Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

Sundays With Writers: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Have you ever thought you read every book by one of your favorite authors and then discover that you missed one? It felt like Christmas when I found out After I Do was a book that I had not tackled and discovered it was available on audio through our library. Over a day of cooking, I laughed, cried, and loved this book so much that I reached out to Taylor to tell her how very special it was to me. It is, in fact, my personal favorite of all the books she had written.  I asked if she would mind sharing a little behind this incredible book with you and she graciously agreed to share with us today. What a treat!

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

After I Do  is a must-read author recommendation,  recommended by Liz Fenton in her Sundays With Writers interview. Like I said, somehow I had missed this one in between her other two incredible books Forever, Interrupted and Maybe In Another Life.

I can now say that I’ve read all of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s books and this is, by far, her best work.  After I Do is a brutally honest portrayal of a failing marriage that gives us glimpses into our own marriage struggles that we deal with daily and how, what once was endearing, can be the things that we can’t stand about our spouse.

Lauren & Ryan take a year off of their marriage in a temporary split to see if they really are meant to be together. As they navigate the world without one another, they discover a lot about themselves and each other.

A hopeful book filled with a family of characters that feel like your own, Reid’s book makes you feel like part of the family as you root for Lauren & Ryan to find each other again. Highly recommending this one!

I gave this book 5 stars and included it in our October ’15 Must-Reads List!

Grab your cup of coffee and let’s settle in with Taylor to hear more behind this beautiful book and some new projects that she happens to have underway!

Taylor Jenkins Reid

You are one of the few writers that I have devoured their entire body of work and loved every single book! After I Do though has to be my favorite (so far) of yours! Why did you decide to explore a couple taking a year away from each other in their marriage as the premise for this story?

First of all, thank you for reading all three of my books! I came up with the idea for After I Do just as I was finishing Forever, Interrupted. I knew that I wanted to delve into a story of what happens after you’ve fallen out of love. I figured the most interesting way for me to do that was to create two people who used to be madly in love with each other find themselves on the edge of divorce. Then the question becomes, “Can they fall back in love?” Answering that was the fun of writing the book.

You chose to narrate the story from Lauren’s perspective, but one way that we really can delve into Ryan’s story is through the unsent emails that Lauren reads in his drafts folder. Why did you choose to tell the story in this way instead of a more “he said, she said,” narration with alternating voices?

Great question. I wrestled with this for a long time. There was even a draft – I think maybe it was draft three – where I worried that I needed to scrap half of the book and add in Ryan’s point of view. But I really wanted this to feel like a story of self-exploration and not a book where the reader was choosing sides. I wanted the audience to connect with Lauren and her family. So I decided to stick with her point of view and work hard at making Ryan’s voice come through.

There were moments that I laughed out loud at the minor irritations that seem so major when we are married. I love my husband, but those things like not putting your dishes in the sink or not putting clothes in the hamper can really escalate, you know? Did you channel some of your silly inner rages with your spouse in the email banter between Lauren & Ryan?

Ha! I tried really hard not to air my own dirty laundry in the book but I did tap into the feeling of,“I love you but I hate you so damn much,” in order to capture how frustrating it can be to live with another human being. I’m sure some of my own marriage snuck in there unbeknownst to me… Case in point: I have a dog named Rabbit and Lauren and Ryan’s dog is named Thumper (who was a rabbit). I didn’t even notice it until a reader pointed it out.  So there’s probably there’s more of me in there than I realize.

After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

There are many beautiful moments in this book, but one line really stood out for me in particular that I highlighted. It was, “We are two people who used to be in love. What a beautiful thing to have been. What a sad thing to be.” Hello, heartstrings! So many moments really just cut me to the core. Were there any scenes that were particularly emotional for you to write about?

I’m thrilled you said that because that line was a particular favorite of mine as well! I always have certain ideas or sentiments that I try to write towards as I’m crafting my first draft. And I was most definitely writing toward that line. There were a few scenes that were very gratifying and deeply emotional to write but they are all at the end and I don’t want to spoil anything. Suffice it to say, the resolution of everyone’s storylines meant a lot to me.

Typically, I don’t really get wrapped up in the supporting characters in a book, but in this one, I was just as attached to the family as I was to Lauren & Ryan. Did you have a favorite family member? Do you ever envision writing a book about any of the other characters in this story?

I think every single character in this book has more story ahead of them. Which is why I’m super excited that I’ve signed a deal with ABC Family to adapt After I Do as a half-hour series. It’s very early stages and the development process is never a sure thing, but I’m very excited about the idea of seeing where Charlie, Rachel, Leslie, Mila, Lauren, and Ryan’s stories take them.

I know you did a lot of research on marriages as you were preparing for this book. Why did you want to research the history of marriage and what was the most interesting thing you discovered about the act of marriage?

The book is about Lauren and Ryan’s marriage, but it’s also about marriage in general. It’s about opting out of marriage, childless marriage, marriage equality, non-monogamous marriage, raising children, etc. So I wanted to learn about the many different ways humans have interpreted the word and how the definition is changing with every generation. I think the most interesting thing I learned is just how rare monogamous love-based marriage truly is. This type of marriage that we refer to as “traditional marriage,” is fairly new and not particularly common in human history.

Did writing about Lauren’s flaws and Ryan’s flaws make you hyper aware of you or your own husband’s issues? Did it bring out any of your own insecurities about marriage?

It definitely made me think about what I do in my own relationship that might one day lead to systemic problems. When you write a book about how a marriage has gone wrong, it makes you look at your own relationship and analyze whether you’re guilty of any of the things your characters are. I think writing the book was one of the best things I did for my marriage because it required me to truly ask myself what I thought could ruin a relationship. And once you answer a question like that, you have to start heeding your own advice.

Resident Advisors

One thing that I didn’t know about you, as I was researching for this interview, is that you are a triple threat! Not only do you write books, but you also have a Hulu series (Resident Advisors) and you write for magazines… and I thought I had a hard time describing my job! That’s a lot of balls in the air as a creative. How do you keep inspired and do you have a system for gathering and storing all of your ideas for these storylines?

I’m a big proponent of lists. I have To Do lists every day as well as project lists on the walls of my office. What projects am I currently working on? What still needs to be done for each one? What do I need to do today? And then I have a master list of every idea I’ve ever had, that I use as a well to draw from whenever an opportunity arises. I’ve been blessed with a neurotic, type-A working style, which means that everything is compartmentalized and controlled. That being said, I have a decidedly un-neurotic and non-type-A living style. So I never miss a deadline but I am always losing my keys.

Forever Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

 I am so excited to hear that, Forever, Interrupted,”  (listed as one of my own personal top ten’s for 2013) is being adapted into a screenplay. Do you have any information you can share about where you are in that process or any of the casting decisions that have been made?

As announced, Dakota Johnson is attached to star as Elsie! Which is very exciting. And as I understand it, the script is being written right now. I am a big fan of the producers – and trust their vision —  so I know they are doing a great job bringing Elsie, Susan, and Ben to life.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I stumbled upon it at the used bookstore attached my library and bought a copy of it for four dollars last December. I have since recommended it to everyone that will listen to me and have bought multiple copies. It is a retelling of the story of Achilles’s life leading up to and through the Trojan War. I can’t tell you what I love most about it because I love everything about it so much. It is stunningly romantic, a pleasure to read, incredibly thought-provoking, and epically tragic, with some of the most wonderful sentences I’ve read in some time. It manages to straddle both classic literature and soap opera in one story. It’s so good (and so juicy) that I would call it a guilty pleasure except that you have nothing to feel guilty about because it’s so very beautiful and keenly smart.

You can connect with Taylor Jenkins Reid on Facebook or through 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!

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Sundays With Writers: This is Your Life, Harriet Chance by Jonathan Evison

Sunday, October 25th, 2015


Hello, friends! Today I am so excited to share about a new-to-me author that I have discovered this month. Jonathan Evison’s book, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, is a book that I listened to while tackling my meal prep for the week and it was absolutely charming in every way. If you are into audiobooks, the narrator did such an incredible job on this one!  As soon as I finished it, I emailed Jonathan to see if he could share more about it with me. He graciously is joining us today and after researching more about him and his books, I am just so anxious to read another one, in particular, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, which he told me would really resonate with my mom readers!

This is Your Life, Harriet Chance! by Jonathan Evison

Our must-reads list for the month will be out on Friday, but I couldn’t wait until then to tell you about this incredible book.

There is so much beautiful layering in this book that I just couldn’t put it down! 78-year-old Harriet discovers that her husband had won an Alaskan cruise before his passing and, with an expiration date looming on the prize, she decides to take that cruise with her best friend. When her best friend unexpectedly bails on her, Harriet finds herself on a boat out to sea, but she isn’t alone thanks to her husband’s visits.

We grow to know Harriet in a unique way as chapters alternate with a, “This is Your Life,” game show theme and we jump along the timeline of Harriet learning more about all of the life experiences that have shaped her, the people who have betrayed her, how she was treated when she was a child, how she felt as her marriage and parenting were failing, and what it was like for her to care for a husband who mentally was no longer there.

The book twists and turns, secrets are revealed and an unexpected guest joins Harriet on the cruise. It was a beautiful story that makes you consider what your own, “This Is Your Life,” show might look like- with all the good and the bad moments in it.

I am giving this book 5 out of 5 stars and am so excited to hear that it will be coming to the big screen!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Jonathan Evison today as we chat about his incredible new book!

jonathan evison

In your interview with NPR in September, you stated that you originally had written the story with Harriet having these flashbacks looking back on her life while brewing tea or gazing out the window, but then came up with the concept to mimic, “This is Your Life,” to bring these flashback moments to life. How did the idea of making these flashbacks to resemble the show, “This is Your Life,” come to you?

Really, it just arrived out of thin air, born of necessity. The narrative was too linear. Harriet needed a counterpoint. Since this was a novel about memory, and reflection, and association, all non-linear processes, this was a perfect opportunity to jump around in Harriet’s life. I liked the idea of Harriet being presented with her life at some distance.

As a male in his forties, the way that you capture the voice of a 78 year-old Harriet is so beautifully done and never feels forced, which is a true showcase of your incredible writing talent. How did you develop that voice for Harriet? Did you channel someone you knew or was it a collective voice of women this age that shaped Harriet’s perspective?

I wanted Harriet to be an everywoman of her generation, but yes, she was informed by a number of women in my life. I was raised almost exclusively by women. As I acknowledge at the end of the book, I wanted to honor the courageous women who  nurtured me, educated me, disciplined me, sacrificed for me, suffered for me, and never forsaken me; my mom, my grandma, my sisters, my wife, and my third grade teacher, to name a few. The women who have often settled for less, the women who’ve never quite gotten their fair share, who have soldiered on in the face of inequity, frustration and despair, who have forgiven beyond reasonable measure, absorbed beyond reasonable expectation, and given, given, given with no promise of recompense. I wanted to thank them with this portrait of one woman, inspired by all of them, from the moment of her conception, to her last breath. In terms of getting inside Harriet’s head, it’s mostly a matter of getting out of my own way.

The mother and daughter dynamic that you shape between Harriet & Caroline eerily resembles so many mother & daughter relationships I know. The strain that they each feel towards one another, the competition, and that ability to just take everything the wrong way was really well developed. Why do you think this dynamic was so important to Harriet’s story?

In my first novel, All About Lulu, I explored the father/son dynamic, which in my experience dealt with the implacable distance between father and son, and trying to bridge that distance. Conversely, when I consider the mother/daughter relationships that have informed my life, there seems to be an uncomfortable proximity between both parties, as if they both understand each other all too well. Where the father/son dynamic sometimes seems awkward, the mother/daughter dynamic seems tense. Really, I have no idea what accounts for this, it’s just something I’ve observed.

There are some truly dark moments for Harriet as Bernard’s health begins to decline. You really pull back the curtains on what it would be like to care for someone with Alzheimer’s and the physical & mental drains on their caregiver especially when they haven’t been an incredible spouse before their mind fails them. There are moments where Harriet really wants to inflict pain on Bernard for the pain he is putting her through. When Harriet realizes the secrets Bernard keeps, she really is angry that she had to bear it all alone even more. Were these scenes difficult for you to write? Do you think Bernard deserved Harriet?

It’s always difficult for me to make my characters suffer, but it’s what I do. I love them dearly, and I’ll do everything within my power not to forsake them, but my job is to report on the human experience, and that means pulling the curtains back and laying them bare. I’ve been a caregiver my whole life one way or another, so I know firsthand about the burnout, along with the rewards. As to whether Harriet deserved Bernard, I’d say very few of our relationships are predicated on what we deserve. Generally, they’re more about what we’re willing to accept. That said, nobody deserves Alzheimer’s.

I have a sweet spot for the elderly and I truly mean that!  I am finding that the appreciation for them grows as I grow older and realize the beauty in their stories. You have said that your characters are usually marginalized by society in some way. You even share through this story how Harriet feels invisible as she gets older. How do you think we can work to not marginalize the elderly as people and help them feel visible?

I think it’s already happening. The Baby Boomers are getting old, and they’ve got disposable income. It’s impossible for advertisers and marketers to ignore them, like they ignored the elderly of the Greatest Generation, whom they viewed as too “brand loyal,” and set in their ways. The best way not to be marginalized in America is to be attractive to advertisers.

You have attributed a lot of your success to independent bookstores and their embrace of your talents. Why do you think their support has helped so much with the sales of your books? For other writers out there, were there any particular strategies involved to get them to back you for successful sales?

Nothing moves books like word of mouth. When you figure in the exponentials, personal recommendations go further than big newspaper reviews or advertisements. And at the end of the day, nobody connects writers to readers like an independent bookseller, who is likely not selling books in an effort to accumulate wealth.

I understand that you enjoy a little booze with your book readings which I love since many can feel so stiff and formal. What’s your favorite drink to sip while sharing your books?

Whatever you got, twice.

This Is Your Life

Although I knew of, “This is Your Life,” I have actually never seen an episode of it. Do you have a favorite episode of the show, “This is Your Life,” that you could recommend that we check out?

I generally remember the show and its concept from seeing it a few times in syndication when I was a kid. They call it the original reality show, but it was pretty schmaltzy, really. I intentionally skewed Harriet’s “host” much darker and more penetrating than Ralph Edwards, the host of This is Your Life, which was all pretty orchestrated toward a warm and fuzzy ending.


(Selena Gomez shares a photo on set on Instagram for The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving)

I understand that your novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” is coming out in 2016 starring Selena Gomez, Jennifer, Ehle, & Paul Rudd. Are you involved with writing the screenplay for this and how excited are you to see this book come to life?

I was not involved in the writing or production, though I consulted a little bit on set, and appeared in a scene, which was a lot of fun. Everybody involved was extremely gracious. And yes, I’m very excited for the story to reach a new audience. Harriet Chance is also in the early stages of development at Focus Features. I’m tickled pink that film people want to share my stories, and pay me for them.   

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

One book, seriously? This question could keep me up all night! My recommendation is that you not be afraid to read outside of your comfort zone, because you never know what’s going to change your life.


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

*This post contains affiliate links!
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Sundays With Writers: You by Caroline Kepnes

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Some interviews take longer to wait for than others and I have been pursuing poor Caroline Kepnes since July to have her be my guest on the site. I was obsessed with talking with her, kind of like her obsessive character she has created… I wasn’t going to let this one go.  Why? Well, heck, if you have read You, you know why I had to talk to her.

As a rule, I hesitate to take on any series books. I am one of those fickle people that can’t seem to follow through on a series and since I try to read such a diverse amount of books for our reviews each month, I like to offer you a plethora of choices. After reading it though, I knew that Caroline had more of a story to tell about her character Joe, and I knew I wanted to hear that story.

You by Caroline Kepens

For my friends that don’t like to read racy literature, this is one you can skip, but for my friends looking for a little excitement in their lives…well, this book is for you. Bring on the excitement (JAZZ HANDS)!! Every friend I have recommended this one to has gotten swept away in the crazy. It’s impossible not to.

This book is dark, disturbing, twisted, erotic, psychotic…just try to put it down. Fans of Chelsea Cain & Gillian Flynn will love this book.

This is a twisted love story told from Joe, our obsessed narrator, who finds love in his bookshop after cyber-stalking a girl who used her credit card at his store. We watch as Joe becomes more and more unhinged as he discovers love is nothing like the books he’s read and the movies he’s watched- a fact that he is most displeased with. Twisted humor makes for laugh-out-loud moments and cleverly woven pop culture themes add a little lightness to the dark. This is an author to watch.  To read my full review, head on over to my July Must-Reads list!

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Caroline to chat about this year’s new guilty pleasure book, You!


The way that Joe utilizes social media to stalk Guinevere, in an attempt to create her ideal boyfriend, was chilling for someone who uses social media so much. How did you come up with the concept of creating this cat-and-mouse game through tweets and Facebook?

Writing a book full of status updates and tweets is one way to rationalize your time on Facebook, isn’t it? Looking back to that time before I started writing, I realize that I was on Facebook a lot, in a negative sense. I had spent a lot of time in hospitals, waiting around, too anxious to read, too fried. My phone was always there, the ever-changing fake-true story of sometimes interconnecting narratives that is your Facebook feed. I was fascinated by the dissonance between how we present ourselves and how we live. I was so aware of how interactive Facebook is, emotionally, how you can use it to drag yourself down if you want, how to lift yourself up, get attention, give it, such a strange new tool in our pockets. And it’s intriguing to me, what people choose to project, why they make that choice. I’m a psychologist at heart in a lot of ways and I loved the idea of this misguided, lonely soul who uses this tool in all the worst possible ways. But you feel for him sometimes of course, because he wants love. I liked the idea of technology as a weapon for both Beck and Joe. She is using it to get attention. He’s using it to pay attention. It’s all too extreme. Also, I had been a heavy smoker and I quit cold turkey, which was traumatic, and this book was like a replacement for cigarettes in some way.

As a former journalist for Tiger Beat & Entertainment Weekly, we can really see your pop culture personality pull through with all of your references to current songs, movies, and the media during this time. Did you ever worry that this would date your book in any way by using so much pop culture within it?

I was watching The Honeydrippers video for “Sea of Love so much while writing that I put the video in the book. That’s how it worked with a lot of the references. I would write in a coffee shop, then get in my car and listen to a mix CD of Hannah and Her Sisters instrumentals and Elton John. And I would end up stopping at a coffee shop on the way home to write more. I was so full of drive and inspiration and my God, what a joyous time. I genuinely didn’t care if the book was good or bad. It felt like its own thing, a beast that I was nurturing, and as I type that I’m like, eew, pretentious, but at the same time, it’s true. So that was the fun, the flow part.

Then of course, there’s so much more to writing than the high of the first draft, with or without the musical inspiration. You snap out of it and review your work, find that you have quoted e.e. Cummings and Prince repeatedly and become self-conscious and bite your lip and question all of it. It’s extreme to point toward a moment in history in a work of fiction, like when Benji finds out about Lou Reed’s death. But I love reading books and looking at the publication date and thinking, ok, so this is what it was like at this moment. And in this case it felt right. With lyrics, it’s also extreme to quote so many songs and seek legal permissions. But similarly, the references felt right for this particular narrative. Joe’s mind was absolutely clogged with quotes and songs and images. That was endemic. His interpersonal relationships have not been rewarding. I thought of that scene in Good Will Hunting when Will says his friends are Shakespeare, et al, the guys who wrote the books and the good doctor is basically like, No, kid. They’re dead. That scene stayed with me. And it’s interesting, in Hidden Bodies, I started quoting songs again and rewrote seventy pages over and over and it felt wrong. And it was like, that’s because it is wrong. He has a relationship now and this story isn’t about him swooning, being alone, seeking. It’s about him trying to preserve what he has. He’s not in his head so much, he’s in the world, socializing more. The references are there, but they’re different.

Frank Langella

While we are on the subject of pop culture, can you share your favorite story or celebrity that you covered and why it was so special to you?

I have always been obsessed with film press junkets. I used to write the Reel Girl column for E! Online and I got to go to junkets a lot. They are trippy and interesting, with journalists who know so much about movies, tense publicists, uncomfortable celebrities, Fiji water flowing, the air of formality of The Four Seasons that I swear makes everyone awkward. I. Love. Junkets. Anyway, I was sitting at a roundtable with journalists and Frank Langella. He was in this intimate movie called Starting Out in the Evening. I asked him what it was like to slap a woman on camera. And he slapped me. Gently, but you know, it was a slap. And it was just amazing. Best junket ever. Here’s a link to the play by play!

I censor myself in my writing that I put out into the world because I’m always worried what other people might think. I really need to work on that! Your book really pushes all the envelopes. Did you ever worry about what anyone would think about any of these scenes that you wrote or do you write without worry about it? Do you have any advice about stepping out of your comfort zone when writing?

Oh, God, that’s such an important topic that I think about so much. The main thing, forget about the end result. Remember that a bomb could go off and that would be the end of that. Stop editing. Stop wincing. Stop rereading. (You get to do all that after and torture yourself for as long as you want.) Seek flow. Follow your instincts. Don’t put writing on a pedestal. I like to think of it as a combination of playing and thinking. You can’t undermine the importance of the play part, the need to create a time and space to play. The way you do when you’re a kid. Be a hedonistic child. Do what you want. A few weeks ago, my friend’s kids had me read B.J. Novak’s book to them over and over again. This is what I love about kids, they’re not like oh I should read something else, broaden my horizons, seek balance. They indulge. I think it helps to have that spirit as an adult. Worry later. And then yes, worry and think a lot about what’s wrong with what you did. But separate those two tasks, the play and the edit. And everyone is different. Some people want to breathe, regroup and edit after a chapter. Some people want to push out the whole thing and then look after. And some people change with each project. It’s just about figuring out what works for you.

I think, if you’re having this issue with what other people think, go sit in a coffee shop and write. You’re exposing yourself. Anyone who walks by can see that you’re not just futzing around on Facebook (not all the time) but that you are attempting to create something. So already, you’re facing the opponent, letting strangers know that you are trying to write. It’s a great starting point because these people don’t get to review your work. It’s more about you becoming comfortable creating something out of your imagination on your own, near other humans, rising above the din and letting the work take over.

Of course, if an hour later you are miserable and have a blank screen, that’s okay too. You learned something about yourself. You hated being in that coffee shop and trying to create something. Ask yourself why. Go home and draw the curtains and tell the computer about your day. Maybe that ranting will spark an idea and before you know it, your bad writing day rant has mutated into a scene. Let this exercise be a priority. Same way you have a skin routine, this is no different. Your imagination deserves to be treated with tenderness. And if you fall off the wagon and freeze up and go into that, oh shit I don’t think I can write ever again mode, let it rip. Indulge the anxiety. Binge on TV and let yourself slowly realize that the only cure for writing anxiety is writing. Your brain is resilient. Just like your skin.

I really, really adored that you thanked two of your former teachers in your acknowledgements.  What was it about these two teachers that made them so special and have you heard from them on their reaction to your book?

Teachers are so important. Their contribution is incalculable. Both the teachers I thanked are legends in my hometown school system. I saw one recently and it was such a joy. He’s an author as well as a teacher (Girl Singer by Mick Carlon is out November 10!). He loved the part in the book where Joe arrives in Little Compton, and that meant so much to me, particularly that’s a descriptive scene and Mick was my journalism teacher, which is to say, he helped countless students hone into their environments, notice surroundings. He’s a phenomenal person. They were both so encouraging and thoughtful and above all, my God, they both love books. That’s contagious.


Stephen King with The Thing of Evil (read all about her- so cute!)

Joe makes fun of Stephen King an awful lot in your story and the actual Stephen King happens to endorse your book on the cover. Did he love all of the references to himself and how do you get such a legend to write a blurb for the cover of your book?

I see his name on the cover and I feel overjoyed. Stephen King dazzles me. To think of him creating so many rich stories and then sharing photos of Molly, The Thing of Evil, I mean, he’s such a wholly admirable person. Joe’s take on him was so much fun to work out. There’s Joe’s basic deranged sense of authority. He’s miffed at people claiming to love Stephen King. Joe, of course, feels superior to his customers. He suspects they haven’t read the bulk of King’s work. He thinks most of the people buying the book about Danny Torrance never even read The Shining, only saw the movie version. And then, Joe is flat out mad at Stephen King because the man publishes a novel when Joe has a date?! He makes Joe late! And Joe has control issues. He resents the reliability of our culture, the guarantee that a Stephen King book will attract readers, the resultant inconvenience that this creates for Joe. Ah, narcissism!

Stephen King is just amazing. I have turned to On Writing many times in my life. He gets it. And his understanding of us, strengths and weaknesses, I am grateful for his work. I don’t know how the blurb on my book happened. I just know that last December I was roaming around Kitson in the Beverly Center with a low-grade fever in holiday shopping panic when my phone started buzzing. He was tweeting about me. It blew my mind. Always will. It means so much to me that he read my red and white book and felt compelled to tell people about it.

I understand you are preparing the sequel to You now! Where are you in the stages of development of the next book and are there any talks yet of turning your first book into a screenplay?

Hidden Bodies comes out in February! It’s the sequel and the waiting is killing me. But it’s the good kind of pain, like waiting for Christmas as a child. I finished writing it a few months ago. I knew I wanted to spend more time with this character while I was writing the first one. There was never any doubt that there are at least three books. The first one for me was primarily about being in your twenties, Joe being about thirty, feeling he missed out on having normal twenties, always a little late. Hidden Bodies has Joe in his thirties, a little weary, driven and violent as ever, but you know, he wants love, home, stability, the American dream. But it’s the same thing, nothing is quite what he wants it to be. I have plans for another one and I hope to tell his story for years to come. And yes, Showtime optioned You. Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble are working on the script. It’s all tremendously exciting. And I’m working on two new books right now.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

The Street by Anne Petry is brilliant and searing. One of my all time favorites.

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

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Sundays With Writers: Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

Do you love quirky books like Eleanor & Park? I am such a fan of quirky literature and Kitchens of the Great Midwest combines good old-fashioned Midwest humor with loads of charm in this adorable fictional debut by J. Ryan Stradal. After I finished it, I immediately emailed J. Ryan to see if he might like to join me in our Sundays With Writers series and was so thrilled when he said he would. Today I am sharing a little behind his unique story and, since this story follows the culinary career of Eva, a peek at his own love affair with food.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity.

This book is perfectly quirky in every way. The reader gets to go on a journey chapter by chapter with different narrators who are all somehow connected to an incredible little girl named Eva, that grows into a woman of major culinary talent. As with any book with changing narrators, some chapters you are more drawn into than others, but it does not take away from the quirky hilarity written in each chapter.

Being a Midwest girl, there were many references that made me feel nostalgic about my own Midwest roots as Eva’s coming-of-age story unfolds. I had a hard time putting this one down!

FYI- There are some graphic scenes and language in this one.

I included this book in our September Must-Reads list this month and am excited to have J. Ryan join me this morning. Grab your coffee and settle in with another incredible writer!


The structure of your book is so unique because Eva and her life story are told through other characters and that is how we get to know her. Why did you think it was important to structure your book in this way?

When I decided to set a book in the Midwest at large, I knew I would never please everyone; it’s too large and varied for one book. Still, there are a range of Midwestern types I attempted that I don’t always see represented in fiction; I wanted as many points of view on the Midwesterner’s relationship to region and food as possible. I also wanted Eva’s adult career to be cloaked in mystery and hearsay, and I felt that telling the story from multiple points of view would both allow me to introduce a variety of Midwestern characters – while keeping Eva at a bit of a distance. It’s intentional that the reader will find Eva increasingly remote.

Eva even from infancy is passionate about food, but is raised by her aunt and uncle who don’t really understand her passions for the culinary world. Have you ever felt misunderstood by your parents or community for a passion you had and did you channel this in the character of Eva?

Absolutely. When I was Eva’s age, I sometimes felt alienated from the hockey and football-obsessed town I grew up in, and I didn’t share my family’s interest in hunting or motorcycles. I affirmed that there was a place for me in this world largely through books and music. While I had supportive teachers and good friends, I also attached myself to interests that were pretty far outside the realm of what was available in my corner of southern Minnesota, and that’s reflected in Eva’s passion for extremely hot peppers – which, obviously, aren’t commonly identified with Iowa.

As a foodie, I appreciated the humor and lightness you add to our obsessions with food. There is one line that I highlighted because it really gave me a moment’s pause. When your character Pat is made fun of by other foodies for a simple cookie bar instead of a vegan and locally sourced dish, the line says, “She suddenly felt sorry for these people for perverting the food of their childhood, the food of their mothers and grandmothers, and rejecting its unconditional love in favor of what?” Do you think there is some truth in Pat’s feelings when it comes to our obsessions with healthier living and misunderstanding the food of our parents & grandparents?

I think Pat would feel that way. She doesn’t see a place in the ecology of that setting for what defines her as a cook, so she views their values as not merely an abnegation of her bars or her ingredients, but of her as a person. She’s been devoted to doing one thing one way for a long time, and in her emotional reaction to these foodies, I also perceive a bit of a generation gap – a little bit of that LP enthusiast who decries CDs and MP3s as inferior. She’s not wrong, but given what she knows and what she doesn’t know, you can see why she takes rejection of her food personally.

The way you write about food and, in particular, describing dishes that Eva creates is so beautifully descriptive that it made my mouth water. “The venison, firm enough to meet your teeth, and soft enough to yield agreeably in your mouth, revealed subtle, steely new flavors with each bite, while the tomatoes were so full of richness and warm blood, it was like eating a sleeping animal.” I mean, REALLY! How do you develop this richness to your words and were there any people or books that aided in your inspiration for developing such incredible descriptiveness in these dishes?

Wow, thank you. I don’t really know if I can point to one book. I’m always reading something, and I’m also always looking for books that challenge my expectations and comfort level as a reader; seeing marvelous sentences makes me want to write them. Like most writers, I try my best to explain things in a way that I haven’t seen them explained before, but also in a way that’s visceral and descriptive, to the best of my ability, and relevant to the voice of the character. The sentence you just quoted came from a character who is a sommelier with restaurant experience. Had the character been a nurse or a President, it would’ve come out somewhat differently. This is probably a boring answer, and I feel bad because the question was so generous.

Have you ever eaten or been a part of any dining experience like Eva offers and were there any restaurants that served as inspiration for creating this pop-up dining experience you develop?

Sure, a few times. Some years ago I attended a pop-up in downtown Los Angeles that gave me some ideas in terms of how the principals behind the operation used the ephemeral location to their advantage. I’ve also read about a few (that I have yet to attend) that seem to demonstrate the chef’s passion for both fresh ingredients and a bespoke experience. Collectively, they made Eva’s operation seem somewhat plausible, though I admit at the time I wrote the book I thought Eva’s dinner seemed slightly far-fetched. I no longer think that’s the case.

Since I am a Midwesterner, I truly could appreciate so many of the references you made in this book. I understand that you live out in California now. Can you share what you miss the most about the Midwest?

The people, first and foremost. The environment – the air, the water, the trees, and their evolutions during the fiercely stark seasons. I think about Minnesota a lot; I still consider it home even though I’ve lived in California for seventeen years.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

This is monstrously tough. How can I choose just one? Debbie Graber’s short story collection Kevin Kramer Starts On Monday isn’t out yet – it comes out next spring – but it’s the funniest thing I’ve read in a very long time. Debbie is just brilliant; her humor, which often sends up the contemporary American workplace, is infused with plenty of heart, pathos, and intelligence. I read it in manuscript form and I can’t wait for it to exist in the world. Please pre-order it the moment it becomes available.

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

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Sundays With Writers: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It never ceases to surprise me when I reach out to an author to share about their book with my audience and they respond. Today’s author is no exception and he was so fantastic in this interview that I am anxious to now check out his memoirs and read more about him in a more personal way.

For now, I will just have to be content informing you that Did You Ever Have a Family is Bill Clegg’s first fictional book and it is absolutely incredible and worthy of the Amazon Best Book of September 2015 nod as well as being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Can you imagine what a thrill that is for your first piece of fiction?

Oh, and did I mention he is a literary agent representing really incredible talent like Lauren Groff?

Yeah. Kind of a big deal.

And so is this book.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg


On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

Clegg ambitiously illuminates how interwoven we are as people in this beautiful and haunting story of a town tragedy and the people left behind. Although the sheer amount of characters that share in each of the chapters (some once, other main characters more often) is confusing to piece together as a reader, you become a detective as each person is woven into another. The grief-stricken mothers left behind leave you with an ache in your own heart and are written so beautifully they feel real. You are also reminded that even in chance meetings with others you can play a powerful part in someone else’s story. This is one of the best books I have read this year!

I gave this book 5 stars in our September Must-Reads list!

Now grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Bill Clegg to learn how he managed to orchestrate a town filled with so many characters to build his story!

Bill Clegg

Congratulations on your book being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize! How did you find out the news of this and have you done anything to celebrate yet?

My British editor emailed me and I didn’t tell anyone until the next day.  It seemed too unreal to be true.  I needed to let a night pass to make sure I hadn’t made it up.

Your book has a very “old soul,” feel to it and builds upon the heartache and despair of a senseless tragedy. After I finished the book, I looked you up and expected a man twice your age to have been the author! I know that you have documented your difficulties with addiction in your first two books (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man Ninety Days). Do you feel you were able to channel some of your own struggles through this story because of what has happened in your own life? Which of the characters did you relate most to?  

In the seven years I was writing the book no one close to me had died so the grief of that loss was only something I could imagine into.  Weeks before the book came out my father died and he’d not been well for a few years so much of the last year of writing was informed by my fear of losing him.  The loss of friends, career, esteem, and love from drug and alcohol addiction, and the slow progression after – from grief and regret to acceptance and forgiveness – this I know as it’s marked the last eleven years of my life and is ongoing and always.  The characters in Did You Ever HaveFamily are all in their own way – first alone and then less so  – somewhere in this process, making their way.  I relate to all of them.  And the more time I spent with them, the more fully I understood them, the closer I felt to their experience.  This tends to be my experience of people in real life, too.  The more I know someone, no matter how seemingly different they seem (race, age, economics, politics) it never fails to amaze me how much more in common there is between us than not.

 Your story begins with a tragedy and then works its way out, giving your reader a chance to play detective as more of the mystery of those lost is uncovered. In that way, it reminded me of Everything I Never Told You, starting with the loss and developing it out from there.  Why did you structure your story this way for the reader?  

Further to this idea of getting to know people and over time unraveling who and how and why they are I liked the idea of arriving at a set of characters all stepping out and away from moment in time – in this case a tragic accident – and while tracing how they navigate that terrain excavating the years that preceded it.  In a way the accident could have been anything – a Christmas morning, a high school graduation, a lunar eclipse.  But once my brother, who was in heating and plumbing school at the time, began telling me stories about propane leaks and house explosions, I was spellbound and the occasion for the novel fixed.

The amount of characters you juggled in this story was quite astounding, with many characters only lingering for a single chapter. I picture you in your office writing this with a town map and a family tree to try and keep everyone straight! Did you map out the characters first and then build your story from there or did they just come to you as you wrote? Which voice was your favorite to write?

There was no map or family tree or chart as I was writing it.  I think if I had to reckon with how many characters I’d created I would have panicked.  So I plowed ahead and the book swelled to gargantuan proportions and once I had a draft I began to winnow it down to just the core characters of June, Lydia and Silas and then the voice from the communities they live in, leave and enter.  It was painful to let go of some of them but it was clear which voices mattered to the novel.  There was one point late in that process when I printed up the manuscript and laid out each chapter in order on a long window seat in my living room. Seeing it as an object – each character labeled in big black ink on the first page – helped guide me through a final ordering.

I understand that it took you seven years to write this book!  Did you ever reach a point where you just wanted to give up on the story? What motivates you to continue when a book takes so much time to develop?

Many times.  Many corners I painted myself into.  Sleep, another day, a long walk in the woods, music, months of not writing – these were what I turned to in order to find a way forward.  One thing that kept me going was knowing (what I thought for a long while was) the final scene and the last words of the book.  I just had no idea how to get there!  But having a destination helped even if for a long time there was no road or map.

As a literary agent, what has this process been like being the writer? Has this process changed you in any way now as you deal with the writers you work with now that you have been on the other end?

The vulnerability that comes with fiction came as a surprise.  The memoirs were frank and exposing and it was hard to imagine being more vulnerable than that, but there is something about creating a story from scratch and sending it into the world to be judged that makes for a naked feeling I didn’t count on.
Ferris Wheel

 One of my favorite passages in your story is the beautiful analogy of life and the Ferris Wheel. In it you say, “June hears them laughing just outside the house and thinks, with a loose knot of nostalgia and envy, that this moment in their relationship, in their lives, is as good as it will ever get. The before. The top of the Ferris wheel…This is the pivot between youth and age, the thrilling place where everything seems visible, feels possible, where plans are made. On the one side you have childhood and adolescence, which are the murky ascent, and on the other, you have the decline that is adulthood, old age, the inch-by-inch reckoning of that grand brief vision with earthbound reality.”  I don’t have any questions about this, I just wanted you to know that this passage really spoke to me. This idea of our life being like a Ferris wheel is so achingly beautiful.

Oh to be back at the top!  I think the truth of the top is that we only ever see it clearly until we inch down from its peak, seeing we had been there and didn’t know where we’d been and what we had, briefly. 

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

SWIMMING by Nicola Keegan.  By my lights one of the most brilliant, moving and devastatingly funny stories about growing up alongside, coping with and surviving the people who raise us.  The voice is so strong, so piercing and so authentic.  I’ve never read anything that conveyed more powerfully how families can be both curse and windfall.  I think about that book all the time.

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 Status of All Things by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Sunday, September 27th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

This will be my first Sundays With Writers featuring a writing duo today in our weekly interview feature. Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for over 25 years and write books together about friendships that are fun and a perfect addition to a beach bag or a much-needed escape. I actually selected The Status of All Things for my local book club selection as we kicked off our next year of reading now that our kids are back to school.

Although the premise of the book is light, it still speaks a lot of truth about how we use social media and the image that we put out there for the world to see. So many times what is really happy and what we are sharing are so different and this lead to a good discussion on how we use social media in our own lives and how we filter those images and updates for the public.

The Status of All Things by Liz Fenton & LIsa Steinke

Kate is a thirty-five-year-old woman who is obsessed with social media. So when her fiancé, Max, breaks things off at their rehearsal dinner—to be with Kate’s close friend and coworker, no less—she goes straight to Facebook to share it with the world. But something’s changed. Suddenly, Kate’s real life starts to mirror whatever she writes in her Facebook status. With all the power at her fingertips, and heartbroken and confused over why Max left her, Kate goes back in time to rewrite their history.

Kate’s two best friends, Jules and Liam, are the only ones who know the truth. In order to convince them she’s really time traveled, Kate offers to use her Facebook status to help improve their lives. But her attempts to help them don’t go exactly as planned, and every effort to get Max back seems to only backfire, causing Kate to wonder if it’s really possible to change her fate.

I love books with a magical realism theme and the idea that you can rewrite your own history through your Facebook status was such a good one. It also makes you think about how we present ourselves online and how our reality are often so different!

Grab your coffee & let’s settle in with our FIRST writing duo on Sundays With Writers!

Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke

 You have been best friends for over 25 years and now co-author books together. Did you ever dream that your friendship would merge with your work life like this?

When we were in high school and college, we would talk about writing a book together “someday,” but I’m not sure either of us actually thought it was going to happen!

This is my first time asking questions to a dynamic duo instead of just one author. In my head one of you starts the story and then goes … and the next one picks up. Clearly, I know nothing about writing in tandem. What does your writing process look like when writing together?

Writing in tandem is the only way we know. Often authors will say to us, “I don’t know how you write with another person!” and we will respond, “We don’t know how you write alone!” Our system is pretty simple. One of us writes a chapter, the other edits, then we go back and forth until we are settled on that chapter. Then the other person writes the next chapter and so on.

 Your book really centers on our many demons that we all deal with when it comes to social media, particularly the life that we put out there and the real lives we are leading. Are your struggles with social media similar to Kate’s?

Absolutely! Our own struggles are what gave us the idea for the book. We each have what we call a Facebook nemesis—that person we love to hate online. That person we are jealous of, even though we are fully aware their pictures are filtered and their status updates are edited. Sometimes it’s hard not to compare yourself and your kids to what others are doing—even if you know that you are only seeing a very small snapshot of someone else’s life. It’s important to understand it’s all just a game, and to not judge your own life by that yardstick.

The concept for you to change your future by changing the status of your Facebook update to match what you want to happen was such a fun one. If that could happen, tell me one status update you would post right now!

Lisa: I drank a bottle of wine and didn’t have a hangover. In fact, I still woke up at 6am and worked out! (She types as she takes a sip of her Meomi Pinot Noir.)

Liz: I developed a pill that lets you eat all the carbs you want without gaining weight! It’s a miracle!

Your book has made it on almost every beach read list created this summer! If any of us can escape the drudgery of our busy lives to head to the beach, what books would you recommend we pack for our vacation?

Come Away With Me by Karma Brown. The completely unexpected twist at the end will make you want to re-read the entire book!

He’s Gone by Deb Caletti.  The story of a husband who goes missing and the wife who pieces the mystery together. We’ve never read anything like it.

I understand that you are already working on your next book project! Can you give us a little info on what you are planning to publish next?


We are really excited about The Year We Turned Forty, which comes out April 26th, 2016. It’s about three best friends who get the chance to travel back ten years to the year they turned forty, a year in which they all made choices that changed the course of their lives.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Lisa: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. She’s a phenomenal writer and this is a memoir you will think about for years after reading it.

Liz: After I Do By Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s an incredibly insightful and refreshing narrative on the challenges of marriage.

You can connect with Lisa & Liz  on Facebook or through their 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!

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Sundays With Writers: A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

Sunday, August 30th, 2015


I am so excited to be interviewing Elisabeth Egan today about her debut novel, A Window Opens, today! This book is just so relatable and so honest about the struggles of a working mom that I found myself laughing and crying (even simultaneously) at the adventures Elisabeth has created for Alice in the working world. This book is making my top ten reads list and after I finished it, I just wanted to read it again. Since I have to move on to share more great books with you, I’m begging you to read this one so we can talk about it!

Elisabeth makes for an interesting topic on her own, as explored in this beautiful piece from The New York Times  (spoiler alert, don’t read that until you are done with the book!)

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan


I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest thoughts & opinions.

In A Window Opens, beloved books editor at Glamour magazine, Elisabeth Egan, brings us Alice Pearse, a compulsively honest, longing-to-have-it-all, sandwich generation heroine for our social-media-obsessed, lean in (or opt out) age.

Like her fictional forebears Kate Reddy and Bridget Jones, Alice plays many roles (which she never refers to as “wearing many hats” and wishes you wouldn’t, either). She is a mostly-happily married mother of three, an attentive daughter, an ambivalent dog-owner, a part-time editor, a loyal neighbor and a Zen commuter. She is not: a cook, a craftswoman, a decorator, an active PTA member, a natural caretaker or the breadwinner. But when her husband makes a radical career change, Alice is ready to lean in—and she knows exactly how lucky she is to land a job at Scroll, a hip young start-up which promises to be the future of reading, with its chain of chic literary lounges and dedication to beloved classics. The Holy Grail of working mothers―an intellectually satisfying job and a happy personal life―seems suddenly within reach.

Despite the disapproval of her best friend, who owns the local bookstore, Alice is proud of her new “balancing act” (which is more like a three-ring circus) until her dad gets sick, her marriage flounders, her babysitter gets fed up, her kids start to grow up and her work takes an unexpected turn. Readers will cheer as Alice realizes the question is not whether it’s possible to have it all, but what does she―Alice Pearse―really want?

This was such a deeply satisfying read that tackles the struggles of every working mother who is trying to balance it all. Egan creates the perfect balance of humor and heartbreak as Alice tries to navigate the tricky terrain of being an employee, wife, mother, and daughter to her ill father.

This book got me in the all the feels. I highlighted many a passage in this sweet story of Alice and found her to be one of the most relatable characters I have read this year. I also teared up at many of the moments in this story because the struggles of being in the trenches as a working parent were ones that I have experienced myself. Alice tries hard, but it’s an impossible juggle and you feel like you are spiraling a bit with her as the story unfolds.

Fans of Where’d You Go Bernadette & Wife 22 (thanks to the hilarious correspondence between colleagues & family) will really love this one!

Elisabeth Egan


You are the books editor for Glamour writing about a books editor transitioning into a job in the e-book industry. What inspired you to throw your character, Alice, into this environment and do you think you would struggle as much as she did in this new way of reading books that her client offered?

I threw Alice into this environment because I’d experienced a version of it myself, and the challenge of trying to figure it all out really stuck with me. In real life, I’ve never struggled with reading e-books—depending on the type of book, I don’t mind reading on a screen and you certainly can’t beat the efficiency and certainty of a fully-loaded e-reader if you happen to find yourself stranded on a desert island. What I struggled with really fell under the umbrella of “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.”

Your book has been compared to I Don’t Know How She Does It, although I must say that I found Alice’s story so much more relatable to my own. I just want to share with our readers one passage, in particular, that I really loved.

As Alice writes a letter to her nanny she says, “Please don’t waste time wondering whether it is possible to “have it all.” Banish the expression from your vocabulary; make sure your friends to do to.” I just love reading that as a mom.

When have you personally struggled with “having it all” and were any of Alice’s moments channeled from your own struggles with the balancing act of your own job & motherhood?

Many of those moments were drawn from my life or from stories I borrowed from friends. (Thankfully, I hang with a crowd of women who are very open and funny about trying to be everything to everyone and still find time to have coffee together. My personal low moment, as seen in the book: the time I went to read to my daughter’s pre-school class and found myself standing under a clothesline strung with depictions of “How My Family Stays Healthy During The Winter”—or some such. My daughter’s contribution: a charming drawing accompanied by the teacher’s handwriting: “My mom uses everybody’s toothbrush.” I guess we were one toothbrush short, so I was sharing. And maybe I passed this off as a health initiative—in any case, how embarrassing!

You read books for a living which has to be the coolest job ever for a reader…or it was, until you came up with the idea for the Book Lady. I am trying to figure out how I can be the Mary Kay equivalent of a book distributor in my town. How did you come up with this concept and how can I sign under you?

I came up with this idea on my own! My husband is always threatening to host a Tupperware party, so I thought, why not books? I have no idea why I haven’t made this happen. Maybe we can be partners?

You create the idea of a No Guilt Book Club in your story, but I understand that this is really something that exists! Can you explain more and for those of us living in small towns, how can we create our own No Guilt Book Club?

I live in a small(ish) town, and that’s where I created the NGBC. Here’s what you need: one bookstore, several cases of wine. For a small fee, your friends can come to the store, hang out with their friends, get a discount on books—and, of course, drink the wine. I also pass out a list of my favorite books from that season, but this isn’t a requirement. The idea is to have a party in the most fun venue around, and also to talk about books without the pressure and guilt that comes from having to read a set title by a set date. That can be stressful!

One of the perks of being an employee at Scroll is that Alice gets her very own first edition copy of a classic. If you were hired at Scroll, what book would you request from management?

I’d request Mrs. Dalloway and give it to my husband for his birthday. Still, there’s no way the first edition could stack up to the beloved, dog-eared Penguin edition he gave me for our first-ever Valentine’s Day back in college.

There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in your story. My favorite (I am still laughing!), is this one- “I yelled so loudly, the tendons in my neck ached for days. (Name a parent who hasn’t’ suffered from this affliction and I will show you someone who is not my friend.)”

Oh, have I felt this pain in my neck!

What is your favorite funny Alice moment in this story?

I love when Alice tries to flush her colleague’s homemade brownie down the toilet. It might not be her most sophisticated moment, but it really captures the way she paints herself into a corner. Or multiple corners, really.

Although this book is very funny, there were many moments that pulled at my heartstrings, particularly the relationship between Alice & her father as he is ill. What scene was the hardest for you to write and did you have to do any research on this particular type of illness when writing your book?

My dad died of throat cancer twelve years ago so no—very little research required. Actually, I was surprised by the little details of his illness that stuck with me. Words like “subglottal” were right on the tip of my tongue, even though (thankfully) I never have to use them anymore. The scenes with Alice’s dad were the easiest ones to write, actually. Ed Pearse isn’t an exact replica of my dad—nobody could be—but spending time with him was the next best thing to having one more day with my dad. I’d forgotten how good it felt to be with someone who knows everything!

 If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

You can connect with Elisabeth Egan on GoodReadson Facebook, or through 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: Where All Light Tends to go by David Joy

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015


Where All Light Tends to Go kept popping up in my list of recommendations on Amazon, like those Suggested Friends on Facebook. After seeing it there so many times, I knew I needed to give in and read it. Within just a couple of short days, I had shut the pages and knew that I had to talk to David Joy about this book. Not only is this guy a gifted storyteller, but his passion for other writers and their stories is contagious.

I particularly love how he admits to immersing himself into his storytelling. I think that showcases how much this book means to him and how much it should mean to us!

Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy

Where All Light Tends to Go is Southern Grit at its finest in this dark debut novel! Joy creates a compelling coming-of-age story about a teen boy growing up in the Appalachian Mountains whose father deals meth in their small town.

The area surrounding Cashiers, North Carolina, is home to people of all kinds, but the world that Jacob McNeely lives in is crueler than most. His father runs a methodically organized meth ring, with local authorities on the dime to turn a blind eye to his dealings. Having dropped out of high school and cut himself off from his peers, Jacob has been working for this father for years, all on the promise that his payday will come eventually. The only joy he finds comes from reuniting with Maggie, his first love, and a girl clearly bound for bigger and better things than their hardscrabble town.

Jacob has always been resigned to play the cards that were dealt him, but when he botches a murder and sets off a trail of escalating violence, he’s faced with a choice: stay and appease his kingpin father, or leave the mountains with the girl he loves. In a place where blood is thicker than water and hope takes a back seat to fate, Jacob wonders if he can muster the strength to rise above the only life he’s ever known.

If only life were that simple. This story is beautifully told and the ending was a strong one, despite the feeling of hopelessness for these people.

Grab your morning cup of coffee and let’s settle in with David Joy, a truly incredible storyteller!


Congratulations on your incredible debut novel! I was so excited to see that it was selected as one of the best books of 2015 by Indigo.  How long did it take you to write this beautiful book and what has it been like to have it so well received by so many once it has been released into the world?

The novel started with an image. I was at a friend’s hog lot and I had this image of a young boy standing over a pig he’d killed suddenly realizing how much power he had over life and death. I wrote that scene and I knew that the boy had a story to tell. I kept trying to write that story and I kept getting it wrong, at one point burning about half a novel and starting over. After about a year or so of living with that image I woke up in the middle of the night and I could hear Jacob speaking to me clear as day. At that point it was just a matter of trying to keep up, and I wound up writing the first draft of Where All Light Tends To Go over the course of a few months. That’s kind of a roundabout way of answering your question, but I think I tend to live with images and stories for a long time before I ever actually get it right on the page. Once I’m writing, though, things tend to happen quickly.

The response to the novel has been wonderful. I think the highlight for me has been meeting writers I’ve admired for so long—writers like Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin and Donald Ray Pollock and Frank Bill—and actually becoming a part of the conversation.

You refer to your genre of storytelling as Appalachian Noir. What can a reader expect from this genre and if they love this style do you have any other recommendations on books to check out that will fill the void while we await your next novel?

I started using that term, “Appalachian noir,” as a sort of adaptation of something Daniel Woodrell originally used as a subtitle for his novel Give Us A Kiss, his term being “country noir.” He’s sort of the godfather of what I’m trying to do in a lot of ways, along with writers like Larry Brown and William Gay and Ron Rash and Barry Hannah and Harry Crews. As far as what I think folks can expect, these are typically stories about hardscrabble lives, working class people making the best of circumstance. There’s often a criminal element to the story, but I don’t know that that’s a necessity. I think more than that these stories are a balancing act between hope and fate, a sort of tightrope walk above brutality on the one hand and the sentimental on the other. Other writers I admire who write within a similar vein are folks like Mark Powell (The Dark Corner) and Charles Dodd White (A Shelter of Others) and Jamie Kornegay (Soil) and Brian Panowich (Bull Mountain) and Rusty Barnes (Reckoning), or even a novel like Robert Gipe’s Trampoline. Then there are some incredible female writers like Steph Post, who wrote a novel called A Tree Born Crooked, or writers like Bonnie Jo Campbell (American Salvage) and Tawni O’Dell (Back Roads). Some of these writers might not consider what they’re doing noir, but it’s that same type of emotional weight being created and for me that’s the key to what I’m trying to do on the page.

I am going to quote one of my favorite passages from your book. “On the pew where I sat though, there wasn’t a damn bit of light to be had. Light never shined on a man like me and that was certain. In a lot of ways, that made men like Daddy the lucky ones to have only ever known the darkness. Knowing only darkness, a man doesn’t have to get his heart broken in search of the light. I envied him for that.”

The light plays such a big part in this book and we see references to it throughout the story and the title. Why do you think the light (or lack of it) is such an important element in your story and how did you come to create this concept for your readers?

With this novel I knew the title before I wrote the first word. That’s not to say that I knew what it meant, and I certainly didn’t try to write toward that meaning, but rather it just sort of matured with the story. I think that idea of light and dark works really well as a metaphor for what Jacob’s facing. We’ve got an eighteen-year-old kid born into very harsh circumstances that he’s not really equipped to handle. There’s a similar line to the one you’ve quoted where Jacob is talking about the idea of light at the end of the tunnel, that sort of hope that one has when they’re coming out of the darkness. But for Jacob, he can’t understand an idea like that because he’s not coming out, he’s walking into the darkness, and, “for those who move further into darkness the light becomes a thing onto which we can only look back. Looking back slows you down. Looking back destroys focus. Looking back can get you killed.” So Jacob can’t look back. This conflict between light and dark is ultimately about hope. When you’re facing the types of things that Jacob is facing, it’s much easier to just accept the way things are than to hope for anything better. Hope leads to heartbreak and that’s why Jacob’s so conflicted. That’s really the key issue in the book, and so I think that metaphor, the idea of light and dark, helps to stitch that seam.

You have a bit of a Breaking Bad opener with a botched murder situation which was rather gruesome to read and kept me on the edge of my seat. Do you think Jacob’s life would have worked out differently if they had successfully killed the guy?

This is probably the toughest question I’ve ever been asked because what happens to Robbie Douglas is the catalyst for things falling apart. Without that trigger, the pin doesn’t hit the shell. In other words, none of what takes place in the novel would have happened. At the same time, the fatalism that we witness is something that I think was inevitable. If Robbie Douglas had died, Jacob might’ve prolonged that unraveling, but things would have still fallen apart. Lives like Jacob’s typically end one way.

Crime, poverty, and meth addiction create a rather hopeless environment for these characters. Do you think your novel has hope in it? Was it difficult to write in such a sad space or do you feel like you are the type of writer where this dynamic really thrives?

I think there are elements of hope, and I think it’s that balance between hope and fate that, with any luck, keeps the reader invested. As for writing within that space, I can remember after finishing the novel I was talking to my sister and I told her, “It’s going to take a long time to find my way out of the darkness I’ve created.” I’d spent months inside of that space, immersing myself to the point that I was walking into walls, to the point that when I had to go somewhere like the grocery store it felt as if I was moving within a dream. The world I’d created was more real to me at that moment than anything else around me. I think for an artist to create anything meaningful it takes that type of immersion. There’s a sort of sacrifice that has to be made, and, for me, the end justifies the means. I tend to tell stories of heartbreak and circumstance and desperation as I think those types of elements allow you to immediately get to the heart of a character. When things fall apart a person can’t be anything aside from exactly what they are. That’s what interests me most.

Jacob says in one scene, “I’d always hoped she’d become a real mother. But with time, I realized that someone can’t give what they don’t have. She was what she was, an addict, and there was nothing that could be said or done to change her. Death was her only savior.”

I don’t know what to say about that except that it was difficult to watch this dynamic between Jacob and his mother and it made me feel sorry for him to have two parents like this. Is addiction something that you have experienced with anyone close that you channeled in this character?

I really like that you pulled that quote as I think that line, that idea that, “someone can’t give what they don’t have,” is the heart of why she can’t be a mother to Jacob. There are some readers who seem incapable of empathizing with Jacob’s mother and father, but, for me, there are tiny pieces, tiny statements that elude to why these people are the way that they are. That’s really important to me: humanization. Without that I’d just be creating caricatures. There are moments where I think we see what she could have been had she not been addicted to drugs. That’s the reality of addiction. That’s a reality that I’ve seen time and time again where I live and where I grew up. I think the easy thing to do is to dismiss those people, to say, “I’m nothing like that.” The harder thing to do is to look at it with empathy. And empathy doesn’t mean coming to justify those actions as acceptable, but what it does mean is coming to recognize and hopefully understand why.

If there was a sequel, how do you see life working out for Maggie?

I have a really great friend, a mentor and an incredible novelist, Pamela Duncan who ran up to me after finishing the novel and said, “Is Maggie pregnant? She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” I just laughed, but I love this idea of wanting to know what happens to her as I think that’s a good sign that I’ve created a character that resonates. As for what I envision, I think Maggie goes to Wilmington. I think a lot of what Jacob holds as truth as an eighteen-year-old is naïve, but I think what he sees in Maggie, that strength and that certainty that she’ll leave, is real. So, for me, I always saw her getting out.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we list it with all the recommendations over the year HERE)?

I’m going to stay true to my neck of the woods and give you three recommendations—a novel, a memoir, and a book of poetry—from Appalachia because I think a lot of what comes out of this region is tragically overlooked. As far as a novel, everyone needs to read Robert Gipe’s Trampoline. It’s bar none the best debut released this year and it’s arguably the best debut we’ve seen from this region in decades. With memoir, I was really impressed with Leigh Ann Henion’s book, Phenomenal. I think her storytelling is brave and her insight into our relationship with the natural world is matured and beautiful. Last but certainly not least, everyone needs to be reading Rebecca Gayle Howell, especially the poems in Render: An Apocalypse, which are just gritty and raw and lovely. She’s writing scripture. So there’re three for you to get your hands on!

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

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Sundays With Writers: We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

It’s such an honor to share my Sundays With Writers space with Vanessa Diffenbaugh this week. Way back in 2011, I wrote a review on her first book, The Language of Flowers and when I saw that her second book, We Never Asked for Wings was out, I could not dive into it fast enough after enjoying her debut novel so very much.

What you might not know about Vanessa though is about the incredible organization she started for foster children and the impact she is having on raising another generation of gifted writers. What a gift to share more about this incredible writer AND incredible giver…two things I have a soft spot in my heart for!

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Today Vanessa is here to share about her book, We Never Asked for WingsIn this story we learn that for fourteen years, Letty Espinosa has worked three jobs around San Francisco to make ends meet while her mother raised her children—Alex, now fifteen, and Luna, six. But now Letty’s parents are returning to Mexico, and Letty must step up and become a mother for the first time in her life.

Navigating this new terrain is challenging for Letty, especially as Luna desperately misses her grandparents and Alex, who is falling in love with a classmate, is unwilling to give his mother a chance. Letty comes up with a plan to help the family escape the dangerous neighborhood and heartbreaking injustice that have marked their lives, but one wrong move could jeopardize everything she’s worked for and her family’s fragile hopes for the future.

This book is beautiful and it reminded me a lot of, The Same Sky (you can read our interview on that one here!) as it tackles the issue of illegal immigration and two sweet kids neglected by their alcoholic mother, struggling with poverty and placement in society. I would recommend this one for fans of The Book of Unknown Americans  (you can read that interview as well, here). To read my full review, check out this must-read list!

Now grab your coffee and settle in with this  incredible writer today!

Vanessa Diffenbaugh


Illegal immigration seems to be a theme in so many of the books that I have read this year (The Same Sky, Americanah, & The Book of Unknown Americans- to name a few). Why do you think so many authors are exploring the topic of illegal immigration and what was the most surprising thing you learned about this issue when writing your book, We Never Asked for Wings?

This is a great question.  For me, it is especially interesting that I wrote a book about immigration because I had no intention of doing so!  I was thinking about economic and educational inequality, and themes of motherhood and family.  But as I got deeper and deeper into this novel, it struck me that I had created a community of characters in which immigration status would be an issue.  It would be disingenuous to write about a low-income community in California and pretend that every citizen in the book would be documented.  That simply isn’t the case, and it has profound implications for the people who live in these communities.  So, to answer your question, I think so many writers are writing about immigration because so many people are living it, and for those of us who are trying to capture this moment in time, undocumented immigration is an issue we can’t ignore.

In your first book you had to learn so much about horticulture, but in this book it was all about the feathers (from the science of them to utilizing them in an interesting art medium). How did you come up with this idea for your story and how did you gather your research to learn more about birds and feathers to shape this theme? Were there any books or documentaries that helped you as you put together this research?

Five days after we were married, my husband and I moved to Guanajuato, Mexico, to learn Spanish and volunteer, work, and travel.  We lived there for a year, and one of our favorite things to do on weekends was to open up a big book we had purchased on Mexican Folk Art, find a work of art we especially liked, and travel by bus to the small village where the artist lived in an attempt to meet him or her.  This is how we got acquainted with the Olay Olay family in Michoacan—we arrived by bus and were directed to their house, where a dead bird greeted us on the stoop.  Senor Olay Olay, a fourth generation feather worker, told us that if a bird died anywhere in Michoacan it always found its way to their door—a line that made its way directly into my book. To this day, that visit remains one of my best memories of our time in Mexico.

When I came up with the idea of the abandoned housing project I kept asking myself—but why would the Espinosa family stay?  Why would they stay, even when everyone they knew had already left?  It was this question that led me to create the character of Enrique, a Mexican feather worker.  He stayed for the birds.  I imagined him at the window, sitting underneath the Pacific Flyway; I imagined his vast and intricately organized feather collection.  It was great fun to research the birds of the bay, and when I needed an idea for Alex’s science project based on his grandfather’s feather collection, I called my brother-in-law, Noah Diffenbaugh, who is a climate scientist at Stanford.  We spent hours talking about all the things Alex could learn from the feathers, and with his guidance I was able to come up with a project idea and describe the science behind it. 

The Language of Flowers was such an enormous hit and has been one of my favorite debut novels in the past few years. When your first book gets such wild praise and accolades, how hard is it as a writer to follow that up with a second novel? Do you feel it created additional pressure for you?

It was very, very hard!  So hard that when I open my new book, my favorite page is the one at the very beginning that says: The Language of Flowers, and under that, We Never Asked for Wings.  I have two titles to my name!  There are so many phenomenal writers that haven’t produced a second book after a first success, and I can completely understand why.  You have all the reviewers in your head, reminding you of all the things you did wrong, and you have all your readers in your head, reminding you of all the things you did right, and sometimes they are the very same things!  It is easy to lose your own voice.  About three years into the book, when I’d completed (another) terrible draft and was losing hope, a smart writer friend of mine gave me fantastic advice.  She told me to imagine what it feels like to open up the latest book of my favorite writer (I imagined Toni Morrison) and she told me to think about that sense of the familiar you get when you are reading the words of an author you love.  Then she said “What is the next Vanessa Diffenbaugh book like?”  When she asked me that, I knew exactly what she meant, and I also knew that I hadn’t written it.  So I started over, again, but this time I remembered my voice.

In the opening of the book, Letty abandons her children to take her parents across the border. We also read of many instances where Letty really struggles as an alcoholic, even risking her son’s life at one point in the story. Do you think Letty deserved to work through all of this with her kids or do you think Letty is a good example of a mom that would have benefitted from having a foster mom come in to help with her children until she got back on her feet?

Letty is a good example of someone who needs support.  Far too often, parents lose their children to the foster care system when what they really need is help to become the parent they want to be to their children.  There are extreme cases in which the child must be removed for their own safety, but we know that more often children and parents do better when they are kept together and given the support they need to thrive.  Youth Villages, a national non-profit, is a leader in the effort to reform foster care and increase positive outcomes for kids.  They are perhaps best known for their Intercept® intensive in-home program, a program that revolutionizes foster care by helping children avoid it altogether. Youth Villages is respected not only for their programs but also for their research and policy–they have a decades-long dedication to outcomes measurement that has resulted in national recognition.  I am thrilled that the small non-profit I co-founded, Camellia Network, has recently been acquired by Youth Villages, and we will be working together to grow a national movement around supporting youth aging out of foster care.  You can become part of the new network at

As a former teacher to youth in low-income communities and the founder of the former Camellia Network, were you able to use these experiences working with struggling youth to channel them into the children in your story?

It’s funny, with The Language of Flowers, interviewers often asked, or even just assumed, that Victoria was based on the children I fostered.  She wasn’t!  In fact, her personality was as different from my sons’ as possible.  But in We Never Asked for Wings, I drew a lot of inspiration for Alex from my sons.  Both Tre’von and Donovan are incredibly smart, responsible and resilient, and Tre’von, like Alex, liked to read the encyclopedia and recite random facts to his friends and teachers.  I interviewed him a few different times about what it felt like to be a smart kid who loved to learn in a school that didn’t expect anything from him.

You have been working on a really special project leading a Young Authors Club, assisting 40 young authors to help them write their own books. What has your experience been like leading such a large group of young authors and what advice would you give to other authors to do the same in their own communities?

I didn’t mean for the group to be so big—who would have thought that so many kids, after six hours of sitting still and working hard, would want to stay after school to WRITE?  Well, it turns out that many do.  I had a great time teaching these eager young people everything I know—we started by doing close readings of some of my favorite children’s books, and then we spent a week writing spectacular first sentences, and then we moved on to first chapters.  The kids wrote some amazing books, including titles like “Surviving Middle School with Violet Woods” and “The Teddy Bear Detective Agency.”  In terms of advice, I would look at Dave Egger’s nonprofit, 826 Valencia (or 826 National).  He and his wonderful staff have been teaching writing for almost 15 years and run great programs.

As busy moms, I often hear that moms feel like they don’t have the time to take on volunteer opportunities. You are a perfect example of a mom that really does an excellent job doing both. What advice would you give to moms who want to do more to help their community, but feel limited with their time?

I have to be honest here and say that I have a phenomenal full-time assistant, and I couldn’t do half of what I do without her.  I say this because I think we often expect ourselves as women and mothers to be superhuman—to care for kids around the clock, to support our husbands and have immaculately clean homes and still somehow have successful careers and volunteer endless hours in our communities.  It just isn’t possible, and too many of us spend too much of our time feeling guilty about not doing one (or more) of these things well enough.  When I sold my first book, I decided to hire an assistant so that I could spend all my time with my kids or writing my books or volunteering in the community—not booking travel or managing my schedule or picking up dry cleaning or all the other billions of little things that are involved in managing a household and career.  I will say, though, that even before I was in the financial position to hire an assistant, I was always good at prioritizing.  When I wrote The Language of Flowers I was a stay-at-home mother of four, and I would often call my mother and announce that I had just gotten both babies down for their nap and I was kicking the piles of dirty laundry out of the way so that I could open my office door and start writing.  You just can’t do it all! 

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (we will add it to our list of recommended reads for our readers!)?

Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson.  It is an incredibly intense book about racial inequality in our criminal justice system, but it is beautifully written and powerful, with just enough hopefulness to help you sit with the discomfort of the truth and think hard about how you can help contribute to a solution.  I recommend it to everyone I know.

 You can connect with Vanessa Diffenbaugh on GoodReadson Facebook, or through 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: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

Sundays With Writers

There are some authors that I have waited for months to feature here and Jennifer Niven is one of those poor hounded authors that I worked so hard to get here for you today.  A girlfriend recommended that I read her book All the Bright Places and as soon as I finished it (you can read our review here), I emailed Jennifer to see if I could secure her for an interview. She happened to just be leaving on book tour though and said she would answer my questions when she returned. This one was worth the wait.

I am so glad she followed through on this interview with me especially amid her enormous undertaking of adapting this movie into a film starring Elle Fanning!! Yup, Jennifer is writing the script and I have been waiting to share that with you today. I’m so proud of this writer and this book she has created.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is a beautiful story of two sweet kids who find each other just when they need one another the most. Niven sheds light on a topic rarely discussed in YA literature sharing the true struggles of mental illness as Finch, the main character, struggles with bipolar disorder.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The stigma attached to mental illness and the reaction of his peers to this, make this a compelling read for any teen in understanding what it would be like to live with mental illness. This was heartbreaking, beautiful, and provided a thoughtful ending with a great resources & info list for kids struggling with (or who have family/friends struggling with) mental illness at the end of the book. I highly recommend this one for a well-captured idea of what living with bipolar disorder would feel like.

Grab your coffee and let’s settle in to learn more about Jennifer’s incredible book and the real-life Finch that inspired this beautiful story!

Jennifer Niven


In All the Bright Places, you send your two characters (Finch & Violet) on an epic road trip to discover Indiana. I actually live in Indiana so I really loved how you created this for them. Were these destinations real and, if so, did you visit them?

All of the destinations Finch and Violet wander are real except one—the bookmobile park. (But oh, how I wish it existed!) I grew up in Indiana, but I hadn’t visited all of the places until after I wrote the book. In April, I traveled from California (where I live now) to the sites with the producers and director of the upcoming All the Bright Places We saw the World’s Biggest Ball of Paint, the Blue Hole, Gravity Hill, the Ultraviolet Apocalypse, the Taylor Prayer Chapel, Hoosier Hill, the Purina Tower in my hometown (Richmond), and we even went up into the bell tower of my high school, which was where I envisioned Finch and Violet meeting.

Blue Flash Roller Coaster

But my favorite place of all was John and Sharon Ivers’ backyard roller coasters.We rode the Blue Flash and the Blue Too over and over again. And it was AMAZING.

You tackle the issue of mental illness in this book, specifically bipolar disorder. As someone who has personally known someone with this illness, you truly capture the manic highs and lows of Finch in a very real way. What inspired you to share about this mental illness and what has been your response from kids who have read this book?

Years ago, I loved a real-life Finch and he was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I also saw how funny he could be and how vibrantly alive. In knowing him, I experienced firsthand the stigma associated with mental disorders—both from the perspective of this boy I loved and from mine—and I realized that we need to make people feel safe enough to come forward and say, “I have a problem.  I need help.”  If we don’t talk about suicide or depression or mental illness, how can we expect anyone to reach out for help when they need it most?

The response to All the Bright Places has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. But they’ve also written to tell me they see themselves in Violet and/or Finch and reading about these characters who they identify with so closely has helped them realize that the world really can be a bright place, no matter how dark it may seem. I’m hearing daily from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone. (Here are some helpful links to organizations that get it, that care: check here and here for a resource list to assist.

All the Bright Places is going to be hitting theaters starring Elle Fanning as Violet. How involved are you in the adaptation of your book into film and what scene are you most excited to see come to life on the big screen?

I’m so excited! I’ve been asked to write the script, which I’m working on now, and I’m thrilled and honored to have that opportunity. The scene I’m most excited to see on the big screen is when Finch leaves his car by the side of the road because it won’t go fast enough, and as he’s running he passes a nursery where he collects flowers for Violet.

I don’t want to give away the ending of this book for those that have not read it, but I would love to know if you feel that ending the book the way you did ended with the right message about the topic of mental illness and if you entertained another way of ending this story?

I never questioned how All the Bright Places would end. I knew in my bones that the only ending could be the one I wrote, not just because too many stories about teen mental health are tied up in neat little packages with bows on top, but because it’s the ending I lived with the real-life Finch. It was the ending I knew to tell. In terms of the message it sends, from what I can tell via readers, especially readers who see themselves in Finch, they are walking away from the book with the right message: they are not alone. It is important to speak up, to ask for help. And even in the darkest times, it’s possible to find bright places.

I have read that it took you a mere six weeks to crank out All the Bright Places. This is such an incredible feat! Why do you think this story came together so quickly this time?

Because it was a story I had carried with me for a long time, and because it came from the heart.

You have tackled so many different genres as a writer, but this is your first young adult book. Is there a particular genre that you love the most and what did you love the most about writing a YA fiction versus the other genres you have tackled?

I love YA the most. As one reader put it, “Jennifer Niven thinks 18,” which I take as a huge compliment. I feel at home in the voice, and I absolutely love what’s being done in the genre—some of the bravest, boldest topics are being explored, and I think that’s fantastic. YA is fearless, and YA readers are the most passionate and voracious of all.

If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be (read ALL the recommendations over the year HERE)?

Wonder by RJ Pallacio.


You can connect with Jennifer Niven on GoodReads,on Facebook, or through 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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