Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Q&A with Jennifer Croll

Jennifer Croll is the author of the new young adult book Bad Girls of Fashion: Style Rebels from Cleopatra to Lady Gaga. She also has written Fashion That Changed the World. She has worked for various magazines, including NYLON and Adbusters, and she lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new book and for the women to include, and are there some things that unite them all?

A: Bad Girls of Fashion was born via conversations I had with my brilliant editor, Paula. We were discussing the idea of a book about rebellious women, and because I used to work at a fashion magazine, the fashion angle seemed natural. 

Choosing who to profile was the most difficult part about writing Bad Girls. I wanted to include a diverse group of women from throughout history who confidently and intelligently used fashion as a tool to get what they wanted.

So when I was considering my subjects, I was looking at what, exactly, they did with clothing. If they just had a couple of kooky outfits, that wasn’t enough.

They had to dress with a purpose in mind; they had to realize the power of fashion as a tool of communication. They had to have made their own choices; they couldn’t have just been following someone else’s lead. They also had to have led interesting lives with enough twists and turns (and costume changes) to make compelling reading. 

Q: You start with Cleopatra. Why did you choose to begin with her, and why has she remained so famous for so many centuries?

A: Well, the book is organized chronologically, and Cleopatra was born more than 2,000 years ago, so she was a shoo-in for the opener.

As you’ve noticed, I think, she makes a great introduction to the subject. She was an extremely powerful woman, partially because she was adept at manipulating public opinion, and she readily used fashion to do that.

As for why she’s still famous, her power and savviness made her an interesting dramatic subject for Shakespeare and later a career-defining role for Elizabeth Taylor. The combined attentions of history’s greatest dramatist and one of the 20th century’s most famous actresses have pretty much cemented her in the public imagination. 

Q: Marie Antoinette is the focus of your second chapter. What are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about her?

A: The most common misconception is that she said, “Let them eat cake!” The line came out of the autobiography of the French philosopher Rousseau, who attributes the line to a “great princess”; people assumed he meant Marie Antoinette, but she was only 9 years old at the time, not even living in France.

People thought she said it because she was assumed to be selfish and cruel. And while it’s true that Marie Antoinette spent vast sums of money on fashion while people were starving, she wasn’t a one-dimensional monster. She was a French queen at a time when the queen’s one and only job was to produce an heir.

Imagine yourself in that situation, as the mere vessel for a future prince! It’s depressing. She was groomed for the throne from a young age, her marriage negotiations treated her like she was livestock (the marriage deal involved having to totally change her appearance), she was married at 14, and she was queen by 19.

She didn’t immediately become pregnant, so she was subject to criticism and scorn at court—and in an effort to get away from that, seize a little power for herself, and—I’m going to guess—have a little bit of fun in what was a dreary, regimented existence, she started to break all the fashion rules she was supposed to follow.

She stopped wearing a corset, she adopted men’s riding clothing, she wore elaborate hats, she wore loose dresses that were very comfortable, but outraged moralists. Unfortunately for her, her teenage rebellion became a symbol of great inequality, and while she probably didn’t start the French Revolution, she took a lot of the blame.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on my third book, which is a bit of a companion to Bad Girls of Fashion. I’d rather not spoil the secret, but it tackles a whole other group of fashion rebels. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Susan Hughes

Susan Hughes is the author of the new children's picture book Maggie McGillicuddy's Eye for Trouble. Her many other books for kids include Earth to Audrey and No Girls Allowed. She lives in Toronto. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Maggie McGillicuddy and her eye for trouble?

A: Believe it or not, the story began with a dog. My neighbors had a very ancient dog, Cody, who, before she died a few years ago, used to tippy-toe tippy-toe on stiff legs down the front steps of her house and then sit on her lawn, keeping an eye out for trouble in our neighborhood. (Now their new dog Rosie has taken on this important role!)

I work from home writing, which -- as you, Deborah, probably agree -- often means spending an inordinate amount of time staring out the front window or frequently wandering out onto one’s own porch.

So over the years, I found myself observing Cody often, and indeed became very fond of her. I came to appreciate that this ever-aging, ever-vigilant dog had the most incredible imagination and nothing made her more happy than to be able to spot trouble almost everywhere she looked!

I began to want to include Cody in a story. And I did. Cody is, of course, Cody Dog in this new picture book. However while Cody’s corporeal form, her dogginess, became stiff-legged Cody Dog, who “moves slowly, slowly down the steps and tippy-toe, tippy-toe to the end of the walk,” (a fine contrast to the explosively energetic Charlie, who moves “ka-powie!” and springs from the steps and barrels down the steps, and then whirls and bounds his way over to Maggie), somehow Cody’s posture and attitude to life, and her super-powerful imagination became transferred to the elderly Maggie McGillicuddy.

Q: What role does imagination play in her story?        

A: Maggie McGillicuddy is an elderly woman who lives alone and loves her neighbourhood – and has a wonderful imagination! Maybe she can’t move far from her porch, but that’s okay because she can keep an eye on things from there, specifically, she can keep an eye out for trouble.

And wow does she enjoy spotting trouble: A cat becomes a tiger, a tree root becomes a snake, and a sparrow becomes a hawk, and a tree root becomes a snake. Even though the trouble is imaginary, of course, it gives Maggie the opportunity to protect the helpers in her neighborhood with the clacking of her knitting needles and the smacking of her walking stick.

And, of course imagination – and its power to create excitement and the thrill of pretend danger from the everyday -- is what connects Maggie with her new friend Charlie!

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Maggie McGillicuddy and her new young neighbor, Charlie?

A: Well, a few days go by after Charlie moves in. Charlie had tried to go outside alone once, but his mother had warned him not to: “What if you find trouble – or it finds you?” And then perhaps she’d been too busy settling in to spend much time outside with him. We see him in a window, observing Maggie while she spots the tiger, the hawk, and the snake – and perhaps he is seeing that imaginary trouble as well!

Then Saturday comes, and Charlie, ignoring his mother’s warning, comes ka-powie! out of the house and straight for a colorful ball, which just then rolls onto the road. Knitting on her porch and keeping watch, as always, Maggie sees the real trouble. She leaps to her feet and hollers at Charlie, loudly and insistently, to stop – and he does. Trouble goes sailing on by, and Charlie knows it.

With a grin and a wave, the boy decides to initiate a first visit with his protective neighbor, who clearly knows what to do if real trouble finds him; he grins and whirls and twirls his way over to her.

It turns out that Charlie has just as good an imagination as Maggie – and loves to use his imagination to create trouble just as much as she does! Complementing each other perfectly, the elderly woman and the young boy are clearly going to be the best of friends: Charlie needs a friend who has an eye for all kinds of trouble – and can keep an eye on him; Maggie needs a friend who has a nose for some kinds of trouble and needs a little supervision.

Q: What would you say is the perfect age for this book?

A: I think readers 4 and up will enjoy it. And I hope parents, teachers, and grandparents will like it too!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on finalizing text for a set of three board books coming out in fall 2017 with Annick Press. Each of Bath Time, Nap Time, and Play Time has great close-up photos of animals engaging in the same activities that toddlers do – but in their own special ways!

I’ve also been revising, revising, revising the draft of an informational picture book which is finally coming together. I love feeling that zing! that we writers recognize when our text is starting to sizzle and become energized!

I’m also writing teacher lessons for two different publishers at the moment, as well as continuing to spend time every week doing manuscript critiques and coaching my writer clients.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I do manuscript critiques and developmental editing of picture books, chapter books, MG, YA, nonfiction – you name it! I also provide story coaching. Interested? You can find out more, and read some recent testimonials, on my website. Or please get in touch with me at

I’ve been lucky enough to have over 30 books traditionally published (so far!), including picture books, chapter books, MG, YA, a graphic nonfiction-novel, and lots of children’s nonfiction. I’m an editor of educational materials, and I do commissioned writing, as well. I’m a blog columnist for; I write about kid lit and love interviewing other writers and editors about the biz! Check it out here.

Oh, and I have a few other books coming out over the next two years. One is my nonfiction book Up! How Families Around the World Carry their Little Ones, which is being published by Owl Kids in spring 2017. It’s for children ages 2 to 5 and has amazingly colorful cut-paper collage illustrations by Ashley Barron.

And I’m pleased to be signing a new contract shortly for yet another nonfiction picture book. All very exciting!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 30

Nov. 30, 1835: Mark Twain born.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Q&A with Lee Hurwitz and Tim Treanor

Lee Hurwitz
Lee Hurwitz and Tim Treanor are the authors of the new novel Capital City, which takes place in Washington, D.C. Hurwitz worked for the D.C. government for more than a decade and now works for the Library of Congress. Treanor is a federal government trial lawyer and has appeared in a variety of plays. They are both based in the D.C. area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Capital City?

Tim: I didn't. Lee did. He had written a first draft, and decided he wanted a collaborator. I took a look at what he had written and I agreed that the story had good bones. I had a couple of ideas and a few changes in the language. Some of his characters, I thought, deserved bigger roles and I wrote them up a little. But this is Lee's story.

Lee: I worked for the District of Columbia government from 1978 to 1989. Six months after I started, Marion Barry took the oath as mayor. Everything that we all read in the newspapers about Barry, and corruption in the D.C. government was true and it was just the tip of the iceberg. I had first-hand experience with all the malfeasance.

Q: How did the two of you collaborate on the book, and did you plot the whole book out before writing it or make changes along the way?

Tim Treanor
Tim: It was a dream to work with Lee. He had an entire first draft, and when I suggested changes he responded in a very logical, non-ego-based way. Lee's interest was in putting out the best book possible. Once the publisher purchased the book, they suggested some changes -- mostly, they were interested in drawing out the political aspects of Wendell Watson's character -- which we instituted, to the improvement, in my view, of the book.

Lee: Tim is right. We collaborated very well to come up with our final manuscript. I gave him my original manuscript and he edited and rewrote it and I agreed with all his additions/corrections.

Q: What are some of your favorite novels set in Washington, D.C.?
Tim: I'm a sucker for a good political novel, and the Allen Drury Advise and Consent novels were a staple of my teenage years. The best of these, of course, was the original. More recently, I loved Thomas Mallon's Watergate. I'm reading his Finale now, with great pleasure. And in between, I really enjoyed Gore Vidal's novels centered around various U.S. presidents and other historical figures. All of these stories are set in Washington and although they were concerned with national affairs, they all give a powerful taste of the city itself. Incidentally, I also read and enjoyed The Last Ambassador, by your dad and uncle, although I think of that as more of an international novel.

Lee: I am not sure that you really want to print this, but I do not read novels very often. I read a lot of non-fiction as my pleasure reading.

Q: Is this an only-in-D.C. novel, or could something similar be set elsewhere?

Tim: I suppose you could have a corrupt mayor of Cleveland or San Diego who manipulates Congress and kills people, but somehow it seems better set in D.C.

Lee: Having spent my first 18 years in the City of Brotherly Love, I am sure that a novel like this could be written about Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Buffalo, or other cities. But, I agree with Tim, the District of Columbia is a unique place. It is both a city and a state and it is the capital of the free world.  

Q: What are you working on now?

Tim: I have a three-novel series about a plot to solve the upcoming Social Security and Medicare crises by developing a virus which selectively attacks members of the Baby Boom generation. [Literary agent] Diane [Nine] is representing the first novel in the series and I'm optimistic. I'm polishing up the other two.

Lee: My next project will be a novel called The Library on the Hill. However, I will not begin working on it for six months or a year.  

Q: Anything else we should know?

Tim: For my work on Capital City, I used Carl Hiaasen as a model. So if you like Carl Hiaasen -- and who doesn't? -- you'll like Capital City.

Lee: I hope everyone enjoys Capital City as much as we enjoyed working on it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes

Ingrid Blaufarb Hughes is the author of the new book Losing Aaron. It focuses on her son's life and death, and his struggles with mental illness. She taught English at the City University of New York, and she lives in New Paltz, New York.

Q: What are some of the reasons that you decided to write about your son’s life?

A: It seemed to me that schizophrenia is still very poorly understood and as a result, feared. I certainly didn't know anything about it until I had to deal with it myself. I thought putting a face on mental illness might help people understand better what living with schizophrenia is like and how the illness impacts the family.

Also I want readers to know Aaron. He was such a remarkable person, and then he was hit by this devastating illness. People like to say that they live with a mental illness, but they are not the illness. More power to those people. But for Aaron that wasn't true. The illness took over and altered him and his life entirely, and finally drove him to end it.

In addition, writing is how I deal with the world and how I deal with myself. So it was natural to write Aaron's story. That doesn't mean it was easy.

Q: You say that writing the book “dug up a lot of grief.” How were you able to continue writing despite the sadness? 

A: Sometimes I had to take a break. I would go to the library and read, or go to a movie. But I'm 71 now. It had taken a long time for me to be able to deal with the story—nine years from the time of Aaron's death.

I was in my 60s as I was writing. I was losing friends to cancer. So I felt like I didn't have time to put the story aside. And I was determined that I would finish the book and get it out into the world.  So even when it was painful, I kept going.

I should also say that during the nine years following his death when I couldn't write about Aaron, I did try a couple of times to start. I would look at my folder of notes and be so upset I just put it away again. 

It was the birth of my granddaughter that gave me the strength to write. Not in any conscious way. But it can't have been a coincidence that within a couple of months of her birth I began to pull together the materials I needed for the book.

Q: How have your family members reacted to the book?

Q: Aaron's father, Arthur Hughes, has supported me all along, read an early draft, proofread the book at a later stage, and contributed his wonderful photographs of Aaron.

My husband, Jay Klokker, has always supported me and read the book in various drafts. My daughter has supported me, but doesn't want to read it, nor do Aaron's closest friends. For them it's just too painful.

Other family members haven't said anything, except for my sister, who wrote a paragraph about the book and posted it on Goodreads. She also commented that it helped her understand better what I went through.

It's still a very new book, so I may have more reactions in the next months from family members. Or not. 

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

A: I would like them to feel less scared of people with mental illness. To feel compassion instead of fear—both for the person living with the illness and for the family members living with that person.   

There are a lot of good memoirs out there that can help people understand others living with mental illness. I hope people read more on the topic. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm putting together a collection of short pieces dealing with other parts of my history: most importantly with my father, with whom I had a fraught relationship. I've tried to write about him a number of times. So it's try, try again.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: We all know people with mental illness. If you think you don't, it's because people keep it secret for fear that telling will change their relationships, or cost them their job.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kari Holloway

Kari Holloway is the author of the new novel Cracked But Never Broken, and its forthcoming sequel, Behind the Lens. She is based in Georgia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your series, and did you know you'd write more than one book about these characters from the beginning?

A: In July of 2015, I saw an ad on Facebook for a contest. I didn’t plan on entering, but I was bored. The first book, Cracked But Never Broken, originally stopped at Chapter 5, but it called to me. I’d find myself writing after the kids went to bed. In the Mistwood kitchen scene, I realized the story wasn’t going to end the way I had thought.

From there, I have written Behind the Lens, a continuation novel with Lexi at the helm, and various short stories covering different things from around the Laughing P.

Q: You wrote the first book from Damien's perspective and the second book from Lexi's. What was it like to shift from one character to the other, and to write from a male perspective vs. a female perspective?

A: Most of my stories have male perspectives. Sometimes, writing as a male main character is easier because we can chalk up their traits as just being a guy, but if we do that to a female main character, there is a lot of backlash about losing their femininity.

Behind the Lens had its own problems, between being two POVs and a different plot line from the final version with only Lexi’s POV.

Q: Your characters Damien and Darien are twins. Why did you decide on that, and what do you think it adds to the story?

A: Identical twins are used often, but what about fraternal twins? Twins may share a birthday, and sometimes looks, but they aren’t carbon copies of each other. It’s a family trait in the Laughing P family that will lend its quirkiness to other story lines.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: Kim Harrison, Brent Weeks, John Flanagan.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I was working on two Devil’s Playground stories, but then a fantasy story has taken over. I’m not sure what will be the next thing published, but it isn’t from lack of ideas. ;)

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Laughing P is perception. No two stories are going to match as clearly as if I clung to a calendar. Damien thinks Lexi doesn’t like chocolate, but through Lexi or Darien’s eyes, she loves it.

Those little differences are important. As people, we don’t know everything, even about people we have known since we were little kids. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 29

Nov. 29, 1832: Louisa May Alcott born.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Q&A with Andrew Maraniss

Andrew Maraniss is the author of the bestselling book Strong Inside, now available in a new edition for young readers. It tells the story of the basketball player Perry Wallace, and how he broke college basketball's color line. Maraniss, who was associate director of media relations for Vanderbilt University's athletic department and media relations manager for the Tampa Bay Rays, lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Q: Why did you decide to write about Perry Wallace?

A: It goes back to when I was 19 years old, 27 years ago. I was a sophomore at Vanderbilt; I had a sportswriting scholarship and was a history major.

I read about Perry and the racism directed at him—[during one game] at halftime he sat in the locker room holding hands with his one black teammate, Godfrey Dillard, trying to get the strength to get back for the second half.

I was taking a black history course, and I asked my professor if I could write a paper about Perry Wallace, and she said of course. I interviewed him; I wrote two papers about him. I was the sports editor of the school newspaper, and I wrote columns about him. We stayed in touch.

Eight years ago, I decided I wanted to write a book. I e-mailed him and asked, would you be willing to spend the time it would take for all these interviews to do this? He said yes.

Q: Why did you decide on a young readers edition of Strong Inside?

A: It wasn’t my idea at first! I was in a coffee shop in Nashville, and the book [reporter] for The Tennessean was interviewing Ruta Sepetys, who has had great success with her books for young adults.

The Tennessean writer introduced us, and [Ruta] said she had heard of my book, and thought it would make a great book for kids. She wanted to introduce me to her publisher, Philomel. It was out of the kindness of Ruta’s heart!

She said they are interested in people under the radar and in sports, and the race aspect might be interesting. I sent the book to Philomel, and they read it and linked it. I’ve always felt Nashville was a nice place like that—you make connections—and Ruta really exemplified that.

Since I’ve gotten into it, I think the book potentially could be more important than the original, especially with what’s going on in the country right now—there’s a deep divide, racial divisions…

I’m hoping a book that tells the story of a courageous, smart, strong African American young man will appeal to kids, every kid. It will be an inspiring story for people who relate to Perry Wallace and provide an opportunity for empathy and understanding from other kids.

Q: What are some of the changes from one version of the book to the other?

A: The main change is that it’s much shorter! It’s one-quarter the length. I had to cut one of four words and still hope it makes sense—it’s a great exercise!

It turned out to be fun—it gets right into the action now. I was given advice, don’t dumb it down at all, [kids are] smart and good readers. Some of the various back stories were eliminated, and it focuses more tightly on Perry Wallace’s own experience.

The first chapter is different—it jumps right to the game at Mississippi State that he considered hell on earth. The reader feels the tension from the opening chapter.

Q: What age group do you think will especially like it?

A: Age 10-14, though I think it will extend to older readers as well, up into high school and even adults. It doesn’t read like a children’s book.

Q: How did Wallace’s upbringing in Nashville affect him?

A: There are two ways to look at it. One is the support and strength he found—he called it his cocoon. The positive aspect, ironically, to segregation was the strong black community in Nashville near Fisk University, Tennessee State University, Meharry Medical University, Jefferson Street with its thriving black businesses.

Pearl High School was the crown jewel of the community; every African-American person in Nashville went to Pearl, and there was great pride associated with it. The teachers were people who were incredibly smart; they had master’s degrees but were denied opportunities in the professional world.

All his parents’ kids went to college. There was a lot of warmth and support from his family and his neighborhood.

On the other side, he was growing up in a segregated city. As a 12-year-old, he watched sit-ins. He was fully aware of the craziness of the situation. His goal as a kid was to get out, and he saw basketball as a way to do that.

Q: You describe Wallace’s decision to attend Vanderbilt as “a turning point in history.” What were some of the reasons for its importance?

A: His mom, who was a cleaning lady downtown, would bring home magazines, and [the kids] would see pictures of a world they didn’t know in Nashville.

Part of that possibility for him was to use basketball as a way out. He was recruited by a number of schools in the North and the West, but on recruiting trips he felt black athletes were exploited for their athletic ability. His term was, I’m not going to trade one plantation for another.

He began to consider Vanderbilt, which would have been impossible two years earlier when it was still segregated. He was impressed by the engineering department, by the [basketball program] and by the way the coach treated his parents with respect.

[The school had recently] appointed a new progressive chancellor, Alexander Heard, who thought he could send a signal by making a bold move in the athletic realm and encouraged the coach to recruit a black player….it made a lot of sense on both sides. Perry understood how difficult this was going to be, not just on campus but while touring…colleges all over the South.

Q: You describe Wallace’s difficult experiences with racism, for example when Vanderbilt played Ole Miss. How was he able to withstand the treatment he received as an African-American basketball player in the South during that period?

A: It took tremendous courage, more than people even imagine. He had to do it all by himself. After freshman year, there were no other African-American teammates. His coaches and teammates didn’t go out of their way to be difficult but they [weren’t especially helpful].

His family had a deep expression of faith, and his mom said to put on the full armor of God. He also had an understanding of the proper pioneer’s response to the situation. He embraced the role of the pioneer, and part of that was not quitting. As hard as it was, he knew he had to complete the assignment.

He’s also a very strong person—that’s where the title comes from—physically, mentally, emotionally. I don’t think most people could have done it, but Perry Wallace had the resolve.

There’s a story in the book where his [older] sister shows up in Perry’s kindergarten class and the teacher was out of the room and the kids were going berserk. There was only one kid—[Perry]-- at his desk doing his work. [She said she knew] her little brother would always do the right thing.

Q: Beyond his huge decision to become the player who desegregated the SEC, what was Wallace’s role in the day-to-day civil rights struggle during his time at Vanderbilt?

A: A lot of athletes are unwilling to get involved in things beyond sports. That wasn’t the case with Perry Wallace. He was picked even as a freshman to lead a meeting with Chancellor Heard.

[In addition,] there was an issue during his college career about the interstate, I-40, being built through Nashville; it was going to destroy black neighborhoods. He had a choice to speak out, and risk alienating white Vanderbilt alums. He made the choice to speak out about it, about the impact on businesses along Jefferson Street. That was a small thing, but a brave decision on his part.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, there was a peaceful march, and Perry wanted to participate. With all the violence taking place around the country, he was concerned that the administration at Vanderbilt would perceive his participation the wrong way, that he was encouraging violence.

He was always thinking many steps ahead. Before he participated, he went to the athletic department and laid out exactly what he was doing, that it was a peaceful march. He was able to get their buy-in, but do exactly what he wanted.

Q: What was his attitude toward the antiwar movement?

A: He told me that a lot of white people on campus who were sympathetic to how black students were being treated were also antiwar. Hanging out with those people, he began thinking more skeptically about the war. He was seeing high school friends not coming back from the war, or being profoundly changed by it.

His inner feelings were antiwar, but he was conflicted. He said he didn’t need another battlefield; it was already difficult challenging segregation. On top of that, being vocal about the war was more than he [could deal with] at that time….

Q: What did Perry Wallace think of the book?

A: It’s been really gratifying. He said for decades he was a forgotten man. I think he’s pleased that people can appreciate his story. After he left Vanderbilt in 1970, he was not invited back until 1989. It’s improved; he has a good relationship with Vanderbilt now.

He came back to Nashville…for a series of events relating to the book, and it was really, really emotional. We had a crowd at the downtown library of more than 400 people.

We had a line of people [including] older white people with tears in their eyes, apologizing, saying, I wish I had known what you were going through. We went to his high school, and people talked about what an inspiration he had been. It was really touching….

The book is now the required read for freshmen, and he has been back to campus several times in conjunction with that.

Q: How long did it take to write the book?

A: Eight years. The first interview was in 2006 with Roy Skinner, Perry’s coach. I interviewed more than 80 people. The first few years were the research, and then the writing.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a few book ideas still in the proposal phase.

I’m a contributor to the website The Undefeated, which is part of ESPN focused on race, sports, and culture. I have enjoyed writing long-form articles.

The most recent one is about the bloodiest Election Day in American history, about the Ocoee Massacre in 1920, a lynching and burning of an entire African American neighborhood. I thought it was very relevant to this year’s election.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: A couple of things. I attended a conference for Tennessee school librarians to see how they select books. They would say, My boys will love this book.

Part of me is excited to hear that—you hear about boys that age who are reluctant readers. There’s a cool action basketball shot on the cover, and they might pick It up, and it’s about more than sports. It’s a true civil rights story of someone overcoming obstacles and succeeding.

And it’s not just seen as a book for boys—girls are basketball fans too, and can relate to feeling different and being bullied…This is a book for everyone.

[Also] I’m eager and interested in traveling around the country to schools. If anyone is interested, I would love to hear from people.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. For a previous version of this Q&A, please click here.

Q&A with Kristin Hersh

Kristin Hersh is the author of the new book Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, which includes two accompanying CDs. A musician as well as an author, she founded the band Throwing Muses. She also performs as a solo artist and with the group 50FootWave. Her other books include Don't Suck, Don't Die and Rat Girl.

Q: How do you see the relationships between the song lyrics and the stories in Wyatt at the Coyote Palace?

A: I like the idea of publishing a book rather than releasing a cd because a book can be a beautiful piece of art, whereas none of us really value a little plastic disc. Even vinyl is kind of presumptuous, because offering someone your soundtrack is a little like suggesting they adopt your religion.

So I tell stories the songs remind me of and include photographs and Dave Narcizo's amazing design work, so that I can give the listener a nice gift of a product (and I sleazily sneak plastic discs into it in the hope that they adopt my religion).

Q: How did you choose the title for the album and the book, and what does it signify for you?

A: Three of my sons are so deeply bored by the recording studio that they fall asleep as soon as distorted guitar comes out of the speakers (which is what they heard in utero, on tour), but my son Wyatt goes wandering.

Behind my studio, he found an abandoned apartment building called the Coyote Palace that coyotes had moved into when the humans left. His obsession with this place was catching, and it made me articulate what obsession is.

I knew I had to be that flushed with excitement every time I walked into the studio to make this record or the music wouldn't be realized in that timeless way that makes a work matter.

Q: You begin the book with the line, "How many times would you say you guys've almost died?" What role do you see the concept of death playing in the album and the book?

A: Well, one day, Wyatt refused to go into the Coyote Palace. That time and place were over for him. I was shattered, because I had mirrored his love of that place in my work.

But Dave Narcizo, the drummer for Throwing Muses, guessed that Wyatt was merely encapsulating a sensory experience in order to let it resonate. The finite then becomes necessary if you want to be a giver rather than a receiver.

For me, the studio is a selfish endeavor - I love it so much, I would never leave unless my engineer kicked me out. This time I made it last five years. Wyatt taught me that I needed to walk away.

Q: Is your writing process different depending on what you're writing, or are there overall similarities?

A: My first book was a reworking of my teenage diary, so I was essentially creating a non-fiction novel out of a book that always existed. Crooked, Purgatory/Paradise and Don't Suck, Don't Die are more mature and more esoteric. Hopefully the funny stuff helps pull them out of the mire of pretense.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Not sure this tour I'm on has a distinct ending, which is probably a good thing. 50FootWave just released "Bath White" which we'll tour soon-ish. Throwing Muses is in the process of recording with Mudrock in LA and I just signed a five book deal. The Rat Girl tv series is also in early days of development. Really, it's probably time for me to just shut the f*** up, in other words.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Geez, I hope not...I'm sick of me ;)

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Kristin Hersh's U.S. tour runs from Nov. 29-Dec. 18, 2016, and includes stops at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles on Dec. 4 and The Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver on Dec. 8.

Nov. 28

Nov. 28, 1757: William Blake born.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Q&A with Alexandra Zapruder

Alexandra Zapruder is the author of the new book Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film. She also has written Salvaged Pages: Young Writers' Diaries of the Holocaust. She has worked for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and with the group Facing History and Ourselves.

Q: You write, “As I worked, I struggled to reconcile the personal and historical imperative I felt to write this book with the worry that it would bring unintended and unwelcome consequences.” How did you balance those demands, and how did you balance your roles as family member and author as you were writing Twenty-Six Seconds?

A: The key word here is “worry.” I was worried about how my family would feel and I was worried about whether I’d be able to be honest and straightforward about all aspects of this history. 

This is because it was such a departure from the culture of our family, which emphasized discretion about the film above all else.

But when I really started working on the book and grappling with the material, I found that I wasn’t blowing the lid off of anything. In the end, this is a human story about people doing the best they could in difficult circumstances and about conflicts that arise from genuine disagreements about all sorts of important things.

As long as I focused on telling that story truthfully and with respect for all parties, I found that the fear faded away and what was left was the truly gratifying work of writing about these ideas.

Q: You note that your family really didn’t talk much about the film as you were growing up. What made you decide to write about it, and do you think writing the book changed any of your beliefs about the film?

A: I decided to write about the film because I realized in the aftermath of my father’s death that our family’s relationship to the film was a very significant one, and that this part of the film’s life had not been told, and that without it, the whole story of the film and its impact on American society and culture was incomplete.

Once I realized that, I felt it was important – and meaningful for me as a writer and a person – to really look at the film’s history in all its dimensions and try to understand its meaning, legacy, and significance not only for us as a family but for American society as a whole.

I’m not sure I could say that writing about the film changed my beliefs, because I really didn’t have many beliefs about it before I started. But I do think it deepened my understanding of all kinds of important questions that the film raised and that continue to reverberate for us today.

Q: What do you see as some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about the film?

A: One misperception is that the film only matters in the context of the Kennedy assassination. It is, of course, the primary visual evidence of the murder. But the dilemmas that the film posed for our family, the media, the government, the assassination researchers, the courts, and others touch on much bigger questions.

These include how to balance public interest and private family values, who decides what the public sees and when and how, who owns the historical record and what it is worth, and cultural questions like whether there is such a thing as visual truth and how we reconcile our differing ways of interpreting the same information.

There are smaller misperceptions – like the idea that the film was the only one taken on Dealey Plaza (it wasn’t: there were 21 other photographers present that day) or that our family sold the film to the Federal government (we didn’t: it was taken by eminent domain and its value was determined by an independent arbitration panel) that I was also able to address in the book. 

Q: What would you say is the film’s legacy, both for your family and for the public?

A: This is a question I took up in the epilogue to the book. I will just say that the film captured a moment that was a turning point in American history and it will always stand for that point in time and all the tumult and chaos that followed.

But I think it also has come to represent other things – like the recognition that even the photographic record doesn’t always capture a universally agreed upon truth or the fact that our faith in technology to answer all our questions may be misplaced.

The film contains within it so many contradictions and it doggedly refuses to give up a clear answer to the question of who murdered the president and how. For me, its meaning and legacy lie in those inherent contradictions.

On a still larger level, its legacy is that of the existential pathos that its narrative reveals. It’s a beautiful sunny day and there is a radiant couple driving down the street in an open car and then suddenly, without warning, it is all shattered.

We know on some intellectual level that this can happen but the film shows it and it reminds us of certain very deep human truths that are painful to tolerate but important to confront.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m not ready to start anything new yet. I’m still recovering from this book – which took a lot out of me – and catching my breath before I decide what’s next.

I hope I’ll find another story that has the richness, complexity and unexpected depth that I found in this book and my first one, Salvaged Pages, but I realize that might be asking a bit much for one lifetime. 

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