Jessica Strawser is back with her third book–FORGET YOU KNOW ME–about adult female friendships, being in over your head, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Friendships grow stale, a marriage erodes, and a woman is in over her head in this domestic drama/women’s fiction, the third from the very talented Jessica Strawser. 

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FORGET YOU KNOW ME is about crackling life-long friendships, eroding marriages, precarious health, and the wobbly years of mothering young children. It examines the tumultuous evolving relationships between girlfriends, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, women and men/just friends, and even neighbors–maybe that single dad could be an object of your affection?

Strawser is definitely a talented writer and absolutely ‘gets’ the busy mom-life of raising two young children. She’s snappy and highly observant ala Jennifer Weiner meets Emily Giffin so if you like their work, I think you’ll find a nice cross-over appeal.

Molly and Liza have been best friends since childhood. But Molly gets married, settles down and raises her children in their hometown of Cincinnati while Liza remains single and leaves for Chicago, though she’s really not happy. Meanwhile, things are growing stale with Molly—mom to Grant, 5 and Nori, 3. Her relationship with husband, Daniel, is strained and well, she’s not feeling all that healthy these days, either.

There are plenty of secrets and stress and lies and how they all tie together in the tangled web of being at our best-or not. FORGET YOU KNOW ME has an ongoing underlying theme of ‘getting in over your head.‘ 


“Strawser is a clear master of the craft, drawing together a plot that seems at once impossible and fully believable. The novel’s pulsing anxiety continues through the triple narration … The tapestry of story and character will lure book clubs and lovers of emotionally complex fiction.”

Booklist


Told in multiple POVs, we get a glimpse of how all these relationships work. Or don’t. I enjoyed the small-town setting of the book and appreciate Strawser’s snappy dialogue and acute skills of observation.

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

Leslie Lindsay:

Jessica, I am always so interested the seed of a book for an author—was it a situation, a character, a setting…what got your wheels turning?

Jessica Strawser:

Usually I write from a central question or a theme, but with this story, it was the opening scene—or, rather, the rapid-fire opening sequence of scenes—that came to me and would not let go.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I think it’s normal for people—women in particular—to grow apart from once-close girlfriends. Sometimes we meet because of circumstance—we’re in the same high school bio class, for example, or college roommates, neighbors—at the time it works, but then we just sort of grow apart once the stress of marriage, work, and kids come into the picture. Have you experienced this personally?

Jessica Strawser:

Well, I’ve reached a stage of (bracing myself to say this word…) midlife where I’ve observed a lot of once-close relationships growing apart, often in spite of the best efforts of all involved. Particularly if you have young children and if your closest friends are not in the same city or at the same life stage, as is true for the characters in FORGET YOU KNOW ME, those tend to take a backseat as we put our families first. It’s wonderful to get together with old friends and pick up right where we left off, but I sometimes feel a little sad afterward, because it punctuates that we aren’t in touch with each other’s day-to-day the way we once were, the way we might still wish to be.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I love the cover of FORGET YOU KNOW ME and find it reflects the intimacy of relationships and small-towns. Can you talk a little more about that—and the danger of being ‘too close?’ And also—that tiny little airport—like a blast from the past!

Jessica Strawser:

FORGET YOU KNOW ME isn’t exactly set in a small town, but in the suburbs of Cincinnati, where I live—though I took care with the location, featuring some outlying points that are meaningful to me, and thus become so to my characters. There’s a lot of forced intimacy, particularly between Molly and her neighbor—who is present (physically and emotionally) in ways that her husband is not—and between Liza, her brother and his pregnant wife, who end up taking her in. Tiny Lunken Airport, where Liza takes a job, really is like stepping back in time, and she meets some inescapably influential characters there. And the Cincinnati Nature Center pivotal to Molly’s story line thrives with a close-knit community of members, volunteers and visitors.

Leslie Lindsay:

But there’s a darker, slightly more sinister aspect of ‘being in over your head’ for almost all of your characters in FORGET YOU KNOW ME—was this a theme you wanted to explore, or did it just sort of evolve?

Jessica Strawser:

I set out with this in mind. They’ve been in over their heads for a while, and what happens in that opening video chat is going to force everyone to face up to the things that have come between them—whether being honest with themselves as well as the people they love means finding a way to reverse course, or parting ways.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What do you think of when you find yourself avoiding the page? Is there something—or someone—who seems to ground you? Maybe that Nature Center that appears in the book?

Jessica Strawser:

I actually write at the Nature Center quite a bit; I love the library there and the freedom to walk the trails when my mind needs a breather. I’m bullheaded about forward momentum, so tend to write through frustration more than I avoid the page—but usually when I’m procrastinating it means there’s something I haven’t thought through enough, some plot points I haven’t connected yet that are holding me back. That’s when I often need to step back, take a macro rather than micro view of the story, and regroup.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jessica Strawser:

My kitchen! Thanks to a random electrical storm, the overhead light fixture died the same day FORGET YOU KNOW ME came out, and it turns out replacing this particular fixture isn’t so simple. Naturally there were also some related upgrades we’d been putting off… But home improvement projects and book tours don’t mix!

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For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of FORGET YOU KNOW ME, please visit: 

Order links:

Jessica_Strawser_credit Corrie Schaffeld (2)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Strawser is the editor-at-large at Writer’s Digest, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade and became known for her in-depth cover interviews with such luminaries as David Sedaris and Alice Walker. She’s the author of the book club favorites Almost Missed You, a Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction pick, and Not That I Could TellBook of the Month selection now new in paperback. Her third novel, Forget You Know Me, released to raves in February 2019 (all from St. Martin’s Press).

Currently serving as the 2019 Writer-in-Residence at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Strawser has written for The New York Times Modern Love, Publishers Weekly and other fine venues, and lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two children. She tweets @jessicastrawser, enjoys connecting on Facebook, and speaks frequently at book clubs, libraries, writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

Let’s stay in touch. Join my email list for (very) occasional updates and hellos.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#womensfiction #domesticfiction #families #marriage #Ohio

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

 

 

Amy Impellizzeri shares this personal essay on her ‘non-partisan political novel,’ WHY WE LIE, the #metoo movement, & more

By Leslie Lindsay

Piercingly observant, timely and oh-so-topical, Amy Impellizzeri shares this essay about her new release, WHY WE LIE, combining social media, politics, and the workplace culture.

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Everyone lies.
The real surprise is WHY…

I’ve been a fan of Amy’s work since her debut, LEMONGRASS HOPE (2014) and like anyone who practices her craft, Amy gets better and better with every book. She is seriously talented, with jaw-dropping twists, turns, and complex characters. Her new book, WHY WE LIE (available March 5th from Wyatt-Mackenzie) is so timely, so topical, and so…intricate. Today, she’s sharing this lovely personal essay about her experience with working as an attorney in D.C. in the 1990s.

Featured in Publisher’s Weekly and garnering rave reviews like this one from Hank Phillippi Ryan, Nationally Best-selling author of TRUST ME:


“Amy Impellizzeri is incredibly talented! She turns the truth topsy-turvy in this sinister and surprising tale of greed, politics, and power. Timely and thought-provoking—this is exactly what psychological suspense is meant to be. A winner in every way.”


First a bit about WHY WE LIE:

Rising star politician and lawyer, Jude Birch, is clearly keeping secrets about his past from his wife, Aby Boyle. And Aby worries that Jude’s relationship with his campaign manager, Laila Rogers, is more complicated than he has let on. Jude has been the apparent bystander victim of a seemingly gang-related shooting, but as the secrets Jude and Laila have kept since law school begin to unravel – with the help of a zealous news reporter and the Capitol Police – Aby is forced to consider that Jude might not have been an unintended victim of the shooting after all.

Meanwhile, as Jude receives a bizarre post-shooting diagnosis revealing that his brain is healing in such a way that he can no longer lie, Aby worries about her own secret past coming to light. Her past is marked by abuse and lies, and even a false accusation that still haunts her.

Unpredictable, unexpected, and startlingly timely, WHY WE LIE examines the real life consequences of those who tell the truth and those who lie, and asks the question: is the truth always worth the cost?

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From Monica to #Metoo – Two Decades of D.C. Lies that Inspired My Latest Novel

by Amy Impellizzeri 

I lived and worked in Washington D.C. in the mid to late 1990’s. At the same time Monica Lewinsky was interning at the White House, I was a young lawyer in our nation’s capital. I walked by the White House often, sometimes catching a view of press conferences in the Rose Garden. I have always been awestruck by the business of D.C., but never more so than in those years when I was a small part of it.

After graduating law school from D.C.’s George Washington National Law Center, I started my law career as a clerk for the U.S. Court of Federal Clams, the court in which claims against the government are brought and defended. However naïve it might sound, I felt very much in the epicenter of the legal and political world back then, and I loved every minute of my time there. I had amazing mentors, colleagues, and experiences in D.C.

I always joke that I left D.C. kicking and screaming. My then fiancé (now husband) hated D.C. and convinced me to move back with him to New York, where I eventually landed a coveted position at one of the most well-respected law firms in the country, Skadden Arps. When the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke, I remember thinking, “It was all happening in D.C. while I was there” as if I had been somehow personally affected by the time and place connection. It was jarring to think that the world I’d once been part of and loved  – even tangentially – could have been so corrupt without me even knowing it.

In the early 2000’s, I traveled to the D.C. office of my NYC-based firm – Skadden Arps – for a document review. One of the D.C. associates giving me a tour of the office waved his arm toward the 11th floor conference room as we passed it by. “That’s where the deposition took place,” he stage whispered comically. The deposition he was referring to was the one in which then President Bill Clinton famously lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. By the early 2000’s, it was clear that one person had told the truth and one had told lies, and it was also clear that the scandal had produced winners and losers. Monica was essentially run out of the country and Bill Clinton was now living in New York completely unscathed. It was also clear to me personally by then that truth-telling was not a universally lauded virtue in the legal world.

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I started my law career an idealistic young lawyer. The law was my tool to change the world slowly. At the Court of Federal Claims and in my early years of practice, I was mentored by and worked alongside some of the brightest and hard-working lawyers I’ve ever met. I loved the practice of law, and truth be told, I loved lawyers. We were the “good guys” and I loved being on their side. As my law career unfolded over the next 13 years, however, the cases became more high profile, the workload became more unmanageable, the lines between truth and lies blurred and shifted over and over again; so too did the lines between who were the “good guys” and the “bad guys”. I spoke up repeatedly about some abuses that bothered me, some that even targeted me. But the culture of BigLaw was complicated and my voice was often stifled there. After 13 years of practice, I left the law in 2010 and found a more practical avenue for my voice and for slow change– fiction.

Much later, in 2017, the emergence of the #metoo movement – a social media driven campaign to essentially out bullies and predators – had an effect not just on the bullies, but on victims themselves. I watched as many re-considered their own dysfunctional professional relationships under a new lens. Monica Lewinsky wrote an article that was published in Vanity Fair in early 2018: “Monica Lewinsky: Emerging from “The House of Gaslight” in the Age of #MeToo” in which she looked back on events from two decades earlier and called “what transpired between Bill Clinton and myself” “ a gross abuse of power.”

“The road that led there was littered with inappropriate abuse of authority, station and privilege. (Full stop.)”

In the 2018 Vanity Fair Article, Monica talked too about the isolation and aloneness she felt – having made mistakes, yes, but also having very little support on the public stage. She lauded the #metoo movement as providing a “new avenue toward the safety that comes with solidarity.”

When I read that piece, I was finishing up a novel that I’d been working on for years that addresses, among other topics, a culture of abuse of authority in the legal and political realm and the aloneness and isolation of its victims. WHY WE LIE has been noted by Publisher’s Weekly and early reviewers as an important part of the #metoo conversation, but that conversation had not yet begun when I started the novel. And indeed, as Monica Lewinsky’s trajectory illustrates, the political and legal sectors continue to be slow to join the table of the #metoo discussion.

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WHY WE LIE is a novel that is two decades in the making for me personally. I call it a “non-partisan political novel” because, while it may be tempting at first to call it a commentary on the contemporary political climate today, in fact, it’s a look at the reality that for decades, powerful men have been given a pass at bad behavior and women are often the victims of those passes.

I’ve noticed in particular that women lawyers are conspicuously absent still from the #metoo discussion, and I know why. In the law and in politics, truth telling is not rewarded. Among other legacies, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal has shown us that simple fact, no? My personal experience confirms it to be true. I got the idea to begin WHY WE LIE with a diagnosis that has the rising star politician and former lawyer recovering from brain surgery, and now unable to lie. And yet, rather than come as a relief to his wife, she is terrified of the consequences of this new condition.

WHY WE LIE tells the story of a modern day and totally fictional political campaign, and exposes the truth of many people connected to that campaign, including a too-good-to-be-true politician, his wife of many secrets, a possibly nefarious campaign manager, and several corporate donors playing high stakes poker with a campaign they care nothing about, to force their adversaries to give up the thing they love most: profits. It’s a book of lies. And in the end, a revelation that, in fact, everyone lies. That’s no surprise.

The real surprise is why. And in the case of those who lie because truth-telling is simply too big a risk, this novel asks if maybe, just maybe, that is ok.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links:

IMG_6661 (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Impellizzeri is a reformed corporate litigator, former start-up exec, and award-winning author. After spending a decade at one of the top law firms in the country, Amy left to advocate for working women, eventually landing at a VC-backed start-up company, Hybrid Her (named by ForbesWoman as a top website for women in 2010 and 2011), while writing her first novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2014), named a 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Bronze Winner (Romance). Her sophomore novel, SECRETS OF WORRY DOLLS was released on December 1, 2016, and was an Editor’s Pick in Foreword Reviews Magazine.
Amy’s third novel, THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA, released in October 2017 and was an inaugural pick for Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s Book & Bottles. Amy’s newest novel, WHY WE LIE, is releasing March 5, 2019.

Amy’s first non-fiction book, LAWYER INTERRUPTED, was published by the American Bar Association in May 2015 and has been featured in TheAtlantic.com, Above the Law, ABC27, and more.

Amy is a Tall Poppy Writer, Past President of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a contributor to She is Fierce! and Women Writers, Women’s Books. Amy’s essays and articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, The Glass Hammer, Divine Caroline, ABA’s Law Practice Today, and Skirt! Magazine, among more.

Amy currently lives in rural Pennsylvania where she works and plays and keeps up on all of the latest research confirming that large volumes of coffee are indeed good for you.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#authoressay #writinglife #WhyWeLie #amreading #politics #socialmedia #workculture #lying #tallpoppyblogger

[Cover and author images courtesy of A. Impellizzeri and used with permissionl. Other book covers retrieved from author’s website on 2.14.19]

A sinister, supernatural imagined account of the Donner Party’s westward journey now in paperback, THE HUNGER by Alma Katsu

By Leslie Lindsay 

We might all be familiar with the fated Donner Party, a group of pioneers struggling across the Great Plains as they journeyed west to California. But only some of it made it there alive. 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

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Vulture: 13 Best Horror Books Written by Women

Best Books of 2018 – The Observer

An NPR Best Horror Novel

Barnes & Noble Best Horror of 2018

Nominated for Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel of 2018

Winner – 2019 Western Heritage Award for Best Novel

And a glowing endorsement from Stephen King:

“Deeply, deeply disturbing,
hard to put down,
not recommended reading
after dark.”

THE HUNGER (available in paperback, March 5 2019 from Putman/PRH) is a tense, gripping reimagining of one of America’s most fascinating and tragic moments in history: The Donner Party. In 1846, a group of men, women, and children led by George Donner and James Reed journeyed west to California, following a new experimental route through the mountains known has Hastings’ Cutoff. Of the eighty-some souls who entered the mountains, only half made it out alive. Was it more than just rough terrain and severe weather that brought the party to its demise? Or was there someone or something watching and waiting in the mountains? Something disturbed and hungry?

I love this slightly sinister, supernatural, dark and foreboding re-telling of the events that might have happened. Read this one with the lights on. But first, join me in conversation with Alma Katsu. 

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Leslie Lindsay:

Alma, this book is very different from your novels in the ‘Taker’ series. Was writing this novel more difficult than the others? 

Alma Katsu:

I’ve been telling fans that THE HUNGER is very different from my earlier novels. It’s an ensemble cast; it’s not a love story. All of my books have both history and the supernatural in them, but with THE HUNGER the proportions are flipped: The Taker books are heavy on fantasy, with history providing flavor, whereas in THE HUNGER  the history is front and center, with the supernatural element running in the background.

Each had its challenges. The history in THE HUNGER is demanding: you have to honor the timeline as well as the map, and that means being creative within constraints. You can’t do anything you want when history is watching.

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Leslie Lindsay:

So, how closely does your story follow the events the settlers encountered on the trail?

Alma Katsu:

The book follows the events that happened to the real Donner Party pretty closely. One blogger wrote that this is what makes THE HUNGER  so creepy–because it’s so close to what really happened, the novel feels completely plausible. Readers are going to have a hard time telling which incidents really happened and which were created for the novel, and I’m proud of that.


“An inventive reimagining…Westward migration, murder, sensation: the story of the Donner Party has all this….Katsu creates a riveting drama of power struggles and shifting alliances….The tensions [she] creates are thrilling.”

Kirkus Reviews


Leslie Lindsay: 

Was it hard to write characters that are based on actual historical figures? Did you take any creative liberties with them?

Alma Katsu:

While I kept as much of the backstory as possible, I had to take creative liberties with the characters in order to tell the story I wanted to tell, which is not strictly the story of the Donner Party but which uses their ordeal to tell a bigger tale. I love vivid characters but often with history, you don’t get a complete sense of a figure, particularly if the figure isn’t deemed historically significant. Sometimes they’re whitewashed, their bad parts left out; no one likes to speak ill of the dead. In other cases, they’re incomplete, just names and birthdates and maybe one tiny detail left to sum up an entire person. In order to make characters come alive on the page, you have to know everything about them, so you must imagine them as real living breathing people. It was fun to create new characters from pieces of the past, but tailoring them to service the needs of the story.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You must have had to really immerse yourself in the research. Can you tell us about that? 

Alma Katsu:

Literally, I did tons of [research]. I have spreadsheets and mountains of books and maps all over my office. I leaned particularly heavily on The Donner Party Chronicles by Frank Mullen, a day-by-day accounting of their journey. Add to that lots and lots of ‘spot’ researching, looking up nearly impossible-to-know things that crop up as you devise a scene. What were buttons made of in 1846? What companies manufactured the shovels and pickaxes prospectors would have used at the time? How many miles can a brace of oxen pull a loaded wagon in a day? What flowers would grow on a farm in Springfield, Illinois?

I also took a 700-mile road trip from Fort Bridger, Wyoming, to Donner Pass, driving as closely to the wagon party’s route as possible. It gave me a true sense of the land, which was immensely changeable. I tried to look at the land through the eyes of a member of the wagon party. I saw the lack of wood, water, and grass that every wagon train needed to find on the trail in order to survive. The elevation changes, the weather. The oppressive openness. The loneliness. The brutal indifference of nature to the needs of man.

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Leslie Lindsay:

How has your government work as an intelligence analyst shaped your fiction?

Alma Katsu:

It’s given me superpowers as a researcher. Intelligence analysis requires a pretty high level of precision, as you can imagine. You’re used to combing through avalanches of data, quickly organizing information as it emerges and pulling out the narrative, and juggling a lot of details. Skills that lend themselves to historical fiction in particular, but also make you good at managing a big project like getting a book published.

I’ll never forget, however, when an editor told me that I was particularly good at creating manipulative characters (so devious that you never see it coming), and she wondered if this had something to do with having worked in intelligence. There’s a type of intelligence operative whose job it is to convince individuals to betray their country by spying for our side. They are ace manipulators and they never turn it off, and I spent most of my adult life working with them, so I have to say she’s probably right.

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us about your journey to become a writer? Was it something you always aspired to? What writers have inspired or influenced your work?

Alma Katsu:

I was always reading as a kid, always in the library. I wanted to write stories for a living but had no idea how you’d do that, so I took a regular job—if working in intelligence can be considered a regular job. But I never lost the desire to write a novel and was very lucky to see my dream come true at 50 years of age.

There are many authors whose work I admire. Early on, it was a mix of post-modernists like John Barth and canonical horror and fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson. A pretty weird mix, if you think about it. Mostly, I love masterful storytelling. Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine is a great example of that. She never disappoints; every one of her novels is a perfect gem. That’s how I’d like to be known: every book a gem.

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

Order links: 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

Screen-Shot-2019-01-04-at-2.01.05-PM-284x300ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent. She has been a signature reviewer for Publishers Weekly and a contributor to The Huffington Post. She is a graduate of the Master’s writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University. Prior to the publication of her first novel, Katsu had a long career as a senior intelligence analyst for several US agencies and is currently a senior analyst for a think tank. She lives outside of Washington, DC, with her husband.

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

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LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #HUNGER #TheDonnerParty #Wildwest #westwardexpansion #supernatural #magicalrealism

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website. Photo credit: Patrick Milliken Interview in conjunction with Putnam/PRH and used with permission. Artistic cover image designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

Menacing, Melancholic debut from Emma Rous, THE AU PAIR, captures the English countryside, identity, and family secrets sublimely

By Leslie Lindsay

Entrancing, melancholic and atmospheric narrative alternating between two female perspectives about identity, family, and secrets. 

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Dark family secrets prevail in this debut from Emma Rous (Berkley Trade Paperback original, January 8 2019). There’s scandal, infidelity, a seaside estate, a nanny, and suicide. Plus, what about those mysterious twins? I fell in love with the setting–the Summerbourne Estate captured my heart because I absolutely adore homes in general. And what stories those walls may tell–or in this case, the nanny.

It’s 1991/92 and The Mayes family have hired Laura Silveira to help care for young Edwin, opening their lives up to some scrutiny. Laura is eighteen and needing a bit of respite from her failed A levels, taking a gap year to ‘sort herself out.’

Alternating perspectives dive into Seraphine’s present-day story in which she is struggling with the after-effects of her father’s recent death. When Seraphine–a twin–discovers an old photograph of her mother just after her birth, holding just one baby–who or where is the other twin? And why did her mother jump to her death just hours after giving birth? Seraphine finds herself quickly ensnared in a mystery and a web of family deceit–even threats–as she attempts to get to the bottom of this mystery.

I found the juxtaposition of Seraphine and Laura’s story, set approximately 25 years apart, a compelling structure. There’s so much to love about THE AU PAIR–the setting, the juicy scandals, the hair-raising twists and the almost-vintage Danielle Steel vibe of the late 1980s.

Please join me in welcoming Emma Rous to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Emma, welcome! I am still reeling after finishing THE AU PAIR. So curious about the origins of this story—was there a character, a situation, a place—that propelled you?

Emma Rous:

Thank you, Leslie. I guess, looking back, it was the situation that I started with – the events in the hours surrounding Seraphine’s birth. I had no agent or publisher at that stage, so my ambition was simply to write the sort of story I’d like to read, and I’ve had a lifelong fascination with tales about uncertain identities. The setting was firmly in my mind from the beginning too – this big, old, crumbling manor house on the coast. Everything else spiraled out from there in the planning stage – which is funny when I look back on it, because the characters soon came to feel like real people to me, and yet they only came to life once the other elements were in place.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved Summerbourne. I love old homes in general—and then you placed it on a seaside cliff in England—swoon! Can you tell us more about that estate? Is it purely fictional or does it have some roots in reality?

Emma Rous:

It’s purely a product of my imagination, although I’m sure my subconscious stitched it together from all sorts of English country houses I’ve visited with my family over the years. I moved home a lot when I was growing up, and I wanted to explore the concept of having strong emotional roots in a place – something I’ve never experienced – so I needed Summerbourne to be the sort of house you could fall in love with, almost a character in its own right. I’m so glad you liked it!

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Leslie Lindsay:

There are a good deal of characters in THE AU PAIR—and I know this is a tough question—but is there anyone (or two) you felt a particular affection for? Was there anyone you had difficulty embracing?

Emma Rous:

I didn’t think about this aspect while writing the story, but with hindsight I do have a special fondness for Ruth. We only really see Ruth through Laura’s eyes, but it’s enough to give glimpses of both sides of her – the moody, mercurial, headache-claiming side, but also the incredibly strong woman who perseveres in trying to do the right thing for her little boy despite suffering a heart-breaking loss, and in the face of villagers gossiping that she doesn’t behave like a ‘real mother’. Poor Ruth!

I didn’t struggle writing any of them though – I’m fond of them all, despite their sometimes questionable actions!


‘Entrancing, compelling, atmospheric, reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier. A beautiful read that delivers a shocking and satisfying ending’

 –Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs Parrish


Leslie Lindsay:

What kind of writer are you? Do you carefully plot and cogitate or do you let the pen (muse?) guide you? Maybe a little of both?! Did anything surprise you?

Emma Rous:

I like to believe I’m a careful plotter right up until the point I actually start writing, and then I remember it’s never that simple and I see where my typing fingers take me!

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand you were first a veterinarian, but always wanted to write. Can you tell us a bit about your transition from vet to author? In terms of writing and securing an agent, what do you think you did right and what do you wish you had known before?

Emma Rous:

Yes, I worked as a veterinarian for over eighteen years, but I always had a desire to write fiction. I have three children too, and I found it impossible to juggle all three roles – mother, veterinarian and writer. I reached a point, after turning forty, where I decided it was now or never – I had to give writing a go, or I’d never know if I could do it. I left my vet job and threw myself into writing full time, and I discovered that I loved it. I’m so glad I took the leap!

I did as much research as I could into finding an agent (all online) and I took the submission process very seriously. I submitted the manuscript of THE AU PAIR to fifteen agents, and since they all asked for something slightly different (different numbers of pages or chapters, different length synopses) it took me about two weeks just to send them all off. What do I wish I’d known before? I agonised over writing ‘perfect’ synopses, but I think agents just take a quick look at them to see the overall shape and outcome of the story – it’s the writing in the manuscript that really counts.

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Photo by Trinity Kubassek on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Emma Rous:

I certainly am! It’s about a girl growing up at an isolated former artists’ colony, who’s always been warned that outsiders are not to be trusted, and it’s about the two sisters who went to live at that artists’ colony seventeen years earlier, and the secret that one of them has guarded ever since.

Leslie Lindsay:

What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Emma Rous:

I think you’ve covered the important stuff! People sometimes ask me if I’ve ever worked as an au pair, and I have to say no… But I did go off to live with farmers’ families for weeks at a time from the age of fifteen, to gain work experience for vet school, so I do have an inkling of how it feels to arrive all alone at a big house and to try to make yourself useful without getting into trouble!

Leslie Lindsay:

Emma, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time.

Emma Rous:

I enjoyed it too, Leslie, thank you.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links:

author photo, emma rous, 2018ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Emma grew up in England, Indonesia, Kuwait, Portugal and Fiji, and from a young age she had two ambitions: to write stories, and to look after animals. She studied veterinary medicine and zoology at the University of Cambridge, then worked as a small animal veterinary surgeon for eighteen years before switching to full time writing in 2016. Emma lives in Cambridgeshire, England, with her husband and three sons.

The Au Pair is her first novel. It will be published in ten countries, in nine languages. She is currently writing her second book.

 

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#domesticsuspense #England #familysaga #twins #amreading #winterreads #TheAuPair

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley and used with permission. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]

 

 

 

What if you stole someone’s identity then lied about it? Thomas Christopher Greene explores this, madness & despair in his stunning new novel, THE PERFECT LIAR

By Leslie Lindsay

Gorgeously written, all-consuming, literary thriller had me flying through the pages to its disconcerting and haunting conclusion. 

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Thomas Christopher Greene has been a go-to for me for years. He has a seemingly effortless way with words, poignant insights into the human psyche, and his stories just naturally consume and propel. THE PERFECT LIAR (January 15, 2019 St. Martin’s Press), is no exception; I loved every minute.

Max W. is a charismatic imposter living in Vermont. He recently accepted an appointment as an art professor at a local college and they ‘give them a house.’ What’s not to love? All along, Max W. (who was born Phil Wilbur) has carefully shrouded his meager origins in fraud–easily ‘borrowing’ the identity of a wealthy, unsuspecting art school graduate. He insinuates himself into Max W’s world and before you know it, he’s in too deep.

But his wife, Susannah, has deep secrets of her own. She’s a young widow and a single mother who has married well, but thendisconcerting things start happening–menacing letters delivered to the home:

I KNOW WHO YOU ARE and others follow: DID YOU GET AWAY WITH IT? And yet a third: I SAW YOU DO IT. 

I found the pacing relentless, the set-up subtleyet clearly there all along, making THE PERFECT LIAR a smart, all-consuming domestic thriller. Greene writes with such chilling beauty and somberness that reminds me much of Anita Shreve (there’s also that small New England town reminiscent of Shreve making this a wholly atmospheric read). THE PERFECT LIAR encompasses so many layers of deceit and dysfunction, leading the reader right up to the chilling and haunting conclusion; I was spellbound.

Read an excerpt here.


“Beautifully written and sharply insightful, The Perfect Liar is a captivating, stay-up-late thriller about dark secrets, dangerous passions, and the perilous pursuit of a picture-perfect life.”

–Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia and Where They Found Her


Please join me in welcoming Thomas Christopher Greene back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tom, this book! I loved every minute. THE PERFECT LIAR is a bit genre-bending in that it’s very literary, yet highly dysfunctional, and encompasses a predatory vibe making it so compulsive. In the background is your trademark academia. Can you tell us about the origins of this one, please?

Thomas Christopher Greene:

Leslie, first thank you for the kind words and your close reading of my work. I am grateful for it. I think the thing that got me going with this was the idea of someone leaving handwritten notes on a door. We live in such digital age, and this is such an analog way to stalk someone.  Somehow that makes it more terrifying. I confess I’ve always been fascinated, too, by the idea of imposters, grifters and con men. So I’ve wanted for a long time to write a character like Max. And what I was also trying to do here was write a book that, as you suggest, can be read on a number of different levels—a straight up page-turning domestic thriller, but also an homage to the great suspense writer Patricia Highsmith, and further, a tongue-in-cheek critique of the contemporary art world.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s madness, there’s despair. There’s almost a second story that unfolds in the ‘white space’ of the narrative; to me, this is the best kind of writing—and reading. I felt like a very active participant in this chilling tale; thus a partnership between author and reader. I’m curious what your take is on that?

Thomas Christopher Greene:

Well, I am glad you felt this, since that is certainly something I try to accomplish. I do see it as a partnership, a contract of sorts. Good fiction is all about revealing things at the right time—I am not trying to trick you, but rather since you have pulled up a chair to hear my story, make sure I keep you locked in to what I am saying. And frankly, people behaving badly are far more interesting than people behaving well, in my opinion. And in the space between the narrative, as you call it, I think there are opportunities, in small ways, to explore different ideas, things that are important to me. For example, in the beginning of the book, Susannah thinks: men fear death, while women fear something far more important: losing their minds.  Why is that? Or is that even true? In some ways by putting ideas in the book that contribute to the narrative but also raise larger questions, I am asking you what you think, and if you agree with me.

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Deceit and identity are core themes of THE PERFECT LIAR. Was there a question you were seeking when you set out to write—and did you find the answer? Or maybe you discovered something else in the process?

Thomas Christopher Greene:

I don’t think I was seeking to answer a specific question, but I find myself in all my fiction returning again and again to specific themes, that I suppose you wouldn’t imagine being explored in a typical thriller. For instance, I am little obsessed with class in America, and the false idea that we live in a meritocracy, the old myth of the American dream. The fact is most of us remain in the station we were born, to be British about it. Some people who puncture that ceiling fascinate me, and when someone, like Max, takes a shortcut to it, even better. Identity, of course is a part of this as well. And then there is love, my other great obsession. Each of my books asks the question: what is significance? And can we find it in the arms of another. I would submit this one does that as much as a love story like my last book, IF I FORGET YOU, albeit in a very different and darker way.

Leslie Lindsay:

Speaking of process…was there any particular scene or moment in the narrative that made your heart beat a little faster, the pads of your fingers sweat? That’s how I always know I’ve hit the sweet spot of the story I’m trying to tell.

Thomas Christopher Greene:

The actual art of writing is a bit of an out-of-body experience for me, to be honest. I spend so much time turning the story over in my mind before my fingers actually hit the keyboard that by the time they do, the process is for me is more a matter of just getting it out of my head and onto the page. That said, without giving too much away, the scene where Max and David Hammer go for the second trail run through the woods was definitely intense. I knew the reader would know something terrible was about to happen, but I love the tension of that, the black flies in the forest, the beating sun, Max running as fast he could when he wasn’t a runner, and how close we are to his point of view, so we are seeing it all cinematically through his eyes.

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Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What are you looking forward to reading this winter?

Thomas Christopher Greene:

Well, I am working on a new novel and when I am writing, I don’t read fiction. I’m currently reading a non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick about George Washington and the naval battles around the revolutionary war. It’s quite riveting. But this summer I’ll catch up on all the good fiction coming out this winter.

Leslie Lindsay:

As always, it’s been a delight. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Like, how you balance writing with your super-busy day job of college president…how Hugo the dog is doing, your favorite place to write…

Thomas Christopher Greene:

I balance running a college and writing by not really having any hobbies. I work a lot and I’ve learned to write differently over the years, more efficiently, in small bursts rather than long, glorious stretches of time. I often write at night at the bar at this restaurant my brother-in-law owns here in Montpelier. Everyone in town knows I write there and they are kind enough to leave me alone as long as my fingers are moving. Otherwise, I love being social.  I do better writing with noise around. As for Hugo, my two-year-old Labrador, he is always one year away from being a really good dog.

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Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Thomas Christopher Greene by Beowulf Sheehan  www.beowulfsheehan.comABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas Christopher Greene is the author of six novels, including the bestseller THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE. His latest is a domestic thriller, THE PERFECT LIAR. In 2007, Tom founded the Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top graduate fine arts college where he still serves as President. His fiction has been translated into 11 languages. He lives in Vermont.

 


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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#psychthriller #literarythriller #amreading #Vermont #secrets #imposters #grifters #identity 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Artful cover photo of The Perfect Liar designed and photographed by L. Lindsay. Follow on Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]

 

Special Pub Day Edition: EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL by Mira T. Lee now in Paperback

By Leslie Lindsay 

Now in trade paperback!

A brave, unflinching debut about the tenuous bonds of mental illness, how we define ‘family,’ immigration, and so much more. 

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EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL is one of those literary masterpieces that will captivate and enthrall readers everywhere, perhaps for very different reasons. There’s so much about this book I love–the razor-sharp writing, the way I was transported to another world (South America/Ecuador, Switzerland), and back again (NYC, Minnesota), and then there’s the breadth of scope: mental illness, sisters, love, who we call ‘family,’ life and death, as well as loss and rejuvenation.

Told in alternating, highly distinct POVs from several main characters: Miranda: the older sister who has always been the “responsible one;” Lucia: whose free-spirited nature is dampened by her mental illness; Yonah: the Israeli shopkeeper and first husband of Lucia; Manuel: Lucia’s boyfriend, and father of her child.

EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL may be best described as a literary family drama (spanning years and continents) with a mental illness theme (and its treatment) as well as an immigration (and cultural displacement) undercurrent. 

I’m in awe with Mira T. Lee’s ambitious novel. I found it emotional and touching, raw and brave, and skillfully drawn. EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL is about trying to do our best without fully losing ourselves. 

I am thrilled and honored to welcome Mira to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay:

I just finished reading EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL and I have so many thoughts rumbling around. This is a very multilayered, complex novel, but it’s so well done. I have to ask: what sparked this particular tale, why now?

Mira T. Lee:

Hi Leslie, thank you so much for your kind words! So I started off writing short stories, and found that many of them dealt with the same recurring themes – family dynamics, illness, the interplay of different cultures. One story in particular, How I Came to Love You Like A Brother (published by The Missouri Review) contained characters I loved, who I knew I could develop further. Then when my kids were very young, I went through a fallow period where I didn’t write for almost two years, but I had a series of predicaments brewing in my head. I’ve always been drawn to “gray areas,” those murky kinds of situations where good people are in conflict with each other even though no one’s at fault, and I’m forced to see things from more than one person’s perspective. By the time my younger son turned one, I was ready to write, and what emerged was this big, messy, cross-cultural family drama that explored several different relationships, and how the ripple effects of mental illness test family bonds.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Much of the book deals with what it’s like to have a mental illness—and what it’s like to love someone with a mental illness—I so appreciate both of those perspectives because they are often not explored in literature (though we often see the manifestations of ‘crazy behavior’). You take a slightly different angle, that of a more interior experience of mental illness. Can you expand on that, please?

Mira T. Lee:

I’ve seen mental illness up close through the struggles of my own loved ones, and I’ve also heard countless stories of mental illness in family support groups I’ve attended. From these experiences I can say that psychotic illnesses (like schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder) differ from most physical illnesses in one very significant way: the patient, loved ones, and medical professional(s) often disagree on what should be done. Sometimes this is because the patient doesn’t believe they have an illness at all, other times it may be because they disagree with the recommended treatments.  This makes for a tremendous amount of conflict, and creates situations that are fraught and intractable, with no clear right or wrong answers. I wanted to explore multiple sides of multiple conflicts, so this involved delving into the interiors of my main characters and understanding their frustrations, as well as embedding Lucia’s illness within broader storylines. You’re right, the issues involved with psychotic illnesses (e.g. medications, “lack of insight”) are rarely explored in literature – it’s not that surprising, because they’re tough concepts to understand, but that’s part of the reason I felt compelled to tell this story.


“An incredibly moving and thoughtful exploration of mental illness and its toll on family and loved ones [told] with empathy and tenderness.”

BuzzFeed


Leslie Lindsay:

Along those lines, I really like how you’ve taken the experience of mental illness and shifted it culturally from a white, middle-class incident to that of someone who is Chinese-American. Sadly, mental illness does not discriminate, yet it’s often not represented in other demographics. How did that come about in EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL?

Mira T. Lee:

Narratives of mental illness (both memoir and fiction) have been getting a lot more attention in general, which is fantastic, but most do still center around white, middle-class families. I think partly this is because stigma can be especially strong in non-white communities. I didn’t set out to explore mental illness in communities of color, but I’m Chinese-American myself, and multicultural worlds like the ones in the book are what’s most familiar to me. I do hope conversations around the topic become less taboo.

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Photo by Toni Cuenca on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay: 

My own mother (white, middle-class), had schizoaffective/bipolar with psychotic features/narcissist personality disorder…I saw many of her symptoms overlap with Lucia’s. Yet in the narrative, the diagnosis is a bit abstract. Was this intentional on your part?

Mira T. Lee:

Yes, the vagueness was intentional for a couple of reasons. First, diagnoses often fluctuate from one doctor to the next and change over time, and nowadays schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar with psychotic features are often thought of as being on one continuous spectrum (rather than discrete illnesses). Second, I didn’t want this novel to be pigeonholed as a “mental illness book” or Lucia to be thought of only as “that schizophrenic woman.” There is so much stigma attached to those labels, and so many preconceived notions about what they mean. So by foregoing clear labels, I hope readers will be more open to seeing Lucia as an individual, and will come to understand the illness in the context of her entire life, as well as the lives of the people who love her most. I do hope this book will reach readers who might not typically pick up a “mental illness book.”

Leslie Lindsay:

I know you’ve said you don’t want this book to be ‘about’ mental illness and here, I’ve asked all kinds of questions about that very theme! There’s also immigration, cultural differences and displacement. Those are some big issues and yet they’re handled so well. How did you structure this novel? Did you know ahead that this was the direction you were headed, or did it sort of evolve?

Mira T. Lee:

Oh, that’s okay! I think you’re right in saying that this book appeals to different readers for different reasons. Some people gravitate toward the bond between the sisters, others to Lucia’s struggle to balance family and career, still others to the sisters’ relationships with the men in their lives. One interesting thing I’ve found is that I can almost always tell whether a reader has had personal experience with mental illness by the way they comment on the book. It just hits differently, and I’m glad for that. I hope the book finds its way to many more readers like you!

But back to your question: the novel evolved pretty organically. I rarely sat around making conscious decisions about who my characters were or what the plot would be. I also never consciously thought about “big issues” like immigration or cultural displacement, or wrote with any kind of agenda, for example, around mental illness. People from all different backgrounds have always been a staple of my adulthood, so to me, my characters are very much a reflection of America. My focus was purely on exploring how my characters would cope with the dilemmas they faced, and how their decisions would affect their relationships with the people they loved. I always thought of this as an intimate family story – albeit a messy one!

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Leslie Lindsay: 

I could probably ask questions all day, but I won’t. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Something you hope others take away from reading EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL?

Mira T. Lee:

I do hope readers will gain a sense of the issues surrounding schizophrenia, which is perhaps still the most severe and stigmatized of all the mental illnesses, but one deserving of just as much compassion. And I hope people see that these illnesses are only one component of a person’s life, and can relate to the humanity at the core of each of these characters – as sisters, mothers, husbands, lovers, as modern women, as deeply flawed human beings who yearn for love and belonging. But most of all, I hope readers will disagree over what these characters should or shouldn’t have done. The world is gray, full of ambiguity. Where is the line between adventure and recklessness? Compromise and resignation? Selfishness and self-preservation? Fiction is a great place to examine nuances, and to challenge ourselves to exercise our powers of empathy.

Leslie Lindsay: 

What’s on your TBR list for 2018?

Mira T. Lee:

My TBR list is ridiculously long. Anne Raeff’s Winter Kept Us Warm, Elizabeth Strout’s Anything Is Possible, Jillian Medoff’s This Could Hurt, Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Claire Goenawan’s Rainbirds, Shanthi Sekaran’s Lucky Boy, for starters. I wish I could spend an entire year just reading!

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh, and one last question: are you working on anything new?

Mira T. Lee:

I have bits and pieces of a few different projects, including some childrens’ picture books. We’ll see what happens…

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Photo by Julia Sakelli on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

mira t. lee - © liz linder photography (1)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mira T. Lee’s debut novel, Everything Here is Beautiful, was selected as a Top 10 Debut and Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association, and named a Best Fiction title of 2018 by Amazon, O Magazine, Real Simple, and the Goodreads Readers Choice Awards. It was also named a top Winter Pick by more than 30 news outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, Poets & Writers, New York magazine, and Buzzfeed, among others. Mira’s short fiction has appeared in journals such as the Southern Review, the Missouri Review, and Harvard Review, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. She has also been the recipient of an Artist’s Fellowship from the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

In her previous lives, Mira has also been known as a graphic designer, a pop-country drummer, a salsa dancing fanatic, and a biology graduate student. Mira is an alum of Stanford University, and currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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

 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#fiction #mentalhealth #sisters #mentalillness #literaryfiction #paperback #amreading #family #immigration

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/Penguin and used with permission. Footer image retrieved from the author’s website on 1.10.19. Original interview posted January 2018]. 

 

 

 

 

Historian-turned internationally bestselling author Jennifer Robson talks about the lovely behind-the-scenes women who created the Queen’s wedding gown in her novel THE GOWN

By Leslie Lindsay

Warm, glimmering tale of friendship, legacy, loss, and love featuring the women who helped sew the royal wedding gown, THE GOWN will immerse and capture your heart. 

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I fell into the folds of THE GOWN (William Morrow, December 31 2018) immediately. The writing is wholly immersive, the attention to detail superb, and the overall execution came across as meticulously researched with compassion; I loved every minute. 

Royalty has become an obsession in our culture and around the world. Every event is anticipated (and critiqued)…but what of the people who act behind-the-scenes? For example, who designed the Queen’s wedding gown? Who sewed it? Who were the embroiderers? That’s what THE GOWN sets out to discover and I fell in love with these characters–they became like my own friends.

It’s 1947 in post-war London and times are a little bleak. Folks are adjusting. And rationing. Ann Hughes works at the famed Mayfair fashion house of Norman Hartnell and everything there is pretty ho-hum until they get the commission to create the famed wedding dress for the then-Princess Elizabeth. The women are overjoyed, if not a bit anxious. During this time, a new embroiderer, Miriam Dassin, arrives in London from war-torn France and has her own secrets and worries.

Meanwhile, in 2016, Heather Mackenzie seeks to unravel the mystery of why her late grandmother left behind a collection of embroidered flowers with her name on it. These two storylines are meticulously braided into a complete whole, bringing with it a legacy of loss and love, connecting families through generations, as well as a warm tale of friendship.

Overall, THE GOWN is an uplifting story of resilience and ingenuity, art, and so much more. It’s beautifully and lovingly rendered and I fell right in step with Ann and Miriam.

Please join me and Jennifer Robson in conversation:

Leslie Lindsay:

Jennifer! It’s wonderful to have you. This book—what a sweeping tale! I understand it was a tiny bit of a challenge—you wanted a book set in post-war London, but what would your hook be?  You weren’t entirely sure…until …[fill-in-the-blank]

Jennifer Robson:

It’s not often that writers get to have that wonderful A-HA moment (at least I don’t often experience them), but when the idea for THE GOWN came to me it really did feel like a lightbulb switching on. I was having lunch with my editor and literary agent, we’d each had at least one enormous glass of wine, and we decided to do some brainstorming. What was the singular event of the immediate postwar period, they wanted to know. What was important to people then? And that’s when it came to me: Britain’s royal wedding in 1947 captured the attention, and hearts, of people around the world.

From there it was a short leap to the notion of focusing on the women who made the wedding gown, since that’s something I’ve always wondered: who are the people who do the actual work of making the royal wedding gowns we all obsess over? We know the designer’s name, but the seamstresses and embroiderers are invisible. I wanted to make them visible. I wanted to learn their stories.

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Leslie Lindsay:

But that wasn’t the end of your challenges with THE GOWN. You’re a historian by training and wished the story to be accurate, but fictional. Can you tell us how the research played out and what difficulties you bumped into?

Jennifer Robson:

THE GOWN is set in the recent past, comparatively speaking, and I naively assumed it would be easy to research. How wrong I was! My main difficulty came when I tried to learn more about the people who worked at Hartnell – their backgrounds, their training, their working lives, and so on. But that’s where I ran into one brick wall after another.

The curators at the Royal Collection weren’t able to put me in touch with anyone from Hartnell, since the people they’d relied on for information over the years had become too elderly and infirm to be interviewed. On top of that, I wasn’t able to gain access to Norman Hartnell’s archive, which is privately held, and so I wasn’t able to find out more than the barest details of who worked in the embroidery workrooms, what the interior of the premises looked like, how a working day would unfold for the women, and so on. I’ll admit to a moment – actually many moments, if I’m honest – of anxiety. If I couldn’t get inside the Hartnell workrooms, even at a distance, how could I write my book?

That’s when I decided to try a different approach: I’d talk to someone who does the same sort of work today and learn from her. That led me to Hand and Lock, a bespoke hand embroidery atelier in London, where I spent a day with master embroiderer Juliet Ferry. And it was at Hand and Lock that I met a documentary film producer who offered to introduce me to a woman who had actually worked on the gown. The next day I was on a train to Essex for my visit with Betty Foster.


“A fascinating glimpse into the world of design, the healing power of art, and the importance of women’s friendships.”

–Kirkus Reviews 


Leslie Lindsay:

I am so taken with the fact that you were able to connect and interview one of the women who worked as a seamstress back in 1947. Betty Foster graciously allowed you to chat with her at her home in the south of England. What can you tell us about Betty—and are any of your characters a composite of Betty?

Jennifer Robson:

Historians rarely get to meet, let alone interview, people with a first-hand knowledge of the events they’re studying, and that’s particularly true for anything set more than fifty years in the past. Betty is now 91, she worked on the gown more than 70 years ago, and yet she has the most vivid memories of her time at Hartnell and the events surrounding the royal wedding of 1947. Talking to her was pretty much the most satisfying and enjoyable moment of my life as a historian. The doors of Hartnell had been closed to me, figuratively speaking, and I’d begun to think I’d never get a peek inside. And then I met Betty, and she took me by the hand, and led me inside. It honestly felt that \ real to me.

Betty herself is a lovely person in every way – she is so warm and friendly, and so willing to share her extraordinary experiences with others. She’s now the matriarch of a large and extended family, many of whom live nearby, and she and her husband, Bill, recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.

I was nervous about including Betty in THE GOWN, but I also felt really strongly that she ought to be present in its pages, so with her permission I added her to several scenes. On the day of the royal wedding, Betty accompanies my character Miriam to Buckingham Palace with some other people from Hartnell, and together she and Miriam look out the windows of the palace and are awestruck by the thousands of people stretching back along the Mall. Here I’ll admit to some creative embellishment (done with Betty’s permission): on the morning of the royal wedding, Betty wasn’t inside the palace but rather just outside, in a special area reserved for people who’d worked on the gown, and her central memory of that day is seeing the princess go by in her carriage.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I felt like I knew all of these women—Miriam, Milly, Ann, especially—but I also felt for Heather [in 2016]. Can you give us a few hints and tips for character development? Because the last thing we want—as readers (and writers) is to hear that the characters were ‘cardboard.’

Jennifer Robson:

When I’m first discovering a character, I let them talk to me – I hope this doesn’t sound too ridiculous, but it’s only by living with characters and really letting them get under my skin that I can write about them in a convincing fashion. Sometimes I hasten the process by having my characters answer a shortened version of the Proust Questionnaire, but just as often it’s by letting them noodle around in my head for a while.

In the case of Heather, I’ll admit to her being a younger (and significantly cooler) version of myself – and there are certainly elements of my own life that I drew upon when writing her story. Even the hotels she stays at in London and New York are based on hotels I know and love: Hazlitt’s in Soho and The Marlton in the West Village.

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s some darkness to the story, too. And I think that’s indicative of just about any time period…any book, too. We live for art and goodness when there’s a bit of emotional, political, and social upheaval. Can you talk about that, please?

Jennifer Robson:

THE GOWN is set in a dark time. The war had been won, but at such a cost, and Britain—most of the world, really—was on its knees. People really weren’t certain if life would ever get better, and that is certainly true of my characters Ann and Miriam. Both have suffered so much, both are scarred in ways they are only just beginning to understand, and my instinct was to wrap them both in cotton wool and feed them delicious things and wrap up their stories in a big, red bow. But that wouldn’t have been fair to the time in which they lived, nor to the past they’d endured. THE GOWN isn’t a sad book—far from it. But I do believe it’s an honest book, and part of the honesty comes in my refusal to sugar-coat the fairly grim reality of life in 1947.

I think that’s why the royal wedding, and the princess in her beautiful gown, resonated so deeply with people in 1947. Life was the farthest thing from a fairy tale for most people, but they were still drawn to beautiful things and happy stories and the prospect of fairer days ahead. We all want to feel hopeful. We all need to believe that tomorrow will be a better day.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Here we are at the first of the year. I am thinking about how I’m going to be proactive. Doors and windows…coincidence, opportunities…in fact, much of THE GOWN came together due to tiny little pieces falling into place. If you had a word or phrase to describe what you most hope for in 2019 (personally or globally), what would it be?

Jennifer Robson:

I would be very grateful if people in general, and our leaders in particular, would open their hearts to the suffering of others. Ann and Miriam’s friendship is grounded in their empathy for each other’s sorrows, both past and present; and their experiences as victims of violence and prejudice, as migrants, and as women—which is to say, groups who are often overlooked, ignored, and abused—are mirrored in the stories we see in the news every day. So what I really want for 2019 is empathy, and plenty of it.

Leslie Lindsay:

Jennifer, it’s been most delightful. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Jennifer Robson:

I’d like to mention my late mother-in-law, Regina, who died as I was finishing work on THE GOWN. I didn’t realize how much she’d influenced me in its creation until after she was gone. Like my characters, she was an immigrant (from Italy to Canada in the early 1960s), a seamstress, and a beloved grandmother whose life was centered on her granddaughters and grandson. Like my characters, her life was difficult at times—she left her family behind when she came to Canada, and she was often lonely and homesick—but she persevered, and made a wonderful life for herself, and taught me most of what I know about cooking and gardening and needlework and being a mom. I miss her more than words can say.

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Photo by Snapwire on Pexels.com

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

Order Links:

Jennifer Robson Credit Natalie Brown-Tangerine PhotographyABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Robson is the USA Today and #1 Toronto Globe & Mail bestselling author of Somewhere In France and After The War Is Over. She holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar and an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and young children.

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. Artistic cover photo designed and photographed by L. Lindsay. Follow her on Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1]

Small towns, changing seasons, finding oneself, going back yet moving forward–Susan Bernhard discovers this & more in her debut WINTER LOON

By Leslie Lindsay 

A coming-of-age tale of one young man’s family tragedy about resilience, family secrets, dysfunction, and forging a new path. 

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WINTER LOON is a beautiful as it is stark.
 Debut novelist Susan Bernhard turns a graceful hand to an emotionally harrowing and highly dysfunctional family using the weather and the natural world as a backdrop.

Through the retrospective lens of Wes Ballot, we follow along as his childhood comes to a dreadful end when his mother is drowned in an icy Minnesota lake. Wes is left with his drifter father, who, for the moment isn’t really around. At 15, Wes can’t be left alone in the family’s abandoned cabin in the woods, and so he is shipped off to live with his maternal grandparents in Montana, who aren’t too thrilled he’s there.

Grandparents Ruby and Gip have remained embittered and cold to one another–and the world–what’s worse, Wes is forced to live in his mother’s old bedroom, still decorated as if she were 15 and living at home. But she’s dead and Wes misses his mother. Wes meets other kids his age who are also struggling with their place in the world–Jolene who is also grieving the loss of her mother, plus American Indian teens who must deal with not feeling welcomed in ‘white man’s land,’ thus a cultural aspect of the story is introduced. Keep in mind, too that WINTER LOON TAKES place in 1978.

The setting is stark and yet very tangible, lending itself effortlessly to the overall emotional resonance of WINTER LOON. The writing is more literary, poetic at times, and powerful, but also disquieting.

Wes learns a great deal of the family secrets, and much is resolved–though not always in the most ‘warm-fuzzy’ manner, but authentic.

Please join me in welcoming Susan Bernhard to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Susan, I read with such careful notes to Wes’s father, Moss Ballot—mostly because my own uncle was a drifter—leaving behind his son (my cousin) and his mother. But WINTER LOON isn’t just about leaving—it’s also about returning. Can you talk about that theme a bit and also what inspired you to begin?

Susan Bernhard:

There’s a sentiment about returning and regret that’s been expressed in a number of different ways—you can’t go home again, you can’t step in the same river twice—the idea being that the past is in the past. Yet we still try to recapture moments, dip into memory, try to bring the ghosts back. In some ways, WINTER LOON is all about returning since the narrator, Wes Ballot, is reminiscing about this particular year in his life, after his mother’s death. At one point he comments that he has turned that year over and over in his mind, pulled on the memories, like he’s trying to get clarity, revisit the decisions that led to his narrative moment.

In her poem Hope Is The Thing With Feathers, Emily Dickinson makes hope into something light and graceful. But Wes tells us at one low point that hope is heavy, that it’s easier to carry nothing at all. I wonder if that’s what makes Moss leave, what Wes is ultimately fighting against. WINTER LOON started as a short story about a woman fleeing with her child from an abusive relationship. I guess in some ways that goes back to what you’re asking—when do you stay and when do you leave? That goes to that idea that hope is heavy, that it can be a burden. How many people do we know who stay in loveless or abusive relationships because they hold out hope that things will get better when the best course of action may be to move on? I’m sorry that your cousin had to endure an absentee father. Like Wes said:

“Fathers should love their children right.”

I can’t help but feel sorry for Moss, though too, thinking about what he missed, the loneliness he might have experienced, his inability to fight to keep what should have mattered most to him.

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Photo by Radu Andrei Razvan on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

And the setting! Again—this resonated—we lived in Minnesota for five years and the starkness of winter really plays into the overall tone. It’s as if it becomes a character in itself. Can you tell us how you chose Minnesota as a partial setting (also nods to South Dakota, Montana, Topeka, KS)? You’re not a native Minnesotan, right?

Susan Bernhard:

As I mentioned, WINTER LOON started as a short story centered around a grisly moment on a frozen lake and the call of a stranded loon. Everything about that story was cold—I was even listening to music by Lia Ices when I started writing—so the Minnesota setting sprung up organically from the situation my characters were in. I grew up in a small town in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana so much of WINTER LOON is an homage to that kind of upbringing. My fondest childhood memories are summer ones spent by lakes and rivers. One of the characters in WINTER LOON tells a story about winter and spring, the tug-of-war between the two, how one represents hope and potential, the other stamina and necessity. Maybe that’s why I loved summer so much; I knew winter would return and I needed to build up my stores. Small towns and changing seasons are as much centerpieces as which particular state the novel is set in, though Minnesota is indeed the land of lakes and loons.

Leslie Lindsay:

One piece I liked in WINTER LOON was when Jolene is talking with Wes and she says,

“You’re always waiting for something to happen to you. You need to go make this happen so you know once and for all what the deal is. Otherwise, you’re stuck. I don’t want you to be stuck. I don’t want to be stuck with you.”

That’s powerful and insightful for a teen. Can you talk a bit about the role of agency in WINTER LOON—and in Wes himself?

Susan Bernhard:

We don’t get to see the conversations Jolene has with Mona, her aunt, but I imagine Mona trying to rebuild her sister’s daughter, this girl who has endured so much. I could almost imagine Mona saying something like this to Jolene, then Jolene repeating her own version of it to Wes. One of the themes in WINTER LOON is about what we inherit and what we learn from our parents. Wes has had to live in the tumult of his parents’ marriage, bounced around there with little control over his direction or destiny. When Moss strands him with Gip and Ruby, he’s not tied to anything. Will he continue to let other people, outside forces, dictate where he goes and when? Can he become his own person, his own man, stepping out from the shadows of his parents and grandparents? For me, the three characters who most dramatically express their agency are Wes, his grandmother Ruby, and his father Moss. They each make crucial decisions they think are “what’s best” for themselves and maybe for the people they love or at least should love. When I was writing WINTER LOON, I didn’t always know what the characters would do once I put them in a particular situation. There’s a scene near the end of the novel, when Wes is sitting on a bed preparing to go down a familiar and inherited path. That moment of clarity for him felt so real for me. I imagined him looking into the past, then toward the future. He became a man when he stood, his decision made.

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Photo by Irina Iriser on Pexels.com

“I lost myself in WINTER LOON, its rugged heart, its dark secrets, the honesty and vulnerability of its characters. With prose both taut and lush, Susan Bernhard has created the quintessential coming-of-age story: raw, tender, and completely spellbinding.”

— Mira T. Lee, author of EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL


Leslie Lindsay:

Moving over to genre: I was describing WINTER LOON to my husband who said, “So it’s YA?” No, it’s not. The narrator is older, but reliving his youth in a retrospective story. There are adult themes, but most of the characters are younger. How do you reconcile the two genres: YA and coming-of-age?

Susan Bernhard:

WINTER LOON is Wes’ bildungsroman so naturally readers who gravitate toward stories about the journey into adulthood will be drawn to it. And of course, coming-of-age stories have long been a part of adult fiction. I never put much thought into where the book would land on a bookshelf. What I set out to do was write with an emotional honesty I hoped would resonate with readers. There have been so many successful novels recently with young characters that probably could have been marketed as YA but also fit squarely in adult literary fiction. I’m thinking specifically of books like The Round House by Louise Erdrich, Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward, or The History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. It’s important to note that children and young adults in these novels often deal with difficult circumstances and themes because that reflects what’s really happening in the world. I don’t think it’s necessary to shield readers from this kind of truth. In fact, I think exposure to these kinds of narratives helps create empathetic adults. My writing style might be a little off brand for a young adult audience—the reminiscent narrator, the economy of language, the sometimes bleak tone. But if WINTER LOON crosses over and appeals to traditional YA readers, that works for me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to ask about houses, because they are my all-time favorite and encapsulate so much of a character. WINTER LOON describes Ruby and Gip’s house and I so enjoyed this description,

“I knew the cracks and warts of that house, the gurgles in the pipes, the droop and creak in the hallway outside the bathroom where leaking had warped the floorboards. I’d grown accustomed to heat that didn’t always work in the winter and the damp, medicinal smell of mold in the summer.”

Was this a house familiar to you or excavated from collective memories of multiple homes?

Susan Bernhard:

Gip and Ruby’s house was kind of an amalgam of places I knew growing up. I married floor plans with details to come up with a place I thought Gip and Ruby might live, how they might live. Same for some of the other houses in WINTER LOON. The Hightower house was a mashup of a couple of places I knew—the outside of one house and the inside of another. The sweetest house for me was Mrs. Blue’s. When I was little, one of my best friends was an elderly woman who lived across the street. She had an organ and a piano and her house was always so tidy. She would give me hard candies and I would sit in her living room and listen to her play. And she had an amazing horse chestnut tree in her front yard. Other neighborhood kids and I would wait for the spiny pods to drop from the tree, then peel the chestnuts out and corral them like horses. I still love chestnuts and think of my friend whenever I find a chestnut tree.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Susan, I could probably ask questions all day, but alas we both have other things to do. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Like—what’s it like working with the GrubStreet Novel Incubator Program, what it’s like being a first-time novelist, what you might have done differently, if you’re working on anything new, how you’re spending the holidays….

Susan Bernhard:

You fired off questions so I’ll fire off answers!

  1. The GrubStreet Novel Incubator Program is intense, frustrating, illuminating, humbling, and rewarding. I was exhausted at the end of it and would do it again in a heartbeat.
  2. I’m so grateful to have the experience of holding my published novel in my hand and I understand how rare that is. Quite amazing, really.
  3. If I had it to do all over again, maybe I would have committed to writing earlier in my life. But I’m not one for regrets. This is my path and I’m happy to be on it.
  4. I have a new novel in the works about four people whose lives collide when a child suddenly appears in the small town where they live.
  5. I love Christmas and but it does make me a little melancholy, too. A lot of my ornaments and decorations remind me of my mom who passed away in 2006. One of the traditions I keep alive from my childhood (read: force upon my kids) is a brisk walk on Christmas Eve. We usually stop by our neighbors’ house for the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. Christmas Day we spend at home with family and friends, eating lots of food and drinking lots of prosecco.

Leslie Lindsay:

Thank you, Susan. It’s been a pleasure!

Susan Bernhard:

It’s clear from your questions that you’re a devoted and careful reader so the pleasure was truly mine!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purhcase a copy of WINTER LOON, please see: 

Order Links: 

sdbauthorABOUT THE AUTHOR:Susan Bernhard is a Massachusetts Cultural Council fellowship recipient and a graduate of the GrubStreet Novel Incubator program. She was born and raised in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana, is a graduate of the University of Maryland, and lives with her husband and two children near Boston. WINTER LOON (Little A, December 2018) is her debut novel.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from S. Bernhard’s website on 12.15.18. Author photo credit: Miles Bernhard. Cover image photograph  designed by L. Lindsay and can be accessed via Instagram @LeslieLindsay1. Footer image retrieved from S. Bernhard’s Twitter page, 12.15.18]

Emma Healey talks about her most recent book, WHISTLE IN THE DARK, inner demons, missing girls, mothers & daughters, unique structure, more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Stunning, psychologically complex atmospheric tale about mothers and daughters, inner demons, and piecing back the shards of a fragile psyche. Emma Healey pops by to chat about her favorite podcasts, how her teenage breakdown–and subsequent depression–informed Lana’s character, and so much more. 

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I am overwhelmed with the subtle absorption of WHISTLE IN THE DARK
(July 2018, Harper), which explores the complexity of mother-daughter relationships, with a wry, poignant, sharply observed style. Emma Healey’s prose is both taut and lush and I was immediately drawn into her atmospheric underworld of 15-year-old Lana Maddox’s teenage depression, unaccountable days, and her eventual reappearance. 

Plus, that cover!

Told in a unique noir style in which we begin with the end, delve into a murky (in a good way) middle ground, and then reemerge on a brighter, more hopeful side, WHISTLE IN THE DARK is written in titled sections that aren’t exactly chapters, but present-day vignettes/memories/back flashes, while also propelling the narrative forward. I have to say, I loved this! I found the smaller sections easier to read (as opposed to an entire chapter), offered just enough information to leave me happily brooding in the past while also forcing me forward. I wanted to savor WHISTLE IN THE DARK.

Ultimately, WHISTLE IN THE DARK sets out to discover: 1) Where was Lana during those four days? and 2) Does she really want to be saved? 

But there is so much more. The psychological complexities, the emotional depth and the astute observations from Healey made my jaw drop. Plus, there’s a slight religious/spiritual/mystical aspect to the narrative twining through as if a glimmering thread.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Emma Healey to the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Emma, I am in awe. Your storytelling in A WHISTLE IN THE DARK is brilliant and yet dark, and so well done. I’m curious what the original seed was that propelled you into this particular world?

Emma Healey:

Firstly, thank you very much indeed for your lovely comments about the book. I’m ever so glad you enjoyed it.

The initial inspiration for the plot came when I was in Australia in 2015 and I heard about a woman who had gone missing in the rainforest in Queensland for 17 days. She was found, not far from where she’d disappeared, suffering from sunburn and heatstroke, but essentially okay. She said she’d just got lost and had quickly become too weak to alert searchers to her whereabouts. The part of the story that really interested me though, was that the press seemed suspicious of her, hinting that she had deliberately gone off, hadn’t really been lost, was lying. I didn’t know what to do with that for about 10 months, but I knew I wanted to use the elements of that story in a smaller way. So eventually Australia became England, 17 days became 4, the media became a mother. Once I had those parameters I realized it was also going to be a book about teenage depression.

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‘…a psychological thriller that meshes the homely with the gothic… Healey broadens the remit of the thriller.’

~ Literary Review


Leslie Lindsay:

There is a slight ‘underworld’ theme, which can be interpreted on several levels. The title, of course, plays on this, too. Can you share how WHISTLE IN THE DARK is both an interior and exterior read?

Emma Healey:

Without giving anything away, I knew that a kind of underworld was the solution to the book very early on, so that physical detail was one layer. And then other features of the book suggested others – it’s about a mother who is afraid of losing her daughter, which of course made me think of the myth of Demeter and Persephone. The book focuses briefly on social media and internet research – something that we describe as being like a rabbit hole (especially when we’re procrastinating writers!). Jen is worried about her daughter physically and emotionally, and the action is about reacting to a physical absence, but really the book is about a mother trying to excavate her daughter’s mind – so there’s a tension between exterior and interior there.

I also love adding a hint of the uncanny to my writing. I think most of us find ourselves spooked or chilled by strange things at various times – an unidentified noise in an empty house, a shape that seems to change in the dark, etc. Those moments are a kind of pure drama and are full of possibilities. And they all suggest another kind of underworld. I’m hugely influenced in this by my teenage obsession with Ann Radcliffe’s books – her eighteenth century gothic novels are full of the possibility of something supernaturally dark, but always have frighteningly real-world solutions.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I want to talk about structure a bit. WHISTLE IN THE DARK is told in told in sections ranging from a few lines to a few pages, a technique that really propels the narration, whilest, giving readers plenty to think about. How did this structure evolve? Was it conscious on your part? I fond it very effective.

Emma Healey:

I write in unconnected sections, often only 500 words at a time, and then when I have collected a good number I try to see how these might fit into a narrative. And then I repeat the process – writing another set of unconnected scenes, but with a more definite voice, or perspective, and with a knowledge of the purpose of the story / narrator. And then I carry on like that till I have a first draft. So, in some ways the structure was unconscious, but when I was halfway through I started thinking of Evan S Connell’s novel Mrs Bridge. I love that book, which is written in very short, titled chapters and gives the reader a series of glimpses into the life of Mrs Bridge and her family. It works because Mrs Bridge, her inner life, is kept at arms length, but we get enough (clever, surprising, funny) details to make us think we know her. In fact the overlapping stories act like a series of private jokes – bringing us closer, making us feel like part of the community. I wanted to do something similar, and realized I could formalize my short sections, reduce the span of the novel to include just a few months (rather than a whole life), and also add in a kind of mystery.

Leslie Lindsay:

Many authors (and writing instructors) suggest that you should always know the end [of your story] before even beginning. Where do you stand on this? Did you know how WHISTLE IN THE DARK would end ahead of time?

Emma Healey:

I knew the very very end image and the final bit of dialogue, but actually the plot changed several times while I was writing it. I wrote my first novel in the same way. I’ve only once fully worked out the end of a novel and I ended up abandoning that project after thirty thousand words! I have to feel there is something for me to explore, something to discover, to make the process worthwhile. If I know too much I lose interest. I’m not a ‘pantster’ because I keep a very detailed plan, but I let that plan develop with my book, rather than dictate the content.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

I also really admire the psychological complexity and depth presented in WHISTLE IN THE DARK. Lana is fifteen and is struggling with depression and anxiety. She has a therapist and also some self-injurious behavior. Can you talk about how this piece found its way into the story? And did you have to do any research?

Emma Healey:

I had a breakdown when I was 15 and was suicidally depressed. I dropped some of my exams at 16, and didn’t go on to sixth form college (for 17 & 18 year olds). Instead I spent a year barely leaving the house and reading romance novels, one after another, in order to shut out the real world. I didn’t think I would ever explore that time in my life through fiction, and I still wouldn’t write about it in straightforward detail, but approaching the subject from a parent’s point of view (using my mother as a very very rough template) made it possible to find something new and useful and even entertaining in it.

Having gone through that experience, I was really keen to pose rather than answer questions – I wasn’t interested in providing a reason for Lana’s depression, because I know there isn’t always a reason. The book hints at exam pressure and body issues, and difficulties within friendship groups, but doesn’t use any of them as a solution. Similarly I wanted Jen and her husband Hugh to have a good relationship so the reader couldn’t mistake my purpose and think that I was trying to show how divorce leads to depression, etc. I’m also quite hard on Lana – I don’t paint her as an angel! But was always acutely aware of her suffering while I was writing the book.

Leslie Lindsay:

Emma, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? What you’re binge-watching, if you’re working on something else, if you have a guilty pleasure, what’s on your TBR pile? Something else?

Emma Healey:

Thank you so much for your questions!

I’m unfortunately not binge-watching anything at the moment as I have 16 month old, so we only ever have CBeebies playing on the television. I do listen to lots of podcasts though, my favourite about books and writing are: Slate’s Audio Bookclub, Death of 1000 Cuts, Backlisted, and of course the New Yorker Fiction podcast. I’m also keen on true crime podcasts, especially: Death in Ice Valley, The Doorstep Murder, In the Dark, and Trace.

I’m working on the beginning of a new book, with lots of chapters set in woodland. At least I think I’m working on a new book, I might just be using that as an excuse to get out into the countryside now that autumn is here (I love the autumn).

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Emma Healey, photographed at the UEA campus, Norwich.ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emma Healey grew up in London and is a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. Her first novel, Elizabeth is Missing, was published to critical acclaim in 2014, elizabeth-is-missing-us-coversold over a million copies, and won the Costa First Novel Award. Her second novel, Whistle in the Dark was published in 2018. She lives in Norwich with her husband, daughter and cat.

 

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

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#amreading #fiction #literaryfiction #authorinterviews #bookreviews 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission.]

Stunning fictional portrayal of the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud, & so much more in this glimmering historical fiction, LITTLE–with amazing illustrations–by the immensely talented Edward Carey

By Leslie Lindsay 

Richly imagined novel of the woman who would one day become known as Madame Tussaud is charming as it is eccentric. 

And I was mesmerized.

IMG_0682Edward Carey is here chatting about how the cast  of characters was ‘exhausting and worrying,’ how LITTLE is like a ‘very dark fairytale,’ how Louis XVI was really a ‘pretty bad king, but a great locksmith…and would often go to the top of Versailles to shoot feral cats,’ and so much more. 

Narrated by Marie Grosholtz, the ‘tiny,’ bright and ambitious orphan, apprenticed to a wax sculptor, readers fall easily into her charm, her wonderful, strange, and fascinating world of wax modeling. 

I so loved LITTLE (Riverhead, 2018), which is tumbling with drama, from the challenging early years of Marie’s life (her father died from the Seven Years War) and her mother’s suicide, through her apprenticeship at to Doctor Curtius (who was a physician but also a wax sculptor), the streets of Paris, Versailles, and through the French Revolution. Seriously, LITTLE has so much going for it–love and loss, sharp eccentricities, morbidity, but also hope and art.

I was completely taken and wrapped in this wholly original and immersive narrative. In fact, I found myself reading more slowly than usual because I wanted to savor the spirit of persistence and enchanted rendering of such a special soul.

Scattered throughout the text are pencil drawings by the author as if he were channeling Marie. This really enhances the storytelling and brings such life to the words. 

In short, I loved LITTLE. sLQBjcaM_400x400

But I’m not the only one.

Margaret Atwood says this about LITTLE:

“Don’t miss this eccentric charmer! LITTLE, by Edward Carey, narrated by Madame Tussaud of waxworks fame [on] her strange life and times, including the almost fatal French Revolution, a prime season for heads.” ~via Twitter.

And LITTLE receives a starred review from Kirkus:

“Carey channels the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Henry Fielding, and the Brothers Grimm, to tell Marie’s tale, populating it with grotesques and horrors worthy of Madame Tussaud’s celebrated wax museum…A quirky, compelling story that deepens into a meditation on mortality and art.”

Library Journal selects LITTLE as a Fall Editors’ Pick and says this about it:

“Lavishly illustrated with Marie’s strange and compelling drawings, Edward Carey’s Little is a boldly original reimagining of the life of the woman who would become the legendary Madame Tussaud.”

Please join me in welcoming Edward Carey to the author the author interview series.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Edward, it’s such a pleasure. I loved this book. I know you say LITTLE took ‘a really long time’ to finish. Fifteen years, in fact. But you’ve published other things in the interim. Can you talk about the original spark for LITTLE, and then a bit about why this one was slow to formulate?

Edward Carey:  

In my early twenties I had a wonderful very bad job as a guard at Madame Tussaud’s in London. The job was basically: look after the wax people, protect them from the flesh people that came to visit. The public came in and pointed and prodded and were not especially courteous to the wax populace, but it was fascinating watching people reacting to these full size dolls. It was while I was working there that I learnt about the real life of Marie Tussaud, that she had been in Paris before after and during the French Revolution and that she had cast Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from life and then, later, their heads after they had been guillotined. She seemed to know everyone, Marat, Franklin, Robespierre, Rousseau, Napoleon. The most fascinating figure in the waxworks was a self portrait she made of herself when she was an old woman. She put this waxwork at the till and would sit down beside it. She had such a wise, winning face. I knew then I would love to write about her someday, her story seemed like a very dark fairy tale…and slowly it seemed to me that I should try to write a novel about her. So this was the original spark. And then, later, when I started to work on it I became a little nervous about how to approach her, about how to properly shape the story. Getting her voice right was probably the hardest part, giving her enough emotion, making her love. To begin with she was too uncanny, something like a doll herself and that didn’t work. So the novel changed size over the years, sometimes it was enormous, at others it was much, much smaller. I had to leave it alone for many months at a time before I could finally see it properly.

Leslie Lindsay:

In publishing, there’s this notion of, ‘write book at the right time,’ and so I’m curious—what pieces had to be orchestrated for LITTLE?

Edward Carey:  

There was no time factor involved really – except the fact that the book took me fifteen years to finish, which is obviously an alarmingly long time. It was under no contract as I wrote it and so I had only myself to spur me on. I think her story is good for all times. She’s a mirror to what human beings are capable of, both the best of humanity and the cruelest.

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Photo by Lukas Hartmann on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Your research is evident. I mean, wow. Can you talk a bit about that, please? What advice might you give to writers so they don’t become too bogged down in the minutia and just write?

Edward Carey:

I spent many months doing research in the British Library in London and I spent two six month sessions living in Paris, researching and writing there. This was all at the beginning. My other novels are mostly set in cities that don’t exist so I could make up whatever I wanted to. But here I was writing about Paris and one of the most famous pieces of European history. That often intimidated me. I was so eager that my Louis XVI was credible, likewise Marie Antoinette and  Napoleon[Benjamin] Franklin and Voltaire and Rousseau and Jacques Louis David…all of them! And, at times, I found the fame of the cast of my book exhausting and worrying. So I read a great deal and visited archives. To be honest, living in Paris and London intimidated me even more when writing the book. Moving to Austin, Texas, was incredibly useful! Suddenly Paris and the eighteenth century seemed so far away. I began to relax. And at last began to feel freer with the material. But chiefly what helped me was the writing of Louis Sebastien Mercier, he lived in and wrote about Paris in 1700s but what was so exciting about his writing was that he only wrote about ordinary life, not about the famous people but about the average bloke on the street and how it was to live in Paris then. This was a liberation for me, I adored his writing so much I made him an important character in the book – and the person who guides Marie around Paris (telling her about it, when she’s forced to stay in one house and never leave it).

Leslie Lindsay:

I love the art interspersed throughout the narrative. You’re also a visual artist and these drawings are ultimately your creation, but channeled by Marie. How did this piece come into the story? It really enriches the reading experience.

Edward Carey:

For LITTLE very early on I carved from wood a mannequin of Marie (which features in the book), I wanted to know her size exactly, and this wooden mannequin is her exact size. I also painted a portrait of her in oils that I pretended was painted by the great artist Jacques Louis David, I wanted to have David – who was Robespierre’s chief propagandist – in the book right from the start. I also wanted to know how to make a waxwork so I could describe the process properly, so I made a wax death mask of Marie’s teacher Doctor Curtius. But mostly the artwork involved drawing. I tried to see the world through Marie’s eyes not just with words but with her pencil – I had her sketching fish heads in the kitchen, Mercier’s shoes, Curtius’ tools, extinct monkeys, and also the two people she loved. I tried to litter the book with her observations. Slowly these drawings mounted up. I tried also, when she couldn’t face drawing the actual awful event before her, for Marie to make substitute: for example when Marie’s mother commits suicide she sketches a wood pigeon from the butcher’s; when she sees a dead woman on a Parisian street she draws a deceased rat; when Louis XVI is guillotined she draws the mold she makes of the dead king – so that you see the dead king’s head in negative not the actual head, a sort of ghost of it. I also thought that Marie would never draw herself, so you never see her actual face in the book, you see everyone else, and you have her voice narrating the story, but Marie’s own features are kept a little aloof.

Leslie Lindsay:

I loved Marie. Her spunk, her voice, her brilliance. But there are so many other characters presented in LITTLE. Doctor Curtius, Edmond, the widow Picot, Princess Elisabeth. Aside from Marie, did you feel a particular affinity for anyone?

Edward Carey:

I do love Mercier, and I owe him a lot, his prose is simply stunning and I tried to write something in his voice – and I tried to make him the conscience of the novel. As I went about my research I discovered that Louis XVI was rather a shy fellow and that he was much happier tinkering around with locks on his own – he was actually a very accomplished locksmith – I also discovered that he used to go up on the roofs of Versailles to shoot at all the feral cats that lived around the palace (this seemed so extraordinary to me I had to put it in the novel). Louis XVI was not a good king and was often paralyzed with indecision, but also he never expected to be king, his father and brother died before him and so he, unhappily I think, found himself on the throne. Some characters in the book are made up. Jacques Beauvisage (christened by cruel nuns) is a street urchin, an orphan, a frequenter of public executions, and he acts as the human guard dog to the waxworks house in the novel – I tried to make him represent all the bloodiest aspects of Paris at the time. To have the Revolution appear even closer to Marie, I had Jacques be one of the principal actors in the September Massacres where priests and monks were murdered by the hundreds. Suddenly, the Revolution had come home to Marie at the waxworks, formerly they were merely observers but now one of their number was taking part.

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Photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s no getting around the macabre. And it is Halloween after all, so let’s talk about the guillotine for a moment.  And those murders and severed heads in Marie’s lap. Of course, this scene is quite visceral. What two or three scenes stand out in your mind as some of the most memorable?

Edward Carey:

The first (in chronological order) would be the bloody head of the Comte de Launay, Governor of the Bastille. When the prison was stormed de Launay was killed by the mob and his head severed from his body. This was no neatly sliced neck delivered by the guillotine but rather one that was hacked about and then thrust on a pike. I thought of the shock of that, a human head so misplaced, and Marie being forced by the mob to cast it. The second would be the king’s head after his execution, now Marie had in her lap the head of someone she actually knew, and so she must have been both tender with it but also revolted. The third is Jean Paul Marat murdered in his bath. Marat, who was one of the most fanatical and vile of the personalities of the French Revolution, suffered from a bad skin complaint and to soothe this he sat in a slipper bath and worked as he bathed. Charlotte Corday, a beautiful woman from Cannes, pretended to give him information on enemies of the state, instead she thrust a knife into his chest. It was an unusually hot summer at the time and Marat’s body began to decompose with alarming rapidity. Jacques Louis David, great painter and Robespierre’s chief propagandist, wanted to eternalize this ‘martyr’ in oil paint but the body was disintegrating too fast. And so Marie was ordered to cast the body so that it might be preserved and so that he could paint it after Marie had cast it in wax. She did as she was told (which can’t have been pleasant) and the two Marat portraits were in the end strikingly different. Marie’s shows a pock-marked man with sallow skin and mouth and eyes open, the body twisted in agony. David’s shows a beautiful Christ-like figure at peace.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I could probably ask questions all day, but we both have other things to do. What might I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Edward Carey:

I just want to add, if I may, that this is a fictional account of Marie Tussaud’s life. She took liberties with her own autobiography and embellished her story, this gave me the freedom to invent also. The novel is a dark fairytale about history and being dragged into it, but also it’s two love stories (Marie had two enormous loves in her life) and, most of all, it’s a survivor’s tale. About how a small foreign girl managed, despite everything, to walk through a bloodbath and to come out on top in a very masculine world. To me Tussaud is an almost fantastical person, a kind of small, beautiful sprite, a mythical figure: the little woman who collected history.

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

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IMG_0025ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Edward Carey is a writer and illustrator whose books include The Iremonger Trilogy: Heap House, Foulsham, and LungdonObservatory Mansions; and Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved a City. His artwork has been exhibited in Florence, Collodi, Kilkenny, Milan, London and Austin; his essays and reviews have been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Observer, Corriere della Serra, La Repubblica, and other places. In addition to his own work, he illustrates other writers, including Bill Wittliff and Jessica Frances Kane. His new novel, Little, is published by Riverhead.

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

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LITTLE by Edward Carey - high res

[Cover and author image courtesy of the author and used with permission. Color illustration retrieved from Edward Carey’s Twitter account and is his original art. Artistic photo of book cover from L.Lindsay’s personal archives and can be viewed via Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]