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Wednesdays with Writers: Fiona Davis on several of my favorite topics–psychiatry, journalism, architecture & design; oh and The Dakota, NYC, and her stunning new historical novel, THE ADDRESS and how she was once a very horse-crazy girl

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Fiona Davis’s brilliant new book, THE ADDRESS, takes readers on a journey to historical NYC and into the famed Dakota Apartment building. 

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With 2016’s debut of THE DOLLHOUSE, Fiona Davis made one of the most stunning entrances as an author who knows her way around historical fiction. I was mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get my hands on THE ADDRESS. Rest assured, this is no sophomore slump; I adored it.

The Dakota. You may know it as the apartment building where ROSEMARY’S BABY was filmed, or perhaps where John Lennon died, or maybe you just think of it as a Bavarian monstrosity on the Upper West End where may playwrights, actors, writers, musicians live.

THE ADDRESS is constructed in dual-time periods, 1884 and 1985 respectively, which draws a natural suspense. The writing is evocative, historically rich, and mysterious.Beginning in London, we meet Sara Smythe, a housekeeper at the Langham and follow her on a journey across the Atlantic where she lands in the outskirts of a developing NYC. 250px-Dakota_Building

Sara is to be the new managerette of the soon-to-be opened The Dakota. She’s aghast at the primitive location–farmland and empty lots, unpaved streets. Still, she’s alone and unwilling to run home. I found Sara to be extremely likable, sympathetic, relatable, and quite strong. She’s not your typical kowtowing woman of the Victorian Era.

One hundred years later, in 1985 NYC, Bailey Camden is an interior designer charged with renovating The Dakota. But she’s not impressed with the design ideas which would trump the original design aesthetics of the historic building.

Oh but there’s more–and to say too much would be giving it all away–let’s just say there’s love and loss, success and ruin, mystery, poor decisions, passion and madness that drive the plotI absolutely loved the clear sense of place in THE ADDRESS, the vivid details and found it to be a very engaging piece of historical fiction.

Slide over on that silk settee and join me in conversation with Fiona Davis.

Leslie Lindsay: Fiona, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back to the blog couch. I was so taken with THE ADDRESS mainly because it combines several of my passions: architecture, interior design, and madness. I know THE ADDRESS was inspired, in part by your work on THE DOLLHOUSE, but what more can you tell us about the origins of this tale?

Fiona Davis: I am so glad you enjoyed it! I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for twenty-five years, and had walked by the Dakota hundreds of times, staring up at those enormous windows, wondering what it was like to live there. I realized that setting a book there would give me the perfect excuse to get inside (and was eventually able to do that, through roundabout connections to a couple of very generous tenants). As I dug deeper into its history, I knew it was the perfect choice for a dual-narrative historical fiction novel. The building had undergone many changes since it opened in 1884 on the edge of Central Park, back when the neighborhood was described by one newspaper as full of “rocks, swamps, goats, and shanties.” By the 1980s, a couple of tenants had torn down the period details from their apartments and replaced them with shag carpets and wall-to-ceiling mirrors. It was the perfect way to compare and contrast two “gilded ages,” as well as the way women’s roles and voices have changed over a century.

L.L.: So I have to know: which characters were ‘real’ and which were from your imagination? I am guessing Sara Smythe was a composite character…but what about Theodore Camden? Henry Hardenbergh? Oh, and Nellie Brown had to have been Nellie Bly?

Fiona Davis: Sara Smythe and Theodore Camden are fictional characters. I knew I wanted to have an architect in the 1880s time line, so that he and Sara Smythe could team up to get the building ready for opening day. Henry Hardenbergh was the actual architect for the Dakota (and the Plaza Hotel and a number of other fabulous buildings), so I didn’t mind having him make a cameo, but I didn’t want to try to fit his life into my story. That’s where Theo came in – he’s in charge of the interiors for the building and I could make him do my bidding without any constraints.

Nellie Bly, a journalist for the New York World during the 1880s, actually went by the name Nellie Brown when she went undercover to expose the injustices at Blackwell’s Island Asylum. She’s the real deal in the book.

L.L.: In my former career, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. To say I am fascinated in psychiatry—especially historical psychiatry—is a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t get over the harsh conditions you depicted on Blackwell Island in the book. In fact, I’ve been searching for Nellie Bly’s TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE for years! (I want it in hardback; it’s a challenging find).  Can you tell us a little about how that piece of the story came to be? What research did you do?

Fiona Davis: I had heard about Nellie Bly when I was studying for a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia, and I naturally gravitated to her first-hand account of life in an 1880’s women’s insane asylum during my initial research. After reading TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE, I took the tram over to what’s now called Roosevelt Island to visit the remaining structure, the Octagon, which today serves as the lobby to a condo. In my book, I hope the harrowing backdrop of the asylum makes an interesting counterpoint to luxuriousness of the Dakota.

L.L.: As with THE ADDRESS and THE DOLLHOUSE, where there any iconic sites you ‘visited’ in your research (or in the book) that will appear in a forthcoming book?

Fiona Davis: In addition to checking out the Octagon on Roosevelt Island, I modeled the library for the ball scene after the one at the Morgan Library & Museum, and used the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street as inspiration for Daisy’s family’s
apartment. Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota, is an important location in the book as well. The next book will be set at Grand Central Terminal – one of New York City’s most famous iconic buildings – and I’m having a blast working on it.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
“A delicious tale of love, lies and madness.”
— People

L.L.: What do you find most rewarding about writing historical fiction? What are 2960-Central_Park-Strawberry_Fieldssome of the challenges?

Fiona Davis: I love the research phase, when anything is possible and the ideas are bubbling away. The challenge comes when you have to narrow down the plot and characters and come up with a story that accurately represents the time periods but also keeps the reader guessing. Another reward is hearing from readers. I’ve been doing a lot of author talks in bookstores and libraries and the response has been incredibly warm and enthusiastic.

L.L.: Childhood plays a prominent role in THE ADDRESS. What item(s) from your own childhood do you still, even occasionally, pine for? (an article of clothing, toy, book, something else?)

Fiona Davis: Back when I was around eight years old, I took a book out of my local library about a girl who’s horse crazy, and finally gets to ride a horse for an entire summer before realizing that taking care of it is a lot of hard work. It was my favorite book – I was horse crazy but deeply moved by the character’s insights and transformation – and I must’ve checked out the book dozens of times to re-read. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name. If anyone has read that book and remembers the title, please reach out to me! It was something like “Ride ‘Em, Sally.” But not that. I know, ridiculous, right?

L.L.: Fiona, it’s been a pleasure.  What might have I forgotten to ask about?

Fiona Davis: Not a thing – I loved these questions – thank you so much!

For more information, to connect with Fiona Davis via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ADDRESS, please see:

FionaDavis_Credit KristenJensen.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, she changed careers and began working as an editor and writer. Her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is based in New York City. You can find her at www.FionaDavis.net.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line hangouts:

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Dutton and used with permission. Image of The Dakota retrieved from Wikipedia, historical images of Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) and Henry Hardenberg from Wikipedia, as is octagon images of Roosevelt/Blackwell’s Island and Strawberry Fields memorial. Fall book wreath from L. Lindsay’s archives.] 

 

Writers on Wednesday: How characters are like ‘lost souls’ at the airport, ghosts, old farm houses, and more in Elizabeth Brundage’s ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR is like a slow boil, starting out  with tender delicate prose  and reaching a gritty climax.all-things-cease-to-appear-1

The story is  harrowing. Spooky, even. The characters are cold and stiff (quite literally, and that’s not just for the ones who are dead). ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR is written almost in a frame style, that is, the book opens with a murder, then becomes filled in with a deliciously creepy and unsettling backstory/character study into the mind of sociopath, finishing off with an end-cap to the murder set in the first few pages.

It’s at first blush, a ghost story, but there’s so much more to it, combining dark noir with gothic in a story about two families, one farmhouse, all of whom are wrapped in their own unhappiness, with a ribbon of art history, like a river running through connecting the gruesome unsolved murder.

I am super-honored to have Elizabeth Brundage sit down and chat with us about her inspiration, her process, and the book. Please, join us.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand there’s a real-life house that inspired you to write ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR. Can you talk about that, mainly because I’m completely intrigued with houses, architecture, and the stories they encompass, but also because I love a little tingle up my spine, too.

Elizabeth Brundage: Who can resist a good ghost story?  We all know that house in town with the dark windows, the rusty swing set in the back – we can’t seem to pull our eyes away from it.  We know that something happened there, something bad.  There are actually two houses that inspired me to write this book.  First, there was the house where the real ax murder occurred, in an upstate New York suburb.  I went to look at houses with a realtor who originally told me the story about a horrific murder that had happened in the neighborhood and was still – and still is – unsolved.  That actual case served as inspiration, the underlying foundation upon which I built this novel, but the characters are all inventions – just about everything in this book is made up except for some of the details of that case and the frustrating reality that the murderer was never brought to justice.  Years passed and three books later I finally decided to download-1write about it.  At one point over all those years we rented a little house in a rural town near where my husband was working.  It was an early nineteenth century cape in an historic country hamlet and it turned out to be haunted.  I had never lived in a house with ghosts before!  I was as skeptical as the next person, but after living there and experiencing some of the weird things that happened (you can read the full story on my website) I became a believer.  I decided these true experiences could come together in one novel that ultimately considers some of the abstract questions so many of us consider when we think about death.

L.L.: You start the story with the murder of Catherine Clare and then go backward in time to an amazing backstory, shaping the lives of all these characters. In that sense, it’s very noir. But it also sort of reads as a frame story. Can you talk about how you decided to structure ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR? Was the murder your ‘hook,’ to use a writerly term, or was it just the most organic way to lay out your story?

Elizabeth Brundage: Organic is the key word in your question, which is to say that I wasn’t conscious of writing a “frame” story although it very much seems to be the definition of one.  And while the murder serves as an essential “hook” to involve the reader, it wasn’t what interested me most; I was much more interested in exploring the relationships of the people whose lives were affected by the murder.  I think when something like this happens in a town, the townspeople never forget and the story is told again and again and the scene of the crime becomes as much a landmark of the place as the church on Main Street or the post office or the bar that fortifies the legendary town drunk.

Brundage’s searing, intricate novel epitomizes the best of the literary thriller, marrying gripping drama with impeccably crafted prose…

~Publishers Weekly [boxed review]

L.L.: And there are a lot of characters. Almost all of them—even the unsettling, creepy ones—I liked. Because they are flawed, because they are real. Do you have an affinity for any one in particular? (I know, I know…kind of like choosing your favorite child.)

Elizabeth Brundage: My favorite character is Cole for his sweetness, kindness, his perceptions about the people around him.  I also have a soft spot for his brother, Eddy, because he reminds me of my husband in his early 20s.  Justine is my favorite female character because I recognize her as a woman I would be friendly with.  I admire her strength and courage and determination to do what’s right and good in life.  She is someone who has become the best or at least the most honest version of herself – I think so many of us strive to be that.

L.L.: There’s a fun, late-1970s, early 1980s vibe about the book, I’m curious what your research (if any!) was like to get things ‘right?’   

Elizabeth Brundage: I did a lot of research, but I grew up in the 70s and a lot of the period details I relied on came from memory.  The Country Squire Station Wagon that Catherine drives, for instance, was the car I was allowed to drive in high school to get to my ballet lessons.  I can still remember rolling down the windows to smoke (sneak) a cigarette on the way home. download-2

L.L.: What was your timeframe for writing this novel? It’s complex and so well done, and spans about twenty years, it’s in a sense, a beast. But a good beast, a darn good one.

Elizabeth Brundage: Thank you, you’re right – it is a beast!  The book is loosely based on a real cold case that I heard about back in the 90s.  It stayed in my mind for over 20 years before I could actually write about it.  I wasn’t really keen on writing a story about an ax murder and years passed, years of thinking and thinking, before I found and understood the other characters, the farm, the boys, the people of the town, and could make them real on the page.  That may sound strange when I use the word “found” but, in the early stages of writing a novel, finding your character(s) is something like trying to find one person in a crowded airport – until you find him, you are just fumbling along like a person with jetlag, disoriented, confused, weighed down with heavy bags.  Once you find your character, the trick is getting him into your car, hearing him speak, smelling him, searching his pockets, trying to get your hands on his passport to see where he’s been and where he’s going.  Writing a novel takes time.  There’s just no way around it, you can’t really do it fast.  This book took me years to write because I kept having characters show up at my door – lost souls.  They’d stand there looking at me, their suitcases at their feet, waiting for me to invite them in.

L.L.: The story is about how guilt shapes the present, how sometimes it’s not just places that are haunted, but people, circumstances. It’s about finding truth, it’s about *being* the truth. At least that was my read. What do you hope readers take away from ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR?

Elizabeth Brundage: I really like your summary, Leslie, and I hope other readers take away what you did.  I think it’s true that as life goes on we all become a little bit haunted by some of the bad things we experience in life.  We can recover and move on, but we never forget. As life happens to us, we change shape – under dramatic circumstances, we can even become a different version of our original selves.  I was interested in the old farmhouse being a kind of monument to hard times, the landmark of a terrible crime.  I suppose I’d like readers to take away whatever strikes them as meaningful.  All readers are certainly not alike.  People read certain books for different reasons.  I am always looking for something new when I read – I want to be gently enlightened by a character’s perspective or insight.  I would hope that readers empathize with Catherine, who is stuck in a bad marriage to an increasingly dangerous man and can’t seem to find her way out. The theme of loss runs through the book and I think we all experience loss in our lives, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a home or the sense of safety, the loss of our childhood selves, the loss of love – but there are also the elements of light and love that guide us forward, the beauty of nature, faith, trust, the relationships that bring us joy and keep us safe. download-3

L.L.: What’s keeping you up at night? What’s inspiring you? And hopefully it’s not ax murderers!

Elizabeth Brundage: To write fiction, you need to be a close observer of life, a keen listener.  You want to try to understand what motivates behavior.  I think it’s important to know the world of your characters, whatever world that is.  You have to know your people.  Like most writers, I am trying to reflect some aspect of the world I see around me.  People are the reason I write.  There is no shortage of interesting people out there – our lives are rich with problems and struggle – conflict – and when you come right down to it we are all just trying to get through the day.

L.L.: What did I forget to ask, but you’d like to answer?

Elizabeth Brundage: Your questions were wonderful, Leslie, and I was so happy to have the opportunity to answer them.  Thank you!!

L.L.: Elizabeth, it was such a pleasure! Thank  you so much for your time and wonderful read.

Elizabeth Brundage: My pleasure – thank you right back.

For more information, or to connect with Elizabeth Brundage on social media, please see:

elizabeth-brundage-author-photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Brundage graduated from Hampshire College, attended the NYU film school, was a screenwriting fellow at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, and received an MFA as well as a James Michener Award from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She has taught at a variety of colleges and universities, most recently at Skidmore College, where she was visiting writer-in-residence. She lives near Albany in upstate New York.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these various social media channels:

[Cover and Author images courtesy of H. Tobin at Viking and used with permission. Cape Cod style home and Ford Country Squire station wagon retrieved from Wikipedia; winding road image from all retrieved 9.12.16].

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Lauren Acampora, author of THE WONDER GARDEN

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By Leslie Lindsay WONDER GARDEN

Oh. My. Gosh. I can’t stop thinking about Lauren Acampora’s debut. It’s dark, it’s brilliant. It’s utterly amazing. I wanted to finish reading because I loved the stories, the words, the depth and perception. Still, I wallowed in book limbo when I closed the cover for the final time; nothing compared to the carefully cultivated words that is THE WONDER GARDEN. Today, I am thrilled and honored to have Lauren on our blog couch.

L.L.: Lauren, thank you so much for popping by. I knew I was going to fall into the tangles of your prose after reading the first line. And then when the second line had something to do with a house, well, I was all over it. Can you tell us how the stories in THE WONDER GARDEN came to be? What was your inspiration?

Lauren Acampora: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me. I’m so glad you loved the book—and that you share my infatuation with houses! The stories in THE WONDER GARDEN sprang very much from looking at, and into, the houses in my area. I grew up in an upscale suburban town in Connecticut, which as a teenager I considered too polished and sheltered to be any fun, but after living for many years in the city (less polish, more fun), I moved to a New York suburb not far from my hometown. This time around, the suburbs are fascinating to me. From the very first weeks in our new home, I started thinking about the lives of the people inside the neighboring houses, how varied and unusual they were sure to be, despite the conventionality of the exteriors. I had the idea of writing stories about people in their homes—how they think of themselves and their neighbors—but thought I wouldn’t get to it until much later.

L.L.: Much of the theme has to do with darker secrets festering under the clean-cut façade of suburbia. Was your intention to sort of “unearth” those truths?

Lauren Acampora: I really didn’t set out to expose the festering secrets of suburbia, per se. I’m always driven by character first, and there’s rarely a character (or real person, for that matter) without a secret or problem or insecurity of some sort. To me, that’s where fictional interest lies. My only conscious intention was to reflect as accurately as possible how I thought these characters viewed themselves and others; to capture their most private, unfiltered thoughts, judgments and desires. But there is undoubtedly a stark contrast between the jagged interior lives of these characters and their manicured surroundings. Perhaps that’s why I’m so often drawn to suburban settings, rather than urban or rural. There’s a special clash of dark and light there that seems to create a kind of natural statement about the American dream. That’s a further dimension that holds interest for me, and hopefully for readers too.

L.L.: Homes, neighborhoods, suburbia…there’s something so very transparent—yet veiled—about our interior lives. What, in your opinion, is so alluring about the homes we inhabit?

Lauren Acampora: It seems to me that we, particularly as Americans, put so much stock in real estate; that we almost consider our homes to be extensions of ourselves. Just look at the proliferation of home-centered magazines and TV shows in this country! Perhaps it’s a byproduct of our pioneering history, this notion of journeying out to stake a piece of land, erect a structure, and fashion it in a way that is fully ours… In any case, the contemporary frenzy for home improvement and décor sends a strong message about our hunger for (or anxiety around) creative expression. So many of us aim to use our homes—inside and out—as a means of projecting an ideal self.

The other thing I find interesting about our homes is how they represent the push-and-pull between individuality and community. There’s a narrow boundary between individual freedom of the property owner and responsibility to the community. I find the conflicts that arise in this boundary to be rich mining for fiction. As a private property owner, one has the right to behave and express oneself freely—up to a point. After that point, there’s an expectation and a duty to function as part of a community; to conform. In a suburban neighborhood, there’s an unspoken expectation that neighbors will keep their property up to a certain standard, that they’ll respect the interdependency of property values. The conflicts that arise when someone flouts this communal responsibility say so much about the identities we desire. As a new homeowner in the suburbs, I was immediately and keenly aware of this responsibility, and of ever-churning feelings of pride and shame in my home. My identity felt so strangely wrapped up in what color we chose to paint the front porch!

And then there’s a whole other layer of internal conflict, I find, in people trying to reconcile their domestic preoccupations with awareness and concern for the outside world. In privileged communities, in particular, there can be a vacillation between seeking engagement with the outside world, and a competing desire to shut it out; to retreat into these comfortable, customized sanctuaries.

L.L.: I don’t want to give away too much of THE WONDER GARDEN, but the stories vary so greatly—from an under-the-table deal with a surgeon to a man who leaves his corporate job to become a healer—yet they are all interconnected. How did you dream up this structure? Do you have any personal experiences or connections with any of the stories?

Lauren Acampora: I’d actually been working on a novel about the man who leaves his corporate job to become a healer, told from the perspective of his anxious wife, but wasn’t happy with the final result. After a short period of despair, I resolved to salvage whatever I could of the characters, even if that meant turning a three-hundred page novel into a short story. At the time, I happened to be reading Elizabeth Strout’s wonderful OLIVE KITTERIDGE, and was impressed by how the linked-story format gave rise to something that was more than the sum of its parts. It occurred to me that I could use this model to expand my abridged healer story into something much more interesting. So I took some of the ancillary characters from the novel (friends and neighbors of the protagonist) and gave them their own stories—then roped in a few earlier stories with a similar setting. That’s when the sparks started to fly.

There’s not too much in the way of personal experiences or connections to the stories. We did have a home inspector visit our house before closing, of course, and my curiosity about that particular line of work spawned “Ground Fault.” My husband happened to have been at a corporate advertising job when we moved to the suburbs, and were expecting our first child, just like the couple in “The Umbrella Bird,” but he hasn’t become a New Age healer—at least not yet. And as for “Moon Roof,” I admit that I’ve sat at a stop sign far too long waiting to make a turn, berating myself for missed opportunities, and have sometimes wondered if I’d end up spending the night there.

L.L.: I understand you have a little one of your own now. Was she, or your new motherhood, inspiration to any of the stories?

Lauren Acampora: My daughter was, in a way, inspiration for all of the storiesin that I found it impossible to write a novel after she was born! Part of the reason I abandoned the original novel was that, with a newborn, I could barely keep the plot straight in my head. Short stories were much more manageable in the short bursts of writing time I could grab. I wrote all of “Ground Fault” with the baby sleeping on my lap, literally reaching over her body to type on my laptop. My back ached, but it was worth it to be able to hold up that story and know I could still finish something.

As for whether my experiences and thoughts about motherhood found their way into the stories themselves—absolutely. Motherhood is such a complicated role, and at least in this small part of the world, it can sometimes seem a package of draconian rules and expectations and judgments. Depending on the day, I can feel a thousand different ways about it all. And parenthood stirs up such a mix of love and guilt and frustration and pride. The story “Floortime” directly explores the conflict that arises between creative work and parenthood; in that case, heightened by the additional demands of a special-needs child. “Sentry” is about parental self-delusion, failure to acknowledge one’s own failings as a parent, and instead projecting failure and neglect onto other parents. And “Visa” channels the frustration of having to subsume one’s younger, freer identity to the mature role of parent. Camille is the embodiment of this frustration, a single mother plotting an escape from the suffocating expectations of the “mommy police.”

L.L.: Can you tell us a bit about your writing life? Have you always been a writer? How have you honed the craft? Rituals, routines? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Lauren Acampora: I was a big reader as a child, and always wanted to be a writer. It took a while to get there, though. I wrote poems as a teenager and through college, but didn’t really tackle fiction until I was in my mid-twenties. I was writing these sort of dreamy prose poems, and was rejected from a number of MFA programs, but finally attended the night program at Brooklyn College, which was wonderful for me. I’d been writing in isolation and desperately needed validation, and that’s exactly what I got. After that, I had the confidence to continue, and to push through the years of rejection from literary journals. My writing has matured as I’ve matured. I’ve always felt that you can only write as much and as deeply as you understand life. There’s a certain amount of wisdom that you can’t fake, but have to actually earn through living. That’s what I love about writing; it grows and deepens as you do. It’s a bottomless repository for understanding, and for trying to understand.

Now, what’s a “pantser”? Flying by the seat of the pants, I guess? I’m definitely not a pantser, then! I take preliminary notes that outline everything, beginning to end. Then I add as much detail to those notes as I can. That outline serves as my skeleton. Then I putter around, adding more details and dialogue, fleshing out the bones of the skeleton bit by bit, until full sentences begin to form. I work on the computer and keep the document single-spaced through the whole note-taking stage. Eventually, when I’ve turned all the jotted outline notes into full sentences—fleshed out the body, so to speak—I move stuff around, smooth out transitions, and so on. That’s how I sculpt my way to a rough draft. Then, and only then, do I double-space the document and begin to really edit. Finally, I’ll print it out and go through it again with a pen.

Then my husband reads it. Then my friend, who I met in my MFA program years ago and who’s a gifted reader and editor, gives it the business. If it gets past her, it goes to my agent.

I used to have all kinds of neurotic little writing rituals—a certain snack, a cup of tea (or whiskey), a table and chair in the absolute middle of the room—but parenthood has eliminated all of that.   I’ve learned to write anywhere, under all kinds of circumstances: in someone’s basement with kids stomping and screaming above, in a cafe with the TV news blaring, in the driver’s seat of the car. My only preferences at this point are a window and a glass of water.

L.L.: What is obsessing you and why?

Lauren Acampora: You might say I’m obsessed with the obsessed. I’ve always been drawn to subcultures, and I really think there’s one for everything. If you can imagine it, there’s a subculture around it. I think it’s so interesting how people with obscure interests or eccentricities seek out kindred spirits and form tight-knit communities with some commonality at the core, whether it’s croquet, Legos, fishkeeping, or foot fetishization. And now with the internet, there are safe havens where people with even the most far-out, bizarre, or aberrant enthusiasms can find their place and feel normalized. And these communities, whatever their focus, tend to generate their own rules, generosities and trivialities—which are all so telling of human nature.   For the story “The Virginals,” I really enjoyed learning about the vibrant Living History community, people brought together by their shared love of Colonial-era America. It’s an expansive, multi-layered community with its own hierarchies, industries, and social circles, and I couldn’t get enough of it.

L.L.: What are you currently working on?

Lauren Acampora: I’ve extensively revised a novel, also with a suburban setting, and will be getting that ready as a follow-up to The Wonder Garden. I’ve also been working on a new novel with a completely different setting, which explores some of the subcultural theme I just mentioned.But right now, today, I’m fleshing out the skeleton of a stand-alone short story, getting back into the writing routine after the publication frenzy. Feels good to be back at it.

L.L. Lauren, thank you so much for being with us today! We so enjoyed it!Lauren Acampora c Sarah Landis

Lauren: I’ve really enjoyed [it]…such thoughtful questions!

Lauren Acampora’s fiction has appeared in the Paris Review,Missouri Review, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, and Antioch Review. Raised in Connecticut, she now lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband, artist Thomas Doyle, and their daughter.

[Author and cover images courtesy of author/publicist. Green house image retrieved from http://www.bookdrum.com, black & white colonial from hookedonhouses.net, adirondak chairs from connecticut.mommypoppins.com, all retrieved on 6.22.15]