Haunting photograph of four children ‘for sale’ stirs Kristina McMorris’s heartstrings, what results is her arresting historical fiction, SOLD ON A MONDAY

By Leslie Lindsay 

Haunting actual photograph spurs McMorris to pen a tale cast during the Great Depression about desperation, love, loss, and ambition in SOLD ON A MONDAY. Kristina McMorris is here today chatting about the inspiration behind the book, mental illness, single motherhood, health care, and more…and how those topics are not just today’s worries, but they transcend time. 

SOLD - Updated Final Cover 11-2-18.jpg

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Maybe the story behind the picture is worth a thousand more.

It’s 1931 and Ellis Reed is a journalist working hard to get the big scoop on local (Philadelphia) stories. He’s killing time one afternoon when he stumbles across a pair of siblings on a farmhouse porch with a sign nearby: 

“Two children for sale.” 

Stunned, he snaps a photo, and with the help of newspaper secretary. Lillian Palmer, they craft a story to go with the photograph. It’s a feature and national attention is drawn to the tale…after all, it’s the depression and folks are drawn to stories of desperation.

BUT. Might that photo have been staged? What about journalist integrity? 

McMorris does a fabulous job of placing me smack in the middle of the story. And the cover is absolutely gorgeously arresting–plus, my own grandfather was ‘sold’ during this period in history. The man who ‘purchased’ him decided he no longer wanted my grandfather when he learned the boy had lice. Heartbreaking as that is, I wanted to learn more about what that experience might have been like.

While SOLD ON A MONDAY is tangentially about the effects on children during the Depression, the narrative hinges on family secrets, grief, illness, and so much more; McMorris weaves a gentle hand of mystery, intrigue, and devastating consequences, but ending with tears and redemption.

Please join me in welcoming Kristina McMorris to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Kristina, I am so honored to have you. This story touched me for several reasons, but mostly I was drawn to my own devastating family history that my grandfather was proffered for sale as a boy. He couldn’t talk about it without tearing up (understandably), and it always haunted me, much like the photograph you discovered prompting your interest in this story. Can you talk more about that, please?

Kristina McMorris:

Leslie, I’m thrilled to know the book touched you, especially on such a personal level. As a mother myself, it’s so hard to wrap my mind around heartbreaking stories like your grandfather’s. So, yes, you’re absolutely right about the photo that haunted me. When I stumbled across the newspaper photo, first published in 1948 in Indiana, featuring four children being offered for sale from their own apartment stoop in Chicago, I had a visceral reaction. I understood a mother perhaps giving up her children in hopes of giving them a better life, but I truly couldn’t comprehend asking for money in return.

Eventually I did some research about the photo. I ended up finding a follow-up article about the kids, now adults, and how several of them had been reunited after decades of being separated. Their stories of being sold as farm labor (for as low as $2!) was absolutely heart-wrenching—so much so, I wasn’t sure I could actually write a novel centered on an experience like that. But then… I discovered a brief mention in that same article—a stunning claim—that involved the reporter who took the original photo. To prevent giving too much away to your readers here, I’ll just say that it suddenly changed my perspective of the picture, and I knew the story I needed to tell.


Leslie Lindsay:

I understand, too, that you began writing about the 1930s and 40s when you discovered a collection of your grandparents’ WWII courtship letters, ultimately inspiring your debut novel, LETTERS FROM HOME. Do you have any tips or advice on how writers can mine their own family history to propel a literary narrative without making it ‘too personal?’

Kristina McMorris:

Well, for writers looking to create stories that are distanced from their own family histories, I’d suggest that they first figure out their one-sentence “hook.” In other words, their quick, powerful elevator pitch polished and ready for Spielberg! From there, they can use their central premise as a jumping off point and let their imaginations take over. Along the way, I think there are always great opportunities to sprinkle in personal accounts that really help bring the fictional characters and plot to life.

Leslie Lindsay:

What was your research like for SOLD ON A MONDAY? There are a lot of prohibition-era facts woven throughout, but also journalism, the overall time period, etc. What was your process like?

Kristina McMorris:

Fortunately, I’d already researched the era quite a bit for my previous novel, The Edge of Lost (which, by the way, even features a few familiar characters from Sold on a Monday!). For the journalistic aspects, I relied mostly on memoirs from old-time reporters who had incredible stories to tell, as well as newspaper and reporter friends who generously read my early pages with an eye for accuracy. I was also lucky enough to able to draw from my own experiences in the newsroom, since I literally grew up in one. From ages nine to fourteen, I hosted a kids’ weekly TV show for an ABC affiliate station, so spent countless hours watching the hustle and bustle of the news world. A decade later, I even interned at the same station and became a contributing freelance writer for a monthly magazine. All that said, it was amazing to observe how much has changed in the industry over the years, but also how much still remains the same.

creative smartphone desk notebook
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What did you learn while writing SOLD ON A MONDAY? Was it what you expected you’d discover, or did something else present itself?

Kristina McMorris:

I think what surprised me most was how much of my story relates to current-day hot topics. While I did realize during the writing of the book that truth in journalism was going to be relevant, I honestly hadn’t intended to touch upon other subjects like… poverty, affordable healthcare, separation of families, mental illness, and even challenges of single motherhood and women in the workplace. It was only after the book was published and readers brought all of these up to me that I became fully aware of how much these issues transcend time. I suppose it’s one more reason books are so important, in that they can help people talk about the tougher subjects and, hopefully, work toward finding solutions together.

“The sale of two young children leads to devastating consequences in this historical tearjerker from McMorris… A tender love story enriches a complex plot, giving readers a story with grit, substance, and rich historical detail.”
~Publishers Weekly

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you? Are you working on something new? Any obsessions…and it doesn’t have to be literary.

Kristina McMorris:

I do have a new idea I’m pretty excited about, another historical (not a surprise!). But since I’m still chipping away at a 50-stop book tour, I’m afraid it will be a little while before I can make significant progress. In the meantime, I can at least share that my sons have said that, if the kids in Sold on a Monday are anything like them, the sequel should definitely be titled Returned on a Tuesday. Naturally followed by Rented on a Wednesday and Leased on a Thursday. (Yes, they think they’re pretty clever!)

collection of gray scale photos
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Kristina, it’s been such a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Kristina McMorris:

Thanks so much for having me, Leslie! For readers who happen to be in a book club, or just love 1930s recipes and music playlists, I hope they’ll take a peek at my website, where there are all kinds of fun themed features for readers. And since I have events set all the way into June, I hope they’ll check out my schedule and come out and meet me if they’re in any of the areas!

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

Order Links: 

McMorris - high-res headshot2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kristina McMorris is the author of five historical novels, including the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers Sold on a Monday and The Edge of Lost. To date, her works of fiction have garnered more than two dozen literary awards and nominations. Prior to her writing career, she owned a wedding- and event-planning company until she had far surpassed her limit of YMCA- and chicken dances. She also worked as a PR director of an international conglomerate, as well as a weekly TV-show host for Warner Bros. and an ABC affiliate, beginning at age nine with an Emmy Award-winning program. She lives in Oregon with her husband and their two sons, ages twelve and fifteen going on forty.

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


#fiction #historical #journalism #authorinterview #TheGreatDepression 


[Cover and author image courtesy of Sourcebooks and used with permission. Above artistic image created by L. Lindsay. Note photo of grandfather. Please find more like this at Instagram @LeslieLindsay1. 1948 historical photo that inspired author, retrieved from on 11.17.18]



Margaret George is back extending Nero’s life to the Great Roman Fire, her passion for research, & more in THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK

By Leslie Lindsay 

Ascending the throne was only the beginning for Nero. THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK picks up right after 2017’s THE CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG EMPEROR, beginning with the Great Fire of Rome. 

Splendor Before the Dark cover.jpg
Margaret George is at the height of her game. She is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including Mary Queen of Scotland, Helen of Troy, and Mary, Called Magdalene.

Her passion and meticulous research shine in her newest book, the sequel to last year’s THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO (Berkley, 2017), in which she set out to recast the tyrannical, hedonistic ruler of Rome as the truly naive boy he was (having ascended the throne at age sixteen at his mother’s sheer force of will). Margaret–and Nero–won me over then and THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK (Berkley November 6, 2018) captured me just as much, maybe more. confessions-of-young-nero

After just ten years in power, Nero faces his biggest test: the Great Fire of Rome. Flames lick at wooden buildings, entire swaths of the city are reduced to rubble, monuments desecrated. And people are talking–did Nero start the fire himself? Was there another arsonist? Did Nero do anything to prevent it?

Aside from that, Nero is surrounded by false friends, spies, and those who conspire against him.
 He’s trying his best to be a just ruler, compassionate, and loyal, yet he falls in disarray time and time again. Still, I had such a soft spot for Nero and was silently cheering him on

From chariot races to the Grecian Olympics, art and music, THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK has so much to offer just about every reader. There’s love and mayhem, death and destruction, luxury and intrigue, and of course, the ‘insidious effects of power,’ as Diana Gabaldon says.

Told from the POV of three main characters–Locusta (an herbal medicine doctor), Acte (a woman who has stolen Nero’s heart), and (largely) Nero himself, I was in awe.

Margaret George has outdone herself and her passion for the subject matter truly shines. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Margaret George back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, welcome back. I’m not sure I have to ask where your inspiration came from for THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK—your passion clearly shines and you probably felt you had an obligation to Nero to continue his story. Can you talk about that please?

Margaret George:

I believed his story needed to be told, and not just the standard one that reduces him to a caricature.  He was a very complex person and the truth about him is not simple.  Of course he would want the story continued, as the Great Fire of Rome was the defining incident in his reign, the greatest challenge he faced, and one he met with great courage and resourcefulness.

italian building italy destroyed
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You actively researched Nero for five years, but your fascination with the subject matter has been closer to thirty years. I’m curious if you write while researching, or do you soak it all up, make notes, and then start writing? Can you tell us a bit about your process?

Margaret George:

I always do my research first so I have a foundation to build on.  I start with general histories, then go on to more targeted ones that get closer and closer to the details.  I also attend lectures and visit museums.  There were two large Nero exhibits while I was researching, one in Rome in 2011 and the other in Trier, Germany in 2016, with sculpture and artifacts on loan from all over the world.  Trier even had an enormous commemorative stone of the Panhellenic Games from Greece shipped over!  Last of all I go to the sites where Nero walked and lived—Rome itself of course, but also Baiae and Naples, Antium, and Greece. Only when I feel very much at home in that world he lived in can I start writing.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m also curious about your writing space. I imagine it a cramped office filled with Roman artifacts. Am I close? Do you write at home? On the road? In a coffee shop?

Margaret George:

You are half right!  In my writing room, I do have Roman artifacts, some reproductions and others more silly—like a Nero candle, a Nero rubber ducky, a large poster and a flag from the Trier exhibit.  But the quarters aren’t cramped—it’s a big room with two large bookcases, two desks, and windows on all four sides.

I can write only at home and only if I have several uninterrupted hours.  I know some people write in a coffee shop but I can’t imagine how they do it.  On the road, there’s too many distractions and discomforts.  The downside of that is that I am pretty restricted in where I can psychologically work.

Office Photo
Margaret graciously provided this photo of her writing space. Loving that giant screen!

Leslie Lindsay:

In the SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK, you set out to ‘set the myths straight’ about Nero. And there were several big ones. Which one left the most lasting impression on you?

Margaret George:

I think the biggest one was that he was a frivolous, effete, incompetent buffoon.  Perhaps he was in the eyes of senators—who had every reason to hate all the emperors, because they effectively ended the power of the Senate and demoted the senators to lesser status.  To them an emperor who seemed to rate the office less important than his artistic pursuits would seem unworthy.  It’s true he did compose music and perform in public, but he was a more capable ruler than they gave him credit for.  His rebuilding of Rome was a magnificent achievement, and he was able to negotiate a peace settlement with Rome’s traditional enemy, Parthia, that had eluded the generals and other emperors.

The Boudicca rebellion in England, which came close to ending the new Roman presence there, he put down effectively, saving the province for the empire, when the Roman army was outnumbered 23 to one.  His reign was stable and he was not given to cruelties like Caligula, absences like Tiberius, or enacting moralizing laws like Augustus.

“Wow! Margaret George—the reigning queen of historical fiction—is back with this epic saga that vividly re-imagines the life of young Nero in all its operatic, dramatic glory.”

—Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of Lily of the Nile

Leslie Lindsay:

Fire has a big moment in THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK. Not only is there the Great Fire of Rome, which lead to the rebuilding of the city, but also there’s a good deal of the funeral pyre, cremation, ‘the Roman way’ of dealing with death. What other symbolism can we draw from fire?

Margaret George:

The Romans had a fire god, Vulcan, who had an altar in the Forum and was considered a very powerful god.  There were many ceremonies connected with fire in the Roman state religion, and of course cremation was a considered the “Roman” funeral preference. They did not go in for mummification or embalming, which is why it was shocking that Nero had his daughter and his wife Poppaea embalmed.

At the heart of the Roman state religion, and situated in the Forum, was the Temple of Vesta, where the sacred hearth fire of Rome burned day and night, attended by the Vestal Virgins.  It was thought that if the flame died out, then Rome would perish.  Any Vestal neglecting her duties, allowing the fire to go out, was beaten, and if  found to be impure and unworthy of the honor of attending this sacred fire, was buried alive!

fire orange emergency burning
Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Along those lines of rebuilding Rome. I loved reading about the roads, the Appian Way, the Golden Palace, even public latrines (with murals!); plus Nero’s innovative ideas for preventing fire in the future. Many of these Roman design features are still in practice today—here and in Europe. Can you tell us a little more about that, please?

Margaret George:

Nero had a lot of modern ideas, like creating green space in an urban area, and mandating fire prevention regulations.  Alas, our public latrines are not nearly as inviting as Nero’s, although at least we have ditched the pay toilets, a really uncharitable modern idea!

You can visit the Golden House today on archaeological tours on weekends (it is still being excavated during the week), and even see a virtual reality reconstruction of it.  The Appian Way is still used today; certain stretches of it are car-free on Sundays and filled with bicycles and walkers, with the cypress trees beside it and the white marble monuments lining the sides.  Our roads today are not as well built or engineered as the Roman ones, which have survived so well for two thousand years.  But the idea of needing an efficient road system connecting all the parts of the empire was first invented in Rome, the direct ancestor of our interstate highway system. The Romans needed to be able to move armies quickly, and President Eisenhower sold the idea of the interstate highway system by saying it was needed for national security and evacuation in time of crisis.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, this book was just so gorgeous, so deeply researched and detailed, I am afraid I will keep you all day talking about it. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Margaret George:

I would like to remind everyone that Nero was so young—only 16 when he became emperor, and only 30 when he died.  Today we say Justin Trudeau is so young to be prime minister, but he’s 46, 16 years older than Nero when Nero died.

Nero had to learn on the job—the biggest job in the world—and learn fast, at the age kids today are getting their driver’s license.  He had very little help in doing this and his ‘advisors’ like Seneca and Burrus, the head of the Praetorians, mainly just lectured him, and his mother tried to rule from behind the throne.  So he had a lot of obstacles to overcome.

Ironically, he was optimistic by nature; roadblocks did not seem to deter or depress him, and he grew into the role. Overall, his reign can be considered a success, and certainly it is a memorable one. I titled the book THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK because after Nero, and the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the glow of the Roman empire gradually faded. It burned bright with Nero—fire image again—but dwindled down to embers after that.

Leslie Lindsay:

It’s been such a pleasure, Margaret! Thank you so much for taking the time.

Margaret George:

I really appreciate your inviting me to join you here, and I enjoyed it.  I truly could talk all day! I also want to thank you for your kind words of praise about the book.  It truly means a great deal to me.

colosseum coliseum flavian amphitheatre rome
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Margaret George_credit Alison KaufmanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret George is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including The Confessions of Young Nero;Elizabeth IHelen of TroyMary, Called MagdaleneThe Memoirs of CleopatraMary Queen of Scotland and the Isles; and The Autobiography of Henry VIII. She also has coauthored a children’s book, Lucille Lost.


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



#Nero #Italy #historicalfiction #Rome #GreatFireofRome #literaryfiction

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Random House and used with permission. Additional photos from M. George’s personal archives and used with permission. Other cover images retrieved from M. George’s website on 11.26.18. Artful book image created by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1






Julia Fine on her debut, WHAT SHOULD BE WILD, plus the magic of forests, allegorical tales, working with Audrey Niffenegger, creating atmosphere vs setting, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Rare and enchanting (fairy) tale about magic, gruesomeness, women, and so much more, WHAT SHOULD BE WILD is dark, sublimely written, and spellbinding. Join me in conversation with the lovely Julia as she chats about how teaching inspires her, her amazing reading list and so much more. Trust me, you’ll be swept away.

What Should Be Wild cover.jpg
I quickly fell under the spell of Julia Fine’s debut, WHAT SHOULD BE WILD (Harper, May 2018). We’re talking a gorgeous setting filled with trees, mysterious elements, an old ancestral home, and magical realism. There is so much going on in WHAT SHOULD BE WILD–at heart, it’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s also an abduction tale, an allegory, and just darn good writing. 

Maisie Cothay is a special 16-year old girl–not only because she was born of a dead mother, but because she comes from a long line of cursed women, going back to 591 AD. 
Maisie has never known the touch of human flesh–she was born with the power to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch–and therefore has been sequestered to her mother’s ancestral home at the edge of the wood and raised by her anthropologist father.

Peter Cothay sees Maisie more as an experiment than daughter and has warned her of venturing into the woods. Local folks speak of strange occurrences in the forest, people disappearing, etc. but what Maisie doesn’t know is her female ancestors have all vanished in these woods, never to emerge again.

And then her father goes missing. Maisie must venture out to find him. This is where that classic hero’s tale emerges, bringing forth the spirit of allegory, a dark, twisty atmosphere, and also the what it means to be a woman in our society.

A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Summer 2018 Selection

Shortlisted for the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction

I found the writing absolutely glimmered and Fine’s imagination is brilliantly dark, magical, and stunningly extraordinary.
 The backstory of the historical women enticed me most and I loved how far back (591 AD) we were able to ‘travel.’ WHAT SHOULD BE WILD is a study in literary layering, and is strikingly unique. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Julia Fine to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Welcome, Julia! I was so intrigued with WHAT SHOULD BE WILD. I understand the seed for this story came from a radio piece about a brain-dead pregnant women in Texas…you took it a step (or two!) further: what if that mother were entirely dead? What would happen to the child? Can you talk a little about your initial spark—those first few days, or weeks—as the story germinated?

Julia Fine:

I wrote the first paragraph of the book immediately after hearing about Marlise Muñoz, a woman who was declared brain dead after a pulmonary embolism in 2013.  She’d asked not to be on life support if ever under these circumstances, but because she was pregnant the hospital kept her on a ventilator anyway. The legal battle made the news, and as soon as I heard about it I started wondering what it would be like for her child were there any possibility of survival. I was doing a lot of reading about old growth forests—where death is literally fertilizer for new life—and was fascinated by the questions of agency at play in this particular situation. What is it about women’s bodies that both scares our society and simultaneously seems to demand such paternal control? How have issues of female agency changed over the past several hundred years—or have they really changed at all? Why are women socialized to placate and please, and what would happen if we decided to reject those roles? Maisie’s power over life and death seemed like the perfect metaphor to explore female bodily autonomy, legacies of trauma, and the way stories—both those we tell ourselves and those others tell us—form our identities.

nature forest trees park
Photo by veeterzy on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Like me, you’re a Chicago writer—but WHAT SHOULD BE WILD isn’t exactly set here. Is it?! In fact, I am not really sure where we are and that leads to some of its charm. Where did you see the setting of WHAT SHOULD BE WILD—and does setting really matter or is it more a sense of ‘atmosphere?’ Also, can you tell us what informed Maisie’s ancestral home?

Julia Fine:

I’m drawing on British history as the model for the situations the Blakely women find themselves in, and the landscape is semi-British, but I really see the book as taking place in a fairy tale space. In keeping with the themes of doubling and shadows, Maisie’s world is a shadow of our own, where folk traditions are still common and mythology is interwoven in the fabric of daily life.

I certainly think setting matters, though my definition of setting isn’t a literal place you can find on a map. Unless a book is really engaging with the culture and history of an actual place, I’m totally fine with not knowing where things are “officially” happening, as long as I have a sense of where they’re happening in relation to the rest of the story. I think about something like [Franz] Kafka’s THE TRIAL, which interrogates a culture of bureaucracy and urbanism without naming the city—setting is such a huge part of that book but we never get any actual names. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s taste, but in attempting to write a genre-blending, semi-allegorical fairy tale, I felt like a once-upon-a-time far off kingdom-type setting made more sense than an actual real world place.

The house itself is a blend of multiple influences. I’m a huge fan of Gothic fiction and so Wuthering Heights and Manderley and other great English literary manor houses were certainly on my mind. Urizon is also a manifestation of one of William Blake’s central poetic characters. Blake wrote and illustrated a whole mythology featuring Urizen, an old testament God figure who represented reason and order, rule-following, constraint, etc. and stood in opposition to the more feminine, rule-breaking, nature-inspired figures in Blake’s work. I loved the name (though changed both spelling and pronunciation to suit my purposes) and loved the idea of the house being a manifestation of the forces that lead to the Blakely ‘curse’.

ancient arch architecture artwork
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I love, love the touches of nature. I feel like you must have done some major tree research. I quickly fell under the spell of the forest. Can you talk about your research, particularly when it comes to trees?

Julia Fine:

I did a lot of reading about trees—it’s amazing how magical forests actually are! Trees can send each other warnings, share resources, argue over space. Older trees parent their saplings, and feed the forest once they finally fall. It’s really not much of a stretch at all to imagine and write an enchanted forest, which is one of the reasons the woods are such a lasting character in fairy tales. I read a lot of science books—a highlight being The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben—but also older anthropological books about the influence of trees on European folk traditions and fairy tales, like The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous and The Golden Bough by James Frazer.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m in awe with how historical things get in WHAT SHOULD BE WILD—I mean, we’re talking 591 AD—that’s pretty impressive! What sources did you look to ensure historical accuracy—or did you?

Julia Fine:

Thank you! The historical parts were some of the most fun to write! It was important to me that the Blakely family stories be historically accurate, and much of my research was trying to perfect details and tone. Marina Warner’s book From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and their Tellers was a huge influence, and inspired the particular women and historical periods I decided to focus on. So many fairy tales we still tell today are direct commentaries on social roles women were forced into at the time they were originally told, and I wanted to pay homage to these histories. I did a lot of index searching to make sure the language and details (proper names for places and characters, meals eaten, clothing worn) were accurate. I also read a lot of historical fiction that helped me get into the minds of the older characters: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I tried to find books that were written with immediacy and would help me tap into to what it would feel like to live in these particular time periods.

“Gorgeous and exhilarating.”  

–Chicago Review of Books, The Best Books of 2018 So Far

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand you teach at DePaul University and also worked closely with Audrey Niffeneger (THE TIME TRAVELERS WIFE, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY) at Columbia College here in Chicago. 1) Is writing harder or easier because you teach and 2) Can you give us a little glimpse in what it was like working with Audrey?

Julia Fine:

I’m currently in between full-time teaching jobs, but hoping to head back soon. I’m still teaching part-time, though! (I have a six-week online course with Catapult coming in January.)

It can be harder to find the extended blocks of time to focus on my own work, but writing is definitely easier because I teach. Teaching helps me attend to the craft aspects of writing in a way I might not otherwise. I’ve always been someone who loves championing the art I’m currently obsessed with, and teaching lets me nerd-out about my favorite things in front of a captive audience while exploring how we all can become better artists and people because of them. I love seeing my students get excited about a piece of writing, or a way of looking at the world. It’s also immensely gratifying to pass along the wisdom I’ve learned from my own teachers, and to watch as students’ work improves over the length of a course.

I’m incredibly lucky to have gotten to work with Audrey Niffenegger—she’s a generous teacher and mentor, and an all around lovely human being. Audrey read my earliest drafts of this book as I was writing, and asked a lot of questions that shaped the direction I eventually took. She was never prescriptive, always just asking “what if” or “why” or “how” in a way that made me think about what I was trying to do, and what might happen if I turned the kaleidoscope ever so slightly.  She also gave me excellent reading recommendations that were great fertilizer for my own work.

Leslie Lindsay:

Julia this has been so fun. One last question—Maisie’s power was to kill or resurrect at her slightest touch—if you had a magical power, what might it be?

Julia Fine:

This is an easy one—I want either power over time, or the ability to live on only an hour of sleep a night. I have a one-year-old and I would love to be able to put him to bed and dive into my own work without feeling exhausted. Plus think of all the good TV I’d get to catch up on, the books I’d get to read…

Leslie Lindsay:

I lied—was there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Julia Fine:

Can I use this space to talk about some recent books I’ve read and loved?

Leslie Lindsay: 

Of course!

Julia Fine: 

Good! I’m going to! This has been such an excellent year for women writers, and I haven’t been able to read as many books as I would like (as we just discussed!) but want to plug a few that really stood out to me: Invitation to a Bonfire by Adrienne Celt, If You Leave Me by Crystal Hana Kim, and Jell-O Girls by Allie Rowbottom. All three are books about subversive, scrappy women figuring out their roles in a male-dominated world. Each is beautifully written, and each made me cry, which is my litmus test for literary excellence.

adult book boring face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

JuliaFine cr Nastasia MoraABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julia Fine is a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s MFA program. She lives in Chicago with her husband and their son.

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


#fiction #literaryfiction #historicalfiction #amreading #authorinterviewseries #nature #trees #women 


[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission. Artful book image created by L.Lindsay and remain in personal archives. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

And I was mesmerized.

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

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

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

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

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

In short, I loved LITTLE. sLQBjcaM_400x400

But I’m not the only one.

Margaret Atwood says this about LITTLE:

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

And LITTLE receives a starred review from Kirkus:

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

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

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

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

sephia photography of desk lamp lightened the gray typewriter on wooden table
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:  

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:  

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

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Photo by Lukas Hartmann on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:

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

withered leaves photo
Photo by Daniel Frank on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:

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

abstract art artistic book
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Edward Carey:

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


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

Order Links: 

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

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


#historicalfiction #MadamTussaud #waxmuseum #France #England #Switzerland #amreading #FrenchRevolution

LITTLE by Edward Carey - high res

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

Who knew Grand Central Terminal had a defunct art school? Fiona Davis explores art, history, and the intersection of the 1970s NYC in THE MASTERPIECE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeous book inside and out (total cover crush!) about blazingly unique–and strong–woman separated by two different time periods and combining art, history, NYC, and a bit of woman’s lib. Fiona is joining us to chat about Depression-era art, real-life inspiration behind her fictional characters, how story and art is so important in times of unrest, and an inkling of her next book. 

The Masterpiece

Fiona Davis has wow-ed me once again with THE MASTERPIECE (Dutton, August 7 2018), which I feel is exactly that–her best yet. What she excels at is in this and also THE DOLLHOUSE (2016) and THE ADDRESS (2017) is so apparent: meticulous research makes for a rich reading experience; plus dazzling prose, an element of mystery, and intriguing characters.

It’s 1928 and Clara Darden is a single woman artist living in NYC and teaching at the little-known Grand Central School of Art (which existed between 1924-1944 at the Grand Central Terminal). Clara is an up-and-coming illustrator but many of her contemporaries don’t consider illustrations ‘real art.’ But it’s her dream. She wants to create art for the cover of Vogue and yet she’s not sure if she can break in. And then there’s the Depression. But little will keep her from her dream.

Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, another woman, Virginia, is met with a new challenge. Newly divorced and having lost her prestigious Upper East Side status, she and her 19-year old daughter, Ruby are struggling to make ends meet. Virginia takes a job at the dangerous and unsavory Grand Central Terminal in the information booth. It’s a landmark building and the bones are gorgeous–if only it could be spiffed up. Then, Virginia learns the building’s very existence is threatened as developers want to construct a skyscraper in its place.

These two plots braid together in a sweeping narrative I found fully transportive. I loved Davis’s prose, the blend of art, history, and fact and fiction. But also the strength and tenacity of women over the years.

THE MASTERPIECE simply glittered and had me thinking about the role of art in challenging times, talking about the book with others, and thinking about how woman have shaped the world.

Leslie Lindsay:

Fiona, welcome back! I am so in awe with this story. I love the time periods but also the infusion of art. I know the idea for this setting came directly from one of your readers. Can you tell us a little more about that? And how does this reader feel about THE MASTERPIECE?

Fiona Davis:

Thank you so much for your kinds words. A couple of years ago, I was doing an author talk for THE DOLLHOUSE in Westchester County, NY, gushing about my love of old New York City buildings, and afterwards an audience member came up to me and offered to get me a behind-the-scenes tour of Grand Central Terminal. I said “You bet!” On the appointed day, we tagged along with a group of architectural students, roaming up to the catwalks overlooking the concourse and into the “war room” where they handle crises like 9/11 and the Northeast blackout of 2003. It was tremendous. I’m looking forward to seeing my insightful reader at the release day author launch at Rizzoli’s Bookstore in New York, and thanking her in person.


Leslie Lindsay:

The Grand Central School of Art was indeed a real place. I had no idea! Art is ultimately made to be enjoyed by the masses, but it is often created in isolation. So when you think about the Grand Central Terminal filled to the brim with travelers,  one senses energy, an inspiration and yet, cloistered away are the artists. Can you talk a little about the process of creating art and how writing fills that need?

Fiona Davis:

You’ve gotten right to the heart of it, and I love that juxtaposition: this illustrious art school perched on the top floor of the Terminal, with thousands of commuters and travelers roaming the concourse below. The importance of the arts in our lives is a theme that I’m passionate about, and in my books, I’ve enjoyed incorporating art forms like bebop jazz (THE DOLLHOUSE), architecture (THE ADDRESS) and commercial versus fine art (THE MASTERPIECE). For me personally, writing is an art form that continues to challenge and delight. I work in isolation, but then get to go out into the world and meet readers, librarians, and bookstore staff and get inspired all over again.

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, in THE MASTERPIECE, Clara experiences the Depression, and art becomes a frivolous luxury. While we’re not exactly in a depression now, the social and political climate is strained. How can one reconcile? Is art still important?

Fiona Davis:

If anything, art is even more crucial during times of economic or political crisis. While art may have seemed extraneous during the Depression, when there were bread lines and tent cities, the artists who arose from that era – de Kooning, Gorky, Krasner contributed to and changed the modern art scene immeasurably. Today in New York City, artists are struggling to define and depict the current world order, and doing so in an economic climate that makes finding an affordable apartment almost impossible. A one-two punch, but the filmmakers, dancers, artists, and actors are a tough lot, and their messages and mediums will carry on, as they have for centuries.

“With richly drawn characters living in two storied eras, there is much to be enchanted by.”

— Kirkus Reviews

Leslie Lindsay:  

I’m curious about your characters—Clara Darden and Oliver and Levon. Were they inspired by real people? How about Virginia and Ruby? Is there a particular character—or time period—you felt most aligned with?

Fiona Davis:

Clara Darden and Levon Zakarian are indeed inspired by real-life faculty members from the Grand Central School of Art: Helen Dryden (an illustrator who did over 90 Vogue covers in the 1910s and 1920s) and Arshile Gorky (an abstract expressionist). They both were bold, brash, impetuous artists whose lives were marred with great tragedy. Oliver, who’s Clara’s love interest, is made up, as are Virginia and Ruby. I have to say that Clara is the character who I’d love to be – her take-no-prisoners attitude is one that I’d love to cultivate, being more of an introverted, geeky writer-type myself. Virginia is dear to my heart, as she’s struggling to figure her life out after suffering a number of setbacks. And she’s doing it imperfectly – I can relate!


Leslie Lindsay:

THE MASTERPIECE is your third book and all of them have focused on little known gems of NYC. Do you see yourself continuing to write NYC-inspired historical fiction or have you considered exploring another area with historical merit?

Fiona Davis:

I’m hard at work on my next book, set in the Chelsea Hotel during the McCarthy Era, from the point of view of an actress and a playwright. The Chelsea is a true New York City gem, which for over a century has been filled with eccentric poets, playwrights, rock stars, and icons, both famous and infamous. I think it would be fun to explore another city at some point – an excuse to relocate to London for a month, perhaps?

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s the last book you read? Movie you’ve watched? Or daydream you’ve conjured? Because we all need story, no matter what mode it’s ingested.

Fiona Davis:

I agree with you about the power of a narrative – it’s how we make sense of the world. The upsurge of all of these wonderful limited-run series on Netflix is a perfect example of the current-day hunger for storytelling. The last book I read was THE SUMMER WIVES, by Beatriz Williams, who’s a virtuoso in the genre of historical fiction. Reading her books is like taking a master class, as they’re filled with snappy dialogue, three-dimensional characters, and a plot that surprises without being confusing. Beautifully pulled off.

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Fiona Davis:

We covered a lot of ground. I’m honored and thrilled to be included, and thank you for everything you do to connect authors and readers.

tilt shift photo of coloring materia s
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

Fiona Davis high resABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master’s degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. Her debut novel, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016 and a year later she hit the national bestseller list with The Address. Her third historical novel, The Masterpiece, will be published in August 2018. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and is based in New York City. Learn more at www.fionadavis.net.

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


#historicalfiction #authtorinterview #NYC #amreading 

[Cover and author image courtesy of Dutton/Random House and used with permission. Images of the interior of Grand Central Terminal retrieved from author’s website on 8.2.18]. 


Amber Brock on her ‘breezy’ historical novel set in the 1950s, LADY BE GOOD

By Leslie Lindsay 

Captivating tale of glamour and glitz in the early-mid 1950s traversing culture and cities, including NYC, Havana, and Miami. She chats with me about how research is probably her most favorite part of writing, the political and social climate of the mid-century, how she loves CRAZY RICH ASIANS (movie coming!), and so much more

Lady Be Good.jpg
LADY BE GOOD (Crown, June 26 2018) pairs perfectly with a rum and Coke or a strawberry daiquiri and a sun-drenched patio. 
I found Amber Brock quickly and effortlessly transported me to the time period and the various cities in the story–I felt every scarf and blouse, every hair-do and every pair of sandals, that’s Brock’s greatest strength here– capturing the time period with absolute perfection. She’s clearly done her homework because these characters–Kitty and Hen–practically jump off the page with their accessories and ways of speaking.

Kitty is a rich socialite who primarily lives off her father’s money; he owns several high-class hotels in NYC, but in other cities, too (namely, Havana and Miami). Kitty is at marrying age and her father wants to ensure his precious daughter is married off to the ‘right’ kind of guy; one with status and money. But Kitty isn’t interested in the one he wants for her. In fact, she has her ‘designs’ (to use a lovely 1950s word) on someone else…

Hen is Kitty’s best friend. She comes from the ‘right’ kind of family: connections and old money. Together, the women are inseparable, and a bit of trouble. The real fun begins when Kitty’s father sends them both to the Miami hotel to oversee a few things and perhaps fall for the ‘right’ guy.

But Kitty is intrigued with Max, a musician at the Miami hotel and well, he’s not exactly the marrying type, at least not in Kitty’s father’s eyes.

Of course, Kitty is used to getting what she desires,
and with her charming and delightful manipulations, she very nearly does.

Brock’s prose is witty and graceful, and her descriptions of the glitz and glamour of the time period really bring the narrative to life.

Please join me in welcoming Amber Brock to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Amber, so glad you’re here. I am stunned with your gorgeous descriptions of the 1950s. The sayings, the pop culture, the style, all of it is spot-on. I am curious if this is a period of time that just ‘spoke to you,’ if there was a character you wanted to explore, or perhaps a situation to delve into?

Amber Brock: Thanks so much! Glad to be here, and I appreciate your kind words about the setting. I’ve loved the pop culture of the 1950s since I was young, especially some of Kitty’s favorites in the novel: I Love Lucy and How to Marry a Millionaire, for example. The relief from wartime austerity and the booming postwar economy meant that it was a glamorous era, which felt like a fun backdrop for a socialite like Kitty. But it was only glamorous and prosperous for certain segments of society, and I was intrigued by the simmering social tensions that would lead to even greater changes in the 60s. That questioning of norms felt like a natural setting to push a young woman to question herself and her place in the wider world.

teal platform stilettos

L.L.: Can you tell us what kind of research you did to bring the time period to life? Do you enjoy the research?

Amber Brock: I love research; it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of writing. I’m fortunate enough to have a librarian in the family, and she got me started with articles and oral histories, especially about Miami and Havana in the 1950s. She also helped me discover Irving Fields, a Jewish musician who played Latin music from the 1940s until his recent passing, and he was a joy to read about.

The best thing about researching in the internet age is that people have very specific, niche interests that they catalog meticulously. So, for example, I found a whole website devoted to PanAm, with photographs and scans of brochures, menus, luggage tags, even playing cards! I watched home movies that people have posted to YouTube of their mid-century trips through South Florida and Miami, which gave me a feel for the tourist experience of that era.

With all of my novels, I want the details to be as authentic as possible. If my characters go to a restaurant, I want to know what dishes they’d have to choose from. I want to see photographs of the interior, so I know I’m describing it the way it would have been. It feels like a nice way to honor and connect with the past.

L.L.: Much of the heart of LADY BE GOOD has to do with race and culture and finding the ‘right’ person to settle down with. There’s a section I wanted to highlight, which really speaks volumes:

“Then it hit her. Those who couldn’t hide being Cuban, or Dominican, or Jewish, didn’t. They had to live with the restrictions or face consequences. Those who could hide, on the other hand, had to choose to bury part of themselves to be accepted. It was more than pretending to be part of the elite. It was pretending to be someone you weren’t. Disowning and disavowing your memories, your home, your family.”

It’s a gorgeous and meaningful passage. Can you speak more to that, please?

Amber Brock: All Kitty wants in the beginning of the novel is to feel accepted by a group that she believes has everything she needs for the best life. She’s so focused on the benefits of inclusion, but she doesn’t see immediately what that might cost her. Inclusion in an elite group necessarily means that some must be excluded, and this is the moment when Kitty recognizes that fact. She also begins to realize that the cost she faces is not as great as the cost other excluded groups might face. A lot of this awakening is due to her relationship with Max. For most of her life, she thought of her family’s immigrant story as a stumbling block, so she’s surprised that he’s proud of his heritage, despite the way he’s treated because of it.

L.L.: I’m so curious how Cuban culture wove its way into the narrative. Obviously, it’s close to Miami (where a piece of the story takes place), so why not just leave the reader—and characters—in Miami?

Amber Brock: As I drafted the novel, I wrestled with whether or not the characters should go to Cuba. I had created Sebastian and fallen in love with him as a character, and I saw the trip as a way to spend more time with him and explore his background in a more meaningful way. Still, as Kitty quickly learns, it wasn’t the ideal time to visit. Though the revolution was still several years away, Fidel Castro was already rallying supporters and causing disruption. Huge numbers of Cubans were suffering under a corrupt government. Eventually, I decided to include the Cuba trip as a way not only to develop Sebastian further, but also to show a beautiful, distinctive culture on the brink of enormous change.

antique automobile automotive car

L.L.: I understand you are also an English teacher. How has—or does—teaching influence your writing?

Amber Brock: Being an English teacher means I hardly ever breeze through a novel. I usually can’t resist digging deeper into what I read, analyzing characters especially. I value a good discussion about a text, so when I write, I know I’m trying to make that kind of discussion possible for my readers. Still, I think reading should be fun, so I want to create something fun for the “breezers”, too.

I teach at an all-girls’ school, and my students are always in the back of my mind when I write. I consider the messages they’re confronted with in the media they consume (including novels—many of them are voracious readers). I want to make sure that, if any of them read my work, they can walk away with a sense of empowerment and a story that makes them think about their own contributions to the world.

“Kitty Tessler, a headstrong glamour girl determined to move up in the world, steals the spotlight in Amber Brock’s latest, a tour-de-force filled with intrigue and surprises.”
Fiona Davis, nationally bestselling author of The Address and The Dollhouse

L.L.: Kitty and Hen have a bevvy of guilty pleasures—from cigarettes to luncheons, high-end fashion, and their taste in men—what’s on your list of guilty pleasures?

Amber Brock: Like Kitty, I can’t resist a good cocktail or a pretty dress. I also have a notorious sweet tooth. Oh, and I love indulging in a long afternoon nap.

sea beach holiday vacation
Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

L.L.: What’s the last book(s) you recommended to a friend?

Amber Brock: AI have been handing the CRAZY RICH ASIANS series to anyone who will sit still long enough to let me tell them about those books. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud, and the characters are so wild and fun. Definitely my favorite type of read.

L.L.: Amber, it’s been a delight. Is there anything I should have asked about but may have forgotten?

Amber Brock: It was such a pleasure to chat! Please let your readers know that I will be on tour this summer to talk about the inspiration and research behind LADY BE GOOD. Full details are on my website, and I’ll be in Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, and Florida. If anyone is interested in learning more, I encourage them to come see me!

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

Order Links: 

AmberABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMBER BROCK teaches British literature at an all-girls’ school in Atlanta. She is the author of A Fine Imitation and LADY BE GOOD, which Crown will publish on June 26, 2018. She holds an MA from the University of Georgia and lives in Smyrna with her husband, also an English teacher, and their three rescue dogs.

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



Lady Be Good

#authorinterviewseries #historicalfiction #authorinterview  

[Cover and author images courtesy of Crown Publishing and used with permission.]

WeekEND Reading: Have you ever wondered what ‘really happened’ with the infamous Borden family? Did they just stop loving one another, was Lizzie really an axe murder(ess)? Sarah Schmidt talks about this, finding your own way with a story, how Lizzie ‘haunted’ her for 11 years, and so much more in SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Explosive debut novel, part-crime, part-historical, and part family dynamics, Sarah Schmidt reimagines the infamous Lizzie Borden story. 

We’ve all heard the rhyme, about Lizzie Borden taking the ax and whacking her mother and then doing the same to her father, with one more whack. If that’s not chilling enough, being a nursery rhyme and all, what follows in the narrative is just as disturbing.

It’s August 1892 and Fall River, Massachusetts is experiencing a major heat wave. Everyone’s a bit on edge, and ill. Sarah Schmidt, an Australian debut author takes the story we’ve all heard bits and pieces of and breathes life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family with deft skill at bringing the senses to life. In fact, much of why I loved this tale is because of the visceral reactions to I had during the reading experience. That’s not to say a story about a grisly double murder isn’t enough, but it’s Schmidt’s use of language that had me wincing. In this case, that’s a good thing, a testament to her writing. 

SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE (Atlantic/Grove Press, August 2018) focuses on the stepmother, Abby (it was a remarriage following Lizzie’s mother’s death when Lizzie was just 5), the sometimes temperamental businessman father, Andrew, and the two spinster sisters, Emma and Lizzie, and another, the enigmatic character, Benjamin.

I found the character of Lizzie so well drawn, so real; definitely a character I loved to hate. Schmidt writes her with such psychological precisiona woman who never really grew up as much of her characterizations led me to believe Lizzie younger than her stated 32 years.

Told in alternating POVs, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE focuses mostly on the days surrounding the murder, if not focusing exclusively on the day itself. We hear from several characters, their interpretations of the events, and then we also hear about bit about the trial (but not much), leading us to draw some of our own conclusions. Perhaps Lizzie didn’t kill her parents after all?

I’m so honored to welcome Sarah Schmidt to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: Sarah, I loved SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE. In fact, it got me thinking about the case and the characters when I wasn’t reading and then I was drawn to do some more digging. I heard somewhere that you just couldn’t get Lizzie to leave you alone. Can you talk about your inspiration, and how Lizzie ‘haunted’ you?

Sarah Schmidt: I had difficulty letting these characters go and constantly thought about them, so I’m relieved to hear they infiltrated your mind too. I ‘discovered’ this case while I was in a second-hand bookstore in 2005 and initially I wasn’t interested in it at all. However later that night I had a dream: Lizzie was sitting at the end of my bed, poked me in the leg and said, ‘I have something to tell you about my father. He has a lot to answer for.’ I had this same dream every night for a week and it was only then that I decided to write down the dream and hope Lizzie would leave me alone. She didn’t but the upside was that I was able to write this book. I felt like Lizzie in particular was with me most days and this allowed me to play with her character in unusual ways. It’s quite the gift for a fiction writer to have a set of characters feel absolutely like fresh and bone—in a way it allows you to visit them whenever you like when it’s time to write them.


L.L.: One thing that struck as I was reading is that you are Australian, not American. I had always thought the Lizzie Borden story was pure American folklore, having taken place in Massachusetts, not exactly a worldwide case. Can you expand on that a bit?

Sarah Schmidt: I hadn’t heard of this case until I stumbled upon it however I’ve since learnt that many people in Australia and elsewhere have heard about Lizzie and the case (or at the very least they know the nursery rhyme). This case was a phenomenon: a wealthy white woman from a privileged, respectable family was accused of axing her father and step-mother to death. The details surrounding the case were a total mystery and this only increased interest in the case. I think in many ways the idea that a woman could be so violent was the pulse of the story and this helped push its way around certain parts of the world. The fact that it became American folklore definitely helped keep the story alive.

L.L.: I’m curious about your writing process. I can imagine it would be easy to get bogged down in research. There’s got to be plenty out there on Lizzie Borden and her family, some of it accurate and others not-so-much. How did you decide on what to include and what to jettison?

Sarah Schmidt: Research is often the fun part—it’s the actual writing that can be the downside. As I mentioned, I wasn’t really interested in the case but the fact that Lizzie kept talking about her father in my dreams made me realise that what I was interested in was the family and what these people may have been like. The central questions I wanted to explore were: if Lizzie did do it, why would she commit such a crime? What happens to a family when they no longer love each other?

So initially I began my research by reading anything I could get my hands on and I read a lot of the court transcripts. When I would go to write I felt completely bogged down by the history and facts of the case and I didn’t feel connected which made my writing feel stale. It was then that I decided I would take liberties and simply concentrate on the family. This was completely freeing. I was writing fiction after all.  So I began to research in stages when I needed to: whatever information I retained indicated to me that these were the parts that would resonate within the story and a readership. As I went on, I began looking for things that told me about the humanity of the family. After a few years you begin to intuit what your manuscript needs.

I also decided early on to limit my interactions with other interpretations of the case (whether books or films etc) because I wanted to create my own story and didn’t want to be completely influenced by what had gone before me. This is such a mythologised case: you need to find your own way to a story.


L.L.: And the structure. That’s another major undertaking, weaving all of these different POVs into a seamless whole. Was there ever a time you thought about writing this as a first person POV, say, from Lizzie only? Or a third person narration? Did you try it other ways before deciding on the final outcome?

Sarah Schmidt: I had no idea how I was going to write this book. In the beginning I had Lizzie’s voice but I quickly realised that she was never going to be the narrator I wanted her to be: she was effusive, petulant, annoying. I knew I needed someone else. That’s how Benjamin came to live in the book. But even he had his limitations. Overtime I collected the narrators and the story unfolded as I learnt more about them and what they knew, what they wanted to share with me. I would constantly switch from one narrator to the other when I got bored with them. This process can become complicated and often I got lost in the narrative however in a way, I think this helped create the rhythm of the novel.

Depending on who I was writing the narration would either be in first person or third person (for example Emma was in third person for a very long time) but for this book I found being in first person was the best way to tell this story, especially because it’s such a claustrophobic novel. Being trapped in the heads of these characters helped the mood and shape of the whole thing.

I wish I could write a novel that is told from one POV and sticks to a linear narrative but that’s just not how my brain works!

L.L.: And what more can you tell us about Benjamin? He was quite mysterious. Who was he, exactly?

Sarah Schmidt: Benjamin is a fictional character and was born because I couldn’t handle Lizzie on my own. I liked the idea that there would be a parallel character to Lizzie, one who was just as violent but wore it differently to her. Over time he became his own person and I was able to use him to explore themes such as justice and retribution.

L.L.: Of course I have to mention the visceral reading experience. Oh my! I felt everything deep in my gut. I found myself licking my lips at certain passages and feeling anger and disgust and so many other emotions. Instead of asking how you write that way, what do you do to keep the saw sharp?

Sarah Schmidt: I’m not sure I even know the answer to this only that I try to always follow my gut instinct and pay attention to what is around me. Observing everything and everyone helps as does allowing yourself to sit by your character’s side and let them dictate their world view. It’s very tiring to write this way but it’s the only way I know how. If I feel bored by something or if it doesn’t ring true to me (or to the character) then I have failed creatively and I start again. It’s the only way to keep it fresh.

L.L.: There’s a part in your acknowledgements section that thanks Lizzie for choosing you to tell her story but then you say, ‘it’s time to go.’  Do you still think about her? Does she still ‘find’ you?

Sarah Schmidt:  I haven’t felt truly connected to Lizzie for a good while now but she still pops into my head from time to time. I spent eleven years with her and these people: I think it’s going to take me a while to adjust.

L.L.:  What are you working on now? Another grisly historical fiction?

Sarah Schmidt: I don’t like talking about projects in their infancy however I’m working on a novel that came to me in a dream about five or so years ago. It was a simply image of a woman driving a car toward mountains with a child in the backseat. Nothing was what it seemed. I knew instantly that it was a novel, I just didn’t know what it was. Last year I began to explore this idea and image in depth and it has surprised me. I didn’t set out to write about the past but that’s what it has become. You just follow the feelings of your characters and see where they take you.

L.L.: Sarah, it’s been such a pleasure! Though the tale is horrific, I enjoyed your writing very much. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Sarah Schmidt: Thank you for these questions: they were great!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE, please visit:

  • Website
  • Instagram: @ikillnovel
  • Twitter: @ikillnovel
  • Read more about Sarah Schmidt’s experience with Lizzie on her blog

Order Links:

Sarah Schmidt color c Nicholas Purcell StudioABOUT THE AUTHOR:  After completing a bachelor of arts (professional writing/editing), a master of arts (creative writing), and a graduate diploma of information management, Sarah Schmidt currently works as a reading and literacy coordinator at a regional public library. She lives in Melbourne, Australia. See What I Have Done is her first novel.

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


[Cover and author image courtesy of Grove Atlantic and used with permission. 1892 image of Lizzie Border and the Borden home retrieved from author’s website , image of girl with axe from vimeo rhyme of Lizzie Borden retrieved from, all on 3.7.18] 

Wednesdays with Writers: What do you call a book with recurring characters that isn’t a series? A ‘connected novel,’ perhaps? Robin Oliveira talks about this, her love for Albany NY, bike riding, researching books to be accurate yet emotional, how her former career as a critical care RN informs her writing and more in WINTER SISTERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

A haunting tale of a horrific New York blizzard that leads to missing girls, a court case, and dead parents. 

Winter Sisters
It’s March 1879, fourteen years after the Civil War. The day begins like any other. A light snow is falling as the O’Donnell family leave their simple home for work and school. But an epic blizzard has obliterated the city, separating children from parents and families from homes. Both of the O’Donnell parents area dead and the girls, Emma and Claire (ages 10 and 7) are nowhere to be found.

Close family friends, Dr. Mary Stipp (nee, Sutter)–whom we met in Oliveira’s earlier book, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, and her husband, Dr. William Stipp, begin a tireless search for the girls, turning over every orphanage, church, home, school…the girls are nowhere to be found. The police feel they must have died in the river. Yet, scandal is brewing.

Meanwhile, Mary’s mother, Amelia and niece (Elizabeth) return from their stay in Paris where Elizabeth had been in the Paris Conservatory studying violin. Together, with the Drs. Stipp, the search continues, as well as grieving for the lost.

I found the writing absolutely glorious, with rich detail to the historical period, making every piece of the story feel very authentic and accurate (though some creative liberties were taken with the dates, as explained in the author’s note). Oliveira’s descriptions sing, as does her experience as a former critical care R.N., bringing so much of this 19th century doctor to life.

The last third of WINTER SISTERS was almost exclusively focused on a trial, which Oliveira depicts in such flourish and beauty, sharp dialogue, and clever characters. I was so taken with this part of the story and couldn’t get enough. Much of the themes angered me, but had me cheering for the ‘good guy,’ too.

Part family saga, part medical drama, part thriller, all set in a historical setting, WINTER SISTERS is sure to delight and enrage as it traverses unspeakable evil to tremendous good. 

I am so, so honored to welcome Robin to the blog couch. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Robin, I loved WINTER SISTERS so much. I’m curious what drew you to this story? I know you’re from Albany, New York, but there has to be more to it other than it being your hometown. Can you elaborate?

Robin Oliveira: Thank you, Leslie. I’m so glad you loved the book. I love to hear when readers connect with one of my novels. Because we writers write in a vacuum, it is lovely to receive notes of appreciation.

I grew up in Loudonville, which is just north of Albany on Route 9, but we often drove into the city to attend church, visit the doctor, shop, go out to dinner. From the wide back seat of my mother’s Bonneville, I formed indelible memories of the city: the Hudson River seemed wide and forbidding, the trains traveling right down the middle of Broadway spoke of faraway places, and the grand, rococo spires of the churches were enthralling and historic. Albany wears its history on its sleeve. Much of its 19th century architecture remains intact, giving Albany a distinctly visible link to its past. There were wooden row houses and elegant brownstones and verdant parks and enormous government buildings that to a child seemed like the larger world. Of course, it wasn’t Paris or Manhattan, but at that time, to my eyes, Albany was a fascinating, dangerous, romantic place, full of story and drama. That impression, and the desire to convey Albany’s legacy, has lingered with me in the years since.

In the 19th century, Albany was not a city in decline but a significant player on the world stage, a vital crossroads between east and west, which makes it a rich setting for a novel. The Hudson River, the railroads, and the Erie Canal all played an important role in the prosperity of the nation. Hemmed in on one side by the river, high and low society lived cheek by jowl: the rough and tumble lumbermen, barons of industry, tumultuous politics and politicians, and a more genteel society several generations removed from its methods of enrichment. Separated from Manhattan City by only a four-hour dayboat ride or train trip, in its heyday Albany was intimately connected with the commerce of the entire country. This story, WINTER SISTERS, in particular, begged to be set in this thriving, small city, where gossip and scandal could impact multiple levels of society.

What drew me to the story itself is another question entirely. I didn’t set out to bring Mary back. But in the process of researching an entirely different book, I discovered that in 1879, in New York State, the age of consent was ten years old. That changed everything. I knew I had to write about it, and as I discovered that a doctor’s services would be called upon in the book, I thought Mary Sutter might make a cameo appearance. But the issues explored turned out to be grave, and I knew that if Mary got wind of them, she wouldn’t stay silent or stand by while somebody else dealt with the problem. She wouldn’t be content with having a distant role. So, she needed to be intimately affected by the events of the novel. And voila! A new Mary Sutter novel was born.

L.L.:  WINTER SISTERS picks up about fourteen years after the Civil War. In your previous book, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, we’re introduced to a brilliant, headstrong midwife who eventually becomes a Civil War surgeon. Dr. Mary Sutter (now married to Dr. William Stipp), is back in this tale, but this isn’t exactly a series, is it? Is there a literary term for this type of character cross-over? And what is it about Mary that you—and readers—love so much?mary-sutter-250

Robin Oliveira: I know, it isn’t quite a series, is it? Shall we invent a term? Connected novels, like connected short stories? Though I have received many requests from readers over the years to ‘bring Mary back,’ I could never find a story that seemed as necessary or compelling to tell as the one I had already told about her. I felt as if I’d solved all her problems, and that nothing else would ever be as exciting or interesting as becoming a surgeon in the midst of war. What I think compels readers—and me—to love Mary Sutter is that she is a bright, clear-headed, courageous woman who speaks her mind, ignores societal conventions, slices directly into the heart of things, runs into trouble rather than away from it (the definition of a hero), and persists no matter the roadblock. I particularly love her verbal comebacks. She thinks of and says the apt rebuke or bon mot we all wish we were able to say in similarly fraught moments. There are many situations in my life where I think, Well, Mary wouldn’t have let that person speak to her like that. Why did you? Of course, it took me three or more drafts to write the words she wields as deftly as a sword. But what I think I adore most about Mary is that she is at heart an entirely moral human being. She rejects the frivolous—fashion, status, appearance—for the pursuit of much higher goals.  

L.L.:  Like Mary, you have experience in the medical field as a former critical care nurse. Your knowledge shines through in those medical scenes (I was a former psych R.N.) and so I’m curious how you made the switch from nursing to writing and how your past experience informs your present writing.

Robin Oliveira: Before I ever thought about becoming a nurse, I was a reader. From early in my life, you could find me buried in a book somewhere in a corner, oblivious to the world around me, enthralled by a story. Since you and I have a lot in common—we are both readers, writers and nurses—I think you would probably agree that what connects those occupations is empathy. Writing is nothing if not an act of empathy, as is nursing. We inhabit differing realities, seek out hidden sources of pain, and do what we can to craft meaning from the lives we encounter, or in fiction, the characters we create. On a practical level, my transition to writing began with education. Having failed at making much progress in learning to write on my own, I started taking writing classes at the local community college, then moved on to university extension evening courses, and finally received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I have made a number of changes over the years. My first undergraduate degree was in Russian, a reflection of my love of language.


All of these things—reading, nursing, my love of language—inform my present writing. But more specifically, nursing brought me close to people on the verge of mortality. The intimacy of the act of nursing the critically ill breeds the kinds of instinct that work well for a writer: notice everything, try to draw meaning from sometimes inchoate gestures or requests, ask multiple questions to understand what someone’s true desire might be, especially at the end of life. In addition, I probably am able to write about medicine with more precision than another writer, who isn’t in the medical field. But I think that medicine and illness—even cursory illness— isn’t utilized enough in fiction. I often wonder about books covering many years in which no character ever suffers even a cold. It’s important as we write to acknowledge the weaknesses of the body as well as the soul. Nurses and physicians who write may be more focused on this.

“A true tour de force, Winter Sisters is the best period thriller I’ve read since The Alienist. Robin Oliveira is…working at the height of her powers.”
   —Thomas Christopher Greene, author of The Headmaster’s Wife and If I Forget You

L.L.:  I absolutely loved the piece about the courtroom showdown, which takes place in the last third of WINTER SISTERS. I was in awe of the quick wit, the cleverness, and I was thinking, ‘how did she pull this off?’ What research did you do for these scenes?

Robin Oliveira: I spent a lot of time reading 17th and 19th-century trial transcripts. I began with reading the Old Bailey transcripts from England—now available online—which were helpful in terms of tone but less helpful in terms of procedure and law. But New York trial transcripts, also recently digitized, are available from the early 1880’s, close enough to 1879 to be useful to me. I ferreted out procedure from these, as well as language and the kinds of questions lawyers were asking victims and witnesses.

In my first drafts, I didn’t quite know how to portray that court scene, never having written one, and not being a fan of television crime dramas. I couldn’t quite figure out how to craft those scenes so that they were tight and yet still portrayed what would have occurred in the courtroom. At first, I wrote endlessly long scenes recounting events and information that readers already knew. My editors, after reading the 200,000-word draft I sent them on my first deadline, implored me to cut the dross. It was excruciating figuring out which details to include and which to summarize in order to make the scene move with the kind of speed required to keep a reader’s attention without sacrificing any important details. As far as wit and cleverness go—thank you!—that was just rewriting. I went through multiple drafts. I included repartee because the events of the trial are so weighty that I felt the reader needed some comic relief in order to stay with me.

L.L.: There’s a lot to this book. There are missing girls, family drama, music in form of the violin, the natural disasters of the blizzard and flood, medical procedures, and of course that courtroom scene(s). They are all interrelated and form a delicious whole, but is there one aspect you enjoyed writing more than others?

Robin Oliveira: I like learning new things. It’s the perennial student in me. I knew nothing about playing the violin—I can’t play a single instrument and am tone deaf—so I enjoyed figuring out how to write about a character who knew how to play the violin really well. I spent a lot of time on YouTube watching performances and listening to violin instructors explain things. I went to a Hilary Hahn concert to study her phrasing and watched her physicality as played. I went to Paris to visit the Conservatoire, which was wildly fun. Not trusting my two years of college French in conversation, I composed a note that I presented at the door of the school, which explained that I was writing a book and that part of it was set in the conservatory. Could I please come in to see the building and the famous concert hall? Yes! They let me in! I love the French. Then came the challenge of writing about the conservatory and about playing the violin convincingly enough, which was both a terror and a joy. This might be a good time to mention that 90% of my research doesn’t make it to the page; however, I think what I learn imbues the narrative with more depth than it would otherwise hold.  

L.L.: Can you talk a little more about the music piece? In this sense, this story reminded me a bit of Carmela Martino’s PLAYING BY HEART. What was your intention with Elizabeth and her violin?

Robin Oliveira: One of the reasons I chose to include music in the story was that I needed Elizabeth to stand very much in opposition to her aunt. Their differences, both in personality and profession, provide a source of conflict that pushes one of the narrative threads. Mary Sutter is a physician who from an early age was scientifically grounded, practical in the extreme, and as a result seems better equipped to handle the kinds of issues that arise in WINTER SISTERS. By contrast, Elizabeth has always been artistic and emotional, and as a result not only feels far more vulnerable than perhaps her aunt ever has, but also, at first, seems to have very little to offer when the crisis presents itself. But each of them is a prodigy in their own right, and Elizabeth has something to provide that it turns out that Mary, with all her medical skill, cannot. Elizabeth’s musical genius reaches into the soul—and this story cried out for every tool available to respond to the story’s tragedy.

L.L.:  Can you give us a few “Robin” facts, maybe something few know?

Robin Oliveira: I love to ride my bicycle around the San Juan Islands in Washington. I studied in Moscow, USSR, in January 1976, when I was just twenty-two years old. I once skinny-dipped in Puget Sound. (I don’t recommend it. Too cold.) I’m addicted to watching eagle cams so I can observe growing eaglets while I write. I’m afraid of sailboats. I almost drowned when I was four years old on a family vacation in Cape Cod. I included one of my childhood dreams in WINTER SISTERS. I love the ballet. I was a Girl Scout, but probably sold the fewest boxes of cookies of any Girl Scout ever. And I met President Carter on a trip to the White House in 1977, and President Obama when he was raising funds for his first run for the White House.


L.L.: What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Robin Oliveira: Perhaps the question I most often receive about my books is how authentic is the history in my books?

The answer is 99% of it. If I ever differ from established history, I explain how and why in my author notes. As you alluded to earlier, for WINTER SISTERS I moved a famous blizzard from 1888 to 1879. I did that because I needed my characters to be a certain age, and since they had already appeared in a prior book, I had to fudge that timing. But given the history of deadly winter storms in the northeast, I didn’t think it was too much of a stretch.

I like to put my readers—and myself—back in time. I do this by making my characters contend with reality as it was then. For instance, every boat or train they take adheres to historic schedules. In MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, I wouldn’t allow Mary to possess more medical knowledge than was available at the time. This of course led her to make mistakes, but it was important to show medicine as it was, not medicine as I wanted her to know it. Also, I make certain never to move my historical characters from one place to another unless I can make a good case for how it might have happened. Again in MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, I knew that President Lincoln gave a speech on a certain day very near General Lee’s house in Arlington, Virginia, where most of the Union Army had decamped after a blistering defeat at Manassas. I thought it was possible that Lincoln could have traveled on to visit the general who had mismanaged the battle, so I felt comfortable writing a scene set there. In I ALWAYS LOVED YOU, a story about the impressionist artists Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, I kept a detailed timeline of where every single artist in their circle was at any given time so that I wouldn’t have them meet while one was in Paris, say, and the other in Aix.


It’s very important to me to underpin historical story with historical fact. However, emotional character arcs, in my mind, are fair game for interpretation in fiction. While I never go against anything that can be historically verified, story is not made up of facts. It is instead made up of emotion—the why something happened, which at its core speaks to motivation. Characters make decisions based on desire, and story ensues. That’s what makes historical fiction differ from history. That said, when I write about historical characters, I make heavy use of diaries, letters, reports, newspaper stories, etc. so that I can better get to the heart of who they were and what they wanted. Never is a historical figure a pawn in my story about them. Rather, I try to understand their story in order to portray it as intimately and emotionally true as I am able.

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

Robin Oliveira: The pleasure is all mine!

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

Order Links:

Robin Oliveira - © Shellie Gansz 2017.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Robin Oliveira grew up just outside Albany, New York in Loudonville. She holds a B.A. in Russian, and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow, Russia. She worked for many years as a Registered Nurse, specializing in Critical Care and Bone Marrow Transplant. In 2006 Robin received an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. In 2007 she was awarded the James Jones First Novel Fellowship for her debut novel-in-progress, MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER, then entitled The Last Beautiful Day. MY NAME IS MARY SUTTER also received the 2011 Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the 2010 American Historical Fiction Honorable Mention from the Langum Charitable Trust. The book was chosen as an all-city read for both Schenectady, N.Y. and Roswell, Georgia, and in 2015, the all-state read for Iowa. Her book, I ALWAYS LOVED YOU, was published by VIKING in 2014. WINTER SISTERS is her newest, set for publication on February 27th, 2018. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Euphony and Numero Cinq. Robin is the former fiction editor at the literary magazine upstreet and a former assistant editor at Narrative Magazine. She lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her husband, Andrew Oliveira. She is the mother of two grown children, Noelle and Miles.

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


[Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/Penguin Random House and used with permission. Author photo credit: Shellie Lansz. Paris Conservatory images retrieved from Wikipedia; signs and storefronts of c. 1892 Albany NY from  Albany mansion from, nurse reading from, backroads biking on San Juan from , image of old letters from; all on 2.15.18]

Wednedays with Writers: Inspired by her grandmother’s stories of WWII, an adorable lion cub, delicious berry pies, and the gorgeous landscape of Hawaii, debut novelist Sara Ackerman takes us on her journey, touching on acupuncture, paddleboarding, and more in ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLIDERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Wartime novel set among the lush landscape of Hawaii about friendship, loyalties, and love. 

I fell right into the folds of this novel, as the glittering paradise of Hawaii came to life with Ackerman’s detail and ease. It’s 1944 and Violet and her daughter, 10-year old Ella are piecing their lives back together after her husband and high school principal, Herman goes missing. It’s been a year and still no final word on Herman’s fate. Suspicions and rumors swirl–was he a spy? Was he as loyal as others believed?

And then there’s Ella; she knows something but isn’t saying. Ella struggles at school and is trying to move forward, but something–or someone–seems to be holding her back.

Told in alternating POVs, between Violet and Ella, ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS is historical fiction about fiction, racism, war, mother-daughter relationships with a dash of suspense and romance. I found I really fell in love with Ella and could see a bit of myself in her. This is a different take on the usual WWII stories that have been popular in recent books–with mostly a European experience; ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS is more of a ‘homefront’ read about love, loyalties, and family. 

As for the suspense and the missing father/husband…I don’t want to give away too much, but things are resolved with the help of a pet…lion.

All in all, I don’t think I’ve read a book quite like this one, the grit of war set in the sparkling setting of Hawaii.

So pull up a seat, grab a slice of pie, and join me in conversation with Sara Ackerman.

Leslie Lindsay: Sara, I think for all novels, there’s a falling-off point that reels you in as an author. I think I might know what it is for you, but I’m going to let you tell us.

Sara Ackerman: Roscoe the lion was what drew me in initially.  He was my spark.  My grandmother always talked about this lion that the Marines had with them at Camp Tarawa in Waimea.  As a young girl, I was enthralled by the idea that there was a lion in Hawaii that wasn’t in a zoo.  Not only that, but this same lion rode in my grandmother’s car!  She never mentioned him by name, but when I got curious and Googled him, there he was sitting on the front of a jeep with a bunch of kids around him.  As it turned out, my mother was one of those kids petting Roscoe.  I formed my story around that, and the feeling that I got from my grandmother that the war had been a terrifying and tragic time, but also a very meaningful time. I wanted to portray both sides of that coin.  The friendships and bonds that held them together.  That was my jumping off point.

[image caption from 2011 newspaper: Stilson snuggles up to Roscoe, the 5th Marine Division’s mascot – they had to leave behind in Hawaii when they hit the beaches at Iwo Jima. Baby on lion from]

L.L.: You have to tell us about Roscoe, the pet lion cub. As I read with my adoring basset hound on my lap, I often pretended her coarse, oily fur was Roscoe!

Sara Ackerman: Roscoe [really] was my inspiration and one of the main reasons I wrote this book!  I love animals and I write about them extensively in all my novels.  The story of how the Marines brought him over from the Los Angeles zoo and how he lived with them and became a mascot was so appealing to me.  I remember my grandmother talking about stopping to pick up some Marines as they trudged up the hot and winding road from Kawaihae (the beach) to Waimea where their camp was.  She was terrified to have a lion in her car, but the men persuaded her that he would be fine.  That was how she ended up with a lion breathing down her neck as she drove them up the hill.  She never tired of telling this story, and as a young girl, I never tired of hearing it.


L.L.: And so the war is near and dear to you. Your grandparents really colored the world of ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS for you. Are you often swayed by the nostalgic pull of family? I recently read that if you decorate your home with a few ancestral artifacts (old wedding photos, for example, or something your mother may have used), it makes you happier, connecting you to previous generations.

Sara Ackerman: My mother has an old photograph of my grandparents, the sugar plantation manager, and all of the students at Laupahoehoe School, who were mostly Japanese at the time, that I absolutely love.  This was just before the war and it is priceless.  It wasn’t until I was older that I gained more curiosity and compassion for what my grandparents––on both sides––went through while living through the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the rest of the war.  It is beyond my comprehension to fathom the fear that they had to live with on a daily basis for all those years.  I recently got a small dose of that with the Ballistic Missile threat fiasco here in Hawaii.  For about 40 minutes, we thought the message was real and all kinds of crazy thoughts ran through my mind.  I kept just thinking, wow, so this is how it ends.  It was very surreal.  I also remembered that radio message that went out about Pearl Harbor…This Is Not A Drill, This is the Real McCoy, especially because I had just listened to it while researching for my next novel.  It was both terrifying and enlightening. I felt connected to my grandparents in a way that I never had before, and understood their fear a little more deeply.  I keep asking my mom for this picture.


L.L.: And where did the idea of those delicious pies originate? Do you enjoy baking? Do you have a favorite pie from the book?

Sara Ackerman: When I was growing up, my father’s girlfriend, Marilyn Carlsmith, was a fabulous cook and she was the one who helped me to fall in love with pies.  Every time we came to the Big Island from Oahu, we would stop at Kilauea Volcano and pick blackberries or ohelo berries or akala berries (Hawaiian rasberries) and make pies.  To me, the berry or fruit picking is my favorite part.  It makes the pies that much more special when you get to forage for the berries and fruit yourselves.  It’s a bonding thing, too.  We would take our pickings down to the beach house and hole up there for a week, living on homecooked pie, cobbler, berry pancakes and freshly caught fish.  Those are some of my best memories, and I still go berry picking every chance I get.  Sometimes it involves a long hike across the lava or picking out worms, but that only makes the pies sweeter!


L.L.: You’re a native Hawaiian. Lucky you! I know you’ve said you blame Hawaii for your writing bug. Can you elaborate?

Sara Ackerman: (I’m actually not a native Hawaiian, though I was born and raised here, as were my parents and my grandfather and great grandmother on my dad’s side.)  I’m what you would call a Kama’aina, which translates to ‘child of the land,’ regardless of your ancestry.  Hawaii is a unique and beautiful place full of history and lore.  I was fortunate enough to be born here and raised by parents who appreciated the unique nature of it and took us outdoors every chance they could and taught us to love and respect the land and the ocean.  I am continuously uncovering interesting stories that would make for great books, and the ideas keep stacking up––whether about the mysterious death of a world famous botanist, Mark Twain’s missing manuscript, or a native Honeycreeper believed to be extinct, there are too many to count.  Also, to me, setting is such an essential part of the story.  Setting is its own character in most of my books, so much so that I’m not sure if I could write a story set anywhere else but Hawaii.  I am so connected to these islands, that I can’t not want to write about them.

L.L.: But you also practice acupuncture.  How does one inform the other? Or, do they?

Sara Ackerman:  The two seem like strange bedfellows, and yet for me, they go hand in hand.  Both are such a part of me, that they seep into all aspects of my life.  Oddly enough, I started writing novels around the same time I began acupuncture school, in 2012.  Both were new and intriguing and overwhelming.  In the beginning, I wondered if I would be able to master writing well enough to land a traditional publishing deal, and I worried that between the Chinese language and memorizing hundreds of acupuncture points and herbs, I might not be cut out for Chinese Medicine either.  But what I began to learn as I went along, was that acupuncture was the perfect remedy for someone in the throes of novel writing. Acupuncture has a calming effect on the nervous system and opens channels for the free flow of energy, also known as Qi.  Not only that, but the insertion of needles into acupuncture points releases endorphins which help with focus, a feeling of wellbeing, and enhanced creativity.  Without even realizing it, I was boosting my own brain power!


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

Sara Ackerman:   Aside from obsessing over several of my books in the works, ones I have already written but am revising, I’m in love with exploring the Big Island.  Even though my grandparents lived here and I’ve been coming here my whole life, I only moved here two years ago from Oahu.  On the weekends, I love going to the Volcano and adventuring out into the lava fields to watch the eruption or hiking through the rainforest and seeking out the adorable endangered native birds––i’iwi, apapane, and amakihi to name a few––which are only found high on our volcanoes.  I’m looking to join some local reforestation groups to help plant more native trees and give these little birds a better chance at survival. We also have some of the most beautiful ocean in Hawaii just fifteen minutes away, so I take my stand up paddleboard, my mask and snorkel and paddle up and down the coastline every chance I get.  Right now it’s humpback whale season and they come in very close here,  so on any given day, you’re likely to see a handful of whales.  There is so much beauty here, I feel very blessed!

L.L.: What’s next for you? More historical fiction, something else?

Sara Ackerman: I have another historical fiction manuscript due to my publisher tomorrow! This one is another WWII story set around Pearl Harbor.  I also have a handful of other contemporary novels all set in Hawaii that blend love, intrigue, a dash of history, and adventure.  I love them all and hope to share them with the world soon.  On top of that, I have two more book ideas that I can’t wait to get started on, as well as partnering up with my friend Lilly Barels on a book project.  I’m intrigued at the idea of co-writing a book and can’t wait to try it.

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

Sara Ackerman:  No, but I love to talk writing, so if anyone has any questions, feel free to visit my website or follow me on Twitter or Instagram!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of ISLAND OF SWEET PIES AND SOLDIERS, please see:

Order Links:

SaraAckermanWebABOUT THE AUTHOR: Born and raised in Hawaii, Sara studied journalism and later earned graduate degrees in psychology and Chinese medicine.  Prior to practicing acupuncture, she worked as a high school counselor and teacher on the famed north shore of Oahu, where surf often took precedence over school.  She is the author of six novels –  Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, Fallen WatersVolcano House, The Ranch at Redwater, Salt and Seaweed, and Honeycreepers – with a bunch more itching to be written.  She blames Hawaii for her addiction to writing, and sees no end to its untapped stories.

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


WP_20180123_13_37_56_Rich_LI (3).jpg

[Cover and author image courtesy of S. Ackerman and used with permission. Bird images from Wikipedia, berry picking in HI retrieved from , woman paddleboarding from Pinterest, no source noted; sugar cane weigh station retrieved from, all on 2.15.18]

WeekEND Reading: A Child Raffled Off at a World’s Fair? Jamie Ford tackles that and the seedier side of life in his third historical novel, LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES, plus he feels the first draft took too long, women’s rights, embracing his identity as Chinese-American & more

By Leslie Lindsay

From the bestselling author of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET comes a powerful novel of inspired by a true story of a young boy raffled off at a little known World’s Fair (AYP/Seattle), which left me hopeful and nostalgic, and definitely a fan of Jamie Ford. 

I so enjoyed LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES, which captivated me from the first page and sent me into a the lovely dual time periods of the early 20th century (1902-1911) and the mid-twentieth century (1962) as we follow Ernest Young from underprivileged China, then stripped from his mother to board a cramped ship en route the U.S. The first few chapters are particularly harrowing and are a bit reminiscent of the African slave trade; it will pull at your heart strings

Ernest (whose name was changed from Kun-ai), is placed in an orphanage in Seattle, attends a fancy boarding school as a charity student, but he’s not happy. An opportunity arises for more ‘adventure’ and Ernest is raffled off at the AYP (Alaska-Yukon-Pacific) World’s Fair. He’s 12 years old.

vancouver-bc-may-30-2017-copy-photo-of-1909-alaska-yukBut who has the winning raffle ticket is what will blow your mind. Ernest is not sent to a loving family who desperately want a child; his life is on the seedier sides of the track, so to speak. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving it away, but we are met with a cast of very colorful characters, issues involving race (Ernest is half-Chinese, half-Caucasian), of not really fitting into either culture, and also love and issues of morality.

In 1962, we meet Ernest’s grown daughters and their quest to learn the truth of their dad’s past. One daughter is an investigative journalist and she handles this story with aplomb and sensitivity.

Jamie Ford is such a gifted writer and was completely thrust into his world, the scenery is amazing, his use of historical facts truly organic and relevant; I found LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES a glimpse into not just the heart of the characters, but also the author. Absolutely Stunning!

Today, I am so, so honored to welcome Jamie Ford to the blog. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Jamie, wow. The second chapter—the imagery, the desperation, the harrowing tale you set out to describe blew me away. I know stories have to capture not just the reader, but the writer as well. It’s evident that your fascination with Chinese-American history inspired LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES, but what more can you tell us about the impetus of this tale?

Jamie Ford: Um, yeah, there’s a dark moment early in the book. (Sorry about that). So dark that a friend bought the book, began reading, and then texted me: THERE’S DEAD BABY ON PAGE 8. THIS BETTER GET HAPPIER IN A HURRY, FORD. So, there’s that.

And really, the impetus for that scene is centered around the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which limited migration of Chinese workers to the US safely, but opened a black market of human trafficking, indentured servitude, and misery. Tragically, people risked life and limb to get here and many died in the process. Not unlike many coming to this country today.170px-Chineseexclusionact.JPG

L.L.: LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES struck a chord with me in several ways, but one is that I have a twelve year old daughter myself. I couldn’t imagine sending (giving?) her away! But this is 2017 and the world is a different place. Or is it? Also, my own grandfather was once ‘sold.’ He was the second boy in a family of four. He was small and scrappy. The family traveled and didn’t have much money. They exchanged money for their son. The man took him to a barber shop for a haircut and learned he had lice. My grandfather wasn’t wanted and returned to his family. His parents were angry about returning the money. I share this because Ernest Young endured a similar fate. The buying and selling of children is ghastly. Also, another point is the truth behind your fiction is that in ‘real life,’ the child raffled off at the 1909 fair was an infant, not a 12 year old. Can you talk about that, please?

Jamie Ford: It’s true that a boy was donated by the Washington Children’s Receiving home and raffled off at the 1909 World’s Fair in Seattle. His name was Ernest. And in reality, he was an infant. But, as an author, I wanted a point-of-view character who could see and remember the fair, so I made him an older child.

The genesis of that again came from a contemporaneous article in a Washington newspaper in which a woman wrote in asking for a 12-year-old boy—basically she said, “I want the ugliest boy you have. I know hard work will bring out the best in such a lad.” And a gentleman from the receiving home, the same man depicted in the book, wrote back saying he had a boy she could have. The casual nature of adoption and the implication of servitude drove much of the narrative in my novel.

“Irresistibly magnificent . . . How does a novel genius top himself? Jamie Ford’s newest takes an extraordinary moment in history, where vice lives alongside innocence, and transforms it into a dazzling, hold-your-breath story about the families we make and the ones we are thrust into, about who we are, and who we dreamed we could be.”—Caroline Leavitt, author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

L.L.:  Much of LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES is about race and culture and mixed race individuals not really feeling at home in any particular place. This is true of many biracial individuals, yourself included. Can you shed a little more light on that?

Jamie Ford: It’s always a challenge when you have each foot planted into a different culture. I was often confused growing up. I never felt Chinese enough, because I didn’t speak Cantonese like my dad. And I never felt white enough, because…we ate weird things like chicken feet and dried cuttlefish. So, while growing up is always a weird search for identity and self-definition, it’s even harder when compounded by culture.

Now I happily identify as Chinese American, but for years, when filling out student loan applications, for example, and there’s a box for WHITE or ASIAN—I never knew which to select.

As a mixed-race friend once joked, “Just ask yourself, which parent do I love more today?”

L.L.: The seedier side of life is depicted….well, beautifully in this novel. There’s political and social unrest, the red-light district of Seattle, and even the selling of virginity. What kind of research did you embark upon for LOVE & OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES?

Jamie Ford: As I was heading out on book tour, my publicist suggested, “You really should talk about your personal experiences as they relate to the novel.” Um…I don’t know how much time you’ve spent in brothels or what the mean average for brothel-time is in America, but whatever the average is, I can assure you I’m well below it.

However, I did find some amazing people to interview. One was a brilliant and charismatic woman named Maggie McNeil, who is an expert on Seattle’s historical red-light district and sex work in general. That’s because Maggie is both a librarian, and a high paid escort. She changed my perceptions of librarians and sex workers at the same time. [Image below: ‘World’s largest house of prostitution,’ Public Street in Seattle, WA; retrieved from]


L.L.: Similarly, how long does it take for you to write a solid draft of this breadth?

Jamie Ford: Ooooooohhh…tricky question. My knee-jerk reaction is it took too long. Which is my fault, really. I think three months for a draft is reasonable, but this one took a year, mainly because I was too self-conscious. With a first novel, there are no expectations, but after the success of both Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Songs of Willow Frost, I was suddenly writing with the world looking over my shoulder. Not really, but certainly in my mind. It took a while to just get back to writing for the sake of writing.

L.L.: I liked the 1962 period of the story, too. Do you find you like working in this bifurcated narrative? Do you write in order, or all historical pieces at once then braid in the ‘present-day’ sections? What’s your method?

Jamie Ford:  I do love bouncing around I time, but I always write in a linear fashion—as the chapters flow in the book, regardless of time period, is the way it spills out of my brain. It might have been easier to write all of the 1909 chapters, then all of the 1962 scenes, and later weave them together, but for some reason the back and forth is more enjoyable in its construct.

I’m taking it further with the next book, which will be both historical and speculative. Wish me luck!


L.L.: I feel I could ask questions all day! What do you hope others take away from LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION PRIZES?

Jamie Ford: Hmmm…the takeaway. I guess I’d hope that readers appreciate the roles of women and how they’ve changed (or haven’t changed) from 1909 to the 60s and later today.

By that I mean, my grandmother was born at a time when women couldn’t vote. And one of the books I used for research was titled What Can a Woman Do? It was published in 1884, and the author was Mrs. M. L. Rayne—so the author couldn’t even write a book under her own name, it was her husband’s name on the cover.
So much has changed. But still, not nearly enough.

L.L.: What’s keeping you up at night? I’ll be honest, for me, it’s redecorating my writing space. I think it might help with the muse.  

Jamie Ford:  My new book, honestly. It’s weirder, more ambitious, and more sprawling in scale than anything I’ve ever tackled. I’d tell you more about it, but then I’d be up all night, again.

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

Jamie Ford:  You forgot to ask my go-to karaoke song? Seriously, everyone should have one. Mine would be anything that’s a duet—that’s the move—the have someone else to share the shame with. Aside from that, thanks for the interview, and to folks out there—thanks for reading!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of LOVE AND OTHER CONSOLATION  PRIZES, please see:

Order links:

JamieFordMinChungABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and went on to win the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. His work has been translated into 35 languages. His latest novel, Love And Other Consolations Prizes was published September 12, 2017. [about image: One is me, one is my great-grandfather, Min Chung, who later changed his name to William Ford (long story…)]

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


[Cover, author image, and footer retrieved from author’s webpage with permission of author. Bird’s eye view of AYP World’s Fair retrieved from, first page of Chinese Exclusion Act retrieved from Wikipedia, What Can a Woman Do image retrieved from; all on 2.14.18]