Shimming tale set in Chicago and Paris in the 1980s and 1920s about art, AIDS, loss, memory & so much more Rebecca Makkai on THE GREAT BELIEVERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Rebecca Makkai talks about her thrumming new literary fiction that will enrapture you and transport you to 1985 Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic, then toss you back to Paris in the 1920s. Plus, memory, loss, character development, healthcare and more. Please join us. 

The Great Believers Cover.jpg

Every now and then there is a book that makes my heart sing. I mean, really, really sing. And when THE GREAT BELIEVERS (June 19, 2018 Viking/Penguin RandomHouse) came along, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I did.  Seriously, this book is going to be big. I’ve been seeing it on all kinds of lists since this spring–best summer reading, best for book groups, and books set in Chicago, to name a few.

But it’s also a bit controversial. AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. LGBQTA+ issues. Art in France in the 1920s. But the writing! Oh, the writing! I can’t say enough about that.  It’s achingly gorgeous. You’ll read and be a bit blown away at the breadth of beauty and will step back and think, “I wish I wrote that.”

A bit on the plot: The year is 1985 and AIDS has claimed Yale Tishman’s friend Nico. As Yale’s career begins to flourish—many of his friends are dying. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. She finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS catastrophe affected her life and her relationship with her only child. Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster. The two stories are compelling in their own right, but together, they are a masterpiece of fiction that feels entirely real.

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Makkai to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: Rebecca, so honored! Can you tell us a bit about your research process behind learning about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago?

Rebecca Makkai: There wasn’t nearly as much about AIDS in Chicago in book or film form as you would think. Chicago was and is the third largest city in America, but most of what’s out there focuses on New York, San Francisco, and LA. This meant I needed to get out from behind my desk and do some leg work. I holed up in the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago and read every issue of the Windy City Times (Chicago’s biggest gay weekly) from 1985 to 1992. During the four years I worked on the novel, I interviewed people one-on-one, in coffee shops or in their homes: doctors, nurses, activists, lawyers, survivors, people with HIV, and people who had simply been young and gay in Chicago in the 80s. They were so incredibly generous with their time, and in the details and stories they shared. A few of them read the book for accuracy, too, after it was done; while the story is fiction, it was so important to me to get things right.

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Photo by Eugene Dorosh on Pexels.com

L.L.: One of your characters travels to Paris in search for her daughter who became entangled in a cult. What was your research process on that world? 

Rebecca Makkai: I wanted to write about cults after I accidentally went to a restaurant owned by a cult, which led to researching them afterward (I’d tell you which one, but cults are notoriously litigious, and make a lot of their money on lawsuits!). I based the Hosanna Collective, the group that Fiona’s daughter is tangled up in, on that cult, but also on others as it was important to me that it not be identifiable as any particular group. There are some incredibly scary cults out there, of course, but what was so frightening to me about the ones I modeled Hosanna on was how benign and rational it all seemed at first. From the outside, these people really just look like hippies.


“…sure to become a classic Chicago novel…a deft, harrowing novel that’s as beautiful as its cover.”

—Chicago Review of Books


L.L.: [You are] a cisgender heterosexual woman, why was [THE GREAT BELIEVERS] an important story for you to tell? How are you able to lift up the voices of the LGBTQA+ community?

Rebecca Makkai: I thought (and stressed) a lot about whether it was appropriate for me to tell a story about AIDS, and ultimately I felt I needed to satisfactorily answer two questions. 1) Could I do a good job, do this story justice? 2) Would this book detract from the narratives of those who lived through this crisis, or help readers discover those stories? The answer to No. 1 was that I could do it with relentless research, and I hope I’ve indeed done justice to the story. The answer to No. 2 was that my novel is much more likely, if it’s successful, to engender further discussion and writing about AIDS than to squelch it. The way commercial publishing works, a novel’s success means more presses will be willing to back a similar project in the future. I have opportunities now to point people toward both fictional and nonfictional accounts of the AIDS crisis.

This book is about a lot more than AIDS—it’s also about the Paris art world of the 1920s, cults, Chicago, memory, and loss. I do want people to come away knowing, thinking, or feeling more about AIDS than they have previously. I don’t want them to stop with my book—I want this to be the beginning of a lot more reading and conversation about what people remember from that time.

L.L.: Your characters in THE GREAT BELIEVERS feel like very real, dynamic people. What or who inspired your creation of these characters?

Rebecca Makkai: I’ve never based a character on a real person, but there are slivers of different real people (and huge chunks of myself) in every character I write. In THE GREAT BELIEVERS, some of those slivers came from the details that people shared with me about themselves or their friends back in the 80s, and some came from elsewhere. These characters ended up feeling real to me in a way that I’ve never quite experienced before in my previous novels or stories. In particular, my main character, Yale Tishman, is someone I keep thinking of like a friend I just lost. When I get good news about the novel, I wish I could tell him about it. That might make me sound unbalanced, but it was important to my process that I got to the point of thinking of him as a real person.


“…a striking, emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis and its residual effects on the contemporary lives of survivors… Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred & Boxed)


L.L.: THE GREAT BELIEVERS weaves together two stories in two different cities. Both, in my opinion, are quite wonderful. Why did you choose Chicago and Paris as your settings? 

Rebecca Makkai: I grew up in Chicago and live here still, so it was much more interesting for me to explore what happened right here than to force myself to write about New York or San Francisco, which would have been more expected. Chicago is, in a way, the great love of my life. I’ll never get tired of it and I’ll never get tired of writing about it.

Oddly, the origin of my novel was something that’s now only a small part of it: the art scene in Paris between the two World Wars. I’ve always been fascinated by that time, and by the “École de Paris” set—the young artists who came to Paris from around the world—and although that shrunk to a subplot of the novel, something we hear stories about but don’t see firsthand, it’s still there and still important. The 2015 sections of THE GREAT BELIEVERS were actually a later addition to the story. I’d written about 150 pages thinking the book was just going to be about the 80s before I realized I needed to go back and forth in time. But when I thought about what would happen in those 2015 sections, it made sense for Paris to be the setting, echoing the scene we’ve heard about from the 1920s.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

L.L.: Why do you think it is important to contextualize the pervasive pain of the AIDS crisis in the modern day?

Rebecca Makkai: For one thing, that pain is still here. It’s tempting, in the US, to think of AIDS as something of the past, but globally there are 37 million people living with HIV.

Even if we are thinking of the late-80s / early-90s height of the US crisis, and the gay community it primarily impacted: people are still living in the shadow of those years, feeling those losses, and putting their lives back together. It was important to me to write not just about the 80s, but about the reach of the epidemic across decades.

L.L.:  Did you discover between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now? Were there any parallels? 

Rebecca Makkai: Legislation of healthcare is still based on subconscious (or even conscious) prejudices about who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Just this December, Trump disbanded the HIV/AIDS Advisory Council, despite the fact that over a million Americans are still living with HIV. That’s not random; that’s coming straight from homophobia and racism, and the idea that those million lives are disposable. And when it’s not sexual orientation or race, it’s gender, poverty level, education. Certain individuals, some of whom are unfortunately in power, love to blame people for their own illnesses—you shouldn’t have drunk all that soda, you shouldn’t have had sex, you shouldn’t have lived in Flint. I think it’s a way they make themselves feel safer, like nothing bad will happen to them, and I think it’s also a way to sanction mass cruelty. In the 80s, the glee with which some politicians talked about gay men dying was barely contained; most politicians do a better job now of hiding their motivations, but they’re still there, festering. Nothing new under the sun.

L.L.: I love talking titles! Can you give us a glimpse into the significance of THE GREAT BELIEVERS? 

Rebecca Makkai: The title is taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that serves as one of the novel’s epigraphs:

“We were the great believers.
I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, an saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”

Fitzgerald is referring to the Lost Generation, and the quote struck me as so counterintuitive—we often think of that generation as so jaded and worldly. The parallels between that generation and the generation we lost in the 80s is something I explore in the novel. In particular, I was struck by the similarities between the way Paris was a refuge for so many misfit artists, and the role big American cities like Chicago have played for young LGBTQ people. The arts scene in Paris was interrupted by WWI and between the war and the influenza of 1918, a whole generation was decimated. I was particularly interested in those who regrouped in Paris after the war, who tried to recreate some of what had been lost. The lines we can draw between that time and the 80s are fascinating to me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: What are the main themes of the book? What do you want people to take away from reading THE GREAT BELIEVERS?

Rebecca Makkai: Ultimately, I do think THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a defiantly hopeful book—or at least that my characters are defiantly hopeful. That’s one of the meanings of the title, I think. As their lives fall apart, they also take on greater direction and conviction. We’re living in a difficult time, and life is hard enough to begin with, but I drew so much inspiration in the past few years from talking to survivors, listening to the stories of how they fought for their lives and for each other even when it seemed utterly hopeless. If my characters can do for readers just a fraction of what these people did for me, I’ll be satisfied.

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

Order Links: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Makkai is the author of The Borrower, The Hundred Year-House, and Music for Wartime. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short StoriesThe Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American FantasyHarper’sTin House, and Ploughshares, among others. She lives in Chicago and Vermont with her husband and two daughters.

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


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[Cover and author images courtesy of Viking/PenguinRandom House and used with permission.]

 

 

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What happens when your dad is a fugitive? You run. Tyler Wetherall talks about the fickleness of memory, writing anyway & more in NO WAY HOME

By Leslie Lindsay 

Emotionally detailed and tense, NO WAY HOME is a coming-of-age memoir of a fugitive family on the run from the FBI told from the POV of the youngest daughter.  Here, we chat about her journey to publication, how once you write it you can never ‘un-write’ it, and how she’s back in the U.K. living out of that iconic red suitcase once again.  

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Secrets are the stuff of memoir and NO WAY HOME is stuffed to the gills with them. Tyler Wetherall writes with beautiful prose and raw honesty about what it was like being born into a ‘fugitive family.’ When she’s born, in 1983, the ‘men in black’ were already living on the family’s California property in a small shack. They watched every move, every coming and going of the family because her father, who goes by series of aliases, but whose given name is Ben, was already a criminal.

Tyler doesn’t know her family’s real surname until she is nine years old. She doesn’t know the reason the family had moved thirteen times in her short life. She has no idea that her dad is actually a criminal, or what he’s done.

We know it’s something deplorable, but it’s not revealed until later.  As a young child, Tyler and her older siblings live in various places in Europe. They ski in the Swiss Alps. They scuba dive in St. Lucia, they have a lovely little villa in the same town Picasso once lived in France. They have homes in Portugal and England. The kids attend boarding school. In some ways, it seemed as though they were army brats with every advantage at their fingertips.

But there are also clandestine phone calls with her father from the depths of a phone booth in the woods. Hidden cell phones in attics. Scotland Yard shows up at their home.

Please join me in conversation with Tyler Wetherall. 

Leslie Lindsay: Tyler! Welcome. I found your story so enthralling, yet so devastating. I wanted everything to turn out for the best. Mostly, it does. That’s what I think readers want to know: is the author okay? Is everyone okay? Had things turned out differently, would you still have written it?

Tyler Wetherall: Everyone is okay. More than okay! I think it’s a testimony to the strength of our family and the support our parents always gave us that despite our unconventional upbringing it turned out fine. My sister is a doctor, my brother is a lawyer, and, well, I’m the most vagrant of the bunch as a roving writer. It’s hard to imagine it turning out differently and whether I would have still written it, because that involves imagining myself as a different person. I am the person I am today because of the sequence of events and decisions that led me here.

L.L.:  Memoir is such a fickle form. It’s not told in a vacuum. There are other people—characters—who are involved. At one point in the narrative, it appears as if you’re seeking approval or consent to tell this story. Your mom said something along the lines of, ‘it’s only one version of the truth, anyway,’ and your father said, ‘go ahead, tell it all.’ Of course, there are your siblings and the other fugitives involved…how does a memoirist reconcile the various ‘voices’ and write anyway?

Tyler Wetherall: Even within ourselves we carry many versions of the past. Our relationship to the past changes as we grow, and stories we might have once told about our lives shift to more closely represent who we imagine ourselves to be in any given moment. And that’s true for everyone in our lives. The process of plaiting this into a singular narrative is flawed; it cannot fully represent the web of experience that makes up the past. It can only be one story. I tried to weave some of this into NO WAY HOME, showing where my memory conflicted with my sisters, or saying when I adopted someone else’s memories because they seemed more reliable than my own. I hope in this way the reader might experience the story as something closer to the complexities and contradictions of the lived experience.

Seeking permission from my family was incredibly important to me, and throughout the process of writing I was trying to do this in a way that would cause the least amount of heartache.

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Photo by Fancycrave on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you talk a little about your road to publication? Early drafts, securing an agent, going out on submission, etc.?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s been a very long road. The book began as a biography of my dad. He had recently got out of prison and he was looking for a ghostwriter to tell his story. At the time, I was 24 and working as a magazine journalist in London, but I didn’t want someone else to tell our story. I quit my job and flew out to LA to begin the process of interviewing him for the book. I soon realized that I didn’t want to write another book about a man’s misadventures with the women and children sidelined to sentimental subplots; I needed to tell it as a daughter who had lived through it. At that point I called it a novel. I was very reluctant to write a memoir, scared of causing any pain, but it was also because I was trying to keep the truth at arm’s length, which never works. After finding an agent in New York – the completely brilliant Emma Parry at Janklow & Nesbit – I started to rework it as a memoir, and the story fell into place.

L.L.: And back to the story. In many ways, your early years were quite magical. You traveled extensively and were able to see and do so much—more than most adults ever experience—do you see that as a bit of a gift?

Tyler Wetherall: I feel incredibly lucky. In between the anxiety of moving and the threat of Dad’s incarceration, we were a happy family. I think that’s what makes it tragic when it falls apart. To this day, you can drop me in any part of the world and I’ll figure out how to get by, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been that way without those years of traveling during my childhood. I’m grateful for that.

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L.L.: I was quite intrigued with your mother and father and their family of origin. Your mother left home at sixteen to pursue a modeling career and to get married. Your father was from a New York Jewish family and shared details about his criminal behavior with them. I am astonished. In what ways do you suppose their youth shaped this fugitive lifestyle? Or, did it?

Tyler Wetherall: I don’t think Dad was naturally suited to the fugitive lifestyle; he adapted to it. He likes to travel and he has a sense of adventure, which he shared with us, but his priorities are the relationships with the people he loves. Leaving family and friends was hard for them both. My mum spent much of her youth moving house for a variety of reasons – her parents were stationed in Calcutta after the war – so I think she was better suited to starting again in a new place. But I don’t think it was a lifestyle either of them would have chosen. Not being able to share your real identity and always being fearful of apprehension is a difficult state to live peacefully in.

L.L.: Despite your father’s crimes, you had a bit of a ‘wild’ spurt during your teenage years. Can you talk about that, please and if you think it was typical teenage rebellion or related more directly to your father’s activities?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s hard to know. Drugs never held the taboo for me that they might have for other teenagers, but there was definitely an element of typical teenage rebellion: shaving my head, non-stop Nirvana and underage everything. I was also willful and curious and determined to demonstrate that I was brave, and that manifested itself at times as being reckless. I don’t regret that moment though; I learned a lot and it set me in good stead for the future.


“Wetherall has written a luminous memoir that no one who reads it will soon forget… She conveys her exceptional yet familiar experiences in language that makes the reader stop and savor… Witty and eloquent.”

 —The Washington Post


L.L.: What advice might you give someone who wants to write about family? Especially when less-than-stellar moments are involved?

Tyler Wetherall: Firstly, I think it’s important to get everything on the page without thinking about the repercussions or who will read it or what they will say. If you listen to the voices that condemn what you’re doing, you’ll never get anything written. At that point you know what you’re working with and can approach the story with more consideration. Compassion and empathy are incredibly important. You’re not venting; you’re trying to understand the past and what it means to you and those around you. Also, when you’re nearing publication, it’s important to remember that once it’s out there it can’t be undone, so if there are details you balk at, think closely about whether they’re necessary to the story at large.

L.L: Is there anything obsessing you these days? What keeps you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Tyler Wetherall: I’ve just started work on my second book – a novel – and the fear I can’t do it again certainly keeps me up at night!  I’m also working on a pilot. Between the two I spend a lot of time spiraling down so-called research tangents.

L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, but should have? Maybe what your weekend plans are, if you’re working on something new? Your favorite guilty pleasure…or something related to the book.

Tyler Wetherall: I’m currently back in the UK to see my family and friends (and go to the pub!), and I’m living out of the same giant red suitcase that features in the very first sentence of my book.

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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

L.L.: Tyler, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for sharing this story.

Tyler Wetherall: Thank you for reading.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO WAY HOME, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Tyler Wetherall_Credit Sammy Deigh of C.A.N.V.A.S.®.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tyler Wetherall is the author of No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run (St. Martin’s Press; on-sale April 3, 2018). She is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. She has written for The GuardianThe Times, and The Irish Independent. Her short fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review and others.

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


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[Cover and author images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission.]

Michelle Frances on her debut–an International bestseller–THE GIRLFRIEND, multifaceted characters, possessive girlfriends, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A slow-burn (and that’s a good thing!) literary domestic thriller with a very unlikable, conniving, master manipulator of a girlfriend.

Plus, Michelle Frances talks about how her career writing TV scripts helped with the narrative, the mother-son dynamic, her summer plans, and what’s next for her.

the girlfriend final WOW. This girl. THE GIRLFRIEND is everything a mother of a son(s) would absolutely deplore. She’s from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ lies, lies, lies, and yet she’s sweet (at least to your face), gorgeous, and your son’s smitten. But something’s off. Does a mother intervene?

That’s what THE GIRLFRIEND sets out to answer. At first Cherry is a bit endearing in her nervousness around ‘the parents,’ but how she quickly–and subtly–worms her way onto the dark side. This gal is sneaky, highly disturbed, and just fun to hate. I was absolutely blown away with audacity of this young woman and also it reminded me of how ‘love is blind.’

A bit on the plot: Daniel is in medical school. He was born into a wealthy family, but seems to be a good all-around guy who wants to work in medicine even though he doesn’t technically *have* to work; he has a trust fund, a Mercedes, and his dad just paid for his fancy new flat. And, as an only child, he has a very doting (enmeshed?) mother, Laura.

Along comes Cherry who works as a Real Estate agent (apprentice) and lo and behold, smart rich boy needs a place to live…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Please join  me in welcoming Michelle Frances to my author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Frances, Wow! You absolutely blew me away with Cherry! First, I want to know if there was a scene or character or situation you wanted to explore most in THE GIRLFRIEND; what was the driving force?

Michelle Frances:  Thank you, Leslie!  This is such an interesting question because this is exactly how the book started.  There is a moment about halfway through the novel when Daniel’s mom, Laura, decides to do the most awful thing and tells a lie like no other.  It was this lie that got me thinking about how such a scenario could exist – how could a character like Laura justifying saying such a thing?  And from there grew the story.

L.L.: While I found the plot to be taut and intriguing, THE GIRLFRIEND is also a very voice-y narrative, but it’s quite literary. Was there a particular character who ‘spoke’ most to you?

Michelle Frances:  I have a soft spot for both mom Laura and girlfriend Cherry, despite their bad behavior.  They both start from a hopeful, positive place but jealousy and insecurity warp their perception of the situation they find themselves in, and lo and behold, things start to spiral out of control.  I feel for Cherry as she’s a classic victim of intergenerational unfairness – for her there’s no state certainty of a safety net and a pension.  Even the idea of owning her own home is a distant dream.  These challenges echo what young people are having to face today and in fact many will be worse off than their parents.  I can understand her struggle and have empathy for her reasoning that you might as well spend time in a geographical place where future boyfriends are more likely to have money, than a place where they’re not.  I also have empathy for Laura’s desire to protect her only remaining child from someone who she believes to be up to no good.   I don’t think any mother could stand back and watch what they believe to be a car crash relationship unfold – although mothers don’t have to go to the extent that Laura does in order to stop it!


“The Girlfriend is a taut psychological thriller, the evil chillingly drawn.  Every character is layered and beautifully twisted.   Makes me consider running background checks on any potential spouses my children bring home!”
– New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose


L.L.: And with Cherry—she’s such a fickle, complex character. Did you have to do any research to get her ‘just right?’

Michelle Frances: Cherry is incredibly complex in many ways, but she’s also very straightforward.  She has simple goals that chime with most of ours: financial stability and a happy relationship.  I didn’t do any particular research to understand her, she actually came alive to me quite readily.  Most of us are young and broke when we’re starting out and the class system in the UK is very much alive and well.  Cherry is also incredibly intelligent so I just pitted that intelligence right into the middle of the scenario of her finding a wealthy boyfriend with a tiger mom and her psychology and motivation became very clear.  As soon as Cherry comes up with the notion that Laura believes she’s not good enough for her son Daniel, Cherry decides she’s going to keep him, whatever it costs.

L.L.: Similarly, does Cherry have a psychological diagnosis?  Cause I’m kind of thinking she should!

Michelle Frances:  Ha!  Well, I do think she has very dark thoughts sometimes – as many of us do – the difference being that most people wouldn’t choose to act on them in the way Cherry does!  She feels she has so much to lose and she is fighting for her place from what she feels is a real disadvantage, therefore she justifies crossing that line – more than once!  Personally, I’m fascinated by how psychotic tendencies in people can become dangerously exacerbated when they feel threatened.

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L.L.: Was there anything that surprised you during the writing process? Did you learn anything along the way?

Michelle Frances: As this was my first novel, the whole writing process was a learning experience.  I had to feel my way through and found my skills in television script editing came in very useful!  Although the medium of television is very different to a novel, certain elements are true of any form of storytelling: character development, pace, and twists in the story are all essential to an engaging thriller.

L.L.: Do you have any exciting summer plans…perhaps to the South of France? Or maybe whitewater rafting?

Michelle Frances: Funnily enough, I did go white water rafting a few years before writing the book — just days after meeting my boyfriend.  It was a gift for his birthday!  Fortunately there were no accidents but I do remember very clearly the adrenaline rush of the rapids.  This summer I shall be working on my third book, with perhaps a family seaside break in the middle.

L.L.: Who or what is obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Michelle Frances: Oh gosh, I get fired up about lots of things.  I’m a governor at my children’s school, which means I’m involved in the strategic decisions of the school.  Education is something I’m extremely interested in, and how teachers and pupils are affected by government policies and decisions.  I also get very hot under the collar about injustice and in fact the book I’m working on this summer is a ‘David and Goliath’ tale about a mother’s fight for justice for her daughter.

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L.L.: Michelle, it’s been an absolute pleasure! Please tell me, is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Michelle Frances: Thank you so much for [having me].  I’ve loved [every minute].  If you enjoy THE GIRLFRIEND, then perhaps I can also shamelessly let you know about my next book!  It’s called THE TEMP and is due out in the USA on 29 January 2019.  It’s about a successful TV producer, Carrie, who unexpectedly falls pregnant and reluctantly has to leave her job in the hands of a young, ambitious temp cover.  Emma is smart and charming and Carrie begins to suspect she is maneuvering her way into Carrie’s life, causing turmoil in her marriage and her work.  It’s a thriller about ambition, deception and betrayal. Thank you again!

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

Order Links: 

MF CroppedABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michelle Frances graduated from Bournemouth Film School in 1996 and then from the Masters programme at the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, in 1998. Returning to London, she has worked for several years in film and TV as a script editor and producer for both the independent sector and the BBC.

THE GIRLFRIEND, her debut psychological thriller, has been optioned by Imaginarium Studios for film adaptation.  Translation rights have sold in fifteen foreign territories.

Michelle is currently working on her second novel.  She lives in East Surrey.

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

GoodReads
Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Email:leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
Amazon

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Kensington Press and used with permission].

Elaine Neil Orr on her luminous, glittering tale, SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS on racial tension in the 1960s and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS is such a tender, thoughtful, and affecting read on what it means to be touched by another culture–brimming with personal and social issues and told in a gentle, glimmering prose. 

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I’ll admit to having a bit of a cover crush on SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS. I mean, it’s stunning, right? To me, it embodies summer with a nod to a simpler time. Of course, we read because of the story, not the cover. And this one absolutely brings the carefree days of yesteryear to light, but…were they so carefree?

This was my first book by Elaine Neil Orr and here’s what I know:  she’s drawn to tales that take place in distinct locations and is eager to merge them into a seamless whole. Place is not just a setting for her, but a character. SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS takes place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Nigeria, places that couldn’t be more different from one another. Plus, it’s the South in the 1950s-60s, we we’re talking civil rights and a lot of naiveté.


“A perceptive and powerful story told with generosity and grace.” 

~Charles Frazier


Orr’s main characters–Tacker Hart and Kate Monroe–are perfectly flawed. Tacker is a former high school football star turned architect and has traveled–lived–in Nigeria. He comes back home after a misunderstanding in Nigeria and he’s not the same guy. Now, at 25 and working/managing his father’s grocery, he’s thrust into a world that seems a little backward. He doesn’t understand the animosity between whites and blacks.

Kate, meanwhile is dealing with the loss of both her parents and trying to make a living as a photographer. She’s reeling from a troubling relationship with a resident physician and well…it seems she’s ahead of her time.

And then there’s Gaines Townson, a young African-American man who is new to town and not feeling very welcomed. I found all of these characters fascinating *because* of their flaws.

Please join me in welcoming Elaine Neil Orr to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay: Elaine! I’m so honored to have you. I understand you grew up in Nigeria. Was that your inspiration for SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, or was it something else?

Elaine Neil Orr:  I had already written a memoir and a first novel set primarily in Nigeria. My aim with SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS was to lay claim to my U.S. American territory, which is the American South. My inspiration was place. I chose Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before I had a character or a situation or a conflict. I spent one year in Winston, 1960-61, my first grade year. Having grown up among Nigerians, this was my first experience of living among thousands of white people. My school was white, my church was white, the neighborhood was white. This new world was like a negative of a photograph, everything the opposite of what I had known. But I love Winston-Salem now, though I live an hour and a half away in Raleigh. I have fond memories of West End Boulevard, and the grocery down on First Street and Peters Creek and the flora of the neighborhood.

L.L.: Sometimes, I feel we need to step outside our comfort zone(s) to fully understand our role in the world. I experienced this as a junior in high school when I traveled to Greece and Italy. The contrasts between my insular Midwestern world and the clash of modern amidst ancient ruins definitely shaped me. Can you speak more about that, please?

Elaine Neil Orr:  Yes, well as I just suggested, even though I was white I was at home in Nigeria where I was born. All of my early memories are from southwestern Nigeria; my first sense of family and love and belonging is there. “Coming to America” was stepping out of my comfort zone. The contrasts were stark. I still had my family here but the rest of the world was hardly recognizable. What I began to fathom at age six was that there were two worlds and I belonged somehow to both. But Nigeria seemed more real with its mud and plaster houses and the huge rain forest hardwoods and the pounding rains and drums at night. I still see the world from the point of view of a girl in Nigeria. In SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, I wanted to conjure a similar perspective in Tacker. It couldn’t be exactly the same. But he would begin to see the world differently because of his time in West Africa, not just the countryside and the buildings and compounds but the way the Nigerian men invite him into their community.

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

L.L.: And so for you, place is not just a backdrop, but  becomes a character. Like characters, even settings can be flawed. How can readers learn from those flaws?

Elaine Neil Orr: Place is absolutely a character, always. And all settings are flawed. There’s this wonderful word I learned in graduate school. Bricloeur.  It’s from anthropology and it describes some people and cultures and how they practice “using what comes to hand” to create. I like to think that in the twenty-first century, we can be world travelers (if largely through books), and as we travel we can pick up and create our personal and cultural mindsets by selecting the best from a variety of places. In Nigeria, Tacker learns the hospitality of his Nigerian friends. He transfers this learning to his American landscape where he is able to see that true hospitality requires white Americans to invite African-Americans to the table. Nigeria is also flawed. The character of Joshua is seduced by a form of evangelism that causes him to inflict damage on another person—Tacker to be precise. All cultures and places are sites of good and evil. Yet to get Biblical about it: it’s easier to see the bit of dust in your neighbor’s eye and not the log in your own. I hope SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS helps us see our own flaws and collect the good to create improved moral landscapes and communities.

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Photo by Lex Photography on Pexels.com

L.L.: I have to say—architecture and design! I love when I stumble across this element in a book. What propelled you to give this profession to Tacker?

Elaine Neil Orr: At first I was going to make him a hydrologist. I needed a reason for him to be going to Nigeria as the new country was gaining independence. And I knew from my own experience that more developed countries sent ambassadors to help do this building. But hydrology was a difficult field for me to learn. As an art major in college, I thought I might have better luck learning and writing about architecture. I was influenced by Nigerian architecture growing up, both the traditional building of houses and the new banks and hotels with open concrete designs. Missionaries were sent as architects. So it was a good choice. But I still had to seek out an architect here in Raleigh to teach me how to write about design and the elements of architecture. I’m so glad you enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I love to learn about something ancillary to the plot when I’m reading fiction, whether it’s music or science or math.

L.L.: In fact, both of your main characters have an artistic bent to their character. Kate is a gifted photographer, which, aside from Margaret Bourke White, was predominately a male-driven profession in this time. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Elaine Neil Orr: My husband first suggested Kate’s photography. I like the device of giving a character a significant object. In my first novel, A DIFFERENT SUN, the protagonist, Emma, owns a special writing box. I gave Tacker the Indian motorcycle. Kate needed something to help define her. While she’s conventional in some ways, she also has an artistic mother and she knows she’s smart. So I thought she could take this step. And I learned that the Winston-Salem Journal had a woman photographer on its staff in the late 50s and 60s. Her name was Cookie Synder. She actually started with the paper in 1948. I didn’t put her in the book because it would mean they didn’t need Kate. I left that spot for my character! As far as the decision to make both Tacker and Kate artistic, I suppose that occurred “accidentally on purpose” as we used to joke. These identities are within my range. They’re both sexy, too.

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your writing routines or rituals?  You also teach world literature and creative writing…I’m kind of wondering how you do it all?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m lucky to be a professor at a Research I university. That means that half of my job is to write. Two days a week I go to campus and teach. Two days, at least, I get to write, sometimes three. But in the U.S., where only a very few writers can live on their writing, a teaching job like mine is about as good as it gets. I have almost four months off in the summer and do the bulk of my writing then. But even in the school year, I can write and push forward a large project and I have learned to write any time any where, though I love to go to writing residences such as the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  I also teach in the Spalding University brief-residency MFA in writing program. But I rarely take a full load of students. I don’t really need another teaching gig but I love the program and what I gain from it—in terms of the students and the other faculty—more than compensates me for my time.


“The riveting plot and real-life characters would not let me go.” 

~Anna Jean Mayhew


L.L.: What’s on your summer bucket list? Trips? Must-reads? Manuscript deadlines?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m beginning another novel and hope to keep making progress with it even as I keep hopping around on book tour to Fairhope, Alabama, and Atlanta, and Pawley’s Island. Of course there’s a beach trip planned with our granddaughter.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to weeding my garden and walking the dog and cooking meals with my husband. Normal life sounds sweet right now after two intense months of touring.

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Photo by Bruno Joseph on Pexels.com

L.L.: Elaine, it’s been a pleasure! What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Elaine Neil Orr:

Q: You might have asked: When did you first experience racial tension?

A: in Decatur, Georgia, in the ninth grade, while my missionary parents were “home” on a furlough year. No one in Nigeria ever talked about “race.” There was no “race.” We were Americans and Nigerians were Nigerians. No one thought in terms of color. One of the greatest awakenings of my life was encountering the tension in that high school. It had only recently integrated. The hallways and lunch room felt electric with fear and rage.  I was on the “white side.” It was as if we had been branded. I’m sure that experience played a role in my writing SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Elaine Neil Orr credit Elizabeth Galecke Photography 2017.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elaine Neil Orr is a writer of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism. With stories set in Nigeria and the American South, she delves into themes of home, country, and spiritual longing.

Her memoir, Gods of Noonday (Virginia, 2003), was a Top-20 Book Sense selection and a nominee for the Old North State Award. She is associate editor of a collection of essays on international childhoods, Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books.

Orr has published extensively in literary magazines including The Missouri ReviewBlackbirdShenandoah, and Image Journal, and her short stories and short memoirs have won several Pushcart Prize nominations and competition prizes. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL and used with permission]

A Couple Tackles the Great Continental Divide on Bikes for their 25th Anniversary

By Leslie Lindsay 

It’s that time of year again…a whole flock of new grads are setting forth from educational institutions worldwide, ready to take on the world. But what if, what if…your goals falter? What if, maybe, you’re not sure what you want to do with your life? Because forever is a mighty long time.

Recently, I connected with Carrie and John Morgridge. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary two summers ago by doing something quite arduous: they conquered the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with only their bikes, a few supplies, the support of friends, and a very strong will to finish.  They’re not your ordinary mountain bike trail riders. They manage a multi-million dollar Denver family foundation that supports education and encourages philanthropy. And then Carrie wrote a book, THE SPIRIT OF THE TRAIL: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide (Amazon, May 5, 2018) about their experience. I think you’ll find their story not only inspirational in terms of attaining your goals, but in fulfilling all facets of your life. 

Carrie has generously written this essay, which I think will touch many grads, dads, and those embarking upon their career. 

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Simple tips that will help you stay on track with your goals, especially when you feel like giving up

By Carrie Morgridge

To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I took 60 days off work to bike across the country. It was no ordinary bike ride. It was the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the Mexican border. It crossed the Continental Divide 32 times, had almost 200,000 vertical feet of climbing; and, we went on this journey unsupported. This means we carried our food, water, tent, clothes and spare parts. We did get to stay in hotels when we could find them, and we were able to take warm showers and do laundry at least every fourth day. It wasn’t fun but it was an adventure of a lifetime, and at the end of the trip I had never been more in shape, more in love and closer to my husband.

If we hadn’t had the common goal of finishing the entire trip, we might not have. Here is how we got to the end of the route in one piece…

  • Grit – Grit might be an overused term but as Angela Duckworth puts in her book GRIT- The Power of Passion and Perseverance – was the first mantra for our journey. John and I are very passionate about exercise, mountain biking and being together. We added perseverance by never giving up, no matter how hard the days were. I knew I needed him to finish the route and vise versa. When I was a little girl my father would really push me to be the best I could be, no matter what the task was. From selling Girl Scout cookies or being on a sports team. Growing up with grit and never quitting was part of the fabric my mother and father raised in me.

“Carrie’s story of biking the Continental Divide is one of resilience, strength, and absolute entertainment. Cyclists and would-be bikers everywhere will enjoy her account of life on the road.”

~Mark Tercek President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy


  • Kindness – Our trip was hard, really hard. The harder it got, the kinder we became towards each other. In the past, I can be kind of a hard ass, but this trip changed me. I changed my attitude and when John was hurting or needed me, I was soft, kind and loving. I asked how could I help, what could I do in my power to make his moment, his ride or his day better. With just this simple act of authentic kindness he immediately responded like a mirror and was kind and loving on my hard days. When I got home from the ride, I talked differently to my kids and my colleagues. I am much kinder now, and people around me can feel the difference. If you are a recent grad, and you are just starting your first job, this is a perfect time to have a reset. Think about being kind and smiling at work everyday.  It will reflect positively right back to you.  You don’t want to just work at a job, you can personally create your own happy space to work at, and enjoy what you do, no matter what the task.

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  • Pride – There is pride – and bragging rights – associated with biking across the country. John will tell you it was pride in the common goal that we had to finish. At one point during the ride, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, as a muscle in my leg was so overused that it hurt really bad each time I took a pedal stroke. We slowed our pace, took 1.5 days off in Colorado and the pain went away. I was proud of myself to get back on the bike, determined not to stop. We both wanted our kids, our parents and our friends to be proud of us. It is now two years later, and our family still talks about how proud they are that we biked across the country.

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  • Set small goals to achieve your big ones. Each night before going to bed, John and I would review the maps from Adventure Cycling Association and a book written by the McCoys on completing the journey, tips on where to stay and to get food. We would agree on the goal we would set for the day. Then I would break down the daily goal into small achievable goals. Usually, we were on the bike by 8am and by 10am we would take a snack break. One hour later we would take another small break and just walk our bikes for a short distance. Lunch came next, and we would open a crystal light packet, add to our water and enjoy the treat. 3pm was another snack, followed by a 5 minute rest. 5pm is where the mental strength was needed, as most days we biked until a little past 7pm. This is where we would cheer each other on, talk about the day, look for the sunset and try to appreciate what we had just accomplished. You would be surprised how far 60 miles is per day when you do that 10 days in a row. I would celebrate each 100 miles by ringing my bell on my bike. I tried to find any reason to celebrate to the next spin. This helped us both get to the end of the route.

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We never could have finished this ride had we not been prepared. From the research, to the equipment to the 21 days of training we did before the ride. Set reasonable goals for yourself, stick to it and find the good in others.

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

Order Links: 

CMorgridge (3)ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Carrie Morgridge serves as the Vice President and Chief Disruptor of The Morgridge Family Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to invest in transformative gifts for educators and youth. Carrie is the award-winning author of EVERY GIFT MATTERS – How Your Passion Can Change the World.

Carrie and her husband John created the Student Support Foundation, a national organization that inspires youth philanthropy. For the past decade, they have celebrated and advanced the educator profession by creating mindSpark Learning which is focused on empowering educators to tackle the most challenging conditions in their schools through Design Thinking and other strategies.

Carrie speaks nationally to education advocacy forums, at poverty alleviation conferences, and many convenings, globally, that are philanthropically focused. She divides her time between Colorado and Florida. She and John have two children who both reside in Denver.

Carrie and John are avid athletes; in addition to recently mountain biking across the country on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route covering 2,774 miles from Canada to New Mexico in 46 days, Carrie has completed nine Ironman competitions.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission].

 

Carol Goodman on her new Gothic thriller, THE OTHER MOTHER, about postpartum psychosis & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

THE OTHER MOTHER…a creepy Gothic thriller about motherhood and madness with plenty of twists. Plus, she talks about her fascination with the changeling story, her research into mental illness, and those creepy abandoned hospitals, being a Latin major (?!) and so much more

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Carol Goodman hooked me years ago with her debut, THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, about a girls’ boarding school and the unsavory things going on there. And then I was mesmerized by THE GHOST ORCHID and still have images from that book lodged in my mind. So when THE OTHER MOTHER (William Morrow, March 27 2018) came to my attention, I knew I had to read it.

This one is all about postpartum psychosis, but there’s more–it’s about identity (mistaken, stolen?), motherhood, trust, love, and so much more.

What Goodman excels at here (and perhaps in all her writing) is her ability to create atmosphere. Imagine a milk-white sky, toss in an old stone home with a tower set on a hill overlooking a mental institution, add a mother and child and reclusive author. See what I mean…

THE OTHER MOTHER explores an unsteady marriage–one that has just experienced the birth of a new baby. It tackles, also, the bond of mothers in a ‘new moms’ group. Daphne Marist is one of those mothers. So, too is Laurel Hobbes. They both have infant daughters named Chloe. And yet neither one are essentially ‘whole.’ Both suffer from some form of postpartum depression/psychosis, yet the women are nearly polar opposites–Laurel is wealthy and sophisticated whereas Daphne is a little more bland and straight-laced. Daphne (a former children librarian) is eager to get away from her controlling husband and establish a life on her own. She applies for a new job as an archivist with a famous author, Schuyler Bennett in the Catskills–under Laurel’s name and credentials!

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She gets the job. She takes her baby and together, they help the author, (who also happens to be the daughter of the former medical director/psychiatrist of Crantham Mental Institution), organize old papers and write a memoir. There are head spinning twists and a complex tale folded within these pages. Everyone becomes an unreliable narrator.

Please join me in welcoming to Carol Goodman.

Leslie Lindsay: Carol, it’s a pleasure to have you. Years ago, when THE LAKE OF DARK LANGUAGES first came out, I would read it on the bus I took to the Mayo Clinic where I was working my first job as a child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. And now I’m reading about psychiatric disorders and writing my own fiction while raising two girls. Funny how things come full-circle. I’m curious what was haunting you when you set out to write THE OTHER MOTHER?

Carol Goodman: It occurred to me that the period of time after having a baby could be a very vulnerable time. I remember how isolated one could feel and how one’s very identity was fluid. What would happen, I wondered, if someone chose to take advantage of that vulnerability.

L.L.: Being a mom (my two are 11 and 13 years), I so recall those ‘new mom’ groups. There’s a lot of bonding, but also competition. Is that how you saw Daphne and Laurel? What do you feel that kind of group brings to the table of new motherhood?

Carol Goodman: Well, they can be a wonderful resource. As I mentioned above, it’s a time when you feel isolated and your sense of identity is changing. I remember being hungry for the company of new mothers. However, with that bonding can come some judginess and envy and competition. We’re all trying to figure out how to get it right, but sometimes that means acting like there’s only ONE way to do it right. So there can be some preachiness around issues like sleeping, breast-feeding, etc. And then, there’s the temptation to measure your own child’s progress against other children.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L: There are a good number of journal entries from three women and slips in time which make THE OTHER MOTHER a near-historical novel. Can you talk about that for a minute and why, perhaps there are no dates on the recent 20__ journal entries? Is it that postpartum disorders really have no clear delineation as to when they can occur, whether it’s 1950, 1870s or 2010s?

Carol Goodman: I wanted to make the present time flexible to feel up-to-date for anyone who’s reading it at least in this decade. God knows what new baby-gear will be available in the future—maybe digital assistants who take care of the baby. “Alexa, can you please watch little Atticus?”

L.L: Can you talk about your research into maternal mental health?

Carol Goodman: I started with what I knew from my own experiences and my mother’s. Understanding postpartumI felt isolated and had what I now know are “intrusive thoughts.” My mother told me that after her second pregnancy she was so depressed she thought about suicide. I wanted to know more, so I read a few books, including Teresa Twomey’s UNDERSTANDING POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS: A TEMPORARY MADNESS which I found tremendously helpful. For a historical context, I read a history of the treatment of postpartum mood disorders.

L.L.: Also, a little side note: I love the cover! It shows the ‘mirroring’ as well as the play between Other and Mother, O’s and M’s. Did you have any say in how that all came together? What’s the process like working with an art team?

Carol Goodman: I love it too! The only “say” I had was to tell my editor that I loved it! Yes, I like the mirroring as a way of expressing the confusion of identity that occurs when you become a mother. Also I like the white and red lettering which we can see on the title of the new Hulu adaptation of THE HANDMAID’S TALE which is truly the most chilling novel about motherhood I know!

L.L.: I really loved the setting of Crantham—the clock tower, the country club-like ‘retreat,’ but all along it’s a mental institution. Can you share a bit about your inspiration? Is this a real place?

Carol Goodman: Over the years I’ve passed a few abandoned psychiatric hospitals—and what’s creepier than that! I’m especially influenced the Hudson River State Hospital, the ruins of which I pass often. It was built during the same period as Vassar College, where I went, and has similar architecture, which gave me the idea of making the hospital look Gracefully Insanelike a college. Also I reread GRACEFULLY INSANE: LIFE AND DEATH IN AMERICA’S PREMIER MENTAL HOSPITAL by Alex Beam which describes McLean Hospital.

L.L.: There are some examples of changelings in THE OTHER MOTHER…stories and fairytales. Plus, Schuyler Bennett is an author. How has your reading and literary life shaped the narrative?

Carol Goodman: I admit I’ve used the changeling story before in my fiction (see ARCADIA FALLS and some of my fantasy fiction). I couldn’t resist using it again because I think it’s such an evocative, chilling reflection of the experience of motherhood. That new baby can seem like a stranger left by fairies sometimes! I often like to work in myth and fairy tales into my stories, mostly because I love those stories, but also because I feel like they enlarge the narrative and give the reader a sense of the mystery of everyday experience.

A Gothic thriller deliciously riddled with dark motives and shadowy paths. 

~Publisher’s Weekly, January 8, 2018

L.L.: Can you tell us a few “Carol facts,” maybe some things that would surprise us?

Carol Goodman: I’m really pretty dull. Reading and writing take up most of my life, so my days look pretty tame. I read the New York Times every morning, do yoga, then write in bed for a few hours. Then I take a long walks with my dog—and with friends! Otherwise … hm … does it surprise anyone that I was a Latin major? Or that I write my first drafts by hand? The most adventurous I get is when I go off on research trips. Recently I hiked to an island off the coast of Maine that is only accessible during low tide. I lingered for a bit as the time came in. That’s the most daring I’ve been for a while!

L.L.: Carol, thank you. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

You’ve been most thorough and appreciative! It’s a pleasure answering questions for someone who clearly likes to read. I can tell you what my next book is—it’s called THE NIGHT VISITORS and was inspired by my recent volunteer work at a crisis hotline. A woman on the call center receives a call from a domestic violence victim and, against all protocol, takes her in for the night. Then things go awry … as things usually do. I hope you’ll bring your same enthusiasm to that one. Thank you for being such an appreciative reader.

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

Order Links:

the-other-mother-carol-goodman-authorABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Goodman is the award winning and bestselling author of sixteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize, and, in collaboration with her husband Lee Slonimsky, the urban fantasy Watchtower trilogy. Booklist named The Demon Lover, written under the pseudonym Juliet Dark, a top ten science fiction/fantasy book for 2012. Her YA novel, Blythewood, was named a best young adult novel by the American Library Association. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Cover images of reference books retrieved from Amazon on 5.25.18]

Special Pub Day Edition: Mary Kubica’s EVERY LAST LIE now in Paperback

By Leslie Lindsay 

When Mary Kubica arrived on the scene in 2014 with her twisty, dark and obsessive THE GOOD GIRL, I was hooked. And I think it’s safe to say that many others are, too. She’s a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, making her summer books a quick read, and ones I look forward to every year.

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EVERY LAST LIE (June 27, 2017) takes a desperate and grieving young window to the edge. Clara Solberg is shattered when she learns her husband is suddenly killed in a car crash. She answers the door with her days-old infant son in her arms, wet spots on the front of her shirt. She hasn’t slept in days. Her 4-year old daughter, Maisie, also in the car at the time is unharmed. But Nick is dead.

Maisie starts having nightmares and is talking in her sleep about ‘a bad guy.’ But the crash was deemed an accident; a one-car accident due to Nick’s speeding. Still, Maisie’s response has Clara concerned, and perhaps a little unhinged.  Could someone have been out to kill Nick? But who? And why? He was an upstanding man, a dentist, a father. 

Check out the chilling book trailer of EVERY LAST LIE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsYzpz_z0AY

Clara is plunged into a desperate attempt to find out what *really* happened that late afternoon as the sun bore down on the winding road on the way home from Maisie’s ballet lesson. I felt every raw emotion from pity, sympathy, disbelief, even anger.

Told in alternating POVs: Clara’s “after” and Nick’s “just before,” Kubica does a lovely job of writing domestic suspense, her strength I think, is bringing Chicgaoland to life; her characters are fully developed, flawed, and unique. There are plenty of red herrings, too but they are presented in such an authentic way that doesn’t feel forced; in many cases, everyone becomes a suspect. EVERY LAST LIE is chock full of hair-pin twists and chilling revelations.

So pull up a chair and join me and Mary for a little coffee break. By-the-way, she only drinks hot coffee, not the iced frou-frou stuff I prefer.

Leslie Lindsay: It was a few years ago as we were talking about PRETTY BABY at a local coffee shop that I asked what was brewing for your next book. You had just turned in the edits for DON’T YOU CRY.  You leaned forward and said, “It’s in its very early stages but a father and young daughter in a car. There’s an accident. The daughter remembers things that might make it seem as if the father was murdered.” Of course I was intrigued.  What ultimately inspired the storyline for EVERY LAST LIE?download (16)

Mary Kubica: While most of my novels stem solely from my imagination, EVERY LAST LIE was inspired by a news article that caught my eye.  The headline read something to the effect of: girl’s nightmares help solve the mystery of her father’s death, and immediately I was intrigued.  I knew right away that I wanted to do something with this, but being only partway through writing DON’T YOU CRY at the time, I had to table the idea for a bit.  But of course, the wheels in my mind were already turning, creating Nick and Clara long before I began to write their story down on paper.

L.L.: All of your books have been set in the Chicagoland area, which living here, I know is immense (thanks to some stats in EVERY LAST LIE, I now know it tops out at ten million). PRETTY BABY took place in the city, so too did parts of DON’T YOU CRY (also resort communities across Lake Michigan). THE GOOD GIRL was home to a wealthy North Shore community and remote Minnesota. But this book—EVERY LAST LIE—takes place nearly in my backyard. My daughter played a soccer tournament at Commissioner’s Park where Clara met with Kat. My kids will one day attend the high school on Harvey Road where Nick met his death. I know about the sex shops and seedy motels on Rt. 30; the myriad of dental practices lining Rt. 59. I think I might even know the exposed beam converted warehouse where Maisie takes ballet lessons. I’ve driven Douglas Road and Wolf’s Crossing. On a regular basis. So the question is: why this area? And might it have something images (11)to do with the fact that these tragedies often happen to just about anyone, anywhere, or something more?

Mary Kubica: I set EVERY LAST LIE in the western suburbs of Chicago because like you, this is home to me.  My own children grew up playing at Commissioner’s Park – which they dubbed the hippo park themselves, an anecdote that made its way into the novel – and many of the locations mentioned in the story are based loosely on places I know (the police station and Maisie’s ballet studio, for example, as well as the hairpin turn where Nick meets his death).  My previous novels have all been set in the city of Chicago but for this one I wanted something different and new; the suburbs fit the bill perfectly.    

L.L.: Clara’s mother is suffering from dementia. She reminds me a bit of Alex’s father in DON’T YOU CRY who is an aloof alcoholic. I like how you balance two storylines, often one with medical underpinnings. Is this deliberate on your part, or does it just sort of ‘come’ to you?

Mary Kubica: Rarely in our lives are we able to tackle just one mishap at a time.  How often do we ask ourselves, Why does everything have to happen at the same time?  We take on too much, we give too much of ourselves until we’re pulled in all directions and don’t have a second in our days to spare.  To me, Clara’s mother’s dementia is an example of real life.  Many people in Clara’s generation are dealing with aging parents while trying to raise families of their own.  It puts plenty of stress on an individual.  Add in a newborn baby and the unexpected loss of a spouse, and it’s enough to throw Clara into a tailspin.  Not only does the inclusion of Louisa help round out Clara’s character for me and give her some depth and emotion aside from her immediate family, but it’s authentic.  Many of us are bogged down by more stressors than we can handle.  If a tremendous tragedy were to occur, there’s noburroakdistance telling how we might respond.

L.L. And Clara. She is a brand-new mother having just given birth to little Felix, plus running after 4-year old Maisie when the knock arrives at the door that her husband has been in an accident. You convey a sleep-deprived, grief-stricken mother so well. Please tell me this isn’t based on fact.

Mary Kubica: I think most mothers and fathers can relate to those sleep-deprived days, weeks and months after a baby is born, when the amount of sleep we reap is slim and because of the overwhelming fatigue, we go through the motions, there but not there all at the same time.  This is something I can relate to though, thank goodness, I never had a tragedy like Clara’s to contend with at the same time.  I think some readers will be unsympathetic to Clara; she’s overwhelmed, she’s grieving, and she makes a number of poor decisions, especially where her children are concerned.  I tend to feel sorry for her because I don’t think any of us can know for certain how we’d respond in a similar situation unless we were in Clara’s shoes.

L.L.: I know you’re not a plotter, but do you start out with a sentence, or perhaps only a premise? John Grisham says an author should always know the ending before he even begins writing. I tend to disagree. Where do you sit on that debate? And do you have little hacks to keep your story moving forward…note cards, post-its? Have you ever written yourself into a corner?


Mary Kubica:
I start out with an idea, usually some sort of problem that my characters will spend the next three hundred pages sorting through.  With EVERY LAST LIE, it began with the idea that a recent widow comes to believe her husband’s death wasn’t accidental, but rather a murder.  Rarely do I know the ending of my novels when I begin; I need time to get to know my characters and figure out how the story will go before I can decide how it will end.  I write myself into corners from time to time, mostly because I’m not a plotter, because I don’t rely on notecards or post-it notes to keep my thoughts organized, but have a tendency to dive right into the writing (my favorite part!), wing it a little and see what happens.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it takes a little backtracking and a lot of editing to get my ideas clearly across.  Sounds a little pell-mell on paper, but it’s a method that works well for me.

L.L.: There were so many ways this story could have gone. Do you ever have multiple endings in mind? Do you have difficulty deciding which direction to take? I know I would!

Mary Kubica: Yes, there are always many ways the story could go!  Truly, I consider them all before attempting to rule out the most obvious solutions.  I try and decide how the reader will envision the ending, and then do a 180 in the hopes of taking readers by surprise!  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but either way, my main goal is that readers enjoy tagging along on Nick and Clara’s journey.

L.L.: You’re a busy mom and yet your summer is filled with a Midwest book tour, a bit of a break and then back at it this fall. Plus, you obviously need time to write. download (17)How do you balance the demands of a family with that of in-demand author? Do you ever have to say ‘no’?

Mary Kubica: I do have to say no, and it’s been happening with more frequency lately.  I hate passing up on any opportunity, but my kiddos aren’t so little any more – they’re 9 and 11 now, very soon to be 10 and 12 – and I’m coming to the awful realization that they won’t want to hang out with Mom much longer.  I relish these days we can spend together, and make every attempt to keep my family my number one priority in life, which means that I can’t always do the travel and publicity that’s part and parcel of a writing career.  I do as much as I can from home, and many libraries, bookstores and book clubs have been wonderful to Skype or FaceTime with me to cut down a bit on travel.  Beyond that, my travel has been streamlined to help me better maintain that work life balance.  A day will (unfortunately) come when my kids don’t need me quite as much, and then I’ll have more hours in my day to commit to my career.

L.L.: Can you give us a little glimpse as to what’s next for you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Mary Kubica: I’m just finishing up my fifth novel, called 11 DAYS, which is a story about identity and infertility, and will be released next summer.  Beyond that, my family has a trip to Hilton Head planned this summer.  I’m so looking forward to a little time away!

L.L.: As always, it was a pleasure, Mary. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Is there anything else I should have asked but may have forgotten?

Mary Kubica: I think you covered everything, Leslie!  Thank you for including me again, and I look forward to chatting over coffee sometime soon.  Enjoy your summer!

For more information about EVERY LAST LIE, to connect with Mary, or to purchase your own copy of the book, please visit: 

Mary Kubica-9ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels.  A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children, where she enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of Harvey Rd. retrieved from Trulia.com/public images. Burr Oak tree on Katy Trail in McBain, MO retrieved from bikekatytrail.com] 

 

Heather Harpham on her exquisite literary memoir, about love & medicine & parenting, HAPPINESS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Powerful, frank, and uplifting medical memoir deeply infused with love, longing, and motherhood. Plus, she talks about her favorite literary memoirs, making time for creativity, and so much more in this luminous interview. 

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I absolutely loved HAPPINESS, which touched on every single emotion with deftness and bravery. I simply couldn’t get enough–from the charming courtship between Heather and Brain, two personalities of polar opposites (she’s a fun-loving California girl living in NYC; he’s an intellectual homebody writer), to Heather’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth, and the medical mystery that enshrouds the baby’s young life.

There’s reconciliation, how they’ll help this baby girl, and HAPPINESS was recently chosen by Reese Witherspoon as…

Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick!

HAPPINESS encompasses a subtle, brave retelling of Brian and Heather’s unconventional relationship progression, how they come together and it’s all told in such a fluid, graceful way that will have you frantically turning the pages.

Harpham does a beautiful job of describing the NICU, her experiences with medical professionals, her passion for parenting, and her reticence toward adult relationships. HAPPINESS absolutely thrums with energy and is infused with such emotion, it’s hard to set it down

I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Heather to the book couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather! This book! Oh my. First of all, it’s gotten all kinds of praise. But it wasn’t exactly easy writing (is any writing ever easy?!). Can you talk about your path and why you wrote it?

Heather Harpham: Leslie, wow! You are a writer’s dream reader –you’re obviously looking for the best in a book. And yes, as you suggest, HAPPINESS was tough to write. I’ve always been a writer, but primarily for the stage; this was my first book and it was daunting. Because this book covers such personal material, and because it describes how my family formed, I felt special obligations to readers and to the people I love most in the world, to get this story as “right” as possible. Or rather to tell it truthfully, but also with respect for what might not belong on the page.

L.L.:  I was telling someone at yoga about HAPPINESS. I said, “It’s like literary fiction meets memoir.” Now, those are two entirely different genres. And yet…that’s how I read it. What’s your response to that? How do you describe the book?

Heather Harpham: Books that bridge genres are the ones I find most exciting. So I take that as a compliment — thank you! My own favorite memoirs include WAVE, THE BRIGHT HOUR, LIT, H IS FOR HAWK and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, all of which fall into the murky category of ‘literary’ memoirs. Let’s call this storytelling that pays as much attention to language’s possibilities as it does to recounting events. As a narrative move, this can be tricky — you don’t want to over indulge a stylistic impulse at the expense of strong, straightforward storytelling. At the same time, writers (especially those of us working with material that inherently evokes pathos) owe the reader the breathing room of craft — metaphor, pacing, prosody, etc. Crafted language lifts a reader slightly above the drudgery or pain of events into a more bearable poetic experience.

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In the other half of my creative life, I teach acting and there is a beautifully thin line in great performances between the emotional reality of the actor and the character. This line can be virtually invisible, but it must exist. Audiences need that sliver of distance between the anguish or loss a character experiences and the true person conveying it. Without that sliver, watching is too anxiety producing, which drains the fun; we’re worried for the actor instead of enjoying the story or achieving catharsis. Similarly, with writing, readers need to know that the teller of a story is ‘okay enough’ to tell it.

In HAPPINESS, because I was (in part) writing about sick kids and the deepest loss, I tried to find humor or beauty or absurdity to offer the reader as a kind of ballast against the demands of the material. I felt I owed the reader, at the very least, a little levity and passing pleasure, or we’d be sunk!

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L.L.: Memoir is such a challenging style of writing. Emotions get in the way. Memory is fickle. And then, you worry about how others—the real-life people in your story—will react. How does one reconcile all of that?

Heather Harpham: While writing HAPPINESS, I had to be sure I was telling the story in a way that was bearable and sustainable for my family. In particular, I wanted to portray a period of extreme rupture between myself and the man I am now married to — the novelist Brian Morton — and to describe early, difficult decisions we made without turning the reader irrevocably against him. For our children’s sake, it was essential I describe our separation and differing choices in a way that represented Brian’s point of view, to the best of my abilities. At the same time, I wanted to be honest about the emotional turbulence I experienced while pregnant and on my own. That’s a tough needle to thread and I wasn’t successful on every page, but the beauty of writing a whole book, rather than an essay or an article or even a poem, is that you have time. If you fumble on one page, you try again on the next! I tried to make the gestalt of the book encompass not only Brian’s early rejection of fatherhood, but also his enormous, rare capacity for transformative change into the most extraordinary father and partner I can imagine.

In terms of writing about our kids, it was a tremendous joy for me, as a writer and a mom, to record moments from their early childhood. Brian and I both took a lot of notes when Gracie was sick – not only on her illness or course of treatment– but also on the many things Gracie and Gabriel said and did daily that touched us, or surprised us.

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For the Gracie (who now goes by Amelia) and Gabriel, it’s more complicated. They are both teenagers now and neither of them is fond of having a public portrait drawn of their early childhood or toddlerhood. And, our daughter’s pain is described in detail in the book, in ways that aren’t familiar or recognizable to her. She doesn’t remember the vast majority of what she went through during her bone marrow transplant. Our son remembers even less from that time, which ended when he was only two years old. They both want to be seen as the strong, mature, independent people they’ve become. And I do see them that way, but I also see within them every age they ever were, layered and looping through. But in print, I was only able to capture a snapshot of them, an early version. I hope someday they can enjoy that view. As they enter adulthood, I hope the book can offer them a record of a time that was meaningful or impactful, even as it lies outside of conscious memory. But truly I have no control or insight about what it will mean to them, in the same way we can never know how a reader will receive our work.

L.L.: Without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote HAPPINESS?

Heather Harpham: Kids. Lunches. Laundry. Two attempts at dog adoption. Marital fights. Making up. More fights, more reunions. A growth in partnership.  A long search for an affordable, comfortable home. Success — first ever home ownership! Painting walls. Writing group. The beginning of a college teaching career. A new solo show –BURNING. More lunches and laundry and walks. Writing group. California phone chats. Writing group. Long walks, down to the café for a croissant.


“An extraordinary and bewitching book, HAPPINESS has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.”

Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark


L.L.: And so, your daughter is growing up. She’s okay now. What does she think about her story?

Heather Harpham: Honestly, you’d have to ask her. When she’s been asked in the past, she’s very eloquent on the oddity of having such a personal story – a story that is literally about her deepest physical strata, her bone marrow — told by someone other than herself. She seems to have expected that she’d feel a kind of kinship with the Gracie I describe in the book – that this portrait might offer her a way to recall or even reclaim her younger self – but that didn’t happen. She remembers so little of what I describe, and the little she does remember diverges from what I’ve focused on. I told this story from a mother’s point of view. While she lived it, from the inside. Sadly, neither Brian nor I can ever know exactly what she experienced in that time, as much as we want to.

If you’d like to hear Amelia (aka Gracie) talk about these issues in her own words, she responded to a similar question from Reese Witherspoon in this joint interview (it’s the first question Reese asks her).

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L.L.: Part of what makes HAPPINESS so compelling, at least in my opinion, is the grace and ease you write about the medical professionals, the hospital experience. But at the heart of it all, resides a good deal of fear. Did you ever learn Gracie’s diagnosis? Is it still a mystery?

Heather Harpham: First of all, thanks so much for pointing to the medical professionals described in the book. The gratitude you feel, as a parent (or a sibling or partner or child or friend) for the people who save your beloved, or simply soften their suffering, is indescribable. It’s breathtaking gratitude, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-gratitude. And it never ends. We were lottery winners in medical life — we had many incredible people speeding Gracie’s healing over her four years of treatment. I recently interviewed the woman who was our “primary nurse” during transplant, Bobbie Caraher. For anyone interested in hearing Bobbie’s beautiful philosophy of bedside nursing and the need to humanize medical life, the interview is on the Hello Sunshine website.

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In answer to the second part of your question, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss our daughter’s current medical status publicly – which is a condemnation of the for-profit healthcare system rather than your question! Someday, I shudder to say, the Affordable Care Act might be dismantled enough to reinstate the cruelty of “pre-existing conditions.” This would be very very bad for millions of Americans, including Amelia. At the same time, I can say that she’s totally cured.  And no, bizarrely, we never received a diagnosis.


HAPPINESS is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.” —Star Tribune


L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you still writing? Are you more focused on acting? And what’s your teaching schedule like these days?

Heather Harpham: I’m teaching enough to keep myself regulated. Without the structure of teaching, I drift through loose, baggy time without accomplishing much… Plus, I love witnessing the artistic enthusiasm of the young actors I teach, as they figure out how to tell stories in the most powerful or original way. I learn from them constantly.

And yes, thanks for asking. I am writing. I try to show up at the keyboard for at least two hours a day. I keep a little spreadsheet to hold myself accountable. And that helps. I respect work, and so I try to make writing feel like a job. Something you clock in and out of. In fact, it is my job; it’s the work I do that most meaningfully contributes to our family’s financial well-being. Still, it’s easy for many of us (maybe particularly women) to think of our creative projects as a lark. A private fancy. This is rubbish; we need to take our talents and creative work as seriously as any employment. Of course that’s a lot easier if you’ve had some success and thus have time to write. I’m amazed by writers who struggle to stay awake and work, after teaching or doing an exhausting “day” job. That’s commitment.

I had a teacher once, a famous clown (truly!), who said that you should offer your own talent a commiserate commitment in terms of time and energy. He said, only you can evaluate your talent and potential. You alone. If you think you’re talented, show up for your talent. Give that talent a room, and as many hours as it requires. That can be scary or disorienting or downright disappointing; sometimes we’re not as talented, or creatively facile, as we hoped. But then again, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

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L.L.: Is there a question I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Heather Harpham: There is a question I wish people would ask, though, alas it is probably a question for the book I wish I’d written, rather than the one I wrote. This question is about the role of spirituality to sustain us, or destabilize us, in times of exigent duress, fear or even celebration. I found that my own spiritual beliefs were fundamentally challenged by witnessing the loss and suffering of so many innocents during our time on the transplant unit. It was incredibly painful and confusing for me as a believer. It awoke a series of questions I’ve yet to answer about the nature of a God (or if you prefer, the organizing intelligence alive in our universe) who allows for misery with arbitrary abandon. Why is catastrophic loss “allowed” to land anywhere, on anyone, at any time?

On the other hand, we encountered many people during transplant who were disproportionately, even inappropriately (!), kind to us–total strangers who offered lifelines. Why? This is a mystery of equal power. I’m guessing that being tender or generous or compassionate felt good to them; it felt right.

I have no idea why humans are built this way – to bend and help, to care profoundly — but I’m very grateful we are.

I stand in that mystery too. I wanted to express more of this spiritual confusion and appreciation within the book than I was able to. Hopefully I can return to it next time, next book. Unless I have the good sense to write about something less complicated!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you, thank you!

Heather Harpham: Leslie, thank you! You read and respond with such care to writers. It’s been a true pleasure.

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

Order Links:

ct-life-stevens-tuesday-happiness-heather-harpham-0801ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Heather Harpham (b. 1967) is an American writer and theater artist. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the UK. Her debut memoir, HAPPINESS The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, was published by Henry Holt in the fall of 2017 and by OneWorld in the UK. Happiness was the April 2018 selection for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club; chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series; and was included on the “Indie Next Pick” list by the American Booksellers Association. Originally from the northern California, Harpham now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

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

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#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness #Happiness #hellosunshine #RWitherspoon #Memoir

[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo credit: David Kumin]

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Ron Powers on his illuminating title, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

By Leslie Lindsay 

A moving and richly researched blend of history, memoir, and current affairs regarding mental health in America. 

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First, the accolades:

Written by a New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE (Hachette hardcover, 2017; now available in paperback) is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

…It’s a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.

People Magazine and Shelf Awareness have both called it the Best Book of the Year.

The New York Times Book Review says this of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Extraordinary and courageous . . . No doubt if everyone were to read this book, the world would change.”

NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE has been on my TBR pile, embarrassingly, for over a year. Is that because I don’t care about crazy people? On the contrary. Perhaps I care a little too much. Mental illness runs in my family. Not just in my mother who died by suicide a few years back, but other family members as well. I’m also a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N., so to say I don’t care about ‘crazy’ people, would be wrong. I do.

When I started thinking about my author line-up for May, I knew I wanted to focus on motherhood, for obvious reasons, but also, I had personal reasons. 

May is likely the month my mother took her last breath. We were estranged at the time; in fact, she had driven away many family members then, too. It’s suspected she died, fittingly, on Memorial Day.

So I reached out to Ron Powers. He’s obviously not a mother, but a loving father of two adult sons who have battled schizophrenia. Immediately I was taken with his charm and our similarities. Like me, Ron grew up in Missouri. We both attended the same university. Though different years and entirely different campuses. He worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a time; that’s where I grew up. He worked for the Chicago Tribune; I live in the Windy City now.

And we’ve both been touched by mental illness.

We started exchanging emails. His wife’s mother is from the County Mayo. Had I been? Yes! Do my redheaded daughters Irish dance? At least one does. And when we started correcting each other’s lapses in memory, my husband joked that we were made for each other.

But something tells me he has eyes only for his lovely wife, Honoree.

I adored getting to know the Powers family. From their early days in New York City to time spent at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont, to Kevin’s acceptance to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and Dean’s lyrical poetry and astute childhood observations.  Plus, Honoree is one smart cookie, holding a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.

Powers is a loving husband and father and tireless mental health advocate. I’m honored to welcome him to the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay: Ron, it’s a pleasure. Thank you. First, you say this is the book you worked for nearly a decade *not* to write. You promised yourself, your wife. You weren’t going to do it. So why this book, why now?

Ron Powers: A legitimate question. The answer is that I eventually realized that I could not not write it.

I hesitated for several years because I did not want to revisit the pain of Kevin’s death, and because I was wary of my own motives should I find the strength to plunge in. I did not want to debase the memory of Kevin, who took his life in our Middlebury, VT, household in 2005, a week before his twenty-first birthday. As you know, Kevin had battled a severe affliction of schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder for three years before the voices in his head told him to end it.

Nor did I want to tarnish the dignity and courage of his older brother Dean, who was (unbelievably) stricken by the same horrible disease a few years later. Dean has survived and has even managed to stabilize himself via a regimen of antipsychotic medications. He is one of the most gallant and courageous people I have ever known.

I was wary of several mistakes that authors of such books have made. I did not want to commodify Kevin and Dean—to exploit their terrible suffering as a means of making money. Nor did I want to violate the privacy of these two beloved kids, and their mother, my wife Honoree. And of course I dreaded the prospect of delving into memories, photographs, emails, and other memorabilia of these two glorious boys who had been so dear to my wife and me.

I explain in the book why I changed my mind: I came to realize that writing the book was a kind of dharma, a sacred duty. Schizophrenia and its allied brain diseases–schizoaffective and bipolar disordersremain mysterious afflictions to most people. Their victims are shunned, marginalized, and far too often thrown into jails and prisons under the mistaken belief that they are criminals. Yet these afflictions are not simply symptoms of unhappiness, alienation, depression. They are brain diseases, passed along genetically. Those who are stricken lose contact with rational thought. They need to be stabilized and protected, not punished.

L.L.: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE is a tough read.

Ron Powers: Thank you. Sincerely.

L.L.: It’s academically rigorous, alternating chapters of non-fiction narrative in history, current affairs/politics, and medicine with those of your personal (often emotional) experiences with Kevin and Dean’s schizophrenia. I personally loved this back-and-forth structure. I heard somewhere that you didn’t want to include Kevin and Dean in the book, but there they are. Can you tell us how this structure developed? And also the research that went into this book?

Ron Powers: As I said, I wanted to protect the integrity, the sacredness, of my sons, and I wanted to shield myself from the torture of revisiting the past.

I actually wrote a proposal for the book that did not include my family: it was to be a straight research and reportorial history of madness and how society has dealt with it from the awful era of Bethlem (Bedlam) Asylum in London seven hundred years ago through time present.

My publisher, Hachette, accepted this proposal. Only then did the editors, along with my magnificent literary agent Jim Hornfischer, take me aside to persuade me that it would be a literary and a moral error to exclude the very experiences that had led me to propose this book. At that point, I saw that they were exactly right. And so I expanded the book’s thematic scope to embrace the personal. I am glad I did.

In doing so, I discovered that Kevin and Dean had an important, legitimate function in my narrative. They became the reader’s emissaries from the bright world of the normal into the dark hell of serious mental illness.

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When I realized that, I no longer dreaded scouring through the artifacts of their lives—our lives. When I finally dared to retrieve the boxes of their emails and photos and recordings and drawings, I experienced the unexpected joy of re-entering an enchanted realm: the realm of their happy boyhoods, the happiest twenty years of all our lives. This experience led me to re-savor their sunlit personalities and to record their descent into madness with respect and a sense of rightness: Dean and Kevin were living again, for the benefit of all the victims and their families.

L.L.: There’s a passage in NO ONE CARES about the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference that I love:

“None of us had quite overcome the rustic spell cast by the nineteenth-century campus with its right-angled yellow wood-framed Inn and dormitory buildings, all clustered in a mountain meadow and cordoned off from the world by pine forests and the Green Mountains rising behind them.”

Everything seemed pretty ideal. I bring this up because not all who are afflicted with mental illness had such an ideal childhood. What do you make of that?

Ron Powers: You have put your finger on the central argument of my book, Leslie. In fact, ideal or non-ideal childhoods have little to do—necessarily—with the onset of schizophrenia. It’s a rare disease, and still a fairly mysterious one. It strikes only three to four percent of the population. (Well, that really isn’t so rare, is it?)

To oversimplify, it’s the result of a cocktail of flawed genes, inherited in the bloodline. Even people who carry this toxic cocktail do not always succumb to the symptoms.

Here is the mysterious part: the cocktail must be stimulated to its destructive effects by outside, or environmental factors.

The most potent of these is stress: extreme emotional stress suffered in childhood or early adolescence. So, yes, the lack of an “ideal” childhood can be a factor. Our elder son Dean suffered extreme stress as the result of a car accident, with him at the wheel, when he was 16. (This is a typical age of onset, if the flawed cocktail is in place). [The crash] severely injured a 14-year-old girl in the passenger seat. Dean was wracked by guilt and by the fury of the girl’s parents, who pressured the court to have him jailed for six years. This didn’t happen, but the agony of the possibility consumed our son.

Dean’s younger brother Kevin experienced no such psychic oppression. He was a sunny, happy child whose musical gifts—on the guitar—were evident from age 5. Yet Kevin’s affliction was far more severe than Dean’s, and led him to take his life. So, yes, schizophrenia remains largely a malign mystery.

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Photo by Drew Rae on Pexels.com

L.L.: You outline some stressors/triggers/prodromal stages to the possible development of schizophrenia, not just in Kevin and Dean’s cases, but across the board for those who are afflicted with diseases of psychosis. This has all been supported by research.

They are: 1) Stress 2) Exhaustion/lack of sleep 3) Substance abuse and 4) family history/genetics.

You mention almost all of these within the narrative, expect—and I could have missed it—family history. Can you touch on this, please?

Ron Powers: I’m not sure that substance abuse is a trigger for schizophrenia. It can certainly worsen the symptoms for those who are vulnerable. As I said earlier—and I should make clear that I claim no expertise in this exasperating mystery of the brain—that “family history” is an important indicator. But I hasten to add that neither I nor my wife Honoree has experienced symptoms of serious mental illness. Each of us, however, had parents who may very well have been undiagnosed sufferer of schizophremia or bipolar disorder. If this is true, the flawed genes clearly skipped a generation. Please bear in mind that I’m speaking as a writer who has researched the subject extensively, but not as an expert in neuroscience.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Tragically, horribly, your youngest son, Kevin succumbed to his illness when he died by suicide in 2005, just a week before his twenty-first birthday. How did you make it through? What advice would you give to others in the wake of a family member’s suicide?

Ron Powers: This is a hard yet legitimate question, and I want to answer it without any taint of sentimentality or pretended expertise. As I write on the first page of “NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Over the second five years [following Kevin’s death], the infernal process of ‘healing’—adaptation, really—had begun its unwelcome sterilizing work.”

We adapt—if we are lucky. If we are not lucky, or if we lack strong loving connections to others, we may succumb to lifelong depression and regret. Honoree and I—and our dear son Dean—are a family deeply bound by love. We regret Kevin’s loss deeply. To this day, I dream of him several times a week. The recurring dream is not that he has died, but that he has stopped playing his guitar and stubbornly refuses to take it up again. I don’t think I need to spell out the symbolism of that motif.

My advice to others? I guess it would be to cherish the best memories of the lost loved one’s life, to bear in mind the awful necessary truth that life is suffering, and to recall the words of the poet John Donne that have resounded through the centuries:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. . . “

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, please see: 

Order Links:

ron-powers_sarah-junek-05723fee640df64c0c066a69b10a2326d59b2406-s700-c85ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, has studied and written about Mark Twain for many years. His works include White Town Drowsing: Journeys to HannibalDangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, and the coauthor of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers.

He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his critical writing about television during 1972. In addition to writing, Powers has taught for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, and at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Powers is married and has two sons. He currently resides in Castleton, Vermont.

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

 

9780316341172_custom-32e55668193579658a03cb7db817cdca0ed07066-s700-c85LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness 

“Very readable and highly recommend.” 

~E. Fuller Torrey, MD and author of SURVIVING SCHIZOPHRENIA

[Cover image courtesy of R. Powers and used with permission. Other images retrieved from this NPR article, on 5.21.18]

Joanna Goodman on her new novel, HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS, repeating family history, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

More than the title suggests, THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is a multigenerational family saga focusing on historical events in the Canadian Province of Quebec.

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Inspired by real-life events, the author draws on her mother’s childhood and spins a tale that is oh-so-good, but also heartbreaking. In the 1950s, the French and English Canadians tolerate each other at best, but there’s hatred brewing under the surface. Maggie Hughes’s father has ambitions for his daughter, and they don’t include anything to do with the French boy, Gabriel Phenix.

But Maggie has other plans. When she gets pregnant at 15 gives birth to Elodie, her parents force her to give up the baby and come back home. Maggie’s heart will forever be with Gabriel.

Told in alternating POVs between Maggie and her daughter, Elodie, we get glimpse into both of their harsh lives. Maggie is married to a businessman but the marriage lacks passion. Elodie is being raised in an orphanage at the cruel hands of the nuns until one day, it’s decided the orphanage will no longer operate as a school, but a mental institution. Elodie is not mentally ill, she’s not ‘slow,’ and not emotionally disturbed, but she will be if she keeps living this way.

Eventually, at seventeen, Elodie is thrust out into the ‘real world,’ lacking any real skills, experience, or confidence. Meanwhile, Maggie won’t rest till she finds the daughter she was forced to give up.

THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is such a terrifically multi-layered tale about tolerance, religion, women’s place in society, historical elements, mental health, and so much more. It hit every emotion and will make excellent reading for book groups as there is plenty to discuss.

Please join me in welcoming Joanna Goodman to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome! I understand THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS was inspired, in part, by the story of your mother. Can you share a bit more about which character was modeled after your mother and what prompted your interest in this story?

Joanna Goodman: The main character, Maggie, was inspired by my mother, Peggy. Like Maggie, my mother grew up in Montreal. Her father was an educated Anglo who owned a seed store (he was known as the Seed Man in real life!) and her mother was a poor, unhappy French Canadian. My mother struggled with her identity – French/English- in her family and in the province her whole life. Language in Quebec represents so much more; it represents class and religion as well. The French were working class, Catholic; the Anglos were protestant and represented the more affluent white collar segment of the province. Being “half-half” had a real impact on my mom growing up. That was the story I wanted to tell, that was my inspiration. 

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L.L.: Family can be a great source of material for writers. In fact, I recently came across an old photo of grandparents on their wedding day. I didn’t know when they were married, but could match the church in the image to one on the internet. I emailed the church. I got a date. Little things like this are fuel for a writer’s soul. But what happens when true family tales are fictionalized? And maybe not in the best light. Is there any fall-back?

Joanna Goodman: I’ll let you know!! My mother’s siblings – my aunts and uncles, as well as all my cousins – are all reading it now. So far so good! My grandparents have both passed away and I might not have been able to tell their story as I did if they had been alive.

L.L.: So how much of THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is true? Circle one. Or many.

Joanna Goodman:

  • English and French Canadians tolerating each other with precarious civility? TRUE!!
  • Maggie being in love with a French boy?  FICTION.
  • Maggie’s father owning a seed store? TRUE!!
  • Maggie getting pregnant at 15?  FICTION.
  • Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system? TRUE!!
  • Greater government funds being allocated for mental patients than orphans? SADLY, TRUE.
  • Maggie’s search for Elodie?  FICTION.
  • The newspaper ad?  FICTION.

L.L.: I was struck by Wellington Hughes’s seed store. I could smell the fertilizer and the seeds! But it also has a bit of a metaphorical meaning.  Can you talk about that, please?

Joanna Goodman: The book opens with the line about seeds spawning life. Of course, Maggie being pregnant is the not so subtle metaphor! Elodie is her seed. In a sense, Maggie then abandons that seed and it grows in her absence. It struggles to blossom without being properly nurtured.

When my mother first told me her father was known as the Seed Man, the writer in me instantly fell in love with the symbolism of that. A seed being life. I still love it.


“The novel centers around the definition, the challenges, the triumph of family, but it also acknowledges that Elodie and Maggie’s story is one of many. The ending hits a perfect emotional note: bittersweet and honest, comforting and regretful.”

– Kirkus Reviews


L.L.: Likewise, the title, THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS is so multifaceted. It not only refers to the orphanage where Elodie spent her childhood, but also, perhaps the home where Maggie grew up. She was no longer welcome after she got pregnant. And then she’s at her aunt and uncle’s farm…and we know how that went. Once Elodie is no longer institutionalized, she feels displaced in Montreal. Why is home, which is supposed to be loving and welcoming, sometimes not?

Joanna Goodman: The title does work beautifully because it refers to the orphanage, the homes where pregnant girls were sent in that era to have their babies, Maggie’s own home, where it often felt like her mother didn’t want her or her sisters, and most of all, the mental institution where Elodie was raised. But beyond that, and more symbolically perhaps, it refers to anywhere we feel displaced and unloved.

Unfortunately for many people, the family of origin, the home and even the world at large are neither safe, nor welcoming. And given everything that’s been going on in the media with the “Me too” movement, I would go as far as to say that the world can feel like a place where girls (and women) are unwanted.

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L.L.:  There’s a piece in the narrative that touches on repeating history. This is something many families see—and my own is no stranger to the phenomenon. Why do you think that is?

Joanna Goodman: I wish I knew! In many ways I’ve recreated my mother’s life. I run her business, I’ve married a French Canadian who was educated in English and has the same identity issues as she did; I seem to share so many of her passions, it’s uncanny. And I see my teenage daughter becoming more and more like me in her choices, habits and interests – unwittingly and against her will!! I guess something gets imprinted on our psyches, and we often grow up living out what’s been imprinted by our parents. 

L.L.: What’s inspiring you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Joanna Goodman: I am easily inspired! I’m an incredibly creative person and I really get excited and inspired quite easily, which I think is an absolute blessing. Here’s a list:

  • Travel. Everywhere I go, there’s inspiration.
  • Business, marketing, merchandising. I truly love my business and seeing a beautiful new line of linens really gets me going. I love brainstorming sessions around marketing and merchandising. All of it inspires me. A great business book, a beautiful store. I’m inspired by entrepreneurs.

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  • A fantastic Netflix series. I get super inspired by a beautifully written series. (Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?) So much so that I have a writing partner in LA at this very moment and we are currently in the process of writing the treatment and pilot for THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS.

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  • Reading. GREAT BOOKS. Nothing like a great book to inspire me and fire me up to become a better writer.

L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Joanna Goodman: 

Q: What’s my middle name?

A: I don’t have one. I really resented my mom for that all my life.

ON a more serious note, maybe:

Q: Did your mom get to read the book before she passed away?

A: Sadly the answer is no. She passed away shortly before I finished. She’d read so many versions, but never the final that’s now published. It has made this experience incredibly bittersweet.

L.L.: Joanna, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about this moving story.

Joanna Goodman: Leslie, thank you! Your questions were fantastic and so, so insightful.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE HOME FOR UNWANTED GIRLS, please visit: 

  • Website
  • Twitter: @joannagoodman
  • Instagram: Jogoodmanauthor

Order Links: 

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

 

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#authorinterview #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth #MaternalMentalHealth 

[Cover and author image courtesy of J. Goodman and used with permission]