Monday, October 21, 2019

Q&A with Rion Amilcar Scott

Rion Amilcar Scott, photo by Rebecca Aranda Photography
Rion Amilcar Scott is the author of the new story collection The World Doesn't Require You. He also has written the story collection Insurrections, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Kenyon Review and PANK. He teaches creative writing at the University of Maryland.

Q: In our previous interview, you said of your fictional community of Cross River, Maryland, "There are a lot of sides to the town that will take many books to truly explore." Did you already have some of the ideas in mind for the new collection before the first book was published?

A: I had entire stories nearly complete when I finished Insurrections. I thought those stories were good, or had potential, but something was missing from them. It took me some time to grow as a writer before I could finish them.

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

A: The phrase has been a line I've been thinking about for a while now. I think it's a pretty harsh reality that's ultimately freeing. None of us are so important or essential that we can act any way we please.

With that said, I would like readers to come to their own relationship between themselves, the title and the book.

Q: In an NPR review of the book, Michael Schaub writes, "The book is less a collection of short stories than it is an ethereal atlas of a world that's both wholly original and disturbingly familiar..." What do you think of that description?

A: That's a great description. For a little while I toyed with the idea of removing the subtitle "stories" as one of my editors had said that the book felt like something other than a short story collection. But then I didn't want to be one of those people who pretends like he's better than the short story. 

Q: Are there other fictional towns that you particularly admire?

A: I'd spend time in Winesburg, Ohio if I could. Really though, I want to go to Homer Simpson's Springfield. I admire the durability of that town and how changeable it is depending on the needs of each individual episode it appears. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My stories take place in the wake of a successful slave revolt in America. I'm working on books that continue to explore the aftermath of the Great Insurrection and maybe we'll even get a peek at the insurrection itself. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I'll be writing about Cross River as long as I can. There is a lot I couldn't fit into this book or the last one, both individual stories and elements. It keeps evolving as well. I'm looking forward to showing more of the town.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rion Amilcar Scott.

Q&A with Jacqueline Dembar Greene

Jacqueline Dembar Greene is the author of Walk Till You Disappear, a new middle grade novel for kids, which is set in 19th century Arizona. Her many other books for kids include The Leveller and Out of Many Waters. She lives in Wayland, Massachusetts.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Walk Till You Disappear, and for your character Miguel?

A: The seeds of the story sprouted from a few different sources. For many years, I have visited the southwest, particularly centered in Arizona. I’ve hiked the desert and the Santa Catalina Mountain trails, and gleaned local lore about desert plants and creatures.

Research for my non-fiction book, The Tohono O’odham, along with visits to the reservation and talks with tribal members, fostered my deep interest in the tribe’s history.

I also have a strong connection to my own ancestors, Spanish Jews who were among the people expelled from Spain in 1492. I was intrigued to learn that many of those exiles came to the shores of New Spain with the conquistadors, and their histories mixed with those of the native people.

At some point, I realized the similarities between the Spanish Jews who risked their lives to keep their religion, and the fate of the Native Americans who fought against the same forces of the Inquisition to keep their culture and beliefs intact. The story of Miguel’s journey grew from thoughts of this common past.

The character of Miguel Abrano stemmed from my understanding of how fiercely a 12-year-old holds to his family and religious identity. Most issues are seen in absolutes—a belief is either right, or it is completely wrong.

Yet an adolescent on the cusp of young adulthood can also be led to question the realities of his own life, although such thoughts will surely be difficult, and even painful to confront.

Knowing how many Mexicans, and those of Mexican heritage, are today discovering their own ancestors’ Jewish connections, Miguel seemed to grow in my mind’s eye until I felt I had to let his story unfold, and see where it might lead.

Q: What kind of research did you do to write the novel, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: In addition to my visits to the Southwest and study of the Tohono O’odham, I read anthropology texts describing the tribe’s beliefs and practices. I read natural history books that described animals and insects such as roadrunners and scorpions, as well as the growing habits and food provided by desert plants.

One of the most moving books I read was a memoir written by a Native American who was taken from his family as a child and sent to a distant mission school. He described his experiences from the moment he was removed from his home to the time he found a way to escape and return “to the blanket.”

Most fascinating was a newspaper article that described the reaction of a Catholic priest in New Mexico whose DNA test results showed that his family background was Jewish.

His response to that revelation, and the ways in which he helped others discover and deal with their own Jewish roots, also became part of the background that fueled my passion for developing this story in a historically and culturally accurate way.       

Q: What role do you see religion playing in the novel?

A: Nearly every character in the book closely relates to their religious beliefs. The priest’s life mission is saving the souls of the Native Americans through conversion. Miguel’s desire is to follow the priest’s footsteps. His parents have spent their adult lives hiding the secret of their Jewish ancestors while trying to keep as many traditions alive as they can while still being members of the church.

The peddler who passes through the territory has left persecution in his native Germany, and hopes to find acceptance and tolerance in a new land. Rushing Cloud is adamant in his resolve to keep his family’s beliefs.

Miguel must navigate through his family revelations and his growing friendship with Rushing Cloud to determine his own beliefs and his very identity.

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

A: Often interviewers ask what I hope to “teach” readers through my books. My response is always the same: I try not to teach any theme or conclusion, but help a reader see a situation that sparks thought and provides a new way of looking at the world.

As with Miguel’s journey, the reader is also walking beside Miguel, considering all the same questions that confront the character.  I always hope that the book will spark a dialogue between adults and children that helps explore new territory.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am still focused on the Southwest, working on a retelling of a Hopi tale. Once the story has been polished to a shine, I will send it out in the hopes that it will reach many young readers.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I am indebted to PJ Library for their confidence and support of this book before it was completed, and to Joni Sussman at Kar-Ben for her quick decision to publish the novel. There is a series of online questions to spark thought and discussion. Now I await reaction from readers. I love to hear their thoughts on my stories!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Joni Klein-Higger

Joni Klein-Higger is the author, with Barbara Sharf, of the new children's picture book Barnyard Bubbe's Hanukkah. Klein-Higger's other books include Rainbow of Friendship and Coby Ryan Harris Is Officially Fat. She also is a songwriter and musical theater playwright. 

Q: How did you and Barbara Sharf come up with the idea for Barnyard Bubbe's Hanukkah?

A: The initial concept for Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah started with one of Susanna Leonard Hill’s writing challenges. For those of you unfamiliar with Susanna, she is an award-winning author of over a dozen books who has a blog to help authors with their craft.

The goal for this particular writing challenge was to create an original holiday picture book based on the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” As a professional songwriter, this challenge should have been a piece of cake. I whipped up a holiday story about a “bubbe,” (Yiddish for “grandmother,”) who makes potato latkes for Hanukkah.

Though it was cute, my story lacked luster, so I called my funny friend, Barbara Sharf, to help bring my story to life. Barbara loved animals and came up with the idea of having farm animals anonymously leave presents on Bubbe’s doorstep each night of the holiday.

Q: What do you think the book says about the holiday of Hanukkah?

A: Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah is a barnyard Hanukkah counting book that revolves around the making of potato latkes, a traditional food item served during the holiday of Hanukkah.

Potato latkes, also known as potato pancakes, along with jelly doughnuts and other fried foods, are eaten at Hanukkah time to recall the miracle of a small drop of oil that lasted for eight days and nights.

Q: What do you think Monica Gutierrez's illustrations add to the book?

A: Monica Gutierrez created adorable illustrations that leave room for audience participation. By showing hints of physical traits of each animal (a hoof, paw, a leg, etc.) Monica added a fun guessing game for our readers.

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

A: My hope is that readers will not only have fun with counting and learning about farm animals, but will also learn about potato latkes, a traditional Hanukkah food, and the joy of sharing holidays with family and friends.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am in the midst of several projects. One I am excited about is a STEM-related picture book about a girl inventor. Another is a fun monster-counting board book. And finally, the most challenging, but most enjoyable, is a children’s musical screenplay loosely based on my musically talented grandmother’s life in New York during the early 1900s.

Oh, and more Barnyard Bubbe books are in the making, too!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Barbara and I will be touring throughout the United States and Canada starting November 2019. We hope you will join us for our fun, musical Hanukkah presentations. You can learn more about Barnyard Bubbe’s Hanukkah On Tour on my website and social media pages.

Thanks so much for inviting me today, Deborah!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 21

Oct. 21, 1929: Ursula K. Le Guin born.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Q&A with Hazel Prior

Hazel Prior is the author of the new novel Ellie and the Harp Maker. She is a harpist, and she's based in Exmoor, England.

Q: How much did your own experiences as a harpist factor into your novel?

A: I think my enthusiasm for harps shows through and I hope I've conveyed something of the magic of harps. It was also handy to know about them so I could be accurate with the details.

Like my main character, Ellie, I once only dreamed of being a harpist, and it slowly became a reality through years of practise and some unexpected twists and turns of fate...

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your characters Dan and Ellie?

A: Lots of people come up to me after performances and say they've always wanted to play the harp, so I was thinking about the power of dreams and where they can lead you.

I thought I would have one character who followed her dream (Ellie) and the other one (Dan, the harp-maker) somebody who could make the dream come true. I wanted Ellie to be a bit wavery and insecure and that worked well for the plot. Dan, on the other hand, had to be unusual, creative and quirky. His voice and character came to me very quickly and I just went with it.

Q: The book alternates between their perspectives. Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character and then turn to the other?

A: I wrote the book from their alternating perspectives straight off, although some of the chapters got pulled around a lot in the editing so that events were related by the other character. I remember having some problems with structure because I wanted to give both Dan and Ellie equal space in the book.

Q: The novel takes place in Exmoor. How important is setting in your writing?

A: I love Exmoor! I live here and I went for lots of walks while I was writing the book, so I think the landscape has organically made itself part of the story.

Dan and Ellie are both people who are very sensitive to their surroundings. Sights, sounds and colours influence the way they think. The richness yet isolation of the countryside reflects some of the themes in the book, as well as adding a touch of lyricism.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm at the editing stage of my second novel, which is out next year. I'm very excited about it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The pheasant featured on the cover of the book is Phineas, another off-beat character who comes to play a crucial role in the story. He is based on a real pheasant, who is a frequent visitor to our garden. I'm not sure if he likes harp music, though!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Trish Doller

Trish Doller, photo by John Cohen
Trish Doller is the author of the new young adult novel Start Here. Her other books include Something Like Normal and Where the Stars Still Shine. She lives in Fort Myers, Florida.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Start Here, and for your characters Willa and Taylor?

A: I was looking for photos of the Bahamas for a different project when I stumbled on the website of two young women--lifelong best friends--who'd spent two years traveling America's Great Loop together.

I read their entire blog in a single sitting and I started thinking about the kind of stresses a friendship might sustain in a situation like that. Which then made me wonder what it would be like if the people on the trip were not-so-great friends.

That led me to friendship trios and how there's always one friend who is the glue that holds the trio together. What if the glue is gone? Will the other two friends stay friends? Let's put them on a boat and find out!

In this particular story, all three girls (and their parents) are amalgamations of people I have known; girls my daughter knew when she was young. I grew up in Sandusky and my kids spent their childhoods there, so there are aspects of our lives in both Willa and Taylor. It's a very personal book for me.

Q: What do you think the book says about friendship?

A: Friendship is complicated. It can be incredibly painful. And even the best friendships don't always last forever. But the right friend at the right time can change you and help you become the person you're meant to be.

Q: How did you decide on the locations Willa and Taylor would visit on their trip?

A: I started by planning the route they would sail from Sandusky to Key West. Once I knew which waterways they'd be traveling, I looked for interesting things along the way. Not every stop can be high-profile and exciting, but some of the quieter places are the places they learn something about themselves.

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

A: I've always thought it was very odd that when a teenager graduates from high school, we expect them to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. I'm 52 and I'm still not even sure!

So I hope readers will see themselves in Willa's and Taylor's struggles to figure out what they want...and realize that they don't need to know right now. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At the moment I'm drafting an adult romance as well as world-building and character-sketching for a YA Viking Age fantasy heavily inspired by Norse mythology.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I've got a few other irons in the fire, so if anyone wants to be among the first to hear any upcoming good news, you can subscribe to my tiny letter.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Trish Doller.

Q&A with Nancy Christie

Nancy Christie is the author of the new book Rut-Busting Book for Authors. Her other books include Rut-Busting Book for Writers and Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories. She is based in Ohio.

Q: Why did you decide to write Rut-Busting Book for Authors?

A: After I wrote and published Rut-Busting Book for Writers in 2017, and began doing book-related events, a lot of people would ask me if it provided advice on how to write a book.

And while it does have a lot of great advice on various aspects of writing, both the business and the creative aspects, along with rut-busting tips for those who are stuck in a writing rut, it didn’t focus specifically on how to write a book.

So, working on the principle that if people are asking for something, you should provide it, I decided to write Rut-Busting Book for Authors. And to be totally honest, I knew that, even after several books, there were still gaps in my author knowledge.

How better to educate myself and other would-be writers than to reach out to people who are experts in all the areas involved in becoming an author, distill it down into manageable bites and turn it all into a book!

In Rut-Busting Book for Authors, I focused on three stages:

The Process—what it takes to turn your book idea into a publishable manuscript.

The Publication—what publishing methods are available.

The Promotion—what strategies will work best for you to create a “book buzz.”

And I was very fortunate that so many industry experts and authors shared their expertise for the book! I couldn’t have done it without them!

Q: What do you see as some of the major factors that get writers into a rut in the first place?

A: Fear is one factor: fear they can’t start a project or finish it, or, once it’s done, deal with the responses. Their lack of confidence gradually erodes their desire to write. So they procrastinate or say they’ll do it “later” or come up with other excuses for not diving in and writing.

Then there is the lack of knowledge, especially when it comes to writing a book. A book is such a major undertaking: How do you keep all the material and research organized? What publishing path should you choose? How do you promote the book?

Every time you turn around, there’s one more thing you should know about, or should have done, or should have done differently. So you either spend all your time trying to learn everything (which isn’t ever really possible!) or you back-burner it until you think you’re totally ready. But writing a book is like having a baby: you’re never really ready!

The only effective antidote to the fear rut and the lack of knowledge rut and any other rut that keeps you from moving forward is to put one foot in front of the other (figuratively speaking) and move forward. Baby steps, maybe, but even baby steps can result in progress!

When I wrote both Rut-Busting Book for Writers and Rut-Busting Book for Authors, that was what I wanted to get across to readers: that everyone deals with ruts and the people who are successful are those who figure out how to climb out of them!

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

A: The most important message is that it is possible to write a book. Yes, it will take time, knowledge, willingness to accept feedback and, of course, a fair bit of money, regardless of what publishing path you choose. But it is a viable option.

And it is also enormously satisfying. Even if your book sales wouldn’t buy a month’s worth of groceries, producing a book that educates or entertains or enlightens people is a gift that can have far-reaching impact. You never know how the power of your words or your creative output can inspire another person.

Rut-Busting Book for Authors is, in a sense, a roadmap—or to use an analogy that fits with the title, a ladder that will help you climb out of whatever rut is keeping you from writing that book you always dreamed of.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: As always, I am knee-deep in marketing, planning events for this book and for the release of the second edition of Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories—new cover and edits to the original stories—as well as for next May’s release of Peripheral Visions and Other Stories.

I also have several novels in various stages that I keep going back to. My next goal is to publish a novel, so I guess I’d better get one of these manuscripts finished!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: That, as hard as it can be, don’t judge yourself or compare yourself against other writers. Someone else will always sell more books than you, get an award that you really thought you’d win, earn bigger royalty checks or become better known than you.

None of that matters.

What matters is that you do your best: you write the best book or article or story or poem or essay that you can, because you are the only person who can write it.

Each person has a unique way of expressing his or her thoughts or ideas. Our responsibility is to use that gift and produce something that will, like a pebble thrown into a pond, send ripples far and away. We may never know what the result is, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, or that lives weren’t touched by what we wrote and shared.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Nancy Christie.

Oct. 20

Oct. 20, 1940: Robert Pinsky born.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Q&A with Zoe Fishman

Zoe Fishman is the author of the new novel Invisible As Air. Her other books include Saving Ruth and Inheriting Edith, and her work has appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She teaches at Emory Continuing Education and the Decatur Writers Studio, and she lives in Decatur, Georgia.

Q: Why did you decide to write about a character who's addicted to opioids in your new novel?

A: That was actually the starting point of the novel. I was and continue to be very interested in the way this epidemic has ripped through the country, destroying so many people's lives, and almost always beginning with a doctor's prescription.

Oxycodone knows so class or gender or economic strata, and I wanted to write about an unlikely, rather invisible victim: an upper-middle-class working mom who knows better but still can't help herself.

Q: You write, "So although Sylvie and the Snow family's situation is different than mine, it's my hope that by writing myself through grief, I was at least somehow able to write them authentically through it too." How did your own experience with grief inform your writing of the novel?

A: It made me much more empathic to everyone's individual grief path. Everyone handles grief differently depending on their personal histories and personalities, and all paths should be given space.

The novel also allowed me to call out the people that let me down when my husband died, the supposed friends who didn't so much as send a two-line email acknowledging my loss. When Sylvie lashes out at the PTA meeting, that's something I longed to do and still do actually.

But I'm very lucky, I wasn't let down by many - I have a wonderful community, friends and family that continue to keep me and my sons afloat. 

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

A: When you love someone, and especially if that someone happens to be a complicated person and the love a complicated love, I think a lot of times you see what you want to see. It's too much, too exhausting to dig any further beneath the surface than you already have for a variety of reasons, but mostly because to voice concern usually means a fight and heavy denial.

Sylvie's addiction is invisible to her family because they want to believe that the changes in her demeanor are organic, and also because confronting her about the alternative would require energy that they just can't summon. 

Q: You write from Sylvie's perspective, but also from the perspectives of her husband and son. Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character at a time?

A: I wrote the book is the order it appears. I'm what they call a "plotter" - I always have a thorough synopsis and outline before I begin writing.

Inevitably it changes as the characters come alive, a type of magic that I'm very grateful for because that means that they're becoming their own people outside of my very structured plan. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My next novel is about a widower in his 80s, Abe, and a woman in her 20s, Nora, who meet at a shiva in New York City and become unlikely friends. Obviously there's a lot more to the plot than that, but that was the initial idea.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: A lot of folks have asked me about my thoughts on grief, as someone who is grieving themselves and is writing about it in Invisible As Air.

If I could offer one piece of advice to the friends and loved ones of those that are grieving, it's this: don't pretend it hasn't happened. You're not helping by ignoring. Ask them how they're doing in the wake of these painful deaths. Say the names of those that have died. In this small but very impactful way, they live on.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Annie Sullivan

Annie Sullivan is the author of the new young adult novel Tiger Queen, based on the classic story "The Lady, or the Tiger?". She also has written the YA novel A Touch of Gold. She teaches at the Indiana Writers Center, and she works at the John Wiley and Sons, Inc., publishing company.

Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on the story "The Lady, or the Tiger?", and what inspired your character Kateri?

A: I knew I wanted to write a retelling after reading the short story in grade school. The story has a cliffhanger ending that always bothered me, so I gave it the ending it always should have had. I also wanted a strong female protagonist who could hold her own in a fight, so I created Kateri to be a strong character capable of leading. 

Q: How did you come up with the world you create in the novel?

A: I actually based the desert setting on the time I spent in Antarctica. I took the endless white landscapes and replaced those with sand. I took the blowing snow and used that as inspiration for blowing sand. I also did a lot of research into desert creatures, which I then used to alter creatures to make the landscape even more dangerous. 

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

A: I always knew how it would end because I'd been thinking about it since I read the story in grade school. I had a very specific vision in mind, and I'm very happy with how it turned out. 

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

A: I really want readers to enter into this fantasy land and come back to reality a little stronger, believing in themselves more. I want them to see a strong female character and envision that if she can conquer the obstacles thrown in her way, then so can each they. It’s all about building them up while entertaining them at the same time. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working on the sequel to A Touch of Gold, called A Curse of Gold. It's full of even more action, adventure, and Greek mythology. I can't wait for readers to see what happens to Princess Kora as she deals with her golden curse. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I love interacting with readers, so they can find me here: Instagram, Twitter, website, Facebook.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Alan Katz

Alan Katz is the author of the new books Awesome Achievers in Science and Awesome Achievers in Technology, the first two in a new series. His many other books for kids include Take Me Out of the Bathtub and The Day the Mustache Took Over. He lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for the Awesome Achievers series?

A: I have twin boys, and one has always been a devoted reader of biographies, while the other remains partial to humor books. I once said to them, “There’s no book you can both read.”

It was then that I decided to do a series that would provide inspiring real-life stories as well as some giggle-causing content. The humor doesn’t in any way make fun of the achievers; rather, it entertainingly reflects on how their discoveries have impacted my life and the lives of my family members.

By the way, the Awesome Achievers books are my first nonfiction titles, and it was a joy writing them. I crave information! (In fact, I read so much that I was once a Phone-a-Friend on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.)

Q: How did you select the achievers to include in the books?

A: Once we decided to do Technology and Science as the first two books in the series, I researched achievers who’ve given the world innovations or accomplishments that would resonate with young readers.

Given that kids use Velcro, seat belts, the remote control, and other such devices I’ve profiled in the books, I thought it would be good for them to understand how those innovations were born. So far, readers are loving the inspiring stories of discovery about items that they use daily.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from the books?

A: Many of the stories in the book are tales of courage and fortitude. Others tell of ingenuity and ground-breaking thinking. It’s my hope that young readers will embrace the sense that anything is possible, and that hard work pays off. (I also hope they’ll laugh a whole lot.)

Q: What do you think Chris Judge's illustrations add to the series?

A: I am in awe of the work Chris Judge has contributed to the books. He is an extraordinary illustrator, and his creativity helps underscore both the real-life stories and the fun. (I also like the way he’s included my image – especially in the section about Dr. Henry Heimlich!)

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The wonderful people at Running Press and I are finishing up a new book of short stories. I hope young people will find them ridiculously funny; the book is going to be called Really Stupid Stories for Really Smart Kids.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Three things: I really, really like the New York Mets. I very much enjoy cantaloupe. And I love talking about books—it’s the reason I visit more than 50 schools a year.

If kids, parents, teachers, or librarians want to share their thoughts on Awesome Achievers, I invite them to reach out to me at Thank you!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 19

Oct. 19, 1931: John le Carré born.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Q&A with Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfeld is the author of the new novel The Butterfly Girl. Her other books include The Child Finder, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. She is a licensed investigator, and she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Q: Why did you decide to write another novel featuring your character Naomi?

A: When I finished The Child Finder I knew I wanted to hear more from Naomi. The story didn’t feel finished.

I really enjoy Naomi—she’s real, complicated, and I think a sympathetic character. I wanted to find out what happened with her. I was glad to hear from so many readers that they felt the same. It’s not every day as a writer you find a character that feels like they could carry more than one book.

Q: You've said, "Celia's voice could very well be my own." How did your experiences inform your creation of this character?

A: When I was a kid I was on the streets. I came from a background of severe trauma, and in many ways the streets felt safer than my home.

At the time it was the early 1980s and the serial killer the Green River killer was active in the area. I faced a lot of dangers, experienced a great deal of violence.

And yet there was also hope. I used to tell myself “at least on the streets I can run away.” I made lifelong friends among the other street kids. And the public library served as my sanctuary. It was there I discovered the healing power of books.

Q: Why did you choose butterflies as one of the themes of the novel?

A: That’s a great question! It just came to me. It felt natural for Celia, the street girl. She needs to believe in something more powerful than herself, and the butterflies represent so much. It is the power of transformation.

Q: The novel is set in Portland, Oregon. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: Setting is very important. I think of setting as another character. Just like there are characters that might seem exciting to another person but not to you, the same is true of setting.

Oregon excites me. I grew up here and know many rich nooks and crannies: the ancient forests, the rugged coastline, the small towns, the terrible poverty, the prisons and the cities, and the history. I like being able to show the Oregon I know, and the amazing people who live here.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I tend to be private about works in process. There’s a secret sense of magic, where I hold the muse close.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Just how much I appreciate being here! There is such a lovely, close circle between writers and readers—I think we are all part of the same beautiful loop of story. Thank you for having me on!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rene Denfeld.