all had parents who strongly fostered and initiated their outdoor and animal-centric activities. This is why, although Fox and I is a book for adults, I hope librarians will pass it on to school children. Too many children don’t have access to wild lands and nature until they become adults and move away from home.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As a writer who delves into some of my own dark and troubled past—and family—I am always terrified (and intrigued) with how others might view a work in which not everything or everyone is portrayed as ‘rosy.’ What might you advise? Do you know what your family has to say about FOX AND I?

Catherine Raven:

When I think of the phrase “delve into my past,” I see myself standing on a high board, prepared to do a back flip into a swimming pool. But of course, I don’t dive because I’ve too much sense and not enough physical strength. I suppose this is why St. Exupéry’s fictional prince resonates with me. The young boy hasn’t any familial past.

My advice to writers is to tell your own story, not the story of those who have made you miserable. After all, they have taken too much of your health and your time already.

Besides, if you’re hired to a professorship, if you want to teach and mentor students and others someday, you cannot be bitter. Among all emotions, the one I call bitterness is the one I most clearly recognize (I created an objective checklist for it). It is also the emotion I most abhor.

Leslie Lindsay:

In FOX AND I, you read from THE LITTLE PRINCE, and also draw similarities between the natural world, solitude, and MOBY DICK. What are you reading now?

Catherine Raven:

Fiction: R.L. Maizes: Other People’s Pets

Nonfiction: Helen MacDonald, Vesper Flights

Leslie Lindsay:

Catherine, thank you for this. What should I have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, maybe there’s something you’d like to ask me?

 Catherine Raven:

 How does the book specifically resonate in today’s post pandemic world?

Millions of workers are drifting, moving between houses, and from homes to vans. They are living out of campgrounds and trying to decide whether and when to move on. They’re thinking about choosing between city life and country life, asking themselves if they want mountains, oceans, or fields. Telecommuting is a new opportunity for lots of people who are now confused about what they want to do with their lives, where their career fits in, and where they should live. These are all the things I thought about when I built my cottage as a way station.

I telecommuted when only weirdos wanted those kinds of jobs. Normal people enjoyed the excitement and camaraderie of a campus. I’ve been teaching college students remotely since the inception of the technology. I hope folks who pick up Fox and I will allow the story to spur them to think carefully about these important habitat decisions and not let a virus dictate permanent lifestyle changes.

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1

For more information, to connect with Catherine Raven, or to purchase a copy of FOX & I, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

FOX AND I reminded me a bit of Kendra Atleework’s MIRACLE COUNTRY.

Next week, B.A. Paris talks about her new domestic thriller, THE THERAPIST about appearances, neighbors, a murder, sisters, and so much more.

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.

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book 

HERE

Up Next Week:

B.A. Paris talks about her new domestic thriller, THE THERAPIST about appearances, neighbors, a murder, sisters, and so much more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Catherine Raven is a former national park ranger at Glacier, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Voyageurs, and Yellowstone National Parks. She earned her Ph.D. in biology from Montana State University, holds degrees in zoology and botany from the University of Montana, and is a member of American Mensa and Sigma Xi. Her natural history essays have appeared in American Scientist, Journal of American Mensa, and Montana Magazine. You can find her in Fox’s valley tugging tumbleweeds from the sloughs.

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, soon to become an audiobook 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 learn more about HERE.

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Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/PenguinRandomHouse and used with permission. Artistic images of book cover(s) designed and photographed by L.Lindsay, @leslielindsay1. Join on Instagram

Wise and emotionally intelligent debut about the sixth-sense between sisters, cycles of violence, mothers & daughters, dissonance about ‘going back’ to childhood, more Hanna Halperin chats about SOMETHING WILD

By Leslie Lindsay

A troubling and searing debut from a talented writer about the traumas and darkness of a family, sisterhood, and cycles of violence–in all forms.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Hanna Halperin in Conversation

A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hanna Halperin‘s stories have been published in the Kenyon Reviewn+1New Ohio ReviewJoyland, and others. She has taught fiction workshops at Grub Street in Boston and worked as a domestic violence counselor.

About SOMETHING WILD:

SOMETHING WILD (Viking, 6/22/21) by Hanna Halperin in one of those family dramas you can’t help but want to look, but dear God, don’t show the whole thing. SOMETHING WILD is visceral and challenging in scope and theme, covering such topics of domestic violence, secrets, jealousy, anger, repulsion, horrifying truths, slippery and elusive adolescent desires, and more. It’s a bit coming-of-age with a present-day story.

Told in alternating POVs, adult sisters, Nessa and Tanya leave their respective lives and travel to the Boston suburbs where they are to help their mother, Lorraine, pack up and move out of their childhood home. They discover, for the first time, that theirmother is ensnared in an abusive relationship with her own husband. As Tanya and Lorraine urge their mother to get help/a restraining order, more, the women try to reconcile their shared past. And just what is unveiled is a dark, sinister, complex evocation with a man, their own sexual desires, misunderstandings, and more.

A searing novel about the love and contradictions of sisterhood, the intoxicating desires of adolescence, and the traumas that trap mothers and daughters in cycles of violence.


Told in razor-sharp prose, but in form and function, these women are all very flawed and not exactly likable. SOMETHING WILD is a dark examination of one highly dysfunctional family, all of their iterations (blended family), and more.

SOMETHING WILD is about extremely enmeshed relationships–sisters, mothers and daughters, sisters with men, and husbands and wives. It’s dark and smart, combining elements of beauty with brutality, about grief and loss, but also redemption.

I struggled with some of the grittier aspects, particularly where it involved sex with underage individuals, likely because I am a mother of teen daughters who I could never imagine doing anything quite like what transpired between Nessa and Tanya.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Hanna Halperin to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Hanna, welcome! And congratulations on your debut. I am always curious to know what intrigued—what haunted—a writer into a particular story. What was it for you with SOMETHING WILD? Was it a theme, character, place, something that you wanted to explore?

Hanna Halperin:

Thank you so much for having me! The story began with Nessa and Tanya’s relationship as children. I was interested in how their relationship changes when they are teenagers, when sex and violence are introduced into their lives in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. This danger, and the way shame and blame affect these two sisters as girls, and later, as women—was something that I wanted to explore in a novel.

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

“In this emotionally astute debut, Hanna Halperin shows herself to be a writer who is as compassionate as she is unafraid of darkness and taboo. Something Wild is tender, fearless, and savagely alive.”


—Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists

Leslie Lindsay:

These sisters, though not twins, are very connected. Maybe even unhealthily enmeshed. Can you talk a bit about their relationship? They almost have a sort of sixth-sense with one another, which you call the ‘wild thing.’ Can you talk about that, please?

Hanna Halperin:

‘The Wild Thing’ is this feeling that Tanya and Nessa have as kids, where they feel like they’re being preyed upon or chased. It’s kind of this bodily knowledge they both have, that danger is lurking. To me, this sixth-sense they share also has to do with protectiveness they have for one another—the way that girls and women instinctually know to show up for each other in moments of danger. This was something I was really curious about. When do we start to develop this sixth-sense and why? And how does it get further complicated when girls and women feel they are being pitted against one another?

Leslie Lindsay:

The crux of SOMETHING WILD really has to do with violence, its overt form, but also as an insidious sort of growth, the fact that violence can take on all sorts of shapes. There’s emotional and psychological violence and trauma, in fact, the whole story sort of read as if it were the color of a bruise. What more might you add?

Hanna Halperin:

Right. And wherever there is physical violence, there is also emotional violence. In the novel there is also financial control, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, gaslighting and neglect. In my mind there is no hierarchy of abuse. Emotional abuse can have lasting and devastating impacts—although perhaps this kind of abuse is harder to see. How many times have women been called a name or experienced some sort of cruel or misogynistic comment and then been told, “Oh, it was just a joke.” It’s interesting that you associate the story with the color of a bruise; I can see that. When I saw the cover of the book for the first time, it made sense to me that it was red. It makes me think about what kind of blood we’re comfortable seeing and talking about, too. There’s a lot of blood and gore we acknowledge, and a lot of violence we pretend not to see.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m also intrigued with houses and homes and this concept of ‘going back home.’ Do you believe we can ever truly go back to those earlier times? Do we want to? And why?

Hanna Halperin:

I don’t think we can ever really go back. I think there can be this strange dissonance of wanting to ‘go back’, even if we know that things weren’t actually as simple or happy as we remember them. When we are kids however we grew up was just ‘the norm’ to us. It might not be until much later that we question or process how things actually felt. This desire to go home is not just about returning to a place, but also wanting that innocence back. Despite having many of the ‘same’ memories, I think Tanya and Nessa have very different memories of childhood, as well as different tolerance levels for nostalgia.

Leslie Lindsay:

Here’s what SOMETHING WILD did for me: it dredged up memories of insidious trauma. Weird little things that I hadn’t really paid much mind to, but now began looking at through a different lens. Was that your intention? Or maybe just a fun by-product?

Hanna Halperin:

I can’t imagine that it was especially fun, but it means a lot to me that reading the book had that effect for you. I’m really interested in those everyday, insidious traumas. There is a lot of very stark trauma in the book—but I find the seemingly smaller things just as worthy of attention: overhearing a parent say something cruel, waiting for a text in the middle of the night that never shows up, seeing a parent with a new partner. Sometimes those moments are the ones that unexpectedly really hurt, that crack us wide open—whether we acknowledge it at the time or not.

Photo by Michael Burrows on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Hanna, this has been so insightful. Thank you. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or perhaps something you might like to ask me?

Hanna Halperin:

I so appreciate you reading Something Wild and your thoughtful questions. Are there any books about girlhood or being a teenage girl that you would recommend?

Leslie Lindsay:

I really enjoyed Daisy Johnson’s SISTERS, which sounds pretty explanatory, but it’s about a twisted and shattered portrait of two highly enmeshed sisters, their depressed author-illustrator mother, a terrible accident, all set on a moody English coast. And houses, because, houses.

Photo credit: L.Lindsay @leslielindsay1 Join her on Instagram

For more information, to connect with Hanna Halperin, or to purchase a copy of SOMETHING WILD, please visit:

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YOU MIGHT LIKE:

SOMETHING WILD reminded me a bit of SISTERS by Daisy Johnson with a touch of THE IMMORTALISTS (teenager stuff only) but also DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little with a touch of HERE LIES A FATHER (Mackenzie Cassidy), MY DARK VANESSA (Kate Elizabeth Reid).Next week, Catherine Raven talks about her unusual relationship with a fox, nature, and more in FOX AND I.

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Up Next Week:

Catherine Raven talks about her unusual relationship with a fox, nature, and more in FOX AND I.

About the Author: 

Hanna Halperin is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her stories have been published in the Kenyon Reviewn+1New Ohio ReviewJoyland, and others. She has taught fiction workshops at Grub Street in Boston and worked as a domestic violence counselor.

Credit: Sharona Jacobs

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, soon to become an audiobook 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 learn more about HERE.

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Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/PenguinRandomHouse and used with permission. Artistic images of book cover(s) designed and photographed by L.Lindsay, @leslielindsay1. Join on Instagram