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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

Always with a Book|Memoir Monday

Leslie Lindsay & Diana Kupershmit in Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diana Kupershmit:

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

Photo by Lisa on Pexels.com

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

– HEATHER SIEGEL, author of The King and the Quirky

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diana Kupershmit:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diana Kupershmit:

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

Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diana Kupershmit:

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diana Kupershmit:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diana Kupershmit:

No, just thank you for the opportunity.

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

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

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

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

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

Next:

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

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

Photo by gokceakyildiz on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

~WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS~

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

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

Leslie Lindsay & Amy Koppelman in conversation

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

ABOUT A MOUTHFUL OF AIR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Amy Koppelman:

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

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

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

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

Photo by Dom J on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Amy Koppelman:

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

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

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

But that’s intellectual mumble jumble. 

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

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

-The New York Observer

Photo by Wallace Chuck on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Amy Koppelman:

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

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

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

Medication does.  

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Amy Koppelman: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Marta Dzedyshko on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Amy Koppelman:

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

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

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

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

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

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

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

Next week:

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

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

Photo by tom balabaud on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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


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


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

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


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

With gratitude,

Amy, June 2021

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Joyce Maynard in conversation

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

ABOUT COUNT THE WAYS:

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Joyce Maynard:

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

Photo by SUNIL PATEL on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Joyce Maynard:

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

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

Photo by Soubhagya Maharana on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Joyce Maynard:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Joyce Maynard:

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

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

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

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

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

I try to shine a light on the unmentionable.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Joyce Maynard:

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Joyce Maynard:

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

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

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

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

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

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

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

Next week:

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

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

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

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

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

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

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

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Chevy Stevens & Leslie Lindsay in conversation

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

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

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

COMING AUGUST 3, 2021

Photo by Adil on Pexels.com

ABOUT DARK ROADS:

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Chevy Stevens: 

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

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Chevy Stevens: 

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

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Chevy Stevens: 

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

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

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Chevy Stevens:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Chevy Stevens: 

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


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

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


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Chevy Stevens:  

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

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

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

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

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

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

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book

HERE

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

B.A. Paris & Leslie Lindsay in conversation

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

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

ABOUT THE THERAPST:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

B.A. Paris:

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

THE THERAPIST: You might have to talk to someone.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

B.A. Paris:

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

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

Photo by August de Richelieu on Pexels.com

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

—T.M. Logan, author of The Vacation

Leslie Lindsay:

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

B.A. Paris:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

B.A. Paris:

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

― Henry David Thoreau

Leslie Lindsay:

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

B.A. Paris:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

B.A. Paris:

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

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

ORDER LINKS:

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

You Might Like:

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

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

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

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book

HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

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

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

IMG_5298

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Catherine Raven in Conversation

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

About FOX AND I: An Uncommon Friendship:

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Catherine Raven:

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Catherine Raven:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Catherine Raven:

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

what do I want to be when I grow up?

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

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

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Catherine Raven:

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Catherine Raven:

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

Nonfiction: Helen MacDonald, Vesper Flights

Leslie Lindsay:

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

 Catherine Raven:

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

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

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

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

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

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

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

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

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

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book 

HERE

Up Next Week:

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

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

You can learn more about HERE.

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Leslie Lindsay & Hanna Halperin in Conversation

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

About SOMETHING WILD:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Hanna Halperin:

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

Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

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


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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Hanna Halperin:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Hanna Halperin:

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Hanna Halperin:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Hanna Halperin:

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

Photo by Michael Burrows on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Hanna Halperin:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

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

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

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:

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

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

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book 

HERE

Up Next Week:

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

About the Author: 

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

Credit: Sharona Jacobs

ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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

You can learn more about HERE.

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

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

Laura McHugh is back sharing her sublime & atmospheric new novel, WHAT HAPPENS IN DARKNESS, set in the Missouri Ozarks, traumatic experiences with spiders, sleeping in her car, the claustrophobia of rural towns, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

Abducted as a teenager, a woman must confront her dark and tangled past as another case closely linked to hers comes to the surface.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Laura McHugh & Leslie Lindsay in conversation

Laura McHugh’s novels are often inspired by true crimes, but at the heart of each story, she writes about families: their secrets, their tragedies, and the powerful, complicated bonds of blood. All of her work is set in the Midwest and the Ozarks, where she was raised. Plus, she’s won–and has been nominated–for numerous awards, including International Thriller Writers Award and the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel and the Missouri Author Award for Fiction, among others.

Laura McHugh’s rural thrillers are always a summertime treat. They are so evocative and atmospheric, drawing such breadth and emotion from the landscape; you can nearly feel the thick humidity and hear the chirp of the cicadas. There’s a murkiness here, too, a gauzy underworld of darker things brewing.

One of 2021’s Best Beach Reads—OPRAH DAILY

⭑ An Amazon Editors’ Choice for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

ABOUT WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS:

WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS (Random House, June 22) is so psychologically astute, but also quietly spine-chilling. Sarabeth–now Sarah–was abducted at age 17, when she refused to participate an an arranged marriage right out of high school. Her body was found mangled on the side of the road after weeks of being held captive in a dark place.

Now, she’s mostly recovered from that trauma and lives independently working for an animal shelter when a detective approaches her with a new investigation, one that sounds shockingly similar to hers. She’s reluctant at first, but soon is ensnared in the mystery; mostly because her 16 year-old estranged sister is engaged to be married and has asked her to come home to be in the wedding.

Told in alternating time periods of ‘then’ and ‘now,’ Sarah recaptures the pain and confusion of her early upbringing in the Ozark Mountains at the Missouri-Arkansas border. Here, she must confront the past of the first half of her life: ‘typical’ before her father had that affair and moved the family to remote farm where the children were expected to wear dresses, be homeschooled, and have no Internet (and more).

WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is a dark, atmospheric mystery with some police procedural investigation, with a fairly satisfying ending; mostly I was intrigued with the community and human behavior. The writing is crystal clear, fast-paced and very unsettling; it’s a bit like WINTER’S BONE meets FOOTLOOSE (movie) with a touch of GONE GIRL.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Laura McHugh back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, I cannot believe it’s been four books that we’ve been chatting! Each one is so dark, so gritty, and I’m always excited to talk with you. We share a connection with Missouri and that’s what I want to start with. They say setting becomes a character, and with your work, it’s absolutely true. The Ozarks absolutely belong to you. Can  you talk about your geographical influences and inspiration, please?

Laura McHugh:

I’m so happy to be chatting with you again, Leslie! I’ve lived in the Midwest nearly my entire life, starting in southern Iowa and then moving deep into the Ozarks on the Missouri/Arkansas border. I live in a mid-size college town now, but I grew up in a series of small, rural communities, one especially tiny and quite isolated (our address was simply “Box 6” in Tecumseh—good luck finding it on a map!). The Ozarks are beautiful, though ruggedly, menacingly so. I love to incorporate the foreboding and sometimes treacherous elements of the landscape in my work, from the abundant spiders, snakes, and insects to the caves and cliffs and rivers to the impossibly twisted roads and isolated dwellings. For me, the sense of being in the middle of nowhere, with the constant buzzing of insects and the humidity closing in, those elements put me (and hopefully the reader) a bit on edge. You can’t help but wonder what’s out there, what terrible things you might encounter in these hidden places.

Photo by Jack Gittoes on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

Since WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is set in Missouri and you’re writing from Missouri, and I know so much fiction is ‘borrowed from real life,’ I couldn’t help but wonder if some of this was autobiographical. It probably isn’t…but one makes suppositions. Fiction and nonfiction often blur. Can you talk about that, please?

Laura McHugh:

I often start with small seeds of truth, but they grow into something unrecognizable. I’ll give a character a quirk of mine, or add little details drawn from personal experience, or take inspiration from real-life crimes, but usually those bits of truth are distorted and repurposed in the writing process to best serve the story. There are some pieces of my real life in this novel, though for some reason, they are mostly drawn from traumatic experiences with spiders! I was horrified the first time I saw a horde of tarantulas in the Ozarks. I’ve always wanted to put that in a novel, and I finally did. I also stayed in a river cabin populated by venomous brown recluse spiders while writing this book, and that made it in, too (I did actually sleep in my car one night, like Sarah does). The piece of this book closest to real life was inspired by the murder of a teenage girl on a remote farm not many miles from my home in Tecumseh.  

“Laura McHugh is already on everyone’s short list of crime writers to watch for, someone who just goes from strength to strength. WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS is timely, but more importantly, it’s a deeply empathetic look at a community and place that are all too easy to stereotype. Compulsively, propulsively readable, it never loses sight of what’s really at stake for its characters — or its readers.” 

Laura LippmanNew York Times bestselling author of Lady in the Lake

Photo by Austin Guevara on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I was talking with my (Missouri born and bred) husband about WHAT’S DONE IN DARKNESS and he said, “When is this book supposed to take place?” And I said, “Present-day!” He was shocked. So much of what you describe about Sarabeth’s life in the Ozarks rings of old-timey ways. Long skirts, man as head of household, women who sew, can, bake; no internet, homeschool. But it happens still. What more can you tell us about this aspect of the story? What research did you do to get this ‘right?’ Did you have sensitivity readers?

Laura McHugh:

This part of the story is drawn from personal observation, from reading about these types of communities, and from pop culture (many people are likely familiar with the Duggar family from their reality TV show). The religious community in the novel is fictional, and more extreme than what you might encounter in real life, but the patriarchal culture—and what might seem to some an “old fashioned” way of life—is real. I grew up in the Bible Belt and live in a deeply religious area. I know a family that embraced much of this lifestyle, though on the surface, they wouldn’t stand out aside from some telling details (the long dresses and hair). You would have to get to know them to get a deeper sense of their beliefs and behaviors at home. A friend of mine who grew up in a fundamentalist church read the book, and she told me stories about her pastor not allowing her to see Smurfs on Ice with her Girl Scout troop because ice skating costumes are “too carnal” and not allowing her family to get a Christmas tree. He had so much power over what was acceptable. When he finally relented and allowed a tree, it had to be a certain size, with homemade ornaments—nothing sparkly. And, as you might expect, that made her deeply want sparkles and glitter and everything he denied. The fictional church in the novel might seem outlandish to some and too close to reality for others, but I wanted to examine a patriarchal community like this through the lenses of different women—those who embrace it, those who exploit it, and those who long to escape it.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m working on a series of interlinked stories about my own ancestral roots; I can trace them the Missouri Ozarks and Arkansas (and also the Carolinas, Kentucky, Tennessee). I think Sarah mentions that when she goes back ‘home,’ it’s instantly recognizable. She feels the swell of the hills, the winding lanes. It’s visceral, almost. Do you think we’re rooted to the earth?

Laura McHugh:

In some ways, yes. When I returned to Tecumseh a couple of years ago to teach at a nearby writing retreat, I definitely had a visceral reaction. I think our experiences in a particular environment are inextricably linked to the place itself. For Sarah, the familiar landscape gives her a sense of claustrophobia and panic; she was desperate to escape, and returning makes her feel trapped. While I appreciate many things about the Ozarks, going back to my old home hollowed out my stomach with a feeling of desolation and anxiety. My body automatically remembered how I’d felt in that place, in my childhood, and the feeling returned without me consciously thinking about it. In contrast, when I visit the area I’m originally from in Iowa, and the town where my grandparents lived, the river and cornfields and the old houses are deeply comforting. My characters often struggle to reconcile the meaning of home. There’s always so much more to it than a spot on a map, but there’s a certain draw—sometimes good, sometimes not—to the places of our past.

Photo by Harrison Haines on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I know you’ve been a lifelong reader. I think most writers are. What—whom—were some of your formative influences?

Laura McHugh:

Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner. I liked horror, Southern Gothic, dark humor, science fiction. For several years when I was growing up, we lived in an area with no library, so I would read whatever I could get my hands on—discarded school books from my seven older siblings, yard sale finds, boxes of musty old paperbacks of unknown origin in our basement. That’s how I came across Jackson and O’Connor and other favorites I might not have sought on my own.  

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, as always, it’s been a treat. 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?

Laura McHugh:

I would love to know how you juggle your various projects! You have multiple writing projects and still find time for a full schedule of reading and reviewing. I know that’s not easy when you also have kids at home. Thank you for taking the time to visit with me—it’s always a pleasure!

Leslie Lindsay:

Ask me on a different day and I may have a very different answer! Most days I juggle multiple and unrelated tasks: kids’ dental appointments, a demanding basset hound (the phrase, ‘dogged determination’ is the life of a basset), social media/platform building, yoga practice and cardio, home renovations, and a very active reading/review schedule. My two writing projects are not related at all. There’s one about childhood speech issues and another about mothers and mental illness and grief. It’s a bit exhausting–mentally–to shift gears so frequently. Aside from all of that, I am writing and submitting articles and essays. Here’s a little secret: sometimes, I want to quit. Here’s another: I thrive with busyness and variety. A happy medium is ideal, but sometimes, even dynamos need a break.

For more information, to connect with Laura McHugh, or to purchase a copy of WHAT’S DONTE IN DARKNESS, please visit:

ORDER LINKS:

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

YOU MIGHT LIKE:

I found some similarities between WHAT HAPPENS IN DARKNESS and Julia Heaberlin’s work, particularly WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, but also some of Gillian Flynn’s earlier work, SHARP OBJECTS comes to mind, but also there’s a touch of Jodi Picoult here, as well as Karin Slaughter.

Next week, Hanna Halperin talks about her debut fiction, SOMETHING WILD.

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

Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book HERE

Up Next Week:

Hanna Halperin talks about her debut, SOMETHING WILD about domestic violence, going home, more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Laura McHugh is the internationally bestselling author of The Weight of Blood, winner of an International Thriller Writers Award and a Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award for best first novel; Arrowood, an International Thriller Writers Award finalist for best novel; and The Wolf Wants In. McHugh lives in Missouri with her husband and their daughters.

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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Author and cover image courtesy of Random House and used with permission. Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1

THE GRUMPY FRUMPY CROISSANT helps with kids anger management, plus a baking activity, how it might help with apraxia, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A sip of milk and ten deep breaths: anger management for kids to help calm angry minds and soften misunderstandings.

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~Apraxia Monday|Always with a Book~

Spotlight: Childrens Literature & Emotions

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Croissant isn’t happy and he’s taking it out on the rest of the breakfast plate! Toast, Scone, and Milk think he’s being mean, but Croissant feels they’re being mean to him! So take a sip of milk, ten deep breaths, and everyone and calm down and be more open. 

THE GRUMPY FRUMPY CROISSANT by Mona K. and illustrated by Korey Scott, is a delightful and quirky children’s book with bold, colorful, hand-drawn illustrations easy for any child to grasp. Here, kids learn that simple communication is often the best way to solve problems. 

The book even contains a delicious recipe that parents and caregivers can make with their kids, plus full-page coloring activities featuring characters from the book. 

Why it might be helpful for kids with apraxia

  • It’s frustrating for kids to have ideas they want to communicate, but can’t. They may ‘act out,’ become angry, melt-down. THE GRUMPY FRUMPY CROISSANT may help visualize and normalize anger. 
  • Rather than trying to ‘reason’ with a young child, breakfast foods take on human traits, which may be comforting–and silly–for children with limited verbal communication. 
  • Make it fun! Role play or ‘play-with-your-food,’ at home. Can you act out a scene or feeling with your child about how it might feel to have limited verbal skills? 
  • How about a themed book party? Read this book, or other books featuring foods (like Green Eggs and Ham), then whip up some delicious food with your child(ren). Let them help by measuring, pouring, mixing, more. Talk about these things as you do them. Your child may not respond with everything, but ask for approximations, more. Just the act of being together and narrating the tasks involved will be time well spent. 

GrumpyCroissant_recipe page

  • Talk about anger. Identify it as a feeling like any other…it’s normal and natural, just like love, happiness/joy, frustration, sadness, silliness, more. What other coping mechanisms can you model with anger? Stomping your feet? Punching a pillow? Taking a walk? 

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For more information, to connect with the author, or to order a copy of THE GRUMPY FRUMPY CROSSIANT, 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. 
  • Check out my curated list of children’s literature at Bookshop.org

 

DSC_2918-Edit (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Mona K. lives in New Jersey with her husband and six-year-old son. She derives all of her whimsical inspiration from her son and unhealthy amounts of coffee. When she is not writing, she enjoys baking and meditating. She also loves building stories with numbers and works as a statistician during the day.

IMG_1175ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

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

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

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#alwayswithabook #childrensliterature #kidsfeelings #kidsemotions #readingwithkids4e6296d9-881b-44b2-856d-00a0bfae2c12

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Cover and author images courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook #booknerd

Laura Lippman chats about her hallucinatory new novel, DREAM GIRL, about fear & isolation, how books formed her, backstory and creativity

By Leslie Lindsay

Such a masterful, slow burn of a literary thriller. Highly unique, deliciously dark and complex.

WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS

ALWAYS WITH A BOOK

Laura Lippman & Leslie Lindsay

A distinctive voice in crime fiction, Laura Lippman has been named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years. She’s a New York Times bestseller and has won more than 20 prizes for her work and been shortlisted for 30 more.

ABOUT DREAM GIRL:

Gerry Anderson is a big-time author, his book, DREAM GIRL catapulted him onto the bestseller lists and he hasn’t come down since...his sense of self is up there, too. But now, he’s been injured in a freak accident, laid up in his Baltimore penthouse, which, in essence, is pretty ironic and hilarious. Gerry doesn’t exactly want to be in Baltimore, he says he’s happiest in NYC, where he had been living. He has relocated to care for his ailing mother, who had issues with delusional dementia.

Here is where this synopsis and review gets a bit tricky: are we summarizing the story of DREAM GIRL the novel you see here, or the one “Gerry” wrote. DREAM GIRL is a bit of a detour for Laura Lippman (June 22, 2021, William Morrow), which she calls ‘horror,’ but it’s also a bit of a frame story. It’s slippery and elusive, just when you think you have a grasp on it, reality shifts.

Gerry is not particularly ‘likeable,’ but if you see him as a slightly skewed but lovable narcissist, you might actually really enjoy his wry sense of humor. I enjoyed the writerly/author insights and the literary references.

DREAM GIRL is a delicious head-trip. Gerry begins to question his sanity when he goes in and out of dreamlike states due to a combination of sleep meds, isolation, and more. He has a night nurse he doesn’t particularly trust, a day assistant who handles calls, errands, bills, but something is clearly ‘off.’ Gerry begins receiving calls from a woman claiming to be his ‘character’ from DREAM GIRL. Could he really be losing his mind…like his late mother? There are no record of the calls and so maybe…

We also get a terrific backstory, which is adequately placed, delving into Gerry’s childhood, his father, and so much more, which I loved. Keep in mind: DREAM GIRL is not your conventional storytelling technique, but a deviation from tradition—hugely creative and convoluted at times.

DREAM GIRL is whip-smart, hugely unique hook, with a deep sense of interiority, and the ending is inevitable. Truly a masterful read.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Laura Lippman back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura! Welcome back. It’s always a treat to chat with you. We last chatted about WILDE LAKE, which was borrowed from some of your life experiences (what fiction isn’t?!) and now, with DREAM GIRL, which is wholly different, there’s an echo of you here, too. In fact, your author’s note indicates that you and Gerry are about the same age, creatures of Baltimore, formed by big and small experiences…can you talk a little more about your inspiration for DREAM GIRL?

Laura Lippman:

It was the end of 2018 and I watched A Quiet Place over the holidays. I like horror films quite a lot and I’ve always been intrigued by how many horror stories use physical isolation as part of the set-up. But it occurred to me – and, remember, it was 2018 – that even people in big cities with busy lives might be more isolated than they realized and wouldn’t that be more horrible still? To see the world, to hear it – but not be able to get to it.

Photo by Philipp Birmes on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I found the structure and plot so unique and mind-bending. It’s unconventional, but that’s part of its charm. You describe DREAM GIRL as a bit of a ‘horror,’ I see it as a frame story, sort of a story within a story. It’s also very hypnotic, dreamy, and isolating. Would you agree with that assessment? If not, let me know where I went wrong.

Laura Lippman:

Hypnotic, dreamy – yes! The chapters in the past spring from what’s happening to Gerry in the present and, at first, the connections are easy to spot and literal. His accident has required him to be hospitalized, so he remembers waking up in the hospital as a boy who suffered a burst appendix, his parents sniping at one another. A snowstorm knocks out the power in the present day and he remembers how a blizzard affected the city when he was young. But as the book goes on, the connections get stranger. He has reason to remember a particularly graphic scene from the film Scarface and his memory takes him to a sad lunch he had with his mother at (the very real) Al Pacino’s pizza restaurant in Baltimore.

“Perceptive, often amusing insights into a writer’s mind make this a standout. Lippman is in top form for this enticingly witty, multilayered guessing game.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review) on Dream Girl

Leslie Lindsay:

Gerry is very isolated. In so many ways, this is reflective of the times we are living. I felt such sense of claustrophobia, isolation, and a thrumming anxiety in DREAM GIRL. Just as the country is starting to ‘open back up,’ I was thrust into this sort of dismal and topsy-turvy world. I’m guessing a good deal of this was written during the pandemic? Can you talk about that?

Laura Lippman:

If I had finished the book on time (February 1), it would have been done before the U.S. even realized it had a Covid problem. But I was, unusually for me, late with this book and I feel that it was a weird blessing to have something that required such intense focus for the first three months of the pandemic. And I think a lot of those feelings seeped into the book – the fear, the unknowingness of the time.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I absolutely loved all of the literary references, old classics (and more contemporary ones, too), how they played off one another and fed into the story. For example, Shakespeare’s Hamlet comes up. In what ways were you influenced by other works? And can you talk a little about your process?

Laura Lippman:

Books formed me, I feel that I am mainly made from the books I read when I was young. Books taught me how to “be” if that makes sense. Gerry and I are different readers – he’s much more of a literary snob, he reads competitively, if that makes sense – but I’m like him in that my default is to compare my life to a book. And to try to make everything into a narrative that I control, which, as I am reminded again and again, I don’t.

Leslie Lindsay:

Also, I loved the backstory! I find it intriguing to delve into the psyche of a character, particularly a character who is an author. this case, there was a darker side to Gerry’s dad. Bigamy and estrangement. In fact, these themes surfaced in another book I read recently and even have been unearthed in my own extended family. Without giving too much away, can you give us a sense of what shaped this backstory?

Laura Lippman:

Gerry is an example of what I consider to be a very dangerous type of man – someone who believes himself to be good. I believe in trying to be good, in striving to be good, but if you self-identify as good – yikes! Gerry wants to be a better man than his father, but that’s a pretty low bar. And he becomes so convinced of his own goodness that he doesn’t recognize when he’s being thoroughly awful.

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Where and what time of day do you find yourself most creative? Do you find that different types of creativity—brainstorming versus actual writing—come at different time and places or you?

Laura Lippman:

I love to write in the morning. I can brainstorm almost any time. I “solve” a lot of plot problems while walking or working out.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, this has been so delightful. 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?

Laura Lippman:

Thank you for being a smart reader who loves books. We can’t ask for anything more than that!

For more information, to connect with Laura Lippman, or to purchase a copy of DREAM GIRL, 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:

DREAM GIRL reminded me a bit of Gillian Flynn’s earlier work meets REAR WINDOW (Hitchcock)WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (A.J. Finn) ala Gillian Macmillian.

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:

Since her debut in 1997, Laura Lippman has been hailed as a distinctive voice in crime fiction. Recently named one of the “essential” crime writers of the last 100 years, she has produced 24 novels, a book of short stories, a collection of essays, and a children’s picture book, and been published in more than 25 languages. A New York Times bestseller, she also has won more than 20 prizes for her work and been shortlisted for 30 more. Her 2019 novel, Lady in the Lake, will be produced as a television series starring Natalie Portman and Lupita Nyong’o. Lippman lives in Baltimore and New Orleans with her 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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Unless otherwise noted, author and cover images are courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover and June featured authors designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay.