Friday, December 8, 2023

Q&A with Tracy Clark




Tracy Clark is the author of the new novel Fall, the second in her Detective Harriet Foster series, which began with Hide. Clark, also an editor, is a Chicago native.


Q: Did you know before you wrote your first Detective Harriet Foster thriller that you’d be writing this second one?


A: Yes. When I sold the first Harriet, it was for a two-book deal, so I knew Harriet and her team would survive, at least, through two books. I’ve since contracted for two more, so there will be a Harriet three and four!


This is great news for me. I really love following characters through a series. I like to see what makes them tick. I want to see how they evolve and grow, or not. I’m nosey. I want to see how they get by. A series lets you do that. 


Q: How do you think your character Harriet has changed from one book to the next?


A: Harriet doesn’t change too drastically from Hide to Fall. She’s still dealing with the same traumas, guilt, and self-doubt that she has been unable to overcome.


But she’s putting one foot in front of the other every day, like real people must do. She’s getting better. She’s moving forward. She’s a brilliant detective with a great deal of inner strength. She won’t give up.


And as the series progresses, we will see glimpses of the old Harriet emerging. She’s healing. She’s coming back. I believe the Harriet we see in book four will be so different from the Harriet we met in Hide.


Q: What inspired the plot of Fall?


A: I don’t plan a lot. At the start of a new book, I do a lot of thinking about what the story might be about. I read a lot of newspapers. I fish around for characters and possible crimes my detectives could solve.


I write about Chicago, so there’s always something weird and almost impossible to believe going on. In Fall, Harriet and her team are searching for a killer who is murdering local aldermen and leaving 30 pieces of silver (dimes) on their bodies. It’s biblical, but oh so Chicago.


Our local politicians don’t enjoy the best reputation here or anywhere else. Chicago is kinda known for being a pretty corrupt town. Chicago has about 2 million citizens, which means Harriet could potentially have 2 million suspects.


I narrow it down for her, though, otherwise it would rival James Michener’s Hawaii in length.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it?


A: I did not know how the novel would end when I started. I don’t know anything when I start. Basically, all I normally have is my cast of characters and whatever the crime is. I start with the crime and the body discovery, and then it’s off to the races.


The cool thing about crime fiction is that it kind of has its own linear progression. Cops don’t make things up on the fly. They operate from procedure. It’s step by step, witness by witness, interview by interview, clue by clue.


So I drop the body, the cops arrive, and then they do what they do. It’s almost like having an outline, if I knew how to write one. LOL. I just follow the cops, and then toss in a few fiction razzle dazzle elements to keep it interesting for the readers … and myself. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on book three in the Det. Harriet Foster series. No title yet, but I’m well into it. It explores the difference between what we think of as justice and what we see as vengeance.


Two similar deaths 30 years apart. An eye for an eye? Maybe. Or is it something else? It’s all set at a private college in Chicago. I’m having a lot of fun with it.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: About me? Nah. I’m pretty uncomplicated. I read. I write. I hang out with my writer friends. I walk the streets watching people be human, then I write about them. Then I rinse and repeat.


But did you know that an elephant can eat 350 pounds of vegetation in a day? Eighty percent of an elephant’s time is spent eating. Is that the life, or what?


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Martin Ott




Martin Ott is the author of the new novel Shadow Dance. His other books include the novel Dream State. He is based in Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write Shadow Dance, and how did you create your character West?


A: One thing that has stayed with me after I left the military is how many soldiers joined because they were running from poverty (like myself), from awful family and relationships, from trouble with the law, from drugs, from a centrifugal force pulling them to the bottom.


In the novel, I explore the trauma to West from his role as a military prison guard as well as repressed trauma from a horrific childhood accident that leaves him barely able to function.


An older West was a character from an abandoned novel that I got to know and he resurfaced in my mind enough until I was compelled to write a story from his younger days.


Q: The author Mark Wish said the book “demonstrates compellingly the tough truth that, whether you're enlisted in Afghanistan, home in Louisiana, or trying to do right in Los Angeles, war never ends.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it is apt and a reflection that life, for many, is a battle. West hails from a family on the wrong side of the tracks and often the wrong side of the law. Conflict and trauma surround him even as he moves from place to place, trying to find a path to get ahead, to discover who he is.


The United States, in its War on Terror, found itself mired in a conflict with no easy resolution. The war in Afghanistan lasted for nearly 20 years, an entire generation, and should not be easily swept under the carpet.

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Shadow Dance refers to West’s family curse and the shadow of a childhood traumatic event that follows him. He goes AWOL from the military and heads underground, trying to find happiness in the nooks and crannies of underground LA. West doesn’t give up; he stays in motion. This is the heart of the novel.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: To have empathy for veterans, in particular, and people, in general, who have PTSD and circumstances that cause them to slide into the cracks of society and to wind up in a place as dangerous and soul-sucking as the gentleman’s club run by mobster Big Z Pourali.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Future 2.0 is a speculative novel that I am finalizing a draft of with my agent. It is part mystery, part apocalyptic coming-of-age story. It explores current topics such as artificial intelligence, global warming, blockchain technology, and the eternal conflict between the head and the heart. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Norman Kross, the interrogator from my first novel, The Interrogator’s Notebook, shares a scene from that novel with West in Shadow Dance, only from a different POV as their tales temporarily overlap.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Martin Ott.

Q&A with Stephen M. Cohn




Stephen M. Cohn, M.D., is the author of the new book All Bleeding Stops: Life and Death in the Trauma Unit. He is a trauma surgeon based in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write All Bleeding Stops?


A: I often get asked what we do, and my wife urged me to use my many trauma stories to illuminate the public.


Trauma surgeons are general surgeons who typically do an extra year or two of fellowship after their five-year surgical residency and then specialize in emergency surgery, critical care, and trauma.


We are not emergency room doctors who spend their time in the ER exclusively and manage all sorts of medical issues. We focus on the patients with severe injuries, or who have illnesses requiring operations (like appendicitis, gallbladder inflammation, or anything bleeding, obstructed, or perforated).


We also deliver most of the ICU care in the sickest surgical patients. Think of the trauma surgeons as experts in dealing with medical catastrophe.

Q: Why did you decide to become a trauma surgeon?


A: It’s funny, but the field sort of chose me. Throughout med school, the faculty always asked me what area of “surgery” I was going into. I always answered that I was planning to be a family practitioner like my father. They would always respond “no, you will be a surgeon.”


Three days into my first surgical clerkship as a junior med student I realized they were correct. I always enjoyed the general surgery and trauma field because the patients were so sick and seemed the most challenging.


Later, I found I gravitated to this area in regard to my joy in educating trainees and performing scientific investigations.


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about a trauma surgeon’s work?


A: The public perception of trauma care is often based upon what they see on TV and in the movies.


It is hard for me to watch any show where they include trauma care, as they always speed up the process and make it very theatrical, obviously related to limited time and the need to elevate the entertainment value.


So, diagnoses are made instantaneously, and interventions are accomplished in no time. And everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off.


In reality, the trauma process is very controlled, methodical, and the sicker the patients are, the calmer we must be. This is in both the emergency room and in the operating room. There is simply zero room for anxious, excitable, loud people.


Also, we never try to fish out a bullet! This act only leads to unnecessary additional operative time and results in tissue injury and blood loss. And bullets are rarely a source of infection or late complications.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title pertains to the inevitability of the termination of bleeding, and the challenge to us in trauma to stop the hemorrhage before the patient succumbs. I suppose it is a bit of gallows humor.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have another surgical textbook coming out next year and am contemplating writing another book for the general public which will focus on the changes in the surgical approach to disease over the last few hundred years.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I would be remiss if I did not urge your readers to strive to avoid injury, both as individuals and as a society. We need to aim to reduce the number of avoidable injuries and an improve our delivery of high-quality trauma care.


To accomplish this, we must as a society recognize the consequences of our cultural norms and institute creative measures which reduce the likelihood of trauma.


It would be great if we could regionalize trauma centers so that we have the appropriate number and geographic distribution to deliver optimal care to the population.


In Maryland, for example (with over 6 million inhabitants), all significant trauma victims are flown to a single adult or solitary pediatric Level I trauma center in Baltimore. The state also has a few Level II trauma centers. 1 This is an ideal concentration of resources.


This contrasts with Boston, where there are six Level I and one Level II adult trauma centers for a population of under 700,000 in the city proper and 8.5 million in the metro area.


Other US states have no grand plan and little statewide governance. I believe that the regionalization of trauma care in fewer, higher-quality centers would lead to better outcomes and lower costs.

I believe it is time to use some innovations to help reduce risky behavior.


For example, cars could all require a breathalyzer to start their ignition, potentially reducing the incidence of drunk driving. A federal law could require motorcycle helmet use, as is mandated in many developed countries. Strict enforcement of gun regulation could dramatically reduce the number of mass shootings.


And research must be funded to investigate the benefits of the changes that I just suggested. Otherwise, we are destined to have “Groundhog Day” in regard to trauma, for the indefinite future.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Dec. 8




Dec. 8, 1913: Delmore Schwartz born.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Q&A with Caz Frear




Caz Frear is the author of the new novel Five Bad Deeds. Her other novels include Sweet Little Lies. She lives in Coventry, England.


Q: What inspired you to write Five Bad Deeds, and how did you create your character Ellen?


A: So, weirdly, I got the idea for Five Bad Deeds after I became worried about a waitress I’d complained about! Although, for context, I didn’t go out of my way to complain! The manager simply asked if everything was OK as we were leaving, and for once, I didn’t say “Yeah, great thanks!” – I told the truth. She’d been really rude.


However, while she had been rude, I started thinking afterwards, “What if she’d just had a bad day? What if her husband left her that morning? What if her best friend was sick? And what if she really needs that job but she now gets fired because I complained!”


In the end it was all fine (she didn’t get fired – I went back a few days later and she was still there!), but it got me thinking about intention.


I certainly didn’t intend for her to get into trouble – I simply gave an honest answer to the manager’s question. But you just never know the impact your quick, impulsive decision or comment could have someone’s life.


And out of this Ellen Walsh was born - someone who would never intentionally make life difficult for someone else, but who is far, far from the “good person” she believes herself to be.


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Well, the way the story starts (the prologue) kind of dictated the ending, but I think the thing with this story is it’s not so much about the “who” but the “why,” and I always knew the why! 


I hope readers have fun working out “who” but I want them to gasp louder at the why!


Even though I plot out my novels in detail, things always change along the way though. Ellen’s character definitely changed. She became a lot darker than I initially envisaged. And the mid (ish)-point narrative turn didn’t appear until the second draft (I can’t say any more about that without giving away spoilers!).

Q: What do you think the story says about money and the impact it has on people’s lives?


A: It undoubtedly says that our relationship with money is complicated, personal to us, and quite often forged in childhood. Some people, no matter how much money they have now, will always have that fear of lack, that fear of not having or being “enough.”


This is certainly what drives several of Ellen’s decisions. She’s trying to outrun her childhood. 


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: You know, I can’t actually remember “choosing” this title, it just sort of appeared and stuck! Interestingly, it’s the first title I’ve suggested that both my UK and US publisher have decided to stick with, so there’s obviously something about it that works.


I think it sums up what the book’s about, but at the same time it’s quite ambiguous. Ultimately, it’s up to the reader to decide if each
“deed” is bad or not. Did Ellen do wrong each time, or would they have done the same in that same set of circumstances?


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m busy working on my next thriller, but it doesn’t have a name yet (or an ending!). It is quite different to Five Bad Deeds in that it’s told from one POV and features an older main character. In a nutshell, it’s about a woman in her late 50 who develops an obsession with a young, glamorous couple.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Erm…I don’t think so. Just that I’m on IG - @cazzifwrites, so do say hi. I can’t wait to hear reactions to the book – I think some of the characters will divide people and that’s completely fine!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Barbara Krasner




Barbara Krasner is the author of the new young adult historical novel in verse Facing the Enemy: How a Nazi Youth Camp in America Tested a Friendship. Her other books include Ethel's Song. She teaches in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program at The College of New Jersey.



Q: What inspired you to write Facing the Enemy, and how did you create your characters Benjy and Tommy?


A: In the early days of the new millennium, I began to research Camp Nordland. I don’t recall how I came to learn of its existence in Andover, New Jersey.


But the idea of a Nazi bund camp in my own state rattled me and I began to think about a friendship between a Jewish boy and a boy of German heritage and how that friendship would unravel when the German boy attended this camp.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I first read Warren Glover’s Nazis in Newark book. He deposited his research notes and primary sources at the Historical Society of Greater Metrowest in Whippany.


I know the archivist and spent some time there in 2014 going through the folders of Warren’s materials. I spoke with Warren. I visited the former grounds and met with the Andover Historical Society.


But I have to say that my best sources were newspaper articles I gained access to through and the New York Times archives. Because I was contracted to write this novel during COVID, I couldn’t visit the New Jersey Room of the Newark Public Library to access the Newark Evening News, a major paper.


I also scoured academic databases for journal articles and dissertations. I found one film at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, which provided me with great detail on the day-to-day existence.

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two boys?


A: Benjy and Tommy have been best friends since the third grade. They’re both looking forward to entering Weequahic High in the fall of 1937.


Entering a new school already sets up the potential for each of them to go their separate ways according to their interests and class schedules. But Tommy’s parents enroll him at Camp Nordland the summer of 1937 and the split between the boys begins.


Benjy, though, doesn’t give up on his friend and believes that no wonder what bunk the Bund drills into his head, Tommy’s got to know what’s right and what’s wrong.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book, especially given current events?


A: I heard Elie Wiesel speak at the 92nd Street Y years ago, and he said, “The worst thing anyone can do is stand idly by.” Benjy does not stand idly by. He takes action. He makes mistakes.


I hope readers understand that one person can make a difference in the life of another. Hatred does not have to be victorious. It does not have to win.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My agent is shopping around a proposal for a new YA novel in verse about an orphaned refugee in post-World War II America set against the backdrop of the Korean War and the threat of Communism.


I’m working on yet another proposal for a YA novel in verse with a collaborator about Freedom Summer.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There are still Holocaust stories that need to be told. In reading Facing the Enemy, kids will be surprised to know some 20-30 of these Nazi camps existed across the country. That threats to our democracy and way of life can be right in our own backyards.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Barbara Krasner.

Q&A with Robin Judd




Robin Judd is the author of the new book Between Two Worlds: Jewish War Brides after the Holocaust. She is an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University.


Q: What impact did your own family history have on your decision to write Between Two Worlds


A: Since I was a child, I was interested in the fact that my grandparents met in Czechoslovakia immediately after the war. When they first encountered one another, my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and my grandfather was an American GI.


When I began teaching the History of the Holocaust as a newly minted Ph.D., I realized that my grandparents were not unique; there had been many Holocaust survivors who had married military personnel. 


I wanted to learn more about this history of the Holocaust, and Between Two Worlds is my attempt to uncover the history of these couples. 


Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you? 


A: This book took me to seven countries and dozens of cities. I found the Jewish war brides by looking to a wide range of sources including chaplaincy reports, wedding announcements, military memos, memoirs, and ship newsletters. I placed ads in Jewish war veteran magazines and reached out to war bride clubs.


I was so fortunate to interview several war brides, their spouses, and even a nurse who had staffed a few of the war bride ships.    


Perhaps what surprised me most was the sheer number of these marriages. There were many Holocaust survivors who married military personnel. Indeed, every time I turned around, I seemed to discover the existence of a new couple.


This just happened last week. I was speaking at our local JCC, and, at the conclusion of my talk, one of the audience members told me that her cousin had been an American GI who married a survivor at the end of the war.  

Q: The scholar Jonathan D. Sarna said of the book, “Written by a master historian-storyteller whose own grandmother was a war bride, the volume illuminates the extraordinary complexities confronting soldiers and Holocaust survivors who fell in love and married.” What do you think of that description, and how would you describe the complexities? 


A: It is so incredibly flattering to have had Jonathan D. Sarna, a historian whose work has so fundamentally shape my own, offer such a generous blurb. 


And, happily, he put his finger on what I had hoped would be a throughline in the book: the messiness of history and the human condition.


Between Two Worlds looks to five moments in particular: liberation, encounter, courtship and marriage, immigration, and arrival, and shows how the war brides and their spouses moved in and out of several different communities. They often felt as if they did not fully belong to any one place or group.


I hope, too, that the book highlights the complexity of rebuilding one’s life and creating lasting relationships in the aftermath of trauma. 


Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers take away from the book? 


A: I hope readers come away from Between Two Worlds thinking that the book offered them a new way to think about the history of the Holocaust, of migration, and of marriage.  I also hope that they think deeply and differently about the rebuilding of one’s life after trauma. 


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I am working on a few things at once. I have started a new book project: an intertwined biography of two couples whose stories offer a lens on 20th century Jewish history.


All four were born during or immediately after World War I and became politicized during the interwar period. They had radically different experiences during the Holocaust, but then shared several commonalities during the Global Cold War.


Their lives diverged again in the 1960s and 1970s, and I would hope to follow them until their deaths in the late 20th century.  


I also am working on two articles: a study of the childhood illnesses on the war bride ships and a deep dive into the emotions that the war brides named when they reflected back on meeting their spouses for the first time. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb