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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt here.


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

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


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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Thomas Christopher Greene:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Thomas Christopher Greene:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Thomas Christopher Greene:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Thomas Christopher Greene:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

What are you looking forward to reading this winter?

Thomas Christopher Greene:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Thomas Christopher Greene:

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

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

Order Links: 

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

 


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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

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

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

 

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

Now in trade paperback!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mira T. Lee:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mira T. Lee:

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


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

BuzzFeed


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mira T. Lee:

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

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Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Mira T. Lee:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mira T. Lee:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay: 

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

Mira T. Lee:

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

Leslie Lindsay: 

What’s on your TBR list for 2018?

Mira T. Lee:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Mira T. Lee:

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

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

Order Links: 

NOW IN PAPERBACK!

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

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

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

 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

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

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

 

 

 

 

Dynamic Writing Duo is back this winter with wickedly smart and compulsive psychological thriller featuring therapist-client relationships in AN ANONYMOUS GIRL

By Leslie Lindsay 

Absolutely gripping and stunning thriller that will have you frantically flipping the pages, AN ANONYMOUS GIRL is a wicked delight.

One of:

Cosmo’s “Best New Books of 2019”

Bookish’s “Must-Read Books of Winter”

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I enjoyed the first collaboration between Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, THE WIFE BETWEEN US (St. Martin’s Press, January 2018), but I have to say, AN ANONYMOUS GIRL (January 8 2019) is EVEN BETTER.

I was completely taken with the psychology study on ethics and morality and dove right in. And let me say, the pace of AN ANONYMOUS girl is relentless; I couldn’t put it down. There’s a beautiful dance of psychological intensity meets thriller intrigue as 28-year old Jessica Farris wriggles her way into a psychology study conducted by the mysterious–and slightly sinister–Dr. Shields. All Jessica is led to believe is that she will answer a few questions, get paid, and leave.

But there’s so much more at stake. The questions grow increasingly more invasive and personal–does Dr. Shields *know* Jessica? Could there be a secret agenda? Is something else going on? Jessica is asked to complete more demanding and challenging tasks–more than just sitting in front of a computer screen and answering questions–but going out into public where she is told what to wear, who to interact with, and so much more. It’s disturbing and completely discordant as to being ‘moral and ethical,’ the very construct Dr. Shield’s claims to be studying.

Jessica is caught in a web of deceit and jealousy and absolutely must find a way to outsmart Dr. Shields–who is always two steps ahead–or she might not survive.

Seeking women ages 18-32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

There are so many good twists and deceit in AN ANONYMOUS GIRL–in fact, I wasn’t sure *what* (or whom) to believe for a while, but definitely had my theories. The ending came a little abruptly for me, but maybe that’s just me–I didn’t care because I absolutely loved the ride. Also, this is a relatively ‘clean’ thriller–the language is spot-on, no graphic details, the ‘game’ is all in the mind, and that, for me is exactly my favorite kind of thriller.

I found the writing completely propulsive and intelligent. Although AN ANONYMOUS GIRL is a fast-paced thriller, I was awed by some darn good lines and amazing psychological insight. Read an excerpt here.

Please join me in welcoming Greer and Sarah back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Greer and Sarah! It’s such a pleasure to reconnect. I am completely smitten with AN ANONYMOUS GIRL. It’s smart, compulsive, gripping, and oh-so-disconcerting—so what is wrong with us?! And what inspired this particular avenue?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:

Thank you so much for your kind words. We love an interviewer who relishes the creepiness factor we bring to the page!

It’s tricky for us to answer exactly what inspired us because our ideas percolate over a long period of time. Every day, when we are brainstorming our plot, we throw out about a hundred suggestions…and the next day, we reject 99 of them. However, we recently realized we have four main goals for our books. We want them to be entertaining, strike an emotional chord, tell a story in a unique way and generate discussions.

In particular there are a few key elements we can point to that inspired part of the foundation of AN ANONYMOUS GIRL. We wanted to explore the therapist/client relationship. And we wanted to create a sense of intimacy for the reader, so, in addition to having Dr. Shields’ voice be in the second person, we structured the ethics and morality quiz that Jessica took in a way that allows readers to consider how they would answer the same questions. This interactive element was really appealing to us, and we’ve heard from a lot of early readers that they loved answering the ethics questions and learning how their friends or book group participants would respond.

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Leslie Lindsay:

When I was in college, I participated in psychology studies—though never as intense (and invasive) as the kind Jess did. There’s so much psychological research that went into in AN ANONYMOUS GIRL even though it’s a thriller. Can you talk about that, please?

Sarah:

Oh my gosh – so did I! I did a bunch through NIH (the National Institutes of Health) in college to earn extra money. At first I did pretty innocuous tests, but the ones that paid the best were a little more invasive. The final one I did involved being given something that made me super groggy – I can’t remember what the test entailed, but I think I had to answer questions. My dad found out about it, and that was the end of my time as a guinea pig.

Greer:

I was a psychology major (and English minor) and my mother was a practicing psychotherapist for many years, so this is an area of keen interest for me. One of my favorite parts of working on AN ANONYMOUS GIRL was researching the psychology experiments we incorporate into the novel.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Since AN ANONYMOUS GIRL is co-authored, I am so curious how you collaborate? It’s hard enough to write as a single author on one title, but…is it really true you write every sentence together? Is one you more the plotter and the other more character-driven? How do you divvy up the various pieces of a narrative?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:

It’s true we do write every single line together! This is why we joke that the third partner in our collaboration is Google Docs and Hangouts. These tools let us write our manuscripts in real time while we simultaneously talk. We start our days as soon as our kids get off to school and we’ve had a chance to exercise – around 9 AM – and we work through lunch, wrapping up when the kids come back home in the late afternoon. Although we do all of our plotting and writing together, we also go back into the manuscript individually – often late at night or early in the morning – to do small edits and tweaks in “suggested” mode for the other to review. We’re also constantly emailing and texting each other with ideas, articles for the other to read, photographs of what we think one of our characters might look like, etc.

Additionally, we meet at a hotel in Philly every month or so. We camp out for 48-hour stretches – working through every meal and literally not leaving the hotel – and we “Homeland” the walls with giant Post-it notes while we talk through our plot and organize the manuscript. We accomplish so much on these marathon trips, often writing 20 or 30 pages, yet we still find that there’s never enough time and we are often sprinting through 30th Street Station to make our trains home.


“Slickly twisty [with] gasp-worthy final twistsmajor league suspense.”

 —Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Leslie Lindsay:

What—if anything—did you find the most challenging in writing this one? Did you ever disagree on the direction of the story?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:

THE WIFE BETWEEN US and AN ANONYMOUS GIRL were challenging in different ways. In WIFE, the essence of the concept for the story came very quickly – it was a lightning bolt idea – but we also changed big chunks of the plot as we wrote, and rewrote, the manuscript. Perhaps our biggest challenge was figuring out the logistics of writing a book together, since we live in different cities. There was a learning curve to setting up our systems – we needed to become familiar with Google Docs, in order to write together in real time, and Google Hangouts, so that we could simultaneously talk and write. THE WIFE BETWEEN US also had a very complicated structure that required us to keep multiple timelines and charts, and it used every bit of our combined brain power to juggle all of the elements!

For AN ANONYMOUS GIRL, we spent months talking every day and exploring different ideas in order to pin down the story we wanted to tell. We also devoted a lot of time to working out the best way to tell it. In our early drafts, we wrote Jess and Dr. Shields’ sections in the first, second and third person in order to determine which would be the most compelling point of view for each character. We made a pact that we could not give our editor a book that did not feel as strong or stronger than our first book so we really pushed ourselves. In the end, we feel books are like kids – each is rewarding and challenging in its own way!

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Leslie Lindsay:

There’s a good deal of backstory in AN ANONYMOUS GIRL, but it doesn’t distract from the present story. Do you believe our personal backstory shape our present behavior? What might be the trick to weaving in backstory without it being too ‘in-your-face?’

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:

Absolutely, we believe personal backstory informs the way we react to events, and in a broader sense, the way individuals view the world. In our initial drafts, we tend to load backstory into the opening chapters. It’s always a challenge to let readers get a tantalizing sense of our characters without overwhelming them or veering away from the plot. That’s one reason why we love the revision process. We go back in and start pruning away and moving around different chunks of our manuscript until it flows smoothly.

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand AN ANONYMOUS GIRL is already in development by eONE for a television series—yay! Can you give us a little glimpse into that process and when we might expect to see it?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:

We are so thrilled eONE, which developed SHARP OBJECTS (Gillian Flynn) for HBO, is developing our novel. We are attached as executive producers, which means we get to be involved in key creative decisions. eONE hired a fantastic writing team to craft the pilot (we chatted with them about their ideas for the storyline) and we hope to have some more good news after AN ANONYMOUS GIRL releases in January.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Sarah and Greer—it’s been a delight! Thank you, thank you for popping over. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen:

We’re hard at work on our next novel, another psychological thriller featuring strong, relatable female characters. Thank you for having us!

For more information, to connect with the authors via social media, or to purchase a copy of AN ANONYMOUS GIRL, please see:

Greer Hendricks:

Sarah Pekkanen:

Order Links: 

Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks_credit Bill MilesABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Greer Hendricks is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Wife Between Us. Prior to becoming a bestselling novelist, she spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. She obtained her master’s in journalism from Columbia University and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Allure, and Publishers Weekly. Greer lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.

Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally and USA Today bestselling author of eight previous novels. A former investigative journalist and award-winning feature writer, she has published work in The Washington PostUSA Today, and many others. She is the mother of three sons and lives just outside Washington, D.C.

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

 

 

 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#psychologicalthriller #domesticthriller #AnAnonymousGirl #amreading  #authorinterview

 

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

 

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

By Leslie Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please join me and Jennifer Robson in conversation:

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

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

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


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

–Kirkus Reviews 


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Jennifer Robson:

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

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

Order Links:

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

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #Royalty #England #London #fashion #embroidery #TheGown

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

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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

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

“Fathers should love their children right.”

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

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Photo by Radu Andrei Razvan on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

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

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

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

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


Leslie Lindsay:

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

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

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Susan Bernhard:

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

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

Order Links: 

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

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#winter #family #secrets #Minnesota #amreading #resilience #comingofage

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

Behind the walls of an old house, lie secrets that generations have kept hidden from one another. Helen Klein Ross talks about obsessions, motherhood, and more in THE LATECOMERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Spellbinding historical fiction spanning five generations, plenty of secrets, richly researched, and highly detailed, THE LATECOMERS is perfect for fans of J. Courtney Sullivan, Christina Baker Klein, and even Jenny Worth of CALL THE MIDWIFE.

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Helen Klein Ross has outdone herself. Several years ago, I read her stunning and compelling WHAT WAS MINE and immediately fell in love; that story stuck with me and I raced to the climatic ending. THE LATECOMERS (Little, Brown November 2018) is a completely different kind of tale–but it’s just as good and showcases Klein-Ross’s historical writing–which absolutely shimmers. The author’s research is evident as much of the book features experiences of America and beyond through the years 1908-2018–and isn’t overdone.

We start off in 1908 Ireland–Bridey is 16 years old when she runs off with her beau, Thom to America. Thom dies suddenly of ship fever on their ocean crossing and Bridey finds herself alone and pregnant in NYC.

Forced to give the baby up for adoption, Bridey then takes a job as a housekeeper at a lavish estate, Hollingwood. But that child continues to haunt her every moment. So, too does Thom. She befriends her employer, and readers are given a glimpse into the privileged lives of Sarah and Edmund, even that of the child she gave up for adoption.

Much of THE LATECOMERS is told from multiple POVs traversing time periods, but we almost always come back to Bridey, whom I enjoyed very much. 
There’s love and longing, death and loss, orphans, illness, an old sprawling estate (which I adored) issues surrounding women and class, religion, and so much more. Each character is imbued with such authenticity, such gumption, that I felt closely connected to them; the author clearly shows empathy for all of them; even the less-favorable ones, leaving us to ponderjust how much can we bury the past?

THE LATECOMERS is a fabulous family saga that is not to be missed. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Helen Klein Ross back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Helen, I was so swept away by this luminous tale. First, the research! Second, the setting of that old estate…and the characters! I think I read somewhere that this story was originally inspired by your new/old house you and your husband purchased and set out to restore. Can you tell us more?

Helen Klein Ross:  

Thanks so much, Leslie. I’m very glad to be chatting with you again. Yes, the story of THE LATECOMERS started in the walls of an old house my husband and I were restoring in 2012. It was a falling down governor’s mansion built in 1853. When we saw it, it was such a wreck that most people in town had written it off as a tear-down. But I could see the bones of the grand dame she had been. And already I was hearing stories in its walls, behind the paint, the peeling wallpaper and mold. I was already imagining conversations that took place in the house the year the glass panes of the bookcase were etched—1860. Before the Civil War! I was already conjuring a family who lived there who had kitchen staff to answer the bell butler in our kitchen. Which still works! The bells are connected to each of the rooms where you can press a buzzer to call for the maid. Unfortunately, these days, I am the only help in the house available to answer. [You can see and read more about the restoration of Helen’s 1853 mansion here]

Leslie Lindsay:

I really have at thing for old houses. A BIG thing! In fact, I am working on a novel of interlinked stories of our first home—not quite as old as Hollingwood—but still old. In many ways, THE LATECOMERS is a series of novellas. Can you talk about the structure a bit?

Helen Klein Ross:

Well, we certainly have that in common. I look forward to your novel, Leslie. Structure. That’s often the bugaboo about writing a novel, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s the last thing the writer figures out how to do. It took me a while to structure THE LATECOMERS. At first, I thought that the timeline would be linear. But that didn’t work—too much momentum was lost by the end. Then, I thought it would be, as you say, a series of novellas. But—I longed for too much interaction between characters. I finally settled on interweaving the timelines so that the narrative works no matter which chapter you read first. It’s almost as if the book can be shuffle played. Wherever you start, you can go backwards and forwards and still make sense of the story. But, I hope for readers to start at the beginning. I think most authors are with me on that.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Your characters are so delicately drawn, so authentic. What was your process like for developing them? Did you keep careful character sketches, or did you let them ‘come to life on the page?’ Tough question, but did you have one or two you felt particularly aligned with?

Helen Klein Ross:

I have to say—the character I feel closest to is the one who came to me first. Bridey. My great-grandparents came from Ireland and I loved hearing talk around dining room tables. One of my aunts was named Bridey and I was always intrigued by that name. My Bridey started with an image. Waking up one morning, still in a dream state, an image was of a teenage girl came to me. She lived in olden days and was lying on a very uncomfortable horsehair mattress. There was also straw in the mattress, I knew, because a piece of it was scratching her cheek. She shifted in the bed she was sharing with others, a common phenomenon in boardinghouses. You didn’t get a bed, you got a place in a bed. As the girl shifted, it changed her perspective of the bed’s headboard. The headboard was painted black with numbers crudely painted in white, from 1 to 4, denoting your assigned place. The girl’s number was 3, but now she saw that beneath the black paint, there were other numbers, painted in gold, not crudely, but in fancy calligraphy. There were only 3 calligraphed numbers and the girl longed for that other, more luxurious time, when there had been only three to the bed instead of four which would mean she wouldn’t have to crawl over someone to get to the loo. So from that visual, the character Bridey grew…and from Bridey came the entire novel.

My novel grew to accommodate a pretty big cast and I’m grateful to the software program Scrivener which helped me keep them straight. I created a folder for each character, with their names and dates. I filled the folders with Youtubes of old street scenes, fashion clips from magazines, slang of the day, news items about what was going on in the world during their formative years. For instance, Vincent was born in 1908 so Prohibition plays an important part in his coming of age. I created a sub-folder on Prohibition that included when the 18th Amendment went into effect, and how people got around the law. I discovered that the law didn’t really affect people of means who could afford to stock their basements before January 17, 1920 when the law took effect. Prohibition meant that it was illegal to buy liquor—wasn’t illegal to drink it. That surprised me.

I also created a Family Tree to help me keep track of characters and generations.  I ended up sharing the Family Tree with readers. But I’m glad to hear that most don’t seem to need it. Many tell me they were able to keep characters straight because of voice, and the chapter headings.

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Leslie Lindsay:

If I recall from our earlier conversation [WHAT WAS MINE], you have some personal connection to adoption. Can you talk about that, please? It seems to be a theme in both books.

Helen Klein Ross:

When I was growing up, adoption was a subject nice people didn’t talk about. I had classmates and cousins who were adopted and this “secret” fact of their lives made them exotic to me. Who were their “real” parents, I’d wonder—but never asked, of course. Later, the notion that adopted children had “real” parents and “adoptive” parents felt offensive to me. I’m the oldest of eight “natural” children. A couple of my siblings adopted children and I’d become irritated on their behalf to overhear questions at family weddings or wakes, like “Is that your real child?” The question of who is and who isn’t a “real” mother or father is one of my issues. I didn’t adopt my daughters, but if I did, they’d be as much my daughters as they are now. Still—there is something about shared DNA, shared physical and personality attributes and this is an issue I explored in The Latecomers.


As she did in What Was Mine, Ross explores themes of motherhood and family origins in this multigenerational saga…This is a satisfying blend of historical and familial drama. 

–Publisher’s Weekly


Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope others take away from this story?

Helen Klein Ross:

First and foremost, I hope readers enjoy the story. Beyond that, I hope the book is reminder of how hard it is to be an immigrant to this country, facing assumptions and prejudices and disregard for one’s language and country of origin. With all the recent talk about immigration, it seems that latecomers to this country face many of the same challenges as they did at the turn of the century.

I also hope people read it as a “feminist” novel—not a strident political tome, but a book that gently opens a window on aspects of childbirth, sex, love and work as gleaned from a female point of view. Alice Fishburn, a Financial Times editor, recently wrote about reading only women authors for a year. She discovered that one thing was very different. No one was trying to explain women to her. Part of what motivated me to write THE LATECOMERS, was the desire to parse American history through the eyes of ordinary women living through it.

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Leslie Lindsay:

There are a lot of obsessions in THE LATECOMERS. Bridey is obsessed with Thom and also the child she gave up for adoption. Vincent is obsessed with Trowbridge. Ruth and Emma are intrigued with those glass jars. What’s obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary. And what good do you think obsessions have? Because I think they can be quite powerful.

Helen Klein Ross:

I believe obsessions are what propel a novel! Surely your and my obsessions with old houses are proof of that, ha. Contrary to what many people believe, most novels, or most literary novels, don’t spiral out from a story. They spiral out from a writer’s obsessions. THE LATECOMERS grew out of several obsessions of mine: stately old houses, Irish in America, motherhood and class delineations (upstairs, downstairs.) If your writing doesn’t emanate from an obsession of some sort, you probably won’t be able to sustain the momentum for as long as it takes to finish it. I suspect this is why many novels stall midway. The author stops feeling obsessed by whatever compelled her to start it. 

Leslie Lindsay:

Helen, it’s been a pleasure, as always. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Helen Klein Ross:

Leslie, thanks for a very thorough interview! One thing I’d like to touch on is the subject of creating the “world” of a story. My favorite novels are ones that I sink into so deeply I feel like I’m living in the narrative time and place. In an effort to add that dimension to the world of THE LATECOMERS, I created a Timeline Map for the novel. If you go to [my website] and scroll to the bottom of the page, you’ll be able to see New York City as the characters in THE LATECOMERS saw it at the turn of the other century. You can use this map to track where some scenes take place and see how those places have changed from Bridey’s time to today. Clicking on the pinpoints provides additional insight into characters and include a few passages that didn’t make it into the final book.

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For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of THE LATECOMERS, please visit: 

Order Links:

Helen Klein Ross author picABOUT THE AUTHOR: Helen Klein Ross is the author of three novels. Her latest is The Latecomers from Little, Brown. She is the creator of The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, an anthology of new poems titled by old telegrams, from Red Hen Press. Her poetry and essays have appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times. She lives with her husband in New York City and Northwest Connecticut.

 

 

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#historicalfiction #amreading #TheLatecomers #Ireland #NYC #NewYork #Turnofthecentury #immigrants #housesandhomes

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Little, Brown and used with permission. Interior staircase and exterior home retrieved from on 12.17.18. Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by L. Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1].

 

 

What if you felt trapped by your past–and needed permission to breathe? Jaclyn Gilbert tackles this & more in her debut fiction, LATE AIR

By Leslie Lindsay 

In this piercing, lyrically compelling debut novel, Jaclyn Gilbert tackles marriage, loss, and finding one’s way home. 

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In the shadows of a predawn run, Murray tries to escape what he can’t control: His failed marriage. Grief. Even his own weakness. Murray is a college running coach insistent on his relentless training regimen and obsessed with his star athlete, until he finds her crumpled and unresponsive during a routine practice one morning.

Unable to avoid or outrun reality, Murray is forced to face the consequences of his own increasingly tenuous grip on life—exacerbated by the dangers of his perfectionistic, singular focus as a former athlete and survivor of an unspeakable loss from his past.

Weaving together the strands of two lives that form a union, Jaclyn pieces together  alternating narratives–Murray and his wife, Nancy, as we experience their early moments of hope and desire as well as their fears and failings. There’s time and trauma, grief, and ultimately healing.

I asked Jaclyn a bit about her process, how she discovered the story and what resulted is this sweeping essay on letting go of perfectionism and giving oneself permission to breathe. 

Discovering Late Air

Jaclyn Gilbert

I was running along the Bronx River Parkway in graduate school, when the idea came to me—not for the novel—but for the story that it would later grow out of.  I had run Division I cross country for Yale, and every Monday and Wednesday we trained on the campus golf course.  I remember being too nervous about these grueling workouts to consider what else might happen on the course outside of my legs and lungs burning; I was consumed by own fear of falling short of my coach’s expectation.  In that moment, something about the perspective of looking in on my past life as a college runner terrified of failure took on a new weight as a twenty-nine-year-old woman muddling through an MFA program, set on digging deeper into her past, but unsure of where to begin.   I also knew that I didn’t want to write a story that felt too familiar and close to my own experience, so I chose the vantage point of a coach in his sixties—Coach Murray—not only because he called forth certain aspects of my own college coach’s personality, but also because he had access to a different realm of experience, a wisdom I couldn’t know or fully realize unless I entered his body and began to imagine the range of experiences that had shaped him over time.

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All goes to say that I hit many road blocks along the way, each as difficult as the last, but all as surmountable as my own willingness to confront the unknowability’s of Murray’s pain—the unfathomable loss from his past that he is constantly trying to quiet through his material fixation on the body and his runners.  Gradually, I learned, too, that coming to terms with Murray’s past meant also coming to terms with my own need to use distance running and perfectionism to distance myself from the parts of my life that I am too afraid to look at or remember, the parts that eluded my control during my teens and twenties.  In that sense, the process of writing LATE AIR was, above all, a process of letting go what I thought was true about myself to make space for this other truth: that I found running as a teenager to escape my father’s emotional abuse, and that need for escape veered on compulsive and injurious, even though up until writing this book, I had deemed running a source of salvation, a means of reaching some higher, unattainable version of myself.   But the more I delved into the depths of Murray’s own repressed psyche, and that of his perfectionistic other half, Nancy, more I could see that it was all an illusion.  The pain that I thought I was choosing was really a means of detaching from the deeper, unnamable pains of my past.  Running was my means of coping from my father’s chronic neglect—but his absence also came to define my self-worth in college, when he made impossible requests of me to fuel his own gambling addiction at the expense of my own safety, even though I would have given everything to be affirmed by him, to be present and seen in his eyes.

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Yet any time I tried to avoid that truth—the emptiness I was so afraid of feeling again after my father betrayed my trust when I was eighteen—my writing suffered.  I quickly learned that my readers knew more than I did about myself through the questions they asked about Nancy and Murray’s pasts, their separate childhoods, their broken marriage, their opposite fates.  Every time I returned to a new draft, I knew the answers to their questions lived in what I had to be willing to embrace most honestly on the page—truths about the sudden losses that can mark our relationships, truths about running and the body that required owning my history of chronic injury, truths about my own quest for self-acceptance and forgiveness as a daughter, runner, and writer.   I had to push through the endless rough patches that are revision to learn to sit inside my own body and experiences, rather than escape them through the fiction that tempted me most: that I could hide from myself through my characters.  I had to patiently write toward myself through their own journeys to reconcile what they couldn’t predict or alter about their pasts.

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This book most importantly asked that I interrogate Murray and Nancy’s separate ways of grieving from as many angles as possible.  In tracing their separate journeys inside and outside the limits of their bodies, their opposing needs of running toward and away from their shared pain, I could find greater compassion for my own journey to heal. And that, to me, was how the title for LATE AIR, came into being—in learning from my characters what it would mean to give myself the permission to breathe.   Finding breath also meant relinquishing my desire to control very aspect of this “other” fictional narrative, to open my mind and body to my senses, to receive the moment, in the same way Nancy must learn to toward the end of the book, her body becoming like a map of lived, momentary experience, a vessel for observing language, rather than reacting to it, in motion, and in stillness.

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This process felt much like reading or writing poetry, which is why I think the title LATE AIR fit in the end.  And this title came appropriately “late” in the writing process.  I was working with my agent to find a title that felt amply atmospheric and nuanced enough to capture Murray and Nancy’s elusive divide and later reconciliation.  For weeks, I felt incredibly stuck, trying to find a name for the unnamable truths their story was chasing after—but one afternoon, I resolved to flip through all of my favorite poetry books, copying the titles of poems in a fugue state, and the moment I copied “Late Air” in Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems, something about it I couldn’t explain felt particularly right.  But this naming opened up a whole new layer to the process. I had to earn this title through the final stages of revising the novel with my editor.  Together, we isolated all instances of air and breathing in the story, and I had to immerse in each one of those passages, slowly coming to articulate LATE AIR’S hardest truths about love, loss, and finding breath—in allowing ourselves to let go of what we cannot control or change, by embracing the uncertainty of every moment.


“Late Air breathes some welcome oxygen into the modern novel. The characters, both major and minor, are created with great care, and the story is moving and extremely readable. Jaclyn Gilbert is up and running!”

–Richard Cohen, author of Chasing the SunBy the Sword, and How to Write Like Tolstoy


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Order Links: 

4inAuthorPhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jaclyn Gilbert received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and BA from Yale University.  She is the recipient of a research fellowship from the New York Public Library, a contributor to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and her work has appeared in Post Road Magazine, Tin House, Lit Hub, and elsewhere.  She has led writing workshops at the Valhalla Correctional Facility, the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and Curious-on-Hudson in Dobbs Ferry.  She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and Weimaraner, Phin.  Late Air (Little A, 2018) is her first novel.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #marriage #grief #running #amreading #debut #writinglife #perfectionism #selfacceptance 

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website on 12.13.18. Special thanks to Little A Publishing].

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY brings poetry and design to life as one grapples with what it means to live a life worth living, plus Sears Kit Homes, helper monkeys, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously rendered novel about love and loss, compassion, and humor, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY absolutely wow-ed me. 

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Some books select YOU and this is absolutely one of them;
I found STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY immensely moving, well-developed, and poignant.

Duncan Wheeler is a 37-year-old successful architect (swoon!) married to a woman who is in art conservation (also, swoon) and they are trying to have a baby…but… Duncan and his intern are in a fatal car accident one day coming home from a site visit. His young intern dies and Duncan is left a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair. Duncan isn’t sure if he’s truly ‘lucky’ as everyone says…everyday is a fractured attempt at living the life he once had.

Duncan’s will to live falters and his wife, Laura, reaches out to the Primate Institute of New England in effort to obtain a ‘helper monkey’ for Duncan. Maybe having Ottoline’s ‘helping hands’ around, Duncan won’t feel so dependent on others, perhaps his faith in life will be restored.

And for awhile, it does. Ottoline is delightful and charming and quite intelligent. She loves Nutella and peanut butter and is tiny and cute. But Duncan is struggling. He can no longer do many (most) things he once did–though he can consult with his architecture partners–still, life has been reduced to a revolving door of PCAs [personal care assistants], an active mind but no way to actualize his dreams.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous: poetic, yet stark. Characters are sympathetic, well-developed, and made a strong impression. I’ve been thinking about this book long after I finished the last page and sharing insights with others– it definitely sparked a conversation or two and would be excellent reading for a book club.

I am so honored to welcome Katharine to the author interview series. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Katharine, I am still reeling after finishing this book. It’s breathtakingly written, with a sympathetic hand, yet there are some real challenging issues here. Can you talk about your inspiration for STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY?

Katharine Weber:

Leslie, first, I just want to say that I am delighted by your appreciation of my novel on so many levels.

It’s not always possible to identify the DNA for every aspect of inspiration that spark my novels. It’s always a combination of details and situations set against other circumstances or events. I have a good friend who has been a quadriplegic for the last couple of decades. Spending time with him has given me a close-up sense of the endless workarounds necessary to conduct anything approaching ordinary, day to day living. I have known about monkey helpers for years, and the what-ifs began to intrigue me. What if someone wanted a monkey helper to assist with a task that is beyond the ordinary sort of help (picking up a dropped remote or phone, turning a page, inserting a CD, flipping a light switch) for which those clever capuchin monkeys are trained And so on. And then there are many other situations and details in the novel that flow from various experiences or passing obsessions of mine over the years. As a novelist I am a bit of a magpie, so most every interesting incident or detail I might experience or hear about is inevitably stored away.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a former R.N., I’ve always had a thing for art and architecture, and I’m a writer, too—so many ways, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY combines all of my passions in one very poignant narrative. I’m curious how you make the decision to make Duncan an architect and his wife…is she an art conservator? I loved them both.

Katharine Weber:

I worked in an architect’s office for a little less than a year, long ago, and I know a number of architects—and I have simply always been interested in architecture, of all periods and styles. I used to draw Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns on my school notebooks. (I could always remember which ones were Ionic because there was a girl in my class named Iona who wore her hair in two curly bunches on either side of her head.)  My husband and I have lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in Connecticut for decades, outside New Haven, the setting of the novel. Appreciating the range of American vernacular building styles over the past couple of centuries is a marvelous way of learning American history. Teaching at Kenyon College in central Ohio, I discovered the numerous charming Sears kit houses that can be found all over the place, including just up the street from the faculty house I live in when I am at Kenyon.  I have to admit that in the years I was writing STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY I developed a real crush on the American Foursquare. If only I could live in Duncan’s Explicated Foursquare!  I hope I evoked for the reader the marvelousness of those proportions in that house. I wanted it to feel inevitable and irresistible, the house you want to come home to, and I certainly sold it to myself!

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Laura being a conservator felt like a natural adjacent profession for her, and it made sense for the story that she would be someone whose job is repairing broken things, or at least doing her best to make them appear to be repaired. I have known a few art conservators, and I have been behind the scenes in various museums over the years because my husband heads the Albers Foundation, and I have over the years tagged along when exhibitions are being installed or paintings are being authenticated. The issue of fakes is chronic and damaging for the legacy of any artist, and the nature of art forgery fascinates me. It was a central plot element in my second novel, THE MUSIC LESSON).  I like the way the mind of a conservator works (especially the mind of the conservator I invented).  I think Laura’s work and Duncan’s work are both really cov_ml_newillustrative of their personalities, and they harmonize. Work is important in people’s lives, but it is often strangely glossed over in a lot of fiction. Annie Dillard famously said:

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”

This is also true for fictional characters.

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, I have to ask about helper monkeys! I know about therapy/service dogs but monkeys were new to me. Can you talk about that, please?

Katharine Weber:

While the Primate Institute in my novel is fictional, it is inspired by the very real Helping Hands nonprofit organization in Boston, where capuchin monkeys are trained—at Monkey College, where else?—to perform the range of tasks that make them into genuine “helping hands” for recipients in wheelchairs. A helper monkey can give recipients autonomy and independence, and there is also a terrific, life-enhancing bond that develops. I support their valuable work, and I urge my readers to support them. Helping Hands Organization has wonderful short videos that show all aspects of training and living with a helper monkey.

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Leslie Lindsay:

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY asks the reader to consider some very intense issues: the will to live and the right to die. Of course, every novel needs stakes…so here it is! What kind of research did you need to complete to provide an unbiased view?

Katharine Weber:

Do I have an unbiased view? I’m not sure. What I brought to this very central moral issue at the heart of the story is the belief that people with mobility issues are surely entitled to have equal rights to make choices about their lives, including end of life decisions, including decisions that they might not be able to enact physically because of their disabilities. Spending time dwelling with this aspect of the novel for some seven years, thinking daily about a wheelchair-dependent life, I became quite aware of the many circumstances when people in wheelchairs are confronted by lack of access to events, blocked entrances, steps into buildings, and all sorts of other small indignities. Having to phone ahead to get in a side door is not equality. Having to request a key to get into a handicap bathroom is not equality. Depending on doors with broken automatic openers is not equality. Separate but equal is not equal.


“STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY is a brilliantly crafted novel, brimming with heart. Pairing poetry with wisdom, this is a story about what it means to live, love, and grow.”

— Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage


On a practical level, I read many books on living with various degrees of paralysis. I really wanted to understand it on the practical level, the endless quotidian issues. I also delved into a variety of sources for advice and emotional support for people with spinal cord injuries, and their families. The two people I knew well who live with spinal cord injuries (the book is dedicated to both) also validated for me the state of mind I gave Duncan over many hours of frank conversations about the profound emotions of their first years of living with this disability.

Having said that, I do hope readers will discern that Duncan’s despair is as much about causing the death of his young protégé in the car accident for which he is responsible as it is about his new physical limitation.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What is obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Katharine Weber:

The monster in the White House is obsessing me.

My four-year-old grandson Wilder is obsessing me.

Trying to decide which of four different novels I am writing at the same time is the one to focus on is obsessing me.

Leslie Lindsay:

Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Katharine Weber:

Yes. What was the publishing process like for this book, your sixth novel and seventh novel?

I ask myself this question on your behalf because it was not a straight shot to publication, though I think this is my best novel, and a number of reviews have agreed.  Publishers were reluctant to commit to a novel about a quadriplegic and a monkey helper. Editors admired the writing, praised it extravagantly, and then made no offer because their marketing departments were against acquiring a novel with a main character whom readers might not find sufficiently “relateable.” (God, how I hate that word.)  The marvelous small imprint Paul Dry Books took the risk, because Paul Dry makes his own decisions. He publishes ‘lively books

“to awaken, delight, and educate’—and to spark conversation”

as it says on their website. I am deeply grateful to Paul for his independent vision as a publisher. I am pretty sure he feels that his gamble on STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY has paid off.

Thank you Leslie, for this great conversation.

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY, please visit:

Order Links: 

Katharine Weber Photo 1 Corbin GurkinABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katharine Weber’s first five highly-praised and award-winning novels have made her a book club favorite.

Her new novel and seventh book, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY (Paul Dry Books), has won advance praise with a starred review from KIRKUS , Tayari Jones, Ann Packer , Roxana Robinson, Brian Morton, and Roger Rosenblatt.

Katharine grew up in New York City and has lived in rural Connecticut since 1976, when she married the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber.  She also spends parts of the year in West Cork, Ireland, and in London.

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

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #architecture #disability #helpermonkey #paralysis 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Shreve Williams Publicity and used with permission. Cover of The Music Lesson from K. Weber’s website, image of American Four-Square retrieved from, all on 12.3.18. Artist image of book cover by L.Lindsay and can be accessed via Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

 

Gorgeously stark, yet lush poetry collection about homes, architecture, design, & more by Middlebury College President Laurie Patton

By Leslie Lindsay 

A deeply moving and stirring collection of poems about houses and homes inspired by Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 classic, THE POETICS OF SPACE.

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Houses, homes, dwellings…they all have a mystical experience for me. They may be composed of timber and hardware, plaster and bricks and glass, but they hold truths deeper and darker still.

A house may live only once, but it encompasses many lives. 

HOUSE CROSSING (Station Hill, May 2018) is a “simple poetry of houses,” as author Laurie Patton says. Ultimately, she was inspired by the “geometry of intimacy” in urbane, basic architecture–a corner, the end of a hallway, a window, the attic. While the 32 short poems in the collection are a study in brevity, they pack such a soft-focused punch, going deep and leaving the reader with a disquieting contemplation.

Titles are simple, but oh how they had me swooning: eaves, cupola, well, demolition, grave. 


I don’t mean to be glib when I say these poems are haunting. Patton’s work dwells in the white space, the what-might-have-been. 
One reads the words and imagines a scene, but then the mind takes over and sees an intimate potential that may vary person to person. Within these works, Patton observes the structure and design in a home which often leads to order. Or disorder. And her writing is done with a melancholic tenderness I found quite profound and disarming. 

This collection truly spoke to me and encouraged–inspired–me to read more, to write even more–and to seek out Gaston Bachelard’s book. 

Laurie is the president of Middlebury College in Vermont. She’s also the author or editor of ten books in the history and culture of Indian religions, mythology, and theory. Ultimately, she’s a scholar. And I am so honored to welcome her to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laurie, I am swooning over this collection! I understand HOUSE CROSSING arose from your fascination of Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 work, THE POETICS OF SPACE, specifically, how it’s been a touchstone for architects, designers, poets, psychologists, and more since it’s publication sixty years ago. Can you tell us more about your inspiration?

Laurie Patton:

I’m so glad you like the work. I read Gaston Bachelard in graduate school in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when reading a phenomenologist of the imagination from the 50’s wasn’t exactly fashionable. I fell in love with his works, but didn’t admit to reading them much because we were supposed to be reading Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. It was kind of a guilty pleasure.

And yet, as Raine Daston and Sharon Marcus argued at a conference they just hosted at Columbia, there are such things as “undead texts”—texts that stay with you no matter what, and through the vicissitudes of intellectual fashion. While I knew that Gaston Bachelard’s work couldn’t be “proper philosophy” in a post-modern age, it could still be inspirational. I think it is a brave, and good, and deeply poetic thing to write about how the shapes of space structure the imagination—particularly domestic space. His work felt intuitively true to me; that memories of corners and ceilings do shape us in some profound way—perhaps expressible only in poetry.

I also love the fact that before he wrote these daring works, he was a philosopher of objectivity and science, and before that, he was a mailman. He personifies the interconnectedness of knowledge to me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

Can you take us through the timeline of writing HOUSE CROSSING? I noticed some of the poems have been published in anthologies or journals prior to their appearance in the collection. Were they written sporadically as the muse called, or was there a more sequential approach?

Laurie Patton:

My two earlier books of poems also follow a structure: Fire’s Goal: Poems from a Hindu Year follows the structure of Hindu holidays and festivals in a single year. There, the writing discipline was to walk through a memory from one of my years in India that wouldn’t leave my mind, and assume that the memory’s persistence was a kind of call to write a poem. Angel’s Task: Poems in Biblical Time follows the readings from the Jewish calendar year. There, I focused on a single verse or line that seized my imagination and wrote a response in the form of a poem. Each project was guided by a kind of meditative discipline.

The writing of House Crossing was somewhat similar in that, inspired by Bachelard, I had very clear memories of parts of houses—memories that were in some way constitutive of the way I approached space. They weren’t necessarily childhood memories, nor were they necessarily houses I had lived in for a long time.  Wherever I drew the memory from, the architectural image provided the structure for the book, just as the ritual year did in my two previous books.

That said, it was a difficult thing initially for me to write the poems in a secular idiom; a house is not the same as a ritual year and my niche was definitely poetry inspired by a religious tradition. However, many of my readers think that House Crossing is still an intensely spiritual book—even more than the previous two! I think there’s a chord that could strike anyone who has lived in a house and has come to understand it as a home. I’m enjoying the fact that it has a wider readership than the others.

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Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In the introduction of HOUSE CROSSING, you indicate these poems are not exactly about you or one house in particular, but memories and vestiges of personal history. But there’s a clear arc to them as well…we start in the cellar and end with grave; kind of an earth to earth, circular formation. Can you talk about that, please?

Laurie Patton:

You’re absolutely right to see that. I struggled with the order of the poems, and decided in the end simply to publish them in the order in which I wrote them. After I had gathered them all together, the order seemed to have an organic sense to it.  I also realized that the poems at the end of the work were increasingly about things outside of a house, such as “Roof”, “Well,” and “Grave.”  It was almost as if I were taking leave of the project by writing of architectural elements more and more “outside” the house.

Because the poems involve personal history, they also could be written, and interpreted, in a nostalgic manner. We all have our favorite corner, or hallway. But to move beyond sentimentality, I tried to make the places both specific and non-specific. A cellar was indeed a particular cellar, but it could be anyone’s cellar. A good poem makes something compellingly universal out of something particular, and I hope that I achieved that with architectural images.


“House Crossing, Laurie Patton’s mediation on space, builds a home in what it means to be between houses. The architecture of her poems is sound and beautiful, making spaces full of light, a place to live.” 

–Gweneth Lewis, Inaugural National Poet of Wales, author of Sparrow Tree


Leslie Lindsay:

Was there a poem that caused much fear and worry for you? For instance, what made the pads of your fingers sweat and your heart to race?

Laurie Patton:

That’s an insightful question. The “Well” poem was perhaps the hardest to write, because it was a record of a dream sequence I kept having, of encountering women enclosed in spaces—closets, graves, shallow pools.  I had originally written it in my head as a kind of long poem with much more elaborate images.  But in the end it emerged as a briefer poem, even though the images remained intact and much the same as they occurred in the dreams.  I am never sure about whether narrating a dream sequence in a poem can ever become truly accessible to readers. So I sweated that one! I anticipated something much grander, but the poem turned out rather simple.

I was also anxious about members of my family reading the poems, given that they might recognize some of the imagery. Both mother and father appear frequently in the book. Siblings do too. They are all somewhat fictionalized. Colm Tóibín has a wonderful essay about writers and their families, and he describes one conversation between himself and his mother where books are imagined as kinds of weapons. I worried about that. I’m delighted to report that all is well on that score; apparently the poems have moved even those who appear as characters in them.

They are the holders

of the soul

that came early–

washed, fetal, ancient

hallelujah

Leslie Lindsay:

What might you tell a writer (or poet) who wishes to write about home? In other words, what question did you set out to answer, and did you find it?

Laurie Patton:

I think the most important thing we can learn in writing about this subject is the difference between a shelter and a dwelling place—or, as some might put it, a house and a home. A shelter is of intellectual interest, and perhaps could pique our curiosity about its design. But a dwelling place is something alive, creative.  A dwelling place is also populated by actual and imagined relationships. It is an immensely social space, even when there is no one there.

Leslie Lindsay:

What gets you out of bed in the mornings? And it doesn’t have to be literary.

Laurie Patton:

I am intensely interested in the relationship between the poet and society. Every day I try to answer this question: how can poetry change the world? How can metaphors help people see and act differently? I carry with me Adrienne Rich’s essays on poetry and commitment, and Robert Pinsky’s on democracy, culture, and the voice of poetry, and dip into them every now and then throughout the day.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Laurie Patton:

You forgot to ask me how I write given my day job. That’s immensely refreshing.

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

Order Links: 

Laurie L Patton 12/10/2017ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurie L. Patton is the 17th president of Middlebury and the first woman to lead the institution in its 218-year history.

Patton is a leading authority on South Asian history and culture, and the author or editor of 11 books in these fields. She has also translated the ancient Hindu text, The Bhagavad Gita, for Penguin Classics Series, and is the author of three books of poetry—the most recent book, House Crossing, was published in May 2018.

Patton is a native New Englander. She grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, and graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall in 1979. Patton and her husband, Shalom Goldman, the Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College, reside in the President’s House at 3 South Street.

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

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#homes #poetry #architecture #design #houses #space

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[Author image courtesy of L. Patton. Photo credit: Todd Balfour. Cover image retrieved from on 12.10.18. Artful image designed and photographed by L. Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

 

 

 

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. 

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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.

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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: 

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#fiction #historical #journalism #authorinterview #TheGreatDepression 

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[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]