Would you time-travel if your child’s life depended on it? Diane Chamberlain tackles this & more in her breathless, dreamy THE DREAM DAUGHTER

By Leslie Lindsay 

Can a book be both mind-bending and heartfelt? In Diane Chamberlain’s hands, it absolutely can. THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a dash of science-fiction meets a mother’s tenacity for love. Diane Chamberlain talks about how the timing of the book had to be ‘just right,’ how she’d probably never time-travel, and putting a memoir on the back-burner.

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But first, the accolades: 

“A heady and breathless wonder of a read.”
Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

Publisher’s Weekly says this about THE DREAM DAUGHTER:“Chamberlain expertly blends the time travel elements with the wonderful story of a mother’s love and the depths of sacrifice she makes for her child. This is a page turning crowd-pleaser.

And Bookstalker Blog follows with this:

“A unique story about time travel and how happy endings aren’t always destined to play out the way we planned. A unique twist as usually time travel novels are about love between a man and woman this instead is a mother and child love story. Wonderful.”

Diane is the New York TimesUSA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 25 novels translated in twenty languages and she’s always held a special place in my heart. Her stories are so multi-layered and genre-crossing and always, always, thought-provoking. But THE DREAM DAUGHTER is so glimmering, so brilliantly different than anything she’s ever written and I am  beyond touched to host her again.

The first pages of THE DREAM DAUGHTER are set in 1965 Chapel Hill, NC as Caroline Sears is thrust into her first day of work as a physical therapist [Read an excerpt here]. She meets a man who needs rehab–but many of the other staff say they don’t want to work with him–he’s stubborn and odd and some feel he may be dealing with the aftereffects of a suicide attempt.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Five years later, in 1970, Caroline is married and expecting her first child but soon discovers her unborn baby girl has a fatal heart defect. She’s devastated–it’s 1970 and there’s very little that can be done. But Caroline’s brother-in-law, a physicist, says otherwise. If Caroline could only get to 2001, she could save her baby via fetal surgery. But Caroline is skeptical–and resistant–to his ideas.

Spanning decades and dipping into the years 2001, 2013, 2018, as well as 1970, Diane Chamberlain takes us on an unforgettable mind-bending journey. You will feel every emotion–from fear and courage to disbelief, grief, and a mother’s tenacity to love. The plot is intricate and spellbinding, made richer with Chamberlain’s attention to character development and a textured setting.

THE DREAM DAUGHTER is Diane Chamberlain at the height of her powers; it’s classic, yet fresh–and all for the love of a woman’s unborn child. 

Please join me in welcoming Diane Chamberlain back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane, it’s a pleasure. I know THE DREAM DAUGHTER has been in your mind for a long time. You needed the stars to align ‘just so’ before you were ready to dive in. Can you talk about your initial inspiration and also how you knew the time was right?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Hi Leslie! Thanks for having me back. I think the inspiration for THE DREAM DAUGHTER really began long ago when I was working as a hospital social worker in a high risk maternity unit. This was in the early eighties. Back then, there were many conditions a baby might be born with that would cost them their lives, while today, those same conditions are treatable. That started me wondering: what if a woman learns in 1970 that her unborn baby has one of these conditions, but she’s told by someone she trusts that in the year 2001, the condition could be treated . . . and that there was a way for her and her unborn child to actually travel to 2001? I fell in love with the concept and had a blast writing this book. I believe it’s far more a mother/child novel than a time travel novel, but that time travel element really makes for some fun twists.

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Leslie Lindsay:

As a writer myself, I have plenty of stories rattling around. But there’s this thing about ‘timing.’ Others might say, ‘writer’s block.’ When I slow down on an idea—even an active narrative—I get the sense my story is whispering, ‘not yet.’ Can you talk more about that, please?

Diane Chamberlain:  

I told my agent about my idea for THE DREAM DAUGHTER many years ago and she definitely said “not yet!” She was right. I needed to get my career to a certain level before my readers would come along with me on a ride like this one. I am so pleased I finally got to write this book of my heart.

“Chamberlain stretches her sense of familial relationships and toe-curling suspense in new directions, weaving in elements of trust, history and time as she explores the things we do for love. ..The Dream Daughter will delight Chamberlain’s fans and hook new readers.”

Leslie Lindsay:

I found THE DREAM DAUGHTER pushes boundaries in a good way, delivering a luminous novel. What did you find most challenging about this one—the scientific research involved or something else?

Diane Chamberlain:

In retrospect, nothing was particularly hard about this book because the bones of the story had been in my mind for so long. I suppose the most challenging part was being sure that I had the technology and other elements of daily life straight in each era. For example, when did people start wearing ear buds to talk into their phones? What was available on the Internet in 2001? I think at times it was as mind-bending for me as it was for Carly.

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Leslie Lindsay:

This question is a little tangential. Just recently, Steve Job’s daughter, Lisa, released her memoir about growing up as his unacknowledged daughter. She states something along the lines of [I’m paraphrasing], “We all have a right to tell our stories as accurately as we see them.” Your character, Joanna, has a ‘thing’ for Apple and even names her dog Jobs. 1) What are your thoughts on memoir and 2)  how did Joanna’s character development present itself to you for THE DREAM DAUGHTER?

Diane Chamberlain:

I am fascinated by memoirs, especially since I’ve dabbled in writing my own. Two things stand out for me. One is that our memories are often wildly inaccurate. I have three siblings and when we describe a situation from our childhood, we get four different versions. But what matters is the way our memory/interpretation of that situation impacted us, so even if our version is technically wrong, it doesn’t matter. The second thing is the fine line between writing the truth and bringing hurt to someone else . . . or ourselves. That is why I’ve put writing a memoir on the back burner. As for Joanna, I don’t remember how I came up with her “thing” for Apple. I think it’s one of those surprises in writing fiction: it just appeared for me and I went with it.

Leslie Lindsay:        

If you could time travel, would you? Where would you go—to the past or the future?

Diane Chamberlain:

First of all, no, I wouldn’t. With rheumatoid arthritis, I have enough trouble with 2018! But IF I wanted to, I would definitely go backwards. I have little fascination with whatever technology awaits in the future. I would much rather go back to when my grandparents were alive so I could get to know them better. I guess it’s all about relationships for me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your fall reading list?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Well, I have a stack of Advance Reading Copies [ARCs] sitting here that I’d like to work my way through! I’m most interested in the books of some of my October writing buddies, A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Fowler and Becoming Mrs. LewisBecoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Diane Chamberlain:

I look forward to hearing how your blog readers enjoy THE DREAM DAUGHTER. So far, the advance reader reviews have been wonderful, and I appreciate my readers for taking the chance along with me to try something a little bit different.

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

Order Links: 

Diane_ChamberlainredbyJohnPagliuca2013ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diane Chamberlain is the New York TimesUSA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 25 novels published in more than twenty languages. Influenced by her former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she writes suspenseful stories that touch both heart and mind.






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



#timetravel #fiction #TheDreamDaughter #authorinterviewseries #amreading #motherhood

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



What happens when a ‘starving, razor-clawed beast is inside your body flicking to get out?’ Tessa Fontaine talks about this & more in THE ELECTRIC WOMAN

By Leslie Lindsay

Marvels and miracles. Mothers and daughters. Life and death. I promise, THE ELECTRIC WOMAN will stun and captivate you and then you’ll want to read it all over again. Tessa Fontaine is hear chatting about joining a traveling side show, her love of writing, her favorite M&Ms and so much more. 

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I am such a sucker for a fabulous memoir so when this one came knocking, I was mesmerized. And it’s so well-written, THE ELECTRIC WOMAN (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux May 2018) practically sings; I cannot stop thinking about–and talking about–this book.

Tessa Fontaine expertly braids two tales of death-defying acts into one bold, remarkable narrative–that of her 2013 season with the World of Wonders, the last official traveling sideshow in America and that of her mother, who suffered a severe stroke in 2010. Her mother is told countess times, ‘this is the end,’ but she is determined not to let go of this world.

On stages all across America, Tessa is eating fire, charming snakes, and performing as the electric woman–but she’s thinking of her mother–who is on here own ‘world tour,’ of sorts to Italy, a place she and her husband longed to travel. But she’s voiceless and in a wheelchair and maybe she won’t come back.

I fell in love with Tessa’s determination, her willingness to ‘hack it,’ and I was so in awe of her writing and how everything she wrote–the carnies, the misfits, the grit–tied in so effortlessly. This would be no easy feat as the emotional and physical breadth of THE ELECTRIC WOMAN encompasses so much, including a touch of brain science and biology.

This is an enthralling read and will have you pondering your own capabilities, how much you love, what you might be able to withstand, and those brittle relationships that hinge on trust and forgiveness.

Please join me in welcoming Tessa Fontaine to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tessa, welcome! I am raving over this book. I mean, wow. I think I know what was haunting you when you set out to write THE ELECTRIC WOMAN, but can you tell us more about what was going on during that time?

Tessa Fontaine:

Thanks, Leslie. Two and a half years before I joined the sideshow, my mom had a series of massive strokes that left her unable to walk or talk. It happened at the same time my family lost their house, so in many ways, everything got thrown upside down for me. I was overcome with grief. My mom wasn’t dead, but she also wasn’t the person I knew before.

At first, I hope the book could be a distanced, journalistic account of America’s last traveling sideshow, but the monster living in me disagreed.

I felt like a starving, razor-clawed beast was living inside my body, flicking my heart and tearing at my guts to get out.

I’d never felt that before, that obsessive, relentless drive to tell a particular story. The sideshow was inexorably tied up with the story of my mom’s long illness—and watching her suffer, trying to help, failing to help, rethinking the risk we choose for our bodies, all of that was part of my sideshow story. That’s one of the things that struck me so much about the sideshow, that there were these extraordinary performers choosing to do dangerous acts and assume risk over and over again, acts that are sometimes painful—and how surprisingly parallel that was with the way my mom had to suffer in her various therapies as she worked so hard to try to recover, and then chose to suffer as she and my stepdad decided to take a long-delayed trip around the world, from which nobody thought they’d return. That suffering was necessary for the eventual wonder.

“This is the story of a daughter and her mother. It’s also a memoir, a love story, and a tale of high-flying stunts. It recounts an adventure toward and through fear as Tessa Fontaine performs as an escape artist, fire-eater, and snake charmer with the World of Wonders, a traveling sideshow.”

 Southern Living

Leslie Lindsay:

Your mother’s first stroke was in 2010. You joined the World of Wonders in 2013. The book came out in May 2018. I’m curious how long it took you to actually write. It’s a loaded question, I know…but can you give us a sense of the timeline?

Tessa Fontaine:

Sure thing. While I was on the road with the show in 2013, I took obsessive notes. I wrote a few short essays there that were published while I was with the show, sort of “Notes from the Road,” but really I finished the season at the end of 2013 with just a pile of notes. It took two and a half years for me to write the book. I started when I got to the PhD program I was beginning, at the University of Utah, in the beginning of 2014. I finished in 2016, and worked on edits for a year with my glorious, brilliant editor at FSG, Jenna Johnson. Then, once a book goes into the publishing pipeline, it’s a full year after you finish final edits before the book comes out.

Leslie Lindsay:

And the World of Wonders! I am so intrigued and worried and fearful of the feats you endured. That snake! The fire! You had absolutely no training in any of this beforehand. Can you tell us why you choose the carnival and why you didn’t just run away screaming?

Tessa Fontaine:

Years before I began writing THE ELECTRIC WOMAN, before I even knew that the sideshow I’d eventually join, the World of Wonders, existed, I was obsessed with sideshows. My stepdad told me stories about a very early friendship he had with a retired sideshow performer, a little person, whose mother had been a bearded lady. I had no idea what path would unfold when I started doing my own research, even when I joined the show. But I followed my obsession. My mom’s stroke and suffering was another obsession. It was a very hard, very painful obsession that was a big part of my daily life. Nothing I wrote could be separated from it, because it was the defining lens of my experience. I like to think about writing in terms of obsession, because the things we’re genuinely interested in, delighted by, the threads we tug and tug reflect our particular way of thinking—and that is one of the things that makes reading so exciting. But to get back to your exact question—I think not running away is the whole point of the book for me. Yes, feats in the sideshow are scary and painful and things it would be obvious to run away from. The same is true for helping your mother’s severely disabled body get on and off the toilet. But you don’t run. You stay with the pain. You stay with the danger. You stay with the love.


Leslie Lindsay:

You met so many bright, colorful personalities during your time with the World of Wonders. Are you still in touch?

Tessa Fontaine:

I’m still in touch with a number of the performers, yes! And one of the greatest parts of being on book tour has been seeing some of them pop up at events. I’m so in awe of the performers. And the show still tours around –everyone should follow the World of Wonders on Facebook, and go see the show!

Leslie Lindsay:

And yet you’re a writer at heart. You teach and are working on a PhD in creative writing. I could ask what advice you’d give to writers…aren’t you glad I’m not? Instead—have you always wanted to write? And how do you keep the saw sharp? What inspires—and challenges—you?

Tessa Fontaine:

I’ve always wanted to write and I’ve always written. When I was very young I wrote cautionary poems about guns, and then about being a two-inch tall fairy and what I would use each kind of plant and food item for. Like, acorn: hat. Carrot stick: sled. I wrote the beginnings of a lot of novels in elementary school full of plot twists involving amnesia and diamonds. And then plays featuring circus-performing insects who live in grocery bags. And on and on. I’ve always felt that I understand the world and myself best through writing it down. I’m not a great oral storyteller. I’m mediocre at talking about myself. But I’m happy to write and write, either making things up or processing the facts of the world as I understand them. I keep the saw sharp by always using it. I usually write five days a week, even if it’s only a little bit, even if it’s terrible. I read constantly. Reading books keeps me wanting to write books keeps me wanting to read books keeps me wanting to write. I’m inspired by learning about weird things in the world around me. Like that birds see in UV. Like the way kid logic works when they’re solving problems. Like obsessive subcultures such as the sideshow. I have the same challenges as most writers, which is a pretty constant crippling self-doubt. But I think that’s ok. It’s annoying, but it keeps me having to ask if what I’m working on is worthwhile, is carefully rendered and thought-through.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you hope others take away from THE ELECTRIC WOMAN?

Tessa Fontaine:

To scratch a wild itch. Do something bold. Sit still with a person who can’t be in the world the same way you are—an older person, a person with a disability, a person you haven’t spent much time with. Talk to them. Go forward with a thing that’s important to you, even though it is painful. It won’t stop being painful. But you just do the thing anyway.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you? Are you working on another novel-length book? Something else?

Tessa Fontaine:

I’m working on a novel! It’s dark. I tried to write funny animal stories instead, but they didn’t pan out.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tessa, this has been so fun. Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, but should have?

Tessa Fontaine:

You forgot to ask about my favorite kind of m&m! Peanut.

Also, one more note: we need all kinds of people to write all kinds of stories to ensure that there isn’t one story that seems like the only story out there. So keep writing. Keep reading. And always read more than you write.

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

Order Links:

200062495.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tessa Fontaine is the author of The Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, a New York Times Editor’s pick, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, an Amazon Editors’ Best of the Month featured debut & Amazon Best Books of 2018 (so far), an iBooks favorite, and more.

Tessa spent the 2013 season performing with the last American traveling circus sideshow, the World of Wonders. Essays about the sideshow won the 2016 AWP Intro Award in Nonfiction, and have appeared in The Rumpus, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Autre, and elsewhere. Other work can be found in Glamour, The Believer, LitHub, FSG’s Works in Progress, Creative Nonfiction, The Normal School, Seneca Review, DIAGRAM, New Orleans Review, [PANK], Brevity, and more.

​Raised outside San Francisco, Tessa got her MFA from the University of Alabama and is currently a doctoral student in creative writing at the University of Utah. She has received awards and fellowships from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, The Taft Nicholson Center, Writing by Writers, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and more.

She has taught for the New York Times summer journeys, at the Universities of Alabama and Utah, in prisons in Alabama and Utah, and founded a Salt Lake City Writers in the Schools program.

​Around the country, she has performed her one-woman plays in theatres ranging from New York to San Francisco. The scar on her cheek from a 2am whip act is slowly fading.

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


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#amreading #memoir #mothersanddaughters #grief #WorldofWonders #circus #authorinterviewseries

New York Times Editor’s Choice * ​​Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick * Amazon editor’s Best Books of 2018 (so far) *

 ​Amazon Best Book of May * ​iBooks Favorites: MayRefinery29 Best Books of May​A Patch Book You Need to Read in May * Mag the Weekly’s Reads of the Week (Pakistan) * San Francisco Magazine Memoir to Read Right Now * ​​A New York Times “One of Ten New Books We Recommend This Week” * ​Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

Featured in:

The New York Times *Vogue * Southern Living * The New York Post *  WNYC * The BBC  Elle * Shondaland * ​Business Insider * Bookpage’s 11 Women to Watch in 2018

[Cover and author image courtesy of FSG and used with permission. Image of author eating fire retrieved from author’s website on 9.13.18]

‘Life is hard, joy is simple,’ Lannette Cornell Bloom talks about her insatiable need to write about her mother, magic in death, and living a mindful life

By Leslie Lindsay 

Simple beauty in the overwhelming task of caring for a dying parent, Lannette Cornell Bloom, RN, renders a gorgeous narrative about living life to the fullest. 

You will be utterly surprised to learn MEMORIES IN DRAGONFLIES (September 1 2018) is the author’s first book. Lannette Cornell Bloom was a typical over-worked mother, wife, and school nurse, when she got the call that her mother was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a slow decline in which the lungs gradually fill with scar tissue, in effect, suffocating the person.

After careful consideration, Lannette decides to quit her job to care for her mother and maintain her parent’s home full time. What results is a tender vulnerability filled with unexpected moments, an awakening about her mother, the lessons imparted to Lannette and her sister, and so much more.

Written eloquently in first person, MEMORIES IN DRAGONFLIES is ultimately a memoir that reads as though it could be a novel. It’s not long and can easily be finished in one sitting. It’s not exactly a how-to-guide for caring for an ill loved one (but it could be used for that), and it’s not strictly a memoir or a book about grief–it’s about living. I felt inspired. I wanted to mine experiences in my own life in which I was shown greater truths behind those events that may seem ‘unfair.’

There’s symbolism, understanding, empathy, and lush prose contained within this slim book, and I am so honored to have Lannette chatting about her book.

Leslie Lindsay:

Lannette, it’s a pleasure! I started MEMORIES IN DRAGONFLIES and didn’t want to put it down. I got this sense your desire to write was just as compelling. Can you talk about that moment when you knew you just *had* to write this?

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

You’re absolutely right, Leslie! As I mention in the “Note to My Readers” at the beginning of my book, I woke up one night—years after my mom had passed—and felt the need to write down my experiences. I couldn’t believe how much I remembered—all the details, things my mom had said, how I felt. It all came pouring out. I had no idea those memories would turn into a book until months later, but I knew I needed to get them onto the page.

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Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a nurse by training (as am I), but MEMORIES IN DRAGONFLIES isn’t exactly a nursing book, it’s not a how-to [care for an ailing parent], it’s not entirely about grief, but about living. Can you talk a little more about that, please?

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

It’s true! Again, when I began writing the book I had no idea what would come of it. As I wrote the memories down, what I found early on was that nearly all of what I remembered was positive. The beautiful moments, the small lessons my mom taught me, the times I found joy where there was seemingly none to be found. And that, I ultimately realized, was what this book was really about:

How do we find the positive side of dying? How do we turn an awful hardship from something to be endured into something to be cherished?

“A relatable, tenderly observed account of the “sacred joy” of tending to the dying.”

Kirkus Reviews

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand you attended the La Jolla Writer’s Institution and took a class in memoir. The instructor said something like, “Great! So you wrote a memoir; are you open to some structural changes?” Can you tell us a little more about that process, your time line and what you found most challenging?

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

Yes, it was the La Jolla Writer’s Conference. My younger daughter had attended the year before and took a class with a writing coach named Marni Freedman, whom she felt would be a good match for my book. After the conference, I sent Marni my notebook of memories (well, I typed them up first!) and she provided a fresh perspective of what she thought my book could become. We worked together over the next year to dive deeper into the memories, decide which ones were most important to keep, and how to express the changes I went through from the beginning of the process to the end. In essence, she helped me turn my memories into a story.

From that point, I showed the draft to my daughters—who both had amazing feedback—and my younger daughter ended up joining Marni and I in the process of rewriting over the next year. So I really did have an amazing team behind me!

The most challenging part was definitely diving deeper. My daughter would say, “but, Mom, how did this part make you feel.” And that was when I really relived some of those tougher moments. In a way, writing this book was an extension of the healing process that I didn’t know I needed!

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Leslie Lindsay:

You talk about the ‘magical side of death,’ and I’m curious if you could explain that a bit more? Death can hurt. It can seem unfair. It can be a lot of things, but ‘magical’ isn’t always word that comes to mind for most. 

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

You are absolutely right. And that’s what I want this book to accomplish. We are all going to die one day—and almost all of us will experience the death of a parent or other loved one, oftentimes way sooner than we could ever anticipate. So if we don’t have a choice, why dwell in that negative mindset of how unfair it is? That’s not to say to ignore emotions that need to come out. But there’s always joy to be found within a hardship. Whether you do something as simple as brighten your love one’s room with flowers, have a picnic lunch in the park while waiting between hospital visits, ask your loved one a question about his or her childhood, share a silly joke—each and every one of us has the ability to shift our mindset and dive into those precious moments no matter what the situation or how long we have to say goodbye to a loved one. And that, to me, is magical.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Your mother seems like she was such a remarkable woman. Generous, funny, a great cook, and that smile! What do you think she might have to say about this book?

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

Thank you so much! I keep a picture of her in my kitchen with that big smile so I can still see it everyday. My daughters and I still make her recipes and recite her quotes, my favorite of which is:

“You have to make yourself happy, no matter where you are.”

Which, in some ways, is so fitting to the entire journey of taking care of her and through the process of writing and publishing this book.

I think she would, of course, be proud of me. But, as I mention in the book, my mom was also a very private person. So I think she would also be slightly frazzled by all the details I reveal about her and our family!

Leslie Lindsay:

Finally, your tender, symbolic title, MEMORIES IN DRAGONFLIES has a much deeper meaning to you. Can you talk about that, please? And if it’s not dragonflies, do you suppose others have had similar experiences…perhaps with birds or ladybugs or some other piece of nature? Do you feel we’re all connected by nature somehow?

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

Yes it does. Without going into all the details of my book, dragonflies are my reminder to be mindful and, more than that, a reminder of my mom and how the experience of taking care of her changed me. Whenever I see one, I pause and pay attention to the moment, because, more often than not, there is joy to be found there.

I absolutely think others have had similar experiences. Actually, years before my mom got sick, another—much younger—family member passed away suddenly and my family has always associated her with white butterflies. Whenever we see one, we point it out and think fondly of her. The day my mom passed, we saw a yellow butterfly trailing a white butterfly in my parents’ garden and it felt like another message from my mom. So, yes, absolutely, I believe there is so much we can’t know, that we are all a part of nature and so often lose sight of that in our busy lives and modern world. My hope is that this book can inspire others to slow down, to go beneath the surface of what is present to us in our everyday lives and find the simply joys lurking there, just waiting for us to grab hold.

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Photo by Satria Wira Bagaskara on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Lannette, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you for taking the time.

Lannette Cornell Bloom:

Thank you, Leslie! It was an absolute pleasure answering your thoughtful questions.

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

Order Links: 

Lannette-Cornell-Bloom-authorABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lannette Cornell Bloom is a speaker, healer and author who is passionate about bringing simple joys to others. As an Registered Nurse and health practitioner of more than 32 years, she has seen firsthand the need to care for others both emotionally and physically.

In her book, Memories in Dragonflies, Simple Lessons For Mindful Dying, she teaches us how to cherish even the simplest moments in life that make emotional healing possible. She brings into focus the fragility of life and the importance of enjoying the simple joys that slip through our fingers if we’re not paying attention – because life may be hard, but joy is simple.

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


#mothersanddaughters #bereavment #sandwichgeneration #death #nurses #memoir

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website in conjunction with PRbytheBook.]

What if you sold everything, quit your job and traveled the world for 18 months–with your kids? Tracey Carisch talks about this & more in EXCESS BAGGAGE

By Leslie Lindsay 

BacktoSchool Series

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One American family. 18 Months. 24 Countries. 6 Continents and a complete life-altering adventure in this debut memoir. And she’s here chatting about this ‘no-regrets’ life, real-life experiences, how travel strengthens brains of children, over-scheduling, and stunning photography. 

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Tracey Carisch thought she had it all. She was living the American Dream with her husband and three young daughters. They had good jobs, a 4,000+ square foot home, and everyone was happy. Or, were they?

At 37, Tracey has a panicked moment, sending her into a midlife crisis of sorts and questioning everything. What would happen if they gave up their jobs, sold their home, their belongings and traveled the world? They found out. And it became the adventure of a lifetime. But, there were some naysayers and judgmental folks–especially on the American side of the pond. And yet, and yet…they did it and they were all changed for the better because of it.

I found Tracey and her family completely relatable, the story awe-inspiring, and I honestly didn’t want to put the book down. EXCESS BAGGAGE (She Writes Press, August 14 2018), was one of those books I didn’t know I needed to read until I did; it called to me, whispering in my ear, ‘You need to read this.’

There are plenty of ‘growth’ moments for the family (and individual members of the family), but reading about their adventures will also make *you* grow; it will shift your thinking and have you aching to jump a plane to whatever country that most calls. I laughed (a lot), I got tearful, I felt excited and terrified…seriously, EXCESS BAGGAGE hit on every emotion. 

So why now? August is Family Fun Month and while many are enjoying vacations, family reunions, and the like, others are gearing up for back-to-school…whether it’s home-schooling, or world-schooling, or private college-prep programs, EXCESS BAGGAGE will open your eyes to a new worldview, a new way of being with your family, and it just might transform your thinking into a more simple, meaningful existence.

Please join me in welcoming Tracey Carisch to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tracey, it’s a pleasure! I am so in awe with the scope of this book. You cover a lot of ground…literally! Was writing about your travels always part of the plan or did it evolve once you returned?

Tracey Carisch:

We definitely planned on doing a travel blog during the journey. As our blog gained a substantial following, writing became a normal activity for me. I’d never considered myself to be “creative” before, but that piece of me definitely grew while I wrote the blog. I knew I was going to miss writing when our travels came to an end. The book, however, didn’t become a real possibility until the very end of our trip. I was talking with a friend from the United States who was visiting us in Nicaragua, and she was convinced I needed to write about my perspective on our travels. I wasn’t sure, though. I mean, who would be interested in reading a memoir about a woman who goes through a midlife crisis and then travels the world with her family to find herself, right? Shortly after this conversation, I happened to notice the book Eat, Pray, Love on a bookshelf in our rental house. Every other book was in Spanish, but this was the only one in English. I’d read it years before when it was first released and loved it, so I picked it up and reread it that last week before our return to the United States. By the time I finished, I’d decided that continuing to grow that creative side of me with a memoir was something I should do. I’m no Elizabeth Gilbert, but there’s definitely a place for women to share their journeys to authenticity with one another, and I wanted to be a part of that.

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ironically, your background is organizational effectiveness, project management and the psychological aspects of work-life balance. We all seek balance, but can we really attain it?

Tracey Carisch:

Yes, but I will say, it takes commitment. It can be such a challenge to keep ourselves from getting sucked into the rat race of our busy modern world. In my book I call it “The Blur,” where the weeks blend together with the same obligations, chores, meetings, and activities over and over again. There have been several times since we returned from our journey where our family has started to feel that Blur creeping back into our lives. Like those moments when you look at a calendar and can’t believe the month is almost over. When that happens for our family, we force ourselves to stop and look at what’s been added to the schedule, or in some cases removed from it. Are we signing the kids up for too many activities? Working too many hours? Letting go of important things like family dinners or time outdoors? One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn when it comes to true work-life balance is becoming independent of the opinions of others. Sometimes you have to let go of what other people will think of you in order to do what you know in your heart is right for your life.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say, EXCESS BAGGAGE reinforced my dream to pick up and move to Ireland (they speak English—and so less of a language barrier—right?!) What would you say to a family who is contemplating such a move?

Tracey Carisch:

Do it! I can’t say it enough – experiencing the world together changed our family for the better. There’s something special that happens when you go to new culture with the people you love. As you navigate the travel learning curve and tackle the challenges that come with being in a new, foreign environment, you find yourselves working together as a team. You learn things about each other that you never knew before. Seeing the world is certainly a great way to learn about ourselves as individuals, but I think the effect it has on our relationships is even more powerful. Family dynamics evolve when we step away from our normal lives and create new stories together.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What about school? And children? How does travel like this shape their brain for ‘the real world,’ and how can parents—even if they can’t do something as drastic as your family—still expose children to other cultures and ways of living?

Tracey Carisch:

Research has shown that when children experience new things, the information they acquire causes new connections to form between the synapses in their brains, especially in children under the age of seven. We literally improve the physical structure of their brain matter when we give kids new experiences of any kind, whether it’s going to a new country or just going to a local museum. Incorporating new family excursions into daily life can have a tremendous impact on the way a child thinks and views the world. What is especially impactful about new cultural experiences is the immersion that takes place. A different culture brings new language sounds, new foods, new smells, new clothing, new modes of transportation, and new approaches to all aspects of life. If an international trip isn’t an option, museums and cultural festivals are great alternatives. Even just sitting down as a family and watching a great documentary about another country can create really rich conversation with the kids on cultural differences and unique traditions around the planet.

Leslie Lindsay:

Did you have a favorite country/city/continent? I am sure each experience stands out for various reasons. Can you talk about that, please?

Tracey Carisch:

We loved so many places for so many different reason. In terms of culture, Cambodia was a highlight for us. We lived near the Angkor Wat Archeological Park and worked with local charities supporting education, so we learned a lot about the country’s tragic past and how far the people have come. When it came to natural beauty, New Zealand was definitely at the top of our list. The diversity of the landscape is absolutely astounding. Ireland and the Czech Republic brought great connections to the locals we met, and some of them will be lifelong friends. Fiji will always be a precious time for us since we spent it with old friends who will remain an important part of our lives forever. It’s simply impossible to pick a favorite a favorite place after an experience like this.

Leslie Lindsay:

How about your children? How are they doing now and what lessons or experiences from your travels do they continue to revisit?

Tracey Carisch:

Our daughters have all asked us, “When are we going to travel again?” which is a good sign that this experience was a very positive one for them. One of my main concerns was my ability to effectively homeschool them. I worried that when we enrolled them in a public school system again we’d realize they’d fallen behind academically. However, all three of them came right back into their grade levels without skipping beat. In fact, they were ahead of their classmates in many areas. Our girls are all normal kids, but I do think they have a different attitude toward life than most children their ages. They seem to see the big picture. The typical kid dramas aren’t the issue I thought they’d be now that we’re entering the teenage. I think our journey just instilled a more empathetic and mature perspective in them. It’s something intangible in the way they view the world, and I’m not sure we would have been able “teach” it to them. They simply had to see it for themselves.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Since we’re right in the throes of back-to-school, can you provide a few tips for parents regarding over-scheduling and simplifying family life?

Tracey Carisch:

It can be so tempting to enroll our kids in all those enriching activities we think might benefit them in the future. I remember wanting to get the girls signed up for a sport so they’d know teamwork, or put them into an art class so they’d be more creative, or learn a musical instrument because some researcher somewhere said it would improve their math skills. It can feel like we’re doing our children a great disservice if we don’t give them every extra-curricular opportunity available to them. Yet, an important lesson my husband and I took from this journey is that the most enriching thing in our children’s lives is us. Our family’s relationships and our experiences together will give our kids the confidence, curiosity, and courage they need to lead fulfilling and happy lives. When we over-schedule ourselves, we separate our family too much. We undervalue the importance of our time together, and we inadvertently outsource the enriching life experiences children should really be having with their family members to a coach or instructor instead. My best advice would be to add up the time you actually spend together as a family. How many minutes in each day are you enjoying each other’s company compared how much time is spent getting everyone to all of those activities? When you quantify that number, you’ll know if your family is doing too much.

Leslie Lindsay:

I know your husband is a fabulous photographer and he captured so many of your breathtaking experiences. How did all of this shape him? His work? And can you direct us to his website?

Tracey Carisch:

I don’t think I really understood how talented Brian was until we went on this adventure. It’s now a life dream of his to become a professional photographer. At this point in our life we have obligations to our girls, so the income from his software development business has to take priority. However, he has the talent to make it in the world photography, and someday he’ll be able to give it his full focus. In the meantime, his website is www.briancarisch.com and many of his photos are featured on my web site as well. Rather than inserting small black-and-white images into the book, we’ve created a photo gallery for each chapter. When readers visit, they’ll be able to follow along with the story in full-color images. Some of these photos from our trip are available for sale, and a large portion of the proceeds will support three of the charities we worked with closely during our travels.

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Photo by Mohamed Almari on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Tracey, I am so taken, so intrigued and inspired with your travels (and book!) that I could ask questions all day. But I won’t. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Tracey Carisch:

I’m most excited that this book will bring the opportunity to travel to new places and create connections with the readers. I want to hear their stories and share our lessons with each other on living a “no-regrets life”. The most rewarding part of my work as a professional speaker are those conversations I get to have with people around the world. If someone reading this wants to have their hometown added to my book tour, they can connect with me on my web site and we’ll work to get something set up.

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

Order Links:

Tracey Carisch square headshot 1200px.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Tracey Carisch grew up in a small Midwestern town and attended Indiana University for her undergraduate degree. After beginning her career in technology consulting, she returned to academia for her MBA and founded her own consulting firm, helping to lead change in education and workforce development. Tracey is now an international speaker and leadership professional. Her presentations challenge audiences to embrace change and find the opportunities in life’s difficult situations. She lives in the mountains of Colorado with her family, their two dogs, and a cat who thinks he’s also a dog.

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


Final Excess Baggage cover small

#family #travel #world #parenting 

[Cover and author image provided by PRbytheBook and used with permission.] 



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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

Please join me in conversation with Tyler Wetherall. 

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Fancycrave on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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Photo by slon_dot_pics on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

 —The Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

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

Tyler Wetherall: Thank you for reading.

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

Order Links: 

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

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

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

Heather Harpham on her exquisite literary memoir, about love & medicine & parenting, HAPPINESS

By Leslie Lindsay 

Powerful, frank, and uplifting medical memoir deeply infused with love, longing, and motherhood. Plus, she talks about her favorite literary memoirs, making time for creativity, and so much more in this luminous interview. 


I absolutely loved HAPPINESS, which touched on every single emotion with deftness and bravery. I simply couldn’t get enough–from the charming courtship between Heather and Brain, two personalities of polar opposites (she’s a fun-loving California girl living in NYC; he’s an intellectual homebody writer), to Heather’s unexpected pregnancy, the birth, and the medical mystery that enshrouds the baby’s young life.

There’s reconciliation, how they’ll help this baby girl, and HAPPINESS was recently chosen by Reese Witherspoon as…

Hello Sunshine’s April 2018 book pick!

HAPPINESS encompasses a subtle, brave retelling of Brian and Heather’s unconventional relationship progression, how they come together and it’s all told in such a fluid, graceful way that will have you frantically turning the pages.

Harpham does a beautiful job of describing the NICU, her experiences with medical professionals, her passion for parenting, and her reticence toward adult relationships. HAPPINESS absolutely thrums with energy and is infused with such emotion, it’s hard to set it down

I’m beyond thrilled to welcome Heather to the book couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather! This book! Oh my. First of all, it’s gotten all kinds of praise. But it wasn’t exactly easy writing (is any writing ever easy?!). Can you talk about your path and why you wrote it?

Heather Harpham: Leslie, wow! You are a writer’s dream reader –you’re obviously looking for the best in a book. And yes, as you suggest, HAPPINESS was tough to write. I’ve always been a writer, but primarily for the stage; this was my first book and it was daunting. Because this book covers such personal material, and because it describes how my family formed, I felt special obligations to readers and to the people I love most in the world, to get this story as “right” as possible. Or rather to tell it truthfully, but also with respect for what might not belong on the page.

L.L.:  I was telling someone at yoga about HAPPINESS. I said, “It’s like literary fiction meets memoir.” Now, those are two entirely different genres. And yet…that’s how I read it. What’s your response to that? How do you describe the book?

Heather Harpham: Books that bridge genres are the ones I find most exciting. So I take that as a compliment — thank you! My own favorite memoirs include WAVE, THE BRIGHT HOUR, LIT, H IS FOR HAWK and DON’T LET’S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT, all of which fall into the murky category of ‘literary’ memoirs. Let’s call this storytelling that pays as much attention to language’s possibilities as it does to recounting events. As a narrative move, this can be tricky — you don’t want to over indulge a stylistic impulse at the expense of strong, straightforward storytelling. At the same time, writers (especially those of us working with material that inherently evokes pathos) owe the reader the breathing room of craft — metaphor, pacing, prosody, etc. Crafted language lifts a reader slightly above the drudgery or pain of events into a more bearable poetic experience.

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In the other half of my creative life, I teach acting and there is a beautifully thin line in great performances between the emotional reality of the actor and the character. This line can be virtually invisible, but it must exist. Audiences need that sliver of distance between the anguish or loss a character experiences and the true person conveying it. Without that sliver, watching is too anxiety producing, which drains the fun; we’re worried for the actor instead of enjoying the story or achieving catharsis. Similarly, with writing, readers need to know that the teller of a story is ‘okay enough’ to tell it.

In HAPPINESS, because I was (in part) writing about sick kids and the deepest loss, I tried to find humor or beauty or absurdity to offer the reader as a kind of ballast against the demands of the material. I felt I owed the reader, at the very least, a little levity and passing pleasure, or we’d be sunk!

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Photo by Luna Lovegood on Pexels.com

L.L.: Memoir is such a challenging style of writing. Emotions get in the way. Memory is fickle. And then, you worry about how others—the real-life people in your story—will react. How does one reconcile all of that?

Heather Harpham: While writing HAPPINESS, I had to be sure I was telling the story in a way that was bearable and sustainable for my family. In particular, I wanted to portray a period of extreme rupture between myself and the man I am now married to — the novelist Brian Morton — and to describe early, difficult decisions we made without turning the reader irrevocably against him. For our children’s sake, it was essential I describe our separation and differing choices in a way that represented Brian’s point of view, to the best of my abilities. At the same time, I wanted to be honest about the emotional turbulence I experienced while pregnant and on my own. That’s a tough needle to thread and I wasn’t successful on every page, but the beauty of writing a whole book, rather than an essay or an article or even a poem, is that you have time. If you fumble on one page, you try again on the next! I tried to make the gestalt of the book encompass not only Brian’s early rejection of fatherhood, but also his enormous, rare capacity for transformative change into the most extraordinary father and partner I can imagine.

In terms of writing about our kids, it was a tremendous joy for me, as a writer and a mom, to record moments from their early childhood. Brian and I both took a lot of notes when Gracie was sick – not only on her illness or course of treatment– but also on the many things Gracie and Gabriel said and did daily that touched us, or surprised us.

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For the Gracie (who now goes by Amelia) and Gabriel, it’s more complicated. They are both teenagers now and neither of them is fond of having a public portrait drawn of their early childhood or toddlerhood. And, our daughter’s pain is described in detail in the book, in ways that aren’t familiar or recognizable to her. She doesn’t remember the vast majority of what she went through during her bone marrow transplant. Our son remembers even less from that time, which ended when he was only two years old. They both want to be seen as the strong, mature, independent people they’ve become. And I do see them that way, but I also see within them every age they ever were, layered and looping through. But in print, I was only able to capture a snapshot of them, an early version. I hope someday they can enjoy that view. As they enter adulthood, I hope the book can offer them a record of a time that was meaningful or impactful, even as it lies outside of conscious memory. But truly I have no control or insight about what it will mean to them, in the same way we can never know how a reader will receive our work.

L.L.: Without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote HAPPINESS?

Heather Harpham: Kids. Lunches. Laundry. Two attempts at dog adoption. Marital fights. Making up. More fights, more reunions. A growth in partnership.  A long search for an affordable, comfortable home. Success — first ever home ownership! Painting walls. Writing group. The beginning of a college teaching career. A new solo show –BURNING. More lunches and laundry and walks. Writing group. California phone chats. Writing group. Long walks, down to the café for a croissant.

“An extraordinary and bewitching book, HAPPINESS has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.”

Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark

L.L.: And so, your daughter is growing up. She’s okay now. What does she think about her story?

Heather Harpham: Honestly, you’d have to ask her. When she’s been asked in the past, she’s very eloquent on the oddity of having such a personal story – a story that is literally about her deepest physical strata, her bone marrow — told by someone other than herself. She seems to have expected that she’d feel a kind of kinship with the Gracie I describe in the book – that this portrait might offer her a way to recall or even reclaim her younger self – but that didn’t happen. She remembers so little of what I describe, and the little she does remember diverges from what I’ve focused on. I told this story from a mother’s point of view. While she lived it, from the inside. Sadly, neither Brian nor I can ever know exactly what she experienced in that time, as much as we want to.

If you’d like to hear Amelia (aka Gracie) talk about these issues in her own words, she responded to a similar question from Reese Witherspoon in this joint interview (it’s the first question Reese asks her).


L.L.: Part of what makes HAPPINESS so compelling, at least in my opinion, is the grace and ease you write about the medical professionals, the hospital experience. But at the heart of it all, resides a good deal of fear. Did you ever learn Gracie’s diagnosis? Is it still a mystery?

Heather Harpham: First of all, thanks so much for pointing to the medical professionals described in the book. The gratitude you feel, as a parent (or a sibling or partner or child or friend) for the people who save your beloved, or simply soften their suffering, is indescribable. It’s breathtaking gratitude, knock-the-wind-out-of-you-gratitude. And it never ends. We were lottery winners in medical life — we had many incredible people speeding Gracie’s healing over her four years of treatment. I recently interviewed the woman who was our “primary nurse” during transplant, Bobbie Caraher. For anyone interested in hearing Bobbie’s beautiful philosophy of bedside nursing and the need to humanize medical life, the interview is on the Hello Sunshine website.


In answer to the second part of your question, I’m a bit hesitant to discuss our daughter’s current medical status publicly – which is a condemnation of the for-profit healthcare system rather than your question! Someday, I shudder to say, the Affordable Care Act might be dismantled enough to reinstate the cruelty of “pre-existing conditions.” This would be very very bad for millions of Americans, including Amelia. At the same time, I can say that she’s totally cured.  And no, bizarrely, we never received a diagnosis.

HAPPINESS is a fast read, a compelling story about life and death, illness and health, and, above all, family.” —Star Tribune

L.L.: What’s next for you? Are you still writing? Are you more focused on acting? And what’s your teaching schedule like these days?

Heather Harpham: I’m teaching enough to keep myself regulated. Without the structure of teaching, I drift through loose, baggy time without accomplishing much… Plus, I love witnessing the artistic enthusiasm of the young actors I teach, as they figure out how to tell stories in the most powerful or original way. I learn from them constantly.

And yes, thanks for asking. I am writing. I try to show up at the keyboard for at least two hours a day. I keep a little spreadsheet to hold myself accountable. And that helps. I respect work, and so I try to make writing feel like a job. Something you clock in and out of. In fact, it is my job; it’s the work I do that most meaningfully contributes to our family’s financial well-being. Still, it’s easy for many of us (maybe particularly women) to think of our creative projects as a lark. A private fancy. This is rubbish; we need to take our talents and creative work as seriously as any employment. Of course that’s a lot easier if you’ve had some success and thus have time to write. I’m amazed by writers who struggle to stay awake and work, after teaching or doing an exhausting “day” job. That’s commitment.

I had a teacher once, a famous clown (truly!), who said that you should offer your own talent a commiserate commitment in terms of time and energy. He said, only you can evaluate your talent and potential. You alone. If you think you’re talented, show up for your talent. Give that talent a room, and as many hours as it requires. That can be scary or disorienting or downright disappointing; sometimes we’re not as talented, or creatively facile, as we hoped. But then again, sometimes we surprise ourselves.

abstract art artistic background
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Heather Harpham: There is a question I wish people would ask, though, alas it is probably a question for the book I wish I’d written, rather than the one I wrote. This question is about the role of spirituality to sustain us, or destabilize us, in times of exigent duress, fear or even celebration. I found that my own spiritual beliefs were fundamentally challenged by witnessing the loss and suffering of so many innocents during our time on the transplant unit. It was incredibly painful and confusing for me as a believer. It awoke a series of questions I’ve yet to answer about the nature of a God (or if you prefer, the organizing intelligence alive in our universe) who allows for misery with arbitrary abandon. Why is catastrophic loss “allowed” to land anywhere, on anyone, at any time?

On the other hand, we encountered many people during transplant who were disproportionately, even inappropriately (!), kind to us–total strangers who offered lifelines. Why? This is a mystery of equal power. I’m guessing that being tender or generous or compassionate felt good to them; it felt right.

I have no idea why humans are built this way – to bend and help, to care profoundly — but I’m very grateful we are.

I stand in that mystery too. I wanted to express more of this spiritual confusion and appreciation within the book than I was able to. Hopefully I can return to it next time, next book. Unless I have the good sense to write about something less complicated!

L.L.: Heather, it’s been such a pleasure! Thank you, thank you!

Heather Harpham: Leslie, thank you! You read and respond with such care to writers. It’s been a true pleasure.

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

Order Links:

ct-life-stevens-tuesday-happiness-heather-harpham-0801ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Heather Harpham (b. 1967) is an American writer and theater artist. Her fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Parents, MORE Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the UK. Her debut memoir, HAPPINESS The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, was published by Henry Holt in the fall of 2017 and by OneWorld in the UK. Happiness was the April 2018 selection for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club; chosen for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series; and was included on the “Indie Next Pick” list by the American Booksellers Association. Originally from the northern California, Harpham now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

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

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#KeepTalkingMH #MentalHealthAwareness #Happiness #hellosunshine #RWitherspoon #Memoir

[Cover and author image courtesy of Henry Holt Publishers and used with permission. Author photo credit: David Kumin]

Dyane Harwood shares her gripping account with postpartum-onset bipolar in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

By Leslie Lindsay 

Dyane Harwood talks about her stunning memoir on postpartum bipolar disorder, family psychiatric history, & so much more in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

Birth of a New Brain_cover update_v1.jpg
When I was pregnant, my husband heard on NPR that a mother’s brain drastically changes during pregnancy and then again during labor/delivery. It’s why some expecting mothers are a little flaky, a little preoccupied. And then, after the birth, a woman’s brain actually becomes better–she is able to better multitask, sense danger, and even retain more information.

But what happens when a severe mental illness is triggered? That’s what happened with Dyane Harwood. In her touching, unflinching, share-all memoir, she dives right into that abyss of madness. Having a family history of bipolar (her dad was a gifted concert violinist and suffered from regular bouts of bipolar), Dyane never thought she’d bear the brunt of the same diagnosis.

With the birth of her second daughter, Dyane slipped into a full manic episode, with the compulsive need to write (hypergraphia). She wasn’t bonding with her children (she also had a toddler), she wasn’t sleeping, and her thoughts were strung-out. She became suicidal. She was admitted to a psychiatric unit.

Dad and Dyane at restaurant
Through vivid, courageous, and excruciatingly honest vignettes we learn more about Dyane’s battles with medication, alternative treatments, and even her marriage.  BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is working to lift the veil on mental illness, especially mothers with bipolar.

This is an important read for anyone. BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN is a look at how bipolar affects not just the individual, but a family. This book should be required reading for spouses/significant others and close relatives.

I applaud Dyane’s motivation and willingness to share such sensitive topics. Please join me in welcoming her to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Dyane, I tore through the first few pages of BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN. I was so excited and worried for you—having a baby is such a tremendous and joyous occasion and yet it’s rift with uncertainty and exhaustion. And in your case, mania. What was your inspiration for sharing such a tender piece of your life?

Dyane Harwood:  I’ve been a voracious reader ever since I was a child. Books have always served as my teachers. After my postpartum bipolar disorder was activated, I searched online for a book that addressed my form of bipolar disorder. I couldn’t find anything so I did what is often done among writers—I wrote the book I had been seeking. I wanted the memoir to help other mothers as they faced this bewildering mental illness.

Ironically, my hypergraphia served as the catalyst to write BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN—I didn’t put any thought into it. I just started writing.  I had been a freelance writer for over ten years before my postpartum bipolar diagnosis and I had always wanted to write a book. However, I never could have predicted my book would be a memoir, let alone focus on a serious mood disorder.

L.L.: I was struck, almost immediately (on pg. 10) when Dr. Alain Gregoire, founder of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, said the postpartum period:

“carried the highest risk of developing bipolar disorder in the human lifetime.”

The reasons are unknown, but it’s theorized that exhaustion, hormones, and family history may be triggers. Can you talk more about this? Have you uncovered any other information on ‘why now?’

Dyane Harwood:  Currently there’s a great amount of discussion in the medical community about chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation affects the brain in profound, sobering was and it has been linked to bipolar disorder and depression among other diseases. I have a strong feeling that chronic inflammation served as a catalyst for my mood disorder. What causes inflammation? I’m not a medical professional, but it’s commonly known that it’s generated by foods such as sugar (which has been my 5th food group throughout my life), gut bacteria, chronic stress, environmental toxins, and the disruption of circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms consist of the cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, rise, and eat. It regulates many physiological processes. I [recently completed] an advanced Google search for the phrase “postpartum bipolar.” The results included a 2010 study titled “Circadian clock gene Per3 variants influence the postpartum onset of bipolar disorder.”

I’ve done this exact Google search numerous times since 2010, and I was surprised I never noticed this study pop up on my screen. In any case, I hope there will be additional research about the circadian clock and perinatal mental health since there’s a proven connection between genetics and the onset of postpartum bipolar disorder.


L.L.: My own mother struggled for many years with bipolar disorder, among other diagnoses. For the first ten years of my life she was fairly stable. And then—crack—a fissure in our family. I’ve always worried it could be me.  In fact, you share later in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN that Marilla (your youngest daughter) asked if she’ll be bipolar. There’s no way of knowing for sure. What do you tell your daughters about your illness?

Dyane Harwood: Both of my girls have asked me if they’ll have bipolar disorder. My answer to each of them has been based on the truth. I’ve said, “While yes, there’s a chance you could develop bipolar, if you do, we’ll know how to help you.” I tell them there are researchers working hard to find a cure. I felt compelled to give them honest answers—well, I didn’t really have a choice. My precocious girls have a sixth sense about when I’m being dishonest. (I’m also not the greatest liar!) While I’ve never wanted to give them false hope, I believed it would be helpful to emphasize that bipolar research is happening worldwide. I was most concerned that Marilla and her older sister Avonlea understood that bipolar disorder is a manageable condition.

L.L.: We see, too that there were some early indicators that maybe something was amiss. You share some candid experiences working a high-stress job in your twenties and experiencing some bad break-ups that triggered symptoms of hypomania; can you tell us more about that time—and did anyone ever suggest that maybe, maybe something ‘more’ was going on?

Dyane Harwood:  Hypomania can often be quite deceptive in terms of symptoms. One can simply appear happy and not exhibit any alarming manic behavior. There can be a thin line between the two states of hypomania and mania. When I experienced hypomania after not sleeping for several nights due to work, no one took me aside and said, “Hmmm. You might want to get checked out.” Granted, the environment I was working in was total pandemonium. No one was watching me under a microscope since there was so much going on. I worked for a Silicon Valley special event company and we were setting up a 4th of July music festival attended by thousands of people.

The demise of several significant relationships made me deeply depressed. Again, no one thought my depression was bipolar-related. Everyone in my life at the time thought I was experiencing the typical despair associated with a broken heart including my parents, my godmother and my first psychiatrist.


L.L.:  I want to step back a bit, and ask about your dad. He was a concert violinist and also had raging moods, would shroud himself in his bedroom with the curtains blocking the sun. What were your thoughts then? Did anyone explain what was going on?

Dyane Harwood: As a child, I never received a clear explanation about my father’s bipolar disorder [or manic depression as it used to be called]. I had no idea why he had so many little bottles on his armoire, bottles that were filled with substances I would one day take myself such as lithium and Valium. I didn’t want to know about his bottle collection—I preferred to get lost in my land of books. What I did know was that there was something, very, very wrong happening to my father. I watched him suffer and it haunted me. And this might sound a bit on the “drama queen” side, but part of me sensed that the depression I witnessed would someday be my fate.

Dyane says, “I consider this to be a literal example of, ‘I grew up with bipolar at arm’s reach.’ “

L.L.: And you have a brother as well. How is his mental health? Are there other family members in your family tree with suspected or diagnosed mental health concerns?

Dyane Harwood: My younger brother, my only sibling, has been fortunate to bypass bipolar disorder. He takes care of himself and has a beautiful family. I’ve been certain there must be members of my family who had bipolar disorder or other mental health issues, but I don’t know any specifics. I wish I wasn’t ignorant about my family’s background because it would help in detecting potential or acute mental illnesses in our future generations.

L.L.: You’ve struggled for at least ten years with medication regimes, alternative therapy (LightBox, essential oils, exercise, and my favorite–bibliotherapy). How are you doing now? What’s been most effective for you?

Dyane Harwood: Yes, bibliotherapy remains essential and it always will be!  My most effective tool has been finding the right medications. Due to my treatment-resistant bipolar depression and working with incompetent psychiatrists, it took me years to find medications that worked. In 2013, I found a compassionate psychiatrist who suggested a medication in the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) family called Parnate. I added the MAOI to the lithium I had been taking. My depression lifted in three days. MAOI’s aren’t commonly prescribed for several reasons, including dietary restrictions, but those restrictions have been absolutely worth it.


L.L.: How about Marilla and Avonlea? They are absolutely darling! Can you give us a little glimpse as to what they enjoy doing and what kind of young girls they are growing into?

Dyane Harwood: I could go on and on with this question, Leslie, and since you’re also the mother of two similar-aged girls, I know you can understand my temptation. I’ll try to keep it to a paragraph. Thank you so much for the kind words about my girls!  I’m incredibly thankful they’re doing well despite the traumatic environment they grew up in, i.e. having their mother hospitalized numerous times. Our daughters grapple with some moderate anxiety and behavioral issues. My husband Craig and I sought professional counseling for them so they’d have a helpful, objective outlet.

It’s always incredible to see how certain interests/talents are passed down in a family. Avonlea is artistic and she loves to cook sophisticated dishes for a young girl. Art and gourmet cooking were two of my father’s favorite pastimes. She even loves the same foods he did, like high-end cheeses, avocados, salmon, pesto—all of those were foods I loathed as a child! Marilla is a born writer and avid reader. She sold books at my author events like a pro! Who knows? Maybe I’ll be doing the same task for her at her author events someday…

L.L.: In terms of writing, what challenges did bipolar disorder present as you worked through BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN?

Dyane Harwood:  It took me a decade to write, secure a publisher, and go through the editing process. During those ten years, there were literally years when I didn’t write at all. My commitment to seeing the book through to completion began in late 2013, when I found the lithium/MAOI combo. It was at that point I finally had the motivation, energy, and ability to write the proposal and go from there.

There were many times I wanted to give up my project. Many times! But it felt the book had value because even if it wasn’t anywhere near Kay Redfield Jamison-caliber (Dr. Jamison is author of one of the most acclaimed bipolar memoirs, An Unquiet Mind) no one had written this type of book. I knew the book could help moms who wanted to read about the perinatal mood and anxiety disorder they lived with.

Dyane says, “This photo is the infamous ‘Depressed in Hawaii ‘shot as described in BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN

L.L.: What’s the best thing a mother can do if she has bipolar?

Dyane Harwood:  Be open to pursuing and receiving treatment, whether that’s with traditional professionals, alternative practitioners or both types, especially if she finds herself slipping in terms of her mood.

L.L.: I could probably ask questions all day, Dyane. But I won’t. Is there anything you’d like to share that I forgot to ask about?

Dyane Harwood: Oh Leslie, you asked such fantastic questions; very astute ones! Your background with your mother’s bipolar disorder, and your work as a psychiatric nurse have given you a depth of perception, knowledge, and empathy that’s rare in terms of interviewers. I couldn’t ask for better, more interesting and relevant questions. I know bipolar disorder isn’t easy to think about or read about, so I appreciate your doing both of those things in regard to BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN.

L.L.: Dyane, it’s been lovely. Thank you!

Dyane Harwood:  Thank you, Leslie! I’m truly honored to be a part of this amazing series! I look forward to reading your memoir Model Home as well!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of BIRTH OF A NEW BRAIN, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Dyane and Lucy pink topABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dyane Harwood holds a B.A. in English and American Literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. A freelance writer for over two decades, she has interviewed bestselling authors including Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, Anthony Bourdain, and SARK. Dyane founded a chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) and facilitated free
support groups for women with mood disorders. She is the author of the Amazon bestselling memoir “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum
Bipolar Disorder” (Post Hill Press) with a foreword by Dr. Carol Henshaw.

Dyane has written for numerous publications including SELF Magazine,
BP/Bipolar Magazine, Psych Central, Buddy Lit Zine, The Huffington Post,
The Mighty, The International Bipolar Foundation, MOODS Magazine, Anchor
Magazine, Stigma Fighters: Anthology, and Postpartum Support
International. Dyane lives in the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains of
California with her husband, two daughters, and Lucy, their Scotch Collie.

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


#KeepTalkingMH #psychiatry #MH #MentalHealth #MaternalMentalHealth #MentalHealthMonth 

[Cover, author image, and family photos courtesy of D. Harwood and used with permission.]

WeekEND Reading: Gayle Brandeis talks about her new memoir, THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS, her mother’s suicide, the juxtaposition of life and death, mental illness, STRANGER THINGS 2, books she’s reading, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Razor-sharp, raw, poetic memoir about mothers and daughters, suicide, mental illness, and grief.

Gayle Brandeis’s mother disappeared shortly after Gayle gave birth to her youngest child, Asher. Several days later, her body was found hanging in the utility closet of parking garage of an apartment building for the elderly.

THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS is a gorgeous read about a less-glamorous time. Gayle is struggling with grief and heartache, as well as the soupy surreal time of postpartum. Gayle takes this dichotomy of death and birth and weaves it into a coherent, poetic narrative that brings readers into the grief experience.

What’s more is the family history surrounding a series of bizarre medical symptoms that often masked themselves as psychoses. Or was it psychosis, after all? It’s hard to say because the symptoms tend to overlap: delusions, paranoia, factitious disordersfactitious disorders; Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, porphyria. For the last few years of Gayle’s mother’s life, she was working on a documentary about these
disorders, called THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS. Gayle takes that script and braids it, along with her own feelings and experiences into the narrative. images (23)

Be sure to watch the stunning book trailer here: 

I found the writing clear and glittery, the medical mystery fascinating, but most of all–I wondered, what really happened?

From the back cover: 

“Written by a gifted stylist, THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS delves into the tangled mysteries of the disease, mental illness, and suicide, and comes out the other side with grace.”

I am so, so honored to welcome Gayle to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Gayle, I find your story so important and so honest and I thank you for sharing it with us. Like you, I had a tumultuous relationship with my mother. Like you, I lost her to suicide a little over two years ago. I dont have to ask what was haunting you when you set out to write THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS; I know. But I am curious about what kept you going with the writing?

Gayle Brandeis: Thank you so much, Leslie—I’m so grateful for your kind words and so happy to appear on your blog. I’m sorry that you are part of this suicide loss survivor club, too—it’s not a community I’d wish on anyone, but I very much appreciate connecting with other survivors. Our stories are so often kept in the shadows, and I think when we share this complicated form of grief, we can help reduce stigma, help release shame. That was part of what drove me, but what drove me on a more personal level was the compulsion to dig and dig and dig until I could come to some place of understanding—or, if not understanding, at least a place of greater peace—with my mom, her life as well as her death. I wanted to make some kind of sense out of the chaos.


L.L.: While THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS is as much about death as it is birth. Your youngest son, Asher was born just a week before your mother took her life. You share several beautiful passages in the narrative about Asher/Ashes/Ash/er/es []  its very poignant and also a nod to grief; I think we often grasp at small connections as our mind absorbs loss. We want to make sense of the tragedy.  You also share a really strong image of your sister carrying your mothers ashes in one hand and Asher in his car seat in another arm. Can you talk about the juxtaposition of life and death?

Gayle Brandeis: Life and death are always around us, of course—cue “The Circle of Life” music!—but losing my mom a week after giving birth drove that home in such an intense way. That moment where my sister was walking down the hall holding my baby Asher at the same times he was holding our mom’s ashes, embodies that juxtaposition so perfectly for me, the beginning and end of life in her hands (and realizing those two words—Asher, Ashes—are just one letter apart; just one breath apart, as I write in the book). Having a new baby kept me from running off the rails, I think—I’m so grateful he brought his ray of light to ground us and bring joy through that painful time. I’m very glad I took notes as it was all happening because both grief and giving birth can give one a kind of amnesia—some part of me must have known that, and took notes to guard against this double whammy. Those notes helped greatly once I was ready to write this story—they brought me right back to the intensity of the experience, of holding the reverberations of grief and birth in my body all at once.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit to the medical side of THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSISyour mother believed she (and  your family) suffered from a couple of rare medical syndromes: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and also porphyria. Later, theres mention of factitious disorder and malingering syndrome. You had me Googling all kinds of things! Can you break down what you understand about these illnesses, please?

Gayle Brandeis: I feel like I still don’t understand as much about Ehlers-Dalos syndrome and porphryria as my mom had wanted me to. Both are genetic disorders; Ehlers-Danlos is a connective tissue disorder which has a several manifestations—the most common seem to be the hyper mobility type, in which joints are extra loose, and the vascular type, which affects blood vessels (as well as other parts of the body) and can lead to issues like rupture of the aorta (my mom felt certain that this type ran in the family). Just in the last couple of years, several people I know have been diagnosed with EDS, or a family member has, or it’s been suspected by doctors, so it’s possible that my mom was right when she believed it’s not a rare disease, just rarely diagnosed. Porphyria is a metabolic disorder that has all sorts of physical and mental presentations, including some pretty wild ones, like a thirst for blood and “werewolfism”; it may be what drove King George “mad” (and thus helped America become America.) There is something kind of mythic about it, although of course it leads to very real suffering. As I mention in the book, I was kind of disappointed when it turned out I didn’t have porphyria, after all—if I had to be chronically ill (and of course I would rather not be!), that was an interesting illness to be associated with.

Factitious disorders were a more recent discovery for me. In the book, as you know, I talk about how I prolonged my illness for a year after it went into remission when I was a teenager because I didn’t know how not to be “the sick girl”—it had become my identity. A few years ago, a friend mentioned the word “malingering” and I knew I had heard it but didn’t fully understand what it meant; when I looked it up and discovered that it meant gaining some sort of reward from pretending to be ill, I thought, well, that’s what I was doing as a teenager. I later learned, though, that those who malinger get some sort of material benefit from their charade—money, etc.—but those with factitious disorders get their reward directly from the experience of being ill and the attention it inspires. That struck home all the more. The most serious form of this is Munchausen syndrome (named for Baron von Munchausen, a character who made up outlandish tales); there’s also Munchausen by proxy, in which a person, often a mother, will make someone else, often their child, ill through a variety of means. My mom didn’t have Munchausen by proxy, but our relationship as “the sick girl” and “the mother of the sick girl” was definitely an unhealthy and co-dependent one.


L.L.: And yet, and yet…at times your mother seemed to suffer from some kind of mental illness. As I read, several diagnoses came to mind: schizoaffective disorder, bipolar, narcissism. What do you think was really going on?

Gayle Brandeis: It is still wild and ironic to me that I went out of my way to appear ill when I wasn’t and she refused to acknowledge she had mental illness when she did. After doing my own research and interviewing psychiatrists, it seems likely that she had a paranoid delusional disorder, which is different from schizophrenia and is apparently incredibly hard to treat. Even if she had ever been properly diagnosed, it’s unlikely there would have been a medication or other therapy that could have significantly  helped. Learning this was a relief in a way—I had been beating myself up, wondering what I could have done differently, how I could have helped her more, and when a psychiatrist I interviewed said there really isn’t anything I could have done, it helped me let go of some of the guilt I had been carrying. I do think she had narcissistic personality disorder, as well—the world very much revolved around her.

L.L.: THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS teeters between time periods and also is told, in part, by letters you wrote to your mother after her death at the urging of your therapist. There are a million ways you could have structured this narrative. How is that you decided on this structure?

Gayle Brandeis: The structure evolved as I worked on the book. The letter my therapist suggested I write to my mom was something I truly had started writing for myself alone, and as I delved into my history with my mom, at some point I realized that this letter could provide a deeper context for our relationship in the book, since the present tense narration around her suicide was urgent and immediate and didn’t really allow for that kind of reflection. The film transcription came in a bit later in the process—I had decided to borrow my mom’s title but I hadn’t considered using the film itself in the memoir, mostly because I hadn’t been ready to watch it after her death. Once I did let myself view it, I realized that braiding the film into the book could give my mom a chance to speak for herself on the page. And the research elements came in naturally, too—they were part of my investigation and it made sense to weave them in. It seems fitting that the story ended up being told in a complicated, fragmented way—it mirrors how complicated grief after suicide can be (but it also allowed me to create form out of chaos in a very satisfying way.)

L.L.: There are other memoirs about mental illness and suicide; mothers and daughters, but this one is illuminating and uplifting in some regards; redeeming in others. What do you think sets THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS apart? What do you hope readers take away? And did it transform you in writing it?

Gayle Brandeis: Of course every story of suicide is unique because of the voice and vision of the person writing, but there are also important points of connection between our stories. I take a dance class called “Groove” where the guiding principle
is “unified but unique”—you are given a few simple movements to do with each song that are touchstones for everyone in the class, but then you make the movements your own, layer on your own quirky stuff. I think of my book that way—I hope people who have gone through similar experiences will find a sense of solidarity and community, that it will help them feel less alone, but I also hope that this book will offer something new—a fresh approach to form, a singular experience told through my very particular (and sometimes peculiar, as was said in a review, which I love) body and mind. I very much hope readers leave the book with a sense of hope (and perhaps some inspiration to tell their own stories.)


Writing this book transformed me more than I could ever say. I was asked to do a self-interview for The Nervous Breakdown, and I ended up asking myself “How did writing this book change you?” eleven times, with eleven different answers, and I could have kept going. I am a different person than I was when I began writing the book—a stronger person, a braver person, a more open person. I am so deeply grateful for the journey of this book.

L.L.: Gayle, its been such a pleasure. Thank you! Is there anything I forgot to ask that I should have? Like, maybe whats on your end-of-the-year-bucket list, what are you reading, what your guilty pleasures are, or how Asher is doing?

Gayle Brandeis: Thank you so much for having me—this has been a treat! I don’t think you forgot anything at all, but I’m happy to answer these questions! Not sure I have an end-of-the year bucket list, but I do want to see the Northern Lights before I
  Speaking of death, I’m reading a book that comes out next year, I AM, I AM, I AM: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell, which is a beautiful exploration of how awareness of death can help us appreciate life all the more deeply. As for guilty pleasures, hmmm…I gobbled down Stranger Things 2, but I don’t feel guilty about that at all! Hot baths are perhaps my guiltiest pleasure—guilty because I don’t like to waste water, but I sure do love a good, long, hot soak. And Asher’s doing great! It’s kind of amazing to me that he’s 8 now—he is such a barometer of how long I’ve lived without my mom. He’s just about as tall as my armpits these days. Time is so weird. Thanks for asking about my sweet boy (and thanks for all of your other great questions—so very grateful!)29906170001_4871960491001_4871918106001-vs

For more information, to connect with Gayle via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ART OF MISDIAGNOSIS, please see:

Gayle_Brandeis_by_Rachael WareckiABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gayle Brandeis is the author, most recently, of the memoir The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide (Beacon Press) and the poetry collection The Selfless Bliss of the Body (Finishing Line Books). Her other books include Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), and the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement, Self Storage (Ballantine), Delta Girls (Ballantine), and My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt), which received a Silver Nautilus Book Award and was chosen as a state-wide read in Wisconsin. Her poetry, essays, and short fiction have been widely published and have received numerous honors, including a Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award and a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. She currently teaches at Sierra Nevada College and the low residency MFA program at Antioch University, Los Angeles.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these on-line platforms:


WP_20170919_12_00_19_Rich_LI (4)

[Cover and author image courtesy of Beacon Press and used with permission. Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights image retrieved from USAToday.com, quirky carpet layers from , the world revolves around me from, Life & Death Tree from Pinterest, no source noted, reading/book image from L. Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 11.16.17] 


WeekEND Reading: Jessica Teich on her sublime memoir, which is more of a ‘shared autobiography,’ touching on very tragic & real issues of suicide, rape, victimology, & teaching our daughters self-preservation skills

By Leslie Lindsay 

At once a story of heartache and trauma, interwoven with a bit of mystery following the suicide of a not-quite schoolmate, fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY is an interior memoir at the core with very strong writing.small-cover-image-copy

It was an honor to be awarded the exclusive and prestigious Rhodes scholarship, particularly as a woman. In THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, Teich sets out to render those old gender stereotypes outdated, while  simultaneously coming to terms with the fact that she is, indeed, worthy of the award. Meanwhile, things in Jessica’s past bubble to the surface. She suffered horrendous abuse in her youth at the hands of a 30-year old male dancer. Routinely, Joe would sexually and physically assault her, threatening death if she told anyone. Yet, she succumbs, and later, attempts to put the past behind her.

Fast-forward some years and Jessica is married, a mother, and consumed with dread. OCD-like symptoms explode. She can’t sleep; she worries. When she comes across an obituary in the Oxonian, (the Rhodes Scholar bulletin), she glimpses the name of a fellow Rhodes woman, Lacey Cooper-Reynolds, who recently took her life at age 27. Why would this smart, young, and recently married woman take her own life? This thread becomes the pull through Jessica’s life, as she begins to explore Lacey’s death.

Jessica continues to ask, “Why would a woman described as ‘brilliant, beguiling,’ and so widely admired, deeply cherished, commit suicide?” Seeking answers, Jessica hires a private investigator and tracks down Lacey’s survivors: her adoring brother, a wounded sister, the widower. While unraveling Lacey’s life, Jessica learns truths about her own life as a mother, wife, scholar, and survivor.

Join me as I chat with Jessica about this deep and thoughtful book.

Leslie Lindsay: There are so many things going on in THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY (Seal Press, September 27th, 2016), that it’s hard to determine exactly what genre it falls into. Ultimately, it’s a memoir, but there are themes of abuse, survival, suicide, mystery, mothering, and so much more. Where did you draw your initial inspirations?

Jessica Teich: I was largely inspired by the kinds of memoirs that blur boundaries; that are reflective and lyrical and vivid and visceral.  Frank McCourt’s ANGELA’S ASHES is one.  I also love Lorna Sage’s BAD BLOOD.  It’s wildly funny and poetic, introspective, at the same time.  I do think my book is a memoir, or perhaps, a shared autobiography.  It’s Lacey’s story, and mine, and there is a third thread that’s part of the narrative weave: the story of my older daughter, poised on the brink of adolescence, the moment smart girls can be swallowed whole.  Strangely enough, memoir is a genre I’ve fallen in love with relatively recently.  I tothelighthousewas a big reader as a child—I still am—but it wasn’t until I discovered Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse as a college student that I began to appreciate how rich and fully dimensional an interior voice can be.

L.L.: As a teenager, you were a ballet dancer. Graceful pirouettes come to mind, pink leotards, delicate steps, but what happened in the attic room of that dance studio was anything BUT graceful and delicate. I know how challenging this must be, but can you talk about that briefly, please?

Jessica Teich: For me that time takes place behind a scrim.  It feels like so many lifetimes ago.  Yet my memories are visceral: lying on Joe’s bed while he molested me, staring at the nails piercing through the ceiling of his attic bedroom. It was like being in a coffin, except a coffin would have been safer. In a coffin, I would have been alone.  Instead, as I say in the book, “there was Joe, lusting, pumping, groaning, rutting like a malevolent machine.”

For me, that passage captures the sense of helplessness I felt as a teenager, and also the confusion: why is this man behaving so brutally?  Why doesn’t anybody help?

Only later did I learn that many victims of violence never tell anyone they’re in trouble.  They don’t think there’s anything anyone can do to help.  If you’re a poised, confident child—at least on the outside—you’re probably pretty good at solving child-sized problems.  But you can’t think of a way out of the violence, the terror, the aloneness, and you’re only 16, so you can’t imagine anyone else would know of a way out, either. And I didn’t grow up in a family where you could talk about how you felt.  You couldn’t say, “I’m afraid.  I need you.”

Looking back now, I see that I was trapped in a perfect storm of susceptibility: distant parents; teachers I didn’t want to disappoint; a sense of myself as inadequate in some way, not truly desirable, not fully female or adult.   I was vulnerable at 16, but the abuse doesn’t stop when the clamor, the chaos, ends.  The experience of violence is a depth charge that continues to detonate.p2-w2-ballerina-a-20140529

L.L.: There was a vague sense of closure with what happened with Joe, but what happened with him, do you know?

Jessica Teich: I don’t know if he’s still alive.  If he’s still married.  If he’s still dancing.  I know he took the dancing away from me, for a very long time.  As I was writing my book, over so many years, I would often imagine some kind of rapprochement: a conversation in which I could ask why he hurt me, and he could explain what happened.  But there was no explanation— there never is— for that kind of brutality, that awfulness.  Or rather, there is no excuse, but there IS an explanation; that he had been abused by his father, and that the cycle of violence, passed down in families for generations, is exceedingly difficult to break.

Experts think that it’s very unwise—for obvious reasons—for survivors to go in search of their abusers.  Not only because of the threat of more violence, but because, on the simplest level, there is no satisfaction in confronting someone so damaged, so depraved.  There isn’t anything Joe could tell me that would make what happened better.  I needed to make it better myself, by freeing myself to feel the love of the people I chose to be vulnerable to, the people I’d embraced.

L.L.: This brings up the urgent call to end violence against women, in their homes, on college campuses, even in the workplace. How can we help victims bring their attackers to justice?

Jessica Teich: There are so many ways to help, legally and logistically.  There’s still so much work to be done.  We can help lift the restrictions on access to DNA rape kits that still exist in some states.  We can ensure the preservation of DNA forensic evidence and expedite its analysis.  But there is an enormous cultural shift that needs to happen as well.  We have to believe people when they say they’ve been molested.  Statistics show that it’s extremely rare for someone to invent a story of abuse, even though those instances have gotten a lot of attention in the press.  What’s more, abusers are serial predators.  It’s not like some college freshman drank too much and lost control.  They say everything in life is about sex EXCEPT sex, which is about power.  This kind of violent abuse is a desperate, broken way for people to exert power.  There’s no romance in it.rsa1

What’s more, it’s often the victim whose life is forever altered. She— and most survivors are women— is forced to flee with her children, or withdraw from college, while the predator carries on unhindered, free to violate someone else.  That’s got to stop.  We’ve got to believe these victims, and arrest their attackers, and give the assailants a punishment befitting the heinousness of their crimes.  These aren’t frat boys, misbehaving.  They are serious serial predators.  It’s quite frightening to send your daughter to college knowing there is a 1 in 4 chance that she will be the victim of assault.  That’s indecent.  It’s unforgivable.  I read recently that some colleges are hosting seminars for women on “how to avoid rape.”  As one young woman pointed out, what we should be teaching, mandating, is an end to rape, not a strategy for avoiding it.

L.L.: When the book opens, you write about “stalking” your own daughter as she goes to ballet class. Were you fearful the same thing would happen to her, and where is she now?

Jessica Teich: Yes, I was terrified. And I came to realize how unfair that was, most especially to her, but also to the world she lived in, which was safe and nurturing.  She wasn’t nearly as vulnerable as I thought she was.  In fact, she’d twice taken a self-defense class—I think every girl should take a class like that— and she feels quite strong.  I hope she won’t be tested.  But she is exceedingly smart and thoughtful and vigilant. I trust her.  And I trust the world more than I ever thought I would.

L.L.: The story of Lacey is intriguing to me, as well. I’m a survivor of death by suicide. My mother, a little over a year ago, took her own life. I can see the grisly intrigue, from someone on the outside, but as an insider, this is raw material. How did your investigation into Lacey Cooper-Reynold’s life begin? And how did it spiral out, going deeper and deeper into your own fears and frustrations?

Jessica Teich: I’m so, so sorry to hear of your loss. I can only imagine how anguishing that is, based on the writing and thinking I’ve done. I’m sorry to say, too, that it can be something one struggles with for a long time.  Not just the final decision, but the feeling of not being able to help.  Not being allowed to help. That’s why I wanted to write about Lacey.  To help.

You know, my investigation into her death began serendipitously.  One night I couldn’t sleep and I wandered downstairs to my living room and stumbled upon the obituary of a stranger.  I was captivated by her story.  Before I knew it, I had become consumed with thoughts of her, and I wanted to know why someone so talented and beloved would choose to end her own life—on the very day her new husband was arriving in Los Angeles.  But I think the real question was: why did she feel she wasn’t enough; would never be enough?  That’s a question I realized I had to ask myself.

L.L.: Did you ever find out what ‘really’ happened to Lacey? What do you suspect now, after your research and writing?

Jessica Teich: There is no “aha!” moment in the book. Nor, I might add, is there always, or even often, a moment like that in life.  I have my own epiphanies—mostly about where I left my sunglasses—but rarely is there a single revelation that explains the arc of heart-love-window-winter-frostsomeone’s life.  For me, there is always a central, impenetrable mystery at the heart of every relationship.  We are all, always, strangers to each other in fundamental ways.  What’s amazing to me is that any two people can be “intimate” for any length of time: lovers; parents and children; colleagues; teacher and student.  It’s so hard to be open and honest, respectful of boundaries but transparent, vulnerable.

Why did Lacey “do it?”   The answer is both too easy to imagine and forever beyond our ken. I think the more important question is: what can we do about it?  How can we reach the next person who feels ragged and desperate and alone?  As Lacey’s closest friend said, “We must keep these things alive. It’s common when these things happen for people to tell each other that no one could have known, but I think it’s fair to ask what more could have been done.”

That’s why I wrote THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, to help keep her alive, and to keep alive the questions raised by her tragic death: How do we tell the truth about who we are?  How do we metabolize our pain?

L.L.: Suicide rates among young women have continued to climb, even more alarmingly, among teenage and preteen girls. Since 1999, suicides among girls ages 10-15 have tripled, according to a recent CDC report. These statistics are harrowing. As a mother of girls ages 9 and 11 whose grandmother died by suicide, it’s particularly shocking. Can you speak to that, please?

Jessica Teich: I think our culture places enormous pressure on girls, and women: to be perfect, to need nothing, to give everything, to ask for very little. Even to this day, I think we’re expected not to take up too much space.  I remember reading an article in the New York Times years ago, about a group of girls in a New England town who were like supernovas: bright, accomplished, philanthropic, athletic.  They had everything 17-year-old girls might seem to need, from perfect test scores to a close cohort of friends.  But they said they spent a lot of time wondering if the boys thought they were “hot.”   They calculated their value as people using the most superficial metrics.  I think that’s still the case.01girls-large5

Our culture, with its perpetually revised, homogenized images, exerts pressure on all of us to seem “publically perfect.”  I don’t think perfection of any kind is a value to aspire to.  To be oneself, to fill out the contours of one’s life, to step into one’s own skin; that’s what’s important.  And that’s the best way to make a contribution to the lives of others, which I think is a huge source of self-esteem.

In doing research for THE FUTURE TENSE OF JOY, I discovered that girls who volunteer are less self-focused and self-critical.   Connection, collaboration; these are the ways to help girls shore up their sense of worth, to say nothing of the benefits to others.  Too often schools encourage students to volunteer for the minimum number of hours, to meet their “service” requirement.  But that’s not enough time for the relationships, the benefits, to take root and grow. Realizing that our lives are inextricably entwined with the lives of others; that can be healing, buoying. Engagement is also a great antidote to depression and hopelessness.

I sometimes think of what Robert F. Kennedy said: “We must tame the savageness of man, and make gentle the life of the world.” Making gentle. I think that’s our job.  “Gentle” is one of those words— like “lovely” or “cozy”— frequently assigned only to women.  But “gentle” can be fierce.  I like it as a verb: to gentle.   The more we do that, the more I think our lives, our hearts, will mend. It turns out the ancient Greeks had a word for people who didn’t perform public service.  Our word “idiot” derives from it.

L.L.:  There’s another statistic I’d like to mention, and while I don’t have definite numbers on this one, it has to do with the ‘middle school girl slump,’ where smart, self-reliant girls are made to ‘dumb-down’ to appear more soft, likable, and more attractive to the opposite sex.  How can we get society to stop sending these messages to our girls? Or, does the message come from elsewhere?

Jessica Teich: The messages are everywhere.  What’s important is for parents and teachers to say to our daughters (and sons): I see who you are.  I see what you’re struggling to achieve.  Maybe it’s to understand Robert Frost’s poetry.  To join the Red Cross team at school.  To get along better with your brother.  To stop saying the word “like.”  We’ve got to help our children achieve a sense of scale, so they can see where they fit in, what they have to contribute, what’s worth achieving and what is just mindless, meaningless, purposeless acquisitiveness. 

My husband and I chose to send our daughters to an all-girls school, but initially, I was very resistant to the idea.  I’d grown up with downloadbrothers.  I kept walking around the school thinking, “Where are all the boys?”  Then we sat in on a science class, and the classroom had been redesigned to accommodate the ways girls like to learn: in groups.  The lab stations were enlarged to make it possible for the girls to work collaboratively. One girl raised her hand and asked, “What’s an autoclave?” She was an eleventh grader and I thought, “How can she not know what an autoclave is?”  (But then, I was a doctor’s daughter.)  The woman giving the tour turned to me and said, very patiently and without judgment, “At least she’s not afraid to ask.” That’s when the penny dropped. I realized that what we want most—for our children, for ourselves— is the courage to take chances, to heed our own instincts, to acknowledge our mistakes, to ask for help.  I think that’s what we all long for: freedom from fear.

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

Jessica Teich: No, but I’m very moved by your willingness to talk about your mother’s death.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  Your willingness to be open about it, despite your pain, is very courageous.  The Buddhists say our children choose us, to teach us, to free us.  I think your daughters chose very well.

L.L.: Jessica, it was a pleasure chatting. Thank you!

Jessica Teich:  Thank you so much.

“An honest, compassionate memoir… Teich’s book is not just compelling for the way it plumbs the psyche of an outwardly driven and ambitious woman; it is also provocative in its questioning of what female success really means.”

—Kirkus Reviews

For more information, or to connect with Jessica, please see: 

screen-shot-2016-08-10-at-4-04-02-pmAbout the Author: JESSICA TEICH graduated summa cum laude from Yale and received an M.Phil degree from Oxford, where she was a Rhodes scholar. Her previous book, Trees Make The Best Mobiles: Simple Ways To Raise Your Child In A Complex World, appeared in Vanity Fair, People, Us, and The Chicago Tribune, and was featured on the Today show. For almost a decade, Teich worked as a literary manager at the Mark Taper Forum, commissioning and developing plays. She subsequently received a grant to write and direct a movie for the Directing Workshop for Women at the American Film Institute. Teich served as head of the Biography committee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two daughters, and dog.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, by clicking on the various links: 

[Cover and author images courtesy of L. Rossi-Totten and used with permission. Girls in science lab retrieved from , rape statistics image retrieved from, Ballerina image from, Virginia Woolf cover image from Wikipedia, all on on 9.23.16] 

WeekEND Reading: Celebrating Family, Food, and Dad with Dawn Lerman’s MY FAT DAD, how childhood memories are attached to food, growing up in 1970’s NYC, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

“Every story and every memory from my childhood is attached to food.”
Dawn Lerman spent her childhood constantly hungry. She craved good food as her father, 450 pounds at his heaviest, pursued endless diets, from Atkins to Pritikin, and everything in between—and insisted the rest of the family do the same, though no one else had a weight issue. book
On the other hand, Dawn’s mother could barely be bothered to polish off a can of tuna standing over the kitchen sink, corded phone in hand. She didn’t understand why Dawn was obsessed with “good” food, spending money frivolously on expensive pears, cleaning the house, and helping her father maintain his diets.
A chaotic and lonely childhood, Dawn helped her younger sister get starring roles in Broadway plays, sending her on the road for a couple of years, and later a stint on the popular show, “Charles in Charge.”
Set alternatively in Chicago and New York City, MY FAT DAD is more than the title suggests, but a memoir of love, family, and food, It’s about coming-of-age in the 1970s, about being Jewish, about the ad men of New York, and so much more.
Today I am so, so honored to have Dawn with us to chat about her book.
Leslie Lindsay: So I completely devoured MY FAT DAD. It triggered some of my own memories of food, grandmothers, and dysfunctional family happenings. What moved you so much to sit down and write this story?
Dawn Lerman: I originally set out to write a health book for kids about snacking. While I was compiling recipes, I realized that each one of them had a memory attached to it. The memory was as important as the recipe —it was the people I was with at the time; where I was when I tasted it; and the smells that made it so important.
Nourishing yourself and your family is about the love you put into it, which led me to want to share about my family and my maternal grandmother Beauty, whose recipe cards saved me and gave me a purpose. I was able to focus less on the chaos and loneliness I felt in my day-to-day life. The story of how home cooked food had such a positive impact on my life, even in the face of my father’s 450-pound weight, felt like an important story. I wanted to provide the color and context around the recipes that were woven into the fabric of my life.
6-Beauty & Dawn 2yrsL.L.:  Like you, I had a grandmother who was an amazing cook. I’m not sure that she ever formally taught me how to cook, but I watched. And we corresponded through letters, over boys and my parent’s divorce, but never with recipes. The other grandmother was a horrible cook, bless her! Still, both of their styles have influenced my cooking style today.  How does one’s culture and familial heritage shape their overall attitude toward food?
Dawn Lerman: In the words of my grandmother Beauty, “Good food is not fast. Fast food is not good and if you know how to make a pot of chicken soup, you can nourish your self for life.”
It was not what my grandmother Beauty cooked that influenced me, but the love she put into everything she prepared. We spent every weekend until I was 9 years old together. We would shop for ingredients and spend our evenings creating the most wonderful soups, stews and cookies. It was in her kitchen that I learned what it felt like to be loved and nourished. After my family moved from Chicago to NYC for my dad’s life changing job as a creative director at McCann Erikson, where he would be the head writer on Coke and Nescafe, Beauty sent me a recipe card every week with a 20-dollar bill. That way the warm sweet smells from her kitchen could always stay with me.  “If I am cooking brisket for Papa you can cook brisket, for your sister. Sharing recipes will always keep us connected.”
L.L.: I hate to say it, but cooking—real cooking—is almost as obsolete as other crafts like needlepoint and sewing. It’s easier (and sometimes cheaper) to go to the store and purchase a sweater than say, knit your own. Same goes with food. We can just go out to a restaurant, pick something up at the WholeFoods bar, rather than “waste” our time slicing and dicing. Can you speak to that, please?
Dawn Lerman: While I think that is true and convenience often overrides home preparation, I think cooking real food is making a big comeback. The whole organic and farm to table movement has inspired a new generation of cooks. In the 60’s and 70’s the- women —especially my wanna-be actress mom, longed to be modern– rebelling against both the traditional family values they grew up with and the old world food. Frozen dinners were a novelty and were a luxury that the generation before them did not have.


L.L.: I love how each chapter in MY FAT DAD begins with a topic and the food that fed you—either emotionally or physically—during that time. For example,Chapter 2: My Baby Sister. Aunt Jeannie’s Apple Strudel, Chocolate Chip Mandel Bread, Russian Borscht, Family dinner at my Bubbe Mary's houseSure to Make You Feel Special Shirley Temple. Plus, the food offerings were often (but not always) indicative of the social and political times our country was experiencing. Was it more about that for you, or was it more about the comfort of food? (P.S. I still remember that my great-aunt made me spaghetti with meat sauce, green beans and garlic bread the night my sister was born; and I threw it up all over her white sheets I was so excited).

Dawn Lerman:  Every story and every memory from my childhood is attached to food, the food I craved, the food I was not allowed to eat and the food that made me feel loved. My father, a brilliant copywriter in the Mad Men era of advertising, was known for his witty ad campaigns—he was responsible for such iconic slogans as “Fly the Friendly Skies of United,” “Coke Is It,” “This Bud’s for You,” and “Leggo My Eggo”—and being able to solve any image problem that was thrown his way. Unfortunately, he was not able to use the same problem-solving skills when it came to his weight. My dad was fat while I was growing up—450 pounds at his heaviest. His weight would go up and down like an elevator, depending on what diet he was on or not on that month. For six months, he only ate white rice; another time, he only drank shakes; and another time he only had Special K—hoping that after a week of eating the cereal, there would be only an inch to pinch. What was most vivid to me about those early years with my parents was the constant feeling of hunger that consumed me as my obese father rotated from diet to diet.
But on Friday nights, I was never hungry. My maternal grandfather would pick me up for the weekend, and when we arrived at my grandparents’ home, the table was always set with beautiful china. There was always a pot of something cooking on the stove, a freshly drawn bath, and a fluffy, lavender-smelling nightgown waiting for me. It was at my grandmother’s house where I learned what true nourishment was. It is where my tears were dried.
When I walked into her kitchen, life transformed from processed packages of salty MSG instant soup to the delicious warm, fragrant smell of homemade chicken soup. Giant salads, fresh fruits and the aroma of just-baked muffins filled the air and my world. It was the only place I can remember feeling happy, safe and nourished. It was what I craved.
L.L.: Just yesterday, my 11 year old was sitting on the couch reading. A massive storm had just blown in, the sky was dark, claps of thunder could be heard in the not-so-distant distance. She looked up and said, “Mom! Nothing tastes better on a rainy day than homemade brownies. Will you make some?” I didn’t have all the ingredients right then (nor the time), so the brownies are on hold. Still, it got me wondering…like smell, do you believe food is connected to emotion and a certain time in personal history? I think I know your answer.
Dawn Lerman: My Papa used to say, “There’s nothing like Beauty’s soups and roasts to make all the problems of the world go away.” Before I even had words to describe the delicious, thick-as-fog split pea soup flavored with bone marrow, I knew what he was saying to be true. No matter what I felt during the rest of the week, the anticipation of Beauty’s food and of time spent in her kitchen lifted my spirits. Little Beauty is what she called me, and beautiful and special is how she always made me feel.Cooking is how she showed her love and when I became old enough that is the way I learned to show mine
L.L.: This same daughter has a list of food she loves. She created it one day at school and presented it to me at dinnertime. Quiche, chicken pot pie, corn casserole, fresh strawberries with sugar, fudgy brownies, sugar cookies. So the kid loves rich, sugar-y foods! But my other daughter is all about salty things. Angel hair pomodoro, tomato foccacia sandwiches with fresh mozzarella; she has an aversion to meat (so do I, being vegetarian). Do you think somehow we are “wired” to like different foods? How does that happen?

Dawn Lerman: I think everyone’s tastes, cravings, and food preferences are unique. Everybody always made fun of me because as a child I hated greasy and salty food. It always gave me an awful stomach. During the summer my family spent at the fat farm, I had the opportunity to speak to a nutritionist I asked why some people craved salty food while others craved sweet food. My sister craved fish and chips, the greasier the better. I loved things plain and was happy munching on cucumbers, carrots, and unsalted shelled sunflower seeds all day. My mom had an adverse reaction to all fruits. My dad seemed to be fine with all foods, but maybe that was because he was used to not feeling particularly great. As a child people were amused with my interest but no one really was able to answer my questions. This is a topic that I have dedicated my career to. What I learned is there is no one diet for everyone–bio individuality.

L.L.: I have to say, I’m a huge fan of MAD MEN. And I just loved hearing all about your dad, the ad man, on Madison Avenue creating slogans. As I was reading, I’d shout to my husband, “This guy came up with ‘Coke is it,’ ‘TaB, it keeps you light on your feet,’ ‘Leggo my Eggo,’ and well—there are more! What was his influence over you as a writer?
Dawn Lerman: I always saw my dad write and my mom was an English teacher. But the type of writing each of them did was very different from me. I wrote as an escape. As a child, my words and my thoughts were something that was very private. I used to carry around a little journal and pretend I was Harriet the Spy. Writing was my escape from my chaotic childhood. It was a place to put my feelings. It transported me into a world where I felt safe. 
L.L.: It seems like there were a good deal of appearances and disappearances with your family members. You moved as a child from Chicago to New York, leaving behind Grandma Beauty. Your dad left for the “fat farm” at Duke University, leaving behind you, your mom, and sister. And then mom and April leave when April gets cast in “Annie.” And then your parents get divorced. Can you talk about that, please?
Dawn Lerman: Great question. I think the constant disappearances of my family members, is why I started cooking. It was a way to control my surroundings.  When I made a chicken soup with dill as my grandmother did for me, it was like she was with me. The same with my sister.Whenever I would make her a care package of cookies, I felt the excitement she would have when she opened the box. Nourishing others was my calling from a very young age. Even as a child, I understood that my family was different, and that made me different. The pain and loneliness I often felt gave me a sense of empathy that would eventually give me a unique voice
L.L.: Since tomorrow’s Father’s Day, let me just share that when my parents divorced, my dad tried so hard to cook for us. We often had “glue” green beans (green bean casserole), instant mashed potatoes, and Jenny-O turkey loaf drenched in gravy atop of a slice of wheat bread. It was disgusting. But he tried. And I remember that. Meanwhile, I yearned for my mother’s “real” food, but somehow she stopped cooking, resorting to Tuna Helper and the like. Why the role-reversal and did your parents go through a similar phase when they divorced?
Dawn Lerman: Since we never had family dinners and my mom never really cooked, not much changed. I had already been cooking for myself and my little sister April since age 9. However my dad found a new girl friend who was a wonderful Italian chef and as much as I did not want to like her, she made the most amazing veal tonnato and tiramisu. 
Me with my mom and dadL.L.: And your mom. She sounds a bit mercurial at times. My own mother had a tough life as well. We had an oil-and-water relationship due to her mental illness and personality issues. Still, you seem to have broken free of that slightly toxic relationship. How can others wade through?
Dawn Lerman: As a child I remember wishing that my mother would be more like my grandmother, her own mother.  My mother was not very domestic and she found the things I loved boring, but through our battles I knew my mom loved me and she did the best she knew how. I think managing expectations of our parents is important.  As a mom now, I see that the things I care about are very different than what my son values. I also think forgiveness is very important.
L.L.: What advice would you give to those who are interested in writing about family and their relationship with them?
Dawn Lerman: Write from your heart. Write what you know. 
L.L.: Where is everyone now? Can you give us an update?
Dawn Lerman: My dad is now 210 pounds and vegan. My actress sister is now a family therapist and my mom was recently in a play as the star character instead of being on the sidelines. And I am a  writer and a nutritionist working with kids.
L.L.: What question should I have asked, but forgot?
Dawn Lerman:
Q: What do you want people to remember about your story?
A: I hope my story helps families create happy memories around food.  I also hope that “food” is seen to be more than just the macronutrients, protein, fat, or carbs from which it is composed.  I have always had a passion for taking any family recipe and making it healthier—I hope readers can see that good food can taste good and you don’t need to give up your traditional favorites if you are willing to exchange a few ingredients (There is an index at the back of My Fat Dad that explains what you can use as a substitute for most of the basics that go into every recipe).
L.L.: Dawn, it’s been a pleasure! Thank you so much for inspiring us with your tale of food, family, and culture.
Dawn Lerman: Thank you, Leslie!
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About the Author: Dawn Lerman is a Manhattan based nutritionist, best selling author of My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes, and a contributor to the NewYork Times Well Blog . She has been featured on NBC, NPR, Huff Post TV as well as several other news outlets. Her company Magnificent Mommies provides nutrition education to student, teachers and corporation. You can find dawn@dawnlerman or Dawn Lerman.net 

[All images courtesy of D. Lerman]