Polly Samson talks about her enchanting collection of stories, PERFECT LIVES, how it was influenced, in part, by being a new mother living near the sea

By Leslie Lindsay 

Eleven interconnected stories set in the bucolic English seaside town in which everyone is a little skewed and searching …for love, belonging, pleasures, and more.

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~DECEMBER SHORT STORIES SERIES~


Lately I’ve had a love affair with wry, enchanting short stories that bring to mind nature and our connection to it–and also the inner lives of deliciously flawed characters. PERFECT LIVES (Bloomsbury, 2010) by Polly Samson absolutely fits the bill. Her writing is keenly observed in the nuances of family life and also the small town feel of this enmeshed seaside community.

There’s a broken egg dropped through a mail slot, a boy who glances his babysitter at a circus on a trapeze, a struggling postpartum mother, a piano tuner, some gorgeous architecture, and more. The stories meander and trail along in a fashion that is both exquisite and nuanced, and at times, I struggled to find the connections between them, but characters do resurface, and like a true-life village, ‘bump’ into one another time and time again. Samson’s strength lies in details and observations. It made me want to be a voyeur on Evrika Street.


 “A cycle of intersecting stories describes the lives that make up an English seaside community—their joys, regrets, and various embarrassments. Samson is gifted in her understanding of and patience for the variety of human experience.”

–Kirkus 



PERFECT LIVES may not be very long–my edition is 194 pages–but the prose is dense and the stories deep, leaving a residue. It’s not the kind of book you read in a rush; take your time to savor, and perhaps re-read, looking for themes and motifs, because they are most certainly there.

PERFECT LIVES has been recognized as one of the best books of the year (2009) by the Sunday Times (London), the Evening Standard, the Spectator, and the Telegraph, as well as a recognition from O, The Oprah Magazine.


Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Polly Samson to the author interview series.


Leslie Lindsay:

Polly, thank you so much for taking the time. I am always interested in beginnings. What prompted this collection? Was it singular story that you decided to stay with a little longer, a character, a situation, a place? Something else?


Polly Samson:   

Thank you for inviting me Leslie, and for your kind words about PERFECT LIVES.  I wrote the stories over a period of almost a decade in the hiatus following the publication in my thirties of my first collection of stories and my first novel.  The reason I took ten years was that I had a houseful of small children and had taken a decision not to shut myself away while they were so young, a luxury I know.  The first story I wrote was the last in the collection, Remote Control, and was commissioned by the BBC as part of a series.  The other great influence was that I had decided to take piano lessons alongside my children. It was much harder for me! Being in my forties meant hacking through forests along the neural pathways and I practiced for hours. Pianos found a way into many of the stories and provided a link between Richard, the failed concert-pianist turned piano tuner, and some of the residents of other stories.

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Photo by samer daboul on Pexels.com


Leslie Lindsay:

Also, I am curious if there is a difference between ‘interlinked/interconnected stories’ and a ‘novel in short stories?’ They sound a bit the same, but maybe not. Can you explain?


Polly Samson:

Publishers have long been disappointed when an author turns in a collection of stories rather than a full-blown novel.  I think there’s a rather self-fulfilling prophecy that “stories don’t sell” so I was pleasantly surprised when Virago didn’t package PERFECT LIVES as “a novel in stories” for which there was quite a vogue at the time I find it slightly dishonest as stories are such different beasts to novels.  That said, I do love collections of stories with links. OLIVE KITTERIDGE by Elizabeth Strout, Alice Munroe’s  THE BEGGAR MAID, Melissa Banks’s THE GIRL’S GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING are three that come to mind and remain firm favourites.


Leslie Lindsay:

As for Evrika Street, can you set the scene a little? Is it located in Brighton, where you reside, or a made-up place? Were did you draw your inspiration?


Polly Samson:   

Evrika Street is a made up place.  I named it in memory of a recently-deceased friend’s boat, a place he was always happy.  It means “eureka” in Greece so fits with the sudden  realisations that take place in the lives that I’ve set there.  The stories are all take place in and around Brighton although I didn’t yet live there. My children were all about to start school in Brighton and, as we didn’t want them to spend all their free time traveling, we had decided to move.  I wasn’t feeling entirely optimistic about this as I was wedded to our life in rural England and was nervous about living in a town again.  Writing stories set in Brighton helped me to come to terms with the town, and to get to know it, and, as it turned out, as soon as we did move there I found I loved it,  with a passion, particularly having the sea on our doorstop.

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Photo by Stacey Gabrielle Koenitz Rozells on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:


I love, loved these descriptions of the homes and architecture in PERFECT LIVES, “The porches of the houses had fluted pillars; there were curlicues and garlands. The plasterwork reminded Rose of her first wedding cake, the one she’d cut […]” But I have a ‘thing’ for architecture and design and especially neighborhoods. What is it about homes that you think draw us in? We’re all a little voyeuristic, aren’t we?


Polly Samson:  

 I think the only really important thing about houses are the people who live in them.  I do enjoy setting the scene – I have to be able to visualize every aspect of the home before I start writing.  There are often more telling details on a coffee table, for example, than there are in what someone may volunteer to reveal.  Objects often speak louder than words, I find.  I remember once reading a novel by a good friend, someone whose books I loved, which featured a woman who worked in an attic. In Chapter Three she rises from her desk and walks out of French Windows into her garden.  I had to stop reading.  A mistake like that  signals to me that the writer hasn’t fully imagined the world.

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:


One of my favorite stories was ‘A Regular Cherub.’ Even though my own children are 12 and 14 years old, I am suddenly very interested in those early postpartum days. Can you talk about what inspired this one and also—do you have a story in this collection you feel a particular affinity toward?


Polly Samson:

I didn’t realise it at the time but looking  back I did have a (luckily mild) depression following the birth of one of my sons.  I can remember despairing that he wasn’t a bonny baby.  I would cry when people visited if they said something like “oooh, I love his little hat,” as all I would hear is “what a shame the baby is so ugly”!  Later, I looked at his baby pictures and could see that he was gorgeous: a regular cherub.  I don’t think I can claim a greater affinity towards one of the stories, it would be like picking a favourite child!


Leslie Lindsay:

Maybe you see what you want to see, because reading and writing is sort of a partnership…but in terms of themes and motifs, I kept finding eggs. Maybe it’s about beginnings. Or life. Or maybe I’m completely off. Can you speak to that, please?


Polly Samson:   

Oh goodness, it all feels like another lifetime.  I’ve written two novels since PERFECT LIVES  was published so the data has been wiped to make way for the new things.  I can say that the egg shell scene in the first story, The Egg, still makes me feel quite nauseous.  I do have a shell-phobia and I can remember reading that story at festivals and really struggling to get the words out without retching in front of the audience.  I suppose children figure in all the stories because they were the people I was spending most time with in the years before these stories poured out.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop thinking or talking about?


Polly Samson:  

My new novel, A THEATRE FOR DREAMERS, which is being published in the UK in April 2020.  I am currently doing final corrections to the proofs.  It’s been a few years but I can’t stop thinking and talking about the characters, some of whom are real people, Leonard Cohen, Marianne Ihlen, Charmian Clift and then, of course, there’s the island of Hydra in Greece where the action takes place.

Leslie Lindsay:

Polly, this has been most intriguing. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Polly Samson:  

Thank you Leslie for these excellent questions.  I can’t think you’ve forgotten a thing and it has been lovely to be reminded of the stories in PERFECT LIVES.  

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this

For more information, to connect with Polly Samson via social media, or to purchase a copy of PERFECT LIVES, please visit: 

Order Links: 

PS lower res.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Polly Samson was born in London in 1962. Her father, Lance Samson, was originally from Hamburg but came to London in 1938 on the Kindertransport. Her mother, Esther Cheo Ying, is the author of Black Country to Red China, a memoir that moves from Shanghai to Dr Barnardo’s and back to China where she became a Major in Mao’s Army.

In the seventies the family moved first to Cornwall, then Devon. A solitary child, Polly began writing and illustrating stories and poems from an early age. Eventually, after many attempts, a story about a lonely badger won a Blue Peter badge. It was the high point of her childhood. There were few high points at school and she was eventually asked to leave the sixth form of Newton Abbot Grammar School after which she spent a year working as a telex operator for a clay company.

At eighteen she moved to London and at her grandmother’s insistence got a job in publishing. Eighties publishing turned out to be a world she loved and thrived in and at the age of twenty-four she was appointed to the board of Jonathan Cape.

Polly Samson’s first collection of stories, Lying in Bed, was published by Virago in April 1999 and was picked as a “Book of the Year” by both Susan Hill and Cressida Connolly. Her first novel, Out of the Picture, was published by Virago in April 2000 and was short-listed for the Authors’ Club first novel award. Perfect Lives, Polly Samson’s second collection of stories, published by Virago in October 2010 was a Sunday Times Fiction Choice of the year, was shortlisted for the Edge Hill Prize and was read on BBC Radio 4. The story Ivan Knows was shortlisted for the VS Pritchett Award. In 2011 Polly wrote the introduction to Daphne du Maurier’s The Doll and Other Stories. She has been on the judging panel for many literary prizes including the Costa Novel of the Year Award and the overall Costa Book of the Year.

Polly Samson wrote the lyric to Louder Than Words on Pink Floyd’s The Endless River which reached the top of the charts in 2014. Her latest novel is The Kindness.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these online platforms: 

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#fiction #stories #storycollection #linkedstories #literaryfiction #Brighton #seaside#children 

[Cover and author image courtesy of P. Samson and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this] 

Jennifer Chiaverini talks about her new book, THE CHRISTMAS BOOK, how quilting binds friendships and community, her next book about Mrs. Lincoln’s dressmakers, and so much more in this delightful winter read

By Leslie Lindsay 

New to the Elm Creek Quilts series from bestselling author of THE QUILTER’S APPRENTICE, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER, and RESISTANCE WOMEN comes this warm story brimming with nostalgia.

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On the eve of the twentieth anniversary of THE QUIILTER’S APPRENTICE, the novel that launched the Elm Creek Quilts series in 1999, comes an update on the quilters we’ve come to know and love. THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE by Jennifer Chiaverini(William Morrow, Oct 1 2019) is a heartwarming tale steeped in nostalgia, old friendships and new. And I completely have a cover crush—you, too?!

It’s a snowy day in mid-December when we awake and begin the day with Sylvia, master quilter, and recently remarried…but there’s been a blizzard and the temperatures have plunged…water pipes at the local church have burst. The wooden floor at the community hall is warped and ruined and those plans for the Christmas Boutique—an annual sale of baked goods and handcrafted items to benefit the county food bank—is thwarted. Sylvia offers to host the event at Elm Creek Manor, her ancestral estate and also the summer home to her quilting camp.

We meet a host of different characters, of which the chapters are told in alternating POVs. There’s Sylvia Bergstrom Compson, once a young wife on the World War Two home front, and her second husband, Andrew. Sarah, co-founder of Elm Creek Quilt Camp an expectant mother. Agnes, who reflects on a beloved antique quilt, and empty-nesters, Gwen and Diane, who are sometimes at odds, but also contemplate family heirlooms, unfinished projects, and more.

THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE is a lighthearted, tender exploration of friendships, and much of it is told in the past, as a series of recollections. There’s charm and wisdom here and it might feel as if you have settled in for a story with past generations. I especially loved the manor and wanted more about the house (I always do!) and found I relished in the idea of being snowed in with a cup of tea and a roaring fire.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Jennifer Chiaverini to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Jennifer, welcome. Twenty years! How did the Elm Creek Quilts begin, and can you give us a few reflections as you look back on twenty years with this series?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

It certainly has been an exciting and unexpected journey from THE QUILTER’S APPRENTICE two decades ago to THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE today! Beginning writers are often advised to “write what you know,” and when I was starting out, I took this advice seriously. Since I knew about quilters—their quirks, their inside jokes, their disputes and their generosity, their quarrels and their kindnesses—the lives of quilters became a natural subject for me. I also wanted to pay tribute to the quilters of ages past who had preserved and handed down their traditions through the generations.

When I first began writing about quilters, I had two audiences in mind. The first included my quilter friends, who I thought would enjoy reading about contemporary women like themselves with problems and dreams like their own, overcoming obstacles in their lives by taking strength from their own moral courage and from the support of faithful friends. I also believed quilters would appreciate a depiction of modern quilters and quilt-making free of the usual stereotypes. Yet I also intended to write for non-quilters, to give them some insight into the quilting world, so that they might better understand how passionate we quilters are about our art and why we love it so.

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Photo by Immortal shots on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I am always so intrigued to know what inspired a particular title. After you wrapped up the series in 2012 with THE GIVING QUILT, what inspired you to resume the series with THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE? Was it a location, a situation, a character, or something else you wanted to explore?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

Although many of the Elm Creek Quilt novels are historical fiction—my favorite genre—eventually I reached a point where the historical subjects I found most compelling and the stories I most wanted to explore simply didn’t fit within the framework of the series. So after twenty Elm Creek Quilts novels, I wrote several stand-alone historical novels, including Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Resistance Women. As a few years went by, readers continued to ask for another visit with Sylvia, Sarah, and their friends, so I decided to write The Christmas Boutique as a gift for these loyal fans. The twentieth anniversary of the series seemed an especially fine occasion to continue the Elm Creek Quilters’ story.


“Devotees of the Quilts series will relish these new episodes, and new fans will delight to discover such a well-stocked back catalog. A warm portrait of women bound by craft—perfect for fireside reading.

─Kirkus


Leslie Lindsay:

I love this longstanding American tradition of sort of ‘piecing together’ our stories into a collected whole. There’s friendship and community that I think bind us—and these quilts—together. Can you speak to that, please?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

I absolutely agree with you. In fact, one of the things I’ve always hoped readers would take away from the Elm Creek Quilts series is a greater understanding of how quilting is a wonderful creative outlet that can draw you into a wider community of talented, welcoming quilters who support and encourage one another. Perhaps more importantly, I hoped readers would discover how quilting can bring together people from different generations, nationalities, races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds into a patchwork of friendship.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I loved, loved Elm Creek Manor. Here’s a passage I noted in THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE:

“Sarah’s ingenious and unlikely suggestion [to turn] Elm Creek Manor into a retreat for quilters, a place for them to stay, to learn, to find inspiration, and to enjoy the companionship of other quilters.”

Can you give us some more details of the manor? I always want to know about houses and architecture. Is it inspired by an actual home?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

I’ve described Sylvia’s ancestral estate in so many novels that sometimes it almost feels like a real place that I’ve visited in the distant past. Unfortunately—and I hesitate to admit this because I know it will disappoint many readers—Elm Creek Manor is fictional. Only the red banked barn on Sylvia’s estate has a real-life counterpart, a barn in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania that has been restored and turned into a theater-in-the-round for a local community theater company. I’ve provided a detailed floor plan of Elm Creek Manor in my illustrated guide to the series, An Elm Creek Quilts Companion.

Leslie Lindsay:

There are a variety of characters and stories within THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE. Is there a storyline or character you feel most aligned with?  A story that might have come more organically for you?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I’ve set several novels during this festive season, including THE CHRISTMAS QUILT—another Elm Creek Quilts novel—and CHRISTMAS BELLS, a historical novel exploring how Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write his famous poem of the same name (which is better known today as the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”) during the tragic years of the American Civil War. I suppose it’s the holiday itself—its traditions and customs, its music and flavors—that I aligned with while writing THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE rather than a particular storyline or character.

A common thread running through all of my novels, contemporary and historical alike, is the dynamic of the family, how those we are closest to and love most can be a source of both our greatest strength and our deepest insecurity and regret. Perhaps because of the expectations we have that Christmas is a time of joy and peace—and the effort we will make to create the mythical “Perfect Christmas”—the holidays tend to bring family conflicts to the surface, forcing us to deal with them at the least opportune moment. While this can make the holiday season difficult and stressful in real life, it offers wonderfully rich potential for storytelling.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What are your plans for the winter and holiday season?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

I’m going to spend the holidays at home with my family, enjoying all of our favorite traditions. My mother, brother, and sister will be joining us from sunny Southern California, so I hope the weather will cooperate by giving us a lovely picturesque Wisconsin winter landscape outside the window but sparing us the artic temperatures. Best of all, my eldest son will be home from college for semester break. It will be so wonderful to have him home again!

Leslie Lindsay:

It makes sense that everyone asks about quilting and writing, but do you wish you got asked more often?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

I honestly never thought of it like that. I’m perfectly happy with how often readers ask me about quilting and writing as it is.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What is your next project? What are you working on now?

Jennifer Chiaverini:

My next novel, Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters, explores the fascinating and often fraught relationships between Mary Todd Lincoln and her sisters and half-sisters. It’s often said that the American Civil War pitted brother against brother, but in reality, in many families, all were pulled into the conflict even if they did not take up arms. Opposing loyalties often divided sisters from sisters, parents from children, and such was the case in the Todd family. Mary, of course, was married to Union President and Commander in Chief Abraham Lincoln, and some of her brothers and brothers-in-law served in his administration or in the Union Army. However, other siblings and in-laws served in the Confederate forces, and some of her sisters and half-sisters were wed to Confederate officers. Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters reveals how Mary’s relationships with her sisters influenced her from childhood as she grew to be a charming, intelligent belle and future bride of the poor but brilliant ambitious Illinois lawyer who would become the nation’s sixteenth president. The novel shows how her sisters supported her (or otherwise) and benefitted from their kinship (or suffered for it) when Mary ascended to the White House as first lady, and how they comforted her or kept their distance in the terrible, sorrowful years of her widowhood after her beloved husband was murdered right before her eyes.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time. Wishing you all the warmth and good cheer this holiday season.

Jennifer Chiaverini:

Thanks! I hope your holiday season is merry and bright!

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Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow me at @leslielindsay1 on Instagram

To learn more, connect with Jennifer Chiaverini via social media, or order a copy of THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE, please visit:

Order LInks:

Jennifer Chiaverini Author Photo (1).JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels including Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and Resistance Women, and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. For more information please visit: www.jenniferchiaverini.com or follow Jennifer on Facebook: www.facebook.com/JenniferChiaveriniAuthor

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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#fiction #women #quilting #holidayreads #Christmas #winter #winterbooks

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Jennifer Chiaverini | THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE: https://leslielindsay.com/2019/10/25/warmth-friendship-quilting-a-darling-manor-home-in-pennsylvania-lend-to-a-heartwarming-tale-by-jennier-chiaverinin-this-holiday-season/

[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow me at @leslielindsay1 on Instagram]

 

The street lights have come on, it’s time to go inside…Carrianne Leung on her sublime novel-in-short-stories, plus what happens behind closed doors, suicide, mental illness, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Brilliant collection of intertwined/interconnected short stories about a suburban subdivision in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

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Winner of the Danuta Gleed Literary Award 

(Writers’ Union of Canada)

 An Amazon Best Book of the Month 

(Literature & Fiction)

Such a striking and brilliant collection of short stories from Canadian author Carrianne Leung. I absolutely adored THAT TIME I LOVED YOU (Liveright Publishing, February 2019), and felt a bit melancholy when it was over; I wanted to stay with these characters longer.

 ~ DECEMBER SHORT STORIES SERIES ~

When I finished this collection, sat the book down, I said, “Five glorious stars,” and I don’t do that often. These stories are about children losing innocence, adults burying their pain. They start off with a ‘rash’ of parent suicides, one right after the other, in this new development, where everything appears ‘perfect.’ The characters are flawed but endearing. Leung’s prose is absolutely glimmering and lucid. I couldn’t get enough.

THAT TIME I LOVED YOU is a harrowing and stunning portrait of suburbia in that tender period of adolescence and new promise (the neighborhood is brand-new, heaps of dirt still remain in some of the yards, chain-link fences go up, but the paint is still fresh). The first story starts with the end, quite literally: it’s the year the parents in the neighborhood begin killing themselves.


“Heartbreaking…. Leung’s stories lift the veiled curtain of late 1970s suburbia to reveal the sadness and isolation of its residents…. Written in the tradition of Alice Munro and Jhumpa Lahiri, Leung’s debut story collection marks the career of a writer to watch.”
– Kirkus Reviews [starred review]


Each street in this Scarborough neighborhood is teeming with children and families of all races and cultures (Italian, Chinese, Jamaician)–our main protagonist is June, a Chinese-Canadian girl on the cusp of young adulthood.

We meet so many neighbors with various personalities and quirks
–there’s a ‘lovely’ kleptomaniac, a new wife who dreams of a baby–but also the man next door—there’s the mother who swallows bleach and is found on her garage floor, the father who shoots himself with his hunting rifle.

Each story is a shift in POV, another look into a home, a different perspective on the suicides, and it’s so gorgeously done.
 THAT TIME I LOVED YOU is about moods and blistering desires, it’s about grief, and innocence, culture and class. This is one that deserves to be revisited time and time again. I loved it.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Carrianne Leung the to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Carrianne, I loved how you took these events with the parent suicides and wove them into this glorious collection of stories. There’s tension, logic, imagination, and so much forward momentum. What haunted you into writing this collection?

Carrianne Leung:

The stories began as a love letter to a particular time and place of my childhood. I felt like there was so much to say, so many stories to tell that haven’t been written about growing up in the suburbs from the point of view of a racialized child. The stories take place in the late 70s and early 80s which was an optimistic time in Canada. I remembered growing up a new subdivision in suburban Toronto, among many other new immigrants as an ambivalent time. Many of the issues we see today like racism, gendered violence, mental illness were present, but we didn’t have the language or understanding that we do now to discuss. I wanted to try to give language to those experiences in the sensibility of that period. Like a lot of young people, I longed to leave and find a bigger world, but when I revisited this childhood, I realized how much this place and time shaped me. The stories, while fictional, were my way of recording this memory.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What I really love is how the neighborhood in THAT TIME I LOVED YOU is so intricately connected–it’s a messy web of consequences of past mistakes, ideals, personalities. Can you give us a sense of where—and how—these characters were derived? Is there one or two you felt a particular affinity for?

Carrianne Leung:

As a child, I used to wonder what all my neighbours did behind the closed doors. Being new immigrants, my family and I were intrigued by how people who were not Chinese lived. The characters just came pretty fully formed. I guess they started as fragments of people I knew while growing up and grew from there. I love all of them! It would be like picking a favourite child! Haha. But I do feel that while these are linked stories, June is central. She has 3 stories – the beginning, the middle and the end, and only her stories are told in first person. I have a lot of affection for her.

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Leslie Lindsay:

In terms of process, did you plan to create a novel-in-stories? Do you outline/plot, or did the characters sort of ‘take over?’ I’ve long yearned to create a similar collection—houses, homes, neighborhoods, the families that inhabit them have always intrigued. But I fear it wouldn’t hang together. Can you give us a some ‘nuts and bolts?’

Carrianne Leung:

I wrote the first story, “Grass” many years ago. It was published, but it lingered for me. I returned to it and considered developing it into a novel. However, so many other characters appeared, all jostling for space. They all needed their own stories to be told, and I followed their lead. While writing them, I found that they jumped into each other stories. It was a lot of fun to build. It wasn’t until I had a full draft of the book that I was able to polish and tighten how they were linked. I suppose my advice is to just write a full draft and then go back to see how the stories braid together. I believe so much of writing is in the revisions!

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Leslie Lindsay:

The end of each story sort of ends in motion, on the exhale. It feels like these characters keep moving and interacting, even after the last line. What compels you to know when you’re at ‘the end,’ of a certain story?

Carrianne Leung:

I wanted to show compassion for each of the characters, however flawed and messy they and their lives were. Each story ends in a way that I hope gives some kind of redemption to them. They do not wrap up with tidy endings, but I wanted to leave that for readers. We experience our lives as being “in the middle of things”, and that was the way I began and ended the stories.

The image of the streetlights turning on as night fell stayed with me throughout the writing of the book. When I was a child, this was the signal that I had to go inside. So I knew this was how I wanted to end the book.

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Leslie Lindsay:

How did growing up in Toronto influence the way you write, both formally and in content? Are there certain authors or works that have influenced your writing? 

Carrianne Leung:

This is a great question! I am so inspired by what is happening in Canadian literature. I feel like I am in the company of such exciting work right now. I am lucky to live in a city that is very multi-racial and multilingual. I just googled how many languages are spoken here, and I found 200! This kind of diversity in race, gender identities, languages, etc. (and also the marginalization comes with difference) makes for a creative energy that I draw from. I am especially indebted to the work of Black, Indigenous writers and writers of colour for the inspiration and sense of building new representations of this place we call Canada. Among some of the fiction, non-fiction writers and poets who are especially important to me are David Chariandy, Catherine Hernandez, Katherena Vermette, Lindsay Wong, Jenny Heijun Wills, Alicia Elliot, Gwen Benaway, Cherie Dimaline, Canisia Lubrin… oh my goodness, I can go on and on. Now I fear I am forgetting a bunch of people! But please check out what is happening in the Canadian literary scene! It’s a very generative moment.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I have to ask about suicide, because it is a focus of the novel and not a light subject, but one I think people have an innate, somber curiosity about. There’s complicated grief for the survivors, but also someone who reads THAT TIME I LOVED YOU might also be struggling with their mental health. Can you speak to that, please?

Carrianne Leung:

I wanted to treat mental illness and suicide with compassion, respect and dignity. For people who have never experienced depression or suicide ideation, it may be unfathomable. As a child, I knew a few people who did commit suicide. You know, it’s a rupture of sorts for a child who may be hungry for the world to get larger, to feel alive with intensity to confront the reality that some people want to leave the world, to end their lives. I explored that in the book. What remains for the survivors? How do their perceptions and sense of self and stability necessarily shift in order to understand what has happened.

For those readers who are struggling, I hope that they get solace. I hope they do not feel alone. I hope they feel seen in some way and acknowledged that for many of us, the work of living is tremendously difficult. Within that, I hope they are also able to glimpse beauty.

Leslie Lindsay:

Carrianne, I so enjoyed this. Thank you, thank you for the insight (and inspiration!). Is there anything you’d like to add, that maybe I forgot to ask?

Carrianne Leung:

I just want to thank you for reading the book, Leslie. It’s gratifying to hear from readers that they connected with the stories and the characters. I feel so much love for them, and it’s the greatest joy for a writer to know that others may care about them too.

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Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this]

For more information, to connnect with the Carrianne Leung via social media, or to purchase a copy of THAT TIME I LOVED YOU, please see: 

Order LInks:

5a942a89b10ec30001a043ca_headshot_green-p-500ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carrianne Leung is a fiction writer and educator. She holds a Ph.D. in Sociology and Equity Studies from OISE/University of Toronto. Her debut novel, The Wondrous Woo, published by Inanna Publications was shortlisted for the 2014 Toronto Book Awards. Her collection of linked stories, That Time I Loved You, was released in 2018 by HarperCollins and in 2019 in the US by Liveright Publishing. It received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, and was named as one of the Best Books of 2018 by CBC, That Time I Loved You was awarded the Danuta Gleed Literary Award 2019 and was shortlisted for the Toronto Book Awards 2019 and long listed for Canada Reads 2019. Leung’s work has also been appeared in The Puritan, Ricepaper, The Globe and Mail, Room Magazine, Prairie Fire and Open Book Ontario.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media channels: 

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[Cover and author image retrieved from C. Leung’s website 10.15.19. Special thanks to Liveright Books. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this]

Lisa Tognola talks about self-comparison,wish fulfillment, the American Dream, the book she ‘had’ to write and so much more in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT

By Leslie Lindsay 

The all-American Dream to build the most perfect home comes crumbling down–and then up again–in this relatable tale about one woman’s obsession with home remodeling.

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Suburban mom, Janie Margolis is feeling cramped in their small-ish home with three children and no garageShe wants bigger and better and she wants it now. AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT (SWP, October 2019) is all about that quest for the bestJanie starts watching HGTV shows and dreaming of the most perfect place. Finally, she convinces her husband, Wim, that it’s time to move. Together, they start house-hunting. They have a long list of ‘wants.’ Nothing and everything is right. Finally, a real estate agent shows them a house on the ‘perfect’ street, it’s a bit out of their price range and a little dated…but…the location is right.

Still, it’s not quite right. Wim and Janie make plans for a tear-down. After all, they have to have the American Dream, the house that’s ‘just right’ for their family. But soon, the details of building a home from the ground up become a bit overwhelming. Wim and Janie bicker and argue. Money becomes tight. Their list of wants is bordering on pretentious.

Along the way, we experience crushes on contractors, frenzied shopping expeditions, the erection of a cupola that looks a little too much like…well. Plus, kitchen design woes an in-law suite, in-home theater dreams and more.


“With wit and empathy, Lisa Tognola unpacks the all-American dream of the perfect house. Tognola had me turning pages to see whether Janie’s journey would end in happily-ever-after or the poorhouse.”

–Pamela ErensAward-winning author of Eleven Hours, a Best book of 2016 by NPR


Much of AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT reads like a memoir. And with good reason. In the acknowledgements section, the author mentions this story was inspired by real events.I felt like I was right there alongside these characters–a fly on the wall.


Ultimately, AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT is about what it’s like to be lured by temptation
…to lose one’s financial security, and is there a difference between ‘fulfillment’ and ‘having it all?’


Please join me in welcoming Lisa Tognola to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Lisa, welcome! I am always so interested in beginnings; that seed of an idea that propels writers forward. What was haunting you when you set out to write AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT?

Lisa Tognola:

Thank you, Leslie! It’s great to be part of the author interview series. What was haunting me when I set out to write my book was that I’d been a stay-at-home mom for twelve years and while I loved it, it was frustrating that people who hadn’t ever parented full time often didn’t understand how challenging the job was. They’d ask, what do you do all day? It made me feel unproductive and unimportant, even though I think it’s the most important job in the world. I felt lost and maybe even unfulfilled. I’d lost myself in motherhood and was flailing. It wasn’t until my husband and I started building our house that I began to rekindle parts of my identity. Once I started writing, my house became my muse, and the creative release was exhilarating. When I popped awake, often between 4 and 6 am, writing was the first thing I thought about doing. I’d scurry downstairs to my writing chair and start tapping at the keys. Writing my book made me feel alive and awakened a part of me that had been hibernating. Honestly, I couldn’t not write the book. I had to write.

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Like in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT, we had an issue around the 2007 financial crisis.  My husband’s job took us from Minnesota (kind of a relief) to Chicago. We put the house on the market. Got some nibbles. Then a buyer. And then…that deal fell through. On moving day. We had two babies. Our house was packed. We moved. We had to. And then. Two house payments. It took another two years for that Minnesota house to sell. Seems everyone has a story about that time. Can you expand on that? 

Lisa Tognola:

That must have been a terribly trying time for you. It was a stressful period for so many of us. The lack of control over the timing of buying and selling a house had a major negative effect on houses as investments during the financial meltdown. Many people bought houses at the top of the market because that was the time that they needed a home for their families. But still others were stuck having to sell after the market collapse, due to a negative change in their own personal financial situations. That forced them to buy high, and sell low.

The question for Janie is, does she really “need” a new home for her family? It’s a question she and Wim grapple with, but in the end, her obsession with “keeping up with the everybody’s” propels her forward. Nothing will stop her. She realizes her mistake of “wanting it all” and ignoring reality only after it is too late and they hit rock bottom. This is the point when she says, “I longed to return to our pre-house-building life. Where our existence hadn’t revolved around an endless construction debacle. Where we hadn’t struggled to pay two mortgages. Where I hadn’t had to look under sofa cushions for spare change.” Eventually, Janie come face to face with her flaws and realizes she can no longer hide from her problems. She must dig herself out of a hole.

I want the reader to connect to Janie and Wim, who, like millions of other people in America, lost their financial bearings at the peak of the housing boom and were forced to deal with the crisis that followed. My hope is that the reader will be left feeling uncertain but hopeful about the future, because adaption, learning, and growth, enabled by imperfection, are what allow us to progress in life, to move forward, and to succeed.

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Leslie Lindsay:

In 2007, we left an adorable 1920s home in Minnesota with tons of charm for something that was ‘better.’ This is a theme I see in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT. We wanted wall-to-wall carpeting instead of wood floors (babies). The clawfoot tub was charming, but…not practical. Can you speak to this idea of wish fulfillment and personal fulfillment?

Lisa Tognola:

My book explores themes I think a lot of us can relate to: longing, desire, and image. This book is about Janie’s struggle with who she is in the world and how she appears in the world versus how she is really and whether there is a reconciliation with these things.  When is it okay to stop trying to create a certain image? When can I just be who I am?

I’ve spent my life worried about what people think of me.  I think many of us do. We want things because we want to feel good enough. At one point in the book, Janie says, “I think we’re ready for an upgrade.” She’s not just looking to upgrade her house, of course, but she’s either unaware of that or unwilling to admit that she’s looking for more emotional fulfillment in her life.

Her obsession over building a perfect house while simultaneously ignoring the consequences eventually force her to re-evaluate her life and her marriage. She eventually becomes more self-aware of a void she’s trying to fill. The person she is at the end understands her bigger need. She wanted a house, but she needed fulfillment. And a house alone won’t bring fulfillment. Genuine fulfillment comes from contributing to others—engaging in family life, charity work, spiritual life, being productive and making a difference in the world. Regarding your point about wish fulfillment: I think you can have wall-to-wall carpeting and a claw foot tub AND be emotionally fulfilled. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think it becomes a problem when we become too focused on material things and lose sight of what’s important. That is when we tread dangerous ground.

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Photo by William LeMond on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m curious about your process and structure in writing AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT. It’s not a memoir, but in some ways, reads like one. You chose to fictionalize names and some characteristics, but it’s also written in first person. Did you try to write in third person? How do you think the story would have been different?

Lisa Tognola:

It felt natural for me to write in first person because, like Janie, I’m a mom of three living in the suburbs, so it was easy for me to get into her character.  I didn’t try to write in third person because I think first person gives a story a feeling of immediacy and being in the moment and feels more authentic.

Case in point, my book ends with Janie and Wim lying naked in their newly constructed, sawdusty bedroom atop a plywood table on two sawhorses, pondering their fate. Often after people read my book their first reaction is, did this really happen to you? By which they mean, did you really have sex on a sawhorse? I tell them that’s between me and my hairdresser.  I think readers are curious about what’s true because when we read about a situation or feeling, it’s almost as if we’re experiencing and feeling it ourselves. But my job was to do the exploration and let the reader do the interpretation.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What can you tell us about the Decoration & Design Building in NYC? I nearly passed out from excitement when Janie and her interior decorator went there in AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT.

Lisa Tognola:

I have been to the D&D building and it is the mecca of interior design— an earthly paradise of furniture and fabric, textiles and porcelain—a place where you’re gobsmacked by magnificent crystal chandeliers, exotic rugs and python skins and exotic wallpapers that sizzle with color. Everything is wildly expensive and for all practical purposes, untouchable. But just browsing is fun!

Leslie Lindsay:

Do you still think about moving?

Lisa Tognola:

All the time, but for different reasons than I used to. I think what makes a place “perfect” changes depending on where you are in your life. When my kids were younger, we wanted a good school system, access to the city and proximity to family (grandparents, cousins, etc). But now that my kids are older and scattered around the country and my husband and I are edging closer to retirement we are starting to value other things in life such as lower taxes and a slower paced life. Instead of wanting more, we are starting to want less. Less house, less yard, less taxes!

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Lisa, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Lisa Tognola:

I’d like to share my hope for my book—that it might serve as a cautionary tale. The final message being: Live well—and always within your means. Live a fulfilled life. Janie and Wim went from living with a manageable mortgage in a house too small to living in a big house with a mortgage too big. They ended up more comfortable in a bigger house but more stressed by a bigger mortgage.

It may sound corny, but books do have the power to change lives and influence people and I hope people learn from my character’s mistakes.

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 For more information, to connect with Lisa Tognola via social media, or to purchase a copy of AS LONG AS IT’S PERFECT, please visit: 

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Lisa Tognola author photo_TND.pngABOUT THE AUTHOR: LISA TOGNOLA is an author, freelance writer, social worker, wife, and mother of three who always dreamed of getting married and living in the perfect house—until she discovered that passion comes with a mortgage. A former humor columnist at The Alternative Press, based in New Jersey, she is now a contributor to More.comSalon.com and Kveller. Her book reviews have appeared in ParadeKirkus Reviews and SheReads. She has contributed essays to five anthologies in the Not Your Mother’s Books series as well as My Funny Valentine: America’s Most Hilarious Writers Take on Love, Romance, and Other Complications and My Funny Medical: Off the Charts Humor from an All-Star Cast. Tognola hails from California but now lives in New Jersey, where she spends most of her time fantasizing about sunny skies, palm trees, and In-N-Out Burger.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of SheWrites Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. For more like this, and other bookish news, please follow me at @leslielindsay on Instagram].

Cara Wall talks about her incisive and gorgeously written debut, THE DEARLY BELOVED, about faith, love, marriage, family, struggle, and even autism

By Leslie Lindsay

Stunningly executed first novel is brimming with conflict, but also hope, and the most astute writing.

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Today show “Read with Jenna” Book Club Selection***

“A moving portrait of love and friendship set against a backdrop of social change.”

The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

Entertainment Weekly calls The Dearly Beloved “the best book about faith in recent memory.”

Plus, readers are saying it’s an instant-classic, traversing multiple generations.

I love THE DEARLY BELOVED (Simon & Schuster, August 2019) by Cara Wall. This has got to be one of the most stirring and incisive debuts I have read in a long time.

Writing with a restrained lyricism, Cara Wall’s THE DEARLY BELOVED is
about marriage, beliefs, faith, friendships, conflicts, and motherhood. Beginning in the 1950s and traversing through the 1960s, we are truly immersed in the world of Charles and Lily, at college in Boston, when Charles strays from the academic path held by his father and wants to become a minister. But then he finds Lily, who is a skeptic –and for good reason. She’s dealt with some loss and heartache that leads her to question God’s existence.

Meanwhile, James and Nan, a minister’s daughter from the South, are transplanted to Chicago, and she’s finding it hard to fit in, but there’s more going on, too. James’s challenging family background is causing his faith to waver. What does it mean to have ‘the call?’ The backstory is absolutely rich and rewarding and so well done.

Though very different in terms of religious faith and family background, James and Charles soon find themselves interviewing for the same position at the same NYC Presbyterian church. They both get the job. Set amidst the turbulence of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, plus women’s liberation, and more, these couples must forge together and create an alliance.

I found THE DEARLY BELOVED a tremendously well-written and sharply imagined novel. I relished falling into the lives of these unforgettable characters and found myself thinking of them when I wasn’t reading. Plus, there are a few twists and unique perspectives toward the end which will absolutely endear you to these Charles and Lily, Nan and James.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Cara Wall to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Cara! It is such a pleasure to connect. I read THE DEARLY BELOVED in alternating fits of ‘I-can’t-get-enough-but-I-don’t-want-it-to-end.’ This book is just so good. I always want to know what was haunting writers as they set out to write. What was it for you?

Cara Wall:

I was newly married and pregnant with my daughter, so the themes of marriage and parenting were very strong for me at that time. I had been living away from New York City for five years, and though I had my parents and some good friends in my neighborhood, I was feeling a little bit lost. My community ties felt new and fragile, especially as I thought about becoming a mother. I knew my life would change in ways I couldn’t imagine, and I was fretting over how to deepen my friendships and feel secure in my new life roles. I felt a little bit like I did in middle school, when I was terribly social awkward and desperate to fit in. As an adult, I knew I would get over my insecurities–I just wasn’t sure how. All of that informed the sense of longing that I feel permeates this book.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Your daughter is now fifteen. That’s a long time to nurture and love a book. Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? Did the story shift over the years, is it pretty much as we see it today?

Cara Wall:

My first draft was maybe 100 pages long. I wrote it in two or three weeks, and it was just a series of scenes. I think I spent the first revision adding the settings—describing all the people, houses, and cities in detail, so that I could feel the physical world of the story. From there, I spent a lot of time on the love stories and marriages of the two couples. That was all pretty easy—the two hardest parts to write were Nan and Lily’s relationship and Charles’s withdrawal from the church. It took me a long time to really understand why the two women dislikes each other so much, and why Charles wouldn’t let God comfort him in the face of Will’s diagnosis. So, those two story lines looked very different in earlier drafts than they do now.

The hardest part of publishing, for me, was just writing the book! It takes an inordinate amount of self-control for me to sit down and put pen to paper. It’s an agonizing exercise in discipline and patience, and it always takes me twice as long to write a sentence as I think it will.

Once I finished the book—I think I wrote 10-12 complete drafts–I had a very lucky and dreamy publishing process. I found an amazing agent almost by accident, and she did the heavy lifting that led me to Simon and Schuster. Once they had acquired it, I went through three rounds of targeted revisions with my editor: one to clarify Charles and Lily’s love story, one to clarify Charles’s withdrawal from the church (again!), and one to change the ending. Originally, Marcus and Annelise’s love story was much longer, and the book ended with their wedding, rather than Lola’s christening. I really liked that story line—I’d always wanted to the book to end with Charles, Lily, James, and Nan sending a new, young couple out into the world with hope and encouragement—but my editor wanted the book to stay closer to the four main characters. I was very resistant to making such a big change…until I realized I could change the wedding to a christening and keep the ceremony and Charles’s speech pretty much the same. As much as I’d dreaded it, that revision turned out to be the easiest of them all.

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Leslie Lindsay:

All of the characters—Nan and James, Charles and Lily—have a different view of faith. Charles is more academic and Lily doesn’t seem to have any at all; Nan is a minister’s daughter and her faith is pretty straightforward whereas James’s is a bit tentative. I think it’s important to note that not two people will ever have the same relationship with faith. Can you talk about how you developed these characters? Is there one you feel more closely aligned with?

Cara Wall:

All four characters came to me fully formed. I never felt like I was creating them; writing this book was simply a process of getting to know them. At first, I knew them as students and young people in love—the surface facts of their faiths were there, but if you read one of my first drafts, you would see that the religious parts of the book were skimpy and cartoonish. I was most interested in how these two couples stayed married for 40 years.

I really only started to think deeply about faith as I was expanding Will’s story, and it became clear to me that Charles was pulling away from God. I found that odd, and to figure it out, I had to go back to the beginning and really examine what Charles’s early religious experience felt like to him, and how he had made peace with Lily’s lack of faith. That was when the book became much richer and more nuanced, and I knew I was writing about something beyond love and marriage.

I feel most aligned with Charles. We are both academics, and we always see the nuances of any situation, which make it hard for us to take sides, even when we should. I feel least aligned with James, though I have incredible respect for his energy and determination—I think he would be perplexed by the fact that I write in bed and can spend an entire weekend inside, reading books.

One of the surprises of publishing this book is that readers tend to choose Team Nan or Team Lily. I’ve been taken aback by how much some people hate Lily—hate is their word, not mine–and also by how much they love Nan. I find Nan’s need for love and attention somewhat stifling, probably because she started out as a personification of my most insecure, desperate to be liked self.  I think Lily gets short shrift—readers who dislike her feel like she never thawed, and I so disagree with that! For her to pray with Charles at the end was a HUGE development. It meant that she had fully accepted him, that he could bring his faith into their relationship, that and the biggest wall between them had been brought down. I can tell you that Charles considered it a miracle.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I know you said that you made a ‘dubious decision’ not to quote scripture in THE DEARLY BELOVED because you wanted a more modern take on church. I like that much of the spirituality is left private, sort of off-stage, because that’s how it is in the ‘real world.’ Can you talk more about that, please?

Cara Wall:

Well, practically speaking, I’m not a religious scholar, so I was always nervous to include scripture. And most of the ministers I know don’t quote Bible verses in everyday conversation, so the only place I would have included scripture would have been in the sermons. But as I wrote those, I wanted to get straight to Charles and James’s most personal and insightful revelations; including the entire sermon would have made those passages long and unwieldy.

Also, I wanted people of all faiths and no faith to read this book and feel like they saw something of themselves in each character. I didn’t want it to be a book that preached at people. I just wanted to write a book that deeply explored what it means to be in relationship with other people. That’s a universal and eternal subject that I didn’t want to shrink into the lens of one denomination.


“Finely drawn and written with compassion and care, and every word is precisely chosen…This story will be beloved by book clubs and fans of literary fiction.”

LIBRARY JOURNAL (STARRED REVIEW)


Leslie Lindsay: 

I’m curious about so many things that go on inside a church. For example, I didn’t know about the hiring process or how ministers are provided housing. I didn’t know much about sessions or committees. These just aren’t things that typical church-goers know. Can you talk a little about the research that went into THE DEARLY BELOVED?

Cara Wall:

My research is from real life! My parents have been on every committee possible at their church, and I’ve been on quite a few myself, most recently as a choir steering committee member. Those committees are what build community, because you have to work with one another and make decisions that affect the success of the church. One of my jobs on the choir committee was to plan a tour to Spain for 65 choristers and parents—that was an almost impossible task, and I will be friends with the women who helped me pull it off for the rest of my life. (I’m not even going to discuss the annual pie sale.)

It’s important to note, though, that every denomination is different. The Presbyterian church is very democratic—every part of church life is decided by a committee, nothing is run top down by the minister. By comparison, in the Episcopalian church, the priest has final say over almost every part of parish life. And even within denominations, every church has its own personality and quirks of governance. So, I felt comfortable creating a fictional church that had its own character and traditions, as long is it evoked the feeling of the church I knew growing up.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What I think I really love about THE DEARLY BELOVED is the way you incorporated so many other aspects of these character’s lives. It’s not just a book on ministers and religion. At all. There’s motherhood and marriage, women’s liberation, friendship, and even autism. I loved the time period, too. I fully felt immersed in the 1950s-1960s. Was this all intention on your part or did it sort of evolve as the story developed?

Cara Wall:

My parents arrived in New York City in 1965, and it was a defining moment in their lives. They left conservative religious upbringings in very small towns to create a life together—to go on an adventure. The sense of “before and after” was in every story they told me, in every trip back to visit my grandparents, in the pictures of their childhoods compared to my own. I suppose had a clear sense of 1965 as the point in time when the whole world pivoted on its axis.

Also, Charles, Lily, James, and Nan are inspired by the ministers, and their wives, that ran my church when I was a child. One of those couples had an autistic son, and did, indeed, create a school for him and other autistic children in the 1960s. I was very drawn to that story—to the strength of character and determination it must have taken to advocate for him and themselves.

So, the time period was obvious to me from the outset, and I never thought about changing it. I don’t think the story could have been set even five years earlier or later than it was—it needed the push and pull between the conservatism of the 1950’s and the revolution of the 1960’s to challenge the characters. It needed to take place a time of social awakening so that the characters had to rethink their ideas of themselves and decide what kind of people they wanted to be as they moved forward.

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Photo by Reynaldo #brigworkz Brigantty on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you think challenged you the most in writing THE DEARLY BELOVED? What brought you the greatest joy? And what changed you?

Cara Wall:

My greatest challenge was, and continues to be, sitting down to write. It’s such a solitary, engrossing activity—sort of like a suspended animation, or a tightrope I have to walk entirely alone. Every single time I put pen to paper, I feel like I am leaving my friends and family behind and might never see them again. The flip side is that my greatest joy is writing. I love the texture of words, the rhythm of sentences, the experience of fully inhabiting a character’s emotional being. I love the moments when the words seem to write themselves, and I just watch them appear on the page, delighted.

I’m not a linear thinker, so my greatest challenge was putting everything I wrote into chronological order. My greatest joy was writing the epilogue. It was the very last thing I wrote, and it poured out of me in 45 minutes. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write, except that I knew it would be from Lily’s point of view. As soon as she said, “Don’t bring Nan,” I started crying and didn’t stop until I finished. It was a truly magical experience to feel absolutely certain that the book was done. And to conclude it in a way that felt satisfying without being too sentimental—that remained true to each character and yet had an element of surprise.

I’ve been changed the most by the experience of having my book out in the world and discussing it with so many people. I’ve always been much more serious about my writing than I have been about me. At first, I was taken aback that people wanted me to talk about faith and the craft of writing. I really don’t feel like an expert in either of those subjects. It’s taken a while for me to become comfortable with the idea that I am, actually somewhat well-versed in those two things—at least in as much as I spent 15 years exploring them. I’ve had to put aside my insecurities and interact with people from a much deeper place of self-confidence. I’m not good at having a public persona and a private persona–I like to be the same person in every interaction, so it’s been a really challenging time for me, in a good way.

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m so excited to see what you do next. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Cara Wall:

I’m working on a book about a painting that’s left of the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s an annunciata—a piece of art that depicts the moment Gabriel tells Mary she will be the mother of God. The book tells two stories: one about the people trying to discover where the painting came from, and one about the painting, itself. I’m three notebooks in—if you follow me on Instagram, you can get sneak peeks as I go along.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Cara, this has been most delightful. Thank you, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I might have asked, but forgot?

Cara Wall:

Well, it might interest you to know that I’m in two book clubs—one very long-term one, and one that’s still new-ish. And that I’m a pretty good baker, a competent flamenco dancer, and a terrible ping-pong player. Also, no one ever asks me when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and it’s one of my favorite stories. I was a sophomore in high school—boarding school—and I had just gone down to the bookstore, which was in the basement, to get my texts for the spring semester. I was taking creative writing as my elective, and the book for that class was Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was going to change my life. The minute I got back to my dorm room, I sat down in my beanbag chair and read it cover to cover. As I was finishing, a girl on my hall walked by and said, “What a weird name for a book.” I looked at her completely dumbstruck, because I had never before encountered a phrase that seemed so absolutely true to me. Everything that meant anything was in our bones, and it all needed to be written down. I knew, in that moment, that I was different—not from everyone in the whole world, just from that girl. I knew her well enough to know that she was, at her heart, a doctor—something I could never be—and I suddenly knew myself well enough to know was a writer. It was the exact moment I recognized my identity.

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For more information, to connect with Cara Wall via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE DEARLY BELOVED, please see: 

Order LInks: 

Cara Wall author photo color credit Ken HammABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cara Wall is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Stanford University. While at Iowa, Cara taught fiction writing in the undergraduate creative writing department as well as at the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio in her capacity of founder and inaugural director. She went on to teach middle school English and History, and has been published by GlamourSalon, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in New York City with her family.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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#fiction #literaryfiction #NYC #ministers #austism #nearhistorical #family #marriage #children #socialchange

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Simon & Schuster and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow @leslielindsay1 on Instagram for more like this]

Kim Brooks talks about that day she left her child in the car, the repercussions, parenting while everyone is watching, and so much more in SMALL ANIMALS

By Leslie Lindsay 

More than a parenting book, more than a memoir, and way more than just a ‘rant,’ SMALL ANIMALS: Parenthood in the Age of Fear might be essential reading for any parent of any age child.

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On a crisp March morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision (or a lapse in judgement, if we’re splitting hairs) to leave her 4 year-old son unattended in a parked, locked car in a Target parking lot. She was stressed and anxious about catching a flight back home to Chicago and her son was happily playing a video game. The errand would take just minutes and she’d be right back. When she returned, a woman was video-taping her son and vehicle with a cell phone. That woman shared the video with the local authorities and hours later, Brooks was under investigation.

Combining investigative journalism with interviews of other parents, experts, and interweaving research on what makes a ‘good parent,’ the author delves into American’s obsession with fear and anxiety, and also competitiveness.

I was reading and nodding in agreement with much of what the author has to say. Why can’t we let our children play at friendly neighborhood park while we are home, but maybe otherwise occupied (or working from home)? What happened to childhood when we allowed children to play and explore and manage their own feelings, their own sense of agency? Why is everything so scheduled? Those were the things I was absolutely invested in reading more about.

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Photo by Nicholas Githiri on Pexels.com


SMALL ANIMALS: Parenthood in the Age of Fear is absolutely illuminating and provocative and most definitely led me down the path of thoughtful reflection. In fact, I found myself looking up cases and statistics mentioned in the narrativeI thought about my parenting actions and choices for several days after finishing this book and probably will continue to do so. In that sense, SMALL ANIMALS did its job.

This is a call-to-action type read, it’s equal parts horrifying and affirming, and at times, funny.

Please join me in welcoming Kim Brooks to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

Kim, I have been thinking and thinking about this book since I read the last page three days ago. And here’s why: it makes sense. It worries me. It’s authentic. You were spurred to write SMALL ANIMALS after that event in the Target parking lot. Instead of asking you to rehash that yet again, I am curious about when it dawned on you to write about it? 

Kim Brooks:

Writing for me is about figuring things out, trying to understand myself and the world, trying to make sense of things that seem at first inscrutable or strange. This thing that happened to me was one of the strangest things I’d experienced, so I think it occurred to me very quickly to write about it. That said, I knew it would be impossible to see it clearly while it was happening and I knew it would be unwise to publish anything about it until the legal element had been resolved. So I forced myself to wait quite a while, which I think in the end allowed me to approach it with more clarity and perspective.


Small Animals interrogates how we weigh risk as parents, how we judge one another’s parenting and what the costs might be–not just to parents, but to children, too–of a culture of constant surveillance.”

New York Times Book Review


Leslie Lindsay: 

Ironically, I was reading SMALL ANIMALS during my daughter’s soccer practice. In a parked car. On a comfortable fall evening. The windows were down. There was my daughter on the soccer field juggling and shooting with a bunch of other girls her age and coach who was…somewhere. I chuckled thinking about what this means. I am a helicopter parent because I am there, in the parking lot? Does that make me paranoid? I am a ‘bad parent’ because I wasn’t, say, on the soccer field with her? Does my daughter’s age matter? 

Kim Brooks:

This is the kind of question I’m asked a lot and it’s a question that I find I can only respond to with a few questions of my own. What is a “bad parent?” When and how did “good parenting” become dependent on watching, monitoring, and maintaining minimal physical distance from our children, as opposed to say, how much we talk to them or offer them emotional support or empathy or what we teach them or how we relate to them? Why do we assume that kids need to be watched and that watching them is somehow helping them? Why is it that so many people now believe a child who is not being watched is a child in peril? I don’t think we can make value judgements about our own or anyone’s “goodness” as a parent until we examine the assumptions underlying our values around parenthood and childhood.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

Much of what I think SMALL ANIMALS focuses on is fear and anxiety and competitiveness in our parenting culture. This worries and saddens me. When I was a kid—and I’ve had this conversation with other parents—we didn’t live this way. At least it didn’t seem that way. We played outside unsupervised, rode bikes till the street lights came on, walked to school. Not anymore. Why is that? 

Kim Brooks:

I think there are many factors at play here, and I explore them in my book: The media’s obsession with rare, violent acts against kids, the litigiousness of our culture, social media and the rise of surveillance culture, a breakdown of community and communal responsibility for child rearing. But the one factor I always like to raise because I don’t think it’s being discussed much is the new and very regressive anti-woman ideology of motherhood, an ideology that intensified just after women entered the workforce en masse in the 1970’s and 80’s. I think we still have an incredible amount of ambivalence around women doing non-care-taking work. What better way to undermine women’s autonomy and power outside the home than to radically expand the job description of good motherhood. If a good mother is a mother who never takes her eyes off her child or pays someone else to never take their eyes off them, then the only women who can be good mothers are stay-at-home mothers or extremely wealthy mothers who can hire full-time help. I find that interesting.

Leslie Lindsay: 

My dad and I were having a similar conversation recently. He kept saying, “Maybe the girls can go practice tennis at some nearby courts.” I am thinking, “Okay. I’ll have to find the time for them to do that, round up a friend or two for them to play doubles, prepare snacks and drinks, clear my schedule for a bit, drive them to the courts, and wait.” I’m also thinking: it might be hard to find friends who are available at the exact same time because everyone is so busy. It’s easier just to not. What or how do we reconcile the differences between generations? 

Kim Brooks: 

I’d suggest asking your dad if he could organize this for you. We have this strange and quite new idea now that parents are supposed to provide kids with everything they need to grow into healthy, happy adults. The burden and responsibility used to be shared by grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, coaches, teachers, shop-keepers. I’ve interviewed child psychologists and about the mental health crisis for children and they say one of the things kids report needing most is more positive relationships with adults who aren’t their parents. 

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Photo by Aidil Bahaman on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

I started speculating in the change in dynamics, the busyness of everything, and our generation versus our parents (and our kids’). My conclusion is that back in the 50s and 60s (and even into the 70s and 80s), fewer women/mothers worked outside of the home. They were there, doing what needed to be done (household chores, errands, raising children), and the kids were safe with the neighborhood network of mothers keeping eyes on everyone. But now, many mothers work, either outside of the home, or from home (hello, writers) and it’s not always as easy to allow kids to play baseball in the backyard or ride scooters on the cul-de-sac. Mothers have to work around their [work] schedules and maybe the kids’ sports and extracurricular activities. Is that the way you see it, too? Is there something else? 

Kim Brooks: 

That’s pretty much how I see it, too.

Leslie Lindsay: 

I want to loop back to your event in that parking lot. How does Felix feel about it now that he’s much older? How—or has?–this affected him? 

Kim Brooks: 

He very much appreciates having more independence than most kids his age and  he understands this is partly in due to my experience and my book. At the same time, like most children of writers, I’m sure he wishes I did something else. It’s not a lot of fun to have a writer in the family. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

Before we go, I think it’s important to mention race and culture and privilege. There will be people who don’t have the resources—time, financial, legal, or mental—to successfully navigate a situation like yours. You touch on this a bit in SMALL ANIMALS, but could you expand a bit here?

Kim Brooks:

Yes, this is very true. I write about the case of Debra Harrell, an African-American single mom whose experience was much more harrowing than mine. Our criminal justice system is rife with institutional racism and our society at large is one in which those with few economic resources are often abused and exploited. So anytime we criminalize a behavior that most people are doing (like taking your eyes off your children), people of color and poor people will suffer the most.

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Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

Kim, thank you so very much for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked about, but may have forgotten? 

Kim Brooks: 

Nope! Thank you so much for reading and asking such thoughtful questions

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow me @leslielindsay1 on Instagram.

For more information, to connect with Kim Brooks via social media, or to purchase a copy of SMALL ANIMALS, please see: 

Order Links:

cf685681-df29-4371-9201-ee386b911304-Kim_Brooks_Photo__credit_Sarah_ShatzABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kim Brooks is the author of Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, an NPR Best Book of the Year, described by the National Book Review as “an impassioned, smart work of social criticism and a call for support and empathy.”

Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesNew York Magazine, Good HousekeepingChicago Magazine, Salon, Buzzfeed, and other publications. She has spoken as a guest on CBS This MorningPBS Newshour20/20, NPR’s All Things ConsideredGood Morning America, the Brian Lehr Show, and many other radio shows and podcasts. Her novel, The Houseguest, was published in 2016. She lives in Chicago.

In addition to writing, Kim is available for speaking engagements, book club appearances, teaching, and one-on-one editorial services.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#memoir #parenting #alwayswithabook #safety #children #fear #womensissues #motherhood

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Author photo Sarah Shatz. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow me @leslielindsay1 on Instagram]

Emma Sloley talks about how it’s difficult for humans to escape their own nature, how Margaret Atwood influences, plus pastoral ideas and more in DISASTER’S CHILDREN

By Leslie Lindsay

The deterioration of the natural world and a coming-of-age story set in the very near not-so-distant future. 

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In her prescient debut, DISASTER’S CHILDREN (Little A; November 5, 2019),  Emma Sloley seamlessly weaves together an apocalyptic novel with cultural commentary to producing a memorable narrative both searing and tender.

Raised in a privileged community of ultra-wealthy survivalists on an idyllic, self-sustaining Oregon ranch, Marlo has always been insulated. The outside world, which the ranchers nickname “The Disaster,” is ravaged by environmental suffering and situated precariously on the brink of global catastrophe. There are stunning modern homes, clear skies and abundant flora. Everyone’s happy because they have a shared agreement to disengage from news and politics, abstaining from information and the internet, instead investing in the development of their own exclusive society. Can it outlast impending destruction in the world beyond?

But Marlo has long been intrigued by the chaos and opportunity beyond the confines of her picturesque community,  fueled by occasional trips to major cities and correspondence with her two childhood best friends, who have disavowed and fled the commune. Marlo starts to consider life outside the ranch. Then a stranger arrives and Marlo starts to question everything.

Sloley takes on themes universal, personal and political, touching on issues as diverse as religious freedom, familial bonds, capitalism, and environmental justice.

Please join me in welcoming Emma Sloley to the author interview series: 

Leslie Lindsay:

Despite the apocalyptic themes, there’s a sense of optimism to DISASTER’S CHILDREN.  Is the book intended to function a bit as a call to action? And what about hope?

Emma Sloley:

It was hugely important to me to allow for hope in this story, just as I feel that hope is an essential component of the real-life fight against impending environmental and humanitarian disasters. The forces arrayed against those of us concerned about climate change and degradation of our natural world rely on apathy as a tool to keep people unengaged. If the end of human civilization seems inevitable, what’s the point of even trying anything? May as well keep burning those fossil fuels and partying like the world’s about the end, right? And I’m sympathetic to that stance. Apathy is very alluring! Action is difficult. It was also important to me to that the setting be one of immense natural beauty – fiction often presents us with bleak post-apocalyptic landscapes (and some of my favorite stories are set in those worlds), but instead I wanted to explore the possibilities that still remain to preserve this wild and beautiful planet of ours.

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Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Over the course of the narrative, the ranch seems to emerge as a microcosm of America. Capitalism, religion, guns, police violence, and even immigration and labor are, to some degree, explored throughout the community. Wolf seems to rise among the ranks quite quickly. It speaks to intergenerational wealth and the American Dream. Can you talk about that, please?

Emma Sloley:

One of my principal aims in creating the world of the ranch was to hold a mirror to our current moment. The irony of these kinds of communal living experiments is that in seeking to escape the confines of society, the communities often end up becoming a microcosm of the outside world, with all its complexities, prejudices and hierarchies. It’s very difficult for humans to escape their own nature, and I think most societies, no matter how noble their founding, end up organized around more or less the same principles as the extremely imperfect systems under which most of us live.

Initially, Wolf despises the inherent hypocrisy of the ranch, with its exclusionary membership rules and shameless embrace of bourgeois trappings, but he is very quickly seduced by the benefits available to those admitted to this world. I wanted to say something about the myth of American meritocracy, and how damaging that myth is to our ability as a country to move towards a more just and equal society. And while it’s easy (and morally necessary!) to critique the structural inequalities in our society, I also wanted to show just how seductive wealth, power and privilege can be. Who among us can confidently say we wouldn’t grasp the chance to move several rungs up the privilege/class ladder were we offered the chance? I wanted Wolf’s transformation to feel both uncomfortable and utterly understandable to the reader.

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Photo by Phil on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Although most of the residents pride themselves on rational thinking and rejection of religion, some seem more oppressed than liberated. How does the issue of religious freedom factor into the narrative? Was there a particular message you sought to communicate?

Emma Sloley:

I knew from the beginning I wanted this community—which in many ways resembles other historical communes and cults in its adherence to an agrarian utopian vision—to be organized along rational, non-religious lines. I steered away from the idea of a religious or spiritual cult in which the participants revolve around a single, charismatic leader who demands adherence to a strict religious dogma. It made sense to me that the founders—liberal, urbane, open-minded people whose fundamental concern is surviving a global disaster—would consider religion an unnecessary distraction from their mission. But in banning the practice of religion, the ranchers unwittingly create a situation of oppression. While I’m not religious, I strongly believe a society that pays fealty to individual freedoms must include the freedom to practice one’s faith, as well as the freedom to reject faith altogether. So I definitely wanted to communicate the folly of a society denying religious freedom, even if it’s ostensibly for noble reasons.


“Sloley masterfully weaves together the tropes of dystopia, romance, and mystery…. With so many questions left unanswered, this dystopia is ripe for a sequel.”

–Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay:

The affluent residents of the ranch decide to divorce themselves from news and politics, finding that it’s easier to be happy with less information. Do you think their attitudes reflect those of many Americans, especially the wealthy, today?

Emma Sloley:  

Absolutely. This is by no means an original observation, but we live in a world where, increasingly, there are two separate realities: the reality of the global elite, who hold unprecedented levels of wealth and power; and the reality lived in by everyone else. The former group have the luxury of switching off from the daily flood of dire news, because they will never be required to suffer the consequences of most catastrophes. This is more a critique of the system rather than individuals. I think most of us would love to consume less news and politics. But unfortunately, especially for marginalized people, the very act of trying to exist, to access fundamental human rights, is political. To be honest, it was nice to construct this fantasy in which switching off might be possible. I envied the ranchers!

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Leslie Lindsay:

How does Marlo’s status as an adopted child figure into her identity? 

Emma Sloley: 

I knew I wanted my protagonist to be caught between two worlds, and I tried to make sure she experienced several layers of outsider-ness that would drive her desire to leave the ranch. Marlo is caught between the culture in which she was born but has never experienced and the culture of her adoptive parents; between her loyalty to her parents and her desire to join her activist friends; and also between the chaotic outside world and the idyllic, safe world inside the ranch.

Leslie Lindsay:

In many ways, the novel takes the form of a traditional coming-of-age story. Unlike the protagonists of most of those narratives, however, Marlo is twenty-five. Can you tell us about your decision to cast a young adult, rather than a teenager, in this type of story? 

Emma Sloley:

Originally, Marlo was twenty-nine, but feedback from various readers convinced me to make her slightly younger. I think there was a feeling that it was unrealistic to imagine a young woman still living in what’s basically the family compound close to age thirty. Of course, this isn’t an ordinary society, and there’s definitely an expectation that anyone who lives on the ranch will never leave, so it made sense in that context. I wanted Marlo to be at an age at which she was old enough to feel restlessness about her cloistered life, but also have her be constrained by her very sheltered upbringing. In a lot of ways she’s very naïve about life in the outside world, and the arrival of Wolf really throws those naiveties into relief. Her coming-of-age basically only happens once this outside agitating force is introduced. I also needed her to be old enough to make leaving the ranch a viable option, as this supplies the narrative’s fundamental tension.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

I’m curious about how you approached the balance between gesturing at real-world threats and creating an imagined landscape?

Emma Sloley:

In her speculative and sci-fi novels, Margaret Atwood famously includes only scenarios with real-world analogs, and I followed that lead: most of the crises that unfold in The Disaster throughout the book are ripped from the headlines, as they say in Law & Order world. Setting the action a few years from the present moment allowed me to slightly exaggerate the scale and reach of various ecological and humanitarian disasters. This gives a ticking-clock urgency that I hope feels chillingly believable, but also allows room for a change of course. I’ve always been fascinated by utopias, so imagining the ranch was easy: my Arcadian ideal is a place where nature, beautiful human design, pastoral ideals, tolerance, and intellectual curiosity can co-exist in harmony, so I really just imagined the kind of place I’d love to live!

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For more information, to connect with Emma Solely via social media, or to purchase a copy of DISASTER’S CHILDREN, please see: 

ORDER LINKS: 

Emma%2BSloley%2Bauthor%2Bpic%2Bfull%2Bsize.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emma Sloley began her career as an editor at Harper’s BAZAAR Australia before moving to New York to become a freelance travel writer. Her short fiction and creative non-fiction and travel writing has appeared in many literary journals and print publications. Emma is a MacDowell fellow and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, and her debut novel, DISASTER’S CHILDREN was published by Little A in November. Born in Australia, Emma now divides her time between the US, Mexico, and various airport lounges. She lives with her husband, the writer Adam McCulloch.

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#postapocalyptic #environment #Oregon #climatechange #religion #freedom #politics #specfiction #utopia

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[Cover and author image retrieved from auhtor’s website. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this. Special thanks to ShreveWilliams.]

In Material That Matters, I share what I imagine my mother’s life was like as a newlywed, her dreams & hopes and how, when she was in her thirties, she had a ‘nervous breakdown’

By Leslie Lindsay

A daughter recollects her mother before she was her mother; her creativity, and ultimate psychosis. It’s about motherhood and mystery, how she fits into this intricate network, and more.

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Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

~MEMOIR MONDAY~

This is my mother before she was my mother. She had a thrumming, electric energy, as if her skin was embedded with diamonds, glistening with potential. In the
1970s when she met my father, she dreamed of happily-ever-after, flower boxes and
flat driveways filled with Big-Wheels and scooters, the giddy shrieks of children.
Together, they purchased a plot of land in a new subdivision, one that had a name like
Southern Hills or Southhall or maybe it was Westfield, a moniker resembling cardinal
directions. Something in her peripheral vision reflected mirth and yet, darkness. Her
blue eyes conveyed intelligence, but sadness, too.

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Note the pattern package on the couch and the swath of material on the coffee table. 

She planned everything, prepared herself to be a homemaker, an artist, a
mother: a sewing machine, canvases for the walls, macramé plant holders dangling
from hooks on the ceiling. She culled through Butterick patterns at Cloth World and
emerged with palpable excitement into the blistering humidity, clutching a packet of
onion-thin patterns that she would fashion into a skirt, a blazer, a dress. She lied out
the fabric, smoothed the wrinkles with the back of her hand and ran her sheers along
the cloth. Here’s what emerged: stitches, a woven tapestry of her story, which then
cobbled together into something even greater—material that mattered.
In this house, I crawled through drawers of my parent’s nightstand, watered the
dandelions, wedged my body between the small space between the refrigerator and
kitchen wall. In my bedroom, I clamored inside my wood toybox, the one my father
lovingly built, and popped my head out in a game of peek-a-boo, my stuffed animals.

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scattered among the floor. In this house, I cackled and squealed and rode bouncy
horse contraptions that might as well have been a death trap.
What was it with small, tight spaces? What did I seek to contain? Or extract?
All the while, I observed. I saw the dark days of my mother curled into a fetal
position on the couch, legs underneath her body, a plume of cigarette smoke
encircling her head. I saw the pinched lips, the twin lines of displeasure at the top of
her nose. What had I done? Anything? Did she still love me? At first, the slights were
just that: miniscule, nothing.
And then, twelve years later, she devolved into psychosis. Had it been there all
along, an insidious, subterranean urging, revealing itself years later, as if in
dormancy, like periodical cicadas emerging? She started saying I was the devil and she
needed to kill me. She thought perhaps she had slept with the postman and she didn’t
really mean to. She paced the house, smoking cigarette after cigarette, drinking
gallons of Diet Coke, hot tea. She called me a bitch. My mother believed she was God
and maybe an angel, too, she could fly and bring perfect unity to the world. My father
was beside himself. Exhausted. Weary. Together, we put my mother in the car and he
drove her to the hospital. She didn’t want to go. Nothing was wrong. My mother
attempted to exit the moving vehicle twice.

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Just like the way you’d imagine, the people in white coats greeted our car. They
soothed her with their words, but she was suspicious, frightened. Paranoid. My throat
clogged. Tears burned and singed, but never once fell. I watched my mother was a
dark fascination; this was something I’d never witnessed.
My husband says, “You look a little like her; it’s a body language thing.”
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I know. I do not like this.
He says, “This position, of your mother standing in front of the ‘sold’ sign…well,
I think we have a photo of you like this at our first house.”
Our first house was eighty-three years old when we moved in. We did not build
that house from a mound of dirt. We inhabited someone else’s shelter, adhering
memories and years of the past to our skin. Maybe then, we won’t become her. We
won’t. Our first house had nothing to do with South or West. It was located in
Minnesota, on a street that had ‘north’ in its address it was far away from the river of
insanity. We had openness. Large expanses of wood floors and picture windows, a
sweeping backyard filled with raspberry bushes, hostas, a sprawling tree. I didn’t need
to wrangle my body into a tight spaces, I no longer needed to observe.
Except myself. I feared what happened to my mother would happen to me. If we
looked alike, if we stood alike, spoke the same, would I become her? I watched. I
listened.
And.
Nothing.

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Buried within each of us is a glimmering strand of genetic material known as
Mitochondrial DNA. It’s presented from mother to daughter and mother to daughter,
and so forth. All women in every family are like a series of books, one building upon
the other, our genetic stories closely knitted.
To me, this is stunning, cohesive, and elegantly mysterious. The fact that we
are bound together in this way nearly kills me.
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In Minnesota, I look over my shoulder. Is it catching? Her brand of illness? No.
But maybe, if it’s genetic. I worry she will come, present herself on my doorstep,
frighten my neighbors, take my children.
But she doesn’t. She takes her own life. On a summer’s day. In her home. On
the bed. In the back. Shoes on the floor. Her skin sloughs away. Her madness,
slipping, falling into some other realm where she is whole, nurtured.
I study my skin, pry at it, lifting, foolishly thinking I’ll glimpse the truth, the
cells that are hers. That are mine alone. I tip my face to the cosmos, let my head
become heavy with weight, as I relinquish my mother from my cells—plinking them
into the heavens.

Yet biology makes this impossible. We are forever cosmically interlaced.

[Portions of this piece are excerpted from my ms, MODEL HOME]

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

For more information, or to connect with Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

image1 (5).jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leslie Lindsay is a mother, wife, and writer living in ChicagolandShe is the award-winning author of Speaking of Apraxia (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, the Ruminate blog, Manifest-StationThe Mighty, and the International Bipolar FoundationShe has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. She is at work on a memoir. She is a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic.

[This piece originally published in Brave Voices Literary Magazine No. 4/October 2019. Vintage photos courtesy of L.Lindsay & family personal archives]

 

The most unusual, surreal, disturbingly real read I’ve ever experienced. Leanne Shapton on her collage-style fragmented writing, houses, more in GUEST BOOK: Ghost Stories

By Leslie Lindsay

A one-of-a-kind, truly unique reading experience, GUESTBOOK: Ghost Stories will alight and frighten and also leave a deep residue begging for another look.

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Since publishing her first book of drawings 15 years ago, Leanne Shapton has amassed a devoted following among critics and fans alike. A ground-breaking visionary, and multi-talented artist with an illustrious career in design and publishing, Shapton is unparalleled in her ability to weave entirely original narratives out of images and text. Her earlier works have earned her National Book Critics Circle award for her illustrated memoir, SWIMMING STUDIES and WOMEN IN CLOTHES was a NYT bestseller.

Now, blisteringly original artist, Leanne Shapton’s GUESTBOOK (Riverhead, March 2019) isn’t quite an art book, isn’t quite a traditional narrative, but here, she effortlessly and brilliantly combines so many different art forms into one highly intriguing experience.


“Shapton uses ephemera not to catalog our social ills but to collect evidence of well-heeled lives at risk of being forgotten or brushed aside. The effect is diffuse and eerie, more often mood than assertion or plot.”

–Kirkus


Writing is no doubt an art form, but here, it’s elevated to something wholly original. Just a few adjectives that come to mind with this collection of photographs and narrative:

Uneasydisturbingunsettlinghauntingbrilliant….strange…dark…wonderfuluncanny….fearless…exacting…a curiosity cabinet.

Combining layers of visual art in the form of photographs, drawings, floor plans, original paintings, Instagram-style portraits…this collection is about short passages, vignettes, observations, wordplay, and so much more. It’s about loneliness and social media, and the passage of time. While one might be tempted to race through the book in one sitting, it’s probably best suited for picking up and putting down over the course of time.Leave room to dwell on the white space, let it glimmer and coalesce.

Because it will and it should.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Leanne Shapton to the author interview series:

 

Leslie Lindsay:

Leanne, thank you, thank you for taking the time. I’m always intrigued by a writer’s inspiration for a certain project. What was it for you in GUESTBOOK? Was it an image, an idea, a theme, a challenge? Was there a question you were seeking an answer to?

Leanne Shapton:

I’m a big fan of the ghost story, as a form, and I knew I wanted to write some. I suppose, though, the initial inspiration was the photo section in the book “White Mischief” by James Fox.  I wondered if I could write a ghost story using that layout. I wanted to innovate the form, to see if images could do some of the heavy lifting in terms of suspense and emotion.

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Photo by OVAN on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Do you recall the first set of images in GUESTBOOK that propelled a story? Did the story come first, or the images? How long did you work piecing this together from conception to publication?

Leanne Shapton:  

Most stories were word-based first, then I’d try to remove as much language as possible and replace with image, or pair with a set of images so the pictures inflected the reading.  For a while the text in “New Jersey Transit” had no images, and the images of public pools in that story had no text, but I knew I wanted to use them—they didn’t pair off until late in the process.

Leslie Lindsay:

Many of these stories—these vignettes—are rooted in this idea that we, the readers, are guests in a bigger scheme, like a fly on a wall. But also, the images (and individuals) are visitors into our lives. We don’t know them but for a moment. Can you comment on that?

Leanne Shapton:

I love the idea of a guest being a version of a person, or oneself. And that the photographic image is only a version, and an unreliable version, of a person or place. I like the flicker of self, the idea that spirit (geist) can be host and guest and an ephemera l thing. Lives are so short.

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Photo by Kobe Michael on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

This is a tough question, but is there a story or set of images that mean more to you than others? Maybe one that you feel a particular affinity toward or you think represents the overall theme of GUESTBOOK?

Leanne Shapton:

I like Billy Byron. It pulls together a lot of the experiments I was working with: A real phenomenon (The sensed presence) contemporary photography, media, a ghost story that is a sports story (there aren’t that many,) the ideas of desire and family and childhood trauma, and an homage to older stories “The Rocking Horse Winner” one of my favorite DH Lawrence stories.

Leslie Lindsay:

I also found a bit of mental instability within these stories and images. Perhaps that it something that haunts us as a society. There’s also loneliness and trouble. Was that intentional?

Leanne Shapton:

I think that might reflect where I was, personally, and my preoccupations, when I was writing the pieces.


“A surreal look at everyday happenings, which is sure to leave you feeling uneasy in a good way.”

Domino Magazine


Leslie Lindsay:

Also, I think much of GUESTBOOK is about interior lives. Which we may or may not acknowledge. Many of these narratives and photographs have to do with houses or homes. Again, that interior world. For example, I loved Gymnopedies, the series of floorplans. And then Georgehythe Place where the animals die (not that I love that), and also Peele House. Why are homes so fascinating, do you think?

Leanne Shapton:

In a lot of traditional ghost stories, homes are characters. Haunting of Hill House, Rebecca, Turn of the Screw. I like the idea of a place of safety, a place of trust, becoming threatening. Also the idea of what we possess, possessing us. I think homes are fascinating because of that ability to be understood as an extension of the body. And the mind.

Losing trust can be so devastating, betrayal is like a death, and if home, your house where you sleep is not a comforting, trustworthy place it can really shake one’s foundations.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

One last observation—your last name, Shapton, almost always makes me think, ‘shapeshifter.’ And that’s exactly what I like about the art in GUESTBOOK. You’ve taken such bland images and shifted their shape to make somethings wholly unique, to shift our gaze to the blank space. Is that how you see it, too?

Leanne Shapton:

Funny. I never saw it that way but my work (and career) has always shifted in shape, so it’s a totally fair analysis.

Leslie Lindsay:

Leanne, this has been so illuminating. Thank you. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? 

Leanne Shapton: 

No. I think this covers it. Thank you.

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.

For more information, to connect with Leanne Shapton via social media, or to purchase a copy of GUESTBOOK: Ghost Stories, please visit: 

  • Website
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Take a peek at this Guernica article, which shows GUESTBOOK in progress

Order Links:

42a1944-cropped-800x450.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leanne Shapton is an artist and author of several books, including Swimming Studies (winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography), Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, and a coauthor of the New York Times-bestselling Women in Clothes. She is also the cofounder of J&L Books, a nonprofit publisher of art and photography books. She lives in New York City.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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#fiction #storyinphotographs #amreading #alwayswithabook #photography #collagewriting #shortstories #art #ephemera #surreal #eerie 

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[Cover image retrieved from author’s website. Author image retrieved from Guernica article. Special thanks to Riverhead Publishing for coordinating this interview. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]