Susan Henderson talks about her luminous novel, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, taking chances, her favorite movies, & writing advice

By Leslie Lindsay 

A haunting tale of a dying town, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS is tender, lyrical, and poignant in a very illuminating manner about a female mortician, a horrific accident, and taking chances. Susan Henderson is here chatting about so many wonderful things it’s impossible to list them all…seriously, you want to read this interview and then you’ll run out and buy this book. It’s that good. 

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I was absolutely ensnared with the vivid bleakness of that swell of blue and green of the cover and then the title, THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS called to me from some place far away and I had to get my hands on the book. I’m so glad I did.

Susan Henderson is a writer with tremendous grace and empathy, plus she seems to really ‘get’ small town American life, the human condition, and so much more. I read this book on a driving trip through Iowa. And while the story is actually set in a dying Montana town (which goes by the fictional name of Petroleum), I couldn’t help but feel I was there, smack in the middle of this book cover.

Mary is thirty years old and the town’s female mortician. She grew up the only child of Allen (whom is mostly referred to as ‘Pop’) because her mother died in childbirth. There was no funeral home in Petroleum, so Pop studied and took classes to become certified in the art of bereavement and embalming. Mary really had no choice but to follow in her father’s footsteps. Together, they live in the funeral parlor and put the town ‘to rest.’

But years ago, before the story really begins, a horrific accident occurred at the grain elevator, killing the town’s star high school athlete. The granary is closed for good, and the train no longer stopped in town, plus the brother is blamed for the tragedy and shipped off to live elsewhere.

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


“This novel is so breathtakingly good, so exquisitely written. About a female mortician, about a childhood tragedy that still haunts a damaged young man, about the endless landscape and about those tiny sparks of possibility. Oh my God. Trust me. This book. This book. This Book.”

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


Leslie Lindsay: Susan, I am so, so honored. First, I was so completely struck by the beauty of the prose, the obvious research you did to paint such an authentic portrait of small town life. But it came at a bit of a price. You spent an entire month living in a hotel of the town that became Petroleum. Can you tell us about that experience and was that sort of the ‘birth’ of this tale, or was it something else?

Susan Henderson: My intention with the book was to grapple with the current division in America—between those who want change and those who feel things are changing too fast, and I wanted to do that in a way that was removed from politics and might get each side listening to each other again.

So I was not trying to write about the people from this particular town. In fact, I only desired to set the story in a small, rural town, and chose to spend a month in this one because I was emotionally attached to it. It’s where my father grew up, and I knew how physically unique it was.

Of course, the real town managed to seep into the novel a good bit—particularly the tactile details of homes and weather, the sounds and rhythms of ranchers, the stark beauty of the land, the isolation from other towns and conveniences.

But this is definitely a work of fiction, this is me grappling with a conversation that has become uncivilized in the real world, so I put it into story form. I wanted to dig down deep into the grief and rage and pride of people whose identities are tied to jobs and a way of life that are slipping away. And yet there are some people in the town, and the narrator’s one of them, whose passions and dreams for themselves are not found in the town’s traditions.  My hope is that we might start to hear each other, that we might get tired of being stuck.

L.L.: While there are some elements in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS that are drawn from memory and experience, it is in no way autobiographical, a memoir…yet there are so many truths in fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Susan Henderson: Fiction is where I tell the truth.

If I were to tackle the issues of death and dying and what happens to the body in non-fiction, I would worry too much about exposing another’s privacy and harming them in some way. And that instinct to protect others would make me pull back from the hard truths and create a story that’s much too tepid for my taste.

Fiction allows me to talk about the things polite people avoid in real life. I can walk right towards rage and fear and our imperfect bodies. And whenever I need to buffer some sort of psychic pain, I can add another character or a bridge or completely imagined moment that can heal more deeply than what the non-fiction moment might offer.

The great gift of fiction is that we can see the truth more clearly when we see it from a different angle, when we can climb deeper inside the story and the characters. And when the great writers of our time are at their best, fiction can both reexamine and change the world. Think: Animal Farm, A Handmaid’s Tale, Beloved, The Lottery, Invisible Man, All the Light We Cannot See.

L.L.: Regarding truth, it’s elusive, much like the wind in THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS, which I noticed came up a good deal, but wasn’t overdone. We can’t see the wind, but we can feel it. We can see the devastating effects the wind can cause land, on buildings. And the wind can provide energy, motion. Did you intentionally make it a metaphor or was that something that grew organically?

Susan Henderson: When I stayed in the real town for a month, it was the wind that made me worry I might lose my mind. It was so loud, I felt like I had to shout over it. When I was inside my motel room, it crashed so hard against the room, I sometimes wondered if the windows would break. And when I walked out of that room, I felt almost tormented by it, like it was purposefully pushing me. So it just became more of a character in the book, like this mischievous soul messing with people’s hair, knocking down signs, slamming doors.

What was so clear to me while I lived there was that the weather and the land were interconnected with the lives there. It would physically change you—your skin, your hair, your ability to hear and be heard. And your isolation from other towns, from others who might help, would force you to become self-sufficient, or you simply wouldn’t survive.

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Susan took this photo while staying in the small town that would become the fictional Petroleum. And the cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?!

L.L.: Of course I have to ask about Mary’s role as an embalmer. This might make someone squeamish, but you took such a gentle, comforting approach, it didn’t bother me. Can you tell us a bit about your research to get Mary’s character ‘just right?’

Susan Henderson: So, the eventual concept of the book, was to tell the story of a dying town via a narrator who could look at death without flinching. She could take us to that conversation that’s so uncomfortable for us to have. She’s seen all manners of grief—raging against the inevitable, going submissively, pretending it’s not happening.

But this meant that I would have to learn how to run a funeral home and how to embalm dead bodies. I learned everything I could about the dead and dying, about mortician’s tools and burial practices. I learned from books and from talking with folks in the funeral and hospice industries.

And then I dreamed up Mary Crampton, kind of a quirky loner who is more comfortable with the dead. And I gave her a story line which would force her into the living world, where she is less confident. And I put her smack in the middle of the conflict I wanted to explore—between an agent of change and those who are trying with all they have to hold on to their traditions.

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L.L.: In the end, the very end, you talk about your writing ‘tribe,’ how writers are a ‘bunch of introverts, misfits, observers, and deep thinkers.’ This really resonated with me as I read your words. You went on to say how we share the scars of rejection, hounding questions about how long the writing is taking, and so much more. I get it, oh, how I get it. What other writerly things have you learned along the way and how might one keep swimming?

Susan Henderson: I get as much mail about the Acknowledgments section as the book itself. I really felt like I needed to write that note to my fellow writers because it can be such a bruising business.

How to keep swimming… well, for starters, I created my website, LitPark, just for that purpose. It’s where we all share our struggles and successes and tips. I also added a new feature called Words for the Weary, where authors share their advice about surviving in this business.

Beyond that, I think the reality is that we would all have quit by now if we could or if we were being reasonable. But somehow, in spite of the rejections and the uphill climb, we keep waking up with ideas, we keep observing and eavesdropping and dreaming. What that says to me is that we’re writers. It’s in our hardwiring. For whatever reason, we’re driven to tell stories, to look closely at the world, to find music in words.

Once we realize that, there’s only one thing to do, which is to build the support we need to stay in the game. Follow the writers who are emotionally available, attend readings and greet the authors afterwards, find the nearest indie bookstore and get to know the owners. This is how we find our tribe and, some days, this will be lifesaving.


“Great sentences expounding on the complexities and fragilities of the human heart, one that echoes John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, and William Faulkner.”

 —Lou Pendergrast 

on THE FLICKER OF OLD DREAMS


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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: Susan, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have? Like…your summer plans, what you’re writing next, what you’re reading, what movie you last saw, or a favorite guilty pleasure?

Susan Henderson: You know, people always ask me about books but never ask for movie recommendations. Here are a few I’m looking forward to: Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (because I could use a little Mister Rogers in my life these days), American Animals (because I’ve heard it’s brilliant), and BlacKkKlansman (because I’m a crazy-huge fan of Jordan Peele and Spike Lee).

What have I seen lately that’s memorable? I loved the animation in Isle of Dogs. The movie itself is uneven but worth it for the visual artistry. Moonlight is a gorgeous coming of age story that feels like you’re watching a poem. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a movie that felt so much like a literary masterpiece. I, Tonya surprised the hell out of me by how terribly funny, poignant, and deep it was, especially in exposing our prejudices about class. The Stanford Prison Experiment was painful to watch but a eye-opener at how quickly we are corrupted by power. I Am Not Your Negro is a documentary about my favorite writer, James Baldwin, and his words are more relevant today than ever. The Zookeeper’s Wife made me want to go home and write. And Get Out made me want to talk about it for hours because Jordan Peele is a genius at getting you to look at society and self from another angle.

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

Order Links: 

Susan_Henderson.2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Henderson is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. She is the author of two novels, The Flicker of Old Dreams and Up from the Blue, both published by HarperCollins. Susan lives in Kings Park, New York and blogs at the writer support group, LitPark.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#literaryfiction #smalltowns #grief #amreading #identity #ruralAmerica #mortician #funeralhome

 

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins. Image of rural fence from the archives of S. Henderson; all used with permission]

Veronica Henry talks about how books are really very comforting & nourishing in HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP

By Leslie Lindsay 

Now out in paperback, Veronica Henry is here chatting about imagination, saving bookstores, the Cotswolds, and so much more in HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP

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As an avid reader, there’s no feeling quite like exploring a beautiful old (or new) bookstore. In fact, many years ago before my husband was my husband, we were at the Grand Opening of a local Barnes & Noble, giddy and holding hands. It was an official date and solidified our love for books—and each other.

When I came upon Veronica Henry’s HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP, I knew it would bring the same sense of whimsy and wonderment as that bookstore date nearly eighteen years ago. There’s something magical about browsing the shelves, touching the spines, turning the pages, and getting lost in the imaginary worlds of beloved authors.

Emilia Nightingale is all grown up and grieving the loss of her father, who raised Emilia alone after her mother died during childbirth. Add in the charming English countryside town of Peasebrook, several long-held secrets, and it’s a haven for literary-minded locals and readers alike. HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP (Viking/Pamela Dorman Books, August 15 2017) is ultimately about its grieving owner, a literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart. I absolutely loved this book.

I am thrilled to have Veronica Henry here to chat with us about the book, and all things literary. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Veronica, it’s great to have you. I devoured this book, mostly because I so appreciate the hub of a great bookstore. But also because your characters were so relatable. Why this book, why now?

Veronica Henry: Firstly, thank you so much for having me…your questions are all fantastic! I wrote this book because a few years ago it seemed as if books were going to vanish, and along with them bookshops. But I noticed that after a couple of years’ excitement over digital books, people were really missing thecomfort and pleasure of holding a real book in their hands, and went back to buying them. And as a result bookshops had a renaissance. I wanted to reflect that
phenomenon. I also love to write books set in places where I know my readers will enjoy going – and pretty much everyone who reads books loves bookshops! They are my own safe place and comfort zone, so it felt very natural to set a book there.

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L.L.: I adored all of these characters! HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is not a banquet of ‘too many’ characters, name dropping, etc., but almost like reading several novellas. For each character’s story, we are drawn in, given a clear sense of their backstory and it makes me love them more. How did you decide on this structure? Did you have a particular character(s) who really spoke to you?

Veronica Henry: I used to be a script writer, and wrote for lots of British long running drama series, so I am used to juggling lots of stories and characters. So it comes very naturally to me to structure a book like that. I always decide on my setting first – a sense of place is the most important decision for me before I start – then I choose one character whose story will be the book’s spine. All the other characters have to fit in around them. This book is centered around Emilia, but everyone else gets their moment in the sun!

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L.L.: I think at the heart of HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP is the community—the people who venture into Nightingale Books. Did you base this tale off any particular bookstore or town?

Veronica Henry: I worked in a couple of bookshops before I was a writer so I am familiar with what it’s like the other side of the counter, which helped with the story and Emilia’s dilemmas. One of the shops I worked in was the famous Foyles in Charing Cross Road, which was very eccentric. But Nightingale Books is a mixture of all the bookshops I’ve been into and come to love, mixed in with a bit of
imagination – Peasebrook is fictional, and is my ideal town. I adore the Cotswolds – they are so breathtakingly pretty and so atmospheric. The book is my fantasy life, really! My favourite book as a child was Henrietta’s House by Elizabeth Goudge, which had a glorious bookshop in it that was a big influence.

L.L.: I came upon a story today on the Internet about reading and why we should. The world is a messy place and when we get sick of it, go read. A proper book, not the news. Why, in your opinion, do we like to escape into a good book? [Here’s the article]

Veronica Henry: I think the wonderful thing about reading is that it engages your imagination. We are spoon-fed so much these days, but you have to work quite hard when you read a book, subconsciously, and I think that is immensely satisfying. It also means that your version of that book is very personal to you. So your vision of what Emilia looks like and how the shop is laid out will be very different from the next person’s. A good writer gives you an impressionistic sketch and you get to fill in the rest. So books are nourishing and satisfying in a way that other mediums aren’t.

L.L.: I have to say—I really ‘got’ Bea. She might have been my favorite character—mostly because she’s a mom and is dealing with expectancy violation. The country is just a little too bucolic, a little too saccharine for her. Motherhood is boring. She yearns for her old career at a glossy home décor magazine. I loved reading about her ideas to make Nightingale Books better. I think this excerpt summarizes my zest for her best:

“We’re creating…a complete experience. This won’t be just a bookshop. This will be…an emporium of delight. A feast for all the senses. A place of comfort. An escape.”

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In fact, designing a bookstore would be the ultimate job! Can you talk more about her character and how she came to be?

Veronica Henry: I love Bea too – she doesn’t want to accept the stereotype and she’s a bit of a rebel and dares to do things other people might not. And she is prepared to admit she is not living the dream she thought she would – but is brave enough to figure out how to make it work. She’s creative and she wants to help other people make their dreams come true too. She’s a do-er. I love people who make things happen – I guess that’s where she came from – but I wanted to shock people too. We all have to pretend to be so perfect, but not everyone is, and I think Bea reflects that.

L.L.: Thomasina and Lauren are lovely chefs and caterers. From the potato gratin to the loin of venison coated in a mushroom duxelles and wrapped in puff pastry to the delicate pear mousse with a rich chocolate sauce right in the middle…well, let’s just say, I did a fair amount of snacking while reading. Are you a foodie yourself?

Veronica Henry: Oh yes … I am never happier than when reading about food, cooking food, eating other people’s food … Right now I am poaching a chicken and I’m going to try a new dish my friend told me about – a Greek soup with lemon and egg and rice – and I can’t wait. It brings me such pleasure. Food is a really important part of my writing. Mealtimes are perfect dramatic backdrops. They bring people together. Add in some wine and the drama begins! Thomasina is a great character – I love how she is so quiet yet brings people so much pleasure without showing off.

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L.L.: Emilia often talks about her childhood living above Nightingale Books. Do you have anything from your childhood you wished you still had—a toy, book, item of clothing?

Veronica Henry: I’m really trying hard not to hold onto stuff anymore as I think it does hold you back and stop you growing as a person. Living in the past isn’t healthy, but it’s important to keep a few key pieces. I have a lot of my childhood books which bring me joy and I often re-read them. I also still have the teddy bear my father gave me for my first birthday – he died last year so that bear gives me a lot of comfort. It was weird – I wrote about Julius’ death just before my own father died (I didn’t know he was going to), and it was so odd re-reading the book afterwards as I felt so many of the things Emilia felt. 

L.L.: It’s been a pleasure, Veronica. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Veronica Henry: It’s been a pleasure for me too – I just want to remind your readers to visit their local bookstore as often as they can. We must keep them alive. And you never know what you are going to come out with. Happy reading everyone!

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For more information, to connect with Veronica Henry via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOW TO FIND LOVE IN A BOOKSHOP, please visit: 

Order Links: 

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK! 

Veronica Henry © Jenny Lewis.jpegABOUT THE AUTHOR: Veronica Henry worked as a TV scriptwriter before turning to fiction. In 2014, she won the RNA’s Romantic Novel of the Year with A Night on the Orient Express. Henry lives by the sea in North Devon, U.K.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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#Cotswolds #bookstores #literaryfiction #bibliophiles

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[Cover and author images courtesy of Viking/Pamela Dorman Books and used with permission. Cotswolds cottages retrieved from, reading outside from, Cotswolds bookstore retrieved from, collection of childhood books from, all retrieved on 9.25.17]

Ever thought about calling an ‘intermission’ in your marriage? That’s what captured Elyssa Friedland in her second book, THE INTERMISSION

By Leslie Lindsay 

A witty summer beach read about a ‘perfect’ couple at a crossroads, their secrets, and their unconventional plan to save their marriage. Plus, Elyssa chats with us about her ‘maybe’ green thumb and her favorite dystopian tales.

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THE INTERMISSION (Berkley/NAL, July 3 2018) opens with Cass and Jonathan at a friend’s wedding betting the fate of the just-married couple. It’s a wicked game and foreshadows their own insecurities. Cass had an impoverished childhood and some secrets linger, Johnathan, on the other hand was born wealthy and has an impressive pedigree. But don’t worry—he has a few skeletons in the closet, too. Cass appears to have it all—at least now—but the past haunts her.

They’re five years into their marriage and talking about having a baby and this, we know will complicate things further.
And they’re not having much sex anyway. So Cass proposes a ‘break,’ a six-month separation on distant coasts. Johnathan is left flat-footed. There’s a problem? Told in alternating POVs between both Johnathan and Cass, the reader gets a ‘he said-she said,’ banter, a good glimpse into the past and present.

Friedland is a playful, campy writer which shows through her dialogue and her character’s wit. THE INTERMISSION a fast-paced beach-type read.

Please join me in welcoming Elyssa Friedland to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Elyssa, welcome!  I’ve been on a kick with books related to marriage lately–and for no particular reason. My book club recently read Anne Tyler’s BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWN-UPS. I read AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE (Tayari Jones) on my own, and now, THE INTERMISSION. All three are completely different takes on a very intricate and complex relationship. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration behind THE INTERMISSION?

Elyssa Friedland: I love stories that delve deeply into character. Writing a book about marriage seemed like the ideal context in which to do just that. In a marriage, two people with different backgrounds, experiences and outlooks voluntarily elect to cohabit and build a life together. The topic is endlessly ripe for exploration in a novel. I’ve been married for twelve years and have been blessed with an excellent partner in my spouse, but it’s still a miracle that any marriage can work when you really think about it.

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L.L.: I’ll admit to not being a fan of the separation concept to heal broken wounds and troubled relationships.  But I was completely intrigued to see how other couples—even fictional ones—handled the situation. Are you familiar with any real-life couples who have done this? How did they fare?

Elyssa Friedland: I know couples who have gone the legal separation route, but never the informal “intermission” that Cass and Jonathan choose. So this was new territory for me as well.


“This entertaining marriage saga … unravels the minutiae of everyday life in a broken marriage. Friedland insightfully dissects motives, lies, and love in this engrossing deconstruction of a bad marriage.”

–Publisher’s Weekly


L.L.: THE INTERMISSION is your second book. Your first novel, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION was all about going cold-turkey on technology, specifically social media. I see a bit of a theme: what happens when we cut out a big piece of our life—marriage or technology? Can you speak to that please?

Elyssa Friedland: It’s like Lent. Maybe I was meant to be Catholic or something. I’m interested in writing about things that are hard to imagine in real life. Would we ever have the guts to quit the iPhone? Would we ever have the courage to ask our spouse for a break? Probably not, but it’s sure fun to think about for a book.

L.L.: Similarly, in what way(s) did writing your first book differ from your second? Are those second books as challenging as they say?

Elyssa Friedland: Actually, I found this one much easier to write. I was more disciplined and motivated because I knew it would actually get published! And I think I just got better at my craft. At least I hope so… In all seriousness, I didn’t waste time writing sections that I knew would all get deleted just to hit a page count every day. I focused more on quality and, if I wasn’t feeling inspired or “in the zone,” I took a step away.

L.L.: What was the last book you recommended to a friend? And what’s next on your to-read pile?

Elyssa Friedland: I’ve been recommending THE HANDMAID’S TALE a lot. I decided to read it after watching the show and I’m so glad I did. Next up for me is VOX by Christina Dalcher. Gosh, I guess I’m really into dystopian novels that explore the subjugation of women. Hmm…

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L.L.: Aside from promoting THE INTERMISSION, do you have any summer plans?

Elyssa Friedland: Hanging out at our beach house with my kids. Two of mine are in overnight camp for July so I’ll be very excited to chill out with them when they get home. I’m also taking up gardening this summer for the first time. I have no idea if I’ll have a green thumb but I’m excited to try.

L.L.: Elyssa, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Is there any I forgot to ask, but should have?

Elyssa Friedland: I just want to thank you for having me on the blog! I was so excited to talk about THE INTERMISSION with your readers and I look forward to connecting again soon. I hope your readers follow me on my social channels – I try to have a lot of fun on them.

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

Order Links: 

Elyssa.Friedland. credit Lucia EngstromABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elyssa Friedland attended Yale University, where she served as managing editor of the Yale Daily News. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and subsequently worked as an associate at a major firm. Recently, she has written for POPSUGAR, RealSimple.com and Bustle. Prior to law school, Elyssa wrote for several publications, including Modern Bride, New York magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, CBS MarketWatch.com, Yale Alumni Magazine, and Your Prom. Elyssa grew up in New Jersey and currently lives in   New York City with her husband and three young children. Her debut novel, LOVE AND MISS COMMUNICATION, was praised by Cosmopolitan, Glamour and InStyle magazines as well as numerous other publications.

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

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#amreading #summerreading #womensfiction

 [Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL & Kathleen Carter Communications; used with permission]

What happens when a house-swap goes wrong, plus Thailand, reinvention, thrills, and so much more in LAST SEEN ALIVE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Chilling tale of psychological suspense hinging on one woman’s past, her attempt at reinvention, and so much more. Plus, Thailand, finding the time to read, books to obsess over and more. 

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Libby Hall wants a vacation. She’s newly married, a teacher, and has just suffered a miscarriage. She and her husband, Jamie are living in a basement flat in Bath when a leaflet flits through her door offering a house swap in Cornwall. The note indicates the couple selected their home/flat because of its close proximity to the hospital; they have an ailing daughter who needs a specialist at that particular hospital. In exchange, Libby and Jamie can live in their glorious home in Cornwall. For a week.

If it sounds too good to be true…it probably is.

But Libby is desperate. And so they make arrangements. The isolated seaside mansion is everything they hoped for–and more. Panoramic views! A fully stocked fridge! Plenty of sightseeing nearby! But strange things start happening. A sheep’s skull in a tree? A strange man who seems to be lurking everywhere they go? Is Libby just being paranoid, or is it something else?


“Just finished LAST SEEN ALIVE . . . it’s so twisty, turning and grippy. Highly recommend it!

 – Gilly Macmillan, the bestselling author of WHAT SHE KNEW


And then Jamie gets ill. They rush to the Cornwall hospital and Libby must endure a night alone at the Cornwall house.

Told in a bifurcated narrative, the first half of LAST SEEN ALIVE (HarperCollins, June 26 2018) is all ‘front story,’ and there are plenty of twists and turns, dark moments, and page-turning reading. The second half is back story, taking readers into the past and to Thailand, where a group of young twenty-something travelers are finding their way in the world–or escaping it. How these two pieces are tied together will shock and surprise you.

There’s murder, secrets, lies, and plenty of twists in LAST SEEN ALIVE, which alternates between psychological thriller with a dash of horror and a bit domestic suspense.

I’m so thrilled to welcome Claire Douglas to the author interview series. Please join us in conversation.

Leslie Lindsay: Claire, welcome! I raced through LAST SEEN ALIVE because I simply had to find out what was going on. I’m curious what inspired this tale? Was it a situation, a character, a theme?

Claire Douglas: Hi Leslie. Thank you for having me on your blog. It was the house swap idea that first inspired me. I read a newspaper article about a house swap going wrong – nothing too sinister, just a family who left the house in a mess – but it got me thinking about what would happen if you were in someone’s home and that family were in your home and you began to realize that they weren’t all that they had seemed. Years ago my husband and I rented a house by the sea. It was beautiful but very remote, and on the last day we found a sheep’s skull in the tree outside our front door. It really spooked us and I couldn’t wait to get out of there! That was the inspiration for ‘The Hideaway.’

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

L.L.: Secrets and lies are a pivotal piece to the story. Were all of these something you carefully mapped out or did they reveal themselves to you as you wrote? Did you have a method to keep track of all the lies, twists, and so forth? Did you ever ‘write yourself into a corner?’

Claire Douglas: It was definitely the most complicated book I’ve ever written. I had to plan the plot out quite meticulously. At one stage I had all these post-it notes with scenes written on them because my brain felt like it might explode with all the information. But I still made sure there was room for the characters to breathe and to tell their own story. For example, I knew the main plot points and the twist, but I wasn’t quite sure of the exact ending. In fact I changed the ending at the editing stages. I also wasn’t sure of how best to structure the story, and in the end decided on the twist being in the middle and the story being split into three parts.

L.L.: About the half-way point, the reader is thrust into the past and an entirely different place: Thailand. I recall traveling after college. It was a bit magical. In LAST SEEN ALIVE, you mention sleeping cars on the train, how traveling companions ‘find’ one another, how there’s an intimacy with traveling with someone that you don’t often get in other forms—after all, you’re eating, sleeping, sightseeing, essentially doing everything together. Can you talk more about this, please?

Claire Douglas: The Thailand part of the story was inspired by my own experiences of travelling to that part of the world. My husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) and I did the same journey on the sleeper train, and we island hopped. We met lots of fascinating people and even though we only traveled with them for a few weeks we built up close friendships. I think it’s fascinating that when you’re travelling – especially if you’re travelling alone and meet people along the way – you can be anything or anyone you want to be. You’re not constrained by how people perceive you at home. And everything is intensified; friendships, relationships. You’re literally spending 24/7 with strangers, and as a result you end up putting your trust in them; it’s quite fascinating if something goes wrong – or that person ends up being a sociopath.

orange and gray hiking backpack on the floor

L.L.: I think a major theme in LAST SEEN ALIVE is identity and reinvention. The other pieces of the narrative mirror this quite well: newlyweds and travel. Do you believe our sense of self is being tested and formulated, or is it more static?

Claire Douglas: I think we are constantly being tested by different situations that life throws at us, good and bad, and as a result that shapes us and makes us the person we are. I hope so anyway; I don’t like the thought of our personalities being static. I like to think we grow and change as we age; get wiser, or calmer, or stronger.

L.L.: I understand you’ve wanted to be a writer since you were a child. Whom—or what—has most inspired your writing?

Claire Douglas: I remember being in school when I was about seven and the teacher telling the class about the role of the Author, and I instantly knew that’s what I wanted to do. I loved books from an early age, a trait that was passed on from my mum, who reads a huge number of books. I was definitely inspired by authors like Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl. I was obsessed with Roald Dahl’s autobiography BOY for a few years.

L.L.: I can’t imagine going through the day without reading something–even for a few minutes. But sometimes it’s hard to find the time. When do you read? What’s on your summer list?

Claire Douglas: I can’t wait to read Lisa Jewell’s new book – WATCHING YOU. I’ve read and loved all of hers since RALPH’S PARTY in the late 1990s. I do read a lot, even when I’m writing. I try to read every night and always have to have a book on the go.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Claire Douglas: No, you’ve been great. Thank you so much for having me.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of LAST SEEN ALIVE, please see: 

Order Links: 

Claire Douglas ap1.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: Claire Douglas has worked as a journalist for fifteen years writing features for women’s magazines and national newspapers, but she’s dreamed of being a novelist since the age of seven. She finally got her wish after winning the Marie Claire Debut Novel Award, with her first novel, The Sisters. She lives in Bath with her husband and two children.

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


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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins and used with permission]

Shimming tale set in Chicago and Paris in the 1980s and 1920s about art, AIDS, loss, memory & so much more Rebecca Makkai on THE GREAT BELIEVERS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Rebecca Makkai talks about her thrumming new literary fiction that will enrapture you and transport you to 1985 Chicago at the height of the AIDS epidemic, then toss you back to Paris in the 1920s. Plus, memory, loss, character development, healthcare and more. Please join us. 

The Great Believers Cover.jpg

Every now and then there is a book that makes my heart sing. I mean, really, really sing. And when THE GREAT BELIEVERS (June 19, 2018 Viking/Penguin RandomHouse) came along, I knew I needed to get my hands on it. And oh my gosh, I am so glad I did.  Seriously, this book is going to be big. I’ve been seeing it on all kinds of lists since this spring–best summer reading, best for book groups, and books set in Chicago, to name a few.

But it’s also a bit controversial. AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. LGBQTA+ issues. Art in France in the 1920s. But the writing! Oh, the writing! I can’t say enough about that.  It’s achingly gorgeous. You’ll read and be a bit blown away at the breadth of beauty and will step back and think, “I wish I wrote that.”

A bit on the plot: The year is 1985 and AIDS has claimed Yale Tishman’s friend Nico. As Yale’s career begins to flourish—many of his friends are dying. Soon the only person he has left is Fiona, Nico’s little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. She finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS catastrophe affected her life and her relationship with her only child. Yale and Fiona’s stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster. The two stories are compelling in their own right, but together, they are a masterpiece of fiction that feels entirely real.

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Makkai to the author interview series. 

Leslie Lindsay: Rebecca, so honored! Can you tell us a bit about your research process behind learning about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago?

Rebecca Makkai: There wasn’t nearly as much about AIDS in Chicago in book or film form as you would think. Chicago was and is the third largest city in America, but most of what’s out there focuses on New York, San Francisco, and LA. This meant I needed to get out from behind my desk and do some leg work. I holed up in the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago and read every issue of the Windy City Times (Chicago’s biggest gay weekly) from 1985 to 1992. During the four years I worked on the novel, I interviewed people one-on-one, in coffee shops or in their homes: doctors, nurses, activists, lawyers, survivors, people with HIV, and people who had simply been young and gay in Chicago in the 80s. They were so incredibly generous with their time, and in the details and stories they shared. A few of them read the book for accuracy, too, after it was done; while the story is fiction, it was so important to me to get things right.

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Photo by Eugene Dorosh on Pexels.com

L.L.: One of your characters travels to Paris in search for her daughter who became entangled in a cult. What was your research process on that world? 

Rebecca Makkai: I wanted to write about cults after I accidentally went to a restaurant owned by a cult, which led to researching them afterward (I’d tell you which one, but cults are notoriously litigious, and make a lot of their money on lawsuits!). I based the Hosanna Collective, the group that Fiona’s daughter is tangled up in, on that cult, but also on others as it was important to me that it not be identifiable as any particular group. There are some incredibly scary cults out there, of course, but what was so frightening to me about the ones I modeled Hosanna on was how benign and rational it all seemed at first. From the outside, these people really just look like hippies.


“…sure to become a classic Chicago novel…a deft, harrowing novel that’s as beautiful as its cover.”

—Chicago Review of Books


L.L.: [You are] a cisgender heterosexual woman, why was [THE GREAT BELIEVERS] an important story for you to tell? How are you able to lift up the voices of the LGBTQA+ community?

Rebecca Makkai: I thought (and stressed) a lot about whether it was appropriate for me to tell a story about AIDS, and ultimately I felt I needed to satisfactorily answer two questions. 1) Could I do a good job, do this story justice? 2) Would this book detract from the narratives of those who lived through this crisis, or help readers discover those stories? The answer to No. 1 was that I could do it with relentless research, and I hope I’ve indeed done justice to the story. The answer to No. 2 was that my novel is much more likely, if it’s successful, to engender further discussion and writing about AIDS than to squelch it. The way commercial publishing works, a novel’s success means more presses will be willing to back a similar project in the future. I have opportunities now to point people toward both fictional and nonfictional accounts of the AIDS crisis.

This book is about a lot more than AIDS—it’s also about the Paris art world of the 1920s, cults, Chicago, memory, and loss. I do want people to come away knowing, thinking, or feeling more about AIDS than they have previously. I don’t want them to stop with my book—I want this to be the beginning of a lot more reading and conversation about what people remember from that time.

L.L.: Your characters in THE GREAT BELIEVERS feel like very real, dynamic people. What or who inspired your creation of these characters?

Rebecca Makkai: I’ve never based a character on a real person, but there are slivers of different real people (and huge chunks of myself) in every character I write. In THE GREAT BELIEVERS, some of those slivers came from the details that people shared with me about themselves or their friends back in the 80s, and some came from elsewhere. These characters ended up feeling real to me in a way that I’ve never quite experienced before in my previous novels or stories. In particular, my main character, Yale Tishman, is someone I keep thinking of like a friend I just lost. When I get good news about the novel, I wish I could tell him about it. That might make me sound unbalanced, but it was important to my process that I got to the point of thinking of him as a real person.


“…a striking, emotional journey through the 1980s AIDS crisis and its residual effects on the contemporary lives of survivors… Makkai creates a powerful, unforgettable meditation, not on death, but rather on the power and gift of life. This novel will undoubtedly touch the hearts and minds of readers.”
Publishers Weekly (Starred & Boxed)


L.L.: THE GREAT BELIEVERS weaves together two stories in two different cities. Both, in my opinion, are quite wonderful. Why did you choose Chicago and Paris as your settings? 

Rebecca Makkai: I grew up in Chicago and live here still, so it was much more interesting for me to explore what happened right here than to force myself to write about New York or San Francisco, which would have been more expected. Chicago is, in a way, the great love of my life. I’ll never get tired of it and I’ll never get tired of writing about it.

Oddly, the origin of my novel was something that’s now only a small part of it: the art scene in Paris between the two World Wars. I’ve always been fascinated by that time, and by the “École de Paris” set—the young artists who came to Paris from around the world—and although that shrunk to a subplot of the novel, something we hear stories about but don’t see firsthand, it’s still there and still important. The 2015 sections of THE GREAT BELIEVERS were actually a later addition to the story. I’d written about 150 pages thinking the book was just going to be about the 80s before I realized I needed to go back and forth in time. But when I thought about what would happen in those 2015 sections, it made sense for Paris to be the setting, echoing the scene we’ve heard about from the 1920s.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

L.L.: Why do you think it is important to contextualize the pervasive pain of the AIDS crisis in the modern day?

Rebecca Makkai: For one thing, that pain is still here. It’s tempting, in the US, to think of AIDS as something of the past, but globally there are 37 million people living with HIV.

Even if we are thinking of the late-80s / early-90s height of the US crisis, and the gay community it primarily impacted: people are still living in the shadow of those years, feeling those losses, and putting their lives back together. It was important to me to write not just about the 80s, but about the reach of the epidemic across decades.

L.L.:  Did you discover between the state of healthcare during the 1980s and now? Were there any parallels? 

Rebecca Makkai: Legislation of healthcare is still based on subconscious (or even conscious) prejudices about who deserves to live and who doesn’t. Just this December, Trump disbanded the HIV/AIDS Advisory Council, despite the fact that over a million Americans are still living with HIV. That’s not random; that’s coming straight from homophobia and racism, and the idea that those million lives are disposable. And when it’s not sexual orientation or race, it’s gender, poverty level, education. Certain individuals, some of whom are unfortunately in power, love to blame people for their own illnesses—you shouldn’t have drunk all that soda, you shouldn’t have had sex, you shouldn’t have lived in Flint. I think it’s a way they make themselves feel safer, like nothing bad will happen to them, and I think it’s also a way to sanction mass cruelty. In the 80s, the glee with which some politicians talked about gay men dying was barely contained; most politicians do a better job now of hiding their motivations, but they’re still there, festering. Nothing new under the sun.

L.L.: I love talking titles! Can you give us a glimpse into the significance of THE GREAT BELIEVERS? 

Rebecca Makkai: The title is taken from an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote that serves as one of the novel’s epigraphs:

“We were the great believers.
I have never cared for any men as much as for these who felt the first springs when I did, an saw death ahead, and were reprieved—and who now walk the long stormy summer.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Generation”

Fitzgerald is referring to the Lost Generation, and the quote struck me as so counterintuitive—we often think of that generation as so jaded and worldly. The parallels between that generation and the generation we lost in the 80s is something I explore in the novel. In particular, I was struck by the similarities between the way Paris was a refuge for so many misfit artists, and the role big American cities like Chicago have played for young LGBTQ people. The arts scene in Paris was interrupted by WWI and between the war and the influenza of 1918, a whole generation was decimated. I was particularly interested in those who regrouped in Paris after the war, who tried to recreate some of what had been lost. The lines we can draw between that time and the 80s are fascinating to me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

L.L.: What are the main themes of the book? What do you want people to take away from reading THE GREAT BELIEVERS?

Rebecca Makkai: Ultimately, I do think THE GREAT BELIEVERS is a defiantly hopeful book—or at least that my characters are defiantly hopeful. That’s one of the meanings of the title, I think. As their lives fall apart, they also take on greater direction and conviction. We’re living in a difficult time, and life is hard enough to begin with, but I drew so much inspiration in the past few years from talking to survivors, listening to the stories of how they fought for their lives and for each other even when it seemed utterly hopeless. If my characters can do for readers just a fraction of what these people did for me, I’ll be satisfied.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of THE GREAT BELIEVERS, please see: 

Order Links: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Makkai is the author of The Borrower, The Hundred Year-House, and Music for Wartime. Her work has appeared in The Best American Short StoriesThe Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American FantasyHarper’sTin House, and Ploughshares, among others. She lives in Chicago and Vermont with her husband and two daughters.

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


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[Cover and author images courtesy of Viking/PenguinRandom House and used with permission.]

 

 

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What happens when your dad is a fugitive? You run. Tyler Wetherall talks about the fickleness of memory, writing anyway & more in NO WAY HOME

By Leslie Lindsay 

Emotionally detailed and tense, NO WAY HOME is a coming-of-age memoir of a fugitive family on the run from the FBI told from the POV of the youngest daughter.  Here, we chat about her journey to publication, how once you write it you can never ‘un-write’ it, and how she’s back in the U.K. living out of that iconic red suitcase once again.  

Cover. No Way Home
Secrets are the stuff of memoir and NO WAY HOME is stuffed to the gills with them. Tyler Wetherall writes with beautiful prose and raw honesty about what it was like being born into a ‘fugitive family.’ When she’s born, in 1983, the ‘men in black’ were already living on the family’s California property in a small shack. They watched every move, every coming and going of the family because her father, who goes by series of aliases, but whose given name is Ben, was already a criminal.

Tyler doesn’t know her family’s real surname until she is nine years old. She doesn’t know the reason the family had moved thirteen times in her short life. She has no idea that her dad is actually a criminal, or what he’s done.

We know it’s something deplorable, but it’s not revealed until later.  As a young child, Tyler and her older siblings live in various places in Europe. They ski in the Swiss Alps. They scuba dive in St. Lucia, they have a lovely little villa in the same town Picasso once lived in France. They have homes in Portugal and England. The kids attend boarding school. In some ways, it seemed as though they were army brats with every advantage at their fingertips.

But there are also clandestine phone calls with her father from the depths of a phone booth in the woods. Hidden cell phones in attics. Scotland Yard shows up at their home.

Please join me in conversation with Tyler Wetherall. 

Leslie Lindsay: Tyler! Welcome. I found your story so enthralling, yet so devastating. I wanted everything to turn out for the best. Mostly, it does. That’s what I think readers want to know: is the author okay? Is everyone okay? Had things turned out differently, would you still have written it?

Tyler Wetherall: Everyone is okay. More than okay! I think it’s a testimony to the strength of our family and the support our parents always gave us that despite our unconventional upbringing it turned out fine. My sister is a doctor, my brother is a lawyer, and, well, I’m the most vagrant of the bunch as a roving writer. It’s hard to imagine it turning out differently and whether I would have still written it, because that involves imagining myself as a different person. I am the person I am today because of the sequence of events and decisions that led me here.

L.L.:  Memoir is such a fickle form. It’s not told in a vacuum. There are other people—characters—who are involved. At one point in the narrative, it appears as if you’re seeking approval or consent to tell this story. Your mom said something along the lines of, ‘it’s only one version of the truth, anyway,’ and your father said, ‘go ahead, tell it all.’ Of course, there are your siblings and the other fugitives involved…how does a memoirist reconcile the various ‘voices’ and write anyway?

Tyler Wetherall: Even within ourselves we carry many versions of the past. Our relationship to the past changes as we grow, and stories we might have once told about our lives shift to more closely represent who we imagine ourselves to be in any given moment. And that’s true for everyone in our lives. The process of plaiting this into a singular narrative is flawed; it cannot fully represent the web of experience that makes up the past. It can only be one story. I tried to weave some of this into NO WAY HOME, showing where my memory conflicted with my sisters, or saying when I adopted someone else’s memories because they seemed more reliable than my own. I hope in this way the reader might experience the story as something closer to the complexities and contradictions of the lived experience.

Seeking permission from my family was incredibly important to me, and throughout the process of writing I was trying to do this in a way that would cause the least amount of heartache.

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Photo by Fancycrave on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you talk a little about your road to publication? Early drafts, securing an agent, going out on submission, etc.?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s been a very long road. The book began as a biography of my dad. He had recently got out of prison and he was looking for a ghostwriter to tell his story. At the time, I was 24 and working as a magazine journalist in London, but I didn’t want someone else to tell our story. I quit my job and flew out to LA to begin the process of interviewing him for the book. I soon realized that I didn’t want to write another book about a man’s misadventures with the women and children sidelined to sentimental subplots; I needed to tell it as a daughter who had lived through it. At that point I called it a novel. I was very reluctant to write a memoir, scared of causing any pain, but it was also because I was trying to keep the truth at arm’s length, which never works. After finding an agent in New York – the completely brilliant Emma Parry at Janklow & Nesbit – I started to rework it as a memoir, and the story fell into place.

L.L.: And back to the story. In many ways, your early years were quite magical. You traveled extensively and were able to see and do so much—more than most adults ever experience—do you see that as a bit of a gift?

Tyler Wetherall: I feel incredibly lucky. In between the anxiety of moving and the threat of Dad’s incarceration, we were a happy family. I think that’s what makes it tragic when it falls apart. To this day, you can drop me in any part of the world and I’ll figure out how to get by, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been that way without those years of traveling during my childhood. I’m grateful for that.

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Photo by slon_dot_pics on Pexels.com

L.L.: I was quite intrigued with your mother and father and their family of origin. Your mother left home at sixteen to pursue a modeling career and to get married. Your father was from a New York Jewish family and shared details about his criminal behavior with them. I am astonished. In what ways do you suppose their youth shaped this fugitive lifestyle? Or, did it?

Tyler Wetherall: I don’t think Dad was naturally suited to the fugitive lifestyle; he adapted to it. He likes to travel and he has a sense of adventure, which he shared with us, but his priorities are the relationships with the people he loves. Leaving family and friends was hard for them both. My mum spent much of her youth moving house for a variety of reasons – her parents were stationed in Calcutta after the war – so I think she was better suited to starting again in a new place. But I don’t think it was a lifestyle either of them would have chosen. Not being able to share your real identity and always being fearful of apprehension is a difficult state to live peacefully in.

L.L.: Despite your father’s crimes, you had a bit of a ‘wild’ spurt during your teenage years. Can you talk about that, please and if you think it was typical teenage rebellion or related more directly to your father’s activities?

Tyler Wetherall: It’s hard to know. Drugs never held the taboo for me that they might have for other teenagers, but there was definitely an element of typical teenage rebellion: shaving my head, non-stop Nirvana and underage everything. I was also willful and curious and determined to demonstrate that I was brave, and that manifested itself at times as being reckless. I don’t regret that moment though; I learned a lot and it set me in good stead for the future.


“Wetherall has written a luminous memoir that no one who reads it will soon forget… She conveys her exceptional yet familiar experiences in language that makes the reader stop and savor… Witty and eloquent.”

 —The Washington Post


L.L.: What advice might you give someone who wants to write about family? Especially when less-than-stellar moments are involved?

Tyler Wetherall: Firstly, I think it’s important to get everything on the page without thinking about the repercussions or who will read it or what they will say. If you listen to the voices that condemn what you’re doing, you’ll never get anything written. At that point you know what you’re working with and can approach the story with more consideration. Compassion and empathy are incredibly important. You’re not venting; you’re trying to understand the past and what it means to you and those around you. Also, when you’re nearing publication, it’s important to remember that once it’s out there it can’t be undone, so if there are details you balk at, think closely about whether they’re necessary to the story at large.

L.L: Is there anything obsessing you these days? What keeps you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Tyler Wetherall: I’ve just started work on my second book – a novel – and the fear I can’t do it again certainly keeps me up at night!  I’m also working on a pilot. Between the two I spend a lot of time spiraling down so-called research tangents.

L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, but should have? Maybe what your weekend plans are, if you’re working on something new? Your favorite guilty pleasure…or something related to the book.

Tyler Wetherall: I’m currently back in the UK to see my family and friends (and go to the pub!), and I’m living out of the same giant red suitcase that features in the very first sentence of my book.

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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

L.L.: Tyler, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for sharing this story.

Tyler Wetherall: Thank you for reading.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO WAY HOME, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Tyler Wetherall_Credit Sammy Deigh of C.A.N.V.A.S.®.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tyler Wetherall is the author of No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run (St. Martin’s Press; on-sale April 3, 2018). She is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. She has written for The GuardianThe Times, and The Irish Independent. Her short fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review and others.

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


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

Michelle Frances on her debut–an International bestseller–THE GIRLFRIEND, multifaceted characters, possessive girlfriends, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

A slow-burn (and that’s a good thing!) literary domestic thriller with a very unlikable, conniving, master manipulator of a girlfriend.

Plus, Michelle Frances talks about how her career writing TV scripts helped with the narrative, the mother-son dynamic, her summer plans, and what’s next for her.

the girlfriend final WOW. This girl. THE GIRLFRIEND is everything a mother of a son(s) would absolutely deplore. She’s from the ‘wrong side of the tracks,’ lies, lies, lies, and yet she’s sweet (at least to your face), gorgeous, and your son’s smitten. But something’s off. Does a mother intervene?

That’s what THE GIRLFRIEND sets out to answer. At first Cherry is a bit endearing in her nervousness around ‘the parents,’ but how she quickly–and subtly–worms her way onto the dark side. This gal is sneaky, highly disturbed, and just fun to hate. I was absolutely blown away with audacity of this young woman and also it reminded me of how ‘love is blind.’

A bit on the plot: Daniel is in medical school. He was born into a wealthy family, but seems to be a good all-around guy who wants to work in medicine even though he doesn’t technically *have* to work; he has a trust fund, a Mercedes, and his dad just paid for his fancy new flat. And, as an only child, he has a very doting (enmeshed?) mother, Laura.

Along comes Cherry who works as a Real Estate agent (apprentice) and lo and behold, smart rich boy needs a place to live…

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Please join  me in welcoming Michelle Frances to my author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay: Frances, Wow! You absolutely blew me away with Cherry! First, I want to know if there was a scene or character or situation you wanted to explore most in THE GIRLFRIEND; what was the driving force?

Michelle Frances:  Thank you, Leslie!  This is such an interesting question because this is exactly how the book started.  There is a moment about halfway through the novel when Daniel’s mom, Laura, decides to do the most awful thing and tells a lie like no other.  It was this lie that got me thinking about how such a scenario could exist – how could a character like Laura justifying saying such a thing?  And from there grew the story.

L.L.: While I found the plot to be taut and intriguing, THE GIRLFRIEND is also a very voice-y narrative, but it’s quite literary. Was there a particular character who ‘spoke’ most to you?

Michelle Frances:  I have a soft spot for both mom Laura and girlfriend Cherry, despite their bad behavior.  They both start from a hopeful, positive place but jealousy and insecurity warp their perception of the situation they find themselves in, and lo and behold, things start to spiral out of control.  I feel for Cherry as she’s a classic victim of intergenerational unfairness – for her there’s no state certainty of a safety net and a pension.  Even the idea of owning her own home is a distant dream.  These challenges echo what young people are having to face today and in fact many will be worse off than their parents.  I can understand her struggle and have empathy for her reasoning that you might as well spend time in a geographical place where future boyfriends are more likely to have money, than a place where they’re not.  I also have empathy for Laura’s desire to protect her only remaining child from someone who she believes to be up to no good.   I don’t think any mother could stand back and watch what they believe to be a car crash relationship unfold – although mothers don’t have to go to the extent that Laura does in order to stop it!


“The Girlfriend is a taut psychological thriller, the evil chillingly drawn.  Every character is layered and beautifully twisted.   Makes me consider running background checks on any potential spouses my children bring home!”
– New York Times bestselling author Karen Rose


L.L.: And with Cherry—she’s such a fickle, complex character. Did you have to do any research to get her ‘just right?’

Michelle Frances: Cherry is incredibly complex in many ways, but she’s also very straightforward.  She has simple goals that chime with most of ours: financial stability and a happy relationship.  I didn’t do any particular research to understand her, she actually came alive to me quite readily.  Most of us are young and broke when we’re starting out and the class system in the UK is very much alive and well.  Cherry is also incredibly intelligent so I just pitted that intelligence right into the middle of the scenario of her finding a wealthy boyfriend with a tiger mom and her psychology and motivation became very clear.  As soon as Cherry comes up with the notion that Laura believes she’s not good enough for her son Daniel, Cherry decides she’s going to keep him, whatever it costs.

L.L.: Similarly, does Cherry have a psychological diagnosis?  Cause I’m kind of thinking she should!

Michelle Frances:  Ha!  Well, I do think she has very dark thoughts sometimes – as many of us do – the difference being that most people wouldn’t choose to act on them in the way Cherry does!  She feels she has so much to lose and she is fighting for her place from what she feels is a real disadvantage, therefore she justifies crossing that line – more than once!  Personally, I’m fascinated by how psychotic tendencies in people can become dangerously exacerbated when they feel threatened.

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L.L.: Was there anything that surprised you during the writing process? Did you learn anything along the way?

Michelle Frances: As this was my first novel, the whole writing process was a learning experience.  I had to feel my way through and found my skills in television script editing came in very useful!  Although the medium of television is very different to a novel, certain elements are true of any form of storytelling: character development, pace, and twists in the story are all essential to an engaging thriller.

L.L.: Do you have any exciting summer plans…perhaps to the South of France? Or maybe whitewater rafting?

Michelle Frances: Funnily enough, I did go white water rafting a few years before writing the book — just days after meeting my boyfriend.  It was a gift for his birthday!  Fortunately there were no accidents but I do remember very clearly the adrenaline rush of the rapids.  This summer I shall be working on my third book, with perhaps a family seaside break in the middle.

L.L.: Who or what is obsessing you these days? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Michelle Frances: Oh gosh, I get fired up about lots of things.  I’m a governor at my children’s school, which means I’m involved in the strategic decisions of the school.  Education is something I’m extremely interested in, and how teachers and pupils are affected by government policies and decisions.  I also get very hot under the collar about injustice and in fact the book I’m working on this summer is a ‘David and Goliath’ tale about a mother’s fight for justice for her daughter.

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L.L.: Michelle, it’s been an absolute pleasure! Please tell me, is there anything I’ve forgotten?

Michelle Frances: Thank you so much for [having me].  I’ve loved [every minute].  If you enjoy THE GIRLFRIEND, then perhaps I can also shamelessly let you know about my next book!  It’s called THE TEMP and is due out in the USA on 29 January 2019.  It’s about a successful TV producer, Carrie, who unexpectedly falls pregnant and reluctantly has to leave her job in the hands of a young, ambitious temp cover.  Emma is smart and charming and Carrie begins to suspect she is maneuvering her way into Carrie’s life, causing turmoil in her marriage and her work.  It’s a thriller about ambition, deception and betrayal. Thank you again!

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

Order Links: 

MF CroppedABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Michelle Frances graduated from Bournemouth Film School in 1996 and then from the Masters programme at the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, in 1998. Returning to London, she has worked for several years in film and TV as a script editor and producer for both the independent sector and the BBC.

THE GIRLFRIEND, her debut psychological thriller, has been optioned by Imaginarium Studios for film adaptation.  Translation rights have sold in fifteen foreign territories.

Michelle is currently working on her second novel.  She lives in East Surrey.

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

GoodReads
Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
Email:leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com
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[Cover and author images courtesy of Kensington Press and used with permission].

Elaine Neil Orr on her luminous, glittering tale, SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS on racial tension in the 1960s and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS is such a tender, thoughtful, and affecting read on what it means to be touched by another culture–brimming with personal and social issues and told in a gentle, glimmering prose. 

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I’ll admit to having a bit of a cover crush on SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS. I mean, it’s stunning, right? To me, it embodies summer with a nod to a simpler time. Of course, we read because of the story, not the cover. And this one absolutely brings the carefree days of yesteryear to light, but…were they so carefree?

This was my first book by Elaine Neil Orr and here’s what I know:  she’s drawn to tales that take place in distinct locations and is eager to merge them into a seamless whole. Place is not just a setting for her, but a character. SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS takes place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Nigeria, places that couldn’t be more different from one another. Plus, it’s the South in the 1950s-60s, we we’re talking civil rights and a lot of naiveté.


“A perceptive and powerful story told with generosity and grace.” 

~Charles Frazier


Orr’s main characters–Tacker Hart and Kate Monroe–are perfectly flawed. Tacker is a former high school football star turned architect and has traveled–lived–in Nigeria. He comes back home after a misunderstanding in Nigeria and he’s not the same guy. Now, at 25 and working/managing his father’s grocery, he’s thrust into a world that seems a little backward. He doesn’t understand the animosity between whites and blacks.

Kate, meanwhile is dealing with the loss of both her parents and trying to make a living as a photographer. She’s reeling from a troubling relationship with a resident physician and well…it seems she’s ahead of her time.

And then there’s Gaines Townson, a young African-American man who is new to town and not feeling very welcomed. I found all of these characters fascinating *because* of their flaws.

Please join me in welcoming Elaine Neil Orr to the author interview series:

Leslie Lindsay: Elaine! I’m so honored to have you. I understand you grew up in Nigeria. Was that your inspiration for SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, or was it something else?

Elaine Neil Orr:  I had already written a memoir and a first novel set primarily in Nigeria. My aim with SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS was to lay claim to my U.S. American territory, which is the American South. My inspiration was place. I chose Winston-Salem, North Carolina, before I had a character or a situation or a conflict. I spent one year in Winston, 1960-61, my first grade year. Having grown up among Nigerians, this was my first experience of living among thousands of white people. My school was white, my church was white, the neighborhood was white. This new world was like a negative of a photograph, everything the opposite of what I had known. But I love Winston-Salem now, though I live an hour and a half away in Raleigh. I have fond memories of West End Boulevard, and the grocery down on First Street and Peters Creek and the flora of the neighborhood.

L.L.: Sometimes, I feel we need to step outside our comfort zone(s) to fully understand our role in the world. I experienced this as a junior in high school when I traveled to Greece and Italy. The contrasts between my insular Midwestern world and the clash of modern amidst ancient ruins definitely shaped me. Can you speak more about that, please?

Elaine Neil Orr:  Yes, well as I just suggested, even though I was white I was at home in Nigeria where I was born. All of my early memories are from southwestern Nigeria; my first sense of family and love and belonging is there. “Coming to America” was stepping out of my comfort zone. The contrasts were stark. I still had my family here but the rest of the world was hardly recognizable. What I began to fathom at age six was that there were two worlds and I belonged somehow to both. But Nigeria seemed more real with its mud and plaster houses and the huge rain forest hardwoods and the pounding rains and drums at night. I still see the world from the point of view of a girl in Nigeria. In SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, I wanted to conjure a similar perspective in Tacker. It couldn’t be exactly the same. But he would begin to see the world differently because of his time in West Africa, not just the countryside and the buildings and compounds but the way the Nigerian men invite him into their community.

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L.L.: And so for you, place is not just a backdrop, but  becomes a character. Like characters, even settings can be flawed. How can readers learn from those flaws?

Elaine Neil Orr: Place is absolutely a character, always. And all settings are flawed. There’s this wonderful word I learned in graduate school. Bricloeur.  It’s from anthropology and it describes some people and cultures and how they practice “using what comes to hand” to create. I like to think that in the twenty-first century, we can be world travelers (if largely through books), and as we travel we can pick up and create our personal and cultural mindsets by selecting the best from a variety of places. In Nigeria, Tacker learns the hospitality of his Nigerian friends. He transfers this learning to his American landscape where he is able to see that true hospitality requires white Americans to invite African-Americans to the table. Nigeria is also flawed. The character of Joshua is seduced by a form of evangelism that causes him to inflict damage on another person—Tacker to be precise. All cultures and places are sites of good and evil. Yet to get Biblical about it: it’s easier to see the bit of dust in your neighbor’s eye and not the log in your own. I hope SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS helps us see our own flaws and collect the good to create improved moral landscapes and communities.

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L.L.: I have to say—architecture and design! I love when I stumble across this element in a book. What propelled you to give this profession to Tacker?

Elaine Neil Orr: At first I was going to make him a hydrologist. I needed a reason for him to be going to Nigeria as the new country was gaining independence. And I knew from my own experience that more developed countries sent ambassadors to help do this building. But hydrology was a difficult field for me to learn. As an art major in college, I thought I might have better luck learning and writing about architecture. I was influenced by Nigerian architecture growing up, both the traditional building of houses and the new banks and hotels with open concrete designs. Missionaries were sent as architects. So it was a good choice. But I still had to seek out an architect here in Raleigh to teach me how to write about design and the elements of architecture. I’m so glad you enjoyed this aspect of the novel. I love to learn about something ancillary to the plot when I’m reading fiction, whether it’s music or science or math.

L.L.: In fact, both of your main characters have an artistic bent to their character. Kate is a gifted photographer, which, aside from Margaret Bourke White, was predominately a male-driven profession in this time. Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Elaine Neil Orr: My husband first suggested Kate’s photography. I like the device of giving a character a significant object. In my first novel, A DIFFERENT SUN, the protagonist, Emma, owns a special writing box. I gave Tacker the Indian motorcycle. Kate needed something to help define her. While she’s conventional in some ways, she also has an artistic mother and she knows she’s smart. So I thought she could take this step. And I learned that the Winston-Salem Journal had a woman photographer on its staff in the late 50s and 60s. Her name was Cookie Synder. She actually started with the paper in 1948. I didn’t put her in the book because it would mean they didn’t need Kate. I left that spot for my character! As far as the decision to make both Tacker and Kate artistic, I suppose that occurred “accidentally on purpose” as we used to joke. These identities are within my range. They’re both sexy, too.

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your writing routines or rituals?  You also teach world literature and creative writing…I’m kind of wondering how you do it all?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m lucky to be a professor at a Research I university. That means that half of my job is to write. Two days a week I go to campus and teach. Two days, at least, I get to write, sometimes three. But in the U.S., where only a very few writers can live on their writing, a teaching job like mine is about as good as it gets. I have almost four months off in the summer and do the bulk of my writing then. But even in the school year, I can write and push forward a large project and I have learned to write any time any where, though I love to go to writing residences such as the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  I also teach in the Spalding University brief-residency MFA in writing program. But I rarely take a full load of students. I don’t really need another teaching gig but I love the program and what I gain from it—in terms of the students and the other faculty—more than compensates me for my time.


“The riveting plot and real-life characters would not let me go.” 

~Anna Jean Mayhew


L.L.: What’s on your summer bucket list? Trips? Must-reads? Manuscript deadlines?

Elaine Neil Orr: I’m beginning another novel and hope to keep making progress with it even as I keep hopping around on book tour to Fairhope, Alabama, and Atlanta, and Pawley’s Island. Of course there’s a beach trip planned with our granddaughter.  Most of all, I’m looking forward to weeding my garden and walking the dog and cooking meals with my husband. Normal life sounds sweet right now after two intense months of touring.

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Photo by Bruno Joseph on Pexels.com

L.L.: Elaine, it’s been a pleasure! What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Elaine Neil Orr:

Q: You might have asked: When did you first experience racial tension?

A: in Decatur, Georgia, in the ninth grade, while my missionary parents were “home” on a furlough year. No one in Nigeria ever talked about “race.” There was no “race.” We were Americans and Nigerians were Nigerians. No one thought in terms of color. One of the greatest awakenings of my life was encountering the tension in that high school. It had only recently integrated. The hallways and lunch room felt electric with fear and rage.  I was on the “white side.” It was as if we had been branded. I’m sure that experience played a role in my writing SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to order a copy of SWIMMING BETWEEN WORLDS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Elaine Neil Orr credit Elizabeth Galecke Photography 2017.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elaine Neil Orr is a writer of fiction, memoir, and literary criticism. With stories set in Nigeria and the American South, she delves into themes of home, country, and spiritual longing.

Her memoir, Gods of Noonday (Virginia, 2003), was a Top-20 Book Sense selection and a nominee for the Old North State Award. She is associate editor of a collection of essays on international childhoods, Writing Out of Limbo, and the author of two scholarly books.

Orr has published extensively in literary magazines including The Missouri ReviewBlackbirdShenandoah, and Image Journal, and her short stories and short memoirs have won several Pushcart Prize nominations and competition prizes. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL and used with permission]

A Couple Tackles the Great Continental Divide on Bikes for their 25th Anniversary

By Leslie Lindsay 

It’s that time of year again…a whole flock of new grads are setting forth from educational institutions worldwide, ready to take on the world. But what if, what if…your goals falter? What if, maybe, you’re not sure what you want to do with your life? Because forever is a mighty long time.

Recently, I connected with Carrie and John Morgridge. They celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary two summers ago by doing something quite arduous: they conquered the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route with only their bikes, a few supplies, the support of friends, and a very strong will to finish.  They’re not your ordinary mountain bike trail riders. They manage a multi-million dollar Denver family foundation that supports education and encourages philanthropy. And then Carrie wrote a book, THE SPIRIT OF THE TRAIL: A Journey to Fulfillment Along the Continental Divide (Amazon, May 5, 2018) about their experience. I think you’ll find their story not only inspirational in terms of attaining your goals, but in fulfilling all facets of your life. 

Carrie has generously written this essay, which I think will touch many grads, dads, and those embarking upon their career. 

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Simple tips that will help you stay on track with your goals, especially when you feel like giving up

By Carrie Morgridge

To celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I took 60 days off work to bike across the country. It was no ordinary bike ride. It was the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff, Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the Mexican border. It crossed the Continental Divide 32 times, had almost 200,000 vertical feet of climbing; and, we went on this journey unsupported. This means we carried our food, water, tent, clothes and spare parts. We did get to stay in hotels when we could find them, and we were able to take warm showers and do laundry at least every fourth day. It wasn’t fun but it was an adventure of a lifetime, and at the end of the trip I had never been more in shape, more in love and closer to my husband.

If we hadn’t had the common goal of finishing the entire trip, we might not have. Here is how we got to the end of the route in one piece…

  • Grit – Grit might be an overused term but as Angela Duckworth puts in her book GRIT- The Power of Passion and Perseverance – was the first mantra for our journey. John and I are very passionate about exercise, mountain biking and being together. We added perseverance by never giving up, no matter how hard the days were. I knew I needed him to finish the route and vise versa. When I was a little girl my father would really push me to be the best I could be, no matter what the task was. From selling Girl Scout cookies or being on a sports team. Growing up with grit and never quitting was part of the fabric my mother and father raised in me.

“Carrie’s story of biking the Continental Divide is one of resilience, strength, and absolute entertainment. Cyclists and would-be bikers everywhere will enjoy her account of life on the road.”

~Mark Tercek President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy


  • Kindness – Our trip was hard, really hard. The harder it got, the kinder we became towards each other. In the past, I can be kind of a hard ass, but this trip changed me. I changed my attitude and when John was hurting or needed me, I was soft, kind and loving. I asked how could I help, what could I do in my power to make his moment, his ride or his day better. With just this simple act of authentic kindness he immediately responded like a mirror and was kind and loving on my hard days. When I got home from the ride, I talked differently to my kids and my colleagues. I am much kinder now, and people around me can feel the difference. If you are a recent grad, and you are just starting your first job, this is a perfect time to have a reset. Think about being kind and smiling at work everyday.  It will reflect positively right back to you.  You don’t want to just work at a job, you can personally create your own happy space to work at, and enjoy what you do, no matter what the task.

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  • Pride – There is pride – and bragging rights – associated with biking across the country. John will tell you it was pride in the common goal that we had to finish. At one point during the ride, I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, as a muscle in my leg was so overused that it hurt really bad each time I took a pedal stroke. We slowed our pace, took 1.5 days off in Colorado and the pain went away. I was proud of myself to get back on the bike, determined not to stop. We both wanted our kids, our parents and our friends to be proud of us. It is now two years later, and our family still talks about how proud they are that we biked across the country.

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  • Set small goals to achieve your big ones. Each night before going to bed, John and I would review the maps from Adventure Cycling Association and a book written by the McCoys on completing the journey, tips on where to stay and to get food. We would agree on the goal we would set for the day. Then I would break down the daily goal into small achievable goals. Usually, we were on the bike by 8am and by 10am we would take a snack break. One hour later we would take another small break and just walk our bikes for a short distance. Lunch came next, and we would open a crystal light packet, add to our water and enjoy the treat. 3pm was another snack, followed by a 5 minute rest. 5pm is where the mental strength was needed, as most days we biked until a little past 7pm. This is where we would cheer each other on, talk about the day, look for the sunset and try to appreciate what we had just accomplished. You would be surprised how far 60 miles is per day when you do that 10 days in a row. I would celebrate each 100 miles by ringing my bell on my bike. I tried to find any reason to celebrate to the next spin. This helped us both get to the end of the route.

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We never could have finished this ride had we not been prepared. From the research, to the equipment to the 21 days of training we did before the ride. Set reasonable goals for yourself, stick to it and find the good in others.

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

Order Links: 

CMorgridge (3)ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Carrie Morgridge serves as the Vice President and Chief Disruptor of The Morgridge Family Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to invest in transformative gifts for educators and youth. Carrie is the award-winning author of EVERY GIFT MATTERS – How Your Passion Can Change the World.

Carrie and her husband John created the Student Support Foundation, a national organization that inspires youth philanthropy. For the past decade, they have celebrated and advanced the educator profession by creating mindSpark Learning which is focused on empowering educators to tackle the most challenging conditions in their schools through Design Thinking and other strategies.

Carrie speaks nationally to education advocacy forums, at poverty alleviation conferences, and many convenings, globally, that are philanthropically focused. She divides her time between Colorado and Florida. She and John have two children who both reside in Denver.

Carrie and John are avid athletes; in addition to recently mountain biking across the country on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route covering 2,774 miles from Canada to New Mexico in 46 days, Carrie has completed nine Ironman competitions.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of PRbytheBook and used with permission].

 

Carol Goodman on her new Gothic thriller, THE OTHER MOTHER, about postpartum psychosis & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

THE OTHER MOTHER…a creepy Gothic thriller about motherhood and madness with plenty of twists. Plus, she talks about her fascination with the changeling story, her research into mental illness, and those creepy abandoned hospitals, being a Latin major (?!) and so much more

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Carol Goodman hooked me years ago with her debut, THE LAKE OF DEAD LANGUAGES, about a girls’ boarding school and the unsavory things going on there. And then I was mesmerized by THE GHOST ORCHID and still have images from that book lodged in my mind. So when THE OTHER MOTHER (William Morrow, March 27 2018) came to my attention, I knew I had to read it.

This one is all about postpartum psychosis, but there’s more–it’s about identity (mistaken, stolen?), motherhood, trust, love, and so much more.

What Goodman excels at here (and perhaps in all her writing) is her ability to create atmosphere. Imagine a milk-white sky, toss in an old stone home with a tower set on a hill overlooking a mental institution, add a mother and child and reclusive author. See what I mean…

THE OTHER MOTHER explores an unsteady marriage–one that has just experienced the birth of a new baby. It tackles, also, the bond of mothers in a ‘new moms’ group. Daphne Marist is one of those mothers. So, too is Laurel Hobbes. They both have infant daughters named Chloe. And yet neither one are essentially ‘whole.’ Both suffer from some form of postpartum depression/psychosis, yet the women are nearly polar opposites–Laurel is wealthy and sophisticated whereas Daphne is a little more bland and straight-laced. Daphne (a former children librarian) is eager to get away from her controlling husband and establish a life on her own. She applies for a new job as an archivist with a famous author, Schuyler Bennett in the Catskills–under Laurel’s name and credentials!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

She gets the job. She takes her baby and together, they help the author, (who also happens to be the daughter of the former medical director/psychiatrist of Crantham Mental Institution), organize old papers and write a memoir. There are head spinning twists and a complex tale folded within these pages. Everyone becomes an unreliable narrator.

Please join me in welcoming to Carol Goodman.

Leslie Lindsay: Carol, it’s a pleasure to have you. Years ago, when THE LAKE OF DARK LANGUAGES first came out, I would read it on the bus I took to the Mayo Clinic where I was working my first job as a child/adolescent psychiatric R.N. And now I’m reading about psychiatric disorders and writing my own fiction while raising two girls. Funny how things come full-circle. I’m curious what was haunting you when you set out to write THE OTHER MOTHER?

Carol Goodman: It occurred to me that the period of time after having a baby could be a very vulnerable time. I remember how isolated one could feel and how one’s very identity was fluid. What would happen, I wondered, if someone chose to take advantage of that vulnerability.

L.L.: Being a mom (my two are 11 and 13 years), I so recall those ‘new mom’ groups. There’s a lot of bonding, but also competition. Is that how you saw Daphne and Laurel? What do you feel that kind of group brings to the table of new motherhood?

Carol Goodman: Well, they can be a wonderful resource. As I mentioned above, it’s a time when you feel isolated and your sense of identity is changing. I remember being hungry for the company of new mothers. However, with that bonding can come some judginess and envy and competition. We’re all trying to figure out how to get it right, but sometimes that means acting like there’s only ONE way to do it right. So there can be some preachiness around issues like sleeping, breast-feeding, etc. And then, there’s the temptation to measure your own child’s progress against other children.

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L.L: There are a good number of journal entries from three women and slips in time which make THE OTHER MOTHER a near-historical novel. Can you talk about that for a minute and why, perhaps there are no dates on the recent 20__ journal entries? Is it that postpartum disorders really have no clear delineation as to when they can occur, whether it’s 1950, 1870s or 2010s?

Carol Goodman: I wanted to make the present time flexible to feel up-to-date for anyone who’s reading it at least in this decade. God knows what new baby-gear will be available in the future—maybe digital assistants who take care of the baby. “Alexa, can you please watch little Atticus?”

L.L: Can you talk about your research into maternal mental health?

Carol Goodman: I started with what I knew from my own experiences and my mother’s. Understanding postpartumI felt isolated and had what I now know are “intrusive thoughts.” My mother told me that after her second pregnancy she was so depressed she thought about suicide. I wanted to know more, so I read a few books, including Teresa Twomey’s UNDERSTANDING POSTPARTUM PSYCHOSIS: A TEMPORARY MADNESS which I found tremendously helpful. For a historical context, I read a history of the treatment of postpartum mood disorders.

L.L.: Also, a little side note: I love the cover! It shows the ‘mirroring’ as well as the play between Other and Mother, O’s and M’s. Did you have any say in how that all came together? What’s the process like working with an art team?

Carol Goodman: I love it too! The only “say” I had was to tell my editor that I loved it! Yes, I like the mirroring as a way of expressing the confusion of identity that occurs when you become a mother. Also I like the white and red lettering which we can see on the title of the new Hulu adaptation of THE HANDMAID’S TALE which is truly the most chilling novel about motherhood I know!

L.L.: I really loved the setting of Crantham—the clock tower, the country club-like ‘retreat,’ but all along it’s a mental institution. Can you share a bit about your inspiration? Is this a real place?

Carol Goodman: Over the years I’ve passed a few abandoned psychiatric hospitals—and what’s creepier than that! I’m especially influenced the Hudson River State Hospital, the ruins of which I pass often. It was built during the same period as Vassar College, where I went, and has similar architecture, which gave me the idea of making the hospital look Gracefully Insanelike a college. Also I reread GRACEFULLY INSANE: LIFE AND DEATH IN AMERICA’S PREMIER MENTAL HOSPITAL by Alex Beam which describes McLean Hospital.

L.L.: There are some examples of changelings in THE OTHER MOTHER…stories and fairytales. Plus, Schuyler Bennett is an author. How has your reading and literary life shaped the narrative?

Carol Goodman: I admit I’ve used the changeling story before in my fiction (see ARCADIA FALLS and some of my fantasy fiction). I couldn’t resist using it again because I think it’s such an evocative, chilling reflection of the experience of motherhood. That new baby can seem like a stranger left by fairies sometimes! I often like to work in myth and fairy tales into my stories, mostly because I love those stories, but also because I feel like they enlarge the narrative and give the reader a sense of the mystery of everyday experience.

A Gothic thriller deliciously riddled with dark motives and shadowy paths. 

~Publisher’s Weekly, January 8, 2018

L.L.: Can you tell us a few “Carol facts,” maybe some things that would surprise us?

Carol Goodman: I’m really pretty dull. Reading and writing take up most of my life, so my days look pretty tame. I read the New York Times every morning, do yoga, then write in bed for a few hours. Then I take a long walks with my dog—and with friends! Otherwise … hm … does it surprise anyone that I was a Latin major? Or that I write my first drafts by hand? The most adventurous I get is when I go off on research trips. Recently I hiked to an island off the coast of Maine that is only accessible during low tide. I lingered for a bit as the time came in. That’s the most daring I’ve been for a while!

L.L.: Carol, thank you. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

You’ve been most thorough and appreciative! It’s a pleasure answering questions for someone who clearly likes to read. I can tell you what my next book is—it’s called THE NIGHT VISITORS and was inspired by my recent volunteer work at a crisis hotline. A woman on the call center receives a call from a domestic violence victim and, against all protocol, takes her in for the night. Then things go awry … as things usually do. I hope you’ll bring your same enthusiasm to that one. Thank you for being such an appreciative reader.

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

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the-other-mother-carol-goodman-authorABOUT THE AUTHOR: Carol Goodman is the award winning and bestselling author of sixteen novels, including The Lake of Dead Languages and The Seduction of Water, which won the 2003 Hammett Prize, and, in collaboration with her husband Lee Slonimsky, the urban fantasy Watchtower trilogy. Booklist named The Demon Lover, written under the pseudonym Juliet Dark, a top ten science fiction/fantasy book for 2012. Her YA novel, Blythewood, was named a best young adult novel by the American Library Association. Her books have been translated into sixteen languages.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Cover images of reference books retrieved from Amazon on 5.25.18]