Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Q&A with Rajani LaRocca


Rajani LaRocca is the author of the new children's picture book Seven Golden Rings: A Tale of Music and Math. Her other books include Midsummer's Mayhem. A physician, she lives in Massachusetts.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Seven Golden Rings?


A: I was inspired to write a math-centric book by my son, who loved math from when he was very little. Then I started thinking about a character who needed to solve this math puzzle—why it was important and what the stakes were—and the rest of the story came from there.


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


A: I hope it helps them recognize that math is a part of things they love (like music), and that there are all kinds of ways to be talented—and they're all important.

Q: What do you think Archana Sreenivasan's illustrations add to the book?


A: Archana had such an incredible understanding of the time period and the relationships in this story, and from her first sketches, the characters sprang to life on the page. Her vibrant illustrations convey so much emotion and make this book an absolute pleasure to read.


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


A: I feel like both professions have at their heart people and stories. As a doctor, a lot of what I do is listen to people's stories so I can understand how they're feeling and what's important to them. As a writer, I dream up stories to tell emotional truths. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a couple of middle grade novels and a bunch of picture books!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My next book, Red, White, and Whole, is a middle grade novel in verse publishing with Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins on Feb. 2, 2021. It's set in 1983, and is about the 13-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants who's torn between the worlds of her school and ‘80s pop culture and her parents and their immigrant community. But then her mother falls ill, and she is torn in a different way.


It's a book of my heart, and I can't wait to share it with the world.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rajani LaRocca.

Oct. 28

Oct. 28, 1903: Evelyn Waugh born.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Q&A with Nicci French


Photo by Johnny Ring

Nicci French (the pen name for the wife-and-husband writing team of journalists Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) is the author of the new novel House of Correction. Their many other books include Sunday Silence and The Lying Room. They live in Suffolk, England.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for House of Correction, and for your character Tabitha?


A: We suddenly got intrigued with the idea of a woman who has to solve a crime from her prison cell. So she can’t do any of the normal detective activities like visiting the crime scene, calling on witnesses and so on.


That seemed exciting but the book really took off for us with the character of Tabitha. We wanted an outsider, a woman who had hit absolute rock bottom, abandoned by everyone, including her own lawyer. We wanted to explore what it took to come back from that. And in a strange way, Tabitha, fierce, independent, bloody-minded, took control of the novel and led us through the story.


Q: The novel takes place primarily in a prison, a courtroom, and--mostly through flashbacks--the small village where Tabitha lives. How important is setting to you in your writing?


A: After we’ve decided on a story, the key discussions are first, who does this have to happen to, whose journey is this? And then, second, where does this story have to take place?


As we’ve said, the prison was part of the original idea. We’ve visited numerous prisons and we really wanted to convey the horror of being locked up. But the setting of the crime was also crucial. It had to be a particular kind of remote English village, with only one road in or out. It’s a tiny community where everyone knows everyone and everyone has their secrets.


Q: The book includes a focus on clinical depression. Why did you decide to include that subject in the novel?


A: We needed to begin this story by making life as difficult as possible for poor Tabitha, throwing every obstacle in her way. She’s in prison, her actual home isn’t a real home. Perhaps worse than that, she doesn’t even have a refuge in her own mind.


Apart from being a mystery story, we always thought of this as someone trying to save herself and also to heal herself. We were determined to treat her depression seriously. It’s a terrifying, mysterious condition and there are no easy cures.


Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you change things around as you wrote?


A: We think of our books as a journey. We may not know the route in every detail but we know where we want to end up. Among other things, this story is a sort of “locked room” mystery that happens to take place in the open air. By this we mean that it seems that nobody else apart from Tabitha could possibly have committed this murder. So this was really a story we couldn’t just make up as we went along.


But the emotional journey was something different. As we got to know Tabitha while writing the book, she dictated her own progress from the dark into the light.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: We’ve written another book, called Black Crayon. It’s about a murder in which the only evidence is a drawing of it by a 3-year-old girl.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We’re currently thinking of writing a different kind of thriller, that would be by Sean Gerrard instead of Nicci French. Really.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Nicci French.

Q&A with Loreth Anne White


Loreth Anne White is the author of the new novel In the Deep. Her many other books include In the Dark. She lives in Canada.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for In the Deep, and for your characters Ellie and Lozza?


A: Thank you for hosting me, Deborah. In The Deep was an idea that started germinating while visiting my brother and his wife who live in a small coastal town in New South Wales, Australia. My brother is a big wave surfer, a hydrofoil addict, and a man of the sea in every way, so of course we went out deep sea fishing in his tiny boat.


When we were about 10 miles offshore, being tossed about on the white-ribbed swells of the deep blue waters of the Tasman Sea where the pelagic fish hunt, and with the Australian coastline just a distant purple haze along the horizon, I got to thinking: Wow, anything could happen out here (and it does), and there is no one to witness a thing, no cellular contact, nothing, and what if someone did go overboard, and maybe not by mistake.


Later, while eating the fish we’d caught under a vermillion sky, and listening to the flying foxes squabble overhead, and the lorikeets and
“cockies” fighting in the gum trees, my brother regaled us with tales of some of his adventures, like the time he got a treble hook stuck in his neck.


And he told us how the flying foxes—giant bats—can swarm in groups along the highway as they migrate, and more . . . and the idea for In The Deep started to take vivid shape as I wondered … what if someone did go out fishing, and never returned to shore …. and what if it wasn’t an accident?


Q: Did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to another?


A: I did essentially write the novel in the order it appears. Doing it this way helped me build the characters and set up some of the twists, which I hope manage to surprise. I find Scrivener a huge help with this sort if structure, though, because I can drag the chapters around and change the order if I feel it might help shift the pacing, or build suspense etc.


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: Going into a story, I like to have an idea of who the focal characters are, what their main conflicts will be, what the key turning points likely will be, and generally, how the story will end. But, along the way, all of that can change as new plot threads present themselves, or other ideas grow organically from the characters as they develop.


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


A: I hope readers are entertained. I hope this story offers a small escape, especially during these times. I hope it offers an engaging puzzle/mystery, and some characters who are worth following. And perhaps some thoughts about grief, and loss, and guilt, and what those emotions can do to the mind and soul.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At the moment I am working on another two domestic/psychological suspense works, and on the side, I am researching and crafting a “women’s fiction” story with a dual timeline narrative, inspired in part by my own family history.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I do have another psychological suspense/crime drama releasing after In The Deep, titled Beneath Devil’s Bridge. This one, which launches in May 2021, is inspired by a horrendous true crime that occurred in my part of the world 24 years ago.


And I love feedback from readers—I am readily accessible via my Facebook author page and profile to answer any questions, and I’m also on Twitter and Instagram. I hope you enjoy In The Deep!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Nandini Bhattacharya


Nandini Bhattacharya is the author of the new novel Love's Garden. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Meat for Tea: The Valley Review. Born and raised in India, she has lived in the United States for 30 years. 


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Love's Garden?


A: When I began writing Love's Garden almost 15 years ago -- and of course put it aside many, many times -- I was undergoing a process of what I would call an archaeology of myself. Maybe in less pretentious terms, you could say I was having a mid-life crisis, I suppose! I went to see a therapist then, and that led me back into the forgotten or dim past, both my own and my clan's.


As I was looking for answers to my own puzzles, sifting through my own personal history for clues to myself, I started remembering old family stories, almost fables, one might say. Many of them involved women I'd never met: foremothers long faded into the annals of family history but somehow brilliantly, unforgettably alive in my memory because of what they'd done and said.


I began seriously drafting Love's Garden then in an attempt to invoke those powerful voices and figures and invite them into my felt reality, into my current experience, almost as soothsayers or guides. And that's how stories grew out of stories, and remembering my foremothers became writing a --partly imagined -- history of them.


Q: The book takes place over more than 50 years. Did you need to do much research to recreate the various time periods, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Absolutely. Research was what saved Love's Garden from delegation to a drawer in my desk forever. I was having trouble with the plot for a long time, especially because of the chronological span, as you say, of over 50 years. And my archeology of the self was considerably interfering with an objective realization of characters, settings, and, therefore, a plot.


But at some point I decided I had to leave my own fables behind for a while and look into the history of the city of Calcutta (now Kolkata) in which most of Love's Garden's story takes place, especially during the Second World War. Some of my own family members had been suppliers, contractors and builders for the British during and around wartime, and not necessarily always very nobly.


Once I began researching that time and place I learned about one particular British Royal Air Force pilot named Maurice Pring who played a central role in defending Calcutta from Japanese bombing and became a beloved figure in the city despite being one of the master race.


This provided me a character in Love's Garden around whom the histories of several women in the story could be built, and in a way that suggested what a dramatic, heady, and complicated time that was when forbidden love, strange political alliances, and cross-race liaisons were more possible than ever before or after that time.


I also came across stories about soldiers of the so-named "Forgotten Army" in the "China-Burma" or Eastern Theatre of World War II, who bravely resisted Japanese aggression without enough support then and later without much attention from historians of the war. One of my characters was born of accounts of the ordeals of that army in Burma.


War always upturns lives of course, but the unprecedented cross-pollination of desires and duties in a British colony where anticolonial nationalism was clashing with antifascist feelings exacerbated the unrest of the already turbulent Quit India movement.


I learned from all this research that history is a multilayered and multi-veined tangle of public and private, structure and events. My research on wartime India and Calcutta not only taught me this but also revealed the extent of cosmopolitan and transnational mingling between men and women of many races, nationalities, colors, and classes, during that time, that is often erased by the dominant mythos of nationalism.


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


A: I absolutely didn't know how it would end. As I said above, it was the combination of feelings, self-analysis, memory and historical research that finally produced a plot. Plotting it along the course of history and major historical events was how my story gained coherence. Beyond that, also, the more I wrote the more inventions seemed possible.


To write the story of what is or is not fair in love and war, I had to make many detours away from the other dominant motor of my storytelling: my discovery of my own foremothers. It took time. A novel like Love's Garden probably can't be written in a few years.


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


A: Above all else, I hope they take away the message of women's natural resilience and courage, and the idea of matrilineage (formal or informal). Without the example and guidance of foremothers and female elders, women's lives would probably be less bearable than they already are for some.


In Love's Garden, which begins in 1898 with the story of particularly sordid mistreatment and upending of the life of a fierce young Indian woman who wouldn't have understood the word or maybe even the concept of feminism, we have the story of a woman warrior who stood up to patriarchal abuse even at the cost of ultimately being driven mad.


And in the story of her daughter, we see a woman who recognizes the limits of her marriage and husband, joins forces with her husband's cast-off white mistress, and cares for their son as her own. These are stories of friendship and love between women across many man-made divisions that it would be dangerous to forget or not imagine.


The other thing I want readers to take away is the idea that in the end we have always been global citizens and that love doesn't respect boundaries of caste, class, race, and nationality, and never has.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm now working on my second novel -- this one a very different setting -- about a young Indian widow in in the U.S. forced to face her internalized racism and that of her community when her husband's unexplained disappearance and presumed death test her Indian-American or “Desi” community's loyalty.


Ejected overnight from diasporic “model minority” privilege and colorism as she begins her descent into the hell known as illegal immigrant status in the United States, she finds a new identity in unexpected kinship with a bisexual African-American man as well as immigrants facing deportation in Trump's America.


As the story progresses, it also reveals itself as one about the systemic dehumanization experienced by India’s Untouchables or “Dalits,” which mirrors that of people of color in America. Recently, Pulitzer prize winner Isabel Wilkerson has written eloquently and penetratingly about the fact that race in America is perhaps better described as “caste,” the system of oppression that keeps minorities downtrodden in India.


Homeland Blues dramatizes this insight. Ultimately, it’s about multi-tentacled hatred and fear surrounding gender and racial traumas, but also about the love we must find to empathize with the stranger we’ve always been taught to fear. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I'm grateful to the many accomplished writers who took me up as an emerging writer and gave me their unstinted support and encouragement, among them Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Indira Ganesan, Kristina Darling, Ridge Cresswell, Treena Thibodeau, Rita Banerjee, Patricia Murphy, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Kathleen Spivack, Nivea Castro, Hernan Diaz, Tiphany Yanique, Tori Reynolds, Angela Ajayi, Danton Remoto, and many many others at the Bread Loaf Writers Workshop, the VONA Workshop, and the Vermont Studio Center.


Writing without a community was painful, and I feel fortunate now to have one.


I'd also appreciate it very much if readers would support my own effort at transnational community-building by visiting and leaving feedback at my blog, I'm also looking for guest bloggers. 


And I can be found at Twitter: and Instagram:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Courtney Ramm


Courtney Ramm is the author of the new book Eris Rising: A Memoir of Finding the Warrior Within, which focuses on the impact of a toxic relationship. She is a dancer, choreographer, and teacher.


Q: You write, "In fact, I didn't want to write this book--or at the very least, my ego certainly didn't want to write it." What made you decide to write it after all?

A: Before I made the commitment to start writing, I continued to feel a strong inner calling to write, yet I was conflicted because a part of me didn’t want to put more energy into my past. I was afraid of making such a big commitment as finishing an entire book while at the same time, I knew that writing would be a healing process.


What finally made me decide to write was holding the vision of my completed book and sensing the feeling of purpose that would arise from sharing my truth with others who could relate.

Q: You describe some very difficult experiences. What impact did writing the book have on you?

A: As I wrote my memoir, I made it a point to tell my story without any embellishment–a pure recounting of what I went through. Writing in this way made me come to terms with what had happened.

It was painful at times to write about such difficult experiences, but the overall impact of writing this book was a strong sense of empowerment. I had given so much of my inner power away in the experiences I describe in the book, and putting it all down in writing was a way to get my power back, because my voice was no longer suppressed.

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

A: I’ll be honest and say that picking a title was one of the hardest parts of writing a book! The title came at the very end, after the manuscript was complete and edited. I had a few different titles floating around in my head, and they would have been fine, but didn’t have that zing factor.


When I came up with the title Eris Rising: A Memoir of Finding the Warrior Within, there was a completeness within it, as the title encompasses Eris, an archetype for feminine strength, as well as the search for one’s inner warrior. While the plot of the book centers around a relationship, there is a spiritual aspect to the book as well which I think the title implies.

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

A: My hope is that readers can see how the most difficult of circumstances can be transformed and that it’s possible to rebuild from the ashes–stronger, wiser and better than before. If readers have been through a confusing, unhealthy, or toxic relationship of any kind, they will find validation that they are not alone. It is more common than not to be fooled by superficial charisma and charm.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Having recently completed my master’s degree in dance education at NYU, I am creating a holistic movement-based curriculum that combines my lifelong dance training with the strong values and lessons I took away from the experience I write about in my book.


Designed for early childhood, the curriculum teaches young children to tap into their inner strength through authentic movement. I am excited about releasing this new program in 2021!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I would love to stay in touch with readers and be of help in any way I can! You can find me at and on Instagram @courtney_ramm.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 27

Oct. 27, 1940: Maxine Hong Kingston born.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Q&A with Emily Gray Tedrowe


Photo by Marion Ettlinger

Emily Gray Tedrowe is the author of the new novel The Talented Miss Farwell. She also has written the novels Blue Stars and Commuters. She lives in Chicago.


Q: You write that your new book was inspired by a news story about a woman in Illinois who embezzled millions of dollars--and by Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. How did those inspirations help you create Becky Farwell?


A: Yes, The Talented Miss Farwell is loosely inspired by an actual crime committed by a woman in a small Illinois town who embezzled over $50 million in 20 years she served as treasurer in the town government. I heard this story reported on NPR as it broke, several years ago while I was driving my two kids on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago where we live.


I was instantly captivated by the craziness of this epic crime but the thing that grabbed me as a writer was when the newscaster pointed out that the FBI held off making an arrest for several weeks after discovering the crime because they hadn't believed at first that a woman alone could pull off what would turn out to be the largest municipal fraud in U.S. history. They were searching for her (male) co-conspirator, that is.


At this, my novelist antennae perked up. What would it be like, to live in the place you were born and raised, and now where you worked, while steadily bilking your neighbors and friends of millions of dollars?

I resolved to imagine my own entirely-made-up character, Becky Farwell, and so I stopped following the details of the actual news story so I could preserve the space to create my own female protagonist who lives a double life.


And yes, my title is of course in homage to Highsmith's classic Ripley novel. I loved the idea of flipping our usual expectations of a con artist (namely, that he is male) by emphasizing the "Miss" Farwell.


I was also inspired by Highsmith's perceptive use of class conflict in Tom Ripley's climb to the top--in The Talented Miss Farwell, Becky too has to navigate social codes and learns the hard way how important it is not just to have money, but to have connections and access.


As for the "talents" referenced in my title, clearly Becky Farwell is talented in all sorts of ways, depending on who views what she does.


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


A: I was lucky enough to have a few people who generously offered their time and answers to my questions about smaller city government and accounting, as well as several legal aspects I needed to get straight on before writing those scenes.


What might surprise readers is that I didn't have to do as much research into the art world, where Becky pursues her passion for collecting, as one might have suspected.


No, I'm not a collector or even a super-experienced art connoisseur. But I have been deeply interested in the world of visual art for much of my life--as an avid museum visitor, a person who loves to wander through galleries, and even as the occasional subscriber to ArtForum or similar magazines. I love to read biographies of artists and follow the news about what happens at Sotheby's and Christie's.


So when it came time to write those scenes, I happened to have a wealth of information to draw on, simply because of an interest I continue to pursue.


Q: You describe Becky as having a "complex relationship with the truth." Can you say more about that?


A: The main goal I had for The Talented Miss Farwell was to effectively imagine and portray the inner life of someone, a woman, who could commit this type of extensive long-term crime. Who could sustain a double life, wholly on her own, for so many years. So one of the aspects I worked hard on was to search out what I felt the inner experience of her life was for Becky.


For example, Becky never calls what she does--even to herself, in her own mind--"stealing" ("so unsubtle," she believes). Instead, she has "the Activity." In this way I let Becky's own rationalization process inform her character, so that we get glimpses of how she navigates what she does.


Also, while Becky is regularly siphoning money away from her town in order to fund her art world buys, she is also frequently putting money back into the town coffers--money which is ill-gotten but often direly needed by the community. By doing this, Becky is able to tell herself, with varying degrees of persuasion, that she is doing good for her neighbors. Is that the truth? Not necessarily. But nor is it completely false either.


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


A: To be honest, given all that is going on right at this moment, I'd say: a satisfying reading experience, having had frequent moments of absorption, pleasure, and surprise.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A few months ago, on one of those stressful pandemic/quarantine days, I thought to myself, "Man, I wish I was working on a new novel that would completely take me away from the news, doom-scrolling Twitter, etc. Something light and funny, but smart, maybe even a little sexy. Something set in a tropical location maybe?"


Anyway, I'm working on that new project, custom-designed to let me escape our current difficult reality. Who knows if it will ever see the outside of my computer files, but it's a refuge for me these days and I'm glad for that.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Maybe just how very grateful I am to our indie bookstores during this hard time. Every one I visit is a gem. Let's all buy as many books as we can to show them our support. Also: thank you for the chance to talk about The Talented Miss Farwell!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Karin Cecile Davidson


Karin Cecile Davidson is the author of the new novel Sybelia Drive. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Story Magazine and The Massachusetts Review.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Sybelia Drive, and for your characters LuLu, Rainey, and Saul?


A: A few things occurred that led to the idea of Sybelia Drive. A writing teacher dared me to write a new story, and her dare was so impassioned that it created a spark to write something entirely new.


Rainey’s was the first voice that called to me, and her story led to one about LuLu, then another about Saul, all written from individual viewpoints, all in the first person. I thought I was writing linked stories, but later realized, with the attentive guidance of another writing teacher, that I was actually writing a novel.


The voices multiplied and their stories began to overlap, and soon I had the larger story, one of the home front during wartime. Growing up during the Vietnam War, I knew many families who were affected by the draft. By the time I was a teenager, I met men, really boys, not much older than myself, who had served.


Later, I realized the quietude that many of them had was due to their experiences “in-country.” When the United States sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, I felt the need to examine the era and the war that had defined my generation.


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


A: I’ve always considered that sense of place is what grounds the writing and eventually the reader, leading to Flannery O’Connor’s “peculiar crossroads, where time, place, and eternity somehow meet.” The Gulf Coast is the region where I grew up, and so the Florida setting came naturally.


While Sybelia Drive is set mainly in the fictional town of Anna Clara, Florida, it also visits real places, as close as West Palm Beach and as far as villages in Vietnam.


Many of my stories take place in or around New Orleans, but some are as far from the Gulf Coast as Berlin, Germany or the fictional town of Dynamo, Iowa. Other than Vietnam, I’ve lived in most of these places, and from each, there’s always the fine dust of memory that lingers and then seeps into the characters and their narratives. 


Q: The book takes place in the 1960s and ‘70s. Did you need to do any research to write it?


A: The things that came up that I never thought I’d have to research included the blueprint of a 1960s one-story contemporary house, the anatomy of a canoe, medical information about amputees, and the nightclubs of West Palm Beach in the ‘60s and ‘70s.


That said, it was the descriptions of Vietnam that required intensive research. Trying to understand military rankings, military language specific to the war in Vietnam, and the different factions of the military also took a phenomenal amount of research, which included conversations with USMC CAP veterans, those engaged in peacekeeping missions.


I loved researching “Two Girls Laughing,” Hélène’s chapter, as it touched on layers of Vietnamese history, centuries of imperialistic oppression, including our American War, the final assault on a country determined to know independence. And while I felt it important to include Vietnamese viewpoints, I understand that theirs is not my story to tell, only to acknowledge and respect.


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


A: I hope readers find LuLu, Rainey, and Saul and the other viewpoint characters of the novel as engaging and complex as I’ve endeavored to make them.


I hope the geographical and emotional landscapes of the book carry readers through the novel, so that each passage invites them to press on.


And I hope the structural decision of including many viewpoints to carry the multiple voices during wartime comes across a cohesive and relates the strength of a community as coming together and supportive, no matter characters’ differing perspectives.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At the moment I’m working mostly on promotional content, but I’m looking forward to returning to a Gulf Coast story collection that’s underway, one that deals with the region’s music and varying livelihoods, including Alabama shrimp fishermen, a Mississippi field naturalist, Texas roughnecks, a Louisiana oyster shucker, and a Florida blues singer.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Such an open-ended question! Well, the soundtrack of Sybelia Drive provides another look into the novel’s time frame, as well as “liner notes” descriptions of the characters’ individual storylines. And if they’d like to read the novel, here’s their chance! Gratitude for readers and for this interview! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Alan Shayne


Alan Shayne is the author of the new memoir The Rain May Pass. He also has written the memoir Double Life: Portrait of a Gay Marriage from Broadway to Hollywood. He is the former president of Warner Bros. Television, and a former actor and casting director.


Q: Why did you decide to write this new coming-of-age memoir?


A: It is a part of my life that was responsible for the man I became. I always wanted to write about it and made many attempts. It seemed to me to be a good story with a beginning, middle and end so I always thought of it as a novel.


But when I wrote the novel version, I realized that everything about it was true except I had changed the names of the people. I was afraid I was hiding and I wanted it to be totally honest.


I hoped the book could be of use to young people who were struggling with their own  “coming of age” and “coming out” and affect their parents and friends as well. I also hoped it would be a good story for anyone to read so I took the plunge and turned it into a memoir. It gave me the freedom to go back to when I was 15 and 16 and somehow remember every detail that I then wrote down.

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

A: I wanted to be an actor and when I was 16, I read an ad in the paper for actors at a summer theater. I secretly applied and was granted an interview. My parents were horrified  and refused to let me go but after days of pleading, my mother agreed to drive me to Rockport for the appointment.


It was a stormy day with heavy rain. The theater was a mess (it was still out of season) and my mother stayed in the car while I talked with a nice but flamboyant woman. World War II had begun and men were all going into the service. I tried to act older because I figured I would have to play character parts as well.


The woman insisted on going out to say hello to my mother when it was time for me to leave. She grabbed a huge beach umbrella and we walked to the car in the pouring rain. Once I was in the car, she reached through my open window and grabbed my arm and said, “The rain may pass.”


It seemed to me to mean there was a chance I would be hired. It wasn’t definite. It wasn’t “the rain will pass” but it was a possibility. I always remembered that moment and it said to me that what you wanted was possible to attain but you had to work hard to get it.

Q: How did the years you describe in the book affect your life going forward?

A: I learned that love between two people existed and it became one of my goals to find it some day and make it last. It gave me a sense of myself for the first time and made it possible for me to grow up, reach out for my dream of being an actor. The two years in the book became the foundation of my life.


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

A: I hope that they see that all of us are really the same. Our DNAs have made us different but we face the same problems of growing up, plagued by insecurities, sexual doubts, loneliness, and the desire to fit into the world and find ourselves. That is what the book is about. But I hope the reader identifies with their own first love that so many of us have experienced.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I learned long ago that to talk of what you are about to do is the surest way of killing it. Writing is inside of you and should only be let out as you sit at your computer or typewriter.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve answered seriously to your questions but the book is also funny as is life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 26

Oct. 26, 1880: Andrei Bely born.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Q&A with Andrea Davis Pinkney


Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of Loretta Little Looks Back: Three Voices Go Tell It, a new middle grade novel for kids. It is illustrated by her husband, Brian Pinkney. Her many other books include The Red Pencil and A Poem for Peter. She lives in New York City.


Q: You describe Loretta Little Looks Back as “a novel with the intention of inviting readers to step into the shoes of characters…” How did you decide on the book’s structure?


A: I’ve called the book “a monologue novel” to bring breadth and power to its form. In a theatrical setting characters come alive, right before our eyes. We experience their energy. This kind of emotional intensity is what I was going for in creating Loretta, Roly, and Aggie B.


Their first-person narratives are a mix of spoken-word poems, folk myths, gospel rhythms and blues influences, all rolled up to tell one story. My hope is that the “go-tell-its” will invite readers to experience the grit, struggle, heartache and emotion of the Littles – to get “behind the eyes” of these children who are living under the lash of racism, and coming up strong at each and every turn.


Q: How did you and your husband collaborate on this particular book?


A: Brian and I have, collectively, published 60 books together. Loretta Little Looks Back holds a very special place in our hearts, because the story includes multiple voices and perspectives, and because it’s an illustrated novel.


Unlike a picture book, the novel format allows the art to be representational, metaphorical. Brian and I spent many months discussing ways in which the art would illuminate the emotional nuances of the narratives.


When Brian showed me the evocative cover painting depicting Loretta, I was immediately struck by its beauty. What my husband has achieved is extraordinary. Loretta’s probing gaze draws strength from the resilience of those who came before her, while at the same time looks ahead into the eyes of hope. She’s a child with perspective — and vision. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next book will be published in January 2021. I’m honored to collaborate with Chelsea Clinton on the launch of her She Persisted chapter book series. The publishing program will begin with 13 titles, written by several authors over the course of a year. My book, a Harriet Tubman reader, will kick off the series.


I’m thrilled to be among fellow authors Meg Medina, Lesa Cline-Ransome, Renée Watson, Rita Williams-Garcia, and others whose books will also be part of the series. We’ve been dubbed the “Persisterhood.” 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Nina MacLaughlin

Photo by Kelly Davidson

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of the new book Summer Solstice. Her other books include Wake, Siren. She is a books columnist for The Boston Globe, and she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write Summer Solstice?


A: What I love about the Summer Solstice is that it marks a shift in the year—the days start to get darker from there. It holds beginnings and endings—the opening of the summer season, the end of light lengthening. It’s a hinge, and there’s this compelling energy afoot that touches at time and transformation and forces in tension, connection, and opposition, so it holds a lot of the things that activate my imagination.


Q: One of the book's chapters is titled "Summer Is Made of the Memory of Summer." What role do you see memory playing when contemplating summer? Is it different from other seasons in that regard?


A: The rhythms of the school year sink into us, and summer, for a lot of kids, means freedom. In our nostalgic ideal, it means long days, no school, no homework, a warmer wilder time that has more to do with swimming and watermelon than grammar and times tables.


That sense, I think, continues to live inside a lot of people. The summer starts and people are returned to their youth, returned to a time of more time, when the only responsibilities involved choosing the right flavor popsicle and not forgetting bug spray. And I do think summer is unique this way—I think there are moments within other seasons that launch us back to kiddom, but summer’s is a sustained season-length nostalgia.


Q: In a review of the book in Green Mountains Review, Jodie Vinson writes, "It’s likely that the summer of 2020 means something different to each of us, and will mean something different than any season that has gone before." How do you think the summer of 2020 fits with summers past?


A: What I’ve found comforting in this strange and frightening stretch of time is that the light continues to shift, the peonies bloomed, the honeysuckle arrived, the birds were awake early, it was warm enough in the nights to go look at the stars, and now, the leaves are shifting, the nights are lengthening. Those grounding rhythms are still being offered.


This summer, for a lot of people, was stripped of a lot of the markers and events that define the season. Instead of a season of freedom and relief, it was a time of tension and dread. Which, in a very positive view, can result in making those moments when relief can be found, all the sweeter. Maybe it’s helped some of us see what we take for granted.


Q: You write, "Others exist, like me, ones who think of summer as something to get through, who enter into the force of their aliveness come fall." Why does fall bring you that sense of aliveness?


A: For me, experiencing the closing up of the year makes me more alert to death’s presence—which sounds morbid and dark!—but instead of fear and dread, it brings about this heightened feeling of aliveness. We’re all moving towards the same thing, the ultimate long dark, but we’re alive right now.


That’s what the fall makes me know. It stirs some deep in heat in me. Time is short! We’re alive right now! There’s a different feeling of urgency afoot.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I’m just beginning a series of essays on the Winter Solstice, a hauntier and more goth version of the summer series, which will appear on the Paris Review in December. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Nina MacLaughlin.

Q&A with Amos N. Guiora


Amos N. Guiora is the author of the new book Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults. His other books include The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust. He is a professor of law at the University of Utah.


Q: What inspired you to write Armies of Enablers?


A: In June 2018 I had dinner with my publisher, Brian Kay (ABA) in Chicago. He asked me what’s next (after Crime of Complicity, which by that time had also been translated into Dutch and Chinese and had gotten lots of play, was the basis for legislation, and I had book talks lined up for the foreseeable future).


Brian knows I am a huge sports fan and asked me if I knew about Michigan State and Larry Nassar to which I replied “Of course” and then he asked if I was aware of the Catholic Church scandals to which I similarly replied. He said, “Well, there’s your book.” I wish I could say Brian plied with me drinks because next thing I knew I said “Yes” but I don’t drink but we did split a huge piece of cake.


I went back to my hotel room and said, “Whoa….what do I do now?” Once I got over “that” moment I started mapping out a plan…..draft after draft that friends all dinged for not saying anything.


Fast forward to March 2019 when I skyped with one of Nassar’s victims (she’s Jane Doe in the book) to whom I was introduced by a colleague, she who told me: “You are missing the point….this isn’t about bystanders, this is about enablers.” And on the spot I throw out everything I had written, through her got to an attorney who represents Nassar victims. I flew to Detroit and Irvine, California.


Then I met with a D.C. lawyer who represents OSU survivors and also met with Catholic Church survivors.


As to inspiration? The hours I spent with the 20-25 survivors who trusted me with their stories and to whom I feel two duties: Speak at as many forums as possible so people can hear their stories; To be involved in as many things as possible (legislation, sexual advocacy groups) to ensure this doesn’t happen again.


Q: You write, "There is a link between the bystander and the enabler; while the former is present when another is in harm’s way, the latter, as we shall come to see, creates the environment that facilitates  that very harm." Can you say more about the links between this new book and your book The Crime of Complicity, which came out a few years ago?


A: Both books focus on the survivor as that is my primary perspective: In the first book, the “relationship” between the bystander and survivor and in the second the “relationship” between the enabler and the survivor. The link between the two is the decision by enabler and bystander alike NOT to provide assistance but rather to protect the perpetrator.


The consequence for the survivor is the same: abandonment, thereby enhancing the peril.


For me, there is a direct connection between the two themes. While the bystander is physically present when a person is in peril and the enabler knows or should have known, from the survivor’s perspective the consequence is akin. That is the theme that unites the two books.


Q: How did you research this book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Over the course of 15 months I met with 20-25 survivors who shared their stories with me. I was honored and humbled that they did so. More than anything I was surprised that I was the first person to ask them the following question: “What were your expectations of the enabler?” That question became the central focus of the book. We did not discuss the actions of the perp but rather focused on the bystander-enabler.


Q: In the book, you say, "The more interviews I conducted with survivors, the greater my clarity regarding the need to create a framework facilitating criminalization of the enabler." What exactly would you recommend?


A: Similar to my involvement in efforts to criminalize the bystander (I have been working with Utah State Representative Brian King), I look forward to legislative efforts to criminalize the enabler.


For me, that is of the greatest importance to ensure that what happened at MSU, PSU, USAG, OSU, and the Catholic Church doesn’t happen again. There is---for me---no doubt that criminalizing is of the utmost importance. While there is opposition to “crimes of omission” (as compared to crimes of commission), I believe this step is necessary.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A number of “spin-off” projects from the book, including a law review article in progress on legislating the crime of omission, an additional project (in its very early stages with another academic) on “abuse of athletes,” and other writings unrelated to the book.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: For me, it is of the utmost importance to be deeply involved and engaged in efforts (proactive) to work with sexual assault survivors, sexual assault advocates, legislators, public leaders, scholars, and others to address the enabler. That is the most effective, and important, outcome of the book from my perspective. I am fully engaged in this effort as it is my way of honoring the survivors who trusted me with their stories.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Amos Guiora.