Debut Novelist Julie Clark talks about science, motherhood, love, and so much more in her dazzling good read, THE ONES WE CHOOSE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Shattering original and beautifully written book about secrets, science, DNA, mothers, and the trauma of our ancestors living in each and every one of us. THE ONES WE CHOOSE is such a glimmering debut by an author to watch. 

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You’ll read Julie Clark’s debut and think, “this woman has got to be a scientist,” but she’s not. She’s a 5th grade teacher and mother, and while those skills and traits come through in THE ONES WE CHOOSE, it’s her effortless blend of genetics that made me swoon.

Geneticist Paige Robson is struggling. She’s always had everything together, until her son starts asking about his biological dad. Eight-year old Miles was conceived via sperm donor and while he knows this, he can’t help but feel disconnected. He doesn’t fit in with the other children at school, who all seem to have active, engaged fathers. Plus, Paige’s romantic life isn’t all that great (she has difficultly being open), and her father has just returned; attempting to make up for lost time.


“How could I not love a debut about science, secrets, DNA, and how the traumas of our ancestors still live within our very cells? With gorgeous prose, and a deep emotional resonance, The Ones We Choose is about the science of love, how our DNA shapes us, and a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son while confronting what really makes our identity ours, what and who we choose to let in, and what and who we don’t.  An absolutely dazzling, profound ruby of a novel.”

– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU and CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD 


I was so taken with the breadth of science explored in this work of literary fiction, but don’t worry–it’s all infused with a gentle, almost conversational tone 
(ala Jodi Piccoult style) making for a rich, engaging read. I’m an R.N. by training (it’s been years and years and I no longer practice), but I found the information presented in THE ONES WE CHOOSE riveting(and in some cases, new to me) and so enjoyed this piece of the narrative.

I found the piece of artificial insemination fascinating–I don’t know anyone who has gone through this process and so have always been curious as to how it works. THE ONES WE CHOOSE will give the reader a fictional account of one woman’s experience.

Seriously, a fabulous, well-written, thoughtful debut about mothers, science, love, secrets, and ancestors. 

Please join me in welcoming Julie to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, welcome! I am so in awe of your debut. I know you didn’t start out writing a book about genetics—you really knew nothing about it—but lo and behold, your character is a geneticist. What was the jumping-off point for you on this narrative and why science?

Julie Clark:

First, thank so much for reading and inviting me onto your blog today! The idea that my main character, Paige, would be a geneticist evolved slowly. At first, she was a manager of a dog rescue! But the more I wrote scenes between Paige and her son, Miles, the more I realized that this is a story of genetics…the things we pass down to our children. And that there are many people in the world – whether conceived via donor or adopted – who don’t have access to this information. The first thing I did was to start reading about genetics, and find myself an expert in the field.

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Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a 5th grade teacher and a mother to two boys. This definitely comes through in THE ONES WE CHOOSE; how did those experiences and roles inform your writing? Or did they? In fact, there’s a section on the book in which Paige is chatting with her friend, Jackie about being a working mother and says, “In fact, I think I’m a better mother because Miles sees me following my passion. He watches me set goals and achieve them.” Can you talk about that, please?

Julie Clark:

Well, I love my job as a teacher. It’s the perfect balance to writing. It allows me to get out of my head and focus on something bigger than myself, bigger than my books or my writing career. Working with students every day reminds me of the obligation we all have to invest in future generations. And teaching really prepared me for writing a book about genetics. My job requires me to constantly take complex concepts and break them down into pieces that others can easily understand. In writing my genetics chapters, I relied heavily upon those skills.

Leslie Lindsay:

The research you most have done to craft such a well-rounded (and informed!) narrative must have been daunting. What was your process like? Did you enjoy the research?

Julie Clark:

I really did enjoy it! As I said earlier, I spent a lot of time reading up on genetics and ancestry. I also connected with a geneticist, Dr. James West, at Vanderbilt who was so generous with his time, answering emails, chatting on the phone, over the course of two years. The genetics chapters came late in the game, and originally I only had about four or five. My editor at Gallery wanted something between each chapter, so I just sat down and started making a list of everything I could think of: chromosomes, DNA, cells, the genome…and once I got that list, I started thinking about how Paige might think about those topics, in relation to what was going on with her at the time. Some of the chapters are more narrative, others are short and informative. But overall, they were a lot of fun to write.

Leslie Lindsay:

The oxytocin inhibitor gene in men…is that a real thing? Can you tell us more about its appearance in THE ONES WE CHOOSE?

Julie Clark:

What is real: Oxytocin is a bonding hormone. Both mothers and fathers produce massive amounts of it at the birth of a child. What isn’t real: an inhibitor gene that precludes some men from releasing it. I worked closely with Dr. West to figure out the best way to present this…and he assures me that while such a thing doesn’t exist to our knowledge, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

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Leslie Lindsay:

And the whole piece of artificial insemination is so fascinating. I’ve been curious about the process before, but never had any reason to look into it or knew anyone who had gone through it. How did this piece work its way into the novel for you?

Julie Clark:

This was the jumping off point for me for the entire book. I wanted to write about a single mother, because I’m a single mother. But I wanted a different take on it. I wanted to write about someone who chose it for herself, deliberately and lovingly. I have many friends who have used a donor to conceive their child/children, and I wanted to see their families represented.

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you feel you did ‘right’ as a first time novelist and what do you wished you had done better or known more about? Can anyone truly prepare for the task?

Julie Clark:

The best thing I did was to allow myself to enjoy the process, and not get caught up in the details. I was writing my second book throughout most of that time, and that really helped keep me grounded in the belief that while I wanted THE ONES WE CHOOSE to do well, it wasn’t going to be my only book. This is what prepares you for the task of releasing a book – keeping focused on doing it again.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What’s keeping you awake at night? It doesn’t have to be literary. [But if it is, ignore the next question]

Julie Clark:

I sleep pretty well! I feel so fortunate to have had such a great experience with such an amazing team. If I’m awake at night, it’s because I’m feeling grateful.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you?

Julie Clark:

I’m working on revisions for my second book, tentatively titled WHEN I KNEW YOU. But most of that is under wraps for the time being!

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Julie Clark:

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! I’m so glad you loved THE ONES WE CHOOSE, and thank you for reading!

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

Order Links:

Julie Clark Photograph by Eric A. Reid PhotogtaphyABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie Clark grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, and a brief stint working in the athletic department at University of California, Berkeley, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse THE ONES WE CHOOSE is her first novel.

 

 

 

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#genetics #literaryfiction #motherhood #science 

[Cover and author image courtesy of Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster and used with permission] 

 

T. Greenwood transforms the true-crime story that inspired Nabokov’s LOLITA in this this shattering gorgeous novel, RUST & STARDUST

By Leslie Lindsay 

Darkly brilliant imagined rendering of Florence “Sally” Horner and her mysterious disappearance in 1948 at the hands of a ‘moral abuser,’ RUST AND STARDUST glitters. She’s here chatting about her charming Golden Retriever, Phoebe, the rabbit hole of research, how she cranked out the first draft of RUST & STARDUST in only a month (and then revised for many more), and so much else.

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It’s 1948 in Camden, New Jersey when shy, lonely, awkward Florence “Sally” Horner is given a dare from a group of girls to steal something from a Woolworths. She’s desperate to join their club and so goes along with them. Just as she’s leaving the store, a man (Frank LaSalle) grabs her and catches her stealing. He says he’s with the FBI and she must go to their headquarters to confess her sins. But really, Frank LaSalle is fresh out of prison.

As the story unfolds, Frank’s lies become deeper and more brutal. Sally is scared but feels she has no way out of her situation. He takes her from Camden to the shore, Baltimore, Dallas, and California. RUST & STARDUST is a true story that has been fictionalized by the author to give it a novel appeal.

And so you wonder…the connection between this book and Nabakov’s LOLITA? The way I understand it, Nabakov was struggling with the manuscript that would eventually become LOLITA while Sally’s case was exposed in the media. It caught his attention and inspired characters in his book.

RUST & STARDUST is gritty but not obscene. Greenwood takes a gentle hand with the brutal aspects of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in the narrative. Readers get a sense of what is going on, but never is it blatant. Her words flow and glimmer and while the tale is disturbing, I felt such a soft spot for Sally and worried for her fate.

Greenwood’s research and intrigue with the case is evident in these pages, but so, too is her imagination. We ‘meet’ a colorful cast of characters, including a traveling circus at The Good Luck Motor Court in Texas as well as migrant workers in a citrus field in California. I found I simply could not put this book down. The chapters are short and told from the POV of several characters fully bringing the narrative–and Sally–to life.

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Tammy Greenwood back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Oh, this book! It’s shattering and gorgeous and ruinous and everything else. I know you researched this story for over two years. But I have to ask—what prompted your interest?

T. Greenwood:

I was introduced to Sally Horner as a teenager when I read Lolita for the first time, though I didn’t realize it. A reference to her is embedded in one of Nabokov’s famous parentheticals: (Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year-old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Horner in 1948?). It wasn’t until nearly twenty-five years later when I read an essay by crime writer, Sarah Weinman on Sally (and the connection to Lolita), that I encountered her again. Sally’s story, the tragedy of it, resonated with me, and I tumbled down the rabbit hole of research.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Can you lead us into your research a bit? Where did you start and how did you stop yourself from getting too entrenched and still allow the fiction to flow?

T. Greenwood:

I began by looking at every archived newspaper article I could find about the kidnapping. I also studied genealogy sites and census records to determine familial relationships and addresses and occupations of her family members. I haunted obituaries.

This novel covers a large geographical terrain; La Salle took Sally from Camden, N.J. to Atlantic City to Baltimore, then on to Dallas and eventually San Jose. In the 1970s when I was a little girl, my family often drove to Atlantic City in the summer, where I performed (singing and dancing) on the Steel Pier. I have always wanted to write about this old Atlantic City, and so the fact that Frank and Sally spent time there felt almost serendipitous to me. I did a tremendous amount of research about Camden. (I am forever indebted to a marvelous historical website) I read extensively about the neighborhood in Baltimore where she was enrolled at a Catholic School. I also studied the history of their Dallas neighborhood, discovering that the traveling circus often stayed at their trailer park when they were passing through town. I also learned about a neighboring night club which was host to a shady cast of characters at that time. And then, when I had exhausted every resource I could find, I gave myself permission to fill in the blanks. I dreamed up the rest – including several characters. I tried to stay as true to the facts that I did know, but exercised my full creative license in imagining what life must have been like for Sally during this ordeal, as well as for those she left behind.

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Leslie Lindsay: 

You chose to tell RUST & STARDUST from the POV from several characters—Sally, her sister, Susan, brother-in-law Al, her mother Ella. I like this because it gave me a sense of what was going on ‘back home,’ when Sally was in the grips of Frank. Was this telling deliberate on your part, or did it arise organically?

T. Greenwood:

At first the story belonged almost exclusively to these characters. For the first couple of drafts, I wrote around Sally. I think it was too daunting and scary to inhabit her consciousness given all that she went through. But I knew I needed to go there eventually, and when I finally did, I realized that while the narrative was kaleidoscopic, that Sally was always that bright bit of light at the center.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have an eleven-year-old daughter. I think you once mentioned that your youngest daughter was eleven when you started RUST & STARDUST. How did that affect your telling of this story?

T. Greenwood:

I think it was, in part, what drew me to her. Eleven is a magical age. It’s that odd cusp between childhood and adolescence. Everything about eleven is fragile. I wanted to capture that in Sally’s character. Of course, Sally isn’t nearly as savvy as my own twenty-first century daughter – the book opens in 1948 – but there were more similarities than differences, I think: that longing to fit in, that push and pull with her mother, that precarious innocence.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Ella, the mother of Sally…I think she had a really tough, bitter life. Not only had she been widowed twice, but she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and scraped by on her sewing and piecework. And then this awful thing happens to Sally. Can you tell us a little more about her character? Do you think she had any psychiatric issues?

T. Greenwood:

It’s important to state first that Ella’s character is fictional. I was inspired by what I knew about her (her occupation, her economic status, her having been widowed by a man who committed suicide). But everything else I gleaned solely from the multiple photographs I located of her and the brief commentary that she offered to the various reporters who interviewed her.

One of the most difficult aspects of this story for people (myself included) to understand is how Ella could have put her daughter on a bus with a stranger. And so, my biggest challenge was creating a character and a scenario in which this would be plausible.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis (the symptoms of which are exactly like rheumatoid arthritis). For nearly six months, before my rheumatologist found a medication that worked, I was in crippling pain. Chronic pain is not only physically but mentally debilitating. Pain becomes, quite literally, a cage inside which you exist. I knew right away, that I wanted Ella to be inordinately preoccupied – by grief, by financial struggles, and by physical pain. It was the only way I could justify – to myself anyway – the ease with which Frank was able to snatch her child right out from under her.

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Leslie Lindsay:

I understand there’s a true crime book coming out this September about the ‘real’ LOLITA. Sarah Weinman THE REAL LOLITA: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel that Scandalized the World, Ecco]. Are you familiar with it? I so fell in love with Sally through RUST & STARDUST, I feel I’ve got to read it. Thoughts? Also, can you tell us more about that LOLITA connection?

T. Greenwood:

Yes. At the time that I read Weinman’s essay, I was unaware that she had plans to write a book-length non-fiction account of Sally’s life (and her ordeal’s influence on Nabokov). I actually found out about Weinman’s book proposal just as I preparing to submit my own for publication. I worried a little that there would be no need for two books about Sally. However, in the end, I think they are nice companion pieces. Weinman’s research is comprehensive. She interviewed surviving family members and others who knew Sally, and her book provides an ample overview of the crime. She also explores the connection between Sally’s ordeal and LOLITA as well as Nabokov’s reluctance to acknowledge this influence. But while our agendas are similar – to give a voice to this forgotten child – our respective approaches are fundamentally different. She is a journalist, and I am a novelist. THE REAL LOLITA is a work of reportage, RUST & STARDUST is not true crime, but a fictional rendering of this crime. My hope is that my work not only offers information about Sally’s life, but – through Sally – touches on the larger themes of vulnerability and abuse, of motherhood, and of survival. My goal has always been to offer the reader a glimpse inside what it must have been like for Sally and those who loved her. I would say, if you don’t want to know what happens to Sally, you might want to wait to read the factual accounts of her life until after reading the novel so as not to spoil anything.


“Greenwood’s glowing dark ruby of a novel brilliantly transforms the true crime story that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. Shatteringly original and eloquently written, Rust and Stardust is a lot about how what we believe to be true can shape or ruin a life, and the bright lure of innocence pitted against the murk of evil. So ferociously suspenseful, I found myself holding my breath, and so gorgeous and so unsettling in all the roads it might have taken, I kept rereading pages.” 

—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World


Leslie Lindsay:

Can you tell us a bit about your writing routines and rituals? Any cute dog stories?  Mine is curled up under my desk. She thinks she’s helping…

T. Greenwood:

Mine (Phoebe – a golden retriever) is curled up next to me right now! When I am working on a book, I wake up early (5:30 or so) and after grabbing a cup of coffee go straight to my home office. I try to avoid email and social media (try being the operative word) and just begin working. I only write for a couple of hours each morning, and then have the rest of the day to do all those other things I need to do: teaching, researching or reading, and driving back and forth to my daughters’ school and the ballet studio where my oldest daughter spends most of her time. I like to write my first drafts rather quickly – usually in four to six weeks. The revision process is the agonizing and lengthy one for me. I wrote the first draft of RUST & STARDUST in a month. And then I revised it for another eighteen months.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your fall reading list?

T. Greenwood:

Probably all those books I didn’t get around to this summer. I am researching a new book, which means lots of reading for that project. But I am looking forward to playing catch up: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is on my list, as is The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner, Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris, and Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon. Those are just a few in an enormous, teetering stack.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tammy, it’s been a pleasure, as always. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

T. Greenwood:

Only, “What next?”! My next book,  KEEPING LUCY, will be out next August. I won’t say too much about it yet – except that it explores the lengths to which a mother will go for her child. It’s also about one woman’s staking claim to her own life. Like RUST & STARDUST it’s a period piece – this time set in 1971. The novel begins in a tony Boston suburb and ends at a roadside mermaid show in Weeki Wachee, Florida.

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

Order Links:

  • Amazon
  • Barnes & Noble
  • BAM!
  • IndieBound
  • iBooks

TAMMYABOUT THE AUTHOR: T. GREENWOOD’s novels have sold over 250,000 copies. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, Christopher Isherwood Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. Her novel Bodies of Water was a 2014 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist; Two Rivers and Grace were each named Best General Fiction Book at the San Diego Book Awards, and Where I Lost Her was a Globe and Mail bestseller in 2016. Greenwood lives with her family in San Diego.

 

 

 

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

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

 

The horrific reality of cybercrime, property fraud, and so much more in OUR HOUSE from brilliant UK author Louise Candlish

By Leslie Lindsay 

What if you were to come home and find your beloved home was being emptied of all its belongings and new owners were moving in? That’s what OUR HOUSE sets out to discover. Plus, Louise talks about how sometimes our demise is at our own hand, writing herself into ‘knots and tears,’ and being published for the first time in the U.S.

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I’m a big sucker for books about houses. Seriously, two of my favorite things. So when I stumbled upon OUR HOUSE (Berkley, August 7 2018), I knew I had to read it. I’m new to Louise Candlish, too and her writing is quite beautiful and darkly brilliant, well-plotted, and compelling.

Fiona (Fi) and Bram are at the end of their marriage. Bram has been unfaithful one too many times and Fi is done. But what about the kids and their beautiful home in a desirable London suburb? They couldn’t possibly sell it and split the family, send the boys to a different school. So Fi devises a plan to keep the house and the family as intact as possible in the bird’s nest arrangement: the children will stay in the home and the parents will take turns caring for the boys in the house (while the other parent stays in a nearby flat). Everyone is in agreement that this is the best possible scenario.

But. 

Fi comes home from a few days away with her new beau and lo and behold, there’s a moving van out front, a new couple giddy with their purchase. This couldn’t be happening…could it?

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We hear both sides of the story via Bram (Word Document) and a podcast from Fi
 so it’s a bit ‘he-said, she said;’ plus there are as interspersed newspaper articles, and yet still such a mystery. This technique lends to the overall frantic feel of the narrative.

Overall, OUR HOUSE is a very fresh, darkly disturbing, brilliantly plotted domestic
suspense about property fraud, murder, adultery, secrets/lies, double-crossing, and so much more. The killer ending is a fast-paced rush to the finish line.

Please join me in conversation with Louise.

L.L.: Louise, it’s great to have you! First, the cover is stunning and the writing very gripping, but before we get to all that, what was your inspiration when you set out to write OUR HOUSE?

Louise Candlish: Thank you for having me! The main source of inspiration for the book was the increasing problem of property fraud here in the UK. There’s a perfect storm of rising house prices and burgeoning cybercrime that’s truly terrifying. I wanted to write about a crime I hadn’t seen before in fiction and I knew this was it. One particular real-life case caught my eye in the Daily Mail: a woman was almost defrauded of her million-pound home by a criminal gang, one of whom had even changed her name legally to the owner’s. It was stopped at the last minute.

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L.L.: I have to admit to liking the bird’s nest concept. I haven’t actually seen it in practice, but I can see the appeal. Can you tell us more about how this came to your attention? Do you know others who have done this successfully?

Louise Candlish: It’s fascinating, isn’t it? Emblematic of our age of conscious uncoupling. I read about it in the Telegraph here and a lightbulb flashed: perfect for my domestic crime set-up! It’s evidently quite a successful custody arrangement, but tends to be an informal thing (as Bram and Fi’s is), rather than a court-ordered one, so it’s impossible to quote data. I would do it myself (while keeping my passport and personal documents under lock and key, of course).

L.L.: Bram is kind of a bad-boy. He’s charming, charismatic, and well-liked by the ladies. And he has a bit of a reckless streak. At some point in the novel, there’s a passage about our undoing being completely on our own accord. Can you elaborate on that, please?

Louise Candlish: It’s so interesting that you picked up on that, because it’s one of the central concerns of the novel. What’s the difference between things going right and things going wrong? It’s one bad call, basically, one unfortunate little bit of poor judgment. Then life can spiral dangerously quickly. Of course it’s not quite that simple. There are complex links between mental health issues and crime and Bram’s got a lot going on in his head. He isn’t in a position to make a good decision.

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L.L.: There are a lot of characters in OUR HOUSE, most notably Fi and Bram but also neighbors, as well as Mike and Wendy and the various storytelling techniques used [Bram’s Word Doc and Fi’s podcast]. Was there a character or technique you enjoyed more—or felt most aligned with?

Louise Candlish: I enjoyed writing Fi’s (transcribed) podcast interview, because by definition when you’re giving a interview meant for public broadcast, you have an agenda. She’s quite controlled, but then occasionally she’ll allow some emotion or grievance to burst through. That was fun to write. Bram was a different experience because his account is so raw and confessional. He made me feel quite sad. For me, their narratives exemplify one of the points the book makes: men are straightforward, their faults on the surface for all to see, whereas women are more multi-layered, more ambiguous. I had an inkling readers would find Fi irritating at times, so I used the tweets to provide some human reaction to her.

L.L.: OUR HOUSE is so intricately plotted—or at least it reads that way!—what was your process like and did you ever write yourself into a corner?

Louise Candlish: I was in corners a lot. In knots in corners, weeping. The main problem was how interconnected everything was, so every tiny alteration had its own ripple effect and I had to chase the ripples until they disappeared. It’s been interesting to see the reaction of other writers to this book: to a man (and woman), they have remarked on how hard it must have been to structure. They totally understand my pain. For the reader, of course, I hope it’s seamless!

L.L.: The page is blank. What’s calling to you now?

Louise Candlish: I’m in the late stages of my next novel, about a terrible neighbour who inspires the worst instincts in those who cross his path. Could you hate your neighbour enough to plot to kill him? If the newspapers are anything to go by, yes. I’ve yet to discuss this with anyone who doesn’t offer up a horror story of their own. Bad neighbouring is universal and yet somehow we all think we’re great neighbours. Interesting.


“A high-stakes domestic thriller that is utterly absorbing. Twists and turns abound; OUR HOUSE will have you locking your doors and checking your windows . . . Trust no one!”

HEATHER GUDENKAUF, NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF NOT A SOUND


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

Louise Candlish: I’ve always been a big tennis fan and I annually down tools for Wimbledon, but in this digital age I can watch any tournament I like – a terrible temptation. I will be one of the millions who will wear black for a month when Roger Federer retires. Same for Rafa Nadal. If they retire at the same time, well, that will be the end of me.

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L.L.: Louise, it’s been a pleasure. One last question: is Alder Rise/Trinity Avenue a real place? Is there anything else I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Louise Candlish: The pleasure is mine. No Alder Rise is fictional, but many people know I live in South East London and know certain areas better than others. Alder Rise is a composite of those areas. It’s the hidden gem with the park and the great school and the farmer’s market and the artisan bakery. These houses never come on the market (at least not to the owners’ knowledge!).

I guess you could ask what it’s like for a British author to be published for the first time in the US?

The answer: so far so delightful. So I thank you.

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

Order Links: 

Louise Candlish (c) Jonny RingABOUT THE AUTHOR: Louise Candlish attended University College London and worked as an editor in art publishing and as a copywriter before becoming a novelist. She lives with her husband and daughter.

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

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#psychthriller #domesticsuspense #summerreadin

 

[Cover and author images courtesy of Berkely and used with permission] 

Susan Henderson talks about her luminous novel, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, taking chances, her favorite movies, & writing advice

By Leslie Lindsay 

A haunting tale of a dying town, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS is tender, lyrical, and poignant in a very illuminating manner about a female mortician, a horrific accident, and taking chances. Susan Henderson is here chatting about so many wonderful things it’s impossible to list them all…seriously, you want to read this interview and then you’ll run out and buy this book. It’s that good. 

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I was absolutely ensnared with the vivid bleakness of that swell of blue and green of the cover and then the title, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS called to me from some place far away and I had to get my hands on the book. I’m so glad I did.

Susan Henderson is a writer with tremendous grace and empathy, plus she seems to really ‘get’ small town American life, the human condition, and so much more. I read this book on a driving trip through Iowa. And while the story is actually set in a dying Montana town (which goes by the fictional name of Petroleum), I couldn’t help but feel I was there, smack in the middle of this book cover.

Mary is thirty years old and the town’s female mortician. She grew up the only child of Allen (whom is mostly referred to as ‘Pop’) because her mother died in childbirth. There was no funeral home in Petroleum, so Pop studied and took classes to become certified in the art of bereavement and embalming. Mary really had no choice but to follow in her father’s footsteps. Together, they live in the funeral parlor and put the town ‘to rest.’

But years ago, before the story really begins, a horrific accident occurred at the grain elevator, killing the town’s star high school athlete. The granary is closed for good, and the train no longer stopped in town, plus the brother is blamed for the tragedy and shipped off to live elsewhere.

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


“This novel is so breathtakingly good, so exquisitely written. About a female mortician, about a childhood tragedy that still haunts a damaged young man, about the endless landscape and about those tiny sparks of possibility. Oh my God. Trust me. This book. This book. This Book.”

 —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Cruel Beautiful World


Leslie Lindsay: Susan, I am so, so honored. First, I was so completely struck by the beauty of the prose, the obvious research you did to paint such an authentic portrait of small town life. But it came at a bit of a price. You spent an entire month living in a hotel of the town that became Petroleum. Can you tell us about that experience and was that sort of the ‘birth’ of this tale, or was it something else?

Susan Henderson: My intention with the book was to grapple with the current division in America—between those who want change and those who feel things are changing too fast, and I wanted to do that in a way that was removed from politics and might get each side listening to each other again.

So I was not trying to write about the people from this particular town. In fact, I only desired to set the story in a small, rural town, and chose to spend a month in this one because I was emotionally attached to it. It’s where my father grew up, and I knew how physically unique it was.

Of course, the real town managed to seep into the novel a good bit—particularly the tactile details of homes and weather, the sounds and rhythms of ranchers, the stark beauty of the land, the isolation from other towns and conveniences.

But this is definitely a work of fiction, this is me grappling with a conversation that has become uncivilized in the real world, so I put it into story form. I wanted to dig down deep into the grief and rage and pride of people whose identities are tied to jobs and a way of life that are slipping away. And yet there are some people in the town, and the narrator’s one of them, whose passions and dreams for themselves are not found in the town’s traditions.  My hope is that we might start to hear each other, that we might get tired of being stuck.

L.L.: While there are some elements in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS that are drawn from memory and experience, it is in no way autobiographical, a memoir…yet there are so many truths in fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Susan Henderson: Fiction is where I tell the truth.

If I were to tackle the issues of death and dying and what happens to the body in non-fiction, I would worry too much about exposing another’s privacy and harming them in some way. And that instinct to protect others would make me pull back from the hard truths and create a story that’s much too tepid for my taste.

Fiction allows me to talk about the things polite people avoid in real life. I can walk right towards rage and fear and our imperfect bodies. And whenever I need to buffer some sort of psychic pain, I can add another character or a bridge or completely imagined moment that can heal more deeply than what the non-fiction moment might offer.

The great gift of fiction is that we can see the truth more clearly when we see it from a different angle, when we can climb deeper inside the story and the characters. And when the great writers of our time are at their best, fiction can both reexamine and change the world. Think: Animal Farm, A Handmaid’s Tale, Beloved, The Lottery, Invisible Man, All the Light We Cannot See.

L.L.: Regarding truth, it’s elusive, much like the wind in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, which I noticed came up a good deal, but wasn’t overdone. We can’t see the wind, but we can feel it. We can see the devastating effects the wind can cause land, on buildings. And the wind can provide energy, motion. Did you intentionally make it a metaphor or was that something that grew organically?

Susan Henderson: When I stayed in the real town for a month, it was the wind that made me worry I might lose my mind. It was so loud, I felt like I had to shout over it. When I was inside my motel room, it crashed so hard against the room, I sometimes wondered if the windows would break. And when I walked out of that room, I felt almost tormented by it, like it was purposefully pushing me. So it just became more of a character in the book, like this mischievous soul messing with people’s hair, knocking down signs, slamming doors.

What was so clear to me while I lived there was that the weather and the land were interconnected with the lives there. It would physically change you—your skin, your hair, your ability to hear and be heard. And your isolation from other towns, from others who might help, would force you to become self-sufficient, or you simply wouldn’t survive.

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Susan took this photo while staying in the small town that would become the fictional Petroleum. And the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

L.L.: Of course I have to ask about Mary’s role as an embalmer. This might make someone squeamish, but you took such a gentle, comforting approach, it didn’t bother me. Can you tell us a bit about your research to get Mary’s character ‘just right?’

Susan Henderson: So, the eventual concept of the book, was to tell the story of a dying town via a narrator who could look at death without flinching. She could take us to that conversation that’s so uncomfortable for us to have. She’s seen all manners of grief—raging against the inevitable, going submissively, pretending it’s not happening.

But this meant that I would have to learn how to run a funeral home and how to embalm dead bodies. I learned everything I could about the dead and dying, about mortician’s tools and burial practices. I learned from books and from talking with folks in the funeral and hospice industries.

And then I dreamed up Mary Crampton, kind of a quirky loner who is more comfortable with the dead. And I gave her a story line which would force her into the living world, where she is less confident. And I put her smack in the middle of the conflict I wanted to explore—between an agent of change and those who are trying with all they have to hold on to their traditions.

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L.L.: In the end, the very end, you talk about your writing ‘tribe,’ how writers are a ‘bunch of introverts, misfits, observers, and deep thinkers.’ This really resonated with me as I read your words. You went on to say how we share the scars of rejection, hounding questions about how long the writing is taking, and so much more. I get it, oh, how I get it. What other writerly things have you learned along the way and how might one keep swimming?

Susan Henderson: I get as much mail about the Acknowledgments section as the book itself. I really felt like I needed to write that note to my fellow writers because it can be such a bruising business.

How to keep swimming… well, for starters, I created my website, LitPark, just for that purpose. It’s where we all share our struggles and successes and tips. I also added a new feature called Words for the Weary, where authors share their advice about surviving in this business.

Beyond that, I think the reality is that we would all have quit by now if we could or if we were being reasonable. But somehow, in spite of the rejections and the uphill climb, we keep waking up with ideas, we keep observing and eavesdropping and dreaming. What that says to me is that we’re writers. It’s in our hardwiring. For whatever reason, we’re driven to tell stories, to look closely at the world, to find music in words.

Once we realize that, there’s only one thing to do, which is to build the support we need to stay in the game. Follow the writers who are emotionally available, attend readings and greet the authors afterwards, find the nearest indie bookstore and get to know the owners. This is how we find our tribe and, some days, this will be lifesaving.


“Great sentences expounding on the complexities and fragilities of the human heart, one that echoes John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner.”

 —Lou Pendergrast 

on THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Susan, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Like…your summer plans, what you’re writing next, what you’re reading, what movie you last saw, or a favorite guilty pleasure?

Susan Henderson: You know, people always ask me about books but never ask for movie recommendations. Here are a few I’m looking forward to: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (because I could use a little Mister Rogers in my life these days), American Animals (because I’ve heard it’s brilliant), and BlacKkKlansman (because I’m a crazy-huge fan of Jordan Peele and Spike Lee).

What have I seen lately that’s memorable? I loved the animation in Isle of Dogs. The movie itself is uneven but worth it for the visual artistry. Moonlight is a gorgeous coming of age story that feels like you’re watching a poem. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie that felt so much like a literary masterpiece. I, Tonya surprised the hell out of me by how terribly funny, poignant, and deep it was, especially in exposing our prejudices about class. The Stanford Prison Experiment was painful to watch but a eye-opener at how quickly we are corrupted by power. I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary about my favorite writer, James Baldwin, and his words are more relevant today than ever. The Zookeeper’s Wife made me want to go home and write. And Get Out made me want to talk about it for hours because Jordan Peele is a genius at getting you to look at society and self from another angle.

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

Order Links: 

Susan_Henderson.2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Henderson is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the author of two novels, The Flicker of Old Dreams and Up from the Blue, both published by HarperCollins. Susan lives in Kings Park, New York and blogs at the writer support group, LitPark.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#literaryfiction #smalltowns #grief #amreading #identity #ruralAmerica #mortician #funeralhome

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins. Image of rural fence from the archives of S. Henderson; all used with permission]

Veronica Henry talks about how books are really very comforting & nourishing in HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP

By Leslie Lindsay 

Now out in paperback, Veronica Henry is here chatting about imagination, saving bookstores, the Cotswolds, and so much more in HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP

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As an avid reader, there’s no feeling quite like exploring a beautiful old (or new) bookstore. In fact, many years ago before my husband was my husband, we were at the Grand Opening of a local Barnes & Noble, giddy and holding hands. It was an official date and solidified our love for books—and each other.

When I came upon Veronica Henry’s HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP, I knew it would bring the same sense of whimsy and wonderment as that bookstore date nearly eighteen years ago. There’s something magical about browsing the shelves, touching the spines, turning the pages, and getting lost in the imaginary worlds of beloved authors.

Emilia Nightingale is all grown up and grieving the loss of her father, who raised Emilia alone after her mother died during childbirth. Add in the charming English countryside town of Peasebrook, several long-held secrets, and it’s a haven for literary-minded locals and readers alike. HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP (Viking/Pamela Dorman Books, August 15 2017) is ultimately about its grieving owner, a literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart. I absolutely loved this book.

I am thrilled to have Veronica Henry here to chat with us about the book, and all things literary. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Veronica, it’s great to have you. I devoured this book, mostly because I so appreciate the hub of a great bookstore. But also because your characters were so relatable. Why this book, why now?

Veronica Henry: Firstly, thank you so much for having me…your questions are all fantastic! I wrote this book because a few years ago it seemed as if books were going to vanish, and along with them bookshops. But I noticed that after a couple of years’ excitement over digital books, people were really missing thecomfort and pleasure of holding a real book in their hands, and went back to buying them. And as a result bookshops had a renaissance. I wanted to reflect that
phenomenon. I also love to write books set in places where I know my readers will enjoy going – and pretty much everyone who reads books loves bookshops! They are my own safe place and comfort zone, so it felt very natural to set a book there.

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L.L.: I adored all of these characters! HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is not a banquet of ‘too many’ characters, name dropping, etc., but almost like reading several novellas. For each character’s story, we are drawn in, given a clear sense of their backstory and it makes me love them more. How did you decide on this structure? Did you have a particular character(s) who really spoke to you?

Veronica Henry: I used to be a script writer, and wrote for lots of British long running drama series, so I am used to juggling lots of stories and characters. So it comes very naturally to me to structure a book like that. I always decide on my setting first – a sense of place is the most important decision for me before I start – then I choose one character whose story will be the book’s spine. All the other characters have to fit in around them. This book is centered around Emilia, but everyone else gets their moment in the sun!

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L.L.: I think at the heart of HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is the community—the people who venture into Nightingale Books. Did you base this tale off any particular bookstore or town?

Veronica Henry: I worked in a couple of bookshops before I was a writer so I am familiar with what it’s like the other side of the counter, which helped with the story and Emilia’s dilemmas. One of the shops I worked in was the famous Foyles in Charing Cross Road, which was very eccentric. But Nightingale Books is a mixture of all the bookshops I’ve been into and come to love, mixed in with a bit of
imagination – Peasebrook is fictional, and is my ideal town. I adore the Cotswolds – they are so breathtakingly pretty and so atmospheric. The book is my fantasy life, really! My favourite book as a child was Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge, which had a glorious bookshop in it that was a big influence.

L.L.: I came upon a story today on the Internet about reading and why we should. The world is a messy place and when we get sick of it, go read. A proper book, not the news. Why, in your opinion, do we like to escape into a good book? [Here’s the article]

Veronica Henry: I think the wonderful thing about reading is that it engages your imagination. We are spoon-fed so much these days, but you have to work quite hard when you read a book, subconsciously, and I think that is immensely satisfying. It also means that your version of that book is very personal to you. So your vision of what Emilia looks like and how the shop is laid out will be very different from the next person’s. A good writer gives you an impressionistic sketch and you get to fill in the rest. So books are nourishing and satisfying in a way that other mediums aren’t.

L.L.: I have to say—I really ‘got’ Bea. She might have been my favorite character—mostly because she’s a mom and is dealing with expectancy violation. The country is just a little too bucolic, a little too saccharine for her. Motherhood is boring. She yearns for her old career at a glossy home décor magazine. I loved reading about her ideas to make Nightingale Books better. I think this excerpt summarizes my zest for her best:

“We’re creating…a complete experience. This won’t be just a bookshop. This will be…an emporium of delight. A feast for all the senses. A place of comfort. An escape.”

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In fact, designing a bookstore would be the ultimate job! Can you talk more about her character and how she came to be?

Veronica Henry: I love Bea too – she doesn’t want to accept the stereotype and she’s a bit of a rebel and dares to do things other people might not. And she is prepared to admit she is not living the dream she thought she would – but is brave enough to figure out how to make it work. She’s creative and she wants to help other people make their dreams come true too. She’s a do-er. I love people who make things happen – I guess that’s where she came from – but I wanted to shock people too. We all have to pretend to be so perfect, but not everyone is, and I think Bea reflects that.

L.L.: Thomasina and Lauren are lovely chefs and caterers. From the potato gratin to the loin of venison coated in a mushroom duxelles and wrapped in puff pastry to the delicate pear mousse with a rich chocolate sauce right in the middle…well, let’s just say, I did a fair amount of snacking while reading. Are you a foodie yourself?

Veronica Henry: Oh yes … I am never happier than when reading about food, cooking food, eating other people’s food … Right now I am poaching a chicken and I’m going to try a new dish my friend told me about – a Greek soup with lemon and egg and rice – and I can’t wait. It brings me such pleasure. Food is a really important part of my writing. Mealtimes are perfect dramatic backdrops. They bring people together. Add in some wine and the drama begins! Thomasina is a great character – I love how she is so quiet yet brings people so much pleasure without showing off.

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L.L.: Emilia often talks about her childhood living above Nightingale Books. Do you have anything from your childhood you wished you still had—a toy, book, item of clothing?

Veronica Henry: I’m really trying hard not to hold onto stuff anymore as I think it does hold you back and stop you growing as a person. Living in the past isn’t healthy, but it’s important to keep a few key pieces. I have a lot of my childhood books which bring me joy and I often re-read them. I also still have the teddy bear my father gave me for my first birthday – he died last year so that bear gives me a lot of comfort. It was weird – I wrote about Julius’ death just before my own father died (I didn’t know he was going to), and it was so odd re-reading the book afterwards as I felt so many of the things Emilia felt. 

L.L.: It’s been a pleasure, Veronica. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Veronica Henry: It’s been a pleasure for me too – I just want to remind your readers to visit their local bookstore as often as they can. We must keep them alive. And you never know what you are going to come out with. Happy reading everyone!

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For more information, to connect with Veronica Henry via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP, please visit: 

Order Links: 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK! 

Veronica Henry © Jenny Lewis.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Henry worked as a TV scriptwriter before turning to fiction. In 2014, she won the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year with A Night on the Orient Express. Henry lives by the sea in North Devon, U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#Cotswolds #bookstores #literaryfiction #bibliophiles

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Viking/Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. Cotswolds cottages retrieved from, reading outside from, Cotswolds bookstore retrieved from, collection of childhood books from, all retrieved on 9.25.17]

Ever thought about calling an ‘intermission’ in your marriage? That’s what captured Elyssa Friedland in her second book, THE INTERMISSION

By Leslie Lindsay 

A witty summer beach read about a ‘perfect’ couple at a crossroads, their secrets, and their unconventional plan to save their marriage. Plus, Elyssa chats with us about her ‘maybe’ green thumb and her favorite dystopian tales.

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THE INTERMISSION (Berkley/NAL, July 3 2018) opens with Cass and Jonathan at a friend’s wedding betting the fate of the just-married couple. It’s a wicked game and foreshadows their own insecurities. Cass had an impoverished childhood and some secrets linger, Johnathan, on the other hand was born wealthy and has an impressive pedigree. But don’t worry—he has a few skeletons in the closet, too. Cass appears to have it all—at least now—but the past haunts her.

They’re five years into their marriage and talking about having a baby and this, we know will complicate things further.
And they’re not having much sex anyway. So Cass proposes a ‘break,’ a six-month separation on distant coasts. Johnathan is left flat-footed. There’s a problem? Told in alternating POVs between both Johnathan and Cass, the reader gets a ‘he said-she said,’ banter, a good glimpse into the past and present.

Friedland is a playful, campy writer which shows through her dialogue and her character’s wit. THE INTERMISSION a fast-paced beach-type read.

Please join me in welcoming Elyssa Friedland to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Elyssa, welcome!  I’ve been on a kick with books related to marriage lately–and for no particular reason. My book club recently read Anne Tyler’s BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS. I read AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE (Tayari Jones) on my own, and now, THE INTERMISSION. All three are completely different takes on a very intricate and complex relationship. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration behind THE INTERMISSION?

Elyssa Friedland: I love stories that delve deeply into character. Writing a book about marriage seemed like the ideal context in which to do just that. In a marriage, two people with different backgrounds, experiences and outlooks voluntarily elect to cohabit and build a life together. The topic is endlessly ripe for exploration in a novel. I’ve been married for twelve years and have been blessed with an excellent partner in my spouse, but it’s still a miracle that any marriage can work when you really think about it.

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L.L.: I’ll admit to not being a fan of the separation concept to heal broken wounds and troubled relationships.  But I was completely intrigued to see how other couples—even fictional ones—handled the situation. Are you familiar with any real-life couples who have done this? How did they fare?

Elyssa Friedland: I know couples who have gone the legal separation route, but never the informal “intermission” that Cass and Jonathan choose. So this was new territory for me as well.


“This entertaining marriage saga … unravels the minutiae of everyday life in a broken marriage. Friedland insightfully dissects motives, lies, and love in this engrossing deconstruction of a bad marriage.”

–Publisher’s Weekly


L.L.: THE INTERMISSION is your second book. Your first novel, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION was all about going cold-turkey on technology, specifically social media. I see a bit of a theme: what happens when we cut out a big piece of our life—marriage or technology? Can you speak to that please?

Elyssa Friedland: It’s like Lent. Maybe I was meant to be Catholic or something. I’m interested in writing about things that are hard to imagine in real life. Would we ever have the guts to quit the iPhone? Would we ever have the courage to ask our spouse for a break? Probably not, but it’s sure fun to think about for a book.

L.L.: Similarly, in what way(s) did writing your first book differ from your second? Are those second books as challenging as they say?

Elyssa Friedland: Actually, I found this one much easier to write. I was more disciplined and motivated because I knew it would actually get published! And I think I just got better at my craft. At least I hope so… In all seriousness, I didn’t waste time writing sections that I knew would all get deleted just to hit a page count every day. I focused more on quality and, if I wasn’t feeling inspired or “in the zone,” I took a step away.

L.L.: What was the last book you recommended to a friend? And what’s next on your to-read pile?

Elyssa Friedland: I’ve been recommending THE HANDMAID’S TALE a lot. I decided to read it after watching the show and I’m so glad I did. Next up for me is VOX by Christina Dalcher. Gosh, I guess I’m really into dystopian novels that explore the subjugation of women. Hmm…

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L.L.: Aside from promoting THE INTERMISSION, do you have any summer plans?

Elyssa Friedland: Hanging out at our beach house with my kids. Two of mine are in overnight camp for July so I’ll be very excited to chill out with them when they get home. I’m also taking up gardening this summer for the first time. I have no idea if I’ll have a green thumb but I’m excited to try.

L.L.: Elyssa, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Is there any I forgot to ask, but should have?

Elyssa Friedland: I just want to thank you for having me on the blog! I was so excited to talk about THE INTERMISSION with your readers and I look forward to connecting again soon. I hope your readers follow me on my social channels – I try to have a lot of fun on them.

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

Order Links: 

Elyssa.Friedland. credit Lucia EngstromABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elyssa Friedland attended Yale University, where she served as managing editor of the Yale Daily News. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and subsequently worked as an associate at a major firm. Recently, she has written for POPSUGAR, RealSimple.com and Bustle. Prior to law school, Elyssa wrote for several publications, including Modern Bride, New York magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, CBS MarketWatch.com, Yale Alumni Magazine, and Your Prom. Elyssa grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in   New York City with her husband and three young children. Her debut novel, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION, was praised by Cosmopolitan, Glamour and InStyle magazines as well as numerous other publications.

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#amreading #summerreading #womensfiction

 [Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL & Kathleen Carter Communications; used with permission]

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order Links: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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


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

~Charles Frazier


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

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

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

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Photo by Lex Photography on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

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

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


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

~Anna Jean Mayhew


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

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

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Photo by Bruno Joseph on Pexels.com

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

Elaine Neil Orr:

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

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

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

Order Links: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Please join me in welcoming to Carol Goodman.

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Publisher’s Weekly, January 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Order Links:

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

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

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Booklist


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

nancy_botta_picture_of_our_shopW.59170256_std.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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