Michelle Frances on her debut–an International bestseller–THE GIRLFRIEND, multifaceted characters, possessive girlfriends, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A slow-burn (and that’s a good thing!) literary domestic thriller with a very unlikable, conniving, master manipulator of a girlfriend.

Plus, Michelle Frances talks about how her career writing TV scripts helped with the narrative, the mother-son dynamic, her summer plans, and what’s next for her.

the girlfriend final WOW. This girl. THE GIRLFRIEND is everything a mother of a son(s) would absolutely deplore. She’s from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ lies, lies, lies, and yet she’s sweet (at least to your face), gorgeous, and your son’s smitten. But something’s off. Does a mother intervene?

That’s what THE GIRLFRIEND sets out to answer. At first Cherry is a bit endearing in her nervousness around ‘the parents,’ but how she quickly–and subtly–worms her way onto the dark side. This gal is sneaky, highly disturbed, and just fun to hate. I was absolutely blown away with audacity of this young woman and also it reminded me of how ‘love is blind.’

A bit on the plot: Daniel is in medical school. He was born into a wealthy family, but seems to be a good all-around guy who wants to work in medicine even though he doesn’t technically *have* to work; he has a trust fund, a Mercedes, and his dad just paid for his fancy new flat. And, as an only child, he has a very doting (enmeshed?) mother, Laura.

Along comes Cherry who works as a Real Estate agent (apprentice) and lo and behold, smart rich boy needs a place to live…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Please join  me in welcoming Michelle Frances to my author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Frances, Wow! You absolutely blew me away with Cherry! First, I want to know if there was a scene or character or situation you wanted to explore most in THE GIRLFRIEND; what was the driving force?

Michelle Frances:  Thank you, Leslie!  This is such an interesting question because this is exactly how the book started.  There is a moment about halfway through the novel when Daniel’s mom, Laura, decides to do the most awful thing and tells a lie like no other.  It was this lie that got me thinking about how such a scenario could exist – how could a character like Laura justifying saying such a thing?  And from there grew the story.

L.L.: While I found the plot to be taut and intriguing, THE GIRLFRIEND is also a very voice-y narrative, but it’s quite literary. Was there a particular character who ‘spoke’ most to you?

Michelle Frances:  I have a soft spot for both mom Laura and girlfriend Cherry, despite their bad behavior.  They both start from a hopeful, positive place but jealousy and insecurity warp their perception of the situation they find themselves in, and lo and behold, things start to spiral out of control.  I feel for Cherry as she’s a classic victim of intergenerational unfairness – for her there’s no state certainty of a safety net and a pension.  Even the idea of owning her own home is a distant dream.  These challenges echo what young people are having to face today and in fact many will be worse off than their parents.  I can understand her struggle and have empathy for her reasoning that you might as well spend time in a geographical place where future boyfriends are more likely to have money, than a place where they’re not.  I also have empathy for Laura’s desire to protect her only remaining child from someone who she believes to be up to no good.   I don’t think any mother could stand back and watch what they believe to be a car crash relationship unfold – although mothers don’t have to go to the extent that Laura does in order to stop it!


“The Girlfriend is a taut psychological thriller, the evil chillingly drawn.  Every character is layered and beautifully twisted.   Makes me consider running background checks on any potential spouses my children bring home!”
– New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose


L.L.: And with Cherry—she’s such a fickle, complex character. Did you have to do any research to get her ‘just right?’

Michelle Frances: Cherry is incredibly complex in many ways, but she’s also very straightforward.  She has simple goals that chime with most of ours: financial stability and a happy relationship.  I didn’t do any particular research to understand her, she actually came alive to me quite readily.  Most of us are young and broke when we’re starting out and the class system in the UK is very much alive and well.  Cherry is also incredibly intelligent so I just pitted that intelligence right into the middle of the scenario of her finding a wealthy boyfriend with a tiger mom and her psychology and motivation became very clear.  As soon as Cherry comes up with the notion that Laura believes she’s not good enough for her son Daniel, Cherry decides she’s going to keep him, whatever it costs.

L.L.: Similarly, does Cherry have a psychological diagnosis?  Cause I’m kind of thinking she should!

Michelle Frances:  Ha!  Well, I do think she has very dark thoughts sometimes – as many of us do – the difference being that most people wouldn’t choose to act on them in the way Cherry does!  She feels she has so much to lose and she is fighting for her place from what she feels is a real disadvantage, therefore she justifies crossing that line – more than once!  Personally, I’m fascinated by how psychotic tendencies in people can become dangerously exacerbated when they feel threatened.

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L.L.: Was there anything that surprised you during the writing process? Did you learn anything along the way?

Michelle Frances: As this was my first novel, the whole writing process was a learning experience.  I had to feel my way through and found my skills in television script editing came in very useful!  Although the medium of television is very different to a novel, certain elements are true of any form of storytelling: character development, pace, and twists in the story are all essential to an engaging thriller.

L.L.: Do you have any exciting summer plans…perhaps to the South of France? Or maybe whitewater rafting?

Michelle Frances: Funnily enough, I did go white water rafting a few years before writing the book — just days after meeting my boyfriend.  It was a gift for his birthday!  Fortunately there were no accidents but I do remember very clearly the adrenaline rush of the rapids.  This summer I shall be working on my third book, with perhaps a family seaside break in the middle.

L.L.: Who or what is obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Michelle Frances: Oh gosh, I get fired up about lots of things.  I’m a governor at my children’s school, which means I’m involved in the strategic decisions of the school.  Education is something I’m extremely interested in, and how teachers and pupils are affected by government policies and decisions.  I also get very hot under the collar about injustice and in fact the book I’m working on this summer is a ‘David and Goliath’ tale about a mother’s fight for justice for her daughter.

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L.L.: Michelle, it’s been an absolute pleasure! Please tell me, is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Michelle Frances: Thank you so much for [having me].  I’ve loved [every minute].  If you enjoy THE GIRLFRIEND, then perhaps I can also shamelessly let you know about my next book!  It’s called THE TEMP and is due out in the USA on 29 January 2019.  It’s about a successful TV producer, Carrie, who unexpectedly falls pregnant and reluctantly has to leave her job in the hands of a young, ambitious temp cover.  Emma is smart and charming and Carrie begins to suspect she is maneuvering her way into Carrie’s life, causing turmoil in her marriage and her work.  It’s a thriller about ambition, deception and betrayal. Thank you again!

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

Order Links: 

MF CroppedABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michelle Frances graduated from Bournemouth Film School in 1996 and then from the Masters programme at the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, in 1998. Returning to London, she has worked for several years in film and TV as a script editor and producer for both the independent sector and the BBC.

THE GIRLFRIEND, her debut psychological thriller, has been optioned by Imaginarium Studios for film adaptation.  Translation rights have sold in fifteen foreign territories.

Michelle is currently working on her second novel.  She lives in East Surrey.

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

GoodReads
Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Email:leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
Amazon

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Kensington Press and used with permission].

Elaine Neil Orr on her luminous, glittering tale, SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS on racial tension in the 1960s and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS is such a tender, thoughtful, and affecting read on what it means to be touched by another culture–brimming with personal and social issues and told in a gentle, glimmering prose. 

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I’ll admit to having a bit of a cover crush on SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS. I mean, it’s stunning, right? To me, it embodies summer with a nod to a simpler time. Of course, we read because of the story, not the cover. And this one absolutely brings the carefree days of yesteryear to light, but…were they so carefree?

This was my first book by Elaine Neil Orr and here’s what I know:  she’s drawn to tales that take place in distinct locations and is eager to merge them into a seamless whole. Place is not just a setting for her, but a character. SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS takes place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Nigeria, places that couldn’t be more different from one another. Plus, it’s the South in the 1950s-60s, we we’re talking civil rights and a lot of naiveté.


“A perceptive and powerful story told with generosity and grace.” 

~Charles Frazier


Orr’s main characters–Tacker Hart and Kate Monroe–are perfectly flawed. Tacker is a former high school football star turned architect and has traveled–lived–in Nigeria. He comes back home after a misunderstanding in Nigeria and he’s not the same guy. Now, at 25 and working/managing his father’s grocery, he’s thrust into a world that seems a little backward. He doesn’t understand the animosity between whites and blacks.

Kate, meanwhile is dealing with the loss of both her parents and trying to make a living as a photographer. She’s reeling from a troubling relationship with a resident physician and well…it seems she’s ahead of her time.

And then there’s Gaines Townson, a young African-American man who is new to town and not feeling very welcomed. I found all of these characters fascinating *because* of their flaws.

Please join me in welcoming Elaine Neil Orr to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay: Elaine! I’m so honored to have you. I understand you grew up in Nigeria. Was that your inspiration for SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, or was it something else?

Elaine Neil Orr:  I had already written a memoir and a first novel set primarily in Nigeria. My aim with SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS was to lay claim to my U.S. American territory, which is the American South. My inspiration was place. I chose Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before I had a character or a situation or a conflict. I spent one year in Winston, 1960-61, my first grade year. Having grown up among Nigerians, this was my first experience of living among thousands of white people. My school was white, my church was white, the neighborhood was white. This new world was like a negative of a photograph, everything the opposite of what I had known. But I love Winston-Salem now, though I live an hour and a half away in Raleigh. I have fond memories of West End Boulevard, and the grocery down on First Street and Peters Creek and the flora of the neighborhood.

L.L.: Sometimes, I feel we need to step outside our comfort zone(s) to fully understand our role in the world. I experienced this as a junior in high school when I traveled to Greece and Italy. The contrasts between my insular Midwestern world and the clash of modern amidst ancient ruins definitely shaped me. Can you speak more about that, please?

Elaine Neil Orr:  Yes, well as I just suggested, even though I was white I was at home in Nigeria where I was born. All of my early memories are from southwestern Nigeria; my first sense of family and love and belonging is there. “Coming to America” was stepping out of my comfort zone. The contrasts were stark. I still had my family here but the rest of the world was hardly recognizable. What I began to fathom at age six was that there were two worlds and I belonged somehow to both. But Nigeria seemed more real with its mud and plaster houses and the huge rain forest hardwoods and the pounding rains and drums at night. I still see the world from the point of view of a girl in Nigeria. In SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, I wanted to conjure a similar perspective in Tacker. It couldn’t be exactly the same. But he would begin to see the world differently because of his time in West Africa, not just the countryside and the buildings and compounds but the way the Nigerian men invite him into their community.

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L.L.: And so for you, place is not just a backdrop, but  becomes a character. Like characters, even settings can be flawed. How can readers learn from those flaws?

Elaine Neil Orr: Place is absolutely a character, always. And all settings are flawed. There’s this wonderful word I learned in graduate school. Bricloeur.  It’s from anthropology and it describes some people and cultures and how they practice “using what comes to hand” to create. I like to think that in the twenty-first century, we can be world travelers (if largely through books), and as we travel we can pick up and create our personal and cultural mindsets by selecting the best from a variety of places. In Nigeria, Tacker learns the hospitality of his Nigerian friends. He transfers this learning to his American landscape where he is able to see that true hospitality requires white Americans to invite African-Americans to the table. Nigeria is also flawed. The character of Joshua is seduced by a form of evangelism that causes him to inflict damage on another person—Tacker to be precise. All cultures and places are sites of good and evil. Yet to get Biblical about it: it’s easier to see the bit of dust in your neighbor’s eye and not the log in your own. I hope SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS helps us see our own flaws and collect the good to create improved moral landscapes and communities.

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L.L.: I have to say—architecture and design! I love when I stumble across this element in a book. What propelled you to give this profession to Tacker?

Elaine Neil Orr: At first I was going to make him a hydrologist. I needed a reason for him to be going to Nigeria as the new country was gaining independence. And I knew from my own experience that more developed countries sent ambassadors to help do this building. But hydrology was a difficult field for me to learn. As an art major in college, I thought I might have better luck learning and writing about architecture. I was influenced by Nigerian architecture growing up, both the traditional building of houses and the new banks and hotels with open concrete designs. Missionaries were sent as architects. So it was a good choice. But I still had to seek out an architect here in Raleigh to teach me how to write about design and the elements of architecture. I’m so glad you enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I love to learn about something ancillary to the plot when I’m reading fiction, whether it’s music or science or math.

L.L.: In fact, both of your main characters have an artistic bent to their character. Kate is a gifted photographer, which, aside from Margaret Bourke White, was predominately a male-driven profession in this time. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Elaine Neil Orr: My husband first suggested Kate’s photography. I like the device of giving a character a significant object. In my first novel, A DIFFERENT SUN, the protagonist, Emma, owns a special writing box. I gave Tacker the Indian motorcycle. Kate needed something to help define her. While she’s conventional in some ways, she also has an artistic mother and she knows she’s smart. So I thought she could take this step. And I learned that the Winston-Salem Journal had a woman photographer on its staff in the late 50s and 60s. Her name was Cookie Synder. She actually started with the paper in 1948. I didn’t put her in the book because it would mean they didn’t need Kate. I left that spot for my character! As far as the decision to make both Tacker and Kate artistic, I suppose that occurred “accidentally on purpose” as we used to joke. These identities are within my range. They’re both sexy, too.

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your writing routines or rituals?  You also teach world literature and creative writing…I’m kind of wondering how you do it all?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m lucky to be a professor at a Research I university. That means that half of my job is to write. Two days a week I go to campus and teach. Two days, at least, I get to write, sometimes three. But in the U.S., where only a very few writers can live on their writing, a teaching job like mine is about as good as it gets. I have almost four months off in the summer and do the bulk of my writing then. But even in the school year, I can write and push forward a large project and I have learned to write any time any where, though I love to go to writing residences such as the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  I also teach in the Spalding University brief-residency MFA in writing program. But I rarely take a full load of students. I don’t really need another teaching gig but I love the program and what I gain from it—in terms of the students and the other faculty—more than compensates me for my time.


“The riveting plot and real-life characters would not let me go.” 

~Anna Jean Mayhew


L.L.: What’s on your summer bucket list? Trips? Must-reads? Manuscript deadlines?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m beginning another novel and hope to keep making progress with it even as I keep hopping around on book tour to Fairhope, Alabama, and Atlanta, and Pawley’s Island. Of course there’s a beach trip planned with our granddaughter.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to weeding my garden and walking the dog and cooking meals with my husband. Normal life sounds sweet right now after two intense months of touring.

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Photo by Bruno Joseph on Pexels.com

L.L.: Elaine, it’s been a pleasure! What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Elaine Neil Orr:

Q: You might have asked: When did you first experience racial tension?

A: in Decatur, Georgia, in the ninth grade, while my missionary parents were “home” on a furlough year. No one in Nigeria ever talked about “race.” There was no “race.” We were Americans and Nigerians were Nigerians. No one thought in terms of color. One of the greatest awakenings of my life was encountering the tension in that high school. It had only recently integrated. The hallways and lunch room felt electric with fear and rage.  I was on the “white side.” It was as if we had been branded. I’m sure that experience played a role in my writing SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Elaine Neil Orr credit Elizabeth Galecke Photography 2017.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elaine Neil Orr is a writer of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism. With stories set in Nigeria and the American South, she delves into themes of home, country, and spiritual longing.

Her memoir, Gods of Noonday (Virginia, 2003), was a Top-20 Book Sense selection and a nominee for the Old North State Award. She is associate editor of a collection of essays on international childhoods, Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books.

Orr has published extensively in literary magazines including The Missouri ReviewBlackbirdShenandoah, and Image Journal, and her short stories and short memoirs have won several Pushcart Prize nominations and competition prizes. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL and used with permission]

Carol Goodman on her new Gothic thriller, THE OTHER MOTHER, about postpartum psychosis & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

THE OTHER MOTHER…a creepy Gothic thriller about motherhood and madness with plenty of twists. Plus, she talks about her fascination with the changeling story, her research into mental illness, and those creepy abandoned hospitals, being a Latin major (?!) and so much more

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Carol Goodman hooked me years ago with her debut, THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, about a girls’ boarding school and the unsavory things going on there. And then I was mesmerized by THE GHOST ORCHID and still have images from that book lodged in my mind. So when THE OTHER MOTHER (William Morrow, March 27 2018) came to my attention, I knew I had to read it.

This one is all about postpartum psychosis, but there’s more–it’s about identity (mistaken, stolen?), motherhood, trust, love, and so much more.

What Goodman excels at here (and perhaps in all her writing) is her ability to create atmosphere. Imagine a milk-white sky, toss in an old stone home with a tower set on a hill overlooking a mental institution, add a mother and child and reclusive author. See what I mean…

THE OTHER MOTHER explores an unsteady marriage–one that has just experienced the birth of a new baby. It tackles, also, the bond of mothers in a ‘new moms’ group. Daphne Marist is one of those mothers. So, too is Laurel Hobbes. They both have infant daughters named Chloe. And yet neither one are essentially ‘whole.’ Both suffer from some form of postpartum depression/psychosis, yet the women are nearly polar opposites–Laurel is wealthy and sophisticated whereas Daphne is a little more bland and straight-laced. Daphne (a former children librarian) is eager to get away from her controlling husband and establish a life on her own. She applies for a new job as an archivist with a famous author, Schuyler Bennett in the Catskills–under Laurel’s name and credentials!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

She gets the job. She takes her baby and together, they help the author, (who also happens to be the daughter of the former medical director/psychiatrist of Crantham Mental Institution), organize old papers and write a memoir. There are head spinning twists and a complex tale folded within these pages. Everyone becomes an unreliable narrator.

Please join me in welcoming to Carol Goodman.

Leslie Lindsay: Carol, it’s a pleasure to have you. Years ago, when THE LAKE OF DARK LANGUAGES first came out, I would read it on the bus I took to the Mayo Clinic where I was working my first job as a child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. And now I’m reading about psychiatric disorders and writing my own fiction while raising two girls. Funny how things come full-circle. I’m curious what was haunting you when you set out to write THE OTHER MOTHER?

Carol Goodman: It occurred to me that the period of time after having a baby could be a very vulnerable time. I remember how isolated one could feel and how one’s very identity was fluid. What would happen, I wondered, if someone chose to take advantage of that vulnerability.

L.L.: Being a mom (my two are 11 and 13 years), I so recall those ‘new mom’ groups. There’s a lot of bonding, but also competition. Is that how you saw Daphne and Laurel? What do you feel that kind of group brings to the table of new motherhood?

Carol Goodman: Well, they can be a wonderful resource. As I mentioned above, it’s a time when you feel isolated and your sense of identity is changing. I remember being hungry for the company of new mothers. However, with that bonding can come some judginess and envy and competition. We’re all trying to figure out how to get it right, but sometimes that means acting like there’s only ONE way to do it right. So there can be some preachiness around issues like sleeping, breast-feeding, etc. And then, there’s the temptation to measure your own child’s progress against other children.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L: There are a good number of journal entries from three women and slips in time which make THE OTHER MOTHER a near-historical novel. Can you talk about that for a minute and why, perhaps there are no dates on the recent 20__ journal entries? Is it that postpartum disorders really have no clear delineation as to when they can occur, whether it’s 1950, 1870s or 2010s?

Carol Goodman: I wanted to make the present time flexible to feel up-to-date for anyone who’s reading it at least in this decade. God knows what new baby-gear will be available in the future—maybe digital assistants who take care of the baby. “Alexa, can you please watch little Atticus?”

L.L: Can you talk about your research into maternal mental health?

Carol Goodman: I started with what I knew from my own experiences and my mother’s. Understanding postpartumI felt isolated and had what I now know are “intrusive thoughts.” My mother told me that after her second pregnancy she was so depressed she thought about suicide. I wanted to know more, so I read a few books, including Teresa Twomey’s UNDERSTANDING POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS: A TEMPORARY MADNESS which I found tremendously helpful. For a historical context, I read a history of the treatment of postpartum mood disorders.

L.L.: Also, a little side note: I love the cover! It shows the ‘mirroring’ as well as the play between Other and Mother, O’s and M’s. Did you have any say in how that all came together? What’s the process like working with an art team?

Carol Goodman: I love it too! The only “say” I had was to tell my editor that I loved it! Yes, I like the mirroring as a way of expressing the confusion of identity that occurs when you become a mother. Also I like the white and red lettering which we can see on the title of the new Hulu adaptation of THE HANDMAID’S TALE which is truly the most chilling novel about motherhood I know!

L.L.: I really loved the setting of Crantham—the clock tower, the country club-like ‘retreat,’ but all along it’s a mental institution. Can you share a bit about your inspiration? Is this a real place?

Carol Goodman: Over the years I’ve passed a few abandoned psychiatric hospitals—and what’s creepier than that! I’m especially influenced the Hudson River State Hospital, the ruins of which I pass often. It was built during the same period as Vassar College, where I went, and has similar architecture, which gave me the idea of making the hospital look Gracefully Insanelike a college. Also I reread GRACEFULLY INSANE: LIFE AND DEATH IN AMERICA’S PREMIER MENTAL HOSPITAL by Alex Beam which describes McLean Hospital.

L.L.: There are some examples of changelings in THE OTHER MOTHER…stories and fairytales. Plus, Schuyler Bennett is an author. How has your reading and literary life shaped the narrative?

Carol Goodman: I admit I’ve used the changeling story before in my fiction (see ARCADIA FALLS and some of my fantasy fiction). I couldn’t resist using it again because I think it’s such an evocative, chilling reflection of the experience of motherhood. That new baby can seem like a stranger left by fairies sometimes! I often like to work in myth and fairy tales into my stories, mostly because I love those stories, but also because I feel like they enlarge the narrative and give the reader a sense of the mystery of everyday experience.

A Gothic thriller deliciously riddled with dark motives and shadowy paths. 

~Publisher’s Weekly, January 8, 2018

L.L.: Can you tell us a few “Carol facts,” maybe some things that would surprise us?

Carol Goodman: I’m really pretty dull. Reading and writing take up most of my life, so my days look pretty tame. I read the New York Times every morning, do yoga, then write in bed for a few hours. Then I take a long walks with my dog—and with friends! Otherwise … hm … does it surprise anyone that I was a Latin major? Or that I write my first drafts by hand? The most adventurous I get is when I go off on research trips. Recently I hiked to an island off the coast of Maine that is only accessible during low tide. I lingered for a bit as the time came in. That’s the most daring I’ve been for a while!

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

You’ve been most thorough and appreciative! It’s a pleasure answering questions for someone who clearly likes to read. I can tell you what my next book is—it’s called THE NIGHT VISITORS and was inspired by my recent volunteer work at a crisis hotline. A woman on the call center receives a call from a domestic violence victim and, against all protocol, takes her in for the night. Then things go awry … as things usually do. I hope you’ll bring your same enthusiasm to that one. Thank you for being such an appreciative reader.

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

Order Links:

the-other-mother-carol-goodman-authorABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Goodman is the award winning and bestselling author of sixteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize, and, in collaboration with her husband Lee Slonimsky, the urban fantasy Watchtower trilogy. Booklist named The Demon Lover, written under the pseudonym Juliet Dark, a top ten science fiction/fantasy book for 2012. Her YA novel, Blythewood, was named a best young adult novel by the American Library Association. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Cover images of reference books retrieved from Amazon on 5.25.18]

Anna Quinn’s prose glimmers and sings in her arresting debut, THE NIGHT CHILD

By Leslie Lindsay

You’d never know this is a debut. Anna Quinn writes with such a steady hand and full heart, but her words are sparse and poetic. Please join us in conversation as she talks about giving up traditional conventions, listening to the rhythm of language, and so much more. 

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Perhaps the most powerful, most lyrically written book I’ve read in a long time. THE NIGHT CHILD encompasses luminous prose in a tender tale of traumatic childhood experiences and the fragile curtain of mental health and motherhood in this arresting debut.

Nora Brown teaches high school English and lives an uncomplicated life with her 6-year old daughter Fiona and husband Paul. But when, one day near Thanksgiving, Nora glimpses a disembodied face with startling blue eyes and then, later, a message and the image deepens, Nora is completely terrorized. What—whom—was that? And what do they want?

Tests are run. There’s nothing physically or medically wrong with Nora, so what was going on? Was it microsleep? Was it just her imagination?

Shaken and completely unnerved, Nora seeks the care of a psychiatrist. As the tale progresses, we learn darker truths, family history and secrets surface, and there’s more, too.

I tore through THE NIGHT CHILD. Quinn’s prose is so lucid, so glittering, it absolutely took my breath away. Readers need to be aware that the experiences portrayed are traumatic, yet under Quinn’s gentle hand, they are handled with softness and sympathy, maybe even poetry.

Please join me in welcoming Anna Quinn to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Anna, this book! Oh my. You absolutely blew me away. This is your fiction debut, but you’ve also written poetry and you teach, too. Before we get into all that, I want to know: what was driving you to write THE NIGHT CHILD?

Anna Quinn: First, thank you for having me! And thank you for your wonderful words about THE NIGHT CHILD. So now, to answer your question about the driving forces behind the story. There were many. I wanted to explore the themes of patriarchy, feminism, dissociation, sexual abuse and identity through fiction—I’d written into those themes for a decade as memoir, but I’d become stuck in my singular story, and I wanted more. I needed the perspective my imagination offered, and I also needed freedom from the voices on my shoulders. I wanted to write a survival, triumph story. I wanted to give voice to a child who hadn’t been heard for decades. I wanted to write a story about how essential it is to listen to the child within, how essential loving that child is to survival. I wanted to write about the tremendous urge of the body and mind and heart to heal itself. I wanted to write into destruction and create something life-affirming. I wanted to help in some way to dissolve the pervasive issue of child abuse in our country.

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L.L.: How did your work as a poet and essayist inform your writing for THE NIGHT CHILD? Or, did it?

Anna Quinn: It did. I’ve always had a deep interest in form—how it informs content and vise-versa. Poetry and essay influence my fiction and fiction influences my poetry and essay writing—each form brings something to the table.

Essay challenges me to look beyond my familiar story and to explore the “so what” of it. Questioning the significance of content in THE NIGHT CHILD led me to a complete shift of consciousness, urged me to focus on the specific thoughts, feelings and experiences of Margaret and Nora.

And poetry? I’ve loved poetry since I was a child—felt immediately at home with the mystery, beat and pulse of it—it’s how I think really—in sensory fragments. Poetry insists I close my eyes and feel around for heartbeats—it challenges me to question and smell and taste abstractions—to go beyond primary emotions into the layers below, to continually adjust my lens, whether it’s to magnify an image, or blow the image apart and finger the pieces. Poetry teaches me to take words away if they don’t carry essential substance and intensity, to trust and use white space for breath or tension, to spend time with rhythm, and to break way from conventional restraints of structure and language.


The Night Child is an exhilarating debut: Quinn immediately pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go until the final scene. She commands each page and expertly dives into the inner working of a broken mind. This fast-paced, riveting novel of coping with the past while trying to salvage life in the present is hard to put down.”

Booklist


L.L.: What aspects of writing did you struggle with when you tackled fiction for the first time? What do you think you did ‘right,’ and what might you have done better?

Anna Quinn: I think once I let go of conventional structure, and the idea that I had to do certain things, like create a traditional arc or trajectory or have certain forced plot points, and accepted the role of witness and artistic advisor, rather than a controlling narrator, the story opened up and told itself. Letting go of the voices on my shoulders wasn’t easy for me though, which is why I struggled with memoir. But once I shifted to third-person I was able to step back and trust the story in a new, more imaginative way.

L.L.: There are a lot of psychological goings-on in this tale. Were you familiar with them ahead of time, or did you have to embark on some research? And I don’t want to ask about specifics, because I’m afraid I’ll give it away!

Anna Quinn: Hmmm, well, while the characters and events are imaginative, the emotional experiences in Nora’s life regarding her marriage, mothering, teaching and therapy were very familiar to me—they held the emotional truths of my body, my heart. Margaret’s memories were most familiar of all, and were heart-wrenching to write. I also interviewed psychiatrists and other people who had experienced dissociation and childhood sexual abuse as well.

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L.L.: I so enjoyed how you brought the past to light in THE NIGHT CHILD, particularly as you write about Nora’s mother’s passage from Ireland to the U.S. and the trouble that ensued. I’m curious how that piece came to the narrative because it really adds a bit of depth and understanding to the current story.

Anna Quinn: I wanted to explore the generational impact of shaming and blaming the victim—who is almost always a woman. Maeve carried the shame of a teen pregnancy out of marriage in 1950’s Ireland. She was essentially thrown out of her country because of a patriarchal religion that made the consequences of her pregnancy, not only a sin but solely her fault, her disgrace, her cross to bear. This shame manifested as self-loathing and anger, and because it was only 1963, there wasn’t the kind of emotional and psychiatric support in American, then, as there is now.

L.L.:  You’re a busy woman. You own a bookstore and teach writing. Plus, there’s that stuff called ‘living.’ Writing, if it’s going to happen, must be carved out carefully. What are some of your writing routines or priorities? And can you tell us about your [writing] workshops?

Anna Quinn: Now that my boys are grown and I run my own business, I’m fortunate that I can create my own writing schedule. I’ve designated Mondays and Tuesdays as sacred writing days and I sequester myself in my writing studio from 7 a.m. until late into the night, only stopping to take an occasional walk and eat something.

The rest of the week I write at home for a couple of hours in the morning and then head to the book shop to teach, curate books, or organize more writing workshops. ~Anna Quinn 

I started the Writers’ WorkshoppeWriters’ Workshoppe over a decade ago. It began with my own search for a writing group—I’d placed a small flier on a bulletin board in our town and the response was so overwhelming, I decided to open a little space where people could come and find a group that fit their needs—ha, I was kind of like a writing group matchmaker. That little shop kept growing and we began offering workshops and bringing in instructors from around the country. Eventually my husband, Peter, and I bought the Imprint Bookstore in town and merged it with the Writers’ Workshoppe. Now, we have 7000 books and several workshops each day, readings and events, and it’s all rather magical.

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L.L.:  What is your most proud moment as a writer? This could be an actual moment in time or perhaps a piece of writing you’ve completed.

Anna Quinn: Oh, whoa, that’s a tough question, also the word, proud. But I guess if you mean a moment when I bit my lip hard because I did something scary and ha, I didn’t die? Well, it’s funny that the first writing moment that came to mind was winning a writing award in 6th grade. I’d written from the point of view of an onion named Ms. Pearl. She was struggling emotionally with people skinning off her layers.I was super nervous to submit it because it was just so weird, but my teacher nudged me to, so I did, and I won. I remember when my name was called out—I just couldn’t believe it. I remember that same feeling later, magnified a million times over, when my agent called to offer me representation for THE NIGHT CHILD, and then later still, when I signed the contract with Blackstone. But, the best moment of all— when the first box of books arrived, and I held THE NIGHT CHILD in my hands. Yeah, that was a moment.

 L.L.: Is anything obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Anna Quinn:  I’m pretty obsessed with the characters in my second novel right now. I can’t say much more except they are women pushing boundaries, and I’m all for that.

L.L.: Anna, it’s been an absolute pleasure.

Anna Quinn: Thank you, your questions were so great. And thank you again for reading my book and offering your insightful comments about it.

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

Order Links: 

anna author picture .jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anna Quinn is an author, teacher, and the owner of The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend, WA. She has thirty years of experience teaching and leading writing workshops across the country. Her writing has appeared in Writer’s Digest, Psychology Today, Literature Circles and Response, Practical Aspects of Authentic Assessment, Instructor, Manifest-Station, Lit Fest Anthology 2016, and Washington 129 Anthology. Anna’s first novel, THE NIGHT CHILD, was published Jan. 30th, 2018 by Blackstone Publishing.

 

 

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


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#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #PTSD #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth #ChildrensMentalHealth

[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Quinn and used with permission. Exterior image of Imprint Bookstore retrieved from on 5.10.18]. 

WeekEND Reading: Simon Lelic on his psych thriller, THE NEW NEIGHBORS

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if the house you moved into has a story all its own? Simon Lelic talks about the ‘terrifying’ experience of house-hunting, how he wishes he kept more of his childhood books,writing advice & so much more…

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Dark, twisted U.K. thriller with undertones of paranormal and horror.

I have such a soft-spot for tales of houses and so when THE NEW NEIGHBORS (Penguin Random House, April 10 2018) came across my desk, I knew I had to read it. Syd and Jack are a twenty-something couple seeking their first home together (they are not married) and when they come across the perfect London home, they make an offer. It’s low, but the owner wanted someone young. It almost seems too good to be true when their offer is accepted. 

Once they move in, strange things start happening. For one, the previous owner left all of his furnishings, including taxidermy-ied animals. But the walls seem to permeate an odor and what’s with that stuff in the attic? Jack has been wary all along, but Syd is more nonchalant about the new place.

Told in alternating POVs of Jack and Syd in a written journal-like narrative (the characters refer to it as ‘the manuscript,’), the story can be a little challenging to follow in som regards as different perspectives color the story. But when a murder is committed outside their back door, Syd and Jack become suspects.

One begins to wonder if Syd and Jack are really responsible, is it the house, or something (someone?) else more sinister at work?

THE NEW NEIGHBORS is a tale of duplicity, a ‘he-said,’ ‘she-said’ type of read that will most definitely send shivers through, and perhaps, have you looking over your shoulder (or at least in your attic).

Please join me in welcoming Simon Lelic to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Simon, it’s a pleasure. I always want to know why this story, why now? Was there a character, event, or line that kept drawing you to the keyboard?

Simon Lelic: The main inspiration for The New Neighbors was the house-hunting process, which we’ve all been through in some form at one point or another, and as it happened my wife and I were going through it around the time the novel was written. It’s such a terrifying process – you are asked to commit a vast sum of money, and indeed your family’s entire future, on a property you only really get to see two or three times. It’s only when you’re committed, and you finally move in, that you get to discover what’s really buried beneath the floorboards…

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“A raw, tightly wound thrill ride, a nightmare scenario about a home purchase that goes horribly wrong. And then some. This is a fast-paced, intense, and creepy novel that you won’t be able to put down until you reach the end.”

—David Bell, bestselling author of Bring Her Home


L.L.: I understand this is your first psych thriller, but not your first book. How was this one different? Or, was it?

Simon Lelic: I suppose with psychological thrillers, it’s all a question of degrees. My first novel, A Thousand Cuts, dealt with bullying as a motive for murder, and you could argue that you don’t get much more psychological than that. But The New Neighbors definitely takes this up a notch, in that you are never really sure how much of what is happening is only taking place in the characters’ heads.9780143118619.jpg

L.L.: You’re a former journalist. I’ve found that many former journalists turn to writing thrillers. Any ideas as to why that is? How does your background inform your fiction?

Simon Lelic: I’ve never really thought about this before, but I guess journalism teaches you to write sparely, to make every word count, and this style of writing definitely suits the thriller genre. For a thriller to work well, you need to keep the story moving forwards. 

L.L.: In shifting gears a bit, I am anxious to talk about the house as a character. Is that how you saw it, too—as a character—or was it more of a ‘setting?’

Simon Lelic: It started as just a setting, but quickly took on a personality on the page. At least for me – I can only hope that readers will agree! I’ve always loved haunted house stories – from Shirley Jackson to Mark Z. Danielewski – and I wanted the house in my novel to loom just as large in the reader’s mind as it would if they were reading a ghost story.

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L.L.: Syd’s character is complex, vulnerable, and secrets of her family origin leak.  transforming the narrative a bit into one of violence and perhaps madness. Was that intentional or did it sort of grow organically?

Simon Lelic: Syd was always the key to the story. Without giving too much away, her character, and the reasons for her being the way she is, are fundamental to events in the book. Which isn’t to say Jack’s background doesn’t have significance too…

L.L.:  Jack finds a small box filled with childhood treasures in the attic. What item(s) from your childhood do you long for, if only occasionally?

Simon Lelic: Books! For some reason I will never quite forgive myself for, I gave away whole boxloads of books I’d loved as a kid, I think at some point when I figured I was ‘all grown up’. But now I have children of my own (three of them, all turning into avid readers) I would dearly love to be able to pass on some of those books I devoured when I was their age, many of which no longer seem to be in print.

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L.L.: What aspects of writing have you struggled with and how did you work to strengthen those areas?

Simon Lelic: Writing is always a struggle, at least in the sense that you can invariably do it better. That’s partly why I love it so. It’s a craft, and like any craft, the key to improvement is practice.

L.L.: What has been the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?

Simon Lelic: I’m not sure about the best piece of writing advice I’ve received, but the best piece I can give is, be wary of what advice you follow. Find what works for you, and do it.

L.L.: What question do you get asked all the time, that I forgot to ask?

Simon Lelic: The same question every author gets asked: where do you get your ideas? And I’m glad I don’t have to try to come up with an answer!

L.L.: Thank you, Simon. It’s been a pleasure!

Simon Lelic: Thanks so much for having me. I sincerely hope your readers enjoy the book!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of THE NEW NEIGHBORS, please see:

Order Links:

244784ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Simon Lelic is a former journalist and the author of the award-winning A Thousand Cuts as well as the critically acclaimed The Facility and The Child WhoThe New Neighbors is his first psychological thriller, inspired by a love of Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. Simon lives with his wife and three children.

 

 

 

 

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

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[Cover(s) and author image retrieved from Penguin Random House website. Couple house-hunting retrieved from usatoday.com; all on 4.18.18 ] 

WeekEND Reading: Brad Parks on his new domestic thriller, CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if you went to pick up your child from daycare only to learn he has been taken by social services? That’s what was haunting Brad Park when he set out to write CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW; understanding the emotional arc of his female characters, how being stubborn is his greatest strength at the keyboard, plus Coke Zero & ice cream

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Brad Parks is back with another stand-alone domestic thriller with engaging characters, stunning twists, and chilling discoveries, this time focusing on Child Social Services, a drug bust and more. 

CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW, the latest thriller from Brad Parks, is the perfect encapsulation of everything Parks does so well—shocking twists, compelling, true-to-life characters, and affecting emotional impact.

So when the publishing house reached out to me with this one, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Plus, that cover! It’s so hauntingly typical.

After a childhood spent bouncing between foster care homes, Melanie Barrick finally has the life she’s always wanted. But one day, Melanie goes to pick up her son Alex from childcare and discovers he has been removed by Social Services.

When she arrives home, she learns that her house has been raided by the sheriff’s deputies, who tell her that they’ve found enough cocaine to put her behind bars for years.

Though she maintains her innocence, Melanie knows she will lose Alex forever if she can’t find definitive proof that someone is trying to frame her.

Parks’ first standalone, SAY NOTHING, received rave reviews from top media outlets, genre titans–including Sue Grafton, Lee Child, and Jeffery Deaver–and readers alike. And CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is just as thrilling. 

Please join me in conversation with Brad Parks. 

Leslie Lindsay: Brad, I’m so thrilled to have you today. I’m always interested to know what inspired a particular title. Can you tell us how you chose to center the plot of Closer Than You Know around the child welfare system?

Brad Parks: As an upper middle class white kid, I grew up with exactly zero experience of the child welfare system. Then I spent a decade as a reporter in Newark, where child protective services was an enormous presence in the lives of many, if not most, poor families. As a political nerd, it fascinated me that in America—a nation founded by guys trying to resist tyranny—we created a system that gives government so much authority over such an intensely personal aspect of citizens’ lives. Think about it: No matter where you live, there is a state or local agency that has legal ability to take your children away from you. Now, most of the time, that authority is only used with great caution and only as a last resort. But what an awesome power. Especially if it was abused. That’s the basic germ that I allowed to take root in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW that someone who understands the system could manipulate it to steal someone’s baby.

L.L.: What research did you do for this novel? Were there any differences between this book’s research into the judicial system and that of your last book, Say Nothing?

Brad Parks: I spoke with people who work for Virginia social service agencies at a variety of levels—from a former secretary all the way up to a director. They were, without exception, dedicated professionals whose hearts were absolutely in the right place. From them, I learned how the system is supposed to work. Then I spoke with, and read memoirs by, former foster kids. From them I learned how the system actually works. There are some success stories, of course. But for a lot of children, particularly those who enter foster care at later ages, the system creates as many problems as it fixes.  I also spent time hanging around Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, talking with lawyers and a judge. The great difficult there is that, unlike adult courts, trials involving children are closed. That was probably the greatest difficulty: Not having the opportunity to observe directly. I found myself asking a lot of my sources questions like, “Okay, how does this go exactly? What does this look like?”hqdefault

L.L.: This is your first novel told from the perspective of female protagonists, Melanie Barrick and Amy Kaye. Did you find writing from the perspective of female characters more challenging? How did you ensure that the tone felt authentic? 

Brad Parks: With forty-three years’ experience thinking like a guy—and none thinking like a woman—the prospect of writing from the female perspective definitely intimidated me at first. And there were a handful of scenes where I was cognizant that a woman would experience the events unfolding in a fundamentally different way. But for the most part, once I got into the story, I was amazed how little it actually mattered. In most of the situations these women faced, gender was probably the seventh or eighth most important thing motivating their thoughts and actions. There were other aspects of their personalities that simply mattered more. They were driven by their wants, their needs, their ideals, their hopes. I realized pretty quickly I wasn’t writing female protagonists. I was writing human protagonists who happened to be female.

L.L.: CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW is your eighth novel. How is this one different than your previous stories?

Brad Parks: I always have strong feelings for my characters. But I was more attached to Melanie Barrick than I’ve ever been to any of my previous protagonists, even the one loosely based on me. There were times when I felt this horrible guilt about what I was doing to her—ripping her baby away from her, putting her through this horrible ordeal, sending her to prison. I always talk my characters throughout the writing of a novel. I found myself apologizing to Melanie quite a bit.

L.L.: You write a lot about the bond between a mother and her child in CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW. How were you able to convey this unique relationship on the page so vividly? And did your own experience as a dad shape the narrative?

Brad Parks: I did a tour of duty as a stay-at-home dad with an infant. For many long hours each day, it was just me and this baby. I came to realize that a big part of what our culture calls “motherhood” is really just having another human being who is wholly dependent on you for every need, all the time. So I certainly drew on that physical and emotional experience. But I also came to understand there is another aspect to motherhood, and that’s because I watched my wife parent this same child. She wasn’t with the baby for huge chunks of the day, like I was, and yet there were ways in which her bond with the baby was undeniably closer. That really helped me flesh out Melanie Barrick, because when Alex gets taken from her, she is no longer his caregiver. But, deep in the very core of her, she is—and will always be—his mother.

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L.L.: This novel is so emotionally resonant, but also quite thrilling in that psych-suspense aspect.How do you balance the plot so they are both something the reader will ‘feel’ but also entertaining?

Brad Parks: I write by feel. If I don’t feel something, chances are the reader isn’t going to feel something. And if the reader isn’t feeling something. . . well, really, what’s to stop them from putting this down and playing Sudoku?

L.L.:  Before you were a full-time novelist, you were a successful journalist. How does that inform your work today?

Brad Parks: One year at a daily newspaper brings you into contact with enough fascinating stories and weird characters to fuel at least twenty novels. It also teaches you how to learn (quickly!) about anything at all.

L.L.: Do you miss journalism?

Brad Parks: I miss the people. The newspaper newsroom of yore was a magical place: A collection of bright, talented, irascible folks—many of them temperamentally unsuited for employment in any other industry—who spent half the morning strangling each other and half the afternoon worrying about lunch. But then somehow by the end of the day, they managed to get their act together just enough to publish the equivalent of a full-length novel, complete with pictures, graphics, and the horoscopes. And then they’d get up the next day and do it all over again. It was magical to be even a small part of the whole crazy show.

L.L.: How did you make the decision to transition into writing novels?

Brad Parks: In some ways, the decision was made for me. The newspaper business began entering its death spiral around the time I turned thirty. I came to realize there was no chance I was going to be able to ride that dinosaur all the way to retirement. I took a buyout in 2008, when I was 34, figuring it was better to jump than be pushed. At that time it was frightening. And depressing. Journalism was all I had ever done, all I knew. But looking back, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Under ordinary circumstances, I am far too risk-averse by nature to do something as outrageous as leaving a steady job for the uncertainty of writing novels. It took the collapse of the industry to make me pursue a dream I otherwise would have been too chicken to chase on my own.

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L.L.: Can you tell us something about your process that might surprise people?

Brad Parks: How—for lack of a better word—physical it is. While I’m working on a novel, particularly in that crucial first-draft stage, I treat myself like a professional athlete in season. I do everything I can to maximize performance: I eat right; I don’t drink much (besides Coke Zero); I try to give my brain lots of rest, whether that’s goofing off in the afternoon, or getting eight hours of sleep at night. Don’t get me wrong, I have distractions, like everyone. But my goal is to structure the other twenty hours a day so that those four hours in the chair can be as productive as possible.

L.L.: What do you think is the most important trait you bring to the keyboard?

Brad Parks: Stubbornness. It’s the gas for my writing engine, and I’d like to think I have more of it than most. When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. There was one test where you had to rearrange blocks. The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop. I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved that second-grade problem. But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I am willing to bash my head against the screen until the words come out right.

“Exciting. . . Parks excels at keeping the pages turning with brisk pacing, relentlessly high tension, and a knotty narrative.”
Publishers Weekly

L.L.: Rumor has it that you’re known to break out into song during author events. Me, too but not at author events…just around the house. And not well. Everyone rolls their eyes. What inspired you to make this a trademark at your events? Were you involved in musical theater during your school years?

Brad Parks: Those rumors are malicious and false. How dare you. . . Uh, okay, guilty as charged. I was all-state chorus, did high school musicals, sang a cappella in college (yeah, I was one of those guys) and have continued to sing in pretty much any forum in which I am not muzzled by either decorum or someone’s hand. It’s just something I love to do. 

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from CLOSER THAN YOU KNOW?

Brad Parks: To my knowledge, there’s never been a thriller that uses the child welfare system as its backdrop. And while I’m not trying to cram a social work textbook down their throats, I would hope readers come away with a more nuanced understanding of that world and some compassion for those involved in it. That’s one of the things I love about the thriller genre: It’s a vehicle that allows you to explore some weighty social issues, yet do so in a way that’s still wildly entertaining. Done right, it’s like ice cream that’s good for you.

L.L.: Thank you, Brad. It was a pleasure…and now, for that ice cream.

For more information, or to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of CLOSER THAN YOU THINK, please visit:

Order Links:

brad-parks-smile-225-shadowABOUT THE AUTHOR:   International bestselling author Brad Parks is the only writer to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. His novels have been translated into a dozen languages and have won critical acclaim across the globe, including stars from every major pre-publication review outlet. A graduate of Dartmouth College, Parks is a former journalist with The Washington Post and The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger. He is now a full-time novelist living in Virginia with his wife and two school-aged children.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website and used with permission from publisher. Images all retrieved on 3.15.18. Sources as follows: stay at home dad image retrieved from, newspaper newsroom image retrieved from, Juvenile and Domestic Relations court sign retrieved from,]

 

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

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

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

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

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

Just what happened? 

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

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

Please join us in conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order Links: 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: What if you disappeared–intentionally–following a natural disaster? Could you deceive everyone and get away with it? That’s what Catherine McKenzie explores–and so much more–in her new domestic suspense, THE GOOD LIAR

By Leslie Lindsay 

A Goodreads Hottest Thrillers of 2018 Selection

When tragedy strikes in a Chicago building, three women’s lives are thrust together in a tale of secrets, lies, and grief, in THE GOOD LIAR (Lake Union Publishing, April 3 2018)

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A year ago, Cecily (Lily) Grayson became the poster child for a horrifying explosion the ripped a Chicago building apart on October 10th. The media is calling this Triple Ten because it occurred at ten in the morning. Cecily was supposed to have been in the building that fateful day, but she wasn’t; she was late for a meeting. Her husband, Tom, worked in that building, so did her best friend, Kaitlyn. They both died.

Meanwhile, Franny Maycombe, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched in horror as that building went up in flames. She was desperate to reconnect and now, it looks like she’ll never have that opportunity.

Now, the anniversary of the explosion haunts the town. Documentaries are being made, memorials, and even a memory book, showcasing all 513 lives lost.

And yet, thousands of miles away, in Montreal, another woman is hiding some deep secrets. 

I found THE GOOD LIAR wholly original, delightfully twisted domestic suspense. The writing is razor-sharp, witty, and smart. McKenzie definitely has a gift for dialogue. In some ways, THE GOOD LIAR is more about ‘good,’ ‘better’ and ‘best,’ in terms of who can be the most deceiving. You decide.

“A riveting story that revolves around the aftermath of a national tragedy: three women, three separate yet deftly intertwined lives. I adored the look at the story behind the story, the background lives of the women we so often see in the news. The twists are shocking, the characters are well drawn but unpredictable, and the conclusion is as poignant as it is surprising. THE GOOD LIAR is thrilling, captivating, and not to be missed!”

—Kate Moretti, New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year
and The Blackbird Season

Please join me in welcoming Catherine McKenzie back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Catherine, welcome back! I know the idea for this novel has been percolating for quite some time, with the thought, ‘what would happen if someone used a national tragedy to escape from their life?’ What an intriguing concept. Can you elaborate, please?

Catherine McKenzie: Thanks for having me! It’s perhaps awful to say but it is something that kind of haunts me every time I see a national tragedy on TV. I can’t help but wondering, what would you do if everyone thought you were supposed to be in the Twin Towers, for example, and you weren’t. Would you use that event to escape your own life? What would make you consider it. That’s one of the threads that I used in this book.

L.L.: And yet, you’ve said the writing came more difficult than others. What do you think contributed to that feeling and how were you able to muster through?

Catherine McKenzie: I had a deadline! I had some challenges in my personal life while I was writing this book and that took up a lot of the time and energy that I use to write. So I found myself having to write the last third of the book over my Christmas holiday which I did, but which was a bit stressful.

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L.L.: In many ways, THE GOOD LIAR is about deception born of tragedy. Or does tragedy lead to deception? It’s a bit chicken-and-egg. What are your thoughts?

Catherine McKenzie: I think that tragedy can reveal deception. Think of all the things someone might learn about you if you died or disappeared suddenly. Feeling nervous?

L.L.: THE GOOD LIAR is told from the POV of three different women: Kaitlyn, Cecily, and Franny. Is there one you connected with most? Or enjoyed writing more than the other?

Catherine McKenzie: Franny was fun to write because she was so different from my experience. It’s always fun to get in the shoes of a character who is so completely different than you.

L.L.: Did you write THE GOOD LIAR in a linear fashion, as the story unfolds, Point A to Point B, or did you write certain portions (characters) and then piece them together?

Catherine McKenzie: I always write in the order the story unfolds, whether that is linear or not – it’s linear to me! Sometimes I’ve shifted around events or chapters, though not in THE GOOD LIAR.

L.L.: Do you ever think about what might happen with your characters once you finish a novel? Or, do you sort of close the book and move on?

Catherine McKenzie: No, that’s how I know a book is finished. When I don’t have any questions about the characters in my mind anymore, I am ready to be done with them.

L.L.: Franny was obsessed with finding her birth mother. Cecily was obsessed with her failing marriage, and Kaitlyn was obsessed with running. What’s obsessing you these days, and do you think it’s important for characters to have an ‘obsession?’

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Catherine McKenzie: I think it’s important for characters to have a focal point. I think characters in books are characters in crisis, so their crisis is front and center and that can seem obsessional. I don’t think anything’s obsessing me at the moment, which must mean I’m not in crisis. Oh, wait… I have a book coming out!

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

Catherine McKenzie: Nope! Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions.

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

Order Links:

Catherine McKenzie credit Jason Trott © 2016ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Catherine McKenzie, a graduate of McGill University, practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels Spin, Arranged, Forgotten, and Hidden are all international bestsellers and have been translated into numerous languages. Hidden was an Amazon #1 best seller and a Digital Book World bestseller. Her fifth novel, Smoke, was an Amazon bestseller, a Goodreads Best Book for October 2015, and an Amazon Top 100 Book of 2015. Her sixth novel, Fractured, was a Goodreads Best Book for October and Fall 2016, a Buzzfeed Big Book of Fall 2016, and made numerous other Best Book lists including those for Real Simple, Redbook, PopSugar, and Read It Forward.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Kathleen Carter Communications and used with permission. Neurobiology of writing image retrieved from, image of laptop from, all images retrieved on 3.20.18]

Wednesdays with Writers: What if your neighbor and her children went missing and there were no clues as to where or why? That’s what Jessica Strawser explores in her sophomore novel, NOT THAT I COULD TELL, set in real-life Yellow Springs, Ohio, plus it’s a March 2018 Book-of-the-Month selction

Leslie Lindsay 

Small town mystery of a missing woman and her children has everyone on edge and the truth that is revealed is even darker than anyone could imagine. 

NOT THAT I COULD TELL

NOT THAT I COULD TELL (March 27, 2018) is Strawer’s sophomore novel, and it’s certainly no slump. I feel like this title shows a significant growth on her part, in her astute suburban politics, page-turning goings-on, and her down-to-earth, girl-friend like narrative style. NOT THAT I COULD TELL IS darker than ALMOST MISSED YOU, but not a thriller, per se, yet I raced through to the dark and carefully plotted end.

Just Named Book of the Month Selection for March 2018! 

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Kristin Kirkland seems to have everything together. She’s cute and well-liked, going out of her way to help other mommies at preschool, volunteering in the classroom, and those twins–Abby and Aaron! But when she and the kids go missing, the tightly knit community of Yellow Springs, Ohio is on edge. Where did she go and why didn’t she tell anyone? Not to mention she’s estranged from her soon-to-be ex-husband, who is an affable and successful OB/GYN.

The neighbor women rally, searching out clues as to what happened to their friend. Or, is she really even a friend? The women soon realize they don’t know much about Kristin–everything was discussed at an arm’s-length, superficial level. An investigation ensues, but there are no leads, and only so much the police can do.

In NOT THAT I COULD TELL, we get an authentic slice of suburban life with various families and parenting styles, but is mostly focused on young motherhood(women raising babies through preschool, though there is one precocious 12-year old, whom I could relate to having one myself).

I particularly liked the diary-like entries from the missing doctor’s wife, Kristin, as well as the ephemera at the beginning of each chapter.

The ending brings a twist which I honestly didn’t see coming, though a more astute reader might. I found NOT THAT I COULD TELL a riveting read about suburban drama, lessons centered around love, friendship, and the power of community. 

“Equal parts mystery and female bonding, this riveting tale asks the question: Can we truly know our neighbors? The compelling cast of characters is led by the fiercely protective Clara, the endearing, naïve Izzy, and the inexplicably vanished Kristin. Their distinctive paths lead to powerful lessons about love, connection, and community.” – Cynthia Swanson, New York Times bestselling author of The Bookseller and The Glass Forest

Please join me in welcoming Jessica Strawser back to the blog couch!

Leslie Lindsay: Jessica, I’m curious what the inspiration was for NOT THAT I COULD TELL? Was there an event, a character, or setting that was haunting you?

Jessica Strawser: Haunting is probably the right word. I lost a close friend to domestic violence almost a decade ago. In a very loosely associated way, I felt pulled to write about the issue from the distance at which most of us experience it—from that arm’s length perspective of a neighbor or friend who doesn’t really know for sure what’s going on behind closed doors, and frankly may never know. How much responsibility should we feel for one another?

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L.L.: I think it’s fair to say that this novel is much darker than your first. [Read my 2017 interview with Jessica here] Was that intentional on your part, or did it evolve organically?

Jessica Strawser: While it deals with some dark subject matter, I think it’s ultimately a hopeful story, or at least a thoughtful one, ultimately showing positive sides of humanity even in dark circumstances. That was my ultimate focus, and so it didn’t feel dark to me as I was writing it.

L.L.: Similarly, what can you tell us about being in the ‘pressure cooker’ as you say, in terms of writing that second novel? Is it really as hard as others say?

Jessica Strawser: In my experience, at least, it was, simply because—even aside from the pressure—what began as a passion or hobby quickly turns to the business of juggling various projects at various stages, and the distractions from the creative process itself can become overwhelming. My years of work as an editor trained me well for the more methodical parts of managing my to-do list and my calendar, but creatively speaking there’s certainly a whole new set of interruptions, challenges and, yes, expectations.

L.L.: What can you tell us about the setting, Yellow Springs, Ohio? I hadn’t heard of it before picking up NOT THAT I COULD TELL, but I found myself looking up the town on Google. Are you personally familiar with it? And what is it about small, idyllic towns that intrigue us so? 

Jessica Strawser: I’ve spent many weekends in Yellow Springs—camping in the state park (the “Sunday morning moment of Zen” hike that Izzy seeks out in the novel is one my husband and I stumbled upon ourselves), trekking to the springs, biking the old railroad trail, and enjoying the shops and restaurants. It’s my kind of place. This story required a close, contained environment where the events would reverberate beyond just the main characters, and so when I started thinking in terms of small towns, Yellow Springs immediately came to mind. It was a nice place to live in my imagination for the year-plus I spent writing this book.

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L.L.: NOT THAT I COULD TELL takes a dark situation and pulls the community together, but there are also some who feel alienated (Clara’s son is asked not to attend preschool till things ‘die down;’ Dr. Kirkland is asked to take a leave of absence) Can you talk about how some experiences unify, but others polarize, and how some have the power to do both simultaneously?

Jessica Strawser: I think very few situations are only one or the other, because even collective experiences filter through individual lenses.

There’s some subtext in the book stemming from a tragedy in Benny and Clara’s backstory, and how it has continued to impact the couple in curiously opposite ways. In their case we see the aftereffects, but in the disappearance that sends the present action of the story in motion, layers of something similar are peeling back in real time. I think that’s true to life.

In the course of crafting Dr. Kirkland’s story line in particular, I spoke with a real doctor about what bearing public speculation about private indiscretions might have on a professional practice, and he was very clear that in his personal experience opinion tended to be split, even in somewhat clear-cut cases where a doctor’s license was stripped for good reason.

L.L.: And the ending! Did you have that all mapped out first, or were you just as surprised as I was? Also, both your novels end at an ocean. Any significance there? 

Jessica Strawser: I actually did know the ending from the start in this case, which was new for me—though I had only a foggy idea of how I was going to get there. Getting from Point A and Point B was the adventure! And I hadn’t even noticed that about the ocean. I guess I just love the way it makes me feel: The perspective of being so wide open in the world, and of being able to see as far as humanly possible until the earth curves away from you.

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L.L.: Everyone in Yellow Springs was sort of obsessed with their missing friend…what’s obsessing you these days? For me, it’s how to structure my next project, which could go a multitude of ways!

Jessica Strawser: Aside from my next novel, which is due to my editor quite soon, I’m borderline obsessed with my new Instant Pot right now (I’m a little late to the party on this one, I know!). When my family gets busy the way it is now, between my amped-up book schedule and spring sports, it’s easy to let healthful meals slip, and I’ve been loving experimenting with quicker, easier ways to eat well.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NOT THAT I COULD TELL, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Jessica_Strawser_credit Corrie Schaffeld (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  By day, Jessica Strawser is editor-at-large for Writer’s Digest magazine, North America’s leading publication for aspiring and working writers since 1920. By night, she is a fiction writer with a debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU, new from St. Martin’s Press (named to the March 2017 Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction shortlist!), and another stand-alone book club title, NOT THAT I COULD TELL, forthcoming in 2018. And by the minute, she is a proud wife and mom to two super sweet and super young kids in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Her diverse career in the publishing industry spans more than 15 years and includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. Having served as WD’s chief editor and editorial director for nearly a decade, she blogs at WritersDigest.com and elsewhere (if you’d like a guest post, contact me!), tweets @jessicastrawser (please do say hello), enjoys connecting on Facebook, and speaks at book clubs, libraries, writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

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

[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. All images retrieved via web on 3.6.18. Image of BOTM from ,suburban street image retrieved from, beach image from image of yellow springs retrieved from ]

Wednesdays with Writers: Historic ‘dummy boards’ come to life in Laura Purcell’s eerie double-historical Gothic ghost tale, THE SILENT COMPANIONS; braiding time periods, woman’s mental health in the Victorian era and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A Gothic, foreboding Victorian ghost story set in a crumbling mansion among dual-historical time periods. 

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Already published to rave reviews in the U.K., Laura Purcell’s THE SILENT COMPANIONS (Penguin Books, Trade Paperback Original; on-sale March 6, 2018) is a mesmerizingly creepy Victorian Gothic that will have you staying up all night—and perhaps checking to make sure your door is locked!

When Elsie Livingstone marries Rupert Bainbridge, she is believed she is destined for a life of luxury. He’s handsome, a bit older than she, and quiet handsome. But he dies shortly into their marriage. Elsie finds she’s pregnant and alone in her late husband’s crumbling family estate Somewhere in England (near London, I assume).

The family estate is not very inviting. The servants are resentful and a little rough around the edges. The villagers are suspicious of the old place and feel it’s cursed; they refuse to work there. Elsie has only her deceased husband’s awkward female cousin, Sarah for companionship…or does she? Could there be other ‘companions’ inhabiting the home, too?

Told in alternating POVs and thus time periods, in addition to St. Joseph’s Hospital/the asylum, one gets a thrilling reading experience piecing these tales together.
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Plus, the actual ‘companions,’ are a real historical artifact/antique I was unfamiliar with, leading me in search of more information. [They originated in Holland and were popular in 17th-century Europe]. Whenever a book propels me to do a little digging, I consider it a good read.

I loved the gloomy setting, the skittish maids, the old house, those locked doors, journals from the past…truly, this book packs quite a punch. The reading experience is a little slower than typical ghost stories and tales of suspense, but I think that has to do with the time periods being depicted. THE SILENT COMPANIONS is a fabulous read for a rainy night at home with a roaring fire.

So, join in welcoming Laura Purcell to the blog couch:

Leslie Lindsay: Laura, this tale blew me away! I had never heard of these ‘companions,’ the eerily lifelike wooden figures the were popular in 17th-century Europe. It seems like something one might uncover on “Antiques Roadshow,” but I don’t think I ever have. How did you discover them and was that the spark for the novel, or were your inspired by something else?

Laura Purcell: I’m so glad you find them as creepy as I do! I discovered ‘companions’ completely by chance, when a friend of mine was exploring a stately home. She sent me a picture of an antique wooden figure and asked if I knew what it was. I had no idea, but my immediate feeling was that the figure was unsettling. After some research, we discovered it was a dummy board, often called a ‘silent companion.’ They could be used as fire screens or elaborate practical jokes. Illusions and trickery played a large part in the entertainment of the upper classes in 17th century Holland, where they originated. Taking advantage of dark interiors, people would position candles to make the ‘companions’ appear real and surprise their friends.

I knew at once that I wanted to include such an unusual historical detail in one of my novels. But the ‘companions’ were so uncanny, it became clear that my story would need to be a scary one – which was  a brand new challenge for me!

L.L.: The atmosphere in THE SILENT COMPANIONS is gloomy, dreary, and ominous. Parts of it reminded me of REBECCA—as in Bainbridge being slightly reminiscent of Manderly. It also reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. And then, there were parts that had a CANTERBURY TALES feel. Maybe it were the 1635 sections that gave that impression. How did you determine the time periods you used in the book: 1865/66 and 1635? In a sense, it’s akin to a double-historical fiction. And was there a time period you enjoyed writing more than the other?

Laura Purcell: I absolutely love both REBECCA and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, so I’m delighted to hear this!

 

Since THE SILENT COMPANIONS was my first ghost story, I was keen to set the main action in the Victorian era. It’s such a perfect period for tales of the supernatural. Firstly, you have a society where the mortality rate is high and there is an almost obsessive focus on funerals and mourning rituals. Then you have the rapid rate at which scientific invention was taking place. People were seeing steam engines and photographs for the first time. It must have seemed like magic. So the spiritual theories that developed seemed quite reasonable – if it had become possible to send messages by telegram, who was to say mediums could not knock a message to the dead? I was a bit more familiar with this [Victorian] period, so it was probably my favourite to write in.

But my Victorian heroine needed a ghost to haunt her. Since the ‘companions’ originated in the 17th century, I wanted the spooks to come from this time. Mid-century, we had huge upheaval in Britain with the English Civil War and various witchcraft trials, so this gave me a lot of material to work with.

Of course, I’d then set myself the huge task of writing these two interweaving stories in separate time periods – which wasn’t easy!

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L.L.: Similarly, did you write in a linear fashion, that is, start to finish, or did you write certain sections (1635, 1865/66; and the asylum) bits separately and then splice them together?

Laura Purcell: It was really difficult to write. I plotted out how I wanted the stories to entwine but then I wrote each time line separately. My aim was to make sure each had its own distinctive ‘voice’ so that it wasn’t confusing when the reader switched time periods; they would know from the narrative style where they were. Once all the strands made sense on their own, I put them together and sharpened the links. Another task was cutting away in the right places: making sure the reveals from the past came at the right time, and that the pace of the book overall was building suitably.

“An atmospheric, eerie Victorian gothic novel.”
—Publishers Weekly


L.L.: Do you ever ‘write yourself into corners,’ and how do you work yourself out?

Laura Purcell: I’m not sure that I do, I try to plan as thoroughly as possible in advance to avoid that situation. But I do have times when the writing is going badly, or just not flowing. The only way I’ve found to fix that is to push on through it.

L.L.: Can you tell us more about the house, The Bridge? Where, exactly is it located (I’m not sure it’s stated, but I could have missed it; I’m assuming outside of London). I’m fascinated with architecture.

Laura Purcell: It’s intentional that the location of The Bridge is never revealed. I wanted it to feel remote and off the map. I also didn’t want to limit myself geographically to certain types of foliage, wildlife etc. The village of Fayford and the town of Torbury St Jude are also entirely fictional.

The house is Jacobean in style and was once magnificent. By the time Elsie reaches it, decay has set in. I based the floorplan on a real stately home, but the outside was my creation, made up of the architectural details I liked best. At the heart of the mansion are its magnificent gardens, which become essential to the plot.

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L.L.: I’m always, always interested in mental health/illness, too. I am intrigued with your depiction of Elsie’s mental issues, but also those of her mother-in-law. What research did you do in order to capture the time period in terms of women’s place in society and also the way women were treated in relation to their mind?

Laura Purcell: As Wilkie Collins highlighted in THE WOMAN IN WHITE, Victorians could commit their relations to private asylums with relative ease. Obviously there were people who genuinely needed help, but you do wonder how many were put away simply for convenience. Women in particular were at danger, as they were considered more nervous and unbalanced by nature. Rather than ‘embarrassing’ their families in society, they could be neatly hidden. Since repression and secrets are major themes for the novel, I felt the asylum needed to be in there.

My original view of Victorian asylums was that they must be grim, terrifying places, but research showed me attitudes were shifting. Even in Broadmoor, the institution for the criminally insane, treatments were becoming more humane, focusing on finding useful occupation for the patients rather than punishing treatments. I tried to convey this through my character Dr Shepherd, who is sympathetic to Elsie’s plight.

Elsie has endured genuine trauma. But it struck me that any woman acting erratically and claiming to see ghosts would arouse questions about her sanity. In this case, she has also suffered bereavement and is carrying a baby. These would be huge warning signs of ‘hysteria’ in the eyes of a Victorian man.

L.L.: What’s keeping you up at night? What’s obsessing you?

Laura Purcell: Not ghosts, luckily. I have some pretty tight deadlines at the moment, I worry about them.

L.L.: Are you working on anything new?

Laura Purcell: Always! My next book is called THE CORSET. It’s about a seamstress who claims to have a supernatural power to hurt people with the clothes she makes. And I also have something else Gothic in the pipeline … more to come!

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

Laura Purcell: No, but thanks for having me!

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

Order Links:

Laura Purcell - © ph2o PhotographyABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Purcell worked in local government, the financial industry, and a bookshop before becoming a full-time writer. She lives in Colchester, the oldest recorded town in England, with her husband. Fascinated by the darker side of royal history, Laura has also written two historical fiction novels about
the Hanoverian dynasty.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Penguin/Random House and used with permission. Image of exterior Broadmoor & women’s dormitories, 1867 courtesy of Reading Libraries via, image of firescreen dummy boards from, misty garden from; pig dummy board from, others from Pinterest and no source noted; image of Jacobean style home retrieved from , image of feathered pen from, UK paperback editions from L. Purcell’s website; all retrieved on 3.8.18]