Tag Archives: adoption

Wednesdays with Writers: Lisa Ko talks about her stunning debut, THE LEAVERS, what it means to be restless & stubborn & independent, how music provides a sense of identity, cultures, reinvention and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

THE LEAVERS is at first a story of immigration/deportation, social justice, adoption, but it is so much more: it’s about heart, family, culture, and dare I say: required reading. 
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It’s hard to believe Lisa Ko’s THE LEAVERS (May 2, Algonquin Books) is a debut.
It’s eloquently crafted, well-researched, and absolutely beautifully executed. In fact, Lisa is the latest winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver to a novel that addresses contemporary issues of social justice.

Timely, topical…and oh, so emotionally rich, it’s really hard to categorize THE LEAVERS–but ultimately, it’s darn good fiction with well-developed, fully dimensional characters; I loved every one of them and for different reasons.

Deming Guo’s mother, Polly (Peilan), an undocumented Chinese immigrant, fails to come home from work (a nail salon) one day, and he’s left on his own. He’s eleven. (On a personal note, I have 10 and 12 year old daughters–I couldn’t imagine!). He’s in limbo for awhile while family friends decide what’s best for him. Deming is eventually adopted by ‘older’ American (white) professors at a local college, Kay and Peter Wilkinson. They change his name to Daniel. They give him an all-American life. They love him. But Deming/Daniel struggles to accept his new life. What happened to his mother? And why does he feel so out-of-place?

Told in sections, traversing NYC and China, from the POV of both Deming/Daniel and Peilan/Polly, we learn just what happened to his mother and a bit about why (though it’s still pretty unfair and ambiguous).

THE LEAVERS was inspired by recent, real-life stories of undocumented immigrant women whose U.S.-born children were taken away from them and adopted by an American family.  This story is fiction…but there are so many truths within these pages.holidayinn

THE LEAVERS is truly a book for everyone: mothers, children, adoptive parents…and most of all, the human spirit. It’s about finding oneself, reinvention, doing what’s right and adhering to expectations.

I am so honored and touched to chat with Lisa Ko, author of THE LEAVERS. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa—welcome and oh—what a story! The cultural and emotional challenges of the scope of THE LEAVERS is huge. There’s immigration, deportation, adoption…poverty. This is tough stuff. What propelled you to delve into such prickly subjects?

Lisa Ko: Thanks! When I first read real-life stories about immigrant mothers being separated from their children, I was furious that this was happening, and that our government has and continues to criminalize immigrants for profit. But to me, the novel is less about tackling prickly subjects and more about simply wanting to write about the world we live in. We can’t separate ourselves from class, race, gender, and politics. The issues that surround Polly and Deming are part of this, but the novel is more about themes like assimilation and culture, identities and survival, and definitions of home and family.

L.L.: I loved all the characters in THE LEAVERS. But I really connected with Polly/Peilan. What a strong, independent woman! She’s funny, snarky, deep…there’s a lot to her. I guess my question is two-fold: one, in China, women/girls are sort of disregarded and not brought up to be…independent. What do you think might have happened to Peilan/Polly had she stayed in China the entire course of the novel? And how did you connect with her character?

Lisa Ko: I’d hesitate to generalize about the treatment of girls and women in China—sexism in America is certainly going strong! For Polly, moving to the U.S. allows her to live a life far from her small hometown. In New York City, she can be anonymous, away from the expectations of her family and neighbors, though this comes with a literal and emotional price. I’d like to say that if Polly had stayed in China, she would have found a way to get out of her hometown and still retain her independence. Maybe she’d move to a big city with her son and create a new life there. She’s too stubborn, too restless—and these traits easy for me to connect with her character—to stay in one place for long.

L.L.: My read of THE LEAVERS is that it is not just a novel about immigration, deportation, adoption…but at the heart, it’s about reinvention. It’s about identity as culture and family and fitting in while also standing out. Did you learn anything new about yourself, or our world as you wrote this story?

Lisa Ko: Through my research, I learned a lot about immigration, deportation, and adoption—both about individual stories and about larger policies. Questions of belonging and reinvention were things I was exploring throughout. Writing the novel raised more questions than answers, which is why I write fiction.

L.L.: I’m a bit intrigued about your research into the factory life—not just here in the U.S., but also in China. It sounds positively grueling and of another world. In your acknowledgements, you mention a few books you referenced: FACTORY GIRLS by Leslie T. Chang and SMUGGLED CHINESE by Ko-lin Chin. Can you give a little more insight, however harrowing, into that life?

Lisa Ko: One thing that stood out for me was how factory work can be both economically and socially empowering for young women, despite of, or in addition to, the grueling conditions. It’s done out of choice as well as out of necessity, and provides a way for rural residents to migrate to urban areas and reinvent themselves. That was something Polly experiences in the book.

L.L.: There’s this lovely section in THE LEAVERS in which Peilan/Polly is recounting her time away from her son. It’s told in fragments, vignettes with deep imagery: ‘Starry night. Grassy field. Cricket chorus. Clucking chicken. You. […] Glass of water. Cup of tea. Wet kisses. Leon. I tried to relax, hoping for a few hours of sleep before the first bed check. Warm hands. Loud music. You.’ Can you tell, us, in a similar style what was going on in your life as you wrote THE LEAVERS (which I realize spans 8 years)?

Lisa Ko: Binge writing. Deleting drafts. Binge writing. Deleting drafts. Many jobs and many daydreams.

L.L.: I have to touch on music. Deming/Daniel strongly connects with the musical world. It’s a place he can let down, express emotion, and sort of lose himself. Can you speak to that, please? How did this aspect of his character develop?

Lisa Ko: Music has always influenced my writing. I gave Deming music because I needed to bring some joy into his life and give him something that he could hold onto for himself, even in times of chaos. It’s a way that he’s able to form an identity for himself that goes beyond the expectations of his adoptive parents. Language is also a central part of the novel, and music is Deming’s third language, a language of his very own.

L.L.: It was a pleasure. Thank you, Lisa.

Lisa Ko: Thank you, Leslie!

For more information about THE LEAVERS, to connect with Lisa Ko via social media, or to purchase a copy, please see: 

Lisa-Ko-Bartosz-Potocki_2MBABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Ko is the author of The Leavers, a novel which won the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. Her writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2016, The New York Times, Apogee Journal, Narrative, O. Magazine, Copper Nickel, Storychord, One Teen Story, Brooklyn Review, and elsewhere. Lisa has been awarded fellowships and residencies from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, Writers OMI at Ledig House, the Jerome Foundation, Blue Mountain Center, the Van Lier Foundation, Hawthornden Castle, the I-Park Foundation, the Anderson Center, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. Born in Queens and raised in Jersey, she lives in Brooklyn.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Algonquin Books and used with permission. Young Lisa with parents retrieved from author’s website . ‘Factory Girls ‘and ‘Smuggled Chinese’ cover images retrieved from Amazon, all on 7.17.19] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Family Secrets, dark mysterious English Forests, Battered Cardigans, ‘The Crown,’ Roman Remains, and so much more in Kate Hamer’s next novel, THE DOLL FUNERAL

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By Leslie Lindsay 

After reading Hamer’s 2016 bestselling debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, I was eager to get my hands on her forthcoming title, THE DOLL FUNERAL (due out February 16 2017 by Faber & Faber). Ms. Hamer indicates she’s, “Mostly completely happy, but write dark,” and yes, that’s exactly how THE DOLL FUNERAL reads, a little slice of mirth mixed with darkness.

Plus, isn’t that cover (and title!) just deliciously creepy?!

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There’s a lot going on in THE DOLL FUNERAL, and Hamer’s writing is so poetic, so poised, and yet so imaginative; for that reason, I adored reading her words. She’s truly a gifted writer.  Plot-wise the story is quite simple: 13-year old girl learns she’s adopted and goes on search for her ‘real family.’

Alternating between Ruby in present-day (1983) and also her birth year (1970), the two timelines are braided together in a mostly first-person POV. Note: most of the story is told from 13-year old Ruby’s POV, but she is highly imaginative, mature, and the story telling is not at all ‘softened,’ or abbreviated, in fact there are several instances in which another character will observe, ‘that’s quite a grown-up word, Ruby.’

I’m honored to welcome Kate Hamer back to the blog couch for another book chat. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Kate, it’s a joy to have you back. I’m thinking about THE DOLL FUNERAL and how it compares to THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. There are bound to be similarities, of course, seeing how you’re sort of the ‘wizard’ behind them both. My first thought is that both stories revolve around a young girl cleaving from her family (either on her own accord, or as an abduction). Can you talk about that, please?

Kate Hamer: Yes, the family relationships are central in both books, it’s something that really interests me. THE DOLL FUNERAL begins by Ruby finding out she’s adopted on her thirteenth birthday. When she hears the truth she runs out into the garden and sings for joy because she always hoped beyond hope that there was something more than the brutality of the family she grew up in. But when she sets out to uncover the truth family secrets begin bubbling to the surface – her own and in other families. I wanted to write a tough character and Ruby does have a certain resilience despite everything. That’s something I enjoyed doing. The young girl characters in both books are a bit off kilter, slight outsiders from the beginning and there are other similarities between the two books. THE DOLL FUNERAL is not conventional crime, as THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT wasn’t conventional crime either. Ruby’s journey does eventually lead to a body, though not in the way you might think!

L.L.: So what would you say inspired your falling down the ‘rabbit hole’ of THE DOLL FUNERAL? What was haunting you enough to set pen to paper?

Kate Hamer: It was Ruby really – her energy and her hope of getting through despite everything. She’s tougher than Carmel (The Girl in the Red Coat) in many ways, less dreamy275px-symonds_yat_rock_viewand acts on her gut instinct. I really fell in love with her and felt as if I was by her side, a bit breathless and anxious about how everything was going to turn out for her.

It was also the Forest of Dean. I’d tried to write the story several times in different locations but it wasn’t until I visited the Forest of Dean one day that everything truly slotted into place. It’s such a mystical, ancient place yet people live and work there. The forest is definitely another character in the book.

L.L.: I know you sort of ‘grew up’ on fairy tales and that THE GIRL WITH THE RED COAT has been likened to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. This new one is very much ALICE IN WONDERLAND meets SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. Was this conscious on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically? 

Kate Hamer: Oooh – I LOVE that description. In fact I think I’m going to adopt it. Yes, if THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is “Little Red Riding Hood” the THE DOLL FUNERAL is definitely “Snow White.” Observant readers might even spot the mirror. Snow White was there from the beginning but Ruby’s beauty is an unconventional kind – she has a large birth mark covering the left side of her face that makes the eye on that side seem extra bright. She is a kind of Snow White mixed in with her hero Siouxsie Sioux. “Alice in Wonderland” came in a bit later. It’s a book I’m a bit obsessed with and my editor very wisely combed a good few of the references out so hopefully the presence is there with a light touch now.

download-52L.L.: Yet you touche on poverty, abuse, adoption, mental illness, and the paranormal. It’s heavy stuff. What do you hope readers take away from THE DOLL FUNERAL?

Kate Hamer:  At its heart I feel that this is a book about how the past and the present intertwine, how the past casts its shadows over everything, and YET if the heart is focused enough, if it’s prepared to go through trials of fire the present moment and the future can always be changed. That’s what I really hope readers  take away with them by the end of the book.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What’s captured your interest?

Kate Hamer: Many things: ‘The Crown’ on Netflix. Roman remains. Prehistory. Learning French. ‘My Name is Lucy Barton.’  Choosing colours for the living room. Lattice crisps. Walking meditation. L’Occitane creams. Anything by Maggie O’Farrell. Making sauerkraut.

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

Kate Hamer:  What do you wear when you’re writing? Answer: an old battered cardi that is nonetheless beautifully warm. One day it’ll disintegrate and I dread that day.

L.L.: Kate, it was a pleasure chatting with you once again. Thanks for taking the time to pop by!

Kate Hamer:  Thank you!

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer is out now (Faber & Faber, £12.99)

For more information, to connect with Kate Hamer, or to order your copy of THE DOLL FUNERAL, please visit:

mei-williams-creditABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, around these parts of the Internet:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Faber&Faber and used with permission. Author image credit: Mei Williams. Forest of Dean image retrieved from Wikipedia, Alice in Wonderland image retrieved from PopSugar, all on 2.2.17

Write On, Wednesday: T. Greenwood talks about her fabulously compelling WHERE I LOST HER, her tenth novel but first foray into psych suspense, settings, the draw of adoption, & more

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By Leslie Lindsay whereilosther

Oh my gosh! WOW. Absolutely spellbinding. I loved every. single. minute of WHERE I LOST HER. Acclaimed author T. Greenwood tackles psychological suspense against the compelling backdrop of motherhood, madness, and infidelity.

You might think it’s a lot to bite off, but I assure you, T. Greenwood is a confident and eloquent storyteller, her prose laced with lyrical nuances, tenderness, and trepidation.

WHERE I LOST HER tows the line between yearning and imbalance, nurturing and obsession, and motherhood and infertility as one woman searches for the truth about a mysterious child.  Will Tess Waters find a lost child, or will she lose her already fragile mind?

Told completely in Tess’s first person POV with flashbacks addressed to her husband, this tandem narrative WHERE I LOST HER is an interior story with psychological thriller undertones written in a poetic, lyrical, and thoughtful manner that alternates with stripped-down narrative, a perfect combination for such an original piece.

Today, I am so honored to have T. Greenwood join us on the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Tammy! I am thrilled to have you join us today. I am always so intrigued to learn how a story comes to life for a writer. Was there a moment or event that struck you, indicating: “I have to write this?” What was your inspiration for WHERE I LOST HER?

T. Greenwood: I grew up in Vermont, and I still follow the news there regularly. A couple of years ago, I read an incredible article about someone who found a little girl at the side of the road, but before she could help her, the girl disappeared into the woods. I was so disturbed by that story I couldn’t let it go. Most books start this way for me – with a question that I want answered. I needed to write this book to find out who the girl was and who the woman was who found her. Of course, it is all fiction, but this was the initial spark.

L.L.: Adoption has long been an interest of mine, without any real impetus; I am not adopted, nor am I acquainted with anyone who is. I’m amazed at your ability to bring the experience to life in WHERE I LOST HER. Can you share what kind of research went into your narrative

T. Greenwood: My sister is adopted. She was born in Korea, and came to us when she was six months old. I was seven at the time, and I have very vivid memories of the adoption process. It’s something I haven’t really ever written about before. I also have friends who adopted their son from Guatemala, but prior to his adoption they had a Guatemalan adoption that fell through. It was a crushing experience for them, and they were kind enough and generous enough to share this experience with me. I knew when I began writing about Tess’s obsession with the lost child that there was a reason why it mattered so much to her to find her. As I dug into her past, I discovered that this was what was haunting her. The novel is very much about motherhood, about the longing for a child by whatever means.

L.L.: And the setting! I’ve never been to Vermont, but I could easily transport myself to the camp where Effie and Devin live, smell the musky ferns growing in that vertiginous forest, and the swimming hole where Plum was certain there were fairies. And of course, the place where the girl was missing. I understand the Vermont woods holds a special place in your heart—in fact, this isn’t the first story you’ve set in Gormlaith. Can you share more about that?

T. Greenwood: I have written ten novels, and eight of them are set in or around the fictional Lake Gormlaith. This lake is based on a real body of water in northeastern Vermont Breathing Waterwhere I grew up. My family still spends a month or two there every summer. Tess actually appears in my first novel, Breathing Water, which is Effie and Devin’s story. It was thrilling to revisit them again after all of these years. This fictional place has become my go-to setting. The characters and setting have developed a life of their own.

L.L.:   There are a lot of things going on in this story—but that’s not exactly a bad thing! I loved the multilayer approach, the complex characters, and thematic elements. What about writing WHERE I LOST HER surprised even you?

T. Greenwood: Everything! I have never written a suspense novel before, and so the entire process was new to me. I never outline my novels, though I have a general sense of the plot, but I found myself writing furiously to find out what happens next. I hope this sense of urgency and surprise is there for the reader as well.

L.L.: There are so many ways this story could have ended. I am sure you toyed with them all! Did you have a clear sense of where you were going when you set out to write, or did the truth sort of evolve as you approached the end? 

T. Greenwood: It became clear to me about halfway through the novel that there was only one satisfying way that the story could end. This is typically how my process works. At about the mid-point, the plot and characters convene, and the remainder of the book is then organic and inevitable.

L.L.: And a word on structure: while WHERE I LOST HER is told completely in Tess’s voice, we get a glimpse into her past. In what form did you see those brief interludes? An open letter?  A journal entry? A dream? Something else? 

T. Greenwood: This book is, in many ways, about a failing marriage. And in most instances when a marriage is failing, there is no longer any communication between the people involved. I wanted to give Tess an opportunity to communicate to Jake exactly how she felt: about him, about their marriage, about the child they lost. It’s a love letter, I think, a sort of elegy to their relationship.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

T. Greenwood: I am revising a novel called The Golden Hour, another suspense novel about a woman who finds out that a man who has been in prison for twenty years because of a crime committed against her may be released based on new DNA evidence. It’s a disaster right now, but I am hoping it all comes together. Soon.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why? Making_A_Murderer_Title

T. Greenwood: In terms of writing, I am primarily consumed by this project, but I have another one on hold. But generally speaking, I have been totally obsessed with “Making a Murderer,” the documentary series on Netflix. It plays into the book I am revising, but I am totally riveted by true crime documentaries. I have really, really enjoyed writing in this genre

L.L.: Is there anything I should have asked but forgot?

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so! 

L.L.: Tammy, thank you so very much for popping by today. I just adored the book and can’t wait to read more from you!

T. Greenwood: Thanks so much for chatting.

  • For more information, be sure to pop over to T. Greenwood’s website, see her photography, learn of events, order books, and more.
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authorphoto2014 - Version 2Bio: T. Greenwood is the author of ten novels. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. TWO RIVERS was named 2009 Best General Fiction Book at the San Diego Book Awards, and GRACE received the same award for 2012. Five of her novels have been BookSense76/IndieBound picks; THIS GLITTERING WORLD was a January 2011 selection, and GRACE was a selection in April 2012. Her eighth novel, BODIES OF WATER, was a 2014 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist. WHERE I LOST HER will be released on February 23, 2016.

She teaches creative writing for San Diego Writer’s Ink, Grossmont College, and online for The Writer’s Center. She and her husband, Patrick, live in San Diego, CA with their two daughters. She is also an aspiring photographer.

[Special thanks to T. Greenwood. Cover images courtesy of author. Netflix series image “Making of a Murderer” retrieved from Wikipedia on 1.14.16]