What if a new father came home from the hospital with a newborn, but not a wife? That’s what happens in Pete Fromm’s gorgeous novel, A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO about grief, love, second chances, and old homes

By Leslie Lindsay 

Love, Loss, and oh gosh–an old house–a baby, and so much more in A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO.

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I’m not sure why I haven’t heard of Pete Fromm before, but I am so glad I read A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO (Counterpoint Press, May 7 2019). Pete’s a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award and it’s evident why: his writing is perceptive, big-hearted, authentic, and razor-sharp. This book hits on so many of my favorite things: renovating an old house, a baby, and gorgeous writing. Taz and Marnie are crazy in love. They are living in a fixer-upper with lots of dreams and countless projects. But Taz, a handyman/carpenter/cabinetmaker is a bit too overwhelmed with outside jobs to really give his heart to his own house.

And then there’s a baby on the way–so he better get busy.

Without going into too many plot details, A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO is about throwing out the blueprint for the perfect life and making sense of what’s presented. It’s about joy and heartache, trauma, and resiliency. I absolutely loved the metaphors of the house being like the body, the mind, always a work-in-progress. Lots of great references to homes, architecture, woodworking, and renovations. The prose absolutely sings. There’s love and loss and second chances; touches of nature, and a clear character arc. Plus, wit. Plenty of wit and subtle humor balancing out the tragedy. I loved the journey, the writing and I didn’t really want to leave these characters.

I am so honored to welcome Pete Fromm to the author interview series. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Pete—it’s a pleasure! There’s plenty of well…haunting in this book, but not necessarily in a spooky way. I always think we are sort of haunted into writing. What was it that kept whispering to you to write A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO?

Pete Fromm:

This book started after a friend asked me to read a short story in the now, sadly, defunct Glimmer Train (“The Hospital” by Silas Dent Zobal) which ends with a father leaving the hospital with his baby after his wife died in childbirth.  It was just the right ending for the story, but I thought, man, what a huge story that’s stopping just short of beginning; A young, devastated new father, arriving home, with this stranger, the baby, all his plans in tatters, staring out at the rest of his life, no clue how to put it together, how to even take the first step.  I just couldn’t get the idea of taking that first step out of my mind.

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Photo by Silvia Trigo on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I love, love the fixer-upper touches, the house renovations, the woodworking…all of that. I see the home as a metaphor for our psyche, always a work-in-progress. Do you agree? And also, can you tell us a little of your experience as it pertains to house stuff? Are you handy?

Pete Fromm:

Of course the renovations run parallel with all he has to rebuild in his life, all the decisions that have to be made, all the unexpected you find when you open up a wall; the little disasters, the cool surprises, and, as you caught, the deeper meaning in his psyche, learning every day, having to decide whether to tackle this job or that job or put it all off, or to charge into the next new thing.

As for my own experience, it started when a friend bought a derelict one room school house in Missoula, and I moved in to help with the rugged construction, and then the finer stuff, cabinets, tiling, lighting, self-teaching all the way, taking apart the dry-rotted ten feet tall old double-hung windows, seeing how they were put together, and then rebuilding them using the old fir joists from the false ceiling.  Just a few months earlier, I’d quit working as a park ranger to take a shot at writing full time, and another friend was starting a renovation of a hundred year old house, also in Missoula, and I got an odd call from a contractor, telling me that he’d almost had his bid for this job accepted, but that the owner wouldn’t give him the job unless he hired me.  I, at this time, had exactly zero experience as a carpenter.  So, I called my friend, asked him, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘Well, I figured if you’re going to write for a living, it might be a good thing to learn a trade.’  Sound thinking.  So, I worked as a carpenter for two years, with a tiny company, where we built houses from the ground up, from forming the foundations, to roofing and everything in between.  It was a great crash course, and I still use everything I learned nearly every day as I now restore our own 100 year old Craftsman in Missoula.

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Father’s Day is this weekend and I find this is really a story about fatherhood—neverminding the pregnant belly on the cover—can you shed a little light on how this book resonates with fathers, but also mothers? I’m a mother and all I wanted to do was crawl in those pages and save (sometimes, slap) Taz.

Pete Fromm:

I think if you lump mothers and fathers under the same banner, as parents, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, just at the outset of that journey into parenthood, subtract one of them from the equation, any parent can imagine what that would be like, or, if not quite imagine, see it revealed in Taz’s journey into that world.  Originally, I kept thinking of this as ‘Taz going into parenthood alone,’ but as soon as he took those first few steps, I realized he wasn’t alone.  He had friends, a mother-in-law who shared the same loss, and these people did not vanish along with Marnie, they came together.  I couldn’t imagine it any other way, so the story is, as is most of ours, a story of how we make it through life with the help, support, cajoling of others.


“A tender tale of loss and fatherhood, A Job You Mostly Won’t Know How to Do is a beautiful story about what happens when your village comes to the rescue and gives you a second chance at happiness.”  

–BookPage


Leslie Lindsay:

I really enjoyed Taz’s secret swimming place. Can you describe that for us a bit—I love how water symbolizes birth, renewal, cleansing…maybe even amniotic fluid. Was this location purely fictional, or based on an actual place?

Pete Fromm:

It’s definitely based on a real place, or, more accurately, real places, a kind of amalgam of a few favorite spots of mine.  I’ve always loved swimming, and having been a swimmer in college, spending hundreds and hundreds of hours plying back and forth over that black line on the bottom of a pool, there’s little I love more than swimming outdoors, lakes, rivers, anywhere.  Rivers here give the added attraction of current, swimming into it, seeing how far you can go before being pushed back, and then huge eddies where the river turns bends, or rushes around obstacles.  There you can rest, circle around, be buoyed by the reversing current.  So, a favorite swimming hole on the Selway River, and another on a fork of the Blackfoot River, merged into one, calmer than the Selway’s, but more isolated than the Blackfoot’s, a place Taz could find privacy, sanctuary, a place he could take Marnie and then Midge, find the aloneness that strengthens their connections.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I love, love where the title comes from. Can you talk a bit about that, please? And yes—it’s so very true and yet, we do it anyway.

Pete Fromm:

The poet Joe Millar is a very good friend of mine, and his poem “American Wedding” struck me the first time I heard him read it, particularly this bit;

When the groom lifts the veil from her

delicate temples, I’m thinking someone

should warn them: a future of funerals, car

payments, taxes, kids throwing up in the night.

It’s a job you mostly won’t know how to do,

your naked arm deep in a jammed kitchen sink,

burnt rinds of eggplant, crazily adrift.

The whole idea of that careful and realistic consideration of what lives hold in store for all of us, but at the time when it’s all supposed to be romance and joy and setting forth as a couple, just sparked something in me, and maybe most of all that line, ‘a job you mostly won’t know how to do.’  It kept calling, almost as an instruction manual for the book itself, from the very first paragraphs of the first draft, and I used it as a working title, thinking no editor on the planet would let me keep it, that it’s too many words, the words all too short, impossible for anyone to remember, or roll off, but, over the years of working and reworking the story, it stuck, and I grew a little possessive.  And, of course, the editor who bought the book, the wonderful Dan Smetanka at Counterpoint, in his first batch of editorial notes, wrote, ‘and let’s rethink the title.’  But in the end, after we’d worked over the mss [maunscript] for months, Dan agreed that it was in its own way, a perfect fit, so, against all odds, it stuck.

Leslie Lindsay:

Pete, is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Like, what you’re writing next? Your summer plans…what you had for lunch…how you keep the saw sharp?

Pete Fromm:

Summer plans?  Sheesh.  As I write this, my duffle is out by the door, ready to be loaded into the car, as I set off on the book tour.  After ten days in the Pacific Northwest, I fly to France for three weeks of touring there, for an earlier novel, IF NOT FOR THIS, or, more accurately, MON DÉSIR LE PLUS ARDENT, then I return to Montana and, the next day, resume the U.S. tour, catch my breath in August by finishing the shop I’m building, then return to France for the European release of A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO (LA VIE EN CHANTIER) in September and October.  Then, finally, I’ll spend the winter building cabinets and windows for the last push on our own house, just like Taz’s, the kitchen and bathroom.

These are, of course, all excellent problems to have, but what I’m writing next is tapping on my shoulder already, asking for a bit of attention.  By winter it will be tugging on my whole arm, shouting for it.

Leslie Lindsay:

It’s been a joy. Thank you, Pete! And Happy Father’s Day.

Pete Fromm:

Thank you! 

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of A JOB YOU MOSTLY WON’T KNOW HOW TO DO, please visit: 

ORDER LINKS: 

5cd701739d632.imageABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pete Fromm is a five-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Literary Award for his novels If Not For ThisAs Cool As I Am and How All This Started; the story collection Dry Rain; and the memoir Indian Creek Chronicles. He is on the faculty of Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, and lives in Montana with his family.

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

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#literaryfiction #carpenters #Fatherhood #fathers #daughters #oldhomes #grief #renovations

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Counterpoint Press and used with permission. Author photo credit: Emmanuel Romer. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.] 

Dreams, creativity, the plasticity of children, plus child endangerment, not ‘meaning’ to write a novel, and so much more in the stunning new book from Lauren Acampora, THE PAPER WASP

By Leslie Lindsay 

A stunning foray into the brilliant unconscious of one very creative, yet disturbed woman, THE PAPER WASP is about friendship, but equally about art and dreams.

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In 2015, I tore through Lauren Acampora’s debut, THE WONDER GARDEN, a collection of linked short stories which dazzled and intrigued–and yes, unsettled me. I was thrilled to come across her newest book, THE PAPER WASP (June 11, Grove Atlantic), which is her first novel.

Abby Graven is twenty-eight. She lives at home with her mother and father (and maybe older sister, who seems to have some concerns with the law). Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes at her job at a discount store in Michigan. Each day she is taunted by her best friend from school, who made it big as a Hollywood actress. Elise is gorgeous and talented, having escaped the pedantic life of Michigan, she’s the awe of all in her hometown. Abby painstakingly purchases every magazine Elise is featured and constructs collages of her. And then Elise returns for a high school reunion.

This brief encounter stirs up old feelings in Abby and she decides its time to make a hange. She is stunned and warmed Elise still remembers her and so Abby offhandedly makes her way to L.A., where she insinuates herself into Elise’s life.

But there, in L.A., Abby is disillusioned. Elise is floundering professionally. And yet she stays on as Elise’s personal assistant, becoming truly enmeshed in her life. There are dark secrets of ambition, a desire for greatness, and dynamic shifts of creativity. 

Mining the subconscious, Acampora pulls from Abby’s dreamworld a series of vivid descriptions bordering on the surreal. This is what I love. There’s a poetry to this unexpected imagination, an unexpected characterization brimming with subliminal darkness, a thick layer of ominous. Acampora makes me think, makes me question reality, and gives me new facts–through this fictional world–to consider.

There is so much to love in THE PAPER WASP, so much vision and ambition, I can’t help but be in total awe. 

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Lauren, welcome! I am haunted by THE PAPER WASP. When I read, often at night, after a long day, I sometimes <gasp!> fall asleep. And then I have the most vivid dreams. I can’t help but feel a bit like Abby. When I wake, I often have an image, a word, an idea for a story that wasn’t there before. It’s a bit like your Rhizome experience in the book. Can you talk about what was haunting you when you set out to write THE PAPER WASP? And can you tell us about the Rhizome?

Lauren Acampora:

Thank you so much for this interview, Leslie! To answer your question, I’ve long been fascinated by dreams and their psychological ramifications, both what our dreams reveal about our psyches and how they can affect our waking lives. I’ve had vivid dreams that have been so loaded with meaning and emotion that I could almost believe they were real—at least as real as waking life. Some of these dreams have had eerie correlations with real-world events: births, deaths, appearances of old friends. It wasn’t a big leap for me to create a character who believed in the truth of her dreams above the truth of her conscious life. And it wasn’t a stretch to invent the Rhizome, either: a creative institute founded on the power of dreams and imagination. There are already organizations that help people corral their potential via meditation and such, so an institute devoted to the creative power of dreams seemed a natural extension. It was a kick to imagine how such an institute might work, and who would be at the helm.


“An unsettling and surreal excavation of the boundless depths of the human psyche…a piercing, disquieting novel.”

-Publishers Weekly 


As for what was haunting me when I wrote the book, the short answer is: a lot. There’s so much darkness and destruction in the world; terrible things are happening every moment of every day. It’s a miracle that, in the midst of such misery, we’re not all catatonic and unable to function. Living a reasonably sane life necessitates a continual leap of faith in the existence of goodness and light. It also requires plenty of willful ignorance and denial. Some of us have an easier time with this than others, and Abby is a character who can barely cope. She’s able to carry on by retreating into her dreams and her art. In writing this novel, I poured all of my anxiety and despair into her character. There was plenty going on in the world to be anxious and despairing about during that time, and writing the book helped me get through it.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I understand THE PAPER WASP was inspired first by a short story that you expanded. THE WONDER GARDEN (Grove Atlantic, 2015) was exactly that—a series of linked short stories. Is this your typical process—a short story first? How can one build on that scaffold and make a smaller story a full-fledged novel?

Lauren Acampora:

That’s a great question. What’s funny is that I actually didn’t plan to write either of these books! They both sort of happened by accident. THE WONDER GARDEN actually began life as a conventional novel. It was called THE UMBRELLA BIRD and was about two characters, David and Madeleine, whose lives are transformed after they move from New York City to a suburban Connecticut town. I finished the novel but wasn’t thrilled with it. The only way I could rescue the good parts was by condensing them into a short story. All the other stories grew around that one: interlinked stories about neighbors and friends living in the same town. So, in a way, it was the opposite process: novel first, story later.

It’s true that THE PAPER WASP, on the other hand, began life as a short story, which I wrote a long time ago and basically forgot about. A friend who’d read the story mentioned it to me years later, saying she’d always thought it would make an entertaining novel. Once she put that idea into my head, I couldn’t get rid of it. I had just begun work on another novel at the time, and it was giving me a headache. So I indulged myself by putting that book aside in order to play with the characters who become Abby and Elise in THE PAPER WASP. It started out as a fun, breezy experiment but quickly took on a darker, more complex life of its own.

In fact, almost everything about the original story changed. Only the original scenario—Abby watching Elise’s career skyrocket through the supermarket tabloids—remains. I transplanted that seed and developed it into a novel from scratch, with a different setting and very different characters.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Art is such a big piece of THE PAPER WASP. Being a visual artist is mined from the subconscious, being a performing artist might be, too—individuals must ‘try on’ different personas, characters, and of course, movies are highly visual. Can you talk about the role of art in this story? And oh my gosh—your husband’s art—totally immersive and unsettling. Do you work in tandem? Does he influence you and vice versa?

Lauren Acampora:

Creating art is Abby’s life raft. Inking her detailed visions onto paper is what gives her life meaning, and endeavoring to share these visions with others is what gives her life purpose. She attempts to fashion an alternative reality for herself through her art. The same is true for me, and I’d venture to say most any artist and writer you can find. And just as art provides a necessary outlet for her, Abby believes it provides a crucial escape for others: a respite from the world’s unrelenting brutality. The character of Paul, on the other hand, considers art to be an important catalyst for human empathy and understanding—a challenge rather than an escape. He and Abby are at cross purposes here, but they are both right.

Thomas and I don’t work in tandem, although we often both work at home at the same time; he’s upstairs and I’m downstairs. I don’t think we intentionally influence each other, but our work has certainly converged thematically. This is likely because we draw from the same well of experience and inspiration. Or perhaps it’s because we’ve always shared a similar vision of the world, and this is what brought us together in the first place. Most likely it’s both.

When I first met Thomas, he was creating miniature dioramas featuring a solo man undertaking perilous physical challenges, blocked off from scenes of domestic calm. After we started dating, he began creating scenes of couples isolated from the world. After we moved into our house in the suburbs, he began creating scenes of houses torn apart by tornadoes and falling into sinkholes. More recently he’s been making scenes of military warfare in suburban neighborhoods. I don’t think there’s any question that Thomas also pours his anxieties into his art. Maybe that’s why we “get” each other and live very peacefully.

(P.S. You can see his work at www.thomasdoyle.net.)

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Leslie Lindsay:

Just recently, I was reminded about the obscurity of reading. We sit and look at slices of trees with symbols while hallucinating wildly. So, this begs my next question: is Abby mentally ill?

Lauren Acampora:

I played around with this question quite a bit as I wrote the book, approaching it differently in different drafts. Ultimately I chose to let Abby’s mental health remain undefined, ambiguous. Rather than giving a definitive answer, I wanted to prompt the reader to consider the nature of sanity for him or herself. Mental and emotional health is such a complex realm, with fuzzy definitions and delineations of pathology. It can be difficult to objectively judge mental health. Mental illness does not always lend itself to a black-and-white diagnosis but can be more like a spectrum. There’s also a philosophical argument to be made for the sanity of insanity, given the mad nature of the world and of the human condition. As the poet Theodore Roethke wrote:

“What’s madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance?”

Leslie Lindsay:

Motherhood is examined in a unique manner. It’s darker, more unexpected. There’s this concept about children sort of being ‘blank slates’ when it comes to creativity and art, with perhaps the idea that as they grow, they lose their ability to create. Can you talk more about that?

Lauren Acampora:

The book is deeply concerned with child endangerment, which is something that haunts Abby. Children are being victimized in so many ways at the moment: through violence in Central America, mistreatment at the U.S. border, and neglect due to the opioid epidemic in this country. Abby is acutely aware of these nightmares—and also of the subtler ways in which children are steadily ground down and diminished by the expectations of our society. As a nonconformist who’s nearly been defeated by adulthood, she considers herself a kind of champion of children and their creative spirit.

When I became a parent, I was so taken by my daughter’s absolute newness, her openness to the possibilities of the world. With each passing day, as she learned the functions and names of things, those possibilities narrowed. It seemed a small tragedy that her wide universe of pure potential had to shrink down to the confines of quotidian life. Of course, this has to happen; children have to learn how the world works—that rocks aren’t food and people can’t fly—in order to survive. An infant is born with a surfeit of neural connections, which must be trimmed to a manageable number. The connections that prove useful are solidified and strengthened, and the others are disbanded. This is why learning foreign languages is so much harder as we get older, and why it becomes so difficult to change habits and routines as we age. In short, young people are by nature more cognitively flexible—and wildly creative. As adults, our neural pathways have largely become atrophied into ruts, and childhood is a long-lost paradise of creativity. Abby sees childhood as a rich but fragile gift. She has a strong maternal instinct in that she wants to protect this gift as well as she can.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us a bit about you—maybe some facts people might not know?

Lauren Acampora:

I always wanted to be a writer when I was a child, but I started out writing poetry and didn’t turn to fiction until I was in my late twenties. It took years to find the confidence to write fiction—years to even finish a short story. After much practice, stories are a real pleasure to write now, but the novel form doesn’t come easily for me. I do think that my background in poetry—its careful word choices and rhythms—has proven a good foundation for my writing. There is a music to it, a cadence, that I still hear in my sentences.

Speaking of creativity in childhood, I think my daughter may possess this ear for rhythmic language. She’ll make up songs on the spot with made-up words and complex time signatures. Of course, she has the benefit of all those flexible neural connections! It’s hard to keep my own brain limber, but I try. If I didn’t write, it would become a solid lump of clay. I’m a big believer in the importance of having a creative pursuit, whether it’s a profession or a hobby—and whether it’s art, writing, gardening, woodworking, or underwater basket weaving. I think creativity is what keeps us young, or at least afloat.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Lauren, this has been a delight. Thank you, thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Lauren Acampora:

I think we’ve covered a lot of ground! One thing you may be interested to know is that the first spark for the book came to me while standing in line to buy groceries in the supermarket. I was staring at the tabloid magazine covers—all those glamorous movie stars photographed on the rise (gorgeously) and on the decline (scandalously)—and began imagining characters who became Abby and Elise. It just goes to show that ideas can come at any time, from any place.

Thank you for your insightful reading and excellent questions! It’s been a real pleasure.

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Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE PAPER WASP, please visit: 

Order links: 

Acampora author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lauren Acampora is the author of the new novel The Paper Wasp,named a Best Summer Read by The New York Times Book Review and Publishers Weekly; and The Wonder Garden, which was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers and Indie Next selection, and named a best book of the year by Amazon and NPR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

#literaryfiction #dreams #creativity #motherhood #art #authorinterview 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Grove Atlantic and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this. Image of house under glass titled, ‘Tremble’ retrieved from T. Doyle’s website on 5.29.19].

 

Does lightening strike twice? Sometimes. Here, Nancy Freund Bills talks about this, healing after loss, complicated grief, and so much more in her award-winning memoir, THE RED RIBBON

By Leslie Lindsay 

Clear, incisive memoir about death, grief, and the power to survive, THE RED RIBBON is a tender and tragic exploration of one woman’s experience. 

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Memoir has such power to shape and inform and this is why it’s one of my very favorite genres. THE RED RIBBON opens with author Nancy Freund Bills’s experience growing up in Montana–the rolling hills, the great expanse of sky, and yet, those out-of-the-blue tragic storms that swept in from the west.

And then, many years later, in 1994, Nancy, now a New Englander, is notified that her son, Teddy, and recently-separated husband, Geoff, are caught in a freak thunderstorm. They have both been hit by lightning, one survives. This staggering news shocks and makes its way throughout several newspapers, affecting locals and family alike.

But THE RED RIBBON isn’t just about this horrific accident.
It’s about navigating the effects of grief. It’s about family and culture, customs, and the past. Nancy not only loses her husband, but also her father, later her mother, and mother-in-law. She goes through a series of relationships, and struggles to find meaning in this seemingly senseless act–that is a true rare occurrence.

The writing is pellucid, uplifting, and healing. Many of the chapters are short, and gorgeously written, could stand alone (and some have–as award-winning essays in literary journals). Bills weaves that red ribbon throughout them all, tying together heartfelt reflection on bereavement, and also coming through on the other side. 

Please join me in welcoming Nancy Freund Bills to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Nancy, welcome! I am so struck with this story. Both your son and your husband are hit by lightning in a freak thunderstorm. Can you set the scene for us?

Nancy Freund Bills:

On July 23, 1994, the day that my husband and younger son were hit by lightning, I was living in our family home in a town halfway between Concord and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That morning I hugged and kissed my son as he loaded up his sea-kayak. I called my husband and offered him raspberries when he came to cut the grass. (He and I had been married for twenty-six years; for the last four months, we had been separated.) Later in the day, I drove up to Cape Elizabeth on the southern coast of Maine to help my brother-in-law and sister-in-law move into their summer/retirement home. It was a beautiful day with no hint of the freak thunder and lightning storm that struck farther down the coast where my husband and son were kayaking. I didn’t learn that my husband and son had been hit by lightning until 3:00 am, the morning of July 24.

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Leslie Lindsay:

This news is simply staggering. You list some statistics in THE RED RIBBON about the likelihood of being struck my lightening. It typically happens in Florida or Texas, to young men between the ages of 15-19 years old, and in the summer months. There’s more, too…and you’ll have to remind me. But your son was twenty. Your husband forty-eight, and this was in Maine. Are you still scratching your head on that?

Nancy Freund Bills:

Yes, it is still almost unreal to imagine members of my family being hit by lightning.

Lightning has so many associations—Biblical, mystical, mythical. I am still wondering what it means that my husband was killed by lightning and that my younger son was spared. As I write in my chapter, “The Myth,” I would like to make sense of the event by believing that my husband sacrificed his life to save my son.

Leslie Lindsay:

You talk about your need to write THE RED RIBBON within the narrative—and I think this is often the case—because we sometimes are just so haunted, so propelled with a certain story. Can you share a bit of your writing journey? I especially like the writing retreat…

Nancy Freund Bills:

Writing has been helpful to me in recovering from my grief. Like many people who are grieving a loss, anniversaries of the “lightning accident” have been particularly difficult. In my chapter, “Stone House,” I describe my response when on the seventh anniversary of “the accident,” the leader of a summer workshop began by declaring, “Sometimes, lightning strikes. It strikes, and a writer has no choice. He or she has been chosen to write.”  I remember feeling blindsided, not having words to respond. And yes, I believe that I was chosen to write about my experiences. And once I began, I couldn’t stop.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Memoir…oh! It’s tough. What did you learn about yourself as you wrote? Because every book should teach you something but also the reader.

Nancy Freund Bills:  

Writing and sharing my memoir have taught me so much. It was initially a surprise that complete strangers were moved to tears by my words and that they wanted to hug me. Sometimes, my stories, like “Planting Iris,” even make my readers laugh, and that is the best! My readers describe my book in ways that I can’t; they are convinced that my book can be helpful to others. My story is unique, even quirky, but I have learned that it touches readers’ minds and hearts. I love that capacity of mine; it’s worthy of respect, and I can hardly take credit for it. When THE RED RIBBON received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, it taught me that my writing is a special gift. Being called “a talented author,” was transforming.


“…a heartfelt story of love and loss, rendered in clear and beautiful prose. Its music will resonate in your heart long after you’re finished reading.”
―Richard Cass, 2018 Maine Literary Award Winner


Leslie Lindsay:

I wanted to talk about the concept of ‘complicated grief.’ You and Geoff were estranged–separated–when the accident occurred. I think I understand this because I was estranged from my mother when she died by suicide. First, can you give us a little background in terms of your marriage? And also, what exactly doesn’t ‘complicated grief’ entail?

Nancy Freund Bills:

I am sorry to hear about your mother’s death.

Complicated grief is more of a descriptive concept than a clinical one. For many years, the grieving were expected to recover within a year. Now, many experts understand that the loss of a loved one is complex and that each response is unique. Families, workplaces, and medical and mental health professionals all need to respect the needs of the grieving. In my case, my grief was complicated because my husband and I were estranged at the time of his death. The grief process is complicated by a wide range of factors. They all deserve compassion.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a former psychiatric social worker/psychotherapist, so grief is really no stranger to you. How did your work prepare you for this? Or did it? And how might you guide someone through freshly experienced grief?

Nancy Freund Bills:

Many of my patients over the years came to me because of losses, because they were grieving. It is ironic that I had so much experience helping patients recover from losses—the loss of innocence, the loss of love, the loss of identity. I do believe that my experience helped me on an intellectual and behavioral level; I knew I needed to go to work, to go to a bereavement group, and to avoid situations that would trigger difficult emotions. All of that helped, but I couldn’t prepare for the unexpected, and I would never have imagined how long grief could last. I try to help support friends who have profound losses, but I feel inadequate to take on a major role. These days, I leave that to others.

Leslie Lindsay:

You have to tell us about Teddy now. I know there’s a brief epilogue in the book, but we need more! What does he think about the book?

Nancy Freund Bills:

My readers have expressed a welcome concern for my younger son who is named Teddy in THE RED RIBBON. I tried to reassure them in my “Afterword” that he has recovered from his injuries and gone on with his life. Within five years after the “accident,” he completed his undergraduate degree, and he ran in a marathon. He went on to graduate school to become a P.A., a  physician’s assistant, and to work in a children’s hospital emergency room.  Now married and with children, his life appears normal, but he still has no memory of one critical week of his life. I believe my book has filled in some details for him; he has been wonderfully supportive and plans to go to a book reading with me. (We will read and discuss “Triage and Cows,” a story about him.) He says that one of these days he hopes to write a book about his experiences. That really pleases me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Nancy, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Nancy Freund Bills:

I want to share that writing has been a healing experience, one I value and recommend. Leslie, I appreciate your articulate questions about THE RED RIBBON.  Your enthusiasm for memoir writing and my memoir is so infectious. Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview.

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For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE RED RIBBON, please visit: 

Order links: 

NancyBills_color blmABOUT THE AUTHORAward-winning writer Nancy Freund Bills, MS, MSW, is currently on the faculty of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine, OLLI/USM, where she facilitates the fiction writing workshop. She is also a retired clinical social worker; during her twenty-year-long career, she served both as a psychiatric social worker and a psychotherapist. Her full length memoir, The Red Ribbon, A Memoir of Lightning and Rebuilding After Loss, has received a Kirkus star from Kirkus Reviews; the review concluded that The Red Ribbon is “a keeper of a book by a talented author.” The Myth,” a chapter in Bills’ memoir, received first place in the memoir/personal essay category of the 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition. Her memoir, fiction, and poetry have been published in Reflections, The Maine Review, The LLI Review, The Goose River Anthology, and in The 83rd Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition Collection. A member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance (MWPA), Bills lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, with her two Maine Coon cats. Find her online at nancybillsmemoir.com.

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

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[Cover and image courtesy of Caitlin Hamilton Marketing and used with permission. Author photo credit: Julia Bishop. Artistic image of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Find more like this on Instagram @leslielindsay1]

Mary Beth Keane tackles mental illness, estrangement, family, and more in her searingly good family saga, ASK AGAIN YES, spanning generations

By Leslie Lindsay 

What does it mean to forgive? That’s the overarching question of this blistering good family saga encompassing friendship, love, mental illness, violence, estrangement, and more.

Aerial View Of Residential Houses In Suburban Neighborhood, New Jersey, USA

I love this book, ASK AGAIN, YES (Scribner, May 28 2019) by Mary Beth Keane, a stunningly ambitious novel of epic proportions, spanning the lives of two families over 40 years. Plus, oh, my gosh—that cover—which could be just about Anywhere, USA. Or Anywhere, Period.

Mary Beth Keane is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and author of the highly acclaimed novels THE WALKING PEOPLE and FEVER (optioned for screen by Elisabeth Moss)—and also one I happened to love.

In ASK AGAIN, YES, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope are rookie cops in the NYPD. They live outside the city in cozy suburban area in the 1970s where they’re married and starting young families. But—each home has different stories. There’s the Gleesons—fresh from Ireland and the Stanhopes with a bit of instability, grief, and more, setting fertile ground for an explosive neighborly connection.

This is a gorgeous book in scope and practice—begging questions of forgiveness, past mistakes, family bonds, and those mundane, ordinary everyday moments that at first glance seem segmented, fragile, but also make momentous explosions in the grand scheme.

The writing is razor-sharp, perceptive, and moves powerfully through the narrative in a sweeping arc, covering so much ground. I am in awe.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Mary Beth Keane to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary Beth, it is such a pleasure and delight. Thank you for taking the time. I love this book. It has a haunting, melancholic feel and it’s so perceptive. What was your ‘jumping off’ point for ASK AGAIN, YES?

Mary Beth Keane:

Thank YOU for reading and for having me! I agree that it’s melancholic, but redemptive, too, I hope. I don’t mind a sad book. I love them, in fact. But in my own reading these last few years I find myself craving an undercurrent of hope, and that’s what I tried to keep my eye on while I was writing.

I always begin with a single character, usually in motion. There’s a scene in this book where two main characters, Kate and Peter, find a grasshopper together as kids. I knew they’d still be in each others’ lives as adults but it took me a long time to figure out how, exactly. One of the things I thought a lot while writing this book was whether knowing someone as a child means knowing their truest selves. We learn to hide so much as adults. Kids really KNOW each other.

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Leslie Lindsay:

There are so many real-life issues in ASK AGAIN, YES—and I think that’s what makes it shine. It’s fiction, but oh—how there’s truth in fiction. It’s authentic. These characters will stay with me for a long time. Can you give us a peek behind the curtain—who are these characters? Were they based on a kernel of those close to you?

Mary Beth Keane:

Perhaps kernels picked up from here and there, but really not more than that. My husband was estranged from his parents for a long time, and had a particularly difficult relationship with his mother, though I know he loved her. That estrangement was something I thought was well behind us by the time we married, had our children, but it’s always there. Even now, eight years after his mother’s death. A mother and father are always the people who made us, and even when they’re not in our lives they’re in our lives, if that makes sense. We got married young, despite a lot of objections (like Kate and Peter) but we thought we’d triumphed over the cards we were dealt. What we didn’t realize at 20, 25, 30, was that we still have to play those same cards for the rest of our lives. The things that happen to all of us as kids have reverberations for the rest of our lives, and writing this book was my way of deciding whether I think a person can ever get past his or her own history.

The other things – struggles with alcoholism, mental illness, even just the idea of openness about what we want and feel – yes, those come from life. I think I hit age forty and realized that the day is never going to come when I know what I’m doing. None of us never really know what we’re doing, or so it seems to me. That’s both scary and exhilarating. We’re all just trying our best.

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Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

So many themes in ASK AGAIN, YES are ‘hot topics,’ but the one I connected with most has to do with mental instability. I saw myself in Peter Stanhope in many ways—a daughter of a mother with a severe mental illness. It seems mental illness appears in more and more fiction (or maybe I just happen upon them serendipitously). Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about how this found its way into the narrative? Also, did you know May is maternal mental health awareness month?

Mary Beth Keane:

I didn’t know May is mental health awareness month until this May. That’s the sort of thing social media is good for, and I’m glad to know that.

Some of seeds of this story are deeply personal, either for me or for people close to me. Mental illness runs in my family, like it does so many families, and certainly in my extended friend network I’ve known people who have really, truly suffered. People who are still suffering. My parents (and my husband’s parents) are Irish immigrants, and perhaps because those stories are the ones I’m most familiar with, it seems to me that the Irish get hit particularly hard in this department. In the 1960s, 1970s, 80s… there was so little recourse for a person who needed help. Where could a person go? A working class person who had maybe not been to college, didn’t know where to even find the kind of medical help he or she needed. A lot of Irish ended up going to priests, and I think recent revelations have taught us how helpful that probably was. Not only was there no assistance available (mostly), but the people who sought help were stigmatized to a degree that’s almost unimaginable today.

I had a person in my life who was terrifying to me as young teenager. She hated me, used to harass me, I was terrified of her. Anne is largely based on that person and at first I made her a villain, because that’s how I thought of her when I was growing up. But as I kept writing, especially when I was inside her point of view, I realized how much she must have been suffering, and she ended up being the character I had the most sympathy for.

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Photo by Michael Tuszynski on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As I’m reading, I detected some similarities between some of my favorite authors and books—J. Courtney Sullivan for the sprawling Irish family, Celeste Ng for the suburban connection, the secrets; a bit of Caroline Leavitt’s style, and also Katharine Weber’s STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY, about a terrible accident. Also, Lynda Cohen Loigman’s THE WARTIME SISTERS. I’m curious, how you keep the saw sharp, who—or what—you look to for inspiration?

Mary Beth Keane:

Great question. I read widely and constantly to keep myself on track. I don’t usually abandon books midway but if something is so-so I’ll power through it quickly and sort of forget it. When something is good – there’s nothing like it. I’ve read Elizabeth Strout’s books with goosebumps up and down my arms. Louise Erdrich  is another favorite. Mohsin Hamid. Peter Carey. Elena Ferrante. I read a lot of debut novels, too. And poetry. I really believe that everything comes down to sentences. Making them sharp and right and lining one after another in the right order and rhythm, choosing the right detail, making sure that every single line does a job of some sort, earns its right to be there. Because it’s not a beauty pageant. Nothing is allowed to be there simply because it sounds good. When I feel I’m starting to be a bit lazy, I stop writing for a day or two and I read. Poets are really the best at this, paring whatever they want to convey back to individual words and turns of phrase. I read “The Continuous Life” by Mark Strand almost every day while writing this book. It’s taped to the inside of the kitchen cabinet where I store my coffee mugs.


“I devoured this astonishing tale of two families linked by chance, love, and tragedy. Mary Beth Keane gives us characters so complex and alive that I find myself still thinking of them days after turning the final page. A must-read.”

—J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Saints for All Occasions


Leslie Lindsay:

Because ASK AGAIN, YES revolves around some weighty issues, a giant span of time, multiple characters, and even more…I am curious what challenges you found when writing? And how did you overcome them?

Mary Beth Keane:

Oh God. I can’t even begin to answer this question in a timely manner. To put it in perspective, I write about 1000 words a day, roughly five days a week. I spent 4 years writing this book (with some off periods, granted) but I ended up with a 400 page book. 140,000 words, roughly. That’s A LOT of discarded pages. I abandoned the book twice: once for just a week or two, but the second time for a whole summer. I struggled with the structure of this book for YEARS. At some points I began in the middle of the story and sort of drew in backstory as I went. For a long time I began where the book ends now, and wrote it as sort of a loop. In the first draft, I wrote about 150 pages in the first person, from Kate’s point of view, but it felt like writing while wearing a straightjacket. Every option resulted in the present of the action getting bogged down with flashback. I’m okay with flashback when I barely notice it in something I read. But if half a book is flashback, why not just go back there and live there for a bit? Set a scene THERE instead of some future time full of nostalgia and rumination. So ultimately I realized the best way to tell this story was chronologically, for the most part. There is some flashback but only to enrich and shine a light on whatever the characters are thinking in the present.

I also find so much of writing a story is gut instinct. When I felt myself itching to be with a character, I went to that character. When I felt myself growing bored as I was writing, I told myself the reader would feel bored, too, and I ditched it. I think fiction writers in particular have to listen to their bodies as they go. It’s not a logical pursuit. I made zero effort to keep stage time even between the main characters. I think the evenness readers feel comes with weight (or something), not necessarily time on the page.

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 Leslie Lindsay:

What is a typical writing day like for you?

Mary Beth Keane:

During the school year my day is very regimented. I usually wake up early – around 5:15 – and workout. I find running or cycling goes really well with writing. When I get home I get my kids up and out to school (they’re ten and eight). Once they get on that bus I write for a few hours, usually until around 1:00 or 2:00. After that I answer emails or follow up on things I owe people or am supposed to be doing. I have to be really protective of that schedule because I work from home, in the town where I grew up, and if I loosen my grip even a little, next thing people are stopping by, expecting me to chat on the phone, etc. My mother suggests I go to Costco with her almost every day, and every day I disappoint her by saying no. Once the kids get home I switch into domestic mode when I can. That’s when I close my laptop and catch up on laundry, unload the dishwasher, that kind of thing. The kids do their homework, I shuttle them to their activities. Often at night I read over what I wrote that morning and make small tweaks.

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Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a bit of obsession in ASK AGAIN, YES. There’s Peter and Kate’s relationship, the situation with the neighbors, the addiction, and more. What’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Mary Beth Keane:

I can’t tell you what I’m obsessed with now, Leslie! But I do agree that there is obsession in this book. No one else has said that. I think I get obsessed with certain topics, or ideas, or people, and often that means I’m on my way to a new book.

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary Beth, it’s been such an honor. Thank you, thank you. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Mary Beth Keane:

Not that I can think of–thank you!

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For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of ASK AGAIN, YES, please see: 

Order Links: 

Author Photo Select 2 FINALABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Beth Keane attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA. In 2011, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35,” and in 2015 she was awarded a John S. Guggenheim fellowship for fiction writing. She currently lives in Pearl River, New York with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of The Walking PeopleFever, and Ask Again, Yes.

 

 

 

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

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

Erika Swyler talks about her stunning, introspective novel about fathers and daughters, space, time, the oddity–but intelligence–of Florida, plus her favorite planet in A LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Shivers of wonder, a coming-of-age tale of science-fiction, that is at once introspective and speculative, LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS will transform and mesmerize.

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From the bestselling author of THE BOOK OF SPECULATION (2015), I was intrigued to dive into Erika Swyler’s second book, LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS (May 7 2019). Delightfully imaginative, and not quite like anything I’ve read before, this is the story of Nedda Pappas, her love of science, space, her father, and so much more.

Set in dual-time periods, 1986 and some not-so-distant future, LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS is a literary slant on science fiction. Nedda is 11 years old in 1986, when the Challenger erupts and her beloved astronaut hero, Judy Resick becomes carbon, atoms, dust…she can barely go on. What happened to those astronauts? Are they still ‘out there,’ have they become light and energy and warmth? Nedda loves her father, a laid-off NASA scientist fiercely. But her father is struggling with his own demons, a secret he and Nedda’s mother chose to keep from Nedda.

Nedda has a best friend, Denny, a mother whom she doesn’t entirely connect with, and a dream to be an astronaut. Yet, she has so many questions and worries and concerns. Why is her father so intent on keeping her young? And what is this secret? Nedda eventually becomes the astronaut she always wanted to be–and a good piece of LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS is set in the future, on a space shuttle, on an unnamed planet.


“Grand in scope and graceful in execution, Swyler’s latest is at once a wistfully nostalgic coming-of-age tale and a profound work of horror-tinged science fiction.”

 ~Kirkus Reviews, starred review


The writing is poetic, insightful, and reflective, bringing up big issues about transformation, space-time travel, childhood, parent-child relationships, even environmentalism. There’s truly something for everyone in this incredibly ambitious and well-researched, deliciously written novel.

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Erika, I am so taken with the departure of sorts you’ve made from your first book, THE BOOK OF SPECULATION to this one, LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS. Both are gorgeously written, but your first is more ‘ancient,’ that is, it deals with an old book, a traveling circus, the ocean, a librarian, a family curse…and LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS is about space, astronauts, orange groves, but there’s also family. One we create and one we are given. Can you talk about your inspiration for LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS?

Erika Swyler:

I think most of my writing is focused on figuring out where we’ve come from and where we’re going. To me, this book doesn’t feel like a departure, but I understand readers might find the shape it takes to be wildly different. Still, both books hinge on the idea that people often do terrible things out of love. I also see science and the arts as being inextricably intertwined, so again, I think it’s approaching the same concepts from a different side. This time I wanted to play with how we each experience time, how for children it drags, but for parents watching children grow up it moves too quickly. The most important relationships in our lives start out at odds over something we have no control over: how time passes.

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Leslie Lindsay:

So this is a pretty science-heavy novel. In fact, I like science and found some of it over my head. Nedda is a bright 11-year old and I love that about her. How about you—and your interest in science? What was your research like?

Erika Swyler:

I grew up around science and art, so I never found either intimidating. My father worked at a national lab and my mother was an artist, and both pushed the idea that I could and should try everything. Science and the art asks a lot of the same questions, “What is this and how does it work?” Science is rooted in curiosity about the world, and you can’t be a writer and not be curious. I think we let ourselves get intimidated too easily. When you read a book and come across a passage that’s in another language, you can do one of two things; you can skip the passage and know that it’s not meant for you, or you can look it up and try to make sense of it. Both options are valid. Approaching science in fiction isn’t any different.

The research was fun! We tend to fetishize novelists’ research, but I promise I didn’t get a doctorate in chemistry or astrophysics. I wrote what I needed something to do, then went back and looked for the science that either did that thing or could serve as a jumping off point. NASA is extraordinarily accessible. If you want to find the second-by-second breakdown of what happens during a shuttle launch, there are talks on it all over the web. The research on location was far more hands on. I visited Kennedy Space Center to refresh my sense of the size of things, and to see kids actively loving space. I spent time along the Space Coast to develop my sense of place and culture. Everything else was just reverse engineering.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I completely recall the Challenger disaster of 1986. It seems like the 1980s was a big time for space…people wearing reflective running shoes, neon and eating astronaut meals from silver pouches, do you remember that? The Challenger acts as a sort of springboard to many of the themes within LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS. Can you talk about that, please? 

Erika Swyler:

Space was everywhere in the 1980s. The orbiter vehicles made it reachable, and NASA’s astronaut classes were becoming more inclusive. It started to feel like space travel could be for all of us. I was in first grade when the Challenger disaster happened, and I watched it in class. My memory of it is hazy, so I viewed archival footage, read transcripts, and hunted down stories from people who remembered more clearly what that moment of watching was like. For many kids it was the first real exposure they had to death and it was a televised group experience. People had grown accustomed to the idea that shuttles were safe, so it was a breaking of trust and an end to a kind of innocence. There is a faulty idea that childhood must be a safe, protected thing. In reality it’s a series of breaks in trust, both small and large—with our parents, our schooling, with society, with our bodies—and it has to be, or we’d never grow into functional adults. I wanted to start with a moment where we all experienced a break in trust, one that affected some people profoundly, and others not at all.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Also, Florida. Many of us have ill-conceived ideas of the state. We often think of it as a ‘vacation place,’ but not much more. And sometimes, you hear of some pretty bird-brained things happening there. But there’s also NASA and Space School (oh how I wanted to win a trip to space school–from my time on Double-Dare, of course!) Can you talk about these misconceptions?

Erika Swyler:

I lived in Florida for a time in my twenties, and I love it passionately. It entertains us and scares us because it’s a microcosm of the whole country. Some of our most brilliant minds live right alongside people who call the police because their drive-thru order wasn’t right. There’s weird wildlife. It’s impossible to describe succinctly because each section of the state has its own art and culture. It’s not a place the rest of the country thinks of as having a ton of history, and yet there’s St. Augustine. But there’s incredible intellectualism in Florida. Some of our best writers, past and present, have called Florida home. Lauren Groff, Hemingway, and Zora Neale Hurston come to mind. It’s tempting to focus on Florida’s weirdness, which does exist, but it’s more interesting to ask why does all this art, science, and weird news come out of this place? I think it’s got everything to do with the physical environment. The weather is perfect for space science and the climate is fodder for the imagination.

Leslie Lindsay:

Finally, there’s a good bit of environmentalism in LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS. The sky is different. The crops aren’t getting the water and sunlight they need. There are junkyards…was this intentional on your part? Or, maybe that was just my read?

Erika Swyler:

I think you can’t make honest work in contemporary fiction without confronting the climate crisis. Every relationship is impacted by it. Even my last book dealt with erosion in shore communities. To write from place is to understand how ecosystems change over time and affect who and what lives there. That’s food supply, water, shelter, everything that makes daily living. The environment determines whether characters move quickly or slowly due to weather, what they eat, and how they make their livings. Even writing about people who don’t believe there is a climate crisis is writing about the crisis and its impact. Denial in the face of overwhelming evidence is a character trait. If you’re avoiding it as a writer, you’re missing a good part of the modern psyche. In the US, we’re a few generations into raising kids with the idea that environmentalism is important. It’s a writer’s job to engage with that.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Erika, this has been delightful. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Erika Swyler:

Oh! What’s my favorite planet other than Earth? It’s Pluto! It comes up a bit in the book. There’s pink snow on Pluto, which is kind of perfect and feels like possibility.

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Photo by Madison Inouye on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of A LIGHT FROM OTHER STARS, please see: 

Order links: 

Erika Swyler by Nina SubinABOUT THE AUTHOR: Erika Swyler’s first novel, The Book of Speculation, was one of BuzzFeed’s 24 Best Fiction Books of 2015, one of Amazon’s Best Novels of 2015, and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her writing has appeared in Catapult Story, VIDA, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She lives on Long Island, NY, with her husband and a mischievous rabbit.

 

 

 

 

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

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#literaryfiction #space #comingofage #authorinterview #science #art #environmentalism

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

What happens when you assemble a cast of boisterous, haphazard family members at a wedding? Maybe dysfunction. Leah Hager Cohen talks about this and more in STRANGERS AND COUSINS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Sprawling multi-generational tale weaving contemporary views of love, marriage, family, birth, death, and secrets in a modern language, but with a timeless feel.

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Leah Hager Cohen is the author of ten books, and has been recognized by People Magazine as a “masterful talent,” celebrated for her “keen insight,” (Bustle), and The New York Times says she is “eloquent…stunningly empathetic.”

This is my first read from Leah Hager Cohen and STRANGERS AND COUSINS (Riverhead, May 14 2019) breathes magic into the simple, but not easy Erlend family. Cohen’s prose is glittering. There’s an elegance and timelessness to the way she strings words together, leaving me wholly enraptured. 

Fans of Anne Tyler, Lorna Landvik, Elizabeth Berg, and Ann Packer will delight in this richly rendered tale.

STRANGERS AND COUSINS is about a wedding. But that’s just a small microcosm of the layers and layers of uncomfortable truths in the Erlend family. There’s resistance to change (a new Jewish subgroup is moving into the community threatening a sense of cohesion); an elderly aunt with secrets of her own, a mouse mother trapped in the walls of the family home and her rapidly growing brood, ancestors upon ancestors of offspring; as more and more relatives arrive for the upcoming nuptials, things grow increasingly chaotic.

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Photo by Edward Eyer on Pexels.com

There are collective joys and worries and a rally cry for community but also independence. STRANGERS AND COUSINS has a lot going on; the writing is beautiful, the work intimate and intricate, and the stories of these characters will absolutely resonate.

STRANGERS AND COUSINS is richly layered, with much attention to detail, and Cohen is an absolute wordsmith.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Leah Hager Cohen to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Leah, it’s a pleasure and delight. So…it’s wedding season. And I am wondering if that’s what prompted you into writing STRANGERS AND COUSINS? Was there a question or theme you wanted to explore? What did you learn?

Leah Hager Cohen:

Ha! I didn’t realize at first there’d even be a wedding. I never have any idea what themes I might be writing toward when I begin a book. It always starts with just an image, or something like a blurry snippet of film footage without sound – just the glimmer of a scene that intrigues me. Then I write to discover who these people are, what they’re doing, what led them to this point, and what is happening next. The original image doesn’t necessarily come at the beginning or even wind up in the finished book at all, but in this case it did turn out to be the opening scene: a mother helping one child bathe on a summer evening, and a little naked boy running up and down the hall.


“In even the simplest wedding there is a hint of pageant, a truth that is at once celebrated and subverted in Leah Hager Cohen’s luminous new novel. Strangers and Cousins has the old-fashioned feel of a sprawling multi-generational tale even as it is animated by very contemporary ideas about love, marriage and family. A beautiful novel by one of our most gifted and insightful writers.”

 –Ann Packer, New York Times bestselling author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and The Children’s Crusade


Leslie Lindsay:

Weddings have a way of bringing out the best and worst of people. I love this line in STRANGERS AND COUSINS, and I’m paraphrasing here, but it’s like, ‘no wedding is perfect. They are all amateur.’ Can you talk about that please? And how might the same sentiment be applied to other endeavors?

Leah Hager Cohen:

I really am struck by how much weddings are a form of pageantry, how each wedding ceremony is like a bit of amateur theater that gets staged once, and almost always towards the beginning of a couple’s time together. In the book, the same character follows this statement with, “Marriage is what’s real,” making the distinction between the unique event of the wedding when things are still new and raw, and the long, rich complexity of life together during the marriage, when things deepen and grow.

Amateur comes from the Latin ‘amator,’ lover – as in one who does something out of love rather than as a profession. So there’s nothing demeaning about the statement, and it might apply to anything in life that we do out of love.

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Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

While STRANGERS AND COUSINS is a contemporary read, it’s also rooted in sprawling family sagas popular in the 80s and 90s. This one has such a modern feel. There are new issues that didn’t come up, at least not at weddings, twenty-thirty years ago. Sexuality. Color. Religion. Inclusion. Exclusion. Can you talk about that, please?

Leah Hager Cohen:

I grew up in the 70s and 80s, in a family that was black and white, Jewish and Christian, deaf and hearing. So we were always talking about inclusion and exclusion, difference and belonging, from the time I was little – it was just a natural part of who we were and what we encountered. I understand why you say the novel has a modern feel, but the funny thing is, to me it hearkens back to my own experience of an earlier time. In fact – you just made me think about this now – perhaps that’s why the book also has an old-fashioned feel: because in some ways it’s informed by my own nostalgic feelings about childhood and family.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s your writing process like? Do you carefully map it out? Do you follow the pen? Who—or what—are your influences?

Leah Hager Cohen:

What a nice expression! Yes: I follow the pen. I am totally map-less when I begin a book, and very often remain map-less all the way through a first draft, which can make for slow and frustrating progress. It can also mean I wind up with a very untidy and rather shapeless first draft, a book that doesn’t really know itself yet. And I tend to overwrite, producing great quantities of passages that don’t ultimately belong or advance the story. Thankfully, I have a wonderful agent and wonderful editor, and they are both brilliant at helping me discern the shape that lies within the baggy, cumbersome pages.

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Photo by Secret Garden on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Also, as a subplot to STRANGERS AND COUSINS, ‘the parents’ are selling the family home. Mine are, too. I’m okay with it. But not everyone is. Not in STRANGERS and not in my family. What is it about homes, do you think, that keep us rooted?

Leah Hager Cohen:

That is a fascinating question, especially in light of what’s happening in the world right now, with so many people being displaced as migrants and refugees. The idea of home has always been for me more rooted in people than in geography. But I say that as someone who’s never been displaced nor experienced housing insecurity. I do, however, have recurring dream in which I am living in some sort of fantastic house with my children – often it has many elaborate rooms and entrancingly interesting features – but always there is some major flaw or instability. Like really major. Like a huge hole in the roof through which snow drifts down. Or a staircase that is missing most of the treads. Or a gaping hole in the floor so it’s treacherous to cross the room. I haven’t figured out what the dream is about, but always there is the feeling of being on the edge of survival, of wanting very badly to provide not just a house but a home for my children, and yet being aware of the imminent threat of it all crumbling away to nothing.

Leslie Lindsay:

Leah, thank you. It’s been so illuminating. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Leah Hager Cohen:

Thank you, Leslie. This has been delightful. I guess the one thing that comes to mind is I’ve recently heard someone describe the family in STRANGERS AND COUSINS as dysfunctional, and I don’t think of them this way at all. Messy and boisterous and idiosyncratic and haphazard, yes – all of those things. But despite (or who knows? maybe because of) that, I think they’re quite functional. Even happy. Actually, the working title of this novel, way back in the early stages, was Pageant of the Happy Family.

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For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of STRANGERS AND COUSINS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

lhcABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Hager Cohen was born in Manhattan and raised at the Lexington School for the Deaf in Queens and later in Nyack, New York. She attended Hampshire College and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The author of five novels and five works of nonfiction, she is the Barrett Professor of Creative Writing at the College of the Holy Cross.

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

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#fiction #weddings #familysecrets #antisemitism #community 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Riverhead and used with permission. Author photo credit: Liz Linder. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.] 

Fear, isolation, and the shame of not being ‘good enough,’ plus what she did ‘right,’ in this deeply moving and authentic debut, by Melanie Golding steeped in fairy tales & new motherhood

By Leslie Lindsay

Highly disturbing, emotionally challenging read about one woman’s descent into madness, motherhood, and more–gorgeously written and it’s a debut! 

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May is maternal mental health month

LITTLE DARLINGS (Crooked Lane Books, April 30 2019) is one of those delightfully sinister psychological thrillers with a good dose of magical realism, fantasy, myth tossed in. It’s about pain, hope, loss, psychosis, motherhood, and uncertainty. And the writing is quite gorgeous.

Come away, o human child

to the waters and the wild. 

–W.B. Yeats 

Lauren Tranter is a new mother to twin boys. All is right–except she is exhausted, and rightly so. LITTLE DARLINGS starts off in the hospital, just after giving birthLauren can’t get comfortable. She isn’t sure she’s nursing the babies properly, her husband, Patrick must leave to go home…and is she ever able to get any rest?! There’s a distinct feeling of unease, right off the bat. Lauren can’t seem to shake the notion that someone came into the hospital and switched out her babies. Someone–something–sinister. With an odor of fish and mud. But everyone says it’s impossible. It’s a very secure unit. Plus, the CCTV doesn’t show anything. Or does it? The babies are right there. Lauren was just exhausted.

She is released home with the boys and quickly becomes a shut-in. Lauren and her husband are very isolated–there only seem to be a couple of female friends from Lauren’s prenatal class who stop by, no family, and no other friends. But Lauren is *sure* she seems the same woman from the alleged hospital swap lurking in the bushes outside her window. 

Stranger things happen. And Lauren is placed in a psychiatric hospital. My sympathies were split–not sure whom or what to believe. Everyone becomes a sort of suspect. LITTLE DARLINGS is such a dark, sinister read with touches of the supernatural, fairy tales and myths, but at the heart, is a tender, delicate exploration of postpartum psychosis. 

LITTLE DARLINGS has a little something for everyone. It’s a psychological thriller, a domestic suspense, a police procedural with heavy touches of a grim (pun intended) fairy tale.

Please join me in welcoming debut author, Melanie Golding to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Melanie, welcome! I always feel there is something tugging at us to write, something haunting. What was it for you in LITTLE DARLINGS? A question you needed to answer, a theme you wanted to explore?

Melanie Golding:

I was exploring the myths surrounding having a baby, specifically how it’s supposed to be a joyful time, despite how often the experience is very traumatic. I felt that no one could hear me when I said that the birth of my children and the early days were not glorious; they tended to laugh as if I were joking. I found that very interesting, as a cultural phenomenon. What if I took that fear and isolation and made it as bad as it could possibly be? I wanted to start a conversation surrounding maternal mental health, but frame it in an accessible way. Scary stories are there to make us feel safe, to put fear in a context that it can be experienced, but at a distance. Maybe if I made horror out of the reality of having a baby, it would be not only understandable, but relatable and also ultimately therapeutic.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

LITTLE DARLINGS is so gloriously steeped in myth and fairy tale. Can you talk about that a bit?

Melanie Golding:

I like the more obscure fairy tales, and the original versions of the common ones, which often feature extremely dark stuff. ‘Fairy tale’ is one of those words that gets misused quite a bit, or at least it means something different than it used to. Fairies, back when they were widely believed to be real, were frightening, powerful creatures who weren’t to be messed with.

I’m also very curious about the origins of old stories that still have the power to captivate us. I think narratives emerged for very specific reasons, to explain aspects of everyday life that were otherwise inexplicable. It has been suggested that most changeling tales emerged to explain certain types of disability, and justify the abuse of differently-abled children, by classifying them as ‘not human’. In contrast, newborn changeling tales always resolve in the end. I think they aren’t about the children, but that they emerged to explain maternal mental ill health in a time before modern medical understanding.


“Little Darlings is full of stomach-turning moments that touch on our deepest, most instinctive fears and fairy tales…”

–Foreword Reviews (starred)


Leslie Lindsay:

I am a former psychiatric R.N., and also mother. Your rendering of the postpartum period is so astute. There were absolutely times I thought I was losing my mind. And the sheer exhaustion! Can you talk about the research you must have done to get things ‘just right?’

Melanie Golding:

I had two children! Both traumatic births. I experienced the shock of it, and the fallout. I felt very angry about how ignorant I was as a childless person, because I am the sort of person who likes to do my research, and I honestly thought I had done it. The reality of just how traumatic and life-altering having a baby can be, physically and mentally, was a complete surprise; I felt like an idiot not to have expected it. Later, having spent several years talking to women about birth, it occurred to me that my experiences were very extreme but not actually uncommon: so many other women said they experienced the same feelings of isolation, of fear, and shame at not being ‘good enough’ or not feeling that rush of love (which is actually a bit of an urban myth – not that it doesn’t exist but when it is felt physically it’s more likely to be a kind of euphoria brought on by hours of trauma than actual love. Attachment is a gradual process, and I feel it’s unhelpful to pretend it isn’t). I still think I was ‘protected’ from the truth, and I feel offended that people in general felt the need to do this. It’s an extreme form of sexism: women are individuals until they are pregnant, but pregnant women are treated with a set of misinformed preconceptions about how people cope with trauma. That’s how it felt for me, anyway.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Speaking of doing things…what do you feel you did well on your path to publication? What might you have wished you had more information on?

Melanie Golding:

Tricky question! I still feel like there’s so much I don’t know. I followed the traditional route of getting an agent, then editing with her, after which she sold it to a publisher in a pre-empt, which I was truly amazed by, something I hadn’t dared to hope would happen. I’m really enjoying the process, and learning so much all the time.

Leslie Lindsay:

What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Melanie Golding:

Once the children are at school I write at my desk in my bedroom for as long as I can, until they need picking up again. Not very glamorous!

Leslie Lindsay:

I don’t think I am giving away too much here…but I am so intrigued with the obscure. Things you can’t see. And the lost village of Selverton…is that a real thing? Pure fiction? What can you tell us?

Melanie Golding:

Selverton is based on a real village in the Peak District called Ashopton, which was ‘drowned’ when the Ladybower reservoir (in the book it’s called the New Riverby reservoir) was filled in the early part of the 20th Century. There were some historical and geographical details about the real places that I wanted to fictionalize, including the names of the rivers, but basically it’s the same location. Ladybower is a fascinating place to visit, full of history and very atmospheric. There’s something very intriguing and spooky about a drowned village. It always fired my imagination. I like to imagine that some of what happened in the village is preserved somehow, by the water, and that sometimes scenes play out like old films, unseen by the tourists walking the banks.

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Leslie Lindsay:

LITTLE DARLINGS was so compulsive, so obsessive. I have to ask, what’s obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary…

Melanie Golding:

I usually have several plates spinning all at once! I’m writing an opera based on The Little Fir Tree, a Hans Christian Andersen story, with composer Emily Hall. Also I’m editing Book 2, so I’m pretty obsessed with that at the moment. It’s a different story but has a couple of continuing characters, and hopefully will appeal to those who liked LITTLE DARLINGS.

Leslie Lindsay:

Melanie, this has been a joy. Is there anything I should have asked about, but may have forgotten?

Melanie Golding:

Ah I think we’ve covered everything! Great questions, thanks so much.

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Photo by Mark Plötz on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LITTLE DARLINGS, please visit:

Order links: 

Golding author photo credit Michele Calverley (2)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Melanie Golding is a graduate of the MA in creative writing program at Bath Spa University, with distinction. She has been employed in many occupations including farm hand, factory worker, childminder and music teacher. Throughout all this, because and in spit of it, there was always the writing. In recent years she has won and been shortlisted in several local and national short story competitions. Little Darlings is her first novel, optioned for screen by Free Range Films.

 

 

 

 

Connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

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#motherhood #maternalmentalhealth #debut #authorinterview #fairytales #babies #twins #changelings #psychosis

IMG_2157[Cover and author image courtesy of Crooked Lane Books and used with permission. Ladybower Reservoir image retrieved from on 4.15.19. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Join me on Instagram].

What happens when you’re inspired by a piece of visual art & you’re short story writer? This stark, moving collection, SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND is born

By Leslie Lindsay 

What happens when a contemporary writer of semi-autobiographical short fiction turns her gaze to the iconic images of America’s past? This glimmering collection, SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND

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I’m a sucker for anything Missouri, anything Midwest.
That’s probably because this strange little state smack in the U.S. is what shaped me, the place I still think of as ‘home,’ even though I’ve lived elsewhere more than half my life now. There’s a realness, an authenticity to the state, which is a conglomeration of everything and nothing–North, South, East, and West. It has the rolling Ozark mountains, the winding Mississippi, big cities and tiny ones, wealth and poverty. To be a Missourian is to contain multitudes. So when I heard about SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND (Serving House Books, March 31 2019), I knew I had to read it.

The reader enters the imagined landscape of one of the most well-known American painters, Thomas Hart Benton, slipping back to the 1920s, 30s, and 40s to Southern Missouri, Arkansas, SW Illinois, St. Louis, Kansas City, Hannibal, and more. We meet mothers and fathers, fiddlers, and preachers. There are children with rings of dirt around their heels because their mothers died and their fathers are not tending to them, others, too whose mothers have been sent to an asylum. There are soldiers on their way to war and gamblers who have made their fortune. Maybe.

These nine tales are raw, authentic, and vivid, pulling the reader deep into the dusty confines of the early twentieth century. Many of the themes explored in SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND are timely and topical in today’s world–racial tensions, loss/grief, war, mental asylum, determination/grit, poverty, and illness. Generally, they are tough, bleak reads and mostly center around some kind of loss, all told with a gentle, unrelenting hand.

I am in awe at Baier-Stein’s creativity, her ability to draw art from art, and that alone is a delightful undertaking. 

Please join me in welcoming Donna to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Donna, welcome. I know you’re a Missourian at heart, but reside in New Jersey. Like you, I’ve moved away, but still feel firmly rooted in Missouri. What do you think this says about the pull of the land? Does the land influence our writing?

Donna Baier Stein:

The land, or our home state, definitely exerts an influence on our writing and our lives. Even though I’ve lived up and down the East Coast for 30+ years, I am still a Midwesterner at heart. There is a way of looking at the world that I suspect s very different from that of our coastal counterparts. It’s part innocence, part naiveté, part gullibility, part faith, and part neighborliness. I wrote a column recently for LitHub on short stories from the Midwest. There’s rich material in the heart of the country, despite a tendency on the part of some to think of this as flyover land.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’ve indicated that part of why you wrote this collection, SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND, is that you wanted to explore the past for clues to our present. Can you talk about that, please?

Donna Baier Stein:

The initial prompt for this collection came from a Benton lithograph that had hung on my wall for several decades. It had been given as a gift to my father, an almost life-long Kansas Citian. One reason I started describing what I saw in that lithograph (“Spring Tryout”) was that I was attempting to move past autobiographic fiction, to escape the constraints of my own life experiences. The lithograph depicted a time and place very different from my own. As I researched that first story and those that followed, I loved diving into the American past. Research led to fascinating, serendipitous finds that made their way into the plots. One striking metaphor I found was when I uncovered the existence of a church that straddled the Missouri-Kentucky state line, on a river landing literally called Compromise. People from each state kept to the pews on their side of the state, often with armed men in the aisle. This historical border feud had been ongoing since the Civil War and resonated deeply as I, and all of us, confront the deep divisions that lie at the heart of America today. I was also curious to learn more about how racial tensions played out in sundown towns, how women with mental illness were treated in the early 20th century, and how corruption occurred at all levels of society then as now. All these themes were historically present and all very front-and-center in today’s world.

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“In this gorgeous collection, Donna Baier Stein teases out the depth and humanity hinted at in Hart’s two dimensional art, using each lithograph as a portal into a vivid, fully fleshed out world. Scenes from the Heartland is brimming with marvelous, generous scenes that truly do come from the heart.”
–Gayle Brandeis, The Art of Misdiagnosis


Leslie Lindsay:

I love, love how Thomas Hart Benton’s work inspired your own…it’s art about art. And how often have we fallen into paintings and photographs we see hanging on walls in homes, in museums? I think that’s exactly what the artist wants us to do! Can you share a bit of your experience with these pieces?

Donna Baier Stein:

I began by staring at that lithograph hanging on my wall. I wrote down what I saw:

The boy rode a dark horse, crossing a field of yellow stargrass and olive green shadows. A slip of a stream, with logs nearby so recently cut their ends were white and circled with clear, brown rings. The horse’s ears pointed toward a gray farmhouse to the east, and to the left of that, low stalls and three spreading cherry trees blooming pink. On the side of the house a single window opened like an unseeing eye. (“­­­­Spring 1933”} 

I also noticed a small gray farmhouse in the background of the picture. I put myself into the scene and imagined what else might be just outside this frame. Because of the cut logs, I assumed someone had been nearby with an axe. I assumed there were adults who took care of the animals, laundered the boys’ clothes, etc. So I invented the boys’ mother, who is sleeping behind the small window in the farmhouse, dreaming. Once that story was written and published in Virginia Quarterly Review, I picked eight additional lithographs that spoke to me and followed a similar pattern for each new story: describing what I saw; thoroughly researching the place and time; inventing characters; and giving new dreams, goals, and backstories  to the real-life people Benton had portrayed.

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Photo by ilaria88 on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What did you find were the limitations, the challenges of writing this way?

Donna Baier Stein:

The main limitation was one of setting, both place and time. It was very important to me that the historical details I included – the price of cereal, the brand of gasoline sold, the fiddle tunes played—be authentic. This required a great deal of research, which can be both fun and time-consuming. Even though I had chosen to let my imagination run wild making up stories about the people Benton had captured in his drawings, the fact that these were not people of my generation or experiences was at times challenging. Every element of an individual story had to fit within the parameters of the lithograph’s setting. I had to find out what kind of shortwave radio would be used in 1937, what gangsters might have lived in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1924, which foods were rationed in 1942.

Leslie Lindsay:

Was there a particular story in SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND that particularly moved you, one you felt a close connection to? I know…it’s like choosing your favorite child…or, maybe one that surprised you?

Donna Baier Stein:

I think the first story I wrote for this collection, “Spring 1933.” I felt a connection, of course, because I own the early edition lithograph and see it every time I walk into my office. That story was my first attempt at writing ekphrastic fiction, fiction based on visual art. I loved discovering how the process worked. I also wrote the story at a time when my marriage was ending, and I was able to put some of my own anger and fear into the character of the boys’ mother Amber. I was also able to consider that character’s difficult relationship with her husband Samuel from all angles, to dive deep enough through my writing to understand that both Amber and Samuel were perpetrators and victims, that both bore responsibility for the problems they faced. The story also meant a lot to me because I was very excited to see it published in Virginia Quarterly Review.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Donna, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time. One last question: is there anything that’s haunting you now—or maybe something I’ve forgotten to ask about?

Donna Baier Stein:

What’s haunting me now is getting back to work on my next book! This is another historical novel (my first was The Silver Baron’s Wife.) It takes place in Paris and New York in the late 19th century, and its characters include Sarah Bernhardt, Nikola Tesla, Swami Vivekananda, and some key fictional characters thrown in for good measure. I am enthralled by the research.

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Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of SCENES FROM THE HEARTLAND, please visit: 

Order links: 

DBS PHOTO FROM DENISE WINTERSABOUT THE AUTHOR: In addition to Scenes from the Heartland, Donna is the author of The Silver Baron’s Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award, Bronze winner in Foreword Reviews 2017 Book of the Year Award, Will Rogers Medallion Award and Paterson Prize for Fiction, more), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist and 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist), Sometimes You Sense the Difference (chapbook), and Letting Rain Have Its Say (poetry book). She was a Founding Editor of Bellevue Literary Review and founded and publishes Tiferet Journal.She has received a Bread Loaf Scholarship, Johns Hopkins University MFA Fellowship, grants from the New Jersey Council on the Arts and Poetry Society of Virginia, a Scholarship from the Summer Literary Seminars, and more.

Donna’s writing has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Saturday Evening Post, Writer’s Digest, Confrontation, Prairie Schooner, New York Quarterly, Washingtonian, New Ohio Review, and many other journals as well as in the anthologies I’ve Always Meant to Tell You (Pocket Books) and To Fathers: What I’ve Never Said (featured in O Magazine).

Donna was also an award-winning copywriter for Smithsonian, Time, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and many other clients in the direct marketing industry. www.donnabaierstein.com

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

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#historicalfiction #art #ThomasHartBenton #Missouri #Midwest #shortstories 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Special thanks to Kathleen Carter Communications. Office lithograph art provided by D.B. Stein and used with permission. Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Pencil drawing from L.Lindsay’s archives. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

What happens when an 8-year old girl meets a professional guide while on safari in Africa? This book, LET’S GO ON SAFARI!

By Leslie Lindsay 

8 year-old Kate goes on an African Safari with her family and is so intrigued, she and her professional guide turn cross-continental emails into a book for children.

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BE KIND TO ANIMALS WEEK, MAY 6-12

There’s nothing I love more than children sharing their passion. That’s what happened with this book, LET’S GO ON SAFARI (Crickhollow Books, May 6 2019), when Kate, an eight-year-old went on a safari with her family in Africa and befriended her guide, Michelle. This book is packed with amazing photos, conversation facts, and most of all–it teaches kids to be an advocate for wildlife. But not only that, it’s the story of two authors–one adult, one child, and how they are living their passion. LET’S GO ON SAFARI invites readers to join in the thrill of a safari while also maintaining a positive force in animal advocacy. LET’S GO ON SAFARI is intended for children of all ages, but might be best geared toward those ages 5+. 

National Tourism Week, May 6-12

In fact, authors Kate Gilman Williams and Michelle Campbell are donating royalities to organizations across the globe who work to protect animals. How cool is that?! These organizations aid in the poaching crisis and promote youth activism, including:

33% to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust 

33% to the Jane Goodall Institute

33% to Global Wildlife Conservation 

I had the opportunity to catch up with Kate and Michelle to chat about this book and  they are both pretty darn impressive. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Hi Kate! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Can you tell us Where you live now?

Kate Gilman Williams:     

Austin, Texas.

Michelle Campbell:

Born in Osuth, Africa, grew up in S.E. Asia & UK. Now live in South Africa.  

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you want to be when you grow up?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

A Broadway actor. 

Michelle Campbell:

ALWAYS wanted to be a safari guide! My first real (memorable) safari was when I was 7 years old. I was sitting on the trackers seat, and I told my dad I wanted to be game ranger!  

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Leslie Lindsay:

What is your education/career background?  

Kate Gilman Williams:

I am in third grade at Trinity Episcopal School. 

Michelle Campbell:

Degree in International Economics, and professional field guide qualifications, including walking & rifle qualifications.  

Leslie Lindsay:

Do you have any pets?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

I have three dogs and one bunny.  

Michelle Campbell:

No human kids, but I raised two genets (nocturnal, catlike mammal found in Africa, southwestern Europe, and Arabia) that were abandoned by their mother… they literally fell off my roof!. I raised them, taught them to hunt and released them back into the wild – a bittersweet moment.  

Leslie Lindsay:

Where/When do you best like to write?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

I like writing on my couch in the evening. 

Michelle Campbell:

In the bush! Sitting outside, with the birds chirping and wildlife grazing peacefully – it is a true escape and never fails to inspire.    

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Leslie Lindsay:

When you are struggling to write/have writer’s block, what are some ways that help you find your creative muse again?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

Reading back over my writing.  

Michelle Campbell:

Running! It always clears my mind and lets me get lost in thought.  

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you think makes a good story?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

Interesting characters and lots of dialogue. 

Michelle Campbell:

One that is well rounded, where you get the full story and the opportunity to form your own opinion as a result. I think stories that touch our emotions often end up being good ones!  

Leslie Lindsay:

Is there a message/theme in your book that you want readers to grasp?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

That saving African animals and not poaching is important – and I want to tell kids they can make a difference, too.  

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Michelle Campbell:

Wild animals are in danger – not just from poaching, but human wildlife conflict and loss of habitat. If we don’t do something to stop this downward spiral, we will lose so many of these incredible species to extinction.  

ENDANGERED SPECIES DAY IS MAY 17

Leslie Lindsay:

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book? 

Kate Gilman Williams: 

How long it took to find a publisher 

Michelle Campbell:

We asked a panel of kids to read (and help us edit) our book, and I was surprised to learn how few of them knew about the threats facing wildlife in Africa. That made me feel even more compelled to tell this story and spread the word. 

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

Figuring out how to start it – and how to end it! 

Michelle Campbell:

The time difference! And language – how some phrases and words that we use in South Africa are not used in America. There was some funny confusions between Kate and I – like lavatory and potty!!  

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Leslie Lindsay:

On the weekend, what are you most likely to be doing?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

At the gym playing volleyball, reading, and having a playdate.

Michelle Campbell:

I love to be outside – walking, birding or exploring. I also enjoy watching rugby, having a braai (bbq!) with friends and family, and playing sports.  

Leslie Lindsay:

Who are some of your favorite authors?  

Kate Gilman Williams:

 J.K Rowling and Stuart Gibbs.

Michelle Campbell:

Wilbur Smith, Tim Butcher, Peter Godwin, Alexander McCall Smith 

Leslie Lindsay:

Do you have a bucket list? What are some of the things on it?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

Traveling to Paris, and publishing some of the other stories I’ve written.

Michelle Campbell:

I ticked some huge items off my bucket list during my conservation expedition this yearI got to see see gorillas, chimps and even a shoebill! One day I would love to travel on safari to the Pantanal to see Jaguars, and India to see tigers – the comparison to our African cats would be incredible to experience.  

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What person(s) has/have helped you the most in your career?

Kate Gilman Williams: 

Michelle, who I wrote this book with, and my mom. 

Michelle Campbell:

My father – his encouragement to follow my dreams and endless enthusiasm for my “bush lifestyle” has been a huge support.  

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s the best writing advice you have ever received?  

Kate Gilman Williams:

Don’t give up! 

Michelle Campbell:

Write from your heart. 

Leslie Lindsay:

What was your favorite book as a child?  

Kate Gilman Williams:

The Harry Potter books.

Michelle Campbell:

Born Free  by Joy Adamson 


“Installing a respect for and love of wildlife within our youth is key to ensuring the survival of earth’s most treasured species. Kate’s clever book takes children on a journey, introducing readers to Africa’s animals in such a way that one cannot help but fall in love with them and want to play a role in securing their future.”

-Angela Sheldrick, CEO, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust


Leslie Lindsay:

What is the one book no writer should be without?  

Kate Gilman Williams:

Let’s Go On Safari! 

Michelle Campbell:

A notebook! 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

How does your family feel about your writing career? 

Kate Gilman Williams:  

They are VERY proud of me.  

Leslie Lindsay:

If your book was turned into a movie, who would you like to play you?  

Kate Gilman Williams: 

Emma Watson – she played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. 

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For more information, to connect with the authors, or to purchase a copy of LET’S GO ON SAFARI, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Also, Kate and her family will match the monies raised with a personal donation to

The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund.

So when you purchase this book–you’re not only learning more about these animals, you’re helping save endangered animals. 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

4hkAX_oUKate Gilman Williams wrote this book when she was 8 years old. A trip she took to South Africa – and the friendship that developed with her safari guide, Michelle Campbell – inspired her to write Let’s Go On Safari! Upon learning about the threats facing wildlife, Kate came home determined to do something to help the animals who were being harmed by humans – and she knew her generation could help. Kate is now 9 years old and in third grade at Trinity Episcopal School in Austin, Texas. Her favorite subjects are writing and art. She also enjoys acting and playing volleyball.

C0a-xIhIMichelle Campbell was born in South Africa, raised in Asia and schooled in the UK. Working as an economist in the Middle East, it was her love for nature that drew her back home to South Africa, where she worked as a safari guide for 6 years. Driven to make a more meaningful contribution to conservation, she spent a year volunteering for wildlife projects in Southern and Eastern Africa (living in her Land Rover!), documenting and sharing her conservation involvements and adventures on her website, Wild Wonderful World. Today she is working on a project of her own, advocating for wildlife, connecting people to conservation initiatives and encouraging children through education and exposure, to save wildlife. 


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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#wildlife #conservation #Africa #Safari #childrensbooks 

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[Cover and author images courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission. Unless otherwise noted, all safari photos are courtesy of PRbytheBook.] 

 

 

 

 

Susan Gloss talks about her love for art, how it intersects with life, grief, and loss, plus she introduces me to a new word, oh–and this gorgeous book, THE CURIOSITIES

By Leslie Lindsay 

A tender exploration of love and loss, addiction and recovery, pain and healing, THE CURIOSITIES is about the fragile condition of the human soul and art. 

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Madison, Wisconsin is a mecca of artistic pursuits–with a ton of authors in residence, but in all honesty, I am not sure I’ve read a book *set* in Madisonbut THE CURIOSITIES (Berkley, Feb 2019)–takes place right in the heart of the city. I loved this! Plus, I absolutely adore reading about art–it’s like two art forms in one, a double treat.

Nell Parker has a PhD in art history. She lives in a cozy Craftsman bungalow with her attorney/professor husband, but she is devastated by a recent miscarriage. She’s grieving and having difficulty moving forward. Plus, she’s swimming in a mound of (secret) debt. As luck would have it, Nell finds herself accepting a position as the director of a nonprofit artist’s colony, established by the late Betsy Barrett, a patron of the modern arts. Nell isn’t sure she’s exactly cut out for the job, but she’s willing to give it a shot.

The Colony is located at Betsy Barrett’s lakeside mansion and Nell quickly finds herself having it wired for wifi and sorting through applications, accepting artists from Minneapolis and NYC and Madison to the fold. There’s Odin, whose medium is metal and sculpture, Paige who is a local mulitmedia artist in her final year of school, and Annie, who has made her name in photography and political activism. 

There are so many lovely artistic references throughout THE CURIOSITIES and I found myself wanting to dive right into the art world Gloss paints with her words. I found the storytelling engaging and confident but with a lightness (though many of the themes and topics are not). Each member of the colony is struggling in some way–they have some dark scars–and it’s through art, and each other, that healing takes place.

Gloss weaves a colorful tapestry of flawed humans doing the best they can with what they have, their skills, talents, and more in this exploration of addiction and recovery, pain and loss, love, and friendship. There’s such a good feeling at the end that everything–and everyone–will be okay.

Susan is an attorney, novelist, Madisonion, and lover of vintage art and clothing. Here’s a warm welcome to the lovely Susan Gloss…

Leslie Lindsay:

Susan, I love, love this book. Like art, the characters and situations are colorful and multifaceted.  I’m curious (like how I did that), where the idea for THE CURIOSITIES came from? Was there a situation, place, or theme you wanted to explore?

Susan Gloss:

After I wrote VINTAGE, I got a lot of feedback from readers that they loved the secondary character of Betsy Barrett, and wanted to know more about her. I realized that I, too, wanted to know more about her.  However, in my second novel, I also wanted to explore new themes and new characters that weren’t present in VINTAGE.

At the end of VINTAGE, we learn that Betsy made plans to leave her substantial estate to establish a charitable art foundation. By writing about the artists’ colony run out of Betsy’s lakeside mansion, I was able to write about entirely new characters—the artists who live at the colony—as well as delving deeper into Betsy’s character by revealing glimpses of her past through the objects in her home.

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Leslie Lindsay:

So, Madison. I love the city. I’ve been several times for writing conferences and retreats, it’s brimming with diversity and inspiration. I currently live in Chicago, and spent about 5 years in the Minneapolis area…s0, THE CURIOSITIES really hit on many (most) places in the book. How do you think we’re shaped—artistically—by our location?

Susan Gloss:

It’s important to me that my work has a strong sense of place. I think artists—both visual artists and writers—are shaped heavily by our locations. Just as the flavor of a wine is influenced by its terroir, the landscape, culture, and feel of a place are expressed in an artist’s work.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Heartwarming journey of uncertainty, growth, and acceptance…likely to appeal to fans of Sarah Pekkanen and Deborah Carol Gang.”

–Booklist


Leslie Lindsay:

There are so many perceptive descriptions of art and its creation in THE CURIOSITIES. But you’re an attorney. Can you talk about your fondness for art and how you see the two (art and law) working in tandem? Plus, how do you have time to do both?!

Susan Gloss:

My love of art goes way back to my childhood, when my mom would drive my brothers and I three hours from Green Bay, Wisconsin, down to Chicago so we could see the world-class collections and exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago. Studying abroad in Spain my junior year of college deepened that love, and now I try to make time to see art museums or local galleries and markets whenever I travel to a new place.

In my work life as a staff attorney for an appellate court, I’m lucky that I’m able to do it part-time, which leaves a little bit of time for writing when my kids are in school on the days I’m not in the office. Truth be told, I wish I had more time to devote to the craft of writing, but I love my work as an attorney and also love being a mom, so it’s a balancing act. I know that my free time will increase as my kids get older and need me less, so I try to enjoy these moments when they are little. My two boys are currently 3 and 7 years old.

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Photo by Melany Rizo on Pexels.com

 Leslie Lindsay:

I love homes and architecture of all kinds, but Betsy Barrett’s lakeside mansion in THE CURIOSITIES really won my heart. Was it inspired by an actual home? What more can you tell us about it?

Susan Gloss:

The Barrett mansion in the book is fictional, but it’s inspired by the homes in a historic neighborhood in Madison called Mansion Hill. A lot of the homes in the neighborhood are Victorian, with turrets and widow’s walks and other hidden nooks and crannies that have always captured my imagination when I bike or walk through the neighborhood.

Leslie Lindsay:

There are many deep issues in THE CURIOSITIES—mental health, grief, miscarriage, addiction, recovery, and resilience. But then there’s friendship and creativity, the beauty of art. Can you talk about how they all intersect?

Susan Gloss:

They all intersect in the book because, really, that’s life. It was important to me in this book to have characters that were relatable. Very rarely in real life do people have the luxury of dealing with one thing at a time. Life is complicated, and it’s not all one thing or another. Love and joy are mixed up alongside of loss and pain. The places where all of these different human emotions and experiences intersect is where art is born.

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Photo by Noelle Otto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Susan Gloss:

Right now I’m obsessed with biking. I did my first century ride last summer (100 miles in one day), and I joined a spinning gym to stay in cycling shape over the winter months. I commute to work on my bike year-round.

Leslie Lindsay:

Susan, it’s been a delight. Thank you so much for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Susan Gloss:

I just want to say how thankful I am for the online community of readers and bloggers. We authors so appreciate all you do to help other people learn about our books.

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Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

 For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CURIOSITIES, please see: 

Order Links: 

NAW_3369-Copy2 (2) (1) (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Gloss is the USA Today bestselling author of the novels VINTAGE and THE CURIOSITIES. She is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in English and Spanish, and the University of Wisconsin Law School. She lives with her family in Madison, Wisconsin

 

 

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #authorinterview #Madison #art #artistscolony #artists #reinvention #inspiration 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic cover photo designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram].