STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY brings poetry and design to life as one grapples with what it means to life a live worth living, plus Sears Kit Homes, helper monkeys, & more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Gorgeously rendered novel about love and loss, compassion, and humor, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY absolutely wow-ed me. 

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Some books select YOU and this is absolutely one of them;
I found STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY immensely moving, well-developed, and poignant.

Duncan Wheeler is a 37-year-old successful architect (swoon!) married to a woman who is in art conservation (also, swoon) and they are trying to have a baby…but… Duncan and his intern are in a fatal car accident one day coming home from a site visit. His young intern dies and Duncan is left a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair. Duncan isn’t sure if he’s truly ‘lucky’ as everyone says…everyday is a fractured attempt at living the life he once had.

Duncan’s will to live falters and his wife, Laura, reaches out to the Primate Institute of New England in effort to obtain a ‘helper monkey’ for Duncan. Maybe having Ottoline’s ‘helping hands’ around, Duncan won’t feel so dependent on others, perhaps his faith in life will be restored.

And for awhile, it does. Ottoline is delightful and charming and quite intelligent. She loves Nutella and peanut butter and is tiny and cute. But Duncan is struggling. He can no longer do many (most) things he once did–though he can consult with his architecture partners–still, life has been reduced to a revolving door of PCAs [personal care assistants], an active mind but no way to actualize his dreams.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous: poetic, yet stark. Characters are sympathetic, well-developed, and made a strong impression. I’ve been thinking about this book long after I finished the last page and sharing insights with others– it definitely sparked a conversation or two and would be excellent reading for a book club.

I am so honored to welcome Katharine to the author interview series. Please join us.

Leslie Lindsay:

Katharine, I am still reeling after finishing this book. It’s breathtakingly written, with a sympathetic hand, yet there are some real challenging issues here. Can you talk about your inspiration for STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY?

Katharine Weber:

Leslie, first, I just want to say that I am delighted by your appreciation of my novel on so many levels.

It’s not always possible to identify the DNA for every aspect of inspiration that spark my novels. It’s always a combination of details and situations set against other circumstances or events. I have a good friend who has been a quadriplegic for the last couple of decades. Spending time with him has given me a close-up sense of the endless workarounds necessary to conduct anything approaching ordinary, day to day living. I have known about monkey helpers for years, and the what-ifs began to intrigue me. What if someone wanted a monkey helper to assist with a task that is beyond the ordinary sort of help (picking up a dropped remote or phone, turning a page, inserting a CD, flipping a light switch) for which those clever capuchin monkeys are trained And so on. And then there are many other situations and details in the novel that flow from various experiences or passing obsessions of mine over the years. As a novelist I am a bit of a magpie, so most every interesting incident or detail I might experience or hear about is inevitably stored away.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a former R.N., I’ve always had a thing for art and architecture, and I’m a writer, too—so many ways, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY combines all of my passions in one very poignant narrative. I’m curious how you make the decision to make Duncan an architect and his wife…is she an art conservator? I loved them both.

Katharine Weber:

I worked in an architect’s office for a little less than a year, long ago, and I know a number of architects—and I have simply always been interested in architecture, of all periods and styles. I used to draw Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns on my school notebooks. (I could always remember which ones were Ionic because there was a girl in my class named Iona who wore her hair in two curly bunches on either side of her head.)  My husband and I have lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in Connecticut for decades, outside New Haven, the setting of the novel. Appreciating the range of American vernacular building styles over the past couple of centuries is a marvelous way of learning American history. Teaching at Kenyon College in central Ohio, I discovered the numerous charming Sears kit houses that can be found all over the place, including just up the street from the faculty house I live in when I am at Kenyon.  I have to admit that in the years I was writing STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY I developed a real crush on the American Foursquare. If only I could live in Duncan’s Explicated Foursquare!  I hope I evoked for the reader the marvelousness of those proportions in that house. I wanted it to feel inevitable and irresistible, the house you want to come home to, and I certainly sold it to myself!

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Laura being a conservator felt like a natural adjacent profession for her, and it made sense for the story that she would be someone whose job is repairing broken things, or at least doing her best to make them appear to be repaired. I have known a few art conservators, and I have been behind the scenes in various museums over the years because my husband heads the Albers Foundation, and I have over the years tagged along when exhibitions are being installed or paintings are being authenticated. The issue of fakes is chronic and damaging for the legacy of any artist, and the nature of art forgery fascinates me. It was a central plot element in my second novel, THE MUSIC LESSON).  I like the way the mind of a conservator works (especially the mind of the conservator I invented).  I think Laura’s work and Duncan’s work are both really cov_ml_newillustrative of their personalities, and they harmonize. Work is important in people’s lives, but it is often strangely glossed over in a lot of fiction. Annie Dillard famously said:

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”

This is also true for fictional characters.

Leslie Lindsay:

Of course, I have to ask about helper monkeys! I know about therapy/service dogs but monkeys were new to me. Can you talk about that, please?

Katharine Weber:

While the Primate Institute in my novel is fictional, it is inspired by the very real Helping Hands nonprofit organization in Boston, where capuchin monkeys are trained—at Monkey College, where else?—to perform the range of tasks that make them into genuine “helping hands” for recipients in wheelchairs. A helper monkey can give recipients autonomy and independence, and there is also a terrific, life-enhancing bond that develops. I support their valuable work, and I urge my readers to support them. Helping Hands Organization has wonderful short videos that show all aspects of training and living with a helper monkey.

photography of gray and black monkey

Leslie Lindsay:

STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY asks the reader to consider some very intense issues: the will to live and the right to die. Of course, every novel needs stakes…so here it is! What kind of research did you need to complete to provide an unbiased view?

Katharine Weber:

Do I have an unbiased view? I’m not sure. What I brought to this very central moral issue at the heart of the story is the belief that people with mobility issues are surely entitled to have equal rights to make choices about their lives, including end of life decisions, including decisions that they might not be able to enact physically because of their disabilities. Spending time dwelling with this aspect of the novel for some seven years, thinking daily about a wheelchair-dependent life, I became quite aware of the many circumstances when people in wheelchairs are confronted by lack of access to events, blocked entrances, steps into buildings, and all sorts of other small indignities. Having to phone ahead to get in a side door is not equality. Having to request a key to get into a handicap bathroom is not equality. Depending on doors with broken automatic openers is not equality. Separate but equal is not equal.


“STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY is a brilliantly crafted novel, brimming with heart. Pairing poetry with wisdom, this is a story about what it means to live, love, and grow.”

— Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage


On a practical level, I read many books on living with various degrees of paralysis. I really wanted to understand it on the practical level, the endless quotidian issues. I also delved into a variety of sources for advice and emotional support for people with spinal cord injuries, and their families. The two people I knew well who live with spinal cord injuries (the book is dedicated to both) also validated for me the state of mind I gave Duncan over many hours of frank conversations about the profound emotions of their first years of living with this disability.

Having said that, I do hope readers will discern that Duncan’s despair is as much about causing the death of his young protégé in the car accident for which he is responsible as it is about his new physical limitation.

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Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What is obsessing you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Katharine Weber:

The monster in the White House is obsessing me.

My four-year-old grandson Wilder is obsessing me.

Trying to decide which of four different novels I am writing at the same time is the one to focus on is obsessing me.

Leslie Lindsay:

Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Katharine Weber:

Yes. What was the publishing process like for this book, your sixth novel and seventh novel?

I ask myself this question on your behalf because it was not a straight shot to publication, though I think this is my best novel, and a number of reviews have agreed.  Publishers were reluctant to commit to a novel about a quadriplegic and a monkey helper. Editors admired the writing, praised it extravagantly, and then made no offer because their marketing departments were against acquiring a novel with a main character whom readers might not find sufficiently “relateable.” (God, how I hate that word.)  The marvelous small imprint Paul Dry Books took the risk, because Paul Dry makes his own decisions. He publishes ‘lively books

“to awaken, delight, and educate’—and to spark conversation”

as it says on their website. I am deeply grateful to Paul for his independent vision as a publisher. I am pretty sure he feels that his gamble on STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY has paid off.

Thank you Leslie, for this great conversation.

For more information, to connect with the author, or to purchase a copy of STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY, please visit:

Order Links: 

Katharine Weber Photo 1 Corbin GurkinABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katharine Weber’s first five highly-praised and award-winning novels have made her a book club favorite.

Her new novel and seventh book, STILL LIFE WITH MONKEY (Paul Dry Books), has won advance praise with a starred review from KIRKUS , Tayari Jones, Ann Packer , Roxana Robinson, Brian Morton, and Roger Rosenblatt.

Katharine grew up in New York City and has lived in rural Connecticut since 1976, when she married the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber.  She also spends parts of the year in West Cork, Ireland, and in London.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#literaryfiction #architecture #disability #helpermonkey #paralysis 

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[Cover and author image courtesy of Shreve Williams Publicity and used with permission. Cover of The Music Lesson from K. Weber’s website, image of American Four-Square retrieved from, all on 12.3.18. Artist image of book cover by L.Lindsay and can be accessed via Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

 

Gorgeously stark, yet lush poetry collection about homes, architecture, design, & more by Middlebury College President Laurie Patton

By Leslie Lindsay 

A deeply moving and stirring collection of poems about houses and homes inspired by Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 classic, THE POETICS OF SPACE.

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Houses, homes, dwellings…they all have a mystical experience for me. They may be composed of timber and hardware, plaster and bricks and glass, but they hold truths deeper and darker still.

A house may live only once, but it encompasses many lives. 

HOUSE CROSSING (Station Hill, May 2018) is a “simple poetry of houses,” as author Laurie Patton says. Ultimately, she was inspired by the “geometry of intimacy” in urbane, basic architecture–a corner, the end of a hallway, a window, the attic. While the 32 short poems in the collection are a study in brevity, they pack such a soft-focused punch, going deep and leaving the reader with a disquieting contemplation.

Titles are simple, but oh how they had me swooning: eaves, cupola, well, demolition, grave. 


I don’t mean to be glib when I say these poems are haunting. Patton’s work dwells in the white space, the what-might-have-been. 
One reads the words and imagines a scene, but then the mind takes over and sees an intimate potential that may vary person to person. Within these works, Patton observes the structure and design in a home which often leads to order. Or disorder. And her writing is done with a melancholic tenderness I found quite profound and disarming. 

This collection truly spoke to me and encouraged–inspired–me to read more, to write even more–and to seek out Gaston Bachelard’s book. 

Laurie is the president of Middlebury College in Vermont. She’s also the author or editor of ten books in the history and culture of Indian religions, mythology, and theory. Ultimately, she’s a scholar. And I am so honored to welcome her to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Laurie, I am swooning over this collection! I understand HOUSE CROSSING arose from your fascination of Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 work, THE POETICS OF SPACE, specifically, how it’s been a touchstone for architects, designers, poets, psychologists, and more since it’s publication sixty years ago. Can you tell us more about your inspiration?

Laurie Patton:

I’m so glad you like the work. I read Gaston Bachelard in graduate school in the late 80’s and early 90’s, when reading a phenomenologist of the imagination from the 50’s wasn’t exactly fashionable. I fell in love with his works, but didn’t admit to reading them much because we were supposed to be reading Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. It was kind of a guilty pleasure.

And yet, as Raine Daston and Sharon Marcus argued at a conference they just hosted at Columbia, there are such things as “undead texts”—texts that stay with you no matter what, and through the vicissitudes of intellectual fashion. While I knew that Gaston Bachelard’s work couldn’t be “proper philosophy” in a post-modern age, it could still be inspirational. I think it is a brave, and good, and deeply poetic thing to write about how the shapes of space structure the imagination—particularly domestic space. His work felt intuitively true to me; that memories of corners and ceilings do shape us in some profound way—perhaps expressible only in poetry.

I also love the fact that before he wrote these daring works, he was a philosopher of objectivity and science, and before that, he was a mailman. He personifies the interconnectedness of knowledge to me.

photo of a white door with a hanging wreath and welcome decor
Photo by Jessica Lewis on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Can you take us through the timeline of writing HOUSE CROSSING? I noticed some of the poems have been published in anthologies or journals prior to their appearance in the collection. Were they written sporadically as the muse called, or was there a more sequential approach?

Laurie Patton:

My two earlier books of poems also follow a structure: Fire’s Goal: Poems from a Hindu Year follows the structure of Hindu holidays and festivals in a single year. There, the writing discipline was to walk through a memory from one of my years in India that wouldn’t leave my mind, and assume that the memory’s persistence was a kind of call to write a poem. Angel’s Task: Poems in Biblical Time follows the readings from the Jewish calendar year. There, I focused on a single verse or line that seized my imagination and wrote a response in the form of a poem. Each project was guided by a kind of meditative discipline.

The writing of House Crossing was somewhat similar in that, inspired by Bachelard, I had very clear memories of parts of houses—memories that were in some way constitutive of the way I approached space. They weren’t necessarily childhood memories, nor were they necessarily houses I had lived in for a long time.  Wherever I drew the memory from, the architectural image provided the structure for the book, just as the ritual year did in my two previous books.

That said, it was a difficult thing initially for me to write the poems in a secular idiom; a house is not the same as a ritual year and my niche was definitely poetry inspired by a religious tradition. However, many of my readers think that House Crossing is still an intensely spiritual book—even more than the previous two! I think there’s a chord that could strike anyone who has lived in a house and has come to understand it as a home. I’m enjoying the fact that it has a wider readership than the others.

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Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

In the introduction of HOUSE CROSSING, you indicate these poems are not exactly about you or one house in particular, but memories and vestiges of personal history. But there’s a clear arc to them as well…we start in the cellar and end with grave; kind of an earth to earth, circular formation. Can you talk about that, please?

Laurie Patton:

You’re absolutely right to see that. I struggled with the order of the poems, and decided in the end simply to publish them in the order in which I wrote them. After I had gathered them all together, the order seemed to have an organic sense to it.  I also realized that the poems at the end of the work were increasingly about things outside of a house, such as “Roof”, “Well,” and “Grave.”  It was almost as if I were taking leave of the project by writing of architectural elements more and more “outside” the house.

Because the poems involve personal history, they also could be written, and interpreted, in a nostalgic manner. We all have our favorite corner, or hallway. But to move beyond sentimentality, I tried to make the places both specific and non-specific. A cellar was indeed a particular cellar, but it could be anyone’s cellar. A good poem makes something compellingly universal out of something particular, and I hope that I achieved that with architectural images.


“House Crossing, Laurie Patton’s mediation on space, builds a home in what it means to be between houses. The architecture of her poems is sound and beautiful, making spaces full of light, a place to live.” 

–Gweneth Lewis, Inaugural National Poet of Wales, author of Sparrow Tree


Leslie Lindsay:

Was there a poem that caused much fear and worry for you? For instance, what made the pads of your fingers sweat and your heart to race?

Laurie Patton:

That’s an insightful question. The “Well” poem was perhaps the hardest to write, because it was a record of a dream sequence I kept having, of encountering women enclosed in spaces—closets, graves, shallow pools.  I had originally written it in my head as a kind of long poem with much more elaborate images.  But in the end it emerged as a briefer poem, even though the images remained intact and much the same as they occurred in the dreams.  I am never sure about whether narrating a dream sequence in a poem can ever become truly accessible to readers. So I sweated that one! I anticipated something much grander, but the poem turned out rather simple.

I was also anxious about members of my family reading the poems, given that they might recognize some of the imagery. Both mother and father appear frequently in the book. Siblings do too. They are all somewhat fictionalized. Colm Tóibín has a wonderful essay about writers and their families, and he describes one conversation between himself and his mother where books are imagined as kinds of weapons. I worried about that. I’m delighted to report that all is well on that score; apparently the poems have moved even those who appear as characters in them.

They are the holders

of the soul

that came early–

washed, fetal, ancient

hallelujah

Leslie Lindsay:

What might you tell a writer (or poet) who wishes to write about home? In other words, what question did you set out to answer, and did you find it?

Laurie Patton:

I think the most important thing we can learn in writing about this subject is the difference between a shelter and a dwelling place—or, as some might put it, a house and a home. A shelter is of intellectual interest, and perhaps could pique our curiosity about its design. But a dwelling place is something alive, creative.  A dwelling place is also populated by actual and imagined relationships. It is an immensely social space, even when there is no one there.

Leslie Lindsay:

What gets you out of bed in the mornings? And it doesn’t have to be literary.

Laurie Patton:

I am intensely interested in the relationship between the poet and society. Every day I try to answer this question: how can poetry change the world? How can metaphors help people see and act differently? I carry with me Adrienne Rich’s essays on poetry and commitment, and Robert Pinsky’s on democracy, culture, and the voice of poetry, and dip into them every now and then throughout the day.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Laurie Patton:

You forgot to ask me how I write given my day job. That’s immensely refreshing.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of HOUSE CROSSING, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Laurie L Patton 12/10/2017ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laurie L. Patton is the 17th president of Middlebury and the first woman to lead the institution in its 218-year history.

Patton is a leading authority on South Asian history and culture, and the author or editor of 11 books in these fields. She has also translated the ancient Hindu text, The Bhagavad Gita, for Penguin Classics Series, and is the author of three books of poetry—the most recent book, House Crossing, was published in May 2018.

Patton is a native New Englander. She grew up in Danvers, Massachusetts, and graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall in 1979. Patton and her husband, Shalom Goldman, the Pardon Tillinghast Professor of History, Philosophy, and Religion in the Department of Religion at Middlebury College, reside in the President’s House at 3 South Street.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

LOVE IT? SHARE IT!

#homes #poetry #architecture #design #houses #space

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[Author image courtesy of L. Patton. Photo credit: Todd Balfour. Cover image retrieved from on 12.10.18. Artful image designed and photographed by L. Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1]

 

 

 

Margaret George is back extending Nero’s life to the Great Roman Fire, her passion for research, & more in THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK

By Leslie Lindsay 

Ascending the throne was only the beginning for Nero. THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK picks up right after 2017’s THE CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG EMPEROR, beginning with the Great Fire of Rome. 

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Margaret George is at the height of her game. She is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including Mary Queen of Scotland, Helen of Troy, and Mary, Called Magdalene.

Her passion and meticulous research shine in her newest book, the sequel to last year’s THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO (Berkley, 2017), in which she set out to recast the tyrannical, hedonistic ruler of Rome as the truly naive boy he was (having ascended the throne at age sixteen at his mother’s sheer force of will). Margaret–and Nero–won me over then and THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK (Berkley November 6, 2018) captured me just as much, maybe more. confessions-of-young-nero

After just ten years in power, Nero faces his biggest test: the Great Fire of Rome. Flames lick at wooden buildings, entire swaths of the city are reduced to rubble, monuments desecrated. And people are talking–did Nero start the fire himself? Was there another arsonist? Did Nero do anything to prevent it?

Aside from that, Nero is surrounded by false friends, spies, and those who conspire against him.
 He’s trying his best to be a just ruler, compassionate, and loyal, yet he falls in disarray time and time again. Still, I had such a soft spot for Nero and was silently cheering him on

From chariot races to the Grecian Olympics, art and music, THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK has so much to offer just about every reader. There’s love and mayhem, death and destruction, luxury and intrigue, and of course, the ‘insidious effects of power,’ as Diana Gabaldon says.

Told from the POV of three main characters–Locusta (an herbal medicine doctor), Acte (a woman who has stolen Nero’s heart), and (largely) Nero himself, I was in awe.

Margaret George has outdone herself and her passion for the subject matter truly shines. 

Please join me in welcoming the lovely Margaret George back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, welcome back. I’m not sure I have to ask where your inspiration came from for THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK—your passion clearly shines and you probably felt you had an obligation to Nero to continue his story. Can you talk about that please?

Margaret George:

I believed his story needed to be told, and not just the standard one that reduces him to a caricature.  He was a very complex person and the truth about him is not simple.  Of course he would want the story continued, as the Great Fire of Rome was the defining incident in his reign, the greatest challenge he faced, and one he met with great courage and resourcefulness.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

You actively researched Nero for five years, but your fascination with the subject matter has been closer to thirty years. I’m curious if you write while researching, or do you soak it all up, make notes, and then start writing? Can you tell us a bit about your process?

Margaret George:

I always do my research first so I have a foundation to build on.  I start with general histories, then go on to more targeted ones that get closer and closer to the details.  I also attend lectures and visit museums.  There were two large Nero exhibits while I was researching, one in Rome in 2011 and the other in Trier, Germany in 2016, with sculpture and artifacts on loan from all over the world.  Trier even had an enormous commemorative stone of the Panhellenic Games from Greece shipped over!  Last of all I go to the sites where Nero walked and lived—Rome itself of course, but also Baiae and Naples, Antium, and Greece. Only when I feel very much at home in that world he lived in can I start writing.

Leslie Lindsay:

I’m also curious about your writing space. I imagine it a cramped office filled with Roman artifacts. Am I close? Do you write at home? On the road? In a coffee shop?

Margaret George:

You are half right!  In my writing room, I do have Roman artifacts, some reproductions and others more silly—like a Nero candle, a Nero rubber ducky, a large poster and a flag from the Trier exhibit.  But the quarters aren’t cramped—it’s a big room with two large bookcases, two desks, and windows on all four sides.

I can write only at home and only if I have several uninterrupted hours.  I know some people write in a coffee shop but I can’t imagine how they do it.  On the road, there’s too many distractions and discomforts.  The downside of that is that I am pretty restricted in where I can psychologically work.

Office Photo
Margaret graciously provided this photo of her writing space. Loving that giant screen!

Leslie Lindsay:

In the SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK, you set out to ‘set the myths straight’ about Nero. And there were several big ones. Which one left the most lasting impression on you?

Margaret George:

I think the biggest one was that he was a frivolous, effete, incompetent buffoon.  Perhaps he was in the eyes of senators—who had every reason to hate all the emperors, because they effectively ended the power of the Senate and demoted the senators to lesser status.  To them an emperor who seemed to rate the office less important than his artistic pursuits would seem unworthy.  It’s true he did compose music and perform in public, but he was a more capable ruler than they gave him credit for.  His rebuilding of Rome was a magnificent achievement, and he was able to negotiate a peace settlement with Rome’s traditional enemy, Parthia, that had eluded the generals and other emperors.

The Boudicca rebellion in England, which came close to ending the new Roman presence there, he put down effectively, saving the province for the empire, when the Roman army was outnumbered 23 to one.  His reign was stable and he was not given to cruelties like Caligula, absences like Tiberius, or enacting moralizing laws like Augustus.


“Wow! Margaret George—the reigning queen of historical fiction—is back with this epic saga that vividly re-imagines the life of young Nero in all its operatic, dramatic glory.”

—Stephanie Dray, New York Times bestselling author of Lily of the Nile


Leslie Lindsay:

Fire has a big moment in THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK. Not only is there the Great Fire of Rome, which lead to the rebuilding of the city, but also there’s a good deal of the funeral pyre, cremation, ‘the Roman way’ of dealing with death. What other symbolism can we draw from fire?

Margaret George:

The Romans had a fire god, Vulcan, who had an altar in the Forum and was considered a very powerful god.  There were many ceremonies connected with fire in the Roman state religion, and of course cremation was a considered the “Roman” funeral preference. They did not go in for mummification or embalming, which is why it was shocking that Nero had his daughter and his wife Poppaea embalmed.

At the heart of the Roman state religion, and situated in the Forum, was the Temple of Vesta, where the sacred hearth fire of Rome burned day and night, attended by the Vestal Virgins.  It was thought that if the flame died out, then Rome would perish.  Any Vestal neglecting her duties, allowing the fire to go out, was beaten, and if  found to be impure and unworthy of the honor of attending this sacred fire, was buried alive!

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Photo by Little Visuals on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Along those lines of rebuilding Rome. I loved reading about the roads, the Appian Way, the Golden Palace, even public latrines (with murals!); plus Nero’s innovative ideas for preventing fire in the future. Many of these Roman design features are still in practice today—here and in Europe. Can you tell us a little more about that, please?

Margaret George:

Nero had a lot of modern ideas, like creating green space in an urban area, and mandating fire prevention regulations.  Alas, our public latrines are not nearly as inviting as Nero’s, although at least we have ditched the pay toilets, a really uncharitable modern idea!

You can visit the Golden House today on archaeological tours on weekends (it is still being excavated during the week), and even see a virtual reality reconstruction of it.  The Appian Way is still used today; certain stretches of it are car-free on Sundays and filled with bicycles and walkers, with the cypress trees beside it and the white marble monuments lining the sides.  Our roads today are not as well built or engineered as the Roman ones, which have survived so well for two thousand years.  But the idea of needing an efficient road system connecting all the parts of the empire was first invented in Rome, the direct ancestor of our interstate highway system. The Romans needed to be able to move armies quickly, and President Eisenhower sold the idea of the interstate highway system by saying it was needed for national security and evacuation in time of crisis.

Leslie Lindsay:

Margaret, this book was just so gorgeous, so deeply researched and detailed, I am afraid I will keep you all day talking about it. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Margaret George:

I would like to remind everyone that Nero was so young—only 16 when he became emperor, and only 30 when he died.  Today we say Justin Trudeau is so young to be prime minister, but he’s 46, 16 years older than Nero when Nero died.

Nero had to learn on the job—the biggest job in the world—and learn fast, at the age kids today are getting their driver’s license.  He had very little help in doing this and his ‘advisors’ like Seneca and Burrus, the head of the Praetorians, mainly just lectured him, and his mother tried to rule from behind the throne.  So he had a lot of obstacles to overcome.

Ironically, he was optimistic by nature; roadblocks did not seem to deter or depress him, and he grew into the role. Overall, his reign can be considered a success, and certainly it is a memorable one. I titled the book THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK because after Nero, and the end of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the glow of the Roman empire gradually faded. It burned bright with Nero—fire image again—but dwindled down to embers after that.

Leslie Lindsay:


It’s been such a pleasure, Margaret! Thank you so much for taking the time.

Margaret George:

I really appreciate your inviting me to join you here, and I enjoyed it.  I truly could talk all day! I also want to thank you for your kind words of praise about the book.  It truly means a great deal to me.

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Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Pexels.com

 For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Margaret George_credit Alison KaufmanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret George is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels of biographical historical fiction, including The Confessions of Young Nero;Elizabeth IHelen of TroyMary, Called MagdaleneThe Memoirs of CleopatraMary Queen of Scotland and the Isles; and The Autobiography of Henry VIII. She also has coauthored a children’s book, Lucille Lost.

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

 

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#Nero #Italy #historicalfiction #Rome #GreatFireofRome #literaryfiction

[Cover and author image courtesy of Berkley/Random House and used with permission. Additional photos from M. George’s personal archives and used with permission. Other cover images retrieved from M. George’s website on 11.26.18. Artful book image created by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram @LeslieLindsay1

 

 

 

 

 

A fairy tale? A hero’s journey? Something else? Laird Hunt talks about the motifs in his new book, abandoned homes, witches & so much more

By Leslie Lindsay 

Luminous tale of a grim journey about one woman in Colonial America whom is oozing evil but doesn’t realize it–a modern-day fairy tale in Laird Hunt’s new novel, IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS. 

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It’s that time of year when we cast our gazes to the eerie and dreadful. So when this little book (don’t let the size fool you), came to my attention I knew I had to read it. IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS (Little, Brown October 16, 2018) is a contemporary rendering of a historical literary horror; it reads like a classic but was written in 2018.

Hunt takes readers on a harrowing journey to Colonial America where one woman goes missing…or does she leave her homestead? Perhaps she has been *asked* to leave or maybe kidnapped? It’s never really stated one way or another and multiple interpretations can be shed. Alone, barefoot, and possibly lost, the woman meets another woman at a little stone house in the woods and all changes.

IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS is subtly disturbing about woodland magic, witches, hatred and redemption, the unknown. It reads like a dream–or more accurately–a nightmare with a dark surreal-ness.

Please join me in welcoming Laird Hunt to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Wow. I devoured this book. I always, always want to know: why this book? Why now? What question did you set out to explore—did you find your answer?

Laird Hunt:

The world keeps coming up with ghastly answers to the question of “why this book/why now?”  One need look no farther than the recent case of Jamal Khashoggi, the high-profile Saudi journalist who was possibly murdered then dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Some months before that story broke I read of a woman, Wa Tiba, in Indonesia, who went out one night to check on her cornfield and was subsequently found swallowed whole by a python. Then there are stories like those of the kidnapping and enslavement of young women and girls by Boko Haram and Isis.  And of course there is plenty to feed a sense of dark fire on the domestic scene. In that context, the justice meted out on a man, the “handsome singer”, in the novel intersects usefully with the righteous fury of the long-overdue #MeToo movement.  Books bubble up out of the cauldrons of their time. I set out to write something that was more firmly aligned with historical fiction but the novel kept wanting to take up the timeless and the terrifying  that seemed (and seems) to be everywhere around us.

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Photo by Jordan Benton on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

As I read, I got the sense the world is browning at the edges and closing in. Ominous. Perplexing. Dark. Grim. There’s a lot you do in terms of setting and evoking emotion. Can you talk about your process for a bit—did you start with a character, a setting, a situation, or something else?

Laird Hunt:

The book started on a cold, wet late winter/early spring day in upstate New York when my wife and I went for a walk down gravel roads that run through deep woods outside Cherry Valley. We had passed an old, abandoned house that morning, one that had more than a touch of chilling fairy tale about it, and the woods and that house got fused in my mind.  I had been writing novels with female protagonists for a good while so it didn’t surprise me at all when, still on that walk, I got a glimpse of a woman walking with a purpose I didn’t understand yet through the trees. I sat on the image and accompanying feeling of dread for some time before I wrote out a highly compressed version — approx. 35 pp — of what would then only slowly grow into the novel it is now.

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All my recent novels have worked this way to some extent. An image and feeling glimpsed and felt, a subsequent burst of speedy first-drafting, months and even years of expansion and revision. In the case of this one, I have to give particular credit to my agent, Anna Stein, who read it in that highly compressed form and got very excited about its possibilities. In the context of its being short for a while I should note that the manuscript at one time was also almost twice as long as the final version. There too Anna was an important reader – in this case letting me know that she thought I had gotten completely carried away. I’m still interested in revisiting the direction I took the book in that version, but she was right that what I wrote about a little boy who goes to find his mother  (his journey is pointed to in the published novel’s final short section) went off the rails.

Leslie Lindsay:

I so felt compelled to look up metaphorical meanings of the elements and symbols that tend to repeat throughout the narrative: pigs, ships, the sea, cream, berries. Pigs are smart but often perceived as dirty. They root around for what they need and don’t give up easily. Of course, ships are associated with a journey and also tumultuous times. Can you give us more insight—or am I way off-base?

Laird Hunt:

So there were a couple of things going on with those motifs. On the one hand, I was interested in the dogged persistence of key elements in and across traditional tales (tears, teeth, secret rooms, locked doors, strange sounds, woods, elusive treasure), which carry so much power and meaning; on the other hand, I wanted to link this book via key elements (wells, pigs, black bark, knives, necks)  to the ones that had immediately preceded it: Kind One, Neverhome, The Evening Road. Another important early reader of this novel, the poet Anne Waldman, who knows those other books well, remarked after she had gone through a draft of this one, in reference to the scene in which two of the porcine individuals stand up on their back legs, turn toward each other and embrace: “It’s those damn pigs again!” As for what these things represent, what you describe about pigs is certainly part of it for me — as is the connection to the witch-goddess Circe and what she does to Odysseus’ men and what Yubaba does to Chihiro’s parents in Spirited Away — but what I mostly wanted was to make available a system of echoes (or moans) that would set off a series of uncanny associations for the reader and perhaps work against common expectation and understanding.  Goody’s grandmother is always talking up the sea and ships and freedom to her but the boat Goody actually gets to go for a ride in is made of human bones and human skin and it doesn’t float it flies. The grandmother’s vision of boats would seem to be clearer and more pure, but it’s the awful one that carries Goody through the air and thrills and transports her.


“It’s tough to give a simple description of this book, except to say that it tackles witchcraft in colonial America, providing a mythology that’s sure to disturb.”

Bookriot


 

Leslie Lindsay:

Speaking of journeys, is this woman [Goody] a hero? Is she mad? Does she even exist? Perhaps there are multiple interpretations? Can you talk about that, please?

Laird Hunt:

I had an ancestor, Elizabeth Phelps of Andover, whose death of an incurable fever, brought about the death of another woman, Ann Alcock Foster, convicted at Salem after Phelps husband found “witnesses” to accuse Foster of witchcraft. Who is on the side of right in that paradigm? In the late 17th century in New England it was perilously clear whom the community and the law thought had right on their side, but of course we see things completely differently now. Will the commonly accepted idea that the vortex of practicing witchcraft and being bewitched and concomitant, deadly finger pointing are entirely symptoms of gross inequity and oppressive patriarchal systems continue to serve as the optic for these experiences over time? Who knows…?  Goody feels the pulse of all the world’s awfulness banging so loudly in her chest that it must and does burst out of her, but I would like to hope that the gnarled intricacies of human rage and love are seen as just as important. It’s not all down to how much the world sucks.  I feel her as very real. I would not like to meet her, and would keep my distance if I did, but I do like thinking about her.  And about her new friends.

 

Leslie Lindsay:

I love the part of IN THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS in which Eliza and Goody are in Eliza’s cellar and they are writing—or attempting to write. Goody indicates that she ‘likes it very much,’ and Eliza says she writes as though she were ‘in the middle of a dream that never ended, a painting that was never completed…’ What significance might this scene have on writing in general?

Laird Hunt:

It was terribly important to me that Goody and Eliza and the others in the woods be the ones to tell their stories. This was a central component of their assumption of agency.  The stories are snapped off and middle-started, shards in many cases, or just a few words (“I hate the world, I do not hate the world, I love the world, I do not love the world”), but they are theirs and we are reading them.  The writing in the house in the dark of the woods gets done in the root cellar rather than up above ground; the ink that blackens their fingernails and fingertips is like dirt in that way. They are digging, exploring, questing in the caverns of their imaginations and memories. I’m of the opinion that what they find out with their quills about themselves and about the world is quite revealing.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

One last question: What’s haunting you nowadays? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Laird Hunt:

I feel future-haunted. I’m haunted by the rising of the seas and by ever-growing storms and by microplastics in the ocean and the wars that will be fought over water (like the wars already being fought over natural resources of many varieties). I’m haunted by what my 13-year-old daughter and any children she might have will be forced to confront during her lifetime. Maybe she and her generation will be better stewards than we have been.  You really have to hope so.

Leslie Lindsay:

Thank you, Laird. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Laird Hunt:

I think this is a pretty rich exchange already: thank you for the great questions!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE HOUSE IN THE DARK OF THE WOODS, please visit: 

Order Links: 

220px-LairdHuntABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laird Hunt is the author of several works of fiction and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, a two-time finalist for the PEN Center USA Award in Fiction, and the winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award. A former United Nations press officer currently on the faculty of the University of Denver’s creative writing program, he and his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, live in Boulder, Colorado, with their daughter, Eva Grace.

 

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

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[Special thanks to Little, Brown. Author image retrieved from Wikipedia. Image of abandoned Cherry Valley, NY home retrieved from Zillow all on 10.15.18. Cover image from L. Lindsay’s personal archives and can be accessed via her Instagram account @LeslieLindsay1]

Fragile 9-year-old boy misses his mother dearly in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE, plus Stephen Giles talks about writing for adults vs. kids, his love for isolated homes, more

By Leslie Lindsay

Sinister and intense story of melancholy and loneliness with an imaginative 9-year-old boy at the center in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE. Plus, it’s just been picked up by New Agency for film! 

Stephen Giles is here chatting about his love for country homes, his distaste for the dentist, and how he misses an old cubby house  in the backyard when he was a kid. 

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Locked doors. An atlas. Attics. Cellar. England. Mystery and, maybe murder. 

Samuel Clay is living in a crumbling old estate in England with his housekeeper, Ruth Tupper. He’s missing his mother terribly, who has ‘gone away’ to America for the last 119 days (he’s been keeping count). Mrs. Clay is now widowed and the family’s finances have fallen to disarray–perhaps there’s some money or bankers in American who will help her get the ‘capital she needs.’ What’s worse, is Samuel’s mother left in the middle of the night, without so much as a word of good-bye to her son, leaving him in the care of the housekeeper.

Beyond sporadic postcards from his mother in America, Samuel hears virtually nothing of his mother. He’s lonely, yet highly imaginative and inquisitive. Samuel’s only friend is Joseph and a little rabbit in the garden he calls Robin Hood.

THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE is a precarious dance between truth and perception, childhood and adulthood, ‘there’ and ‘not-there,’ and so much more.

I found the writing absolutely glimmered. I was immediately thrust into this drab world created by Stephen Giles and wanted to know what happened to Samuel’s mother. This is a perfect, swiftly-paced novel for this dreary time of year as we become a little more turned inward, a little more contemplative, and the fear of little deaths around.

Please join me in welcoming Stephen Giles to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Stephen, it’s a pleasure. I always want to know—what question were you hoping to answer in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE—and did the answer satisfy or lead to more questions?

Stephen Giles:

This is such an interesting question. I suppose the most elemental question I had to ask myself was  why. I had the basic plot outlined and I knew where I was heading but I didn’t know all the whys. Why did Samuel’s mother go away? Why is the housekeeper Ruth the way she is? Why is Samuel so psychologically fragile, so fixated on his mother’s absence? The wonderful thing about questions like these is that they often lead you into places that take you by surprise and demand more of the narrative and that is incredibly exciting for a writer. I think ultimately I was satisfied by the questions though there is no doubt that this is a story that throws up more questions than concrete answers. Rather like life, it seems to me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

I understand this is your first book for adults. In what ways do the forms differ? Plus, I can see a nice cross-over between readership. I’d imagine some ambitious YA readers might be intrigued. Can you speak to that, please?

Stephen Giles:

I think the primary difference between adult and middle grade fiction is one of tone. My middle grade books were primarily comic adventures and writing for a readership of 9 – 12-year-olds informs both the type of story I am telling and the way I tell it. So the tone is light and breezy. The challenge with writing my first book for adults with a child as one of the main protagonists, was telling a much darker and very adult story through the eyes of nine year old boy. Your observation about the book crossing over into YA is very interesting and I did wonder about that as I was finishing the book. It’s always hard to know what will appeal to YA readers but I’d be delighted if that happened.


“A fiendishly efficient, gorgeously written, nasty little thrill ride of a psychological thriller. I couldn’t put it down, and it’s entirely possible that I’ll never sleep again. A true tour-de-force of a debut novel.”

—Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham and Jane Steele 


Leslie Lindsay:

I’m a sucker for old homes, estates, mansions…you name it! Was the house in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE modeled after any actual estate? Did you play around with setting, or was it always to be set in England?

Stephen Giles:

I’m a sucker for isolated country houses too and I’ve written one into every book I’ve ever written which is probably a little excessive. The house in THE BOY AT THE KEYHOLE wasn’t modeled on any particular estate, it only lives in my imagination, but I’m sure it was informed by countless 19th century novels like JANE EYRE or UNCLE SILAS. In terms of the English setting, I did toy with a few other locations including the Hudson Valley but having just finished a middle grade trilogy set largely in England, I felt more comfortable sticking with the same setting. Which is incredibly lazy!

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Leslie Lindsay:

Samuel is a 9-year-old boy longing for his mother. But also his father’s old toys and things are in the attic—which he sometimes drags down into the house to play with. Is there anything from your childhood that you long for, even occasionally—and what is it exactly about these old things that stirs such nostalgia?

Stephen Giles:

It’s not a toy but the house I grew up in had a cubby house in a far corner of the backyard – it was a ramshackle structure that was barely standing but it had a blackboard along one wall and a bunch of old discarded bits and pieces and I spend countless hours playing there. I can still picture it in great detail and sometimes as the adult world crowds in on me, I long for the simplicity and comfort of that cubby house. I think the power of old things or old memories is that they are assure us that there once were better days or less complicated times. Which probably says more about the deceptively warm glow of nostalgia than anything else.

Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your to-do list this week? What are you most looking forward to and dreading? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Stephen Giles:

This week I have a bunch of interviews to get through in my hometown and I’m also up to my neck in writing a new book, so that is where my real focus is. I’m most looking forward to seeing Crazy Rich Asians and catching up on my reading. I’m dreading the dentist and the feeling of utter defeat at week’s end when I realize I’ve failed yet again to live mindfully or be even slightly in the moment.

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Photo by Stephen Paris on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Stephen, it’s been a pleasure. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Stephen Giles:

I’ve enjoyed all of your questions, so thank you. What should you have asked me? Well, if you were like every other interviewer on the planet you would have asked me what advice I would give to aspiring writers. And as I’m never sure how to answer that adequately, I’m very glad you didn’t!

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE BOY IN THE KEYHOLE, please visit:

Order Links: 

31kedQKjMqL._US230_ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Giles is the author behind the Ivy Pocket children’s series, which has been translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in Australia. The Boy at the Keyhole, now out from Hanover Square Books, is his first work for adults.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

 

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Would you time-travel if your child’s life depended on it? Diane Chamberlain tackles this & more in her breathless, dreamy THE DREAM DAUGHTER

By Leslie Lindsay 

Can a book be both mind-bending and heartfelt? In Diane Chamberlain’s hands, it absolutely can. THE DREAM DAUGHTER is a dash of science-fiction meets a mother’s tenacity for love. Diane Chamberlain talks about how the timing of the book had to be ‘just right,’ how she’d probably never time-travel, and putting a memoir on the back-burner.

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But first, the accolades: 

“A heady and breathless wonder of a read.”
Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

Publisher’s Weekly says this about THE DREAM DAUGHTER:“Chamberlain expertly blends the time travel elements with the wonderful story of a mother’s love and the depths of sacrifice she makes for her child. This is a page turning crowd-pleaser.

And Bookstalker Blog follows with this:

“A unique story about time travel and how happy endings aren’t always destined to play out the way we planned. A unique twist as usually time travel novels are about love between a man and woman this instead is a mother and child love story. Wonderful.”

Diane is the New York TimesUSA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 25 novels translated in twenty languages and she’s always held a special place in my heart. Her stories are so multi-layered and genre-crossing and always, always, thought-provoking. But THE DREAM DAUGHTER is so glimmering, so brilliantly different than anything she’s ever written and I am  beyond touched to host her again.

The first pages of THE DREAM DAUGHTER are set in 1965 Chapel Hill, NC as Caroline Sears is thrust into her first day of work as a physical therapist [Read an excerpt here]. She meets a man who needs rehab–but many of the other staff say they don’t want to work with him–he’s stubborn and odd and some feel he may be dealing with the aftereffects of a suicide attempt.

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Five years later, in 1970, Caroline is married and expecting her first child but soon discovers her unborn baby girl has a fatal heart defect. She’s devastated–it’s 1970 and there’s very little that can be done. But Caroline’s brother-in-law, a physicist, says otherwise. If Caroline could only get to 2001, she could save her baby via fetal surgery. But Caroline is skeptical–and resistant–to his ideas.

Spanning decades and dipping into the years 2001, 2013, 2018, as well as 1970, Diane Chamberlain takes us on an unforgettable mind-bending journey. You will feel every emotion–from fear and courage to disbelief, grief, and a mother’s tenacity to love. The plot is intricate and spellbinding, made richer with Chamberlain’s attention to character development and a textured setting.

THE DREAM DAUGHTER is Diane Chamberlain at the height of her powers; it’s classic, yet fresh–and all for the love of a woman’s unborn child. 

Please join me in welcoming Diane Chamberlain back to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane, it’s a pleasure. I know THE DREAM DAUGHTER has been in your mind for a long time. You needed the stars to align ‘just so’ before you were ready to dive in. Can you talk about your initial inspiration and also how you knew the time was right?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Hi Leslie! Thanks for having me back. I think the inspiration for THE DREAM DAUGHTER really began long ago when I was working as a hospital social worker in a high risk maternity unit. This was in the early eighties. Back then, there were many conditions a baby might be born with that would cost them their lives, while today, those same conditions are treatable. That started me wondering: what if a woman learns in 1970 that her unborn baby has one of these conditions, but she’s told by someone she trusts that in the year 2001, the condition could be treated . . . and that there was a way for her and her unborn child to actually travel to 2001? I fell in love with the concept and had a blast writing this book. I believe it’s far more a mother/child novel than a time travel novel, but that time travel element really makes for some fun twists.

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Leslie Lindsay:

As a writer myself, I have plenty of stories rattling around. But there’s this thing about ‘timing.’ Others might say, ‘writer’s block.’ When I slow down on an idea—even an active narrative—I get the sense my story is whispering, ‘not yet.’ Can you talk more about that, please?

Diane Chamberlain:  

I told my agent about my idea for THE DREAM DAUGHTER many years ago and she definitely said “not yet!” She was right. I needed to get my career to a certain level before my readers would come along with me on a ride like this one. I am so pleased I finally got to write this book of my heart.


“Chamberlain stretches her sense of familial relationships and toe-curling suspense in new directions, weaving in elements of trust, history and time as she explores the things we do for love. ..The Dream Daughter will delight Chamberlain’s fans and hook new readers.”
—Booklist


Leslie Lindsay:

I found THE DREAM DAUGHTER pushes boundaries in a good way, delivering a luminous novel. What did you find most challenging about this one—the scientific research involved or something else?

Diane Chamberlain:

In retrospect, nothing was particularly hard about this book because the bones of the story had been in my mind for so long. I suppose the most challenging part was being sure that I had the technology and other elements of daily life straight in each era. For example, when did people start wearing ear buds to talk into their phones? What was available on the Internet in 2001? I think at times it was as mind-bending for me as it was for Carly.

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Leslie Lindsay:

This question is a little tangential. Just recently, Steve Job’s daughter, Lisa, released her memoir about growing up as his unacknowledged daughter. She states something along the lines of [I’m paraphrasing], “We all have a right to tell our stories as accurately as we see them.” Your character, Joanna, has a ‘thing’ for Apple and even names her dog Jobs. 1) What are your thoughts on memoir and 2)  how did Joanna’s character development present itself to you for THE DREAM DAUGHTER?

Diane Chamberlain:

I am fascinated by memoirs, especially since I’ve dabbled in writing my own. Two things stand out for me. One is that our memories are often wildly inaccurate. I have three siblings and when we describe a situation from our childhood, we get four different versions. But what matters is the way our memory/interpretation of that situation impacted us, so even if our version is technically wrong, it doesn’t matter. The second thing is the fine line between writing the truth and bringing hurt to someone else . . . or ourselves. That is why I’ve put writing a memoir on the back burner. As for Joanna, I don’t remember how I came up with her “thing” for Apple. I think it’s one of those surprises in writing fiction: it just appeared for me and I went with it.

Leslie Lindsay:        

If you could time travel, would you? Where would you go—to the past or the future?

Diane Chamberlain:

First of all, no, I wouldn’t. With rheumatoid arthritis, I have enough trouble with 2018! But IF I wanted to, I would definitely go backwards. I have little fascination with whatever technology awaits in the future. I would much rather go back to when my grandparents were alive so I could get to know them better. I guess it’s all about relationships for me.

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Leslie Lindsay:

What’s on your fall reading list?

Diane Chamberlain:  

Well, I have a stack of Advance Reading Copies [ARCs] sitting here that I’d like to work my way through! I’m most interested in the books of some of my October writing buddies, A Well Behaved Woman by Therese Fowler and Becoming Mrs. LewisBecoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan Henry.

Leslie Lindsay:

Diane, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Diane Chamberlain:

I look forward to hearing how your blog readers enjoy THE DREAM DAUGHTER. So far, the advance reader reviews have been wonderful, and I appreciate my readers for taking the chance along with me to try something a little bit different.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE DREAM DAUGHTER, please visit: 

Order Links: 

Diane_ChamberlainredbyJohnPagliuca2013ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Diane Chamberlain is the New York TimesUSA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 25 novels published in more than twenty languages. Influenced by her former career as a social worker and psychotherapist, she writes suspenseful stories that touch both heart and mind.

 

 

 

 

 

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:

 

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#timetravel #fiction #TheDreamDaughter #authorinterviewseries #amreading #motherhood

[Cover and author image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission]

 

 

NYT bestselling author Linwood Barclay chats about his new thriller, A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS…thrills & chills & twists galore

By Leslie Lindsay 

Fast-paced summer thriller about a seemingly possessed typewriter will have you thinking you have it all figured out and then…

Linwood Barclay is here chatting about how writing is a job he loves (but words don’t get on the page unless you put in the time), how he’s readying for R&R in Prince Edward County, and his love for typewriters and model trains. 

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I’m so glad I’ve been introduced to Linwood Barclay. His writing is sharp, compelling, and addictive in similar vein of Harlan Coben meets David Bell meets Stephen King. A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS (William Morrow/HarperCollins 2018) is a fabulous thriller beach read that you can easily finish in a long afternoon because it’s so fast-paced and has all the makings of a terrific read: murder, an unreliable protagonist, and just when you think you have it all figured out…

You’re wrong.

College Professor Paul Davis seems to have it all: house on Long Island Sound, a second wife, a son, a teaching job at a local university. But when he spots a colleague out on the road late at night, his curiosity gets the better of him and he becomes victim /witness to a crime.

And now, eight months later, he’s still struggling with PTSD, anxiety, depression; he hasn’t returned to work. He thinks maybe he’ll write about the situation–a little catharsis couldn’t hurt, right. His wife, Charlotte, purchases a second-hand typewriter for him, but soon Paul is certain he can hear the machine late into the night? Or is it just his mind? His PTSD? An intruder?

Paul starts to question everything. And frankly, so too will the reader. A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS is at once menacing and creepy, but also a good whodunit-and-why; I thought I had it figured out (at least in part), and then new things were revealed, shifting theories. Personally, I love when that happens! This is the kind of read that gives you ‘waves’ of reveals, in that you let out a collective sigh only to be geared up again for yet another…thrill.

So, so honored to welcome New York Times bestselling author Linwood Barclay to the author interview series.


A Noise Downstairs will astound, confound and thrill you. You’ll need to read it with your wits about you and you’ll want to sleep with your eyes open afterwards. A masterful novel.” 

–Gilly Macmillan, author of What She Knew and The Perfect Girl


Leslie Lindsay: Thanks for popping by, Linwood. I tore through A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS because it’s so fast-paced, dark, and mysterious. Paul is being haunted by the typewriter, so I have to ask: what was haunting you as you set out to write?

Linwood Barclay: I think what haunted me as I started this book is what haunts me whenever I start writing a new novel: Can I do it again? And more than that, can I do it better? You want every book you write to be better than the one that came before, and sometimes you feel as though you’ve done it, and other times it’s, well, I don’t know. This time, I think I managed it, but readers will really be the ones to make that judgment.

L.L.: I have to say—typewriters! It seems they are becoming a ‘thing’ these days. Tom Hanks has a collection. You’re seeing them in antique stores, even I have a couple; and at the American Writer’s Museum [in Chicago], they even have a bank of old typewriters visitors can try their hand at typing. Do you have a fascination with them as well?

Linwood Barclay: I do love them. I love the look of them, the heft of them, the fact that while using one it will not connect you, within three seconds, to a funny cat video. I love the sound of them. I started in newspapers just before computers took over, and the sound of a newsroom tapping away is the sound of history being recorded. All that said, I still work on a computer. But when I was a kid, I asked my dad, when I was around nine or ten, to teach me how to use our old Royal, and received a three-minute lesson. That was the beginning of my banging out stories.

black typewriter
Photo by Studio 7042 on Pexels.com

L.L.: :Paul is struggling with PTSD regarding an incident with a colleague. What kind of research did you have to do to get this part ‘right?’

Linwood Barclay:  I’m delighted that your question seems to suggest I did get this right, especially considering I did not spend a great deal of time researching the subject. Like most people, I’ve been through some difficult times (nothing to compare with what Paul went through, mind you). And like most writers, I made stuff up. But seriously, I worked hard to imagine myself in his position, how what had happened to him would haunt him, give him nightmares, change his perspective of the world around him. I’m hoping I’ve captured that.

L.L.: Can you tell us a little about your writing process, if you have any rituals or routines?

Linwood Barclay: I spent thirty years working in newspapers, so writing is very much a job to me. A job I love, but a job. You get up, have breakfast, make some coffee, and had upstairs to the study by 8 or 8:30, and the goal is to write two thousand words. If you can do that, you’ve got 10,000 words at the end of the week, and in two or three months, you’ve got a first draft. For half of my journalistic career, I was a columnist, writing three pieces a week. There was no calling your editor to say, “Gosh, the muse didn’t strike, so there won’t me a column tomorrow.” You produced. Those work habits are drilled into me. So, aside from the coffee, no real rituals. It’s just ass-in-chair and start typing.

L.L.: What’s on your to-do list this week? It doesn’t have to be literary…

Linwood Barclay: What a week to ask.  It’s nuts. I’m trying to finish the very rough, first draft of what might be the 2020 book, am putting together a presentation for some TV types for a series Entertainment One is developing, based on my PROMISE FALLS trilogy, writing a newsletter to let everyone know about my US and UK book tours that will take place the second half of April, reading Carsten Stroud’s terrific novel THE SHIMMER, taking allergy pills so I won’t get asthmatic when we look after our daughter’s dog while she moves, watching The Affair while asking myself why, why, why am I still watching this show when it went completely off the rails not last season, but the season before THAT, hoping to get to our place in Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I will sit on the dock and drink several vodkas with lemonade and contemplate whether this is the longest sentence I have ever written. (It’s not. There’s a sentence in A TAP ON THE WINDOW that’s longer.) And may I say, what a great question, which no one has ever asked before.

L.L.: Linwood, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I’ve forgotten to ask, but should have?

Linwood Barclay: Is it normal for a grown man to have an entire room in his basement dedicated to model trains? (I feel I’m too close to this to give an unbiased answer.)

architecture building daylight garden
Photo by Gary Spears on Pexels.com

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS, please see: 

Order Links: 

Linwood Barclay author photo.JPGABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linwood Barclay is the author of seventeen previous novels and two thrillers for children, including the international bestseller NO TIME FOR GOODBYE. New York Times bestselling author, his books have been translated into more than two dozen languages. He wrote a screenplay adaptation for his novel NEVER SAW IT COMING and his book THE ACCIDENT has been made into a television series in France. A native of Connecticut, he lives near Toronto with his wife, Neetha.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 

 

 

              

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[Cover and author image courtesy of HarperCollins/WilliamMorrow and used with permission. Other Barclay cover images retrieved from author’s website, 6.27.18] 

 

 

 

 

Wednesdays with Writers: Hiking through Ireland, lush prose, a woman at the brink, the environment, and the healing power of art, plus Irish myths and so much more in Julie Christine Johnson’s new book, THE CROWS OF BEARA

By Leslie Lindsay CROWSCOVER.jpg

Gorgeous landscapes intermingle with the moods, magic, and mysticism of southwest Ireland in this story of self-discovery and environmentalism. 

Julie Christine Johnson has a gift for writing lush, glittery prose. Each and every word is literally dripping with spark. And her stories are as much self-discovery as they are armchair travel. Having been to both Ireland and France (where her first book, IN ANOTHER LIFE is set), I can attest to her vividly capturing both the ‘feel’ and setting of each place.

Annie Crowe is battling severe demons in her Seattle life: she’s a recovering alcoholic, her marriage is in disrepair, and her job at a PR firm is hanging in the balance. She’s at a very brittle place in her life. Of course, there’s an opportunity, however perilous to her mental health to travel to Ireland with work on an environmental mission of sorts.

When she arrives to the Beara Peninsula, Annie learns the copper mine which she is advocating for encroaches on the endangered life of the red-billed Chough where it makes its home (and nesting grounds). Residents of the area are fiercely protective of that mine, including Daniel Savage.

But Daniel, a visual artist, is struggling in multiple ways. He and Annie don’t immediately see eye-to-eye about the mine, or much about anything…yet…there’s something that continues drawing them together.

I’m honored to welcome Julie back to the blog couch. So, grab a delicious buttered scone and a cup of Irish Breakfast and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: Julie, it’s a pleasure to have you back. THE CROWS OF BEARA is such a lush, lyrical read. I was right there with Annie and Daniel on that Irish peninsula. I am always eager to know, why this book, why now?

Julie Christine Johnson: Hi Leslie! Thank you so much for hosting me again, and for your beautiful review. When I began sketching characters and ideas for a novel in January 2014, I knew it would be set in Ireland and have an Irish legend or some element of magical realism woven through it. I just didn’t know where in Ireland or which legend.

I happened upon the poetry of Leanne O’Sullivan, who was raised on the Beara Peninsula and teaches poetry at University College Cork. Her collections, An download (45)Chailleach Bheara, which tells the story of the legend of the “Hag of Beara, and The Mining Road,” which was inspired by the late 18th century copper mining industry and the miners who toiled there, brought me, almost overnight, to my novel.

I knew before I began that my central character, Annie, would be an addict trying to put her life back together. Once I had my themes of environment vs. economic growth, an Irish legend based on the strength and resiliency of women and of the Irish culture, and the healing power of art, the words poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in ten weeks.

Even though it’s been over three years since I first conceived this story and these characters, the novel’s central theme—the healing power of art—seems even more relevant today. America has become so polarized in this anxious, stressful time. Art, whether visual, literary, musical or theatrical, provides a way to cope with, articulate, escape from and celebrate all that speaks to our hearts.

L.L.: I know that you are a hiker and a yogi. How did those experiences influence and inform your writing of THE CROWS OF BEARA?

Julie Christine Johnson: I first traveled to Ireland in 2002 to hike the Beara Way, the same route which Daniel leads hikers, where Annie falls in love with the Beara and Tourist-board-walking-1with Daniel. The peninsula, and the experience, turned my soul inside out. Never have I been more homesick for a place I couldn’t actually call home. Many hikes in Ireland later and I knew I’d be writing about it someday. I hiked the Wicklow Way, the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas, parts of the Burren and Co. Galway. It’s a brilliant way to explore a place: the country unfolds before you slowly, giving you a chance to savor, to meditate, to take it all in. You become a part of the land you walk on, the sky above you, the rain as it falls, the sun as it warms you. And at night, there’s a hot shower and a cold beer.

L.L.: And your publisher, Ashland Creek Press, is focused on ecofiction—animals, the planet, the environment. It’s a diversion from your first publisher. [IN ANOTHER LIFE]. What more can you tell us about Ashland Creek?

Julie Christine Johnson: There couldn’t have been a more perfect home for THE CROWS OF BEARA than Ashland Creek Press. To work with publisher committed to using the literary arts to educate readers about the strength and fragility of the environment speaks to my heart and my intellect. Often, fiction can reach us and teach us in ways that creative non-fiction and journalism cannot. We lose ourselves in a story and from that, our hearts shift and change and we understand viscerally what’s at stake. Stories speak in ways that perhaps facts and figures cannot. Ashland Creek is at the forefront of ecofiction, or “cli-fi” and I’m honored to be part of the vanguard.

L.L.: Annie’s an alcoholic [not a spoiler, this is all covered in the first few pages]. As I’m reading, I’m thinking, ‘oh no…Julie is an alcoholic, too.’ That’s because you do such a good job of conveying the alcoholic’s struggles. Plus, I didn’t realize AA was in Ireland. I’m guessing it’s worldwide? Can you tell us more about your research into this piece of Annie’s character?

Julie Christine Johnson: It’s amazing to me that you say this. I’m honored to know that my approach touched you, for it was critical to me to get it right. When I wrote the first drafts of THE CROWS OF BEARA in 2014 and 2015, addiction had touched me, but only tangentially. Friends had shared their own struggles or that of 45f68edf62488232d797fad7d8921aec--tree-tattoo-back-tree-tattoosloved ones, and much of Annie’s experiences were informed by those conversations.

But last year, as I worked with my publishing editors on revisions of CROWS, I fell in love with a man who had long struggled with substance. A redemptive ending is easy to come by in fiction; much harder in real life. Our relationship ended recently, and I am forced to accept my limitations to affect change in another’s life, but I do not regret my capacity to love. I will continue to pray for this beautiful soul, to hope for his healing. His experiences brought truth to my work. CROWS is in fact dedicated to him and it stands in tribute to all that he has lived and shared with me, to the man I know him to be when alcohol is not present in his life.

L.L.: So The Old Woman on the hill…the Hag. You have to tell us more about her magical, mystical presence. Is this myth real(ha!), because it’s something from Ireland I am not familiar?

Julie Christine Johnson: An Chailleach Bheara. She’s as real as Ireland’s rain and stone fences and green, green hills. Her legend extends from Ireland through Scotland and it has dozens of variations, but at the heart is a goddess who is associated with water, stone, and animals, a deity who controls the weather. In Ireland, she became a mother figure, a goddess who represents all phases of a woman’s life; seven, to be exact. So I created seven women in THE CROWS OF BEARA who serve as spiritual guides to Annie.300px-Lightmatter_cliffs_of_moher_in_County_Clare_Ireland

L.L.: And the crows. I found this on your website, and thought it gives such a wonderful insight as their presence, and your writing style:

Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. The name begins at the lips and rolls down the throat in an elegant lamentation for the endangered birds with blue-black feathers and crimson beaks that congregate on the side of a cliff overlooking the North Atlantic[…]A fragile population of Red-billed chough has found refuge on the Beara Peninsula, a lean claw of land off Ireland’s southwest coast[…]”

What more can you tell us?

Julie Christine Johnson: Without making a conscious choice to do so, I seem to be featuring birds in my novels: an eagle, a falcon, and a dove in IN ANOTHER LIFE; the Red-billed chough in THE CROWS OF BEARA; a main character in my novel-on-submission is named Tui, which is a native bird of New Zealand, where the story is set.

My process notebook contains pages of notes about the chough, a species of crow, but I couldn’t tell you how I landed on this little creature. I must have been Chough_(Pyrrhocorax_pyrrhocorax)_(8)researching endangered species in southwest Ireland, and found my bird that nests on the Beara Peninsula. It’s no longer endangered in this particular area, but as Daniel points out in the story, the chough is a harbinger: if something goes wrong with the chough, it signals a greater breakdown of the environment.

L.L.: Is there anything that scares you about writing?

Julie Christine Johnson: Not writing scares me. Between a full-time day job, promoting my first and now second novel, managing a freelance editing business and teaching, generating new material seems to have fallen to the bottom of the priority list. I do have another novel on submission and I’m starting a fourth project, but I’m not writing to my soul’s full need or potential.

L.L.: What’s on your to-do list this fall? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Julie Christine Johnson: I’m saving my pennies to get started on my first 200 hours of yoga teacher certification, for starters. I’m also returning to the writing classroom for the first time in about 15 months: I’m teaching a flash-fiction workshop starting in October, and a few stand-alone writing workshops in the autumn, as well. I’ve decided to take a different approach to building my platform and spreading the word about my works. Teaching instead of bookstore appearances. So much more satisfying. And the pay is better! I’ll also be working to increase my manuscript and editorial consultation business. I love working with writers!

Looking forward to finding a home for my third novel, and to digging into writing the opening pages of my fourth.remette

L.L.: Julie, it’s been great catching up! Is there anything I forgot to ask?

Julie Christine Johnson: Q: The most recent book I read and loved!

A: I have two: Sarah Perry’s historical fiction THE ESSEX SERPENT and Dani Shapiro’s memoir HOURGLASS: TIME, MEMORY, MARRIAGE.

For more information, to connect with Julie Christine Johnson, or to purchase a copy of THE CROWS OF BEARA, please visit: 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Julie Christine Johnson is the award-winning author of the novels In Another Life (Sourcebooks 2016) and The Crows of Beara (Ashland Creek Press September 2017), as well as numerous short stories and essays. Visit juliechristinejohnson.com for more information about her writing, and to learn about Julie’s developmental editing and writer coaching services.

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

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[Cover and author image courtesy of J. Johnson and used with permission. University of Cork image retrieved from ucc.ie.co. Beara Way image of tourists hiking retrieved from myiefinder.fr, tree growing from book retrieved from Pinterest; typewriter image retrieved from Ashland Creek Press, seriously cute–I may need to order! Cliffs of Moher, chough, both retreived from Wikipedia on 9.8.17] 

Wednesdays with Writers: Marcia Willett takes us on a sun-drenched stroll through the moorlands of the UK, how characters beckon their stories, never wanting to be a writer, and so much more in INDIAN SUMMER

By Leslie Lindsay 

A gentle, cozy, tender read about ‘autumn’ friendships in the English countryside. 
Indian Summer cvr.jpg
INDIAN SUMMER is Willet’s sixteenth book to be published in the U.S. and it’s almost exactly what I needed as I settled into a busy new school year with two active kiddos. Grab a spot of tea, this is a story you’ll want to settle in for; and it’s a fast read so you might need only one ‘warm up.’

Sir Mungo is a retired actor living in his family’s cottage in rural Devon. It’s summer and friends and family flock to the parcel of land to join in camaraderie, seek advice and solace. James is a self-published author working on something new, Kit an interior decorator who is tired of being the ‘expert’ in the room, but there are others, too and all bring a colorful array of antics, needs and loyalties to the gathering.

INDIAN SUMMER is a subtle, relaxing read with the undercurrent of secrets and old memories chipping at the surface.  Willett’s strength lies in the setting: a bucolic trip through Devon’s countryside.

I’m honored to welcome Marcia Willett to the blog couch to chat about writing, INDIAN SUMMER, friendships and pets.

Leslie Lindsay: Marcia, it’s lovely to have you. Thank you for popping over. I really love the Devon setting. I understand it’s also home for you. Can you talk with us a bit about your charming little town and if it’s challenging to set a story there?

Marcia Willett: From the very first book this beautiful, magical west country, Devon and Cornwall especially, has played a major part. It’s really the main character. Small market towns, fishing villages, long sandy beaches and little coves, high moorland: what’s not to like? 220px-Land's_End,_Cornwall,_England

L.L.: Much of INDIAN SUMMER is about memories and also friendship, how do these two themes play off of one another for the characters in this story

Marcia Willett: It’s always good when characters reappear unexpectedly from previous books so I was delighted when Kit Chadwick turned up with all her past which included Mungo. So exciting for me to watch it all play out in the present! Then when Jake reappeared, too, I knew it was going to be full of drama!!

L.L.: Like many of your characters, you are also in the ‘autumn years’ of you life. In fact, your first book was written rather reluctantly at the age of fifty at the suggestion of your writer husband.  Clearly, he was on to something! You have written—how many books—twenty six?! How do you keep up with the relentless pace?  What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Marcia Willett: I think that one of my advantages was that I had no desire to be an aspiring writer. An avid reader, yes. But not a writer. When, because of a financial crisis, I reluctantly decided to give it a go, I discovered, as I walked the moors and the cliffs with my dogs, that the characters and my alternative universe were all waiting for me. They come and tell me their stories, they decide the location, I simply write it all down. So far, they haven’t failed me. The stories are there waiting to be told.1431739935516-151119-dog-on-lead-nt-jv.jpg

L.L.: I have to say, I loved the animals in INDIAN SUMMER.  I’m an animal lover, anyway, but Sammy and Boz, Bozzy and Sam! Can you share their inspiration? Do you have animals yourself?

Marcia Willett: I don’t have a dog at the moment but I love them. Whereas the characters are always new to me the dogs are very familiar and I feel I’ve known them always.

L.L.: What do you hope others get from reading your books?

Marcia Willett: Escapism, amusement, hope, a sense of identity.

L.L.: I always feel as if September is a good time to settle in, clear the slate, and gear up. What’s on your to-do list this fall? It doesn’t have to be literary.

Marcia Willett: Oh, but it will be!  The copy editing for the book to be published next year has just arrived! And a new story is beginning to beckon . . . I need to go and find my people in their own environment: to note the flora and fauna, what they see and hear, where they walk their dogs – the beaches and the moors – where they go for coffee, which pubs they use. Sigh. Research is so exhausting!! wine-graphics-2001_1018901a

L.L.: Marcia, it’s been a pleasure. Is there anything I forgot to ask?

Marcia Willett:  I can’t think of anything. Thank you so much for having me on your blog sofa, Leslie. It’s been great fun.

For more information, to connect with Marcia via social media, or to purchase your own copy of INDIAN SUMMER, please visit: 

Author photoAUTHOR BIO: Born in Somerset, in the west country of England, on the day the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, MARCIA WILLETT was the youngest of five girls. Her family was unconventional and musical, but Marcia chose to study to be a ballet teacher. Her husband, Rodney, himself a writer and broadcaster, encouraged Marcia to write novels. She has published many novels in England and around the world.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these sites:

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these platforms:

Wednesdays with Writers: Wendy Walker talks about breaking the cycle of narcissism in families, letting creative ideas in even when they deviate from the outline, hitting ‘send’ and more writing anxieties in her psychologically twisted tale, EMMA IN THE NIGHT

By Leslie Lindsay 

Where does the truth lie and darkness begin? That is the question overarching this entire book, but there’s more: it’s about love, obsession, mental illness, jealousy, revenge, and so much more. 

Emma-in-the-Night-534h
“We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe.” So begins EMMA IN THE NIGHT (Aug 8, St. Martin’s Press) and immediately, I was hooked. This is a voice-driven character and right away, I can tell she has a skewed version of the world. And what’s more intriguing than reading about an unreliable narrator?

Three years ago on a foggy night, 15 and 17-year-old sisters, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared from their home, seemingly walking into the shore of the beach ala Virginia Woolf. Everyone suspects they’re dead…and the investigation has come to a stand-still.

And then, with just the clothes on her back, Cass returns home…without her sister. She talks of kidnapping and isolation, a mysterious island off the coast of Maine where the girls were held in a home by two strangers, a husband and a wife. But–her story doesn’t all add up. There are inconsistencies. There’s talk that maybe Cass isn’t operating on all four cylinders…

Told in alternating POVs–Cass’s (first-person) and also Dr. Abby Winter’s (third-person), EMMA IN THE NIGHT is a bit of a mind-bending, staggering read. I felt I was reading a bit slower than typical, fearing I’d miss something. The prose is hypnotic and disturbing, fragmented and I think this is intentional…because…

We’re dealing with a very dysfunctional blended family. 

Please join me and Wendy Walker as we delve into this heady read.

Leslie Lindsay: Wendy, it’s great to have you! So many times a story is brewing because it’s something we’ve lived. But in your acknowledgements section, you make it pretty clear EMMA IN THE NIGHT is not about you or your family. And that’s a good thing! What was the inciting moment for this story?  What did you seek to explore?

Wendy Walker: [EMMA IN THE  NIGHT] started with the concept of a young woman disappearing and then returning home. Something about that fascinated me – what it would be like to return, and how easy it would be for her to manipulate the truth about where she’s been and why she left. From there, I needed a reason for this woman to manipulate people – and that’s when I came up with the ending. Of course, I love to explore real issues and psychological illnesses. After reviewing my research notes, I landed squarely on narcissistic personality disorder (or NPD) because it just fit this story so perfectly! The entire plot was then built around the ending and the mental illness of NPD.

L.L.: The mother of Cass and Emma is most suffering from a pathological Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is handled quite well and I *almost* felt as if I were reading an abnormal psych textbook, yet we were hearing things from forensic psychologist Abby Winter. Can you tell us a bit about your research? I think you nailed it, by-the-way, and I’m a former psych R.N. Also, full disclosure: I’m pretty sure my own mother suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Wendy Walker: That’s a relief – I always worry when experts and professionals read my descriptions of these illnesses! As a family law attorney with training as a guardian for children in custody disputes, I learned the basics about personality cb1fd2746c65c59894b241f7e802cbaf--abuse-quotes-a-quotes (1)disorders and how they affect children. From this base of knowledge, I launched into research using the Internet and also the mental health professionals who have been generous enough to consult with me. It was a real challenge to get the technical information across to the reader without slowing down the plot. However, I really wanted readers to understand the complexities of this illness, and especially how underneath the narcissist’s confident alter ego, lies a fractured, deeply insecure true ego. This understanding is essential to following the plot, and the huge twist at the end!

L.L.: And kidnappings! I have to say, I have a bit of a strange fascination with them, as I think others might too. Here’s why: it could happen to anyone, anywhere. Missing kids on milk cartons, the fear, the threat…you mention a couple of contemporary cases [in the book] in the media: the Cleveland, OH girls and also Elizabeth Smart. What can you tell us about your research into kidnappings for EMMA IN THE NIGHT and why do you think we have such a fascination with them?

Wendy Walker: The book started with this very fascination! I think there is something uniquely terrifying about being held against your will. Can I escape? What will happen if I try? Can I accept this as my new reality? How long will it last? Will someone find me? Maybe today? And, for those left behind with the loss but also the uncertainty, a unique kind of emotional torment. Is she dead? Is she alive? Is it easier to keep looking and clinging to hope? Or to give up and grieve? Will I ever find her? Will I find her today? I read a lot of Internet material about the psychological rollercoaster for those taken and those left behind and tried to construct the characters around that research. I also tried to put myself in Cass’s head – because, after all, she grew up in a highly dysfunctional family so her reactions would not be quite the same as another young woman.

“In this searing psychological thriller…Walker’s portrayal of the ways in which a narcissistic, self-involved mother can affect her children deepens the plot as it builds to a shocking finale.”

  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

L.L.: How do you write? Do you follow an outline or let the pen guide you?

Wendy Walker: I always try to have an outline, especially when I am building to an ending like the one in this novel. It’s so important to find that balance of delivering clues but not enough for readers to guess. Everything has to fit like a puzzle, with the last piece being hidden until the very end. As I go along, however, I do deviate from the plan as the characters take shape in my head and new ideas find themselves onto the page. Sometimes, if I like the new idea enough, I will go back and rewrite passages to support that new idea. It is the depth of the characters that really makes a book enjoyable, so I think this process of development and rewriting is just as important as having the tight outline for the plot.

L.L.: What is/are the best thing(s) an inspiring writer can do to hone his or her craft? 

Wendy Walker: Just keep writing! It is helpful to read as well, but once you find your voice, it’s more important to listen to what your readers say about that voice – what they like, what they find difficult – and then to fine tune it to make your work accessible to a wide audience. The goal with commercial fiction, I think, is to tell a great story in a way that a very broad audience can enjoy. And to do that requires constant fine tuning, rewriting, and listening to feedback from all sources.

L.L.: Can you tell us, without using complete sentences, what was going on in your life as you wrote EMMA IN THE NIGHT?

Wendy Walker: One year. Writing. Revising again and again. One son applying to all-is-not-forgotten-wendy-walker-paperback-1college. A new relationship with an old friend. General emotional chaos resulting. Launching ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN. Excited. Nervous. Major life changes on all fronts.

L.L.: You’re stories are often about scary things: kidnappings, mental illness, violence, lost memories. What scares you about writing?

Wendy Walker: There is a twinge of terror every time I sit before a blank screen to write a new page. Even though writers are portraying made up characters, the thoughts and words and actions of those characters have to come from somewhere inside the writer’s head. I don’t think we ever stop feeling vulnerable when we put those things on a page and let others read them! There is also fear after hitting “send” – whether to a trusted reader, agent or editor. Is it any good? Does it work? Is it moving fast enough? Fear of failure with something as subjective as writing never leaves me. And then – the worst terror of all – setting the book free in the world of readers and reviewers. Sometimes I think I need thicker skin for this business! But then I’m not sure I would be able to reach the emotional depths that I like to weave into my work. In my next life – maybe a career as an accountant!

L.L.: Wendy, it’s been a pleasure! Before I let you go, is there anything else I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Like, what’s left on your summer to-do list, your nightstand reading, what you ate for dinner last night, if you’re writing another book, and if you miss practicing law? [you don’t have to answer all of those!]

Wendy Walker:  Back to school shopping. Karin Slaughter’s THE GOOD DAUGHTER. Steak. Yes. No. Seriously, I think something most readers find surprising about a writer’s life is that it is nowhere near as seamless as it appears on our social media pages! Most of us are sitting at a desk, still in pajamas, pounding coffee or Red Bull, feeling anxious about a blank screen, a deadline, reviews, sales numbers, or a plot that just won’t come together. We clean up for events and photos, but then we are right back to work. It has huge ups and huge downs and can be very isolating. Even so, I wouldn’t trade this career for anything – I fought for it for many years and I am very grateful for every person who buys and reads one of my books!

For more information, to connect with Wendy Walker via social media, or to purchase a copy of EMMA IN THE NIGHT, please visit:

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Wendy-Walker-Headshot-350wABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Walker is a former family law attorney in Fairfield County, Connecticut who began writing while at home raising her three sons. She published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series before writing her debut psychological thriller, All is Not Forgotten. Her second thriller, Emma In The Night, will be released August 8, 2017.

Wendy earned her J. D., magna cum laude, at the Georgetown University Law Center where she was awarded  the American Jurisprudence award for her performance in Contracts and Advanced Criminal Procedure.  She received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and attended The London School of Economics and Political Science as part of her undergraduate studies.

Prior to her legal career, Wendy was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions group. She has also volunteered at the ACLU, Connecticut Legal Services and Figure Skating in Harlem where she served on the Board of Directors for over twelve years.

Wendy is currently writing her third thriller while managing a busy household.

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

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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website. Image of narcissistic personality disorder quote retrieved from Pinterest no source noted, all on 8.8.17]