The writing will blow you away–Katherine Forbes Riley talks about perseverance, trauma, art, a stone cottage in the woods, and so much more in her luscious debut, THE BOBCAT. Plus, her amazing reading list!

By Leslie Lindsay 

Haunting and lyrical, magical and yet melancholy, about traumas and art, imagination, a meditation on nature, nurture, even medicine. 

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THE BOBCAT (Skyhorse/Arcade Publishing, June 18 2019) is one of those quiet, insidious debuts that will grab you by the scruff of your neck and won’t let you go. It’s such a deliberate and descriptive read (don’t be fooled by the slim size), and so well done, you’ll find yourself almost hallucinating as you read. That’s a good thing.

Laurelie is a young art student at a college in Vermont. She’s bright and yet scarred by a violent sexual attack leaving her unwilling and unable to trust. She retreats to a cottage in the woods where she explores her world through art and nature, where she is the most comfortable in the comfort of a little boy she babysits. I absolutely loved her cottage—but I’m such a connoisseur of homes. While out along the river banks, Laurelie and the boy come across a pregnant–and injured–bobcat, and the hiker who has been following it for miles.

Both the hiker and Laurelie are struggling with past traumas. Their stories intersect and weave, bringing them both closer to recovery and reconnection under the guidance of a very skilled and gifted writer.


THE BOBCAT is lyrical and unique with touches of the classics like THE BELL JAR (Sylvia Plath) meets Shirley Jackson’s THE HANGSMAN with maybe some touches of Margaret Atwood.

Mood and atmosphere reign prominent in THE BOBCAT, which really should be savored, despite its slim packaging. The prose is gorgeous, glimmering on the page, making you feel as if reading in a sun-dappled dream.  THE BOBCAT is alluring and literary, about art, imagination, the powerful bonds of humanity, science, and magical realism. 

Please join me in welcoming the excellent Katherine Riley Forbes to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Kate, it’s such a pleasure. THIS BOOK! Wow. It’s atmospherically picturesque and such an evocative, intimate read and startingly original. I don’t think I’ve read anything like it. Have you always been a writer? And why this book, why now?

Katherine Riley Forbes:

I love writing and reading. They’re what I do best. I saw a picture of Anaïs Nin once, leaning against a tall pile of her journals, and it very much reminded me of me. I journaled for much of my life. But what made me actually start writing THE BOBCAT was having my first child. That really broke me open— metaphorically and physically—in a number of strange and amazing ways. For this, my first novel, I drew from the subjects that came most easily. My low hanging fruit, as it were. My own childhood was difficult. I didn’t think I’d ever have a child of my own. But then I left home and fell in love, and love helped me become more than the sum of things that happened to me. And when that child came out of me, I wanted to ensure he had a different experience than me. But to do that I had to do some reliving of my own, and that began to feel like pressure, like something more had to come out of me. Writing a novel became that outlet. To me, fiction is high art. It embodies a linguistic perfection that each writer tries to seek and channel. And so that became the task for me, to take the subjects I knew best and mask them and craft them into a fiction that strived towards a deeper universality. I really wanted that for THE BOBCAT. It took six years to get it right.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I love how this book is equally about nature and trauma. Nature and art. Science and creativity. Yet, taken in just pieces, those elements seem to be at odds with one another. Can you talk about that, please?

Katherine Forbes Riley:

So many of us have experienced trauma of some kind. It’s popular in fiction to represent that sense of universality through graphic images of a single violent event. But in reality many traumas are amorphous, harder to grasp and bind in space and time. Think of divorce, illness, abuse, death, and how they linger. Traumas also tend to take on a symbolic quality that repeats. I think the struggle to expand beyond them is equally profound and universal, and I wanted to explore that idea in this book using elements that connect us to the outside world, such as love and nature and art. What made it challenging but also interesting as a writer is that much of the struggle to overcome trauma is non-verbal. It’s embodied. The aftermath is inside our body, our language, our mind. A wounded animal hides. People hide in their bodies and minds. They shut down their channels of communication. The hiker reaches Laurelie through her senses. He doesn’t rely on words because love and trust are physical and emotional and most of what’s communicated is coming through the eyes and ears and nose and mouth and skin.

But also it takes a kind of magic. Given only the logic of the existing premises, it would be impossible to move on. A leap is necessary. And viewing the world in a creative way enables that for Laurelie. She has run from the urban scene of her trauma, but she hasn’t escaped, for it still lives in her mind, and so it’s painted upon the landscape, embodied in the forest and the river and the threat of the bobcat. It’s embodied in her art as well, in the subjects she chooses to draw and the way she draws them, for all that comes from her mind too. But at the same time nature and art are static; they can reflect back her fear but lack intention and so can’t hurt her. They’re also, along with the boy, her only remaining connections to the world, and so in this way become symbolic of the world to her. Later, as she heals, her art and environment change too, and as symbols they also take on different and more complex—and more scientifically accurate—dimensionalities. They become spaces in which to face her demons, and release them. To me as a linguist this reads as symbolism, but also as realism. For I’d argue this is how we all understand the world—through the symbols we create.

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Leslie Lindsay:

The bobcat—she’s wounded and pregnant. That brings to mind an animal who is both fierce but also vulnerable. She can’t den down because she’s injured. She needs to hunt to feed herself, the babies she’s carrying. She’s on the run, but how does she survive? She’s a bit like Laurelie, isn’t she?

Katherine Forbes Riley:

The bobcat. The angry, beautiful, wounded bobcat. I love her. She represents all sorts of things to me. There are lots of ways the bobcat’s story mirrors Laurelie’s, i.e. both being preyed upon and then running, both recovering through the actions of the hiker’s gentle hands. But the bobcat and hiker’s relationship is also a symbol for Laurelie. If the hiker had been walking alone in the woods that first day, Laurelie would never have stayed around long enough to see him up close or recognize the wounds he bore. That day and all throughout the rest of the book, the bobcat and hiker’s relationship is both a mirror and also a future projection for Laurelie, in that she can see in it a step ahead and so know it is safe to move forwards.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say—that cottage! Loved it. Was it based on a place you’re familiar with or purely imagination?

Katherine Forbes Riley:

What a great question. And the answer is: both. When I was small, I lived in a very old house. It wasn’t stone but it had a secret staircase and hidden rooms and many other strange and compelling crevices. I really loved it and when I was lonely it felt quite like a magical friend. But also I find stone structures very interesting in general. In Vermont, with its rocky soil, farmers unearthed many stones over the centuries and stacked them along property lines, creating kind of accidental boundaries since their purpose wasn’t to keep anything out but simply a tidy way of getting the rocks out of their farm plots. Hiking through the woods today, one often comes across these old stone walls threading through land that’s otherwise gone wild again. Old stone houses can also survive for centuries, as has Laurelie’s stone cottage, and there is an accumulation that comes with all that age, the creaks and cracks and places the sun bleaches all taking on a kind of personality that comforts in its sturdiness and interacts as a kind of companion. In my mind her cottage nestled in the woods looks like a fairy house that a child might build with stones and bits of twigs and flowers.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a computational linguist and a novelist. I understand ‘novelist,’ but can you explain what a computational linguist does? And how does your love for art fit in?

Katherine Forbes Riley:

Linguistics study language’s underlying scientific structures, the rules governing how sounds and words and paragraphs and dialogues all connect to achieve communication. Computational linguists focus on how to implement those rules in computers so they can interact more “naturally” with humans, i.e. pass the Turing Test. In my younger days I perceived language as a great mystery, and found the idea of solving it extremely compelling. Over the last decade, however, I’ve been exploring the magic of language too, not just studying its internal logic but also leaping forward and inventing new things with it. Still, linguistics is ever fascinating, and each time it’s an epiphany while I’m writing or reading to perceive a linguistic theory being supported or contradicted. There are just so many interesting ones, and they help improve my writing as well. For example, Grice’s theory of conversational implicature—how we never really say what we mean, but rather don’t in very deliberate ways—can be very helpful to think about while writing dialogue. Theories of how interpersonal power dynamics govern turn-taking can be as well. Linguists aren’t the stodgy grammarians from high school. They perceive language as hot and alive. I can invent a word right now – “it organifies” – and given the context you might even know what I mean. It’s amazing.


“Teeming with lush imagery and mystical settings, and brimming with alluring magical realism, Riley’s tale is a beguiling journey of discovery and recovery.”

~BOOKLIST


Leslie Lindsay:

As a first time author, can you tell us a little about what you did ‘right’ and what you wished you had done better? What was your path to publication like?

Katherine Forbes Riley:

I’ll start with some advice: Don’t give up. But don’t stop editing either. I did not get THE BOBCAT right on the first or even hundredth try. The first draft had to flow out without correction, but after that I had to learn to be rigorous, ruthless. Six years is a long time to work on one book. Some writers I’ve talked to tell me they shelved their first novels and wrote a better one, but I kept working on mine. I put it down a lot and wrote short stories, and as those got published that encouraged me to go back to THE BOBCAT. And each time I did, I still liked it, and more importantly I could see how to make it better. And eventually doing it that way, we got there. Still, even after it was ready, THE BOBCAT took time to find a home. Literary fiction is generally a hard sell and this novel’s short length made it even more difficult. Marketing departments really care about page count, it turns out. It’s a hard lesson as a first-time author to learn, that you’re working within a very large and fixed system that won’t bend the rules for you. I wish I’d known this going in and had somehow found a way to make THE BOBCAT just a little longer, so that what to me is such a superficial obstacle hadn’t been a factor.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Katherine Forbes Riley:

Definitely the second novel. I’ve published one. Do I have another in me? Will I feel as proud of it as I do of THE BOBCAT? Will anyone else want to read it? (Can I do it any faster?) It’s amazing to me that creative writing doesn’t get easier; it’s the same deep life’s bleed all over again. It must come from personal experience and yet it must be highly crafted. The best fictions feel so real, but what makes them that way? It really does seem like magic to me. I think when you’re writing a first draft especially, things around you start to glow; you’ll be standing there, anywhere, and things will start to glow and suddenly you’ll know how to write about them.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kate, it’s been such a delight. Thank you for making the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Katherine Forbes Riley:

Thank you so much for the dialogue, Leslie!

A topic I always love to hear discussed by an author I’ve enjoyed is the books they’ve recently read that they’ve enjoyed. Maybe this is because I’m a book devourer. I read very quickly, get immersed in the pages and stay up reading late into the night. Growing up I was one of those people who read everything, from the sides of cereal boxes to tiny printed signs on walls. Over the course of my lifetime I’ve burned through every genre, but recently I’ve been very drawn to novels with strong internal female voices. As a writer, The Friend was intensely and paradoxically stirring. The depth of inward-facing detail in Milkman blew my mind. The highly nuanced lovers’ dialogue in Normal People floored me, and Wild Game hit hard and close to home (I was lucky to read an advance copy). And then there’s Naamah—so strong, so powerful (I know you loved her too, Leslie!) But there are also some male authored books that have moved me deeply recently, such as the self-skewering Less, and the poetic tragedy of Edinburgh, and The Underground Railroad, the first 50 pages of which should be required reading for every citizen of America. And There, There, which should be too, and is burning me up right now.

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

Order Links: 

KForbesRiley-headshot-300dpiABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katherine Forbes Riley is an award-winning writer and computational linguist. Her writing appears in many literary magazines, most recently the Wigleaf 2018 top 50 list. She received her BA from Dartmouth College and her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and has published many academic articles in peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings. For the 2016-17 academic year she was a fellow traveler at the American Academy in Rome, where she finished The Bobcat; her husband, painter Enrico Riley, was a Rome Prize recipient. She lives in Norwich, VT with her husband and two children.

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

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

Kelley Armstrong talks about her whip-fast, razor-smart thriller set in the Chicago suburbs about a missing child, her messy first drafts, how she loves ‘dive’ pizza joints and more in WHEREVER SHE GOES

By Leslie Lindsay

Juicy, twisty, can’t-put-down psychological thriller about a child abduction, a questionable narrator with a dark past, and so much more in WHEREVER SHE GOES.

Wherever She Goes

I was completely smitten with WHEREVER SHE GOES (June 25, Minotaur Books) by New York Times bestselling author, Kelley Armstrong, whose work I’ve yet to read. Just how far would YOU go to save a child? How far would you go to prove to the authorities that you are not delusional, that you know what you saw and you are worried about a child in danger? That’s the overarching question of this book, where Aubrey Finch is just sure she saw a boy taken from the playground against his will.

But the officers called onto the case say no one has reported a missing child; end of case. But Aubrey is insistent. She spoke with the boy and his mother just recently at that very park; they exist. The boy is missing. But Aubrey is recently separated from her defense attorney husband and she doesn’t have full custody of their daughter–in fact, she only sees her daughter on the weekends. Something must be ‘wrong’ with Aubrey, right? People start questioning *her* sanity–and Aubrey hears the whispers. Yet she is determined to find the boy.

I loved Aubrey’s tenacity–her strong, determined personality absolutely shines. She’s intelligent, but often makes poor, unwise decisions…yet all of these moments propel the narrative.

WHEREVER SHE GOES is whip-smart, twisty, and such a page-turner. I loved every minute. Plenty of set-up and creepy thrills in this easy but tense read, with plenty of complex characters. Such a fabulous summer read—toss this one in your beach bag right now.

But first, join me in conversation with Kelley Armstrong.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kelley—welcome! Oh gosh—I loved this book. I was supposed to be watching my daughter play soccer, but I kept sneaking in a few paragraphs on the sidelines. I was consumed. What was obsessing you when you set out to write WHEREVER SHE GOES?

Kelley Armstrong:

I’d gone through a reading binge on domestic thrillers—books with wives and mothers as protagonists—and I was inspired to try my hand at one. I knew, though, that I’d have to do a different type of heroine, one with dark past that would give her the skills she needed to solve the crime on her own.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I love that this story takes place in Chicagoland—maybe that’s because it’s the place I call home. But you do not. You live in Canada. How did you choose the Chicago suburbs? And what kind—if any—research did you do on the locale? Is there a park you envisioned? Does Pop’s Pizza really exist?

Kelley Armstrong:

I’ve set another series in the Chicago area, so it’s an easy one for me and a setting I love. I created a fake suburb because one could argue that the police don’t necessarily handle the case well, and I wouldn’t want to put that on an actual force. The park wasn’t based on any one in particular, but the pizza place is a type I love—the ones that look sketchy, but serve the best pizza in town. And if it’s the Chicago area, it had to be pizza 😉

Leslie Lindsay:

“Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid,” says Officer Cooper. There is something to be said about how compelling we find these human-interest stories of missing children. Why do you think that is? Vulnerability? Relatability? Worse fears? All of the above? Something else?

Kelley Armstrong:

All of the above. For parents, it reminds us of what might be our biggest vulnerability: our children. Stories of snatched children play into a primal fear and therefore, they’re relatable. I’m quick to click on any story of a missing child. If it’s local, then of course I want to see the pictures, in case I can help. But if it’s someplace where I’m unlikely to ever see that child, then when my kids were young, I was looking to see “how” it happened—did these parents do something “wrong” that I wouldn’t do, and therefore, my kids are safe? The problem with the latter is that it blames the victims. It only takes a second, as Aubrey says in the book.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Kelley, you’ve been so prolific in your career. Not only do you have a background in psychology and computer science, but you’re a bestselling author of many books in varied genres. Can you talk a little about your path to publication? What you think you did right and what you might have done better?

Kelley Armstrong:

What I did right was to keep trying to get published. I was lucky enough to find a solid day job (programming) that gave me time to write while paying the bills. Then I just kept plugging away at it. I’m also glad that I expanded beyond my original genre—paranormal fantasy—very early with my Nadia Stafford crime trilogy. That never sold nearly as much as my paranormals, but it gave me a solid base for thrillers when I saw the market wavering and decided to make the jump.

What might I have done better? It’s easy to second guess, and each time I do, I can also argue with myself that I probably made the right choice. For example, I started in a very trendy genre (paranormals) and that definitely hurt me when I branched out—I’m pigeon-holed as someone who writes werewolves and witches. However, my first book, BITTEN, came out pre-trend and I wrote it because I love that sort of book as much as I love non-fantasy thrillers. So, despite frustrations at the pigeon-holing, I can’t regret my choice.


This fast-paced standalone thriller from Armstrong unfolds to reveal complex truths, not only about the boy’s disappearance but about Aubrey’s past.” 

—Booklist


 Leslie Lindsay:

The type of writing you do—at least in WHEREVER SHE GOES—is lightning-fast, whip-smart. So, I have to ask—do you ever get ‘stuck?’ Do you plot everything out or figure it out as you go?

Kelley Armstrong:

My pre-plotting is a mess LOL. It’s pages of random notes. I have a rough idea of where I’m going and how I plan to get there, but it’ll change as I write. For example, the original plan for WHEREVER SHE GOES has Aubrey being estranged from her dad and then reuniting with him. Halfway through the first draft, I realized that subplot was getting in the way so I  decided he’d died years ago. I then just kept writing as if he was dead. Let’s just say I spend a lot of time editing! I write very fast, getting the story out, and then edit, edit, edit.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What is on your summer to-do list?

Kelley Armstrong:

My summers have been jam-packed for years. Between work obligations and family vacations, July and August have been a blur for the past decade. Now that the kids are grown (youngest starts university this fall) we just built our dream summer place in the Yukon, and I’m determined to spend as much time there as I can. Being in such a remote location for the summer means I have an excellent excuse to avoid work-related summer travel!

Leslie Lindsay:

Kelley, thank you for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Kelley Armstrong:

Nope! Thank you very much for the interview, and I’m thrilled that you liked the book.

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

Order Links: 

Kelley ArmstrongABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kelley Armstrong is the author of the Rockton thriller series and standalone thrillers beginning with Wherever She Goes. Past works include the Otherworld urban fantasy series, the Cainsville gothic mystery series,  the Nadia Stafford crime trilogy, the Darkest Powers & Darkness Rising teen paranormal series and the Age of Legends teen fantasy series. Armstrong lives in Ontario, Canada with her family.

 

 

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

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

Laura Purcell talks about her second book, THE POISON THREAD, how it was begun while her first was on submission to an agent, a story only she could tell, her TBR list, phrenology, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Melodramatic, vivid and well-researched Victorian gothic focused on two young women from very different stations in life, begging the question: is she mad, a victim, or a killer? 

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Last year, I was enamored with the haunting and atmospheric tale of THE SILENT COMPANIONS (Penguin original, 2018) about the so-called ‘dummy boards’ of the 16th century and knew I had to get my hands on Purcell’s second book, THE POISON THREAD [THE CORSET in the U.K.] releasing June 18, 2019. This time we are back in Victorian England with a spin on new terrifying tale, but this one has roots in real-life.

Dorothea Truelove is wealthy and gorgeous and has found her charitable work with the New Oakgate Prison highly enthralling–she enjoys visiting with the women inmates and exploring her hypothesis thatphrenology–the shape of a person’s skull can cast a light on their personality (crimes).

Ruth Butterham is a teenaged seamstress awaiting trial at Oakgate for her crimes–which she attributes to a supernatural power inherent on her stitches. But how can that be? The woman who have worn her garments have all experienced some kind of ill fate…is it possible to kill with a needle and thread? Is it possible to kill with your thoughts?

The lives of Ruth and Dorothea intersect in an atmospheric, haunting, a and dark tale. It’s complex and mysterious, I loved getting to know both Dorothea and Ruth, their ‘before’ lives. Horrific things happen to Ruth when she is ‘sold’ to the Mrs. Metyard’s dress shop to pay down her mother’s debt. There are several gasp-worthy moments which are truly distressing, involving abuse.

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Compelling writing abounds in THE POISON THREAD and it is so deeply researched, handled by a master wordsmith—but the overarching theme begs the question: is it madness, pure evilness, or simply (not-so simply) a case victimhood? 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Laura Purcell back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, welcome back! I am so fascinated (and a little disturbed) by your dark imagination. You write wonderfully about gruesome history, yet you’re smiling and  raise adorable Guinea pigs. How do you reconcile those two sides of yourself?

Laura Purcell:

Thank you for having me!

I promise I’m not that scary really … But I do think we are all many-faceted characters who should explore every aspect of our personalities. One thing I hate is when people either get pigeon-holed, or label themselves. There’s absolutely no reason a person should be JUST a ‘fantasy reader’ or a ‘crime writer’; it’s perfectly acceptable to love romance and horror movies at the same time!  I don’t believe in limiting yourself to subscribe to a certain brand. Which is why I often turn up to Gothic fiction events in bright Cath Kidston print dresses, much to everyone’s consternation!

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Leslie Lindsay:

I’m always curious what was haunting an author when they set out to write. And let’s face it: there are plenty of unsettling, haunting things going on in THE POISON THREAD. Was it a character, a situation, or something else propelling you?

Laura Purcell:

At the time I started writing THE POISON THREAD, I was still trying to juggle writing with my employment, and was also on submission to agents for THE SILENT COMPANIONS, so I guess you can say I was very tense and frustrated. I didn’t hold out much hope for my writing career but I’d never been so excited by a story idea before. I really felt that this was the book that I, and only I, could write. My main propellers were the two lead characters, Ruth and Dorothea. I heard their voices inside my head in a way I hadn’t done before. It sounds weird, but I feel that they kind of told the story to me and I wrote it down.


“A dark, gothic story… Purcell alternates character narratives to question motives, reality, and truth on a ‘bumpy’ ride full of violence and death.”

Booklist


Leslie Lindsay:

The story of Ruth is based loosely on a real-life person, Ann Nailor, a 13-year old’s milliner’s apprentice. What can you tell us about that story? How did you discover it?

Laura Purcell:

It’s such a harrowing tale. I first came across it when reading Jerry White’s London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing. In a chapter about the Foundling Hospital, White went on to list what happened to some former inmates in the world of work. Ann was not one of the lucky ones. I decided to research her further using the Old Bailey online records and came up with a wealth of awful detail, including a complicated power play between the mother and daughter responsible for her death. Poor Ann was starved and beaten before her body was disposed of in a gruesome fashion. We actually had to tone down the real-life crime for the book, because it was just too upsetting.

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Leslie Lindsay:

And phrenology! I have very little knowledge of the practice. Is it a science? A study of psychology? A quack- type thing? A little of all? Do you have any experience with it?

Laura Purcell:

This theory first appeared in medical and philosophical literature around 1790, spearheaded by Germans Gall and Spurzheim. It was proposed that a person’s entire character could be read in the shape of their skull.

The brain was divided into specific areas or ‘organs’, each responsible for a certain aspect of the personality. Organs were measured with a craniometer, a special instrument like a caliper. Depending on their size – anything from very small to very large – and the combination of surrounding organs, your character could either be lauded or condemned.

It was a pseudo-science with no real basis, often condemned by doctors, but that didn’t stop it getting absorbed into public belief. The adoption of these ideas was not only disturbing because of their fallacy, but the overt racism in many of the manuals. Charles Caldwell used maps of the brain to try and justify his ownership of slaves.

Leslie Lindsay:

THE POISION THREAD seeks to answer several age-old questions about victimhood, madness, PTSD, women in society. What do you think the major themes are in this tale? What do you hope others take away?

Laura Purcell:

I rarely think about themes while I’m writing, they tend to be something I only see when everyone else is talking about the book. The main things I wanted to get across were 1) The frustration of being limited or restricted, be it by looks, money, society or family. 2) How dangerous it can be to class someone as merely ‘good’ or ‘bad’ without seeing the shade in-between.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your TBR this summer? Any holidays planned? Because there’s nothing better than curling up with a great book on holiday.

Laura Purcell:

Alas, I’ve already had my holiday this year! But my TBR pile is tottering as always. I will probably be diving into some Daphne du Maurier and a few of the exciting proofs I’ve been sent for upcoming publications. I’m particularly eager to start Tracy Chevalier’s latest, A SINGLE THREAD.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laura, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you! Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Laura Purcell:

Not that I can think of! Thank you so much for having me and for your insightful questions.

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

Order Links: 

laura-headshots 11ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Purcell is the author of The Silent Companions. She worked in local government, the financial industry and a bookshop before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, with her husband and pet guinea pigs. Fascinated by the darker side of royal history, Laura has also written two historical fiction novels about the Hanoverian dynasty.

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

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

What if you were 16 and just learned you were born without a uterus? That’s what happened to Susan Rudnick–here she talks about this and more in her memoir about her disabled sister, EDNA’S GIFT

By Leslie Lindsay

Moving memoir about two sisters–both of whom are struggling with a loss–connect and remain whole. 

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When they were young, Susan and Edna, were inseparable. Growing up in the 1950s-1960s New York, they were the children of Nazi refugee parents, and became one another’s first friend. Fiercely dedicated and loyal, they protected one another. Both girls are operating on some sort of deficit–that is, Susan had no uterus (though she didn’t know this until she was nearly 16) and Edna struggles with physical and mental challenges. 

When Edna is sent to live at a community for other like-minded individuals, Susan began grappling with the fact that she would never menstruate, never give birth. Yet, through their intertwining relationship, Edna becomes Susan’s biggest advocate, her best teacher –reminding her sister, that if you just remain open to opportunities, strength, joy, and wisdom just might be the end result. EDNA’S GIFT (She Writes Press, June 4 2019) is about living a life without regrets. 


Edna’s Gift is an honest, unwavering love story between two sisters—one of which has developmental delays. Rudnick’s writing had me hooked from the first page.”

—Linda Atwell, award-winning author of Loving Lindsey: Raising a Daughter with Special Needs


A touching, profound memoir about the affectionate bond of sisters, but also about dealing with challenges those one could never predict. There are /b> failed relationships, adoption, self-acceptance, death and loss, and unconditional love. Susan’s writing style is on-point and at times, I found it hard to set down. I was absolutely intrigued with her condition–MRKH–in which a woman is born without a uterus, something that happens to 1 of 4,000.  EDNA’S GIFT is honest, insightful, and deeply moving.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Susan Rudnick to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Susan, I am astonished. EDNA’S GIFT is such a rare and unique read. Is this something you always felt drawn to write about? What was the ‘why now’ moment for you?

Susan Rudnick:  

I had a moment  of transformation when Edna died and I saw her face in the coffin. She lived in a community that didn’t embalm, so her face had a natural expression. And I saw a beautiful strong  wise face. It was the face of all she would have been if she hadn’t been brain injured, but it also included all the life experience she had with her disability. In that moment I realized how important she had been to me.  I needed to express all of that, although it took a couple of years before I actually began.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You were just shy of your sixteenth birthday when you learned you did not have a uterus. Can you explain that time for us? Were you shocked? Scared? Worried? Something else? Did you tell anyone—a friend? Your sister?

Susan Rudnick:

I was traumatized and in shock. Luckily I had a therapist who was there for me, and who introduced the idea that I could become a parent through adoption.  Until that moment I had never thought much about becoming a mother, but after learning about my condition, I became quite obsessed with wanting to be a mother.  I don’t remember telling anyone in high school, but then in college I did tell friends. By that time Edna wasn’t living at home, so I also don’t remember telling her. I do remember being angry at my mother, because she had told an aunt of mine.

Leslie Lindsay:

It wasn’t until much later—you were nearly sixty—when a doctor gave your condition a name. What was that experience like? Can you tell us a little about that—and also more about MRKH?

Susan Rudnick:  

This experience was really two. On the one hand by the time I was 60 I was the mother of a teenage daughter, and I had mostly dealt with my disability with great psychoanalysis and therapy. In other words I was flourishing. Yet at the same time there was still a 16 year old me that felt like an anomaly. The diagnosis led me online where I discovered the loving embrace of a community just like me. I became part of and led support groups. So after all it was a great healing.

MRKH occurs, when in the first trimester of pregnancy, a duct that develops the uterus, cervix and vaginal canal, fails to develop. That left me with a double hit. I had no uterus, but also instead of a vaginal canal, only a dimple. If I wanted to be able to have sexual intercourse, I would either need to create one surgically, or manually through dilation.  I chose dilation, a process that took about a year of daily insertion. Then, as my doctor told me, “ When you have a boyfriend, you won’t need it.” that was true. Also the syndrome can affect  in several ways: kidneys and skeletal issues. I’m lucky not to have those.

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh—and Edna! What a shining light! She was born with several mental and physical challenges. At one point, you attribute this to lack of oxygen during birth, but was there more? Did her condition ever have a diagnosis?

Susan Rudnick:

The final diagnosis that was given was brain injury and retardation. This was a way of saying, we really don’t know anything!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Does the community where she lived still exist? It seemed so wholesome, so nurturing (well, mostly). And yet, your devotion to her never wavered. You consistently visited her and brought her much joy—and she you.

Susan Rudnick:  

Camphill Village  in Copake, NY is still flourishing. It is part of a worldwide network of villages that run according to the tenets of Anthroposophy teaching developed  by Rudolf Steiner, a turn of the (20th) century philosopher/mystic. In this teaching, handicapped people are on this earth as teachers. And Edna certainly was.

Leslie Lindsay:

Eventually, you adopt. That’s what I think I love about EDNA’S GIFT—it’s a story about relationships and families—and how we can be whole, even if our families are comprised of broken bits. Can you talk about that, please? And also, can you give us a little glimpse into Rebecca’s life?

Susan Rudnick:  

Well really, brokenness and wholeness are aspects of each other. Wholeness emerges out of brokenness. Edna was limited, yet she had wholeness of spirit. When we learn to love that which appears broken, we find our way to wholeness. Rebecca’s birth mother gave my husband and I the most unbelievable gift anyone could give. I know it was something she felt good about, but also bereft and sad. Suffering and the gift of love.   My daughter is amazing. She is 31, recently married and following her two passions of art and horses. After years of coaching college equestrian teams, and working at other barns, she is currently building a barn to start her own business of boarding and training horses. I couldn’t be prouder of her. We are very close.

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Susan, this has been so delightful. Thank you, thank you. I could ask questions all day, but is there something I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Anything that’s obsessing you?

Susan Rudnick:

I want to say that my book is a love story. I tried to capture what Edna and I were to each other and how our lives intertwined and continue to, even after her death.

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

Order Links: 

Susan Rudnick author photo by Chris LoomisABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Rudnick was born in New York City to refugee parents escaping from Nazi Germany. The crucible for her major life choices has been her relationship with her sister, Edna. It sparked her desire to become a healer, and she has been practicing psychoanalysis and psychotherapy for over forty years in Manhattan. As well, Edna’s spirit of unconditional acceptance was the seed of Susan’s spiritual journey, which ultimately led her to embrace both her Jewish heritage and Zen Buddhism. Susan is a published haiku poet. Culled from thousands of submissions, one of her haikus appears in New York City Haiku: From the Readers of The New York Times. She and her husband live in Westchester, New York. Learn more at https://susanrudnick.com/

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#memoir #sisters #adoption #MRKH #disabilities 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Caitlin Hamilton Marketing and used with permission. Images of Susan and Edna retrieved from Susan’s website on 6.20.19. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.]

Sara Collins talks about her sublime debut, how history is a form of collective memory, black women in history, how writing is a form of exorcism, and so much more, in THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON

By Leslie Lindsay 

The Mulatta Murderess–Dusky Fran–Ebony Fran—Frannie Langton is former slave on a Jamaican sugar plantation now locked in Old Bailey awaiting her sentencing–but did she do it?! 

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It’s circa 1820-1826 in Georgian London and Frannie Langdon has been indicted for the double-murder of her master and mistress, George and Marguerite (Meg) Benham. She couldn’t have possibly done it because she cared so deeply for them. Frannie is at once a fierce, powerful, and intelligent character–yet, she’s been accused of so many things–a whore, a seductress, a witch, a manipulator, a liar. THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON (Harper, June 18 2019) is such a multifaceted tale, I found it ambitious but also ambiguous, paying tribute to British Gothic literature with a philosophical slant.

The writing is clear, concise, and sparkling on every page.
But there’s a lot going on. We start with Frannie in Old Bailey, where she is awaiting trial and sentencing of the alleged murders. Frannie is whip-smart, articulate and tells her story retrospectively in first person as if writing in a diary. As readers, we are right there with her as we travel back to her horrific days as a slave on the sugar plantation in Jamaica where cruel, brutal, and tragic things occurred.And then she is ‘given away’ (freed) to an eccentric couple in England, where she tends to the mistress, reads to her, etc.

THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON is at once a tale of murder, but there’s more.  Race and class, (il)literate women, science/human experiments, slavery, drug addiction, mental health concerns, same-sex relationships, prostitution, paternity, and so much more. It’s dark, it’s grim, it’s philosophical and presents timeless ethical discussions– this book absolutely made me think, to question, and at times–feel uncomfortable.  THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON is a stellar debut and I look forward to reading more from the highly talented Sara Collins.

In fact, this praise from bestselling author of Jane Steele and The Gods of Gotham, Lyndsay Faye, says it all:

“Destined to become a benchmark for historical fiction, THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON is at once fiercely raw and remorselessly beautiful.”

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Sara, I am so enthralled with the depth and breadth of THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON. Can you tell us a little about why this book, why now? What was haunting you?

Sara Collins: 

Whenever I looked to history or historical fiction for an exploration of black lives all I saw were victims. It began to seem as if the story of slavery left no room for any other stories. There was never any adventure, love, or mystery. I wanted to write about a character who happened to have been a slave but who was highly educated, morally ambiguous, angry and in love. I wanted to give her a story like the ones I’d been addicted to as a teenager obsessed with the classic gothic romances, especially Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.  For a long time I had been haunted by this question: why couldn’t a black woman be the star of her own gothic romance? Part of the power of fiction is that it can right its own wrongs; by writing this novel I could put a black woman center stage where she’d never been before.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

Slavery, in itself is haunting. But then Frannie is brought from Jamaica to London with her master and is technically free under English law, but she becomes a new type of slave to Master and Mistress Benham. Can you talk about that, please? Can one ever leave the…uh…shackles of their past behind?

Sara Collins: 

The past is the lens through which we see everything, including ourselves and our place in the world. History is a form of collective memory but the people who write it down are the ones who get to decide what we choose to forget as well as what we choose to remember. There is real power in that, as well as an ability to keep us stuck in the same old patterns. Historical fiction gives us room to speculate about forgotten histories, reclaim some of that power and perhaps break free of those patterns. If history is a kind of haunting, writing about it can be a form of exorcism.


“Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace . . . [a] devious, richly detailed debut.”

O: The Oprah Magazine


Leslie Lindsay:

I’m so intrigued—and deeply bothered—by the scientific experiments mentioned in THE CONFESSIONS OF FRANNIE LANGTON. Can you highlight a few? Why were these conducted? Was it common practice?

Sara Collins:

While I was researching the novel, I was shocked by how little attention is paid to the fact that much of the scientific progress of  the Age of Enlightenment was aimed at determining whether blacks were human beings.  The institution of slavery could not have become as widespread or survived as long as it did without reliance on pseudoscience designed to prove that blacks were less than human. As Frederick Douglass said: “the temptation to write the Negro out of the human family is exceedingly strong”. The great minds of the age were obsessed with this wild goose chase. Voltaire examined a little albino boy who was held captive in Paris; Buffon kept an albino woman named Genevieve captive in order to study her; Hume dismissed the achievements of Francis Williams (an educated black man) as the equivalent of a parrot being taught a few words of English; and Thomas Jefferson wrote that “no black ever uttered a thought above the level of plain narration”. It’s about time we acknowledge this more widely instead of continuing to venerate men who made such fundamental mistakes, which is one of the reasons I wanted to include some of the experiments, including skin blistering and craniometry.  I was interested in exploring the extent to which the ideology justifying slavery was built on experiments into racial differences.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’re of Jamaican descent yourself. Was the draw to write about this time and place personal?

Sara Collins:

Although I was born in Jamaica, my family was forced to leave when I was only four years old following the outbreak of political violence in the aftermath of the 1976 elections. I grew up in Grand Cayman and then went to boarding school in England at the age of eleven. I have moved between those three places all my life, never feeling as if I truly belonged in any one of them. Sometimes I think writing a novel set in Jamaica was an attempt to write my way back home, in the same way novelists are often driven to write about things because they want to understand them. But Jamaica in the early 19th century was also an incredibly lush and dangerous place. Breathtaking beauty masking unimaginable suffering. Paradise for some, but hell for others. All of that is good gothic material and I think I was drawn to it for that reason also.

Leslie Lindsay:

Frannie! I loved her. She’s fierce, whip-smart and she reads! She often talks about the books she’s reading throughout the story. They are always classics. So…I have to ask…have you read these books yourself? Can you give us a sense list of which books are included and why?

Sara Collins:

Thank you! I came to love Frannie as well, even though she did some infuriating things at times. Her love of books and reading is definitely one of the book’s autobiographical elements. One of my the keys to developing the character for me was to think of a young black girl with my own sensibilities stuck in the era of plantation slavery. One of the great losses would have been access to books. My early images of Frannie were all of a bright young girl growing up on plantation, craving the books she can see through the windows of the great house, desperate for a life of learning. Those became the springboard for the character.  I wanted to explore what education would have meant to a girl like that, as well as how far she would have gone to get it.  Many of the books included in the novel (Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Voltaire’s Candide) were books she would have had access to but they also made serendipitous connections with many of the novel’s themes (identity, colonialism, race, etc).

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Being a debut author, can you tell us a little about your journey to publication?

Sara Collins:

Writing the novel was without question the hardest thing I’ve ever done – harder than being a lawyer or raising five children. I was crippled by despair and self-doubt, and I wanted to give up several times. There was one practical reason I kept going. Just after I started writing it, I submitted the opening chapters to the Lucy Cavendish prize for the best unpublished first novel by a woman in England and soon afterwards I met my agent (who was one of the judges). She offered me representation at our first meeting but it took another two years before it was ready to be submitted to publishers. I’m convinced that the only reason I didn’t throw in the towel during that time was because she was waiting for the manuscript and I didn’t want to let her down. By the time I finished it I was physically and mentally exhausted. I was incredibly lucky to have had a smooth road to publication from there! Within a week of submission it sold on a pre-empt to Penguin (Viking) in the UK and then sold the following week to Harper Collins (Harper) in the USA and Canada.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Sara Collins:

You’ve covered everything I can think of. Thank you for these excellent questions! Perhaps your readers may be interested to know that Frannie has been optioned for television and I am writing the scripts myself, which is hugely exciting and challenging.  I now have to take my own work apart and find fresh and exciting ways to present the story for screen, which means I can’t rely on any of the tricks available to a novelist using first person narration.

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Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

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

Order links: 

Sara Collins author photo by Justine StoddartABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sara Collins is of Jamaican descent and studied law at the London School of Economics and worked as a lawyer for seventeen years before turning to fiction writing when her children were teenagers. She completed a Master of Studies in Creative Writing at Cambridge University, where she was the recipient of the 2015 Michael Holroyd Prize for Creative Writing. She lives in London.

Twitter: @mrsjaneymac

 

 

 

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #historical #slavery #Jamaica #England 

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

 

 

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

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

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Photo by Silvia Trigo on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

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


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

–BookPage


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

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

When the groom lifts the veil from her

delicate temples, I’m thinking someone

should warn them: a future of funerals, car

payments, taxes, kids throwing up in the night.

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

your naked arm deep in a jammed kitchen sink,

burnt rinds of eggplant, crazily adrift.

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Pete Fromm:

Thank you! 

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

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

ORDER LINKS: 

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

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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


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

-Publishers Weekly 


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

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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

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

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Lauren Acampora:

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

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

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Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

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

Order links: 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT! 

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

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

 

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:  

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


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


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Nancy Freund Bills:

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order links: 

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

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#memoir #amreading #grief #loss #lightening #bereavement #authorinterview

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

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

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

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


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

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


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

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

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

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 Leslie Lindsay:

What is a typical writing day like for you?

Mary Beth Keane:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mary Beth Keane:

Not that I can think of–thank you!

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

Order Links: 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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


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

 ~Kirkus Reviews, starred review


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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Erika Swyler:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Erika Swyler:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Erika Swyler:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Erika Swyler:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Erika Swyler:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Erika Swyler:

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

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

Order links: 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

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

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