Gorgeously stark, yet lush poetry collection about homes, architecture, design, & more by Middlebury College President Laurie Patton

By Leslie Lindsay 

A deeply moving and stirring collection of poems about houses and homes inspired by Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 classic, THE POETICS OF SPACE.

Houses, homes, dwellings…they all have a mystical experience for me. They may be composed of timber and hardware, plaster and bricks and glass, but they hold truths deeper and darker still.

A house may live only once, but it encompasses many lives. 

HOUSE CROSSING (Station Hill, May 2018) is a “simple poetry of houses,” as author Laurie Patton says. Ultimately, she was inspired by the “geometry of intimacy” in urbane, basic architecture–a corner, the end of a hallway, a window, the attic. While the 32 short poems in the collection are a study in brevity, they pack such a soft-focused punch, going deep and leaving the reader with a disquieting contemplation.

Titles are simple, but oh how they had me swooning: eaves, cupola, well, demolition, grave. 

I don’t mean to be glib when I say these poems are haunting. Patton’s work dwells in the white space, the what-might-have-been. 
One reads the words and imagines a scene, but then the mind takes over and sees an intimate potential that may vary person to person. Within these works, Patton observes the structure and design in a home which often leads to order. Or disorder. And her writing is done with a melancholic tenderness I found quite profound and disarming. 

This collection truly spoke to me and encouraged–inspired–me to read more, to write even more–and to seek out Gaston Bachelard’s book. 

Laurie is the president of Middlebury College in Vermont. She’s also the author or editor of ten books in the history and culture of Indian religions, mythology, and theory. Ultimately, she’s a scholar. And I am so honored to welcome her to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laurie, I am swooning over this collection! I understand HOUSE CROSSING arose from your fascination of Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 work, THE POETICS OF SPACE, specifically, how it’s been a touchstone for architects, designers, poets, psychologists, and more since it’s publication sixty years ago. Can you tell us more about your inspiration?

Laurie Patton:

I’m so glad you like the work. I read Gaston Bachelard in graduate school in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when reading a phenomenologist of the imagination from the 50’s wasn’t exactly fashionable. I fell in love with his works, but didn’t admit to reading them much because we were supposed to be reading Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. It was kind of a guilty pleasure.

And yet, as Raine Daston and Sharon Marcus argued at a conference they just hosted at Columbia, there are such things as “undead texts”—texts that stay with you no matter what, and through the vicissitudes of intellectual fashion. While I knew that Gaston Bachelard’s work couldn’t be “proper philosophy” in a post-modern age, it could still be inspirational. I think it is a brave, and good, and deeply poetic thing to write about how the shapes of space structure the imagination—particularly domestic space. His work felt intuitively true to me; that memories of corners and ceilings do shape us in some profound way—perhaps expressible only in poetry.

I also love the fact that before he wrote these daring works, he was a philosopher of objectivity and science, and before that, he was a mailman. He personifies the interconnectedness of knowledge to me.

photo of a white door with a hanging wreath and welcome decor
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you take us through the timeline of writing HOUSE CROSSING? I noticed some of the poems have been published in anthologies or journals prior to their appearance in the collection. Were they written sporadically as the muse called, or was there a more sequential approach?

Laurie Patton:

My two earlier books of poems also follow a structure: Fire’s Goal: Poems from a Hindu Year follows the structure of Hindu holidays and festivals in a single year. There, the writing discipline was to walk through a memory from one of my years in India that wouldn’t leave my mind, and assume that the memory’s persistence was a kind of call to write a poem. Angel’s Task: Poems in Biblical Time follows the readings from the Jewish calendar year. There, I focused on a single verse or line that seized my imagination and wrote a response in the form of a poem. Each project was guided by a kind of meditative discipline.

The writing of House Crossing was somewhat similar in that, inspired by Bachelard, I had very clear memories of parts of houses—memories that were in some way constitutive of the way I approached space. They weren’t necessarily childhood memories, nor were they necessarily houses I had lived in for a long time.  Wherever I drew the memory from, the architectural image provided the structure for the book, just as the ritual year did in my two previous books.

That said, it was a difficult thing initially for me to write the poems in a secular idiom; a house is not the same as a ritual year and my niche was definitely poetry inspired by a religious tradition. However, many of my readers think that House Crossing is still an intensely spiritual book—even more than the previous two! I think there’s a chord that could strike anyone who has lived in a house and has come to understand it as a home. I’m enjoying the fact that it has a wider readership than the others.

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Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In the introduction of HOUSE CROSSING, you indicate these poems are not exactly about you or one house in particular, but memories and vestiges of personal history. But there’s a clear arc to them as well…we start in the cellar and end with grave; kind of an earth to earth, circular formation. Can you talk about that, please?

Laurie Patton:

You’re absolutely right to see that. I struggled with the order of the poems, and decided in the end simply to publish them in the order in which I wrote them. After I had gathered them all together, the order seemed to have an organic sense to it.  I also realized that the poems at the end of the work were increasingly about things outside of a house, such as “Roof”, “Well,” and “Grave.”  It was almost as if I were taking leave of the project by writing of architectural elements more and more “outside” the house.

Because the poems involve personal history, they also could be written, and interpreted, in a nostalgic manner. We all have our favorite corner, or hallway. But to move beyond sentimentality, I tried to make the places both specific and non-specific. A cellar was indeed a particular cellar, but it could be anyone’s cellar. A good poem makes something compellingly universal out of something particular, and I hope that I achieved that with architectural images.

“House Crossing, Laurie Patton’s mediation on space, builds a home in what it means to be between houses. The architecture of her poems is sound and beautiful, making spaces full of light, a place to live.” 

–Gweneth Lewis, Inaugural National Poet of Wales, author of Sparrow Tree

Leslie Lindsay:

Was there a poem that caused much fear and worry for you? For instance, what made the pads of your fingers sweat and your heart to race?

Laurie Patton:

That’s an insightful question. The “Well” poem was perhaps the hardest to write, because it was a record of a dream sequence I kept having, of encountering women enclosed in spaces—closets, graves, shallow pools.  I had originally written it in my head as a kind of long poem with much more elaborate images.  But in the end it emerged as a briefer poem, even though the images remained intact and much the same as they occurred in the dreams.  I am never sure about whether narrating a dream sequence in a poem can ever become truly accessible to readers. So I sweated that one! I anticipated something much grander, but the poem turned out rather simple.

I was also anxious about members of my family reading the poems, given that they might recognize some of the imagery. Both mother and father appear frequently in the book. Siblings do too. They are all somewhat fictionalized. Colm Tóibín has a wonderful essay about writers and their families, and he describes one conversation between himself and his mother where books are imagined as kinds of weapons. I worried about that. I’m delighted to report that all is well on that score; apparently the poems have moved even those who appear as characters in them.

They are the holders

of the soul

that came early–

washed, fetal, ancient


Leslie Lindsay:

What might you tell a writer (or poet) who wishes to write about home? In other words, what question did you set out to answer, and did you find it?

Laurie Patton:

I think the most important thing we can learn in writing about this subject is the difference between a shelter and a dwelling place—or, as some might put it, a house and a home. A shelter is of intellectual interest, and perhaps could pique our curiosity about its design. But a dwelling place is something alive, creative.  A dwelling place is also populated by actual and imagined relationships. It is an immensely social space, even when there is no one there.

Leslie Lindsay:

What gets you out of bed in the mornings? And it doesn’t have to be literary.

Laurie Patton:

I am intensely interested in the relationship between the poet and society. Every day I try to answer this question: how can poetry change the world? How can metaphors help people see and act differently? I carry with me Adrienne Rich’s essays on poetry and commitment, and Robert Pinsky’s on democracy, culture, and the voice of poetry, and dip into them every now and then throughout the day.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Laurie Patton:

You forgot to ask me how I write given my day job. That’s immensely refreshing.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOUSE CROSSING, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Laurie L Patton 12/10/2017ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurie L. Patton is the 17th president of Middlebury and the first woman to lead the institution in its 218-year history.

Patton is a leading authority on South Asian history and culture, and the author or editor of 11 books in these fields. She has also translated the ancient Hindu text, The Bhagavad Gita, for Penguin Classics Series, and is the author of three books of poetry—the most recent book, House Crossing, was published in May 2018.

Patton is a native New Englander. She grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, and graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall in 1979. Patton and her husband, Shalom Goldman, the Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College, reside in the President’s House at 3 South Street.

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


#homes #poetry #architecture #design #houses #space


[Author image courtesy of L. Patton. Photo credit: Todd Balfour. Cover image retrieved from on 12.10.18. Artful image designed and photographed by L. Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]




NYT Bestselling author Lisa Unger is here chatting about dreams, sleep, Jungian psychology & so much more in her gorgeously written UNDER MY SKIN

By Leslie Lindsay

A twisty, captivating labyrinthine of grief, love, and murder in Lisa Unger’s newest psychological thriller, UNDER MY SKIN (Park Row, October 2). 

Under My Skin.jpg

She’s a New York Times and International bestselling, award-winning author. Her books have been published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold million of copies, and have been named “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today Show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, and the Sun-Sentinel, among others.

*Named one of The Best Mysteries & Thrillers to Read in Fall 2018 by PopSugar*

*Named a Best New Book by Booklist*

*Named one of The Most Anticipated Crime Books of 2018 by CrimeReads*

*Named one of Fall 2018’s Most Exciting New Mysteries & Thrillers by Bookish*

*Named one of The Biggest, Most Anticipated Thrillers of the Season, Fall 2018 Best Mystery Book Pick and Editors’ Pick by BookBub*

*Library Journal 2018 Killer Thriller*

book book pages browse education
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It comes as no surprise when I say Lisa Unger has been a go-to thriller/psych suspense writer of mine for some time now. Her books always engage and keep me guessing; plus her creativity and imagination, as well as her psychologically astute observations draw me in effortlessly. 

In UNDER MY SKIN, Poppy Lang is grieving. It’s been over a year since her husband, Jack, was brutally murdered on his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. She was supposed to have joined him, but…

Poppy completely unraveled and ended up wearing a red dress she knew nothing of and in the hospital. Where was she during those lost days–and what happened to Jack? A year later and the case is still unsolved, but Poppy is ever the Nancy Drew. She’s haunted by his death, she’s sleep-deprived, she’s trying to move on but just *can’t.* She’s seeing a therapist, has a best friend, attempting to date, continuing to work, but when the nightmares–the microsleeps– start in earnest, Poppy isn’t sure what to believe. Plus, what’s up with that hooded man?

The mind is murky place. Is Poppy’s playing tricks on her? Is something else going on?

I found Unger’s prose utterly stunning with a dream-like lucidity. UNDER MY SKIN is a captivating, tense, complex, and thought-provoking read.

Please join me in welcoming Lisa Unger back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

I think this is book five for us and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have you again. UNDER MY SKIN is such a lucid examination of one woman’s grief. Can you talk a bit more about how this story presented itself to you? Was it a character, a setting, a question, a subject you wanted to explore?

*Lisa Unger*:

I always love our talks, Leslie! The germ for UNDER MY SKIN was actually a Jungian thought that had been kicking around my head for a few a while:

“Between the dreams of day and night, there is not so great a difference.”

It’s so layered if you think about it, and it had me pondering the difference between our waking and dreaming lives, the doorway between those places, the slippery nature of perception.  So, while I was researching these things, I started to hear the voice of Poppy Lang.  The fact that she was in the throes of grief and the aftermath of trauma caused me to dive deep into those areas of the psyche.  Our grip on reality is so fragile.  Even after a couple of nights of bad sleep – as any mom will tell you – the world starts to look like a very different place. So combine that with grief, trauma, addiction and things unravel pretty quickly. And so it was all these ideas, as well as Poppy’s journey toward wholeness that drove me through the narrative.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say—sleep! Dreams! Nightmares! They are such fascinating concepts. The mind is powerful. Sometimes we take information from our waking life and weave it into our dreams, sometimes our dreams reappear in our waking life. Do you remember your dreams? Do they ever inform your writing?

*Lisa Unger*:

That’s so true. The mind can be a magician, a powerful trickster. And we know more about outer space than we do about our brains. So, as I see it, there are more questions than answers about our dreams, our perceptions and memories, what’s real and what isn’t real. I do have a very vivid dream life. And often these dreams inform my fiction. Sometimes narrative problems resolve while I’m sleeping and wake me up at 3 AM!  And my best creative hours are from 5 AM to noon. I am happiest when I roll out of bed and go straight to my novel.  I still feel very connected to the dream brain during that time.  Once the waking mind takes over, it’s always looking for distractions! But the dream brain is always happy to keep telling its stories.

“UNDER MY SKIN is a perfectly dark and unsettling, spellbinding thriller. Told with both eloquence and urgency, Unger knows just how to hook her readers and reel them in. This book is not to be missed.”
Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL

Leslie Lindsay:

At one point you referred to UNDER MY SKIN as a ‘Tilt-a-Whirl of a novel.’ Aren’t they all? What’s your process like? Does it vary project to project? What piece(s) in this one kept you awake at night?

*Lisa Unger*:

So, there’s a germ, usually. A moment where I feel a little zap.  Then there’s usually an obsession and a deep dive into research, as I mentioned. And then a voice, or voices.  And I follow those voices through my narrative. I don’t have an outline. I don’t know who is going to show up day to day, or what they’re going to do. I certainly don’t know how the book is going to end. I write for the same reason that I read; I want to know what’s going to happen to the characters living in my head!

This one was a bit of a Tilt-A-Whirl, because like Poppy, I wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t real for her. I wasn’t certain that I could I could trust her judgments and perceptions.  And I wasn’t clear on what really happened during the four days she was missing.  I was worried about Noah. I didn’t know what role he played in what happened to Jack, what was happening to Poppy. And I wasn’t sure I could trust him. There were lots of 3 AM wake ups with this one!

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

At the heart of UNDER MY SKIN is the lingering toll of grief, and how it is interwoven with love. Can you talk a little more about that please? And do tell me if you think I’ve gotten the theme wrong.

*Lisa Unger*:

That’s true. It did evolve as a big theme in the novel, flowing purely from character; it was Poppy’s journey and I followed her passage though that dark space. In doing so, I wound up exploring how we love each other, how we cling to the past, how it can be so hard to let go. Also, how time and loss can color our memories. It’s part of a larger theme on how our experiences change and shape our perceptions. Love, grief, addiction, trauma – all these states color how we see the world, making it difficult sometimes to know what’s real.

Leslie Lindsay:

Poppy was obsessed with finding her husband’s killer. What’s obsessing you? It doesn’t have to be literary.

*Lisa Unger*:

Oh, I have so many obsessions! I continue to be obsessed by perception, dreams, memories, identity, and all the secret abilities hidden within our very human brains.  I’m still exploring question of psychic ability – what’s normal and what’s “paranormal.” Halloween is coming up – so I’m obsessed about costumes, since that’s a big deal in our family! Let’s see: food, British television, yoga, politics, the environment, my next novel … I could go on and on!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Lisa, it’s been a pleasure. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

*Lisa Unger*:

As usual, Leslie, you’re pitch perfect! I can’t think of a thing you missed. Thank you for your thoughtful questions. I always love answering them.

For more information, to connect with the author via social  media, or to purchase a copy of UNDER MY SKIN, please visit: 

*Read the prologue

*Order Links:

Lisa Unger Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is the New York Times and internationally bestselling, award-winning author of sixteen novels. Her new release UNDER MY SKIN is named one of the most anticipated and top thrillers of fall 2018 by BookBub, Bookish, Library Journal, Booklist, PopSugar and CrimeReads! 

Her books are published in twenty-six languages worldwide, have sold millions of copies and have been voted “Best of the Year” or top picks by the Today show, Good Morning America, Entertainment Weekly, Amazon, Indie Booksellers, Goodreads, and Sun-Sentinel to name a few. 

Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR and Travel+Leisure Magazine. Lisa Unger lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida with her husband, daughter and labradoodle.

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


#amreading #psychthriller #sleepanddreams #authorinterview #domesticsuspense 


[Cover and author image courtesy of Park Row and used with permission. Cover image on patio from L. Lindsay;s personal archives and can be accessed via Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]




Wednesdays with Writers: A riveting new look at ‘the quest for rest,’ the mysteries of sleep, dreams, its tie to creativity; how structure for books is like the frame of a house; his worry about teen screen time, and so much more in Michael McGirr’s SNOOZE

By Leslie Lindsay 

A fascinating and insightful collection of essays and thoughts on sleep, why we do it and so much more. 

I absolutely loved this book! 

SNOOZE: The Lost Art of Sleep is a great read and so very different from anything I’ve ever read on the subject.While it’s billed as non-fiction, it is not a textbook;  it’s not a how-to sleep hygiene book, either. One might call it part memoir, part essays on sleep-related topics, part survey in western civilization, and part pop psychology intermingled with a little hard scienceIn fact, SNOOZE is a bit like FREAKANOMICS, Sleep edition (if there were one) or Malcolm Gladwell meets Bill Bryson…on sleep.

Here’s a sampling of topics: Sleep disorders, beds (making those beds), staying in bed, medications designed to help induce sleep (and side-effects), philosophy, the demise of sleep in our fragmented world, famous people and their quirks (Flo Nightingale, Charles Dickens, Homer, Plato, Thomas Edison, Shakespeare, etc.), even the effect of war/PTSD on sleep. 

There were some laugh out loud moments as McGirr, a former Jesuit priest talks about his sermons, life as a priest, then parenting…not just *a* child, but a toddler and *then* a set of twins. Not to worry, the narrative doesn’t get bogged down with parenting asides; SNOOZE is very focused writing (and reading).

I found McGirr witty and delightful and kind of think this would make a great download (48)audio book read by the author. 

Oh, and he’s here today to chat with us about his book, what keeps him awake and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Michael, it’s a great pleasure. Thanks for popping by. Sleep is by far one of my favorite…uh…pastimes. Does that make me seem dull? Actually, I work and play hard, too. What prompted your interest in the subject?

Michael McGirr: Thanks Leslie for your great response to Snooze. I was delighted by your kind words. Sleep came at me from three directions. The first was my own struggle over many years with a couple of sleep disorders without realizing how serious they are. People laugh at snorers or are annoyed by them but don’t always understand they are engaged in a life and death battle to breathe. Next, I found myself in my early forties suddenly with 3 children under the age of two, including twins, and none of them understood the meaning of a decent night’s sleep. But most of all, the book came at me from a profound sense that we are living in a culture that is approaching exhaustion and its main response seems to be to keep people more and more tired. A city that never sleeps is one that is never fully awake.102150-The-City-That-Never-Sleeps.jpg

L.L.: I was fascinated by your sleep study. And I learned about sleep latency…that time period between lying down to go to sleep and falling asleep. [Hint: if it’s less than 10 minutes, you’re probably sleep deprived]. Can you walk us through the process?

Michael McGirr: You’ve explained it very well. At present, I am a school teacher doing marking [grading] late at night. I am asleep within seconds of my head hitting the pillow. This is not great. Nor is it great to be awake for an hour before you fall asleep. A good night’s sleep begins with a process known as fading. It actually starts before you get into bed: the brain responds well to rituals and pre-bed rituals can be a great help: brushing your teeth, hanging up your clothes, etc. in the same order every day and trying to go to bed at the same time. Ideally, this will allow you to gently fade into sleep once you are in bed.

[Leslie’s note: You may like these tips about establishing sleep rituals]

L.L.: I tend to fall asleep reading. (But certainly not SNOOZE!) In fact, last night, I sat down to read (not in bed).  It was only 8:14pm. “Wow…all kinds of glorious time to read,” I thought. “Maybe, I’ll finish this book!” Ah, such lofty aspirations. My lids grew heavy and my head started bopping. I was out. It wasn’t even 9:00pm [the time your research in SNOOZE says my body starts producing melanin in earnest].  And I happened to really like the book I was reading. What’s up with that?

Michael McGirr: It’s fine. Your brain and body have had enough of you for the day. They want you and your agenda out of the way so they can get on with their most important work, which happens when you are asleep. Sleep is the most creative part of the day because it is when our ego gets out of our way. You can get up early to keep reading. I love doing that. I love the half-hour before the next person in the house wakes up. But don’t forget there are millions of books. You are never going to read them all. Accept that there is only so much you can fit into a single day, not to mention a single lifetime, and you will rest in greater peace. Sleep means letting go. 

L.L.: The structure of SNOOZE is so clever, so fun. Its chapters are arranged in clock times when folks might be asleep. The first chapter, for example, begins at 8pm. Along with a time, a date is given. So Chapter One is 8pm and 1969. The narrative does not follow a linear time frame. Well, wait—it does. Can you talk about how you discovered this structure?

Michael McGirr: Thank you. Finding the structure of a book is always a big deal for me. It’s like building the frame of a house. Then you can start to sort out what will actually fit in the house. I always have more material than I can use and the amount available on sleep is endless. My book before this, called BYPASS, was about download (49)the Hume Highway which is the main road between Sydney and Melbourne, the two biggest cities in Australia. I found the structure for that book by riding a pushbike along the 900km of the road. In the case of SNOOZE, I tried several ideas. Finally, I settled on structuring it as a night’s sleep, choosing incidents from history, both recent and ancient, that can be associated with different times of the night. I liked it because it gave me an eclectic structure. The book is a bit of a salad with many different flavours!

L.L.: Here’s another thing I learned from SNOOZE: “the dreamer has the dream, or the dream has the dreamer.” I’m not sure who to attribute that quote to, but what more can you tell us? I am fascinated by dreams and find they definitely help with not just my self-awareness, but creativity, too. Can you tell us more, please?

Michael McGirr: I think I may have made up that phrase. Dreams are fascinating. But not as simple a guide to the unconscious as Freud may have thought. For example, you never dream as much in your life as when you are in the womb. This is when almost all your sleep is REM sleep, which is the phase in which dreams take place. The next dreamiest time is when you are a baby. The amount you dream decreases over a lifetime. 

[Consider]: If dreams at some level involve the processing of your waking experience, why do we dream most when we have least experience? Why do we dream least when we have most to deal with? I don’t know the answer. One theory is download (47)that dreaming is essential for testing synapses in the brain before we are born. We continue to dream because it is pleasurable, a bit like continuing to have sex after you’ve had your kids. But some dreams are not pleasurable. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can be literally a nightmare of bad dreams. There is an awful lot to think about. The tendency to forget dreams is one of our major defense mechanisms.

L.L.: What kind of research did you do for SNOOZE? I see there is a very extensive “sources” section at the end of the book…but how much time did your research take, what aspect of sleep might you want to explore further?

Michael McGirr: I was lucky with this topic. Almost every major thinker in history has had things to say about sleep and I enjoyed jousting with a good number of them. This is because sleep is such a fundamental part of human being that you can hardly explore the human condition without coming across it. Someone’s attitude to sleep reveals their entire attitude to life; I found this to be the case with many philosophers and writers. In one sense, I spent my whole life researching this book because I have spent such a lot of my life reading. When I settled on this topic, I went back to writers and thinkers who have been my companions for years, from Plato to Dickens. I am not drawn to a project unless I think I am going to enjoy the research. It needs time.

L.L.: I think anyone who has parented young children, infants especially, know just what it’s like to be exhausted. We tried Ferberizing as well. Horrendous. But the kid sleeps like a log now. How are your twins, Clare and Jake? And Benny? (Just this morning, I smirked as I recalled his comment about making beds and, “If God made the world, why can’t he make my bed?”)

Michael McGirr: I told him God made the world so he might have a place in which to make his own bed.  I don’t think that is the only reason God made the world. The twins are now twelve and Benny is 14. They are an endless source of existential joy and financial grief. I am concerned about the intrusion of screens in their lives. Benny has his first speaking part in a play which starts at school tonight. Clare is learning bassoon. She is a force of nature. Jacob wants to be a high jumper and movie maker. We are working on an internet site for oldies. We are going to call it Thou Tube.

L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on another book.

Michael McGirr: I am writing a book about reading. It is called (at the moment) 52 THINGS TO READ BEFORE 25. It has my students in mind: it is a challenge to them to have crucial reading experiences in the years after they leave school when their brains are fresh and can bend to all the yoga postures of the mind that a rich reading life asks for. Young people will commit to the gym and their career. But they are much less likely to take the growth of their minds as seriously. So I want to stir them up.

L.L.: Michael, it’s been such fun. I could probably ask you questions all day…or night. What might I have forgotten to ask but should have?dsc_3626a2__880

Michael McGirr: I have loved your questions. This has been delightful. Thank you. SNOOZE is really a book about the quest for rest. That is broader than sleep, although sleep is a big part of it. The world is restless. It keeps screaming at us like an over-tired baby demanding attention. Tired people are vulnerable because they can’t think. They resort to clichés. They are comforted by meaningless platitudes. Sleep and rest are the wells of creativity.

[Leslie’s Note: Oh my gosh! You have got to visit this amazingly creative momma’s website, boredpanda.com. She’s turned her baby’s naptimes into clever dreamscapes]

For more information about SNOOZE, to connect with Michael McGirr through social media, or to purchase a copy, please see: 

MichaelMcGirr_auphoto_creditBill Spierings.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael McGirr is an essayist, reviewer, prize-winning short-story writer and teacher. A former Jesuit priest, he is also the author of Things You Get For Free and Bypass: The Story of a Road. He lives in Melbourne with his wife, Jenny, and their three rapidly growing children.

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


[Cover and author image courtesy of Pegasus Books and used with permission. ‘City that Never Sleeps’ image retrieved from , sleep at night image from http://www.everydayhealth.com, sleeping baby from dailymail.uk.co, Sleeping baby with crane, from, which I highly recommend a visit to! All on 9.13.17]

WeekEND Reading: What if a dream propelled your story into action? That’s just what happened with Gian Sardar’s luminous debut, YOU WERE HERE, plus past lives, a mystery, Minnesota, & more about this story of the unseen.

By Leslie Lindsay 

Debut novelist Gian Sardar takes us on a journey through the murky world of dreams where the past weaves with the present in a chilling crime, told in a gorgeous lyrical prose.


I have such a fascination with dreams–nightmares, too–and wonder just what they reveal about our conscious selves, and most of all–our past. That’s what YOU WERE HERE seeks to do; it pulls us into that dream world and reads almost as if you *are* in a dream, but not quite.

Abby Walters is originally from Minnesota but living in L.A. with her screenwriting boyfriend who’s a bit (okay, a lot) commitment shy. She works at an estate jewelry shop appraising and selling antique baubles, yet no ring for her. Like all good stories, we get called away from the known and thrust into the world of the ‘unknown.’ So when Abby starts having those old dreams, the ones she only had in Minnesota, she is called back home to attempt to uncover their meaning.

Unbeknownst to her, there are a grisly slew of rapes and murders happening in her home state. It makes national news within a day or so of her arrival. Her longtime crush from H.S. is there, working now as a detective. But don’t jump to conclusions just yet. YOU WERE HERE is a multi-layered, literary mystery that sweeps you into its arms, pulling you into a sleepy spell.

Back in 1947 there’s another mystery brewing. We learn about several characters from this time period: Claire, Edith, Eva, William and how they are all tied to the present. Or are they? I really enjoyed this piece of the novel–and almost always do in these split-time frame stories.

YOU WERE HERE is at once a mystery, but it’s also a crime novel, literary historical fiction, a love story...it’s a gorgeous melding of several genres, because life just happens to be that way. 

I’m thrilled to welcome Gian Sardar to the blog couch. Pull up a seat and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Gian, I am so, so fascinated with dreams. I almost always remember mine and will tell them to anyone who will listen. Okay, not really. My hubby, mostly. Are you the same? And was there a dream that started YOU WERE HERE?

Gian Sardar: YES, I am for sure the same, and my husband definitely hears way too many of my dreams. There were actually a couple dreams that were the seeds that in many ways became YOU WERE HERE – but to talk about them I might have to go a bit back in time. When I was twelve I had a dream, one of those dreams when you’re you but you’re not you. Have you had one of them? You know the setting, you know the people, you are YOU and you identify as you, but it’s a you that you don’t know. So I had one of those dreams, and in the dream I was running through a forest with a little boy, a person I knew was my (actual) brother. It was during a war. The sky was bone white, leaves on the ground, trees bare. We were running from something, but stopped at a barbed wire fence. And there, when we turned, was a soldier. We couldn’t see his face since he was bundled up in the cold, but we knew he was there to help us. When I woke up, I opened my eyes and he was in my room. Now, I’ve had a strange life, so this wasn’t toooo crazy….so I just blinked my eyes. And he was still there. I blinked again, and he was still there. Finally he was gone, and I just passed it off as a figment of my imagination, or decided I might have still been asleep. Well, fast forward about a year and my mom decided to take me and my friends to a psychic for my 13th birthday. An odd choice, I now see, but like I said I’ve had a bit of a strange life. While we were there, this woman held my hands and said, “You and your brother have been brother and sister in a past life. I see you in a forest, during a war, and you’re running and then you meet a solider.” Of course then I stopped her, and said, “I just had that dream. When I opened my eyes, he was in my originalroom.” She didn’t look surprised (she was psychic after all), and just said “I know, he’s coming back into your life.” Even now, I wonder, who was it? My son? My best friend? My husband? I have no idea, but the idea that perhaps we’ve been here before, that perhaps we’ve known the people in our lives before, was a concept that just seemed right and stuck with me. When I was in my twenties, I was still fascinated by this idea, and decided to try and ask who I was in the past, every night before going to sleep, since I’d read that sometimes a name could come to you.  Over and over I did this, and then one night I had a dream, and it was just a name, repeated again and again. Now, I’m a bit ashamed to say I’ve never investigated the name, but I didn’t know where to begin – what continent, what year, what anything. But it made me wonder, what if a character had a dream of a name, and had just enough to go on? What could she find? In the most basic way, right there, the book was born.

 L.L.: So I have to ask about Minnesota. It was home for a few years. I can clearly see Rochester’s Silver Lake and the Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis where the historical part of the story took place. I’m less familiar with Abby’s hometown. But Minnesota, literature-wise is not so well-known. Or is it? Are you aware of other books set there? (Oh wait—I know one: THE LOST GIRLS by Heather Young). And how did you come to this decision to set the story there, being an L.A. girl yourself? 

Gian Sardar: I’ve read some books that are set there, or in the Midwest, not much. What inspired me was my experience in Minnesota. My mother’s side of the family is all from there, and so growing up we’d spend summers there – both in Marshall (where my grandmother lived) and also camping in other parts of the state. Not only did I see how varied and beautiful the landscape is, but I always held the small towns we explored in a rather romanticized, childhood-golden light. Later I Small-Town1.jpglived for a bit outside of Minneapolis, and even later the visits I made there as an adult just sealed the deal: I had to write about it. There are vast, endless plains, which are both breathtaking and haunting. There are forests and lakes and so much that I knew I could have incredibly diverse settings – all within the same state.  And I knew that my almost vintage, romantic, yet slightly haunted remembrance of the small towns would lend itself perfectly for the part of the story that takes place in the past.

 L.L.: There’s a hint of ghosts and reincarnation in YOU WERE HERE. I don’t want to give away too much, but can you talk about how these pieces came into the story?

Gian Sardar: I mentioned the dreams, which is where everything started. But for me, I was always fascinated by the past we can’t see…whether it’s our own past, or even someone who lived in our house a hundred years ago, or someone who took their last breath on the sidewalk where we stand. I love the idea that we are in a living, breathing history, and that maybe we get glimpses of the past – a random feeling in the corner of the room, or an arbitrary thought that we pass off as nothing – glimpses that we ignore because we don’t know their significance. And so showing the past with the present was the perfect way for me to capture and expose one of the layers that composes the current world. images (10)

L.L.: Ultimately, YOU WERE HERE is a story of the unseen. It’s a little obscure, even occult, with flavors of Gothic ruin that might resemble a Poe story and maybe even a little of GONE GIRL [I know, I dislike the comparisons, but there’s a character that just might remind reader’s a bit of GONE GIRL’s Amy]. Can you share with us a bit about how these characters ‘presented themselves’ to you?

Gian Sardar: I love that – “a story of the unseen.” Yes! The characters all evolved as I was writing, but Abby, with her fears and dreams, was definitely inspired by my own worries and dreams. I tend to imagine accidents and horrible things, but not nearly to the degree she does. But it seemed like an interesting jumping point for a character, so I took that and blew it up and created her. I think the rest are people I’d love to know. I love Eva with her brave hope, and her dreams. And I love Claire with her reluctant hope, and her sadness. William and Aidan, the men in the book, they’re completely fictional as well, but again, both are people I would love to know.

L.L.: So, shifting a bit to the more technical elements of writing: do you outline or follow the muse? How many drafts (did you keep count?!) of YOU WERE HERE did you work on? 

Gian Sardar: Oh boy….as far as how many drafts, I don’t even know! It was a lot. For me, so much is discovered in the editing process that I love to have a lot of drafts, because it’s an indication of the evolution of the story. I usually start out with a basic idea of opening and ending, and then I try to loosely fill in the rest in a very basic outline form – but then I just have to wait, and trust that the real meat of the story will appear to me as I’m writing. And it does, and is usually born from the characters that after a while begin to live and breathe and take over.

L.L.: And you are a screenwriter as well? How does that style of writing differ from novelist?

Gian Sardar: I’ve done some screenplay work and worked with an incredible writer or years. For one, with a book or short story I could spend hours on a paragraph, trying to get the description right, finding metaphors and the best way to capture the moment – but with a screenplay you write it just enough description to help set the tone (and show the director etc to your vision), but not too much. Everything is in the choices of what you’re showing, and every line of dialogue better count. You’ve got a fraction of pages to work with, and no one will know if you had a lovely description of the house the characters live in.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from YOU WERE HERE?

Gian Sardar: I hope they wonder about their own lives. About the people they know with whom they always had a connection, or a dislike. Or the places they were drawn to, perhaps places they’ve never been. I hope they start to wonder if maybe it’s not all random coincidence. And I hope they see that in people’s lives there was always a before – reasons for actions, dislikes, and beliefs, reasons we may never know. And sometimes it’s interesting to wonder what those could be, and just how far back they might stretch.

e88e4e8dc9fc1a3ff9d52e9b11f6b647L.L.: What, from your own life might make a compelling mystery?

Gian Sardar: Definitely the story of the dream and the war and the mystery soldier. One day I’d like to write something about him, and about that girl in the forest.

L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel?

Gian Sardar: I am! I don’t want to say too much, as it’s early and I don’t want to jinx it.

L.L. I so get that; kind of in the same boat now. Thank you, Gian; really enjoyed chatting.

Gian Sardar: Thank you, I did as well!

For more information about YOU WERE HERE, to connect with Gian via social media, or to purchase your own copy of the book, please see: 

Author Photo_Gian Sardar (c) Joseph Schwehr.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gian Sardar studied creative writing at Loyola Marymount University and is the coauthor of the bookPsychic Junkie. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son, and insane dog.




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


[Author and cover images courtesy of Putnam/RandomHouse and used with permission. Image of ‘dreams’ retrieved from hypeorlando.com, small town minnesota retrieved from minnesotanewcountry.com, old house and girl in forest images retrieved from Pinterest, all on 6.6.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Is there a difference between justice and revenge? New York Times bestselling author of psych thrillers Lisa Unger talks about this, but also dreams, reality, starting the next project, renovating homes, and so much more in THE RED HUNTER

By Leslie Lindsay 

Red Hunter cover

One house. Two very different women. A history of abuse. THE RED HUNTER discusses the differences between justice and revenge in a way only Lisa Unger can do.

I can always count on Lisa Unger’s books to propel me to the depths of the dark and twisted minds of…well, just about anyone. She has a knack for reaching into the tangled mess of one’s life and extracting the bits that make it dark and brittle. But be aware: if rape and violence are triggers for you, then select this book with caution.

Therein lies the crux of THE RED HUNTER. It’s deep psychological suspense at it’s best. Lisa’s characters are well-drawn, multifaceted, flawed, and oh-so-relatable. 

Claudia Bishop’s perfect life with hubby in NYC fell apart after she was brutally raped in her own home. She’s worked hard to rebuild that life, and is now looking for a fresh start at an old farmhouse in New Jersey, one that’s been in her family for some time.

Zoey Drake—young and hip–but carrying around a big burden from childhood—and is caring for her elderly uncle, a retired police officer.

Neither woman knows one another but the house factors into both of their lives. So, too does trauma.

So pull up a chair, a cup of coffee and eavesdrop on my conversation with Lisa.

“One of the best crime novels I’ve read in years. THE RED HUNTER is bold and gritty but with real heart. Unger writes as only the best do, with passion and authenticity.”
—Ace Atkins, NYT bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn and The Innocents

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it’s so great to have you back. Thank you! I think this is the forth book of yours we’ve discussed. I’m afraid I’m running out of questions. But I always, always want to know what propels a writer to peel back the layers and start on a particular story. What was it for you, for THE RED HUNTER?

Lisa Unger: It’s always a pleasure to chat with you!I’m sure we’ll always have something new to talk about.

The idea for THE RED HUNTER started more than fifteen years ago.  I was in my late twenties, in a dark place, when I discovered the martial arts. I had just come through a brutal break up, my dreams of writing lay fallow. I was disconnected from myself in almost every way. The martial arts changed me, introducing me to a new version of myself, someone stronger than I thought I could ever be. I found myself, and my path forward.df1948898142fa4e9603a1bb1da2566d.jpg

After I had my daughter, I stopped practicing.  Motherhood kind of drained me of my will to fight, and I turned to yoga instead.  Recently, I took up kick boxing and some of that fighting spirit returned; and those days, how I felt then, came back to me.  That place and moment in my life was the germ for THE RED HUNTER, and for one of its main characters, Zoey Drake: a victim turned fighter, someone looking for revenge.

L.L.: Trauma certainly plays a major role in THE RED HUNTER.  So, too do the concepts of justice and revenge. What, in your opinion are the connecting dots?

Lisa Unger: After surviving a traumatic event, we have choices.  We can fold up and hide from the world, let the pain and anger over a horrific event crush us.  We can get angry, lash out and seek revenge, or justice.  Or we can allow ourselves to heal, then find a way forward, move toward forgiveness and wholeness again — whatever that means in our changed reality.

In our culture, the journey toward justice is a very important one; we depict it as the hero’s journey. And sometimes it can be that. Sometimes wrongs must be righted.  But when that journey becomes a way to hold on to pain, a way to stop moving forward, it’s just fear, a desire to control a thing that cannot be controlled.  And it keeps us from healing.

Zoey Drake and Claudia Bishop are taking two very different paths after trauma.  One seeks revenge, and the other is looking for her way back into the light, through healing and forgiveness. One path could be confused with strength, and the other might be confused with weakness. Both ways are fraught.  It might be up to the reader to decide which way is the right way. Or if there is a right way, at all.

L.L.: I have a thing with old houses. Well, houses of any kind. I’ve read somewhere that they represent story and also dreams. Things that happen in the basement, for example, have a lot to do with one’s subconscious. There are other rooms that equate to other parts of the psyche, too. Bedrooms, intimacy. Bathrooms, elimination. Kitchens, creation and family. I often have dreams of adding-on to a house and that, I’ve learned, has to do with ‘making space’ for creative pursuits. Can you give us a little more insight into how the house in THE RED HUNTER came to be for you?

Lisa Unger: That’s so interesting! I think you should follow your dreams, Leslie!  Make more room for those creative pursuits.1a352b345bf13976c4c2013af5ee62a3

A couple of years ago, my husband and I gutted and renovated our 1968 home.  Let’s be clear: we hired someone to do this work. (We’re not crazy!) But we lived in the house while it was under reconstruction. (Okay, we’re a little crazy.)  It was cathartic to watch our home, a place we’d loved for more than a decade, torn down to the studs, and recreated as something new and uniquely ours.  But it was also stressful, unpredictable, and incredibly challenging. It was not an experience I planned to write about; rather one I swore I wouldn’t repeat and tried to forget.   But then, three years later, as I started on THE RED HUNTER, another major voice in the book, Claudia Bishop, emerges.  Guess what? She’s renovating a ramshackle old farm house. And she’s blogging about it, a way of moving forward from the trauma of her past, and recreating her future.  

A house seems so solid — until you pick up a sledge hammer.  I love how something that seems as though it’s always been there can just fall away.  It makes me think that we can tear down, change, and rebuild just about anything we want in our lives — especially old ideas we have about ourselves. It takes some doing, some pain, a few mistakes here and there, but ultimately you have the power to create what you want in your life.  I love how destruction can lead to reconstruction, if you have the will and the right tools.

[You may enjoy this article in The Atlantic about Where You Live & Why it Means So Much. Also, the original source in which I *may* have read about homes/psyche HOUSE AS A MIRROR OF SELF: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home, but memory evades.]

L.L.: Each of your characters are strong, kick-ass type of women, but in different ways. Was one easier for you to write than the other? Do you have a ‘favorite?’

Lisa Unger: I felt connected to both of them.  I understood Zoey’s impulse to turn herself into a fighter and take revenge on people who had harmed her.  Even though Claudia’s philosophies are closer to mine, I still understood where Zoey was coming from.  It has something to do with her youth; it’s a young idea to think that the world is black and white, that there’s a clear right and wrong.  It’s also young to think that there’s any true justice, or payback, that a wrong thing can be made right by another wrong.  Claudia’s journey toward love and forgiveness, her impulse to claim her story, and rebuild herself and her life — those choices have a very different vibration.  I think Zoey’s impulse is more basic; Claudia’s more evolved.  I was more worried about Zoey than I was about Claudia.  But it was easy for me to 6dba74105c8b1cdfb4db7e2e4eeaae22connect with both ways of seeing the world.

L.L.: The narrative structure in THE RED HUNTER is unique in that it is not exactly linear. We volley between characters, time periods, but all from the POV of strong females. Can you talk a bit about how you made that decision, or was it really a decision? Do characters often ‘tell’ you their story?

Lisa Unger: I don’t make decisions like that.  A story evolves, tells itself though the voices it selects, in the way the way that it wants to be told.  The different voices, the time and perspective shifts — that’s just how the story came to me.  I’m not sure
it could have been told it any other way.  There was no other way for it to be told.

L.L.: I happen to be between projects now. Oh, I have ideas…but where to go with them? Do you have any tips or inspiration when starting out on the next book? Because this limbo-land is a yucky feeling. 

Lisa Unger: It’s such a personal thing.  For me, the idea for a novel can come from anywhere — a song, a news story, poetry, once even a piece of junk mail.  That spark of an idea might lead me to a fascination with a subject and a swath of research.  Then, the best I can explain it is, if that idea connects with something bigger going on with me, I start to hear a voice, or maybe a couple of voices. Then I know there’s a novel and I start writing.

The best advice I can give, Leslie, is to try not to do too much thinking.  Get out of that intellectual, analytical brain. And try to follow the ideas that fascinate you, listen for those voices, and don’t be afraid to just sit down and lose yourself in the writing. Let the story take you and don’t try to control the story.

L.L.: Any ‘Lisa Facts’ you can share with us? What’s on your mind these days?

Lisa Unger: These days I’m obsessed with addiction and dreams, perception and reality.  I’m really curious about the doorway between these two worlds we inhabit, the waking and the sleeping world and the Jungian idea that there’s not such a big difference.  I continue to be fascinated by Carl Jung and his ideas, the brain, the natural vs. the supernatural. And I’m still thinking about the main theme of THE RED HUNTER: What is the difference between justice and revenge?47720dcf954e638a97ddd2fbf6a5094f

L.L.: Lisa, as always, it’s been an absolute pleasure. All the best with THE RED HUNTER.

Lisa Unger: Always a pleasure, Leslie!  Thanks for connecting, and make time and space for that creative energy to flow!

For more information about THE RED HUNTER, to purchase, or to connect with Lisa via social media, please see:

Lisa Unger_Photograph by Jay Nolan.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is an award-winning New York Times and internationally bestselling author. Her novels have sold more than two million copies and have been translated into twenty-six languages. She lives in Florida. Visit LisaUnger.com.

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


[Cover and author image courtesy of Simon Schuster/Touchstone Books. Author photo credit: Jay Nolan. Image of Carl Jung/dreams as well as 1968 renovated home, woman performing martial arts, as well as typewriter/writing quote image retrieved from Pinterest/no source noted, all on 4.24.17

Write On, Wednesday: Jason Gurley on his sublime novel ELEANOR, time travel, The Americans, Grief, & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A highly unusual, yet beautiful read by emerging author Jason Gurley exploring death, grief, second chances, and ultimately…we think: hope.  Eleanor jacket

ELEANOR (Crown, January 2016) is a family drama through the eyes of a young girl.  It’s an explosive dive (quite literally) into the watery torrents that is family. Everyone’s grieving, for various reasons and it isn’t just a death we’re talking about here. The prose is absolutely stunning. If words could glitter, Jason Gurley’s would. At the heart of the story is a fantastical reality, spurred from grief and creativity, a balm to cure a weary soul.

Readers are thrust into a gloriously strange brew of fantasy, reality, dreams, and death. It’s sad, it’s deep, it’s dark. And if you’re in the mood for something like this, then you’re in for a treat.

Today I am honored to welcome Jason Gurly to the blog couch. So pull up a cup of coffee, and listen in.

Leslie Lindsay: Jason, thanks so much for taking the time to pop by. I know that you have worked on ELEANOR for a long time—like a decade, plus—that’s some serious stamina. Tell us a bit about your inspiration.

Jason Gurley: It’s my pleasure, thanks for the invitation. And yes, quite a long time—nearly fifteen years, all told. Before I began this book, I’d written three novels, and none took longer than, oh, eight months. I had no idea what I was getting into, as it turns out.

The early inspiration for ELEANOR, without question, was my own peculiar, looming crisis. I was twenty-three when I began writing the book. I grew up in the Pentecostal church—my father was and still is a pastor, in fact—and I was beginning to struggle mightily with my own faith. Of course, the novel has nothing to do with that subject now, at least not directly, but that was how it began.

“[An] elaborate mix of ghost story, time travel, and dream worlds. . . . Readers will keep turning the pages to see how it all ends up.”


 L.L.: Like you, I have story that first hit the page when I was about 22. And then life got in the way. What’s it like to set something aside and then come back after some years—and other publications—under your belt? Had your perspective changed?

Jason Gurley: Oh, life’s really good at that. Yes, absolutely, my perspective had changed. Over the course of a decade and a half, you can’t help but grow up. Your observations of the world around you change, filtered through a very different lens. I began writing the novel as a young adult, struggling with very deep, very personal questions; when I returned to it after about a year-long break—that’s when I wrote and self-published a few other books—I realized that a break was exactly what ELEANOR required of me. Coming back to it, I found that I couldn’t relate to the story I’d been trying—and failing—to write. But I sure did love these characters; I’d lived with them for years, and I couldn’t bear to let them go.

So I made a decision that should have been painful, but was instead quite liberating: I tossed away everything I’d written, and started anew with only those characters. The book that emerged from that period of deconstruction couldn’t be more different from the one I’d begun all those years before.

L.L.: Eleanor is pulled from her reality and where she goes…well, no one knows. Exactly. Kind of. This is that part of the story where we ought to be encouraged to suspend our beliefs in the spiritual realm and what we believe to happen before life and after death. This is deep stuff…can you speak to that, please?

Jason Gurley: One of the most beautiful books that I ever read was Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME. From an early age, the idea that time might be malleable—whether science supports it or not—simply fascinated me. The things you could do, if only time were more forgiving!

As a young man, I discovered Carl Sagan’s wonderful novel CONTACT, and it was so saturated with optimism and wonder, and his incredibly lovely way of summarizing our fragile species’ flaws. I find my own views on the subject of gods and afterlife very closely aligned with his own. He often corrected people who believed he was an atheist, explaining that an atheist would have irrefutable proof that there were no supreme beings looking out for us, and Sagan could claim no such evidence. That doesn’t make him a believer; just an honest skeptic.

And of course I grew up in a culture that believed very firmly in a life that follows death: a hell, where unsaved souls would exist, forever, in a state of permanent torment; and a heaven, where those chosen believers would celebrate with their god forever. When I was young, both were equally frightening to me. Heaven sounded perfectly cool, but couldn’t you take a break, eventually, from thanking someone for so graciously putting you there? And wouldn’t it get tiresome, perfect harmony for eternity?

This answer’s getting long, but I suppose all of these things have led me to my own conclusions about the world: there’s probably no god, no afterword to the lifelong novel we’re all presently writing for ourselves, no safety net to protect us from the lonely dark. And yet there’s so much we can’t possibly know and understand. As deep as my personal suspicions run, it’s still lovely to imagine that there’s something beyond this. And isn’t a novel the perfect place to put aside your certainties, and to explore any imagined realm you like?

L.L.: And dreams! I find them so fascinating on their own and often can’t wait to go to sleep so I may fall into my own alternate reality. What is it about dreams that we find so alluring?

Jason Gurley: For me, the dream is less fascinating; what’s really remarkable is the brain that produces it. This thing inside our skulls cranks right along while we’re away from the wheel, journeying into the most mundane and extraordinary places. What little we’re permitted to bring with us back into the waking world often seems so magical, so strange. It’s as if we’ve detoured from our ordinary lives, from time itself, to explore a series of entertaining and worrisome what-ifs. In your dreams, you might discover that the irritating cubicle-mate at work is secretly an ocean explorer. Or you might find yourself leaping in front of buses to save your own child (which is how my dreams seem to go these days). You might walk around with a lion’s head and a pink-tinted sparkler, or drift formless through some void, embodying all the consciousnesses of all the souls who ever lived.

Dreams are weird, basically, but our brains are even weirder.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away?

Jason Gurley: For all of its fantasticality—is that a word?—ELEANOR is about something far smaller, and familiar. It’s about the gifts or curses we pass along to our children, and their children, often without even knowing it; about the small decisions that change the future of people we haven’t even met yet, who aren’t yet born. Can we understand our influence? Even if we did, would it change a thing? Are we so wrapped up in the moment that only our immediate choices—so often self-serving—matter?

But I suppose I hope people will read the book and look a little differently at their mothers and fathers, or at their children, and wonder: what do they dream of? Who were they before I came along? What are their regrets?

We don’t share enough of these things with each other. And I get it. I’m guilty of it myself. It’s a very full, complicated, distracting life we all lead. So for me the book is a reminder to ask my parents about themselves, to get to know them better as people, and not strictly the familiar, loving faces they’ve always been. To consider my own life, and how it will resonate upon my daughter’s.

L.L.: Often I find myself so very inspired by what I read that I can’t wait to get to the page. Who inspires you?

Jason Gurley: So many authors, of course! I’ll stick with who I’m reading currently, though, just to save time. I’m reading an advance copy of Alexis Smith’s new novel, MARROW ISLAND, which is so rich and beautiful that it just makes me want to be a better writer. I can’t wait until everyone can read this one; I think it’s due out in June. And I’ve just finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME, which has an urgency and timeliness that I think fiction can only aspire to.

My book, of course, owes terrific debts to some wonderful novels, such as Audrey Niffenegger’s THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, or Alice Sebold’s THE LOVELY BONES, and of course A WRINKLE IN TIME, all of which taught me that yes, it was possible to write a story about a family—and blur the lines of what’s real and what’s wondrous at the same time.

L.L.: ELEANOR was originally self-published in 2014 and widely popular…and then it got picked up by Crown Publishing. Can you talk about what that transition was like?

It’s really been exciting. I don’t know any writers who, in their teens, dreamt of one day self-publishing a novel. Everyone dreams of selling a book to a major publisher, of building a terrific writing career. Self-publishing is a more viable option every single day, and I know many amazing authors overlooked by major publishers who have been able to build remarkable careers on their own terms. Most of my readers to-date discovered me because of my self-published novels and stories.

It has been a marvelous treat, however, to work with my very talented editors at Crown, and to see the kind of muscle that ripples within a publishing house. They’re capable of doing things that I simply wasn’t able to do on my own. As an independent author, I was able to do some pretty great things for ELEANOR…but mostly online. Crown published the book a few weeks ago, and since then, readers all over the country have sent me photos of the book on shelves in bookstores in their towns. I couldn’t have gotten the book onto those shelves on my own. Crown took a chance on my little book, and was able to give it the kind of wings that I couldn’t. I’m excited to see it wind up in the hands of many more readers.

 L.L.: What’s gotten under your skin lately? What’s obsessing you?

Jason Gurley: The Americans. Oh, man. Everybody should watch this show. Well, except for little kids. They might be pretty scared by it. I think it’s back in two months, and I’m just desperately anticipating it. (And yet I think I may have to put off watching it right away so I can binge on a bunch of the episodes, rather than meter them out, one by one.)

If you haven’t seen the show, or know anything about it, then here you go: it’s the story of two deep-cover Soviet KGB spies, living in America. They’re posing as a married couple; they have two children, who complete their cover story, and who don’t realize their parents’ identities. Tell me this isn’t already fascinating! Oh, and it’s set in the early ‘80s, of course, which means we all know exactly how this story is going to turn out for them, and for their homeland. And yet nothing is a foregone conclusion, and it’s simultaneously the most tense, the most compelling, and the most intimate show out there right now. Just trust me. Call in sick to work, spend a week gorging on the three seasons that are already out there. You won’t sleep.

L.L.: What can we expect next from you?

Jason Gurley: I’m working on a new novel at the moment—tentatively titled Limbs—that explores the same blurry boundary between what’s real and what isn’t. It’s about a near-perfect marriage, two people who are perfectly paired, and who without each other would be utterly broken—and what happens when circumstances irrevocably rip them apart. Oh, and it involves trees. Great, big, mythological, bad-ass trees. We’ll see where this goes, of course, but at the moment it’s ridiculously fun to write.

L.L.: Thank you for hanging with us, Jason. So very enlightening!

Jason Gurley: Such a pleasure, Leslie!

Jason Gurley credit Rodrigo MoysesJASON GURLEY is the author of Greatfall, The Man Who Ended the World, and the fiction collection Deep Breath Hold Tight, among other works. His stories have appeared in the anthologies Loosed Upon the World and Help Fund My Robot Army!!! He was raised in Alaska and Texas and now lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. Visit his website at www.jasongurley.com or follow him on Twitter at @jgurley.

Write On, Wednesday: THE GATES OF EVANGELINE author Hester Young Talks about Premonitions, Establishing a Writing Routine, and Southern Plantations

By Leslie Lindsay 

GATES OF EVANGELINE jacketSouthern fiction has a way with me. Maybe it’s the humid air or the wind from mossy live oaks whispering hints of the paranormal. Perhaps it’s the way the words flow thick and honeyed from the gaping pages, transporting me to another world. When I came across THE GATES OF EVANGELINE, a gothic debut with romantic underpinnings, I knew it was a book I needed to explore.

Today, I am honored to have Hester Young with us to chat about her book.  

Leslie Lindsay: Hester, thanks so much for joining us today. While I am typically intrigued to learn why an author has chosen her subject matter, this time I know exactly: in 1956, your grandmother Margaret began having a recurring nightmare in which she saw her four year-old son falling from a second-floor window. What a horrific image! What an inspiration for compelling fiction! Can you talk about that, please?

Hester Young: I’ve always been interested in premonitions, having had a few myself, but this family story from my grandmother was especially powerful. After weeks of dreaming about her son falling from a window, my grandmother left him in someone else’s care for a day. A window was left open, and her son suffered a fatal fall. Not long after his death, my grieving grandmother awoke in the night to see her son standing at the foot of her bed. He told her that he was okay now, that everything was okay, providing my grandmother with a tremendous sense of peace. That was the jumping off point for my novel.

My protagonist, Charlie, is definitely a nod to my grandmother. She’s grieving the loss of her four-year-old son and grappling with some dark premonitory dreams that challenge her skeptical nature. Like my grandmother, she’s a New Yorker with a dry sense of humor and a survivor’s spirit. My grandmother loved mysteries—she would’ve been thrilled to know that she inspired a strong female sleuth.

L.L.: Full-disclosure: I am a sucker for dreams. I find them absolutely fascinating, always have. What do you think makes us so intrigued by our nightly “movies?” Do you, like your protagonist Charlotte have vivid dreams?

Hester Young: I do have a lot of vivid dreams, although my actual premonitions are infrequent and not so detailed as Charlotte’s. I think in dreaming we have the ability to tap into parts of ourselves that we just can’t access while awake. It is fascinating to know what strange things you have skittering about your own subconscious. Inevitably, a lot of these things find their way into your writing, as well!

L.L.: I just love the setting of the Southern plantation, too. Everything really came alive for me, and I wanted to be Charlotte, sleuthing around Evangeline and living in that shabby former slave quarters-turned-cottage and writing. Can you share a bit of what your research was like for the book?

Hester Young: My husband had family living in Louisiana, so it was quite easy for us to justify several research trips. I really wanted to get a feel for the landscape, since it is so integral to the story. We went on swamp tours, enjoyed Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and visited some plantation homes. I chatted quite a bit with the housekeeper at a particular estate to get a sense of what it’s like to work for one of these wealthy families. We also spent some time hanging out in Cajun country, chatting with locals, and visiting parks, municipal buildings, and restaurants. I wanted the fictional town of Chicory to be very clear in my head.

Back at home, I spent a lot of time learning about different Louisiana accents. I’m very interested in linguistics, phonology, and dialects. Cajun French, in particular, was so much fun to delve into—lots of great words and colorful phrases. 

L.L.: Let’s turn to your writing process. THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is your first novel. Can you tell us a bit about that journey? How long did it take you, and what do you think you did “right?”

Hester Young: I started messing around a bit with the novel in 2008, but as an English teacher with an 80-hour work week, I didn’t have much time or energy to devote to it. In 2011, I made the choice to stay at home with my young son, and that is when I really began to write in earnest. The thing that I did “right” was simply to establish a writing routine. Every day my son napped for two to three hours, and that became my writing time. In the evenings, too, I often chose to work on my novel rather than watch TV, clean the house, or go to bed at a reasonable hour. Books don’t write themselves, sadly. You have to make writing a priority (and accept that your house might be a bit messy as a result!).

L.L.: What might be the most challenging aspect of writing a novel?

Hester Young: Writing a novel is very much like a marriage. It starts off all fun and games, but you’ll hit plenty of bumps along the way. Some novels just aren’t meant to be finished; their foundations are weak. Others possess real potential, but only if you put in the work. As with marriage, you go in with one set of expectations and you have to adjust accordingly. You must put aside your ego and make sacrifices for the good of the novel, whether that means cutting 28,000 words from your first draft (which I did!) or getting a lot less sleep than you’d like. Sometimes it’s just an endurance contest. Can you stay focused and slog on through the hard parts? Can you recognize your own mistakes and edit accordingly? Can you do these things while maintaining some semblance of balance in your everyday life? Simultaneously attending to the rest of my life was the hardest part for me. 

L.L.: I’m hearing wonderful news that THE GATES OF EVANGELINE is the first in a trilogy. Congratulations! Can you give us a little glimpse of what’s to come?

Hester Young: The connecting thread in all three books will be Charlie and her premonitions of endangered children. Each book will have a distinctive setting, a location that is culturally and geographically unique in the United States, and that setting will function as an important character in the story.

“Hester Young’s The Gates of Evangeline is not just a riveting story about the search for a long missing child. It’s also a powerful and haunting examination of a mother’s grief and her long road to recovery. Hester Young’s protagonist, Charlotte “Charlie” Cates, is tough and vulnerable, wounded and fearless, and I simply could not stop reading this thrilling, beautifully written Southern Gothic mystery.

I can’t wait for the next entry in this captivating new series.”

—David Bell, author of Cemetery Girl and Somebody I Used to Know

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

Hester Young: While in Mississippi, I picked up the Tom Franklin literary suspense novel Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter and gobbled it up within 24 hours. How did I miss this when it came out in 2010? I wish I had copies to distribute to everyone I meet.

L.L.: Thanks so much for popping by. It was so fun to chat with you, Hester!

Hester Young: So glad you could have me!

Hester Young (c) Francine Daveta PhotographyABOUT THE AUTHORHester Young holds a Master’s degree in English with a Creative Writing concentration from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, and her work has been published in literary magazines such as The Hawai’i Review. Before turning to writing full time, she worked as a teacher in Arizona and New Hampshire. She lives with her husband and two children in New Jersey.

For more information, or to follow:

[Cover and author image courtesy of author. Photo credit: Francine Daveta Photography. Louisiana plantation home, “Oak Alley” retrieved from on 9.11.15 to add interest] 

Fiction Friday: Can Dreams Boost Your Word Count?

By Leslie LindsayMisc Feb-March 2013 012

I love to read and write.  But I also love to sleep.  What happens when I combine my love for all three?  A type of Nirvana.  Here’s a clip from the nightly movie-in-my-brain:   

“She holds her  small and square-ish hand, the nails chewed to the quick.  “It’s an engagement ring,” she demurs. 

           I feel my breath quicken, “So it is.” 

          “He asked me to marry him last night when I left your room.  Well, not immediately afterwards, but later.”

          I nod as if this really isn’t the truth.  I don’t believe her.

          “I saw that ring of yours, the shiny one with the piece that dangles when you were in the bathroom,” she pauses and tilts her head looking at me as if I’m a child.  “I slipped it on my finger and admired it in the mirror, twisting my hand around like a hand model might,” she looks to me for validation.  “It fit, you know.” 

          I wince and bite my lower lip.

          “Where did you get it?  It’s different—unique.” 

          I think of the ring—cold sterling silver, a medallion in the middle.  Some may call it a charm.

          “Steve,” I whisper.  “Steve gave it to me.”  Our initials are engraved on it; he presented it to me on our two-year dating anniverary.


          I am driving but the car is moving swiftly down a hill.  To my right is a clear blue lake.  Clear blue easy.  The road winds sharply to the left, but I am too entranced by the view.  Salty sea air hangs like a curtain—no, a shroud—I am dead.  My life and vigor escaping once I hear Beth’s news.  “We’re getting married—Me and Steve.” 

          It’s not that I didn’t expect this.  I just didn’t really believe he’d go through with it—the particulars, that is, like going to a jeweler.  In my mind’s eye, I see him leaning over a glass case, pointing to the rings that strike him.  “This one.  No-no, that one—up and over to the left.” Never minding the fact that his sloppy directions are reversed to the salesperson.  Perhaps he is too blinded by love to notice—or care. 

          The salesperson  delicately pulls the settings from the case, laying them on the velvet board on top of the case, highlighting their features, covering things like the 3 C’s.

          And then, as if driven by some innate force around that sharp bend in the road, my car dips into the water, slowly sinking.  A taste of the cold, salty water brushes my lips. 

          Isn’t this a fresh water lake?  And then I realize I am nowhere near the ocean, but instead it’s my tears and snot mingling together, cascading down my face because he is hers now and forever.  Again and again. 

          When I awake, I am sure it is seventeen years ago and I am lying in a twin bed in Creswell Hall, our shared dormitory at UGA—me, Beth, and Steve.  

But instead, I’m in a king TepurPedic at the home I share with Joe on Halverson Lane.  I roll over—the insistent humming of the digital clock on the bedside table, a toxic green glows evil, a slight form of envy festers.  Illness.”

[this is an original work of fiction for my novel-in-process.  Names and places have been tweaked.  They do not represent any one living or dead]

Fiction Friday: Dream Lady

By Leslie Lindsay

 “Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing.”  –Marsha Norman

day dreamers - my-dream-is Photo(image retrieved from fanpop.com on 7.20.12, under “dream images”)

There is something so intrinsically intriguing about the dream world.  Here’s a little sampling of a novel that is floating around inside my brain.  It’s no where near fully formed…but someday, maybe in the next 10 years or so, you’ll see this book on the shelves. 

[Remember, this is an orginal work of fiction.  It is not intended to represent any individual–living or dead.  Please do not take this work as your own.  It is for entertainment purposes only].

“I don’t dream,” she tells me with utmost certainty, her long—nearly black—hair swinging from her shoulders.

I cock my head and furrow my brow.  Not dream?  How is that even possible?

Christine pops a piece of gum into her mouth, fingers the foil pack—which I notice is mostly empty.

“I guess I dream,” she corrects herself, “but I just don’t remember them.” 

I suck in a deep breath.  That’s better.  We all dream, some of us more vividly than others—some of us imparting clarity on our lives, delving deep into the souls of others even. 

Like me.

Okay–I guess I’m short and sweet today.  How would you like to see this story go?  I am thinking a nervous Nellie type of woman (Christine) who is looking to get her life in order.  She meets a dream interpreter/medium type person who helps her out…

Your feedback would be much appreciated.  Thanks!!


The Teacher is Talking: Imagine How Creativity Works

By Leslie Lindsay Product Details (image retrieved from Amazon.com on 7.17.12) 

I have this new book and I am pretty much loving every minute I am reading.  At first glance, though I will admit that I wasn’t too keen on it.*  I know, cringe.  Who can’t love a book about creativity?  I am shaking my head right now.  Ooops, that may be a little piece of my creativity falling out…

Here’s the thing: Jonah Lehrer does a fantastic job of taking all of this brain hullabaloo and making it readable.  Okay, sure there are some big words in there like dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior superior temporal gyrus.  But he breaks it all down into terms we can all understand (jeez, where was this book when I was in nursing school?!).  And he makes things seems practical, realistic, and attainable.  All qualities we can appreciate. 

In just the first sitting with this book, I learned more about creativity–and harvesting it–than I have in well, maybe my whole life.  It’s not that the book is a “how-to” by any means, but it does take simple ideas and the process of thinking to a whole new level.  For example, who knew that they color blue actually helps test-takers relax and do a better job than say the color red?  (May sound simple enough–red evokes the dreaded stop sign or pen from your teacher).  But there is actual brain science that backs all of that up. 

There’s a reason you come to epiphanies while you are jogging or hanging out on the elliptical machine.  It’s because your brain is relaxed, able to wander.  When you sleep, your brain is still working and you may get flashes of insight when you dream–if you pay attention.  Even daydreaming is scientifically studied–those who daydream, or can’t let go of a problem–are often more creative.

What the book also explains is that most creative folks only tell you about the end product of their creativity–their art, their music, their writing, their invention, their whatever…but never the frustration.  All creative types are persistent and have come across lots of stumbling blocks.  They may have been frustrated with a particular item (as in the mop–hence the development of the Swiffer), or just looking for a new idea to save time and hassle (Scotch Tape and Post-It notes).  Creative folks have been there.  They have been pissed off and down in the dumps.  In fact, that is covered, too–depression and mental illness, drug use and other “aides” to creativity. 


Definitely a book I will keep reading.  Thank you, Jonah Lehrer.  Much appreciated by this creative type. 

Class Dismissed!

*You are probably wondering why I wasn’t too keen on the book in the first place.  It’s simple, really.  It was crammed into bookseller windows next to all of the typical graduation gift books like Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and I thought, “Oh, another graduation book.”  It was probably just the timing of publication, but in retrospect, this really ought to be a book that everyone reads–new grads, included.