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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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


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

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

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

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

Join me in welcoming Chris Bohjalian to the blog couch.

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

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

Check out THE SLEEPWALKER’S book trailer: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Bohjalian:  These were great. Thanks!

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

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

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


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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

The Doll Funeral.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate Hamer:  Thank you!

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

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

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

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


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

Write On, Wednesday: 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 or follow him on Twitter at @jgurley.

Write On, Wednesday: Edgar-Nominated Lisa Ballantyne talks about EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, memory, PTSD, and Falling in love with character before plot

By Leslie Lindsay 

International bestselling author and Edgar Nominee Lisa Ballantyne leapt onto the scene in 2013 with her gorgeous and chilling debut THE GUILTY ONE. Now she returns with stunning follow up EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, a tale that alternates between a kidnapping in 1985 and a present day accident that sends one woman down a path of discovery that will leave her forever changed.

Set in Scotland and England, EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT is a compelling read about a cast of characters who don’t seem to be related at all in the beginning, but of course, they’re all there for a reason. When Deputy Director/Teacher of a nearby school is rear-ended in a crash near the holidays, she is struck with shards of memory that propel her back to 1985 and a haunting event that has left her fragile since. She feels she’s losing her mind, but could it just be the stress of raising kids, working, and the holidays?EveryThingSheForgot PB C.JPG

EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT explores PTSD, family connections, and is beautifully executed in a page-turning read.

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Lisa Ballantyne to the blog couch to chat about her work.

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it is such an honor to have you pop by today. Can you give us a little glimpse into your first inkling with EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Was there a situation or character that sort of “came to you?”

Lisa Ballantyne: Leslie, thanks so much for having me! It’s my honor! When I first began to work on EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT, I was interested in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first scene of the book – involving the car crash and the strange saviour – came to me quite quickly and I knew that the burned man who rescues Margaret would be the key to her past. In writing the 1980s scenes, I knew I wanted to write about a man who steals his daughter and for the journey they undertake to be a redemptive one, spanning the whole country. I wanted the relationship between father and daughter to gradually soften as the road trip progresses, from one of captor and captive, to one of genuine affection and love. The father-daughter relationship was really center stage, but so was a sense of moral ambiguity.

L.L.: I have to say…at first I didn’t really like George, but oh my, I became a bit smitten with him as the story went on. You have quite a cast of characters in this story…is there one (or two) you felt particularly close to?

Lisa Ballantyne: I am so glad that you liked George! I admit I fell in love with him too! The greatest joy for me as a writer is creating characters – new consciousnesses – that readers, and myself, can believe in, fall in love with, hate, mourn. Publishing a book and sharing it with others, is like breathing life into these characters that started off in my head. For me it doesn’t get better than that! In each book, I usually have one character that I feel very close to – who I see as the ‘soul’ of the novel – and in EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT that character is George. I saw him as a typical, tragic questing hero, struggling to escape his circumstances and ultimately himself. George’s character also works in tandem with Angus, the religious journalist that chases him from coast to coast. I hoped these characters would make the reader question morality as good and evil is turned on its head. George is a murderer, a thief and a kidnapper, and yet, we grow to love him.

    “Ballantyne weaves a fine tale of family drama, dark secrets, and the past’s effect on the present. The threads seamlessly come together in a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful, finale.”

Publishers Weekly

L.L.: If you’re like me, a story you’re working on often evolves, takes a life of its own…did anything of that sort happen as you were working on EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Can you explain?

Lisa Ballantyne: Yes, just like you, this happens to me too, and it’s wonderful when that happens, right? The scene where the teenage George and his loan shark father visit a debtor on a building site was an interesting one to write. It was one of the rare occasions when a character takes over and I as the writer watched the scene I was writing unfold. I knew George intimately, and I knew that he couldn’t do what his father was demanding of him. The outcome of the scene was George’s only choice and so he made it for me. Its exciting but a little strange when that happens, and it only happens when I fully understand a character.

L.L.: Which begs this next question: are you a pantser, or a plotter? Do you follow the pen or is your work carefully outlined?

Lisa Ballantyne: I’m afraid, I am not a plotter. I always start with characters and I think that if I understand them well enough, then the story will flow through their motivation. I have a lot of respect for writers who work everything out beforehand. I am sure it is a better and quicker way to write, but as with most things in life, I like to feel my way…

L.L.: You effortlessly leap between past and present narratives highlighting your characters flaws in an honest and electrifying read. Yet there are serious implications for own’s identity and memory. Can you speak to that, please?

Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you so much. As anyone who has ever been close to someone with memory problems knows, memory is at the heart of self; it is the structure that holds our personalities together. The central character in this book, Margaret has very specific memory loss related to a traumatic event but it has still unconsciously shaped her choices in life. Since EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT has been published, many people have written to me to say it has reminded them of their own past traumas and how confronting those avoided memories challenged them. ‘Selective memories’ can be protective but sometimes we need to understand why we chose to forget certain things.


L.L.:, Endings can be tricky. You want a little twist, yet something inevitable, still you want it memorable for your reader. How much effort did you put into the ending of EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT? Or did it grow organically?

Lisa Ballantyne: The ending to this book came quite instinctively and at first I was uncertain that it was going to work. Ghosts are tricky to render if not infrequent in novels, but the ghost’s manifestation at the end of EVERYTHING SHE FORGOT is exactly how one of my aunts described her husband appearing to her, soon after he died. It was an image that had always stayed with me and so I chose it for the ending of my novel. It seemed right that the love between my main characters would survive in some tangible way.

L.L.: What might be obsessing you nowadays?

Lisa Ballantyne: I am on a deadline to finish my next novel and I am just completing a residency where I’ve been doing literacy work with juvenile offenders, so that has taught me a great deal.

 L.L.: So, can I ask what you’re working on?

 Lisa Ballantyne: I never like to talk about the novel I am working on (to anyone) until it is finished, but suffice to say it will be mining further subjects that continue to fascinate me, such as family, the past and the present, good and evil and the question of choice.

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

Lisa Ballantyne: If you forgot something, possibly you CHOSE to forget, and we should leave it buried?

L.L.: Lisa, thank you so much for chatting with is. It was lovely having you!

Lisa Ballantyne: Thank you SO much for having me. It was my greatest pleasure! Good luck with your own projects and my very best wishes.

Lisa Ballantyne ap1.JPGLisa Ballantyne is the author of the Edgar Award-nominated and internationally bestselling The Guilty One. She spent most of her twenties working and living in China, before returning to the UK in 2002. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland

Follow Lisa on her Facebook Author page:

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Author Kathryn Craft of THE FAR END OF HAPPY

By Leslie Lindsay

You may know her from her January 2014 fluid, lyrical debut about a dancer, THE ART OF FALLING.

FAR END OF HAPPYHer second novel, THE FAR END OF HAPPY (May 2015) takes us on a poignant and emotionally charged glimpse into an unraveling marriage, the sadness draped around the characters like a shroud, and the hope that everything will work out in the end. It’s a tough read for the subject matter alone: suicide. But it’s the tenderness and compassion Craft brings to the narrative that will have you walking away feeling a strange brew of optimism.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Kathryn. I’m so honored to have you on the blog today. I guess I have to start with the obvious: THE FAR END OF HAPPY is based on an event in your life: your own ex-husband’s suicide. What a challenging topic—and how did you decide on the structure of the novel, i.e. why fiction over a memoir?

Kathryn Craft: Hi Leslie, thanks so much for having me here. The answers to the two parts of your question are interrelated. In the seventeen years since my husband died I’ve drafted a lot of memoir in the form of essays, blog posts, and what I came to think of as chapters. I came to realize, though, that there was no way I could write about my early marriage without the foreknowledge of the standoff to come. I’d think, “Were there clues here?” Once my fiction career powered up I started to think more creatively about a structure that would evoke the way the standoff had seared itself into my consciousness. Constraining story events to its twelve hours seemed the best way.

​​​Kathryn Craft author

I also came to believe that writing from one point of view would make it seem as if the suicide had happened only to me, which was not my experience. I knew for a fact that many people in my community, even strangers, were deeply affected. These two choices—the twelve hour structure and the three point-of-view characters—planted my feet firmly in the realm of fiction, even though my intent was to seek a greater truth.

L.L.: In the back of the book, you answer some questions about what was really true and what had been fictionalized, including your name. In fact, you maintain that you are *not* Ronnie, yet you are both very much alike. In what ways are you like Ronnie and in what ways do you differ?

Kathryn Craft: Most of the differences have to do with ripple effects that resulted from the way I fictionalized Ronnie and Jeff’s source families. Beverly is nothing like my mother—my mother was much too controlling to ever let me take the reins—and I had no lifelong relationship to my husband or his mother, so Ronnie related to these women much differently than I did with their real life counterparts. I fictionalized the mothers so I could force more conflict on the day of the standoff, since achieving believable character arcs for these women within twelve hours was a challenge. Yet doing so felt imperative; the promise of change needed to equal the depth of the loss. I also knew and idolized my father, and was one of five children. Ronnie’s and my emotional arc, though, in terms of trying to find a sense of self within a marriage, was one in the same.

L.L.: Suicide is one of those faux-pas topics; you just don’t go there. Yet you handle it so sensitively. How might we gain more awareness of this tragic mental health consequence?

Kathryn Craft: Thank you so much Leslie. I had two miscarriages, too, and my mother about died when I needed to talk about them to push through my grief. But you know what? In one such conversation, I found out a good friend of my mother’s had suffered five such losses—five!—and my mother never knew. Why did I know? When I shared, this woman opened up to me. At book signings I’ve had people hold up the line while pouring their hearts out about suicides in their own lives. Holding in all that pain and perceived shame is what causes suicide. We need to talk about those things that have so deeply wounded us. It is not shameful or weak to do so—it is real, and human, and has the potential to bond rather than divide.

Some great resources where you can learn more include To Write Love on Her Arms, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Take 5 to Save Lives. People who have been entertaining thoughts of self-harm should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Readers, if you would like to add your voice to my #choosethisday initiative on Twitter by posting uplifting quotes and thoughts about what makes you come alive, I’d love to re-tweet what comes through with that hashtag. We may feel unequal to the challenge of helping others. Ill equipped. But it is so much better to have brought all of our human imperfection to the task of trying rather than ignoring.

L.L.: What advice do you have for writers interested in exploring their own truth of an event without offending other parties/family members? And to extend that a bit—how has your own family received the book?

Kathryn Craft: My advice would be to wait to write about the event until you’ve restored the kind of balanced perspective that will allow you to give each character in the story a relatable goal. Now you’re not vilifying, you’re exploring relatable conflict. People who write memoirs in order to drag readers through the muck and mire of their existence will not win friends—or, frankly, readers. There is a lot of soul work and healing to accomplish before you can offer up the kind of context a reader seeks from a great story.

As for my family, my sons, now 25 and 27, gracefully and courageously allowed me to base Ronnie’s sons on them, and I did so right down to dialogue I recorded in my journals. Both came to the launch party. My older son introduced me and let me tell you, that was a moment of full-circle healing I will never forget. They’ve both expressed interest in reading The Far End of Happy but I am thrilled to say they live full, vital lives and don’t have a lot of spare time for reading right now! One has started the book and it will be there for the other when he’s ready. Sadly, my parents will never read any of my novels; my dad died shortly before I got my agent and my mother has dementia. As for my siblings, I’ve given them a pass on this one. I chose my husband, they didn’t. No one wants to go through a suicide and I wouldn’t expect them to take it on again, although I do know that one sister is doing so. My husband was an only child and his parents are both gone so I faced no repercussions there.

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

Kathryn Craft: How to step it up for book three. 

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

Kathryn Craft: Is it okay to skip this one since I answered the last as I did? Plus this is probably way longer than you’d hoped!

L.L.: Thanks so much for such an illuminating book—and for taking the time to be with us, Kathryn!

Kathryn Craft: Leslie, I sense a soul sister in you—your questions dug deeper than most. Thank you for the opportunity to entertain them.

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft Bio:

Kathryn Craft is the author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves any event that brings together readers, books, food and drink, and mentors other writers through workshops and writing retreats. A former dance critic, she has a bachelor’s in biology education and a master’s in health and physical education from Miami University in Ohio. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and spends her summers lakeside in northern New York State.

You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter:@kcraftwriter, her Website , and Goodreads    . Special thanks to publicist Suzy Missirlian @Suzy4PR for connecting us. Author and cover images courtesy of K. Craft.