Author to Author Interview: Lesley Kagen, Part 2, and Keanu

Here’s a little secret: Lesley Kagen, wonder author, and I have a running Keanu Reeves joke between us. We pretend that Keanu visits one of us for a little while, then we, generously, send him back to the other person. We joke that he is madly in love with both of us, two middle aged women who spend much of their lives in their imaginations and try not to eat too much chocolate.

(That’s a lie. We eat all the chocolate we want.)

Look at these earrings Lesley sent me. Yes, they are Keanu Reeves earrings!!

November 17 2014 041

We’re ever so slightly crazy. You get like this when you spend too much time with a whole bunch of people running around in your head.

Anyhow, in between our Keanu Reeves  jokes, we write.  Lesley, a New York Times best selling author, wrote an incredible book,  The Resurrection of Tess Blessing. I read it in about three days. I related to Tess, and to her life, and I think you might, too.

So, let’s begin.

Cathy Lamb: Lesley, give us the summary of The Resurrection of Tess Blessing.

Lesley Kagen:  After forty-nine-year-old Tess is diagnosed with breast cancer, she sets forth on a mission to complete her final TO-DO list before, what she’s sure is, her impending death. She needs to make peace with her sister, Birdie, scatter her mother’s ashes that she’s been keeping in her kitchen cupboard, rescue her daughter, Haddie, from an eating disorder, guide her teenage son, Henry, through a bumpy adolescence, and reignite the spark in her almost thirty-year marriage to her hubby, Will. A daunting task.

lesley 2Thank God, she has help from Grace, the narrator, who may or may not be an imaginary friend, a wiser part of Tess, or her guardian angel.

As I see it, Tess is at that place in life, where so many of us get to at some point, where everything has fallen apart.

You then tell part of Tess’s story through her TO-DO list. Very clever. Why?

Like you, I’m a TO-DO lister from way back—I wrote my first one on papyrus—I think a lot of women are, given all that we have to deal with, so it seemed like a natural way to help organize the story. Especially since Tess is also wrestling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The flashbacks she experiences on a daily basis, along with the panic attacks, can sweep her away. And menopause isn’t helping either. The list helps keep Tess focused on the task at hand.

Ah, menopause….you curse me, you do, but back to the book.

Tess has an invisible friend. The invisible friend is the narrator. Where did that idea come from? 

Some of the story is based on my experience when I was diagnosed with breast cancer twelve years ago. I desperately needed a friend, but due to my need to keep what I was going through on the down-low, I conjured up a warm, wonderfully nurturing, and all-powerful pal by the name of Grace.

And now you’re a twelve year survivor. Congratulations, Warrior Woman. 

Why did you want to write a character in this time of life? (That would be, OUR time of life.)

There are so few books about women struggling to come to terms with middle-age, a time I think most of us find incredibly challenging. Our bodies our changing, our family structure, we’re experiencing empty-nest syndrome, and a score of other difficulties that I found perplexing and un-grounding. It’s a good time to come up with a resurrection list.

Lesley Kagen 4I’m all for that.

What are three things you love to do most in life?

1. Spend time with my family. My grandchildren are incredible.

2. Hike with my dog, the Amazing Gracie, in the woods and along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

3. As an actress as well as a writer, I adore movies!


You are on an island. What are five things you’d bring along with you?


1. Pictures of my family and furry friends.

2. A boatload of books.

3. Yummy smelling candles.

4. An intergalactic cell phone.

5. My yellow umbrella.

(Keanu Reeves would be wonderful company, but I guess he’s not a thing, right?)

No, Lesley, Keanu Reeves is not a thing and he’s very offended that you said that. He’s sitting right next to me and wants to remind you that he’s a man.  A REAL man, with sensitive feelings. Sheesh.

He also told me to tell you that he’ll see you on Thursday for Thanksgiving and he wants to know if you can please make him pecan pie.  He loves your pecan pie. I get him for Christmas.

Thanks, Lesley, for the interview. Keanu says thank you, too.











Author To Author Interview: Pam Jenoff

Cathy Lamb: Pam, I am on a tearing deadline. I need to write and write and write, but I cannot put down your book “The Winter Guest.”  I am cheering for the five orphaned children of the Nowak family, their father dead, their mother dying in the Jewish hospital in Krakow. The deprivation and truly frightening times of 1940 Poland, after the Nazi’s  brutally overran it, has also had me hooked.

But you’ll tell this story better than me. Give us a synopsis.

Photo Credit - Dominic Episcopo

Photo Credit – Dominic Episcopo

Pam Jenoff: Eighteen year old twin sisters Helena and Ruth are struggling to raise their three younger siblings in rural Poland as the war rages.  Things become infinitely more complicated when Helena finds a downed Jewish American paratrooper lying wounded in the woods and shelters him in an abandoned chapel while not telling her sister.

Why Poland? Why 1940? Why this family?

My interest in Poland comes from my years as a diplomat in Krakow for the State Department, where I worked on Holocaust related issues.  I became very close to survivors and was moved by my time there.

I’ve written about the era previously in books such as The Kommandant’s Girl and I was excited to return to it with a very different story.  The Winter Guest is inspired by two reali-life events.  First, when I worked at the Pentagon many years ago I had the opportunity to travel with my boss, the Secretary of the Army, to WWII commemorations around the globe and one was in a small cabin in the Slovak mountains where a young girl had aided the paratroopers and the partisans.  In fact the actual story happened later in the war in 1944 but I wanted to set it earlier, before the Americans had formally entered the war, in order to explore some fictional aspects.

The other bit of history has to deal with bones.  The Winter Guest opens in the present day with the mystery of some human bones that have been found at a development site in Poland and then goes back in time to see what happened.  This is based on my experience where sometimes in Poland bones have been found, either from where the Germans killed people in unmarked graves or where cemeteries have been plowed under.  This raises complex questions about whose bones and what is to be done.

Finally, I loved writing about twin sisters.  In an earlier book, The Things We Cherished, I had explored relationships between brothers and I was excited to turn to sisters.  I have 4 year old twin girls myself, though I can’t remember if I conceived them or the story idea first!

9780778315964.inddI have seventeen year old twins and I have had twins in my books, too. Hard to resist writing about that relationship, isn’t it?

You have degrees from the University of Pennsylvania, Cambridge and George Washington University. Which degree did you most enjoy earning, and which has helped you the most with your writing?

All of my educational experiences have contributed in different ways.  GWU was the spring board – I went to Washington and was so excited about government and international affairs that I literally felt the ground shaking under my feet.  Plus GWU was the springboard: at GWU I worked a part time job that would give me the contacts to work at the Pentagon and GWU paid for my scholarship to Cambridge.

Cambridge was the most magical time of my life before having kids.  It was Camelot or, as my brother called it, “A party school in a castle.”  Hands down, my most beloved alma mater and classmates to whom I am closest.  Plus it was when I lived in the UK that I began traveling in earnest.  I took the Foreign Service exam when I was in London.  And my Master’s in History helps with the research.

Penn was my law degree and the single biggest thing being a lawyer has given me for writing is the ability to revise. As a young associate, senior attorneys were forever marking up my work.  The same is true about editors now, and they don’t give you solutions, they give you problems to fix.  I believe in the ability to take feedback from others and incorporate it in my own work with my own voice.

You’re an attorney. What do you teach at Rutgers University?

Pam Jenoff 4I was an attorney for many years, both at a large firm and inhouse.  Now I teach full time on the faculty of Rutgers Law. I teach legal writing, employment, evidence and professionalism.  I adore it – my students are hard working, with no sense of entitlement, and I will do whatever I can to help them succeed.

Many of my (our) readers are mothers. I hate the word ‘balance’ because I have never found balance between raising kids and working, so it makes me impatient. I seem to operate with my hair on fire most of the time, especially in summer.  You have three children. How do you do it? What’s your philosophy on teaching law school, writing, children and making it work without your own hair setting itself on fire?

I joke that I do too many things and none of them well.  But Anne Lamott said it better, something like (paraphrasing here) before kids I couldn’t write if there were dirty dishes in the sink; after kids I could write with a corpse in the sink.  Funny but apt.  You just leave the house messy and get the writing done.  I work like crazy but I don’t mind because I love it all.  I like to say that if I hit Powerball I would still to the same things, just more slowly.

All writers write their books differently.  How do you start?  Outlining? Free form?  How many times do you edit the book before sending it to your editor?

I start with an idea and I throw down 150 pages of the worst junk – vomiting on the page, someone called it. And then after many months, when the document becomes unwieldy, I go back and start organizing with charts and chapters.  It is the very messiest way to write a book and I don’t recommend it.

That’s a hilarious way to put it. Alright, all wanna be writers, don’t write like Pam!

Pam Jenoff 3What is the hardest part about writing books/publishing for you?

Creatively there is always this part I call the “dark middle” when you are trying to make it all come together.  There is always a moment of light when you say “aha!” and realize that it really will be a book.  But this past year, that moment was months later than usual and I was stressed out waiting for it.

On the publishing side, I just feel that so much has changed with ebooks and Amazon that no one really knows what it takes to reach readers anymore. That, and I would love to know how to reach more book clubs.  I love to skype with them and they are so decentralized.

I agree. I love book clubs. They are all so different, too. 

Quick questions….favorite dessert…favorite Saturday plans…three favorite classics….

My perfect Saturday would involve getting up early, writing and getting in a run, going somewhere outdoorsy with my kids and then dinner with the whole fam.

Thank you, Pam, for your time and for your excellent book The Winter Guest, I highly recommend it to you all. 






Pam Jenoff 5

















Darling Laughing Son And The University of Oregon

You don’t know how fast twenty five years goes by until they’re staring back at you, unblinking.

I had this experience on Tuesday when I took my son, Darling Laughing Son, a senior in high school, to the University of Oregon. U of O is my alma mater. I graduated about 25 years ago.

November 2014 161I walked into U of O, at eighteen, a gawky, insecure, somewhat brainless girl. I had had a lovely, sheltered childhood, in the same town I live in today, and was completely unprepared for real life. Now, one can argue that college is not “real life,” and I will go trotting with you down that lane and agree in many, but not all, areas.

Either way, if you could find a more immature girl on the planet, I would be surprised. When I toured the campus with Darling Laughing Son, so many memories hit. Some good, some hilarious, some bad, a few very poor ones.

I remember that I was unprepared for how lonely I was going to be. I missed my parents, the dogs, and various siblings. I had come from a loud Catholic family. We were bored to death in church once a week, said grace before every meal, and had three rules that were NEVER to be broken, “God first, family second, hard work and academics third.”

Everything else was a very distant fourth.

November 2014 162 Well, the God first/hard work part didn’t really work while I was drinking screwdrivers and tequila, nor going to parties all night. Dancing ‘til three was probably not in there, either. The hard work mantra was broken, too, when I decided that hanging out with boys was, of course, going to take precedence over studying, and my 8:00 class was optional.

I loved the U of O. I loved how liberal it was, how opinionated, and how everything I thought and believed was turned upside and sideways and I had to think again. I had to learn how to think. I didn’t know how to think critically. I didn’t know how to see all sides, I didn’t know how to analyze, listen, and I certainly didn’t have my emotions in control enough to make reasonable, rational decisions, which was on glorious display now and then.

U of O was a lightning – quick, multi – cultural, speech making, protest happy, bastion of a whole bunch of intellectuals, and a few not so intellectual, people, all thrown together. It was like being shaken in a padded science beaker and when you rolled out of the beaker you were a whole new person that you liked a lot more because you’d had to find yourself and figure out who you wanted to be.November 2014 168

Darling Laughing Son and I walked by the place I used to work raising money for U of O….past the steps I sat on when a young, smart, interesting man and I had a sad conversation. He wanted a relationship, I was too immature, see “brainless” above…I remember one of the girls in my dorm, which we actually toured, having an abortion. She dropped acid before it, and was a total wreck…we walked by a building where I got a C in geology and the teacher scared me death….and by the library where I studied and realized I was nowhere near as smart as I thought I was and all this school work was very, very hard for the daydreamer in me…and past buildings where I had met so many fun friends, from ages twenty to fifty, and we’d laughed and talked, and I’d learned something from each of them…

I’m biased. I know that I want Darling Laughing Son to go to U of O. I don’t know if he will. Wherever he goes, I will happily attend Parents Weekend and smile and laugh and be grateful to be with him, as I am with our daughters, too.

But U of O, like most people’s colleges and universities, will always have a rockin’, special place in my heart. Towering trees, old brick buildings, new ones built to look old, brain boggling academics and the arts…and the memories of hundreds of thousands of alumni, strung together through the swaying branches, waiting to be remembered when they come back with their kids and stroll through the campus and wonder how twenty five years could possibly go by so…very….very… quickly.

November 2014 174


My New Short Story “Christmas In Montana.”

Merry (almost) Christmas! I have a short story titled “Christmas In Montana” in the Our First Christmas anthology with terrific authors Lisa Jackson, Mary Burton, and Mary Carter.

“Christmas In Montana” is about a woman named Laurel Kelly with a crazy family, a huge regret, a man she’s loved her whole life but can’t be with, and a new, sexy apron selling business.

Here’s a snippet…

Our First Christmas 350Chapter One

I am, currently, the manager for the hard-rock band Hellfire.

I am quitting tomorrow. My boss, front man Ace Hellfire, real name Peter Watson, son of a pastor, will be unhappy.

It’s going to be a sticky situation, but it doesn’t change my mind.

I have been traveling the world for ten years with Ace, his band, and crew. I have listened to more eardrum-splitting concerts and head-banging rehearsals, and been witness to more temper tantrums and wildness than I ever wanted to see. My nerves are shot, my exhaustion complete. I don’t think I want to travel again unless it’s to a remote cabin in the woods.

I love to sew but I haven’t sewn in years. I love to embroider but I don’t know if I remember the cross-stitch. I love to cook, but haven’t followed a recipe in way too long. I love to ski, garden, and ride horses, but I never do any of those things.

I have lived out of suitcases for much of every year, my outfits a collage of color, but now I want to find a home, stay in it, and set up a sewing room.

I am a country girl from Kalulell, Montana, who has been working with hard-core rock musicians out of Los Angeles and I am done. I am headed home for Christmas, and then I will figure out Plan F, the F standing for my Future.

I miss small town life. I have always missed it, especially during the Christmas season. I did not miss, however, what happened on a snowy, dark night on a curvy road. It still haunts me.

Some might say I ran from small town country life, that I wanted the twinkly lights of the city and the excitement.

They would be wrong. I was never running from it. I loved it.

I was running from him.


Becoming A Teacher To Become A Writer

One of my facebook posts…

About eighteen years ago, I quit teaching school. I was a fourth grade teacher. I became a teacher solely to become a writer. I did not have much confidence that I would make it as a writer and I did not want to starve to death in the interim or live in a dark basement apartment with rats.

I told myself that I would write after school and on weekends, and in between I’d wear something conservative, brush my hair like a normal person, not swear, and teach math, reading, writing, etc.

I ended up loving teaching school. I loved my students, their parents and, especially, the teachers I worked with, many of whom I’m still in contact with today. I left when I was pregnant with twins, was the size of a small rhino, had very bad pregnancy complications, and had a chatty three year old at home.

So, the other day I found out that two of my former students, (two of my favorites!) Nathan Gordon and Meredith Gordon, got married, had a son, and have another one on the way. They were lovely people then, and are lovely people now. Their whole story just warms my ole’ heart…

And it reminds me of the teaching profession and how fortunate I was to teach with the amazing/smart/interesting men and women that I did for those eight – ish years and the impact that my best teachers had on me and on my life. Most especially Bev Kerns, my journalism teacher, who dripped red pencil all over my work when I was in high school, and spared no criticism, but who taught me how to write.

Teachers and students and the impacts they have on each other…what an incredible profession it is. Sometimes I still miss it, I really do.

PS Nathan and Meredith, you have to tell everyone that I was your favorite teacher or no recess!


Grenadine Scotch Wild And Being Homeless

This is an excerpt from my book, What I Remember Most, written through the eyes of my character, Grenadine Scotch Wild.

“Being homeless is bringing Alice, My Anxiety, to the forefront. I am vulnerable in many ways. My physical safety is not assured. I am cold.  I do not have a bed or a home. I cannot take a shower when I need to. I am peeing out the side of my car. Sleeping in my car makes me feel claustrophobic. I do not like tight spaces. I don’t have enough money.

Nothing is organized as it should be.  When things are disorganized I feel scattered and nervous.I need a home environment that is neat and clean with tons of healthy food in the cupboards.

Sisters Journal Sept 2013 070I need pretty around me and bright colors to ward off the darkness so I am not reminded of where I used to be. Any reminder of the chaos of my past, the danger, will set me off. I am now set off.

I need my art, too. There is no “stupid” in art. It can’t make fun of me across the canvas. It can’t force me to stumble over words. It can’t ridicule me. It is mine. I am art. I create and paint, layer, and build. I need my canvases, my paints; my odd, shiny, rough, original, unique, trashy, sparkling collage materials.  I need my scissors and my glues.

My hands are not used to not doing art. My mind is not used to being present in the real world at all times, nor does it like it.  My heart needs art.

I need a home so I can art it out, so to speak.

Which translates loosely into: If I can’t art it out, I will lose my friggin’ mind to Alice, My Anxiety.

I am homeless, and Alice and I do not like car living.”



On Visiting Jail For Grenadine Scotch Wild

In What I Remember Most, my character, Grenadine Scotch Wild, goes to jail for three nights. She gets into two fights, is put in isolation twice, and meets different women, including one who is mentally ill and pets imaginary animals.

In order to portray jail accurately, I went to a jail for almost three hours.  It took me three days to recover.

Here are a few things I learned about jail.

1) You never, ever want to go. Trust me on this and do not commit a crime even if your husband runs out on you with a blonde bimbo with a brain the size of a bean.

2) The women, at least at the jail I was at, spend 22 hours a day in a cell.

3) The cell had a silver toilet and sink and a window in the cell door that anyone could look through at any time.

4) The cells also had a slit of a window to the outside. You can then look outside and see what others are doing that you are not because of what you did.

5) If you are not crazy when you enter the acute psych ward in the jail when you arrive, you will be in two weeks.

6) There were many prostitutes who were locked up. If they don’t make money, their pimps beat the hell out of them. If they stand on a street corner and get arrested, they go to jail. There is no win here for them.

7) The girl who was detoxing from a heroin overdose was skinny, pale, and slept like she was dead. She was very young. She was someone’s daughter. I felt like crying when I saw her. Drugs had eaten her life.

8) I have never seen so many people in uniform in my life. They did not look like people you would want to mess with.

9) And to that end…To work in a jail looks absolutely miserable and dark and dangerous. The people that the employees have to work with can come in screaming and hitting, spitting and vomiting, raging and murderous.

10) People deserve to be punished for committing crimes.  I’m a tough on creepy criminals kind of gal, especially for people who hurt children and women. But we must re – think the length of SOME jail sentences for SOME inmates, especially the ones who were very young when they committed their crimes.

11) Drugs are a curse on this country. One wonders how much better off we would all be without them. We need to regularly lock up the dealers who are dealing death and destruction, and get more, and better, help for the users, of which there were many in that jail population.

12) Jail is absolutely no place for the mentally ill. We as a society need to fix this immediately.

13) I saw a small, tight isolation room with green walls for people who are a danger to themselves, or others. If you want to picture hell, picture this.

14) Undergoing the fingerprinting, mug shots, and strip checks, including bending over and coughing while spreading your butt, would be demoralizing and devastating.

15) I would lose my mind in twenty four hours.

16) Did I mention that you should not commit a crime?


How To Set Your Problems On Fire With The Help Of A Pig

This is a note, and photos, I received from a book group who read Julia’s Chocolates. Cracked me up.Book Group 1

Hi Cathy,

A few weeks ago, I sent you an email telling how you inspired my girlfriend and me to have “Do Over” party for our friends who’ve had a lousy year- similar to the women’s dinners in Julia’s Chocolates. Well, we had it! It was fabulous, AND April had a pig! So, we wrote out what was pissing us off, hung it on the pig, and then lit a fire to burn the notes (and our upsets in effigy!) It was wonderful.

Thought you’d get a kick out of the photos. Thanks for the idea-lol! We’ve been talking up your books (especially that one) and passing our copies around to all our friends.


Book Group 2

From me now: I love book groups! Invite me to yours anytime. I can visit in the Portland area, or SKYPE or chat on speaker phone with people across the country.












Julias chocolates (1)


How To Make A Woman Feel Comfortable With Her Top Off

This article was written by my daughter, Janelle Lamb, who is co – editor for her university’s paper.

Reflections from the woman measuring your chest…

“So…um…how does one actually become a bra fitter?”

The question tends to be a stalling tactic, used by women clutching their shirts nervously to their chests as I enter the dressing room.

Silverton Tulips 217I learned to measure boobs by spending two full days undressed as a group of us, all new lingerie girls at a high-end department store, practiced sizing each other. But somehow describing any job training that involves nudity always seems a touch unsavory.

I maneuver the conversation back to the task at hand. I’m fairly certain I’ve come up with every variation of ‘can you please take your top off’ and yet the words still taste inappropriate.

You can tell a lot about a woman by the way she undresses. As a general rule, the older she is, the less self-conscious she’ll be.

70-year-olds shrug off their shirts and bounce around with their new bras on, just to give them each a proper go. Middle-aged women laugh at their bodies and make a cryptic joke about my youth.

The new mothers always seem a bit confused by their newly sagging breasts and fresh stretch marks, and eye our nursing bra selection with all of the mourning of a ballerina throwing out her pointe shoes.

Girls in their twenties blush, turn to the wall and keep their arms firmly crossed. With teenagers, there is always a decent chance of tears.

At the point of disrobing, most women feel obligated to point out their own perceived flaws, their tone apologetic:

Silverton Tulips 215“One of my boobs is larger than the other, I’m sorry it’s so weird…”

“I keep telling myself I’ll lose weight before I buy new bras but I’ve been trying for a few years now…”

“My nipples are so droopy—is there a bra that can fix that?”

I tell them that I’m past noticing this sort of thing. I’ve seen 38JJs, lactation in action, inverted nipps, augmentations, reductions, mastectomies, and pretty much anything else your top half can dish out.

Now I just twirl my tape measurer and cut the self – critical diatribe off as quickly as possible.

As for me, boobs lost any semblance of sexuality after my first week on the job. They are now a bland as an elbow or an armpit.

I know the vulnerable moments aren’t actually when I’m with them, chatting away and throwing a variety of lace contraptions in their direction.

Rose Garden July 2014 015The vulnerable moments are when they’re left topless in the dressing room with nothing to do but stare at their own bodies. Some women pull their clothes back on every time you run out for another bra, unable to be alone and naked with themselves for even a minute.

Conversely, the more her body has gone through, the less daunting a bra fitting seems. Cancer survivors never seem to give half a damn if their shirt is off or on.

A young woman who had just undergone reconstruction after a double-mastectomy once bought the fifteen sexiest bras in the shop.

An ancient-looking woman came in and demanded that I only find her bras in red. A woman who had recently lost half her body weight cried when I found her a cute, polka-dotted bra and it fit.

There’s not much you can do to make a woman like her reflection. You can measure her correctly, you can insist she tries on that one bra that’s just oh-too-sexy for her, and you can listen.

But at the end of the day, her sense of comfort, her confidence, has nothing to do with her body and everything to do with the way she looks at it.





Author to Author Interview: T.E. Woods

Cathy Lamb: So, shall I call you T.E.? What is your real name?

Teri Woods: I know…sounds pompous, doesn’t it?  Like who do I think I am, Batman?  People call me Teri.  I couldn’t publish under that name because there’s already a well-established writer…of mystery novels and others…publishing as Teri Woods.  Teresa (my given name) sounds like a telemarketer is calling me, so my publisher and I decided to go with my initials. But, please, call me Teri.

T.E. Woods photo 1Teri, I love this line from your new book, “The Unforgivable Fix,” The killer won’t come for you, you fool. He’ll come for me.”

That just gives me the shivers, in a good way. Tell us what the story is about.

“The Unforgiveable Fix” is the third book in the Justice Series and continues the stories of Mort Grant, Chief of Detectives for the Seattle Police Department, and Lydia Corriger, a clinical psychologist in Olympia. Mort and Lydia’s paths crossed in my first book, “The Fixer.” I’d tell you all about that, but it would spoil the fun for readers new to the series. Suffice it to say Mort and Lydia share a secret that keeps them bound tighter than any blood line or romantic involvement could.

In this installment, Lydia tentatively resumes her private practice after healing from some serious scrapes in books one and two. She tries to start slowly, easing in with a few patients and some teaching as a favor to a friend. Soon she’s embroiled in a nasty bit of business that may cost her everything, including her life.

At the same time, Mort’s thrill seeking daughter, Allie, who’s been lost to the family for the past three years as she jets around the world playing consort to a global drug king pin, finds herself on the run from some very, very bad apples who are out to destroy her boyfriend by destroying her.

Allie runs back home and while Mort tries to save his daughter from both the Russian mob and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he stashes her the one place he hopes she’ll be safe: with Lydia. Much tension, double-dealing, and mayhem ensues. And, as is typical in my books, nothing is as it seems.

Sheesh. I feel like I’ve been on a literary roller coaster ride already, holding my hat on my head and screaming. What a story.

T.E. Woods photo 2You seem so nice. Gentle. Kind. And then – scary evil. What draws you to crime, thrillers, killers? 

I’m a clinical psychologist and I specialize in profound behavioral and emotional dysregulation. Every day I get to work with people who do the most outlandish, destructive (and often self-destructive) things as they stumble toward some twisted idea of what would make them happy. I’m intrigued by that.

I like the way my patients take me by the hand and lead me to the edge of any manner of cruelties people are able to perpetrate against themselves or others. Very often the behaviors include crimes. Sometimes violent crimes. I think my writing is just a natural extension of what I see in my work-a-day world.

I’m sitting here in my kitchen nook, trying to drink my coffee, my mouth now hanging open, as I imagine your work day.  I try to perfect my love scenes and you’re dealing, often, with criminals and they’re twisted, cruel thinking. And then you go home and make dinner…

Did you ever imagine, as a child, or a teenager, that you would be writing this type of book? Did you even want to be a writer when you were a kid? What triggered this genre?

I can remember a yellow notebook I had when I was young. Maybe seven or eight years old. I’d write little stories in it and anyone who wanted to play with me would have to listen to my story first. It wasn’t long before kids were bringing other kids by, asking me to read them my stories, too.

Of course I was happy to oblige. I recall thinking I’d keep that notebook my entire life and it would be the first of hundreds of notebooks I would fill.

You see where this is going, right? That little yellow notebook is nowhere to be found…I didn’t give it companions on the shelf…and I doubt I ever even filled it. I grew up poor and the notion of learning how to write just wasn’t an option. I was expected to study something that was sure to give me a chance to make an independent living.

So, I studied hard, went to college, and took a Bachelor of Science degree. Very practical. Then I went on to a master’s and Ph.D. in psychology. That path worked. I earn a comfortable living. But about six years ago, after I learned another scientific article I’d written had been accepted for publication, I wondered, quite out of the blue, if I could write anything creative. Maybe the little girl with the yellow notebook was tugging at my subconscious.

t.e. woods 5In the shower that morning a murder came to me. By noon I had my cast of characters. I came home after work, went to my office, and started writing. I remember my husband came home and poked his nose in, asking what I was working on. “I’m writing a murder mystery”, I said. Now, those words had never come out of my mouth before. Nor had I expressed any desire as an adult to write creatively. But there I was. And the writing opened a joy in me that spills over to all parts of my life.

My novels may be twisted and dark, but the writing of them has brought me tremendous pleasure and light.

One of your characters, Allie Grant, has been the lover of, and I quote from your book, “One of the world’s most powerful and deadly men.” How did you do the research for this part? (Can you hear me chuckling when I ask this question?)  And what research did you do to write the Russian mob realistically?

Oh, my!  That was great fun!  I read newspaper and magazine articles about the explosion of Russian gangsters following the fall of communism. I took particular interest in the sheer hedonism of their consumption. Those guys know how to indulge themselves.

Of course, they also know how to be brutal. They don’t rule with an iron fist…that would be far too delicate for their ideas of enforcing order.  I’m also fortunate to have met several people who immigrated from Russia and learned how filled with hope people were following the collapse of the Soviet Union, only to have those hopes dashed when the authoritarian regime of the government was seemingly immediately replaced by the authoritarianism of the criminal oligarchies that emerged.

So, I took what I learned from my research, blended it in with the twisty cruelties I’ve come across in my practice, and spiced it up with my own sick imagination.

t.e. woods 4So you had a three fold force: The Russian mob, chatty criminals, and your imagination gone wild.

I love that The Fixer is a woman.  She’s a hired gun in a home built like a fortress.   Tell me what inspired this character? Any of you in her? Is she your alter ego?

The Fixer knows what it’s like to be unfairly treated and presumptively judged. I think all women can recall experiences like that in their own lives. The Fixer is interesting to me because she’s actually quite fearful. But when she’s championing the cause of someone else she’s blindingly fearless. She’s confident and strong when defending others, yet so wrapped in her own vulnerabilities she’s stunting her own life and limiting her own happiness.

But, man, I love how kick-ass she is.

I don’t know if she’s my alter ego…but I’ll cop to wishing there was more justice in the world. I’m confident in my non-violence, and The Fixer is unapologetic in raining violence down on those who clearly deserve it. So, I’m hoping there’s no overlap there. However, I do try to be an agent for fairness wherever I can.

What The Fixer and I do share is her address. While I live in Madison, Wisconsin now, when I was first married I lived in the house where The Fixer lives now. High upon a cliff overlooking Dana Passage. The islands and the mountains in the distance. Eagles and sea gulls. Cedar and Fir trees. It was heaven.  Now, when I lived there it wasn’t an armed fortress and it didn’t have the supercomputer or NSA-worthy communication center that The Fixer has in her basement, but it was lovely.

When you’re not writing you are…

I’m living a life better than that little girl with the yellow notebook growing up in that rusted-out steel town ever could have imagined. I’m healthy and strong. I’m married 33 years to the finest man I know, and we’re still crazy for one another.

I’m playing with my dogs…well, actually serving my dogs, it is they who run the house. I’m enjoying “Wednesdays are Friends Days.” Every Wednesday afternoon I meet with a group of women to eat and laugh and support one another. Then I meet with another, smaller group of women to drink and laugh and support one another.

I hike, I kayak, I bike. I binge watch HBO series and read whatever I can get my hands on. I experiment in the kitchen. I sit in the breakfast nook and watch the birds in the feeder.

And I try to stay grateful. I’ve worked hard to build my life. And I know there’s a Universe that has shown me I’m not in this alone. For that I am eternally grateful.

For everyone who wants to write out there, but who also have day jobs, give them some advice on how to do both. How to manage the time, energy, and efforts while still finding time for family and friends and sanity.

You’ve answered the question in the asking. I’m asked a lot…I mean a WHOLE lot…some version of “How do you do all the things you do?”  It’s all about managing time.

Here’s my advice to writers: WRITE. Write like you mean it. Write like it’s your job and you’re bucking for employee of the month.  Don’t FIND the time to write. MAKE it. Schedule time to write every day. I don’t care if it’s an outline of a scene or ten pages in your novel. WRITE! Don’t buy into that goofy notion that you have to wait for the muse to strike. That’s just an excuse for not writing. Write and the muse will come. The ideas will flow at varying levels. The words will wax poetic one moment and fall flat the next. That’s okay. KEEP WRITING!

MAKE time for yourself. MAKE time for friends. MAKE time for your relationship. Take care of yourself with good nutrition, sleep, and exercise. MAKE IT HAPPEN.

Here’s what we’ve got: we’ve got time, we’ve got talent, and we’ve got treasury. Spend each where it counts.

Very often, when people ask how I get so much done, I’ll ask them what they’d like to have time to do. Folks seldom have trouble answering that. “If I had time I’d write.” Or they tell me they’d travel or exercise more or spend more time with their kids or learn to speak Swahili. Whatever! Folks seem to know what they’d do if they had more time.

Well guess what…WE DON’T HAVE MORE TIME. We have THIS time. I’ll ask those same folks…after they’ve told me what they’d do if they had more time, what they did last evening. This is what I hear the majority of the time: “Nothing” “Watched television” “Played video games” “Hung out on Facebook”…yadda, yadda, yadda.

See what I mean? Pick anyone who’s successful at what they do. Ask THEM what they did last evening. They have the same amount of time we all do. They’ve simply made the decision to MAKE the time work for them by doing what brings them joy.

And don’t fall into that trap of expectations. Too many people…women especially, give their time, talent, and treasury to others. They give away their most valuable resources then wonder what happened.

Make it happen. This is your one and only life. Find what you value. Hang a goal off that value. Then point your nose in the direction of that goal and start marching toward it.

Okay…enough with the preaching. I’m kicking over that soap box.

That was quite a soap box, though. Excellent advice.

Three favorite places to be on the planet Earth?

What a great question! First and foremost I’m going to say “Anyplace my hubby is”. Now, with that out of the way…

1) Camden, Maine

2) Bayfield, Wisconsin

3) France…don’t care where. Normandy? Check. Provence? Sure. Lyon? You bet.  Just France. Yummy, lovely, expensive France.


Thank you for your time, Teri! 


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Cathy Lamb
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