Monday, June 12, 2023

TBR: Swimming with Ghosts by Michelle Brafman

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


SWIMMING WITH GHOSTS is set in June 2012. The magical and slightly cultish River Run swim club is alive with the spirit of fun competition when a perfect storm brews between team moms and best friends, Gillian Cloud and Kristy Weinstein. The ghost of family addiction has turned up, forcing them to face their unresolved childhood trauma. Real sparks fly on the night of the derecho—a freak land hurricane—which sweeps through Northern Virginia, knocking out power for days, igniting a tinder box of family secrets that threaten to destroy the lives Gillian and Kristy have worked so hard to create.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


The same character I enjoyed creating was the one who gave me the most trouble! I loved writing Gillian Cloud, the uber swim mom who cannot relinquish control over every aspect of the River Run Manta Rays swim team, even after her youngest child is too old to compete. Her antics are ripe for satire. That said, her obsession with the pool is rooted in her family history. River Run is a sacred space for Gillian because it was the only place where her charismatic, alcoholic father did not drink to excess. So she is really clinging to this oasis.

Gillian was tricky because my beta readers kind of hated her controlling, Ms. Fix-it behavior. The more I dug into the source of her vulnerability, though, the more human she became to my early readers. That’s what I love about writing. Those moments of grace.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The book went out on submission in March of 2020, when we were all trying to figure out life in a global pandemic. The novel got no traction. That low lasted for a couple of  years. In February of 2022, a publicist from Turner Publishing asked me to blurb one of their novels, and throughout the course of our correspondence, I discovered that Turner had hired a fabulous new acquisitions editor. He totally understood what I was up to with this novel and bought the book quickly. That was a high!


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


Ask someone to read your work aloud to you. My husband read me late drafts of my first two books, and over my son’s winter break from college, he parked himself in my office and read me Swimming with Ghosts. They both uncovered plot, character, and continuity issues I couldn’t see as well as smaller things like word repetition and pet gestures and verbs that should probably only be used once in an entire novel! When I’m listening to someone read the book, I can also hear when my rhythm is off and which hinky sentences need fixing. I do love the intimacy of the exercise, and I often read for my writer friends.     


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


The story’s hopefulness. At first, I was focused on rendering a world where parents were working out their stuff in their kids’ arenas, but as I got to know the nature of my characters’ troubles, I realized that they, we, I, have the capacity to transcend our most troubling family legacies. And I’m sure rooting for all of us to do so!


Who is your ideal reader?


I’m always surprised by who reads my books, which is part of the fun of putting a story out into the world. I suppose my ideal reader is someone who enjoys a little suburban satire, someone whose life has been impacted by any form of addiction, and maybe a parent who has experienced one of those “I think I went too far” moments that can materialize in any kid-related arena, be it the River Run pool, a hockey rink, or ballet studio.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


Whoopie pies! This treat actually serves as a plot point in the book. When tension and competition rears its ugly head between Gillian and her best friend Kristy, Kristy swipes the dessert and the affection of one of the younger swim moms.


Link to recipe:









READ AN EXCERPT OF THIS NOVEL: (below image of cover)



DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.