Barbara Stark-Nemon is the author of the new novel Hard Cider. She also has written the novel Even in Darkness. She lives in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for your character Abbie and her family?
A: In my first book, Even in Darkness, the main character is a strong complex woman who must cope with the unthinkable and somehow make meaning for the remainder of her life.
I guess I wasn’t done with that concept — that a strong multidimensional woman must overcome unexpected challenges with dignity and self-determination. What might that look like for a woman of a certain age in our society?
I also wanted to feature a woman who wants an encore career, having raised a complicated family. She wants to pursue her own long-time interest.
Q: The book focuses on definitions of family. What about that topic intrigued you?
A: Family is very important to me and the way we form families and how we define ourselves as families has changed radically during my adult life.
Medical advances in treating infertility, broadening options for adoption, the use of surrogacy, rapid increase in births to unmarried parents, and legal changes to marriage laws have all changed the landscape of how people regard the concept of family.
At the same time that all these changes have complicated social and legal definitions of family relationships, they have broadened the acceptability of different family constellations, and brought critically important conversations into the mainstream. Hard Cider addresses a number of these considerations.
Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what role do you see hard cider playing in the novel?
A: The making of hard cider— from growing the apples right through to pressing and fermenting the juice is Abbie Rose Stone’s passion. Full disclosure: I fell in love with hard apple cider during the time I lived in England many years ago, and was very happy to do the necessary research for this book!
Two of the authors who wrote endorsements for Hard Cider said it best…
“The alchemy of turning apples into hard cider becomes a potent metaphor for the way in which time blends and distills the characters into a family.”
“A character who makes cider from a variety of different apples says, ‘I can’t help but feel that there’s some magic in the mixing.’ Barbara Stark-Nemon reminds us this is true for families, too.”
I’ve never had an easier time choosing a title!
Q: Can you say more about the research you did to write the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?
A: As noted above, I did a good bit of research on hard apple cider production. I especially loved reading Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, which includes a fascinating history of our interaction with the apple over many centuries and the truth behind the Johnny Appleseed myth.
I was surprised to learn that cider was often the only safe drink and sometimes was used as currency during pioneer days. I also loved the cider making bible, Cider – Strong and Sweet, by Ben Watson. I traveled to northern Michigan and to New Hampshire to see state of the art cider operations.
I already knew a lot about infertility and adoption, but researched a great deal about surrogacy and the legal and emotional consequences of that way of forming family.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve just started researching and writing a new novel about a 14 year-old embroideress who has to find her way from Inquisition-era Portugal to Germany to reunite with her father. She’s a Converso who is assisted by an herbalist and healer from Girona, Spain.
I’m also working on audiobooks for Hard Cider and Even in Darkness!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I would like readers to come away from Hard Cider with the conviction that dreams can come true at many times in one’s life, even in the face of the unexpected and unwanted.
I also hope readers will think about the fact that we now make family in many different ways, and that we have the choice to stay open to new possibilities.
Oh, and for the knitters among your readers, there’s a lot of knitting in Hard Cider!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Barbara Stark-Nemon.