Friday, July 28, 2017

Q&A with Karin Tanabe

Karin Tanabe is the author of the new novel The Diplomat's Daughter, which focuses on the daughter of a Japanese diplomat during World War II. Tanabe's other novels include The Gilded Years and The Price of Inheritance, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Q: Your new novel features three main characters, two of whom are men. What was it like to write from a male perspective this time?

A: I knew I wanted Emi to be the object of two men’s affections when I started to write, but I wasn’t sold on also writing the male perspective, especially twice!

But in the end, I decided I wanted to take the book around the world, and the only good way to do that was to also show Christian and Leo’s stories up close and personal. Christian and Leo both experience the violence of war very differently than Emi, and I liked being able to reveal what each gender went through.

In the end, I really enjoyed writing from the male perspective, and would definitely be open to doing it again!

Q: The novel includes scenes set during the World War II era in Europe, Asia, and the United States, which must have involved a great deal of research. Can you say something about how you researched the novel, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: The research was certainly daunting at times, but also one of the most enjoyable parts of the process. My research really started with the internment camps here in the U.S., but spun out from there when I discovered personal connections to what I was writing about.

I was given an unpublished book written by a woman who was on a repatriation ship from Japan back to the U.S., and also got to chat with a family friend who lived in the mountain town of Karuizawa, Japan during the war. So a lot of my research really felt like I was capturing these little known stories and I think that helped make the book unique.

What surprised me the most was the town I just mentioned, Karuizawa. During the war both Nazis and Jews lived there in peace. Certainly a very uncommon place that World War II buffs should know about. 

Q: The novel alternates between the perspectives of the three characters. Did you write the chapters in the order in which they appear, or did you focus on one at a time as you wrote?

A: For the most part, I wrote one character at a time and then broke up the narratives, but I would switch between them every couple chapters so that the flow wasn’t off too much.

I definitely felt like I had different writing voices for each character, so it was important to stay with one for a while. Alternating chapters certainly is intimidating, but I learned that it’s also a fun challenge for a writer.

Q: Did you know how this novel would end before you started writing, or did you change things around?

A: I changed things around quite a bit. With a war novel, there is definitely going to be death, but I killed off too many people in my first couple drafts! The fun thing about being a writer is that I was able to bring them right back to life.

And while I did outline, at first the book was only going to take place in America, and in the end I moved it all over the world because the more I researched, the more places I wanted to include in the story.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m only in the research phase of my next books right now, but I think I want to stick to historical fiction for book five. French Indochina during the ‘20s and ‘30s really interests me.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: In the afterword of The Diplomat’s Daughter, I list many of the books—most of them memoirs—that helped me with my research. If unknown World War II stories interest you, I highly recommend you take a look! 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Karin Tanabe, please click here.

Q&A with Lucy Ives

Lucy Ives is the author of the new novel Impossible Views of the World, which focuses on a curator trying to figure out some mysterious goings-on at her museum. Ives's other books include the work of poetry The Hermit and the novella nineties, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Lapham's Quarterly and Triple Canopy. She lives in New York.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Impossible Views of the World, and for your character Stella?

A: Several years ago (six years, to be precise) I was supposed to be writing something else when the opening lines of the novel suddenly popped into my head. I wrote them down without knowing what they meant and went on to write the next couple of pages.

I struggled for a while to figure out what this was about: Why was I so interested in this curator? What was going on at the museum where she worked? It was all very weird and mysterious!

I kept going with the book and eventually, sort of like a “magic eye” image, it all started to make a kind of sense and a picture emerged.

It interests me that I’ve managed to write a literary mystery novel here, because certainly the story and characters, while very vivid to me, were not initially things I’d planned. They were very spontaneous, somewhat spookily so. It’s a little like I’ve had to solve the mystery of this novel twice.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the book, and was there anything that especially surprised you?

A: I’ve always been interested in the histories of museums and arts organizations in New York City, as well as the history of the city itself and the state.

I’m often surprised to learn how things we think of as being very fixed now were once in a state of flux, like that well-established settlements had to be torn down for the construction of Central Park.

Here, I’m thinking in particular of Seneca Village, of 1825-57, the first major community of African American landowners in Manhattan.

Or, the strange history of period rooms! I had no idea how complex they are. I did so much research about them that I ended up writing a separate article about them that you can read here.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes as you went along?

A: I knew that the narrator was going to make a major change in her life and that this change was related to answering a big question in her research.

I could feel that this was what the novel was about from the very beginning, but it took some careful sketching and the occasional recalibration to make these two paths, Stella's life vs. Stella's research, line up. It was a wonderful challenge! I'm grateful to my editor at Penguin, Ed Park, for his help with this.

Q: As a novelist and poet, do you have a preference when it comes to your writing?

A: Over time, I’ve become more and more interested in characters. This has changed my relationship to both prose and poetry, but I don’t have a preference between them. I do feel that these days my relationship to sentences is a more public kind of thing.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Oh gosh, a million things. One of them is a new novel…

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I recently ate some rhubarb (pie) and was reminded what a delicious herbaceous perennial it is.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lilliam Rivera

Lilliam Rivera, photo by Julian Sambrano Jr.
Lilliam Rivera is the author of the new young adult novel The Education of Margot Sanchez. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Tin House and Tahoma Literary Review, and she lives in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Education of Margot Sanchez, and for your main character, Margot?

A: The idea for the novel came to me somewhat from my own experience. My first job at 14 years old was working with my father. My father worked as a nursing aide in a private hospital in Manhattan.

At that time, I really looked up to my father. He could do no wrong. Although we never really worked in the same department, I did get to see him. It was the first time that I saw him doing humbling work. He took care of mentally handicapped children.

I got to see him in quite a different light. He became human, if that makes any sense. I tried to capture that moment in a teenager’s life when you see your parents for the first time, flaws and all.

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

A: I actually did not come up with the title. The title was done by the great editorial assistant Mikesha Tayler over at Simon & Schuster. The original title I had was "My Shelf Life" but I love this one. It brings to mind the classic Lauryn Hill album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill."

And the title says it all: Margot Sanchez is definitely going to be schooled over the course of a summer.

Q: Gentrification in the Bronx is one of the themes of the book—why did you choose to focus on that?

A: I chose to focus on gentrification because it is a real thing that is happening right now. I live in Los Angeles but visit my family in the Bronx at least three times a year. I get to see the change and it is extreme. The Bronx is the last frontier. Working-class families will be unable to afford to live there and where will they go?

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

A: I hope they get to experience a bit of the Bronx and its beauty. Summers in the Bronx were always intense, hot, crowded, and magical. That is what I hoped to capture in my novel.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a second young adult novel set in the near-future South Bronx. Dealing in Dreams is set in a world where girl gangs rule the streets.

If you liked The Outsiders and the movie Mad Max: Fury Road, I think you will like this novel. It’s action-packed and it really touches upon the desperation of wanting to find a home and how we create our own families.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If I’m not working on novels, I’m always submitting short stories. I have a couple of them online. I feel if you are a writer, there is always something to write about. If the novel isn’t working for me, I try my luck with a short story. There are so many stories I want to write so I can never really truly get bored. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Terry Jastrow

Terry Jastrow is the author of the new novel The Trial of Prisoner 043, which imagines what would happen if George W. Bush were charged with war crimes before the International Criminal Court. He also has written the play The Trial of Jane Fonda, and also is a screenwriter, director and producer.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Trial of Prisoner 043?

A: It was about four years ago. I spent three and a half years researching and writing the book. I was wondering, and was concerned about humanity and the direction in which mankind was headed. I feel the amount of discord and difference that exists in humanity continues to grow and not lessen.

Governments are not going to do anything about it, the military has every interest in war, and the press…[all these institutions] profit from it. Are we all destined and doomed for war?

No. The common man, when engaged and coupled together, the combined voice of people of good will can trump all. There’s no voice stronger than the voice of an artist. I thought maybe I should do something about it. And I love to tell stories.

I knew George W. Bush and have absolutely nothing against him personally. In fact, he’s a pretty terrific guy to have a beer with or play golf with. But I had a problem with the Iraq war.

I was 20 when the Vietnam draft lottery occurred. A lot of my friends were drafted. I’ve had a front-row seat to terrible wars. No one would say all wars are unnecessary. You think of World War I and World War II. But some are not necessary.

The final piece of the puzzle [involved the International Criminal Court, which officially took effect] in July 2002. Bush waged war in 2003. He would be the first leader to be subject to international criminal law.

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

A: I hope it’s entertaining and informative. I don’t think artists go far if they tell a boring story. You go further if you tell a story that’s interesting and engages readers’ interest, if it has them wondering what’s going to happen.

I want it to be entertaining and interesting and educational to the extent that this novel takes place in the future. It’s highly unlikely it would be true, but it’s not impossible. In international criminal law, those suspected of the worst crimes carry no statute of limitations.

Q: Has George W. Bush read the book, or if not, do you think he’s likely to do so?

A: I don’t know.

Q: What did you see as the right blend of history and fiction as you wrote the book?

A: Clearly I wouldn’t have written the story if I had to fictionalize all the names. It would have been too obtuse. With attorneys, I carefully read and understood the legal implications of the novel, and I understand the parameters.

One learns very early on that a lot of the principal characters in the book [include] George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and great journalists like Bob Woodward—they have written great stories. There’s tons of material out there that’s every bit as true as the truth can be verified.

You had to create characters to create the International Criminal Court prosecutors, the judges, the defense team. One is led by common sense, and by what’s interesting.

Q: What pre-publication reactions have you had to the book so far?

A: When I launched out to research and write the book, I will tell you even my wife, my sons, my brother, my sister, the people closest to me, all blanched at it and urged that I not write the book.

But for me, it’s about war and peace, is humanity going to continue to allow potentially illegal wars to happen. If not, somebody’s got to draw a line in the sand. If not others, what about me?

They’ve all read the book and love it and are totally supportive. You just shoulder through. Researching and writing a novel is like an intellectual ascent up Mount Everest. It’s a huge undertaking. You better have the passion to tell the story.

Q: You’ve written a play called The Trial of Jane Fonda. Why did you decide on a novel this time?

A: I love storytelling in all forms. I like to consume stories and create stories. I was a producer and director of television sports for a couple of decades, and I’ve written and directed movies and written stage plays, but I felt this story could best be serviced with a novel.

It’s so dense. I was locked into the idea that if I was going to tell the story, it would be a novel, though I hope one day it would be a movie or multi-episode television series.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: However difficult, I fell in love with the concept and challenge of a novelist. I’m working on another novel. I don’t necessarily want to articulate too much, but it has to do with what Shakespeare said: Past is prologue….I think people continue to make the same mistakes. It’s a novel about what has happened and how it could inform what could happen.

Q: Anything else we should know about your book?

A: As I’m on the cusp of being about to go out into the world and tell the story of my book, I’m excited about the prospect because it’s my secret hope that we enter this subject into conversation, that it get more attention.

It may sound arrogant but it’s the truth. I hope people read the book and wonder about the Iraq war, the current president and the saber-rattling that’s occurred. On what basis is it legal?

I hope people become more aware of the International Criminal Court as it was in…2002 and existing as it does in The Hague. It stands above all national courts when they are unwilling or unable to prosecute potential criminals. Humanity needs the International Criminal Court. It needs to be protected and defended.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 28

July 28, 1866: Beatrix Potter born.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Q&A with Mandy Berman

Mandy Berman, photo by Martin Bentsen
Mandy Berman is the author of the new novel Perennials. She lives in Brooklyn.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Perennials, and why did you choose to set it at a summer camp?

A: Perennials began as an idea during the first year of my MFA program. The first workshop piece I wrote in the program was a short story about a 30-year-old camp counselor, Mo, who also happened to be a virgin. Characters like Rachel and Nell showed in Mo’s story, and I began to feel that I wanted to explore them more in depth, too.

Eventually, the project became about a whole cast of characters at Camp Marigold, a fictional sleepaway camp in the Berkshires, over the course of one summer. By the time I had written nine characters, the overarching narrative of the whole project began to feel much more connected and novelistic than if they were stand-alone stories.

I really liked the idea of writing a novel that took place at a summer camp because camp is such a perfect breeding ground for fiction. So much happens there in a contained period of time – characters develop rapidly and so the plot, too, unfolds quickly. With adolescent girls in particular, the changes that happen to them over the course of one summer can be dramatic.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: I didn’t know the novel was going to end the way it did until about halfway through the writing process.

Once I figured out the ending, I realized this was no longer a collection of stories, because it said something bigger about girlhood, adolescence, and the loss of innocence in a way that applied to every single one of these characters. Plus, it was such a major event that the ending felt much more novelistic than the ending to a single character’s story. 

Q: How was the title selected, and what does it signify for you?

A: I wanted a title that would both reflect the natural and summer-like aspects and also say something bigger about the nature of girlhood and adolescence. The campers at Marigold return year after year because nothing ever changes; it’s a time capsule for their youth.

But the title is tongue-in-cheek, and bittersweet in a way, because of course things do change – these girls develop, and grow up, and we learn by the end of the novel that nothing about their camp experience, or their youth, can last forever.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: Top 5: Virginia Woolf, J.D. Salinger, Flannery O’Connor, Michael Cunningham, and Jeffrey Eugenides.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a companion novel to Perennials. It follows Fiona two years after Perennials ends, during her senior year at college, and focuses on her development into adulthood after that fateful summer.

We also get a glimpse into the lives of Fiona’s best friend at college, a visiting professor, and his wife, whose stories eventually intersect with Fiona’s in unusual and surprising ways.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I wrote Perennials largely because I wanted another book about the complicated inner lives of women and girls to be out in the world. I’m always looking for books like these; as far as I’m concerned, there are never enough. So I hope my novel makes women of all walks of life feel recognized, and I hope they may even see a glimmer of themselves in some of these characters.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Marc Leepson

Marc Leepson is the author of the new book Ballad of the Green Beret: The Life and Wars of Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler from the Vietnam War and Pop Stardom to Murder and an Unsolved, Violent Death. His other books include What So Proudly We Hailed and Lafayette, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Preservation and Smithsonian. He lives in Loudoun County, Virginia.

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Barry Sadler?

A: I was going over ideas for my next book after I’d finished my Francis Scott Key biography, What So Proudly We Hailed, in the spring of 2014. A colleague, John Mort, had told me he was working on a proposal for a biography of Barry Sadler, but his literary agent wasn’t happy about it. I told John that if he decided not to go forward with the idea, I’d love to.

A few months later, John emailed to say his agent talked him out of it, and kindly sent me a good amount of material he’d accumulated. I talked to my agent and he liked the idea so I began writing the proposal and he sold it.

I am a Vietnam War veteran and have been writing about the war for more than 40 years for magazines, newspapers and websites. I had wanted to write about some aspect of the war in a book for some time but for one reason or another I wound up writing about other aspects of U.S. history. I did edit The Webster’s New World Dictionary of the Vietnam War, but that was a reference book.

So that’s one reason I jumped at the chance to write Barry Sadler’s biography—because I also would be weaving in the history of the Vietnam War and the war’s legacy. 

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

A: I started with reading every secondary source I could find. That included four extensive magazine articles from the 1970s and 1980s. I got subscriptions to and several other newspaper archive websites and found tons of material on Barry Sadler, primarily from 1966-67 when he was famous.

I interviewed 71 people, including folks he grew up with in Leadville, Colorado, men he served with in the Air Force and the Army, and friends from his post-military days. I also spoke at length to his wife Lavona, although their three children would not talk to me. His literary agent was a great source, as was the family lawyer and the homicide detective who investigated the Lee Bellamy murder.

I learned an awful lot that surprised me—mainly because when I started the book, I didn’t know much more than the fact that he had the No. 1 pop song of 1966 and was an active duty Green Beret sergeant just home from Vietnam at the time. 

Q: How famous was Barry Sadler in the 1960s, and what do you think was the impact of his song "The Ballad of the Green Berets"?

A: Barry Sadler went viral in 1966, 25 years before anyone uttered the word “Internet.” He had the No. 1 song for five weeks (and then for the entire year), sang on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” was the subject of a big spread in Life magazine, and in countless other magazines and newspapers—and appeared on many radio and TV shows.

Someone said he was “the right man with the right song at the right time.” He was a handsome, self-effacing Vietnam War veteran with a pleasing voice with a patriotic song that resonated in the winter and spring of 1966 before the nation turned against the Vietnam War. Had that song come out a year later, it’s all but certain it would not have been anything close to the phenomenon it was in 1966.

The song is an important part of the U.S. Army Special Forces (the official name of the Green Berets). It came along at a time when special warfare was new and controversial, and did a great deal to image of the Green Berets. It remains the unofficial theme song that’s played for SF trainees at Fort Bragg. It’s heard at Green Beret reunions—and at funerals of Green Berets.

Q: How would you describe Sadler’s attitude was toward the Vietnam War?

A: He was very hawkish. He was a true believer in the anti-communist cause and was very bitter about the outcome of the war.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m at the beginning stages of writing a proposal for a biography. I’d like to tell you and your readers the subject, but book proposals are such iffy propositions that always wait until I get a contract before spreading the word.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve had great reactions to the book, including from people who knew Barry Sadler, which is very rewarding. I am continuing working on marketing the book and welcome opportunities to talk and write about it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous Q&A with Marc Leepson, please click here. This Q&A also appears on

Q&A with Emily Williamson

Emily Williamson is the author of the children's picture book Gizo-Gizo!: A Tale from the Zongo Lagoon. She wrote the book with the students and teachers of the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Cape Coast, Ghana. The book is a winner of the 2017 Children's Africana Book Awards. She is an anthropology Ph.D. student at Boston University, and has taught landscape architecture at Rhode Island School of Design.

Q: How did you end up working with Ghanaian students and teachers on this book project?

A: I have been working with the Cape Coast Zongo for many years on a range of community-based projects concerning the complex interactions between water infrastructure and social life. 

We asked questions such as how one might imagine a long-term plan for the community that both respects local cultural values and addresses environmental and sanitation concerns. 

As part of this initiative, I began working with the students at the Quranic School. I encouraged them to think both about local challenges their community faced concerning the environment and to imagine possible alternatives. Over a few years, the workshop organically took hold and resulted in the creation of this book.

Q: The book focuses on the importance of the environment. How did you create this particular story, and what was its significance for the students you were working with?

A: While we began with the larger topic of the environment (and water more specifically), we brainstormed about specific challenges the community currently faced. 

I recall one little boy raising his hand shyly and explaining that a few months before the community didn't have any water from the pipes because the mining companies operating to the north had polluted all of the rivers and lakes downstream. Other students chimed in with more details their families faced during that three-week period. 

From there, we went on to imagine the setting, characters (their personalities and the roles they would play in the story), and how the problem would be solved. The students then chose scene(s), character(s) and/or objects in the story to draw and write about. 

In addition to drawing and writing, we also wrote short skits in which they took on the roles of the characters in various situations and performed them for the community. It was truly an evolving, open process and collaborative effort composed of over 30 voices, drawings, and texts.

Q: What role did Ghanaian folktales play in the development of the story?

A: While I've read quite a few Akan and Hausa tales (many about liminal tricksters like spider), the story's plot line, feel, beginning, and end have more to do with the students memories of listening to their grandparents telling them stories, their everyday experiences, and imagination than anything else. 

And it was actually the students who told me about how one begins telling a story in Hausa culture... "Ga ta nan ga ta nanku!" (I'm about to begin!) the children respond, "Tazo Mujita!" (We are all ears!)

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

A: I hope those reading this story (whether in Ghana, the U.S. or somewhere else) will identify with the challenges the characters face and be reminded of valuable, locally relevant lessons about pollution, sanitation, and values about taking responsibility for ones actions towards others. 

Even more than that though, I hope this book will inspire ways of story-telling that are rooted in experience, are collaborative, and place emphasis on the complex processes of creating these stories more than the products themselves.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At this very moment, I'm in Ghana learning the Hausa language in preparation for my fieldwork in an anthropology Ph.D. program. Partnered with local non-profits and volunteers, I will also be involved in a story-telling workshop with students in a Zongo community later this summer. 

And, in preparation for this workshop, we've been creating lesson material that will be freely accessible and downloadable on our website in the coming year. These lessons also include many drawings students have done in the past for other story ideas.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The students are so very proud of their work and I look forward to sharing their acceptance speeches for the CABA book award on our website in the coming months!

Na gode kwarai! (Thanks so much in Hausa.)

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with William Hogeland

William Hogeland is the author of the new book Autumn of the Black Snake: The Creation of the U.S. Army and the Invasion That Opened the West. His other books include The Whiskey Rebellion and Declaration. He lives in New York City. 

Q: The first chapter of your new book focuses on the death of General Richard Butler. What was particularly significant about this historical episode?

A: Richard Butler died in November of 1791, during the victory over General Arthur St. Clair by a confederation of indigenous nations.

That victory -- a horrible defeat for the newly formed United States -- represents a major historical turning point, little discussed today. On a bank of the upper Wabash River in modern-day northeastern Indiana (in what the U.S. then called its Northwest Territory), nearly the entire force of what passed for an American army was wiped out in a matter of hours.

It thus became painfully clear that American efforts to assert sovereignty in Indian country were fatally flawed. President Washington's policy had been to say there was no real war ongoing for that territory -- just a few recalcitrant Indians who needed mopping up.

The defeat of St. Clair showed: a) there was a war going on; b) the United States was losing it. Westward expansion, on which the financial and political hopes of American elites depended, looked stymied.

As a result, the United States formed its first real, national army and began the difficult process of conquering that territory and moving its inhabitants to small, reserved areas.

So begins the birth of the United States as an expansionist power and the process of removing indigenous people on behalf of land investment, without which the United States as we know it would not exist. That wheel turned from 1791 to 1795, during the Washington administration, and that's the story my book tells.

Q: How did you research the book, and what particularly surprised you in the course of your research?

A: There's so much to this story that getting a handle on responsibly researching its many facets was a major challenge.

There's nothing in my book that was unknown to scholarship before I got here, yet this is the only book that pulls it all together -- the national turning-point war for the old Northwest, told from both sides; and the cutthroat politics of forming the nation's first army -- in a cogent narrative, the only book to present the events as a foundational American story.

I read much secondary material on broad matters ranging from 18th century military discipline to the French fur trade to the ethnology of the Native nations of what is now the Midwest, and much more.

I read about gritty specifics of the relationship between the leaders Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, the strategy and tactics of General Wayne -- Mad Anthony -- who did finally succeed in the conquest, and the lives of amazing characters like the Shawnee British official Alexander McKee and many more.

The only way to realistically piece together the blow-by blow politics of forming the army, the fake diplomacy that President Washington used when treating with the indigenous confederation, and the activities of British officials in Canada is to work closely with the primary record: the American State Papers, the Congressional Record, Jefferson's notes on cabinet meetings, Washington's papers, Governor Simcoe's papers, etc.

Most of that material has of course been carefully published and often brilliantly annotated. I also read many of Anthony Wayne's papers in the original; they're scattered in archives. And I traveled to every important place that plays a role in this story.

As to being surprised, I guess what I found most new is the complexity -- the sheer familiarity -- of the political and economic wheeling and dealing among the Native leaders and nations.

There are two groups of people that many Americans today often place "beyond politics": the founders and the Indians. This book reveals all players as sophisticated, adroit, sometimes ruthless political animals.

Q: What were some of the key considerations facing George Washington when it came to the creation of a U.S. army?

A: There was enormous political opposition to creating a full-fledged, uniformly run, national U.S. Army. That seems strange to us today -- the U.S. military is a gigantic world-historical force -- but it had to start somewhere, and that's what my book is about.

Many people in the founding generation opposed what they called the "standing army" as a tool of monarchical tyranny, like the British Army that the U.S, had just defeated. They believed in recruiting from the state militias for short-term engagements; they hated the idea of maintaining a force in peacetime.

Washington and most of the cabinet had always wanted a national army, but Congress had refused to create one of any legitimate size. Then the St. Clair defeat of 1791 shocked the nation: it enabled Washington to pressure Congress to pass the first real army bill.

Still, getting the votes was a tricky thing, involving dealmaking, horsetrading, private agreements, adroit use of the press -- all of the things that passing bills always requires. Politics junkies will enjoy the details, I think.

Q: What do you see as the legacy today of the issues you describe in the book?

A: The legacies just seem overwhelmingly decisive, which is why I remain amazed that this story isn't better known. For one thing, the first-ever victory of the U.S. Army, under Wayne at Fallen Timbers near what is now Toledo, started something that has ballooned around the globe.

Here begins American empire, first for western land and natural resources, then around the world for influence, business, hegemony, making the world safe for democracy, the whole thing, however you look at it.

The Midwest was conquered: in the blink of an historical eye it was transformed into the booming industrial driver of American economic power. Native Americans west of the Ohio River begin being moved onto reservations -- also a calamitous and decisive event, without which the United States would not have existed and developed as it has.

As we face a crisis today, in what we mean by "American greatness," this story tells us how we began to become great -- meaning "big" -- and what some of less closely considered costs may have been.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Lots of ideas cooking, but nothing cogent enough to talk about yet, I'm sorry to say.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It may be a bit weird to say that one of the important features of this often dark story is that it makes for a fun read. But I think it does. Which may raise other issues, for another time...

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Bates Gill and Linda Jakobson

Bates Gill
Bates Gill and Linda Jakobson are the authors of the new book China Matters: Getting It Right for Australia. Gill's other books include Governing the Bomb. Jakobson's other books include A Million Truths: Ten Years in China. They are both based in Australia.

Q: For people who may not be that familiar with the relationship between China and Australia, what are some of the most important dynamics between the two?

Bates Gill: The one point which is often made is that about one-third of Australian exports by value go to China. That leads to the important point that Australia depends heavily for its economic prosperity on its relationship with China. That is true, but that point too often obscures other important developments in Australia-China relations.

For example, in unprecedented ways, Australia is becoming a more "Chinese" place. Mandarin is the second-most widely spoken language by residents and citizens in Australia. China is now the largest source of tourists and tourist spending for Australia. Chinese international students--around 150,000 of them--represent some 30 percent of all international students in Australia.

Linda Jakobson
Another important point about Australia-China relations has to do with the United States. It is common in Australia to hear debates about whether Australia needs to choose between its most important trading partner, China, and its most important security partner, the United States. 

While our book is principally about the evolving dynamic of Australia-China ties, we acknowledge that they can be affected by the United States and that the advent of the Trump administration adds new uncertainties to U.S.-China relations and hence to how Australia, an American treaty ally, needs to consider relations with China.

Our bottom line on this point is that Australians need to move away from the "either/or" understanding of relations with China and the United States, and recognize that these two countries are both important economic and security partners.

Linda Jakobson: I want to emphasize the importance of Chinese international students for the funding of research and the Australian higher education system more generally. I see this as a vulnerability from Australia's viewpoint. 

If for some reason Chinese international students spread the word via social media that Australia is not the place to pursue study abroad or a college degree; or if the Chinese government decided that study in Australia should be discouraged, it would deal a substantial blow to the finances of many top Australian universities.

Q: Why did the two of you decide to write this book, and can you describe your collaborative writing process?

Bates Gill: As two China watchers arriving on Australian shores several years ago, we were immediately struck by how little in-depth understanding there was about China in this country. This seemed odd to us given how important China is to Australia and how much more important it will be in the future.

There are many reasons for this--geographical, historical, cultural. It is also true that with the economic relationship flourishing over the past 20-plus years, there was little incentive in Australia to think deeply about the relationship with China--all was going very, very well, so why think differently?

We saw things a little differently, perhaps because we have not lived in Australia all of our lives. We feel the relationship is changing in important ways, that China's influence in Australia is growing in myriad ways, not only economically, and that Australians should be better prepared for that future.

In writing the book, we worked very closely together, with the aim of trying to speak with one voice. Not only did we intensively share and edit drafts of chapters with one another, for the introductory and concluding chapters, we sat next to one another for many days jointly writing them sentence-by-sentence.

We felt strongly that the book should be truly a joint partnership, truly co-authored. It worked very well and, as we note in our acknowledgements, it was a like a taking a journey together.

Linda Jakobson: We were also struck by the deep gulf between the Government's perceptions in dealing with China and those of the business community. The gulf exists in all countries; after all business interests are different from the government's interest. But the gulf is quite stark in Australia.

We hoped via the book – also via the Australian public policy initiative “China Matters,” which the book gave way to and which I currently head – to deepen the debate about China in Australia and also involve business more closely in the policy discussions, not only about business ties with China but the relationship more broadly.

Q: What do you see looking ahead given the arrival of the Trump administration?

Linda Jakobson: The region is certainly evolving even more rapidly because of Trump's ascent to power. There is much more uncertainty across the region about the role of the United States in the Indo-Pacific and how China's role will change accordingly.

In Australia, specifically, I predict that politicians will struggle to support some of Trump's policies because of the gulf between some of Trump's values and values that Australians hold dear, for example the freedom of the press and multi-culturalism. Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a genuine blow to Australia because Australia thrives thanks to free trade.

Certainly the unpredictability of the Trump administration's Asia policy has led to a renewed discussion in Australia about the pros and cons of the U.S. alliance. While the majority of Australians still support he U.S. alliance, a growing number of Australians see a need to re-appraise the nature of the alliance and even see value in distancing Australia from the United States.

In our book we quote Richard Woolcott. who already decades ago reminded Australians of the value of an independent foreign policy within the Alliance.

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

Bates Gill: Most of all, we hope that readers will gain a far more nuanced understanding of China and its importance to Australia. Importantly, we hope they will come away better informed about Chinese society, politics, economics and how China seeks to project its influence in the region and the world today.

If Australians can begin to have even half as much understanding about China as they have about traditional partners such as the United Kingdom and the United States, that would go a long way to helping ensure Australia can effectively pursue its interests in relation to China in the decades ahead.

Linda Jakobson: Above all, I hope the reader will come away more aware of the complexities of China's political and socio-economic developments as well as the many challenges that exists in Australia's ties with China.

Q: What are you working on now?

We both would like to pick up some of the recommendations we made in the book and see if we can help drive them forward over the next two or three years.

Bates also has plans to establish a program of education, exchanges, and research on Chinese foreign and security policy at Australian National University. 

If all goes to plan, his next book will focus on what has happened to about 20 Chinese students he taught for a year in in Dalian in the mid-1980s--their subsequent lives, ambitions, and achievements over the past 30 years in China--to tell the story of the country's remarkable transformation.

Linda is the CEO and founding director of China Matters, an Australian public policy initiative that strives to bring nuance to policy discussions about the tough, sticky issues in Australia's dealings with China.

The other key goals of China Matters are to advance sound China policy and enable the participation of business executives in policy deliberations. There is much work ahead.

At some point, Linda hopes to spend a semester or two in Jinan, the city to which she moved in 1987, to conduct research about the lives of the people that made the 20 years she lived n China so memorable. She hopes that these life stories will be a basis of a new China book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb