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WeekEND Reading: Heather Gudenkauf on her most personal thriller yet, who her favorite character is, why nurses aren’t boring, grit, determination, oh–and a dead body–in her new book, NOT A SOUND

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By Leslie Lindsay 

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf churns out her most personal, and powerful story yet with NOT A SOUND, rife with medical mysteries and a murder, too. 

Not A Sound cover
When a tragic accident leaves ER nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose anything she ever cared about: her career, her husband, and her 7-year old stepdaughter, Nora.

It’s two years after that fateful night in which Amelia loses her hearing when she stumbles across a dead body in the dense brush by the river where she likes to paddleboard–someone she knows. I don’t want to give away too much, but it goes without saying that she gets wrapped up in the murder case. Clues seem so familiar to her own, earlier accident which caused her deafness. Could the two be related?

Told entirely from Amelia’s first-person POV, the writing in NOT A SOUND is taut, emotional, fast-paced, and Gudenkauf’s research clearly shows.
Amelia Winn is strong, capable and I was definitely rooting for her. And her service dog, Stitch, who really kind of became the star, at least for me.

I’m super-thrilled to welcome Heather back to the blog couch to chat about her amazing new novel, NOT A SOUND (Park Row, May 30). Plus, it’s a REAL SIMPLE magazine pick of the month! 

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome back, Heather! I practically devoured NOT A SOUND. It was a rainy weekend in Chicagoland and I couldn’t put it down. I might be wrong in saying this, but I felt the pace of this one was much faster than your other books. Can you speak to that, please?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie! NOT A SOUND does have a swift pace. I think I structured the novel this way for several reasons, the first being that at its heart NOT A SOUND is a thriller and the brisk pace lends itself to the tension and suspense that I hoped to achieve. Also a good amount of the novel is set along the Five Mines River and like a fast moving river, the events in NOT A SOUND tumble along at a break neck speed. timthumb

L.L.: I guess before we get too far into the narrative, I’m very curious why this story, why now? I know two things: 1) you’re partially deaf yourself and 2) your son has battled cancer. Those two things alone are hugely personal and sometimes personal things make great fiction, sometimes not. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for NOT A SOUND?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, I tend to weave little snippets of my life – locations, some small experiences – into my novels. And while NOT A SOUND isn’t autobiographical it is the first time that I included such personal topics. I was born with a profound hearing loss that was discovered when I was in elementary school. I’m deaf in my left ear which makes it hard for me to be able to tell where sounds are coming from and in noisy situations I can have a very difficult time understanding others, but most of the time I don’t think twice about it.

My son did battle cancer as a young teen and is now doing great! The entire experience was heartbreaking, painful and absolutely devastating but we also found many blessings during this very difficult time. We had an incredible medical team, family, friends and community there to support us the entire way.

I’ve always wanted to write a story that featured a heroine that happened to be deaf and I knew I wanted to explore the topic of health care and cancer in one of my novels. Writing from the point of view of a character who happens to be deaf was challenging and it was important for me to portray a deaf character accurately and respectfully – I hope I did Amelia justice.

download (5)L.L.: And Amelia! I loved her. A writer friend once said long ago (I’m paraphrasing), “Nurses as characters are boring. Nothing ever happens to them; they are always conscientious and thoughtful and busy saving lives.” I chewed on that a bit. I’m a former R.N. I don’t think of myself as ‘boring.’ I’ve toyed with the idea of a nurse protagonist, too but…well, I lived it and discounted it. Can you talk a little about your research into the nursing profession, procedures and terminology? [P.S. May is also National Nurse Appreciation Week/Month]

Heather Gudenkauf: I absolutely don’t think of nurses as boring! I grew up watching medical dramas like M*A*S*H and Trapper John, MD and was entranced by the capable, methodical nurses who always kept their cool. I knew early on that the nursing profession wasn’t for me, I get a bit woozy around blood, but I’ve been in awe of nurses my entire my life. My mom was a nurse, as was my sister-in-law. Then, of course, there were the nurses who took care of my son during his illness.

For the novel, when it came to the technical aspects of the medical profession, I definitely relied on the experts ~including a great friend who is a nurse and my sister-in-law who is a physician.

L.L.: Amelia isn’t your ‘typical’ goody-two-shoes nurse. She paddle boards and lives in a cute little A-frame on the banks of a river. She’s getting divorced. She has some demons. And then she finds this dead body. How did Amelia’s character evolve for you as you wrote her story?

Heather Gudenkauf: Amelia is definitely not a typical wife, mother or nurse. She came to me in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I knew she was going to be strong and independent, but her other character traits emerged as I wrote the novel. At the outset, Amelia is just getting her life back together after hitting rock bottom. She’s starting from scratch and finally lands a new job and gets to spend time with her step-daughter when she comes upon a grisly discovery while paddling boarding. Immediately Amelia is thrust into a mystery that threatens her own well-being and she needs to utilize every bit of her determination, grit and intelligence to survive.

L.L.: In the terms of medicine, we’re always under the impression that ‘doctor 41m+qEX4S7L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_knows best.’ When we’re in the throes of a medical emergency or a grim diagnosis, we have to put our trust in the trained professionals. In fact, there’s a brand-new memoir [THE TINCTURE OF TIME] out about a mother whose infant was having mysterious strokes and she put all her faith in the medical community. Not everything turned out for the best. So if you were to complete this sentence, “Putting your trust in medicine is____,” what might you say?

Heather Gudenkauf: I love reading memoirs ~ I’ll have to check this one out. I would say “Putting your trust in medicine is absolutely necessary.” But that said, it’s imperative to listen to that little internal voice that tends to pipe up once in a while. Ask the questions, get the second opinion. It can be scary when you have to rely on the expertise of others especially in life and death situations. It’s important to feel comfortable with the care you or a loved one is receiving. Fortunately, my son received top-notch care while he was battling cancer ~ and we are forever grateful for this.

L.L.: What, in your real-life might make a plot for a mystery?

Heather Gudenkauf: Oh, wow! I live a completely boring, nondescript kind of life so I’m afraid that the extent of intrigue in my life comes down to remembering where I lay down my glasses and the book I’m currently reading!

“Twisting, atmospheric and dark, Heather Gudenkauf’s Not A Sound will draw you right into the silent world of Amelia Winn and keep you riveted. This is a thrill ride to be sure, but it’s also a gripping tale of tragedy and redemption. If you haven’t read Heather Gudenkauf yet, now’s the time.”

—Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of The Red Hunter

L.L.: What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Heather Gudenkauf: I’m trying to make healthier meals at home so I Googled a recipe for fried cauliflower rice. It was surprisingly delicious!

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

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you, Leslie ~ I always enjoy chatting with you!   I do want to give a shout out to who is perhaps my favorite character in NOT A SOUND – Stitch, Amelia’s service dog. On more than one occasion Stitch manages to steal the show. He’s a loyal, loveable and excellent in a crisis!images (5)

For more information about NOT A SOUND, to connect with Heather via social media, or to purchase (pre-order, available May 30 2017) your own copy of the book, please see: 

HeatherGudenkauf credit Morgan HawthorneABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden. Heather was born in Wagner, South Dakota, the youngest of six children. At one month of age, her family returned to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota where her father was employed as a guidance counselor and her mother as a school nurse. At the age of three, her family moved to Iowa, where she grew up. Having been born with a profound unilateral hearing loss (there were many evenings when Heather and her father made a trip to the bus barn to look around the school bus for her hearing aids that she often conveniently would forget on the seat beside her), Heather tended to use books as a retreat, would climb into the toy box that her father’s students from Rosebud made for the family with a pillow, blanket, and flashlight, close the lid, and escape the world around her. Heather became a voracious reader and the seed of becoming a writer was planted.

Heather Gudenkauf graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in elementary education, has spent her career working with students of all ages and continues to work in education as a Title I Reading Coordinator. Heather lives in Iowa with her husband, three children, and a very spoiled German Shorthaired Pointer named Lolo. In her free time Heather enjoys spending time with her family, reading and hiking. She is currently working on her next novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media sites:

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Park Row Books and used with permission. Image of nurse retrieved from iStockphotos.com, image of service dog retrieved from anythingispawasble.com. Image of Tincture of Time retrieved from Amazon, all on 5.19.17]

 

Writers on Wednesday: Laura McHugh on her second novel ARROWOOD, old homes, the longing to return home, memory & truth, and how she always reads the ‘crime section’ in the newspaper.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Set primarily in southern Iowa, ARROWOOD (August 9, Random House/Spiegel & Grau) is McHugh’s sophomore novel, but it’s certainly no slump. McHugh is an astute and observant writer weaving touches of Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri in the languid landscape (which I absolutely adored, having lived in most all of those states) in this psychological exploration of family and the stories our homes contain. ARROWOOD

Arrowood is one of the most ornate and glorious homes lining the banks of the Mississippi River in a dying town where many of the old homes are boarded up and left to decay. The town simply cannot sustain themselves any longer. The humidity is high and one can nearly hear the frogs chorusing in trees. When Arden returns from her grad school program in Colorado, it’s mostly because she struggles with finishing her history thesis, but also to inherit her family home. Not only has her father recently passed, but Arden is haunted by the need to know what happened to her baby sisters, twins, who disappeared twenty years ago when they were just 21-months old.

Determined to find answers, Arden connects with various folks from her past, piecing the story together in a page-turning, powerful story examining how our lives are shaped by memory and the need to find truth in closure.

Join me as I welcome Laura back for a second time as we chat about ARROWOOD, old houses, our Missouri upbringing and so much more.

Leslie Lindsay: Laura, it’s great to have you back! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I am enamored with this gorgeous cover. I know, I know…we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Did you have any say in the visual appearance?

Laura McHugh: Thank you for having me! I love the cover, too. I’m not involved in the design process, though they do ask my opinion once the cover has been designed. ARROWOOD actually had a very different cover at first, and it was beautiful, too, but I didn’t love it. There was a young woman with long, pretty hair, and she was gazing at some sort of boathouse on a lake. It was lovely and serene, and nothing about it resembled the mood or the protagonist or the house in the book. They were great about tweaking it—most importantly, switching the house out for one that more closely resembled Arrowood’s Second Empire style—but it still didn’t feel right. I wanted to get rid of the young woman, make the whole thing darker, moodier. Later on, after the first set of advance reader copies had been sent out with that first cover, they gave it a complete overhaul. I was thrilled. This version really feels like my book. I don’t even have a copy with the original cover anymore—my only one was auctioned off at a library benefit.

L.L.: I know you grew up in Missouri and the surrounding states, so I’m curious about “the little white house on South Fourteenth Street,” you mention in your dedication, but most of all, I’m interested in the first spark that became ARROWOOD. Can you speak to that, please?

Laura McHugh: Sure. The little white house is my grandparents’ house in Keokuk, which is nothing like the grand homes in the book. My family moved around a lot, and my grandparents’ house was the one place that always felt like home. It was a tiny one-bedroom, yet whenever the ten of us (I’m one of eight kids) came to visit, the house downloadseemed to magically expand to make room for everyone. Years after my grandparents died, I went back to the house to find the door wide open, and I went inside. It was trashed. Squatters had been living there. I was scared. The entire neighborhood, which had once felt so safe, was menacing. I couldn’t reconcile my memories of this place with what it had become. In one sense, ARROWOOD is about that longing to return home, which in many ways is impossible. I also wanted to write about the decline and decay of a small town, and I combined all of that with a character who has been stuck in the past, haunted by a terrible crime. I wanted to see if she could solve the mystery and find a way forward despite everything crumbling around her.

L.L.: We absolutely have to talk homes! I am crazy about old houses, new houses, abandoned ones, and just about everything in between. In fact, I so related to young Arden with the ‘Guidebook to Area Homes’ tucked under her arm (that was me when I lived in Northfield, MN!) What is it about homes that we—and perhaps, especially writers—find so compelling? And do you have a favorite architectural style or time period?

Laura McHugh: I love the idea of a house having a history—that it’s full of stories you might never know. The first house I lived in had been abandoned for years before my parents bought it, and was said to be haunted. It was Carpenter Gothic220px-Springside_gatehouse, with cathedral windows and curved scrollwork and an ornate staircase that my mother had spent more than a year painstakingly refinishing before the house caught fire. The place was eventually rebuilt, minus the characteristic features that had made it so stunning. When we drive by it now, my mother bemoans the missing balcony, the shortened windows, the lack of trim.

I favor the various styles of the 1800’s, including Second Empire, Gothic Revival, Italianate, and Victorian, and I love to see different styles on the same block, the way you do in old towns like Keokuk. So many subdivisions now are homogenous—rows of nearly identical houses. We incorporated architectural salvage when we built our house, including an arched church window and doors from old houses that had been torn down—small pieces of history in a house with no past.

L.L.: While Arden is in a sense “haunted” by the disappearance of her twin sisters,  ARROWOOD is not exactly a ghost story, though there are definitely creepy things at play; a slight menacing effect. Was this your intention all along, or did it sort of grow organically as the manuscript progressed?

Laura McHugh: Both, I think. I knew that Arden would be “haunted,” but I like the space in between, where you wonder, is there something going on here, or is this in her head? The details came together as the story progressed.

L.L.: In that vein, do you write to plot points, or do you let your characters tell the story?

Laura McHugh:  I’ve tried it both ways. THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD was written without any upfront planning (though I certainly did a lot of organizational work in revisions). I tried to do more of an outline for ARROWOOD, but I found that it took a lot of the pleasure out of writing when I was working toward predetermined points. I do best when I let the story grow from the characters’ desires and motivations and then clean things up 9780812985337as needed afterwards.

L.L.: There’s this wonderful melding of memory with truth in ARROWOOD, something that is often present in fiction, but in real-life, too. We simply don’t always remember events as we once imagined. Can you talk about how your theme, memory and truth, often become muddled? 

Laura McHugh: I’ve read a lot of interesting material about the unreliability of memory in eyewitness accounts, and I was especially interested in the way such accounts could influence an investigation—possibly moving it in the wrong direction. I suspect part of my interest in memory stems from my own past—I’m the youngest of eight children, and while we have many shared childhood memories, there are plenty of things I can’t possibly remember as clearly as they do. I have memories of certain details and events from houses and towns where we lived when I was very small, but I can’t be sure how much of that is actual memory and how much was woven together from my siblings’ retelling of these things. Is it ever possible to separate true memory from created memory? Is it possible to go back to a case that’s been cold for nearly twenty years and find the truth? These were things that I wanted to explore in Arrowood.

L.L.:  For slightly selfish reasons, I’m a little curious about the second-book process for a published author. I would imagine there would be a good deal of anxiety involved. What’s the overall process like?

Laura McHugh: There was definitely more anxiety with the second book than the first. With the first, no one was waiting for it. I could meander and make all sorts of missteps and then fix them in subsequent drafts, and no one would ever know. With the second book, there are expectations, and other voices in your head. Plus, the first book hasn’t gone away. You want to be fully focused on the new book, but you’re still spending time promoting the old one. It’s hard to ignore all of that and just let yourself write the story you want to write. I learned a lot about what works for me and what doesn’t while I was writing this second book, and hopefully that will help me going forward.

L.L.: Can you give us a sense of what you’re working on next?

Laura McHugh: The next novel is set mainly in rural Missouri and Kansas. The protagonist is still reeling from her brother’s unexpected death when she’s sent to investigate a deadly accident that has torn apart a rural community. She soon realizes that nothing is as it seems.

L.L.: What’s inspiring you nowadays? What gets your creativity flowing?

Laura McHugh: Being still and observant. That sounds terribly dull, but that’s how it works for me. I’m a people-watcher, and I’m always making up backstories for strangers I see at the library, or I’ll walk by an interesting house and start piecing together what kind of family might live inside. And, of course, I always read the Crime Section of the news.

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

Laura McHugh: Nothing! You always have great questions. Thank you, Leslie!

L.L.: Laura, it was such a pleasure chatting once again. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

Laura McHugh: You, too!

***For more information, or to connect with Laura via social media, please see***

Facebook: LauraMcHughAuthor

Twitter: @LauraSMcHugh

Website: www.weightofblood.com

Laura McHugh -¬ Taisia GordonBio: Laura McHugh is the author of The Weight of Blood, which won both the 2015 International Thriller Writers award and a Silver Falchion award for the best first novel, and was nominated for a Barry award, an Alex award, and a Goodreads Choice award. She spent part of her childhood in Keokuk, Iowa, where Arrowood is set, and now lives in Columbia, Missouri, with her husband and two young children.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay via:

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriterWP_20160415_13_21_06_Pro

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

GoodReads: LeslieALindsay

[Special thanks to A. Lord and M. Braeckel. Cover and author image provided by Random House and used with permission. Author photo credit: Taisia Gordon. Carpenter Gothic house retrieved from Wikipedia on 8.10.16 and does not represent author’s home, WEIGHT OF BLOOD cover retrieved from the author’s website]

Write On, Wednesday: Heather Gudenkauf talks about her new psych thriller/mystery MISSING PIECES, Family secrets, trying something new (writing-wise), and the beauty of Iowa

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By Leslie Lindsay 

NYT bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf delivers a heart-racing, tightly plotted whodunit mystery which spans the course of about a week with glimpses into the past in her forthcoming MISSING PIECES (Feb 2, 2016).missing-pieces-cover-198x300

Sarah and Jack Quinlan seem to have the perfect life–married twenty years and having just sent their daughters off to college–they are polite and caring toward one another as any couple in a long-term relationship is. When Jack receives a call that his aunt has taken a fall and is seriously injured, Jack and Sarah travel to his hometown of Penny Gate, IA, a place he’s spent very little time in the last twenty years. And with good reason.

I’m thrilled to have Heather join us as we chat about her fifth novel, MISSING PIECES.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather, I am honored to have you pop over. I fell in love with your writing with your debut, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE. I have to say, there seems to be a theme in your novels involving secrets. Can you speak to that?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my writing. I’ve long been intrigued by news accounts documenting the shock and surprise loved ones experience when they learn that a loved one wasn’t quite the person they thought they were. I trusted him implicitly, says the woman whose husband has a secret family. She was always a reliable, hardworking employee, says the boss of the woman who embezzled thousands.  While I was writing MISSING PIECES, in my THE WEIGHT OF SILENCEhometown, there was the case of a purportedly normal family man who was accused of shooting a family member over fifteen times.  Police arrived to find him sitting in a chair in his living room, with a bag of ammunition and gun cleaning supplies sitting next to him. How could you be so wrong about the person sleeping next to you, sitting next to you or living next door to you? People keep secrets ~ but how long are they able to keep them hidden and what are the ramifications? That’s what I try to explore in my novels.

L.L.: MISSING PIECES is about lies, betrayal, and how secret-keeping can destroy those we care about. Like your other novels, this one is also set in your home state of Iowa. The scenery is gorgeous, and I could almost feel myself in those corn fields and old farm houses. What ultimately inspired you in this one?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, Iowa has a beauty all its own. Whenever I’m driving through the countryside and see an old farm house I immediately begin to create a history for it ~I imagine the children who played in the yard, the men and women who worked the fields, the births and deaths that occurred there. I love reading books where the setting is almost a character itself ~ with its own soul, its unique heartbreaks and joys ~ and I attempt this in my own writing as well.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit…I understand you are a very busy writer, Rural Iowawife, mom of three, and title 1 reading coordinator. I’m always amazed at these super-woman heroics of juggling so many balls. How is writing an accessible career choice for women—you—today?

Heather Gudenkauf: I am so fortunate to be able to pursue careers that I am passionate about. I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a young girl and have spent the last twenty-three years in education. I didn’t seriously consider writing until I had been teaching for several years and my three children were in school. I think the key to be able to juggle multiple roles is to truly love what you do. For me writing is an escape, an opportunity to explore new ideas, new characters, a chance to express myself creatively.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals or obsessions?

Heather Gudenkauf: I wouldn’t say I have any particular rituals obsessions except I do like to have music playing while I write. With music playing in the background I’m still able to focus on my writing without being too distracted by the world around me. Otherwise, I can pretty much write anywhere. I write in coffee shops, in bed, in front of the fireplace, in the car, outdoors.

L.L.: What are you currently reading? Does your reading influence your writing?

Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I’m reading The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas. It’s a historical novel about a midwife from a small Colorado mining town and the mystery surrounding the death of a newborn. Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors ~ she has a magical way of transporting me into the past and sweeping me up into the intricate lives of the characters she creates.

Every word I’ve ever read has, in some way, influenced my writing. I think we all carry the books we’ve read with us – it becomes the fabric of who we are. I think I may have just mixed my metaphors there ~ but that’s the best way I can explain it.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I am obsessed with working on my newest novel. I am trying something completely new in my writing and developing what I hope is a very unique main character. It’s challenging and exciting ~ I can’t wait to see how it ends!   THE END

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

Heather Gudenkauf: I love chatting with readers and talking books ~  I can be reached at heather@heathergudenkauf.com.  Also, please come see me at heathergudenkauf.com for my most recent blog post, giveaways and other bookish fun!

L.L.: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and share MISSING PIECES. It was a pleasure, Heather!

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for thinking of me for your blog ~ it’s been a lot of fun!

heather_bioAuthor bio: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and One Breath Away. Her newest novel, Missing Pieces, will be available on Feb. 2, 2016. She lives in Iowa with her family.

For more information, or to follow on Social Media: 

[Author and cover image courtesy of Heather Gudenkauf. THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE cover image retrieved from H. Gudenkauf’s website on 1.1.16. Iowa farm house found on Pinterest, original source unavailable. “The end” image from www.giphy.com on 1.1.16]