Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

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!

 

 

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Sundays With Writers: Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

Happy Sunday and Happy Father’s Day to all of those special dads out there. We have spent the morning curled up in our jammies, watching shows together, and plowing through a dozen muffins with a pot of coffee. I love how my hubby chooses to celebrate his day!

Today I am also excited to share with your an interview with Andromeda Romano-Lax as we discuss her incredible book, Behave. If you are looking for a compelling piece of historical fiction to add to your summer stack, I have a feeling you will enjoy this one! I’m SO THRILLED that her book is available for $1.99 this month so be sure to get this one while it is at such an affordable price! Treat yo self! 

Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Fans of Masters of Sex will appreciate this fictional exploration of Dr. John Watson and his research that was revered by so many to not spoil children based on his research that he developed during his time at Johns Hopkins. Disturbingly, tests are performed on infants to yield responses from them, all being assisted by Rosalie Rayner. An affair develops between the two that taints their reputation in the medical community and adds strain to an already difficult marriage. When they have children of their own, Dr. Watson uses his own research as a basis for how they are to parent which creates squeamish moments for the reader. Despite it being an uncomfortable storyline, it held my interest all the way through, even when the characters were most unlikable.

Behave was featured in our Must-Reads Book List for May!

Let’s chat with Andromeda today about this incredibly  compelling storyline she built around Rosalie!

Andromeda Romano Lax

Your first round of thanks in your acknowledgements went to veteran psychology textbook editor Christine Brune, who had casually mentioned the controversial case of Little Albert at a party you had attended. Were you aware of this case before this interaction and why were you so excited to share this story from Rosalie’s point of view?

John Watson was vaguely familiar to me from old college psych classes. I remembered something about a baby (“Little Albert”), rats, and conditioning, but I may have been mixing in memories of other famous psychologists like B.F. Skinner. What I didn’t know about Watson interested me more than what I did. I’d never heard that his lover and later wife, Rosalie, was such a major part of his research. Nor did I realize that Little Albert’s identity and health were being questioned in ways that make Watson’s original theories even more suspect. I have never been as sure about a new interest quite this quickly. Within a few hours of the party, when I was home Googling close to midnight, I felt determined to tell Rosalie’s side of the story. Why? Not only because I wanted to tell the story of the “woman behind the man” but also because I was specifically curious how a woman would have reacted to these particular kinds of experiments involving potential psychological harm to babies. What was she thinking?

Little Albert Experiment

I found much of the research that was conducted on these infants made me squeamish and uncomfortable as a reader, but I understand that you didn’t find these infant experiments as shocking. Why do you think this element of their research didn’t bother you as much and what element, if any, did you struggle the most with?

One reason is that I think that most of the babies–except for Little Albert–were experimented upon very briefly in mostly benign ways. We may not like to picture a baby turning blue with rage as his nose is pinched shut or as he is plunged into cold water, but it probably won’t create lasting damage, and in Watson’s mind, the cost was tiny compared to the benefit. That same baby, he believed, would grow up in a healthier and safer world, for which a few minutes of discomfort was small price to pay. Viewing this from a historical perspective, we can empathize with the scientists who had no better models for how to study infant behavior. They certainly didn’t feel they were breaking rules, because the rules didn’t yet exist. (They do now, and thank goodness!) If one element bothers me the most, it’s not just the cruelty of the Little Albert experiment (which was more intense and ran longer than the other baby experiments), but the meaningless of it, because it was bad science. I’m also greatly disturbed by the longer-term popular effect of the Watsons’ interpretations of the Little Albert study. The harm passed on to tens or hundreds of thousands of other babies indirectly based on the Watsons’ ideas about parenting–like the idea that mothers shouldn’t kiss, cuddle, or in any way bond with their own children–probably dwarfs the harm inflicted on any one baby in the lab.

Little Albert Experiment

Since there is very little known information about Rosalie, what was your biggest hurdle as a writer developing her storyline? Do you feel that since there was so little information that it granted you more creative liberties with your story or did you find it more challenging to craft Rosalie’s point of view?

The lack of information freed me in some ways, but I did not want to invent a woman out of thin air, since that wouldn’t offer me or the readers any real lessons about Rosalie or her time period (the ‘20s and early ‘30s), which is such a critical one for women. For this reason, I grabbed onto any verifiable fact like a lifeline. For example, I came across a brief note written by Rosalie to her alma mater, Vassar, saying that she expected to be working in advertising soon (which never happened). This was just after her public humiliation as the outed homebreaker in the divorce scandal involving John Watson and his first wife, Mary. That one note reveals so much, especially since Rosalie rarely reported her post-college activities. Clearly, she was hoping to start a new professional life and wanted people to know about it. Without that one clue, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine Rosalie’s envy of Watson as he launched his own career in advertising, overshadowing her ambitions once again.

Rosalie & John utilize the same childrearing techniques they develop in their book on their children. You later disclose how that worked out for these kids (I won’t spoil it for the reader). Even though I found these childrearing tactics extreme, don’t you feel like we all are experimenting a bit as parents to try to figure out what is best for our children? Do you think any of these theories they came up with are still being held today?

You’ve nailed it, Amy. Yes, we are all experimenting on our children, following the latest “science” as well as popular advice that changes decade by decade, all mixed together with our observations of other parents–whom we can’t help but judge, because we are trying so hard to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We all want to do the right things. Parenting trends seem to swing between extremes: more attachment, less attachment; blame nature, blame nurture. This is yet another reason to sympathize with Rosalie and John even while we might recoil at some of their practices. They had the best intentions, and they worked hard at understanding children. And sometimes they were right! Aside from the bad advice, they had some easy-to-overlook good insights that were not common at the time, such as the idea that parents need not physically punish their children, and that routines in general help children feel safe and become independent.

Did you admire John Watson or did you loathe him? Do you think that his difficulties with his parents ultimately shaped his own theories about childrearing?

Maybe I’m contrary, but I didn’t loathe John Watson at all. At most, I was frustrated by him. I think he let his own childhood experiences (as you suggested), his own appetites and his ambition lead him down some unproductive paths. Elements of his personality–the flirty charisma, the showmanship and brash opinions–are still rewarded today. I am confused, in fact, why some readers seem to think he’s the devil, and a very retro devil at that, when a good many politicians, CEOs, and adored celebrities behave more outrageously than he ever did. I’ve noticed that some women readers who get really riled up do so because they had a boss, professor or lover who had Watsonian qualities. I’ve received emails from both women and men who said the novel hit a little too close to home. I’m glad that readers get riled up, especially if it helps them look at their own choices and relationships more clearly. On the other hand, I hope Watson’s positive side isn’t lost in the process. Especially in his early years, he was committed to making science more objective, he was anti-racist, he encouraged public debate about substantial topics, and he truly did seem to support women in science–at least until he made an about-face and decided wives shouldn’t work, after all.

Rosalie Raynor

In your story, John is unfaithful during both of his marriages.  Was this true or fictionalized?  Why do you think Rosalie stayed with him, after giving up her own career and reputation, and do you think if this happened today that she would have still stayed?

Oh, the affairs are verifiable fact. There was no trouble finding documentation of Watson’s incessant wandering. He was also quite open about his own skepticism of marriage. He didn’t think the institution would last beyond the 20th century. (Surprise!) Again, we have to see Rosalie through the filter of her own times. She was married to someone who was passionate, clearly in love with her (I do believe that), ambitious, and successful. Instead of being just a jilted lover without much hope of a career, she was able to become a 1920s housewife who was encouraged to help him co-write scientific books and articles. There was only one brief window of time in which I think they might have broken up and would break up even more easily today: after they were both booted out of the academic world and their affair made headline news. But then she quickly got pregnant. Big oops. And I do think it was an oops, since he didn’t favor women having children too young.

Could you share one of the most surprising pieces of research you found while preparing for this book? Did you have any interview that really stood out to you during this research process?

There were so many research surprises! Most involved archives work rather than personal interviews. To cite just one: finding out that other popular parenting books before Watson’s were just as mean-spirited and disdainful of mothers. The journalist and satirist H. L. Mencken even wrote one. This helps us understand how Watson’s ideas fit into his time period (he was actually more level-headed than his peers) But even more, it tells us what our own poor grandmothers and great-grandmothers were dealing with. If we thought mother blame was new, we just have to go back a century ago, to that era when infant mortality was finally dropping but mothers were still being blamed for damaging their children in every possible way.

If we are interested in learning more about the Little Albert controversy or in John Watson’s theories, can you share books or documentaries that might help us learn more about the true story behind your book?

A truly revealing documentary or drama is yet to be made. The best sources are scholarly papers written by Ben Harris, who has doggedly written about Watson and served as mythbuster for over three decades, and more recently, Hall Beck (writing in cooperation with researchers Levinson, Irons, Fridlund, and Goldie), who has proposed controversial ideas about Little Albert’s true identity and possible neurological impairment. There are some amazing scientific sleuths out there and I recommend their work in an appendix at the back of my novel.

behave

You can connect with Andromeda Romano-Lax 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: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

I love finding a fresh voice in fiction and Molly Prentiss certainly brings a beautifully fresh perspective to the mix with her debut novel, Tuesday Nights in 1980. This is the story of a writer who was willing to give up many words to carve a better book and spent seven years crafting the voices she wanted for this story. Tuesday Nights in 1980 is unlike any other book I have read and gave me a lot of food for thought, making it an excellent book club selection if you are looking for something to discuss. I am so excited to share about Molly’s inspiring publishing story in our Sundays With Writers series today. How fun to talk about Tuesdays on Sundays…

 

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Welcome to the art scene in SoHo in the 1980’s. Prentiss, much like an artist herself, vividly paints the art scene during this time and the story of two unlikely men whose lives become intertwined in surprising ways. The book follows James Bennett, an art critic whose writing is made more beautiful because he has Synthesia, and the rise and fall of that gift when it disappears. Raul Engales is an Argentinian painter running away from his past and the Dirty War who finds that he can use an art studio on a college campus just by pretending he is a student there. When tragedy strikes, Raul & James became friends as Raul’s paintings bring back the gift of synesthesia that James had when seeing his work. They both make tragic missteps along the way though and that is where the depth to the story is truly added.

It would be impossible to not learn something new and fans of art and the Manhattan scenes in the ‘80’s will definitely find plenty to love in this ambitious debut novel. Her descriptions are like paintings themselves, vivid and full of life! 

I included this book in our May Must-Reads

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Molly to talk about her unique debut novel!

Molly Prentiss

You chose to open your story with a focus on Argentine politics. I’m ashamed that I really knew very little about this time in history. What inspired you to make this a part of your book? Were there any real stories of people during this time that helped shape the story of Franca?

You shouldn’t be ashamed at all – so many Americans do not know anything about this brutal moment in Argentine history. It was mostly kept out of the media while it was happening and afterward, since the US was actually supporting the Argentine military government and training their soldiers, so we did not want to be caught in the blame for the mass kidnappings and killings. Obama actually JUST brought the issue to national attention this year, and apologized for the US involvement. It is astonishing to me that something so terrible could be happening on the continent below us and we would not know it was happening, which is part of the reason I chose to speak to it in my book.

Pasillo de la memoria UTN FRA (2015) 11

 

(Photographs of victims of the 1976-83 dictatorship-wikipedia)

 

I learned about the “Dirty War”, as they call it, in a class I took in graduate school called The Violent Task of Remembering. It was taught by an extremely inspirational and intelligent woman named Claudia Bernardi, who is from Argentina and has done countless projects informed by disappeared populations around the world. I had already started writing my book when I took her class, and as I continued to learn about the atrocities that were happening in Argentina during the same period I was writing about in New York, I realized I had to bring that story into the book. It ended up sort of bookending the story, as well as existing beneath the surface as a sort of dark weight through the book.

 One of the most intriguing elements of your book is that James, an art critic, has synesthesia. Did you know anyone personally that had this or interview anyone with it to shape his story? Did you find it challenging to write out the ways he would experience things like art and people in such a unique way or did this come naturally to you?

I have only met one person with synesthesia, also during graduate school. After class one day she came up to me and told me I was the color peach. I was confused at first, but when she began to tell me about her condition, I was completely intrigued. I absolutely had to write about it. And when I did it was so much fun. It was one of the things in the book that was not difficult at all for me, mostly because I adore writing metaphors, similes, and creating unexpected connections through language. I basically just used my own associations with certain colors or people or works of art and gave them to James. It gave me permission to sort of go wild with my words.

Art spills all over your book through the gallery experiences, Raul’s own paintings, and the art critiques that James writes. I understand that your life is filled with artists (siblings, father, and your fiancée just to name a few!) and you even do illustration. Did you find it easy to immerse yourself in writing about art because of this? Did you consider adding any art elements in your book for the reader?

Yes, I guess you could say that I am attracted to artists! I love being around them and witnessing in their processes and sharing their spaces. So I guess it was natural to want to populate my book with them and be around them for the seven years it took to write it.  I did at one point consider including an artwork at the beginning of each chapter, but then I decided against it. It felt a bit forced. I ended up attempting to create the visuals using words, hoping that the reader might come to his or her own vision of the art works as he/she read.

Seven years is a long time to devote to a book. What were your biggest hurdles with this book and what would you say to another writer that is discouraged that the process is taking longer than they expected?

There were so many hurdles. For me, the very difficult part about writing this book was giving the narrative a shape and a clear direction. There were so many drafts where the plot was all over the map. I had to create devices for myself to reign in my writing, which is why it all takes place in one year, and every section takes place on a Tuesday. But none of these things were set in stone for the first five or so years I was working on it, so a lot of pages and ideas and whole characters and plot points were scrapped. The key to overcoming those hurdles for me was to learn how to not consider the writing itself so precious. You have to be willing to throw things away and start over, in the service of making a better story in the end. You have to learn that rejection—whether it comes from yourself, your agent, or your readers—is part of the game. And you have to remember that the work is the fun part. You realize that especially once your book is a real thing, out there in the world. It’s amazing, but its not the reason you did all that work. You did the work because you loved the work.

Scout Press

I have had the unique opportunity to interview the first three authors published under Scout Press now that I am interviewing you today (editor’s note: check out my interview Ruth Ware & Bill Clegg). Do you think that signing under them helped in the promotion and success of your book?

Most definitely. The great thing about Scout is that they are a very new and very small imprint, so they can be dexterous and choosy. They only publish what they really want to publish, and when they do they put the whole weight of their team behind it. They did so much to make this book what it is today, and to get it out into the world in an exciting way. I am very grateful I signed on with them.

Molly Prentiss

I understand you are already working on your next book. Can you tell us a little bit about it and are you finding the process easier or harder after such great success with your first book.

Yes, I am at work on a second novel. In its current state, it takes place in a commune in northern California in the late 1970s. But now that I know how much a book can morph in its making I am hesitant to even say exactly what it’s about. It is both easier and harder to write a second book. Easier because you know what the process looks like, and you can avoid falling into certain holes that you fell into the first time. Harder because there are expectations: you don’t want to write the same book you wrote the first time, and yet you worry that that’s what the publishers and the public might expect.

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

You can connect with Molly Prentiss 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!

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Sundays With Writers: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

Thrillers are my jam in the summer and today I am sharing a very special interview with my new favorite thriller writer, Ruth Ware. In a Dark, Dark Wood was the book that I selected this month for my local book club and we all loved this one for a fun escape this month. I was thrilled to get to share her interview a little early with my fellow book club members as we gathered in my dark, dark wood for a fun night out.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Leonora, a reclusive writer, receives a surprise invitation from an old friend inviting to her to a weekend away as one last hurrah before she gets married. Set in a glass house in the woods, the four acquaintances share revelations and begin to realize their party is not alone. Forty-eight hours later, Leonora (Nora) awakes in a hospital bed knowing that someone is dead. Nora desperately tries to piece together what happened, forcing her to revisit times in her past that she would rather leave buried.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to thrillers and this one delivers beautifully.  The pacing is perfect and reads like a great whodunit mystery. Enjoy the ride and then get ready to see this one brought to life on the big screen by Reese Witherspoon’s production team.

You can read more of the fantastic books I have read this month over in our must-reads post.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a fun chat with Ruth Ware this morning!

Ruth Ware

I understand that the idea for In a Dark, Dark Wood came to you when a friend said, “I’ve never read a thriller set on a hen night.” Did your wheels immediately start turning when you heard this? What did your friend think of the story?

Also, as an American, I had no idea this is what these were called! Thanks for educating this naïve reader!

Yes, it was like a little light bulb went on in my head! I immediately started thinking of characters and settings and I knew this story was begging to be written. And yes, my friend has read the book and loves it.

One of the fun things about writing the book has been finding out all the different bachelorette traditions around the world and how they vary. Rights have been sold everywhere from Sweden to Indonesia and as you can imagine, the local hen party traditions are very different – sometimes it’s small stuff, like I had no idea that Americans don’t use L-plates as part of their bachelorette celebrations, whereas in the UK, they are an essential part of the bride-to-be’s outfit (L-plates are the signs that learner drivers put on their car to show they are not experienced road-users. I have NO idea what they have to do with weddings!).  Sometimes there are very wild and weird traditions – in Sweden brides are often “kidnapped” for their hen party, sometimes in a worryingly realistic fashion! However differences aside, I think it’s a surprisingly universal celebration – most countries have some kind of pre-marriage send off.

You created a hen night in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, in a glass house, with no phone reception. Hello, nightmares! Why did you decide to put these poor people in a glass house and did any books or movies help inspire your scary premise for the story?

Actually, initially the glass house was very different, when I wrote the first few chapters the setting was a tumbledown cottage, much closer to the croft that Flo’s aunt demolishes to make way for her modernist house. But then, a few chapters in, I started to realise that one of the themes of the book is about having your public persona stripped away and people seeing the real you, and the idea of not having anywhere to hide from scrutiny. So I thought how much more interesting to make the house an extension of that?

I was definitely inspired by watching too many scary movies as a kid – there’s something so vulnerable about a house with a lot of windows where the inhabitants are being watched without knowing it!

How challenging was it for you to switch between your two plotlines? Did you write each plotline in its entirety or were you just able to alternate between the two when carving out your story?

I wrote it almost exactly as you read it – swapping back and forth as I wrote it. Many people are surprised at that, I think, but it’s the only way I know how to write – I find it too hard to keep up with what the reader knows if I write out of sequence. I need to keep pace with their experience as I write, or I get the tension and the moments of revelation wrong.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

source: reese witherspoon’s ig feed

Your book is a New York Times bestseller, a Sunday Times bestseller, and was optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon’s production team. What has this experience been like and what has surprised you the most about the success of this novel?

Oh – I mean, just insane. I honestly have no words for how much this has gob-smacked me, and I’m not a person who’s usually lost for words. I would have been delighted if a few hundred people in the UK bought my book – the fact that it’s sold in America, let alone places like Thailand and Estonia… I find it very hard to remember when I’m walking the kids to school or loading the dishwasher!

The thing that feels most surreal is probably the film stuff. I used to work in publishing so it’s a world I feel pretty comfortable in. Whereas I know absolutely nothing about the movie business – that really does feel like something that happens to other people, not my little book!

You were one of the first of three books to be published under Scout Press which I can only imagine was such a huge honor. Do you think that signing under them helped in the promotion and success of your book?

Scout have been indescribably amazing to work with. I actually didn’t know the whole deal about the new imprint when I signed up with Simon & Schuster, and I remember when I found out I had this butterflies-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach moment where I suddenly realised they were putting so much trust in my book, making it one of their launch list.

Publishing a book is a sort of weird experience because although writers often compare their books to babies, the truth is, you create this thing, but you’re not really responsible for sending it out into the world – that’s down to the publisher. They decide the look, the way it’s marketed, often even the title. And I’ve worked in this business long enough to know how painful it can be when a writer has radically different ideas about what their book is, compared to their publisher.

But from the moment I saw that incredible cover that Scout produced, I just knew I was in safe hands and I couldn’t have been more right. They’ve been amazing to work with.

Ruth Ware

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There is so much bravery in putting your work out there since writing, I find, is very personal. Did you struggle with this at all and what would you say to another writer who is struggling with unleashing their work out into the world?

I did struggle with this – I wrote a lot of books growing up and in my early twenties, and they all went under the bed because I was basically too chicken to show them to anyone. But in the end, I just got to a place where I realised that however bad I might feel if I failed, I’d feel worse if I didn’t even try in the first place.

I don’t know what I would say to another writer because I didn’t have the magic confidence pill back then, and I still don’t. Ultimately I think I wrote a book that I couldn’t bear to shelve.

But maybe… maybe my advice would be baby steps. Share your book with a trusted friend – someone who knows you well enough to be honest as well as supportive, the kind of person who you’d take clothes shopping and trust to say “you know what, that dress isn’t flattering on you.” Or if that’s too scary, find a writing group online.

And above all, try not to take it personally. Writing is personal, it has to be, but rejection rarely is.

I understand you are actually terrified of reading scary books. What is the scariest book you have ever read? Do you feel more in control of things, writing your own scary book, or did you end up terrifying yourself?

Yes, I’m a terrible coward! I’m getting sent a lot of books to blurb now, and I’m realising that there’s a whole swathe of crime that’s just waaaay out of my comfort zone in terms of horrible things happening to people.

It’s mainly prolonged violence and torture I find I can’t read – I skipped over all the Theon chapters in Game of Thrones, for example.

For plain scariness… maybe Black House by Peter Straub and Stephen King, which I read while on holiday in a very remote Dorset village, and it scared the daylights out of me. We were staying in a converted church, a fairly spooky location in itself, which probably didn’t help.

Two of my favourite scary books are The Haunting of Hill House and The Woman in Black which are my kind of scary – nail-biting but nobody gets locked in a basement and tortured.

But yes, it’s very different writing my own books – so much of scariness is suspense, not knowing when the curtain will get ripped back, so it’s very difficult to scare yourself to the same extent, I think. The element of surprise isn’t there.

We never give away spoilers, but how hard was it to craft the ending of your book? Did you try different endings out or did it all come together easily?

This is really hard to write without spoiling, but I had the ending in mind right from the beginning, but it slightly changed in the way it played out. And certain characters who were going to die, didn’t, and vice versa.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

What can we expect from you next? Any involvement in the film writing? Are you working on your next book or taking time to savor the success of this first one?

No-one’s asked me to write the film, but that’s probably a good thing since I know precisely zip about screenwriting! However I am not good at sitting on my hands, and I find the only cure for pre-publication nerves is writing another book, so I am hard at work on book three at the moment. (My second thriller, The Woman in Cabin 10 is already written and comes out this summer.)

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You can connect with Ruth Ware on her website and on Facebook! 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!

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Sundays With Writers: The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

I have such a hard time committing to series books, but when I heard that The Outliers was 1) written by the wildly talented Kimberly McCreight and 2) that this one had already been optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon’s team…well, who could resist? Just like Julie Buxbaum who joined us last week, Kimberly also took the plunge into the YA genre for the first time in this highly anticipated trilogy. I am so excited to share a little bit behind this creative idea that Kimberly has created for her storyline.

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

FYI- I received an ARC of this book- all thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Outliers is the first book in a YA trilogy that begins with a single text, “Please, Wylie, I need your help.” When Wylie’s estranged best friend goes missing, she is led on a wild goose chase, with Cassie’s boyfriend, to bring Cassie to safety. The duo has no idea where they are going and the reader is led through over the half of the book to a surprising adventure that bends the genre from thriller to science fiction. Read the book before you see the film because this one has been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production team!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in for a chat with Kimberly this morning!

Kimberly McCreight

I was so surprised to see that you have started publishing in the YA genre after years writing in Women’s Fiction. In an interview you stated that the “boundaries between Adult and YA are more fluid than ever before,” making it an easier transition for you as a writer. Do you think this fluidity between genres creates more adult readers to your books or do you just think that YA books are just becoming more and more adult in language & nature, helping bridge the gap between the two?

I think wonderful books are wonderful books whether classified as YA or adult. That’s always been true. But if adults might have once hesitated in picking up a YA title for themselves, that has certainly changed. The majority of those who purchase Young Adult books are adults buying for themselves. Also I think the lines between all genres are becoming increasingly blurred as writers experiment and readers become more flexible in their expectations—there are literary novels that are sci-fi and historical, mysteries that are women’s fiction and also literary.

The Outliers is the first book in a planned trilogy that you are developing. How did you come up with this creative concept to explore emotional intelligence in this way?

The Outliers was inspired by my daughter who has always been preternaturally empathetic. This has genuine advantages—it helps her move more easily through tricky social situations and deepens her friendships. But it can also be a burden, causing her to be on the anxious side. And these are qualities we share—for better and for worse—as do most of my closest female friends. It was in pondering this connection between my daughter and I that I came to consider a connection between emotional intelligence and anxiety, particularly in women. It was in this “what if” that the seed for the trilogy was planted.

I noticed that you thanked many doctors in the acknowledgements of your book. What type of doctors did you consult in the development of this story and how did they help you round out your book? Did they find this idea of women utilizing emotional intuitiveness as a power plausible with the fictional research you created for Wylie’s dad?

Some of the doctors were Emotional Intelligence researchers, some were neuroscientists and others were simply professors whom I consulted about life as a researcher. Each was enormously helpful even if it was just in getting me the name of someone else might be able to answer my questions. With regard to the specifics of the EQ/Intuition issues, responses ranged between rejecting the proposition outright, to pointing out potential limitations in my hypothesis. But there was one well-known researcher who called my idea intriguing. And, yes, it was a thrill.

However, to be clear, the book is fiction. It not an accurate representation of the state of the research. That’s not what I was trying to do. I was speculating about a set of facts hasn’t been proven—but maybe hasn’t been categorically disproven yet either. Results are always influenced by the way a study is conducted and the book proposes something discovered because unexpectedly because something else is tested in a new way. That is how many discoveries are actually made: accidentally.

If I was tested for emotional intelligence I REALLY feel that I would be an outlier too. I carry around the weight of everyone, I’m extremely empathetic (sometimes to the compromise of my own emotional health), and I am high anxiety. Basically, I’m probably a toned down version of Wylie. Are you empathic, anxious, & attuned to others too? Do you think this is something that many teen girls struggle with?

First, you and I should totally hang out because I am definitely an Outlier too! We’d probably be BFF’s.

And there’s no doubt that teenage girls struggle with anxiety at a much higher rate than boys—the statistics show that. This gender disparity persists into adulthood. However, the jury is out on the cause of this difference—socialization, hormones, or brain chemistry are all possibilities. There is also research to suggest that girls are better at reading facial expressions of emotions.

Do I personally believe that there is a connection between anxiety and gender and intuition? Yes, definitely. But that’s where the scientific aspect of my book ends and the speculation—and fiction—begins.    

The Outliers featured on Reese Witherspoon's IG Feed

source: Reese Witherspoon’s IG feed!

It was announced that we can expect to see this book, The Outliers, in theaters now that it has been optioned for film by Lionsgate with Mandeville and will be produced by Reese Witherspoon’s production team, Pacific Standard. How did you find out this news and about Reese’s love for your book? Will you be involved in the writing of the screenplay?

I could not be more thrilled to be partnering with Lionsgate, Mandeville and the incredible Reese Witherspoon and Pacific Standard. The book was optioned fairly early in the process and they have been amazingly supportive and enthusiastic throughout. I won’t be writing the screenplay, as I’ve got the next two books in the trilogy to focus on, but I have felt wonderfully included in the process. Mostly, I sit around daydreaming about getting to sit in the audience.

Nicole Kidman

As a writer, you also have the unique insight on how this book to movie idea works since, Reconstructing Amelia, will also be made into a film. Is it exciting seeing your book to life? Nerve-wracking? How you picture it?

It is absolutely thrilling to think of both Reconstructing Amelia and The Outliers being brought to life on the screen. When I’m writing, the stories play out in front of me like a movie so I am especially delighted to think of sharing that visual experience with others. Filming has not yet begun on Reconstructing Amelia so I can’t speak to the specifics of how that will feel, but I don’t feel nervous in the least. Working with such amazing artists and studios—Nicole Kidman, Blossom Films and HBO for Reconstructing Amelia and Lionsgate, Mandeville, Reese Witherspoon and Pacific Standard with The Outliers. I have no doubt they will do a superb job in bringing the stories to the screen.   

You had a long journey into publishing starting with a completely different career path as a lawyer. I understand that Reconstructing Amelia was the 5th manuscript you had turned in before you finally reached your goal as a published author. Do you have any words of encouragement for writers that are struggling to see their first book on the shelves? What helped you not give up on this dream?

I was lucky enough to get some encouraging rejections early on, which I held on to as I kept working. It’s important for writers struggling to get where they want to be—whether that’s finishing a book, or seeing it on a store shelf—to know that both the process of writing and getting published are both really, really hard. Almost all successful authors have faced an enormous amount of rejection—and I mean usually in the order of five rejected books, decades of writing, hundreds of discarded stories. The key is to recognize that writing is a craft that we all get better with more practice. True salvation lies in focusing on the work in front of you, and the next idea tumbling around your brain.

kimberly-mccreight

follow Kimberly on Facebook!!

You wrote this book as a warning to your daughters about how the world they grow up in may include people who deem them unworthy. You wanted to remind them they are powerful enough to rise above it and to help them to trust their instincts. Why do you think these messages are so important today for teens and why do you think so many of us struggle in the face of it all to trust our instincts?

It’s important for everyone to learn to trust their instincts. But I do think it’s especially important for girls. We’ve made incredible strides toward equality. It can be easy to think we have arrived at our destination. But in many troubling and fundamental respects women continue to be regarded as less than men. And I do think that women and girls are more often encouraged to doubt their own instincts.

Can you name a time, when you were a teen, that you didn’t trust your intuition and wish you would have?

As a teen, I was exceptionally good at following my instincts. But I can give you an example from just a few weeks ago on vacation when I didn’t follow my instincts. We were snorkeling and the boat started to have trouble near shore while others were disembarking. I had the very strong sense that we should get off then—even though it would mean taking a cab back to our hotel. But I didn’t insist and when the boat ran aground moments later and the motor was killed, I was absolutely kicking myself for not having gone with my gut. In the end my husband, two children and myself all had to literally abandon ship and swim—in life vests—through pretty big waves until we reached the beach. The truth is, even as an adult, it’s easy to doubt your instincts.

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

You can connect with Kimberly McCreight on her website and on Facebook! 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!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

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I have some really fantastic writers lined up in the next few weeks to share about their new books and today’s guest is a special treat because I have loved her ever since her debut novel, The Opposite of Love. It’s been awhile since I have seen Julie on the shelves and I was so thrilled to see her again, writing a debut YA novel, Tell Me Three Things.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Let me tell you a little bit about, Tell Me Three ThingsThis is the story of a teenager named Jessie, the loss of her incredible mom, and the abrupt new marriage of her father that relocates them to Los Angeles. When her father meets a woman from his support group, he elopes and moves them into the wealthy woman’s home, switching Jessie into the wealthy prep school that her new stepbrother attends. Of course, Jessie doesn’t fit in at all.

When she starts receiving emails from SN (shortened from Somebody Nobody) offering her help and support in these uncharted waters, a relationship blooms and becomes a huge support for Jessie. The reader gets to read this beautiful, hilarious, and always sweet exchange. When Jessie wants to meet SN in person though, the reader is led on the journey with Jessie. Is SN her soulmate? Is SN even real? I guess you will have to read to find out! This is a great one to pack in your beach bag this summer.

Delightfully sweet and everything I love about Buxbaum’s writing! I featured this book in our April Must-Reads this year. 

julie-buxbaum

I have been a HUGE fan of your writing since you wrote your debut novel, The Opposite of Love. It’s been six years since you published your second novel, After You, and you have come out with your first YA novel- what a treat that was for a big fan like me! What have you been up to over these years? You have said that it took you 24 years to get the courage to come up with a YA book. Do you think you will stick around in this genre moving forward?

Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s been six years since my last book, but it really has! In that time, I had two children, wrote an adult novel that now sadly lives in a drawer, dabbled in television writing, and wrote two young adult novels: Tell Me Three Things, which just came out, and a book called What to Say Next which should be out Spring 2017. Yes, I very much hope to continue in YA. It has reminded me of why I love to write. And thank you for being a fan. I’m absolutely honored!

Your main character, Jessie, begins receiving anonymous emails from a person nicknamed Somebody Nobody (SN) who helps her to navigate her new school, the cliques, and which classmates she should align with. I understand this email exchange was inspired by an anonymous correspondence of your own. Can you tell us more about that?

It’s rare that something so magical and weird and wonderful happens in real life that it feels like the stuff of fiction, so when it did, I had no choice but to steal that material for a book. Shortly after I graduated from law school, I received what was essentially a secret admirer-type email from a classmate, and the note came at the perfect time. I was working crazy hours, feeling sort of lost and depressed in my first grown up job, and just feeling down on myself, and this single email somehow managed to change everything. I never found out who he was, and I’m not sure that I ever want to. Just the idea of him, just the idea of someone noticing me—I had never before thought of myself as someone who got noticed—was enough to shift me out of my rut.

tell-me-three-things

(follow Julie’s updates on Facebook!)

How much fun was it to create the subject lines for those emails? I was crying laughing as they changed from Jessie to SN? Did you have a favorite subject line or back-and-forth in this email exchange?

In my first draft, I didn’t have funny subject lines for the emails, and there was just banter in the emails themselves. That came later in the editing process, and yeah, they were super fun to write. I’m one of those annoying people who laughs when writing their own jokes, and they totally cracked me up. I was sad when Jessie and SN moved to IMing, because I didn’t get to keep coming up with them.

One of the most painful things that Jessie must deal with is the death of her mother. Your mother passed away, when you were at the tender age of fourteen, and you were able to use your own personal experience to help craft your story. Why did you think it was important to share a piece of your story in this and would you have any advice to another child who has had to face the unbearable loss of a parent at a young age?

Losing my mom as a teenager was an incredibly isolating experience so I very much would have liked to see myself represented in fiction. But back then we didn’t have the vast Young Adult aisles we have now. I wrote Tell Me Three Things for sixteen-year-old me and if it reaches even one or two teenagers who went through what I went through and can recognize themselves and be comforted by seeing their own experiences reflected in Jessie’s, I’ll be happy. As for advice for someone who is grieving, I think it’s important to be told that though the loss of a parent will never be okay, you will be.  My main character counts in days since her mother died. She tells herself that if she survived one day without her mom, she can survive two. If she survives two, she can survive three. I clearly remember doing that to get through that difficult time. But now, I get to count in years, and in some ways it’s a celebration. I made it, and I’m okay. And though it’s hard to see it right now through that grief haze, you will be too.

Your journey to publishing is such an interesting one! Can you share a little bit about why you quit a promising career as a lawyer to be a writer? What would you say to someone else who feels stuck in a career and feels a passion for writing like you?

I was miserable as a lawyer! I felt bored and uninspired and every Sunday night I would cry because I didn’t want to go to work the next morning. I finally gathered the courage to quit as part of a New Year’s Resolution (actually the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept!) and decided to write that novel I had always talked about. I didn’t really intend to become a writer full-time—the original plan was to write the book and then transition into a different kind of law—but I got super lucky and very quickly had a career. I never recommend that someone quit and pursue novel writing in the way I did—it was a stupid thing to do that just happened to work out for me—but if you have a passion for writing, make it a priority and fit it in any way you can. It’s not easy, but I find that most writers can’t help but write. When I’m not writing, I’m cranky.

I know that, The Opposite of Love, had been optioned for film and I read that Anne Hathaway had been attached to the project as the lead. Is this movie still happening? Can you picture, Tell Me Three Things, being optioned for film?

Sadly, The Opposite of Love died in development, which happens to the vast majority of books optioned to film. I’d love for Tell Me Three Things to be optioned (and I haven’t given up hope that one day The Opposite of Love will get made somehow too!) I live in LA, so I have lots of meetings about both books, though so far we haven’t found the right home for either of them. But I can absolutely picture it as a film, and would love the opportunity to write the screenplay.

headspace

Do you have any tips for us on work/life balance? Any secrets that have helped you over the years to get in adequate writing time and be present with your kids? I know I am always looking for help in this!

I wish I had some magic secret, but I unfortunately don’t. I feel like the whole concept of balance is an illusion. I think it’s all about getting through each day doing the best you can. Do I end some days feeling guilty that I haven’t spent enough time with my kids? Absolutely. When I take the day off because my daughter has the flu, do I feel guilty for not working? Absolutely. The truth is I should probably stop wasting so much time feeling guilty and realize that I am doing my best on every front, and that sometimes I’m going to drop the ball. I’m human. All moms are, and maybe the first step to finding balance is to stop holding ourselves to ridiculously impossible standards. My kids will never have homemade Halloween costumes, my house is always a disaster, and we all eat more frozen food than we should. But in the grand scheme of things, none of that matters. What matters is the fact that my kids know they are loved and are well taken care of and I get to do a job I love. That should really be enough. I do meditate with the Headspace app, and I feel like that’s helped me feel present in my own life in wonderful ways, whether that’s time spent with my kids or at work. But balance? Never really going to happen. My life is just way too messy for balance.

The Incident On The Bridge by Laura McNeal

Who have been your biggest literary influences? Any YA authors, in particular, that you think we should be reading?

The answer changes daily to this question. There are a ton of writers whose work I deeply admire—Zadie Smith, Richard Powers, Marilynne Robinson just to name a few—but in terms of inspiring what I do each day, I’m mostly affected by whatever book I read last that made me wish I had been the one to craft it. I’m not so much inspired in the sense that I attempt to write like an author I love, but instead reading prose that makes me marvel has the wonderful side effect of making me go sit my ass back down in a chair and work harder on my own work. It makes me want to be better.

As for recommendations, I recently read The Incident on The Bridge by Laura McNeal, which is YA but is also very much suited for adult readers, and the book was lyrical and beautiful and heartbreaking and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m now going back to read Dark Water for which she was a finalist for the National Book Award.

You can connect with Julie Buxbaum on her website and on Facebook! 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!

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Sundays With Writers: All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage (Interview)

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

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Today’s SWW interview is with Elizabeth Brundage to discuss her new book, All Things Cease to Appear. I devoured this book and couldn’t wait to interview Elizabeth about it, especially after reading about her real-life ghost story that had inspired this storyline. I had chills up and down my spine when I read her experience and I think you will too. I’m so excited to share this interview with you today and honored that Elizabeth would be so open to sharing with our readers!

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

I love being part of a local book club and this past month we read, All Things Cease to Appear. I think it is important to set expectations with this one. Do you remember Everything I Never Told You (I interviewed the author too!)? Well, I felt like the setup of this book is similar. We are opening with someone being accused of murdering their wife and then working our way out from there. Some people get disappointed when things work in this direction (maybe thinking it takes away from the mystery of it all?), but I really loved that it opened this way and then the reader discovers more and more of the motive as the story unfolds.

The book opens with the murder of Catherine as the police began questioning the most obvious of suspects… her husband. The book builds out the story of this couple from the purchase of this farmhouse filled with secrets, the failing marriage, and George’s strange double life.

This book is a really deep character study into a sociopath. Brundage writes this book so well that things like the home, for example, become a character unto itself. This is slow, but worthy of the pacing with rich characters. I couldn’t put it down.

We included All Things Cease to Appear in our April Must-Reads list!

Oh, and I wish I could put you by a bonfire for this eerie tale and we could share it with a couple of flashlights! I guess coffee will suffice.  Settle in! 

Q&A With Elizabeth Brundage

Elizabeth Brundage I read a rather chilling story about the house that inspired the location for your book. Just like the book, the house had its own sad story. Can you share with us a little bit about the house you lived in that you were able to draw inspiration from and have you ever gone back to see it since you left?

The novel began with a real unsolved murder.  I first heard about it many years ago.  My husband was just finishing his residency in an upstate New York town and we were considering staying in the area for his fellowship. At the time, our daughter was three, and I was pregnant with our second.  I went to look at a house that had come on the market in a nice, suburban neighborhood.  I was standing in the living room looking out on the back yard and a sensation of darkness came over me – I know that may sound strange, but it did.  I told the realtor and she said that it wasn’t the house we were standing in, but the one just across the yard, shrouded in big pine trees.  She told me a woman had been murdered there with an ax while her young daughter, a three-year old, was home with her.  This story shook me, and stayed with me for years.

We ended up moving to Connecticut for a few years and then, after my husband’s fellowship, we moved up to the Albany area.  By then our daughters were 3 and 6.  We ended up renting a house in a rural area of Columbia County, south of Albany.  The house was a cape, built in the early nineteenth century.  My husband had just joined a cardiology group and I was alone a lot of the time with the girls.  Almost immediately strange things started happening in the house.  One day I was walking on the street and this man, a neighbor, came up to me and told me the house was haunted; the owner had moved away and was stuck renting it out.  He said the owner used to go out to dinner and come home to find the furniture rearranged.  We never experienced that, but there were things that freaked me out.  On Halloween, I turned on my computer and the printer started printing out a skeleton head made up of the word Boo.  This was before the Internet – the only thing running through the computer was electricity.  Then, around Thanksgiving, I came home with my hands full of groceries – I was holding a turkey as I recall – and tried to open the front door.  The knob wouldn’t turn, and then I could hear the doorknob being unscrewed from the inside, as if there was somebody behind the door.  The next thing I knew, the knob came off in my hand.  I wrote that scene into the book.  Once, I caught my youngest daughter, three, pointing at something across the room that I couldn’t see, giggling.  At night we’d get into bed and the mattress would shake as if someone – an invisible child – was jumping up and down on the foot of it.  Soon after my oldest daughter, who was six, informed me that three little girl-ghosts were living in the house. They had all died in a fire, she said, and their parents were up in heaven.  It was creepy, sure, but it was also very sad.  On the day we moved out of that house I happened to open a corner cupboard and discovered three pair of shoes, the sort little girls wore in the early 1800s, in age-appropriate sizes of the girl ghosts our daughter had described.

Both of these experiences came together to help me write this book.  I was interested in writing a ghost story that was not the usual terrifying horror story.  Instead, I wanted to show that the real terror in this world simmers among the living.  I have never been back to that house since, but I took the shoes with me I suppose to remind myself of that time, proof, perhaps, that there’s much we don’t know about this wondrous universe, and that every individual on this planet has a story worth telling.

You open your story right away with the murder of George Clare’s wife. Why did you decide to shape your book in this direction rather than building the story out and then ending with the murder?

I thought a lot about starting the novel with Cole Hale’s story of leaving the farm, but I ended up changing my mind.  The murder is still an open case, and it’s the reason I wanted to write the novel.  It presents a fascinating question to the reader, an invitation to investigate.  I was less interested in the murder as any sort of police procedural and more compelled to explore the people whose lives were irrevocably changed by it, including the murderer himself.

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(george inness painting/wikipedia)

Since George Clare teaches art history, did you have to do a lot of research to prepare for his role as a professor or have you always been interested in art yourself? Who is your favorite artist?

I’ve always been interested in art and have studied art history for years.  I did do research on the Hudson River School painters, George Inness in particular, which led me to exploring the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth century philosopher who had a very particular insight into life and death and the notion of an afterlife.  Teaching for many years at various colleges supplied me with plenty of source material to create the Art History Department at Saginaw, the fictional college in the book, and one of the main characters, George Clare, who is an art historian.  Halfway through the book George and his friend Bram have a conversation about the value of art.  I think art is extremely important.  I love many painters; I don’t think I could choose a favorite.

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(elizabeth has a gorgeous IG feed- follow her!!)

Did any real-life cases inspire this story and did you have anyone in your life that helped you craft the character of George?

The murder is based on a real cold case murder that remains unsolved.  Several aspects of the case intrigued me, primarily that the young daughter was left alone all day with her dead mother.  I think that is just heartbreaking.  No, George Clare is not based on anyone I know, thank God.

Do you think that George’s wife, Catherine, was as much to blame as he was in the crimes he committed? Do you think if she had done things differently she could have escaped?

I think Catherine Clare was somewhat repressed by the times.  It was the late 70s, the women’s movement was just getting under way.  Her husband, George, terrified her.  They were intent on keeping on the appearance of an ideal marriage, which, I think, many of us do to some degree.  For reasons that I try to explore in the book, she doesn’t have the where-with-all to leave him.  When she finally musters the courage, it’s too late.

Did you do a lot of research on sociopaths to create George? Did you have any scenes in your book that were difficult to write with George?

Once you get into the head of a character, they are pretty much calling the shots, so it wasn’t difficult for me to write George.  I found him to be a very troubled and fascinating character.  To him, everything he does makes perfect sense and is absolutely necessary for his own survival and reputation.  Some of the scenes when he’s with Willis were hard to write because I knew that he was the last person on earth she should be sleeping with.

Do you feel like you have a better understanding of sociopaths after writing this book? I don’t want to share any spoilers, but do you think that George got what he deserved in the end?

George doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want to.  He even chooses his own fate in the end.  That falls in line with being a true psychopath, I think.  He has a spectacular ego.  Yes, I did some research on these sorts of disorders, but I believe that the best way to achieve a certain level of authenticity as a writer is to become a patient, thoughtful, and empathetic observer of life.

This book has a large cast of characters and it is almost like the town itself is a character. Did you have a favorite character you enjoyed writing?

My favorite character is Cole Hale.  Throughout the book, we watch him grow up and become the good man that he is.  I have a real soft spot for him.  I also loved writing his brothers Eddy and Wade.  Eddy has an edge to him, but a deep respect for life.  He never doubts himself because he knows who he is; I was a little in love with him.

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

There have been so many books that I have loved that have influenced me.  Having to pick one is impossible, but I will offer Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, because it’s a great coming of age story full of fascinating, surprising, various, and brilliantly vivid characters my favorite of which is Miss Havisham, one of the all time greatest creations in literature.

You can connect with Elizabeth Brundage 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!

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (Interview)

Sunday, May 8th, 2016

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I am so excited to be interviewing Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney this week to discuss her incredible debut novel, The Nest. I absolutely loved her book and couldn’t wait to interview her for many, many reasons.  Not only did she write her first book at 54, but she secured a really fantastic advance on it, becoming one of the most talked about novelists for 2016. I love, love, love hearing about writers pursuing a book later in life because it gives me so much hope to know that we can carve new paths at any age and there is never (TRULY)  an appropriate time to give up on something you have always wanted to do! It seemed an appropriate message to share this Mother’s Day.

Is there something you have always wanted to do?

DO IT!

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Let’s chat about, The Nest. Do you love dysfunctional family stories? I know I do! The Nest reminded me a lot of Jonathan Tropper’s, This is Where I Leave Youin that regard. This book centers around four grown children and the inheritance (AKA- The Nest!) that they are supposed to be inheriting. Leo, the unreliable alcoholic sibling in the story, ends up getting in a terrible car accident and has to pay the accompanying passenger a large sum to keep the story quiet. His mother gives him the majority of the inheritance as hush money for the car accident, unbeknownst to his siblings.

The story then really unfolds with all of the siblings and what this inheritance would have meant to them is uncovered. As a reader you see what life looks like without the money they always planned on. No spoilers, but imagine that you had made financial mistakes, but always knew you would have a large sum to bail you out and find out that the money doesn’t exist. Awful, isn’t it?

I think some people will find the ending a little dissatisfying, but I also know that most dysfunctional family stories don’t have tidy endings. I loved it- laughed a lot and sympathized with many characters. This was a great escape! Read More…

Now grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Cynthia today!

Q&A With Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

You landed a seven-figure advance as a debut author and became one of the most buzzed about novelists this year. It’s sad that this is so notable in this industry with all of the incredible writers out there, but it truly is amazing (I couldn’t be happier for you!)! Did you find that it put more pressure on you to deliver because you had so much hype surrounding your book? How did your family react to this incredible news?

Unlike non-fiction, which a writer can sell with a book proposal, fiction is usually sold once the manuscript is completed. So Ecco/HarperCollins bought the book I’d already written. There was still back and forth with Megan Lynch, who is my wonderful editor at Ecco, but I knew from our initial conversations that she and I were very much on the same page about the edits and that she wasn’t looking for extensive revision. In fact, I was excited about making the changes Megan and I discussed because I knew the result was going to be a stronger book.

I have to say, as I near the age of forty, that hearing you became a novelist at the age of 54 gives me a lot of hope for the opportunities I might have to look forward to and how I could transition my career path when my kids are grown. Was this a more recent dream to publish or have you always known you wanted to write a book? Was it a hard transition to switch from nonfiction writing to fiction?

I sold the book when I was 54, but I’d started writing fiction 7 or 8 years earlier and, yes, it was hard – mostly because I didn’t know what I was doing a lot of the time, mostly from a craft and technical perspective. So I took classes and in 2011 I decided to return to graduate school to get my MFA in fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. I graduated in 2013 and started The Nest there as my thesis. But I think the hardest transition was from writing because I was hired and paid for a project to writing in the hope that on some distant, unknowable day a publisher might be interested in the book.

It sounds like your literary agent had impeccable timing for when to release your manuscript. Can you share with us when she sent it?

First I’d like to share that my agent is a he! Henry Dunow had the brilliant idea to send out the manuscript the Monday after the Thanksgiving break when everyone was returning to work after spending the holiday with their own families in the hopes that the book would resonate more clearly. I don’t think either of us expected the kind of response we got that week, but I’ll always be grateful for his artful sense of timing.  

Amy Poehler

I understand that you were in a book club with Amy Poehler and when the book club didn’t take off, a friendship was formed over drinks and your love for fiction. Amy also wrote such an incredible endorsement that’s placed on the cover of your book. When did you share the book with your friend and was she one of the first people to read it?

I met Amy at a book club that included lots of funny, smart women in the improv/comedy world of New York City in the late 90s. The book club kind of petered out mostly because of everyone’s performing schedules (not mine; I had two small children and was itching to leave the house whenever I could manage). But Amy and I would see each other socially and we reconnected when I moved out to Los Angeles. She’s a huge reader and loves fiction and was very supportive and enthusiastic when I went back to graduate school and started a novel. I didn’t want her to read the book until I felt I had a solid version, but she was definitely one of the first people I sent it to after I turned in the final draft to Ecco. 

Just because I think this is such an incredibly sweet story (and then we can stop talking about Amy), can you share how you were worried that you wouldn’t be able to use the title The Nest because of a project she had in the works?

I found out shortly before finishing my book that there was a movie coming out with Amy and Tina Fey called The Nest. To be honest, I wasn’t really worried because I know publishers change titles all the time. But when the book was out on submission, everyone I spoke with kept saying how much they liked The Nest. I just kept my mouth shut about the movie and figured I’d give everyone the bad news later. A week after the book sold, I had dinner with Amy who told me that only days earlier the movie The Nest had been changed to Sisters, which was a complete coincidence and felt a little bit like kismet. So the title came back my way.

This book is very focused on an inheritance that is supposed to be given to the siblings in this family. I read your interview with NPR where you shared about the inheritance your parents gave to you and I just loved it because our family hopes to give experiences rather than things to our children. Do you have a favorite family trip from this inheritance given? Is this the type of inheritance you hope to pass on to your kids?

My family –my parents and my siblings—still vacations in the same little town in Maine every summer. My parents started taking us there when I was ten. They still stay in the same tiny rental cottage and as our family has grown, we rent houses nearby. We don’t all always manage to make it every year but we mostly do and our children have grown up with that tradition and I’m sure they’ll be passing it along to their kids.

There is a large cast of characters in this book and I would have a hard time picking a favorite, but I would say that I related the most to Melody’s struggles. Did you have a character, in particular, that you related to and which one was the most fun to write?

I relate to every character. I think if you put all four Plumb siblings together, you would probably have a pretty good approximation of me. Leo was the most fun to write and probably the one I miss writing the most.

Who have been your literary influences as a writer?

Jane Austen, Elizabeth Strout, Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, Tessa Hadley, Alice McDermott, Meg Wolitzer, William Trevor, Nora Ephron, David Rakoff – I could go on and on! Everyone I read influences me in some way.

I’d love to vaguely talk about the ending of your book (so we don’t give any spoilers away). Is this the ending you had envisioned for these characters? Do you see any potential in this being a sequel or do you think this is where you would like to end their story?

I was probably a little more than halfway through the first draft when I felt I had a sense of where everyone would end up and I don’t think anything changed in the writing. I do believe this is where their story ends for me and I’m content with it. No sequels!

Jill Soloway Directs The Nest

While I was reading your book, I was already picturing this becoming a movie. I know you might get asked that a lot, but would you be open to that if the opportunity presents itself? Did you picture any actors for these characters when you were crafting them?

I did not picture any actors while writing and I’ve been asked so many times who I imagine but I can never think of anyone because the characters exist in my head as they exist in my head, if that makes any sense. But that will have to change eventually because I sold the movie option to Amazon Feature Films (editor’s note- check out Amazon’s plans for films!!!) . I’m adapting the book to screenplay and Jill Soloway is producing.

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

Ah, the most dreaded question for any writer. Or for me at least because it’s so hard to chose. New love? Old favorite? Funny? Sad?  Both?  Maybe I’ll do all of those (sorry, I’m cheating).

New love: I just finished Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr., the story of the heiress and recluse Huguette Clark who lived to be 103. It’s mystery, biography and history all rolled into one fascinating page-turner.

Old favorite: Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge. I slightly favor the Mrs., but they’re both great.

Both funny and sad: I just finished watching the Nora Ephron documentary on HBO and it made me pick up Heartburn again. I’ve been telling everyone to reread it because it’s so deeply funny and so deeply sad. My favorite combination.

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

You can connect with Cynthia D’Aprix on her website or through Facebook! 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: The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

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Are you a big Joshilyn Jackson fan too? I am so excited to be interviewing Joshilyn today about her new book, The Opposite of Everyone.

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson delivers another solid read with her latest novel, The Opposite of Everyone. Joshilyn tells her story in a very unusual way.  Rather than alternating past and present in chapter format, Jackson weaves the two stories of past and present into one chapter smoothly without transition. At first, this can be confusing, but it is worth the confusion as she weaves her reader through plot twist after plot twist of a girl growing up in a group home due to her mother’s incarceration to her powerful role as a lawyer finding out that her mother has kept a big life-changing secret from her.

Follow the story of a broken little girl who feels she made the one mistake that cost her a relationship with her mother into a grown woman seeking desperately to connect with family members she never knew, with many surprises along the way.

Now grab your coffee and let’s chat with Joshilyn about her incredible book!

Q&A With Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson

You and I have something very similar in common. My site tackles a variety of topics so it is difficult to categorize me as a writer or where I fit best within my own blogging community. You have said that you struggle with placement in bookstores because your writing envelopes so many different genres. What do you think is the hardest part about not fitting into one clearly defined genre and what do you think is the most rewarding thing about being that type of writer?

Oh, yeah. I hear you. We are untidy, you and I. We are pegs that do not go neatly into this hole or that. I think the hardest part is part is finding our initial readership. People who would like our stuff—maybe even love it—dismiss it because they think we are this peg or that peg. The upside is, when people do find us and realize what we are about, they tend to stick.

I finally wrote my own genre, to help folks decide if they want to read me or not. I officially write “Weirdo Fiction with a Shot of Southern Gothic Influence for Smart People Who Can Catch the Nuances but Who Like Narrative Drive, and Who Have a Sense of Humor but Who Are Willing to Go Down to Dark Places”

The best part? I am writing exactly the kinds of books I love to read, as I imagine you are running the kind of website you always hope to find while surfing.

This book is a little all over the map which makes it so fun! For example, Paula is tri-racial, you have her growing up in a foster system, she’s a lawyer, and you weave in Hindu images and storytelling in this book. How much research did you have to do to prepare for this story and did you discover anything that surprised you while gathering your research?

A lot of research in a lot of different directions. I went to dinner and for drinks with a lot of different lawyers. I went down to the courthouse and even sat in some trials. I read a lot Hindu god stories and epic poetry. I interviewed multi-racial people about the experience of living between cultural identities.

Any time I write outside my own experience, I feel I have to respectful, you know? I want to reflect a version of the truth that lies well within the spectrum of actual experience.

I think the thing that surprised me the most was how virulent divorce cases can be—especially when there is a lot of money involved. I know people who divorce with dignity and grace—but on the other end of the spectrum, wow it goes way out there.

I took as many high end swanky ATL divorce attorneys as would let me out to lunch. I plied them with wine and shrimp cocktails, and I asked them for their war stories.  What I got back was a litany of offences ranging from stalking, to dog-napping, to kidnapping, to arson, to filling a very, very expensive car up with boxes of valuable baseball cards and rolling whole shebang right into a lake. In the course of four dates like this I heard about two planned murders and one actual attempted murder.

When I realized anything was go in this ugly, escalating divorce case Paula works on over the course of the book, I invented Murder Kittens. Don’t worry—no kittens, real or imagined, are harmed in the scene—and in fact I have yet to visit a book club who doesn’t want to talk about murder kittens.

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(you must follow Joshilyn on Facebook!!)

Paula, as a lawyer, represents a lot of BANK cases (Both Assholes No Kids) in this book. Did you come up with that acronym on your own or is this out in the law world and I just didn’t know it? It made me laugh!

I came up with it. Since the book’s publication, I have gotten e-mails from real life divorce attorneys, and they assure me it is getting daily use in at least a few real law offices now.

In this story we can truly see how broken our system is when parents are put away in jail and children are forced into the foster system, often for minor infractions. I understand that you had your own struggles with the system from working within the judicial system to teaching at a correctional facility for women. What do you think is wrong with this system and what could we do, as a country, to repair it?

I work with a group called REFORMING ARTS to bring arts education to the incarcerated women at Lee Arrendale State Prison here in Georgia. The hope is that learning to express and process their feelings, to find their own voices, to speak truths will help them connect with their families. We want to empower them to make different choices and cut down on recidivism.

We are out of control here in this country. We are the world’s biggest jailer. The USA—land of the brave, home of the free—puts more people in jail than Russia does. We imprison a higher percentage of our population than South Africa. Think about that. I’m not saying we don’t need prisons. We do. I am saying they need to be a last resort. We need to stop using prisons as a way to not deal with our social and economic issues, our hideous racial issues, and our petty fears about people-not-like-us.

This is America. We are a melting pot. Most people in the country are going to be people-not-like-whatever-us-you-are.

We have to stop putting people in prison for non-violent offenses. We have to find ways of reclaiming people from the arms of meth instead of just warehousing them—or using them for the equivalent of slave labor in privatized prisons. There are prisons in this country that are being run by FOR PROFIT corporations. That means there is a financial incentive for keeping a steady supply of human beings – often human beings with children— in jail as workers.

People may not know that you were an actor and you now utilize those acting skills by narrating your own audiobooks and the books of others.  You were even nominated for an Audie Award for your performance! What was your favorite book to narrate and have you found this to be a great outlet to still feel like part of that acting world?

I am a theatre person from the way, way back. I met my husband when I was nineteen, and we both got hired by a little regional repertoire theatre.  The first time I ever saw him, he was learning to sword-fight for a dueling scene. Of course I had to marry him.

I stayed very involved in theatre while in grad school in Chicago; one of my plays was produced there, and I acted quite a bit. Then I got pregnant and I wanted to be closer to my family! When we moved back rural Georgia, my life really changed. I was isolated from my theatrical community, and I think that’s why I turned to novels. I loved my kid, but he was not a great conversationalist in the first couple of years, especially. I wrote my first novel practically one handed, holding my nursing baby with the other.

I think that as an actor, I was more challenged reading Lydia Netzer’s novels than my own. I loved reading SHINE, SHINE, SHINE and HOW TO TELL TOLEDO FROM THE NIGHT SKY!

Lydia Netzer

I read in an interview with you write for Lydia Netzer as your ideal target audience. Do you think all writers should find one person as their target audience and why did you select her as the person you want to write for?

Well, it’s more about permission. I think my largest problem as a writer is cowardice…I am scared if I let my characters do the things they want to do and say what they want to say and go down into the dark places where they are always trying to march me into, people will think I am not a nice lady. I am Southern, and female, so I was raised to be a  super passive-aggressive people pleaser. I pull back in my writing when I picture herds of imaginary disapproving Sunday School teachers reading my work. And they are always lurking there, trying to get me to notice their crippling disapproval.

If I think of Lydia reading it, it gives me permission to write what I truly want to write.

 Support groups can mean so much and I understand you have a lot of support from fellow writers in a writing group you are a part of with Lydia Netzer, Karen Abbott, & Sara Gruen. Do you think having this support has made your writing better and how can writers find their tribe like you did?

I think they to those friendships is that they formed early in our careers. Sara and Abbott, me and Lydia, and then Sara and I connected she shared Abbott with me. We weren’t publishing yet. I think we all pushed each other forward in a lot of ways. I know that watching these brilliant women sail over bars made me want to do better, be better, revise more, not be lazy, push myself harder.

I write to a standard that I am not ashamed to show them. I want them to love my books as much as I love theirs.

That’s the other thing—a lot of those friendships started because we liked each other’s writing first, then found out we also liked the people attached to it. I read Lydia’s nascent scribblings in grad school, and fell in love with her prose. Abbott and I both met Sara on an online message board, and I was so attracted to her emails—I started writing her off list to court her friendship, and then she let me read her fiction and I was hooked.

As someone who swore she would never do a sequel, I understand you aren’t finished with Paula yet. I know that she started as a bit character in, Someone Else’s Love Story, and that you had to whittle down your scenes with her. What is it about Paula that makes her so special to you and can we expect to follow her as she takes on more cases in her career?

I don’t know if I will write Paula again. I know that I would like to.

I never want to write sequels because I try to end my books in what I call the breath. Maybe not a tidy, sunshine ending, but in that pause between sorrows and storms. In a place of actual hope.

My books have some sharp corners and they can go down to some bad places; I like to leave the characters who survive in a place of peace, and I like remember them there. I don’t want to tear their lives up again. If I wrote a sequel, I would have to. No one wants to read about people having a nice dinner and walking the dog. That’s an excellent way to spend a life—but an awful book.

Paula? On the other hand. Never have I written a more contentious narrator. She eats trouble for breakfast, and then says, “Please, sir, may I have some more.” She steps toward conflict with a kindling black joy, and I love her for it. I would not feel at all about putting Paula into more trouble because she was born for it. She thrives there.

She is so thorny and contentious and so addicted to winning that I think she would be wholly unlikable if she didn’t have such a soft heart for underdogs. Say what you will about Paula, she uses her dark powers for good!

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books?  (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. I return to it again and again, because it’s just so lovely and so fearless and so whole. Also? One of the best first lines in literature. If you have read any of my books, you know I really think first lines matter; I believe that the ending of a book must be contained in its beginning. Only in this way can you find that inevitable but surprising conclusion that Flannery O’Connor talks about. Irving does this perfectly—here it is:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

Joshilyn Jackson

You can connect with Joshilyn Jackson on her website or through Facebook! 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!

 

 

 

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Sundays With Writers: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

I love discovering debut novelists and today’s guest, Jeff Zentner, is joining me today to talk about his first book, The Serpent King. I wanted to post this interview right away because it is on sale this month for just $1.99. Make the purchase. I promise you, it will be one of your favorite reads this year! It’s a gripping YA read that had me laughing and crying (sometimes simultaneously) and I was so sad when this book ended.  It’s as epic as, The Fault in Our Stars.

It’s that good.

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King is about three unlikely friends growing up in the rural South that are all fighting demons of their own. Dill’s father is a Pentecostal preacher, known for his snake charming church, that becomes part of a town scandal that has left his family open to scrutiny and struggling financially. Travis is obsessed with a book series called Bloodfall that helps him escape into another reality away from his abusive father. And Lydia is a blogger ready to start a new life in New York while struggling to leave behind what is familiar and those she loves. These three unlikely people bond together and end up facing a struggle none of them could have ever predicted.  This friendship is beautifully woven with humor and heart.

I could not put this book down and read it in a single day. I had to know what would happy with these three and I couldn’t wait to chat with Jeff about his incredible writing. 

Grab your coffee and let’s chat today with Jeff Zentner about the story behind his story!

Jeff-Zentner-Headshot

I know that many of us feel like we have a book in us, but we also feel like we don’t have the time. I understand that you managed to write your book on your commute on your phone. Can you tell us a little about that process and how big that screen was on that phone because I’m trying to picture this? I’m so impressed!

It was a process born of simple necessity! I had almost two hours of bus commute each day, round trip, a day job, and a family. I had to squeeze the writing in whenever I could. So I’d try to write 500 words on my iPhone 5S on the way into the office, 500 words at lunch, and 500 words on the way home. Yes, my right thumb would get very tired. After I’d put my son to bed at night, I would try to write another thousand words or two (on my laptop) if I could.

Before writing, my primary creative outlet was music, and what makes writing wonderful is that I can whip out my phone at all sorts of random times and get a little work done on something. I couldn’t do that with music, because even in Nashville, bringing your guitar on the bus and trying to work out a new song is frowned upon.

I grew up in a very conservative religious home, not exactly like Dill’s, but I could relate to that need to not disappoint God or your parents. Even though Dill has so much thrown at him, he seems pretty steadfast in his faith through it all. Did you want your readers to take away that message and why do you think it was important for Dill not to turn away from God?

I also grew up in a conservative religious home, although my parents were much more supportive and loving than Dill’s. Still, I was able to glean insights about what growing up with less supportive and loving religious parents would look like. Through my life, I’ve had my struggles with faith and I’ve had to come to my own view of God because I don’t always believe everything I’m told about him. Faith is a thing not easily abandoned, and I think it would have been dishonest of me to depict it as something one can simply walk away from. It felt more honest to me to have Dill wrestle with it until he could come to know a God who was more concerned with his joy than putting him to constant tests that could harm him.

Tavi Gevinson

Lydia was my favorite character because I could relate to her humor and to her job as a blogger. I understand she was loosely on Tavi Gevinson and her fashion blog Style Rookie. I know, as a blogger, I am concerned a lot about my brand and I related to Lydia’s struggle with not sharing photos of her friends to stay consistent to her brand’s message. Do you think it was wrong of her to do that and how did you come up with this all-too-true blogger struggle?

I actually don’t believe that it was wrong of her to do that. It’s her blog and her persona and her brand and I think she’s entitled to craft those things as she sees fit. But even though I think she wasn’t wrong to exclude Travis and Dill, I think she was right to include them once she felt brave enough to do so. I think at that point she was correct that no one would think less of her for associating closely with the fashion-challenged.

But ultimately what I think about the rightness or wrongness of Lydia’s actions is in no way authoritative. I lost all power to dictate how people felt about her behavior once I published the book with her in all of her flaws. So if anyone else thinks she was wrong to exclude Dill and Travis, who am I to say otherwise?

I came up with this struggle sort of by intuition. I’d read Tavi’s blog and it looked like she associated exclusively with people with equally amazing style. I thought it unlikely that she only knew and loved people with exceptional fashion sense. So I figured there was some image control going on there. Also, I’ve maintained Internet presences for years for various musical projects, so I knew that part of crafting an image and persona was selectivity in what you reveal about yourself.
Snakehandling

Dill grows up in a Pentecostal church that believes in snakehandling. What type of research did you do to create your church scenes?

I’ve long been fascinated with the practice of snakehandling, so I’ve done a fair amount of reading on it. The definitive work is a beautiful book called Salvation on Sand Mountain, which I highly recommend. I also interviewed friends who have attended worship services at snakehandling churches.

The nice thing, though, is that there’s no central authority for snakehandling sects. There’s no pope of snakehandling. So I invented the church in the book and therefore no one can say I got it wrong!

One line in your book is, “And if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.” I really loved it because it is so true. I would imagine that it took a lot of bravery to put your book out into the world. Do you feel like this is one of the bravest things you’ve done? Have you always dreamed of writing or was this something you discovered you enjoyed later in life?

I do think it’s one of the bravest things I’ve personally done, but that doesn’t mean it’s one of the bravest things that can be done. I think it takes more courage to do what Dill does in the book, which is to survive bleak circumstances, including bullying. unloving parents and poverty, and not allow them to define him.

I haven’t always dreamed of writing because for most of my life, it wasn’t something that I allowed myself to dream. It just seemed too impossible; too daunting. I thought books were things that floated down from ivory towers, clutched in baskets held by doves. It’s only been in the last few years, and becoming personally acquainted with several published authors, that it’s come to feel like something I was capable of doing. It helped too that I had a day job that required rigorous, intensive writing on a daily basis. That was the final element that gave me the courage to try my hand.

Jeff Zentner at Penguin Random House

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You signed a two book deal with Crown/Random House & Tundra/Random House Canada which is awesome and (for me as a writer) a little terrifying too. Did you have to immediately get to work on the second book after this book was published? Has your writing process changed with this book or are you still writing on a bus?

It was terrifying for me too! I had no idea what my second book would be, and yet I needed to deliver my editors something she loved as much as The Serpent King, a story I’d thought about for years. I ran several ideas past them until finally, on idea ten or eleven, something clicked. So I got to work on book two and now it’s finished and on track for a spring 2017 release. It’s not a companion or a sequel to The Serpent King, but it does feature a cameo from one of The Serpent King’s gang.

My process for this book was a little different. While I was writing The Serpent King, I did nothing but write it. No outside reading, no TV, no movies, nothing. And I decided I wasn’t going to try to write again so devoid of my creative inputs of information. So with book two, I made sure to leave plenty of time to consume the books and shows that I loved while I was writing. I did write almost all of it on the bus. I wrote even more of it on the bus than The Serpent King, in fact, because I reserved my evenings for reading and shows.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone, but I felt like it left it wide open for a sequel. Do you see this story continuing or do you feel like you have closed the chapters on these friends?

I can’t envision writing a sequel. I’m happy with where things end and I think I gave my readers enough for them to write their own lovely sequels in their heads. I even used to have an epilogue that I cut because I was unsatisfied with how neatly it tied everything up with a bow. I didn’t leave enough room for imagination.

I’ve had the unique opportunity to interview a few musicians turned novelists over the years and I understand you are a musician (as well as an attorney & youth camp volunteer!) as well. Are you still writing music too? Do you find these processes to be similar?

Sadly, I find that the music-writing muse has left me. But hopefully only for a time. I’m starting to make friends with my guitar again. I went a long time without even playing it. I’m just trying to renegotiate my relationship with music now. It feels like we broke up and we’re just learning how to be friends again.

There is, truly, the best prom date ever written in your book. Please tell me your high school prom was that cool?

I wish I could tell you that! I barely even remember prom. I remember we got rained on and my date’s hair was still wet for our pictures. That was pretty funny. And pathetic. So I guess we had kind of a pathetic prom.

Lastly, what is one of your all-time favorite books? (This will be added to one of our most visited posts of must-reads from the authors featured in Sundays With Writers)

I’m going to cheat and do two.

On the adult side, my all-time favorite book is The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s so brutal and unsparing yet beautiful and filled with ferocious love. I feel like I can survive anything with that story in my mind.

On the young adult side, my favorite book is The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter. It’s so incredibly lyrical and gorgeous and filled with wisdom. It inspires me asa writer to work harder.

Jeff Zentner

You can connect with Jeff Zentner  on his website or through Facebook! 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!

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