Tag Archives: Leslie Lindsay

WeekEND Reading: What happens when your spouse is ‘suddenly struck’ with a major mental illness? Mark Lukach talks about this, stigma, raising their son, mountain biking, and more in his memoir, MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD

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By Leslie Lindsay 

An honest and unflinching view of what it’s like to be the caregiver of someone with a serious mental illness, told with compassion and rawness. MyLovelyWifeinthePsychWard final cover

When I stumbled across MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD (Harper Wave, May 2017), I knew I had to read it. Not only does the author/husband share his name with my dad, but the strikingly similar story of a woman in the prime of her life suddenly falling victim to a strange and disorienting psychosis also rang true. Very true.

My own mother suffered a similar fate at 29, almost the very age Giulia was when psychoses came hunting her. I watched, as a child as my mother spewed delusion after delusion, her fingers blanched as she gripped the car door in protest, and then, as she attempted to exit the moving vehicle on the way to the hospital. I saw too, her mangled mind and tortured thoughts.

The difference is, I was a child. Mark is very much an adult.

I am so, so honored to have Mark on the blog couch today. The entire month of May has been Mental Health Awareness Month. We’re at the tail-end, I realize but that doesn’t negate it’s seriousness. Most everyone will come in contact with someone who has a mental illness—whether it’s a spouse, a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, and awareness is key.

Leslie Lindsay: Mark, thank you so much for popping over. I’m so in awe with this story. Not only did it take a terrible amount of courage to write, but the similarities with my mother are striking. Before we get into all of that, I’m curious what your inspiration was for writing this story? Was it really the ‘Modern Love’ column in the New York Times?

Mark Lukach:

I’d say that the motivation to write about this was two-fold: the first is personal, the second more universal.

On the personal front, after Giulia’s first episode, she and I were worlds apart. She was finally feeling better after almost a year of a mental health crisis, and she wanted nothing more than to just enjoy herself. Meanwhile, I was completely and totally wiped out by the caregiving experience, and so I slipped into my own depression a bit. She wanted to feel joyful and worry-free, and here I am dumping all of my pent-up anxiety and sadness on her. We tried talking about this, on our own and even in couple’s therapy, but we never really got anywhere and butted heads a lot.

So instead, I turned to writing. I had done so much writing over the year, almost entirely in email form to keep our families updated on what was going on, and I found the writing to be extremely helpful for me to process. So instead of write emails to our parents, I tried to reconstruct the year, in book form, Giulia as the sole audience. I needed her to be able to understand me a bit more, and as it turns out, the writing, reading, and subsequent discussions turned out to play a huge role in our ability to reconnect as a couple.  images (7)

The further I got into writing, the more I suspected that I might have something that was worth publishing, and so the Modern Love column was my way to try and get the book idea out there. That gets to the universal reason to write. As you say in your intro, mental health struggles come with surprisingly universal themes, but when Giulia was hospitalized, I felt more lonely than I’ve ever felt. It was like I was the first person to ever have to do this. I’m a history teacher, so I went online to try and find resources and narratives that could help me make sense of my experience, but I couldn’t find any, which made the loneliness even worse. I knew there were others out there like me, I just couldn’t find them, and that this book might be able to speak to people. It took us a while to decide to go for a fully published book, and in fact, it didn’t happen until well after the Modern Love column and Giulia’s subsequent hospitalizations, as well as the birth of our son, but the motivation really became about trying to help people.

L.L.: And now the similarities. My mom was 29 when this happened to her; Giulia was 27. My mom heard voices of God and the devil speaking to her. She did not want to go the hospital. She tried jumping out of a moving car. At one point, she was discharged AMA (against medical advice). It happened again and again.  My dad—also named Mark—is an avid athlete. He competed in marathons and triathlons; but we were land-locked in Missouri, so no surfing. There are differences, though. I think what this comes down to is the universality of mental illness. Can you talk about that, please?

Mark Lukach: I am constantly shocked by just how common these things are. I’ve received a humbling amount of email from readers over the years, due to the Modern Love column and also a magazine article I wrote in Pacific Standard, and at times I almost feel like I’m reading from myself. I remember speaking with one of the social workers during Giulia’s first hospitalization, and of the 30 or so people who were on the psych ward at that time with Giulia, there were several others with religious delusions that looked almost the exact same as Giulia’s. It’s remarkable. Although I have to say Leslie, your parents’ story seems to be the most similar from anyone else I’ve met. It’s so cool that we connected.

But what does this all mean? I’m not really sure. I do think it means that mental illness is more prevalent than we let on. I understand why people are hesitant to talk about it. It’s such a terrifying thing to experience, whether it’s happening to you, or to someone you love, and we don’t go around telling everyone about life’s biggest struggles. But if we could look inside the homes of all of our neighbors and coworkers, I think we’d be shocked about how many of us suffer in similar ways.

Sometimes I go the way of Yossarian from Catch-22 when I think about this stuff—it’s a crazy world, so the only reasonable response is to go crazy as well, and maybe that’s why mental illness is so prevalent. The world does seem to get more and more pressured and impersonal, so maybe that’s part of it. But I only sometimes download (10)think that way. My most go-to answer is in a mantra that we say a lot in our family—“We’re all in this together.” We say it before dinner, sort of like our version of grace, and the more I connect with people about mental illness, the more I’m convinced that it’s true. We’re all in this together—in our joys and also in our struggles.

L.L.: The biggest difference in MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD and my mom’s mental illness is my parents divorced. I’m not entirely sure if it was the illness that tore them apart, or the symptoms and after-effects; or if there were issues all along. What this speaks to is the tenacity to love someone in sickness and in health. That includes mental health. I can’t imagine how challenging this must be (has been). Can you share a bit of your coping skills and marriage maintenance tips?

Mark Lukach: This really is what the book is about at its core. Giulia and I were thrown this curve ball of a major mental illness, and we responded in desperation and in survival mode. Once the dust settled, we had to re-evaluate who we were, and what our relationship looked like, so that we could continue to stay together. And that’s not an easy thing to do. Crises forced us to take a close look at our relationship, and neither of us necessarily liked what we saw all the time.

But we had this shared history of falling in love so young, and basically growing into adulthood together, and also a belief that we could make it work, so we tried to find ways to reconnect. I think one of the core things that we both had to learn to do better was to listen. I did a lot of talking at Giulia while she was sick, and acting on her behalf. I essentially managed her life for her when she was sick, because I worried so much about what she might do on her own, like hurt herself. In all of that, I didn’t really listen to her that much. What she said was so heartbreaking to her, that I ended up trying to talk her out of her feelings. It took me a while to realize this. I thought I was doing the right thing by trying to comfort her when she felt suicidal, but I realized I was actually, in a small way, denying her experience by trying to talk her out of how she felt.

Similarly, Giulia had to learn to listen to just how difficult it was for me to support her, which as I said above, we largely accomplished through the writing process. I realize looking back just how desperate I was for validation that my struggles were being acknowledged.images (8)

We try to take this lesson of listening to heart every day in our marriage. Of course, not every day is a mental health crisis, and it’s so easy to get busy multi-tasking your way into half-listening, or to shut down things that you don’t like to hear, and I think those can be so damaging to a relationship. We still make mistakes to each other, but we have this anchor now that we always return to—when things are going bad, we try and remind each other how important it is to listen, and that ends up being the first step toward reconciliation.

http://www.today.com/health/too-much-stigma-too-little-awareness-mental-illness-t110946

L.L.: In MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSCYCH WARD, it’s mentioned that Giulia did not have a family history for mental illness, yet so many mental illnesses have genetic roots; they often run in families. I’m curious if you all did any more digging into her family history to find any sort of suggested mental illness?

Mark Lukach: We did do a lot of digging and asking, but Giulia is from Italy, where the conversations around mental illness are much different than they are in the US. I talked to her parents a lot about this, and they certainly didn’t know about any family members with mental illness, but over time they both admitted that just because they didn’t know about them [family members with mental illness], it didn’t mean that they didn’t exist. It just meant that they didn’t know, since this type of thing is basically never talked about over there.

L.L.: And you have a son together. How my heart broke as I read about little Jonas and his elephant costume, his mother away in psych ward, his insisting that there were monsters in the house.  How is he doing? What are some of his passions? And most importantly, can you reiterate the advice you received from your pediatrician about protecting kids in situations like this? 

Mark Lukach: Jonas is the light of our lives. I’ve wanted to be a dad for as long as I can remember, and I feel like we won the lottery with Jonas. He’s an active, curious, kind-hearted little boy. He’s just so much fun to be around. He loves books, sports, especially baseball and hockey, Star Wars, Harry Potter, legos. He’s very spiritual, and asks a lot of questions about the bigger questions in life, which I can’t help but to wonder if it’s connected somehow to his mom being hospitalized for delusions twice in his life. But I think his most telling trait is that Jonas likes to be together as a family. It seems like as long as we’re together as a family, he is up for anything. I’m hanging onto these days as tightly as I can, because I know that at some point, he’s going to grow away from always wanting his parents nearby, so I’m trying to treasure it now.

When Giulia was hospitalized for the third time, Jonas was 2 ½ years old, and his pediatrician told me that there might come a situation where I would have to choose to either protect Giulia or Jonas. For example, I knew that Giulia was really anxious to come home, and it felt like she might end up being discharged before she was ready to be around Jonas again. Jonas’ pediatrician was adamant: you have to protect your child first. He was so young, and didn’t have the words to process what he was experiencing, so I had to keep him safe and happy at all costs. Even if that meant rejecting the doctor’s recommendation that Giulia could come home, which can you imagine what that would do to my relationship with Giulia? Thankfully we didn’t have this sort of confrontation, because when Giulia came home, she was the one to realize she probably needed a few days to settle in at home before Jonas was home as well, so he stayed with my parents during that time.

When I became a parent, I never imagined that I would have to at some point crazy-love-4make a choice between my wife or my child. I didn’t know that came with part of the territory. But it’s something I think all parents have to confront at some point or another, and I honestly don’t know if there’s a harder position to be in.

L.L.: And Giulia? How does she feel about this story being out for public consumption? I ask because in the book there’s a line that says something like, “It might be your illness, but it affects us all.”

Mark Lukach: Giulia has been incredible about this. I knew that it took a lot of courage for her to share this story, but I didn’t actually realize just how much courage. Whenever you Google her name, this book comes up. She is the lovely wife, the one whose medical history is shared for anyone to read about. And she’s up for it because she thinks this book can help people, and I find that amazing.

We’ve been doing book readings here in the Bay Area, and Giulia always comes and we do a Q&A together with the audience after I’ve read some passages, and I am so blown away by how she does with the questions. I think it’s the most empowered I’ve ever seen her. It really is incredible. I have always loved and admired Giulia, but that has only grown to see her be so gracious through all of this.

L.L.:  What was the last thing you Googled?

Mark Lukach: Ha, I like this question. The last thing I Googled was for techniques to manage poison oak. I got a really bad case of the rash recently, which comes with the lifestyle of how much time I spend out on trails running and mountain biking. So I usually get poison oak a few times each year—it’s unavoidable. But I went hiking recently and saw this vine climbing up a tree, and I tried to climb up it, not realizing the vine was poison oak. The leaves were way up in the tree, so I couldn’t identify the plant, and I got the worst case of poison oak I think I’ve ever gotten. All over my face, arms, chest, everywhere. It is the worst. When I get poison oak, I race to the internet to find ways to cope with it. Granted, I already have like 50 techniques, but I hope that maybe some new trick has been discovered, and so I have been spending a lot of time trying to Google my way to some new solution that will somehow speed up the healing process. But I think I’m just stuck with it for the next two weeks, no matter how much I Google.

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

Mark Lukach: I’d love to talk about artistic inspiration for the book. I am an avid reader but even more than that, a fan of music, and I think that music inspired this book more than anything. I listened to Sufjan Stevens’ album “Carrie and Lowell” on repeat for much of the writing process, and I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. I would literally listen to the album 4 or 5 times a day while writing. The album is download (11)Sufjan’s way of mourning his mother, who battled mental illness as well, and I found the album helped me fully reconnect with the emotions that I wanted to embed into the book.

L.L.: Mark, thank you so very much for your words. MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD is an important read and so courageous. I applaud you for telling your story.

Mark Lukach: I really appreciate your interest in having me on your site, and for the support for the book. I’m a high school history teacher, and it’s so flattering to be included with such an impressive assortment of writers.

For more information about MY LOVELY WIFE IN THE PSYCH WARD, to connect with Mark via social media, or to purchase your own copy, please visit: 

profilepicsmall.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Lukach is a teacher and freelance writer. His work has been published in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Wired, and other publications. He is currently the ninth grade dean at The Athenian School, where he also teaches history. He lives with his wife, Giulia, and their son in the San Francisco Bay area.

Mark first wrote about Giulia in a New York Times “Modern Love” column and again in a piece for Pacific Standard Magazine, which was the magazine’s most-read article in 2015.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Harper Wave and used with permission. Lukach family photo retrieved from Pacific Standard article/author’s personal archives. Catch-22 image retrieved from Wikipedia, “Carrie and Lowell” album cover retrieved from Wiki.en, all on 5.25.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Abandoned insane asylums, ghosts, lush prose, a mystery, writing amidst chaos, a brief tutorial in short stories and linked novels, and so much more from Karen Brown. Oh, and her new novel, THE CLAIRVOYANTS.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Lush, descriptive, wholly original psychological mystery in which one woman’s desires and abilities are put to the test.

Flattened-199x300THE CLAIRVOYANTS is the second novel of Karen Brown (her first, THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS came out in 2013. Be sure to check out my interview with her here.

Karen’s prose is complex, vivid, and poetic. THE CLAIRVOYANTS is a hot, roiling simmer encased with erotic undertones, complex layers, a highly Gothic vibe that will have you wrapped in a hypnotic dream-state questioning your own reality. 

Martha Mary and her slightly unstable younger sister, Del (Delores) claim to see ghosts. They are the charlatans of their small coastal town, offering seances and readings of the dead in exchange for a few bucks to buy lip gloss and drug-store flip-flops.

But maybe she *can* see ghosts after all?

Martha Mary leaves that coastal town and settles in Ithaca, New York in attempt to be a bit more ‘grounded,’ to attend college. There she falls in love with photographer/professor William Bell and together, along with her sister and other friends try to piece out the mystery of a missing, presumed dead girl, Mary Rae.

But dark, twisty things happen. More deaths. More ghosts. More mystery and intrigue. THE CLAIRVOYANTS is one of those books that will linger long after you’ve closed the cover for the last time.

Please join me in welcoming Karen Brown back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Karen, it’s been a few years! It was 2013 when we chatted last—about THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS, your debut novel. I can only imagine you’ve been busy writing and teaching. Can you fill us in?TheLongingsofWaywardGirls

Karen Brown:  I wish I could say that I’ve done some world traveling, but you’re pretty much spot on: Since we last chatted I’ve been mostly teaching and writing. I teach at the University of South Florida—my alma mater, where I first decided to become a writer, and where I produced my first short stories. Each semester I teach three sections of the same fiction writing courses I took myself years ago. Being a teacher means that each semester I am dropped into the fictional worlds of my students while trying to maintain the fictional world in my own work. Since LONGINGS appeared I’ve revised two novels, and have begun work on a new one—still tentative and very incomplete. The revisions can be just as time-consuming as starting from scratch—every small change can present entirely new plot directions. For me, revising is very close to drafting—I am always open to making big changes, and each version—for THE CLAIRVOYANTS it was twelve—takes the story further away from the original.

L.L.: I’m always, always intrigued about what sparks a writer into action on a particular title. I have to know, what was it for THE CLAIRVOYANTS?

Karen Brown: THE CLAIRVOYANTS started as a short story, “Galatea,” published first in Crazyhorse, and reprinted in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES.  As I expanded the story into a novel it became three sections—one set in Ithaca, NY, one in Florida, and one in the Caribbean. Martha Mary was the main character in each section, and the sections represented three different time periods of her life. The book was very long and convoluted, and after getting some initial reads I decided to simply focus on the Ithaca section. There are aspects of the other sections that I held on to and worked into the Ithaca story—Owen, Martha’s nephew and Anne, with her glioblastoma. Even the yachties in the Caribbean get to play a small role in the new version. The novel began as a story of a young woman with a troubled past who is seeking love. The addition of the ghosts and the spiritualist camp came about after I reconnected with a childhood friend whose parents bought a house in Pine Grove, a small spiritualist community in Niantic, CT. I was intrigued with the spiritualists and the mediums, and I wanted to add this component to the novel. Martha Mary is named after her great aunt, a nun, who dies in a car accident, and the themes of doubt and belief play into her sighting of Auntie Sister as a ghost when she is a child. In Ithaca, it seemed natural to give her a ghost to draw her into the ongoing mystery.

L.L.: One observation I made while reading THE CLAIRVOYANTS is that it could very well be any time period. The names of your characters: Martha Mary. Anne. Randy. Del. William. Mary Rae. Geoff. Well, they all seem kind of Nancy Drew-ish. Yet, they have cell phones, so it’s not exactly a period piece. But it could have been. Was this intentional on your part?

Karen Brown: I lived in an area similar to that of the novel for a year while I attended graduate school—a  small, rural town thirty minutes from the closest movie theater, mall, and Pizza Hut. The drive in to the university was on a road that cut through a vast, open area of fields, the roadside dotted with occasional small businesses—a place that sold garden statuary, a bridal shop. Little kids wore blaze orange caps when they played outside and the big thing for girls was baton lessons. Guys drove muscle cars or trucks, and the professors lived in farmhouses down long wooded lanes. Isolated settings tend to create a sense of timelessness, and I wanted to capture that feeling. I like old-fashioned names (and I love Nancy 20150827-38-Westfield-New-York-21922691918-700x525Drew), and perhaps subconsciously the names seemed to fit the setting. The novel focuses on a quirky group from a small, isolated town that gathers around an artist—Anne. Though they aren’t off the grid, the traditions they follow—the New Year’s Eve hunt, the recipes from old cookbooks, the games of Bridge, the Aaron Copland music—seem things borrowed from another time and recast as part of their small community. The addition of cell phones was practical—I needed the story to be set in a time long enough after the asylums were closed down—most in the 1970s—to have the one in the novel deteriorate.

L.L.: I have to say, I loved the old, abandoned places that creep into the narrative. There are at least two, though there could be more, depending on your read. Are these real places, what was your inspiration for them? Having been a former psychiatric R.N., I’m especially taken with the abandoned asylum.

Karen Brown: I became interested in artists whose work focused on abandoned places, particularly abandoned asylums. Shaun O’Boyle’s asylum images, particularly those of Northampton and Buffalo State hospitals, formed the basis for the asylum in the novel. I was drawn to the colors in his images, and the way he made the deterioration of the buildings seem so beautiful. Many of the details of the asylum in the novel are from O’Boyle’s images. The area in central New York state where the novel is set is filled with abandoned houses and trailers, but for the

abandoned cottage in the woods, I relied on a fellow student in my MFA program years ago, who told us about hiking in woods in the Ithaca area and discovering an abandoned cottage with dishes still on the table, as if the people had just risen from their places and left. Her description stuck with me.

L.L.: There are definitely some twisty-turny moments in THE CLAIRVOYANTS. Are you a pantser or a plotter? What’s your writing space like?

Karen Brown: I almost always start with a setting, and then decide what sort of people I might put there. Once the characters are established, I like to live in the world a bit with them and see what kind of trouble they can get into—mostly creating scenes, which I do even when I am not writing. I sit down in the morning to work for as long as I have time. On teaching days that is usually until noon, but on other days, or like now, in the summer, I’ll go as long as I can stand to sit still.

I don’t have a desk—I write sitting on a couch in the middle of the house. At any given time there is passing traffic on the four-lane boulevard, my husband on the phone in his office, my son asking would I please, please make some eggs for breakfast. Today, a cat we’ve taken in is in heat, a man is sanding our old windows outside in preparation for painting, my son is watching a movie in an adjoining room, just returned from morning class. I’ve always written in the midst of a kind of chaos, but I must admit I prefer a quiet space—early mornings before the late-sleepers in the house awaken are my best days.4

L.L.: You have two collections of short stories. Of course the novel and short story are two totally different forms. In your opinion, what are the similarities, the differences?

Karen Brown: Most of my short stories contain one novel, at least. When I write a story, I know far more than I ever reveal about the setting, the characters, and the events that have shaped the conflict they find themselves struggling with. There are backstories and histories and scenes in the characters’ lives that simply aren’t needed to build up to the pivotal moment a story depends on. The art of the short story is choosing what to leave out and deciding which moment will be the one to highlight as most revelatory. Novels do the same thing, though they use a handful of moments that necessarily rely on each other to accomplish the same feat—give a reader a world inhabited by people whose thoughts and actions reveal something vital about our own lives.

L.L.: In a related question, a form I’m super-curious about is a linked novel, a novel in short stories. Can you educate us on that, too?

Karen Brown:  Some of my favorite books are novels in stories, or linked short stories. Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO, for example, or more contemporary books like Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD or Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE. I’ve always been attracted to the genre, and wrote my PhD dissertation as a novel in stories. From a writer’s perspective, this genre provides the best of both worlds. You get to use the short story to capture a particular moment in a character’s life, yet by stringing stories together—ones that explore other characters’ perspectives, or the same character at another point in her life—you can reveal the hidden parts of the larger story that must necessarily, by the nature of the short story form itself, be left out. These leaps between characters through time present a sense of a larger picture—that of a community or a family or a set of characters whose relationships alter and change through time. The stories in these books are linked by character or place—or both. One of my favorites, OUR KIND, by Kate Walbert, uses a communal narrator. Often, the setting becomes a character in the story, as in Rebecca Barry’s excellent LATER, AT THE BAR. Just talking about the form makes me want to write another one.

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

tumblr_nm8ud2wGzR1qm7imdo1_500.jpgKaren Brown: I’m working on a novel set in Tampa. When I first moved here in the early 80s, I bartended in a rock club, and I remember a customer talking about Drew Park girls,” the classification clearly derogatory. The club was located on the edge of Drew Park, whose boundaries included two busy thoroughfares and Tampa International Airport. I was in the middle of a scene and wondered what I might find out about Drew Park if I looked it up: “The core of Drew Park is occupied by light industry, adult entertainment establishments, and several homes, due to its mixed-use zoning.” The area has been the focus of police raids for prostitution, operating without a license, and the illegal selling of alcohol. So, if you actually grew up in Drew Park, it might be in a house across the street from the Pink Pony Showgirls, or Buddies Adult Video, or Redline Express Couriers. Those poor Drew Park girls couldn’t live down their reputation if they tried.

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

Karen Brown: Last time, you asked me what I was reading, and since I’m always reading, I’m always eager to share the books that are intriguing me now. I just started Edan Lepucki’s WOMAN NO.17. I’m enthralled with California and noir, and this book brings all of that to life through the darkly funny voice of its narrators. I’m also reading Jan Marsh’s CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: A WRITER’S LIFEmy work-in-progress deals with an artistic sister and brother and their correspondence, and well, the Rossetti’s! For my upcoming classes I’m checking out Benjamin Percy’s THRILL ME: ESSAYS ON FICTION. Students are in love with genre, and I want them to write what they love, but write it well.

L.L.: Karen, it was a pleasure! Thanks so much for popping over.

Karen Brown: Thanks so much for having me, Leslie!

For more information, to connect with Karen via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CLAIRVOYANTS, please see:

Personal Branding Photography for EntrepreneuersABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Brown was born in Connecticut. She is the author of a novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls (July 2013), and two short story collections, Pins & Needles (July 2013) and Little Sinners and Other Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, The New York Times, and Good Housekeeping,and in many literary journals. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of South Florida.

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

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[Cover image retrieved from author’s website, as well as other covers of previous works. Author image courtesy of Henry Holt and used with permission. Image from Westfield, NY retrieved from onlyinyourstate.com, images of interior abandoned asylum retrieved from Shaun O’Boyle’s website, woman on laptop/couch retrieved from shutterstock, reading in field from rebloggy.com, all on 5.23.17]

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Wednesdays with Writers: What if your mother–a flaming narcissist–died and left you a mound of debt and unanswered questions? Debut novelist Gina Sorell delves into family secrets, grief, reinvention, and so much more in MOTHERS & OTHER STRANGERS

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A riveting story of a woman’s quest to understand her recently deceased mother, a glamorous, cruel narcissist who left her only child a mound of debt, mysteries, threats, and questions. 

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Gina Sorell has my attention. I loved her searing debut, MOTHERS & OTHER STRANGERS and absolutely reveled in the mystery surrounding both of her characters, daughter Elsie (Elspeth) and her mother, Rachel/Devedra.

Just take a read of the first, magical line: 

“My father proposed to my mother at gunpoint when she was nineteen, and knowing that she was pregnant with a dead man’s child, she accepted.” 

I found MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS written in such a crisp, flow-y manner propelling the story forward, making it a challenge to set it down. I wanted to know moreThe prose is absolutely stunning, the mystery absorbing, and Elsie’s mother–troubling. Sorell writes with such authenticity it was a bit hard to believe this wasn’t a memoir.

I’m so honored to have Gina on the blog couch this morning.

Leslie Lindsay: I’m always so, so intrigued about what propels a writer forward with a particular story. What was it for you in MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS?

Gina Sorell: For me it was that opening line. It rattled around in my head for a very long time and then I thought, who would say that? What if she was a mother? And then what kind of woman says that to a child? And then I was off creating my characters and their world.

L.L.: There is a good deal of backstory in MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS, and this is probably the crux of the entire story. One of the main characters is dead after all, and we need to understand the person she was to make sense of the story; I feel our past so very much shapes our present. Can you speak to that, please?

Gina Sorell: I agree, that’s a great way to put it. Our past does shape us, often in ways that we are unaware of, and hopefully later in ways that we can recognize and address. One of the things I always had in the forefront of my mind while writing this, is that you can’t really know where you are going, until you know where you’ve been. And the protagonist Elsie, is in many ways stuck where she is as a result of not really knowing the full extent of her and her mother’s past. She needs to understand how her past shaped her, so that it can hopefully no longer define her.

“This dark gorgeous jewel of a novel probes the secrets we keep and the complex ties of family, love and loss. Shattering and brilliant, this marks the debut of an astonishing talent.”

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

L.L.: Elsie is a professional dancer and I found reading about her practice and profession quite fascinating. I understand you were also a performer, much like Elsie, but as an actress. How do the two overlap and what research did you conduct to bring authenticity to the dance world?

Gina Sorell: To me being an artist is about communicating, about telling a story and creating a shared experience that will hopefully touch people and make them stop and think and feel. As an actor I had the benefit of a script to help me do that. As someone who danced for many years, but not at Elsie’s level, I had to rely on my body and the music and how I related to it, to convey my thoughts and feelings. I adore dance and spent a lot of time practicing it, and later watching it, and I think all that personal experience really helped me bring that authenticity to Elsie’s world.

images (2)L.L.: And her mother! How I loved to hate Rachel/Devedra. May is actually Mental Health Awareness Month and I have to say, you really brought narcissism to light. In fact, I was worried this might be based off your own mother. It’s not, I hope?! How was the character of Rachel/Devedra conceived?

Gina Sorell: Thankfully Rachel/Devedra is not based on my own mom! I have a wonderful mother, and I am grateful. But I will say that neither of my parents had very easy relationships with their own parents growing up, distance, divorce, tragedy, many things were a factor, and while they had good relationships as adults, I was always struck by how amazing my parents were, in spite of not having had it easy. As an actor who worked in the entertainment industry, I am no stranger to narcissism, it’s a place where that kind of thing can thrive, and understandably so. But what happens to someone when their whole world is no longer about them? What happens to someone when one of their greatest commodities, their beauty, starts to fade? And what does life look like for someone who feels that their best years were robbed from them by fate and an unplanned pregnancy? I wanted to explore those things, and that really is Rachel; a woman who in many ways felt she was cheated and never got her chance, and was unable to mother Elsie properly as a result.

L.L.: And mothers in general. Since it’s May and we just celebrated Mother’s Day and the title bears the name…I have to highlight your lovely blog series, ‘Discover Your Mother.’ Many of us really don’t know who our mothers are, or were ‘before.’ What did you learn about your own mother in this process?

Gina Sorell: Thank you, doing the ‘Discover Your Mother’ series has been really wonderful. I always knew that my mom was a young mom, three kids by the time she was 25, but finding those pictures of her dancing and laughing, and being social and glamorous and adventurous, really showed me who she was out in the world. A world before her kids came along. And it also really drove home how brief that time was for her, from her parent’s house to living and marrying my Dad. It was hardly any time at all, and it made me really appreciate how much she has given of b6b18a25fe5d4373d1e7af0c25ff51aeherself to all of us all while being supportive and kind and loving. She’s a great mom and friend.

L.L.: Death, grief, finding oneself, reinvention. These all seem to be themes in MOTHERS AND OTHER STRANGERS. What this deliberate on your part, or did they just sort of reveal themselves? Ultimately, how important is theme?

Gina Sorell: Theme to me is very important as a guiding principle when I am writing, but the themes also grow and open themselves up and reveal themselves to me. I started with this idea as I’ve mentioned of how can you go forward until you know where you’ve been, which grew into the larger theme of identity and how all the things that you’ve stated above; death, grief, finding oneself, reinvention, along with secrets and lies, shape that identity.

L.L.: You’re awfully busy mothering, working, writing. And that’s a good thing. I think it helps focus writing time. What are some of your hacks?

Gina Sorell: Oh that’s a good question. I do a lot of work with clients on the west coast, which means that as an east coaster, my day goes longer, but I can also grab an hour or two in the morning to walk and write. Walking is a great way for me to get into my writing frame of mind. I also bribe myself with coffee and treats to stay at the desk, on the days when I want to get up and go because it feels to hard. And I usually get a three hour chunk on the weekend, from my husband and son to focus on my writing. But often there are work deadlines that take precedence during my week, and when that happens, I try not to get grumpy and focus on what needs to get done and reward myself with a whole day of writing at the end of it.

L.L.: What do you like to do when you’re alone? It doesn’t have to be literary.  [Hint: I love cleaning/organizing while singing—badly—along with my iPod].

Gina Sorell: I love design blogs. And design in general. And I like to walk, listen to the radio, a good podcast and also bake. I’ve been known to read cookbooks to relax. ce91266e28f38ae85a387b0ba29e4f6d.jpg

L.L.: What lasting words of wisdom about writing might you impart?

Gina Sorell: In the beginning I think you need to establish some sort of routine; an hour or three a day, whatever you can, and keep it consistent. I did that for a very long time, until I could trust that I could find my way back after a break. And then I think you need to trust that you can be flexible, and that not everything needs to perfect in order to create, you just need to do it. I also am a big believer in having a beautiful or inspiring space, for example, I always have a mason jar of flowers on my desk, and will blast some favorite songs to get me in the mood and then I get to it. And I always try to stop at a place that gives me a good place to start the next time, so that I have something to look forward to.

L.L.: Gina, it’s been a tremendous pleasure! Thanks for popping by.

Gina Sorell: The pleasure has been all mine! I really appreciate your thoughtful questions. And I am thrilled that you loved the book! I can’t wait to read yours one day too!

For more information, to connect with Gina via social media, or to purchase your own copy of MOTHERS & OTHER STRANGERS (for yourself or a gift), please see: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gina Sorell credit Ian Brown.jpgGina Sorell was born in South Africa and raised in Toronto. A former actor, Gina was part of the first ever performing arts school in Canada, Claude Watson School for the Performing Arts, and among the first students admitted to the school in its inaugural year. She attended CWSA and Earl Haig as a drama major and dance minor, and would go on to attend The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. Throughout her school years Gina wrote and often created and produced her own work.

Gina’s first job as an actor was at an off-off Broadway theater company called Theater on Three; creating work with inner city kids who had stories to tell. She then returned to Toronto where she wrote and performed in a successful sketch troupe called The Stupid Goodlookings, and later at Second City Mainstage. One of the first plays she performed in was the first ever adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Good Bones, and she had the pleasure of studying playwriting with the late Carol Bolt. After moving to Los Angeles with her actor husband Jeff Clarke, Gina returned to her first love writing, and honed her craft at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, graduating with distinction. It was at UCLA that she met her mentor, the New York Times bestselling author Caroline Leavitt, who contacted Gina after reading the first sentence of her novel Mothers and Other Strangers, to say that she had a book, and encouraged her to pursue it. After a decade in Los Angeles, Gina returned to Toronto to be with her family and raise her own, in her old beloved neighborhood of Riverdale, which has always felt like home. Learn more at http://www.ginasorell.com.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Prospect Park Books and used with permission.   Mason jar of flowers and vintage mother and daughter found on Pinterest, no source noted. Mental Health Awareness logo retrieved from Mental Health America, all on 5.15.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Elizabeth Kostova Takes Us on Cultural Wandering Through Bulgaria, Music, Mystery, and More

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By Leslie Lindsay 

#1 New York Times Bestselling Author of THE HISTORIAN, Elizabeth Kostova takes us on a cultural wandering the troubled hills of Bulgaria seeking truth and peace in the mesmerizing THE SHADOW LAND. 

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Alexandra Boyd is a 26-year old American who is seeking for something: truth, peace, belonging. She finds a job teaching English in Sofia, Bulgaria, a country she knows little about, but was a ‘beautiful green country on a map her brother found fascinating.’ With Jack no longer living, Alexandra sets forth on her adventure, in part to finally put her brother to rest.

Immediately, I was drawn into Alexandra’s story as she arrives jet-lagged and forlorn at a rustic hostel in the heart of Sofia. An encounter with a Bulgarian family, an accidental switch of bags, and a taxi propels the story into present-day action. Alexandra is left holding the bag, quite literally, of another man’s ashes.

We continue along a jaunty journey meeting various Bulgarians, a monastery, and horrors of a century of civil unrest.

Alexandra will have to uncover the secrets of the talented musician who is was shattered by political oppression, his dreams crushed—yet, she will find that in doing so, she is ultimately in danger.

Please join me in conversation with Elizabeth Kostova, a gifted storyteller, whose characters are constantly evolving, looking to connect past with the present, in the hope that perhaps meaning can be found in the rubble.

Leslie Lindsay: Elizabeth, it is a pleasure and honor to host you today. Thank you, thank you for being here. You visited Bulgaria in 1989 just a week after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Subsequently, Bulgarian communist dictatorship crumbled then, too. You were taken with this ancient place, so much that you fell in love…in more ways than one. Am I right in saying this experience shaped your narrative for THE SHADOW LAND? Can you shed a little more light on your inspiration behind the book?

Elizabeth Kostova:  I first went to Bulgaria in 1989, when I was twenty-four, to do fieldwork on traditional singing in villages there, with two American friends.  It was an incredible experience, especially as the Berlin Wall fell a week before we arrived, bringing down with it the 45-year Bulgarian communist dictatorship.  The country was in turbulence, but also much more open to foreigners, especially in the villages, than it would have been just weeks earlier.  We were able not only to travel to beautiful and remote places but even sometime to stay in people’s homes while we interviewed them about how they’d learned the old songs of their regions.  It was amazing.  While I was there, I met my future husband, and we’ve returned to the country together many times over 28 years.

L.L.: I’ll be honest, I know very little about Bulgaria. But I do know [from reading your author’s note in THE SHADOW LAND] that this land is one of the first settled by Homo sapiens. Can you tell us more? I find that really fascinating.Devetashka-Bulgarian-Cave

Elizabeth Kostova:  Well, those early settlements are among the first settled by our species just in Europe—you can see the remains of those very early humans in several parts of the country, including some cave digs In fact, Bulgaria is a hotbed for archaeologists, because it contains remnants of so many different cultures from over millennia—not only Neolithic, but also ancient Greek, Thracian, Roman, Byzantine, and medieval Bulgarian, to name some of the major ones.  Bulgaria has always been a crossroads, culturally and geographically.

L.L.: Alexandra Boyd, the 26-year old American protagonist in the story has a secret [revealed fairly early in the story]. Was her character based on anyone in particular? Is there some symbolism between her story and the one of Stoyan Lazarov? I found that they mimicked one another in several ways. Was that intentional?

Elizabeth Kostova:  Alexandra isn’t based on anyone in my own life, but I did try to imbue her with the sense of newness, strangeness, and excitement I felt when I first went to Bulgaria at about her age!  (Fortunately, I never got into as much trouble as she does in the story.)  And I have a very vivid picture of her in my mind.  I did indeed want her 21st-century story and the story of my older character, from the 1940s and on–Stoyan Lazarov–to be parallel.  She is a stranger in a strange land, and he becomes a stranger in his own land.

“The Shadow Land is thrilling, and not just as a gripping tale. It’s also thrilling to watch such a talented writer cast her spell. The central character actually begins this deft novel in an urn, only to emerge as one of the most memorable characters I’ve encountered in a long time.

— Richard Russo, author of Everybody’s Fool

L.L.: And Stoyan Lazarov, the man whose ashes Alexandra is frantically trying to reunite with his family, his past is quite storied. In fact, nearly half the book is fraught with his time in Zelenets, a Bulgarian work camp. I’m so saddened to hear of this piece of history, which in many ways closely resembles the Holocaust. Can you talk about that?

Elizabeth Kostova:  Bulgaria, like most of the Soviet East Bloc, was riddled with different kinds of persecution of citizens, including the use of forced-labor camps that the regime filled with “enemies of the people.”  This was a way to frighten the population and push people to carry out surveillance against each other, and is one of the darkest moments in Bulgarian history.  Zelenets, the camp in my book, is a fictional setting, but closely based on details of some of the real camps in Bulgaria.  I was 18428370_401inspired to include it by my unexpected experience of visiting the ruins of a real camp—dilapidated and closed to the public—while I was doing research in Bulgaria for THE SHADOW LAND.  It was one of the emptiest, eeriest places I’ve ever seen, and it made me feel a responsibility to write about it.  Stoyan’s story also includes some joyful things, like a great love—and his love of his violin.

L.L.: And music! How I loved Stoyan’s use of distraction while he was a ‘walking skeleton’ at that horrific camp. How did Vivaldi and the violin come to the forefront of THE SHADOW LANDS? Do you play yourself?

Elizabeth Kostova:  I don’t play an instrument myself but am lucky enough to have three professional classical instrumentalists in my family!  I interviewed them extensively.  I love music myself, and the Bach and Vivaldi Stoyan plays in the novel are close to my heart.

L.L.: There is so much going on in THE SHADOW LANDS, from the exquisite foreign setting, to the deep grief of a lost life, the work camp, historical and cultural significance, Alexandra’s journey…what do you hope others glean?

Elizabeth Kostova:  My hope is that readers will feel that, like Alexandra, they get to visit and travel all over Bulgaria, a place we don’t usually put on our bucket lists!  Since the book came out, I’ve been hearing from a lot of American readers who are now planning to do just that, which thrills me.203px-Oilcape

L.L.: What’s got your attention these days? What inspires you?

Elizabeth Kostova:  I missed my characters so much as I finished editing THE SHADOW LAND that I started a new novel in October—I’m excited about it, but still developing the story.  It’s definitely going to involve more research travel.

L.L: I’m eager to know a little more about your Foundation for Creative Writing. What can you tell us?

Elizabeth Kostova:  When I first went to Bulgaria on book tour, with THE HISTORIAN (one third of that book is set in Bulgaria in the 1950s), I observed that a lot of Bulgarian writers and translators were working very hard but had very few formal opportunities to apply for—there just weren’t many prizes, programs, conferences, and so on.  And it had become hard for them to publish their own work in Bulgaria after the fall of the Wall, because a flood of books translated from English came into the country.  I wanted to be part of a solution rather than part of this problem!  In 2007, with a Bulgarian publisher, I co-founded the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation,  which offers some of those opportunities on a competitive basis and also bring writers from the English-writing world to Bulgaria to meet with Bulgarian writers.  It’s been very fulfilling, and a lot of fun, as well.

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

Elizabeth Kostova:  You haven’t asked if I write with a pen or a laptop!  I’m grateful.

L.L.: Elizabeth, it’s been the utmost pleasure. Best wishes on THE SHADOW LANDS.

Elizabeth Kostova:  Thank you so much—it’s been a real pleasure to think about your questions.  I appreciate everything you do for books and writing.

For more information on THE SHADOW LAND, to connect with Elizabeth Kostova via social media, or to purchase a copy, please visit these links:

KostovaPicks40flat3.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elizabeth Kostova was born in Connecticut in 1964. She is the author of three novels, The Historian (Little, Brown, 2005), The Swan Thieves (Little, Brown, 2010), and The Shadow Land (Random House, 2017). The Historian was the first debut novel in U.S. publishing history to debut at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, has been translated into 40 languages, and won Quill and Independent Bookseller Awards. The Swan Thieves was also a New York Times Bestseller and has been translated into 28 languages. Her short fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such periodicals and anthologies as The Mississippi Review, Poets & Writers Magazine, The Best American Poetry, The Michigan Quarterly, and Another Chicago Magazine.

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[Cover and author image retrieved from E. Kotova’s website on 5.8.17. Author image credit: Lynne Harty. Image of Bulgarian workcamp retrieved from dw.com, image of Maslen nos Primosko/Black Sea Coast retrieved from Wikipedia, and images of ancient caves retrieved from ancient-origins.net, all on 5.8.17]

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: What if your beloved summer home–a century old–was crumbling into the ocean? Michelle Gable explores the homes on Sconset/Nantucket, their storied histories traversing generations, her summer reading list, and so much more in THE BOOK OF SUMMER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In her New York Times bestselling debut, A PARIS APARTMENT, Michelle Gable fictionalized the true story of a French courtesan and the discovery of her sealed-for-seventy-years Parisian apartment, filled to the rafters of stunning pieces of artwork and furniture; a true treasure trove of untold stories.

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And now, she turns her gaze to Nantucket, blending her love for old and new, fact and fiction, and weaving past narratives with present-day stories. It’s the ultimate melding of storytelling.

In THE BOOK OF SUMMER, Gable uses the faded pages of an alligator-skin guest book to transport readers to the late 1930s-1940s when the country was on ‘war watch.’ And then there’s Cliff House, a 99-year old summer home perched on the cliffs of Sconset, Nantucket. Due to erosion, be that familial or geographical, things are eroding.

So pack your bags, toss in your flip-flops and join me on the grand old porch that is Cliff House.

Leslie Lindsay: Michelle, it’s lovely to have you back. I recall the last time we chatted, you mentioned you were working on a new book set in Nantucket. Of course, I was enamored. What drove you to this location?

Michelle Gable:Thank you for having me back on the blog! I’ve always had an obsession with New England, in particular New England beaches, which is kind of strange for a California girl! But I like the history, and the changing seasons, and how a town’s population shifts between the months. The dynamics are entirely different in San Diego.

I wasn’t looking to set a book in Nantucket per se, but I stumbled across this article in Vanity Fair and knew it was the perfect fit! I decided to set the story on Nantucket, featuring a home facing a fate similar to that of Bluff House. It took me a bit to figure out the structure of the novel, and its characters, but I knew immediately it’d feature a guest book and that I’d call it THE BOOK OF SUMMER. I also knew the last line, and that shaped the rest.image (1)

The best part of writing this book was having an excuse to stay on Nantucket in the name of research. Last summer, my family and I rented a house on Baxter Road, where my characters have their home. We stayed on the non-cliff side, of course.

L.L.: And so it’s a real thing, these houses in Sconset crumbling off cliffs. Can you talk about that? What, if anything is being done to save these summer homes?

Michelle Gable: In my novel, the matriarch of the family, Cissy, is desperate to save her home and goes through all manner of time and funds to get her way. She thinks she can use her money and influence to “fight city hall” and force the installation of a number of controversial erosion control measures. The proposed solutions and drawbacks in the novel all mirror what occurred (and continues to occur) in real life. Nantucket did initiate the geotube installation/beach replenishment program a few years ago. Some say it’s prevented further erosion, while others disagree. There’s no obvious or clear-cut answer, that’s for sure, and in a way both sides are right.

L.L.: I love houses. Their stories are often fascinating, the secrets they hold, but also the design and architecture. It seems like they may also be a fascination of yours, too. I’m thinking of THE PARIS APARTMENT, the manse in I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS (which is actually in England). What are some of your favorite houses and their locations? They don’t have to be literary.

Michelle Gable: It’s funny because I never realized this until someone pointed it out at one of my book signings! Yes, homes have featured prominently in all three of my novels. I’ve never really followed astrology, but I am a Cancer, and that sign is known for being a homebody. So maybe there’s something to it! The central character in my fourth book is a displaced person and therefore someone without a home. This was before I realized my apparent fixation on “home as character.” I suppose “lack of home” fits in that bucket too.

In terms of favorite homes, the first one that comes to mind is my parents’, which they’ve lived in for almost forty years. It’s located in Del Mar, California, about Plaza_at_Del_Mar.jpgten minutes from where I live now. I have so many happy memories of their house (and yard) from my childhood, and my daughters’ childhoods too. They’ve spent a lot of time there over the years and even as tweens/teens still love to go see Gam-Gam and Gramps.

Also, I love my own house. We live in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, which is a funky beach town in northern San Diego County. We had the home custom built nearly ten years ago and—couldn’t you guess—it looks like it belongs in New England, not Southern California. I can tell people “I live in that white house with the brick and the picket fence” and they know exactly which house is mine because it’s very East Coast! I love it because we picked every aspect of it and because it’s ours.

And I love the shingled homes on Nantucket, especially the charming, rose-covered Sconset cottages. I took pictures of several of my favorites and put them on my Pinterest page.

L.L.: THE BOOK OF SUMMER alternates between POVs and time periods. How did you decide to structure the story this way? Was there a particular story or timeline that you felt a particular affinity toward?

Michelle Gable: I like to write with alternating POVs and time periods because that’s the format of book I most enjoy reading. Multiple perspectives are fun to play with, to imagine how the same scenario might be viewed differently depending on circumstance.

All three of my books have alternated between the past and the present (or semi-Sconset-Roses-732x328present—I’ll See You in Paris was set in 2001), and in my first two, I’d say I most enjoyed writing the historical storylines. In THE BOOK OF SUMMER, I really can’t decide. I liked the friendships (reluctant and otherwise) in the historical storyline, and the romance in the modern day.

Another commonality in my books is that they were all inspired by a true story. But, unlike the first two, The Book of Summer’s real-life thread is in the modern timeline.

L.L.: I read somewhere that if books were kids and you had to pick your favorite, THE BOOK OF SUMMER would be it. Yet so many authors struggle with their second and third books…perhaps not you? Can you shed some light on this?

Michelle Gable: It’s funny, with my first book, my editorial letter was twelve pages long, for my second it was 2-3 pages, and for THE BOOK OF SUMMER it was a one-sentence email! Book of Summer The

Once I started writing it, the book came easily, and it was pure joy the entire way through. No frustration. No second-guessing. When I was done editing I missed the characters and that’s never happened before! That said, it was harder to begin because I was grappling with too many storylines, which is a common problem of mine! Early on, I sent about forty pages to my agent with a note pleading for “help!” She asked: “whose story is this?” With that simple questions, all of my problems were solved.

Until recently, I never understood why it was so easy after that initial hurdle. But now I think I know! It has the fewest “real” people in it. Though I write fiction, when there are real people and events I try to make the story and their descriptions plausible. With the book I’m writing now, I’ve read over seventy biographies just to get thing right! Bess, Ruby, Hattie, and Cissy from THE BOOK OF SUMMER are all entirely from my imagination.

L.L.: I have to admit, I fell a bit in love with Evan Mayhew. It’s that old love, first love thing…perhaps we all have a sort of soft spot for that person in our lives. Did you have a favorite character?

 Michelle Gable:  I’m so glad that you felt that way about Evan! I did too, as I wrote him. He played a much bigger role than I expected. I’d envisioned the modern day storyline being only about Cissy and Bess, but then he showed up and I realized he needed to stay.

I don’t think I have a favorite character. My first thought was feisty, modern-day Cissy, but then again Bess takes up a huge place in my heart. Ruby is so much fun and I love, love, love Hattie. I want to write an entire book about her, though I don’t currently have plans to do so.

L.L.: In terms of themes, I see Cliff House as a bygone era. But things are shifting. The kids, busy with work and their own families, don’t come home much anymore. Marriages are wobbly. There’s definitely a connection between the delicate ground the house sits on and the family dynamics. Was this intentional on your part, or did it sort of evolve organically?

summerreadingMichelle Gable: That evolved organically as most connections in my books tend to do! I don’t typically set out to create specific metaphors or parallels. But something usually clicks while I’m writing and I think ‘a-ha!’ This is a perfect contrast!

L.L.: What’s on your ‘bucket list’ for summer? Any good reads you can recommend?

Michelle Gable: My “bucket list” would include owning a home on Nantucket, but that’s really more of a pipe dream than something that could actually happen! That said, there are places I’d like to travel this and future summers. High on the list of places I’ve never been but hope to see one day: Spain, Portugal, African safari.

As for books, fabulous recent releases include The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn, All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg, The Nearness of You by Amanda Eyre Ward (one of my favorite writers!), and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. I loved A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, which is a recent read for me, but wasn’t released recently. I track my favorite reads on Pinterest too.

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

Michelle Gable:  Well, you could ask me what I’m working on now…but I’m not ready to talk about it yet!

L.L.: Michelle, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for popping over.

 Michelle Gable: Thanks so much for having me!

For more information, to connect with Michelle Gable via social media, or to snag your own copy of THE BOOK OF SUMMER (available May 9 from St. Martin’s Press), please visit:

Michelle 278_credit Joanna DeGeneres.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: New York Times bestselling author of A Paris Apartment and I’ll See You in Paris, Michelle Gable graduated from The College of William & Mary. After a twenty-year career in finance, she now writes full time. Michelle lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California, with her husband, two daughters, and one lazy cat.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media hang-outs:

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[Author and cover images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Images of Baxter Road/Nantucket retrieved from linked Vanity Fair article, Rose-covered Sconset home retrieved from , image of Del Mar, CA retrieved from Wikipedia. Books and birds retrieved from, all on 5.3.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: Is there a difference between justice and revenge? New York Times bestselling author of psych thrillers Lisa Unger talks about this, but also dreams, reality, starting the next project, renovating homes, and so much more in THE RED HUNTER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Red Hunter cover

One house. Two very different women. A history of abuse. THE RED HUNTER discusses the differences between justice and revenge in a way only Lisa Unger can do.

I can always count on Lisa Unger’s books to propel me to the depths of the dark and twisted minds of…well, just about anyone. She has a knack for reaching into the tangled mess of one’s life and extracting the bits that make it dark and brittle. But be aware: if rape and violence are triggers for you, then select this book with caution.

Therein lies the crux of THE RED HUNTER. It’s deep psychological suspense at it’s best. Lisa’s characters are well-drawn, multifaceted, flawed, and oh-so-relatable. 

Claudia Bishop’s perfect life with hubby in NYC fell apart after she was brutally raped in her own home. She’s worked hard to rebuild that life, and is now looking for a fresh start at an old farmhouse in New Jersey, one that’s been in her family for some time.

Zoey Drake—young and hip–but carrying around a big burden from childhood—and is caring for her elderly uncle, a retired police officer.

Neither woman knows one another but the house factors into both of their lives. So, too does trauma.

So pull up a chair, a cup of coffee and eavesdrop on my conversation with Lisa.

“One of the best crime novels I’ve read in years. THE RED HUNTER is bold and gritty but with real heart. Unger writes as only the best do, with passion and authenticity.”
—Ace Atkins, NYT bestselling author of Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn and The Innocents

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, it’s so great to have you back. Thank you! I think this is the forth book of yours we’ve discussed. I’m afraid I’m running out of questions. But I always, always want to know what propels a writer to peel back the layers and start on a particular story. What was it for you, for THE RED HUNTER?

Lisa Unger: It’s always a pleasure to chat with you!I’m sure we’ll always have something new to talk about.

The idea for THE RED HUNTER started more than fifteen years ago.  I was in my late twenties, in a dark place, when I discovered the martial arts. I had just come through a brutal break up, my dreams of writing lay fallow. I was disconnected from myself in almost every way. The martial arts changed me, introducing me to a new version of myself, someone stronger than I thought I could ever be. I found myself, and my path forward.df1948898142fa4e9603a1bb1da2566d.jpg

After I had my daughter, I stopped practicing.  Motherhood kind of drained me of my will to fight, and I turned to yoga instead.  Recently, I took up kick boxing and some of that fighting spirit returned; and those days, how I felt then, came back to me.  That place and moment in my life was the germ for THE RED HUNTER, and for one of its main characters, Zoey Drake: a victim turned fighter, someone looking for revenge.

L.L.: Trauma certainly plays a major role in THE RED HUNTER.  So, too do the concepts of justice and revenge. What, in your opinion are the connecting dots?

Lisa Unger: After surviving a traumatic event, we have choices.  We can fold up and hide from the world, let the pain and anger over a horrific event crush us.  We can get angry, lash out and seek revenge, or justice.  Or we can allow ourselves to heal, then find a way forward, move toward forgiveness and wholeness again — whatever that means in our changed reality.

In our culture, the journey toward justice is a very important one; we depict it as the hero’s journey. And sometimes it can be that. Sometimes wrongs must be righted.  But when that journey becomes a way to hold on to pain, a way to stop moving forward, it’s just fear, a desire to control a thing that cannot be controlled.  And it keeps us from healing.

Zoey Drake and Claudia Bishop are taking two very different paths after trauma.  One seeks revenge, and the other is looking for her way back into the light, through healing and forgiveness. One path could be confused with strength, and the other might be confused with weakness. Both ways are fraught.  It might be up to the reader to decide which way is the right way. Or if there is a right way, at all.

L.L.: I have a thing with old houses. Well, houses of any kind. I’ve read somewhere that they represent story and also dreams. Things that happen in the basement, for example, have a lot to do with one’s subconscious. There are other rooms that equate to other parts of the psyche, too. Bedrooms, intimacy. Bathrooms, elimination. Kitchens, creation and family. I often have dreams of adding-on to a house and that, I’ve learned, has to do with ‘making space’ for creative pursuits. Can you give us a little more insight into how the house in THE RED HUNTER came to be for you?

Lisa Unger: That’s so interesting! I think you should follow your dreams, Leslie!  Make more room for those creative pursuits.1a352b345bf13976c4c2013af5ee62a3

A couple of years ago, my husband and I gutted and renovated our 1968 home.  Let’s be clear: we hired someone to do this work. (We’re not crazy!) But we lived in the house while it was under reconstruction. (Okay, we’re a little crazy.)  It was cathartic to watch our home, a place we’d loved for more than a decade, torn down to the studs, and recreated as something new and uniquely ours.  But it was also stressful, unpredictable, and incredibly challenging. It was not an experience I planned to write about; rather one I swore I wouldn’t repeat and tried to forget.   But then, three years later, as I started on THE RED HUNTER, another major voice in the book, Claudia Bishop, emerges.  Guess what? She’s renovating a ramshackle old farm house. And she’s blogging about it, a way of moving forward from the trauma of her past, and recreating her future.  

A house seems so solid — until you pick up a sledge hammer.  I love how something that seems as though it’s always been there can just fall away.  It makes me think that we can tear down, change, and rebuild just about anything we want in our lives — especially old ideas we have about ourselves. It takes some doing, some pain, a few mistakes here and there, but ultimately you have the power to create what you want in your life.  I love how destruction can lead to reconstruction, if you have the will and the right tools.

[You may enjoy this article in The Atlantic about Where You Live & Why it Means So Much. Also, the original source in which I *may* have read about homes/psyche HOUSE AS A MIRROR OF SELF: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home, but memory evades.]

L.L.: Each of your characters are strong, kick-ass type of women, but in different ways. Was one easier for you to write than the other? Do you have a ‘favorite?’

Lisa Unger: I felt connected to both of them.  I understood Zoey’s impulse to turn herself into a fighter and take revenge on people who had harmed her.  Even though Claudia’s philosophies are closer to mine, I still understood where Zoey was coming from.  It has something to do with her youth; it’s a young idea to think that the world is black and white, that there’s a clear right and wrong.  It’s also young to think that there’s any true justice, or payback, that a wrong thing can be made right by another wrong.  Claudia’s journey toward love and forgiveness, her impulse to claim her story, and rebuild herself and her life — those choices have a very different vibration.  I think Zoey’s impulse is more basic; Claudia’s more evolved.  I was more worried about Zoey than I was about Claudia.  But it was easy for me to 6dba74105c8b1cdfb4db7e2e4eeaae22connect with both ways of seeing the world.

L.L.: The narrative structure in THE RED HUNTER is unique in that it is not exactly linear. We volley between characters, time periods, but all from the POV of strong females. Can you talk a bit about how you made that decision, or was it really a decision? Do characters often ‘tell’ you their story?

Lisa Unger: I don’t make decisions like that.  A story evolves, tells itself though the voices it selects, in the way the way that it wants to be told.  The different voices, the time and perspective shifts — that’s just how the story came to me.  I’m not sure
it could have been told it any other way.  There was no other way for it to be told.

L.L.: I happen to be between projects now. Oh, I have ideas…but where to go with them? Do you have any tips or inspiration when starting out on the next book? Because this limbo-land is a yucky feeling. 

Lisa Unger: It’s such a personal thing.  For me, the idea for a novel can come from anywhere — a song, a news story, poetry, once even a piece of junk mail.  That spark of an idea might lead me to a fascination with a subject and a swath of research.  Then, the best I can explain it is, if that idea connects with something bigger going on with me, I start to hear a voice, or maybe a couple of voices. Then I know there’s a novel and I start writing.

The best advice I can give, Leslie, is to try not to do too much thinking.  Get out of that intellectual, analytical brain. And try to follow the ideas that fascinate you, listen for those voices, and don’t be afraid to just sit down and lose yourself in the writing. Let the story take you and don’t try to control the story.

L.L.: Any ‘Lisa Facts’ you can share with us? What’s on your mind these days?

Lisa Unger: These days I’m obsessed with addiction and dreams, perception and reality.  I’m really curious about the doorway between these two worlds we inhabit, the waking and the sleeping world and the Jungian idea that there’s not such a big difference.  I continue to be fascinated by Carl Jung and his ideas, the brain, the natural vs. the supernatural. And I’m still thinking about the main theme of THE RED HUNTER: What is the difference between justice and revenge?47720dcf954e638a97ddd2fbf6a5094f

L.L.: Lisa, as always, it’s been an absolute pleasure. All the best with THE RED HUNTER.

Lisa Unger: Always a pleasure, Leslie!  Thanks for connecting, and make time and space for that creative energy to flow!

For more information about THE RED HUNTER, to purchase, or to connect with Lisa via social media, please see:

Lisa Unger_Photograph by Jay Nolan.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Unger is an award-winning New York Times and internationally bestselling author. Her novels have sold more than two million copies and have been translated into twenty-six languages. She lives in Florida. Visit LisaUnger.com.

 You can reach me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Simon Schuster/Touchstone Books. Author photo credit: Jay Nolan. Image of Carl Jung/dreams as well as 1968 renovated home, woman performing martial arts, as well as typewriter/writing quote image retrieved from Pinterest/no source noted, all on 4.24.17

Wednesdays with Writers: Adelia Saunders tackles forgiveness, missed connections, saintly myths, and more in her stunning debut INDELIBLE

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A gorgeously written and well-packaged novel about missed connections, grief, and forgiveness.  

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We’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but I did (isn’t it gorgeous?!). So does Magdalena, one of three ‘main’ characters in INDELIBLE (Bloomsbury, January 17, 2017) who sees writing on the bodies of everyone she meets—names and dates of their pasts and future, details both banal and profound.

We follow along–in Paris and London, and on into Spain–the lives of Neil and his father, Richard. There’s a summer pilgrimage to the medieval town on rocky coast of Spain where the body of Saint Jacques was said to wash ashore covered in scallop shells.

And yet, another storyline in which Richard is searching the truth of his late mother, a famous expatriate American novelist who abandoned him at birth. He has vivid memory of her red shoes under the kitchen table…and so did she really abandon him?

These three stories of such unique and memorable characters converge in a provocative rush of history and literature, and the need to connect with others, both past and present.

Join me as I sit down with Adelia Saunders and chat with her on her mystical and glittering debut.

Leslie Lindsay: Adelia, it’s wonderful to have you; thanks for popping by. It’s usually the case that most stories come to us after we’ve been haunted or yearn for something. What was it for you that propelled your interest in the story of INDELIBLE?

Adelia Saunders: The idea for the story came from some time I spent doing some research in the Lithuanian central state archives in Vilnius. I’d been looking at docents from the 1920s and ‘30s – school records, census forms, etc. Most people live their lives without leaving much of a clue about who they really were, and I was interested in how the few details preserved are commonplace and deeply personal at the same time: a person’s occupation, religion, date of birth, who they married, when they died. I wondered what it would be like have to read in advance all the paperwork a life would leave behind. That led to the idea of a character who sees people’s “archives” written on their bodies.download.jpg

L.L.: Are you the type of writer whose characters sort of ‘come’ to you? Do you get a glimpse of them—in form or name, or a brush of their personality before you set pen to paper?

Adelia Saunders: I think I always base characters on people that I know, because I need to believe in them and have a sense of them before I can really imagine them. But of course once I have a character started, I depart quite a bit from the real person.

L.L.: INDELIBLE is almost like three stories in one. There’s Neil, the son of Richard who is studying in Paris. There’s Richard who is searching for details about his famous author mother who abandoned him as an infant, and then there’s Magdalena who can see information about a person based on the writings in his or her body. Was there a particular thread that really grabbed your attention? One that you especially enjoyed writing?

Adelia Saunders: I had a lot of fun writing Neil’s part of the story – he’s a college student studying medieval history, and I enjoyed the research for his section. It was like I got to go back to college, vicariously, through him.

L.L.: I have to admit; I was not aware of the Saint Jacques myth about his body washing up on a rocky coastline in Spain fully intact and covered with scallop shells. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Adelia Saunders: I really like that image – from one of the less-known myths about the remains of Saint Jacques (or Saint James, in English). He was one of the twelve apostles, and he was beheaded by Herod in the Holy Land in 44AD, although his body is said to be buried in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, on the western coast of Spain. There are a lot of stories about how the body got there – I think the most common one is that it floated in a boat guided by the stars all the way from
Jerusalem. It’s possible, too, that someone transported his bones to Spain in a more earthly way (or that they aren’t really his remains at all…) but I particularly like this other version of the story, in which the saint’s body washes ashore perfectly preserved and covered with scallop shells, which are the symbol of the pilgrimage to Santiago.

1200px-Nevada_en_Compostela_(Panoramica)

L.L.: This is your first book. What’s the ride been like? What advice would you give to others embarking on the process of becoming published?

Adelia Saunders: It has been a real pleasure to see this story come into existence as a book – cardboard covers, dust jacket, etc. As for advice, I think I’d say the same thing I told myself when I was wondering if anything was going to happen with this project: the experience of writing had better be fun and fulfilling in its own right. I can’t imagine anything good ever came out of writing with the single goal of holding a book in one’s hands, and since mine has come out I’ve found myself feeling surprisingly free of it. That’s not quite what I expected, but I think it’s good.

“An intricately plotted, complexly affecting first outing.” —Booklist

L.L.: There are a lot of deep themes running through INDELIBLE. Forgiveness. Grief. Sorrow. Hope. The ability to ‘see’ beyond. What do you hope others take away from the story?

Adelia Saunders: To me it’s a story of missed connections. Each of the characters lives inside a reality all of their own, and each one reacts in ways that are perfectly logical given the facts they are dealing with, but which may be bewildering to the people around them. The father and son characters don’t realize that the break in their relationship is caused by a misunderstanding leading to separate sets of assumptions neither has considered might be wrong. The young Lithuanian woman who sees writing on people’s skin wanders around bumping into things. People think she’s clumsy, but really she’s just extremely nearsighted and she’s afraid to wear her glasses because of what she might read on the bodies of people around her.  [You may also enjoy Jessica Strawser’s novel on missed connections, ALMOST MISSED YOU. You’ll find her interview here

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

Adelia Saunders: Your questions have been great! How about, What books are you 9780802125873_custom-6bc8a05fdfa107498ab15c91556d32266bc90170-s300-c85reading now? My answer: “The Little Red Chairs” by Edna O’Brian, and I just finished
“History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund.
I’m also reading and re-reading the Greek Gods graphic novels by George O’Connor to my kids. My son (age 3) now makes us call him Zeus.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What has your interest?

Adelia Saunders: I’ve been reading a lot about water politics in the Southwest. Growing up in a dry place, water has always been something I thought about in various ways, and I’m intrigued by how much storytelling goes into in the process deciding how and by whom it should be used. [A novel you may want to consider is Jacqueline Sheenan’s THE CENTER OF THE WORLD. Interview here

L.L.: Adelia, it’s been a pleasure. All the best!

Adelia Saunders: Thank you for having me!

For more information on INDELIBLE, or to connect with Adelia on social media, please see: 

Adelia Saunders FOR JACKET by Danielle Baron Atkins.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADELIA SAUNDERS has a master’s degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and a bachelor’s degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She grew up in Durango, Colorado, and currently lives with her family in New York City. This is her first novel.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through this social media channels:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Blomsbury publicity and used with permission. Author image credit: Danielle Baron Atkins. Image of Santiago retrieved on Wikipedia; image of census records retrieved from whodoyouthinkyouare.com; image of History of Wolves retrieved from linked NPR article, all on 4.18.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Ever wondered who that girl was in the famed Andrew Wyeth American painting? Christina Baker Kline tackles that and more in her gloriously written imagined memoir A PIECE OF THE WORLD

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times bestselling author of the smash hit ORPHAN TRAIN comes a stunning novel inspired by Andrew Wyeth’s famous—and mystifying—painting, “Christina’s World.” A PIECE OF THE WORLD is lucid, well-told, and highly transportive. CBKBookCover

I have a thing with art. Be it writing, reading, visual art, music, even nature, I’m swept away with the creative magic that appears at the hands of an artist. When those worlds collide, as they do in Christina Baker Kline’s A PIECE OF THE WORLD, my heart sings.

“Christina’s World” hung at my great-aunt’s house in her den. Like many, I stared at that painting and imagined the breeze in my hair, the sweet scent of dried grass, lingered in that weather-worn house. And then, simply forgot about it. Christina Baker Kline brings the painting to the forefront once again with her use of tremendous description. She gives that women in the painting a name, a life…rather, that woman always existed, unbeknownst to me, and here, she comes alive, fully formed. 300px-Christinasworld

The story is told entirely from Christina’s POV and jumps around in time a bit, piecing together a delightful mosaic of art and color.  Set in early-to-mid 1900s Maine and Boston, A PIECE OF THE WORLD thrusts the reader into a rugged, authentic landscape. There’s a tiny bit of a love story, but ultimately A PIECE OF THE WORLD is historical fiction, about the importance of family, artist and muse coming together, and what it means to be seen.

Evocative and astonishing, I so enjoyed A PIECE OF THE WORLD. Please join me as I chat with the lovely Christina Baker Kline.

Leslie Lindsay: Like many, I read and devoured THE ORPHAN TRAIN.* When I learned about A PIECE OF THE WORLD, I knew I had to read it. You mention in the afterward your inspiration to write about the Andrew Wyeth painting. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of, “I wanted to stay in that time period [of THE ORPHAN TRAIN].” Can you shed a little more light on that?

Christina Baker Kline: I learned a lot about early-to-mid twentieth century rural America when I was researching ORPHAN TRAIN, and I found it incredibly paper_orphan.pnginteresting — especially the question of how people survived hard times and the emotional resources they needed to get by. What is it like to live with profound deprivation, without any modern amenities, far from other people?

L.L.: You did a huge amount of research for A PIECE OF THE WORLD. And it shows. I’m curious what that process was like for you. Margaret George’s ideal is to read everything she can on a subject/time period, visit the place in question, then start writing. Do you follow a similar formula?

Christina Baker Kline:  I read art histories, biographies, nonfiction accounts of the Salem Witch Trials, seafaring journals, memoirs about living in Maine and living in the woods; visited museums and the Olson House; interviewed friends and family members and tour guides and curators; watched documentaries. I took pages and pages of notes, which I eventually turned into a 50-page single-spaced timeline that became my bible. I wrote the story chronologically, stopping along the way to do further research as necessary, but in the end I threaded the Wyeth story throughout the story of Christina Olson’s growing up years.

L.L.: I know Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” house still stands in Eldon, IA and has been turned into a type of museum. Can one actually visit the old farm house where Christina Olson lived? It seemed pretty dilapidated in the novel, I can’t imagine what remains…

Christina Baker Kline: It was renovated recently and opened again last summer (it’s open from Memorial Day to Labor Day). It’s a gorgeous place to spend an afternoon, and the tour guides are incredibly knowledgeable. Well worth a visit!Olson-House-cropped

L.L.: Christina Olson’s ancestry fascinates me. I may have my facts mixed up, but I understand on one side of her family, she descends from chief magistrate of the Salem witch trials, and on the other, from the Hawthorns, as in Nathaniel. Do I have that right? Can you clarify the family tree for us?

Christina Baker Kline: John Hathorne, whom Christina was descended from on her mother’s side, was the Chief  Magistrate of the 1692 Salem Witch Trials, and the only one of the three judges who never recanted. He went to his death (in peaceful prosperity) believing that he was fully justified in sentencing 19 women, two dogs, and one man to death for witchcraft. After Hathorne died, his Salem relatives felt tainted by association. Three Hathorne men, promised land on the coast of Maine if they claimed it in winter, changed the spelling of their name, fled to a remote point on the coast, and built three log cabins — one of which became the house in the painting Christina’s World. Nathaniel Hawthorne, another relative on that side of the family, also changed the spelling of his name and left Nathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-64Salem. He spent the rest of his life writing about people like his ancestor Hathorne who were determined to root out evil in others while denying it in themselves. (Think of Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter, for example.)

Christina’s father left home at 15 to become a sailor. He had grown up in a small house in Sweden with 10 other people and a cow; his parents were poor peat farmers. You can see why he might’ve left and never looked back!

L.L.: I find that writing is such an introspective process. I often learn more, not just about my subject, but also myself. What did you uncover about yourself in the process of writing?

Christina Baker Kline: I learned that I will never again write a novel about real people, some of whom are still alive. I’m kidding — sort of. This was the hardest book I’ve ever written, in part because I tried to stick with the facts of the true-life story as much as possible. I think it made me a better writer, ultimately. Sometimes I’ve been too concerned about reconciling storylines when perhaps it would’ve been better to leave things unresolved. In A PIECE OF THE WORLD, I had to dig deeper, to effect internal resolutions.

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from A PIECE OF THE WORLD?

Christina Baker Kline: Christina Olson, the woman in the painting, had a hard life in many ways. She was a “spinster,” as they called it then, and disabled. Despite her brilliance, she was taken out of school at the age of 12. But she found beauty, meaning, and grace in unexpected places. Because she didn’t live a conventional life, she was able to open her home and self to Andrew Wyeth. As a result, I believe her life was profound and meaningful. Ultimately, as the figure at the center of Christina’s World, she achieved immortality. [You may also enjoy this article from MoMA on this painting] 

L.L.: What’s captured your attention now? What keeps you awake at night?

Christina Baker Kline: I’m working on a new novel inspired by a little-known story about the convict women sent from England and Scotland to Tasmania, Australia in the mid-nineteenth century. It’s very exciting and I’m having a great time doing the research.

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

Christina Baker Kline: My favorite animal is my rescue pup, Lola, who is four years old, half Corgi and half Australian Shepherd. She doesn’t bark and is gentle and easy going. She reminds me of a cat (or maybe a deer — see pic below!). She’s the perfect writing companion.

L.L.: Christina, I so loved this story. Thank you, thank you for taking the time to chat. Enjoy the rest of your book tour.

Christina Baker Kline: Leslie, thank you!

For more information, to purchase A PIECE OF THE WORLD, or to connect with Christina Baker Kline through social media, please see: 

60697_10151200289008259_311954615_nAUTHOR BIO:Christina Baker Kline is the author of the instant New York Times-bestselling novel A Piece of the World, about the relationship between the artist Andrew Wyeth and the subject of his best-known painting, Christina’s World. Kline has written five other novels — Orphan Train, The Way Life Should Be, Sweet Water, Bird in Hand, and Desire Lines — and written or edited five works of nonfiction. Her adaptation of the #1 NYT bestseller Orphan Train for young readers, Orphan Train Girl,* will be published in May.

*ORPHAN TRAIN has recently been condensed into a young reader’s edition (ORPHAN TRAIN GIRL, available May 2 2017 from HarperCollins), which I plan to read aloud to my two girls, ages 10 and 12 years…even though they are certainly capable themselves!

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, around these parts of the Internet:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of C.B. Kline and used with permission. Author image credit: Karin Diana. Image of ORPHAN GIRL retrieved from author’s website on 4.3.17. Image of Nathaniel Hawthorn retrieved from Wikipedia, Christina Olson home retrieved from Farnsworth Art Museum webpage, all on 4.3.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: What happens when you sleep? Could you be capable of murder? Chris Bohjalian explores this and more in his latest novel, THE SLEEPWALKER, plus rising early, following characters onto the page, being a teen magician

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire–the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.

Psychologically astute rift with family secrets, mystery, and a terrifying sleep disorder, THE SLEEPWALKER is at first a family portrait swallowed in the throes of grief.

9780385538916

With an author like Chris Bohjalian, you’re in good hands; expert hands, in fact. When I learned about THE SLEEPWALKER, I knew I had to read it: missing people, mothers especially, are a fascination of mine. So too is sleep and dreams. Toss in a lovely flawed family portrait and I am putty in your hands.

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. She once spray-painted the front hydrangeas silver, and yet…things always work out just fine.

But this time it’s different. This time, she can’t be found. Days turn to weeks. An investigation ensues. Speculation swirls. What happened to Annalee Ahlberg, a healthy, fit architect?

Infused with lovely snippets of research about sleep and their accompanying disorders, THE SLEEPWALKER is a gorgeously written family drama.

Join me in welcoming Chris Bohjalian to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: I’ve long been a fan of your work, Chris.  Your books cover a lot of ground…YA, historical, mystery, gothic, literary suspense. I’m always curious: why this book, why now? What inspired THE SLEEPWALKER?

Chris Bohjalian: Originally I thought I was going to write a book about dreams, that great Freudian abyss. And so I went to have lunch with a sleep doctor to understand the physiology of the brain when we dream. He had just come from a patient who was a sleepwalker, and our conversation rather naturally went. We discussed how people sleepcook, sleepdrive, sleepjog, sleepsex, sleepmurder – and I was hooked.

Check out THE SLEEPWALKER’S book trailer: 

L.L.: Your research into sleep disorders is evident. Can you talk a bit about that process?

 Chris Bohjalian: I always love my research, but this was especially interesting because sleep study is such a new field. The term “arousal disorder” wasn’t even coined until 1968. Medicine didn’t begin to categorize parasomnias until 1979. And forensic sleep medicine, the investigation of sleep crime? As a discipline, it only dates back to 2007.

L.L.: I personally love to sleep! I find it’s a great place to flesh out some of my creative download (8)processes. The best is when I fall asleep reading. My brain sort of takes over and creates a whole new story. Do you ever dream about your works-in-progress? Do you ever get ideas for novels this way?

Chris Bohjalian: I think you’re on to something. I have heard that sleep really does recharge creativity. Now, I don’t precisely dream of my books, but I know that I have to go directly to my desk when I awake at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.  I do almost all of my writing then. It’s far and away the most productive time of the day for me, and I believe that is not merely because I am most rested: I believe it is because of my mind’s connection to sleep and the subconscious.

L.L.: Let’s talk character for a bit. You do a beautiful job of ‘getting into the head’ of a 21-year old college female. How did you make the decision to tell the story from Lianna’s POV, and not…say, her English professor father who might be more aligned with you as a male author?

Chris Bohjalian: My daughter, a young actor in New York City, once said to me after reading a rough draft of one of my novels, “Dad, take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way. But I think your sweet spot as a writer is seriously messed-up young women.” She’s right. Just think of Laurel Estabook (“The Double Bind”), Emily Shepard (“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands”), Serafina Bettini (“The Light in the Ruins”), or all the young female survivors of the Armenian Genocide in “The Sandcastle Girls.”

There are a lot of reasons why sometimes I write across gender. Originally, “The Sleepwalker” was a traditional, third-person Jamesian novel. But about halfway in, it began to feel to me a lot like a story of mothers and daughters and loss. And so I tried it from Lianna’s perspective and liked where the book seemed to go. I liked the wistfulness of first-person past in this case.

L.L.: Lianna is an amateur magician, giving magic shows for kids’ parties, etc. How did that piece of her character develop? Is it a sort of metaphor for the overall narrative? Appearance/disappearance themes?

Chris Bohjalian: Yes. You nailed it. She can make anything reappear except her mother. Also? I was a teenage magician. Everything in Lianna’s set was in my set. I did those children’s birthday parties.

“Scary, limiting and downright dangerous, sleepwalking inspires a hard-to-put-down story that also mixes sex and a mystery in a polished package. . .Bohjalian is on top of his already stellar game with The Sleepwalker.”
— Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

L.L.:  For you, does structure follow plot points or is it more character-driven?

Chris Bohjalian: Well, I never know where my stories are going. I have no plot. I have only a premise and a character. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story. It is – to paraphrase E.L. Doctorow – driving at night. You can only see 200 feet ahead of you, but you have the confidence that eventually you will get where you’re going. 

L.L.:  Do you have any writing rituals or routines? A few  “Chris facts?” 

Chris Bohjalian:  I begin my day by skimming a dictionary for an interesting word or two. Then I watch movie trailers for ten minutes, usually enjoying three or four. They instantly catapult me into the right head space. Usually they have nothing to do with the book I’m writing in terms of subject. It’s all about the emotion.

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

Chris Bohjalian:  These were great. Thanks!

For more information, to connect with Chris via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE SLEEPWALKER, please see: 

Chris Bohjalian.jpg ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the author of nineteen books, including Close Your EyesHold Hands; The Sandcastle GirlsSkeletons at the FeastThe Double Bind; and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of EdenMidwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media contacts. Love to see ya ’round!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Doubleday. Collage of previous works from author’s website. Image of ‘sleep and creativity’ from YouTube, all retrieved 3.16.17]