Tag Archives: psych thriller

Writers on Wednesday: Gilly Macmillan on the challenges of a sophomore novelist, finding inspiration from real-life, getting to the truth in fiction, never tiring of new ideas, and more in her domestic thriller THE PERFECT GIRL

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Last year, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Gilly Macmillan burst onto the scene with her critically acclaimed and Edgar-nominated debut, WHAT SHE KNEW.  She returns this fall (William Morrow, September 6 2016), with THE PERFECT GIRL, her second hypnotic literary domestic psych thriller. Perfect Girl
Set in Bristol, in the southwest corner of England, a beautiful young piano prodigy (Zoe) is living a privileged Second Chance Life with her blended family, consisting of her mother, step-father, step-brother (also a pianist) and new baby (half) sister, Grace. Lurking under the surface, however are some dark secrets Zoe Maisey and her mother are harboring. Though she has a genius IQ and can play the piano darn well, moments from the past continue to haunt both she and her mother, events so tragic the mother hasn’t even told her new husband–demanding Zoe to do the same. But the cat is out of the bag fairly early in the book when someone from Zoe’s past shows up at performance at a local church.Twenty-four hours later, her mother is dead. Macmillan’s writing is razor-sharp, blending suspense and a compelling plot, told by various POVs as the aftermath of Zoe’s mother’s death unfold. I flipped the pages at a frantic pace as I wanted—demanded—to know what really happened. Macmillan does a fine job of breathing breath into different characters and highlighting blended families, domestic violence, infidelity, substance abuse, moving forward with one’s life, and the extent to which we go to maintain our secrets, and perhaps, even our innocence.

So, join me as I sit down with Gilly and chat all things writing and THE PERFECT GIRL.

Leslie Lindsay: Gilly, thrilled to have you back to discuss your second book. Thank you for taking the time to pop by. I had a tough time putting this one down. I was reading with a frantic clip and I’m curious, was it that way for you too, as you were writing? What ultimately inspired this story?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you so much for having me!  I’m thrilled to be back and delighted to hear that you enjoyed THE PERFECT GIRL.  You’re right, I did write it at a bit of a frantic clip.  I think it was partly because it’s such a claustrophobic set-up in the book, and set over such a short time-frame, that it rewarded that kind of immersive approach to the writing.

The inspiration behind the story was a real-life case that I heard about a few years ago.  It concerned a teenage girl who was sent to jail after being convicted of causing the death of some friends in a car crash, just like Zoe in the book.  This girl served her time, but never got back on track after that, in spite of having a loving and supportive family.  I was so saddened by the story, and by the idea that a foolish teenage mistake could result in such a devastating life-altering outcome.  The idea for the book took off when I began to wonder what might happen if you tried to move on after that: who would you become, and how would you make a future?

L.L.: I’ve heard some second-and –third-time authors lament about how challenging subsequent books can be to write. WHAT SHE KNEW thundered out of the gates and seemed to become an over-night success. Can you give a little glimpse into the world of a sophomore novelist? The challenges and also the benefits?

Gilly Macmillan: The world of a sophomore novelist is a strange place.  Sometimes thrilling, but often terrifying!  The learning curve is steep when your first book goes out into the world.  I was advised to write my second novel before the first was published and I was very glad I did because the promotion work and all of the other things that happen around publication can be very distracting and time-consuming. 

The challenges of writing my second book included writing to a deadline and for an audience that was wider than just myself and my regular readers (who were my husband and my writing partner) for the first time.  I felt under a spotlight in a way that was new WHAT SHE KNEWand threatened to feel uncomfortable at first.  My solution was to tell myself to hold my nerve (this is my mantra!  Sometimes hourly!) and write a book that I would like to read myself.  That’s how I got through WHAT SHE KNEW, and it was the key to writing THE PERFECT GIRL as well.

The advantages were many.  I had had no instruction on how to write when I started WHAT SHE KNEW so I made a ton of mistakes during the writing process that took a lot of time and patience to correct during edits.  However, that rather painful experience meant that I had a much better understanding of structure and pacing and the whole craft of writing a novel right as I worked on THE PERFECT GIRL.  It was good to feel that I’d learned a lot and meant that the editing process was much smoother.

“With tightly drawn characters, a fascinating storyline and absolutely exquisite narration, THE PERFECT GIRL is sure to keep readers up at night. Gilly Macmillan proves once again to be a master of the written word and is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors. Literary suspense at its finest.”

—Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Pretty Baby

L.L.: I have to applaud your attention and sensitivity to emotionally shaken adolescents in THE PERFECT GIRL. In my former life, I was a psych R.N. working in a place quite similar to what you refer to as ‘The Unit.’ Can you talk about how you developed this piece of the narrative and what did your research consist of?

Gilly Macmillan: Thank you.  It’s very important to me to try to remain as sensitive as possible to my characters and the situations they find themselves in, so it means a lot to hear that.  In terms of research, for starters I read everything I could find about teenage incarceration.  The material I found included first-hand accounts of the experience of being incarcerated written by teenagers, interviews with people who had worked with young people in detention units, and government inspection reports of juvenile detention centers.  I wanted to try to understand the system from every angle I could so I also did face-to-face research.  I interviewed a solicitor friend about how the law might treat teenagers in Zoe’s situation and also spoke to two retired detectives.  Additionally, I visited a police custody suite, spent a morning in court, sat in on a police interview with an adult who was under arrest, and visited an adult prison.  It was only after I’d done all of that that I felt able to try to imagine what Zoe’s experience might have been like and put it into her words.  What I learned during this process made fascinating but also very difficult material and certainly made me feel somewhat desperate about how we treat some of our teenagers and young people who are in detention.

L.L.: In fact, there’s a lot of issues that pop up in THE PERFECT GIRL: divorce/re-marriage, blended families, infidelity, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and secret-keeping. In fact, I think there’s a line in the book that goes something like, ‘A good lie is one that is very close to the truth.’ When we write about all of the things that make up the world we live in—even these not-so-pretty-things, I think there’s that much truth in our fiction. Can you talk about that, please?

Gilly Macmillan: Truth in fiction is something that I think about a lot, and something that I’m always striving for.  It’s one of the reasons I love to write in first person and it’s why I take my research very seriously.  I think the best fiction in any genre can tell us something about ourselves and our world, however uncomfortable, and the act of reading gives us time to reflect on those things. images

I try very hard to write characters whose predicaments grip us emotionally because there’s something recognizable and true in them.  I think there’s room for that in crime and thriller writing, alongside intricate plotting and all of the other devices we can use to pull a story along.  If the story isn’t tugging at the reader’s feelings in some way, I don’t think I’ve done my job.

L..L.: In what ways were you influenced by some of the teen culture mentioned in THE PERFECT GIRL?

Gilly Macmillan:  My children are teenagers (well, almost, in the case of the youngest) so I’m surrounded by teen culture at home and I’m always surprised at how much of it is based around what’s online.  I love it and I loathe it!  I think it can be wonderful when they make connections with new people and share recommendations and ideas online.  It’s a completely new way of creating and maintaining friendships and experiencing popular culture, and so different from my generation’s experience of being a teenager.  Having said that, I’m also afraid of its darker side, as many parents are.  I researched some nasty message sites as I was writing THE PERFECT GIRL and was shocked by the severity of some of the bullying that can go on.

Online teen culture felt like a really important part of Zoe’s story, especially as she’s rather shielded from it by her family and perhaps, as a result, a bit more naïve when she encounters it.  I think there’s some safety to be found in education around online culture, though it’s probably impossible to protect our teenagers from all of the pitfalls.  It’s certainly a rich source of material for psych thriller writers as a result.

L.L.: And since I’ve typed the title a handful of times, I have to ask, what are your thoughts on all of these books coming out in the last four years or so with ‘girl’ in the title? Because at one time, this book was originally called BUTTERFLY IN THE DARK.

Gilly Macmillan: ‘Girl’ titles are definitely a ‘thing’ right now, aren’t they?  The book was originally going to come out in the UK under the title BUTTERFLY IN THE DARK cover_bitdbut it was decided, rightly, that having different titles here and in the US can be confusing.  When THE PERFECT GIRL was first suggested I was pleased because I think it’s a great fit for the book, and for Zoe’s character, regardless of the trend for ‘girl’ titles.  I would like to think that ‘girl’ titles have become popular because we’re living in a time when we’re developing (finally!) more positive associations with the word.  ‘Girl’ nowadays can mean somebody feisty and brave and smart and engaging, and I think that qualifies it immediately as a potentially interesting title for a book. 

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

Gilly Macmillan:  I’m working on a sequel to WHAT SHE KNEW which sees the return of Detective Inspector Jim Clemo.  He has a new case to work on, which involves two teenage boys who are involved in an incident that leaves one dangerously ill after almost drowning and the other so shocked that he’s unable to speak about what happened.  It’s been great to return to a character I know so well and am very fond of and it’s an exciting challenge to write a follow on for him.

L.L.: What’s keeping you awake these days? What’s inspiring you? It doesn’t have to be literary, but if it is, then by all means…

Gilly Macmillan: That’s a tough question!  I sometimes feel as if my mind will never rest, there’s so much to think about and so much going on the world at the moment.  In terms of writing, I was inspired a great deal by a book I read last year called ALL INVOLVED by Ryan Gattis It’s a brilliant, heart-breaking, raw story of what happens during the LA riots while the police are occupied and some of the gang neighborhoods are left essentially lawless.  My third book is the thing that’s keeping me up at night at the moment.  I can spend hours fretting over characters or plot points, and even in the small hours I feel compelled to write down any ideas I have right then and there because if I don’t they’re gone by the morning!

L.L.: What question have you been asked a lot lately?

Gilly Macmillan: I’m often asked if I think I’ll be able to keep having ideas for new books.  The answer is ‘yes’!  I find life, and people, so endlessly fascinating that I’m sure that, all being well, I’ll be finding stories that I’d like to tell and characters that I’d love to explore for a very long time.

L.L.: Gilly, just a pleasure as always! Thank you!

Gilly Macmillan: You’re very welcome, it’s been a pleasure.  Thank you so much for having me!

For more information, or to connect with Gilly on social media, please see: 

Website

Twitter: @GillyMacmillan

Facebook 

“Tightly focused and fast-paced. You won’t rest until you really know what happened.”

—Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty One, on What She Knew

Gilly Macmillan -¬Gilly Macmillan.JPGAuthor Bio: Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew. She grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and lived in Northern California in her late teens. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family. Since then she’s worked as a part-time lecturer in photography, and now writes full time. She resides in Bristol, England.

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

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

[Special thanks to L. Truskowski. Cover(s) and author image courtesy of William Morrow and used with permission. Truth and fiction quote by Stephen King image retrieved from on 8.24.16]

Write On, Wednesday: Mary Kubica on her stunning new book, DON’T YOU CRY, scrapped manuscripts, abandoned houses, being cat crazy, & so much more!

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By Leslie Lindsay

It seems Mary Kubica has had a quick rise to prominence. But once you get to know her, you’ll know its not exactly glittery stardust that got her to the top.9780778319054.indd

From writing in secret (her words, not mine) when her kids were just preschoolers, to getting a call from an agent two years after the first read of her debut THE GOOD GIRL (see my earlier interviews of Mary in 2014 and 2015), and then feeling as if she can’t possibly maintain her schedule of volunteering at the animal shelter, writing, raising kids, and everything else that goes into her busy life, Kubica returns with an electrifying and terrifying tale of deceit and obsession.

It’s stunning, creepy, and brilliant. 

I was reading away and thinking I had it all figured out. Maybe. Possibly. Oh, but wait…maybe not. DON’T YOU CRY (forthcoming, May 17th) is Complex, unpredictable, and masterful.

I’m so thrilled to have Mary pop over for a cup of coffee and chat about her new book and everything in between.

Leslie Lindsay: It’s great to have you back, Mary! I know we talked about DON’T YOU CRY when you were in the very early stages of writing, but at the time, your main concern was that the characters were a bit younger than your other two books. Still, I’m not sure I ever learned what really sparked your interest in this story. Can you share?

Mary Kubica: As with my two earlier novels, that first spark of inspiration is always some unintentional and underdeveloped idea that pops into my mind.  With The Good Girl, it was a kidnapping; with Pretty Baby, it was a vision of a young homeless girl with a baby.  When I began writing Don’t You Cry, I was intrigued by the notion of tracking the simultaneous disappearance of a woman with the appearance of a woman in another town, though I didn’t know who all the characters would be, or how their lives would intersect.  These were details I figured out during the writing process.  But Don’t You Cry came together differently than the rest of my books.  As I was on a tight deadline thanks to a scrapped manuscript and trying hard to make up for lost time, I wrote it in record time for me, finishing a draft in about three months and writing with an urgency I’ve never had before.  I think the storyline itself mimics my own frantic writing during this time.

L.L.: And so the character’s ages…was that a challenge in the end?

Mary Kubica: My second novel, Pretty Baby, has a heavy dose of marital conflict, family strife and the difficulties of motherhood worked in.  I intentionally wanted to take a step back from this and delve into the world of a different generation for Don’t You Cry.  In this novel, the main characters are twenty-three-year-old, Quinn, and eighteen-year-old, Alex, and though Alex is young, he’s mature beyond his age.  Quinn was the one who was more of a challenge for me to write because she’s carefree, sometimes making rash decisions, living in that time of her life when she’s just starting to figure out the realities of adulthood and has few responsibilities in life.  That said, she is a likeable girl and I know there are aspects of her young life I see in my own.  I think readers will easily relate to her struggles of growing up and coming to terms with adulthood.

If you haven’t read Mary Kubica yet, you need to start right this minute, with DON’T YOU CRY. This riveting psychological thriller had me turning the pages at warp-speed and kept me rooting for its heroine, the completely relatable Quinn Collins, who sets out to uncover the truth about her seemingly-perfect female roommate after the roommate mysteriously vanishes. The plot twists and turns more than Single White Female on steroids, and both women characters are crafted with emotional intelligence and extraordinary talent. Mary Kubica is a must-read for me, and she will be for you, too.

~ Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author of Every Fifteen Minutes

L.L.: You have such a way with the city—that is, downtown Chicago—that I don’t have, even though we’re both suburbanites to the same city. I don’t know what “L” stops take me to Cermack or where Farragut Avenue is located. I couldn’t tell you about the coffee shop at Clark and Berwyn, but you can. Is there a lot of research that goes into this, or is it just you and your super-power knowledge of being a Chicagoan?

Mary Kubica: Immediately after college, I rented a studio apartment in Chicago’s Lake View neighborhood and worked at a law firm in the Loop – much like the one Quinn also works in – while finishing up my teaching degree.  I took public transportation to work and school, and so, though I’m a typical suburbanite these days, I have a prior knowledge of how the city works and feels.  That said, my memory isn’t quite what it used to be, and so I also spend a good amount of time scouring the CTA website for information when I write.  Many of the structures I mention – the coffee shop at Clark and Berwyn, for example, or the book store where Esther works – are completely fictional, and so the end result is a combination of prior knowledge, some research and a little imagination.

L.L.: And then we hop-skip to the other side of the lake, to a sleepy little Michigan resort town where we meet Alex Gallo, the young dishwasher who falls under the spell of a mysterious young woman. I felt this place very strongly. The cool November wind, the deserted streets after everyone left at the end of the season, the metaphorical chill. Do you feel as though setting often becomes character?

Mary Kubica: Setting is very important to me, and plays a central role in all of my novels.  I want readers to feel as though they’re there in my books, living beside the characters’ lives.  As a Chicagoan, I spent many summers vacationing on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan in towns like St. Joseph and South Haven, and some of my fondest memories of childhood involve climbing the sand dunes at Warren Dunes State Park (a must if you’ve never been!) and walking along the shores of Lake Michigan.  The Michigan town in Don’t You Cry is a fictional composite of all of these towns, and serves as a contrast to the hustle and bustle of urban Chicago life.

L.L.: There’s an abandoned house that pops up in Michigan. Oh, how they fascinate me! Was there a real-life inspiration for this, or did it just magically appear for you?abandonedhousesinMichigan

Mary Kubica: This home fascinated me as well!  When I started writing the novel, it was completely fictional, but as soon as I realized the house was going to play a much more significant role, it became my mission to get the look and feel of the home just right.  I did research and found some older, abandoned homes in the towns around mine, and visited them to be sure I got the details right, the way the homes sunk at their bases; the cracked concrete foundations; the vines that snaked around the exterior of the homes, barring any natural light from entering the inside.  I found it captivating to imagine the family that once lived there, and to wonder what happened to them, and why the homes were now abandoned.  There wasn’t any one home in particular that became the inspiration for Genevieve’s home, but rather bits and pieces from an assortment of abandoned homes.         

L.L.: Speaking of which, I know you’re not a plotter. Does that help you in the writing process…to create a sense of surprise and urgency on your part? Is it a hindrance? Do you ever discard major portions of your work after you’ve played around with it and have found the ultimate direction?

Mary Kubica: You’re right, I am not a plotter, and try hard not to overthink my novels ahead of time but rather to create the characters and give them free reign to tell their stories to me.  As a writer I have the moments of writer’s block, of course, but by not planning it all out in advance, the novels have what feels to me to be a more natural flow rather than a premediated one.  There are many times the paths the stories take surprise me, and I find this thrilling as an author, though without fail, there are also things I end up revising or deleting because the direction of the book changes throughout the process.

L.L.: There are some dark, grisly scenes in DON’T YOU CRY. And I look at you and think, no…not this sweet gal with two young kids and a cat for every member of the family. But insinuating yourself into the minds of…well, crazy, sinister people is kind of fun. Can you speak to that, please?

Mary Kubica: Well, anyone who has four cats probably has to be a little bit crazy!  Truthfully though, it’s fascinating to me to be able to get into the minds of characters who are far different than me, whether it’s eighteen-year-old Alex with his incompetent and alcoholic father, working overtime to make sure they don’t lose their home, or someone who is dark and sinister and evil.  It’s fun, and suffice to say, my characters’ lives are often far more interesting than my own.  With them, I get to step out of my comfort zone, use a little creative license and imagine what it would be like if I wasn’t the average suburban mom with two kids and a houseful of cats.

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

Mary Kubica: I’ve just finished a draft of my next novel, which is yet untitled.  This one should release in the summer of 2017.  I’m looking forward to sharing it with you!

L.L.: What are you currently reading?

Mary Kubica: I just finished devouring Kimberly McCreight’s THE OUTLIERS and Megan Abbott’s YOU WILL KNOW ME, which release this spring and summer.  They’re both absolutely fascinating books and ones I would highly recommend.  Up next on my to list is JUNE by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.  I loved her last book, BITTERSWEET, and cannot wait to give this is a read.

L.L.: What might be obsessing you now and why?

Mary Kubica: My next project is where my obsession lies these days.  As with most of my books, I get completely swallowed up by the characters and their stories, and have trouble quieting them down when I’m not actively writing.  But I’m also obsessing over this season of American Idol, getting ready to launch Don’t You Cry, and counting down the days until summer.  It can’t get here soon enough!

L.L.: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Mary! Such a pleasure, as always.

 Mary Kubica: Thank you so much for having me, Leslie.  It’s always wonderful to visit.

Mary Kubica author photo credit Sarah JastreBio: Mary Kubica is the New York Times bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL (2014) and PRETTY BABY (2015).  She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children.  DON’T YOU CRY is her third novel.Follow Mary on:

[Cover and author images courtesy of  E. Flounders at MIRA. Abandoned house image retrieved from on 2.29.16 and has no direct link to DON’T YOU CRY or Mary Kubica] 

Write On, Wednesday: Fiona Barton on her breakout debut THE WIDOW, adrenaline rushes, self-imposed deadlines, & feeling tearful after writing a first chapter

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In today’s cyber-media-crazed world, we have so much access–not just about the world around us, but are able to delve deep into the inner workings of the seedier sides of life through chat rooms and voyeuristic opportunities into the black market, sex trade, drugs, and so much more. It’s disturbing, to say the least. 9781101990261 (1)

In a compelling debut, sold at frenzied auctions in 30+ countries, THE WIDOW (New American Library, Hardcover; Feb 2016) is destined to become an international bestseller. The Wall Street Journal calls THE WIDOW, “One of five contenders for this year’s biggest thriller.”

Just how well do you really know someone? What secrets live within a marriage and what might be buried under that glossy veneer? Fiona Barton’s stunning debut delves right into the heart of those questions, a haunting domestic thriller with a fascinating examination of the darker sides of marriage and addiction.

Jean Taylor is the widow of a man who may be a killer. The worst kind: a pedophile. Though never convicted, Glen Taylor was the prime suspect in a horrific crime captivating people across England. Now, a week after his death, investigative journalist Kate Waters appears at Jean’s door seeking answers.

We all want answers—and they come to us in the form of an interlocking narrative, in past and present voices—some of which may be more truthful than others.

Today, I am humbled to sit down with Fiona Barton and have a cup of tea while we chat all things THE WIDOW.

Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for taking the time to pop by, Fiona. I am so taken with THE WIDOW. I can’t stop thinking about the possibilities, the opportunities, the fall-out. What was obsessing you enough to sit down and write this story?

Fiona Barton: As a journalist, I spent a lot of time in court. In the big cases, I would find myself watching the wives of those accused of notorious and terrible crimes and wondering what they really knew–or allowed themselves to know. I wondered: how do you cope with the idea that your husband–the man you chose to live with–may be a monster? THE WIDOW grew out of that fascination and has taken me on an unexpected journey.

L.L.: Would you describe this story as one about an abduction, or one about truth as we see it? Is it a little of both? Can you speak to that, please

Fiona Barton: Both, really but it started in my head as a story about a marriage with secrets. I was interested in what people really knew about those they imagined they knew best and how they coped when everything they believed was turned upside down. The crime came later and I chose the abduction of a child because I wanted an act that exposes our most basic emotional responses.

L.L.: As a writer, I often hear a voice, see an image, or become fixated on a character’s name before I even get writing. Was there a particular image, name, or voice that kept calling to you in THE WIDOW?

Fiona Barton: Jean. She was always there. I could hear her voice from the start. She is the widow in the title and the phrases she used, her thoughts, her distress, her disbelief had been echoing in my head. Hers was a compelling presence and when I finally stopped thinking about it and finally wrote it down, tapping away on an old laptop in a flat in Colombo (my husband and I were volunteers in Sri Lanka with VSO at the time), I felt chilled, despite the 30 degree heat. Jean was saying the words I had written in my head for her but it was as if I was hearing them for the first time.

I remember straightening hunched shoulders after a lost couple of hours, realizing it had got dark outside and feeling slightly tearful. Ridiculous, but it felt such an act of faith, writing that first chapter.

L.L.: I had to chuckle a bit when I read the setting of THE WIDOW being Southampton, England. My oldest daughter is completely taken with the Titanic and somehow—at least once a day—I read or hear some reference to the ocean liner. Can you describe the city a bit more for readers?

Fiona Barton: Southampton is a large port and university town in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Its main claim to fame is the fact that the ill-fated Titanic set sail from its dockside – and members of my family live there. I chose it because I wanted to set the book in places I know personally so I can walk the streets in my head rather than on Google Earth.

L.L.: There’s a part in THE WIDOW where Kate Waters, the reporter is writing down the story after her interview with Jean. “She was a plunger, not a planner, when it came to writing[…]some of her colleagues sat with their notebooks, marking quotes[…]underlining points[…]numbering paragraphs[…]others, ‘the real talent’—she acknowledged to herself—wrote the whole thing in their heads over a coffee or beer and then threw it down on the page in one beautiful, flowing draft.” This is really a long way of asking: are you a planner or a plunger?

 Fiona Barton: I am an unashamed plunger. I do write in my head before I put my fingers on the keyboard but I don’t make copious notes. I sit at my laptop and plough on and then review. Feels a bit dangerous at times – like walking a tightrope – but adrenaline is a great motivator.

L.L.: I’m sure much of the inspiration for Kate’s character came from your own experiences working for The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Are you still working as a journalist, or are you focusing primarily on fiction?

Fiona Barton: I stopped working as a journalist in 2008, when I went as a volunteer with VSO, to work with reporters in Sri Lanka. Since then, I have continued training and supporting journalists in exile and working under physical threat in their own countries. It has allowed me to work with some incredibly brave and committed reporters all over the world.

L.L.: Writing is such a fun—but timely pursuit. And then you add in all of the self-doubt, the outside work, family obligations, well it’s a wonder a book ever comes out in the end. What were some of your writing “demons?” What can writers do to overcome them?

Fiona Barton: My main challenge was finding the time to write. I was brilliant at making a million excuses not to sit at my desk and write – my job, my family, the need to sort out cupboards – but two things happened to get me on track. The first was a proper deadline. As a former journalist, I found I needed one and the thought of missing one is the stuff of nightmares. That is not to say that I don’t skid up the finishing line occasionally…

The second was a placement in Myanmar (formerly Burma) for six months. In exile from my everyday life, I found a rhythm, getting up early to write before the day started. 

download (31)Obviously, going to Myanmar is not an option for everyone but what I brought home from that trip was the idea of writing in bed. It is not laziness or decadence (honest!) but if I get up, I get distracted immediately so I stay put, fresh from dreams, and try to write for at least two hours.

L.L.: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you writing more fiction?

Fiona Barton: I am deep into my second book with Kate Waters, the reporter, back as a narrator. I never thought of writing a series – The Widow was a story that came to me – but there has been such a response from readers to Kate and journalists in general that I have explored her character further. And Bob Sparkes makes an appearance…

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

Fiona Barton: See above…[there’s] no time for anything else!

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

Fiona Barton: Hummm…I’m not telling…

L.L.: Fiona, it was a pleasure having you. Thanks for the lovely chat.

Fiona Barton: Thank you, Leslie

For more information, or to follow on social media: 

Twitter: @figbarton

Join the conversation using #TheWidow

Website: http://www.fionabartonauthor.com 

FionaBarton-shot02-JennyLewis-33 higherAuthor Bio: Fiona Barton lived for many years in London where she worked as a senior writer at the Daily Mail, news editor at The Daily Telegraph, and as chief reporter at The Mail on Sunday, where she won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards. Since leaving her job in 2008 to volunteer in Sri Lanka, Barton has trained and worked with exiled and threatened journalists all over the world. Born in Cambridge, England, she now lives in southwest France with her husband and is currently at work on a second book.

[Special thanks to L. Jaggers at Penguin RandomHouse/NAL. Author image credit: Jenny Lewis. Cover image and author image used with permission. Myanmar image retrieved from on 4.14.16]

 

Write On, Wednesday: Interview with Suzanne Redfearn, Author of HUSH LITTLE BABY

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By Leslie Lindsay

In a grippingly honest and electrifying debut, author Suzanne Redfearn has taken us on a horrific journey through the madness and terror of being a victim of domestic violence. The story is masterfully told, the pacing relentless, and the observations terribly realistic. In fact, you may find it a challenging read given the content at times. Still, it’s such an important book to open our eyes to the truth that lies behind some closed doors.

L.L.: Suzanne, thank you so much for being with us today. I was so taken with HUSH LITTLE BABY (Grand Central, Oct 2013), that I found it hard to read, while simultaneously hard to put down. Can you explain how you were able to craft a story that was both heart-wrenching and insightful?

Suzanne Redfearn: Thank you for hosting me and for your kind words.

I kept a box of tissues beside my computer. Just as reading a story that is heart-wrenching can be difficult, so is writing it. The characters become real, and you feel for them the way you do for real people. Part of the emotions come from knowing that, while you are writing fiction, the story is based on reality. This story was inspired by a friend who was going through a difficult divorce, and the characters and a lot of the storyline were based on hundreds of testimonials I read from women who were in abusive relationships. So the compassion I felt as I was writing and that I hope the readers feel when they are reading it is not only for my characters but for all the victims who suffer in similar situations.

L.L.: I was completely touched by the ‘author’s note’ at the end of the book in which you talk about a friend of yours going through a similar experience as the protagonist, Jillian. “My life is good…but what if…” seems to be a common thread throughout much of the book and fiction in general. Can you speak to that?

Suzanne Redfearn: This idea started with three lines written on a napkin during a dinner with the friend you mentioned: 1) Marital sabotage 2) Custody 3) Evil appears good; good appears evil. The idea of what one spouse could do to another was haunting. What if? What if my husband turned on me? What if he wanted to get custody of the kids? He knows my secrets, my failings, my vulnerabilities. What if he were able to convince everyone I was a bad parent, dangerous, unstable? These are universal fears every mother can relate to and which my friend was unfortunately experiencing. Once I had those three lines, I knew I had the germ of an idea for a story that would resonate universally.

L.L.: Domestic violence is such a sticky subject. In some cases, it seems the only logical answer is to run, just like Jillian in HUSH LITTLE BABY. But that’s harder said than done, no matter the resources a person may have. Why is that, in your opinion?

Suzanne Redfearn: The control tactics abusers uses to keep a woman from leaving are paralyzing. One of my goals in writing this story was to expose the truth about domestic violence and how difficult it is to escape. I purposely made Jillian a strong woman who is financially well off. I did not want her to be a stereotypical abuse victim because, the truth is, there is no “type”. The physical, emotional and psychological intimidation abusers use to control their victims are not dependent on wealth, race, or education. Everyone is susceptible regardless of their station in life. Abusers isolate and trap their victims, cut them off from resources that would allow them to flee, make them feel worthless, demoralize them, threaten what they care about most—family members and their children. Viewing the situation from the outside, it might seem cowardice when a victim stays, but in truth, it is often the opposite—the victim remains as a valiant act of martyrdom, heroically enduring the abuse in order to protect their children or others. I am a strong, professional woman…I am a mother…before I wrote this book, I believed, Never, not me. Now I know, I am not immune, merely lucky. Jillian could be any of us, she could be my daughter, my mother, my friend—she could be me.

L.L.: I have to say I got a little connected to the folks in Oregon, Paul and Goat. What do you think became of them in the end?

Suzanne Redfearn: It’s funny how I get asked that all the time. Paul and Goat are two of my favorite characters as well, especially Paul because he is the antithesis or Gordon, a guy who has been in trouble with the law and who appears dangerous but who is wholly good. I’m very glad the Flying Goat and all the Oregon characters came into my life and that I got to enjoy their company for the months I was working on the story. I imagine they continued as they were when Jillian found them, flowing through life in a way that makes me a little jealous, content and at peace with who they are.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit, I’m curious about some of the architectural references in Laguna Beach—and if they actually exist. You speak of Jillian’s parent’s home—“a Normandy Revival cottage with a wavy Cotswold roof” as being on the home tour in the northern part of Laguna Beach. Is there really such a house—and tour?

Suzanne Redfearn: There are several cottages in Laguna that fit the description. One of the founders of Laguna Beach was a man by the name of Joe Jahraus and he had served overseas in World War II. He brought the architecture home with him, establishing a design vernacular that can be seen throughout the town. The restaurant my husband and I own, Lumberyard Restaurant, was built by Joe and his son in 1916 and it uses Normandy Revival architecture and has a Cotswold roof. [image retrieved from Laguna Beach Best on 2.5.15]

L.L.: As a first time novelist—and former architect—what advice do you have for others looking to break into the publishing world? Did you take classes to hone your skills? How long did it take to write HUSH LITTLE BABY? And could you speak to the submission process?

Suzanne Redfearn: Write, write, write. HUSH LITTLE BABY was my fifth novel. The first one got me my agent, but he wasn’t able to sell it. The next two weren’t good debut novels. The one after that was a Christmas novel, which I found out after I wrote it, no one wants to buy because the shelf life is limited. HUSH LITTLE BABY was the one that made it through the gauntlet. I wrote it in a panic, afraid I would lose my agent if I didn’t give him something he could sell. It took me four months.

If you know how to tell stories and you have something to say and you are determined, you can learn the rest. I didn’t know how to “write” when I started, I only knew how to tell a story, so that’s what I did. I told a story, then I went to the bookstore and I bought every book I could find on the craft of writing, and I set about fixing what I wrote. I have no idea what advice to give regarding breaking into this crazy world. It feels like it’s a combination of perseverance, luck, and talent—talent being the least important of the three. My first novel is as good as my fifth, but that one didn’t sell. It was luck as much as anything that my query landed in the hands of the great Nick Ellison, an agent who embraces stories that are out of the box. He likes HUSH LITTLE BABY but didn’t fall in love with it the way he did my first novel, so if I hadn’t written that first one, he wouldn’t have offered to represent me, and there’s a very good chance I would never have written HUSH LITTLE BABY and I wouldn’t be answering this blog.

The more mud you throw on the wall, the better chance you have of making it. So I suppose that’s the best advice I can offer, don’t give up and keep writing.

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

Suzanne Redfearn: I’m very excited about my new novel that is going to be released February 2, 2016. It is titled NO ORDINARY LIFE and it is the story of a young single mother whose four-year-old daughter is discovered from a YouTube video that goes viral and catapults the family to superstardom. The mother thinks her prayers have been answered until the dark trappings of their new life are revealed and she discovers the devastating price of fame. Their world begins to splinter apart, and the mom needs to figure out a way to save them before she loses everything.  http://suzanneredfearn.com

“Last year I read an AHHHMAZING debut novel called Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn. I am STILL beating people about the head and face with this book. I think I’ve made all of my friends read it. Suzanne has a new book scheduled to hit bookstores in 2016 (i’m already excited to read it) and she needs our help!” [image retrieved from D.L. White’s blog, The Sweet Escape on 2.5.15. Contest on this blog is over. Cover and quote used to promote S. Redfearn’s next book]

L.L.: What question have I asked that I didn’t but should have?

Suzanne Redfearn: Who is going to win the World Series next year? The Angels of course!!!

L.L.: Thank you so much for being with us today, Suzanne! It was such a honor.

Thank you. I loved your questions and having the opportunity to talk about my “baby.”

Don’t miss out! Learn more about HUSH LITTLE BABY and Suzanne Redfearn here:

Web:www.SuzanneRedfearn.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SuzanneRedfearnAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SuzanneRedfearn

***PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY REVIEW: This snappily paced, cinematic novel about the dysfunctional modern American family from architect and first-time author Redfearn contains heavy doses of violence, danger, and fear. Events hurtle along with great
urgency to a rousing climax. A smart, suspenseful debut***

Suzanne RedfearnAbout Suzanne: Born and raised on the east coast, author Suzanne Redfearn, moved to California when she was fifteen and currently lives in Laguna Beach with her husband and two kids, where they own a restaurant called Lumberyard. Her debut novel, Hush Little Baby, was released in 2013 and received rave reviews. RT Book Reviews chose it as a Top Pick and nominated it as Best Mainstream Fiction. Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “smart, suspenseful debut.” Kirkus Reviews describes it as “A compelling tale of deceit, violation and anguish that ratchets up the tension page by page.” And Target chose it for its Emerging Author Program and as a Target Recommends selection. Suzanne’s second novel, No Ordinary Life, is scheduled for release in February 2016. Prior to becoming an author, Suzanne was an architect specializing in residential and commercial design.

Write On, Wednesday: Meet Thomas Christopher Greene of THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE

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By Leslie Lindsay

It’s that time of year again. There’s a nip in the air, an excitement humming about campus, and perhaps the ivy is a little greener and a little more lush along those stone and brick buildings.

I am thrilled to welcome author—and president of Vermont College of Fine Arts—Thomas Christopher Greene—who prefers the less pretentious Tom—to our literary blog.

Having just read THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press, 2014), the fourth of Greene’s novels, I have to say, this one blew me away. It’s part mystery, part literary academia, and part psych thriller. Definitely a blend of my favorite genres. What’s more, it takes place—in part—at a Vermont prep school.The Headmaster's Wife

Leslie Lindsay: Thank you for being with us today, Tom. I found THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE compulsively readable. While overall the prose is easy reading, the subtext is complex. We definitely get that ominous vibe that something is amiss. Well, okay—it is amiss. In the opening lines, our middle-aged headmaster is wandering around outside in the buff. Was this your intention all along, or, as many things with writing, did the narrative take a life of its own?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I often find the beginning of a novel after writing the first seventy pages or so six or seven times. It’s a horribly inefficient way to write but the only one I know. So in this case, I added that beginning after I had developed Arthur’s voice, and also the in between sections where he is being interviewed by the police.

Leslie Lindsay: Let’s talk about structure. It’s a big obsession of mine of late. You do a wonderful job of creating a sort of bifurcated narrative with framing the story along the lines of now—not now—now; tossed in for good measure are some scenes in which Arthur is being interrogated. The writing just seems to flow organically. But something tells me this was carefully thought out. Can you explain?

Thomas Christopher Greene:When I start a book, I spend a lot of time thinking and living with the characters in my head. Structure is critically important, in that it is the framework for how you tell the story. That said, this idea I came across by accident—I wrote the long first piece that is Arthur’s point of view and initially I thought the whole book would be told that way. But I knew I needed Elizabeth’s point of view and the conventional way to do it would be to alternate it with Arthur’s, which is often done. But then I came across the idea of essentially telling the same story—with different viewpoints, in, as you put it, a bifurcated narrative. And once I had that figured out, the rest of the structure took care of itself.

L.L.: THE HEADMASTER’S WIFE was born of personal tragedy and grief in your own life. Oh, I can only imagine the heartache of losing a precious young baby. Grief is a tricky thing, and yet you write about it so eloquently. What would you recommend to others who are attempting to write about grief without being stereotypical?

Thomas Christopher Greene: The great thing about fiction is that it allows writers to deliberately obfuscate a story in order to find a deeper truth. In this case, I didn’t actually have the resources—emotional, mental etc—to write about my own experience with losing our daughter. But I found that through characters I could write about the emotions and feelings I had, and there was enough distance, paradoxically, to allow a certain measure of honesty. I don’t know that there is any good advice I could give someone writing about grief, just as there is no blueprint for grief itself.

L.L.: Let’s shift over to the business of writing. What is your advice to aspiring novelists?

Thomas Christopher Greene:Read everything you can. Be thick-skinned because that will carry you. Trust your own vision. And come to Vermont College of Fine ArtsJ

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about the writing programs at your college?

Thomas Christopher Greene: We have two low-residency programs, one in writing (poetry, fiction, memoir) and one in writing for children and young adults. They are widely recognized as two of the top writing programs in the country. Next fall we are also starting our first full residency program in writing and publishing. Author Talks and Story Slam at VCFA Montpelier Vermont

L.L.: Can you share a bit about what you are working on next?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I’m writing a novel that for now is called SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW. It will be published by St. Martin’s Press hopefully in early 2016. It’s a story of a great unrequited love and what happens after a chance meeting on a Manhattan street.

L.L.: Finally, how can we learn more about you and your work?

www.thomaschristophergreene.com

and www.vcfa.edu

Thank you so very much for being here today! We so enjoyed.

My pleasure!

Thomas Christopher Greene

Thomas Christopher Greene was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts to Richard and Dolores Greene, the sixth of seven children. He was educated in Worcester public schools and then Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut. He earned his BA in English from Hobart College in Geneva, New York, where he was the Milton Haight Turk Scholar. His MFA in Writing is from the former Vermont College. [book cover image and author image retrieved from www.thomaschristophergreene.com with author’s permission 10.01.14. College image retrieved from http://www.wherezit.com/listing_show.php?lid=423779 on 10.01.14]