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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

Please join me in welcoming to Carol Goodman.

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~Publisher’s Weekly, January 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Order Links:

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

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

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

Wednesdays with Writers: Fiona Davis on several of my favorite topics–psychiatry, journalism, architecture & design; oh and The Dakota, NYC, and her stunning new historical novel, THE ADDRESS and how she was once a very horse-crazy girl

By Leslie Lindsay 

Fiona Davis’s brilliant new book, THE ADDRESS, takes readers on a journey to historical NYC and into the famed Dakota Apartment building. 

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With 2016’s debut of THE DOLLHOUSE, Fiona Davis made one of the most stunning entrances as an author who knows her way around historical fiction. I was mesmerized and couldn’t wait to get my hands on THE ADDRESS. Rest assured, this is no sophomore slump; I adored it.

The Dakota. You may know it as the apartment building where ROSEMARY’S BABY was filmed, or perhaps where John Lennon died, or maybe you just think of it as a Bavarian monstrosity on the Upper West End where may playwrights, actors, writers, musicians live.

THE ADDRESS is constructed in dual-time periods, 1884 and 1985 respectively, which draws a natural suspense. The writing is evocative, historically rich, and mysterious.Beginning in London, we meet Sara Smythe, a housekeeper at the Langham and follow her on a journey across the Atlantic where she lands in the outskirts of a developing NYC. 250px-Dakota_Building

Sara is to be the new managerette of the soon-to-be opened The Dakota. She’s aghast at the primitive location–farmland and empty lots, unpaved streets. Still, she’s alone and unwilling to run home. I found Sara to be extremely likable, sympathetic, relatable, and quite strong. She’s not your typical kowtowing woman of the Victorian Era.

One hundred years later, in 1985 NYC, Bailey Camden is an interior designer charged with renovating The Dakota. But she’s not impressed with the design ideas which would trump the original design aesthetics of the historic building.

Oh but there’s more–and to say too much would be giving it all away–let’s just say there’s love and loss, success and ruin, mystery, poor decisions, passion and madness that drive the plotI absolutely loved the clear sense of place in THE ADDRESS, the vivid details and found it to be a very engaging piece of historical fiction.

Slide over on that silk settee and join me in conversation with Fiona Davis.

Leslie Lindsay: Fiona, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back to the blog couch. I was so taken with THE ADDRESS mainly because it combines several of my passions: architecture, interior design, and madness. I know THE ADDRESS was inspired, in part by your work on THE DOLLHOUSE, but what more can you tell us about the origins of this tale?

Fiona Davis: I am so glad you enjoyed it! I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for twenty-five years, and had walked by the Dakota hundreds of times, staring up at those enormous windows, wondering what it was like to live there. I realized that setting a book there would give me the perfect excuse to get inside (and was eventually able to do that, through roundabout connections to a couple of very generous tenants). As I dug deeper into its history, I knew it was the perfect choice for a dual-narrative historical fiction novel. The building had undergone many changes since it opened in 1884 on the edge of Central Park, back when the neighborhood was described by one newspaper as full of “rocks, swamps, goats, and shanties.” By the 1980s, a couple of tenants had torn down the period details from their apartments and replaced them with shag carpets and wall-to-ceiling mirrors. It was the perfect way to compare and contrast two “gilded ages,” as well as the way women’s roles and voices have changed over a century.

L.L.: So I have to know: which characters were ‘real’ and which were from your imagination? I am guessing Sara Smythe was a composite character…but what about Theodore Camden? Henry Hardenbergh? Oh, and Nellie Brown had to have been Nellie Bly?

Fiona Davis: Sara Smythe and Theodore Camden are fictional characters. I knew I wanted to have an architect in the 1880s time line, so that he and Sara Smythe could team up to get the building ready for opening day. Henry Hardenbergh was the actual architect for the Dakota (and the Plaza Hotel and a number of other fabulous buildings), so I didn’t mind having him make a cameo, but I didn’t want to try to fit his life into my story. That’s where Theo came in – he’s in charge of the interiors for the building and I could make him do my bidding without any constraints.

Nellie Bly, a journalist for the New York World during the 1880s, actually went by the name Nellie Brown when she went undercover to expose the injustices at Blackwell’s Island Asylum. She’s the real deal in the book.

L.L.: In my former career, I was a child/adolescent psych R.N. To say I am fascinated in psychiatry—especially historical psychiatry—is a bit of an understatement. I couldn’t get over the harsh conditions you depicted on Blackwell Island in the book. In fact, I’ve been searching for Nellie Bly’s TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE for years! (I want it in hardback; it’s a challenging find).  Can you tell us a little about how that piece of the story came to be? What research did you do?

Fiona Davis: I had heard about Nellie Bly when I was studying for a master’s degree in journalism at Columbia, and I naturally gravitated to her first-hand account of life in an 1880’s women’s insane asylum during my initial research. After reading TEN DAYS IN A MADHOUSE, I took the tram over to what’s now called Roosevelt Island to visit the remaining structure, the Octagon, which today serves as the lobby to a condo. In my book, I hope the harrowing backdrop of the asylum makes an interesting counterpoint to luxuriousness of the Dakota.

L.L.: As with THE ADDRESS and THE DOLLHOUSE, where there any iconic sites you ‘visited’ in your research (or in the book) that will appear in a forthcoming book?

Fiona Davis: In addition to checking out the Octagon on Roosevelt Island, I modeled the library for the ball scene after the one at the Morgan Library & Museum, and used the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street as inspiration for Daisy’s family’s
apartment. Strawberry Fields, just across the street from the Dakota, is an important location in the book as well. The next book will be set at Grand Central Terminal – one of New York City’s most famous iconic buildings – and I’m having a blast working on it.

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
“A delicious tale of love, lies and madness.”
— People

L.L.: What do you find most rewarding about writing historical fiction? What are 2960-Central_Park-Strawberry_Fieldssome of the challenges?

Fiona Davis: I love the research phase, when anything is possible and the ideas are bubbling away. The challenge comes when you have to narrow down the plot and characters and come up with a story that accurately represents the time periods but also keeps the reader guessing. Another reward is hearing from readers. I’ve been doing a lot of author talks in bookstores and libraries and the response has been incredibly warm and enthusiastic.

L.L.: Childhood plays a prominent role in THE ADDRESS. What item(s) from your own childhood do you still, even occasionally, pine for? (an article of clothing, toy, book, something else?)

Fiona Davis: Back when I was around eight years old, I took a book out of my local library about a girl who’s horse crazy, and finally gets to ride a horse for an entire summer before realizing that taking care of it is a lot of hard work. It was my favorite book – I was horse crazy but deeply moved by the character’s insights and transformation – and I must’ve checked out the book dozens of times to re-read. But I can’t for the life of me remember the name. If anyone has read that book and remembers the title, please reach out to me! It was something like “Ride ‘Em, Sally.” But not that. I know, ridiculous, right?

L.L.: Fiona, it’s been a pleasure.  What might have I forgotten to ask about?

Fiona Davis: Not a thing – I loved these questions – thank you so much!

For more information, to connect with Fiona Davis via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE ADDRESS, please see:

FionaDavis_Credit KristenJensen.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fiona Davis was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, she changed careers and began working as an editor and writer. Her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She’s a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and is based in New York City. You can find her at www.FionaDavis.net.

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

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[Author and cover image courtesy of Dutton and used with permission. Image of The Dakota retrieved from Wikipedia, historical images of Nellie Bly (a.k.a. Elizabeth Cochran Seaman) and Henry Hardenberg from Wikipedia, as is octagon images of Roosevelt/Blackwell’s Island and Strawberry Fields memorial. Fall book wreath from L. Lindsay’s archives.]