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

By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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But first, the accolades: 

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

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

And Bookstalker Blog follows with this:

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

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

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

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diane Chamberlain:  

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

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Photo by Josh Willink on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diane Chamberlain:  

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

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diane Chamberlain:

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

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Photo by Wills M on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diane Chamberlain:

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

Leslie Lindsay:        

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

Diane Chamberlain:

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

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Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your fall reading list?

Diane Chamberlain:  

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

Leslie Lindsay:

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

Diane Chamberlain:

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

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

Order Links: 

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






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



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

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



Phenom skiier, a terrible accident, murder, motherhood, mental illness, and so much more in this chilling tale of domestic suspense~JT Ellison on TEAR ME APART

By Leslie Lindsay 

Dark domestic suspense meets police procedural in this unique read encompassing genetics, secrets, lies, and so much more in TEAR ME APART.

Join me in conversation with J.T. as she talks about the stigma of mental illness lifting, how she’s been haunted by the book for awhile now, the fact that writer’s block is your story’s way of saying something’s not working and so much more.

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How far would a loving mother go to protect her superstar daughter? Mindy Wright is seventeen years old and a spectacular downhill skier in Vail, Colorado. She’s vying for a position in the U.S. Olympic team when a horrible crash sends her to the hospital with a broken leg requiring surgery. During the pre-op blood work, doctors discover she is suffering from a severe form of leukemia. Only a stem cell transplant will save her. But no one in her immediate family is a genetic match.

How could that be? 

Told from multiple POVs, TEAR ME APART is a very complex, multilayered read, revealing decades-old secrets and lies. 

I wanted to get to the bottom of the mystery. I was especially intrigued with the psychiatric hospital connection and the letters back and forth between two young patients. TEAR ME APART may also be the first story I’ve encountered featuring a downhill skier and the world of sports competition, which I found fascinating– Ellison has clearly done her homework in terms of medical, psychiatric, and competitive sports goes. 

TEAR ME APART is a powerful story of love, sacrifice, and murder. It has given me a lot to ponder.

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Please join me in welcoming J.T. Ellison to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

J.T., it’s a pleasure to have you. I understand you were haunted by a mother sacrificing herself so her family could have the chance at a happy life, and also the world of competitive sports. Can you shed a little more light into the inception of TEAR ME APART?

J.T. Ellison:

Thanks for having me, Leslie! This story started back in 2011 with the idea of a young mother who commits suicide but makes it look like a murder in order to get her family an insurance payout. It was a very dark idea, and I wasn’t sure how to make it work. I wrote some, thinking maybe it was a short story, then put it on hold to work on another book. But the concept wouldn’t leave me alone. Fast forward several years. By now, I knew there was a grieving husband and a missing baby, too. I dove into the story and realized quickly it wasn’t at all what I originally thought it was about. Instead, it was the story of a young phenom skier who finds out over a course of terrible events that she’s not her mother’s daughter.

I also loved the idea of looking at a child who’s grown up destined for glory, to be the best skier in the world. The pressure of her training, the intensity, lent itself well to the story and its pacing.

While I was drafting the book, I came across a great article in National Geographic about a new forensic DNA method called phenotyping. When I read it, I knew I had to use it in the story.  Mindy’s aunt Juliet works for the CBI, and has the ability to find out who Mindy’s true parents are through phenotyping. It was a great tool for conflict.

And I knew I wanted to have a discourse on mental illness. I feel like we’ve finally reached an era where the stigma is disappearing, which means more and more people will get the help they need. I hope this book sets a few people on a path to recovery, as well as raises awareness about some difficult issues.

So a number of different facets came together to build the story over the course of several years. Not an unusual path for one of my books.

Leslie Lindsay:

Your research into skiing is evident. Do you have experience with it yourself? How did that piece of the story present itself?

J.T. Ellison:

Yes! I grew up in Colorado, started skiing when I was 5. My parents used to take us up the mountain on weekends and I loved it. I even raced for a (very) short period of time, but quickly realized that I’d need discipline and talent far beyond my abilities. I always wondered what would have happened if I’d stuck with it – and Mindy Wright was born, at the gate, ready to make the Olympic team with her blistering-fast run.

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Photo by Terje Sollie on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

There’s are so many layers to TEAR ME APART. Do you write with an outline or do you let the characters direct you? Maybe a little of both? Do you ever write yourself into a corner?

J.T. Ellison:

I always write myself into corners. But I believe in the process, believe in my subconscious. If I’ve written to a certain point and it’s not working, I feel I’m not seeing the whole picture. Writer’s block is your story’s way of telling you you’re going in the wrong direction.

I outline more now than I used to. It usually comes in the guise of a thorough synopsis, ten pages or so, and I take the beats from the synopsis and put them into a Scrivener document, then flesh from there. Once I’m well into the story, usually over halfway, that’s when I outline heavily to figure out how to get to the end.

I believe in the characters’ rights to speak as much as trying to infuse the story with my own voice and ideas, so I try not to be married to what I draft. Sometimes they want to go somewhere else with their lives other than what I originally foresaw. Honestly, that’s the joy of writing for me, when I find myself somewhere surprising at the end of a workday. It’s a very organic, loose process, with a few walls nailed into place to hold up the roof.

Leslie Lindsay:

Turning to the psychiatric piece of the story—I especially enjoyed this bit because I’m a former adolescent psych R.N.—I felt much of the teenage psychiatric institutions were spot-on (although many things have changed since those 1990s-ish scenes). What research did you do to bring this piece to life?

“[An] outstanding domestic thriller… The intense plot…builds to a stunning conclusion. Ellison is at the top of her game.”
—★ Publishers Weekly, starred review

J.T. Ellison:

The research was more first-hand than I would have preferred. Mental illness, suicide, and self-harm have affected my family deeply. I hope I’ve done the situations and characters justice. It’s a difficult topic, and one I’ve wanted to dive into for a long time. I hate the stigmas attached to mental illness, and want to see them go away so more people will get help if they need it. I also became aware of Project Semicolon several years ago, and wanted to dedicate the book to those who are struggling. I address this in my author’s note at length.

Leslie Lindsay:

What did you find most satisfying about the writing process? The most challenging?

J.T. Ellison:

I love the writing itself. It brings me such joy, such a feeling of peace and accomplishment. I mean, it’s hard, and gets harder with every book. I never want to write the same book twice, I always strive to get better, to be clearer, more concise, more evocative. But I will take a bad writing day over anything else.

I love the connection it makes with strangers. There’s nothing like an email from a reader who tells me they spent a few hours reading one of my books and felt like they’d escaped from their difficulties for a while. I write to entertain, to help people escape, to hopefully make them think, and because there might be the one person out there who reads my words on a day when they need them. Makes it all worthwhile.

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Leslie Lindsay:

The page is blank. What’s calling to you now?

J.T. Ellison:

I have a short story I’m playing with, and of course, I’ll have to gear up and write another novel here soon. I’m being drawn to boarding school mysteries and epic fantasies right now, so who knows where it might lead. It’s very rare for me not to know exactly what’s coming, but I don’t. I’ve had a long eighteen months of grinding out a lot of words, and it’s time to refill my well and take a break!

Leslie Lindsay:

J.T., it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

J.T. Ellison:

Not at all, though I would love to mention where you can find me these days – on Facebook, we have a private group called JT Ellison’s Literati, and I’m very active on Instagram @thrillerchick. And always, jtellison.com is home base for all my bookish endeavors.

It’s been wonderful, Leslie! Thanks for having me, and for loving TEAR ME APART.

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

Order Links: 

JT Ellison Author Photo credit Krista Lee Photography - verticalABOUT THE AUTHOR: New York Times and USA Today bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes standalone domestic noir and psychological thriller series, the latter starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the international thriller series “A Brit in the FBI” with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the EMMY Award-winning literary television series A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

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


#domesticsuspense #amreading #authorinterviewseries #genetics #motherhood #suicide #murder #mentalhealth 

[Cover and author images courtesy of MIRA Books and used with permission. Author photo credit: Krista Lee Photography. Bookstore image retrieved from author’s Instagram account, 9.4.18]

What happens to a young woman when her mother dies and she’s thrust into debilitating grief? Mary Kubica tackles this & more in WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT

By Leslie Lindsay 

Twisty, thought-provoking, dizzying, hypnotic, emotionally-wrenching fifth book from Mary Kubica about identity, motherhood, loss, and insomnia. Mary is here chatting about the origins of the book, motherhood, sleep (yes, you can die from lack of sleep!), and so much more. 

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Mary completely wow-ed me with her breakout novel, THE GOOD GIRL, and since 2014, I’ve gobbled up every one of her novels. She’s immensely talented and her writing is always darkly brilliant. Plus, she’s sweet as pie, training for a half-marathon, and completely dedicated to her children and multiple furry babies.

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (Park Row Books, September 4 2018) a slightly different read from Kubica–erring on the side of motherhood, grief, loss, and identity—providing a unique reading experience. 

Jessie Sloane is tired. She’s been caring for her ailing mother for years and her time is coming soon. Dedicated and devoted, Jessie is at her bedside in the hospital but she can’t rest knowing her mother is on her deathbed, that there are just minutes, hours left of her mother’s life.

And then Jessie is hit with a remarkable sense of grief, a horror of living, of trying to re-build. She’s only 20 and suddenly she’s alone, without a home, a mother, and who is her father, anyway?

Told in alternating settings, time periods, and narrators (Jessie and mother Eden), we experience several worldviews and a highly emotional ride.

Please join me in welcoming Mary Kubica back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary, I am always, always thrilled to chat with you. I have to know: what was haunting you when you started WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT? How did this one call to you?

Mary Kubica:

Thank you for having me back.  I always look forward to chatting with you, Leslie!  I can’t say too much on this one – the twist itself was my initial spark of inspiration, and so I don’t want to give anything away!  But my books are heavy on the psychological side.  They’re not whodunits or crime fiction per se, but rather use kidnapping, murder, identity theft and such as a means to explore themes of grief, abandonment and wanting.  When the twist came to me, I thought to myself: what could be more psychological than that, and was quite pleased to have the opportunity to explore a young woman’s psyche from a different angle than what I was used to.  It came with its challenges, but I loved the research involved… all of which I’m hesitant to speak of in any detail for fear of spoiling the book!

“Kubica is a helluva storyteller.”
~ Kirkus Reviews

Leslie Lindsay:

You tackle so many emotionally-wrought topics in WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT: motherhood, infertility, miscarriage, grief, loss, identity, insomnia, paranoia…I mean, wow! Many of these go together. Was this intentional on your part, or did they arise organically?

Mary Kubica:

They arose quite organically.  As you know, I’m not an author who outlines in advance, but take my books one page at a time.  There were a few things I knew when I began writing the novel.  One, that twenty-year-old Jessie’s mother has just died and she’s left to fend for herself, only to discover she may not be the person she believes she is.  And two, that Eden, twenty years before, is a woman so desperate to become a mother that she’d do anything to make it happen.  I also knew of Jessie’s insomnia – a blight that plagues her in the days following her mother’s death and complicates her search for self discovery.  The rest just happened, a result of the writing process and of getting to know more characters better.

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Leslie Lindsay:

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT focuses mostly on two characters—mother Eden and daughter Jessie. Did you identify more with one over the other? Do you often write pieces of yourself into characters—maybe even subconsciously? 

Mary Kubica:

There are parts of my life in both of these characters.  Jessie loses her mother to cancer in the opening pages of the novel.  Her memories of the cancer, of chemotherapy, of her mother’s final days are taken from the memories I have of my grandparents’ battles with cancer, and of being beside my grandmother when she died.  Eden is a married woman, struggling with infertility, desperate to become a mother.  Back when I was starting my own family, a number of women I knew struggled with infertility.  Watching that struggle – that frustrating, expensive, gut-wrenching fight – is something that changed me, especially as I became a mother myself and knew the joys of motherhood.  It was heartbreaking and inconceivable to me that this great gift could be withheld from some.  I started wondering what I would have done – what would have become of me – if I’d never been able to be a mother.  These experiences became part of the novel.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say, sometimes reading about Jessie’s insomnia made me tired. I experienced this sort of buoyant, hypnotic feeling…and just wanted to go to sleep! Ironic, right? Sure, I’ve tossed and turned before, but never to the extent of Jessie. Can one really die from lack of sleep?  What research you did to make this piece of the narrative so alive? 

Mary Kubica:

Yes, one can die from lack of sleep.  Chronic insomnia has very serious physical and emotional effects, which can lead to death.  Fascinating fact: the percentage of heart attacks spike as much as 25% on the Monday after we switch over to daylight savings time, therefore losing an hour of sleep.  The longest a person has been reported to stay awake dates back to the 1960s, when a high school student set a world record for a science fair.  Randy Gardner lasted eleven days (an early title for the novel!) before the fatigue got the best of him and he went to sleep.

These days Gardner says,

“You have to have sleep. It’s as important as – it’s the big three. I call it the big three. Water, food, sleep – you’ve got to have them, all of them.”

While death was certainly a danger for Jessie, the focus of my research was on insomnia and the debilitating effects of it: the grogginess, the moodiness, the cognitive dysfunction, the hallucinations and paranoia, in addition to the more physical symptoms that Jessie experiences in her narrative.

Leslie Lindsay:

Sleep and dreams have always been an interest of mine. It’s amazing just how powerful one’s mind can be. And yet it can be restorative, protective. Can you talk more about that, please?

Mary Kubica:

I’m not generally a napper.  But there are days – especially when I’ve been plugging away at a WIP [work-in-progress] for hours and my mind has turned to mush – that a twenty minute nap does the trick.  A quick reboot.  I love a good night of sleep.  Like many of us, I have a way of working out problematic things in my dreams – whether thorny issues in a manuscript, or in life.  It is restorative.  On the flip side though, the lack of sleep, insomnia, is a bear.  Just a single night of lousy sleep turns me into a different person, a much more unpleasant version of myself!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Often in life, with major projects, we start with the end in mind. Eden wanted a baby. Jessie wanted to sleep. And her mother not to die. But sometimes, we don’t always get what we want. Not in life and sometimes not in a narrative. What might you say to those who are expecting one thing from WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT and receive something completely different? Do you think there are multiple ways of reading a book?

Mary Kubica:

I think the ending will surprise many readers!  This book is a bit different than my first few, in that it’s quite heavy on the emotional side and really a hybrid of psychological suspense and women’s fiction.  I don’t want any of my novels to feel cookie cutter, but like to be bold and original and explore new styles and themes with each novel I write.  As with any book (mine or otherwise), I always feel it’s important that a reader goes in blind, not expecting any one thing in particular from the novel, but just enjoying the ride.  There are of course multiple ways of reading a book.  Each reader will walk away with his or her own impression.  That’s the joy of books (and the reason many make terrific book club books – so many different opinions to discuss!).

Leslie Lindsay:

Mary, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask—like: what you’re reading, how the training is going, how the back-to-school craze is going, what you’re working on?

Mary Kubica:

I’ve just finished reading Catherine Steadman’s SOMETHING IN THE WATER (amazing!), and am looking forward to devouring ARCs [Advanced Reader Copies] from Jessica Strawser and Kaira Rouda next.  Half-marathon training is going well, as is the back to school craze!  As for writing – I’m just finishing up the final edits on my 2019 release, which I’m so incredibly excited for.  It doesn’t have a title yet, but this one focuses on a family of four that’s just relocated to Maine for a fresh start after a number of personal hardships force them from their Chicago home.  Their fresh start isn’t so fresh however when a neighbor is murdered in her home across the street, and the family falls under the scrutiny of the community and police.  More to come on this one soon!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, please visit: 

Order Links:

Mary Kubica 2017-8ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of five novels.  A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature.  She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children.

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



#psychthriller #suspense #insomnia #authorinterviewseries #motherhood

Debut Novelist Julie Clark talks about science, motherhood, love, and so much more in her dazzling good read, THE ONES WE CHOOSE

By Leslie Lindsay 

Shattering original and beautifully written book about secrets, science, DNA, mothers, and the trauma of our ancestors living in each and every one of us. THE ONES WE CHOOSE is such a glimmering debut by an author to watch. 


You’ll read Julie Clark’s debut and think, “this woman has got to be a scientist,” but she’s not. She’s a 5th grade teacher and mother, and while those skills and traits come through in THE ONES WE CHOOSE, it’s her effortless blend of genetics that made me swoon.

Geneticist Paige Robson is struggling. She’s always had everything together, until her son starts asking about his biological dad. Eight-year old Miles was conceived via sperm donor and while he knows this, he can’t help but feel disconnected. He doesn’t fit in with the other children at school, who all seem to have active, engaged fathers. Plus, Paige’s romantic life isn’t all that great (she has difficultly being open), and her father has just returned; attempting to make up for lost time.

“How could I not love a debut about science, secrets, DNA, and how the traumas of our ancestors still live within our very cells? With gorgeous prose, and a deep emotional resonance, The Ones We Choose is about the science of love, how our DNA shapes us, and a mother’s fierce battle to protect her son while confronting what really makes our identity ours, what and who we choose to let in, and what and who we don’t.  An absolutely dazzling, profound ruby of a novel.”

– Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU and CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD 

I was so taken with the breadth of science explored in this work of literary fiction, but don’t worry–it’s all infused with a gentle, almost conversational tone 
(ala Jodi Piccoult style) making for a rich, engaging read. I’m an R.N. by training (it’s been years and years and I no longer practice), but I found the information presented in THE ONES WE CHOOSE riveting(and in some cases, new to me) and so enjoyed this piece of the narrative.

I found the piece of artificial insemination fascinating–I don’t know anyone who has gone through this process and so have always been curious as to how it works. THE ONES WE CHOOSE will give the reader a fictional account of one woman’s experience.

Seriously, a fabulous, well-written, thoughtful debut about mothers, science, love, secrets, and ancestors. 

Please join me in welcoming Julie to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, welcome! I am so in awe of your debut. I know you didn’t start out writing a book about genetics—you really knew nothing about it—but lo and behold, your character is a geneticist. What was the jumping-off point for you on this narrative and why science?

Julie Clark:

First, thank so much for reading and inviting me onto your blog today! The idea that my main character, Paige, would be a geneticist evolved slowly. At first, she was a manager of a dog rescue! But the more I wrote scenes between Paige and her son, Miles, the more I realized that this is a story of genetics…the things we pass down to our children. And that there are many people in the world – whether conceived via donor or adopted – who don’t have access to this information. The first thing I did was to start reading about genetics, and find myself an expert in the field.

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Photo by Life Of Pix on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You’re a 5th grade teacher and a mother to two boys. This definitely comes through in THE ONES WE CHOOSE; how did those experiences and roles inform your writing? Or did they? In fact, there’s a section on the book in which Paige is chatting with her friend, Jackie about being a working mother and says, “In fact, I think I’m a better mother because Miles sees me following my passion. He watches me set goals and achieve them.” Can you talk about that, please?

Julie Clark:

Well, I love my job as a teacher. It’s the perfect balance to writing. It allows me to get out of my head and focus on something bigger than myself, bigger than my books or my writing career. Working with students every day reminds me of the obligation we all have to invest in future generations. And teaching really prepared me for writing a book about genetics. My job requires me to constantly take complex concepts and break them down into pieces that others can easily understand. In writing my genetics chapters, I relied heavily upon those skills.

Leslie Lindsay:

The research you most have done to craft such a well-rounded (and informed!) narrative must have been daunting. What was your process like? Did you enjoy the research?

Julie Clark:

I really did enjoy it! As I said earlier, I spent a lot of time reading up on genetics and ancestry. I also connected with a geneticist, Dr. James West, at Vanderbilt who was so generous with his time, answering emails, chatting on the phone, over the course of two years. The genetics chapters came late in the game, and originally I only had about four or five. My editor at Gallery wanted something between each chapter, so I just sat down and started making a list of everything I could think of: chromosomes, DNA, cells, the genome…and once I got that list, I started thinking about how Paige might think about those topics, in relation to what was going on with her at the time. Some of the chapters are more narrative, others are short and informative. But overall, they were a lot of fun to write.

Leslie Lindsay:

The oxytocin inhibitor gene in men…is that a real thing? Can you tell us more about its appearance in THE ONES WE CHOOSE?

Julie Clark:

What is real: Oxytocin is a bonding hormone. Both mothers and fathers produce massive amounts of it at the birth of a child. What isn’t real: an inhibitor gene that precludes some men from releasing it. I worked closely with Dr. West to figure out the best way to present this…and he assures me that while such a thing doesn’t exist to our knowledge, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

man person cute young
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

And the whole piece of artificial insemination is so fascinating. I’ve been curious about the process before, but never had any reason to look into it or knew anyone who had gone through it. How did this piece work its way into the novel for you?

Julie Clark:

This was the jumping off point for me for the entire book. I wanted to write about a single mother, because I’m a single mother. But I wanted a different take on it. I wanted to write about someone who chose it for herself, deliberately and lovingly. I have many friends who have used a donor to conceive their child/children, and I wanted to see their families represented.

Leslie Lindsay:

What do you feel you did ‘right’ as a first time novelist and what do you wished you had done better or known more about? Can anyone truly prepare for the task?

Julie Clark:

The best thing I did was to allow myself to enjoy the process, and not get caught up in the details. I was writing my second book throughout most of that time, and that really helped keep me grounded in the belief that while I wanted THE ONES WE CHOOSE to do well, it wasn’t going to be my only book. This is what prepares you for the task of releasing a book – keeping focused on doing it again.

photo of white purple and blue smoke
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s keeping you awake at night? It doesn’t have to be literary. [But if it is, ignore the next question]

Julie Clark:

I sleep pretty well! I feel so fortunate to have had such a great experience with such an amazing team. If I’m awake at night, it’s because I’m feeling grateful.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s next for you?

Julie Clark:

I’m working on revisions for my second book, tentatively titled WHEN I KNEW YOU. But most of that is under wraps for the time being!

Leslie Lindsay:

Julie, it’s been wonderful. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Julie Clark:

Thank you so much for having me on the blog! I’m so glad you loved THE ONES WE CHOOSE, and thank you for reading!

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

Order Links:

Julie Clark Photograph by Eric A. Reid PhotogtaphyABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Born and raised in Santa Monica, California, Julie Clark grew up reading books on the beach while everyone else surfed. After attending college at University of the Pacific, and a brief stint working in the athletic department at University of California, Berkeley, she returned home to Santa Monica to teach. She now lives there with her two young sons and a golden doodle with poor impulse THE ONES WE CHOOSE is her first novel.




You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media platforms: 


#genetics #literaryfiction #motherhood #science 

[Cover and author image courtesy of Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster and used with permission] 


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

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.


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:


[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

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?”

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

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

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

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

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

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



[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]