Tag Archives: writing life

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join me in welcoming Chris Bohjalian to the blog couch.

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

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

Check out THE SLEEPWALKER’S book trailer: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Bohjalian:  These were great. Thanks!

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

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

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

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

Wednesdays with Writers: Six-times NYT Bestselling author Margaret George on her love for travel, history, poetry and how competitive sports is like writing in her new historical saga, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

With a perfect streak of over six New York Times bestsellers, and 1.5 million books sold, MARGARET GEORGE turns her gaze to the ‘bad boy’ Emperor of Ancient Rome.

THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO is meticulously researched, gloriously written, and transports the reader to the heart of Rome and beyond.

Margaret George burst onto the scene in 1986 with her historical fiction of Henry VIII…and she continued writing critically-acclaimed biographical novels of historical figures, including MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS, MARY, CALLED MAGDALENE, CLEOPATRA, among others.

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 “With conviction and flair, George looks past two millennia of bad press about Nero to reveal an intelligent man of justice and religious tolerance who takes refuge in artistic expression. This is the first of two novels charting his dangerous, outrageous life in first-century Rome; the second will be eagerly awaited.”

—Booklist

Emperor Nero. Many things come to mind at the mention of his name: Spoiled. Murderer. Tyrant. Pervert. Hedonist. Many of these caricatures are put in motion through Hollywood and rumors as ancient as the forum. Having come to power at the tender age of sixteen, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO follow his life in a two-part saga (this is the first book; both are written to stand-alone). Enshrined in power and raised by a cunning and ambitious mother, Nero is the 5th Roman Emperor, the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty founded by Julius Caesar. We follow his young life from about age four to mid-twenties, just before the Great Fire of Rome.

Nero’s life is riddled with murderers, rivalries, plots, orgies, and incest. Sensational on its own—but the story is not just about revisiting these instances—there’s reclamation in Nero as an artist, a musician, an athlete. In fact, George’s book had me cheering for Nero at times, in fact, completely changing my opinion of him.

Today, I am so very humbled to welcome Margaret George to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Margaret, it’s truly an honor. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. I’m so in awe of the breadth of knowledge, your impeccable research, and the magical way you are able to weave a deeply moving, stunningly visual narrative of Nero. Before we get into specifics, I am curious why Nero, why now?

Margaret George: I’ve actually been thinking of Nero for a long time—for over twenty years, in fact.  I was all afire to do this back in the 1990’s.  But all the stereotypes you mention above were in full force then, and people weren’t interested in exploring farther, they were so prejudiced against him.  Since then the climate has changed; in 2003 there was a major revisionist biography, and three big Nero exhibits—two in Rome and one in Germany—have been outstandingly popular, the last one in 2016.  His moment has come, and at last he can make his case.220px-Nero_1

L.L.: You’re known for your meticulous research. In fact—you’ll laugh; I’m no sybil—but I dreamed you researched this book for twenty years!  In your ‘afterward,’ you list some amazing titles referenced in writing; do you have any research rituals?

Margaret George: Isn’t that funny, maybe you are a sybil.  As I said above, I started doing research on Nero back in the 1990s and continued on even as I was writing other books.  The research for HELEN OF TROY (early 2000s) in Greece was also Nero research because he was so nuts about Greece and made a big ‘arts tour’ there that lasted sixteen months.

I don’t have any rituals per se, but I do like to take things in a certain order.  First read the books, then go to the sites, and last of all do the writing.  It’s best to have done the reading research before going to the sites, because then I am more aware of what I need to notice. I also like to write out notes by hand because I think it registers in my brain better that way.

I take a lot of photos on site and buy any kitsch relating to my characters I find, because it shows they are still  ‘real’ to modern people.  As a result I have a 10’ x 4’ Nero flag, Nero candles, Nero matches (what else?), Nero rubber duckies, and Nero tote bags.  There were even bottles of Nero wine at the German exhibit!

L.L.:  Just like with the Internet nowadays, ancient Romans loved gossip. How were you able to tease out what was ‘real’ and not?

Margaret George: It’s hard after two thousand years to be able to sort out the National Enquirer material, because, well, even the National Enquirer has true material.  (Remember the Bruno Magli shoes that O.J. was wearing, caught in a National Enquirer photo?)  I had to take into consideration the source of the material, and whether it was ‘canned’ and repeated elsewhere about other people, or whether it was just unbelievable and obviously a character assassination.  For example, any time anyone died Tacitus, Suetonius, or Dio Cassius (the main three sources for Nero) claimed it was poison, and that Nero did it.  In many instances it made no sense—why would he poison Burrus, his Praetorian prefect? Often the gossip in one is contradicted in the other, for example, one historian says Burrus died of a throat ailment, not poison.  Another silly piece of gossip is that Agrippina and Nero had sex in the royal litter, and when they got out, their clothes were wrinkled and stained, visual proof of it.  In the novel I even have Nero commenting that, since he had a whole palace at his disposal, why would he resort to a litter in the streets in broad daylight?

L.L.: What details, if any, do you invent?

Margaret George: I actually do invent a number of details, if they are plausible. For example, the horse farm outside Rome where Nero selects the team he wants to train for chariot 240px-Ritratto_di_claudia_ottavia,_da_roma,_via_vareseracing.  Now, we know there were horse farms.  We know his right-hand man, Tigellinus, was a former horse trainer and breeder. We know Nero raced chariots But we have no information about where or how he got his horses.  So I imagined that scene, which I thought would show something about horses and the special training they underwent for chariot racing.  And there are other scenes like that: his secret athletic training under an alias when he was a boy, his visit to the Roman brothel, his wedding night with Octavia.

Some of the details that may sound invented aren’t.  We know Nero had bad eyesight and used an uncut emerald held up before his eye to watch chariot races.  (It probably didn’t work.)  We know he had a special drink named after himself (the decocta Noroonis) made of boiled and re-cooled snow.  We know he didn’t like wearing togas and switched to tunics whenever he could, including flowered ones.   

L.L.: You do a beautiful job of reconstructing a stunning visual landscape for ancient Rome. Your visceral details are quite poetic lending to a tremendous sense of place. Instead of asking, ‘how do you do it’—what do you keep the saw sharp?

Margaret George: That’s very kind of you. I worry that I don’t have enough details!  But I am a student of Ray Bradbury’s (figuratively not literally) and his writing is very ‘visceral’ or I would say ‘sensual’—of the senses.  He explained it this way:

“Why all this insistence on the senses? Because in order to convince your reader that he is there, you must assault each of his senses, in turn, with color, sound, taste, and texture.  If the reader feels the sun on his flesh, the wind fluttering his shirt sleeves, half your fight is won.” ~Ray Bradbury

I try to keep that in mind.  Most descriptive writing is heavy on the visual but if you can bring in the other senses it gives a real feeling of being there.autobiography-of-henry-VIII

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your early writing days? What do you think you did ‘right?’ What do you wished you had done ‘better?’

Margaret George: It took me a long time to hit my stride, I think.  My father read over my first handwritten draft of HENRY VIII (what a martyr!) and noted two things: one, that writing in the first person isn’t just writing in the third person and replacing all the ‘he’s’ with “I’s” which he said I did, and second, that I was best when I cut loose from the strict historical recounting and used my imagination. 

I think he was right and I believe I corrected those weaknesses, after much trial and error.  As to what I have done wrong, or wished I had done better—-I have gone overboard in memoirs-of-cleopatra-1including everything, which reached its apex with CLEOPATRAI listened to it all on tape and realized as I did so (since you can’t skim with an audio) that, instead of standing the reader before a bulging closet and saying, “Here it all is!” I should have selected the best clothes for him or her.  That’s the job of the writer—to select and present.

NERO is a lot more spare but I am pleased that you didn’t feel I skimped.  Less is more…maybe. (Although Nero himself wasn’t known for his minimalism.)

L.L.: I have to believe Nero would be beyond proud of THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. I know I was rooting for him! What might he say if he read the book?

Margaret George: Oh, I’d love it if he would say I had gotten it exactly right, and how did I KNOW?  That’s what I strove for, to let him speak again and have it be true to character.  I would love to know what he thinks, but I’d be crushed if he didn’t like it after all!

L.L.: What inspires you? What has your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Margaret George: Poetry is a great inspiration—such economy of words to say so many things.  I have a friend who said, “It’s friends and poetry that get you through the hard times.”  She is right.  Friends, of course, and travel, which is endlessly fascinating and the opposite of navel-gazing, an occupational hazard of writers.

Like Nero in the novel, I like sprinting—100 and 200 meters, because for those seconds the whole world vanishes and all you see is the finish line.  The world of competitive sports is so different from the literary one, although there are similarities, too.  Both have starting blocks, finish lines, medals, rankings, and prizes, and both require a lot of solitary hours spent in practice for just a little while in the spotlight.  

L.L.: I’m curious what the next book entails. I have to read it! Can you give a glimpse?

Margaret George: The second part of Nero’s life is as tumultuous as the first.  It opens with the Great Fire of Rome, the largest fire in antiquity, which burned for nine days and destroyed most of the city.  Nero deals with the aftermath, rebuilds Rome according to new urban planning, builds his revolutionary Domus Aurea (Golden House), punishes the Christians, deals with a far-reaching conspiracy against him, involving some of those closest to him,  holds his second Neronian Games, races in the Circus Maximus (image below), Poppaea dies, he stages a spectacular entrance to Rome for King Tiridates of Parthia, he goes to Greece for a year long round of music and athletic competitions, returns to Rome and is overthrown, finally committing suicide with his famous last words, “Qualis artifex pereo”—“what an artist dies in me!”  And he was only thirty years old by then.  What a life story!

L.L.: Margaret, it was a true pleasure. Thank you!

Margaret George: Thank you for having me, Leslie.

Circus_Maximus_in_RomeFor more information, to connect with Margaret George, or to purchase THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO, please see:

Website

Facebook

GoodReads

Pinterest

Barnes&Noble Best New March 2017 Fiction 

Amazon 

Check out this video of Margaret on her inspiration for Nero

Margaret-George-Hi-RES.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret George writes biographical novels about outsized historical characters: Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots, Cleopatra, Mary Magdalene, Helen of Troy, and Elizabeth I. Her latest, The Confessions of Young Nero, will be published in March. All six of her novels have been New York Times bestsellers, and the Cleopatra novel was made into an Emmy-nominated ABC-TV miniseries.

She especially enjoys the research she has done for the novels, such as racing in an ancient Greek stadium, attending a gladiator training school in Rome, and studying the pharmacology of snake poison.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website, as well as covers of Henry VIII and Cleopatra. Historical images of Nero, Octavia, Circus Maximus all retrieved from Wikipedia on 3.08.17. Special thanks to L. Burnstein of Berkley/RandomHouse] 

Writers on Wednesday: Bestselling author John Hart talks about REDEMPTION ROAD, writing a female protagonist for the first time, the gritty South, finding zen on the farm, & how writing allows us the ability to explore things we love and loathe.

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Since 2011, when his last New York Times bestseller, IRON HOUSE, shot out of the gate, gripping readers and winning resounding praise, fans around the world have been waiting.download-14

Five years later, phenomenal storyteller John Hart returns with his dark, gritty Southern fiction with a literary slant aptly titled, REDEMPTION ROAD (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books, May 3 2016). Trust me, if you want to feel as if you’re in the hands of a seasoned pro, get REDEMPTION ROAD, revel in it, and then wish you could write like that (or at least see all story elements that you’re sure to miss the first time around); the man can flat-out write. Set in small town North Carolina, REDEMPTION ROAD is all about tortured souls, traumatized children, corrupt law enforcers, and a serial killer. Toss in a little religious undercurrent, and it’s very emotionally charged powerhouse of a novel that will leave your head spinning. There’s so much going on in REDEMPTION ROAD, it’s challenging to summarize, but that’s the sign of a good book, at least in my opinion.

Elizabeth Black (Liz) is Hart’s first female protagonist and he writes her beautifully. She’s a loner and a giver, a fallen cop trying to do all the right things in the wrong ways. Her first (former) partner (Adrian Wall) has been imprisoned for the last thirteen years and is just about to be released when things to start happening. Could it be that Wall was wrongly accused of his crime? Elizabeth is determined to prove the justice system wrong. Meanwhile, in a cold, damp basement in an abandoned home lies a pretty rich girl badly raped and beaten. Her tormentors shot not once, or twice, or six times…but eighteen.

Way out yonder is an abandoned church. Bodies pile up at the altar. Some of whom have been missing. And why does Elizabeth hate her father so?

Join me as I welcome the only author to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John Hart.

Leslie Lindsay: John, it’s an honor to have you today. Thank you for taking the time to pop over. I’m always fascinated with what inspires an author to write a certain story at a certain time; so why REDEMPTION ROAD, why now, and what were some of your limitations?

John Hart: Hi Leslie. The pleasure is mine. Thanks for the interest in what I do. As I never write from an outline it’s hard to summarize any set of reasons explaining why I wrote REDEMPTION ROAD. I begin with an idea for the main character then try to find a story that allows deeper exploration of what fascinates me about that person. I never thought I would write a “serial killer story.” It’s not what I read. So Redemption Road, as it exists, was the merest glimmer of an idea when I began.

The original conceit was to write a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. I loved the concept of a good man made bitter and hard through wrongful imprisonment, and the 220px-louis_francais-dantes_sur_son_rocherquestions of what he might do once released. I wrote close to an entire book along those lines before realizing that I was telling the wrong person’s story. It wasn’t the released prisoner who fascinated me, but a young detective who’d always believed in his innocence. I started the book over, telling it as her story instead. She’s my first female protagonist, and I’ll admit to a certain trepidation in writing her. I’ve always believed, though, that if a writer is not working in a state of near-constant discomfort then the writer is not pushing the envelope hard enough.

L.L.: I understand you’ve stepped away from your previous career(s) as a criminal defense attorney, but REDEMPTION ROAD deals with so many criminal-like issues: corrupt police officers for one, prison abuse, catching the bad guys…did your background lead organically to the fictional construction of some of these grim realities?

John Hart: No writer should allow background experiences to limit what or how one writes. The world is too big, in my opinion, to simply “write what you know.” That said, there’s always some amount of reality that filters into a novel. My time around cops and jails and prisons certainly colors my perceptions about those worlds. Largely, I remain in terrified awe of the institutional callousness that – by necessity, I imagine – defines so much of life in and around our prison system. It’s easy to build on that reality, to demonize faceless authority and elevate systemic indifference to something brutal and cruel. That’s the beauty of fiction. We get to explore the things we love and fear and hate.

L.L.: I would classify REDEMPTION ROAD as a Southern literary thriller with a strong crime story at the heart. Yet it’s so very character-driven. Do characters sort of “present” themselves to you, or are they carefully cultivated? And you mention trepidation in writing Elizabeth (Liz) Black…I think that’s a normal response.

John Hart: I’d say that characters tend to present themselves, though I’d qualify that statement as oversimplification. So much of writing happens between the lines. Where do our thoughts go as we drive the car, mow the lawn, drift in and out of sleep? I’m always thinking about the book, the characters. What feels “presented” likely derives from more of a slow build than I might otherwise imagine. When I do “see” them though, I see them close to fully formed. That said, there’s always room to be surprised. And yes…the female lead of REDEMPTION ROAD was supposed to be a bit player. She had other ideas.

L.L.: And of course, I love the South! There’s something bucolic about the slower pace of life, the tie to the land, the sun dappling from wrap-around porches, and the connection of generations. Yet this story is dark, gritty. And so, too can the South be tormented. Can you speak to that, please?

John Hart: Life in the South involves all the good things you mention, but our past is virginia-plains-farmhouse-rear2.jpgtortured and bloody. The shadow of slavery and racism lies over everything. So do persistent pockets of endemic poverty. The friction between haves and have-nots makes fertile ground for storytelling. Bear in mind, too, that memories of the Civil War are more vivid here. Cities were burned, families destroyed. That’s rich soil, too.

L.L.: You’re married, you have two daughters…I’m curious how your writing life blends with your family; it’s so challenging sometimes to turn off the stories in one’s head. And what do your kids think of their bestselling dad?

John Hart: I’ve learned to stay present when I’m with the family, and that’s not as easy as it sounds. Writing for a living means that the story is always in your thoughts. Sometimes its more real than the conversation you’re ignoring or the appointment you’ve just forgotten. If you’re making it as a writer then the world forgives those little sins. The same rule should never apply to family. If my daughter is playing hockey, I want to be there. When my wife speaks, I try hard to listen. Believe it or not, that’s a learned skill for a full-time writer. The books work because we immerse ourselves. As for my kids, I think “Dad” is just “Dad.” I go to work. I take out the trash. My career is rarely a topic of conversation.

L.L.: What’s captured your attention lately? What gets you out of bed in the morning? It doesn’t have to be literary.

John Hart: I’ve found my way to an appreciation of the simple pleasures in life. For me, that’s working on the farm. If it’s a pretty day, I can’t wait to hit my word count and get on the tractor. I like to keep the fields cut, the trails clear. My dogs are with me. There’re deer and turkey everywhere. It’s my zen.

L.L.: What’s next for you?

John Hart: I’m wrapping final pages on my next book – THE HUSH – which comes out in July of next year. It’s a sequel to my third novel, THE LAST CHILD [click here to learn more]. It’s the first time I’ve revisited characters I know and love from an earlier book. It’s more fun than I thought it would be.

“Big, bold, and impossible to put down, Redemption Road had me from page one. John Hart is a master storyteller.”

– Harlan Coben

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

John Hart: You forgot nothing. The questions were perfect. I will take a moment to say what an absolute gift the writing life has proven to be. It’s isolating and lonesome at times, but I wouldn’t trade it for retirement, a pile of money or any other career. I consider it the ultimate expression of personal freedom, and encourage any aspiring writers to pursue it as passionately as I have. I wrote two failed novels before my third was published, and I know many famous authors with similar stories. Success in this business demands perseverance as much or more than it requires talent.

L.L.: It was a privilege to connect with you today, John. All the best!

John Hart: Many thanks.

For more information about REDEMPTION ROAD, or to purchase, please see links below: 

download-2ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Hart is the author of REDEMPTION ROAD, and of four New York Times bestsellers, THE KING OF LIES, DOWN RIVER, THE LAST CHILD and IRON HOUSE. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, John has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller’s Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and the North Carolina Award for Literature. His novels have been translated into thirty languages and can be found in over seventy countries. A former defense attorney and stockbroker, John spends his time in North Carolina and Virginia, where he writes full-time.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these various social media channels. Hope to see you around.

 

[Special thanks to J. Velella at SMP. Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. The Count of Monte Cristo original cover image retrieved from Wikipedia on 10.11.16. Virginia farmhouse retrieved from, other John Hart cover images retrieved from author’s website, also on 10.11.16]

Wednesdays with Writers: Self-sabotage, fear of failure, handling rejections, the S-word, and amazing writing advice from Robin Black’s CRASH COURSE, even when it rains in the summer

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Oh my goodness. This book. Every writer, would-be-writer, aspiring writer, closet-writer, bestselling and debut writer *needs* this book. Trust me. It’s like Robin Black crawled inside my head and accessed every single thought I’ve had about crash-coursemotherhood, the writing life, and the life in writing. It makes me want to be a better writer. And that, right there, is hugely powerful.

CRASH COURSE is an insightful, beautiful, and searingly honest account of the writing life told with wisdom, humor, and self-awareness you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. It’s fantastic. I laughed, nodded in agreement, gasped, and maybe, quite possibly could have shed a tear or two.

Just listen to this:

“I wasn’t more than two pages into Crash Course when I pulled out a pen and started underlining like crazy. In these essays, Robin Black is simultaneously a wise teacher, an encouraging mentor, and that friend who gives you the real dirt on what the writing life is like. Crash Course is an invaluable resource and reassurance for any writer.”

—Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

Exactly. My copy isn’t underlined or highlighted—yet—but it should be. It definitely has been dog-eared. And water-logged. CRASH COURSE was read poolside as a cluster of little girls splashed and created synchronized swimming routines in a hotel pool. It was one of those girls’ birthday. Mine. And I so, so wanted to write. But reading about writing was a close second. Watching the smiles on those girls faces fueled my love for them and made me understand that I’m a better mom because I write.

Today, I am honored to sit down with Robin Black and share this amazing collection of essays about the writing life. Trust me, you need this book. Now.

Leslie Lindsay: Welcome, Robin! At one point in CRASH COURSE, you mention something about the conception of stories. I’m paraphrasing here, but it was along the lines of, ‘it’s so unique, to every story and every writer, almost like asking, where was your child conceived?’  So, I want to know, how was CRASH COURSE conceived?

Robin Black: Very gradually. When my first book came out in 2010 I started blogging, supposedly just to promote the book, but while doing it I discovered a real desire to share my experiences coming to writing “late” and also to synthesize that with some of what I’ve learned about writing – craft lessons. I was surprised by how strong an urge I felt to share those things and by how responsive people were. It seemed like the more I took risks about sharing tough stuff, the greater the rewards. In 2011 I was invited to join an amazing group blog called Beyond The Margins. It’s gone now, but for several years I wrote a post every few weeks, taking turns with an incredible group of writers. And by the time my second book came out in 2014 I had a couple hundred pages of blog posts. It was a pretty easy decision then to try to make that into a book though it still took a lot of work to shape those essays into something cohesive. A LOT of work!!

L.L.: You speak so openly about things that might be challenging to speak of: your own struggle with AD/HD and your daughter’s special needs. I applaud this vulnerability. Hugely. In fact, both of those struggles resonate with me as well. My daughter has AD/HD and childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), both of which stumped me a bit, but from those struggles, a book emerged for parents raising a child with apraxia. And a sensitivity arose in parenting. Her struggles might have made me a stronger writer and a better parent. Can you speak to that, please?

Robin Black: It’s so wonderful that you were able to use your experience with your daughter to help other people. I truly admire that.

I think that parenting my daughter has made me a better mother for sure. Her issues have forced me to be more patient than comes to me naturally, and have taught me to think less in any given situation about me, me, me. Because truly her needs trump mine – most of the time. I’m not sure though that I think the whole ongoing process has made me a better writer. Some of that is simply practical. Parenting a child with so many needs is exhausting, and to some extent that weariness has slowed me down, I think. But she has certainly enhanced my life, brought me great joy and incredible pride, in her. But in the end, as I write in CRASH COURSE, her life is her story. Whatever she has brought me, amazing and also at times exhausting, she’s the person who matters the most. And I have endless admiration for how she handles her life.

L.L.: So I’m reading CRASH COURSE at a time I really, really needed it. Everyone, essays in this book included, keep saying, “Don’t stop. Keep going. Never give up on your dream…blah, blah, blah.” But guess what? I want to give up. I want to say, eff-it all. One of your essays is titled, “A Life of Profound Uncertainty.” I’m nodding because—yes—I get it. There are no absolutes in writing. Except, maybe, writing. What would be your advice to a fledgling writer?

Robin Black: My advice is to keep writing – by which I don’t mean anything as simple as “write every day” because writing every day is only good advice for some. I mean something more like, “don’t give up thinking of yourself as a writer.” And don’t be too focused on specific goals. Unless it helps you to be. And there’s the rub, with all writing advice: It’s all good except when it isn’t good. And it’s all bad, except when it helps. So the real trick for a fledgling writer is to plow through and sort through the tons and tons of advice out there and only take the advice that keeps you on course. And stay on course.

sm-bkL.L.: And let’s talk about that S-word. Subjectivity. For awhile, a critique partner and I were raking in, I mean RAKING IN the rejections. And nearly 90% of them said, “of course, this is just my opinion, some other agent may feel differently.” The next part of this question deals with the R-word. Rejection. Does any of it matter?

Robin Black: That’s such a tough question. It would be so nice if we came equipped with a way to weight these things appropriately, if rejections came with footnotes saying things like *Ignore this, this guy is a fool.” The problem is that some rejections contain wisdom, and it’s a shame to miss out on those by just ignoring all rejection as unimportant. I guess the closest thing to a rule that I can articulate is, if the person seems wholly outside your project, just brush it off. If they seem like they get what you’re doing, and appreciate it, but feel you haven’t fully realized your own intent, then it makes sense to pay attention.

But in general the main point about rejection is that we all experience it. So the fact of having a lot of rejections is kind of like knowing it will rain on some summer days. It may be a bummer but it’s not a portent of anything terrible.

L.L.: I think I connect so much with CRASH COURSE because you write about all of the things we writers obsess about: self-sabotage,  fear of failure (a big one for me), fear of success (“Oh my—I made it, now what?!” Also, a pre-emptive fear of mine), and just general unease about being able to produce anything—ever. Can you talk more about that, and how might we get over it?

Robin Black:  I think the goal is not exactly to get over it, because the temperament that writes is probably nearly always also one likely to be plagued by doubt. I think, as with rejection, the goal is to try to learn not to attach extra significance to those fears. Every single time I am in the thick of a project I go through at least one long period of being “certain” that I can’t finish it. And now, after years, I have a strange two level response to that. On one level, I sort of buy into the panic – that’s my heart or my spirit. But intellectually I know that the fact of doubting that I can finish something doesn’t really have much bearing on whether I will or not. It’s just part of the process. (I admit, my husband usually has to remind me of that. . .) It’s incredibly helpful to try to remember even as one is panicking that all of that stuff is just noise – and also never to let it let you give up.

images (6)L.L.: My mother was an interior decorator who worked from home. Nearly daily, I would be greeted with a bolt of fabric wrapped in a newsprint-like casing propped up on our front porch. A sparkly iridescent or a flowing Damask, or a floral Chintz. Sometimes, I would prop the bolt on my shoulder, haul it into the house, and slide it down the stairs to her studio. It always amazed me that she could churn out a dramatic jabot or a flirty balloon valance from those bolts of fabric. Yet I had no desire to do it myself. Instead, I became a keen observer. Of life. Of human behavior. The long and short of it is: you talk about material in CRASH COURSE. And material isn’t always tangible, like for you in on Fourth Street, or my mother’s clients. Can you talk more about that?

Robin Black: So interesting, because if I weren’t a writer, I probably would be some kind of designer. Or a therapist. And, as an aside, a writer is a bit like a combination of the two, making arrangements and also delving into motivations. (I admit that’s a bit fanciful!) Material for me, in fiction, is very close to never something that appears whole in real life. I never think: “Oh, that would make a great story!” And then go write it. Material for me is much more a matter of stumbling over some odd situation that then makes me think of a different situation, one I make up. I guess the fabric I use in my work – to stretch the metaphor – is just what you describe: a lifetime of observing human behavior. And having a pretty deep well of thoughts about why people do what they do. And also a desire to communicate all of that.

L.L.: And homes! Oh my how I love them. And how you talk about them in “House Lessons.” You say, “We have lived novel after novel in this home.” But there’s so much more to it than that? What is it about houses that tell our story?

Robin Black: Everything! A lived-in home is a form of narrative. Not just because of the history it carries, but because homes are formed by the habits and needs and failings and strengths and wants and excesses of their occupants. And because of that they are incredibly rich resources for writers. A room tells you so much about its occupant, from the things they have chosen, to the things that are out of their control. Like, I am incredibly homepage-book-covermessy and anyone walking into my house knows that. But they’ll also learn that I am into decorating, because my messy living room does look like someone took care to set it up. So right away, there’s a character contradiction: A person who cares a lot about her environment but also keeps it kind of messy. And of course there are an infinite number of such traits to be found in homes, real and fictional too.

L.L.: One of your essays in this collection talks about your to-do list. Novel, novel, novel! Is on mine today (yes, I borrowed your mantra). What’s on yours today?

Robin Black: Today, I need to work out, to make sure I eat 3 decent meals instead of garbage snacks, to read a book I may blurb, to catch up on some other reading, to walk my dog, to run some errands with my son, and to try to have time to paint in the afternoon. It’s summer, so a pretty fun day!

L.L.: Oh, I have one more—you just accepted a new position at Rutgers Camden MFA Program (Fall 2016). What excites and terrifies you about this? And can I come?!

Robin Black: I love teaching. So that’s the exciting part. I never tire of watching people figure out that it [writing] isn’t all hocus pocus, that there are craft techniques to learn, and approaches that will help. It’s just fun. And I also always learn a ton when I teach. So often it’s difficult to work through your own writing issues only by looking at your own work, or even by reading works that’s published and fully-realized. There’s a kind of lesson that can learned from other people’s work in progress that’s incredibly helpful. And it’s a real privilege to be trusted to read that work. What scares me always is that I won’t do justice to the students’ work. I really do see teaching as a kind of sacred trust and I very much don’t want to let anyone down.

L.L.: Robin, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you. Thank you, thank you for popping by!

Robin Black: Thank you so much for inviting, and for the great questions – and also for your generous words about CRASH COURSE

To connect with Robin on Twitter, please see: @robin_black,and more on her Website

REBHiRes-cropped (1).jpgRobin Black‘s story collection, IF I LOVED YOU, I WOULD TELL YOU THIS, was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Story Prize, and named a Best Book of 2010 by numerous publications. Her novel, Life Drawing, was longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the Impac Dublin Literature Prize, and the Folio Prize.

Her works of fiction have been translated into six languages.Her new book, CRASH COURSE: Essays From Where Writing And Life Collidehas been
called “an oasis for writers at any stage,” by Karen RussellRobin’s essays and stories can be found in such publications as One Story, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Southern Review, The Rumpus, O. Magazine, and Conde Nast Traveler. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, and will begin teaching in the Rutgers-Camden MFA Program, Fall 2016.
[Author image courtesy of R. Black. Cover images retrieved from author’s website, fabric image from

Wednesdays with Writers: Finding the deeper truth in fiction, his favorite place in the world, fear of the blank page and rediscovering lost love, Thomas Christopher Greene talks about his stunning new book, IF I FORGET YOU

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By Leslie Lindsay 

I closed this book for the last time with my heart in my throat and a deep visceral sigh. If I had been alone and not in a car traveling at eighty miles an hour filled with the giddy sounds of 5th grade girls, I might have shed a tear. And then I looked over at my husband, who was driving, and thought, “This life.” IF I FORGET YOU

IF I FORGET YOU (released yesterday, June 14 2016 from St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books)began for the author as many books do for many authors. It began as a question, “What if?” Simple as that. We all wonder from time to time about that first love, about that person who made such a mark on our lives, it’s stamped on our psyche forever. And then the muse takes over. A story told from a series of fragmented memories, wonderings, a compelling force drawing the ‘what if’ to fruition. .

Told from such raw, simple honesty, IF I FORGET YOU is wrapped in an delicately-spun tale of secrets, love, and finding one another again. 

Today, I am more than honored to sit down with Thomas Christopher Greene and chat about his story, the one encased in just glittery prose it might just make your eyes hurt to read it.

Leslie Lindsay: The story behind the story is almost as compelling as the story itself. This is often the case in many books. And they all vary widely. IF I FORGET YOU is based on a kernel of truth, as most every novel is. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration?

Thomas Christopher Greene: One of my best friends, who I have known since college, came over my house for dinner one night. After a few glasses of wine, he asked me if he could take a look at my Facebook page and when I asked why, he told me it was because I was Facebook friends with the girl he had loved in college. He’s a happily married guy with children but I remember the relationship he had with his college girlfriend from back in those days and how I thought they would be together forever.  I logged onto the computer for him and I saw something give in his face when he saw her all these years later, as if all that passion from youth came roaring back for him. I left him alone with her image. And later, I began to think, what if? What if they were to run into each other this many years later? That was the germ that started this novel.

L.L.: There are so many things in IF I FORGET YOU that are told from this well of raw, uncensored, personal anecdotes. But it’s not autobiographical; it’s fiction. Where does the truth in fiction lie for you? Can you explain?

Thomas Christopher Greene: All fiction, for me, is somewhat autobiographical. I mean, I draw on my own experiences and sometimes my characters are composites of me and of other people, but mostly I draw on places I know and things I feel. Fiction, at its core, is an artifice that allows us to find a deeper truth, an honesty we might not tap into fully without the device of the story. There are parts of Henry that are very true to me. I went to a real college in western New York that is strikingly similar to Bannister and there I became a writer. In some ways, Henry’s arc of discovering his desire to write mirrors my own. But finding that deeper truth is what it’s all about.  It’s the reason I write.

L.L.: In the novel, Henry goes to this lovely Vermont cabin for summer work. But I understand it’s a favorite hideaway for you and your family. The cabin exists, not just in the minds of readers and characters, but in a real, tangible place. Can you describe how the cabin came to be in IF I FORGET YOU and the way it speaks to you in the sense of a muse?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I own this small, seasonal cabin on a lake in northern Vermont, about thirty miles north of my year round house. It’s my favorite place in the world and I represented it in the book pretty much exactly how it is. It was there on a hot summer night watching the fireflies skim above the lake that I first started writing about Henry img-4292-vermont-rentaland Margot. It’s a terrific place to write for me, sitting outside on the deck above the water, just the glow of my laptop and the stars out. I wrote probably half the book there and then the season ended and we closed up for the year. But I decided to give my cabin to Henry in the novel, both as an act of solidarity between us, but also because it’s such a romantic place in many ways, and I just wanted to have him take Margot there. I knew she would love it.

L.L.: I’m enamored by your lyrical, fluid prose. And instead of asking where you learned to write like that, I think I’ll ask how you continue to sharpen the saw when it comes to writing?

Thomas Christopher Greene: Well, thank you. To be honest, I don’t really know how I do the thing I do, though I’ve been doing it a long time. I can tell when I am writing well, though, because it doesn’t feel forced, or like writing, but more like music that you hear in your head and have to get it out onto the page. But all language, words and sentences, exist for one reason, to serve story, in my mind. But I would say the way I stay sharp is to read. The most important thing a writer can do is read. And then write.

L.L.: In the novel, Henry is a poet. And oh, how I adore reading about writers! I can almost always tell when reading if that author fancies him or herself a poet. It’s that glittery use of words that give it away. Do you write poetry? How has it shaped you into the novelist you are today?

Thomas Christopher Greene: The only poem I have ever written in my life is in this book, and it is Henry’s poem. I confess that I am mildly hoping none of my poet friends read it. The other night I had a drink with Matthew Dickman, a brilliant poet who is on my faculty, and was telling him about this and my horror when folks like him read this novel. He said if he had known he would have written the poem for me, for a note in the acknowledgments. Kicking myself I hadn’t thought of that.

L.L.: Mostly, IF I FORGET YOU is a love story. But love is a prickly, thorny thing. And there are stories of rekindling love, lost love, first love, etc. In what ways do you see this one as being ‘different?’

Thomas Christopher Greene: I think I have mostly been telling some variation of the same story over and over, which I think a lot of writers do. Some people believe there are really only four or five different stories—stranger comes to town, two people meet, etc. The differences are in the particularity of perspective you give your characters: how do their own experiences influence the way they see the world? I admit it’s hard to say new things about love, so in some ways I am not trying to do that. Instead I am more focused on saying things about love that hopefully speak to something we all have felt and can relate to.

L.L.: I’ve heard that this story poured out of you very quickly, that is was almost like a damn bursting and all of these little stories that make up IF I FORGET YOU  just flowed. Can you talk about what kind of writer you are? A plotter? A pantser? And does it matter?

Thomas Christopher Greene: I don’t really plot. I spend a lot of time thinking about the characters and the story before I ever write. I try to understand who they are and how they would behave, and then I think about how to get them in trouble and see how they react. By the time I sit down to write, I generally have in my head the general architecture of the novel, the arc of the story. And then I write to plot points and I revise as I go.

L.L.: What ever trumps you in the writing life?

Thomas Christopher Greene: Time is always a challenge. I run a very busy college. But there is always a fear somewhere inside that you won’t be able to do this again, that the next time the blank page confronts you you’ll have nothing to give. But then you put that out of your mind and just work. Somehow it works out. download (6)

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

Thomas Christopher Greene: The new book I’m working on. It’s a very suspenseful literary thriller about a young married couple who realize they don’t actually know each other as well as they thought they did.

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

Thomas Christopher Greene: As usual, I think you really covered it. So, no.

L.L.: Tom, it was a pleasure chatting with you. And I so loved IF I FORGET YOU. It’s certainly a story I won’t.

Thomas Christopher Greene: You’re very kind, Leslie. The pleasure was mine.

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

Thomas Christopher Greene by Beowulf Sheehan  www.beowulfsheehan.com

Thomas Christopher Greene by Beowulf Sheehan

Author Bio: Thomas Christopher Greene is the author of four previous novels: The Headmaster’s Wife, Envious Moon, I’ll Never Be Long Gone, and Mirror Lake. His fiction has been translated into 13 languages. In 2008, Greene founded Vermont College of Fine Arts, a top graduate fine arts college, making him the youngest college president in the country at the time. He lives and works in Vermont. Visit him at www.thomaschristophergreene.com. [Special thanks to K. Bassel and K.Kamm at St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books. Author and cover image courtesy of SMP. Vermont cabin image retrieved from and bears no resemblance to the author’s actual cabin.]

Wednesdays with Writers: Marion Pauw talks about her stunning thriller, THE GIRL IN THE DARK, how a trip to Panama changed her, creating circumstances in which you flourish, shitty first drafts, thearpy for writer’s block, how the body doesn’t lie, and so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

In the vein of blockbuster thrillers such as THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and THE GOOD GIRL and the GIRL IN THE RED COAT, among others, it’s no surprise that GIRL IN THE DARK jumped out at me recently. GirlintheDark.JPG

Internationally bestselling author Marion Pauw  makes a splash with her riveting mystery/psych thriller GIRL IN THE DARK (Feb 2016, HarperColloins/William Morrow).

This domestic thriller has taken the Netherlands by storm with its psychological twists, high concept plot, and unique characters…and now, the U.S. can get a glimpse.

Iris is a single mother struggling with raising her behaviorally-challenged young boy while working part-time as a lawyer. In a very deliberate, yet organic manner, Iris uncovers facts that lead her to believe she has an older brother her mother never spoke of (NOT a spoiler, this is mentioned on the jacket flap). What’s worse, is this brother is institutionalized for a horrific crime he did not commit. Or, so he says.

Ray, meanwhile tells his story, through the eyes of a loveable, but “off-kilter” grown man in an autistic unit at a hospital. He loves fish. He’s obsessed with his saltwater aquarium and knows everything about it. Through flashbacks, we become the fabric of Ray’s life before his crime, we meet the woman and her young daughter who live next-door, and the family secrets buried so deep they’re bound to resurface.

And they do.

GIRL IN THE DARK is an irresistible combination of suspense and murder, lies, unrequited love, and the complicated bonds of family that survive–perhaps, barely–in the face of insurmountable odds.

I’m honored to welcome Marion Pauw to the blog. Thank you for joining us, Marion!

Leslie Lindsay: I know what’s haunting me about GIRL IN THE DARK—there are several images holding on like barnacles, as well as moral conundrums I keep thinking about. I don’t want to give it away, but I do want to know what was haunting you when you penned this story?

Marion Pauw: I always have been fascinated by nurture vs nature. What does it take to push a person over the edge to commit a horrible crime? Is there a scientific formula of personality traits x upbringing x events? In that way I am not interested in psychopaths or organized crime. I like thinking and writing about normal people who trip over the edge. Because of course I wonder if it could ever happen to me.

download (1)The other thing is that it would be the most horrible thing in the world to be confined to a mental institution for the criminally insane if you were innocent. Being in a prison would be bad enough, but this would be an even bigger nightmare as you are not sure if and when you will ever get out. In the case of Ray, being the way he is, he would have a hard time defending himself as he cannot read between the lines and has a very linear way of thinking. Because of him being different, his conviction would always include spending time in an institution.

L.L.: I really liked Ray. I know he’s been accused of this horrific crime and comes across as a little weird, but he’s likeable. And I think, autistic. In all honesty, I think I’ve read maybe two other books with an autistic protagonist. Where did the idea for Ray come from? Can you share a bit about his development with us?

Marion Pauw: My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s when he was small. I as a mother always felt we were trying to push the round shape through the square shape of the block box. It was at times very frustrating because our whole system is built around a certain range. If you are too far on either side, there is just no place for you.

I wanted to give a 360 degree view on what it would be like to have Asperger’s. Having said that, nowadays I have a different view on Asperger’s when while writing the book. A visit to an indigenous tribe in Panama with my children changed a lot for me. I remember arriving and my daughter, my ‘normal’ kid took one look at the bare chested women and men wearing loincloths and said : ‘OMG mom, I don’t know if I can get used to this.’ Not my son. He got out of the boat and from that moment on he was there. I mean, really there. He would be fishing, playing soccer with an old torn ball, roaming around the jungle with the other kids. And at times I would have lost him and would find him in someone’s hut laughing and teaching each other local words. It was amazing to see this. And at that moment I realized: my son is not an autist, he is just a nature person. images (1)

When you come to think of it, if you lived in the jungle, all your senses would have to be wide open. You would have to be able to smell your prey, hear the faintest ruffle of the wind, see the bird hidden in the tree. Then imagine having to live in the modern day world with senses that wide open. If you would hear, see, smell, feel everything, all these details, you would go absolute nuts. You would have to find ways to protect yourself. You would figure out rituals to soothe yourself, you would try not to make too much contact.  All these symptoms we like to place in the autistic spectrum. So in my point of view, autism is not a disorder, it is a matter of being wired differently. And you have to create circumstances where your wiring helps you flourish in stead of lock down.

One more thing: imagine placing a real city kid in the jungle. He would probably show some very disturbing behaviour and the indigenous people might think he had a disorder.

“Gut-wrenching and relatable. A must-read for fans of character-driven stories, such as Tana French’s Faithful Place.”

Booklist

L.L.: Speaking of protagonists…the way I see GIRL IN THE DARK, there were dual-narrators, Iris and Ray. Others will argue that there can only be one protagonist in a story, one single person we are fighting for, but still…I didn’t see it that way. Can you speak to that, please?

Marion Pauw: Haha, this actually is the first time someone has ever said that to me. I like having two narrators as you can see them coming closer to each other throughout the book.

L.L.: What kind of writer are you? Do you let the pen do the leading, or do you carefully craft plot?

Marion Pauw: I really admire people that have the discipline to plot out the whole book and have a wall full of post-its. I have been doing screenwriting as well, and then I am forced to work that way and I am always so relieved when I can just start writing instead of plotting! I really love the process of being behind my desk and trying to let inspiration take over. I like being surprised! But on the other hand, I always do make a basic outline, because you have to have some point at the horizon.

L.L.: So revisions…I’ll be the first to say that I hate them. There are many writers who say things like, ‘write a junky first draft; just get it down.’ And then there are people like me who say, ‘make the first one pretty good so you don’t have to do much work later.’ Where do you stand on this?

Marion Pauw: I am a ‘real shitty first draft’-kind of writer. I believe I read this in Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird. Whenever I try to write something really good, I get so stressed out, I completely lose my mojo as a writer. When I write my first draft I just make myself go from a to z on intuition. After that is done, the real crafting begins. I also like that phase, because then I am not so worried about if I will be able to complete the story. I know I have, all I have to do now is make it better! I think it is very normal for a writer to be totally insecure, as the pressure is so high. You just have to figure out ways to encourage and soothe yourself every day. I have also had writer’s block for a couple of months. I felt like I was a little kid trying to make a drawing while behind me there were people looking over my shoulder saying ‘Now draw, dammit’. I had to go into therapy to get over that. Seriously.

L.L.: As a writer with two young boys, what do you find the most challenging aspect of balancing your writing life?

Marion Pauw: My kids are almost mature now. My son is 17 and my daughter is 18. This makes all the difference. Now I can just give them money and say ‘It’s your turn to get groceries and cook.’ But that is just the practical part. Honestly I feel super guilty for being so preoccupied with my work so often. When I am writing, I am just not completely there. A part of me is always wondering off, thinking about the story. My kids can sometimes talk to me and I do not completely hear what they say. Or they go to school and I realize I have not one time really looked them in the eye. I really do not like that about myself, and I am trying to do better. What I really prefer is just going somewhere for a month by myself and just write, write, write. In that way I can get a lot of work done and by the time I come home again, I am more present.

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

Marion Pauw: Right now I am actually studying! I had wanted to do something completely different for a while and I had done this body based therapy that really helped me, so now I am doing the course myself. The whole theory is that the body cannot lie. You can fool yourself thinking all kinds of thoughts, but your body will always tell the true story. Also lots of old emotions get stored in the body etcetera. It is super interesting. After I have finished this study of 4 years, I would like to write a book on this subject.

L.L.: What might have I asked, but forgot?

Marion Pauw: Ehmmm. ‘Is it true that all people in Amsterdam smoke pot?’ Haha, that is what most people ask me when they hear I live in Amsterdam. The answer is no, by the way.

L.L.: Marion, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us. Just loved GIRL IN THE DARK and wish you the best of luck!

Marion Pauw:  Thank you, Leslie!

 

5389aa5fddf0c0.83985404About the Author: Marion Pauw is an author and screenwriter. Her novel DAYLIGHT (aka GIRL IN THE DARK) won the Golden Noose Award in the Netherlands and has sold more than 200,000 copies in Europe. GIRL IN THE DARK is her US debut.  Pauw is one of the bestselling writers of The Netherlands whose books have also been published in Germany, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, and now the U.S.  She made her debut with Villa Serena in 2005.  Her big breakthrough to a wider readership and the critics came with Girl in the Dark (2008). The Dutch film rights for the book were sold to Eyeworks and successfully adapted to a movie. Next, she wrote the thrillers Sinner Child, Jet-Set and Kicking the Bucket.  As a screenwriter, Pauw has adapted several series for Dutch television, including In Treatment and Diary of a Callgirl. Pauw lives in Amsterdam with her two children.

[Cover and author image courtesy of William Morrow. Asperger’s image retrieved from on 5.4.16. Nature vs nurture retrieved from on 5.4.16]

 

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

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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

Wednesdays with Writers: Paula DeBoard talks about her new book, THE DROWNING GIRLS, keeping with the Jonses, juggling life, & how writing is like a conversation with readers & so much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Dark, edgy, and chilling, THE DROWNING GIRLS is an unsettling story of the underbelly of a picture-perfect neighborhood, one filled with emerald green grass, glittering swimming pools, ritzy clubhouse, and gated entry. It’s what everyone dreams of: a life of opulence and, simply put, happiness.9780778318378.indd

But when the McGuiness family finds themselves living a 4,000 square foot McMansion, they soon discover they have been thrust into a world of secrets and lies just below the community’s seemingly flawless surface.

I couldn’t put this book down. With each turn of the page, I was utterly transfixed by the lengths the residents (and one in particular) would go to get what she feels she deserves. If you’re new to Paula DeBoard, then pull up a chair, grab a drink, and dive right in.

Leslie Lindsay: Paula, thank you so much for popping by to tell us a bit more about your newest thriller, THE DROWNING  GIRLS. We’re honored to have you! Ultimately, this story is about secrets and what lengths we go to cover them up. There’s also a deep-seeded thread of obsession, and while it presents a bit like FATAL ATTRACTION, it may also be construed as an obsession for happiness, for fitting in, for protecting one’s reputation. Can you talk about that, please?

Paula DeBoard: Thanks for having me, Leslie. I’m thrilled to be stopping by!

This story began for me as a fish-out-of-water tale as the McGinnises move out of their crappy rental in the city to a private upscale community, The Palms.  I played around with the story for a bit, imagining the situations these characters could get themselves into, despite having this relatively simple goal of improving their lives. Over the course of a few drafts, I came to realize that the book was really about competing desires, and the lengths people might go to get and keep the things they really want. The characters spend a fair amount of time and effort protecting their reputations and keeping secrets, since failure comes at such a heavy cost in this community. And yes—one character does have a dark obsession that in many ways drives the entire story.

L.L.: But our problems and insecurities have a way of following us anywhere; that “getting away from it all,” really doesn’t make a better person. Can you speak to that?

Paula DeBoard: Right—you’ve hit on what the main characters in The Drowning Girls are struggling with throughout the story. From the outside, The Palms offers this glittering, seemingly perfect life, but in reality, it doesn’t produce happiness. That’s true with the McGinnises, who somewhat naively believe that their lives will be improved by changing their living situation, and the Jorgensens, who move their child from one school to another, refusing to acknowledge that the common denominator of the problem is in fact their own child. I think the truth is that our circumstances and our physical setting can definitely influence our happiness, but who we are deep down inside is much more complicated—and that may be impossible to escape.

L.L.: I understand that part of your inspiration for THE DROWING GIRLS came from your own freelance work writing for a real estate publication showcasing fantastic new home communities much like your fictionalized The Palms. What is it about wealth and opulence that leave us wanting a slice of that life?

Paula DeBoard: One of my earliest professional writing experiences was a weekly gig where I would visit a new home community, tour the staged models, and chat with the sellers about their products. This was at the height of the housing bubble, and in my area (California’s Central Valley), the home models were flooded with people who were either local and “trading up” or selling a more expensive but smaller property in the Bay Area to provide more space and a quieter way of life for their families. I confess that I was just as interested in the buyers as the homes themselves, and my natural tendency to eavesdrop gave me quite a bit of insight into their lives. People were really going real estate-crazy, although the extent of that was only tragically obvious when the housing bubble burst. At one point, the homes in my neighborhood skyrocketed in value, and someone down the street from me cashed out on that equity for an H2—completely impractical for life in a city (or just about anywhere). Not to get too philosophical here, but increased home value seemed to give a whole lot of us an increased self-esteem, and a new sense of worth—an extrinsic value rather than an intrinsic one. Some of that perceived value is from keeping up with the Joneses, too—it’s hard to be happy with yourself when in some way you don’t feel like you measure up.

I do think it’s natural to want to improve our lives and provide more for our families—that’s at the heart of most home-buying decisions. But there’s an undeniable lure in the marketing for new communities, an implicit promise that if you buy into that vision, you’ll be happy. That’s what advertising is all about, but of course the promise of happiness is rarely realized through things we can buy. download (35)

L.L.: Let’s talk character for a bit, because I think this is the shining star of THE DROWNING GIRLS. Just when you think you can’t dislike anyone more than you thought possible, you do. This is how I felt about, Kelsey Jorgensen. Oh my…this girl (and I use that term loosely), is…well, disturbing. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but I was absolutely amazed at her audacity and anxious to see what she’d do next.  Was there any ‘real-life’ inspiration for Kelsey’s character? Did you read personality disorder textbooks in earnest to develop her? What is your process for character development in general? Do they come to you fully formed, or do they take some time to formulate?

Paula DeBoard: The characters in this book developed over time and several drafts, and with each draft, I found them growing more complicated and, particularly in the case of Kelsey, darker, too. In my former life, I was a high school English teacher, and now as a college professor, I still find myself spending a lot of time around people in their teens. Kelsey isn’t based on any one particular person, but she grew out of a few ideas that I was experimenting with—permissive parenting, the helplessness that parents must feel in the face of their teenagers’ use of social media and related technology, and a sort of “dark side” that pushes a crush to an obsession. I did read quite a bit about obsessions, and what I realized about Kelsey was that she must have had some “triggers” in her life that brought her to that point. It was beyond the scope of the book to fully introduce those, but I found myself feeling sorry for her in a way, because she was in the grip of something she couldn’t fully control, and deep down, she must have been desperately unhappy.

I have a tendency to do this, I guess—to talk about my characters as if they are real people that I might bump into in the course of my daily life. Over the course of writing a book—and it’s been this way with each new project I tackle—I find that I begin to think of them not as inventions of my own mind, but as actual human beings. When I get to that point, the story begins to take on a life of its own.

L.L. THE DROWNING GIRLS isn’t exactly about more than one actual drowning as the title suggests, but could perhaps be used metaphorically. Can you speak to that, please?

Paula DeBoard: I initially pitched the book as The Drowning Girl, and then as the story evolved, I realized how several characters in the book were in “over their heads,” so to speak. The title is meant metaphorically, although the reader will encounter someone being pulled from a backyard swimming pool within the book’s opening pages. Ultimately, the metaphor goes back to the idea of wanting more—it’s those things we most desire that can be our downfall.

L.L.: I’m working on a novel now in which I have similar elements as THE DROWNING GIRLS. Not a community of wealth, per se, but a small-town in which everyone knows everyone, it’s all a bit “Main Street, USA,” but the town is more than what meets the eye. Dark, chilling secrets bubble at the surface. I thought I had it all figured out and then—oops—I didn’t. Do you ever “write yourself into a corner,” and how do you back up and gain perspective?

Paula DeBoard: Yes—I do this far more than I like to admit. I wish I was a writer who developed a strategic outline during the drafting process and then stuck to that outline religiously, but I’ve found that it just isn’t my style.

I love the EL Doctorow quote that says, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

This approach is very freeing for me as a writer, but the consequence is that I sometimes do feel that I’ve worked myself into a corner, where it just seems logically like the story simply can’t move forward. I’ve learned not to panic too much when this happens. It’s usually a sign that I need to take a step away from the manuscript for a few days. During this time, I try to do some mundane, repetitive things—jog on a treadmill, work in the garden, walk my dogs, repaint something (I’m forever repainting something), and all the while, I allow myself to just think about it. Inevitably, I see that I need to back up just a bit, and then a new direction will open up in front of me. It’s a bit like those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books I used to love
when I was a kid, the ones that would say, “If you open Door A, go to page 56.” And then on page 56 it would say, “Your mom is waiting on the other side of the door, and it’s time to go home. The adventure is over.” images (19)But the next time through, you choose Door B, and the adventure continues. Part of this is really about humility as a writer—I love to believe that after writing a few books I have it all figured out, and it’s not always so pleasant to realize that I don’t. But the story is inevitably better for “rethinking” things along the way.

L.L.: I understand you teach writing, too. Can you share a bit about that part of your life?

Paula DeBoard: Of course! Sometimes it feels like I have two completely separate lives, but there are happy moments (like right now) where they get to intersect. I’ve been teaching since 2001—eight years at a high school, two years at a junior high, and the last five years at the college level. Although I love where I am right now—a lecturer in writing at the University of California, Merced—every level has brought its own challenges and triumphs. By the end of a semester, I’m usually ridiculously proud of how far my students have come in their written expression, and it’s an amazing validation to see that they are more confident and ready to use their writing skills in the next stage of their lives.

Sometimes, I admit that it’s a bit of juggle. I’m both producing my own creative work and assessing student work with a critical eye. It’s always a relief to approach the end of the semester and know that I can devote myself to my own work for a while, and by the time the new semester starts, I’m itching to get back into the classroom. Writing—whether creative or critical—is about having a conversation with a reader. I love being on both sides of that conversation at different points, and wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you nowadays? Of course, nothing like what was obsessing Kelsey, right?!

Paula DeBoard: The truth is, I suspect I have a very addictive personality. Luckily, my addictions are confined to somewhat acceptable things, like staying up very, very late to finish a book (at this moment, it’s Caroline Kepnes’s HIDDEN BODIES), a habit I’ve had since childhood. I have to limit the time I spend on Sporcle, an online trivia site. Although I’ve never been a math whiz, I do have a weird obsession with numbers, like license plates and strings of digits that have surprising patterns. I can feel myself growing steadily less cool here, so maybe I’ll end this by saying that I have a true-crime obsession, too. I know way more than is healthy about serial killers, and I’ve never missed an episode of Criminal Minds or any of those late ‘90s shows narrated by Bill Curtis, like Cold Case Files and American Justice. Those were the absolute best. And now that I think about it, they are probably archived online.

L.L.: Anything I forgot to ask, but should have?

Paula DeBoard: No; this has been great! I’d just like to end with some gratitude for interviewing me (thanks!), and for my readers, whether they’ve been with me since The Mourning Hours or have just discovered my work with The Drowning Girls. And of course—a shout-out to Will and our four-legged ones. Right now we’re all sitting in the same room, and life feels just about perfect.

L.L.: Paula, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. It was so much fun! Best wishes with THE DROWNING GIRLS.

Thank you, Leslie!

For more information, or to follow, please see: 

Paula Treick DeBoard - author pic 2016Author Bio: Paula Treick DeBoard holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine and divides her time between writing and teaching. Her novels include The Drowning Girls (2016), which was selected by Target as part of its Emerging Authors program, The Fragile World (2014) and The Mourning Hours (2013), soon-to-be re-released in a mass market paperback format. Professionally, she is a member of PEN America, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and the Womens Fiction Writers Association. She joined the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced in 2015, and lives in Modesto with her husband Will, two small dogs with surprisingly vicious barks, and the world’s least patient cat.

[Cover and author image courtsey of Paula Treick DeBoard. “Keeping Up with the Joneses” image retrieved from, “Choose Your Own Adventure” image retrieved from]. 

Write On, Wednesday: Heather Gudenkauf talks about her new psych thriller/mystery MISSING PIECES, Family secrets, trying something new (writing-wise), and the beauty of Iowa

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By Leslie Lindsay 

NYT bestselling author Heather Gudenkauf delivers a heart-racing, tightly plotted whodunit mystery which spans the course of about a week with glimpses into the past in her forthcoming MISSING PIECES (Feb 2, 2016).missing-pieces-cover-198x300

Sarah and Jack Quinlan seem to have the perfect life–married twenty years and having just sent their daughters off to college–they are polite and caring toward one another as any couple in a long-term relationship is. When Jack receives a call that his aunt has taken a fall and is seriously injured, Jack and Sarah travel to his hometown of Penny Gate, IA, a place he’s spent very little time in the last twenty years. And with good reason.

I’m thrilled to have Heather join us as we chat about her fifth novel, MISSING PIECES.

Leslie Lindsay: Heather, I am honored to have you pop over. I fell in love with your writing with your debut, THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE. I have to say, there seems to be a theme in your novels involving secrets. Can you speak to that?

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for your kind words! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my writing. I’ve long been intrigued by news accounts documenting the shock and surprise loved ones experience when they learn that a loved one wasn’t quite the person they thought they were. I trusted him implicitly, says the woman whose husband has a secret family. She was always a reliable, hardworking employee, says the boss of the woman who embezzled thousands.  While I was writing MISSING PIECES, in my THE WEIGHT OF SILENCEhometown, there was the case of a purportedly normal family man who was accused of shooting a family member over fifteen times.  Police arrived to find him sitting in a chair in his living room, with a bag of ammunition and gun cleaning supplies sitting next to him. How could you be so wrong about the person sleeping next to you, sitting next to you or living next door to you? People keep secrets ~ but how long are they able to keep them hidden and what are the ramifications? That’s what I try to explore in my novels.

L.L.: MISSING PIECES is about lies, betrayal, and how secret-keeping can destroy those we care about. Like your other novels, this one is also set in your home state of Iowa. The scenery is gorgeous, and I could almost feel myself in those corn fields and old farm houses. What ultimately inspired you in this one?

Heather Gudenkauf: For me, Iowa has a beauty all its own. Whenever I’m driving through the countryside and see an old farm house I immediately begin to create a history for it ~I imagine the children who played in the yard, the men and women who worked the fields, the births and deaths that occurred there. I love reading books where the setting is almost a character itself ~ with its own soul, its unique heartbreaks and joys ~ and I attempt this in my own writing as well.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit…I understand you are a very busy writer, Rural Iowawife, mom of three, and title 1 reading coordinator. I’m always amazed at these super-woman heroics of juggling so many balls. How is writing an accessible career choice for women—you—today?

Heather Gudenkauf: I am so fortunate to be able to pursue careers that I am passionate about. I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was a young girl and have spent the last twenty-three years in education. I didn’t seriously consider writing until I had been teaching for several years and my three children were in school. I think the key to be able to juggle multiple roles is to truly love what you do. For me writing is an escape, an opportunity to explore new ideas, new characters, a chance to express myself creatively.

L.L.: Do you have any writing rituals or obsessions?

Heather Gudenkauf: I wouldn’t say I have any particular rituals obsessions except I do like to have music playing while I write. With music playing in the background I’m still able to focus on my writing without being too distracted by the world around me. Otherwise, I can pretty much write anywhere. I write in coffee shops, in bed, in front of the fireplace, in the car, outdoors.

L.L.: What are you currently reading? Does your reading influence your writing?

Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I’m reading The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas. It’s a historical novel about a midwife from a small Colorado mining town and the mystery surrounding the death of a newborn. Sandra Dallas is one of my favorite authors ~ she has a magical way of transporting me into the past and sweeping me up into the intricate lives of the characters she creates.

Every word I’ve ever read has, in some way, influenced my writing. I think we all carry the books we’ve read with us – it becomes the fabric of who we are. I think I may have just mixed my metaphors there ~ but that’s the best way I can explain it.

L.L.: What is obsessing you now and why?
Heather Gudenkauf: Right now I am obsessed with working on my newest novel. I am trying something completely new in my writing and developing what I hope is a very unique main character. It’s challenging and exciting ~ I can’t wait to see how it ends!   THE END

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

Heather Gudenkauf: I love chatting with readers and talking books ~  I can be reached at heather@heathergudenkauf.com.  Also, please come see me at heathergudenkauf.com for my most recent blog post, giveaways and other bookish fun!

L.L.: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and share MISSING PIECES. It was a pleasure, Heather!

Heather Gudenkauf: Thank you for thinking of me for your blog ~ it’s been a lot of fun!

heather_bioAuthor bio: Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times bestselling author of The Weight of Silence, These Things Hidden and One Breath Away. Her newest novel, Missing Pieces, will be available on Feb. 2, 2016. She lives in Iowa with her family.

For more information, or to follow on Social Media: 

[Author and cover image courtesy of Heather Gudenkauf. THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE cover image retrieved from H. Gudenkauf’s website on 1.1.16. Iowa farm house found on Pinterest, original source unavailable. “The end” image from www.giphy.com on 1.1.16] 

 

 

Write On, Wednesday: Cynthia Swanson on Identity, Grief, Motherhood, and so much more from THE BOOKSELLER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

It’s at once delightful, yet haunting; a unique examination of love, loss, and identity. When I came across THE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson, I was immediately drawn. It might have something to do with that cover—a book Cynthia Swanson The Bookseller Jacketwith a book—well, it’s like a Russian doll of books. Of course, there’s the piece about the blurring of dreams with reality coupled with a historical touch thrusting us back to the early 1960s of Denver, Colorado. Are you smitten yet? I’m pleased to have Cynthia with us today.

L.L.: I’m always so interested in learning about the moment an author ‘knows’ she (or he) has a story. What was your inspiration for THE BOOKSELLER?

Cynthia Swanson: I was at the gym at 10 AM on a Tuesday, with one kid in the gym’s childcare area and two at school. All of the sudden, just for a moment, I wondered what I was doing in my own life. I wondered what happened to the life I’d had not long before – single, living alone with my cat and dog, writing whenever I felt like it, living completely on my own terms. As anyone with a family can tell you, that goes right out the window when kids enter the picture. It got me thinking about a character who was caught between two lives – one who begins to doubt her own reasoning skills in knowing which life is which.

L.L.: I just love how this story is so universal in the sense of that ‘what if,’ question we all ask ourselves, especially mothers. Coupled with that inevitable mommy guilt, grief…well, it was very moving.  Are those the themes you set out to explore?

Cynthia Swanson: Definitely. The book is by no means autobiographical, but I think those themes are shared by many women. We want it all – careers and families – and that’s not easy for anybody, but particularly for women, because we have such high expectations of ourselves. I think it’s interesting that women still struggle with this in 2015, the same as a character might have back in 1963. I think it’s getting better – our ideas of “work” are more creative than they were back then, in terms of job sharing, working from home, and so on – but it’s still a challenge.

L.L.: I had read somewhere that you worked on THE BOOKSELLER in15-minute increments. I’m nodding and smiling because I get it. Those staccato bursts of creativity can be so rejuvenating and fuel the creative process all day. What tips might you give a busy at-home parent who feels overwhelmed with the possibility of writing a novel?

Cynthia Swanson: You just have to get started and keep going. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s really true. It’s like exercise: any exercise is better than no exercise. Some days all you can manage is a walk around the block. Other days, you get an hour to yourself to go running or biking. Both days are valuable in terms of your physical and mental health. In the same way, shorter creative periods are just as important for your creative health as longer sessions. My other piece of advice would be, when writing a first draft, resist editing as you go. Just get the basic story down, knowing it has issues and big gaping holes. The sense of accomplishment that comes with a finished first draft is what drives me to keep going with subsequent drafts.

L.L.: How about that time period in THE BOOKSELLER? I just loved the combination of the colors (gold and turquoise), the way my imagination filled in shag carpeting, dark paneling, and clean lines of furniture ala Frank Lloyd Wright (though he was a little earlier). How did you decide to set the novel in the early 1960s?
Torquise and gold 2

Cynthia Swanson: When I first started writing THE BOOKSELLER, it was set in the present day. But I quickly realized that it needed a historical setting. Events needed to unfold slowly, in a way that could only happen before our technology-driven society came into being. The 1960s – particularly the early 1960s, before JFK was assassinated – made the perfect setting. That time period had just the right combination of optimism, growth, change – and a sense of nostalgia – to make the story engaging and believable.

L.L.: Full-disclosure—like you, I dreamed of being an architect. But I also liked to write. And complex math made me want to run for the hills. In your opinion, how does fiction and design dovetail? Or, does it?

Cynthia Swanson: I come from a wannabe design background; it’s a hobby and a passion, but not a vocation. I was an architecture major for the first couple years of college, but I kept taking creative writing classes as electives. Finally, an English professor sat me down and told me that while she didn’t know anything about my work as a designer, I was a great writer and no matter what my future held, I should always keep writing. That was so validating for a 20-year-old. I think the two disciplines require some of the same skills. For both, you need to see through another’s eyes. For authors that means understanding a character’s viewpoint, and for designers and architects that means envisioning how clients will use a space.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit—have you read any of the books listed in the bookseller, the ones Kitty sells in her bookshop? What might be your favorite(s)? [I found a lovely listing of those books here

Seven Days in MayWinterSilent Spring 2Green Eggs and Ham

Cynthia Swanson: Yes, I’ve read most of them. Certainly all the kid ones! Of the adult books mentioned, my favorites are Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Like Kitty does, I find Miss Brodie entertaining and engrossing. And like Kitty, I tried to read the Cold War thrillers, but found they weren’t my cup of tea. Maybe someday – but there are a lot of books on my To-Read list, so who knows.

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

Cynthia Swanson: I’m deep into writing a second novel. It’s set in the same time period – early 1960s – but it features very different characters and locale. I started working on a first draft after I submitted the final edits of THE BOOKSELLER to Harper. Working on something else at that time kept me from fixating on how my debut might do once it was out in the world. These days, about half my workday is spent on BOOKSELLER promotion and half on the new novel.

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you now?

Cynthia Swanson: Honestly, it’s that work/life balance. We have two kids who just started middle school and one in third grade, so we’re having to find new rhythms with two schools instead of one. As far as THE BOOKSELLER, I need to keep up the momentum on promoting it, so I think about that a lot. I frequently meet with local book groups who read THE BOOKSELLER, and I have several Denver-area events coming up this fall. (See this more for details.) And the new novel is constantly on my mind.

L.L.: Anything I should have asked, but didn’t?

Cynthia Swanson: I don’t know about “should have” but one thing I’d like to mention is how much I appreciate it when readers recommend THE BOOKSELLER. These days, many of us decide what to read based on Goodreads, Library Thing, Amazon reviews, book bloggers, and social media in general. If you love a book – not just my book, but any book – please take a moment to rate it and/or write a review on your favorite sites, tell your friends, recommend it to your book club. Authors depend on their current books’ popularity in order to keep their careers going and write more books! I’m so grateful for everyone who supports my work, as well as other authors.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Cynthia! Such a delight.

Cynthia Swanson: Leslie…thank YOU! 

Cynthia SwansonAuthor Bio: Cynthia Swanson is an author and a designer. Her debut novel The Bookseller was published to critical acclaim in March 2015. She has published short fiction in numerous journals and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. The hardcover version of The Bookseller is in its second printing in the US, and the novel is being translated into 11 languages. Cynthia lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and children. You can reach her at www.integritymodern.com.

Social Media:

Twitter: @cynswanauthor

Facebook

Website

[Cover and author images provided by the author and used with permission. Turquoise and gold decor retrieved from pfgrenada.com on 8.29.15 and has no connection to the THE BOOKSELLER or C. Swanson, but is used as illustrative purposes]