Wednesdays with Writers: Jane Corry talks about her second novel, BLOOD SISTERS, how glass as art is both beautiful yet lethal, the bond of sisters, her love for her grandchildren & watercolors and so much more

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Three girls. Two sisters. One  dead. BLOOD SISTERS is a tangled web of adolescent deception looking from the present to the past with an eye toward justice. 

Having read–and enjoyed–Corry’s first book, MY HUSBAND’S WIFE (January 2017), I was super-excited to get my hands on this gorgeous book, BLOOD SISTERS (January 2018). The beginning few pages completely pulled me in: a woman in her early-mid 30’s who happens to teach stained glass at a local college.

BLOOD SISTERS is a slightly different kind of tale—one that is ripe with old secrets, sibling rivalry and justice.

BLOOD SISTERS is a split-perspective of two adult sisters in the present looking back at a horrific accident that left Kitty paralyzed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI), unable to speak, and aggressive/hostile at times. Kitty lives in an institution and has nearly every need tended to. Meanwhile, Alison is living in London with one eye over her shoulder: she’s waiting for the bottom to drop from an event that happened when the girls were teenagers. 

Just what happened? 

That story is unspooled as we dive into the past, told mostly from Alison’s POV.  

Corry also takes us inside a men’s prison, which is drawn from her own experience as a writer-in-residence at a prison herself. It’s quite eye-opening.

Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay:  Jane, welcome back. BLOOD SISTERS is a complex tale of sibling rivalry, emotional scars, deception, and the varying definition of ‘truth.’  I’m curious what inspired this tale? Was it a character? A situation? A place?

Jane Corry: All these subjects are part of my life. When you’ve worked in a prison for two days a week over three years, it’s hard to get it out of your head. This is strange really because I never wanted to go into a prison. However, I took the job as writer in residence after my first marriage ended. It showed me another world. BLOOD SISTERS depicts a different view because Alison – one of my main characters –  takes a job in prison just as I did. Lily in MY HUSBAND’S WIFE visits it occasionally to see her client but she doesn’t spend so much time inside.  

L.L.: Your first book, MY HUSBAND’S WIFE, focused on similar themes as BLOOD SISTERS: art and prison.  What prompted your return to these subjects?

Jane Corry: I started dabbling in watercolours as an adult. Looking back, I’d always been interested in the subject but there were so many good artists at school that I felt intimidated. Then I went to a class and found that I had a ‘loose style’. This helps me sketch scenes for my settings. I made Alison into an artist because I wanted her to have a job which was very expressive. But again, I use this theme in a different way from BLOOD SISTERS. This time, one of the paintings contains a clue in the plot. 

L.L.:  I have to say—stained glass! My grandfather was quite accomplished in the field and I’ve been writing about his art and process lately in a slightly fictionalized manner. It felt a bit surreptitious when I picked up BLOOD SISTERS and there it was on the first page. How did this medium work its way into the narrative?

Jane Corry: What a co-incidence! Stained glass was a real find of mine five years ago. I’d always loved the way that  light filters through coloured glass. I’d also had ‘Go To A Stained Glass Workshop’ on my ’to do’ list.  Then my second husband and I moved to the sea and I found myself in a community of artists. To  my delight, I discovered a nearby stained glass workshop and immediately decided that it would be a perfect job for a character. Glass can be beautiful and also lethal. 

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L.L.: There are a lot of institutions in BLOOD SISTERS. There’s the prison, the care facility where Kitty lives after her TBI (traumatic brain injury) and then school (and also the college where Alison teaches). In many cases, all of those settings are like living in a fish bowl. Can you expand on that?

Jane Corry: Fishbowl settings are  a great way to link characters together. My aim is to create two or three ‘communal landscapes’  which turn out to be connected – even though the reader doesn’t know it at the time. I spent some time doing research and treatment in a brain injury unit. I thought it would be depressing but in fact it was uplifting. I met some incredible patients and staff. They showed me it was possible to have a sense of humour in the face of adversity. 

L.L.: I’m so intrigued with your work in the prison system. I understand you are/were a writer-in-residence. Can you tell us what that entails and if you still do it?

Jane Corry: As a writer in residence, I helped men who had committed some terrible crimes to write novels, short stories, poems and letters home. They didn’t have to come to my classes – they were voluntary. So I had advertise my wares by putting up posters and pushing leaflets under cell doors. I didn’t have a guard looking after me and at first I was nervous. I was only threatened on a couple of occasions and each time the other men came to my rescue. I discovered a lot of talent and entered my men for national competitions which some of them won. This increased their self-esteem which in turn reduced the risk of re- offending. However  I found it emotionally exhausting. I was also a single mother at the time. I would have to pull off the road sometimes on the way home from the prison because I needed to close my eyes. I now do voluntary work by running occasional workshops in prisons and am also a judge for the Koestler Awards which gives prizes to writers and artists in prisons and mental institutions.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from BLOOD SISTERS?

Jane Corry: I hope readers will re-examine relationships – especially if they have a sister! There are so many issues at play here. But in the end, it’s a bond which is always there , however hard you try to ignore it. I also hope they will be intrigued and entertained by the twists and turns in the plot.

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

Jane Corry: I’m obsessed by my grandchildren! I’m a fairly young grannie and am lucky enough to live round the corner from my daughter and her little family. There’s nothing like the wonder on young children’s faces when they see a leaf or a bird to make you value the every day miracles of life.

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L.L.: Jane, it’s been a pleasure! What question should I have asked, but forgot?

Jane Corry: You’ve done a great job with your questions, Leslie! I love being interviewed by you. However, you might be wondering if I’ve been to the United States.

The answer is yes. Each time , it’s been a pivotal part of my life. I visited New York with my first husband, shortly before our divorce after a long marriage. Then I went again with my youngest son – the year after the divorce – which was a big thing for me to do on my own. Later, I learned to enjoy my own company in Boston. I remember taking a trip round the harbour and wondering what the future would hold! And then I returned to New York three years ago with my second husband! We also went to Atlanta  to visit Margaret Mitchell’s house because I’ve always loved GONE WITH THE WIND. I’d love to come out to the USA again!

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

Order Links: 

Jane Corry_credit_Justine Stoddart (high res) - croppedABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jane Corry is a writer and journalist and has spent time as the writer in residence of a high-security prison for men—an experience that helped inspire the book. Jane has been a features writer for the following publications: The Times; The Daily Telegraph; The Daily Express; Woman’s Own; Good Housekeeping; Woman & Home and many others. She runs regular writing workshops and speaks at literary festivals worldwide, including The Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. Until recently, she was a tutor in creative writing at Oxford University.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. All images retrieved 3.29.18.  NYC/Central Park retrieved from;  , Jane’s watercolors from her Instagram account; stained glass tree retrieved from ]

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Poetic and lyrical Rene Denfeld on our fascination with lost children, memory, imagination, the Oregon wilderness, and so much more in THE CHILD FINDER

By Leslie Lindsay 

An exquisitely written tale of s little girl lost, her striking imagination and how we often have to be lost in order to be found. 

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I found THE CHILD FINDER to be disturbing and haunting and I was absolutely spell-bound, not wanting to sit the book down. In fact, I didn’t; I read THE CHILD FINDER in one day. While the story is ultimately bleak (there’s hope, though), it’s dazzlingly written. It’s lush, melodic, while at the same time, stark.

A bit about the plot: Maddie Culver goes missing in the Oregon wilderness while her family is cutting down their Christmas tree. It’s been three years. Her parents are beside themselves and insist she’s still alive. But three years is a long time. The Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny ability to find lost children.

Diving into the icy, remote Skookum Forest, Naomi attempts to uncover all possibilities, unearthing old mines, digging up old homesteads, and stalking out the corner grocery. 

And then another–unrelated case–presents itself. Naomi doesn’t like taking two cases at once, but she’s drawn to the circumstances.

Yet, there’s something mysterious about Naomi herself–something tugging at her and making us as readers feel her urgency. Who is Naomi and what does her past hold?

Please join me in welcoming Rene to the blog couch:

Leslie Lindsay: Rene, I devoured THE CHILD FINDER. I know you have a background in journalism, but also investigator work and you’re a foster parent. Was it all of those things that inspired THE CHILD FINDER, or was it something else?

Rene Denfeld: Thank you for having me! THE CHILD FINDER was inspired by my investigative work—I’ve been a licensed investigator now for over a decade. I’ve worked hundreds of cases, including missing persons. It was also inspired by my amazing kids. I adopted three kids from foster care and have fostered others. I think both experiences came together in this novel, along with my love of poetry.

L.L.: I have to say, I haven’t read many books set in Oregon, but now I’m seeking them out. My family and I visited Oregon for the first time this past summer. It’s a beautiful state! And haunting, too…the geological formations, the way one can go from forest to desert to mountains and sea in a matter of hours. I found THE CHILD FINDER to be so atmospheric. Are you an Oregon native? What more can you tell us about the location of the Skookum National Forest?

Rene Denfeld: I grew up here in Oregon. It is such a beautiful state! You can go from the beach to snowy mountains to flinty desert reservations here in a day. Growing up here I also learned about our heritage, which comes through in the novel. I populated
the novel with real Oregonians, from city folk to rural farmers to those who live the same lives their ancestors did hundreds of years ago.
But as beautiful our wildernesses, Oregon can also be dangerous. Every year dozens of people go missing in our endless forests. For that reason I named the remote snowy mountain region in the novel after a native word for “dangerous place.” That’s what Skookum means, and the region is modeled after our real mountains ranges.oregon_hike.jpg

L.L.: Madison Culver has such a rich imagination. She loves fairy tales and has a colorful interior world. I think there’s a place in the book that talks about her ability to cope to be extreme. Can you talk about how creativity and imagination lead to resilience?

Rene Denfeld: I love this subject. You know, I’ve written about how I survived extreme abuse and poverty as a child. My sanctuary was the local library, where I lost myself in the world of books. Stories saved my life—literally. I learned to imagine myself into a different world. Doing the work I do, and being a therapeutic foster parent, I believe the key to survival is in power of our imaginations. Think about it. If you have an imagination, you can imagine yourself in a different future.
You can imagine the steps it would take to go to college, or be a better parent than the one you had. This is why it is so important that we teach imagination, and literacy. Once a child has an imagination the future is limitless. They can make claim to their own story, their right to exist in this world. They can create a sense of self.

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L.L.: Lost children seem to be a tormented fascination of mine. I think I’m in good company, because there are plenty of books surrounding this theme. Yet, they are all unique. Why do you think readers are so fascinated with this topic? Why are you?

Rene Denfeld: That’s such a good question. I think it goes layers deep. There is the fear losing something  precious to us—the thought strikes terror into any parent. Then there is the fear of being lost ourselves, of not being able to be found. One reason I think readers are fascinated with the topic is because there are so many times in life we all feel lost or trapped. Right now a lot of people in our country feel lost and trapped. We want to know a way out of the wilderness. We are desperate to find the path home. Much of THE CHILD FINDER is about that journey. It is about our capacity to find each other, even in the worst circumstances when everyone is telling us it is too late. At heart it is a story of hope. It is about courage, faith and redemption. As the novel says, it is never too late to be found.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals or routines? About how long does it take you to get a first draft of a manuscript written? Are you a pantser or plotter?

Rene Denfeld: I am a poetic pantser! Once I hear the voice of a character the story comes pouring out. For me writing is pure deliciousness. It is like falling down the rabbit hole and waking up in a new world. I get so absorbed that my kids can walk in the room and wave their hands in my face and I am just…gone. That said it isn’t all easy. The hard work for me is after that first draft pours out. That’s when I have to take a more sensitive editorial role, guiding the story, which by then feels and is real people to me. It usually takes me about a year to write a novel.

L.L.: I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood. I just completed writing a memoir. There were so many things I had to look up on Google. Toys I played with, books I read, clothes I wore. I wanted to make sure I got it right. Do you think we can accurately recall our childhoods? What, if anything from your childhood do you still yearn for, even a little?

Rene Denfeld: That’s such a wise point. I’m fascinated with memory. I had a therapist tell me once, “it is the feeling that matters.” We approach memory like a court of law, wanting every fact to be right. Of course if it is about a court of law and there is an accusation, that is the way to go! But when it comes to our daily lives I think its okay to let some of our memories be dreams, colored by time and want and desire or sadness. I admire you for writing a memoir. It frustrates me when I see memoirists get criticized for not getting some fact perfect. You can have five people in a family and all will have different memories of the same event, even if they were all there. That’s part of the beauty of humanity to me.

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

Rene Denfeld: It’s been wonderful! The only thing I can think of is great books I’ve read lately. I love to share with readers! Some great books out now include Andrea Jarrell’s memoir I’M THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY, Alice Anderson’s memoir SOME BRIGHT MORNING I’LL FLY AWAY, Jacqueline Woodson’s ANOTHER BROOKLYN, and Gayle Brandies THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS.

For more information about the book, to connect with Rene via social media, or to order a copy of THE CHILD FINDER, please see:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rene is the author of the acclaimed novels The Child Finder and THE ENCHANTED, as well as essays in publications such as the New York Times. Rene’s new literary thriller, THE CHILD FINDER, explores themes of survival, resiliency and redemption  It has received much acclaim, including a starred Library Journal review, major press, and an Indie Next pick. Landing as  the #1 fiction bestseller at Powell’s within its first week, THE CHILD FINDER became a top #10 bestseller in Canada and a bestseller in the United States.

Rene’s lyrical, beautiful writing is inspired by her work with sex trafficking victims and innocents in prison. Rene was the Chief Investigator at a public defender’s office and has worked hundreds of cases. In addition to her advocacy work, Rene has been a foster adoptive parent for twenty years. She will be awarded the Break The Silence Award at the 24th Annual Knock Out Abuse Gala in Washington, DC on November 2, 2017, in recognition for her advocacy and social justice work.

The child of a difficult history herself, Rene is an accomplished speaker who loves connecting with others. Rene lives in Portland, Oregon, where she is the happy mom of three kids adopted from foster care.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission Image of Oregon forest retrieved from,. Girl in library from bbc.com, childhood memories from; all retrieved on 10.30.17. Fall Wreath from L.Lindsay’s personal archives].