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WeekEND Reading: How quickly life can spin out of control…Jennifer Kitses talks about this, how she is constantly buying books, her literary inspirations, time loops, and more in this stunning look at 24-hours in a suburban marriage SMALL HOURS

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By Leslie Lindsay

A tipping point of a novel with tense domestic vignettes leading each character deeper and deeper into destructive behavior. 

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SMALL HOURS is a slow-burn, ‘tinderbox’ of a debut novel (Matthew Thomas, WE ARE NOT OURSELVES) in which we are just waiting for the inevitable to explode. We follow the lives of a married couple, Tom and Helen for 24-hours. Told in alternating POVs (Helen and Tom), we dive into a myriad of secrets, promises, deadlines, children, neighbors, etc. It’s one small step into the danger zone with each paragraph read, with each flip of the page, each turn of the hour.

I kind of wanted to shake these people.

Perhaps that is what makes Jennifer Kitses’s debut so palpable. We can *feel* the tensions arising, see the outcome before her characters and we just want to thrust an arm out and say, ‘Stop!’ But the reading is propulsive; I wanted to keep reading. It was like a bad accident on the side of the road: you don’t want to look, but you do.

Tom and Helen have left NYC for a life in a former mill town to raise their twin daughters. Helen is juggling work, kids, the home and none of it is coming together. There are teenagers from the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ who torment her and her young daughters at a local park, deadlines and more. Meanwhile, Tom is struggling to keep afloat at his newspaper job in the city, 90-minute train commutes, and a big secret.

What SMALL HOURS does so well is capture the mundane in a universal look at parenting, suburbia, the workforce, marriage, secrets, and so much more. I couldn’t stop reading; I so wanted to see what kind of train wreck they were going to walk into.

I’m honored to welcome Jennifer to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Jennifer, when I first learned of SMALL HOURS, I knew I had to read it. Number one, I was taken with the cover. It gives this torn and mangled look at a domestic setting, much like the story within those pages. Was this your intention all along? Did the design team nail your overall look and feel for the story?

Jennifer Kitses: Thank you so much, Leslie! I love the cover, too and I had no idea what the publisher was planning until I saw the first version. I remember being so happy and excited when I first opened the file, because I loved everything about it: the torn-page illusion, the colors (especially the green, which gets mentioned a lot throughout the book; in my head, that was the color of the novel), and the photo itself, which to me looks just like my fictionalized Hudson Valley town.

The cover designer, Brian Lemus, surprised me by coming to my launch at the Astoria Bookshop in Queens. It was great to meet and thank him in person!storefront cropped

L.L.: I kind of feel like SMALL HOURS is about how little time it takes for our lives to spin out of control. While the premise of the story is to be set within a strict 24-hour time frame, it doesn’t, not exactly. There are some lingering decisions, instances that have occurred in the past (maybe up to three years earlier than the ‘present’ story), yet it all seems to come to a head on this particular day. Can you talk about the structure of the novel?

Jennifer Kitses: Very early on, and to me, this seemed like one of those rare good-luck moments that sometimes happen when you’re writing, I realized I wanted the story to unfold over one day. Back then, when I was starting on my first draft, my own twin daughters were three years old. I was freelancing as a writer and editor, and trying to take care of them at the same time. It wasn’t that unusual for both my husband and me to have work emergencies on the same day, and meanwhile one of our daughters was sick and the other was about to catch it, and then one of us would have a near-explosive encounter with a stranger on the subway or on the street. In those early years, every day felt like a marathon. That was one of the things I wanted to capture with this story, the feeling of how much could happen in a single day.

But I did allow myself a little leeway with the structure. There’s the backstory to get in, how they wound up in these situations, and what they’re already feeling as this day begins, and that’s woven through the early chapters. And even though the clock is pretty much always moving forward, there are a couple of small zigzags in the middle. But I felt that loosening the constraints of the structure made it stronger. At least, that was my hope!

L.L.: I couldn’t stop reading. Your prose is sharp and well-tuned, but it was more of the comedy of errors, the way my eyes would bulge as I read sentence after sentence of what these people were doing (or not).  Were they based on anyone in particular? Inspired by any real stories or people you know?

Jennifer Kitses: A lot of the smaller images and details were borrowed from my own life or moments I’d witnessed, but those details and moments have weird ways of recombining in your head. One of my daughters once spilled Cheerios in a playground and was immediately surrounded by pigeons, and that became part of the story. But the rest of what happens in that scene was drawn from different moments, and also from wondering about what could have happened next.

In her debut novel, Jennifer Kitses spins an intriguing tale about this couple in particular, but also about the choices people make, and what happens when plans go bad… Kitses skillfully builds the tension as our protagonists slide from one crisis to the next. As in a thriller, the reader wants to yell, ‘No! Don’t do that!’
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L.L.: There were some instances that I sort of had the sense SMALL HOURS was a collection of short stories, or even a linked novel. Is this a form you’d be willing to try?

Jennifer Kitses: That’s a really interesting question, and reminded me of something I’d almost forgotten. I did write, or tried to write, a short story that focused on the major problem faced by Tom. At that point, the main character wasn’t Tom, and the other characters weren’t there. Instead of filing the story away, I decided to expand the idea and go bigger.

I don’t know if I’d ever try to do a collection of short stories or a linked novel, because it’s pretty rare that I’ll work on something short. When I do, I think it’s my way of testing an idea. But Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite writers, and I couldn’t love OLIVE KITTERIDGE more. And her recent book, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, would be a close second for a favorite linked novel.

L.L.: I want to talk about the ending a bit—but I don’t want to give away too much! There’s a bit ambiguity and can be interpreted in many different ways. My take: there is no ‘re-setting;’ the concept of sleep is elusive; a perpetual time loop. Can you speak to this, please?  timeloop1

Jennifer Kitses: I did want to leave the ending ambiguous, though I think there are hints about how Tom and Helen might move forward, though readers are free to interpret those hints however they’d like. (I can think of a few very different next days or even years in their lives.) But I think it’s fair to say that Tom and Helen aren’t the same people at the end of this day; what they’ve gone through has changed the way they see each other, and also how they see themselves. To me, that’s a big part of the story: the difference between how we see ourselves and who we really are.

You mentioned a perpetual time loop, and I think feeling like you’re stuck in one is also part of the story: you might experience a life-changing day, but it’s not like you can stop the clock and fix all your problems. Now there’s a new day to face, with all of its usual tasks and problems that you have to deal with in addition to whatever you’re facing below the surface.

L.L.: What from you real-life might be a big secret or mystery that would make a good plot for a novel?

Jennifer Kitses: I’ve thought a lot about this, and I am truly stumped! Maybe that’s because I have trouble facing my biggest secrets and mysteries. Actually, this relates to some of the questions I had in mind when I was writing. How are we able to fool ourselves, even for years, about essential problems in our lives? I’m fascinated by self-delusion, and also by an almost optimistic lack of self-perception: how we sometimes tell ourselves that everything is going to be fine, even when we know it won’t.

L.L.: You’re a fabulous, no frills writer with an ear for dialogue, human behavior, and I’d compare your storytelling style to that of Lauren Acampora (See summer 2015 interview: THE WONDER GARDEN), Tom Perrotta (especially LITTLE CHILDREN), and Catherine McKenzie ( See fall 2016 interview: FRACTURED). Others have compared your writing to Richard Russo. What do you think about the comparisons and who/what do you read to keep inspired?

Jennifer Kitses: Thank you very much for those comparisons! Tom Perrotta is definitely an influence, I’m a big fan of writers I consider storytellers, the ones who pull you into a story so completely that you forget you’re reading, and he’s a master of that. I’m also very influenced by writers I discovered relatively recently (in the last 10 years), like Elizabeth Strout and Kate Atkinson. And I’m a huge fan of crime novels, especially those by Richard Price, and I think that genre has influenced how I handle tension, pacing, and suspense.

As this book was going through copyediting and production, I went on an Elena Ferrante tear. I find her books not only addictive, from a reading perspective, but also inspiring, because Ferrante is not afraid of anger. I love the angry women in her books.

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L.L.: Jennifer, it’s been such a pleasure and I am so, so glad we had the opportunity to chat. Is there anything else you’d like add—like  your summer plans or what your working on next, or something I completely forgot about?

Jennifer Kitses: I wish I had elaborate summer plans, but I think Im going to take it somewhat easy. With kids, summer seems to be about family trips (though there’s plenty of opportunity for drama there). I am working on something, but it’s in early stages. What I’m really looking forward to is getting back to reading. I have an enormous stack of books that I’ve been waiting to read, I buy books constantly, whether I have time to read them immediately or no, and among the ones I’m most excited about are Liz Moore’s THE UNSEEN WORLD, Hope Jahren’s LAB GIRL, and Roxane Gay’s HUNGER.

Thanks so much for these compelling questions, Leslie! It’s been a pleasure.

To connect with Jennifer via social media, or to learn more about SMALL HOURS, or purchase a copy, please visit: 

Jennifer Kitses_credit Timothy KuratekABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Kitses grew up in Philadelphia. She received an MLitt in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and has worked for Bloomberg News, Condé Nast Portfolio, and Columbia Business School. She lives with her family in New York. Small Hours is her first novel.

 

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing and used with permission. Image of bookstore front from Astoria Bookshop website, image of Hudson Valley stone house via NYTimes ‘great houses’ section, all on 6.26.17 twisty clock from,] 

Write On, Wednesday: Author Kimberly McCreight of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA (2013) with GIVE-A-WAY!!

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By Leslie Lindsay Product Details

I am super-excited to spend some time chatting with NYT bestselling debut author, Kimberly McCreight of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA.  While this book was a Target Book Club pick and my local book discussion group selection, I am in awe as to how this literary wonder woman does it all.  She’s a mom to two young girls, runs marathons, and has several unpublished manuscripts just lying about. Oh, and she’s a former attorney. To accomplish all of that, you’d have to say the woman is driven, hands down.

RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA appealed to me for several reasons: it’s been compared to Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, has a Jodi Picout-like quality in that it alternates between view points, and perhaps most importantly, the storyline is ripped right from current trends in mean girl behavior, also know as social aggression–a trend I am not proud to associate with the female culture. So, without futher ado…please welcome Kim McCreight.

LL: Thank you, Kim for taking the time to chat with us about your book, RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA (Harper Perennial, 2013). I am currently in the last quarter of the book and find myself racing to the end to find out what really happened to young Amelia. Without giving away too much, did you intend for the book to be a mystery?

Kimberly McC: Reconstructing Amelia was inspired first and foremost by my experiences as a mother, specifically my fears for my daughters as they grow older.  And I don’t think I set out to write a mystery per se.  I didn’t set out to write any particular kind of book.  But as much as I cared about the characters while writing Reconstructing Amelia I was also very interested in the puzzle aspect of the story.  And I knew from the outset that a central question driving the narrative would be the “why” of what happened to Amelia.  For me, that’s the question at the heart of all great mysteries.

LL: Cyber-bullying has become such an unfortunate trend in young people’s lives—from texts to blogs, to Facebook. You tap into this environment surprisingly well—the teen slang, the secrets, their mannerisms, yet your own children are young.  Can you give us a glimpse into your ‘research’ for the book?

Kimberly McC: I was certainly influenced by many news accounts of bullying, though the book wasn’t inspired by any one story in particular.  I also did a fair amount of Internet research, exploring what teenagers talk about and what mediums they use.  There was a lot that surprised me about the ways teens use social media these days, for better and for worse.  I’m amazed how different their definitions of “privacy” and “friend” are from mine.  I also talked to local teens while writing Reconstructing Amelia.  I grew up in the suburbs, so I needed to get a sense of how the details of life differ for an urban teenager—where they go one weekends, after the school, etc.  But much of Amelia’s character was inspired by my own memories of being a teen.  And her voice came very naturally, which maybe should concern me more than it does.

LL: Speaking kids…as an author, how do you structure your writing time while still remaining an engaging parent? My own kids are 7 and 8 and I write like mad while they are at school, but sometimes that’s not near enough!  My characters keep “talking” to me as I help with homework, prepare dinner, etc. Can you share some tips for ‘trying to do it all?’

Kimberly McC: Ever since I left the practice of law to write fiction, I’ve tried to treat writing as a full-time job with regular hours and a clear structure.  That was less complicated, of course, before I had children.  But then, life for any working parent is a constant juggle.  I feel very lucky that I at least have the flexibility (and proximity) most days to be at school at the drop of a hat to pick up a sick child.

These days, I write from 9-6 pm, five days a week, which means my girls are in aftercare or with a sitter after school.  Having lots of strict deadlines (and sub-deadlines, and sub-sub deadline helps) and I rely heavily on a great to-do app.

But you’re right that even that isn’t always enough.  Just last night, I had to sit across from my older daughter revising something as she finished her homework because I had a deadline.

Also, I am always jotting story notes in my iPhone—while watching my kids play sports or while cooking dinner (which might explain why I’m such a terrible cook) and, yes, sometimes even when they’re talking to me.  In that case, of course, I feel totally guilty, but mostly do it anyway).

McCreight Kimberly ap1_credit Justine CooperBecause you can’t control when a new idea or the solution to a vexing narrative problem will come to you.  And if you don’t grab it, it can disappear.  But I find that as long as I’ve made a detailed note, it will usually keep until whenever I can return to it during my regular work hours.

LL: I understand your first manuscripts are stored someplace under your bed or in your hard drive; RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA is actually your fifth attempt at writing a novel, right?  You must have really, really been determined to get a book out. What advice would you give to emerging novelists?

Kimberly McC: Keep writing.  That’s really obvious, but it’s also an incredibly important point.  And by that I mean don’t give up, but also:  write to get better at writing.  My work has certainly improved over the years.  I think feedback is critical, too.  Find a great critique partner or, better yet, a terrific writers group.   Then listen to what they have to say about your work.  That doesn’t mean you have to do everything they say, but keep an open mind.  There is no way to improve in a vacuum.

LL: Moving on to agents. You say you’ve gone through several, yet we struggling writers would be happy with just one!  What tips might you offer for finding that perfect fit, crafting a stellar query letter, and ultimately getting a book in the hands of readers?

While it’s certainly important to approach agents who represent your kind of work and who are accepting new clients, I think it’s easy to get bogged down in the research phase of finding an agent.  The “who to approach” part, instead of getting to the “actually approaching” phase.

I would recommend casting a wide net.  Part of finding an agent is a numbers game: sending out enough queries to enough agents (keeping in mind always to notify them that yours is a simultaneous submission) until you find that perfect match.

I’d start with a group of ten agents and see what response you get to your query letter.  If only a very few (or none) ask to see pages, your query letter probably isn’t strong enough.  Stop and revise it.  Writing a great query letter takes a lot of time.  More than you’d ever think a single letter could possibly take.

It’s also really hard.  How to write a good query is something I would recommend researching extensively.   You can start online, there are lots of great articles there. Then imagine you’re writing the jacket copy for your book.  You don’t need to tell the reader everything, you just need to grab their interest.  On that note, be sure that your letter is written in the same tone as your book.  If your novel is funny, make your letter funny.  Wrote a mystery?  Make sure your letter is suspenseful.  And don’t be gimmicky.  Agents get more queries then you can possibly imagine.  You want to stand out, but not for the wrong reasons.

LL: What’s next for you?  When will we see more of your books on the shelves?

Kimberly McC: I’m at work on revisions for my next book, another mystery with a strong character element.  Don’t know when it’ll be out, but I’d expect in about a year or so.  I’ve also started the first book in a YA trilogy that I’m really excited about. 

Thank you so very much for being here today, Kim! It’s been an absolute pleasure. Best wishes!

THANK YOU!! Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

And now for the book give-a-way!!  One lucky winner will be drawn at random to WIN a FREE copy of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA. All you have to do is share this interview via email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. and let me know you shared (if you don’t let me know, I can’t enter your name).  How do you do that?!  Easy. Just leave a comment on this blog or shoot me an email at leslie_lindsay (at) hotmail.com with subject line, “I shared…enter my name!” *

For more information, please follow Kimberly’s social media:

Twitter:   @kimmccreight

Facebook:  www.facebook.com/mccreight.kimberly

website:  http://www.kimberlymccreight.com

*Fine Print: Give-a-way is open to US residents only. Must comment or email leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com so I know to enter your name after you’ve shared via social media. Contest runs Wednesay, January 22-Saturday, January 26. Please check your in-box/junk/spam for an email from me indicating you won. Please respond promptly with your mailing address. Book will be sent to you from HarperCollins Publishers. Good luck!!

[book image retrived from Amazon.com on 1.21.14; author image courtesy of Harper Collins Pub with permission of Kimberly McCreight]

Happy New Year!!

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By Leslie Lindsay RGB Happy New Year 2013 HD Wallpaper(image source: http://www.okwalls.com/rgb-happy-new-year-2013-hd-wallpaper/rgb-happy-new-year-2013-hd-wallpaper/)

  • Happy 2013!!  I’m Leslie–a mom, wife, blogger, basset hound lover, and author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012).  The book was most definitetly a labor of love as my oldest daughter–now 7 1/2 years–and doing great–struggled with CAS.  There’s also a companion Facebook page for the book.  Check it out here:  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=hp#!/pages/Speaking-of-Apraxia-A-Parents-Guide-to-Childhood-Apraxia-of-Speech/235772599837084 Are you also walking the CAS path?  A pediatric SLP?  Follow along on “Apraxia Mondays.”  Have ideas for this segment of the blog?  Want to be featured as an “apraxia parent?”  Would you like to highlight some of your SLP achievements, tips, and ideas as a guest blogger?  Just shoot me an email or leave a comment.  leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

  • I am feverishly working on my second book–a novel (women’s fiction), which is a big shift from my first book.  You’ll see glimpses of this work-in-progress on my “Fiction Friday” blogs.  And since I write, I read.  You may benefit from that , as I often get inside scoops on the next up-and-coming books and authors.  Sometimes I post author interviews, tips & tricks for writing from conferences, and more.  You’ll see some of that popping up on “Write On, Wednesday!”  If you’d like  your work or tips featured, just send me an email leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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  • As a mom of two busy little girls–Kate (2nd grade, 7+ years) and Kelly, (full-day kindergarten, almost 6 years), and so that means I am pretty crazy about education and raising girls, developing self-esteem, raising their confidence, and more.  You’ll find related posts on “The Teacher is Talking,” which typically runs on Tuesdays.  Got some inside scoop you’d be willing to share?  Are you a teacher or educator?  Do you care about 6c (1)children’s self-esteem?  Do you have a book you want highlighted on this topic?  You guessed it–send me an email or post a comment! (leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com)

 

I am excited to embark on my 4th year of blogging.  I couldn’t do it without you, dear readers.  Best wishes to you and yours in 2013. 

In My Brain Today: The Help

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By Leslie Lindsay

When the book, The Help (Kathryn Stockett, Berkeley, 2009) first came out a couple of years ago, I’ll admit–I didn’t really have much interest in reading it.  I was in the midst of running around like a chicken-with-her-head cut off raising two little girls then 2 and 4 years old.  Like I had time to read.  Pfff…it was more like me who needed the help.

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But now I am in the middle of the book.  (Well, not exactly the middle).  And I love it!!  I can’t get enough.  It makes me want to read all day.  (Of course, duty calls and I can’t).  But I am utterly amazed at how author Kathryn Stockett can weave together the lives and stories of these southern women.  It makes you feel like you’re right there alongside of them like a fly on the wall.  Not only does the author bring you right into the colorful world of Aibileen, Hilly, Celia, Millie…she breathes life into their voices.  Her point-of-view is absolutely to die for; those woman and their words coming alive right there on the page is sheer magic.

I giggle and roll my eyes and want to jump right into that book and ring me some necks.  I feel sympathy and pity–and not exactly for the characters you’d expect.  And it sort of makes me want to whip up some comfort food:  mashed potatoes, fried okra and grits with tons of butter and salt(which I really did eat as a child and loved–I grew up in Springfield, MO–not exactly the south, but pretty close!)

Finishing the book in record time is my goal.  I want to see the movie.  But before I go, I must read it. But the book is 544 pages long!   Books, in my opinion, are so much better than the movies.  Although I have heard wonderful things about this movie.

A friend of mine has the book from the library.  She says her copy is due Saturday and there are 160 people in line to get that book!  So, maybe we can make it a race–read it all by Saturday!  I don’t know….I love to read, but I don’t know if I can be that ambitious….

And that is what is in my brain today, Thursday August 11th 2011. 

For more information on The Help, see:

Write on, Wednesday: Published Author

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By Leslie Lindsay

Lately, I have been getting a little nervous about the idea of becoming a an author.  I have been so “in the zone” of writing and researching, and trying to find a suitable publisher and now editing that well…I guess I sort of lost track of the fact that all of this hard work will really come to fruit in the form of a book.   It will transform me into “just a mom” to published author.

What, me?  Really?!?  Couldn’t be.  Ah, but it is….

But here’s the thing:  I won’t change.  Nope.  It’s still me.  I didn’t decide to become a writer.  It was just one of those things that happened.  It’s always been a part of me; it wasn’t really a conscious decision.  I wrote because I wanted to learn.  I wrote because I needed more information on how to help my daughter with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), I wrote because I figured if I had questions, then others probably did, too.

So, I get a little bubble of excitement in my tummy when I think of all of the people out there who will read what I have to say.  Will they like it?  Will they think it stinks?  Will I help someone?  (I bet all of the above is correct).

I started thinking about the title, “published author,” and it comes down to this: public authority.  I don’t want to go getting a big head, or anything, but don’t you agree…a little?  A published author becomes a public authority on the subject they just penned?

Wow.  That’s a lot of pressure.

I know this:  I am a writer–published or not–because I love words.  I love to think.  I love to put my thoughts into words.  And that, well, that is something you can’t take away.

Write on!

Coming in early 2012 from Woodbine House, “Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding and Coping with Childhood Apraxia of Speech” by Leslie Lindsay, R.N., B.S.N.