Thursday, October 31, 2019

Q&A with Daniel M. Ford

Daniel M. Ford is the author of the new novel Body Broker, the first in his Jack Dixon detective series. Ford also has written The Paladin Trilogy, a fantasy series. He is a high school English teacher in North East, Maryland.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Body Broker, and for your character Jack Dixon?

A: I haven't read as much detective fiction as I have fantasy, but I'd read a fair bit, and I felt like I could maybe tackle it.

Jack was a pretty easy character to come up with; I took some things about myself (I go to the gym a lot, I eat a lot of peanut butter, I count calories) and dialed them up to 11. Then I gave him the kind of background that might lead someone to becoming a private investigator (the military, a brief stint as a cop) with the requisite problems for a lead character in the genre

I was very consciously trying to enter into the tradition of characters like Marlowe, Spenser, McGee, or Longmire, while also trying to make him, hopefully, a little more of a 21st century man than some of those examples.

The idea for the plot of Body Broker had more to do with trying to be timely. Opiates are a problem we're all aware of, but maybe we're less aware of how there exist industries that prey on addicts.

So I knew I wanted to start with some sort of shady rehab operation, and how there really are people who look for vulnerable people with good insurance so they can be bilked by shady rehab operations. The rest emerged as I wrote.

Q: This is your first detective story after writing several fantasy novels--why did you decide to focus on detective fiction this time, and is your writing process similar despite the shift in genre?

A: I felt that I needed to get sharply away from Paladin and related works, and eventually from fantasy entirely. I had a few fits and starts writing fantasy short stories that didn't get anywhere. So I knew I had to get away from it.

I had been kicking around a couple different ideas in either detective fiction or “pulp adventure.” I also knew that regardless of what I did next, I didn't want to spend a lot of time world-building and worrying about creating new geography, so I wanted to set it in an area I knew well; near the Chesapeake Bay.

My writing process hasn't changed at all. I try to write as close to every day as possible, at least five days a week. I work at night, usually isolated in a room by myself, with the internet shut off via focus-enhancing software.

I don't really plan in advance; I don't know what's happening on page 25 until I'm on around page 21. Or, if I know, I have it visualized but don't write it down. I go from start to finish till I get a full draft, and then I revise it top to bottom many, many times (before alpha readers, then again before beta readers, then however many times the editor and publisher tell me I have to...).

Q: Can you say more about how important setting is to you in your writing?

A: Extremely. Like I said above, both of the ideas I was considering involved a waterfront life along the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding waterways. I grew up in Maryland, in the same area as Jack Dixon did (though I'm reasonably sure he went to a rival high school). I work in the county he lives in, I live in part of the area he covers while pursuing his investigation.

I wanted to avoid major cities and put Jack in a place where a reader normally doesn't think about encountering a private detective.

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

A: First and foremost, I want them to be entertained. I want them to enjoy spending time in Jack's head, to be intrigued to learn more about him, to enjoy the other characters and his interactions with them. I want them to be satisfied but also hungry for more.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The line-by-line edit of the ARC of Cheap Heat, the next Jack Dixon novel. The first two books of a proposed sequel series to The Paladin Trilogy. Assorted fantasy short stories, and another fantasy series.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Every cocktail Jack makes in any book is guaranteed to have been one I have tested extensively, whether at home or in a bar. Readers who are interested in recipes should feel free to hit me up on Twitter @soundingline and I am happy to share. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Sarah Henning

Sarah Henning is the author of the new young adult novel Sea Witch Rising. She also has written the YA novel Sea Witch. She has worked for The Palm Beach Post, The Kansas City Star, and other news organizations, and she lives in Lawrence, Kansas.

Q: Sea Witch Rising is a sequel to your first Sea Witch novel. Did you know you'd be continuing the story when you started the first book?

A: I didn’t know for sure. We sold Sea Witch as a standalone but I always knew what I wanted to do if I got a chance to continue the story.

Luckily, Sea Witch sold really well and my editor wanted me to immediately start on the sequel. Plus, she liked where I wanted to go with the story. I had the green light and I went for it.

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

A: Evie has definitely grown as a character. The events of the first book certainly weigh on her even though it’s been 50 years.

In a different way, what happened in the first book very much affected the Sea King even though we didn’t know him well in the first one. You see how he let the events of Sea Witch rot away the person he was.

Q: When you were writing the books, what did you see as the right blend between the original Little Mermaid story and your own fictional creations?

A: Honestly, I didn’t plot either book based on Hans Christian Andersen. In fact, the only time they actually mirror each other is in the epilogue of Sea Witch.

That is, of course, on purpose. I consider Sea Witch to be an origin story that is a prequel to The Little Mermaid. Sea Witch Rising is a retelling of the tale, but from different perspectives and where literally everything goes wrong.

All that said, I did build my world based on the source material. I set Sea Witch in an alternate Denmark when Hans Christian Andersen would’ve been alive. I very much wanted my characters to move around a world he would recognize.

And, like his, my mermaids also can come to the surface at 15, and live 300 years. There are other “Easter eggs” for people who have read the original or know about the author’s life, throughout both books.

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

A: I hope the overarching theme is that you shouldn’t hide what makes you great because others fear it.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have two books coming out in 2020 that share my desk.

My YA contemporary debut, Throw Like a Girl, comes out on Jan. 7. It’s about a down-spiraling softball player who becomes the not-so-back-up quarterback on her ex-boyfriend’s football team. It’s complete, obviously, but promotional items and planning are most definitely work.

Then, in summer 2020, is the first book in a new YA fantasy duology—a feminist tale inspired by The Princess Bride—called The Princess Will Save You.

In this book, instead of the commoner boy going after the princess when she’s kidnapped for political gain, the princess goes after her commoner true love when he’s stolen away by pirates in order to coerce her into marrying another.

We’re almost done with the editing process on the first book, and I’m writing the sequel, which will be out in summer 2021.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I don’t think I have anything else! Thanks for having me!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Nancy Rips

Nancy Rips is the author of the new children's picture book Noah and the Eight Trucks of Hanukkah. Her other books include Seder Stories and High Holiday Stories. She lives in Omaha.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Noah and the Eight Trucks of Hanukkah?

A: When my grandson, Noah was younger, he LOVED trucks. He always had a truck in each hand. I thought that could be a new idea for a holiday book – trucks with Hanukkah!

Q: What do you hope kids learn about Hanukkah from the book?

A: I hope kids learn that Hanukkah is joyous. It can be filled with lights and latkes and candles and trucks. Lots of trucks!

Q: What do you think Marina Saumell's illustrations add to the book?

A: I think the illustrators’ drawings make the book come alive. Anyone can tell a story, but a book has a story and pictures.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a book about people’s memories of Shabbat.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Nope! I appreciate you asking me these questions, and I wish you all the best.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 31

Oct. 31, 1795: John Keats born.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Q&A with Lise Funderburg

Lise Funderburg is the editor of the new book Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents. Her other books are Pig Candy and Black, White, Other, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The Washington Post. She is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania, and she's based in Philadelphia.

Q: Why did you decide to edit this book about writers and their parents?

A: This collection of essays is from writers who take that (inevitable) moment you realize you’ve turned into one of your parents…and then they make meaning of it.

The seed for it sprouted when I stumbled across my own “aha moment” a few years back, in which the act of throwing out a half-cup of coffee gobsmacked me with how deeply I’d internalized my father’s beliefs and behaviors.

 It was such a small action— negligible, really—but it prompted a deep reflection about the nature of inheritance and social identity, about the comforts of body memory in the wake of grieving for a late parent.

My writing and editing projects always begin with curiosity. In this case, I was surprised by this behavior, and reflecting on it linked back to an encounter from my teen years in the 1970s.

It also prompted me to think about my father’s childhood. He grew up as a black kid in the 1930s in the Jim Crow South, all particulars so different from my own childhood.

These threads of memory wove together in new ways, recasting my sense of who my father was, how his history connected to mine, and how my own behaviors will stitch into the lives of future generations. I was comforted, disturbed, and energized by the process, and it made me wonder how others engaged with their own epiphanies and insights.

Q: You write in the introduction, "In some way or another, most of us come to realize that we are, more or less and for better or worse, chips off the parental block." How does that apply to you?

A: Got a few years? This could take a while. The truth is, it’s so completely universal that we take on the behaviors of the people who raised us, whether or not they’re genetically linked to us. That’s not news. But that “coming to realize” is where things get interesting.

In my case, parsing the trait reframed my sense of my own past and of how my father operated in the world. It also felt like a visit from him, like our relationship was dynamic and active. This is particularly notable, I think, for those of us whose parents have passed away, and it’s also notable that the pleasure of the visitation was distinct from the value/non-value of the trait itself.

Q: How did you choose the authors to include in the book, and were all the essays original to the book?

A: All 25 essays are new work, specifically commissioned for Apple, Tree. I am sure I could have compiled an anthology of wonderful, previously published work (other writers have had parents, after all), but that would have been less fun for me as an editor. A great joy of the project was working with contributors on their pieces, having those editorial conversations.

Also, as much as I wanted the individual contributions to feel distinct from each other, I wanted the collection to cohere, to convey a common sense of purpose and not simply be borne of shared keywords.

I looked, first and foremost, for writers with great talent and artistic integrity. I wanted people who think deeply and write beautifully.

On top of that, I put a LOT of thought into making this a truly diverse collection, with contributors from different spheres and genders and races and geographies, and with varied areas of interest and expertise. I wanted to avoid clubby same-same. So I have, for example, a food writer, classics scholar, radio reporter, nurse, and poet in the mix.

I also wanted writers who had not written about the particular parent or trait before; this was both to make the work feel fresh and to present a challenge to the writers that would intrigue them and thus distract them from the microscopic remuneration I was able to offer.

An interesting outcome is that no one writer is familiar with all the others. And so far, no one reader has read all of the writers. It’s a bonus to me to bring everyone together and expose them to new work.

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

A: These essays evidence a number of universal truths, including that our relationships to our parents are ever-evolving, even after they’re gone; that the more we’re battered and buoyed by life, the more likely we are to see our parents through a lens of compassion; and that these traits passed down to us are sometimes repurposed in new and surprising ways.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing a series of essays about passing, which are at heart about community and how we find our place in the world.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My husband and I just purchased a 49-year-old travel trailer, a 1970 Avion Voyageur. It is quite literally a time capsule, in part because it is shaped like a capsule, and in part because the interior aesthetic is heavy on wood-paneling and avocado accents. I feel certain this will provide writing fodder down the road.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kathy Kacer

Kathy Kacer is the author of three new children's books. One, Masters of Silence, is a middle grade novel focusing on Marcel Marceau during World War II. The second, Broken Strings, written with Eric Walters, is also a middle grade novel. The third, The Brave Princess and Me, is a picture book. Kacer has written many other books for young readers. She lives in Toronto.

Q: How did you learn about Marcel Marceau's role in the French Resistance in World War II, and how did you come up with the idea for Masters of Silence?

A: I'm not sure where I first learned about the work Marcel Marceau did with the Resistance. I probably read about it when I was researching another book. I knew I wanted to write about him, but put that idea aside.

And then I began working on another series of books. I knew a story about Marceau would be a perfect addition to that series. The series is called the heroes quartet - four books, each one focusing on an individual who rescued Jews during the Second World War.

Masters of Silence is the second book in that series. I loved writing about Marceau and loved weaving his story around two fictional characters - a brother and sister who are in hiding in southern France and are smuggled to Switzerland by Marceau. 

Q: How did you and Eric Walters end up writing Broken Strings together, and what was your writing process like?

A: Eric actually approached me to collaborate on a book that would have a Holocaust theme. I jumped at the opportunity to work with him.

We sat down to plot out the story and then Eric started off the writing by doing the first three chapters. He sent them to me, I rewrote some of his stuff, added three chapters, and sent it back to him. He then overwrote me, added some more, and so on and so on - back and forth. It was kind of like a "finish that story" exercise.

We each had to accept what the other had written and add to it, always keeping the story moving forward, and always being true to our original plot ideas. Every now and then, we met to reevaluate the plot. All in all, it was a pretty seamless process. Eric is a generous writing partner and it was wonderful to work with him. 

Q: How did you learn about Princess Alice's role in World War II, and at what point did you decide to write a picture book about her?

A: The story of Princess Alice was a gift to me from Margie Wolfe, my publisher at Second Story Press. Before Margie told me about her, I had never actually known of Princess Alice and what she did to hide a Jewish family in her residence in Greece.

As soon as I began to research her history, I decided that a picture book would be the perfect way to tell her story. It's a very gentle story, and this format is geared to a younger audience, one that may just be beginning the process of learning about the Holocaust. 

Q: What is your research process when you begin a new project?

A: Reading, reading, reading!! That's where it always begins. I need to learn as much as I can about the person I'm writing about, or the event that I want to explore in a book.

While I'm reading, I'm jotting down notes about how that information could fit with a story I want to tell. Sometimes I'll write whole scenes from a piece of research that I've just uncovered.

Eventually, I move from the research to the plot of the story I want to tell. But I often go back to researching and reading some more, even when I'm in the middle of the writing. Often, I'm lucky to be able to interview the person I am writing about. I've written about many Holocaust survivors and have probably interviewed over a hundred survivors for the stories I've told. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have several books on the go. The third book in the heroes quartet that I referred to earlier is done and coming out in the spring 2020. It's called Louder Than Words, and it's about a Ukrainian housekeeper who saved three Jewish children by pretending they were her own when their mother had been arrested and taken away. Her name was Nina Pukas. What is amazing about her story is that she was such an "ordinary " person (poor, uneducated), who did something so remarkable.

I have written a draft of the fourth book in that series, which is based on the life of Henny Sinding, a Danish girl who saved hundreds of Jewish people by sailing them from Copenhagen to Sweden. I'm in the middle of reviewing and editing it.

The other book I'm working on is a story about a man named Otto Weidt, a German man who owned a brush factory in Berlin during the war. He saved hundreds of blind and deaf Jews by employing them in his factory. This book is about a fictional girl and her father who come to work for him. As you can see, I am not at a loss for stories to tell! And there are so many more I want to write!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: In addition to writing, I speak in schools and libraries across North America and in cities around the world. I love talking about this history and about my books to young people and to educators. It's a big part of what I do to keep this history alive. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Kathy Kacer.

Q&A with Leah Tinari

Leah Tinari is the author and illustrator of the new picture book The Presidents: Portraits of History. She also has written and illustrated the picture book Limitless, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New Yorker and Vice. She lives in New York City's East Village.

Q: You note that your new book began as a project for your son. How did it develop into this book?

A: This body of work began as a project for my son Mars. He was very interested in knowing about the presidents and what they looked like, etc., so I decided to paint them all for him.

After painting 44 men, all white men but one, I became totally frustrated but also inspired. It led me to make another body of work called Limitless: 24 Remarkable American Women of Vision, Grit, and Guts.

These two projects both became picture books. Limitless was published last year and The Presidents on Oct. 29. The two projects were bought together as a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster.

Q: How did you research the facts about each president?

A: I researched the facts mostly on line.

Q: Were there some presidents you especially enjoyed drawing?

A: Yes, I really enjoyed Martin Van Buren. I loved painting his wild hair. I loved painting Lincoln--he has such intense features. Obama was wonderful to paint also and Teddy Roosevelt, my son’s favorite. He was a joy to paint.

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

A: I hope the viewer can see the lack of diversity in the men that were chosen to lead our country and maybe it’s something to really think long and hard about.

Also that these presidents were kids once, and teens, and were fathers and brothers, etc., and owned pets, and have favorite foods just like the rest of us. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a book, fiction. I am in the process of creating "the dummy" that I hope leads to getting the book made! I am really excited about it. It really feels like me, or rather it feels like a great representation of how my brain works and thinks... playful and loving but inspired by reality. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I guess I would like people to know that I truly love what I do, I love to make stuff, I love even more when kids and people get inspired by it, and I am really grateful to everyone who takes the time to look at my work. Forever grateful. And to you for wanting to know more by interviewing me.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 30

Oct. 30, 1935: Robert Caro born.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Q&A with S.C. Gwynne

S.C. Gwynne is the author of the new book Hymns of the Republic: The Story of the Final Year of the American Civil War. His other books include The Perfect Pass and Rebel Yell. He has worked for Time magazine and Texas Monthly, and he lives in Austin, Texas.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the last year of the Civil War in your new book?

A: The final year defined, in so many ways, the lasting legacy of the war. It was, for one thing, much more desperate, brutal, violent, and hate-driven than the earlier years of the conflict, which some historians have referred to as a “band box war.” Meaning that young men marched off to war to the sound of bands playing with dreams of glory and quick victory in their heads.

The last year of the war saw the rise of enormously violent anti-civilian warfare in the form of William Tecumseh Sherman’s marches and Phil Sheridan’s destruction of the Shenandoah Valley. There was also the rise of the extremely violent guerrilla war, mostly in the northern states of the South.

The final year of the war also saw 180,000 black troops in the Union army, 10 percent of the total—over 60 percent of whom were former slaves. Their presence changed the war fundamentally.

Q: A year before the war ended, how hopeful were people on both sides that their side would eventually prevail?

A: In the spring of 1864, when Ulysses S. Grant arrived in Washington, D.C., to accept his commission as the nation’s first active-duty three-star general, there was great excitement in the North that the war would be won. Grant’s failure to do that at battles such as the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg, soon led to probably the North’s most despondent hour, in the summer of 1864.

The Confederacy’s main hope, in the final year, was to win enough battles to cause Abraham Lincoln to lose the election in November 1864. I would say there was a good deal of hope that summer that Lincoln would lose, and that the war would come to a negotiated halt.

Q: Did you learn anything that particularly surprised you as you researched the book?

A: I was surprised by what an interesting, complex, and influential person William Tecumseh Sherman was. He became the poster boy for the hard and uncompromising war that was waged against the South. I was also surprised by the effect of the Union black troops on the war. Their effect was so notable that the Confederacy itself voted to allow the formation of black army units toward the end of the war.

Q: A century and a half later, what do you see as the impact the Civil War continues to have on this country?

A: Today we have a very divided nation—an often bitterly divided nation—that has roots in the time of the Civil War. The issue is no longer slavery. On the other hand, the president tweets about Robert E. Lee and monuments to the Confederacy. One of the biggest issues these days is race, which connects clearly to the war, among other parts of American history.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am about to start another book about the era. This one will be about the decades after the Civil War. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: That’s all I have! Thanks!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with S.C. Gwynne.

Q&A with Sasha Dawn

Sasha Dawn is the author of the new young adult novel Panic. Her other books include Splinter and Blink. She also writes under the name Brandi Reeds. She lives in the Chicago area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Panic, and for your character Madelaine? 

A: My second young adult title, Splinter, starred Sami, a character loosely based on my eldest daughter. I knew I wanted eventually to write a book in tribute to my younger daughter (Madelaine, after whom the star of Panic is named), and as she grew, I centered on her love of music, which is an important element in many teens’ lives, and I knew I had the first character trait of my next protagonist.

This story is loosely based on Madelaine’s aspirations in musical theater. She attends one of the most prestigious performing arts academies in America, and while she has no trouble belting out a tune on stage in front of hundreds of people, she is an introvert and has limits when it comes to everyday interaction.

I learned a lot about her inner struggles with meeting new people, and the process she takes herself through when she becomes someone else on stage. My main character shares many of my daughter Madelaine’s fears and frustrations, as well as ambitions.

Q: What do you think the novel says about anxiety and panic attacks?

A: I hope the novel opens discussion about anxiety and panic attacks and presents them not as debilitating attributes but as ways of alerting ourselves that all is not right. People of all walks of life experience anxiety and panic attacks; I’m included in the statistics. The way I see it, it’s important to see anxiety as a self-awareness tool. Learning to manage anxiety is strengthening, as well.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "The author makes it easy to be both frustrated with the characters’ choices and yet to empathize with them." What do you think of that assessment?

A: I take it as a compliment: it means I’ve managed to convey the complexity of the teenage psyche.

I like to think I write people as they are, not as they should be. It’s important to remember that we’re discussing a 16-year-old girl. She isn’t going to make decisions the same way an adult will. She simply doesn’t have the experience to do so.

Looking back at my 16-year-old self, I’m frustrated with some of the choices I made back then, too. But I did the best with the tools I had at the time. The same is true for any teen, whether or not they’re gracing the pages of a novel.

Additionally, Madelaine thinks with her heart, and she’s very honest with herself. Ergo, I’m not surprised this reviewer found it easy to empathize with Madelaine and her good-hearted decisions.

That said, Kirkus reviewers are learned and practiced. They know that being frustrated with a character from time to time could actually be germane to the reading experience. Many novice reviewers would tank a book’s rating if an author dared to inspire feelings of frustration, anger, insert-uncomfortable-emotion-here, which is actually a disservice to the craft, the reviewer, and the reader, to say nothing of the potential sales of the book.

I like that Kirkus Reviews (among many other respected journals) offers balanced feedback based on the craft of writing itself.

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

A: When I begin plotting, I have a loose outline to follow, but the details often change along the way. I usually know the beginning, the turning point, and the end. But occasionally, an editor will weigh in with possible endings I either haven’t considered, or haven’t wanted to explore.

But in the end, plots are a collaborative process. I take my editors’ advice willingly. While drafting my Edgar-nominated Blink, for example, I wrote three different endings, and I let my editor (the amazing Alix Reid) choose which of the three she found most appropriate. It was great fun!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am finishing the revision of my alter ego Brandi Reeds’ next novel, while celebrating the release of Sasha Dawn’s Panic (10/1/19), and Brandi Reeds’ Third Party (9/3/19). Up next for Sasha is a concept surrounding a psychological, twisty plot (currently entitled Asylum). As Brandi, I’ll be considering my next projects.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My Edgar nomination for Blink in 2019 was incredibly validating. Despite a strong debut with Oblivion, sales of Blink were bleak, as were sales of its predecessor, Splinter. Despite great professional (and general) reviews, there simply wasn’t enough publicity to get the books out there.

I considered allowing Sasha to fade into the great beyond. What was the purpose in writing books no one would ever read? And then came the Edgar nomination. Blink was considered among the best five young adult mysteries published in the country in 2018. That nomination gave Sasha new life.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Ged Adamson

Ged Adamson is the author of the new children's picture book A Fox Found a Box. His other books include Douglas, You're a Genius! and Douglas, You Need Glasses!. He lives in London.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for A Fox Found a Box?

A: I came up with the idea when I was looking at footage of a fox jumping into the snow to catch food. You know that thing foxes do in winter in icy places? They leap up and then almost vertically dive into the snow like a swimmer. It’s really cute to us but pretty much life and death to them, ha ha. I thought it would be interesting if the fox found something odd that wasn’t food.

I liked the idea of doing a story about music and sound. Music has always been really important to me and so this has been a really special project. And Schwartz & Wade is the perfect home for this book. 

People have said how a lot of readers won’t know what a radio is but the whole thing about the story is that the animals don’t know either. It’s not important. To the fox and his friends, the radio is just this weird object that makes beautiful noise.

Q: You noted in our last interview that your illustration style in this new book is different from that in your Douglas books. How did you come up with this style for A Fox Found a Box?

A: I thought that the story needed a different, softer style than the Douglas books. Watercolour and pencil used in a looser way. It’s a very elemental setting and I wanted to reduce the use of line in this as much as possible. It’s pretty much all against a snowy background so there was an opportunity to dispense with outlines altogether. The only real outlined object is the radio and this helps to accentuate its non-natural and man-made character.

Also I wanted to give things more texture than I would in a Douglas book so you can really see the use of watercolour paint and even the grain of the paper I used.

Q: This time around, did you work on the text along with the illustrations, or did you start with one and then move to the other?

A: This book was a real evolving project. The words and images pretty much came together at the beginning but that was kind of the basic foundation. The story progressed a lot once I started working with Lee (Wade).

What was great about A Fox Found A Box was that the feeling and emotion of the story were intact from the very start. The hard work was trying to catch the perfect way of expressing this - almost like the fox jumping in the snow trying to catch his dinner!

A lot of times stories don’t have a “punchline” but you’re left with something that’s hard to put your finger on - an emotion that finishes the story in a nice way. Hopefully that’s how this book leaves the reader.

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

A: I’d like kids to consider how sound can make them feel. In the book, the animals don’t just respond to sounds in an exuberant, dancing way - they react in a range of ways.

For instance, water is something that can make you feel different things. Waves crashing and the bubbling of a stream won’t move you in the same manner, yet they’re both strangely reassuring sounds. 

A piece of music can make you feel sad and actually make you cry but, oddly, the experience is positive not negative.

Also it’s not necessarily the natural world of forests and rivers that only create beautiful sound - cities are a feast! Children can stop and listen wherever they are. True silence rarely happens.

This book is not about getting children away from their devices. I think too much is made of that. It’s simply suggesting that to be more aware of - and interested in - the world around you makes for a more fun and enriching life.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a story about an elephant. I’m also illustrating a really nice thing for Simon & Schuster here in London. There are bears and baboons in it and it’s about school.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Art from A Fox Found A Box has been selected to be in this year’s Society of Illustrators Original Art Show in NYC. I’m really thrilled about this and you can check out the details here.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ged Adamson.

Oct. 29

Oct. 29, 1740: James Boswell born.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Q&A with Mark Bergin

Mark Bergin, photo by Jim Craige
Mark Bergin is the author of the new novel Apprehension. He spent nearly 30 years as a police officer in Alexandria, Virginia, and worked as a reporter before that. He lives in Alexandria and in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Q: You note that you had the idea for this book 30 years ago. How did it change over the years?

A: I had been thinking of the book, and writing scenes for it all those years, but a big part changed when I had kids.

In the original version, my hero's daughter was murdered in front of him. When I actually had a daughter and son, I learned that I could not write that scene, because my hero would not have survived it to go on and experience the events of the novel. So I killed his niece instead. Still impactful, but not so much that he could not go on.

Q: How did you come up with your character John Kelly, and how much did your own experience as a police officer inspire his creation?

A: I was never a detective, but as an officer in Alexandria we conducted every preliminary investigation, and could follow up on cases if staffing and our sergeants let us. Detectives are just cops who don't have to answer radio calls, and have time to follow leads and conduct interviews.

Kelly was a creation of plot: I started with ideas about what kind of stress I could pile onto a good cop, and Kelly was what survived my dropping rocks on his head for four days. The book is certainly based on my 28 years as an officer, sergeant, and lieutenant, and on my four years as a newspaper reporter prior.

Everything in the book is possible. Some of it actually happened. The witch doctor bit is true. The magnets are something we joked about, but never did. 

Q: The novel focuses on police suicide, and you're donating book profits to many organizations including the National Police Suicide Foundation. Why did you choose this as the theme?

A: In 2013, when I had two career-ending heart attacks, I actually died. En route to my eventual double bypass operation a nurse looked at me and said, "You're not supposed to be here any more. God's got something more for you to do here."

I'm not sure that comports with my view of God, but I thought about it. So when the time came to find something other than police work to fill my day, I decided to finally write the book, but to make it do more good than just to satisfy my ego.

Law enforcement suicide is a major problem but both unrecognized outside of our profession and under-acknowledged inside. So I shifted the story around to put even more pressure on my hero, John Kelly, and bring him to the edge of suicide. Maybe beyond? 

In my time as a cop in Alexandria, Virginia, one fellow officer was killed in a shooting. But three took their own lives, as well as two deputy sheriffs on our sister agency. Five to one. More law enforcement members die by their own hand than are killed in the line of duty. Ours was a higher ratio than is common but not unusually so.

I wanted to write a book that highlighted the pressures on cops and the problems stress creates. I thought maybe the book could be a conversation starter among officers about suicide. We don't talk about it much, or enough. There is as strong a stigma on suicide in police work as anywhere, maybe stronger because cops are expected to be tough and capable all the time. 

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

A: Beyond just a ripping yarn, I wrote it with the idea that readers could learn about cops and what they think and go through every day. I wrote it so that cops could read it and recognize some of their own feelings and experiences, and maybe they could give it to family members and say, "This is how it is out there." 

After I retired, I found out how scared my family was for me working on the street. I never discussed it with them because I didn't want to upset them. They never brought it up with me to spare me being concerned for them. Lousy way to spend years but it happened.  

Q: What are you working on now?

A: The second book in the series (I have outlines for four more) will be about faith, God, religion, belief, and armed robbery. My hero Kelly will survive a shooting that should have killed him, in a way that other people say could only show the hand of God saved him. He struggles to understand this, while working a child abuse case.

I find that writing one book gives me ideas that don't fit in the current work but could live in a future book, so I keep notes and file them into, say, book three where Kelly travels to Ireland chasing a killer he let escape (based on a trip I made recently and discovered a perfect cave for several scenes,) book four wherein he suffers a heart attack, and book five in which Kelly, now retired, is drawn into a racially-charged murder in an angry and divided city at the request of a journalist. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: At the end of the day, books should entertain as well as provoke and educate. I hope Apprehension and its successors are enjoyable and exciting.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Julian Sedgwick

Julian Sedgwick is the author, with his brother Marcus Sedgwick, of the new young adult novel Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black, a version of the Orpheus story set in World War II. His other books include Dark Satanic Mills, also written with his brother. He lives near Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.

Q: How did you and your brother come up with the idea for Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black, and how did the two of you work together on the book?

A: Our last book together (Dark Satanic Mills) had been an idea that Marcus was already working on when he asked me to help. For our new project it was my turn to dig into the pile of notebooks and pull out a story.

I had two germs of ideas that I had been wanting to bring together: a modern re-telling of Orpheus, and the idea of a central character wavering between the worlds of the real and the imagined in a ravaged conflict zone.

We discussed various settings, and decided that the closing days of World War II gave us the best chance to explore the themes we wanted to write about: future warfare, the presence of an Underworld, and moral stances on conflict.

London, with both its extensive Underground and criminal underworld, gave us the landscape for Harry to drift into the world of the mythic; our own father’s conscientious objection in World War II gave us the moral stance for our central character Harry (and conflict with his brother); and the V1 and V2 rockets raining down on the city gave us the beginnings of the world of cruise missiles and sci-fi weaponry that Harry is exploring in his own work.

Once we had the setting and characters we needed to divide up the writing – and, very neatly, we had the same idea on the same day: Marcus would write a voice in verse – the lyrics of Orpheus echoing down the ages to our characters, and I would write Harry’s prose journal. It was important that both had equal weight and that they did separate tasks in the book.

Quite quickly it felt that the balance was working and we assembled the rough first draft. Then it was a matter of the usual tweaking, strengthening, editing. It was quite a tough fine edit as the book had evolved in an organic way, and keeping things nuanced and complex, yet still followable, was a matter for debate.

Q: The book combines prose and verse, as well as art by Alexis Deacon. How did you choose the book's form, and what do you think the art adds to the story?

A: It was always important from the start that this would be an illustrated novel. Harry’s character is a young artist  - his dreams interrupted by war – and we wanted his work to be present.

As writers, our task was to leave a sufficiently big “hole” in the draft that an artist of Alexis’s ability could use to create his own voice and chunk of the narrative. Alexis writes his own books, so we didn’t want it to be just a case of “please illustrate this”!

We might have overcomplicated things by making him a big image ref portfolio in the first draft that he then had to digest - and forget! Quickly though, Alexis found a way into the story – allowing playful and sometimes surreal use of the images whirling in Harry’s muddled and morphine-filled head.

The day I saw him talk through the pencil roughs – particularly the opening and closing sequences – gave me genuine chills down the spine. After that each iteration of the book, with wonderful art direction from the team at Walker, got stronger and stronger.

Ultimately Alexis’ third illustrative voice brings a vital, third perspective on the contents of Harry’s mind as he journeys into the Underworld.

Q: The book focuses on a relationship between two brothers--how would you describe their bond, and what was it like to write about brothers with your own brother?

A: Harry and Ellis were incredibly close as boys, but subject to the usual bitter fights and feuds as they sort to individuate from each other. Both had to find their own reaction to their upbringing and to the coming war. They both know deep down that their love transcends those differences, and that becomes clear as the book moves towards its conclusion.

In my day job as a therapist I listen to a lot of sibling conflict issues! When we were looking for the key relationship to retell the Orpheus story I think we just grabbed that one without thinking too hard about it. Which probably means we both needed to examine it.

The act of writing together is always relatively easy as we both respect the other’s ability and experience. Other parts can be harder… and maybe those only became apparent towards the end of the writing process!

Q: What did you see as the right blend of the original Orpheus story and your own version?

A: This is a very good question! Every age has had its own versions of the myth. In some Orpheus rescues Eurydice, in some he fails, in some there is just Orpheus and his journey to the Underworld.

So many artists, writers and musicians – from Ancient Greece to Philip Glass – have had a go at this story, and every era has told that story in its own light. The great myths endure because they need to be told and told again, almost as if the character forces his way back into each age.

For the balance we instinctively knew that we didn’t just want to do a “substitution” retelling of the most often told version of the Orpheus myth.

It was good to keep the character of Orpheus true to the lineage, but then to play with the story and setting, referencing other versions (for example, Cocteau’s Orphée or Powell and Pressburger’s wonderful A Matter of Life and Death) – and then let the narrative flow where it wanted to go, rather than thinking “oh, we’ve got to have this bit of the myth here.”

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a part illustrated book again – a story set in the tsunami and post-disaster zone in Fukushima, Japan. This year I made my second research trip to the radiation exclusion zone and talked to people starting to rebuild communities on its edge.

It has been very moving and inspiring, and I’m hoping the book will come out right and do justice to the amazing stories I have heard there. I’m currently talking to possible publishers and trying to finish a new draft by Christmas.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Orpheus Black was the most complex and personal book I’ve worked on to date, but I’m so glad that we all persevered. It’s much easier to be proud of a book that has more than one creator!

And besides the three of us named on the cover, there were a lot of great people behind the scenes guiding this book to completion. I’m just grateful to everyone who backed Harry and his journey under wartime London skies, and helped the story to print.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb