Friday, July 31, 2020

Q&A with Meg Mitchell Moore

Meg Mitchell Moore is the author of the new novel Two Truths and a Lie. Her other books include The Islanders and The Captain's Daughter. She lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Two Truths and a Lie, and for your cast of characters?

A: This story had a couple of different origins. One was the setting. A big part of this book deals with these groups of kids and moms who have all been friends forever.

I’m intrigued by what I’ve noticed, in my own town but also among friends from other places, of friendships among moms and kids overlapping with one another in ways both good and harmful.

I think a lot of this phenomenon has to do with social media, and the idea that we can all sort of keep an eye on what different people are up to all the time. In fact, we can’t escape it!  

When I was a kid, if you were left out of something, you may or may not ever find out. These days, kids know. Parents know. And if parents and kids have overlapping social groups, things can get messy. I wanted to play with those social dynamics by bringing an outsider into a big group to see what would happen.  

Q: The novel takes place in Newburyport, Massachusetts--why did you choose that setting, and can you discuss how important setting is to you in your writing?

A: The setting is very important to this book. For this book I chose the setting before I created most of the story. I live in Newburyport, and it’s a really wonderful place to be in the summer (even this summer! although of course it’s different than previous years).

I really wanted the town to be almost another character in the story. There were so many places I wanted to pay homage to.

Q: You tell the story primarily from the perspectives of your characters Sherri, Rebecca, and Alexa, but you also include a group perspective from the Mom Squad--why did you choose to include that point of view?

A: I wanted this to be a large group of moms—an even dozen, before  the outsiders come in. I wanted them to be snarky and gossipy, but there are so many of them that I couldn’t give a voice to all of them.

By using the collective voice in really short bursts I hoped to a/add some levity, because they are often awful but sometimes in a funny way and b/get across this “groupthink” idea without devoting too much space to it and distracting from the rest of the book

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

A: This title was chosen in a brainstorming session with my editor and a friend when I was in New York City for a book event last year. The friend came up with it. We loved that it’s catchy and intriguing and hints at some mystery (because there are secrets and lies all over this book) and also lets us know not to believe everything we’re told by every character.

In the first draft I didn’t have anyone playing the game, but I did go back and add it in in a few places. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on next summer’s book, which takes place in and around Owls Head and Rockland, Maine. Most of the book takes place in a family home where three generations are spending the summer when a big secret comes out. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If you follow me on Instagram @megmitchellmoore you can scroll through recent posts and see many of the actual places mentioned in the book. I’ll be adding more throughout the summer. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Katie Cottle

Katie Cottle is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The Blue Giant, which looks at ocean pollution. She also wrote and illustrated the book The Green Giant. She lives in Bristol, UK.

Q: Your previous book, The Green Giant, also focused on the environment. What inspired you to write your new book, The Blue Giant?

A: The Blue Giant seemed a natural next step from The Green Giant to me. I grew up on the Welsh coast, so the beach has always been a space outdoors that I've loved and appreciated, and I knew I wanted to set a story there. I definitely wanted to keep talking about environmental issues, and the ever-growing plastic problem is a constant strain on our oceans and wildlife.

I was really inspired after watching Blue Planet, and by the rise of environmental activism from people around the world - notably school students! I've been working on reducing my plastic usage and wanted to create an accessible way to talk about these things with children, too.
Q: In our last interview, you said you usually tend to focus on the illustrations before the text--was that true with this book as well?

A: Sort of! With The Blue Giant, I was researching and doodling and writing all at the same time. It was quite a fluid process - working up drawings of what the characters would look like, then sketching a rough thumbnail, then trying to describe what's happening in it and then continuing that.

Once the bones of the text are in place, I could focus on the roughs for the artwork, and then the artwork. I find that (for me) text is something that I'm happy with editing at any point; I like to get the illustrations clearly telling the narrative first.

It was lovely working with Neil and Hattie (from Pavilion) again, as they're open to ideas and great with offering feedback! 

Q: What kind of research did you do to write this book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: I was looking into how all the plastic actually gets into our oceans - as there's so much, I was sure it couldn't all be litter! It's sad, but even things that have been put in the recycling can end up making their way to the water.

There are some really scary statistics, and although they're important to read and see, I wanted to find some way of communicating this to younger readers in a less doom-y way.

To me, that meant finding a positive solution that was manageable and possible for everyone to get involved with! Something that really surprised me was that “'half of all plastics are single-use applications, used just once and then disposed of,” so researching reusable alternatives we can use every day was my next step.

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

A: I hope that it inspires a curiosity and an enthusiasm for change. I think that no one person can magically clean up or fix the massive issues we're facing on this planet - but by working together, helping each other and each doing our best we can solve anything!

Q: What are you working on now? Are there any more giants to look forward to?

A: No more giants yet, but I've recently finished illustrating some new picture books that I didn't author - which was a great and different experience! I've also been working up some other story ideas that have been rattling around my head. So keep an eye out!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Information on environmental issues is easily available to us with just a few clicks online. Keep on reading and watching documentaries, and even look into what you can do locally to help out your community!

Even if it's just taking a spare bag with you on a walk, and picking up any rubbish you see along the way - every action will help.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Katie Cottle.

Q&A with Len Joy

Len Joy is the author of the new novel Everyone Dies Famous. His other books include the novels American Past Time and Better Days. He lives in the Chicago area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Everyone Dies Famous?

A: My first novel, American Past Time, is about a man named Dancer Stonemason who is an up-and-coming minor league pitcher for a Missouri minor league baseball team.

Its September 1953 and just before the game Dancers manager tells him hes been called up to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals in their Labor Day doubleheader. His young son Clayton has come to see him pitch for the first time so the manager tells Dancer he can pitch the first three innings.

Dancer retires the first nine batters easily. He convinces his manager not to take him out until someone gets a hit. He ends up pitching a perfect game, but injures his arm and never gets his shot at the majors.

Dancers life unravels. He quits baseball, goes to work in a factory to support his family, starts drinking, his wife has an affair, and Clayton, who idolized his father, grows to hate him. The story covers post-war America from the ‘50s up through the war in Vietnam.

Its a story of redemption and second chances. (In my second novel, Better Days, a man who has coasted through life on the fading memory of high school glory has to get back in the game in order to save his lifelong friend. I guess you could say Im interested in stories of what happens after the cheering stops.)

At the end of American Past Time, Dancer leaves Maple Springs and his checkered past behind. Hes starting a new life. When I began thinking about a new novel, I played the What if” game. What if Dancer returned to Maple Springs as an old man?  What if, after all these years, he finally reconciles with his son, Clayton? And then what if Clayton dies?

The novel begins with a grief-stricken Dancer trying to find a purpose in life. Its a standalone novel – you dont have to read American Past Time to understand and enjoy the story.  For me it was fun to return to the town and characters I had created and imagine what they would be like 25 years later.

Q: The book is set in a small town in Missouri. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I grew up in Canandaigua, New York – a small town in western New York. I moved to Chicago after college and I remember expecting that city” people would be a lot different from the folks I grew up with, but they werent. There was just a lot more of them.

Everyone Dies Famous is set in a small town in southern Missouri. The small-town setting is important. I wanted a town that was big enough that folks didnt know everyone, but small enough that there werent many degrees of separation. A character might not know another character, but he or she would know someone who did.

The story has several subplots and the characters in each subplot are in some way connected. The small-town setting makes that possible and I hope, plausible.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: When I begin a story, I usually have a notion about where it is going to end and maybe even a rough idea how. But I dont commit to that. I focus on putting the characters I create into situations, (like trying to survive a tornado). Oftentimes the characters deal with those situations differently than I expected, and as a result the ending I initially  imagined doesnt work.

Robert Boswell, in his craft book, The Half-Known World, argues that it is important that as writers we not know everything about our character when we begin to write. Not knowing everything provides us the opportunity to be surprised.

When I started this novel, I knew it would end in a day, and that was a useful frame. But I didnt know how it would end. Or who would survive.

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

A: I hope readers like the characters Ive created as much as I do. There is an unfortunate tendency in the news and social media to label people. Pigeonhole them as liberal, conservative, red-state, blue-state, elite, deplorable, etc.

My life experiences have taught me that people are multi-faceted. We are all flawed human beings. I try to create characters that are realistically flawed.  My hope is that readers will enjoy hanging out with these characters even if they are not likely to associate with them in the real world.

But mostly my hope is that readers will enjoy the story.
Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have just finished another novel that is set in Phoenix at the millennium. Its about fateful decisions and the criminal justice system. The title is Dry Heat.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: For the last 20 years I have been training and competing in mutli-sport endurance events. I have completed over 80 triathlons and in 2017 I ran in the Boston Marathon. I compete internationally representing the United States as part of TEAM USA. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 31

July 31, 1919: Primo Levi born.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Q&A with Michael Hiltzik

Michael Hiltzik is the author of the new book Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America. His other books include The New Deal and Colossus. A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, he works for the Los Angeles Times.

Q: Why did you decide to write about the robber barons who were involved in the railroad industry in the Gilded Age?

A: The idea for the book evolved over a period of about a year, after the completion of my previous book, Big Science, a biography of the physicist Ernest Lawrence within the context of nuclear physics from the 1930s through World War II.

I’ve always been interested in 19th century American history and the history of technology, so my first thought was to write about the building of the transcontinental railroad, which was completed in 1869. But that story was told recently enough that it didn’t warrant a new treatment just now.

So I began thinking about starting in 1869, and telling the story of the development of the railroads—and America—from that point on. That would enable me to deal with the railroads as technological achievements and features of the economic landscape.

In turn, that meant telling the story of the original Gilded Age, and my editor and I both agreed that the best way to tell that story was through the lives and work of the first generation of railroad tycoons.

Q: The book focuses on several titans, including Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, J.P. Morgan, and E.H. Harriman. What role did they play in late 19th century American life, and do you see any people today playing similar roles?

A: These tycoons were the first business celebrities in American history.

I quote James Bryce, a Scottish diplomat who wrote sort of a sequel to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in 1888, writing, “The railway kings are among the greatest men, perhaps I may say are the greatest men, in America….They have fame, for everyone has heard of their achievements; every newspaper chronicles their movements. They have power, more power—that is, more opportunity of making their personal will prevail—than perhaps anyone in political life.”

Bryce was right, though he did not foresee that public admiration of these business leaders would rise and fall with how Americans thought of the railroads—which would by no means be universally positive.

The railroads were at first seen as expressions of America’s technological and economic might, but soon enough the realization emerged that they were economic actors in their own right, and not primarily concerned with anything but their own profits.

That was especially true during business slumps, when they laid off workers by the thousands—leading to the creation of America’s first nationwide labor union and fomenting its first major national strike. In short, public regard for them vacillated between great respect and admiration, and profound suspicion, even hatred.

Every era has its own business leaders that attract admiration and disdain, often in equal measure.

The closest to the robber barons we have today are Silicon Valley and high tech tycoons such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Tesla’s Elon Musk, and bit earlier Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs.

They show the same bad habits of their predecessors in believing that the welfare of themselves and their corporations is synonymous with the public interest, and the same inclination to impose costs on the public in the course of building profits for themselves.

They resemble their predecessors, too, in sometimes being treated as sages in all things even though their successes are in fact narrow. Like the robber barons of the earlier age, some deserve public esteem, some don’t.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?

A: I researched the book by mining archives and libraries in New York, California, St. Paul, and elsewhere, as well as contemporary memoirs, newspapers, and financial records and journals.

For the cultural aspects of the story, there’s The Gilded Age, the 1873 satire by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner that gave the period its name; I also quote extensively from the poetry and prose of Walt Whitman, which reflect the waxing and waning of American esteem for the railroads and their owners.

Writing history is a succession of surprises, especially at the remove of more than a century.

I was surprised to learn of the rapidity of the rise of Edward H. Harriman, whose railroad career spanned barely a decade but whose rapid absorption of detail and aggressive dealmaking made him the most important magnate in the industry before the turn of the century.

I was also surprised by the fact that many of the most important leaders in the railroad industry in the first decades after 1869 cared little for maintaining and improving their roads; their interest was in trading railroad securities—that’s where the profits were.

Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about these robber barons and the impact they had?

A: The public thinks of the “robber barons” as a uniformly rapacious, self-interested crowd.

Some were seen this way at the time, especially Vanderbilt and Jay Gould, but the general impression was probably formed more by the Pujo Committee, a Congressional investigation that laid bare the manipulations of the barons in 1912-1913, and whose conclusions became the gist of Other People’s Money, an influential book that made the name of a Boston lawyer named Louis Brandeis and eventually propelled him to the Supreme Court.

The truth was that the robber barons made an important contribution to America’s economic development—at least, some of them did. Vanderbilt and Harriman brought the railroads into the modern world of corporate management.

J.P. Morgan rationalized the industry by ending competitive behavior such as the construction of unnecessary lines devised strictly to goad competitors into buying them out. Morgan understood that railroads were in a general sense natural monopolies, though his attempts to monopolize the industry for himself went too far.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Still contemplating my next project.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Studying and writing about this period was not only fascinating in its own right, but instructive about our own time. After all, the Gilded Age of the 19th century was only the first. We’ve been living through the second—another period of ostentatious getting and spending of extreme wealth—in our own time.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Christopher Coake

Christopher Coake is the author of the new story collection You Would Have Told Me Not To. He also has written the novel You Came Back and the story collection We're in Trouble. He is an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno, and he lives in Reno.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in You Would Have Told Me Not To?

A: The majority of the stories were written with a collection in mind, at various points over the last four years.

The first story in the book (“That First Time”) is the only one that’s much older—it was written way back in 2006, but I’ve always liked it, and my newer stories were talking about the same themes and problems that story was, so it seemed like a natural fit and point of entry.

The manuscript I submitted to Delphinium had two other, older stories in it, but Joseph Olshan, my editor, asked if I could replace them.

That was the right move. I like those older stories, but I came up with better ones (“Her Kind of People” and “This Will Come as a Surprise to You”) that made the book both more cohesive and more broad-minded, I think, and which are much more informed by the current moment. 

These are all stories that talk in different ways about how men and women treat each other, and toxic masculinity, and about reckoning with the past. So I’m glad that the book ended up speaking more directly to life in America right now.

I’ve been thinking and writing about toxic masculinity my entire life (my father was abusive to my mother, and I’ve always a complex relationship with masculinity as a result), but the last few years’ worth of history—the #MeToo movement, the election of Trump to the presidency—have had me revisiting a lot of that thinking, and to reckon with my own past in different ways. 

These stories aren’t strictly autobiographical, but they are informed by my life, and by what’s happening all around us.

For instance, “This Will Come as a Surprise to You” was the last story that made it into the book; it’s about a woman who has been abused, trying to figure out how to react to her abusive ex-husband remarrying, after allegedly changing his behavior. I tried to write that story a few different ways, including from the ex-husband’s perspective.

Five or six years ago I might have stopped there. It became more and more clear to me, though, that the book needed the protagonist’s perspective—that if I told the story from her ex-husband’s perspective, she might end up seeming like a scary, shadowy figure, a potential villain.

In a book full of men trying to reckon with themselves, I wanted a story about a woman who’d been hurt, needing to express that hurt, wondering how and when and where to do so. I hope I’ve done right by that character, but it might not have occurred to me to try in any time but right now.

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

A: Well—when my agent shopped the book, it was titled Big Guy, after the novella that concludes the collection. I liked that title a lot—especially since the manuscript (especially then) was focused so much on toxic behavior, through the eyes and perspectives of several very complicated men.

Joe Olshan suggested retitling the book, which was for the better. For one thing, the title story is a favorite of ours. But it also is a more expansive title. It signals that the book is speaking about transgression, and guilt, and about the depth of our responsibilities to other people.

In the story, it’s a line spoken by a son to his mother, as a way of explaining why he didn’t discuss some big life choices with her before making them. But I think that line can apply to just about every story in the book.

If we truly care about others, what compels us to act selfishly? How do we make amends for bad behavior? It’s a line that ties our morality (or amorality) to another person, that makes big issues personal and intimate. 

My previous two books were also titled with phrases spoken from one person to another: We’re in Trouble and You Came Back. When we were discussing a title change, I told Joe that You Would Have Told Me Not To was maybe a little too on-brand, but we decided it was too good to pass up, so now I own it.  

Q: How did you choose the order in which the stories would appear?

A: We tried a few different orders. I always wanted the book to end on the novella, and Joe agreed. From there the stories were arranged according to mood. I thought about the questions each story asked, and how I hoped readers might feel when they finished each one. I didn’t want to put stories next to one another that left too-similar questions hanging in the air. 

I’m never truly sure about ordering collections—my guess is that most readers of story collections don’t read them front to back. As much as I’d like someone to start on page one, I think a lot of readers will start with the shortest piece, “Her Kind of People”—so I had to think about that story being the first one in the collection, too, and how it introduces readers to the other stories. 

Q: Which short story writers do you especially admire?

A: I love so many, from canonical writers like Chekhov and Joyce to very contemporary folks like Kristen Roupenian and Jamel Brinkley. (Both their recent collections were inspirational to me as I was finishing mine.) Tobias Wolff and Maile Meloy both write stories that make me a little sick with envy.

Probably my two biggest influences are a pair of very, very different writers: Stephen King and Alice Munro.

I read and re-read King’s short stories when I was a teenager, and I learned a ton from him about how to engage and keep a reader’s interest. (I write literary realism now, but I try to make all my stories classically suspenseful.)

Alice Munro is my north star. When I need inspiration I open one of her collections. Her story “Carried Away” is right up there on my list of the greatest stories ever written in our language, and I revisit it often. She’s so good at building character, and she’s very slyly audacious in breaking the “rules” of fiction. Reading any of her books is an education. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: While I was working on these stories, I was approached by an editor of horror anthologies, Doug Murano, to submit pieces for a couple of his books, and he ended up publishing two of them that I’m proud of, including one in a book that ended up winning a Bram Stoker award for best horror anthology of the year.

It had been a long, long time since I worked in that genre, and Doug provided me an excuse to revisit it. The second story he published is probably best described as “dark fantasy,” and I’ve been trying to figure out how to extend it to novel-length. It’s been daunting and fun.

I direct an MFA program at the University of Nevada, Reno, that admits a lot of writers working in the commercial genres, and I’d like to try to publish more in those realms as well, so finishing this novel—seeing if I can do well at writing fantasy—is what’s next. 

I also have a lot of short story ideas, and I want to keep trying to finish some of those—the last time I wrote a novel, I vanished into it for several years to the exclusion of all else, and I don’t want to make that mistake again. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The novella, “Big Guy,” that concludes the collection is a piece I’m very proud of. It’s not wholly autobiographical—I’d like to believe I’m different from the protagonist in some important ways—but it is about an obese man who thinks that he needs to lose 100 pounds in order to change his life for the better, and who sets about doing so in the wake of a divorce.

It was an extraordinarily hard thing for me to write, as I’ve struggled with my weight for over 20 years—I’m always dieting, and have lost (and regained) a whole other person’s worth of weight in that time.

So it’s a story about body issues among men, which I haven’t seen a whole lot of writing address, and it reflects a lot of very painful and hard-earned thinking on my part: about how society values certain masculine forms and not others, and about how a curdled self-image can turn outward and cause harm to others.

I wrote it as a suspenseful story, and an inspirational one, but it went all kinds of places I never expected. It definitely made me think of the damage I’ve caused others, at times, just because of how hard I find it to be OK with myself in the mirror.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 30

July 30, 1818: Emily Brontë born.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Q&A with Michele Campbell

Michele Campbell is the author of the new novel The Wife Who Knew Too Much. Her other books include A Stranger on the Beach and She Was the Quiet One. A former federal prosecutor in New York City, she lives in New England.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Wife Who Knew Too Much, and for your characters Tabitha, Connor, and Nina?

A: The Wife Who Knew Too Much is a decadent summer thriller set against the glittering backdrop of the Hamptons. It explores how far people will go for love and money and is inspired by the classic psychological thrillers such as Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

It has an everywoman heroine who gets in over her head because of love. Tabitha is a struggling waitress whose life is upended when Connor, her first love, whom she’s never gotten over, reappears out of the blue at the restaurant where she works. He’s now married to the extremely wealthy Nina. Connor and Tabitha reignite their affair.

When Nina apparently takes her own life, Connor and Tabitha can finally be together. Tabitha is swept into the dark glamor of Connor’s world, which she’s ill-prepared for. Is Connor completely innocent in his wife’s death? Does he truly love Tabitha, or is she a convenient suspect? And what about Tabitha herself? How much did she know, and what is she willing to do for love and money?

If you enjoy classic domestic noir, like Rebecca, Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train, this book belongs on your summer TBR

Q: The book is set in the Hamptons and also in New Hampshire. Why did you pick those two settings?

A: The Hamptons and New Hampshire (two places I know well) are polar-opposite settings that bring to life the stark choice Tabitha faces in her relationship with Connor.

In New Hampshire, Tabitha’s life is a struggle. She has a dismal waitressing job, financial troubles galore, and an abusive ex-husband who’s stalking her. Then Connor comes back into the picture and sweeps her off to the Hamptons.

The Hamptons setting is a frothy fantasy of glamor, wealth and ease. Not only does Tabitha get to be with the man she’s always loved, she now lives in a fabulous oceanfront mansion filled with art and antiques, a staff at her beck and call, expensive clothes, and plenty of exotic travel (there’s a trip to Dubai and a sojourn on a luxury yacht).

But all that glitters is not gold. Tabitha is never comfortable in this new world, and she may be in danger. She finds herself homesick for her life before Connor. Like Dorothy visiting Oz, will she ultimately realize that there’s no place like home?

Q: One of the issues in the book involves trust, as the various characters often doubt one another's honesty or loyalty. Without giving anything away, how do you see that issue playing out in the novel?

A: Trust is at the center of all psychological thrillers. The Wife Who Knew Too Much opens with a passage from Nina’s diary in which she says she thinks that Connor is going to murder her, because he’s in love with someone else and wants her money.

But from that very first page, we as readers don’t know who to trust. Is Nina telling the truth? Could she be lying in her own diary? Once Nina dies, can Tabitha trust that Connor truly loves her, and had no involvement in his first wife’s death? Can Connor trust that Tabitha is innocent?

Just as the characters don’t know if they can trust one another, the reader doesn’t know which characters to believe, and that’s the point. The mind games both create a puzzle to solve, and are a pleasure in themselves for lovers of twisty, suspenseful thrillers.

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

A: My titles are chosen in collaboration with my brilliant editor at St. Martin’s Press, Jennifer Enderlin, who’s a genius at coming up with phrases that resonate with readers. This one, to me, evokes classic domestic noir.

Since Gone Girl ran away with our hearts and minds, we’ve been hooked on dark tales of bad marriages, and The Wife Who Knew Too Much continues in that grand tradition. The word “Wife” calls back to other great modern thrillers where the wife is the central character.

But it also creates a puzzle, because there are two wives in this book—the first Mrs. Connor Ford, who was fabulously wealthy and is now dead. And the second Mrs. Connor Ford, the girl-next-door who ends up with both the guy and the money.

“Knew Too Much,” is a nod to classic film noir, and is left up to the reader to interpret. Which wife knew too much --Tabitha or Nina? You’ll need to keep turning the pages to find out.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new psychological thriller called The Housesitter, about a young law student who’s drawn into the dark web of a glamorous female professor when she’s offered a position as her housesitter. This book will be a combination of a modern, female-driven psychological thriller and good old-fashioned legal thriller in the vein of John Grisham or Scott Turow.

A recovering lawyer myself, I’ve been both a law student and a law professor. I love that environment, I know it like the back of my hand, and I’m excited to bring it to vivid, suspenseful life for my readers. The Housesitter is coming from St. Martin’s Press in 2022.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Instead of an in-person tour for The Wife Who Knew Too Much, I’ll be doing a bunch of fun virtual events open to readers everywhere. I’ll also be doing Skype or Zoom chats with book clubs. Visit my website,, or connect with me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to learn more.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Michele Campbell.

Q&A with Laura Crotty

Laura Crotty is the author of the new book The Little Vegan Dessert Cookbook. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Huffington Post and Motherwell. She is based in Seattle.

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

A: I started collecting vintage cookbooks years ago. It began as a hobby that turned into a blog.

Since my culinary training was in health-supportive foods, I wanted to combine the two into something useful and hopefully, joyful, for others. Every time I overspent on a plant-based dessert I kept thinking, “I could have made this at home for a fraction of the price.” This cookbook was born out of that frustration.

Q: Can you say more about your interest in vintage cookbooks, and about how you researched this book?

A: I have always been drawn to them. They are my “happy place” and a source of comfort, especially nowadays! I’m drawn to cookbooks from the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

For this particular book, I flipped through cookbooks from different decades for each recipe. When I came across recipes that looked promising, the process of trial and error began. Baking is like a science experiment. Ingredients such as egg replacers, whole-grain flours and baking powder, play off each other in unexpected ways.

Recreating a recipe isn’t simply taking an old recipe and swapping ingredients; It doesn’t work that way with plant-based ingredients. Depending on the recipe, these types of ingredients produce a variety of results, and although my experience helped in the process, each recipe, more often than not, involved extensive testing; a period of time that included trial and error.

No one wants to spend money on ingredients for a recipe that doesn’t work. With this cookbook, I have done the testing for you, and the desserts are not only delicious, they’re satisfying.

Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to vegan cooking and baking?

A: It’s nice to know that plant-based desserts are becoming mainstream. People are experiencing how wonderfully delicious these types of treats are.

The belief that vegan treats aren’t as good as non-vegan treats is finally disappearing. Decadently delicious brownies can be made without butter, and mouthwatering cakes can be made without eggs. Nowadays, if you want to eat healthy, you can literally have your cake and eat it, too!

Q: Do you have a particular favorite or two among the recipes you included?

A: I love the Genets and the Chocolate Glazed Doughnuts in particular. The Genets are light, with a fresh lemony flavor; it’s a great cookie for any time of the year, especially summer. The Chocolate Glazed Doughnuts are moist and rich in chocolate flavor. The vanilla glaze gives this pastry a wonderfully balanced flavor.

I also like the portability of these recipes. They present well, and make great gifts.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am actually thinking about organizing a recipe collection for my girls. I have a massive, slightly disorganized, binder of “go-to” everyday foods ranging from sauces, salads, soups, entrees, and desserts; it’s all in there.

I want to give them something practical to use when they go off on their own, and into the world. Hopefully the book will be a source of nourishment and comfort for years to come.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: The nostalgic recipes contained in this book are ones that people love, and the recipes work well any time of year. These desserts are primarily for those who aren’t necessarily vegan, but curious about plant-based foods.

These simple, straightforward recipes are not only delicious, but cost-effective. With this cookbook you don’t have to compromise on taste to enjoy the healthful benefits of plant-based desserts.

Bottom line, people eat dessert for pleasure, and with these desserts, you experience the pleasure without the guilt!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 29

July 29, 1918: Mary Lee Settle born.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Q&A with Gretchen Anthony

Photo by M. Brian Hartz
Gretchen Anthony is the author of the new novel The Kids Are Gonna Ask. She also has written the novel Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and The Write Life. She lives in Minneapolis.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Kids Are Gonna Ask?

A: I am a huge podcast fan, so the idea of putting a podcast at the heart of a novel was not a stretch for me.

The question of what that podcast would be, however, evolved in the aftermath of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Florida. The students there decided they were finished waiting for something to be done about guns in the U.S. and took over the debate.

They started a national movement and in doing so, a few of their most outspoken leaders became public lightning rods -- one side of the debate celebrated them, the other vilified them. It didn't matter that they were 16, 17, 18 years old.

As a mom, I was both moved by and worried for those kids, proud that they stood up so bravely for change, but horrified at the emotional, life-altering toil they had to endure in the process. I wondered, what else could cause that sort of public reaction? Sex, secrecy and paternity was my answer.

Q: The novel blends the perspectives of your characters with podcast transcripts, emails, and other posts. How did you decide on the book's structure?

A: The podcast was the most important to me, and I didn't want to limit it too much by putting short, paragraph-length excerpts within the chapters. The show needed enough space to feel authentic and demonstrate itself.

As for the other things--emails and texts, etc.--my books have always experimented with interstitials (hey, points for those learning a new vocab word!). They're a trick I stole from Fannie Flagg, whose novels include everything from recipes to radio shows. They give color and texture to the characters and plot in a way I don't think narrative can always deliver. 

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

A: I had a general sense. For starters, I knew the kids would find their father (not a spoiler, don't worry). But I didn't want the book to end there because the consequences of meeting him certainly don't. That left me with the question of what happens after they find him. How does that affect the kids and what do they do/believe/mess up as a result?

Q: What do you think the book says about the importance of podcasts and social media today, and also about definitions of family?

A: All three subjects speak to the eternal tension between the individual and the group. Podcasts, in particular, are a symbol of the increasing personalization/individualization we demand of content providers today. We don't want to listen to what's on the radio right now, we want to listen to what we want to listen to -- right now!

Social media, similarly, gives the impression of open dialogue and choice, but really, it allows us to narrow our view of the world so that we're hearing and speaking to only the topics and people we like. My Twitter feed is entirely different than your Twitter feed is different than the next person's.

Every one of us has so much content at our disposal, we don't have to compromise on how to spend our time.

For example, our family has a hard time even finding a movie or TV show we all want to watch. It drives me crazy and yet, I'm just as guilty of being too picky as my kids. How can we exist and thrive together if it's so easy to go our separate ways? That's the big question of our times, I think. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Currently, I'm finishing an audio-only piece for Audible and their Audible Originals program. Title and release date to come. The story is a little more lighthearted, but also timely, about a celebrity wellness influencer whose life isn't nearly as perfect as she would have you believe. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I've been really touched by early readers who write to tell me about their own a-typical origin stories. One woman wrote to say that, as an adoptee, this was one of the first novels that really "saw" her. It made me want to cry with relief because I was so concerned about capturing the fundamental, emotional elements of what it must be like to wonder, "Who am I? Where do I come from?"

In writing the book, I had early input from friends who'd been on their own journeys and I engaged a sensitivity reader, but hearing from readers that I'd connected with them was incredible. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb