Friday, April 20, 2018

Q&A with G. Neri

G. Neri is the author of the new children's picture book When Paul Met Artie: The Story of Simon & Garfunkel. His other books include Tru & Nelle and Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. He has worked as a filmmaker and animator, and he lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida.

Q: Why did you decide to write a picture book about Simon and Garfunkel?

A: After completing my picture book bio Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, which told of the history of American music in the first half of the 20th century, I felt there was a great story to be told about the birth of rock n’ roll.

The Cash book takes us up to that remarkable moment in Memphis in the ‘50s with Johnny, Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins but so many great bands from the ‘60s came directly out of hearing those songs on the radio and feeling like they could do it too.

I learned about the childhood friendship of Simon & Garfunkel completely by accident, but that friendship hit all the things I wanted to express about this important cultural shift. And most people had no idea of their amazing teen years and what lead up to the seminal "Sound of Silence."

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

A: Everything was surprising, from the fact that they met in a 6th grade production of Alice in Wonderland to them having a hit rockabilly record at 16 years old under the names Tom and Jerry, to the wild story about how they reformed as a folk act after years of failure.

I tried to use them as source material via hundreds of interviews in print, radio, and TV spanning 1957 to today.

Q: How much do you think kids know about Simon and Garfunkel, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?

A: Most kids know very little but there is a hardcore fan base amongst certain poetic angst-ridden teen girls.

To me, it’s more important that they learn about the history of American music from the ‘50s to the ‘70s and how vital and earth-shattering it was. A lot of the story is about never giving up and overcoming adversity, which is always important for young people to see.

Q: What do you think David Litchfield's illustrations add to the book?

A: David’s work is fantastic and brought a whole dreamy, child-like quality to the story. It really elevated the book and gave it a groovy New York vibe.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: So many things. Have two graphic novels coming up. The first, Grand Theft Horse, is due in November. Doing a sequel to Ghetto Cowboy too. And a book about my adventures in Antarctica this past year!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I feel blessed to be writing about so many different kinds of real-life stories. And my readers are wonderful!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with G. Neri.

April 20

April 20, 1826: Dinah Craik born.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q&A with J.H. Diehl

J.H. Diehl is the author of Tiny Infinities, a new novel for older kids. Her other books include the picture book Three Little Beavers and Loon Chase. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Tiny Infinities and for your main character, Alice?

A: One day, when my daughter was in third grade, she brought home from school a picture she’d drawn of a fantastical bug, that she’d titled “Bugfire.”

The moment I saw it – I have no idea why – an image appeared in my head of an older girl standing over a younger girl, outdoors in the dark, with their hands cupped together around glowing fireflies. The smaller girl was saying “bugfire,” and it was the first word she’d spoken in years.

I knew the story behind this scene belonged to the older girl. And that she was babysitting, and unrelated to the younger one. I saw her as a newly turned teenager, again I don’t know why. Except that, when I finally began to draft the book, it turned out that 13 was an age I had something on my mind to write about.

Among the reasons she’s called Alice is that I liked the classic associations the other characters might make with her name, versus the reality of her namesake. My Alice is named after her dad’s beloved childhood family dog.

Q: Why did you decide to have her be a swimmer?

A: It had to be a summer story, because the season for fireflies is summer. My kids participated on our local community pool summer swim team for more than a decade.

Just like I knew swim team was a great activity for my kids, I knew it would be wonderful for Alice. Swim team is an opportunity to build physical and emotional strength, and to experiencing setting goals, achieving, failing, and persevering.

A swimming goal doesn’t have to be  - like Alice’s in Tiny Infinities – to set a team record. Even if you never actually win a race, you can improve your own best time in an event.

There’s almost always a way to find something positive about swimming. You may race against other teams, but you’re really competing with yourself. As a member of the team, you get to be a part of something that’s larger than you, a wonderful community, of kids and families, with many fun traditions.

I wanted Alice to have a positive activity and community outside of her family structure, and I wanted her to have goals that were appropriate for a kid to have – unlike the impossible goals she set herself at home, to fix the things she has no control over: her parents’ decision to split and her mom’s depression.

She swears that since her dad is moving out, she’ll move out, too, and live in a tent in the back yard as long as it takes him to agree to return.

Alice cooks, picks up prescriptions for her mom and does household chores, all in the hope that she can help her mom get better. Over time, she realizes that she can’t control or fix what’s going on in the life of her parents. But she can commit herself to, and achieve goals in her sport.

As I wrote the story, it became partly about how a sport can anchor a kid through tough times. That’s true, too, for many other activities kids pursue with passion: art, music, community service…writing!

Q: What do you think the book says about parent-child relationships?

A: As Officer Gina says near the beginning of the story, every family and every situation is different. However, when parents’ lives are troubled, I think it’s not uncommon for kids to end up, in some senses, parenting their parents. It’s not a healthy situation; it’s too much responsibility in childhood.

Tiny Infinities depicts one version of what it’s like to navigate life as a child with a parent going through a period of depression. In this story, Alice bears up as best she can, and makes plenty of mistakes.

For a child of troubled parents, part of growing up is realizing that you can’t fix their situation and that it’s not on you to try. In the end, Alice – like her young babysitting charge – has to find the spark in herself, has to create her own resilience to move forward.

All that said, I don’t know if that’s what readers will take away from the story. One thing I love about novels is that each reader for whom a book resonates finds something unique in it.

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

A: The title "Tiny Infinities" comes from a conversation Alice has with her odd, new friend on the swim team, Harriet. Harriet is very into math and science. She’s fascinated by the infinite number pi, and finds it strange that pi gets rounded off to 3.14 regularly in math problems.

“Shouldn’t there be a huge difference between infinity and any number that has a definite end?” she asks. “Isn’t it interesting that the real difference between an infinite number like pi and a finite one like three point one four turns out to be a very tiny decimal? An infinitesimal decimal, to be as exact as possible about that inexactness? Shouldn’t the difference between something and nothing be the same?”

She demonstrates the classic acting exercise of transitioning from laughter to tears, with no clear delineation between the two.

Alice can’t help wondering at what “point my parents had gone from loving each other to not loving – was that a teeny tiny change, too?...What had made the difference between deciding we could all be a family of five, and my dad living someplace else?”

Alice discovers that, in order to move forward with her own life, she has to draw the lines in herself.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Another MG novel, but intended as a lighter entertainment.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: There’s a lot of science in Tiny Infinities, and I hope the story will appeal to kids interested in S.T.E.M. subjects. Alice, Harriet and their friend Owen recreate firefly bioluminescence in a make-shift basement lab.

If any readers on swim teams want to use Tiny Infinities as a summer reading book, I’m offering to come to their pool to answer questions and talk about the story if they’re in the DC-Metro area. Or to Skype in, if they’re further away.

I hope the book will be meaningful to kids whose parents have parted ways, to kids who may have experienced life with a parent suffering from depression, and to readers who may have a sibling coping with a developmental delay.

My characterization of Piper, the little girl who can’t speak, is based on my research into a rare childhood seizure disorder, sometimes mistaken for autism. I was fortunate enough to be able to consult with a pediatric neurologist who had treated kids with this rare problem.

I’m in awe of the parents, medical professionals and educators working so hard to help children suffering from seizure disorders, autism and other developmental delays.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog. It’s an honor to be here!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Roma Tearne

Roma Tearne is the author of the novel Brixton Beach, which takes place in Sri Lanka and England. Her other books include Mosquito and Bone China. Born in Sri Lanka, she is based in the U.K.

Q: What inspired your character Alice and the story you tell in Brixton Beach?

A: I suppose the answer is simply my mother. Long ago when I was still a young teenager she told me, “No one will ever hear my story. Why should the world care?”

At the time I was going through teenage battles with my mum but the words pierced my heart. Trying to show indifference I tossed them aside.

But then many years later soon after her death, as a mother of three children myself, I remembered what she had said in a moment of despair. It was to take another few years but then with wiser, sadder eyes, I saw how she had suffered with each child that was murdered.

The dedication in Brixton Beach is to her with the simple statement that her story would not be lost. Indeed, it hasn’t been. Of all my books it is the one that has sold the most around the world. And at last I felt her life had not been in vain.

And the character of Alice? Well she came out of my head really. The paintings described are some of my own but that is the only link with reality. 

Q: Many readers may come to the novel without much familiarity with the history of Sri Lanka. What do you hope they take away from the book in that regard?

A: I didn’t set out to write a political novel. In politics it is the human story that matters, always. People can judge the politics of Sri Lanka as they wish. I merely wrote about the things we do to one another.

I also wanted  (rather passionately I admit) to highlight the plight of the immigrant and how hard they have to work at integrating how long the journey is.

I address this in Simon’s thoughts in the very last paragraph of the novel, which I rewrote about 15 times. Alice brought the beach to Brixton in the end. What a triumph! 

Q: As a writer and an artist, how do you see the two coexisting in your work?

A: Well, you know, I describe the paintings and installations in the book from the inside out. And the funny intense way of seeing that an artist has, well it sort of slips into the writing too. 

Q: Are there other novels focused on Sri Lanka that you would especially recommend?

A: Look, this is a tough question. I don’t like novels based on a specific country. I would if I may recommend an atmospheric book I read recently. A Pale Views of Hills  by Ishiguro springs to mind. A wonderful, luminous novel. I could go on in this vein but won’t. I have a real horror of novels by countries! Really sorry.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Well, something entirely different. I’m dealing with the same issues that I’ve always cared about; migration, the effects of conflict, the human price, that sort of thing, but this time I’m treating the subject in a totally different way. Fingers crossed, I hope it works!

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Oh, okay, as you are twisting my arm…I’m working on a series of small paintings, my first in 16 years! (Gulp!) You can see the drawings on my Instagram feed.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 19

April 19, 1900: Richard Hughes born.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Q&A with Lorie Langdon

Lorie Langdon is the author of Olivia Twist, a new young adult novel inspired by Charles Dickens' classic book Oliver Twist. Her other books include the Doon series.

Q: You note that Olivia Twist “was thirty-five years in the making.” How did the concept for the novel change over the years?

A: This book started out like the first fan fiction. Back when I was a kid, my grandma took me to see the rerelease of Oliver!, the musical. I fell in love with it.

My mom bought me the double album, and I’d listen to it and look at the album cover and come up with stories about the orphans. I was about seven, and I thought the boy who played Oliver was a girl. In my fantasies, I pretended Oliver was a girl so I could be that character and put myself into the story.

I developed my first celebrity crush on Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger. I thought the two would grow up and fall in love. As a teen, I fell in love with historical literature. I read Oliver Twist, and it was different from the musical.

I started writing novels in my 30s—I was in the corporate world and was feeling unfulfilled. I wrote two other books before I started this. The characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I decided to create a continuation of Oliver Twist—a combination of the musical and the classic.

Q: So how did you balance your own version of the story with the original?

A: I went into this with a strong vision of the characters and what I wanted it to be. I thought of it more as my own story, not that this is a retelling of Oliver Twist. So finding the balance was not difficult.

I had this vision in my mind of the characters and the story they’d had after [the end of Oliver Twist]. People were amazed—they’d say, how can you take on this classic story and not feel pressure? I didn’t feel pressure. Dickens was a romantic himself, and I think he’d feel honored by this.

Q: What do you think Olivia’s story says about women in the Victorian era?

A: That’s part of the reason why as an adult I loved the idea of doing a gender swap. I wanted to give the story more of a sense of modern agency, and give the character some power.

The adventure may be unrealistic, but she is able to get around the constraints the Victorian era put on her. But it could be realistic—I wanted to show teens who think the Victorian era was more medieval that this wasn’t the case. I wanted to show a feminist hero, and that Jack’s views changed over the course of the book.

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

A: Research is something I love. It can be a rabbit hole for me. It can also be a reason not to write! I research as I go. I do read a lot of historical literature, and that gave me enough of a framework that I could begin to write, and when I needed details, I would research.

Now I’m working on a spinoff and have books from the library that I’ve renewed ten times! I have reliable websites for fashion and slang.

Q: Can you say more about the next book?

A: It features Brit, the leader of the orphan gang. There’s a female character in the next book who’s trying to become the first female doctor in London. There were female doctors in America before. This character trained at the Nightingale school [for nurses], but wanted to be a doctor.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Readers don’t have to know the original story to enjoy and understand this book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Cris E. Haltom

Cris E. Haltom is the author, with Cathie Simpson and Mary Tantillo, of the new book Understanding Teen Eating Disorders: Warning Signs, Treatment Options, and Stories of Courage. She also has written A Stranger at the Table: Dealing with Your Child's Eating Disorder. A Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and a lecturer at Ithaca College, she's based in Ithaca, New York.

Q: Why did you and your colleagues decide to write this book about teen eating disorders?

A: We chose to write about teens with eating disorders because they continue to be an under-served population. Despite excellent new evidence-based treatments and prevention programs, rates of eating disorders have changed very little in the past two decades.

While the rate of full-blown eating disorders among teens remains at approximately 5-6 percent, more recent evidence indicates closer to 20 percent of teens engage in disordered eating behaviors like dieting, vomiting, and binge eating on a regular basis, posing significant risks to their health. 

Recent research indicates only one in five adolescents with eating disorders actually seek and receive treatment specifically for an eating disorder. 

The majority of eating disorders start in adolescence so early intervention is critical. Eating disorders tend to be a major threat to health with a relatively high mortality rate. And they tend to be enduring and difficult and costly to treat. As such they are a public health burden.

By writing our book, we hope to spread the word about the dangers of eating disorders and the importance of receiving evidence-based, multi-disciplinary treatment. 

Q: Who do you see as the audience for the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

A: Our book is directed toward both families and multi-disciplinary treatment professionals in order to promote evidence-based treatments for adolescent eating disorders and specialty training for clinicians. 

We recognize one size doesn't fit all when it comes to specialty treatment so we offer a look at a number of treatment options in the context of a variety of family circumstances.

Each chapter ends with a Q and A that reflects typical concerns of parents, loved ones and treatment professionals. It is our hope that carers of those with eating disorders will walk away inspired and motivated by the many treatment options and prevention strategies described in our book.   

Q: Most of the case studies you discuss involve girls. What are the statistics on girls and boys developing eating disorders?

A: This is a great question because recent evidence supports the notion that eating disorders occur across sex and gender-identity groups.  

Our book's case studies reflect the nature of our own cumulative clinical cases. They are not necessarily representative of national statistics about the sex and gender of teens with eating disorders. 

Old data suggested that the ratio of eating disorders in men compared to women was between 1:10 and 1:6.  However, more recent data suggests men and boys are less likely to be discovered to be ill, included by health care professionals, and less likely to come forward for treatment when compared to women.  

A better estimate for the rate of eating disorders among men compared to women is probably closer to 1:4. Further, when we broaden the definition of eating disorders to include sub-clinical eating disordered behaviors such as engaging in patterns of dieting, vomiting, using laxatives and diet pills to control weight, the National Eating Disorders Association estimates the rate of disordered eating may be similar for men and women.

When addressing sex and gender and eating disorders, we would be remiss not to point out statistics for eating disorders in a special population of transgendered youth. Recently, transgendered college students were found to be roughly four times as likely to report eating disorders as their cisgendered counterparts. 

Q: How did you choose the particular cases on which you focus in the book?

A: We chose cases that represent experiences and approaches consistent with adolescent eating disorder literature and our own clinical experiences. 

We selected cases that were rich with a variety of interpersonal and family dynamics, heritability factors, life stage variables, personality factors, motivational factors, medical issues, psychiatric co-morbidities and social-cultural influences.

In other words, we wanted a representative sample of varied biopsychosocial patient backgrounds combined with a diversity of best practices in child and adolescent eating disorder assessment, diagnosis and treatments options.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am currently working on an article tentatively entitled "Getting teens with eating disorders to specialty-trained treatment". 

This article was inspired by an alarming finding cited in our book - that is, only 20 percent of adolescents with eating disorders seek eating disorder-specific treatment.

I am reviewing a number of topics related to treatment-seeking including assessment and screening for teen eating disorders by health care professionals, public literacy about eating disorders and their treatment, availability and accessibility of eating disorder treatment, barriers to treatment such as societal stigma against both the diagnoses and treatment, motivation for treatment including attitudes toward treatment, and the role of co-morbidities in treatment-seeking.  

Dr. Mary Tantillo has extended and refined the Multifamily Therapy Group presented in our book and will soon be writing a new book, Multifamily Therapy Group for Young Adults with Anorexia Nervosa: Reconnecting for Recovery.

Her upcoming book targets clinicians and describes a new and innovative approach to treatment for young adults with Anorexia Nervosa. Multifamily Therapy Group’s innovation comes from its reframing eating disorders as Diseases of Disconnection.

The group model, described in Nick's story in our book, was developed in partnership with patients and families over a decade and is based on relational and motivational theories, research and clinical observation.

In this model, the group teaches patients and families that Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by intra- and interpersonal disconnections and that these disconnections can perpetuate the illness and obstruct recovery. The goal of group meetings is to identify these disconnections, repair them and restore connection with oneself and others.

Multifamily Therapy Group for Young Adults with Anorexia Nervosa: Reconnecting for Recovery will promote emotional and relational skills that foster relational repair and reconnection with the self and others.

Dr. Tantillo's book will include protocols, case vignettes, and other information that translate theory and research into practice, all things that are invaluable for clinicians.

She points out the majority of training programs across disciplines do not train professionals on multifamily therapy group, and Multifamily Therapy Group is not routinely included in family training.

Having accessible, practical and clinically relevant information available in a book of this type should be very helpful to clinicians. Many professionals are uncertain about what treatment to offer young adults/adults with Anorexia Nervosa because there is no definitive treatment yet.

Dr. Tantillo's new book provides an effective treatment option and one that can serve as an excellent adjunct treatment to individual or family therapy. Her book will remind us of the power of family work and the resources families bring to bear on treatment and recovery.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: There are promising new treatments for teen eating disorders on the horizon related to the neuroscience of eating disorders, e.g., deep brain stimulation and cognitive training therapies.

We know the brain circuits of those with eating disorders don't work effectively. New treatments informed by recent scientific discoveries about the neurobiology of eating disorders may increase treatment effectiveness when added or adapted to more established treatment models described in our book. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 18

April 18, 1959: Susan Faludi born.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Q&A with Fran Leadon

Fran Leadon is the author of the new book Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles. An architect, he is the coauthor of the fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City. He teaches at the City College of New York, and he lives in Brooklyn.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the history of Broadway in your new book?

A: I was involved with the AIA Guide to New York City, an architecture guidebook to New York City, and I was the co-author of the last edition, which came out in 2010.  There were originally two authors. One died in 1990 and I was working with the surviving co-author, Norval White. He was elderly, and he died right before we finished the book.

In doing that, I got to know the city, but I was frustrated because I could never write more than a few lines on one place. So I just wanted to focus on one street. I thought about Park Avenue. I thought Broadway must have been done before, but I realized [that wasn’t the case]. The David Dunlap book [focusing on Broadway] is beautiful, but it was out of print, and it was mostly photos. So it seemed like an obvious choice.

Q: The book’s subtitle is “A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles.” How do you see the relationship between this one thoroughfare and the city as a whole?

A: It seems to me it’s one street that unites everything in Manhattan. It goes from the southern tip to the northern tip. The FDR and the West Side Highway do that, but aside from that, it’s the only street. It doesn’t hit the Lower East Side, but I managed to talk about that anyway!

It’s the city’s Main Street…The subtitle was a title I latched onto which dictated the structure. Then I had to do it—all 13 miles!

Q: The book includes an incredible amount of detail about hundreds of years of New York City history. Did you already know much of this from working on the AIA book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The funny thing was that I knew virtually nothing about Broadway, so it was all surprising. I read a book from 1911, The Greatest Street in the World, and it was incomprehensible. I realized I didn’t fully understand the street or the city. I had to do some digging and figure things out. That’s why it took so long.

Q: How long did it take?

A: I started in the summer of 2010. The proposal took me two years. Then Norton got me in 2012. That’s when I met John Glusman, my editor. I turned in a draft in 2015, which was terrible, and I rewrote for two years. It was a good six or seven years. From start to finish, eight years.

Research was another reason it took me so long. Not being a historian, not having a Ph.D., I didn’t know where to go to look for things. I was fascinated by the research. I had never done anything like that. You have to know where to go and who to talk to. It’s more collaborative than I’d thought…

Q: So what did you find that was especially fascinating or startling?

A: I was curious why Broadway suddenly swerves at 10th Street. I had heard stories about why, and I ended up writing a whole chapter about that. The answer was gratifying to figure out why. It wasn’t about drunk surveyors!...

The most surprising thing is that you hear Broadway described in this exaggerated [way], which is certainly true today—it’s become so famous, it’s not just a street anymore. I thought that was a 20th century development, but back to colonial times, they’d talk about it that way.

What I realized is that the way people described it made it what it is. They willed it into existence. They thought Broadway had potential, and therefore Broadway became Broadway. I looked at 1800-1835 land values, and even when there were no buildings there, [the land was] already more valuable. They were guessing on Broadway.

Q: You divide the book into sections based on each mile of Broadway. Were there any sections that particularly fascinated you as an architect?

A: Things were definitely weighted toward the southern tip. That’s where it started. The first mile is 400 years of history. By the time you’re on the West Side, virtually all the buildings were built at the same time. Below 59th Street, the buildings tend to be more astonishing—the Woolworth Building, the Flatiron Building. And the Ansonia on the West Side.

The Woolworth Building is one of the great buildings—the original [version of the book] had a chapter devoted just to the Woolworth Building.

The Ansonia might be my favorite—an apartment hotel on the West Side. It’s so well designed. It’s built like a fortress, and designed like a Parisian apartment house. I was able to go through the building with a realtor. I got to go to the rafters of Grace Church. Those are some of the buildings I was able to explore.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Sheila Roberts

Sheila Roberts is the author of the new novel Welcome to Moonlight Harbor. Her many other books include Christmas in Icicle Falls and Starting Over on Blackberry Lane. She lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new series, and for your character Jenna?

A: I have wanted for ages to write about a woman who inherits a run-down hotel or motel and has to fix it up. Maybe because I always thought that would be fun to do. (I probably watched too many episodes of the old British sitcom Fawlty Towers.)

My husband couldn’t imagine anything more torturous (Probably because he also watched too many episodes of Fawlty Towers!) So, giving myself a fictional place to play with really scratched that itch.

As for Jenna, my heroine who is having to hit restart on her life, I think she embodies where a lot of women are these days. I wanted to give her some challenges but I also wanted to give her a new life and new hope. I want Jenna to be a reminder to all of us to always look for the rainbow in the storm.

Q: The novel is set in a town on the coast of Washington state. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I think a good story can happen anywhere, and I love stories set in exotic locales. But I also love that small town vibe so I tend to favor small towns for my settings. I love the beach and the town of Ocean Shores, Washington, which became the inspiration for Moonlight Harbor.

Yes, we really do have deer wandering loose everywhere down there. They are either adorable or pests, depending on whom you talk to.

Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end, or do you make many changes along the way?

A: I always pre-plan my books, creating the skeleton of the story. I will flesh that out as I go, but for me it’s important to have the structure in place, to know how I’ll resolve important issues.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: I have a few: Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Donald E. Westlake, John Grisham (I’m a Grisham junkie!), my pals Susan Wiggs and Debbie Macomber, and I recently got hooked on Robert Dugoni, who is wonderful.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m about to start the third book in my Moonlight Harbor series.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I enjoy hearing from readers and always have fun things up on my Facebook Like page or website, so please come find me. Thanks so much for letting me hang out with you and your posse!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 17

April 17, 1957: Nick Hornby born.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Q&A with Caitlin Macy

Caitlin Macy is the author of the new novel Mrs.. She also has written The Fundamentals of Play and Spoiled, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in New York City.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Mrs., and why did you set it in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis?

A: I was standing outside my daughters' school surrounded by well-heeled, almost scarily perfect-seeming women and was thinking about the irony of the fact that we were the "hooking up" generation, and I started to wonder about the variety of experience--the messiness--that underlay the polished appearances.

I set it in the aftermath of the financial crisis (January 2009) because that was a time of exposure--the unsavory practices of many individuals who had been able to coast along were suddenly revealed; it was a time of upheaval and that always opens up plotting possibilities. 

Q: The story is told 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 and then move things around?

A: Nice question. A bit of both. I definitely did some moving of passages--some cutting and pasting--because it was important to me to get the beats right.

If I stayed in one character's voice for too long, the rhythm would seem off, but at the beginning, I needed to stay in one character's voice for awhile so that I could get to know the character. As I wrote, I was able to find opportunities to spread out the information. 

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

A: An agent in my agent's office suggested the title. (My working title was "Philippa Lye.")

I found that "Mrs." resonated for me because it suggests an alias--a woman living under her husband's name--leading not a fake life exactly but a very different life post-marriage than she might have imagined, which is the case with all three of my female protagonists.

I also liked it because it feels that we are in the twilight of "Mrs."--"Ms." will surely outlive it. 

Q: The book jacket describes Mrs. as "a modern-day House of Mirth." What do you think of that comparison?

A: Any comparison to Wharton is lovely of course. I was certainly influenced by Lily Bart's tale--she is a victim of societal expectations. Society is more liberal now but more women of my generation than you would think, perhaps, felt that marriage was the only way forward. The millennials have changed all that. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a first-person novel about female friendship and I'm also writing some short stories that were burning a hole in my pocket while I finished Mrs..

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Originally the novel was told partly from the perspective of Philippa Lye but I found that being inside the head of the somewhat crazy, damaged person wasn't all that interesting! She was more interesting from the outside. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kathy Kacer

Kathy Kacer is the author of The Sound of Freedom, a new novel for children, and To Look a Nazi in the Eye, a new nonfiction book for young adults. Her other books include To Hope and Back and The Magician of Auschwitz. She lives in Toronto.

Q: Your new novel The Sound of Freedom is based on a true story. How did you first learn about it, and how did you research the story?

A: I wasn’t the one who found this story. It was actually Rick Wilks, the publisher of Annick Press, who brought the story to me.

He asked if I would be interested in developing an historical fiction novel that revolved around a famous violinist named Bronislaw Huberman who rescued about 100 Jewish musicians and their families from across Europe during the Second World War. He brought these musicians to what was then British Mandate Palestine and formed what would become the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra.

There is a lot that has been written about Huberman and even a documentary about his life. So it wasn’t difficult to delve into his background and understand how and why he undertook to rescue these Jewish musicians.

Once I had all the historical pieces in place, I knew I could create a fictional girl who was the daughter of one of the musicians who was rescued. That’s really how the book came about.

Q: What did you see as the right blend of history and fiction as you worked on the book?

A: It’s always important to me to ensure that the historical context within which a fictional book is written is accurate. All the details of Huberman’s quest to save Jewish musicians are true – how he recruited the best musicians; how he managed to get them out of Europe at a time when the borders were closing to Jews trying to escape; how he got exit visas for them; the delays and obstacles that he faced along the way.

I really had free rein to develop my fictional girl and her family. That part is always fun – creating a young girl that my readers will relate to; giving her all the hopes and dreams of any young teenager; having her stand up for the things she wants and believes in. All those things are part of developing any fictional character.

But again, in this case, Anna needed to live in a place and time that was real. I chose Krakow, Poland, in 1936 as a starting off point for the story. And again, all the details about Poland at that time had to be real.

It’s always a balancing act between fact and fiction, and I tread that line very carefully, weaving my character in and out of the events of the approaching war.

Q: You also have another recent book, To Look a Nazi in the Eye. How did you end up working with Jordana Lebowitz on this project?

A: To Look a Nazi in the Eye is creative non-fiction and focuses on the story of Oscar Groening, one of the last Nazi war criminals to stand trial in Germany in 2015. He was tried and convicted of being complicit in the murder of 300,000 Jews in Auschwitz where he worked as a guard. I had been following the trial of Groening, which was world-wide news, and wanted to write about him.

But I was struggling to find a way into the story – a way that would really connect with my readership. And then I read an article about Jordana who, at 19, decided to travel to Germany so that she could be an observer at this history-making trial.

I thought it was remarkable that a 19-year-old would undertake such a journey, and I thought that Jordana’s story was the perfect vehicle within which to write about the trail. I contacted her and asked if she would be willing to meet with me. She agreed and we began to meet on a regular basis so that I could unravel all the details of her experience in Germany.

Q: What do you hope readers learn about the Holocaust from reading Jordana's experiences at a Nazi war crimes trial?

A: There are so many issues that I hope readers will think about when reading about Jordana’s experience – what it means to bring a 94-year-old to trial after so many years; how justice can (or can’t) be served this many years after a crime has been committed; what is an appropriate sentence for a crime of this magnitude. Those are all issues that Jordana grappled with while she was in Germany.

In addition to those discussion points there is also so much that I hope my audience will be inspired by as they read about Jordana – her passion to become a young activist; her determination to become a spokesperson for this history for her generation; her drive and fearlessness. Those traits of Jordana’s were all inspiring to me and I hope they will be inspiring to my readers.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Oh, I have so many projects in the works! The Sound of Freedom is actually the first in four-part series of books called The Heroes Quartet. Each book will focus on a heroic person who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

The second book (due out in March 2019) is about Marcel Marceau, the famous mime artist. He rescued about 150 Jewish children by smuggling them out of France and into Switzerland. It’s another remarkable story! The third and fourth books in the series will be about women rescuers; I’m not sure who they will be yet!

After that, I have a long format picture book coming out with Second Story Press which is based on a true story about Prince Philip’s mother. She was a princess living in Greece during the Second World War and she hid a Jewish family in her residence during that time.

Finally, I’ve written a lovely historical fiction with the acclaimed children’s author, Eric Walters. It’s about a teenage girl who auditions for a school musical. She tries to get her grandfather involved in the production only to discover that he has a secret past which ties him to the Holocaust and prevents him from being around music. That one will be published by Penguin Random House and will be out in September, 2019.

After that, I’ve got a few more ideas for books. There are always more stories to tell!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: In addition to my writing I continue to speak to schools, colleges, libraries, and community groups about my books, my writing and my mission to keep the stories of the Holocaust alive for future generations. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I am committed to finding and writing as many of these stories as possible. But I also love speaking about my work!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 16

April 16, 1972: Tracy K. Smith born.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Q&A with Debra Dean

Debra Dean, photo by Robert Zuckerman
Debra Dean is the author of the new book Hidden Tapestry: Jan Yoors, His Two Wives, and the War That Made Them One. Her other books include the novels The Madonna of Leningrad and The Mirrored World. She is on the faculty of the creative writing program at Florida International University, and she lives in Miami.

Q: How did you first learn of the story of Jan Yoors and his family, and why did you decide to write this as nonfiction rather than fiction?

A: A good friend of mine, Mitchell Kaplan, and I were standing in his bookstore one day and he said, “I’ve got your next book.” People say this to authors a lot, and it’s never, ever true – except this once. Mitchell’s sister is a documentary filmmaker and had met Marianne and Annabert Yoors when she was researching a film on polygamy. He started telling me this amazing story, and I was hooked.

My previous work has all been fiction and my novels—The Madonnas of Leningrad and The Mirrored World—are historical fiction, so it’s reasonable to expect that I would fictionalize this story as well. But in historical fiction, the fiction is created in the gaps between history, those blank areas where we no longer know what happened and so are free to invent.

In this case, though, there weren’t many gaps. I had almost more source material than I knew what to do with. Of the three subjects, Jan had written two memoirs and had given scores of interviews, Annabert had kept diaries from the time she was a young child, and Marianne is still alive and was willing to answer all my questions.

They had also saved thousands of pages of letters and ephemera—family photographs, false passports, newspaper clippings, invitations, and the like. Sure, I could have still made up scenes and invented dialogue, but something about that felt not quite kosher.

The other reason I chose to write it as non-fiction is that the story is so incredible that I didn’t think anyone would accept it as fiction. The adage that truth is stranger than fiction is relevant here: with fiction, readers expect an ordered construct where the world makes a kind of internal sense. But real life is messy and full of coincidence and inexplicable mystery.    

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

A: I read volumes of material that are in the Yoors Family archives, and I conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with the surviving spouse, as well as others who knew them. And then, to be able to put their story in context, I had to bone up on everything from the history of tapestry to the Hunger Winter in Holland during World War II to Greenwich Village bohemians and Andy Warhol.

It’s hard to isolate one thing that particularly surprised me because so much of the Yoors’ story is astonishing.

But one question that came up for me and has subsequently troubled readers of the book is that Jan’s parents allowed him as a 12-year-old child to basically run off and travel Europe with a family of Gypsies. It seems like incredibly lax parenting to say the least.

In his memoirs and in countless interviews, Jan presented the story of his leaving home with the Gypsies as a kind of accidental lark, but in the course of researching we found in his first wife’s diaries one sentence that referred to him having been molested by a priest and the suggestion that this is what he was actually running away from.

And this leads me to wonder if his parents might have known about the abuse. Is this why they were so strangely tolerant of his going? Jan is dead, Annabert is dead, it’s one of those unsolvable mysteries that they took to their graves. If this were a novel, I would be free to invent an answer and solve the mystery. Ah, well.

Q: How well known were the Yoors during the years they lived in New York, and what did people think of their polyamorous lifestyle?

A: Jan Yoors was never famous, but he was well-known by museum directors and architects and other people in the business. The Yoors hosted big parties at their studio that were attended by lots of names in the art world, as well as people from diplomatic circles and all the different cultures that Jan moved through.

He was also something of a cult figure, especially after his first memoir, The Gypsies, came out. Around the Village, the three of them were recognizable figures.

But the polyamory was a closely guarded secret, and not even their friends knew. Jan was legally married to Annabert, and Marianne was introduced as her sister. Later, when Marianne became pregnant and had a child, Jan divorced Annabert and married Marianne so their son could be legitimate. From that point forward, she was introduced as the wife and Annabert became the sister-in-law.

I think it’s evidence of what a master Jan was of sleight-of-hand and misdirection. People either didn’t notice the change or they wrote it off as their own confusion. Then, too, it was Greenwich Village, so people didn’t really care so much who was sleeping with whom.

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

A: Titles are usually a negotiation between the author and the publisher, and I’ve only had one title that didn’t come at the end of a long string of other possibilities.

That said, Hidden Tapestry is very apt as a title because so much of their lives were spent in hiding of one kind or another. They were literally tapestry makers, but the book is also constructed like a tapestry, weaving together their three individual stories and the threads of their wartime and post-war lives.

The subtitle of the book is “Jan Yoors, His Two Wives, and the War That Made Them One.” That last part is significant because I came to believe that there was this very particular set of circumstances that allowed them to invent an alternate marital relationship.

It came out of trauma and the fragmenting of their families of origin. Both women lost their mothers when they were young children and then the war further undid those families and any sense of security or normalcy. It’s not unusual for people who have experienced war to begin to question the rules of their society and to choose to live as they please rather than according to the dictates of the old world.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve started something but it’s still in the first trimester, so I’m not talking about it yet.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: There’s lots more inside Hidden Tapestry–it’s such a multi-layered story—but I won’t spoil it. Instead, I’ll take this opportunity to send people to my website and Facebook page. There’s more there. I enjoy talking with readers and book clubs, and I’ll be curious to hear their thoughts about this new book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Debra Dean.