Cara Wall talks about her incisive and gorgeously written debut, THE DEARLY BELOVED, about faith, love, marriage, family, struggle, and even autism

By Leslie Lindsay

Stunningly executed first novel is brimming with conflict, but also hope, and the most astute writing.

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Today show “Read with Jenna” Book Club Selection***

“A moving portrait of love and friendship set against a backdrop of social change.”

The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

Entertainment Weekly calls The Dearly Beloved “the best book about faith in recent memory.”

Plus, readers are saying it’s an instant-classic, traversing multiple generations.

I love THE DEARLY BELOVED (Simon & Schuster, August 2019) by Cara Wall. This has got to be one of the most stirring and incisive debuts I have read in a long time.

Writing with a restrained lyricism, Cara Wall’s THE DEARLY BELOVED is
about marriage, beliefs, faith, friendships, conflicts, and motherhood. Beginning in the 1950s and traversing through the 1960s, we are truly immersed in the world of Charles and Lily, at college in Boston, when Charles strays from the academic path held by his father and wants to become a minister. But then he finds Lily, who is a skeptic –and for good reason. She’s dealt with some loss and heartache that leads her to question God’s existence.

Meanwhile, James and Nan, a minister’s daughter from the South, are transplanted to Chicago, and she’s finding it hard to fit in, but there’s more going on, too. James’s challenging family background is causing his faith to waver. What does it mean to have ‘the call?’ The backstory is absolutely rich and rewarding and so well done.

Though very different in terms of religious faith and family background, James and Charles soon find themselves interviewing for the same position at the same NYC Presbyterian church. They both get the job. Set amidst the turbulence of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, plus women’s liberation, and more, these couples must forge together and create an alliance.

I found THE DEARLY BELOVED a tremendously well-written and sharply imagined novel. I relished falling into the lives of these unforgettable characters and found myself thinking of them when I wasn’t reading. Plus, there are a few twists and unique perspectives toward the end which will absolutely endear you to these Charles and Lily, Nan and James.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Cara Wall to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Cara! It is such a pleasure to connect. I read THE DEARLY BELOVED in alternating fits of ‘I-can’t-get-enough-but-I-don’t-want-it-to-end.’ This book is just so good. I always want to know what was haunting writers as they set out to write. What was it for you?

Cara Wall:

I was newly married and pregnant with my daughter, so the themes of marriage and parenting were very strong for me at that time. I had been living away from New York City for five years, and though I had my parents and some good friends in my neighborhood, I was feeling a little bit lost. My community ties felt new and fragile, especially as I thought about becoming a mother. I knew my life would change in ways I couldn’t imagine, and I was fretting over how to deepen my friendships and feel secure in my new life roles. I felt a little bit like I did in middle school, when I was terribly social awkward and desperate to fit in. As an adult, I knew I would get over my insecurities–I just wasn’t sure how. All of that informed the sense of longing that I feel permeates this book.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Your daughter is now fifteen. That’s a long time to nurture and love a book. Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey? Did the story shift over the years, is it pretty much as we see it today?

Cara Wall:

My first draft was maybe 100 pages long. I wrote it in two or three weeks, and it was just a series of scenes. I think I spent the first revision adding the settings—describing all the people, houses, and cities in detail, so that I could feel the physical world of the story. From there, I spent a lot of time on the love stories and marriages of the two couples. That was all pretty easy—the two hardest parts to write were Nan and Lily’s relationship and Charles’s withdrawal from the church. It took me a long time to really understand why the two women dislikes each other so much, and why Charles wouldn’t let God comfort him in the face of Will’s diagnosis. So, those two story lines looked very different in earlier drafts than they do now.

The hardest part of publishing, for me, was just writing the book! It takes an inordinate amount of self-control for me to sit down and put pen to paper. It’s an agonizing exercise in discipline and patience, and it always takes me twice as long to write a sentence as I think it will.

Once I finished the book—I think I wrote 10-12 complete drafts–I had a very lucky and dreamy publishing process. I found an amazing agent almost by accident, and she did the heavy lifting that led me to Simon and Schuster. Once they had acquired it, I went through three rounds of targeted revisions with my editor: one to clarify Charles and Lily’s love story, one to clarify Charles’s withdrawal from the church (again!), and one to change the ending. Originally, Marcus and Annelise’s love story was much longer, and the book ended with their wedding, rather than Lola’s christening. I really liked that story line—I’d always wanted to the book to end with Charles, Lily, James, and Nan sending a new, young couple out into the world with hope and encouragement—but my editor wanted the book to stay closer to the four main characters. I was very resistant to making such a big change…until I realized I could change the wedding to a christening and keep the ceremony and Charles’s speech pretty much the same. As much as I’d dreaded it, that revision turned out to be the easiest of them all.

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Leslie Lindsay:

All of the characters—Nan and James, Charles and Lily—have a different view of faith. Charles is more academic and Lily doesn’t seem to have any at all; Nan is a minister’s daughter and her faith is pretty straightforward whereas James’s is a bit tentative. I think it’s important to note that not two people will ever have the same relationship with faith. Can you talk about how you developed these characters? Is there one you feel more closely aligned with?

Cara Wall:

All four characters came to me fully formed. I never felt like I was creating them; writing this book was simply a process of getting to know them. At first, I knew them as students and young people in love—the surface facts of their faiths were there, but if you read one of my first drafts, you would see that the religious parts of the book were skimpy and cartoonish. I was most interested in how these two couples stayed married for 40 years.

I really only started to think deeply about faith as I was expanding Will’s story, and it became clear to me that Charles was pulling away from God. I found that odd, and to figure it out, I had to go back to the beginning and really examine what Charles’s early religious experience felt like to him, and how he had made peace with Lily’s lack of faith. That was when the book became much richer and more nuanced, and I knew I was writing about something beyond love and marriage.

I feel most aligned with Charles. We are both academics, and we always see the nuances of any situation, which make it hard for us to take sides, even when we should. I feel least aligned with James, though I have incredible respect for his energy and determination—I think he would be perplexed by the fact that I write in bed and can spend an entire weekend inside, reading books.

One of the surprises of publishing this book is that readers tend to choose Team Nan or Team Lily. I’ve been taken aback by how much some people hate Lily—hate is their word, not mine–and also by how much they love Nan. I find Nan’s need for love and attention somewhat stifling, probably because she started out as a personification of my most insecure, desperate to be liked self.  I think Lily gets short shrift—readers who dislike her feel like she never thawed, and I so disagree with that! For her to pray with Charles at the end was a HUGE development. It meant that she had fully accepted him, that he could bring his faith into their relationship, that and the biggest wall between them had been brought down. I can tell you that Charles considered it a miracle.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I know you said that you made a ‘dubious decision’ not to quote scripture in THE DEARLY BELOVED because you wanted a more modern take on church. I like that much of the spirituality is left private, sort of off-stage, because that’s how it is in the ‘real world.’ Can you talk more about that, please?

Cara Wall:

Well, practically speaking, I’m not a religious scholar, so I was always nervous to include scripture. And most of the ministers I know don’t quote Bible verses in everyday conversation, so the only place I would have included scripture would have been in the sermons. But as I wrote those, I wanted to get straight to Charles and James’s most personal and insightful revelations; including the entire sermon would have made those passages long and unwieldy.

Also, I wanted people of all faiths and no faith to read this book and feel like they saw something of themselves in each character. I didn’t want it to be a book that preached at people. I just wanted to write a book that deeply explored what it means to be in relationship with other people. That’s a universal and eternal subject that I didn’t want to shrink into the lens of one denomination.

“Finely drawn and written with compassion and care, and every word is precisely chosen…This story will be beloved by book clubs and fans of literary fiction.”


Leslie Lindsay: 

I’m curious about so many things that go on inside a church. For example, I didn’t know about the hiring process or how ministers are provided housing. I didn’t know much about sessions or committees. These just aren’t things that typical church-goers know. Can you talk a little about the research that went into THE DEARLY BELOVED?

Cara Wall:

My research is from real life! My parents have been on every committee possible at their church, and I’ve been on quite a few myself, most recently as a choir steering committee member. Those committees are what build community, because you have to work with one another and make decisions that affect the success of the church. One of my jobs on the choir committee was to plan a tour to Spain for 65 choristers and parents—that was an almost impossible task, and I will be friends with the women who helped me pull it off for the rest of my life. (I’m not even going to discuss the annual pie sale.)

It’s important to note, though, that every denomination is different. The Presbyterian church is very democratic—every part of church life is decided by a committee, nothing is run top down by the minister. By comparison, in the Episcopalian church, the priest has final say over almost every part of parish life. And even within denominations, every church has its own personality and quirks of governance. So, I felt comfortable creating a fictional church that had its own character and traditions, as long is it evoked the feeling of the church I knew growing up.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What I think I really love about THE DEARLY BELOVED is the way you incorporated so many other aspects of these character’s lives. It’s not just a book on ministers and religion. At all. There’s motherhood and marriage, women’s liberation, friendship, and even autism. I loved the time period, too. I fully felt immersed in the 1950s-1960s. Was this all intention on your part or did it sort of evolve as the story developed?

Cara Wall:

My parents arrived in New York City in 1965, and it was a defining moment in their lives. They left conservative religious upbringings in very small towns to create a life together—to go on an adventure. The sense of “before and after” was in every story they told me, in every trip back to visit my grandparents, in the pictures of their childhoods compared to my own. I suppose had a clear sense of 1965 as the point in time when the whole world pivoted on its axis.

Also, Charles, Lily, James, and Nan are inspired by the ministers, and their wives, that ran my church when I was a child. One of those couples had an autistic son, and did, indeed, create a school for him and other autistic children in the 1960s. I was very drawn to that story—to the strength of character and determination it must have taken to advocate for him and themselves.

So, the time period was obvious to me from the outset, and I never thought about changing it. I don’t think the story could have been set even five years earlier or later than it was—it needed the push and pull between the conservatism of the 1950’s and the revolution of the 1960’s to challenge the characters. It needed to take place a time of social awakening so that the characters had to rethink their ideas of themselves and decide what kind of people they wanted to be as they moved forward.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What do you think challenged you the most in writing THE DEARLY BELOVED? What brought you the greatest joy? And what changed you?

Cara Wall:

My greatest challenge was, and continues to be, sitting down to write. It’s such a solitary, engrossing activity—sort of like a suspended animation, or a tightrope I have to walk entirely alone. Every single time I put pen to paper, I feel like I am leaving my friends and family behind and might never see them again. The flip side is that my greatest joy is writing. I love the texture of words, the rhythm of sentences, the experience of fully inhabiting a character’s emotional being. I love the moments when the words seem to write themselves, and I just watch them appear on the page, delighted.

I’m not a linear thinker, so my greatest challenge was putting everything I wrote into chronological order. My greatest joy was writing the epilogue. It was the very last thing I wrote, and it poured out of me in 45 minutes. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write, except that I knew it would be from Lily’s point of view. As soon as she said, “Don’t bring Nan,” I started crying and didn’t stop until I finished. It was a truly magical experience to feel absolutely certain that the book was done. And to conclude it in a way that felt satisfying without being too sentimental—that remained true to each character and yet had an element of surprise.

I’ve been changed the most by the experience of having my book out in the world and discussing it with so many people. I’ve always been much more serious about my writing than I have been about me. At first, I was taken aback that people wanted me to talk about faith and the craft of writing. I really don’t feel like an expert in either of those subjects. It’s taken a while for me to become comfortable with the idea that I am, actually somewhat well-versed in those two things—at least in as much as I spent 15 years exploring them. I’ve had to put aside my insecurities and interact with people from a much deeper place of self-confidence. I’m not good at having a public persona and a private persona–I like to be the same person in every interaction, so it’s been a really challenging time for me, in a good way.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I’m so excited to see what you do next. Can you give us a sneak peek?

Cara Wall:

I’m working on a book about a painting that’s left of the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s an annunciata—a piece of art that depicts the moment Gabriel tells Mary she will be the mother of God. The book tells two stories: one about the people trying to discover where the painting came from, and one about the painting, itself. I’m three notebooks in—if you follow me on Instagram, you can get sneak peeks as I go along.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Cara, this has been most delightful. Thank you, thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I might have asked, but forgot?

Cara Wall:

Well, it might interest you to know that I’m in two book clubs—one very long-term one, and one that’s still new-ish. And that I’m a pretty good baker, a competent flamenco dancer, and a terrible ping-pong player. Also, no one ever asks me when I knew I wanted to be a writer, and it’s one of my favorite stories. I was a sophomore in high school—boarding school—and I had just gone down to the bookstore, which was in the basement, to get my texts for the spring semester. I was taking creative writing as my elective, and the book for that class was Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was going to change my life. The minute I got back to my dorm room, I sat down in my beanbag chair and read it cover to cover. As I was finishing, a girl on my hall walked by and said, “What a weird name for a book.” I looked at her completely dumbstruck, because I had never before encountered a phrase that seemed so absolutely true to me. Everything that meant anything was in our bones, and it all needed to be written down. I knew, in that moment, that I was different—not from everyone in the whole world, just from that girl. I knew her well enough to know that she was, at her heart, a doctor—something I could never be—and I suddenly knew myself well enough to know was a writer. It was the exact moment I recognized my identity.


For more information, to connect with Cara Wall via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE DEARLY BELOVED, please see: 

Order LInks: 

Cara Wall author photo color credit Ken HammABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cara Wall is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and Stanford University. While at Iowa, Cara taught fiction writing in the undergraduate creative writing department as well as at the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio in her capacity of founder and inaugural director. She went on to teach middle school English and History, and has been published by GlamourSalon, and The San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in New York City with her family.

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


#fiction #literaryfiction #NYC #ministers #austism #nearhistorical #family #marriage #children #socialchange


[Cover and author image courtesy of Simon & Schuster and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow @leslielindsay1 on Instagram for more like this]

Kim Brooks talks about that day she left her child in the car, the repercussions, parenting while everyone is watching, and so much more in SMALL ANIMALS

By Leslie Lindsay 

More than a parenting book, more than a memoir, and way more than just a ‘rant,’ SMALL ANIMALS: Parenthood in the Age of Fear might be essential reading for any parent of any age child.


On a crisp March morning, Kim Brooks made a split-second decision (or a lapse in judgement, if we’re splitting hairs) to leave her 4 year-old son unattended in a parked, locked car in a Target parking lot. She was stressed and anxious about catching a flight back home to Chicago and her son was happily playing a video game. The errand would take just minutes and she’d be right back. When she returned, a woman was video-taping her son and vehicle with a cell phone. That woman shared the video with the local authorities and hours later, Brooks was under investigation.

Combining investigative journalism with interviews of other parents, experts, and interweaving research on what makes a ‘good parent,’ the author delves into American’s obsession with fear and anxiety, and also competitiveness.

I was reading and nodding in agreement with much of what the author has to say. Why can’t we let our children play at friendly neighborhood park while we are home, but maybe otherwise occupied (or working from home)? What happened to childhood when we allowed children to play and explore and manage their own feelings, their own sense of agency? Why is everything so scheduled? Those were the things I was absolutely invested in reading more about.

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SMALL ANIMALS: Parenthood in the Age of Fear is absolutely illuminating and provocative and most definitely led me down the path of thoughtful reflection. In fact, I found myself looking up cases and statistics mentioned in the narrativeI thought about my parenting actions and choices for several days after finishing this book and probably will continue to do so. In that sense, SMALL ANIMALS did its job.

This is a call-to-action type read, it’s equal parts horrifying and affirming, and at times, funny.

Please join me in welcoming Kim Brooks to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

Kim, I have been thinking and thinking about this book since I read the last page three days ago. And here’s why: it makes sense. It worries me. It’s authentic. You were spurred to write SMALL ANIMALS after that event in the Target parking lot. Instead of asking you to rehash that yet again, I am curious about when it dawned on you to write about it? 

Kim Brooks:

Writing for me is about figuring things out, trying to understand myself and the world, trying to make sense of things that seem at first inscrutable or strange. This thing that happened to me was one of the strangest things I’d experienced, so I think it occurred to me very quickly to write about it. That said, I knew it would be impossible to see it clearly while it was happening and I knew it would be unwise to publish anything about it until the legal element had been resolved. So I forced myself to wait quite a while, which I think in the end allowed me to approach it with more clarity and perspective.

Small Animals interrogates how we weigh risk as parents, how we judge one another’s parenting and what the costs might be–not just to parents, but to children, too–of a culture of constant surveillance.”

New York Times Book Review

Leslie Lindsay: 

Ironically, I was reading SMALL ANIMALS during my daughter’s soccer practice. In a parked car. On a comfortable fall evening. The windows were down. There was my daughter on the soccer field juggling and shooting with a bunch of other girls her age and coach who was…somewhere. I chuckled thinking about what this means. I am a helicopter parent because I am there, in the parking lot? Does that make me paranoid? I am a ‘bad parent’ because I wasn’t, say, on the soccer field with her? Does my daughter’s age matter? 

Kim Brooks:

This is the kind of question I’m asked a lot and it’s a question that I find I can only respond to with a few questions of my own. What is a “bad parent?” When and how did “good parenting” become dependent on watching, monitoring, and maintaining minimal physical distance from our children, as opposed to say, how much we talk to them or offer them emotional support or empathy or what we teach them or how we relate to them? Why do we assume that kids need to be watched and that watching them is somehow helping them? Why is it that so many people now believe a child who is not being watched is a child in peril? I don’t think we can make value judgements about our own or anyone’s “goodness” as a parent until we examine the assumptions underlying our values around parenthood and childhood.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

Much of what I think SMALL ANIMALS focuses on is fear and anxiety and competitiveness in our parenting culture. This worries and saddens me. When I was a kid—and I’ve had this conversation with other parents—we didn’t live this way. At least it didn’t seem that way. We played outside unsupervised, rode bikes till the street lights came on, walked to school. Not anymore. Why is that? 

Kim Brooks:

I think there are many factors at play here, and I explore them in my book: The media’s obsession with rare, violent acts against kids, the litigiousness of our culture, social media and the rise of surveillance culture, a breakdown of community and communal responsibility for child rearing. But the one factor I always like to raise because I don’t think it’s being discussed much is the new and very regressive anti-woman ideology of motherhood, an ideology that intensified just after women entered the workforce en masse in the 1970’s and 80’s. I think we still have an incredible amount of ambivalence around women doing non-care-taking work. What better way to undermine women’s autonomy and power outside the home than to radically expand the job description of good motherhood. If a good mother is a mother who never takes her eyes off her child or pays someone else to never take their eyes off them, then the only women who can be good mothers are stay-at-home mothers or extremely wealthy mothers who can hire full-time help. I find that interesting.

Leslie Lindsay: 

My dad and I were having a similar conversation recently. He kept saying, “Maybe the girls can go practice tennis at some nearby courts.” I am thinking, “Okay. I’ll have to find the time for them to do that, round up a friend or two for them to play doubles, prepare snacks and drinks, clear my schedule for a bit, drive them to the courts, and wait.” I’m also thinking: it might be hard to find friends who are available at the exact same time because everyone is so busy. It’s easier just to not. What or how do we reconcile the differences between generations? 

Kim Brooks: 

I’d suggest asking your dad if he could organize this for you. We have this strange and quite new idea now that parents are supposed to provide kids with everything they need to grow into healthy, happy adults. The burden and responsibility used to be shared by grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, coaches, teachers, shop-keepers. I’ve interviewed child psychologists and about the mental health crisis for children and they say one of the things kids report needing most is more positive relationships with adults who aren’t their parents. 

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Leslie Lindsay: 

I started speculating in the change in dynamics, the busyness of everything, and our generation versus our parents (and our kids’). My conclusion is that back in the 50s and 60s (and even into the 70s and 80s), fewer women/mothers worked outside of the home. They were there, doing what needed to be done (household chores, errands, raising children), and the kids were safe with the neighborhood network of mothers keeping eyes on everyone. But now, many mothers work, either outside of the home, or from home (hello, writers) and it’s not always as easy to allow kids to play baseball in the backyard or ride scooters on the cul-de-sac. Mothers have to work around their [work] schedules and maybe the kids’ sports and extracurricular activities. Is that the way you see it, too? Is there something else? 

Kim Brooks: 

That’s pretty much how I see it, too.

Leslie Lindsay: 

I want to loop back to your event in that parking lot. How does Felix feel about it now that he’s much older? How—or has?–this affected him? 

Kim Brooks: 

He very much appreciates having more independence than most kids his age and  he understands this is partly in due to my experience and my book. At the same time, like most children of writers, I’m sure he wishes I did something else. It’s not a lot of fun to have a writer in the family. 

Leslie Lindsay: 

Before we go, I think it’s important to mention race and culture and privilege. There will be people who don’t have the resources—time, financial, legal, or mental—to successfully navigate a situation like yours. You touch on this a bit in SMALL ANIMALS, but could you expand a bit here?

Kim Brooks:

Yes, this is very true. I write about the case of Debra Harrell, an African-American single mom whose experience was much more harrowing than mine. Our criminal justice system is rife with institutional racism and our society at large is one in which those with few economic resources are often abused and exploited. So anytime we criminalize a behavior that most people are doing (like taking your eyes off your children), people of color and poor people will suffer the most.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

Kim, thank you so very much for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked about, but may have forgotten? 

Kim Brooks: 

Nope! Thank you so much for reading and asking such thoughtful questions

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Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow me @leslielindsay1 on Instagram.

For more information, to connect with Kim Brooks via social media, or to purchase a copy of SMALL ANIMALS, please see: 

Order Links:

cf685681-df29-4371-9201-ee386b911304-Kim_Brooks_Photo__credit_Sarah_ShatzABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kim Brooks is the author of Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear, an NPR Best Book of the Year, described by the National Book Review as “an impassioned, smart work of social criticism and a call for support and empathy.”

Her writing has appeared in The New York TimesNew York Magazine, Good HousekeepingChicago Magazine, Salon, Buzzfeed, and other publications. She has spoken as a guest on CBS This MorningPBS Newshour20/20, NPR’s All Things ConsideredGood Morning America, the Brian Lehr Show, and many other radio shows and podcasts. Her novel, The Houseguest, was published in 2016. She lives in Chicago.

In addition to writing, Kim is available for speaking engagements, book club appearances, teaching, and one-on-one editorial services.

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


#memoir #parenting #alwayswithabook #safety #children #fear #womensissues #motherhood

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[Cover and author image courtesy of author and used with permission. Author photo Sarah Shatz. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow me @leslielindsay1 on Instagram]

Emma Sloley talks about how it’s difficult for humans to escape their own nature, how Margaret Atwood influences, plus pastoral ideas and more in DISASTER’S CHILDREN

By Leslie Lindsay

The deterioration of the natural world and a coming-of-age story set in the very near not-so-distant future. 


In her prescient debut, DISASTER’S CHILDREN (Little A; November 5, 2019),  Emma Sloley seamlessly weaves together an apocalyptic novel with cultural commentary to producing a memorable narrative both searing and tender.

Raised in a privileged community of ultra-wealthy survivalists on an idyllic, self-sustaining Oregon ranch, Marlo has always been insulated. The outside world, which the ranchers nickname “The Disaster,” is ravaged by environmental suffering and situated precariously on the brink of global catastrophe. There are stunning modern homes, clear skies and abundant flora. Everyone’s happy because they have a shared agreement to disengage from news and politics, abstaining from information and the internet, instead investing in the development of their own exclusive society. Can it outlast impending destruction in the world beyond?

But Marlo has long been intrigued by the chaos and opportunity beyond the confines of her picturesque community,  fueled by occasional trips to major cities and correspondence with her two childhood best friends, who have disavowed and fled the commune. Marlo starts to consider life outside the ranch. Then a stranger arrives and Marlo starts to question everything.

Sloley takes on themes universal, personal and political, touching on issues as diverse as religious freedom, familial bonds, capitalism, and environmental justice.

Please join me in welcoming Emma Sloley to the author interview series: 

Leslie Lindsay:

Despite the apocalyptic themes, there’s a sense of optimism to DISASTER’S CHILDREN.  Is the book intended to function a bit as a call to action? And what about hope?

Emma Sloley:

It was hugely important to me to allow for hope in this story, just as I feel that hope is an essential component of the real-life fight against impending environmental and humanitarian disasters. The forces arrayed against those of us concerned about climate change and degradation of our natural world rely on apathy as a tool to keep people unengaged. If the end of human civilization seems inevitable, what’s the point of even trying anything? May as well keep burning those fossil fuels and partying like the world’s about the end, right? And I’m sympathetic to that stance. Apathy is very alluring! Action is difficult. It was also important to me to that the setting be one of immense natural beauty – fiction often presents us with bleak post-apocalyptic landscapes (and some of my favorite stories are set in those worlds), but instead I wanted to explore the possibilities that still remain to preserve this wild and beautiful planet of ours.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Over the course of the narrative, the ranch seems to emerge as a microcosm of America. Capitalism, religion, guns, police violence, and even immigration and labor are, to some degree, explored throughout the community. Wolf seems to rise among the ranks quite quickly. It speaks to intergenerational wealth and the American Dream. Can you talk about that, please?

Emma Sloley:

One of my principal aims in creating the world of the ranch was to hold a mirror to our current moment. The irony of these kinds of communal living experiments is that in seeking to escape the confines of society, the communities often end up becoming a microcosm of the outside world, with all its complexities, prejudices and hierarchies. It’s very difficult for humans to escape their own nature, and I think most societies, no matter how noble their founding, end up organized around more or less the same principles as the extremely imperfect systems under which most of us live.

Initially, Wolf despises the inherent hypocrisy of the ranch, with its exclusionary membership rules and shameless embrace of bourgeois trappings, but he is very quickly seduced by the benefits available to those admitted to this world. I wanted to say something about the myth of American meritocracy, and how damaging that myth is to our ability as a country to move towards a more just and equal society. And while it’s easy (and morally necessary!) to critique the structural inequalities in our society, I also wanted to show just how seductive wealth, power and privilege can be. Who among us can confidently say we wouldn’t grasp the chance to move several rungs up the privilege/class ladder were we offered the chance? I wanted Wolf’s transformation to feel both uncomfortable and utterly understandable to the reader.

photo of green trees
Photo by Phil on

Leslie Lindsay:

Although most of the residents pride themselves on rational thinking and rejection of religion, some seem more oppressed than liberated. How does the issue of religious freedom factor into the narrative? Was there a particular message you sought to communicate?

Emma Sloley:

I knew from the beginning I wanted this community—which in many ways resembles other historical communes and cults in its adherence to an agrarian utopian vision—to be organized along rational, non-religious lines. I steered away from the idea of a religious or spiritual cult in which the participants revolve around a single, charismatic leader who demands adherence to a strict religious dogma. It made sense to me that the founders—liberal, urbane, open-minded people whose fundamental concern is surviving a global disaster—would consider religion an unnecessary distraction from their mission. But in banning the practice of religion, the ranchers unwittingly create a situation of oppression. While I’m not religious, I strongly believe a society that pays fealty to individual freedoms must include the freedom to practice one’s faith, as well as the freedom to reject faith altogether. So I definitely wanted to communicate the folly of a society denying religious freedom, even if it’s ostensibly for noble reasons.

“Sloley masterfully weaves together the tropes of dystopia, romance, and mystery…. With so many questions left unanswered, this dystopia is ripe for a sequel.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Leslie Lindsay:

The affluent residents of the ranch decide to divorce themselves from news and politics, finding that it’s easier to be happy with less information. Do you think their attitudes reflect those of many Americans, especially the wealthy, today?

Emma Sloley:  

Absolutely. This is by no means an original observation, but we live in a world where, increasingly, there are two separate realities: the reality of the global elite, who hold unprecedented levels of wealth and power; and the reality lived in by everyone else. The former group have the luxury of switching off from the daily flood of dire news, because they will never be required to suffer the consequences of most catastrophes. This is more a critique of the system rather than individuals. I think most of us would love to consume less news and politics. But unfortunately, especially for marginalized people, the very act of trying to exist, to access fundamental human rights, is political. To be honest, it was nice to construct this fantasy in which switching off might be possible. I envied the ranchers!

bird eye photogrpahy of beachline beside trees

Leslie Lindsay:

How does Marlo’s status as an adopted child figure into her identity? 

Emma Sloley: 

I knew I wanted my protagonist to be caught between two worlds, and I tried to make sure she experienced several layers of outsider-ness that would drive her desire to leave the ranch. Marlo is caught between the culture in which she was born but has never experienced and the culture of her adoptive parents; between her loyalty to her parents and her desire to join her activist friends; and also between the chaotic outside world and the idyllic, safe world inside the ranch.

Leslie Lindsay:

In many ways, the novel takes the form of a traditional coming-of-age story. Unlike the protagonists of most of those narratives, however, Marlo is twenty-five. Can you tell us about your decision to cast a young adult, rather than a teenager, in this type of story? 

Emma Sloley:

Originally, Marlo was twenty-nine, but feedback from various readers convinced me to make her slightly younger. I think there was a feeling that it was unrealistic to imagine a young woman still living in what’s basically the family compound close to age thirty. Of course, this isn’t an ordinary society, and there’s definitely an expectation that anyone who lives on the ranch will never leave, so it made sense in that context. I wanted Marlo to be at an age at which she was old enough to feel restlessness about her cloistered life, but also have her be constrained by her very sheltered upbringing. In a lot of ways she’s very naïve about life in the outside world, and the arrival of Wolf really throws those naiveties into relief. Her coming-of-age basically only happens once this outside agitating force is introduced. I also needed her to be old enough to make leaving the ranch a viable option, as this supplies the narrative’s fundamental tension.

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Photo by Juraj Masar on

Leslie Lindsay: 

I’m curious about how you approached the balance between gesturing at real-world threats and creating an imagined landscape?

Emma Sloley:

In her speculative and sci-fi novels, Margaret Atwood famously includes only scenarios with real-world analogs, and I followed that lead: most of the crises that unfold in The Disaster throughout the book are ripped from the headlines, as they say in Law & Order world. Setting the action a few years from the present moment allowed me to slightly exaggerate the scale and reach of various ecological and humanitarian disasters. This gives a ticking-clock urgency that I hope feels chillingly believable, but also allows room for a change of course. I’ve always been fascinated by utopias, so imagining the ranch was easy: my Arcadian ideal is a place where nature, beautiful human design, pastoral ideals, tolerance, and intellectual curiosity can co-exist in harmony, so I really just imagined the kind of place I’d love to live!


For more information, to connect with Emma Solely via social media, or to purchase a copy of DISASTER’S CHILDREN, please see: 


Emma%2BSloley%2Bauthor%2Bpic%2Bfull%2Bsize.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emma Sloley began her career as an editor at Harper’s BAZAAR Australia before moving to New York to become a freelance travel writer. Her short fiction and creative non-fiction and travel writing has appeared in many literary journals and print publications. Emma is a MacDowell fellow and has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, and her debut novel, DISASTER’S CHILDREN was published by Little A in November. Born in Australia, Emma now divides her time between the US, Mexico, and various airport lounges. She lives with her husband, the writer Adam McCulloch.


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



#postapocalyptic #environment #Oregon #climatechange #religion #freedom #politics #specfiction #utopia


[Cover and author image retrieved from auhtor’s website. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, Leslie Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram for more like this. Special thanks to ShreveWilliams.]

In Material That Matters, I share what I imagine my mother’s life was like as a newlywed, her dreams & hopes and how, when she was in her thirties, she had a ‘nervous breakdown’

By Leslie Lindsay

A daughter recollects her mother before she was her mother; her creativity, and ultimate psychosis. It’s about motherhood and mystery, how she fits into this intricate network, and more.

close up photo of abstract painting
Photo by Dids on


This is my mother before she was my mother. She had a thrumming, electric energy, as if her skin was embedded with diamonds, glistening with potential. In the
1970s when she met my father, she dreamed of happily-ever-after, flower boxes and
flat driveways filled with Big-Wheels and scooters, the giddy shrieks of children.
Together, they purchased a plot of land in a new subdivision, one that had a name like
Southern Hills or Southhall or maybe it was Westfield, a moniker resembling cardinal
directions. Something in her peripheral vision reflected mirth and yet, darkness. Her
blue eyes conveyed intelligence, but sadness, too.

Note the pattern package on the couch and the swath of material on the coffee table. 

She planned everything, prepared herself to be a homemaker, an artist, a
mother: a sewing machine, canvases for the walls, macramé plant holders dangling
from hooks on the ceiling. She culled through Butterick patterns at Cloth World and
emerged with palpable excitement into the blistering humidity, clutching a packet of
onion-thin patterns that she would fashion into a skirt, a blazer, a dress. She lied out
the fabric, smoothed the wrinkles with the back of her hand and ran her sheers along
the cloth. Here’s what emerged: stitches, a woven tapestry of her story, which then
cobbled together into something even greater—material that mattered.
In this house, I crawled through drawers of my parent’s nightstand, watered the
dandelions, wedged my body between the small space between the refrigerator and
kitchen wall. In my bedroom, I clamored inside my wood toybox, the one my father
lovingly built, and popped my head out in a game of peek-a-boo, my stuffed animals.


scattered among the floor. In this house, I cackled and squealed and rode bouncy
horse contraptions that might as well have been a death trap.
What was it with small, tight spaces? What did I seek to contain? Or extract?
All the while, I observed. I saw the dark days of my mother curled into a fetal
position on the couch, legs underneath her body, a plume of cigarette smoke
encircling her head. I saw the pinched lips, the twin lines of displeasure at the top of
her nose. What had I done? Anything? Did she still love me? At first, the slights were
just that: miniscule, nothing.
And then, twelve years later, she devolved into psychosis. Had it been there all
along, an insidious, subterranean urging, revealing itself years later, as if in
dormancy, like periodical cicadas emerging? She started saying I was the devil and she
needed to kill me. She thought perhaps she had slept with the postman and she didn’t
really mean to. She paced the house, smoking cigarette after cigarette, drinking
gallons of Diet Coke, hot tea. She called me a bitch. My mother believed she was God
and maybe an angel, too, she could fly and bring perfect unity to the world. My father
was beside himself. Exhausted. Weary. Together, we put my mother in the car and he
drove her to the hospital. She didn’t want to go. Nothing was wrong. My mother
attempted to exit the moving vehicle twice.


Just like the way you’d imagine, the people in white coats greeted our car. They
soothed her with their words, but she was suspicious, frightened. Paranoid. My throat
clogged. Tears burned and singed, but never once fell. I watched my mother was a
dark fascination; this was something I’d never witnessed.
My husband says, “You look a little like her; it’s a body language thing.”

I know. I do not like this.
He says, “This position, of your mother standing in front of the ‘sold’ sign…well,
I think we have a photo of you like this at our first house.”
Our first house was eighty-three years old when we moved in. We did not build
that house from a mound of dirt. We inhabited someone else’s shelter, adhering
memories and years of the past to our skin. Maybe then, we won’t become her. We
won’t. Our first house had nothing to do with South or West. It was located in
Minnesota, on a street that had ‘north’ in its address it was far away from the river of
insanity. We had openness. Large expanses of wood floors and picture windows, a
sweeping backyard filled with raspberry bushes, hostas, a sprawling tree. I didn’t need
to wrangle my body into a tight spaces, I no longer needed to observe.
Except myself. I feared what happened to my mother would happen to me. If we
looked alike, if we stood alike, spoke the same, would I become her? I watched. I

Buried within each of us is a glimmering strand of genetic material known as
Mitochondrial DNA. It’s presented from mother to daughter and mother to daughter,
and so forth. All women in every family are like a series of books, one building upon
the other, our genetic stories closely knitted.
To me, this is stunning, cohesive, and elegantly mysterious. The fact that we
are bound together in this way nearly kills me.

In Minnesota, I look over my shoulder. Is it catching? Her brand of illness? No.
But maybe, if it’s genetic. I worry she will come, present herself on my doorstep,
frighten my neighbors, take my children.
But she doesn’t. She takes her own life. On a summer’s day. In her home. On
the bed. In the back. Shoes on the floor. Her skin sloughs away. Her madness,
slipping, falling into some other realm where she is whole, nurtured.
I study my skin, pry at it, lifting, foolishly thinking I’ll glimpse the truth, the
cells that are hers. That are mine alone. I tip my face to the cosmos, let my head
become heavy with weight, as I relinquish my mother from my cells—plinking them
into the heavens.

Yet biology makes this impossible. We are forever cosmically interlaced.

[Portions of this piece are excerpted from my ms, MODEL HOME]

green leaf plants close up photography
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on

For more information, or to connect with Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

image1 (5).jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leslie Lindsay is a mother, wife, and writer living in ChicagolandShe is the award-winning author of Speaking of Apraxia (Woodbine House, 2012). Her work has been published in Pithead Chapel, Common Ground Review, Cleaver Magazine (craft and CNF), The Awakenings Review, The Nervous Breakdown, the Ruminate blog, Manifest-StationThe Mighty, and the International Bipolar FoundationShe has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. She is at work on a memoir. She is a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic.

[This piece originally published in Brave Voices Literary Magazine No. 4/October 2019. Vintage photos courtesy of L.Lindsay & family personal archives]


The most unusual, surreal, disturbingly real read I’ve ever experienced. Leanne Shapton on her collage-style fragmented writing, houses, more in GUEST BOOK: Ghost Stories

By Leslie Lindsay

A one-of-a-kind, truly unique reading experience, GUESTBOOK: Ghost Stories will alight and frighten and also leave a deep residue begging for another look.


Since publishing her first book of drawings 15 years ago, Leanne Shapton has amassed a devoted following among critics and fans alike. A ground-breaking visionary, and multi-talented artist with an illustrious career in design and publishing, Shapton is unparalleled in her ability to weave entirely original narratives out of images and text. Her earlier works have earned her National Book Critics Circle award for her illustrated memoir, SWIMMING STUDIES and WOMEN IN CLOTHES was a NYT bestseller.

Now, blisteringly original artist, Leanne Shapton’s GUESTBOOK (Riverhead, March 2019) isn’t quite an art book, isn’t quite a traditional narrative, but here, she effortlessly and brilliantly combines so many different art forms into one highly intriguing experience.

“Shapton uses ephemera not to catalog our social ills but to collect evidence of well-heeled lives at risk of being forgotten or brushed aside. The effect is diffuse and eerie, more often mood than assertion or plot.”


Writing is no doubt an art form, but here, it’s elevated to something wholly original. Just a few adjectives that come to mind with this collection of photographs and narrative:

Uneasydisturbingunsettlinghauntingbrilliant….strange…dark…wonderfuluncanny….fearless…exacting…a curiosity cabinet.

Combining layers of visual art in the form of photographs, drawings, floor plans, original paintings, Instagram-style portraits…this collection is about short passages, vignettes, observations, wordplay, and so much more. It’s about loneliness and social media, and the passage of time. While one might be tempted to race through the book in one sitting, it’s probably best suited for picking up and putting down over the course of time.Leave room to dwell on the white space, let it glimmer and coalesce.

Because it will and it should.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Leanne Shapton to the author interview series:


Leslie Lindsay:

Leanne, thank you, thank you for taking the time. I’m always intrigued by a writer’s inspiration for a certain project. What was it for you in GUESTBOOK? Was it an image, an idea, a theme, a challenge? Was there a question you were seeking an answer to?

Leanne Shapton:

I’m a big fan of the ghost story, as a form, and I knew I wanted to write some. I suppose, though, the initial inspiration was the photo section in the book “White Mischief” by James Fox.  I wondered if I could write a ghost story using that layout. I wanted to innovate the form, to see if images could do some of the heavy lifting in terms of suspense and emotion.

adult black coat conceptual
Photo by OVAN on

Leslie Lindsay:

Do you recall the first set of images in GUESTBOOK that propelled a story? Did the story come first, or the images? How long did you work piecing this together from conception to publication?

Leanne Shapton:  

Most stories were word-based first, then I’d try to remove as much language as possible and replace with image, or pair with a set of images so the pictures inflected the reading.  For a while the text in “New Jersey Transit” had no images, and the images of public pools in that story had no text, but I knew I wanted to use them—they didn’t pair off until late in the process.

Leslie Lindsay:

Many of these stories—these vignettes—are rooted in this idea that we, the readers, are guests in a bigger scheme, like a fly on a wall. But also, the images (and individuals) are visitors into our lives. We don’t know them but for a moment. Can you comment on that?

Leanne Shapton:

I love the idea of a guest being a version of a person, or oneself. And that the photographic image is only a version, and an unreliable version, of a person or place. I like the flicker of self, the idea that spirit (geist) can be host and guest and an ephemera l thing. Lives are so short.

person holding lighter
Photo by Kobe Michael on

Leslie Lindsay:

This is a tough question, but is there a story or set of images that mean more to you than others? Maybe one that you feel a particular affinity toward or you think represents the overall theme of GUESTBOOK?

Leanne Shapton:

I like Billy Byron. It pulls together a lot of the experiments I was working with: A real phenomenon (The sensed presence) contemporary photography, media, a ghost story that is a sports story (there aren’t that many,) the ideas of desire and family and childhood trauma, and an homage to older stories “The Rocking Horse Winner” one of my favorite DH Lawrence stories.

Leslie Lindsay:

I also found a bit of mental instability within these stories and images. Perhaps that it something that haunts us as a society. There’s also loneliness and trouble. Was that intentional?

Leanne Shapton:

I think that might reflect where I was, personally, and my preoccupations, when I was writing the pieces.

“A surreal look at everyday happenings, which is sure to leave you feeling uneasy in a good way.”

Domino Magazine

Leslie Lindsay:

Also, I think much of GUESTBOOK is about interior lives. Which we may or may not acknowledge. Many of these narratives and photographs have to do with houses or homes. Again, that interior world. For example, I loved Gymnopedies, the series of floorplans. And then Georgehythe Place where the animals die (not that I love that), and also Peele House. Why are homes so fascinating, do you think?

Leanne Shapton:

In a lot of traditional ghost stories, homes are characters. Haunting of Hill House, Rebecca, Turn of the Screw. I like the idea of a place of safety, a place of trust, becoming threatening. Also the idea of what we possess, possessing us. I think homes are fascinating because of that ability to be understood as an extension of the body. And the mind.

Losing trust can be so devastating, betrayal is like a death, and if home, your house where you sleep is not a comforting, trustworthy place it can really shake one’s foundations.

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Photo by Pixabay on

Leslie Lindsay:

One last observation—your last name, Shapton, almost always makes me think, ‘shapeshifter.’ And that’s exactly what I like about the art in GUESTBOOK. You’ve taken such bland images and shifted their shape to make somethings wholly unique, to shift our gaze to the blank space. Is that how you see it, too?

Leanne Shapton:

Funny. I never saw it that way but my work (and career) has always shifted in shape, so it’s a totally fair analysis.

Leslie Lindsay:

Leanne, this has been so illuminating. Thank you. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? 

Leanne Shapton: 

No. I think this covers it. Thank you.

IMG_4727 (2).jpg

Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this.

For more information, to connect with Leanne Shapton via social media, or to purchase a copy of GUESTBOOK: Ghost Stories, please visit: 

  • Website
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Take a peek at this Guernica article, which shows GUESTBOOK in progress

Order Links:

42a1944-cropped-800x450.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leanne Shapton is an artist and author of several books, including Swimming Studies (winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography), Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, and a coauthor of the New York Times-bestselling Women in Clothes. She is also the cofounder of J&L Books, a nonprofit publisher of art and photography books. She lives in New York City.

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



#fiction #storyinphotographs #amreading #alwayswithabook #photography #collagewriting #shortstories #art #ephemera #surreal #eerie 

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[Cover image retrieved from author’s website. Author image retrieved from Guernica article. Special thanks to Riverhead Publishing for coordinating this interview. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]

Searingly emeshed mother-daughter tale of love and betrayal, of a daughter living in the shadow of her complicated mother, of the consequences of complicity in WILD GAME

By Leslie Lindsay 

Riveting story told in glorious prose, WILD GAME is elegantly told about a seriously dysfunctional relationship between a mother and daughter–and the mother’s lover.



People * Refinery29 * Entertainment Weekly * BuzzFeed * NPR’s On Point * Town & Country * Real Simple * New York Post * Palm Beach Post * Toronto Star * Orange Country Register * Bustle * Bookish * BookPage * Kirkus* BBC CultureDebutiful


Set mostly in Cape Cod in the early-mid 1980s, WILD GAME (HMH, October 15 2019) by Adrienne Brodeur might be *the* buzz-iest memoirs of the fall. And it’s deserved. Adrienne is fourteen when her mother, Malabar, wakes her daughter at midnight with the proclamation that a family friend–and also the best friend of Malabar’s husband (Adrienne’s stepfather, Charles) has kissed her. She’s beaming. She’s thrilled. The juicy details! Malabar wishes to confide in her daughter, to turn her into a secret accomplice in her torrid affair with this family friend, Ben Souther, who is also married.

assorted ropes hanging
Photo by Shvets Anna on

And Adrienne is eager to do this. She so desperately seeks her mother’s approval. Malabar can be a challenge, a bit of a diva. She loves to cook gourmet, succulent food, and does so with flourish. Baby pigeons for dinner? No problem. Clams and crabs, lobster, and duck, venison, yes, all that, too. And she loves her cocktails. Malabar is stunning in every way. Except she’s lonely. And probably very insecure.

“Shocking, poignant, unputdownable.”


Brodeur does a fabulous job of taking complex and lengthy backstory and weaving it into a narrative whole. We understand Malabar is a damaged individual, but sometimes, the damage just wasn’t ‘enough.’Don’t get me wrong, she had some struggles, but this might be a tale of wealth, of other kinds of brokenness.

The author is open, brave, transparent in her own struggles and her own role in this strange, tumultuous relationship (and her own, distinct path), but overall the ‘blame’ truly belongs to the mother. There’s drama and intrigue, and at one point, I simply could not put WILD GAME down.

boat boating close up coast
Photo by Pixabay on

WILD GAME is about secrets and lies (some covert and others overt), that we tell ourselves (and others) to justify the choices we make. It’s about self-preservation. And also, we ‘inherit’ things from our fore-bearers that are more than ‘just’ genetics, but also ways of being. We can stop that. We don’t have to pass down poor behavior.

The last bit of the book is what it really all comes down to: that sometimes those closest to us are who hurt the most, simply because they have access to our young, tender hearts.


Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, L. Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram from more like this]

For more information, to connect with Adrienne Brodeur via social media, or to purchase a copy of WILD GAME, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Adrienne_Brodeur-081+copy.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adrienne Brodeur has spent the past two decades of her professional life in the literary world—discovering voices, cultivating talent, and working to amplify underrepresented writers. Her forthcoming memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me, will be published by HMH books in October 2019. The film rights were bought by Chernin Entertainment with Kelly Fremon Craig, the director of Edge of Seventeen, attached to adapt and direct.

Adrienne’s publishing career began with founding the fiction magazine, Zoetrope: All-Storywith filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, where she served as editor in chief from 1996-2002. The magazine has won the prestigious National Magazine Award for best fiction four times. In 2005, she became an editor at Harcourt (later, HMH Books), where she acquired and edited literary fiction and memoir. Adrienne left publishing in 2013 to become Creative Director — and later Executive Director — of Aspen Words, a literary arts nonprofit and program of the Aspen Institute. In 2017, she launched the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a $35,000 annual award for an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.

 Adrienne splits her time between Cambridge and Cape Cod, where she lives with her husband and children.

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



#literary #memoir #WildGame #mothers #daughters #dysfunction #secrets #lies #relationships #alwayswithabook #memoirmonday 


[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website 10.19.19. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, L. Lindsay. Please follow on Instagram from more like this]

Warmth, friendship, quilting, & a darling manor home in Pennsylvania lend to a heartwarming tale by Jennifer Chiaverini this holiday season

By Leslie Lindsay 



Such a nostalgic, warm, and endearing story about women bound by one another, the craft of quilting, and shared stories, Jennifer Chiaverini is back with the next installment of the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE (William Morrow, October 1, 2019).

Just weeks before Christmas, severe wintry weather damages the church hall hosting the Christmas Boutique—an annual sale of handcrafted gifts and baked goods that supports the county food pantry. Determined to save the fundraiser, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson offers to hold the event at Elm Creek Manor, her ancestral family estate and summertime home to Elm Creek Quilt Camp.

Devotees of the [Elm Creek] Quilts series will relish these new episodes, and new fans will delight to discover such a well-stocked back catalog. A warm portrait of women bound by craft—perfect for fireside reading.”


In the spirit of the season, Sylvia and the Elm Creek Quilters begin setting up market booths in the ballroom and decking the halls with beautiful hand-made holiday quilts. Each of the quilters chooses a favorite work to display, a special creation evoking memories of holidays past and dreams of Christmases yet to come. But while the Elm Creek Quilters work tirelessly to make sure the Christmas Boutique happens, it may take a holiday miracle or two to make it the smashing success they want it to be.

Praised for her ability to craft “a wonderful holiday mix of family legacy, reconciliation and shared experiences” (Tucson Citizen), Jennifer Chiaverini once again rings in the festive season with this eagerly awaited addition in her beloved series. Grab a favorite warm beverage and join us for an excerpt of chapter one.

person holding mug of coffee beside an open book
Photo by fotografierende on


Chapter One

Thin, pale sunbeams shone tentatively around the edges of curtains drawn tight against the winter cold in the windows of the master suite of Elm Creek Manor. Although Sylvia Bergstrom Compson was eager to get up and seize the day, she lingered in bed, reluctant to jostle her dear husband, slumbering peacefully by her side.

Throughout the summer and into the autumn, Andrew had risen first. He had often been settled at his favorite fishing spot, a large, round, flat rock beneath a willow tree on the bank of Elm Creek, before Sylvia even opened her eyes. But after winter descended upon central Pennsylvania, more often than not, he pulled the bedcovers up to his chin and slept in long after Sylvia and the manor’s other permanent residents had finished breakfast and were going about the business of the day. How amused Sylvia had been to discover her new husband’s surprising seasonal preference, and after she thought she knew him so well! She suspected that in the years to come—may they have many together—they would discover more intriguing, unexpected quirks and contradictions within each other.


Perhaps they would discover less endearing traits too, but she and Andrew were both too grateful for their second chance at love to fuss over trivialities.

Sylvia smiled fondly as she watched Andrew doze beneath the beautiful Bridal Sampler they had received as a wedding gift only a few months before. The Elm Creek Quilters had surprised her by collecting quilt blocks from her friends, quilting students, colleagues, and admirers from around the world, sewing them together into an exquisite expression of their warm wishes and affection. Sylvia and the other Elm Creek Quilters worked so closely together that it was a marvel how her friends had man- aged to collaborate on such a complex project without her suspecting a thing. Then again, she and Andrew had surprised them all the previous Christmas Eve when they had come to Elm Creek Manor expecting a festive holiday party, only to discover that they were attending a wedding. Naturally their friends would want to tease Sylvia and Andrew just a little by surprising them in return.

Now, after nearly a year full of surprises, it would soon again be Christmas Eve, Sylvia and Andrew’s first anniversary. She had been so preoccupied with other matters—wrapping up another successful season of Elm Creek Quilt Camp; bidding farewell to friends departing for distant locales, from Philadelphia to Maui; putting the last stitches into a new quilt, her contribution to her church’s annual fund-raiser for the county food pantry—that she hadn’t had a moment to spare for holiday plans. Perhaps her young friend and colleague Sarah McClure had already typed up a spreadsheet or two delineating arrangements for meals, decorations,and entertainment, but Sylvia thought she and Andrew should plan their anniversary celebration themselves.

And Sylvia and Andrew’s marriage was such an unexpected blessing that it surely ought to be celebrated in fine style.


Artistic cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. For more like this, please follow on Instagram]

For more information, to connect with Jennifer Chaivernini via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CHRISTMAS BOUTIQUE, please visit: 


Jennifer Chiaverini Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books.

Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country WomanQuiltmakerQuiltmaker’s 100 Blocks Volumes 3-5, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, “In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years.”

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


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#holidayreading #ElmCreekSeries #quilting #Pennsylvannia #spotlight #excerpt

ChristmasBoutique_HC[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artisticcover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. For more like this, please follow on InstagramPineapple patch quilt image retrieved from J. Chiaverini’s website on 10.12.19]

Marriages in the 1950s–and before–might have been more about the wedding, not the relationship, plus drawing inspiration from Reno, an abandoned house, Sofia Grant talks about LIES IN WHITE DRESSES

By Leslie Lindsay 

Historical women’s fiction set in the early 1950s when women were expected to fall in love, slip into a white dress and live happily-ever-after…but what if they don’t?

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I’ve heard of the ‘Reno Cure’ before–that is, back in the 1940s and 1950s, women requiring a speedy divorce headed to ‘ranches’ where they were await the six-week residency requirement to file for a divorce. That’s exactly what transpires in Sofia Grant’s LIES IN WHITE DRESSES (William Morrow, September 2019).

It’s 1952 and San Francisco society matrons, Vi Carothers and Francine Meeker board a train for Reno, NV, where they will spend six weeks at the plush Holiday Ranch to contemplate their future. On the train, the bump into another woman, June Samples, traveling with her 4 year old daughter, Patty, also en route to Reno.

“More than a skillfully woven novel, Lies in White Dresses reads like a black-and-white film that pulls you in from the very first scene…A memorable, atmospheric tale to savor with a friend and a rum-ginger fizz.”

– Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Edge of Lost

Everyone has their own issues to grapple with and not one of them is quite what you might expect. We meet grown children with disabilities and those under their business tycoon father’s thumb, abusive situations, secrets, and sexuality all come into play.

And then one night, the unthinkable happens and the plucky daughter of hotel matron, Mrs. Swanson, takes it upon herself to play detective.

With equal measure of suspense, romance, and female friendship, a bond between women forge, working out the kinks of a bad marriage, and growing a sense of independence. Told in alternating POVs, readers are thrust into the world of the early 1950s and also each of their stories.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Sofia Grant to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay:

Sofia, welcome! I am always intrigued with beginnings. What inspired LIES IN WHITE DRESSES? Was it a situation, a time, period, a character, or something else that kept calling to you?

Sofia Grant:

Hi Leslie and thank you so much for having me! I actually stole the idea for this book from one of my best friends. Years ago, Juliet Blackwell and I were on a book tour, spending hours in the car, when she shared this chapter of Reno history with me. Juliet was familiar with Reno because her father lives there and because she has the heart of a historian, with a fondness for the racier bits. She wondered aloud why no one had set a novel in this time and place. Several years later I began spending time in Reno when my stepdaughter entered college at UNR, taking long walks along the Truckee River and through the historic neighborhoods, and couldn’t stop thinking about Reno’s colorful history and the generations of women who had passed through. (I did ask Juliet permission to use her idea, which she graciously gave.

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Photo by Helena Lopes on

Leslie Lindsay:

I think much of the theme of LIES IN WHITE DRESSES is summarized in the title, which comes up in the narrative…and I am paraphrasing here…but something along the lines of little girls grow up being told to dream about their wedding, the dress, the flowers, etc. but never to really think about the man or the marriage—the relationship—that will unfold. Can you expand on that a bit?

Sofia Grant:

My editor came up with that title—isn’t it marvelous? I am in my mid-fifties, so I was a little girl in the late 60s and early 70s, well before society’s current ideas about marriage had evolved. Wedding announcements of the era named new brides using only their husband’s name—i.e., Mrs. Fred Smith—as a marker of a new identity as a wife. As hard as it is to believe now, the loss of one’s identity seemed a fair trade for the trousseau, the newly outfitted starter home, and the little ones expected to arrive as soon as possible.

These identities—husband/provider and wife/homemaker—were rigid and intractable enough that they could overshadow one’s self-concept. Perhaps this is why such emphasis was placed on the wedding itself as a marker of transition, and so much attention and care was devoted to ritual elements including the dress, rings, flowers, and so on.

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Leslie Lindsay:

There are a good many characters in LIES IN WHITE DRESSES. I am curious if you had a favorite POV, character, or situation you related to—or enjoyed writing– most? I kind of liked June and Virgie, but for different reasons.

Sofia Grant:

I must admit a fondness for Willy, who—though she comes across as unfeeling and selfish at times—is driven by a difficult past that forged her into a resourceful scrapper. Willy looks out for herself, but she has an inherent kindness at the core that no amount of bad luck can extinguish. And it was such fun to research the celebrities and femmes fatales who were her unwitting mentors.

I also love Virgie, who is the little girl I wanted to be when I was her age. How I would have loved to have the run of a place like the Holiday Ranch—though I expect I still would have spent most of my days with my nose in a book.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved, loved, Vi’s childhood home. It seems absolutely charming and delightful. I could see the old piano, the faded curtains, the geraniums in those window boxes. Can you tell us more about the house and if there’s a real one that inspired this home?

Sofia Grant:

I’m so delighted that you liked that little house! It is modeled after an abandoned house about a mile down a dirt road from my childhood home in Missouri, a favorite exploring destination with its bits of visible wallpaper and tile amid the debris and overgrowth. I have a fondness for vintage textiles, glass, rugs and other decorative objects so these furnished my imagined cottage. If I could, I would live in just such a house, with views of the San Francisco bay.

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Sofia Grant:

Like everyone, I’m fairly anxious about the state of the world, and wish for a greater understanding and tolerance among opposing camps on a great many issues. I’m also a passionate advocate of mental illness awareness, treatment, and education, and look forward to the day when our society values and funds research, housing, and integration of the mentally ill into all levels of society.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Sofia Grant:

Perhaps you would like to know what is on my bedside table at the moment? I’m reading a fantastic comedy of manners called THE WINDFALL by Diksha Basu. I also greatly enjoyed THE NEED by Helen Phillips, a wonderfully creepy speculative novel with a unique female protagonist.

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For more information, to connect with the author on social media, or to purchase a copy of LIES IN WHITE DRESSES, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Sofia Grant author photo (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Called a “writing machine” by the New York Times and a “master storyteller” by the Midwest Book Review, Sophie Littlefield has written dozens of novels for adults and teens under her own name and the pen name Sofia Grant. She has won Anthony and RT Book Awards and been shortlisted for Edgar®, Barry, Crimespree, Macavity, and Goodreads Choice Awards.





You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media outlets: 



#womensfiction #Reno #historicalfiction #divorceranches #mystery 

Lies in White Dresses_PB (1)

[Cover and author image courtesy of WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Artistic image of book cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Please follow @leslielindsay1 on Instagram for more like this]

Eerie and atmospheric, BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL, is a study of violence, buried secrets, and mysterious happenings–witchcraft–in New England

By Leslie Lindsay 

The critically acclaimed author of THE BLACK PAINTING returns with a deliciously dark and atmopheric suspense for fans of Dennis Lehane and Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS. 



Eerily hypnotic and atmospheric, BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL (Hanover Square Press, October 8, 2019) absolutely calls, ‘October,’ with its skepticism, small New England town, spirituality, and the history of witchcraft. 

Just take a look at some of the praise: 

“Equal parts engaging and creepy, this twisty tale deftly examines how secrets and regret can continue to reverberate through generations.”


“The paranormal elements are subtle, gradually creeping in around the edges with unsettling effect. Both mystery and weird fiction fans will be pleased.”

Publishers Weekly

“An appealing, atmospheric yarn.”


A bit about the story:

A reformed flower child, thirty-three-year-old Will Connor’s long-held skepticism has distanced him from his mother and her eccentric collection of friends. While his mother embraced the hippie generation’s exploration of spirituality and withcraft, Will dismissed their fascination with New Age as arcane. But now he must return home to care for his aging mother and realizes there might be more than meets the eye. A friend from his mother’s ‘spirit circles’ mysteriously died when Will was a child. Could something more disturbing be at play?

Buried secrets.


Dark and atmospheric. 

“A complex tale with a greatly atmospheric plot and unknown twist”Mystery Tribune

“A suspenseful, atmospheric and eerie tale.”Megan Chance, author of A Drop of Ink

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[Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by me, L. Lindsay. Follow on Instagram for more like this]

For more information, to connect with Neil Olson, or to purchase a copy of BEFORE THE DEVIL FELL, please visit: 

Order links: 

Neil Olson credit Jill SwchwartzmanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neil Olson is the author of THE ICON, a novel of art theft and family intrigue, and the play DEALERS. His second novel, THE BLACK PAINTING, concerning the unsolved theft of a haunted self-portrait by Goya, was published in January 2018. He lives in New York City with his wife and cat, and works in the publishing industry.




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



#mystery #domesticsuspense #literaryfiction #alwayswithabook #witchcraft #NewEngland #spirituality #BeforeTheDevilFell 


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