Monday, November 23, 2020

Q&A with Anika Aldamuy Denise


Anika Aldamuy Denise is the author of the new children's picture book A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno: Actor, Singer, Dancer, Trailblazer!. Her other books include Planting Stories. She lives in Rhode Island.


Q: Why did you decide to write a picture book biography about Rita Moreno?


A: She has a great story. Her life and career has had highs and lows… tragedies and triumphs. She’s an inspiration to anyone working hard to reach their dreams. And I love writing about powerhouse Puertorriqueñas who break barriers.


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


A: I watched hours of archival footage, read Rita’s memoir, and pored over many interviews and articles. It was some of the most enjoyable research I’ve ever done, actually! I got to revisit many of her performances I knew and loved. And I discovered others as well.


I was surprised that Rita’s historic Oscar and other prestigious awards did not shield her more from prejudice and sexism in Hollywood. I probably shouldn’t have been; it’s a problem Latinx and other entertainers of color still face. But when an actor has an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony, you’d think casting directors would stop asking them to play stereotypes.


Rita eventually got fed up and quit doing films altogether for a time.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it "An inspiring account of a woman who followed her dreams." What do you hope kids take away from the book, especially when it comes to following your dreams?


A: That dreams alone won’t get you there. You have to put in the work. And that success isn’t a straight line. You will have setbacks. There will be people who tell you no and deny you a seat at the table. When that happens, you have to try again—or build your own house, put a table in it, and pull your chair up there.


Q: What do you think Leo Espinosa's illustrations add to the book?


A: Leo’s work is super kid-friendly yet also sophisticated in its stylization. He captured little Rosita and grown-up Rita beautifully. All the details, especially in the scenes of old Hollywood, are amazing. Usually I can pick a favorite spread in a book, but I can’t in this one because they are all so vibrant and lovely for different reasons.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a book about another trailblazing woman—but I can’t say who just yet because the book hasn’t been announced. Stay tuned!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just that I’m grateful to those who are supporting authors and indie booksellers in these wildly stressful times. Thank you to the teachers, librarians, bloggers, booksellers, parents, and kids who read and share my books. And to you, Deborah, for having me!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Anika Aldamuy Denise.

Nov. 23



Nov. 23, 1916: P.K. Page born.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Q&A with Casey Breton


Casey Breton is the author of Going Rogue (at Hebrew School), a new middle grade novel for kids. It features a boy who thinks his Hebrew school teacher might be a Jedi master. Breton, a former elementary school teacher, lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts.


Q: You write that you came up with the idea for Going Rogue after trying to answer your kids' questions about why they had to go to Hebrew school. How did you come up with the Star Wars connection?


A: The Star Wars connection also came from my kids, who are big fans. They didn’t connect Star Wars to Judaism, of course, but I think I was trying to stack up all the things they felt passionate about against the one thing they really didn’t - Hebrew school. I tried to imagine what might get kids like mine interested in Hebrew school, or at least curious about it. Well, if the rabbi was a Jedi master…


Once I had the Star Wars idea, I started poking around the internet and found that loads of people have made a link between Star Wars and Judaism, for example, the idea of Yoda being a Jewish sage.


I just sort of ran with it from there. At first it was to spark an interest, but it slowly evolved into something readers might find meaningful.

Q: What do you think the novel says about bullying?


A: I never thought of addressing the topic of bullying in my book, but in an early revision I realized I needed some kind of antagonist for Avery to learn from.


My grandmother and great aunt, who were twins, used to tell me, “There are no bad boys, only sad boys.” It was something their father taught them, and I took that wisdom to heart. I believe it’s true. When I developed Damon, I always kept that phrase in mind.


I don’t see Damon as a bully, but rather as a kid who has a lot of pain inside. Gideon was always able to recognize that, while Avery was consistently skeptical. I can understand Avery’s side too – when someone is behaving in such a cruel and hurtful way, it’s really hard to see anything but a bad person. It was important for me to include both of those perspectives.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book, especially about science and religion?


A: One thing I hope kids take away from the book is a sense that their questions about religion are valid and important. Judaism has always encouraged critical thinking, curiosity, and examination.


This aspect of our tradition is a beautiful entry point for the most skeptical among us. Yes, ask questions. Yes, have doubts. Yes, hold a light to the dark spaces. We don’t need to follow blindly, nor are we supposed to. Go ahead, wrestle.


Regarding science and religion – we live in an age of information. Whether we’re learning how to get through a pandemic, or grappling with the effects of climate change and working to mitigate the consequences, one thing is true: understanding science is vital to our survival. And yet we also need to nurture our faith and study our history.


I hope readers take away the idea that science and faith are not mutually exclusive. In fact, being Jewish and being science-minded go together quite nicely!


And if a reader takes away nothing else, I hope they have a fun time reading my book and find a few laughs along the way. One of my greatest rewards from writing this book came when I heard my 10-year-old son, who is a reluctant reader, laughing out loud as he read Going Rogue in bed.


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


A: I didn’t know how it would end before I started it. The first draft was much shorter and didn’t have the football thread. Definitely made lots of changes along the way, and wrote many, many drafts!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a completed draft of a young adult novel that I’ve been working on for years – it’s about a boy who stutters and fights to protect wild animals, inspired by a true story. It’s quite different from Going Rogue, and I love it dearly.  And I have started another middle grade novel about one of my personal passions…surfing! It’s an absolute joy to write.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Being Jewish, I wrote this book through a Jewish lens and focused on the experiences of a Jewish main character. However, I imagine children from different backgrounds will be able to relate to the tug between modern life and religious tradition.


A friend of mine who was raised Catholic said she would have appreciated reading this book when she was a kid. She remembers the frustration she felt as a child in religious school, always being told how and what to think, rather than being given the space to think for herself.


We cannot underestimate the strength of our children’s minds and the power of their questions. In the end of my book, Avery doesn’t have more answers. He doesn’t feel more resolved about going to Hebrew school. What changes is that he comes to understand that his questions have value.


I also had a very nice conversation with a mom and her two kids who all read the book together. They are not Jewish, but appreciated the book because it gave them a peek into a world different from their own. It was the first book they’d read with a Jewish main character.


While they thought the story was funny and relatable in many ways, they enjoyed learning about different aspects of being Jewish through Avery’s eyes. What’s nice is that different readers can access the book in different ways, and still find something in there for them.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 22



Nov. 22, 1819: George Eliot born.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Q&A with Tina Cho


Tina Cho is the author of the new children's picture book The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story. It focuses on the haenyeo divers of Jeju Island in South Korea.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Ocean Calls?


A: I saw a Tweet on Twitter about the haenyeo and was intrigued. When I found out they were in South Korea like me, I knew I wanted to write about them.


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


A: I researched on the Internet reading articles and watching many You Tube videos of haenyeo diving. When that wasn't enough, I flew my family to Jeju Island, at the southern tip of Korea, to see them with my own eyes.

I think the most surprising fact about haenyeo is their age. Most of them are between 50-80 years old, and they dive without any breathing apparatus.


Q: What do you think Jess X. Snow's illustrations add to the story?


A: Jess's illustrations are amazing and bring my characters to life. Her scenes are breathtaking and make me feel like I'm on the island. Her illustrations also add another layer of magical realism to the story, something that wasn't in my text.


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


A: I hope readers take away the idea that they can learn something from their own grandparents or an elderly person and vice versa, that an elderly person would pass down a tradition to the younger generation.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on two stories, one takes place in a rice field and the other takes place in a beautiful mountainous area of Korea where there are fireflies.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Keep reading and writing. Never give up! Share book love and leave reviews of your favorite books.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 21



Nov. 21, 1694: Voltaire born.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Q&A with Emily Adrian


Emily Adrian is the author of the new novel Everything Here Is Under Control. She also has written The Foreseeable Future and Like It Never Happened. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Everything Here Is Under Control, and for your character Amanda?


A: When I started writing Everything Here Is Under Control, I had just given birth to my son and was feeling shocked by both the realities of childbirth and the loneliness of those early post-partum days.


Living through those experiences really changed the way I related to the women in my life who had become mothers before I did. I wanted to write a novel about a new mom who, with the birth of her first child, finds herself desperately wanting to rekindle an estranged friendship from her past.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Amanda and Carrie?


A: Fraught, uncertain, cautious--and yet, in spite of it all, they are deeply familiar to each other. When they're together, they feel the way you might feel if you suddenly took up residence in your childhood home. 

Q: What do you think the novel says about motherhood?


A: That giving birth does not automatically transform you into the kind of person who has the patience, self-awareness, endurance, and skills that motherhood requires. That it takes a lot of work to adapt to the demands of motherhood. It's a very ambitious project. 


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


A: The book's title comes from a scene in which Amanda, who's at the doctor with her newborn son, feels ostracized from a conversation about her own mental health. The doctor asks her a question about how she's feeling, and when he's unsatisfied with her answer, he looks to her husband for clarification. The men exchange a look that implies "everything here is under control."


Of course, in Amanda's mind, nothing is under control--and her opinion should be the only one that matters. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a novel about a basketball reporter who wants to be the first woman to call NBA games on national television. But in a deserted locker room at halftime, she makes a discovery that shatters her vision of the future. She ends up having to choose between the two things she's always wanted most: to make basketball history, and motherhood. 


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Thanks for having me! You can order Everything Here Is Under Control from your local independent bookstore. I've also heard that the audiobook is very good!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Barbara Dee


Barbara Dee is the author of My Life in the Fish Tank, a new middle grade novel for kids. Her other books include Maybe He Just Likes You and Everything I Know About You.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for My Life in the Fish Tank, and for your character Zinny?


A: A few years ago my oldest kid was in treatment for cancer. Our whole family went through it with him, each of us coping in our own ways. I wanted to write about that experience, or a related one, through the eyes of a younger sibling—the “easy” one who is internalizing her emotions.


It’s important for kids to see that in a family health crisis, mental or physical, everyone is affected, and everyone’s needs must be addressed.  


Q: Why did you decide to focus on mental illness in this novel?


A: With all that’s going on in our culture right now-- Covid, racism and the ugly political landscape-- kids and their families are under unprecedented stress. Mental health needs to be a focus, and it needs to be destigmatized. It’s important for kids to hear that mental illness happens even in “normal,” “nice” families like the Mannings, and that help comes in many forms.


Q: In our previous interview, you said that this new novel takes on "a "tough topic," but one I hope I've handled with humor, truth and optimism." What do you see as the right mix of seriousness and humor in your writing?


A: I’m a big believer in using humor when you’re writing about “tough topics.” Middle grade (and upper middle grade) readers are eager to explore these challenging real-world subjects, but they don’t want to read books that are preachy or depressing.


So I always try to weave in other threads—subplots about friendship, crushes, school, etc. And I always try to include some levity to give kids a break from the serious subject.


In the case of My Life in the Fish Tank, a lot of the jokes involve Zinny trying to distract her little brother during a family crisis. You can’t just sprinkle a bunch of jokes on top; they have to be organic to the story you want to tell.  


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


A: I hope kids who read My Life in the Fish Tank get to the last page with a deeper understanding of mental health. I hope they take away the notion that mental illness is not a secret to hide from the world—and in fact, it’s the secrecy itself that’s unhealthy. I hope the book sparks some conversation about the difference between “privacy” and “secrecy.”


I also hope the book shows that growth and change may be hard at times, but help is always available, and “survival is realistic.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m just finishing the final revisions for my next middle grade novel, Violets Are Blue, which will be published by Aladdin/S&S in Fall 2021. This one is about a girl who’s obsessed with special effects makeup—especially YouTube tutorials—and doesn’t realize that her mom, a nurse, is struggling with an opioid addiction. I’m very excited about this next book!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Barbara Dee.

Nov. 20



Nov. 20, 1942: Joe Biden born.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Q&A with Yxta Maya Murray


Yxta Maya Murray is the author of the new story collection The World Doesn't Work That Way, but It Could. Her other books include the forthcoming novel Art Is Everything. She is the David P. Leonard Professor of Law at Loyola Law School.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in The World Doesn't Work That Way, but It Could?


A: In the fall of 2019, I began to study the career of Scott Pruitt, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who was forced to step down on July 6, 2018. His combination of kleptomania and frightening environmental protection rollback stunned me, and I wanted to make sure that I had all the facts and wasn’t just reacting to Twitter feeds and rumors.


When I finished compiling a dossier on his activities, I thought that I would write a law review article about administrative law and corruption (I am a law professor), because I had been able to track in news reports and FOIA-disclosed internal documents how Pruitt had fattened up his security detail in an unprecedented way; taken overseas trips with lobbyists, which looked like vacations; ordered an expensive soundproof phone booth; requested a bulletproof desk; rented a condominium at a deeply discounted rate from a person in the energy industry; and appeared to be cozy with Dow Chemical.


This last fact became all the more alarming when it was decided by the EPA that it would not ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos, a Dow product, though it had decided to do so under the Obama administration.


Faced with this gluttony and disregard of the public welfare, I wound up writing a story titled "Acid Reign". The tale is about a Latinx EPA lawyer who is tasked with the job of writing the order denying a real-world petition to ban chlorpyrifos. She finds this task unendurable because of her own history with cancer and her farmer family’s exposure to the toxin.


I worked to get inside of the heads of career administrative lawyers in the EPA and how they would be dealing with the trauma of working within a government that had abandoned its responsibility as a guardian of the people.


This story then seeded other stories, and I began to write around the legal and norm breakdowns that this country has witnessed since the election in 2016. In the summer of 2019, I arrived at a residency at Ucross, in Wyoming, and I dedicated the next month to the writing of the book. It progressed very quickly.


Q: The stories are prefaced by quotations from publications, often dealing with news relating to the Trump administration and the repercussions from its actions. How did you come up with the book's structure?


A: Based on my experience with compiling the background facts for Acid Reign, I began to sift through the news and legal cases and legal scholarship for other sites of legal and social trauma associated with the Trump administration.


The stories in The World Doesn’t Work That Way, but It Could began as a kind of trial that indicts and condemns the current administration for its offenses against the people, but as it is literature, it also blossomed into more ambiguous narratives about how we as a community can be harmed and even felled in a political system where overt racism and disregard for the vulnerable are the order of the day.


Everyone in my book is trying their best to be a good person and do the right thing, but they are often faced with such a limited set of options that they wind up failing.


I showed these cascades of horribles by focusing each story on one political catastrophe -- Trump’s anti-Latinx rhetoric, where he described Mexican men as “rapists;” the relaxation of rules on drilling and fracking; the family separation orders; the retrenchment of anti-choice laws prohibiting abortion; the abysmal performance of FEMA in Puerto Rico -- and then showed how the problems in our society right now stem not only from government malfeasance but also on account of the psychological corrosion and exhaustion that it imposes.


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


A: The book is organized in chronological time, marking one trauma as it bleeds into another. It begins with Trump’s assertion in June of 2015 that Mexicans were “rapists,” and proceeds from there, to the tragedy of Hurricane Maria in 2017 and onwards.


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


A: As reviewers have often noted, this book of stories does not always reach out a comforting hand to the reader. It lays out, as I believe it should, the catastrophic effects of the Trump presidency, which include a general lowering of moral and ethical standards and a kind of psychic exhaustion in the face of continuing atrocities.


But there are moments when I bend forward to give some love and some hope. The last story in the novel, from where the book gets its title, is based on an experience that I had tutoring in a Los Angeles shelter for queer unhoused youth, and found that my sometimes despairing outlook could be freshened by the strength and optimism of my tutees.


We are in a very bad time, but it will end, as it must. We will and must discover a new way of living that rejects this particular version of the world that we have created, a world that works in a certain way to the detriment of “the other”; we will and must build together a world that works in ways that are egalitarian and connected, empathetic and caring.


The world does not seem to work that way right now but it could, and I believe that someday it will.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: In January, I am coming out with a novel from Triquarterly Books about a queer Chicana performance artist who stops making art on account of poverty and sexual assault, but slowly remakes herself into an arts writer. It is titled Art Is Everything.


I am also working on a book about a real-life radionuclide contamination that occurred in the 1950s in Simi Valley, California, and has never been effectively cleaned up.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Rebecca Warner


Rebecca Warner is the author of the new novel My Dad My Dog, which focuses on a woman who is taking care of her father, who has Alzheimer's, and her elderly dog. Her other books include Moral Infidelity and He's Just a Man. She lives in Asheville, North Carolina.


Q: You note that My Dad My Dog was based on your own experiences. What was it like to revisit those experiences in fictional form?


A: It was a bit tricky, actually. My dad never lived with me, but I saw him every day, year in and year out, so that the love and attachment I had to him was very real and was poured into the fiction prose. But to put him in my home 24/7 for the purposes of the book required a lot of heartfelt, tearful conversations with in-home caregivers. I just wrapped all of that into the novel, but it was an emotional ride. 


Q:  What do you think the novel says about caring for someone with Alzheimer's?

A: A Stanford University reports that 41 percent of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies; and that caregivers have a 63 percent higher mortality rate than non-caregivers. Many caregivers do not have the support of family and spouses and take it all on themselves.


I think the novel says it's a darn hard job, in many cases the hardest job anyone will ever have; and it is made even more difficult because it is a job that must be done, but with no training and no compensation. Caregiving for Alzheimer's-afflicted loved ones should be considered a valuable contribution to society. 


Q: What do you think it says about the relationships between humans and dogs?


A: This question gave me goosebumps because I have such strong feelings about this phenomenon. When there's love, there is such give and take of emotional support, not to mention the actual physical comfort and health benefits which both get from the relationship.


One Goodreads reviewer said it very well: "A powerful tribute to the contribution which animals make to human well-being. Yes, there is pathos here, but the biggest message is one of love and the Joy of friendship which transcends species."  Isn't that lovely? 


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


A: A better understanding of the physical and emotional toll on the familial caregiver, and the need for greater appreciation for the job they do. Maybe an uninvolved sibling to a parental caregiver will read it and realize he/she could be doing more to help. But most importantly, how family--and all species within--can give each other the strength to get through the hardest, saddest times.   


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A book called Ballet Barres, about a group of women who took ballet lessons together for 20 years from their beloved Madame Sophie, and who come together years later to save her from a dastardly, menacing relative who has taken over her life and is keeping her a virtual prisoner in her own home. Her life is becoming imperiled through neglect.


When the ballerinas discover the situation, they come together from all points to save her. Lots of shared memories, humor, life-lesson stories among the kick-a** women who get the job done in banishing him in the most satisfying way from Madame Sophie's life! 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thanks for asking this question. One of the main reasons I wrote the book was to bring awareness to the caregiving crisis we're experiencing in this country. Sadly, and scarily, it has become much more evident during this time of coronavirus. People are moving their loved ones out of nursing homes and bringing them home, where they are doing the very hard job of caregiving.


It's a shock to many, but love motivated them to remove their loved ones from a dangerous situation. They fear their loved ones are imperiled on two levels: Catching the virus, and rapid deterioration through imposed isolation. Sometimes things have to hit a crisis level to bring about awareness.


I hope that my book will give comfort, perhaps a little hope, advice and direction to those people who find themselves in that position.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 19



Nov. 19, 1958: Annette Gordon-Reed born.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Q&A with James Bailey


James Bailey is the author of the new novel The Flip Side. He lives in Bristol, England.



Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Flip Side, and for your character Josh?


A: I think, as with many debut authors, I’ve certainly drawn on personal experiences and friends’ anecdotes. There is definitely part of me in Josh.


As a whole though, I wanted him to represent someone in their late 20s who is just a bit lost in their life - which seems to be a common occurrence currently. You go through school, through university, and then what? You haven’t landed your dream job, you haven’t yet found “the one,” you’re wondering whether you have made the right life choices so far. And then the coin flipping aspect fitted in well. 


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


A: Actually, the final chapter was one of the first chapters I wrote. I didn’t plan out the whole novel before I started writing it but I like to know where it’s going. I think the last chapter is so important - certainly in a romantic comedy - so I always knew how I wanted the book to end. 


Q: What do you think the novel says about romantic relationships?


A: Firstly, think carefully before you propose to someone on the London Eye! Secondly, if you meet someone you like then get their contact details! 


Q: What are some of your favorite novels?


A: I didn’t ever read that much when I was younger - I tended just to read on holiday and it would usually be a Dan Brown book, or the equivalent. I then found the books of Nick Hornby and David Nicholls, and High Fidelity and One Day quickly became my two favourite books. It may be a generic choice, but I do also love The Great Gatsby


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently writing my second novel, which is another male-led romantic comedy. It is set over two time periods and two countries. I’ve just finished the first draft so hopefully I will be able to reveal a few more details soon!  


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Fleur Pierets and Fatinha Ramos


Fleur Pierets and Fatinha Ramos are the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Love Is Love. It is a sequel to Love Around the World, which focuses on same-sex marriage. They are both based in Antwerp, Belgium.


Q: Why did you decide to write this sequel to Love Around the World?


Fleur: There are 28 countries where we can get married. The first book covers 14 of them so it was clear from the start that there needed to be a second book.


Q: How did you create the artwork for this new book?

Fatinha: This book’s creative process was divided in three parts: the research, the sketch, and the development. Because is a story based on true facts, I first researched the couple, based on articles and photos.

The other part of the research was about the countries where they would get married, about the culture and atmosphere of each country...following the text of the book, of course.


Fleur and [her late wife] Julian are actually based on the real people; they are very recognisable. The places they visit also have very recognisable elements too, which why my research was so important.


In the sketch phase (with pencil) I decided which elements exactly I was going to use in order to give an added value to the story. The development phase is the use of mixed media, analogue and digital: acrylic paint to create the textures and finishing touches with Photoshop.


It was a real treat for me to work on this project together with Fleur and the publisher. It was also a huge responsibility because through my drawings I brought Julian back to life, so they could finish their Love project... This project really resonated with me.

Q: What do you hope kids take away from Love Is Love?

Fleur: I hope this will help kids develop critical thinking. To have an open mind.


Because more than 1.8 million LGBTQ young people of age 13 to 24 contemplates a suicide attempt each year in the United States. That’s 1.8 million children.

The suicide numbers for LGBTQ youth are miles high and the numbers are only increasing.


Minority stress - created by stigma, discrimination, bullying or bias - is credited as the mail detractor to the mental health of LGBTQ youth.

I hope that all children can see that difference isn’t bad, that inclusion represents strength, and that love comes in many forms.


Q: Do you see more progress ahead for marriage equality around the world?


Fleur: We started our real live performance piece in 2017 and we named the project 22, because there were 22 countries where we could get married at that time. The name was a very conscious decision and we hoped for an extra country to join the troops while we were travelling.

That would show that the world is in constant movement. It would allow us to build a time capsule that instantly refers to the possibility of change.


Meanwhile the numbers increased and nowadays we can get married in 28 countries. But still: at the current rate we will reach global recognition in the year 2142. That’s 123 years from now so we wanted to see if we could get it to go a bit faster.


Q: What are you working on now?


Fleur: My first novel, Julian, will be made into a movie, so currently I’m co-writing the script and I’m working on a second novel.


Fatinha: I am working on two children’s books at the moment. One of them is written by me. I feel that I also have a lot of stories to tell, so I would like to explore more of that part...In fact, I believe that children’s books illustrators are actually kind of visual authors.


Q: Anything else we should know?


Fatinha: Fleur and I live in the same city (Antwerp), have some common friends, and we never ever met each other before we worked on Love Around The World. In fact, it was through our publisher from NYC, Charles Kim, that we got to know each other. I think it was meant to be. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 18



Nov. 18, 1939: Margaret Atwood born.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Q&A with Lori Nelson Spielman


Lori Nelson Spielman is the author of the new novel The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. She also has written the novels The Life List and Sweet Forgiveness. She lives in Michigan.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany?


A: I wanted to write about a woman who was told from a very early age that she would never find love. To me, it seemed this revelation might result in one of two types of women: Someone desperate to prove the myth wrong, or someone who found freedom and authenticity from this knowledge. 


Q: The novel is set in Italy--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: I’m a huge fan of the late Maeve Binchy, whose novels were set in Ireland. I wanted to try to capture what she did so beautifully—a setting where you’d swear you could see and smell and taste your surroundings. My editor pushed me (in a good way!) to add specific details, to make the place come alive.


Italy is such a sensuous country, with each region having its own unique personality. The characters change with each destination, from the magical yet cloistered city of Venice, to the open and rolling Tuscan vineyards, to the serene, peaceful seaside villages along the Amalfi Coast.

Q: What do you think the novel says about history and myths within a family?


A: The novel shows how family myths can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. I think it’s true, we generally live up, or down, to the expectations of others. That can be a good thing, or a dangerous thing, when it comes to family and societal expectations.


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


A: Well, I HAD to visit Italy, of course. And I owed it to my readers to eat heaping bowls of pasta and drink plenty of vino, all in the name of research, of course! But because the book has a dual narrative, one set in the late 1950s Italy, I had to research the era and the U.S. immigration process at that time.


There’s also a storyline set in East Germany, just prior to the Berlin Wall being erected.


Luckily, I have a dear, elderly friend in Germany who lived in Dresden after the war. He was a great resource. When I used his memories in the novel, mentioning what a treat it was to have mango juice, my German editor deleted it, saying post-war East Germany would never have access to mango juice.


My friend, however, corrected her. East Germany traded with other communist countries, and Cuba was one of them. The mango juice, though rare, came from Cuba, and was a little taste of heaven during a very dark time.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new women’s fiction novel set in northern Michigan, about a down-on-her-luck woman who befriends a runaway girl.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I really appreciate you hosting me today. Thanks so much! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Aunt Poppy, one of the main characters. “Life is better measured in friendships than years, don’t you think?”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Lori Nelson Spielman.

Q&A with Michelle Adams


Michelle Adams is the author of the new novel Little Wishes. She also has written the novels Between the Lies and If You Knew My Sister. She grew up in the UK and lives in Cyprus.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Little Wishes, and for your character Elizabeth?


A: I had been thinking about writing a love story for some time, but I was in the middle of a contract for two psychological thrillers. I broached the subject with my agent, and she was enthusiastic about the idea, so in the downtime between books I began writing the initial story.


The first chapter I ever wrote was when Tom and Elizabeth first attend the hospital for his diagnosis, and it was based on my own experience of accompanying my father to such an appointment.


As for Elizabeth, after writing that first chapter, I went back to think about who that girl might have been when she was younger, and what might have kept two people who love each other, apart.


I love Cornwall, and knew I wanted to set the book in a small coastal village there, so I began building her life, and factoring in the sort of exposures she would have experienced, and the kind of restrictions that might have been placed on such a girl back in 1960s England.


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


A: I knew how the novel would end because I was inspired to write it because of my own experience of losing a parent to cancer. But along the way, lots of the steps to reach that final destination were changing, and some important chapters, like when Tom and Elizabeth have dinner on the boat as they sail up the Thames river in London, were late additions.


For all of my books, in hindsight, the most important elements are always those that come late on in the writing process. But I always knew that Elizabeth would return home with Tom’s ashes and scatter them as she did.


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


A: I really hope that in reading Little Wishes people consider how it is never too late to chase something that you want. Perhaps that’s love, lost family members, or even an education.


The wishes in the novel relate to Tom and Elizabeth’s life, but I think in some way they belong to all of us. We all have moments in the past when we have wished for something, and then done nothing about making it come true. This novel is about realizing that you have time to do the things you want to do, and achieve the things you want to achieve.


Q: What are some of your favorite novels?


A: I have quite a few novels that I consider my favourites. In no particular order they are A Little Life, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and The Secret History. This year I have added three more to my little list, which include Normal People, Where the Crawdads Sing, and My Dark Vanessa.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I have just finished the final edit of my next book before it goes to my editor.


Plus, I have two more projects that I’m working on. I have one love story, which I am tentatively calling Broken Promises which I have written four times and am just about happy with it.


Plus, I am working on an experimental thriller, which has a structure I have never used before, and is proving a welcome challenge. The subject matter is quite dark, which is how I prefer my thrillers, so we’ll see how that pans out.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: About me? I love to run, and was previously training for a marathon until I ruptured my hip ligament. I also love to bake, and did far too much of it during lockdown. I love cats, and have two, one of which is practically feral, and the other is the sweetest cat you could ever wish for.


When I’m not reading, you’ll hopefully find me in the mountains, but that could be about to change as I’m about to start a post grad in psychology. Like I said earlier, it’s never too late to do something you want to do.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb