Tag Archives: psychological fiction

Wednesdays with Writers: The cottage at the edge of the woods, a woman leaving, abandoned Texas farmhouses, crickets, and so much more in this interview with the lovely Alexandra Burt on her new novel, THE GOOD DAUGHTER

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By Leslie Lindsay

A tale of family, loss, and coming to terms with ones identity in this richly complex and well-written second novel from international bestselling author of REMEMBER MIA. 

Alexandra Burt weaves a haunting story that grips you, shakes you, and won’t let you go. As a kid, Dahlia Waller remembers being shuttled across state lines from one seedy motel to the next, never formally attending school, and always wondering why she and her mother, Memphis, seemed to be on the run.

Years later, Dahlia’s all grown and has returned to her (longest running) hometown, rural Aurora, Texas and the dilapidated farm that holds secrets upon secrets. Something’s off, something’s always been off–her mother now anxious and paranoid, agitated, and secretive. She’s always been on the brink, but why is it worse now?

Told in alternating POVs with lush, poetic writing, the story slowly unravels. Keep in mind that THE GOOD DAUGHTER is not nearly as fast-paced as Burt’s debut, REMEMBER MIA (which has just been optioned for film!) and has more of a literary, supernatural element than her earlier work.  The overarching story to be horrific and haunting. I promise, you’ll remember the sensory details, the strong prose. the-good-daughter-blue-foil-003

Join me in welcoming Alexandra Burt back to the blog couch as she chats about THE GOOD DAUGHTER and all things literary.

Leslie Lindsay: Alexandra, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back; thank you for popping over. As always, I am curious about what made you write THE GOOD DAUGHTER, now—what, if anything was haunting you?

Alexandra Burt: Thank you for having me!  I often skim papers and magazines on the lookout for inspiration. Headlines make great stories but there are also our very own lives and the stories we witness firsthand that lend themselves to crafting a narrative. THE GOOD DAUGHTER came about as I was confronted with the demise of a marriage. I was a bystander yet it had an immense impact on me. I was left with so many questions and no answers and most of all I had never heard a tale of such proportions. Imagine a middle-aged couple and a ten-plus-years marriage coming to an abrupt end. There are no red flags, no infidelity, and no disagreements on financial decisions. Out of the blue, the husband finds their house void of his wife’s belongings. There are lots of questions but no answers and he makes it his mission to get to the truth. He has to eventually concede that he knows next to nothing about her; thirteen years of marriage during which she had remained a stranger.

Whatever little contact there is sheds some light on her actions; this is not just the whim of a middle-aged woman looking to end a marriage. She is irrational and not much of her reasoning makes sense but eventually her life story unfolds and with every passing day more secrets come to light. Bombshell after bombshell explodes but most of her past remains murky at best. The husband struggles with those revelations, feels he has lived with a stranger all those years, and eventually seeks counseling. He is told that more than likely she suffers from a personality disorder or two, among it paranoia.leave

Witnessing the impact of her actions, the trail of victims she has left in her wake, I struggled with assigning blame, I bounced back and forth between judging her and absolving her from guilt—she was in no way responsible for any genetic predisposition regarding her mental health—but I questioned the choices she made that impacted people around her in a very powerful way. Not so much her husband, but her children. But then, she too was a child once and that just added to the scope of the story. To quote from the novel, Dahlia says the following about her mother:

“Before she committed a crime against me, there were crimes committed against her. And though I know one cannot understand someone else’s pain, I want to say that hers was much heavier, reached much further beneath her skin.”

I still have so many questions. How well do we know the people we love? What are they capable of? Do people show their true colors or are they putting up a front? And if actions are the result of mental limitations, are we allowed to assign guilt at all?

I’m still unsure if I should feel empathy or outrage, but I wrote THE GOOD DAUGHTER as I was attempting to put her story into some kind of order. I felt the need to have a beginning and an end, for her story to conclude itself into some sort of lesson learned and strength gained. When it was all said and done, when the story was written, there was something fathomable; my preoccupation with her life seemed less powerful, like purging ghosts that live within all of us—I ended up prepared to move on, go on, live on, give forgiveness. Her life story still haunts me and I have a feeling it will for a long time.

L.L.:  Once upon a time, the working title of THE GOOD DAUGHTER was THE KILLING JAR. After reading, I’m beginning to understand why; there’s a good amount of ‘crickets in a jar’ within the narrative. I found it deliciously creepy. Can you tell us a bit about the significance of keeping crickets in jars, and then if you could talk a bit about how and why the title was changed?

Alexandra Burt: In Texas, crickets appear like a plague of biblical proportions, come out to mate, have a noxious odor and a shrieking chirp. You can’t escape them. I’ve seen them cover entire streets, sidewalks and buildings, especially after periods of prolonged dry weather.

In the story, crickets are a symbol of the ugly parts of someone’s past that can’t be denied and the secrets we keep that keep us bound to the past. A little known fact about crickets is that they have a tendency toward cannibalism so killing a few makes things worse. In the story all secrets must be exposed or they will grow exponentially, for everything that was done in the dark must come into the light.IMG_02321.jpg

When I start a new project, there’s a title. It’s the first spark that sort of develops, the seed if you will. The initial title I had in mind was Scent Of A Crime. It then evolved into The Killing Jar. A killing jar is part of entomology, the study of insects. It is literally a glass jar in which one kills insects. The jar has a thin layer of hardened plaster of Paris on the bottom to absorb the killing agent, usually some sort of chemical like etherchloroform or ethyl acetate. The insects are killed slowly by the vapors of the chemicals. There is a subsequent process to reintroduce moisture so insects can be pinned and handled without breaking.  It is a much more elaborate process but that’s the gist of it; killing jars are one step in the preparation of pinning insects.

The title ended up being THE GOOD DAUGHTER which is just as fitting; we all strive to be good daughters, we adore our mothers and consider them infallible until we get older and we have to destroy that perfect picture and must see them for what and who they really are; human, flawed, imperfect, and damaged in their own way. In the story Dahlia has been a good daughter for a long time but she eventually must press for the secrets her mother has kept all those years. In order to move on, the past has to be exposed and put to rest.

L.L.: Does that happen often, titles changing? A writer myself, I will deliberate on the ‘perfect title’ ad nauseam, and then still wonder if it’s any good.

Alexandra Burt: Preliminary titles are a way of giving a story oxygen during a first draft, propelling it forward if you will. At the same time lots of expertise goes into cover art and titles so I understand that publishers might feel the need to change titles. A book ends up on a table with lots of other books and has to compete and seduce the reader to be picked up. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was originally titled The Kingdom by the Sea, Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth was originally titled The Year of the Rose. Sometimes a story is one thing in its first draft but then develops into something different altogether. Regardless if authors change it or publishers see fit to tweak it a bit, it’s quite common and an interesting process.

L.L.: I loved the old motel, The Lark, the abandoned farm, the supernatural elements, and the present-day mystery.  Were there any real experiences or places/towns that served as the ‘real’ backdrop for THE GOOD DAUGHTER? Is Aurora, Texas an actual place, can you talk about that, please?abandoned-farm-house-near-eddy-texas-1_thumb

Alexandra Burt: Aurora is a fictional small Texas town. I live in Texas and have come across old farmhouses and buildings around rural Texas that have remained abandoned for decades. They sit undisturbed and are left to their own devices. To some, an abandoned farmhouse is just an eyesore, a building with shattered windows and boarded up doors—most people hardly give it a second thought—but there are stories left behind within those walls. Regardless if they are rooted in reality or made up, there are remnants of peoples’ lives. An abandoned building is such a metaphor for time passing, nature taking over, at the same time the building remains stuck in the past. Houses are not just bricks and wood and stucco but they are a state of being.

There was one house in particular that caught my attention. It was up for sale about a mile from where I live. It sat on two wooded acres and was built in the ‘70s. It was a whopping 5,000 square feet, almost unheard of in the ‘70s. The description went something like this: ‘Grand is what this home literally is. Nice yard of two acres, shade trees, 20′ x 40′ pool. Architectural details around every corner, must see this home to appreciate.’ By the time I ran across the listing the house was unfortunately under contract. I found out it had been vacant for decades—the owner had inherited it from his parents but had never lived there, had built a modern bungalow in a newer subdivision—he just never got around to selling it. It came up in a discussion with a friend and she told me that she had actually toured the house and that it was a time capsule; Formica, shag carpet, in-ground bathtubs. Someone’s life had literally been abandoned; appliances were still plugged in, not one fixture, not one lamp had ever been replaced. There was wood paneling, gaudy furniture and décor that hadn’t been touched in decades. I didn’t see it with my own eyes but I was told the highlight of the property was the pool. The online pictures showed it in pristine condition, cornflower blue tile and clean water. Reality belied those photographs: according to my friend the pool was filled to the brim with frogs.

What else does one do with that picture but write a novel about an old abandoned house and its former inhabitants confronting the past? [You might like this article about an abandoned Texas home]

L.L.: THE GOOD DAUGHTER felt like a mash-up of several of my favorite authors–reminiscent of Lisa Unger’s fictional town “The Hollows”(in her books, CRAZY LOVE YOU, INK & BONE, others), Elizabeth Brundage’s ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR as well as Mary Kubica’s PRETTY BABY, Lori Rader-Day’s PRETTY LITTLE THINGS with magical elements of Alice Hoffman interspersed. Bear with me; I’m getting to a question…how-–or who—influences your writing?images-14

Alexandra Burt: I love those authors! I remember reading Alice Hoffman many years back, before I even thought about writing and being completely enthralled. I’ve read all but one of the books you mentioned. I’m not sure that authors influence me, but yes, I see a commonality there. I am a huge fan of magical realism. I think I kind of see the world that way, it’s not a huge leap for me. I get some sort of tunnel vision once I work out a plot in my mind, after all, all authors tell the stories they feel compelled to tell. In the end who we are individually as writers is all we have and that’s what appears on the page. Being mentioned with the above authors is truly an honor. I hope I will always read as a reader, not as a writer. I love being swept away by a story, being consumed by it.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals? What does your writing space look like?

Alexandra Burt: My writing space is pretty average; I have an office with a desk, a laptop. Bookcases, a stocked bar (always comes in handy) and I write with the radio playing in the background. I try to write every day and I try to not think about my characters all the time—but I fail at both ends. Especially during the first draft, there’s no getting away from the story. The time I spend writing is minute in comparison to the time I spend thinking about it. I assign actors to my characters, I print out photographs of settings, and I collect items that the characters own, almost like a prop list in a play. I’ve mentioned obsessions, right? I have my entire novel plotted out on one sheet of paper or a dry erase board. It has to be condensed and I have to be able to take it in all at once.english-cottage-kate-winslet-cameron-diaz-library-office.jpg

Before I begin a new project, I rearrange the furniture and move my desk to a different spot. I clean the entire room, almost like a cleansing ritual to get rid of stagnant energy. It sounds very superstitious but it’s really just a spring cleaning. Out with the old, in with the new.

L.L.: Do you ever ‘write yourself into a corner?’ How can you reconcile the ideas versus the plot? That’s my biggest hurdle.

Alexandra Burt: Yes, I end up in corners all the time. Sometimes I feel trapped and I wonder if I should abandon the project altogether. There are two activities that get me out of such corners; one is walking. I walk obsessively and I believe that the forward motion propels my mind forward. Same goes for swimming; the repetitive and mindless motions allow me to focus. It’s amazing how sometimes I remain in a corner for days but then five focused minutes clear it all up. I guess the important thing isn’t how you get out of a corner but the knowledge that you do every time.

And then there are editors, those magical humans pointing us in the right direction. Worth their weight in gold, if not more.

L.L.: What do you hope readers gain from THE GOOD DAUGHTER? What would you say is the overarching message?

Alexandra Burt: To me the overarching message is that we all have to save ourselves, we can’t look for salvation by and through others. People can’t give us what they don’t have to give. If someone asks you to borrow a certain amount of money, for example, and you don’t have it, the person won’t insist. They understand the concept; you can’t give what I don’t have. The same goes for love or forgiveness. We have to save ourselves. It’s a hard lesson to learn but we must grow beyond the scars of our childhoods, and carve out our own lives.

L.L.: What’s obsessing you these days? What keeps you awake at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Alexandra Burt: True crimes are my obsession these days. Crimes that have people divided. Crimes that split opinions right between guilt and innocence. Seemingly average people accused of having committed atrocious crimes and the judgments we are willing to make even with limited information. There’s an unsolved crime that has had people obsessed for images-16decades and it demands I take a closer look.

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

Alexandra Burt: I guess you didn’t touch on the rather odd fact that the story has a witch in it? In the old days, wise women lived on the edges of their communities, making a living with
herbalism, prophecy and divination as well as healing.
In THE GOOD DAUGHTER Aella lives on the outskirts of the fictional town of Aurora. I am paying homage to the wise woman in all of us and she perfectly sums up life; there’s a price to be paid for everything. Nothing goes unnoticed, nothing will be given to you without demanding something in return. So be careful what you wish for.

For more information, or to connect with Alexandra Burt via social media, please see:

abbwABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alexandra Burt was born in a baroque German town in the East Hesse Highlands. She moved to Texas in 1993 and worked as a freelance translator. Determined to acknowledge the voice in the back of her head prompting her to break into literary translations, the union never panned out. She decided to tell her own stories.

She currently resides in Central Texas with her husband, her daughter, and two Labradors. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, a nationwide network of women crime writers.

Remember Mia is her first novel. Her second novel, THE GOOD DAUGHTER, available February 7 2017. She is currently working on her third novel.

I’d love to hear from you! Please, reach out to me, Leslie Lindsay via: 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of A. Burt and used with permission. Image of woman leaving from Seema’s blogspot, insect killing jar retrieved from Rice University Entomology blog, abandoned Texas farmhouse retrieved from, writing cottage retrieved from , all on 1.4.17]

 

Write On, Wednesday: NYTimes Notable Author Emily Arsenault talks about THE EVENING SPIDER, motherhood in the 19th century, living in old houses, ghosts, and more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A fascinating and gripping blend of psychological drama and historical true crime fiction from the late 1800s and inspired by a real-life murder on the east coast, THE EVENING SPIDER melds two young mother’s lives in this suspenseful ghostly tale by New York Times notable author Emily Arsenault.

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Told alternatively via (fictional) diary/journal entries and actual newspaper clippings from the 1800s and through a contemporary first person POV of young motherhood, THE EVENING SPIRDER is a suspenseful historical read. Could the house have something to do with the fact that both of these young mothers seem to be losing their mind, or could it be other, unresolved secrets harboring in the house, or the residents themselves?

I am absolutely honored to have Emily with us today.

Leslie Lindsay: Emily, thanks for popping over today. As a person who is very intrigued with old houses, motherhood, and madness, THE EVENING SPIDER was right up my alley. What inspired you to write this story?

Emily Arsenault: The initial spark was an experience I had in my own home—very much like my modern-day narrator’s. When my daughter was a baby, I would occasionally wake up the sound of her crying and someone shushing her over the baby monitor. It really terrified me at the time—I never came up with a satisfactory explanation for why it was happening. One might argue that it was static, or that new-parent anxiety was playing tricks with my brain—though I’m not really convinced! Anyway, a year or so later, after it stopped as mysteriously as it began, I felt removed enough from the situation to play with that experience and turn it into fiction. Doing so reminded me that I’d always wanted to write something that was, on some level, a ghost story. I’ve always loved ghost stories.

 L.L.: So how did you come across the Mary Stannard murder?

Emily Arsenault: My maternal grandmother was a Stannard, and her family hailed from the same part of southern Connecticut as Mary Stannard. I didn’t know about the Mary Stannard murder until recently, however. Oddly, I grew up hearing that an ancestor of my grandmother had been hanged in New Haven for poisoning her husband in colonial times. A few years ago, I asked my mother for specifics. She said she thought the woman’s name was Mary Stannard. I casually Googled something like “Mary Stannard New Haven poison,” and all of this information came up about a very different case—in which a Mary Stannard was the victim, not the murderer. It was in the late 19th century, rather than the 17th or 18th. I asked my mother if the story could have gotten mixed up over the years. She said no—she’d also heard of the 19th century Mary Arsenic Under the ElmsStannard murder in the past, but had probably just confused the names in her head. I’m still not sure of the veracity of the colonial era story—but in any case, I got hooked on the Stannard-Hayden case rather quickly. I read many of the New York Times accounts—and an excellent book called Arsenic Under the Elms by Virginia A. McConnell—before I really decided how I wanted to position the real murder case in the broader story.

L.L.: Let’s talk structure for a minute, something I often struggle with as a writer. I am sure there are several ways you could have told this story—it could have been a single person POV, completely historical, or more contemporary. How did you choose the method of part-ghost, part-historical, and part-present-day and multiple POVs?

Emily Arsenault: This happened pretty organically. I knew I wanted to have a modern-day narrator in a possibly-haunted house—inspired, somewhat, by my own experience. So that’s where Abby came from. But I also knew I wanted to have a story happening at the same time as the Mary Stannard trial. Naturally, then, someone from that era would be the “ghost” visiting Abby in modern times.  The voice of Frances’, the 19th century character, came to me pretty clearly early on. I really enjoyed writing a character struggling to maintain her sanity. I’m not sure what that says about me. Perhaps it just made it easier to take chances in the narrative.

L.L.: I particularly liked the 1800s account of Frances Barnett and 1886_report_drawingfound her story quite compelling.  As with any bifurcated novel (my favorite style of writing and reading, by-the-way), there have got to be sections or characters you were particularly excited to delve into. Weighing both France before Northampton Lunatic Hospital, Frances at Northampton, and Abby in contemporary 2014, was there a POV you enjoyed writing or researching more?  I know…kind of like choosing your favorite child!

Emily Arsenault: I enjoyed writing Frances at the Lunatic Hospital best. Unlike with her narrative of a few years earlier, she can be completely honest in that setting. She’s already in an insane asylum—what does she have to lose? But the really fun challenge here was making her sound peculiar enough that the reader isn’t sure if she’s trustworthy.  Her years in the hospital have taken a toll on her psyche.250px-Northampton_State_Hospital_grounds


L.L.: I understand you are a mother yourself. How did your own experiences as a mother inspire, or drive your writing?

Emily Arsenault: On the surface, I probably resemble my modern-day narrator more than my 19th century one. (I have a young daughter and live in an old New England house). And of course I drew some small details from my own experience for Abby’s narrative. However, I felt equally inspired by Frances’ situation. She might not be crazy—she might just be a little odd. Still, “odd” isn’t really acceptable for a young wife and mother in her era. I feel like mothers still aren’t really allowed to be “different” today. I love my daughter and I love spending time with her—but sometimes, when we are around other mothers, I find myself trying to pretend to fit into a certain mold of a mother. I feel like there is less of this sort of pressure for dads. There are weird and quirky and distracted dads everywhere, and everyone finds it charming, as long as the dads are putting in some sort of effort to be good dads. Moms, on the other hand, are supposed to want to make organic baby food and speak to their children like early childhood education experts and enjoy arts and crafts and singing If You’re Happy and You Know It with great enthusiasmTruthfully, I find this pressure to be more of an annoyance than a real burden—but I’m lucky I live in the twenty-first century rather than the nineteenth. Frances pretends to be a certain type of mother—and when she fails, the stakes are pretty high for her. Certainly higher than they would be for me.

L.L.: What advice might you give to aspiring novelists?

Emily Arsenault: My advice would be to avoid self-editing too early. I know a lot of aspiring writers who can’t seem to get past their first chapter or two because they read their work too early and get frustrated that it’s not as good as their favorite authors’ work. You need to give yourself time and space to improve and find the elements of your work you like enough to develop. Try to write several chapters before looking back. Later you’ll certainly have to learn how to tear apart a manuscript. But save that for when you have a manuscript. Or two or three.

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L.L.: Is anything obsessing you now…what?

Emily Arsenault: I’ve been reading a lot of books and watching a lot of documentaries about the death penalty. The topic is very likely to come up in a distant future project. I obsess over this issue occasionally. Especially during football season. While my husband hogs the TV watching NFL, I go upstairs and watch death penalty documentaries on my computer.  It’s kind of an unhealthy dynamic, actually.

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

Emily Arsenault: Right now I’m revising a young adult novel that will come out in 2017. It’s called The Dragon in the Leaves (although it’s possible the title might change), and it’s about a sixteen-year-old who reads people’s tea leaves. She ends up getting involved in the case of a missing classmate who might’ve been murdered. I’m also working on another adult book, but it’s too early to say much about it.

L.L.: Is there anything I should have asked, but might have forgotten?

Emily Arsenault: No, these were great questions and I appreciated the opportunity to participate in your blog!

L.L.: Thanks, Emily! It was such a pleasure reading THE EVENING SPIDER and catching up with you.

Emily Arsenault: Thanks, Leslie!

Emily Arsenault author photoBio:
 Emily Arsenault is also the author of The Broken Teaglass, In Search of the Rose Notes, and Miss Me When I’m Gone. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, with her husband and daughter.

Learn more about Emily and her books:

  • on her website
  • Like her Facebook Page
  • Join her newsletter for periodic updates about her books
  • I found this website absolutely mesmerizing and rife with photos and history of the Northhampton Lunatic Asylum, perhaps you will, too.

[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers/publicist K. Steinberg. Cover image of Arsenic Under the Elms retrieved from Amazon on 12.20.15, E. Arsenault’s other book images from the author’s website and retrieved 12.20.15. Northhampton Lunatic Asylum images from Wikipedia]

 

Write On, Wednesday: Alexandra Burt talks about her psychological thriller REMEMBER MIA, kidnapping stats, too many stories in her head, & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In this riveting psychological suspense debut, a young mother’s worst nightmare becomes shockingly real. I plowed through REMEMBER MIA, astounded with the gripping story, the horrendous acts and thoughts that filtered through the mother’s head, and knew I had to contact Alexandra Burt for an interview. At once hopeful and harrowing, this is a story that will have you reading well past your bedtime.REMEMBERING MIA

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Ms. Burt to the blog couch. Pull up your favorite beverage and settle in. This is one you won’t want to miss.

Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for being with us today, Alexandra! I so loved REMEMBER MIA. I’m always interested in what strikes an author when she sets pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), what was it about Estelle’s story that captivated you, propelling your novel?

Alexandra Burt: I’m delighted to be here and thank you so much for reading REMEMBER MIA.

Estelle’s story stewed in my head for many years before I actually put words on paper. I worked as a freelance translator after my daughter was born and when my dream of literary translations didn’t pan out, I decided to tell my own stories. I enrolled in writing classes but concentrated mainly on short stories. Eventually I signed up for a novel writing class and on the first day of class I was asked to post twenty-five pages. Needless to say, I hadn’t written a single word. So later that night, a sentence popped into my head; “Tell me about your daughter.” I imagined a woman, ravaged by postpartum depression, being confronted by a psychiatrist to unravel the ball of yarn that is the disappearance of her infant daughter.

I personally was very close to the story; I had a rocky start with motherhood myself. I experienced nine months of nausea and a potentially life-threatening complication after childbirth. After that I just didn’t bounce back. I never thought it to be anything else than a personal failure. Once you’re enveloped in such a state of mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to ‘think’ your way out of it. It took me an entire year to feel remotely normal.

L.L.: The story deals with the dark underbelly of new motherhood: the fact that infants are highly dependent on us for everything. Yet, fathers don’t exactly suffer from postpartum psychosis, it’s more of a female/mother thing (and rare at that)—the intricate high-jacking of hormones, and a variety of other factors. What, in your opinion is the most challenging aspect of being a new mother?

Alexandra Burt: Motherhood comes easy to many women, yet many new moms struggle. There’s of course societal pressure to be a perfect mother and the assumption that women are biologically destined to fulfill that role. But is that really the case?  The answer seems to be yes or our species would have ceased to exist long time ago but reality is much more sobering; women struggle with motherhood and when given a choice, they are giving more thought to having children and become mothers later in life than ever before, if at all, and more and more women have just one child. The lines are blurry, at best.

The most challenging aspect of being a new mother is an amalgamation of changes; there’s not just the baby and the feeding and the constant attention, but motherhood goes hand in hand with other life changes; quitting a job to stay home full-time, financial struggles, switching to part-time positions, or just adding another huge responsibility to an already full plate that we all deal with on a day to day basis. There’s no other time quite like giving birth; we must completely step outside ourselves and care for a newborn entirely dependent on us. The role of a mother is something picture-perfect we have to live up to yet we constantly question it as if we don’t trust ourselves. It’s a hard spot to be in, for sure. Alice in Wonderland Quote

L.L.: Estelle eventually sees a psychiatrist to help retrieve her memory, and work through her psychosis. What services are you aware of that exist for new mothers experiencing postpartum psychosis? And how is it different from “the baby blues?”

Alexandra Burt: Baby blues is a biological response to rapidly changing hormone levels during a highly vulnerable period; there are lots of tears, irritability, impatience, restlessness, and anxiety. Add to that the constant feedings and diaper changes, the crying and spitting up, first fevers and many sleepless nights in a row. All those feelings are common during that period and are rather short lived. The baby blues affects up to 75% of new mothers but sometimes this emotional state lasts beyond a few weeks and can turn into a postpartum mood disorder. There’s postpartum panic/anxiety, postpartum obsessive/compulsive syndrome, and in the worst case, postpartum psychosis. 

Once you add the constant self-doubt and interrupted sleep turning into insomnia, and the baby blues can become a clinically depressed state. The switch can happen at any time; within days, over months, or even a year. Postpartum mood disorders are almost like baby blues kicked up a notch; mood swings, anxiety, sleep disturbances, feeling overall disconnected from the baby, a fear of losing control, and even suicidal thoughts.

Some communities have local support groups and there are 800-numbers and online support groups available via the internet. There are hundreds of support coordinators who can put new mothers in contact with the help they need. Family support is crucial during this very fragile state, and of course mothers should seek medical help immediately if any postpartum mood disorder develops.

L.L.: Kidnapping is a real fear and horrific crime, one I couldn’t even imagine as a mother. We see it in the media with girls gone missing for years, living out lives under the rule of a sadistic person, sometimes even having their children. How common is the crime? Can you put my mind at ease…I’m a mom, too.

Alexandra Burt:  Statistically I can put your mind at ease. According to the FBI, abductions of newborns/infants from birth to six months by strangers are really rare. From 1983 to present 300 infants were abducted. 12 are still missing.

Once you look at cases of older children, the numbers gets fuzzy. Even though the official number of abductions is 800,000 per year, it includes family abductions, runaways, and abandoned children. Out of this staggering number only 115 were stereotypical stranger kidnappings.

On one hand the number of abduction is overstated, on the other hand some police departments don’t always file reports for older children missing, considering them runaways.

Since the 70s and 80s, there have been many advancements; Congress passed legislation that resulted in the creation of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children database and we are all familiar with Amber Alerts popping up on cell phones and signs on highways.

We shouldn’t worry about a potential abduction when it comes to our children but when the headlines pop up on TV, we all think this could be me. This could be my child.

L.L.: Shifting gears a bit…what kind of writer are you—do you follow the pen, carefully outline and plot, or somewhere in the middle?plotting_dry_erase_board-r33a17d0c27944b4ca2594ce32aaac0d6_fumj8_8byvr_512

Alexandra Burt: I plot and outline on a large dry erase board. I’m a visual person; there are colors and arrows and numbers but don’t let that apparent order of things fool you; there’s also a mountain of random notes on my desk, a file on my phone of bits of conversations that I overheard at the market, in the gym, in random conversations. I think more in visual scenes and atmosphere than in words and plot elements. I don’t fight it, I nurture it. So as much as I try to be organized and outline and plot, a story usually takes on a life of its own. As it should be.

L.L.: I understand you are a voracious reader. What are some of your favorite books and authors? C.S. Lewis’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND play a role in REMEMBERING MIA. Can you speak to that, please?

Alexandra Burt: Within the crime genre, there are the classics I love; Patricia Highsmith comes to mind, and Ruth Rendell. Contemporary crime fiction; Gillian Flynn and Tana French are always a sure bet. I also adore Jennifer McMahon and Erin Kelly.  Outside the crime genre, Ursula Hegi and Louise Erdrich. Specific favorite books are Laird Koenig’s The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane and John Hart’s The Last Child. David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III.

As to Alice in Wonderland, the choice was serendipitous. The quotes in the book speak to Estelle’s emotional state and the proverbial rabbit hole started it off, no doubt. People say all the time “I’m not going down that rabbit hole with you,” but what if people don’t have a choice? It is definitely Estelle’s state of mind in Remember Mia, as everybody else’s in the novel; her husband, her psychiatrist, and even the media.

Apart from the quotes and references in the book, similarities with Alice in Wonderland were completely unintentional yet here they are: There’s a pool of tears (just imagine not knowing where your child is); Alice running in circles (Estelle not being able to remember); the crowd hurling pebbles at Alice (the media judging her). Alice admitting to her identity crisis and her inability remembering a poem (amnesia); a tea party during which Alice becomes tired of being bombarded with riddles (therapy); and Alice arguing with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings, eventually refusing to hold her tongue (she won’t stop looking for the truth). It’s quite uncanny but I guess stranger things have happened, right? alice03a

L.L. REMEMBERING MIA has a lot to do with obsession. Estelle just can’t rest till she finds her child. Totally understandable. I’d be a mess! What are you obsessing on these days?

Alexandra Burt: Obsessions are a double-edged sword. Whatever I do, I do with an obsessive tendency so I have to force myself to take a step back and take a break. I read and write obsessively and it’s hard to escape. I therefore struggle to find balance in my life and I’m very conscious of achieving a well-adjusted state of being these days. As much as I want to get up every morning and write, I force myself to go to the gym or go for a hike. Meet friends for lunch or coffee. Most days I lose the battle but I don’t dwell on it. After all that’s how books get written.

L.L.: Can I ask what you’re working on next? Will we see any more psychological fiction from you in the future? I hope!

Alexandra Burt: My next novel is psychological suspense, for sure. The Killing Jar takes place in a fictional Texas town. It’s a story about a woman who comes across a barely alive Jane Doe in the woods, prompting her to develop a fixation on missing women. Local cases fuel her obsession but in the end there’s only one case left; a woman who went missing fifteen years ago. There’s no photograph of her, just a hasty composite tucked away in a dusty file. In pursuing questions about the mystery woman, the character exposes her very own obscure past.

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

Alexandra Burt: It’s a question I ask every writer I meet to satisfy my own curiosity; hindsight, were there early signs that you were destined to become a writer? Every single day I have new insights and aha-moments that point towards this career; my obsession with reading (see, here we go again with the obsession), my fascination with crimes (I remember two crimes in my hometown as a child growing up; two girls disappeared, the crimes remain unsolved to this day), asking too many questions, watching people (“will you stop starring already”), and picking up on details that go unnoticed. Just to mention a few. It’s my only regret in life—not having written novels earlier, at a younger age. I wish I’d have more time to grow and develop as a writer. There are just so many stories in my head.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Alexandra! It was quite illuminating.

Alexandra Burt: Thank you for having me, Leslie. It was a pleasure answering your questions.

For more information, to follow, or read, please see:

Alexandra BurtAlexandra Burt was born in a baroque town in the East Hesse Highlands of Germany. Wanderlust got the better of her and days after her college graduation she boarded a plane to the U.S.  Eventually ending up in Texas, she married and pursued freelance translations. Determined to acknowledge the voice in the back of her head prompting her to break into literary translations, the union never panned out and she decided to tell her own stories.

She is an outspoken animal welfare supporter and her dream is to live in the countryside again, in a farmhouse offering rescue dogs a sanctuary to live out their lives on a comfy couch.

Alexandra is a proud member of Sisters In Crime, a nationwide network of women crime writers.

She still lives in Central Texas with her husband, her daughter, and two Chocolate Labrador Retrievers. Her short fiction and non-fiction has appeared in various online magazines and literary reviews.

Remember Mia is her first novel. She is currently working on her second novel.

[Author and cover image courtsey of Alexandra Burt. “I’m not quiet, I’m plotting” retrieved from on 9.08.15. Alice in Wonderland image(s) retrieved from on 9.08.15, Alice quote from