Sunday, August 9, 2020

Q&A with Rebecca Kauffman


Rebecca Kauffman is the author of the new novel The House on Fripp Island. She also has written The Gunners and Another Place You've Never Been

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The House on Fripp Island, and for your cast of characters?

A: The idea for the book rose out of a desire to try something I hadn't done in either of my previous books. Instead of starting with a protagonist, I started with a plot puzzle, and set out to solve the puzzle in the course of writing the first draft.

So, I devised the mystery which is introduced in the prologue, then created the cast. When assembling a cast, I always work in contrasts so that I have a variety of voices and perspectives to knock up against one another.

Q: Why did you choose this South Carolina island setting for the book?

A: I had the opportunity to visit Fripp Island several years ago on a family trip, and was instantly struck by its beauty and intrigue, a wonderful mix of Southern Gothic and lush tropical paradise.

I think a small island offers an inherently good setting for a mystery, because of the way that physical boundaries create a sense of peril, and the potential for tense relations between locals and vacationers.  

Q: In a review in the Post and Courier, Jonathan Haupt writes, "Indeed, children, teens and adults alike, the Dalys and Fords are all precariously teetering between risks and rewards against the serene backdrop of an island paradise." What do you think of that description?

A: I love that description! It is true that every character in the book is teetering, or "on the brink" in some way. It was interesting to construct the precarious parts of everyone's life and then look for points of potential intersection with another's precarious point(s), because the areas of overlap are where real danger lies in wait.

Q: The book begins with a ghost narrator. Why did you decide to start the novel that way?

A: It seemed effective to me to work with a voice that is both prophetic and also fixated on the past. The ghost expresses later in the book that it is a relief, upon death, to be freed from the burden of feelings and the belief that everything that originates from within you is true and must therefore be acted upon.

It interested me to explore that distinction - and the inherent deceptiveness of our emotions - in both the prologue and other areas where the ghost appears, since so many characters in the book suffer  the consequences of having mistakenly drawn assumptions driven by emotion.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I'm working on two novels. I'm much happier when I have several projects going at once and can set something aside for a while instead of trying to force or rush a decision.

One of the novels I'm working on takes place in the early 2000s and explores the fall-out from a small-town hoax gone terribly awry, and the other takes place in the early 20th century and chronicles the lives of seven tight-knit siblings as they navigate a teenage pregnancy that reverberates in a variety of ways.  

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I'll just happily add some quarantine recommendations! I've recently really enjoyed these books: Improvement by Joan Silber, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi, and The Briefcase by Hiromi Kawakami, and these movies: P’tit Quinquin, Good Time, The Favourite, and I’ve been on a real Nic Cage kick; favorites are the absolutely bonkers and unhinged Vampire’s Kiss, and Face/Off.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rebecca Kauffman.

Q&A with Laura Martin


Laura Martin is the author of Glitch, a new middle grade novel for kids. Her other books include Float and the Edge of Extinction series. A former seventh grade English teacher, she lives in the Indianapolis area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Glitch, and for your characters Regan and Elliot?

A: I taught seventh grade language arts for six years prior to taking a break to stay at home with my kids and pursue writing full-time. (Well, as full-time as one can be as a stay-at-home mom!).

One of the research projects my seventh graders did involved a book by Life magazine called The 100 Pictures that Changed the World. I had my students each pick a picture and then research and write a paper about whether or not they though the picture had actually changed the world.

I posted these pictures on a bulletin board, and one day I asked my students how our world would be different if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated. It was an interesting question.

We went on to ponder what a world without a man on the moon would look like and shuddered at the thought of a world where Hitler had won World War II, and I realized that history was fragile. If you change one key event, things could spiral in a totally different direction. And so, the idea for Glitch was born.

I’m not sure where the characters came from. I just knew I wanted a boy and a girl who really disliked one another, and I started writing the book from Regan’s point of view. The idea to write part of the story from Elliot’s perspective didn’t come until later, but I loved both of their perspectives.

Q: In your Author's Note, you write, "Shouldn't we want to right the wrongs of history? Wouldn't it make sense to correct the injustices of the past and prevent pain? The answer, in my humble opinion, is no." Why do you think that, and what do your characters believe?

A: Unfortunately, the catalyst for change is often awful, and I think that if you take the catalyst away, the change either doesn’t happen or takes longer to happen.

Another way to put it is that the human race often has to learn lessons the hard way. The injustices of the past are there for a reason, which is why I firmly believe you shouldn’t fix the past, even if by some miracle of science, you have that ability. 

However, I think my characters really struggled with this, Elliot especially. It would be incredibly hard to watch some of the atrocities of history play out in front of your eyes and NOT want to make things right. However, my characters also could see the big picture of history and see how changing a single event might have catastrophic consequences down the line.

Q: The book alternates between Regan's and Elliot's perspectives. Did you write the book in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to the other?

A: I wrote a good chunk of the book from Regan’s point of view before I decided Elliot needed to have a say, and then I went back and worked his chapters in.

Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?

A: This was my first book other than Edge of Extinction where a lot of research was involved. Dinosaur research is pretty forgiving since science has left a lot of gaps I was allowed to fill with my imagination.

However, America’s history is a whole different ballgame. I enjoyed researching the details of the different historical events that appear in the book, but I think the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was my favorite. Even though the event was horrible, it still had a hero.

There was an elevator operator named Joseph Zito who took his elevator back up to a horrible fire over and over to save lives, despite the fact that the panicked women stabbed him multiple times with their shears. He’s an unsung hero, and I made sure he appeared in the book. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I just put the finishing touches on my book for 2021 called The Monster Missions. It’s a little bit like Waterworld meets 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’m also working on a new book that I’m hoping will land me another book contract with HarperCollins!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes. Time Traveling books are incredibly fun to read, but a headache and a half to write. When you start having your characters pop in and out through time, things get really complicated really fast. I dabbled a bit in time travel in Float, but I think Glitch did me in. I’m not sure I’ll mess around with time travel again! 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Nancy B. Kennedy



Nancy B. Kennedy is the author of Women Win the Vote!: 19 for the 19th Amendment, a new middle grade book for kids. She is a journalist, and she lives in Hopewell, New Jersey.

Q: Why did you decide to write Women Win the Vote!?

A: I grew up in Rochester, New York — the home of the famous suffragist Susan B. Anthony! — but I knew absolutely nothing about suffrage. A few years ago, a colleague mentioned the upcoming suffrage centennial, and I knew right away that I wanted to write about it.

A hundred other writers wanted to write about it too! There are plenty of books about women and the vote. The adult market is well covered, and the youngest readers have a lot of great picture books to choose from. But I didn’t see many options for the middle-grade reader, a young person aged 9 to 13.

My teacher friends say that the way to grab a young person’s attention is through personal stories. So I thought, What if I tell the suffrage story through the women who powered the fight? And that’s what I did. I chose 19 suffragists who personified the fight — 19 for the 19th.

Q: How did you choose the 19 women to profile?

A: The suffrage fight went on for three generations. I needed to choose women who would take the reader through its 72 years, from its beginning in 1848 to its victory in 1920 — from Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul.

But I also wanted to bring in suffragists who had been overlooked due to racism. It’s disheartening that white women were quick to exclude black women from the fight. So, among the 19, I include women like Sojourner Truth, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, and Mary Church Terrell.

Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?

A: I read about 75 books! I also subscribe to a few newspaper archives. It surprised me that so much could be known about a movement that began more than 150 years ago.

What really delighted me was to hear from the women themselves. Their voices come through loud and clear in their diaries, memoirs, letters and speeches. Their own words powered the narrative of my book.

Q: A century after women won the right to vote, what do you see as these women's legacy?

A: I think about this question a lot. Of course, the suffragists expanded women’s public role and political power. They overturned customs of the day that consigned women to a life as “a doll or a drudge,” as Susan B. Anthony put it.

These women also teach persistence. They kept up the fight through two wars, three generations and 18 presidents.

For them, protest wasn’t something they did one Saturday afternoon. For years, they traveled the country on foot and horseback, by carriage, train and car. They went out on boats and up in biplanes! Some of them gave more than 400 speeches a year. They paraded and picketed.

They learned to navigate a political system they had no knowledge of, and some were willing to go to prison — and undergo hunger strikes and force feeding — to accomplish their goal. They show us exactly what it takes to gain justice.

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

A: We live in a time when young people are making their voices heard. They’re protesting racism, gun violence, climate change. I wanted to show that a hundred, a hundred fifty years ago, young people were doing the very same thing. To create change, you need both passion and perseverance.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My agent says I shouldn’t be writing this year, that my job this year is to talk about the suffragists. I always do what she says! But I am continuing to research the suffrage fight and hope that I get to write about it in a new way.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: No one could have predicted we’d be quarantined by a pandemic this year. The suffragists fought to break out of the house, and here we are stuck at home!

My publisher did foresee that teachers would want to use the book in their classrooms, so we created a teachers’ guide that is available as a free download from my website (nancybkennedy.com/for-teachers). Now that so many parents have become their children’s teachers, the guide is even more useful as a teaching resource.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Aug. 9

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Aug. 9, 1899: P.L. Travers born.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Q&A with Jill Orr


Jill Orr is the author of the new mystery novel The Full Scoop, the fourth in her Riley Ellison series, which also includes The Bad Break and The Ugly Scoop. She lives in Columbia, Missouri.

Q: In this fourth installment of your Riley Ellison series, Riley tackles the mystery of what happened to her grandfather--a theme that's run through the previous novels. Why did you decide to focus on the resolution of this crime in The Full Scoop?

A: You know, it's funny: I am not someone who outlines or plots my books, but the one thing I have always known about this series was what happened to Riley's grandfather. I knew it from the beginning, so in many ways I have been waiting to tell this part of the story since book one! 

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "A shift in tone produces something a little more murderous but a little less fun." Do you think there was a shift in tone from the previous three books?

A: I feel like it's half right... there is definitely a shift in tone. The plot of this book necessarily wades into some darker waters, and provides Riley with the opportunity she's been seeking to find her grandfather's killer. But it doesn't come easily and she has to do a lot of soul-searching about what she's willing to do to find the responsible party.

I take a slight issue with the "less fun" assessment, though! I mean, I guess it depends on your idea of fun, right? I think dedicated readers of the series know how deep these issues run for Riley and would have objected had I let her breeze through this experience. Though, I fully admit it is a bit weightier than the other books - hopefully it brings with it some satisfaction as well. 

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Riley and her friend/colleague Holman?

A: I think it's evolved over time into something like a brother/sister relationship. They have a deep fondness for one another and trust each other implicitly, but they also bicker a lot. I think Holman drives Riley nuts sometimes, and Holman is puzzled by some of Riley's emotional reactions. Ultimately, though, I think of them as best friends. 

Q: How are your books' titles chosen?

A: The decision on a book's title is a collaborative process between me and my editor. I make a suggestion and then we talk about whether or not it fits. If not, we will brainstorm till we find something we both like.

I think that's often how it goes with a smaller publisher, whereas at the larger houses I think more people weigh-in on those sorts of decisions. I personally love the collaborative feel at Prospect Park Books!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I actually have a nonfiction book coming out in November! It's a gift book called How Not To Be Old (Even If You Are) and it takes an irreverent look at aging and generational politics. And it's illustrated! 

I don't mind saying it was probably the most fun I've ever had writing a book. It's a complete departure from mystery writing and fiction writing in general, but it was really fun.

I started out my writing career with a column in a local magazine writing personal humor essays about parenting. So this kind of project, while new, felt really comfortable for me. We see it as the kind of book you'd pick up for a birthday gift or little hostess gift -- it's small, cute, and hopefully will put a smile on people's faces!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Can't think of anything! Thanks so much for having me on the site for another Q&A! 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jill Orr.

Q&A with Whitney D. Grandison


Whitney D. Grandison is the author of the new young adult novel A Love Hate Thing. She lives in Akron, Ohio.

Q: You write that two different people inspired your character Tyson Trice. Can you say more about that, and about the inspiration for your character Nandy?

A: Growing up, I had a Tyson. I was like, 7 or something, or maybe 10. And there was this boy who came around our neighborhood one day with his grandfather who was doing lawn work and the boy, Jeremy, started hanging around me and my older brother.

There weren’t that many kids in the neighborhood and so it was just us. We would just hang out and Jeremy and my brother would sometimes play with action figures and I would too.

The thing about Jeremy was that he always dressed nice and together and was so adorable and polite. We definitely had some puppy love I guess you can say. I remember when my brother wasn’t around I’d always boss Jeremy around and get him to do what I wanted.

I remember once it was just us watching cartoons in our basement one day and I remember I kissed him for like 10 seconds or whatever and then I’m all “Let’s go outside and dance” and he’s like, “Okay” and we did. We were literally linked by elbows square dancing in the street and every time my mom thinks of him she brings that up because she caught us.

Well, Jeremy sorta disappeared one day. Like his grandfather would still come around and do lawns but Jeremy stopped coming and it hurt, you know?

And then I got older and went through high school and one moment there he was, but he was different. He swore, and was just off and he was like the world, and it saddened me because he wasn’t my Jeremy anymore and I’d lost that sweet boy from my youth. We talked briefly, and then we just didn’t talk anymore and once more he vanished.

From that I always wanted to write a story about a friendship that started young and the boy disappearing and coming back different. So that was an idea.

Fast forward to my senior year/last semester where I meet Trice. His first name started with a T but he went by his last name for some reason. He was a new student from our rival school and he was just so…hard, you know?

And I don’t know, everything about him read RUN and TROUBLE and for some reason I found this boy fascinating. We sat by each other in English and he was so harsh, and even on Facebook too, and I remember him talking about guns and how he’s willing to kill and how he’s gonna die, and how he doesn’t trust or love anyone.

I just was super fascinated by his mentality and hardness that I saw a character in there. So I got this desire to write a story about a senior year and a girl who gets paired up with a guy like that, a guy with this impenetrable hardness and how she at first fears him and then through time she wanted to crack that wall and so I had this story, about a girl and Trice.

Somehow I married those two boys into one and Tyson Trice came to be.

As far as Nandy goes, we’re so opposite, she’s far more confident than me and social and outgoing and upfront. I was never afraid of Trice and I remember asking him why he felt the way he did, but I never cracked the ice or stayed with it.

I love Nandy’s strength in that regard. Nandy’s great for Trice, she gives him discipline. Aside from Prophet, she’s the only one he can truly listen to. She makes him see his potential and what he stands to lose. Or at least that was the aim.

Q: You tell the story from Trice's and Nandy's alternating perspectives. Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to the other?

A: Typically when I write two POV I always write chronologically, even if I get stumped on one character’s chapter or voice.

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

A: I think about halfway through I knew how it was going to end. I definitely didn’t go into this project with a clear plan, as I never do.

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

A: I definitely hope readers take away from A Love Hate Thing not to judge someone based on where they’re from or speculation, but to get to know them. And I really hope boys read it and take in the lesson on toxic masculinity. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Currently I’m working on my sophomore novel, The Right Side of Reckless, slated for summer 2021, about a boy on probation who’s trying to right his wrongs but he starts to fall for his probation supervisor’s daughter – which sparks a forbidden friendship and possibly more.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: This definitely isn’t the last you’ll see of the Pacific Hills Knights! I hope to tell more of their stories someday. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jody J. Little


Jody J. Little is the author of Worse Than Weird, a new middle grade novel for kids. She also has written Mostly the Honest Truth. A third grade teacher, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Worse Than Weird, and for your character Mac?

A: It’s many different things. I think the main idea came from something that happened a long time ago. I was at a garage sale with my two children, who were 9 and 6, and we heard bells and whistles and saw a group of bicyclists, all naked. It was Portland’s naked bike ride. My daughter was shocked and my son was embarrassed and pretending he wasn’t even watching.

I was thinking about these reactions, how kids are going to react differently when they see something unusual.

Mac came from that moment—I had the notion of Mac at a garage sale with her father and her mother was in the naked bike ride. What would happen to make a character so embarrassed by her parents?

Q: The book is set in Portland, Oregon. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I’m from the Pacific Northwest. I use this area of the world a lot. It was a no-brainer that the story had to be set in Portland. There’s the term “Keep Portland Weird.” I was working with that weirdness, trying to evoke it in the book but in a loving way.

Q: As a writer and teacher, how do the two coexist for you?

A: I would be lying if I didn’t say it’s a huge challenge but it’s a great privilege too. Not many writers get to share with their students the process, and how I balance my time.

Summer is the time when I do the bulk of my writing. I would have to come home from teaching and work on this—I could work in the morning or the evening. I have a lot of street cred with my students in terms of my writing. But it’s challenging to go back and forth in sustaining this. Hopefully I do the best I can with both jobs.

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

A: Mac is a very self-absorbed character. It was not until she started to listen to what her friends were saying that she realized, Wow, what I think is a horrible life isn’t close to what some of my friends are experiencing. I need to listen more, pay attention more, and ask more questions.

It’s so true for our time right now—[it’s important] to look at the other perspective.

And there’s the notion that Mac has to be grateful for everything she has, and for her weird parents—they’ll always be weird, but that’s okay.

I was hoping to have discussions with readers, but with Covid I can’t.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on another book. I wrote the manuscript during NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month], and set it aside. I pulled it out six or seven weeks ago and found enough little gems that I thought I could work with it.

It’s a little different—I’m trying a little magical realism. It has some very sad components, but hopefully the magical piece can lighten it up.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: One other fun thing is that the treasure hunt Mac goes on is based on a treasure hunt that does exist here in Portland. We have a yearly Rose Festival, and part of that is a yearly medallion hunt. It’s hidden in Portland and clues are released daily.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Aug. 8

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Aug. 8, 1884: Sara Teasdale born.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Q&A with Gail Tsukiyama


Gail Tsukiyama is the author of the new novel The Color of Air. Her other books include The Samurai's Garden and Women of the Silk. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Color of Air, and why did you set it during the eruption of Mauna Loa in 1935?

A: I've always wanted to write a story set in Hawai'i. In so many ways, the beauty and sense of place writes itself. Also, my father was born and raised on Oahu, and I had visited many times growing up.

As I began to research, I realized that so much of Hawai'i's history has been distinguished by not only its beauty, but also by its natural disasters; the tsunamis, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions. The Big Island of Hawai’i where my story takes place is the product of five volcanoes, three of which are still active. Every time there's an eruption, more lava land mass is added. I found the idea of it fascinating.

At the same time, I was interested in how Hawai’i became the melting pot of blended cultures that has shaped the community of Hawai’i as we know it today. That curiosity led me back to the mid-to-late 1800s when the first influx of immigrants brought over as cheap labor to work on the sugar plantations created a new cultural identity.

Suddenly, the islands were populated by Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans workers all living separately from each other on the plantations.

When I read an eruption of Mauna Loa in 1935 had lasted six weeks, inching closer to the town of Hilo, I knew it would provide the perfect backdrop.

During the 1930s, there were also other seismic happenings that would work on both a physical and emotional level for the plot; the plantations and their suppression of the workers, the growing labor movement, the Depression, and the return to Hilo of my character Daniel Abe from the mainland after 10 years, stirring up all the memories and secrets buried within the close-knit community.  

Q: You tell the story from the perspectives of various characters--both living and no longer living. What did you see as the right mix between your ghost narrators and the living characters?

A: I knew that the themes of love, loss, and the tragedies of the past would move through the lives of all the living characters, and that their lives were interlinked with certain nonliving characters that would return to end each chapter with their ghost voices.

There are two important characters whose deaths shaped the lives of the living characters, so when I was thinking of structure, I knew I wanted them to anchor each chapter with their ghost voices. 

Q: Can you say more about the research you did for this book, and whether you learned anything that especially surprised you?

A: I researched from the very beginning and have for all my novels. For this particular book, I also visited the Big Island during the Kilauea volcano eruption in 2016. I was very fortunate to be able to see a lava flow up close and experience the immense power of it. It’s always a surprise that something appears so majestic and natural can also be so deadly.

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

A: The book’s title comes from the epigraph:

[T]he very color of the air in the place I was born was different, the smell of the earth was special, redolent with memories of my parents.  – Natsume Soseki

This is where my poetry background jumps in! It’s perhaps a more abstract title for some readers, but it’s a reminder that the place we are born is forever a part of who we are, no matter how far we go. The color of the air, the scents and sounds, the flora and the fauna, will remain with you, ingrained in the essence of your history.

Hawai’i lends itself perfectly to the idea of sensory memory. Daniel feels it from the moment he steps back on the island. The idea that even the air could take on a different hue in the place you were born complemented the storyline for me. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new novel that still feels too early to talk about yet. Let’s revisit this question in six months!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: When I’m not writing, I’m also the executive director of WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water, a small, non-profit, grassroots organization that donates books and literacy materials, in English and local languages, supports mobile and stationary libraries, and finances clean water and sanitation project in communities and villages in the developing world. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Gail Tsukiyama.

Q&A with Ross Wilcox


Ross Wilcox is the author of the new story collection Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Carolina Quarterly and Nashville Review. He teaches at the University of North Texas, and he lives in Fort Worth.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society

A: I wrote these stories over a period of four years while I was in graduate school. I'd say about half of them I wrote for workshop classes, while the other half I wrote whenever I could find time between teaching, grad classes, and general life activities. 

Q: How was the collection's title (also the title of your first story) chosen, and what does it signify for you? 

A: When I was submitting this manuscript to publishers, I actually had a few different titles. In addition to Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society, I also had the manuscript submitted under the titles Broken Vessel (the title of the second story in the collection) and Visual Contrast (the title of a story that ultimately didn't make the final cut).

One day, I was talking about my collection with my colleagues in the offices at the University of North Texas. I told them I'd submitted the manuscript to various places, and they asked me what I had titled it. I told them the three titles.

And I remember one of my colleagues was adamant: the title of the story HAD TO BE Golden Gate Jumper Survivors Society. He'd read all my work, and he said that was the best story and the most representative of my aesthetic. Deep down, I knew he was right. Plus, it's a catchy title. I know that's a shallow answer, but that's how I ultimately decided on the title! 

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

A: One theme that really jumps out to me in the collection is the idea of knowledge or truth and humanity's relentless but consistent failure to achieve or discover truth.

For example, in the story "Year of Our Lawn," the townspeople are erecting progressively elaborate scenes of their town using taxidermied animals. It becomes a raging obsession, and the townspeople become convinced the scenes are revealing a profound truth about themselves. Thus, they believe the more scenes they make of their town, the more truth will be revealed to them.

Without totally spoiling the story, suffice to say that truth ultimately eludes them. Which isn't to say that the human quest for truth is pointless. I actually think it's very important and worthwhile, even if our limitations doom us to failure from the beginning.

I'm not sure whether we make truth ourselves or we discover truth that is already there, but I do know that in our human attempt to harness truth, we learn a lot about ourselves. To me, that makes it worth the effort. 

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

A: First and foremost, I want them to be entertained! I hope they have a good time! Many of my stories are fun and humorous, and I hope people enjoy reading them.

I also hope to provide some food for thought. A good deal of the stories are speculative in nature, and they exploit a speculative conceit in order to examine the characters in ways not accessible in realism. I think it's so awesome that you can make up a completely different reality, with different rules and different ways of being, and use it to learn more about our own reality. It's almost paradoxical.

But then again, much of our meaning is derived from comparing and contrasting unlike things. For example, I was reading this book about evolution where the author was comparing and contrasting human behavior and chimpanzee behavior in an effort to determine what behavior is uniquely human.

In some ways, speculative fiction is doing the same thing in examining the human condition, just with something made up rather than empirical.

But the fact that something made up can reveal truth boggles my mind. It makes it sound like I'm giving art - especially storytelling - a lot of power. But I guess I wouldn't be a writer if I didn't think stories were powerful. 

Q: What are you working on now? 

A: I'm happy to say I've currently got my nose to the grindstone on a novel! Right now, the first draft is about half-done. I've got everything mapped out. I just need to get it down and then make it pretty, as we used to say in workshop.

It takes place in the remote desert mountains of far West Texas. It's about a park ranger whose being followed by the man responsible for his father's death. The man was a cult leader, and he died over 20 years ago. From there, things get even stranger. For example, an ostrich is killed and resurrected. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Sol Regwan


Sol Regwan is the author of the new children's picture book Geraldine and the Most Spectacular Science Project, the first in a series that also includes Geraldine and the Space Bees. An optometrist, he lives in Los Angeles.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Geraldine and the Most Spectacular Science Project?

A: I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be writing children's books. I started writing roughly four years ago when I would read my children bedtime stories every night. After reading two-to-three books every night to my kids, I started coming up with many stories that were not like the cookie cutter books that I read.

After a while I decided that I could do this. I started writing and came up with the idea of Geraldine. I was very lucky to have my amazing publisher, Schiffer Publishing,  believe in Geraldine and have that vision to go forth with it.  

As a dad to a 5-year-old daughter, I was asked, "Could girls go to Mars one day?" "How come all the presidents of the U.S. are boys?" So I decided to write about a girl who was a bit misunderstood and a bit of a troublemaker yet loved science and inventing things using her gadgets and gizmos. A daydreamer who believed that she could do anything she set her mind to. 

Q: What do you think Denise Muzzio's illustrations add to the story?

A: Denise Muzzio's illustrations adds tons to the book. Her eye-catching style and beautiful colors bring the book to life. I can't imagine the book being what it is without her talent. Most parents, teachers and children are attracted to the illustrations and cover before they read the book, so Denise's illustrations help bring that to life.

I am eternally grateful to her and am lucky to have her illustrate the entire Geraldine Gizmo Girl series. 

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

A: I would hope to convey the message to children to pursue their passions and dreams and not let anyone or anything stand in their way. I would love for young girls to feel empowered and be the scientists and astronauts that can one day change the world. 

Q: As an optometrist and a writer, how do the two coexist for you?

A: Having a science background and being a practicing optometrist, it helps me connect the stories with a STEM theme. Every book of the series has a scientific invention using Geraldine's gadgets and gizmos.

In the first book of the series, Geraldine and the Most Spectacular Science Project, Geraldine creates a binocular telescope that could see Mars. I tried to use my knowledge of optics and lens making in the creation of the telescope in the story. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on the fourth book of the Geraldine series. The first two books, Geraldine and the Most Spectacular Science Project and Geraldine and the Space Bees, just came out. The third book will be released early next year. I am also working on a chapter book, actually a cross between a chapter book and graphic novel. I am hoping for that to be a series as well. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Aside from doing my part to help inspire children to think outside the box and believe in themselves and follow their passions, I would love for the Geraldine series to be part of the elementary school curriculum. We need more girl scientists and inventors now more than ever. I am hoping that young girls can have someone they could relate to and be inspired to one day change the world!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Aug. 7

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Aug. 7, 1928: Betsy Byars born.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Q&A with Eric Jay Dolin


Eric Jay Dolin is the author of the new book A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America's Hurricanes. His many other books include Black Flags, Blue Waters and Brilliant Beacons. He lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the history of American hurricanes in your new book?

A: For almost all of my books, I come up with the topic. I prefer it that way, since then there is a high level of ownership from the outset, and I know that it is a subject I am passionate about.

But, for A Furious Sky, inspiration came from a different direction. I was pitching book ideas to my agent, when he got an e-mail from my editor and the former head of sales at Liveright (my publisher), who wanted to know if I was interested in writing a book on the history of America’s hurricanes.

Unbeknownst to them, I had long been thinking about writing a book on a single hurricane, but hadn’t found the one I wanted to cover. So, when they approached my agent with the idea of writing a narrative history of all of America’s hurricanes, I was primed to say yes, and I am glad I did. It was a really fun book to write.

Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about hurricanes?

A: The most common perception is the most obvious, that hurricanes are the world’s greatest storms, and they can devastate the areas they strike, leaving death and destruction in their wake.

Another common perception is that hurricanes cannot mount a sneak attack. By virtue of satellite imagery, ocean buoys, and reports from ships and aircraft, you know that a hurricane is coming long before it arrives, although the exact path it will follow is often somewhat unpredictable until it actually makes landfall.

One common misconception is that hurricane winds cause the most deaths, when it is really the massive storm surges and torrential rains that account for nine out of every 10 direct hurricane-related mortalities.

Another is that some locations along the Gulf and East Coast are immune from being clobbered by a hurricane head on. With respect to the latter, even if your slice of the coast has never experienced a hurricane, or has received only glancing blows, your time, too, will likely come.

Q: You begin the book with a description of 1957's Hurricane Audrey. Why did you start there, and is that hurricane emblematic of others you write about in the book?

A: The goal of every writer is to get people to read one’s work, which is not only emotionally and professionally satisfying, but it is also critically important if writing is your career and your livelihood depends on it.

One of the best ways to get a potential reader to become an actual reader is to grab their attention in the first few pages and make them want to continue by pulling them into the story. This is especially important since people are very busy, and there are a huge number of wonderful books to read, as well as many other fun things to do with their limited time.

So, if you don’t command their attention right away, they are unlikely to continue reading.

There are exceptions to this rule, and there are many readers who will give the author more time to draw them in, but, in my case at least, if I don’t enjoy the first five to 10 pages of a book, I will rarely read more, unless it is a book I need to read as part of my research for writing a book.

This is why most of my books start with a brief story or vignette that introduces the subject and, hopefully, hooks the reader.

With A Furious Sky, I knew I wanted to tell a story about a single hurricane with vivid detail and compelling characters. I also knew that it had to be a hurricane I didn’t talk about later in the book.

I considered a few candidates, but when I read a book on Hurricane Audrey, and learned of the Clark family’s terrifying ordeal, I knew that was the story to use. It was dramatic and compact, and it captured two of the key elements of any modern hurricane narrative—the role of forecasts leading up to the arrival of the hurricane, and the tragedy that inevitably ensues when a powerful hurricane roars ashore.

I hope the Hurricane Audrey story also gives the reader the idea that this history packs a powerful punch. There are other hurricane stories that could have launched the book, and many of them are found throughout the text, but using Audrey just felt right. It certainly hooked me.  

Q: Toward the end of the book, you discuss climate change and its impact on hurricanes. What do you see looking ahead?

A: Global warming has already made the impact of hurricanes worse. Because sea level has risen as a result of the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of glaciers, storm surges are higher and more destructive.

As MIT professor Kerry Emanuel pointed out, “Had Sandy struck New York a century ago, there would have been substantially less flooding, as sea level was then roughly a foot lower.” Continued warming will only add to this problem.

In the future, as the world’s temperature continues to rise, I fear that the hurricanes will become more intense, with stronger winds, and they will be accompanied by higher amounts of precipitation.

But there is a caveat. Despite the understandable desire to point to a clear, indisputable cause-and-effect link, at this moment nobody can say with absolute certainty exactly how hurricanes will change over time as a result of global warming.

Scientists would be the first to admit that there are still many unknowns, as well as limitations in data and modeling, that make it exceedingly difficult to predict the impact of a warmer world on these massive storms. The mounting scientific consensus that an increase in global warming will likely make future hurricanes worse, however, is not encouraging.

Since A Furious Sky focuses on hurricanes, it does not consider the many other serious threats to our future posed by global warming and, more broadly, climate change—among them the increased frequency of droughts and heat waves, shifts in agricultural zones, coral bleaching, and an uptick in the number of “climate refugees.”

These and other threats make it imperative that society take serious action to reverse global warming. And, I believe, the likely impact of global warming on hurricanes only makes that policy argument stronger.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am writing a book on privateers during the American Revolution and how they greatly influenced the progress and outcome of the war. Privateers are men who sailed on armed vessels owned and outfitted by private individuals who had government permission to capture enemy shipping during the revolution, and claim those vessels and their cargoes as prizes.

It is a fascinating story with many twists and turns. The cast of characters is befitting an epic of American history, and includes, among others, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and Paul Revere.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on writers, publishers, and booksellers. Book launches have been muted, book talks have been cancelled, book sales are depressed, and many smaller, independent bookstores are facing serious financial pain – sadly, some of them will not survive.

As I write this in late April 2020, most people throughout the country are still at home, waiting and hoping that life returns to some semblance of normal in the not-too-distant future.

The virus has, of course, affected me my book as well. Since I typically work out of my home office, being forced to stay in the house most of the time has not been a big change, and I have been able to make good progress on my new book on privateers.

But I am no longer alone during the day. My wife is teleworking, as is my daughter, who left New York City early in March to be with us. And my son also came back from college and finished his semester online.

While it has been wonderful to be together again, and our bonds have grown stronger, all of us are heartbroken by the steady stream of tragic stories in the news, and we have grave concerns for our relatives and friends, some of whom are in high-risk groups.

A Furious Sky was originally scheduled to publish on June 9, but the publication date was moved to August 4, the hope being that things will have settled down a bit, giving the book a better chance of finding an audience. Also, if the situation improves, I might be able to give many of the book talks I already have scheduled in August, September, and October (see https://www.ericjaydolin.com/events).

Still, with many months to go, a number of my talks have already been cancelled, and I am sure more will be. And even if the talks happen, my guess is that they will feel different and fraught.

While I am understandably concerned about my own situation, and the success of my new book, I am even more concerned about the future of reading and bookselling. I hope that when we emerge from our homes, and reconnect with each other, we also reconnect with the joy of buying books, reading books, and attending book talks. I have confidence we will rebound, but it will be a new normal. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Eric Jay Dolin.