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Toe-tappin’ Hip-Hoppin’ Llama Glamarama is all about marching to the beat of your own drummer, celebrating differences, feeling left-out, PRIDE and more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A bright and colorful rhyming story with a powerful message about celebrating differences, LLAMA GLAMARAMA is the perfect Pride picture book for everyone.

Llama Glamarama - Cover

~Books on MondaY|Always with a Book~

Spotlight: Childrens Literature

June Author (1)

Meet a dazzlin’ dancin’ llama who learns to march to the beat of his own drum by strutting his stuff with Pride (and a funky feather boa)!

Larry the llama loves to move and groove! But will his friends all disapprove? Larry lives a slow and quiet life at the barn with all the other llamas, just the way they like it. But at night when everyone has gone to bed, Larry loves to dress up in bright costumes and DANCE! He has to hide this from the others, for fear that they won’t approve of his raucous ways. One day, he stumbles upon the Llama Glamarama, a carnival full of music, laughter, and yes – dancing! Will this vibrant celebration give Larry the pride he needs to bring his dance back home?

assorted colored chalks on wood surface

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Kirkus calls LLAMA GLAMARAMA (Scholastic/Orchard Books, June 1, 2021) by Simon James Green and illustrated by Garry Parsons,

“a toe-tapping book about being true to yourself.”

They continue,

“The energetic story is supported by colorful illustrations that read equally well from a lap or from the back of a story time group. The occasional witty aside will make caregivers and educators chuckle as they read the story again and again. The title will be on heavy rotation during Pride month, but it sets a catchy beat for all other times of the year as well. Will dance off the shelves.”

LLAMA GLAMORAMA has such a great message: we all need to be true to ourselves and celebrate the ways we are different…while also finding our own tribe.

I loved the flamboyance, the energy, colors, and fun this book brings…it’s truly like a party in a book. 

Which brings me to this: you can create your own party at home for littles [LLAMA GLAMARAMA is best-suited for kids ages 3-5 years). Here’s what you do: you get a group of likeminded kiddos (and parents) together (safely, of course, bearing in mind COVID concerns), and create an explosion of color with watercolor paints, markers, dress-up clothes, glitter (if you dare), and music. Maybe even serve or create rainbow-themed food…

The author/illustrator has put together a fabulous suggested playlist, which I am completely geeking-out over: 

  • Everybody Dance–Chic
  • He’s the Greatest Dancer–Sister Sledge
  • I’m Coming Out–Diana Ross
  • The Hokey Pokey–Ray Anthony
  • YMCA–The Village People
  • Macarnea–Los Del Rio
  • The Locomotion–Little Eva
  • Mashed Potato Tome–Dee Dee Sharp
  • Try Everything–Shakira
  • The Hustle–Van McCoy
  • The Conga–Gloria Estefan & Miami Soundtrack
  • I’m So Excited–The Pointer Sisters
  • Night Fever–The Bee Gees
  • Disco Infern0–The Trammps
  • Daddy Cool–Boney M

Full-disclosure: every one of these songs is fabulous; I know them all by heart. You can search ‘Llama Glamarama’ on Spotify for the full playlist.

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Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Why it’s good for kids with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS):

  • Kids with CAS often feel ‘different,’ left-out.
  • Music helps! Sometimes kids with CAS can sing before they can speak
  • Expression through music can be fun, kinesthetic, and whole-body, this stimulates the nervous/vestibular system. Since CAS is a motor-neurological speech disorder, it just might stimulate some verbal expression.
  • It’s about celebrating who you are–love, acceptance, friendship abound in this bright, bold book, but it also taps into those ‘darker’ emotions.
  • Kids with CAS often have difficulty with rhyming. LLAMA GLAMARAMA taps into this in a silly, fun way.
  • It’s multi-sensory.

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Artistic image designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this #alwayswithabook #speakingofapraxia

For more information, or to purchase a copy of LLAMA GLAMARAMA, please visit:

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

June Author (1)

Simon James GreenABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Simon James Green is an award-winning author and screenwriter. He contributed to the PROUD book anthology, and his successful Noah books (NOAH CAN’T EVEN, NOAH COULD NEVER, and the short story, NOAH GOES NUCLEAR) were optioned for television. ALEX IN WONDERLAND was nominated for the Carnegie medal and featured in Best Kid’s Books 2019 from The Guardian. His latest YA novel, HEARTBREAK BOYS will be published in June, along with his debut picture book, LLAMA GLAMARAMA, illustrated by Garry Parsons. Simon’s first middle-grade book, LIFE OF RILEY: BEGINNER’S LUCK publishes in September. You can learn more here. 

Garry ParsonsABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR:

Garry Parsons’ illustrative talent has afforded a wide and substantial list of clients in both publishing and commercial illustration.

In children’s publishing Garry has worked with many of the UK’s most talented writers and been published by leading publishing houses  including Puffin Random House,  Egmont, Hodder and  Andersen Press  including  many foreign editions and is the illustrator of the best selling Dinosaur That Pooped series. Garry’s  illustrations are regularly aired on the popular CBeebies’ “Bed Time Story” schedule. You can find him here. 

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ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management & Writer’s House.

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#alwayswithabook #apraxia #apraxiamonday #llamaglamarama #speech #rhymes #kids #childrenslit #music #dance #betruetoyourself #pride #pridemonth

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[Cover and author/illustrator images courtesy of Scholastic. Artistic image designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this #alwayswithabook #speakingofapraxia]

Helen Cooper talks about fragmented conversations, hidden histories in families, peering in windows, &other dark truths in her debut, THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR–plus miniatures and driving!

By Leslie Lindsay

How well do you really know your neighbors? How well do you know yourself? These are the overarching questions explored in this fiction debut by Helen Cooper.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Helen Cooper & Leslie Lindsay in conversation

From the U.K., Helen Cooper’s background in teaching with an emphasis on Academic Writing. Her creative writing has been published in Mslexia and Writers’ Forum; she was shortlisted in the Bath Short Story Prize in 2014, and came third in the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2018. The Downstairs Neighbor is her first novel.

ABOUT THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR:

THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR (Putnam, Feb 16th 2021) is a delicious blend of family drama meets domestic suspense as an entire three-flat Georgian home is a-rumble about the whereabouts of a missing seventeen-year-old girl. Cooper’s writing is tremendous and strong, while she presents a cast of characters: a mousy woman living alone (or presumably so) with a pet hamster, the ‘perfect’ Harlows, Steph and Paul (and their missing daughter, Freya), the driving instructor and his wife.

It’s one house. Three families. Countless secrets.

But now, Freya is gone. The police are investigating matters and everyone who lives in the building may or may not have something to do with it. They are seem a little sketchy, have a bit of a motive, and then there’s this new twist about a similar situation from twenty-five years ago. Could the two somehow be linked?

THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR is a bit of a whodunit, but more so, it’s about casting blame, discovering the truth, reinvention, marital tensions, relationships—lies, secrets, crimes, and more. The cast of characters are quite eccentric, flawed, and authentic. You’ll relish in deciphering the puzzle.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Helen Cooper to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Helen! Lovely to have you. I am always curious about what ‘haunts’ a writer into a particular story. And this one is very haunting…it’s dark and clausterphobic with some lighter elements. What propelled you?


Helen Cooper:  

Thank you have having me, Leslie! The initial idea that began haunting me (and you’re right, it is just like a haunting!) was the image of a neighbor in a shared building, overhearing something unexpected from an adjacent apartment. It was sparked by a friend who told me she’d discovered (by accident!) that there was one particular spot in her flat where she could hear her upstairs neighbors crystal clear. That really struck me – the idea of suddenly having an earpiece into someone else’s life – and seemed like a great way into a story. Everybody hears or sees fragments of their neighbors’ lives sometimes, but I started thinking, what if those glimpses were disturbing or worrying, or you became obsessed with listening in, or maybe misunderstood what you’d overheard? That became the opening scene of the book, probably the one scene that hasn’t changed much through all the drafts!

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

When I write, there is often a character, place, or theme I am eager to explore—sometimes all at once! Was there a particular aspect of THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBORS that did it for you?

Helen Cooper:

Prior to that idea of overhearing your neighbors, I’d also been thinking about the hidden histories that can exist within a family: your parents’ lives before they were your parents, or your spouse’s before you were together. It’s interesting how loved ones can seem as if they were different, unknowable people before your lives became joined. And we’ve all probably got things from our past we’d rather keep to ourselves!

The two ideas seemed to relate to one another – how well you know your neighbors, and how well you know those closest to you – so that became the main theme I was keen to explore. It was ideal for psychological suspense, really, because there were so many different (and sinister!) directions I could take it in. I decided to create a neighborhood of characters who all had their own stuff going on, but who’d been living alongside one another without needing to ask too many questions. Of course, I then needed a catalyst that would upset their coexistence. The disappearance of Freya, the teenager from the top floor apartment, changes everything for the residents of her building. I wanted it to cause suspicion and conflict, not just between the neighbors, but within the family units living on each floor as well.

Leslie Lindsay:

I want to talk about the house for a bit because I adore houses and homes and architecture. It’s an old Georgian style home subdivided into three flats, with three different families. Can you describe it in more detail? Is it based on a real place? And also, so much can happen under one roof—things we are often not privy to. I think that’s what makes THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR such a voyeuristic read. Can you expand on that please?

Helen Cooper:

The house became more important with each draft I wrote. I wanted a suburban setting, so I based the story in Kingston-Upon-Thames in southwest London, where my sister used to live. At first I pictured my sister’s two-storey building as I was writing (she lived in a ground floor flat like my character Emma), but as the plot became bigger, so did the house, and I ended up with a tall Georgian townhouse, a bit like the one my mum and dad now live in. It has four levels, including a basement and an attic, and original stone floors and sash windows, which I loved picturing as I was writing. In the book, as you say, it’s converted into three apartments – so although the house is quite big, it feels intimate and claustrophobic, which was what I wanted for the story.

In earlier drafts, I had my main characters all living in the same neighborhood, but only two of the families were actually in the same house. It was my editors who suggested they could all live under one roof – and I loved that idea; I realized it would make the atmosphere even more intense. Once I’d moved everybody in together, there was great scope to have them hearing, seeing, watching, and bumping into one another. It was fun to be able to zoom in on the three families on their different floors, and to compare the reality of their lives with the judgments of their nearby neighbors. And you’re right, it does feel quite voyeuristic – this idea of peering through windows, or listening outside doors. It was great to be able to play around with the misconceptions that can bring.

Another really fun aspect is how the house has become a bit of a symbol for the book. Both my UK and US publishers put images of the house on the book jackets, with Putnam choosing one that reminded me really strongly of the doors in my parents’ home! And Hodder had a miniature version of the house built by a model-maker to photograph for the cover. My very talented friend, who owns Paisley Pig bakery, also made the house out of cake to celebrate my publication day – with chocolate instead of secrets inside the walls!

Lock your doors, close your curtains, and sink into this claustrophobic tale of families, neighbours and buried secrets. Tense and perfectly paced, this emotionally charged novel will keep you guessing right to the very end.” 

― Emma Rous

Photo by Ron Lach on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Were there any characters—or their stories—that you had difficulty writing? Did you come to appreciate them as you developed space from the work?

Helen Cooper:

The hardest characters to write were the ones with the biggest secrets to keep! It was tricky getting the balance right between allowing the reader into their heads, and their lives, but holding certain things back and retaining the mystery. Plus, I was trying to create a scenario in which readers would be unsure who to trust or what to believe. I’ve been massively influenced by novels like My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier, which is an absolute masterclass in characters you’re constantly revising your opinion of! It was a big challenge trying to keep that ambiguity, while also making sure the characters felt authentic and relatable enough – and, yes, it was definitely harder with some than with others. But again, having the neighbors living in close quarters helped, as I could use their judgments of each other to muddy the waters. In the second half of the novel, as the major reveals start to happen, it was really satisfying to peel back the layers of the characters and show their true motivations. Some of them really came alive at that point, so then my task was to go back and make sure they felt well-rounded and engaging enough in their earlier chapters.

Leslie Lindsay:

Interestingly, my own daughter has a driving lesson tomorrow! She’s 16 and now I’m a bit terrified. In fact, there were quite a few themes in THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR that had me thinking: truth, reinvention, freedom—as in driving—were all of these intentional on your part? Do you write from an outline? Or allow the story to unfold organically?

Helen Cooper:

Ha, sorry for planting dark thoughts about driving lessons in your head!! The character of the driving instructor was one I’d had in mind for a while, actually (though my own driving instructor was not at all shady, I hasten to add!). When I started planning THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR, I realized he could fit in really well – someone who drives the same repeated routes around a neighborhood, observing things, and has a range of people in his car with him, who might all know each other or live in the same area. Chris sees the neighborhood from a unique perspective as he drives around it, but he also feels conspicuous in his branded car – and he finds himself very much embroiled in the investigation when Freya goes missing after a lesson with him.

And you make a really good point, Leslie – themes related to driving or learning to drive are highly relevant to the story, like control and protection; independence and freedom. Some of the themes were intentional, some developed as I was writing, and some I only became aware of once I’d finished! One of the fantastic things about having an editor (and I’m lucky enough to have two extremely talented ones) is that they tend to spot the themes that are hovering and encourage you to bring them out even further. And I love that stage – when the plot and the characters are all in place and you’re going back through looking for opportunities to highlight your themes.

I do broadly plan before I write, so that I know where I’m heading in terms of the central mystery of the book, and can plant clues and misdirection along the way. But there are always curve balls once I start writing, or things that don’t work in practice. With THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR, I had to plan each character’s arc and the things I needed to reveal about them as individuals, but I also had to consider the overall sequence of events and the pace of the story as a whole. I did a lot of re-drafting, and made some pretty major changes to the original plot, which required a lot of unpicking of the different storylines because they are so intertwined! So, even with plenty of planning, the book had to be taken apart and painstakingly reassembled a few times! Now I’m at a similar stage with my second book and trying to remember how on earth I did it the first time around …

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Helen, this has been so fun. Thank you for taking the time and providing a little glimpse into your process. Is there anything I should have asked but may have forgotten, or perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Helen Cooper:

Thanks so much Leslie, I’ve really enjoyed it! Great questions! Nothing to add from me, except all the best with your own writing and thanks so much for reading THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR and inviting me onto your brilliant interview series.

For more information, to connect with Helen Cooper, or to purchase a copy of THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR reminded me a bit of Claire Mackintosh’s work meets Louise Candlish’s THOSE PEOPLE and OUR HOUSE.

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

Learn more & donate to Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Helen Cooper is from Derby and has a MA in Creative Writing and a background in teaching English and Academic Writing. Her creative writing has been published in Mslexia and Writers’ Forum; she was shortlisted in the Bath Short Story Prize in 2014, and came third in the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize 2018. The Downstairs Neighbor is her first novel.

Helen has also co-authored two books on academic writing for university students.

She loves reading and running, and lives in Leicester with her partner and his daughter.

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online.

She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to become an audiobook from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.

You can learn more about HERE.

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Written by a nurse, illustrated by a 15-year old, and sung by a quartet of musicians, THE TEENSY WEENSY VIRUS is a fun, hands-on way to talk with children about the pandemic

By Leslie Lindsay 

Embracing the latest science, The Teensy Weensy Virus pairs simple, kid-friendly explanations with bright, colorful illustrations.

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~BOOKS ON MONDAY | ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Children‘s literature

COVID-19 is a big deal—but with all that adults have to worry about, it’s easy to overlook the pandemic’s impact on children. This book provides a great way for parents and caregivers to introduce and reinforce the importance of safety measures to children, while giving kids the opportunity to ask questions and share their feelings.

Written and designed by a pediatric nurse practitioner with expertise on the other end of the spectrum: palliative care, Sherri Rose is well-versed in health, medicine, and children. Plus, what I really love is how THE TEENSY WEENSY VIRUS offers additional resources for adults and an informative song. This helps lighten the mood as families engage with this serious topic.

I love the bright, bold illustrations, the sing-song-y lilt of this story, plus the playful nature and child-adult bonding that’s sure to happen. For all of those reasons, THE TEENSY WEENSY VIRUS is the perfect book to pair with your speech-language needs, particularly children and families on the apraxia journey.

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Tip: Sometimes children can sing before they can speak. Music allows rhythm and movement, and lend especially well with hand motions like that of the ‘itsy-bitsy spider,’ which this story is modeled after. 


For more information for how to incorporate books and music into your apraxia journey, please see the Speaking of Apraxia page on this website, or refer to SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech (Woodbine House, 2020). 


“A soothing story that helps children understand the new world of COVID-19. It provides them with simple, proven steps for taking appropriate precautions, and will ease the anxiety that has accompanied this pandemic. An added benefit is the resource list provided for parents to learn more facts about this new disease.”
—Helen Ragazzi, MD, FAAP with twenty-four years of experience as a pediatrician

For more information, to connect with Sherri Rose, or to purchase a copy of THE TEENSY WEENSY VIRUS, please visit:

ORDER LINKS: 

June Author (1)

sherri-roseABOUT THE AUTHOR:

​Sherri L. Rose grew up in Richmond, Virginia. As a retired pediatric and family nurse practitioner, as well as a hospice and palliative care nurse, she recognizes the critical importance of helping children understand what is happening during the pandemic that is currently sweeping the globe. COVID-19 has created so much stress, anxiety, grief, and loss for adults—imagine what children must think but be unable to express!

Inspired by her concerns for the smallest among us—as well as by her own significant grief over not being able to hug her grandchildren during quarantine—Sherri began to write this book to help preschoolers understand what’s going on and why all of us have to follow new rules. As a mother of three daughters and three stepdaughters, as well as a grandmother to seven, she hopes that the resources found in this book will be useful to parents and caregivers all over the world. Sherri started writing her memoirs several years prior to the pandemic, but staying at home has been quite a help, providing much more time to complete her writing projects. She plans to sell her Teensy Weensy Virus Book Series internationally, and it is her sincerest hope that her little books can help others better understand the science of, and the importance of staying safe during, this pandemic.

Besides writing, Sherri loves gardening, reading, singing (she participates in her church’s virtual choir), playing the piano, cooking, handwork, and playing Scrabble with her fabulous husband, George. While she loves being at home with her husband, she misses seeing and hugging many of her other family members—like so many others who are attempting to follow the CDC guidelines regarding social distancing during this difficult time.

IMG_1175ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir,4E6296D9-881B-44B2-856D-00A0BFAE2C12 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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Elizabeth Brundage discusses her fabulously dark and mysterious new novel, THE VANISHING POINT, how she enjoys investigating conflict from several angles, stylistic choices, existential questions & more

By Leslie Lindsay

A spare, unflinching, gorgeously rendered tale of intersections and cross-sections of our lives, the memories, jealousies, secrets, and more.

I am swooning over THE VANISHING POINT (Little, Brown May 18 2021) by Elizabeth Brundage. It’s eerie, evocative, entangling and pulls at a knotted thread of mystery. Here it has all of the hallmarks for gorgeous prose: it’s emotionally resonant leaving the reader with residual feelings and thoughts while at the same time generating forward momentum, it’s stunning.

Julian Ladd and Rye Adler are photography students–and roommates, briefly—during a time while attending an exclusive workshop, mentored by Brodsky, a photography great. It’s mostly men, but there’s a woman, too, Magda, a Polish immigrant who has spent most of her life in the U.S. Both men are fascinated and captivated by her, but no one can seem to ‘have’ her.

Julian and Rye’s lives diverge; they take different paths. Julian becomes ensconced in the pharmaceutical industry and Rye pursues photography. In fact, he’s at the top of his game, snapping photographs of celebrities and the like.

But now someone’s dead–at least presumed to be–there is no body, but speculation swirls: was it an accident? Suicide?

“A dark and moody literary mystery, centered on three photographers caught in a love triangle, Brundage’s stylish novel probes the relentless demands of real-world problems on artists and their work.”

New York Times Book Review


Traversing decades and exploring such themes of our changing world, about the denouncement of relationships, the fleeting images of our past and even our present. THE VANISHING POINT is highly sophisticated in theme and motifs, exploring those intersections–and cross-sections–of our society from homelessness to the immigrant experience, elitism, addiction, secrets, jealousies, motivation, and so much more. It would almost do the work injustice for me to try to summarize the plot or even my feelings about the book–just read it–you won’t be sorry.

THE VANISHING POINT is somber and stark but glittering with the most gorgeous and unfiltered prose with sharp descriptions and hugely perceptive.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Elizabeth Brundage back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Elizabeth, I am so, so in love with this book. I mean, it’s stunning. Not only is your prose razor-sharp and brilliant, but the themes are just so spot-on for this period in history. I know you had hoped to write a story about how photography serves as a metaphor—and it does (and you were successful in doing just that in THE VANISHING POINT)—but was there more to your inspiration? Other details and aspects you wanted to explore?

Elizabeth Brundage:

Leslie, thank you for your kind words about the book, they mean so much to me, truly. 

I guess it was about four years ago when I started taking pictures every day as a method of teaching myself how to see.  Walker Evans famously said that it was the seeing that mattered to him, that his eye distinguished his work, not his camera.  That was my north star in writing this novel.  Trying to see what is real for these characters in an age of visual deception.  I wanted to find the real vs. the virtual. Who are we at this moment in time?  What are the things that bring us joy, the things that damage us or threaten to destroy us, the things that make us human?

This is a story about a love triangle that develops between three photographers, Rye, Magda, and Julian, who meet at an exclusive photography workshop in their twenties, when their ambitions are unrestrained and uncorrupted.  Over time, the realities of life and the difficulty of making it in a highly competitive field inevitably alters their dreams.  I was interested in the competitive dynamic that exists between artists; a dangerous rivalry develops between Julian and Rye that forever underscores their lives.  Magda realizes all too quickly that she does not share the same opportunities as her male counterparts and, faced with many challenges, she makes a choice that casts a shadow on her destiny. 

When her son, Theo, starts using heroin, it feels like a betrayal of her conscientious mothering, and her life is suddenly, radically, changed – not unlike so many families in this country that have been caught in the grip of the opioid crisis, including my own.  I knew I needed to write about it. Our kids are at the mercy of our times – I wanted to show this with Theo. Addiction is a symptom of a much larger problem and you can’t really isolate it. Various questions came up for me.  Why is this happening to so many of us?  Who is ultimately responsible, if anyone?  What are some of the untruths, the mythology, associated with withdrawal?  How are parents unwittingly complicit in the decisions their children make?  Magda knows her life depends on saving Theo.

Photo by Csongor Kemu00e9ny on Pexels.com

Photography was useful to me as a thematic resource, allowing me to explore how each character’s unique vision and voice is a direct response to the world we’re living in right now. The novel, ultimately, is about perception – how we can all look at the same picture and see something entirely different depending on our vantage point, our frame of reference. 

We live in a visual world; a constant onslaught of images on screens everywhere.  I started to wonder how it alters our perceptions, our sense of who we are.  It’s true that, with the easy accessibility of our iPhones, we’re taking more pictures than ever before – but it doesn’t mean we are actually seeing.  We’re posting curated versions of ourselves, our lives, as evidence of our happiness – but that doesn’t make them true.  So there’s a sort of deception going on that we’re all participating in – a deception of the self – a virtual reality vs. what is real.  I wanted to get at what is real in this novel.

Photo credit: Leslie Lindsay #alwayswithabook #bookstagram

“At Rye Adler’s funeral, they didn’t bury his body – or the rivalry of his closest enemy.  A gripping literary thriller by the author of the “wrenching and exhilarating” All Things Cease to Appear.”

Wall Street Journal

Leslie Lindsay:

You are an accomplished photographer yourself. I know it began bit as a ‘method acting’ when writing THE VANISHING POINT—I think you wanted to explore what it was like to get behind the lens. I’ve loved observing your evolution on Instagram. Your photos are so strikingly haunting and sparse, and rarely include people—much like one of your characters. Like you, I find a ‘soul’ or presence in photography void of humans. Can you talk about this, please?

Elizabeth Brundage:

I like this idea of the soul coming through in some of the pictures we take.  I’m thinking that the soul is light.  And sometimes you can find a certain glow in photographs, some inexplicable and ephemeral manifestation that seems to suggest the idea of God….

I wanted to consider, in very general terms, God as an idea. The question of God comes up throughout the novel for almost all of the characters. Even Julian, who is not a believer, admits to noticing a mysterious light in some of his photographs of empty lots or vacant land.  There are enigmas in life.  I’m interested in writing about things that are not easily explained and yet are entrenched in our perceptions, our collective consciousness.  What do we make of that special light?  What do we bring to the image?  What do we invent?  Are our interpretations pure or an amalgamation of ideas and historical rhetoric?  What do we believe in?

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Here’s what I love about writing and photography: they are both storytelling mediums. They evoke emotion, stir memory, and more. And, as you hint at in THE VANISHING POINT, photography is fleeting; capturing a moment in time never to be had again. While writing—and its longevity—is a little different, it might be said that it too changes as the reader evolves. That’s why when we re-read something, it might strike differently. Can you expand on that, a bit?

Elizabeth Brundage:

I love to reread books.  When you first pick up a novel you read it as quickly as you can to see how it resolves.  With some books you want to go back and reread certain passages because the writing is so exquisite.  Again, it’s all about perception and where you’re at in your life at the time you’re reading something.  There are books I started years ago and set aside and went back to later and found them to be incredible.  I think it’s important to be open to novels, to forego your expectations and let the writer take you someplace you probably weren’t expecting. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk a little about your writing process? I know you did a ton of research for THE VANISHING POINT—reading about photography in textbooks, memoirs, etc. Do you research as you write, do it all ‘up front,’ or sort of hybrid? What elements of craft do you struggle with? What do you feel are your strong suits?

Elizabeth Brundage:

With this book in particular I did a lot of research up front while the characters were incubating inside my head.  I read as much as I could on the subject and practice of photography.  I wanted to gain a better understanding of how photographers see.  I studied the history of the medium, and was able to interview several professional photographers.  I attended the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC, which was an amazing experience.  I started taking pictures on a daily basis, which helped me to better understand the mindset of a person who makes countless images, who captures the world inside a frame.

The frame is interesting.  What’s inside of it; what is just beyond its boundaries?  And what is our frame of reference in life?  How does each of us develop a world-view?  For some of us, it’s easier to crop the frame, to choose what’s inside of it, while, for others, the lens offers an unedited landscape.  I read so many fascinating books about the photographer’s process, many of which I’ve referenced in the acknowledge pages.

When I’m writing a novel, I think of my keyboard as the keys to a piano.  All of the notes have to add up to something.  I think of the story I’m telling as a visual opera.  I try to imagine it as if it will be read in one sitting.  There is the story that builds like a hive around a central dilemma.  There is the sense of place, the imagery, and the music of the words, the language.  I attempt to create a world that you can vividly see in your head as you read.  This is partially the hungry filmmaker in me.  As I’ve become more experienced as a novelist I realize that every sentence, every decision, matters.  Words.  Images.  The sound of the sentences as they stack up on the page. 

What elements of craft do I struggle with?  I tend to write pretty dark fiction.  I struggle with the idea of genre.  I find myself always writing a story that is, at its core, tethered to the thriller or mystery genre. But in truth I am not consciously trying to “thrill” people or make them turn the page.  I see life as both mysterious and thrilling.  When I’m working on a novel, I’m investigating a conflict of some sort from several angles. Every story I write is generated by philosophical and existential questions about who we are as people and what we’re doing here on this earth.

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In terms of structure—sort of at a micro-level—I noted the lack of quotation marks. At first, I didn’t notice, then it became a bit jarring. Finally, I liked it. It flowed. It felt more organic. Can you tell us about that decision? Was it intentional?

Elizabeth Brundage:

It’s a stylistic choice.  Ideally, when the reader is immersed in the world of the book, quotation marks are not necessary. I trust the reader’s ability to understand what is happening, to be invested in the characters, without having to be told when they are speaking. 

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how some of these places you mention in THE VANISHING POINT are so hallucinatory, so dreamlike, almost. They are a bit wonky—fragments and fractals—of underpasses and communes, backyards, abandoned places, seaside cottages, parked trucks. I love everyone one of them. Do they exist outside of your imagination? 

Elizabeth Brundage:

I think they are fragments, perhaps, of what I see inside an imaginary setting.  As in a photograph, a few remarkable details can describe a place – almost like the recollection of a memory, or the fragments of dreams, you can build a story from there. I try to use images that viscerally bring to mind a time and place so that the reader can fully inhabit the scene. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Elizabeth, I loved this so much. Thank, you, 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?

Elizabeth Brundage:

I just want to thank you for having me here today, and for your interest in this novel, and also for your love and support of so many writers in the work you do.  Your enthusiasm, your generosity, your genuine spirit – I am so very grateful for it. 

Photo Credit: Leslie Lindsay @leslielindsay1 #bookstagram #bookflatlay #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Elizabeth Brundage, or to purchase a copy of THE VANISHING POINT, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

I was reminded, in part, of the work of Anita Shreve meets Thomas Christopher Greene (especially THE PERFECT LIAR), with perhaps a touch of Meredith Hall (BENEFICIENCE and WITHOUT A MAP)

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

Author Photo Credit: Edward Acker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Elizabeth Brundage is the author of four previous novels, including All Things Cease to Appear, which was a Wall Street Journal best mystery and the basis for the Netflix film Things Heard and Seen. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she received a James Michener Award, and she attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.  Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Witness, New Letters, the Greensboro Review, and elsewhere.  She has taught at several colleges and universities, most recently at Skidmore College, where she was a visiting writer-in-residence.  Brundage lives with her family in Albany, New York.

Photo credit: J. Lindsay

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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Always with a Book at work #bookflatlay #bookstagram @leslielindsay1

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

Apraxia Monday but on a Talking Tuesday: Leslie Lindsay, Author of Speaking of Apraxia, Narrates Audiobook

By Leslie Lindsay

You guys! May has been a huge month for me. I am so grateful, honored, and humbled to have had the opportunity to record the audio version of Speaking of Apraxia: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech.

A Timeline of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA:

  • When my first-born wasn’t speaking like other children her age, I worried. When her pediatrician said, “I think she might need an assessment from a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I gulped. Really?! Not my kid.
  • Just shy of her third birthday, she was diagnosed with moderate-severe Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS).
  • What is CAS?
  • Quick definition: a neurologically-based motor speech disorder in which kids know what they want to say, but have have difficulty organizing the movements needed for speech. It is not something kids outgrow, but requires frequent, intense speech language therapy, often for many years.
  • I wanted a book. Few were available, with the exception of some graduate-level textbooks, a chapter here and there, a mention in parenting or child development book. I wanted a book for families navigating this elusive and complex disorder.
  • What I did: I wrote the book. It wasn’t easy. It took years of research, a ton of reading, writing, networking, rejections…more.
  • The original book was released in 2012 by Woodbine House, a premier special needs publisher.
“Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech” (Woodbine House, March 2012)
  • Fast-forward many years. My editor at Woodbine reached out and suggested it was time for a 2nd edition. We wanted to update websites, quotes, resources, follow-up on some of the children mentioned in the first edition. We wanted more apps and technology, suggestions for things you can do at home, pandemic-related stuff. We did that. It, too, was a ton of work.
  • The second edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (December 2020) was met with a huge amount of excitement and interest and was a #1 Amazon bestseller in its category.
  • And THEN….Penguin Random House said they wanted to turn it into an AUDIOBOOK!! I was flabbergasted. I didn’t even know this was in the works! Well, I did…but then heard NOTHING for months. I figured it was a NO-GO. But it was a PLEASANT and DELIGHFUL surprise.
  • What’s more, Penguin Random House suggested we record in May, which is Better Speech & Hearing Month/Apraxia Awareness Month and Mother’s Day and I thought, what BETTER time to do this! It seemed the planets were aligning.
  • It took 5+ days (and probably a total of 30 hours) of recording. I worked at a recording studio in downtown Chicago and was consistently impressed with the sheer teamwork and all of the hands involved in the production, from the office manager to the studio owner, sound engineer, director (via Zoom in Brooklyn), the producer (in California), and the editor. It takes a village!
  • I had to pop back into the recording studio one last time to record what the industry calls “pick-ups.” That is, if there was a little bit of sound that was picked up (a growling stomach, cord movement, a sigh, swallow, throat-clearing). Sometimes I said something similar to what was printed, but not quite. “Interpret’ versus ‘interrupt,’ for example, or I said someone’s last name incorrectly. The editor listened to ALL 1133 minutes of recording, followed along with printed text, and then pointed out where I veered ‘off-script;’ we fixed it.
  • SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech will be available in audio from Penguin Random House July 6th. You can pre-order now. It includes a downloadable appendix will all kinds of great resources.

Learn More:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

Let’s be social! 

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Memoir Monday May Roundup with an emphasis on Motherhood & Mental Illness

By Leslie Lindsay

May is all about growth. Spring is in full bloom; and it’s a time for recognition and celebration, but it can also be a loaded month. Over thirty years ago this month, my mother devolved into psychosis. We were estranged starting in my tweens, until her suicide over six years ago. How does that leave me to mother my own daughters? Would I fall victim to the same genetic legacy? Could I break the cycle of poor mother-daughter relationships? And how do I celebrate Mother’s Day with no mother? How did I celebrate my mother when she was alive and not capable of being much of one?

“I am so grateful to have this conversation with you. It means a great deal respond to someone who has so carefully read my work and I’m thankful to have this opportunity to reflect in this way.”

-Vince Granta, EVERYTHING’S FINE

For the entire month of May, I’ve featured some really wise and thoughtful authors–they’ve courageously shared their relationships with their mothers, opened up about their deep connections with their daughters, lead us into dark corners of their grieving souls, but also how they’ve come up for air, found hope, and healed amongst the shattered pieces. There’s growth here, understanding, empathy, forgiveness. And so much more. We talk about memory, emotion, the art & craft of writing, coincidences, anger, and it was nothing short of transformational.

“I loved your intelligent questions and the process, as well. I so appreciate your generosity, especially to a first time author: It was such a thrill to see the post up in digital print.”

-Deborah Shepherd, SO HAPPY TOGETHER

If you missed something, it’s easy to read our conversations. Just click of the interview (“in conversation,”) near the date on the book image you’re interested in, and you’re in!

Sharing really is caring. If you read something you love, please share it by posting on your preferred social media outlet. Getting the word out on such a tender and vulnerable aspect our life is why we do what we do. It matters. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @leslielindsay1. Most authors featured have similar accounts. Please, re-circulate. It’s a kindness we really appreciate.

“Your grasp of the book was a delight. I think I found the perfect reader for this work.”

Maryanne O’Hara, LITTLE MATCHES

HERE THEY ARE….

“This is incredible! I always love chatting with you, Leslie. You ask the best questions.”

–Mary Kubica, LOCAL WOMAN MISSING

“Oh my gosh, Leslie. What a beautiful piece of art you turned this into!”

-Tori Starling, CRAZY FREE

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“…wonderful, inventive, and engaging questions from such a perspicacious individual. [She] showed my mother such kindness and thoughtfulness.”

–Claire Phillips, A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

“Leslie, you are just the best.”

–Nicole Bokat

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Nicole Bokat talks about her gorgeously written THE HAPPINESS THIEF, motherhood & careers, the happiness movement, thriving vs surviving, grief, being an empty-nester, how writing fiction is a privilege, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Edgy, smart, and propulsive blend of literary thriller meets family dysfunction.

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Spotlight: Motherhood & Mental Illness

Simple Border Health Quote Instagram Post

A masterful tale of family dysfunction, enmeshment, interconnected twists, the infallible effect of memory and emotion, lies, and so much more in Nicole Bokat’s THE HAPPINESS THIEF (SWP, May 18 2021).

Natalie Greene is a 41-year old recently divorced woman raising a 15-year old daughter. Even now, she still believes she caused the car crash that led to her mother’s death when she was thirteen. But did she? Haunted by this, her dissolving marriage (and the fact that her ex has so easily moved on), Natalie is trying to make ends meet while being a freelance food photographer when strange emails, the death of her stepfather, and a large FedEx package appears and then disappears, catapulting her back to those earlier days.

But there’s more: a recent trip to the Cayman Islands where her stepsister, happiness guru, Isabel’s, conference was held, an eerie similarity to the car crash that happened to Natalie’s mother nearly 30 years prior. Could the two events somehow be linked? Was Natalie responsible for both?

Edgy, smart, and propulsive blend of literary thriller meets family dysfunction.

Isabel insists that the events are not related; still, it doesn’t settle well with Natalie. Armed with just enough suspicion, an ever-present haunting, Natalie takes matters into her own hands, along with a Boston Globe investigative reporter. THE HAPPINESS THIEF is about memory, PTSD, family, tragedy, mental health issues, and what one will do to cover up mistakes. There are several unsavory characters, many who had the means and motivation, but THE HAPPINESS THIEF is more of a mind-game, with plenty of twists and deceit.

Please join me in conversation with Nicole Bokat:

Leslie Lindsay:

Nicole, welcome! I am marveling at the twists and turns—and the gorgeous writing in THE HAPPINESS THIEF. Much of Natalie’s motivation in this story stems from feeling haunted. She just can’t shake the fact that she likely caused her mother’s death. What stirred you into action with this story? Was there a question or theme you were seeking an answer to?

Nicole Bokat:

First of all, thank you so much for your lovely words about my writing and my novel!  The Happiness Thief changed as I revised many drafts. But, I wanted to deal with two seemingly unrelated themes: trauma and the positive psychology movement. I’ve been obsessed with certain issues which affect women more powerfully than men and how, in our society, responsibility for achieving the elusive work/life balance is foisted onto us. I grew up believing that women should be able to bounce back from childbirth in record time and go back to the office. If they couldn’t it was because they weren’t strong and sturdy enough, not because there was no parental leave or job protection. I felt tremendous guilt when I couldn’t measure up to my own expectations; I blamed myself for not reaching certain goals, even though, intellectually I understood that not everything was in my control. When I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America, it sparked this idea. I decided to write about the wellness industry’s role in perpetuating this myth that happiness is mostly self-determined.

woman in black crew neck t shirt wearing white headphones

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

The title, THE HAPPINESS THIEF, suggests that happiness is elusive, it can be stripped away. In fact, there’s a line in the book [I’m paraphrasing] about happiness being something only wealthy people are interested in. Can you talk more about, please? 

Nicole Bokat:

Sure. The wellness industry is really geared at people who aren’t struggling too much financially. The line “money can’t buy happiness” has been ingrained in us yet it’s been disproven by research. A little more than a decade ago, a study out of Princeton University claimed that $75,000 a year was the amount an individual needs to feel content. But, recently, I read about new studies from a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School that disproved the idea that happiness plateaus at a certain income. It turns out that having more money is equated with a sense of well-being. Once financial security is covered, people are motivated to address loftier goals like job satisfaction, better relationships, hobbies, and travel. In other words, they go from surviving to wanting to “thrive,” and that’s where the happiness/wellness industry comes into play.


“Nicole Bokat has the rare and precious gift of being both a master storyteller and an elegant poet. Each and every sentence dazzles in this intelligent and fiery tale about family, loss, and what it means to feel happy, whole.”

―Judy Batalion, New York Times best-selling author of The Light of Days


black sky with glowing stars at night

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Since May is mental health awareness month, I am keen to those elements in THE HAPPINESS THEIF. There’s definitely deceit and gaslighting, but also subplots about suicide and PTSD, troubled teens. Everyone, especially now, is affected by mental health issues. Can you talk about how these elements came to life for you in THE HAPPINESS THEIF?

Nicole Bokat:

I come from a household of mental health professionals. My dad was a psychiatrist, as is my sister. My mother is a social worker who worked on staff at a hospital for years. My father chose not to have a private practice but to deal mostly with disadvantaged populations. While he didn’t talk about his patients much, I was keenly aware of the role mental health played in both our family and the larger world. I had my own experiences with traumatic events when I was young (my father’s brother died of cancer at 33 years old, when I was nine). That tragedy and my dad’s grief affected me deeply. When my father died, years later, my earlier trauma was triggered in ways I couldn’t immediately understand. My experiences were nothing like Natalie’s in my novel. But, I took my own emotional and physical reactions and blew them up to create my character.

Leslie Lindsay:

What pieces of craft do you feel you are particularly skilled at—and what areas do you struggle?

Nicole Bokat:

I love language, the flow of it, the poetry. I don’t know if I’m “particularly skilled at” writing on the sentence level; but it’s what I find most pleasurable (which can be a trap, too)! The areas I struggle with the most are creating plot and keeping the dramatic tension high. I’ve learned to ask myself in each chapter: what’s at stake for my heroine now?

person writing on brown paper

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Without responding in complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote THE HAPPINESS THIEF?

Nicole Bokat:

Adjusting to an empty nest and missing my, now, adult children. Dealing with my husband’s early-stage cancer—from which he’s since recovered.  A little traveling, which was wonderful. Both of my sons’ graduations, one from college and the other from law school. Wrestling with the inevitability of downsizing from our house and figuring out where to go next.

Leslie Lindsay:

…and do you think those things subconsciously filter into your own writing? How might writers harness that flow, while staying true to the story at hand?

Nicole Bokat:

Writing fiction is a privilege and a form of escapism for me. It’s a joy, even when it’s difficult, even when obstacles like structure and plot present themselves. These are wonderful “problems,” puzzles to solve. I wrote a chapter outline for the novel, which inevitably changed over the course of several drafts, and shared it with a marvelous writer/editor who helped me brainstorm. My concerns inform aspects of my characters’ lives and thoughts. But, since I mostly write fiction, I like to get away from my own daily life through my work.

Leslie Lindsay:

Nicole, this has been so great. Thank you! One last thing: since Natalie was obsessing on these car crashes, what’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Nicole Bokat:

So many things! Politics has been front and center the last few years. A number of issues concern me the most: climate change, gun violence, health care, income inequality, and racism. On a personal level, I’m preoccupied with where my husband and I are going to live. We still plan to sell our house and hope to stay in our town. But, during the pandemic, my house was like a womb, protecting us. It’s going to be hard to leave it.

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For more information, to connect with Nicole Bokat, or to purchase a copy of THE HAPPINESS THIEF, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS:

  • Support your local in-person bookstore or order through Bookshop.org
  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 
  • See all books in the May 2021 author interview series on Motherhood/Mental Health/Illness HERE

YOU MAY LIKE: 

I found echoes of Caroline Leavitt’s PHOTOGRAPHS OF YOU (both protagonists are photographers, there’s a car accident), but also B.A. Paris meets Mary Kubica with touches of Gilly Macmillian. Also, in thinking about books with photography and a slight thriller aspect, consider THE VANISHING POINT (Elizabeth Brundage interview coming June 2 2021) meets T. Greenwood’s THE GOLDEN HOUR . Keep in mind that while THE HAPPINESS THIEF has elements of who-dun-it and domestic suspense, it’s more of a character study than a straight thriller.

NicoleBokatAuthorPhoto by Jay LindellABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

NICOLE BOKAT is the author of the novels Redeeming Eve and What Matters Most. Redeeming Eve was nominated for both the Hemingway Foundation/PEN award and the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for Fiction. She’s also published The Novels of Margaret Drabble: This Freudian Family Nexus. She received her Ph.D. from New York University and has taught at NYU, Hunter College, and The New School. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, Parents magazine, The Forward and at More.com. She lives with her husband in New Jersey and has two grown sons.

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUR YOUR HOST:

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

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Author/Illustrator Janice Hechter talks about her new children’s book, ADVENTURE GIRL: Dabi Digs in Israel, exploring archaeology as a career, digging up history, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A little girl visits Israel with her parents and discovers more than she ever realized at her fingertips, but also about her ancestry.

ALAZAR HECHTER CVR

~Writers Interviewing Writers|Always with a Book~

Spotlight: Childrens Literature

Whether digging in the dirt, crafting mud figures, or playing with worms, Dabi loves exploring nature and using it to learn about the world around her. ADVENTURE GIRL: Dabi Digs in Israel is a heartwarming family-centered tale of a visit to Israel to visit grandparents. Her parents insist she dress and ‘act like a lady,’ and Dabi reluctantly agrees, but soon finds a kindred spirit in her aunt, who takes her on a new adventure, at the Beit Guvrin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where children can join an archaeological dig, crawl through caves, and explore ancient ruins.

Dabi relishes in this experience, but soon discovers not everything can be taken home.

Written and illustrated by Janice Hechter, this darling book exemplifies curiosity, discovery, science, culture, and more. Plus, it shows that girls can do anything–even if it means getting a little dirty.

Also, there are many opportunities to extend this activity with other outings (you don’t have to go to Israel), projects, crafts, or additional reading.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Janice Hechter to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Janice, welcome! This story is so darling and reminded me much of my now-16-year-old daughter when she was younger. Only, she hates worms. What inspired the story? Was it a character, a place, or something else?

Janice Hechter:

I had been attending a lot of archaeology lectures at a local college and I thought back to when I was studying archaeology as a young child in school. I remember how fascinated I was by that unit. After learning about it at school, I borrowed books on archaeology from the library and even hunted for fossils in my backyard. I knew I wanted to write and illustrate a children’s book on archaeology, but I wanted to tie it in to a story that kids would enjoy. I tried to think of ideas but none of them resonated with me. Then one day, after just walking inside my house, the idea for this story came to me out of nowhere. I knew I had my story!

people digging using shovel and pickaxe

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I love Hadar and how she ‘digs up history.’ Can you give a little glimpse into the life of an archaeologist?

Janice Hechter:

As Hadar’s friend Doda Gili put it,

“A little dirt never hurt anyone.”

That’s a good attitude to have if you’re an archaeologist because one usually ends up filthy at the end of every work day digging. It’s a very muddy, buggy, sweaty, and dirty occupation filled with tough, physical work. But, it’s fascinating work for someone who is curious about how people lived in ancient times.

Like a puzzle, the archaeologist pieces together the life and culture of people from long ago by digging up buckets and buckets of soil, then sifting that soil, (like Dabi did) and looking for any items that ancient people left behind. And as Dabi found out, the archaeologist does not get to keep the finds, but instead cleans, labels, measures, photographs, writes about, interprets, and makes drawings of them. Some of the tools an archaeologist uses are wheelbarrows, shovels, trowels, picks, and brushes.  A lot of teamwork, travel, and patience is involved. It’s slow, careful work and it can sometimes take decades to complete the work on one site. Now that’s dedication!

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Leslie Lindsay:

The Beit Guvrin National Park, located in Israel, really captured my interest. I had no idea it existed. What more can you tell us about it?

Janice Hechter:

Famous for its hundreds of stunning, ancient, hand dug caves, Beit Guvrin National Park dates back to Biblical times, when it was a city called Maresha. The 1,250 acre park is the home to artifacts from as long ago as the 3rd Century BCE. Adults, along with children even younger than Dabi, have the opportunity to find out what it’s like to be an archaeologist by digging, sifting, and uncovering history at actual dig sites located inside ancient underground caves. After the dig, tours are offered, where people may crawl inside even more magnificent caves to tour the remains of an olive press, a Roman amphitheater, a large Jewish cemetery, mosaics, public baths, and many other fascinating ruins.

Leslie Lindsay:

What if you can’t get to Israel? Are there places like this that exist in the U.S.? What other activities would you recommend kids and their adults do that might tap into similar interests?

Janice Hechter:

Although none of them go anywhere near as far back in time as the sites found in Israel, there are many ancient ruins in the United States, which are largely located in the Southwest portion of the country.

One archaeological site that really stands out in the United States is at the Mesa Verde National Park, located in Colorado. This park offers tours of the incredibly preserved homes of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived there up to thirteen centuries ago. The park offers a window into the vibrant society of twenty-six tribes. With 600 ancient cliff dwellings and 5,000 archaeological sites there’s plenty to explore.

If you want to dig at a site like Dabi did, but in the United States, the Museum of Western Colorado, in Grand Junction, Colorado is the closest you’ll get. Adults and children as young as five years old may go on a real dinosaur dig.

Many children’s museums offer simulated dig sites for children. Items such as dinosaur bones are hidden beneath the sand for children to dig up, brush off, and identify the type of dinosaur from the bones. This will help prepare them for when they go to a real dig site and kids are always up for the challenge of finding something that’s hidden.

Some towns offer “Young Archaeologist Clubs” and/or “Archaeology Camp,” so people should always be on the lookout for these activities. An all-time favorite of many kids is the “Archaeology Kit,” which may be purchased in a store or online, and is made especially for children. It comes with a buried artifact and all the tools a child needs to dig it up. So, keep digging!

crop faceless mother with baby playing with plastic shovels in sand

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com


“The story went directly to the heart and life of a child … the illustrations were exciting companions to the text.”

 – Ashley Bryan, Author of FREEDOM OVER ME


Leslie Lindsay:

Since I’m sort of an accidental speech mom, I am curious about the words—the titles—given to family members in ADVENTURE GIRL. Can you tell us more about them, please? Also—were your characters based on people from your life?

Janice Hechter:

Since Dabi’s mom is from Israel, Dabi uses the Hebrew words for “Mom,” “Dad,” “Grandma,” “Grandpa,” and “Aunt.” I also thought it would be a good opportunity for kids to learn a little Hebrew and get more of a feel for life in Israel.

The characters were not based on specific people, but I’m sure I have met or heard stories about people who persevered with creative endeavors despite the discouragement of others. I like the idea that an adult, like Doda Gili, took an interest in and encouraged Dabi’s pursuits. One person has the power to make a huge difference in a child’s life. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Janice, this has been so lovely. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten, or perhaps something you’d like to ask me?

Janice Hechter:

Are you ready to go on an archaeological dig, Leslie?

Leslie Lindsay:

Yes! Absolutely. 

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For more information, to connect with Janice Hechter, or to purchase a copy of ADVENTURE GIRL, please visit: 

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bio picABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Janice Hechter is an award winning illustrator and fine artist who has
exhibited her paintings in various galleries and museums throughout the
country. Her recent book awards include the San Francisco Book Festival
Award and National Best Book Award for Hooray for Heroes! She was a Crystal Kite Award Finalist for The Great Elephant Escape and received a Mom’s Choice Award For Coach Bob and Me. Janice earned her B.F.A. degree in illustration from Carnegie Mellon University. Please visit www.janicehechter.com if you would like to see more of her illustrations and paintings. This is her first book for Alazar Press and her first book as both author and illustrator.

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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Tori Starling talks about her debut, CRAZY FREE, traversing three generations of women, postpartum depression, anxiety; plus a defunct mental health institution, how we need more resources, the healing power of energy medicine, more

By Leslie Lindsay

What if the story you had always been led to believe about your family was shaken with a new, devastating truth?

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Spotlight: Motherhood & Mental Health

What if the story you had always been led to believe about your family was shaken with a new, devastating truth?

That’s the overarching question in CRAZY FREE (Juniper Ray Publishing, April 20th), a debut by Tori Starling. I was immediately entranced with this stunning cover, but what’s more: CRAZY FREE focuses on issues that are near and dear to my heart: motherhood and mental illness.

Emily Sharp has always known there were holes in her family history. Her mother, Pam, a high-strung attorney, rarely speaks of her father she despises and her mother died when she was a baby. Emily is a journalist with an assignment from Southern Speaks, a local magazine, to investigate a defunct mental institution known as Hamilton Meadow. While there, Emily discovers more about the institution and Pam reluctantly opens up about her sordid family history, revealing that her mother, Kora (Emily’s grandmother) was a committed patient there so many years ago (1960) when she suffered from the very common (and treatable) postpartum depression.

But there’s more, too. A dark, harrowing truth surfaces as Emily digs deeper into the tarnished surface of Hamilton Meadow.

CRAZY FREE is written from the POVs of three women, each with their own compelling story, each tapping into some realm of mental health. There are lovely, warm touches of Southern life, told in an accessible and engaging prose. Here, we discover Emily, Pam, and Kora’s passions, dreams, and losses, and also: a bit of romance, too.

I was struck by the way society has shunned women who struggle with mental health–there were several gasp-aloud moments and yet the end comes to a satisfying close.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Tori Starling to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Tori! Hello and welcome. I know CRAZY FREE has been a labor of love for you—a topic that has haunted you for many years. Can you talk a little about your inspirations, please?

Tori Starling:

Thanks so much, Leslie. Yes, this book has been a labor of love that has been brewing in me since I was a little girl. As I child, I loved to read and write, and I always dreamed of writing a book. When I was about twelve, I found an All About Me book my grandmother had filled out. I remember reading it and being mesmerized at how resilient she was, despite the trials she had been through. She passed when I was in high school and her story never left me. I graduated with a degree in journalism and still kept the dream of writing a book in the back of my mind.

I am now in my mid-forties and it took me ten years to complete this book. I wrote the first draft when my youngest son was a baby, but I wasn’t fully satisfied with it. I put it away and three years later, I wrote another partial draft and submitted it to a writing coach. She advised me to pick one event from the past perspective and create a story around that. My grandmother had anxiety and possible depression issues, so I decided to dig a little more into this topic. Once I started researching, I knew I had found my story! With all of that said, the plot took on a life of its own and has almost no correlations to my grandmother’s life. I was, however, able to sprinkle in a few minor real-life details.

Photo credit: T. Starling and used with permission.

Leslie Lindsay:

I am so intrigued with your research. For example, Hamilton Meadow, the psychiatric institution you fictionalized, is a real place. I love the photos you’ve taken—in fact, it reminds me much of the Traverse City State Mental Hospital, now defunct. What can you tell us about your discoveries?

Tori Starling:

Although most of my research was garnered from Central State Hospital in Georgia, by 1955, over 550,000 people resided in state-run institutions. I was always particularly interested in this mental hospital because my great aunt was committed there as a young woman. Each institution had its own challenges, but for the most part, the gist of the stories was the same: stunning architecture, lack of money, overcrowding, investigative reports on poor conditions, and bodies placed in nameless graves. While researching, I read everything I could find on this topic, interviewed a nurse who worked there, and visited the abandoned campus. Pictures and a few eerie stories from my trip can be found on my website.

Photo credit: T. Starling and used with permission

Leslie Lindsay:

It saddens me, too, about the horrific treatment of women who experienced postpartum depression in the past. CRAZY FREE is set several time periods–1960 and ‘present day.’ We’ve come a long way, but more awareness really needs to come to the surface. Postpartum depression is very common—and very treatable. What more can you tell us about it?

Tori Starling:

In the fifties and sixties, there was a lot of pressure on a woman to be the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker. There are many stories about women who suffered not only from postpartum, but also from depression and anxiety. In the past, if you had some type of emotional imbalance that wasn’t improving, it was acceptable for your family to commit you to a public or private institution. Typically, it became a taboo topic that wasn’t discussed and these people were often an embarrassment to their family. We now know that postpartum depression is a fairly common mood disorder that sometimes occurs in women following childbirth. Main symptoms include sadness, worry, and exhaustion. Fortunately, there are now many treatment options available in the conventional and natural healthcare realms.

Leslie Lindsay:

I love how Rose, the nurse in CRAZY FREE gives Kora a notebook to write as a form of therapy. Not only that, but Kora works for the asylum’s newspaper, where she is able to put her skill set to use—benefitting others. This warms my heart in so many ways. First, can you talk about the healing power of writing, but also—it’s interesting that Emily becomes a journalist. It’s not just mental illness that is ‘passed down,’ but perhaps the ‘writing gene’ as well.

Tori Starling:

I am studying to be a holistic health practitioner and I believe negative emotions can impact not only the mind, but also the physical body. There are many ways to purge negative emotions and writing is one of them. The secret, however, is to write with the intention of feeling the emotion, releasing it onto the paper, and leaving it there. Many of the past mental institutions had patient-run newspapers, which began as a form of occupational therapy. They learned that people who busied their hands and minds recovered quicker. It was initially called print therapy and was first introduced to veterans during World War I.

Yes, I definitely think the writing gene can be passed down from our ancestors. I don’t believe DNA is limited to just inherited, physical traits like height, eye color, and disease. In many ways we are a product of our past generations, even though most people aren’t aware of it. These things can impact us both positively and negatively. There are energy medicine modalities that allow people to purge generational trauma. It’s fascinating to consider as a possibility.

Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Tori, this has all been so great. I fear there’s probably something more I should ask, but may have forgotten. Or perhaps a question you’d like to ask me?

Tori Starling:

These have been great questions! I think your favorite parts of the book were also mine. We know mental illness is a spectrum and affects people both mildly and severely. A treatment plan that works for one, often doesn’t work for another. I think we must start thinking outside the box and consider all options while of course, leading with love and compassion. I’d like to share a few energy medicine protocols that are my favorites and things I personally have experience with: Emotion Code, Eden Energy, Emotional freedom technique (also known as tapping), acupuncture, reiki, positive affirmations, diet adjustments, essential oils, prayer, Bach flowers, homeopathic remedies, breathwork, journaling, and meditation.

My question for you is, what is the status of your memoir? I loved Speaking of Apraxia and can’t wait to read your memoir. It must be so therapeutic, freeing, and perhaps a little frightening to put your life down on paper and share it with the world.

Leslie Lindsay:

Exactly! It’s all of those things, but one misnomer is the ‘therapeutic’ description. It might actually be more traumatic to dig into those buried feelings and events. No one wants to go there. Plus, stories-at least those intended for public consumption–shouldn’t be an emotional dump; they should feel universal and show growth (of the character). In this case: the character is also the author; it’s tricky, to say the least. There’s plenty of writing and revising. You want to get things down while they’re still ‘fresh and raw,’ but have the introspection–and emotional distance–to go back in and polish. At this point, I am less frightened about putting something like this into the world. It was a horrific event that happened, yes. It’s raw and vulnerable at times, but it’s my way of helping others who may also be walking a similar path. It’s my hope that it will bring understanding, sympathy, and begin decreasing stigma.

As far as ‘status’ goes, it is currently on-submission with Catalyst Literary Management. We are seeking a publisher.

Photo credit: L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay.com

For more information, to connect with the Tori Starling, or to purchase a copy of CRAZY FREE, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

As I read, I was reminded, in part, of several other books, specifically, WHERE MADNESS LIES (Syliva True) meets WHAT SHE LEFT BEHIND (Ellen Marie Wiseman) with a touch of the PBS show, FINDING YOUR ROOTS and also, the work of Simone St. James in terms of researching old places (particularly THE BROKEN GIRLS). You may also want to check out this piece, which provides suggestions for reading more about mental health/illness and motherhood.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Always a lover of books, Tori Starling holds a bachelor of arts in journalism, and writing a novel of her own was a lifelong dream. She enjoys reading and writing about strong women who have lost their way due to challenges that we all face. Her debut novel CRAZY FREE is a women’s fiction family saga with a touch of hope and southern grace. In addition to writing fiction, she is also the creator of the blog Jake’s Journey with Apraxia, which ran with the help of contributing writers from 2012 to 2016. Tori is married with three sons and two gorgeous fur babies. In her spare time, she likes to read, journal, walk for pleasure, run for stress, chat with girlfriends, watch her boys play sports, and spend time outside with her husband. She is currently studying to be a holistic health practitioner.

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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Claire Phillips talks about A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW, her mother’s struggle with paranoid schizophrenia, how sharing your darkest moment might bring light and hope to yourself–and others, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if your mother were blisteringly intelligent and ambitious and yet…she devolved into a stew of paranoia, delusions, and more?

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~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Memoir Monday: Mental Health & Motherhood

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This unflinching, insightful, and troubled memoir A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW: Chronicles of My Mother and Schizophrenia by Claire Phillips is ambitiously and intelligently told. Claire’s mother, Joy is an Oxford-trained lawyer diagnosed in midlife with paranoid schizophrenia. Here, the author takes a feminist lens and tells her story, recollecting her childhood–and her mother’s–an elegant, non-linear manner, arriving at the dark, and inevitable conclusion.

We get a striking glimpse of Claire’s mother from her younger days, the stress of being one of the only practicing female attorneys at time when it was primarily men, her father’s aspirations and career as a scientist, more. Phillips leads us through dark hallways where portraits of delusional thinking and paranoia hang, like a specter. But it’s more than that: A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW touches on the broken mental health system, adult children as a caregivers, mental health homelessness, shame, and the universal worry: could we have done things differently?

A daughter breaks the family silence about her mother’s schizophrenia, reframing hospitalizations, paranoia, illness, and caregiving through a feminist lens.


Claire Phillips writes with a powerful and harrowing hand, describing the generation gap between mother and daughter, but also extended family, touching briefly on the idea of legacy. A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW is written in fragments and is not exactly linear, perhaps by design, but reads very organically, with the end unraveling into its perfect cohesion.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Claire Phillips to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Claire, this story completely undid me. As a daughter whose mother mirrored similar characteristics, I felt completely empathetic to your situation and kept wondering, ‘how is this going to end?’ Without going into those specifics—unless you want to—what was the driving force in writing A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW?

Claire Phillips:

Thank you for your very attentive read. A parent whose mental health is not being treated or whose care is not always supported by the medical profession or community can be a deeply sorrowful experience. You don’t want a family member to suffer unnecessarily and by extension you do as well. This is something I thought about a lot when my mother endured her final relapse due to a mix up on the part of a potentially overworked CVS pharmacist. She received the wrong dose of her Seroquel, an effective second-generation antipsychotic, which completely destabilized her. My brother repeatedly warned me that a single missed dose might be all that it would take to induce a relapse, and this was pretty much all that it took. A strong bout of psychosis was the inevitable result.

As you know from reading the book, we were running out of Medicare days to support our mother’s psychiatric needs, and were worried that we would not have enough left to support a subsequent relapse. At my suggestion, my brother and I decided to care for Mom at home once we discovered the discrepancy in medication dosage. It was pure folly. We weren’t able to manage her care for a host of reasons.

Nevertheless she was a bright woman who wanted to do right by her children. She didn’t want to insist that we might be wrong, and tried her best to get better at home on her couch. It didn’t work. In most cases it won’t.

So the driving force in writing this book was a giant, “No More.” I couldn’t live with politely enduring the disappointment of the medical care available to my mother any longer. Growing up in the 80s I was encouraged to bury the uncomfortable details of our familial past. In 2013 it no longer made sense to do this when my every waking moment not in the classroom or driving endless stretches of hot gridlocked So Cal freeways was more or less dictated by the concerns of a family member coping with a chronic illness. I also felt compelled to take note of the process of her recovery. I had rarely partaken in her psychiatric care growing up, and finally I felt stable enough emotionally and workwise to pitch in. From the time he was eleven, my brother had done the bulk share of this traditionally female work. Initially, I had a large file in which I would add daily illustrative details titled: Mom’s Recovery Notes. I expected and needed this outcome. It was sadly not to be.

opened notebook with silver pen near magnolia

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I had to laugh because there was a scene where you’re with your mother and she says, “You’re not writing about me, are you?” You tell her no, but you were. And she knew it. A similar thing happened with my mother. She always encouraged my writing. I don’t think she’d be supportive of me laying bare her struggles. Here’s how I rationalize it: my sharing my story, it might help someone else. How do you look at it?

Claire Phillips:  

If your darkest moments bring relief to anyone else that is a wonderful gift. You feel so much less alone and that in and of itself makes the writing worthwhile. The writing life presents numerous challenges. You can honor those you know with a complex portrait, or unfairly bludgeon these intimates depending upon your aim. When the person you choose to write about is no longer among the living, invariably you have the last word. Still the project is wider. You might ask yourself, who might benefit from the telling of this illness narrative, and why? Which symptoms or early signs might be worthy of investigation so that similar mistakes are avoided.  I was always somewhat disappointed that my mother didn’t chose to get medical help in order to protect her children from her mania and paranoid accusations. What I discovered though by writing this book was that treatments were mostly cruel and unhelpful prior to the advent of first-generation antipsychotics in the late 50s. My mother might have feared being abused in a psychiatric hospital situation. From this perspective I gained some much needed peace.

different flowers shaped in word peace

Photo by Disha Sheta on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Your mother was very intelligent and ambitious. If someone told her no, she wanted to do it more. You talk about this sort of obliquely in A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW. She was determined to practice law, even though, at the time it was primarily a white male thing. It certainly wasn’t for Jewish women. But she insisted. I think that speaks to her dogged personality, but also it sets her up for a great deal of stress, which ultimately, perhaps lead to her breakdown. What do you make of that?

Claire Phillips:

This is a compelling question because it speaks to the confusion surrounding my mother’s illness. Without knowing her mental health history – a first break down in college during finals – it was easy for me to view her “break” from reality as a reaction to gender inequality in the work place, and to the trauma experienced by “ethnic” immigrants who don’t always “fit in.” Growing up, this was the lens through which I viewed my mother. I didn’t have access to much background on schizophrenia and/or mental illness. But knowing what I know now, I believe her illness was brought on by an organic neurological or biological illness. Her breakdown at 21 while sitting for finals at Oxford and her breakdown at 73 were both accompanied by the same symptoms: imaginary foul odors, an obsession with being unclean, and the terror of being shadowed by strangers. Many people have suffered economic and social injustice but do not experience psychosis. Or study vigorously without achieving their prized aims but do not “breakdown” so to speak.

The antipsychiatry movement of the 60s and 70s focused on social inequality as the dominant cause of mental health disorders, along with dysfunctional families. It was difficult, I think, for Laing and others to see that sexism and miserable parenting were perhaps endemic to working and middle class family life in England. The fact that the person in the family experiencing the mental health illness was being bullied by family members, in addition to suffering from an untreated illness is tragic, but a separate thread in the family narrative.

My mother was exceptionally capable despite her illness. She was driven. She did not want her illness to define or her limit her.

potted plant on wooden stool near bed

Photo by Tim Samuel on Pexels.com


“A moving portrait of her mother and their relationship, A Room with a Darker View is a book that people who are going through something similar need to read. Mental illness is a story, like everyone’s life is a story…. Many people don’t want to talk about death or illness, they want to talk about the heroics. But I think some of the heroics are just telling these stories. In this book, Phillips’ mother has a full life.”
– Emily Rapp Black, author of The Still Point of a Turning World


Leslie Lindsay:

For what it’s worth, there’s a good deal of literature—and science—suggesting that a psychotic episode is built up when an individual simply cannot take the pressure any longer. For example, my mother’s situation is that she came from a deeply troubled and traumatic childhood, a promiscuous teen life, drugs, and was a chronic liar. Her interior decorating business was folding, she had a toddler—my sister (I was 10), and the marriage was floundering. It all came to a head. What do you think it was for your mother that really tipped the scales? Also, you touch briefly on a family history of schizophrenia (same here) can you expand?

Claire Phillips:

Most nonfiction literature now, including the recent bestseller Hidden Valley Road takes the view that schizophrenia is very often inherited and most likely biological. The nature versus nurture argument has definitely tipped over to the side of nature. However schizophrenia is a fairly elastic term, one that might not signify the same neurological or genetic origin, but is still a necessary one in view of getting people medical help.

My mother’s illness was not so much the effect of her late career start so much as the effect of an untreated illness. Classic casebook symptoms made the argument for me: the senseless laughter, hallucinations, the delusions, and the eventual succumbing to Capgras Syndrome. The more my mother worked the more manic she became, and then the less she slept, resulting in the intensifying of her symptoms. Schizophrenia without treatment is like a runaway train. The sooner the brakes are put on, the better.

I do think some people come “undone” by unjust or insupportable circumstances, or experience drug related psychosis. Shadrack in Toni Morrison’s novel Sula strikes me as one such character, and serves as the town’s shadow conscience.

Claire Phillips color correct

Leslie Lindsay:

Going back a bit, to your grandfather, your mother’s father. He made a comment to your young father (who was engaged at the time to your mother), when your mother had an episode while studying for final exams at college. He said,

“This will never happen again. She’s just stressed.”

My father, like yours, heard similar things. He felt ‘taken.’ Why do you think the severity of this was denied? Is it fear? Responsibility? Something else?

Claire Phillips:

I imagine my grandfather hoped my mother would not struggle with a severe mental illness. At the time of my mother’s first “break”, the girls at Oxford were on extreme fad diets. Grandpa Mike wanted to believe that the stress of exams and being undernourished was what precipitated her breakdown. A doctor, Mike Gelfand may have also known about the poor outcomes associated with prior treatments: ECT, lobotomies, and the insulin cure. He wanted to believe my mother had a fighting chance at a full life. She recovered completely at the time after he assisted in terminating the ECT treatments, so it was believed.

It’s interesting that your father, too, felt “taken.” My father was in his early twenties when he married my mother. I am sure the prevailing view at the time was that women should be well equipped to care for their partners and children. However there are other stories, one in which partners support a partner with diagnosed with mental illness, women with powerful agency. I see this all the time. Better treatment and less stigma surrounding these illnesses has really helped.

Leslie Lindsay:

Speaking of responsibility, I am struck by how dedicated and supportive you and your brother, John, were of your mother’s mental illness. It truly is a chronic problem, and after your parents’ divorce, you were there, helping, caretaking. My mother drove everyone away; we were estranged. Can you talk a little about your role?

Claire Phillips:

I’m sorry your mother’s illness robbed her of the support and care of her family. That said, I had a distanced relationship with my mother, something I have come to regret. In our family it was my brother who weathered the most in order to get our mother help. He withstood so much. My brother and mother had a very close bond. She adored him in a way that was in sharp contrast to her feelings for me.

In my forties I was able to step up when my brother had less time to care for her, due to professional and familial responsibilities. It was staggering to me just how much fighting with our mother’s insurance company was required to get her care, and just how little help Medicare was.

Once I had experienced the daunting number of months it took for my mother to recover from a prolonged period of psychosis, how many different drugs she had to try, and how many facilities were involved, I became stricken at how little support exists for working people to recover from any serious bout of mental illness. That the L.A. County Jail is the primary provider of mental health care in the region is the unhappy outcome of a system that is failing everyone, rich or poor. I’ve heard very unfortunate stories about the County resources.

white petaled flowers

Photo by Evie Shaffer on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Mental health and illness have come a long way, but there are miles to go. I think writing and reading and continuing such important dialogue about the issue is key, but there’s probably more. What do you hope to see in the future?

Claire Phillips:

People are not getting the mental health care they need. As I mentioned, our prisons are full with people having mental health care disorders, who simply don’t belong there. Medical apartheid is real. As a white woman from the suburbs, my mother faired reasonably well considering how dangerous it is for BIPOC to rely on the police to help with a mental health crisis. 911 calls were basically our only means for getting our mother treatment whenever there was a mishap with her medication. Only once did she drive herself to the psychiatric hospital. Luckily, she received good care.

I never asked my mother what it was like to be hauled off by the police, if they used restraints on her, or anything else. I was ashamed of having called the police and of not being able to care for her myself. What kind of fear did she experience when the police knocked at her door? Who did she believe was there? What persuaded her to open her door? I will never know.

Treatments are better now than when my mother experienced her first “break” but of course, there is still much need for advanced treatment where side effects are not so debilitating. And caregivers must be supported financially to be there for family members. CA gives family caregivers $700 a month to care for an ailing family member, if I have that correct. That’s not nearly enough. Had my mother not received alimony, however modest a sum, or been the beneficiary of occasional family assistance and low-income housing she would have ended up a statistic.

layout of colorful fresh flowers and plants

Photo by Disha Sheta on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Claire, this has been so validating and important. I am so grateful for this conversation.  We could talk for hours, I know. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or, maybe something you’d like to ask me?

Claire Phillips:

Your attention to this material is so thoughtful. Thank you, Leslie!!  I might just ask if your mother ever had the opportunity to get treatment?  Was it successful? Could she have benefited from drug rehabilitation sooner? I impressed at how many works on this subject you have been able to read and review, especially being impacted so personally by a parent battling with an untreated illness.

Leslie Lindsay:

This is a compelling question and one I am not sure I can fully answer only because I was a kid (or not yet born) when most of this was going on. My mother became addicted to drugs as a teenager, at a time in our culture where she felt it was ‘the norm.’ Many people grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and were not addicted to drugs, so I am not sure about her assertion. She continued the abuse of ‘softer’ drugs in secret throughout her marriage–‘uppers,’ diet pills, pot. They blossomed into harder drugs, which maybe my father knew about, maybe not. I believe they were only small sampling of her overall ‘problem,’ and I wonder if maybe she was self-medicating, although poorly. Some intervention then may have helped, I don’t know. My mother was hospitalized multiple times from the time she was about 30 years old until her death, in her late 50s. She certainly had opportunities. There was a time when she was very balanced and stable, receiving therapy and on a medication regimen that seemed to help. Ultimately, sadly, she just couldn’t sustain the psychiatric toll her illness created. She was isolated in many way because she drove others away. I fully believe my mother could have been a wonderful, fully functioning member of society–she was wildly artistic and creative and bright–had she taken care of these things–but it would have required a good deal of discipline, behavior modification, and a very supportive network. 

As far as reading goes, I just can’t help myself! I am a former child/adolescent R.N. and also I lived through the harrowing experience of my mother’s psychosis, her suicide, and my subsequent complex grief. It’s validating–and empowering–to learn more about others’ experiences. The more I know, thhe better I am to understand, empathize, and support. It’s a passion. 

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

For more information, to connect with Claire Phillips, or to purchase a copy of A ROOM WITH A DARKER VIEW, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS: 

  • Doppelhouse Press
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  • This title may also be available through other online sellers. 
  • See all books in the May 2021 author interview series on Motherhood/Mental Health/Illness HERE

FURTHER READING: 

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

I was reminded, in part, of HE CAME WITH IT (Miriam Feldman), a mother’s journey with her schizophrenic son, but also WHAT WE CARRY (Maya Shanbhag Lang) in terms of caregiving parents, with touches of Vince Granata’s EVERYTHING’S FINE.

Simple Border Health Quote Instagram Post

Claire Phillips preferred author photo June 2020ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Claire Phillips is the author of the novella Black Market Babies and recipient of the American Academy of Poets, First Prize. Her writing has appeared in Black Clock magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, and MotherBoard-Vice, among other places. She was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and given a notable mention in The Best American Essays 2015. She teaches writing at CalArts, the Southern California Institute for Architecture (SCI-Arc), University of California, Irvine, and is Director of the Los Angeles Writers Reading Series at Glendale College. She holds a M.A. in Creative Writing from New York University, and a B.A. in English from San Francisco State University. Author photo credit: Monica Nouwens

1B6B942E-E2D9-4517-9773-73A6A5162188ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warms, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Mary Kubica to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in literary journals and online. She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speechsoon to be released as an audio book by Penguin Random House. She is represented by Catalyst Literary Management & Writer’s House. 

Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness & Memory is currently on-submission. Simple Border Health Quote Instagram Post

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Cover, author image, and personal author-mother photo courtesy of publisher and used with permission. Author photo credit: Monica Nouwens. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #amreading