Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Sunday, March 19th, 2017

Sundays With Writers

I’m so excited to be sharing my Sunday with E.K. Johnston today to discuss her incredible book, Exit, Pursued by a Bear.  The MomAdvice Book Club will be tackling this in our April discussion so I am hoping today’s interview will encourage you to pick it up and join us for a great discussion about this beautiful book in April.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued By a Bear, packs a coming-of-age punch as it examines the story of a rape and the aftermath for its victim.

Hermione is a flyer on her cheer squad and proud to be their captain. While away at cheer camp, she attends a party where someone  puts something in her drink and she is brutally raped and assaulted. When she awakes, she has no recollection of what has happened to her, but must deal with the devastating consequences of this assault.

I love that this book focuses less on being a victim and more about continuing to fight through the pain, not allowing this horrible situation to continue to define your life. Hermione is a true hero as she picks up the pieces of her life and is determined to carry on.

Heavier than a typical YA read and filled with a supportive cast of characters, Johnston deserves all the accolades she has received for this one including being listed as a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize.

Brave and unflinching, it’s a beautiful, beautiful read!

Grab your coffee and let’s chat about this brave book from E.K. Johnston.

E.K. Johnston

Readers might not know that this book was inspired by Shakespeare’s, The Winter’s Tale. What was it about this work that made you want to retell it? What elements were the most important to you in Shakespeare’s work that you wanted to keep as elements in your own story?

Most scholars will tell you that The Winter’s Tale is the story of two boys-grown-to-men who find that friendship is a fragile construct and disillusionment is the price of adulthood. I respectfully disagree. For me, from my very early days of reading Shakespeare (the Charles and Mary Lamb prose edition), the play was about the friendship between two women: Hermione and Paulina, who loved one another more than they loved their husbands (with good reason). I loved Paulina’s steadfastness and her cleverness, faking Hermione’s death and concealing her in the king’s own castle for more than a decade and half, and I loved Hermione’s resilience and ability to survive utter betrayal from someone she trusted.

Furthermore, Hermione is persecuted by her husband for (falsely) perceived infidelity. He manipulates her actions and his own mind until he can blame her for something she is absolutely innocent of. I chose to update this as garden-variety slut-shaming in Exit, because we tend to back girls into corners and then treat them terribly for existing in the first place.

Also, I just really wanted to use the title: Exit, Pursued By A Bear.

Your fury over a Canadian Member of Parliament who was trying to recriminalize abortion also moved you to write this book. What do you hope the reader will walk away with after reading Hermione’s story?

I have two hopes for all readers of Exit, Pursued By A Bear.

  1. That they will believe women. Women. and,
  2. That they will trust women to make their own choices, particularly when it comes to bodily autonomy.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear has garnered so many awards and accolades including an NPR Best Book of 2016, Booklist Best Book of 2016, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2016, and so many more. Were you surprised by the response to this book especially since you were tackling such brave topics, particularly for the YA genre? What has been your favorite accolade so far?

YA has an extensive legacy of tackling amazing and brave topics, so I am both thrilled and honoured to see Exit join those ranks. If I may be indulgent, I was most pleased by Exit’s nomination to the Ontario White Pine list, which is a reading award program in Ontario high schools. I get to meet so many amazing students, many of them from places mentioned in the book itself, and that’s incredible.

You have shared that in your book, you imagined a world where a girl is believed and supported; a world where adults do their jobs and children are gracious; a world where a bear of a girl can heal, and then save herself. And it’s the most unbelievable thing you had ever done, even as a writer of fantasy. Why did you decide to tell your story in this way?

When I was at university for my MSc, I went to a conference and at the end of two days of people talking about bombings and logistics and mass excavations, a woman from the London Metropolitan Police Forensic Science Laboratory got up to talk to us about digital evidence collection. She was describing transmitting a fingerprint via a cell phone, and said the words “like on CSI”. There was general sighs and groans in the audience, and then she straightened and said “No, it’s a good example. Those shows tell us what we’re capable of. Where we should be trying to go.”

I was used to thinking like that about Star Trek, but it had never occurred to me that CSI might be similar. It’s an approach I tried to take when I was still studying forensics myself: this is how it should be, and that’s the approach I wanted to take with Exit.

This is how it should be.

In the author’s note, you encourage teens to find a champion in their life, as Hermione has found Polly. Who was a champion to you, in your life, and how do you think having that impacted you?

I am lucky enough to have two: Colleen, who I met in high school thanks to the seating arrangement and a pair lightsaber pens, and Emma, who I met in 2008 thanks to livejournal, Avatar: the Last Airbender, and the Naboo Handmaidens.

 Since you typically write fantasy, has writing this book given you encouragement to write more YA contemporary?

I write YA all the time. The great thing about YA is that you can write almost anything, and as long as it’s about a teenager, you’re set. So I’ve done contemporary fantasy, fairy-tale re-imaginings, sci-fi, and epic fantasy, as well as several combinations thereof. I don’t know if I’ll go back to YA contemporary, but I never say never in publishing.

Can you tell us a little about That Inevitable Victorian Thing that you have coming out in October and what else you are working on?

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a YA near-future sci-fi. It’s a stubbornly utopi-ish vision of an alternate universe where the sun never set on the British Empire, and where a princess in disguise, a lumberjack with money problems, and a reluctant debutante are about to step onto the world stage.

I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

Sundays With Writers: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Sundays With Writers

Is there anything more satisfying than a good thriller? I know many of you are thinking about the stack of books you plan to take on your Spring Break vacations and thrillers are usually one of those genres that make for the perfect beach read. Today’s author, Sarah Pinborough, might be a new one on your radar, but she actually has twenty published books out already. Today I’m interviewing her about her latest book, Behind Her Eyes, which I am sure is going to be one of the biggest buzz books this year. It’s the one that you finish and just have to talk to someone about it.

If you need someone to talk it through, I’m over here!

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her Eyes is a fun and highly imaginative psychological thriller. Her marketing team started the hashtag #wtfthatending that you can tweet when you finish. As a seasoned thriller reader, I thought I had it solved and then I didn’t… And then I REALLY didn’t.

It’s impossible to talk about this book without a big reveal so let’s focus on the generic plot points and say that this is a love triangle between a gorgeous wife, her dashing husband, and the slightly frumpy secretary. When the wife decides to pursue a secretive friendship with her husband’s secretary, a game of cat and mouse begins.

Here’s the thing, the reader will never guess the cat or the mouse and I told my husband, bewildered, that I was almost finished with the novel and still clueless where it is going. And then…well, #wtfthatending.

Based on the reviews of my favorite follows on GoodReads, you’ll love it or you’ll hate it. I sat in the middle for a bit, not sure what to think about it. I will say, in the end, I appreciate that this wasn’t the same old, same old, BUT a reader must set aside a bit of reality for this genre-bender.

I included Behind Her Eyes in this month’s must-reads list and couldn’t wait to share this interview with you today after that wild ride of the book.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Sarah today!

Sarah Pinborough

Let’s go there without going there! The hashtag that was created for your book promotion is #wtfthatending. As someone who generally can see twists a mile away, I will say that I may have, indeed, said this aloud when I finished those last few pages. Did it worry you at all that your readers would be diving into your book with an expectation for a wild twist at the end?

Yes! I love the hashtag but it did worry me that it might be setting me up to fail. But it did create a massive buzz for the book and it seems that the vast majority of people are still blinded by the ending. So, I can live with that!

Behind Her Eyes is a bit of a genre-bender, isn’t it? In a past interview I read, you answered this a bit by saying, “I’ve created my own genre of female-centric thrillers, which is writing books where you can’t say what they’re about or you’ll give it away,” Do you think saying this book is in the genre of psychological thriller is misleading for a reader? If you are a bookseller, what section of your store would you put this book in?

I would definitely call it a psychological thriller. It hits all the beats of that genre and plays out like one. Even the ‘other’ elements that are included play by the rules of a thriller – there are clues all the way through the book so it doesn’t cheat the reader. It shouldn’t anyway. To anyone who says that it was impossible to guess the ending, I say read the book again – there are clues throughout. I’m a great believer in not cheating the reader so I wanted to be sure that the book played out as a thriller.

This book had a very Hitchcock feel to it which I absolutely loved. What artists or writers have brought the biggest influence to your work?

I’m glad you said that, because with this book I really wanted to have the kind of characters and situation you get in a Hitchcock movie – an ‘ordinary’ person becomes drawn into a claustrophobic unsettled secretive situation involving beautiful glamorous people – but I wanted to add some of the paranoia and passion and madness of a Polanski film. In general though, I guess the people who have influenced me are writers like Daphne Du Maurier, John Connolly, Stephen King, John Wyndham and so many others. In fact, every book I enjoy influences me in some way or another.

I understand that movie talks are already in the works on this one. Can we expect to see this love triangle come to life on the big screen?

Big screen or little screen – lots of talks on going with several parties but as yet no decisions made. But we shall see;-)

This is my first book that I have read of yours, but you are the author of 20 novels! I know many readers are just being introduced to your work, like me, so I’d love to hear what book of yours we should read next, especially if we enjoyed this one?

If you liked this one, then I’d say the one to read next is 13 Minutes which is a YA thriller (but as twisty as any adult one and does contain a lot of adult themes) about a 16 year old girl who’s pulled out of a frozen river and when she’s revived she can’t remember the two days leading up to her ‘accident’, if it is indeed that. It’s about the dark side of teenage friendships.

Behind Her Eyes was published through HarperCollins UK and sold for six figures. As a writer, that is HUGE and such an amazing feat! Did you treat yourself to anything special after securing this advance? How has your experience with HarperCollins helped in the success of this novel?

I can’t remember if I bought anything! I’m not much of a ‘things’ person so I probably just went out for a nice dinner with friends. I’ve been very lucky but HarperCollins on had UK/Commonwealth rights and so my agent also did a very good deal for the book with Flatiron in the US (we had an 8 way auction) and we’ve also sold it to about 20 countries worldwide thus far. But all that came because of HarperCollins’ support of the book, and they’ve really gone all out with marketing and putting everything behind it. I have a great publisher. But I have to say Flatiron in the US have been equally amazing. We’re all #TeamBHE;-)

stephen-king

STEPHEN KING (!!!) tweeted about your book and said it was, “What Brits call a thumping good read.” What a surreal moment for you as a writer. What was it like to see someone so prolific speak so highly of your work?

This is going to sound so cocky, but this is the second time he’s talked about one of my books. He recommended The Death House in the New York Times a couple of years ago which was amazing. I actually cried.He then sent a blurb through for the paperback cover. So yes, it was of course brilliant when he tweeted about Behind Her Eyes and it definitely had an effect on sales. He’s one of my heroes – I think for anyone of my generation, he’s our superstar.  I grew up reading and loving all his books so it was such a touchstone moment to have him read one of mine. To have him read a second was just amazing.

I understand you are already working on your next thriller. Can you give us a little of the scoop on what you have in store for us next?

It’s another twisty thriller with female central characters and again it’s hard to talk about. It’s a straight thriller this time though – no weird elements – and I guess on some levels it’s about abusive relationships, but I can’t really say more without giving the central twist away. It’s called Cross Her Heart and should be out in the UK in May of next year.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Sundays With Writers: This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Sundays With Writers

photo credit: grant beachy photo

It’s such an honor to share an interview with Laurie Frankel today and hear more about her incredible novel, This is How it Always Is. I have heard so much buzz about this book that I couldn’t wait to share it with you today so you could read it too. If I was going to select a solid book club choice that would get everyone talking, this would be top on my list this year.

In light of all that is happening in this world, it is an eye-opening novel about parenting a child who struggles with gender identity and how one fictional family navigates the world to help their child live in a place of compassion, joy, and acceptance. Perhaps, we see this more as a news headline issue, a debate about bathrooms, or an issue for others.

This book gives the reader the chance to slip into a family’s life that mirrors your own and see what it would be like if that was your son or daughter.

It gives you the chance to read from a different perspective. Perhaps, it changes a viewpoint!

This Is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This fictional story is about a little boy named Claude who knows that, more than anything, he wants to grow up to be a girl.

Lucky for Claude, he has two parents who deeply desire for him to be happy and it is with his happiness in mind that they work together to help Claude be who he is. When they feel Claude’s happiness is at stake, they decide to move to a town who will be more open to who he is and Claude becomes Poppy.

Their new friends and neighbors do not know about Claude and it is a secret that they keep to protect her. The question becomes, what happens when people find out and what’s next for Poppy?

Frankel shares that she is the mother of a little boy who is now a girl, but reassures readers this is not their story, but a fictional story to discuss more of a broader social issue that roads are not always clearly defined for each child when it comes to gender.

Let’s chat with Laurie this morning over that mug of coffee !

Laurie Frankel

Parenting is hard and I often reflect on how I wish I would have handled tough situations with our kids in better ways. Rosie & Penn, the parents in this beautiful story, seem to offer all the right types of love and support for their child as he struggles with gender identity. Since your child faced similar issues, were these responses how you also reacted or was this more of a reflection on how you wished you could have responded in those moments?

Ha! What a good question. It’s true that made up parents are often more patient than actual ones, but then it’s also true that made up kids are often better behaved. In fact, the struggles the parents and the children face in This Is How It Always Is are themselves mostly made up, never mind their reactions. We’ve been very lucky in that my child’s transition hasn’t necessitated much struggle or strife — for her, for her family and friends, at school, or in her community — so the challenges both the kids and the parents face and respond to in the book are all made up.

Poppy’s parents begin to explore other areas in the world to find places that can accept Poppy for who she is from Seattle to Thailand. I know your family resides in Seattle, but how did you make the discovery that Thailand was so open and welcoming in this way?

There are in fact a lot of cultures — including Native cultures in the United States — that embrace and celebrate a third gender or a non-binary concept of gender. Thailand is one of many. I originally thought the characters might drive cross country rather than going halfway around the world, but in addition to its openness to its transgender citizens, Thailand is also Buddhist, and because (as you note in the next question) I wanted to talk about gender as something other than black and white, the Buddhist notion of the Middle Way became paramount.

Your exploration of gender identity is an unusual one because you are really showcasing that gender identity does not need to be a black or white issue. For example, not every child needs to make life-altering decisions, like involving medical or surgical intervention, right away. What message do you hope your readers will walk away with from this family’s fictional journey?

For me, the message is in the title: this is how it always is. Most kids aren’t transgender, but most kids are gender nonconforming — sometimes, in some ways — and all kids are sometimes nonconforming and sometimes don’t fit in and sometimes face challenges. And all parents want to love and help their kids, and no parents always know the best way to go about doing so. We make the best decisions we can and amend as necessary. This is how it always is — and not any more so or any scarier for transgender kids and their families than for any others.

I do also believe that the more and more quickly we stop thinking about gender — and most things — as either-or, black-or-white, the better the world becomes for all of us.

Poppy did not disclose her gender to her closest friends and her family chose to keep this a secret and live her life as a girl. Do you think keeping this secret is wrong?

Nope, I don’t think it’s wrong. I think it’s hard. Transgender kids and their families face tough questions when they meet new people. Their bodies are no one else’s business, and yet their histories and identities are important and to be celebrated. For most people, those two notions aren’t in conflict. When they are, no choice is wrong, and all choices are difficult in different ways.

In this difficult political climate, how can we be true and kind advocates for transgender or gender nonconforming children and their families?

Love them. Celebrate them. Let them be who they are. Don’t rush them. Don’t judge them. Don’t assume. Make sure they know whoever they are and however they are is normal and awesome and a great way to be. And I’d expand that from gender nonconforming to nonconforming period. It might also be useful to remember that the world urgently faces many complex, critical problems at the moment, and where people go to the bathroom just isn’t one them.

 The cover of your book is beautiful. What does the orange peel on your cover symbolize?

Ooh, thank you. I love it, but I can’t take credit for it. That cover is entirely down to the geniuses at Flatiron Books. I think the orange peel makes you think about insides versus outsides, about layers, about what’s on top and what’s underneath and which is important and which can just be peeled away.

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Sundays With Writers: I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

Sundays With Writers

When I picked up I Liked My LifeI thought it would be a light escape between my heavy historical fiction picks last month. What I never expected though was how much this book would move me and make me consider my own interactions in my life. I saw so much of myself and my life reflected in these well-woven characters. Then I learned more of Abby Fabiaschi and her activism as a human rights advocate and commitment to use proceeds from her incredible book to support the causes she cares about and it became important to me to share her journey with you.

I knew Abby had so much she could teach me (and maybe you!) about writing her first book and more about her passion for human rights. In this difficult political climate, I’m so moved by stories of good people. Living our family motto this year of finding the good, I am thrilled to share more about the good that Abby is doing in the world and how we have the power to be the good too.

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Honestly, if I was going to pick a book that surprised me the most last month (check out last month’s stack of must-reads!!),  I Liked My Life would be it! The idea for this story sounded horribly depressing. A mother commits suicide and her family is left to pick up the pieces… but it is so much more than that!

Fabiaschi writes this story in a way where the mother, Maddy, is still there and able to manipulate her family members into doing what she needs them to do by speaking to them through their thought streams. From helping them find better solutions to deal with her death, to guiding friendships, and even finding her replacement. Her presence and voice is one of the alternating chapters in this novel, along with the voices of her husband and teenage daughter.

Each character reflects back on the good and the bad that has happened in their lives in real moments that mimic your own. The petty fights, the difficulty as a mom to make every day special for your family (while no one makes the effort for you), and the struggles of mother and daughter relationships. I could see so many of of my own struggles in this character, making Maddy real and relatable.

Heartbreaking at times, laugh out loud funny at others, I doubt you would pick this one up and not get something out of it. I am committed to no spoilers, but want you to know the ending is quite satisfying as a reader!

Grab your coffee and let’s learn more about Abby and her fantastic debut!

Abby Fabiaschi

Congratulations on publishing your first book! What an incredible accomplishment for you and your family. Why did you decide to leave the corporate world and pursue writing and how long was the process of getting published?

When I started writing I Liked My Life I was working 60/70 hour weeks in high tech and pounding away at my keyboard nights and weekends. At the time, I could balance my hobby, my work, and my marriage. Then I got a third and fourth job named Page and Parker, 11 months apart, and something had to give. Writing time was replaced with diapers and cuddles and ear infections.

When my kids turned three and four in what felt like one season, I resigned from the corporate scene. It was time. Most of the alpha males I worked with found it insane to ditch a lucrative post for something with a .2% success rate, but it wasn’t about getting published for me. I needed a lifestyle change, and I was fortunate: with spending changes, my husband’s career could support our family.

The book sold about two years after becoming a fulltime writer.

Her Future Coalition

Before we dive into the plot, I’d love to share about your mission to donate a portion of the proceeds to survivors of human trafficking and your volunteerism as a human rights advocate. Can you tell us more about this important cause and why this is of importance to you?

After resigning from the corporate world, my family right-sized our lifestyle to accommodate the loss of income. When we were off and running on our new salary, I realized that nothing of substance had changed. As “they” say: The most important things in life aren’t things. My husband and I agreed that if anything were to come of my writing we would donate a fifth of it systematically. Now, twenty percent of my after-tax proceeds, including foreign and film rights, are donated to charities benefiting women and children.

I’m passionate about economic solutions to severe social and cultural problems such as human trafficking, domestic abuse, and child marriage. As board chair for Her Future Coalition, I get to see the success of this approach firsthand. Fiscal independence is a powerful tool—providing training, education, and employment is an effective way to help victims remain forever free. If you’re interested in donating or learning more, visit www.herfuturecoalition.org.

In the same vein, I think you are also such a great example of someone who has found a way to prioritize charity by adjusting your lifestyle to put money towards those in need. Do you have any tips for putting money or time towards the causes we truly care about while doing the mom juggle?

I recommend adopting a cause. After reading Half the Sky, I felt a tremendous call to action to fight human trafficking. There were practically trumpets playing in the background as I started researching the different ways to get involved.

When you find an organization that supports your passion, think of how your skill set and connections can be leveraged to their benefit. If you offer up what you’re already proficient at, it’s easier to efficiently add value.

From a donation perspective, there’s a tradition I love: every year for holidays and birthdays give your children a check to donate to the charity of their choice. This turns giving time into family time, and plants the seed of altruism.

I understand it was your own experience with death, at the age of 15, which gave you the idea to explore the mourning process through this coming-of-age story. Do you then see yourself in both Eve, from your teenage years, and in her mother, Maddy, now as an adult? Has it been therapeutic to reflect on this?

I Liked My Life was written as a way to unburden my loss onto unsuspecting characters, so yes, therapeutic is the right word.

The first draft was completed when I was twenty-four. I had no children; I’d been married all of five months at its inception. I wrote from three intertwining perspectives—mother, daughter, and father—but given the extent of my life experience, only the daughter’s section was relatable.

Years after that first draft, my father died of a heart attack at fifty-three. When I revisited the manuscript, I was a mother two times over who’d grieved as an adult, side by side my husband of eight years. It was then that the mother and father’s section came to life.

Age, gender roles, personality types, financial obligations, these all change the way tragedy is digested.  I Liked My Life isn’t about mourning generally, it’s about the reality that we must grieve around others who are also grieving, and the loss can at times feel competitive.

You write about marriage in such a relatable way. Those silly petty fights and frustrations make for a real and true portrait of marriage. Do you think illustrating this helped shape Brady’s story more and his own emotional hurdles of forgiving himself?

I’m now thirteen years into my marriage and I see the layers of it with more clarity. There’s the daily grind—the back and forth where I know I’m loved but sometimes don’t feel appreciated. There’s tests—darker times where I question if I’m understood at all. And there’s nuggets—moments where the value of my role in the family is revealed and validated.

The more interesting thing to realize is that the same ebb and flow holds true for my husband. I don’t think either of us fully fathoms what the other accomplishes and carries in a day, and I no longer think we have to in order to be happy.

In I Liked My Life Brady arrives at this same conclusion in stages. Each revelation is accompanied by a different emotion: anger, guilt, sadness, and, ultimately, acceptance.

Why was it important to have Maddy’s voice be such a big part of your story and how much fun was it, as the writer, to have her manipulating plot points in the book?

With Maddy, I looked to put words to the connection I still feel with loved ones I’ve lost after their physical time with me is over. As I wrote, at times I felt the people I miss so much cheering me on, so the joy in creating Maddy’s voice was personally meaningful to me.

As a reader, I found myself walking away with a heightened sense of consciousness about my interactions with my loved ones and how important they are, even when you sometimes feel unnoticed as a mom. What feelings do you hope your readers come away with from reading this story?

I’ve been in book clubs for over a decade and have learned that a reader’s takeaway is unique to their experience, past and present. For me, I take comfort in the knowledge that if you can rise above the fog and haze of grief, there are slivers of beauty in life’s most agonizing moments. The challenge is that anything gleaned is at the expense of your loss—and it will never be worth it—so you have to accept the injustice of that.

Did you or do you have anything special planned in celebration of your first book being out on bookshelves? Will you be taking some time off or are you on to the next book?

I have more of a what’s next? personality. Right now I am all in on promoting I LIKED MY LIFE. I worked hard to get this opportunity and I want to do everything I can to help get it in the hands of readers.

My second novel, tentatively titled WHATEVER HAPPENED TO LUCY BISCARO?, should be out with St. Martin’s Press in the winter of 2018. It explores the polarizing hold that memories can have on us, and how every decision we make is layered with our past experiences.

I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Sundays With Writers: Mischling by Affinity Konar

Sunday, February 5th, 2017

sundays-with-writers-1

It is such an incredible honor to share an interview with Affinity Konar, the gifted and talented author of, Mischling.” I doubt that you could read her haunting book and not be completely moved, both by the story of these incredible children and the poetic words that Konar writes in this finely crafted novel. I could not wait to reach out to her and share more about her own story behind the story on the site.

It is a book that I can’t stop thinking about and the story of Mengle and his experiments, truly, shook me to my very core.

Don’t worry, if you haven’t gotten to this one yet, there are no spoilers in this interview. I would love for you to learn more about this and Affinity’s own journey to Poland to connect with her Jewish heritage and think this interview offers so many important lessons, especially so shortly after Holocaust Remembrance Day.

 

Mischling by Affinity Konar

As you know, I have read so many books about the Holocaust over the years, but I never feel like I am informed enough about the horrors and struggles that were faced during this time in history. Once again, I find myself oblivious to those who suffered as Konar unfolds the story of twins, Sasha & Pearl, who became a part of the experimental population of twins that were known as Mengle’s Zoo, based in Auschwitz.

Many begged and falsely claimed that their children were twins to be part of Mengle’s Zoo because they believed they had been saved from certain death. Unfortunately, these children were far from safe and became a part of tests to separate the twins from one another, both physically and psychologically. Konar explores this through these sisters, told from alternating perspectives, as they are brutally experimented upon.

How something so horrible could be written so beautifully is a true tribute to Konar’s writing.  Her writing style reminded me a lot of Eowyn Ivey’s writing in her beautiful book, The Snow Child, an almost magical quality even to the harshest of moments. It’s impossible to read Konar’s words and not feel deeply moved and surprised by her well-crafted language.  Beautifully told and based upon the stories of real victims of these crimes, Konar’s debut is strong and promising!

Please grab your coffee and settle in for more about Affinity’s story!

Affinity Konar

Your book is absolutely incredible, heartbreaking, and important. I have read many books on the Holocaust, but I have never read these stories told with the storybook or fable-like quality when writing about these unspeakable horrors. Why did you choose this approach to your prose?

I’ve always loved Jewish legends and fables, stories that approach transformation, hardship, and dignity, often with a lilt of humor and a sense of the unknowable. I hoped that the book might carry an echo of that texture, that it could inform the voices of girls with these transformative perspectives, and carry them through a world of unimaginable pain and loss. Auschwitz-Birkenau was anti-meaning–I wanted the girls to defiantly find their own world of symbols and objects and living things within it, to cling to any meaning they could create for themselves while in the midst of such dehumanization.

When Stasha sees violence and reconfigures it into something pretty, she does so not in the interest of merely finding prettiness, but to self-protect. It’s a child’s rebellion, a reaction to a life lived in constant peril. I didn’t want to claim that life is beautiful even in the face of suffering, but to explore how trauma might compel one to dwell on what may remain beautiful, in order to endure. I thought that by enlarging the private worlds of the girls, the horror of what they were escaping might be underlined. I often thought of the approach as masking and unmasking. The mask might be fanciful, but the need for it indicts the terror it conceals.

Josef Mengele

How did you run across the story of Mengele’s “Zoo,” and which real-life accounts influenced your body of work the most?

I grew up reading a lot of Shoah literature, particularly Primo Levi. And I remember reading Paul Celan for the first time as a teenager and feeling utterly changed. So this history and literature was always a presence in my life, especially since my family had been among so few who escaped Poland before the war. But everything culminated when I was sixteen and dropped out of school for a period of time. At the encouragement of my education-obsessed parents, I undertook a kind of autodidactic study and that’s when I found Children of the Flames by Lucette Lagnado, which chronicles the experiences of the twins of Auschwitz. Through that unforgettable book, I found so many others.

For a long time, I focused on Jewish prisoners with medical expertise who were forced to answer to Mengele, like Dr. Gisella Perl and Sara Nomberg-Przytyk. I read a great deal about Jewish resistance within the camps, and the operations of the underground. I became interested in the role of music within Auschwitz, and read Playing for Time, by Fania Fenelon, who was a member of the orchestra.

Twins

(Eva & Miriam)

And later, I’d find the story of Eva Mozes Kor, who survived Mengele along with her sister, Miriam Mozes Zeiger.

The Diary of Anne Frank was, of course, never far from my thoughts. I studied many books about Mengele and chose to include very little of them in the end. And I was constantly returning to Levi.

Why did you chose the word, “Mischling,” as the title for your book?

It was always tied to the story in my head, as it held a lot of dualities that felt important to the novel. When I first heard it, as a very young person, I was drawn to its lilting, diminutive quality, and then I found its meaning and shuddered, because it’s a term the Nazis used to classify Jews of mixed heritage. If you were mischling, you were afforded certain privileges that assisted survival, but of course, being privileged in the midst of such torment is not without its own psychological burdens. Stasha pummels the word throughout; she uses it to disguise herself, and fantasizes about thwarting Mengele beneath its cover. I hoped to anchor the book with the gravity of this term.

I am sure it would have been easier to have kept the focus your story on Mengele, but you choose to keep the focus on the children instead. Why was it important to tell your story this way?

One of the greatest challenges of the book was measuring how much of a role to give Mengele within the story. I didn’t want to brush past the man and his crimes, but I also feared rendering him in a way that might risk humanizing him. I fell short in trying to comprehend Mengele’s brutality, which was so elaborate and calculated and monstrous that the accounts of it read with a certain surreality that is very dangerous to handle on the page. I worried about lending him a glimmer of charisma, and yet, I couldn’t avoid the fact that Mengele was known to be charming and handsome; he courted the children with attention and candy and gave them rides on his shoulders. This treatment of the children that preceded his vicious experiments–the sickness of it is unspeakable.

After so much time trying to understand something so bottomless, I limited his role severely. I occasionally wondered if I lacked ambition or wisdom for not exploring him more, but ultimately, I couldn’t let him be more than shadow. I wanted the strength of the twins to overwhelm Mengele, to diminish and lessen his presence. Their innocence and love and longing for survival were far more worthy of articulation. He was not to have a voice.

Stasha and Pearl, as twins, have similar but very different voices. What was the writing process like writing these two voices? Did you write these chapters in the order we are reading them or in sections? Did you find one twin’s voice easier to write than the other?

I always envisioned the book as a conversation between a pair of twins, but Pearl’s was the real challenge for me, and I nearly abandoned it after the first half, because I was so daunted by the responsibility of rendering a narrator who bore witness in a very reliable, calculated fashion. That’s unbelievable to me now, because the book would be nothing without her, but it was a real temptation for a bit, and it took me some time to find my footing within her perspective. Stasha’s voice was far easier for me, as it’s pure emotion and image. She’s longing and lament and intensity. That was incredibly satisfying to write, particularly after spending so much time within the research.

The chapters were written very much out of order, partly because I spent many years not knowing what the book needed to be, and partly because of my terribly disorganized nature. I wanted the voices to be similar, but to also bounce off each other in contrast. So I’d spend months writing in one voice, and then return to the other, hoping to make them meet. Properly setting up the links between Stasha and Pearl was one of the biggest technical challenges for me, and it took a great deal of traveling between chapters to smooth the transitions between them.

As a reader, it was often difficult to read of the tortures that were inflicted upon these children. How hard was it to immerse yourself in this work and what scene did you find the most difficult to write?

I understand how hard it must be to read, and at the same time, I feel that it can never be hard enough. I only felt the enormity of the immersion after it abated somewhat, and I have to say that I gained immense respect for individuals who investigate crimes against children, genocide, and trauma, because the repeated exposure does appear to change a person. It can hollow you out, or heighten your sensitivities. It can make the prospect of a normal conversation feel impossible. I found myself addressing this grief by reading poets like Paul Celan or Dan Pagis or Edmund Jabez, looking at the paintings of Charlotte Saloman, finding accounts of Jewish resistance, or listening to Yiddish songs from the ghettos and camps. And I tried to be aware of the extreme distance of my pain, of how I was constantly measuring my own sensitivity against horrors I haven’t experienced. I didn’t want to write with a sort of performative empathy, in which sinking yourself into someone else’s torment is the ultimate goal. I simply wanted to write two girls whose love for each other could be touched by horror, but not broken by it.

So many scenes were hard to undertake. The very beginning, where they are parted from their mother and grandfather, under the illusion that Mengele will care for them–even now, I have trouble reading that. The description of the children in the laboratory. The details of Pearl’s imprisonment. And the chapter where Stasha is given an injection by Mengele, and she reconfigures this assault in her mind, to provide herself with an illusion of control–I edited that repeatedly, because it was hard to calibrate what I could personally handle against what needed to happen.

I understand that you recently visited Poland to reconnect with your own Jewish heritage. What did you discover, about yourself,  through these travels?

 

I never imagined I’d go to Poland. I’ve dealt with agoraphobia for many years, often leaving my apartment only for work. So for one of my first real ventures outside of my routine to be in Poland, and then, in Auschwitz-Birkenau–it was a shock to me, and the experience of visiting the camp exposed me to my limitations as both a writer and a person. There was no sense of tidy confrontation and resolution–things opened for me instead, and felt more endless. I felt very small, partly because of overwhelming nature of the experience, and partly because I was with my parents. My father is a well-traveled man, but he’d always avoided Poland. To be there with him, and my mother, who I couldn’t possibly comfort–I’d thought myself emotionally prepared, but I wasn’t. From an early age, I’ve had an irrational fear of separation from my parents, brother, and sister. So to be on grounds where innumerable severances had taken place–it was very fearful, and I felt a bit disassociated from myself while walking through the camp. The very fact that my mind would need to impose this distance on a simple visit, when my life was entirely unthreatened, was illuminating and humbling and it made me question myself a lot. I’d just written a book that claimed that beauty is a reason to live, a form of revenge against the Nazis, a way towards meaning. I still believe this, but when I left Auschwitz, I felt that beauty in its highest form must surely a disruption of cruelty. I’d edged towards that notion before, but I knew then, that I could never go back to thinking of beauty in any other way.

If we are interested in reading more about the real-life heroes that inspired your story, what books or documentaries should we check out?

All of Primo Levi’s books were heavy influences early on, but especially The Truce and  The Periodic Table. Children of the Flames by Lucette Lagnado was a vital introduction for me.  I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz by Dr. Gisella Perl, a harrowing account that partially informed the character of Dr. Miri. Auschwitz: True Tales of a Grotesque Land by Sara Nomberg-Przytyk, which I discovered late and can’t recommend enough for its unexpected tone and vibrancy.

Eva Mozes Kor’s work is indispensable. She and her twin sister, Miriam Mozes Zeiger, survived Mengele’s experiments at Auschwitz. They founded CANDLES, and a museum in Indiana dedicated to preserving the history of the twins. She has a searing book, Echoes from Auschwitz: Dr. Mengele’s Twins:  The Story of Eva and Miriam Mozes, and a documentary “Forgiving Mengele”.

Mischling by Affinity Konar

I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Sundays With Writers: Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

Sundays With Writers

I am so excited to be sharing my first interview for 2017 with such an incredible and talented author. Miss Jane ended up making my top ten list, for my 2016 reading, right at the very tail end of the year. I just knew that it would be such a treat to share an interview with the author, Brad Watson,  in our series. The sincerity and assuredness in his writing give the reader the feeling of reading a timeless classic and I appreciate Brad’s vulnerability in sharing the challenges of writing this book.

I am always astounded and thankful that even when a work is so incredibly challenging that it takes over a decade to write, he kept at it because they know this story must be told.

As a reader, it makes me appreciate a book so much more.

I had been dying to talk about this book with someone so I had the MomAdvice Book Club read it and then I read it with my local book club too. It’s one of those kinds of books that you want to research more when you finish. In fact, I’d love to chat with you in the comments when you finish it too!

Miss Jane by Brad Watson

If I was going to pick a book that surprised me the most, it would be, Miss JaneWatson pens the story of his great-aunt, Miss Jane, and her struggles with a genital birth defect that alters Jane’s life path greatly. Set in the early twentieth century in rural Mississippi, Jane knows that she is not like other girls. Her struggles with this defect every moment of her day are told in ways that often feel unfathomable.

Her kind doctor takes her under his wing and has honest discussions with her about limitations and continuing research to try to help her. He becomes her confidant in a time of true loneliness. As she ages, she knows that her biggest hurdle will be having her own love story and Watson writes poetically of Jane’s love for a boy. Yet, in a time when a woman’s most useful task is to bear children, Jane knows that her love story must be a different one and she bravely accepts what this path looks like.

Her kind doctor takes her under his wing and has honest discussions with her about limitations and continuing research to try to help her. He becomes her confidant in a time of true loneliness. As she ages, she knows that her biggest hurdle will be having her own love story and Watson writes poetically of Jane’s love for a boy. Yet, in a time when a woman’s most useful task is to bear children, Jane knows that her love story must be a different one and she bravely accepts what this path looks like.

The peacock design on this cover is beautifully woven into this story and brings together all the beauty in this gorgeous book. It reads like a well-versed literary classic. I doubt you won’t fall in love with Miss Jane too.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with the wildly talented, Brad Watson!

Brad-Watson

First of all, your book is absolutely beautiful from start to finish and one of my very favorite reads in 2016. I am so incredibly honored to share your story with our readers.

I understand that the story for Miss Jane was based upon your great-aunt, but you had very little information to go on to carve out her story. Did you find not having a lot of information created more freedom as a writer or did you find it more challenging that so much needed to be imagined for her life?

Thank you, Amy. I didn’t have much to go on, it turns out. My great aunt died in 1975, long before I decided to write a story inspired by hers – then I found out her story was mostly unknown. Most who’d really known her were gone, and those remaining hadn’t know her that well. My mother remembered generalities about her condition, but no one knew what it was, specifically. There were no surviving medical records or nursing home records. And the more I looked into probable conditions, the more of them didn’t make sense. It took me several years to settle on a plausible condition, and only then could I really make any progress on the novel. I couldn’t imagine her life, daily or long-term, without deciding on the condition that would have so defined her – initially, and after she decided how she was going to live with it.

After much research, you concluded that the diagnosis that would have fit best for Miss Jane would have been persistent cloaca. As readers, we get to experience the smallest fraction of her continued pain, discomfort, and difficulties that she would have struggled with. Did you also imagine these experiences or did you read about other people’s experiences, with this disorder during this time?

Whether my lack of talent at research or a real lack of information out there, I simply could not find accounts of people with that condition, living in that time. I read whatever I could find, but there wasn’t much literature about it because of the condition’s relative rarity. And perhaps there was too much shame. And perhaps a lot of babies died soon after birth. But I found nothing about it in Hugh Young’s seminal book on urogenital disorders, published around the time my character would have been a teenager.

Nature plays such a large role in Miss Jane understanding her own body and sexuality. From the stinkhorn, to how the animals mate on the farm, and even to the beautiful peacock that graces the cover of the book, these moments help bring understanding for Miss Jane. Why did you want to use nature to help guide her toward a better understanding of herself and how did you build this element of discovery for her? Was it through your own observations as a child or was it witnessing things later when visiting the land she grew up on that shaped this important element?

Visiting the land where she (and my mother, in the next generation) grew up was part of it. Being a loner child who loved roaming the woods was part of it. But necessity finally drove me to take her in that direction, finally. What is this girl, isolated physically and socially by her secret condition, to do with herself when she’s not working, doing chores for her mother? She tried school and couldn’t do that. So she took walks, and in the woods she found a world that was accepting, the natural world, because the natural world is a place where some of the strangest, oddest things are no more unnatural than anything else. A stinkhorn mushroom belongs in the forest as much as does a wildflower. A possum is as much as a deer or bobcat or bird or a bat or a toad. Nothing is alienated or reviled or ostracized in the forest. The possum is not ugly in the forest. In the woods, Jane is just another variation on the innumerable creations in the world.

Each of your characters are so beautifully developed that I found myself attached to each one. I know Miss Jane must hold the sweetest spot in your story, but who happened to be your other favorites to write? Were any of these special characters based on real people in your family?

Dr. Thompson, of course, was a favorite; in fact, at one point I worried he was going to take over the story, which forced me to find ways to allow Jane and the other characters to become more interesting than they were at the moment. He rose the bar. But then I began to find the deeper, more complex and interesting parts of Mrs. Chisolm, Mr. Chisolm, and Jane, herself. But he was the first one who really opened the door to the novel’s narrative voice.

For those that don’t know, you really poured your heart and soul into this book for over a decade. What do you think you have gained the most from the process of writing this particular book and how did you power through this difficult moments of creation when it ended up taking longer than you thought it did?

It was the hardest story and character to get a grip on I’ve faced so far. For a long time I really worried I would not be able to write it. But I’m pretty stubborn, and also whenever I would try to work on something else, Jane stayed lodged in the back of my mind, providing interference. It was finally something I had to finish, one way or another, in order to move on. It took too long, really. And I really emptied the well. There was nothing left in me when I finally turned Miss Jane in for good. I’m embarrassed I had such a hard time writing what turns out to be a pretty simple story. But it was not only understanding someone so foreign to me, personally, but also figuring out how to tell such a person’s story. I’d read very little fiction about characters so alienated from society, from other human beings, in a way that could not really be overcome, that must be instead accepted and bent to that person’s advantage in whatever small ways possible. It was very much a line-by-line, word-by-word effort. And in the end I had more drafts, trying to get it just right, than I’d ever put down on anything, short story or novel. Once I knew what the story should sound like, feel like, what its limitations were and where it could go that other stories might not, it was a backing up and very careful proceeding once again into the whole of it, language, people, world around them and in them. Some novels need as much care and attention as a short story or a poem. This seemed to be one of them.

In a time where women find value and worth from having children and marriage, Jane has to find her value in other ways. Do you think your aunt would have been proud of the way you told her story? What is the message you would love your readers to take away from sharing this story?

I never met my great aunt. I saw her once, when I was very young, and thereby caught the first inkling of her mystery. From what my mother and a cousin or two told me, I gathered that she was strong, private, and kept herself in good spirits, at least in public or among others. She kept her condition a secret, and people didn’t talk about it. I don’t think she would have wanted this book out while she was alive. I felt good about it because I was writing a story about someone with a very strong character, resilience, determination to live a life as full and as dignified – as as free – as was humanly possible for her. I was writing out of admiration – and, later, wonder.

miss-jane

You can connect with Brad Watson on his website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Pin It

Sundays With Writers: The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

sundays-with-writers-1

I am always looking for special books that I think anyone could love and appreciate. One-in-a-Million Boy offers that perfect blending of sweet and sassy that I think any reader could appreciate. I am so excited to share an interview today with Monica Wood to understand some of the inspiration she had for this story! Best of all, it’s on sale today for $2.99 so hurry up and snag it at this price for a great summer reading escape!  The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

In, The One-in-a-Million Boy, Ona is 104 and develops a fast friendship with a Scout who is obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records. He believes Ona has a chance of winning, thanks to her age. Unfortunately, the boy tragically dies and his father is left to fulfill his son’s duties. Quinn has never been much of a father though, but it is through Ona that he discovers just how special his boy is.

The book flashes back to the special conversations the boy had with Ona around her kitchen table, is laced with true Guinness Book of World record holders, and a road trip adventure that brings the boy’s parents closer to Ona as she tries to seal the deal on her very own world record. This story is touching, heartfelt, and beautifully told.

I included this in our Must-Reads last month!

Now settle in with a cup of coffee for a chat with Monica Wood today to learn more about this sweet story!

Monica Wood

You have such a diverse body of work! You recently wrote a very successful memoir (When We Were the Kennedys) and I also understand you have written your first play which had an incredibly successful run. The One-in-a-Million Boy is equally incredible and such a beautiful read. What type of writing has brought you the most pleasure and which type of writing has been the most challenging for you?

What a lovely question! Playwriting turned out to be the easiest, at least for that first play. For one thing, I had only one tool: dialogue, which I love to write. Any time I’m writing dialogue I’m happy. Novels are by far the hardest. They are so big; you can’t hold the whole thing in your head at once; you can lay the pages out on the floor and look at them the way you can with a short story; and it takes so, so, so, so, SO long to figure out what the story is, who the characters are, and how everything fits together.

One-in-a-Million Boy

You chose to not name the little boy in this story. Is there any reason in particular you decided not to name him?

You know, some readers get really far into the book before they realize this. They page back to see if they missed it. I named him several times in the writing of the book but nothing felt right. In the end, I realized that I couldn’t name him because to name him would be to make him too moral, to corporeal, too much tethered to the earth. He is more of a presence, a spirit in the book. Hence, no name.

You bring such beauty and humor to the story of Ona and just the right voice for a woman of 104 years of age. Did you shape her character from anyone in your own life? What was your favorite scene to craft for this feisty woman?

My favorite scenes are between Ona and the boy, I think. They were both delightful company for me in the many years it took to complete the story. I had a very dear friend whom I did not meet until she was 87. She died at 98, still in possession of a valid driver’s license, and I count her as one of the loveliest friends ever. I miss her still.

The boy says, “I have deficiencies,” to explain some of his obsessions like the Guinness Book of World Records. It reminded me a little of Be Frank With Me, as the writer in that story also refers to these behaviors, but doesn’t actually label her character. As a reader, I am assuming the boy has Asperger’s. Why did you not want to label him in your story?

Mostly because I don’t know that he has Asperger’s or any other syndrome except his own quirky little personality. I was somewhat like this child in my own childhood: a list maker, an obsessive observer. Most writers I know were a little like that as children. I started this book in 2004, when Aspergers was not yet part of the common parlance. I’d heard of autism, I’m sure, but this was before “on the spectrum” was commonly used.

National Wildlife Refuge

source: wikipedia

 There is a pretty epic road trip in this story which brings your three characters together in some surprising ways. I love a good road trip story! What has been a favorite road trip of your own?

My husband and I drove across country and back in the 1980s. I’m a birder, so we planned our trip to hit lots of National Wildlife Refuges. Unlike national parks, refuges are almost always empty of tourists. It was wonderful to find ourselves nearly alone in so many spectacular places.

Kim Goodman- Eyeball Popper

(kim goodman- guinness record holder)

I’m curious to find out what is one of the strangest Guinness World Record that you found while researching for this project?

Oh, my. Where to begin? Those books are a testament to human goofiness and striving. I think the eyeball-popper takes the cake. Something like an inch or so. There’s a picture of her with her eyeballs literally OUT of their sockets.

If I could set a world record in anything, I’d love for it to be the record holder for most book pages read… or maybe most cups of coffee consumed over the course of a lifetime. What is one thing you wish you could set a record in?

I wouldn’t mind a record for most books sold in a single day. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Since your writing is so diverse, I am wondering what you are planning to write next?

I’m working on a new play at the moment. This one is harder because it’s not based on a previous book. So I’m back at the old “who are these people and why are they saying these things” stage of writing.

You can connect with Monica Wood on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Sundays With Writers: Rare Objects By Kathleen Tessaro

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and if you haven’t been introduced to Kathleen Tessaro before, I’d love to introduce you! Today Kathleen is joining me for Sundays With Writers to share about her new historical fiction novel, Rare Objects. If you haven’t read it yet, I think you will find it a welcome and well-researched escape into another era in time.

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro

Set in Depression-era Boston, the book follows Maeve Fanning, a first generation Irish girl, being raised by her widow mother. Maeve engages in risky behavior that lead her to a psychiatric hospital where she strikes up an unlikely friendship with an unstable woman named Diana. Diana runs in an elite crowd, thanks to her wealth, and Maeve begins changing herself to fit in. Dying her red hair to blonde, she begins a job working in a shop selling rare artifacts, being romanced by Diana’s brother, and continuing to engage in her risky behaviors.  As Diana pulls Maeve more and more into her fold, Maeve begins to realize how dangerous it all really is.

Rare Objects was a fantastic exploration of social issues that I would not have considered (like being an alcoholic during the Prohibition, for example) and the dramatic differences in social classes.

This book was included in our Must-Reads for the month of May!

Grab your coffee and join me for a glimpse into Kathleen Tessaro’s writing process and research today!

Katherine Tessaro

How did the story idea for Rare Objects come to you? Since you have written so many historical fiction novels, do the initial ideas come easy or are you constantly researching to pull out a new story?

I do a lot of research and reading to develop new story ideas as I’m not one of those writers who finds it easy to come up with new characters and plots. Often I’m not certain what I want to write about or why a subject interests me until I’m done with the first draft – which is often where I discover what the book is NOT about. Rare Objects came from a notion I had about writing a novel in an antiquities shop and how each new object would have a history, a mysterious backstory, and that would be intertwined with the stories of the people who wanted to own that object. The basic thought was that it would be a venue upon which a series of stories might be built, using recurring characters.

Maeve Fanning, your main character, lands a job in an antiques shop catering to the city’s wealthiest collectors. What types of research did you do to create these collections and artifacts that you are describing in this shop? Did you have one item, in particular, that was your favorite to write about?

I lived in London for half my life, which is full of just the sort of shops I was keen to recreate in the book. I spent many years quite broke, wandering around its narrow streets, going from one establishment to another – constantly amazed at the eclectic collections of items and the detailed stories behind each one. I also spent time in Boston and New York visiting similar shops, which is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in any city. Afterwards, I researched particular items to create the specific stock of Winshaw and Kessler. All the items in the novel are taken from real life. My favorite would have to be the ring, which I discovered on a website called the Curator’s Eye. To my knowledge it’s still available although I’ll be extremely jealous when someone does finally buy it!

First Edition Ernest Hemingway

Do you own any rare objects of your own? What is your favorite antique or collection in your own home?

I used to collect old first edition books. Among my favorites are several Henry James novels, a Wilke Collins, Nancy Mitford, Evelyn Waugh, Edith Wharton, E. F. Benson and a rather battered first edition of Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, which I bought at the local Bryn Maar Bookshop for $3.00 in 1986. There’s nothing quite like finding a diamond in the dirt.   

You tackle big social issues that I would not have thought of people struggling with, like struggles with sexuality and alcoholism during the Depression era and the Prohibition. Why did you want to explore these topics through your storytelling and did you read any personal accounts that helped you develop these plotlines for your characters?

One of the reasons I write historical fiction is because I like to look back and see how other people handled the considerable challenges of their lives and endured difficult times. In short, I want to learn from the wisdom of the past. For example, the world economy dipped into a massive recession beginning in 2008 which continues to plague us today. Many of the factors involved in that recession (the unregulated mortgage market in particular) are shockingly similar to the unregulated stock market that brought on the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression. And now we see the same fearful, isolationist stance developing politically that in the mid-1930’s developed into fascism and the rise of Nazi Germany.

The Drunkard's Progress- Prohibition

source: wikipedia

As readers face these challenges today, I want to connect the dots, show them how other generations survived and battled with the same issues. It’s important to have a historical perspective about where we are – and where we could possibly end up. Perhaps the issues of alcoholism seem modern but in fact, during the Prohibition period in America, the alcoholism level climbed dramatically especially among women who were previously forbidden from drinking in saloons and bars due to “propriety.”  The attitude towards immigrants was also similarly complex with many captains of industry – Carnegie, Ford, and Kellogg among them – openly funding eugenics research, an area in which America led the field. The idea that some people were genetically inferior was thus supported “scientifically” and greatly influenced the immigration laws of the time, severely limiting the number of Mediterranean, Eastern European, Hungarian, Serbian, Lithuanian and Jewish immigrants. The Italian ghetto of the North End that Maeve grows up in is real. Her red hair and Irish last name represent an authentic barrier in Boston, especially in a time when jobs are scarce. The stigma of her mental health issues is a shameful secret she must hide. And Diana’s confusion with her sexuality and her struggles to fit into the social role her family requires of her are echoed all around us today. None of these issues is recent or new. Life was always complex and challenging. And history teaches us the folly of considering ourselves unique at the risk of repeating the same mistakes.   

What was your biggest challenge when writing this book and what did you find came together the easiest for you?

The whole thing is challenging. I have to do many rewrites and take on board a lot of notes from my agents and editors. I’m extremely lucky to work with such talented people who are so patient and supportive.

Maeve’s mother was one of my favorite characters in the book because I so admired her sense of style even though they didn’t have any money. I also admired her bravery for finding a way to make a community for herself. Who was your favorite character to write?

I too have a fondness for Nora because, as you noted, she’s a survivor and extremely resourceful. I like people who don’t give up and don’t waste time feeling sorry for themselves. She’s taken a potentially impossible situation and created a narrative that makes sense of it and gives both her daughter and herself a workable past and future.

Maeve and Diana come from two very different social classes and form a friendship in spite of it. Do you think a friendship like this could ever work? Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this where you just couldn’t fit in?

Absolutely! I see people from different races, backgrounds, faiths and upbringings forming friendships and helping one another through difficult times on a regular basis. One might argue this is the very basis of modern day 12 Step program groups like AA, Al-Anon, and Narcotics Anonymous, as well as a legion of other self-help organizations throughout the world. In fact, many of these groups were founded in the mid-1930’s on just such principles.

Rare Objects Book Release Party

follow Kathleen on Facebook!!

As a working mother, do you have a tip for those of us that are struggling with balance between work and family?

No. I won’t pretend to have a sense of balance. I veer between one extreme and the other and, for what it’s worth, so does my husband, so I don’t think it’s a goal that women alone should be aiming for. As a matter of fact, it might be better to simply not concern ourselves with it at all. I suspect it’s one of those vague terms, like “happiness” that everyone bandies about as the Holy Grail but has little to do with reality. Can you imagine people at the turn of the century anxiously wondering if their lives were balanced? What a luxury!

We have more important things to do than take our emotional temperatures and worry about some illusory ideal state that was probably concocted by advertising executives. If anything, I want other women know that I respect their accomplishments as well as their right to get their hands dirty in life, on their own terms, without judgement or criticism from me or anyone else.  Be messy. Try. Fail. Try again. And above all, never apologize.

Editor’s Note- You bet, I highlighted that whole answer! What a great way to think about the myth of balance!

You can connect with Kathleen Tessaro on her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Pin It

Sundays With Writers: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

sundays-with-writers-1

It is rare to surprise me as a reader and it has probably only happened a handful of times over the past few years. Since I read so much, it is like I now know the lay of the land and where we are heading. When an author makes a plot twist that leaves my jaw on the ground…well, it’s a rare and amazing reader experience for me.

I Let You Go is a well-woven thriller that you will be unable to put down and when those twists come, I know you will be as blown away as I am. I am so excited to share an interview with Clare Mackintosh today. Not only is her thriller incredible, but she has a background as a detective that allows her to make more plausible crime stories with an attention to detail that few can possess without this background.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I Let You Go will be the psychological thriller you need to pull you out of a reading slump. The book opens with a mother crossing the street with her child. She let’s go for just a moment and that child is hit by a car. This hit-and-run case leaves little clues to the killer and the reader follows this grief-stricken survivor as she tries to form a new life in a new town, far from the reminders of the accident. Hold onto your hats though because nothing is as it seems and the reader is taking on plot twists that will leave you gasping.

The tired saying that, “this book is the next Gone Girl,” has been said about many thrillers since Flynn’s incredible book.

This book?

Well, I think it really is the one and once you start reading it, you will see why!

Grab your coffee and let’s chat with Clare Mackintosh about her story!

Clare Mackintosh

You worked as a police officer for 12 years and then came out with a wildly successful psychological thriller, I Let You Go, that I can’t stop talking about or recommending to all my friends. Did you always want to be a writer and how do you think your time on the force helped benefit your story?

I spent 12 years in the police and loved every minute of it, but it became increasingly hard to balance a busy career with life as a mother of three young children. I took a career break and reinvented myself as a freelance feature writer, and at the same time I wrote I Let You Go. I signed a two-book publishing deal the month before I was due back at work, so I handed in my notice and never went back. The thread that links all three types of work is storytelling: as a detective I told victim’s stories on their behalf; collected witnesses’ stories to support allegations of crime. My job was to pull together all the threads of a story and present it to a court in such a way that they could decide on a verdict. In that way it wasn’t dissimilar to the work I now present to readers.

The book opens with a mother letting go of her child’s hand on a dark street and witnessing her child being hit by a car. I understand that this plot came from a real-life incident that happened in Oxford? What was it about this story, in particular, that made it stick with you so much that you would want to fictionally explore this?

In 2000, just after I started my career in the police, there was a tragic hit and run in Oxford, England. It killed a nine year old boy and sent shockwaves through the city. I didn’t work directly on the case, but I was profoundly affected by it. I couldn’t understand how anyone could drive away from such a terrible act, and I couldn’t see how the child’s mother could ever survive such a tragedy. Many years later I lost my own son – in very different circumstances – and I began to understand the impact grief has on one’s life. The more I considered this, the more a story took shape.

Jenna’s grief is so raw that, at times, I found it difficult to read what she was going through. I was so sad to read that you also have lost a child yourself. Were you able to channel some of that into shaping Jenna’s grief and loss?

My son died when he was five weeks old. It was, and still is, the hardest thing that has ever happened to me. I found some of the scenes in I Let You Go exceptionally difficult to write, and extremely emotional. There would be times when I would be sitting at my keyboard, tears streaming down my cheeks, wanting that particular scene to be over. It was just too raw, too real. But overall I think I did find it cathartic, just as I have always found it therapeutic to blog about the way I feel.

I Let You Go at the British Book Industry Awards

follow Clare on Facebook!!

I am a very seasoned reader so it is very difficult to take me by surprise, but your plot twists absolutely floored me. I truly mean that! Did you always have these twists in mind when you started writing your story and did you try to replicate that experience in your second book for the reader or were you worried it would be too formulaic?

The twist was the first element to arrive. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, and why I wanted to do it, and I knew that if I could pull it off, it would provoke an extraordinary reaction among readers. From there it was a question of letting the story take shape around it. I actively avoided adopting a similar structure for my second book, to avoid being predictable. I See You comes out in July 2016 in the UK, and spring 2017 for US readers; it’s very dark, and very twist, but in a very different way to I Let You Go.

I understand with your background, as a police officer, that you have found a lot of errors when it comes to writing of scenes in crime fiction. Is there anyone out there that is getting it right that we should check out?

When I’m reading crime fiction and thrillers I’m always impressed when the author writes authentic police characters. For me I’m less concerned about procedure being a hundred percent accurate – it is fiction, after all – but more sensitive to the realism of a situation. Police officers calling each other ‘Detective’, for example, is something I see a lot in British crime fiction, but never happens in real life! I always find it hard to swallow when UK police brandish guns about, or keep their police cars at home, or charge people they haven’t even interviewed yet. It suggests a lack of research that takes me out of the story. Sarah Hilary’s Marnie Rome is a great authentic contemporary detective – it’s a series worth following.

chiplitfest

I read that you have started your very own literary festival! Is there anything you can’t do? What compelled you to start one?

When I left the police in 2011 I was worried I’d be bored without a department to run. I set up ChipLitFest with some like-minded local people, with the aim of creating a community project that had national reach. We’ve had some fantastic authors – Lionel Shriver, Peter James, Brian Blessed, Joanne Harris – and last year we became the first literary festival to divide its profits equally between all the authors involved in the event. I’m hugely proud of it, and honoured to remain a trustee, although the hard graft is all done by other people nowadays. It’s been interesting being on both sides of the fence. It’s made me keen to support smaller festivals, and very understanding of the budget constraints they experience. I love doing events and enjoy small audiences just as much as big ones – often more.

 I know you must get asked this a lot, but is there any possibility of a sequel with this book?

Definitely not. I’m aware that some people feel the ending is ambiguous, and it’s impossible to discuss here without spoilers, but I’m always happy to talk about it at book groups or via private messages. Suffice to say, the story – as far as we’re concerned – has been told, and I have no plans to return to these characters.

I Let You Go translated in many languages

I Let You Go translated into many languages!

 Even after you have sold your books, I understand that you spend a lot of time rewriting them. Why do you think these rewrites are so important to the success of a novel?

The first draft of I Let You Go took about nine months, then I spent the same time again editing it before I found a publisher, and another year doing more rewrites with the help of my editor. It was a long process! I wrote eight drafts in total, and each one made the book stronger. They brought out nuances, made characters more three-dimensional, and tightened the twists. Every draft was necessary, but that didn’t stop it being a fairly painful process at the time!

I-See-You

preorder I See You

 I understand you took an entirely different writing process with your second book and are using visuals of your characters to help craft your story and their backstories. Did you find writing the second book to be easier than the first or do you feel a lot of pressure after all of the accolades with your first book?

With I Let You Go there was absolutely no pressure. My deal had been relatively small, which meant I didn’t feel the weight of expectation from my publishers, and there was no pre-publication hype from the UK media. The book’s success crept up gradually; there was an online buzz first of all, on Twitter and Facebook, and it just got bigger and bigger. With my next book (I See You) I felt under enormous pressure to deliver something just as good, and it was hard not to let that get to me. In the end I just focused on simply writing the best book I possibly could; I couldn’t do any more than that. As for the approach, I’m still learning what works best for me. It’s been different each time, and I fully anticipate it being different for book three, too!

You can connect with Clare Mackintosh on her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

Pin It

Sundays With Writers: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

Girls on Fire has been on my radar for months and I put a hold on it at our library months in advance to be first in line for it. Yup, I’m one of those people.  I am such a big fan of the dark and gritty thriller genre and this one delivered quite the punch for a great summer escape. Longtime readers know that I don’t shy away from racy books and today’s book is a bit darker and racier than my usual selections, but I really enjoyed this exploration of a twisted friendship set in an era that I remember rather fondly…the ’90’s. As soon as I finished it, I passed it on to my best friend because it is the kind of book you want to share with someone else so you can talk about it.

 

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire is the first adult book from Robin Wasserman and it is ADULT so, readers, be warned!  Follow down the path of Dex & Lacey, two social outcasts who find comfort and friendship in one another through a mutual dislike for the high school queen bee. When one of the popular kids commits suicide in their small town, we are quick to see that things are often as they seem as Lacey’s dangerous interactions start coming to light. Set in the ‘90’s with plenty of nostalgic flashbacks, it also laces in the beginning of the twilight of the satanic panic that plagued this era.

Due to the language, sex, and violence in this one, this will be a pretty polarizing book that you will either really love or really hate, much like how I felt about Luckiest Girl Alive (read my interview with Jessica Knoll here). I found it to be a great summer escape and a well-woven plot although, as a reader, I often wondered if some of the scenes were set up to shock you rather than to move the story forward.

Once I closed the book, I raced to my computer to see if I could secure Robin for our series. I am thrilled to have her join us today to talk about this book as well as writing from an uncensored place. As someone who constantly is worried what her readers might think of her if she gets a little too real, I appreciate learning about writing from a more open place.

Grab your coffee and let’s chat about Girls on Fire today!!

Robin Wasserman

So many writers are making the switch from writing Adult Fiction to Young Adult this year. You took a different path and went from writing for young adults, for over a decade, to writing for adults. Since this book is still exploring adolescence, why did you decide to take this path? Did you feel like it gave you more freedom in your writing since you didn’t have to write for the adolescent mindset? Do you think you will continue writing for adults?

When I started this book, I decided to do my best not to think about the market, how it would be labeled or sold. I just wanted to get the story down and let the characters take me wherever they needed to go—so the shift from young adult to adult (whatever that actually means on the page) is something that happened mostly organically, I think, as the characters, plot, and style evolved over the course of many drafts. But at some point in the revision process, I did start thinking about this more as a book for adults than for teenagers, and while I wouldn’t say that freed me of any constraints—I never felt particularly constrained by YA!—it did give me the luxury of writing a somewhat more retrospective story, putting a little distance between myself as writer and my adolescent characters. The book gradually became not just a story about teenage girls, but a story about girlhood itself, an examination of adolescence—and vehicle for all the thoughts and opinions and arguments on girlhood that have been simmering in me for the last decade. I think there are a lot of YA writers out there who do this with work—but for me, the shift to a different audience turned out to be the key that unlocked that part of my brain. It gave me the permission—maybe even the directive—to take a step back and think about the bigger picture. To take different kinds of risks with the narrative and the writing. And yes, it’s definitely become addictive, as is the freedom to write adult characters—so I’m planning to write a lot more of it in the future!

 

 

Books With Girl in the Title

source: ew

My husband and I were laughing because six of the books that I have on my Kindle right now all have, “girl” in the title. I also read your article where you addressed this phenomenon in literature (it was fantastic!). Did you worry about the overlap with other books with this word in the title or do you think that the word, “girl” is a little bit of the secret sauce to a successful thriller?

I don’t really believe there’s a secret sauce to success, but if there is, I’m pretty sure it’s not something as simple as a word in the title. As I said in the LitHub essay, I think of myself as a contrarian so it chafes a bit to have accidentally thrown myself onto this bandwagon—it sounds ridiculous now to say that the “girl” trend didn’t even occur to me when I titled this book, but it’s true, and if it had, I probably would have come up with something different. (That said, I’m glad I didn’t, as this has been Girls on Fire since I first started writing it and I can’t imagine any title that would feel as right.) I don’t much worry about any potential overlap, and despite my contrarianism—or maybe because of it—I’ve come to embrace the idea, because as I argued in LitHub, I think you can see the plethora of “girl” titles as a new cultural engagement with and anxiety about what it means to be female, a reaction against marginalization and knee-jerk categorizations. Over the last couple years I’ve become increasingly enraged by the way society treats adolescent girls and I think the marginalization of their story—and their voices is a big part of that. If the increase in “girl” titles is, at least in part, a movement toward acknowledging the value of girlhood, the narrative power of that story, then it’s a movement I’m proud to be part of.

 Your writing feels raw and uncensored as you explore a lot of dark and gritty themes in this book. Did you ever worry about how “adult” your book was going when you were writing it, particularly some of the sexual content that it contains? Were there any scenes that you found difficult to write?

When I’m writing, the idea of an eventual reader seems so hypothetical as to be almost literally unimaginable, so I rarely censor myself or the places the story goes. With this book in particular, as I said above, I was really trying to force myself to draft it in isolation, and I think that was necessary for what the story turned out to be. I can remember pretty vividly coming up with the idea for—well, let’s call it The Thing That Happens in the Woods. I remember thinking, Wait, can I actually do that? Is that allowed? And there was such delicious satisfaction in the realization that I could. Who was going to stop me?

I don’t know what it says about me that the dark and gritty scenes aren’t particularly difficult to write and the intensely emotional ones often tend to come the easiest. I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve gravitated toward writing adolescent characters—because my memory of adolescence is that it’s a bloody emotional battlefield. Anything but dark and gritty would feel like a lie.

Lacey & Dex have a toxic and all-consuming friendship in this book and the reader gets to go down this twisted tunnel with them both. Did you have any intense friendships like this when you were growing up? Which of these two characters did you feel you related to most when you were a teenager?

I was very much a Dex growing up, and I did live my adolescent life in pursuit of the ultimate Lacey, attaching myself to a series of wild (or wild-ish) girls who seemed like they could give me the permission to be reckless, or at least plausible deniability on those rare occasions I seized it for myself. But none of those friendships ever quite took; they never turned into what I wanted them to be, probably because what I wanted was a self-immolating collision of souls, and that’s a somewhat tall order. I think one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by the all-consuming friendship is precisely because I never quite found it—I was obsessed with the idea of being obsessed. Of finding myself a soulmate that I could lose myself in. The romance of that kind of best friend—the certainty that it would change everything, would save me—loomed very large over my adolescent horizon, and pretty clearly took root in my subconscious.

Dex’s dad tries to take Lacey under his wing since she doesn’t have any positive male role models in her life. Do you think this friendship went past the appropriate boundaries? Did you sympathize with her father and that need to still feel cool?

Oh, I’m pretty sure this friendship went past appropriate boundaries! I have great sympathy for all characters involved and the choices they made—though my greatest sympathies, as I hope is evident (though I gather is not) lie with Dex’s mother, who’s forced to play the grown-up whether she wants to or not. Her husband has put her in an incredibly untenable position, her daughter lacks all empathy for her, and she somehow manages to soldier on and do the right thing, without holding too much of a grudge against either of them. I imagine things might have gone very differently had Lacey thought to cozy up to her instead!

Which character did you have the most fun writing in this book? Were there any scenes, in particular, that you enjoyed writing?

The scenes that felt the best to write tended to be the most painful, filled with rage and misery and trauma, so I’m not sure “enjoyed” is the right verb to use there. But I guess you could say the scene, early on, where Dex and Lacey drop acid at church and then wind up making some very ill-advised choices in a nearby field, has a special place in my heart—that was originally (and in very different form) the second chapter, and writing that scene is the moment the book took flight for me. With that scene, I realized this was a book I had to write, no matter what, and that it was going to be a very different book than I’d ever written before.

My So Called Life

 Since I grew up in the ‘90’s, I appreciated all of the nostalgia of this era in your book. How much fun was it to write about this time period? Also, if you could bring one thing back from the ‘90’s, what would it be?

Massive, massive amounts of fun. Suffice to say my research involved a lot of grunge music and a lot of old episodes of the Real World, not to mention an unfortunate and embarrassing deep dive into my old high school yearbooks. It’s an excellent question, though, what I would bring back—maybe overalls! Sartorially ill-advised but oh, how I loved them.

I might also bring back My So-Called Life era Jared Leto. 

satanic-panic

You write about the twilight of the Satanic Panic that happened in the ‘90’s which is something that I had forgotten about. Why was this an important part of your story? Do you recall this panic in your own town when you were growing up?

If you’d asked me this question last week, I would have said that I grew up in the suburbs and the Satanic Panic never touched us—but just the other day I got an email from a guy I went to high school with who’d read the book and was reminiscing about all the rumors about Satanists performing dark ceremonies in our local cemetery. I have no memory of this whatsoever (and I was so out of the loop in high school that most rumors never reached me), but I guess it’s testament to how widespread these fears really were. The Satanic Panic element of the book was there from the beginning—it was one of the original inspirations for the novel, and dovetailed perfectly with one of the larger themes I wanted to explore, this question of the porous boundary between fears for our children and fears of them. The Satanic Panic—as Richard Beck has argued very persuasively in We Believe the Children—began at least in part as an outgrowth of anxieties about working mothers. This was the first generation of latchkey children, and I think it’s fascinating to think about how in the 80s, people were consumed with panic about what might be done to the kids when their parents left them behind…but by the ‘90s, the children grown into teenagers, the new panic revolved around what the kids might do.  I’m fascinated by the way so many adults seem to see teenagers as this mysterious, alien other. Girls on Fire is partly about interrogating that willful forgetting of our own past selves, but also about the ways our unspoken anxieties can manifest in various forms of moral panic, defense turning to offense, insecurity masquerading as righteousness, all of it often ending up victimizing exactly the people it purports to protect.

Is there any possibility of a sequel?

No—this is the story of Dex and Lacey’s life. Everything after is epilogue.

What are you working on next?

I’m a little superstitious about talking about work in progress, but suffice to say I’m having fun!

girls-on-fire

You can connect with Robin Wasserman on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads, through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

Pin It