Archive for the ‘Sundays With Writers’ Category

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

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

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

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

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

I included this in our Must-Reads last month!

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

Monica Wood

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

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

One-in-a-Million Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Wildlife Refuge

source: wikipedia

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

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

Kim Goodman- Eyeball Popper

(kim goodman- guinness record holder)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sundays With Writers: Rare Objects By Kathleen Tessaro

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

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

Rare Objects by Kathleen Tessaro

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

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

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

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

Katherine Tessaro

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

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

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

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

First Edition Ernest Hemingway

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

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

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

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

The Drunkard's Progress- Prohibition

source: wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rare Objects Book Release Party

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

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

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

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

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

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Sundays With Writers: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

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

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

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

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

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

This book?

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

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

Clare Mackintosh

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Let You Go at the British Book Industry Awards

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

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

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

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

chiplitfest

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

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

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

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

I Let You Go translated in many languages

I Let You Go translated into many languages!

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

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

I-See-You

preorder I See You

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

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

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

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Sundays With Writers: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

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

 

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

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

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

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

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

Robin Wasserman

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

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

 

 

Books With Girl in the Title

source: ew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My So Called Life

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

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

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

satanic-panic

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

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

Is there any possibility of a sequel?

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

What are you working on next?

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

girls-on-fire

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

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Sundays With Writers: Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

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

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

Behave by Andromeda Romano-Lax

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

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

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

Andromeda Romano Lax

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

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

Little Albert Experiment

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

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

Little Albert Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rosalie Raynor

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

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

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

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

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

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

behave

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

Sundays With Writers: Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

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

 

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

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

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

I included this book in our May Must-Reads

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

Molly Prentiss

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

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

Pasillo de la memoria UTN FRA (2015) 11

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scout Press

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

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

Molly Prentiss

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

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

Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss

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

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

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

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

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

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

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

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

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

Ruth Ware

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

source: reese witherspoon’s ig feed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ruth Ware

follow Ruth Ware on FB!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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

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

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

 

Sundays With Writers: The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

Sunday, May 29th, 2016

Sundays With Writers

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

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

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

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

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

Kimberly McCreight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Outliers featured on Reese Witherspoon's IG Feed

source: Reese Witherspoon’s IG feed!

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

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

Nicole Kidman

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

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

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

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

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follow Kimberly on Facebook!!

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

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

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

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

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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Sundays With Writers: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Sunday, May 22nd, 2016

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

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(follow Julie’s updates on Facebook!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Incident On The Bridge by Laura McNeal

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

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

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

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

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

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

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

All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A With Elizabeth Brundage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(george inness painting/wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*This post contains affiliate links!

 

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