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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Richard Russo, author of Everybody’s Fool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Kate Hamer on her debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, how being a writer was a dream akin to being a rocket scientist, taking the plunge, characters as images first, a trip to Scotland & much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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 First, the reviews:

“Kate Hamer’s novel is both gripping and sensitive — beautifully written, it is a compulsive, aching story full of loss and redemption.”–Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty Ones

“Hamer’s debut novel poignantly details the loss and loneliness of a mother and daughter separated”~Kirkus Review

“Telling the story in two remarkable voices, with Beth’s chapters unfurling in past tense and Carmel’s in present tense, the author weaves a page-turning narrative.”~Publisher’s Weekly

An Amazon Best Books of February 2016, British writer Kate Hamer’s THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT (Melville House, 2016) has been nominated for a Costa First Book Award, a prestigious recognition in the U.K and there’s already talk of a film. It seems THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is the next literary sensation.

The first few chapters of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT had me completely absorbed and frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next…but I absolutely adored the wonderful world of the bright, sensitive, and slightly dreamy 8-year old Carmel.

While THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT appears, at first blush, your garden-variety tale of child abduction, it’s so much more than that. Recently divorced British mother Beth is working hard at making a life for the two of them. Beth is caring and loving and wants the best for her daughter. They take a train to a children’s literary festival where they become entrapped in the world of fairies and make believe.

And then–poof–she’s gone.

Today I’m thrilled and honored to welcome Kate Hamer to the blog couch. Welcome, Kate! Please, grab a cuppa  [tea] (or coffee!) and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: As a writer myself, I often get “the bug” to write through an image that comes to me—from my waking life, a dream, or perhaps just a name. What was it for you that propelled you to sit down and write THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT?

Kate Hamer: It was exactly that – an image. I kept ‘seeing’ a young girl in a red coat. She looked lost and sad but strangely also with a strong sense of her place in the world. She was there for several weeks before I sat up in bed one night and wrote the first chapter straight off. It wasn’t in her voice though – it was her mother’s, Beth. Beth spends the first chapter talking about her daughter – missing, remembering her. Something painful has happened but we’re not sure just what. That was the introduction to that little girl, Carmel, in the red coat – it was through her mother’s eyes.

L.L.: This is your first novel—congratulations! I understand you have two grown children, and I presume, a career before THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. How did time and perspective prepare you for your breakout novel? Can you speak to that, please?

Kate Hamer: I’ve always written – even at a very young age I was writing my own stories, images (4).jpgillustrating them and stapling them together into books! But when you are eighteen or so and deciding what to do with your life the idea of being a writer sounds in a similar league to being a rocket scientist. Over the years I continued to write – short stories and fragments of novels and in all honesty life experience is very good material. I worked for many years in the media and that helped too because in a way it’s still storytelling in a different way. But it was only when my children left home that I really thought, this is my life’s ambition – it’s now or never – and I made the leap.

L.L.: I have to say, I adore the distinctively beautiful prose of both Beth and young Carmel, but I love, love, love Carmel’s voice. Can you talk about how you created those characters? Were they drawn from anyone you know? Personal experience?

Kate Hamer: Once I had the image of Carmel her Mum came very soon – almost like she was chasing after her. I think Beth has a little bit of me in her – she’s a worrier too but Carmel is not based on anyone I know in particular. She was fairly fully formed right from the start almost as if she was telling me what she was like rather than the other way round!

L.L.: I’m interested in structure these days. THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is told in alternating POVs, how did you come to that decision? Did it grow organically from the story you wanted to tell, or was there more thought behind that?

Kate Hamer: Ah, yes! For me structure is a major, major thing too. Happily with this book the structure happened very organically. Once I had Carmel, then the first chapter in Beth’s voice it seemed the only natural thing to do to tell it in both their voices – to hear their stories side by side. Plus I always knew I wanted to tell a story about mothers and daughters and this seemed the best way to put their relationship at the heart of it.

“Keeps the reader turning pages at a frantic clip . . . What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.” —Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

L.L.: Carmel’s captors are not exactly “bad,” they feel Carmel has spiritual gifts. This is a diversion from your typical child abduction thrillers. Can you talk more about that?

Kate Hamer: It’s hard without too many spoilers! What I would say is that from the get go Carmel is quite an unusual child. Her parents think that she might be on the autistic spectrum or similar. As the book goes on we begin to realize more and more that the key to the mystery of Carmel’s disappearance lies in that very strangeness. To anyone who worries that this might not be a book for them because of the subject matter I say: ‘it goes in a direction you might not be expecting.’

download (7)L.L.: A handful of reviews are comparing THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. Somewhere else I read that you were essentially raised on Grimm’s fairy tales. Was that your intention all along?

Kate Hamer: It’s funny how it worked out. I was steeped in fairy tales growing up. We had lots of old books in the house (my Mum is a second hand book fan) so I had a really old version where the stories are not sugar coated one bit, they were really very dark. While I was writing the red coat was such a potent image for me, but it was only when I’d finished the first draft that the penny dropped. I have an old Victorian print of Little Red Riding Hood hanging in my hall and I looked up at it and thought, ‘ah, of course!’ I find writing works like that because you are working at such a subconscious level.

L.L.: What are you working on now?

Kate Hamer: I’ve such finished my second novel and I’m working with the editor on it which is incredibly exciting. It’s a dark coming of age tale about family secrets set in a forest in Britain and is out in the UK in February next year. I can’t wait to see the cover designs – this time I feel I can consciously enjoy it all more. With ‘The Girl…’ it all happened so quickly I didn’t really know what hit me sometimes!

L.L.: What is obsessing you?

Kate Hamer: Oooh, good question. Does it have to be literary? If so at the moment it’s Elena Ferrante and her wonderful books set in Naples. They’re quite unlike anything I’ve read before and the fact that no one knows her true identity really intrigues me. On a personal note I’m renewing my wedding vows with my husband in October on the West coast of Scotland and I’m currently obsessing about what to wear! hidden-treasures

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

Kate Hamer: What I’m currently reading? It’s ‘Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down’ by Anne Valente. It’s a proof copy I’m reading as it hasn’t been published yet but I think it’s going to be a very exciting debut.

L.L.: Kate, it was lovely having you. Best wishes on your literary journey!

Kate Hamer: Thank you so much. It’s been great fun. Best wishes on yours too.

For more information, or to follow Kate Hamer on social media, please visit:

kate-hamerAuthor Bio: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel and has been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and is a finalist for the Dagger Award. 

[Special thanks to J. Fleischaker at Melville House. Cover image retrieved from Melville House Publishers, author image retrieved from , western coast of Scotland retrieved from, finally child writing image retrieved from, all on 6.23.16]

Read On, Wednesday! Summer’s Best thru History

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By Leslie Lindsay

If you’ve done any shopping of late, you may be thinking summer is over.  The back-t0-school supplies are shiny and new in the aisles of your favorite stores, fall fashion icons are slowly filling the store windows–backpacks, boots, and blazers.  Yet in your mind, there’s still a good month to six weeks of summer left. I couldn’t agree more!

If you’re heading out to beach or the cottage “up north” you might like to snag a book to take along.  And who am I to blame you?!

Inspired by a recent article in Time magazine, I stumbled upon a listing of the “ultimate summer reads” dating back to 1970.  I’ll attempt to fill in some of the years Time left out (the side bar skips several years between 1970 and present).  I’m gonna pick some dates that are significant to me, in one way or another…I’ll let you determine how they may be significant! Here goes:

  • 1970:  LOVE STORYProduct Details by Erich Segal.  A Harvard Law student and Radcliffe girl fall in love and move to New York.  Sadness ensues. 
  • 1971:  THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty.  A mother enlists a priest to save her daughter from deomonic possession.
  • 1974: JAWS by Peter Benchley.  A small town in threatened by a man-hungry shark that’s (almost) too big to kill. 
  • 1976:  TRINITY.  Leon Uris.  The epic beauty–and struggle–of Ireland’s freedom
  • 1978:  SCRUPLES. Judith Krantz.  The ins & outs of the luxurious life of a Beverly Hills boutique and the people who work in it.Product Details
  • 1983: THE NAME OF THE ROSE by Umberto Eco.  A friar is sent to investigate a series of deaths in an Italian monastery.
  • 1985:  CIDER HOUSE RULES.  John Irving.  Rural Maine abortionist and medication addict has a dilemma in his orphanage. 
  • 1986: WANDERLUST.  Danielle Steele.  Sheltered and lonely orphan grows up to care for sister and wealthy grandfather set in 1930’s. 
  • 1989: THE RUSSIA HOUSE.  John le Carre.  Soviet physicist is into esponiage and Russian women.  A chaotic tale of Soviet defense.   
  • 1991: AMERICAN PSYCHO by Bret Easton Ellis.  Patrick Bateman is a businessman by day, but a deviant serial killer after hours.
  • Product Details1992: THE PELICAN BRIEF by John Grisham.  A law student and journalist investigate the deaths of two Supreme Court justices.
  • 1993: THE CELESTINE PROPHESY by James Redfield.  A man goes on a quest for insight after reading an ancient text.
  • 1996:  CAUSE OF DEATH.  Patricia Cornwall.  Foresnsic patholoist plumments to the depth of the seas to determine cause of death of investigtive reporter.
  • 1997:  PLUM ISLAND.  Nelson de Mille. Convealescing homicide NYPD cop learns of attractive young couple murdered to death on nearby patio.
  • 2001: P IS FOR PERIL.  Sue Grafton.  Respected nursing home phyician goes missing.
  • 2003:  THE LAKE HOUSE.  James Patterson.  A Colorado vet knows a secret that will change the history of the world. 
  • 2005:  THE MERMAID CHAIR.  Sue Monk Kidd.  Set in the Egret Islands off of South Carolina is a chair tucked away in a Benedictine Monastary.  Legend has it, the chair belonged to a mermaid before she was converted.  Product Details
  • 2007:  A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS.  Khaled Hosseini.  An unlikely friendship between two very different women. 
  • 2009:  THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE by Stieg Larsson.  The second in the series that follows a journalist and a hacker.
  • 2012:  GONE GIRL.  By Gillian Flynn.  A journalist in a troubled marriage becomes the suspect in his wife’s disappearance.  Product Details
  • As for 2013…maybe it’s Dan Brown’s INFERNO, or
  • J. Courtney Sullivan’s THE ENGAGEMENTS…time will tell! 

Which of these books have you read?  What may be fun to add to your “vintage” bestseller list?

Read on!! 

[This list was compiled with assistance from http://www.hawes.com/no1_f_d.htm#1970’s.  All images are retrieved from Amazon.com on 7.13.13]

The Teacher is Talking: Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness

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By Leslie Lindsay

You may be thinking red, white, and blue this time of year in light of American Independence Day (better known by the familiar moniker, 4th of July).  But, have you ever stopped to think about the qualities within Americans that make the USA truly great?  Product Details

In New York Times Bestselling author’s Eric Metaxas’s recent book, we delve right into that.  While there are gads of influential women, this one focuses on seven widely known–but not well understood men.  Each exquisitely crafted short portraits of these men showcase a commitment to live by certain

virtues found in the gospel. 

Of course you are curious–just who are these great men and what can I learn from them? 

Within the covers of this beautifully written, highly engageable book is seven men from all walks of life–politicians, founding fathers, baseball all-stars, athletes, and men of faith…George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Charles W. Colson.

While not all of these individuals are American, we can certaintly see how their impact on the world also affected the overall democracy and spirit of the American nation. 

Within Metaxas’s introduction, he answers the question, “Why these seven men?”  His answer, “Of course this list is not definitive.  There is a great subjectivity in these choices…I was looking for seven men who had all evidenced one particular quality: that of surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept…nobable and admirable, and it takes courage…and usually faith.  Each of these seven men have that quality.” 

A wonderful family teaching guide, or one which youth directors and church groups could benefit, SEVEN GREAT MEN, is a an indispensible look at what makes a man of virtue, an everyday–everyman hero.  Discussion points may include:

  • What does it mean to stand for honesty, courage, and charity?
  • How can a man (or woman!) still be a person of integrity, even when the world around us depicts other desires?
  • What does it mean to be a man or woman in today’s world?  Do you think there is a difference now, versus historically? In what ways are men and women alike in their values?
  • Who is your hero and why?
  • Have you ever considered being a role model or mentor to someone?  In what areas do you carry an inherent knowledge or skill you would like to impart for the greater good? 
  • What about fallen or false idols?  Can you identify some?  What qualities or characteristics did they proport to have, yet somehow failed? 
  • What does it take to be a true leader in today’s policical, religious, and social climate? 

As you sit back this holiday to enjoy the fireworks, the family gatherings and delicious summer harvest this holiday, I challenge you think of these great men–those who can serve as heroes and men of virtue for our nation’s children.

Who Wrote it:  Eric Metaxas is the author of NYT #1 bestseller, BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy which was named Book of the Year by EPCA in 20111.  He has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, The New Republic, Harper’s, Kirkus, NPR, FoxNews, Christianity Today, and others.  He was also the keynote speaker at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.  He currently resides in New York with his wife and daughter.(author photo retrieved from the author’s website, www.ericmetaxas on 7.2.13)

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

Interested in a complimentary hardback copy of SEVEN GREAT MEN?  Here’s all you have to do:  Tell us–either in comment here on the blog or by sending me an email at leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com why you’d like a copy.  A name will be selected at random on Friday, July 5th by 5pm CST.  Open to US residents only.  You will be contacted via email if your name is selected.  Please remember to check your junk mail for notification.  Your prompt response to the winning email is appreciated, otherwise another name will be drawn.  Thanks and good luck! 

For more information, please see the author’s website,   http://www.ericmetaxas.com/

Write on, Wednesay: Special Guest Heather Shumaker of “It’s OK NOT to Share”

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By Leslie Lindsay It's OK Book cover

Today, I have  very special guest–Heather Shumaker, mom and author of It’s OK NOT to Share (Penguin/Tarcher, 2013).  This brand-new parenting book just hit the shelves this spring and is ranked #3 by Parents Magazine.  Heather and I met at the University of Wisconsin’s Writer’s Institute this past April.   Right away, I knew her message would resonate with me.  And then she graciously agreed to participate in an interview. 

Here, she explains the writing process and some great tips and ideas for parenting.  Best yet–there’s a give-a-way!!  Complimentary copy of IT’s OKAY NOT TO SHARE is coming your way if you are the lucky one whose name is drawn at random.  (See end of post for details).  Without further adieu…

L2:   Loving your book, Heather!  I just started reading it this week—outside—which is so refreshing after the long winter we’ve had here in the Midwest.  Not only is the weather sunny and warm—so is your writing style.  How do you weave in parenting topics in such a fun and joyful way?  At times, I almost forget I am reading…

Heather S.: Ah, thank you.  I developed my tone by working with a team of test readers.  Before the book was published, I gathered a group of willing parents with young children (and grandparents and preschool teachers).  I asked them directly if my style was too preachy or boring or confusing – and they told me!  I am trying to write to you as a friend and as an intelligent, caring reader.

L2: IT’S OK NOT TO SHARE is mostly inspired by two things:  the fact that you couldn’t find a suitable preschool for your own children, 5 year old Zach and 8 year old Myles, and you had fond memories of your alma mater, the School for Young Children (located in Columbus, OH).  Can you tell us a little more about your process of writing from conception to birth [of book]? 

Heather S.:  For years I waited for teachers at the School for Young Children (SYC) to write a book about their program. It’s so unique – for instance, they give kids mini boxing gloves and allow them to stage wrestling matches and other roughhousing games in the classroom.  The teachers there are a devoted group of child professionals, but they’re not writers.  I was able to be the messenger and share the wonder of their philosophy.author and family

I started by interviewing teachers at SYC and deciding which elements of their program were unique (boxing) and which were universal (kids eat a snack).  I chose the topics based on the unusual aspects, the tricky areas of parenting which are controversial or unfamiliar.  Topics like social rejection, weapon play, physical risk-taking, play, artistic expression, sharing and long turns. It’s all based on child development and all backed up with 40 years’ of success.

Then I went the traditional route for publishing, found an agent, sold a book proposal and wrote the book for an imprint of Penguin

L2: Can you share, too how you managed to complete such a wonderful volume of work while raising your kiddos?

Heather S.:  Plus paid childcare.  I worked part-time on the book so I really had to buckle down and work when the daycare clock was ticking.  My kids often provided inspiring quotes or anecdotes, so that was helpful, but as every parent knows, work and raising kids don’t mix easily.  Some days I got up at 4am to meet my chapter deadlines.

L2: Do you think the style of parenting varies from region to region?  For example, are Midwest parenting philosophies similar or different from say, those in New York City or San Francisco versus Santa Fe or New Orleans? 

Heather S.: Family culture varies tremendously, even within a region.  Parents in New York City feel parenting pressure perhaps more intensely than other parents, but there is a wide mix of parenting styles.  What seems to be a growing trend in the US – no matter where you live – is a fear of childhood.  Fear that children’s play isn’t safe or kind enough, fear of what other parents will say, fear that we’re not preparing kids for the tough academics in kindergarten.  It’s not in every family, but many adults are trying to fill childhood’s empty days and accelerate stages of development.

L2: Renegade Rules are a cornerstone of IT’S OK NOT TO SHARE, can you tell us what you think the most important Renegade Rule is and why? 

Heather S.: The book shares 29 renegade rules, but the overarching rule is what I call the Renegade Golden Rule: “It’s OK if it’s not hurting people or property.”  This helps you know when to set a limit on a child’s behavior and when to relax and find a way to allow their play.  Finding the right balance in setting limits is the key to parenting.

Besides the “Golden” rule, I do think my two favorites are the title rule, It’s OK Not to Share (so easy to implement, kids love it and you can abdicate your job as constant judge and referee!) and Only Punch Your Friends (a celebration of roughhousing and its enormous benefits).   [Gotta plug Heather’s YouTube video series where you can witness Renegade Rules in action with real kids.  They’re short, less than 1-minute and offer great inight.  See end of post for direct links]

L2: While the book is mostly geared towards younger children (ages 3-6 years), what—or how—can parents adapt your philosophies to fit older children, or even teenagers?  Maybe that’s a whole other book?! 

I haven’t found an upper age-limit.  My neighbor uses the book’s techniques on her college-aged children.  Others use them on their spouses.  Many ideas are basic ones about conflict mediation, communication and healthy emotional expression – ideas that can apply to all ages.

L2: Speaking of which, can we expect to see more from you in the future? 

Heather S.: More books are in the works – though the one I’m working on right now is fiction.  A ghost story for 8-12 year olds.

Thank you, thank you Heather!  Much informative and insightful! 

The Teacher is Talking:  Saying Bye Bye to Binky

You don’t really want to let this great parenting book slip through your hands, do you?  I didn’t think so!  To enter the drawing for a complimentary copy of IT’s OK NOT TO SHARE, all you need to do is comment on the blog or drop me a line at leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com.  A random name will be drawn Monday, May 20th by 5pm.  You will be contacted by email if you are the winner.  Open to U.S. residents only.  Good luck! 

You can find more of Heather, her Renegade Rules and It’s OK NOT to Share by heading over to her website –  www.heathershumaker.com,  author portrait Heather Shuamker

Bio –  Heather Shumaker is the author of It’s OK Not to Share…and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012), named one of the Best Parenting Books of 2012 by Parents magazine.  You can learn more, watch videos and read a free sample chapter at www.heathershumaker.com.

Write On, Wednesday: Spring Fever Getting Your Mojo Back

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

It’s been one of those crazy springs where I feel completly out-of -whack, and not just with my writing.  I have project ideas for the house, for my family, for my writing…but I am unable to get those ideas funneled into something coherent.  And then I sort of got my mojo back.  How I did it, I’m not entirely sure…but I am glad things finally started to click. 

Here are some ideas gleaned partially from experience and partially from a semi-recent Writer’s Digest article. 

Step 1:  Set a word count goal for the week ahead, or for a particular writing session.   Remember, not all days are created equal.  Some days you may really pump out a generous amount of words, other days–not so much.  When you think about your writing goals in terms of the whole week, it gives you some freedom to say, “Well, Tuesday sucked, but I still have four days to pull it together.”  It also helps with the inevitable interruptions you didn’t see coming. 

Step 2:  Go to the library or bookstore.  Read some back jackets, peruse the covers.  See what gets you excited.  Look at the first five pages.  What draws you in?  The story?  The voice?  An author you adore?  Chances are, you won’t be able to stop there.  Good reading often gets you inspired to pick up a pen or mosey on over to your laptop to create something of your own.

Step 3:  It’s been said by work-smarter gurus that one should try seven new things a week.  That sounds like a lot, but when you stop and think about it, it comes to roughly one new thing a day.  You can do that, right?  Take a new way home from work.  Order a Caramel Ribbon Mocha instead of your usual Caramel machiatto.  Walk your dog down a different street.  Try grazing instead of three sqaure meals.  You get the idea.   But why?  You need to be well-rounded writer.  Infuse your life with new experiences, tuck them into the back of your head.  You may throw it into your writing. 

Step 4:  Listen to the radio.  It could be your usual morning radio show, or switch it up (see step 3 above) and try something else.  I flipped over to NPR in the car last week and came across a story and book about love being an illusion.  Guess what?  It ended up in my novel.  Or, you may just tune the radio or Pandora to something like jazz or a Spanish station.  Does your character like that music?  (along this same idea–look at People magazine to hget those sensational human interest stories, book pages, and current pop culture–sure it may change slightly as your book evolves, but some of these references make for a relatable story).

Step 5:  Do some field research.  I am always seeking out new opportunities to learn something.  Sometimes that broadens my horizons into a character’s POV, or sometimes it just gives me some real-life experience to enhance my writing.  “How do you find these things?”  For me, I signed up for a free tour and talk of a breast cancer clinic through my local medical center.  Maybe a future character will have a breast cancer diagnosis?  Who know…but Being able to visualize the place is helpful.  Check your community and see what you may be able to attend–or tag-along. 

Step 6:  Learn a new word.  Read the dictionary.  Really.  I know it sounds dull, but pick a page and skim it.  Use a new word in conversation or your work.  Often a page or two of the dictionary will trigger an idea for your current work-in-progress. 

Step 7:  Connect with a writer/author/agent you admire.  Go ahead, click the “contact” button on a website of a best-selling author.  Tell her or him you love their work.  It will make their day–and maybe yours, too.  (Modify:  Tweet or “friend” someone of this caliber on GoodReads).

What are you waiting for?!  Write on, Wednesday : )

Apraxia Monday: Reader’s Theater

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  bd (4)By Leslie Lindsay

It’s been a busy and somewhat challenging 2nd grade year for 8 year old Kate, who suffers from Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS).  Having been dismissed from speech therapy during her tenure as a full-day kindergartner, we thought we were out of the woods.  But, those of you raising a child with CAS know that you may never truly, 100% be completely out of the woods.  There will likely be some twigs and branches that obstruct your view. 

When Kate’s 2nd grade teacher mentioned Kate really enjoys participating in Reader’s Theater in the classroom setting, I cheered.  Fluency with reading is one of those “branches,” if you will that may leave your child with CAS lingering in the woods.  When the Reader’s Theater Club was forming, I promptly signed my daughter up.

But wait–what is Reader’s Theater?  Simply stated, Reader’s Theater is practice reading scripts from traditional and well-loved childhood stories.  Or, you can choose your own–select stories which are lively in dialogue, have several characters, and can be fun to ‘act’ out.  Just remember, there is no memorizing, props, costomes, stages, or the like.  It is simply reading with inflection.  According to an article on Scholastic.com, here are some of the benefits of Reader’s Theater:

bc (4)Readers Theater helps to….

  • develop fluency through repeated exposure to text.
  • increase comprehension.
  • integrate reading, writing, speaking, listening in an authentic context.
  • engage students.
  • increase reading motivation.
  • create confidence and improve the self-image of students.
  • provide a real purpose for reading.
  • provide opportunities for cooperative learning.

For weeks, Kate stayed after school and worked in small groups lead by teachers who volunteered to stay after school sharpening and honing these kiddos projection, fluency, articulation, confidence, and teamwork–all important life skills, but also skills for strengthening her experiences with CAS. 

Last week was Kate’s final performance.  I am happy to say, she was the best little “narrator #2” I ever heard.  When another parent who knows Kate’s struggles leaned over and whispered, “She did really good,” my heart soared.   You just never know how your children with CAS may surprise you!

For more information, please see these resources:

Write On Wedneday: Do you have what it takes?!

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

Aside from the fact that I just unpacked my bags and have a completed a revised draft of my manuscript, I am still under the (perhaps false) impression I can pull this off. 

My agent pitch session is scheduled for Saturday mid-morning.  It’s my best time, personally.  Here’s how I figure:  I’ll have all day Friday to connect with conference fiolks and fill my head with lots of really great writing tips and tricks.  By the time Saturday mid-morning rolls around, I’ll be set.  (art work courtesy of my 8year old daughter) 

I think. 

If you are like most writers, you are probably scratching your head and wondering, “Can I do this?” 

According to The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, there are a good number of skills, criteria, personality that goes into making an author.  Do you have what it takes?

  • Can you spend many, many hours working on something that may never see the light of day?
  • Are kids, partners, job, and recreation going to be obstancles that you can get around?
  • Do you  have the discipline, focus, and attention span it takes to make a book and get it published?
  • Are you self-motivated enough to grind it out month after month?
  • Can you stand being alone in a room, staring at a blank computer screen or an empty piece of paper?
  • Can you put aside regular chunks of time to work on your book?
  • Do you have the desire to share your life to make the time you need?
  • Beside the hundreds of hours you spend writing your book, will you also be willing to set aside chunks of your day in the great time suck known as social networking, and then continue to nurture those networks for an indefininte period of time?

The authors of this book suggest you take a long, hard look at those questions and answer them brutally honest.  If you can say “yes” to a good majority of them, then you are probably on the right track. 

But, that’s only the beginning.

Next, you need to pick the right idea.  Then you need to effectively carry it out. And after it’s all said and done, you’ll need to “shop it around,” that is, get the right agent to represent it. 

And then the revisions.  (Again).  See bullet points above. 

Hemingway once said, “the hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.”  Well said, Hemingway, well said. 

[Disclaimer:  Image source: www.amazon.com 4.11.13, and also purchased thru Amazon.  Author of this post owns this book.  She does not know the authors of the book either professionally or personally.]

Fiction Friday: How Mommy Learned to Write

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By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:   We love to read at our houseA lot.  In fact, as I sit here at my desk I am surrounded by six books of nearly six different genres.  Not to mention the two book cases directly behind and to my right filled with volumes of more titles. 

Where did this love of reading come from?  Hard to say–but my guess is I learned to enjoy reading from my childhood.  Dad read to me every evening, and mom was always reading something for her own pleasure or education.  And now, as a parent, I do the same thing with my children. 

In fact, just the other evening I read this darling children’s book, Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills. (He has another book, too: How Rocket Learned to Read, also very cute). 

So when my 6 year old curled up onto my lap and said, “Mommy, read me a story,” I pulled the metaphorical blanket of nostalgia around us and reached for Rocket Writes a Story. Product Details

It begins as many tales do–with the positive words and self-confidence of “I can do that!”  You see, Rocket is a dog.  He loves stories.  He loves to read them, that is.  So, he gets this idea that he can write one as well.  (image source: www.Amazon.com 4.5.13)

See where I’m going with this? 

But Rocket doesn’t know how to write a story–heck–he’s barely learned to read!  Follow along as Rocket collects new words for his word tree (“use that nose of yours to sniff out some new words.”), seeks inspiration (“he looked at the blank page, but nothing would come…write what excites you!”) He writes–and rewrites–everyday.  Finally, he shares his masterpiece with his teacher, a little yellow bird. 

Reading this book with my kindergarter at bedtime was like curling up in my own parent’s arms and hearing, “You can do it.  Just write what inspires you.  Look for words.  Do it everyday. When things are going well, you will wag your tail.  When you don’t know what to write, you might growl…and then you may need to walk out into the meadow to look for inspiration.” 

Today, I am not sharing my work in progress.  Instead, it’s all about the elementary aspects of writing…the passion, the desire, the words.   

For more information on Tad Hills, see: http://tadhills.com/

[Disclaimer:  The Rocket books are books owned by my family.  No compensation for this post has been accepted.  The author of this post has no personal or professional connection to Tad Hills or the Rocket books]

Write On, Wednesday: Perfecting the Pitch

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Write On, Wednesday:  Creating a World So Believable Your Critique Partners Think You're Having an AffairBy Leslie Lindsay

This past weekend, I packed my overnight bag and headed to  the University Wisconsin-Madison’s Continuing Ed Writer’s Workshop: Marketing Toolkit.   Besides the hotel room all to myself and the uninterrupted time in a coffee shop, it was a glorious–if mildly terrifying–time away from family and the hustle and bustle of”real-life.”  I got lost in my fiction world.  A little bit.  

But I also got a good dose of reality. 

Our instructor, Laurie Scheer started our three-hour workshop off with this statement: “There is no conspiracy against you as a writers.  You are all capable.  The publishing industry wants to hear from you.” 

Wow.  Read that again if you have to.  They want you.  A wave of relief.  But still, it’s not easy. 

For a writer to get noticed in the marketplace, this is what needs to happen before you pitch your book (we’re sticking mostly with the fiction model here, so if you’re a non-fiction writer, don’t take this to heart, although some of the elements do overlap). 

#1  Your Logline.  Your what?!  You thought loglines were just for marketing inventions and products.  Oh, but wait…you book is an invention that you are marketing to agents, and ultimately readers (the product: a book).   See what I mean.  Your logline is different than your brand.  (that’s what you are all about as a writer.  Jodi Pocoult’s brand, is family and close interactions between those individuals, throw in some world dilemma or organ donation…).  So,  let’s look at your logline, which is a 1-2 sentence about your book.  That’s right, one teeny sentence to summarize that whole 100,000 word manuscript.  A general formula:

Character name & vocation + general situation

Add a “when”….that doorway to no return

Finish with a “now”…death overhanging/what’s at stake

(Logline Example provided in class:  THE NANNY DIARIES.  A NYU student becomes a nanny for a family living on the upper East Side, but they turn out to be the family from hell.).  For more ideas on loglines, look to www.Amazon.com  (how do they market some of your favorite books?), also www.GoodReads.com  and www.inktip.com 

#2  YOUR SYNOPSIS.  That lovely little thing we all love to write.  Not.  Your synopsis should a 1-page summary of your entire novel, twists included.  Some, maybe even most include the ending.  And you thought the one sentence logline was hard!  Some writers keep the logline along the top of the synopsis sheet.  You don’t have to, if you need to save that space for more precious words.  make your synopsis sing.  Get your voice in there, but don’t over do it.  It’s always a good idea when pitching in person to have a hand-out of your synopsis (called a ‘take-away’ in the industry to hand to your agent). 

#3  YOUR QUERY LETTER.  Whether you’re picthing in person or thru email, or snail mail (always do what the agent requires, even if you think snail mail is antiquated), you still need a query letter.  In person pitches are a follow-up letter.  “I enjoyed meeting you at Books Are My Friends Conference…and I am equally thrilled to be sending you …[whatever they asked for]”  Make this  speak to the agent.  Why did you pitch to them?  A brief blurb about your book (the logline), a bit about you (pertinent bio).  Do not say, “looking forward to hearing from you.”  That’s cheesy.  Of course, you are!  : ) Instead, “I’d be thrilled if you would consider MY NOVEL…thanks very much.  Hope to talk to you soon.” 

Do not rush through these things.  They are an important part of your marking toolkit.  Make them outstanding! 

What are you waiting for?!  Write on, Wednesday!!