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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. 


~Writers Interviewing Writers|Always with a Book~

Spotlight: Siblings




“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. 


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.”


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. 


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: 



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


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.



Hands-on, no art skills needed, Claynguage is a multi-sensory approach designed by a semi-retired, school-based SLP, Hinda Rubin, to elicit language development with…clay

By Leslie Lindsay

A multi-sensory clay-based–and evidence-based!–approach to speech-language therapy.




Special Guest: Hinda Rubin

Merging Pottery Skills with
Language Development

I am so delighted to welcome the lovely and talented Hinda Rubin, CCC-SLP to the Apraxia Monday Series. Hinda first trained as a medical SLP. As a school-based SLP, she provided evidence-based speech and language therapy to help improve articulation, receptive and expressive language skills, pragmatic language skills, auditory processing skills, fluency and voice.

But she’s also a ceramicist, Bubby (aka Grandma), loves reading, exercising, and crafting. She believes that children need to see parents balance work and family while making family a priority. Sharing Claynguage with them, as well as with the children in a variety of daycares and preschools, is truly a passion.

A bit about Claynguage:

Claynguage activities were founded in an art classroom and provide a meaningful, fun, and naturalistic context in which children learn new words and improve speech and language skills. Claynguage® is guided by several evidence-based strategies used by speech-language pathologists to enhance children’s language skills. Specifically, SLPs, parents and teachers, too, expand children’s vocabulary size and diversity while also exploring a fun art medium, creativity, adult-child bonding, and more. Plus, like clay, it’s all quite adaptable, created to assist adult caregivers working with children at home, in school, or other clinics.

I think my daughter, Kate, now almost sixteen with mostly resolved CAS, would have loved this multi-sensory approach to language development. She adores art and creating and I am wondering where Hinda was all those years ago.


 Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Hinda Rubin to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Hinda, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about Claynguage. I love how it brings in speech and language development, creativity, multisensory aspects, and more. It’s a little like speech therapy meets OT meets art. Can you tell us a little about how this program was developed? What was the seed of inspiration?

 Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP:

Thank you, Leslie, for this particularly special opportunity!! I am so honored! Claynguage developed as I was trying to figure out the best way  to help students achieve their speech and language goals in the classroom setting using a “push-in” approach. Over the years, I collaborated and co-taught with teachers as we covered a variety of subjects. In the art classroom, as students were seated around tables with the opportunity to shift their focus onto something tangible, communication flowed more naturally and this environment offered multiple opportunities to work on communication. Perhaps it is because everyone is seated around tables and the focus shifts to something tangible – something else.

I will never forget what happened the day after a highly successful collaborative activity in an art classroom.  It might not sound like a big deal to the average person, but I discovered a pyramid of clay on my desk.  Unbeknownst to me, it was placed there by a mystery supporter- the school principal! That inspired me beyond words and the memory brings happy tears to my eyes.

“My 5-year-old son has loved playing and learning with Hinda’s Claynguage activities. The conversation prompts give us lots to talk about as he plays with the clay to create objects and scenes of what we discuss. My older daughter has joined in numerous times as well! It really gave us all a fun, sensory way to work on some of our language and communication skills – thumbs up all around! ”

— Sarah Pritzker, CEO, Pritzker Editorial

Leslie Lindsay:

Just to clarify, this program is working hands-on with clay to create shapes, and objects while working to elicit speech sounds/words/phrases/sentences with children? And can anyone do it? What special tools might be needed? Also, what if I’m not ‘artistic?’

Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP:  

Yes, this program offers opportunities to work hands-on with different types of clay(e.g., stoneware, air dry), pottery tools and  items from the environment (e.g., kitchen gadgets, plastic toys).  Whether the goal is to improve production of sounds/syllables/words, expressive language skills or pragmatic language skills or learn new vocabulary words, the clay, materials and step-by-step activity plans are easy to follow and importantly, adaptable. The introduction includes information about working with clay so that any beginner is ready to roll.  The activity plans include real pictures that serve as step-by step directions.  Professionals can use the plans as written, (thinking new professionals!) as well as adapt them (thinking experienced professionals) to the needs of their population.

There is a home version for parents and grandparents too.

Basic items and special tools needed to begin include clay, pottery tools, a canvas cloth and your imagination.

The pottery tools and new and different types of clay work as great reinforcers.

No worries if you are not artistic!  It’s Interesting to note that, there seems to be a debate as to whether ceramics is an art, craft, or hobby.

I have observed adolescents, adults and especially toddlers handle clay for the very first time and be actively engaged. I like to call it the “pottery panacea” because it leads to impressions for expression.


Leslie Lindsay:

One of the key phrases we hear a lot these days is ‘evidenced-based practice,’ and I know Claynguage is; it’s based on the six principles of language development. Can you briefly describe what those are?

Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP: 

The idea is to actively engage children with multiple opportunities to hear language in meaningful contexts. Repeated presentations of auditory stimuli such as words for events and things that interest them and diverse examples of words and language, can help put these principles into practice.

“Six Principles of Language Development: Implications for learners of English as a second language.” Developmental Neuropsychology (390 5, 404-420.)  Konishi, H., Kanero, J., Freeman, M. R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M.

Leslie Lindsay:

Like you, I completely appreciate a good theme. And it seems all of your lesson plans hinge on just that. For example, you have plans involving travel, puzzles, shapes, spiders (ew!), Thanksgiving, summer, even sandals! Now, since it’s spring, I am also intrigued with hiking and what the great outdoors can teach us. Can you give us an example of how these lessons work?

Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP:

Each themed activity has five sections.

  • Overview and Purpose. This section includes strategies used to enhance language development. For example, in the hiking activity, children can create footprints on slabs of clay (animal footprints too!) and then compare and contrast footprints. Strategies that can be implemented in any of the 25 activities include language scaffolding; parallel talk, focused stimulation, recasting and more. During focused stimulation which can also be referred to as “auditory bombardment”, one can think of themselves as a sports commentator verbalizing a play-by-play description of all the action observed. 
  • Suggested Materials. For the hiking activity, suggested materials include four slabs of clay, step stools, canvas cloth, plastic animals, magnifying glass and wooden pottery tools.
  • Set Up. Ideas are provided based on experience with the activities. For the hiking activity, draping canvas over step stools leads to a hike like no other!
  • Divergent Discussion. Includes open-ended questions related to the theme. Whether discussing hiking on mud, sand or grass with younger kids or asking older students what it means to “take a hike”, you are bound for an all new adventure!
  • Clay in Motion. Includes step-by-step easy to follow instructions with real photos.
father with his children at a park

Photo by Elly Fairytale on

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how your plans have sections for ‘divergent discussions.’ For example, in your puzzle theme, you might have a chat about what ‘being puzzled’ means. Maybe you make puzzle pieces out of clay or put together a mass-produced jigsaw puzzle. What more can you tell us about this concept?

Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP:  

The questions in the divergent discussion section are open-ended and have a variety of answers-there is not one “right’ answer.  The basic premise is to make children feel comfortable communicating their ideas in order to help create and benefit from a language rich environment.  Words with multiple meanings are also an important feature of Claynguage because it is an essential part of the school’s curriculum.  Claynguage activities can be helpful when teaching figurative language too.  Adolescents can have a laugh creating boots out of clay as they discuss the meaning of “boot up” “shaking in your boots” etc.

toddler sitting on person s lap while person sitting also on tree trunk

Photo by Lela on

Leslie Lindsay:

Since many folks tuning in to our chat are parents of children with apraxia, can you share a few tips or ideas on working with them at home with clay?

Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP:

As you mention in your book “Speaking of Apraxia,” people learn differently– kids with CAS often do best when using their hands and bodies to learn. Claynguage activities offer constant hands-on experiences.

  • To help facilitate and improve comprehension, offer opportunities to make a favorite item out of clay after listening to a favorite book to help make connections.
  • Phonemic awareness- spell a 3 letter word with clay and only change the first or final letter (day, say, way & him, hit, hid)
  • Sequencing skills- Discuss steps to be taken before and after a clay activity.
  • Auditory Bombardment-Take opportunities to act as a sports commentator. Comment over and over again on the child’s actions during clay activities. This offers more opportunity to practice specific words and sentences. While engaged, repeat words like squeeze, poke, pinch or pound the clay. Consider singing “This is the way we poke/pinch/pound the clay……. early in the morning/afternoon.”
blue jeans

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on

Leslie Lindsay:

Hinda, thank you so much for all of this. I love your passion and creativity and I’m so pumped about this program. It’s really very unique. What three things can you not stop talking about right now? It doesn’t have to be about speech or clay. But if it is, that’s okay, too.

Hinda Rubin, MS CCC-SLP:

I cannot stop talking about how much I wish I had Instagram when I first started out as an SLP! How awesome is it to network with a group of SLP’s and shout out “I NEED HELP WITH A STUDENT!” I also cannot stop talking about my new neighbors. They have the same first names of my parents who passed away years ago. They share many of the same qualities and values as my parents and I feel they were sent by my parents to say: “Hey Hinda, we got your back!” Finally, I may not be saying this one out loud BUT, whether food is flying when the grandkids come over or sweeping up clay, I am so grateful. Bless this mess!

architectural design architecture brick wall bricks

Photo by Skitterphoto on

For more information, to connect with Hinda Rubin, M.S.,CCC-SLP, or to purchase products related to Claynguage, please visit: 



Kate, pictured below, with her virtual art-show piece designed and constructed entirely from hand at home. Kate is 15 with (mostly) resolved CAS and she really loves working with clay and other hands-on art projects. 

IMG_3876-222x300ABOUT THE SLP: Hinda Rubin, M.S., CCC-SLP trained first as a medical and then school-based SLP. Her hospital training included teaching esophageal speech, treating stroke patients, and patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI). As a school-based SLP, she provided evidence-based speech and language therapy to students ages 3-22 to help improve articulation, receptive and expressive language skills, pragmatic language skills, auditory processing skills, fluency and voice. Experience included mentoring speech assistants,  diagnostic evaluations, and developing goals aligning with the Common Core Standards. Claynguage developed as a result of efforts to provide the best possible push-in services for students.  CPS principals and staff were receptive and supportive throughout.


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.



#alwayswithabook #communication #phonologicalawareness #claynguage #SLPeeps #SLP #speechideas #speechtips #apraxia #apraxiaofspeech #apraxiaawareness #kids #speechactivities #clay #multisensory #speechtherapy 


Daring resistance efforts of Jewish women in the ghettos of Nazi occupation, a remarkable portrait of resilience and strength in this tremendously researched new book, THE LIGHT OF DAYS by Judy Batalion

By Leslie Lindsay 

In these history-changing times, one thing has remained hidden until now: the daring resistance efforts of Jewish women in the ghettos of the Nazi occupation. Now, let’s see the light. 




Recently optioned by Stephen Spielberg

for a major motion picture

Memoirist Judy Batalion (White Walls) delivers a remarkable portrait of young Jewish women who fought in the Polish resistance during WWII in THE LIGHT OF DAYS (William Morrow, June 23 2020).

Drawing from “dozens of women’s memoirs” and “hundreds of testimonies,” Batalion documents an astonishing array of guerilla activities, including rescue missions for Jewish children trapped in Polish ghettos, assassinations of Nazi soldiers, bombings of German train lines, jailbreaks, weapons smuggling, and espionage missions.

These women were couriers, smugglers, spies, and also…inspirations.

 “A vigorous narrative that draws on interviews, diaries, and other sources, Batalion delivers an objective view of past events that are too quickly being forgotten—and a story much in need of telling.”

–Kirkus Reviews, starred review

But be warned: no details are spared when recounting the horrific sexual violence and torture these women endured. Why weren’t these stories better known? There’s a reason for that, too. And its because of male chauvinism, survivor’s guilt, and the fact that the resistance movement’s military successes were “relatively miniscule.”

Seventy-five years after the end of WWII, these women can finally speak for themselves. Batalion weaves a vast amount of research material into a cohesive and dramatic narrative. This poignant history pays vivid tribute to “the breadth and scope of female courage.”

THE LIGHT OF DAYS is meticulously researched and grippingly told David-and-Goliath history that sheds light in these unsung heros. 

Batalion first learned of the “ghetto girls” and their achievements when she stumbled upon a Yiddish-language memoir at the British Library more than a decade ago. 

She dove into myraid Jewish archives and made numerous trips to Poland and Israel, painstakingly shifting through personal stories, surviving documents, and conducted personal interviews with families.

Here, she shares the hope and daring moments of these women’s lives as they sought to survive, to thrive, to resist. 

  • The “Ghetto Girls” tricked Gestapo into carrying their luggage filled with contraband.
  • They hid revolvers in teddy bears, strapped contraband and cash to their chests.
  • They flirted with Nazis and bought them off with wine, whiskey, and pastry…then shot and killed them.
  • “Ghetto girls” disguised themselves as Catholics, smuggled sick youth, planned rescue operations, and masterminded escapes from Gestapo prisons
  • These women organized a group of anti-Nazi Nazis and were bearers of the truth about what was happening to the Jews.
  • Aren’t they heroic? Yes, they are.
  • Do their stories deserve to be read? You bet!
Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay #alwayswithabook #alwaysreading.

To learn more, connect with Judy Batalion, or to purchase a copy of THE LIGHT OF DAYS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

download (38)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Judy Batalion is the author of WHITE WALLS: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess in Between. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Foward, Vogue, and many other publications. Judy has a BA in the History of Science from Harvard, and a PhD in the History of Art from the Coutauld Institute, University of London, and has worked as a museum curator and university lecturer. Born in Montreal, where she grew up speaking English, French, Hebrew, and Yiddish, she now lives in New York with her husband and three children. 419pnI2BZEL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

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Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her art was featured on the cover of Up the Staircase Quarterly, poetry in Coffin Bell Journal, CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine, and other photography in Another Chicago Magazine. She has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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#memoir #history #Jewish #women #femaleagency #ghettogirls #family #resistance #activists #untoldstories #WWII #Nazi #Hitler #Holocaust


[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay #alwayswithabook #alwaysreading]

Laird Hunt talks about how ZORRIE was inspired by his grandmother, her ties to Indiana, plus memory, being a literary citizen, the transformative, multifaceted aspects of the color green, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously and sparsely told tale of one woman’s life from her hardscrabble days on an Indiana farm and everything in-between.


~Writers Interiewing Writers|Always with a Book~

March Spotlight: Historical Fiction

O Magazine’s Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Novels of 2021  

This stunning and luminously told story is so affecting, and transformative, too. Set against the harsh, quintessential Midwestern landscape, ZORRIE (Bloomsbury, Feb 9, 2021) is at once a historical fiction of a one woman’s life, but also a study in Americana, grit, and the transformative events of the 20th century.

Zorrie is an orphaned child who goes to live with her aunt on a farm in Indiana. She’s twenty-one when she decides to set off on her own, and it just so happens to be in the midst of the Great Depression. She ends up in Illinois working odd jobs and then at the radium plant, sleeping in abandoned barns and under the stars. At the end of the day, the girls from the factory glowed from the radioactive material. Here she meets several young women who become friends–those she comes in and out of contact with over the course of her life.

But Indiana calls Zorrie back home, because as with any connection to the land, this is where we bloom, where we’re from. Here, she finds love and settles into a community of friendship and marriage. And yet…Zorrie’s life is rife with heartache and loss, still, she is tenacious and continues forth.

Written in sparse, but impeccable prose, Hunt beautifully and skillfully renders an entire life in just one-hundred-and-sixty pages, allowing the reader to fill in much of the depth and precision that sort of wavers in the white space. It’s a meditation on land, home, memory, and grief.

ZORRIE is a sweeping, lyrical, somber, and profound portrait of one life painted with the tiniest brush imaginable, in that sense, it’s a vignette, but also a quiet explosion.

Please join me in welcoming the talented Laird Hunt back to the author interview series:

 Leslie Lindsay:

Laird, we last spoke about your twisty, haunting tale, IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS (Little, Brown 2018), which was darkly disturbing and so very different than ZORRIE. Here’s what I think that speaks to: your versatility as an author, but also a ‘body of work.’ I love that, actually. Without really comparing the two, I am curious about your impetus for ZORRIE?

Laird Hunt:  

Zorrie’s journey started a little over 30 (!) years ago when I wrote a short story about an Indiana farm woman who was peeling potatoes for dinner. The character is referred to throughout the story as Old Woman, as in “Old Woman is peeling potatoes for dinner…” and indeed that was the title I gave to what became my first published fiction. In 2003, when my second novel, INDIANA, INDIANA, was published, I wanted to explore the life of an important but minor character in that work: Zorrie Underwood. For a long time as I drafted the tale that became the book we are discussing, she was known as Old Woman, just as in the short story, and only recently did I substitute her name and retitle the manuscript: the original gesture had outlived its usefulness.  By referring to the character by her first name, I was able to see her more fully as an individual and less as an archetype.  Some very important changes were made at this juncture and the whole thing fell into better focus.

“It was Indiana, it was the dirt she had bloomed up out of, it was who she was, what she felt, how she thought, what she knew.”

clouds country countryside dirt road

Photo by Pixabay on

Leslie Lindsay:

ZORRIE is so multifaceted. In fact, there’s a blurb on the cover by Hernan Diaz, that speaks to this, “This is not just a book, in your hands; it’s a life.” And that’s exactly what it is. But told with brevity. Was the character of Zorrie inspired by someone you knew?

Laird Hunt:

There is no question that the original “Old Woman” peeling those potatoes and accomplishing other tasks in the kitchen was inspired by my paternal grandmother, a native of central Indiana, whom I often watched working a knife or filling a measuring cup as she made the evening meal. She had studied Home Economics in what now feels like a distant age (she grew up during the Great Depression) and was very proud of her well-rounded meals, and I certainly benefited from her diligence and expertise during the years that I lived with her. But ZORRIE draws equally on other women in that community, women then moving into their silver years, whom I saw most Sundays at the United Methodist Church in the small railroad town of Hillisburg.  All of them gave the sense even to my callow eyes of having lived lives of depth and meaning, and more than a few of them were happy to let slip details I tucked away, half-forgot and reforged years later when I was trying to better understand Zorrie Underwood.

assorted vegetables on white surface

Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on

Leslie Lindsay:

Shifting to themes and motifs. I am so taken with this cover, the green color, all of it. Here’s what I think that speaks to: the fecundity of the land, Depression-era glass, the glow from the radioactive radium, the evergreen aspects of an unsung story, but also a bit of coming-of-age, ‘being green,’ as in new. Am I wrong? Can you expand?

Laird Hunt:

I love having a green book and I think all of what you evoke speaks to the aptness of using this color for the cover. There is also mention, deep within the story, of a “green mark”, one that is linked to death and mystery, to sadness and beauty, despair and hope.  Zorrie’s neighbor, Noah Summers, tells her about it and stresses its importance to him and to his late father. In a landscape so dominated, during the warm months at least, by the variegated greens of woods and lawns and fields, there is something particularly compelling to me about doubling down on that color as a mark of special significance — the green within the green as it were — and I’m glad the cover of the book, in a sense, offers its own green mark.

green wood plank

Photo by Johannes Plenio on

Leslie Lindsay:

One piece that really struck me was toward the end, about memory, which is something that intrigues me in my own work.

“[…] she wondered about this omission, wondered how so much, even things you desperately wanted to hold on to, faded from memory, while other thing burned their traces so deeply they never left you.”

We tend to hold on—ruminate—on negative things. What more can you add to that?

Laird Hunt:

There is an important sequence in the novel where Zorrie, hammered by grief, afraid that her recently departed husband is fading too quickly from mind and is being swallowed up by the black hole of his absence, works so hard to bring him back to vividness — really makes a nightly project of detailed remembering — that she very nearly literally conjures up his ghost. She is not, lets say, charmed by this, and sets her mind as quickly to making him go away again, at least in this frightening form. That she increasingly turns her attention following this experience to someone who is himself haunted to distraction by what life has dealt him makes a lot of sense to me. The cloth of Zorrie’s life is woven from threads of remembering and of forgetting and if, Penelope-like, during the the night she tries to unweave one aspect of it in favor of the other, she is not always successful. And that’s alright. Because she is also attuned to beauty. And has an unquenchable aptitude for hope.

“Quietly effective. [Hunt’s] often lyrical prose traces Zorrie’s hopes, griefs, loneliness, and resolve with remarkable economy…A touching, tightly woven story from an always impressive author.”

Kirkus, starred review

Leslie Lindsay:

You are also a professor in the Literary Arts program at Brown University. Can you tell us a little about your work there?

Laird Hunt:

I lead graduate and undergraduate fiction workshops, run seminars on the form and theory of 20th and 21st century fiction, and teach classes on the ways in which history and fiction might most productively/interestingly/usefully be combined.  There is also a good deal of mentoring students on what the life of the writer might or can look like.  Hosting visiting writers is an important part of it, and far from the least pleasurable.

Leslie Lindsay:

What three things are keeping you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Laird Hunt:

The pandemic, the pandemic and the pandemic.  Also climate change and socio-economic and racial injustice.  I think that’s four things in total but some of it overlaps and it’s hard to keep count.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Laird Hunt:

I talk a lot about literary citizenship with my students — about the importance of tithing time and energy to this thing we all love and value if we want it not just to survive but also to thrive. What you have done with your many interviews and reviews is a terrific example of what I’m talking about: deep, meaningful engagement with literature that runs alongside your own practice as a writer, thinker and photographer: especially love your “What Remains” shots and am honored to see ZORRIE in a few of the recent book pics too! I’m wondering how you got started with this interviewing, reviewing and book-shooting endeavor and what doing it all means to you.

Leslie Lindsay: 

Oh, wow. Thank you for that, Laird. We absolutely must to be literary stewards of the art and craft we love so much. Reading and writing and creating is a reciprocal process. For example, as a reader, I must ‘see’ myself (or an ancestor) depicted in the work to connect; there’s a partnership there, a story that brews in the white space. Writers cannot read without readers and readers cannot write without writers, simple as that. This practice started years ago, as a novice writer. I wanted to learn more about the process of writing, the ups and downs, insights, and inspirations. I figured if I did, others probably did, too. “Booktography,” as my 14-year old puts it, is simply an extension of me: I love books and art and creation. For me, this is wildly entertaining and no two book covers have the exact same vibe, thus each one, like the work itself, it entirely unique.

IMG_5433Artistic image of ZORRIE designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this #bookstagrammer #alwayswithsabook

For more information, to connect with Laird Hunt via social media, or to purchase a copy of ZORRIE, please visit: 


What to Read Next:

I was reminded of Meredith Hall’s BENEFICIENCE in terms of prose, style, and place-setting and feel this would be be a good follow-up read. For those interested in exploring the Great Depression in more detail, look to Kristin Hannah’s THE FOUR WINDS

Laird Hunt_credit Eva Sikelianos Hunt b&wABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Laird Hunt is the author of eight novels, a collection of stories, and two book-length translations from the French. He has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and won the Anisfield-Wolf Award for Fiction, the Grand Prix de Littérature Américaine, and Italy’s Bridge prize. His reviews and essays have been published in the New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times, and many others. He teaches in the Literary Arts program at Brown University and lives in Providence.

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.



#alwayswithabook #literaryfiction #historicalfiction #grandmothers #Indiana #potatoes #land #GreatDepression #authorinteview #craft #America #grit #lifespan #ZORRIE #literature #memory #family #literarysteward #literarycitizen #photography #bookrecommendations


[Cover and author image courtesy of Bloomsbury and used with permission. Artistic image of ZORRIE designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this #bookstagrammer #alwayswithsabook]


Is the past really prologue? I think so, and so does Kristin Hannah–join us as we talk about THE FOUR WINDS, prejudices in our everyday life, women in history, how she was influenced by memoirs of the dust bowl

By Leslie Lindsay 

A powerful and poignant examination of a very bleak and gritty time, THE FOUR WINDS is about the Great Depression, the American Dust Bowl, perseverance, and more.

The Four Winds - Cover Art


Weekend Reading


One of “2021’s Most Highly Anticipated New Books”—Newsweek

Read with Jenna/Today Show Selection for February
One of “27 of 2021’s Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Novels That Will Sweep You Away”Oprah Magazine
One of The Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2021″Parade
One of the “Books Everyone Will Talk About in 2021”PopSugar
One of The 57 Most Anticipated Books Of 2021″Elle
One of “32 Great Books To Start Off Your New Year”—Refinery29
One of “25 of the Best Books Arriving in 2021”—BookBub
One of “The 21 Best Books of 2021 for Working Moms”
Working Mother
One of “The Most Anticipated Winter Books That Will Keep You Cozy All Season Long”

One of the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021”Frolic

It’s 1921 when we meet Elsa Wolcott, an unremarkable twenty-five-year-old woman. She’s tall and gangly, a bookworm spinster living at home with her parents. Her family does well as farmers, but she’s lonely, something’s missing. She wants more from life–maybe to go to college, to become a writer. Her parents laugh. And then she meets Rafe Martinelli and everything changes. Now, her reputation is in tatters and she’s forced into marriage.

And that’s when everything changes. It’s now early 1930s and the land is drying up, the drought has devastated farms, money is not coming in, rain is never on the horizon. Dust storms darken the sky, dirt blows sideways, into cracks and crevices of the house. Everything is dying, including the hasty marriage.

“Powerful. Unforgettable. Triumphant.”


Elsa must make the biggest sacrifice of all–leave the land she loves, or stay.  And now, she has two children, two loving in-laws, so much. But does she really? Hannah is a master storyteller, coaxing great strength from her characters, and placing them in perilous circumstances. I am in awe with the obvious amount of research that went into THE FOUR WINDS (St. Martin’s Press, Feb 2, 2021). Elsa is a tough, she’s determined, brimming grit and resilience, which is exactly why we refer to this generation as the ‘greatest generation.’ Here, Hannah combines the gritty with lyrical prose that is so richly textured and golden, yet everything here is precarious and devastating with strong emotional details eliciting visceral reactions.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Kristin Hannah to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Kristin, hello! It’s such an honor to chat with you. I am swept away with THE FOUR WINDS. It’s an ambitious tale for sure, and so well done. What inspired this story for you? Why now?

Kristin Hannah:

A few years ago, I wrote a novel about the women of the French Resistance during World War II; that book, THE NIGHTINGALE, became a reader favorite. I was overwhelmed by the readers’ response to this story of female courage and resilience, and over time, it made me want to write a story like that about my own country.  I wanted to write an American epic that focused on the Greatest generation and showcased the grit and strength of women to survive and thrive in the midst of adversity and the hardest of times.

close up photo of wheat

Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina on

Leslie Lindsay:

I found a strong parallel between our current social/political climate and how much resonates, even now, nearly one hundred years later. I think there will be much for book groups to discuss in THE FOUR WINDS, including single parenthood, resilience, hope, adversity, land versus family—and how the two are intertwined—social movements, inequality, prejudice, women in the workforce, and so much more. I’d like to think that as a nation, we’ve evolved in the last one hundred years, but maybe not? Can you talk about that, please?

Kristin Hannah:

I agree, Leslie.  This book is perfect for book clubs who like to discuss serious issues.  When I first began this novel, four years ago now, I couldn’t imagine how relevant and timely the Great Depression would feel.  Here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic and the biggest economic downturn in a generation.  But they say that what’s past is prologue, and I truly believe that.  We can learn so much about ourselves from our shared past.  THE FOUR WINDS is a novel that focuses on motherhood and single parenthood, on the cost of an environmental disaster, and on the prejudices that we still must battle every day.  I think we have evolved as a nation, but of course, we have a long way to go.  One of the things that I hope people will discuss when they talk about THE FOUR WINDS is the place in history that women should occupy.  All too often, women’s roles are marginalized or forgotten.  Our misplaced history needs to be reclaimed for our daughters and granddaughters and in the name of all women who fought to make their voices heard.

brown wheat with sunrays effect

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on

“This American epic delivers a message of hope and heroism. I loved every page.”


Leslie Lindsay:

Your character, Elsa, wow. She is such a force. I was simultaneously inspired by her grit and determination, but also, I worried for her. I think this is a mark of solid, well-rounded character. Can you give us a little glimpse into her development? How did she come to be for you?

Kristin Hannah:

Elsa has become my favorite character, which is saying quite a bit, given the number of characters I’ve created over the years.  She became so much more than I originally imagined.  I loved her story arc.  She represents so many women—people, really—who have been put down and kept down by the opinions of others.  She begins the story as an insecure young woman, convinced of her own unworthiness, and yet there is a hidden longing in her, one sparked by her love of fiction.  Inspired by a novel, she dares to reach for a different future and in that simple act of rebellion, changes the course of her life.  She becomes a wife and mother and finds a family who loves her.  Motherhood teaches her courage and gives her wings.  It is in her fierce battle to save her children that Elsa finds the core of her own strength.  Through adversity, she realizes that she is indomitable and ultimately finds the courage to stand up for others as well as herself and her children.  She is truly heroic. 





Leslie Lindsay:

Without naming names, or titles, what are some of the various influences on your work—in general—and also THE FOUR WINDS, in particular?

Kristin Hannah:

Well, it’s hard to name influences without including names or titles, but I can say that in many ways, I have been influenced by hundreds of books over the years and dozens of authors.  I think we are all changed just a little by each book that resonates deeply.  Some are with us forever, some characters never leave us.  THE FOUR WINDS was particularly influenced by the memoirs of people, primarily women but not exclusively, who survived the Dust Bowl and the migrant camps of California in the thirties.

ceramic utensil on dry grass in sunbeams

Photo by Rachel Claire on

Leslie Lindsay:

As a writer—well versed in many genres—what elements of craft do you feel are your strong suit? In what ways are you challenged?

Kristin Hannah:

I am always challenged most by plot.  What happens in a book, the escalation of conflict, is never my strong suit.  I have to work very hard.  In many ways, I could naturally write a book that takes place in someone’s kitchen and never moves.  I am also not good with choosing an idea and sticking to that choice.  It is this—a very open and fluid perception of what my story is about—that leads me to a lot of writing, throwing away what I’ve written, and re-writing.  My strengths, I think, are depth of characterization, emotional intensity, and story. 

Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop talking about? And it doesn’t have to be literary.

Kristin Hannah:

My latest Netflix obsession is the show, Rectify.  Love, love, love.

Travel.  I am yearning to get back to the idea of travel.  I so miss seeing family and friends and faraway places.

Summer.  I can’t wait until I can go outside again, walk in the sunshine, and drink a glass of wine with my girlfriends.

green grass field during orange sunset

Photo by Vusal Ibadzade on

Leslie Lindsay:

Kristin, this has been so, so lovely. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Kristin Hannah:

Thank you so much, Leslie, this has been lots of fun!  I’ll just add how much fun it was this year to watch Firefly Lane on Netflix.  The show allowed me to be a fangirl of my own work for the first time and what fun I had texting in real time with my friends!


Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay @leslielindsay1 Join me on Instagram for more like this #bookstagrammer #authorinterviews #alwayswithabook

For more information, to join Kristin Hannah on social media, or to purchase a copy of THE FOUR WINDS, please visit:


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I was reminded, in part, of the writing of Christina Baker Kline, with touches of Fiona Davis. Also, keep an eye out for ZORRIE by Laird Hunt, which also has a connection to the Great Depression, set in Indiana, available now, Q&A with Laird next week!

Hannah Author Photo_Credit Kevin Lynch

Photo credit: Kevin Lynch.



Kristin Hannah is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, Winter GardenNight Road, and Firefly Lane.

Her novel, The Nightingale, has been published in 43 languages and is currently in movie production at TriStar Pictures, which also optioned her novel, The Great Alone. Her novel, Home Front has been optioned for film by 1492 Films (produced the Oscar-nominated The Help) with Chris Columbus attached to direct.

Kristin is a former-lawyer-turned writer who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband. Her novel, Firefly Lane, became a runaway bestseller in 2009, a touchstone novel that brought women together, and The Nightingale, in 2015 was voted a best book of the year by Amazon, Buzzfeed, iTunes, Library JournalPasteThe Wall Street Journal and The Week.  Additionally, the novel won the coveted Goodreads and People’s Choice Awards. The audiobook of The Nightingale won the Audiobook of the Year Award in the fiction category.

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. 





#alwayswithabook #authorinterviews #historicalfiction #GreatDepression #DustBowl #1930s #TheFourWinds 


[Cover and author image courtesy of SMP and used with permission. Author image credit: Kevin Lynch. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay @leslielindsay1 Join me on Instagram for more like this #bookstagrammer #authorinterviews #alwayswithabook]logo-preview-2


Why I’m on the fence about the critically-acclaimed INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE, plus a writing prompt

By Leslie Lindsay

A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.


~ALWAYS WITH A BOOK | Leslie Lindsay~

Spotlight: Historical Fiction

I  might be an outlier on this one. It seems everyone either loves ADDIE LARUE, or they could do without. I’m in the ‘without’ category, and I don’t say that to be lightly. Really, I wanted to love this story, it just didn’t strike like I hoped. 

Quick Take:

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

New York City, 2014: But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.

Quick Thoughts:

I was all-in with Addie’s story in the very beginning. Completely enraptured. I felt the earthen floors of her family’s home, the damp stones. I sensed her trepidation with the impending–unwanted–wedding. I wanted to fall right into her aching footsteps. And for awhile, I did. 

And then, something changed. Maybe it was me. I could have been the story, or the overall narrative arc. I may have been turned off by the prose or the ‘skating of teeth’ on lips, or maybe I was reading this at the wrong time, which is a strange brew of reader, writer, weather/season, the busyness of life. 


Maybe I was expecting something else?  THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE has a ring of YA meets fantasy, and that’s fine if that’s what you’re hoping for. For me, I wanted something more along the lines of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, which I read years ago and loved. I don’t know, maybe if I read that book now, I’d feel differently. I was perhaps expecting something more historical, and while ADDIE LARUE has elements of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, I was bogged down with the contemporary romantic storyline, the fantastical touches, and yes–the prose, while some lyrical lines surfaced, it was mostly too marshy for me to wade in. 


Addie LaRue strikes a deal with the devil, so to speak. In exchange for  freedom from marrying a man she doesn’t love, she will live forever, but no one will remember her. She’ll go through centuries and countries paving a life that no one will have any recollection of. This begs the question: what is legacy? Is it emotional or tangible? Is it psychological or temporal?

Try this: write your own version of Addie LaRue. Would you choose roughly the same time periods as the author, late 1600s France through ‘present-day’ NYC? Would you set your story in a different time period or place? Would there be some reconciliation in the narrative arc? Would your character meet up with the devil? It this story about destiny or free-will? If you read THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF ADDIE LARUE, do you think it culminated in the ending you were hoping for? Were you surprised? How would you have done it differently?


All photos designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay #alwayswithabook #amreading

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.






By Leslie Lindsay 

Thorough and impeccable history of the Blackwell sisters, their claim to fame is that they were the among the first female physicians in the U.S.



Historical Focus: Women in Medicine

THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL (W.W. Norton, January 2021) is a biographical-medical-historical account of two very enterprising young women from the rather large Blackwell family, who immigrated from England to New York and then Cincinnati. From a young age, Elizabeth Blackwell felt she was destined to be more than ‘just an ordinary’ woman, and though she at first recoiled from the idea of studying medicine, that’s exactly what she did. I am not sure if she did it to ‘prove’ something, or if there was more–and THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL does go into this a bit, but overall, it’s more of a this-than-that type of read, chronicling the life of Elizabeth Blackwell, and then her younger sister, Emily, both of whom become physicians.

stack of thick books on table

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on

Nimura has clearly done her homework and it shows in this impeccably researched book. However, it’s pretty dry. Perhaps I was expecting something more a long the lines of historical fiction, or narrative nonfiction that reads more like fiction ala HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD (Bob Kolker) about a family experiencing schizophrenia, sprinkled with plenty of research. THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL does describe much of what was going on with with the world at large, including slavery (it’s set in the 1830s and beyond), women’s rights and intellect, the care of women and infants, plus, the sort of infancy of medicine and a profession.

Deftly, with a keen eye, Janice P. Nimura has resurrected Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell in all their feisty, thrilling, trailblazing splendor.”

―Stacy Schiff

I did learn quite a bit in THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL (for example, medicine, even for men, was not considered ‘high class’ or professional until closer to the 20th century; grave robbing was common for cadavers to be used in anatomy dissection labs, particularly Black individuals and especially Black children/infants) and having a background in nursing myself, I found this title to be fascinating, but still a bit challenging to get through. It’s not just about Elizabeth and Emily, but about other, tangential characters, their impact on medicine, more. I think what I really wanted was the focus to be solely on the sisters. However, that may be close to impossible, given the scope of the book or the author’s intention. I so enjoyed Elizabeth’s own anatomical sketches, the admission tickets to lectures, and the additional visual material, which really brought the history to life. 


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

For more information, to connect with Janica Nimura, or to purchase a copy of THE DOCTORS BLACKWELL, please visit: 


What to Read Next:

You might like Robin Oliveria’s THE WINTER SISTERS, as well as Sara Donati’s WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, both historical fiction.

JaniceNimura_AuthorPhoto_2020_137RT-240x300ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Janice P. Nimura received a Public Scholar Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of her work on The Doctors Blackwell. Her previous book, Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back, was a New York Times Notable book in 2015. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles TimesSmithsonianThe Rumpus, and LitHub, among other publications.

“The one thing I know I’ll never be is a historian,” she told her college guidance counselor in 1988. She thought she wanted to be a doctor, but life intervened: she majored in English at Yale, worked in publishing, moved to Japan with her Tokyo-born husband, and completed an M.A. in East Asian studies at Columbia upon their return to her native New York. She grew into an understanding that history is made of stories and fell in love with archival treasure-hunting, especially when it led to the forgotten lives of border-crossing nineteenth-century women. Her first book grew out of her personal interest in the earliest encounters between Japan and the United States. In her latest project she circles back to her first interest in medicine, in the context of her work in women’s history.


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.



#alwayswithabook #history #medicine #biography #womeninmedicine


[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 2.11.21. Author image credit: Lucy Schaefer. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #bookstagram]


Sylvia True talks about her astonishing novel-based-on-a-true story, WHERE MADNESS LIES, combining elements of historical fiction, medicine, mental illness, motherhood, secrets, more

By Leslie Lindsay

Such a beautifully tragic and heart-wrenching tale of hope and redemption, a lesser-known slice of WWII, combining intergenerational trauma, mental illness, secrets, more.



Spotlight: Women’s Historical Fiction

I was absolutely struck by the themes and ideas—and writing—in WHERE MADNESS LIES (Top Hat Books, February 1 2021) by Sylvia True, which is a gorgeous and devastating voyage into the madness of madness, tracing the Nazis’ view of the morally disgusting idea of racial hygiene, but also eradicating ‘any life not worth living,’ such as those deemed feebleminded, mentally ill, sexually degenerate, more.

Alternating between the 1980s Massachusetts, and 1930s Germany, with a brief stint in Switzerland, WHERE MADNESS LIES is so beautifully rendered. I was in awe at the breadth of this book–in terms of historical accuracy, emotional intelligence, compelling voice/characters, how it’s based on a true storyand so much more. This story is hauntingly compelling, devastating, and horrifying, yet there’s a glimmer of hope dangling from a pearl.

WHERE MADNESS LIES is achingly honest and masterful, a page-turner with fully developed characters and timelines, each section was equally compelling. I worried about these characters, gasped aloud, and marveled at True’s lyrical prose, her attention to detail, all of it. Truly an eye-opening, chilling tale.

A quick note on themes explored: WHERE MADNESS LIES is not your typical WWII book. It deals with mental illness and psychiatry, and often presents a very derogatory–early–approach to the science, (but Dr. Arnold Richter is fabulous; loved him). There are tough scenes including gas chambers and neglected children, euthanasia, sterilization, eugenicsmore. If these may be triggers, please proceed with caution. It’s also a rich tapestry about family, dysfunction, secrets, power, truth, redemption, hope.

On a personal note, I am a daughter of a mentally ill mother who died by suicide and this book, these themes, completely resonated.

So masterfully done, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to connect with Sylvia.

Please join me in welcoming Sylvia True to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sylvia, oh my gosh—WHERE MADNESS LIES completely gutted me. I am in simultaneously in awe, but also disgust at the cruelty, the travesty explored in this book. It’s so well-written, too. This is based on a true story—your family’s—but it’s not exactly a memoir. Can you talk about the driving force? Why now?

Sylvia True:

I think one of the driving forces of my life is that of openness. When I was in my twenties, I ended up in a mental hospital shortly after my first daughter was born. I was desperately ashamed of being the weak link in my family.

When the psychiatrists asked, “is there any mental illness in the family?”

I answered, “No. My family is perfect.”

My three-month stint in McLean Hospital was probably the best education of my life—one of the best gifts as well. It was during my hospitalization that I learned there was a secret history of mental illness in the family. My mother and grandmother slowly revealed the family’s traumatic past during the time of the Nazis. I began to understand that as a child I felt the aura of secrecy and the unspoken emotions. I turned those emotions inward, carrying them in the form of depression.

Understanding what secrets can do to a family made a crusader of honesty of sorts. More than anything, I didn’t want my children to grow up in a climate of fear. I didn’t want my daughters to be ashamed of mental illness. In fact, when my eldest daughter did become depressed, around the age of fifteen, I made sure to bring her to a psychiatrist, a therapist, and a psychic. I covered all of the bases to help her.

We all know there is still stigma around mental illness, and I believe the best way to combat this stigma is with openness. Although I teach chemistry, I always try to weave in life lessons as well, and it’s important to me that my students also understand that there is no shame in emotional struggles. So this book, which is about me and my family, reveals our struggles. Yes, it makes me vulnerable. But it’s a risk I want to take even if it helps one person feel less ashamed about their family secrets or mental illness.

brown dye texture on white paper

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Absorbing and intelligent, WHERE MADNESS LIES is a brave and uplifting reflection on an ever-sensitive subject. With deftly-rendered characters, True illustrates just how strong the connections are between past and present.”

–Maryanne O’Hara, author of CASCADE

Leslie Lindsay:

For me, as a writer, the lines of memoir and historical fiction are so compelling—they are two of my favorite genres. They are also a bit blurry. WHERE MADNESS LIES isn’t straight memoir, it’s not straight historical fiction, but a gorgeous blending of the two. Can you tell us why you chose not to write this as memoir?

Sylvia True:

The protagonist in the novel, Inga, is based on my grandmother. Because I wanted to write this largely from her point of view, it couldn’t be a memoir. My grandmother was the matriarch of the family and she had a tremendous influence over me. She was often critical to the point of being mean. She didn’t like my hair, the way I dressed, the way I sometimes slouched…the list is long. What I did not know or understand was that she was carrying so much pain and fear. She wanted her grandchildren to be perfect, both physically and mentally—in order to protect us. The threat of the Nazis might have been gone in reality, but it lived on in her emotionally. And so we weren’t allowed to feel things like anxiety or depression, and if we did, we had to hide it.

I think that it’s the difficult relationships in life that are the ones of great interest, and my relationship with my grandmother was very difficult at times. In writing her story, from her point of view, I was forced to understand her in a much deeper way.

There is something very healing about empathizing with the adults who raised us—perhaps even wronged us at times.

Once we understand, we can move out of a place of fear and into a place of love.

photo of flowers in clear glass vase

Photo by cottonbro on

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how you explore the themes of intergenerational trauma in these pages. This—along with psychiatry, motherhood, grief—are huge influences for me. Like your family, my maternal side is rife with mental illness, dysfunction, a series of poor mother-daughter relationships. Do you believe in this notion that these traits—behaviors—can ‘be passed down?’

Sylvia True:

One of the themes of the book is about what we pass on, both genetically and culturally. I absolutely think there is a genetic predisposition in my family for depression and anxiety. It’s impossible to tease out exactly what percent is genetic and what is environmental, but suffice it to say, both played a huge role. Both of my daughters have some anxiety and depression. But I can proudly say, they don’t have shame around their diagnoses. I do believe shame and fear get passed down as well. In many ways, those are the more dangerous traits to pass on. As I said above, I felt the fear and secrecy as a child, and that had a great effect on me. But I was fortunate to get help and that help gave me the tools to model openness and vulnerability, as a mother and a teacher.  I also reinforce to my daughters and students that there is help out there—a lot of it. So maybe the first therapist isn’t a good fit, or the first medication doesn’t work. The key is to keep trying.

Leslie Lindsay:

In terms of structure, you chose to alternate time periods and character, which I really loved. That’s often a challenge to translate to the page. What is your process typically like? Right now, I’m a fan of notecards for a linked story collection. What helps you?

Sylvia True:

This was a tricky novel for me to piece together. I had many drafts. It’s funny because in the last question I talk about not giving up when seeking help for mental illness. I think that’s been a major theme in my life and applies to the writing process. I kept trying different things. I wrote out each storyline chronologically, then broke them into chunks, then used an outline, and finally notecards. I had the characters write me long letters about what they wanted to tell me. Sometimes I felt as if I was going in circles. It took me a number of drafts to figure out where to begin the story. I envy writers who seem to be able to download a story in an almost finished form. For me it takes perseverance and accepting that the process is confusing and frustrating. I often remind myself that confusion is good; it means I’m learning. For me life is about learning, whether it’s writing, raising children, teaching chemistry, or dabbling in the paranormal.

shallow focus photography of pink flowers

Photo by Irina Iriser on

Leslie Lindsay:

Shifting gears considerably, I am struck—saddened and repulsed—and many other visceral responses—about what really went on behind closed doors of these asylums in Nazi Germany. I hope I’m not giving away too much, but in the end, Dr. Arnold Richter was trying to tell newspapers about the atrocities only to be met with disbelief. Can you talk a bit about eugenics, sterilization, and psychiatry, please?

Sylvia True:

Sir Francis Galton invented the term eugenics in 1883. The literal meaning of eugenics is “good birth.” Basically it began as a study in human population, a way to increase the characteristics in humans regarded as desirable. There were eugenics societies all over the world. Many of these societies believed in using sterilization as a way to stop inheritable diseases from being passed on.

The Nazis used some of the ideas in eugenics to justify their treatment of disabled people, and of course Jews. In 1933, the Nazis enacted their first sterilization law. From 1934 to 1939 about 400,000 people were sterilized. The list of disabilities that fell under the sterilization law was extensive. A few of the diagnoses that led to sterilization were: feeble-mindedness, epilepsy, schizophrenia, manic-depression, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, even idleness and alcoholism.  It had been the Nazis plan all along to move from sterilization to euthanasia. The first euthanasia decree was purposefully signed at the beginning of WWII in the hope that people would be focusing on the war and not what was happening in the mental hospitals.

There were six mental institutions that murdered mental patients. They erected gas chambers that were the prototype of the gas chambers used in the concentration camps. In fact, it was the doctors from the institutions that went to the concentration camps to aide the Nazis in designing the gas chambers. In many ways, the killing of the mental patients can be seen as the Nazi’s opening act. Everything that was done in the concentration camps, gassing, cremation, the pillaging of bodies, was first done in the mental hospitals.

It was such a terrible time, and even though I wrote about these horrors and know of their existence, it’s still hard to believe that humans would actually do this to other humans.

dried plant branch on white table

Photo by Maria Orlova on

Leslie Lindsay:

I feel like I could ask questions all day—alas, we both have other things to do. What three things can you not stop talking about? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Sylvia True:

  1. My grandchildren. To me they are dazzling and endlessly entertaining.
  2. The paranormal. I have studied and researched the paranormal for years. I am the head of the science department at my school and am fortunate to have colleagues who have put up with my interests and actually joined me in some of my research projects. I have renamed the department: The Science, Technology, and Paranormal Studies Department.
  3. Getting children back in school. I am worried about the mental health of students at the moment.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sylvia, this has been so great. There is no doubt a kinship we share. Before we go, is there anything I should have asked, or perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Sylvia True:

I am interested in your writing life. I know I have written a couple of books, yet I see myself as a teacher, mother and grandmother first. The writing process fascinates me. I didn’t go to school to study writing, so I think I missed out on many of the writer’s workshops and the general shop talk. I’d love to know what drew you into writing, and makes you keep wanting to do it? What does writing give to you?

Leslie Lindsay:

Well, you might be interested to learn that I didn’t go to school to study writing, either! I originally thought I’d be a Solid Gold dancer, and then a pediatrician…I dabbled in architecture, but math terrified me. I went to school to become an R.N. and worked in that role for over five years at the Mayo Clinic in the child/adolescent psychiatric unit. You see, it’s all cyclical. All along, I wrote. Writing for me is a way to process the world, my feelings and experiences. It gives me identity and meaning. Writing, for me, is often about unearthing the subconscious. That’s what I find so exciting about the process. Often I feel like an outsider, too. The good thing is, there are so many workshops, continuing education classes, critique groups, journals, and online platforms to hone one’s craft. Writers work in isolation, but there’s a community of like-minded folk out there. Find them. 


Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 for more like this #bookstagram #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Sylvia True, or to purchase a copy of WHERE MADNESS LIES, please visit: 

Order Links:


Readers may recall Diane Chamberlain’s book, NECESSARY LIES, also about eugenics, which I found to have similar echoes to WHERE MADNESS LIES, but also Margaret McMullan’s WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED may also resonate.


Sylvia True is the author of The Wednesday Group and Where Madness Lies.

Where Madness Lies, Sylvia True’s second novel, is a story about hope and redemption, about what we pass on, both genetically and culturally. It is about the high price of repression, and how one woman, who lost nearly everything, must be willing to reveal the failures of the past in order to save future generations. With chilling echoes of our time, this novel is based on a true story of the author’s own family. 

​Sylvia was born in England to parents who were refugees from Germany. She moved to the US when she was five. Growing up with parents from a different culture, a mother who was a Swiss champion figure skater, and a father who was a theoretical nuclear physicist, gave her varied and unique perspectives. 

​Sylvia is a high school chemistry teacher and head of the Science and Technology Department at Holliston High School. During her summer breaks, she likes to travel to the Amazon and do research in the rainforest.  

She has raised two daughters, who are both pursuing their passions. If Sylvia had to sum up who she is in a word, she would say learner. There is so much in this world that she is deeply interested in—science, the paranormal, writing, teaching, and of course her grandchildren. 

Presently, she lives in Massachusetts with her two very spoiled dogs. Please feel free to contact her and ask her any questions. She looks forward to responses to both of her novels. 


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.



#alwayswithabook #amreading #amwriting #literaryfiction #historicalfiction #basedonatruestory #Holocaust #NaziGermany #mentalillness #mentalinstitution #McLean #motherhood #postpartumdepression #dualtimelines #authorinterview #eugenics #psychiatry #history #familysecrets #familydysfunction

[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website 3.8.21. Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram @leslielindsay1 for more like this #bookstagram #alwayswithabook]

Author-illustrator duo talk about their new children’s book, LET LIBERTY RISE, which is darling–about coming together for the collective good, the immigrant experience, color palettes, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Fascinating and inspiring tale of how the American people came together to crowd-fund one of America’s biggest icons, the Statue of Liberty.

Let Liberty Rise_Cover


Writers Interviewing Writers

March Spotlight: Historical (Children’s) Fiction

I LOVED this book! LET LIBERRTY RISE: How America’s Schoolchildren Helped Save the Statue of Liberty (Scholastic, March 2 2021) by Chana Stiefel (with warm, tender illustrations by Chuck Groenink) is an equally gorgeous, inspiring tale rooted in history and goodwill. I seriously cannot love this book any more.

This book is a gem. The writing is smart and thoughtful, with obvious research and attention-to-detail, as are the illustrations. I learned so much about the American icon in this children’s book than I think I’ve learned about it through the course of my life. Seriously. I knew it was a gift from the people of France, but I didn’t realize it came to America in so many pieces (350, to be exact), that it weighed more than 40 elephants, and that the pedestal was to be created by the people of America.

At first, Americans were disappointed and angry. The French wanted to provide a gift, but Americans had to pony up nearly $2.6 million bucks (in today’s worth) for a pedestal. That’s no gift!

But! Joseph Pulitzer, a newspaper man–and immigrant himself–had a delightful and smart idea: let the American public chip in and ‘own’ the pedestal. He said everyone who contributed *anything* at all toward the fund, whether a penny or nickel or dollars, he would publish their names in the paper. People did. Farmers and schoolchildren, office boys, mothers and fathers, rich, and poor, they all did. There was no class distinction, no race differences, nothing. You just had to send in money and your name would be printed.

I read this book to my two daughters–who are way too old to be the intended audience (which I would guess is ages 5-9)–and they loved it. I got goosebumps and a little teary-eyed.

LET LIBERTY RISE is a charming and deeply moving book. I loved every moment of it. Great for all libraries, history classrooms, more.

Please join me in conversation with the fabulous author-illustrator duo of Chana Stiefel and Chuck Groenink:

Leslie Lindsay:

Chana, Chuck—welcome! I LOVE this book. Seriously. I think it speaks this time about doing things for the collective good, immigration, inclusivity, and so much more. Plus, I learned things! What was your inspiration for writing?

Chana Stiefel:

I first heard the story in 2014 from my friend Jackie Glasthal, who wrote a middle grade novel called Liberty on 23rd Street. The novel’s backdrop is Lower Manhattan in the 1880s, when the Statue of Liberty was being built. When I first heard the story about the pedestal fund, it blew my mind. How could I live in New Jersey, 30 minutes from the Statue of Liberty, and not know her history? I knew right then it had to become a picture book. Jackie and I did some research together, but tragically she passed away four years ago from cancer. I see this book as her parting gift, and it’s dedicated to her memory. As the French might say, Jackie stood for liberté, égalité, fraternité.

Sparkling language movingly describes how everyday folks effected powerful change. Readers will relish knowing that kids played a pivotal role in the campaign; many actual quotes from children are included. Lively, colorful illustrations capturing the period depict diverse characters and wonderful perspectives…All rise to this evocative, empowering offering.”

—Kirkus Reviews

Leslie Lindsay:

Chuck, your illustrations are darling. Whimsical but warm and they speak to the timeperiod well, with so many articulate and astute details. Can you let us glimpse your process a bit? Did you collaborate with Chana on the vision?

Chuck Groenink:

In some ways I think this book was a closer collaboration with the author than most, even though Chana and I didn’t actually get in touch until just recently. The circumstances of this book meant that there just happened to be certain stage directions in the manuscript that as the illustrator you had to follow. Usually an illustrator has a lot of freedom to visualize the book as they see fit, but a non-fiction book like this means you’re on a fairly short leash. So I guess Chana and I both collaborated with history.

I don’t tend to give much thought to vision, I don’t think an illustrator should be too conscious about that, or it becomes something of a forced affair. What I responded to though was all in Chana’s words, which had a warmth, and a certain, dare I say it, rather American, optimism.

There was also something in the story that spoke to a little bit of a class conflict, which was a fun note for me to highlight. The sympathy, in Chana’s narrative, lies firmly on the side of the immigrants, kids and the working class. So I had a lot of fun showing the grumpy wealthy, white, Americans who didn’t want the statue, and contrasting them with the children and laborers who contributed what they could.


Leslie Lindsay:

I want to talk about the color palette a bit, too. It’s warm, almost like the pages are cast in sunset. And, I love, love that there’s diversity here, too. Boys and girls, men and women, a variety of skin tones, ages, professions, class. It’s evident in the words, and the illustrations. Can you cast a light on those decisions, please?

Chuck Groenink:

I think a lot of the color palette came from two things, a research trip to the Tenement museum in New York, and seeing the brightly colored little apartments immigrant families lived in. But also when the statue was built it still had its copper hue, and it cast that warm glow across the whole book. (even if its current light green color would have been a lot easier to draw, than all that shiny metal).

The decision to show off such diversity was a more conscious one than the color palette. While we tend to have a stereotypical view of American history as being just so many white guys, when you look beyond the men who historically always got the credit, you see the diversity that was always there. A big help for me in visualizing the book in its early stages were the pictures taken by Jacob Riis of New York’s immigrants and working poor. Things like the man with the ‘clam cart’ were taken directly from pictures of life in the city at that time.

The Statue of Liberty was built through the efforts of many people whose name we’ll never know, but showing just a little bit that it took all those people, from the office boy who gave every cent he could spare, to the men hammering the actual pieces together was what this book was about for me (and of course kind of what this country, at its best, is about).


Chana Stiefel:

Beautifully said, Chuck! The last spread shows new immigrants coming to America, and they could have been my own family who arrived from Lithuania and Jerusalem in the early 1900s, so that spread means a lot to me.

We wanted to include as much diversity as possible, but the book is nonfiction, so we needed to be historically accurate too. I pored over Census data from New York City and reached out to the New York Historical Society and the National Parks Service to see what the demographics of the city were in 1885. Interestingly, New York was much less diverse than I expected. Manhattan was 97.8% white, 2% Black and 0.3% Asian. But I learned that an African American marching band (the 20th Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops) participated in Liberty’s inauguration parade, Black schoolchildren in Brooklyn held their own parade to celebrate the statue, and the Cleveland Gazette, a historically African American newspaper, ran the story about the pedestal campaign to solicit contributions. So there was definitely participation from people of color, and Chuck did a beautiful job including them in the book.

Regarding the warm color palette, have you seen the shiny copper endpapers that reflect the statue’s original color? I love that touch!


Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a timeline in the back of the book, real-life photos, more. This really brings history to life. And let’s face it, some kids find history boring. I think there are plenty of extension activities that can be done with this book. Can you talk about how this might be used in a classroom or learning setting? Also, art history, anyone?

Chuck Groenink:

Just off the top of my head, I’m thinking about all the pedestal designs that didn’t make it, and I would love to see kids design their own!

But I would be very impressed if any kids can find the specific French paintings I referenced in my illustrations.

Chana Stiefel:

Wait, Chuck, there’s more than one French painting? Now I have to keep looking!

Our editor Dianne Hess and I spent a lot of time on the backmatter, choosing the archival photos, the map, and other details. Being a Scholastic book, I’m hoping that it finds a home in school libraries. I asked my teacher and librarian friends to help develop some activities, and then I worked with Blue Slip Media and their curriculum specialist, Dr. Leigh Courtney, who created a wonderful Curriculum Guide. It’s packed with hands-on STEM activities, writing prompts, discussion questions, and more. It’s available as a free download HERE.

statue of liberty figurine

Photo by Alessandro Oliverio on

Leslie Lindsay:

Chana, Chuck—thank you! This has been so insightful. What question(s) should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Chuck Groenink:

Thanks for letting me ramble about my process! I might have asked something about the research, which is often a lot of fun. You tend to discover things you would have never been able to come up with on your own. I took a lot of the clothing for the characters in the book from photos of the time, but also that letterbox streetlight contraption was something I came across. It’s little things like that make historical picture books one of my favorite type of job.

Chana Stiefel:

[As the author] my research journey was fun as well. I traveled by ferry to the Bob Hope Memorial Library at Ellis Island, which specializes in archival materials on the statue’s history. And at the New York Public Library, I scrolled through microfilm of the New York World newspaper from 1885. Fighting with the microfiche machine brought me back to my college days. And if you don’t know what microfiche is, Google it!


To connect with the author/illustrator via social media, or to purchase a copy of LET LIBERTY RISE, please visit: 

Chana Stiefel/Author:


Chuck Groenick/Illustrator:


Chana Stiefel (by Abbie Sophia)ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

CHANA STIEFEL is the author of more than 25 books for kids. She loves visiting schools and libraries as well as sharing her passion for reading and writing with children. She earned a master’s degree in Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting from New York
University. Follow her at @chanastiefel on FB, Twitter, and Instagram. Visit Chana at

Chuck Groenink (by Rebecca Walker)ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:

CHUCK GROENINK hails from an overgrown village among the peat bogs in the north of the Netherlands, where he spent his formative years climbing trees, drawing, reading, and cycling. He attended the Artez Institute of Visual Arts in
Kampen, graduating from the Department of Illustration in 2004. He moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2010, and now resides in Valatie, New York, with his wife, dog, and two cats. Visit Chuck at


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.




Warmth, Passion and Coffee…how Zibby Owens does it all, plus her Quarantine Anthology, essays by contemporary writers in MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME

By Leslie Lindsay 

A force to be reckoned–Zibby Owens chronicles the myriad emotions, experiences, more in this historically and personally challenging year; an anthology of essays written by authors from her podcast.Final Cover 1.20

“The patron saint of books.”
“The Great Connector.”

~Writers Interviewing Writers|Always with a Book~

WeekEND Reading

A little burst of joy to your bookshelf during a rather bleak and troubling time. MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO: A Quarantine Anthology (Skyhorse Press, February 2021) will spark interest, validate this challenging year, and more. It’s filled with anecdotes on the reading life, food, family, mental health, exercise, mindfulness, sex/intimacy, more.

Here, we delve into over 60 short essays from contemporary writers
 exploring all of these aspects of life–but during quarantine, which makes MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO even more timely and topical. I don’t know about you–but as a mom myself, I found that I actually had *less* time once we were shut down at home. It sounds counterintuitive, but true.

“The perfect reminder for every mom that nn of us have it all together, all of us are doing our best and, most importantly, even your worst days make a great story.” 

–Nora McInery, author of NO HAPPY ENDINGS and host of popular podcast, TERRIBLE, THANKS FOR ASKING

Each essay is infused with warmth, support, and passion, piecing out little nuggets of wisdom. They are short, too, which made it a quick read. I dare you to not read more than one essay at a time. MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO is the perfect addition to one’s nightstand, purse, gym bag…read it on the go, orthodontist waiting rooms, soccer practice, exercise bike, you get the idea.

I was definitely intrigued with the essays, and several gave me inspiration for expansion–either as a conversation with my family/spouse/friends, or in my own writing.

There were some very astute observations and validation here, as well as some laugh-out-loud moments that might ring true not just now, during the pandemic, but also in the future, and I could see MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO to be a fabulous gift to a new mother whose baby was born during the pandemic.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Zibby Owens to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Zibby! Congratulations on this amazing creative feat during such a challenging year! As a writer-mom myself, I know just how tough it can be to carve out time to be creative anytime—let alone during a historically and personally challenging pandemic! Can you talk about the seed of inspiration for MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO?

Zibby Owens:

Hi Leslie! Thank you! Originally these essays were intended to be a part of a big splashy website I wanted to roll out, like a Goop for moms. When the pandemic hit, I scrapped that idea and built out a magazine on my own website,, called We Found Time. Each week, working with editors Claire Gibson, Elissa Altman, and then Carolyn Murnick, we released essays by authors from the podcast, some of which we’d commissioned before the pandemic even hit. We Found Time ran weekly for almost three months until mid-summer when it seemed like maybe we didn’t have time anymore! Then, in September, I started wondering how many essays we’d published. When I realized how many, I copied and pasted them into a big Word doc and was like, “THIS IS A BOOK!”

faceless woman reading book on comfortable bed at home

Photo by Meru Bi on

Leslie Lindsay:

All proceeds of the book go to Susan Felice Owens Program for COVID-19 Vaccine Research at Mount Sinai Health System. That’s remarkable. But also devastating. Susan was your dear mother-in-law and Marie your grand-mother-in-law, both passed from the virus. I’m struck by a couple of things: 1) You took your grief (and the collective grief of the world) and transferred it into something proactive. Also, 2) You got a book out in no time flat, which, if you’re not ‘into’ publishing, you wouldn’t know how slowly the wheels turn. Can you talk about the process a bit, please?

Zibby Owens:

Sure! Once I realized it was a book, I decided to pitch it to Skyhorse Publishing. I’d met with the Skyhorse team after they’d seen a profile of me on Taxi Tv with Sandy Kenyon! Over coffee, I’d remember being struck by just how quickly they could publish versus all the other publishers. I took my book to them, armed with all the existing contracts I already had signed with authors (which had included the right to publish them in an anthology because hey, you never know) and asked if they’d like to do it with me — on the condition that it came out super quickly. They agreed! We started talking in mid-September and it hit the shelves February 16th.

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Photo by Gary Barnes on

Leslie Lindsay:

Like you, I interview authors. I have been doing this since 2013…but this past spring [2020], things really slowed down. ARCs weren’t going out (no one to work in the warehouse). Authors were swamped and terrified and lacking creative flow. We all were. Still, I wanted to get books into readers hands. I continued to reach out. I asked authors to join me in interviews about some of their older books. Some were able to send copies directly from their personal stash, which I am so grateful. But! I had a handful graciously decline. They couldn’t possibly muster up the stamina with ‘everything’ going on. Did you have authors who begged off writing essays because they just ‘couldn’t?’

Zibby Owens:

A few authors bowed out of the project, but most decided to keep writing. I’m so grateful for that. (And love that you asked authors to send you their old books!!!)

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell me about your online literary magazine, We Found Time? Also, you just launched a writing fellowship program, which I understand will really get rolling in 2022. What do we need to know?

Zibby Owens:

I have a new online publication I’m super excited about called Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, spearheaded by Executive Editor Jordan Blumetti, and I’m launching a new super short-form podcast associated with it called “Wake Up and Write,” a daily dose of inspiration for aspiring authors taken from my main podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books. And yes!! I’m also excited about the fellowship! I’ll be sponsoring two to four debut women memoirists annually, pairing them with two editors, and helping them sell their books! [See above re: We Found Time. Instead]

woman writing on a notebook beside teacup and tablet computer

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on

Leslie Lindsay:

What I think we really want to know is: how do you do it all?! I mean, I am dizzy reading the acknowledgements section. You have four kids, do about 50 gazillion things, read a ton, more. What fuels you? What keeps your cup filled?

Zibby Owens:

COFFEE. Energy. Enthusiasm. Passion. A feeling like I need to do this. Everything I’m doing feels like a calling. And I wake up (early, usually with multiple kids and the dog in my bed) and start going. I’m lucky in that I’m FAST. I can type and think and read and everything quickly so I just keep going!! And I let some balls drop and definitely make some mistakes. Plus I’ve assembled a tiny but mighty team to help me!

ceramic mug with coffee

Photo by Madison Inouye on

Leslie Lindsay:

One thing I noticed as I read–many of the contributors in MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO are well-educated, affluent (mostly white) women. Some had the means to quarantine at a vacation home, others had nannies or something similar. There was death, yes, and that equalized things, but not everyone can be so lucky to be employed, partnered, educated, affluent. What thoughts do you have about that?

Zibby Owens:

Well, actually there were a wide range of genders, sexualities, races, religions, and socioeconomic voices represented in the collection. I haven’t assessed their educational backgrounds but you’re right that they’re super bright. I also really disagree about the essayists having nannies and vacationing in second homes. I was lucky enough to be at a home in Long Island when Covid ravaged New York City, but I know I certainly didn’t have any help at all for almost three months; we didn’t see anyone except my ex-husband! So no, actually, I don’t think that’s the case. Many of the authors were truly struggling but took the time out to write which I greatly appreciated. Everyone was juggling a lot during quarantine and this isn’t a collection of affluent writers at all.

dried plant branch on white table

Photo by Maria Orlova on

Leslie Lindsay:

Zibby, this has all been so great. Thank you for taking the time! Before we go, what new books are you most excited about?

Zibby Owens:

You’re welcome! I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m excited about The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz who wrote the book that became the show “The Undoing.” Count the Ways by Joyce Maynard. Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Animal by Lisa Taddeo. The Lost Boys of Montauk by Amanda M. Fairbanks. Ilona Bannister, When I Ran Away, and Paula McLain’s When The Stars Go Dark.


For more information, to connect with Zibby Owens via social media, or to purchase a copy of MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO, please visit: 


Order links:


~Book Concierge~

What to read next: You might want to check out these author interviews from some of the folks cross-referenced in MOMS DON’T HAVE TIME TO and those who have been on my author interview series: Maya Shanbhag Lang’s WHAT WE CARRY was one of my all-time favorite memoirs; also Chris Bohajlian, Rene Denfeld, Jan Eliasberg, Wendy Walker, others also appeared. It would be a fun challenge to tie in their novel-length works with these essays. 

zibbyheadshotABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Zibby Owens is the creator and host of the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Timeto Read Books. Zibby, named “NYC’s Most Powerful Book-fluencer” by New York Magazine’s Vulture, conducts warm, inquisitive conversations with authors, making her show a top literary podcast as selected by in 2019 and 2020. She also created the Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight community and hosts the accompanying podcast. Zibby is the Editor-in-Chief of Moms Don’t Have Time to Write, a
publication. Most recently, she released an anthology, Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology (Skyhorse Publishing, 2/16/21).
Before the pandemic, Zibby ran a literary salon, hosted her own book fairs, and was a frequent bookstore event moderator. During the quarantine, Zibby hosted a daily Instagram Live author talk show, “Z-IGTV,” a weekly live show with her husband, “KZ Time,” launched an online magazine with original author-written essays called We Found Time, and started Zibby’s Virtual Book Club. Zibby is a regular contributor to Good Morning America and has recommended books in the Washington Post, Real Simple, and other outlets. She has also contributed to Parents, Marie Claire, Redbook, the New York Times online, and many other publications. She has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, the BBC, and many local news outlets. She currently has a two-book deal for children’s books with Flamingo, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and another upcoming anthology with Skyhorse Publishing: Moms Don’t Have Time To Have Kids: A Second Anthology (11/1/21). Zibby serves on the boards of the Mount Sinai Health System, the Mount Sinai Parenting Center, the Child Mind Institute, and co-chairs the Library Council of the New York Public Library. A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, Zibby currently lives in New York with her husband, Kyle Owens of Morning Moon Productions, and her four
children ages 6 – 13. She always has a book nearby.  


Leslie Lindsay is the creator, curator, 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. She also snaps artistic photos of book covers and circulates on social media. Her photography has been featured on the cover of Up the Staircase Quarterly; other photography featured in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Arts & Literature, works of photography short-listed in the Manhattan Review, forthcoming imagery in The Closed Eye Open. She has contributed to Psychology TodayPoets & WritersMotherwellSemicolon Literary MagazineRuminate’s The Waking, and many other publications. She currently has a memoir on submission with Catalyst Literary Management about her mother’s devolve into psychosis, their subsequent estrangement, her mother’s eventual suicide. Leslie is the author of the award-winning/#1 Amazon bestseller special needs/parenting/communications disorder book, SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2020), now in its 2nd edition. She has appeared on Language During Mealtime with Becca Eisenberg, CCC-SLP and chatted with Dr. Erik Raj’s graduate level courses about educating future speech-language pathologists. She has also collaborated with various top-ranking pediatric SLPs in her research for SPEAKING OF APRAXIA. A cum laude graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia and the Sinclair School of Nursing, Leslie worked as a child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic before turning to writing full-time. She has continued her education at Northwestern University and the University of Madison-Wisconsin. Leslie currently lives near Chicago with her husband, and her two teenaged daughters. She always reading or writing. 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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