Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Q&A with Nick Lloyd

Nick Lloyd is the author of the new book Passchendaele: The Lost Victory of World War I. His other books include Hundred Days and The Amritsar Massacre. He is Reader in Military & Imperial History in King's College, London, and he lives in Cheltenham, England.

Q: Why did you decide to focus in your new book on the battle of Passchendaele, and why was it "the lost victory of World War I"?

A: I decided to focus on Passchendaele because it is one of the most iconic battles of World War One. It is commonly associated with mud and terrible ground conditions, and I wanted to see whether the legends of the battle were true. It is also a battle that has not attracted (somewhat surprisingly) a great deal of historical scholarship - leaving me some room to maneuver.

I argue that it is a “lost victory” because the scale of the British attacks and how devastating they were to the German Army has never really been recognized. We have been so concerned with the command errors and problems on the British side that we have forgotten how difficult the fighting was for the defenders.

Q: You begin the book with a quote from British officer Sir Launcelot Kiggell. What is especially significant about this quote, and why did you start with it?

A: I begin with the famous quote from Sir Launcelot Kiggell, who (apparently) saw the battlefield and burst into tears, crying "Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?" This quotation seems to sum up the horror and futility of the battle and I wanted to examine whether it was true, and if so, how could commanders be so ignorant of front-line conditions.

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

A: I spent time researching in archives across many different countries, including the UK, Canada and Germany, trying to piece together how the battle was fought and what it was like for those caught up in it.

I think what I learnt was that the British were much more effective on the battlefield than I had anticipated, and that had things been done slightly differently, they could have won a major victory - what I have referred to as a “lost victory.” The idea that the British had not adapted to the demands of the Western Front, or that they could not fight effectively, is simply not true.

Q: One hundred years later, what can we learn from this battle?

A: We can learn many things from the Battle of Passchendaele. The fighting shows the importance of innovation and adaptation and understanding the enemy on their own terms. It also shows that when the British tried to fight in a way that played to their strengths they were more successful.

Moreover it is a battle that reveals the enduring importance of good command and leadership; taking advice where necessary, encouraging subordinates to be part of decision-making, and inculcating team spirit and group working.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a number of ideas at the moment for another book - I will keep you posted!

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

Q&A with Claudine Dumont

Claudine Dumont is the author of the new novel Captive. It focuses on a woman who finds herself confined in a room. Dumont is a writer, teacher, and photographer based in Laval, Quebec.

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

A: I came up with the idea for Captive while reading A Million Little Pieces by James Frey.

In the first couple of pages, while the protagonist is contemplating his next stay in yet another rehab center, thinking that maybe this time is life was gonna change, get better, meaningful, I thought about the fact that a lot of people I know could use that kind of rehab even thought they were not hooked on anything, just wasting life away.

I though, hey, let's create that: a place where you are made to understand life can be good if you just wake up and enjoy it. That is what I did.

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 did know the end before I started to write, so I did not make a lot of changes along the way. I had a clear idea of Emma and Julian, and I went from there to the end. 

Q: Your book has been compared to Emma Donoghue's novel Room. What do you think of that comparison?

A: When I read that Captive was compared to Room, I went and read Emma Donoghue's book. I liked it a lot, so I was flattered to be compared to it, but the only link I saw was the confinement part....Still, good publicity.

Q: Who are some of your favorite suspense authors?

A: I read a lot. I have a lot of authors I like. But my favorites are more in the horror genre, as in Stephen King and Dean Koontz (my second novel, which has not yet been translated, is called "The Little Girl Who Loved Stephen King”). 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on my third novel, a story about a girl who can't sleep anymore, and undergoes an untraditional therapy with a psychologist that has developed a very special machine to get to his patient's mind.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: As for anything else you should know, well, Captive is up to be made into a movie in Quebec, and the coffin scene in the book is based on my own very intense fear of closed up spaces....

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 31

May 31, 1819: Walt Whitman born.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Q&A with Courtney Maum

Courtney Maum is the author of the new novel Touch. She also has written the novel I Am Having So Much Fun Without You and the chapbook Notes From Mexico. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Tin House. She has been a trend forecaster and fashion publicist, and is a product namer for MAC Cosmetics. She lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

Q: You mentioned in our previous interview that you usually write from a male point of view, yet in this book your main character is a woman. How did you come up with the idea for your character Sloane?

A: Well, I find it easier to write from a male point of view, that’s for sure! (The further the character is from my own reality, the easier it is for me to make up a fictional life for him/her!)

But with Sloane—the thing is, this character had to be a woman. I used to work in trend forecasting and I never came across a single man in the profession. Certainly we had male clients, and there were male decision makers at the companies we consulted for, but the trend forecasters and trend spotters were always female.

There is just a truth and a power to the female instinct. It’s fascinating, and it can be a heavy thing to bear. I think this is where the notion of the maternal instinct comes from, the idea that women are naturally “better” at being parents—it comes from the fact (and I do believe it’s a fact) that women generally have keener instinct than men.

I happen to not believe that women are “made” to be mothers, or that they’re naturally better parents simply by virtue of their sex, but the instinct thing is indisputable. Women are just biologically more “awake” then men.

Accordingly, I really wanted to explore a character who has to embrace all the wonderful things about being a woman in an environment where she’s pushed up against a lot of the terrible things about womanhood: misogyny, condescension, ridicule, preconceived notions.

Originally, Sloane was a stylist—she worked for houseware companies like Crate & Barrel—but after a few drafts, I realized I was going out of my way to avoid a career I actually knew something about, and that it would be more interesting if I wrote the story from a place of experience.

So Sloane became a trend forecaster. (Although I did have some limited, inglorious experience as a stylist: I was a freelance box-opener for a food stylist at Food & Wine Magazine back in 2005 when I first moved to Brooklyn. And yes. Freelance box opening is a thing.)

Q: How much of what you write about in the novel comes from your own experiences as a trend forecaster?

A: I’m not sure how to answer that—on one hand, the entirety of the novel is fueled by my experience working in trends at several different companies, but in reality, the work I did was so much more private and intimate and small than what Sloane does.

I never worked in such a public way. There weren’t public brainstorming sessions—it was me, sometimes alone, coming up with predictions, and then sharing them with others, or it was me, working on some carpet in the middle of all these open magazines at 2am with a graphic designer and my boss, scanning things for a presentation.

The corporate setting of Touch was more informed by my work in branding and naming. I’ve worked in-house or as a freelancer for a lot of branding agencies, and I’m still, to this day, fascinated by these environments that have some of the most talented, creative people in the world working for them, but their creativity nevertheless has to be capped and controlled.

That’s the weird thing about working for a successful company—you can’t go too far out. You need to contribute to the making of products that sell—that are buyable. You just do.

I wanted Sloane to push against this, to try and rally for a way of thinking that was more free-form, that involved open discussions, brainstorming around ideas that might not ever come to market.

I’m not sure that kind of free-spirited thinking happens a lot anymore. It’s so important nowadays that something comes with a way of branding it: a visual identity, a reason for being, a hashtag.

Q: One of my favorite characters was Anastasia, Sloane's talking driverless car. What inspired the creation of Anastasia?

A: Sloane needed a friend! Here we have a classic scenario of a woman who “has it all” on the surface, but in fact, is really alone. She’s estranged from her family, she doesn’t really have friends she socializes with (she has their social media feeds, instead), and her life partner would prefer to sleep with her avatar than with her.

Anastasia is an unlikely friend for her—she’s a piece of technology, she doesn’t actually exist, but she’s the person Sloane spends the most one-on-one time with, and she understands (through machine learning) how to draw Sloane out of her shell.

Anastasia is also a shout out to the technology industry, to remind people that tech visionaries have done a world of good. I really don’t want the book to be seen as some bashing of smart technology, because it isn’t. I see it, instead, as a call to arms to use our technology better. To regain control over our devices.

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

A: I always knew how the novel would end, yes. I’m funny that way—I often have the last line before I have anything else! But it took an incredible amount of work to create a protagonist who could make it to such an ending in a credible way. (I hope I succeeded!)

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve been working for a long time on an adaptation of a chapbook I published a while back called  “Notes From Mexico” from The Cupboard Press. I spent some of the winter in Jalisco, researching the book. Not too bad a place for a work-vacation. I need to go back!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Maybe that the audiobook of Touch is actually really good! The reader, Kristen Sieh, is just so talented. She does different voices for all the characters in such a convincing way—it’s almost like you’re watching a show. I’m very proud of it!

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

Q&A with Ann Ingalls

Ann Ingalls is the author of the new children's picture book Fairy Floss: The Sweet Story of Cotton Candy. Her other books include J is for Jazz and Chow Down, Biggety!. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Fairy Floss, and how did you research the book?

A: Actually, Sonali Fry, the publisher at Little Bee, requested that I write a book on cotton candy. She allowed me to find an appealing slant and I discovered that the Electric Cotton Candy Machine was introduced at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. I knew immediately that placing the story there would provide a wonderful opportunity for an illustrator.  

Q: Was there anything that you learned that especially surprised you?

A: I learned lots in the process of writing this book. For one thing, I learned that Walt Disney visited the fair with his parents when he was just 5 years old. He patterned the Magic Kingdom after the time period he remembered from his visit to the fair.

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

A: I hope that readers will appreciate the history surrounding the World’s Fair. I so enjoyed the research for the book. I loved diving into photos from the era and the actual fair.

Q: What do you think Migy Blanco's illustrations add to the book?

A: I love what Migy Blanco did to bring to bring these characters and venue to life. He is a huge talent and a nice man to boot. I’ve had a few email communications with him and he couldn’t be more pleasant. I’m looking very forward to seeing what he does next.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a couple of picture books with writing friends. Both books will have a bit of rhyme in them.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: As a former elementary and special education teacher, I love to do school and library visits! I do about 40 presentations a year. Please feel free to contact me at if interested.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 30

May 30, 1903: Countee Cullen born.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Q&A with Kristen Fulton

Q: What kind of research did you do to write this book?

A: Research is something that I take seriously. For Long May She Wave, I spent two weeks in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., gathering my original research and then returned for another week to fact check.

First I had wanted to dispel myths that we were all raised knowing: Betsy Ross made our flag. I started in Philadelphia, the home of Betsy Ross, to discover that she was a fabulous seamstress, one of many in her town.

Unfortunately, the only account to support that she made our flag came from William Canby, her grandson, 33 years after Elizabeth (Betsy) Griscom Ross died. For years historians have searched records, letters, and diaries but nothing has substantiated that Betsy Ross had anything to do with making our flag.

My next stop was Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, where the Star Spangled Banner waved, home of the rampart. The flag was made when our young country was preparing for the British, again.

It was the war of 1812. The Major in charge commissioned Pickersgill Flags and Ensigns to make two flags, one large enough for the British to see it from miles away.

So, I went to what was the home of Mary Pickersgill, now the Flag House Museum. I spoke to the museum curators and historians. I visited the Baltimore Public Library and pulled U.S. Census records from the early 1800s.

I wanted to discover who all lived in the home; to verify that those receiving credit for making the flag lived in the house. As morbid as it may sound, I visited the gravesites to verify death dates as well.

Before leaving Baltimore, I took my research a little deeper. It is commonly believed that the flag was assembled in Claggett's Brewery. Before I wrote it as fact, I pulled the property records and deed. Claggett's Brewery opened four years after the bombs bursting in air, so this can't be factual.  

The truth is, the flag was assembled in a warehouse owned by George Brown; he owned several malthouses. 

Even for a picture book, just 40 pages, nonfiction authors take their research as a priority.

Q: What do you think Caroline Pickersgill’s story says to kids today?

A: It reminds each of us, not just children, that everything we do, whether it be solo or as a team, can affect history. Each of us are important and it may seem like we are “just doing what we are told to do.” But someday someone might write a book about us. It is literally a KIDS MAKE HISTORY book.

Q: What do you think Holly Berry’s illustrations add to the book?

A: Her vivid colors bring the bombs bursting in air to the forefront and her scrapbooking details add that feeling of being sewn together to emulate the construction of the flag.

It was the little nuances that she added that will bring a young child into the story, such as hiding a cat on several pages. We know that children are listening even when we think they aren’t paying attention. So, hopefully even a younger audience will start to learn the meaning behind the words to our National Anthem and the creation of the flag.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I usually have five books in motion that are still in my hands and they are at different stages. My five stages are Researching, Compiling, Organizing, Drafting, and Polishing.

Researching a story idea is mainly done via the internet; it is researching what is being said about a topic and will it or how will it appeal to kids. Once I move it from being researched it goes to my compile list and I start researching a new idea. My compiling is ordering and verifying all primary resources, visiting the location and talking to people.

My next step is organizing my research into an online, then rough draft, and of course polish the manuscript. But this is an addition to When Sparks Fly, A Royal Ride, Sacagawea, Flight For Freedom, Sarah’s Tea Party, and a new series that I have already sold and are slated to come out.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My husband and I travel in an RV a great deal of the year and visit bookstores, libraries, and schools. I am always happy to stop by and say hi if I am in your area. I try to keep my travel schedule update on my website but please feel free to contact me.

I will be in the D.C./Baltimore area throughout the middle of June with book signings at the Flag House Museum on Flag Day (Wednesday June 14 beginning at 10am for a day of festivities) and Hooray For Books in Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, June 17 at 3pm. 

I am always happy to do Skype or FaceTime visits with classrooms and read to the class. Writing is my career, my fans are my life.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 29

May 29, 1917: John F. Kennedy born.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Q&A with H.A. Callum

H.A. Callum is the author of the new novel Whispers in the Alders. He is based in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Whispers in the Alders, and for your characters Aubrey and Tommy?

A: I’m not unlike other writers in that I’ve had this story in the back of my mind for some time. It just wouldn’t go away, and I knew it had to be told.

I remembered a few alder trees from my childhood that grew along a riverbank, and how the catkins would cling to the branches long into winter, like skeletal fingers. The entire town of Alder Ferry was designed around that thought, and how the alder trees could come to symbolize a friendship that could survive nearly anything.

Tommy and Aubrey were originally both male, and best friends. But I realized after a few takes at outlining that it had to be different. In the end, I kept Tommy as the shy, bookish kid from Alder Ferry, and introduced Aubrey into the mix.

The daughter of a corporate executive that came to oversee the dismantling of the last-standing manufacturing plant in Alder Ferry, Aubrey was the perfect character to balance out Tommy’s meekness through her strength, resolve, and fearlessness.

Q: How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I think it’s very important, especially in stories like Whispers in the Alders that are carried by the relationships of the characters. Setting can ground the reader, giving them a sense of time and place that allows the action to develop. I also found that it lends identity to the story.

I considered a few major cities and their outlying suburbs as the setting for Whispers in the Alders, but in the end settled with the fictional town of Alder Ferry. Part of that reason was to allow readers to identify with the setting.

I wanted readers that could personally understand what Aubrey and Tommy experienced to say, “This could be my town,” making for a more intimate reading experience.

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

A: The original working title was The Alder Retreat. But it wasn’t signifying to me what the story was all about. The alder stand is far more than a place that Aubrey and Tommy escaped to from the challenges of their lives.

It was a place where they met in secret and could be themselves. It was a place that heard all their laughter and sorrows, a place where they could express their emotions with no fear of retribution from the outside world.

Later in the story the true significance of the book’s title is made known to readers. That revelation is among my favorite moments in the book.

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

A: In the very early stages I had Tommy escaping Alder Ferry via a study abroad opportunity in London, and although he escaped, the outcome was anything but happy. That is very far off from the ending I arrived at.

When the writing began to take shape, I knew how the book had to end. A couple weeks into writing the first draft I outlined the closing scenes of the book, which of course were tweaked here and there, but for the most part remained true to the final copy.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I always have several writing projects going at once! Right now, I’m working on another contemporary literary novel inspired by the current state of social affairs here in the United States. I’m very excited about this one! I also have several new poems out on submission, and I am considering a poetry collection, too.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: There will be plenty going on this summer to support the release of Whispers in the Alders – be sure to check my social media links and website for updates!

I just want to say in closing that none of this would be possible without the entire community of artists, authors, and writers who have supported me and my work. I’m overwhelmed with the positive reception that Whispers in the Alders has received in the days leading up to its release.

It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today, Deborah! My thanks again for helping to spread the word about Whispers in the Alders!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 28

May 28, 1908: Ian Fleming born.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Q&A with Katherine Nichols

Katherine Nichols is the author of Deep Water: From the Swim Team to Drug Smuggling, a new book for adults and young adults. It focuses on the Coronado Company, a drug cartel that originated in Coronado, California, in the 1970s. A journalist and former teacher, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle magazines. She lives in Boston.

Q: Why did you decide to write about the Coronado Company, and what did you discover in the course of your work on the book that especially surprised you?

A: Hearing tales of the Company was an inevitable part of growing up in Coronado, which inspired me to use the premise and create a fictionalized account. Based on that manuscript, Simon & Schuster offered me a contract for the nonfiction book. I did not expect to appreciate going beyond the criminal records of these multi-faceted men, and really trying to know them as human beings.

Q: How did you research the book, and were the participants usually willing to speak with you?

A: The research was difficult and elusive, so I tried to approach it in a structured manner by first obtaining archived court records. This required identifying the case numbers, submitting formal requests in writing, and receiving photocopied packets in the mail. The process is old school and cumbersome.

Then I started talking to my mother (who has lived in Coronado, California, since 1950), and calling old friends who were teachers and lifeguards or graduated from Coronado High School well ahead of me, in the 1970s. As with any type of investigative reporting, one person leads to another.

Many people hesitated to talk with me at first. Often, several conversations were required for people to understand and trust what I was doing. Sometimes I read aloud to give the source an idea of the writing and the unique approach. This helped, too, as did Simon & Schuster’s reputation.

(Please note: I can’t reveal whether or not I spoke with actual participants in the Company.)

Q: You've written that you "wanted to bring a journalist's discipline and a woman's sensitivity to the details." How do you think your own background affected how you wrote the book?

A: The elements of this book include researched and verifiable facts, an aggregation of anecdotes, opinions, and recollections, and my own creativity. My affinity for Coronado, sports, and the ocean informed the writing.

But I also knew the process of gathering information on other elements demanded objectivity and humility. Details often differed considerably, so I worked to avoid allowing this to become any one person’s perspective or story. Remaining one step removed helped me achieve a balance.

Q: You note that you didn't write the book specifically for teenagers. Who do you see as the most likely readership for the book?

A: Adults are the first readers, but I think Deep Water will become popular among teens when they discover it through their own unique channels. With any luck, it will encourage more boys to read, and could spark discussion between teens and parents. Astute parents find ways to watch and read what interests their children. These efforts open channels of communication.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: [I recently graduated] from the Yale School of Management with an M.B.A. That has been my primary task for the past two years.

Next I plan to finish a book about dementia, and its effects on patients and families. It was excerpted in The New York Times several years ago.

I also managed to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship, which takes place in October in Hawaii, so at some point I need to start training for that. At the moment, I feel quite sedentary.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m outlining an idea for another narrative nonfiction/true crime book, because I loved the challenge of infusing creativity into a framework of researched facts. But I can’t talk about that quite yet!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 27

May 27, 1894: Dashiell Hammett born.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Q&A with Sidney Blumenthal

Sidney Blumenthal, photo by Ralph Alswing
Sidney Blumenthal is the author of the new biography Wrestling With His Angel: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1849-1856, the second volume of a projected four-volume biography of Lincoln. His many other books include A Self-Made Man: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1849, The Clinton Wars, and The Rise of the Counter-Establishment. He is a former senior advisor to both Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, as well as a former reporter for The Washington Post and editor and writer for The New Yorker. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Q: You write of Lincoln in the 1849-56 period, “Lincoln only seemed to be offstage. He did not disappear…” How would you describe Lincoln’s activities during this period?

A: In 1860 when Lincoln was running for president he dictated two autobiographies. He said he almost lost interest in politics [during this time]. But that’s not so. He was paying the closest attention to every single aspect of it.

He and his law partner William Henry Herndon occupied a small office above the post office. They also maintained the best library in central Illinois. Lincoln and Herndon got every current book on every subject from politics to science. They also subscribed to newspapers and journals.

Lincoln was devouring everything he could…he had only a few weeks of formal education, but he was constantly devoting himself to learning about the issues of the day. Having been in a dirt poor family with a father who failed at a succession of farms, he was somebody with incredible self-discipline, constantly making something of himself, particularly intellectually.

His law associates recalled him in boarding houses on the circuit staying up late at night reading Euclid. Why would he study geometry as a lawyer in central Illinois? Lincoln was trying to figure out how to be more logical, and he applied geometric laws to the arguments he’d make in his cases and in politics.

After his death, his two private secretaries discovered some fragments that had never been published. One is a discussion applying Euclidean logic to the antislavery argument, refuting the pro-slavery argument of the day.

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

A: Wrestling With His Angel comes from the Bible, the story of Jacob, who wrestles through the dark night of the soul with an angel and emerges with a sense of who he is at the end, and adopts the new name Israel.

Lincoln doesn’t adopt a new name, but he’s wrestling with himself. It’s part of his self-discipline—how he can enter into the times, change things, become the man who can do that.

He leaves after one term in Congress and returns to his law office. Herndon recounts a conversation where Lincoln says the world is dead, he doesn’t know what he’ll do. He had no political prospects—what is to be done?

Q: So how did Lincoln change during this period from 1849-1856?

A: Lincoln had suffered setbacks and tragedies. His two-year-old son Edward died of tuberculosis. His wife refused to eat. Lincoln was famously depressed, and he had to encourage Mary Todd Lincoln out of her depression. He was riding his horse from county courthouse to county courthouse, trying to make a living. Still, he was active in politics. He was waiting.

In this book, I pay so much attention to the world around Lincoln. It bears on him; it shapes his mind. He’s watching Stephen A. Douglas, his great rival of decades. He sees himself coming up short against the Little Giant. He starts stalking him after Douglas passes the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 that opens the question of slavery up.

It leads to Lincoln coming out of isolation. Douglas is from Illinois. He’s a national figure, and this gives Lincoln the opportunity to come forward by challenging him. When Douglas returns, Lincoln follows him around the state. Douglas refuses [to debate] until 1858.

It leads to Lincoln delivering the first great speech in the state capitol, the basis for the politics that would carry him to the White House. Lincoln is preparing himself for the destiny he does not know.

Q: Can you say more about the relationship between Lincoln and Douglas?

A: Douglas is not thinking about Lincoln in this period, he’s thinking about Stephen A. Douglas. He was the most dynamic figure in American politics…he believes he embodies the spirit of the age, of Manifest Destiny. He wants to be president; he is a self-made man himself.

They were constantly butting heads over the great issues of the day, from the 1830s on. The Democratic Party is the dominant party in Illinois, and Douglas rises and leaves Lincoln in the dust.

He is envious and thinks Douglas has become a colossus and he has become small. When Douglas has to come back to earth after passing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln starts stalking him. It’s part of the making of Lincoln.

Q: What role did political parties play during this period for Lincoln?

A: There was no idea of politics apart from political parties. Lincoln was a party man, and the party of Lincoln was the Whig Party, until it fell apart. He held onto the Whig Party longer than most. In 1852, [Democrat] Franklin Pierce was elected. [The Whigs] never ran a candidate for president again. It was shattered by the Kansas-Nebraska Act and broke into Northern and Southern wings.

Also...there was the nativist movement known as the Know-Nothings. They were a mass movement. Lincoln hated their politics. He had contempt for nativism, yet he held that as a private opinion.

To create a coalition against slavery, he believed the nativists had to be defeated and some brought into the coalition. He engaged in intricate politics in Illinois to do that.

Finally, in an organizing meeting of newspaper editors in 1856, he was invited, and the meeting leads to a call for a convention to found the Illinois Republican Party.

The meeting almost breaks up over nativism. An ally of Lincoln’s proposed an anti-nativist plank, and the nativists opposed it. Maybe there won’t be a Republican Party—but Lincoln says the answer is in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal. On Lincoln’s authority, the question is resolved. The party was created state by state over this period.

Q: Where are you with the other volumes of your work on Lincoln?

A: I wrote originally all the way to the end and went back to the beginning and redid the first volumes. Now I’m rewriting volume 3. Volume 4 is done. I’ll go back over it, and put a gloss on it, but I feel pretty good.

Q: So what period does volume 3 cover?

A: It goes from the founding of the Republican Party to Gettysburg. It’s a long period. Volume 4 goes from after Gettysburg through Reconstruction. I deal with what happens to Lincoln’s legacy.

The scope of events is so epic—after Gettysburg, the rise of Grant, the Wilderness Campaign, the reelection campaign, the assassination, and so on. I think I have something to say.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve written this book over years, and didn’t have in mind the situation we’re in today. You can always draw lessons from almost any period in Lincoln’s life, including the current period we’re going through.

I would say some lessons are that Lincoln understood that the crisis of democracy in the United States was not isolated to the United States. He was deeply affected by suppressed revolutions in 1848 in Europe, and chaired a meeting in Springfield urging support for those struggling in Europe.

He always thought of the struggle here for democracy as the front lines of that movement throughout the West. He says in an 1854 speech in the Illinois State Capitol that he hates slavery because it deprives us of just influence in the world. There are lessons there.

It is a period when parties are coming apart at the seams. Lincoln was able to emerge and become the leader of a new party because he was able to understand the new circumstances and articulate what they mean, and articulate them not only in a narrow way but in a historical way. New leadership arises through the ability to define events.

Not least is the lesson of the leader who is intensely self-disciplined.

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

May 26

May 26, 1895: Dorothea Lange born.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Q&A with Max Klau

Max Klau is the author of the new book Race and Social Change: A Quest, A Study, a Call to Action. His other work includes The Idealist's Journey and Youth Leadership. He is the chief program officer at the New Politics Leadership Academy and is on the board of the International Leadership Association. He lives in the Boston area.

Q: You write, “America came into being in a manner that was laced with paradox and hypocrisy.”  Can you say more about that, and how it affects race relations today?

A: The founding truth of the country is a mix of incredibly idealistic ideas and a brutal system of slavery based on race. American history is a struggle to narrow the gap between the ideals and the reality.

Q: In the book, you describe a “personal quest” that helped you understand race and social change in a new way. What did your quest involve, and how did your perceptions change?

A: Part of the story is that I’m Jewish, and learned a lot about how people are cruel to each other, with the progressive belief that people should be kind.

But I was a privileged white person living in an upper-middle-class suburb in Connecticut. I had the belief that the truth was out there, I was a good person, [and] the facts outside myself had to be understood.

It was a journey of waking to the consciousness that I was immersed in the system; I was blind to the existence of the system. [My perceptions changed] over years of conversation, curiosity, and willingness to be in uncomfortable situations.

Q: The book describes an experiment focusing on the topics of race and social change. Can you briefly describe the experiment and a few of its most striking findings?

A: I stumbled on a program that runs an exercise in line with social psychology exercises. Diverse high school students are segregated into different groups, and told not to talk to each other. It’s set up as a Jim Crow unjust system, but the kids have the opportunity to challenge it. [It involves] what might be learned by observing an experiment, an observable civil rights movement.

There’s the blindness of the people at the top, the people lower in the hierarchy are likely to challenge it. [Awareness of] the wholeness of the system is a challenge to the system. A segregated system is not a disconnected system. It’s a whole system unconscious of the reality of wholeness.

Q: How would you replicate this on a larger scale?

A: I spend several chapters exploring the implications of the experiment, how to extrapolate it to the real world. There’s a lot you can learn about the personal journey each person can undertake, and to understand more effectively [how] our nation [can] address these challenges.

Q: Given the political climate, how do you see these issues playing out?

A: I’ve heard from a lot of folks who are profoundly pained by the state of civic life in America and race relations in particular, and don’t know what to do; we seem to be at the same place over and over. Consciousness matters. My own lack of consciousness led me to perpetuate things over and over. [Perhaps there] is a national policy that can shift this.

Q: What do you see looking ahead?

A: I’ve arrived at clarity that all we can do is each walk our path, and live with as much courage and compassion as we can. If the book helps people understand this stuff at a deeper level and be of service as a whole, [we can] hope it influences the policymakers.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My profession is leadership development. I’m the chief program officer at the New Politics Leadership Academy. Our programs [encourage] military veterans and Peace Corps [volunteers] to run for office. We would have a different politics…

Q: Anything else we should know about the book?

A: I hope it awakens people to the interconnectedness between the inner and outer worlds. The systems are a reflection of inner ways of being. When we shift inner ways of being, we shift systems. It always seems to start with people getting together, achieving a higher consciousness, and that’s the beginning of the journey.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb