Saturday, June 3, 2023

Q&A with Liz Kitchens




Liz Kitchens is the author of the new book Be Brave. Lose the Beige: Finding Your Sass After Sixty. She is the founder of the Be Brave, Lose the Beige blog. 


Q: What inspired you to write Be Brave. Lose the Beige!?


A: Two factors really were responsible for the inspiration.


The first intention was to help people find meaning in the second half of their lives. This is the time in our lives to find meaning and purpose. What are we meant to do now that we aren’t just focused on earning a living and raising children?


We often get mired in the second half by worrying about growing old and contending with formerly functioning body parts. We are bound to experience negative things, but most of the damage done is not by the event itself but our reactions to it. The ancient philosophers advised us to “do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”


The second inspiration was my blog, Be Brave. Lose the Beige ( I began writing the blog when I was 56 about issues facing Lady Boomers, women of the Baby Boomer generation. Topics ranged from empty nest syndrome, boomerang kids, caregiving for multiple generations, and increasingly, health and aging issues.


I wanted women to realize they weren’t alone in experiencing these struggles. Creativity and creative thinking is at the heart of the book. I believe creativity and creative thinking are critical for navigating what’s next for Lady Boomers.


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


A: My book title evolved from my blogsite, Be Brave. Lose the Beige. As the title might suggest, I’m pretty crazy about color (all colors, the more the better). I use color, however, in my book and blog as a metaphor for accessing complicated feelings about aging issues.

I even anthropomorphize color in the book. Beige has been set up in a life contest with Magenta.  Magenta lightly teases, even taunts Beige for its reluctance to break with conventional norms and “rules” related to aging.


It takes bravery to contend with formerly functioning body parts and figure out our financial futures since we may be facing our “Golden Years” without the gold. (I prefer “Magenta years” instead of golden ones. This designation implies we have a measure of control over our attitudes, goals, and priorities as we age.)


Q: How would you define “Lady Boomers,” and how do you see this group as compared with previous or subsequent generations of women?


A: Lady Boomers as I call us (since I most assuredly fit in this age demographic) are members of the Baby Boomer generation. I have dubbed this generation the “Tweener Generation.”  We are the slice of baloney sandwiched between two demanding generations—our mothers and our children.


The two sides of this generational sandwich— actualizing our moms’ deferred and delayed dreams and fulfilling our own motherly roles—laid the groundwork for postponing ourselves and depleted much of our sass and color.


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


A: Lady Boomers suffer from approval addiction, so the question is, did society and our parents subtly and not so subtly encourage us to adopt these roles? Or is it in our DNA to be sensitive and caring? Either way, it is incumbent upon us to get braver and set boundaries to protect ourselves and stop postponing our own lives.


The book is filled with formulas, prescriptions, exercises, and even a BBLB Manual of 35 Maxims for living a rich and meaningful second half of life. I’m hoping readers will be open and try a couple. I think the responses will reward their efforts.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have been busy lately writing guest articles for online sites and magazines that have expressed interested in my book. By request, I’ve been focusing on the impact of creativity on the aging process. (I’ve also enjoyed responding to written interview questions by reviewers like you.) I conduct Exercise Your Creativity workshops for older women.


I’m also keeping up with my blog posts which I love to write. And I’ve been chewing on the idea for a second book.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Nathan Leslie




Nathan Leslie is the author of the new story collection A Fly in the Ointment. His other books include the story collection Hurry Up and Relax. He lives in Northern Virginia.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?


A: A number of years. I lost track, really. Maybe five, at least. I viewed these stories as the companion stories to my 2019 collection, Hurry Up and Relax—as though these were/are a “double album” of stories, so to speak.


Where Hurry Up and Relax is primarily satirical, these stories are more serious in tone and nature. My students might call them “depressing.” I found myself gravitating towards issues of the body, of ethics, of characters in turmoil of one kind or another.


Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The title signifies that there is something amiss. Where ointment should be healing—in this story there is a sticking point. The fly is the annoying buzz of a pressing problem.


Q: How did you choose the order in which the stories would appear in the book?


A: Good question—I'm not sure exactly. I go on gut and intuition and try to find linkages and segues. I hope I got it right. Maybe the reader would like the stories arranged in a different way.


Q: The back cover of the book says, "A Fly in the Ointment catalogues a portrait of 21st century America in steady decline." Can you say more about how that theme runs through the collection?


A: I can't say too much on this question as I don't want to come across as didactic. However, it is obvious to me that the America of 2023 is troubled in ways that we never even could have thought about in the ‘80s, when I grew up.


These troubles are less external and more internal—ethical, psychological, and material. With this in mind, I tried to be as comprehensive as I could.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: As always, I am working on a number of new projects. Some flash fiction, a new novel, a music blog. Revising some stories I wrote during the pandemic. I keep myself occupied.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I believe the short story is the most powerful and perfect fictional genre—far more so than the flashier novel. Let's give the short story a fair shake. By writing short stories, over and over I attempt to do just that. Here they are—read them and you can decide.  


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kris Spisak




Kris Spisak is the author of the new novel The Baba Yaga Mask. Her other books include The Novel Editing Workshop


Q: What inspired you to write The Baba Yaga Mask, and how did you create your characters Larissa and Ira?


A: For as long as I can remember, I sought out the Ukrainian history stories I heard around my grandparents’ dinner table. Yet they never showed themselves beyond the homes of family and friends.


Until recent events, the strength of Ukrainian pride, as well as its folk art, folk dance, and folktale traditions, were not something that the world really knew. So what was a writer to do but to write it herself?


Concerning Larissa and Ira, something that I’ve always emphatically believed is that no matter what messages come from the media and mouths around us, women can be strong in countless ways.


Larissa and Ira are sisters, yet they are often opposites who clash. They don’t always see each other’s strengths for what they are. They don’t always see their own possibilities amid their hectic lives.


Yet, together with their grandmother, Vira, I wanted them to demonstrate this profound truth. Meticulously organized moms can be powerhouses; women who follow nothing but their gut can have the brave answers others don’t see; women who disregard the roles they are supposed to play can be world-changers.


There is no one definition of a strong woman. There are many. It’s an idea for us all to respect and remember.


Twist my Ukrainian heritage with this concept of women’s strength and The Baba Yaga Mask was born.

Q: On your website, you write, “When I signed my publishing deal, I never imagined that my dual-timeline story, with chapters shifting between the present day and 1941 Ukraine (just outside of Lviv) would be so timely.” Can you say more about how your novel connects to Ukraine's situation today?


A: Just over 80 years ago, Ukraine faced a different invasion by foreign forces that challenged its existence, its history, and its cultural truth. Brothers, fathers, and husband went to fight. Sisters, mothers, and wives had to choose how they would enable their families to survive. These words could have been written about World War II, or they could have been written about 2022.


When my publisher first showed me the book cover design for The Baba Yaga Mask, I thought the colors of the Ukrainian flag would be my special secret—something the world may not see but that I would hold dear.


But now the world knows the colors of the Ukrainian flag. They know where Ukraine is on a map. And do I have a story for you to expand your knowledge of the past and the present dramatically.


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


A: Baba Yaga is an Eastern European folktale witch that has always fascinated me because she can be a terror or a wish-granter, depending on the story and depending on what she feels the hero or heroine deserves. She’s a force that has no problem tearing the world apart if that’s what is needed to make it a better place.


When I thought of my character Vira, who my readers see as a teen in 1941 Ukraine and as a grandmother (baba) in the present-day, I adored this concept of a woman who loved the folktales of her childhood and embraced the idea that being absolutely terror is sometimes what the world needs.


The moment this idea struck, I knew Vira inside and out, as a girl and as an old woman. And as she hides behind this mask, a literal mask as well as a figurative one, my plot—and my book title—came to life.


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


A: I dove into library databases and worked with academics across the United States and Europe, because while my story is fiction, historical and cultural truths are important. Different Ukrainian regions and different Ukrainian families may have different experiences, but I needed to understand as much as possible to honor my goals.


I had known about the murders and targeting of the Ukrainian intelligencia—the educated, the artists, and the community leadership, among many others—yet I didn’t realize the depth of the Ukrainian underground movement during World War II. I didn’t know of how Lviv was a center for this movement or how the Lonsky prison there once held political prisoners.


The whispers and remembrances of so many tales I had been told as a child began to come together as I examined the historical record and the greater world story.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have two answers to that question—one fiction and one nonfiction—but since the nonfiction has a publication date set, I’ll speak to that one here.


I wasn’t done with the folktale witch Baba Yaga, and apparently she wasn’t done with me. I’ve been surprised how many people hadn’t heard of this fascinating and complex Eastern European character, especially as she seems to pop up in modern culture frequently, from comics to movies to video games to books and more.


Beyond her fascinating tales, the present day can learn so much from her history, her naturalism, her feminism, and her questionable morality. Modern life sometimes feels torn between hope and horror. What better time to discuss Baba Yaga?


Becoming Baba Yaga: The Eastern European Witch Colliding with Modernity is coming from Red Wheel / Weiser Books in the fall of 2024. I’m thrilled to further introduce this old witch to the world.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Everything I have published, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, centers on the idea that well-written words and well-told stories can change the world. Maybe it’s a tale from your family’s past; maybe it’s an old story that’s always been a favorite; maybe it’s an email you want to write to your boss pitching something important to you.


My first three books, Get a Grip on Your Grammar, The Novel Editing Workbook, and The Family Story Workbook, all speak to the power of communications and storytelling—empowering the reader in their own writing, whether a professional communication, that book they’ve always wanted to write, or that family story they always wanted to preserve.


The Baba Yaga Mask turns to fiction, yet its drive comes from the same place. And I have many more books planned in a similar vein, more book club fiction, more nonfiction, more language and storytelling secrets to share via Instagram and my “On Words and Onwards” newsletter, and we’ll see what else comes next.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Anthony Mancini




Anthony Mancini is the author of the new novel Ashes. He is a former journalist and the founder of the journalism writing program at Brooklyn College.


Q: What inspired you to write Ashes, and how did you create your character Father Anton Weiss?


A: At the risk of sounding coy I'll start by saying that I have always resisted close analysis of the wellsprings of my inspirations, fearing that it would kill the process in utero by making mystery banal. Maybe that's just my Italian blood bubbling to invent talismans against the Evil Eye.


But I guess the headlines about Catholic priests abusing minors got me wondering how a God-fearing priest (not the mountebanks who pretend to have faith) who has such proclivities would struggle in the battle between belief and concupiscence. I opened the door to my well-worn imagination and there stood Father Anton Weiss.


Q: The writer Paul Moses called the book “a soul-stirring story of sin and redemption, of temptations of the flesh and self-recrimination..." What do you think of that description?


A: Perfect. It's gratifying to know that such an insightful consumer of words and ideas as Paul Moses bought what I was selling. And if I stirred his worthy soul I already earned a royalty for the book because at this stage in my life and career, stirring souls is the name of the game.

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


A: I learned early in my career as a novelist that writing fiction is a journey -- nay, better still, a pilgrimage -- and one can't get there without knowing the destination.


However, it is also a fool's errand to think so. Having a map is useful but you're going to have to tear it up along the way. If you're lucky and if you're open to unleashing your authorial superego your characters and events will dictate the outcomes. When you let go of the puppeteer's strings real magic happens.


So, to answer the question, yes, I had a sketchy idea of the ending but I tried not to let it overrule serendipity.


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


A: It was obvious and it came to me in a flash. The best titles work on at least two levels: the material and the symbolic. And the interplay between the two.


The material ashes are scattered over the story by the Fire God Etna, which in many ways drive the plot. The symbolic ones represent the regrets that shadow the protagonist and the demise prefigured in the Book of Common Prayer.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am now busy taking care of my beloved beautiful wife Maria Ines Cellario who is very ill, and I am waiting for lightning to strike again in the form of another story idea. They usually come without warning.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I anticipate that Ashes might stir controversy as it deals with a highly sensitive subject.


I'd like to forewarn prospective readers, should I be fortunate enough to attract some, not to mistake the story for an exegesis and not to conflate the views of my characters or the resolution of the plot with any dogmas held by the writer. Ashes conveys no answers about pederasty or man-boy love. It is simply a story about a good man struggling with his conscience and wondering if he has lived a worthwhile life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kenneth Foard McCallion




Kenneth Foard McCallion is the author of the new book The Marseille Connection. His other books include Saving the World One Case at a Time. He is a civil litigator and an adjunct professor at Cardozo Law School in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write The Marseille Connection, and how did you first learn about Patricia Richardson?


A: As a young federal prosecutor during the 1970s and 1980s, I played a minor role in the federal government’s “War on Drugs,” originally launched by the Nixon administration and continued by both Republican and Democratic administrations.


Over the span of a decade, billions of dollars in taxpayers’ money were spent on increased law enforcement manpower, sophisticated equipment, as well as payments to a vast network of undercover informants and operatives.


However, virtually all of the federal government’s efforts in its “War On Drugs” were focused on stopping the flow of narcotics from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, with little or no effort to halt the flow of pure white heroin being refined in Marseille, France, and distributed throughout North America and globally by the French-Corsican organized crime group known as the Unione Corse.

An investigation by NYPD detectives arrested some low-level French narcotics traffickers who were attempting to bring a large shipment of narcotics into the U.S., but none of the higher–ups in the French–Corsican organization that supplied the heroin through the established Marseille channels were ever prosecuted or even publicly identified.


Many years later I started doing research for a book on the history of U.S. narcotics enforcement, which led me back to the question of why the Unione Corse seemed to have been given a “free pass” by U.S. and French law enforcement agencies supposedly engaged in an international War on Drugs.


It took me several years of research to find the answer, which is that the U.S. and the French government had entered into a “hands–off” agreement in 1947 with the French–Corsican organized crime syndicate based in Marseille in return for the Unione Corse’s assistance in breaking the labor strike in Marseille.


Over several years of research, I realized I had enough content to write The Marseille Connection, which also delves into the life of Patricia Richardson, who was a top-ranking member of Unione Corse. Among other things, Patricia was the subject of a 1975 article by The New York Times entitled The Model, the Drug Ring And the Big Evidence Hunt. Her life and rise to power within Unione Corse make for a fascinating (and factual) tale.


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


A: To conduct research for the book I first looked to public records related to congressional and state legislative investigations of the Unione Corse and its narcotics trafficking operations in the U.S.


Though these investigations had largely fizzled out, there was the one New York Times article from 1975 and I attempted to build off of the research done for that piece, which had reported that “a swarm of local, state, federal and international police agencies, along with a United States Senator and an Albany committee, have been racing each other for more than two months in pursuit of a spurned husband’s bizarre tale of an international drug ring.”


The Times article elaborated: “Spurred by post-Watergate fears of a cover–up and tantalized by an unlikely cast of characters that includes European millionaires, Caribbean jet-setters, the Nixon White House and a gorgeous model, the investigators are about to hold unusual public hearings into the affair....”


Incredibly, the New York State Senate archives and other public sources in Albany and New York did not have copies of the hearing records or the final report. Nor could these records be found among Senator Buckley’s records or anywhere else where we searched.


It soon became clear that this was not a case of inadvertence or mistake. Extensive public records like this do not just disappear. Clearly, someone or something did not want these records to be publicly available, so they had been “disappeared” or “deep sixed,” to use the parlance popular at the time of the Watergate investigation.

The National Archive records relating to Paul-Louis Weiller, Richardson, and other critical players in this drama had also gone missing, although some of the filing cards on Weiller and others had been overlooked and were still available.


Not to be deterred, I and a few intrepid researchers assisting me gained access to previously unavailable diaries, records, and witnesses and were able to piece together the “back story” of the leadership of the Unione Corse and its tangled web of crime with President Nixon smack dab in the middle.


Q: How would you describe Richard Nixon's connections to the narcotics organization?


A: Two of the kingpins in the Unione Corse organization – Paul-Louis Weiller and Patricia Richardson – provided Richard Nixon with $2 million in much-needed cash to win the 1968 presidential election by a razor-thin margin. The book also uncovers conclusive evidence that Unione Corse, through its leadership and affiliated ex-Nazis and fascists, gained unrestricted access to the Nixon White House and the entire federal administration.


And finally, it was the Nixon team’s unholy alliance with the French-Corsican mob and their unsavory cohorts that was the major precipitating factor in Nixon’s decision to authorize the Watergate break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices, which Nixon had been led to believe held documents linking him to cash payoffs from the Unione Corse, Howard Hughes, and others.


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


A: I hope the information revealed in this book will give readers a new perspective into a tumultuous and transformative time in U.S. history and help them to better understand some of the policies from the beginning of the “War on Drugs” era. Like me, I imagine many readers will be absolutely stunned to find out just how politically motivated and corrupt the Nixon presidency really was.


Additionally, I hope readers will enjoy the fascinating story of Patricia Richardson, the beautiful woman who rose through Unione Corse to become one of its top-ranking members. Her dramatic story truly is one for the history books.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on another historical thriller about the untold back story that led us to the Watergate break-in and fall of Richard Nixon. I am also working with a potential screenwriter and producer who have seen the ARC for The Marseille Connection and think that there is a movie there, or an historical docudrama. All very exciting.


I am also working on a book called Legal 911, which is about some of the more interesting cases that I work on for the New York City Bar Association Legal Referral Service, where I (and some other attorneys) filed dozens of calls each day that come in on a legal hotline with a wide range of urgent legal issues.


It would be something like the legal equivalent of the New Amsterdam cable series, except that instead of a hospital emergency setting, we would be in a legal emergency center, fielding phone calls and then if necessary, quickly preparing emergency motion papers to be filed with the courts on an expedited and emergency basis.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can view an excerpt from The Marseille Connection for free on my website at and the book is available for preorder through Amazon.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 3




June 3, 1926: Allen Ginsberg born.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Q&A with Byron Lane




Byron Lane is the author of the new novel Big Gay Wedding. He also has written the novel A Star is Bored, and he's a playwright, screenwriter, and journalist. He lives in Palm Springs, California.


Q: What inspired you to write Big Gay Wedding, and how did you create your character Barnett Durang?


A: I had a “little gay wedding” with my now husband, author Steven Rowley. It was in the thick of Covid in April of 2021, so we couldn’t really have a big wedding. And we were ready! So, we had a small ceremony with only us and one of our best friends as an officiant in our hometown of Palm Springs.


When it came time to write my second novel, the wedding was on my mind and I wondered “What could have been?” I grew up in a rural part of Louisiana and imagined having a big gay wedding there. And 300 pages later, the book was a real thing!


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Barnett and his mother?


A: Barnett and his mother, Chrissy, love each other very much. Barnett had a beautiful, idyllic childhood—until he came out. And then later, his father died. These events affected both Barnett and Chrissy. They share in the trauma of those events, which acts as both a push and pull—magnets attracting each other and also pushing each other away.


The “gay thing” is at the center. Barnett isn’t brave enough to push it. Chrissy isn’t open-minded enough to understand it. And like many things in life, something happens that forces us to confront the unsaid. In Big Gay Wedding, that’s Barnett’s engagement.


Q: The writer Bobby Finger said of the book, “Reading Byron Lane’s warm and hysterical new novel made me feel like I hit the wedding guest jackpot and got seated at the very best table, surrounded by gloriously weird and funny guests I’ll remember long after the grooms have been waved off.” What do you think of that description?


A: First of all, what an honor and a thrill that Bobby Finger would read my work. I’m a big fan of his.


Having my work called “warm and hysterical” feels right on brand for me. I try to craft stories that are both funny and heartwarming, mixing serious with absurd. Having a sense of humor about life has served me well and helped keep my mental health in check. Life is so much more interesting if we can laugh at our mistakes… and our triumphs.


Q: The novel is set in a small town in Louisiana--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: The Louisiana angle was helpful because I grew up there. All of the locations and characters are crafted from people I’ve known or met or heard about or saw on the news or had as a server in a restaurant. My hope is that having that perspective helps bring the characters to life in a way that’s interesting and authentic.


I have many happy memories from growing up in Louisiana, but also some hard ones. It was tough being gay in the South. I’m so grateful things have changed, at least a little bit. And I enjoy the rich history of New Orleans whenever I go home to visit.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m kicking around ideas for book number 3! And in the meantime, I’m working on developing Big Gay Wedding into a film. I’m also developing my first novel, A Star Is Bored, for television. Please cross all your fingers and toes for me! 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m really grateful to share this story! Hope you enjoy!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb