Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Q&A with Jo Weldon

Jo Weldon is the author of the new book Fierce: The History of Leopard Print. She also has written The Burlesque Handbook, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Mental Floss and Time Out New York. She runs the New York School of Burlesque, and she lives in New York City.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Fierce, and what do you think accounts for the ongoing fascination with leopard prints?

A: About five years ago, I was stalled on another project I'd been working on for a few years. I was staying with my friend Indigo Blue in Seattle, described my frustration, and she said, "Save that project for later. For now, what do you love? What's fun?" and I said, "Leopard print." That was it -- I started researching immediately.

I think the ongoing fascination with the print is related to the big cats. There are also a lot of cultural connotations to examine, but you can't resist the pull of nature!

It's common to see the words "wild" and "jungle" and of course "fierce" used in advertisements for leopard clothes, and other references to raw and unfettered life. The cats are beautiful and dangerous, warm and nocturnal, powerful and independent. We can't help but want to identify with those qualities.

There is a brilliant photographer, Emilie Reigner, who has been documenting people wearing leopard print in Africa, Europe, and the U.S., and who is doing important work that I think demonstrates its meaning in the context of globalization, its path through other continents which points up our need to be culturally sensitive with the use of the print, and her work shows a lot of pleasure in the expressions and body language of its wearers.

Many people have told me that when they put on leopard print they feel bolder and more confident. And of course, we know that cats are playful, even big cats. One woman told me that she works with bullied children, and one of the confidence building exercises they do in therapy is to have them dressed in leopard print and roar, and the kids respond beautifully.

Q: The book looks at thousands of years of leopard print fashion. Where did it first begin?

A: On leopards, of course! Honestly, it depends on how you define fashion, since in many places it's been ceremonial, though not always exclusively, as part of governmental events, religious services, and celebrations in regions where big spotted cats are known, notably in many countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Americas.

In European countries there were eras of sumptuary laws that reserved the wearing of leopard fur for nobility.

In clothing worn for social reasons in Western fashion, one of the most significant eras is the early 18th century, where the textile print became popular after Louis XIV kept a menagerie of animals rarely seen in Europe, and then again in the mid-to-late 18th century on male dandies known as macaronis and in the courts of Italian and French royalty. Check out my Pinterest for some examples! 

In the 20th century, spotted cat furs were hugely popular with flappers, who needed big warm coats to ride in unheated cars while wearing short skirts. You would also see these furs on opera and movie stars playing femme fatales, often as part of an orientalist aesthetic, which influenced our view of the pattern as part of an independent, glamorous, rare, and possibly dangerous feminine persona.

The print began to come into its own throughout the 1930s but had its most-remarked-upon high fashion moment to that date when Christian Dior used it in his landmark 1947 debut collection. From then on it was often featured on the finest catwalks.

Q: In more recent decades, who has come to characterize leopard print fashion, and where do you see it going next? 

A: Oh, there are so many fabulous divas it's hard to say! In the ‘50s there were lots of beautiful leopard print bikinis and lingerie sets, giving that second-skin effect. I was probably most influenced by Eartha Kitt and Ann-Margret in the 1960s, personally. Among celebrities, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, undeniably.

It has also had a big impact coming from the retro fashion communities, seen on Dita Von Teese and Leslie Zemeckis and Christina Hendricks. I've loved seeing Helen Mirren and Michelle Obama in it, too.  Prime movers in the music industry have been Lady Gaga and Beyonce, of course.

And now there are so many men who wear it well, which is fantastic, even though on them I see it most often worn by them when performing, or in super casual fashion.

And so many Drag Race stars have done such spectacular fabulous things with leopard print -- honestly, it's their costumes I covet most! And those are all by independent designers, where the wearers are actually collaborating with the makers, so it's peak creative and unique self-expression.

Some historically great fashion designers have done brilliant things with leopard, like Gernreich, Biba, Yves Saint Laurent, Diane Von Furstenberg in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Patrick Kelly and LaCroix and Vivienne Westwood in the ‘80s, and Azzedine Alaia, Gianna Versace, and Gaultier; Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce and Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Tom Ford, I could go on and on! So many designers have made so much of it.

This isn't my primary focus in the book because a lot of this fashion isn't accessible to most people, but it's fantastic -- it's art and philosophy and all the fancy things. In my book I'm trying to inspire people who aren't very familiar with fashion history to look into it, because there's so much to uncover.  

Q: The book includes many photographs and drawings—how did you select the art to include?

A: Before it was a book, it was an illustrated lecture, so I selected art that helped exemplify fashion trends in the context of societal changes and the democratization of fashion in general, which was the throughline of the lecture.

How did we come to be wearing it now? After all those centuries of clothing being so labor intensive and expensive -- remember, the sewing machine wasn't invented until the middle of the 19th century, and most housing didn't have significant clothing closets until the mid-20th century --  the most interesting thing to me was seeing the process that broke down those barriers, where fashion gatekeepers couldn't prevent the average consumer from being able to wear it.

I looked for things that affected how available it was, and looked for images that would have affected the tastes of consumers. I started out with hundreds of images. Many of them were orphaned, meaning I couldn't find out who owned the copyrights; or they were not available to me or were prohibitively expensive.

Not being able to get some of my original choices led me to find some very exciting images when I went back to my research, such as the image of Wilma K. Russey, the first female taxi driver in New York City.

I think clearing the images was the hardest part, and paying for the rights definitely was the most expensive part! If I had known what I was getting into I might have come up with a different format for the book project!

However, I'm thrilled with the way it looks, and I feel that overall it does exactly what I wanted it to: reinforce the pleasure people take in wearing the print by making them feel connected to its history.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Of course I'm always writing about burlesque! I'm working on a handbook of striptease that explains the logistics, theatrics, and psychology of performing seduction, and what it tells us about communication in general.

I'm also writing about the sex workers' rights movement, where I’ve been an activist, and looking at what it has meant historically to be "dressed like" a sex worker.

My friend Laura María Agustín, who has done remarkable research and presentation around migration and sex work, has collected a lot of those stereotypical stock news images of women wearing short skirts and high heels leaning into cars, and it made me think about how little people know about sex workers and their cultures. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The colloquial term "leopard print" often refers to other cat prints, such as cheetah, which is also in Africa and Asia, and ocelot and jaguar, which are indigenous to the Americas.

Actual leopard print can be the standard golden and black pattern of the Amur leopard, the cream and grey of the snow leopard, the angular taupe tones of the clouded leopard, the coffee and black tones of the black panther.

Personally it doesn't bother me when people call other cat prints "leopard," but I think it's worth looking them up and learning their status! All of these cats need our support as ethical consumers, and I think if we've gotten inspiration from them to feel our fiercest, we can pay them back by supporting their well-being and their environments.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Heather Lang

Heather Lang is the author of the new children's picture book biography Anybody's Game: Kathryn Johnston, the First Girl to Play Little League Baseball. Lang's other books include Swimming with Sharks and Fearless Flyer.

Q: How did you first learn about Kathryn Johnston?

A: As a child, I was obsessed with baseball. I didn’t go anywhere without my mitt and played catch every day with my father and brother. When my own kids started playing Little League baseball and softball, those special memories came flooding back. I had the urge to research women in baseball to see if I could find a story to write.

When I read in a book about Kathryn’s struggle to play Little League, I tried to imagine what my childhood would have been like without baseball and softball. I felt deeply connected to her struggle, and that was the spark for Anybody’s Game.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?

A: I do a lot of research before I decide to move forward with a project. Sometimes there just isn’t enough research to write a successful story, and I have to abandon the project or put it aside until I can come up with a new angle. This is nonfiction, so you can’t just make stuff up to fill in the gaps.

I began by reading lots of books and articles about the history of Little League, women in baseball, and Kathryn Johnston. I was shocked to learn that in 1951 Little League enacted a rule explicitly prohibiting girls from playing. And that rule stayed in effect until 1974! That wasn’t long before I started playing--how did I not know that?!

Next I reached out to Kathryn for a phone interview. She was warm and generous and so intensely passionate about baseball. That’s when I knew I would move forward with the project. In fact she's still cheering for her favorite teams, throwing out first pitches at baseball games, and hoping to get called up to the Yankees! 

It was a thrill to finally meet Kathryn in person, and when the book came out we had a blast doing some school and library visits together.

Kathryn’s brother was also a valuable resource, and Little League historians Lance and Robin Van Auken were incredibly helpful, answering my many questions and reviewing the final manuscript for accuracy.

For most of my books I have to do experiential research to capture sensory details and understand what I’m writing about. I’ve been swimming with sharks and paragliding all in the name of research. But for this book, since I played baseball and softball for many years, I was way ahead of the game.

Every book is a new research adventure!

Q: What do you think Cecilia Puglesi's illustrations add to the book?

A: I adore Cecilia’s illustrations. Her retro comic book style art is a wonderful nod to Kathryn’s favorite Little Lulu and Tubby comic books. When you read the book, look out for them in a few spreadsJ I especially love Cecilia’s historical details--from the Yankees poster on Kathryn’s wall to the 1950s decor and clothing.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from Kathryn's story?

A: I hope kids will be inspired to follow their passions, not give up when they bump into obstacles, and stand up for what matters to them. I think sometimes kids think that bravery and making change has to be something big. I hope they will see that smaller gestures or actions are just as important.

Whether it’s writing a letter, raising money for a cause, or standing up for a friend, sometimes it takes many small steps forward (and some backwards) to cause change.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m having fun working on a narrative nonfiction book about sharks. I fell in love with sharks when I wrote my picture book biography, Swimming with Sharks: The Daring Discoveries of Eugenie Clark, and I just can’t stop thinking about them!

I’m also finishing up some final revisions for my next picture book biography, The Leaf Detective, about tree canopy biologist Margaret Lowman. This book is coming out in 2020 with Boyds Mills Press and is near and dear to my heart for so many reasons.

Meg was one of the first scientists to really climb up into the canopy and explore its enormous biodiversity. She has done such important work to protect our trees, and she works tirelessly to mentor girls and women interested in the field. Last summer I spent an incredible week with Meg in the Amazon. She’s a phenomenal person and scientist.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If you want to learn more about Kathryn and women in baseball, check out the Anybody’s Game page on my website. Don’t miss the Teacher’s Guide and a fun trading-card activity!

Also, I do a limited number of free Skype visits with classrooms, and I love to visit with schools and book clubs.

Thanks so much for chatting with me, Deborah!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 31

July 31, 1919: Primo Levi born.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Q&A with Charlotte Nash

Charlotte Nash, photo by Jen Dainer
Charlotte Nash is the author of the new novel The Paris Wedding. Her other novels include The Horseman. She has trained as a doctor and worked as a research engineer and accident investigator. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Paris Wedding, and for your main character, Rachael?

A: I started with the idea that a woman goes to a wedding where the groom is the man she'd never gotten over. That situation is just brimming with tortured conflict. Pretty quickly I decided the wedding would be in Paris, which would amplify how far their lives have moved apart.

From there, I began asking myself, well, how had that happened? Why weren't they together anymore? Why is he marrying someone else? I decided that my heroine could only have given up this man for a greater love: the love she had for her mother.

From this emerged everything: the giving but naive Rachael, who stays home on a farm to care for her sick mother while her love, Matthew, moves away for university. Ten years later her life seems just the same while his has moved into very different circles.

Then Rachael's mother dies, and Rachael's old life ends with her. Then the invitation arrives. I had to ask ... why was she invited? What is going to happen? Thus, the story begins.

Q: The novel takes place on a farm in Australia, and in Paris. How important is setting to you in your writing, and why did you choose those particular settings for this novel?

A: Setting is so important, because we're all irrevocably shaped by the places we live - the weather, the language, the work of a place moulds us.

I chose a farm in Australia to begin because it isolated my heroine, both in geography and in her ambitions. She might be generous and big-hearted, but she isn't worldly. She doesn't know what's possible, and thinks her chances are long past.

Paris was a natural choice both in symbolism (the city of love) to amplify her predicament at having Matthew's new life and love so very in her face, but it also represents the cosmopolitan world that Rachael has never seen before.

She therefore encounters new people, new opportunities (especially as she is an aspiring dressmaker). She has to struggle with choice between the “old” life she thinks she wants, and the “new.”

For a woman who has essentially given up her youth for her mother, that's a hard choice. She wants what she knows and is safe, but is that the best choice? And it wouldn't be nearly so hard if you could have familiar comforts.

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 knew how the book would end - this is Rachael's journey, so it's all about her realisations, and I knew where I wanted her to end up. It may or may not be what a reader expects!

I usually can't start writing a book unless I have some idea of where it ends up. The way the story was told did change a lot from the first draft to the finished book, but the key steps on the way didn't.

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: I love Colleen Hoover, Liane Moriaty, Jilly Cooper, JoJo Moyes, Nahlini Singh and JR Ward, to name just a few. They all write big stories with a way of capturing their characters with such precision.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: So many things. I'm in the final proofing stage of my next book (Saving You). It's about a single mother going on a road trip across America with three escaped pensioners, all to save her five-year-old son. I'm really proud of it. It will be out in Australia early next year, and I hope in other places too.

At the same time I'm researching what I hope is the book after that, which has the working title "Twenty-six Letters". It's a two-generational story of discovery that takes place, in part, in a small English village. I am also working on my PhD thesis, and writing lots of ideas on bits of paper I will probably never get to writing!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Fun fact: Paris has a sewer museum where you can see giant iron and wood balls that are still sometimes used to clean out the sewer pipes! The museum is a working sewer, and ode to a past where boats tours of the Paris sewers were actually a thing.

Isn't that cool, and definitely something you should know? No? Sadly, the sewer museum does not feature in The Paris Wedding. But lots of other real Parisian places do.

Actually, in the novel, Rachael's friend Sammy is a movie buff, so if you feel like setting a Parisian mood, I can really recommend the film Midnight in Paris - it combines lots of real Parisian places, history, famous writers, and time travel. I never tire of it.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 30

July 30, 1818: Emily Brontë born.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Q&A with Sharlee Glenn

Sharlee Glenn is the author of Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America's First Bookmobile, a new book for kids. Her other books include Keeping Up with Roo and Just What Mama Needs, and her work has appeared in various publications, including Cricket and Segullah. She lives in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Q: How did you first learn about Mary Lemist Titcomb, and why did you decide to write this book about her?

A: I ran across a reference to Mary Lemist Titcomb as I was doing research for a different book, and I was immediately intrigued. A woman had invented the bookmobile!? I immediately turned my focus to learning everything I could about Mary and her book wagon. 

Q: You note that you used a bookmobile as a child in Utah. How would you describe Mary Titcomb’s legacy, and how did it affect you personally?

A: Oh, how I loved the bookmobile! My father died when I was five years old. There were seven children in our family, and so money was scarce.

We lived out in the country--about 15 miles from the nearest library, and so we didn't have access to books at all, besides the few we owned, during the summer. But every two weeks, the bookmobile would come to our little farming community and we could check out as many books as we wanted.

I like to say that as a child, I didn't have much in the way of worldly opportunities, but every two weeks, the bookmobile brought the universe to me. I'm quite confident in saying that, were in not for the bookmobile, I would not be a writer today.

Mary came up with her idea for the bookmobile--a horse-drawn wagon fitted with shelves for books--in 1905. It was a great success and Mary spent the rest of her life promoting the virtues of what she called "the rural distribution of books."

Mary believed that books were for everyone--not just the rich, not just men, not just city dwellers, not just adults. Soon book wagons began appearing all across the country. By the 1960s and ‘70s, there were nearly 2000 bookmobiles in the U.S. serving over 50 million people in rural communities. 

Q: The book includes some wonderful photos and other documents. How did you find them, and how did you research Mary Titcomb’s life?

A: It wasn't easy! Not much had been written about Mary--and a lot of what had been published was inaccurate (including her birth date and her death date). So it was all new research.

I spent a lot of time searching through census reports, birth and death records, school catalogues, old newspapers, ship passenger lists, and the like. It was like being a detective!

The real breakthrough happened when I was able to track down two relatives of Mary's--a great-niece living in Oregon and a great- grandnephew living in Vermont. They were able to provide me with copies of handwritten letters, family photographs, etc.

Most of the photos of the book wagon itself--and subsequent book wagons in Washington County, Maryland--are from the collections of Western Maryland's Historical Library. 

Q: What does her life say about women’s experiences during the late 19th and early 20th centuries?

A: Mary was a woman of great courage and determination. She was a pioneer in the field of librarianship in a day when the only real careers open to women were teaching or nursing.

And she never gave up, despite the many obstacles that she encountered. There were many people who told her that she couldn't do what she wanted to do, but she did it anyway. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I've got a middle grade novel entitled Beyond the Green coming out this fall. And I'm working on another middle grade novel. I've also started researching my next nonfiction book, which will be about the so-called "Petticoat Government" in Jackson, Wyoming.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Tom La Farge

Tom La Farge, photo by Wendy Walker
Tom La Farge is the author of the new novel Humans By Lamplight, the third in his Enchantments series, which also includes The Broken House and Maznoona. He is based in Brooklyn.

Q: How did you come up with the world you write about in your Enchantments series, and what inspired the idea for Humans By Lamplight, the third in the series?

A: The world of The Enchantments took shape the year I lived in it. 1997-8, to replace old problems with newer, more interesting ones, Wendy Walker and I escaped to Morocco.

After we rented an apartment in the city of Essaouira, Mohammed, a spice-merchant friend, walked through it singing, carrying a bowl of smoking incense to drive out the Evil Eye. He also sold us the herbs and spices we’d need to protect us and gave us a pair of young chameleons as protection against jnun.

Jnun is the plural of djinn (“genie”). We heard a lot of stories about enchantment by jnun. Everyone had one to tell, even the cosmopolitan and college-educated. One acquaintance did ethnographic research in an asylum. All the doctors were French-trained Freudian psychiatrists, but the inmates’ relatives were sure their loved one was possessed by jnun.

We heard of a country girl who refused to eat meat. To her parents this seemed so perverse that they called in a man who had memorized the holy book. He used sacred writ to expel the djinn. After some coercion and negotiation, the djinn cleared out, and the girl returned to a “normal” diet.

So I learned how that world was enchanted and how magic fits into ordinary life. I have always preferred tales where magic grows from lived experience to stories that imagine it as a superpower or a technique acquired by study.

I learned also that humans share this world with a rival race, the jnun, less devils than troublemakers. I change their name from jnun to znoon. They take possession of humans and drive them into obsession, sterility, depression, obedience. They are willful, self-absorbed, and they adore performance. They are able to shift shape, are long-lived, but not immortal.

Q: Did you know before you started the first book that you'd be writing a series?

A: No, I began the first book, The Broken House, because while I was in Morocco, I finished another book. I’d been thinking about imagination, and I wanted to keep that train of thought going.

And there I was, living in a place where so many realities seemed drawn from strange imaginings. I had to mold my mind into new shapes to mimic the minds around me.

To answer the question, “How do I get a young chameleon to drink?” (A: hang a leaf overhead and pour water so that it drips down. Then the chameleon flicks out her tongue and laps at the drip), I had to watch and mimic the chameleon, since you can’t train her to drink from a bowl.

The history grew. Worlds built this way contain unfilled spaces for further histories, which can then be composed without having to reinvent the world. So I came to write Maznoona and Humans by Lamplight. Put it down to thrift, or, if you prefer, laziness.

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

A: A chameleon stuns bugs by shooting out a long tongue with a bone in its tip. The tip is sticky, so that she can then reel in the insect she’s just whacked. It’s always a surprise to see.

My books have the same way of startling me. The story opens as I write it, and something shoots out that I hadn’t expected. Stories set in strange worlds can open further than you’d guess they were going to.

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

A: The title Humans by Lamplight suggests how humans free themselves from znoon. The znoon drive us to perform, to live within the image they force us to desire. Lamplight encourages reading: a keen, empathetic attention to something besides our own image in a mirror.

Q: What are you working on now?

I’m working on a version of a 10th-century Arabic classic, the Maqamat by al-Hariri. Hariri’s book a set of stories where the same two characters meet again and again all across the vast medieval Muslim world.

One is a young man, an incurably restless, curious traveler, and the other is either a saint or a scam-artist, possibly both. In my version the equivocal saint will be a young woman, Beela, who is born at the end of Humans by Lamplight.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You can observe more of my behavior on my website.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 29

July 29, 1805: Alexis de Tocqueville born.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Q&A with Anne Gross

Anne Gross is the author of the new novel The Brazen Woman, the second book in her Emerald Scarab Adventures. The first book in the series is The Conjured Woman. She lives in San Francisco.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Brazen Woman, and did you know when you started its predecessor that you’d be writing a series?

A: I’m excited about alchemy and magic, history and feminism, fortunetelling and family, medicine and botany, and for the life of me, I’ve no idea how I came up with a story that incorporates bits and pieces of all of this.

Lady Gaga says that it’s the writer’s job to “…have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about.” I have to admit I often feel irresponsible when I write. It’s the only explanation I can give for my plot.

Any story with all of these things must, by necessity, take more than one book to tell. I always knew I’d be dragging myself through this.

Q: How have your characters changed from one book to the next?

A: I’ve saved this question for last because, despite it being something I’m most familiar with—after all, the plot and the characters are my own creation—it’s also the hardest to answer.

Last night I thought about my own growth and how I, myself, might have changed from one chapter of my life to the next. I’d like to think I’m different, better, bigger, but you just never know. I might have mistaken boring rigidity for increased wisdom and stronger organizational skills.

Maybe I should have more objectivity about the characters I create than I do about myself, but I’m not convinced this is even possible. Part of the difficulty in being a writer is that you’re putting your own thoughts on paper. It is inherently subjective.

So, subjectively analyzing the growth of your own characters isn’t really possible. It becomes an existential web of who’s-who, and what-is-me-and-what-is-imagination, and how-much-control-do-I-really-have-anyway-about-any-of-it.

I’m also wary of spoilers. It’s hard to say how my characters have changed without saying how they are in the beginning and how they become later with all the little twists in between.

Suffice to say that Elise and Adelaide, and to a great degree, Thomas, have all been affected by the human tendency to strive towards attaining better circumstances for themselves.

Although that’s not exactly the same as striving towards being better people, which I suspect is what’s implied in the question, I’m confident that, if you’re a sensitive human being with some understanding of emotions, personal growth is a natural outcome of personal attainments. Maybe. At least sometimes it is.

I’m not sure I answered the question. 

Q: Did you need to do much research to write this novel, and did you learn anything especially fascinating?

A: I took sailing classes in the San Francisco Bay in order to familiarize myself with the nautical adventures my characters Elise and Adelaide would be undergoing. I bought tarot cards and spoke with people who make their living telling fortunes.

I spent hours tromping through poison-oak-infested national parkland with an overly enthusiastic herbalist to learn to identify useful weeds. But mostly I read books. Lots and lots of books.

I do quite a bit of research, and, in fact, am still researching. I’ve heard the platitudinous advice to “write what you know,” or to stick to your personal experiences, but this is impossible when writing historical fiction. Instead, I write about what interests me. Personal experiences can only take you so far, but research can take you to the moon and back.

I find the history of medicine to be fascinating. It’s been just over 200 years since the Peninsular War, the period of time I chose to use as the setting for The Brazen Woman, and that seems, on surface, to be a really long time.

But it’s amazing to think that only 200 years ago on the bloody battlefield something as basic as triage was first developed. In terms of medical advancements, humanity has rolled into modernity in a very short time.

For instance, it was just 150 years ago during the Crimean War that Florence Nightingale insisted everyone wash their hands before touching wounded soldiers. One hundred years ago, the first medical textbook on anesthesia was published so that people could undergo surgical procedures without pain.

Just over 50 years ago, the polio vaccine was developed which reduced the world-wide number of cases reported each year from 350,000 in 1988 to 22 in 2017.

It’s easy to take for granted the ease with which we can trot to our doctor’s office to lie on a paper covered bed. Imagine our great-great grandfathers lying under the knife on the kitchen table, screaming through teeth that clenched a leather strap.

When thinking about how far we’ve come, I can’t help but project into the future and think about how far we’ll go. Reading history is, ultimately, a hopeful fascination.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: I love so many! Annie Dillard, for her poetic descriptions of the natural world and Mary Roach for her humorous descriptions. L.M. Montgomery for her unapologetic flights of fancy and Laura Ingalls Wilder for her careful descriptions of a life lived.

Rebecca Solnit for the fierce scholarship, Louise Erdrich for the loving agony. Oh, and Ray Bradbury. I really like him too. And so many other voices I’ve listened to in my head over a lifetime.

Right now I’m reading Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey, who I was shocked to discover is actually two people writing as a team. Three days ago, I finished Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, and thought it was the sweetest thing ever ironically written.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I’m working on this blog interview. After that, I’ll be working on an article for a local newspaper about being a writer in the Fillmore neighborhood in San Francisco. Eventually, I hope to start writing the next book in the series. I’m excited to finish the story and hope it explodes from my head onto my laptop.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I have a Chihuahua named Emma who has a strangely bald head. I love to eat sardines with French bread. My shoe size is a 9. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Eli Jaxon-Bear

Eli Jaxon-Bear is the author of the new memoir An Outlaw Makes It Home: The Awakening of a Spiritual Revolutionary. His other books include Wake Up and Roar and Sudden Awakening. He founded the nonprofit group The Leela Foundation, and he lives in Ashland, Oregon.

Q: At what point did you decide to write this memoir about your experiences, and how long did it take to write it?

A: I didn’t really decide to write it. It just poured out of me. I was leading a retreat in Amsterdam a few years ago and started writing. I wrote between sessions and into the night. It all poured out over a period of weeks but the editing went on for well over a year.

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

A: That it is possible for each of us to wake up and be free regardless of our personal circumstances. This book shows that you can be afraid and still choose what is alive in your heart regardless of the possible outcome. It is possible to discover true lasting fulfillment and love without ever chasing it.

Q: Did you need to do additional research to write the memoir, or did you remember most of what you write about?

A: My memories start before I could talk when I was one and a half years old. No research was needed.

Since my story takes place in many of the pivotal events of my generation, from being beaten by Klansmen in Alabama at the age of 18, to being jailed for fighting the police in Chicago during the convention of 1968, to becoming a federal fugitive during an attempt to stop the Vietnam war in Washington on May Days of 1971, the events are quite vivid in my memory, along with the 18-year spiritual search that came afterwards.

Q: How did you decide which episodes of your life you’d be focusing on in the book?

A: That was the hard part, editing out all the inessential. There are so many stories that I like and am attached to, but do not further the narrative and had to be left behind. The essential stories have always been there as I told my tales as a means of seduction in the seventies.

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: My new book is called The Awakened Guide: A Manual for Leaders, Teachers, Coaches, Healers, and Helpers The Next Wave.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Peter Coyote wrote:

"An Outlaw Makes It Home, bares it all in this rapid fire compilation of adventures. A serious quest for spiritual wisdom and enlightenment with a startling turn in the heartwarming discovery after an eighteen year search.

Jaxon-Bear does not spare himself or try to polish his flaws and mistakes: in that regard, he is a warrior. I consumed this book in huge gulps and would do it again. I urge others to read it.”

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 28

July 28, 1866: Beatrix Potter born.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Q&A with Margaret Cardillo

Margaret Cardillo, photo by Audrey Snow
Margaret Cardillo is the author of the new children's picture book Just Being Jackie, which focuses on the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Cardillo also has written Just Being Audrey, about Audrey Hepburn. She teaches screenwriting at the University of Miami.

Q: Why did you decide to write a children's picture book about Jackie Kennedy?

A: For my first book, Audrey Hepburn was such an obvious choice. I had dressed up like her for my middle school character parade and she had been a role model for me since I was young.

With Jackie, it was different. Of course I had discussed a second book with my editor. We wanted someone who had a compelling story, who was a strong woman, who perhaps overcame something in her life, and who was philanthropic. We also wanted someone iconic, both in fashion and with her presence. Jackie Kennedy came to the forefront pretty quickly.

It's important to note that I have been writing for years with a single black and white framed photo above my desk: Jackie aboard Air Force One, wrapped in a blanket, her shoes kicked off with her feet propped up on a seat, reading On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

It's completely candid, and it speaks volumes about Jackie's personality and passion for books. My husband gave it to me when we were still dating. I loved everything about that photo the moment I saw it.

She was enigmatic to me. I had always had a certain vision of Jackie, but something about the way she is sitting and the fact that she's reading the rebellious Kerouac changed the way I looked at her. There truly is so much more to her than meets the eye. 

Q: Which of Jackie Kennedy's characteristics did you choose to focus on in the book, and why?

A: With Jackie it became quite clear that she was incredibly intelligent, witty, cultured and that she loved to read. What better thing to focus on for a children's book than a person who loved to read! So I knew that would be a major theme of the book. 

She really embraced her role as an ambassador for America. She was a private person, but she knew the importance of going out in the world and being with and knowing people from different cultures. She was constantly learning. 

As much as she may be known for being the president's wife, she was always very much herself. She also knew how important her role was as the widow to a beloved president. I think Jackie's legacy is this symbol of pride: in herself, in her intelligence, and in America. She made the jump from being proud to showing pride in an incredible way. 

And of course, there's the fashion. I absolutely cannot underscore enough her sense of style. It's hard not to drool over Julia Denos's fashionable renderings of Jackie's outfits. I wouldn't mind having some of them in my closet.

But her style ran deep. Jackie was extremely well mannered and always dressed and presented herself in an impeccable way. There's a lot to learn from that as we go out in the world to follow our passions. 

Q: Can you say more about what you think Julia Denos's illustrations add to the book?

A: What DON'T they add to the book?! I consider myself the luckiest author in the world to have Julia doing illustrations. As soon as I saw her work on Audrey I wanted her to illustrate my whole life. I just adore her and her art.  

Q: What do you hope kids take away from Just Being Jackie?

A: I loved writing a book about someone who loved reading. So, I hope they take away that message. But I also hope they see a strong, independent, smart woman who did her own thing. I hope they learn from her that being smart is wonderful and should be embraced and nurtured.

I hope they see a person who was strong even in the face of adversity or tragedy. And they learn from her how to get back up on that horse, literally and figuratively. I also hope they learn to recognize the importance of history and culture in our society. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on another biography. Stay tuned! I also just sold another children's book but it has nothing to do with women. It's a book about dogs! 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Anita Hughes

Anita Hughes, photo by Sheri Geoffreys
Anita Hughes is the author of the new novel California Summer. Her other novels include Monarch Beach and Market Street. She lives in Dana Point, California.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for California Summer, and for your character Rosie?

A: I came up with the idea for California Summer remembering a bad break-up with a boyfriend. You can put your whole heart and soul into a relationship and then it's over and you have nothing. It's a frightening feeling. I wanted to make Rosie grow from the experience, and become much more confident.

Q: The book sets up a contrast between Rosie's life in Los Angeles and the new community she builds for herself in Montecito. What made you choose those two locations?

A: I spent a few days in Montecito and fell in love with it. It's so close to Los Angeles - and people from LA are frequent visitors - but the pace of life is different, there's a real small-town feeling. And it's one of the prettiest places I've ever visited!

Q: What do you think the book says about summertime, and possibilities that might occur then?

A: I think the book says that summertime is a period for re-invention. You can take a deep breath and see what is making you happy and what isn't working and make changes accordingly.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: I love Elin Hildebrand, Mary Kay Andrews, Jane Green and Liane Moriarty.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just finished edits on Christmas at the Chalet, which is set in St. Moritz and comes out in October. I love Christmas books and this one was a joy to write.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Thank you for having me! Connecting with readers is my favorite part of writing.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anita Hughes.