Tag Archives: writing

Wednesdays with Writers: What if you were all alone and had cancer? Who might take care of your children when you’re gone? Sally Hepworth explores this, as well as social anxiety, domestic violence in THE MOTHER’S PROMISE. Oh, and Bali, new motherhood, character development…

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By Leslie Lindsay 

A powerful and emotionally riveting portrait of what it means to be a family, A MOTHER’S PROMISE is poignant, breath-taking, and authentic, perhaps Hepworth’s best to date. 

I flew through this book, not because the topics touched upon are light-hearted; but because the writing is so smooth, so effortless, so authentic and engaging. But be warned: if domestic abuse (including rough sex), miscarriage, cancer, and social anxiety are triggers for you, by all means, select this book with caution. Still, Hepworth does a remarkable job of presenting these situations in a veiled attempt so that we get the gist of what’s happening, but don’t have to relive every raw moment with her characters.

Alice is a 40 year old single mother raising her daughter, fifteen year old Zoe on her own
; Zoe’s father isn’t exactly in the picture. But then Alice gets sick and is given a grim prognosis, she is befriended by her R.N. and social worker who attempt (sometimes erroneously) to correct the “problem.”

THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is searingly honest, emotional, and not at all sugar-coated. It’s about who one can trust in their network of love and support; it’s about ‘what would you do,’ when there’s not exactly a clear winner. THE MOTHER’S PROMISE reframes what it’s like to be alone, but dependent, it’s about finding that network of support when your own flesh and blood may fail. mother%27s-promise%2c-the

So pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and join me and Sally as we chat about writing, THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, and family.

Leslie Lindsay: Sally, it’s a pleasure to welcome you back! I know from our conversation last year about THE THINGS WE KEEP, you tend to get a lot of story ideas from human interest stories you come across in the media and how it might affect your family. (Hint: me, too…it’s my favorite part of the news). And so, this story THE MOTHER’S PROMISE is no exception. Can you tell us a little about what spurred your TTWK Coverideas into action?

Sally Hepworth: Yes, THE MOTHER’S PROMISE was spurred by the news–an article about a single mother, diagnosed with terminal cancer, who was searching for a guardian for her eight-year-old son. The woman’s ex-partner was not in the picture, her own parents had passed away and she was an only child. She didn’t have any friends or colleagues who she felt she could ask. I wondered … how does someone end up so alone? I have a big extended family, so this was hard for me to wrap my head around.  I wanted to explore it in a novel. stack-of-newspapers-high-resolution-image2

The more I thought of it, the more I realized there are many ways a person can be alone. Some people are physically alone, others are alone in marriage or a decision. Some claim to feel alone even when people surround them. Before I knew it, I had begun a total exploration of the ways a person can be alone … and the ways they can rejoin the world, even under the toughest of circumstances.

L.L.: I have to say, I fell into the rhythm of reading about Alice and Zoe so quickly.  They were easy to like, slightly flawed, normal people experiencing the extraordinary (in both regards as Alice has cancer and her daughter has debilitating social anxiety). Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for each of these characters? And a little, too about the secondary characters: Kate, the nurse, Sonja the social worker, George the psychologist?

Sally Hepworth: Honestly, I didn’t put a lot of thought into the characters before I began writing. I didn’t set out to make Zoe a certain way and Alice another way, I wanted to let them reveal themselves to me as I wrote. The same is true for the secondary characters. I tend to be a planner when it comes to plot but characters tend to unfold organically without too much help from me.

L.L.: You do a lovely job of blending several different storylines and characters, all of which have a hint of dysfunction and a trace of authenticity that has readers question their own situations and whether they made the ‘right’ decisions at the time. Did you set out to write a controversial medical/emotional tearjerker, or did it sort of evolve into that?

Sally Hepworth: I wouldn’t say I ‘set out’ to do anything much other than telling a good story. That is my primary purpose: to entertain. But I think the best way to entertain people in fiction is to make the characters feel real, and the conflicts they face relevant. If I suck the reader in enough to make them question their own situations, I’ve probably done my job properly. 

L.L.: Your knowledge of Zoe’s teen culture is pretty spot-on, but you yourself are mom to three young kids, one just a newborn. Can you talk a bit about how you were able to download-55‘get into the head’ of a 15-year old?

Sally Hepworth: I spent a fair bit of time talking to teenagers for this book–my babysitters, to the teenage kids of friends, the neighbor’s kids—anyone I could. I adore young people, so this was a real pleasure. And I also watched a few teen American movies. But ultimately, I had to just imagine what it would be like to be fifteen and suffering from Social Anxiety Disorder. That is sometimes the most challenging (and interesting) part of being an author—stepping into someone’s else’s reality and being that person (at least for a few pages).

L.L.: What do you hope folks take away from THE MOTHER’S PROMISE?

Sally Hepworth:  That we are better together. Humans are relational beings. We aren’t meant to be alone. Sometimes life throws us hardships to force us to reach out and help one another.

L.L.: We’re early in the year, so what’s on your 2017 “Bucket List?” It doesn’t have to be literary.

Sally Hepworth: We’re building a house at the moment so getting it finished is on my
bucket list. I’ve written all my novels to date at the kitchen table, so it will be lovely to have an office with a wall of bookshelves from which to create. We’re also taking a family holiday to download-56Bali this year, which I’ve wanted to do for years. I’d also love to take a trip to the U.S. to meet my editor and the wonderful folk at St. Martin’s, but as I have a newborn, that might have to be on my 2018 bucket list.

L.L.: Is there something I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Sally Hepworth: How about…How am I coping with new motherhood? Let’s just say this. 2+1=150,0000 kids.

L.L.: Sally, a true pleasure! Thanks so much for popping by.

Sally Hepworth:  The pleasure was mine.

For more information, to connect with Sally on social media, or to purchase a copy of THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, please see: 
Sally Hepworth Headshot_highest res_credit Mrs. Smart Photography.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES. New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s debut novel as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”. THE SECRETS OF MIDWIVES was also the highest selling debut Australian fiction of the year in 2015.
Sally is also the author of THE THINGS WE KEEP, published in January 2016. The Things We Keep was a Library Journal Pick in the U.S. for January 2016, and an Indie Next Pick in the U.S. for February 2016. NYT bestselling author of The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion praised THE THINGS WE KEEP calling it ‘A compelling read that touches on important themes, not least the different forms that love may take.”
Both novels were published worldwide in English and have been translated into over ten languages. Sally is currently working on her next novel. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children
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[Cover and author image courtesy of K. Bassel at SMP and used with permission. Teens at cafe retrieved from Wikipedia; image of Bali retrieved from Wikipedia]

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

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By Leslie Lindsay 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website

Twitter: @GillyMacmillan

Facebook 

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

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

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

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

GoodReads

Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter

Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1

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

Wednesdays with Writers: Kate Hamer on her debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT, how being a writer was a dream akin to being a rocket scientist, taking the plunge, characters as images first, a trip to Scotland & much more

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By Leslie Lindsay 

Girl-In-The-Red-Coat-grey-232x300

 First, the reviews:

“Kate Hamer’s novel is both gripping and sensitive — beautifully written, it is a compulsive, aching story full of loss and redemption.”–Lisa Ballantyne, author of The Guilty Ones

“Hamer’s debut novel poignantly details the loss and loneliness of a mother and daughter separated”~Kirkus Review

“Telling the story in two remarkable voices, with Beth’s chapters unfurling in past tense and Carmel’s in present tense, the author weaves a page-turning narrative.”~Publisher’s Weekly

An Amazon Best Books of February 2016, British writer Kate Hamer’s THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT (Melville House, 2016) has been nominated for a Costa First Book Award, a prestigious recognition in the U.K and there’s already talk of a film. It seems THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is the next literary sensation.

The first few chapters of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT had me completely absorbed and frantically turning the pages to find out what happens next…but I absolutely adored the wonderful world of the bright, sensitive, and slightly dreamy 8-year old Carmel.

While THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT appears, at first blush, your garden-variety tale of child abduction, it’s so much more than that. Recently divorced British mother Beth is working hard at making a life for the two of them. Beth is caring and loving and wants the best for her daughter. They take a train to a children’s literary festival where they become entrapped in the world of fairies and make believe.

And then–poof–she’s gone.

Today I’m thrilled and honored to welcome Kate Hamer to the blog couch. Welcome, Kate! Please, grab a cuppa  [tea] (or coffee!) and join us.

Leslie Lindsay: As a writer myself, I often get “the bug” to write through an image that comes to me—from my waking life, a dream, or perhaps just a name. What was it for you that propelled you to sit down and write THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT?

Kate Hamer: It was exactly that – an image. I kept ‘seeing’ a young girl in a red coat. She looked lost and sad but strangely also with a strong sense of her place in the world. She was there for several weeks before I sat up in bed one night and wrote the first chapter straight off. It wasn’t in her voice though – it was her mother’s, Beth. Beth spends the first chapter talking about her daughter – missing, remembering her. Something painful has happened but we’re not sure just what. That was the introduction to that little girl, Carmel, in the red coat – it was through her mother’s eyes.

L.L.: This is your first novel—congratulations! I understand you have two grown children, and I presume, a career before THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT. How did time and perspective prepare you for your breakout novel? Can you speak to that, please?

Kate Hamer: I’ve always written – even at a very young age I was writing my own stories, images (4).jpgillustrating them and stapling them together into books! But when you are eighteen or so and deciding what to do with your life the idea of being a writer sounds in a similar league to being a rocket scientist. Over the years I continued to write – short stories and fragments of novels and in all honesty life experience is very good material. I worked for many years in the media and that helped too because in a way it’s still storytelling in a different way. But it was only when my children left home that I really thought, this is my life’s ambition – it’s now or never – and I made the leap.

L.L.: I have to say, I adore the distinctively beautiful prose of both Beth and young Carmel, but I love, love, love Carmel’s voice. Can you talk about how you created those characters? Were they drawn from anyone you know? Personal experience?

Kate Hamer: Once I had the image of Carmel her Mum came very soon – almost like she was chasing after her. I think Beth has a little bit of me in her – she’s a worrier too but Carmel is not based on anyone I know in particular. She was fairly fully formed right from the start almost as if she was telling me what she was like rather than the other way round!

L.L.: I’m interested in structure these days. THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is told in alternating POVs, how did you come to that decision? Did it grow organically from the story you wanted to tell, or was there more thought behind that?

Kate Hamer: Ah, yes! For me structure is a major, major thing too. Happily with this book the structure happened very organically. Once I had Carmel, then the first chapter in Beth’s voice it seemed the only natural thing to do to tell it in both their voices – to hear their stories side by side. Plus I always knew I wanted to tell a story about mothers and daughters and this seemed the best way to put their relationship at the heart of it.

“Keeps the reader turning pages at a frantic clip . . . What’s most powerful here is not whodunnit, or even why, but how this mother and daughter bear their separation, and the stories they tell themselves to help endure it.” —Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You

L.L.: Carmel’s captors are not exactly “bad,” they feel Carmel has spiritual gifts. This is a diversion from your typical child abduction thrillers. Can you talk more about that?

Kate Hamer: It’s hard without too many spoilers! What I would say is that from the get go Carmel is quite an unusual child. Her parents think that she might be on the autistic spectrum or similar. As the book goes on we begin to realize more and more that the key to the mystery of Carmel’s disappearance lies in that very strangeness. To anyone who worries that this might not be a book for them because of the subject matter I say: ‘it goes in a direction you might not be expecting.’

download (7)L.L.: A handful of reviews are comparing THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT to LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD. Somewhere else I read that you were essentially raised on Grimm’s fairy tales. Was that your intention all along?

Kate Hamer: It’s funny how it worked out. I was steeped in fairy tales growing up. We had lots of old books in the house (my Mum is a second hand book fan) so I had a really old version where the stories are not sugar coated one bit, they were really very dark. While I was writing the red coat was such a potent image for me, but it was only when I’d finished the first draft that the penny dropped. I have an old Victorian print of Little Red Riding Hood hanging in my hall and I looked up at it and thought, ‘ah, of course!’ I find writing works like that because you are working at such a subconscious level.

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

Kate Hamer: I’ve such finished my second novel and I’m working with the editor on it which is incredibly exciting. It’s a dark coming of age tale about family secrets set in a forest in Britain and is out in the UK in February next year. I can’t wait to see the cover designs – this time I feel I can consciously enjoy it all more. With ‘The Girl…’ it all happened so quickly I didn’t really know what hit me sometimes!

L.L.: What is obsessing you?

Kate Hamer: Oooh, good question. Does it have to be literary? If so at the moment it’s Elena Ferrante and her wonderful books set in Naples. They’re quite unlike anything I’ve read before and the fact that no one knows her true identity really intrigues me. On a personal note I’m renewing my wedding vows with my husband in October on the West coast of Scotland and I’m currently obsessing about what to wear! hidden-treasures

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

Kate Hamer: What I’m currently reading? It’s ‘Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down’ by Anne Valente. It’s a proof copy I’m reading as it hasn’t been published yet but I think it’s going to be a very exciting debut.

L.L.: Kate, it was lovely having you. Best wishes on your literary journey!

Kate Hamer: Thank you so much. It’s been great fun. Best wishes on yours too.

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

kate-hamerAuthor Bio: Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on BBC Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband. The Girl in the Red Coat (March 2015) is her first novel and has been shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and is a finalist for the Dagger Award. 

[Special thanks to J. Fleischaker at Melville House. Cover image retrieved from Melville House Publishers, author image retrieved from , western coast of Scotland retrieved from, finally child writing image retrieved from, all on 6.23.16]

Write On, Wednesday: Back on the Saddle

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By Leslie Lindsay

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Since May I’ve waffled. I didn’t want to write. The kids were home from school. I simply didn’t have the time–and on some days–the inclination to haul out the laptop, open the manucript doc and tap away on the keys.

“Once I go on my retreat at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” I told  myself, “Then I’d want to write.” I  didn’t. In fact, the whole week in Madison just drilled in the fact that writing was hard. Damn hard. Perphaps I’d be better off without it.  My well-meaning and devoted critique partner supported me.  No, she encouraged me to re-think my statements, my intentions. I hated her for it. Throwing my laptop out of the window and lathering myself with Hawaiian Tropic sounded like the better option.

Yet for some dumb reason, I persisted. Maybe it was because I had already. spent so much time and effort on the manuscript? Sunk cost and all of that. Maybe it was because I knew there were only about 2 or 3 chapters left to write before I could consider the thing done, nevermind that editing and more rounds of revisions were needed, plus the agent submission process before it actually (hopefully) became a book.

And then I went to Ireland, home of W.B. Yeats, James Joyce, Bram Stoker, other well-known literary figures. Maeve Binchy, Jonathan Swift. Ireland loves their writers. They used to have their faces on dollar bills, before the Euro. My darling hubby would look over at me in the tiny rental car, me the passenger on the opposite side of the car from what we are accustomed to here in the U.S., on the other side of the pond and say, “So, what stories would you write about this area?”

I sat the guidebook down, marking my page on castle ruins of County Limerick and looked to him, “Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously,” he responded.

“Well, I…don’t know.”

“Too foreign for you?” He pressed.

“Something like that.” More like, I’m on vacation and how dare you try to make me work. But the fact was, my brain was already spinning tales, asking questions, looking for answers the muse would provide. It was too much almost to recount those story ideas to my husband, because doing so might actually mean I can’t get away from it, it might actually mean I had to write.

The words and descriptions of the countryside filled my head as it blurred past in a series of green and brown and blue. And even though I toted my journal along, I didn’t really use it. Blasphemous? Maybe. But honestly I was too busy reading the guidebook, taking in the sites, experiencing things that I just wanted to get away from it all.

And when we returned to the States, my fingers were itching to write. Not on the laptop, mind you but on notes, paper, lists…just something to whet my appetite. I wrote travel reviews on TripAdvisor. Does that count? Eventually, several days after being home–and several dozen loads of laundry, picking up the dog from the kennel, the kids from the grandparents, I anxiously opened the manuscript.

It wasn’t half-bad. In fact, it wasn’t nearly the mess I thought it might be. Being away from it actually renewed my passion, let me look at it with fresh eyes. And that, is a good thing.

So what are you waiting for? Write on, Wednesday!

 

Write On, Wednesday: Interview with Simone St. James–Ghosts, Books, Agents, & More

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By Leslie Lindsay

I am super-excited to share a new-to-me author, award-winning Simone St. James. She writes gothic ghost stories that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Toss in a little love and a great setting—the lost era of the 1920s—and you’re in for a very compelling read.

Leslie Lindsay: Simone, thanks so very much for being with us today. I must admit to just now reading your 2012 debut, THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE and I love it! It’s dark, it’s gritty, and it definitely makes me think. But not just anyone can pull off a ghost story without it appearing contrived. What kind of research did you do to fully

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understand ghosts and ghost hunting in the 1920s?

Simone St. James: Hi Leslie, thanks for having me!

The idea for MADDY CLARE wasn’t based on any specific historical fact. People were as fascinated by ghosts in the 1920’s as they are today. There were psychical research societies, though they were considered eccentric and not taken seriously. I started with the idea of the heroine being assigned to assist an eccentric ghost hunter by her temp agency, and the story grew from there.

Leslie Lindsay: Have you ever had any personal connections to ghosts?  

Simone St. James: I’ve never seen a ghost, and the thought of it terrifies me. I figured that if it terrifies me, it might terrify a few readers as well, and that’s what I draw on. However, since the books have been published I find a lot of people want to tell me their personal ghost stories, and I love to hear them.

Leslie Lindsay: What advice would you give to a writer who wants to incorporate ghostly happenings into her work?

Simone St. James: There are two things about ghost stories: One, the “rules” are whatever you want them to be – can the ghost physically touch things? Does it speak? As a writer, you get to re-invent that with every book, which is fun. Two, the challenge is always giving a reason why your characters don’t just pack up and get the heck out of there! You have to motivate them to stay. You have to get creative.

Leslie Lindsay: I know you have a background in television—and the two are close cousins—but how did you eventually break in to writing?

Simone St. James: I broke into writing by coming home from work and writing manuscript after manuscript in my off hours, on my weekends and holidays. My first manuscripts were rejected, but I kept going. Eventually, my agent found MADDY CLARE in her slush pile. She loved the The Haunting of Maddy Clarebook and took me on, and the rest happened from there.

Leslie Lindsay: I understand you’re Canadian and I can’t imagine the process of acquiring a literary agent is all that different from country to country, but what did you feel you did “right” and what could you have done better when it came to getting an agent?

Simone St. James: No, the process *isn’t* different. With the manuscript of MADDY CLARE, I looked up the agent of an author I felt had written a similar sort of book (many authors mention their agents on their websites in the acknowledgment pages of their books), and queried her, as well as a few others I felt were highly regarded and capable of selling it. I queried agents only, no publishers. I got a number of rejections and non-responses, but the agent I had targeted was the one who loved the book.

As for doing something better, I queried agents when my first two books weren’t really ready for publication. It’s a common mistake for new writers, and all it got me was rejection.

Leslie Lindsay: As for the process of writing, do you follow the pen or do you follow a carefully crafted outline?

Simone St. James: I’m still refining my process. I try to do at least a rough outline, because that way I don’t write myself into a corner, but I also like to discover plot points and ideas as I go. What often happens is that I write the first sixty or seventy pages blind, just following an idea, and when I start to get a clear view of it I stop and sketch out the rest. That said, each book is different – some of them just pop up, and others really fight you – so I don’t follow any hard and fast rules.

Leslie Lindsay: What is currently obsessing you?

Simone St. James: Oh, I love this question! I could go on and on. In books, I just read a ghost story called I REMEMBER YOU by an Icelandic author named Yrsa Sigurdardottir. It’s set in Iceland and it was so scary I couldn’t read anything else for two days. It’s made me seek out more Icelandic fiction, which is fantastic. In television, I’m obsessed with the BBC’s Sherlock and, like millions of others, Game of Thrones – I read the books years ago and I love watching it on screen.

Leslie Lindsay: What are you working on next?

Slience-for-the-Dead-Web-350Simone St. James: My next book (out April 2015) is called THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT. It’s about a spirit medium in 1920’s London who is drawn into the murder investigation of her greatest rival, and she’s paired up with a man whose job is to investigate and debunk psychics like herself. I’m revising it now and I’m very excited about it.

Leslie Lindsay: Ooh! I think I’m hooked!!

For more information, head over to Simone’s Social Media:

Bio: Simone St. James is a lifelong reader of ghost stories and other spooky reads, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she discovered two wonderful genres: romances and old, classic gothics.

Wishing she could read something that combined the three, with a 1920′s setting thrown in as well (and having written two full novels that were rightfully rejected everywhere and will forever live under the bed), she wrote THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, which was the book she really wished to read. An agent’s representation and a publishing contract soon followed, and she has been happily writing in her chosen, made-up genre ever since. THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE won two of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® awards, as well as Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Book. [author image and bio taken from her website on 5.13.14]

Write On, Wednesday: Bestselling Author LISA UNGER talks about books, writing, IN THE BLOOD & so much more!

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By Leslie Lindsay

I am so very honored to have the amazing Lisa Unger with us today. Lisa is the NYT bestselling author of 12 suspenseful tales that range from crime, mystery, family saga, to the familiar psychological thriller; she’s a reader, wife, and mother (on a fun note, watch this interview with Lisa and her daughter, Ocean Rae discussing children’s books http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veY8wYhHweQ).

Lisa’s newest release is IN THE BLOOD (January 7th, Touchtone).  When my pre-order arrived in the mail, I hunkered down and didn’t stop till I finished.  It’s *that* good.  Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the interview for a…Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

Leslie Lindsay: Lisa, thank you for being with us today.  Your books are crazy-good in a twisted, dark manner that keeps us turning the pages, yet they seem to straddle several genres. According to your website bio, “My novels center around strong women who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances, and explore themes such as the power of a single choice, the corrosive nature of secrets and lies, dark family legacies, and the secrets we keep from each other and from ourselves.” That said, how can writers authentically combine these varied genre aspects into a complete whole? Is it “just” writer-ly magic? 
LISA UNGER: Thank you for having me, Leslie. And thank you for the very kind words. I suppose you’re right in that the novels do straddle different genres. 
But I think it’s important for writers to remember that “genres” are classifications designed by book publishers and booksellers to market novels more efficiently. Writers should not be thinking about genre when they write.  We should be thinking about character, setting, plot, prose and all the elements that unify to make a great book.  We should be honoring our inspiration, putting in the time, and working hard every day to dig deeper and get better at what we’re doing.
Which is not to say that genre is not important. But it’s important later, after the book is written.  In the process of writing, it is far more critical to write authentically from an organic place.  Every one of my novels begins and ends with character voice.  I follow that voice and listen to that story.  Most of my novels are dark, and all of them might be classified as mystery, or thriller, or crime fiction.  But I don’t sit down to write my next “thriller.”  I sit down to write my next novel, and I honor the character voices in my head.  It’s not intent, and it’s not magic.  It’s just being true to who I am as a writer.
Leslie Lindsay:  You’ve always wanted to write—but before you landed a book deal, you worked in publishing. In what ways do you feel your earlier work prepared you for the life as a career author? For example, I just told my critique partner, “I only wished I’d started writing seriously sooner [in my life].” 
LISA UNGER: My years in publishing taught me some important things.  I had always been a writer, but I lacked the confidence to pursue that dream. Working in publishing showed me that it was, in fact, possible to do what I wanted to do.
My years in publishing also taught me that it wouldn’t be easy.  Getting published is not an end to the journey; it’s the beginning. It’s a foot in the door, an invitation to roll up your sleeves and get to work.  It’s harder to succeed as a published writer than it is to get published in the first place.  Knowing that prepared me for the dizzying highs and crushing lows of life as a career writer.  I am grateful to have that background, that I knew the realities of the business before I finally went for it.
Leslie Lindsay: In those early days of writing, what do you think you did “right?”What could you have done better?
LISA UNGER: Hmm … that’s an interesting question.  I am not certain what I did right, or what I could have done better.  In fact, I’m not sure that we can look back at any part of our lives in regret or in self-congratulation, since we never know what the consequences of other choices might have been.
But I do know that I have always done my best.  I am certain that each of my novels represents the pinnacle of my abilities at the time of its writing.  And the only thing that has ever motivated me is the belief that every day I can be better at what I do than I was yesterday. I believe that each book I have written is better than the one that came before it.  So, to be honest, I guess I wouldn’t change a thing.
Leslie Lindsay: IN THE BLOOD—wow! It’s so well done. I knew you had me when we first meet a psychology student with a trust fund, a mess of lies, and a web of secrets. Each and every sentence is so carefully crafted with unique turns of phrase and dashing imagery. Can you give us a little kernel of how IN THE BLOOD came to be?
LISA UNGER: The germ for a novel can come from almost anything – a news story, a line of poetry, even a photograph.  In the Blood was inspired by an article I read in The New York Times Magazine about how certain doctors think they can see early signs of psychopathic behavior in children as young as five. This idea ignited my imagination and led me to do a great deal of research on the topic.  And while I was reading, I started to hear the voice of Lana Granger. The only thing I knew about her was that she was hiding something big.  But I didn’t know what.  I also knew I had to tell her story.
Like most of my novels, In the Blood is my delving into the question of what makes us who we are, and what power do we have to change ourselves.  My father used to recite this poem for me when I was a kid.  You cannot hide in snow/ no matter where you go/ you leave a trail behind/ that anyone can find.  It sounds a little creepy, doesn’t it?  He didn’t mean it to be; he’s just into the sound of words.  It stayed with me and comes back at weird moments.  And over the course of my life, its meaning has evolved as an allegory for the self.  You cannot hide from yourself.  The psyche won’t allow it. You must embrace everything, even the darkest and most unpleasant things within you. That’s the major theme of In the Blood.
Leslie Lindsay: What advice would you give writers who are at that submission stage, who have a completed manuscript, and really want to get published traditionally? How do you see the publishing world changing?
LISA UNGER: Just keep writing.  Don’t wait to see if that book publishes, even if you are at the submission stage. Just keep writing.  Dig deeper.  Try to get better.  Because that’s what will get you published in the end, being great at what you do.
The publishing world is changing all the time; it’s true.  And it’s changing so fast and unpredictably that you shouldn’t worry about it until you are actually published.  And not even then!  Just write the best book you can write.  Write organically, exactly the book that your heart wants to write.  You can’t hope to follow trends or write to sell, because those trends, too, change all the time. 
What doesn’t change is that everyone is still looking for a great story – agents, editor, and readers.  We will always look to story to escape from or understand life a little better.  We will always want a great story to lift us up, thrill us, excite us, and make us feel something.  Publishing may change.  But love of story is forever.  There will always be a place for a great book.
Leslie Lindsay:  Is there anything obsessing you right now? 
LISA UNGER: I am always obsessed with questions of identity, nature vs. nuture, family legacies, abnormal psychology, relationships, religion, the many facets of love, and the things that connect us and tear us apart.  I am most recently obsessed with psychic phenomenon, haunting, and addiction. I have a kaleidoscope of obsessions, always shifting, changing and building on each other. Thank goodness!
Leslie Lindsay: What’s next for you? Working on another book—I hope! 
LISA UNGER: My next novel, entitled CRAZY LOVE YOU will publish in April 2015.  I am currently at work on my first young adult book, and the 2016 adult title.   Stay turned for more on all of that!
Leslie Lindsay:  Thank you for being with us today, Lisa Such a thrill! Can you kindly direct readers to your website, social media? Also, an author photo and book cover image would be much appreciated.
LISA UNGER: Thank YOU, Leslie, for having me!  And of course readers can find out lots more about me on the web!
Facebook: authorlisaunger
Twitter: @lisaunger
And please do sign up for my newsletter here:  https://www.facebook.com/authorlisaunger/app_100265896690345
I am currently re-energizing the newsletter to include exclusive excerpts, giveaways, advice for writers and notes about what I’m reading, working on, obsessing about, listening to and watching.  So do sign up!  It’s going to be fun.
Lisa Unger….New York Times bestselling author of IN THE BLOOD (Jan 2014)
Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way
And now for the GIVE-A-WAY!!  Lisa has generously offered a complimentary copy of her new release, IN THE BLOOD to one lucky reader. All you have to do it SHARE* this interview via email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, GoodReads, etc. and LET ME KNOW you shared by dropping me a line at leslie_lindsay@hotmail.com or leaving a comment in the comments section of this blog. If you don’t tell me you’ve shared, your name can’t be entered. GOOD LUCK!!
*The Fine Print: Give-a-way open to US residents only. Contest runs Wednesday, 2/19/14 thru Saturday 2/22/14 at 5pm. You will be contacted via email if you are the winner. Please check “junk” and “spam” folders for an email from me. If you are not the winner, you will not be notified. Respond promptly with your mailing address. Ms. Unger, or her representative, will send you the book. Your email will not be used for any other reasons.
Photographs courtesy of Lisa Unger and retrieved 2.18.14 from www.lisaunger.com
This interview was arranged by Leslie Lindsay

Write On, Wednesday: Author Amy Sue Nathan Talks about her Debut Novel, THE GLASS WIVES

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By Leslie Lindsay

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

I am honored to introduce Amy Sue Nathan to “Write On, Wednesday.”  Amy is a mother of a college-age son, a high school daughter and two dogs.  She is also the recently published author of THE GLASS WIVES (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013).  She’s generously offered a complimentary copy of the book to one lucky reader.  Amy resides in the Chicagoland area.  I just started reading the book, and already I can tell it’s going to be a great journey.  (image retrieved 5.26.13 from Amazon.com)

Product Details

L2:  First—the book!  Congratulations on such a wonderful accomplishment many of us only dream about.  What’s it like to finally have your book “out there?” 

Amy Sue Nathan:Having my book out in the real world is surreal on one hand, and very tangible on the other. I have likened it to an expected surprise, like a baby. You know it’s going to happen, you’ve been preparing, you’ve read all the books, made all the plans—but when it happens, it’s still full of unknowns, twists, turns, and surprises. Hopefully, most of them good surprises!

L2: THE GLASS WIVES is all about family.  Of course, many women readers can relate to that topic, but what makes THE GLASS WIVES different is that it is based on this idea of an unconventional family.  How do you see the vision of ‘family’ changing in the 21st century? 

Amy Sue Nathan: I think what is changing is the idea of what is unconventional.  One of the reasons I wanted to write a novel about a “newfangled” family was because I felt there was a lot of lip service given to families that weren’t mom/dad/kids.  I’d heard people say that family is what you need it to be, or want it to be, or what you make it, but when I divorced in 2002, after being with my ex for 20 years, all of a sudden (or so it seemed), I was not longer part of a full-fledged family in the eyes of many people, and in a way, even to myself. I wondered where all the acceptance had gone and realized it was idea of a single mom family that people (or the people in my life) were okay with, but the actual fact of it, no, they didn’t really deal well with it. I had to get a grip on it, so I did. But most people still look at a single-parent headed household as a whole missing a part. I think that once people actually accept families as equal in weight, no matter their configuration, then the vision of family will actually resemble the fact of family.

L2: As I was looking over your website, I came across your definition of family, “home isn’t broken unless there isn’t love inside it’s walls.”  Do you believe that home truly is where the heart is?  Can you expand a bit on this quote? 

Amy Sue Nathan: I’m a homebody. No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, I’m always drawn toward my home, which for the past 14 years has been a ranch house in a tiny suburb of Chicago. I shudder when someone refers to kids of divorce being from a broken home. Often, divorce fixes a family more than it breaks it.  Obviously the word “broken” has negative connotations, and that bothers me. I may have a broken chair in the dining room, but neither my home, nor my family, is broken.  It’s the matter of another perception of unconventional families that I try to dispel in THE GLASS WIVES. 

L2:  How did you arrive at the title, THE GLASS WIVES?  I am assuming a sense of fragility, the fact that families can crumble and break…or was there something more? 

Amy Sue Nathan: Honestly? The book had several different titles, but the one that stuck was The Glass House. Then, about six weeks before my agent was going to start submitting to editors I was working on a final edit or two and the title hit me. The book was about The Glass Wives. I knew at that moment it was a keeper.  And yes, there is an element of the metaphorical glass, and also the literal. The main characters’ last name is Glass.

L2: On to agents…can you give us writers some sense of what your journey was like when you set out to find an agent?  What advice would you give a writer who is determined to have their work represented

Amy Sue Nathan: It might be cliché to say DON’T GIVE UP but it’s the truth. I’ve come across many aspiring authors who send a dozen queries and stop.  If someone is determined to be published traditionally, as I was, then they need to be in it for the long haul.  I sent 116 queries over 10 months before signing with my agent, Jason Yarn, of Paradigm.  I’d also recommend listening to any advice any agent gives you.  You don’t have to follow the advice, but it’s a good idea to think about it, see if it makes sense, and make changes if need be.  Another thing to do is to continue writing while you’re querying.  Write short stories or a new book or essays or something else to remind you why you’re sending queries.  That’s because you want to keep writing and you want to be published by a publisher.

L2:   You’ve been blogging since 2006 as a “mommy blogger.”  Would you say this was the beginning of your writing career, or was this simply a by-product of your love for writing?  [Be sure to check out Amy’s blog Women Fiction Writers at http://womensfictionwriters.wordpress.com/]

Amy Sue Nathan:My professional writing career started in the 1980’s. I was a writer at a few nonprofit organizations and corporations before becoming a fulltime stay-at-home mom.  I had a variety of part-time jobs over the years, some included writing and some did not.  I started writing for myself again around the time leading up to my divorce, when I realized the only creative thing I was doing was adding peas and carrots to macaroni and cheese. In 2006 I went on a date (a one-date-only date) and the guy asked me if I’d ever considered blogging, because my writing style in the emails we’d exchanged seemed really suited to it.  I never saw him again, but that week I started a blog, and by the end of the year I’d had my first essay published in The Chicago Tribune, where I published pieces in about 10 issues through 2009.

L2: WomenFictionWriters.com was founded in 2011.  Can you tell us a little more about your blog and what type of resources exist there

Amy Sue Nathan: I started the blog because I was looking for a place to connect with other writers who wrote what I define as women’s fiction—which are stories about a women’s journey that do not center on a romantic relationship, at all. At this point I’m seeing that there are many definitions for the genre, and a bunch of perceptions, not all of which I like, but to each her own. Right?  At WFW I try to focus on the authors, books, and craft of women’s fiction. I interview authors and often it’s as much about the author as a person, his or writing and life, as it is about the book.  The craft posts are really popular, because I think so many writing posts are either very generic or very specific—and on WFW we try to bring everything back to women’s fiction, which doesn’t happen many other places.

L2: Can you give us aspiring writers some words of wisdom on the craft? 

Amy Sue Nathan: My most recent advice to myself is to separate business from craft.  When I’m writing I can’t think about selling the book or even about the readers, I just have to tell the story in the best way I can.  There will hopefully be time later to think about the needs and wants of others. Writing, even when you want to publish, has to be selfish at first. Write YOUR story as YOU see it.  Tweak it later.  But never write to the market because by the time you’re finished, the market will have changed. Write on, Wednesday:  Decontrusting a Novel

L2: Finally, will we be hearing more from you?  What’s next?  Another book?  Can you give us a glimpse inside?

Amy Sue Nathan: My work-in-progress is about a single mom, blogging, secrets, and lies—and where it all can lead if you’re not careful. Or even if you are.  [note from Leslie–this book was just sold to St. Martin’s yesterday!  Stay tuned]

Thank you for having me on your blog, Leslie!

Apraxia Monday:  He Talks Funny Author Jeanne Buesser & Give-a-Way

***WANT A COMPLIMENTARY COPY OF THE GLASS WIVES?***  Of course you do!!  Just drop me a line at leslie_lindsay@hotmail with “GLASS WIVES” in subject line.  Tell me to enter you in the give-a-way.  I will.  Pay attention…I’ll contact you by email if you name is chosen at random.  Contest ends Friday, May 31st.  Good luck!! (Your email won’t be saved, or used for anything else–just the contest!)

Amy Sue Nathan‘s debut novel, THE GLASS WIVES, published by St. Martin’s Press May 2013.  In addition to blogging, her stories and essays have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times online, The Washington Post online, The Huffington Post, Chicago Parent, Grey Sparrow Journal, Rose and Thorn Journal, Scribblers On The Roof, The Verb, Hospital Drive Journal and The Stone Hobo. She’s also a freelance fiction editor, and a reader for literary agents.  I’ve also been fortunate to contribute to four amazing writing sites, Writer Unboxed, Beyond The Margins, The Book Pregnant Blog, and Girlfriends Book Club. I’m currently serving as Secretary for the RWA-WF chapter, a contributer to the Writer Unboxed newsletter, and a member of the 2013 Class at The Debutante Ball blog. 

Write On, Wednesday: Playing with Cards

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By Leslie Lindsay  (image source: www.benzinga.com 5.22.13)

Yesterday I booked a trip to Vegas, so it’s no surprise I have been in my kitchen playing cards.  And what the hell does that have to do with the price of tea in China…or writing for that matter? 

The trip is to celebrate the wedding of a childhood friend and the cards well, they have nothing to do with gambling and everything to do with something just as risky–my first novel. 

Affectionally, I refer to myself a ‘pantser,’ that is someone who writes by the seat of her pants.  I don’t plot.  I don’t like it.  I feel it stifles the creative process, rather than juicing them up (my critique partner claims plotting excites her to delve into the story).  I like to deliberate and then get hit with a burst of inspiration I can’t possibly let slip by. 

So when my completed Slippery Slope had some holes and a few too many overall words (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron…how can a story have holes and be too long?  Beats me), my critique partner determined it was time for me to “pull out the cards.”  As in Tarot cards?  Nah…those are in my story, but not in my real life. 

I painstakenly sat at my laptop, a stack of pastel colored notecards at my side and went through my manuscript chapter by chapter, almost word-by-word.  I assigned a color to each main POV character and then other colors for backstory, section headings, etc.  Here’s how the chips fell (sorry, can’t get out of that gambling metaphor): 

  • Main POV female character is pink
  • Main POV male character is blue
  • Random tertiary character is yellow
  • Female backstory is purple
  • Male backstory is green
  • Section headings/quotes are white

This afternoon, I spread them out on my kitchen island and studied them.  In my hand, I held several cards (for note taking) and a sheet of tiny smiley face stickers. 

Soccer spring 2013 037 Soccer spring 2013 038

  • Red face = cut &/or severely revise
  • Green face = BATP (big-ass turning point)
  • Yellow face = I really like this, even if it’s not relevant.  And sometimes the yellow and green overlapped.  When that happened, I cheered!
  • But the problem is, there are a lot of cards that are left blank.  Meaning, they have plot points on them, but I am not sure if I like it, if it needs to be cut, if it’s even relevant.  Some of those cards are just transition chapters…and do they need to stay?  I don’t know yet. 

Now the big task of weeding out those chapters with the red sticker.  You’d think that would be easy, but not really.  It’s not that I don’t want to cut some of my work, it’s just that well–it impacts the flow I thought I developed. 

In the end, it working with the cards was a little madening, but it did help to be able to look at things as a big picture and then be able to manipulate them (by moving around my counter top, stopping to scrutinize) and the ones that are crud…well, they just may go to Vegas.

Write on, Wednesday!

For more information, look to the July/August 2013 issue of Writer’s Digest, specifically the article, “5 things Novelists Can Learn from Screenwriters.” I just did.  Here’s what the author, Scott Atkinson says: 

“A story can be built in scenes.  Some novelists start on page one and knock out a daily word count until they type “the end.”  But if that doesn’t work for you, don’t worry.  It doesn’t work for [screenwriter], either.  He never starts on page 1 of a screenplay.  He starts with the basic theme and overall journey–what screenwriters call controlling idea–and lets it come together, scene by scene–and not necessarily in order. 

He thinks, “What am trying to write about?….You may have some ideas for scenes and you jot them down as quickly as possible, and start to imagine where they might fall into that mauscript/screenplay.  And then gradually you start piecing tigehter a collage of those things either on cards or colored pencils, in a notebook, or on a piece of paper, and then you start figuring out what happens when.”

***Be sure to LIKE my Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/LeslieALindsay1?ref=hl***

Write On, Wednesday: Spring Fever Getting Your Mojo Back

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 012

It’s been one of those crazy springs where I feel completly out-of -whack, and not just with my writing.  I have project ideas for the house, for my family, for my writing…but I am unable to get those ideas funneled into something coherent.  And then I sort of got my mojo back.  How I did it, I’m not entirely sure…but I am glad things finally started to click. 

Here are some ideas gleaned partially from experience and partially from a semi-recent Writer’s Digest article. 

Step 1:  Set a word count goal for the week ahead, or for a particular writing session.   Remember, not all days are created equal.  Some days you may really pump out a generous amount of words, other days–not so much.  When you think about your writing goals in terms of the whole week, it gives you some freedom to say, “Well, Tuesday sucked, but I still have four days to pull it together.”  It also helps with the inevitable interruptions you didn’t see coming. 

Step 2:  Go to the library or bookstore.  Read some back jackets, peruse the covers.  See what gets you excited.  Look at the first five pages.  What draws you in?  The story?  The voice?  An author you adore?  Chances are, you won’t be able to stop there.  Good reading often gets you inspired to pick up a pen or mosey on over to your laptop to create something of your own.

Step 3:  It’s been said by work-smarter gurus that one should try seven new things a week.  That sounds like a lot, but when you stop and think about it, it comes to roughly one new thing a day.  You can do that, right?  Take a new way home from work.  Order a Caramel Ribbon Mocha instead of your usual Caramel machiatto.  Walk your dog down a different street.  Try grazing instead of three sqaure meals.  You get the idea.   But why?  You need to be well-rounded writer.  Infuse your life with new experiences, tuck them into the back of your head.  You may throw it into your writing. 

Step 4:  Listen to the radio.  It could be your usual morning radio show, or switch it up (see step 3 above) and try something else.  I flipped over to NPR in the car last week and came across a story and book about love being an illusion.  Guess what?  It ended up in my novel.  Or, you may just tune the radio or Pandora to something like jazz or a Spanish station.  Does your character like that music?  (along this same idea–look at People magazine to hget those sensational human interest stories, book pages, and current pop culture–sure it may change slightly as your book evolves, but some of these references make for a relatable story).

Step 5:  Do some field research.  I am always seeking out new opportunities to learn something.  Sometimes that broadens my horizons into a character’s POV, or sometimes it just gives me some real-life experience to enhance my writing.  “How do you find these things?”  For me, I signed up for a free tour and talk of a breast cancer clinic through my local medical center.  Maybe a future character will have a breast cancer diagnosis?  Who know…but Being able to visualize the place is helpful.  Check your community and see what you may be able to attend–or tag-along. 

Step 6:  Learn a new word.  Read the dictionary.  Really.  I know it sounds dull, but pick a page and skim it.  Use a new word in conversation or your work.  Often a page or two of the dictionary will trigger an idea for your current work-in-progress. 

Step 7:  Connect with a writer/author/agent you admire.  Go ahead, click the “contact” button on a website of a best-selling author.  Tell her or him you love their work.  It will make their day–and maybe yours, too.  (Modify:  Tweet or “friend” someone of this caliber on GoodReads).

What are you waiting for?!  Write on, Wednesday : )

Fiction Friday:

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By Leslie Lindsay Misc Feb-March 2013 013

Back to that novel of mine.  Revisions are still underway,  thought you’d like to see what I am up to with Slippery Slope.  [remember, this is original fiction.  Your ideas for improvement are greatly appreciated] 

“I storm out of Steve’s driveway, backing the Odyssey out while punching in Joe’s number.  He picks up on the first ring. 

        “Hi, sweetie.  How are things going?  Make it to Pat Cooper’s office?”

        “Pat?  Who?” I narrow my eyes.  
        “You know.  The message.  This morning.  Mystery shopper.” 

         “Oh…yeah,” I feign recognition.  “Just leaving his office now.”  I look to the homes lining the streets, big and new.  Not Pat Cooper’s office.  “Listen, I need to pop in to Target for a minute.  Madi needs some Pull-Ups.” 

          “Okay.  Don’t worry about us.  We’re heading to the hardware store after we finish at the park.  Love ya, hon!” 

          “Joe, you have no idea how much I love you.”  I say and I mean it. 

          I hear a smile on the end of the phone, “I think I do.”

______________

       Pat Cooper’s office is located in an old Victorian in downtown Waubonsee, across from the train tracks and not too far from this new restaurant, Cress Creek Bistro.  I’ll have to talk to Joe about going there sometime. 

        I park and walk onto the porch.  Hanging baskets display colorful pansies and foliage, a spray of spring flowers hangs from the door in a tin bucket. Did I do that?  I shuffle my feet on the floor mat, the wrap-around porch pristine and orderly.  I know he’s here.  Pat lives in the upstairs apartment.  I ring the doorbell and wait. 

       Pat opens the door slowly, a precaution being a Saturday and then sticks his head out.  “Annie!” 

       I nod and tip my shoulders.  “Pat, hi.  I got your message.  We were out last night.” 

       “Yes, yes.  I spoke with your babysitter.  Come on in.”  He steps aside and allows me to enter.  Such the gentleman.   

       He ushers me to a small alcove to the right.  A majestic Victorian desk takes up the space, a stained glass window behind him.  He points to a chair, “Sit, please.” 

        I do, crossing my legs.  My flats don’t compare to anything Jackie would wear.  He pulls a slim portfolio from a drawer and slides it across the desk.  “Here’s your report from the other day, Annie.  And your check.” 

       I nod. 

       Pat Cooper leans back in his chair, “Annie, you do good work.  Your reports are always carefully done, great attention to detail.  You really have an eye for decorating.” 

       If you only knew, Pat Cooper.  I think of what Jackie said just hours ago.  Gifted with art.  Psychotic depression.  A break.  I spread my lips into a tight smile. 

       “We read your report to the president of the company.  He loved it,” and then he looks down at his desk, fiddling with a paperweight.  “But, we didn’t show them your video.” 

        “Oh,” I say.  “You didn’t need it.” 

        “More like didn’t want it.” 

        “I don’t understand,” I re-cross my legs and lean forward. 

         “Annie, I am not sure who you were with that day, but your commentary was completely inappropriate.” 

         “I’m sorry?”

          “It was—oh, how do I say this,” he steeples his hands in front of his face.  “The audio picked up a lot of personal discussion.” 

          “Really,” I shake my head.  “I wonder if there was some interference with the audio equipment?” 

           He pushes himself away from the desk.  “I’d show it to you, but I think it would embarrass you.” 

          I think I know what’s happened, but I don’t want to offer any explanation.  I just play dumb.  “Can I make it up to you somehow?”

         “No, I don’t think that will be necessary.  You aren’t who I thought you were, that’s all,” he shakes his head. 

        “I see.” I consider explaining myself, but since I am unaware of what that audio tape holds, I keep mum. 

        “You’ll be happy to know we fired the Tricia Peterson, the saleswoman at Grande Pointe Lake.  She should have gone with you into the models, she shouldn’t have put any bias on you about what model she likes best, and well, there were a lot of other things, too.  You did your job.  And that’s all we can really ask.  But Annie, I am this is the last time you will be doing a mystery shop for us.” 

       The words attack my gut, a blow to my confidence.  M Y S T E R Y.  Last time.  My mouth goes dry. 

         Pat Cooper continues, “I operate a wholesome business here, even though it seems somewhat deceptive.  I need good people.  You’re good—you know design, you’re professional—most of the time.  This time, you screwed up, bringing a boyfriend along.” 

        I close my eyes and lean back in the chair.  I shake my head, “It’s been a rough time lately.  I could explain, but you’d have a hard time believing me,” I reach for my check.  “Thank you, Pat.  It’s been nice working with you.” 

        He stands and walks me to the door.  He reaches forward and pats me on the back.  “You’re good people, Annie.  I won’t hold this against you.” 

       The door clicks behind me.