Monday, July 23, 2018

Q&A with Judith Barrington

Judith Barrington is the author of the new poetry collection Long Love: New & Selected Poems, 1985-2017. Her other books include The Conversation and Horses and the Human Soul, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Creative Nonfiction and Prairie Schooner. Born in England, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Q: How did you choose the poems to include in your new collection?

A: Choosing the poems to include in Long Love: New & Selected Poems was actually quite fun. I wanted to include a few poems from each of the four collections I had published, going back to the first one in 1985.

My dilemma turned out to be whether to choose the poems I considered to be “the best” —that is, the most technically accomplished, or alternatively to use the sequence to present a kind of chronological narrative.

In the end I used a mixture of the two approaches, noticing how my subject matters often recurred in slightly new versions, but also how I acquired more skills with which to handle them.

I also tried to include examples of the three or four major themes that haunt all four previous books: feminism; horses and my relationships with them; the natural world, particularly the switch from my early British landscape to the new Oregon environment; the ocean; and moving through early lesbian shame into the era of same-sex marriage. 

Q: The poems in the collection span the period from 1985-2017. Do you think your writing style has changed at all over that period, or has it remained fairly consistent?

A: I think over the span of years covered by the book, my style evolved from somewhat didactic and straightforwardly narrative, to more subtle in its use of musical language, some traditional forms, and homages to some of my favorite poets, seeking echoes of their forms.

An example of this is “The London Bombs” which borrowed the structure of Auden’s poem, “September 1, 1939.” 

Q: How was Long Love (also the name of one of the poems in the collection) chosen as the title of the book, and what does it signify for you?

A: In looking for a title, I scanned all the individual poems’ titles and kept stopping at “Long Love.” For a collection that spanned a long time, it seemed appropriate, and, although the poem of that title refers to my relationship with Ruth, it could also read, I think, to mean a long love of poetry.

To me it signifies both meanings, and is something I feel strongly about acknowledging, as I move into being an elder in a long marriage within the lesbian community. 

Q: Which poets do you especially admire?

A: Poets I admire: Adrienne Rich, Maxine Kumin (who was also a friend), W.H. Auden, Seamus Heaney, and contemporaries: Robin Becker and Paul Merchant. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: At the moment I am working on a nonfiction prose piece of linked memoirs told through relationships to the major oceans in my life. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have become somewhat disabled in the past couple of years and am reading my way through works by disabled writers such as Kenny Fries and Stephen Kuusisto. Some of my physical adventures found their way into the “new” section of this selected book, and I imagine that will become a new theme to explore.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 23

July 23, 1888: Raymond Chandler born.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Q&A with Kenneth Paul Rosenberg

Kenneth Paul Rosenberg is the author of the new book Infidelity: Why Men and Women Cheat. He is a physician who specializes in addiction medicine and sexual disorders. He is on the faculty of the Weill/Cornell Medical College and has a private practice in Manhattan.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book about infidelity, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

A: I treat sexual compulsivity. And as a result, I wanted to take what I know about treating “sex addictions" and apply it to garden-variety philandering.

I’ve come to believe that sex and love are the primordial addictions. In other words, our minds are made to become addicted to sex and love which is critical for our survival.

I hope readers will understand the fundamental psychological, biological, and cultural impacts that influence us and affect our desires for infidelity.

I also hope readers will have some compassion towards themselves and others, and I understand that to desire another lover as part of our nature. Which doesn’t pardon partners, but makes it easier to understand. 

Q: In the book, you write, "Affairs are actually built not in the bedroom but in the mind." Could you explain more about that?

A: Affairs are often not about sex but about desires and expectations. But we feel we are lacking in life, and we hope that can be remedied by sexual tryst.

Q: What impact do you think the internet has had on infidelity?

A: It’s made infidelity much easier. People have a much easier time finding a new lover. It’s also made people more dissatisfied. Particularly because some of my patients become “addicted“ to porn, and find porn to be much more desirable than a true mate, or at least the mate they have available to them.

Q: You examine emotional affairs as well as physical affairs, and you focus on the idea of "emotional fidelity." How would you define that?

A: Emotional affairs are relationships with a person to whom you are attracted sexually.

Emotional affair relationships are characterized by deep intimacy, stolen moments, a yearning to be with your emotional affair partner instead of with your spouse, and most importantly of all, the extent and nature of the relationship is kept a secret from your spouse.

In other words, your emotional affair partner rivals your connection to your spouse. Sex may not be on the table, but it often is under the table. And emotional affairs often lead to physical affairs. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A project on serious mental illness—on America’s tragic neglect of the severely mentally ill. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Nothing else comes to mind. Thank you. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 22

July 22, 1849: Emma Lazarus born.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Q&A with Cristina Alger

Cristina Alger, photo by Deborah Feingold
Cristina Alger is the author of the new novel The Banker's Wife. She also has written the novels The Darlings and This Was Not the Plan. She has worked as a financial analyst and a corporate attorney, and she lives in New York.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Banker’s Wife?

A: I was inspired by two news stories that came out around the same time, both having to do with offshore banking (the bigger of the two being the Panama Papers). I've always found offshore banking mysterious and fascinating and fertile ground for a novel.

And I loved the character of Marina (from my first novel, The Darlings) - and I knew she'd be the perfect protagonist for this kind of story. 

Q: The novel switches among several characters' perspectives. Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to another?

A: I wrote it in the order it appears. I had to be very careful about the timeline so it didn't get confusing - and I was conscious of alternating chapter to chapter to give each story line equal weight. 

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

A: Both protagonists are banker's wives (one is a banker's fiancé, but still). Both are women who are really struggling with maintaining their own identity while also being married to successful men. So I thought it was a nice way to tie the two stories together. 

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: Tom Wolfe, Dominick Dunne, Truman Capote, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child, Amor Towles, Janice Lee, Alafair Burke...I could go on for a while!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A thriller set on Long Island that revolves around a series of interlinked murders of young women.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It was really important to me to write a novel that celebrated strong, intelligent women. For the past year, I've tried to read more work by female authors, and more work that features female protagonists. It's more important than ever! 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Mayur Didolkar

Mayur Didolkar is the author of the new story collection Nagin. His other work includes the suspense novel The Dark Road. A wealth manager and a runner, he's based in Pune, India. 

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?

A: First of all, thank you, Deborah, for having me on your blog for a second time. Nice to be back here.

Nagin (which literally means a female cobra) came about as a result of a mail from my publishing house Juggernaut last June. My executive editor, R. Sivapriya, wrote to me asking if I was interested in exploring the genre of shape-shifting humans (who can morph into snakes at will) for a couple of short stories.

As an avid Hindi movie watcher, I have always been fascinated by this genre and thought it would be an interesting project to replace the clichés surrounding this topic, and write a few smart, urban stories of spook involving shape shifters.

And then the way it happened was I sent a few ideas to Sivapriya and she liked them so much that we decided to do a short story collection and bring it out in print format too (instead of only on their digital platform).

Sivapriya has been my champion in Juggernaut since my first book with them and she worked this unusual book through the system to bring it in its present format. 

Q: What themes do you see running through the stories?

A: As I mentioned, shape-shifters, men and women who can take the form of snakes (and a few other animals), is the single common thread.

However, you will notice that I have consciously stayed away from the somewhat clichéd stories about revenge and love that are associated with shape-shifters (or ichcha dhari as they are called in Hindi) as far as Indian popular culture goes.

So for instance in one story, “The Laughing Heart,” we explore the highly unconventional premise of what would happen when a gang of shape-shifting jackals from outer space show up at your local pub on comedy night?

I am sure at some point almost all of us have wished we had some trait of a wild animal. The characters in my stories have those traits and we try to find out what happens when those animal traits are combined with very human emotions.

Q: How did you decide on the order of the stories in the book?

A: Thankfully, my editors at Juggernaut took care of that. I wrote stories in a fairly different order from the one the book follows. I am actually very happy to see the sequence and I dare say the reader reading from story one to story nine would actually feel a subtle thread of continuity running through them.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have finished writing my fourth novel that I am calling A Bad Place and right now my editor and I are engaged in editing the book, making it ready. We hope to have it out later this year.

As the name suggests, it is a story about one of the most common horror archetype: the haunted house. However, again like in Nagin stories, I have tried to mix the elements of modern urban life with the mythical haunted house and the results are fairly spooky even if I say so myself.

Now, I am sort of doing the ground work for another short story collection that can be called Urban Haunting...How many times we city dwellers pass that one abandoned house, that one closed hotel which somehow stands right smack in the middle of a busy hub?

What are the stories behind such places? What would happen if whatever bad lurks in those abandoned places and empty fields decides to haunt a very urban place—like, say, an ATM? It is still at a primary stage but I am having huge fun working it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: As per the rights manager of Juggernaut publishers, a lot of TV and movie productions houses are showing interest in the Nagin stories and we may very soon some of these stories getting adapted for screen.

Also, and it is still at a very primary stage, but my editor and I are exploring the possibility of doing a sequel of sorts to Nagin. Will keep you posted.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mayur Didolkar.

Q&A with Debra Finerman

Debra Finerman is the author of the new novel You Lucky Dog. She also has written the novels Mademoiselle Victorine and Shadow War. She has worked for a variety of publications, including Capital Style and The Hollywood Reporter. She lives part-time in Paris. 

Q: How did you come up with the idea for You Lucky Dog?

A: A few years ago, my girlfriend and I were discussing the subject of love, as single people often do. Specifically, we were talking about the fact that we wanted to find someone who loves us unconditionally despite our foibles.

She said, “I’d be so happy if I could just find someone like my dog. He’s always happy to see me. He senses when I’m blue and lays his head on my lap to cheer me up. It’s unconditional love. Why can’t I find a guy who loves me like that?”

I had that “aha” moment. I said to myself later that day, “That’d be a great premise for a story.”

I put it on the back burner while I wrote Mademoiselle Victorine, my first novel, and Shadow War, my second historical novel. But that intriguing idea was bubbling way back there.

Then I read a scientific article citing genetic research that showed the dog genome shares a surprising number of similar genes to humans. The scientist cited the reason as dogs and humans having evolved side by side for centuries. Another “aha” moment.

Well, I stopped saying “aha,” and I started writing a humorous book about a young couple in love. Emma and Jake seem to have it all, great careers, a successful marriage, the house, the cars, a cute Westie also named Jake, and cool friends.

Until the young husband gets in a terrible car crash while holding his wife’s dog close to his chest. He dies, the dog survives, and the human and dog DNA fuse. His soul transmogrifies into the little dog’s body.

They continue life together once she accepts the fact that it’s really him inside the dog’s body. They face lots of funny and touching moments in trying to navigate this new life together.

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 had no idea how it would end! I knew I wanted to write a funny story to make readers laugh, but I wanted an underlying foundation touching on a number of serious issues.

Three important things I’d like my readers to walk away with. Number one, True love never dies. Not just romantic love, but love for a parent, a friend, or even a pet.

Number two, the question of identity. Our identity isn’t in our physical body, that’s just the outer wrapping. True identity is in our souls, or personalities if you prefer.

And number three, we’re bombarded by so much negativity and people-bashing coming at us from all sides. Of course, we’re aware, caring, compassionate human beings, but life is pretty wacky and we just have to laugh more.

As for the surprise ending, it was suggested by another writer who’s a professor of literature. She’s a dear friend of mine who also lives in Paris. Thank you Gretel! 

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: There are so many! I love the 19th century French authors like Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Zola.

Also the great Americans of a past era like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, though he’s a little suspect now by feminists. I feel it’s anachronistic to judge him by today’s standards. He should be seen as being shaped by the era in which he grew up, lived and worked. 

I love Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, David Sedaris, oh, I can’t list everybody.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Two novels are in the works. They’re both historical fiction again. Although, I found writing contemporary fiction like You Lucky Dog a much faster process.

Historical fiction requires so much careful research before the fun part starts and the imagination can take over. I spent five years in total writing Mademoiselle Victorine before it was published by Random House.

And Shadow War, which is about French Resistance fighters and the British S.O.E. agents sent to France to help organize them, was also years in the making and long to complete.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Publishing is changing so much. Where once writers needed big publishing houses to accept their work, today readers are directly making the choices.

The great publishers will always be with us and thank goodness for that! But the independent authors are also getting their work read. I’m grateful for both systems. And I’m grateful to you, Deborah, for giving writers a place to discuss what they love—writing.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 21

July 21, 1899: Ernest Hemingway born.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Q&A with Nicola Cornick

Nicola Cornick is the author of the novel The Phantom Tree, which takes place in Tudor-era and present-day England. Her other novels include House of Shadows. She's based in the UK.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Phantom Tree, and for your character Alison?

A: A number of threads came together to form The Phantom Tree. I’ve always been interested in the lesser-known figures from history, especially women whose stories have been lost from the historical record.

One of these was Mary Seymour, the daughter of Queen Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. There is no account of what happened to Mary beyond the age of about three and I found this fascinating and was increasingly drawn to tell her story.

At the same time I saw a little portrait on the wall of my uncle’s house. He had picked it up in a market and was excited to find it had an inscription on the back claiming that it was a picture of Anne Boleyn. 

Being a writer with a penchant for mysteries I started to speculate: Was it really a lost portrait of Anne or could it be some other Tudor lady? Mary Seymour, perhaps… And the story started to grow from there.

When I first started writing the book it was all about Mary, and Alison was a minor character but gradually she started to demand more room on the page and I began to see that the story was as much about the complex relationship between the two cousins as anything else.

This was a surprise but I love it when a book takes on a life of its own like that although it did mean that there was a lot of re-writing to do! I found

Alison was a tricky character to write. It was hard to like her sometimes but the more I got into her head the more sympathetic I found her and hopefully I was able to convey that to the reader. Alison is such a complicated person; she’s had an extraordinary life and it’s made her tough but her enduring love for her son makes her both strong and vulnerable at the same time.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to recreate the sections involving Mary?

A: It was a while since I had studied any Tudor history and so I immersed myself in books about the period. I knew the broad brushstrokes of the political background for example but it was the little details that I realised I needed to discover; what people ate, how they dressed, the layout of a manor house etc.

I also did a lot of research on the ground, visiting the places where the story takes place; Savernake Forest and Littlecote House and most excitingly of all, Wolf Hall. Going to these places I was able to conjure up the atmosphere I needed for the book and really think myself into it.

Q: Mary's chapters are told in first person while Alison's are in third person. Why did you decide to write it that way?

A: I enjoy writing in the first person. It feels very real and immediate to me and I “become” the character more easily and understand their motivations, emotions and behaviour. As the book was originally all about Mary, I started off thinking it would be purely a first person narrative.

Then Alison pushed her way to the front of the book and I wanted to tell her story but to do it differently. The third person narrative felt right for her, a little more distant and harder to get to know, just like Alison herself.

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

A: As with all my books, I thought I had a rough idea of how it would end when I started writing but it went through huge changes along the way. I’m not a planner and so I find plotting out dual time stories particularly challenging but it’s also immensely fun and satisfying when all the threads come together.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently editing my next book, The Woman in the Lake, which will be coming out in February 2019. It’s another dual time novel, set in the 18th century and the present and based on the story of the first Lady Diana Spencer.

I’m also writing and researching my latest manuscript, which is another Tudor-set story. I’m particularly excited about this one; it’s a mystery set in Oxford in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Readers who are interested in Tudor history and Wolf Hall may be interested to know that there is a project to excavate and restore the manor that stood in Savernake Forest in the time of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. It’s immensely exciting to have this link to their story and you can find out more about it here.

Thank you very much for inviting me to share some of the background to The Phantom Tree!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 20

July 20, 1933: Cormac McCarthy born.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Q&A with Ralph Hardy

Ralph Hardy is the author of Argos: The Story of Odysseus as Told by His Loyal Dog, a middle-grade novel for kids. The book is now available in paperback. His other writing includes The Cheetah Diaries and Lefty. He is a professor of English at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.

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

A: I was killing time surfing the web to avoid writing when I came across a reference to Argos and his legendary sense of loyalty. That struck a chord and I ran upstairs to my library and found my copy of The Odyssey.

Argos is mentioned for 14 lines out of 12,000, but when I read those verses I knew I had my protagonist and a great idea for a novel. I sat down and wrote the first chapter, "On the Stupidity of Sheep," in one hour and never looked back. 

Q: What did you see as the right balance between the original Odyssey and your retelling of the story from Argos's perspective?

A: I wanted to tell two stories: one was a simpler version of The Odyssey for younger readers and the second was the story of what happened on Ithaca while Odysseus was gone.

A few readers expressed to me that they thought Argos would accompany Odysseus on his journeys, but that was never my intention. The issue was how to reveal Odysseus's adventures to Argos, and for that, I allowed Argos to speak with animals such as birds, sea turtles, a bat, and even a cat who could witness the action and relay it to Argos.

Q: Do you think readers should be familiar with the story of The Odyssey before reading your novel?

A: Not at all. In fact, I wrote Argos to introduce younger readers to The Odyssey so that when they read it in high school--in North Carolina, that's the ninth grade--they know the characters, the themes, and the major plot points.

I've even had an 85-year-old reader who never read The Odyssey tell me he was going to read it now after reading Argos.

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

A: I hope they internalize some of the character traits of Argos: his sense of loyalty, his steadfastness, courage, and his wiliness.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm sitting on two YA novels that need a final round of editing, and I'm 45,000 words into a novel that I'm co-writing with my brother about the Battle of Sitka.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I love visiting schools so if any readers want me to come to a class I can Skype or Facetime in, if it's too far to drive.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 19

July 19, 1921: Elizabeth Spencer born.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Q&A with Vanessa Blakeslee

Vanessa Blakeslee, photo by Ashley Inguanta
Vanessa Blakeslee is the author of the new story collection Perfect Conditions. She also has written the novel Juventud and the story collection Train Shots, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Southern Review and Green Mountains Review.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories collected in Perfect Conditions, and do you see common threads running through the collection?

A: The stories in Perfect Conditions were written over a period of roughly 10 years. Some of the stories I had started while I was still living in Costa Rica. A few of these didn’t aesthetically fit into my first collection, Train Shots, or were still in the process of getting revised and published.

A couple of them are very new: “Traps” was written just last summer, and “The Perfect Pantry” was completed this February. Stories can often take years to evolve, which is certainly the case for the title story, and I’m so pleased with the depths that story has finally achieved.

Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: When I wrote the story “Perfect Conditions”—the phrase is taken from the surfing culture, the protagonist of that story now living out his “dream” of dropping out of the rat race and retiring as an expat—I just loved how the phrase imbued a sense of trouble underneath the surface.

I had always envisioned building a story collection around that title one day. But that story didn’t fit with the others in Train Shots, as I said, so I had to be patient!

In the story, of course, Jack is finding that his dream isn’t turning out to be so perfect, and the unresolved family matters of his first marriage and relationship with his son have hardly been “fixed” by his escaping to Costa Rica.

More broadly, the phrase as a book title signals the trouble we find ourselves in at this point in human history: not only the dissatisfaction of Industrial Civilization’s “rat race” and our futile attempts to escape, the exploitation of other nations’ natural resources for the gain of those in the West, as in the story “Sustainable Practices,” but even extends to our cultural myths and religious beliefs.

This includes the concept that if a Savior shows up at all in these apocalyptic times, as in “Jesus Surfs,” such a figure may very well not behave or act to “save” us, at least not in the ways many have come to expect.

Q: We've discussed the importance of setting in your writing in previous interviews. This collection takes place in a variety of locations. Can you discuss any of the settings that were especially meaningful to you?

A: The various settings in the surfing story, “Splitting the Peak,” are perhaps most meaningful to me. That story is very much an homage to place, born from my fond memories of traveling to Australia, Hawaii, and Bali in my youth, and wrestling with the rather universal fetish-fantasy of “the one who got away.”

How to write about those places and capture the feeling of that time while also allowing the story to take shape as fiction, not autobiography? I decided to make the story about surfers—I don’t surf at all, and my chances of taking up surfing in this lifetime are about the same as my odds of becoming an opera singer.

The research into the subject was especially fun. Other settings in the book, such as Alaska and Tahiti, I have never been, but would love to visit. My fiction is usually a blend of the two—inspired by the places I know, and those I don’t but at least can visit via imagination.

Q: Are there any short stories you've read lately that you would particularly recommend?

A: Sisters of the Revolution, the 2015 anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, really spoke to me—namely because my short fiction is taking a more speculative and dystopian bent. The selections are timely and superb; I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new novel called Winterland which is more speculative in nature, about a couple fleeing a post-superstorm destroyed Florida who journey north and attempt to join a collective farm in Nova Scotia.

So far I’m really enjoying the process, and just hope this second novel doesn’t take as long as my first one, Juventud, did (five years). But writing a book takes as long as it takes.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve been going on a lot of day trips around Florida this past year, exploring the corners of my state that I’ve been too occupied to uncover these past 20 years—the springs, the Everglades; I even took an airboat ride, finally.

What I’ve learned about the peninsula’s prehistory, history, ecology, has been astounding. Not to mention the kitschy roadside attractions that you can still find here and there!

So be on the lookout as I sense some great writing is brewing, both in fiction and essay form, inspired by these day trips. You can follow me on my Facebook Author page and at

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Vanessa Blakeslee.

July 18

July 18, 1918: Nelson Mandela born.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Q&A with Cherise Wolas

Cherise Wolas is the author of the new novel The Family Tabor. She also has written the novel The Resurrection of Joan Ashby. She has worked as a lawyer and a film producer, and she lives in New York City.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for this new novel, and for the members of your fictional Tabor family?

A: The fictional Tabors have been with me for a very long time. I first imagined them during a snowstorm when I was living in a small town in Washington.

They lived in a rambling house, knew how to speak a dead language, and the youngest child was a hemophiliac who created alter egos for himself. That first iteration is in a tiny story called "Aramaic" that was published in Narrative magazine.

Their second iteration was in a long story called "An Unexpected Conversion." A new version of the Tabors appeared. They were clarifying themselves as a contemporary family and refusing their quasi-magical components.

Their third iteration appears in my debut novel, The Resurrection of Joan Ashby. Joan Ashby is an acclaimed story writer and her second collection, Fictional Family Life, is about a 15-year-old hemophiliac named Simon Tabor and his alter egos; and a 15-year-old boy named Simon Tabor who throws himself off the roof of the family home because he’s sure he can fly; and his family and the doctor and nurses who repair his broken body.

Stories from Joan Ashby’s Fictional Family Life are excerpted in The Resurrection of Joan Ashby.

Despite tucking the Tabors into Joan Ashby, they remained in my mind, and refused to be ignored. They were developing, deepening, changing, and moving in unexpected directions.

And they kept throwing questions at me: Does the past remain in the past or does it spill into the present without our being aware? How do the choices we make to embrace or abandon a love, a marriage, a dream, a faith, a bad act, a lost memory, the secrets and failures of ourselves and others shape us? Do we ever know those we are closest too? How is that what we show to our family and the world can be so different from what goes on in our own hearts and minds?

These were some of the questions that intrigued me and that I wanted to explore.

And thus began their fourth iteration in The Family Tabor. They emerged as a family that is brilliant, accomplished, and worldly. They glow. They are lucky. But these attributes don’t safeguard them (or anyone, whether fictional or real) from confusion and struggle.

Harry Tabor is delighted with the world he’s created, but then everything he believes about himself is upended. Roma Tabor is a “miracle-worker” psychologist for troubled children and teens, and a mother whose love for her children doesn’t prevent her from seeing them clearly.

The adult children, Phoebe, Camille, and Simon, are at personal crossroads, each seeking something we all want—love or connection or the belief we’re living our right life.

Over the course of what is to be a celebratory weekend honoring Harry, the Tabors find themselves peeling back their own layers, having to admit truths to themselves, as they search for new paths they hope will lead them in the right direction.

But peeling away our layers leaves us naked, and truths can be impossible to admit, and every new path signals the end and loss of something.

Perhaps in the future, there will be another iteration of the Tabors. Maybe a sequel to The Family Tabor or maybe I’ll finally write Joan Ashby’s Fictional Family Life in its entirety.

Q: You said in our previous interview that you didn’t know how The Resurrection of Joan Ashby would end before you started writing it. Was your writing process similar with this new novel?

A: It was. If only because I can’t write in any other way. For me, writing is about exploring and engaging and discovering the unexpected, so I’ve learned not to come at my work with preconceived notions about anything.

In the past, when I outlined, I found it cut me off from the mysteries I love finding as I write, and I was instantly bored—if I already knew where the story was going to go, why write it?

Of course, when I begin a project, I have a growing sense about the people, and the ideas are percolating, and there are questions I’d like to figure out answers to with them, and it’s a journey we take together.

These people are my creations, but I never think of them as characters. They’re absolutely real to me, are in my mind nearly all of my waking and sleeping hours, to which the staggering volume of emails I send to myself at night when I should be sleeping attests.

Writing is how I intently listen to them tell me who they are, the problems they’re having, their hopes, dreams, secrets, issues, what they want to do, how they want their stories to go.

Through the writing, all kinds of clues emerge—about these people, their pasts and futures, about the themes, the interactions, the progressions. And each clue leads to a key, and each key leads to another door. And I keep going.

When the writing is going badly, I’ve learned it means I’ve stopped listening, that I’m interposing myself and my own beliefs on them. So I rewind and find my way back into them.

My actual writing process is never about reaching the end of a first draft, and the truth is I never have a first draft. As I write forward, I am constantly going backwards, editing, revising, honing, noticing elements, teasing them out, re-envisioning, contemplating anew. By the time I have a completed manuscript, it’s likely the thousandth draft.

Q: What role do you see religion playing in the novel and in the lives of your characters?

A: Since first imagining the Tabors, they’ve always been a Jewish family. In The Family Tabor, they are steeped in the ancient history of the Jews, but are very modern, and being Jewish barely defines them. Indeed, they celebrate the High Holidays and Passover and little else.

When I began writing the novel, I never expected religion, or faith, or religious identity to play any substantial role, and I never intended to write a Jewish American novel.

But with anti-semitism and hatred for immigrants so loud and ugly again in this country and throughout the world, the Tabors and their various relationships or responses to the faith of their ancestors compelled me to be courageous and brave and follow their explorations.

The family members set their terms. Harry, the patriarch, considers himself a “historical Jew,” who aligns himself with the cultural and ethical lineage of his people, but doesn’t believe in the power of prayer. And yet, on a tennis court, on the day he is going to receive a big award, he sees visions and hears a voice.

Roma, the matriarch, treasures the mind over faith, and although her grandmother believed in her faith, it was luck she relied on. For Phoebe, Judaism means lighting Friday night candles when she remembers. Camille believes in none of it; her religion is her social anthropological work, studying tribes out in the field.

Simon is exhausted from a lasting insomnia, and over the course of the weekend gathering, he realizes that he has a hole in his soul, and thinks that perhaps what’s missing is the foundational underpinning of the faith he’s never seriously considered.

Q: The book is set in Palm Springs, California. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: It’s very important. In The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, the fictional Rhome, where Joan and Martin start their married life, was critical for me. It’s a tiny town, with circular streets, and beyond the town center, it’s nearly rural, with a population of something like 8,000.

And then I created their house. While it sits on four acres, in a new and unpaved development outside of Rhome, the house is very small. When it’s renovated years later, and becomes large and gracious, Joan still doesn’t have a room of her own in which to write.

In The Family Tabor, I again first saw Harry and Roma’s house in my mind. And then I realized they lived in a desert, and it was Palm Springs. I signed up on various Palm Springs real estate sites so I could troll through the listings and determine whether what I was imagining would exist there.

One of the agents called me, and from then on, she sent me pictures of houses to look at, but by then I had already created the Tabors’ mid-century home, with the desert and the cacti right beyond the back patio.

Setting it in Palm Springs had both a conscious and unconscious significance, which, as I continued to write, I came to understand.

The conscious was my childhood recollections of visiting my maternal grandparents and celebrating Passover with them in Palm Springs. Unconsciously, I think Palm Spring represented a certain form of Judaism to me, hewed to by my grandparents who, despite all they suffered, maintained their faith.

And as I wrote, setting it in Palm Springs made even more sense because there are two deserts in the novel, the “newer” one in Palm Springs, and the ancient Negev, in Israel.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: So many amazing fans of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby have written to tell me which of her excerpted stories they think I should write as novels: "The Last Resort," about a woman in a mental institution; "Bettina’s Children," about a married couple who move to Nigeria; the rare babies; and "The Sympathetic Executioners," about the twin boys who become killers.

Perhaps in the future, I’ll explore those possibilities because they continue to fascinate me. I am working on my third novel now, and the main characters did make their first appearance in Joan Ashby, but none of my books are connected, and these characters have their own journeys in their own new world. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Cherise Wolas.