Tag Archives: family

WeekEND Reading: Holly Chamberlin talks about mouth-watering New England summertime foods, her obsession with jewelry, paring down, and overcoming grief and heartache in her new novel, HOME FOR THE SUMMER.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Three generations of one family–a grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter–escape to a beautiful coastal town in Maine to find healing in the wake of heartbreaking loss in bestselling author, Holly Chamberlin’s twentieth (!?!) novel, HOME FOR THE SUMMER.

HOME FOR THE SUMMER

When both her husband (Aaron) and youngest daughter (Ariel) die in a tragic accident on vacation, Frieda Braithwaite is left a bereft mother and widow. There’s survivor guilt and financial and emotional struggles; fearing she’ll lose her remaining daughter, Frieda and Bella leave their home for Maine, where Ruby, Frieda’s mother has always lived in an old farmhouse.

With the help of new friends and old—plus, the healing balm of family, Frieda and Bella mend their broken hearts. HOME FOR THE SUMMER is a sweet, tender read set in a tranquil coastal town that will carry along with those who yearn for simpler times and readers who resonate with the works of Karen White, Diane Chamberlain, Elin Hilderbrand, and Nicholas Sparks.

Come along and join me as I chat with Holly about her newest book, HOME FOR THE SUMMER (Kensington, June 2017).

Leslie Lindsay: Holly, welcome! ‘Coming home’ seems to be a major theme for you and your books. As does summer and the beach. In HOME FOR THE SUMMER, we’re thrust into the world of a grieving wife and mother. Can you share your inspiration for this one?

Holly Chamberlin: Hi, Leslie. Many thanks for having me! Coming home . . . The older I get the more I’m drawn to contemplate my past before late adolescence and early adulthood changed things so radically as they do for all of us. Exploration of my early past is my way of figuratively coming home and yes, the theme in all its variety fascinates me. In this book Ruby, the matriarch of the family, literally summons her daughter and granddaughter to spend the summer with download (31)her so that together, all three women hopefully can heal. Many of my novels take place during the summer months because ideally summer provides a bit of a respite from the daily grind. Even if a person doesn’t get much of an actual vacation, summer brings with it a state of mind in which a person can dream of positive change and a fresh start and that’s conducive to telling the sort of stories I tell.

L.L.:  I’ve been to Maine and loved it. There’s something old-school and simple about it, and yet a bit progressive. I’m always curious about the towns where the books I read are set. I looked up Yorktide, but came up empty-handed. Is it a purely fictional town, or a composite of several? Is it related to York Harbor, Maine?  And why Maine?

Holly Chamberlin: Yup, Yorktide is fictional and a bit of a mash-up of Ogunquit, Cape Neddick, Kennebunk, and yes, York Harbor. At times, I mention actual stores and restaurants but I’ve also created a variety of fictional places. Wainscoting and download (28)Windowseats is a creation; Cross Jewelers is not – and my credit card can attest to that. My husband, Stephen, and I have lived in Maine since 2003 so we’re very much still ‘from away’ which is what Mainers say about people who arrived recently, i.e. less than 30 years ago, and we love it here. And you’re right – there is something old-school and simple about Maine; people here seem to possess a fierce sense of fairness and an impressive work ethic. In addition, the state attracts large numbers of artists, writers, and musicians which makes for a lively environment.

L.L.: I love that Bella works at Wainscoting & Windowseats, though she’s a bit cranky about it. She doesn’t care about candlesticks or drapes…but I do! Can you talk about the character of Bella a little bit? And are you as taken with home décor as I?

Holly Chamberlin: I think Bella can be described as a good egg. She’s fundamentally honest and loving. Her sister’s tragic death has rattled her badly to the point where she’s become a shadow of her true self. By the story’s end Bella has definitely changed from the girl she was before Ariel’s and her father’s deaths, but for the better. She’s mature in ways that she probably wouldn’t yet be if her father and sister were still alive but she hasn’t lost her native optimism and an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world around her.

On to home décor. You’ve caught me at a time when we’re preparing to downsize rather radically so I’ve been going through my credenzas and closets selecting items for Goodwill. Let’s just say that I’ve amassed quite the collection of table linens, vases, candlesticks, serving platters, milk glass objects . . . The list goes on. When we designed this house, the theme was ‘faded elegance’ and boy, did we achieve that look! In our next home, we’re going for a brighter, lighter, and cleaner look though we’ll incorporate some of our current furniture and as much of the art work as possible.

L.L. I have to admit, every time Ruby was in the kitchen, my mouth watered. I was thinking about lobster rolls, fresh corn on the cob, blueberries…and all of the other decadent things she whipped up. What are some of your favorite foods from HOME FOR THE SUMMER and what role would you say food had in the novel?

Holly Chamberlin: In pretty much all of my recent novels gathering for meals has a fairly big role. I mean, it’s traditionally around the family table that feelings are expressed (sometimes to disastrous effect!) and information shared (ditto!). The person providing the meal is offering a gift and to partake of that meal is a way of thanking the provider. Gathering for family dinners isn’t as typical as it used to be download (29)for all sorts of reasons, but in my books, I force the issue. As for favorite foods from the book, I’d have to say the fish! I love a big red lobster fresh from the steamer – especially on a wharf by the harbor – but all the fish is amazing here. Diver scallops, fresh cod, swordfish, oysters! The fish markets on the waterfront are amazing. It’s one of the best things about living here by the sea. And we do have the most amazing wild blueberries, which are quite different from the blueberries you find in grocery stores – smaller and sweeter.

L.L.: Frieda is dealing with a huge amount of grief and change with the death of her husband and daughter (not a spoiler—I promise!). What do you think happens with her in the end?

Holly Chamberlin: Without revealing the specifics of the ending for those of your readers who haven’t read HOME FOR THE SUMMER, I foresee a very positive future for Frieda. She comes to realize that she’s a lot stronger than she thought she was. The very fact that she chooses to engage with her estranged father is an indication that she’s not one to fold up and die. And the fact that she learns to find a balance between caring for her daughter and for herself, between respecting the needs of others as well as her own needs, bodes well for the future. Not all of the characters in my books face as bright a future.

L.L.: Now that summer is a little more than half over (sniff, sniff) how are you doing on you summer ‘bucket list?’

Holly Chamberlin: Summer would be a washout if I didn’t get to enjoy a big bucket of steamers at Chauncey Creek, our favorite lobster dock; hear a local band on the deck at Portland Lobster Company; and spend an evening by the harbor at David’s in Kennebunkport eating truffle potato chips and oysters. But what I love more download (30)than anything is a long walk on the beach in the late afternoon light, collecting interesting stones and beach glass.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why? For me, it’s what color should I paint my kitchen cabinets. Really. I will wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this.

Holly Chamberlin: My current and longtime obsession is jewelry. I’m a collector and enjoy learning about new designers and their techniques and reading about jewelry in different periods of history. At the moment, I am lusting after a grey, rose-cut diamond ring. Several contemporary designers are creating beautiful pieces using ‘imperfect’ stones in this lovely old-fashioned cut. The truth is that I spend way too much time on jewelry websites, blogs, and Instagram accounts. Wait. It’s not too much time! I love it!

L.L.: Holly, it was a pleasure! Thank you for popping over. Is there anything else you’d like to add that I may have forgotten?

Holly Chamberlin: I’d just like to say that, maybe more than a lot of my other characters, I really came to love and respect Frieda, Bella and Ruby as I got to know them. They’re vulnerable but such a strong family, and strong as individuals, too, in the end. I hope my readers agree!

For more information about HOME FOR THE SUMMER, to purchase your own copy, or to connect with Holly on social media, please visit: 

Chamberlin%2c Holly.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Holly Chamberlin was born and raised in New York City. After earning a Masters degree in English Literature from New York University and working as an editor in the publishing industry for ten years, she moved to Boston, married and became a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband now live in downtown Portland, Maine, in a restored mid-nineteenth century brick townhouse with Betty, the most athletic, beautiful and intelligent cat in the world. Readers can visit her website at:  www.hollychamberlin.com

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Kensington Books and used with permission. Summer porch retrieved from House Beautiful, Cross Jewelers from Google+, images of seafood/lobsters/Adirondack chairs from TripAdvisor, all retrieved on 7.6.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Cathy Lamb talks about her newest book, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, how balancing subplots is like juggling cats, her love for homes & design, quirky families, how she never wants to read her own book again–and so much more.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From acclaimed author Cathy Lamb, comes a warm and thoughtful novel about the secrets that can break or unite a family—and the voices that resonate throughout our lives.

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Reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS was one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time; I laughed, I cried, most of the time, I didn’t even realize I was reading. It’s that good.

The Koslovsky family is a big, bustling American-Russian family living in Oregon, immigrants from Communist Russia. They have secrets, they have traumatic scars, but most of all–they have each other.

The main protagonist is Antonia (Toni) Koslovsky, the middle daughter of three sisters (Ellie, the youngest and Valeria, the oldest). They have a brother, Dmitri, too.  The cover of the book would have you believing the sisters are young, but they are grown, adult children with lives, jobs, and families (Valerie) of their own. The cover might also have you believing this is a saccharine story of girls dancing around May poles, but it is a sophisticated romp through grief, heartache, love, family dynamics (and dysfunction); a story of home, a narrative of mystery.

Told in a slightly nonlinear fashion, glimpses of Communist Moscow surface as a dark nebulous coloring present-day shenanigans, THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is at once a mystery a poignant story of family told with compassion, warmth, and humor. Honestly, I don’t know how the author pulled this one off…it’s complex in character, and contains so many subplots, yet she pulls them together beautifully. And with humor. Did I mention humor?

Trust me, you’ll want to read this book, and then you won’t want it to end.

Today, I am honored to have Cathy Lamb in my office—not my floating tugboat home—though that wheelhouse window would be wonderful. We even have homemade Russian tea cakes and coffee so strong it will grow hair on your chest.

Leslie Lindsay: Cathy, it is such a pleasure to have you today. Thanks for popping by. So, I’m reading THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and laughing, laughing, laughing. Sometimes my husband tells me to shut up. Affectionately. And then I start thinking, Cathy has nailed this Russian-American big family thing. First, I have to know your inspiration for this book, and then I have to know how much of it is based on your experiences?

Cathy Lamb: These are a few of the things/visions that inspired me to write The Language of Sisters:

  • Living in a yellow tugboat on the Willamette River.
  • Russian history.
  • A loud family restaurant in Portland, Oregon where the guests sing Russian drinking songs.
  • Communism.
  • Quirky cousins.
  • The experiences of an immigrant family.
  • A state prosecutor.
  • Sewing beautiful pillows.
  • Sisterhood.
  • A mystery, secrets, and the impact of both.
  • A blue heron.
  • A fight between cousins on a bathroom floor over a hair brush.
  • Falling in love with a hot DEA agent. (Uh. Hmmm. Let me clarify. I, personally, did not fall in love with a DEA agent. I have been married for 23 years to Innocent Husband.  He would not appreciate that.)

As for the book being based on my experiences? Very little.  I do have two sisters, and a brother, but – so that I don’t get in trouble with them – NONE of them are in the book. I promise.  I do live in Oregon, but alas, I don’t live on a tugboat in the Willamette River.

I used to write for a newspaper about homes, as Toni does. But I do not have a psychic connection with my sisters and I do not cook well at all. My children say I do not cook, I “re – heat.” Naughty children!

L.L.: I like big books…(and I cannot lie). THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is long. But it doesn’t feel that way. The first time I picked up the book, I read 200 pages straight through. I didn’t even fall asleep—and that’s saying a lot for me, who gets drowsy fifteen minutes after sitting down. I think what I’m trying to say is, good job on pacing. Also, good job on keeping me engaged and throwing me right into the action via media res. And here’s the question: what was your writing process like? Since it’s a longish book, did it take longer to write? Do you outline? Follow the muse?

Cathy Lamb: My writing process…well, it’s a rocky and craggy path, filled with potholes the size of Jupiter, scary looking trees, and monsters with big teeth. First, I grab a journal and start writing and sketching while drinking copious amounts of coffee and eating chocolate.

Then I grab another journal because I have filled the first one with ideas, much of them terrible, horrible ideas, and I need to figure out what the heck I’m writing about.

I start pulling characters together. I give them friends and family, and some are nice and some aren’t. I mutter and talk to myself and talk to the characters and they talk back and I proceed onward.

what-I-remember-Most-3501-e1396982595987.jpgI give my heroine a job and a setting and a home. Or she’s homeless, like Grenadine Scotch Wild in WHAT I REMEMBER MOST. That gal ended up living in her car.

Then I talk to my wise and wonderful agent and editor and they give their input on my proposed plot, and I slug down more coffee and go for drives in the country until I can figure out the first line of the book and tell myself that, “YES. You can write another book, Cathy. You can. Cool your jets.  Pipe down. Don’t lose your mind. Buck up. NO whining.”

Once the first line of the book is in my head, I write 2000 words a day, 10,000 a week until the first draft is done. If I don’t get my word count in by Saturday, I don’t go to bed.

I try to add scenes that will touch women’s hearts. They may end up laughing or crying. Hopefully they will laugh more than they cry and relate to the characters and the plot.

I do eight or nine edits of the book until the book is done and off to my agent and editor. At that point my eyes are fried, my brain is fried, and I think about moving to an old log cabin in the middle of Montana.

There are four more edits after that.

Then, it’s done. 12 edits. Out in the universe, flying around, and I don’t ever want to read it again. And, I don’t. Unless I’m at a reading.

L.L.: There are so many fabulously colorful characters in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS and oh my gosh, how I loved them all. Did one ‘speak’ to you first, was it your protagonist Antonia (Toni), or were they all carefully cultivated? Is there one you relate to more? By the way, I loved the parents, Alexei and Svetlana the best. Oh, and Nick!!

Cathy Lamb: I think the sisters – Toni, Valerie, and Ellie spoke the loudest to me because I related to all of them.  They’re a little neurotic, intense, fierce, wild, funny, and driven because of the dangers they endured in their past in the Soviet Union.

They went skinny dipping together, sometimes drank too much, sewed gorgeous pillows, talked about life, and loved each other dearly. I could hear them in my head. It was like sitting down and talking to my own sisters, only I was invisible.

Daisy’s voice came through loud and clear for me because of how she wanted to live her life in her last years, how she insisted on staying on her houseboat, on the river, and was kind to everyone, except the bad guy, who she threw a knife at.

And I felt close to the mothers in the Kozlovsky gang, and how they felt about their kids, as a mother myself.

L.L.: I think I fell a little bit in love with that ‘man with a pistol in his pants.’ I loved him. I wanted his big, muscular arms around my shoulders. I wanted his flowers and chocolates. I wanted to spy on him with my binoculars. But I worried, too about his job as a DEA agent. Does Nick Sanchez really exist? And how can I find him? I have some single friends.

Cathy Lamb: I am so very, very sorry. I know this will crush you: No. Nick Sanchez does not exist. Except in my mind.I always try to create men that women readers will fall in love with. None of this: “Well, he’s PRETTY good, except he’s flawed like all other men.”

No.Will not do that.

I don’t want to read about a flawed man when he’s the love interest.  Really. That part of a book I just want to escape into, and I think other women readers do, too.

They do not want to read about a  man who refuses to do the dishes, or help with the kids because we women know what that means: We work all day and come home and do all the housework and the cooking and that is SO NOT ROMANTIC.

So, I created a man I’d want to be married to…and you got Nick Sanchez. Smoking hot and huggable forever.

L.L.: Svetlana’s Kitchen, the restaurant the Kozlovsky’s run is such a fun place. I love how Mrs. Kozlovsky names the specials after things going on in her family’s life. The food sounds delicious, too.

Cathy Lamb: So, for people who have not read THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS: The mother, Svetlana Kozlovsky owns a restaurant. When she’s mad at her kids she writes it on the Specials Board, along with what she’s serving that night for dinner. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

            Over the next few days I received a number of calls and texts from family and friends who had had my mother’s special named “My Childrens Makes Me Worry.” They wanted to know what we Kozlovsky kids did to make my mother worry. The older people who called from the Russian community also gently chastised me, in Russian, of course.  “Don’t make your mama worry, Antonia. You know better.”

            The regular dishes at my parents’ restaurant all have family names. “Elvira’s Tasty Treats,” which is a selection of desserts; “Valeria’s Dumplings,’ which are beef dumplings on a bed of lettuce; and “Antonia’s Delight,” which are cheese crepes.

            But the specials…well, those are a crap shoot.   download-28

            In the past, my mother has named specials “Alexei Not The Boss,” after she had a fight with my father.

            And “Teenagers Big Trouble” when we were younger.

            And I Wish Valeria Quit Her Job.”

            I had “Antonia Not A Criminal,” simply because I write about crime.

            Ellie endured “Elvira’s Bad Choice” when she got engaged to Gino. It hurt Gino’s feelings.

            As my sister Valerie says, “I’m a state prosecutor. I try to maintain respect, a professional image, then mama puts out a special called “Valeria No Call Mama Enough,” and even the criminals are asking me why I don’t call my mama more.”

It goes on and on. Don’t make my mother mad, or you’ll hear about it on the Tonight’s Specials board of Svetlana’s Kitchen.

 L.L.: There are a lot of juicy little subplots going on in THE LANGUAGE OF SISTSERS. They are handled beautifully. My head would explode if I had the task of tying them together. Maybe yours did, too. How did you juggle so many different plot lines? Did you have a favorite?

Cathy Lamb: Honestly the sub plots were like juggling bottles of wine. Maybe that’s not the best analogy. They were like juggling cats. Eh. That one isn’t so good, either. Juggling…boxes of cookies.

I think my favorite sub plot was what happened to Dmitry in Russia. Who were his parents? How did he and the Kozlovsky family find each other? What’s the secret that the parents want buried forever?  I thought that plot line was key to the whole family.

I also really liked writing about Toni’s family and all their funny and quirky imperfections. Two cousins who make fancy and frilly outfits for strippers. One who steals cars but loves opera. A sister who is engaged but really doesn’t know if she wants to get married AT ALL.  A cousin with a teenage daughter who is pregnant, something so many parents go through with their own beloved children. An actress who is an extreme hypochondriac.

We all have families. Sometimes relationships can get messy/hilarious/odd/quirky.

L.L.: The Kozlovsky family endured such hardship in Moscow. At times it was hard to read, but it was done in such a tender, sensitive way. Communist Russia is something I know little about. Can you illuminate some historical significance for us?

Cathy Lamb: The history of Russia is fascinating. Honestly, read it.  From the Tsar to today. It’s harsh and often horrible. Russia today is better than it was in the past, but there are still, as we all know, many problems. I used that background for my family because it was a time period I knew something about it – although I needed to learn A TON – and it was interesting to me and I hoped it would be interesting for the reader, too.

A few other things I researched? Communism. Marxism. Lenin. Stalin. The Time of Stagnation. Christians in the Soviet Union and their persecution. Social issues. Poverty in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church. The KGB.

L.L.: I have to ask about the title, too. THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS is just that: a special communication the Kozlovsky sisters share in which they intuit, or ‘hear’ the voice of their sister(s) when she is in distress. It comes from the mother’s family, through the widow’s peaks of their hairline. I have a widow’s peak. So did my mother. Is there any truth to this?

Cathy Lamb:  My editor thought of my title. He always titles my books because he is so much more clever about titles than I am.  One time I wrote out ten titles for this book and read them to my daughters. They almost wet their pants they laughed so hard.

And no, there is zero truth about people talking to each other through their widow’s peaks. I write fiction which means I get to play.

L.L.: One last question. I think. Toni changes jobs from being a reporter of crime to writing a column about houses, “Living on a Tugboat, Talking About Homes.” How I loved these columns (which are inserted throughout the narrative). What is it about our homes (or other people’s) we are so drawn to? Why do we care? Are we all voyeuristic weirdos?

Cathy Lamb: I love looking at home magazines. I love thinking about remodeling my kitchen, making my garden better, cleaning things up, and being in my home. I think a lot of people feel the same way – especially women.86a9f94455bc160b10b98b1033184fc1

Home has a special place in everyone’s heart and there are so many people who love to relax with a magazine while looking at something beautiful or clever or curious that someone else did in their home. We get to see how other people live and that’s fun.

Plus, I was a freelance writer for The Oregonian’s Homes and Gardens for years. I loved it. I wrote about homes, décor, and design, so I gave Toni my ex – job. (I had to quit freelancing when my first book, Julia’s Chocolates, sold as I didn’t have time anymore.)

L.L.: Okay, I lied. One more question. How would you classify this book? It seems to straddle so many genres: mystery/thriller, romance, family saga/drama, women’s fiction, there’s a lot going on, but it’s so good. Does size matter? Does genre matter?

Cathy Lamb: It’s women’s fiction. I think genre matters in terms of marketing. I have a niche, it’s women’s fiction. I don’t even pretend to write for men. My books aren’t for men. I think people read what they are interested in reading and the genre doesn’t matter.

As for size of the book? Eh? Look at PILLARS OF THE EARTH. That novel was huge and everyone loved it.  Then, there are shorter books, say by Mitch Albom, that everyone adores and they’re not very long.

To me it all has to do with plot.  The plot has to be engaging and gripping and keeping the reader turning the pages. Short or long, you have to do that as a writer.

L.L.: Tell me, did I forget anything?

Cathy Lamb:  Want to see the first chapter?

The Language of Sisters

Chapter One

I was talented at pickpocketing.

I knew how to slip my fingers in, soft and smooth, like moving silk. I was lightning quick, a sleight of hand, a twist of the wrist. I was adept at disappearing, at hiding, at waiting, until it was safe to run, to escape.

I was a whisper, drifting smoke, a breeze.

I was a little girl, in the frigid cold of Moscow, under the looming shadow of the Soviet Union, my coat too small, my shoes too tight, my stomach an empty shell.

I was desperate. We were desperate.

Survival stealing, my sisters and I called it.images-3

Had we not stolen, we might not have survived.

But we did. We survived. My father barely, my mother only through endless grit and determination, but now we are here, in Oregon, a noisy family, who does not talk about what happened back in Russia, twenty-five years ago. It is best to forget, my parents have told us, many times.

“Forget it happened. It another life, no?” my father says. “This here, this our true life. We Americans now. Americans!”

We tried to forget, but in the inky-black silence of night, when Mother Russia intrudes our dreams, like a swishing scythe, a crooked claw emerging from the ruins of tragedy, when we remember family members buried under the frozen wasteland of the Soviet Union’s far reaches, we are all haunted, some more than others.

You would never guess by looking at my family what some of us have done and what has been done to us. You would never sense our collective memory, what we share, what we hide.

We are the Kozlovskys.

We like to think we are good people.

And, most of the time, we are. Quite good.

And yet, when cornered, when one of us is threatened, we come up swinging.

But, pfft.

All that. In the past. Best to forget what happened.

As my mother says, in her broken English, wagging her finger, “No use going to Moscow in your head. We are family. We are the Kozlovskys. That all we need to know. The rest, those secrets, let them lie down.”

Yes, do.

Let all the secrets lie.

For as long as they’ll stay down.

They were coming up fast. I could feel it.

L.L.: These Russian tea cakes really are good. I think I love them more than Nick. Thanks for hanging out with me, Cathy, and talking about books in a basement office.

Cathy Lamb: Thank you, Leslie. Really.

For more information about THE LANGUAGE OF SISTERS, Cathy Lamb, follow on social media, or to purchase a copy for your own, quirky family (seriously, makes a great gift), please see:

Photo of Cathy Lamb 093.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: I was born in Newport Beach, California and spent my first ten years playing outside like a wild vagabond.

As a child, I mastered the art of skateboarding, catching butterflies in bottles, and riding my bike with no hands. When I was ten, my parents moved me, my two sisters, a brother, and two poorly behaved dogs to Oregon before I could fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a surfer bum.

I then embarked on my notable academic career where I earned good grades now and then, spent a great deal of time daydreaming, ran wild with a number of friends, and landed on the newspaper staff in high school. When I saw my byline above an article about people making out in the hallways of the high school, I knew I had found my true calling.

After two years of partying at the University of Oregon, I settled down for the next three years and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, and became a fourth grade teacher.  I became a teacher because I wanted to become a writer. It was difficult for me to become proper and conservative but I threw out my red cowboy boots and persevered. I had no choice. I had to eat and health insurance is expensive. I loved teaching, but I also loved the nights and summers where I could write and try to build a career filled with creativity and my strange imagination.

I  met my husband on a blind date.  A mutual friend who was an undercover vice cop busting drug dealers set us up. My husband jokes he was being arrested at the time. That is not true. Do not believe him. His sense of humor is treacherous. It was love at third sight.  We’ve now been married a long time.

Teaching children about the Oregon Trail and multiplication facts amused me until I became so gigantically pregnant with twins I looked like a small cow and could barely walk. With a three year old at home, I decided it was time to make a graceful exit and waddle on out. I left school one day and never went back. I later landed in the hospital for over six weeks with pre term labor, but that is another (rather dull) story.  I like to think my students missed me.

When I was no longer smothered in diapers and pacifiers, I took a turn onto the hazardous road of freelance writing and wrote over 200 articles on homes, home décor, people and fashion for a local newspaper.  As I am not fashionable and can hardly stand to shop, it was an eye opener  to find that some women actually do obsess about what to wear. I also learned it would probably be more relaxing to slam a hammer against one’s forehead
than engage in a large and costly home remodeling project. I also tried to write romance books, which ended ingloriously for years.

I suffer from, “I Would Rather Play Than Work Disease” which prevents me from getting much work done unless I have a threatening deadline, which is often.  I like to hang with family and friends, walk, eat chocolate, travel, go to Starbucks, and I am slightly obsessive, okay very obsessive, about the types of books I read. I also like to be left alone a lot so I can hear all the bizarre and troubled characters in my head talk to each other and then transfer that oddness to paper. The characters usually don’t start to talk until 10:00 at night,  however, so I am often up ‘til 2:00 in the morning with them. That is my excuse for being cranky. Really, I was just born a little cranky.

I adore my children and husband, except when he refuses to take his dirty shoes off and walks on the carpet. I will ski because my kids insist, but I secretly don’t like it at all. Too cold and I fall all the time.

I am currently working on my next book and I’m not sleeping much.

To connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, please see: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of C. Lamb and used with permission. Image of restaurant message board retrieved from TripAdvisor on 11.17.16, image of WHAT I REMEMBER MOST from Ms. Lamb’s website. Image of reading from, also retrieved 11.17.16]

WeekEND Reading: Debut author Bryn Greenwood talks about being a stubborn flat-lander, reading (and writing) about uncomfortable things, what ALL THE UGLY & WONDERFUL THINGS taught her about herself, and how’s it’s totally NOT autobiographical.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is as raw as it is compassionate. A writer I know sometimes says, “I was brave on the page today,” and that’s exactly what I think of Wavonna (Wavy), the main character in this title, as well as the debut author Bryn Greenwood. She was brave on the page and there’s truth to it right here–she’s the all-the-ugly-and-wonderful-thingsdaughter of a (mostly reformed) drug dealer just like Wavy, and she has a habit of falling in love with much older men, and perhaps she also not just brave on the page, but “writes what she knows.”

This is a brave, insightful read from a very talented new writer and I thoroughly enjoyed the language and rhythm to the prose, however, I will say that this is not a book for everyone. It’s a bit like LOLITA meets…I’m not sure. Be prepared for some rawness and uncomfortable things going on in ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

We first meet Wavy (short for Wavonna) when she is just 5 years old. She’s got a creepy-goofy mom whom she’s often scared of, especially when mom’s high. Her dad’s no better. Wavy keeps her mouth shut and stays out of sight. Selectively mute, she eats in secret, and finds many others hard to trust. That is until she meets Kellen (Also known as Jesse Joe Barfoot). Kellen is much older than Wavy (who is now 8 years old), yet they are in love. Or perhaps it’s more brotherly at first, him protecting her while she’s a vulnerable child and her parents are too strung out to parent. But then a love definitely develops.

Tragedy rips the family apart and well-meaning aunt steps in. There’s foster care, drugs, jail time, death/murder/suicide and so much more in this gorgeously told literary suspense ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

So, grab your cup of coffee and join me as we get to know Bryn Greenwood.

Leslie Lindsay: Oh goodness, I just finished ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS and I have to say, the title is quite fitting. Are you one of those writers who can’t set pen to paper before knowing a title, or does it develop organically?

Bryn Greenwood: It’s important for me to have a working title that resonates with me, but always with the awareness that it probably won’t end up being the title the book is published under. The working title for ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS was rather unimpressively THIRTEEN, in reference to Wavy’s age when her life changes dramatically. It’s a good thing I don’t get too attached to my working titles, as this book actually went through three title changes on its road to publication. The line referencing “all the ugly and wonderful things” existed from the first draft, however, so it was fitting that it ended up being the title.

L.L.: So…”writing what you know,” I have to say, I also love memoir and as I’m reading, there’s so much truth and raw honesty with your characters and the situations they get themselves into, yet ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is not a memoir. Can you discuss your understanding of the difference between “writing what you know” and a full-fledged memoir?

Bryn Greenwood: Writing a memoir would require me to take careful stock of a lot of memories, and do a lot of research to fact check the events of my life. It would also require me to decide how many people I’m willing to be estranged from. Writing what I know, however, allows me to pick and choose from the things I remember vividly and fill in the blanks with people and events of my own imagination. Still, I feel that fiction calls upon the same level of introspection and emotional honesty as memoir. In terms of ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, is some of it true? Yes. My father was a drug dealer, and I’ve done and seen some pretty crazy things as a result. Do some of the characters resemble people I knew? Without a doubt. At the age of thirteen I started an intense love affair with a man more than twice my age. He and I are both in these pages in some very filtered form. Does it approach autobiography? Absolutely not.

L.L.: Many folks are comparing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS to LOLITA. Talk about a narrative with lots of uncomfortable situations! How do you respond to those comparisons?220px-lolita_1955

Bryn Greenwood: I’m a big fan of Nabokov, and I think LOLITA is an incredible novel, perhaps even one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Breaking it down to its bare bones, though, it doesn’t have anything in common with ALL THE UGLY AND
WONDERFUL THINGS. Humbert Humbert is a sexual predator who marries a single mother and, following her convenient death, kidnaps her daughter for what I can only describe as a cross-country pedophilic rape-fest. As a first person narration, we have only Humbert’s perspective on his relationship with Lolita, and I don’t trust him. ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS has none of those plot elements, and the characters involved are quite different, as is the dynamic of their relationship. Yes, there’s an increasingly uncomfortable and inappropriate relationship between a young girl, Wavy, and Kellen, a man thirteen years her senior, but I do not consider Kellen a predator or a pedophile. Also it is my hope that the multiple narrative angles allow readers to see a much more balanced view of their relationship and come to their own conclusions.

“Greenwood’s powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair… It’s no storybook romance, but the novel closes on a note of hard-won serenity, with people who deserve a second chance gathered together….Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.”

~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

L.L.: What did you learn about yourself writing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I learned that there are things I thought I’d let go of that still have their hooks in me. This was simultaneously a happy and a sad lesson, because some of the things that still have a hold on me are full of sorrow, while others are full of joy. Accessing some of those memories allowed me to release a lot of the shame that other people had pressed upon me. As a society, we have a few set narratives about certain things, like the way “inappropriate” relationships between young people and older people are viewed and discussed. The approved narrative is that the younger person is a victim. If you have an experience that doesn’t fit, or if you decline to identify with being a victim, people will try to shame you. If you won’t be a victim, then there must be something wrong with you seems to be the message. Writing this book, I was able to shrug off that shame for something more constructive.

I also learned that I’m more stubborn than I knew I was, and I thought I was pretty stubborn. I received a lot of rejections on this book, but at no point did I consider giving up.

L.L.: There are so many things going on in this story, but it’s all handled well. In some ways, it feels like a mystery/thriller and in other regards, it feels a bit like…well, a coming of age romance, though I cringe to liken it to romance, because it’s not really that. Plus, the writing is very lyrical, polished, and emotionally resonate. Perhaps it’s literary fiction. What genre do you feel ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is? And in the end, does genre matter?

Bryn Greenwood: I think of it primarily as literary/mainstream fiction. It obviously has many hallmarks of a coming of age story–for several of the characters–but there are a lot of other elements at play within the story, as you observe. Like you, I hesitate to think of it as romance, because romance novels tend to glorify and glamorize the love stories they tell. Although ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS definitely contains a love story, it’s not particularly romantic. That said, I suspect genre only matters as much as we tell ourselves it does. I read across all genres, and I know from the contents of my inbox that readers of all kinds have connected with my book.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away after reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I hope that most readers will simply spend some time thinking about the issues that surround the characters: drug abuse, neglect, family, love, loss, food. As much as we want life to be black and white, there’s a whole lot of gray. I think we get to that understanding, and to sympathy, by acknowledging the issues that inhabit that gray area.

For readers who find that the book makes them uncomfortable, I hope they will spend a little time thinking of other readers for whom this book is a mirror. Wavy and Kellen’s lives may seem alien or repulsive, but there are people who have lived or are living these lives. Those people deserve to see their stories told with sincerity just as much as anyone else.

L.L.: I’m a bit curious about place and how that affects us as writers. Or, does it? I understand you’re a fourth generation Kansan. I’m at least a fifth generation Missourian. I’m drawn to raw, uncensored stories about family, love, and human behavior. Could just be me, but perhaps there’s some mid-America influence there. Can you share your thoughts on that?

Bryn Greenwood: Although I’ve written about other places, I feel like much of my writing is informed by my family connection to Kansas, and to the West. [See Bryn’s website to glimpse her other writing] Part of that is this sense of a massive, flat, open space, of being able to see not just the next town twenty miles away, but the actual curvature of the earth. I always feel like I’m trying to bring that breadth of vision to my writing. The other element of place that crops up in my work is this damned impenetrable stubbornness. During the Dust Bowl, when a 220px-dust-storm-texas-1935lot of people fled from Western Kansas, my family stayed, possibly out of pure bullheadedness. That bleeds through in how we feel about our relationships and our place in the world. We can be very insular, but are passionate and loyal. 

L.L.: In fact, as I’m reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, I’m reminded of several other titles that are written (and set) by Missouri authors (Laura McHugh’s THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD comes to mind as does Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE). What stories, authors, and genres influence you? What ignites your creative spark?

Bryn Greenwood: I read all different genres, because I never know where I’ll stumble across the kinds of stories and characters I love. I enjoy sci fi and fantasy, often because I feel like the same thing that lets them cross the boundaries of our reality lets them access emotions and relationships that we don’t always find in contemporary fiction. (Some of my current recommendations are Sherri L. Smith, Holly Black, and always Ursula K. LeGuin.) I’m a big believer in reading work by women, because we’ve so often been silenced. Some of my favorites are Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, and Isabelle Allende.

L.L.: I understand you used to work with Planned Parenthood. Can you tell us a bit about that? This particular experience netted you a good number of publications.

Bryn Greenwood: In the 1990s I worked at Planned Parenthood of Kansas (Now PP Great Plains) as a sex educator. As is the nature of teaching, it was hugely educational for me. I did hundreds of presentations for high school students, social services clients, inmates at juvenile and adult facilities. I saw so much of humanity and heard so many stories that I was radically changed in my understanding of the world. I can’t help but feel a lot of that experience comes through in my writing as well. In terms of what I tweeted about in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings last year, that whole experience is a great illustration about social media. You cannot control what catches people’s attention. It turned out that a lot of people wanted to know more about what I’d experienced as a Planned Parenthood employee.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but forgot?

 Bryn Greenwood: One of my favorite things to ask other writers is what newspapers, websites, etc. they like to read on a casual basis, because I’m interested in people’s daily mental perambulations. Of course, having mentioned this, I now have to admit that I love reading trashy tabloids online. I think it’s that underneath all the celebrity gossip and Florida crime reports, I know there are real stories. I like to imagine what has really happened behind all the sordid and sensationalist nonsense. Tabloids render it all as grotesque– “Famous Athlete Arrested in Altercation at Strip Club” or “Florida Woman Shoots Husband and His Lover, Her Own Mother” –but I enjoy trying to develop narratives for the headlines that reveal actual people having actual human emotions.

L.L.: Bryn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Bryn Greenwood: Thank you for inviting me to talk about my book and all my random obsessions. It’s been wonderful, Leslie!

For more information on ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS, or to connect with Bryn Greenwood via social media, please see: 

bryn-greenwood-credit-jennifer-stewart-newlinAuthor Bio: Bryn Greenwood is a fourth-generation Kansan, one of seven sisters, and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She earned a MA in Creative Writing and continues to work in academia as an administrator. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is her debut novel. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is married to an extensive home remodeling project, and is raising a small herd of boxers and hairless cats.

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

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Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to K. Bassel at SMP. Author and cover images courtesy of SMP and used with permission. Lolita cover image retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.8.16, Dust Bowl image also retrieved from Wikipedia.] 007.JPG

In My Brain Today: There’s an App (mag) for That!

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By Leslie Lindsay

My daughter is in Brownies.  She wears that brown vest plastered with patches and sings songs about smiles in pockets and friends being the color of precious metals.  She takes hikes and pets snakes at nature preserves.  She loves it. 

She also participates in the fall fundraiser (don’t get me started on fundraisers…that’s a whole other blog post).  Don’t get your hopes up too much: the fall fundraiser is not the infamously tasty cookies.  It’s nuts and magazines.  That’s cool.  Good timing for holiday gift-giving.

So, last weekend my hubby and I sat sipping coffee after a leisurely breakfast (our darling daughters were creating a toy bomb in the basement playroom)–magazine catalog spread on the table.

“Who can we give a magazine gift subscriptions to?” we mused.

Well, let me tell you–a printed publication (I think we used to call those magazines), exists for just about every interest, hobby, age-group, whatever your little heart desires, it’s there.  From Family Handyman to Civil War Chronicals to Bird &  Garden.  Heck, there was even something about guns and gardens…as if those go together.

“We could get this one for your dad!”  I pointed to one on golf.  My hubby nodded his head.  Yeah, so he can keep up with all of the other retirees on the links. 
 
He nudged my elbow, “Hey–what do you think about The Economist for your dad?”  I nodded

And it went on like this  for awhile till  my mean-spirted side took over. (Yep, I’ve got one of those…believe it or not).  My eyes grazed over the magazine entitled, All You.  “Where’s Annoying You?”  I wondered. 

What?!” 

You know, the magzine for mother-in-laws.”  I deadpanned.

Slowly, carefully a grin spread across Jim’s face, “Yeah.  Everyone and their hampster would read it.” 

My eyes grew round, “Yeah…and I could be the editor-in-chief.  Heck, I could write all of the articles…what to do when your mother-in-law drives you bonkers at the next family gathering.”

He sniffed, “How about a quiz: what kind of mother-in-law do you have?  An annoying one?  Yeah…cause they’re all annoying!  How about meddlesome.? Yep.  They would qualilfy for that, too.” 

“How about 10 quips to use the next time your mother-in-law compares you to her own daughter?” 

“Or, what to give your mother-in-law for the holidays…a broom to ride next time she visits…or maybe a gavel…order, order in the court!  Judge Mother-in-Law presiding….” Jim was clearly pleased with himself.  I couldn’t help laughing either (okay, I rolled on the floor tears pouring from my eyes). mother-in-law-from hell

(image source: http://www.babyproofingyourmarriage.com/tag/mother-in-law-interfering/)

“How about  Annoying You magazine,” I countered, once I caught my breath., a little bit of tinkle in my pants.   

And so it done.  A new magazine is born.  And just what would the Brownies say about that?!

And that is what is in my brain today, Thursday November 1st 2012.