Eerie and atmospheric, BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL, is a study of violence, buried secrets, and mysterious happenings–witchcraft–in New England

By Leslie Lindsay 

The critically acclaimed author of THE BLACK PAINTING returns with a deliciously dark and atmopheric suspense for fans of Dennis Lehane and Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS. 

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SPOTLIGHT!

Eerily hypnotic and atmospheric, BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL (Hanover Square Press, October 8, 2019) absolutely calls, ‘October,’ with its skepticism, small New England town, spirituality, and the history of witchcraft. 

Just take a look at some of the praise: 

“Equal parts engaging and creepy, this twisty tale deftly examines how secrets and regret can continue to reverberate through generations.”

Kirkus

“The paranormal elements are subtle, gradually creeping in around the edges with unsettling effect. Both mystery and weird fiction fans will be pleased.”

Publishers Weekly

“An appealing, atmospheric yarn.”

Booklist

A bit about the story:

A reformed flower child, thirty-three-year-old Will Connor’s long-held skepticism has distanced him from his mother and her eccentric collection of friends. While his mother embraced the hippie generation’s exploration of spirituality and withcraft, Will dismissed their fascination with New Age as arcane. But now he must return home to care for his aging mother and realizes there might be more than meets the eye. A friend from his mother’s ‘spirit circles’ mysteriously died when Will was a child. Could something more disturbing be at play?

Buried secrets.

Violence.

Dark and atmospheric. 

“A complex tale with a greatly atmospheric plot and unknown twist”Mystery Tribune

“A suspenseful, atmospheric and eerie tale.”Megan Chance, author of A Drop of Ink

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

For more information, to connect with Neil Olson, or to purchase a copy of BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL, please visit: 

Order links: 

Neil Olson credit Jill SwchwartzmanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil Olson is the author of THE ICON, a novel of art theft and family intrigue, and the play DEALERS. His second novel, THE BLACK PAINTING, concerning the unsolved theft of a haunted self-portrait by Goya, was published in January 2018. He lives in New York City with his wife and cat, and works in the publishing industry.

 

 

 

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

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#mystery #domesticsuspense #literaryfiction #alwayswithabook #witchcraft #NewEngland #spirituality #BeforeTheDevilFell 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins/Hanover Square Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]. 

 

 

Helen Phillips on THE NEED: how she couldn’t have written this speculative fiction if she wasn’t a mother, reconciling love and loss, a fabulous reading list, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Eerie, speculative fiction with a slight thriller aspect, THE NEED is existential, mind-bending, and gloriously rendered. 

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I have a very teetering TBR bookshelf at home and on it are several Helen Phillips novels. Her stories are wild and brilliant and a bit eccentric. That’s what I like about her work. It’s not the mundane. It’s like a fever dream, those little bits of oddities that keep us awake at night, but we don’t do anything more with because, well…we don’t know how. Or we think they’re ‘too minute’ to flesh out into a whole story. THE NEED (Simon & Schuster, July 2019) is clever and strange and distorted, but I loved it.

You may read the first lines of the synopsis and see that Molly is a mother of young children and there’s an intruder in the house and automatically think this is domestic thriller. It’s not. THE NEED is a literary exploration of what it means to be a mother, but also a study in identity, empathy, fear, the joys and insecurities and also the miseries of motherhood. It’s gorgeously, lushly rendered with so much authenticity you will sometimes wonder, ‘is this a memoir?’

THE NEED is a very character-driven story and focuses mostly on the isolation of motherhood (Molly is home alone for a few days while her musician husband is on tour), and we get a claustrophobic sense of this woman’s interior life. She’s hearing things and startling at loud noises, imagining the worst-case scenario.


“An enthralling book. With its short chapters, unsettling prose, and riveting suspense, it feels designed for binge-reading.”

-The Economist


There’s a lot going on here–and astute readers will find the symbolism hauntingly eerie –from The Pit where Molly works as a paleobotanist, to the ocean/fish-themed birthday party she throws for her daughter, the subtle religious imagery (mother and child; breastfeeding), the deer mask, and so much more. I am afraid to say more because I don’t want to spoil the bigger picture, which I think is we are often our own worst enemy.

This story is a bit myth or folklore and readers should be aware that they may have to be more open-minded when they read; to suspend belief. 

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Helen, I finished this book at lakeside park. The sun was beginning to set, shadows cast sharp-edged shadows on the edge of the book. There were families walking past holding the hands of children and pushing strollers; it seemed like the perfect synchronicity for THE NEED’S ending. But I want to talk about beginning. What inspired you? Was it a feeling, a character, or theme you wanted to explore? Something else?

Helen Phillips:

When my daughter was a few months old, my husband was out one night and I was nursing the baby. I thought I heard a footstep in the other room, and an instinctual fear shot through me. What would I do if there was an intruder in my apartment right now, while I’m in this vulnerable moment of nursing this vulnerable person? There was no intruder, but that momentary terror stuck with me, and I knew I had to write about it.

My older sister died when my daughter was eight weeks old, so the early months of motherhood were extremely intense for me. I was both falling in love with my daughter and mourning my sister. And while I was reveling in my firstborn child, my parents were grieving their firstborn child. The challenge of holding love and loss at the same time is at the core of THE NEED.

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Photo by Creation Hill on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

So, I am reading and thinking, “Gosh, you nailed this motherhood thing.” It’s about fear and worry and identity and joy, and growth. I started to look for you in these pages. I wondered, ‘is this a memoir?’ but it’s not. How much of THE NEED was inspired or borrowed from your ‘real life?’

Helen Phillips:

Well, it’s definitely not a memoir, thank goodness! Mercifully, I have never had to confront the otherworldly situation in which Molly finds herself.

But I do have two young children, and I did want to capture the rhythms of daily life, the way the mundane and the sacred, the exasperating and the miraculous, the dread-inspiring and the awe-inspiring are all mixed in together when one has children.

Leslie Lindsay:

Do you think you could have written THE NEED if you weren’t a mother?

Helen Phillips:

No, I couldn’t have. The book arises in large part from that life experience. That said, the author Samanta Schweblin did not have children when she wrote one of my favorite books about motherhood, Fever Dream.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I want to ask a bit about your process and also the structure. THE NEED reads as if we’re in the flow of consciousness of Molly. It’s about organic things: nature and motherhood, it reads very organically, but is it? Was it carefully plotted? Also, sections and chapters are very short, but densely packed with emotion and imagery. Can you tell us a little about that?

Helen Phillips:  

Each novel I write begins as a chaotic hundred-page list of images, overheard lines of dialogue, newspaper headlines, questions, snippets from dreams, etc. I then sort that list into vague sections and begin weaving it all together. I call that first draft “Draft Zero,” to take the pressure off myself. Once Draft Zero is done, I make an outline for the next draft. So I’d say that Draft Zero is very organic, while Draft One is carefully plotted.

As far as the short chapters: I teach at Brooklyn College and during the semester I can usually carve out one hour a day to write before running off to teach or grade papers. So to some degree those short chapters reflect the way in which the book was written! But also I really wanted the book to have a powerful forward momentum, because I love that rhythm as a reader. And that sensation of momentum echoes the sensation of parenting; no time to take a breath as you fulfill all of the roles in your life.

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Leslie Lindsay:

The symbolism most definitely left residue on me as a reader. I am thinking of that deer mask, the fish costume, The Pit. What more can you tell us about these symbols, without giving too much away?

Helen Phillips:

There’s a shapeshifting quality to Molly’s nemesis; the nemesis assumes different forms as necessary in order to achieve a particular aim. The nemesis is connected to animals, to creatures driven by instinct, and to the earth, to the mysteries in the soil beneath our feet.

Leslie Lindsay:

THE NEED made me want to write. It made me think about and examine small intricacies in new and surprising ways. I looked at the clouds differently, the blades of grass somehow seemed ominous. I found some similarities between your book and Sarah Blake’s NAMMAH meets IN THE DARK, DARK WOOD (Laird Hunt) and also Julia Fine’s WHAT SHOULD BE WILD. Who or what influences you?

Helen Phillips:

I am thrilled to hear that THE NEED made the grass seem ominous to you! I am fascinated by the duality of life, by the way the most mundane moments can have cosmic implications, and I love writers whose work taps into that for me. I’ve already mentioned Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin. Another recent favorite is Amatka by Karin Tidbeck. At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid is always with me. I’m obsessed with Exhalation with Ted Chiang, which I’m reading right now. And my old favorites will come as no surprise: Jorge Luis Borges, Octavia Butler, Italo Calvino, Franz Kafka, Ursula K. Le Guin …

Leslie Lindsay:

Helen, this has been most delightful; thank you. I could ask questions all day. What might I have missed? Your research for THE NEED, what’s next for you, if you’re obsessing over anything…

Helen Phillips:

I am always obsessing over many things. And my current obsessions are the source of my writing … so be on the lookout (in a few years …) for a book about artificial intelligence and climate change.

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[Above image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this: @leslielindsay1]

For more information, to connect with Helen Phillips via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NEED, please visit:

Order links:

Photo_Credit_David_Barry_ColorABOUT THE AUTHORHelen Phillips is the author of five books, including, most recently, the novel The Need, a July 2019 Indie Next pick and a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Her collection Some Possible Solutions received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her collection And Yet They Were Happy was named a notable collection by The Story Prize. She is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Italo Calvino Prize. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Tin House, and on Selected Shorts. An associate professor at Brooklyn College, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their children.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #motherhood #speculativefiction #nature #children #alwayswithabook

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[Cover and author image courtesy of H. Phillips and used with permission. Author image credit: David Barry. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. For more like this, or to follow, please see my Instagram account @leslielindsay1]

From cradleboards to ‘firking like a flounder,’ wet nurses, and more, Sarah Knott unravels the history of mothering in MOTHER IS A VERB

By Leslie Lindsay

Timely and fascinating investigation and examination of what it means to be a mother–from the early 15th century through present-day. 

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MOTHER IS A VERB: An Unconventional History (FSG/Sarah Crichton Books) by Sarah Knott is such a sweeping piece of historical, personal, and lyrical research. It begins with the author’s decision to have children, and thus an examination of who has children and who doesn’t. This is a keenly researched book that is part-memoir, part-history lesson, and to some, it might come across as academic (Knott is, by profession, a college professor at Indiana University). That said, I found the anecdotes and archives presented fascinating and intriguing.

The structure of MOTHER IS A VERB is not linear, but rather divided into topics from pregnancy, quickening, miscarriage, labor/delivery, early days, sleeping infants (sleeping parents), including co-sleeping (or not), types of beds, feeding/breastfeeding/other types of nourishment, clothing, and even welcoming the second child. Scattered throughout the narrative are glimpses of the author’s mothering journey, which I felt helped to personalize historical context.

Knott’s writing is scholarly, but also companionable. It’s lyrical and at times, too. I had to stop reading so I could sit back and ponder her ideas and research (which is very thorough and eloquent, I might add). In fact, this book would make an excellent text for a women’s study type college/graduate class, or the like. I could reference this book time again and learn (retain) something new.

Sarah grew up in England and was educated at Oxford University. She has served as an editor of American Historical Review, the American Historical Association’s flagship journal, and sits on the editorial board of Past and Present. She is a fellow of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.

I am so honored to welcome Sarah Knott to the author interview series. Please join us!

Leslie Lindsay:

Sarah, I always like to know the inspiration, ‘the jumping off point’ for authors. What was it for you? Was there a question you were seeking answers to? A worry or concern?

Sarah Knott:

Thanks for inviting me to talk about the book, Leslie.

And a jumping off point: yes. Being a historian is my day job. I read manuscripts, I read the works of other scholars, I lecture. But I think of this book as especially a creature of the night, and of sleepless nights in particular. I was up in the night with a newborn infant, I was dizzy with fatigue, and I was astonished to realize that I didn’t know the history of these experiences.

So the book really came from the question, what is the history of these immensely ordinary, immensely visceral, experiences of maternity.

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Leslie Lindsay:

There’s so much history in these pages—and it’s all done so thoroughly and eloquently. You’re a professor and so research is part of the profession. Can you talk a little about—first the structure of MOTHER IS A VERB, and also, your research methods?

Sarah Knott:

The structure was the easy part! I was following the arc of my own everyday experiences: miscarrying, carrying, birthing, caring and so forth, first for one and then another child. The inspiration came from the genre of the maternal memoir, which emerged with black womanism and the women’s liberation movements of the 1970s.

The research was more challenging. How to give a history to conceiving, or the felt experience of pregnancy? How – with a change of personnel, not all birth-givers becoming mothers, and not all mothers having given birth – to give a history to sleeplessness, to joy, to the experience of being continually interrupted?

I set myself the historical terrain of Britain and North America since the seventeenth century, and I looked for those sources which might start to offer glimpses of the answers. Lost language, for example, such as ‘firking like a flounder’ or being ‘great with child’, phrases that get at experience. Or anecdotes captured in interviews or letters or stories or government reports. Or objects, like cradles or cradleboards or cots, which shape how a person uses them.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Did you ever get overwhelmed with the vast amount of information? How did you keep yourself going when the heaps of research appeared to be ‘too much?’ And is research [writing] ever truly ‘done?’

Sarah Knott:

In many ways, the dilemma was the reverse: we simply don’t know enough about those experiences. They don’t readily get written down, it taking both hands to hold a baby.

And nor did I set myself the task of writing some kind of total history, or an exhaustive guide. I was after a different sort of book, one that would breathe fresh air into our sense of the present by giving us insight into different pasts.


“By starting with the link between mother and baby, and crawling outward into the link between so many mothers, [Knott] shows that while infancy is a time when life is measured in days, in its curves are centuries.”

Time


Leslie Lindsay:

Can you share a few facts you uncovered during your research that you found particularly compelling? For example, I was struck by how frequently women ‘gave out’ their babies to wet-nurses.

Sarah Knott:

Indeed! It is striking how often the person carrying for an infant was not its birth mother. There are so many examples of this: the privileged women, such as tradeswomen or slave mistresses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who ‘gave out’ or gave away their infants to the care of a wet nurse. Or the habits of more communal mothering that characterized some native nations, where grandmothers or aunts might play especially important roles.

I was also struck by how various have been the recommendations of how-to guides, which came into existence in the mid eighteenth century. The merits of a cold bath, the value of a swaddle or its dangers, whether a baby should be cuddled or left alone to cry… all these possibilities and many more have divided ‘experts’.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I love how much of MOTHER IS A VERB is your personal experience with motherhood, with your career, too. Can you talk about your children now? What are their ages and a few small facts? How about your teaching?

Sarah Knott:

The closing pages of MOTHER IS A VERB portray my younger child, gaining in independence, walking away from me along the corridor of our home. V and M are much bigger now, books taking time to get into print and out into the world, and they are quite bemused to have been the book’s prompt and subject. One suggested the title should be Babies To The Rescue, the other, A Tale of Two Boys.

Meanwhile, I teach on the history of birth, drawing on the remarkable archives of the Kinsey Institute: early modern recipe books, for example, or midwives’ manuals. That topic of birth reaches all the way into our present, via the black ‘granny midwives’ of the early twentieth century, the ‘natural’ childbirth movement, and the fierce demands of women’s liberationists, or indeed the arrival of trans men contemplating the demands of birth and chest feeding. The latest addition to our archive of birth experiences is SEAHORSE, a remarkable British documentary about trans man Freddy McConnell that just came out.

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope others take away from MOTHER IS A VERB?

Sarah Knott:

I think of the book as what happens when a historian writes maternal memoir. I write in the opening pages that the past can burden us, or the past can release. Historical curiosity has the power to unleash us from what we think we already know, to make us doubt and to reimagine. I hope the book does that for the remarkable and ordinary experiences of pregnancy, and birth and the encounter with an infant.

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Sarah Knott:

Thanks for your interest, Leslie, and for these questions about maternal experiences past and present!

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For more information, to connect with Sarah Knott via social media, or to purchase a copy of MOTHER IS A VERB, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Knott, Sarah (c) Kate RaworthABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Knott grew up in England. Educated at Oxford University, she is now a professor of history at Indiana University. She is the author of Sensibility and the American Revolution and numerous articles on the histories of women, gender, and emotion. Knott has served aan editor of the American Historical Review, the American Historical Association’s flagship journal, and sits on the editorial board of Past and Present. She is a fellow of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.  

 

 

 

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

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#motherhood #maternalhistory #birth #midwives #history #memoir #childbirth #historian

[Cover and author image courtesy of FSG/Sarah Critton Books and used with permission. Photo credit for author photo: Kate Raworth. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this].

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Childhood Homelessness in America is on the rise–why–and how you can help, plus, resilience, writing, and imagination in this gorgeous and evocative novel from Rene Denfeld, THE BUTTERFLY GIRL

By Leslie Lindsay

Gorgeous companion to THE CHILD FINDER, this book stands on its own and is as stunning as harrowing.

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I loved Rene Denfeld’s previous book, THE CHILD FINDER (2017), but THE BUTTERFLY GIRL (October 1 2019) absolutely glimmers. It’s a gripping account of underprivileged, disadvantaged children and their circumstances .

Naomi is an exceptional young woman who has a knack for finding missing or displaced children. Now, we continue with her story as she is wracked with the guilt and compulsion of finding her own sister, who disappeared years ago when both girls were in captivity. Naomi escaped, but her sister didn’t.

Naomi has no picture, no idea even what her sister’s name is. She can’t remember; it was that traumatic. And she was just a kid when it all happened. All Naomi has is a vague sense of a strawberry field at night, black dirt rimming her nails, and bare feet. She ran for her life.

Now, nearly twenty years later, Naomi is in Portland Oregon, amidst skid row, where scores of homeless children wander in and out of shelters, abandoned paint factories, and behind Dumpsters. They’re looking for love, for money, for acceptance, for companionship. They want to be heard. When Naomi notices girls have been going missing for months, and pulled from the river like dead fish, she must get involved–but she doesn’t want to. Not really. Not until she finds her sister.

That’s when she meets 12-year-old Celia, who is running from her abusive stepfather and IV drug addict mother. Celia has a vivid imagination and sharp wit, but she can’t seem to escape her fate on the street.

The writing is lush and poetic, every sentence absolutely sings. I read with deep awe and fascination, and also my heart in my throat. This is a bleak and chilling story, but also hopeful. Denfeld does a fabulous job of weaving several story lines together in a cohesive whole; her experiences as a public defender investigator absolutely shine.

There is so much honesty and authenticity in these pages, but also haunting and lyrical prose. It’s a cry for action for the disadvantaged, but also a literary mystery. THE BUTTERFLY GIRL will leave you breathless.


“A heart-breaking, finger gnawing and yet ultimately hopeful novel by the amazing Rene Denfeld.”

—Margaret Atwood via twitter


Keep in mind, THE BUTTERFLY GIRL does mention some darker sides of life, including human (child) trafficking, child homelessness, pedophiles/rape, although the language used helps soften and distort the abuse.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Rene Denfeld back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Rene, oh, this book! I read it with my heart in my throat and nearly every chapter ended with a sigh. We first ‘met’ Naomi in THE CHILD FINDER (2017), but THE BUTTERFLY GIRL isn’t exactly a sequel, more of a companion. Can you tell more about your seeds of inspiration?

Rene Denfeld:

I am so honored to be here! Thank you for reading THE BUTTERFLY GIRL. This is a deeply personal book for me, as I experienced a lot of trauma as a child. It’s why I went into work helping others, doing public defense work, and also why I became a foster mother.  And it definitely informed my writing. It brings the beauty of life into sharp relief.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I am reading and I feel so connected and protective of Celia, the 12-year old homeless girl in the story. Probably because I have a sweet 12-year old daughter myself, with blue eyes and clear skin and a smattering of freckles. I couldn’t imagine her on the streets. But it happens. All the time. What is your connection to Celia?

Rene Denfeld:

A lot of my experiences went into Celia. When I was a girl I lived on the streets. Like Celia I dealt with predators. I slept under overpasses. I dug through trash cans for food. It was a stark, terrible life, and yet, it had moments of joy. I made deep friendships with other street kids. I saw the worst life had to offer, and I also experienced some of the best. I’ll never forget waking up on cold streets and watching the sun rise over the city. I spent a lot of time in the downtown library, escaping into books. I dreamed someday I might be a writer. I wanted to tell stories that helped others.

Leslie Lindsay:

Years ago, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, my uncle was homeless. He came from a loving home, but didn’t want to be found. He left. No one knew where he went. My father and grandparents found him—eventually, nearly a decade later—on the streets of Denver. We all know there are contributing factors to homelessness in adults: addiction, mental illness. But children. That’s a slightly different story. Can you talk about that, please?

Rene Denfeld:

Right now we are seeing a huge surge in homelessness. Hidden in that is a massive population of children. When you see those tent cities or large groups of homeless, children live there too. It’s a scary reality. I think we want to blame the homeless for their plight. But a lot of kids end up homeless because of abuse and molestation at home. Addictions in their parents are another big cause, as if poverty. We look the other way about street kids. We let them be victimized and preyed upon, and sometimes we even blame them, make them out to be criminals. A lot of kids on the streets are from the foster system, too. They run away from bad foster homes and no one bothers to try and find them. There are thousands of homeless children in this country. 

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Leslie Lindsay:

And girls especially. What might we know—or not know—about girls and homelessness?

Rene Denfeld:

When I was on the streets the trafficking was right out in the open. Now its has gone underground. Because of the internet girls can be trafficked out of cheap hotel rooms. But it still happens. Girls are especially at risk when homeless, but boys are at risk too. All children are vulnerable on the streets. They are not just being trafficked, they are missing critical pieces of their education and development. Instead of feeling loved and safe they are being brutalized. It is an absolutely harrowing life. I had many friends on the streets who were murdered or died of overdoses. One threw himself off a freeway ramp after being raped.

Leslie Lindsay:

What I love about Celia, and also Sarah, is that they have a special kind of resilience –their own unique set of coping skills. Celia has a vivid imagination; she loves butterflies and Sarah has Little Self. Can you talk about the role of coping and imagination and what saved you?

Rene Denfeld:

I believe imagination is a radical act. It is a proclamation of hope. Imagination saved my life. I learned to escape through books and story, and often spent more time in a fantasy world than in real life. It is how I learned to cope. It is a healthy coping mechanism. An imagination is something no one can take from you. It’s not just an escape. It’s a way of re-envisioning your future. I used to imagine someone was going to come save me. After awhile, that imagination allowed me to see I could save myself. I remember reading the book The Woman Warrior as a homeless child, sitting in the downtown library, and imagining I could be a warrior too.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I understand that when you were younger, you wrote poems on a broken typewriter and left them for homeless kids to find. This reminds me of Celia and her butterfly drawings. Was it a call for help? Just a way to escape? A combination? Something else?

Rene Denfeld:

It felt more like a magical thing to do, like sending messages in a bottle. That’s what writing is, isn’t it? We send messages in a bottle out into the world, and hope they find someone. Now I get to write books that do the same. I may never know who my books reach, and how they might help. But they are out there. We all deserve to have someone send us a message in a bottle. I think it is profoundly healing to take what has happened to you and use it to reach out and help someone else.

Leslie Lindsay:

When I closed this book for the last time, I said to my husband, “I want to be a foster parent. I want to help that guy who sits at the intersection with a cardboard sign.” I think THE BUTTERFLY GIRL is going to be a call for action for many. What might you suggest?

Rene Denfeld:

I love being a foster adoptive parent. Hands down it is the best choice I ever made. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years now. It’s not easy! But I highly suggest that people consider it, or other ways to help children. Not everyone can be a foster parent. But perhaps they can consider volunteering as a CASA. That’s a volunteer who works with the court system to oversee a foster child’s case. They get to know the kid, and make sure their rights and needs are being met. There’s a lot of volunteer activity out there. You can also consider volunteering in shelters, or youth outreach. There is so much we can do to help. We all have the power to change lives.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Rene, this has been amazing. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Is there anything you’d like to add, that maybe I should have asked?

Rene Denfeld:

Just that I am so honored to be here, speaking to you. I’m very lucky. I am thankful every day. Life is beautiful and full of poetry and promise, despite all the sorrow. You and your readers are part of that beauty and promise! So thank you.

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For more information, to connect with Rene Denfeld via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE BUTTERFLY GIRL, please see: 

Order links: 

2q5zf0fA_400x400ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rene is the author of the acclaimed novels The Child Finder, The Enchanted, and The Butterfly Girl. Her literary thrillers explore themes of survival, resiliency and redemption, and have earned starred Library Journal reviews, glowing NYTBR reviews, and Indie Next picks. Margaret Atwood has proclaimed her work “astonishing” and The Butterfly Girl a “heartbreaking, finger-gnawing, yet ultimately hopeful novel.”

Rene was the Chief Investigator at a public defender’s office and has worked hundreds of cases, including death row exonerations and helping rape trafficking victims escape their captors. In addition to her advocacy work, Rene has been a foster adoptive parent for twenty years. She was awarded the Break The Silence Award in Washington, DC for her social justice work, and was named a 2017 hero of the year by the New York Times.

The child of a difficult history herself, Rene is an accomplished speaker who loves connecting with others. Rene lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is the happy mom of three kids adopted from foster care as well as other foster kids.

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

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#literaryfiction #homelessness #disadvantagedyouth #fostercare #fosterfamilies #butterflies #missinggirls #alwayswithabook #amreading 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of ShreveWilliams/HarperCollins and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram @leslielindsay1]

Deceitful, Dark, & Twisted THE NANNY is about villians, the art world, the slippery nature of memory; plus Gilly Macmillan talks about her ideal writing day, her next book, and more

By Leslie Lindsay

NYT Bestselling author, Gilly Macmillan is back with this dark, original, and diabolically clever tale of family secrets, set in a U.K. manor home.

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I’ve read all of Gilly Macmillan’s books and I think THE NANNY (September 10 William Morrow) must be her darkest, most sinister tale yet. Each one just gets better and better.

Years ago, in 1988, 7-year old Jo’s (Jocelyn) nanny, Hannah, left without a trace. Jo was devastated. No one spoke of her again. Jo grew up bitter and distanced from her family; there was very little relationship between she and her mother Virginia (Ginny). Eventually, Jo leaves her aristocratic family and home–Lake Hall–behind for CaliforniaShe marries and works in the art world–until her husband unexpectedly dies.

It’s been thirty years, and Jo must return home to Lake Hall. She’s dreading this. She and her mother are estranged and there’s a stuffiness to this upper class life she desperately wishes to avoid. While she and her daughter, Ruby, are kayaking in the lake, they discover a human skull. This couldn’t be her long-lost nanny, could it?

And then there’s an unexpected visitor. She looks stunningly like the old nanny. But the skull?

Told in alternating POVs, we get glimpses of Jo, Virginia, and the late 1970s, early 1980s from an unnamed narrator, which really brings the period to life. I loved the details about the fashion. But there are gaping holes in Jo’s memory, and everything she thought she knew about herself and her childhood comes into question. The entire reading experience is one of dark foreboding, a menacing appeal that that get under your skin and have you turning the pages at break-neck speed.

I absolutely had to discover the mystery of the skull. All in all, THE NANNY is a twisted tale of lies, deception, secrets, and more.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Gilly Macmillan back to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

THE NANNY is devilishly wicked and sinister. I put this one down and thought, “oh, WOW.” So, what was the driving force for you? What inspired this one?

Gilly Macmillan:

My agent and I were discussing how many thrillers use a missing person as a plot device. It’s something I’ve done myself, in my debut WHAT SHE KNEW. As we chatted, we wondered what you could do if you flipped that idea, making the reappearance of a person the main driver for the plot. We discussed family members reappearing, but we wanted a little uncertainty over whether the person was who they said or not, and family links can be easily proved or disproved by DNA. So then we thought of a nanny. Somebody not blood related but who lives at the very heart of a family and knows most, if not all, of their secrets. That conversation launched the book! It wasn’t difficult to come up with the idea for an English country house setting and an aristocratic family after that and the rest followed.


“Exploding with secrets, The Nanny by master storyteller Gilly Macmillan has everything you dream for in a thriller: expertly drawn and complex characters, a terrifying premise and the best villain I’ve encountered on the page in a long time…Macmillan skilfully reveals long dormant family secrets in this atmospheric stunner…you won’t be able to rest until the final, spine-tingling conclusion.”

–Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author of The Weight Of Silence and Before She Was Found


Leslie Lindsay:

As with any thriller there must be lies, deception, twists—but there’s also memory and childhood and strained mother-daughter relationships—this adds extra layers to the narrative, which make it even more compulsive. I am most interested in the childhood memory piece. Because, we often think we remember something one way, only to have it mis-remembered. What can you add to that?

Gilly Macmillan:

I am obsessed with the slippery nature of memory, possibly because I have a poor memory myself and often have to rely on people to remind me of things, especially events that happened in my deep past. It alarms me how easily I can remember something wrongly, or could be misinformed about what happened. In a thriller scenario, you could really take advantage of someone like me, and I think that we are all susceptible to misremembering to an extent. It’s the reason three witnesses to a crime can give three different accounts of what they saw. Even if we do remember an event, we all home in on different details that can lead to different interpretations. I think it’s something we all need to be aware of when we are revisiting our past via our own memories or those of other people.

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Photo by Zhanzat Mamytova on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a lot of masquerading from all characters in THE NANNY. Jo pretends to ‘make nice’ with the other school mums, and Ruby wants to be friends with Stan but his mother forbids it, and the obvious: ‘hiding’ behind the façade of Lake Hall, the high-end couture, and more. Can you talk about how we find comfort and safety in, well, concealing?

Gilly Macmillan:

Masquerading is so interesting, because I think many of us are engaged in it a great deal of the time, even if it’s to a small extent. We chose how to present ourselves to the world and we often gloss over the parts of our lives that hurt, or which we feel insecure about. Social media is a terrific example of that. I think it’s quite a basic human urge, a survival mechanism, if you like. I also think we sometimes display different parts of ourselves in different situations, and while we might not be masquerading in the sense that there is no deception intended, we certainly slip from one persona to another at times. I show a different side of myself in a professional meeting than I do at home. I believe we find comfort and safety in this because it allows us to operate as effectively as possible in different environments, to join tribes that might not have us otherwise, and function in all the different areas of our lives. The challenge is to maintain a sense of self along the way.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh, and then there’s the art world! That’s a big sub-theme to THE NANNY. I understand you have a bit of a background in art and photography. Can you talk about how you worked that into the narrative?

Gilly Macmillan:

I studied art history as an undergraduate and postgraduate and worked in the art world for a few years afterwards, firstly for a commercial gallery and then for an academic magazine. Photography was something I took up later once we’d move away from London to raise our family. It was so much fun to delve back into the art world for this book. It’s a colorful, fascinating world, and the financial and emotional stakes can be high. Dipping into that world brought a ton of new locations and new characters into THE NANNY, taking some of the action into the heart of London. I thought it would make a fantastic contrast to Lake Hall’s classic English countryside setting, and also add some spice to day to day life for my character Jo.

Leslie Lindsay:

Who or what influences you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Gilly Macmillan:

My family influences me every moment of every day. I want to set a good example to my kids. I’m also influenced by every good book I’ve ever read. 

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Photo by Wallace Chuck on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What does a perfect writing day look like to you?

Gilly Macmillan:

I would get to my office with a cup of coffee at 8.30am and sink right into the book I’m working on. The prose would flow, and I would have a sense of exactly what the book needs at this point. That would be magical. On a good day like that – and they don’t happen as often as I’d like! – I’ll usually have finished writing by lunchtime, so I can take the rest of the day to tend to admin, social media, household stuff, walk my dogs and let my brain recharge before I write again the following morning.

Leslie Lindsay:

Gilly, this has been delightful, as always. Is there anything I might have asked about but forgot?

Gilly Macmillan:

It’s been a delight for me, too! Thank you so much for having me on the blog again and for your kind words about THE NANNY. I suppose the only thing I might add is that I’m working hard on my sixth novel. The central character is a crime writer, and it’s been interesting, and a little alarming, to turn the lens onto my own profession!

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[Above image designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.]

For more information, to connect wtih Gilly Macmillian via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NANNY, please visit: 

Order Links:

lxa0435 11ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gilly Macmillan is the internationally bestselling author of five novels including WHAT SHE KNEWTHE PERFECT GIRLODD CHILD OUT, I KNOW YOU KNOW and THE NANNY.

A former art historian and photographer, Gilly studied at Bristol University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She lives in Bristol, UK, with her husband and three children.

Her first novel, WHAT SHE KNEW, was a Target pick, a LibraryReads pick, an Indie Next pick, an Edgar award nominee, and an International Thriller Writers award finalist.

Gilly’s novels have appeared on the New York Times, Sunday Times, Globe & Mail and Der Spiegel bestseller lists, been translated into over 20 languages and sold over one million copies worldwide. She’s been described as ‘one heck of a good writer’ (Wall Street Journal) and her novels have been praised as ‘nuanced, completely addictive’ (People), ‘riveting’ (Publishers Weekly), and ‘visceral, emotionally charged…heart-wrenchingly well told’ (The Daily Mail).

She is currently working on her sixth novel.

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

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#England #UK #nannies #TheNanny #PsychThriller #DomesticSuspense #memory #murder #reappearance

[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this]

 

Sara Donati–a self-proclaimed ‘long-winded’ storyteller talks about her lushly researched new novel, WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, how she was going to be a nurse, how writing is painful, but she’s obsessed, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

From the international bestselling author of THE GILDED HOUR, this epic historical fiction about two female doctors set in NYC 1880s will enthrall and capture your heart. 
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From 1998 to 2011, Sara Donati changed the landscape of historical fiction when she brought readers to the Wilderness series, introducing six historical novels following the Bonner family through upstate New York.

Now, WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS (Berkley, September 10 2019) is a glorious, sweeping sequel to her THE GILDED HOUR (2016) and I immensely enjoyed this historical fiction.

In this tale, obstetrician Dr. Sophie Savard returns home to the achingly familiar rhythms of Manhattan in the spring of 1884 to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. With the help of her cousin, dear friend, and fellow physician, Dr. Anna Savard, she plans to continue her work with women who come from the darker side of life.

But there have been a rash of murders–specifically–women who have been ripped open with curious wounds to the uterus. Clearly, the person responsible has some medical knowledge? But who? And why?

The world of 1880s NYC is so vivid in WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, and Donati is a beautiful, talented, and highly observant writer; these pages absolutely came to life with her ease of dialogue, knowledge and expertise of historical settings, medical procedures and terminology, and more; the reading of THERE THE LIGHT ENTERS is very cinematic; I was entralled. There’s even a cameo of the Dakota apartment building during its construction, which I so enjoyed. Punctuated throughout the narrative are maps, letters, newspaper articles, medical notes, more, which helps break it up..


“Lushly written…Exemplary historical fiction, boasting a heroine with a real and tangible presence.”

Kirkus Reviews


Keep in mind this is a large book–easily two to three times your ‘average’ novel.There are many characters and plot lines to keep track of, from orphaned Italian immigrant children to the murder cases, the medical student’s journey, Dr. Sophie Savard’s grief, her mission to help those less fortunate, a legal case, and so much more.

Love, love the medical piece to WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, and it’s almost a relief to see such bright, enterprising women in fiction, especially given the historical time period. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Sara Donati to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sara, it’s a pleasure. I always like to start by asking about inspiration, but with WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, I think it’s safe to say the inspiration was that this is a sequel. Can you tell us how you made the decision to continue Drs. Savard’s stories? Is it usually clear early on that you’re working with a series?

Sara Donati:

First, let me thank you for this wonderful and generous review. It means a great deal to any historical novelist when thoughtful readers take note of the research that goes into making a time and place come back to life.

Now to the question: I am a long-winded storyteller.  Every novel I’ve written (and there are now eleven of them) has felt incomplete to me, even the stand-alone contemporary novels. I suppose that once a character comes to life it’s difficult to file them away and expect them to be content in a drawer.

However, the Wilderness series does end with a series of newspaper stories and obituaries about all the main characters over a twenty year period, which some readers loved; other readers were horrified. I wrote the epilogue that way because I knew I wouldn’t write more in that series and I wanted some closure for the characters I had been communicating with for more than ten years.  They seem to be willing to take their rest, now. All except Curiosity, who still pops up on occasion to lecture me.

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Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

So…in terms of series, One doesn’t have to read THE GILDED HOUR [the prelude to this book] before WHERE THE LIGHT ENTER. I didn’t–and still found my reading experience wholly consuming. You do a wonderful job of catching up new readers without overwhelming. What helps you do this?

Sara Donati:

I believe it’s my obsession with contemporary newspaper articles and ads. To get my mind in the right place I have to reconstruct the setting, and I do that in large part by wallowing in words and images of the period.  If I need to know what green beans cost in Manhattan or Chicago in 1884, I can find that out; if the knowledge is accessible, I can’t ignore it.

All this material I use to fortify the story. I layer in personal correspondence, newspaper articles and opinion pieces, advertisements (all written by me, but modeled very closely on documented materials).  The challenge with WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS was to catch up the reader who wasn’t familiar with the complex plot of the  first novel in the series, and so I did that by reconstructing the murder-file, the documents that were produced in the course of the investigations of the (fictional) murders that took place in THE GILDED HOUR.  I am fascinated by these kind of details, both police procedural and medical, but I did worry that the average reader might be put off. Good to know that you were not.

[Read an excerpt of one such ‘newspaper’ article from WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS].

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Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you give us a glimpse into your process? How do you keep all of the plot lines straight? Are you an obsessive first-drafter? Do you like the story to flow organically?

Sara Donati:

Some novelists plot down to the smallest detail, but I can’t do that. I start with an image or scene that has sparked my imagination, and once I have that down in fairly solid form, the story will start to unfold. I usually have a good idea of a couple of major plot turns, but I don’t know how I’ll reach those points. It almost never happens that I have to go back and insert a scene or chapter. I do edit as I go along– compulsively, repeatedly — but I don’t jump ahead or back and start restructuring.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a former R.N. and so I loved the medical connections in WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS. Not only did you have to research the historical context, but there’s the whole world of women in in medicine in the 1880s, not to mention the medical jargon, procedures, etc. What resources did you find particularly helpful as you wrote? Do you prefer to research as you write or beforehand?

Sara Donati:

I admit that I love the research.  Whole medical journals and texts and case histories are available online for the time period I write about, and I can get lost in that stuff very happily, for days.  I’ve studied the lives of a number of female physicians of the period, reading biographies, autobiographies, their publications and reviews, and where available, personal correspondence.  This is not just for medicine. For any study of a historical period, for example an academic reconstruction of the War of 1812, I pay special attention to the footnotes. I have rescued whole characters out of single footnotes.

It was my intention to go to nursing school when I graduated from high school, but happenstance sent me in a different direction.  And still, I’ve never lost my interest, and I’ve taken college and technical college classes in things like anatomy and medical coding, where I learned a great deal about disease and injury.  I do consult medical professionals on occasion to make sure I haven’t got the wrong end of a particular stick — and probably I do get things wrong now and then despite my best efforts.

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Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m an architecture buff, too and was delighted to come across a section of WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS in which you take readers to the construction site of the Dakota. What more can you tell us about the building?

Sara Donati:

Yikes. Big question.  In my resources about the Dakota I have a wide variety of books (by historians, sociology  and architecture scholars), articles and advertisements from the 1880s. The scholarship of historians was extremely helpful, for example Alpern’s The Dakota: A History of the World’s Best-Known Apartment Building, which is overflowing with photos, floor plans and technical details.  There are some great photos during the construction to be found online, just fyi.

Here’s an odd fact: At first the Dakota had a full service dining room, as a hotel will have a restaurant. It was meant to provide tenants with everything they might possibly need, including meals.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What does a perfect writing day look like to you?

Sara Donati:

I am sorry to say that I don’t know.  In my experience, writing is painful and it only gets more difficult as you go along.  There have been periods when I wrote more smoothly, but there is no way to bring on such a state. I just have to ride the wave when it graces me with its presence. Orwell was very vocal (and on-point) about this:

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” 

Leslie Lindsay:

I should mention that you are a native of Chicago but currently reside in Puget Sound. I’m not native, but I’ve been in Chicago for twelve years. Do you think place shapes writing?

Sara Donati:

Place certainly shapes experience, and experience shapes storytelling. I left Chicago for good in 1983 and I still miss it every day.  I absolutely love reading novels set in Chicago. Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, for example, delighted me for the geographic details (and for the incredibly powerful story).

Leslie Lindsay:

Sara, it’s been so enlightening. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I forgot to ask that you’d like to share?

Sara Donati:

Yes, please visit the website for this series, or visit my Facebook author page. There’s a discussion group that might work for you.

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[This image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this].

For more information, to connect with Sara Donati via social media, or to purchase a copy of WHERE THE LIGHT ENTERS, please see: 

Order Links: 

7244_donati_saraABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rosina Lippi is a former academic and tenured university professor. Since 2000 she spends her time haunting the intersection where history and storytelling meet, wallowing in 19th century newspapers, magazines, street maps, and  academic historical research. And she never gets bored with any of it.

Under the pen name Sara Donati she is the author of the Wilderness series, six historical novels that follow the fortunes of the Bonner family  in the vast forests in upstate New York, from about 1792-1825.  Her newest novel about the Bonner family is The Gilded Hour. The new series  jumps ahead past the destruction of the Civil War  to follow Nathaniel and Elizabeth’s granddaughters into the twentieth century.

Under her own name Rosina writes contemporary novels (and academic work, for example here). The majority of her book reviews can be found at Goodreads; you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter (@akaSaraDonati). She lives on Puget Sound with her husband, daughter, a Havanese pupper called Jimmy Dean, and Bella, a rambunctious cat. Sara lives with Rosina and her family, but refuses to answer the phone, do windows or make herself useful in any way at all.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #medicalfiction #womeninmedicine #obstetrics #historicalthriller #murder

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/PRH and used with permission. Image of The Dakota c. 189o retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.7.19. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow me on Instagram]. 

Miciah Bay Gault talks about her luminous literary thriller, GOODNIGHT STRANGER, how she wasn’t trying to write a thriller, finding an agent, reincarnation, plus a fabulous reading list

By Leslie Lindsay 

Deeply compelling and highly disturbing at times, GOODNIGHT STRANGER is a suspenseful literary thriller with themes of grief, love, and human behavior. 

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This is one of those books that is as eerie as moving, for me, and also has a bit of magical realism/suspended belief that may excite and intrigue. As a debut, GOODNIGHT STRANGER (Park Row Books, July 30) is darn good.

Lydia and her brother, Lucas live in their family’s ramshackle home on fictional Wolf Island (just off Cape Cod) and while they are adults, they haven’t exactly ‘launched.’ Lydia is 28 years old when the story begins and she’s a college dropout with dreams of going back. She left Brown when her mother became ill. Her brother is a bit ‘different’ in the way he sees the world. Pathologically shy, Lucas spends his time doing odd jobs and living in the home shadowed by past events. And ghosts.

Lucas and Lydia are the two remaining children of triplets. The other child, who is referred to as ‘Baby B,’ died tragically as an infant. When Lydia sees a stranger step off the ferry one day, she is immediately drawn to him. Lucas is convinced this man, who calls himself Cole, is the reincarnation of their baby brother, Baby B. Cole somehow knows inside information about Lydia and Lucas, shares some of the same mannerisms. Could he actually be the reincarnation of this brother, one they never even really knew because he was only months old when he died?

Lydia is doubtful but continues a friendship with Cole while simultaneously doing her own research into who he might really be. 
The story takes us from the small island to the Cape and to Vermont where other, darker truths lie.

There were
 several gasp-out-loud moments for me,
and I was super-intrigued with this concept of reincarnation. GOODNIGHT STRANGER is a well-written literary suspense about the power of grief and love, regrets and anxiety, loneliness, and the darker side of human behavior. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Miciah Bay Gault to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Miciah, I was so enraptured by these opening pages. As a writer myself, I’ve been thinking a lot about those illusive first 50 pages—which is really about beginnings—so what pulled you into this story? Why now? And what’s your take—in general—on the ‘first fifty?’

Miciah Bay Gault:

Thanks so much for all of this, Leslie. I love your summary of the book. And I agree those first fifty pages have such weight, don’t they? I worked really hard on the “first fifty,” trying to set up some of the major questions of the book, the mysteries, without moving too quickly and losing readers. I also needed to introduce readers to Lydia and Lucas, and to the island itself. I wanted the sensory experience of Wolf Island to start right away. I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting my descriptions of Cole, his small actions and his dialogue too, because I wanted readers to see him as I see him: charismatic, charming, but also controlling, intense. I wanted readers to sense danger when he entered the scene, but to not quite understand where it was coming from.

A couple years ago I was lucky enough to have the novelist Julianna Baggot as a colleague at Vermont College of Fine Arts in the MFA in Writing & Publishing program where I still teach. Julianna is like a force of nature: so smart and insightful. She looked at the opening pages of my manuscript, and suggested I try summing up the entire book in my first line. At first I resisted, because I couldn’t imagine summarizing GOODNIGHT STRANGER without including spoilers! But then I gave it a try, and I actually loved what I ended up with. It just seems magical to be able to sum up the entire book in the first line(s) without actually giving anything away. So that’s how I ended up with my opening:

“Baby B was our brother, and he’d been dead all our lives. For a long time I thought I’d see him again, but by the time I was twenty-eight, I believed that the dead stay dead. I knew that the space he left in our lives would have to be filled in other ways.”

And those first fifty? I’m guessing they went through close to one hundred revisions all told.

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Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

And then there’s this comforting, but slightly eerie concept of reincarnation. This is a pretty heady theme to weave into a debut. What is your understanding and stand on the topic?

Miciah Bay Gault:

Good and complicated question, Leslie! I’m not a religious person, but I’m interested in all belief systems, especially the narratives and mythologies of different religions, which I often find beautiful and haunting. I wasn’t raised with religion, but I consider my mom a spiritual person: she meditates every day, has a rich relationship with nature, and practices kindness and empathy.

My mom and her friends who are mostly just turning 70 now, were part of the New Age cultural movement, a term I don’t love because it feels reductive. I really admire the way that generation of women—a certain subculture, at least—committed to examining their own psychology, archetypal experiences, and spirituality. Reincarnation was one avenue of exploration.

I guess the easiest way to say it is that I’m agnostic about reincarnation, both as a tenet of many Indian religions, and as a western new-age concept of exploration. It’s a beautiful and fascinating idea.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I found the setting of GOODNIGHT STRANGER so atmospheric, wholly enveloping. I swear I could taste the salt water on my lips and feel the dampness of the gray November days. I understand you grew up partially on Cape Cod. How much does setting inform your writing? Do you see it as a sort of character?

Miciah Bay Gault:

I love that, Leslie. I hope everyone feels saltwater on their lips while reading GOODNIGHT STRANGER. I’m not sure I would call the setting a character, but I think you ask that question because you’re really astutely pointing out how setting is kind of inescapably tied to character. In fiction, characters are not only influenced and formed by their setting, often the plot unfolds because of how the characters respond to or push against their setting. And in some ways the language available to us is tied to the imagery and metaphors of that fiction’s particular setting. Not to mention mood! Setting makes mood, and the mood helps readers know how to approach a novel.

I did grow up in part on Cape Cod. We moved there when I was thirteen, the summer before I started high school. When we moved to the Cape, I felt home, despite the fact that I’d had many homes in many different states already. I think of myself at that age as very receptive, searching for identity. When I read in a high school English class about Emerson’s Transparent Eyeball I had the lovely, adolescent belief that he was describing me, my experience, although I was open to all aspects of my new setting, not just Nature. I was very influenced by the smells and tastes, the colors and textures of the Cape. The sensory imprint of the place definitely made its way fully into GOODNIGHT STRANGER.

Wolf Island is super important in the novel, not just an aspect of character development, but an important part of the plot. Several plot turns hinge on the ferry that runs between the island and the mainland. And Lydia’s complicated relationship with her home—she adores Wolf Island at the same time that she feels trapped there—is deepened by the fact of it being an island. In some ways she is literally trapped there.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Just recently, I had been doing some reading about the differences between literary fiction and genre fiction. It can be a little hair-splitting at times. My sense is ‘literary fiction’ is more about character and voice and less about plot, but that’s still important, too. There’s also the unique and gorgeous way of using words that tend to be more ‘literary.’ Where do you sit on that discussion? What genre would you consider GOODNIGHT STRANGER?

Miciah Bay Gault:

It’s funny because I definitely wasn’t trying to write a book in a genre. I just didn’t think of it in terms of genre. I had two goals for my book: I wanted to write a book that would make my writing teachers proud of me. And I wanted to write a book that readers couldn’t put down. So I did work really hard to write a book that would keep readers turning pages, and at the heart of my book there’s mystery, and a sense of danger, so we’ve been calling the book “literary suspense” or “literary thriller” which makes sense, but is almost accidental. I didn’t mean to write a literary thriller!

I think of pure genre books as following a kind of formula, following a lot of rules. This isn’t a criticism. Writing that follows the rules can still be pretty brilliant—I mean think of a sonnet! But literary fiction doesn’t follow the rules of genre—although more and more frequently literary fiction borrows from genre writing and the result is really exciting.

To give an example, I just finished The Changeling by Victor LaValle, an amazing book that’s really hard to categorize. It’s literary, in that there’s exquisite attention paid to the characters, setting, and sentence level writing, and the themes are large and complicated. But the book also borrows from horror, and folk/fairy tale. The result is astonishing.

Another great example is The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry, a literary speculative detective novel. The book borrows from and pushes against detective novel tropes, and it’s just thrilling to experience the result. A completely charming and delightful book.

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“Quietly chilling…A suspenseful meditation on the many ways in which the past, consciously or not, shapes the present, the novel flirts with fantasy but ultimately stays grounded in the elemental realities of wind, tides, and the eroding foundations of memory.”
Booklist


Leslie Lindsay:

As a first-time novelist, I am always interested in process, specifically your road to publication. It’s grueling! Can you walk us through?

Miciah Bay Gault:

A few years ago I had an essay published in Tin House. It was the highest profile lit mag I’d been published in, and I thought: maybe an agent will read the issue of Tin House and see my work. So I wrote in my bio “Miciah Bay Gault is writing her first novel” or something like that—just wanting to throw that out into the world in case my ideal agent happened to read the issue.

And it worked! An agent saw my essay, read in my bio that I was writing my first novel, and emailed to ask about the manuscript. I happened to be in labor with my youngest child when I got the email, so I know that this was exactly 6 years ago. I got back to her immediately (well, when I returned from the birthing center!) and that was the beginning of my relationship with my agent, Jenni Ferrari-Adler from Union Literary. We decided to work together even though the manuscript wasn’t ready to send out yet. Her feedback was invaluable, and I’m so grateful that we began our relationship even before the manuscript was fully formed.

When we were sure it was ready, Jenni sent the manuscript out widely and… it didn’t sell. Devastating! This had been my dream for as long as I could remember, and I was so scared that this was the end, that it meant I would never “make it” as a writer. But a few kind editors had given really thorough feedback and invited me to resubmit once I’d revised. I remember Jenni encouraging me to revise, saying, “Every writer has their own story about how their book comes into the world. This could be yours.” So we worked on the book for another two years, concentrating mainly on narrative tension. Those two years of revision were a lot of work, and a lot of doubt and fear. But what can you do? If you’re a writer you keep writing.

We sent it out again, and this time it found the perfect editor, Laura Brown at Park Row Books. I’d just met Laura at AWP the week before she read my book, and I knew I loved her. So when she made an offer on the book, I was thrilled.

All in all, I worked on this book for fifteen years before holding a finished copy in my hands.

Leslie Lindsay:

As I read, I found some similarities to between GOODNIGHT STRANGER and THE CHILD IN TIME (Ian McEwan) meets MY DARLING DAUGHTER (Margaret Leroy) with a touch of THE BOBCAT (Katherine Forbes Riley), with a bit of Diane Chamberlain’s earlier works (especially those set on water) and maybe a bit of Anita Shreve. What—or whom—influences your writing?

Miciah Bay Gault:

A lot of my favorite writers are short story writers: John Cheever, Kelly Link, George Saunders. These three writers share a kind of lyricism I’m inspired by, and a strangeness/darkness that just thrills me. I also think they’re brilliant in terms of structure—the shape of their short stories is just beautiful.

But because I’ve loved and been inspired by short story writers, I found myself a little unanchored when it came to writing a novel. When I was trying to understand narrative tension in GOODNIGHT STRANGER, I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, James Scott’s The Kept, and Rebecca Makkai’s Hundred Year House.

Over the years I’ve been very influenced by Wilkie Collins, who was a contemporary of Dickens. His most famous books are The Woman in White and The Moonstone, which are just this delicious mix of pulp and gothic thrills. He tells his stories by collaging together narratives from various points of view with newspaper articles, diary entries, and other fictional documents.

(Also I’ve added the books you’ve mentioned to my reading list! Thanks!)

Leslie Lindsay:

Miciah, this has been so informative and enlightening. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Miciah Bay Gault:

I love all your questions, Leslie. Thank you!

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For more information, to connect with Miciah Bay Gault on social media, or to purchase a copy of GOODNIGHT STRANGER, please see:

Order Links:

MiciahBayGault.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Miciah Bay Gault grew up on Sanibel Island, Cape Cod, and other places by the sea. A graduate of the Syracuse MFA program, she now teaches in the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and is the coordinator of the Vermont Book Award. Goodnight Stranger is her first book.

Goodnight Stranger is on the long list for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize. Cosmopolitan says it’s “one of the best literary thrillers you’ll read this year.” It was named one of the 10 smartest beach reads of 2019 by BBC Culture, as well as a must-read crime title by Book Riot, and Elle Canada says it’s the book to bring on your summer road trip.

Miciah’s fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times’ Modern Love column, Tin House, LitHub, Electric Literature, Salon.com, The Sun, The Southern Review, Agni, The Literary Review, and the anthology Contemporary Vermont Fiction (Green Writers Press, 2014). She’s the recipient of a Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant.

Miciah was the editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain for 9 years. Before that she was a high school English teacher, a swing dance instructor, a barista, and a nanny. Currently obsessed with snowflakes, luck, and Shirley Jackson, Miciah lives in Montpelier, VT with her husband and three children.

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

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#literaryfiction #reincarnation #twins #siblings #CapeCod #NewEngland #grief #familysecrets 

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 9.3.19. Artistic book cover image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this].

 

 

Poet John James talks about how he doesn’t think we ever truly leave childhood, plus his father’s death, how humanity is ensconced in the natural world, technology, more in THE MILK HOURS

By Leslie Lindsay

Pensive but inquisitive, THE MILK HOURS is a debut poetry collection about loss, the intimacy of art and dreams, and the vulnerable space of new life. 

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What does it mean to live in a state of loss, when the two are nearly imcompatible? That’s the overarching question in THE MILK HOURS: Poems, a debut collection from John James (Milkweed Editions, June 2019). Populated with living, grieving things, THE MILK HOURS is scattered with roots, bodies, and concealed historiesThere are cemeteries and the milky breath of babies. We taste art and geography, and crunch on gravel, and are moved through dream sequences and religious myth and story.

James takes science and nature and cleaves it into something new, something at once beautiful, but destructive. How do we make meaning in this world–to whom do we turn? Each other? Can those boundaries collapse?

THE MILK HOURS is sparsely, yet densely written. It’s at once lush and stark, full of metaphor and unsettled-ness. James has such a fabulous and unique grasp of languagea shifting perspective on nature, fecundity, and decay. This collection will move you, but it might also generate more questions than answers, which I think might be the point.

Please join me in welcoming John James, winner of the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

John, it’s a great pleasure. I am always intrigued about the ‘why now’ moment for a writer. I think that can be applied to poetry as well. What propelled this collection? Was there a theme or image or something else you wanted to explore?

John James:

There was a kind of inevitability to the subject matter. By the time I wrote the title poem, I was learning more about my father’s death, caring for a nursing infant—his granddaughter—and living across the street from the cemetery where he is buried. That last part sounds a bit morbid, but it wasn’t. I’d been writing poems around his death, or rather, around how he died, for years, without ever admitting that his death was a suicide to myself or to the reader. When I wrote “The Milk Hours,” it opened up what I’d been trying to say for some time. Other poems in the book follow the same sort of grief logic, but do so more obliquely, and I tried to strike a balance between those poems and the more overtly elegiac pieces over the course of the collection. “History (n.),” for instance, thinks about time: how we reconstruct the past, how we preserve it, and how, in that process, we forge historical blind spots. You can see how this poetic theorization of how we (re)construct the past bears heavily on the work of elegy. In any case, it was that confluence of events that urged me to write the title poem, and that less directly inspired many other pieces in the book.

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Leslie Lindsay:

It’s ironic, in some ways, that much of writing is inspired by people. And yet the act of working on a piece is solitary. Can you talk about that, please?

John James:

I don’t think we ever really escape childhood. The people around us during those vulnerable years when we’re so innocuously soaking up the world—they do so much to shape us into who we are, and they loom large in the imagination. We never stop picturing our mothers and fathers as giants, as invincible, even when we become adults and grow critical of them. Even then, they remain as significant archetypes: symbolic figures that influence everything, even when we’re battling against them. In an essential way, I’m always writing about childhood, even when I don’t want to be—even when I’m “solitary,” as you say, deep in my morning hush and absorbed in the act of writing. In that way, I’m never alone.


“‘Home is a question,’ writes John James in The Milk Hours, a remarkable debut in which sorrow leads to an astonishing intimacy with the world. The speaker is pensive but inquisitive, bewildered by the loss of a father and renewed by love and parenthood. Art, science, and travel, like mortality, become tethers to the elegant and chaotic truths of our world. The Milk Hours is a moving and urgently crafted testament to resilience and to beauty.”

—Eduardo C. Corral


Leslie Lindsay:

In many ways, THE MILK HOURS is about life and death. Your father’s death, your daughter’s birth, your transformation from son to father. And much of this is juxtaposed with elements within nature. Is that the way you see it? What might I be missing?

John James:

I see it less as a juxtaposition than as a kind of modeling. I always fall back on this word, “modeling,” when I’m talking about my work, but I see strong parallels between the cycles of the natural world and the ones we experience throughout our lives. I think writing can mimic those cycles. As humans, we often forget that we ourselves are a part of that cycle—as much a node in the ecological networks that sustain us as the grasses, the trees, the butterflies, and the wolves, though we account for an even larger impact, when you factor for climate change. But also, in a fundamental way, I’m a Romantic: I grew up around lakes and ponds, wandering through forests that I watched convert into suburban developments, and so an appreciation for the natural world and a recognition of our role in it—as stewards of it, sure, but also as subjects to its cycles of destruction—has continued to shape my view of things.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Related to nature a bit is this sense that some of your work is a bit like a dream sequence. Are any of these collected poems a result of your dreamworld?

John James:

None of them came from actual dreams, necessarily. I mean, every once and a while something comes to you in the night, and you hope you’re fast enough to write it down, but usually by the time I look over those notes in the morning, I realize they’re not any good. But there is a kind of Jungian symbolic dreamscape that I sometimes find myself working in, one where objects become totems and accrue meaning through association, sometimes as ostensible non-sequiturs—that is, by their placement alongside seemingly unrelated images within the space of a poem.  There is of course the explicit language of dreaming in “History (n.),” but that’s excerpted from Plato. It’s more a way of threading together these disparate strands of language. And then, there are the many images of sleeping and waking in the final third of the book, though I think of those as largely metaphorical, as a waking into the critical consciousness of adulthood. This consciousness allows us not just to observe our world but to assess it: to rethink its racial, ethnic, or gender biases, for instance, or to acknowledge and narrativize traumatic events in a way that grants us agency—and perhaps leads to healing. For me, the process of “awakening” into the knowledge of my father’s suicide allowed me to put that trauma to rest, as much as I think I’ll ever be able to do. I imagine others experience similar awakenings.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I was recently at a writing conference; we were chatting about the idea of writing—either stories or poetry—about truth and fiction and how the two intersect. There’s a good deal of overlap here. Some truths—and yet, observations the writer might not know for sure. How do you reconcile the ‘knowing’ and the ‘imagination?’

John James:

There’s a difference between the truth you allude to here and autobiographical truth. I’ve never felt the need, in my poetry, to stick to the truth of biography. As autobiographical as they may seem, and sometimes partially are, I always think of the voices in my poems as those of a “speaker,” and not as the “poet.” I think that divide often gets collapsed, under the assumption that the speaker or narrator of a poem must be the poet him or herself. But the lyric makes a space for invention, for language play, that becomes stifled when beholden to autobiographical truth. So when the poem urges me to depart from that “truth,” I do. You’re right, though, that there’s another kind of truth at work in these poems, a more philosophical one that seeks to understand humanity’s relationship to natural cycles, to death and decay, to creation, to being, etc. These are big truths, which I don’t think we can ever fully understand, and so they are—and remain—partial, riddled with doubt, more questions than truths per se. But I think the act of questioning is the point. I hope my poems urge readers to question all kinds of things.

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you find yourself thinking about when avoiding the page?

John James:

I love this question! I’m an avid gardener, so the first thing I do in the morning, after making a pot of coffee, is go poke around my plants and see what’s new. And often, it’s a lot! It’s amazing how quickly things change, if you pay attention. Overnight, a blossom opens. There’s a new squash or tomato on the vine. New sprouts have sprung. Or, sometimes caterpillars have arrived and they’re ravaging your cabbages. For the patient observer, it’s endlessly fascinating. I’m also really good at answering emails and cleaning the house, so if you’ve received a quick response from me—or, if you’re my partner, and you’ve come home to a newly vacuumed floor—you know I haven’t been writing. Unfortunately, writing requires me to virtually ignore everything else—which, when I can manage it, I do with pleasure.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Whom—or what—inspires you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

John James:

My garden. My daughter. Cooking. Our two cats, who’ve been having it out on the table as I type this out. I have a pretty full domestic life! But also, I do get a lot of inspiration from reading and from engaging with other writers. I mean, in my day job, I’m a scholar, so I’m always engaging with other people’s writing—convening with the minds of others, through their language on the page. Sometimes it’s across oceans—of water and of time. There’s something quite beautiful in that notion to me, and my poems are always seeking to model a similar intellectual convergence.

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

John James:

Thank you. I don’t think there’s anything you should have asked, but while I have the space, perhaps I’ll talk a little bit about the images. They were the final addition to the book, and I think they’re a lot of fun. To me, it wouldn’t quite have been the same book without them. I was interested—as I’m always interested—in thinking about the ways humanity is ensconced in the natural world, but more importantly, how our technologies—from the plough to the pen to the steam engine—have sought to manipulate natural resources in ways that exploit land and the bodies that inhabit it. What I did with certain images, then, was to adjust the opacity so that images of flora and fauna become mapped over, diagrammed, in ways that suggest their potential for exploitation. At the same time, I wanted to reveal how fundamentally similar machines are to the mechanics of the natural world. I mean, they take in energy, produce waste; they consume. An engine isn’t so different from the body of a living organism. The difference is that organisms have evolved to live ecologically within natural cycles, while machines have been developed to maximize output, profit. We need to recognize that difference, and do something about it, before it’s too late.

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For more information, to connect with John James via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE MILK HOURS, please visit: 

Order Links:

James-Hero-Crop.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: John James is the author of The Milk Hours, selected by Henri Cole for the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and published in June 2019 by Milkweed Editions. His poems appear in Boston ReviewKenyon ReviewGulf CoastPoetry NorthwestBest American Poetry 2017, and elsewhere. His work has been supported by fellowships and awards from the Bread Loaf Environmental Writers’ Conference, the Academy of American Poets, and the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University. He splits his time between Kentucky and California, where he is pursuing a PhD in English and Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#poetry #authorinterview #truthinfiction #truthinpoetry #writinglife 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of J. James and Milkweed Editions and used with permission. Sue Le Terrain image from THE MILK HOURS retrieved from the poet’s website on 8.21.19. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]. 

 

Debut author Lauren North talks about her early inklings for THE PERFECT SON (hint: isolation), how her background in psychology helps with writing, the house that inspired Tess’s and more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Grief and despair wrapped under the guise of a psychological thriller fraught with emotions, disbelief, and empathy. 

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When Tess Clarke wakes in a hospital room she knows three things:

1) She’s been stabbed

2) Her husband is dead

3) Her son is missing.

But the rest of it is buried under the fog of Tess’s mind. 

THE PERFECT SON (Berkley August 13) starts with Tess in the hospital and sort of works backward in time, allowing readers to piece together their own theories. I am so impressed that this is a debut for author Lauren North.

A bit about the plot: After Tess’s husband, Mark dies suddenly in a tragic accident, a few months earlier, the only thing keeping her together is their son, Jamie. And now he’s missing. To save him, Tess must piece together what happened between Mark’s death and Jamie’s disappearance. Plus, there are some ‘shady’ characters with ulterior motives Tess must grapple with.

The structure of the story is what I found especially compelling. There’s a bit of a countdown to Tess’s son’s birthday, and we get the sense that this is a triggering event–in his disappearance, her grief, her memories, all of the above. Other pieces of the narrative are peppered with reports and interviews between Tess and other characters, which I found fascinating.


“[An] emotionally harrowing debut…an intimate, unbalancing mix of grief, paranoia, gaslighting, maternal protectiveness, and profound compassion.”

Publishers Weekly (starred review)


I had a good deal of theories as I was reading, and absolutely saw how the story could have gone in a number of directions. North does a fine job of generating empathy in the reader and compassion for Tess and her expertise in psychology is evident. I felt worried and suspicious of several characters and was almost always siding with Tess.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Lauren North to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Lauren—so glad to connect! I always, always want to know the jumping off point for a book. What propelled you to write THE PERFECT SON?

Lauren North:  

Hi Leslie, thanks so much for having me. I’m so pleased you enjoyed THE PERFECT SON. This is a great question! For me, one of the key themes in THE PERFECT SON is isolation, which came from my own experience. Around six years ago, I was living in a busy town with my husband, and two children (a toddler and a baby at the time). I had a really active mum-social life, lots of friends, and lots of support. And then we moved to a very quiet village where I didn’t know anyone and my husband started working away, and I began to feel very isolated. I remember thinking to myself in those moments, if the worst should happen, how would I cope? And that question planted a seed in my mind which eventually became THE PERFECT SON.

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Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a good deal of grief in the THE PERFECT SON. Tess is devastated, understandably so. Was this the main theme you wanted to explore, or was it something else? Also, Shelley, the grief counselor, comes with her own set of grief experiences. But hers manifests a bit differently. Can you speak to that?

Lauren North:

It took me three goes at writing the first half of this novel before I felt as though I was telling the story I wanted to tell. I never intended to make grief such a key part of the story, but then  I started writing Tess’s character and found that she was really struggling to move on from her husband’s death. I realized that in order to write Tess’s story, I needed to accept that her grief was going to be this huge thing, at which point it became really important to me to portray her emotions as honestly and realistically as I could. It wasn’t easy at times, especially when I wanted the plot to move forward and Tess wouldn’t get out of bed.

Shelley’s story for me was just as tragic as Tess’s. In trying to cope with her own grief she became fixated on helping others in similar situations. Shelley was a bubbly and proactive woman and handled her emotions very differently to Tess, but equally they both felt so lost in the grief they had.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I’m always intrigued with houses and homes. I understand the house where Tess lives with her son is an old home, has been in the family for some time. At one point, I read that she was getting the locks changed and the locksmith indicated the home was built in the 16th century and re-keying the house would be difficult. Can you tell us more about the house you visualized? And also—it speaks to the isolation them and feeling of the narrative.

Lauren North:

The house I set Tess and Jamie’s story in is a real house on the outskirts of the village where I live. It’s a beautiful 16th century property with huge fireplaces and dusty, dark rooms.

It looks a lot like this image from Flickr (Photo  credit: Brian Ritchie Bayleaf: Wealden house from Chiddingstone, Kent)

It felt like the perfect house to set Tess and Jamie’s story in. Especially moving from a cosy new house in a big estate where Tess had lots of friends. The fact that it needed some modernizing and was filled with her dead mother-in-law’s belongings really added to Tess’s despair. It really is an isolated property and I liked the fact that Tess wouldn’t have a kind neighbor popping in or be overlooked by anyone.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You previously studied psychology—and it shows. Same here. I think it helps us become better, more perceptive writers. Can you tell us a bit about your former career and how it informs your writing?

Lauren North:

I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind. When I was young (about 8) I would write quizzes for all of my family and friends and try to understand what they liked and disliked. Studying psychology was a natural step for me to take. After studying at University I was really keen to get out into the real world and find a job so I took a job in Public Relations. I enjoyed the work but a part of me regrets not staying on to continue my studies. I’m not sure my former career has much impact on my writing, but my love of psychology and my desire to understand human nature most certainly does.

Leslie Lindsay:

I love learning about debut author’s publication journey. What can you tell us about agents, editors, and early attempts? What do you think you did ‘right’ and what drove you batty?

Lauren North:

I’ve been writing for around 12 years (although there were a good few years when I wrote nothing at all when the children were babies). I think I started taking myself more seriously when my children went to pre-school, which was almost six years ago now. I actually started writing romance books, and then I moved to women’s fiction novels about friendships. Each book I wrote was darker than the one before, until I found myself writing psychological suspense, which is where I feel most at home. Writing, like everything else, takes practice and more practice, and then more practice. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning new things with each book.

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren North:

The first thing is definitely books. I absolutely love reading and when I read a book I love I spend a lot of time talking to people about it, both online and to my friends and family.

I’m really passionate about children’s literacy, so that’s something I talk a lot about. My own childhood memories are entwined with the books I read as a child (Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High, and Nancy Drew, to name but a few). Reading opens a whole new and exciting world to children and teaches them about emotions and empathy. I volunteer at the local school to listen and help children with their reading, and I love hearing week on week what they think of the book they’re reading. In today’s technology and streaming world, it’s hard to encourage kids to pick up a book when there are so many other entertainments for them, but with my own kids I hope my passion for reading will rub off and even if they don’t always choose books over technology, books will always be there for them.

And finally, something not book related – my dog, Rodney. He’s a smelly but loveable 5-year-old cockerpoo who keeps me company when I’m writing and loves to go for long walks and runs with me. He is forever getting into mischief and making me laugh. His favorite thing to do at the moment is to wait until I’ve just got back from a run and I’m stretching in the garden on my knees. He sneaks up when I’m not looking and jumps up, toppling me over.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Lauren, this has been so enlightening. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Lauren North:

No–thank you so much for having me, Leslie, and for asking such interesting questions.

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For more information, to connect with Lauren North via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE PERFECT SON, please see: 

Order Links: 

Lauren_North (002)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lauren North studied psychology before moving to London, where she lived and worked for many years. She now lives with her family in the Suffolk countryside. The Perfect Son is her first novel, and she’s working on her second

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#psychthriller #domesticsuspense #mothersandsons #grief #psychology #trauma

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. For more like this, please follow on Instagram].

 

John McCarthy talks about the power of poetry, emotional response, the intuitive process of writing, the haunting landscape of the Midwest, an amazing reading list, and so much more in SCARED VIOLENT LIKE HORSES

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously stark and stunning collection of prose poetry that is at once mysterious, raw, and evocative. 

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Selected by Victoria Chang (Pushcart Prize among many other accolades), as winner of the Jake Adam York Prize, John McCarthy’s SCARED VIOLENT LIKE HORSES is an examination of growing up–of masculinity–but there’s more. Buried beneath these complicated, yet tender words is a yearning. Maybe it’s to be seen, to be heard, for greater compassion.

SCARED VIOLENT LIKE HORSES takes place in the Midwest–mostly Illinois–and this is something I completely ‘got.’ There’s a working-class grit, but also a sentimentality, a deep attention to detail, a nostalgia for simpler things. This work, I am guessing, is deeply personal about drunk fathers and unwell mothers, it’s about instability, and resilience, and isolation. And yet, it’s inspiring.

I read SCARED VIOLET LIKE HORSES fairly quickly–a day or two–but it’s not meant to be rushed. I want to go back and savor the pages, fall into the folds of these glimmering metaphors, revel in the observations. This work deserves that. McCarthy’s tendency is storytelling–a narrative approach to poetry, and this is my favorite kind. I am enamored with the details, the texture, the way I was transported to a different kind of company, while simultaneously feeling inspired to write.

Simply put, I found this collection transformative and magical.

Please join me in welcoming John McCarthy to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

John, I read ‘Switchgrass,’ and whispered, “Oh my God,” after just the first one. The first one! My mouth hung open. I scrambled to the back of the book to read your acknowledgements section, because sometimes readers can glean a little from that. And I think I surmised that SCARED VIOLENT LIKE HORSES is pretty darn personal. Can you tell us what inspired the collection?

John McCarthy:

Thank you, Leslie. That’s quite an opening endorsement. I wrote the book while I was living in Southern Illinois and attending the MFA program at Southern Illinois University. The program’s aesthetic was geared toward writing lyric narratives with a regional bent. We read a lot of authors who incorporated landscape into their poems, too. To attend the program, I moved down from Springfield, Illinois sight unseen after having lived in Central Illinois for twenty-three years. I have always loved Illinois, but once I moved, I was really able to start thinking about Springfield from an objective distance. Southern Illinois is a beautiful, magical place. It has swamps, cliffs and bluffs, rivers; it’s more like Kentucky or Mississippi than it is Illinois. I started paying attention to landscape and how it weaved its way into my work much more during that transition.

Also, I had just met my girlfriend (now fiancé), and I was driving back and forth between Carbondale and Chicago every other weekend to be with her and our daughter. It was a six-hour drive each way. Every other weekend I was on the interstate or driving side streets up the straight spine of Illinois. I did the math when I graduated, and I think I spent something like 675 hours on the road within three years. It was a lot of road. It was a lot of Midwest. It was a lot of thinking and reflecting. I think I wrote a lot of the book while talking into the voice recorder on my phone. When it comes down to it, the book was inspired by all the stories and narratives that happen in this landscape that a lot of people drive through or fly over. And yet, it’s not invisible or unimportant. It’s where we can learn a lot about ourselves or the ills of this country. And for me, it was where I was finally able to reorder, revise, and come to terms with the life I was leaving behind—familial trauma, religion, and most of all my own insecurities and their violent manifestations.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I’m guessing a collection of poetry isn’t always intentional. Maybe you write one here, one there, and before you know it, a collection. Can you talk a little about your process?

John McCarthy:

My process—for this book in particular—was pretty intentional. I knew I had wanted to write a book made of autobiographical poems. The MFA program I was in at the time encouraged us to write autobiographical poems with a lyrical-narrative bent. We also read and imitated a lot of poets who incorporated landscape and assorted regional themes into their poems. It certainly wasn’t required, but it was the natural aesthetic of the school’s pedagogy. It took about a year of writing really bad abstract poems about my immediate family before I figured out how to incorporate all the elements that make a good poem. After I finished SVLH, I probably had 70-100 poems that I threw away or saved for complete gutting and revision later.

That’s the high level answer. However, on a more granular level, I tried to read two to five books of poetry a week. During this time, I’d sit down and write little ideas out, tiny lines or words that seem to elicit some kind of emotional response that I can’t quite identify. I’d often go for a run and look for things in the landscape that mirror the emotions I was trying to express. It was a very involved process, trying to create a poem that exercises the objective correlative. I think the best poems are objective correlations—that is expressing in an image what most people would say directly.

I also think I’m more of a manic writer than a disciplined writer, for better or worse. I will often go a month or so without writing anything at all. During this time, I try to read essays and fiction. When I feel like I’m missing something, I’ll return to reading poetry and writing down images that come to mind until some formal narrative presents itself. I know some people are skeptical of the word intuition, but I’m a very intuitive writer. The inspiration and motivation ebbs and flows, and I trust that it will always be there, even when the inspiration to write takes its time coming back. Intuition like anything else is a skill. It just doesn’t have digestible metrics. But when I look back at what I’ve done, I see those accomplishments as suitable metrics for this intuition.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Since I typically interview authors of novel-length works, SCARED VIOLET LIKE HORSES is almost like micro-stories. Vignettes. A narrative approach to poetry. I kept reading because it felt so compelling. There’s structure, set-up in these pages. How do you see poetry as being different from other genres?

John McCarthy:

Good observation. I did intend SVLH to have a narrative arc. The first section revolves around events that happened in early to middle childhood. The middle section “Flyover Country” is meant as a bridge between the two sections, going both forwards and backwards in time. It’s in the middle of the book, and it is summative of all the themes the book wrestles with, especially the sense of belonging to a specific place. The third section of the book addresses this theme, as well as the aforementioned themes from my first answer, from the lens of late adolescence and adulthood. The voice in the third section is a little more autonomous, and the way the speaker meditates on the past is more grounded and, quite frankly, more mature.

I also write a lot of poems that have long lines and clean narratives with lyrical moments. Trying to differentiate poetry from other genres is such a loaded question, and I often find myself reverting to default answers. For example, Emily Dickinson’s popular quote:

If I feel physically that the top of my head has been taken off, then I know that is poetry.

I also like what Jericho Brown says:

Every last word is contagious.

I think these quotes differentiate poetry from prose.

To me, poetry is the prioritization of emotional truth. It is the prioritization of this truth over complete and contextual storytelling. When done right, the reader should be able to plug in what is missing or has been omitted without too much work. The poet Judy Jordan was one of my professors at SIU and she always framed her teachings with Gregory Orr’s four quadrant framework. Poetry is the combination of narrative, form, music, and imagination. I think prose can have all of these elements, too. It’s essentially what writers refer to when they talk about craft. But I think poetry pushes these elements outside of linear comprehension. People go to prose in order to be moved and to encounter stories that capture emotional truths, too, but they do so with the expectation that all of the context will be provided in at least a semi-coherent structure. Good poetry will free itself of the gravity of such context. It will make it invisible. It will allow the reader to bring their own context with them. Poetry will go right to the truth of the matter—to the blood in the sky. Poetry, I suppose, is made of the moments people remember from a larger event.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Any writer, of any genre, puts a little of his or her self into the work. Maybe intentionally (as in memoir), or subconsciously in fiction. Are these poems based on your life, people you know? Some of them are so deeply personal. So searingly raw and authentic. And gorgeous. Can you give us a little insight? And if they are based on people you may know, how do you keep that sort of…anonymous?

John McCarthy:

The book is autobiographical. All of the narratives in the book are based on real people and events that happened. Of course, names have been changed to protect identities. I think genre plays a role in the process of anonymization as well. With poetry, more omission happens because you have less space to work with, typically, so there is some freedom and anonymization that happens within that omission of what isn’t relevant to the prioritization of truth in that poem. And because it is a poetry book with a narrative arc, some of the events happen anachronistically than they did in my real life. I had to think about what made the most contextual sense to readers. Through this dual track process of necessary omission and prioritization, I feel like that puts up a barrier between how some of these people in my life live out on the page.

The act of reflecting on the past further anonymizes people and places a little bit. Ostensibly, I wasn’t feeling all of these meditations in the moment as the events that I write about took place. It took years of processing and distancing to even think about them with any kind of objectivity and clarity. If you’re asking if all the tenderness and violence that SVLH bears witness too is real—the answer is yes. However, the act of writing from memory makes of it a simulacrum. And in turn, a little bit more anonymous.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Reading poetry almost always inspires me to write. Whether a snippet for just me, words for a novel or a memoir…it triggers something, a memory, a feeling. What inspires you? What keeps the saw sharp?

John McCarthy:

There are a lot of things, but above all, there is reading. Life has gotten busier, and as a result, I’m not always able to read two to five books a week like I did even just a few years ago. I’m strategic about what I read though. I try and read a few short story or essay collections a month, along with a good novel. I’ll use the library to check out the new poetry releases, too. Reading a good book makes you want to write a good book.

I also help edit RHINO magazine and I run their local poetry forum at the Evanston Public Library on the last Sunday of every month. We read a few thousand submissions a year just for the magazine, and it’s always a pleasure to publish good work. The RHINO poetry forum has me reaching out to Chicago and Chicago-area writers all of the time. I invite them to come lecture on an element of craft before leading a community workshop on the poems that the writers from Evanston bring in. I’ve been editing and hosting community workshops in Illinois since 2008. For me, being a literary citizen is essential to staying motivated as a writer, and it is a key to success. It’s an act of genuine support and reciprocity. In addition to my job as a research analyst, all of these literary extracurriculars keep me busy. In turn, it makes me appreciate the little spurts of time I have left for my own writing.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us a little more about you—what you might be obsessing about—what’s on your to-do list this week, or what you’re reading?

John McCarthy:

I just finished reading Andre Dubus III’s memoir, Townie. I resonated with it in a lot of ways. In some ways, I wish I would have read it before I wrote SVLH. He writes memoir through prose and I wrote memoir through poetry, but our message seems to be the same—pain, too, is an identity that is experienced through the body. And in certain class settings, among other racial and socioeconomic settings, there is an expectation for what you, as a young man, are supposed to do and act like. It’s forced upon you and you force it upon others. Like Dubus though, I realize there is a reckoning and a redemption that happens later. Both of our books want the same thing, too—more equitable, equal, and tender ways of existing in the world.

I am also currently reading or have recently read: American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes; Wild is the Wind by Carl Phillips; Fitting Ends by Dan Chaon; Eye Level by Jenny Xie; Collected Poems by Lynda Hull; The Low Passions by Anders Carlson-Wee; Another Last Day by Alex Lemon; Holy Molly Carry Me by Erika Meitner; Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas; A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon; Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari; 101 Design Methods by Vijay Kumar; Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky; Brute by Emily Skaja; The Carrying by Ada Limon; The Tradition by Jericho Brown—among an ever growing and impossible to keep up with stack of books on my nightstand. I have a plan to read all of the books.

Leslie Lindsay:

John, this is been so enlightening. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

John McCarthy:

Glad you asked. In Southern Illinois—Murphysboro, Illinois specifically—there is a restaurant called 17th Street BBQ. It has won the World Grand Championship of BBQ multiple times. It is my favorite place in the world. When I die, I want my ashes scattered in their gravel parking lot with a little sauce shaken out on top of me. And for those inclined to explore BBQ, there is the lesser known and more hidden joint called Pat’s BBQ—also in Murphysboro and with a good back story—and it is just as good. Murphysboro is the BBQ capital of Illinois. But this is all I’ll say. I could talk about Illinois for weeks. You’ll just have to go and have a taste for yourself if you’re into that kind of thing. 17th Street keep me motivated as a writer, and they have a good Amber Ale, too.

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For more information, to connect with John McCarthy via social media, or to purchase a copy of SCARED VIOLENT LIKE HORSES, please see: 

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mccarthyheadshotABOUT THE AUTHOR: John McCarthy is the author of Scared Violent like Horses (Milkweed Editions, 2019), which won the 2017 Jake Adam York Prize. He is also the author Ghost County (Midwestern Gothic Press, 2016), which was named a Best Poetry Book of 2016 by The Chicago Review of Books. John is the winner of The Pinch 2016 Literary Award in Poetry, and his work has appeared in American Literary Review, Copper Nickel, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New Ohio Review, Passages North, Sycamore Review, TriQuarterly, Zone 3, and in anthologies such as Best New Poets 2015 and New Poetry from the Midwest 2017 and 2019. He received his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Milkweed Editions and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 for more like this].