Tag Archives: motherhood

Wednesdays with Writers: Fiona Barton is back with her much anticipated second book, THE CHILD; what she learned this time around, the images that were haunting her, the fine balance of motherhood and career & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

“You can bury the story…but you can’t hide the truth…” so begins the hook for the second crime drama/suspense, THE CHILD (Berkley Hardcover, June 27 2017) by Fiona Barton.

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You may recall Fiona Barton’s 2016 summer debut, THE WIDOW at the top of the New York Times bestseller list… a global phenomenon.

She’s back this summer with a brand-new story, but featuring Kate Waters, the investigative journalist we ‘met’ in THE WIDOW. This time, she plays a more central role.

Set in London, THE CHILD encompasses the lives of three women and one baby.
But there’s a twist: the baby is missing or dead or…we don’t entirely know.

Workmen uncover the tiny skeleton of an infant while demolishing an old house in London. It’s been buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters it’s the perfect story. Who is this baby? Why wasn’t s/he given a proper burial? With journalism and newspapers quickly being replaced by more amateur-ish reporting (i.e. Internet/FB/Twitter), it’s a story she feels compelled to investigate.

As Kate digs into the past, she finds there are several grisly secrets rising to the surface.  THE CHILD is a bit more forensic-procedural-crime-driven read, but it has a very satisfying end.

Please join me in welcoming Fiona Barton back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Hello and welcome back, Fiona! THE CHILD begins with a pretty grisly discovery: an infant skeleton is uncovered in a former garden as workmen are demolishing a building. What did you discover about yourself as you were writing THE CHILD?

Fiona Barton:

  1. How to write a second book. Steep learning curve.
  2. Ability to waste hours of time when should be writing (working on this)
  3. Patience (essential when ideas are cooking)
  4. That, after 30 years of news journalism, invention is the most wonderfully liberating thing.

L.L.: The image of a buried newborn sort of haunted me as I read (I think this is what you intended—so bravo!), and clearly it haunts your character, Angela, whose infant daughter was abducted from the hospital just days old. What was haunting you enough that you wrote THE CHILD?download (26)

Fiona Barton: The same thing. For THE WIDOW, I had the voice of my main character Jean in my head, driving me on but it was an image for THE CHILD. I could see a baby, wrapped in newspaper, being buried secretly and I wrote this scene first because it was so vivid. I remember trying to read it to a friend and having to stop. I’d written it in the first person and it was completely overwhelming.

L.L.: You’re a former journalist and I can only imagine that experience colored the character of your character, Kate Waters. They say journalism is changing; there’s the 24-hour news cycle, more people who claim to be ‘experts,’ and writing about things maybe they shouldn’t…can you talk about ‘good news’ and ‘bad news,’ how we consume current events…

Fiona Barton: Although it is only two years since she broke the story of the abduction of Bella Elliott [in THE WIDOW], Kate’s world in THE CHILD has changed beyond recognition. News is now 24/7, online, visual, powered by social media, algorithms and the multiple news platforms available to the public.download (25)

I think it is fantastic that news and information can reach so many people instantly but the downside is that perhaps we have focused so hard on the technology for delivering news that we have lost sight of the quality of the content. The boast that everyone is a journalist because they are on social media has turned out to be a hollow one. They are not journalists. Journalism is gathering facts, checking the truth of statements, analyzing information and telling the story. The millions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al are sometimes reporting facts but more often, they are giving their opinion. Not the same. And I am convinced it  has opened the door to the horror that is Fake News.

I have addressed this head-on with Kate because it is an issue that affects many journalists of my vintage. In THE CHILD, she is paired up with a new, young online reporter and finds her ideas of accuracy and news values under threat.  Her complaint that news websites rely on “Hate a celebrity, dressed up as news” is a heartfelt one…

L.L.: What I found striking about THE CHILD was the common thread: motherhood. All the mothers in this story are very different. There’s Jude and Emma, Angela, and Kate. Can you talk about how they vary as mothers and who you identified with most (I think I can guess the answer)?

Fiona Barton: The emotions, responsibilities – and the pain – of motherhood are unique to each of us with children. Ask any woman and she will have her own story to tell.

For THE CHILD I chose three very contrasting mothers: Angela, who lost her daughter before she could form a relationship; Jude, who chose to send her daughter away and Kate, the working mother, juggling ambition and family.

Jude was the most difficult to write because her traumatic years with her adolescent daughter, Emma and her decision to throw her out, were so alien to me. But, with Angela, I’d interviewed two or three women who had to give up their babies at birth and I’ve never forgotten their accounts of the pain of those partings.

motherhoodRFD-custom1In confidence, I didn’t have to look too far to write about Kate’s guilt when a story threatens to take priority over her children. But you’ll have to ask my two if I got it right…

L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from THE CHILD?

Fiona Barton: The thrill of the ride! Anything else will come from them. We all read in such an individual way that we create our own version of a book. As the famous English writer, Dr. Johnson, said several hundred years ago: “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

L.L.: What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Fiona Barton: Wish I could say literary quotes or forensic facts…but it was train times!

 “Fiona Barton has outdone herself with THE CHILD. An engrossing, irresistible story about the coming to light of a long-buried secret and an absolutely fabulous read—I loved it!”

Shari Lapena, New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door

L.L.: What book would you take with you on holiday? 

Fiona Barton: Am collecting candidates and in my beach bag so far are THE ADVERSARY by Emmanuel Carrere, LAST STOP TOKYO by James Buckler and THE GO BETWEEN  by L.P. Hartley. Room for more…

L.L.: Fiona, as always, it was a pleasure. Was there anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Fiona Barton: I am writing my next book as we speak. And Kate is still there with her foot in the door.

For more information about THE CHILD, to connect with Fiona Barton via social media, or to purchase your own copy, please visit: 

download (27)ABOUT THE AUTHOR: My career has taken some surprising twists and turns over the years. I have been a journalist – senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at the Daily Telegraph, and chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where I won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards, gave up my job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and since 2008, have trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world.

But through it all, a story was cooking in my head.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, by visiting these sites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/NAL and used with permission. Motherhood image retrieved from the NYTimes, multimedia journalism image retrieved from College of Media and Publishing, 

Write on Wednesday: Sharon Guskin talks about her smashing novel THE FORGETTING TIME, reincarnation, how novels are like magnets, crawling around the dark with a flashlight, eliminating 80 pages, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

THE FORGETTING TIME is a jaw-dropping, intelligent novel about the power of love, reincarnation, and motherhood.

What if what you did mattered more because life happened again and again, the consequences unfolding against continents, decades, and race? What if you are a mother who will stop at nothing for her young son, the one who wants to go home, the only trouble is: he’s already there? Guskin_cover_final

Everything with Noah is hard. His mother, Janie will concur. He’s terrified of water, so getting him to bathe is a battle she chooses to ignore. He smells and says odd things to classmates at his preschool. What’s more, he has debilitating nightmares that often scares Janie, too. But no one knows how to help Noah. Until we meet Jerome Alexander, M.D. a man who has his share of worries, but is quite intrigued with the scientific aspects of reincarnation. In fact, he’s spent his life’s work on tracking down such cases, researching, and writing about it.

What Sharon Guskin has done for THE FORGETTING TIME will leave you breathless in an evocative, page-turning character-driven thriller with motherhood smack at the heart.

Today, I am honored to have Sharon with us today.

Leslie Lindsay: Sharon, I just finished THE FORGETTING TIME last night and I have to say…wow! I almost feel like I need a little time to digest. What inspired you to write this story?

Sharon Guskin: Thanks so much! I’ve always been interested in the question of what happens when we die — who isn’t, really? I wasn’t freaked out by death — I’m not sure why. When my kids were small, I started volunteering at a hospice; I thought it was something useful to do, and I was drawn to the work. Spending time with people who were facing imminent death, I started to “wake up” in a way. Part of it was realizing how precious life is, but I also had a sense of — there’s more. Isn’t there? I think there’s more. Why aren’t we talking more about that?

Around this time, a friend gave me this book, “Old Souls,” in which a Washington Post reporter follows Dr. Ian Stevenson around as he investigates his cases. Dr. Stevenson was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia who spent decades of his life researching very 150px-Ian_Stevensonyoung children who made numerous specific statements about having a previous lifetime, and he was able to match those statements with actual people who had died.  These cases are amazing, so compelling — there are almost 3,000 of them so far. One child said, for instance, that in a previous life she lived near the Kelaniya Temple (in a village far from where she lived at the time); that she was a man who sold Ambiga and Geta Pichcha incense, and she was hit by a truck riding her bicycle and died.  And they found someone in a village near that temple who fit all of those statements, and when they took the child to that village she was able to identify people and things there. So these cases blew my mind, and I started to wonder where my own children’s very different personalities, attractions and repulsions came from — how much were they really my children, after all? And this story started coming to me, of a skeptical single mom whose four year old son is longing for another mother, and the scientist who helps her.  And I started to write this book.

L.L.: There’s a lot going on in THE FORGETTING TIME, but it’s handled so well. There’s motherhood, reincarnation, missing children, redemption…and probably more! Was there one aspect of writing that you found more challenging? Easier?

Sharon Guskin: It’s funny to say, but the character of Janie, the Brooklyn mom, was the most difficult for me to get right. I’m a Brooklyn mom, so you’d think maybe she’d be easier to understand! Eventually I had to change her personality so that she was even less like me — I made her an architect, for instance, instead of an artist. Other characters, like Denise, just showed up, and seemed right away to me to be real people, and it was easy to write them.  There are also characters who have undergone deep loss in the book, and writing about that was a very emotional experience, so it was challenging in that way.

Reincarnation was an overwhelming topic — I kept reading and reading and still feeling as if I had so much more to learn. So eventually I had to let go of the research and just tell my story, and the story of these cases, the best way I could.

“Bold, captivating…Guskin amps up the suspense while raising provocative questions about the maternal bond and its limits…you’ll be mesmerized.”
People Magazine (Book of the Week)

L.L.: Was the character of Noah based on any particular child in your life? A composite of your own children, perhaps?

Sharon Guskin: Ha, guess I’m busted — yes, Noah’s sense of humor comes from my own children — they are funnier and sillier than I am and have a wonderful sense of wordplay. And they both love baseball. My younger son is also very exuberant and has blonde hair, so there’s that. I’ve stolen some lines from him.  Noah’s sadness, nightmares, and phobias are all his own, though.

L.L.: I’m curious what kind of research you embarked upon to complete THE FORGETTING TIME? Obviously, you have some wonderful excerpts and quotes from Dr. Jim Tucker and his book, LIFE BEFORE LIFE: Children’s Memories of Previous Lives, but was there more? Can you speak to that, please?

Sharon Guskin: Oh, I read so many things — The most useful were some of Dr. Ian Stevenson’s books,  Children who Remember Previous Lifetimes, Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, and Reincarnation and Biology….both of Dr. Tucker’s books, Life before Life and Return to Life, Children’s Past Lives by Carol Bowman, Old Souls by Tom Schroder, Soul Survivor by the Bruce and Andrea LeiningerDeath and Personal Survival: The Evidence for Life after Death was a fascinating book by Philosophy Professor Robert Almeder.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you plot and plan, or do you let the pen do the work? Do you have any writing routines or rituals?

Sharon Guskin: My first writing teacher, Peter Matthiessen used to talk about a “magnet” that pulls one through a book, and that’s what I focus on when I write: a sense of what the end of the book might feel like, and in a general way who the characters are, what their struggles might be, where I want them to end up, emotionally, thematically. But it’s vague, more intuitive and musical than concrete. I can’t plot too specifically, or it all dies on the page.  So most of the time I’m crawling through the darkness with a tiny flashlight, trying to figure out where I am and where I’m going.

I drink lots of coffee — does that count as a ritual? And I go to a writer’s room, or a cafe, to get out of my house. I sometimes use an app called Freedom in order to shut down the Internet when I write, because I find myself drawn to that quicksand on a regular basis. And I go to colonies whenever possible, so I can be among a community of writers and dream about my characters, and start writing in the morning immediately without having to get up and get the kids off to school.

L.L.: Can you talk a bit about your revision process?

Sharon Guskin: THE FORGETTING TIME is not the same book it was a few years ago. It has been substantially revised and improved. I rewrote it a couple of times before I sold it, and then three times afterwards, for my editor. I added a number of pages and then ended up taking out almost 80 pages in the last go-round, which was a bit painful; in fact, when my editor asked me to remove the pages, I felt resistant initially and gave the book to a number of friends to read.  A month later, I checked in with them and they all said lovely things about the book, but none of them had finished it. Where’d you stop reading? I asked — and all of them had stopped right before my eighty page flashback. So I realized I had a speed bump.  I loved those pages, but most of them had to go — I moved some of the material later in the book and took out the rest, and since then people don’t seem to have a problem finishing this book.

“For fans of Cloud Atlas and The Lovely Bones, this psychological mystery will have you hooked until the case is closed…Or is it?”
Cosmopolitan 

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?

Sharon Guskin: I’m obsessed with imagining and writing about exalted spiritual inner states; for instance, what might enlightenment feel like? I can’t know, at present, but it’s fun to try to imagine. I’m reading Peter Matthiessen’s NINE HEADED DRAGON RIVER, his journals about his Buddhist practice, and an interesting book called “An Experience of Enlightenment” about a young woman without a religious context who started to ask herself, “What is ultimate reality?”

I’m also beginning the next book, which has a character just out from prison and another who is an undocumented immigrant, so I’m diving into those worlds.

L.L.: What books—fiction and non-fiction—would recommend for someone interested in learning more about reincarnation?

Sharon Guskin: Nonfiction:“Life Before Life” and “Return to Life,” two books by Dr. Jim Tucker, give a very clear and engaging presentation of this work and of his methodology.

51nfXLXuklL._AA160_(“Return to Life” is focused on American cases.)

“Old Souls” by Tom Shroder (a former Washington Post reporter) provides a wonderful portrait of Dr. Stevenson and his work.41VQt4oJDHL._AA160_

Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation” and “Children Who Remember Previous Lives,” are slightly more academic books by Dr. Ian Stevenson about this phenomenon.

Children’s Past Lives” by Carol Bowman gives a different, more therapeutically- oriented approach to this topic; she does past-life regression therapy as well. “Soul Survivor” by Bruce and Andrea Leininger tells the gripping story of their young son, who remembered a life as a World War II fighter pilot.

Fiction: Often reincarnation books fall into a fantasy genre, or the theme is used more as a metaphor or a stylistic device. (Mine is neither, really.) That said, “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell is beautifully done; “A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki is not about reincarnation but its themes are both Buddhist and Quantum Physics related, and I found the book really captivating intellectually and emotionally. “The Incarnations” by Susan 61sEWVN+uPL._AA160_Barker just came out recently, and I haven’t read it yet, but it seems wonderful.

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

Sharon Guskin: On book tour, people ask me, what do you believe now?

When I started the novel, I was merely curious about these cases; I wanted to know more, and I thought people might be interested in them.

But after spending so long studying them, and getting to know the very conscientious and rational Dr. Tucker, I started to think:  Maybe these cases are real, and it’s true. What if it’s true?

What if we were born before, and will be born again? What does that mean for how we live our lives?

I’m not in the business of giving answers; novelists ask questions above all. Everyone has to ask their own questions and find their own path. And you don’t need to believe in reincarnation to enjoy this book — it’s just a story, after all!  But I think it’s an interesting question for all of us to ponder.

L.L.: Sharon, thank you so much for being with us today. It was such a pleasure!

Sharon Guskin:  Thanks so much! Thrilled to be here.

For more information, or to follow Sharon on Social Media, please see:

Twitter: @SGuskin


Author bio:SHARON GUSKIN
is the author of the debut novel, THE FORGETTING TIME. In addition to writing fiction, she has worked as a writer and producer of award-winning documentary films, including STOLEN and ON MEDITATION. She began exploring the ideas examined in THE FORGETTING TIME when she worked at a refugee camp in Thailand as a young woman and, later, served as a hospice volunteer soon after the birth of her first child. She’s been a fellow at Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Blue Mountain Center, and Ragdale, and has degrees from Yale University and the Columbia University School of the Arts. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons. 

[Special thanks to Flatiron books. Author and cover image courtesy of S. Guskin. Author photo credit: David Jacobs.Images of books about reincarnation retrieved from Amazon on 4.3.16. Dr. Ian Stevenson image retrieved from Wikipedia on 4.3.16]

 

Write On, Wednesday: Helen Klein Ross on her astonishing debut, WHAT WAS MINE, motherhood, poetry, China, & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Absolutely mesmerizing, astonishing, and emotionally riveting. I couldn’t put WHAT WAS MINE down. Cover Image - WHAT WAS MINE

It’s one of those horrific ‘daydreams’ all parents have, they turn their back for just one second and—poof—their precious child (or baby) is missing. In that sense, it’s a harrowing story and so I struggle saying WHAT WAS MINE was an ‘amazing’ book about infant abduction? But it is.

The chapters are short, filled with complex emotion and gentle prose. It’s women’s fiction meets psych suspense meets thriller…and one of my favorite styles of books, hands down.

Join me and author Helen Klein Ross as we chat about her debut fiction.

Leslie Lindsay: Helen, it’s such a joy having you here. Thank you! I have to admit that I picked up WHAT WAS MINE because I am working on a similar theme in one of my works-in-progress. That was my reading motivation, but what was your writing inspiration, what was haunting you enough to bring you to the page?

 Helen Klein Ross: Thanks for inviting me, Leslie. And thanks for reading and recommending the book. As you know from your research, there are plenty of real life stories about kidnappings. As I was writing this book, I sometimes got links from people who assumed I was writing a “true tale.”  But the novel came out of my own deep-seated fear of having my own babies kidnapped. I raised two girls in New York City and being with them on a crowded bus or busy sidewalk, I’d think how easy it would be for someone to make off with them. I was always kidnapping my kids in my mind, neurotically anticipating how it might be done and by doing so, hoping to prevent it. It worked, ha! My daughters are safely in their late twenties now. Clearly, I was writing this novel decades before I sat down at the keyboard.

L.L.: I understand the impetus to WHAT WAS MINE began as a short-story. What was it like in short-story form and what changes did you have to make to turn it into a full-blown  novel? 

Helen Klein Ross: What Was Mine started out as a story I sent to Atlantic Monthly in 2005. Michael Curtis, who was then fiction editor, responded with a note I still have (this was when mail required actual stamps) saying that the piece seemed to him “a gravely compressed novel rather than a short story.” I wasn’t happy when I got his letter, of course, but I’m grateful to him now. It got me thinking: how could I expand the story into a novel? In my story, the protagonist doesn’t keep the baby for more than a few hours. She takes her to a park, then leaves her in a picnic area crowded with mothers and children, where she knows the baby will be immediately found. But, what if she kept her? How would that work? How could a normal person get away with something like that? And, how was it the baby was alone in the cart in the first place? And what about the birth parents? How would they go on after such trauma? More and more questions produced more and more pages and soon I had a huge, rambling world too big to be contained in a story. The one thing I kept from the story was its title “Baby Drive,” the title of the fictional book that plays a role in the plot.

L.L.: The idea of a female abductress—is that even a word?—is a bit unusual. We’re usually talking about men who abduct children and hold them hostage I their basements. But this story is anything but. Lucy Wakefield is an educated, successful woman working for an NYC ad agency. Her daughter isn’t starved of food and water in a cellar, but sent to private school. What, in your opinion is the difference between your character and the seedy folks we hear about in the media?

Helen Klein Ross: Ha, I resist abductress for the same reason I dislike poetess. Lucy is an abductor. She never thinks of herself as one, though, despite the fact that she took someone else’s child. Her motivations aren’t ones that cause men to take children. That she is, like them, a criminal doesn’t even occur to her until she sees a television reporter announce a search for the kidnapper. She thinks of herself as having “taken” a baby, not “kidnapped” one, which is, in part, how she lives with herself after committing such a monstrous act. To me, it’s an example of how we humans rationalize things: using language to detoxify horrendous situations. It’s something I learned about, working in advertising. In a pitch meeting for a company that made weapons, among other things, I first heard the term: collateral damage. I was appalled to find out what that actually meant.

 L.L.: You have this wonderful foray to China in your story. A Chinese nanny helps care for little Mia and then later, we pack our virtual bags and head overseas with your characters. Do you have any connection to China yourself?

Helen Klein Ross: My husband and I were lucky enough to visit China in 1982, just after it opened to individual tourists. We spent six weeks traveling around, despite not being able to speak a word of Chinese, and were amazed by the place: its natural wonders, its ancient architecture, the kindness of strangers who welcomed us. Many things in China were different then than they are now. In 1982, China was a poor country, just coming out of the Cultural Revolution. We–and the things that we carried: our backpacks, our clothes, our shoes, even our brand of soap and toothpaste–were objects of fascination. Crowds gathered around us wherever we went; some had never seen blue eyes before. China had been closed to the West for many years. People were eager to know how we lived. We’ve had the fortune to return to China many times since then and I marvel how, in a mere thirty years, the country has catapulted so far ahead. I used to feel, travelling to China, like I was stepping back in time. Now, each time I go, I feel as if I am stepping into the future. Cell service on subways! Wifi booths!  Clean and free public loos everywhere. Why can’t we figure out how to have these things? Now, visiting China, I sometimes feel like an emigrant from the Olde World, constantly astonished by new sights. And yet, much of Old China still remains. Ancient temples abut glassy skycrapers. The juxtaposition is often breathtaking. 

L.L.: WHAT WAS MINE is told by alternating POVs (12 to be exact), and while that sounds like a lot, it is so well done. How did you make this structural decision? Do you every have characters ‘talk’ to you, demanding to be put into the story?

 Helen Klein Ross: Fifteen, actually, but who’s counting, ha. It took me a long time to figure out structure. This story couldn’t be told by one character because no one character could know the whole story. I first tried a collage approach, assembling emails and newspaper reports, trying my hand at an epistolary approach. But, fun as that was to do, the narrative felt flat. I decided to simply start telling the story from the points of view of those affected by it. I saw that multiple first persons made the pages read urgently, as if people were pulling you aside at a party and saying, Look there’s something I’ve got to tell you!

“Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous, and always riveting, What Was Mine masterfully makes you question where your sympathy should lie at every turn.   I couldn’t put down this fast-paced, fascinating psychological study of motherhood.”  —Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End

L.L.: Ultimately, this is a story about motherhood. What do you hope readers take away from it?

Helen Klein Ross: I’m interested in all the ways there are to be a mother these days. I hope I have written something that conveys what my own motherhood has taught me: there’s no one right way to be a mother. A good mother is one who acts out of love for her child.  Of course, the part of the sentence most salient to this book is the modifier: “her child.”

I also hope the book helps energize discussions about what it means to be a mother, and also employed. One of my first readers was a father who said it opened his eyes to how many decisions mothers in the workforce have to make, decisions he himself never had to consider.

L.L.: I’m so curious about your previous career in advertising. You’ve also written a book about it. Can you speak to that, please?

Helen Klein Ross: Yes, I worked as a creative director at several ad agencies in New York, and that experience really helped in writing a book from multiple points of view. To channel many voices, I felt trained by the years I spent as a copywriter learning how to write convincingly in the voices of multiple brands. My years of exposure to focus groups for products as diverse and dogfood and fashion and pharmaceuticals really helped teach me how to speak in the voice of various characters.

The protagonist in What Was Mine works in an ad agency and the book provides glimpses of making_it1what that is like, but my first novel, Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue totally immerses the reader in the wild, wacky, wonderful world of advertising, thirty years after Mad Men. That novel is full of stories about what it was like to work in Adland at the end of the 90s, before the business went digital: crazy shoots, unlimited budgets, glam award shows. I think the business was more fun in those days. Survivors still in it seem to agree.

L.L.:  As a writer, I love to read. Good reading will often get my fingers itching for their next session at the keyboard. What inspires you?

Helen Klein Ross: Like you, Leslie, reading good books makes me itchy to write. I just finished Bettyville by George Hodgeman, a sad, funny, beautiful (true) story about a man going home to care for his mother at the end of her life. It makes me want to write memoir. I also audio-read Janice YK Lee’s Expatriates, a riveting story that coincidentally revolves around a kidnapping. Last night, I sadly came to the end of Anne Enright’s The Green Road, a gorgeous, ranging portrait of a big Irish family and that is leading me to reread Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster– dysfunction in families can be a great topic to explore and they do it masterfully.

L.L.: What can we expect next from you?

Helen Klein Ross: I’m very excited about a book I have coming out in September, an anthology of poems with telegrams as titles. It was inspired by a tweet I saw a couple of years ago, linking to a compendium published in 1853 called The Traveler’s Vade Mecum. It was written by a man who wanted to save people time and expense in sending telegrams. He compiled a book of 8466 sentences, anything anyone might want to say in a telegram, and numbered them, so all you’d have to send is a number. The sentences are a wonderful insight into 19th century life, such as Do you know of a person going west soon, who would take a lady under his protection? or I am aboard a steamer ship bound for Paris. I approached poets and asked them to write a poem with a title consisting of a sentence I’d chosen for them. The resulting book of the same name (The Traveler’s Vade Mecum) will be published by Red Hen Press in the Fall.

I’m also at work on my next novel, of course. Like What Was Mine, it will involve a crime committed by someone who doesn’t consider herself a criminal. And–perhaps inspired by Enright and Toibin–it’s a story that will span several generations of a family.

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

Helen Klein Ross: A lot of people ask me which mother I side with. I don’t have a preconception of how readers should react to the characters. My intention was to create a story that is morally ambiguous and in which the reader might justifiably side with any of the characters. This isn’t a morality tale. I didn’t want to make Lucy out to be purely evil, even though she commits a monstrous deed. Some readers have compared this book to Gone Girl but I see it more as that book in reverse–in Gillian Flynn’s story, a normal woman turns out to be crazy. In What Was Mine, someone we assume is crazy because of what she did, turns out to be normal, or as close to normal, as any of us come.

L.L.: Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. It was just lovely!

Helen Klein Ross: Thanks so much for great questions and the opportunity to share thoughts with your your readers, Leslie. I know you’re working on a novel that also involves
kidnapping. I look forward to reading it!Helen Klein Ross author pic (standing) credit to John Gruen

For more information, or to follow on social media, please see:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Helen Klein Ross is a poet and novelist whose work has appeared in The New YorkerThe Los Angeles TimesThe New York Times, and in The Iowa Review where it won the 2014 Iowa Review award in poetry. She graduated from Cornell University and received an MFA from The New School. Helen lives with her husband in New York City and Salisbury, CT.  To read more, visit http://www.helenkleinross.com.

[Special thanks to M. Harris at Simon & Shuster/Gallery Books. Cover and author images used with permission. Cover of Making It: A Novel of Madison Avenue retrieved from author’s website 3.23.16] 

Write On, Wednesday: T. Greenwood talks about her fabulously compelling WHERE I LOST HER, her tenth novel but first foray into psych suspense, settings, the draw of adoption, & more

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By Leslie Lindsay whereilosther

Oh my gosh! WOW. Absolutely spellbinding. I loved every. single. minute of WHERE I LOST HER. Acclaimed author T. Greenwood tackles psychological suspense against the compelling backdrop of motherhood, madness, and infidelity.

You might think it’s a lot to bite off, but I assure you, T. Greenwood is a confident and eloquent storyteller, her prose laced with lyrical nuances, tenderness, and trepidation.

WHERE I LOST HER tows the line between yearning and imbalance, nurturing and obsession, and motherhood and infertility as one woman searches for the truth about a mysterious child.  Will Tess Waters find a lost child, or will she lose her already fragile mind?

Told completely in Tess’s first person POV with flashbacks addressed to her husband, this tandem narrative WHERE I LOST HER is an interior story with psychological thriller undertones written in a poetic, lyrical, and thoughtful manner that alternates with stripped-down narrative, a perfect combination for such an original piece.

Today, I am so honored to have T. Greenwood join us on the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Tammy! I am thrilled to have you join us today. I am always so intrigued to learn how a story comes to life for a writer. Was there a moment or event that struck you, indicating: “I have to write this?” What was your inspiration for WHERE I LOST HER?

T. Greenwood: I grew up in Vermont, and I still follow the news there regularly. A couple of years ago, I read an incredible article about someone who found a little girl at the side of the road, but before she could help her, the girl disappeared into the woods. I was so disturbed by that story I couldn’t let it go. Most books start this way for me – with a question that I want answered. I needed to write this book to find out who the girl was and who the woman was who found her. Of course, it is all fiction, but this was the initial spark.

L.L.: Adoption has long been an interest of mine, without any real impetus; I am not adopted, nor am I acquainted with anyone who is. I’m amazed at your ability to bring the experience to life in WHERE I LOST HER. Can you share what kind of research went into your narrative

T. Greenwood: My sister is adopted. She was born in Korea, and came to us when she was six months old. I was seven at the time, and I have very vivid memories of the adoption process. It’s something I haven’t really ever written about before. I also have friends who adopted their son from Guatemala, but prior to his adoption they had a Guatemalan adoption that fell through. It was a crushing experience for them, and they were kind enough and generous enough to share this experience with me. I knew when I began writing about Tess’s obsession with the lost child that there was a reason why it mattered so much to her to find her. As I dug into her past, I discovered that this was what was haunting her. The novel is very much about motherhood, about the longing for a child by whatever means.

L.L.: And the setting! I’ve never been to Vermont, but I could easily transport myself to the camp where Effie and Devin live, smell the musky ferns growing in that vertiginous forest, and the swimming hole where Plum was certain there were fairies. And of course, the place where the girl was missing. I understand the Vermont woods holds a special place in your heart—in fact, this isn’t the first story you’ve set in Gormlaith. Can you share more about that?

T. Greenwood: I have written ten novels, and eight of them are set in or around the fictional Lake Gormlaith. This lake is based on a real body of water in northeastern Vermont Breathing Waterwhere I grew up. My family still spends a month or two there every summer. Tess actually appears in my first novel, Breathing Water, which is Effie and Devin’s story. It was thrilling to revisit them again after all of these years. This fictional place has become my go-to setting. The characters and setting have developed a life of their own.

L.L.:   There are a lot of things going on in this story—but that’s not exactly a bad thing! I loved the multilayer approach, the complex characters, and thematic elements. What about writing WHERE I LOST HER surprised even you?

T. Greenwood: Everything! I have never written a suspense novel before, and so the entire process was new to me. I never outline my novels, though I have a general sense of the plot, but I found myself writing furiously to find out what happens next. I hope this sense of urgency and surprise is there for the reader as well.

L.L.: There are so many ways this story could have ended. I am sure you toyed with them all! Did you have a clear sense of where you were going when you set out to write, or did the truth sort of evolve as you approached the end? 

T. Greenwood: It became clear to me about halfway through the novel that there was only one satisfying way that the story could end. This is typically how my process works. At about the mid-point, the plot and characters convene, and the remainder of the book is then organic and inevitable.

L.L.: And a word on structure: while WHERE I LOST HER is told completely in Tess’s voice, we get a glimpse into her past. In what form did you see those brief interludes? An open letter?  A journal entry? A dream? Something else? 

T. Greenwood: This book is, in many ways, about a failing marriage. And in most instances when a marriage is failing, there is no longer any communication between the people involved. I wanted to give Tess an opportunity to communicate to Jake exactly how she felt: about him, about their marriage, about the child they lost. It’s a love letter, I think, a sort of elegy to their relationship.

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

T. Greenwood: I am revising a novel called The Golden Hour, another suspense novel about a woman who finds out that a man who has been in prison for twenty years because of a crime committed against her may be released based on new DNA evidence. It’s a disaster right now, but I am hoping it all comes together. Soon.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why? Making_A_Murderer_Title

T. Greenwood: In terms of writing, I am primarily consumed by this project, but I have another one on hold. But generally speaking, I have been totally obsessed with “Making a Murderer,” the documentary series on Netflix. It plays into the book I am revising, but I am totally riveted by true crime documentaries. I have really, really enjoyed writing in this genre

L.L.: Is there anything I should have asked but forgot?

T. Greenwood: I don’t think so! 

L.L.: Tammy, thank you so very much for popping by today. I just adored the book and can’t wait to read more from you!

T. Greenwood: Thanks so much for chatting.

  • For more information, be sure to pop over to T. Greenwood’s website, see her photography, learn of events, order books, and more.
  • LIKE T. Greenwood’s Facebook Author Page
  • Follow T. Greenwood on Twitter and Instagram

authorphoto2014 - Version 2Bio: T. Greenwood is the author of ten novels. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. TWO RIVERS was named 2009 Best General Fiction Book at the San Diego Book Awards, and GRACE received the same award for 2012. Five of her novels have been BookSense76/IndieBound picks; THIS GLITTERING WORLD was a January 2011 selection, and GRACE was a selection in April 2012. Her eighth novel, BODIES OF WATER, was a 2014 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist. WHERE I LOST HER will be released on February 23, 2016.

She teaches creative writing for San Diego Writer’s Ink, Grossmont College, and online for The Writer’s Center. She and her husband, Patrick, live in San Diego, CA with their two daughters. She is also an aspiring photographer.

[Special thanks to T. Greenwood. Cover images courtesy of author. Netflix series image “Making of a Murderer” retrieved from Wikipedia on 1.14.16]

Write On, Wednesday: Melissa Cistaro on her lovely and devastatingly beautiful memoir, PIECES OF MY MOTHER, writing the story within, & finding forgiveness

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By Leslie Lindsay 

My own mother essentially abandoned my sister and I, not because she deliberately drove off, never to return, but through the devastating effects of mental illness. She left us for good this summer when she died by suicide. 9781492615385-300

A wife and mother now, I grapple with similar worries and concerns of this illusive mother figure, a similarity in Melissa Cistaro’s PIECES OF MY MOTHER, a hauntingly beautiful and devastatingly real account of her mother’s abandonment when she was just four years old.

We read sometimes to find meaning and understanding in a world that doesn’t align. If you’re looking for hope, forgiveness, and understanding, this is a must-read. But it’s not all roses; Cistaro delves into the depths of despair when she talks about family finances growing up, drugs, alcohol, and her own struggles as a wife and mother: what prevents any of us from just getting in a car and driving away?

Today, I am thrilled to have Melissa on the blog couch.

L.L.: Melissa, thank you for taking the time to pop by. First of all, I have to say how much I really loved PIECES OF MY MOTHER. Its dark, its devastatingly real, and yet so well done. Can you tell us a little more what sparked your muse when it came to actually sitting down and getting the story written?

Melissa Cistaro:

Thanks Leslie. I don’t think I ever could have written this book had I not become a mother. This may sound odd, but in some ways motherhood has been my muse. When I became a mother, my past came into focus in a way I had never seen it before. I started asking a lot of questions about what it meant to be a mother. It was painful to think that my own mother had been capable of leaving her three young children. I felt this need to understand the complexity of where I had come from. Here I was with a new baby – so completely in love and so completely caught off guard by the everyday challenges of caring for this tiny person. I started writing pieces of my story while my youngest napped. Once my son and daughter were old enough to be in school, I spent every free moment I could writing. I had to use my time efficiently. I never imagined that it would take me twelve years of working this way.

L.L.: I love the structure of the story. You weave in and out of now and then, showing us exactly where you are in the present, but how you arrived there. Structure can be a tricky thing for a writer. How did you arrive at this decision?

Melissa Cistaro:

The structure came very late in the twelve year process and for years I struggled with how to put the story together. I wrote a lot of the childhood scenes and the stories of visiting my mom first. It was about two years after my mom died when the structure finally came into focus. I knew I had to write about the last six days I had spent with my mom before she died. These were the most painful and devastating days for me. Emotionally there was so much at stake and I was desperate for some kind of closure or answers during that final trip to see her. And when I realized that I had to go back and write about those last six days, I had a strong intuitive feeling that this was the structure I had been waiting for.

 L.L.: For those of us who have struggled as a motherless daughter, what words of wisdom can you impart? How might she learn from this experience to be a better woman, wife, mother?

Melissa Cistaro:

I was fortunate to be in a long-time writing group with Hope Edelman who wrote Motherless Daughters. Hope inspired me in many ways and when my mom died, I remember coming home to find a beautiful basket of white flowers on my doorstep from Hope. There is a sentence that always resurfaces in me, “Daughters never stop longing for their mothers.” I think this is true, whether our mothers are with us or not with us. I continue to miss my mom and have worn her silver bracelet on my wrist for the past seven years. We wonder and worry because we feel the threads of this bond no matter if it is strong or broken. As a mother to a teenage daughter now, I do my best – and still question every single day whether my best is ever enough.

L.L.: Like you, I have an unsubstantiated fear that I will one day go crazy as did my mother. You share in PIECES OF MY MOTHER that you fear you have a leaving gene, can you speak to that, please?

Melissa Cistaro:

I wanted to understand how my mother had come to walk away from her three young children. Because I had never understood her story fully, I worried about what kind of mother I would be. What if she had passed on a “leaving gene” to me? What if that leaving gene was laying dormant inside of me? Was I capable of snapping and walking out the door someday? It was unimaginable to me but still I questioned myself. I turned this phrase over and over. This is when I began writing the story that became Pieces of My Mother.

L.L.: Im not sure that the book really covers this, but did you ever glean any real answers as to why you mom left? Do you have any speculations?

Melissa Cistaro:  I was desperate for some clear and definite answers before my mom died. I was searching for that “Ah-ha” moment of finally understanding what caused my mom to leave. But what I found is that her story was so complicated and layered that there was no single or “ah-ha” to be found. There was no name for my mom’s struggles as a mother and that is part of what I was trying to explore in the book. Often, we want a title or quick diagnosis for something that troubles us. The last thing I ever expected to find on my final visit was her folder titled “Letters Never Sent.” These letters are really one of the greatest gifts she left behind. In her letters, I meet her as the beautiful free-spirited woman she was as opposed to the mother figure she might have been. I discover my mom’s best and worst self wrapped up in this bundle of letters she left behind.

L.L.: I am assuming your parents officially divorced as in the end, your mother is married to another man. How did that transpire?

Melissa Cistaro:

My father never remarried. My mom married another man for about a week in the late sixties. In her forties, my mom went back to school and got sober for seven years. It was during this time that she met the man she married.

L.L.: Like many readers, I felt a bitter tang of resentment toward your mother. Yikes! I hate to even admit that. Yet, somehow you were able to soften and appear at her bedside as she lie dying. I think that must have taken a tremendous amount of courage. Can you speak to that?

Melissa Cistaro:

It was important for me to understand my mom during her final days rather than judge her for the choices she had made. She was weak and sick and I didn’t want her to die. I felt extremely vulnerable and was afraid of having some sort of breakdown after she died. I didn’t know how her leaving again would impact me.  I wanted her approval right up until the end. And I was also a coward during those days. I wished I could have been more direct with her and asked her more questions, but I simply wasn’t capable. We never know what will surface when we are faced with death so close. I knew that I didn’t want to just tell the story about the poor choices my mom made by leaving her children, but I wanted to get to a place of forgiveness and try to understand her. Occasionally, a reader will comment on the anger – or lack of my anger in the story. My anger usually surfaced as fear. My brother Eden was able to let out his anger with my mom before she died. He says he spent 20 – 30 minutes screaming at her for all the ways she had wronged him. I think this helped him. But this would not have worked for me. I had a much more quiet and introspective way of communicating with my mom. I believe that when we find true forgiveness, the anger recedes and we find compassion.2015-05-31 21.50.52_resized_1

L.L.: What advice might you give to someone who would like to write about something painful? Im thinking of the emotional implications, the way the truth is always different depending on different perspectives, and what one might hope to gain by sharing their story?

Melissa Cistaro:

We cannot betray our truths. If there is a story boiling inside of you – find a way to tell it. Maybe it comes out in a piece of music, a painting or a memoir or a fictional story. But why should we die with the stories we long to share still inside of us?

Our memories will not be the same as our siblings and parents and lovers. Their stories are their own. Emotionally, this was a very difficult story for my father to read. He was not aware of the emotions I held inside as a child – and yet my dad and brothers have been incredibly supportive of the book. Writing this memoir has been a long and painful journey – but I am glad I stayed with it. I am especially grateful now as I hear from readers who express how much the book has inspired them to tell their own stories.

L.L.: Oh goshI could go on and on, but what questions have I not asked but should have?

Melissa Cistaro: I always like to mention that I work in a wonderful independent bookstore (Book Passage) which is really a dream job for me. I’ve had the opportunity to introduce many of my favorite authors and I get to read a lot of wonderful books. Working in a bookstore keeps me both humble and inspired. It is a gift to witness this passion for storytelling and the lasting power of books in our lives.

 L.L.: Thank you so much for being with us today, Melissa. I so enjoyed your story.

Melissa Cistaro: Oh my goodness Leslie, thank you for the wonderful ways that you are supporting authors and their books. It is a privilege to share my story here with you!

headshot1 for launchBio: Melissa Cistaro is a bookseller and the events coordinator at Book Passage, the legendary San Francisco Bay Area independent bookstore, where she has hosted more than 200 authors. A writer and mother of two, she has been interviewed on a number of radio shows and has been published in numerous literary journals including the New Ohio Review, Anderbo.com, and Brevity as well as in two anthologies alongside Anne Lamott, Jane Smiley, and other writers. Melissa graduated with honors from UCLA and continued her education with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. She has participated in the Tin House Writer’s Workshop in Portland and The Writer’s Studio in Los Angeles. She lives in San Francisco.

For more information, or to connect with the author, please see: 

Twitter: @melissacistaro

Facebook: /melissa.cistaro

[Cover and author image courtesy of Sourcebooks/L. Williams. Family photo of Melissa, her brothers and father from the author’s personal archives and used with permission. Book trailer is available on the author’s website, http://www.melissacistaro.com] 

 

Write On, Wednesday: Cynthia Swanson on Identity, Grief, Motherhood, and so much more from THE BOOKSELLER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

It’s at once delightful, yet haunting; a unique examination of love, loss, and identity. When I came across THE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson, I was immediately drawn. It might have something to do with that cover—a book Cynthia Swanson The Bookseller Jacketwith a book—well, it’s like a Russian doll of books. Of course, there’s the piece about the blurring of dreams with reality coupled with a historical touch thrusting us back to the early 1960s of Denver, Colorado. Are you smitten yet? I’m pleased to have Cynthia with us today.

L.L.: I’m always so interested in learning about the moment an author ‘knows’ she (or he) has a story. What was your inspiration for THE BOOKSELLER?

Cynthia Swanson: I was at the gym at 10 AM on a Tuesday, with one kid in the gym’s childcare area and two at school. All of the sudden, just for a moment, I wondered what I was doing in my own life. I wondered what happened to the life I’d had not long before – single, living alone with my cat and dog, writing whenever I felt like it, living completely on my own terms. As anyone with a family can tell you, that goes right out the window when kids enter the picture. It got me thinking about a character who was caught between two lives – one who begins to doubt her own reasoning skills in knowing which life is which.

L.L.: I just love how this story is so universal in the sense of that ‘what if,’ question we all ask ourselves, especially mothers. Coupled with that inevitable mommy guilt, grief…well, it was very moving.  Are those the themes you set out to explore?

Cynthia Swanson: Definitely. The book is by no means autobiographical, but I think those themes are shared by many women. We want it all – careers and families – and that’s not easy for anybody, but particularly for women, because we have such high expectations of ourselves. I think it’s interesting that women still struggle with this in 2015, the same as a character might have back in 1963. I think it’s getting better – our ideas of “work” are more creative than they were back then, in terms of job sharing, working from home, and so on – but it’s still a challenge.

L.L.: I had read somewhere that you worked on THE BOOKSELLER in15-minute increments. I’m nodding and smiling because I get it. Those staccato bursts of creativity can be so rejuvenating and fuel the creative process all day. What tips might you give a busy at-home parent who feels overwhelmed with the possibility of writing a novel?

Cynthia Swanson: You just have to get started and keep going. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s really true. It’s like exercise: any exercise is better than no exercise. Some days all you can manage is a walk around the block. Other days, you get an hour to yourself to go running or biking. Both days are valuable in terms of your physical and mental health. In the same way, shorter creative periods are just as important for your creative health as longer sessions. My other piece of advice would be, when writing a first draft, resist editing as you go. Just get the basic story down, knowing it has issues and big gaping holes. The sense of accomplishment that comes with a finished first draft is what drives me to keep going with subsequent drafts.

L.L.: How about that time period in THE BOOKSELLER? I just loved the combination of the colors (gold and turquoise), the way my imagination filled in shag carpeting, dark paneling, and clean lines of furniture ala Frank Lloyd Wright (though he was a little earlier). How did you decide to set the novel in the early 1960s?
Torquise and gold 2

Cynthia Swanson: When I first started writing THE BOOKSELLER, it was set in the present day. But I quickly realized that it needed a historical setting. Events needed to unfold slowly, in a way that could only happen before our technology-driven society came into being. The 1960s – particularly the early 1960s, before JFK was assassinated – made the perfect setting. That time period had just the right combination of optimism, growth, change – and a sense of nostalgia – to make the story engaging and believable.

L.L.: Full-disclosure—like you, I dreamed of being an architect. But I also liked to write. And complex math made me want to run for the hills. In your opinion, how does fiction and design dovetail? Or, does it?

Cynthia Swanson: I come from a wannabe design background; it’s a hobby and a passion, but not a vocation. I was an architecture major for the first couple years of college, but I kept taking creative writing classes as electives. Finally, an English professor sat me down and told me that while she didn’t know anything about my work as a designer, I was a great writer and no matter what my future held, I should always keep writing. That was so validating for a 20-year-old. I think the two disciplines require some of the same skills. For both, you need to see through another’s eyes. For authors that means understanding a character’s viewpoint, and for designers and architects that means envisioning how clients will use a space.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit—have you read any of the books listed in the bookseller, the ones Kitty sells in her bookshop? What might be your favorite(s)? [I found a lovely listing of those books here

Seven Days in MayWinterSilent Spring 2Green Eggs and Ham

Cynthia Swanson: Yes, I’ve read most of them. Certainly all the kid ones! Of the adult books mentioned, my favorites are Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Like Kitty does, I find Miss Brodie entertaining and engrossing. And like Kitty, I tried to read the Cold War thrillers, but found they weren’t my cup of tea. Maybe someday – but there are a lot of books on my To-Read list, so who knows.

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

Cynthia Swanson: I’m deep into writing a second novel. It’s set in the same time period – early 1960s – but it features very different characters and locale. I started working on a first draft after I submitted the final edits of THE BOOKSELLER to Harper. Working on something else at that time kept me from fixating on how my debut might do once it was out in the world. These days, about half my workday is spent on BOOKSELLER promotion and half on the new novel.

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you now?

Cynthia Swanson: Honestly, it’s that work/life balance. We have two kids who just started middle school and one in third grade, so we’re having to find new rhythms with two schools instead of one. As far as THE BOOKSELLER, I need to keep up the momentum on promoting it, so I think about that a lot. I frequently meet with local book groups who read THE BOOKSELLER, and I have several Denver-area events coming up this fall. (See this more for details.) And the new novel is constantly on my mind.

L.L.: Anything I should have asked, but didn’t?

Cynthia Swanson: I don’t know about “should have” but one thing I’d like to mention is how much I appreciate it when readers recommend THE BOOKSELLER. These days, many of us decide what to read based on Goodreads, Library Thing, Amazon reviews, book bloggers, and social media in general. If you love a book – not just my book, but any book – please take a moment to rate it and/or write a review on your favorite sites, tell your friends, recommend it to your book club. Authors depend on their current books’ popularity in order to keep their careers going and write more books! I’m so grateful for everyone who supports my work, as well as other authors.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Cynthia! Such a delight.

Cynthia Swanson: Leslie…thank YOU! 

Cynthia SwansonAuthor Bio: Cynthia Swanson is an author and a designer. Her debut novel The Bookseller was published to critical acclaim in March 2015. She has published short fiction in numerous journals and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. The hardcover version of The Bookseller is in its second printing in the US, and the novel is being translated into 11 languages. Cynthia lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and children. You can reach her at www.integritymodern.com.

Social Media:

Twitter: @cynswanauthor

Facebook

Website

[Cover and author images provided by the author and used with permission. Turquoise and gold decor retrieved from pfgrenada.com on 8.29.15 and has no connection to the THE BOOKSELLER or C. Swanson, but is used as illustrative purposes] 

Fiction Friday: Dark Parts of Motherhood, an excerpt from Novel-in-Progress

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

Here’s a little something I’ve been working on this week. It’s from my novel-in-progress, ZOMBIE ROAD and is in the POV of the protagonist, Melanie (Mel) Dunbar. It’s a little dark…but I’m guessing if you’re a mom, you’ve likely had similar dark-ish feelings tainted with a streak of very fresh hormones.

“No one ever told me about the dark parts of motherhood. I gave birth and people brought over the sweetest little shoes and pale pink swaddling blankets. They swooped in with tuna noodle casseroles and apple pies just to get a look at you nestled in my arms and they’re left. No one ever came when I was alone and afraid I’d do something wrong. Nor did they offer to rock you at three-in-the-morning when you, my perfect baby wouldn’t sleep and I was awake, grainy-eyed and angry.

Then I was alone, my body trying to heal—and daddy was back at the office. He took the university offered paternity leave of two paid weeks, but that’s not nearly long enough. There was a mix of joy and rage as I looked at you, your sweet, tiny face all puckered up. I knew if I wanted, I could kill you. Just one toss down the stairs or a slip in the plastic baby tub and you’d take your last breath.

After I had you, I understood for the first time why some women shake their babies to death. Or drive off a dock into a body of water, killing them both.

But I’ve never do such a thing. That’s not to say it didn’t cross my mind. Life is so fragile. It can be taken so quickly, but in your case, it wasn’t given very easily. Three miscarriages. One stillbirth.

Then you.

Enye, the purest love. Celtic for grace.

[This is a work of original fiction. Please do not copy or assume as your own. Feedback appreciated]

Fiction Friday: Deleted Scene

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By Leslie Lindsay

After careful review from my critique partner, this scene won’t be making the cut for my novel-in-progress, sad as that is…

My repsonse:  “I may have banged this out to understand my character’s story better.”  Remember, even if the writing’s good, it doesn’t always have a place in your current story.  So, I am saying good-bye to this piece but thought I’d at least give it a chance to be seen.  Remember, this is original work.  No part may be reproduced without consent from the author.  Thank you. 

Annie

31 years ago

Woodstock, GA

         “At five years old, I had long blonde hair, big blue eyes and was referred to as precocious.  It was summer.  The kitchen of my childhood home was blue, like the taste of muffins.  An aloe vera plant grew in the windowsill, green smooth and slick.  Cutlery clanged, filling the air with sparkly bursts of color. 

       “Do it again!” I begged mom bouncing in my chair at the table. 

       “Do what?” My mother turned slowly from the Whirlpool dishwasher.

       “Make the stars.”

       “Stars?”  She shook her head and looked at me like she hadn’t the slightest of what I was talking about, a silly childhood game.  Mom leaned forward, took a drag of her cigarette, dropping the ashes into the soil of the aloe vera plant.  I glowed like the sun. 

       “The sparkly rainbow stars.  Don’t you see them?” 

       “Annie,” she turned and looked at me that stern way moms do when they are angry.  “There are no stars.  These are dishes.” 

        With a child’s impatience, I dropped from my seat and walked to the dishwasher.  I picked up a spoon and a fork.  “Like this,” I said as I clanged the utensils together.  My eyes widened as I took in the iridescent colors expanding in my field of vision, bursts of color I could reach out and touch. 

        “You mean,” she said slowly, “The sound makes you think of stars?” 

         “No.  There are stars in the air.  Don’t you see them?” 

          She took the cigarette to her lips and inhaled.  “No, I don’t.”  She tapped the ashes into the plant again. 

           I stamped my foot in the linoleum.  “But you aren’t looking!”  I reached for a butter knife and fork this time.  Maybe different utensils made different shapes and colors.  I banged them together again and once again, the iridescent stars appeared.

         Mom snatched the fork and knife from my grip and flung them into the drawer.  “You must be seeing the sun reflect off the particles of dust in the air,”  her voice growing annoyed.

         I sulked, “Don’t you see them?” 

         “No.  I do.  Not.  See.  Stars.  Now, go sit down.” 

         I sucked in a deep breath then and stalked off.  Over my shoulder I muttered, “You’re just looking in the right place.”  At that point, mommy walked away from the sink and kneeled down so she was even with my height.  She put her arms on my shoulder. Her cigarette dangled from her lips as she said, “You are wrong.  I don’t want to hear anything more about seeing stars, or anything else for that matter.  No, scat!”  

        I slunk out of the kitchen and into the family room where I threw myself down on the couch.  I let out a wail of frustration, all fire-orange red like a dragon.  Mom’s gray voice warbled into the room like smoke cloud. 

        “Enough already, Annie.  Why don’t you turn on Sesame Street, or something?” 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­          In Dr. Gupta’s office, mommy looked like a giant.  She didn’t fit in the tiny orange chairs that lined the table, she was too big for the saltbox dollhouse and the stubs of crayons didn’t fit into her hands very well when she tried to color.  And I knew she’d rather be anywhere else but sitting here with me and the kind doctor. 

          “An isolated visual hallucination is rare,” began Dr. Gupta.  She tilted her head and the ornate gold necklace she wore glistened in the light.  “More often—in children—psychotic symptoms present as agitated behavior, a sort of acting out,” and she glanced kindly at me in the corner, quietly playing with puppets.  “Have you seen any abrupt changes in her behavior or attitude?” 

          Mommy shook her head, “Well, no.  Other than the insistence that she saw stars.” 

          “Violence towards animals?  Changes in eating or sleeping habits?  Extreme sadness?”

          “Well, she eats like a bird, but that’s typical.  She’s very creative.  Perhaps she’s just making this stuff up?”

          “Perhaps.  Mind you, but I must ask—is there anything going on with your relationship with your husband?”

          “No.  Nothing like that,” mom looked at her wedding band and diamond, a prism of color reflecting from the sun to me.” 

          “A sudden change, or loss in your lives?  Even if it seems insignificant to you, it could mean a good deal to Annie.” 

          Again, mommy shook her head.  I knew she needed a cigarette.  She bit her lower lip and swallowed hard.  Surely Annie couldn’t be psychotic, she must have thought.  Annie, who would rather color and make stained glass sun catchers than watch television; who would read picture books by memory to her stuffed animals; Annie, who had mastered the swings all on her own.  Yet there was a truth inside of her head that made her think maybe I did have a problem.  A family history of mental illness. 

          “I had a great aunt who claimed to see things.  We all thought Aunt Louise was off her rocker, so we just ignored her.” 

          “In that case, if things worsen, I would recommend starting Annie on a low dose of Risperdal, to see if it makes much difference.”  Dr. Gupta reached forward on her desk for a pad of paper and scrawled out a prescription.  She ripped it off of the pad with a loud searing sound, like the wind blowing through a tight window. 

          My mother reached forward taking the white square of paper into her hands.  Her eyes lowered as she must have tried deciphering the doctor’s note.  “Okay,” she said.  I could see her voice trembling, undulating like waves blue and green and gray.  “Very well.  Thank you, Doctor.”

          She reached out her hand to me.  I dropped the puppet and clamored to her side.”

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Fiction Friday: Joe and Annie’s Marital Spat

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By Leslie Lindsay Fiction Friday:

Here’s a new excerpt from Slippery Slope.  The main characters are having a marital spat…due to her, uh…indiscretion, but no one knows just how slippery the slope can be.  A work of original fiction. 

         “Joe is in the master bedroom unpacking his suitcase from New York.  He hangs his garment bag over the closet door.  The tension is thick as I open and close drawers to our dresser, putting laundry away.    

       “She called me, you know,” he said abruptly. 

       I shook my head–confused, distracted, “Who called you?” 

       “The other day…Madi’s principal.” 

       My whole body grows cold, like ice.  My head feels dizzy, my mouth dry. 

      “Where were you?  Why were you late?” 

       I shove some socks into a drawer, turned to close it with my hips, “I….uh…was just running late,” I offered. 

       I fiddled with the laundry basket–that funny little piece that had broken off, flapping like a broken appendage—thinking of an excuse on the fly—or look distracted so I could concoct a better answer.  I was having lunch with my ex-boyfriend from before I knew you. 

       Joe sucked in a deep breath and asked, “Running late…doing what?” The man was tenacious. 

      Breezily, I respond, “Oh, you know…running around taking care household errands…and…one of those market research studies I do from time to time for extra cash.  Traffic got bad.” 

      As if that explained it all, Joe nodded and said, “Well, I was worried.  I mean, it’s not good for Madi to be last in line for pick-up.  Not that I could have done anything about it myself, but well…”  That’s your job, you big bozo of a mother. 

      “So, I could have died in a car crash and that is why I was late to preschool, and you are worried about Madi being the last kid for pick-up?” 

        “No, no.  That’s not what I said, Annie.”  He cleared his voice, “I just was worried—first, if there was a problem with you, and second how Madi was feeling.  I hated being the last kid for pick-up from school, sports, whatever…and I don’t want our daughters to feel that way, either.” 

     “That’s not what you said.  Your first concern was Madi.” 

     “Well, can you blame me?!  She is only three after all.  You are the mature, responsible adult here, her mother.” 

     My shoulders slumped, my eyes narrowed, “Don’t you go around making me out to be some irresponsible, soap-opera-watching, bon-bon-eating mother who forgets about her own children!  I know very well what my role is and I take it seriously.  It’s a lot of work running after these kids and keeping the house tidy.  If you don’t believe me, why don’t you give it try?  I will go off and do some work in some other city for awhile and eat fancy food, stay in a fancy hotel and call you on my cell phone for a change.”  

       “Fine!  Okay—let’s trade places, Annie.  You can go to work every day and deal with bosses and deadlines and make presentations and try to get your work published in research journals, maybe submit some things for a conference.  You can be away from your family for days on end and have to make small talk with people you barely know.  Bet you don’t even know how to manage a team of individuals, do you?  You can worry about whether or not you’ll get a promotion or a bonus…or fired, even!” 

     I felt the backs of my eyes prick, tears threatening to let loose, though I didn’t understand why.  Was it because I was being made out to be a dumb housewife, or was it because Joe was raising his voice at me, something he rarely did?

Fiction Friday: Progress Makes You Insane

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By Leslie Lindsay

Fiction Friday:  Work-in-Progress from "Slippery Slope"

I am feeling a bit nutty these days as my novel is nearing a turning point: the end.  My female protagonist may be losing a little bit as well.  Remember, this is original work from a novel-in-progress…please do not take as your own. 

And here we go… some old stuff I dusted off for Slippery Slope: 

“I breathed in the crisp fall air.  The leaves falling gently in golden hues as the sun sparkled in dainty brightness.  I parked the van, got out, and slammed the door with a thump.  Stupid minivan.  When could I get a real car again?  I walked into the waiting room.  The space smelled like paper and vanilla, the Muzak pumped out classical tunes from the sound system.   A white noise machine sat tucked in the corner, camouflaged by a plant.  I slid the glass divider window, revealing a pinched-faced receptionist.

        “Insurance card.”  It’s not a question, but a demand.  Her bony hand reaches forward and snaps the card from my grip.  She turns to make a copy and flips open a Day planner.  “Have a seat.”  She nods towards the blue seats lined up against the wall.  Blue, it figures; the most calming color in the world. 

         Jackie calls my name, standing in front of the barely opened self-locking door, “for privacy,” she’s told me before.  I didn’t buy it then, I still don’t.  More like: to keep the crazies out; people like you. 

         She ushers me into her office.  I plop down on the worn, overstuffed sofa and cross my legs.  

        “What’s going on?  How’ve you been?” 

        One question at a time for my delicate brain, Jackie.  ‘What’s going on?’ is a completely different inquiry than ‘how are you?’       

        And so I begin.

        “Well, Madi and Kenna were growing and learning by the day—the hour—and I am generating decorating jobs left and right.” 

         She nods, taking this all down in her electronic tablet.  “And what grade are the girls in now?” 

        “Well, Kenna is in full-day kindergarten and doing fairly well there, with the exception of a few ‘mean girl’ instances, which I can’t really understand.  It’s kindergarten for cryin’ out loud!”  I pause, re-crossing my legs.  “Turns out there’s a lot to be ‘mean’ about these days—iPods and cell phones are slowly making their presence in the under-ten market, something I am completely against.  There are clothes and shoes and Pottery Barn backpacks,” I rattle off.    

         Jackie nods. 

         I continue.  “And the usual—‘you’re picture isn’t as pretty as mine,’ arguments, along with lunch room and recess etiquette.” 

         Jackie inhales and leans to the other arm rest on her chair, the captain’s seat of therapy.  “And how do you feel about all of this?” 

          “Fine.  Good.  I took her shopping over the summer and loaded her up with school supplies and cute shoes and clothes, proud to send my “baby” to kindergarten.” 

         “So you are proud?”  She tucks her hair behind her ear, a sleek brown bob. 

       “Well, yeah.” 

       “And your other daughter?” 

       I swallow, “Madi is loving her preschool program.  She had grown into quite the precocious three-year old, already “reading,” books by memorization and being extremely in tune to other’s feelings and emotions.  Including mine.”

       “Oh?” she knits her eyebrows, leans in, “What do you mean?” 

       “Well, one day Madi says, ‘Mommy, you seem sad’,” I furrowed my brows and gotten down to her level, ‘What do you mean, Madi Moo?’ I asked.” 

         She touched my hand, ‘You know, momma.  Sad.’ 

        I bit the inside of my cheek, ‘Well, I am not sad.  I am just busy.  There’s a difference.’

         She shook her head, ‘No, you’re sad.’ 

        ‘Punkin, I promise you, I am not sad.’ It went on like this for awhile.  Madi trying to tell me I was sad, me telling her I was just busy with work and a little preoccupied, all while trying to tell her that I wasn’t sad about her, heaven forbid. 

       “So are you sad, Annie?” 

       “No.  I am not sad.  But to a 3-year old, I could see how she might think I was sad.  I’ve been working awfully hard at getting my decorating business up and going.  I am still trying to be the perfect wife, mother, and homemaker, and there are days I am just tired.  Worn out.  Deflated.” 

        Jackie nods her head, “I can appreciate that.”  She scribbles something on her electronic doo-dad. 

       I continue, “Joe is working non-stop.  His company recently merged with a larger, more prestigious company—the stakes are higher, the projects and clients more important.  I feel alone most of the time, often joking that we we’re two ships passing in the night; feeling like a single parent even though we’ve been married almost seven years now.” 

        “Perhaps Madi’s assessment isn’t so far ‘off,’ then?”  A smirk crawls across her face, pleased. 

        “No.  I don’t know—maybe.  But she’s three.” 

        Jackie shifts in her captain’s chair, throws her left leg over her right, brown suede boots.  I can’t help but like them.  Fuck-me boots.  “Sometimes kids can be very preceptive.”