Absolutely delightful, funny, and quirky tale, featuring the English countryside, a harp, and pet pheasant, ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER will warm your heart

By Leslie Lindsay 

Surprisingly heartwarming and delightful read about a harpmaker and lonely, somewhat dissatisfied woman dreaming of rewriting her own life, full of big dreams and an even bigger heart.

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I absolutely loved ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER (Berkley, August 6). It’s beautifully, delightfully written, and so full of irresistible, fully formed characters–I fell in love with Ellie and Dan. I’ll admit to being a little skeptical of this book at first–a harpmaker, really?! A love story? I don’t really ‘do’ romance…but trust me, READ THIS BOOK! 

This heart-warming, funny and quirky love story features . . .

86 plums

69 sandwiches

27 birch trees

a 17-step staircase

a pair of cherry-coloured socks

and a pheasant named Phineas 

These characters simply jump right off the page. I was enamored with both Ellie and Dan almost immediately. Dan is a happy, simple guy living his barn in the countryside of Exmoor (England). This is where he can be himself–surrounded by his orchard and moors, a sparkling creek, and strange little pet pheasant. He doesn’t always ‘get’ social situations, but he has a heart of gold and a skill unlike anyone else–making harps.

Ellie is a lonely housewife. Her days are filled with walks and writing poetry, planning gourmet meals for her husband, Clive, and feeling a bit unsatisfied. She has a list of things she wants to do before she turns 40–and learning to play the harp is on it.

And then Ellie meets Dan. 

Narrated in alternating chapters, told from Ellie and Dan’s charming and quirky points of view, I was simply enchanted the entire time. Reading ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER is a bit like falling into the folds of a glimmering fairy tale, but not–it’s very real and yet there’s an exquisite simplicity about the prose. It’s buoyant and lyrical, soothing, even. I found hope in the gift of music, in the bucolic countryside, and also a refreshing sense of doing what’s right.

You might think ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER is predictable, and yes, some parts are;
but unique twists, colorful characters, and even some darker aspects come to light. I found myself talking and thinking about Dan and Ellie as if they were real people, worried and concerned for them when I was not reading. That’s what I find particularly rewarding–that and how the themes and images leave a powerful residue of emotion. This is a story that will stay with me a long time.

Please join me in welcoming the delightful Hazel Prior to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Hazel, I loved this story. I loved Ellie and Dan and the setting and everything! First, I have to ask—why this book, why now? What was your inspiration?

Hazel Prior:

Hello Leslie. I am so happy you loved the book!

As you know, this is my debut novel so I didn’t actually feel very in control over what I wrote. It just sort of tumbled out of me! I couldn’t help writing about my favourite things: music (specifically harps), the countryside (specifically Exmoor) and characters who are a bit quirky, who don’t quite fit into the normal dictates of society. I like such people and feel they shouldn’t have to justify the way they are.

It was my harp-playing that gave the first impetus for this story. I was inspired by audience members who came up to me after performances to tell me they’d always dreamed of playing the harp. So many! It made me realise how I’d managed to make this dream come true for myself, but only after years of struggle and self-doubt. Chasing a dream is never simple. That single thought became the basis for my plot.

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Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

When I was pregnant (with my now-12 year old daughter), my husband brought home a CD of harp music. He told me, “The woman who sold this to me said harp music is very soothing and good for the soul.” I listened to it throughout my pregnancy. Kelly was born into the world with the harp music in the background. The nurses commented on how calm she was. I’d like to think the music had a little something to do with it. I loved this aspect of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER. What more can you tell us about your connection to the harp?

Hazel Prior:

This is lovely to hear and I’m sure you’re right. Both you and Kelly must have been calmed and uplifted by the music, and that’s health-giving in every way. I strongly believe that music is essential for our wellbeing. I often see how moods are lifted when I play the harp in Care Homes and I know that music can melt away stress (and nothing is more harmful to our bodies than stress). Doctors really should be prescribing harp music!

Actually playing the harp is a mixed experience for me. It’s an immense privilege to bring people this special kind of magic, but I’m often very nervous and self-critical when performing. I play music by heart so I have to remember a lot of notes, which is an added pressure. But I completely love playing the harp, love those incredible moments when the music just slides out of my fingers. I’m looking forward to the day when this happens all the time without any worry at all. As with the writing, I’ll never stop learning.

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Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ellie and Dan live in Exmoor, England. What can you tell us about this location—because I love it—is it as fairy-tale like as it seems in the story? Do you write about places you’re familiar with? Does the harp barn exist?

Hazel Prior:  

I live on Exmoor and my local walks have really fed into the setting. There is plenty that really is fairy-tale like about this landscape. We have moorland, rivers, woods and the sea and they change colour with each season. Sometimes, when the light is right, I catch sight of a scene and can’t believe how beautiful it is. Alas, there isn’t a harp barn, though!

A quote (I think it’s from the Talmud) states that we see the world not as it is but as we are. Because I wrote the story from the viewpoints of Dan and Ellie, you get to see Exmoor very much through their (slightly dreamy) eyes. If I’d written it from, say, Clive’s viewpoint, there wouldn’t be much nature because he’s not a person who registers the beauty of his surroundings much; there’d be far more about the inside of his office!

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Leslie Lindsay:

There are a few darker truths to ELLIE AND HARPMAKER, too. It’s not all harps and countryside, and good times. All stories must have a bit of conflict and so you’ve given us that. Without giving too much away, I am curious if you carefully plot your stories, or allow them to grow organically?

Hazel Prior:

I’m not a very good plotter, although I do try. I had a rough idea about where the story was going but it got pulled into different directions as I went along. Darker elements were always simmering under the surface and there are serious questions about the way we treat each other. As I got to know the main characters, I felt they needed a crisis to jolt them into certain realisations. This particularly applies to Ellie, who is so determined to see the best in people she can’t see what’s under her own nose. Dan, too, suddenly becomes much more aware of his priorities once danger strikes.


“A wonderful, genuine, heart-warming, funny and beautifully written book. If you love Kate Atkinson, Jojo Moyes or Gail Honeyman you will fall in love with Ellie and The Harp Maker.”

~Rebecca Tinnelly, author of Never Go There and Don’t say a Word.


Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a first-time novelist, and so I have to ask what you think you did ‘right’ and what you wished you had known more?

Hazel Prior:

I’m really glad I went with what I wanted to write rather than trying to please any market. I’m glad I let myself be a bit whimsical. I’m glad I was faithful to the voice of Dan exactly the way it came to me. These things were a gamble but people seem to like the end result and I couldn’t be happier about that.

I wish I’d known more about the publication process, however. The whole journey has been unbelievably backwards and forwards, up and down. Just finding an agent was a minefield. Then, when I finally did get that longed-for contract, there was a mind-boggling amount of editing to do. Not to mention a year and a half of waiting after I’d finished while my book churned through the publishing machine. But it was worth it!

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Leslie Lindsay:

Hazel, this has been so delightful. I could ask questions all day, but before we go, is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Hazel Prior:

I’d just like to tell you that Phineas the pheasant is based on a real character. He wanders about our garden pecking at the flowers and squawks loudly when taken by surprise. But does he like harp music? I can’t be sure…

Thank you so much for having me on your website. It’s an honour and a pleasure.

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For more information, to connect with Hazel Prior via social media, or to purchase a copy of ELLIE AND THE HARPMAKER, please visit:

Order Links:

Hazel Prior, Photo © Martin Dearmun 2018ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Hazel Prior is a harpist based in Exmoor, England. Originally from Oxford, she fell in love with the harp as a student and now performs regularly. She’s had short stories published in literary magazines, and has won numerous writing competitions in the UK. Ellie and The Harpmaker is her first novel and she is working on her second.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #harps #England #friendship #debut 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Exmoor countryside photo cred: Joana Kruse. Retrieved from http://www.fineartamerica.com on 8.13.19. Artistic photo of book designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.] 

 

Feminism, Down’s syndrome, how setting is character, and so much more in KEEPING LUCY, a heart wrenching read from T. Greenwood

By Leslie Lindsay 

How far will one mother go to protect her child? That’s the overarching question in KEEPING LUCY about a little girl with Down’s syndrome and one horrific institution, set in the early 1970s. 

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I’ve been a fan of T. Greenwood for some years now and was absolutely thrilled to receive a copy of her forthcoming book, KEEPING LUCY (St. Martin’s Press, August 6 2019). It’s 1969 and Ginny Richardson has just given birth to her second child, a daughter. But there are murmurs in the delivery room, concerned glances. The child has Down’s syndrome; the doctor says it’s best for the baby (who Ginny names Lucy) to ‘go away,’ to a home for the ‘feeble-minded.’ Ginny is married to a rising-star attorney, Abbot (Ab); his family is quite well-to-do and a bit formidable–they say it’s the best thing for the child, for Ginny, for the family. Ginny isn’t so sure.

She’s grieving. She missing her daughter. Ginny’s husband says they should just forget about her, as if she had died. A determined mother will not let anything get between her child(ren). Lucy has been living at Willowridge in Massachusetts and when Ginny gets wind of the horrific neglect and squalid conditions, she and her best friend, a nurse, go to rescue Lucy. A heart-pounding journey south ensues, with challenges along the way–broken down car, seedy motels, illness, and more.

KEEPING LUCY is written with a maternal urgency, told in a dual-timeline, slipping back to when Ginny and Ab first met, with touches of backstory and sharp character development, long-brewing personal desires, and more. I found the character of little Lucy quite compelling and wanted to know more about her. All characters grow and evolve, being clearly changed by the end of this satisfying, emotional read.

Greenwood’s RUST & STARDUST, a fictional retelling of the kidnapping said to have inspired Nabokov’s classic LOLITA was selected as Library Journals 2018 Best Books of the Year, Amazon’s Best Book of the Month, and a LibraryReads pick. It was featured in top trade and entertainment magazines. KEEPING LUCY is similar in that is involves an anguished mother, a near-kidnapping, a road trip, and other similar elements.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely T. Greenwood back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tammy, always so nice to chat. I understand KEEPING LUCY was inspired by real events of the horrific things that were going on behind closed doors at Willowridge in Massachusetts. Can you tell us a little bit more about what the jumping-off point was for you in this novel?

T. Greenwood:

Hi Leslie! Thanks again for having me. When I started this book, I knew I wanted to write about a mother who was forced to relinquish her child to an institution, a so-called school which was, in fact, a house of horrors. That was basically the spark. But what happened as I wrote, was that I discovered the book was about a woman who was fighting not only for her child, but against the patriarchy. What feminism is, what a woman’s role is, and how motherhood might inform that fight was what propelled me forward.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There are some similarities between KEEPING LUCY and last summer’s book, RUST & STARDUST, which I loved. We travel along the Eastern seaboard and visit Atlantic City, and both eventually make their way to sunnier, warmer climates (Florida in KEEPING LUCY and San Jose in RUST & STARDUST) . Can you touch on some of those similarities—and how do you see them as different?

T. Greenwood:

As you know, setting is so important to me in all my work. In RUST & STARDUST, the settings were dictated by the true story which inspired the novel. Coincidentally, a couple of those settings were ones I was familiar with myself. (That may even be why I was drawn to them.)

In particular, Atlantic City has been a fascination of mine, a place where I spent a lot of time as a kid. So too is Florida. I grew up in Vermont, and we were a family that took road trips. A lot. I didn’t fly for the first time until I was thirteen. My grandparents lived in Florida in the winters, and we drove there every winter. I have always wanted to write about the Florida of my childhood, when roadside attractions were the norm and Disneyworld was novelty. I am very nostalgic about places that no longer exist as I once knew them. Atlantic City (pre-legalized gambling) and 1970’s Florida are like this for me. As a writer, we get to conjure those lost places.

I also drive with my own family across the country from California to Vermont every summer. I guess my tendency toward being on the road is starting to spill over into my fiction.

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Photo by Jonathan Schmer on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As far as Down’s syndrome goes, I was reading an article recently about a young girl with Down’s syndrome who is a model as well as educator, spokesperson for Down’s. When this young woman was born, just 22 years ago, her mother and father were advised to put her in a home. Twenty-two years ago!! That was 1997. Unbelievable. What did you learn along those lines in your research? How common was it to put children with this diagnosis into homes?

T. Greenwood:

Wow. That is stunning and heart-breaking. Though, it rings true given that the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals, did not become law until 1990. I was in college in 1990!

My research was primarily about the institutions themselves, about the horrors experienced by their residents. From what I could gather, most parents truly believed that they were doing what was best for their children. And these same parents were galvanized to file class action lawsuits when the true living conditions were exposed. It was one such “school” (The Belchertown School for the Feebleminded) and the newspaper exposé which prompted a major class action lawsuit against Belchertown which inspired this story.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I’m always intrigued with process. What does a typical writing day look like for you? And also, how do you challenge yourself to grow as a writer?

T. Greenwood:

When I am in the middle of the project, I typically get up early and begin working by 5:45 or 6:00. The only way I make steady progress is by meeting daily word count quotas. For me, that is usually around 1500 words per day. I write my first drafts rather quickly – usually in 6-8 weeks. I then spend many, many more months revising. Sometimes I will think about a novel for years before I put pen to paper. Other times, something will spark and ignite right away.

With every project, I try to do something I’ve never done before. Whether it’s subject matter or point of view or something about the narrative form, I always try to challenge myself. RUST & STARDUST was the first novel I’ve written based on a true crime. KEEPING LUCY was also historical fiction, but only generally so. (The characters and their lives are pure fiction, despite the story being grounded in the experience of so many mothers of special needs children at this time.)

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Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope others take away from KEEPING LUCY? Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

T. Greenwood:

It’s been very interesting to me to see the early responses to this book. Some female readers are in disbelief that Ginny could be so firmly under the thumb of her husband. It’s set in 1971 after all! However, one thing I wanted to explore here was the way that not every woman was at the forefront of the women’s movement, that many women were still very much embedded in the 1950’s and 1960’s roles prescribed for them. Feminism was not a ship that everyone was aboard. As much as this book is about a mother fighting for her child; it is also about a woman fighting for her own autonomy and rights. I see Ginny’s evolution from passivity and acceptance to empowerment emblematic of so many women of her generation.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tammy, it’s been a delight. I know you’re a reader, so one last question: what’s on your TBR?

T. Greenwood:

I am listening to On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, and it is almost making me want to hang up my writing hat. It is brilliant and beautiful. If I were reading instead of listening to it, I’d be underlining every sentence. 

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For more information, to connect with T. Greenwood via social media, or to purchase a copy of RUST & STARDUST, please see: 

Order Links: 

t. greenwoodABOUT THE AUTHOR:

T. GREENWOOD’s novels have sold over 250,000 copies. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, Christopher Isherwood Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. Her novel Bodies of Water was a 2014 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist; Two Rivers and Grace were each named Best General Fiction Book at the San Diego Book Awards, and Where I Lost Her was a Globe and Mail bestseller in 2016. Greenwood lives with her family in San Diego.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #historical #fiction #1970 #Downssyndrome #amreading #alwayswithabook

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Oranges and suitcase, also by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this]. 

Astonishingly Gripping, Hugely compelling, and so good–Shari Lapena is back with a new thriller set in an upper middle class neighborhood about teenage boys breaking into homes, plus the rhythm of writing, not plotting, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Suburban noir, paranoia, and murder. No one does it better than Shari Lapena in her fourth book, SOMEONE WE KNOW.

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INSTANT UK SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

NOTABLE BARNES & NOBLE JULY 2019 PICK

Shari Lapena is among a rare breed of prolific women thriller writers. Each book is fabulous, hitting the New York Times bestseller list. In fact, her first thriller, THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR (2015) was on the list for twenty-three consecutive weeks. Her second book, A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, sealed her fate. She knows what readers want. And last year’s summer hit, AN UNWANTED GUEST was a nod to Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, which had me re-thinking whether I should bring that book with me to a little inn on the coast of Michigan. I did, anyway.

Clear your calendar for about 18-24 hours, because this book will be wholly consuming. It could easily be read in one sitting, but those of us who feel obligated to sleep or let the dog out, go to work, or care for the children will still rush through in in no time, as I did. Shari Lapena is back with her forth book of domestic suspense, SOMEONE WE KNOW (July 30, Pamela Dorman Books/PRH) and it is not to be missed. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one, other than I LOVED it! Shari keeps you guessing right up to the last minute and even then, you still wonder…

We start off with a gruesome murder. Someone is swinging a hammer and bludgeoning someone to death. But who? And why? We awaken to a sleepy, quiet middle-class neighborhood where the homes are well-tended, the neighbors seem ‘nice and normal,’ and then a text appears on a teenage son’s phone. A mother looks. A glance, really. She’s in his room because it’s 2pm and he’s still in bed. She learns her son has been breaking into houses. But not taking anything. Why?

Everyone in this neighborhood has secrets–and they certainly aren’t divulging all at once. Everyone becomes a suspect. There’s great organic character depth and yet, SOMEONE WE KNOW is a fast-paced read with plenty of twists and turns, which are all inevitable, mysterious, suspenseful, and smart.

My only complaint…I finished reading too quickly. ; )

Please join us in welcoming Shari back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Shari! Welcome back. I blew right through SOMEONE WE KNOW because I loved it so. And I had theories and the writing was so gripping. But, I am sure you didn’t ‘whiz’ through writing it. Can you give us a timeline of how you start with your books—from conception to completion. Let’s say, initial kernel to draft-to-editor.

Shari Lapena:

Well, I have a book out at the end of July every year. That means I get the final in, after proofing, by about the end of April. By early May, I’m starting on a new book. I take time off from writing the new book in the summer to promote the book that’s out in July, but I hope to get the first draft of the new book done sometime in the fall. Then the rewrites and editing start, and I work hard at that—with the inevitable breaks for work-related travel—until the spring. So it’s pretty much full-on, all the time. Writing, promoting, travelling, editing. I’m getting used to the rhythm of it.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I understand your premise for SOMEONE WE KNOW was taken from the Internet. You read that a teenage boy was breaking into homes in the middle of the night to use their wifi. Just this was enough to set your imagination wild? Were there other themes, or a setting you wanted to explore before setting out?

Shari Lapena:

No, that was it for this one. Once I started thinking about it, I started to wonder what else a tech savvy teenage boy might get up to when breaking into houses. And I thought about what secrets he might find in his neighbours’ computers, and I wondered what his mother would do when she found out. That got the ball rolling… Theme is something that comes out in the writing, organically.  I did know that I wanted to set this one in a neighbourhood where I could explore a variety of relationships—I wanted to branch out a bit.

Leslie Lindsay:

I know from our past conversations that you are not a plotter. You sort of get into the skin of your characters and think of how they would respond. I love this organic storytelling approach. It makes it more fun for the writer, I think, to have a little surprise. But how do you keep track of your plot? Do you keep notes? Diagrams? Do you ever write yourself into a corner?

Shari Lapena:

It is nice to surprise yourself while you’re writing. It’s a bit like reading—you want to find out what’s going to happen next. That’s what keeps me going. I keep track of my plot in my head. I do go back and reread to keep it straight. I also keep a file called “notes” where each day I might write my current thoughts on where the story might go over the next day or two. I don’t do diagrams. I’m hopeless with diagrams. The worst thing, for me, is when someone is trying to explain something and says, “Let me draw you a picture.” I’m not a visual learner at all. I’m better if someone explains something to me in words. I have written myself into a corner—I did it in AN UNWANTED GUEST. I didn’t know how to go forward, so I went back and changed things so that I could carry on. But I think that’s the only book where I ever wrote myself into a corner and had to go back. That was a particular kind of puzzle mystery and the hardest book for me to write for that reason.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Is there a character or a situation in SOMEONE WE KNOW you most closely identify with yourself? Or, maybe one you found most exciting to write?

Shari Lapena:

Ha! I probably identify most with Olivia, the middle aged mother of a teenaged boy, who has trouble getting him up in the morning. It’s not that my son has ever broken into a house—far from it. But that feeling of loving your kids, and worrying about them, and feeling unsure of your parenting, and not being sure of whether to step in or step back—I think that’s very common for most parents these days.

I loved writing Raleigh. It was fun to go into the head of a teenaged boy who hasn’t really got the maturity to make good decisions yet.  


“Slyly plotted . . . Lapena skillfully maximizes suspense with her dual story lines that eventually collide, as well as some deft misdirection . . . many fans of domestic suspense will be satisfied.”

Publishers Weekly


Leslie Lindsay:

What three things can you not stop talking about? They don’t have to be literary.

Shari Lapena:

I can’t top talking about:  how frustrated I am with how are renovations are going; my cat Poppy, and whatever I happen to be reading at the time.

Leslie Lindsay:

Shari, thank you, thank you! This has been most delightful. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Shari Lapena:

You could ask me where I’ll be next. I’ll be at Bloody Scotland, September 21, with Caroline Kepnes, and I’ll be at the Guadalajara Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico, from Nov. 28 to Dec 1 to meet some of my Spanish-speaking readers.

Thank you, Leslie!

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For more information, to connect with Shari Lapena via social media, or to purchase a copy of SOMEONE WE KNOW, please see: 

Order Links: 

  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • BAM!
  • IndieBound
  • iBooks

DSC_0529.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shari Lapena is the internationally bestselling author of the thrillers THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, and AN UNWANTED GUEST. All of her thrillers have been UK Sunday Times and New York Times Bestsellers. Her books have been sold in 35 territories around the world. Her latest thriller is SOMEONE WE KNOW.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#thriller #domesticsuspense #teenagers #homes #neighborhoods #alwayswithabook 

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[Cover and author images courtesy of PRH and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow me on Instagram for more like this. Photo cred: Leslie and Shari–Mary Kubica]

 

Julie Kibler talks about her new historical fiction, HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS set in the early 1900s, how family–humans in general–will always disappoint, why second books are challenging, and a fabulous reading list

By Leslie Lindsay 

Resonate story of love, loss, and friendship, inspired by historical events and connected by the Berachah Home for the Redemption and Protection of Erring Girls.

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In the early 1900s, on a dusky speck of land just outside Arlington, Texas, a home is built and curated by Reverend J.T. Upchurch and his wife, Maggie May for the protection and redemption of ‘erring girls,’ whether by life circumstance, prostitution, rape, birth, poverty, addiction, widowhood, or more. At the time, the home is progressive, and perhaps shunned by townspeople. Who would want to do what the Upchurches are doing? Who would take that on?

That’s the premise of Julie Kibler’s second book, HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS (Crown, July 20 2019). The main difference with the Berachah Home is that it offers faith/religion, a safe haven for these women (and their infants/children), training/work, and they don’t force women to give their children up for adoption.

Told by three vibrant narrators, spanning decades, we ‘meet’ present-day Cate, a university librarian working in the archive section, along with her mentee/work-study student, Laurel. Both Cate and Laurel are fascinated with the Berachah collection, and both have a story of their own.

Mattie Corder and her son, Cap, arrive at the home in 1904 and Cap is not doing well. Neither is Mattie, really. They are befriended by Lizzie (and her young daughter, Docie), who is struggling with her own demons. Together, we see them through unbearable loss, heartache, difficult choices, and ultimately, diverging paths. 

We skip around in time–jumping forward to the flu epidemic (1917-18) and into the early-mid 1920s. It’s clear Kibler has done her homework–meticulous attention to details and historically accurate events are peppered throughout the narrative, giving HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS an authentic feel. She tells the stories of Mattie and Lizzie and Cate with insight and sensitivity. I really wanted to *be* Cate and delve into the archives myself. I was especially moved by the earlier chapters and so wanted to know more about the origins of the home, the land, the remains, and the cemetery—always a good sign!

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Julie Kibler to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, welcome! I immediately fell in love with your spoiler-free author’s note at the beginning of the book. I think it’s great when we stumble upon fun little facts about history that propel us into story-world. Can you tell us more about how you discovered the Berachah Home?

Julie Kibler:

Thank you so much for having me!

I was on Facebook one day when a friend posted a link to an article about the “most haunted places in Arlington, Texas,” and I was curious. I figured I knew each of them after living there for 25 years, but I was surprised to learn about the cemetery for the Berachah Home at the very bottom of the list. I did fast internet searches and was hooked. Once I visited the cemetery, the real archives at the University of Texas at Arlington and began to learn the stories of the home and the women, I was completely sunk.

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“Kibler’s poignant story effectively captures the raw pain and anger these women experience, but also shows them moving forward and finding support in other women.”
–Publishers Weekly


Leslie Lindsay:

The home is no longer there, but what remains—I understand—is the cemetery and maybe some old foundations of outbuildings. Can you set the scene for us a bit? Do you have any photos?

Julie Kibler:

I have taken lots of photos over time, and there are also historical photos available in the archives and online, so it wasn’t very difficult to get the basic setting. I did struggle with the actual locations of the buildings and landmarks–none remain except the foundation of a tiny chapel next to the cemetery. I studied an archaeology project a master’s level student conducted about the grounds and found a few photos in the newsletters printed by the home each month that showed buildings in proximity to each other. I feel I now know more or less what was there and where many of the buildings were, but I’ll never know for sure!

Cate discovers the cemetery in her first scene. Here’s a short excerpt:

“A park is visible from my new backyard. It’s the last quiet weekend of the year. Soon, it will teem with students playing intramurals, studying, or socializing, instead of the solitude I seek this morning. It’s a good day to explore.

The park is small, and thick with trees. Only a few paved paths connect the busy roads and a parking lot, and it takes no time to run the length each way. On my second circuit, I cut through a playing field near the back edge to see how vulnerable my yard is. The campus police patrol the park and nearby neighborhoods, but now that I see how secluded the area is, I’m relieved my wood fence is in good repair. Fortunately, an even taller industrial fence makes it nearly impossible to access it from the field. My windows and yard aren’t visible at all.

I slow my pace, cool down as much as the humidity allows, then walk, taking a long draw on my water bottle.

The sun is at the treetops now, and the sound of traffic is increasing, but still muffled by huge oaks. I walk toward the far corner of the park, curious what lies beyond in the dusky woods. I’m surprised to find another grassy area surrounded by a simple chain-link fence. It’s a small cemetery, memorial stones scattered here and there–an odd discovery in this modern-day park. Perhaps early settlers buried their dead here, and the city graciously fenced the space instead of incorporating it into the park.

A historical marker catches my eye near the gate. I struggle to read it in the early-morning light. Site of Berachah Home and Cemetery . . .”

Here are a couple of photos I took of the cemetery. Many of the markers are flat and sunken, so it doesn’t look like much unless you know what you’re looking for.

Leslie Lindsay:

What about the idea that the grounds could be haunted? Do you believe in ghosts? Did you ever toy with the idea of making HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS a ghost story?

Julie Kibler:

At my launch event last week, I said that I don’t believe in ghosts—unless it’s two a.m. and I’m home alone in my very old house, in a historical hotel, or wandering a deserted cemetery. Interestingly, the smallest headstones in the cemetery, mostly for children, are often decorated with small toys, as if someone comes regularly to leave playthings for the tiny spirits.

I did write one small subplot that hinted at a ghost in the earliest version my editor saw. It was too random to leave in, so we removed it, though if you pay close attention, you might find the remnants.

Overall, I’m just a practical, down-to-earth writer who lives in the reality of past and present, and as Cate says in the novel, “I’m not superstitious. I don’t believe any place or person is haunted by anything but the past. But suddenly, that old saying about a ghost walking over a grave crosses my mind.” I suppose I’ll believe in ghosts when I see one.

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Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Your first book, CALLING ME HOME was a bestseller, a Target Book Club pick, and received many other accolades. HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS took awhile–six years between books–which can be a long time in the publishing world. How did you know when you found ‘your’ story? And why are these second books so notoriously ‘hard?’

Julie Kibler:

I played around with, and wrote a good amount of, eight or nine different story ideas before I settled on HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS. Yes, that many. But none of them grabbed me and wouldn’t let go like this one did. When something has my heart pounding nearly out of my chest and keeps me engaged even after long months of writing even when I don’t feel like writing, I know it’s the one. CALLING ME HOME was a true story of my heart—inspired by my grandmother’s own story—and I just didn’t have the same attachment until I came across the Berachah Home. I’m lucky enough to be on my own schedule more or less, and I just want to write books that keep me awake at night—and sometimes even bleed over into my dreams.

I suspect for most debut authors, finding the balance between revising and promoting their first novel and getting to work on the second is one of the most difficult parts of the job. I found it to be nearly impossible. I attended nearly 100 book club meetings for CALLING ME HOME, and it has had a really “long tail” as I still get requests occasionally. I decided to devote my time and passion to getting the word out about it for as long as I had the energy. When I began to burn out, I then found I was ready to write a new story and the timing was just right.

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Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Overall, I think HOME FOR ERRING AND OUTCAST GIRLS is about overcoming adversity with trust, grace, and acceptance. Is that how you see the story? Is there something else you’re hoping reader’s take away?

Julie Kibler:

I do see it that way, absolutely. It was so nice to find this historical organization that believed in these ideals, even when the women they took were so broken.

I also think I repeat this theme in nearly everything I write: Family is not always the one you are born to, but sometimes the one you create. Family–and humans in general–will always disappoint us in one way or another, but sometimes we genuinely have to let go of those we are tied to biologically and find people or groups that have our best interests at heart. I have had two foster daughters, and one has now been part of my family for 24 years. The other needed us for a time, and then, happily, was able to reclaim her family of origin.

I also tend to write about mothers and children and the incredible bonds between them—in spite of any circumstance that damages them or keeps them apart. These bonds do not always survive physically, but ultimately, they affect every step we take and every choice we make.

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, it’s been a delight. Thank you, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have—like your writing routine, what you’re reading, if you’ve got any trips planned, crazy dog antics?

Julie Kibler:

A friend in my Tai Chi class gave me a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land recently, a dystopian novel written in the 1960s by Robert A. Heinlein. It’s interesting and fun to be reading something so off the beaten track of my own reading choices. I’m also listening to The Widows by Jess Montgomery, and reading The Good People by Hannah Kent (I loved Burial Rites!). I used to read one book at a time, but those days are long gone, so it takes me forever to finish a single book.

I’ll be making a few bookstore stops over the next few months and meeting with lots of book clubs. I’m excited to visit places I’ve lived or where the people I love live—San Antonio, Houston, Denver, Spokane, maybe even California eventually. I have one story idea that might take me to Norway, but that might not be my next book, so Norway might have to wait. You never know.

I have four rescued dogs and cats—all very sweet and well-behaved, but also spoiled because they are my children now that the human ones are all grown, and they like popcorn and peaches as much as I do. These furry coworkers keep me company into the wee hours of the morning, when I tend to do my best writing, nestled at my feet to keep them warm in the winter, and sometimes knocking over glasses of water to remind me to go to bed or feed them.

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For more information, to connect with Julie Kibler on social media, or to purchase a copy of HOME FOR ERRING GIRLS, please see: 

Order Links: 

Julie-Kibler-author-photo-credit-Ben-Burke-Photography (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Kibler is the author of Home for Erring and Outcast Girls and the bestselling Calling Me Home, which was an IndieNext List pick, Target Club Pick, and Ladies’ Home Journal Book Club Pick, published in fifteen languages. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and journalism and a master’s degree in library science and lives with her family, including four rescued dogs and cats, in Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#historicalfiction #Texas #women #friendship #motherhood #alwayswithabook

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[Cover and author photo courtesy of author/Crown Publishing and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this. Historic image of Berachah Home ‘dedication ceremony’ retrieved from Wikipedia on 8.01.19]

 

 

The storied–and haunted–history of one of NYC’s iconic hotels, THE CHELSEA GIRLS by Fiona Davis is about friendship, theater, and McCarthyism

By Leslie Lindsay 

Spanning the 1940s thru 1960s, THE CHELSEA GIRLS pulls back the curtain (literally) on the political pressures of McCarthyism, complex bonds of female friendships, and the creative call of the NYC Chelsea Hotel. 

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I’ve been a fan of Fiona Davis since her debut, THE DOLLHOUSE (2016), about The Barbizon Hotel, home of girls in secretarial school in the 1950s, and was thrilled to receive a copy of her forthcoming THE CHELSEA GIRLS, about another iconic NYC hotel. It’s elegantly shabby–there’s glam and glitz and danger in the 1950s Manhattan, following WWII. Many great artists, playwrights, musicians, actors, and poets call the Chelsea home, but something else stalks these halls.

Hazel Ripley has spent her life on the sidelines–always an understudy, never a lead.
And she’s still reeling from the death of her beloved brother. She and Maxine strike up a friendship while on a USO tour and it’s through Maxine that she learns of the Chelsea Hotel as a mecca for creative types. When she returns to NYC after the war, she finds herself at the Chelsea and blossoms into a budding playwright full of promise. But she’s female and the play is about the war and there are a few other obstacles in her way.

But the Red Scare is sweeping across America and Senator Joseph McCarthy has begun a witch hunt for Communists and the theater/performing arts folks are scrutinized closely. This is a little known era/movement to me and I enjoyed (?) learning a bit about this slice of history.

THE CHELSEA GIRLS, told in a three-act structure: the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, thus a slight deviation from Davis’s typical dual timeline structure, we get a complicated glimpse at the friendship between Maxine and Hazel, an introduction to the theater lifestyle, but also darker aspects as well–spies, homosexuality in a less-accepting time, suicide, and Communism.

Davis’s research into the era and the colorful personalities at the hotel was evident. I felt the narrative truly came to life in the ‘third act’ (1967). It has me curious about the Chelsea Hotel and maybe a little inspired artistically myself.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Fiona Davis back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:


Fiona! Welcome back. I cannot believe this is your fourth book—time flies! I know how near and dear the Big Apple is to you and so I’m always curious how you select the key location for your historical fiction. In this case: the legendary Chelsea Hotel. What was the driving force?

Fiona Davis:

I knew I wanted to set the book in the 1950s during the McCarthy era, and the Chelsea was a hotbed of political and artistic intrigue at that time. Residents like W.E.B. DuBois and John Sloan were investigated by the FBI for their communist leanings and one – ACLU founder Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – was even imprisoned. On top of that, the hotel has had so many famous residents over the years, icons like Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Jackson Pollock, and Janis Joplin, which meant that its history would be filled with gold. I’m always looking for the things that surprise me about a building and its residents, and the Chelsea had everything I was looking for: an eccentric cast of characters and even a secret tunnel, which of course I had to incorporate into the plot.

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Photo by Gratisography on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I can see how it would be intimidating—overwhelming–to select an era or a particular art form. Should it be poets in the 1920s or playwrights in the 1960s or novelists in the 1940s? There’s a lot of ground to cover. Not to mention musicians! You chose to focus on theater and roughly the 1950s. Can you tell us how you narrowed it down? Was it the art form or the era that drew you? Both? Something else?

Fiona Davis:

The idea for setting it during the 50s in the New York theater world came from an interview I did with an actress in her late 90s named Virginia Robinson. She very much inspired the character of Hazel, and talking to her piqued my interest in what happened on Broadway during the McCarthy era, which isn’t a story that’s been told much. We know all about the Hollywood stars who were blacklisted, but not the unknowns whose lives were destroyed. I spoke with Virginia, as well as acting teacher Michael Howard and film star Lee Grant, and each were just as angry about what had occurred as they had been 70 years earlier. I simply had to tell their stories.


“Featuring vibrant, witty characters who not only weather but thrive in a dark period of American history, Davis’s tale of one friendship’s strength will stun and satisfy readers.”

— Publishers Weekly


 Leslie Lindsay:

I have to admit: I don’t know much about McCarthyism. THE CHELSEA GIRLS helped bring some of that into focus. I do recall my grandmother being wary of ‘Russians’ even in the late 1990s. What more can you tell us about this aspect of the novel?

Fiona Davis:

I learned from Virginia about Red Channels, a publication that was sold on newsstands and bookstores for $1 when it came out in June, 1950 in New York. It listed individuals and organizations that purportedly had communist sympathies, along with a list of the “offenses,” which could be as innocent as donating to a clothing drive for refugees fleeing Franco’s Spain. Red Channels became the bible of blacklisting, and if you were on it, you were in big trouble. Even worse, you could clear you name by paying $200 to the company that published Red Channels (a lot of money at the time) and then naming names – thereby jeopardizing your own friends’ careers. It was an absolute racket, and those who were named found it terrifying, with the FBI going through their trash, bugging their phones, and interviewing neighbors, all in an effort to dig up more dirt.

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Photo by joenibraw on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m always so intrigued with old buildings and architecture. Can you tell us more about the Chelsea Hotel? What year was it built? What are some distinguishing characteristics? Have you ever stayed there—even briefly?

Fiona Davis:

The Chelsea was built in 1884 as a utopian cooperative – a place where electricians and plumbers could live next to musicians and painters, with 15 artist studios on the top floor. But that didn’t work out so well, and it eventually went bankrupt and was turned into a hotel, one where residents could live for years or even decades. It had a wonderful rooftop full of plants and trees, and the restaurant downstairs was known for its Sangria. I never stayed there, but I remember stopping in to see the lobby when I first came to New York. It was quirky and a little intimidating, with artwork all over the walls, as the resident manager/owner let the artists offer paintings in lieu of rent if they were short on cash that month.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved the epigraphs at the beginning of each act. They are very deep, poetic pieces that spoke to a certain ghostly appeal. I found several passages throughout the narrative that might suggest the Chelsea is haunted. Any truth?

Fiona Davis:

Apparently, the hotel is quite haunted. The ghosts I mention in the epigraphs are all based on real people who stayed there and are said to have haunted it. One of the best-known is Mary, a survivor of the Titanic who lost her husband in the disaster and appears in the fifth-floor hallway. Dylan Thomas’s ghost is known to show up near his room, and guests have reported hearing the cries of Nancy Spungeon coming out of room 100, where she was allegedly killed by her punk rock boyfriend Sid Vicious. Very spooky.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What did you find the biggest challenge and greatest joy in working on THE CHELSEA GIRLS?

Fiona Davis:

The greatest challenge was fitting the plot into the timeline of the events as they occurred in real life. A lot happened in 1950, from the publication of Red Channels to the start of the Korean War, and I wanted to make sure the story followed the sequence of events correctly. The greatest joy was incorporating my own love of theater into the novel. I came to New York as an actress and worked with a theater company that did three shows a year – one of them even went to Broadway and was nominated for a Tony. My friends from that decade are my friends still today, and it was lovely to step back in time and remember what that was like.

Leslie Lindsay:

What is keeping you awake at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Fiona Davis:

In writing the book, I found so many eerie parallels to what’s going on today, including talk of witch hunts and questioning the patriotism of those who don’t fall into line. The way we seem to repeat history is definitely keeping me up at night.

Read an excerpt of THE CHELSEA GIRLS here

Leslie Lindsay:

Fiona, it’s been lovely, as always. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Fiona Davis:

I think you covered all the bases – thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity!

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with Fiona Davis via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CHELSEA GIRLS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

FionaDavis_Credit Deborah Feingold.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis is a USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction novels set in iconic New York City buildings. She first came to New York as an actress, but fell in love with writing after getting master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages and her last novel, The Masterpiece, was a LibraryReads and TheSkimmReads pick. Her forthcoming novel, The Chelsea Girls, will be published by Dutton on July 30, 2019. She’s based in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#historicalfiction #NYC #TheChelseaGirls #TheChelseaHotel #friendship #McCarthyism 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Dutton and used with permission. Special thanks to Kathleen Carter Communications. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. For more bookish news and images like this follow me on Instagram]

THE HEART KEEPER came to Alex Dahl ‘very insistently,’ about cell memory, organ donation, the lengths a grieving mother will go to reconnect; plus her experiences abroad and a fabulous reading list

By Leslie Lindsay

Delightfully dark tale about two mothers and one little girl; about anger, grief, sadness, and more as the after-effects of organ donation. 

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THE HEART KEEPER (Berkley, July 16 2019) is a raw, gut-wrenching read from critically acclaimed thriller writer, Alex Dahl (THE BOY AT THE DOOR, 2018). This harrowingly, gritty read follows a grief-stricken mother who is desperately trying to seek a way to overcome the pain of losing her beloved only child, Amalie, who drowned. Alison becomes disturbingly fixated on a the life of a small girl who becomes the donor recipient of her daughter’s heartShe feels she can reconnect with her own daughter by becoming close to this little girl.

On the surface, Alison is an affluent middle-aged mother (to step-son), Oliver, and appears to have it all together–gleaming luxury SUV and attractive husband, nice home. But she doesn’t have her daughter. She would do anything to get her back. We fall down a grim hole of mysterious interest and sinister intentions. Grief is a strange thing–it will cause even the most ‘typical’ person to come unraveled.

Told in alternating POVs–between that of Alison and the donor girl’s mother, Iselin, the narrative flow is intriguing, capturing the raw elements of psych suspense, literary fiction, and medical mysteries. The writing is raw, authentic, and I felt a deep visceral and emotional pull.  All events coalesced in an inevitable manner, which impressed and captured me. I was particularly drawn to the sections of the human heart, and overall science of organ donation–though this is only a portion of the book. The focus is on how far will one grieving mother go to recapture the love and connection she once had with her daughter

Alex Dahl is half-American, half-Norwegian haling from Oslo, and she brings her background to the page as she paints a stunning Scandinavian backdrop in this darkly twisted tale.

Please join me in welcoming Alex Dahl.

Leslie Lindsay:

Alex, wow! Welcome. I loved THE HEART KEEPER. It’s raw, authentic, and moving and places the reader in the position of, ‘what would you do.’ I am curious what propelled you to write this story—why now?

Alex Dahl:

Thank you! I loved reading your review. The idea for THE HEART KEEPER came to me very insistently when I was actually in the early stages of planning another novel, and I knew I just had to change my plans and write this book. I wanted to write something that really moved me, and initially, it was the rawness and darkness of Alison’s sections that spoke to me the most. With time, as the novel really began to take shape, I began to understand why- this was personal, and writing THE HEART KEEPER forced me to finally face a very traumatic time in my own life- my infant son’s close brush with death.

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Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Grief and motherhood are almost intractably linked. Both can make us do strange things and there is a sense of grief when one becomes a mother—as women—we must give up a part of ourselves to grow this child (if we have biological children) and then we give up part of our lives to raise these children…they eventually leave the home…and so grief and motherhood. Can you talk about that, please?

Alex Dahl:

I think motherhood opens up a vast emotional register for most women. Suddenly, it feels like your actual heart has unhooked itself from its usual place in your chest and taken on the form of this new person, who will live his/her life in a world we know only too well can hold pain and danger. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin, and to love greatly is risking the grief of losing what/whom we love. I can think of no bigger grief than losing a child, or a bigger fear than the fear of that loss. At the same time, our children are, and must be, separate from ourselves, and we have to let them go, trusting the world with the most precious thing we have; our very heart.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a former psych R.N. and so your depiction of Alison’s response to grief is so very accurate, her obsession with this girl and her mother, authentic. The heart and organ donation, I get a little, too. But I am so intrigued by these stories of cell memory now. Can you share a bit of what you learned while researching THE HEART KEEPER?

Alex Dahl:

I did a lot of research into cell memory as I wrote THE HEART KEEPER. There are some truly fascinating stories out there about the profound personality transformations experienced by many recipients post organ donation. One can discuss whether these changes can be ascribed the psychological aftermath of having lived through life-threatening illness and trauma, or whether they can be ascribed the actual influence of donated organs on their recipients. It is interesting to me that a person’s full genetic material is held in every cell in the body. It is this thought that Alison clings to as she develops her bond with Kaia- she is undeniably the host of her daughter’s heart, and every drop of blood in her body passes through the cells of Amalie’s heart.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I also love your interest in art and how it appears on throughout the text in Iselin’s world. She’s a gifted artist with aspirations to make it big in Paris…but well, life got in the way. Can you talk a little about how art heals? And did you have any inspiration yourself for Iselin’s anatomical drawings of the human heart?

Alex Dahl:

I loved writing Iselin’s interest and creation of art. My younger sister Emmanuelle (Emma Dahl, Instagram @emma_dh99) is a vastly talented artist in Paris, and my grandmother was a painter as well as a novelist. While drawing and painting are talents that have unfortunately passed me by, I have grown up around visual arts, in a family of artists. I tend to think in pictures and Iselin’s art was very clear to me- like her, I am fascinated by birds and hearts. I believe that art is one of our most accessible, powerful routes to healing. It is often pain and despair that gives birth to great art and in its creation, some solace and healing is found. To quote Nietzsche:

One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m curious about your half-Norwegian, half-American background—it sounds as if you’ve traveled all over the world and know several languages. There are American references in THE HEART KEEPER, but Norwegian ones, too. I love that! How have your experiences influenced you as a writer?

Alex Dahl:

My experiences definitely influence me as a writer. On a personal level I feel that my international experience defines me and the way I live. I love discovering new cultures and learning foreign languages, and often use these references in writing fiction. Growing up, I definitely felt like an American in Norway and like a Norwegian in the U.S, and I deliberately gave Alison this outsider perspective in THE HEART KEEPER. I wanted to fully understand and empathize with Alison, and to be able to go all the way into the depths of her despair with her, I gave her quite a few traits and experiences that reflect my own. I am very driven by a desire to discover as much as possible of our beautiful world, and hope to live in more exciting places in the future- experiences which are sure to inform and inspire future writing. My all-round favorite is France, and I know I will live in Paris again at some point. I’d also like to spend extended time in San Francisco, Tel Aviv, Normandy, Vienna, the Alps, and Saint Petersburg.

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“This psychological thriller may also be a horror story, but one that feels natural—if utterly unhinged.”

~Publisher’s Weekly 


Leslie Lindsay:

In the backmatter of THE HEART KEEPER, you list several books that have made an impact. I am going to have to add more to my TBR! What else is on your radar this summer and fall in terms of forthcoming literature?

Alex Dahl:

I am very often rather late to the party when it comes to reading- my TBR list is SO long! Recently I read Lullaby [THE NANNY in U.S.] by Leïla Slimani and Great House by Nicole Krauss, both of which I found incredible and affecting. I loved Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney, too, and am looking forward to reading Normal People this summer. I also want to read Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, Madame Zero by Sarah Hall, and Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane.

Leslie Lindsay:

Alex, I could probably ask questions all day. Such a fascinating concept and compelling read. Is there anything I should have asked, but didn’t?

Alex Dahl:

I really enjoyed answering your questions. It feels great to be talking about THE HEART KEEPER! You could ask me what I would do if I wasn’t an author…The answer to that is that I’d be a psychotherapist. I am increasingly interested in psychology and the workings of the human mind. I believe that therapy is an incredible tool for developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and our circumstances. I also love the way therapy and writing compliment and inform each other- it is definitely not unlikely that I’ll pursue a qualification as a creative writing therapist in the future.

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Photo by Rahul on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with Alex Dahl via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE HEART KEEPER, please visit:

Order links: 

2167982ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Alex Dahl was born in Oslo and is the critically acclaimed author of The Boy at the Door. She graduated with a B.A. in Russian and German linguistics with international studies and went on to complete an M.A. in creative writing at Bath Spa University, followed by an M.S. in business management at Bath University. Alex has published short stories in the U.K. and the U.S. and is a serious Francophile.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#domesticfiction #domesticsuspense #paranoia #obsession #hearttransplant #organdonation #motherhood #cellmemory 

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

Bad neighbors, domestic agony and protecting lives in THOSE PEOPLE; plus Louise Candlish chats about her new puppy, the next book, and more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Could your neighbor make you angry enough to kill? That’s what Louise Candlish sets out to discover in her new domestic thriller, THOSE PEOPLE. 

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Last year’s critically acclaimed OUR HOUSE had me on my toes wondering ‘who did it and why;’ I was flipping the pages uber-fast. And I love that Louise is focused on middle class suburbia, and those lingering ‘what-if’ questions. In THOSE PEOPLE (June 2019), she is acidly wry with sharp insights about human nature.

For the families on Lowland Way, everything is pretty darn idyllic. The homes are stately and the neighborhood is sought-after by homeowners, the children attend good schools, and there’s that new ‘Play Out Sunday’ initiative in which a local homeowner has organized raising good press. But things on Lowland way take a nose dive when Darren and Jodie move in.

Here, we meet several groups of neighbors–the married brothers who share a back garden, the couple with the new baby, the B&B owner, and well, Darren and Jodie who play loud music at all hours, are in constant renovations, repairing and selling used cars on the front lawn, and refuse to ‘make nice,’ with any neighbors. 

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Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery on Pexels.com

Someone is killed. And then someone else. Accusations and nit-picking abound. Everyone and no one has a motive. Told in a retroactive style, we start knowing there’s been a horrible accident, a police inquiry, and homeowners being ‘interviewed,’ which gives this a slight police procedural feel. The writing is wry, snappy, and we slip back and forth between time and POV, which means hearing the same thing in a different light. I loved the references to the homes themselves, the idea of an ideal neighborhood, and of course, how simple things, like a neighbor, can push us over the edge.

Those who like ambiguous endings might like the puzzle of THOSE PEOPLE, in which there really is no clear resolution, no clear winner or loser. If you like BIG LITTLE LIES and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, I think you’ll love THOSE PEOPLE.

Please join me in welcoming Louise Candlish back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Hi, Louise! I am always, always wondering why this book, why now? Another author friend of mine says you should start writing when your pot is ‘bubbling over.’ And so what was it for you?

Louise Candlish:

Thank you for having me! I had been immersed in property stories while writing OUR HOUSE and noticed a huge number of news stories about neighborhood vendettas. They were riveting – and often scary – and the plot of THOSE PEOPLE started to brew in the background while I completed OUR HOUSE. I had a bad neighbor myself a few years ago, a DIY fanatic who drilled at dawn and lit bonfires that smoked out our house, and I drew on the helpless fury I felt.


“This fiendishly twisty and suspenseful tale of secrets, lies, jealousy, and intrigue keeps readers guessing until the very end. Fans of Celeste Ng and Leila Slimani will be pleased with this contemporary take on families and violence.”

Booklist


Leslie Lindsay:

I love how you focus on houses and homes, neighbors, and neighborhoods. There’s so much that can wrong—or right—but often times, we’re all flawed human beings. Those walls cannot always contain our domestic agony. It starts to leak out. Can you talk about that, please?

Louise Candlish:

Domestic noir is often concerned with what goes on behind closed doors, but THOSE PEOPLE puts much of the drama out in the street, too. What fascinates me about humans is how we know the rational way to deal with disagreement, the civilized way, and yet emotions cause matters to escalate into something more primitive. In THOSE PEOPLE there is not enough support from the authorities. Even grown-ups need a bit of supervision sometimes.

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Photo by Haikal Omar on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Also, in THOSE PEOPLE, we see how a small community like the residents of Lowland Way can slowly devolve to the brink of madness. We get terribly uncomfortable with those around us, we obsess and do strange things. Was that your goal here? What do you hope readers ‘take away?’

Louise Candlish:

A couple of things. One: it’s natural to obsess and to feel hateful and even murderous impulses when your home and family is threatened, but you must not act on these impulses. Winning a petty victory over a boundary conflict or parking infraction is less satisfying if you’re in a prison cell as a consequence. Second: everyone’s life, everyone’s opinion, is of equal value. Some of the residents of Lowland Way seem to think theirs is worth more, and this is their undoing.

Leslie Lindsay:

Does Lowland Way actually exist? I am guessing not, but can you tell us where you’ve borrowed some of your ideas for the neighborhood?

Louise Candlish:

Lowland Way does not exist, but this kind of street is typical of south London and has the features of any affluent suburb. In British cities, there is a resurgence of street events and children’s activities; cars being cleared to let kids play out the old-fashioned way. I’ve seen quite strident parents leading these activities and they have a tendency to assume everyone else adores their children as much as they do. Such characters inspired Naomi Morgan and it was fun having Darren Booth resist her charms

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Photo by paul voie on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Louise Candlish:

What a great question! I am currently avoiding politics and talking a lot about:

1) Tennis (Wimbledon just finished here in London).

2) My new puppy, who joins our family soon (he is a fox red Labrador and called Bertie after Bertie Wooster).

3) Holidays. After a crazy year, I’m finally taking a break, and can’t wait to swim in the sea in Western France, even if it is the Atlantic and a little cold!

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Louise Candlish:

The pleasure was mine! I’m working now on a story about two commuters whose lives are revealed to be dangerously linked after one of them disappears. It’s set near the river Thames, so a bit more central than the deep suburban noir of THOSE PEOPLE.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with Louise Candlish via social media, or to purchase a copy of THOSE PEOPLE, please visit: 

Order links: 

Louise Candlish (c) Jonny Ring (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Louise Candlish attended University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before becoming a novelist. She lives with her husband and daughter.

Find out more online at www.louisecandlish.com, and on Facebook at LouiseCandlishAuthor, and on Twitter at @louise_candlish.

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#domesticsuspense #UK #London #neighbors #murder #suburbannoir #domesticfiction

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

 

 

 

 

Bianca Marais takes us back to post-Apartheid South Africa in her stunning new book, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH, about several strong-willed women, one abandoned baby, how we’re all connected, & more

By Leslie Lindsay ‘

Emotional and powerful read about post-apartheid South Africa combing the lives of three very different women and one abandoned newborn. 


I read HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS (Putnam, March 2018) and immediately fell in love with Robin and Beauty and also the author, Bianca Marias. In this new title, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH (July 16 2019), you’ll meet a series of three very different women–Dee (Delilah) an ex-nun with a history, her sister, Ruth (an ex-stripper with multiple ex-husbands), and Zodwa, a pregnant Zulu teen living in a squatter camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg. How these three women come together will shake you–and just may have you cheering for each one, but for different reasons.

Delivered in short, alternating chapters narrated by Ruth, Zodwa, and Delilah, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH shares its characters’ divergent perspectives on class, race, and faith as it probes closely at the 1990s political and socioeconomic headlines. This narrative is complex and there are a lot things going on under the context–rape and rampant racism, stigma surrounding homosexuality, priest abuse and church corruption, orphanages, the AIDS epidemic, even cover-ups in government institution, one of which came as a surprise to me. There were just a few parts that I felt less connected to, or that seemed to drag, but this could just be me.

The writing comes from an experienced hand, one that is emotionally rich and resonate surrounding the blatant corruption of innocents and vulnerable populations. I found much explanation–and fully immersed–in a culture not typically visited by literature, which is exactly what I like–building empathy and understanding of other people and cultures.

I promise, IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH will pull at your heartstrings and have you rooting for the underdog, which is just about everyone. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Bianca Marias back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Bianca, so thrilled you can join us! I am still thinking about these characters, the heartache, their complicated lives. What inspired you to delve into their histories? Did a certain character ‘speak’ to you, or was there a time or place you wanted to explore? Both? Something else?

Bianca Marias:

Thank you, Leslie! I’m thrilled to be back again and thank you so much for your wonderful review of the novel!

The answer is definitely both! Characters tend to come to me before a plot and so I end up constructing a story around the characters. I spent a lot of time in South African squatter camps in the 2000s and felt extremely emotionally invested in the women there. Zodwa felt very real to me from the beginning because of that. Ruth and Delilah came to me early on as well although I wasn’t sure that I could explore them both in the same story – I’m so glad that I was able to.

For me, ‘truth’ has always been a very subjective construct. You and I could experience the exact same thing and yet we’d perceive it completely differently. That fascinates me and so having these three very different women experience the same time frame and much of the same space, and yet do so from such very different perspectives was what made this story so interesting.

That period in South Africa’s history has always been very compelling for me, both for the transformation that the country went through at the time, and because of the terrible issues it was facing: the AIDS pandemic, ongoing racism, forgiveness, etc. I wanted to explore it and these characters allowed me to do it.

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Photo by Asa Dugger on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I love that Beauty and Robin [characters from your 2018 book, HUM IF YOU DON’T KNOW THE WORDS] make a sort of cameo appearance. Can you tell us about them and their connection to Zodwa, Ruth, and Delilah? Bearing in mind, this is not a sequel.

Bianca Marias:

I fell so in love with Beauty and Robin while writing HUM and even started a sequel that I didn’t get to finish, and so I knew exactly what they were up to in the 90s when this story takes place. And life is just a series of interconnected threads, isn’t it? Our connections to people, those we have relationships with and those who we may pass dozens of times without ever meeting. I wanted all their threads to link up and so Beauty is Zodwa’s mother’s best friend. She lives in the squatter camp with them as she still searches for her daughter, Nomsa, who went back to the armed struggle after she was briefly reunited with Beauty in HUM. Robin is still a huge part of Beauty’s life and while she wants Beauty to live with her in her home, Beauty refuses to because she wants to be a part of building the country up again from grassroots level.

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Photo by Blue Ox Studio on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’re originally from South Africa, but now reside in Toronto. How does place shape the writer you’ve become? Does it?

Bianca Marias:

It absolutely does. I grew up during apartheid in South Africa and so that’s essentially what shaped me: being a part of the problem; always benefiting from the oppression of others; seeing people I loved suffering because of the color of their skin. Everything that I focus on as a writer stems from that. It’s the lens through which I see the world, and try and make sense of in my writing.

Leslie Lindsay:

The part of IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH that really pulled at my heartstrings was the orphanage. You have done some volunteer work with Cotlands, where you assisted care workers in Soweto providing aid to HIV/AIDS orphans. This had to have been such challenging—but important—work. What more can you share about that experience?

Bianca Marias:

Spending time in an orphanage with terminally ill children changes you in a way you can never anticipate when you first decide to volunteer. When I started there in 2003, most HIV positive children were only living to the age of two. That changed later once Cotlands managed to make ARVs available to them. Eventually, there were so many children orphaned by the pandemic that Cotlands couldn’t house them all in the sanctuary, and had to start a Home Based Care Program in Soweto where children were homed with surviving extended family members or members of the community.

My time there was the most defining period of my life. It gave me enormous respect for the gogos (grannies) who stepped into the void that the AIDs pandemic had created and who, in their golden years, were having to raise sick grandchildren even as they mourned their own children.

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin @belart84 on Pexels.com

“Lovely….Marais showcases her talent for pulling beauty from the pain of South African history with a strong story and wonderfully imperfect characters.”

Publishers Weekly


Leslie Lindsay:

Ultimately, I think IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH is about love, loss, the resilience of the human experience, but it’s also about friendship. And how far would you go to save your heart—and that of the one you love—is that how you would sum it up? What do you hope readers remember?

Bianca Marias:

Yes, definitely! It’s also about connectedness and how we have the families we’re born with but how we can also create family through choice. It’s about letting go of lifelong prejudices and loving a single person regardless of their race or religion. It’s about how much better we are, how much stronger we are, when we help one another and accept help from one another. It’s about realizing that we are so much bigger and more powerful than we think, and that we have an almost infinite capacity to change the world in small ways when we want to. It’s about standing up to those who bully, intimidate, discriminate against and violate us. It’s about taking your life back when so much has already been taken from you.

Leslie Lindsay:

The page is blank. What is calling to you? And what advice might you give to writers who have reached a ‘lull.’

Bianca Marias:

I have a few projects on the go at the moment. I felt quite emotionally drained after writing ‘If You Want to Make God Laugh’ because it was such a personal story for me. I’m taking some time away from the serious themes to write a domestic psychological thriller which I’m having a lot of fun with. And after that, I have another idea for a more literary novel exploring the loss of identity.

In terms of advice: just keep writing. The world is so full of stories and I don’t just mean the big ones that you see in the news every day. You just have to take a walk in a park to see dozens of tiny moments that can speak to you. Find a moment that compels you and that you want to capture, and then go and write it down. Don’t worry so much about the big picture or the big project – will it be a novel or what is it? It doesn’t matter.  Just write it down and see where it takes you.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Bianca Marias:

Thank you so much, Leslie for your wonderful support of my work. It means so much to me! Your questions were wonderful!

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with Bianca Marias via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOW TO MAKE GOD LAUGH, please see: 

Order Links: 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bianca Marais is the author of the beloved Hum If You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh. She holds a certificate in creative writing from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, where she now teaches creative writing. Before turning to writing, she started a corporate training company and
volunteered with Cotlands, where she assisted care workers in Soweto
​with providing aid for HIV/AIDS orphans. She runs the Eunice Ngogodo Own Voices Initiative to empower young black women in Africa to write and publish their own stories. Originally from South Africa, she now resides in Toronto with her husband. Listen to interviews and podcasts in which she talks about growing up in South Africa, as well as what inspired her to write Hum If You Don’t Know the Words.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #SouthAfrica #women #AIDS #postApartheid 

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[Author and cover images retrieved from author’s website on 7.6.19. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]. 

Debut author Martine Fournier-Watson talks about how our lives are magical, how it comes from within, her hopes and worries; how to query agents and so much more in THE DREAM PEDDLER

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously and lyrically told debut from Martine Fournier Watson about desires and hopes, grief and love set against the backdrop of a small town in the early 1900s.

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How could I *not* pick up a book entitled, THE DREAM PEDDLER (Penguin, April 2019)? I love small towns and dreams…so this was exactly my kind of read. The premise here is that a traveling salesman comes to town with the promise of being able whip up a potion for you to have a very delightful dream, money back guarantee if you don’t. So would you purchase a dream potion?

Maybe you’d like the chance to reconnect with a lost loved one, have some superpower, a passionate fantasy, or some other personal triumph.

Robert Owens comes into a small farming town pulling a buggy of potions behind him on the very day a young boy, Ben, goes missing. Parents and townspeople search for the boy and Robert quietly sets up shop. Before long, townsfolk begin seeking out Mr. Owens to request a dream for themselves. But it real? Is it magic?

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

Watson beautifully builds the world of this rural farming community and I felt at complete ease and delight with the simpler pleasures of life: quaint activities like lunch picnics, the quilting bee, town fair, prize-winning pies and cobblers, and everyone goes to church every Sunday. There’s gossip and hope and help, and a little trouble, but all is usually resolved. I enjoyed Robert’s backstory, but there were a few things that felt unresolved–at least for me.

At the heart of THE DREAM PEDDLER is how a stranger can be folded into the arms of a community, how neighbors look out for one another, and also how everyone is always struggling to reconcile needs and desires, tumultuous events with grace and love.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Martine Fournier Watson to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Martine, this book truly unfolds like a dream. I was captured and swept away with the small-town atmosphere, which you completely brought to life. But first things first. THE DREAM PEDDLER is your debut. What got you writing? Why this story now?

Martine Fournier Watson:

I think I’m one of those people who was always a writer. I learned to read and write in the first grade, and I also remember penning my very first short story that year, too. I never really studied writing formally because I had so many other interests—I considered being an actress, an artist, and took classical voice lessons for years—but I was always writing on the side, and I was always reading.

One of my favorite authors growing up was L. M. Montgomery. She’s most widely known for her Anne of Green Gables books, but she also wrote a shorter series about another orphaned heroine named Emily Byrd Starr. Emily wants to be a writer, and at fourteen she has an idea for a book called A Seller of Dreams. Knowing she’s too young to do the idea justice, she jots down some notes and only returns to them in the final installment of the trilogy, when she writes the book out and sends it to some publishers. After it’s rejected three times, she gives it to an older friend to read because he’s worldly and wise and she trusts his opinion. She explains that she’s not sure if the book is good enough to publish, but if he tells her that it is, she’ll keep trying. And if he tells her that it isn’t, she’ll burn it. The friend, secretly in love with her and jealous of her book, lies and tells her it isn’t any good, and she does destroy it.

This fictional book that never took its rightful place in the world haunted my imagination all through my teens. And while I didn’t expect L. M. Montgomery to outline the whole book or anything, it still irritated me that apart from hints about it being magical and something of a modern-day fairytale, the reader was never allowed to know anything beyond its title. I thought about it a lot, wondering what shape such a tale might take.

I wrote my own first book, or try at a book, when I was in my mid-twenties. Unlike Emily, I didn’t need any second opinion to figure out that it was terrible, so I put it away. I set writing aside altogether, actually, after I had two children and stayed home to raise them. Then, when my youngest started kindergarten, I had all kinds of time on my hands, and I wanted to write again, and I remembered Emily’s A Seller of Dreams. I knew it was the book that I needed to write. I felt a little bit like Emily, too—she knew when she had her idea that she was too inexperienced to do it justice, and so did I. After my first failed attempt at a novel, I knew that I should wait for a much better premise before trying another. I needed more life experience, more time, before I could even attempt something like THE DREAM PEDDLER. And that’s how I ended up debuting at forty-four.

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Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

And dreams! I’ve always been so intrigued with them and have had a lively dream life myself. In fact, some of them make their way into words and stories of mine. Is it that way for you, too?

Martine Fournier Watson:

Actually, quite the opposite! Once in a while I’ll have a hair-raising nightmare or a particularly odd dream, but most of my dreams are unbelievably dull. Seriously, I’ll dream that I’m in the grocery store and can’t find the orange juice. I think this is supposed to be a sign that I’m very contented or something, and that’s certainly true. But it’s guaranteed that I was drawn to the idea of people buying dreams because my own are so boring. Buying an exciting dream feels like such a simple way to spice up a humdrum life. On the surface, at least, it seems like a path to excitement that would have no real consequences. I had a lot of fun exploring that idea with this book.


“Awash in poetic language and remarkable characters . . . A mesmerizing story forged by breathtaking prose, Watson’s novel is an intoxicating exploration of desire and loss.”
Dianca London Potts, Read it Forward


Leslie Lindsay:

My great-grandfather was a traveling salesman. I recently acquired a copy of the book he sold: POTIONS AND POISONS. Really. He was an exterminator and sold this companion book. It’s a bit like Robert Owens, but not. So…would you buy a dream from Robert Owens?

Martine Fournier Watson:

Well, when you put it like that! Seriously, though, if I didn’t buy a dream from him it wouldn’t be because of any fear of the contents. I had those old-fashioned tonics and oils in mind, the kind of thing that may not do you any good but certainly won’t do you any harm, either. It’s just that if I could insert myself into the town I created, I wouldn’t be the person most likely to take an interest. All the people who buy from him have a good reason—a need, a fantasy, something they want out of life that they aren’t getting. I don’t really fall into that category. Maybe that’s why I don’t have a lot of exciting or wish-fulfilling dreams. I love my life as it is, and I’m not too hard to please. I also do plenty of fantasizing when I’m awake, and of course my imagination is also my livelihood, so maybe I don’t need as much of that at night.

There’s a moment in THE DREAM PEDDLER when Robert puts his hand over the heart of another character and tells him that this is where the adventure of life really is. I believe that, myself. As much as I love to travel and try new things, all I really need to be happy is a walk in the woods I have known for years.

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Photo by fall maple on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

At the heart of THE DREAM PEDDLER is the mysteries of love and desire and hope. There’s a bit of magic, too. And fear. In fact, I think there’s a passage that goes to the affect of, ‘we sometimes don’t know what we fear.’ What do you hope readers take away?

Martine Fournier Watson:

I suppose there is a message in the book about running away not solving anything, and what Evie eventually discovers is that it’s impossible to circumvent grief—she will have to go through it. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the magic, though. What I most want readers to take away is the idea that our lives are full of magic, and that it comes from within us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk a bit about your path to publication? What do you feel you did ‘right’ and what do you wish you had more information about?

Martine Fournier Watson:

As far as doing things “right,” all I can offer there is that I persisted and tried not to lose heart. My path to publication was long because it took me about a year and a half to find an agent. In that situation, the only thing that matters, I think, is not to give up on a book you believe in until you have exhausted all the options.

One of the things I wish I had known when I started querying is that it can be a good idea not to query all your favorite agents right up front. As you go along and continue to revisit your book and revise, sometimes getting professional feedback if you’re lucky, your manuscript can change and improve. If each batch of queries has some newer agents, some more experienced, and a couple of your top picks, you won’t exhaust your list of favorites right up front with the worst version of your manuscript.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

THE DREAM PEDDLER might be about sleep and dreams in some ways, but it’s also about worries. So what’s keeping you up at night?

Martine Fournier Watson:

Like many people, especially women, what worries me most right now is what our country is becoming. A woman’s right to choose is under attack. We have inhumane camps at the border. School shootings terrify me, particularly since my own children are still in school. I wasn’t born here—I came here from Canada in 2003, and I became a naturalized citizen in 2015. I can’t get over the fact that I gave up that Canadian citizenship just before Trump was elected. I still have hope that we can turn things around, and I hope one day I’ll look back and be proud that I was able to participate in changing things. But right now, that’s what I worry about most.

Leslie Lindsay:

Martine, it’s been delightful. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Martine Fournier Watson:

These were amazing questions, most of which I’ve never been asked before! And thanks very much for not asking me whether Robert’s magic is really magic, because I never answer that one.

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with Martine Fournier-Watson via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE DREAM PEDDLER, please visit: 

Order Links: 

IMG_0120 (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she completed her master’s in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in journals such as The Beloit Fiction Journal, Roanoke Review, Scrivener Creative Review, The Bellingham Review and Sixfold. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. When she is not curled up, writing, you can find her walking in the woods, playing Sudoku, trying to read all the books in the world, or stalking famous authors on Twitter.

 

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #dreams #smalltowns #debut #missingchild #travelingsalesman #historical 

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

What if you learned you had a relative you knew nothing about? And he was a Holocaust victim? Margaret McMullan delves into the ‘unspoken history’ in her moving and illuminating memoir, WHERE THE ANGLES LIVED

By Leslie Lindsay 

Historical, family-oriented, and yet universal, Margaret McMullan delves into a little-known piece of her family’s heritage and brings it into the light. 

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I first ‘met’ Margaret McMullan with her interlinked short stories of another tragedy—the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, AFTERMATH LOUNGE—and then later, with her anthology, EVERY FATHER’S DAUGHTER. She’s also the author of seven other books, and her writing has appeared in USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, Glamour, and others.

WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED: One Family’s Story of Loss, Exhile, and Return (Calypso Editions, May 2019) begins in 2008 with the author’s visit to Israel’s Holocaust Museum, where she learns about a long-lost relative by the name of Richard. McMullan is thrust into a mystery–just who was this man and why hasn’t she learned of his existence before? She feels compelled to do some digging, tirelessly searching the history of her ancestors, the Engel de Janosis. Receiving a Fulbright cultural exchange, McMullan and her family (husband and teenage son), relocate to Pecs, Hungary to teach (and research Richard’s life) at a Hungarian University. This town is now largely Christian, but it is the place of her mother’s Jewish lineage. McMullan and her family now feel like outsiders–they are Catholic and American and perhaps this town does not want them?

Margaret soon learns the Engel de Janosi’s were influential and even distinguished royalty before the Holocaust, yet, very little information exists on them; it’s as if they have been obliterated.  McMullan starts to piece the story of Richard’s life together. I felt very much ‘there’ with her as she went from archive to archive, taught her students writing, and connected with distant relatives and new friends.

Details of cobblestone streets, chipped buildings, the antique store where McMullan was never truly invited in (though she flashed shopping bags at the window as she strolled past) absolutely pop. WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED is a tale of isolation, of feeling like one doesn’t truly belong. The Holocaust was so widespread and horrific, and reading about when McMullan visits the Mauthausen, I am reminded just how truly harrowing and despicable this period of history was.

WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED is about remembering and honoring the dead, it’s about reconstructing our own narratives in order to explore our identity, our fears, and our hopes. I applaud McMullan’s tenacity to research this challenging time in history, to weave a tale of personal awakening while giving homage to a relative she had never met.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Margaret McMullan back to the author interview series.  

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, it’s a pleasure to reconnect. I think I understand your draw to Richard’s story and why you felt compelled to unearth—and reveal his history—but can you give us a sense of your ‘why now’ moment?

Margaret McMullan:

Writing WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED had a lot to do with the very real feeling of running out of time. I started the research after I had surgery. Then, after my father died, I was writing the book while also caring for my mother. The clock was ticking – time’s winged chariot was hurrying near, to quote Andrew Marvell.

I wrote this book for Richárd, for myself, for my mother, and for my son. I was in a hurry to fit all the pieces of my mother’s lost family together. So that we would know who they were, who we all were. But then I realized this is also a universal story about a country, WWII, hatred, love and betrayal.

While we were in Hungary, the prime minister, Victor Orbán had the country’s constitution rewritten, changing laws governing the media and elections. Orbán was an authoritarian running an oligarchy, not a democracy. Corruption was everywhere and so was anti-Semitism. It was all happening again, and it looked really easy. I couldn’t understand why Hungarians weren’t revolting against this unacceptable situation, especially after they fought so hard for freedom.

But then came our own 2016 presidential election in the United States and everything that followed.

I cannot recall a time when I’ve ever seen so many Swastikas in my every-day life. Or shootings in churches and synagogues.

A book about how easily things can fall apart – freedom, democracy, even families felt more than a little urgent.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I love this section of WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED, where you are told, “Why Richard? He was not the important one.” And yet you say something along the lines of, ‘it’s human nature to mourn and remember.’ Can you talk about that, please? And who’s to determine who—and what—is important?

Margaret McMullan:

My mother’s cousin, Anna Stein asked that question, “Why Richárd?”

The simple answer is that Richárd was the name that popped up on the data base at Yad Vashem. Here was my relative, a man I’d never heard of. And the Yad Vashem archivist gave me this assignment: I had a familial duty to remember Richárd.

Hitler’s aim was to wipe out the Jews. Even their history. In many ways, he was successful. I was not going to let that happen to Richárd or the rest of the family.

I’m going to quote from WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED here:

“If my grandfather had been successful, I would never have known about Richárd. But now I know and James knows. We know about other Engel de Jánosis who were murdered too. To forget Richárd, is to forget all of them—my family and all the others murdered in WWII. Each and every one ought to be mourned, missed, and remembered. As Aung San Suu Kyi said in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “To be forgotten is to die a little.” Forgetting our dead would be murdering them twice.”

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As I researched Richárd, I kept uncovering the remains of other family members. Adolf. Joseph. Erna. Marianne. They were so interesting, they almost took over Richárd’s story. I imagine that happened in real life too. Richárd was quiet and unassuming. He also had a secret love life.

I’ve always been most intrigued by the unlikely heroes – in real life and in fiction. And I do think of Richárd as a hero in life and in death. He lived during a terrible time in history, and as quiet as he was, he proved to be the brave one through his actions. I don’t want to give too much away, but just by being who he was publicly, he saved lives. And because I researched his life and death, Richárd led me to my few remaining living relatives.


An absolutely riveting story by an utterly engaging narrator–a triumphant blend of honesty, insight, research and imagination.

– Phillip Lopate, A MOTHER’S TALE


Leslie Lindsay:

Lately, art has become an interest of mine—especially with how it is represented in literature. Art saves—as in provides solace. It also physically survives long after the artist is gone. Erna, a relative of yours drew portraits of the Nazi guards and made them look handsome. She survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald. As tragic as this was, my heart is also warmed. What are your thoughts?

Margaret McMullan:

At some point, I’d like to do a deep dive into Erna’s life and art.

She was a painter, a sculptor, and a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute in Vienna. She married Richárd’s brother, Robert. His second wife. Even after she married Robert, she signed her name Erna C. von Engel-Baiersdorf, keeping her own aristocratic last name.

Erna and Robert never had children of their own, but Erna taught her step-granddaughter, Anna Stein about painting and sculpting figures and about pre-history at a time when it was not fashionable for women to have extensive knowledge of such things.

And now Anna Stein is a professional artist in Paris. What a gift Erna gave Anna. What an inheritance.

After the war, and after the liberation of the concentration camps, Erna returned to Pécs, Hungary with a full head of red hair. She had survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald. She was the only one who still had hair. Erna explained it to Anna: the Nazi guards allowed her to have her hair and her life because they liked the way she drew them. She told Anna she made them look strong and handsome.

She must have struggled deciding how to draw a flattering portrait, while all the while staring at someone she hated. Someone who decided her fate. Someone who could have just shot her.

Art saved her life.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Your grandfather, Friedrich, was a historian [in Vienna], but he did not introduce your mother to her own extended family. This baffled you as a writer. You believe your grandfather would probably have frowned upon your work as a fiction writer. Can you expand on that?

Margaret McMullan:

I think my grandfather might have thought being a fiction writer was silly. Frivolous. Let’s face it, no one really understands what writers do.

He was an historian and that’s a different kind of writing. His research involved a lot of archival work. But then, so does mine. He wrote that he wanted to re-create history to get to the truth. So do I.

When I read my grandfather’s work, in English or in translation, it’s impersonal and distant. Removed and without a point of view. But he was writing in a different time and place. Still, here was a man living very much in the historical moment. And he never wrote about it. Not that I know of. Some would say that’s a missed opportunity. Maybe it was the safest thing to do – not to write about what was happening.

When he left Austria in 1938, he told everyone he was the last Engel de Jánosi, even when he knew that was not true. Later, he told his only daughter, my mother, that she was the last of the family. Again, he knew that was not true.

I’m trying hard not to judge.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I always have to ask about homes, because they are my heart. You go with new friends, Renata and Zoli one sunny Saturday morning to the outskirts of Komlo, a town in southwest Hungary, to visit the family home of the Engel de Janis’s, Janosipuszta. It’s a big symmetrical stucco building with a small front door. It’s run-down. It’s falling apart. Is it abandoned? What more can you tell us?

Margaret McMullan:

You’re so right. Homes are our hearts!

My great great grandfather, Adolf bought Janosipuszta as a place for the extended family to gather — a big hunting lodge in the woods. There were orchards, vegetable, and flower gardens. The house was divided up so that about 4-5 families could stay in each section comfortably.

After WWII, during the occupation, the Soviets turned Janosipuszta into an orphanage. A woman contacted me recently – she read an article I wrote in The Washington Post and she said that she grew up as an orphan in Janosipuszta. She also said that she was very happy there, which was very nice to hear.

When the Soviets left, the orphanage closed and Janosipuszta was left to fall apart. People came and stole everything – even stripping it of its copper wiring.

It was important for me to see Janosipuszta. I felt I could imagine Richárd’s life – all their lives. They tried to keep the family together, even when they had trouble getting along. Even when Richárd couldn’t talk to his only brother, Robert. They kept trying to physically be with one another. It’s what most families do – we come together to talk, argue, eat. Under one roof.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Your family—the Viennese family—were in the lumber business. They had sawmills and a parquet flooring factory. Here’s what I like about that: it’s your foundation you are seeking answers to, and also, wood sustains. It’s a platform, a stage. Did you make that connection as you were writing?

Margaret McMullan:

Yes, and thank you for bringing up the wood and the lumber business!

A key moment in the book came for me in real life when I introduced my mother to her cousin, Anna Stein in Paris. They had never met, but they had a similar memory: the smell of freshly cut wood. They also recalled jumping up and down on wood planks at the factory. Anna in Pécs as they were loading the family lumber on the trains to Vienna; and my mother in Vienna as they were unloading the lumber.

The family’s floor business was parquet flooring. The lumber they recalled jumping on was cut into pieces. If you look at parquet floors, they’re essentially puzzle pieces laid down and fitted together into a design. Seeing my mother and Anna meeting, I felt as though I were witnessing puzzle pieces fitting to make a whole.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Regarding home, I see that you also have Chicago roots, in addition to the South. Ah! Same here. You say you want to be buried in Mississippi, that it’s ‘home.’ I thought about that—my own mortality—and I don’t know where I want to be buried. I don’t. I am not ready to think about that. Do you think WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED sort of invites us to consider where we lay down roots and where, ultimately, we want to lie down?

Margaret McMullan:

I think any story that’s about loss, memory, and family will invite you to consider your own roots, and your own mortality. I couldn’t help but think about it. Of course, I worried that I thought about it too much and that I was forcing our son, James to consider all this…at 15! But I don’t want him to be afraid of my death or of any death. Death is a part of life. And to know where you will be buried, or as you gently put it, “where we want to lie down,” is a comfort. I want to know. I like a plan. Then I can go on about the living.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, thank you for taking the time—it’s been most illuminating. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Margaret McMullan:

Leslie, you have asked such incisive questions here and you’ve given me ideas for future projects! Thank you for being such a wonderful reader.

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For more information, to connect with Margaret via social media, or to purchase a copy of WHERE THE ANGELS LIVED, please visit:

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Margaret B full res copyABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret McMullan is the author of eight award-winning books including the novel, In My Mother’s House, the story collection Aftermath Lounge, and the anthology, Every Father’s Daughter, a collection of essays about fathers by great women writers such as Alice Munro, Ann Hood, and Jane Smiley. Margaret’s young adult novels How I Found the Strong, When I Crossed No-Bob, and Sources of Light have received best book awards from Parents’ Choice, School Library Journal, the American Library Association, and Booklist among many other educational organizations.

Margaret’s essays have appeared in USA Today, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The

Boston Herald, Glamour, The Millions, The Morning Consult, Teachers & Writers Magazine, The Montréal Review, National Geographic for Kids, Southern Accents, Mississippi Magazine, and other periodicals. Her short stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Deep South Magazine, StorySouth, TriQuartly, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Greensboro Review, Other Voices, Boulevard, The Arkansas Review, Southern California Anthology, and The Sun among countless other journals and anthologies. A recipient of a NEA Fellowship in literature and a Fulbright at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary, Margaret has served as a faculty mentor at the Stony Brook Southampton Low-res MFA Program in New York where she also taught on the summer faculty. She was the Melvin Peterson Endowed Chair in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Evansville, where she taught for 25 years. She writes full time now in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Check out her website http://www.margaretmcmullan.com.

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

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