Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Q&A with Tim Wendel



Tim Wendel is the author of the new novel Escape from Castro's Cuba, a sequel to his novel Castro's Curveball. He is a founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly, and is a writer in residence at Johns Hopkins University.


Q: Why did you decide to write this sequel to Castro’s Curveball?


A: In early 2017, I made my fourth trip to Havana, and my wife accompanied me for the first time. As we were walking across the tarmac, toward customs, a Cuban plainclothesman fell in alongside me. While I didn’t tell him my name, he soon asked, “What brings you back to Cuba, Senor Wendel?” Even before I cleared customs, the powers that be there knew I had returned.


That began a memorable, sometimes edgy trip in which we spoke with sports officials, folks at the U.S. Embassy, avant-garde artists and jazz musicians. Once again, I was reminded that every time that you think you know Cuba, it will turn those perceptions upside-down in a heartbeat. By the time we returned home, I was writing the sequel.


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


A: I usually have a closing scene or kind of where I want the characters to end up in mind. But how we reach that closing scene? I often don’t have a clue, and I believe it’s important to listen to your characters in reaching that point.


I write fiction and nonfiction, and with both I’ll interview my main players. That may seem a bit odd with fiction. After all these are imaginary beings, even when they may be composites. Still, I’ll interview them, sometimes talking to them out loud.


Frankly, it’s a great way to be left alone if you desperate for some writing time. Friends, family will just think you’re acting a touch strange again.


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


A: Sometimes you’re researching and you don’t realize it. That’s what happened with Escape. On that last trip to the island, the architecture in Havana was as stunning as ever, the kids were still playing baseball in the streets and many of the top players dream about playing the game in the U.S. major leagues.


But what’s changed is how the best ballplayers are leaving the island now. Few, if any, are escaping by raft across the Florida Straits. Instead, they are making deals with crime syndicates, probably from Mexico, and being spirited off the island on cigarette boats.


In doing so, though, one dangerous situation has been traded for another. One is certainly rolling the dice on a raft in shark-infested waters between Havana and the Florida Keys. Yet in being taken off the island by speedboat, these players need to cut deals with some unsavory characters.


In doing so, they are putting themselves and even their families in serious jeopardy. That became the backdrop for the new novel.


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


A: I believe they’ll entertained by the exploits of Billy Bryan, his family and friends, in dealing with the ghosts, real and imagined, that populate Cuba.


As you can tell, Havana got under my skin long ago, going back to my first trip there in 1991. In the old part of town, hard by the deep-water harbor that dates back to the Spanish conquistadors, the setting is known as the “city of columns.” Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier coined the phrase and that part of town is adorned with these beautiful, white marble columns. It’s a stunning sight.


But the phrase is really a nod to this world’s uncertainty, intrigue and danger. If you’re on the sidewalk, for example, it’s sometimes difficult to fully understand what’s going on out on the street, and vice versa. One is never sure what lies around the next corner in Havana, and that’s something that has captivated writers from Graham Greene to Elmore Leonard to Rachel Kushner.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I love star-crossed places and lands. Cuba is certainly one of those. A realm filled with what-ifs and heartbreak.


So is the borderland between Western New York and Canada, north of Niagara Falls. I grew up there and I’m writing a novel based during the Civil War when this almost became another front in that bloody struggle.


During that time period, the region was filled with espionage and cross-purposes, including such rich characters as Fanny Seward and John Wilkes Booth. Much of this is based upon the historical record and if we had gone to war with Great Britain during the 1860s, our nation’s borders could look far different today.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Of course, the COVID pandemic has been difficult for everyone. That said, I’m heartened by how book sales are up and many indie bookstores are finding ways to weather the storm. We’re in the need of great stories and memorable characters like never before.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Roberta Seret



Roberta Seret is the author of the Transylvanian Trilogy, a new series of books including Gift of Diamonds, Love Odyssey, and Treasure Seekers. She teaches at New York University and is the founder of an NGO, the International Cinema Education Organization. She lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write your Transylvanian Trilogy?


A: My husband was born and raised in Bucharest, Romania. He was educated there, became a doctor, and then he was sent to work in the countryside of Transylvania because he was not allowed to work in the capital.


Under Communism, he was considered privileged, an enemy of the people. His father was a physician and his grandfather was a landowner. He and his family had to escape; they managed to do so in 1963.


In 1990, after [Romanian dictator Nicolae] Ceausescu’s execution, my husband took me to visit Bucharest and Transylvania and showed me the city and villages he loved. I understood why he missed his country so much and I wanted to learn more. 


As a writer, I thought it would be interesting to share with American readers what I was learning about this exotic world of Romania. So I took plenty of notes and photos for a possible novel.


Years later, I recreated in my imagination a voyage to Transylvania where I borrowed politics and history to create stories about four friends growing up together as teenagers. I thought it would be interesting to show how they escaped communism and what happened to them.


To do this, I mixed facts that I was learning from research, with my imagination – a hybrid approach. I wanted a different literary style to offer to American readers.


Q: What relationship do the books have to one another? Should they be read in order?


A: The novels, which can be read independently and out of order, are connected by four lifelong friends, the main protagonists of each novel. They call themselves Poets of our Lives. 


Each heroine takes the stage in each novel to create her own life while she forges forward in an existentialist need to direct her destiny. But sometimes, the four friends find challenges that are stronger than their willpower. Those are the times when the fictional protagonist collides with factual events.


It is then that their courage evokes exciting fiction. Fiction that could not exist without facts in a supporting role. And yet, I did put the three novels in a chronological setting and suggested that sequence for reading: Book One - Gift of Diamonds; Book Two - Love Odyssey; Book Three - Treasure Seekers.


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


A: Yes. I needed to do a lot of research about the history and politics of Romania. And Yes, there was one thing that surprised me: the sale of Jews.


Anti-Semitism had always been part of Romanian culture long before World War II, but what struck me as I was doing my research is how the Bucharest Jews were saved during the war. 


King Carol II, the royal-dictator (1930-1940), was forced to abdicate and left the country with his mistress once it was known she was Jewish.


General Ion Antonescu eagerly took power. He was a rabid anti-Semite. Even Eichmann had warned Antonescu that he was being “too cruel and sloppy with his Jews.” 


The Jews residing outside the capital were persecuted, rounded up and forced into death trains. Those who survived were sent to Transnistria, a camp where typhus and starvation slaughtered more than 200,000, including 50,000 children.


But strangely, the Bucharest Jews were spared. Their population of 100,000 were not forced to wear yellow Jewish stars, or to live in ghettos, or to be deported. The question is why? And who protected them?


Paradoxically, it was General Antonescu with assistance from Romania’s Chief Rabbi, Alexandru Safran, and the respected president of the Jewish communities, Wilhelm Filderman, with the Queen Mother of Romania, Elena.


Antonescu realized the tide of war was turning against Germany, and that the Bucharest Jews could represent for him an insurance policy in case of a post-war trial for “crimes against humanity.” The Bucharest Jews, alive, could serve as collateral for his own survival.


Antonescu began negotiating a financial deal without either Hitler or Eichmann ever knowing – to sell the Bucharest Jews and send them to Palestine.


But the British, who controlled Palestine at that time, didn’t want to upset the Arabs. Even though Ben-Gurion, the leader of Israel, wanted the Bucharest Jews to build up the new country, the British told Antonescu, no. They called it a slave trade, unethical to sell people.


A key figure in this market was Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Roosevelt. Since 1934, he was the only Jew in Roosevelt’s cabinet and was active in bringing to the president various rescue plans to stop the annihilation of European Jews.


Despite criticism about a slave trade extortion plan, the committee for a Jewish Army of Stateless and Palestinian Jews, a Zionist organization in New York, with the help of Morgenthau, placed an ad in The New York Times on February 16, 1943, saying, “For sale to Humanity, 70,000 +Jews, Guaranteed Human Beings at $50 a piece.” 


There was no interest. No potential buyer came forward. President Roosevelt hesitated to push the plan forward for it was an election year and not a popular idea. The rescue plan fell through. But while they were negotiating, the war ended, and the Bucharest Jews were saved. My husband was one of them.


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


A: All three novels of the Trilogy present a female protagonist who fights against the obstacles of evil: evil in government, evil in society, evil in individuals. 


All three novels are survival stories, and at the same time, love stories. Love brings hope amidst evil. It is love and hope together that helps us survive - to overcome evil and to live.


The opposite of EVIL is LIVE. They are anagrams, opposing forces. The four friends in the Transylvanian Trilogy show that to LIVE to the fullest is the best revenge against EVIL. The books are their stories of love and survival.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Several years ago, I wrote a book about film (World Affairs in Foreign Films), based on my academic teaching at New York University and my NGO at the United Nations (International Cinema Education. 2003-present).


During the past year, as we went through the pandemic and stayed at home, I realized how important art is to our life to survive. If I did not have my favorite music to listen to or foreign films to watch, I think the days and nights would have been worse for me during NYC’s lockdown.


For this reason, I am writing now A Night at the Movies with 52 Foreign Films. It would have details, summaries and tidbits about 52 films from around the world that viewers could watch and use the book as a manual to better understand the relationship of the film to the country’s history and culture. I hope that others could benefit from the power of cinema to heal and help survive.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As I was writing the first book of the Trilogy, Gift of Diamonds, I realized that unconsciously I was putting a lot of myself in the book. Actually, I found that there were 14 chapters that came from my life.


And this made me think that I used my memory like a treasure chest where I had saved and cherished my dreams and hopes, the people I had met and loved, even hated, and stored them for the day I would wish them out.


Unconsciously, as I was writing Gift of Diamonds, I reached into my memory’s treasure chest and found scenes and people from afar that came to me without pattern or reason. I grabbed them, not to lose them, and without realizing how, each item turned into a life of its very own in my novels.


Strangely, they all took different form on the paper until they hardly resembled the original at all. But it was too late. They were now alive and I marveled at it all, wondering if the imagined is more real than the real. As a writer, in Transylvanian Trilogy, I have used memory as a brush for truth.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Angela Howard



Angela Howard is the author of the memoir Sin Child. She is the founder of the PTSD-ACED Foundation, and is a registered nurse.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir?


A: I spent my childhood and much of my adult life hiding behind a dark curtain of fear. Fear of what would happen on a daily basis. Fear of all those who judged me and sought revenge based on the doings of my family. Fear of falling asleep at night, not knowing who would be coming and going from wherever I was staying.


I suffered from nightmares and flashbacks on a daily basis and thought that as I got older and was able to put myself in more stable situations those things would go away. Unfortunately stable situations did not come for me for many years.


When I was 34 years old I decided to seek a new counselor. I had been to counselors before and had received the typical, generic diagnoses of anxiety and depression each time, but I felt like no one really listened to me. I felt like I was losing my mind.


The new therapist listened quietly for most of the session and asked few questions along the way. At the end of the session she began pulling out brochures on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


As she began handing them to me and explaining each one I thought that she was the one losing her mind. I had not been to war or lost a limb. Why would she be telling me this? She reiterated that I definitely suffered from severe PTSD due to the things I endured in my childhood and even part of my adult life.


At the time, I had worked as a RN Supervisor at an inpatient psychiatric facility for children and adolescents. It truly haunted me that I had taken care of nearly 1,500 children at an inpatient psychiatric facility during my career and not one of them had been diagnosed with PTSD, when roughly 90 percent of them were severely abused and would have had ACE [Adverse Childhood Experiences] scores of 6 or more if that simple test would have been in place.


As I began to open up about my experiences and about the injustice that I felt was brought to so many of the children I had cared for, I was encouraged to write my story.

Q: You describe many harrowing experiences in the book – what impact did writing it have on you?


A: I’m certain my English teachers would have declared I would be the last person they ever expected to write a book, but with a great mentor that’s just what I did.


I was forced to dive deep into the experiences I had endured and ask myself questions I had never thought of. By doing so, I was finally able to understand my own resilience and [this] aided me to help others who have a hidden resilience.


Writing this book gave me a new sense of empowerment and freedom. I am now free to use my life example to empower others. That dark curtain has been lifted and I am no longer ashamed of who I am.


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


A: From the moment I decided to actually begin writing a book, I obsessed about a title. I was certain if I didn’t have a title to begin with the story would never take shape. I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful mentor who insisted that “the title will come.”


I was in his office one day after hitting a major writing block and, as usual, he was asking me to describe different stories from my childhood to him. I was describing the day my paternal grandfather actually told me I was born a “sin child” and a serious look came across his face.


From that point he interrupted several times asking me to repeat what my grandfather called me. I wondered to myself if he was losing his hearing. He finally stopped me…"Sin Child…there’s your title!" Somehow this title brought out an inner strength in me and made me even more determined to focus on resiliency.


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


A: My hope is that the veil is lifted from the much underestimated results of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and related PTSD.


According to the CDC, a study done between 2014-2019 revealed 74 percent of individuals who are incarcerated and/or in substance abuse treatments have four or more ACEs and 52 percent have six or more ACEs.  


ACEs have become a major initiative for schools and healthcare providers. Studies have also been performed and have linked many physical health problems in adulthood to ACEs.


After writing this book, I learned I had multiple autoimmune disorders and suffered a small stroke in 2019. It is my wish that this story will help individuals get a proper diagnosis if they suffer from PTSD secondary to childhood trauma.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: While writing Sin Child, I began my own research into ACEs and related PTSD which led to the formation of a nonprofit organization, PTSD-ACED, Inc. I have dedicated myself to helping increase awareness of the subject and providing aid to individuals who have endured ACEs.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Individuals who would like more information about ACEs can find articles and videos at or email


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 31



March 31, 1809: Nikolai Gogol born.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Q&A with Tamara Winfrey Harris


Photo by Grace Michael Photography


Tamara Winfrey Harris is the author of the new book Dear Black Girl. She also has written the book The Sisters Are Alright, and is the founder of the Letters to Black Girls Project. She is based in Indiana.


Q: What inspired you to create the Letters to Black Girls Project, and to write Dear Black Girl?


A: Two dear friends, Dr. Tyffani Monford Dent and Dr. Carolyn Strong, and I hosted an intergenerational workshop in Indianapolis back in 2018. The goal was to get Black women and girls in a room for a half day to explore how we can love each other better.


In preparation, I asked some Black women on social media for 12 letters to give participating Black girls as a parting gift. I asked them to write letters that were loving, truthful, vulnerable, feminist, anti-racist, body positive, LGBTQ+ positive, anti–respectability politics, and pro–Black girl.


Black women really showed up for black girls. The call went viral! Instead of 12 letters, I got more than 50 from all over the world. (And I continue to receive them.) I read the first one and, after ugly crying, knew this had to be a movement and not just a moment.

Q: How did you choose the letters to include in the book?


A: I was very intentional about selecting letters from a diversity of Black women. It was important to me that the book represents Black girls in all the ways they show up in the world.


I started with letters I had already received, but then proactively reached out to women to make sure that things like biracial identity, queer identity, a variety of family relationships and issues like surviving sexual assault were covered.


Q: What themes do you see running through the letters, and what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I want every Black girl who reads this book to know that she is loved, that she is valuable, and that she is supported by sisters that care about her well being.


Q: What impact did working on this project have on you?


A: Like many of the letter contributors, I found this project cathartic. No matter how we age as women, there is a piece of our little girl selves inside us that needs love and healing. The girl in me felt loved by the way the women in the book opened their hearts and shared their stories.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am finishing up the manuscript for the second expanded edition of my first book--The Sisters Are Alright: Changing the Broken Narrative of Black Women in America, about the impact of enduring stereotypes on Black women's lives.


It is forthcoming this fall and will include new interviews and a chapter on Black women, power and politics.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I'm proud of the Reader Experience Kit that is available for free download from It has questions Black girl caregivers can use to dialogue about the book, tips for successful intergenerational conversation, adorable paper dolls, and a fun playlist!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Glenn Stout



Glenn Stout is the author of the new book Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid: America's Original Gangster Couple. His many other books include Young Woman and the Sea. He lives in Vermont.


Q: You note that you first learned about Tiger Girl and the Candy King while researching an earlier book. What made you decide to write a book about them?


A: At first I was, admittedly, simply intrigued by their nicknames, but I was soon surprised to discover they were interesting in and of themselves and that the volume of reportage they inspired was staggering.


That made me wonder why I had not heard of them before. I soon began to ask myself if it would be possible to discover who they were, and what their story says both about their time and ours. The book is the culmination of nearly 15 years of research since I first heard of them


Q: How well-known were they in the 1920s, and why are they not better-known today?


A: In the spring and summer of 1926 Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid - Margaret and Richard Whittemore - were as well-known as any two people in America, front page news coast-to-coast from the time of their arrest in March, through Richard’s two murder trials, and finally, until he was hanged on August 13, 1926 - Friday the 13th.

They were young, attractive, and romantic, the tabloid press loved their story, and young Americans viewed them as anti-heroes, two people who reached for a better life, regardless of the cost, without regret.


They are less well known today primarily because of changes in media - they existed just before talking pictures, newsreels, and radio dramas.


In a very short time afterwards other criminals captured the nation's attention and technology provided them with a soundtrack - we could see Bonnie and Clyde, with a voiceover accompaniment. 


Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid, sort of like Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel (and who I have also biographied), were the last celebrities before this change in technology.


Yet Richard and Margaret, in many ways, created the template of the glib, tough-talking gangster and his gun moll that soon emerged in Hollywood - they just didn’t get the credit.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising?


A: No one alive today remembers Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid, so period newspapers provided the primary research material for this book. 


Fortunately, newspapers in the three cities where they spent the bulk of their time - Baltimore, New York City and Buffalo, New York - covered their activities and the trials extensively, and Richard Whittemore even published a 15,000-word autobiography. 


In this way I was able to learn how they walked and talked, the music they liked and the nightclubs they haunted, and create a full portrait of their life and times.


Almost everything I learned was surprising, from the inequities of the justice and penal system, to the ease with which it was possible to be a criminal during the era.


But I think the biggest surprise has been to discover the parallels between Tiger Girl and the Candy Kid's story with conditions today - they arose in the wake of a war, a pandemic, and an economic downturn, they decided to become criminals at a time when the American Dream seemed out of reach.


Their story uncovers a vision of America during the Jazz Age that F. Scott Fitzgerald missed, and provides an entirely new lens through which to see the era. Younger readers, millennials, really seem to identify with their story.


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


A: I think readers will take away a new understanding of the era, and some insight into what happens when the American Dream becomes so remote that it appears unreachable and can't be achieved by normal means.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My right hip, which just underwent replacement!


More seriously, I'm mulling over a few other lesser-known stories that have piqued my interest, and looking forward to the film version of my Ederle bio, Young Woman and the Sea, which has been placed with Disney+ and looks likely to go into production later this year starring Daisy Ridley.


I'm also trying to turn Tiger Girl into a screenplay.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Like I said, the genesis of this book from idea to publication was almost 15 years. I had innumerable people tell me to give up on the idea, but I found the story too compelling to do so. There is still room for perseverance.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Glenn Stout.

Q&A with RaeAnne Thayne


RaeAnne Thayne is the author of the new novel The Path to Sunshine Cove, the third in her Cape Sanctuary series, which also includes The Cliff House and The Sea Glass Cottage. She lives in Utah.



Q: This is the third in your Cape Sanctuary series--what connections do you see between the books?


A: All three books -- The Cliff House, The Sea Glass Cottage, and The Path to Sunshine Cove -- are really only linked by geography, the fictional town I’ve created in Northern California that is a mix between two of my favorite places, Cannon Beach, Oregon, and Carmel, California.


None of the characters intersect and the stories are not connected. I consider each a true standalone book. 


Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Path to Sunshine Cove?


A: I generally find that ideas come from all kinds of obscure places.


In this case, I heard an ad on the radio for a company that helps older people downsize and I thought that would be a fabulous career for a heroine, especially a character who preferred a nomadic lifestyle so she didn’t have to forge deep connections.


I’ve also long had a fascination with Airstream trailers, especially the classics that have been remodeled so beautifully. I figured someone who travels around the country for a living would be very comfortable making a home in one!


Q: You're a very prolific writer--are you usually working on more than one book at a time?


A: I cannot do the actual writing of more than one book at a time but some corner of my brain is usually thinking about the plot and the characters for the next book while I’m finishing my current book.


Also, sometimes the publishing timeline requires me to set aside my current book to work on the editing or revision stage for the previous book, so I’ve had to learn how to compartmentalize a little.


I do not consider myself very prolific, though! It takes me four to five months to write a book, which seems to be on the slow side among my writer friends. I try to write 10 pages a day, six days a week. Sometimes it takes me all day (and into the night!) to get those 2,500 words, especially with my chaotic family life!


Q: What do you think the book says about definitions of family?


A: We can create family no matter what the circumstances of our birth.


In The Path to Sunshine Cove, Rachel and Jess Clayton had a very difficult childhood. Now, as adults, Rachel has formed her own family with her husband and children and a wide network of friends while Jess has closed herself off to those close connections because they can undoubtedly be painful.


Through the process of the book, Jess comes to see how much she yearns for a closer connection with her sister and also discovers she can build her own family through dear friends and loved ones.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m about to start the next book in Cape Sanctuary! I’m excited to write this one, which involves a glampground on the coast!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I feel so fortunate to be a writer and to know that my words and stories have lifted people through this difficult time in history. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 30



March 30, 1820: Anna Sewell born.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Q&A with Stacy Wise



Stacy Wise is the author of the new novel Lie, Lie Again. Her other books include the novel Maybe Someone Like You. She lives in California.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Lie, Lie Again and for your three protagonists?


A: I started thinking about friendships and how they can be amazingly supportive, but there can also be relationships that have a toxic edge to them. I wanted to explore why people do certain things and feel justified in doing them, while others would be horrified by their actions.


Sylvia came to mind first, and her voice was very loud and clear in my head. She was easy to write for that reason, because she was always chiming in. Embry and Riki came to my mind a little more gently, but that also reflects their personalities in comparison to Sylvia.


I like the dynamic of three women who all want certain things, but they go about getting them in very different ways.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what role does truthfulness (and the lack thereof) play in the story?


A: It started out as Mockingbird Lane, but that felt a little too generic to me. One day someone said the phrase, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” and that’s when it hit me; the title became Lie, Lie Again.


Truthfulness is a wobbly line in the story. Some of the characters lie with ease, while others lie by omission. I read somewhere that people tell at least one lie every day and are lied to anywhere from 10 to 200 times per day! That number was staggering to me, and I wanted to explore how big and little lies would affect these characters.


Q: You've also worked in the fields of television casting and elementary school teaching. How do those experiences influence your writing?


A: That’s a great question! I didn’t fully understand how my other jobs affected my writing until a reader expressed to me that Lie, Lie Again is very visual, and she said she felt like she was watching a movie while reading it.


Her comment made me realize that after years of reading scripts for episodic television, I do have the tendency to see plots as movies in my mind before I write them.


Also, since I spent so much time with actors who were developing a character from the page to real life, I have a very deep connection with character development. I think my writing tends to be very character-driven.


From teaching, I learned the wonderful art of patience! It’s something that is absolutely necessary in the publishing world.


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


A: Firstly, I hope they find it entertaining. And I hope that they can feel a connection to the characters. A lot of readers have told me that they hate what Sylvia does, but they find themselves rooting for her because underneath it all, her intentions are good.


I also like that so many readers have said it has a fun, soapy feel to it, and that reading it was a wonderful escape during the pandemic. That means a lot to me!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My son and I started re-reading the Harry Potter series during the pandemic. This is my sixth time reading the series—I read it on my own before having kids at the insistence of one of my favorite students, and then I read it with each of my four children—and I still adore it.


I also became a big fan of whipped coffee during the pandemic, and Chloe Ting is my new favorite personal trainer. Going to the gym was a regular thing for me prior to March 2020. I would get on the treadmill and allow my mind to wander, which led to some great story ideas. It took some getting used to working out with a laptop in front of me, but now I look forward to my Chloe Ting time every day!


Thanks for having me. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Wafa' Tarnowska


Wafa' Tarnowska is the author of Amazing Women of the Middle East: 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day, a new middle grade book for kids. Born in Lebanon, she is based in the UK.


Q: How did you choose the women to include in your book?


A: My book is a historical smorgasbord or mezze of 25 amazing women who lived in the Middle East, from ancient times through the present.


Some of the women are queens, prominent political leaders, and social activists; but there are many role models from contemporary life that I hope will inspire my readers.


I have chosen an architect, a mathematician, a poet, an astronaut, a scientist, an athlete, a pilot, a jeweller, a film director, a singer, a translator, a journalist, even a Nobel Peace Prize winner!


It was hard to choose only 25 as there are many more women in the Middle East who deserve to be recognised. I would love to do 25 more women in Tome 2 when the opportunity will present itself.


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

A: I did extensive research on every woman, three days per woman on average, going through encyclopaedias, interviews with them by the mainstream media, looking at their website, going back to their writings and using Arabic, English, and French sources and newspaper articles.


Most importantly, all the facts included in my book were checked by an independent fact checker and by my editor, multiple times.


The surprising but consistent thread that I found among these women is that most of them were multilingual, as if it was a crucial ingredient for greatness.


Cleopatra spoke ancient Egyptian in addition to Greek and Latin, how would she communicate with Caesar and Anthony otherwise? Queen Zenobia spoke Aramaic, Greek, Latin, and ancient Egyptian. 


Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney is trilingual, so is filmmaker Nadine Labaki. Feminist Anbara Salam al Khalidi translated the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid from English to Arabic, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nadia Murad speaks Yazidi, Arabic, and German.


Q: What other common themes do you see running through their lives?


A: The thread tying these women is that they are intelligent, committed to their vision and mission, open to the world, and able to overcome adversity. They are not afraid to be unique, to be themselves, and to follow their inner voice. They are passionate about what they do and often do a lot for others.


Omani Pilot Maha al Balushi has live face groups encouraging women to enquire about aviation as a career.


Hurrem Sultan, the wife of Suleiman the Magnificent, was the first woman to commission public buildings in Istanbul with a soup kitchen, a primary school, a religious school, a hospital and baths for women.


Amal and George Clooney co-founded the Clooney Foundation for Justice to make sure that court cases of vulnerable people, especially women and refugees, are fairly conducted.


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


A: I wanted young people to know that there are Amazing Women role models in a region that has been misunderstood and misrepresented in the West for hundreds of years, probably since the Crusades.


I wanted young people to open their minds and hearts to Middle Eastern heroines such as Cleopatra, Zenobia, Semiramis, Nefertiti, and the Queen of Sheba, who played crucial roles in their country’s history.


I also wanted the readers to learn about living amazing women from that region such as Amal Clooney (human rights lawyer), Nadia Murad (Nobel Prize winner and activist), Dame Zaha Hadid (extraordinary architect), Manahel Thabet (mathematical genius and economist), and Anousheh Ansari (the first Muslim woman to go to space) to name a few.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am writing a proposal for a nonfiction book for young people as well as my first book for grown-ups. During this lockdown year, I recorded eight of my stories in Arabic and English from my “Seven Wise Princesses” and my “Arabian Nights” for the Qatar Foundation Read Aloud initiative:


I just gave two interviews about Amazing Women of the Middle East for International Women’s Day:

Interview with "Amazing Women of the Middle East" author Wafa' Tarnowska - YouTube


I hope to continue expanding my creativity and be open to new opportunities as a storyteller, broadcaster, translator, and writer, worldwide.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My mission in life is to build bridges between East and West. And for these bridges to be effective they should start at a young age.


That’s why all my books are cultural bridges between the Middle East and Europe, America and the world. These bridges take the shape of Phoenician myths and legends, or Sufi tales, or a feminist rewriting of the Arabian Nights, in addition to Amazing Women of the Middle East.


I hope that my books are opening the minds of readers to other worlds and other cultures that are part of our planet’s history. I think the role of literature is to broaden the horizons of young people and show them the beauty of diversity and the value of differences.


For I truly believe in what Rumi said, that:

“The world exists as you perceive it.

It is not what you see… but how you see it.

It is not what you hear… but how you hear it.

It is not what you feel…but how you feel it.” Rumi


--Interview with Deborah Kalb