Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Q&A with Walter Laqueur

Walter Laqueur, photo by Joanna Helander
Walter Laqueur is the author of the new book Putinism: Russia and its Future with the West. His many other books include A History of Zionism and The Last Days of Europe. He served as director of the Institute of Contemporary History in London and chairman of the International Research Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington for 30 years.

Q: You write, "Putinism resembles more the kind of dictatorship that was (or is) in power in less developed countries--mainly in the Middle East and Latin America." What defines Putinism?

A: The use of religion. But on the other hand, it is not clear whether that many Russians are in fact practising orthodox Christians. Church attendance is not high; crime is high.

Q: In the book, you note, "The roots of Russian messianism, the belief in a special mission from God, go deep." Where did that belief originate?

A: Messianism goes back to the Middle Ages, [to] the belief that ancient Rome collapsed, [and] so did its successor, Byzantium.  Moscow will be the third Rome--and there will be no Rome thereafter.  [There is] also the present belief that Russia can exist only as a great power, otherwise it will go under.

Q: How do you see Putin as compared with Russian leaders of the past?

A: Russians in their history always wanted strong leaders. Otherwise there will be chaos, [which is] no good. Given the belief in a Russian world historical mission, there is bound to be conflict. [There is] also the belief in conspiracies against Russia, which goes back a long time.

[As the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev wrote in 1892]:
“Let us imagine a person healthy in body and strong, talented and not unkind—for such is quite justly the general view of the Russian people. We know that this person or people are now in a very sorry state. If we want to help him, we have first to understand what is wrong with him. Thus we learn that he is not really mad, his mind is merely afflicted to a considerable extent by false ideas approaching folie de grandeur and a hostility toward everyone and everything. Indifferent to his real advantage, indifferent to damage likely to be caused, he imagines dangers that do not exist and builds upon this the most absurd propositions. It seems to him that all his neighbors offend him, that they insufficiently bow to his grandness, and in every way want to harm him. He accuses everyone in his family of damaging and deserting him, of crossing over to the enemy camp. He imagines that his neighbors want to undermine his house and even to launch an armed attack. Therefore he will spend enormous sums on the purchase of guns, revolvers, and iron locks. If he has any time left, he will turn against his family.

We shall not, of course, give him money, even if we are eager to help him, but will try to persuade him that his ideas are wrong and unjustified. If he still will not be convinced and if he perseveres in his mania, neither money nor drugs will help.”

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Terry E. Hill

Terry E. Hill is the author most recently of the novel Come Sunday Morning Saga, which focuses on the pastor of a church in Los Angeles and his wife. Hill has worked on social services issues, including homelessness, for many years. He lives in Oakland, California.

Q: How did you come up with your main character, Samantha Cleaveland?

A: Samantha is actually a composite of real people. I was raised in the black church, and it’s a kind of composite of a lot of pastors’ wives. She most resembles the pastor’s wife of the church I attended as a child.

Q: Was it a megachurch like the church you describe in the book?

A: It was a megachurch. Then, they weren’t called megachurches, but by definition it would be called one. It was very large, but had a small-church feeling to it. The pastors knew the congregants’ names. He was such a dynamic person that it kept growing and growing. There were 10-15,000 members.

Q: The story takes place in Los Angeles. Could it have taken place elsewhere, or is it an only-in-L.A. story?

A: It really is an intuitive question, because when I first wrote it, the story took place in San Francisco. I live in the Bay Area now, in Oakland, and as I was writing, I felt that I wasn’t able to capture the city and develop it as an independent character because I didn’t know it all that well.

I knew Los Angeles; I was born and raised there. I felt much more comfortable describing its ambience and feel.

It’s more personality- than story-driven. The characters drive the story, but I love context, and creating context.

Q: Did you know how the book would end, or did you make many changes as you went along?

A: I knew how it was going to end. My process in writing—I have a fear of going off on odd tangents. Before I write the first sentence, I have laid out the entire book.

As you’re writing, characters tell you their story. I’m flexible because I want to be true to the characters while sticking to the outline so the story flows. I do a little bit of both.

Q: Is this book a revision of an earlier book that’s the first in a trilogy?

A: It’s part of the original trilogy. The publishers made a unique decision. The saga was in three parts, Come Sunday Morning, When Sunday Comes Again, and The Last Sunday. The three books have already been released. They did really well. The publisher decided to consolidate the first two [into this new book] and release that. It’s an interesting move.

I think part of the reason is that a fourth book, coming out in December, brings back three of the main characters of the trilogy. There’s a connection.

Q: Will they also re-release the third book of the trilogy?

A: I’m not sure about the release date.

Q: Is the fourth book a sequel, then, or more separate?

A: The fourth book is a stand-alone. They’re all technically stand-alones. The fourth book has a whole new main character, a new villain. I used to work in politics in San Francisco, and I set this one in the political arena. I think it’s the best one I’ve written so far!

Q: Which authors have influenced you?

A: I’m a big follower of the mystery genre. I love a good mystery. I wish I could write a good mystery, but it’s a whole different skill set. 

I really love Agatha Christie. Most of her books—she’s so formulaic, but from book to book they’re so entertaining, so precise and clean. She doesn’t trick the reader. She gives the opportunity to the reader to deduce. You have the information required to solve this crime. That’s a definite skill. A shortcut is to introduce a new character in the last chapter.

[I also like] P.D. James, Conan Doyle, the classics.

Then, I’m a big fan of E. Lynn Harris. He’s so ground-breaking—not the best writer out there, but he was tackling topics that were not addressed before him. Terry McMillan—she’s a fabulous writer…

Q: One of the issues you deal with in the book is homelessness. How did your own work on issues relating to homelessness affect your decision to include that topic in the book?

A: I was the director of homeless services in San Francisco for two to three years. I spent my entire career working on that issue. I’m still very passionate about it. This gave me the opportunity to present the issue as a backdrop.

Q: You said the fourth book is coming out soon--what are you working on now?

A: The fourth book is the first book of another trilogy, so that’s three books. I’m still typing up the book that’s scheduled for release in December. I had started the second book, and my editor came back to me with some rewrites.

The title is The Committee. It’s about the first African American female mayor of Los Angeles. It takes place in the current day. She is identified by…a powerful group of men and women who run the country and have run it since the 1700s. They have picked her to be the first female African American president of the United States. In the final book she becomes president. It’s full of intrigue.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: They’re a fun read….The characters are fictional, though some are based on real people.

They’re for entertainment primarily, but there is a larger underlying message for me—the issue of homophobia, and the hypocrisy in the black church around that topic. It angers me, what I’ve witnessed in the black church. I hope the book will get people thinking and challenging their own views on the topic.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 30

June 30, 1911: Czeslaw Milosz born.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Q&A with Thor Hanson

Thor Hanson, photo by Kathleen Ballard Photography
Thor Hanson is the author of the new book The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. He also has written Feathers and The Impenetrable Forest, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Audubon and BBC Wildlife. He lives in Washington state.

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about seeds?

A: I’ve had a longtime interest in seeds from a research standpoint; a good portion of my doctoral dissertation was on seeds. I’ve focused in part on the dispersal and genetics of rainforest trees in Central America.

What struck me was, I still didn’t understand how seeds worked! I got really fascinated from a scientific standpoint. It was on my short list of projects to pursue.

I happen to have a little boy who for his own reasons is fascinated by seeds. It’s very much a topic of conversation!

Q: In the book, you ask, “While everyone from gardeners and farmers to the characters in children’s books trust that seeds will grow, what makes it happen?” How does that process actually work?

A: One of the best analogies I came across was from the researcher Carol Baskin—that a seed is a baby plant in a box with its lunch. It encapsulates what’s going on. The parent plant is putting the baby in a box and giving it something to eat. It’s a very useful and charming analogy.

Q: You write, “The dramatic triumph of seeds poses an obvious question: Why are they so successful?” What did you learn that helps answer that question?

A: It really comes down to five critical traits that evolved in seeds. They invented five things that have given them a tremendous advantage in nature.

The first is giving the baby plant some lunch. Spore plants in most cases have no nutrition. [Then,] because the nutrition is there, they put it in a box and defend it with chemicals [or] thorns.

Third, the seed combines parental DNA through pollination. That’s different from spores. Fourth is dormancy. Seeds lie dormant in the soil, waiting for the right moment to grow. Fifth, they evolved to travel in various ways, [such as] a tuft of cottony stuff on a dandelion seed.

If you take the five things together, the seed plant has a great advantage over a spore plant. Spores do still exist.

Q: What are the percentages?

A: It depends which taxonomist you ask. Ninety to 95 percent of terrestrial plants are seed plants.

Q: Given the technologies involved in genetic modification, what do you see looking ahead for seeds?

A: I think there are two main answers. The first is the future of seeds in the world of genetic modification. This is a situation where the genie is out of the bottle and has joined a long line of technology that we struggle to make peace with—nuclear power, drones. How do we put parameters on the use of technology?

The book is not directly about the GMO debate, but about why seeds are so important. It’s certainly a dynamic time in our relationship with them.

I like to look at seeds from an evolutionary standpoint. Seeds are dominant now, but if we were having this conversation 400 million years ago, we’d be talking about how dominant spore plants are.

A wonderful example [of evolution] is orchids. They’re a seed plant form, one of the largest. There are 25-30,000 species of wild orchids.

They’ve become successful using seeds in an unseedlike [way]. They have lost many of the characteristics that make seeds successful…They have come up with a new strategy that’s very successful and relies on symbiotic relationships with fungi.

In the case of orchids, they require no nutrition for seeds because they’re going to get it from the fungus. They don’t need to invest so much in protecting [the seed]. It’s a very interesting look at the evolution of plants.

Q: What particularly surprised you in the course of your research?

A: The surprising thing, coming at it from a scientific perspective—I knew that the story was really interesting. In some ways I was surprised by the depth of the cultural story, how connected we are to seeds.

We care about them because we eat them, but we get more from them—stimulants in our coffee, gas in our gas tanks…You start looking through this lens and you see seeds everywhere. It’s just pervasive.

Q: Your previous book was about feathers. How did the research process compare?

A: There are some similarities. I’m fascinated by objects like feathers and seeds which transcend imaginary but very significant boundaries we erect between the human and the natural world.

From down feathers in a parka to poppy seeds in a cake, we encounter them, but rarely stop and think. These are real touchstones to the natural world.

That is especially important in the modern era, when we more and more are living an urban lifestyle, yet here it is around us every day!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a project about bees—native bees as well as honey bees. It’s a wonderful biological story…

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 29

June 29, 1900: Antoine de Saint-Exupery born.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Q&A with Nickole Brown

Nickole Brown is the author of the new poetry collection Fanny Says, which tells the story of her late grandmother. She also has written the novel-in-poems Sister and co-edited the anthology Air Fare. She is the editor for the Marie Alexander Series in Prose Poetry at White Pine Press, and is on the faculty of Murray State University's low-residency MFA program.

Q: You deal with some difficult topics in these poems, including racism and domestic violence. How did you separate your roles as writer and granddaughter as you wrote about those themes? 

A: Good question. First of all, I think as a granddaughter, I got caught up in how I felt about these things. As someone who loved Fanny, it was easy to rail against my grandfather and the way he treated her, it was natural to want her to open her mind and quell the racist way she had of talking.

As a writer, however, I required distance; I had to find the kind of wisdom that would let me tell her story with as little judgment as possible. I needed to look at Fanny’s life as a historian might, or perhaps even as an anthropologist, examining her culture with great respect, as if it were not my own.

Of course, my own opinion about things leaked through--sometimes it was necessary to voice my own side of things--but I did have to get out of the way. My first priority was to tell her story, as perhaps she might have told it.

In order to do this, I had to pitch any constraints of political correctness that hindered the way and unlearn the social history she never learned in school. In short, I had to try not to write about her but be her, writing from a place that knew, from her point of view as well as mine.  

Most don the mask of a persona poem in order to voice something within them that perhaps another character can articulate. However, I needed to do something quite different. I needed to step into my grandmother’s persona not to understand something about myself but to truly understand her.

The irony, of course, is that even though we were polar opposites in some ways, eventually, investigating her life and finding a way to tell her story was a way to fully comprehend myself. But isn’t that always the way with family? 

Q: Your collection includes some sections that you transcribed from your grandmother’s own words. How did you decide on the book’s structure?

A: Ordering those poems was a doozy, no doubt. I mean, there’s a way in which the pieces are ordered in a linear fashion, but a straightforward narrative would have been misleading—I certainly didn’t come to understand her life from beginning to end, and I wanted to allow for an experience of her character that welcomed all of the complexities at once....

I begin the book with “For Our Grandmothers”: there is a way in which by telling Fanny’s story I’m hoping to give a nod to so many fierce matriarchs out there who held their families together despite all odds, and there are several bad-ass grannies I’ve known through friends that helped inspire me to this project.

The second poem, “Fuck,” is meant to introduce Fanny (and her mighty peculiar way of talking) in one big wallop. I wanted to try to explain how she used that four-letter explicative as a term of endearment and set the reader up for an investigation of not just her accent but her entire vernacular... 

Q: Words play a big role in the book, and you have various poems that fall under the category of “Fanny Linguistics.” How did you come up with the idea for these particular poems? 

A: I’ve always been fascinated by linguistics, by the way that various regions of the country bring us ways of speaking. To me, each has its own music and tone, and from a very early age, I knew Fanny’s voice—quite literally, my mother tongue, from Western Kentucky—was something not long for this world.

As an undergrad, I studied anthropology and did my ethnographic research by traveling to the Appalachian Mountains to talk to women and record their stories, and as a graduate student at Vermont College, my obsession continued, resulting in a long essay about approaches to dialect and colloquial speech that was eventually published in The Writer’s Chronicle way back in 2003....

Anyhow, the “Linguistics” poems take care to map out this speech by looking at her pronunciations and idioms, even taking a look back to her education and the (mis)spelling of my name. 

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Well, I do hope readers who take time to read this and think of their own grandmothers will send in a photo and profile here

I’m encouraging readers to send in profiles of their grandmothers, especially if they have their own kick-ass matriarchs that fussed and fought their way to some kind of solid ground in this life. The page, which I lovingly call “The Bingo Hall,” is a memory wall, really, a place where these fierce women can be recognized in some small way. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 28

June 28, 1891: Esther Forbes born.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Q&A with Jessica Knoll

Jessica Knoll, photo by Leslie Hassler
Jessica Knoll is the author of the new novel Luckiest Girl Alive. She has worked at Cosmopolitan and Self, and she lives in New York City.

Q: How did you come up with your main character, TifAni?

A: I took a short story writing class at NYU several years ago, when I was just starting out as an editorial assistant at Cosmo. I had been writing in the Cosmo voice for a year and I just wanted the opportunity to flex different kinds of writing muscles, and Hearst (which publishes Cosmo) was willing to pay for the course, so I jumped at the chance.

There, I wrote a short story from the perspective of a girl I went to college with, who had done a terrible, criminal thing. She could never own up to what she did, and the victim never pressed charges, and she carried on as if nothing had happened.

I put myself in her brain—what was she thinking, how did she justify her behavior? I remember the professor praising the voice, saying it was really edgy and unnerving, and it was really Ani’s voice, the very beginnings of it.

Q: The book's title is "Luckiest Girl Alive." What role do you think luck plays in this novel?

A: The title riffs on the commonly used hashtag, #LuckyGirl. A lot of girls use this hashtag on social media when they get engaged, married, or receive flowers from their significant other on Valentine’s Day. Ani, on the surface, is that #LuckyGirl. But you come to find out that it is all a façade—she is anything but the luckiest girl alive.

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

A: I always knew what the last line of the book would be, even before I sat down to write it. I knew where it was going and where it would end, but a lot of what transpired in between were things I worked out in the writing process.

Q: Which authors have inspired you?

A: Gillian Flynn inspired me so much. I remember being a 24-year-old assistant at Cosmo and receiving a galley of her second book, Dark Places.

I went home and read it in one weekend, and then immediately devoured her first novel, Sharp Objects, after that. I had never read novels like hers, and it helped me realized that I wanted to write something with grit as well.

But John Searles, whose most recent book, Help for the Haunted, came out two years ago, was the author who inspired me to put pen to page. I was his assistant at Cosmo, and he recognized my talent and always encouraged me to write on the side. He would gesture at all the books piled up in the books closet, and say if all these people can do it, you can do it too.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I am writing the script for Luckiest Girl Alive. The book has been optioned by Lionsgate with Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea attached to produce. I am having so much fun with the dialogue. We really want her to have this Patrick Bateman quality, but from the female perspective.

And I am nursing an idea for a second book. I wrote 100 pages over the winter, decided I hated it, and threw it all out and started over again. But that happened to me with book one too, so I know it’s just a part of the process!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 27

June 27, 1872: Paul Laurence Dunbar born.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Q&A with Richard Davenport-Hines

Richard Davenport-Hines, photo by Christopher Phipps
Richard Davenport-Hines is the author of the new biography Universal Man: The Lives of John Maynard Keynes. His other books include Auden and Proust at the Majestic. He is an advisor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He lives in London.
Q: You write, "Keynes was the chief intellectual influence on English public life in the twentieth century." How did he become so influential?
A: The rise of this university intellectual to national preeminence was a matter of mental power, flirtatious charm, constructive arrogance, literary eloquence and social influence – what we would now call networking.
As to his mental power, he went to the best school and the most high-powered college in England – and won scholarships, prizes and acclaim at a prodigiously early age. He thought quicker, more decisively and more definitively than anyone else around him.
The force and speed of his intellectual vitality and the relentlessness of his argumentative logic defeated weaker minds. He disliked wasting time with people who were undecided in their ideas.
Keynes’s parents, who in most respects resembled the most supportive, ambitious and sympathetic of 21st century parents, had one odd failing. They thought he was an ugly baby and an ugly child, and instilled in him the same fixed notion…
He compensated for this perceived inadequacy by flirting, by giving people he met a half-caressing attention, giving them frank and intimate looks with his charming, amused eyes….This technique was very effective in England and Europe: it went down less well in Washington, D.C.
Great work is not achieved by ineffectual people who ask, “Is what I do worthwhile?” or “Am I the right person to do it?” It is accomplished by men and women who combine great mental gifts, physical resilience and a willingness to exaggerate a little both the importance of their subject and their own importance in it.
Keynes was never bombastic, but equally he was never ineffectual.  His arrogance was constructive: he felt pretty sure he knew best how to improve the world. But he was also self-critical. He knew that it was a measure of greatness to have second thoughts. No one was braver about publicly changing his mind.
Keynes was a witty, ironical writer and attractive public speaker with a musical, resonant, authoritative voice. His lucidity, his powers of explanation and confidence-building, his bewitching tone, his range of vocabulary and his joy in the English language were often likened to Winston Churchill’s. As a journalist, broadcaster, pamphleteer and author he had a tremendous intellectual reach of influence.
Keynes was a workaholic, who toiled for inordinately long hours on his papers; but he was an inveterate socialiser, whose intellectual influence was spread by his tireless socialising.
It was not just that he was a member of the Bloomsbury Group alongside literary intellectuals including Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. But he was also a dedicated member of select private dining clubs, attended by bankers, international financiers, leading politicians, opinion-formers, editors and fellow academics.
He changed minds, raised new questions, infiltrated new ideas and started people re-thinking in his pyrotechnical conversations at these dining clubs.
Q: What do you think are the most common perceptions and misperceptions about Keynes and his work?
A: There are an amazing number of half-truths circulating about Keynes which are little more than misperceptions. He is seen as a progressive, even a radical figure in economics and social change.
But he was nothing of the sort. Like most of the Bloomsbury Group, he was supremely a nostalgic, who longed for the social privileges, economic stability, mental confidence and jaunty optimism of Edwardian England in the years before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. All his efforts were intended to mend and stabilise the economic system of his prosperous and secure youth.
Keynes changed economic thinking by giving primacy to full employment. He realized that neither 19th century laissez-faire capitalism nor the academic discipline of classical economics were any longer operative after the industrial mobilisation and state intervention of the First World War.
But his admirers and followers turned Keynes turned into an epithet – “Keynesian” – which has identified him with deficit finance….
Q: How did you research this book, and was there anything that particularly surprised you in the course of your research?
A: The time spent in research on a book may give that book substance, but it is not of all-surpassing importance. I’m now in my 60s, and I think everything I do now, including write books, is informed by my experiences of the last 45 years.
My interpretation of people, my analysis of their impulses and motives, my understanding of institutions, and of the way work-colleagues undermine or support one another; my sense of value of money, and of what it can buy; my feelings about what makes people and conduct either admirable or contemptible – all this now comes from 45 years of living, and I think Universal Man is permeated with an understanding of human conflicts, frailties and inspiration that I didn’t have when I was younger.
Keynes’s impatience with people who were dishonest, mindlessly obstinate, complacent, angry and violent – his loathing of bogus patriotism and flag-waving big-mouths – all this struck a lot of chords with me. 
My book is a bit of a manifesto about how to live a good life and how not to waste time. I am very aware that when Keynes was the age that I am now he was about to have his final heart attack.
Most of the research for my book was undertaken in the huge, well-ordered Keynes archive at King’s College, Cambridge. I sat at a desk looking out over a spacious courtyard to King’s College Chapel – work building the chapel started in 1446, took a century to finish, and includes the world’s largest fan vault ceiling and exquisite medieval stained-glass.
The beauty and clarity of the chapel architecture transfixed me. Keynes, who was a member of King’s for over 40 years, will have known this view well.
I love working in archives, away from telephone callers, neighbours’ noise, domestic chores and other miserable responsibilities: it is the highest form of escapism.
Apart from King’s, I consulted archives elsewhere in Britain and the United States – most notably in the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s a joy to find such a well-funded, well-staffed archive, where everyone wants to help; and I love the moment when one leaves the air-conditioned, shady building to go out into the dazzling sunlight and drenching heat of the Texas campus.
Q: In your discussion of Keynes's work during World War II, you write that his "dealings in Washington were bumpy." Why was that?
A: What Keynes liked most about the United States was its energy and optimism. Pessimism was an abomination to Keynes – unlike most of the Bloomsbury Group, who tended to see their country and culture as doomed, broken and inane.
He was also buoyant and unsinkable – even in crises when other people thought the situation was hopeless and that they were helpless….
He was the first person in London to realize that the financial leadership of the Free World had passed from England to the United States, and that the English must curry favour with the Americans….
The last years of Keynes’s working life, from 1941 until 1946, were dominated by Anglo-American financial negotiations over Lend-Lease, and the formation of the World Bank and of the International Monetary Fund.
There was a combination of stupendous cooperation between the two English-speaking powers, and shocking miscomprehension. The decline of the British Empire was hastened by American policies. 
Keynes visited Washington often, knew many officials, never visited Congress and seldom met legislators. He was exasperated by the American reliance on the telephone, by interminable meetings without documentation or recorded minutes, by the habit of oral, unsigned agreements that could be repudiated, and above all by the obtrusive involvement of lawyers…
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have published one big book annually for the last six years – the sort of books that other people take three years to write; and I am just starting to take a break.
I recently finished a book that will be published in February 2016: Edward VII, The Cosmopolitan King. It’s a biography of Queen Victoria’s son, who sat on the English throne from 1901 until 1910.
He was the man who more than anyone else made London one of the great world capitals after 1870; Henry James called him “the arch-vulgarian” because he loved to surround himself with multi-millionaires covered in bling; but like Keynes, he thought of himself as a European, travelled the continent inveterately every year, and understood that world stability, European peace and prosperity, cultural riches all depended on intimate European cooperation – not crude rivalries, racial antagonism, paranoia about borders.
We’re going through a very nasty period in England at the moment, with racist, xenophobic, pig-ignorant people suddenly much too vocal. There is serious consideration of English withdrawal from the European Union with all the economic and strategic disasters that will bring.
My Edward VII is an attempt – among other things – to show that 110 years ago, London was giving leadership to Europe, and understood that unity was far more important than nationalities.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The “destiny of Europe is no longer in the hands of any man,” [Keynes] wrote in 1919…. “In one way only can we influence these hidden currents,” he had continued: “by setting in motion those forces of instruction and imagination which change opinion. The assertion of truth, the unveiling of illusion, the dissipation of hate, the enlargement and instruction of men’s hearts and minds, must be the means.” 
This was the ideal behind the government-funded Committee for the Encouragement of Music & the Arts (CEMA) of which he became head in 1941. Music, drama and paintings were taken to air-raid shelters, hospitals, small halls, factories and mining villages.
Keynes supported factory concerts and touring exhibitions, but he stopped CEMA from financing amateur choirs, for he wanted surpassing excellence, not folksy amiable mediocrity. 
Keynes was a most active chairman, despite other wartime commitments, and persuaded the Treasury to fund the Arts Council of Great Britain, which in the year of his death (1946) had secured a £500,000 grant. This was the start of state funding of the Arts in Britain.
It is little known that Keynes became a pioneer of women’s right to control their own bodies and of gender equality. In 1923, early in his affair with Lydia Lopokova (whom he married in 1925), he became vice-president of Marie Stopes’ Society for Constructive Birth Control. 
--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Q&A with Lauri Taylor

Lauri Taylor is the author of the new memoir The Accidental Truth: What My Mother's Murder Investigation Taught Me About Life. She lives in Orange County, California.

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about your investigation into what happened to your mother? 

A: After nearly four years of leading my mother’s murder investigation, I brought my findings to San Diego Sheriff’s Office to close the case in 2010.

And although I felt a great sense of relief and closure from knowing the truth, accepting the conclusion and accepting that the hunt was over took some time. I wasn’t ready to let the story go. If I let it go, then Mom was really gone.

Later that year, I began working on an outline and a rough table of contents to determine whether there was enough material for a book.

Three things motivated me to write The Accidental Truth. I had a strong desire to preserve the story for my children and our family. And a great hope that what we learned on our journey would heal other families, therefore giving our loss, meaning and purpose.   

Leading the murder investigation and speaking on my mother’s behalf was an empowering experience for me. In speaking up for her, I found my own voice in the process. The Accidental Truth is the ultimate expression of using that voice to speak my truth, and it is my hope that my story will inspire others to speak theirs, as well. 

Q: Your book deals with some very painful years of your life. How difficult was it to write about and relive that time period? 

A: I would be dishonest if I told you that it was anything less than brutal, at times, to write The Accidental Truth. While living through the difficult events of the book, I was protected somewhat by the fog/filters of shock, sorrow and grief. Those filters were absent when I sat down at the keyboard to write.

I was a bit obsessed with documentation and research. I forced myself to examine and re-examine the physical evidence - autopsy photos, lab reports, every email I had received over the years, for accuracy.

Lauri Taylor's mother, Jane Kling, with her dogs.
In developing Mom’s character for readers, I was also forced to evaluate some painful truths about my upbringing and history with my mother.

But in the end, I can honestly say, the process of writing was difficult, but cathartic, because it helped me to clearly understand and define my own takeaway from my story and ultimately my purpose in writing the book. 

Q: Your family members play a big role in the book. What do they think of it? 

A: Initially when I told my sisters that I would like to write a book, there was some hesitation and fear. It was understandable. We had spent nearly four years of grieving our mother’s death, and when the case was finally closed, we were all ready to begin moving forward with our lives.

My decision to write a book meant that the pain we had lived through would not be laid to rest, and our private story would be put out to the public for inspection and scrutiny.

Lauri Taylor with her mother, daughter, and sisters at a Mother's Day brunch.
To complicate matters further, I had never written a book before and everyone, including me, was not wholly confident in my ability to do so.

Thankfully, after my sisters gave the finished manuscript a read, not only were they comfortable with my writing but they, too, believed in the value of sharing our message. That moment was healing for all of us. 

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

A: It is my belief that if we live long enough, we will all experience grief and loss of some kind. These difficult experiences can be positively transformative, though.

I learned that I could not change the truth – the truth simply was what it was. Accepting the truth about my mother’s death, and finding purpose and meaning in my loss was healing for me and for my family.

It is my sincere hope that others will find healing and inspiration in the pages of The Accidental Truth. For me, this is the only reason to share such a deeply personal story. 

Q: What are you working on now? 

Lauri Taylor with her mother and her son, Clark, when he was a baby.
A: Book promotion is a full-time job, but I am working on the outline for my next book, a work of fiction, entitled “Context.” I am also collaborating with my FBI profiler-friend, Candice DeLong, on a project, developing an anti-stigma non-profit and a mental health awareness platform. 

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: My mother and I had not spoken for three months when she died, not because of any particular falling out, but simply because our relationship was complicated. I felt enormous guilt and shame that she had died not knowing how thankful I was for all that she had given me in my lifetime.   

Throughout the four years that I spent leading my mother’s murder investigation, I could feel her presence. I knew that she was with me on the journey and that kept me going even when I felt like giving up the search.

The final chapter of my book is called “Death of a Stray,” which speaks to a meaningful encounter I had with a dog. The title also alludes to my mother who was somewhat of a gypsy, never planting deep roots in any one place, during her life.

It is my belief that my mom had a hand in my run-in with the dog on the street. That experience was a highly spiritual and transformational moment for me and allowed me to let go of my staggering guilt and shame.

Thank you for the opportunity to talk with you about The Accidental Truth!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb