Tag Archives: literary fiction

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

9781632863942 INDELIBLE jacket art.jpg
We’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but I did (isn’t it gorgeous?!). So does Magdalena, one of three ‘main’ characters in INDELIBLE (Bloomsbury, January 17, 2017) who sees writing on the bodies of everyone she meets—names and dates of their pasts and future, details both banal and profound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1200px-Nevada_en_Compostela_(Panoramica)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adelia Saunders: Thank you for having me!

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

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

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

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

 

WeekEND Reading: Debut author Bryn Greenwood talks about being a stubborn flat-lander, reading (and writing) about uncomfortable things, what ALL THE UGLY & WONDERFUL THINGS taught her about herself, and how’s it’s totally NOT autobiographical.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is as raw as it is compassionate. A writer I know sometimes says, “I was brave on the page today,” and that’s exactly what I think of Wavonna (Wavy), the main character in this title, as well as the debut author Bryn Greenwood. She was brave on the page and there’s truth to it right here–she’s the all-the-ugly-and-wonderful-thingsdaughter of a (mostly reformed) drug dealer just like Wavy, and she has a habit of falling in love with much older men, and perhaps she also not just brave on the page, but “writes what she knows.”

This is a brave, insightful read from a very talented new writer and I thoroughly enjoyed the language and rhythm to the prose, however, I will say that this is not a book for everyone. It’s a bit like LOLITA meets…I’m not sure. Be prepared for some rawness and uncomfortable things going on in ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

We first meet Wavy (short for Wavonna) when she is just 5 years old. She’s got a creepy-goofy mom whom she’s often scared of, especially when mom’s high. Her dad’s no better. Wavy keeps her mouth shut and stays out of sight. Selectively mute, she eats in secret, and finds many others hard to trust. That is until she meets Kellen (Also known as Jesse Joe Barfoot). Kellen is much older than Wavy (who is now 8 years old), yet they are in love. Or perhaps it’s more brotherly at first, him protecting her while she’s a vulnerable child and her parents are too strung out to parent. But then a love definitely develops.

Tragedy rips the family apart and well-meaning aunt steps in. There’s foster care, drugs, jail time, death/murder/suicide and so much more in this gorgeously told literary suspense ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS.

So, grab your cup of coffee and join me as we get to know Bryn Greenwood.

Leslie Lindsay: Oh goodness, I just finished ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS and I have to say, the title is quite fitting. Are you one of those writers who can’t set pen to paper before knowing a title, or does it develop organically?

Bryn Greenwood: It’s important for me to have a working title that resonates with me, but always with the awareness that it probably won’t end up being the title the book is published under. The working title for ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS was rather unimpressively THIRTEEN, in reference to Wavy’s age when her life changes dramatically. It’s a good thing I don’t get too attached to my working titles, as this book actually went through three title changes on its road to publication. The line referencing “all the ugly and wonderful things” existed from the first draft, however, so it was fitting that it ended up being the title.

L.L.: So…”writing what you know,” I have to say, I also love memoir and as I’m reading, there’s so much truth and raw honesty with your characters and the situations they get themselves into, yet ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is not a memoir. Can you discuss your understanding of the difference between “writing what you know” and a full-fledged memoir?

Bryn Greenwood: Writing a memoir would require me to take careful stock of a lot of memories, and do a lot of research to fact check the events of my life. It would also require me to decide how many people I’m willing to be estranged from. Writing what I know, however, allows me to pick and choose from the things I remember vividly and fill in the blanks with people and events of my own imagination. Still, I feel that fiction calls upon the same level of introspection and emotional honesty as memoir. In terms of ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, is some of it true? Yes. My father was a drug dealer, and I’ve done and seen some pretty crazy things as a result. Do some of the characters resemble people I knew? Without a doubt. At the age of thirteen I started an intense love affair with a man more than twice my age. He and I are both in these pages in some very filtered form. Does it approach autobiography? Absolutely not.

L.L.: Many folks are comparing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS to LOLITA. Talk about a narrative with lots of uncomfortable situations! How do you respond to those comparisons?220px-lolita_1955

Bryn Greenwood: I’m a big fan of Nabokov, and I think LOLITA is an incredible novel, perhaps even one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century. Breaking it down to its bare bones, though, it doesn’t have anything in common with ALL THE UGLY AND
WONDERFUL THINGS. Humbert Humbert is a sexual predator who marries a single mother and, following her convenient death, kidnaps her daughter for what I can only describe as a cross-country pedophilic rape-fest. As a first person narration, we have only Humbert’s perspective on his relationship with Lolita, and I don’t trust him. ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS has none of those plot elements, and the characters involved are quite different, as is the dynamic of their relationship. Yes, there’s an increasingly uncomfortable and inappropriate relationship between a young girl, Wavy, and Kellen, a man thirteen years her senior, but I do not consider Kellen a predator or a pedophile. Also it is my hope that the multiple narrative angles allow readers to see a much more balanced view of their relationship and come to their own conclusions.

“Greenwood’s powerful, provocative debut chronicles a desolate childhood and a discomfiting love affair… It’s no storybook romance, but the novel closes on a note of hard-won serenity, with people who deserve a second chance gathered together….Intelligent, honest, and unsentimental.”

~Kirkus Reviews (STARRED)

L.L.: What did you learn about yourself writing ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I learned that there are things I thought I’d let go of that still have their hooks in me. This was simultaneously a happy and a sad lesson, because some of the things that still have a hold on me are full of sorrow, while others are full of joy. Accessing some of those memories allowed me to release a lot of the shame that other people had pressed upon me. As a society, we have a few set narratives about certain things, like the way “inappropriate” relationships between young people and older people are viewed and discussed. The approved narrative is that the younger person is a victim. If you have an experience that doesn’t fit, or if you decline to identify with being a victim, people will try to shame you. If you won’t be a victim, then there must be something wrong with you seems to be the message. Writing this book, I was able to shrug off that shame for something more constructive.

I also learned that I’m more stubborn than I knew I was, and I thought I was pretty stubborn. I received a lot of rejections on this book, but at no point did I consider giving up.

L.L.: There are so many things going on in this story, but it’s all handled well. In some ways, it feels like a mystery/thriller and in other regards, it feels a bit like…well, a coming of age romance, though I cringe to liken it to romance, because it’s not really that. Plus, the writing is very lyrical, polished, and emotionally resonate. Perhaps it’s literary fiction. What genre do you feel ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is? And in the end, does genre matter?

Bryn Greenwood: I think of it primarily as literary/mainstream fiction. It obviously has many hallmarks of a coming of age story–for several of the characters–but there are a lot of other elements at play within the story, as you observe. Like you, I hesitate to think of it as romance, because romance novels tend to glorify and glamorize the love stories they tell. Although ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS definitely contains a love story, it’s not particularly romantic. That said, I suspect genre only matters as much as we tell ourselves it does. I read across all genres, and I know from the contents of my inbox that readers of all kinds have connected with my book.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away after reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS?

Bryn Greenwood: I hope that most readers will simply spend some time thinking about the issues that surround the characters: drug abuse, neglect, family, love, loss, food. As much as we want life to be black and white, there’s a whole lot of gray. I think we get to that understanding, and to sympathy, by acknowledging the issues that inhabit that gray area.

For readers who find that the book makes them uncomfortable, I hope they will spend a little time thinking of other readers for whom this book is a mirror. Wavy and Kellen’s lives may seem alien or repulsive, but there are people who have lived or are living these lives. Those people deserve to see their stories told with sincerity just as much as anyone else.

L.L.: I’m a bit curious about place and how that affects us as writers. Or, does it? I understand you’re a fourth generation Kansan. I’m at least a fifth generation Missourian. I’m drawn to raw, uncensored stories about family, love, and human behavior. Could just be me, but perhaps there’s some mid-America influence there. Can you share your thoughts on that?

Bryn Greenwood: Although I’ve written about other places, I feel like much of my writing is informed by my family connection to Kansas, and to the West. [See Bryn’s website to glimpse her other writing] Part of that is this sense of a massive, flat, open space, of being able to see not just the next town twenty miles away, but the actual curvature of the earth. I always feel like I’m trying to bring that breadth of vision to my writing. The other element of place that crops up in my work is this damned impenetrable stubbornness. During the Dust Bowl, when a 220px-dust-storm-texas-1935lot of people fled from Western Kansas, my family stayed, possibly out of pure bullheadedness. That bleeds through in how we feel about our relationships and our place in the world. We can be very insular, but are passionate and loyal. 

L.L.: In fact, as I’m reading ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS, I’m reminded of several other titles that are written (and set) by Missouri authors (Laura McHugh’s THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD comes to mind as does Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE). What stories, authors, and genres influence you? What ignites your creative spark?

Bryn Greenwood: I read all different genres, because I never know where I’ll stumble across the kinds of stories and characters I love. I enjoy sci fi and fantasy, often because I feel like the same thing that lets them cross the boundaries of our reality lets them access emotions and relationships that we don’t always find in contemporary fiction. (Some of my current recommendations are Sherri L. Smith, Holly Black, and always Ursula K. LeGuin.) I’m a big believer in reading work by women, because we’ve so often been silenced. Some of my favorites are Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich, Alice Walker, A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, and Isabelle Allende.

L.L.: I understand you used to work with Planned Parenthood. Can you tell us a bit about that? This particular experience netted you a good number of publications.

Bryn Greenwood: In the 1990s I worked at Planned Parenthood of Kansas (Now PP Great Plains) as a sex educator. As is the nature of teaching, it was hugely educational for me. I did hundreds of presentations for high school students, social services clients, inmates at juvenile and adult facilities. I saw so much of humanity and heard so many stories that I was radically changed in my understanding of the world. I can’t help but feel a lot of that experience comes through in my writing as well. In terms of what I tweeted about in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shootings last year, that whole experience is a great illustration about social media. You cannot control what catches people’s attention. It turned out that a lot of people wanted to know more about what I’d experienced as a Planned Parenthood employee.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but forgot?

 Bryn Greenwood: One of my favorite things to ask other writers is what newspapers, websites, etc. they like to read on a casual basis, because I’m interested in people’s daily mental perambulations. Of course, having mentioned this, I now have to admit that I love reading trashy tabloids online. I think it’s that underneath all the celebrity gossip and Florida crime reports, I know there are real stories. I like to imagine what has really happened behind all the sordid and sensationalist nonsense. Tabloids render it all as grotesque– “Famous Athlete Arrested in Altercation at Strip Club” or “Florida Woman Shoots Husband and His Lover, Her Own Mother” –but I enjoy trying to develop narratives for the headlines that reveal actual people having actual human emotions.

L.L.: Bryn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for chatting with us today.

Bryn Greenwood: Thank you for inviting me to talk about my book and all my random obsessions. It’s been wonderful, Leslie!

For more information on ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS, or to connect with Bryn Greenwood via social media, please see: 

bryn-greenwood-credit-jennifer-stewart-newlinAuthor Bio: Bryn Greenwood is a fourth-generation Kansan, one of seven sisters, and the daughter of a mostly reformed drug dealer. She earned a MA in Creative Writing and continues to work in academia as an administrator. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is her debut novel. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas, where she is married to an extensive home remodeling project, and is raising a small herd of boxers and hairless cats.

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

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Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to K. Bassel at SMP. Author and cover images courtesy of SMP and used with permission. Lolita cover image retrieved from Wikipedia on 9.8.16, Dust Bowl image also retrieved from Wikipedia.] 007.JPG

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Thomas Christopher Greene of THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE

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By Leslie Lindsay

It’s that time of year again. There’s a nip in the air, an excitement humming about campus, and perhaps the ivy is a little greener and a little more lush along those stone and brick buildings.

I am thrilled to welcome author—and president of Vermont College of Fine Arts—Thomas Christopher Greene—who prefers the less pretentious Tom—to our literary blog.

Having just read THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, 2014), the fourth of Greene’s novels, I have to say, this one blew me away. It’s part mystery, part literary academia, and part psych thriller. Definitely a blend of my favorite genres. What’s more, it takes place—in part—at a Vermont prep school.The Headmaster's Wife

Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for being with us today, Tom. I found THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE compulsively readable. While overall the prose is easy reading, the subtext is complex. We definitely get that ominous vibe that something is amiss. Well, okay—it is amiss. In the opening lines, our middle-aged headmaster is wandering around outside in the buff. Was this your intention all along, or, as many things with writing, did the narrative take a life of its own?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I often find the beginning of a novel after writing the first seventy pages or so six or seven times. It’s a horribly inefficient way to write but the only one I know. So in this case, I added that beginning after I had developed Arthur’s voice, and also the in between sections where he is being interviewed by the police.

Leslie Lindsay: Let’s talk about structure. It’s a big obsession of mine of late. You do a wonderful job of creating a sort of bifurcated narrative with framing the story along the lines of now—not now—now; tossed in for good measure are some scenes in which Arthur is being interrogated. The writing just seems to flow organically. But something tells me this was carefully thought out. Can you explain?

Thomas Christopher Greene:When I start a book, I spend a lot of time thinking and living with the characters in my head. Structure is critically important, in that it is the framework for how you tell the story. That said, this idea I came across by accident—I wrote the long first piece that is Arthur’s point of view and initially I thought the whole book would be told that way. But I knew I needed Elizabeth’s point of view and the conventional way to do it would be to alternate it with Arthur’s, which is often done. But then I came across the idea of essentially telling the same story—with different viewpoints, in, as you put it, a bifurcated narrative. And once I had that figured out, the rest of the structure took care of itself.

L.L.: THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE was born of personal tragedy and grief in your own life. Oh, I can only imagine the heartache of losing a precious young baby. Grief is a tricky thing, and yet you write about it so eloquently. What would you recommend to others who are attempting to write about grief without being stereotypical?

Thomas Christopher Greene: The great thing about fiction is that it allows writers to deliberately obfuscate a story in order to find a deeper truth. In this case, I didn’t actually have the resources—emotional, mental etc—to write about my own experience with losing our daughter. But I found that through characters I could write about the emotions and feelings I had, and there was enough distance, paradoxically, to allow a certain measure of honesty. I don’t know that there is any good advice I could give someone writing about grief, just as there is no blueprint for grief itself.

L.L.: Let’s shift over to the business of writing. What is your advice to aspiring novelists?

Thomas Christopher Greene:Read everything you can. Be thick-skinned because that will carry you. Trust your own vision. And come to Vermont College of Fine ArtsJ

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about the writing programs at your college?

Thomas Christopher Greene: We have two low-residency programs, one in writing (poetry, fiction, memoir) and one in writing for children and young adults. They are widely recognized as two of the top writing programs in the country. Next fall we are also starting our first full residency program in writing and publishing. Author Talks and Story Slam at VCFA Montpelier Vermont

L.L.: Can you share a bit about what you are working on next?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I’m writing a novel that for now is called SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW. It will be published by St. Martin’s Press hopefully in early 2016. It’s a story of a great unrequited love and what happens after a chance meeting on a Manhattan street.

L.L.: Finally, how can we learn more about you and your work?

www.thomaschristophergreene.com

and www.vcfa.edu

Thank you so very much for being here today! We so enjoyed.

My pleasure!

Thomas Christopher Greene

Thomas Christopher Greene was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts to Richard and Dolores Greene, the sixth of seven children. He was educated in Worcester public schools and then Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. He earned his BA in English from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, where he was the Milton Haight Turk Scholar. His MFA in Writing is from the former Vermont College. [book cover image and author image retrieved from www.thomaschristophergreene.com with author’s permission 10.01.14. College image retrieved from http://www.wherezit.com/listing_show.php?lid=423779 on 10.01.14]