Friday, June 28, 2013

Q&A with author Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is the author of the new novel Pastors' Wives. A former Time magazine correspondent, she also wrote the non-fiction book Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of Death, as well as TV pilots. Born in Kobe, Japan, she now lives in New Jersey.

Q: You say in the book's acknowledgments that Pastors' Wives originated in an article you wrote for Time magazine. How did you end up writing a novel, rather than a non-fiction book, about pastors' wives?

A: Oooo, that's a long and twisted story. So: the article ran in 2007. I intended to turn it into my second nonfiction book (my first is Remember Me, about the year I spent crashing funerals). Then one day, mid-commute to my job as a staff writer at Time, I thought: "This would make an awesome TV show." Never mind that I had no clue how to make that happen. But things did happen. My book agent connected me with a TV agent. I pitched him the idea. He loved it. He asked me for a treatment. I said, "What's a treatment?"

Fast forward past the writers' strike of 2008, my mother's death, my quitting Time magazine. I got a call from my TV agent that the producers sold the show...without me. A battle royale between my talent agency and theirs ensued. Eventually the network dropped the project. 

Meantime, I had been reporting. I'd attended a retreat for pastors' wives in Wisconsin, a convention in Florida, tailed a senior pastor's wife at a megachurch. I had the story. I had the characters. My literary agent, Theresa Park, smacked me upside the head and said, "Write it as a novel already." 

Q: Why did you choose a Southern evangelical megachurch in which to set the book?

A: The moment I set foot in one, I was sucked in. Which I think is the point. The lights. The music. The smiling people. The splendid amenities, like a high-end mall. The money...oh, the money. The influence. The capacity for good, and the opportunity for wrongdoing. What goes on behind the curtains? I was dying to know.

Q: How did you come up with your three main characters, Ruthie, Candace, and Ginger? Do you have a favorite among them?

A: Ruthie is the outsider, the skeptic, a Northeastern educated liberal who was raised Catholic. She follows her husband from Wall Street to Magnolia when he hears a calling to serve at a megachurch. At first she's beguiled by the wealth and wonder of Greenleaf Church, and by the dazzling Candace, the senior pastor's powerful wife. But their new world plunges her marriage into crisis.

Candace is the steel spine of Greenleaf. The wife of the senior pastor at a megachurch is called the First Lady, and Candace is equal parts Jackie Kennedy and Nancy Reagan. She'll do anything to protect her church and her superstar husband, Pastor Aaron Green. Her mind works like the Terminator's, always calculating, focused on the mission. But she adores her sons, her grandbabies, and of course her husband. In the end, she's the character who'll surprise you.

Ginger is Candace's meek, unhappy daughter-in-law. Ginger is perhaps the most typical pastor's wife, except for one dark secret: her past. She's pushed to the brink by her missionary husband's constant absence and Candace's meddling, until she takes drastic action.

My favorite character is Candace. A reader might presume I am most like Ruthie, and I suppose on the surface I am. But Candace is the fierce and focused woman I wish I was. I loved writing her so much that sometimes I still think to myself, What would Candace do?

Q: Is there an overall message about the role of religion that you think readers will receive from the book?

A: I am not qualified to pontificate on the role of religion in peoples' lives. But I can speak to where my own heart was when I wrote this book. It was during my own crisis of faith, after my mother and my father died within months of each other, one of cancer, the other of a broken heart. Both were devout Catholics—my father was a priest who quit to marry my mom —and they were the root of my faith. (I wrote my CBS drama pilot, about an ex-priest, during this time too.) I realized I had to reconcile what I believed, not what my family practiced. I wound up moving away from organized religion. But I still believe in its capacity for great good for believers. I've seen it with my own eyes. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I write TV pilots as well, and I am currently developing my upcoming pitch. CBS shot and produced my last pilot this spring, a drama about an ex-priest titled The Ordained. Its fabulous cast included Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire), Hope Davis (Mumford), Sam Neill (Jurassic Park), Audra McDonald (Private Practice), and Jorge Garcia (Lost). It was a thrilling ride. But alas, CBS didn't add it to its fall lineup. So it's back to the drawing board for me. I have a very cool idea I hope to get to execute.

The novel I'm working on is called Okinawa Nights. Like Pastors' Wives, it's inspired by an article I reported and wrote for Time magazine. Set on the tropical island of Okinawa, Japan, it's about the murder and rape of a local woman for which a U.S. serviceman is accused, told by a young American reporter who's sent to cover it. For all its island beauty, Okinawa seethes with tension, between the races and the sexes, the locals and their military occupiers. I hope to complete a draft this year.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If you read my novel, please invite me to your book club! I believe Pastors' Wives makes a great book-club selection, with its big-picture questions on the role—good and bad—of church and faith in marriage. I would be delighted to participate, in person (I live in northern New Jersey) or by Skype, in any discussion. Bonus: I'll throw in funny stories about Hollywood and my TV pilot! My e-mail is lisa dot cullen at gmail dot com.

You can find me on my author page on Facebook, on Twitter @lisacullen, and of course my website at Thank you so much!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 28

June 28, 1891: Author Esther Forbes born.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Q&A with author Jonathon Keats

Jonathon Keats
Writer and artist Jonathon Keats's most recent book is Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age. He is the art critic for San Francisco Magazine, and his other books include Virtual Words, The Book of the Unknown, and Control + Alt + Delete.

Q: Why did you decide to write about art forgery?

A: I was interesting in writing about art and about where art is going, and the ways in which perhaps art has gone wrong….For the past century or more, artists have been trying to provoke anxiety about themselves and the world. Look at modern art: Edvard Munch’s The Scream, the Dadaists, the surrealists, who sought to get at our subconscious…Pop Art—really, the continuum that you find in all different movements is an attempt to get us out of ourselves.

Yet art has not done as good a job of this as is possible. What has happened is that art…has shown us the existential anxiety, but has not evoked it within us. Museums are so safe, they’re well-lit, they’re temperature-controlled, the curator holds our hand, metaphorically. Art is not achieving what it set out to do. I explored that. Art forgers are accomplishing what I believe the best artists are trying to achieve. Art forgery might be a way of examining art and how art might be done in the future.

Q: One sentence that really struck me in the book was when you wrote, “Forgers are the foremost artists of our age.” Can you talk more about that?

A: If you agree that art is about provoking anxieties, when a forger perpetuates fraud, and the forger is caught, there’s a way in which we are all shown ways in which we’ve been duped. Forgers are not great artists in terms of what they make. Copying as a post-modern phenomenon is not in play for most of them. Most are out to make money.

For the most part, the work they are doing is not especially interesting, but the scandal that ensues is the artwork. No forger wants to be caught, at least most don’t. For the most part, it’s only when a forger against his or her will is in the public eye, the ways in which forgery tricks us, [it involves] the manipulation of authority, of the structures on which society rests.

We tend to get complacent. I believe forgers by virtue of the fact that fraud takes advantage of loopholes--those loopholes are manifest in the ways we have to address them. Art that finds what we take for granted…that we take up as a subject of conversation, that is art that’s really doing its job.

I don’t think forgers are up to the job in the long term. Artists shouldn’t rely on forgers to do this, artists need to take up this mantle.

I delve into the history of forgery [and specific forgers]. It’s a delight to delve into their stories, reconstitute what they did.

The book is a manifesto that is built on the way that a narrator speaking might draw people in and bring them around…. Art exists within a market, it needs to support the art that’s most important to society. The market can play a role in a provocative function that art can have, especially if an institutional collector is an advocate of a riskier sort of art. Museums are built the way they are for reasons to do with conservation. All of that deserves questioning. Museums can support work outside their walls.

Q: What has the reaction to the book been so far?

A: The greatest enthusiasm has come from artists who may or may not work doggedly in this direction. The greatest confusion has been by readers and reviewers who have seen the book as simply a work of advocacy on behalf of forgers, and have not acknowledged or recognized the distinction between the physical object and the way in which that affects people. 

I tried my best to impress [upon people] the distinction, but apparently not well enough for everybody. There’s still a lot of misunderstanding. There is room for debate. The book has a provocative thesis and title on purpose, in the spirit of the art I advocate, art that provokes. I would be very disappointed if everyone agreed with me, but I would like the debate to be on what art can do rather than whether forgers are likeable.

Q: You are an artist in addition to being a writer. How does that double perspective help you understand the complexities involved?

A: [The book is] not only a manifesto but an advertisement for myself. The art I make is made in the spirit of provocation. … Having done it for more than 10 years, I am aware of how easy and how difficult it is to do what I advocate. It’s easy because you have to decide to do it, go out in the world, and people will be interested, the media will write about it.

It’s difficult at the level of making public discourse that is truly productive. Very often what happens is that the arguments that take place in the comments sections of articles or blogs tends to be at the level of calling me a con artist, which I don’t mind, or asking where I get my funding….

I think spinning it well is extraordinarily difficult. I am always trying to get better at that. Maybe there’s even a more self-serving side to the book, which is that in the book I’m working out how to be a better artist.

I wouldn’t call myself an artist. The art world is an incredibly tolerant place where if you want to do something, the art world will tolerate what you do. The art world is a very confused place; it will support what you do. I end up being called an artist. I don’t think the distinction between an artist and everyone else is a very useful one; it’s counterproductive.

That’s the ultimate conclusion of the book; we all need to be doing this work. It’s not just for people who call themselves artists to find out ways the world works and bring it out for examination. Self-defined artists can take the initiative, but it’s for everyone else--we’re all in it together. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with author Jonathan Santlofer

Jonathan Santlofer
Author and artist Jonathan Santlofer is the editor of the new collection The Marijuana Chronicles. He also has written five novels, including The Death Artist and Anatomy of Fear; he is the co-editor of the anthology The Dark End of the Street and the editor of LA NOIRE: The Collected Stories; and he is the director of the Crime Fiction Academy in New York.

Q: How did The Marijuana Chronicles come about, and how did you determine which authors to include in the collection?

A: That’s a two-part question, Deborah. The first part is easy. I was at a book party and was talking to Johnny Temple, the publisher of Akashic Books, and he mentioned that he was looking for an editor to do The Marijuana Chronicles, the third in his ongoing drug series. I immediately said I was interested. Not because I’m a pothead – I’m not – but I thought it would be a great project, obviously topical and that it would be fun to do, all of which turned out to be true.

The authors are a very varied group. I had a wish list of probably 30 authors I wanted and of that group these are the ones who were available and I’m happy with them. I should add that the night Johnny Temple and I were talking about the possibility of the book I went outside and Lee Child was standing there and I asked him if he’d write a pot piece and he said yes without hesitation, so I knew I was onto something good.

Q: Were the pieces all written specifically for this collection?

A: Absolutely. They are all original pieces written for this collection.

Q: What do you see as the role of marijuana in American culture, and what do you think of the current debate over legalization?

A: I’m not qualified to answer that. All I can say is that marijuana has been around forever (see my introduction) and has played a role in many different cultures. Clearly, it’s still controversial but there appears to be more and more evidence of its medicinal virtues and benefits and it seems as if more states will be legalizing it so that the federal government may have to rethink its position. But I am not a politician, nor can I predict the future.

Q: Does the book have any particular message for the reader?

A: No. I do not see this book as a polemic. There are many divergent ideas put forth by the various writers but it’s just a book that combines fiction, poetry, a short graphic novel and a couple of nonfiction pieces all around the theme of pot. Some of the pieces are funny, others sad, some a bit frightening.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have just finished editing a serial novel for Touchstone/Simon & Schuster called Inherit the Dead with 20 amazing writers each contributing a chapter, people like Charlaine Harris, Lawrence Block, Mary Higgins Clark, Val McDermid, C.J. Box and many more -- and Lee Child wrote a terrific introduction about the virtues of crime fiction writers.

I’ve also just finished a new novel and I’m close to finishing a big historical thriller I started a couple of years ago and put aside. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done so I’m excited about it. I’m also co-writing a screenplay based on one of my novels.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes. I’m having a contest to give away one of the original oil paintings that I made as illustrations for The Marijuana Chronicles, so people should check out my website to enter and try to win.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb 

June 26

June 26, 1892: Author Pearl Buck born.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Q&A with author A'Lelia Bundles

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A'Lelia Bundles
A'Lelia Bundles is the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, a biography of her great-great-grandmother, the famed entrepreneur. She also has written a biography of Madam Walker for young adult readers, has a book coming out soon about the Madam Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis, and is working on a biography of her great-grandmother, A'Lelia Walker, Madam Walker's daughter. A'Lelia Bundles worked for ABC News and NBC News for a total of 30 years. She lives in Washington, D.C., and her website can be found at

Q: You are currently writing about A’Lelia Walker, your great-grandmother. How is that project going?

A: I’m almost finished with it. I’ve been working on it for too many years! I’m polishing it; the rough draft is done. I’m working on the polishing of Chapter 7—I have about seven more to finish editing.

I’m finding it much harder this time than with the first book—actually, this is my fourth book, but it’s the second that’s a historical dive. Maybe I set the bar for myself with the previous book—I reread it, and I think, “That’s actually pretty good!” Each chapter is like rolling that boulder up the mountain, like Sisyphus.

It’s taken me longer than I had anticipated, because [A’lelia Walker’s] life is so different from her mother’s. … [Madam C.J. Walker’s] was a great American rags-to-riches story. The story of her daughter is that of the first real black heiress, a celebrity, [the daughter of] the classic successful parent…. She was a very interesting, flamboyant person; she loved art and music and theater, and was part of the Harlem Renaissance community. She, as a person—it was not the same arc to the story. Not rags to riches, but grappling with a celebrity identity.

Q: You grew up hearing about your great-great-grandmother and your great-grandmother, so were there surprises when you started doing research for your books?

A: There were a lot, because what I knew growing up—that Madam Walker founded a business, my mother went to work every day in that building, I knew the basic official company bio [of Madam Walker]…. But all the other details of her life, I really didn’t know. No one had written that. I pretty much started from scratch.

Q: How was it to write about family members? Was it a struggle between the descendant part of you and the journalist part?

A: The journalist part of me really wanted to tell this story. They both were dead before I was born [which made it easier]. I’ll never really write about my parents! This was writing about these women from a distance. And an important moment for me was when I was in graduate school at Columbia and doing serious research [on Madam Walker]. My mother was very ill, and I said I was finding some things [about Madam Walker] that were not very flattering. She said to tell the truth. That was a great gift to me.

Q: You’ve also been working on another book?

A: An Arcadia pictorial history book. I agreed to do it a year and a half ago, [thinking the other book would be done,] and I whipped it out in three weeks. These books are really great because they capture little pieces of history that wouldn’t warrant a major book. It’s on the Madam Walker Theatre Center, a national historical landmark in Indianapolis where the company was based. It was built in 1927. It’s where my mother worked every day.

Q: You’ve also written a biography of Madam Walker for young adult readers. Do you prefer writing for one audience or another?

A: I enjoy the more comprehensive books. The young adult book—I was wanting to write about Madam Walker, and in 1991, not a lot of people were saying we need more books about African-American women, slightly obscure historical figures.

I was on the Radcliffe College Trustees board with [the late Harvard professor] Nathan Huggins, and he was an advisor to Chelsea House, which was creating a series [of biographies of African-Americans]. That was how that book came about.

In 1991, believe it or not, there had never been a book written about Madam Walker. Now she’s everywhere. That opened the door and gave me something I could show [literary agent] Gail Ross, along with a book proposal.

Young adult stories—I love them, and I love the fact that these books are available, but for me, that was probably a one-off; I like getting into more context.

Q: You worked for many years for ABC and NBC News. What do you think of the changes in the journalism industry in recent years?

A: It’s complicated. On the one hand, I love the fact that anybody can write anything; and there’s good and bad about that. If I’m on Facebook or Twitter, I can exchange information; I can write a blog; I can read things by people who would never get a byline in The Washington Post, The New York Times, [or appear on the networks]. Now, the doors are wide open.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of crap that’s out there that not substantiated and not well edited. The business model has blown up; people are writing for free because many websites don’t pay.

When I started, there were the three networks and PBS. You worked your way up. There was a certain filter; you met a standard. Now, NPR is a must for me every morning, and I like certain news programs. I would find it very hard to work in most news organizations today; it would be hard to put on the celebrity stuff, the rancorous behavior in Congress—it isn’t really a story, it’s a spat, but it ends up [on the news].

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I knew when I was 8 years old that I was a writer. It was the excitement, the adrenaline that I got at an early age--I knew it was my passion. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to continue, and to be part of a community of writers.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb 

June 24

June 24, 1842: Writer Ambrose Bierce born.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Q&A with author Justin Murphy

Justin Murphy
Justin Murphy, 27, is the  author of several dozen works, both fiction and nonfiction; available on Kindle, they include A Fan's Guide to Rod Serling, The Ancient Astronaut Files, and Anger Always Flowers. He lives in Orlando, Florida.

Q: You have written in a number of different genres. How did you first get interested in writing, and do you have a favorite genre in which to work?

A:  I have always been a creative type, but I started writing short stories consistently around age 15, first getting published at 19. While this has almost become expected of authors, I love each genre in different ways.

Southern crime and the non-fiction entertainment books are the most successful, but I love southern crime for the detective/suspense and ''small-town scandal'' elements, exposing the hypocrisy of small towns and exploring liberal issues in otherwise conservative areas.

Despite being less successful, I absolutely love doing my sci-fi/fantasy and autism-themed works. I have been a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy for the longest time, and being someone who has helped raise a younger brother with autism, I want raise as much awareness as possible and help people realize these are indeed exceptional [people] who are very creative and talented, yet don't often get the credit they deserve.

Q: How have you picked the subjects of your works that focus on the entertainment industry?

A: These are people who have influenced me in my career and who I've admired from the time I was very small: filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, and Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. I also enjoy covering topics such as the emergence of web series (which is ongoing and making both further strides and setbacks) and cable dramas, along with how and why they are trouncing novels, film, and network TV.

Q: You have mentioned that you're trying to expand into audiobooks. How is that going? 

A: It's very slow going, but I hope to see the best come of it. One of my books is coming along smoothly with a great narrator. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for the best.

Q: Your books are available on Kindle. Why have you chosen this route to make your work available to readers? 

A: I got my professional start with eBooks in December 2004, a few years before the first Kindle was even released. It was a time where those in the print establishment told us we weren't ''real'' authors, that we would never get anywhere, and often made fun of us. For a time, I actually bought into this crap and pitched agents, editors, and publishers in New York, along with a few small presses here and there. Got a few bites, but nothing came of it. I also did a few article-writing jobs to work my way up.

Despite initial resistance and alienating a few ''traditional'' types, I realized through Kindle, eBooks were now the present and future of this business. They have made agents, editors, and publishers, along with print and bookstores in general flat-out irrelevant. Similar to what iTunes has done to music, and to how Netflix, Hulu, and others have been chipping away at film and TV. Although that is more difficult considering the latter is a visual medium centered around a cast and crew, as opposed to audio or text involving a one-person job, much less a few others working together.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I'm writing a sample spec for the new A&E series Bates Motel, and planning a TV pilot based on my biggest selling Kindle books in the Southern crime genres. Although if that doesn't work out, it can always be a Kindle book in and of itself And I'm also planning another non-fiction entertainment book.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: A film and TV deal in Los Angeles would be nice! But I'm happy being a young author who is there for his little brother.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 23

June 23, 1928: Author Michael Shaara born.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Q&A with writer Kate Lehrer

Kate Lehrer, photo by Don Perdue
Kate Lehrer is the author of four novels, Confessions of a Bigamist, Out of Eden, When They Took Away the Man In the Moon, and Best Intentions. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Q: Your most recent novel, Confessions of a Bigamist, features a woman with two husbands and a very complicated life. How did you decide to write this story, and what do you think it says about the institution of marriage?
A: I like to write about women who play against perceived type. When the idea of a woman bigamist came to me one day, I knew I’d found the protagonist of my next book. Her dilemma would be having to choose between two goods, in this circumstance, two husbands whom she loved. 

While I wrote my first draft, the idea of a woman bigamist struck me as fresh and clever. Only after finishing this first go at my story, did I remember Anais Nin, known as a writer and not quite so well known as a bigamist. But I knew her editor and had read two biographies of her. How could I not remember! 

Well, if I had, I wouldn’t have started the novel. I wasn’t interested in basing this book on someone else’s real life. Of course, once I remembered, I went back and tipped my hat to her in the book. 

I wasn’t so much interested in exploring the institution of marriage as the idea of ambiguity. In this country I think too many of us have come to crave absolutes, which I like as much as the next person, but I think it’s usually a false choice. 

The fact is we are always having to make choices by degrees in different ways: security or freedom? Privacy or intimacy? Kindness or truth? Most of us, by necessity, end up a long way from an absolute but that doesn’t stop us from pretending otherwise. 

In that context, I think marriage works best when it’s flexible. I don’t mean acquiring two husbands, but in the issues I just mentioned most of us are always adjusting.  We delude ourselves when we start applying absolutes. What I’m saying is that bigamy is as good a metaphor as any to explore the larger question of “good.” Besides, writing about an uptight bigamist was fun.

Q: In your novel Out of Eden, you focus on two 19th century women who rebel against societal conventions. What kind of research did you do for the book, and were the main characters based on actual women?
A: The two women characters in Out of Eden are definitely based on real women. When I began, all I knew came from a paragraph about two twenty-something women who built twin houses on the Kansas prairie in 1880. Ten years later someone boarded up the windows and door of one of the homes, and the owner of that house left Kansas forever.   

I began telling myself a story of why they had come to such a bad end, as well as why they had gone there in the first place. I began by researching conditions and attitudes in Kansas, one of the few states where women could homestead. 

Since I also knew that the real women met in Paris (one was Parisian), I read about conditions there for women. I also got the archived newspapers from the real town (name changed) they settled in. Every day I’d read a day or two of the paper, in and of itself a fascinating effort. 

Other reading included books on feminism, on women’s clubs, on Chicago, on trains (a big player in settling the Midwest and West), published and unpublished diaries of pioneer women, even one book on the microclimates in Kansas. For me, research is like eating peanuts. Finally both my husband and my editor had to stop me.

Q: Of the characters that you've created, do you have a favorite?
A: Choosing a favorite character is a hard one.  I’m torn between Michelle, my bigamist and H.A., the protagonist in my second novel, When They Took Away the Man in the Moon. After H.A., a political consultant, sabotages her candidate, she returns to Texas only to grapple with as many complications with her family, friends and old lover as she has left behind on the East Coast.

Q: Your husband, TV anchor Jim Lehrer, also writes novels. How does your writing style compare with his, and do you show each other drafts of your work?

A: Our writing styles are completely different. He is disciplined, more secure about his work, and much, much, much faster. And while his novels are more plot-driven, mine tend to be more character-oriented. 

Of course, that statement is a generalization and not always applicable. We do show each other drafts, although not as often as we once did. We tend to show only when we’re having trouble making  a character or situation work or if we’re not sure the book is working at all.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a book about a young, successful woman who, through a variety of circumstances, finds herself out of a job and then, in an emotional meltdown. Enter her dysfunctional – as she sees them – family.  I hope it is half as funny as I now think it is.  I also hope the serious points come across to readers.

Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Only that I’m excited about the book after the one I’m writing now and the one after that. In the past I have not been given to so many ideas at one time.  I am grateful!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 22

June 22, 1898: Writer Erich Maria Remarque born.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Q&A with writer Adriana Trigiani

Adriana Trigiani
Adriana Trigiani's many bestselling novels include Big Stone Gap, The Queen of the Big Time, and Very Valentine. She also has founded a comedy troupe and has worked as an actor, a TV writer and producer, and a documentary film director. She lives in New York.

Q: Your most recent novel, The Shoemaker's Wife, is based on the story of your grandparents, and you have said that you worked on it for many years, in between other novels. Why did you keep coming back to their story?

A: I was enchanted by their love story -- they were two strong, compelling people and they lived through difficult times -- and of course, there was also great joy. Love and loss were ribbons through their stories and I wanted to follow those themes to the end.

Q: In your books, you often focus on characters who, like yourself, have Italian-American heritage. What about the Italian-American experience provides a good atmosphere for your novels?

A: Anyone who is Italian, or if you're not and you've visited Italy, you are aware that the Italian people know how to live. They make food from their gardens, love music and art and are surrounded by antiquities that feed their sense of history. They believe in the family -- and I guess growing up in that environment I was aware what a treasure the experience of growing up Italian was -- and the gift of that has never left me.

Q: You also write for young adults. Why did you decide to start a YA series, and is the process of writing those books different for you from the process of writing novels for adults?

A: It is different writing for young adults. I'm aware of how a story can affect them -- the values I present should hopefully be positive -- and most importantly, I hope the writing is sharp, intelligent and fun -- a lot like the young adults I know.

Q: In addition, you've written a nonfiction book about both your grandmothers, Don't Sing at the Table. What lessons did your grandmothers teach you that have especially stuck with you over the years?

A: My grandmother Lucia taught me that no one has to see how many times you rip out the hem. There are many revisions on the way to the best work. My grandmother Viola taught me to stand up for myself. This is a gift that keeps on giving -- character and strength come from believing in yourself -- and make us better able to serve the people around us.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am editing the final Valentine novel called The Supreme Macaroni Company. It comes out November 5th. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 20

June 20, 1858: Writer Charles W. Chesnutt born.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Q&A with author Robert W. Walker

Robert W. Walker
Robert W. Walker is the author of more than 50 books, including Titanic 2012, Shadows in the White City, and City for Ransom, as well as the Edge and Instinct series. He lives in West Virginia.

Q: You've had many books published by traditional publishers, but in recent years you've turned to Kindle. Why did you make that decision?

A: My last paperback publisher was HarperCollins and we had amicable relations but all the same problems persisted. After my City for Ransom series failed to sell at the numbers they wanted, they ended the series, but I was not finished with my characters in the series at all and wished to continue said series.

In previous times before the advent of Kindle publishing with a dead series was seldom to never picked up by another publisher...extremely rare indeed. So I took Inspector Alastair Ransom to Kindle Original publishing and placed him on board the Titanic as I had always planned to do in the series with HC.

That title is now Titanic 2012 - Curse of RMS Titanic, which combines history, science fiction, and paranormal or supernatural elements - another thing I could not possibly get away with in traditional publishing, mixing so many genres.  However, I also had 40 some odd other dead books - out of prints from various NYC publishers, so I began with them on KDP.

Just previously to my HC experience, Penguin killed two of my other series, the Instinct Series and the Edge Series, the same day! Perturbed, it was an easy choice by then to go Indie Authorship with

Q: Many of your books are part of a series. Do you prefer writing a series or stand-alone books?

A: If I may seem less than humble, let me say that I soooo enjoy my characters and the ensemble cast created in a series that I just don't enjoy leaving them. I like hanging out with my characters and hate to see them go. Like a reader who is disappointed at finishing a book and having to say good-bye to the character so loved, well....I have that problem too! Only on the flip-side of the coin as a writer. 

I have eight separate series characters now and I introduce all and each of them in a collection of short stories entitled Thriller Party of 8 - The 1 That Got Away.

Q: How do you conduct the research for your historical books?

A: I am old-fashioned in that I love the library research, and most all of my historical novels like the one I finished just in time for the 150th birthday of West Virginia as a state -- Annie's War -- I like to have the history books at my fingertips. If I can purchase them, even I need to mark 'em up! 

I find books that are easy to read, readable. Not every historical title or document is easy reading but I must understand where it is coming from. I love to see old newspapers like Harper’s Weekly, old catalogues of the day, fair bills like the one I talked HarperCollins editors into inserting in the City for Ransom Trilogy as an addendum. If I can lay my hands on first documents, I do; if not replicas.

My Children of Salem - Love Amid the Witch Trials years and years ago, wow, I had access to the Northwestern University Library in Evanston where I got my undergraduate and graduate degrees from. They had a great deal on the episode and time period. For the Annie's War Trilogy, I read everything I could get my hands on dealing with Annie's father and Annie (John Brown).

Q: How do you use social media to help you publicize your books?

A: I utilize the links between the Amazon book page where price and cover and description reside to connect it directly to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest now. I use hashtags (#) on Twitter, and soon this device is going to come to Facebook. 

I am not shy at all about posting on Facebook and Twitter more than once in a day as I see them as floating rivers and no two boatloads of folks are going by at the same time where you are on the bank holding up your attention-grabbing notices.

I blog on other people's sites, write articles for other sites, maintain a website, and I conduct a forum on KDP Forums under Voice of the Author that has become the most enormous forum in all of KDP forums - "What Mioves Kindle Books off the Shelf" with moves intentionally misspelled.

I am also active on many chat groups. It can and does become a time sink at times; I try to slip in and make remarks or likes on as many other players at play on FB and Twitter as I can in an hour and get back to the writing, but often an hour slips into two.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The 3rd installment of my Annie's War Trilogy. Book #1 and #2 were completed this month, and I am hopeful the final book will see publication after the vetting and editing work is complete by July or mid-July at latest. I am also percolating a new serial killer title for money!  I typically do one for art, one for money. The title for the serial killer stand-a-lone possible new 9th Series  is The FEAR Collector. Hardly past the brainstorming session as yet.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Hmmmm....I am kind to my pets, my kids, my wife, and my mother as well as my siblings...if that helps! I do write in any and all categories and most of my titles cut across the sacred genre lines. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb