Wednesdays with Writers: Author-Editor Team Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen Pen First Psych Thriller Together, THE WIFE BETWEEN US, about exes, lies, perception, memory; plus friendship, movie deals and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

Spectacular, mind-bending, romantic thriller about all sides of a marriage, infidelity, betrayal, and more.

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When a copy of THE WIFE BETWEEN US (forthcoming, January 9 2018 from St. Martin’s Press) landed on my doorstep, I was immediately intrigued. It’s co-authored (Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen), which lends well to the ‘wife between us’ concept; that is, there’s always more than meets the eye when it comes to complex relationships like marriage.

What calls to mind with THE WIFE BETWEEN US is a smart, edgy psychological thriller in the vein of THE LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE meets Gillian Flynn’s earlier work (SHARP OBJECTS), meets DEAR DAUGHTER (Elizabeth Little), a subtle twist in vein of HER (Harriet Lane) with a flavor of GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Paula Hawkins); but it’s probably not what you’re expecting.

Vanessa’s seemingly perfect husband, Richard abruptly leaves her. She’s forced out of their four-bedroom Colonial and into her aunt’s apartment. She drinks. She worries after her aging aunt. She reluctantly takes a job as a sales associate at Saks. She keeps a close eye on her “replacement,” the new, young assistant Richard is now engaged to marry. download (57)

But it’s not just about a jealous ex-wife. It’s not even about her being lonely and worried. It might not even be about the new woman.

There’s definitely a twist with THE WIFE BETWEEN US, and I guarantee you’ll be flipping the pages frantically to discover the truth, which will reveal itself by the end.

Please join me in welcoming Greer Henricks and Sarah Pekkannen to the blog.

Leslie Lindsay: Greer and Sarah, it’s such an honor to have you! I understand you have worked together in the past—but not as co-authors. Can you talk a bit about how you came to collaborate on THE WIFE BETWEEN US? And what was the instigating moment for this particular title?

Sarah: After working together on seven novels as an author-editor team, we knew we had a unique relationship.  Not only do we share strikingly similar narrative instincts and approaches to storytelling, but we get along beautifully as friends. When we discovered we were both itching to write a psychological page-turner – one as twisty, complex, and fresh as possible – it almost seemed predestined.

Greer: We both studied journalism and psychology, which makes us curious students of human nature.  In THE WIFE BETWEEN US, we wanted to explore how memories are colored by the lenses through which we view our worlds – and how people can share an experience but carry away markedly different perspectives and emotions. Little did we know that it would take every ounce of our collective brain power to keep track of the literary kaleidoscope we wanted to create.

L.L.:  In watching your YouTube video, I can see that your working chemistry is so natural. It really seems like you had fun with this title. Were there any challenges co-authoring?

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Greer: Our biggest challenge is technology. Because we write every word together we rely on google docs and google hangouts. Most of the time these tools work beautifully, but when they don’t it’s incredibly frustrating.

Sarah: Aside from technological glitches, we did have a lot of fun!

THE WIFE BETWEEN US delivers a whip smart, twisty plot in a taut, pacy narrative. It’s terrific and troubling. This is one scary love triangle where you won’t know who to trust. I loved it.”

Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of What She Knew

L.L.: As for the story, my read was that a complex relationship like a marriage is so very multifaceted it’s hard to tell where one truth begins and another ends. It’s not just marriage; those lines can be blurred in just about any romantic entanglement. Can you elaborate on that, please?

Greer: There are three sides to every marriage: the husband’s, the wife’s and the truth. This is true for any relationship.

Sarah: One of our hopes was that THE WIFE BETWEEN US  would cause readers to reevaluate their own perceptions.

L.L.: I have to admit, my mind was reeling as I read THE WIFE BETWEEN US. I had to read ‘very carefully,’ for fear I might miss something. I had lots of theories. I can only imagine you did, too. Did you ever write yourself into a corner, and if so, how did you back out?

Greer:  We have two words for you: Cake Topper.

Sarah: We definitely backed ourselves into a corner with that one. It only took about 80 hours of conversation before we figured out a way to fix it!

L.L.: I understand THE WIFE BETWEEN US is to become a major motion picture. From the producers of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, no less! How thrilling! What can you tell us about the process and when might it be in theaters?

Sarah: We spent a day talking to various producers who were interested in our manuscript, and signed a contract with Amblin Entertainment, which is Steven Spielberg’s production company. They are currently working with a screenwriter to create the script based on our book!

L.L.: Are you collaborating on something new?

Greer: Yes, our next novel is also a psychological thriller, tentatively titled You’re Invited. It features twists and turns, of course, as well as strong female protagonists.

L.L: What’s keeping you awake at night? And let’s hope it’s not a faulty alarm system.

Greer: The plot of our new novel is as twisty and complicated as our first book and I think we are both becoming quite obsessed with all the potential twists and turns. We often email each other in the middle of the night with random ideas. Most of the time they still make sense in the morning.

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

Sarah: Please check out our website for more information on our book – and hopefully we’ll get to meet a lot of readers on tour!

L.L.: Ladies, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for being here today. Happy New Year!

Greer and Sarah: Thanks for having us!

For more information, to connect with the authors, or to get a copy of THE WIFE BETWEEN US, please see:

Greer:

Sarah:

Buy the Book!

Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks_photo credit Bill MilesABOUT THE AUTHORS:  Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally and USA Today bestselling author of seven previous novels. A former investigative journalist and feature writer, she has published work in The Washington Post, USA Today, and many others. She is the mother of three sons and lives just outside Washington, D.C.

Greer Hendricks spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. Greer lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children. THE WIFE BETWEEN US is her first novel.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission. Image of split wedding couple retrieved from, frustrated writer image from, unboxing image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives, all on 1.5.18] 

Wednesdays with Writers: B.A. Paris talks about her runaway bestseller BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, psychological & emotional abuse, letting the characters do the ‘talking,’pottery, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Oh wow. What a story. What pacing. Already a runaway bestseller in the U.K. with movie rights sold, B.A. Paris’s debut psychological thriller is sure to top many “must read summer lists.” BehindClosedDoors_COVER

And it should.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS (forthcoming August 9th 2016) is completely unsettling and addictive, a true page-turner. Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he’s got looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You’d like to get to know Grace better but it’s a challenge. She can’t meet up for coffee at a moment’s notice. When her friends call, she’s conveniently ‘out’ or ‘in the shower.’ She’s a gifted cook, but how on earth does she remain so slim?

And why are there bars on the window?

It may seem as if this so-called ‘perfect’ marriage is a lie.

And well, it is.

Today, I am thrilled to have B.A. Paris to the blog couch to chat with us about her gripping thriller, BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.

Leslie Lindsay: Oh, I am so glad you could pop by! I know Grace’s story was inspired, in part, by your suspicion that a friend was caught in a situation with very little control, unable to do as she wished. To me, this is a little bit of a relief, because if Grace’s story was based on truth…yikes! Can you share a little more about your inspiration for BEHIND CLOSED DOORS?

B.A. Paris: Thank you so much for inviting me today, I’m thrilled to be talking to you about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. Yes, you’re right, Grace’s story was inspired by my suspicions about a friend’s marriage but it could be that she is very happily married and it was just my imagination – I have a very vivid one! My story was also inspired by some articles I read about women who were controlled by their partners to such an extent that they felt incapable of functioning without them.  

L.L.: I think it’s very unsettling to know that there are some really horrific things that *do* go on out there and they may never get the redemption they deserve.  Can you talk about that, please?

B.A. Paris: The problem with psychological abuse is that there are no physical signs, so it is even harder to talk about than physical abuse, simply because it’s harder to prove. Also, if someone in this sort of situation were to confide in a friend, the most likely reaction would be ‘well, just leave.’ It’s difficult for someone on the outside to understand the amount of control involved. In one case I read about, a woman was allowed to go to the shops to buy some milk but while she was there it never occurred to her to try and escape, or to tell someone what was happening, she just went straight back, as she had been told to do. These sort of controlling relationships are based on fear, fear of what will happen if you step out of line, so the perpetrator often gets away with it simply because the victim doesn’t dare say anything.

L.L.: The character of Grace is well-drawn, but so is her sister Millie, who has Down’s syndrome. And Jack…well, what a creep! Was there a character or situation that came to you first?

B.A. Paris: In the beginning there were only Jack and Grace; it was their relationship I wanted to explore. But I knew that if Grace didn’t have something to anchor her into the relationship – a reason why she couldn’t leave – people would say that it wasn’t a believable situation. I don’t remember consciously creating the character of Millie, she was just suddenly there, writing herself into the story!download (10)

L.L.: I’m curious about some of your research that must have gone into BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. For example, you may have had to research the psychological concept of ‘gaslighting,’ and whatever psychological disorders you gave Jack. Can you share a bit of your process?

B.A. Paris:  As soon as I knew the sort of story that I wanted to write, I searched the internet for stories of people that had been controlled by their partners and who had eventually got away. I wanted to understand several things – what has pushed them to finally escape, how they had done it and why they hadn’t tried before. I read some particularly harrowing cases – one woman was kept prisoner in a pit for eight months and only fed twice a week. As for Jack, I knew from my reading that men in controlling relationships take great pleasure in instilling fear into their victim, so once I knew that, his motivation fell into place.   

L.L.: I think we all want to ‘side’ with Grace, but the truth is, she has some skeletons in her closet, too. Without giving too much away, can you share how both individuals in a gaslighting situation need to have a little imbalance to make it come across successfully—and yes, I use that word, ‘successful’ loosely.

B.A. Paris: Yes, definitely, both individuals need to have a little imbalance for this sort of relationship to function. The dominant partner, who is manipulative, exploits a weakness in the other. In Grace’s case, her weakness is her sister Millie – Jack recognizes from the outset that she would do anything for Millie and uses this as a weapon against her. But Jack has his weaknesses too – his arrogance and his conviction that he is invincible. And I’m afraid I can’t say anymore than that!

L.L.: I enjoyed your forays into Thailand. Not because what was going on there, but simply as a change of scenery. Have you been to Thailand and how did that come into your novel?

B.A. Paris: No, I haven’t been to Thailand – yet! – but I chose it for two reasons; first of all, it’s a popular honeymoon destination and secondly, I think it would have been possible for Jack to indulge in his love of fear there in a way that he couldn’t have in England. And I only really needed a hotel there, so that was easy enough to research on the internet!

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L.L.: What do you hope readers take away from BEHIND CLOSED DOORS?

B.A. Paris: I would like them to take away an awareness that this type of mental and psychological abuse does exist and to hopefully recognize the signs so that if they have any worries about someone close to them, they can reach out to them. Or if they are going through something similar themselves, to ask for help. The most rewarding thing for me since writing the book have been the messages I’ve received from people thanking me for bringing this type of abuse into the open, because they were once in similar situations themselves.

“Debut-novelist Paris adroitly toggles between the recent past and the present in building the suspense of Grace’s increasingly unbearable situation, as time becomes critical and her possible solutions narrow. This is one readers won’t be able to put down.”

— BOOKLIST, Starred Review!

L.L.: As a writer, I am more a pantser, following whims and letting the character’s sort of tell their story. Plotting makes me want to run for the hills. But there are writers out there who swear by plotting. Where do you fall on this continuum?  And how was BEHIND CLOSED DOORS composed?

B.A. Paris: Writing BEHIND CLOSED DOORS was an amazing experience because I often felt that it wasn’t me writing the story but the characters. They seemed to take over to such an extent that sometimes, when I read over what I’d written the day before, I didn’t remember writing it and I was often shocked by what I was reading. This was especially true in relation to Jack. I never imagined when I started out that he would be so evil!

L.L.: I find that sometimes I have to get away from things I am writing and work on something else. It gets the creative juices flowing. Right now, I’m obsessed with how to re-do a bathroom. Silly, I know but somehow I will weave that into the next piece I write. What’s inspiring you nowadays? What has your attention?

B.A. Paris: When I’m writing, I tend to become a bit obsessed so it’s just as well that I work as a teacher, as it forces me to put my computer aside and concentrate on something else for a while. But I know what you mean – I’ve just taken up pottery and I know that somewhere, in a future book, I’ll somehow weave it into the story!

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

B.A. Paris: I have another psychological drama EVERY LITTLE THING coming out in 2017. And then I’ll be on to the next one.

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

B.A. Paris: No, your questions have been great and I think we’ve covered pretty much everything!

L.L.: Thank you so very much for spending some time with us today, we so enjoyed it!

B.A. Paris: Thank you for letting me come and talk about BEHIND CLOSED DOORS, it’s been a pleasure to spend time with you!

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

Author Photo_BA Paris_No Credit Needed.jpgAbout the Author: B.A. Paris is from a Franco/Irish background. She was brought up in England and worked in London for three years before moving to Paris, where worked in corporate banking and as a trader in an international bank. After the birth of her first daughter, she became a stay-at-home mother and went on to have another three daughters. She spent four years in the Netherlands, where her fifth daughter was born. Returning to France, she decided to re-train as an English teacher and worked for some years in an international school and then at the Université de Marne la Vallée, teaching English to Architecture students. In 2009 she set up a language school with her husband and now teaches Business English in Paris.  

[With special thanks to J. Preeg at St. Martin’s Press. Author and Cover image provided by author’s publicist and used with permission. Gaslighting image retrieved from, Thailand image from, both retrieved 7.20.16]

Wednesdays with Writers: Lynda Cohen Loigman shares her debut, THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE, getting the girl, getting off social media to read, girls in education, writing to the moments, and so much more

By Leslie Lindsay

A spellbinding family saga set in Brooklyn in 1947-1970, THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE (St. Martin’s House, March 2016) will knock you over the head with insightful honesty, rich, complex characters, and a story that could be just about anyone’s.Two Family House_COVER.jpg

Drawn from a smidgen of truth from the author’s own life, (her mother and two younger sisters grew up in a two-family house in Brooklyn), THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE feels raw, yet compassionate. It could easily have been a memoir, but it’s not.

In the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born, minutes apart. The mothers are sisters by marriage with an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic night. When the storm passes, everyone seems to have gotten what they wanted, but the truth is not that simple.

Join me as I sit down with Lynda Cohen Loigman and learn more about her brilliant debut, THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE.

Leslie Lindsay: Lynda, it’s a pleasure to have you! Thanks for taking the time to visit. I read your author’s note on your gorgeous website [http://lyndacohenloigman.com/authors-note/], so I’m pretty familiar with your inspiration for THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE. But perhaps not everyone else is. Can you share at what moment you knew this was a book you had to write?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: Thanks so much for having me!

The Two-Family House is a story I carried in my head for over fifteen years before I ever wrote a word. The inspiration for the setting came from stories my mother and aunts used to tell me about their childhood, growing up in a two-family house in Brooklyn. They lived upstairs, and my grandmother’s brother lived downstairs with his wife and three daughters. The six girls were playmates and friends, and the families spent a lot of time together.

The idea for the plot of the book came to me separately, and much later. A few months after my first child was born, I read an article in the New York Times Magazine called “Getting The Girl,” by Lisa Belkin. The article was about new technology doctors were using to help couples preselect the gender of their babies, and it opened my eyes to how all-consuming a wish for a child of a certain gender could be. After I read it, I began to reimagine the house of my mother’s childhood – what if the upstairs family had all boys and the downstairs family had all girls? A two-family house seemed like a perfect place for tension and jealousy to percolate.

In terms of when I really knew I had to write the story – that’s tougher to answer. It was a combination of many factors: having my mom pass away, turning forty, and finally overcoming my fear of putting the words down on paper.

L.L.: As some of the reviews I read indicated, many felt this story was a memoir (the writing is so raw and honest, it feels like it comes from a deeper place). I understand you had to tell them, ‘no, this really didn’t happen to anyone I know.’  I can see the confusion readers may have. There are a lot of similarities between your life and the lives of your characters. Can you speak to that, please?  download (2)

Lynda Cohen Loigman: The setting is the biggest similarity, but I think once people found out my mom grew up in a two-family house with cousins living downstairs, it made some of them think the characters were modeled on my real family members. The truth is that I actually went out of my way to make Rose and Helen different from my grandmother and her sister-in-law. Of course, there are certainly autobiographical tidbits thrown in – just not necessarily where you might expect. For instance, the cinnamon cake Helen bakes is a cake my grandmother used to make. The scene in the Italian restaurant was inspired by an old photograph I have of my mother’s family at a restaurant in Little Italy. Also, my mom was a worrier, so the scene where Judith is in the library and feels like she has to be home at a certain time is something I experienced with my own mother. But unlike Rose, my mom was completely devoted to her children, and absolutely obsessed with our education.

L.L.: Oh and girls and education! Wow…I was just appalled at the adamant stance Mort took with Judith. My heart broke for her. How do you see the landscape of education changing?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: I think we forget that the attitude Mort and Rose have about girls attending college is something that isn’t so far back in our past. My mom didn’t go to college, and she was always ashamed of that. But at the time she graduated from high school, her parents didn’t see the need for it. In fact, if you were to look at my mom’s high school yearbook, you’d see that the majority of young women listed “secretary” as their chosen profession, including my mother. Her youngest sister did go to college, but she was fourteen years younger. By then, attitudes and expectations had shifted.

Because of her experience, my mother made it a point to learn everything there was to know about the college application process for every school. There was no such thing as a “college counselor” at that time (at least not where I grew up), but my mom easily could have been one. When I got my first college acceptance letter, she was unbelievably happy. She used to drive around the block looking for the mailman to make sure I’d get my letters.

Obviously there has been remarkable progress in terms of educational opportunities for girls and young women since my mom’s generation. But there is still a long way to go, especially when we look toward the rest of the world. Girls are still forbidden from Malala_Yousafzai_2015attending school in many countries, and remarkable young women like Malala Yousafzai are raising global awareness of that. Recently, there’s also been an important push to educate people about how often girls miss school because they don’t have the resources to buy tampons or pads when they get their period. Menstruation results in prolonged school absences in many places. So for many reasons, true equality is a long way off.

L.L.: I’m curious about the debut author’s journey. First, the spark and then the frustrations, followed by glowing reviews. It’s quite a rollercoaster, to say the least Can you talk about that, please? And [how] can aspiring authors prepare for the ups and downs?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: I’m not sure that it’s possible to prepare. I’m 47 years old, and I was a lawyer before becoming a writer. I had plenty of professional experience, but working in a creative field is very different.

When I started to write, I wasn’t sure I could finish an entire novel. I didn’t know if I had the stamina. When I was done, I was so proud I had completed it, but that feeling of satisfaction was replaced very quickly with the knowledge that what I had achieved was only the first step in a very long process. The next step was finding an agent. I was extremely lucky on that front, and the day Marly Rusoff called to tell me she wanted to represent me was a life-changing day – a dream come true moment. For about twenty-four hours I let myself just revel in that accomplishment. But it was only the second step.

I could go on for pages about all the highs and lows. Next came sending the book to editors, getting the comments, getting the offer from St. Martin’s Press. Every step was glorious and brought me closer to my dream, but I always knew there was another step ahead of me. And now that the book is out in the world, I want it to be a success, not just for me, but for Marly and Jennifer (my editor) as well. It’s a never-ending process, and I think that is what I didn’t know when I started.

To do well, you have to be ready for everything that comes with publishing your book – not just the solitary creative part, but the business side as well. I really like that post-publishing side, because it involves connecting with so many different people. But it’s a whole other education, and it’s very easy to become insecure. All of a sudden you find yourself paying attention to book marketing and publicity and which books get mentioned in magazines and newspapers. I have found that when I am looking outward too much, the best thing to do is to get off of social media and go back to reading. Reading reminds me of why I wanted to write in the first place.

Right now I’m promoting THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE and working on my second book at the same time. So I’m ready to start the rollercoaster ride all over again!

“An exquisitely written novel of love, alliances, the messiness of life and long buried secrets. Loigman’s debut is just shatteringly wonderful and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

~Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Is This Tomorrow and Pictures of You

L.L.: As I’m reading THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE, I got flavors of the hit PBS/BBC (and also memoirs) of CALL THE MIDWIFE. I think it’s the time period (the late 1940s-1960s) that did it for me. What kind of research did you do as you worked through drafts of the novel?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: The book covers a few decades, but the bulk of the story takes place in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. I LOVED exploring that time period, and my research went in many different directions. First, I looked at calendars of major world events because I felt that is was important for me to know what was happening in the world during the time period I covered. That gave me a broader picture, and was necessary for setting the right tone.

In terms of specifics, I researched the popular music, movies and celebrities of the day. Damn Yankees was a big Broadway hit during that time, and when Natalie and Teddy were young, the Mickey Mouse Club show first aired on television. Those were fun details to add. I also looked at women’s magazines from the 40’s and 50’s and took notes about the cleaning supplies that were available in those years. Rose and Helen were traditional wives and homemakers, so it was important to know those details.

I really enjoyed exploring certain topics – the clothes and hairstyles were fun to learn about, and I loved reading old cookbooks. I also learned a lot about comic books of the 1950’s, and I spent a good amount of time researching the baseball players from the late 1940’s. All of that was information I needed to have in my head as I wrote.

Some of the most interesting research I did involved the cardboard box industry and the connection between dry cereals and cardboard packaging. Of course, I also tried to learn more about Brooklyn in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I spent a lot of time looking at old photographs so I could picture the setting.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? A pantser or plotter, or this new hybrid style of writing I just read about: a plantser?! (isn’t that great?) What was your process like as you wrote THE TWO-FAMILY HOUSE? And what might you do better/different for images (2)your next one?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: I am definitely a little of both. (I didn’t know about the “plantser” thing, but I like it!) I had a general storyline in mind, but I didn’t have an outline set in stone. What I did have was a list of moments I wanted to write about, and a very strong sense of who the characters were and how they would react during those moments.

For example, I knew I wanted to have a moment where Helen was faced with the task of filling out a hospital form for one of the children. I knew it was important to put her in that situation, and to make her choose what to write down as an answer to the question “What is your relationship to the patient.” Once I had that scene in my head, I had to get Helen to a hospital somehow, which involved writing about some sort of minor accident. I came up with the idea of the party at Sol’s house on Long Island and the kids playing baseball. I had to make Rose unavailable, so I wrote about her wandering off, away from the other party guests.

I guess this process means I’m a “WTM” writer – Writing Toward Moments. I like to keep a list of those big scenes with me as I work, and every time I finish one, I cross it off my list.

With the next book, I’m definitely feeling like I have to be more organized. The research is more intense, so I’m going to have to figure out a better system for keeping all of it in order.

L.L.: Speaking of which, what can we expect to read next from you?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: Oh this is a tough question! I actually just wrote an essay about how difficult it is for me to keep the details of my work-in-progress to myself. I’m not going to say too much, but I’m very excited about the next book.

It is another family story, centering on a grandmother and granddaughter and, of course, a long kept secret. Because of my research, I’ve decided to take the book in a slightly different direction than the original concept. The story will be set partly in Brooklyn and partly in Springfield, Massachusetts. I’m in that phase right now where I’m falling in love with all the characters and finding their individual voices.

L.L.: Many writers draw inspiration from good reading. What’s on your to-read pile?

Lynda Cohen Loigman: I love everything Alice Hoffman writes, and I just saw a picture of an advanced copy of her new book, FAITHFUL. I am so jealous of every person who gets to read it before the publication date! Other than that, I don’t even know where to start. My pile is enormous. I just finished AS CLOSE TO US AS BREATHING by Elizabeth Poliner, which I really enjoyed. Now I’m in the middle of Jillian Cantor’s

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THE HOURS COUNT – it’s amazing. I need to read Curtis Sittenfeld’s ELIGIBLE, Richard Fifield’s THE FLOOD GIRLS, Camille Di Maio’s THE MEMORY OF US, and THE YEAR WE TURNED FORTY by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. Oh, and I’m waiting for Jesse Burton’s new book, THE MUSE, to come out in July. Honestly, I hate to list any books at all, because for every one I name, there are ten more I’ve forgotten to put on the list. I hate to leave anyone out. There is so much talent, and every book I read teaches me something about how to improve my own writing.

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

Lynda Cohen Loigman:

I think you’ve covered everything!

L.L: Thanks so much, Lynda! It was a pleasure

Lynda Cohen Loigman: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you for all of your thoughtful questions!

Linda Loigman_Credit Randy MatusowAuthor Bio: Lynda Cohen Loigman grew up in Longmeadow, MA. She received a B.A. in English and American Literature from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She is now a student of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, and lives with her husband and two children in Chappaqua, NY. Learn more at http://www.lyndacohenloigman.

Find her on Twitter @LyndaCLoigman and Facebook .

[Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Author image credit Randy Matusow. Malala Yousafzai image retrieved from Wikipedia on 5.16.16, Brooklyn brownstone retrieved from  on 5.16.16, book slideshow images retrieved from Amazon on 5.16.16, Special thanks to J. Preeg.] Two Family House 003

Write On, Wednesday: The Fabulous Erika Swyler of the Amazing BOOK OF SPECULATION

By Leslie Lindsay 

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I did. And I’m in love. With both. THE BOOK OF SPECULATION is gorgeous, inside and out. A woman clad in a deep teal dress clutches a stack of antique books at her hips. The pages are yellowed and ragged, and indented with finger grooves reminiscent of old-fashioned dictionaries. Seriously, the cover art is so spectacularly striking; I just may leave it on my coffee table as a work of art. Today, I’m honored to have debut novelist Erika Swyler with us. Pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and come along for the journey.

L.L.: Erika, thanks so much for joining us today! I’m always so intrigued by what sparks a story for a writer. What three elements would you say collided in your writing world that propelled you to write THE BOOK OF SPECULATION?

Erika Swyler: Thanks very much for inviting me! It’s hard to put a finger on the exact moment that birthed this particular book, but as with most things, I think it was brought about by sudden change. Shortly after graduating college, I lived at home for six months. It was a weird time. I was facing the fact that I wasn’t good enough to pursue a career as an actor, grieving my father who had passed away the prior year, and once again living in my childhood home. I was home, but I was also displaced. The town where I grew up is also right on the Long Island Sound where there’s a constant struggle against land erosion. It’s beautiful and vulnerable. That’s book fodder, right there. It just took a long time to figure it out.

L.L.: So the book is really a complex family saga with a lot of folklore, mysticism, and ultimately erosion—of water, of family, of homes, and land. Can you talk a bit about that? What do you hope readers take away from those themes?

Erika Swyler: It’s an odd writer who uses erosion as plotline, right? But what I’m asking people to do is think about themselves, their lives and their families, in a larger sense of time and history. Years ago I read Graham Swift’s Waterland, and the way he entwined his characters with the land resonated with me. It posited that personal history is as essential as world history, and all of it is tied to land. This got me thinking about how we tell these personal stories—through oral histories, folklore—and what that looks like. The most painful parts of personal histories often get mythologized, and through that storytelling people find healing, or even a sense of wonder. I’m hoping readers are able look at themselves and with an eye towards time and history, and to think about the ordinary with that same sense of wonder. It would brilliant if people left the book thinking about their concept of family and what it means to them. But, I’m delighted if they simply enjoy the story.

L.L.: I am so very amazed at your knowledge of the Tarot. I know virtually nothing. Well, I’ve had my palm read once at a Renaissance Fair…does that count? Are you blessed with psychic abilities yourself? How did you learn so much about fortune tellers?

Erika Swyler: Getting your palm read absolutely counts. I’ve had mine read. A very nice man told me that water rules my life and that all my creativity comes from it. I wonder if he Googled me. When I was in school I was fascinated by Tarot (like so many college girls). When we’re feeling the most insecure we grasp at things give direction, especially if it’s direction from “the universe.” Tarot was great fun and I fell in love with the art. When it came time to find a way for my mute character to speak, Tarot was a natural fit because at heart, it’s a symbolic language. I dove
into all my old books on it, found new ones, and got my hands on whatever decks I could. I may have had to make a trip or two to witchcraft shops, but I’m no psychic. I’ve written some things that have come true—my life has come to mirror Simon’s in a ways that would have shocked me when I started writing The Book of Speculation. Mostly I think that’s because people write about life, and life has certain common story threads.

L.L.: I absolutely adore the feel of the book. The edges of the pages are ragged…there’s that stunning cover…and your very own illustrations! Wow. As I’m reading this, I’m looking back on the front matter and pleased I own first edition. How did your art work evolve and did you need to convince a publisher to include it?

Erika Swyler: Oh, I love the deckle edge on the hardback. Deckle edges ask you to take time with a book, don’t they? Oddly enough, St. Martin’s had to convince me to include the illustrations. The artwork started as a way to engage editors. I sent out a very unusual manuscript when I was searching for a publisher. Essentially, I sent an art object. I figured that if someone connected with it, they’d likely connect with the story inside. I hand bound, aged, tea stained and gilded sixteen copies of the manuscript so that it looked like the old book in that Simon, my protagonist, receives. Between the pages, I nestled tea stained illustrations mentioned in the story, and distressed tarot cards. This way anyone reading it would experience what Simon did when he receives this strange old book. I didn’t realize that I was actually illustrating a novel. St. Martin’s bought the art as well as the story, and I was floored. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d been presenting the illustrations as part of the book. Obviously, that’s exactly what I’d done, but I’m always the last to know what I’m up to. erika-swyler-2

L.L.: The book is receiving lots of praise. Lots! What can you tell us about maintaining your humility, confidence, and efforts on the next novel. Does it make you more or less nervous when you sit down at the desk?

Erika Swyler: For every one person who loves a book there are always five more lined up to tell you it’s a heap, so staying humble isn’t too difficult. I’m stunned at the reception, honestly. This book spent a long time in a desk drawer. I was certain that no one but my mother would read it. That so many people have responded so positively towards it is a gift I couldn’t have imagined. It’s difficult to finally put these characters to bed. I think it takes a long time for the voices of your last book to quiet down and let new characters announce themselves. That said, there are new characters I’m figuring out. It’s interesting in that it’s a bit like learning to write all over again. I wouldn’t say that I’m more nervous when I sit down at the desk, but I’m definitely more aware of how long I might have to live with a character. That’s a little intimidating. I have to ask myself, “Do you really want to get into all that, Swyler?” Sometimes I really don’t. Oh, and I’m more mindful of accents now. Writing characters with accents is great fun, but it eventually gives public readings an unnecessary layer of difficulty. My Russian accent is bad. Really, really bad.

L.L: Okay…maybe I should back up a bit. Can you give us a glimpse as to what you are working on next?

Erika Swyler: Sure. I’m in the very early stages of a new project. It’s set in Florida in 1986. It’s centered on the relationship between an inventor father and his science-minded daughter. I’m playing around with concepts about space and time. So, nothing major.

L.L.: I keep thinking of that first chapter of Wild Boy…as his creator, do you have any—dare I say, speculation—of what became of his parents?  Why they did what they did?

Erika Swyler: It’s so easy to hate them, isn’t it? That’s because we’re applying our modern sensibilities to a

situation that doesn’t have our contemporary options. Eunice misses her son until the day she dies. I think she’s haunted by the memory of Amos’s scent in the same way he keeps dreaming of the smell of home. I’m certain there’s a draft with that scene in it lying somewhere in my office. Being a woman in that era Eunice couldn’t have much say in her husband’s decision to abandon Amos. This is still a time of public shaming. Her husband’s decision is based on Amos looking like his biological father, the lack of speech, and being a visual reminder of his wife’s infidelity. I wish I could say he was miserable, but as a domineering white man, he likely died fat and happy. Oh, wow. That’s terrible. Forget I said that. He died of an abscessed tooth. Really awful, drawn-out, excruciating pain. There. I feel better now.

L.L.: Thanks for being here today, Erika! We so enjoyed it.

Erika Swyler: Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.

erika author photo bj enrightErika Swyler is a writer living in Long Island, NY. Her work has appeared in WomenArts Quarterly Journal, Litro, various anthologies, and most recently The New York Times. The Book of Speculation is her first novel. Find her on twitter at @ErikaSwyler, or at erikaswyler.com.

[Author image credit BJ Enright. Circus carriage retrieved from www.circushistory.org on 8.5.15. Tarot card image from Wikipedia on 8.5.15. Author at work retrieved from http://www.momadvice.com/post/sundays-with-writers-the-book-of-speculation-by-erika-swyler 8.13.15]