What happens when your dad is a fugitive? You run. Tyler Wetherall talks about the fickleness of memory, writing anyway & more in NO WAY HOME

By Leslie Lindsay 

Emotionally detailed and tense, NO WAY HOME is a coming-of-age memoir of a fugitive family on the run from the FBI told from the POV of the youngest daughter.  Here, we chat about her journey to publication, how once you write it you can never ‘un-write’ it, and how she’s back in the U.K. living out of that iconic red suitcase once again.  

Cover. No Way Home
Secrets are the stuff of memoir and NO WAY HOME is stuffed to the gills with them. Tyler Wetherall writes with beautiful prose and raw honesty about what it was like being born into a ‘fugitive family.’ When she’s born, in 1983, the ‘men in black’ were already living on the family’s California property in a small shack. They watched every move, every coming and going of the family because her father, who goes by series of aliases, but whose given name is Ben, was already a criminal.

Tyler doesn’t know her family’s real surname until she is nine years old. She doesn’t know the reason the family had moved thirteen times in her short life. She has no idea that her dad is actually a criminal, or what he’s done.

We know it’s something deplorable, but it’s not revealed until later.  As a young child, Tyler and her older siblings live in various places in Europe. They ski in the Swiss Alps. They scuba dive in St. Lucia, they have a lovely little villa in the same town Picasso once lived in France. They have homes in Portugal and England. The kids attend boarding school. In some ways, it seemed as though they were army brats with every advantage at their fingertips.

But there are also clandestine phone calls with her father from the depths of a phone booth in the woods. Hidden cell phones in attics. Scotland Yard shows up at their home.

Please join me in conversation with Tyler Wetherall. 

Leslie Lindsay: Tyler! Welcome. I found your story so enthralling, yet so devastating. I wanted everything to turn out for the best. Mostly, it does. That’s what I think readers want to know: is the author okay? Is everyone okay? Had things turned out differently, would you still have written it?

Tyler Wetherall: Everyone is okay. More than okay! I think it’s a testimony to the strength of our family and the support our parents always gave us that despite our unconventional upbringing it turned out fine. My sister is a doctor, my brother is a lawyer, and, well, I’m the most vagrant of the bunch as a roving writer. It’s hard to imagine it turning out differently and whether I would have still written it, because that involves imagining myself as a different person. I am the person I am today because of the sequence of events and decisions that led me here.

L.L.:  Memoir is such a fickle form. It’s not told in a vacuum. There are other people—characters—who are involved. At one point in the narrative, it appears as if you’re seeking approval or consent to tell this story. Your mom said something along the lines of, ‘it’s only one version of the truth, anyway,’ and your father said, ‘go ahead, tell it all.’ Of course, there are your siblings and the other fugitives involved…how does a memoirist reconcile the various ‘voices’ and write anyway?

Tyler Wetherall: Even within ourselves we carry many versions of the past. Our relationship to the past changes as we grow, and stories we might have once told about our lives shift to more closely represent who we imagine ourselves to be in any given moment. And that’s true for everyone in our lives. The process of plaiting this into a singular narrative is flawed; it cannot fully represent the web of experience that makes up the past. It can only be one story. I tried to weave some of this into NO WAY HOME, showing where my memory conflicted with my sisters, or saying when I adopted someone else’s memories because they seemed more reliable than my own. I hope in this way the reader might experience the story as something closer to the complexities and contradictions of the lived experience.

Seeking permission from my family was incredibly important to me, and throughout the process of writing I was trying to do this in a way that would cause the least amount of heartache.

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L.L.: Can you talk a little about your road to publication? Early drafts, securing an agent, going out on submission, etc.?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s been a very long road. The book began as a biography of my dad. He had recently got out of prison and he was looking for a ghostwriter to tell his story. At the time, I was 24 and working as a magazine journalist in London, but I didn’t want someone else to tell our story. I quit my job and flew out to LA to begin the process of interviewing him for the book. I soon realized that I didn’t want to write another book about a man’s misadventures with the women and children sidelined to sentimental subplots; I needed to tell it as a daughter who had lived through it. At that point I called it a novel. I was very reluctant to write a memoir, scared of causing any pain, but it was also because I was trying to keep the truth at arm’s length, which never works. After finding an agent in New York – the completely brilliant Emma Parry at Janklow & Nesbit – I started to rework it as a memoir, and the story fell into place.

L.L.: And back to the story. In many ways, your early years were quite magical. You traveled extensively and were able to see and do so much—more than most adults ever experience—do you see that as a bit of a gift?

Tyler Wetherall: I feel incredibly lucky. In between the anxiety of moving and the threat of Dad’s incarceration, we were a happy family. I think that’s what makes it tragic when it falls apart. To this day, you can drop me in any part of the world and I’ll figure out how to get by, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been that way without those years of traveling during my childhood. I’m grateful for that.

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L.L.: I was quite intrigued with your mother and father and their family of origin. Your mother left home at sixteen to pursue a modeling career and to get married. Your father was from a New York Jewish family and shared details about his criminal behavior with them. I am astonished. In what ways do you suppose their youth shaped this fugitive lifestyle? Or, did it?

Tyler Wetherall: I don’t think Dad was naturally suited to the fugitive lifestyle; he adapted to it. He likes to travel and he has a sense of adventure, which he shared with us, but his priorities are the relationships with the people he loves. Leaving family and friends was hard for them both. My mum spent much of her youth moving house for a variety of reasons – her parents were stationed in Calcutta after the war – so I think she was better suited to starting again in a new place. But I don’t think it was a lifestyle either of them would have chosen. Not being able to share your real identity and always being fearful of apprehension is a difficult state to live peacefully in.

L.L.: Despite your father’s crimes, you had a bit of a ‘wild’ spurt during your teenage years. Can you talk about that, please and if you think it was typical teenage rebellion or related more directly to your father’s activities?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s hard to know. Drugs never held the taboo for me that they might have for other teenagers, but there was definitely an element of typical teenage rebellion: shaving my head, non-stop Nirvana and underage everything. I was also willful and curious and determined to demonstrate that I was brave, and that manifested itself at times as being reckless. I don’t regret that moment though; I learned a lot and it set me in good stead for the future.


“Wetherall has written a luminous memoir that no one who reads it will soon forget… She conveys her exceptional yet familiar experiences in language that makes the reader stop and savor… Witty and eloquent.”

 —The Washington Post


L.L.: What advice might you give someone who wants to write about family? Especially when less-than-stellar moments are involved?

Tyler Wetherall: Firstly, I think it’s important to get everything on the page without thinking about the repercussions or who will read it or what they will say. If you listen to the voices that condemn what you’re doing, you’ll never get anything written. At that point you know what you’re working with and can approach the story with more consideration. Compassion and empathy are incredibly important. You’re not venting; you’re trying to understand the past and what it means to you and those around you. Also, when you’re nearing publication, it’s important to remember that once it’s out there it can’t be undone, so if there are details you balk at, think closely about whether they’re necessary to the story at large.

L.L: Is there anything obsessing you these days? What keeps you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Tyler Wetherall: I’ve just started work on my second book – a novel – and the fear I can’t do it again certainly keeps me up at night!  I’m also working on a pilot. Between the two I spend a lot of time spiraling down so-called research tangents.

L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, but should have? Maybe what your weekend plans are, if you’re working on something new? Your favorite guilty pleasure…or something related to the book.

Tyler Wetherall: I’m currently back in the UK to see my family and friends (and go to the pub!), and I’m living out of the same giant red suitcase that features in the very first sentence of my book.

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L.L.: Tyler, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for sharing this story.

Tyler Wetherall: Thank you for reading.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO WAY HOME, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Tyler Wetherall_Credit Sammy Deigh of C.A.N.V.A.S.®.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tyler Wetherall is the author of No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run (St. Martin’s Press; on-sale April 3, 2018). She is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. She has written for The GuardianThe Times, and The Irish Independent. Her short fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review and others.

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


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[Cover and author images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission.]

Heather Harpham on her exquisite literary memoir, about love & medicine & parenting, HAPPINESS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Powerful, frank, and uplifting medical memoir deeply infused with love, longing, and motherhood. Plus, she talks about her favorite literary memoirs, making time for creativity, and so much more in this luminous interview. 

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I absolutely loved HAPPINESS, which touched on every single emotion with deftness and bravery. I simply couldn’t get enough–from the charming courtship between Heather and Brain, two personalities of polar opposites (she’s a fun-loving California girl living in NYC; he’s an intellectual homebody writer), to Heather’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth, and the medical mystery that enshrouds the baby’s young life.

There’s reconciliation, how they’ll help this baby girl, and HAPPINESS was recently chosen by Reese Witherspoon as…

Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick!

HAPPINESS encompasses a subtle, brave retelling of Brian and Heather’s unconventional relationship progression, how they come together and it’s all told in such a fluid, graceful way that will have you frantically turning the pages.

Harpham does a beautiful job of describing the NICU, her experiences with medical professionals, her passion for parenting, and her reticence toward adult relationships. HAPPINESS absolutely thrums with energy and is infused with such emotion, it’s hard to set it down

I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Heather to the book couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather! This book! Oh my. First of all, it’s gotten all kinds of praise. But it wasn’t exactly easy writing (is any writing ever easy?!). Can you talk about your path and why you wrote it?

Heather Harpham: Leslie, wow! You are a writer’s dream reader –you’re obviously looking for the best in a book. And yes, as you suggest, HAPPINESS was tough to write. I’ve always been a writer, but primarily for the stage; this was my first book and it was daunting. Because this book covers such personal material, and because it describes how my family formed, I felt special obligations to readers and to the people I love most in the world, to get this story as “right” as possible. Or rather to tell it truthfully, but also with respect for what might not belong on the page.

L.L.:  I was telling someone at yoga about HAPPINESS. I said, “It’s like literary fiction meets memoir.” Now, those are two entirely different genres. And yet…that’s how I read it. What’s your response to that? How do you describe the book?

Heather Harpham: Books that bridge genres are the ones I find most exciting. So I take that as a compliment — thank you! My own favorite memoirs include WAVE, THE BRIGHT HOUR, LIT, H IS FOR HAWK and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, all of which fall into the murky category of ‘literary’ memoirs. Let’s call this storytelling that pays as much attention to language’s possibilities as it does to recounting events. As a narrative move, this can be tricky — you don’t want to over indulge a stylistic impulse at the expense of strong, straightforward storytelling. At the same time, writers (especially those of us working with material that inherently evokes pathos) owe the reader the breathing room of craft — metaphor, pacing, prosody, etc. Crafted language lifts a reader slightly above the drudgery or pain of events into a more bearable poetic experience.

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In the other half of my creative life, I teach acting and there is a beautifully thin line in great performances between the emotional reality of the actor and the character. This line can be virtually invisible, but it must exist. Audiences need that sliver of distance between the anguish or loss a character experiences and the true person conveying it. Without that sliver, watching is too anxiety producing, which drains the fun; we’re worried for the actor instead of enjoying the story or achieving catharsis. Similarly, with writing, readers need to know that the teller of a story is ‘okay enough’ to tell it.

In HAPPINESS, because I was (in part) writing about sick kids and the deepest loss, I tried to find humor or beauty or absurdity to offer the reader as a kind of ballast against the demands of the material. I felt I owed the reader, at the very least, a little levity and passing pleasure, or we’d be sunk!

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L.L.: Memoir is such a challenging style of writing. Emotions get in the way. Memory is fickle. And then, you worry about how others—the real-life people in your story—will react. How does one reconcile all of that?

Heather Harpham: While writing HAPPINESS, I had to be sure I was telling the story in a way that was bearable and sustainable for my family. In particular, I wanted to portray a period of extreme rupture between myself and the man I am now married to — the novelist Brian Morton — and to describe early, difficult decisions we made without turning the reader irrevocably against him. For our children’s sake, it was essential I describe our separation and differing choices in a way that represented Brian’s point of view, to the best of my abilities. At the same time, I wanted to be honest about the emotional turbulence I experienced while pregnant and on my own. That’s a tough needle to thread and I wasn’t successful on every page, but the beauty of writing a whole book, rather than an essay or an article or even a poem, is that you have time. If you fumble on one page, you try again on the next! I tried to make the gestalt of the book encompass not only Brian’s early rejection of fatherhood, but also his enormous, rare capacity for transformative change into the most extraordinary father and partner I can imagine.

In terms of writing about our kids, it was a tremendous joy for me, as a writer and a mom, to record moments from their early childhood. Brian and I both took a lot of notes when Gracie was sick – not only on her illness or course of treatment– but also on the many things Gracie and Gabriel said and did daily that touched us, or surprised us.

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For the Gracie (who now goes by Amelia) and Gabriel, it’s more complicated. They are both teenagers now and neither of them is fond of having a public portrait drawn of their early childhood or toddlerhood. And, our daughter’s pain is described in detail in the book, in ways that aren’t familiar or recognizable to her. She doesn’t remember the vast majority of what she went through during her bone marrow transplant. Our son remembers even less from that time, which ended when he was only two years old. They both want to be seen as the strong, mature, independent people they’ve become. And I do see them that way, but I also see within them every age they ever were, layered and looping through. But in print, I was only able to capture a snapshot of them, an early version. I hope someday they can enjoy that view. As they enter adulthood, I hope the book can offer them a record of a time that was meaningful or impactful, even as it lies outside of conscious memory. But truly I have no control or insight about what it will mean to them, in the same way we can never know how a reader will receive our work.

L.L.: Without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote HAPPINESS?

Heather Harpham: Kids. Lunches. Laundry. Two attempts at dog adoption. Marital fights. Making up. More fights, more reunions. A growth in partnership.  A long search for an affordable, comfortable home. Success — first ever home ownership! Painting walls. Writing group. The beginning of a college teaching career. A new solo show –BURNING. More lunches and laundry and walks. Writing group. California phone chats. Writing group. Long walks, down to the café for a croissant.


“An extraordinary and bewitching book, HAPPINESS has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.”

Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark


L.L.: And so, your daughter is growing up. She’s okay now. What does she think about her story?

Heather Harpham: Honestly, you’d have to ask her. When she’s been asked in the past, she’s very eloquent on the oddity of having such a personal story – a story that is literally about her deepest physical strata, her bone marrow — told by someone other than herself. She seems to have expected that she’d feel a kind of kinship with the Gracie I describe in the book – that this portrait might offer her a way to recall or even reclaim her younger self – but that didn’t happen. She remembers so little of what I describe, and the little she does remember diverges from what I’ve focused on. I told this story from a mother’s point of view. While she lived it, from the inside. Sadly, neither Brian nor I can ever know exactly what she experienced in that time, as much as we want to.

If you’d like to hear Amelia (aka Gracie) talk about these issues in her own words, she responded to a similar question from Reese Witherspoon in this joint interview (it’s the first question Reese asks her).

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L.L.: Part of what makes HAPPINESS so compelling, at least in my opinion, is the grace and ease you write about the medical professionals, the hospital experience. But at the heart of it all, resides a good deal of fear. Did you ever learn Gracie’s diagnosis? Is it still a mystery?

Heather Harpham: First of all, thanks so much for pointing to the medical professionals described in the book. The gratitude you feel, as a parent (or a sibling or partner or child or friend) for the people who save your beloved, or simply soften their suffering, is indescribable. It’s breathtaking gratitude, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-gratitude. And it never ends. We were lottery winners in medical life — we had many incredible people speeding Gracie’s healing over her four years of treatment. I recently interviewed the woman who was our “primary nurse” during transplant, Bobbie Caraher. For anyone interested in hearing Bobbie’s beautiful philosophy of bedside nursing and the need to humanize medical life, the interview is on the Hello Sunshine website.

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In answer to the second part of your question, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss our daughter’s current medical status publicly – which is a condemnation of the for-profit healthcare system rather than your question! Someday, I shudder to say, the Affordable Care Act might be dismantled enough to reinstate the cruelty of “pre-existing conditions.” This would be very very bad for millions of Americans, including Amelia. At the same time, I can say that she’s totally cured.  And no, bizarrely, we never received a diagnosis.


HAPPINESS is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.” —Star Tribune


L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you still writing? Are you more focused on acting? And what’s your teaching schedule like these days?

Heather Harpham: I’m teaching enough to keep myself regulated. Without the structure of teaching, I drift through loose, baggy time without accomplishing much… Plus, I love witnessing the artistic enthusiasm of the young actors I teach, as they figure out how to tell stories in the most powerful or original way. I learn from them constantly.

And yes, thanks for asking. I am writing. I try to show up at the keyboard for at least two hours a day. I keep a little spreadsheet to hold myself accountable. And that helps. I respect work, and so I try to make writing feel like a job. Something you clock in and out of. In fact, it is my job; it’s the work I do that most meaningfully contributes to our family’s financial well-being. Still, it’s easy for many of us (maybe particularly women) to think of our creative projects as a lark. A private fancy. This is rubbish; we need to take our talents and creative work as seriously as any employment. Of course that’s a lot easier if you’ve had some success and thus have time to write. I’m amazed by writers who struggle to stay awake and work, after teaching or doing an exhausting “day” job. That’s commitment.

I had a teacher once, a famous clown (truly!), who said that you should offer your own talent a commiserate commitment in terms of time and energy. He said, only you can evaluate your talent and potential. You alone. If you think you’re talented, show up for your talent. Give that talent a room, and as many hours as it requires. That can be scary or disorienting or downright disappointing; sometimes we’re not as talented, or creatively facile, as we hoped. But then again, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

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L.L.: Is there a question I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Heather Harpham: There is a question I wish people would ask, though, alas it is probably a question for the book I wish I’d written, rather than the one I wrote. This question is about the role of spirituality to sustain us, or destabilize us, in times of exigent duress, fear or even celebration. I found that my own spiritual beliefs were fundamentally challenged by witnessing the loss and suffering of so many innocents during our time on the transplant unit. It was incredibly painful and confusing for me as a believer. It awoke a series of questions I’ve yet to answer about the nature of a God (or if you prefer, the organizing intelligence alive in our universe) who allows for misery with arbitrary abandon. Why is catastrophic loss “allowed” to land anywhere, on anyone, at any time?

On the other hand, we encountered many people during transplant who were disproportionately, even inappropriately (!), kind to us–total strangers who offered lifelines. Why? This is a mystery of equal power. I’m guessing that being tender or generous or compassionate felt good to them; it felt right.

I have no idea why humans are built this way – to bend and help, to care profoundly — but I’m very grateful we are.

I stand in that mystery too. I wanted to express more of this spiritual confusion and appreciation within the book than I was able to. Hopefully I can return to it next time, next book. Unless I have the good sense to write about something less complicated!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you, thank you!

Heather Harpham: Leslie, thank you! You read and respond with such care to writers. It’s been a true pleasure.

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

Order Links:

ct-life-stevens-tuesday-happiness-heather-harpham-0801ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Heather Harpham (b. 1967) is an American writer and theater artist. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the UK. Her debut memoir, HAPPINESS The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, was published by Henry Holt in the fall of 2017 and by OneWorld in the UK. Happiness was the April 2018 selection for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club; chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series; and was included on the “Indie Next Pick” list by the American Booksellers Association. Originally from the northern California, Harpham now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo credit: David Kumin]

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Ron Powers on his illuminating title, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE

By Leslie Lindsay 

A moving and richly researched blend of history, memoir, and current affairs regarding mental health in America. 

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First, the accolades:

Written by a New York Times bestselling author and Pulitzer prize winning journalist, NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE (Hachette hardcover, 2017; now available in paperback) is a finalist for the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award.

…It’s a Washington Post Notable Book of the Year.

People Magazine and Shelf Awareness have both called it the Best Book of the Year.

The New York Times Book Review says this of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Extraordinary and courageous . . . No doubt if everyone were to read this book, the world would change.”

NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE has been on my TBR pile, embarrassingly, for over a year. Is that because I don’t care about crazy people? On the contrary. Perhaps I care a little too much. Mental illness runs in my family. Not just in my mother who died by suicide a few years back, but other family members as well. I’m also a former child/adolescent psychiatric R.N., so to say I don’t care about ‘crazy’ people, would be wrong. I do.

When I started thinking about my author line-up for May, I knew I wanted to focus on motherhood, for obvious reasons, but also, I had personal reasons. 

May is likely the month my mother took her last breath. We were estranged at the time; in fact, she had driven away many family members then, too. It’s suspected she died, fittingly, on Memorial Day.

So I reached out to Ron Powers. He’s obviously not a mother, but a loving father of two adult sons who have battled schizophrenia. Immediately I was taken with his charm and our similarities. Like me, Ron grew up in Missouri. We both attended the same university. Though different years and entirely different campuses. He worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a time; that’s where I grew up. He worked for the Chicago Tribune; I live in the Windy City now.

And we’ve both been touched by mental illness.

We started exchanging emails. His wife’s mother is from the County Mayo. Had I been? Yes! Do my redheaded daughters Irish dance? At least one does. And when we started correcting each other’s lapses in memory, my husband joked that we were made for each other.

But something tells me he has eyes only for his lovely wife, Honoree.

I adored getting to know the Powers family. From their early days in New York City to time spent at the Bread Loaf Conference in Vermont, to Kevin’s acceptance to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, and Dean’s lyrical poetry and astute childhood observations.  Plus, Honoree is one smart cookie, holding a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Chicago.

Powers is a loving husband and father and tireless mental health advocate. I’m honored to welcome him to the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay: Ron, it’s a pleasure. Thank you. First, you say this is the book you worked for nearly a decade *not* to write. You promised yourself, your wife. You weren’t going to do it. So why this book, why now?

Ron Powers: A legitimate question. The answer is that I eventually realized that I could not not write it.

I hesitated for several years because I did not want to revisit the pain of Kevin’s death, and because I was wary of my own motives should I find the strength to plunge in. I did not want to debase the memory of Kevin, who took his life in our Middlebury, VT, household in 2005, a week before his twenty-first birthday. As you know, Kevin had battled a severe affliction of schizophrenia and then schizoaffective disorder for three years before the voices in his head told him to end it.

Nor did I want to tarnish the dignity and courage of his older brother Dean, who was (unbelievably) stricken by the same horrible disease a few years later. Dean has survived and has even managed to stabilize himself via a regimen of antipsychotic medications. He is one of the most gallant and courageous people I have ever known.

I was wary of several mistakes that authors of such books have made. I did not want to commodify Kevin and Dean—to exploit their terrible suffering as a means of making money. Nor did I want to violate the privacy of these two beloved kids, and their mother, my wife Honoree. And of course I dreaded the prospect of delving into memories, photographs, emails, and other memorabilia of these two glorious boys who had been so dear to my wife and me.

I explain in the book why I changed my mind: I came to realize that writing the book was a kind of dharma, a sacred duty. Schizophrenia and its allied brain diseases–schizoaffective and bipolar disordersremain mysterious afflictions to most people. Their victims are shunned, marginalized, and far too often thrown into jails and prisons under the mistaken belief that they are criminals. Yet these afflictions are not simply symptoms of unhappiness, alienation, depression. They are brain diseases, passed along genetically. Those who are stricken lose contact with rational thought. They need to be stabilized and protected, not punished.

L.L.: NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE is a tough read.

Ron Powers: Thank you. Sincerely.

L.L.: It’s academically rigorous, alternating chapters of non-fiction narrative in history, current affairs/politics, and medicine with those of your personal (often emotional) experiences with Kevin and Dean’s schizophrenia. I personally loved this back-and-forth structure. I heard somewhere that you didn’t want to include Kevin and Dean in the book, but there they are. Can you tell us how this structure developed? And also the research that went into this book?

Ron Powers: As I said, I wanted to protect the integrity, the sacredness, of my sons, and I wanted to shield myself from the torture of revisiting the past.

I actually wrote a proposal for the book that did not include my family: it was to be a straight research and reportorial history of madness and how society has dealt with it from the awful era of Bethlem (Bedlam) Asylum in London seven hundred years ago through time present.

My publisher, Hachette, accepted this proposal. Only then did the editors, along with my magnificent literary agent Jim Hornfischer, take me aside to persuade me that it would be a literary and a moral error to exclude the very experiences that had led me to propose this book. At that point, I saw that they were exactly right. And so I expanded the book’s thematic scope to embrace the personal. I am glad I did.

In doing so, I discovered that Kevin and Dean had an important, legitimate function in my narrative. They became the reader’s emissaries from the bright world of the normal into the dark hell of serious mental illness.

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When I realized that, I no longer dreaded scouring through the artifacts of their lives—our lives. When I finally dared to retrieve the boxes of their emails and photos and recordings and drawings, I experienced the unexpected joy of re-entering an enchanted realm: the realm of their happy boyhoods, the happiest twenty years of all our lives. This experience led me to re-savor their sunlit personalities and to record their descent into madness with respect and a sense of rightness: Dean and Kevin were living again, for the benefit of all the victims and their families.

L.L.: There’s a passage in NO ONE CARES about the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference that I love:

“None of us had quite overcome the rustic spell cast by the nineteenth-century campus with its right-angled yellow wood-framed Inn and dormitory buildings, all clustered in a mountain meadow and cordoned off from the world by pine forests and the Green Mountains rising behind them.”

Everything seemed pretty ideal. I bring this up because not all who are afflicted with mental illness had such an ideal childhood. What do you make of that?

Ron Powers: You have put your finger on the central argument of my book, Leslie. In fact, ideal or non-ideal childhoods have little to do—necessarily—with the onset of schizophrenia. It’s a rare disease, and still a fairly mysterious one. It strikes only three to four percent of the population. (Well, that really isn’t so rare, is it?)

To oversimplify, it’s the result of a cocktail of flawed genes, inherited in the bloodline. Even people who carry this toxic cocktail do not always succumb to the symptoms.

Here is the mysterious part: the cocktail must be stimulated to its destructive effects by outside, or environmental factors.

The most potent of these is stress: extreme emotional stress suffered in childhood or early adolescence. So, yes, the lack of an “ideal” childhood can be a factor. Our elder son Dean suffered extreme stress as the result of a car accident, with him at the wheel, when he was 16. (This is a typical age of onset, if the flawed cocktail is in place). [The crash] severely injured a 14-year-old girl in the passenger seat. Dean was wracked by guilt and by the fury of the girl’s parents, who pressured the court to have him jailed for six years. This didn’t happen, but the agony of the possibility consumed our son.

Dean’s younger brother Kevin experienced no such psychic oppression. He was a sunny, happy child whose musical gifts—on the guitar—were evident from age 5. Yet Kevin’s affliction was far more severe than Dean’s, and led him to take his life. So, yes, schizophrenia remains largely a malign mystery.

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L.L.: You outline some stressors/triggers/prodromal stages to the possible development of schizophrenia, not just in Kevin and Dean’s cases, but across the board for those who are afflicted with diseases of psychosis. This has all been supported by research.

They are: 1) Stress 2) Exhaustion/lack of sleep 3) Substance abuse and 4) family history/genetics.

You mention almost all of these within the narrative, expect—and I could have missed it—family history. Can you touch on this, please?

Ron Powers: I’m not sure that substance abuse is a trigger for schizophrenia. It can certainly worsen the symptoms for those who are vulnerable. As I said earlier—and I should make clear that I claim no expertise in this exasperating mystery of the brain—that “family history” is an important indicator. But I hasten to add that neither I nor my wife Honoree has experienced symptoms of serious mental illness. Each of us, however, had parents who may very well have been undiagnosed sufferer of schizophremia or bipolar disorder. If this is true, the flawed genes clearly skipped a generation. Please bear in mind that I’m speaking as a writer who has researched the subject extensively, but not as an expert in neuroscience.

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L.L.: Tragically, horribly, your youngest son, Kevin succumbed to his illness when he died by suicide in 2005, just a week before his twenty-first birthday. How did you make it through? What advice would you give to others in the wake of a family member’s suicide?

Ron Powers: This is a hard yet legitimate question, and I want to answer it without any taint of sentimentality or pretended expertise. As I write on the first page of “NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE:

“Over the second five years [following Kevin’s death], the infernal process of ‘healing’—adaptation, really—had begun its unwelcome sterilizing work.”

We adapt—if we are lucky. If we are not lucky, or if we lack strong loving connections to others, we may succumb to lifelong depression and regret. Honoree and I—and our dear son Dean—are a family deeply bound by love. We regret Kevin’s loss deeply. To this day, I dream of him several times a week. The recurring dream is not that he has died, but that he has stopped playing his guitar and stubbornly refuses to take it up again. I don’t think I need to spell out the symbolism of that motif.

My advice to others? I guess it would be to cherish the best memories of the lost loved one’s life, to bear in mind the awful necessary truth that life is suffering, and to recall the words of the poet John Donne that have resounded through the centuries:

“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow 

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. . . “

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO ONE CARES ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE, please see: 

Order Links:

ron-powers_sarah-junek-05723fee640df64c0c066a69b10a2326d59b2406-s700-c85ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, has studied and written about Mark Twain for many years. His works include White Town Drowsing: Journeys to HannibalDangerous Water: A Biography of the Boy Who Became Mark Twain, and the coauthor of two, including the #1 New York Times bestseller Flags of Our Fathers.

He won the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism for his critical writing about television during 1972. In addition to writing, Powers has taught for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Salzburg Seminar in Salzburg, Austria, and at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. Powers is married and has two sons. He currently resides in Castleton, Vermont.

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

 

9780316341172_custom-32e55668193579658a03cb7db817cdca0ed07066-s700-c85LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness 

“Very readable and highly recommend.” 

~E. Fuller Torrey, MD and author of SURVIVING SCHIZOPHRENIA

[Cover image courtesy of R. Powers and used with permission. Other images retrieved from this NPR article, on 5.21.18]

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.

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.

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.

cover-the-language-of-sisters

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.

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:

GoodReads

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!

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.