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WeekEND Reading: Heather Gudenkauf on her most personal thriller yet, who her favorite character is, why nurses aren’t boring, grit, determination, oh–and a dead body–in her new book, NOT A SOUND

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By Leslie Lindsay 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf churns out her most personal, and powerful story yet with NOT A SOUND, rife with medical mysteries and a murder, too. 

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When a tragic accident leaves ER nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose anything she ever cared about: her career, her husband, and her 7-year old stepdaughter, Nora.

It’s two years after that fateful night in which Amelia loses her hearing when she stumbles across a dead body in the dense brush by the river where she likes to paddleboard–someone she knows. I don’t want to give away too much, but it goes without saying that she gets wrapped up in the murder case. Clues seem so familiar to her own, earlier accident which caused her deafness. Could the two be related?

Told entirely from Amelia’s first-person POV, the writing in NOT A SOUND is taut, emotional, fast-paced, and Gudenkauf’s research clearly shows.
Amelia Winn is strong, capable and I was definitely rooting for her. And her service dog, Stitch, who really kind of became the star, at least for me.

I’m super-thrilled to welcome Heather back to the blog couch to chat about her amazing new novel, NOT A SOUND (Park Row, May 30). Plus, it’s a REAL SIMPLE magazine pick of the month! 

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome back, Heather! I practically devoured NOT A SOUND. It was a rainy weekend in Chicagoland and I couldn’t put it down. I might be wrong in saying this, but I felt the pace of this one was much faster than your other books. Can you speak to that, please?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie! NOT A SOUND does have a swift pace. I think I structured the novel this way for several reasons, the first being that at its heart NOT A SOUND is a thriller and the brisk pace lends itself to the tension and suspense that I hoped to achieve. Also a good amount of the novel is set along the Five Mines River and like a fast moving river, the events in NOT A SOUND tumble along at a break neck speed. timthumb

L.L.: I guess before we get too far into the narrative, I’m very curious why this story, why now? I know two things: 1) you’re partially deaf yourself and 2) your son has battled cancer. Those two things alone are hugely personal and sometimes personal things make great fiction, sometimes not. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for NOT A SOUND?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, I tend to weave little snippets of my life – locations, some small experiences – into my novels. And while NOT A SOUND isn’t autobiographical it is the first time that I included such personal topics. I was born with a profound hearing loss that was discovered when I was in elementary school. I’m deaf in my left ear which makes it hard for me to be able to tell where sounds are coming from and in noisy situations I can have a very difficult time understanding others, but most of the time I don’t think twice about it.

My son did battle cancer as a young teen and is now doing great! The entire experience was heartbreaking, painful and absolutely devastating but we also found many blessings during this very difficult time. We had an incredible medical team, family, friends and community there to support us the entire way.

I’ve always wanted to write a story that featured a heroine that happened to be deaf and I knew I wanted to explore the topic of health care and cancer in one of my novels. Writing from the point of view of a character who happens to be deaf was challenging and it was important for me to portray a deaf character accurately and respectfully – I hope I did Amelia justice.

download (5)L.L.: And Amelia! I loved her. A writer friend once said long ago (I’m paraphrasing), “Nurses as characters are boring. Nothing ever happens to them; they are always conscientious and thoughtful and busy saving lives.” I chewed on that a bit. I’m a former R.N. I don’t think of myself as ‘boring.’ I’ve toyed with the idea of a nurse protagonist, too but…well, I lived it and discounted it. Can you talk a little about your research into the nursing profession, procedures and terminology? [P.S. May is also National Nurse Appreciation Week/Month]

Heather Gudenkauf: I absolutely don’t think of nurses as boring! I grew up watching medical dramas like M*A*S*H and Trapper John, MD and was entranced by the capable, methodical nurses who always kept their cool. I knew early on that the nursing profession wasn’t for me, I get a bit woozy around blood, but I’ve been in awe of nurses my entire my life. My mom was a nurse, as was my sister-in-law. Then, of course, there were the nurses who took care of my son during his illness.

For the novel, when it came to the technical aspects of the medical profession, I definitely relied on the experts ~including a great friend who is a nurse and my sister-in-law who is a physician.

L.L.: Amelia isn’t your ‘typical’ goody-two-shoes nurse. She paddle boards and lives in a cute little A-frame on the banks of a river. She’s getting divorced. She has some demons. And then she finds this dead body. How did Amelia’s character evolve for you as you wrote her story?

Heather Gudenkauf: Amelia is definitely not a typical wife, mother or nurse. She came to me in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I knew she was going to be strong and independent, but her other character traits emerged as I wrote the novel. At the outset, Amelia is just getting her life back together after hitting rock bottom. She’s starting from scratch and finally lands a new job and gets to spend time with her step-daughter when she comes upon a grisly discovery while paddling boarding. Immediately Amelia is thrust into a mystery that threatens her own well-being and she needs to utilize every bit of her determination, grit and intelligence to survive.

L.L.: In the terms of medicine, we’re always under the impression that ‘doctor 41m+qEX4S7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_knows best.’ When we’re in the throes of a medical emergency or a grim diagnosis, we have to put our trust in the trained professionals. In fact, there’s a brand-new memoir [THE TINCTURE OF TIME] out about a mother whose infant was having mysterious strokes and she put all her faith in the medical community. Not everything turned out for the best. So if you were to complete this sentence, “Putting your trust in medicine is____,” what might you say?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love reading memoirs ~ I’ll have to check this one out. I would say “Putting your trust in medicine is absolutely necessary.” But that said, it’s imperative to listen to that little internal voice that tends to pipe up once in a while. Ask the questions, get the second opinion. It can be scary when you have to rely on the expertise of others especially in life and death situations. It’s important to feel comfortable with the care you or a loved one is receiving. Fortunately, my son received top-notch care while he was battling cancer ~ and we are forever grateful for this.

L.L.: What, in your real-life might make a plot for a mystery?

Heather Gudenkauf: Oh, wow! I live a completely boring, nondescript kind of life so I’m afraid that the extent of intrigue in my life comes down to remembering where I lay down my glasses and the book I’m currently reading!

“Twisting, atmospheric and dark, Heather Gudenkauf’s Not A Sound will draw you right into the silent world of Amelia Winn and keep you riveted. This is a thrill ride to be sure, but it’s also a gripping tale of tragedy and redemption. If you haven’t read Heather Gudenkauf yet, now’s the time.”

—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hunter

L.L.: What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Heather Gudenkauf: I’m trying to make healthier meals at home so I Googled a recipe for fried cauliflower rice. It was surprisingly delicious!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie ~ I always enjoy chatting with you!   I do want to give a shout out to who is perhaps my favorite character in NOT A SOUND – Stitch, Amelia’s service dog. On more than one occasion Stitch manages to steal the show. He’s a loyal, loveable and excellent in a crisis!images (5)

For more information about NOT A SOUND, to connect with Heather via social media, or to purchase (pre-order, available May 30 2017) your own copy of the book, please see: 

HeatherGudenkauf credit Morgan HawthorneABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel.

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of nurse retrieved from iStockphotos.com, image of service dog retrieved from anythingispawasble.com. Image of Tincture of Time retrieved from Amazon, all on 5.19.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: What if your mother–a flaming narcissist–died and left you a mound of debt and unanswered questions? Debut novelist Gina Sorell delves into family secrets, grief, reinvention, and so much more in MOTHERS & OTHER STRANGERS

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A riveting story of a woman’s quest to understand her recently deceased mother, a glamorous, cruel narcissist who left her only child a mound of debt, mysteries, threats, and questions. 

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Gina Sorell has my attention. I loved her searing debut, MOTHERS & OTHER STRANGERS and absolutely reveled in the mystery surrounding both of her characters, daughter Elsie (Elspeth) and her mother, Rachel/Devedra.

Just take a read of the first, magical line: 

“My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was nineteen, and knowing that she was pregnant with a dead man’s child, she accepted.” 

I found MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS written in such a crisp, flow-y manner propelling the story forward, making it a challenge to set it down. I wanted to know moreThe prose is absolutely stunning, the mystery absorbing, and Elsie’s mother–troubling. Sorell writes with such authenticity it was a bit hard to believe this wasn’t a memoir.

I’m so honored to have Gina on the blog couch this morning.

Leslie Lindsay: I’m always so, so intrigued about what propels a writer forward with a particular story. What was it for you in MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS?

Gina Sorell: For me it was that opening line. It rattled around in my head for a very long time and then I thought, who would say that? What if she was a mother? And then what kind of woman says that to a child? And then I was off creating my characters and their world.

L.L.: There is a good deal of backstory in MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS, and this is probably the crux of the entire story. One of the main characters is dead after all, and we need to understand the person she was to make sense of the story; I feel our past so very much shapes our present. Can you speak to that, please?

Gina Sorell: I agree, that’s a great way to put it. Our past does shape us, often in ways that we are unaware of, and hopefully later in ways that we can recognize and address. One of the things I always had in the forefront of my mind while writing this, is that you can’t really know where you are going, until you know where you’ve been. And the protagonist Elsie, is in many ways stuck where she is as a result of not really knowing the full extent of her and her mother’s past. She needs to understand how her past shaped her, so that it can hopefully no longer define her.

“This dark gorgeous jewel of a novel probes the secrets we keep and the complex ties of family, love and loss. Shattering and brilliant, this marks the debut of an astonishing talent.”

—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World and Pictures of You

L.L.: Elsie is a professional dancer and I found reading about her practice and profession quite fascinating. I understand you were also a performer, much like Elsie, but as an actress. How do the two overlap and what research did you conduct to bring authenticity to the dance world?

Gina Sorell: To me being an artist is about communicating, about telling a story and creating a shared experience that will hopefully touch people and make them stop and think and feel. As an actor I had the benefit of a script to help me do that. As someone who danced for many years, but not at Elsie’s level, I had to rely on my body and the music and how I related to it, to convey my thoughts and feelings. I adore dance and spent a lot of time practicing it, and later watching it, and I think all that personal experience really helped me bring that authenticity to Elsie’s world.

images (2)L.L.: And her mother! How I loved to hate Rachel/Devedra. May is actually Mental Health Awareness Month and I have to say, you really brought narcissism to light. In fact, I was worried this might be based off your own mother. It’s not, I hope?! How was the character of Rachel/Devedra conceived?

Gina Sorell: Thankfully Rachel/Devedra is not based on my own mom! I have a wonderful mother, and I am grateful. But I will say that neither of my parents had very easy relationships with their own parents growing up, distance, divorce, tragedy, many things were a factor, and while they had good relationships as adults, I was always struck by how amazing my parents were, in spite of not having had it easy. As an actor who worked in the entertainment industry, I am no stranger to narcissism, it’s a place where that kind of thing can thrive, and understandably so. But what happens to someone when their whole world is no longer about them? What happens to someone when one of their greatest commodities, their beauty, starts to fade? And what does life look like for someone who feels that their best years were robbed from them by fate and an unplanned pregnancy? I wanted to explore those things, and that really is Rachel; a woman who in many ways felt she was cheated and never got her chance, and was unable to mother Elsie properly as a result.

L.L.: And mothers in general. Since it’s May and we just celebrated Mother’s Day and the title bears the name…I have to highlight your lovely blog series, ‘Discover Your Mother.’ Many of us really don’t know who our mothers are, or were ‘before.’ What did you learn about your own mother in this process?

Gina Sorell: Thank you, doing the ‘Discover Your Mother’ series has been really wonderful. I always knew that my mom was a young mom, three kids by the time she was 25, but finding those pictures of her dancing and laughing, and being social and glamorous and adventurous, really showed me who she was out in the world. A world before her kids came along. And it also really drove home how brief that time was for her, from her parent’s house to living and marrying my Dad. It was hardly any time at all, and it made me really appreciate how much she has given of b6b18a25fe5d4373d1e7af0c25ff51aeherself to all of us all while being supportive and kind and loving. She’s a great mom and friend.

L.L.: Death, grief, finding oneself, reinvention. These all seem to be themes in MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS. What this deliberate on your part, or did they just sort of reveal themselves? Ultimately, how important is theme?

Gina Sorell: Theme to me is very important as a guiding principle when I am writing, but the themes also grow and open themselves up and reveal themselves to me. I started with this idea as I’ve mentioned of how can you go forward until you know where you’ve been, which grew into the larger theme of identity and how all the things that you’ve stated above; death, grief, finding oneself, reinvention, along with secrets and lies, shape that identity.

L.L.: You’re awfully busy mothering, working, writing. And that’s a good thing. I think it helps focus writing time. What are some of your hacks?

Gina Sorell: Oh that’s a good question. I do a lot of work with clients on the west coast, which means that as an east coaster, my day goes longer, but I can also grab an hour or two in the morning to walk and write. Walking is a great way for me to get into my writing frame of mind. I also bribe myself with coffee and treats to stay at the desk, on the days when I want to get up and go because it feels to hard. And I usually get a three hour chunk on the weekend, from my husband and son to focus on my writing. But often there are work deadlines that take precedence during my week, and when that happens, I try not to get grumpy and focus on what needs to get done and reward myself with a whole day of writing at the end of it.

L.L.: What do you like to do when you’re alone? It doesn’t have to be literary.  [Hint: I love cleaning/organizing while singing—badly—along with my iPod].

Gina Sorell: I love design blogs. And design in general. And I like to walk, listen to the radio, a good podcast and also bake. I’ve been known to read cookbooks to relax. ce91266e28f38ae85a387b0ba29e4f6d.jpg

L.L.: What lasting words of wisdom about writing might you impart?

Gina Sorell: In the beginning I think you need to establish some sort of routine; an hour or three a day, whatever you can, and keep it consistent. I did that for a very long time, until I could trust that I could find my way back after a break. And then I think you need to trust that you can be flexible, and that not everything needs to perfect in order to create, you just need to do it. I also am a big believer in having a beautiful or inspiring space, for example, I always have a mason jar of flowers on my desk, and will blast some favorite songs to get me in the mood and then I get to it. And I always try to stop at a place that gives me a good place to start the next time, so that I have something to look forward to.

L.L.: Gina, it’s been a tremendous pleasure! Thanks for popping by.

Gina Sorell: The pleasure has been all mine! I really appreciate your thoughtful questions. And I am thrilled that you loved the book! I can’t wait to read yours one day too!

For more information, to connect with Gina via social media, or to purchase your own copy of MOTHERS & OTHER STRANGERS (for yourself or a gift), please see: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gina Sorell credit Ian Brown.jpgGina Sorell was born in South Africa and raised in Toronto. A former actor, Gina was part of the first ever performing arts school in Canada, Claude Watson School for the Performing Arts, and among the first students admitted to the school in its inaugural year. She attended CWSA and Earl Haig as a drama major and dance minor, and would go on to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. Throughout her school years Gina wrote and often created and produced her own work.

Gina’s first job as an actor was at an off-off Broadway theater company called Theater on Three; creating work with inner city kids who had stories to tell. She then returned to Toronto where she wrote and performed in a successful sketch troupe called The Stupid Goodlookings, and later at Second City Mainstage. One of the first plays she performed in was the first ever adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Good Bones, and she had the pleasure of studying playwriting with the late Carol Bolt. After moving to Los Angeles with her actor husband Jeff Clarke, Gina returned to her first love writing, and honed her craft at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, graduating with distinction. It was at UCLA that she met her mentor, the New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt, who contacted Gina after reading the first sentence of her novel Mothers and Other Strangers, to say that she had a book, and encouraged her to pursue it. After a decade in Los Angeles, Gina returned to Toronto to be with her family and raise her own, in her old beloved neighborhood of Riverdale, which has always felt like home. Learn more at http://www.ginasorell.com.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Prospect Park Books and used with permission.   Mason jar of flowers and vintage mother and daughter found on Pinterest, no source noted. Mental Health Awareness logo retrieved from Mental Health America, all on 5.15.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth Kostova Takes Us on Cultural Wandering Through Bulgaria, Music, Mystery, and More

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By Leslie Lindsay 

#1 New York Times Bestselling Author of THE HISTORIAN, Elizabeth Kostova takes us on a cultural wandering the troubled hills of Bulgaria seeking truth and peace in the mesmerizing THE SHADOW LAND. 

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Alexandra Boyd is a 26-year old American who is seeking for something: truth, peace, belonging. She finds a job teaching English in Sofia, Bulgaria, a country she knows little about, but was a ‘beautiful green country on a map her brother found fascinating.’ With Jack no longer living, Alexandra sets forth on her adventure, in part to finally put her brother to rest.

Immediately, I was drawn into Alexandra’s story as she arrives jet-lagged and forlorn at a rustic hostel in the heart of Sofia. An encounter with a Bulgarian family, an accidental switch of bags, and a taxi propels the story into present-day action. Alexandra is left holding the bag, quite literally, of another man’s ashes.

We continue along a jaunty journey meeting various Bulgarians, a monastery, and horrors of a century of civil unrest.

Alexandra will have to uncover the secrets of the talented musician who is was shattered by political oppression, his dreams crushed—yet, she will find that in doing so, she is ultimately in danger.

Please join me in conversation with Elizabeth Kostova, a gifted storyteller, whose characters are constantly evolving, looking to connect past with the present, in the hope that perhaps meaning can be found in the rubble.

Leslie Lindsay: Elizabeth, it is a pleasure and honor to host you today. Thank you, thank you for being here. You visited Bulgaria in 1989 just a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Subsequently, Bulgarian communist dictatorship crumbled then, too. You were taken with this ancient place, so much that you fell in love…in more ways than one. Am I right in saying this experience shaped your narrative for THE SHADOW LAND? Can you shed a little more light on your inspiration behind the book?

Elizabeth Kostova:  I first went to Bulgaria in 1989, when I was twenty-four, to do fieldwork on traditional singing in villages there, with two American friends.  It was an incredible experience, especially as the Berlin Wall fell a week before we arrived, bringing down with it the 45-year Bulgarian communist dictatorship.  The country was in turbulence, but also much more open to foreigners, especially in the villages, than it would have been just weeks earlier.  We were able not only to travel to beautiful and remote places but even sometime to stay in people’s homes while we interviewed them about how they’d learned the old songs of their regions.  It was amazing.  While I was there, I met my future husband, and we’ve returned to the country together many times over 28 years.

L.L.: I’ll be honest, I know very little about Bulgaria. But I do know [from reading your author’s note in THE SHADOW LAND] that this land is one of the first settled by Homo sapiens. Can you tell us more? I find that really fascinating.Devetashka-Bulgarian-Cave

Elizabeth Kostova:  Well, those early settlements are among the first settled by our species just in Europe—you can see the remains of those very early humans in several parts of the country, including some cave digs In fact, Bulgaria is a hotbed for archaeologists, because it contains remnants of so many different cultures from over millennia—not only Neolithic, but also ancient Greek, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian, to name some of the major ones.  Bulgaria has always been a crossroads, culturally and geographically.

L.L.: Alexandra Boyd, the 26-year old American protagonist in the story has a secret [revealed fairly early in the story]. Was her character based on anyone in particular? Is there some symbolism between her story and the one of Stoyan Lazarov? I found that they mimicked one another in several ways. Was that intentional?

Elizabeth Kostova:  Alexandra isn’t based on anyone in my own life, but I did try to imbue her with the sense of newness, strangeness, and excitement I felt when I first went to Bulgaria at about her age!  (Fortunately, I never got into as much trouble as she does in the story.)  And I have a very vivid picture of her in my mind.  I did indeed want her 21st-century story and the story of my older character, from the 1940s and on–Stoyan Lazarov–to be parallel.  She is a stranger in a strange land, and he becomes a stranger in his own land.

“The Shadow Land is thrilling, and not just as a gripping tale. It’s also thrilling to watch such a talented writer cast her spell. The central character actually begins this deft novel in an urn, only to emerge as one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in a long time.

— Richard Russo, author of Everybody’s Fool

L.L.: And Stoyan Lazarov, the man whose ashes Alexandra is frantically trying to reunite with his family, his past is quite storied. In fact, nearly half the book is fraught with his time in Zelenets, a Bulgarian work camp. I’m so saddened to hear of this piece of history, which in many ways closely resembles the Holocaust. Can you talk about that?

Elizabeth Kostova:  Bulgaria, like most of the Soviet East Bloc, was riddled with different kinds of persecution of citizens, including the use of forced-labor camps that the regime filled with “enemies of the people.”  This was a way to frighten the population and push people to carry out surveillance against each other, and is one of the darkest moments in Bulgarian history.  Zelenets, the camp in my book, is a fictional setting, but closely based on details of some of the real camps in Bulgaria.  I was 18428370_401inspired to include it by my unexpected experience of visiting the ruins of a real camp—dilapidated and closed to the public—while I was doing research in Bulgaria for THE SHADOW LAND.  It was one of the emptiest, eeriest places I’ve ever seen, and it made me feel a responsibility to write about it.  Stoyan’s story also includes some joyful things, like a great love—and his love of his violin.

L.L.: And music! How I loved Stoyan’s use of distraction while he was a ‘walking skeleton’ at that horrific camp. How did Vivaldi and the violin come to the forefront of THE SHADOW LANDS? Do you play yourself?

Elizabeth Kostova:  I don’t play an instrument myself but am lucky enough to have three professional classical instrumentalists in my family!  I interviewed them extensively.  I love music myself, and the Bach and Vivaldi Stoyan plays in the novel are close to my heart.

L.L.: There is so much going on in THE SHADOW LANDS, from the exquisite foreign setting, to the deep grief of a lost life, the work camp, historical and cultural significance, Alexandra’s journey…what do you hope others glean?

Elizabeth Kostova:  My hope is that readers will feel that, like Alexandra, they get to visit and travel all over Bulgaria, a place we don’t usually put on our bucket lists!  Since the book came out, I’ve been hearing from a lot of American readers who are now planning to do just that, which thrills me.203px-Oilcape

L.L.: What’s got your attention these days? What inspires you?

Elizabeth Kostova:  I missed my characters so much as I finished editing THE SHADOW LAND that I started a new novel in October—I’m excited about it, but still developing the story.  It’s definitely going to involve more research travel.

L.L: I’m eager to know a little more about your Foundation for Creative Writing. What can you tell us?

Elizabeth Kostova:  When I first went to Bulgaria on book tour, with THE HISTORIAN (one third of that book is set in Bulgaria in the 1950s), I observed that a lot of Bulgarian writers and translators were working very hard but had very few formal opportunities to apply for—there just weren’t many prizes, programs, conferences, and so on.  And it had become hard for them to publish their own work in Bulgaria after the fall of the Wall, because a flood of books translated from English came into the country.  I wanted to be part of a solution rather than part of this problem!  In 2007, with a Bulgarian publisher, I co-founded the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation,  which offers some of those opportunities on a competitive basis and also bring writers from the English-writing world to Bulgaria to meet with Bulgarian writers.  It’s been very fulfilling, and a lot of fun, as well.

L.L.: Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Elizabeth Kostova:  You haven’t asked if I write with a pen or a laptop!  I’m grateful.

L.L.: Elizabeth, it’s been the utmost pleasure. Best wishes on THE SHADOW LANDS.

Elizabeth Kostova:  Thank you so much—it’s been a real pleasure to think about your questions.  I appreciate everything you do for books and writing.

For more information on THE SHADOW LAND, to connect with Elizabeth Kostova via social media, or to purchase a copy, please visit these links:

KostovaPicks40flat3.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Kostova was born in Connecticut in 1964. She is the author of three novels, The Historian (Little, Brown, 2005), The Swan Thieves (Little, Brown, 2010), and The Shadow Land (Random House, 2017). The Historian was the first debut novel in U.S. publishing history to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, has been translated into 40 languages, and won Quill and Independent Bookseller Awards. The Swan Thieves was also a New York Times Bestseller and has been translated into 28 languages. Her short fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such periodicals and anthologies as The Mississippi Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Best American Poetry, The Michigan Quarterly, and Another Chicago Magazine.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various social media channels:

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[Cover and author image retrieved from E. Kotova’s website on 5.8.17. Author image credit: Lynne Harty. Image of Bulgarian workcamp retrieved from dw.com, image of Maslen nos Primosko/Black Sea Coast retrieved from Wikipedia, and images of ancient caves retrieved from ancient-origins.net, all on 5.8.17]

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: What if your beloved summer home–a century old–was crumbling into the ocean? Michelle Gable explores the homes on Sconset/Nantucket, their storied histories traversing generations, her summer reading list, and so much more in THE BOOK OF SUMMER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In her New York Times bestselling debut, A PARIS APARTMENT, Michelle Gable fictionalized the true story of a French courtesan and the discovery of her sealed-for-seventy-years Parisian apartment, filled to the rafters of stunning pieces of artwork and furniture; a true treasure trove of untold stories.

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And now, she turns her gaze to Nantucket, blending her love for old and new, fact and fiction, and weaving past narratives with present-day stories. It’s the ultimate melding of storytelling.

In THE BOOK OF SUMMER, Gable uses the faded pages of an alligator-skin guest book to transport readers to the late 1930s-1940s when the country was on ‘war watch.’ And then there’s Cliff House, a 99-year old summer home perched on the cliffs of Sconset, Nantucket. Due to erosion, be that familial or geographical, things are eroding.

So pack your bags, toss in your flip-flops and join me on the grand old porch that is Cliff House.

Leslie Lindsay: Michelle, it’s lovely to have you back. I recall the last time we chatted, you mentioned you were working on a new book set in Nantucket. Of course, I was enamored. What drove you to this location?

Michelle Gable:Thank you for having me back on the blog! I’ve always had an obsession with New England, in particular New England beaches, which is kind of strange for a California girl! But I like the history, and the changing seasons, and how a town’s population shifts between the months. The dynamics are entirely different in San Diego.

I wasn’t looking to set a book in Nantucket per se, but I stumbled across this article in Vanity Fair and knew it was the perfect fit! I decided to set the story on Nantucket, featuring a home facing a fate similar to that of Bluff House. It took me a bit to figure out the structure of the novel, and its characters, but I knew immediately it’d feature a guest book and that I’d call it THE BOOK OF SUMMER. I also knew the last line, and that shaped the rest.image (1)

The best part of writing this book was having an excuse to stay on Nantucket in the name of research. Last summer, my family and I rented a house on Baxter Road, where my characters have their home. We stayed on the non-cliff side, of course.

L.L.: And so it’s a real thing, these houses in Sconset crumbling off cliffs. Can you talk about that? What, if anything is being done to save these summer homes?

Michelle Gable: In my novel, the matriarch of the family, Cissy, is desperate to save her home and goes through all manner of time and funds to get her way. She thinks she can use her money and influence to “fight city hall” and force the installation of a number of controversial erosion control measures. The proposed solutions and drawbacks in the novel all mirror what occurred (and continues to occur) in real life. Nantucket did initiate the geotube installation/beach replenishment program a few years ago. Some say it’s prevented further erosion, while others disagree. There’s no obvious or clear-cut answer, that’s for sure, and in a way both sides are right.

L.L.: I love houses. Their stories are often fascinating, the secrets they hold, but also the design and architecture. It seems like they may also be a fascination of yours, too. I’m thinking of THE PARIS APARTMENT, the manse in I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS (which is actually in England). What are some of your favorite houses and their locations? They don’t have to be literary.

Michelle Gable: It’s funny because I never realized this until someone pointed it out at one of my book signings! Yes, homes have featured prominently in all three of my novels. I’ve never really followed astrology, but I am a Cancer, and that sign is known for being a homebody. So maybe there’s something to it! The central character in my fourth book is a displaced person and therefore someone without a home. This was before I realized my apparent fixation on “home as character.” I suppose “lack of home” fits in that bucket too.

In terms of favorite homes, the first one that comes to mind is my parents’, which they’ve lived in for almost forty years. It’s located in Del Mar, California, about Plaza_at_Del_Mar.jpgten minutes from where I live now. I have so many happy memories of their house (and yard) from my childhood, and my daughters’ childhoods too. They’ve spent a lot of time there over the years and even as tweens/teens still love to go see Gam-Gam and Gramps.

Also, I love my own house. We live in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, which is a funky beach town in northern San Diego County. We had the home custom built nearly ten years ago and—couldn’t you guess—it looks like it belongs in New England, not Southern California. I can tell people “I live in that white house with the brick and the picket fence” and they know exactly which house is mine because it’s very East Coast! I love it because we picked every aspect of it and because it’s ours.

And I love the shingled homes on Nantucket, especially the charming, rose-covered Sconset cottages. I took pictures of several of my favorites and put them on my Pinterest page.

L.L.: THE BOOK OF SUMMER alternates between POVs and time periods. How did you decide to structure the story this way? Was there a particular story or timeline that you felt a particular affinity toward?

Michelle Gable: I like to write with alternating POVs and time periods because that’s the format of book I most enjoy reading. Multiple perspectives are fun to play with, to imagine how the same scenario might be viewed differently depending on circumstance.

All three of my books have alternated between the past and the present (or semi-Sconset-Roses-732x328present—I’ll See You in Paris was set in 2001), and in my first two, I’d say I most enjoyed writing the historical storylines. In THE BOOK OF SUMMER, I really can’t decide. I liked the friendships (reluctant and otherwise) in the historical storyline, and the romance in the modern day.

Another commonality in my books is that they were all inspired by a true story. But, unlike the first two, The Book of Summer’s real-life thread is in the modern timeline.

L.L.: I read somewhere that if books were kids and you had to pick your favorite, THE BOOK OF SUMMER would be it. Yet so many authors struggle with their second and third books…perhaps not you? Can you shed some light on this?

Michelle Gable: It’s funny, with my first book, my editorial letter was twelve pages long, for my second it was 2-3 pages, and for THE BOOK OF SUMMER it was a one-sentence email! Book of Summer The

Once I started writing it, the book came easily, and it was pure joy the entire way through. No frustration. No second-guessing. When I was done editing I missed the characters and that’s never happened before! That said, it was harder to begin because I was grappling with too many storylines, which is a common problem of mine! Early on, I sent about forty pages to my agent with a note pleading for “help!” She asked: “whose story is this?” With that simple questions, all of my problems were solved.

Until recently, I never understood why it was so easy after that initial hurdle. But now I think I know! It has the fewest “real” people in it. Though I write fiction, when there are real people and events I try to make the story and their descriptions plausible. With the book I’m writing now, I’ve read over seventy biographies just to get thing right! Bess, Ruby, Hattie, and Cissy from THE BOOK OF SUMMER are all entirely from my imagination.

L.L.: I have to admit, I fell a bit in love with Evan Mayhew. It’s that old love, first love thing…perhaps we all have a sort of soft spot for that person in our lives. Did you have a favorite character?

 Michelle Gable:  I’m so glad that you felt that way about Evan! I did too, as I wrote him. He played a much bigger role than I expected. I’d envisioned the modern day storyline being only about Cissy and Bess, but then he showed up and I realized he needed to stay.

I don’t think I have a favorite character. My first thought was feisty, modern-day Cissy, but then again Bess takes up a huge place in my heart. Ruby is so much fun and I love, love, love Hattie. I want to write an entire book about her, though I don’t currently have plans to do so.

L.L.: In terms of themes, I see Cliff House as a bygone era. But things are shifting. The kids, busy with work and their own families, don’t come home much anymore. Marriages are wobbly. There’s definitely a connection between the delicate ground the house sits on and the family dynamics. Was this intentional on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically?

summerreadingMichelle Gable: That evolved organically as most connections in my books tend to do! I don’t typically set out to create specific metaphors or parallels. But something usually clicks while I’m writing and I think ‘a-ha!’ This is a perfect contrast!

L.L.: What’s on your ‘bucket list’ for summer? Any good reads you can recommend?

Michelle Gable: My “bucket list” would include owning a home on Nantucket, but that’s really more of a pipe dream than something that could actually happen! That said, there are places I’d like to travel this and future summers. High on the list of places I’ve never been but hope to see one day: Spain, Portugal, African safari.

As for books, fabulous recent releases include The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn, All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg, The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward (one of my favorite writers!), and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. I loved A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, which is a recent read for me, but wasn’t released recently. I track my favorite reads on Pinterest too.

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

Michelle Gable:  Well, you could ask me what I’m working on now…but I’m not ready to talk about it yet!

L.L.: Michelle, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for popping over.

 Michelle Gable: Thanks so much for having me!

For more information, to connect with Michelle Gable via social media, or to snag your own copy of THE BOOK OF SUMMER (available May 9 from St. Martin’s Press), please visit:

Michelle 278_credit Joanna DeGeneres.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment and I’ll See You in Paris, Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. After a twenty-year career in finance, she now writes full time. Michelle lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, with her husband, two daughters, and one lazy cat.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media hang-outs:

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[Author and cover images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Images of Baxter Road/Nantucket retrieved from linked Vanity Fair article, Rose-covered Sconset home retrieved from , image of Del Mar, CA retrieved from Wikipedia. Books and birds retrieved from, all on 5.3.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Adelia Saunders tackles forgiveness, missed connections, saintly myths, and more in her stunning debut INDELIBLE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A gorgeously written and well-packaged novel about missed connections, grief, and forgiveness.  

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We’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but I did (isn’t it gorgeous?!). So does Magdalena, one of three ‘main’ characters in INDELIBLE (Bloomsbury, January 17, 2017) who sees writing on the bodies of everyone she meets—names and dates of their pasts and future, details both banal and profound.

We follow along–in Paris and London, and on into Spain–the lives of Neil and his father, Richard. There’s a summer pilgrimage to the medieval town on rocky coast of Spain where the body of Saint Jacques was said to wash ashore covered in scallop shells.

And yet, another storyline in which Richard is searching the truth of his late mother, a famous expatriate American novelist who abandoned him at birth. He has vivid memory of her red shoes under the kitchen table…and so did she really abandon him?

These three stories of such unique and memorable characters converge in a provocative rush of history and literature, and the need to connect with others, both past and present.

Join me as I sit down with Adelia Saunders and chat with her on her mystical and glittering debut.

Leslie Lindsay: Adelia, it’s wonderful to have you; thanks for popping by. It’s usually the case that most stories come to us after we’ve been haunted or yearn for something. What was it for you that propelled your interest in the story of INDELIBLE?

Adelia Saunders: The idea for the story came from some time I spent doing some research in the Lithuanian central state archives in Vilnius. I’d been looking at docents from the 1920s and ‘30s – school records, census forms, etc. Most people live their lives without leaving much of a clue about who they really were, and I was interested in how the few details preserved are commonplace and deeply personal at the same time: a person’s occupation, religion, date of birth, who they married, when they died. I wondered what it would be like have to read in advance all the paperwork a life would leave behind. That led to the idea of a character who sees people’s “archives” written on their bodies.download.jpg

L.L.: Are you the type of writer whose characters sort of ‘come’ to you? Do you get a glimpse of them—in form or name, or a brush of their personality before you set pen to paper?

Adelia Saunders: I think I always base characters on people that I know, because I need to believe in them and have a sense of them before I can really imagine them. But of course once I have a character started, I depart quite a bit from the real person.

L.L.: INDELIBLE is almost like three stories in one. There’s Neil, the son of Richard who is studying in Paris. There’s Richard who is searching for details about his famous author mother who abandoned him as an infant, and then there’s Magdalena who can see information about a person based on the writings in his or her body. Was there a particular thread that really grabbed your attention? One that you especially enjoyed writing?

Adelia Saunders: I had a lot of fun writing Neil’s part of the story – he’s a college student studying medieval history, and I enjoyed the research for his section. It was like I got to go back to college, vicariously, through him.

L.L.: I have to admit; I was not aware of the Saint Jacques myth about his body washing up on a rocky coastline in Spain fully intact and covered with scallop shells. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Adelia Saunders: I really like that image – from one of the less-known myths about the remains of Saint Jacques (or Saint James, in English). He was one of the twelve apostles, and he was beheaded by Herod in the Holy Land in 44AD, although his body is said to be buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, on the western coast of Spain. There are a lot of stories about how the body got there – I think the most common one is that it floated in a boat guided by the stars all the way from
Jerusalem. It’s possible, too, that someone transported his bones to Spain in a more earthly way (or that they aren’t really his remains at all…) but I particularly like this other version of the story, in which the saint’s body washes ashore perfectly preserved and covered with scallop shells, which are the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago.

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L.L.: This is your first book. What’s the ride been like? What advice would you give to others embarking on the process of becoming published?

Adelia Saunders: It has been a real pleasure to see this story come into existence as a book – cardboard covers, dust jacket, etc. As for advice, I think I’d say the same thing I told myself when I was wondering if anything was going to happen with this project: the experience of writing had better be fun and fulfilling in its own right. I can’t imagine anything good ever came out of writing with the single goal of holding a book in one’s hands, and since mine has come out I’ve found myself feeling surprisingly free of it. That’s not quite what I expected, but I think it’s good.

“An intricately plotted, complexly affecting first outing.” —Booklist

L.L.: There are a lot of deep themes running through INDELIBLE. Forgiveness. Grief. Sorrow. Hope. The ability to ‘see’ beyond. What do you hope others take away from the story?

Adelia Saunders: To me it’s a story of missed connections. Each of the characters lives inside a reality all of their own, and each one reacts in ways that are perfectly logical given the facts they are dealing with, but which may be bewildering to the people around them. The father and son characters don’t realize that the break in their relationship is caused by a misunderstanding leading to separate sets of assumptions neither has considered might be wrong. The young Lithuanian woman who sees writing on people’s skin wanders around bumping into things. People think she’s clumsy, but really she’s just extremely nearsighted and she’s afraid to wear her glasses because of what she might read on the bodies of people around her.  [You may also enjoy Jessica Strawser’s novel on missed connections, ALMOST MISSED YOU. You’ll find her interview here

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

Adelia Saunders: Your questions have been great! How about, What books are you 9780802125873_custom-6bc8a05fdfa107498ab15c91556d32266bc90170-s300-c85reading now? My answer: “The Little Red Chairs” by Edna O’Brian, and I just finished
“History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund.
I’m also reading and re-reading the Greek Gods graphic novels by George O’Connor to my kids. My son (age 3) now makes us call him Zeus.

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

Adelia Saunders: I’ve been reading a lot about water politics in the Southwest. Growing up in a dry place, water has always been something I thought about in various ways, and I’m intrigued by how much storytelling goes into in the process deciding how and by whom it should be used. [A novel you may want to consider is Jacqueline Sheenan’s THE CENTER OF THE WORLD. Interview here

L.L.: Adelia, it’s been a pleasure. All the best!

Adelia Saunders: Thank you for having me!

For more information on INDELIBLE, or to connect with Adelia on social media, please see: 

Adelia Saunders FOR JACKET by Danielle Baron Atkins.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADELIA SAUNDERS has a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a bachelor’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She grew up in Durango, Colorado, and currently lives with her family in New York City. This is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through this social media channels:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Blomsbury publicity and used with permission. Author image credit: Danielle Baron Atkins. Image of Santiago retrieved on Wikipedia; image of census records retrieved from whodoyouthinkyouare.com; image of History of Wolves retrieved from linked NPR article, all on 4.18.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Ever wondered who that girl was in the famed Andrew Wyeth American painting? Christina Baker Kline tackles that and more in her gloriously written imagined memoir A PIECE OF THE WORLD

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times bestselling author of the smash hit ORPHAN TRAIN comes a stunning novel inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s famous—and mystifying—painting, “Christina’s World.” A PIECE OF THE WORLD is lucid, well-told, and highly transportive. CBKBookCover

I have a thing with art. Be it writing, reading, visual art, music, even nature, I’m swept away with the creative magic that appears at the hands of an artist. When those worlds collide, as they do in Christina Baker Kline’s A PIECE OF THE WORLD, my heart sings.

“Christina’s World” hung at my great-aunt’s house in her den. Like many, I stared at that painting and imagined the breeze in my hair, the sweet scent of dried grass, lingered in that weather-worn house. And then, simply forgot about it. Christina Baker Kline brings the painting to the forefront once again with her use of tremendous description. She gives that women in the painting a name, a life…rather, that woman always existed, unbeknownst to me, and here, she comes alive, fully formed. 300px-Christinasworld

The story is told entirely from Christina’s POV and jumps around in time a bit, piecing together a delightful mosaic of art and color.  Set in early-to-mid 1900s Maine and Boston, A PIECE OF THE WORLD thrusts the reader into a rugged, authentic landscape. There’s a tiny bit of a love story, but ultimately A PIECE OF THE WORLD is historical fiction, about the importance of family, artist and muse coming together, and what it means to be seen.

Evocative and astonishing, I so enjoyed A PIECE OF THE WORLD. Please join me as I chat with the lovely Christina Baker Kline.

Leslie Lindsay: Like many, I read and devoured THE ORPHAN TRAIN.* When I learned about A PIECE OF THE WORLD, I knew I had to read it. You mention in the afterward your inspiration to write about the Andrew Wyeth painting. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of, “I wanted to stay in that time period [of THE ORPHAN TRAIN].” Can you shed a little more light on that?

Christina Baker Kline: I learned a lot about early-to-mid twentieth century rural America when I was researching ORPHAN TRAIN, and I found it incredibly paper_orphan.pnginteresting — especially the question of how people survived hard times and the emotional resources they needed to get by. What is it like to live with profound deprivation, without any modern amenities, far from other people?

L.L.: You did a huge amount of research for A PIECE OF THE WORLD. And it shows. I’m curious what that process was like for you. Margaret George’s ideal is to read everything she can on a subject/time period, visit the place in question, then start writing. Do you follow a similar formula?

Christina Baker Kline:  I read art histories, biographies, nonfiction accounts of the Salem Witch Trials, seafaring journals, memoirs about living in Maine and living in the woods; visited museums and the Olson House; interviewed friends and family members and tour guides and curators; watched documentaries. I took pages and pages of notes, which I eventually turned into a 50-page single-spaced timeline that became my bible. I wrote the story chronologically, stopping along the way to do further research as necessary, but in the end I threaded the Wyeth story throughout the story of Christina Olson’s growing up years.

L.L.: I know Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” house still stands in Eldon, IA and has been turned into a type of museum. Can one actually visit the old farm house where Christina Olson lived? It seemed pretty dilapidated in the novel, I can’t imagine what remains…

Christina Baker Kline: It was renovated recently and opened again last summer (it’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day). It’s a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon, and the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable. Well worth a visit!Olson-House-cropped

L.L.: Christina Olson’s ancestry fascinates me. I may have my facts mixed up, but I understand on one side of her family, she descends from chief magistrate of the Salem witch trials, and on the other, from the Hawthorns, as in Nathaniel. Do I have that right? Can you clarify the family tree for us?

Christina Baker Kline: John Hathorne, whom Christina was descended from on her mother’s side, was the Chief  Magistrate of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, and the only one of the three judges who never recanted. He went to his death (in peaceful prosperity) believing that he was fully justified in sentencing 19 women, two dogs, and one man to death for witchcraft. After Hathorne died, his Salem relatives felt tainted by association. Three Hathorne men, promised land on the coast of Maine if they claimed it in winter, changed the spelling of their name, fled to a remote point on the coast, and built three log cabins — one of which became the house in the painting Christina’s World. Nathaniel Hawthorne, another relative on that side of the family, also changed the spelling of his name and left Nathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-64Salem. He spent the rest of his life writing about people like his ancestor Hathorne who were determined to root out evil in others while denying it in themselves. (Think of Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter, for example.)

Christina’s father left home at 15 to become a sailor. He had grown up in a small house in Sweden with 10 other people and a cow; his parents were poor peat farmers. You can see why he might’ve left and never looked back!

L.L.: I find that writing is such an introspective process. I often learn more, not just about my subject, but also myself. What did you uncover about yourself in the process of writing?

Christina Baker Kline: I learned that I will never again write a novel about real people, some of whom are still alive. I’m kidding — sort of. This was the hardest book I’ve ever written, in part because I tried to stick with the facts of the true-life story as much as possible. I think it made me a better writer, ultimately. Sometimes I’ve been too concerned about reconciling storylines when perhaps it would’ve been better to leave things unresolved. In A PIECE OF THE WORLD, I had to dig deeper, to effect internal resolutions.

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from A PIECE OF THE WORLD?

Christina Baker Kline: Christina Olson, the woman in the painting, had a hard life in many ways. She was a “spinster,” as they called it then, and disabled. Despite her brilliance, she was taken out of school at the age of 12. But she found beauty, meaning, and grace in unexpected places. Because she didn’t live a conventional life, she was able to open her home and self to Andrew Wyeth. As a result, I believe her life was profound and meaningful. Ultimately, as the figure at the center of Christina’s World, she achieved immortality. [You may also enjoy this article from MoMA on this painting] 

L.L.: What’s captured your attention now? What keeps you awake at night?

Christina Baker Kline: I’m working on a new novel inspired by a little-known story about the convict women sent from England and Scotland to Tasmania, Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. It’s very exciting and I’m having a great time doing the research.

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

Christina Baker Kline: My favorite animal is my rescue pup, Lola, who is four years old, half Corgi and half Australian Shepherd. She doesn’t bark and is gentle and easy going. She reminds me of a cat (or maybe a deer — see pic below!). She’s the perfect writing companion.

L.L.: Christina, I so loved this story. Thank you, thank you for taking the time to chat. Enjoy the rest of your book tour.

Christina Baker Kline: Leslie, thank you!

For more information, to purchase A PIECE OF THE WORLD, or to connect with Christina Baker Kline through social media, please see: 

60697_10151200289008259_311954615_nAUTHOR BIO:Christina Baker Kline is the author of the instant New York Times-bestselling novel A Piece of the World, about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written five other novels — Orphan Train, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines — and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Her adaptation of the #1 NYT bestseller Orphan Train for young readers, Orphan Train Girl,* will be published in May.

*ORPHAN TRAIN has recently been condensed into a young reader’s edition (ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL, available May 2 2017 from HarperCollins), which I plan to read aloud to my two girls, ages 10 and 12 years…even though they are certainly capable themselves!

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of C.B. Kline and used with permission. Author image credit: Karin Diana. Image of ORPHAN GIRL retrieved from author’s website on 4.3.17. Image of Nathaniel Hawthorn retrieved from Wikipedia, Christina Olson home retrieved from Farnsworth Art Museum webpage, all on 4.3.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: What happens when you sleep? Could you be capable of murder? Chris Bohjalian explores this and more in his latest novel, THE SLEEPWALKER, plus rising early, following characters onto the page, being a teen magician

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire–the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.

Psychologically astute rift with family secrets, mystery, and a terrifying sleep disorder, THE SLEEPWALKER is at first a family portrait swallowed in the throes of grief.

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With an author like Chris Bohjalian, you’re in good hands; expert hands, in fact. When I learned about THE SLEEPWALKER, I knew I had to read it: missing people, mothers especially, are a fascination of mine. So too is sleep and dreams. Toss in a lovely flawed family portrait and I am putty in your hands.

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. She once spray-painted the front hydrangeas silver, and yet…things always work out just fine.

But this time it’s different. This time, she can’t be found. Days turn to weeks. An investigation ensues. Speculation swirls. What happened to Annalee Ahlberg, a healthy, fit architect?

Infused with lovely snippets of research about sleep and their accompanying disorders, THE SLEEPWALKER is a gorgeously written family drama.

Join me in welcoming Chris Bohjalian to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: I’ve long been a fan of your work, Chris.  Your books cover a lot of ground…YA, historical, mystery, gothic, literary suspense. I’m always curious: why this book, why now? What inspired THE SLEEPWALKER?

Chris Bohjalian: Originally I thought I was going to write a book about dreams, that great Freudian abyss. And so I went to have lunch with a sleep doctor to understand the physiology of the brain when we dream. He had just come from a patient who was a sleepwalker, and our conversation rather naturally went. We discussed how people sleepcook, sleepdrive, sleepjog, sleepsex, sleepmurder – and I was hooked.

Check out THE SLEEPWALKER’S book trailer: 

L.L.: Your research into sleep disorders is evident. Can you talk a bit about that process?

 Chris Bohjalian: I always love my research, but this was especially interesting because sleep study is such a new field. The term “arousal disorder” wasn’t even coined until 1968. Medicine didn’t begin to categorize parasomnias until 1979. And forensic sleep medicine, the investigation of sleep crime? As a discipline, it only dates back to 2007.

L.L.: I personally love to sleep! I find it’s a great place to flesh out some of my creative download (8)processes. The best is when I fall asleep reading. My brain sort of takes over and creates a whole new story. Do you ever dream about your works-in-progress? Do you ever get ideas for novels this way?

Chris Bohjalian: I think you’re on to something. I have heard that sleep really does recharge creativity. Now, I don’t precisely dream of my books, but I know that I have to go directly to my desk when I awake at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.  I do almost all of my writing then. It’s far and away the most productive time of the day for me, and I believe that is not merely because I am most rested: I believe it is because of my mind’s connection to sleep and the subconscious.

L.L.: Let’s talk character for a bit. You do a beautiful job of ‘getting into the head’ of a 21-year old college female. How did you make the decision to tell the story from Lianna’s POV, and not…say, her English professor father who might be more aligned with you as a male author?

Chris Bohjalian: My daughter, a young actor in New York City, once said to me after reading a rough draft of one of my novels, “Dad, take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way. But I think your sweet spot as a writer is seriously messed-up young women.” She’s right. Just think of Laurel Estabook (“The Double Bind”), Emily Shepard (“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands”), Serafina Bettini (“The Light in the Ruins”), or all the young female survivors of the Armenian Genocide in “The Sandcastle Girls.”

There are a lot of reasons why sometimes I write across gender. Originally, “The Sleepwalker” was a traditional, third-person Jamesian novel. But about halfway in, it began to feel to me a lot like a story of mothers and daughters and loss. And so I tried it from Lianna’s perspective and liked where the book seemed to go. I liked the wistfulness of first-person past in this case.

L.L.: Lianna is an amateur magician, giving magic shows for kids’ parties, etc. How did that piece of her character develop? Is it a sort of metaphor for the overall narrative? Appearance/disappearance themes?

Chris Bohjalian: Yes. You nailed it. She can make anything reappear except her mother. Also? I was a teenage magician. Everything in Lianna’s set was in my set. I did those children’s birthday parties.

“Scary, limiting and downright dangerous, sleepwalking inspires a hard-to-put-down story that also mixes sex and a mystery in a polished package. . .Bohjalian is on top of his already stellar game with The Sleepwalker.”
— Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

L.L.:  For you, does structure follow plot points or is it more character-driven?

Chris Bohjalian: Well, I never know where my stories are going. I have no plot. I have only a premise and a character. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story. It is – to paraphrase E.L. Doctorow – driving at night. You can only see 200 feet ahead of you, but you have the confidence that eventually you will get where you’re going. 

L.L.:  Do you have any writing rituals or routines? A few  “Chris facts?” 

Chris Bohjalian:  I begin my day by skimming a dictionary for an interesting word or two. Then I watch movie trailers for ten minutes, usually enjoying three or four. They instantly catapult me into the right head space. Usually they have nothing to do with the book I’m writing in terms of subject. It’s all about the emotion.

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

Chris Bohjalian:  These were great. Thanks!

For more information, to connect with Chris via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE SLEEPWALKER, please see: 

Chris Bohjalian.jpg ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the author of nineteen books, including Close Your EyesHold Hands; The Sandcastle GirlsSkeletons at the FeastThe Double Bind; and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of EdenMidwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media contacts. Love to see ya ’round!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Doubleday. Collage of previous works from author’s website. Image of ‘sleep and creativity’ from YouTube, all retrieved 3.16.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Six-times NYT Bestselling author Margaret George on her love for travel, history, poetry and how competitive sports is like writing in her new historical saga, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

With a perfect streak of over six New York Times bestsellers, and 1.5 million books sold, MARGARET GEORGE turns her gaze to the ‘bad boy’ Emperor of Ancient Rome.

THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO is meticulously researched, gloriously written, and transports the reader to the heart of Rome and beyond.

Margaret George burst onto the scene in 1986 with her historical fiction of Henry VIII…and she continued writing critically-acclaimed biographical novels of historical figures, including MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, MARY, CALLED MAGDALENE, CLEOPATRA, among others.

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 “With conviction and flair, George looks past two millennia of bad press about Nero to reveal an intelligent man of justice and religious tolerance who takes refuge in artistic expression. This is the first of two novels charting his dangerous, outrageous life in first-century Rome; the second will be eagerly awaited.”

—Booklist

Emperor Nero. Many things come to mind at the mention of his name: Spoiled. Murderer. Tyrant. Pervert. Hedonist. Many of these caricatures are put in motion through Hollywood and rumors as ancient as the forum. Having come to power at the tender age of sixteen, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO follow his life in a two-part saga (this is the first book; both are written to stand-alone). Enshrined in power and raised by a cunning and ambitious mother, Nero is the 5th Roman Emperor, the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty founded by Julius Caesar. We follow his young life from about age four to mid-twenties, just before the Great Fire of Rome.

Nero’s life is riddled with murderers, rivalries, plots, orgies, and incest. Sensational on its own—but the story is not just about revisiting these instances—there’s reclamation in Nero as an artist, a musician, an athlete. In fact, George’s book had me cheering for Nero at times, in fact, completely changing my opinion of him.

Today, I am so very humbled to welcome Margaret George to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Margaret, it’s truly an honor. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. I’m so in awe of the breadth of knowledge, your impeccable research, and the magical way you are able to weave a deeply moving, stunningly visual narrative of Nero. Before we get into specifics, I am curious why Nero, why now?

Margaret George: I’ve actually been thinking of Nero for a long time—for over twenty years, in fact.  I was all afire to do this back in the 1990’s.  But all the stereotypes you mention above were in full force then, and people weren’t interested in exploring farther, they were so prejudiced against him.  Since then the climate has changed; in 2003 there was a major revisionist biography, and three big Nero exhibits—two in Rome and one in Germany—have been outstandingly popular, the last one in 2016.  His moment has come, and at last he can make his case.220px-Nero_1

L.L.: You’re known for your meticulous research. In fact—you’ll laugh; I’m no sybil—but I dreamed you researched this book for twenty years!  In your ‘afterward,’ you list some amazing titles referenced in writing; do you have any research rituals?

Margaret George: Isn’t that funny, maybe you are a sybil.  As I said above, I started doing research on Nero back in the 1990s and continued on even as I was writing other books.  The research for HELEN OF TROY (early 2000s) in Greece was also Nero research because he was so nuts about Greece and made a big ‘arts tour’ there that lasted sixteen months.

I don’t have any rituals per se, but I do like to take things in a certain order.  First read the books, then go to the sites, and last of all do the writing.  It’s best to have done the reading research before going to the sites, because then I am more aware of what I need to notice. I also like to write out notes by hand because I think it registers in my brain better that way.

I take a lot of photos on site and buy any kitsch relating to my characters I find, because it shows they are still  ‘real’ to modern people.  As a result I have a 10’ x 4’ Nero flag, Nero candles, Nero matches (what else?), Nero rubber duckies, and Nero tote bags.  There were even bottles of Nero wine at the German exhibit!

L.L.:  Just like with the Internet nowadays, ancient Romans loved gossip. How were you able to tease out what was ‘real’ and not?

Margaret George: It’s hard after two thousand years to be able to sort out the National Enquirer material, because, well, even the National Enquirer has true material.  (Remember the Bruno Magli shoes that O.J. was wearing, caught in a National Enquirer photo?)  I had to take into consideration the source of the material, and whether it was ‘canned’ and repeated elsewhere about other people, or whether it was just unbelievable and obviously a character assassination.  For example, any time anyone died Tacitus, Suetonius, or Dio Cassius (the main three sources for Nero) claimed it was poison, and that Nero did it.  In many instances it made no sense—why would he poison Burrus, his Praetorian prefect? Often the gossip in one is contradicted in the other, for example, one historian says Burrus died of a throat ailment, not poison.  Another silly piece of gossip is that Agrippina and Nero had sex in the royal litter, and when they got out, their clothes were wrinkled and stained, visual proof of it.  In the novel I even have Nero commenting that, since he had a whole palace at his disposal, why would he resort to a litter in the streets in broad daylight?

L.L.: What details, if any, do you invent?

Margaret George: I actually do invent a number of details, if they are plausible. For example, the horse farm outside Rome where Nero selects the team he wants to train for chariot 240px-Ritratto_di_claudia_ottavia,_da_roma,_via_vareseracing.  Now, we know there were horse farms.  We know his right-hand man, Tigellinus, was a former horse trainer and breeder. We know Nero raced chariots But we have no information about where or how he got his horses.  So I imagined that scene, which I thought would show something about horses and the special training they underwent for chariot racing.  And there are other scenes like that: his secret athletic training under an alias when he was a boy, his visit to the Roman brothel, his wedding night with Octavia.

Some of the details that may sound invented aren’t.  We know Nero had bad eyesight and used an uncut emerald held up before his eye to watch chariot races.  (It probably didn’t work.)  We know he had a special drink named after himself (the decocta Noroonis) made of boiled and re-cooled snow.  We know he didn’t like wearing togas and switched to tunics whenever he could, including flowered ones.   

L.L.: You do a beautiful job of reconstructing a stunning visual landscape for ancient Rome. Your visceral details are quite poetic lending to a tremendous sense of place. Instead of asking, ‘how do you do it’—what do you keep the saw sharp?

Margaret George: That’s very kind of you. I worry that I don’t have enough details!  But I am a student of Ray Bradbury’s (figuratively not literally) and his writing is very ‘visceral’ or I would say ‘sensual’—of the senses.  He explained it this way:

“Why all this insistence on the senses? Because in order to convince your reader that he is there, you must assault each of his senses, in turn, with color, sound, taste, and texture.  If the reader feels the sun on his flesh, the wind fluttering his shirt sleeves, half your fight is won.” ~Ray Bradbury

I try to keep that in mind.  Most descriptive writing is heavy on the visual but if you can bring in the other senses it gives a real feeling of being there.autobiography-of-henry-VIII

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your early writing days? What do you think you did ‘right?’ What do you wished you had done ‘better?’

Margaret George: It took me a long time to hit my stride, I think.  My father read over my first handwritten draft of HENRY VIII (what a martyr!) and noted two things: one, that writing in the first person isn’t just writing in the third person and replacing all the ‘he’s’ with “I’s” which he said I did, and second, that I was best when I cut loose from the strict historical recounting and used my imagination. 

I think he was right and I believe I corrected those weaknesses, after much trial and error.  As to what I have done wrong, or wished I had done better—-I have gone overboard in memoirs-of-cleopatra-1including everything, which reached its apex with CLEOPATRAI listened to it all on tape and realized as I did so (since you can’t skim with an audio) that, instead of standing the reader before a bulging closet and saying, “Here it all is!” I should have selected the best clothes for him or her.  That’s the job of the writer—to select and present.

NERO is a lot more spare but I am pleased that you didn’t feel I skimped.  Less is more…maybe. (Although Nero himself wasn’t known for his minimalism.)

L.L.: I have to believe Nero would be beyond proud of THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. I know I was rooting for him! What might he say if he read the book?

Margaret George: Oh, I’d love it if he would say I had gotten it exactly right, and how did I KNOW?  That’s what I strove for, to let him speak again and have it be true to character.  I would love to know what he thinks, but I’d be crushed if he didn’t like it after all!

L.L.: What inspires you? What has your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Margaret George: Poetry is a great inspiration—such economy of words to say so many things.  I have a friend who said, “It’s friends and poetry that get you through the hard times.”  She is right.  Friends, of course, and travel, which is endlessly fascinating and the opposite of navel-gazing, an occupational hazard of writers.

Like Nero in the novel, I like sprinting—100 and 200 meters, because for those seconds the whole world vanishes and all you see is the finish line.  The world of competitive sports is so different from the literary one, although there are similarities, too.  Both have starting blocks, finish lines, medals, rankings, and prizes, and both require a lot of solitary hours spent in practice for just a little while in the spotlight.  

L.L.: I’m curious what the next book entails. I have to read it! Can you give a glimpse?

Margaret George: The second part of Nero’s life is as tumultuous as the first.  It opens with the Great Fire of Rome, the largest fire in antiquity, which burned for nine days and destroyed most of the city.  Nero deals with the aftermath, rebuilds Rome according to new urban planning, builds his revolutionary Domus Aurea (Golden House), punishes the Christians, deals with a far-reaching conspiracy against him, involving some of those closest to him,  holds his second Neronian Games, races in the Circus Maximus (image below), Poppaea dies, he stages a spectacular entrance to Rome for King Tiridates of Parthia, he goes to Greece for a year long round of music and athletic competitions, returns to Rome and is overthrown, finally committing suicide with his famous last words, “Qualis artifex pereo”—“what an artist dies in me!”  And he was only thirty years old by then.  What a life story!

L.L.: Margaret, it was a true pleasure. Thank you!

Margaret George: Thank you for having me, Leslie.

Circus_Maximus_in_RomeFor more information, to connect with Margaret George, or to purchase THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO, please see:

Website

Facebook

GoodReads

Pinterest

Barnes&Noble Best New March 2017 Fiction 

Amazon 

Check out this video of Margaret on her inspiration for Nero

Margaret-George-Hi-RES.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret George writes biographical novels about outsized historical characters: Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Helen of Troy, and Elizabeth I. Her latest, The Confessions of Young Nero, will be published in March. All six of her novels have been New York Times bestsellers, and the Cleopatra novel was made into an Emmy-nominated ABC-TV miniseries.

She especially enjoys the research she has done for the novels, such as racing in an ancient Greek stadium, attending a gladiator training school in Rome, and studying the pharmacology of snake poison.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website, as well as covers of Henry VIII and Cleopatra. Historical images of Nero, Octavia, Circus Maximus all retrieved from Wikipedia on 3.08.17. Special thanks to L. Burnstein of Berkley/RandomHouse] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Bestselling Author Chevy Stevens talks about her obsession with earplugs (!?), travel, her furry writing companions, scrapping drafts, writing in coffee shops, how abuse can take many forms, and more in her psychological thriller, NEVER LET YOU GO.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

 

Do you want to read a book and say, “I NEVER SAW *THAT* COMING?” Read this. 

Chevy Stevens’ 2010 breakout bestseller, STILL MISSING, was at the forefront of the trend of psychological thrillers featuring women protagonists, along with Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. Don’t worry, this one isn’t another ‘Girl’ title, but it does feature a strong female protagonist in psychological peril; the best kind, in my opinion.

Stevens’ 6th thriller, NEVER LET YOU GO (which releases March 14, 2017 from St. Martin’s Press), is an addictive psychological suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat, questioning the ‘good guys,’ the sick, twisted ones, and then you’ll *still* be surprised.

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Lindsey Nash is finally, finally rebuilding her life after a physically and emotionally abusive alcoholic husband is locked away. He’s out now, having served his sentence. But…strange, destructive things start happening, all of which point right back to the ex-husband. Stevens does a fine job of braiding past with present to give us an accurate–and chilling–look at the life Lindsey and her husband (Andrew) led before. We also get the POV of their (now almost-18 year old) daughter, Sophie. 

HARLAN COBEN: “Will grip you from page one.”

In NEVER LET YOU GO, Stevens explores the many different forms abuse may take, from alcoholism to psychological/emotional abuse, as well as physical. Spine-tingling scenes fill every page; this tale is highly addictive and quite possibly Stevens’ most astute study in human behavior yet.

Please join me in welcoming Chevy Stevens to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Chevy! It’s a pleasure to have you. Thank you so much for popping over. I read NEVER LET YOU GO in record speed. Mind you, I was busy preparing for the holidays, running after a young dog, and entertaining two school-aged kiddos and their bevy of friends. Yet, I still completed the book in two days. If it drew me in that quickly, I have to ask, what was propelling you to write it? Did the writing come through in the same frenzy as my reading did?

Chevy Stevens: I wish it had come through in a frenzy of writing because that would imply speed, but this book took almost two years to finish. I had originally started with a different book—title, plot, characters, everything–and after nine months, my editor and I realized it wasn’t working. We discussed a few ways to possibly fix it, but the overall premise wasn’t fbcd095037f84dca34bcf6cce10e0c09holding up and I wasn’t connecting with the storyline or the characters. It was the first time I tried to use multiple perspectives with a third person narrative, and it wasn’t for me. I knew in my gut that I had to move on and abandon that book, though it was a hard blow. Needless to say, after that I was concerned with getting the next premise right. The idea of a woman, fleeing an abusive ex-husband in the middle of the night with her young daughter, spoke to me. How did she escape? Would she ever be safe again? I felt it was a story I could tell honestly, from the daughter and the mother’s perspective. I also wanted to show that there is not one “fits-all” profile for an abusive person. Control can manifest in many ways.

L.L.: So many things that go into fiction are stripped from our ‘real life.’ I understand your father struggled with substance abuse and depression. How did that experience color the character of Andrew Nash?

Chevy Stevens:  My father committed suicide when I was twenty-two. Andrew Nash was not based on him and Lindsey and Sophie’s story is not my personal family experience, but the feelings, emotions, and many of the other issues are very similar. While writing this story, I was able to explore some of the unresolved issues I had with my father, through Sophie, and some of the imagined conversations I might have had with him if he had lived.  It also became a way for me to understand and empathize more with what my mother must have gone through and the challenges she faced. 

L.L.: I’d like to talk about structure for a bit. You do a fabulous job of weaving a seamless narrative between past and present. Personally, I love this technique. We get a really good glimpse into the life of Lindsey and Andrew *before* everything went down. Was this conscious on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically?

Chevy Stevens:  I knew that I wanted to show their life “before” so that we understood how Lindsey first fell in love with Andrew, what changed during their marriage, and then how dangerous Andrew was once he was released from prison, but it took me a long time to get those sections right. It was difficult to transition so many years of marriage into snapshot glimpses, to show the evolution of abuse over years and how it changed Lindsey into a mother desperate to protect her daughter. Each chapter had to be unique, riveting, and set the tone for the next chapter in present day.

L.L.: Do you have any writing routines or rituals? How does the life of a typical book work for you, from conception to completion?stillmissing-cvr-thumb

Chevy Stevens: I wish there was a typical book! Each time around I think I’m going to make
the writing process easier, but I have yet to find the magic answer.
Normally I come up with a premise that interests me, then my editor and I have a few brainstorming sessions, and I try to come up with an outline. Then, it changes, over and over again. Every book has taken me a different length of time to finish.  STILL MISSING and NEVER LET YOU GO have been the longest.

My day to day routine has changed with my daughter. When she was a baby, I could work at home, then I moved out to our travel trailer to write. Then she started to sneak out of the house to find me. This last year I have been writing at a coffee shop so I can focus. It’s better if write first thing in the morning, which is when I am most creative, so I try to get out of the house early.

L.L.: Can I ask what you’re working on next?   

Chevy Stevens: My current project has been undergoing a few changes and is still in the early stages so I don’t feel confident enough yet to share much about it. I will say that it is set in Seattle, which is an exciting change for me! The research has been great fun.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What has your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Chevy Stevens: Well, anyone who knows me knows that I’m obsessed with travel. I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching various destinations and hotels and endlessly scrolling 1_EL-ARCO-2.jpgthrough rentals on VRBO. My husband and I were just on vacation in Los Cabos, trying to soak up some vitamin D, and I was still on my phone Googling other resorts and comparing options.

L.L.: Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Chevy Stevens: I can share a few random “Chevy Facts.” I love earplugs. I wear them when I’m writing at home and often forget they are still in and walk around with everything muffled. My two furry writing companions are Ziggy and Oona, who have beds under my desk. My daughter also likes to hang out in my office, but she’s usually watching my iPad or building Legos. I’m a morning person, grumpy at night. I don’t watch much TV these days, but I tend to watch light shows, nothing too dark or intense. People think I read a lot of crime or thrillers and I actually love memoirs. I’m shameless when it comes to celebrity memoirs. Love them all. One day I hope to write my own memoir. Morning-Person.png

L.L.: Chevy, it was such an honor. Thank you!  

Chevy Stevens: Thank you for all your great questions!

To connect with Chevy via social media, to learn more, or to purchase NEVER LET YOU GO, please see:

Stevens%2c Chevy_CREDIT Poppy Photography.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR:  CHEVY STEVENS grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. While holding an open house one afternoon, she had a terrifying idea that became the inspiration for Still Missing. Chevy eventually sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book. Still Missing went on to become a New York Times bestseller and win the International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.  Chevy’s books have been optioned for movies and are published in more than thirty countries.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s camping and canoeing with her husband and daughter in the local mountains.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via these social media links. I’d love to see you around!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Image of morning person from; Los Cabos image from. Slide show of C. Stevens’ books retrieved from her website, all retrieved 1.26.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Luscious prose, the immense challenge of weaving two plot lines, creating a ‘likable’ character, how art informs the world, an abandoned house, reinvention, & so much more in T. Greenwood’s THE GOLDEN HOUR

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By Leslie Lindsay

Lush, poetic, mysterious, with a touch of psychological suspense, T. Greenwood’s newest book, THE GOLDEN HOUR is like reading in a sun-dappled dream. 

Greenwood’s prose is absolutely glimmering. Each character is richly drawn and the story itself, hauntingly beautiful. 
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In THE GOLDEN HOUR, T. Greenwood explores childhood trauma with present-day strife, each in equal balance, and each showing beauty and darkness. Wyn Davies is running from her past–when she was a teenager, she took a shortcut through a wooded path in her New Hampshire hometown, only to become a cautionary tale. Twenty years later, that horrific afternoon is rearing its ugly head. But now, she’s in the midst of a divorce, raising her 4-year old daughter, and struggling as an artist. And then, her friend suggests a Maine retreat. She can get away, paint and the past will just fall away. Or will it?

The Maine house has been empty for years.
It’s nearly falling apart. Abandoned. Yet there’s something so eerily alive about the house. Wyn finds cannisters of old 35mm film yet-to-be-developed. What she finds is shocking, disturbing, and yet has the power to transform. She learns the mystery behind the old photos and determines, the past isn’t all that different from the present. kodak-max-400-35mm-film

I loved every minute of THE GOLDEN HOUR, the metaphor of life and art, and the concept that things don’t always have a happy ending, but in this case, they just might.

Join me, as I sit down with T. Greenwood and chat all things literary.

Leslie Lindsay: Tammy, it’s wonderful to have you back. I love all of your books and would relish reading your grocery list. And I loved THE GOLDEN HOUR. But, I understand writing this one was a bit of a challenge for you. Can you talk about your ‘Epitaphs and Prophecies’ where THE GOLDEN HOUR is concerned?

T. Greenwood: Writing this book was intensely challenging. First, I had a number of plot ideas I wanted to incorporate (hence the dual storyline), and each of them was fairly complex. But the greater challenge was how to depict Wyn’s character in a way that didn’t turn people away from her. We meet Wyn when she is going through multiple personal crises. Her marriage is falling apart, her career is not at all what she had once hoped it would be, and now a secret from her past is threatening to unravel everything. She’s angry. She’s frustrated. And she’s scared. She’s a difficult character to love initially. But she’s also broken, in a way that I hope readers will sympathize with. This book is all about ends and beginnings. And Wyn exemplifies that place that people often find themselves in, when everything seems in flux or on the verge of great change.

L.L.: Almost all of your books feature an artist; a material artist: a painter, a sculptor.  But writing is an art, too.  In fact, your website says, ‘Novelist. Photographer. Mama.’  Is it a conscious decision to make at least one of your characters an artist, or does it grow sort of organically?

T. Greenwood: I can’t help it. I love creative people, and I surround myself by them. I am fascinated by how art informs peoples’ lives, and so it is a recurring theme in my novels. This time around I really wanted to explore how three different artists’ relationship with their work diverged, as they became adults. Gus, Wyn, and Pilar all go to art school together. Gus continues to make art, supporting himself by working at a sign shop. Pilar finds sudden enormous success in the art world after many years of struggle. But Wyn is in a strange limbo – where she has “sold out,” in a sense, by painting on command. And while she is grateful to be making money making art, she can’t help but feel that she’s sold her soul. One of the themes I was interested in exploring in this novel was what happens when art and commerce intersect. And about the concept of art for art’s sake, what a luxury that is.

L.L.: In THE GOLDEN HOUR, you do a beautiful job of separating Wyn’s past from her current situation. I think this has a lot to do with structure. You have these dark, yet beautifully written short chapters entitled, ‘Inquiry’ thrusting the reader back in time. How did you determine this set-up?

300px-peaks_island_maine_landing_11-11-2004T. Greenwood: Wyn was the victim of a brutal crime when she was a child. I wanted to find a way to reveal that crime through the filter of her memory (an artist’s memory). I think artists often use their art to process tragedy, and so these chapters are her attempt to do so. They also give the reader small, palatable doses of that difficult aspect of the plot.

L.L.: And then there’s Maine. I could be entirely wrong, but is this the first time you’ve set a novel there? There’s something about Maine—the remoteness, the old-school vibe, the brooding sea. What was your inspiration for this setting?

T. Greenwood: My second novel is actually set in Maine as well. As a native Vermonter, I have spent quite a bit of time in Maine, mostly coastal Maine. And when I started writing this, my sister was living on Peaks Island. She would describe the winter to me, and I thought it was such a perfect backdrop for this story. It becomes a metaphor, in a way, for the isolation that Wyn feels. Her lies, like her art, have created a prison for her.

L.L.:  Houses fascinate me. I’m always making up stories about old farmhouses slung alongside the road, dreaming of who might have lived there, and why they are gone. Was there a particular home that sparked your interest and you ‘gave’ it to Pilar and Wyn?

Greenwood: I kept envisioning a house in a Wyeth painting. When I was little, my parents had a print of “Christina’s World” hanging in our living room. That was the house I 300px-christinasworldinitially thought of.

L.L.: What is haunting you now? What has your interest?

T. Greenwood: I actually just finished a novel, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in the Spring of 2018. It’s tentatively titled RUST AND STARDUST, and it is an imagined rendering of the true crime (the kidnapping of an eleven year old girl) in 1948 that inspired Nabokov’s LOLITA. And I just started writing a new book that will return to Vermont – I have two whole pages so far.

L.L.: Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so.

L.L.: Tammy, it was a pleasure having you! Thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us about THE GOLDEN HOUR.

T. Greenwood: Thank you so much for having me!

For more information, to connection via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE GOLDEN HOUR, please see: 

TGreenwood.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: T. Greenwood is the author of eleven critically acclaimed novels. She has received numerous grants for her writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. She lives with her family in San Diego, California, where she teaches creative writing, studies photography, and continues to write. Please visit her online at www.TGreenwood.com.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of V. Engstrand at Kensington Press and used with permission. Images of 35mm film, Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” and Peak’s Island all retrieved from Wikipedia on 2/28/17]