Tag Archives: novel

Wednesdays with Writers: Abandoned insane asylums, ghosts, lush prose, a mystery, writing amidst chaos, a brief tutorial in short stories and linked novels, and so much more from Karen Brown. Oh, and her new novel, THE CLAIRVOYANTS.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Lush, descriptive, wholly original psychological mystery in which one woman’s desires and abilities are put to the test.

Flattened-199x300THE CLAIRVOYANTS is the second novel of Karen Brown (her first, THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS came out in 2013. Be sure to check out my interview with her here.

Karen’s prose is complex, vivid, and poetic. THE CLAIRVOYANTS is a hot, roiling simmer encased with erotic undertones, complex layers, a highly Gothic vibe that will have you wrapped in a hypnotic dream-state questioning your own reality. 

Martha Mary and her slightly unstable younger sister, Del (Delores) claim to see ghosts. They are the charlatans of their small coastal town, offering seances and readings of the dead in exchange for a few bucks to buy lip gloss and drug-store flip-flops.

But maybe she *can* see ghosts after all?

Martha Mary leaves that coastal town and settles in Ithaca, New York in attempt to be a bit more ‘grounded,’ to attend college. There she falls in love with photographer/professor William Bell and together, along with her sister and other friends try to piece out the mystery of a missing, presumed dead girl, Mary Rae.

But dark, twisty things happen. More deaths. More ghosts. More mystery and intrigue. THE CLAIRVOYANTS is one of those books that will linger long after you’ve closed the cover for the last time.

Please join me in welcoming Karen Brown back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Karen, it’s been a few years! It was 2013 when we chatted last—about THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS, your debut novel. I can only imagine you’ve been busy writing and teaching. Can you fill us in?TheLongingsofWaywardGirls

Karen Brown:  I wish I could say that I’ve done some world traveling, but you’re pretty much spot on: Since we last chatted I’ve been mostly teaching and writing. I teach at the University of South Florida—my alma mater, where I first decided to become a writer, and where I produced my first short stories. Each semester I teach three sections of the same fiction writing courses I took myself years ago. Being a teacher means that each semester I am dropped into the fictional worlds of my students while trying to maintain the fictional world in my own work. Since LONGINGS appeared I’ve revised two novels, and have begun work on a new one—still tentative and very incomplete. The revisions can be just as time-consuming as starting from scratch—every small change can present entirely new plot directions. For me, revising is very close to drafting—I am always open to making big changes, and each version—for THE CLAIRVOYANTS it was twelve—takes the story further away from the original.

L.L.: I’m always, always intrigued about what sparks a writer into action on a particular title. I have to know, what was it for THE CLAIRVOYANTS?

Karen Brown: THE CLAIRVOYANTS started as a short story, “Galatea,” published first in Crazyhorse, and reprinted in BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES.  As I expanded the story into a novel it became three sections—one set in Ithaca, NY, one in Florida, and one in the Caribbean. Martha Mary was the main character in each section, and the sections represented three different time periods of her life. The book was very long and convoluted, and after getting some initial reads I decided to simply focus on the Ithaca section. There are aspects of the other sections that I held on to and worked into the Ithaca story—Owen, Martha’s nephew and Anne, with her glioblastoma. Even the yachties in the Caribbean get to play a small role in the new version. The novel began as a story of a young woman with a troubled past who is seeking love. The addition of the ghosts and the spiritualist camp came about after I reconnected with a childhood friend whose parents bought a house in Pine Grove, a small spiritualist community in Niantic, CT. I was intrigued with the spiritualists and the mediums, and I wanted to add this component to the novel. Martha Mary is named after her great aunt, a nun, who dies in a car accident, and the themes of doubt and belief play into her sighting of Auntie Sister as a ghost when she is a child. In Ithaca, it seemed natural to give her a ghost to draw her into the ongoing mystery.

L.L.: One observation I made while reading THE CLAIRVOYANTS is that it could very well be any time period. The names of your characters: Martha Mary. Anne. Randy. Del. William. Mary Rae. Geoff. Well, they all seem kind of Nancy Drew-ish. Yet, they have cell phones, so it’s not exactly a period piece. But it could have been. Was this intentional on your part?

Karen Brown: I lived in an area similar to that of the novel for a year while I attended graduate school—a  small, rural town thirty minutes from the closest movie theater, mall, and Pizza Hut. The drive in to the university was on a road that cut through a vast, open area of fields, the roadside dotted with occasional small businesses—a place that sold garden statuary, a bridal shop. Little kids wore blaze orange caps when they played outside and the big thing for girls was baton lessons. Guys drove muscle cars or trucks, and the professors lived in farmhouses down long wooded lanes. Isolated settings tend to create a sense of timelessness, and I wanted to capture that feeling. I like old-fashioned names (and I love Nancy 20150827-38-Westfield-New-York-21922691918-700x525Drew), and perhaps subconsciously the names seemed to fit the setting. The novel focuses on a quirky group from a small, isolated town that gathers around an artist—Anne. Though they aren’t off the grid, the traditions they follow—the New Year’s Eve hunt, the recipes from old cookbooks, the games of Bridge, the Aaron Copland music—seem things borrowed from another time and recast as part of their small community. The addition of cell phones was practical—I needed the story to be set in a time long enough after the asylums were closed down—most in the 1970s—to have the one in the novel deteriorate.

L.L.: I have to say, I loved the old, abandoned places that creep into the narrative. There are at least two, though there could be more, depending on your read. Are these real places, what was your inspiration for them? Having been a former psychiatric R.N., I’m especially taken with the abandoned asylum.

Karen Brown: I became interested in artists whose work focused on abandoned places, particularly abandoned asylums. Shaun O’Boyle’s asylum images, particularly those of Northampton and Buffalo State hospitals, formed the basis for the asylum in the novel. I was drawn to the colors in his images, and the way he made the deterioration of the buildings seem so beautiful. Many of the details of the asylum in the novel are from O’Boyle’s images. The area in central New York state where the novel is set is filled with abandoned houses and trailers, but for the

abandoned cottage in the woods, I relied on a fellow student in my MFA program years ago, who told us about hiking in woods in the Ithaca area and discovering an abandoned cottage with dishes still on the table, as if the people had just risen from their places and left. Her description stuck with me.

L.L.: There are definitely some twisty-turny moments in THE CLAIRVOYANTS. Are you a pantser or a plotter? What’s your writing space like?

Karen Brown: I almost always start with a setting, and then decide what sort of people I might put there. Once the characters are established, I like to live in the world a bit with them and see what kind of trouble they can get into—mostly creating scenes, which I do even when I am not writing. I sit down in the morning to work for as long as I have time. On teaching days that is usually until noon, but on other days, or like now, in the summer, I’ll go as long as I can stand to sit still.

I don’t have a desk—I write sitting on a couch in the middle of the house. At any given time there is passing traffic on the four-lane boulevard, my husband on the phone in his office, my son asking would I please, please make some eggs for breakfast. Today, a cat we’ve taken in is in heat, a man is sanding our old windows outside in preparation for painting, my son is watching a movie in an adjoining room, just returned from morning class. I’ve always written in the midst of a kind of chaos, but I must admit I prefer a quiet space—early mornings before the late-sleepers in the house awaken are my best days.4

L.L.: You have two collections of short stories. Of course the novel and short story are two totally different forms. In your opinion, what are the similarities, the differences?

Karen Brown: Most of my short stories contain one novel, at least. When I write a story, I know far more than I ever reveal about the setting, the characters, and the events that have shaped the conflict they find themselves struggling with. There are backstories and histories and scenes in the characters’ lives that simply aren’t needed to build up to the pivotal moment a story depends on. The art of the short story is choosing what to leave out and deciding which moment will be the one to highlight as most revelatory. Novels do the same thing, though they use a handful of moments that necessarily rely on each other to accomplish the same feat—give a reader a world inhabited by people whose thoughts and actions reveal something vital about our own lives.

L.L.: In a related question, a form I’m super-curious about is a linked novel, a novel in short stories. Can you educate us on that, too?

Karen Brown:  Some of my favorite books are novels in stories, or linked short stories. Sherwood Anderson’s WINESBURG, OHIO, for example, or more contemporary books like Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD or Elizabeth Strout’s OLIVE KITTERIDGE. I’ve always been attracted to the genre, and wrote my PhD dissertation as a novel in stories. From a writer’s perspective, this genre provides the best of both worlds. You get to use the short story to capture a particular moment in a character’s life, yet by stringing stories together—ones that explore other characters’ perspectives, or the same character at another point in her life—you can reveal the hidden parts of the larger story that must necessarily, by the nature of the short story form itself, be left out. These leaps between characters through time present a sense of a larger picture—that of a community or a family or a set of characters whose relationships alter and change through time. The stories in these books are linked by character or place—or both. One of my favorites, OUR KIND, by Kate Walbert, uses a communal narrator. Often, the setting becomes a character in the story, as in Rebecca Barry’s excellent LATER, AT THE BAR. Just talking about the form makes me want to write another one.

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

tumblr_nm8ud2wGzR1qm7imdo1_500.jpgKaren Brown: I’m working on a novel set in Tampa. When I first moved here in the early 80s, I bartended in a rock club, and I remember a customer talking about Drew Park girls,” the classification clearly derogatory. The club was located on the edge of Drew Park, whose boundaries included two busy thoroughfares and Tampa International Airport. I was in the middle of a scene and wondered what I might find out about Drew Park if I looked it up: “The core of Drew Park is occupied by light industry, adult entertainment establishments, and several homes, due to its mixed-use zoning.” The area has been the focus of police raids for prostitution, operating without a license, and the illegal selling of alcohol. So, if you actually grew up in Drew Park, it might be in a house across the street from the Pink Pony Showgirls, or Buddies Adult Video, or Redline Express Couriers. Those poor Drew Park girls couldn’t live down their reputation if they tried.

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

Karen Brown: Last time, you asked me what I was reading, and since I’m always reading, I’m always eager to share the books that are intriguing me now. I just started Edan Lepucki’s WOMAN NO.17. I’m enthralled with California and noir, and this book brings all of that to life through the darkly funny voice of its narrators. I’m also reading Jan Marsh’s CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: A WRITER’S LIFEmy work-in-progress deals with an artistic sister and brother and their correspondence, and well, the Rossetti’s! For my upcoming classes I’m checking out Benjamin Percy’s THRILL ME: ESSAYS ON FICTION. Students are in love with genre, and I want them to write what they love, but write it well.

L.L.: Karen, it was a pleasure! Thanks so much for popping over.

Karen Brown: Thanks so much for having me, Leslie!

For more information, to connect with Karen via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE CLAIRVOYANTS, please see:

Personal Branding Photography for EntrepreneuersABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Brown was born in Connecticut. She is the author of a novel, The Longings of Wayward Girls (July 2013), and two short story collections, Pins & Needles (July 2013) and Little Sinners and Other Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, The New York Times, and Good Housekeeping,and in many literary journals. She teaches creative writing and literature at the University of South Florida.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various social media sites:

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[Cover image retrieved from author’s website, as well as other covers of previous works. Author image courtesy of Henry Holt and used with permission. Image from Westfield, NY retrieved from onlyinyourstate.com, images of interior abandoned asylum retrieved from Shaun O’Boyle’s website, woman on laptop/couch retrieved from shutterstock, reading in field from rebloggy.com, all on 5.23.17]

Wednesdays with Writers: What happens when you sleep? Could you be capable of murder? Chris Bohjalian explores this and more in his latest novel, THE SLEEPWALKER, plus rising early, following characters onto the page, being a teen magician

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By Leslie Lindsay 

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Guest Room comes a spine-tingling novel of lies, loss, and buried desire–the mesmerizing story of a wife and mother who vanishes from her bed late one night.

Psychologically astute rift with family secrets, mystery, and a terrifying sleep disorder, THE SLEEPWALKER is at first a family portrait swallowed in the throes of grief.

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With an author like Chris Bohjalian, you’re in good hands; expert hands, in fact. When I learned about THE SLEEPWALKER, I knew I had to read it: missing people, mothers especially, are a fascination of mine. So too is sleep and dreams. Toss in a lovely flawed family portrait and I am putty in your hands.

When Annalee Ahlberg goes missing, her children fear the worst. Annalee is a sleepwalker whose affliction manifests in ways both bizarre and devastating. She once spray-painted the front hydrangeas silver, and yet…things always work out just fine.

But this time it’s different. This time, she can’t be found. Days turn to weeks. An investigation ensues. Speculation swirls. What happened to Annalee Ahlberg, a healthy, fit architect?

Infused with lovely snippets of research about sleep and their accompanying disorders, THE SLEEPWALKER is a gorgeously written family drama.

Join me in welcoming Chris Bohjalian to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: I’ve long been a fan of your work, Chris.  Your books cover a lot of ground…YA, historical, mystery, gothic, literary suspense. I’m always curious: why this book, why now? What inspired THE SLEEPWALKER?

Chris Bohjalian: Originally I thought I was going to write a book about dreams, that great Freudian abyss. And so I went to have lunch with a sleep doctor to understand the physiology of the brain when we dream. He had just come from a patient who was a sleepwalker, and our conversation rather naturally went. We discussed how people sleepcook, sleepdrive, sleepjog, sleepsex, sleepmurder – and I was hooked.

Check out THE SLEEPWALKER’S book trailer: 

L.L.: Your research into sleep disorders is evident. Can you talk a bit about that process?

 Chris Bohjalian: I always love my research, but this was especially interesting because sleep study is such a new field. The term “arousal disorder” wasn’t even coined until 1968. Medicine didn’t begin to categorize parasomnias until 1979. And forensic sleep medicine, the investigation of sleep crime? As a discipline, it only dates back to 2007.

L.L.: I personally love to sleep! I find it’s a great place to flesh out some of my creative download (8)processes. The best is when I fall asleep reading. My brain sort of takes over and creates a whole new story. Do you ever dream about your works-in-progress? Do you ever get ideas for novels this way?

Chris Bohjalian: I think you’re on to something. I have heard that sleep really does recharge creativity. Now, I don’t precisely dream of my books, but I know that I have to go directly to my desk when I awake at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning.  I do almost all of my writing then. It’s far and away the most productive time of the day for me, and I believe that is not merely because I am most rested: I believe it is because of my mind’s connection to sleep and the subconscious.

L.L.: Let’s talk character for a bit. You do a beautiful job of ‘getting into the head’ of a 21-year old college female. How did you make the decision to tell the story from Lianna’s POV, and not…say, her English professor father who might be more aligned with you as a male author?

Chris Bohjalian: My daughter, a young actor in New York City, once said to me after reading a rough draft of one of my novels, “Dad, take this as a compliment, because I mean it that way. But I think your sweet spot as a writer is seriously messed-up young women.” She’s right. Just think of Laurel Estabook (“The Double Bind”), Emily Shepard (“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands”), Serafina Bettini (“The Light in the Ruins”), or all the young female survivors of the Armenian Genocide in “The Sandcastle Girls.”

There are a lot of reasons why sometimes I write across gender. Originally, “The Sleepwalker” was a traditional, third-person Jamesian novel. But about halfway in, it began to feel to me a lot like a story of mothers and daughters and loss. And so I tried it from Lianna’s perspective and liked where the book seemed to go. I liked the wistfulness of first-person past in this case.

L.L.: Lianna is an amateur magician, giving magic shows for kids’ parties, etc. How did that piece of her character develop? Is it a sort of metaphor for the overall narrative? Appearance/disappearance themes?

Chris Bohjalian: Yes. You nailed it. She can make anything reappear except her mother. Also? I was a teenage magician. Everything in Lianna’s set was in my set. I did those children’s birthday parties.

“Scary, limiting and downright dangerous, sleepwalking inspires a hard-to-put-down story that also mixes sex and a mystery in a polished package. . .Bohjalian is on top of his already stellar game with The Sleepwalker.”
— Amanda St. Amand, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

L.L.:  For you, does structure follow plot points or is it more character-driven?

Chris Bohjalian: Well, I never know where my stories are going. I have no plot. I have only a premise and a character. I depend upon my characters to take me by the hand and lead me through the dark of the story. It is – to paraphrase E.L. Doctorow – driving at night. You can only see 200 feet ahead of you, but you have the confidence that eventually you will get where you’re going. 

L.L.:  Do you have any writing rituals or routines? A few  “Chris facts?” 

Chris Bohjalian:  I begin my day by skimming a dictionary for an interesting word or two. Then I watch movie trailers for ten minutes, usually enjoying three or four. They instantly catapult me into the right head space. Usually they have nothing to do with the book I’m writing in terms of subject. It’s all about the emotion.

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

Chris Bohjalian:  These were great. Thanks!

For more information, to connect with Chris via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE SLEEPWALKER, please see: 

Chris Bohjalian.jpg ABOUT THE AUTHOR: CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the author of nineteen books, including Close Your EyesHold Hands; The Sandcastle GirlsSkeletons at the FeastThe Double Bind; and Midwives. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages, and three of his novels have become movies (Secrets of EdenMidwives, and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media contacts. Love to see ya ’round!

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Doubleday. Collage of previous works from author’s website. Image of ‘sleep and creativity’ from YouTube, all retrieved 3.16.17]

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

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

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

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

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

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

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

Then you.

Enye, the purest love. Celtic for grace.

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

Write on, Wednesday: Author Interview & Book Give-a-Way–Karen Brown!!

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By Leslie Lindsay

Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

I am super-excited to welcome Karen Brown to Write On, Wednesday.  Ms. Brown is the debut novelist of THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS (Washington Square Press, July 2013).  She has written several books of short stories in the past and teaches creative writing & literature at the University of South Florida. Without further adieu…

Leslie Lindsay: As a first time novelist, how did the writing process differ from writing compilations of short stories?  In what ways were you particularly surprised or challenged by the creative process at hand?

Karen Brown: “The short story is all about compression—how much of a world can you create in as few words as possible. You have to reveal a conflict and have something happen to a believable character in a scant twenty pages or less. I’d gotten used to this form, adopting a particular lyrical style—and I enjoyed hinting at things, letting the reader guess or intuit the characters’ motivations. The novel is so very different. I still feel I’m struggling to make the transition, and I have to prod myself to tell more, to show more, to expand scenes. I feel I’ve had to abandon the style that depended on the reader—this worked for a handful of pages, but what reader will spend three hundred pages trying to muddle her way through prose that only hints at things? I’ve found that readers want characters they can identify with intimately, and sometimes this means showing parts of their lives that would be a waste of words in a short story. It’s as if I’d set up my own rules, and now I have to break them!”  

Leslie Lindsay:  THE LONGINGS (of Wayward Girls) is a complex story teetering between the past (1979) and the present (2003) of Sadie Watkins-Stahl’s life.  Sandwiched between the past and present is the disappearance of a young girl who has yet to be found, twenty years later.  As the story unfolds, Sadie recounts various summertime moments that trigger a certain sense of nostalgia.  How many of those summer memories were uniquely yours?  What advice would you give writers so they don’t clog their manuscripts with too many personal asides?

Karen Brown: “The neighborhood of Sadie’s childhood is my own—we did create a “Haunted Woods” and charge admission, and a friend and I did once trick a younger girl by writing a letter from a “farmer boy” and leaving it under a stone. I’ve taken these events and amplified them. Our “Haunted Woods” wasn’t nearly as elaborate, and of course the neighborhood girl never went missing. I used the Haunted Woods in the book because it was an odd, eerie event, and it created a certain tone—one of manipulation and fear. As a child I did write a play, “The Memory of the Fleetfoot Sisters,” and attempted to put it on. I remember being very invested in the show, and when everyone quit I got my first sense of real disappointment—though with what exactly I wasn’t sure. I gave this part of my past to Sadie because she is struggling to keep the creative side of her childhood, and yet knows she is moving past it. So, while I drew on details of my own childhood summertime activities for the novel, I knew I had to pick and choose those that did the job I needed them to.”

Leslie Lindsay: In reading THE LONGINGS, I was particularly struck by the ease and accessibility of Sadie’s affair with Ray.  Without giving too much away, what is it about those old loves that have us wanting to relive the past? 

Karen Brown: “In Sadie’s case, Ray represents a particular summer in her past—one in which things changed irrevocably for her. But I think she latches onto who she was before things went awry. Ray seems unchanged, and she wants to reinvent herself as the person she might have become. It’s as if she is able to re-do her life with him. There was no real relationship between them in the past—there was only what she imagined. Ultimately, they both use each other for their own selfish purposes.”

Leslie Lindsay: Are you a pantser, or a plotter?  What advice would you give a panster who doesn’t like to plot, and a plotter who must have things “just so” before even taking pen to paper?

Karen Brown: “I’m not sure how anyone could keep things straight without writing something down, but I’m a firm believer in letting the story unfold naturally. It’s so much more fun! If I’d known everything that would happen beforehand it would seem tiresome to write it out. I guess for me the writing is a form of discovery. That said, once I knew where I might want to head I did keep notes for myself. “Sadie finds Bea’s love letters” for example. I have a file called “Notes” for each project, and I write things down as reminders. I think a happy mix of notes and fearlessness is necessary.”

Leslie Lindsay: A hot topic—even in fiction—has to do with a writer’s platform.  Can you describe what a platform is, and why it’s so important, anyway?

Image of Karen BrownKaren Brown: “I knew that I needed to have social media in place if I wanted to publish a book, so the basics—Facebook and a website—have been a part of being a writer for me for a while. I added a few other things—Twitter, for example, the summer my book was on submission. I’ve also published stories in magazines, and won a few awards, which gave me something to stand on. It’s always been difficult for me to be an outgoing social media participant. Writing is work I do alone, and I’m not always eager to share anything related to it. But as a teacher I’m trained to be supportive, so I like to think I am a supporter of other writers and of work that I find admirable. Occasionally I will sneak in something about my own process, but rarely about my personal life. In this sense a writer’s platform is a sticky subject for me. Some do it so well—their personalities are open and engaging, and they feel comfortable sharing themselves. Or, their newest project has a basis in a topic that’s historical or cultural, and they use this as a way to project themselves. I do believe publishers want writers who have established some connection with the world—even if it’s just one part of it.”

Leslie LIndsay:  What are you currently working on? 

Karen Brown: “I’ve been revising a novel draft I’d set aside a few years ago. Part of it was set in the Caribbean, and while I’d never been there before I wrote it, I did travel there this spring. I decided to read the draft again, and I discovered I had captured that world pretty well! I also found I still liked the draft—so I thought I’d continue work on it.”

Leslie Lindsay: What are you currently reading?

Karen Brown: “I used to read one book at a time—I wouldn’t even consider reading another before I finished it. But lately I find I’m reading a few books at once—partly due to the variety of ways I’m reading things now. As an ebook, Submergence by J. M. Ledgard, in print, Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead, and online I’m reading Clairvoyance by C.W. Leadbeater.”

Leslie Lindsay: Can you share your social media and other ways to reach you? 

Karen Brown: “Certainly!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Karen!  Very insightful and inspirational!

The Teacher is Talking:  Saying Bye Bye to Binky

And now….give-a-way details:  Karen has graciously agreed to provide one lucky winner a signed copy of THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS.  Here’s what you have to do:  Comment on the blog or send me an email leslie_lindsay(at) hotmail.com about one of your favorite summer activities as a child.  That’s it.  It can be as long or as short as you’d like.  Winner will be drawn at random next Wednesday, August 21st.  Open to U.S. residents only.  Please check your junk mail as winner’s will be notified via email.  Thanks and good luck!! 

Up next: Karen, along with authors Caroline Leavitt, Amy Sue Nathan and singer/songwriter Matt Wertz will be joining us later this August to share their ideas of “home.” a common, yet complex theme in many literary subtexts.

Fiction Friday: Annie Ruminates

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

A chapter I’ve been working on this week…a little rumination never hurt anyone, or does it?!

        “Distractions are the pinnacle of rumination.  It’s a cycle, a bad one that keeps me going back to Steve.  An addiction, if you will. 

        There was no changing the fact that I opened the door to Steve again.  I shove all of those thoughts—the second-guessings, the self-doubt, the poor choice in character – to the back of my mind.  What kind of married woman, a mother of two does such a stupid thing?  Steve is a one-sided battle I fight, my distractions the victor.

         I try to funnel attention to my family.  I make a list of all of the things I want to complete before summer’s end.  One by one, we’ll mark them off.  Family picnic…koi spawning at the local botanical garden…camp out in the backyard (note to self: get the makin’s for s’mores)…ice cream at the old-fashioned ice creamery…take Kenna and Madi to downtown Naperville for new shoes.

          And so there I a in a park, communing with nature a la family picnic.  An item to mark off my list; to push time forward and anchor me in the present.  Away from Steve. 

         When I added this little adventure to my list, I envisioned the perfect nuclear family and, of course, the perfect setting. A red and white checkered blanket spread amongst the fecund landscape, a real wicker basket packed with wholesome, nutritious foods like ham and swiss on croissants, fresh grapes, and homemade cookies—the kind from that sneaky chef person with chickpeas mashed inside for added health. The girls would be dressed in their Sunday best and Joe and I would raise a glass of cool, crisp white wine—a toast to a summer’s eve.

           Only our picnic isn’t my vision. 

           I ran out of time to bake.  There was no wine chilling in our fridge, only the sticky strawberry jam that leaked from its squeeze bottle, gumming the Temperlite shelves, a strawberry glace.  The diaper bag doubled as a picnic basket, crammed with 6-inch Subway sandwiches. We had cookies, only they were the institutional kind baked on a conveyor belt. 

        Even the weather doesn’t cooperate with my expectations.  For a picnic, it should be light, airy. A gentle breeze of halcyonic lilt. 

          But it’s hot.  Really hot.  It reminds me of a Georgia summer.  Thick, sweet air hung in the distance. 

         Sometimes, nothing matches my high expectations. 

         I stand, brushing the crumbs off my lap as I survey the scene.  A sense of quiet tranquility settles amongst us, just our family and a lone teenager jogging on the other side of the lake. Everyone else is smart enough to stay inside, air conditioners humming. 

        I wipe my brow and pick up the remnants of our family picnic, tossing the paper sandwich wrappers in the rancid-smelling garbage cans.  The smell of death and decay.  Despite the heat, I shiver.

       Sweat rolls down my back as I stand at the precipice between the lakeside pavilion and the bike trail.  The summer’s evening closing in on us, the setting sun a soft pink, whisps of purple spin through the sky like cotton candy.  Kenna and Madi scamper along the wooded path searching for rocks and wildflowers.  I arched my back and shaded my face for a better look even though their giggles and chatter reassured me. 

      You can’t be a helicopter parent.  Let them explore. 

       I shake my head.  I wish her wisdom would stop.   My mind feels fluid, as if it’s floating around in my skull. I am ruminating, one of my worst qualities. What had she said about ruminations…they were nothing but a dream past its expiration.  I got lost again, my mind running through files of dreams.  Who was in them, what we were doing—who we were becoming—Steve.”

[This is an original work of fiction for my novel-in-progress, “Slippery Slope.”]

Fiction Friday: Better Late than Never

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By Leslie Lindsay1028567918_rd7wi-ti-1.jpg

It’s Friday about one more hour here in the central part of the US and I best get my promised Fiction Friday post out.  If you’re on the West Coast, then I guess I am not so tardy…

This one is something I’ve been working on lately to add a little dark edge to my novel-in-progress.  Let me know your thoughts when you get a second…a star, a comment, a like, a re-post to Twitter or Facebook is always a good way to let me know if you liked it. Enjoy…

 

“I used to imagine it sometimes, what would happen if I just didn’t come home.  The thought always came to me when I was feeling particularly unworthy, lacking confidence, seeking attention.  God, I hated how that sounded; like I was an attention-seeking borderline threatening to run off or take my own life.  I could never do that, not really anyway.  The thought was always more about sharing my pain with others, letting them know just how miserable I felt deep down.  My desire to disappear came forth in the form of generosity.  Let me show you how I feel; Welcome to my personal hell; you should feel lucky.

 

          They were anything but lucky.  My desperation and irritability put a shield around me, making me lonely in busy world. 

          “I wish I could just drive my car off a cliff,” I’d say.  Or, perhaps I met my demise in some other way; the 18-wheeler would come barreling into my tiny Toyota crushing it like a tin can, with me in the driver’s seat.  My short life would flash before my eyes, summer camps and dance recitals, class photos, and crushes. Steve.

          Whatever it was, something terrible would happen and my friends and family—would have to return to my apartment to find all of the daily pieces of my interrupted life.  My dad would see the microbiology text left open on my desk, those tiny colored tabs ruffling the edges of the book.  Remember this.  Memorize that.  My mother would pick up my thong underwear in the corner of the room with her manicured nails and wonder why I spent money on a piece of clothing that covered so little. My roommate would thumb through the mail and set aside the Psychology Today magazine.  There would be to-do notes and lists throughout my bedroom, a brush with hair still entwined in it, Tom Petty stuck in the CD player, framed photos of me and friends, a smattering of greeting cards propped up like dummies. 

          This is how it would look.  A snapshot of my life.  Don’t touch it.  It’s my life.  I would try with all of my might to communicate the message but I would be gone.  Dead, probably.   Because running off wouldn’t be enough.

          Hiding out can only last so long.  Eventually one has to come back, reclaim their old life, or find a new one.  And really, who can reinvent themselves?  We think we can, but when it comes down to it, our personalities are so ingrained, it would be impossible. 

          So being dead would be better. 

          Friends and family—and people I don’t even know would come to my funeral.  They’d wear black and bow their heads and mutter things like she was such a nice person, always smiling…I had no idea…such a tragedy…she held so much promise.  They’d lay flowers on my casket and hug and shed some tears.

          And Steve would be there, too.  His eyes would be glassy and bloodshot, a dark suit, three-days worth of scruff.  He’d lean in and whisper to my parents, “I really loved her, you know?”  They’d nod and pull Steve into a three-way embrace, tears streaming down momma’s face.  Dad would reach up and touch the corner of his eye, but no tears would flow.  After the hug, they’d hold Steve with outstretched arms, resting their hands on his broad shoulders, “You were good for her, son,” they’d say and this time, they’d mean it.  They’d be sorry it was over.  Sorry they never accepted him like I had. 

          Steve would press his lips into a tight line and nod solemnly, his gaze gliding to the open doorway where Beth Donovan sits on a divan in a gray dress and black heels.  She’d twist her face into the doorway of the funeral parlor and there may be tears because she’s my age and she knows that it could have easily have been her who was side-smacked in an accident. How fleeting—and precious life can be.  Perhaps the tears were because she knew she caused my death.”

Write On, Wednesday: Planning to Pitch

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By Leslie Lindsay Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

I have been toiling away on this novel of mine for some time now.  On and off for about four years now.  Geesh…you’d think I’d just give up already.  Well, in the meantime I published another book (non-fiction–see side bar) and it’s doing quite well–a finalist in the Reader’s Choice Awards (hey–we writer’s gotta toot our own horns sometimes). 

Here are some things I am grappling with as I approach ‘pitch time:’

  • I guess I think I’m good-enough to get published, which seems very um…well, conceited… overly confident?  I don’t know…I don’t like either term.  But I will tell you that there is something deep down inside of me that wants to get a book into the hands of readers.  More of a drive, a personal challenge, something I can’t help but do because I am a writer.
  • The art of writing a novel feels very self-indulgent.  Cringe.  I hate that, too.  What got inside my head and whispered, “Write a novel?”  Call a it muse, or “successful schizophernia” as Jodi Picoult refers to hearing the voices of her characters.  But for, it’s a drive.  I can’t not write.  It’s just a part of who I am and who I’ll always be.  I have these stories and these character who show themselves to me and I have to get it down. 
  • And then I wonder if I am good enough.  See number 1 above.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So, this weekend I am planning a little get-a-way to the UofW-Madison for a pitch planning session.  I’m a nervous mess.  Well, sort of.  My novel isn’t finished and so that keeps the nerves at bay.  But you see…that also increases  my anxiety.  The book.  Isn’t.  Finished.  When my husband thoughtfully asked me how I was going to pitch the book this weekend, I clammed up.  My face went white.  “I don’t have to,” I said.  “I am only going to learn how to pitch.  The actual pitch is in a month.” 

 He nodded and patted my shoulder.  “Well, honey.  I am very proud of you.” 

I smiled. 

And now I am rolling up my sleeves to crank that baby out. 

Here’s a quote I will leave you with, “Those writers who are good are constantly questioning themselves.  The ones who aren’t any good, are overly confident.”  ~ Mary Karr, American author/poet. 

Write on, Wednesday!

Coming up on “Write On”:

  • Pitch Practice Basics, a summary of my time in Madison, WI
  • Setting up your writing space, with tips from  my almost-8yo daughter
  • A review of various Bestselling Authors from the book, “Why We Write.” 

Happy New Year!!

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By Leslie Lindsay RGB Happy New Year 2013 HD Wallpaper(image source: http://www.okwalls.com/rgb-happy-new-year-2013-hd-wallpaper/rgb-happy-new-year-2013-hd-wallpaper/)

  • Happy 2013!!  I’m Leslie–a mom, wife, blogger, basset hound lover, and author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012).  The book was most definitetly a labor of love as my oldest daughter–now 7 1/2 years–and doing great–struggled with CAS.  There’s also a companion Facebook page for the book.  Check it out here:  http://www.facebook.com/home.php?ref=hp#!/pages/Speaking-of-Apraxia-A-Parents-Guide-to-Childhood-Apraxia-of-Speech/235772599837084 Are you also walking the CAS path?  A pediatric SLP?  Follow along on “Apraxia Mondays.”  Have ideas for this segment of the blog?  Want to be featured as an “apraxia parent?”  Would you like to highlight some of your SLP achievements, tips, and ideas as a guest blogger?  Just shoot me an email or leave a comment.  leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

Write on, Wednesday:  Imagine a Better Writer

  • I am feverishly working on my second book–a novel (women’s fiction), which is a big shift from my first book.  You’ll see glimpses of this work-in-progress on my “Fiction Friday” blogs.  And since I write, I read.  You may benefit from that , as I often get inside scoops on the next up-and-coming books and authors.  Sometimes I post author interviews, tips & tricks for writing from conferences, and more.  You’ll see some of that popping up on “Write On, Wednesday!”  If you’d like  your work or tips featured, just send me an email leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com

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  • As a mom of two busy little girls–Kate (2nd grade, 7+ years) and Kelly, (full-day kindergarten, almost 6 years), and so that means I am pretty crazy about education and raising girls, developing self-esteem, raising their confidence, and more.  You’ll find related posts on “The Teacher is Talking,” which typically runs on Tuesdays.  Got some inside scoop you’d be willing to share?  Are you a teacher or educator?  Do you care about 6c (1)children’s self-esteem?  Do you have a book you want highlighted on this topic?  You guessed it–send me an email or post a comment! (leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com)

 

I am excited to embark on my 4th year of blogging.  I couldn’t do it without you, dear readers.  Best wishes to you and yours in 2013.