Friday, June 28, 2019

Q&A with Nadine Epstein

Nadine Epstein is the editor of the new book Elie Wiesel: An Extraordinary Life and Legacy, She is the editor-in-chief and CEO of Moment magazine, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Q: Why did you decide to compile and edit this book about Elie Wiesel?

A: I went to his funeral in New York, and I thought, I need to do something. I travel a lot, and I talk to people, and in the big world out there are a lot of people who haven’t heard of who he is, or they just know his name. Even in the Jewish world not everybody knows that much about him. I thought it important that he not be forgotten.

When I first met him in 2004-2005, I went to see him in Boston, and my heart was beating so fast. I knew him from reading Night, I knew him as a teenager [in the book]. He grew to be so much more. That voice informed everything he became. He overcame so much suffering. He had a much larger message of combating suffering around the world, and that’s important today.

Q: What was his role in creating Moment magazine?

A: He was the co-founder, with Leonard Fein. He chose the name. Der Moment was the most famous independent Yiddish paper that was read all over Eastern Europe. Elie’s dad used to read the paper. Elie was a yeshiva boy—he was forbidden from reading about the world. He was very devoted to Judaism, to studying texts. He saw Der Moment on the kitchen table and never read it.

After the Holocaust, it was clear he wasn’t going to be a rabbi or hazan; he was going to have a secular career. He loved to write, and he thought of being a journalist because of Der Moment. The name carried the legacy of the paper that was extinguished by the Nazis. [Wiesel and Fein] brought it to a new era.

Q: How did you choose the people to contribute to the book?

A: Some people I just knew we wanted to have. Some knew him well, some had an important way of looking at him.

Natan Sharansky was included because Elie had written Jews of Silence. He went to the Soviet Union in the early-to-mid ‘60s and awakened the American Jewish community to what was going on in the Soviet Union with Jews. Jews never agree with each other, but they became unified and got the Jews out of the Soviet Union. That’s the most important thing [Sharansky] thinks Elie should be remembered for.

Ted Koppel spoke at the funeral. He had amazing stories about Elie, about how one time he was speaking at a retreat for Nightline staff. Ted drove him, and pulled over at a gas station and put gas into the car. Elie said, How did you know how to do that? It said so much about Elie. He was a grounded person but he lived in a very intellectual world.

I wanted to have diversity in the book. Elie was very encouraging of women but the world he lived in was mostly filled with men. I went out of my way to find women he was friends with. I ran into Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, and she said, I knew Elie, and I said, You can be in the book now!

Sonari Glinton grew up the son of a single mom. He was in Catholic school and didn’t like reading. He picked the shortest book [for an assignment], which was Night. He writes about how it transformed his life. Later he studied with Elie at Boston University.

Q: In your introduction, you write, "We believe that it is critical to keep Elie's memory alive at a time when anti-Semitism and prejudice of all kinds in the United States and Europe are once again on the rise, and the lessons he taught have been called into question." What do you see as his legacy?

A: The third anniversary of his death is July 2. The world has changed so dramatically since he died. On July 2, 2016, the New York Times headline said, Donald Trump deletes tweet showing Hillary Clinton in a Star of David shape. Europe was in the throes of the refugee crisis. There were a lot of alarm bells.

This was before Richard Spencer had a victory party [where people said] Heil Trump, before Charlottesville, before worshippers were massacred in Pittsburgh and a woman was killed in Poway.

Elie missed all of this. On the one hand, I’m glad he missed it, but on the other hand I wish he were here. He was a very respected voice. He could have spoken out about prejudice of all kinds, including anti-Semitism. He was one of a few people President Trump and members of the administration would have had respect for.

He had the ability to talk to everyone. He had written an incredible book, he had a history that allowed him to carry the resonance of the Holocaust. He wasn’t an ideologue. He could talk to people—he met and befriended Democrats and Republicans. He was very cosmopolitan, and he embraced civil discourse.

One very important lesson is that we can’t be him, but we can not forget, and we can remember to take action to combat suffering, to bend over backwards to be civil in our discourse. He knew what happened when it breaks down and what evil ascends from that.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: With this book, we created our own imprint. We partnered with Mandel Vilar Press to do the Elie Wiesel book. We have two more books coming out.

One is with Bob Mankoff, the former New Yorker cartoon editor, Have I Got a Cartoon For You, about Jewish cartoonists.

One is with [the late] Theodore Bikel, about his childhood. It’s an illustrated book, expanded by his wife, Aimee Ginsburg Bikel.

Both are coming out in the fall.

Also, Moment took over all the Forward print readers, and I’m working on my own new book!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I think for me the book did expand my understanding of Elie. It’s a wonderful book to share with students, young people from 10 up. It’s important for young people to look at it—it makes his life very accessible. It looks like a gift book, and it is, but inside it has real content.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Darcey Steinke

Darcey Steinke is the author of the new book Flash Count Diary: Menopause and the Vindication of Natural Life. Her other books include Easter Everywhere and Jesus Saves. She has taught at various universities, including the Columbia University School of the Arts and Barnard. She lives in Brooklyn.

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

A: I was having hot flashes and insomnia and feeling not like myself. I looked around for good books on menopause. And I found very few.

Still it was not until I learned that killer whales and human women were the only creatures that went through menopause that I decided to write my book. The post-reproductive killer whales lead their pods after menopause.

Q: In the book, you write, "Nobody wants to learn about menopause, even menopausal women themselves. Other female milestones are of more general interest." Why do you think this is?

A: In our culture we as women are mostly valued for our sexuality and our mothering ability. After those stages are over many women feel vulnerable and at odds with a culture that has no use for them. 

I talked to over 100 women in writing my book. Many of them felt sidelined by menopause. Some of the women I approached did not want to talk about the change, because of shame I would say. Shame we are no longer fertile. Which is sad and sort of crazy, as our fertile years are shorter than our non-fertile years. We can be just as vital after menopause as we were before as little girls.

Q: You note, "I knew so much more going into both menstruation and pregnancy than I did going into menopause." What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about menopause?

A: That we are dried up hags. Used up. Angry. Menopausal women. There are so many negative things that are said about women going through and after the change.  The culture prepares us for menstruation and birth but not menopause. My daughter is 23 and many of her friends have told me they knew nothing about menopause until I started to speak about it. This is just plain wrong.

Q: How were the book's title and subtitle chosen, and what do they signify for you?

A: As I entered menopause and started to have hot flashes and I kept a journal about them. The journal became the beginning of my book.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Now I am writing small pieces to go along with the book.  I had a book reprinted this month as well, Jesus Saves, with a forward by the writer Lydia Millet, and I am working on an essay about that book and Twin Peaks.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Be kind to yourself during the change. And if you live with/know women moving through it be kind and tender to them. It’s a hard transition and lame humor and ridicule do nothing to make it easier.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with De'Shawn Charles Winslow

De'Shawn Charles Winslow is the author of the new novel In West Mills. He lives in East Harlem.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for In West Mills, and for your character Knot?

A: My mother grew up in a town called South Mills, and the immediate section where she was raised was very close-knit. It’s where I got the idea for the fictional “West Mills.”

And the character of “Knot” came to me because, as a child, I knew a woman whose nickname was “Knot.” She was a well-respected friend of the family. She passed away when I was 10 years old. Though Knot struggled with alcoholism, she was a very kind and independent person.

I created “Azalea ‘Knot’ Centre” to sort of fill in what I didn’t know about the real Knot.

Q: The novel takes place over more than four decades of your characters' lives. How did you decide on the time frame, and did you need to do any research to write the novel?

A: I thought it was necessary for us to see the main characters as young people so that we could see how, or if, they changed over the years. Also, if I had chosen a shorter scope, there would have had to be quite a bit of flashback to show what they’d been through. I wanted to keep the flashbacks short, even if there were a fair amount of them.

At one point, I was going to set the novel in the real town of South Mills, N.C., and I did quite a bit of research on the town. But when I decided that a fictional town would be better (so that I could play with location, etc.), I ended up setting all of that data aside.

All other research I did was minimal. I simply Googled what was going on in the world during some of the novel’s years, and I sprinkled some of it throughout. Turning the project into a history lesson was something I didn’t want to do, so I kept it light on the research.

Q: The novel takes place in a small town in North Carolina. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: Setting has turned out to be more important than I thought it was in my writing. Since I tend to write about characters who have close ties to the people who live near them, my work almost has to be set in a place where that type of community exists, and is normal.

While people living in major cities have a sense of community, it’s very different from the type I grew up in the South, where a certain degree of nosiness is permitted—expected, actually. And even though I’ve lived in New York for most of my adult life, I don’t believe I could have written a city version of the novel.

Q: A Nylon review of the book says, "...he skillfully weaves together a story of the power of love and friendship, and their ability to redeem even the most troubled souls." What do you think of that assessment?

A: My goal was to show that we can love and care for people even we don’t fully like them. The ability to love is almost involuntary, and I believe it’s something that lives in all of us. I am glad my belief came through in my pages.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a second novel. It’s also set in the fictional town of “West Mills.” While a few characters from In West Mills will make a splash, there will be a cast of new characters to meet.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Amy Impellizzeri

Amy Impellizzeri is the author of the new novel Why We Lie. Her other books include The Truth About Thea and Lemongrass Hope. A former corporate litigator, she is based in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Why We Lie, and for your characters Aby and Jude?

A: Unlike my first two novels (where the ending came to me first), Why We Lie started for me as a beginning.

What if someone - namely a politician - lost his ability to lie?

But, what if, going against all usual clichés, this sudden inability to lie was much more devastating to the politician’s wife than to him? What if it were HER secrets, and not his, that were damning?

I was also inspired by a 20-year-old political scandal in which a young D.C. intern named Monica Lewinsky told the truth and a politician named Bill Clinton told a lie. There can be little dispute that history has been much, much kinder to the liar. 

From there the layers of Why We Lie unfolded. I had always wanted to set a book in D.C.; the current political climate rendered the themes of #MeToo and false accusations all the more contemporary and relevant. The characters developed slowly and I’ve grown to love all of them. Except Dominic Treese.

Q: Can you say more about what you think the book says about the concept of truth and lying, and how that fits into today's political landscape?

A: The discussions that I have been having with readers at book events and book clubs are as engaging as I had hoped while writing the book.

I’ve never really bought into the notion that “honesty is always the best policy” and I’m fascinated others still hold tightly to it. (Or at least claim to.) 

We claim that we want everyone, especially our spouses and our politicians, to tell us the truth always. But do we? Remember the famous line from A Few Good Men? You can’t handle the truth!

This book explores the notion that maybe we can’t handle the truth. At least not all the time.

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

A: Not necessarily before I start writing, but hopefully soon after. I need a direction to head in as I write, but I’m open to detours along the way. The detours are what make the process fun for me as a writer!

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A:The Tall Poppy Writers are my people. They are a supportive group and I’m so grateful to count them as friends and colleagues.

If you look at my “to be read” and “read again and again” piles - in addition to Poppies - you’ll see titles from Bethany Chase, Glennon Doyle, Kimberly Belle, Meg Donahue, Tembi Locke, and Mary Kubica, just to name a few!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m headed to Italy, including Florence and Rome, where I’ll be researching/writing my next story. More on that soon!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The news just broke that my next novel is hitting shelves March 2020. I Know How This Ends is the follow-up to my bestselling debut, Lemongrass Hope.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 28

June 28, 1892: Esther Forbes born.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Q&A with Andrew Ridker

Andrew Ridker, photo by George Baier IV
Andrew Ridker is the author of the new novel The Altruists. He is the editor of Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times Magazine and The Paris Review Daily.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Altruists, and for the Alter family?

A: I didn’t set out to write a family novel. The characters, beginning with Maggie, were born out of a set of anxieties and concerns I had in my first year out of college, watching friends spin off in various directions—some seeking (and attaining) big paychecks in the financial industry, others embarking on (and often abandoning) social justice projects.

In those years I was obsessed with the question of how to live a moral life, and how money complicated this issue. The family grew around these concerns, one by one. The nuclear family, and the idea of the family home, became a perfect staging ground for exploring issues of the American dream, namely upward mobility and homeownership. 

Q: Heller McAlpin, on NPR, said of the book, "Many first novels fall into one of two categories: the campus novel, or the dysfunctional family novel. The Altruists combines the two, but don't let that put you off." What do you think of that description?

A: I was thinking about a number of literary traditions while I wrote The Altruists. The campus novel, sure, and eventually the family novel (“dysfunctional family novel” feels a bit redundant), but also the comic novel and the social novel. I’ve always loved literature that refracts broader social, cultural, political, and economic trends through the stories of individuals—and with a sense of humor.

Lastly, I was thinking about the "inheritance plot" common in Victorian literature, in which family members swarm a wealthy relative in the hopes of being written into the will; I thought it might be time to turn that notion on its head.

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

A: I settled on the title fairly late in the writing process. Each member of the Alter family tries in his or her own (fraught, complicated) way to make the world a better place, to help others, at least in theory, so The Altruists seemed like a fitting title.

Depending on which character it refers to at a given moment, the title can be taken with varying degrees of irony, which fits the tone of the novel—sometimes ironic, sometimes sincere.

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

A: I hope that readers enjoy the book, first and foremost. The novel is a popular form and always has been; I do keep this in mind while writing. I have no political or philosophical aims, but I hope the novel prompts readers to reconsider certain received ideas—about money, morality, and family.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m in the late stages of a new novel, which opens in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election and is set in my home state of Massachusetts. It concerns friendship, obsession, climate change, idealism, and, as ever, the intersection of privilege and progress.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Readers can visit my website for information on forthcoming events or just to drop a line.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Evan Turk

Evan Turk is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book You Are Home: An Ode to the National Parks. His other books include Heartbeat and The Storyteller. He lives in the Hudson River Valley.

Q: You note that your father has worked for the Park Service for more than 40 years. What role have the National Parks played for you personally throughout your life, and why did you decide to write and illustrate this book?

A: The National Parks were a big part of my childhood. Being from Colorado, and visiting a lot of the parks in the west as a kid, making this book really felt like a homecoming for me.

I think that because I was introduced to the parks, and to nature, at such a young age, they were always a big part of the way I saw the country and my place within it. I decided to create this book in the hopes that it would inspire that feeling in more kids and more families.

The National Parks seem eternal, but they are constantly under threat from pollution, people, and politics, and I wanted this book to inspire families to see the magic in these places, and make them a priority.

Q: You did some of your work on this book on location in various parks. Do you have some favorites?

A: I visited 20 different parks for this book, and did many of the illustrations in the book on-location in the parks. With each new place I visited, I felt like THAT was my new favorite park.

It’s so hard to choose a favorite, but I think that Glacier National Park is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen! The mountains are jaw-dropping in scale, the rocks are maroon and teal, the lakes are bright turquoise, the forests are lush and green, and there is an abundance of different wildlife. In one short trip I saw grizzly bears, mountain goats, moose, bald eagles, and many deer.

Runners up would be Grand Canyon, Big Bend, Sequoia….Arches…Zion…okay, all of them!

Q: How did you come up with the idea of focusing on the theme of home in this book?

A: My husband and I had recently moved up to the Hudson Valley, outside of New York City, and I came up with the idea for this book after I had spent a year drawing our new surroundings in pastel. I had drawn the river, the plants, the animals, the seasons, and sort of created a portrait of our new home.

As the year came to a close, I began thinking about the idea of what was next, and more broadly about this idea of “home” in nature. One day while walking by the river, thinking about my own connection with the National Parks in my childhood, I began writing the poem that would become “You Are Home.”

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

A: I hope that all kids, even if they haven’t been to a National Park yet, feel at home in nature. And I hope that kids who do visit a National Park will come away with a greater appreciation and sense of wonder and responsibility for the parks.

I think that a lot of times today, especially with social media, there is a tendency to reduce the beautiful places we visit to a photo-op. But maybe this book will inspire families to slow down, think more deeply, and really appreciate the incredible wonders we are lucky enough to experience in a National Park. Maybe even draw a little bit!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I am just finishing up a book called A Thousand Glass Flowers, which is about Marietta Barovier, one of the first female glass workers and entrepreneurs in Venice during the Renaissance. It imagines the circumstances leading to her creation of the glass rosetta bead, which would travel the world and become one of the most valuable currencies of the early Renaissance.

Venice is one of my favorite places in the world, and getting to bring its art, architecture, and beauty to life through a fascinating figure like Marietta was a dream come true!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Evan Turk.

Q&A with Claire S. Lewis

Claire S. Lewis is the author of the new psychological suspense novel She’s Mine. An aviation lawyer, she lives in Surrey, England.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for She's Mine?

A: The idea for She’s Mine came originally from a piece I wrote on the topic of “Setting” for a creative writing course at the Faber Academy in London. I decided to describe a Caribbean beach setting, as this was one where it was easy to involve all the five senses - and then I added the plot element of a little girl disappearing while in the care of her young and inexperienced nanny (Scarlett), to provide some structure and make it more interesting.

Later I decided to make this scene the opening chapter for my debut novel. The story of the quest to find the child and the dark backstory evolved from there as I imagined what might have happened to the little girl and why. 

Of course, losing a child at the beach is every parent’s worst nightmare, and as mother of three children, this type of anxiety is close to my heart. The poignant and devastatingly sad news stories of child abductions we sometimes hear of in the media also played a part.

As for the backstory of She’s Mine, this was largely inspired by my time as an undergraduate at Oxford University where I studied Philosophy and French Literature at The Queen’s College – though I’m happy to say that the events described in She’s Mine are not autobiographical!

Q: Can you say more about the importance of setting in your writing?

A: As you can see, setting is important to me, because when I write I like to inhabit places in my head for which in the real world I feel a strong connection, nostalgia, and a sense of their beauty, atmosphere and vitality.

I hope that settings such as the dreamy colleges of Oxford, the sunlit canals of Venice, the glitzy streets of Chelsea, London and the iconic bridges of New York, provide an intense and colourful backdrop for the story to unfold and evoke a feeling of escapism in the reader.

Q: The novel is told in two time frames. Did you write it in the order in which it appears, or did you move things around as you wrote?

A: The novel was not written in the order in which it appears, I guess mainly because I am not great at planning things out in advance. Instead, when I come to the end of each chapter, I picture the next scene as a film spooling in my imagination and think about where the narrative should go next.

It is perhaps not giving away too much to say that my past storyline involves surrogacy and a toxic love triangle, and this backstory is structured around photographs – the description of each photograph introducing scenes from the past.

While the backstory is told chronologically, there are large gaps in it, and the genius of modern technology made it possible to play around with where to insert these past sections into the present-tense narrative told by Scarlett or to add more photographs and scenes as I felt necessary.

I found when writing that it was motivating and refreshing to switch between the past and present scenes - and I hope that this also helps to create suspense and engage the reader’s interest moving through the novel!

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: Particular authors that I fell in love with as a teenager and still love today include E.M. Forster (A Room With A View/A Passage to India), Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby/Tender is the Night), Graham Greene (The Confidential Agent/The Power and The Glory/The Quiet American), Nancy Mitford (Love in a Cold Climate) and Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley).

I think the novels by these authors are brilliant because they are so beautifully written with such intriguing stories, charismatic characters, and vivid, entrancing settings.

I also love reading modern psychological thrillers by writers such as such Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl), Helen FitzGerald (The Cry) and Caroline Kepnes (You).

Theatre-going is another great passion. Shakespeare, of course, tops the list (Romeo and Juliet/Hamlet/Anthony and Cleopatra), and from the other side of the Atlantic, the plays of Tennessee Williams which are still so psychologically relevant, mesmerising, and loaded with atmosphere (A Streetcar Named Desire/Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve just finished the full manuscript of my second novel in the genre of psychological suspense about a young florist who has experienced abusive relationships and a tragedy in her past. Set in Pimlico, Surrey and Cambridge, my second novel, like She’s Mine, has a dual timeline and multiple perspectives with psychologically revealing flashbacks to the dark past of its protagonist, Celeste.

I’ve enjoyed researching the world of floristry and flowers (as well as getting to grips with the workings of dating apps such as Tinder which I’ve never looked at before!). The plot, which touches on issues that came to the fore in the #MeToo movement, revolves around stalking (no pun intended!) but it’s not clear-cut who is the predator and who is the victim…

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I love writing in the voices of unreliable narrators; leaving space in the narrative for readers to form their own moral judgments on the characters and their conflicts; and open endings which fail to resolve exactly what happened or who is to blame – because often that’s the way life is!

I’ve started researching my third novel, for which I have a setting – the stunningly beautiful province of Tuscany in Italy - and a title – but as yet no characters or plot! After that, I would love to try my hand at short stories and screenwriting.

Thank you so much, Deborah, for the opportunity to Q and A with you!

I’m on Twitter as @CSLewisWrites and on Instagram as @cslewiswrites.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 27

June 27, 1850: Lafcadio Hearn born.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Q&A with Andrew Burstein

Andrew Burstein is the author, with Nancy Isenberg, of the new book The Problem of Democracy: The Presidents Adams Confront the Cult of Personality. Their other books include Madison and Jefferson. Burstein is the Charles P. Manship Professor of History at Louisiana State University. 

Q: You write, "Who would claim that John and John Quincy Adams speak credibly, meaningfully, to the modern age? We would." Why is that?

A: Both Presidents Adams lived in the public eye, saw more of the world than the vast majority of their political peers, and they expressed ideas about the human condition that one might find prophetic.

They saw in democracy, for example, the likelihood that voting citizens would be seduced by the glare of a campaign, by charismatic campaigners. How to see through empty promises? they asked. How not to elect those who only represent a privileged class? 

They recognized the tendency in even quite intelligent people to live vicariously through the so-called great, the rich, the beautiful––the social and political elites in every age. Democracy is fragile. This was their message.  

Q: What do you see as some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about John and John Quincy Adams?

A: Their public image has morphed together: two curmudgeons. Americans want their leaders to be “likeable,” and history has falsely labeled the single-term presidents Adams as enemies of democracy, contrasting them with the larger-than-life men who unseated them––Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Jefferson: serene prophet of democracy; Jackson: heroic symbol of the frontier. 

The irony is that neither Jefferson nor Jackson better embodied the democratic spirit than the Adamses. Who today can say what Jackson ever did to advance democracy, or what John Q. Adams did to undermine it?

In fact, JQA was the first president to pronounce (in his inaugural address) that the U.S. was a “representative democracy.” He and his father before him addressed issues with clear-headedness and an appreciation of human complexity. They were political theorists as well as political executives. 

To write them off as Old World-leaning “monarchists” is close to delusional; yet that’s what a willful misreading of two critical thinkers has led to. We felt we needed to correct the warped perception.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between the two men?

A: The first father-and-son presidents maintained a decades-long correspondence that is beautiful to read. It is warm and witty, and above all, intimate. It contains probing discussions of politics and culture, spiritual questions, history and philosophy. And it has never been collected and published; so we draw on their letters extensively, in addition to their evocative personal diaries.

Q: What do you think the two Adamses would make of today's politics and of the Trump administration?

A: As professional historians, we are reluctant to make definitive pronouncements along such lines. But we can comfortably state that the two Adamses would be revolted by the power of money in political campaigns.

Disparaging Jackson for his violent temper, primitive spelling, and failure to read, process, and learn, makes it fairly obvious what the erudite Adamses would make of a modern president who refuses to shed his crude and occasionally violent vocabulary.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: While pursuing individual writing projects, we’ve combined on some short pieces. We will embark on a new coauthored book––the next “deep dive”––before long. We’re in the process of narrowing down our shared interests to one under-studied topic with historical and present-day resonance alike.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The reward we’ve had after spending these last several years with the Adamses is the constant reminder they offer: that questions of cultural identity are never fixed, that it is the duty of historians to probe the past with as few preconceptions as is humanly possible.   

--Interview with Deborah Kalb  

Q&A with Robert McCaw

Robert McCaw is the author of the new mystery novel Off the Grid, the second in his series featuring Detective Koa Kane. He practiced law in Washington, D.C., and New York City, and he lives in New York and Hawaii. 

Q: This is your second novel featuring your character Detective Koa Kane. Did you know you'd be writing another book about him before you started the first one?

A: I started my first book, Death of a Messenger, more than 20 years ago and wrote off and on as my busy legal career allowed. A second home on the Big Island of Hawaii had afforded me respite from the outside world, and its stark contrasts were fertile ground for my creative juices. 

It wouldn’t be fair to say that in the beginning I knew I would write a second novel. But not surprisingly, that was my dream and in choosing the setting and fashioning the characters, I certainly allowed for the possibility of a second, third, or even fourth book.

And, as I progressed to the editing and production stages, the thought of deepening and adding to my cast of characters proved inspirational. Writing fiction was just too much fun to abandon.

In addition, I became attached to the characters. I began to see more complexities in their nature, and I developed more backstory. These figments of my imagination became friends - friends whose exploits I wanted to share.

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

A: The original inspiration for Off the Grid came from a painting my wife and I commissioned from an artist who lived in a remote part of the Big Island in a rather ramshackle house deep in a rain forest. Entering her home, cluttered with mismatched bric-a-brac, art supplies, and partially finished paintings, was a hoarder’s wonderland. I knew immediately that the house held secrets whose stories I could tell. 

The artist, a talented but eccentric painter, rendered nature in exacting detail and was for me a character in waiting. Learning that her husband had some sort of clandestine military background made the pair a writer’s dream.

When living on a rural island in the middle of the Pacific, local news travels fast and, if nefarious, with lightning speed. So, when a small country restaurant we frequented closed after authorities arrested the proprietor as a fugitive from justice, it piqued my curiosity. 

After pouring through old newspaper archives I realized the restaurateur was not the only wanted man hiding out in the backwaters of the Big Island. Other refugees from justice had been apprehended after living for years in remote corners of rural Hawaii.

The chance coincidence of these two occurrences in quick succession led me to the first inklings of a story about two fugitives, an artist and an ex-military orchid grower, living in a remote dwelling off the grid.

Q: The novels are set in Hawaii. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: In some ways, Big Island of Hawaii is the most important character in this series of mystery/thrillers. The human characters and stories in my novels are informed by the island’s unique history, multicultural population, language, and blended aloha culture. 

Koa Kane, my native detective protagonist, was indelibly shaped by the sugar cane plantations that crippled and killed his father. He, like all native Hawaiians, has enormous respect for his indigenous cultural history and divinities, the foremost of which is Pele, the legendary goddess of Hawaiian volcanoes, who built and continues to build the island.

He feels the pain of the activists who still chafe under the United States’ theft of Hawaiian sovereignty in 1893. And, when Koa takes his place in the second seat of a double-hulled ocean racing canoe, he, like his ancestors, is one with the ocean that surrounds the island.

Other characters reflect the diversity of the island—the Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Philippine laborers brought to the island to plant and harvest the sugar cane and pineapple crops; the Portuguese engineers who built the irrigation systems; and the Spanish and Mexican paniolos who tend the cattle on some of the biggest ranches in the world. 

Finally, the plot arises in part from the setting. Where else can a loner hide from their past, and wind up tortured to death and nearly buried beneath an active lava flow?

Q: What are some of your favorite mystery novels?

A: I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers and am especially fond of those with unique geographic settings. Jane Harper’s books like The Dry and The Lost Man, set in the Australian outback transport me to the hot, dry, windblown flats of the rural land down under. I live in New York City and know it well, but in books like Terminal CityBlood Oath, and Hell’s Gate, Linda Fairstein leads her readers on an exploration of the secret places we walk past every day.

On a lighter note I love to go to rural France with Martin Walker. I can almost taste the cheese, the roast duck, and the wine in books like The Dark Vineyard and A Taste for Vengeance. No one does Wyoming like Craig Johnson or Mississippi like Greg Iles. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’ve completed the third book in the Koa Kane series, Fire and Vengeance, which Oceanview has agreed to publish in 2020, and I am working on a fourth which will delve deeply into Koa Kane’s troubled past. After that, who knows.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: For me, writing fiction posed a significant transition. As an attorney, my positions, briefs, and arguments were always more or less constrained by the provable facts. An attorney who strays too far from the record loses credibility with the client, the opposition, and the court. Not so the novelist. 

However, it takes a substantial shift in attitude to exercise the full freedom to tailor facts to suit my stories and, if need be, to make whatever corrections are necessary to those that may not fit with the ending. But the freedom is liberating.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Richard Kirshenbaum

Richard Kirshenbaum is the author of the new novel Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry. His other books include Under the Radar and Closing the Deal. He is the CEO of NSG/SWAT, a boutique branding agency, and he lives in New York City.

Q: How closely are your characters Josephine and Constance based on Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden?

A: I drew inspiration from many pioneers of the cosmetics industry. I created character personas from a compilation of real-life women who created the first female multibillion-dollar beauty category.

Josephine and Constance are closely based on Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. Additionally, Constance’s business in the book was inspired by the Avon model. 

Being an adman by trade and having run cosmetic accounts from Revlon to Avon, it occurred to me that this would be the right vein for me to tap.

Rouge is my loving homage to many of the fabulous female executives I knew and worked for and the groundbreaking products they created and marketed.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: Writing historical fiction required an enormous amount of research and was a labor of love.

I studied numerous books, articles, films, and photographs to absorb the details of the time period to make sure the book accurately portrayed the glamorous and competitive cosmetics industry of the 20th century.

It was surprising and jarring to be reminded of the prevalence of segregation and racial issues of the times. For instance, Harlem’s Cotton Club, mentioned in the novel, employed performers who played for an exclusively white audience.

Q: What do you see as the importance of the cosmetics industry during the 1930s and 1940s, the period on which you focus in the novel?

A: This was the first multibillion-dollar industry created by women for women. It was an amazing time period that gave rise to some of the richest, self-made women in the world.

At that time, most women didn't work and couldn’t even apply to get business loans.

World War II brought in many societal changes that impacted the traditional roles of women and allowed them to enter the workforce for the first time. When the war ended, many women missed that sense of freedom that came from being in the workforce. The cosmetics industry gave women the ability to earn extra money while still focusing on the home and family. 

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

A: I am a fan of Sidney Sheldon and I set out to create a juicy yet literary beach read that everyone can enjoy. It’s been a balancing act and so far reviewers happily think it’s a balance of both.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a contemporary fiction novel.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m very proud that Rouge was preemptively acquired by Sony Pictures for film development, and will be produced by Wendy Finerman, Academy Award-winning producer of The Devil Wears Prada, P.S. I Love You, and Forrest Gump, among other blockbusters.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Check out Richard Kirshenbaum on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.