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The fabulous and down-to-earth Mary Kubica talks about her new domestic suspense, LOCAL WOMAN MISSING, her fascination with true crime, writing ‘the big twist,’ old houses, how even idyllic places have their dark stories–plus, a question for me, too.

By Leslie Lindsay 

An explosive page-turner from Mary Kubica will have you looking over your shoulder–and your neighbors–differently.

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

SPOTLIGHT: MOTHERHOOD

Mary Kubica has done it again. Every one of her books is a treat and I so glad I had the opportunity to dive into this one a bit early. LOCAL WOMAN MISSING (Park Row Books, May 18 2021) is her seventh (!!) domestic thriller and it’s so, so good.

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. This is unusual, she has a newborn, she’s relatively new to town, what reason would she possibly have to leave…or for someone to kidnap her? Not long after, Meredith Dickey goes missing, and her 6-year old daughter. But it’s a close-knit, suburban town outside of Chicago, neighbors are concerned but there’s only so much that can be done, even after a search party is formed. The case(s) eventually goes cold and Meredith’s husband, Josh, and son, Leo, continue with their lives.

Now, eleven years later, the 6-year old daughter shockingly returns. She’s traumatized, must wear sunglasses at all times because she has been kept in a dark basement; sounds bother her. Her father is overjoyed she’s back, but her brother is skeptical. And her mother is presumably dead.

Meredith Dickey is a doulacoaching and supporting women as their babies are brought into the world. Could this be something to do with her job? A disgruntled mother? A challenging birth? And then she starts receiving threatening–anonymous–texts. What–or whom–could be behind this? She’s done nothing wrong…right?

I read LOCAL WOMAN MISSING at lightning speed. It’s smart, chilling, twisty, with just the right amount of whodunit–and several real suspects–the tension is taut, the writing fast-paced and it’s so very atmospheric. It’s spring in the Chicago suburbs and I could nearly taste the rain on my tongue and hear the claps of thunder. The community is darling, too, featuring old, restored homes and leafy yards.

Clear your calendar and curl up with LOCAL WOMAN MISSING—but first—join me as I welcome Mary Kubica back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary! I cannot believe we’ve been talking about books for 7+ years. It’s always such a delight. Thank you for taking the time. I flew through LOCAL WOMAN MISSING. But I know, easy reading is hard writing. What sort of haunted you into this one? What questions or themes did you set out to explore?

Mary Kubica:

Thanks so much for having me back, Leslie, and for being a huge champion of my books. I always look forward to chatting with you! I cannot believe it’s been so many years since we first sat down together in a local Starbucks and discussed THE GOOD GIRL!

Thanks also for your incredibly generous words about LOCAL WOMAN MISSING. As I was dreaming up ideas for this book, I thought how we hear so often about missing people, but we don’t hear much about what happens to them when they return. That was my first spark of an idea for LOCAL WOMAN MISSING, how this child returns home very unexpectedly after eleven years in captivity. She was six years old when she went missing; now she’s seventeen, and, in the interim, her family had given up hope of ever seeing her again. I started wondering how a family adapts to that. It’s a happy time, yes, but also one full of regret for those missing years they’ll never get back. It requires rebuilding relationships from scratch and dealing with trauma and uncertainty and sometime resentment. I also wanted to explore what it is like for the person returning, who has little if any memory of the years before disappearing. How does that person cope? And of course, laced into all this is a mystery: Where was Delilah all this time, and why is she suddenly back? 

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Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com


“Complex, richly atmospheric and thoroughly riveting, LOCAL WOMAN MISSING is a thoughtful look at how even the most innocuous secrets between happy couples and beloved friends in tightly knit neighborhoods can sometimes turn so unexpectedly and terrifyingly deadly.”

~ Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia and A Good Marriage 


Leslie Lindsay:

We all want to write ‘page-turners’ and guess what? You do. Each chapter sort of ends in motion. The reader keeps deliberating and visiting ‘old’ material just as your introducing something new. What I want to ask is: how do you do this? But that’s kind of lame. Instead: what do you feel compels the upward motion, both as a reader and a writer?

Mary Kubica:

This genre seems to hinge on that all important big twist. As a writer, this terrifies me. It’s a great big buildup for something that may or may not fall flat for the reader if he or she predicts it. As a result, I try to rely on a number of small, developing mysteries that lead to the ultimate twist or twists. This (hopefully) keeps the reader in a state of constant suspense and even if they manage to work out some part of the ending, they still enjoy the ride! As a side note, I do make it a habit of ending every chapter on a cliffhanger of some sort. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but enough that the reader wants to turn the page and keep reading!   

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Photo by Jacob Colvin on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

All of your stories are so atmospheric without really being pretentious. But they’re also dark and disturbing. With the exception of just a couple, most are set primarily in Chicago and the suburbs, where you live and grew up. How does this area shape your writing, both formally and in context?

Mary Kubica:

It’s comfortable for me. I feel very at home writing about Chicago and the suburbs, which allows me more time and energy to focus on plot and character development. When I’m writing, I like to lose myself in the lives of my characters, and by having a setting that I know so well, it’s easier to become completely immersed. One thing I’ve discovered about writing domestic suspense, is that it’s incredibly fun to try and make even the most idyllic settings feel ominous. Every town has it’s murky, mysterious places, whether abandoned homes or dark, isolated forests or creepy roadside motels. Places like this inspire me, as does the capricious Chicago weather.

Leslie Lindsay:

Whom—or what else—influences your writing? For me, right now, I am influenced by nature and homes, and also family history. I’m intrigued with how the past informs the present, how stories are all interconnected.

Mary Kubica:

I’ve become a true crime junkie, especially during the pandemic when my husband and I are watching more TV than ever before. What fascinates me is how so often, people are killed by the ones they’re closest to or by someone they should be able to trust – but can’t.  This concept carries much weight in the domestic suspense genre. We can only ever know as much about another person as they’re willing to share.  

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Photo by Hakeem James Hausley on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, I have to ask about the houses in LOCAL WOMAN MISSING. I love the architectural details you mention—the servant’s stairs, the renovations—it’s not a huge portion of the story, but there, in small doses. Do you homes sort of tell a story?

Mary Kubica:

They do! To be honest, I live in a tract home that’s fairly new; my family has been its only owners. Our house doesn’t have a story to tell other than ours. I’m so envious of the historic homes like I describe in LOCAL WOMAN MISSING. These homes have been around for over a hundred years. They’ve gone through countless owners and hold so many secrets and memories. They’re also a tad bit creepy because, as we all know, old homes have weird quirks and make spooky, sometimes unexplainable noises, which adds great atmosphere to a suspense novel!

Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop thinking or talking about? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Mary Kubica:

  • Defending Jacob the miniseries – SO good! (the book was incredible too!)
  • How happy I am that summer is almost here. Chicago winters, as you know, feel never ending.
  • The end of Covid and hopefully a return to normalcy in the near future.
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Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’ve enjoyed this so much, Mary! Thank you. What should I have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, maybe there’s something you’d like to ask me?

Mary Kubica:

Thank you so much for another lovely interview! You come up with the best questions!

What I’d love to ask you is how you find the time in your incredibly busy schedule (Writer! Blogger! Super mom!) to read as much as you do and come up with such thoughtful, original questions for all the authors you support?

Leslie Lindsay: 

Thank you for these kind words, Mary. Honestly–I’m not sure how I do it all, either! For years and years, I’ve immersed myself in all things literary. It’s just a part of who I am. There’s precious little downtime, although one could argue reading is ‘downtime.’ [hint: not when you’re reading to interview authors]. I’m very disciplined. Each day has a ‘theme,’ and certain tasks that need to be completed. Television isn’t really a ‘thing’ for me at all. My release is cardio and yoga and I think that keeps me balanced. You’ll often find me in the car reading or writing while my kids are at tennis or soccer practice, and we always have a sit-down dinner as a family. I join a good deal of virtual writing events and I think this helps hone in on what questions to ask. As writer myself, I know how grueling and delicate (and frightening!) it can be to get one’s story out in the world, maybe that has helped develop more empathy and insight? Either way, I’m grateful to be sharing all of these fabulous books and author insights. It’s such a rewarding aspect of my life. 

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading

For more information, to connect with Mary Kubica via social media, or to purchase a copy of LOCAL WOMAN MISSING, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS: 

WHAT TO READ NEXT

There are some similarities between LOCAL WOMAN MISSING and the writing style of Shari Lapena, particularly in SOMEONE WE KNOW, but I also found touches of Gilly Macmillan’s style here, too. See past interviews with Gilly HERE. 

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Mary Kubica credit Sarah Jastre (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six novels, including THE GOOD GIRL, PRETTY BABY, DON’T YOU CRY, EVERY LAST LIE, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT and THE OTHER MRS. A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. Her first novelTHE GOOD GIRL was an Indie Next pick in August of 2014, received a Strand Critics Nomination for Best First Novel and was a nominee in the Goodreads Choice Awards in Debut Goodreads Author and in Mystery & Thriller for 2014. Mary’s novels have been translated into over thirty languages and have sold over two million copies worldwide. She’s been described as “a helluva storyteller,” (Kirkus Reviews) and “a writer of vice-like control,” (Chicago Tribune), and her novels have been praised as “hypnotic” (People) and “thrilling and illuminating” (Los Angeles Times).

She is currently working on her next novel.

IMG_5477ABOUT 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. 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 HarperCollins and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading

Maryanne O’Hara and I chat about LITTLE MATCHES, a gorgeous tribute to her late daughter, who suffered from cystic fibrosis, transformational healing, reiki, end-of-life doulas, & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

What happens when your only child dies of a tragic genetic disease and you’re left to grapple with the meaning of life?

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS | ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Memoir Monday: Mental Health Awareness Month

What happens when your only child dies of a tragic genetic disease and you’re left to grapple with the meaning of life?

Simple Border Health Quote Instagram Post

This is the overarching question that plaques novelist Maryanne O’Hara as she makes sense of the senseless loss of her adult daughter, Caitlin, following a near-lifelong battle of cystic fibrosis (CF) in her forthcoming memoir, LITTLE MATCHES (HarperOne, April 20 2021).

Immediately, I was enthralled with the deep well of questions this wise writer posits to the reader:


Where is she?
Is she?
Is there more to life than this life?
Does consciousness survive death?
Does my existence have any purpose?
Does anyone’s?


Of course, death is the only certainty in life and while that’s ironic (and a bit glib), there is so much life that happens in that interstitial space. This is why I think I love LITTLE MATCHES.

Maryanne and her husband, Nick, lose their only child–Caitlin–when she is 33 years old. For thirty-one of those years, they cared for a daughter who was diagnosed with CF. They were told she would live a long life or die in a matter of months. LITTLE MATCHES is at once a medical memoir about CF, but also it’s a mother-daughter memoir about life and love. But there’s more here, too, breathing in the spaces of context are so many metaphysical, existential questions and quandaries, symbolism, coincidences, more.

I found LITTLE MATCHES to be wholly inviting, authentic, raw, and told with an intimate candor. O’Hara is a wise and powerful storyteller, a strong mother, and so much more. This is a tough read, with a heartbreakingly expected mid-point yet a profound and meaningful outcome.

Cobbled together in bits and pieces of blog entries, Caitlin’s journals, lists, drawings, song titles, more, LITTLE MATCHES is a slightly meandering narrative (which flows wonderfully with this concept of grief), in which O’Hara consults medical research and mediums so that she may better understand the complexity of her role in her daughter’s life, her death, and to make meaning of her purpose. In the end, O’Hara becomes an end-of-life death doula so that she may better help others as they let go of this earth, but also to assist those who are left in their wake.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Maryanne O’Hara to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Maryanne, welcome! I am so blown away with the breadth and scope of LITTLE MATCHES. It’s not just a memoir, but almost like two-books-in-one, as we learn both sides of the story: yours and Caitlin’s. It’s clear this was a joint-project, though it wasn’t quite intended to be. Can you talk a little about your inspirations?

Maryanne O’Hara:

Yes, but first, thank you so much for having me. I love that you recognized the intricate weaving of layers went into the writing of the book. I worked hard at that; thank you. As for inspirations, it actually did start as a bit of a joint project. The back story is that while we waited for Caitlin’s transplant, I kept a blog to keep family and friends abreast of news. After her passing, writing on the blog became much more personal. It was the only kind of writing that mattered, and the only kind I wanted to do. The posts were a way to grieve out loud, in a way that felt connected to Caitlin. I shared her writings, and ruminated on the eternal human questions of living and dying, and thus, the blog became the inspiration for the book. Or more specifically, the people who responded to the blog posts and urged me to write more, inspired the book. I honestly felt, during the writing of the first draft, that Caitlin and I were doing it together.

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Photo by Mudassir Ali on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Like you, I also have written a memoir (unpublished) about my mother—her mental illness, our estrangement, and her eventual suicide. There’s a good deal of overlap with your work because I also had events and symbols present themselves, there’s the medical (psychiatric) connection, and more. One thing I heard a lot when I was writing was how cathartic it must have been. It was…and wasn’t; it was something I felt compelled to do. Still, there’s something about writing and reading that makes for a transformation, a healing, if you will. Can you can expand on that?

Maryanne O’Hara:

Oh, I am so sorry for all that you experienced with your mother. And I hear you. I definitely didn’t write the book to make myself feel better. I didn’t expect that anything could. But it felt urgent, even necessary to write it for Caitlin, to honor her and establish her legacy, and also to do it for those strangers who had reached out to say they needed more of the kinds of stories that provided them coping insight into their own issues. As a lifelong writer, I was aware that my book needed to have a narrative arc, a point, and that point became “here’s what I discovered on my quest for answers to the big life questions.” I realized, at the end of my journey, that I had made some transformational discoveries, and that they were indeed healing. And now that the book is finished, with its absolutely beautiful light-reflecting cover, and the gorgeous endpapers featuring images of Caitlin and objects that belonged to her, I feel a lot of relief: “I created this beautiful tribute to my daughter. It can exist forever.” It’s wonderful.

Leslie Lindsay:

I was struck, too, by your experience with hawks. I didn’t know this before reading LITTLE MATCHES, that they represent all things ‘death,’ which makes sense, seeing how they are scavengers. Shortly after my mother died, I saw little things like this, too. A giant hawk on a walk, wings outstretched on a residential roof. Then it swooped right down in front of me. Just yesterday—on the way home from a road trip to visit the widow of my father-in-law, I saw hawks everywhere. And then I read what was in LITTLE MATCHES. So this begs the question: coincidences, synchronicities. Are they the same? Is this communication from those who passed? Is there really life after death?

Maryanne O’Hara:

Synchronicities that I originally dismissed as “just coincidences” began to pile up to the point that I realized that discounting them was myopic. Also, when I shared my stories of “odd occurrences,” the most unlikely people would tell me similar stories. So many people shared, in fact, that I began to think, “there’s more to all this than most people are talking about.”

A hundred years ago, a man named Eden Philpotts wrote:

“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”

So much of what we take for granted is made of discoveries that would have seemed completely fantastical—even frightening—not very long ago. When I began to read the science community’s explorations of the source of consciousness, I braced myself, thinking there would be hard proof that consciousness could not survive the death of the body. Instead, I discovered that science calls consciousness “the hard problem.” Two of the certified mediums that I mention in the book, Laura Lynne Jackson and Karissa Dorman, have had neuroscientists record the electrical activity in their brains, via EEG brain mapping, while engaged in psychic activity. The resulting data showed significant abnormality during the psychic state.  Since there are very often no objective truths in this world, we each must determine, for ourselves, our personal truths. In LITTLE MATCHES, I recount what happened to me, with no attempts at persuasion. I would just encourage people to ask their own questions and look for the answers that resonate with their own intuition.

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Photo by Austin Guevara on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m very curious about your role as an end-of-life doula and your work as a Reiki practitioner. My massage therapist will do Reiki with me occasionally and I am always intrigued—and shocked—by how accurate it seems to be. I know the two are different: doula and Reiki master. Can you share a little of both, please?

Maryanne O’Hara:

I’m glad you asked. Offering full-spectrum support to people who are living with serious, terminal illness is important, and that’s why I completed the reiki and doula programs. Most people do not know what an end-of-life doula is, never mind what one does. The field is so new. The word doula is ancient Greek for “woman (one) who serves.” An EOL doula is like a birth doula, only on the other end. In our culture, we go overboard preparing for birth, but “hope for the best” at the end of life and consequently, people scramble and suffer more than necessary. So if you find yourself given a terminal diagnosis, and you and your family are overwhelmed with all the emotional and practical issues you must cope with, you can bring an EOL doula on-board to help you cope. Imagine an empathic, supportive assistant who can help you and your family with whatever you need helping with as you navigate this final, overwhelming life transition. Doulas support clients in whatever ways the client needs supporting: emotional, physical comfort, spiritual, practical.  They sit vigil, give hand massages, help to craft life interviews, walk dogs, make snacks, coordinate with the hospice team to make sure visits are in order, help plan funeral arrangements. You name it, a good doula can do it. I saw for myself, how horrifying it is, during a medical crisis and then after a death, to realize that life keeps going and needs attending to. The doula is the one who can help when “doing” is impossible.

As for Reiki, it’s energy work. The training prepares you to be a kind of conduit between the universal energy that surrounds all of us so that you can transmit it to a person in need of an energy boost or clearing. Some people are more sensitive to energy than others. There were times in the training when I thought, hmm, is this for real?  Yet I knew it was, because I’d actually decided to do the training because Caitlin and I frequently experienced physical, volt-like energy exchanges when I would perform the chest physical therapy her cystic fibrosis required her to do daily. I wanted to see if I could learn to control the energy.

When I was volunteering for the very popular and well-regarded Reiki program at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I felt that the true gift of Reiki was closing a patient’s door, turning on soft music, and providing the patient with twenty minutes of undisturbed, kind attention. People love it. I preferred working with the very sick (I think they need kindness most), and sometimes the energy was something I could feel, see, and (rarely), hear.  I once saw a white, ring-like cloud around a woman’s head; she had passed by the time I came back a week later. Another time, I had my hands wrapped above a patient’s head and the energy was electric, like a hornet’s nest. I discovered later that his issue was a brain tumor.  Energy is certainly a thing, but it’s an invisible thing and we don’t generally pay attention to it. But once you get in the habit of paying attention, you’ll be surprised by what you can experience.

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Photo by Shivam Patel on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

It’s been a few years. How are you doing now? What three things are you most looking forward to this summer?

Maryanne O’Hara:

As I learned early on, the grief doesn’t go away, it just gets different. I’m grateful for the loved ones in my life, even if many are scattered around the globe. Caitlin’s cousin Sinead is getting married in July in Ireland and we’ll be there. Katie, Caitlin’s “almost-sister,” who’s been living in Spain with her Spanish husband and two kids, will be home all summer. Summer in New England is kind of brief so I always try to “enjoy the moment” of our beautiful back yard and river, and share it with guests. I love to cook and entertain.  I will also spend time planning a December trip to Kenya so we can visit The Leo Project: the student resource center and The Caitlin O’Hara Community Health Clinic, which Caitlin’s best friend Jess created in Caitlin’s honor. This in spite of her own breast cancer diagnosis at age 32. Inspiration and purpose in life—that’s what it’s all about.

Leslie Lindsay:

Maryanne, this has all been so wonderful. I treasure this conversation. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or maybe something you’d like to ask me?

Maryanne O’Hara:

I could keep talking. I LOVE talking to thinking readers like you. Thank you so much! I guess I’d just like to say that I hope that everyone who reads LITTLE MATCHES will be inspired to think deeply about life, and purpose, and what’s really important at the end of the day. Even if you live a long life, it’s a short life. We are a blink in time. Revel in that blink.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH MARYANNE O’HARA, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF LITTLE MATCHES, 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. 
  • See all books in the May 2021 author interview series on Mothers & Mental Illness HERE
  • Upcoming (and past) May Memoir Monday/Mental Health/Mothers: Vince Granta/EVERYTHING’S FINE (5/3), Deborah K. Shepherd SO HAPPY TOGETHER (5/5), Mary Kubica/LOCAL WOMAN MISSING (5/12), Claire Phillips/A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW (5/17), Tori Starling/CRAZY FREE (5/20), and Nicole Bokat/THE HAPPINESS THIEF (5/26). 

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Maryanne O'Hara Photo Michael BavaroABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Maryanne O’Hara wrote and published short stories before researching and writing Cascade, a novel that explores “what lasts.” Shortly after its publication, her daughter Caitlin’s lifelong health condition worsened, requiring the family to uproot from Boston to Pittsburgh for more than two years to wait for a lung transplant. Her memoir, Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light, will be available by HarperOne on April 20.

CASCADE was the Boston Globe Book Club’s inaugural pick, a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award, and a People Magazine Book of the Week; and a story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Since Caitlin’s passing, Maryanne has also been certified by the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine as an end-of-life doula, so that she may better speak to the state of end-of-life care in our culture.

IMG_1175ABOUT 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 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. 

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Bruce Cameron chats with my family about A Dog’s Courage, forest fires, Best Friends Animal Society, and so much more in this timely & topical read

By Leslie Lindsay 

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

#1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author W. Bruce Cameron

Since the publication of #1 New York Times and #1 USA Today bestseller A DOG’S PURPOSE over a decade ago, Cameron’s books have earned praise from the likes of Alice Walker “amazing…wise” and Temple Grandin,

“I could not put it down,”

inspired three hit movies (which Cameron and his wife, Cathryn Michon, co-wrote the screenplays for).

Cameron has also become involved in animal charity work, which has become a passion project of his wife. He frequently partners with Best Friends Animal Society, a leading national animal welfare organization dedicated to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America’s shelters, to raise money and awareness for the organization.

That said, I was super-thrilled to learn that Bruce Cameron had a sequel to A DOG’S WAY HOME, which
became a hit movie in 2019. A DOG’S COURAGE (forthcoming from Forge Books, May 4), is the follow-up to dog Bella’s story, but also her people, Lucas and Olivia, now married.

Bella was once a lost dog, but now she lives happily with her people, Lucas and Olivia, only occasionally recalling the hardships in her past. But then Lucas, Olivia, and Bella embark on a camping trip to the Rocky Mountains, which turns into a harrowing struggle for survival they are engulfed by the biggest wildfire in American history.

The raging inferno separates Bella from her people and Bella is lost once more. Alone in the wilderness, Bella unexpectedly finds herself responsible for the safety of two defenseless mountain lion cubs. Now she’s torn between two equally urgent goals: stay with Big Kitten, a mother-figure of sorts, or to find her people. Can Bella ever get back to where she truly belongs?

A DOG’S COURAGE is an emotional and honest tale of loyalty, sacrifice, and touches on some timely and topical aspects including forest fires, ecology, homeless animals, shelters, and even inter-species relationships.

Cameron writes for all audiences, so A DOG’S COURAGE is appropriate for both YA readers, adults, and even as family read-alouds, which we did. That said, it’s a more heartfelt type of read, with the overall message of resilience, loyalty, and what constitutes a family. It is told primarily from the POV of a dog, which I found endearing.

Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Please join me in welcoming the fabulous and talented W. Bruce Cameron to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Bruce, welcome! I am so delighted. My daughters—now 14 and 16—have long been fans of your work, purchasing your puppy tales books at school book fairs and reading in the corners of their rooms. We chose to read A DOG’S COURAGE as a family and so that’s how we’ll structure this interview, with each of us taking turns to ask questions. I’ll start.

For A DOG’S COURAGE, which is a continuation of Bella’s story (along with med student/resident Lucas and his wife, Olivia), what was your inspiration? Was there a theme, place, or event you were wanting to explore?

Bruce Cameron:

I spend the majority of my time between Colorado and California. Well, not geographically between, but most of the days of my life I will wake up in one of those two states. Unfortunately, my two chosen home bases are subject to horrific fires. When I thought about Bella, I thought that she would be up to the challenge of fleeing before a huge forest fire.

Photo by Laura Stanley on Pexels.com

Kelly Lindsay, 14:

And to follow up with that, was there a certain dog who inspired Bella’s character?

Bruce Cameron:

Well, not specific to any particular one dog. I don’t build characters like that, I don’t base them on people that I know personally nor on dogs that have licked my hands in the past. I just sort of think about what dogs are like and then focus on the personality of the dog I am trying to write.

Kate Lindsay, 16:

I’m curious about the forest fires. This is a real issue going on right now. What can the targeted audience do you prevent forest fires?

Bruce Cameron:

That’s an interesting question because one could argue there is almost nothing that an individual can do to prevent forest fires. Most of the fires I’ve studied are the fault of decades of forest mismanagement. Too much undergrowth has been allowed to build up and we have not done a good job of calling that would from our forests. We have had invasive species, and further, we have had a policy of suppression instead of allowing some burns to complete the natural cycle of growth, burn, replenish. It should be noted, though, that building a home in the forest means being exposed to dangers in the forest.

Jim Lindsay, dad:

We were in the Rocky Mountains last July. We noticed the remains of badly burned trees, the devastation from beetles, and more. It’s tragic, all of this land being destroyed. You live in California. I am curious if you experienced any of this first-hand?

Bruce Cameron:

I actually lived in Colorado for 15 years and was a writer for the Denver Rocky Mountain News. So I do have first-hand experience with these fires. I was also in the Rocky Mountains last summer: we spent August and September in Summit County. We saw firsthand the smudge of smoke in the sky and the devastation done to the terrain by the horrendous fires of 2020.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“The bestselling canine franchise W. Bruce Cameron created with A Dog’s Purpose continues…The journey is as bittersweet and heartwarming as millions of fans have come to expect of Cameron’s work.”

– The Orange County Register


Leslie Lindsay:

Also, Bruce, I am struck by your work with Best Friends Animal Society. In fact, before COVID, we planned a family trip to Utah to volunteer at the shelter, but sadly had to cancel. Can you tell us about some of your experiences there…and how others can get involved?

Bruce Cameron:

I am a big supporter of Best Friends Animal Society and their efforts to have no kill by 2025. They are something of an umbrella organization, meaning, they raise money on a national level but then give it to local rescues that are doing good work. Anyone can volunteer to work in animal rescue. It’s demanding, it can be heartbreaking, but it is ultimately rewarding to help animals who, through no fault of their own, have become lost in our human systems.

Photo by Robert Bogdan on Pexels.com

Kelly Lindsay, 14:

Oh, but wait! I am curious about inter-species friendships. Bella is a dog and yet she becomes part of a mountain lion’s pack. How often does this happen? Did you have to do a lot of research about that? I have a book about unlikely animal friendships…I think this happens more than we realize. Can you tell us more?

Bruce Cameron:

I love the way you put this, because it never occurred to me until just now that Bella is, indeed, part of a mountain lions pack. I have no idea how something like this could specifically happen other than in the fictionalized setting of the world of A DOG’S WAY HOME and its sequel, A DOG’S COURAGE. But I love when I see inter-species friendships.

Leslie Lindsay:

Bruce, thank you for this. Before we go, is there anything we didn’t ask, but should have?

Bruce Cameron:

I think I would like people to know that A DOG’S COURAGE is a little different than most of my other dog books in that there is just a ton of adventure. My most recently released novel, A DOG’S PERFECT CHRISTMAS was also off the beaten path in that, though it had dog POV, it was told mostly about the people in the family and not about the dogs specifically. I guess what I’m saying is that while I will always write about dogs and their relationships to people, I also really enjoy adventure, action, and interpersonal relationships between both dogs and people and people and people.

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For more information, to connect with Bruce Cameron, or to purchase a copy of A DOG’S COURAGE, 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. 

Bruce and Tucker_Credit_Ute VilleABOUT THE AUTHOR:

W. Bruce Cameron is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A
Dog’s Purpose, A Dog’s Way Home, and A Dog’s Journey (all now major motion
pictures), The Dog Master, the Puppy Tales series for middle grade readers, A Dog’s
Perfect Christmas, the Lily to the Rescue series, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, and others. He lives in California, and can be found at www.wbrucecameron.com.

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT 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 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management & Writer’s House. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. 

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Deborah Shepherd on unearthing a 30-year old manuscript, re-writing it, character development, mental health, gardening, first loves, being creative at all ages and more in SO HAPPY TOGETHER

By Leslie Lindsay 

Completely engaging and totally immersive read about a woman’s journey to find her long-lost love, but what she finds is completely different from what she imagined.

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

May Spotlight: Mothers & Mental Health/Illness 

When Carolyn Tanner flees her unhappy marriage for a cross-country trip to find her long-lost ‘true love’ Peter, she’s in for a bumpy ride. I loved SO HAPPY TOGETHER (published by SWP April 20 2021). I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one–would it be sappy? Sad? Mysterious? Too light? I was completely gobsmacked with SO HAPPY TOGETHER, which is told from the POV of a smart, feisty, and instantly likable wife/mother/writer.

Carolyn Mills-Tanner’s stultifying marriage and life as a harried mother is wearing thin. Her three children–ranging in ages from 8 to 14, are heading to summer camp and Carolyn now has the opportunity to travel cross-country to find her first love, Peter MacKinley, from her days as a drama major at the University of Arizona. She leaves a ‘Dear John’ note for her husband of nearly twenty years and off she goes.

Traversing several decades, but set ultimately in two distinct time periods, the tumultuous drugs/free love 1960s and the suburban 1980s, SO HAPPY TOGETHER weaves together kooky, colorful drama student antics, sexual attraction, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, the creative life, and more.

I loved how SO HAPPY TOGETHER was told mostly in backstory–there were a few flashes to ‘present day’ where we’d get a sense of where Carolyn was on her journey, but for the most part the ‘front story’ is told in active retrospect. Carolyn is a slightly goody-two-shoes half- Jewish college freshman from Vermont on her own for the first time miles away in Arizona when she meets Peter MacKinley, a wholesome farm boy from North Dakota. The attraction is immediate.

In the 1980s, Carolyn is married to Jack, a promising and attractive lawyer, but he’s more focused on appearances. Does Carolyn have the ‘right’ nose, will she wear the yellow dress to the club, will she dye her hair, show up for the PTA events?

These characters are so engaging, so likable, so flawed. I loved them all, for different reasons. Here, there’s wit and sympathy, intelligence, and big issues like drugs, sex, freedom, independence, war, AIDS, mothers and mothers-in-law, therapy, and more. There are some graphic sex scenes and others involving getting high, stoned, etc. that may be a turn-off for some, but it’s completely organic to the story.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Deborah Shepherd to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Deborah, welcome! I really devoured SO HAPPY TOGETHER and I’m so thrilled to chat with you about it. I always want to know what ‘haunted’ writers into their stories, but for you, I think I have an inkling. You are a first-time novelist at 74! You wrote portions of this book years ago, shoved it in a closet, and now, here we are. Can you walk us through that process? What have you been doing for the last thirty-plus years?

Deborah Shepherd:

Thank you so much, Leslie. I’m so excited to be chatting with you as well. As you mentioned, I started the first draft of SO HAPPY TOGETHER years ago: 34 years to be exact. At the time, my first marriage was unravelling, we were having financial difficulties, we had been renovating our house for years and still lived in a construction site, my older child was a teenager and my younger child thought she was. I started having “what if” fantasies: What if I’d made different choices? What if I could find my first love (but still have the same kids, of course)? What if I had a second chance? What if I could escape? But I didn’t bolt, Instead, I wrote a story about a woman who did. I wrote it at night, on my kitchen table, typing on a Brothers’ word processor while my children and soon-to-be ex were asleep. When I typed “The End,” I found the name of a New York publisher, put the manuscript in a box, and sent it off, without running it by an editor, proofreader or agent first. The box came back a few weeks later, and with one rejection, I decided I wasn’t a writer after all, so I put it in a cardboard carton and shoved it to the back of my closet, and then it followed me through multiple moves.  All in all, the manuscript sat in one closet or another for thirty years. I never looked at it. In the interim, I got a divorce, went to graduate school and earned an MSW, fell in love and married again, and became the director of two non-profits, the first in New Jersey and the second in Maine.  I was writing all those years, but in a different capacity: numerous grant applications, detailed reports, op-ed pieces, etc., all connected with my job. When I retired, I swore I’d never write anything longer than a grocery list.

a variety of writing notebooks

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

This whole manuscript-in-the-closet thing is something that maybe rarely happens. What was it about SO HAPPY TOGETHER that really compelled you forward?

Deborah Shepherd:

I didn’t have any clear plans on what I was going to do–after retirement–other than work in my garden, spend time with my grandsons, and learn French. After a while, though, I started making notes for a novel. I told my husband and he suggested I exhume the first novel to see if I could incorporate parts of it into the new manuscript. He figured it might save me some work (which didn’t prove to be true. The rewrites took me as long or longer than writing that first draft).

I rummaged in the back of the closet, found the box, read the manuscript and discovered it wasn’t so bad after all. I retyped it on the computer and did some editing while I was at it.

laptop and documents on table in garden

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I think what some of this speaks to is perspective. Age. Wisdom. Sometimes when we’re younger, we don’t have the headspace for insights. Do you think this process allowed you to be more thoughtful about the manuscript?

Deborah Shepherd:

Oh, definitely. On reading it 30 years after it had been written, I saw its potential, but realized it needed more work. There are a lot of writers living in Maine and the state is very supportive of its literary community, so I signed up for workshops run by the non-profit, Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and met my developmental editor when she was leading one of these sessions. We clicked immediately and she helped me get to the emotional core of the story, which focuses on a woman who turns 40, whose marriage is unraveling and who has lost her creative spark. She feels that if she finds her first love, she will also find the creative person she used to be. The more I worked with my editor, the less peripheral my main character became in her own life, and as the story evolved over several drafts, she became not just a person who is acted upon, but one who takes charge of her life. And my social work career had a bearing on the transformation, as well. In working with survivors who had had their voices silenced by abuse, my colleagues and I helped them help themselves to find agency again. Although Caro, my main character, was not in an abusive marriage, she was “complicit in her own erasure,” as she says. Re-writing the book was a long process, and sometimes I chafed at all the work, but ultimately, I’m so happy I kept at it. 

Leslie Lindsay:

You know, there’s this idea that all fiction is about ourselves. We call it fiction because, I don’t know…we’re afraid of the truth? Do you subscribe to the belief that fiction is mined from our experiences? As a writer myself, I kind of do. Even my fiction is rooted in truth.

Deborah Shepherd:

Well, I do believe that fiction is mined from our experiences.  Some of my experiences inspired me, but much of the situation and the story are definitely products of my imagination. Some of the characters are based on people I knew, or composites of people I knew, and some of the dialogue is similar to conversations I remembered, and  some of the words spoken by Caro’s children were lifted right from things I’d heard my kids say (because I was one of those moms who compulsively wrote down every adorable thing they uttered—and that came in handy all these many years later).

And, of course, because real people were the models for some of the composite characters, I had to be very careful—careful beyond the disclaimer at the front of the book. I had one friend, for instance, who had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and that was something we didn’t really talk about back then. The friend was not the model for Peter, per se, but I did touch on some of these manifestations of mental illness and ascribe them to his character. Thankfully, talking openly about mental health issues is more of a norm now.

And, I guess, letting the manuscript sit for over 30 years provides a certain distance from actual events involving actual people.  

grayscale photo of couple walking on road

Photo by Flora Westbrook on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I think you hit on a universal theme in SO HAPPY TOGETHER and that is: everyone is curious about their first love. It must be hardwired, or something. Not everyone is going to jump in their car and track them down, though, like Carolyn did. Maybe it has something to do with the unencumbered time period or that heady feeling of falling in love…can you expand on that a bit, please?

Deborah Shepherd:

Well, one interesting thing about Caro is that in the discontent of her marriage, she starts fantasizing about her first love, and when she has a nightmare about him, she’s convinced that it’s a sign he still needs her. And, somehow, pre-cell phone, pre-social media, her pull toward Peter is so strong, she believes he’s still where he was the penultimate time she saw him, twenty years before, at his home in North Dakota.  Is she just a little bit delusional, or are you right about it being hardwired, Leslie? And Caro did rationalize that she wasn’t leaving her children, because they would be at sleepaway camp for the summer, but she didn’t really plan for what might happen after she found her heart’s desire. I think she was guided by passion, hope, and the steadfast belief that she would also find her authentic self again.

love printed heart shaped book mark

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com


“Many of us waste years fantasizing about a lost love, but the feisty heroine in So Happy Together takes to the road to track him down. This compelling novel is about how a smart and lusty drama student in the tumultuous ’60s discovers twenty years later that she’s trapped in a failing marriage. Shepherd’s engaging characters make mistakes, hurt, and lash out, yet ultimately clean up the mess with kindness and humor. Their search for understanding is what ultimately sets them free.”

―Elizabeth Garber, author of Implosion: A Memoir of an Architect’s Daughter


Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop thinking or talking about? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Deborah Shepherd:

Well, I guess I’m going to be that cliché grandmother who can’t stop thinking about her  grandchildren (I hope I don’t talk about them to excess). But I think about them vis a vis what’s going on in the world and that’s concerning. My grandsons are 13 and 11 and are just about to complete a year of virtual school, with little to no face-to-face interaction with their peers. And I worry about the toll the pandemic has taken on the social/emotional health of all our children. Eventually, they’ll catch up academically, but I think the long-term mental health effects may be with us long after the pandemic is over (and I have to believe that it will be over). And I think about the myriad problems of the world we will be leaving the next generations– racism and all the other -isms, poverty, social injustice, the climate crisis– and I hope we can give the kids wise enough guidance for them to navigate these problems and become part of the solution.

I also think—with pleasure– about my gardens (vegetable and flower). We have a very short growing season here in Maine, so when we’re not actually gardening (like in the winter, which often extends from October well into April) we’re salivating over seed catalogues (known in these parts as “garden porn”). Last year, we had a major snowstorm on April 10, just after we’d removed the protective mulch from the tender garlic shoots, so my husband and I were out there with pitchforks at dusk, re-covering the beds with straw. We had about a foot of snow, but the garlic survived. This summer, my son is getting married in our backyard, so my focus for now is filling all the flower beds to excess, to compensate for the tulip bulbs the squirrels ate over the fall and winter.

The other thing that has occupied by mind (and my friends are probably tired of hearing me talk about it) is the process of getting a book out into the world. I expected the hard work of writing, because I’ve written in one capacity or another almost from the time I could form my letters. I wrote  a play in college that garnered national attention (and is so cringe-worthy and just plain awful that I’ve destroyed any remaining copies); I was a reporter for two newspapers back in the day before I earned my graduate degree; I wrote reviews of country inns for a travel guide (before Yelp and Home Away made those tomes obsolete) and tried to think of more descriptors than “quaint” and “charming.”  In my capacity as director of several non-profit agencies, I wrote constantly, be it grant applications or reports to my board, or letters to the editor of The New York Times. And, often, writing was hard. But nothing prepared me for how hard it is to publicize and market a book, particularly the technological/social media aspects of birthing my novel.  Sometimes, it’s like being in a foreign country where not only do I not speak the language, but I don’t even recognize the alphabet. I think this is especially difficult for older people like myself, who didn’t grow up with the technology and its vocabulary: I had to ask one of my grandsons to help me set up my Facebook author page. Fortunately, I’ve found super competent people to help me with all this. And one of the upsides of technology? I recently wrote a guest blog that focused on the music either mentioned in my novel or that had something to do with the inspiration for the book, and now I have my very own Spotify Playlist, something I’d never even heard of until recently. I am getting the biggest kick out of that.

baskets with chamomiles and garden equipment near pots in nature

Photo by Gary Barnes on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Deborah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Is there anything I forgot to ask, or anything you’d like to ask me?

Deborah Shepherd:

Wow, we’ve covered a lot. I guess the only other thing I might mention is about honoring your creative spark, no matter your age. When I finally signed the contract with my publisher, She Writes Press, I went on a little bit of an ego trip– publishing my first novel at 74, and “wasn’t-that-special-and-unique” kind of thing. And then I was introduced to some of my sister authors and realized there were plenty of women my age or older who were writing their first or second books and, in one case, an author who had written three books and was contemplating writing her fourth—at 90! So, I guess what I’d like to leave people with is this: Whenever possible, follow your creative path—whether that means writing a story, or creating visual art, or composing that song you were always going to get around to.  I’ve never regretted giving my novel a second chance. And, just in case I forget—as I dive into the first draft of my next project, a memoir—I’ve kept the box that SO HAPPY TOGETHER lived in all those years, as a happy reminder that I’m still a creative being.

Thanks so much for these thoughtful questions, Leslie. I so enjoyed talking with you.

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading #bookstagram

For more information, to connect with Deborah K. Shepherd, or to purchase a copy of SO HAPPY TOGETHER, 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. 
  • See all books in the May 2021 author interview series on mothers/mental illness HERE
  • For all books with a mental health/illness theme featured on Always with a Book, please visit my Bookshop

YOU MIGHT LIKE: 

SO HAPPY TOGETHER reminded me, in part of the work of Jennifer Weiner, particularly in MRS. EVERYTHING, but also slightly reminiscent of the writing of Sally Hepworth, Dan Pope’s HOUSEBREAKING . Also, if we’re talking 1980s sitcoms, a touch of Family Ties.

  • For all books with a mental health/illness theme featured on Always with a Book, please visit my Bookshop

IMG_2323ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Before her retirement in 2014, DEBORAH K. SHEPHERD was the executive director of a domestic violence resource center in central Maine. Her essays have been published on herstryblg.com (“A Love Letter to Our Marriage Therapist”), persimmontree.org (“Light”), womenonwriting.com, (“The Long Haul”), booksbywomen.org (“Why Did You Write That Scene?), and her covid-theme essay, “Snow Day, Maine, April 10, 2020,” was a winner in the Center for Interfaith Relations Sacred Essay Contest. An excerpt from her novel has appeared on BLOOM. During an earlier career as a reporter, she wrote for Show Business in New York City and the Roe Jan Independent, a weekly newspaper in Columbia County, New York, and also freelanced as a travel writer. She holds a BFA in drama from the University of Arizona and an MSW from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. Deborah is the mother of two adult children and grandmother of two, and lives with one husband and two dogs on the coast of Maine. Find her online at deborahshepherdwrites.com. 

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT 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 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speechsoon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. 

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#alwayswithabook #domesticfiction #firstlove #mothers #wives #fiction #authorinterview #writinglife #writingtips #writingcraft #novel #characterdevelopment

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Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading #bookstagram

Hugely moving and tragic memoir, EVERYTHING’S FINE about mothers, sons, & brothers…one with severe mental illness, a horrific tragedy, healing, more–Vince Granata and I chat about this and more

By Leslie Lindsay

An extraordinarily moving memoir about a family ripped from balance at the hands of a severally mentally ill individual, EVERYTHING IS FINE (Atria, April 2021) is about grief, mental illness, mothers and sons, and so much more. 

Everything is Fine

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS |ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Memoir Monday: Mental Health Awareness Month

An extraordinarily moving memoir about a family ripped from balance at the hands of a severally mentally ill individual, EVERYTHING IS FINE (Atria, April 2021) is about grief, mental illness, mothers and sons, and so much more. 

I finished this book last night and I am so moved and yet, simultaneously disturbed. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, authentic memoirs I’ve read in a long time. This family will stay with me.

Vince Granata recalls standing in front of his suburban home, chalk in hand, as he greeted his mother and father and three siblings (triplets) home from the hospital. The family had just doubled in size. He was ecstatic; finally: playmates, siblings.

But twenty-three years later, one of those siblings–Tim–will develop severe mental illness–likely schizophrenia. He’s plagued by paranoid delusions, an obsession over religion, philosophy, and morality. He talks about suicide and death and how he might not ‘make it’ to the 4th of July…and if he doesn’t, well, then, it’s the ‘demons’ that made him do it.

On a hot July day, at the family’s home, Tim brutally kills their mother. They were alone in the house, things were ‘fine,’ and then…they weren’t. Vince is over a thousand miles away, his father is at work, his sister at the mall shopping for suitable clothing for an upcoming interview. Now, this family is change forever.

Told with great compassion and willpower, Vince Granata takes this very painful experience and weaves it into a narrative that will tug at your heartstrings, but also have you questioning and worried for the ‘system.’ 

The prose is stark, precise, and yet lyrical at times, EVERYTHING IS FINE captures the raw emotion, internal hurdles to overcoming grief, as well as loyalties to one’s mother but also brother, and the rest of the family.

Here, the author takes it upon himself to examine the disease that plagued his brother, reads reams of medical notes, visits him in a criminally insane psychiatric unit, and more. The entire family’s trajectory is thrown off balance, but in the end, it’s a gorgeous tribute to a well-loved mother, a portrait of loss and even, forgiveness.



Please join me in conversation with the Vince Granata:

Leslie Lindsay:

Vince, welcome and thank you for taking the time. I am a daughter of a (late) severally mentally ill mother; I know how deeply personal EVERYTHING IS FINE must have been for you—though I cannot know exactly. Can you tell us what the original impetus was for writing this story? Was there a question you were seeking an answer to…maybe you wanted to understand Tim better…or the [broken] system. Maybe it was something else?

Vince Granata:

Thank you so much for having me for this conversation, Leslie. It means a great deal to me that you’re someone who has also experienced having a loved one with a serious mental illness. While no two stories will be exactly the same, families who have grappled with these illnesses do have much they can share with each other. One of my deepest hopes is that the book reaches others like us.

I didn’t start trying to write about my family’s story until a year after my mother’s death. My first attempt took a different form than the book would eventually take. I envisioned a sort of extended op-ed that would expose the flaws in mental health care that led to my family’s tragedy. To do so, I got a hold of my brother Tim’s medical records from when he was hospitalized a few months before killing our mother. But I was so, so angry then. All I could do was write rage filled notes in the margins of the records, try to find people I could blame for what happened in my family. This was such lazy anger, my attempt to look for easy targets because I couldn’t yet confront all that I didn’t know about my brother’s struggles and the systems of care that couldn’t support him. So that attempt failed. It wasn’t until several months later, thanks in large part to meeting the man who would become my mentor, that I was able to approach my family’s story from another posture, a quieter posture, one of grief. I don’t know if there was a specific question that drove these efforts, but I became much more focused on trying to figure out if there was a way I could ever come to understand my family’s trauma, if there was a way I could live with tremendous grief. So while I definitely still intend for the book to explore systemic issues regarding our broken mental health care system, the bigger driving question pushing a lot of my writing was how can I find a way to survive.   

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I don’t want to downplay the severity of your family’s experience, because it was horrific. Still, I am calmed and validated. Much of your experiences with Tim and your subsequent grief over losing your mother resonated on a visceral level. Many of my mother’s symptoms were similar to Tim’s. The religious constructs he clung to, his insistence on dying on the 4th of July [my mother had a July birthday; that was her ‘target’ date, she also spoke almost rapturously about suicide]. What I think I am getting at: everyone’s story is different, but the experience is the same. Can you talk about that, please?

Vince Granata:

So many more people than I initially imagined have, sadly, experienced similar things with a loved one whose world has bent into terrifying shapes. Nearly every time I’ve read publicly from this book, I’ve had one or several people approach me afterward with their own experiences of trying to reach a loved one struggling with psychosis. It’s deeply upsetting to see someone you care about acting in a way that makes no sense to you or makes them appear entirely different from the person you know them to be. Though I want to avoid generalizing when it comes to describing a complex illness like schizophrenia, psychosis will reach out and grab for whatever language and experience that it can to populate someone’s reality with delusions and hallucinations. So for Tim, someone with a religious background, that kind of spiritual language was most accessible for the disease. And this kind of religious language and imagery can lend itself well to manifesting a reality that seems embroiled in a cosmic struggle, delusions and hallucinations that put the person suffering in the midst of a battle between good and evil or god and the devil. So I absolutely think that the similarities you see here are ones that others may also have witnessed when their loved ones struggle with an illness like schizophrenia.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Let’s shift to the broken mental health system, the so-called ‘revolving door’ of psychiatric patients. The adage is: “stabilize and evacuate,” everything in a hospitalization like this is ‘toward discharge,’ and yes, that’s the goal, for folks with severe mental illness to accept medical intervention, take their medication, attend therapy, have the medication tweaked as necessary, have productive lives, but it rarely works that way. This is disheartening. We could talk about this forever, but what three things would you say are most important?

Vince Granata:

Whew, we definitely could talk about this forever, and luckily there are people much smarter than I am tirelessly working on some of these steps. I’d encourage anyone interested in addressing this broken system to checkout the work of the Treatment Advocacy Center. What I tried to examine in my book is how our perception—or often, misperception—of serious mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, leads to deeply flawed approaches to treatment. One obvious example is how, quite often, we treat these illnesses like acute trauma and not the chronic conditions that they are. Many many people struggling with schizophrenia don’t receive treatment until they are in crisis, and often these moments of crisis involve an interaction with police, which can be tremendously fraught. People in crisis experiencing psychotic episodes, if they’re lucky, get taken to hospital ERs—places for stabilizing acute trauma—and are, if they meet certain crisis criteria problematically defined based on danger to self or others, granted limited hospital stays where the goal is stabilization. Due to a myriad of factors—critical shortage of psychiatric beds, predatory insurance practices, various legal handcuffs—this type of treatment only provides a temporary life raft. We need to change the paradigm here, and find ways to meaningfully address serious mental illness before people reach these crisis moments. For a much more comprehensive look at how we might begin to approach this problem, I highly encourage people too seek out the publically available short documentary, Before Stage Four: Confronting Early Psychosis. But to try to answer your question, I think the three steps I’d point to are: massive investment in increasing our understanding of serious mental illness through research to correct our misperceptions, radical overhaul of the mental health care system—hospitals, community services, insurance—in a way that increases capacity for sustained treatment of mental illnesses on a long term basis, and a commitment to have difficult conversations about these illnesses that both dismantle insidious stigmas while also contending with the realities of allowing serious illnesses to go untreated. I realize those are all massive, multifaceted steps, but I think they reveal the extent of the crisis we’re in. 

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Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a piece in EVERYTHING IS FINE where you break down the idea of mental health/mental illness and severe mental illness. Can you do that here, because I think there’s a lot of misnomers out there.

Vince Granata:

Absolutely. To get specific with diagnostic language, severe/serious mental illness typically refers to schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, severe bipolar disorder, and severe major depression. To speak more generally, mental illnesses that results in serious functional impairment that limit major life activities. What many (if not most) serious mental illnesses share are psychotic features, the potential for the person with the illness to experience reality-bending psychosis. So while one in four Americans live with a diagnosable mental illness, a much much smaller percentage live with a serious mental illness. And I want to be clear here that I don’t mean to emphasize this distinction to denigrate the very real suffering “non serious” mental illness can incur. For years, I’ve lived with moderate depression, something I’ve been lucky to temper with medication and therapy. Depression sucks. My depression sucks, but I know that it doesn’t rise to the level of serious mental illness, doesn’t threaten to deconstruct my world like an illness that can spawn psychosis. So this distinction matters tremendously when it comes to how we conceive of treating mental illness. Painting with a too broad brush leads to one size fits all “solutions” that aren’t at all adequate for those who are suffering with serious mental illnesses.

Granata’s memoir of profound family tragedy is a monument to the work of remembering…In candid, smoothly unspooling prose, Granata reconstructs life and memory from grief, writing a moving testament to the therapy of art, the power of record, and his immutable love for his family.”

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Leslie Lindsay:

Turning to grief and aftermath, I completely saw myself in your recollections and dreams following your mother’s’ death. After my mother died of suicide, I continuously felt haunted by her presence. She was in my sleep; I didn’t believe she died because I never saw her body. To be honest, I am not really sure what made these feelings go away. It’s been six years. Maybe it isn’t really gone. What do you think helped you?

Vince Granata:

As difficult as this was for me to realize, part of what has helped is accepting that my grief will never fully go away. I remember having this moment, months after my mother died, when I had this terrifying realization, I’m going to think about my mother’s death, in some way, every day, long as I live. And though that’s proved true, it hasn’t been devastating in the way I’d feared it would be. Learning how to live with those daily thoughts, often sharp unpredictable reminders, involves learning to see trauma as only part of my larger life, part of a larger story. Something as innocuous as a reflection of myself wearing glasses can remind me of the glasses my brother Tim wore, how when the local news covered his arraignment the day after he killed our mother their camera lingered on his face while he pushed those glasses—thick dark rims—away from his eyes. Or, I can’t see a middle aged woman crouching to pet a dog and not think of my mother, of missing my mother, of remembering how she died, and while that will always be painful, I feel more in control of those moments when I can place them in the larger structure of my life, a life that holds much more than just her tragic death.

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how you bring in the concept of memory and remembering here. With memoir especially, it’s hard because we think we know what really happened, but often it’s out-of-order, or we’ve projected, because memory is fragmented, it’s incomplete. And also, it’s based on emotion. Can you expand on these concepts?

Vince Granata:

Yes, memory is absolutely based on emotion. Often it’s the feeling around a moment that fills in our memory gaps. And this is a central challenge of memoir, how to account for the space between what our memory convinces us is true and the events as they actually unfolded. First, from a writing perspective, I think it’s essential to call out this challenge! Since there’s no way to offer a definitive exactly-as-it-happened account of an event in the past, the reader needs to know, I think, that you the writer is aware of this reality and is trying to contend with the imperfections of memory actively on the page. Second, and this also gets terribly tricky in memoir, the only perspective on an event the writer can truly offer is their own. Memoir is, by definition, a self-centering form. To be clear, I don’t mean “self-centering” just in terms of its negative connotations. Centering the self can be liberating and empowering and one of the most resonant ways a person can amplify an urgent story that needs to be told. But planting “I” all over the page can also make one person’s account of a shared experience appear definitive, it can make my memory of an event appear definitive even if others experienced that moment differently than I did. And on top of all of that are the complications that trauma brings to our memories, the way trauma can shroud and obscure and distort. Part of what I wanted to do with this book was reclaim memories that I’d felt were tainted by my family’s trauma. Because, as you’ve pointed out, emotions drive memories, so many of my memories became overwhelmingly driven by the sadness and horror my trauma spawned. It became nearly impossible to let happy memories hold space in my mind because so many of those memories felt only like the prelude to tragedy. Overcoming trauma’s hold on my memories took work. And a lot of that work came through writing, in the patience that writing demands. Though there were many other factors that contributed to my healing beyond writing, one thing that writing absolutely gave me was the chance to reconstruct memories that I’d feared trauma had stripped from me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Before we go, I think your mom would be so proud of this story. It’s really a testament to brotherly love, forgiveness, and also a tribute to her. What would you like her to know?

Vince Granata:

Thank you. Thank you so much for saying this. And there’s so, so much I want to tell her. Mostly, I want her to know that I’ve survived, that there’s joy in my life today. I want her to know that I see her in that happiness, that I think about her everyday.

Leslie Lindsay:

Vince, thank you for this. I am so grateful for the opportunity to chat about a shared trauma. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Vince Granata:

Thank you, Leslie. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to think about my work in this way, and deeply appreciative of your thoughtful questions.

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

FOR MORE INFORMATION, TO CONNECT WITH VINCE GRANATA, OR TO PURCHASE A COPY OF EVERYTHING’S FINE, PLEASE VISIT: 

ORDER LINKS:

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  • See all books in the May 2021 author interview series on Mothers & Mental Illness HERE
  • Upcoming May Memoir Monday/Mental Health/Mothers: Deborah K. Shepherd SO HAPPY TOGETHER (5/5), Maryanne O’Hara/LITTLE MATCHES (5/10), Mary Kubica/LOCAL WOMAN MISSING (5/12), Claire Phillips/A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW (5/17), Tori Starling/CRAZY FREE (5/20), and Nicole Bokat/THE HAPPINESS THIEF (5/26). 

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I was reminded of HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD by Robert Kolker as I read EVERYTHING IS FINE and also found touches of HE CAME WITH IT (Miriam Feldman) in terms of a young man afflicted with schizophrenia, but also, readers may appreciate Ron Powers’s NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE.

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Vince Granata photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vince Granata received his BA in history from Yale University and his MFA in creative writing from American University. He has received fellowships and residences from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Ucross Foundation, and MacDowell. His work has appeared in Rolling StoneFourth GenreThe Massachusetts Review, and Connecticut Magazine, and has been listed as Notable in Best American Essays 2018 and Best American Essays 2020

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT 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 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. 

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Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1. Cover and author image courtesy of V. Granata and used with permission.

Chris Bohjalian talks with me about HOUR OF THE WITCH, how far–and yet so short–we’ve come in leveling the playing field of men & women, secondary characters, rescue dogs, more

By Leslie Lindsay

A young Puritan woman caught in the crosshairs of religion, justice, and sexism in Boston during the 17th century.

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

WeekEND Reading: Historical Fiction Spotlight

An Indie Next Pick for May 2021

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I’ve been a longtime fan of Chris Bohjalian, ever since I read and loved MIDWIVES, so when HOUR OF THE WITCH (Doubleday, May 4 2021) came to my attention, I knew I couldn’t pass it by.

A young Puritan woman caught in the crosshairs of religion, justice, and sexism in Boston during the 17th century.

Mary Deerfield left England years ago with her parents, Priscilla and James, embarking on a new world, one in which religious and mercantile freedom were promised. Mary soon marries Thomas, a second marriage for him, her first. They have a stable home, his work at a sawmill provides most comforts of the day, including a servant girl. All is well–except for the physical and emotional abuse Mary endures at the hands of Thomas. Not only that, but Mary is unable to ‘fall pregnant;’ rumors circulate that she is ‘barren.’ When her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy is spontaneously aborted, her servant girl’s brother (an indentured servant in another household) falls ill and dies (perhaps after ingesting Mary’s ‘simples’ from the garden), speculation arises that she is a witch. What’s more–three-pronged forks appear in her garden, and other marks on the doorframe…a true mark of a witch.

But Thomas is a brute, slamming Mary into things around the house, spending hours at the pub, coming home ‘drink-drunk,’ and more. She’s fed up and wants a divorce. But divorce is largely unheard of in New England during the seventeenth century. The case goes to court. It’s denied. And still, there’s so much going on in HOUR OF THE WITCH, things that ring true to today’s world of justice, religion, feminism, and more.

Mary is a fabulous character I couldn’t help but love. She’s resourceful, sharp, faithful, and like all good characters: flawed. But she’s no witch. 

Bohjalian has mined the 17th century with a fine-toothed comb, bringing fabulous details–from language to visual and visceral–to life. HOUR OF THE WITCH is propulsive, spell-binding, and masterful. I was absolutely in awe with his courtroom scenes, the way he handled the twisty ending. This is Bohjalian at the top of his game.

Please join me in welcoming the fabulous Chris Bohjalian back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Chris, this book! Oh goodness. It’s fabulous. I’ve loved all of your work, but this one is definitely in a class all its own. HOUR OF THE WITCH is historical fiction at heart, but it’s also a courtroom thriller. To combine both genres is truly a master feat. I know the idea for this story has percolated for the better part of twenty years. Why now? And what more can you tell us about your inspirations?

Chris Bohjalian:

First of all, thank you.  I’m so glad you liked it.

Yes, I actually started writing the novel in 2001.  I had it with me on my laptop on the Trans-Sister Radio book tour on 9/11.  I would remain in Denver from September 11 through September 18.  When I returned to Vermont, where I live, I felt the need to write something different and embarked upon the novel that would become Before You Know Kindness. 

In 2018, I decided to return to that book I had been writing years earlier set in the seventeenth-century.  The current political climate was beckoning.  One thing many of the women executed as witches had in common was that they were smart, opinionated, and viewed as outsiders: sometimes, they saw through the patriarchal hypocrisy that marked a lot of New England Puritanism.

When a magistrate on Boston’s all-male Court of Assistants calls my heroine, Mary Deerfield, “a nasty woman,” the reference won’t be lost on contemporary readers.

As for the original inspiration: I have been fascinated with Puritan theology since college.  Imagine living in a world where Satan is as real as your neighbor, and you just have no idea whether you are saved or damned.

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“A rich and terrifying story… HOUR OF THE WITCH by Chris Bohjalian is a grab-you-by-the-throat suspense read that both historical fiction fans and thriller lovers will devour.”

—Kristyn Kusek Lewis, Real Simple


Leslie Lindsay:

A huge amount of research goes into writing—all books, any book—but particularly this one. Can you walk us through your process? Do you research ahead of time? Research-as-you-write? Any tips for keeping things organized?

Chris Bohjalian:

I usually do a little research before I begin writing to be sure that the subject is viable.  Then I research as I write.  I always know I haven’t done sufficient homework when a scene is stalling or I have writer’s block.  To solve it, I learn something new. 

I had an extensive Puritan library before starting to write, but it grew a lot while I was working on the novel – especially books about witchcraft and articles about the Puritan legal and court system.  My guide through Puritan law was a wonderful emeritus law professor and former dean and president at Vermont Law School named L. Kinvin Wroth.  We had our first lunch together in the summer of 2001, and as late as 2020 he was still graciously suggesting articles I should read or pointing out to me scholarly journals where I might find glimpses of what civil and criminal trials in the 1660s would look like.  He was patient with all my questions.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I found so much of Mary’s plight to resonate even with today’s world, nearly four hundred years in the future. Even now, there are still discussion and controversy about ‘woman’s place,’ whether at home or in the workforce (or both!), the idea that women cannot possibly think for themselves. Plus, the roles of religion and justice, institutional sexism. Can you comment on that, please?

Chris Bohjalian:

That was indeed the plan.  There was a cigarette aimed at women in the early 1970s called Virginia Slims.  (My mother smoked them and the brand has a cameo in the Emma Stone/Steve Carell movie, “Battle of the Sexes.”)  Their slogan was, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” Well, women may have come a long way from 1662, but still have a very long way to go when it comes to equality.  Women are still diminished by men in numerous ways – ways that are all toxic and include lower wages, domestic violence, sexual assault, and the myriad petty degradations they face every day.  Good Lord, the fact that we need an #IBelieveHer movement says it all.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Which character(s) were the most challenging for you to write, and why? How do you feel about them now that you’ve had some distance?

Chris Bohjalian:

How do you make minor characters authentic and memorable and interesting – without slowing the narrative? Book after book, that remains a challenge.  I want every character to feel real, but how much detail do we need about the next-door neighbor or a brother who dies early or an acquaintance who happens to have one or two important scenes? 

Sometimes I find my most evil characters difficult to write, because their motivations are harder for me to fathom.  How do you really understand the mind of a murderer?  How do you get inside that brain?

Leslie Lindsay:

What gets you out of bed in the morning? It doesn’t have to be literary….but if it is, that’s okay, too!

Chris Bohjalian:

My beloved dog, Jesse.  Nothing better than having 43 pounds of rescue dog jump on you and your wife and lick your face.  Prior to getting Jesse, my goal was to be at my desk writing by five-thirty or six in the morning.  Now if I’m at my desk by seven-thirty, after walking Jesse in the woods or the nearby dirt roads or meadows, I’m fine. 

And whether I am at my desk at five-thirty or seven-thirty, I have to be excited about whatever book I’m writing. If I’m not into it, my readers sure as heck won’t be.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Chris, this has been so fascinating. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Chris Bohjalian:

Goodness, your questions were great. I thank you so much for your faith in my work – and in what stories can mean to the soul.

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Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram

For more information, to connect with Chris Bohjalian, or to purchase a copy of HOUR OF THE WITCH, please visit: 

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~BOOK CONCIERGE~

As I read HOUR OF THE WITCH, I was reminded, in part, of THE SCARLET LETTER (Nathaniel Hawthorne), THE HANDMAID’S TALE (Margaret Atwood), but also Christina Baker Kline’s THE EXILES with a touch of Laura Purcell (THE SILENT COMPANIONS, THE POISON THREAD, BONE CHINA).

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2689ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of twenty-two books, including The Red Lotus, Midwives, and The Flight Attendant, which is an HBO Max limited series starring Kaley Cuoco. His other books include The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast; and The Double Bind. His novels Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers were made into movies, and his work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. He is also a playwright (Wingspan and Midwives). He lives in Vermont and can be found at chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads, @chrisbohjalian. Author photo cred: Victoria Blewer. 

IMG_1175ABOUT 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 Mary Kubica 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, which will soon be an audio book from Penguin Random House (July 6, 2021). 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 Doubleday and used with permission. Author photo: Victoria Blewer. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram]

Sally Hepworth on her fabulous new THE GOOD SISTER, featuring twin sisters, mental health elements, a baby, and so much more, plus the books she’s raving about.

By Leslie Lindsay 

A neuro-atypical librarian decides to have a baby for her (fraternal) twin sister, but the story is so gorgeous, perceptive, and multi-faceted.

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April Spotlight: Siblings

I have been a fan of Sally Hepworth’s writing since the beginning, so when I discovered her new book, THE GOOD SISTER (St. Martin’s Press, April 13), I knew I had to get my hands on it–not only does it deal with adult fraternal twin sisters, but it also touches on mental health issues, family dysfunction, and mystery.

Rose and Fern Castle are fraternal twins, and as different as night and day. Rose is the ‘responsible one,’ and rounder, called “Rosie Round,” by their mother, a nickname she detests (understandably). Rose marries, is an interior decorator. Fern, tall and willowy, slightly quirky, she hasn’t been formally diagnosed, but is likely on the spectrum, with sensory issues and an almost very literal interpretation of the world. What’s more, their mother is narcissistic and the girls experienced an unconventional childhood involving homelessness and some emotional and psychological abuse. One summer, when the girls are 12, a traumatic event colors the rest of their life.

Now, Fern lives a very structured life as a librarian, doing yoga and karate, avoiding crowds, people, noises. She and Rose have a very enmeshed relationship. All works well until Rose can’t seem to become pregnant. Fern decides she’ll help her sister out and carry the baby for her. But things shift and while readers may guess where this is going, I assure you, there are many twists and turns, unexpected darker sides that come to light.

THE GOOD SISTER is told almost exclusively through Fern, and I found her perspective completely relatable and charming, sometimes even amusing. Sally Hepworth writes these characters with such style, such compassion. The only real glimpses of Rose are shown through a diary she keeps at the request of her therapist, detailing the girls’ childhood. Through this diary, we are able to witness the traumatic event that occurred when the girls were 12.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Sally Hepworth back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sally! I loved this book. It’s smart and propulsive, told with heart and capturing someone on the Autism spectrum wonderfully. Each character is very multifaceted, combining elements of domestic fiction with mystery, psychology, and more. I know you were inspired, in part, by your own daughters, their sometimes hot-and-cold relationship. Can you tell us a little more about how some of the other elements came into play?

Sally Hepworth:

First of all, thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

The inspiration, as you say, came from my daughters. As someone without a sister, I’ll admit it has been very eye-opening watching my little girls’ relationship at play over the past few years – basically a series of ups and downs, warm hugs and strategic eye-gouges. So, a couple of years ago, when I heard a sudden, intense shriek of pain in the backyard, it wasn’t a complete shock. Closer inspection found my 6-year-old with a ring of teeth marks on her arm, and my 2-year-old wearing a very bad poker face. As I mother, I understood that my role in this situation was to reprimand the biter – but I’d barely opened my mouth when my older daughter (the injured party) stepped in between us and said “Don’t you yell at my baby sister!” Now, as someone with brothers, I was confused by this, because when I was a child, nothing gave me greater joy than my brothers getting into trouble. But my 6-year-old, teeth marks in her arm, was adamant that I not reprimand her sister. That was interesting. But just as I was thinking how sweet she was, she added “Don’t worry, Mummy, I’ll get her back later, when she least expects it.”

Ah, the complicated relationship of sisters. There is definitely a great love there, and a fierce loyalty. But there is something else too. A kind of ownership that says that while they can hurt their sister, no one else can. I took this little piece of the relationship and that became the cornerstone of THE GOOD SISTER.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

I am so taken with Fern’s character. I loved her. She is quirky and charming and truly a delight. But she’s probably, most definitely, on the spectrum. We don’ t often experience characters like Fern in literature, but that’s changing. Can you tell us a little about her inspiration, perhaps if you received a sensitivity read of her character, research that went into her development? 

Sally Hepworth:

I’m so glad you loved Fern. She is truly the character of my heart.

In terms of her inspiration, I am lucky enough to be part of a neurodiverse family – something I am grateful for every day. I have family members with autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder, so in a way, I feel like I’ve been researching for this book my whole life.

I have always been passionate about diversity in fiction – diversity in skin colour, ethnic background, sexual orientation and (especially) diversity in cognitive strengths and abilities. If they exist in the world, they should exist in books. Books are richer for including diverse characters, and we are wiser for reading them.

In writing this book I was driven to include a neurodivergent character not as a sidekick, but as the heroine, and not because she was neurodiverse, but in spite of it. What I mean is … this is not a book about autism. It’s not even a book about an autistic character. This is a book about sisters, families, secrets – and one of the characters happens to be neurodiverse. A small but important distinction. I’d love to see more of this in fiction. 

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Leslie Lindsay: 

Shifting gears to the mother character. My own mother had myriad mental health issues, one of which was narcissistic personality disorder and possibly borderline, too. I completely related to those elements of the mother-daughter dyad, how cruel and insensitive that behavior can be toward growing, vulnerable children, particularly teens and pre-teen daughters. What advice might you give to someone who is caught in the web of such a challenging individual? 

Sally Hepworth:

My advice is definitely to seek professional advice. I did a lot of research about narcissism and Borderline Personality Disorder for this book, and that has taught me that you cannot apply conventional behaviours and techniques when dealing with these individuals.  You need to take care of yourself, under the assistance of a trained professional psychologist.

Leslie Lindsay: 

What type of writer are you? Do you know the story well ahead of time, before setting pen to paper, or do you let it flow sort of unconsciously? 

Sally Hepworth:

I’m a planner for sure. In fact, I have been known to use Excel Spreadsheets to plan my books which is very un-authorly of me! But despite extensive planning, I always end up doing dozens of drafts, and my process ends up being chaotic. Six books into my career, I think I’ve realised that chaos = my process.

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Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com


A stunningly clever thriller made doubly suspenseful by not one, but two unreliable narrators.

People magazine, Book of the Week


Leslie Lindsay: 

You’ve lived all around the world. How has that experience influenced your writing, but formally and in context? 

Sally Hepworth:

I hope it’s added a layer of empathy to my writing, but then, it’s a chicken and egg thing, isn’t it? The reason I always wanted to travel is that I grew up in a family that encouraged looking at everything from all angles. And how could you possibly see things from all angles if you’ve only ever lived in one place? Of course, you can’t possibly live everywhere, but travel affords you the opportunity to expand your world-view in extraordinary ways. I hope it has made me a more empathetic person and writer.

With all of this said, I can’t answer this question without pointing out the extraordinary privilege I have had being able to travel. I have had the freedom, physical ability, financial ability and physical ability to be able to experience travel, and sadly, this is not a reality for many people. And one of the things I love so much about books is the fact that it is an opportunity to travel from right where you are. As such, I would say it’s no coincidence that books and travel are two of my favourite things.

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

Sally, this has been so great. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Sally Hepworth:

I think you should ask me what book I am most excited about right now, and it is Kelly Rimmer’s THE WARSAW ORPHAN. Kelly Rimmer is a favourite author of mine (her novel, The Things We Cannot Say, is in my top 3 books of all time) but THE WARSAW ORPHAN has just surpassed it. It is going to be the book of 2021. You heard it here first.

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading

For more information, to connect with Sally Hepworth, or to purchase a copy of THE GOOD SISTER, 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. 
  • See all books in the April 2021 author interview series on siblings HERE. 

YOU MIGHT LIKE: 

THE GOOD SISTER reminded me, in part, of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER (Hazel Prior), ELEANOR OLIPHANT (Gail Honeyman) meets OTHER PEOPLE’S PETS (R.L. Maizes) with a touch of the twisty vibe of something akin to Gillian Flynn’s work.

See all books in the April 2021 author interview series on siblings HERE

Sally Hepworth AuthorABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sally Hepworth is the New York Times bestselling author of six novels, most recently The Good Sister (2021), which was an instant bestseller. Her novel, Mother In Law (2019) has been optioned for a TV series by Hollywood actress and producer, Amy Poehler. 
 Drawing on the good, the bad and the downright odd of human behaviour, Sally writes incisively about family, relationships and identity. Her domestic thriller novels are laced with quirky humour, sass and a darkly charming tone. 

Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 20 languages.

Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.

IMG_1175ABOUT 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 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speechsoon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

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#alwayswithabook #domesticfiction #domesticsuspense #neuroatypical #autism #sisters #siblings #fiction #authorinterview 

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Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Author photo credit: Mrs. Smart Photography. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading #bookstagram

Kelly Simmons on her newest domestic thriller, NOT MY BOY, how parenting boys is different than parenting girls, her three most-recommended books, procrastination, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

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~WRITER’S INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

April Spotlight: Siblings

A missing child, a mother-son new to a neighborhood, multiple suspects, an entangled family, and more in NOT MY BOY.

I loved Kelly Simmons’s ONE MORE DAY and when I learned she had a new one out, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. NOT MY BOY (Sourcebooks Landmark, January 2021) is a bit of family drama meets domestic suspense with touches of Lisa Unger’s IN THE BLOOD meets Gilly Macmillian’s TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH.

Hannah Sawyer is a writer–she’s working on various things, but mostly ghost-writing a woman’s memoir–but she’s also a divorced mother of a young boy, Miles. They have recently moved into a cozy carriage house on the property of a larger, more established home in a neighborhood where Hannah’s sister, Hillary, and her husband and daughter live. It’s within just days (maybe even hours) that a little girl goes missing. Suddenly, everyone in the neighborhood is captivated by this case.

Secrets abound in NOT MY BOY, in which everyone becomes a suspect, sisters turn on one another, and a grandmother’s dark presence looms. The story feels very claustrophobic, and always a little ‘off.’ The writing it good, crisp and yet descriptive. Being a house/neighborhood person, I completely geeked-out over the architecture and real estate references, the dense woods around the houses. This is a very atmospheric read about parent protection, envy, and more.


“A missing child, a family with multiple secrets, and a cast of characters that are complicated and fully realized…NOT MY BOY lands the reader in the middle of a mystery that is propulsive and impossible to put down.” 

—Julie Clark, NYTimes bestselling author of The Last Flight


Although NOT MY BOY is domestic thriller, it encompasses many elements of a darker family drama;  the sentences are more descriptive, lending a more literary voice.

Overall, NOT MY BOY is part police-procedural, crime, parenting, sibling clashes, mother-daughter dynamics, and more.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Kelly Simmons back to the author interview series:


Leslie Lindsay:

Kelly! Welcome back. I am delighted to chat again. I have been thinking about this idea of friends (or sisters) living near one another to raise their children. Near us, there are three old homes I call ‘the sister houses.’ I always imagine adult sisters living in two of those homes, the grandparents in the middle house. Growing up, there was a classmate whose family did just that. Was this maybe your inspiration for NOT MY BOY, or was it something else?

Kelly Simmons:

It’s just a personal childhood dream —  I have a younger sister, and I always envisioned us living near each other, raising kids together, cousins running around. That didn’t happen– she married later in life, didn’t have kids – but I still love the concept.  And I love, as a novelist, making sure the best laid plans go wildly awry!  So I put those sisters together and then pulled the rug out from under them.   

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Leslie Lindsay:

I like how Hannah is a writer, too. Especially lately, this has played a big part in my life—and maybe other’s too—many of us are working from home. It makes us a little cooky. We’re not getting the stimulation—mentally, physically, emotionally—than we used to. But writers, always work from home. Can you talk about how this may have influenced Hannah’s character, and how is it [the pandemic] affecting you?

Kelly Simmons:

Many people who work from home are more attuned to the neighborhood – the rhythms, the comings and goings, what seems normal and what seems off.  And I think single female parents are also wired to worry about security and safety.  Add them together, and Hannah’s antennae are picking up signals others don’t always see.  

As for me? Well, recently I found a small wrapper from a package of crackers beneath one of my windows. Another person would have thrown it away. I put it in a ziplock with a note of the date and time. Evidence!

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Photo by David McBee on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Lately, I’ve been procrastinating with my own writing. I have ideas, but feel a little burned out. What do you think about when you’re staring at a blank page—and how do you reignite the flame?

Kelly Simmons:

I’m pretty disciplined – I have the journalist-on-deadline mentality ingrained in me. So when I’m dragging my feet I know it means there’s something wrong and I haven’t figured out the right approach to something bigger — a plot problem or character or POV.  It means I need to put in more work off the page.  So I get off the page for awhile and don’t stress about word count. Word count goals can be a blessing and a curse; they’re not good for everyone and they’re not good at promoting big picture thinking.

Leslie Lindsay:

Several of your books have to do with parenting a son—this book, NOT MY BOY, and also ONE MORE DAY. Yet you have three daughters. Is there a difference, in your opinion, raising boys versus girls, or is it all the same, because we’re mothers and mothers do what mothers do?

Kelly Simmons:

From what I’ve observed and experienced, there is often a difference. There tends to be more talking in all girl households.  There is lots of emotion.  Lots of information.  And more concerns over safety.  Many of my boy-mom friends would call me to find out what was actually happening in the grade—they never knew the gossip or the drama. When talking about how to handle problems between boys and girls – the boy moms were a bit more sanguine over things that upset the girl moms – like sexting. And the boy moms were horrified by things the girl moms took in stride – the way the girls dressed and experimented with makeup, for instance.

I really appreciated the chance to dive into parenting a troubled young boy on the verge of being a teenager – I enjoyed understanding the perspectives of Miles and Hannah, and putting myself in their shoes.  I’ve gotten  a few letters from moms of sons thanking me – and that meant a lot.

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Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What three books are you recommending to everyone and why?

Kelly Simmons:

Oh, boy . .  . well I’m still raving about DEAR EDWARD by Ann Napolitano.  I admire that book so much.  WRITERS & LOVERS by Lily King felt like it was written for me.  And THE GIRL WITH THE LOUDING VOICE by Abi Dare was so charming.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kelly this has all been so great. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or maybe something you’d like to ask me?

Kelly Simmons:

Thank you, Leslie. I think this covers it!

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For more information, to connect with Kelly Simmons, or to purchase copy of NOT MY BOY, 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. 

See all books in the April 2021 author interview series on siblings HERE

K.Simmons.MediumREs.EditABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kelly Simmons is a former journalist, advertising creative director and the author of six novels sold in a dozen countries: STANDING STILL and THE BIRD HOUSE (Simon & Schuster) ONE MORE DAY, THE FIFTH OF JULY, WHERE SHE WENT, and NOT MY BOY (Sourcebooks.)

She teaches in the Drexel University MFA program, and is a member of Women Fiction Writers of America, Tall Poppy Writers and The Liars Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping fledgling novelists. Additionally, she co-helms the weekly writers podcast “Liars Club Oddcast. She was born the same day as Dorothy Parker. Coincidence? She thinks not.

IMG_1175ABOUT 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 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management & Writer’s House. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

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#alwayswithabook #notmyboy #authorinterview #sisters #literarythriller #writinglife #writingduringpandemic #procrastination #parenting 

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Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading

Are we a work-in-progress? Absolutely! Liese O’Halloran Schwarz talks about this, how success is elusive, her childhood in Thailand, the healing power of connection, and more in WHAT COULD BE SAVED

By Leslie Lindsay

Enthralling family drama set in two distinct time periods–and places–about the bonds of siblings, a mystery, and more.

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

APRIL SPOTLIGHT: SIBLINGS

A January 2021 Indie Next Pick
People Book of the Week
Real Simple Best Books of 2021
Starred Publishers Weekly Review
…and more

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Is it possible to be a good person even when you’ve done something reprehensible? This is the overarching question of WHAT COULD BE SAVED (Atria Books, January 12, 2021) by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz. This is an ambitious novel both in scope and length, combining dual-timelines of 1972 and 2019, a large cast of characters, a mystery, a drama, societal class, plus it takes place alternatively in Washington, D.C., and Bangkok. It’s a lot.

Laura Preston is a reclusive artist/painter in 2019 who finds herself at odds with her older sister, Bea. Their mother, Genevieve is slowing devolving into dementia. When a stranger connects with Laura via email, saying he’s their long-lost brother, she’s quick to believe it. She ignores Bea’s warnings and travels to Bangkok to learn the truth.

1972: The Preston family is living in a beautiful home in Thailand, raising their three children–Laura, Beatrice, and Philip. They have a cadre of servants–drivers and cooks and housekeepers, common to the lifestyle of the city. Genevieve tries to create some semblance of a ‘normal’ American life with ballet and riding classes, dinner parties, luncheons with the ladies, card games, more. But there’s something off-kilter about their life, which is unbearably hot and humid, stifling.

Alternating between past and present, we get a glimpse of life in Bangkok, all the secrets, and why 8-year old Philip went missing. There are brilliant, beautiful depictions of Thailand, and great period details of the early 1970s, the writing is gorgeous, there are a good deal of ‘ah-ha’ moments, astute observations, and thematically, I liked what the author was exploring: identity, loneliness, art, medicine, passion, mystery, goodness, and emotional complexities

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Liese O’Halloran Schwarz to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Liese, welcome! Thank you for chatting with us. I am struck by one of the last few lines of the book, and I’m paraphrasing, but it boils down to this: we are all imperfect, damaged, yet hopeful; everyone is a work-in-progress. Was this a question you were seeking as you set out to write WHAT COULD BE SAVED?

Liese OHalloran Schwarz:

Well,  yes. I wasn’t seeking it so much as seeking to show it. I think we all worry about not being enough, or good enough. Particularly with social media raining images down on all sides! Even if we know intellectually that those photos are staged and airbrushed and that they don’t reflect an actual reality, on an unconscious level the profusion of perfection can’t help but create some impossible standard. And apart from social media —before it was a thing — there has always been some cultural pressure to be “successful” and I think that’s a fallacy to some extent. Success is an elusive concept, and takes many forms. I hope the book expresses two conflicting notions that I don’t believe actually conflict at all: each one of us is enough, while also being on the way to where we are going. We are all a work-in-progress, at every age, because there’s no end to the possibility for change. There is no stage at which our development must terminate, we never have to stop growing and learning. 

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Photo by u00c1kos Szabu00f3 on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In a sense, WHAT COULD BE SAVED begins with loss. Genevieve, the mother, is aging and developing dementia. Laura’s art career is struggling. And everyone is still sort of mourning the loss of little brother Philip. There are some real, urgent issues at hand. Can you talk about that, please?

Liese OHalloran Schwarz:

Yes, in the book, some of the losses are extreme — the missing son and brother Philip, Genevieve’s failing grasp on memory, while others are more mundane (the waning of youth confronted separately by both Laura and her father Robert).  Every life contains loss, big or small — and if small only, just wait a while, as bigger loss is coming. It’s inevitable. Loss is part of the human condition, a natural consequence of love. That doesn’t mean we don’t agonize about it. That agony is also natural. In some ways loss is most tragic when the person suffering it feels alone with it. The members of the family in the book, the Prestons, all have a tendency to hide their feelings and thoughts from each other. The story shows not only how isolation can potentiate the damage caused by loss, but also the reverse: the healing power of making connection.

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Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com


“A delicious hybrid of mystery, drama, and elegance.”

—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Spark of Light and Small Great Things


Leslie Lindsay:

Your own family lived in Bangkok when you were a child. Since WHAT COULD BE SAVED is primarily a family story, what do you hope readers know about your childhood experiences? Are there any hints of truth here?

Liese OHalloran Schwarz:

The setting is absolutely true to my childhood — the parties, the household staff, the weather, the swimming pool, the traffic — and I think expats who read the book will recognize common elements about the general experience of making a home in a different culture. My family was not at all like the Prestons, though. We loved Bangkok; my mother in particular never wanted to leave. The book is not meant to cast the setting in a sinister light— the place itself wasn’t responsible for the events of the story.

Leslie Lindsay:

Who was the hardest character for you to write? And why? As you got to know them better, did that change? Who did you relate to the most?

Liese OHalloran Schwarz:

At first, Beatrice was a bit simply drawn, as the reader mostly sees her through her younger sister Laura’s eyes. She was not the hardest character to write but she was perhaps the hardest to get right. During revision, she bloomed into a whole person, subtly complicated. In a similar way but for different reasons, writing Noi was a challenge. I didn’t find her narrative difficult to generate at all, but in revision I looked very critically at every part of her story, to ensure that I was always writing her as a specific person and not attempting to make her stand in for her whole culture. I can’t say I relate to any one character to the exclusion of the others — when I am writing, I feel I am that person I am writing about — but of course Laura, the baby of her family who struggles with questions of art and purpose, resonates with me.

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Photo by Nick Collins on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Without answering in complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote WHAT COULD BE SAVED?

Liese OHalloran Schwarz:

During the writing: Routine. Dog walks, sunrises, coffeeshops, exercise. During the revision: Pandemic.

Leslie Lindsay:

Liese—thank you for this! Before we go, is there anything I should have asked but may have forgotten?

Liese OHalloran Schwarz:

I don’t think you forgot anything!  Thank you very much for your interest in the book.

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Artistic photo 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 Liese Schwarz, or to purchase a copy of WHAT COULD BE SAVED, please visit: 

Website|Facebook|Twitter|Instagram|BookShop

What to Read Next:

As I read, I was reminded, in part of IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH & HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS (both by Bianca Marais), but also THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON (Sara Collins) meets the work of Ladee Hubbard (THE RIB KING).

headshotselfieABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz (pronounced Lee-zuh–rhymes with Tower of Pisa–Schwarz–rhymes with SHORTS) grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University, and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she published her first novel, Near Canaan. She specialized in emergency medicine, eventually returned to writing, and published her second novel, The Possible World , in 2018. Her third novel, What Could Be Saved published in January 2021. She currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is at work on the next book.
 

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT 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 Mary Kubica 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. 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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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Atria Books 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]

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A Blazing Portrait of a highly enmeshed sibling relationship, a crumbling English house, a despondent writer-illustrator mother and a slippery twist in Daisy Johnson’s SISTERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

A taut, twisty, mind-bending read that is so superbly written, so lyrical and tragic. 

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~Writers Interviewing Writers|Always with a Book~

Spotlight: Siblings

A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR

ONE OF THE TOP TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEARPUBLISHER’S WEEKLY

ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR —VULTURE

“Daisy Johnson is the demon offspring of Shirley Jackson and Stephen King.”The Observer (London)

“Builds a gothic plot to an artful and shocking climax.” —The New York Times

“Ends with a magnificent twist.”The Boston Globe

From a Booker Prize finalist and international literary star: a blazing portrait of one darkly riveting sibling relationship, from the inside out.

Something unspeakable and unbearable happened between sisters July and September, just 10 months apart and named for their birth months. What presents as not-quite a thriller, not quite-a novel, not-quite horror or prose poetry, it is but all of those things, and that’s what makes SISTERS (Riverhead, August 2020) such a slippery one to pin down. Reading this story is strange and fantastical, a bit like a folktale with dark vibes, a fever dream. 

If you are looking for something more conventional, SISTERS, probably isn’t it. If you’re hoping for an intriguing, highly troubling characterization of two teenaged sisters being raised by a despondent mother–likely suffering from at least depression–you’re in for a treat. 


“Entrancing . . . Johnson’s own writing summons the just-off-ness of the uncanny; she is capable of passages of exquisite creepiness. . . . Her sentences have an aqueous quality.” 

The New Yorker


Desperate for a fresh start, July and September’s mother, Sheela, moves the family from Oxford to the coast (North York moors), to an old home that has been in the family for years. Already, I’m hooked. The house has it’s share of problems, and a dark, looming history that immediately lends to a great feeling of unease. 

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Here, these sisters are caught in a taut web of lies, envy, love, dark impulses, and more. Where does one end and the other begin? This is what I think the overall theme of SISTERS is: enmeshment. But it also speaks to dysfunction and perception. Are all relationships cyclical? Are they constantly chasing one another? Are we part of each other, or our own separate beings? 

”My sister is a black hole.
My sister is a tornado.
My sister is the end of the line my sister is the locked door
my sister is a shot in the dark.
My sister is waiting for me.
My sister is a falling tree.
My sister is a bricked-up window.
My sister is a wishbone my sister is the night train
my sister is the last packet of crisps my sister
is a long lie-in.
My sister is a forest on fire,
My sister is a sinking ship.
My sister is the last house on the street.”

There were so many darn good lines in this slim novel; ones about the house completely gutted me. 

”This the year we are houses, lights on in every window, doors that won’t quite shut.”
”The house is going to float away and take my darling girls with it.”

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The house becomes a character, a significant, misty presence looming over the small family. No one in the family is ‘quite right.’ Depression looms, so too does death (the father died before the last sister was born). The house seems alive, full of sounds and shadows, memories and lurking threats. The rain doesn’t stop, the birds are menacing, the ants are crawling inside the walls, whispers and cracks.

”The Settle House is load-bearing. Here is what it bears: Mum’s endless sadness, September’s frightful wrath, my quiet failures to ever do quite what anyone needs me to do, the seasons, the death of small animals in the scrublands around it, every word that we say in love or anger to one another.”

Everyone here is a little fragile, a bit unbalanced. What has happened to this house? What has happened to this family? The twist–the answer–may surprise you. In fact, I’m still chewing on ‘just-what-happened,’ myself.

SISTERS is a mind-bending read that will have you either in awe, or perhaps scratching your head, maybe both. I have theories, but don’t want to spoil it. Let me know your thoughts if you read it. 

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

For more information, to connect with Daisy Johnson, or to purchase a copy of SISTERS, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS:

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#alwayswithabook #horror #gothic #siblings #sisters #enmeshed #familydysfunction #houses

WHAT TO READ NEXT: 

I definitely found similarities between the fever-dream like aspects of THE NEED (Helen Phillips) meets well, FEVER DREAM (Samanta Schweblin) along with Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and touches of Alice Hoffman’s BLACKBIRD HOUSE. You might also want to look at the work of Karen Russell, particularly her collection ORANGE WORLD. But also! Laird Hunt’s IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS.

rsz_daisy_johnson_1 (2)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Daisy Johnson was born in 1990 and currently lives in Oxford, England. Her story collection, FEN, was published to widespread critical acclaim in 2016. In 2018 she became the youngest author ever to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize with her first novel, EVERYTHING UNDER. 

 

 

 

 

 

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT 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 Mary Kubica 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. 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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