Julia Heaberlin on how obsessions start early and never leave, the horrific experience of a woman’s found body parts, ‘evil passing through,’ her mother’s box of terrifying nature, reading poetry to unlock flat descriptions, plus prosthetics in WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK

By Leslie Lindsay 

Portrait of modern Texas, in which tradition, family, secrets, and redemption run wild, this is a slow-burn mystery rooted in gorgeous writing.

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It’s been a decade since Trumanell Branson vanished from her family farm, leaving only a bloody handprint behind. She was the town’s beauty queen, beloved daughter, but now she’s gone. Was it a serial killer? Her brother? Her disappearance and murder haunts the town.

Now, in WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK (Ballantine/PRH, August 11 2020), another girl has turned up. She’s not dead, but badly injured. She’s missing an eye, she’s mute. Odette Tucker, the town’s youngest cop (and hiding a perceived disability herself) is the one to find this injured girl amidst a field of dandelions. She believes the two instances may somehow be linked.

The writing in WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK is delicately charged and searing, exploding with atmosphere. But it is a slow-burning literary thriller told from the POV of several traumatized characters carrying plenty of their own baggage. WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK is darkly subtle exploration of loss and search for truth, structured in a bifurcated narrative. Ultimately, this is a tale seeking redemption and justice, while exploring themes of loss and grief.

Set in rural Texas, this story is hugely immersive and atmospheric. You can hear the chorus of cicadas, feel the dome of humidity, the dust will get stuck in your teeth.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Julia Heaberlin to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Julia! Welcome. WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK quickly got under my skin. It’s gritty, it’s atmospheric, it’s unsettling. Can you talk a little about your inspiration behind this title? Also, gorgeous cover!!

Julia Heaberlin:

Thank you! I’d like to say I thought up the title for this book. Not that I didn’t try. The Dandelion Grave. The Wishing Field. And a hundred more ideas. But it is a creative young woman named Jennifer Breslin on the marketing team in the UK (where my disturbing Texas tales are inexplicably most popular right now) who pulled a concept from the novel and dreamed up the final title, which I love. It certainly applies to the times we live in. It is about how in the dark, we are able to see nothing but each other’s souls, without our prejudices in the way. It is about two fierce women in this book who refuse to be labeled or defined by missing physical pieces—an eye, a leg—and are, I hope, a meditation on physical beauty and strength. If there’s anything I learned while researching this book, it’s that the word disabled should be eliminated from our vocabulary.

(And there are TWO glorious covers for this book, from the UK and US, with very different interpretations. The books will release in August a week apart.)

Leslie Lindsay:

One theme I noticed with all of your books—but particularly WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK and BLACK-EYED SUSANS is the overarching themes of bones and blooms. Dandelions here, daisies there. Both in Texas. Also, missing people. As a writer, I’m the same way: we have things we’re inherently obsessed with. Can you expand a little on this, please?

Julia Heaberlin:

I’ve always had a fascination with the exquisite mysteries of nature, maybe because my mother maintained such a wild and beautiful flower garden. She would carry spiders out of our house on a newspaper and set them free on the leaves. Nature was good and evil, full of personality, and she let all of it co-exist. Hundreds of monarch butterflies would light in a stunning sight on her sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans during their migration to Mexico. Tarantulas crawled out of dark holes. Dandelions would litter our yard to be blown to bits and make more dandelions. My mother was always digging up something ancient on our property with her spade—bottles, fossils, odd pieces of metal, all of which she put in a box labeled, “Things nobody cares about but me,” so we would immediately know to toss it when she is dead. Which at 90, she isn’t, and that box will be the thing my brother and I fight over.

The fascination with the myth and mystery of missing people also goes back to my childhood. I distinctly remember when body parts of a woman were found in plastic bags tossed out a car window not that many miles from the small Texas town where I lived. Evil passing through—it leaves a mark on a young mind. So I believe that our obsessions start early and linger long.  I can point to an obvious progression from editing true crime as a newspaper editor to writing fictional stories of badass women and redemption, where the victim and hero are the same person. As a journalist, I was always especially interested in stories that examined victims’ lives long after the trauma occurred. I particularly remember a case where a father hunted his kids with a shotgun in their own home, and twenty years later, wheelchair bound in prison, he wanted the ones he didn’t kill to visit him so he could apologize.


We Are All the Same in the Dark is a gripping, richly layered exploration of haunted souls in a haunted place. Julia Heaberlin’s complex and memorable characters propel a story that keeps you guessing at every turn.”

Lou Berney, author of November Road


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Photo by Christian Krumbholz on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I love that your characters are each missing a vital piece of themselves, as is true for anyone—we all have flaws. Here, we’re lacking vision, voice, and some physical abilities to out-maneuver one’s present (and maybe, past). Can you talk about how these particular flaws befell Odette and Angel? And what kind of research did do to make these pieces believable?

Julia Heaberlin:  

Researching this book turned into a profound experience for me. It changed my perception of what tough or pretty is. Asking “the experts” has been critical to all my books in developing characters, ideas, and the deeper layer beyond the plot itself. In the case of WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, the world of prosthetics. This book started the way all my books do, with a visual in my mind that wouldn’t go away. A girl with one eye was stuck in my head, blowing dandelions, making wishes. But I quickly realized this wasn’t a character I could grasp without knowing her vulnerabilities. Instead, I was hit with her strengths. I tracked down a world-renowned ocularist, the Picasso of prosthetic eyes, located near where I live in Dallas. He led me to three Texas women and a girl who shared their stories and secrets with me. Their prosthetic eyes are a twin to the eyes they were born with, so perfect that most of them keep it a secret, even the one who is an Instagram model.

I later toured the prosthetics lab at UT Southwestern in Dallas where I learned that, in a fight to the death, you’d single-mindedly protect your good leg, not your prosthesis. I got a new slant on the Oscar Pistorius case (the first double amputee to run on blades in the Olympic Games, who shot and killed his girlfriend after he claimed he heard an intruder while he lay in bed at night without his prosthetic legs).

After I got to know a SWAT team trainer with an amputated leg, he told me to ask him anything, and I asked:  “How do you get to the bathroom at night with your leg off?” Crutches? Crawling? Hopping? These tiny details are important. I don’t get everything right in my books, but I try. I heard a famous thriller writer once say that any time you aren’t writing is wasted time and that included research. I never read another one of his books again.

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk about what a perfect writing day looks like to you? What do you do to keep the saw sharp?

Julia Heaberlin:

Does such a thing as a perfect writing day exist? I want that! A good writing day for me might represent one excellent paragraph. It might be a scene I conjure unexpectedly in the shower. It might be cutting a twenty-page chapter in half after my editor tells me to, watching all that effort bleed away, only to realize how much sharper and scarier it is. It could be an interview with a brilliant DNA specialist about bones that leads me to my best twist. Some writers say they can’t read at all while they are writing. I find that reading other books helps. When my words are flat, I read poetry so my mind will open up again to all the lyrical possibilities of description. When my pacing feels sluggish, I will read the best (and sometimes trashiest) of page-turners to get my blood going. Ideally, my books would be a combination of both things: good writing and tense, compulsive storytelling.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Julia, thank you so very much for chatting with us. What should I have asked about, but may have forgotten? What you’re reading…obsessing over…what you’re writing next…how COVID/quarantine is treating you…funny pet antics??

Julia Heaberlin:

I’ll tackle all of those!

I just finished the wonderful, moody Rene Denfeld book THE CHILD FINDER and an absorbing reread of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

My next thriller could involve a conspiracy theorist hanging out in my head.

During these COVID times, my husband has put a sign facing out on his makeshift-work-from-home desk that says, “I’m pretty sure I have no idea,” and I’m pretty sure that sign is for me, his only on-site “co-worker.” I put up a sign that says “Women Only” on the downstairs bathroom.

My fat cat Carlos will make a special trip to the window to chomp down a snake in front of me.

And I have plenty of dandelions in my yard and black-eyed Susans under my bedroom window. What’s buried under them, nobody knows.

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

For more information, to connect with Julia Heaberlin via social media, or to purchase a copy of WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK, please see: 

Order Links: 

~BOOK CONCEIRGE~

WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK is a bifurcated narrative, told from the POV of several characters , and could probably be classified as a Gothic mystery akin to the work of Hester Young (THE GATES OF EVANGELINE) meets the work of Laura McHugh (nearly all of her books, but especially THE WOLF WANTS IN). I also found some similarities between WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK and Gillian Flynn’s earlier work, especially SHARP OBJECTS and DARK PLACES . In terms of prosthetics and maybe overall style, I might compare WE ARE ALL THE SAME IN THE DARK to Lori Rader-Day’s THE BLACK HOURFinally, those who enjoyed Karin Slaughter’s THE GOOD DAUGHTER will find many points resonating with this story as well–small town, farmhouse, murder, etc. Other authors came to mind, too because of some thematic elements. Elizabeth Brundage for farmhouses and Rene Denfeld for homelessness, missing children, traumatic experiences.

julia1-color-bioABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

JULIA HEABERLIN is the author of the critically acclaimed We Are All the Same In the Dark and Black-Eyed Susans, a USA Today and Times (U.K.) bestseller. Her psychological thrillers, including Paper Ghosts (finalist for the ITW Thriller Award), Playing Dead, and Lie Still, have been sold in more than twenty countries. Heaberlin is an award-winning journalist who has worked at the Fort Worth Star-TelegramThe Detroit News, and The Dallas Morning News. She grew up in Texas and lives with her family near Dallas/Fort Worth.

 

IMG_1175ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

~Updated, 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA coming this fall from Woodbine House. Querying MODEL HOME: A Daughter’s Memoir of Motherhood & Madness~

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#alwayswithabook #amreading #TBR #WeAreAllTheSameInTheDark #literarythriller #smalltown #farmhouse #mystery #prosthetic #murder #missinggirls #trauma #familysecrets #redemption #Texas

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 8.11.20. Special thanks to DeweyDecimalMedia. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1.]

Lisa Selin Davis talks about her new book, TOMBOY, what it means to defy borders and boundaries, how parents may have participated in the blue/pink divide and so much more in this insightful and daring new book

By Leslie Lindsay 

A thorough and engrossing sociological, historical, and psychological examination and the antiquated term ‘tomboy,’ an imagined future for children who defy categories, and so much more.

Tomboy Cover

~BookS on MondaY|Always with a Book~

TOMBOY: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different (Hachette Books, August 11 2020) first came to my attention this past spring and I knew I had read it. As a ‘soccer mom,’ I often hear this on the pitch, “Oh, she’s just a Tomboy” or something of similar ilk. I started thinking about why we use this term and if there really was such a thing. And then I read Lisa Selin Davis’s insightful and daring new book and felt we were cut from the same cloth.

Here’s thing: I don’t really think ‘Tomboys’ exist. People do. And we need to stop with the labels and marketing that supports (or doesn’t support) this divide.

Davis takes us deep into the history of the term ‘tomboy’ and provides stunning
examples of how advertising and marketing have played to the stereotypes of gender, gender roles, expectations, sex, and more. Here, we investigate what a ‘tomboy’ was like in the early days, how they are different now. In the last decade+ we have seen a surge in changes on the gender continuum, LBGTQ+ and more, and so how are parents supposed to negotiate, guide and advise children?

In TOMBOY, Davis discusses societal expectations based on gender, bringing forth current media and social events, the idea that perhaps we ought to just have courage to live as we are.

This is a highly and well-researched narrative nonfiction and the author’s passion for her subject is palpable. TOMBOY is an important read that will be eye-opening and life-changing for many.


Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Lisa Davis to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Lisa, welcome! I am always intrigued about what impassions us enough to want to spend so much time with a particular topic, enough to write a book about it? I think for TOMBOY it was your daughter, and also the op-ed piece you wrote for the NYT. Can you talk more about your jumping off point, please?

Lisa Davis:

Thank you so much, Leslie, for your interest in and enthusiasm for my project. I truly appreciate it.

I didn’t intend to write a book about tomboys. I had written an essay for Parenting [magazine] when my daughter was four, about all the ways she wasn’t conforming and my conflicting feelings—mostly pride and anxiety—around that. Then, three years later, I wrote about other people’s conflicting feelings about how she wasn’t conforming, and the assumption from those open-minded, liberal people that a girl who likes short hair and sweatpants must be trans. That piece, an op-ed in The New York Times, inspired such an enormous response, both positive and negative, that I knew I had hit on something—a nerve, an exposed and yet under-explored tension. Clearly there was a book in it somewhere, but it took me a long time to figure out what that book should be.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I was struck and stunned by some of the advertising pieces you found and included in TOMBOY. That side-by-side image of “Girls Life” and Boys Life?” OMG! And that was 2016! I’ve also been interested in this marketing to gender, of gender. We could spend all day on this topic, but what might you want to touch on here?

Lisa Davis:

I think many people, especially those raised in the 1970s and ‘80s, assume we’ve reached gender equality and that kids are more or less raised the same way. They don’t realize that in fact the way we market not just things but childhood itself to kids has gotten narrower since then, with more of kids’ material and psychic worlds divided into pink and blue. Nor are they aware of the psychological implications of that division.

We are telling girls that what matters about them is kindness and prettiness and boys that what matters is achievement and toughness. And because marketing is so much smarter and more insidious, this division has leaked into all aspects of childhood, including our parenting, the way we speak to kids, the assumptions we make, what we sign them up for, what we buy them. We have achieved so much in the post-Title IX world, with more girls in sports and STEM, but we have much further to go.



“Lisa Selin Davis uses TOMBOY
as a launch pad for a thought-provoking and enlightening exploration of the
troubled pink and blue waters of gender categories-and the words that can be
life rafts to help us float above them or stones pulling us in deeper.”

—Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University and author of
You Just Don’t Understand, You’re Wearing THAT?, and You’re the Only One I Can Tell

Leslie Lindsay:

Raising children has become increasing complex in the last few years—decade or so—and that doesn’t even include COVID! Can you give us a little tutorial on what these newer acronyms translate to? For example, a trans-girl would be…and cis-, binary? I kind of feel I need a glossary.

Lisa Davis:

There are many good places to go to learn definitions related to gender, and it’s important to know that some of those definitions are in evolution. And that many people have different definitions for the same words. But here are a few definitions of gender-related words as I see them:

Sex: the biological components that make up male, female or intersex: chromosomes, hormones, body parts. Around 99% of people divide equally into male and female categories at birth, but how they will identify later is something else.

Gender: the social meaning of sex; the assumptions and stereotypes we associate with males and females (this could also be thought of as masculine/feminine)

Gender identity: Who you feel yourself to be, how you identify: as a man, woman, non-binary (neither man nor woman), etc.

Trans: having a gender identity that doesn’t align typically with your sex.

Cis: having a gender identity that aligns typically with sex.

Genderqueer, non-binary, etc: Identifying not exclusively as a man or a woman.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Here’s what really bugs me, “Oh, she’s just a Tomboy.” Can’t we just say, “No, she’s a person.” What might we say to these folks…aside from hanging them a copy of TOMBOY? Also, how about when someone compares their children, usually sisters, with this comment, “____ is a Girly-girl and ___ is a ‘Tomboy.” I think you mention this idea of sibling differentiation in TOMBOY. Can you touch on that a bit, too?

Lisa Davis:

People have been objecting to the word tomboy since the late 1800s, asserting that it is sexist to call a girl who loves climbing trees and being feisty anything other than a girl. And especially using a word with boy in it? That implies that those things—independence and fortitude and sportiness—really do belong to the biological category of males. The truth is, when we have given girls more freedom to explore what’s on the boy side of the line, they’ve usually gone over there and liked it. And some are so drawn there that they’ll defy the cultural pressure to avoid it. By assuming that it’s natural and part of girlhood to want short hair or basketball shorts or to play with boys, we don’t need to name it.

But that’s not the assumption, and thus the need to classify someone who defies borders and boundaries remains. Today we use words like gender nonconforming, which is gender-neutral. But—and this is the tension I hit on with my op-ed—a term like that still implies that a girl who does those things or looks that way isn’t a girl. To some, it’s liberating. To others, it’s still trafficking in stereotypes.

Very often, if you have several children of the same sex, some will be more stereotypically feminine and some more masculine, as a way to carve out their own territory.

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Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

One thing I was really looking for in TOMBOY was the idea of ADHD. I have a daughter who had a speech disorder as a child and also ADHD. She didn’t want to communicate and do fine-motor things (often typical of her biological sex), she wanted to be loud with grunts and squawks, run and jump and that often meant playing with the little boys in the neighborhood. She didn’t care about what she wore and so would go back and forth between ‘girl’ attire of dresses and sparkly things, but also wore pants and shorts and climbed trees. Did you find any connection between tomboys and ADHD?

Lisa Davis:

I didn’t, but I also didn’t look for it. And the truth is, we only have answers to questions we ask. We only have data for what we look for. There is, however, some data on the connection between autism spectrum disorder and gender dysphoria.

I think what you’re getting at is that the behaviors associated with ADHD—the boisterousness and difficulty paying attention—are also associated with boys. But the other thing you’re talking about—your daughter becoming flexible in what she wore, for instance—has to do with cognitive development.

When kids are very young, starting around preschool age, they can become very rigid about wearing boy and girl “costumes,” and hewing to stereotypes, no matter how much we try to present them with alternatives. They’ve been told which category they belong to and most try to master it, and weed out those who don’t; they learn early to gender-police one another.

As they get older, some girls who were whole hog into princess-wear will decide, around ages 6 to 8, that they don’t like dresses anymore, and start rejecting them. That’s because they’ve learned that it’s not what you wear that makes you a girl or boy; you don’t need to embrace stereotypical femininity to embrace girlhood.

But boys don’t go through such a phase. They don’t turn 6 and feel free to experiment with dresses and pink sparkles, even though their cognitive development hews to a similar path. And that’s because the culture tells them they shouldn’t. It tells them that what’s feminine is bad, and both girls and boys learn to internalize this message. That’s why girls may go through an I-hate-pink phase, and boys many never get over that phase.

photo of children playing with dry leaves
Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I could probably ask questions all day, but I won’t. What do you hope others ask?

Lisa Davis:

I really hope they will ask themselves why they think that certain haircuts or color or clothes or toys or activities are just for boys or girls, and how much they have participated in this pink/blue divide. We can change the culture—we have, many times. We can do it again!

Leslie Lindsay:

Lisa, thank you! This has been so thought-provoking.

Lisa Davis:

Thanks so much for the great questions!

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Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join her community on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook.

For more information, to connect with Lisa Selin Davis, or to purchase a copy of TOMBOY: The Surprising History and Future of Girls who Dare to be Different, please visit:

Order Links:

Further Reading:

You might like this article,penned by Lisa and appearing in Salon, about how researching tomboys helped navigate the pandemic. 

~BOOK CONCIERGE~

I found some similarities between TOMBOY and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS (Richard Louv) meets the writing style and rigor of Alexandra Robbins meets Ada Calhoun’s WHY WE CAN’T SLEEP.

Lisa Selin Davis headshot_credit marc goldberg photographyABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Lisa Selin Davis is an essayist, novelist, and journalist who has written for major publications such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the GuardianTime, Yahoo!, and Salon, among many others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and kids.

 

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ABOUT YOUR HOST: Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

~Updated, 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA coming this fall from Woodbine House~

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#nonfiction #alwayswithabook #girls #boys #gender #Tomboys #TOMBOY #genderroles #expectations #history #socialhistory #parenting #pink #blue #children #raisingkids 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Hachette Book Group/Dewey Decimal Media and used with permission. Author image cred: Marc Goldberg. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join her community on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook]

 

 

Twists, turns, and toxicity: THE END OF HER is wicked good, a dark escape into brilliantly actualized characters, plus who Shari Lapena would cast *if* it were adapted into a movie

By Leslie Lindsay

Deliciously dark and deceptive, the most awry characters, set in a bucolic suburban setting in Shari Lapena’s new thriller, THE END OF HER. 

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~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS| ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

#1 Internationally Bestselling Author

Shari Lapena, the author of last summer’s propulsive thriller, SOMEONE WE KNOW returns to the bucolic town of Aylesford, nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley. Here, in THE END OF HER (Penguin/Pamela Dorman Books, July 28 2020),  we meet Stephanie Kilgour, a young woman who seemingly has it all: A beautiful home; a loving architect husband, and twin baby girls. But she’s exhausted. The babies are only four months old and colicky. Stephanie is unraveling. Fatigue and new motherhood is taking it’s toll. Her husband, Patrick, does what he can, but work is intense. And then, a woman from his past shows up unexpectedly. He’s flabbergasted and terrified. Secrets surface. The woman, Erika, is insidious, weaving her way into Stephanie’s life, Patrick’s partner’s bed, and more.

THE END OF HER is deliciously deceptive, full of twists and turns, red herrings, and edge-of-your-seat suspense. The writing is crisp and tense, leading you to question everything and everyone. I fell right into Lapena’s rhythm and developed plenty of theories and motives. The ending is a little ambiguous, but it most definitely leaves the reader with an unsettled feeling.

This is the perfect summer escape for the beach, patio, or an up-all-night read. I’ve read all five of Shari’s alarmingly good thrillers and if you haven’t, you better get started right away.

First, join me in conversation with Shari Lapena. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Hello Shari and welcome back! Revenge, blackmail murder and deceit are all components of THE END OF HER. What was your inspiration for such a “twisted” tale? Is any of this based on a true story?

Shari Lapena:

The inspiration was something I read in the news a while ago about someone digging out a car after a snowstorm and his partner and young child got into the car to stay warm and died accidentally of carbon monoxide poisoning. It was so tragic—but I also thought, what a perfect way to rid yourself of your wife and child if you were so inclined. That was the germ of the story and I went on from there. Erica and all her evil machinations grew as the story developed and characters were added.

snow covered red sedan
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

THE END OF HER has it all: toxic men, toxic women, twists, turns and red herrings. How did you put together this collection of (mostly) despicable characters?

 Shari Lapena:

Would I seem like a terrible person if I admitted I just think that way? Not in real life—but when I’m writing I like to go to the dark places in my characters. I start with a premise, see where it goes and how the characters develop as the plot grows. And of course as I get deeper into my characters and explore them and their backstories and their motivations, I go into some pretty murky territory.

Leslie Lindsay: 

Do you know your characters’ motives when you start writing or is it something that comes to you as you move along?

 Shari Lapena:

A bit of both, actually. I often have a broad idea of what’s motivating the various characters, but it gets fine-tuned as the story goes along, and amplified and more detailed.

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Photo by Dmitry Zvolskiy on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

Motherhood plays an interesting role in this story.  How does being a mother provide obstacles for many of the female characters?

Shari Lapena:

Motherhood is such an interesting thing. It’s wonderful, but it does change things completely. It makes you extremely vulnerable for one thing, because for most people, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do to protect their child. We certainly see this in Stephanie and Cheryl. It also provides an opportunity to exploit people—if you have no scruples at all.  Without giving too much away, children are a motivating factor in many people’s lives, in many ways, and that’s the case in this story as well.

Leslie Lindsay:

The marriages—and relationships—in this novel are complicated to say the least, with lying and infidelity a common thread throughout. How did you create such complex partnerships?

Shari Lapena:

I watch a lot of true crime shows, and honestly, you wouldn’t believe what real people get up to. Truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes. People are complicated and their lives are messy and complicated, and I just find it easy to think about things that way. I think about how things could get worse for my characters and I always find a way. People Behaving Badly could be a title for one of my books!

Leslie Lindsay:

The amazing Ruth Ware wrote, “No-one does suburban paranoia like Shari Lapena.” What is the secret to creating suburban paranoia?

Shari Lapena:

It’s the home and family relationships that interest me, the idea of subverting what’s “normal” or what looks like normal. I like to subvert the idea of the white picket fence and the perfect couple, the perfect family. No one is perfect. But my characters can be pretty out there. And it’s our closest relationships that have the greatest impact on us. The secret to creating that paranoia? Going deep into character and finding what lurks there.

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Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

The book ends with an unsolved crime. Why did you decide to end the book this way . . . or do you have a sequel in mind?

 Shari Lapena:

I don’t have a sequel in mind, but I felt that this was simply the right ending for this particular book. I love to leave a book with the feeling that the lives of the characters live on beyond the page. Then I feel I’ve done my job. That’s how it feels for me—as if they’re all still alive out there somewhere.

Leslie Lindsay:

One last question: If THE END OF HER is adapted into a movie, who would you like to see cast as Stephanie, Patrick, and Erica?

Shari Lapena:

Oh, that’s always tough for me, because I don’t know that many actors. But how about a tired Mila Kunis for Stephanie, a frazzled Chris Pine for Patrick, and a sexy Michelle Pierce for Erica.

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

For more information, to connect with Shari Lapena via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE END OF HER, please visit:

Order Links:

~BOOK CONCIERGE~ 

Shari’s writing is so distinctive and unique, it’s hard to truly compare her work, but I was reminded of Mary Kubica’s EVERY LAST LIE in terms of the tired new mother/successful father dynamic, car accident and more; also Kelley Armstrong’s WHEREVER SHE GOES.

3ad5ebd8-2c3e-45fa-a165-35369929792d-Shari_Lapena_credit_Tristan_OstlerABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Shari Lapena is the internationally bestselling author of the thrillers The Couple Next Door, A Stranger in the House, An Unwanted Guest, and Someone We Know, which have all been New York Times and The Sunday Times (London) bestsellers. Her books have been sold in thirty-seven territories around the world. She lives in Toronto.

 

 

 

 

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

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

  • GoodReads
  • Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
  • image003-3Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
  • Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
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#suburbannoir #mystery #thriller #domesticsuspense #motherhood #newmoms #fatigue #deception #suburbia #marriage #TheEndofHer #alwayswithabook 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. Author photo cred: Tristan Ostler. Q&A adapted from pre-arranged PRH interview. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay1 for more like this #alwayswithabook]

A blazingly bold and brave memoir about losing one’s mind, then reclaiming oneself, steeped in Korean culture, tradition, more Catherine Cho’s INFERNO is about her battle with postpartum psychosis

By Leslie Lindsay 

Terrifying, brutally honest memoir about a mother’s experience with postpartum psychosis, her time in a mental institution, and her recovery.

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~MEMOIR MONDAY|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

A BUZZFEED SUMMER 2020 SELECTION

Catherine Cho’s INFERNO: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness (Henry Holt, August 4, 2020) has been on my radar since I heard (about a year ago) that this book was in the works. It’s a riveting account of one woman’s experience with postpartum psychosis, before and after her hospitalization, and infused with Korean culture.

Catherine and her husband, James, set off from London to visit their family in a whirlwind visit of the U.S., starting in California and working their way across the country to the east coast. They have their 2-month old infant, Cato, with them. The plan is to visit with each family member, proudly showing off their new baby, culminating with Cato’s 100-day celebration, a milestone in Korean culture.

Before the trip’s end,
 Catherine becomes unhinged…she’s paranoid, tired, worried about the baby, her in-laws seem overbearing. She feels she is being watched. She loses all sense of time and thinks her baby’s eyes are those of the devil. In desperation, her husband admits her to a nearby psychiatric hospital, where Catherine begins the tedious work of rebuilding her identity. Interwoven throughout the narrative, we learn of Catherine’s childhood in Kentucky, a failed traumatic relationship, then her courtship and marriage with her husband.

Written in gorgeous, limpid prose, we vacillate between Catherine’s ‘before’ life, her hospitalization, with a taste of what life immediately following her hospitalization. INFERNO is a powerful exploration of psychosis and motherhood, at once intensely personal, but also unveiling universal truths of love, life, family, tradition, and more.

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Catherine, welcome. I am so honored. This is such a personal story and you tell it so openly, so bravely. A lot of people in your position might have said, “No. I’m not telling this, it’s too personal.” What were your motivations for sharing—why now?

Catherine Cho:

Thank you Leslie for having me and for the lovely words. I did hesitate about sharing this story, it is very personal, and in real life, I’m actually a very private person. However, my main motivation for writing the book was that I had never heard of postpartum psychosis until my experience, and so much of what I read about psychosis, particularly in mothers, is steeped in stigma and shame. It’s often a hidden experience, we don’t like to think of the darkness of mental illness. I wanted to take away some of the fear around these words, to reveal why this might have happened. I think that when you can understand or have empathy for another person’s experience, it opens a new door of understanding. It’s why I wrote it as a book rather than article, and also why I reveal so much about my personal life – I thought a reader would need to know the context to fully understand psychosis.

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Photo by Immortal Snapshots on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You write with such raw emotion, such description, that it feels we are right there with you—in all accounts, but especially while hospitalized in the psychiatric institution. Can you tell us a little more about New Bridge, the program you were in?

Catherine Cho:

New Bridge was such a strange place, it really felt separate from time. I felt like I’d just appeared in this place, that I had to figure out the rules as I went along. It was a general psychiatric facility, many of the other residents were veterans or were homeless, there were others who were recovering from drug addiction. Everyone was going through their own issue, but the one thing we shared was that we all wanted to leave. I also saw how many people were caught in this system – so many of the other residents were ‘returners’, they stayed in the ward, they were released, but then they came right back in. They couldn’t break the cycle.

We were all on heavy medication, and the staff were so overworked, no one takes the time to talk to you. So you’re just waiting, following the schedule, watching the television, sitting in on group sessions, coloring, and then going back to bed. There’s also a sense that something might break at any moment, there were violent incidents on the ward, and there’s always a worker in the corner of the room watching you to make sure that nothing breaks out.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Inferno does just as the title suggests, it throws you into the flames of the author’s psychosis so that you are in there with her, fighting for your next breath. I’ve rarely read such a powerful account of madness. Gripping, chilling and ultimately hopeful, this is one not to miss.”

 –  Lisa Jewell


Leslie Lindsay:

What you might not know, is that my mother also suffered from psychosis. Like you, it came much later than the typical time frame of about two days following birth. My sister was two-and-a-half when she devolved. I was ten-and-a-half. We don’t know for certain if it was postpartum psychosis, but many of her experiences were similar to yours. She felt my sister and I were the devil. She grew paranoid. Can you tell us more about postpartum psychosis? When does it happen and why?

Catherine Cho:

That sounds incredibly difficult and traumatic. So there’s not a lot that is known about postpartum psychosis, for the majority of women, it happens in the first days or weeks after birth. Usually it’s a combination of hormones, a lack of sleep, possibly stress. It happens to women who have had pre-existing mental illness, but it can also happen to women (like me), who’ve had no history of mental illness.

I spent a lot of time trying to trace why I had postpartum psychosis, and why my psychosis was so extreme. I think for me, it was a combination of factors. The dissociation of self that I think every new mother experiences when you first have a child – your identity and understanding of self is split, and then the pressure of trying to keep a new baby alive, as well as the lack of sleep and hormonal changes in the body. For me, it was also exacerbated by travel – we went on a cross-country trip when my son was 2 months old, and the lack of sleep and strain really took its toll. There was also a cultural element, my parents and in laws are Korean, and they had very strong ideas about how a baby should be raised and kept safe, they thought we were being incredibly reckless, and the constant reminders and fears led me to believe that I was endangering my son.

photo of person carrying a baby
Photo by Taryn Elliott on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s an element of the tangled knot of genetics, of having past personal experiences (and those of your ancestors imprinted on your DNA. You worried that maybe your baby would inherit some of the pain you endured from a past relationship. You write:

“Would it infect the baby? I’d read that an ancestor’s experience is imprinted in the DNA of the next generation, a warning for what was to come. Was violence there? Was an acceptance of suffering? Would my son be afraid of heights? […] How were we meant to exit the loops of the past if we were destined to face them again and again?”

How I love and relate to this! Can you talk more about this, please?

Catherine Cho:

I’ve always thought a lot about the past, it’s something that fascinates me. I think it’s also because I’m a child of Korean immigrants, and there’s so much about my family history that I don’t know. I don’t know much about my grandparents or their parents, I have a few stories that were told throughout the years, but only glimpses of them – they almost become a type of mythology. I do think that the experiences of our ancestors are imprinted on us in some way, even if we aren’t aware of them. I know that there’s a sociological idea there that a fear of spiders or deep water, or other phobias might be genetic. I just wondered how much of our experience or our personality is inherited, and perhaps it might be more than we realize.

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As a writer, I am always curious about structure. You do a fabulous job of interweaving your ‘before’ life with your hospitalization, and also your Korean culture. Can you talk about how you structured INFERNO? And a little about your writing process?

Catherine Cho:

I always knew that I wanted to begin in the ward and that I wanted the actual psychosis to come towards the end of the book – I wanted to build up the background so that by the time the reader got to the psychosis, they had an idea of what was at stake or what was being broken. I suppose I also it wanted it to reflect that experience of tracing one’s identity, so that in the same way I was remembering the past or weaving in stories about my family / past relationships, it followed that process.

I think the structure was also influenced by the way I wrote the book. I wrote the book on Scrivener, which allows you to break down sections, so I would work on each section, and then I spent a lot of time moving them around and trying to figure out where the natural transitions were.

I’m always fascinated by writing processes and routines. Mine wasn’t very exciting – I began with the ward (I always knew it would be present tense), and then I went on chronologically until I reached the psychosis and ‘present day’. I initially didn’t have as much of the Korean fairy tales and some of the shorter vignettes, they came later, but once I added them, I realized that they helped add layers to the story.

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In regards to Korean culture, I think it’s important to note that mental illness affects all cultures, all genders, it does not discriminate. While you were hospitalized, you noticed black, Asian, and Caucasian folks in your unit. And yet there are many cultural norms, beliefs, stereotypes. Can you speak to this, please?

Catherine Cho:

It’s interesting because especially in Korean culture, and I think many East Asian cultures, mental illness is not talked about. It’s not seen in the same way as a physical illness (and perhaps that’s universal), but there’s a particular shame and fear surrounding mental illness. I didn’t see very many Asians in the ward, and I think it’s because mental illness in Asian communities is often hidden or kept private.

Even now, our families are surprised by my decision to speak about my experience. But I didn’t want to tuck it away or explain it away as ‘exhaustion’. They don’t fully understand why I experienced psychosis, and they also find depression hard to understand. There’s still this idea that you can ‘snap out’ of depression or that it’s something in your control or even self-indulgent, when actually, it’s an illness.

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Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’d love an update. How are you, Cato, and James doing now? What kind of legacy do you think INFERNO will leave?

Catherine Cho:

We are doing very well, thank you. Cato is two and a half now, and he’s a joy in our lives. I took a long time to recover, I think my full recovery was probably a year, and it took a long time to build a bond with Cato again. I feel very grateful that we do have a strong bond now, and I think that it’s growing. James had a difficult time after my recovery. He’d spent so much time focused on my care and taking care of our family, that he didn’t have a chance to take care of himself.

He had some residual difficulties, but he was very proactive about getting help for himself. For me, it’s shown me how much I can trust James, he did everything to pull us through this experience. I never thought I’d have to rely so much on one person, but I did, and it showed me that he is truly my partner in life.

I hope the legacy of the book is that it reveals how much of these experiences are shared – these questions of identity, of trauma, of memory – I think they are universal questions. And I hope that the book helps readers consider what other people are experiencing, and whether they can see themselves in those experiences. I hope that it makes us kinder to one another. Psychosis opened a new dimension for me, and it was terrifying, but it also made me realize how much of our experience is a shared one.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Catherine, thank you so very much for taking the time to talk about such a moving and personal journey. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Catherine Cho:

Thanks Leslie, these were wonderful and thoughtful questions!

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Artistic cover of book image designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram@leslielilndsay1 #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Catherine Cho via social media, or to purchase a copy of INFERNO: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness, please see:

ORder links:

Further Reading: 

  • Mental Illness for information on mental health resources, self-care hotlines, fiction and non-fiction that may resonate.
  • Model Home about my experience during my mother’s severe mental illness and her devolve into psychosis.

~BOOK CONCIERGE~

In this sense, it’s a bit like GIRL, INTERRUPTED (Susanna Kaysen) meets MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD (Mark Lukach), but INFERNO is different–touching on maternal love, Korean culture and expectation. Cho writes with such raw emotion and bravery, giving the reader a sense that we are there, a fly on the wall. In many regards this story is akin to BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN (Dyane Harwood). What’s more, there’s a bit about the tangled knot of genetics and experience heightening the sense of maternal and familial legacy akin to other memoirs along the lines of INHERITANCE (Dani Shapiro) meets WHAT WE CARRY (Maya Lang).

imageABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Catherine Cho is an agent at Madeleine Milburn in the UK. Originally from the US, she’s lived in New York and Hong Kong, and she currently lives in London with her family. Inferno is her first book.

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ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#alwayswithabook #memoir #motherhood #postpartum #psychosis #psychiatry #women #mothers #children 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Books and used with permission. Image of author from The Irish Times and can be retrieved here. Image of the author with her husband and son retrieved from on 6.25.20. Artistic cover of book image designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram@leslielilndsay1 #alwayswithabook]

A murder? An accident? A cold-case or more? Megan Goldin’s deliciously dark and creepy follow-up to last summer’s explosive debut thriller THE NIGHT SWIM featuring a podcast, a small town, and secrets

By Leslie Lindsay 

Deliciously dark and creepy mystery featuring a true crime podcast–a brutal cold case, and so much more. 

The Night Swim Cover Image

~WEEKEND READING SPOTLIGHT| ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Last summer, Megan Goldin’s explosive debut thriller, THE ESCAPE ROOM was called ‘addictive’ by Time Magazine; Louise Penny called it, “Simply revienting” and Harlan Coben said, “Gripping and unforgettable.” This August, Goldin is back with her brilliant follow-up, THE NIGHT SWIM (St. Martin’s Press, August 4th).

Quick Take: Twenty years ago, a young woman was assaulted and found dead. Her terrified sister never revealed what she witnessed that night. Today, in the same town, another woman is brutally attached and the town’s golden boy is accused.

Rachel Krall is covering the trail for her hit podcast, “Guilty or Not Guilty,” which became an overnight sensation making Rachel a household name.

Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned all those years ago. But letters that are resurfacing suggest she was murdered–and when Rachel starts asking questions, no one wants to answer. Past and present start to collide as Rachel begins to uncover connections between the two case that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

Electrifying and propulsive, THE NIGHT SWIM explores the price of reputation and the the town’s reckoning with the horrors of its past. 

*Pre-order today!*

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Artistic cover of book designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay #alwayswithabook

For more information, to connect with Megan Goldin via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE NIGHT SWIM, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS: 

~BOOK CONCIERGE~ 

Readers who enjoy Lisa Scottoline‘s work will enjoy THE NIGHT SWIM, but I also found some similarities between this book and THE SUNDOWN MOTEL (Simone St. James) meets Gilly Macmillian’s I KNOW YOU KNOW (especially with the podcast connection), Wendy Walker’s EMMA IN THE NIGHT, and Heather Gudenkauf’s work, especially BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND.

Megan Goldin color hi resABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

MEGAN GOLDIN worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. Her debut novel, The Escape Room, was a New York Times Editors’ Choice.

 

 

 

ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine IMG_6816House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Forthcoming photography to appear in Up the Staircase Quarterly and Another Chicago Magazine andBrushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry to appear this summer in Coffin Bell Journal; CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine. Leslie has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

  • GoodReads
  • Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
  • image003-3Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
  • Email: leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
  • Amazon
  • Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#alwayswithabook #truecrime #fiction #thriller #TheNightSwim #drowning #sisters #podcast #murder 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Artistic cover of book designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @leslielindsay #alwayswithabook]

 

 

 

Kendra Atleework talks about personal loss & shared loss, homesickness, what it means to leave a place & return, loving her high desert home, and so much more in her memoir MIRACLE COUNTRY

By Leslie Lindsay 

A rare and powerful memoir combing aspects of travel, history, environmental writing with autobiography and told in luminous prose.

Atleework_MiracleCountry_HC_3D_HR_rgb (2)~MEMOIR MONDAY| ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

On the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas, a tiny town known as Swall Meadows resides. A bit farther south, a larger (but still small) town of Bishop lies cradled in the hands of Owens Valley California. This is the primary setting of MIRACLE COUNTRY (Algonquin Books, July 14) by debut author Kendra Atleework.

I was initially drawn to MIRACLE COUNTRY because I have a ‘thing’ with land and geography, how it shapes one’s worldview, art, and essence.Having recently visited a high desert myself, I was intrigued and enthralled with this grittier, rustic side of life–from raging wildfires to blizzards and gale-force winds, this area witnesses it all.

MIRACLE COUNTRY blends autobiography with environmental writing along with history. Here, we learn about the origins of L.A. (Owens Valley being just a few hours away), and how the Los Angeles Aqueduct was developed to usher water to the sprawling metropolis, rich with stars and more. Atleework writes with a radiant hand, casting light and luminosity into the darkest reaches. I learned more about William Mulholland and Mary Austin, pioneers to the area, and more about wildfires, flight (both metaphorical and literal), as well as what it means to come home.

When Kendra was six, her mother was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder and died when she was sixteen. The relationship they forged seemed to be of pureness and love, her mother a force as strong as the environmental landscape in which she raised her children. Atleework knits this loss into the narrative, but it is not the sole focus. With her mother’s death, the family disintegrates slightly, and Kendra moves away to Minnesota, full of green and trees and water, the polar opposite of where she grew up. I found this ironic and yes–disappointing. Here, Atleework began the arduous task of finding herself, of coming to the realization that she needed to ‘go home.’

MIRACLE COUNTRY is a shimmering, gorgeously told history of a region, written with ripples of life, love, and loss.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Kendra Atleework to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kendra, I always like to know what was haunting a writer into a particular story. For you, I think it was a literal haunting—the land was sort of calling you home, as was your mother. Is that about right? Was there something more?

Kendra Atleework:

For a while as a teenager I couldn’t wait to leave home and go live in a city where I could do cool stuff like hang out in Hot Topic. But not long after I left, I got wreckingly homesick. I remember lying in bed in my college dorm and listening to Joanna Newsom sing about her own little town in the Sierra Nevada and remembering how moths used to batter themselves against my bedroom window screen and I could hear wind in the pine trees on the mountain and see the desert glow in the moonlight, and the landscape and the memories of my family and our broken wholeness just followed me around for years and, yes, eventually pulled me home.

photo of fir trees during daytime
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Home and place have such strong connections—and connotations—it’s about origin, but also about reaching out. And with this pandemic, we’ve all been spending much more time at home. Can you talk about that, please?

Kendra Atleework:

It’s been interesting to spend a solid four months in my hometown without so much as a road trip to Reno (our closest city, four hours away). At first, like everyone, I mourned the loss of plans, including an in-person book tour. Then I tried to distract myself make the most of it by planting a big garden. There’s something to be said for circumstances forcing you to dig in and really experience where you are. Writers spend plenty of quiet time in our heads so that was nothing new. Staying put was. I always have some wanderlust, but I’m still not sick of home. I could run out a hundred lifetimes here and still not be done with it.


“A sensitive, thoughtful portrait of a part of California that few people see–or want to . . . A welcome update of classic works on California’s arid backcountry by Mary Austin, Marc Reisner, and Reyner Banham.”

Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay:

I know that displaced feeling. Like you, I moved away from my home state of Missouri for Minnesota. I didn’t feel I ‘fit’ with the Minnesota landscape or culture. Here, in MIRACLE COUNTRY, I see the irony—the green, the lakes—how different from the brown and the desert. You had to go away to find yourself, didn’t you? Can you expand on this a bit?

Kendra Atleework:

Learning to exist in Minnesota was wonderful. In the desert and the mountains, if you’re hot, you take off your long-sleeved sun shirt and dip it in a stream and then it’s like you’re wearing an AC unit—the water evaporates and cools you. Turns out this does NOT work in the humid Midwest. Everything is wet, all the time, forever. Turns out there is mold in the Midwest! Turns out there are incredible, spontaneous thunderstorms! And no one knows about drip irrigation! These and other lessons were mine to enjoy in Minnesota. I fell deeply in love with the wet summer greenness and the snowy winter stillness of the North Shore of Lake Superior. And while in Minneapolis I was never completely at home, I needed that distance from the desert—needed to watch California experience extreme drought from afar—to get a clearer perspective of my home, why I had left, and why I needed to return, despite the danger and difficult memories that awaited me.

yellow canoe on body of water
Photo by Josh Hild on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I recently traveled to the Rocky Mountains and learned about Isabella Bird, folks refer to her as a the first female mountaineering literary bad-ass. She wrote about her time as an English lady in the mountains in the 1800s. This reminded me of Mary Austin in MIRACLE COUNTRY. Can you tell us a little more about Mary and her role in the book?

Kendra Atleework:

Mary Austin is a maverick desert lady who helps me talk about my home historically and also serves as a parallel to my mom, who moved to my home region alone as a young woman and did things like get buried under the snow so her search and rescue team could practice avalanche rescue.

Mary Austin moved to my home valley in 1892. She wrote her most famous book, Land of Little Rain (published in 1903, a gorgeous, slim essay collection about the deserts of California that’s way ahead of its time as far as place-based nonfiction goes) while living in a little brown house here in the valley. She was a wild desert woman if ever there was one—she ended up leaving her marriage so she could roam the country and write. She was a keen observer of harsh landscapes and the people who make a home from them. And her writing is lovely. To give a sense of her voice, here’s one of my favorite quotes of hers, from Land of Little Rain, about my home desert:

“For all the toll the desert takes of a man it gives compensations—deep breaths, deep sleep, and the communion of the stars…They look large and near and palpitant; as if they moved on some stately service not needful to declare. Wheeling to their stations in the sky, they make the poor world-fret of no account. Of no account you who lie out there watching, nor the lean coyote that stands off in the scrub from you and howls and howls.”

Leslie Lindsay:

Your writing is so unique and gorgeous and lyrical. I felt the grit but also the shimmering jewel buried within these pages. Can you share a bit about your process and if you have any rituals or routines?

Kendra Atleework:

The most important thing I do to benefit my writing at the sentence level is read. When I was in grad school for writing, reading was about 70% of my work. I considered, and still consider, myself in an apprenticeship to great writers via their books. I still spend about half my working hours reading books that really light me up with the beauty of their sentences. That’s how I keep language in mind as a material that can be shaped.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Also, while MIRACLE COUNTRY is technically a memoir, it combines elements of travel writing, history, narrative nonfiction, environmental writing, and maybe even a touch of magical realism. Without complete sentences, how do you describe MIRACLE COUNTRY?

Kendra Atleework:

A lifetime’s worth of sorting out what it means to be from a place and from a family, to lose that family and leave that place behind, and then to come home and cobble it all back together again. To learn to see beyond a personal loss to a loss shared across a whole community, loss at the level of the landscape, loss experienced by people at different moments in history. When we can recognize our story as it joins a bigger picture and draw some comfort from that, I believe we have found home.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kendra, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Kendra Atleework:

Not that I can think of…thank you!

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

For more information, to connect with Kendra Atleework via social media, or to purchase a copy of MIRACLE COUNTRY, please visit: 

Order Links: 

~BOOK CONCIERGE~ 

I was reminded, in part, of the work of Isabella Bird (moutaineer woman from the 1800s) meets other environmental writings akin to Cheryl Strayed meets Bobi Conn (IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY) with a touch of Sarah M. Broom’s THE YELLOW HOUSE.

Atleework headshot copyABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Kendra Atleework received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. An essay that formed the basis for a chapter of Miracle Country was selected for The Best American Essays 2015. She is the recipient of the Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award and the AWP Intro Journals Project Award.

 

 

 

 

 

 

image1-5ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available this fall. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#alwayswithabook #memoir #lyrical #literary #place #California #geography #highdesert #mountains #homesick #Minnesota #mothers #daughters

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

Miriam Feldman talks about how reality is written in pencil, not pen, telling her story & inspiring others, not being embarrassed by her son’s schizophrenia, self-care & so much more in HE CAME WITH IT

By Leslie Lindsay

A deeply profound and troubling story about one family’s struggle with their son’s devolve into a severe mental illness, and yet, it’s hopeful and unifying.

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~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

Miriam Feldman, artist, a mother, writer, a mental health advocate, and so much more invites the reader into her chaotic, heart-breaking, but hugely honest and authentic life raising a son with schizophrenia in HE CAME WITH IT (Turner Publishing, June 23 2020).

I’m no stranger to mental illness. My mother died by suicide five years ago after a lifelong battle with schizoaffective disorder. I worked as a child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. and to say that I’ve seen it all would be inaccurate. Each individual and each family present differently. We’re individuals. We don’t always respond the same, even if the diagnosis–or the overall issue–is similar. That’s why so much more awareness, openness, and advocacy is needed. And that’s why we need more books like HE CAME WITH IT.

The Feldman-O’Rourke’s live in an idyllic L.A. suburb where generations of families enjoy deep roots in old homes. Miriam and Craig are both artists. Together, they have four children. But something’s ‘off,’ about Nick, and maybe always has been, but Miriam is sure she’s ‘missed the signs.’ Nick’s teenage years get off to a bumpy start–art, dark poetry, drugs–could it just be that this is simply ‘being a teenager?’ But stranger things happen still. A failed attempt at college. Violence. Cutting. Suicide attempts. Eviction. Filth. Arrests. And it’s not just Nick. His sisters struggle, too. Not with mental illness, per se, but boyfriends and illness and alcoholism. Miriam needs neck surgery and there’s a tumor in her brain, another daughter gets cancer. Meanwhile, Craig retreats to their Washington ‘farm,’ leaving Miriam to work her way through the wreckage.

HE CAME WITH IT is a tough read. It’s open, and honest, a portrait of a so-called ‘perfect’ family stripped to the studs as each of these issues are revealed. It’s not just a story about how mental illness affects one person, but how it can unspool an entire family. At the heart of the narrative is Miriam’s can-do, will-fix attitude. She dispenses her adult son’s medication daily for eight years, she cleans his roach-infested apartment, she arranges drug trials, seeks out psychiatrists, attends family group sessions, takes her son to therapy and endless lunches out. And yet, there’s a shortfall. It’s the mental health system. It’s privacy concerns.

But that’s not the focus of HE CAME WITH IT; here’s what isfinding the silver lining. Because there is one. It just might look different from what you planned. It might not be what your neighbors have or even what someone else living with mental illness experiences

Ultimately, HE CAME WITH IT is about hope, finding a good life, and allowing the mistakes and blemishes be a part of our everyday. Because, we’re all flawed.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Miriam Feldman to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Miriam, thank you for taking the time. This book struck me on so many levels. I know you were initially inspired to write it after cleaning out Nick’s apartment [in preparation for his move to the Washington farm] and finding his journals. You didn’t want to be privy to that information, that intimacy, but you were stunned by the things you uncovered. Can you tell us more about your ‘jumping off point’ for HE CAME WITH IT?

Miriam Feldman:

I had tried to keep a journal myself during those first years, but most of it ended up being horribly maudlin or just raging at the universe. Not too helpful, but it did give me something to build off of. Once I found Nick’s writing, I realized that the horror of it all was so magnified by the feeling of being entirely alone. There wasn’t a mother in sight who was going through this. I decided to write the book for two reasons: to tell my story and hopefully inspire others to do so. I also felt very strongly that I wanted create a legacy of and for Nick. I want the world to know what an extraordinary human he is. I want that on the record.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Tell us a little more about Nick. He’s in his 30s now and living independently—but near you and Craig—in Washington. What was he like as a small child? You mention feeling like you ‘missed some signs,’—how’s he doing now?

Miriam Feldman:

Right now he is doing well, and has been for about 2 years. Before that, he had a psychotic break and had to be hospitalized for several weeks. He lives in a supported housing apartment complex and has DHS caregivers who come daily to make sure he takes his meds and help him out. His life is solitary, he doesn’t have “friends”, the caregivers are wonderful and he’s got his father and me. His three sisters absolutely adore him, but they don’t live in WA. He was not a child who showed signs of trouble, quite the opposite. He was happy, gregarious, got good grades…all the markers. The “signs” I refer to are interesting because if you were to make a list of red-flag signs of serious mental illness, and a list of normal teenage behavior…you’d have virtually the same list! They all act nuts! They are all unpredictable, mercurial, difficult. THOSE were the signs I missed, the ones that all the other kids grew out of, but for Nick grew into schizophrenia.

Leslie Lindsay:

Nick is hugely talented. His art work, his poetry, and writing. There’s a passage in the book—and I’m paraphrasing—but it’s along the lines of: what if those with mental illness are the gifted ones and the rest of us are just plebeians? Can you talk about that, please? That fine line between insanity and genius?

Miriam Feldman:

Oh, I’m pretty fixated on that line. It’s pretty much where I live. It started with a musing about the idea of Nick being not LESS THAN but MORE THAN. Probably to try and cheer myself up. But the more I live with this, the more I believe in the truth of it. Who are we to say? In ancient times, people like Nick were revered and considered visionaries. The rambling hypothoses of a brilliant scientist would sound like gibberish to me..but that says more about me than the scientist. Let’s face it, if you consider the ideas put forward by Jesus, especially in context of time, a case could be made for insanity. It is all so relative, and not linear, this has forced me to view the entire universe differently now. I used to be someone who saw things in terms of black and white, now I see everything important is in the liminal space. I hear brilliance from Nick’s mouth all the time. 

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Photo by Daian Gan on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Here’s a piece I love from HE CAME WITH IT, and can so identify with as I lived through my mother’s mental illness, I *know* this feeling:

“Life becomes a big laundry pile to be sorted into section. What is crazy? What is crazy with an element of reality? What is real? Which piece of insanity relates with which piece of reality? Whites or colors?”

As family members and caregivers, we’re constantly culling through these questions. How can we make sense?

Miriam Feldman:

I wish I had the perfect answer to that, I really do. I think, first of all, it is imperative to stop caring about other people’s opinions. Screw stigma. I’ve got to tell you, the one really great thing I’ve gotten out of being the mother of a son with schizophrenia is that I am officially embarrassment-proof. There is a great freedom in that. As far as the “sorting”, I now believe that we (the care-givers) learn a new language. We start to understand what our loved ones are communicating in their own way. These days, I can call one of my daughters and repeats something Nick said that was either funny, or profound, and we get it. If another person heard the conversation, they wouldn’t. And we have to leave room for the possibility that what we call “reality” is written in pencil, not pen. It has changed over history, through scientific discovery, and I try to leave room for an inherent “reality” with-in Nick’s insanity. Again who am I to say?

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Leslie Lindsay:

What I feel is one of the biggest messages in HE CAME WITH IT is advocacy. Being done with stigma and stereotypes. You take a NAMI Family-to-Family course (I once taught those!), you find other resources for Nick, you are persistent. What can others do? What about self-care?

Miriam Feldman:

Number one: educate yourself! The single most important thing. Knowledge is power, but it is also comfort and peace and holds answers. I never stop trying to get Nick to participate in group therapy, new counselors, classes, community stuff…but the truth is he’s not that into it. That another one of those things I have to accept, and respect. Just because it would make me feel better if he had a bunch of friends and went to social things doesn’t mean it would make HIM feel better. I’m not going to give up, but I am trying to respect who he is. That also bring inner peace. If you are constantly throwing yourself against that brick wall you just end up battered. Ad so that brings us to self-care. Yes, self-care is very important. For me it involves a strong yoga and meditaton practice, and if you knew me for a long time you’d know how unbelievable that is. I’m a real type A. But again, schizophrenia delivered a gift I wouldn’t have had and I am grateful for that. So self- care can be anything, yoga and all that, long baths, binge watching Netflix…just remember that you deserve to have joy in your life even tough tis unspeakable thing happened to your child. I know you would do ANYTHING to fix it, we all would. But you can’t. So withering away on the vine serves no purpose, and actually you’d better take care of yourself and stay strong because you’re going to need to be.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Captivating, moving, and masterfully wrought, Miriam Feldman’s story invites us inside the most intimate of worlds:  a family’s heart and soul.  While our journey is not without discomfort, it is also full of humor, joy, love, and inspiration. I marvel at the resiliency of the human spirit revealed in this brilliant memoir; He Came In With It is a redemption story for the ages.”

–  GARTH STEIN, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN


Leslie Lindsay:

And yet…we struggle. We’re human, after all. You are so brave, so honest when you tell us about all the ways you felt you failed. Why do we need to hear this?

Miriam Feldman:

Because it’s part of the picture. In this social media look-at-my-perfect-life world we live in now, especially. And I don’t feel particularly brave, I’m just a good mother. Isn’t that kind of the baseline, when you decide to bring a child into the world. I mean, there’s a moral contract with the universe, I think. As far as honest, well that was the only way to go, anything else would have been pointless. And you know why we need to hear this? When I was a young mother with a gaggle of perfect kids I used to see these moms wheeling a child with cerebral palsy or something like that around in their wheelchairs. I’d look at them and think, oh my god, I could NEVER do that. How do they do that? Well you know what? Of course I could do that. Just like she does it. You take care of your kid. And all the failures and all the triumphs are part of the job.

Leslie Lindsay:

Miriam, I’ve enjoyed this so much. It’s a great unifier to chat with someone who has had similar experiences. What might I have asked, but forgot?

Miriam Feldman:

I have been overwhelmed with the response I’ve gotten from others with similar experiences, which I think points to how much we need to keep the dialogue going.

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Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay.

For more information, to connect with Miriam Feldman via social media, or to purchase a copy of HE CAME WITH IT, please visit: 

Order Links:

~BOOK CONCIERGE~ 

You might also enjoy Kay Redfield Jamison‘s work, Terri Cheney’s books (THE DARK SIDE OF INNOCENCE and MANIC), MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD (Mark Lukach), NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE (Ron Powers). And…though it’s not about mental illness, I found some similarities between this title and HOUSE LESSONS (Erica Bauermeister) in terms of Washington state, old homes, and art

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Miriam Feldman is an artist, writer, and mental health activist who splits her time between her Los Angeles studio and her farm in rural Washington state. She has been married to her husband Craig O’Rourke, also an artist, for 34 years and they have four adult children. Their 33-year-old son, Nick, has schizophrenia.

With an MFA in painting from Otis Art Institute, Miriam founded Demar Feldman Studios, Inc., a distinguished mural and decorative art company, in 1988. At the same time, she built a strong career as a fine artist, represented by Hamilton Galleries in Santa Monica, CA.

When Nick was diagnosed in 2004, Miriam became an activist and a writer. With first-hand knowledge of our mental health system, she decided to be an advocate for those who have no voice. She serves on the advisory board of Bring Change 2 Mind, the non-profit founded by Glenn Close, and writes a monthly blog for their website. Miriam is active in leadership at NAMI Washington and writes for their newsletters. She is a frequent guest on mental health podcasts and is active on Instagram, where she has created a community of family and loved ones dealing with mental illness

IMG_6816ABOUT YOUR HOST:

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

#alwayswithabook #mentalhealth #mentalillness #mothers #motherhood #memoir #schizophrenia #awareness #sons #mentalillnessresouces #art

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Turner Publications and used with permission in conjunction with SparkPoint Studios. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Join me on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1]

Bobi Conn talks about IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY about growing up in a Kentucky holler, southern storytelling, glorious details in the mundane, the palpable sense of an empty home, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

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~MEMOIR MONDAY|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

When Bobi Conn thinks back on her childhood in 1980s Appalachia she remembers feeling free—running with her younger brother through the remote Kentucky holler where her family lived, wading through creeks, knocking down wasp nests, and eating the sweet blackberries growing along the road to her granny’s. But she also remembers the darkness threatening to swallow the vast forest paradise around her—substance abuse, alcoholism, her alcoholic father who continuously terrorized his wife and children. Very quickly Conn learned that speaking up for herself would get her nowhere; Conn writes. “I hid myself deep so that on the surface, people would see quiet and good girl.”

IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY: A Memoir (Little A: May 1, 2020) is about surviving in a community that, regardless of its beauty, it’s marginalized, desperate, and ignored by the rest of the country. Bobi manages to perform well academically and leaves the holler for college. At school she is able to learn, ask questions, and express her opinions. Motherhood, a white-collar job, and a cycle of drugs and abusive men follow. Mistrusted by her family for her progress and condescended to by peers for her accent and her history, Bobi is followed by the emotional scars of her past. Can we ever really shed that previous skin of where our stories began?

Ultimately, this is a tale of survival; it’s about hope for vulnerable populations, particularly women and girls caught in the cycle of poverty and abuse. And here’s something she says in the pages of IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY that really rings true, “It’s the storyteller who holds the power.”

While IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY is a memoir at heart, it’s also very autobiographical, covering a large portion of Bobi’s life, her coming of age, struggles, and tends to have a circuitous flow; it’s more of a ‘telling memoir, with the singular focus on the author, and the characters who orbit her world.

As Conn writes,

“I think of my little-girl self, who is surely still inside me, and know I could tell her that she is good and that everything is going to be okay…I would tell her that everything she longs for is also looking for her, yearning to be found…it is concealed within her own hopeful heart, just waiting for her to write her story.”

IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY is beautifully written and transportive. I felt such a kinship with the land, the space I inhabited while in the company of this book.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Bobi Conn to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Bobi, I am so swept away with your story. About six months ago, my family and I traveled to Kentucky and Tennessee. I immediately felt at ease in this land. It was like the earth was calling me home. What inspired you to write IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY? What was calling you home?

Bobi Conn:

I first began writing this memoir for my creative writing thesis in graduate school. I wanted to tell the story of my father sending me to my granny’s house to call her an awful name, and I wove other stories into that telling. At that point, I just wanted to tell an interesting story and tell it well. Over time, as I expanded the manuscript and reworked the structure, I felt like my life story could be helpful to others. I interrogated my emotions and beliefs to find the universal elements in my experience, and as I did so, I discovered a purpose in my suffering. And that’s how I see my story now – I survived and am able to articulate a lot of things that many people have not felt empowered to express themselves. Telling my story helps me heal some of the pain I still carry, and telling it with love and care means that others can heal from reading it, no matter how much or how little of it they relate to.

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Leslie Lindsay:

This is tough read. It’s beautifully written but there’s a huge amount of heartache, violence, substance abuse, poverty, discrimination, and more. The details are varied and rich. I think it speaks to your resilience and determination. Can you expand on that, please?

Bobi Conn:

As a child, I felt so much, so deeply, and I have continued to find richness in the details of life – even within the mundane. Perhaps especially within the mundane…. As I wrote my memoir, I sought to convey the details that I think we all experience and that are part of the story of our lives we don’t often share with others. For instance, something as simple as a hummingbird flitting around my hanging flowers, can create a moment of joy, inspiration, and hope. When we were children, we had a lot of those moments. So, as I wrote my story, I dove into those kinds of details because the magic of childhood discovery, and the joy we were once more connected to, is still within us. I think that is important to remember and to reconnect with that joy, just as much as it is a necessity to heal our childhood trauma.

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Leslie Lindsay:

In terms of writing, there’s a lovely section from IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY, Writing was the only thing that felt natural[…]it was a way for me to make sense of the world[…]” Do you think writing was a form of survival for you?

Bobi Conn:

Yes, I do – and we have plenty of evidence that storytelling is a necessary, instinctual part of the human psyche. All children grow up constructing a narrative about their lives and the world around them. When you grow up in a dysfunctional environment, the narrative is twisted in ways that are hard to understand, both from within and from an external perspective. I believe that everything I have written – even if it wasn’t supposed to be about me or any part of my life – has helped me understand myself and others better. Writing allows me explore my own mind as I describe the motives and traits of characters, or convey underlying premises a story or essay is founded upon. Most importantly, writing and storytelling has always allowed me to take control over my relationship with my own story and to find the beauty within it.


“This memoir, although at times achingly sad, provides an uplifting tale of a woman who decided that she would prevail over the hand that life dealt her…An engaging read that will connect with fans of Tara Westover’s Educated and those interested in the ability of the human spirit to overcome adversity.”
-Library Journal


Leslie Lindsay:

 I love houses and homes and so I have to ask about when you traveled back to your great-grandmother’s house. You talk of the floorboards being rotten or broken…room for a child or several upstairs…hot darkness…hand-sewn quilts…everything waiting for you, like an endless childhood. This is so profound. Like this place was locked in amber, a time capsule. What is it for you that this place represents? Is it decay or potential? A little of both?

Bobi Conn:

I think you are right that it is a little of both. I almost always feel like there is something palpable left behind when a home is abandoned. When I stepped into my great-grandmother’s old house, it was like walking into rooms of emotion – as if the frustration, sense of possibility, and childhood curiosity were all still right there, existing without people and bodies to house them. And I felt the excitement of potential, as well as the sorrow of that disembodiment. It feels mystical to me, but just as real and practical as the natural world I was surrounded by as a child.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Much of what I think IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY does is it brings to mind the idea that as humans we are woven of more complete whole. We are the land, the people, the experiences, the trauma. We need to understand that backstory so we can forge our own stories. Can you expand on that, please? And correct me if I’m wrong about your intentions.

Bobi Conn:

This is an idea that I love to explore, and you said it well. As I was writing about myself and my family, I found it really important to provide context. When I’m thinking about what I want to say, it’s sometimes hard to pick which details aren’t important, even necessary. I believe this tendency stems from the Appalachian oral storytelling styles of my childhood – you might want to tell a simple story about what Betty said at church today, but you’ve got to clarify that it’s the same Betty who used to wear those flowery dresses and always brings the worst devilled eggs to church potlucks, and her first husband died awfully young…. I think Appalachian storytelling recognizes that even as whole individuals, many aspects of ourselves are only realized in relation to other people, our environment, and our circumstances. And so a person is never just a flat character, but a point of reference that reflects a unique position within multiple histories.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I could ask questions all day—but what might I have forgotten—more about your granny, who served as a sort of touchstone for you, what it was like to read the audio version of IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY, and also your playlist for the book…or anything else???

Bobi Conn:

I could talk with you about these things all day! Let’s see… I have to say that I’m touched by all of the people who have reached out to let me know they can relate to some aspect of my story, so far. And I’m happy to hear that a lot of people have had a person in their lives like my granny – someone who made them feel safe and loved. I wish I could take Granny some of my chicken and dumplings, or take her to the spring where I sometimes get water these days. It is so bittersweet to love someone who is gone.

As for narrating the audiobook, that was something that I was excited to audition for, but as soon as I found out I would get to do it, I realized I had signed up for something incredibly intense. I hadn’t considered how it would feel to not only share my story with the world, but to read it to them. The entire experience once again shifted my relationship with my story, though, and helped me claim greater ownership of it. Putting the playlist together was a lot of fun, and I love music so much, I hope people will listen to it and get an even deeper sense of what my life has felt like through the songs that are meaningful to me. Plus, you’re missing out if you haven’t heard Waylon Jennings sing “White Lightning.”

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join @leslielindsay1 on Instagram #alwayswithabook.

To learn more, to connect with Bobi Conn via social media, or to purchase a copy of IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY, please visit:

Order Links:

~BOOK CONCEIRGE~

There were several titles that came to mind as I read IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY, and you might find some resonance with HILLBILLY ELEGY (J.D. Vance), the poetry of ARIA VISCERA (Kristi Carter), the leaving behind of family dysfunction and cycles of abuse for higher education in Tara Westover’s EDUCATED and also a touch of THE GLASS CASTLE (Jeanette Walls) meets Sheryl Recinos, M.D.’s HINDSIGHT. In terms of Appalachia stories, you might turn to F*CKFACE (Leah Hampton) and the forthcoming EVERY BONE A PRAYER (August 4 2020) by Ashley Blooms, but also–not exactly Appalachia–but some crossover in terms of oppression, trauma, and discrimination in THE YELLOW HOUSE (Sarah M. Broom).

Bobi Conn_2019_ Erica Chambers PhotographyABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bobi Conn was born in Morehead, Kentucky, and raised in a nearby holler, where she developed a deep connection with the land and her Appalachian roots. She obtained her bachelor’s degree at Berea College, the first school in the American South to integrate racially and to teach men and women in the same classrooms. After struggling as a single mother, she worked multiple part-time jobs at once to support her son and to attend graduate school, where she earned a master’s degree in English with an emphasis in creative writing. In addition to writing, Bobi loves playing pool, cooking, being in the woods, attempting to grow a garden, and spending time with her incredible children.

image1 (5)ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of ShreveWilliams and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join @leslielindsay1 on Instagram #alwayswithabook] 

Alexandra Burt begins Shadow Garden as a ‘thought experiement’: Does wealth and privilege sway moral corruption? Do we risk more if there’s more to lose, plus gorgeous prose, houses and homes, plus memory and tragedy

By Leslie Lindsay 

A dark, haunting and atmospheric read about memory and twisted family dynamics set amidst luxury.

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~WEDNESDAYS WITH WRITERS|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

I’ve read all of Alexandra Burt’s stunning books and when SHADOW GARDEN (Berkley, July 2020) came to my attention, I knew I had to get my hands on it. This is such a haunting read that feels claustrophobic and uncomfortable at every turn. Burt is absolutely gifted at atmospheric prose, psychological detail, gorgeous turns-of-phrase, and generally giving readers dark intrigue.

Here’s the quick take: Donna Pryor has lived a life of luxury, being a ‘lady of leisure.’ Her husband is a successful plastic surgeon. Her only daughter is grown, she has a housekeeper who caters to every whim. She lives in a gated complex, her home is beautifully decorated. But. Something’s off.

Donna is recovering from a recent hip surgery. Her memory isn’t what it used to be. Her daughter never calls. She and her husband are estranged. Her only companions seem to be the caregivers and housekeepers who manage her luxury neighborhood.

What’s going on?

Immediately, I was swept away with Burt’s evocative prose. Her details are perceptive, she’s psychologically astute. There’s a tender slip of unease and discomfort on every page. I was definitely puzzling things out as I read and this is exactly the kind of reading I enjoy. SHADOW GARDEN is a slow-burn literary thriller, so if you’re expecting something whip-fast, this isn’t exactly it, though the last quarter flies by and you will find the entire book intense and chilling.

There are plenty of twists and turns, several gasp-out-loud moments, and visceral reactions that will leave you reeling.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Alexandra Burt back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Alexandra—wow! This story! It’s eerily beautiful. The prose, that is. The setting. Underneath all of that, it’s dark, disturbing. What was your motivating force behind SHADOW GARDEN? What were you seeking to explore?

Alexandra Burt:

SHADOW GARDEN started out as a thought experiment. I was wondering about all the complicated ways money and wealth sway morals and I felt the urge to explore the notion of moral corruption. Do people of wealth, power, and affluence deploy a different set of principles? We know money impacts our sense of morality, our relationships with others, and our mental health, but is it true that the more you have to lose, the harder you fight to keep it, whatever ‘it’ may be? Money, reputation, a standing in the community? Is being rich inherently immoral and if so, what are the consequences?

SHADOW GARDEN’S initial title was “The Many Incarnations of Donna Pryor” and I mention it because the book had quite a few incarnations itself. It started out as detective novel purely comprised of interviews between Donna Pryor and a detective, it then turned into a family saga spanning decades before and after the crime occurred. Eventually it arrived at SHADOW GARDEN, an estate at the end of a rural road and a life of privilege that begins to crumble. I imagined Donna Pryor, a woman of humble beginnings, who waits for her daughter and estranged husband to contact her, wondering what happened to her perfect family. She has everything and wants for nothing but the truth. From there I allowed the story to unfold organically and I sat by and watched them get to the truth of who The Pryors really are. And I watched them fall.

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“SHADOW GARDEN is a beautifully haunting novel about an outwardly successful but privately troubled family. I was gripped from the start, entranced by the evocative writing and the complex characters. It’s the sort of story that stays with you, long after you’ve reached the final page and closed the book.” 

~Emma Rous, USA Today Bestselling author of The Au Pair


Leslie Lindsay:

I’m always into houses and homes, architecture and design, and these elements play a major role in SHADOW GARDEN. Did you see the Pryors’ physical setting as a type of character here? Did the setting influence their responses to the events in their lives? Can you give a visual of how you saw the family home—Hawthorne Court? Would the story be any different if they were, say, not wealthy and lived in a more modest home?

Alexandra Burt:

Hawthorne Court is a Tudor mansion on a large property, a mansion among many mansions. I imagined a winding road with trees on either side like a devout welcome committee, and people driving by wondering who lives in such a beautiful place. I imagined onlookers stopping by the side of the road pulling over, standing in a patch of gravel, picturing the kind of people living within those walls, adoring the Tudor and its architectural design details, its exquisite landscaping. For the people looking in it would seem like a dream come true but for the Pryors, it is about to turn into a nightmare.

Donna never named Hawthorne Court, it ‘came that way,’ if you will. The house is her take of a place where nothing bad happens, how could it, it being so beautiful and majestic, right? Donna feels grounded there, as if she has arrived where she belongs and she doesn’t want to give it up under any circumstances. The story itself begins at Shadow Garden, a luxury apartment community, so something has happened that took Hawthorne Court from Donna and that’s what the novel is all about—the Pryors’ fall from grace.

There is a psychological concept called loss aversion, a corner stone of the “Prospect Theory.” It’s an economical theory but we might as well apply it: in general humans are more keenly aware of losses than gains, mainly because they have a difficult time coping with outcomes that don’t line up with their expectations. If the Pryors were not wealthy would the story be any different? Did wealth play a role or can this kind of tragedy befall any of us? Those are the questions I pose to the reader: do you feel empathy or do keep yourself at a safe distance watching them implode, kind of snickering about what has befallen them? As much as I want the reader to think of culpability, I also want empathy to play into the story.

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Leslie Lindsay:

SHADOW GARDEN is told from the POV of three individuals—Mrs. Donna Pryor, Dr. Edward Pryor and their daughter, Penelope Pryor. I found them all multifaceted, fully-formed, psychologically broken…is there one you connected with more? A character you found exciting to write? One who may have been more of a challenge?

Alexandra Burt:

Donna has the majority of the real estate throughout the novel. She is also the only character who is relaying the story in the first person so I’m in her head quite a bit. As a character, she is intimate and flawed and propels the plot forward. One might say that she carries the majority of the culpability but the Pryors are more than one person. They all play off of each other, they are the fabric that is their family but the stitches just won’t hold, for none of them. Penelope is the crux of the downfall, because after all, if a child goes wrong, look at the family, right? Of course it’s not that easy, that would be simplifying the threads that make up their family dynamic. I have to admit that my favorite character was Edward. He is after all the leader of the family and though he tried to do right by everyone, in the end—and this isn’t a spoiler—not only he, but the entire family, is consumed in one way or another. To answer your question, Edward was definitely the most fun to write. I’m using fun here loosely, knowing the outcome.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Did any person or place serve as a real life influence for you while you wrote SHADOW GARDEN?

Alexandra Burt:

The influences were plentiful leading up to the completion of the novel. While writing the final draft of SHADOW GARDEN, for a duration of about six months, I lived in four different places. We sold the house we’d owned for fifteen years and we expected to move into our new house that was under construction. Long story short, the completion was delayed by months and we found ourselves with no place to live. With two large dogs, one of them arthritic and suffering from dementia, we decided to move into a hotel. It sounded good in theory—breakfast buffet, a pool, a gym, and a park close by to walk the dogs—but it wasn’t anything close to a vacation. A week here or there living out of a suitcase is fun, but weeks on end took a toll. I had everything I needed, someone to make my bed and wash my towels, but I didn’t have so many things my happiness was attached to: my books, my office, my backyard. When it became apparent that it would take months for the new house to be completed, I found an apartment with a short-term lease that allowed large-breed dogs. With all our belongings in storage, we moved into an unfurnished apartment where we’d end up celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. We purchased blow-up mattresses and lawn chairs, linen and a few dishes. I borrowed a folding card table and a chair so I could write.

Donna Pryor tells us of a ranch-style home she has left behind, in Florida, with a “crooked fire hydrant in the front yard and a small square patch of grass. Every time the air conditioner kicked in, the lights flickered on trembling currents due to faulty wiring. We were able to afford the house because the interior was dated and overhead power lines cut through the back­yard, mere feet away from the porch. Metal towers loomed above us and I often wondered if it was safe to live there.” That house felt like the home I had left behind. Eventually, Donna ends up in a Tudor mansion named Hawthorne Court by a previous owner, where she raises her daughter Penelope.

There’s Hawthorne Court and Shadow Garden and there’s something mysterious and telling about the names people choose for their homes and estates. Hawthorne Court came with the name when Donna and her family moved in, and though naming houses is an old British custom reserved for manors, halls and castles, it was a match made in heaven. A hawthorn tree holds balance and duality, full of contradictions, none of which will go unnoticed as the story unfolds. Donna loved Hawthorne Court the moment she laid eyes on the property. The mansion sits “in silent repose with precision landscaping, perfect proportions of shrubs, and mulch surrounded by lush green grass.” Eventually, after a mysterious dark period, she moves to Shadow Garden, and that’s where the story begins.

Shadow Garden “sits on a majestic estate of almost forty acres of hiking trails tucked away in the coun­tryside at the end of a rural road. To call the estate a garden, even in a remote sense, is an understatement:

“The grounds are a burst of potted plants, bushes, shrubberies, and trees shading the paved walkways. Crape myrtles rise between the buildings, slender, with sinewy, fluted stems and mottled branches and bark that sheds like snakeskin.”

It reminded me of the unfurnished apartment, after all, I sat by the window writing, day after day, looking out at the crape myrtles reaching upward of thirty feet between the buildings—by the way such a distorted representation of a tree, more like a giant blooming shrub, really. Donna has many opinions but one predominant belief of hers is the dedication to the pruning of and caring for trees so they grow big and tall, a metaphor for her daughter Penelope’s upbringing. But she’ll tell you more about that in the book.

During the months of moving from one house to the other with the hotel and apartment stop in between, it felt a kinship with Donna Pryor. Working on the final draft, I felt in flux, on one hand mourning for the house in which my daughter grew up and on the other hand longing to be firmly rooted in a place again. All those circumstances and places were juxtaposed with Donna’s attempt to create a safe haven for her family and were in large a real life influence to get into her head.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Ultimately SHADOW GARDEN is about family dynamics and dysfunction, a troubled daughter, a strained mother-daughter relationship, and what parents will do to protect their children–even grown ones. Would you say that’s true? Is there something maybe I’m missing?

Alexandra Burt:

Apart from that question—what will parents do to protect their children—there’s another aspect that I connected with strongly:

do we risk more if there’s more to lose?

The higher the stakes, the more we wager? There are decisions we make in the moment—and there are plenty in the book made by all members of the Pryor family—but what about the carefully weighted choices and judgments we make over a duration of years? Are we inclined to be more protective the more is on the line and most of all, is there a point of no return?  A place from which we will not recover and where do you, as a reader, draw the line, as you read the story of the Pryor family? There was so much more to unpack as I wrote and those questions that bobbed up over time are surprising and thought provoking. I hope the reader feels that way, too.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Alexandra, this has been so insightful and fascinating. Thank you for taking the time to chat about SHADOW GARDEN. Is there anything I should have asked about, but may have forgotten? What’s next…your influences…what you’re obsessing over…something else?

Alexandra Burt:

I’m fascinated—and yes, maybe obsessed is the right word—with merging genres and I’ve been eyeing the horror genre at least with one eye. It feels timely, given how this year has unfolded so far, dire in so many ways, and my love for books and reading and writing stories has been keeping me somewhat sane. We all are at a crossroads and no one knows how the world will unfold in the months to come and as frightening as this is, it is also freeing in many ways—if we allow it to be. My wish is that we emerge from this pandemic with a newfound appreciation for the world around us and that books will continue to be published, from deeply thought-provoking to roller-coaster rides and gripping thrillers and domestic suspense novels and everything in between and beyond. And I hope to be a part of that.

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

For more information, to connect with Alexandra Burt via social media, or to purchase a copy of SHADOW GARDEN, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS: 

~BOOK CONCIERGE~

Many books came to mind as I read SHADOW GARDEN–none are exactly like it, but you may find some similarities with the writing style of PAPERWASP (Lauren Acampora) meets thematic elements of THE PERFECT SON (Lauren North), the work of Jane Corry (especially MY HUSBAND’S WIFE) with touches of Janelle Brown’s WATCH ME DISAPPEAR and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW(A.J. Finn); in classics, its reminiscent of REBECCA (Daphne du Maurier) and THE YELLOW WALLPAPER (Charlotte Perkins Gilman) and also on the horror side, THE BAD SEED (William March) and BABY TEETH (Zoje Stage).

Alexandra Burt_ credit Alexandra BurtABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Alexandra Burt is a freelance translator and the international bestselling author of Remember Mia and The Good Daughter. After years of writing classes and gluttonous reading, her short fiction appeared in fiction journals and literary reviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ABOUT YOUR HOST:

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N.. Her work has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, and others. Her cover art will be featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; poetry in the Coffin Bell Journal, and CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley Publishing and used with permission. Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join her on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook] 

A powerful and harrowing story of homeless youth, a dysfunctional family of origin, mental illness, & success of physician Sheryl Recinos in HINDSIGHT, plus a timely and topical reading list, activism, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A powerful and almost unbelievably true account of one woman’s dysfunctional family, her experiences in detention, foster care, the streets of Hollywood, and how she made it through.

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~MEMOIR MONDAY|ALWAYS WITH A BOOK~

HINDSIGHT (2018) by Sheryl Recinos, is one of those stories that will absolutely stay with you. Sheryl is a your typical eight-year old when her mother has a psychotic break. Along with her next-closest-in-age brother, she takes them to a trailer home to stay warm, leaving them with nothing but uncooked pasta and raisins. And then she vanishes, but returns. The family struggles. Eventually, the parents divorce, but the father receives custody. When Sheryl is eleven, he remarries a woman who wants nothing to do with kids, who struggles with her own mental health issues.

To summarize this harrowing story in a succinct manner almost discredits the author’s pain and struggles. Here, we delve into a deeply dysfunctional family of origin, involving children sent away to foster care, the ones that remain, and the frank abuse that follows. HINDSIGHT is not for the faint of heart. It chronicles Sheryl’s life from the age of about eight through twenty, revealing dangerous obstacles including rape, murder, stalkers, pregnant teenagers, miscarriages, drugs, alcohol, homelessness, hitchhiking, and more. There’s parental estrangement and so many truly challenging situations that will pull at your heartstrings.

But there’s hope here, too. After her first baby, and then marriage, a college education, and then an eight-year career teaching high school biology, Sheryl acts on her dream and becomes a family practice physician.

I found myself deeply worried for Sheryl and urging her forward, even cringing at some of her decisions, but she does come out better in the end.

HINDSIGHT is about resilience and tenacity. It’s about the fight and rewards that come after.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Sheryl Recinos, M.D. to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sheryl, thank you so very much for taking the time to chat. I am so taken with your story—because really, it’s one of immense struggle. You could so easily have slipped through the cracks, gotten lost in the system, or worse. But first, let’s start with your inspiration to tell your story…why now?

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

This is the hardest question for me to answer, because it cuts me so deeply. I had always considered telling my story, and I’d been trying to write this book for ten years. But in 2017, I lost my oldest brother to suicide. I realized that I needed to share my story, because I felt a compelling desire to try to help others with my words. I knew that if I didn’t share my story, it would ultimately die with me.

On top of that, homelessness is surging. I live in Los Angeles, and we’re busting at the seams with people who have fallen through the cracks. I needed to give people insight into what it meant to be homeless, and how the struggle for daily survival impacted every single choice in my own life when I was younger.

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Leslie Lindsay:

The prologue has you as a physician treating a woman you are sure is being trafficked. Others want to know how you know, you do because you witnessed this life. I think that is so powerful, how you are now about to recognize this and step in. Your past has become a gift in helping others. Can you talk about that, please?

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

Probably the most shocking aspect to me of my medical training was how quickly patients “knew.” It wasn’t a word that I said or some secret handshake. Patients intuitively recognized that I understood them and poured their hearts out to me.

I didn’t understand what was happening, but my Pediatrics attending in fourth year of med school figured it out for me. I was perhaps three hours into my first shift with him when he pulled me into his office and told me, “You grew up rough.” I was immediately terrified; my secret was out. Nobody knew those things about me. But he was kind, so I asked him how he knew. He told me that I don’t react. I don’t change how I treat patients even if they disclose concerning lifestyle choices or other issues.

When I started my residency training, I carried that idea with me. I’d already had enough patients tell me, “I know you get it,” even when I hadn’t said or done anything unusual. I was just being my authentic self. And as I stepped into my role as a Family Medicine resident physician, I found myself increasingly serving as the advocate for my patients. Some of my attendings kept asking me how I got patients to share such personal stories with me. I wasn’t sure how to answer it, but they accepted that I had a way of gaining patients’ trust and finding out the mysteries that impacted patient care. It was incredible to be able to walk into a patient room and see a completely different scenario than my peers. Likewise, it made it just that much harder to convince people that what I was seeing was relevant. I begged for the patient in the prologue to be admitted, and the trafficking coordinator at our hospital was grateful that I found her a safe bed for the night. The next day, the police got involved, since she was determined to be a missing person. After that, people really started to listen when I said I had concerns. She was not my last trafficking victim, sadly, but I found my voice through her.

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“The fact that her story has a surprisingly happy ending (as the initials “MD” after her name on the memoir’s cover attest) does little to blunt the sting that this gritty narrative of homelessness and young womanhood leaves in its wake.”

–Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay:

What I love about HINDSIGHT is how you manage to move forward and have a successful life. You go to college and then medical school! I mean, WOW! There are people who haven’t had your challenging life experiences and still don’t make it into medical school. In fact, they may have had everything given to them. First, I am curious what medical school was like for you being a non-traditional student, and did you ever think you were in over your head?

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

Medical school was so incredibly hard. I had this idea in my head that I’d been through hard things and could do anything, but the other part of me kept telling me I couldn’t do it. I didn’t fit in; almost all my classmates came from families of physicians, had excellent college transcripts, and didn’t ever want for anything. On the other hand, I went to medical school in a foreign country with my husband and three children, and we struggled financially every step along the way. I actually listened to reader feedback and wrote about this journey in a recently released follow-up memoir, Beta Blockers and Coffee.

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Leslie Lindsay:

In turning to your parents a bit…you seemed to have a loving relationship with your mother,  but she struggled with her mental health; she is bipolar. Your father was a challenge, too. He made life very hard on you. Can you talk a little about what we ‘inherit’ from our parents—whether genetic or behavioral, and how we can break free of that cycle? Also, can we get an update on them? You mom seems to sort of disappear’ in the narrative.

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

There’s a part of my mother that I always feared I would have, too. She was diagnosed at twenty-seven, and I didn’t catch my breath until I was twenty-eight. For me, that symbolically meant that I wasn’t like her. I loved her, but her illness terrified me because I’d seen her through so many of her worst struggles. My oldest brother and I usually had meetings with her care team whenever she was hospitalized, which usually meant a flight back east for me. I was in a rotation in Miami as a medical student when I had to stop everything for a weekend to drive north so that I could see her at a new psych facility.

Since my father had custody, he always got to choose whether I could contact my mother during those early years. I felt like this was incredibly unfair, and it made it so much harder for me to connect with anyone. She was someone that always listened, no matter what. I had a close relationship with her and continued to call her once a week for over fifteen years, until her illness started to win. I never had that with my father; whenever I called him, he was stoic and needed me to have a reason to call. I have a lot of thoughts about this, but he is still alive, and I’d rather just let it go.

Basically, it was never a healthy relationship, and I’m grateful that I cut contact with him. It actually wasn’t until I lost my brother that I really allowed myself to accept that maintaining a relationship with my father was no longer a healthy option. I tried for years to stay connected with him, for the sake of my own children, but my kids sat me down and had an intervention. They begged me to let the relationship go, and I’m glad I heard them.

My mother struggled with her bipolar disorder, and for the last several years of her life, the disease won. She was placed in a geri-psych facility until she passed away in early 2018. Losing her so close to my brother ripped me apart. After she passed, I finally sat down and wrote it all down. I needed to get the story out of me because I couldn’t figure out why I was so traumatized.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I think what propels your story forward is that you were so set on Hollywood, that you were sort of obsessed with it; it served as sort of a touchstone for you. Can you talk about that a little and also, what’s obsessing you now?

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

There was something about Hollywood that captivated me while I was there at thirteen years old. It wasn’t the stars on the sidewalk or some inner desire to become a movie star. Rather, it was this feeling of connectedness that I felt in brief moments with other homeless youth, and nothing else ever filled that void in me like Hollywood. When I returned at sixteen, I truly felt like I was home.

I can honestly say that during medical school, I felt like I was in exile from my home. Moving around so much for clinical rotations and having such instability of housing and food for my own children opened up all my old wounds and made me start examining them. The beginnings of healing began during those years. As some of my colleagues say, “Healer, heal thyself.”

These days, I’m a bit obsessed with helping end youth homelessness. Life has come full circle for me, and because I’ve been able to share this deeply personal story with the world, I’ve had countless people tell me how it’s changed their view of people experiencing homelessness, particularly youths. I volunteer and speak to community members for My Friend’s Place, a homeless youth organization in Hollywood that works tirelessly to provide low barrier care to homeless youth.

Additionally, one of the nurses at my current hospital is planning to spend her retirement working with homeless youth after reading my book, and feedback like that has kept me moving forward to become a voice for youth who don’t have one. I wasn’t heard as a child, and now I have a seat at the table to speak loudly and clearly for safety and healing for these youth.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sheryl, HINDSIGHT is such a powerful and personal story and I could probably ask questions all day, but I want to know what I didn’t ask that you want to share and also did I hear that HINDSIGHT is going to be made into a movie?

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

I am currently working with a producer on this project. I have been taking screenwriting classes with UCLA Extension and I completed a draft (that will probably be changed a million more times) that the producer is currently reviewing. I have high hopes for sharing this story with anyone who is willing to listen. I am willing to be as vulnerable as I need to be to help these youth.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Sheryl, thank you thank you for this! One more question: what are you reading now?

Sheryl Recinos, M.D.:

I am reading a few books, in addition to every article I can get my hands on about COVID-19. This pandemic is incredibly stressful for those of us on the frontlines.

My current books:

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

To connect with Sheryl Recincos, M.D. via social media, or to purchase a copy of HINDSIGHT, please see:

Order Links:

~BOOK CONCEIRGE~

I found similarities between themes and style of HINDSIGHT and others, particularly Jeanette Walls’s THE GLASS CASTLE (dysfunctional family, homelessness, mental illness), meets EDUCATED (Tara Westover), along with Rene Denfeld’s exploration of childhood homelessness in THE BUTTERFLY GIRL, some similarities between HINDSIGHT and IN THE SHADOW OF THE VALLEY (Bobi Conn). 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Sheryl Recinos is a mother, wife, author, and family medicine physician in Los Angeles, California. She is an advocate for youth everywhere, particularly youth who have experienced childhood trauma. She volunteers at My Friend’s Place and serves on their Emerging Leaders Council. She also volunteers with numerous medical and advocacy projects, locally and abroad.

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ABOUT YOUR HOST: 

Leslie Lindsay is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012) and former Mayo Clinic child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. She is at work on a memoir. Her writing & prose poetry has been published in Pithead ChapelCommon Ground ReviewCleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Ruminate’s The WakingBrave Voices Literary MagazineManifest-Station, Coffin Bell Journal, and others. Her cover art was featured on Up the Staircase Quarterly in May 2020, other photography in Another Chicago Magazine (ACM) and Brushfire Literature & Arts Journal; CNF in Semicolon Literary Magazine; the 2nd edition of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA will be available late this summer. Leslie has been awarded one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1.

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#memoir #homelessness #teens #homelessteens #abuse #trauma #youth #Hollywood #dysfunction #hope #successstories #bipolar #narcissism #teenrunaways #fostercare #medicalschool #endyouthhomelessness

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[Cover and author image courtesy of S. Recinos and used with permission. Cover art cred: Roxana Recinos. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this @leslielindsay1 @alwayswithabook]