Monday, August 29, 2022

THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK by author ELLEN MARIE WISEMAN (book releases August 30th!)

Girl, Interrupted meets American Horror Story in 1970s Staten Island, in the evocative new book from the New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan Collector. Fact, fiction, and urban legend blend in this haunting story about a young woman mistakenly imprisoned at Willowbrook State School, the real-life institution later shuttered for its horrendous abuses.

Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.
Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her deeply. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.
Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined . . .

Praise from Indie Booksellers & Librarians ~

“The Lost Girls of Willowbrook combines historical fiction with suspense to create a heartfelt, poignant portrayal of New York’s infamous Willowbrook School. Ellen Marie Wiseman deftly describes the atrocities committed at the school while giving voices to the victims and creating a heart pounding page-turner. This was one of the best books I’ve read this year.” – Cyndi Larsen, Avon Public Library (Avon, CT)

“Never forget. The tragedy of the Willowbrook School was revealed in the 1970's, but it is already a dusty memory. Thank goodness for historians like Ellen Marie Wiseman who refuse to let the horrors inflicted on the disabled be relegated to the forgotten attic of time.  The Lost Girls of Willowbrookj is historical fiction blended with a riveting mystery that makes for a "must-read" of 2022.” – Pamela Klinger-Horn, Valley Bookseller (Stillwater, MN)

Uniquely plotted, this is a fascinating inner-look inside a place we have only heard about through urban legends and grainy news reels. At times the reader must stop and remind themselves that this historical fiction is based on thorough research, meaning the conditions we are given a front row seat to are not just the stuff of nightmares, but were actually experienced by real people. And the most terrifying part? How recently these events took place. Compulsively readable and incredibly intriguing to research on the side as you read.” – Kerry Clemm, Anderson’s Bookshop (Chicago, IL)

“In a story so gripping you'll be unable to pull your eyes from the page, the author tells us a tale based on the unbelievable reality that was Willowbrook in New York a half-century ago. This is a bone-chilling narrative written by a master storyteller. Characters step from the page fully formed. The dialogue is superbly crafted, and the outcome is... well, you'll have to read that for yourself. A warning: At times, rising anger will make you want to throw the book at the nearest wall. Just keep going. It's definitely worth the read. I love this story!” – Linda Bond, Auntie’s Bookstore (Spokane, WA)

“What an unbelievable story! I can't wait to rave about it. There once was a horrible children's mental institution - grossly overcrowded and understaffed where the mentally disabled residents were starved, beaten, abused and made to sit in their own filth without medical care or education. Sounds like something out of a Dickens novel, but the scariest part of this story is that it is based on true events- Willowbrook State School was real as was the serial killer who worked there. An intense story that will captivate readers of true crime as well as historical thrillers but be prepared for a long night reading with the lights on.” – Kimberly McGee, Lake Travis Community Library (Austin, TX)

Author interview with Ellen ~  

What’s a good elevator pitch for THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK? 

Fact, fiction, and urban legend blend in this haunting story about a young woman mistakenly imprisoned at Willowbrook State School, the real-life institution later shuttered for its horrendous abuses.

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?

I enjoy gardening, cooking, swimming, going to the drive-ins, boating, (when there’s not two feet of snow on the ground) and spending time with my kids and grandkids.

How do you start your day (a routine of sorts?)

Oh how I wish I could be one of those people who get up in the morning and just start writing, but unfortunately I can’t write until after some of my real life “chores” are done, like tidying up the house, throwing in a load of laundry, walking the dog, watering the garden, making phone calls, answering important emails, etc. I think I’m that way because once I start writing I don’t know when to stop. (dinner is late sometimes!)

What is something about you that would surprise people?

I’m not afraid of spiders, snakes, or rats. I save snapping turtles from the road no matter how big and scary they are, I’ve broken up a fight between a stallion and a gelding, and I’ve returned a loose bull to our neighbor, who thought I was crazy when he saw me bringing that big ole’ bull down the road.

Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?


Does babysitting my grandkids count?


Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?


My agent is my first reader, then my editor.


Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (or this book?)


It took two years and 72 rejections before I found an agent, but he sold THE PLUM TREE to the editor-in-chief at Kensington Publishing in three weeks.


What are you working on now?


I’m working on a novel about eugenics in America, which had a more profound effect on our lives than most people realize.


Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?


In THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK I love the big reveal chapter, when all of the pieces of the puzzle come together!


What would your dream job be if you didn’t write books? (assuming this is your dream job!)


I’d love to be a marine biologist.


What was some unique research you had to do for a book?


While researching COAL RIVER, I went into a coalmine and visited a haunted jail.


What are the downfalls of your writing career? The best parts?


I’d say the biggest downfall is the constant doubt I have while working on a manuscript. The best part is meeting my readers in person. Pushing “send” to my editor comes in at a close second.


Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

Yes! As always, thank you doesn't seem sufficient for their continued encouragement and enthusiasm, but I'll say it again anyway. Thank you for reading my books, for coming to my events, for cheering me on, and for spreading the word about my work. None of this would be possible without your support.  

I hope THE LOST GIRLS OF WILLOWBROOK inspires you with Sage’s ability to turn heartbreak into a force for good and entertains you with her determination in the face of danger. But most importantly, I hope you are troubled by the cruel reality of Willowbrook and institutions of its sort. I hope you’ll be stirred by how people lived, worked, suffered, and eventually triumphed with the closure of Willowbrook. What happened there should serve as a reminder to us all that we need to be more protective of the most vulnerable among us, and that every human being has the right to learn and grow, and above all, to be treated with kindness, respect, and empathy.


To connect with Ellen ~  

Monday, August 22, 2022

MY SECRET TO KEEP, by author BARBARA CONREY (debuts August 23rd!)

When Maggie Bryan works up the nerve to tell her parents she’s pregnant, they immediately disown her. Later that night, her boyfriend is killed. In desperation, she turns to her brother, Sam. Against his wife’s wishes, Sam brings Maggie to his home in rural Pennsylvania.

While Maggie awaits the birth of her child and navigates the tension in her new home, she decides to finish high school. There, she meets Anne Phillips, a volunteer educator and full-time architect. Over time, Maggie becomes drawn to Anne in ways she doesn’t understand, but she knows enough to keep her feelings hidden.

After a devastating loss, Maggie tries to move on, but secrets and betrayals keep her from living her fullest life. Beginning in the late 1940s and spanning decades, My Secret to Keep portrays a woman at war with society, her family, and herself.

Reviews ~

"In her gut-wrenching second novel, Barbara Conrey lays the heart of a woman bare on the page. Maggie Bryan must live the life she's given, not the life she expected, and through tragedy, betrayal, kindness, and discovery, she defines family, love, and herself. My Secret to Keep is a testament to the truth that every woman's story is unique, and every woman's story is worth telling." - Jennifer Klepper, USA Today bestselling author of Unbroken Threads 

"With vivid characters and a true-to-life storyline, Conrey's emotionally complex novel tugs at the heartstrings, igniting thoughts about loss, love, family dynamics, cultural biases, and, more importantly, what secrets we tell and what secrets we keep. A truly remarkable, riveting, and honestly beautiful read." - Samantha Verant, Bestselling author of 
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux 

"MY SECRET TO KEEP is a powerful story of courage and acceptance, an emotional journey through the life of Maggie Bryan, a strong but conflicted woman who, according to society, finds love in all the wrong places. Or does she?" Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of

Could the greatest secret of all be the one Maggie doesn't know? For decades, Maggie Bryan is engulfed by her secrets, separated from others by gossip and innuendo throughout her difficult life in the rigid small town where she first sought refuge as a broken and pregnant, unmarried teen. Which secrets can be told - and which buried forever? You will hold your breath as you read this heart-rending page-turner. Could the greatest secret of all be the one Maggie doesn't know? 
My Secret to Keep will remain on your mind long after you read it. Pick up this compelling story of love, loss, and love again by talented USA Today bestselling author Barbara Conrey. You won't want to put it down.
Marilyn Simon Rothstein, author of 
Crazy to Leave You, Husbands and Other Sharp Objects

"Both heartwarming and heart-wrenching, MY SECRET TO KEEP is a poignant and stunning tale of secrets, lies, and betrayal that examines the choices we make about family, friendship, and love. Told through a compelling narrative, Conrey's writing is stunning. Readers can't help but fall in love with Maggie and Anne. I was hooked from the first page."
-Kerry Lonsdale, 
Wall Street Journal, Washington Post & Amazon Charts Bestselling Author

Author interview with Barbara ~

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I always wanted to write and found ways to do a ‘little’ writing. I wrote short stories but never submitted them anywhere. I wrote a monthly business newsletter that I injected with some humor to turn it from boring as hell to something people actually looked forward to. But as far as writing a book? I kept putting that off until I retired.

What are some things you enjoy when not writing?

Reading, obviously. Needlework. Hiking. I love anything to do with the outdoors. If the snow conditions are right, I love to snowshoe. Otherwise, I’m all about climbing mountains.

How do you start your day (a routine of sorts?)

Every morning starts with a cup of tea. Then meditation. Then I exercise, shower, dress, and I’m at my laptop. The only time this varies is when I’m on vacation.

Finish this: “I can’t write without…”

I can’t write without silence. Specifically, early morning silence. I’m not much for writing in the afternoons.

If I had to spend a week on a deserted island, I would need… 

Books! And my laptop. And Wi-Fi!

What career did you think you’d have as an adult?

I thought I would be a teacher or a librarian. I dreamt of becoming a published author.

What is something about you that would surprise people?

I am very much an introvert.


Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?


No. But I admire authors who write, have a day job, and raise children. I do not know how they do it!


Where do you get your ideas?


This is one of my biggest worries. I’m not the author who has a million ideas up my sleeve. I tend to write about things I care about. Beagles, the Beagle Freedom Project, the brain tumor - glioblastoma, and the right to love who you love, are all topics that have meaning to me.

My latest manuscript is about surrogacy because I have a neighbor who has been a surrogate three times, and I find that fascinating.


Do you have a manuscript(s) in your drawer? If so, will it ever see the light of day?


I don’t. I’ve only completed two manuscripts, Nowhere Nea Goodbye, published in 2020, and My Secret to Keep, released in August of this year.


If I wasn’t an author, I might be…?


Honestly? With all that is happening in this world, I would most likely be in a mental hospital if I weren't an author. Or maybe an alcoholic. Or, who knows? Dead?


Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?


Yes! I have several. Kathryn Barrett and Jennifer Klepper have been first readers of both books. Jennifer will most likely always be my first reader unless she hides from me. But the very first, first readers I had were Wendy Gold Rossi and Rachel MacAulay. They read Nowhere Near Goodbye when I had no idea how to write a book. They deserve a medal!


Is there a particular author or book that influenced or inspired your writing or decision to write?


Several. Books inspired me to write: Peace Like A River by Leif Unger. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne. Almost anything by Jodi Picoult or Chris Bohjalian or Caroline Leavitt.


Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published (or this book?)


I’ve been fortunate. I decided to publish with a small press because I felt my age and lack of a backlist were against me. So I submitted to one press, Red Adept, and they accepted me.


If you had to go back and do it all over, is there any aspect of your novel or getting it published that you’d change?


If I had to go back, I would start earlier (and not feel that my life had to be in perfect order before I could write a book). I would also learn much more than I did when I started writing because I was writing by the seat of my pants. Ask Wendy and Rachel – they can easily address my lack of knowledge.


How do you market your work?


I don’t think I market my work as much as I market myself. And the way I do that is just being me. This is not an easy business, yet I’ve been fortunate to honor that by promoting other authors and their work.


What are you working on now?


I’m working on my third book, as yet untitled. It is entirely different from anything I’ve written, so I may be nervous about how it will be received. But, like everything else I’ve written, it’s a book I feel compelled to write.


What is a bestselling book you’ve been itching to read?


SO many books! But here’s one: The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian.


Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?


I think most authors reflect on their stories at least a little.


Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?


Yes! And my editor suggested I delete it because, in all honesty, it did not move the story forward. I plan on using it as an essay on deleted chapters (It’s about learning to drive.)


Do you have a favorite character?


Yes! And since My Secret to Keep is the prequel to Nowhere Near Goodbye, my favorite character in both books is Miss Maggie.


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


Absolutely! Never give up. Give more than you get. Be kind. Be generous in helping other authors.

Favorite book and/or movie?


SO many favorite books! But one that has always stuck with me is Peace Like A River by Leif Enger.


Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you for helping me fulfill my dreams and for loving my books. Without readers, I wouldn’t be an author.

To connect with Barbara~

Monday, August 1, 2022

THE DO OVER, by author SHARON M. PETERSON (debuts August 1st!)

"Look, you're a nice girl but I don't think we should see each other anymore." The voicemail ends and I freeze in the dentist's chair as I realize, I've just been dumped on live radio.

It took the most humiliating break-up for me to see that my life is in serious need of a do-over. Cue my anti-New Year's resolutions that even I can't fail:

1. Stop dating. (Men are the worst.)2. Stop trying to lose weight. (I'm never giving up chocolate.)3. Stop working so hard. (Selling mortgages is not my dream career.)4. Stop trying to live up to unrealistic expectations. (Start living my best life.)5. Stop trying to please my mother. (It's not possible.)

But it turns out number five is harder than I thought, as she begins her campaign to get me back with my ex. So, what's the perfect solution to keep her out of my love life? An imaginary boyfriend-at least he was supposed to be imaginary until I blurted out my neighbor's name...

Nate, the bad boy next door with gorgeous hazel eyes, a razor-sharp jawline and a mysterious scar, might be hot, but he's definitely not my boyfriend. Now all I need to do is stick to my resolutions while also keeping my interfering family away from my non-existent lover who has no idea that we're fake dating. What could possibly go wrong?

Early reviews ~

“Let me be clear: The Do-Over is not a novel. It's a ray of sunshine. It's a sweet, endearing, empowering tale that keeps a smile on your face and a bit of a grip on your heart from beginning to end.” NetGalley Reviewer, 5 Stars

“As a reader you can expect lots of laughs, some tears at the corner of your eyes, adorable situations and a beautiful closed-doors romance that I would like to keep reading about.” NetGalley Reviewer, 5 Stars

Author interview with Sharon ~

Tell us a little about yourself and how you started writing.

I’ve always been a reader. I was the kid who asked for a nightlight not because I was scared of the dark but because I wanted to read by it after bedtime. As for writing, it’s long been a dream but I was too afraid to say it out loud. Over the years, I started (and didn’t finish) writing a couple of novels. Always in secret. Then around 2015, I started blogging at the urging of friends (who were probably tired of reading my very long Facebook posts).

I quickly discovered that while I didn’t like blogging much, what I did love was telling stories. But about a year later, my laptop broke. We have four children, including two with special needs. A large chunk of our budget went to pay for therapy co-pays. We just didn’t have the money to replace my laptop. Life has taught me to be ruthlessly practical so I set aside writing. Although I soon discovered that I missed it. A lot. It had sort of been a form of free therapy for me.

Then out of the blue, a friend called me up and asked me to meet her. She presented me with a laptop which she and other moms (most who didn’t even know me) in a local group pooled money to buy for me so I could “keep writing.” It was the most remarkable gift I’ve ever received. I decided then and there that I had to pursue my passion for writing. I had a whole cheering squad behind me and I didn’t want to waste the gift they’d given me.

So in between cleaning up spilled milk, at 1 a.m. and kids’ naptimes, I started writing and I didn’t stop until I finished.

Do you have a ‘day job’ as well?

I was a middle school English/ESL teacher in an inner-city school for several years before staying home with the kids. After that, I found ways to make money however that presented itself. I was a tax preparer for a year (no, thank you). I had a small cookie business. Picture me with three kids under five making 100 dozen cookies at Christmas time. Phew.

Mostly, I’ve been an online reseller for years which I like because it’s a bit of a treasure hunt and I have a legitimate reason to spend time in thrift stores (another of my passions). My best flip ever was a new-in-box and shrink-wrapped WWE Wrestling trivia game from 1997. I paid $2.99. Two weeks later, I sold it for… $1600! It’s stuff like that keeps me hunting.


Where do you get your ideas?

Everywhere? I love people watching and imagining their backstory. I think writers as a whole tend to be people watchers. Characters live in my head for a long time before I put them on paper. I take them places with me and imagine what they’d do at the grocery store or if a strange man approached them. I think really knowing your character comes through in your writing.

Once I know that character, I think, “Hmmm. What situation can I put them in that would cause a whole lot of problems?” And we go from there.


Do you have a go-to first reader after you feel your manuscript is ready?

Yes! When I first started querying my first book in hopes of finding an agent, I received request for an R&R (revise and resubmit). I was a (very silent) member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association (WFWA) but I cautiously asked if anyone would be willing to read for me. A fellow member, Tracey Christensen, answered the call. Not only has she become my go-to critique partner, she’s become one of my biggest cheerleaders and closest friends.


Is anything in your book based on real-life experiences?

I think it’s hard not to leave a bit of yourself on the page when you’re writing. There are totally parts of me in Perci. I am absolutely awkward and don’t feel comfortable in my own skin a lot of the time. But I hope there’s a little bit of me in Mimi too. (Maybe without the animal print though.)


Do you have a favorite chapter or scene?

One of my favorite scenes involves Spanx being thrown on meatloaf. (If I ever put together a band, we’re calling ourselves Spanx on the Meatloaf.)


Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Publishing is not for the weak. It is hard. You will want to give up. You will face rejection. A lot of rejection. I mean, so much rejection, you’ll think your new name is Rejection and you live in Rejection City with your dog, Reject. So much rejection, it almost becomes a point of pride. “I got three rejections today. Boom!” Or maybe that’s just me?


It might take months, years, several writing projects before you get a yes. I queried my first novel for 16 months to 106 agents before I got an offer of representation. My first book didn’t sell. We started subbing my second book literal days before the whole country went into lockdown. It took almost two years to sell The Do-OverBut I firmly believe that perservance and plain old-fashioned stubbornness is what wins in the end. Also, ice cream. A lot of ice cream.


Favorite book and/or movie?

My favorite movie of all time is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. As soon as I can figure out a way to make Stockholm syndrome and kidnapping funny, I am definitely be writing a book based on it.


Is there anything you’d like to say to your readers and fans?

I don’t know that I have any fans; Maybe one day but I promise to stay humble. (Ha!)

To anyone who picks up The Do-Over to read, thank you. Time is one of most precious commodities and that you want to spend it reading a book I wrote? That is truly a gift to me. Thank you.  

To connect with Sharon: