Friday, March 23, 2018

Q&A with Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the author of the new novel The Family Next Door. Her other books include The Secrets of Midwives and The Mother's Promise. She is a former human resource professional and has lived in Singapore, the UK, and Canada. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Q: You tell the story in The Family Next Door from a variety of perspectives. Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus on one character at a time?

A: I wrote it in the order that it appears. Even though there are multiple characters, writing linearly is important for me so I’m conscious of pacing, structure and the way each character intertwines with the others. If I broke them up I think it would be like a Rubik’s cube, trying to slot everything back into the right spot.

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

A: I rarely know how my books will end. I tend to start with a premise and an idea of the challenges my characters will face along the way, but I never really know how it will end until I’ve written it.

For me, it takes time to get to know the characters and understand how they will react. After two or three (or 17) drafts, the ending usually reveals itself to me.

Q: The novel deals with the issues of family and motherhood. What do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: I try not to anticipate what readers might take from my books, purely because that’s not my role. People come to books with their own lenses—tinted by their experiences, morals and beliefs. 

I often receive emails from readers who have been touched by something so minor or incidental that I could never have anticipated—or even intended—it, and yet, it’s affected them profoundly. That’s why I stick to writing the most informed, entertaining book I can and leave the rest to the reader.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have just turned in my 2019 book, The Mother In Law, to my editor. There will be edits to come on this book before I start on my 2020 book. No rest for the wicked!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I am currently finishing up my tour for The Family Next Door but readers can visit my website for information for how to have me Skype into their bookclub. They can also sign up to my newsletter, The Secret Life of Authors, on my website, where I spill the dirt what it’s really like being an author. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Marc E. Agronin

Marc E. Agronin, M.D., is the author of the new book The End of Old Age: Living a Longer, More Purposeful Life. His other books include How We Age, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and Scientific American. He is a geriatric psychiatrist and is director of mental health services, clinical research, and the outpatient memory center at Miami Jewish Health.

Q: You write, "This book has a simple message: aging brings strength." What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about the aging process?

A: We tend to define aging only as a process of decline, loss and disease, with its benefits seen as mere survival against the odds. This definition is realistic but it's only half the story.

I describe in The End of Old Age how the aging process itself grants a variety of strengths through ongoing growth and development of our experience, knowledge, skills and their integration over time.

Thus, we gain greater wisdom, deeper purpose and heightened creativity because of age. These factors must be seen as a counterbalance to the decline perspective.

Q: In the book, you describe "creative aging." How do you define that, and what do you advise your patients about living creatively?

A: Creative aging refers to aging in a way that creates and develops new endeavors, relationships and perspectives that go above and beyond our previous selves. It's aging as growth and not decline. 

It's based, in part, on Gene Cohen's concept of developmental intelligence in which our experiences and abilities grow with age and achieve greater integration and synergy.

Q: In your years as a geriatric psychiatrist, have you seen any changes in how your patients are approaching aging?

A: I see more and more people coming to me in the 80s and 90s who are in good physical and mental health but want to enhance relationships and personal endeavors. They see aging more in terms of potential than problems.

I wouldn't say that 80 is the new 70, but that 80 is just new for so many people. These individuals may not have had aging role models when they were younger, and so they have to be pioneers of aging, blazing a path for all of us heading into those years.

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

A: I hope that readers will feel excited about their own potential as they age, seeing aging itself as the secret sauce to a better life.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am leading an amazing project at Miami Jewish Health to create the very first village in the U.S. for individuals with dementia, with a care model based in empathy.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The best way to learn about one's aging self is to build relationships with older individuals. Find elders to be your teachers, mentors, role models and inspirational figures.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Beth Benedix

Beth Benedix is the author of the new book Ghost Writer: A Story About Telling a Holocaust Story. It focuses on the life of Joe Koenig, a Holocaust survivor, and Benedix's efforts to tell his story. Her other books include Subverting Scriptures, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications. She is a professor at DePauw University, and is the founder of the nonprofits arts organization The Castle. She lives in Greencastle, Indiana.

Q: Your book is subtitled "A Story About Telling a Holocaust Story." Why did you decide to take this approach to your book, and how long did it take to write it?

A: Thank you so much for asking this question! It took about nine years to write, and it went through a number of different iterations.

Somehow I always knew that the story I most wanted—felt I needed—to tell was the story of the process of trying to tell this story, which sounds terribly convoluted when I say it this way. But the truth is that the earlier iterations fell flat because I attempted to mute my sense that it had to be this way. 

The questions that I obsess over—the ethical questions concerning how to tell someone else’s story, what it means to choose one method over another, what it means to impose a narrative arc, how to draw out the universal implications of an insular set of memories—are essentially questions of process, and, so, it seemed natural to me to bring these questions out into the open. 

My biggest inspirations in memoir--Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and David Harris-Gershon (What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?)—are painstakingly, playfully, process-driven, and the authenticity of this approach came as a revelation to me the first time I read their books. 

There’s a vulnerability to this approach that feels necessary to me, a tentative quality that conveys the reality of what it feels like to just not know how best to communicate the weight of Joe’s story. 

I gesture to Paul Celan at the close of the book, and this gesture captures my full sense that a story like this, a story of encounter—raw, real, unscripted—is always “en route.” 

Q: Throughout the book, you discuss both Joe Koenig and your father. What do you see as the connection between then?

A: Yes, this connection becomes a central motif, even as it surprised me to make the connection. In the book, I try to make clear that, in so many ways, Joe and my father couldn’t be farther from one another. 

There’s a conversation we have, for instance, where I tell Joe in no uncertain terms my sense of the chasm between them: I tell him that, where he is a true survivor, my father—who died when I was 20—squandered his life. 

And yet… my relationship with Joe, the time I spent with him poring over his story and learning who he is and what makes him tick… somehow this all brought my father back to me in the most vivid way. 

Somehow the relationship we developed—his sense of humor, his brute honesty, the way he challenged me to face my fears, the way he knew how to master the world around him—all of this brought my dad back.  And I started to process Joe’s story through the residual ache of losing my father. 

In an act of what I can only call grace, Joe told me once that we are “the same” because we both lost our fathers too soon. The weight and generosity of that statement loomed somehow over the book for me; I wanted to understand what it meant that Joe could have said this, when our experiences seemed so far apart to me, when his losses were so profound and mine seemed so prosaic. 

So I think the connection is mainly that he validated my sense of loss.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from Joe's story and your approach to telling it?

A: Oh, this is hard, because I most want readers to have their own authentic encounters with the book and I’m so interested to see where those moments of encounter might happen for them. 

I guess I would like readers to come away primarily with a sense that they really know Joe. I want readers to see him as a flesh and blood man with a history and a family and a wicked sense of humor, a man who refuses to be labeled and defined by his experience in the Holocaust.

It was so important to me to introduce Joe in this way to readers, because it’s in this kind of meeting that his story becomes most meaningful. Joe’s memories are of unfathomable loss, and I feel an obligation to share these memories, both for his family’s sake and for the sake of recording and collecting his testimony. 

Alongside of that sense of obligation is another: the obligation to show that stories of memory take on lives of their own for the people who listen to them. It has to be a shared act, this kind of story-telling, this kind of testimony, it has to be about the attempt to make a connection—even if the attempt feels clunky or flawed or incomplete.

Q: What impact did writing the book have on you?

A: At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s pretty fair to say that writing this book has changed my life. I live in a perpetual state of gratitude that Joe came into my life, a perpetual kind of wonder at the workings of the universe. 

Knowing Joe has changed the way I’ve thought about… well… everything, from writing to teaching to being a mom. Everything feels more applied now, more hands-on, more in-the-thick-of-it.  There’s a clarity that wasn’t there before, a sense of what really matters.

In the book, I talk about the Jewish concept of beshert—fate.  Allergic as I am to any form of institutionalized religion, this concept—that there are others with whom we are fated to cross paths—resonates with me in a way that I always sort of sensed but was never quite able to articulate until writing this book. 

The magic simplicity of the not-so-chance encounter… I’ve come to honor this as something that can only be felt intuitively and viscerally, and to acknowledge the power of connection when it happens.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I’m working on marketing this book! It’s been such a long road, and I’m really looking forward to the conversations that I’m hoping this book will facilitate. 

I’m waiting for the next writing project to announce itself to me. In the meantime, I’m keeping busy being a mom, teaching, directing a nonprofit organization and gigging with my band.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: This question makes me anxious! I feel like I should have a perfectly witty response. The only thing that comes to mind, strangely, is a line from Rush’s song “Free Will”: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” 

Oh, and a quote from the newly released movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, which I just saw with my kids, a line from Rumi: “the wound is the place where light enters you.” So beautiful.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about Ghost Writer, Deborah!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 23

March 23, 1882: Emmy Noether born.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Q&A with Nancy Schoenberger

Nancy Schoenberger is the author of the new book Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero. Her other books include Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood. She is a professor of English and director of creative writing at the College of William and Mary, and she lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, and New York City.

Q: Why did you decide to write about both John Wayne and John Ford in your new book?

A: As a fan of the Western since childhood, I wanted to write about its origin story, which brought me to Ford's early Westerns and his use of John Wayne as the quintessential Western hero. 

Q: In the book, you ask, “Why was the Western such a powerful mode of storytelling throughout the second half of the last century?” Why do you think that is, and what accounted for its decline?

A: The Western is a classic hero's journey, a compelling form of storytelling since Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, so there's that universal appeal. 

The Western also represented America's origin story -- often romanticized and almost always told from the point of view of white settlers who wrested the country from Native Americans, especially appealing to mainstream Americans of the last century.

That said, Westerns also offered a model of masculinity that both flattered men but also imparted a code of ethics and a paradigm of right action. 

In Ford's Westerns -- and it was carried through in the roughly three decades of TV Westerns --  it is the hero who usually combats racism, welcomes immigrants, treats women with respect, and defends women against ill treatment.

Because Westerns are morality tales, there's a clear line between right action and evil doing -- we know who the heroes are and who the villains are. I wonder what form of storytelling has replaced that for young boys today, as they struggle to become men.

I think as our culture began to explore and embrace stories about women, minorities, and anti-heroes, the Western fell out of fashion.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you find anything that especially surprised you?

A: I began by visiting the late Maureen O'Hara in Glengarrif, Ireland, one of the few actors remaining who knew both Ford and Wayne and who had acted in several of John Ford's movies.

I was surprised by the depth of gratitude she expressed for Ford, despite the way he often cruelly treated her on film sets, as he did his other actors, including and especially John Wayne! (One actor who knew both men said, "John Ford was the only man who could make John Wayne cry.")

I did most of my research at The John Ford Collection at the Lily Library in Bloomington, Indiana -- a great archive set up and maintained by Ford's grandson, Dan Ford.

Q: How would you describe the legacy of both Ford and Wayne today?

A: I think that we are left with the cartoon version of John Wayne as the “my way or the highway” ultra-macho tough guy, expressed in many of his later films almost to the point of self-parody.

But if you go back and see him in the earlier Westerns he made with John Ford, you'll see a more nuanced character -- still the hero we came to admire, but more human. Even the vengeful racist, Ethan Edwards, that he plays in The Searchers has a powerful change of heart at the end of the movie.

Ford continues to be revered by contemporary filmmakers as a master storyteller. Martin Scorsese once said that "every filmmaker working today owes a debt to John Ford, whether he knows it or not." The opening and closing image of John Wayne framed in a homestead's doorway continues to be imitated in contemporary films, from Star Wars to Hostiles.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm going back to poetry, my first love (I've published three books of poetry and got my MFA in poetry at Columbia University a million years ago). I'm working on turning a poem cycle of monologues based on the Ripper murders into a one-act play.

I do have a co-authored book coming out this September, but I don't want to get in the way of the official publicity so I will leave it at that!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: In this long overdue #MeToo era, I think we need to look at how boys become men, and how they learn to do the right thing in a culture that often glamorizes violence and mistreatment of women. I think Westerns did that back in the day on a grand scale, but I don't see what's replaced it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 22

March 22, 1941: Billy Collins born.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Q&A with Ruth Downie

Ruth Downie is the author of the new mystery novel Memento Mori, the latest in her Gaius Ruso series set during the Roman Empire. The series also includes Vita Brevis and Tabula Rasa. She lives in Devon, England.

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

A: The hot springs at Bath – Aquae Sulis to the Romans – are a wonderful place to visit and I’ve wanted to set a book there for years. It was just a case of finding a story.

Initially I thought I’d base the murder mystery on the curses that angry visitors dropped into the spring in Roman times. Then I looked closer and realised there must have been much more going on in Aquae Sulis in terms of religion, politics and power, not to mention some very impressive water engineering. So in the end, the curses only formed a part of the story.

The sacred spring had to be central, though: the hot waters were the reason for the town’s existence, so it seemed a good idea to throw everyone into crisis by desecrating the spring with a murder.

Q: Did you know from the beginning that you'd be writing a series about your characters Ruso and Tilla?

A: Not at all! They were background characters in something else I was trying to write. They were only dragged into the daylight so that I could enter a “Start a Historical Romance” competition for the Historical Novel Society. I was incredibly lucky when an agent spotted the story in the Society’s magazine, and got in touch.

Ruso and Tilla’s story was only intended to run for three chapters. Maybe that’s why they took on a life of their own. When you’re only expecting to write the beginning of something, you can take all sorts of risks that you might not take if you were facing the challenge of a full-length novel.

Q: What kind of research have you done as you've worked on the series, and is there anything you've learned that's particularly surprised you?

A: A combination of enthusiasm and ignorance meant my research was incredibly inefficient. I just started in the local library and followed up whatever took my fancy.

That included an archaeology evening class, which led to a decade of summers as part of a team excavating a Roman villa—not to mention my present inability to pass a hole in the ground without peering into it. 

Visiting ancient sites and museums is always a joy, and re-enactors are full of fascinating insights (apparently if you spend long days in heavy Roman armour you really need a good stretch and regular massage – is that one of the reasons forts have bath-houses?).

My British ancestors would probably laugh at my efforts to spin, weave, dye with woad and milk a goat, but my respect for them has increased hugely with my understanding of how skilled they must have been.

I was also surprised by the meticulous nature of Roman army records – one of the documents found by archaeologists near Hadrian’s Wall is a detailed list of how many chickens and geese were eaten at meals in the Commanding Officer’s house over a period of two years.  I’ve worked in several large hierarchical organizations myself, and when I read that I suddenly felt very much at home.   

As for Ruso’s medical practice – a surprising number of medical textbooks survive from the ancient world.

It’s easy to mock suggestions that ear-ache should be treated with boiled cockroaches, or that an attack of malaria can be warded off by swallowing bed-bugs placed inside beans – but some of the techniques used by surgeons in the classical world are so good they were still in use in the First World War. Maybe the main thing I’ve learned from research is a little humility!

Q: This is your eighth Gaius Ruso mystery novel. How do you think your main characters have changed over the course of the series?

A: Ruso and Tilla come from very different backgrounds. He’s a Roman citizen who’s served as a medic with the Legions: she’s from one of the defeated tribes of occupied Britannia, an island where it was possible for a woman to rise to a position of real power.

In the course of the series they’ve learned each other’s languages, which in some ways offers less opportunity for comedy, but I think that joke would have worn thin over eight novels anyway.

They’ve also met each other’s families – a challenge that’s given them both some understanding of why their views on life are so different. But living together successfully has involved compromise, and now some of their own people on both sides view them with suspicion.  

Ruso and Tilla have also – by popular request - acquired a baby. Little Mara is a delight for them but a challenge for me, because nobody wants to read long tracts about babysitting. I was just as relieved as Tilla when they also acquired a babyminder.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve just finished a novella featuring Ruso and Tilla, although I’m not sure yet what will happen to it. Now I’m taking time to look around, breathe deeply and recharge the batteries.

I’m doing a lot of reading about Victorian Britain, and it’s interesting to see how the rapidly-expanding Victorian London faced similar challenges to the crowded streets of ancient Rome.  I’ve no notion where all this will lead. As you’ll have gathered, I’m not a planner.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Visitors to Bath might want to know that after a busy day of sightseeing around the Roman remains the rooftop pool of the nearby Thermae Spa is the perfect place to bathe like a Roman while you watch the sun go down over the city.

To read the first chapters of Memento Mori, look here.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 21

March 21, 1905: Phyllis McGinley born.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Q&A with Rebecca Kauffman

Rebecca Kauffman is the author of the new novel The Gunners. She also has written the novel Another Place You've Never Been. She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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

A: Early thoughts about the book were inspired by the question of whether or not people are capable of change. Most of us have probably had the experience of being very close to someone at one point in life, setting out in different directions and falling out of touch, and then eventually reconnecting.

I think the instinct at that point is to make a snap judgment as to the extent to which the other person has changed. (ie I can't believe how much you've changed! Or, Why, you haven't changed at all!)

I wonder how often what we identify as change - in others or ourselves - is not actually change at all, but simply an adaptation to changing circumstances, or the result of incremental adjustments made over time to suit the people around us. Or how often what we identify as change is not actually a person fleeing from their essence or true self, but drawing closer to it. 
This curiosity was the basis for The Gunners, in which the main characters were very close friends as children, disbanded as high schoolers, and are reconnecting in person for the first time in many years, when they are in their thirties.     

Q: You tell much of the story from Mikey's perspective, but also from the perspectives of several other characters. How did you decide on the novel's structure?

A: This structure allowed me to more fully explore the dynamic described above.  Allowing various characters (in their own POVs) to express opinions about one another is a way for the writer to more fully inform the reader about both the observer and the observed.    

Q: The story is set in Lackawanna, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. How important is setting to you in your work, and could this novel have been set elsewhere?

A: Setting is very important to me - details of place add richness to a story and inform that intangible "feel" of it.  To me, there is a really exciting complexity and precariousness to upstate New York, and I think it's only because I lived there for several years that I can write about Buffalo with energy and specificity. 

In other words, I suppose the story could have taken place elsewhere, but I don't think I could have written it in the same way.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors? 

A: Denis Johnson, Annie Proulx, Ottessa Moshfegh, Colson Whitehead, Marilynn Robinson, Haruki Murakami, Louise Erdrich, Valeria Luiselli.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I'm working on a novel about the unreliability of feelings, and some short stories that involve music. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rebecca Kauffman. 

Q&A with Viola Shipman

Viola Shipman, the pen name of writer Wade Rouse, is the author of the new novel The Recipe Box. Rouse's other books include The Charm Bracelet and The Hope Chest, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including People and Coastal Living. He lives in Saugatuck, Michigan, and Palm Springs, California.

Q: You note that your grandmother's kitchen helped inspire this novel. How did you create your character Sam and her family?

A: Yes, I grew up in her kitchen, asking questions as I tugged at the hem of her crisp white aprons embroidered with bright strawberries or pretty flowers.

My tiny grandma and her little kitchen seemed larger than life to me as a child: A vintage oven anchored one side, while sparkly countertops were engulfed by a bread box that held Little Debbies and Wonder Bread slices.

But the most prized possession in her kitchen was her recipe box. After my grandma died, my mom inherited my grandmother’s recipes. After my mom passed, I became the keeper of those recipes and memories.

Her original recipe box – which my grandfather, a woodworker, made for her – helped inspire the family in the novel because I learned about our family through the food my grandmother made. A brilliant baker, my grandma told stories as she cooked.

The character of Sam is based not only on myself but also on many of the daughters of dear friends: Young women who are defined by others and told who and what they should be before they’ve even had a chance to figure it out themselves.

Moreover, I grew up in a small town, and ran away from it because I felt like the big city would be the answer to all of my dreams. But I ended up returning to a small town once I defined who I was on my own terms. All of that is the basis for Sam.

Willo, Sam’s grandmother and the matriarch of the Mullins family and pie pantry-orchard, is based not only on my own grandmas but also on the mother of dear friends of mine who own Crane’s, a century-old pie pantry and orchard just a short bike ride from where I live in Michigan.

Bob and Lue Crane’s love story – including their struggles keeping a family business going even in the hardest of times – served as the foundation and heart of the novel. And my own mom is present in Deana, Sam’s mother, the quiet strength of the family.

I’m very proud of the three generations of women – and their individual stories, strengths and struggles – represented in The Recipe Box.

Q: The novel takes place mostly in northern Michigan. How important is setting to you in your work?

A: VERY important. I work to make the coast of Michigan a living, breathing character all its own in all of my novels. I want the setting to be as memorable a character as my protagonists. I want the place to play a large part in the narrative and even impact the decisions characters make.

And I do that because it’s done so in my own life. I moved to the resort town of Saugatuck, Michigan, at the age of 40 after quitting a stressful job in the city and starting over as an author.

The first time I set foot in Saugatuck, I was stunned by its natural beauty: The grandeur of Lake Michigan, the sweeping dunes, a town that seemed as if it came straight from a vintage postcard. The setting calls to me and inspires me, and it changed my life.

The Recipe Box is set in Suttons Bay, a gorgeous resort town in northern Michigan set on Lake Michigan and a stunning bay. It’s filled with farms, orchards and wineries, and the town is cute as a button. Dear friends live in Suttons Bay, and my aunt lives in a cute town close to there, so I’ve spent much time there.

In addition to The Recipe Box, each of my novels – The Charm Bracelet, The Hope Chest and my upcoming novel, The Summer Cottage – are all based in a coastal resort town of Michigan. I move the setting around from town to town in each novel.

My goal is to do for the Pure Michigan-Up North-Great Lakes area of the country I love and call home what some of my favorite authors – like Elin Hilderbrand, Nancy Thayer and Dot Frank – have done for Nantucket and Lowcountry South Carolina. I’m honored that The Charm Bracelet was chosen as a Michigan Notable Book last year.

Q: Why did you choose to write under the name Viola Shipman, your grandmother's name?

A: I like to say the pen name chose me. I chose my grandmother’s name, Viola Shipman, as a pen name for my fiction to honor the woman whose heirlooms, life, love and lessons inspire my writing and who inspired me to become a writer.

My Grandma Shipman – along with all of my grandparents – were working poor, but they made incredible sacrifices for my family, and I would not be where I am or doing what I am today without their support. And I’m honored that readers will be saying my grandma’s name forever. It’s the smallest thank-you I could give to her and all of my elders.

My novels are meant as a tribute to our elders, as well as the women in our lives whose voices were often overlooked but whose love and strength united us.

Q: How did you select the recipes to include in the book?

A: By gaining about five pounds, lol!

I actually thought this would be the easy part, but selecting just the right recipes for the novel turned out to be one of the most difficult parts. Each recipe not only had to fit the setting of northern Michigan (and its bounty) but also the novel’s narrative (and arc) as well as the backstories and evolution of each character.

I had my grandmothers’ recipe boxes and recipe cards and had SO many wonderful recipes from which to choose, but I had to narrow them to fit. When I had the location and specific setting (a family orchard and pie pantry), I knew I wanted to focus on desserts.

And by timing the novel for summer, I could focus on summer fruits; many of the backstories go back in time to show each of the characters, so I could fit in winter/fall desserts this way.

The majority of recipes in the book are my family’s and come directly from my family’s own recipe boxes, but there were a few that I asked friends to contribute.

There is a peach-blueberry slab pie that my friend who is an editor at Taste of Home magazine contributed (and it’s insanely good!), and dear friends who own the century-old orchard and pie pantry near where I live that inspired the setting and characters contributed their beloved cider donut recipe (people from all over the country head to this pie pantry to get their donuts and desserts)!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My next novel is The Summer Cottage, and it will publish in May 2019 from Graydon House Books/HarperCollins. The novel follows a woman who, in the wake of her divorce, quits her job, abandons city life, and attempts to convert her parents’ aging lakeside vacation home into a bed and breakfast.

The renovation unearths a surprising history, and myriad guests make her doubt her sanity and decision. I just love this novel, its characters and story, and it is set in my hometown of Saugatuck, Michigan.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My previous novels just released in new formats: The Charm Bracelet in mass market paperback, and The Hope Chest in trade paperback. Both are beautiful, heartfelt novels that are inspired by my grandma’s heirlooms and are a tribute to family, love and kindness, things we could all use more than ever in today’s world.

I also have a wonderful website and quarterly e-newsletter, and am insanely active on social media, both of which are chock-full of wonderful stories, information, recipes, home/gardening tips and giveaways. Thank you! Happy Reading & Baking!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Mara Rockliff

Mara Rockliff is the author of the new picture book Born to Swing: Lil Hardin Armstrong’s Life in Jazz. Her many other children’s books include Anything but Ordinary Addie and Around America to Win the Vote. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Q: Why did you decide to write a picture book about jazz pioneer Lil Hardin Armstrong?

A: It started when I brought home a documentary about high school jazz bands to watch with my family. My daughter played trumpet, and I thought a film about older students would inspire her. Instead, it made us all angry, because although both boys and girls played in those school bands, the filmmakers focused only on boys. The one girl they showed (briefly) was a singer. It was as if girls with instruments didn’t exist.

This is how the story of jazz is told. We hear about women singers, but the great musicians are all men. It’s not true now, and it was never true. There were always women jazz musicians, band leaders, and composers. Lil Hardin Armstrong was all three. And she was there right at the start.

Q: What kind of research did you do for the book, and what surprised you most?

A: I dug into primary source material: oral histories, interviews, newspaper articles from the time. One thing that surprised me was the contrast between how Lil has been dismissed by historians and how she was admired and respected by the men she played with—including her husband, Louis Armstrong, who pretty much owed her his career. In 1925, the Chicago Defender asked, “Louis Armstrong. Who is he? ...Louis is the feature man in Lil’s jazz band at the Dreamland.” Nobody had heard of Louis Armstrong then, but everyone knew Lil.

The most fun for me was listening to Lil’s recorded voice. She had a great way of talking, full of energy—lots of “oh, gee” and “boy, oh boy!” When I wrote her story, I tried to capture that authentic voice.

Q: What do you hope young readers take away from Lil's story?

A: I want kids to know that women can do anything, and women have done so much more than we’ve been told. A swinging jazz musician, an astonishing magician, a pair of daring suffragists dodging bullets and driving through blizzards—I love digging up the stories of forgotten heroes and giving them back their place in history.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Lights! Camera! Alice! The Thrilling True Adventures of the First Woman Filmmaker, illustrated by Simona Ciraolo, will be published by Chronicle Books in fall 2018. Alice Guy Blaché was one of the very earliest pioneers of film. Decades before silent black-and-white films started coming out of Hollywood, Alice made movies with sound, color, special effects and crazy stunts, from jumping onto the roof of a speeding train to blowing up a pirate ship. And anything she asked her stars to do, Alice did first. She even climbed into a tiger’s cage!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Both Lil and Alice are easy to get to know online! If you’d like to listen to some of Lil’s songs, try "Chimes Blues," "My Heart," "Perdido Street Blues," "Brown Gal" (later remade as "Bad Boy" by the Beatles’ Ringo Starr), "Just for a Thrill," "Born to Swing," and "Eastown Boogie."

A couple of short, funny films by Alice Guy Blaché: La Glu (The Glue) about a mischievous boy who ends up caught by his own prank, and Le Piano Irrésistible (The Irresistible Piano), in which no one can hear the sound of the piano without dancing. (Speaking of irresistible, don’t miss the little clip at the beginning, in which Alice herself turns to the camera and smiles!)

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mara Rockliff.