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Interview with Gail Aldwin

I met Gail a few years ago when I fell in love with her book, This Much Huxley Knows, and when I discovered that she had written a new book, The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell, I knew I had to read her latest novel and interview her.

BC - Good morning, Gail! I’m so happy to be talking with you again.  

GA – And I’m delighted to be here!

BC – Let’s start with your writing process. I am always curious how other writers get words on the page. Tell me about your writing process.

GA - I approach each project differently. For my coming-of-age debut, The String Games, I wrote by the seat of my pants and did very little planning. This meant a significant amount of material was cut during the various drafts. To save the pain of writing and then cutting masses of words, I planned my next novel, This Much Huxley Knows to the nth degree. For my latest release, a psychological suspense, The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell, I joined Writers’ Hour each weekday morning at eight o’clock. The Zoom call provides a fabulous kick-start to the working day when writers from around the world gather in our little Zoom boxes to share some words of wisdom and companionship, and then we get on with our individual projects for fifty minutes. I’m usually stuck in my writing when we’re called back into the Zoom room and leave soon after to continue with my work rather than have a debrief.


BC – I know just what it feels like to have a significant amount of work cut from a manuscript – the same thing happened to me with my first novel. Writing a first novel is definitely a learning process. I hope you saved and filed that deleted material under JUST IN CASE I CAN USE THIS SOMEWHERE ELSE.


BC - Do you like to research?

GA - For The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell, where a podcast investigation links the two timelines to solve a mystery, I became hooked on true crime podcasts. I developed a fascination for series podcasts that allowed me to tune into the twists and turns that created crucial listening. One podcast, The Teacher’s Pet, was excellent research in that it covered the case of a missing wife from 1981. Listening to this, I could reimagine the norms of the time and give voice to Carolyn Russell.

BC - How difficult was writing the two timelines in The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell? How did you approach it?

GA - I drafted each timeline from beginning to end separately and then wove the two stories together. The novel starts with two chapters from Stephanie’s viewpoint to lodge her importance as a main character in the reader’s mind. Following this, the chapters alternate between Carolyn’s story in 1979 and Stephanie’s 2014 timeline. The structure was a blessing and a pain. At one point, I decided to delete an entire chapter, which disrupted the alternating pattern until I came up with a solution to fill the gap.

BC - What kind of books do you like to read?

GA - Have you come across the term deep reader and shallow reader? Deep readers find an author they enjoy and devour everything they’ve ever written. Shallow readers select reading material from a whole range of authors. I fall into the shallow reader category – I like to read across genres – and often out of my comfort zone. I read a post-apocalyptic novel recently and found myself cringing at the gory details, but I kept going because of the very fine characters in the story. As a writer, I read differently. I’m always ready to learn from the skills displayed by other authors.

BC – I love learning how other writers read. I find I read at a much slower pace because I am concentrating on the structure of the story.

BC - Where did the idea for The Secret Life of Carolyn Russell come from?

GA - I mentioned true crime podcasts as a source of research, but they were also the inspiration for the novel. I became hooked on podcasts in 2020 while volunteering at a refugee settlement in Uganda. Where I lived in Yumbe, there were frequent power cuts, so I was often in my bed and under my mosquito net by eight o’clock in the evening. Without light to read by, I tuned into the podcasts I’d downloaded during the day at a local hotel. I was repatriated due to Covid-19 and came back with loads of ideas that needed taming.

BC - How did you so perfectly get into the head of a sixteen-year-old girl?

GA - There’s a BBC radio programme called My Teenage Diary where celebrities read diary excerpts from their younger lives. This helped me capture the language of the time and the teenage logic which drives the narrative. As the timeline also fits with my teenage years, I drew upon my own experiences and those of my friends. I love using product placement to indicate time and place, so old British favourites like chocolate bars and packet convenience food feature in the novel.

BC - What do you do for fun?

GA - I love running and join a 5km local run each Saturday morning. As writing is a portable profession, I also travel a lot. In recent years, I’ve spent 3-month periods in Edinburgh, Cambridge, and London. I’m keen to travel more overseas, starting with a Norwegian Fjord cruise.

BC – I’ve always been jealous of your traveling!

BC - What is your happiest publishing memory?

GA - My second novel, This Much Huxley Knows, uses a young narrator to explore community tensions following Brexit. One of the themes in the novel is the power of intergenerational friendships. A book blogger I respect, Julie Morris of A Little Book Problem, so loved the story that she bought a paperback copy for her private library and named the book one of her top titles for 2021. It’s such a thrill to receive feedback like this.

BC - Do you have a new book in the works?

GA - I’ve drawn upon my experience of living in Uganda to imagine and populate an African island that is visited by rich tourists. The working title is Three Couples. When Ashley’s controlling husband books a holiday at Slingback Resort, she finds the tropical island empowering, but tensions exist between islanders and visitors. Determined to build friendships with locals, Ashley is unaware that her husband stokes the conflict. Following an incident where they’re targeted by youths, Ashley’s suspicions are aroused. Can she get to the bottom of what’s going on?

BC – That sounds riveting!

Thank you so much, Gail; I look forward to talking with you again!

Book Links and Social Media


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Gail loves to connect with readers and writers on social media. You can find her at:





Deleted Scene from My Secret to Keep

I devoted endless hours researching the design of the car, the interior and exterior colors, and where all the dials and knobs were located on the car Anne would use to teach Maggie to drive. I knew that car perfectly. And then my editor deleted the entire scene. (Trust me, it was a good call).

To set the scene: The year was 1970

Anne tossed me her car keys. “You can drive.”

          I came to a standstill and attempted to toss them back, but they landed on the floor at her feet. “Don’t be ridiculous.” The pitch of my voice shot up a little higher than usual. “I can’t drive. I don’t have a license. I don’t know how.”

          Anne placed the keys firmly in my and wrapped my fingers around them. “I’ll teach you.”

          Anne’s car, a beautifully restored 1949 candy-apple red Buick Roadmaster convertible, cost more than the house I grew up in. And even though it was a classic, I swore I could still smell the white leather interior whenever I opened the car door.

          I looked out the window. “It looks like it might rain. You don’t want to take your car out in the rain. I bet that car hasn’t been out in the rain in all the years you’ve owned it.”

          “Don’t be silly. You’ve been telling me for months that you want to learn to drive.”

          We moved from the house to the garage. “Go on, get in.”

          “I don’t think…”

          “Maggie, just get in.”

          I shot her one quick look of annoyance before sliding behind the steering wheel and gripping it until my knuckles turned white.

          Anne walked around to the other side and slipped into the passenger seat. She closed the door softly behind her. “You need to relax.” Uncurling my hands from the steering wheel and taking the keys from my fingers, she added, “Just keep your hands in your lap for now.”

          “Your car is worth thousands of dollars,” I stammered, stating the obvious, leaving the rest unsaid.

          “Don’t worry about my car. Just relax. Let’s get you familiar with where everything is. Look,” she said, pointing, “here’s the ignition, the lights, the windshield wipers. Before you know it, you won’t need to look when you turn the lights on or the wipers. Just sit here and look around. Practice turning on the lights. Here’s the button to put the top down.”

          I sat, frozen, with my hand on the lever to turn on the windshield wipers. It wasn’t raining yet, but I would be ready when it did.

          “Put your foot on the pedal. Good. The point is to make sure you can easily reach everything. See? Here’s where you can adjust the seat. Does that feel comfortable?”

          I nodded, even though I knew I would never be comfortable behind the wheel of her car.

          “The right pedal’s the gas. The left one’s the brake.”

          My right foot rested lightly on the gas pedal, so I moved my left foot to the brake.

          “No, no, you only use your right foot. You need to move your foot back and forth from the gas to the brake when you want to start and stop.”

          Learning to drive was more complicated than learning to use a sewing machine. And I didn’t need to worry that a sewing machine would take off by itself. I rested my head on the steering wheel and closed my eyes. “I don’t think I can do this.”

          Anne chuckled. “Yes, you can. It’s not that hard. But you need to relax.”

          When I slipped the key into the ignition and turned on the car, my forehead was slick with sweat, and my right foot had a cramp that practically curled my toes up out of my shoe. And I guessed that would be a problem since I needed that foot.

          Fortunately, Anne always backed into the garage, so I was faced in the right direction when I inched down the length of the driveway. But that was as far as I wanted to go.

          “How do I turn this thing off?’ I moved my right foot to the brake, and we both lurched forward even though the car was probably only moving a little faster than I could walk. I should have thought to ask that question before I needed to know the answer.

          “Why do you want to turn it off?

          “I changed my mind. Just tell me how to stop the damn thing!” I grasped the steering wheel as if my life depended on it.

          Anne placed her hand on mine. “Just relax. We don't have to if you don’t want to do this. I won’t make you do something you don’t want to do.”

          My hands automatically relaxed on the wheel. “Really?”

          Anne nodded and explained how to turn off the car. “Hold your foot steady on the brake and put the car in Park, then pull the emergency brake on. We can try this again another day.” Anne leaned across the seat and kissed me on the cheek. “Maybe when it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain.”

  • Writer's pictureBarbara Conrey

Anita and I are trying something new (to us). We are interviewing each other so that you, dear readers, get two authors for the price of one read.

Full disclosure, I don’t actually know Anita in the real sense of the word; I know her through the wonderful 2020Debuts group we both belong to (which is run by the equally fabulous Alison Hammer), and I know her through our writers group, Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) and I know her from reading her book, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters.

So this is what I can tell you: Anita is generous and kind and adorable; she has written a beautiful story about the secrets that bind mothers and daughters together. If you have not read Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters, I recommend that you do. You can thank me later.

So! On to the interview.

BC: What would you like our readers to know about you?

AK: I’m a friendly Canadian with a background in socio-cultural and environmental research, who always wanted to be a writer, but took the long way of getting there. When I’m not reading or writing, I love being outdoors, walking, running, hiking, cycling, or being on the water. Baking and napping are also among my favourite pastimes. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, with my husband and cat, Noodles. We’re expecting our first child in March. And it’s a girl! For now, we call her Bean.

AK: Tell us a little about yourself.

BC: I love the reference to ‘Little Bean’ in your book!

I’m old. Let’s start with that. I’m a 70-year-old 2020 Debut who always dreamed of writing a book and finally did. I’m a mother and grandmother who writes about dysfunctional families with loads of secrets.

BC: Tell me a little about Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters.

AK: I would love to! Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is a mother-daughter story told in alternating timelines. The story kicks off with a prologue where we’re introduced to a young couple who are moments away from meeting their adopted daughter for the first time. During that meeting with the social worker, they discover that their daughter has come to them through tragic circumstances. Her birth mother died under mysterious circumstances, and her birth father wasn’t able to raise her alone. By the time we reach the first chapter, that little baby, whose name is Asha, has just turned eighteen. She’s on the cusp of adulthood and excited about the future. However, it’s at that time her parents reveal to her the truth about the adoption secret they’ve kept from her until then. The revelation rocks her to her core, and she starts asking the big questions: Who am I? Where do I come from? Can I ever trust my parents again? What else are they keeping from me? And, of course, what happened to my birth mother? Why didn’t my birth father keep me? Was it my fault? These are the questions that propel Asha through her storyline and a tumultuous year that follows.

From there, we’re introduced to our second protagonist, a young scholar named Mala, who has just returned to her doctoral studies after a period of bereavement leave following the sudden death of her beloved father. As Mala struggles to get her life back on track, her mother has other ideas about what is best for her future. Mala finds herself caught between duty and desire, torn between following her heart and balancing the cultural expectations her mother places upon her.

The two storylines weave together, and I promise it all comes together in the end!

AK: What’s the premise of Nowhere Near Goodbye?

BC: A female oncologist, Emma Blake, is compelled to fulfill a childhood promise by creating a surgical procedure to cure glioblastoma (GBM), and in doing so, forfeits everyone she loves.

Synopsis: A mother’s love vs. a doctor’s oath.

Oncologist Emma Blake has dedicated her life to finding a cure for a rare brain cancer. Twenty-five years ago, Emma’s childhood friend Kate died of glioblastoma, and Emma vowed to annihilate the deadly disease. Now, Kate’s father, Ned, is pushing her to work harder to fulfill that promise.

When Emma discovers she’s pregnant, she’s torn between the needs of her family and the demands of her work. While Ned pressures her to do the unthinkable, her husband, Tim, decorates the nursery. Unwilling to abandon her research, Emma attempts to keep both sides of her life in balance.

Emma knows she needs to reconcile her past with her present and walk the fine line between mother and physician. But Ned has a secret, and when Emma discovers what he’s been hiding, the foundation of her world cracks.

Nowhere Near Goodbye is a story of family, failure, and second chances.

BC: Where did the idea for Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughter come from?

AK: There were a few different points of inspiration. I wanted to write a book that explored arranged marriage from various points of view, both positive and negative. I’ve also always wanted to write a tragic love story and there’s plenty of heartache in the novel, haha. I also have a great love of Victorian feminist literature, the Brontë’s in particular, so finding a way to weave my love of Jane Eyre throughout the story as a point of connection and meaning between the protagonists was important to me. I also write about bereavement and mental health quite a lot in my work, as a way of combating stigma and inspiring empathy.

AK: What inspired you to write Nowhere Near Goodbye?

BC: I also loved your references to Jane Eyre (you and I and Finola Austin, author of Bronte’s Mistress, should do an in-person meetup as soon as it’s safe).

A friend lost a loved one to glioblastoma (GBM) twenty years ago. It made me so angry at the time to watch my friend suffer her loss, and I didn’t know what to do with my anger, but I knew one day I would write a book where the tumor didn’t win, even though the reality is that the tumor almost always wins.

Since that time, two things have remained the same: my desire to write this story and the utter destructiveness of GBM.

BC: How long did it take you to write Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters?

AK: Oh, wow, a long time! I think about six years? It’s changed a lot from that first draft way back whenever!

AK: What are you most looking forward to this debut year? And conversely, what are you most nervous about?

BC: At first, I never thought past seeing the book published. Then I began to imagine a book signing in my favorite local bookstore. Of course, the pandemic struck long before my book released, so it soon became clear that there would be no public anything.

Honestly, the thing that made me most nervous was realizing my book was out in the world for people to read and criticize, and I just wanted to pull it back into me so that no one could see it.

BC: Why were you compelled to write Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters?

AK: I’m interested in exploring the social and cultural pressures faced by South Asian girls and women and inter-generational conflict, that is, how the lives of women and the expectations they face differ between generations and how that impacts the kinds of choices they have available to them overall. There are three different generations of women in this story, and their lives have very different outcomes based on the kinds of choices available to them, as well as the social support around them. I started with Mala’s story, wanting to understand this young woman living with grief, who wants nothing more than to return to her studies but, at the same time, struggles to make her mother happy. She struggles to be a “good daughter” while also pursuing a life of her own, a dilemma I know many daughters, regardless of background, can relate to.

AK: What authors do you admire and/or have influenced your development as a writer? Please feel free to add specific books; we love recommendations!

BC: I like books that are straight-forward, but with maybe a hint of religion in them. And to tell you the truth, I don’t know where that comes from since I’ve never considered myself much of a religious person. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, and Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni are all books that have influenced my writing. They are all books that I love.

BC: What are you working on now?

AK: After Secret Lives, I finished two manuscripts, both sisterhood stories with lots of drama and family secrets. My agent is reviewing them now, so fingers crossed she likes what she reads! While I wait to hear back from her, I’ve recently started my first foray into historical fiction. A contemporary retelling of an ancient Indian myth in desperate need of an update.

AK: What are you working on now?

BC: I’m working on the prequel to Nowhere Near Goodbye. There’s a character in Nowhere Near Goodbye, Miss Maggie, who originally made only a brief appearance. Then through editorial revisions, she became a little more fleshed out so that she caught my attention. By the end of the editing process, I needed to discover the connection between her and Emma, my protagonist in Nowhere Near Goodbye.

BC: Tell me a secret. Something not many people know about you that you wouldn’t mind sharing.

AK: Perhaps I’ll share a little known fact about the novel! The first draft of Secret Lives was actually linear. It was an agent who asked me to do a revise and resubmit that suggested I consider two timelines. At the time, the thought of undertaking such a huge structural change blew my mind and felt very daunting. But it was an important change and has made the book what it is today.

AK: What question do you wish I had asked and answer it!

BC: There’s a subplot in Nowhere Near Goodbye about beagles and how they are used for medical and product testing. It’s real; the association I am most familiar with is the Beagle Freedom Project, which is an organization that rescues beagles, rehabilitates them, and finds forever homes for them. So, I wish you had asked me about the beagles.

To answer my question, I would explain that beagles are the most trusting of dogs – and that is why this breed is popular with testing facilities. It’s a horrific situation for the animals, and it’s a situation I needed to put eyes on. And yes, of course, I have a rescued beagle. I don’t think I can write about something I don’t care about.

Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters


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Nowhere Near Goodbye

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Publisher’s website: Red Adept Publishing


I first met Sherri through social media. We belong to several online writing associations, most notably Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA), we both have the same publisher, Red Adept Publishing, and we are also part of the 2020Debuts, a Facebook group comprised of authors debuting this year.

We met in person a year or so ago at a Maryland winery (where else?) where she had organized a casual meet-up of local writers. Social media Sherri and in-person Sherri are one and the same. What you see with Sherri is what you get: she is always smiling, willing to help, and filled with joy. I’ve been itching to interview her now that her lovely debut, What's Left Untold, is out in the world.

BC: Describe your writing space.

SL: Pre-coronavirus, I used to meet with a group of local writers at the library on Wednesdays—which was often my most productive writing day of the week!—and sometimes I like to shake things up and enjoy a change of scenery by writing at a café, but I usually write at home, which, I’ve found, usually allows me to make the most efficient use of my time.

When I have the house to myself, I like to write in the kitchen, which is my favorite room in the house. My kitchen is bright and spacious—with sweeping views of the trees in our yard and the lake beyond—and it’s close to the coffee pot. If my family is home, I retreat to my office to write. My office is more ergonomic and also has a big window with a nice view, but it is more cramped and disorganized. I need to pencil in some time to do an office overhaul!

BC: What is the most challenging part about writing for you?

SL: Sticking to a routine! For me, no two days are alike and I really have no set schedule. The only thing that seems constant in my life is change. But—other than the challenge this creates for me to write consistently—I don’t mind. I’m not a creature of habit and I like variety. I’m very organized, but schedules tend to make me feel bogged down and uninspired. But committing to the Wednesday writing group at the library was my first small step toward establishing a writing routine, which is still a work in progress.

BC: On a typical day, how much time do you spend writing?

SL: I love Stephen King as an author, and I value his craft book On Writing. But King favors utilitarian workspaces and recommends writing every day. While there is obvious wisdom to both of these, I find them both difficult to adhere to. I prefer to write in an inspiring space and I tend to avoid writing if I don’t have, at minimum, two solid hours of dedicated, uninterrupted time to write.

When I’m deep into writing mode, I aim to write anywhere from 2-7 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. But that, of course, is the ideal. Real-life tends to get in the way and the reality is often much different.

BC: What was the inspiration for What’s Left Untold?

SL: Though What’s Left Untold is 100 percent fiction—a wild ride through my imagination and not about anyone I know or anything I’ve experienced personally—the inspiration for the book is based in reality.

I was at my parents’ house when I discovered a trunk filled with childhood memorabilia, including photo albums, yearbooks and box of letters. One of the letters had an interesting and ominous postscript that read something like: “I need to see you; I have something important to tell you.” I have no idea what the “important” thing was and I figured it probably didn’t matter. But, later, I began to wonder: what if it did matter? Which then led to the question: “What is something you could learn decades after the fact that could still have a major impact on your life?”

What’s Left Untold is built around this idea that Anna, the MC, reunites with her estranged best friend and uncovers a devastating secret that threatens to destroy the life she’s built with her husband and daughters. The book’s tag line is, “Every secret has its price,” and, in the case of What’s Left Untold, there is indeed a steep price to be paid for the secrets that have been kept.

BC: What more can you tell us about What’s Left Untold?

SL: Building on my answer to the last question, the best way to answer this is by sharing the book’s description:

Every secret has its price.

Anna Clark and Lia Clay were unlikely best friends in high school, but their yin-and-yang personalities drew them together in a sister-like bond. Then during college, Lia inexplicably walked out on their friendship and disappeared, leaving Anna hurt, confused, and disillusioned.

Twenty years later, Anna discovers a letter Lia wrote the summer after high school—a letter that contains a cryptic postscript concealing a devastating truth. With her twenty-year high school reunion approaching, Anna moves closer to uncovering the secret in Lia’s letter and the heartbreaking consequences it set in motion.

As the layers of deceit and betrayal begin to unravel, Anna is forced to question everything she believes and come to terms with what it means to forgive the one person who hurt her in the worst way imaginable.

BC: How long did it take to write What’s left Untold?

SL: My journey from inspiration to publication was 11 years in the making!

The inspiration for What’s Left Untold hit in 2009 when my youngest daughter was just four years old. I’d had three kids in four years and I kept telling myself I would write the book when my youngest daughter started kindergarten. But my husband and I were also competitive triathletes and from 2010 to 2013 we were training for two Ironman-distance races, so for the first five years I was only able to work on the book in fits in starts.

In 2014 I committed in earnest to finishing the book and in 2015 my manuscript was selected as a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s Rising Star Contest. As a finalist, I had the opportunity to have my manuscript critiqued by several agents, which led to another year of revisions and edits. In 2016 I began sending the manuscript out on submission and in 2018 I signed a contract with Red Adept Publishing. Finally, on May 19, 2020, my debut novel was released!

BC: Tell us about the process for coming up with the cover, which is beautiful, by the way.

SL: The cover design process was very rewarding and satisfying. With Red Adept Publishing, I was able to offer input on the cover by requesting certain elements I wanted to have included as well as specific elements I did not want to be included. I also had the opportunity to offer my opinion on the two covers that were initially created. The first draft of this cover featured only one woman; I suggested that adding a second silhouette would not only improve the overall look but would also be more true to the heart of the story, and Red Adept agreed.

The final draft was then presented to a focus group to ensure that the cover portrayed the correct mood and genre of the book. I am very pleased with the final cover for What’s Left Untold. As an author, seeing my book’s cover for the first time was a very exciting moment.

BC: If a movie was made of your book, who are the celebrities that would star in it?

SL: This is a very fun and interesting question! Initially, I did not consider this at all because I haven’t dared allow myself to dream that this book would ever be made into a movie. Also, I think it’s important for readers to form their own mental image of what the characters look like. But, having said that, I’ve since had a lot of fun selecting celebrities to star as my characters—and I’ve chosen them based not on their celebrity status or acting chops but on the way I physically pictured the characters in my head as I was writing them:

Anna – Emmanuelle Chriqui or Julia Jones

Lia – Emma Stone

Jack – Henry Cavill

Faith – Tina Fey

Rose – Susan Sarandon or Margo Martindale

Kathryn – Alexandra Daddario

Jay – Chris Pine

BC: Who is your favorite author and why?

SL: This is a really difficult question! There are so many fabulous books and so many authors I adore. In junior high, Stephen King’s books—specifically Christine, Cujo and Carrie—were the first adult fiction books I ever read and they cemented my status as a reader and a lover of books.

In high school and college I didn’t have much time to read for pleasure, but one of my college English classes read Silence of the Lambs, which reminded me how much I enjoyed reading and how much I missed it.

Some of my all-time favorite books are The Kite Runner; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; The Pillars of the Earth; Outlander; In a Sunburned Country; The Wife Between Us; and The Alice Network.

And I’m so amazed by and proud of the books being written by my fellow 2020 Debut Authors! So far I’ve had the pleasure of reading Wildland by Rebecca Hodge, The Missing Sister by Elle Marr, and You and Me and Us by Alison Hammer, but my e-reader is full of books by 2020 Debut Authors and I can’t wait to read as many of them as I can!

But, as a women’s fiction writer, the books and stories that have inspired and informed me the most and are my most beloved are those by Kristin Hannah, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, Lisa Wingate, Liane Moriarty and JoJo Moyes.

BC: What are you reading now?

SL: Currently, I’m reading Little Lovely Things by Maureen Joyce Connolly. Next up is an ARC of Lainey Cameron’s debut novel, The Exit Strategy, which will be released in July.

BC: What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

SL: While I’d be thrilled to be mentored by any of the authors mentioned above as my favorites—especially the women’s fiction authors—I’ve been fortunate to have the best unofficial mentor ever in Jennifer Klepper, USA Today Bestselling Author of Unbroken Threads.

Jennifer is a fellow Women’s Fiction Writer’s Associate member and Red Adept Publishing author, and she has paid it forward and led the way for me since the day I signed my contract with Red Adept. Her knowledge is beyond impressive and her guidance throughout this process has been invaluable! I could not have had a better mentor.

BC: As you well know, Jennifer is also my unofficial mentor. She took on a heavy load when she met us!

BC: What would you like your readers to know about you?

SL: I’m pretty much an open book. Unlike the characters in What’s Left Untold, I was raised to believe that honesty is the best policy, so if you ask me a question I will always give an honest answer. I also believe that people should agree to disagree and respect the views and opinions of others, even if—probably especially if—they differ from one’s own.

Otherwise, I’m kind of an exercise junkie. I’ve taught group fitness classes since 1992 and yoga exclusively since 2005. I spent ten years as a competitive triathlete and I love the outdoors! When not reading or writing you can typically find me trail running, hiking, kayaking or paddleboarding.

I treasure new adventures and experiencing diverse cultures, and I love to travel.

Some of most incredible places I’ve been are Spain, Costa Rica, Peru, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Next up on my travel wish list is Italy, Portugal, Greece, Ireland and Scotland.

BC: While I already know the answer to this, I’m going to ask anyway. Miss Molly always wants to know which you prefer: Dog or cat?

SL: Miss Molly will be happy to know that I am 100% Team Dog! I’ve had dogs my whole life. To me, a dog makes a house a home (albeit a slobbery, fur-covered home, lol!) Currently, I have two Labrador Retrievers: Luna, 11.5-years old, and Bodhi, a rescue, who is approximately 6 or 7 years old. In What’s Left Untold, my MC, Anna, is also a dog lover! J

Let’s Connect!

While I am so thrilled to finally be a published author, I am and always will be, first and foremost, a reader! And I love to connect with others who share my passion for books. Here’s where you can find me on social media:

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I haven’t met Barbara in person, but we are both members of the #2020Debuts (books to be published in 2020) and I thought it would be fun to get to know her, and her new book, QUEEN OF THE OWLS, better.

BARBARA LINN PROBST is a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, living on an historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her debut novel QUEEN OF THE OWLS (April 2020) is the powerful story of a woman’s search for wholeness, framed around the art and life of iconic painter Georgia O’Keeffe.

QUEEN OF THE OWLS has been selected as one of the 20 most anticipated books of 2020 by Working Mother and will be the May 2020 selection for the Pulpwood Queens, a network of more than 800 book clubs across the U.S. Her second novel, THE SOUND BETWEEN THE NOTES, will be published in April 2021.

BC: Tell us about Queen of the Owls.

BLP: Queen of the Owls is the story of a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, and colleague.

Elizabeth, the story’s protagonist, has always defined herself by her intellect. She’s chosen the safe, responsible path, avoiding the sensuality she believed was beyond her reach. During the story, she comes to know and embrace a fuller self, body and beauty as well as brain. There’s a price to pay, but Elizabeth knows she can’t go back.

Queen of the Owls is a story of transformation—timeless, yet diving deep into contemporary issues of privacy, consent, feminism, and the power of social media to upend our lives.

BC: Tell us about the role of Georgia O’Keeffe in the book. Why O’Keeffe?

BLP: The idea of framing the story around the art and life of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe really just “appeared” to me. I’ve always loved her paintings; they called to me in a way that felt very connected to the question of what it means to be a woman. And in researching the book, I learned so much more about her life and work—which, in turn, enhanced the story in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

O’Keeffe has been a figure of endless fascination for over a century, not only for her artistic genius but also because of how she lived. She was the quintessential feminist who rejected the feminists’ attempts to turn her into their matriarch, the severe desert recluse who created some of the most sensuous art of all time.

Although the story is framed around the art and life of Georgia O’Keeffe, O’Keeffe isn’t a character in the book—yet she’s present as Elizabeth’s inspiration, the person whose blend of austerity and voluptuousness Elizabeth longs to emulate. In seeking to understand O’Keeffe, Elizabeth comes to understand herself.

Art worked well as a vehicle for Queen of the Owls because the story is about Elizabeth’s yearning to be truly seen. And through being seen, to be known.

BC: The title is fascinating. How did you come up with it?

BLP: Titles can be the hardest part of a book, can’t they? I agonized and agonized over mine. There were actually three prior titles, but none of them felt right.

I already had the motif of Elizabeth being owl to her sister’s fox—a brain, cut off from her own body and her own sensuality. But the leap to Queen of the Owls came from an unexpected source. In a previous career, I’d been (among other things) a researcher studying people’s experience living with mental illness. I suddenly remembered a woman I’d spoken with, who had a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome. She’d told me that she wasn’t like the other birds, she was an owl, and happy to be one; in fact, she thought of herself as the “queen of the owls.” And there it was—my title!

BC: Tell us about your research for this book.

BLP: I did a lot of research to learn about O’Keeffe—reading widely, talking to experts, studying her paintings, visiting the places where she lived and worked. I spent time at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center in Santa Fe and traveled to see several special exhibits of O’Keeffe’s work that were held—by a lucky coincidence—during the months I was working on the book.

One of the extraordinary coincidences—it felt almost mystical—was when I discovered that O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings, a focus of the book, were going to be on exhibit together for the first time in eighty years at a venue only thirty minutes from where I lived. It felt like a sign that this was a book I was meant to write.

I even traveled to Hawaii. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but I knew I had to experience the place for myself. I was struck by the particular quality of the tropical heat and how different it must have felt to O’Keeffe, who was accustomed to the dryness and sharpness of the southwest. There was no way I could have understood that without being there in person. You could say that, like Elizabeth, I sought my own “embodied knowledge” to complement what I learned from articles and books.

So it wasn’t a matter of research first, writing second. They happened recursively, each informing the other.

BC: How many drafts did you write?

BLP: A difficult question to answer! The shape of the story was there from the start, although I did make a major alteration in Elizabeth’s relationship with both her husband and her sister. In both cases, I realized that I needed to humanize them as characters, make them people we could relate to and care about, not just foils to push the plot along. On the other hand, I’m such a perfectionist! I tweaked and refined and polished the manuscript countless times, including 24 pages of post-ARC edits. The designer probably wanted to throttle me!

BC: Which came first, the characters or the plot?

BLP: What came “first” for me was an idea. I was pondering the issue of sexual coercion, a topic high in the public consciousness, and it struck me that sexual coercion can take a lot of forms, depending on context. I thought of academia, where I’d spent many years, and a what if began to form in my brain. What if someone in power at a university suggested to an eager graduate student that the way to distinguish herself was by doing something—posing nude—something she would never have done if it hadn’t been couched in pseudo-academic language? And what if that “something” was the perfect trigger for her own secret yearning?

That dovetailed perfectly with a discarded motif in an earlier attempt at a novel. I realized that I had to shift this theme to a younger protagonist, rather than to the adult daughter of my prior protagonist—and then I was off and running! So you could say that plot and character were intertwined right from the beginning.

BC: What has influenced you the most as a writer?

BLP: So many influences—mentors, experiences, my training as a therapist (which means, an observer of people)! So I’ll name just one here.

It’s three lines by the poet Mary Oliver, which she calls Instructions on Living a Life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it

BC: Oh, I love that! If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be?

BLP: The way I take your question is: what have I learned, through and about writing?

Here are a few principles I’ve come to understand.

· Love your characters, every single one of them. Find the part of each character that is worthy of love and respect.

· Relax. Listen. Let the story find you. Don’t worry about all those rules and grids and arcs and plot points.

· Every word has to earn its place on the page.

· If you have a story to tell, tell it—with your whole mind and heart and courage. Some people will love it and some will hate it and some will be indifferent. It’s always been like that and always will be.

· Keep your eyes on your own paper. Comparing yourself to other writers (better, worse) only breeds unhappiness and distracts you from the work you’re meant to do.

BC: So true! Now, just tell us a little about you, Barbara Linn Probst. Where was your favorite place to live?

BLP: I’ve lived in a cabin in the California redwoods, a converted jailhouse in New York’s Greenwich Village, and a dozen other oddball places! Each has brought different experiences, so I guess my “favorite” is wherever I am in the present moment!

Thank you so much, Barbara! It's been a pleasure.

Want to learn even more about Barbara? Check out the following links.






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