Amy Webb opens up about her new children’s book on limb differences and developmental disabilities

By Leslie Lindsay

Delightful read for children and their caregivers about a little girl with special needs and how other children react. 

7-arkYyw
I have always, always been a fan of children’s picture books and find that they teach empathy in such simple, wholesome ways. WHEN CHARLEY MET EMMA is no exception. I love the the simple watercolor illustrations, but also the sentiment.

When Charley goes to the playground with his mother, he sees Emma, a little girl with limb differences; she doesn’t have hands and is in a wheelchair. At first, Charley’s not sure how to react. Charley remembers what his mother taught him:

“Different isn’t bad, sad, or strange–different is just different and different is okay!” 

This is the message I absolutely love! WHEN CHARLEY MET EMMA is about friendship, kindness, being differently-abled, but still able to do many things others enjoy.It’s a fabulous message for children and their caregivers as we navigate a more diverse world where disability is more ‘in the open.’ I enjoyed the backmatter of this book–designed for caregivers and teachers when guiding a child through what to say and how to say it to someone who may have a physical disability.

MARCH IS DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES AWARENESS MONTH

I appreciated the “strange feelings inside Charley’s tummy”and how relatable it can be to be in the company of young child(ren) and have them blurt out something not-so-kind within earshot of someone who may feel badly at the words used.

A great companion read with any child of any ability–and especially for those with a physical, communicative, or intellectual difference. WHEN CHARLEY MET EMMA is a must-read and share for school social workers, pediatricians, therapists, and more–teaching kindness, tact, and compassion.

Please join me in welcoming Amy Webb to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

I always want to know the ‘why now’ for each book. Can you tell us why you wanted to write WHEN CHARLEY MET EMMA?

Amy Webb:

There are a couple different reasons I wrote this book. The first is that the interaction portrayed in the book–a typical child meeting a child with special needs–is something we’ve experienced a lot in our daughter’s 8 years of life. I’ve seen a lot of parents wince at their child asking questions and either shushing their child and walking away, or trying to pretend their child didn’t just ask an embarrassing-to-them question. So I wanted to have a book that both introduced children to disability–what it might look like, answers to some of their questions–while at the same time modeling how parents and caregivers can handle a meeting like this in a positive way for both parties. The other main reason was to have a beautiful children’s book out in the world where my daughter and other kids like her would see a character who looked like them. In other words, it was about representation, for my daughter and for typical kids. Because the more we see people with disabilities in the world around us–on

TV, in ads, in children’s books–the less strange it will be when a child sees a person with a disability in real life. Some children have had really strong reactions to seeing my daughter in public, and I can’t help but wonder how different their reactions would be if disability weren’t so foreign to them.

girl in white long sleeve shirt and black skirt sitting on swing during day time
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There are so many good points in WHEN CHARLEY MET EMMA. It’s touching and topical in so many ways. What are you hoping is the main takeaway for children?

Amy Webb:

More than anything, I hope this book will help children see their disabled peers as their equals; as friends, as playmates, as kids they can hang out and play with, not as kids they only want to “help” once in a while or have limited interactions with.

Leslie Lindsay:

I love the simple, watercolor illustrations. I think they add so much to the text. What was your involvement in that–did you have any say in who  the illustrator was?

Amy Webb:

Yes! The illustrations were extremely important to me as I really wanted this book to be beautiful. Too often I see disability and design/style/art at opposite ends of the spectrum. I see this in accessible spaces and adaptive equipment where things are usually designed with function over form in mind. So yes, I wanted this book to be beautiful, I wanted it to be a book that ALL families would want on their children’s book shelves for both the important message and beautiful illustrations. When I first got the idea for the book I was at a conference where Merrliee Liddiard (the illustrator) was at as well. I remember meeting her–I already knew her work–and having the distinct impression that she needs to be the person to illustrate my book. And here we are, I still can’t believe it worked out and actually happened!

10_548ut4.jpg

Leslie Lindsay:

I’ve always thought it would be fun to write a children’s book. In fact, as a kid, that was one (of my many!) career aspirations. Did you always want to write a children’s book?

Amy Webb:

No–it really came out of the blue. I had the idea very suddenly, but very forcefully. Like I just knew this is what I needed to do even though I had no idea how I was actually going to do it. But now I’m excited at the prospect of writing other books, so we’ll see where this takes me.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’ve always loved children’s literature. I think I have a really great elementary school librarian to thank for that. I loved the Frances series and the Berenstain Bears and…well, I could go on. What are some of your favorite children’s books?

Amy Webb:

Of course I have to say Where the Wild Things Are, right? I mean it’s like asking someone if they like the Beatles. Of course I loved that book as a kid and it continues to hold up. The books I could read to my children over and over again are Each Peach Pear Plum, Goodnight Moon, Extra Yarn, Leonardo the Terrible Monster, A’int Gonna Paint, and Oh! I just remembered Miss Nelson is Missing and I need to order that for my kids ASAP!

Leslie Lindsay: 

Amy, it’s been a delight chatting children’s books with you. Thanks for joining us!

Amy Webb: 

Thank you for having me!

woman reading book to toddler
Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of WHEN CHARLEY MET EMMA, please visit: 

Order Links:

v4_AlmoQABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Webb is a wife, mother, artist, writer and disability advocate. Amy and her husband Bracken have been married for 13 years and they have 3 beautiful daughters and one boy dog. Amy spent her formative years in Nebraska and then Colorado where she graduated high school. She moved to Utah for college where she would spend the next 10 years of her life–except for one magical and transformative year in Hawaii–until she married and her husband who promptly whisked her away to New York City. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting. Amy, known online as Miggy, has been blogging at This Little Miggy Stayed Home for over 12 years. She blogs about everything from parenting and home decor to crafts and DIY. When Amy’s middle daughter, whose pseudonym on the blog is Lamp, was born with physical disabilities, she started a series on her blog called the Special Needs Spotlight where she interviews special needs families and individuals with disabilities. To date, she has conducted over 200 interviews and undoubtedly this series has become the heart of her blog.

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#children #specialneeds #developmentaldisabilities #kidlit #childrensliterature #picturebooks #limbdifferences 

7-arkYyw

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

 

 

 

Amy Impellizzeri shares this personal essay on her ‘non-partisan political novel,’ WHY WE LIE, the #metoo movement, & more

By Leslie Lindsay

Piercingly observant, timely and oh-so-topical, Amy Impellizzeri shares this essay about her new release, WHY WE LIE, combining social media, politics, and the workplace culture.

Why_We_Lie_COVER (1).jpg

Everyone lies.
The real surprise is WHY…

I’ve been a fan of Amy’s work since her debut, LEMONGRASS HOPE (2014) and like anyone who practices her craft, Amy gets better and better with every book. She is seriously talented, with jaw-dropping twists, turns, and complex characters. Her new book, WHY WE LIE (available March 5th from Wyatt-Mackenzie) is so timely, so topical, and so…intricate. Today, she’s sharing this lovely personal essay about her experience with working as an attorney in D.C. in the 1990s.

Featured in Publisher’s Weekly and garnering rave reviews like this one from Hank Phillippi Ryan, Nationally Best-selling author of TRUST ME:


“Amy Impellizzeri is incredibly talented! She turns the truth topsy-turvy in this sinister and surprising tale of greed, politics, and power. Timely and thought-provoking—this is exactly what psychological suspense is meant to be. A winner in every way.”


First a bit about WHY WE LIE:

Rising star politician and lawyer, Jude Birch, is clearly keeping secrets about his past from his wife, Aby Boyle. And Aby worries that Jude’s relationship with his campaign manager, Laila Rogers, is more complicated than he has let on. Jude has been the apparent bystander victim of a seemingly gang-related shooting, but as the secrets Jude and Laila have kept since law school begin to unravel – with the help of a zealous news reporter and the Capitol Police – Aby is forced to consider that Jude might not have been an unintended victim of the shooting after all.

Meanwhile, as Jude receives a bizarre post-shooting diagnosis revealing that his brain is healing in such a way that he can no longer lie, Aby worries about her own secret past coming to light. Her past is marked by abuse and lies, and even a false accusation that still haunts her.

Unpredictable, unexpected, and startlingly timely, WHY WE LIE examines the real life consequences of those who tell the truth and those who lie, and asks the question: is the truth always worth the cost?

road flowers spring tree
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From Monica to #Metoo – Two Decades of D.C. Lies that Inspired My Latest Novel

by Amy Impellizzeri 

I lived and worked in Washington D.C. in the mid to late 1990’s. At the same time Monica Lewinsky was interning at the White House, I was a young lawyer in our nation’s capital. I walked by the White House often, sometimes catching a view of press conferences in the Rose Garden. I have always been awestruck by the business of D.C., but never more so than in those years when I was a small part of it.

After graduating law school from D.C.’s George Washington National Law Center, I started my law career as a clerk for the U.S. Court of Federal Clams, the court in which claims against the government are brought and defended. However naïve it might sound, I felt very much in the epicenter of the legal and political world back then, and I loved every minute of my time there. I had amazing mentors, colleagues, and experiences in D.C.

I always joke that I left D.C. kicking and screaming. My then fiancé (now husband) hated D.C. and convinced me to move back with him to New York, where I eventually landed a coveted position at one of the most well-respected law firms in the country, Skadden Arps. When the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke, I remember thinking, “It was all happening in D.C. while I was there” as if I had been somehow personally affected by the time and place connection. It was jarring to think that the world I’d once been part of and loved  – even tangentially – could have been so corrupt without me even knowing it.

In the early 2000’s, I traveled to the D.C. office of my NYC-based firm – Skadden Arps – for a document review. One of the D.C. associates giving me a tour of the office waved his arm toward the 11th floor conference room as we passed it by. “That’s where the deposition took place,” he stage whispered comically. The deposition he was referring to was the one in which then President Bill Clinton famously lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. By the early 2000’s, it was clear that one person had told the truth and one had told lies, and it was also clear that the scandal had produced winners and losers. Monica was essentially run out of the country and Bill Clinton was now living in New York completely unscathed. It was also clear to me personally by then that truth-telling was not a universally lauded virtue in the legal world.

architecture building capitol dawn
Photo by kendall hoopes on Pexels.com

I started my law career an idealistic young lawyer. The law was my tool to change the world slowly. At the Court of Federal Claims and in my early years of practice, I was mentored by and worked alongside some of the brightest and hard-working lawyers I’ve ever met. I loved the practice of law, and truth be told, I loved lawyers. We were the “good guys” and I loved being on their side. As my law career unfolded over the next 13 years, however, the cases became more high profile, the workload became more unmanageable, the lines between truth and lies blurred and shifted over and over again; so too did the lines between who were the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. I spoke up repeatedly about some abuses that bothered me, some that even targeted me. But the culture of BigLaw was complicated and my voice was often stifled there. After 13 years of practice, I left the law in 2010 and found a more practical avenue for my voice and for slow change– fiction.

Much later, in 2017, the emergence of the #metoo movement – a social media driven campaign to essentially out bullies and predators – had an effect not just on the bullies, but on victims themselves. I watched as many re-considered their own dysfunctional professional relationships under a new lens. Monica Lewinsky wrote an article that was published in Vanity Fair in early 2018: “Monica Lewinsky: Emerging from “The House of Gaslight” in the Age of #MeToo” in which she looked back on events from two decades earlier and called “what transpired between Bill Clinton and myself” “ a gross abuse of power.”

“The road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station and privilege. (Full stop.)”

In the 2018 Vanity Fair Article, Monica talked too about the isolation and aloneness she felt – having made mistakes, yes, but also having very little support on the public stage. She lauded the #metoo movement as providing a “new avenue toward the safety that comes with solidarity.”

When I read that piece, I was finishing up a novel that I’d been working on for years that addresses, among other topics, a culture of abuse of authority in the legal and political realm and the aloneness and isolation of its victims. WHY WE LIE has been noted by Publisher’s Weekly and early reviewers as an important part of the #metoo conversation, but that conversation had not yet begun when I started the novel. And indeed, as Monica Lewinsky’s trajectory illustrates, the political and legal sectors continue to be slow to join the table of the #metoo discussion.

pink leafed trees on green grass field
Photo by Jan Krnc on Pexels.com

WHY WE LIE is a novel that is two decades in the making for me personally. I call it a “non-partisan political novel” because, while it may be tempting at first to call it a commentary on the contemporary political climate today, in fact, it’s a look at the reality that for decades, powerful men have been given a pass at bad behavior and women are often the victims of those passes.

I’ve noticed in particular that women lawyers are conspicuously absent still from the #metoo discussion, and I know why. In the law and in politics, truth telling is not rewarded. Among other legacies, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal has shown us that simple fact, no? My personal experience confirms it to be true. I got the idea to begin WHY WE LIE with a diagnosis that has the rising star politician and former lawyer recovering from brain surgery, and now unable to lie. And yet, rather than come as a relief to his wife, she is terrified of the consequences of this new condition.

WHY WE LIE tells the story of a modern day and totally fictional political campaign, and exposes the truth of many people connected to that campaign, including a too-good-to-be-true politician, his wife of many secrets, a possibly nefarious campaign manager, and several corporate donors playing high stakes poker with a campaign they care nothing about, to force their adversaries to give up the thing they love most: profits. It’s a book of lies. And in the end, a revelation that, in fact, everyone lies. That’s no surprise.

The real surprise is why. And in the case of those who lie because truth-telling is simply too big a risk, this novel asks if maybe, just maybe, that is ok.

abstract art artistic autumn
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links:

IMG_6661 (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Impellizzeri is a reformed corporate litigator, former start-up exec, and award-winning author. After spending a decade at one of the top law firms in the country, Amy left to advocate for working women, eventually landing at a VC-backed start-up company, Hybrid Her (named by ForbesWoman as a top website for women in 2010 and 2011), while writing her first novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2014), named a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Bronze Winner (Romance). Her sophomore novel, SECRETS OF WORRY DOLLS was released on December 1, 2016, and was an Editor’s Pick in Foreword Reviews Magazine.
Amy’s third novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA, released in October 2017 and was an inaugural pick for Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Book & Bottles. Amy’s newest novel, WHY WE LIE, is releasing March 5, 2019.

Amy’s first non-fiction book, LAWYER INTERRUPTED, was published by the American Bar Association in May 2015 and has been featured in TheAtlantic.com, Above the Law, ABC27, and more.

Amy is a Tall Poppy Writer, Past President of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a contributor to She is Fierce! and Women Writers, Women’s Books. Amy’s essays and articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Glass Hammer, Divine Caroline, ABA’s Law Practice Today, and Skirt! Magazine, among more.

Amy currently lives in rural Pennsylvania where she works and plays and keeps up on all of the latest research confirming that large volumes of coffee are indeed good for you.

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#authoressay #writinglife #WhyWeLie #amreading #politics #socialmedia #workculture #lying #tallpoppyblogger

[Cover and author images courtesy of A. Impellizzeri and used with permissionl. Other book covers retrieved from author’s website on 2.14.19]

Sweeping historical fiction from Sara Ackerman; how setting is its own character, growing up in Hawaii, & her emotional response to Pearl Harbor

By Leslie Lindsay

Set against the backdrop of WWII and the attack at Pearl Harbor, THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE is richly detailed, emotional, and compellingly transportive historical fiction. 

9780778307914_SMP_Proof_FC2.jpg
I fell in love with Sara Ackerman’s debut, THE ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS (2018), and was excited to learn she was working on more historical fiction set in Hawaii against the backdrop of homeland WWII –which I think gives this time period and somewhat more refreshing perspective.

Still, THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE can be grisly at times. It’s November 1941 and everyone is caught off guard when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. Eva Cassidy is en route on the Lurline, traveling as a nurse to Hawaii with the Army Corps of NursesShe’s leaving behind a sister and some deeper secrets back in Michigan…but what?

Combing mystery and intrigue with romance, (war) scandal, medicine, and even an adorable dog, THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE is compelling historical fiction told with much love, tenderness, and courage. I loved the cinematic aspects if Ackerman’s writing–it’s richly detailed and evocative of the tropics (she’s born and raised in Hawaii and the authenticity shows)…I could taste that salty sea air, see the mist on the green mountains, and almost had that feeling of dipping my toes into the turquoise waters. And–oh, Ackerman’s research is evident because the information on the war, medicine and nursing really come to life.

get-lost-in-stockholm_orig.png

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Sara, I am blown away with THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE! First of all, I think it might actually be better than your first book and that’s saying a lot. There are a lot of rumors and misconceptions in the writing world that the second book is ‘harder.’ Do you agree? Can you talk about that, please?

Sara Ackerman:  

What an amazing compliment, especially coming from you! You have no idea how happy I am to hear this because it is terrifying when you first send your book out into the world.

I may or may not be the norm here because my first book was actually the fourth novel that I wrote. The others are (as of yet) unpublished. After ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS, my publisher wanted more historical fiction so I had to come up with new ideas. My first three are contemporary, though one has a 1945 thread woven through. So, I at least felt confident that I could write another novel and by then had established a process. But every time I write a novel, I am plagued by doubt and have no idea if people are going to like it or not or if it will be any good. It’s impossible to be objective with your own work, but I feel like when I cry a lot when I’m writing, it’s a good sign. And trust me, I cried a lot with this one! I also had a hard time imagining how to wrap up the ending so I worried about that. Having a great editor helps. For the first time, too, I had a deadline and so I just sat myself down in the chair and wrote most days. The most challenging part was that my father was dying as I wrote this book and he was living with us, so there were definitely days where I did not feel inspired, to say the least. I wish he could have lived long enough read it!

photography of dirt road surrounded by trees
Photo by Mohamed Sarim on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I suppose we ought to back up—what was haunting you when you started out on THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE? Was it a character, a scene, a time period, or something else? My editor tells me that all stories begin with a question. Was this the case for you? And did you find an answer?

Sara Ackerman:  

As with the last one, this book arose from my grandmother’s stories. She had come over to Hawaii on the Lurline in the 1930s to meet up with my grandfather, and on the crossing, she met a military officer and fell for him. But my grandfather was waiting on the dock in Honolulu and proposed. She hardly knew him but ended up saying yes. Over the years, she never forgot about this man and spoke about him often. I guess you could say that I wanted to create a story around that. Little did I know until I began my research, that the Lurline actually docked several days before the attack on Pearl Harbor and was on its way back to California on December 7. I wasn’t really sure what the heart of the novel was going to be about until I discovered that one piece of information. And that led me down the path to my story. I love the magic in that!

I think I found an answer in that I had to place myself in Hawaii during the attack as best I could, and recreate it. I now have a much deeper understanding happened. But of course I still have questions about how all the signs (there were many) were missed and how a huge fleet of ships could manage crossing the ocean undetected and sneaking up on our islands. It’s mind blowing.

vietnam halong bay
Photo by Vincent Liew on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Your research just breathes on the page. I’m a former RN and so I found myself nodding with much of the medical stuff, even the way nurses were (are?) treated. It’s historical fiction, and so I’d like to believe things have changed…but also your dive into Pearl Harbor and WWII research. Can you talk a bit about your research, please?

Sara Ackerman:

I’m so glad you approved! It’s always scary to write about something that you aren’t an expert in. I found several amazing books that were essential to my writing, and they are listed in the back in the Author’s Note. Before I started writing, I read all of them and took copious notes. One was a book by a doctor all about the war in the Pacific, and I could not have written the medical part without it. Another was a lovely picture book about the five day crossing on the Maston Steamship Lurline. I loved that book! It made me so envious of those who got to travel back then in such flair and style. And another amazing book on Joe Rochefort, the main codebreaker at Pearl Harbor who was instrumental in outsmarting the Japanese. It was a biography but also had impeccable research about everything involving Pearl Harbor. I also read several other Pearl Harbor books and a book about nurses in the war, as well as lots of internet research. And of course, I returned to Pearl Harbor, which is always a very emotional experience no matter how many times you’ve been.

My father was a young boy during the attack and someone in his class assembled accounts of all his classmates on that fateful day. Those firsthand recollections were quite astounding. Living through something like this is so beyond most of our comprehension. On the day before my father’s memorial last year (2018), we had the Ballistic Missile Warning here in Hawaii that later turned out to be false. But for 40 minutes, those words THIS IS NOT A DRILL were running through my mind. It was surreal and scary as we tried to figure out what to do. It was the same line that the people in Hawaii heard on the radio during the attack on Pearl Harbor. And it gave me a tiny glimpse of their fear. Only, their’s was for real.

I grew up on Pearl Harbor stories, but it wasn’t until I wrote the book that it all came to life for me. I have so many questions I wish I could ask my grandparents now.

Leslie Lindsay:

I was recently in Hawaii—Oahu—where THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE is set—and oh my! You totally nailed the setting! It was terrific fun to relive my trip through your words. You live in Hawaii, and so that’s a huge credit to you. Can you talk about how your location has influenced and informed your writing?

Sara Ackerman:

I love Hawaii! We live in such a special place. My parents were big on taking us on adventures and we grew up mostly outdoors, so I developed a great appreciation for the natural beauty of the islands and our delicate ecosystem. (I secretly wish I was a biologist or an ornithologist). My first novel is actually a bit of an adventure novel that deals with believed-to-be-extinct native birds, and my others are very nature oriented. Another one of my unpublished novels has many underwater scenes, which were fun to write.

Also, it’s often when I’m out on a hike or a paddle or exploring that I get ideas for books. And I have so many cool experiences to draw from. I hope that comes across in my writing. I am very attuned to my own environment (where I live and work and play) so I think setting is very important to me in general. I have heard that setting is its own character and I fully believe that. I love reading books set in other places that transport me there and I aspire to do the same in mine. I feel like there are so many untold stories here, I hope I get to keep sharing them. 

six assorted kayak boats
Photo by Sabel Blanco on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us what a perfect writing day is like for you?

Sara Ackerman:  

The perfect day of writing is waking up and writing for an hour or two (in bed or at the table) with no one disturbing me. Weirdly, I don’t drink coffee but I have water with lemon or if it’s cold (I live in Waimea which is at 2700 ft elevation and is chilly for Hawaii) I have hot chocolate or a decaf soy mocha. I am not someone who can write all day, so I then go for a hike or paddle or swim, eat a yummy brunch of frittatta or french toast, and then settle down for another writing session. I aim for 750-1000 words a day. Also, I always leave off mid scene, so that the next time I sit down to write, I have a jumping off point. This saves me. It’s not always easy and some days I feel like I’m writing crap, but I keep at it. I love when the unexpected happens and catches me off guard. New characters or something in the plot that I had not foreseen.

These are my dream days, but as of now, I still teach, which I enjoy and it also gets me out of the house. Writing is so solitary, it’s nice to have the mix.

photo of a turtle underwater
Photo by Belle Co on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

How do you challenge yourself to grow as a writer?

Sara Ackerman:

I go to writers conferences and I also study books I love. I went to the Kauai Writers Conference last November because Alice Hoffman was there and I took a master class with her, Christina Baker Kline and Kristin Hannah. Alice is an idol of mine and she did not disappoint. My most recent favorite book is Where The Crawdad’s Sing (I’m not alone here) and I am dissecting her pages and how she [Delia Owens] does it. I came down with a severe case of author envy while reading that book. It is brilliant!

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk about what’s next for you?

Sara Ackerman:

I just finished a third novel with MIRA. They wanted yet another WWII historical, so this one is set at Volcano and the Kilauea Military Camp (fascinating history) at the outbreak of the war. It centers around an unlikely cast of characters thrust together in a rainforest hideaway as they await the anticipated Japanese invasion. It’s a story about unexpected love and how family is where you find it. There is also a thin thread of magical realism woven through.

As an example of how Hawaii inspires my writing, I came upon this old house one day while hiking at Volcano and was immediately intrigued. It was out in the boonies and beautiful, with huge windows and trellised vines. When I looked into the history of the house, I knew that I would write about it someday. So when my editor asked if I had another historical novel in me, I immediately thought about this place. I tied this story in with another one about two young German girls who are left alone after their parents are taken away by the FBI and held in internment camps for a year and a half.

I love the book, though it still needs a lot of work, and I hope others will too!

brown concrete floor
Photo by Daniel Wander on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Sara, it’s been wonderful—as usual. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Like…what’s obsessing you or where your last hike took you, or anything else?

Sara Ackerman:

Right now, I’m excited about what I’ll write next. We will soon be pitching a contemporary novel that I completed after Sweet Pies (also set at the Volcano), so I need to do some revisions on that. Then, if all goes well, I can’t wait to get started on a book set along the Kohala Coast in the 1960s. I’m also looking forward to summer (I teach high school part time) and going on a road trip and possibly a book tour along the West Coast. Being on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific has its disadvantages when it comes to book tours and events.

Thank you so much for having me! I love to talk writing and books.

selective focus photographed of green mountain
Photo by Archie Binamira on Pexels.com

For more information, to connnect with the auythor via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE LIEUTENANT’S NURSE, please visit: 

Order Links: 

SaraAckermanWebABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sara writes books about love and life, and all of their messy and beautiful imperfections. She believes that the light is just as important as the dark, and that the world is in need of uplifting and heartwarming stories. Born and raised in Hawaii, she studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine. Prior to practicing acupuncture, she worked as a high school counselor and teacher on the famed north shore of Oahu. She is the author of historical novels Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers and The Lieutenant’s Nurse, with several more in the works

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #WWII #PearlHarbor #Hawaii #Nursing #authorinterview #amreading IMG_2249.JPG

[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Images of Pear Harbor from L.Lindsay’s personal archives. Artistic cover image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this: @LeslieLindsay1]

 

 

 

 

A sinister, supernatural imagined account of the Donner Party’s westward journey now in paperback, THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu

By Leslie Lindsay 

We might all be familiar with the fated Donner Party, a group of pioneers struggling across the Great Plains as they journeyed west to California. But only some of it made it there alive. 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

hunger-679x1024.jpg

Vulture: 13 Best Horror Books Written by Women

Best Books of 2018 – The Observer

An NPR Best Horror Novel

Barnes & Noble Best Horror of 2018

Nominated for Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel of 2018

Winner – 2019 Western Heritage Award for Best Novel

And a glowing endorsement from Stephen King:

“Deeply, deeply disturbing,
hard to put down,
not recommended reading
after dark.”

THE HUNGER (available in paperback, March 5 2019 from Putman/PRH) is a tense, gripping reimagining of one of America’s most fascinating and tragic moments in history: The Donner Party. In 1846, a group of men, women, and children led by George Donner and James Reed journeyed west to California, following a new experimental route through the mountains known has Hastings’ Cutoff. Of the eighty-some souls who entered the mountains, only half made it out alive. Was it more than just rough terrain and severe weather that brought the party to its demise? Or was there someone or something watching and waiting in the mountains? Something disturbed and hungry?

I love this slightly sinister, supernatural, dark and foreboding re-telling of the events that might have happened. Read this one with the lights on. But first, join me in conversation with Alma Katsu. 

adventure calm clouds dawn
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Alma, this book is very different from your novels in the ‘Taker’ series. Was writing this novel more difficult than the others? 

Alma Katsu:

I’ve been telling fans that THE HUNGER is very different from my earlier novels. It’s an ensemble cast; it’s not a love story. All of my books have both history and the supernatural in them, but with THE HUNGER the proportions are flipped: The Taker books are heavy on fantasy, with history providing flavor, whereas in THE HUNGER  the history is front and center, with the supernatural element running in the background.

Each had its challenges. The history in THE HUNGER is demanding: you have to honor the timeline as well as the map, and that means being creative within constraints. You can’t do anything you want when history is watching.

abstract background branch bright
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

So, how closely does your story follow the events the settlers encountered on the trail?

Alma Katsu:

The book follows the events that happened to the real Donner Party pretty closely. One blogger wrote that this is what makes THE HUNGER  so creepy–because it’s so close to what really happened, the novel feels completely plausible. Readers are going to have a hard time telling which incidents really happened and which were created for the novel, and I’m proud of that.


“An inventive reimagining…Westward migration, murder, sensation: the story of the Donner Party has all this….Katsu creates a riveting drama of power struggles and shifting alliances….The tensions [she] creates are thrilling.”

Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay: 

Was it hard to write characters that are based on actual historical figures? Did you take any creative liberties with them?

Alma Katsu:

While I kept as much of the backstory as possible, I had to take creative liberties with the characters in order to tell the story I wanted to tell, which is not strictly the story of the Donner Party but which uses their ordeal to tell a bigger tale. I love vivid characters but often with history, you don’t get a complete sense of a figure, particularly if the figure isn’t deemed historically significant. Sometimes they’re whitewashed, their bad parts left out; no one likes to speak ill of the dead. In other cases, they’re incomplete, just names and birthdates and maybe one tiny detail left to sum up an entire person. In order to make characters come alive on the page, you have to know everything about them, so you must imagine them as real living breathing people. It was fun to create new characters from pieces of the past, but tailoring them to service the needs of the story.

opened bible on wooden surfaca
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You must have had to really immerse yourself in the research. Can you tell us about that? 

Alma Katsu:

Literally, I did tons of [research]. I have spreadsheets and mountains of books and maps all over my office. I leaned particularly heavily on The Donner Party Chronicles by Frank Mullen, a day-by-day accounting of their journey. Add to that lots and lots of ‘spot’ researching, looking up nearly impossible-to-know things that crop up as you devise a scene. What were buttons made of in 1846? What companies manufactured the shovels and pickaxes prospectors would have used at the time? How many miles can a brace of oxen pull a loaded wagon in a day? What flowers would grow on a farm in Springfield, Illinois?

I also took a 700-mile road trip from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to Donner Pass, driving as closely to the wagon party’s route as possible. It gave me a true sense of the land, which was immensely changeable. I tried to look at the land through the eyes of a member of the wagon party. I saw the lack of wood, water, and grass that every wagon train needed to find on the trail in order to survive. The elevation changes, the weather. The oppressive openness. The loneliness. The brutal indifference of nature to the needs of man.

camper camping campsite caravan
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

How has your government work as an intelligence analyst shaped your fiction?

Alma Katsu:

It’s given me superpowers as a researcher. Intelligence analysis requires a pretty high level of precision, as you can imagine. You’re used to combing through avalanches of data, quickly organizing information as it emerges and pulling out the narrative, and juggling a lot of details. Skills that lend themselves to historical fiction in particular, but also make you good at managing a big project like getting a book published.

I’ll never forget, however, when an editor told me that I was particularly good at creating manipulative characters (so devious that you never see it coming), and she wondered if this had something to do with having worked in intelligence. There’s a type of intelligence operative whose job it is to convince individuals to betray their country by spying for our side. They are ace manipulators and they never turn it off, and I spent most of my adult life working with them, so I have to say she’s probably right.

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us about your journey to become a writer? Was it something you always aspired to? What writers have inspired or influenced your work?

Alma Katsu:

I was always reading as a kid, always in the library. I wanted to write stories for a living but had no idea how you’d do that, so I took a regular job—if working in intelligence can be considered a regular job. But I never lost the desire to write a novel and was very lucky to see my dream come true at 50 years of age.

There are many authors whose work I admire. Early on, it was a mix of post-modernists like John Barth and canonical horror and fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson. A pretty weird mix, if you think about it. Mostly, I love masterful storytelling. Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine is a great example of that. She never disappoints; every one of her novels is a perfect gem. That’s how I’d like to be known: every book a gem.

books on bookshelves
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

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

Order links: 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

Screen-Shot-2019-01-04-at-2.01.05-PM-284x300ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband.

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #HUNGER #TheDonnerParty #Wildwest #westwardexpansion #supernatural #magicalrealism

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

IMG_2398.jpg

[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website. Photo credit: Patrick Milliken Interview in conjunction with Putnam/PRH and used with permission. Artistic cover image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

The intersection of art and madness, of never giving up, children’s literature, & so much more in Laurel Davis Huber’s THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER

By Leslie Lindsay

Gorgeous rendering of the true story of a famous author mother and her equally, if not more famous visual artist daughter, THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER will capture and delight audiences of historical fiction. 

final h-res.jpeg

Winner of the 2017 Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction

The intersection of art and madness has always intrigued–and so when I came across THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER (SWP, 2017) I knew I needed to read it. And I’m so glad I did. Told from multiple, alternating first-person POVs, readers get a luminous insight into the lives of Margery Williams Bianco, the author of the children’s classic, THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, and her daughter, child prodigy artist, Pamela Bianco. 

Reading historical fiction almost always brings to the surface lives I had little or no knowledge of, and is always such a delight. Of course, I knew of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, but never really gave its author much thought. Huber writes with such a tender hand, bringing this tale of motherhood, creativity, and mental illness to light; I loved every minute.


“. . . a masterpiece. . . . Incandescent, pitch-perfect, and destined for greatness.” 

–Library Journal, starred review


The writing is gorgeous, but it’s the themes of family, art, secrets, and more that truly enthralled. Plus, the chapters are short, giving us that ‘just one more’ quick pacing we love. Some readers may struggle with the genre–it’s not entirely historical fiction, but almost an imagined memoir–and it’s not always linear. I happened to really enjoy this technique. Huber’s research is absolutely remarkable and her characters breathe on the page. I found myself so engrossed in Margery and Pamela’s lives, I was seeking out more information on their lives.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Laurel Davis Huber to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Laurel, I am so, so fascinated with this story. But in all honesty, I never really gave much thought to the author of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, her daughter, or her personal life. That’s why I think historical fiction is so great. BUT—first, tell us what drew you to the story?

Laurel Davis Huber:

I never gave much thought to the author of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT, either! And to tell the truth, though I was well aware of the famous children’s book, I never read it (or had it read to me) as a child. It wasn’t until I started working on my book that I discovered anything about Margery Williams Bianco. I began my journey because of a fluke, one of those wow! moments that sometimes descend on one out of thin air like a fairy cloud. I was working on another book and getting nowhere and in a fit of procrastination I reached for one of my old childhood favorites, BEGINNING WITH A. The illustrations had entranced me since I was a child. But I had never paid attention to the author’s name – Pamela Bianco. To further procrastinate, I Googled her name and found out she was a child prodigy artist in the early 20th century. Intrigued, I kept digging. I became obsessed and decided to write about her. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I discovered that her mother was the author of THE VELVETEEN RABBIT – and then the story really took off!

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m truly amazed that this story hasn’t been told before. I can only imagine what the research process was like for you. Did you enjoy diving into it? What challenges did you encounter? Are you one to research all at once, up front, or do you sprinkle it in as you write? And can you give us a sense of your timeline for THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER?

Laurel Davis Huber:

As THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER is my first novel, I had no experience to go on. What ended up happening was that I would research a bit, then write scenes around the most interesting material, then I would research some more. I traveled to Indiana, to upstate New York, to Columbia University, and to lots of other places. I wrote to museums here and in London. I pored over letters and photographs in university and library archives. I spent hours staring at rolls of microfiche. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. Needless to say, there was a treasure trove out there—and the more I found, the more I became astounded, as you were, that this story has never been told before. As for my timeline…well, I’ll get to that.

close up photo of vintage typewriter
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m curious about the structure, too. THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER is told in alternating, multiple first-person POVs, which give it a very intimate feel. Was it always in this form, or did you go through several iterations?

Laurel Davis Huber:

That day referred above when I pulled out BEGINNING WITH A was in June of 2006. Eleven years later, and seven iterations later, I had the final version of THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER. (Note to everyone: never, ever give up.) The structure changed many times—in fact, the very first completed draft largely spotlighted just Pamela, the artist. Her mother gained equal weight only much later. The idea of alternating voices in short chapters only came to me during my very last attempt. At last I thought I had it right.

Leslie Lindsay:

As for genre, it’s probably historical fiction, but it also seems like it could be an imagined memoir. Can you talk about that, please?

Laurel Davis Huber:

I’m glad you think it’s like an imagined memoir. You mentioned the “intimate” feel of the novel, and I truly believe that could have been accomplished only after living with and writing about these characters for so many years. They were my mother, my sister. The book is classified as historical fiction (and I am happy to say it won the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction when it came out!)—but some have called it fictional biography, which is just as accurate.

camera photography vintage travel
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, I loved the art. Margery’s writing. All of that intrigued, but what really piqued my interest was the mental illness piece of THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER. Pamela suffered from bouts of depression and maybe mania, too? What did you learn about her precarious mental state—and how?

Laurel Huber Davis:

I love this question. One of the biggest surprises to me was the number of readers who wrote about the mental illness aspect of the novel. One woman in Australia said that she had always wanted to write about her daughter who suffered from depression, and now she didn’t need to because my novel was her story. Wow. It’s not that I didn’t realize that much of the book delves into the vicious grip that depression (which in those days was called “melancholia”) has on Pamela, it’s just that I didn’t think of it as a focus when I was writing. This is called being too close to your own work. I was just telling the story. But I see now that many readers like you homed in on that aspect of the book. The portrayal of Pamela’s illness is, unfortunately, quite accurate. I had both her own letters and her mother’s that portrayed quite vividly the effects of Pamela’s mania/madness/depression. There is little doubt that today she would be diagnosed as bipolar.

full frame shot of abstract background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I could probably talk your ear off, but alas we both have other things to do. Before I let you go, what should I have asked you about, but may have forgotten?

Laurel Davis Huber:

It’s interesting that at book clubs or other presentations, I rarely get asked about Diccon, the man Pamela was obsessed with for over a decade. He has a big role in the book, but everyone is interested in the women, which is fine with me! An interesting side note, however, is that Diccon, whose real name is Richard Hughes, was the one whose fame lasted. He is still hailed in Britain as a lion of literature. I remember reading his novel, A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA, in school. Although he and Pamela went their separate ways, they remained in touch. In his 60s, Diccon even came to New York with his wife to visit Pamela. And now you know something that is not in the book!

Leslie Lindsay:

Laurel, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you!

Laurel Davis Huber:

This has been such fun for me. I am so happy you invited me! (And, any readers out there—I am always delighted to answer questions at laurel@laureldavishuber.com)

photo of woman painting in brown wooden easel
Photo by Burst on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

authorcolorABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurel Davis Huber grew up in Rhode Island and Oklahoma. She is a graduate of Smith College. She has worked as corporate newsletter editor, communications director for a botanical garden, high school English teacher, and as senior development officer for both New Canaan Country School and Amherst College. Ms. Huber and her husband split their time between New Jersey and Maine. THE VELVETEEN DAUGHTER is her first book.

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #art #NYC #Europe #TheVelveteenRabbit #TheVelveteenDaughter #mentalillness #mentalhealth 

IMG_2322.JPG

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

 

 

Crime writer Cara Hunter talks about the inspiration behind IN THE DARK, her research, how this one is a little like ROOM, but so much more sinister

By Leslie Lindsay 

Impressive police procedural meets psychological thriller in this deeply unsettling tale of a shocking secrets, IN THE DARK is head-spinning and riveting. 

Cover In the Dark.jpg
In her debut thriller, CLOSE TO HOME (2017), Cara Hunter took the U.K. by storm, introducing DI Adam Fawley and her dark police procedural mysteries.
IN THE DARK is actually the second book in the series, but don’t let that deter you—IN THE DARK can very easily be a stand-alone read.

A young woman and her toddler child are found ‘by chance’ by a construction crew working on home renovations when a crumbling shared wall is breached. They are starved, dehydrated, clinging to life and vastly unknown. How did this woman and her child find themselves locked in the basement of Dr. William Harper, a retired–and slightly demented–academic? The woman can’t speak, there are no missing persons reports, and the old man who owns the house claims he knows nothing.


“A tense exploration of manipulation and betrayal . . . A solid psychological thriller with carefully developed characters and disturbing, cleverly masked revelations that will appeal to fans of Tana French and Sophie Hannah.”

Booklist


But that’s only the beginning. As DI Fawley and his team dig deeper, they learn there could be much more going on. What of the death of reporter Hannah Gardiner? Her body is found near Dr. Harper’s home as well. Could the two cases be linked, and if so, how?

IN THE DARK is crime fiction at its best. Uniquely structured in terms of narrative flow—IN THE DARK—is told from multiple POVs interview reports, texts, newspaper articles, and so forth. Those who love piecing together a mystery will enjoy this; it felt very authentic to ‘working a case.’ Plus, Hunter certainly covered her tracks; the research is highly evident and the end is a doozy.

Be prepared for a heart-stopping novel about long-buried secrets, the lengths some will go to get what they want, and the monsters who hide in plain sight. I promise, you’ll be much warier of whom you let into your life.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Cara Hunter to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Cara, I am in awe of your deeply unsettling—but also researched tale. Can you tell us a little about ‘why now’—what was haunting you or propelling you to write this story?

Cara Hunter:

I live in the same part of Oxford I write about, and some of the houses round here really are huge – real Gothic monsters. One day I was out for a walk with my husband and he remarked, quite casually, that someone could be hidden away in one of those houses and no-one would have any idea. We’d also rented a house locally for a while before that while we had some building work done – the rental had a really eerie basement with strange body-shaped items wrapped in bubble-plastic, which the owner had left in storage and which used to freak me out every time I went down there. And then of course there were the real-life ‘cellar cases’. I suppose everything just started to coalesce at that point. I often find that – a news item or something from your own experience suddenly sticks to another fragmentary idea, and then another, and all at once you have the beginnings of a story.

ancient architecture brick building
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Much of IN THE DARK reminded me of my favorite TV show, ‘Criminal Minds’ and also Emma Donoghue’s book, ROOM—ironically, both are mentioned within the narrative. I am also wondering about the Fritzl case in Germany and also Maude Julien’s tale, THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD. Oh! And the Cleveland, Ohio situation. Can you talk about some of these influences please?

Cara Hunter:

The Fritzl case was definitely an influence, and as you say, I’m not the only novelist or screenwriter who’s found the horror of that real-life story turning into the springboard for a new fictional narrative. The Fritzl case was particularly haunting because I don’t think anyone could quite believe something so appalling had really happened; I suspect any writer who’d tried something like that as a fictional plot before that story came to light would have got pretty short shrift from their editor. But it seems there really is no limit to man’s inhumanity to man. Or – in that case – men’s cruelty to women, even their own daughters.

I loved ROOM – it was such a sensitive and insightful way to recast the same trope. It was a huge hit in the UK so it was only natural that at least one character in my own novel might be inspired to read it, given the events that evolve in the story. And it turns out they don’t just read it, but find something vital in it – but I’m not going to spoil it for anyone by revealing what that is!

green skies and black clouds photography
Photo by Mustafa ezz on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

It would be easy to say that this kind of thing happens all the time. But it doesn’t. Instances like these are rare—but they sure make for compelling stories. Did any of your research give you a sense of how often dark situations like this happen?

Cara Hunter:

There were definitely more cases than I’d realized, especially in the US. I knew very little about Jaycee Dugard, for example, before I wrote the book, and I did research about the Ohio case too. One thing that came home to me again and again in all these cases was the ability of the perpetrators to hide in plain sight – that was especially chilling.

Leslie Lindsay:

And speaking of research, I understand you have quite the team you can reach out to with questions surrounding crime—DNA experts, detectives, etc. Can you talk a little about that? And also, how does a writer not get too bogged down in the research so she can focus on the writing at hand?

Cara Hunter:

I wrote CLOSE TO HOME without any advisers at all – just me and the internet! But my first editor in the UK advised me that it would be a good idea to check specifics with a police officer, so I now have a Detective Inspector who has extensive experience with handling serious investigations, and helps me with the procedural details. I think that’s really crucial to the ‘reality effect’ the books are trying to achieve. I’ve had some very nice compliments from readers who are serving police officers, so that’s always great feedback to get!

My CSI adviser used to be a forensics officer himself, and is fantastically good at the details of crime scene analysis. He drew the two crime scene sketches in IN THE DARK, which I’ve never seen in a novel before, so I think readers are going to like poring over those! As for research in general, I always go by the rule that the story should drive the research, and not the other way round. There are some exceptions of course – sometimes one of my advisers will mention something from their experience that sparks an idea for a plot, but in general I think through the story in considerable detail before I even start working out what I need to know technically to get it right.

people meeting workspace team
Photo by Startup Stock Photos on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

My editor tells me a writer should always learn something at the end of [writing] her book. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. What might you say you learned from writing IN THE DARK?

Cara Hunter:

I certainly learned a lot more about my ‘leading man’. I find Adam Fawley endlessly fascinating – just as well, you might say, given how much time I have to spend with him! One of the great pleasures of writing a series is that you can ‘peel back the layers’ with your central character and it really is like getting to know a real person. That might sound strange, but I’m sure other writers will know what I mean. He’s very close to my heart now, and I always smile when my readers confess they have a crush on him (I do too, but don’t tell anyone).

IN THE DARK also taught me quite a bit about Japanese netsuke, as well as the role of crows and ravens in folklore, and some much more geeky things like how to lay-out a TV documentary script (one of the many ‘documents’ readers get to analyse as they race the police to crack the case).  I completely agree with your editor that you should always learn something by the end of a book, and that goes for readers as well as writers – and I reckon the more the writer learns, the more the reader will find.

bird birds usa raven
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Cara, this has been so eye-opening. Thank you. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Perhaps, what you’re working on next, what’s on your ‘to-read’ pile, what your holiday plans are, or anything else you’d like to share.

Cara Hunter:

Right now I’m working on the fourth book in the series, which is called ALL THE RAGE. I have to confess I totally love that title! All the books have three-word titles which are deliberately ambivalent (IN THE DARK, for example, is about both literal and metaphorical darkness).  I’ve been hard at that fourth book for a few months now, so I have a stack of crime and thrillers on my pile that I can’t wait to get to – one of the perks of this lovely job is getting advance copies of great books and I’m looking forward to the new offerings from Sarah Hilary, Jane Corry, John Marrs and JP Delaney (among others).  My best reading time is on holiday, and I often get my best creative ideas then too – CLOSE TO HOME was literally born on a Caribbean beach! I have another holiday coming up soon, so fingers crossed I come back with ‘number five’…..

book book pages browse education
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links:

Cara Hunter author credit Justine StoddartABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cara Hunter lives and works in Oxford. She also studied for a degree and Ph.D. in English literature at Oxford University.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

IMG_2161.jpg

#policeprocedural #psychsuspense #UK #Oxford #amreading #thriller #authorinterviewseries 

[Cover and author images courtesy of PRH and used with permission. Author image credit: Justine Stoddart. Artsy image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1].

 

With stunning grace and precision, openness, and empathy, Sarah Fawn Montogomery talks about her outstanding memoir & her struggles with mental illness

By Leslie Lindsay 

Brilliant and incredible debut work of nonfiction, about the author’s life with myriad mental health diagnoses, QUITE MAD, should be required reading for all, but especially those who have been touched with mental illness, either in a personal or professional manner. 

FRONTCOVER_montgomery_cmyk

With searing intelligence, unflinching honesty, and a breadth of research, Sarah Fawn Montgomery has left me in complete awe. QUITE MAD (Mad Creek Books, 2018) is a gorgeous melding of literary journalism meets memoir and is focused mostly on women in the U.S. and their relationship with mental illness.

But.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery had a challenging family of origin, too. Much of this tumultuous upbringing is chronicled throughout the pages–delving into both of her parents’ backgrounds, their own anxiety, their desire to adopt a houseful of ‘special needs’ kids (abandoned at birth, drug-addicted babies, and those who otherwise weren’t cut out for foster care and their subsequent diagnoses). I read with interest, with disbelief, with shock.


“A wrenching account of a difficult upbringing and a chaotic brain that will leave readers marveling at the author’s endurance. . . . The author offers a gripping picture of the real pain and suffering of someone diagnosed with chronic mental illness.”

 Kirkus Reviews


The prose poetic, literary, thoughtful, raw, honest, and poignant. In QUITE MAD, Sarah takes the reader into a history of mental illness in the U.S. [of mostly women] marked with abuse, misunderstanding, social faux pas, medications, lack of healthcare, therapy, the paternalistic nature of psychiatry, and so much more. Much of this made me cringe, but it’s also, still reality. And things need to change.

We volley between this and Sarah’s personal story: her struggles with severe anxiety, her OCD, her disordered eating, and more. It’s all so well done and I couldn’t stop flagging pages.

Truly, an important, humane read that is very thought-provoking, while simultaneously evoking empathy.

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Sarah Fawn, I am in such awe of your debut non-fiction, QUITE MAD. It’s honest, authentic, kinetic. I was right there with you. I always, always want to know what was haunting a writer when they set out to write a particular title. With this, I think I know. Would you mind telling us, in your own words, what was driving you?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

I wrote the book that I needed as a patient. When I was first diagnosed with various mental illnesses, I desperately wanted information about my symptoms and treatments, and to counter the misinformation and medical sexism I faced. Being a mental health patient is isolating and frustrating, for your lived experiences are often invalidated by others who do not believe your symptoms and stories to be true. Doctor visits, often only a few minutes, focused on what was “wrong” with me and on medication, much of which proved ineffective and even dangerous for me, and I wanted to challenge this narrative. I also wanted to connect with other patients who felt the same. I wanted to explore a national history that has silenced and abused mental illness patients despite the American narrative that promises we’ve come a long way in our mental illness treatments even as mental illness rates in this country have steadily risen. This desire for research alongside patient perspective is why I wrote a hybrid text, part memoir, part journalism, a way to weave personal experience with medical authority.

green light bulb
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

The research! Oh, the research! I was enamored with the stats, the data, everything. Can you walk us through a brief timeline of your process—did you research as you went or all up front? How—when—does a writer say: ‘enough’ and get on with the writing?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

I’m so glad! I’m a bit of a research nerd—I love geeking out on topics, surprising myself, finding new directions. The majority of the research happened before the writing, because I researched as a patient before I researched as a writer. So many patients have to advocate for themselves because our current for-profit healthcare model simply does not provide patients the time they need to ask physicians extensive questions, to explore different options and opportunities, and to learn the histories behind their diagnoses. The stigma surrounding mental illness also means that many patients do not receive the support or seek out the community they deserve. Research becomes a way for patients to fill in the gaps left by our healthcare system, and to understand themselves within the larger history of patient experience.

My research process began with medical research on psychopharmacology and prescribing patterns, as I wanted to know about the various medications I encountered, many of which had detrimental side effects. But as I began to experience frustration with the medical care I received, I examined the history of mental illness treatment in the United States, focusing on the ways my frustrations echoed what patients experienced a hundred or more years ago. This is when I also began to write, because I wanted to use my personal experience to voice the historical narrative of being silenced, shamed, and erased. There definitely comes a point when the research has to stop—for me, the research stopped when I began to write, for I’d used it to figure out how I felt, to understand my experience more fully, and in many ways to anger me enough into tackle the telling.

bird s eye view of sea water
Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Since a good chunk of QUITE MAD reads like history—a dark but fascinating—examination of mental illness in women. I wonder if you could give us a few highlights from the last three-hundred years or so? For example, uh…genital massage?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

Goodness, there is so much! Past treatments, particularly for women, were barbaric. The Rest Cure, for example, where women who were too loud, too excited, too adventurous, etc., were expected to go to bed for months at a time, unable to read, write, receive visitors, even bathe or feed themselves. Men, however, were treated with The West Cure, which focused on grand adventure and rugged horseback riding and hunting. Lobotomy was performed primarily on women who had not given content, but whose fathers and husbands were concerned by behavior they did not feel was ladylike. The results, of course, were that patients became docile and agreeable, easily controlled. And as you mention, genital massage was considered treatment, though the results were labeled medical rather than sexual, as women at the time were not seen as capable of desire or orgasm. Medical sexism continues today, women diagnosed and treated at much higher rates than men, prescribed psychopharmaceuticals—the first of which was described as “a chemical lobotomy”—at much higher rates, though rarely do we consider or discuss the ways violence and abuse of women, imposed silence and resulting anger, might contribute to mental illness.

Leslie Lindsay:

And your family. Tumultuous. Saintly. Dysfunctional. Healing. How might you describe them—and to what extent do you feel your struggles were a product of nature versus nurture?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

My family is a complex intersection of experiences—I am one of eight siblings ranging in age from nearly fifty to fifteen. Five of my siblings are adopted from various racial and economic backgrounds, but no matter our family of origin, each of us has struggled with severe abuse and mental health challenges. While the intention behind this blended family was good, to bring us together in love and support, growing up in this dynamic was difficult, in part because stability was rare and because so many people needed physical and mental health care. The origins of mental illness are complex—part genetics, part circumstance—but to bring so many hurting people together often amplified tensions and pain, and our working-class background meant that we didn’t always have access to the care we needed or the knowledge about mental illness that it takes to properly attend to needs.

Leslie Lindsay:

But you broke free. You left for college and graduate school and a relationship of your own. You’re successful and happy. Can you talk about that? Did the distance strengthen you?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

Making the decision to distance myself from my family both emotionally and physically—they all live in California while I live just outside Boston in Massachusetts—was a difficult choice, but one ultimately aimed at protection, preservation a kindness, for us all. As I mentioned before, my family narrative is one that centers on seeking out trauma and trying to force recovery, even when it is not possible. Ours is a story of desperate hope and the pain that comes when recovery cannot be fulfilled. The patterns established in each of us through nurture and nature, as well as the unique ecosystem we created when we come together is one that simply could not sustain me. So I chose the distance, the solitude that works best for me, choosing care rather than chaos. It was and still is to a certain extent, painful and lonely, but my mental health improved tremendously, while my siblings and parents continue to struggle in their patterns.

The distance has strengthened me individually but it has actually been the publication of this book that has strengthened my relationship with my parents. I was incredibly worried about how they would react to a memoir that exposes our family’s vulnerabilities, our members’ many flaws, and their own insecurities as parents, but I found that the process of writing about their choices allowed me to understand them a bit more, and I have grown fiercely protective of them through the process of speaking about them in interviews and book tour events.

multicolored abstract painting
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Yet at the heart of your struggle, anxiety prevails. What was it like writing about it? Did it heighten your anxiety?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

Writing nonfiction, no matter the topic, always requires vulnerability, but I definitely felt an increased pressure with QUITE MAD, in part because I write very closely about what happened to my brain and body, but also because prior to the book’s publication, I’d spoken very little about my experiences with mental illness. Part of what I want to do with the book is destigmatize mental illness—according to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness—by speaking openly about my struggles, even if this meant exposing myself and risking anxiety. While there were certainly challenges in describing and to a certain extent “proving” my experience to a public that often doubts or suspects those with mental illness, my main anxiety came from whether or not I accurately represented the mental illness community. I was less interested in convincing those who are quick to judge than I was about getting it right for those of us who have faced this ableism.

photo of white umbrella with blue smoke illustration
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s so, so much in QUITE MAD, I could ask questions all day. What is it you hope others take away?

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

My main hope is that those who live with mental illness will find a sense of comfort in community. Mental illness is incredibly lonely and it is difficult to advocate for yourself when the world doesn’t believe you, reacts instead with doubt and suspicion. But there is great comfort in finding others with similar lived experiences, whose stories remind you that you are not alone or strange or broken, but instead part of a larger community that supports and sustains.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sarah Fawn, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery:

Thank you! I’m so honored you spent time with my words and story!

blue bubble calamity clean
Photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels.com

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

Order links: 

Sarah_Fawn_Montgomery_QUITE_MAD_author_photo.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018), and the poetry chapbooks Regenerate: Poems of Mad WomenLeaving Tracks: A Prairie Guide, and The Astronaut Checks His Watch. Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared in various magazines including Crab Orchard ReviewDIAGRAM, Electric Literature, LitHub, The Normal School, Passages North, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Terrain, and others. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University.

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

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#mentalillness #mentalhealth #amreading #memoir #OCD #family #estrangement #stigma #historyofmentalillness

FRONTCOVER_montgomery_cmyk

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

A Mother’s Love, a Teacher’s Promise, living life with a full heart: Internationally bestselling author Alyson Richman shares this essay on THE SECRETS OF CLOUDS

By Leslie Lindsay

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of THE LOST WIFE and THE VELVET HOURS comes an emotionally charged story about a mother’s love, a teacher’s journey, and a child’s heart…..

9781984802620 (1).jpg

In recent months, I’ve stumbled upon antique stores with a greater curiosity for nostalgia of my childhood.  Almost invariably, I’ve unearthed toys or household goods that were once a part of my childhood. The Barbie Mercedes! A set of Smuf glassware from a restaurant chain! An early edition of Hungry, Hungry Hippos, the same type of cannisters that once adorned my childhood kitchen counters…and I think: these are antiques?!

I remember the 1980s with a brilliant, almost photographic memory. So when THE SECRET OF CLOUDS (Berkley hardcover, Feb 19 2019) came to my attention, I was completely intrigued. THE SECRET OF CLOUDS is internationally bestselling author Alyson Richman’s first depiction of a more contemporary era–1986, but it also combines pertinent topics of immigration, education, a parent’s love, a teacher’s dedication.

Richman is known for her sweeping WWII tales of WWII, like THE VELVET HOURS, and THE LOST WIFEthe latter of which is in development to be a major motion picture and is currently being cast.  Now, Richman pens a heartwarming story of love and the power of healing for a Ukrainian immigrant family living in New York following the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which I also distinctly recall.

THE SECRET OF CLOUDS is a journey of a mother and her son, and a teacher and her student.  A story that will make readers examine what it means to actually live life with a full heart. 

A Bit About The Book:

Katya, a rising ballerina, and Sasha, a graduate student, are young and in love when an unexpected tragedy befalls their native Kiev.  Years later, when the couple has safely emigrated to America, their son, Yuri, will be born with a rare health condition that isolates him from other children.  When a passionate and dedicated teacher, Maggie Topper, is assigned to tutor Yuri, she finds herself forced to confront her own painful childhood memories.  As the two forge a deep and soulful connection, Yuri’s boundless curiosity and unique wisdom will inspire Maggie to make difficult changes in her own life.  And she’ll never realize just how strong Yuri has made her — until she needs that strength the most…


“Exquisite and haunting. Richman writes with the soul of a poet, and her captivating new novel enchants while tugging ever so gently at the heart. Her story stands as a reminder to never take any day for granted.”

—Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece


When I asked Alyson a bit about the seed for THE SECRET OF CLOUDS, she responded with this thoughtful and touching essay about the goodness of people, the restorative power of humanity, and how teachers make a difference. What a perfect message for February. We hope you enjoy!

beverage breakfast close up cocoa
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Writing with a Full Heart” 

 by Alyson Richman

In 2016, I began contemplating what my next novel would be. The year had been particularly tumultuous, with politics taking up most of the headlines, and I wanted to embark on a creative journey that would be both emotionally restorative and also reinforce what I believed to be the good in people.  Also, I had spent the majority of my career writing historical novels, several of which took place during World War II, and I wanted to expand my creative horizons and write in a different direction with a more contemporary theme.

###

Every one of my novels comes about from personal curiosity and a desire to leave something meaningful behind.  The first seeds for THE SECRET OF CLOUDS began one sunny August afternoon as I was sitting poolside with a dear friend of mine who is an elementary school teacher.  She was considering what projects she would be assigning to her new students that Fall. She mentioned to me how every year she instructs her third-grade class to write a letter to their eighteen-year old selves about how they envision their lives in the future, then she holds on to those letters for nearly a decade, mailing them back to the children the week they graduate high school.  I was immediately in awe of her!  She described that her basement had a filing cabinet in which she stored several years’ worth of letters, their envelopes all sealed shut and written in a child’s hand, waiting to be returned to their original owner at the appropriate time.

girls on desk looking at notebook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I began to question her on what specific letters had stood out for her over the years. She shared a deeply emotional story about how one year, she tutored a child who was too sick to come in to class and attend school.  Nonetheless, she gave him the same writing assignment as the rest of her class, keeping his letter in her filing cabinet along side those of her other students.  The boy’s health improved, and when it was eventually time for him to graduate, poignant memories of their time together returned to her, and she realized just how deeply this one particular student had transformed her.  I was immediately struck by the profound and life-changing bond between a teacher and their students, one that can transcend time and distance, and I wanted to explore that more deeply through my writing.

###

Teachers have always fascinated me.  Their selflessness, their devotion to their students and the way in which they inspire a love of learning, are all something I’ve held in great esteem ever since the start of my own school days.  I know there have been several teachers who helped me become the writer I am today, ones who opened up the world of reading to me and nurtured my writing. I’ve also since been lucky enough to witness firsthand how so many teachers have helped shape my own children’s lives.  I wanted that powerful and special relationship to be the core of THE SECRET OF CLOUDS, while also showing how students can also positively reshape the life of a teacher as well.

orange white and pink smoke digital wallpaper
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Also, because all of my previous novels have so extensively woven in a historical theme, I again wanted to create a backstory of a part of history that I felt needed to be explored more in contemporary literature. When my son was an infant, his first babysitter was a nurse from Ukraine. She shared with me her stories of the accident at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. I’ll never forget her describing how, for three days, no one in the area knew about the accident, so they were all outside sunning themselves in the unseasonably hot weather and bathing in the now unusually warm waters of the local river. Babies were soon born with rare diseases and heart defects akin to what my character Yuri has. Countless health problems related to the radiation leak still plague the Ukrainian population. I wanted to illuminate this trauma in my novel. Weaving together the story of the letters written by a classroom of American children and the history of Chernobyl was the perfect way to explore the themes that were important to me.

###

While Yuri, the main character in THE SECRETS OF CLOUDS is born with a rare health condition that prevents him from going to school, his heart is still full of the same hopes and dreams as his fellow classmates.  For me, so much of this novel is about living life to its fullest and leaving a lasting impact on those around you. In the end, the novel is about all the things that are important to me:  a mother’s love, a teacher’s dedication, and the profound wisdom that can be found in a child’s heart.

I hope you will enjoy the novel! 

art art materials artistic blue
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

alyson richman1 credit jeanine boubliABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alyson Richman is the international bestselling author of The Velvet HoursThe Garden of LettersThe Lost WifeThe Last Van GoghThe Rhythm of Memory, and The Mask Carver’s Son. She lives on Long Island, New York, with her husband and two children.

 

 

 

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#amreading #authorinterviews #bookreviews #fiction #Ukraine #Chernobyl #immigration #teachers #children

9781984802620 (1)

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Penguin Random House and used with permission. Author photo credit: Jeanine Boubli].

 

 

Would you read a book about dead people? You should–there’s so much life thrumming within the pages of THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD

By Leslie Lindsay

“Death is the subtext of life,” writes the author in her introduction of THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD, and she would be right.

9781640091221.jpg

PBS NewsHour Best Book of the Year 


One of the Top Ten Books of the Year, Newark Star-Ledger

Poetic vignettes of 60+ individuals (including one dog and one goldfish), Winik captures the beauty of living in this slim book. Plus, that cover!

Longtime commentator of NPR’s “All Things Considered” (1991-2006), Marion Winik reviews books for Newsday, People, and Kirkus, and is host of The Weekly Reader podcast. I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to relish in her poetic, yet sparse writing. 

And relish, I did. Although THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD is a slim volume (heck, it could almost fit in your pocket), you might be tempted to breeze right through it in one sitting.

But don’t. 


Every short essay
(2-3 pages at most) deserves your full attention, a careful read. I was amazed and awed with how vivid a portrait Ms. Winik could paint with few words. There’s hope, love, family, pain all succinctly wrapped in a tidy package.

THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD features ‘death’ in the title, and you might be wondering if you want to sit and read about death …because doesn’t that sound a bit depressing? Well, do it anyway. It’s not as dull or macabre as it might sound.

Winik writes with a graceful and amazingly light hand about a less-light subject. In essence, Winik’s observations are more of a lesson for the living, a glimmering memorial, and nuanced observations of the world we live.

Please join me in welcoming Marion Winik to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Marion, welcome! I found THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD most insightful, though unusual. I understand it’s a follow-up to your earlier title, THE GLEN ROCK BOOK OF THE DEAD (Counterpoint, 2008). But there are other books—and a decade between the two—can you talk about why this book, why now?

Marion Winik:

Right after I finished GLEN ROCK, my mother died, my husband left, and I moved to Baltimore. Since I had been with one man or another pretty much continuously since I was 27, I assumed a new guy would turn up right away. Instead, about two years of utter ridiculousness ensued, and that became HIGHS IN THE LOW FIFTIES: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living. Also in this time I started a bi-weekly column called Bohemian Rhapsody in the Baltimore Fishbowl — I’ve been keeping up with that ever since, which is eight years now, though I did switch from bi-weekly to monthly a few years ago. The column was and is a great outlet for my creative energy. (And if you want to read them, sign up over here, you’ll get a notification each month when it comes out. Also all 200 old ones are archived on the site.) So at this point, with seven books of memoir under my belt, I felt like I really had nothing more to write about if my life had to be the focus. So, I then spent 3 years — god, was it really that long? — working on a novel about a memoir teacher who has a student who becomes famous. It was called The Acknowledgments. I guess it still is. But literally dozens of publishers rejected it, so at this point, it’s staying in the drawer.

So — aren’t you glad you asked this question? Oy vey this is a long answer — at this point I realized for the third time that I just can’t write fiction and if I want to do anything worthwhile I better get back in my wheelhouse. THE GLEN ROCK BOOK OF THE DEAD is one of my favorite books I’ve ever written, and it was really a great experience to write it. Both the communing with dead part, and the creating 400-word essays part. What else could I do that would be sort of like that? I tried and tried, and couldn’t think of anything. Then I realized it was 2018, a lot of people had died since 2008, and I could probably just do the same thing again! I proposed the idea to Jack Shoemaker at Counterpoint, the publisher of GLEN ROCK, and he said, show me. And … well, it worked out really well, I think.

books on bookshelves
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

And so where does that leave you now? If you feel you can’t write fiction? Does this mean more memoir?

Marion Winik:

Actually, I’m now working on dead people again, because we’ve decided that instead of bringing out BALTIMORE in paperback this fall, there’s going to be a BIG BOOK OF THE DEAD which will merge GLEN ROCK and BALTIMORE and includes 13 new pieces! 125 total, divided into four chronological sections.

Leslie Lindsay: 

Should I say oy vey?

Marion Winik: 

Yes, yes. I think you should!

Leslie Lindsay:

And just to clarify, there’s not a lot of ‘Baltimore’ per se, but you titled this based on where you wrote it, yes? Can you expand on that, please?

Marion Winik:

It has turned out that the “Baltimore” in the title has sort of worked against me, because a.) people in other places think it’s not for them and b.) people think it’s about Baltimore’s murder problem. Actually, I was just following the pattern established in GLEN ROCK of naming it for the place it was written. But since no one ever heard of Glen Rock, mentioning it in the first title didn’t have much of an effect at all — Baltimore is a different story.

And this is another reason I’m so excited about THE BIG BOOK OF THE DEAD! Not only do I get rid of the geography, it has a bit of an irreverent ring which may help correct the impression that the book is depressing and morbid. I have Jenny Alton, my editor at Counterpoint, to thank for thinking of it.


“An affecting collection of brief, incisive portraits of departed figures both public and private.” 
People


Leslie Lindsay:

I’m so, so interested in genre these days. It seems like it should be pretty straight-forward, but that’s not always the case. Many books are genre-bending, genre-crossing. THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD is a little of everything—non-fiction, poetry, memoir, autobiography, essay—can you give us a little more insight and should writers worry about genre?

Marion Winik:

No they should not! I think a lot of the most interesting work we’re seeing today is hybrid genre. Auto-fiction, for example, like the work of the great Lucia Berlin, is a really interesting category. The books of the dead could be considered prose poems, auto fiction, or memoir. The only reason to think about genre is because it affects the marketing. Jack had mentioned the idea of publishing THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD as fiction. Because as much as the essays are based on fact and are very carefully researched, approved and checked by someone who knew the person, there’s also a lot of imagination that goes into it — I’m writing about events I didn’t not attend, sometimes people I barely knew. But since GLEN ROCK had already been published as memoir, we really didn’t have that option.

book opened on top of white table beside closed red book and round blue foliage ceramic cup on top of saucer
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There are over sixty stories—but those stories encompass so much living, so many lives—was there one or two that really surprised you? Perhaps they illuminated a piece of yourself—or someone else in a new light. Can you talk about that, please?

Marion Winik:

Well, as I just mentioned, each piece is researched with family or friends of the person, so I found out tons of things I didn’t know. Like in ‘The Perfect Couple,’ I had planning to write about just the wife. But when I interviewed my friend, her daughter, I realized that the story of her father dying of AIDS was all entwined with it, and it should be about both of them. And the seaplane crash in ‘The Cat With Nine Lives’ — I had only foggy memories of that, but I was able to research it both with the son of the person (my cousin) and in the archives of the New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger. The story of David Bowie’s ‘Thin White Duke’ character I really knew nothing about until I started reading books about Bowie’s career. I could go on and on, because almost every one of the pieces is based on research and interviews. That’s why the Acknowledgments are so long. [You can read excerpts from THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD here.]

orange tabby cat with red collar on green sofa

Leslie Lindsay:

What challenged you the most during the writing of THE BALTIMORE BOOK OF THE DEAD? Did you worry about how others might respond—or maybe they didn’t want to be in your story?

Marion Winik:

The subjects are all dead, so they are unable to weigh in on whether they’d like to be in the book. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t use their names. But I do get permission from the survivors and actually no one has said no yet. Sometimes there are bumps in the road because they don’t like the first draft I show them, but I keep going back and forth until they are okay with it. It’s often a pretty collaborative process.

Leslie Lindsay:

Marion, it’s been a great pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to chat. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Marion Winik:

No, I think this was great. Thanks so much, Leslie — thanks for reading my book and taking the time to talk to me.

blur exhibition indoors miniature

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

Order Links: 

Marion Winik Author Photograph by Maeve Secor & Jane SartwellABOUT THE AUTHOR: Longtime All Things Considered commentator MARION WINIK is the author of First Comes LoveThe Glen Rock Book of the Dead, and seven other books. Her Bohemian Rhapsody column at BaltimoreFishbowl.com has received the Best Column and Best Humorist awards from Baltimore Magazine, and her essays have been published in The New York Times MagazineThe Sun, and many other publications. She is the host of The Weekly Reader radio show and podcast, based at the Baltimore NPR affiliate. She reviews books for NewsdayPeople, and Kirkus Reviews and is a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. She is a professor in the MFA program at the University of Baltimore.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#prosepoems #amreading #TheBaltimoreBookoftheDead #authorinterview #memoir #autofiction

49913290_193815168241701_6701782886238161033_n.jpg

[Cover and author image courtesy of Counterpoint Press and used with permission. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Join me on Instagram]

NOW IN PAPERBACK! Robin Oliveira talks about her love for Albany NY, bike riding, researching books to be accurate yet emotional, & more in WINTER SISTERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

A haunting tale of a horrific New York blizzard that leads to missing girls, a court case, and dead parents. 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

Winter Sisters
It’s March 1879, fourteen years after the Civil War. The day begins like any other. A light snow is falling as the O’Donnell family leave their simple home for work and school. But an epic blizzard has obliterated the city, separating children from parents and families from homes. Both of the O’Donnell parents area dead and the girls, Emma and Claire (ages 10 and 7) are nowhere to be found.

Close family friends, Dr. Mary Stipp (nee, Sutter)–whom we met in Oliveira’s earlier book, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, and her husband, Dr. William Stipp, begin a tireless search for the girls, turning over every orphanage, church, home, school…the girls are nowhere to be found. The police feel they must have died in the river. Yet, scandal is brewing.

Meanwhile, Mary’s mother, Amelia and niece (Elizabeth) return from their stay in Paris where Elizabeth had been in the Paris Conservatory studying violin. Together, with the Drs. Stipp, the search continues, as well as grieving for the lost.

I found the writing absolutely glorious, with rich detail to the historical period, making every piece of the story feel very authentic and accurate (though some creative liberties were taken with the dates, as explained in the author’s note). Oliveira’s descriptions sing, as does her experience as a former critical care R.N., bringing so much of this 19th century doctor to life.

The last third of WINTER SISTERS was almost exclusively focused on a trial, which Oliveira depicts in such flourish and beauty, sharp dialogue, and clever characters. I was so taken with this part of the story and couldn’t get enough. Much of the themes angered me, but had me cheering for the ‘good guy,’ too.

Part family saga, part medical drama, part thriller, all set in a historical setting, WINTER SISTERS is sure to delight and enrage as it traverses unspeakable evil to tremendous good. 

I am so, so honored to welcome Robin to the author interview series. Please join us!

Leslie Lindsay:

Robin, I loved WINTER SISTERS so much. I’m curious what drew you to this story? I know you’re from Albany, New York, but there has to be more to it other than it being your hometown. Can you elaborate?

Robin Oliveira:

Thank you, Leslie. I’m so glad you loved the book. I love to hear when readers connect with one of my novels. Because we writers write in a vacuum, it is lovely to receive notes of appreciation.

I grew up in Loudonville, which is just north of Albany on Route 9, but we often drove into the city to attend church, visit the doctor, shop, go out to dinner. From the wide back seat of my mother’s Bonneville, I formed indelible memories of the city: the Hudson River seemed wide and forbidding, the trains traveling right down the middle of Broadway spoke of faraway places, and the grand, rococo spires of the churches were enthralling and historic. Albany wears its history on its sleeve. Much of its 19th century architecture remains intact, giving Albany a distinctly visible link to its past. There were wooden row houses and elegant brownstones and verdant parks and enormous government buildings that to a child seemed like the larger world. Of course, it wasn’t Paris or Manhattan, but at that time, to my eyes, Albany was a fascinating, dangerous, romantic place, full of story and drama. That impression, and the desire to convey Albany’s legacy, has lingered with me in the years since.

In the 19th century, Albany was not a city in decline but a significant player on the world stage, a vital crossroads between east and west, which makes it a rich setting for a novel. The Hudson River, the railroads, and the Erie Canal all played an important role in the prosperity of the nation. Hemmed in on one side by the river, high and low society lived cheek by jowl: the rough and tumble lumbermen, barons of industry, tumultuous politics and politicians, and a more genteel society several generations removed from its methods of enrichment. Separated from Manhattan City by only a four-hour dayboat ride or train trip, in its heyday Albany was intimately connected with the commerce of the entire country. This story, WINTER SISTERS, in particular, begged to be set in this thriving, small city, where gossip and scandal could impact multiple levels of society.

What drew me to the story itself is another question entirely. I didn’t set out to bring Mary back. But in the process of researching an entirely different book, I discovered that in 1879, in New York State, the age of consent was ten years old. That changed everything. I knew I had to write about it, and as I discovered that a doctor’s services would be called upon in the book, I thought Mary Sutter might make a cameo appearance. But the issues explored turned out to be grave, and I knew that if Mary got wind of them, she wouldn’t stay silent or stand by while somebody else dealt with the problem. She wouldn’t be content with having a distant role. So, she needed to be intimately affected by the events of the novel. And voila! A new Mary Sutter novel was born.

Leslie Lindsay:

WINTER SISTERS picks up about fourteen years after the Civil War. In your previous book, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, we’re introduced to a brilliant, headstrong midwife who eventually becomes a Civil War surgeon. Dr. Mary Sutter (now married to Dr. William Stipp), is back in this tale, but this isn’t exactly a series, is it? Is there a literary term for this type of character cross-over? And what is it about Mary that you—and readers—love so much?mary-sutter-250

Robin Oliveira:

I know,it isn’t quite a series, is it? Shall we invent a term? Connected novels, like connected short stories? Though I have received many requests from readers over the years to ‘bring Mary back,’ I could never find a story that seemed as necessary or compelling to tell as the one I had already told about her. I felt as if I’d solved all her problems, and that nothing else would ever be as exciting or interesting as becoming a surgeon in the midst of war. What I think compels readers—and me—to love Mary Sutter is that she is a bright, clear-headed, courageous woman who speaks her mind, ignores societal conventions, slices directly into the heart of things, runs into trouble rather than away from it (the definition of a hero), and persists no matter the roadblock. I particularly love her verbal comebacks. She thinks of and says the apt rebuke or bon mot we all wish we were able to say in similarly fraught moments. There are many situations in my life where I think, Well, Mary wouldn’t have let that person speak to her like that. Why did you? Of course, it took me three or more drafts to write the words she wields as deftly as a sword. But what I think I adore most about Mary is that she is at heart an entirely moral human being. She rejects the frivolous—fashion, status, appearance—for the pursuit of much higher goals.

Leslie Lindsay:

Like Mary, you have experience in the medical field as a former critical care nurse. Your knowledge shines through in those medical scenes (I was a former psych R.N.) and so I’m curious how you made the switch from nursing to writing and how your past experience informs your present writing.

Robin Oliveira:

Before I ever thought about becoming a nurse, I was a reader. From early in my life, you could find me buried in a book somewhere in a corner, oblivious to the world around me, enthralled by a story. Since you and I have a lot in common—we are both readers, writers and nurses—I think you would probably agree that what connects those occupations is empathy. Writing is nothing if not an act of empathy, as is nursing. We inhabit differing realities, seek out hidden sources of pain, and do what we can to craft meaning from the lives we encounter, or in fiction, the characters we create. On a practical level, my transition to writing began with education. Having failed at making much progress in learning to write on my own, I started taking writing classes at the local community college, then moved on to university extension evening courses, and finally received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I have made a number of changes over the years. My first undergraduate degree was in Russian, a reflection of my love of language.

All of these things—reading, nursing, my love of language—inform my present writing. But more specifically, nursing brought me close to people on the verge of mortality. The intimacy of the act of nursing the critically ill breeds the kinds of instinct that work well for a writer: notice everything, try to draw meaning from sometimes inchoate gestures or requests, ask multiple questions to understand what someone’s true desire might be, especially at the end of life. In addition, I probably am able to write about medicine with more precision than another writer, who isn’t in the medical field. But I think that medicine and illness—even cursory illness— isn’t utilized enough in fiction. I often wonder about books covering many years in which no character ever suffers even a cold. It’s important as we write to acknowledge the weaknesses of the body as well as the soul. Nurses and physicians who write may be more focused on this.

dt_150421_doctor_reading_book_800x600.jpg


 

“A true tour de force, Winter Sisters is the best period thriller I’ve read since The Alienist. Robin Oliveira is…working at the height of her powers.”
   —Thomas Christopher Greene, author of The Headmaster’s Wife and If I Forget You


Leslie Lindsay:  

I absolutely loved the piece about the courtroom showdown, which takes place in the last third of WINTER SISTERS. I was in awe of the quick wit, the cleverness, and I was thinking, ‘how did she pull this off?’ What research did you do for these scenes?

Robin Oliveira:

I spent a lot of time reading 17th and 19th-century trial transcripts. I began with reading the Old Bailey transcripts from England—now available online—which were helpful in terms of tone but less helpful in terms of procedure and law. But New York trial transcripts, also recently digitized, are available from the early 1880’s, close enough to 1879 to be useful to me. I ferreted out procedure from these, as well as language and the kinds of questions lawyers were asking victims and witnesses.

In my first drafts, I didn’t quite know how to portray that court scene, never having written one, and not being a fan of television crime dramas. I couldn’t quite figure out how to craft those scenes so that they were tight and yet still portrayed what would have occurred in the courtroom. At first, I wrote endlessly long scenes recounting events and information that readers already knew. My editors, after reading the 200,000-word draft I sent them on my first deadline, implored me to cut the dross. It was excruciating figuring out which details to include and which to summarize in order to make the scene move with the kind of speed required to keep a reader’s attention without sacrificing any important details. As far as wit and cleverness go—thank you!—that was just rewriting. I went through multiple drafts. I included repartee because the events of the trial are so weighty that I felt the reader needed some comic relief in order to stay with me.

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a lot to this book. There are missing girls, family drama, music in form of the violin, the natural disasters of the blizzard and flood, medical procedures, and of course that courtroom scene(s). They are all interrelated and form a delicious whole, but is there one aspect you enjoyed writing more than others?

Robin Oliveira:

I like learning new things. It’s the perennial student in me. I knew nothing about playing the violin—I can’t play a single instrument and am tone deaf—so I enjoyed figuring out how to write about a character who knew how to play the violin really well. I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching performances and listening to violin instructors explain things. I went to a Hilary Hahn concert to study her phrasing and watched her physicality as played. I went to Paris to visit the Conservatoire, which was wildly fun. Not trusting my two years of college French in conversation, I composed a note that I presented at the door of the school, which explained that I was writing a book and that part of it was set in the conservatory. Could I please come in to see the building and the famous concert hall? Yes! They let me in! I love the French. Then came the challenge of writing about the conservatory and about playing the violin convincingly enough, which was both a terror and a joy. This might be a good time to mention tha

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you talk a little more about the music piece? In this sense, this story reminded me a bit of Carmela Martino’s PLAYING BY HEART. What was your intention with Elizabeth and her violin?

Robin Oliveira:

One of the reasons I chose to include music in the story was that I needed Elizabeth to stand very much in opposition to her aunt. Their differences, both in personality and profession, provide a source of conflict that pushes one of the narrative threads. Mary Sutter is a physician who from an early age was scientifically grounded, practical in the extreme, and as a result seems better equipped to handle the kinds of issues that arise in WINTER SISTERS. By contrast, Elizabeth has always been artistic and emotional, and as a result not only feels far more vulnerable than perhaps her aunt ever has, but also, at first, seems to have very little to offer when the crisis presents itself. But each of them is a prodigy in their own right, and Elizabeth has something to provide that it turns out that Mary, with all her medical skill, cannot. Elizabeth’s musical genius reaches into the soul—and this story cried out for every tool available to respond to the story’s tragedy.

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you give us a few “Robin” facts, maybe something few know?

Robin Oliveira:

I love to ride my bicycle around the San Juan Islands in Washington. I studied in Moscow, USSR, in January 1976, when I was just twenty-two years old. I once skinny-dipped in Puget Sound. (I don’t recommend it. Too cold.) I’m addicted to watching eagle cams so I can observe growing eaglets while I write. I’m afraid of sailboats. I almost drowned when I was four years old on a family vacation in Cape Cod. I included one of my childhood dreams in WINTER SISTERS. I love the ballet. I was a Girl Scout, but probably sold the fewest boxes of cookies of any Girl Scout ever. And I met President Carter on a trip to the White House in 1977, and President Obama when he was raising funds for his first run for the White House.

backroads_-_new

Leslie Lindsay:

What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Robin Oliveira:

Perhaps the question I most often receive about my books is how authentic is the history in my books?

The answer is 99% of it. If I ever differ from established history, I explain how and why in my author notes. As you alluded to earlier, for WINTER SISTERS I moved a famous blizzard from 1888 to 1879. I did that because I needed my characters to be a certain age, and since they had already appeared in a prior book, I had to fudge that timing. But given the history of deadly winter storms in the northeast, I didn’t think it was too much of a stretch.

I like to put my readers—and myself—back in time. I do this by making my characters contend with reality as it was then. For instance, every boat or train they take adheres to historic schedules. In MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, I wouldn’t allow Mary to possess more medical knowledge than was available at the time. This of course led her to make mistakes, but it was important to show medicine as it was, not medicine as I wanted her to know it. Also, I make certain never to move my historical characters from one place to another unless I can make a good case for how it might have happened. Again in MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, I knew that President Lincoln gave a speech on a certain day very near General Lee’s house in Arlington, Virginia, where most of the Union Army had decamped after a blistering defeat at Manassas. I thought it was possible that Lincoln could have traveled on to visit the general who had mismanaged the battle, so I felt comfortable writing a scene set there. In I ALWAYS LOVED YOU, a story about the impressionist artists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, I kept a detailed timeline of where every single artist in their circle was at any given time so that I wouldn’t have them meet while one was in Paris, say, and the other in Aix.

old-letters-envelope-21194905.jpg

It’s very important to me to underpin historical story with historical fact. However, emotional character arcs, in my mind, are fair game for interpretation in fiction. While I never go against anything that can be historically verified, story is not made up of facts. It is instead made up of emotion—the why something happened, which at its core speaks to motivation. Characters make decisions based on desire, and story ensues. That’s what makes historical fiction differ from history. That said, when I write about historical characters, I make heavy use of diaries, letters, reports, newspaper stories, etc. so that I can better get to the heart of who they were and what they wanted. Never is a historical figure a pawn in my story about them. Rather, I try to understand their story in order to portray it as intimately and emotionally true as I am able.

Leslie Lindsay: 

Robin, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you.

Robin Oliveira:

The pleasure is all mine!

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

Order Links:

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

Robin Oliveira - © Shellie Gansz 2017.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Robin Oliveira grew up just outside Albany, New York in Loudonville. She holds a B.A. in Russian, and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow, Russia. She worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, specializing in Critical Care and Bone Marrow Transplant. In 2006 Robin received an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In 2007 she was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship for her debut novel-in-progress, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, then entitled The Last Beautiful Day. MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER also received the 2011 Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the 2010 American Historical Fiction Honorable Mention from the Langum Charitable Trust. The book was chosen as an all-city read for both Schenectady, N.Y. and Roswell, Georgia, and in 2015, the all-state read for Iowa. Her book, I ALWAYS LOVED YOU, was published by VIKING in 2014. WINTER SISTERS is her newest, set for publication on February 27th, 2018. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Euphony and Numero Cinq. Robin is the former fiction editor at the literary magazine upstreet and a former assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. She lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her husband, Andrew Oliveira. She is the mother of two grown children, Noelle and Miles.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

f361308f-8e47-46bd-ab06-5662fe502b14

#amreading #authorinteview #historicalfiction #winter #sisters #orphans #NewYork 

Winter Sisters

[Interview originally appeared in February 2018. This is a ‘reprint.’ Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/Penguin Random House and used with permission. Author photo credit: Shellie Lansz. Paris Conservatory images retrieved from Wikipedia; signs and storefronts of c. 1892 Albany NY from  Albany mansion from, nurse reading from, backroads biking on San Juan from , image of old letters from; all on 2.15.18]