Wednesdays with Writers: James Han Mattson on developing rich characters, 2018 reading goals, how technology can help but also harm; writing stories about events on the fringe, and so much more in his debut, THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES, inspired by the Tyler Clementi case

By Leslie Lindsay

An intimate portrayal of one boy’s search for his place in this world, connection, intimacy, and, ultimately, love.

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Add in the complexities of grappling with one’s sexual identity, the allure and anonymity of the Internet, and yet the isolating power of bullies, drama, and tragedy all lurk there and in one’s own backyard.

Meet Ricky Graves: He’s vulnerable. He’s confused. He’s reaching out. What does that even mean, ‘reaching out,’ he wonders? But he’s there, on-line. A gay chat room. A cyber crush. A call for help. And yet…

Told in alternating POVs of six intertwining lives, THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES is about our relationships with one another, with social media, the faces we show to the real world, and the ones we must confront in our darkest moments.

Sparked by the 18-year old Rutgers student (Tyler Clementi) who was a victim of a horrific act of cyber-harassment and humiliation, THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES (Little A Publishing, December 1, 2017), touches on the “It Gets Better Project,” survivors, and the ultimately—love and friendship.X8HDaU7FThis is a tough read. But it’s so, so important. As the first interview of 2018, I challenge you to look within, seek a deeper meaning, and realize that kindness, empathy, and karma are all part of this life, however brief.

Please join me in welcoming James Han Mattson to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: James, I was so taken with THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES It pulled me in right away. You bring such compassion and depth to the story. What propelled you?

James Han Mattson: Thank you! I prefer writing stories about people on the fringes, and as you mentioned earlier, the Tyler Clementi case inspired the book’s beginnings. I wanted to somehow meld the themes of bullying, culpability, and technology, but I wanted to do so in a non-didactic way—there’s enough written on the inherent dangers of social media, the insidious effects of bullying, and the fault of (insert issue here) for America’s violent crimes. My main aim, then, was to complicate these ideas and show them in a more nuanced light: sometimes the bullied becomes the bully, sometimes nobody and everybody is at fault, and sometimes technology helps and harms.

“Mattson’s first novel is an excellent, character-driven work of literary fiction that will continue to resonate with the reader long after the final page.” —Booklist

L.L.: I had to remind myself that THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES was not a memoir. Can you talk about how you brought such authenticity to the narrative?

James Han Mattson: Authenticity is tricky to talk about, especially when discussing fictional characters. It often gets construed in umbrella-experience terms, assigning categories to complex existences. For example, I often get asked how I write women, how I’m able to write about an experience I know nothing about personally, and my response is usually: I don’t “write women.” I don’t actually know what that means. Every woman is unique, and is a culmination of myriad factors, so to say that someone, especially a man, “gets” the “female experience” is really short-sighted. I write characters, and I try to write characters with rich interior lives, and while race, gender, and sexual orientation, curate these characters’ lives, the demographic details are not all-defining—what’s more important to me is painting a holistic, complicated life, focusing both on how characters perceive the world and how the world perceives them.

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L.L.: Since the book is inspired by the case of Tyler Clementi, the college student who took his own life due to gay bullying and humiliation, it is not exactly that story. Can you tell us more? What research did you do?

James Han Mattson: This book is very voice-driven—each section is told by a different character in first person. As such, I needed to really “hear” the voices. I spent three summers in southern Maine, mostly just listening to the people around me, noting voice inflections, cadences, and tics. Since the story takes place in present day, I didn’t have to do a whole lot of historical research, and the town itself is fictional, so I just had to make sure I understood it spatially. (I drew a couple maps.)

L.L.: What do you hope others take away from THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES? And what might we do to prevent such atrocities from happening?

James Han Mattson: I’d love if the book elicited some nuanced conversations about the three themes I mentioned earlier—bullying, technology, and culpability. I don’t have a tidy answer regarding teen bullying/suicide prevention, but I do think a good place to start is through deep, penetrative self-examination—that is, understanding the differences between current adult selves and former adolescent selves. Momentarily seeing the world through former adolescent eyes before reaching out to troubled teens will enlarge empathy, and perhaps generate efficacious suicide prevention programs.

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L.L.: Switching gears a bit, I understand you semi-recently traveled to Seoul, South Korea to reunite with your biological family after nearly thirty years separation. What was that experience like and does it have any place in a future book?

James Han Mattson: The experience was very intense. I was there for two years, and it took a huge toll on me, both mentally and physically. I’m not sure if I’ll write a book about it specifically (though I think about it from time to time), but themes of alienation, isolation, and cultural ambiguity always tend to creep into my work.

L.L.: What’s on your literary to-do list this year? Books to read, classes to teach, writing to do? Something else?

James Han Mattson: I’m so far behind on reading, but I’m going to make sure I finish at least 25 books this year. I just started Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and am really enjoying it. I’m also excited to read Nicole Chung’s memoir All You Can Ever Know. Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s Sightseeing, Taylor Brown’s River of Kings, and Oliver Sacks’ The River of Consciousness are also on my list. (Admittedly, I’ve already read Sightseeing, but I found the stories so beautiful and evocative that I can’t wait to read them again.) I hope to finish a draft of my new novel sometime next fall—an ambitious goal, I understand, but I’m hoping this summer will prove productive. 

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

James Han Mattson: I can’t think of anything off hand! Thank you for asking such incisive questions!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE LOST PRAYERS OF RICKY GRAVES, please see:

Jim Mattson_c Tara Mattson (002).jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Han Mattson was born in Seoul, Korea and raised in North Dakota. A Michener-Copernicus Fellowship recipient and graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he has taught at the University of Iowa, the University of Cape Town, the University of Maryland, the George Washington University, and the University of California – Berkeley. He has worked as a staff writer and editor for Pagoda Foreign Language Institute, the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, and Logogog – South Africa. In 2009, he traveled to Korea and reunited with his birth family after 30 years of separation. His first novel, The Lost Prayers of Ricky Graves,was an Amazon Literature and Fiction Pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, a Publishers Lunch Bookseller Pick, a Kindle First Pick, and was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. He currently lives in Maryland.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Little A/Shreve Williams Public Relations. Author image credit: Tara Mattson; used with permission. ‘Not Going to Be Easy’ retrieved from , Southern Maine coastal town image retrieved from

WeekEND Reading: Holly Chamberlin talks about mouth-watering New England summertime foods, her obsession with jewelry, paring down, and overcoming grief and heartache in her new novel, HOME FOR THE SUMMER.

By Leslie Lindsay 

Three generations of one family–a grandmother, daughter, and granddaughter–escape to a beautiful coastal town in Maine to find healing in the wake of heartbreaking loss in bestselling author, Holly Chamberlin’s twentieth (!?!) novel, HOME FOR THE SUMMER.

HOME FOR THE SUMMER

When both her husband (Aaron) and youngest daughter (Ariel) die in a tragic accident on vacation, Frieda Braithwaite is left a bereft mother and widow. There’s survivor guilt and financial and emotional struggles; fearing she’ll lose her remaining daughter, Frieda and Bella leave their home for Maine, where Ruby, Frieda’s mother has always lived in an old farmhouse.

With the help of new friends and old—plus, the healing balm of family, Frieda and Bella mend their broken hearts. HOME FOR THE SUMMER is a sweet, tender read set in a tranquil coastal town that will carry along with those who yearn for simpler times and readers who resonate with the works of Karen White, Diane Chamberlain, Elin Hilderbrand, and Nicholas Sparks.

Come along and join me as I chat with Holly about her newest book, HOME FOR THE SUMMER (Kensington, June 2017).

Leslie Lindsay: Holly, welcome! ‘Coming home’ seems to be a major theme for you and your books. As does summer and the beach. In HOME FOR THE SUMMER, we’re thrust into the world of a grieving wife and mother. Can you share your inspiration for this one?

Holly Chamberlin: Hi, Leslie. Many thanks for having me! Coming home . . . The older I get the more I’m drawn to contemplate my past before late adolescence and early adulthood changed things so radically as they do for all of us. Exploration of my early past is my way of figuratively coming home and yes, the theme in all its variety fascinates me. In this book Ruby, the matriarch of the family, literally summons her daughter and granddaughter to spend the summer with download (31)her so that together, all three women hopefully can heal. Many of my novels take place during the summer months because ideally summer provides a bit of a respite from the daily grind. Even if a person doesn’t get much of an actual vacation, summer brings with it a state of mind in which a person can dream of positive change and a fresh start and that’s conducive to telling the sort of stories I tell.

L.L.:  I’ve been to Maine and loved it. There’s something old-school and simple about it, and yet a bit progressive. I’m always curious about the towns where the books I read are set. I looked up Yorktide, but came up empty-handed. Is it a purely fictional town, or a composite of several? Is it related to York Harbor, Maine?  And why Maine?

Holly Chamberlin: Yup, Yorktide is fictional and a bit of a mash-up of Ogunquit, Cape Neddick, Kennebunk, and yes, York Harbor. At times, I mention actual stores and restaurants but I’ve also created a variety of fictional places. Wainscoting and download (28)Windowseats is a creation; Cross Jewelers is not – and my credit card can attest to that. My husband, Stephen, and I have lived in Maine since 2003 so we’re very much still ‘from away’ which is what Mainers say about people who arrived recently, i.e. less than 30 years ago, and we love it here. And you’re right – there is something old-school and simple about Maine; people here seem to possess a fierce sense of fairness and an impressive work ethic. In addition, the state attracts large numbers of artists, writers, and musicians which makes for a lively environment.

L.L.: I love that Bella works at Wainscoting & Windowseats, though she’s a bit cranky about it. She doesn’t care about candlesticks or drapes…but I do! Can you talk about the character of Bella a little bit? And are you as taken with home décor as I?

Holly Chamberlin: I think Bella can be described as a good egg. She’s fundamentally honest and loving. Her sister’s tragic death has rattled her badly to the point where she’s become a shadow of her true self. By the story’s end Bella has definitely changed from the girl she was before Ariel’s and her father’s deaths, but for the better. She’s mature in ways that she probably wouldn’t yet be if her father and sister were still alive but she hasn’t lost her native optimism and an appreciation for the beauty of the natural world around her.

On to home décor. You’ve caught me at a time when we’re preparing to downsize rather radically so I’ve been going through my credenzas and closets selecting items for Goodwill. Let’s just say that I’ve amassed quite the collection of table linens, vases, candlesticks, serving platters, milk glass objects . . . The list goes on. When we designed this house, the theme was ‘faded elegance’ and boy, did we achieve that look! In our next home, we’re going for a brighter, lighter, and cleaner look though we’ll incorporate some of our current furniture and as much of the art work as possible.

L.L. I have to admit, every time Ruby was in the kitchen, my mouth watered. I was thinking about lobster rolls, fresh corn on the cob, blueberries…and all of the other decadent things she whipped up. What are some of your favorite foods from HOME FOR THE SUMMER and what role would you say food had in the novel?

Holly Chamberlin: In pretty much all of my recent novels gathering for meals has a fairly big role. I mean, it’s traditionally around the family table that feelings are expressed (sometimes to disastrous effect!) and information shared (ditto!). The person providing the meal is offering a gift and to partake of that meal is a way of thanking the provider. Gathering for family dinners isn’t as typical as it used to be download (29)for all sorts of reasons, but in my books, I force the issue. As for favorite foods from the book, I’d have to say the fish! I love a big red lobster fresh from the steamer – especially on a wharf by the harbor – but all the fish is amazing here. Diver scallops, fresh cod, swordfish, oysters! The fish markets on the waterfront are amazing. It’s one of the best things about living here by the sea. And we do have the most amazing wild blueberries, which are quite different from the blueberries you find in grocery stores – smaller and sweeter.

L.L.: Frieda is dealing with a huge amount of grief and change with the death of her husband and daughter (not a spoiler—I promise!). What do you think happens with her in the end?

Holly Chamberlin: Without revealing the specifics of the ending for those of your readers who haven’t read HOME FOR THE SUMMER, I foresee a very positive future for Frieda. She comes to realize that she’s a lot stronger than she thought she was. The very fact that she chooses to engage with her estranged father is an indication that she’s not one to fold up and die. And the fact that she learns to find a balance between caring for her daughter and for herself, between respecting the needs of others as well as her own needs, bodes well for the future. Not all of the characters in my books face as bright a future.

L.L.: Now that summer is a little more than half over (sniff, sniff) how are you doing on you summer ‘bucket list?’

Holly Chamberlin: Summer would be a washout if I didn’t get to enjoy a big bucket of steamers at Chauncey Creek, our favorite lobster dock; hear a local band on the deck at Portland Lobster Company; and spend an evening by the harbor at David’s in Kennebunkport eating truffle potato chips and oysters. But what I love more download (30)than anything is a long walk on the beach in the late afternoon light, collecting interesting stones and beach glass.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why? For me, it’s what color should I paint my kitchen cabinets. Really. I will wake up in the middle of the night thinking about this.

Holly Chamberlin: My current and longtime obsession is jewelry. I’m a collector and enjoy learning about new designers and their techniques and reading about jewelry in different periods of history. At the moment, I am lusting after a grey, rose-cut diamond ring. Several contemporary designers are creating beautiful pieces using ‘imperfect’ stones in this lovely old-fashioned cut. The truth is that I spend way too much time on jewelry websites, blogs, and Instagram accounts. Wait. It’s not too much time! I love it!

L.L.: Holly, it was a pleasure! Thank you for popping over. Is there anything else you’d like to add that I may have forgotten?

Holly Chamberlin: I’d just like to say that, maybe more than a lot of my other characters, I really came to love and respect Frieda, Bella and Ruby as I got to know them. They’re vulnerable but such a strong family, and strong as individuals, too, in the end. I hope my readers agree!

For more information about HOME FOR THE SUMMER, to purchase your own copy, or to connect with Holly on social media, please visit: 

Chamberlin%2c Holly.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Holly Chamberlin was born and raised in New York City. After earning a Masters degree in English Literature from New York University and working as an editor in the publishing industry for ten years, she moved to Boston, married and became a freelance editor and writer. She and her husband now live in downtown Portland, Maine, in a restored mid-nineteenth century brick townhouse with Betty, the most athletic, beautiful and intelligent cat in the world. Readers can visit her website at:  www.hollychamberlin.com

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Kensington Books and used with permission. Summer porch retrieved from House Beautiful, Cross Jewelers from Google+, images of seafood/lobsters/Adirondack chairs from TripAdvisor, all retrieved on 7.6.17]

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Luscious prose, the immense challenge of weaving two plot lines, creating a ‘likable’ character, how art informs the world, an abandoned house, reinvention, & so much more in T. Greenwood’s THE GOLDEN HOUR

By Leslie Lindsay

Lush, poetic, mysterious, with a touch of psychological suspense, T. Greenwood’s newest book, THE GOLDEN HOUR is like reading in a sun-dappled dream. 

Greenwood’s prose is absolutely glimmering. Each character is richly drawn and the story itself, hauntingly beautiful. 
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In THE GOLDEN HOUR, T. Greenwood explores childhood trauma with present-day strife, each in equal balance, and each showing beauty and darkness. Wyn Davies is running from her past–when she was a teenager, she took a shortcut through a wooded path in her New Hampshire hometown, only to become a cautionary tale. Twenty years later, that horrific afternoon is rearing its ugly head. But now, she’s in the midst of a divorce, raising her 4-year old daughter, and struggling as an artist. And then, her friend suggests a Maine retreat. She can get away, paint and the past will just fall away. Or will it?

The Maine house has been empty for years.
It’s nearly falling apart. Abandoned. Yet there’s something so eerily alive about the house. Wyn finds cannisters of old 35mm film yet-to-be-developed. What she finds is shocking, disturbing, and yet has the power to transform. She learns the mystery behind the old photos and determines, the past isn’t all that different from the present. kodak-max-400-35mm-film

I loved every minute of THE GOLDEN HOUR, the metaphor of life and art, and the concept that things don’t always have a happy ending, but in this case, they just might.

Join me, as I sit down with T. Greenwood and chat all things literary.

Leslie Lindsay: Tammy, it’s wonderful to have you back. I love all of your books and would relish reading your grocery list. And I loved THE GOLDEN HOUR. But, I understand writing this one was a bit of a challenge for you. Can you talk about your ‘Epitaphs and Prophecies’ where THE GOLDEN HOUR is concerned?

T. Greenwood: Writing this book was intensely challenging. First, I had a number of plot ideas I wanted to incorporate (hence the dual storyline), and each of them was fairly complex. But the greater challenge was how to depict Wyn’s character in a way that didn’t turn people away from her. We meet Wyn when she is going through multiple personal crises. Her marriage is falling apart, her career is not at all what she had once hoped it would be, and now a secret from her past is threatening to unravel everything. She’s angry. She’s frustrated. And she’s scared. She’s a difficult character to love initially. But she’s also broken, in a way that I hope readers will sympathize with. This book is all about ends and beginnings. And Wyn exemplifies that place that people often find themselves in, when everything seems in flux or on the verge of great change.

L.L.: Almost all of your books feature an artist; a material artist: a painter, a sculptor.  But writing is an art, too.  In fact, your website says, ‘Novelist. Photographer. Mama.’  Is it a conscious decision to make at least one of your characters an artist, or does it grow sort of organically?

T. Greenwood: I can’t help it. I love creative people, and I surround myself by them. I am fascinated by how art informs peoples’ lives, and so it is a recurring theme in my novels. This time around I really wanted to explore how three different artists’ relationship with their work diverged, as they became adults. Gus, Wyn, and Pilar all go to art school together. Gus continues to make art, supporting himself by working at a sign shop. Pilar finds sudden enormous success in the art world after many years of struggle. But Wyn is in a strange limbo – where she has “sold out,” in a sense, by painting on command. And while she is grateful to be making money making art, she can’t help but feel that she’s sold her soul. One of the themes I was interested in exploring in this novel was what happens when art and commerce intersect. And about the concept of art for art’s sake, what a luxury that is.

L.L.: In THE GOLDEN HOUR, you do a beautiful job of separating Wyn’s past from her current situation. I think this has a lot to do with structure. You have these dark, yet beautifully written short chapters entitled, ‘Inquiry’ thrusting the reader back in time. How did you determine this set-up?

300px-peaks_island_maine_landing_11-11-2004T. Greenwood: Wyn was the victim of a brutal crime when she was a child. I wanted to find a way to reveal that crime through the filter of her memory (an artist’s memory). I think artists often use their art to process tragedy, and so these chapters are her attempt to do so. They also give the reader small, palatable doses of that difficult aspect of the plot.

L.L.: And then there’s Maine. I could be entirely wrong, but is this the first time you’ve set a novel there? There’s something about Maine—the remoteness, the old-school vibe, the brooding sea. What was your inspiration for this setting?

T. Greenwood: My second novel is actually set in Maine as well. As a native Vermonter, I have spent quite a bit of time in Maine, mostly coastal Maine. And when I started writing this, my sister was living on Peaks Island. She would describe the winter to me, and I thought it was such a perfect backdrop for this story. It becomes a metaphor, in a way, for the isolation that Wyn feels. Her lies, like her art, have created a prison for her.

L.L.:  Houses fascinate me. I’m always making up stories about old farmhouses slung alongside the road, dreaming of who might have lived there, and why they are gone. Was there a particular home that sparked your interest and you ‘gave’ it to Pilar and Wyn?

Greenwood: I kept envisioning a house in a Wyeth painting. When I was little, my parents had a print of “Christina’s World” hanging in our living room. That was the house I 300px-christinasworldinitially thought of.

L.L.: What is haunting you now? What has your interest?

T. Greenwood: I actually just finished a novel, which will be published by St. Martin’s Press in the Spring of 2018. It’s tentatively titled RUST AND STARDUST, and it is an imagined rendering of the true crime (the kidnapping of an eleven year old girl) in 1948 that inspired Nabokov’s LOLITA. And I just started writing a new book that will return to Vermont – I have two whole pages so far.

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

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so.

L.L.: Tammy, it was a pleasure having you! Thank you so very much for taking the time to chat with us about THE GOLDEN HOUR.

T. Greenwood: Thank you so much for having me!

For more information, to connection via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE GOLDEN HOUR, please see: 

TGreenwood.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: T. Greenwood is the author of eleven critically acclaimed novels. She has received numerous grants for her writing, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. She lives with her family in San Diego, California, where she teaches creative writing, studies photography, and continues to write. Please visit her online at www.TGreenwood.com.

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[Cover and author image courtesy of V. Engstrand at Kensington Press and used with permission. Images of 35mm film, Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World,” and Peak’s Island all retrieved from Wikipedia on 2/28/17]

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Ultimately a story of hope, debut author and voracious reader J.L. Callison talks about pantsing, flunking college composition,survivalist skills, & more in ROMSON’S LODGE

By Leslie Lindsay

A quick read, STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE (Morgan James, May 2016) is the debut of J.L. Callison, a mature author with an inspirational message of love, hope, and redemption.  stranded_Cover_web

Kidnapped and flown to a remote lodge in upstate Maine, high school seniors, Jed Romson and Elizabeth Sitton are stranded when their kidnapper crashes on takeoff. What then becomes a tale of who and why, Jed and Lizzie embark on a survivalist adventure reminiscent of Jean Craighead George’s tales for young adults, JULIE OF THE WOLVES and THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN.

Callison’s chapters are short and crisp and he ought to be applauded for his brevity, break-neck pacing, and element of suspense. At the heart of this Christian inspirational tale is a quaint, wholesome romance. STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE will appeal to idealistic  young readers with an adventuresome spirit.

Today, I am honored to welcome J.L. Callison to the blog!

Leslie Lindsay : Like every other writer, you’re a voracious reader. And then, the writing bug hit. You mentioned that you had several ‘throw-away’ short stories and the start of a novel that just didn’t go anywhere. How was ROMSON’S LODGE different?

J.L. Callison: For years the concept of Stranded at Romson’s Lodge bounced around in my mind. The “coming of age” movies and books of the early 80’s triggered the questions in my head of “What if two Christian teens were placed in such a situation? How would they handle it?”

I didn’t want to write a “Christian” book, but as a Christian, my values will show through. What I wanted to do with this story was demonstrate Christianity from a realistic standpoint rather than try to “preach.” Perhaps that is why the story wouldn’t leave my mind. I started the story and threw it away more times than I have any idea, but I couldn’t throw away the idea.

L.L.: We talked before about you ‘not knowing what you were doing’ when you set out to write ROMSON’S LODGE, that it was all kind of a fluke; you went to a writing conference and pitched your idea to an agent and…well, the rest is history. Can you talk about that, please?

J.L. Callison: Believe it or not, I flunked English Composition in college, and I thought I couldn’t write, so I never tried. It was not until well after I started writing Stranded at Romson’s Lodge that I understood that my failure was because of the style of writing they tried to make me do. I’m very much a seat-of-the pants type of writer, and I did not do well with outlining, note cards, and the formulized style they wanted.

After I had written Stranded, I knew that if I was going to do anything with the book, I needed some help, so I attended the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference in Anderson Indiana, looking for advice and some teaching. I didn’t know we each got a 15 minute interview with someone in the writing/publishing industry. When the young lady at registration asked me who I wanted, I had no clue. She suggested Terry Whalin because he is an excellent teacher, and he has been in the industry for many years on both the writing side and as a publisher. Terry is now an acquisitions editor for Morgan James Publishing.

logline1I sat down with Terry and told him I had no clue what I was doing and that I needed advice on how the system worked. He was very helpful, and when my fifteen minutes was up and the next guy didn’t show, he asked if I had written anything. I said yes, and then began to tell him about the story. I was so green I didn’t even know I was supposed to have a 30 second “elevator speech.” I rambled for about five minutes. He said Stranded was different than anything they had seen in a number of years and that it might fit with what Morgan James was doing. Would I send him the manuscript?

I had no idea I would sell the manuscript that day. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and I give God the credit for putting me there.

I still don’t claim to know what I’m doing! I just tell a story.

L.L.: And what kind of writer would you say you are? Do you carefully plot and outline, or are you more organic, going where the characters take you?

J.L. Callison: As I mentioned earlier, I’m very much organic! I start off with an idea for the beginning and the ending, plan for a couple of waypoints in between, and then I let my characters tell me what happens. I guess the difference between me and someone being treated by a psychiatrist is that when I hear voices in my head, I write down what they say.

L.L.: I was particularly impressed with the survivalist skills you gave Jed. Was this something that grew from you as the author, some life experience, or were his skills merely a result of careful research?

J.L. Callison: Some of the skills are things I learned hunting and fishing as a kid. Other skills, I have learned from close friends who are military veterans, and the rest of it was gleaned from careful research. I like to think if I was stranded in such a situation I would survive, but I know I would not do as well as Jed and Lizzie did!

L.L.: STRANDED AT ROMSON’S LODGE is told in short, crisp, alternating chapters in which we see the grieving families and their tireless search for Jed and Lizzie, and then we “join” Jed and Lizzie at the Maine lodge. Was there a storyline you were more eager to get back to, one you felt a particular affinity for?

J.L. Callison: Obviously, Jed and Lizzie are my protagonists, and I identified with them closely, but as I got further into the story, Charles began to play a bigger role than originally intended. Of all of my characters, I think he is the one I developed the most respect for, for his integrity and the character that he displays. If I decide to do a sequel to the story about a return to Romson’s Lodge, he and Jimmy will play major roles.

L.L.: And so, you’re from the Midwest. How did you decide to set the story in Maine? 

J.L. Callison: I played around with the idea for a long time with a number of scenarios for their marooning. It was not until I drove through Maine going to the Maritimes that the location became plain to me. Maine_population_map

Maine is a beautiful state, but other than along the coast and along its northern border, much of it is extremely remote. Just how remote became apparent when I started researching the state. Just a little over half of the landmass of Maine has no local government because there aren’t enough people in the territory to form local government. They call these areas, “Unorganized Territory.” It is in such an area that Jed and Lizzie find themselves.

In the story, Jed says there is less than one person per hundred square miles, but in the area I set the story, it is less than one third of a person per hundred square miles. It is the most remote area in the lower 48 states.

L.L.: And it’s also the summer of 1985. We get a glimpse into that world, the Baby Boom parents, the coming of age in Reagan’s era, and the remnants of the Vietnam war. Can you speak to your decision to set the story in 1985 versus present-day?

J.L. Callison: Simplicity was the biggest reason for the time of the setting, a time before computers, cell phones, and other electronics that would detract from the story concept. The same story could easily be told in the present day, but it would add a whole layer of complexity that I didn’t want to bother with. In the modern day, Romson’s Lodge would still be without any form of electronics, unless they had solar panels or a wind turbine or something to power satellite communication, but then Pete would have destroyed them, too. I just thought it was easier to keep it simple.

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from ROMSON’S LODGE?

J.L. Callison: In a word, hope. There are a couple of areas in particular. I wanted to get across the idea that no matter what the situation, there is hope. Even if you are stranded in a remote area, there are ways to survive if you don’t panic. Just stop and think .

Secondly, I wanted to demonstrate the idea of moral options. Unlike in most media where no options for living one’s values are shown—if a guy and a girl like each other, the next step is for them to sleep together—my hope was to demonstrate that one always has a choice and the option to live differently than the “norm,” and that not everybody is “doing it.”

L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you working on another book?

J.L. Callison: My second novel, a middle-grade mystery called Davy Faraday and the Secret of the Spiral Staircase, is under consideration by a publisher that is very interested in its concept.625.151109

In the story, Davy’s family inherits an old Victorian mansion that has a nearly hundred-year-old mystery. I plan to make this into a trilogy or possibly even four books.

I also have a novella, Rotund Roland, that I may self-publish in the near future. It has to do with bullying. I also am toying with another story idea.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you now and why?

J.L. Callison: I’m working on the Davy Faraday series.

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

J.L. Callison: I can’t think of a thing.

L.L.: It was such a pleasure chatting with you today! I wish you the best of luck with ROMSON’S LODGE.

J.L. Callison: The pleasure was indeed mine! Thank you so much.

For more information, or to purchase ROMSON’S LODGE, please visit:

Author PicAbout the Author: J.L. Callison was an early reader, whose third-grade teacher encouraged his love of reading. He read over 300 books that year, and was reading on an eighth grade level by years end. He developed a wide range of reading interests, including volumes A-H of the World Book Encyclopedia! He loves to collect books, and has well over a thousand in his library, most of which he has read at least once. Young adult is his favorite genre, for as he says, he refuses to grow up. He studied for the ministry, and has served in lay capacities for much of his adult life in prison and rescue ministies, but always with a youth ministry focus. He has been, along with his wife, a junior-high youth sponsor and teacher for most of the last twenty-five years. He and his wife of 38 years live in Illinois. They have five grown children and are blessed with four grandchildren with another on the way very soon.

[Cover and author images courtesy of J.L. Callison. Maine population density map retrieved from Wikipedia on 6.20.16. Spiral staircase diorama retrieved from on 6.20.16, logline infographic retrieved from. For all of my reviews, follow me on GoodReads]