Friday, May 14, 2021

Q&A with Brady Hammes

 

 

Photo by Polly Antonia Barrowman

Brady Hammes is the author of the novel The Resolutions, now available in paperback. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Michigan Quarterly Review and Guernica. Also a documentary film editor, he is based in Denver.

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Resolutions?

 

A: I’m the eldest of three boys. My mom is one of nine children and my dad is one of seven.

 

I’ve always been fascinated by siblings and the way your relationship with them changes over time. When you’re young, they’re a constant and occasionally annoying presence in your life. But as you grow older, those relationships - at least in my experience - change. It’s not a loss of love, but of a kind of childhood closeness.

 

As an adult, we form different bonds - husbands, wives, partners, children - and your siblings can sometimes take a back seat. If you’re living in different parts of the country, they become faces you see once a year around the holidays, maybe a phone call placed on a birthday.

 

With the book, I wanted to acknowledge that drift, while also inventing circumstances that would return them to their youth. 

 

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, "It almost feels like some kind of novel-writing challenge—can you come up with a plot that brings together ballet in Russia, elephants in Africa, and unemployment in Hollywood? Hammes’ debut proves he can do just that..." How did you create the three Brennan siblings, and how would you describe their family dynamics?


A: I wrote the characters that I was interested in reading about.

 

With Sam, I’d been a fan of ballet for a while and thought it would be fun to write a character who is both emotionally and geographically isolated.

 

Jonah is sort of in a similar situation in Africa. I’ve always loved elephants and saw a 60 Minutes program about a team of researchers studying elephant communication in the forests of West Africa. I just ran with that idea.

 

As for Gavin, I've spent the last 20 years working in Hollywood, and after vigorously researching the other two characters, I wanted to write about something a little closer to my personal experience. The character certainly isn’t autobiographical, but his disillusionment with the entertainment industry is something I related to. 

 

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 rarely know how a story will end. It’s a lot of stops and starts and fumbling around in the dark until I arrive at something that feels earned. With The Resolutions, the ending only came into focus once I was well into the third act. I knew I wanted all three characters to be reunited, if only for a moment. 

 

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

 

A: I would hesitate to prescribe any kind of message, but if nothing else I hope it helps to destigmatize opioid addiction.  

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m close to having a completed draft of my second novel. Like The Resolutions, it’s a family story but with a larger scope - beginning in 1965 and ending in the mid-‘80s. It’s an attempt to make sense of our current moment - politically and culturally - through the story of an Iowa farm family.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Genevieve Gannon

 

 


 

Genevieve Gannon is the author of the new novel The Mothers. Her other books include the novel The First Year. She is a journalist with The Australian Women's Weekly, and she is based in Sydney, Australia.

 

Q: The Mothers was inspired by real-life cases involving IVF mix-ups. How did you create your characters Grace and Priya?

 

A: I knew straight away I wanted Grace to be a teacher. I thought it would be an effective way to show how patient and caring she is, which would help the reader understand her acute pain as she failed to fall pregnant.

 

By making her the boarding house mistress (inspired by a friend who ran the boarding house at her school) I was able to show a deeper connection between Grace and her students, as we get to see her playing a role that is closer to that of a mother than a classroom teacher.

 

The character developed from there. The only other thing I knew from the outset was that I wanted her to be blonde, for reasons that become clear in the later chapters.

 

With Priya, it was important to show she leads a full life outside of her hopes for motherhood because of the crucial decision she makes ― or rather doesn’t make ― about halfway through the book.

 

We see her working as an artist, and enjoying a relationship with her sister, her nieces and her cousin, and we know she has wanderlust.

 

It’s hard to give too much detail without spoiling the book, but I wanted her first reaction to the big revelation in part 2 to be believable and thought that showing her as an independent woman with a full life was a good way to help sell that proposition. 

 

When I’m writing a book, I usually let the characters shape the narrative a lot. I start with a general idea for a story, but then I create people that I want to spend time with, and let their idiosyncrasies and desires help shape the choices they make, and subsequently the plot.

 

For example, the jeweler Saskia Hill, from my last book, The First Year, was an artist who had married into a family of snobs. Her background, her passions and beliefs inform a lot of her choices, which drive the story.

 

With Grace and Priya I was a lot more restricted because I wanted to tell a story that would engage with several of the common features I had learned about when studying IVF mix-up cases. It was crucial that they both be sympathetic, but also fallible and human. I wanted readers to feel empathy for both of them.

 

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


A: I wanted readers to feel that both women could be a mother to the child at the center of the dilemma. People can become mothers through adoption, surrogacy, egg donation, and fostering as well as natural conception. Love and commitment are motherhood’s defining features, not just biology or the bonds formed in gestation.

 

IVF mix-ups are shocking and devastating, and they force those involved to answer an unnatural question: When the egg of one woman is accidentally implanted in another, who carries it to term, and they both love and want the child, who is the child’s rightful mother?

 

It’s a question that has only arisen since IVF became common practice, it occurs in only a miniscule number of cases and is by its nature accidental. Therefore those involved have no agreements or contracts to help untangle the emotional ethical and medical problems.

 

Again, without wanting to give too much away, the dispute in The Mothers did have to be resolved, and that could be interpreted as picking a side, but the reason I wrote the book was to explore everything that comes before and after that decision.

 

I based the outcome on real life judgments, and when I first started researching cases of IVF mix-ups my gut reaction was different to the outcome we ultimately see in the book. I tried to show that the resolution was not about the mothers themselves, but the child.

 

Part of what made me want to tell this story is the gut-wrenching and impossible choice that must be made, and I wanted to invite the readers to imagine what it would be like to have to make that choice and contemplate what being a mother means.   

 

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 exactly what needed to happen and where the story was going from the moment I started writing, although I did make a lot of changes to the form as I went.

 

For example, we start to see the story from the point of view of Dr Ashley Li in part 2, but when I first started writing the manuscript, she was a character on equal footing with Grace and Priya from the start. As the novel came together, I realised it was more effective to bring her in later.

 

Part of the reason she was initially a more prominent character is that I had become fascinated by the medical staff who find themselves involved in these mix-up cases.

 

I’ve certainly read about unscrupulous and deceitful doctors but sometimes it’s unclear how the error occurred. Or, the clinician followed the guidelines to the letter, and the mistake happened anyway. However, for the purpose of this novel, I came to see that it would be better to focus more heavily on the mothers.

 

I will say that from the outset, I knew I would be writing some scenes of despair, shock, and heartache, but knowing you have to write these scenes and actually doing it is a very different thing. To think that real women were put into the unthinkable positions these two characters find themselves in is unsettling and upsetting and was quite hard.

 

Q: The novel has been out for a while in Australia--how have people reacted to it?

 

A: The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people are shocked to learn the scenario in the book is based on real cases, and it’s gratifying to hear they connect with the characters.

 

I often feel I can’t take much credit for it because the thing that makes the story so compelling is the ethical dilemma at the heart of it – and that’s not something I came up with. It’s a real and unthinkable scenario that has befallen a number of unlucky couples throughout the world.

 

There was a lot of interest in the screen rights, which was exciting, and I have been answering the occasional email from the amazing screenwriters who are developing the script.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m just finishing off the first draft of my next novel, which is untitled, but revolves around a teenager who is injured in a fight, his family, a boy who is falsely accused, and a friend who knows the truth. It is set in sunny Sydney, where I live, but it’s quite dark.

 

I’ve also just written the proposal for the novel I hope to work on after that which brings me back into the world of reproductive technology (kind of!). When I’m not writing novels I work as a journalist, so I’m always coming across interesting people and stories that inspire me.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Priya’s sister’s name is Vivian – which is my sister’s name! Although the spelling is different because the Viv in the book is named after the cricketer Vivian Richards (though I think I cut that fact out!).

 

The book is also dedicated to my sister in part because I am so proud of the woman she has become, and because even though she is four years younger than me, I feel like I learn a lot from her.

 

In the Australian version I somehow misspelled my own brother’s name in the acknowledgements! Luckily I fixed it for the U.S. edition because he lives in Portland, Oregon, with his little boy who I am yet to meet because he was born during Covid.

 

I would have loved to have visited the States for the book release. I did a semester of my junior year of high school in Virginia and am always looking for an opportunity to come back.

 

I don’t have a website, but I love to share book reviews and my journalism on Instagram: @gen_gannon.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with J. Albert Mann

 

 


 

J. Albert Mann is the author of the new young adult novel Fix. Her other books include the YA novel The Degenerates. She is based in Boston.

 

Q: You've said that Fix was a very personal story for you. Can you say more about that, and about how you created your character Eve?

 

A: Eve was born with large, progressive IS (idiopathic scoliosis) and so was I. We both endured a double fusion of our spines. In our recovery beds, we both developed a relationship with a plastic, department store telescope. Here is where our experiences stop crossing.

 

Creating Eve as a character separate from myself took a long time and was a serious struggle. I used side writing as a tool to separate us. Writing from Eve’s perspective on everything from her spine, to her relationship to her mother, to her understanding of art, helped me bring her into being as a character who was not myself.

 

I believe many writers share pieces of their own stories inside their characters, and the closer those experiences are to their own experiences, the harder those characters will be to write. Although someone from the outside would probably think the opposite is true.

 

Q: You tell the story in prose and in verse. How did you decide on that approach?

 

A: I first wrote the entire novel in prose and edited this way for a long time. But the chapters where Eve was in pain and on medication (altered mental state) felt overwhelming.

 

Physical pain is incredibly difficult to write…and even more difficult to read.

 

Verse allowed me to control Eve’s experience of pain and suffering…slow it down. While at the same time, the use of verse intensified these moments by zeroing in on them with less words. I also used the white space surrounding the words in verse to serve as a hollowing out of these moments and to mirror Eve’s isolation in her recovery bed.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says that "this intense, unflinching story asks what it means to be repaired and reveals the forces that bring people back together after being torn apart." What do you think of that description?

 

A: When a reader—and a reviewer is essentially just a reader—“gets” what you tried to do, it’s an amazing feeling. Because this novel was so personal, the reviews felt even more scary. It was almost like my life experience was being reviewed. Although I tried very hard not to see it this way.

 

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

 

A: I hope readers will think differently about the disability experience. I’ve always hated the “walk in another person’s shoes,” saying because I just don’t believe we can do this. We can picture ourselves in their shoes, but then it’s us in those shoes, not them.

 

A better way to empathize is to listen to people, hear them, believe them. Their story is their story, and as humans, we can take that story in to create understanding and connection.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m working on two works of historical nonfiction…and loving it!

 

I’ve written historical fiction but never just straight-on nonfiction. It’s actually quite intense. There is no veil of “story” or “character” that sits between me and the subject. It’s exciting to give readers an historical experience with this veil removed and thrilling to write. I’d equate the experience with tight-rope walking without a net.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: There are so many fantastic disabled writers penning awesome works for us to read. Below are some of my favorites. I hope readers will dig in!!!

 

Picture Book

 

What Happened to You by James Catchpole

MC [main character] with one leg.

 

Middle Grade

 

What Stars are Made Of by Sarah Allen 

MC with Turner Syndrome.

 

YAs

 

Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

MCs with rheumatoid arthritis and Gaucher’s disease.

 

Finding Balance and Brave Enough by Kati Gardner

MCs with cancer and amputation of a leg from cancer

 

Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijcamp

Anthology of stories of #ownvoices disabled writers

 

Even If We Break by Marieke Nijcamp

Multiple MCs with different disabilities

 

Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein 

MC with rheumatoid arthritis

 

Run by Kody Keplinger

MC who is blind

 

The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais

MC who is deaf, brother with cystic fibrosis

 

The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas

MC with Asperger’s

 

YA Coming out in 2022:

 

One for All by Lillie Owens Lainoff

MC with POTS

 

The Threat of the Hunt by Madeline Dyer

MC with POTS and EDS

 

Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester

MC with hip dysplasia


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with J. Albert Mann.


Q&A with Laurie Lawlor

 

 


 

Laurie Lawlor is the author of the new children's picture book biography Fearless World Traveler: Adventures of Marianne North, Botanical Artist. Lawlor's many other books include Big Tree Down!. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.

 

Q: Why did you decide to write a children's picture book biography of botanical artist Marianne North?

 

A: I have always been fascinated by the idea that an artist, photographer, or writer can be a hero—someone who dedicates herself to selflessly explore new lands, plants, and animals in order to share what she discovers with the rest of the world.

 

Marianne North was just that kind of hero. She broke rules in the way she painted and how she explored an amazing range of tropical plants—some of which were unknown by European scientists at the time. 

 

Because she was self-taught in both art and science, she took risks. A late-bloomer, she was 40 years old when she set off on a series of whirlwind journeys across oceans and rivers, through jungles, deserts, and mountains to capture an extraordinary variety of plants in their native environments.  

 

She thumbed her nose at societal expectations about proper Victorian female behavior. Not only did she refuse to stay home, she traveled alone to remote, often dangerous places. I was hooked when I read about the time she journeyed by elephant!

 

A remarkable British artist and botanist, North has been relatively overlooked in the United States—even though she has had one of the longest running, one-woman art shows in history. 

 

Beginning in 1882, more than 800 of her vibrant paintings have been on display at a floor-to-ceiling gallery at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. This tribute to her generosity, skill, and energy provides a stunning, visual tour of the world for visitors—then and now.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book describes Marianne North's story as "A life full of adventure with a lasting legacy." What do you see as her legacy today?

 

A: North was on the cutting edge of gathering important information fragile plants from remote, often inaccessible places. Several rare pitcher plants were eventually named for her. Sadly, several of her paintings are the last living records we have of plants that are now extinct. 

 

An impassioned environmentalist long before such a name existed; she wrote letters and articles about the environmental devastation she witnessed: clear cutting of forests, water pollution, and destruction of native habitat that affected so many birds and other animals. Her words and her exquisite artwork provide a haunting warning for us today.

 

Q: What do you think Becca Stadtlander's illustrations add to the book?

 

A: When I first saw Becca’s superb artwork, I was totally thrilled. She captures not only the vivid color of plants and landscape, but also the amazing array of tropical animals and insects that enthralled Marianne North. I think Marianne North would be pleased!

 

Q: How did you research Marianne North's life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?

 

A: Marianne North was an avid letter writer to friends and family members her whole life. I found particularly helpful her hand-written correspondence at the Archives Department, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Somerville College Oxford; and Bristol University.  

 

Paintings, photographs, and her massive autobiography, diaries, sketches were key. Reminiscences by people she met on her world tours were extremely revealing. Everyone seemed to see a different “Miss North.” 

 

I love doing research.  It is my most favorite part of the process of creating a biography.

 

Her list of friends and acquaintances reads like ‘Who’s Who of Famous Victorian Scientists, Writers, and Artists.” She knew everyone from the scientist Charles Darwin, botanist Sir Joseph Hooker, and astronomer Sir Edward Sabine to poet and painter Edward Lear (“Owl and Pussycat”), poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, and Egyptologist Amelia Edwards and suffragist Barbara Bodichon—to name a few. 

 

There were so many amazing individuals in her life, I wanted to include all of them. Space did not permit, however.

 

Other delightful surprises…I found especially revealing Marianne North’s letter from 1883 that included a rare self-portrait. Here she was, 53 years old, perched on a 30-foot high boulder deep in the rain forest of Seychelles so that she could sketch a towering coco de mer, also known as the double coconut tree.  

 

In spite of biting flies, extreme heat and humidity, and uncertainty how she’d safely climb down before nightfall, she was determined not to waste a moment of sunlight to paint. After all, she’d traveled 5,000 miles to find this tree – and she wasn’t going to give up till she was done. That is what I call inspired and heroic dedication!

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: A biography of Beethoven’s piano maker and a fascinating investigation into how a piece of restored land is helping young students rediscover nature. Two very different projects!

 

I have always been very intrigued by the power of the outdoors. Going on hikes is one of my favorite activities—no matter where I am. And among my favorite hiking companions are my curious, young grandchildren and our energetic black Labrador retriever named Lulu. There’s a book there somewhere, too!

 

Thanks for your wonderful questions!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Laurie Lawlor.

May 14

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
May 14, 1899: Charlotte Auerbach born.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Q&A with Ames Sheldon

 

 


Ames Sheldon is the author of the new novel Lemons in the Garden of Love. Her other novels include Eleanor's Wars. She is based in Minneapolis.

 

 

Q: Your new novel was inspired by your great-grandaunt. What intrigued you about her life, and at what point did you decide to write this book?

 

A: First, I was intrigued by the fact that Blanche Ames Ames was an artist who created political cartoons in support of getting women the vote, and that her cartoons were published in national magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, where President Taft excoriated her for her cartoon entitled “Meanwhile They Drown.”

 

Then I learned that Blanche co-founded the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916, which helped me understand my mother’s and my grandmother’s strong commitment to Planned Parenthood.

 

I was impressed by Blanche’s courage; she never gave up her fight for birth control despite powerful opposition by the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts.

 

Blanche was recognized as a talented portrait artist and as a botanical illustrator, who collaborated with her husband Oakes Ames, a professor at Harvard and world authority on orchids.

 

She was the mother of four children as well as an inventor and the architect of the mansion known as Borderland that she and her husband built in 1911.

 

And then I discovered that Blanche wrote a 625-page biography of her father General Adelbert Ames, the Reconstruction governor of Mississippi, in response to John F. Kennedy’s characterization in Profiles in Courage of Adelbert Ames as a carpetbagger. In fact, Adelbert was a staunch abolitionist.

 

As Blanche’s 1964 book Adelbert Ames, Broken Oaths and Reconstruction in Mississippi showed, when Adelbert was appointed provisional governor of Mississippi, he took steps to advance the rights of freed slaves and appointed the first Black officeholders in the history of the state.

 

I was also intrigued to learn that George Ames Plimpton, founder of The Paris Review and author of Paper Lion and other books about sports, was Blanche’s grandson.

 

Of course, Blanche’s middle and last names also caught my attention!

 

I decided to write this book after I had a dream in which Blanche told me to write her autobiography.

 

I considered writing a biography about Blanche Ames, but the editors I spoke with about the project told me Blanche wasn’t famous enough for a book about her to sell enough copies.

 

At that point I decided that the best way to approximate the feel of an autobiography by Blanche was to create my own version of her diary.


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

 

A: I did a great deal of research using primary sources in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College, and in the Nursing Archives at the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University.

 

I read and had copies made of cartoons and drawings by Blanche, notes, speeches, meeting announcements and minutes, flyers, newspaper and magazine articles, academic papers, and a history of the birth control movement in Massachusetts. I didn’t find diaries in my research but I found letters to and from Blanche.

 

Books by Blanche and her husband Oakes provided more information, and her grandson Oakes Plimpton took me on a tour of Borderland.

 

In addition, I read books about suffrage in the United States (especially Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s History of Woman Suffrage) and books, diaries, poetry, and novels from the Progressive era, including the autobiography of birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger.

 

I did research on the founding of the Minnesota Birth Control League and on the treatment of abortions in the early 20th century and in 1978. Being able to interview women who’d had abortions in the 1970s and more recently was also very helpful.

 

One of the things that surprised and delighted me was learning that Blanche carved a penis and took it out on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, demonstrating how to apply a condom; she was arrested for that. She also cooked up recipes for spermicides and made diaphragms in her home using liquid latex and rings.

 

Blanche corresponded with Margaret Sanger and argued with her about strategy for overturning federal laws prohibiting the dissemination of contraceptive information and devices.

 

In 1939, she took on Father J. Connell for his article “Birth Control: The Case for the Catholic” in The Atlantic, writing a letter to the editor that was published in a subsequent issue, where she argued, among other things, that the Church should follow the example of Saint Peter, quoting Jesus, that the Church should concern itself with things spiritual, not physical.

 

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

 

A: Lemons in the Garden of Love refers to a club made up of the male members of the matriarchal family at the center of this novel; they had an emblem, a lemon fastened on a white silk ribbon, from a popular song from the early 20th century, which they wore on occasion.

 

Lemons in the Garden of Love also reminds me that pregnancy can be an unwelcome outcome – a lemon — resulting from a woman’s experience of physical love.

 

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

 

A: I want my readers to understand how hard our ancestors fought to make birth control accessible to women—abortion as well—so they don’t take reproductive rights for granted, especially now when a woman’s right to abortion is being attacked in many states, with state legislatures banning abortion at six weeks, a time when many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant.

 

Trump’s nominating Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court appears to have energized those who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

 

Actually, it seems to me that the so-called “pro-lifers” care more about fetuses than they do about the fetuses’ mothers—I think it’s more accurate to refer to them as “pro-birthers.”

 

When they finish the last page, I want readers to feel inspired and empowered to fight for women’s right to reproductive freedom and thus control over their own bodies, their ability to map out their own lives.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m starting to think about writing a series of linked short stories about a magic fertility stone that has helped enable the seven women who have used it to become pregnant after months and years of unsuccessful attempts.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I started writing Lemons in the Garden of Love 40 years ago. My response to the inauguration of Donald J. Trump was to pull this manuscript out of the box it had been sitting in and to start rewriting it because I felt that my story had become terribly timely.

 

I finished polishing the last chapter on January 20 during the inauguration of Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Julie Ryan McGue

 

 


 

Julie Ryan McGue is the author of the new memoir Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging. She lives in Indiana and Florida.

 

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and how long did it take to write?

 

A: At 48, I was sent for a breast biopsy. Because of our closed adoption, my twin sister and I lacked crucial information about ourselves. We had not been given any family background or medical history, our birth parents identities or their whereabouts, nor the reason why we had been placed for adoption in 1959.

 

The very real threat of breast cancer being part of our genetic history compelled my sister and me to launch our adoption search. We had no idea how to get started, nor how complicated this vital project would turn out to be.

 

As soon as we decided to search, I began writing.

 

First, I wrote in my journal about what was going through my head. I questioned myself about why I had wanted so long, and I worried about what I would find on the other side of the search.

 

One of my other main concerns was how my adoptive parents would react to the news. I craved their support, but their response was lukewarm. Understandably, they feared that they were about to lose two daughters to our other set of parents. Once the search began and became complicated, I detailed those peaks and valleys in my journal, too.

 

The idea to write Twice a Daughter: A Search for Identity, Family, and Belonging came from my mother-in-law. She taught reminiscence writing at a community college in Michigan.

 

As the crazy, twisted adoption search story unfurled, my mother-in-law insisted “You are writing this down, aren’t you? It’s too good a story not to share. The things you are going through will be fascinating to so many readers.”

 

I underwent the breast biopsy in 2008 and enrolled in writing courses at the University of Chicago in 2010. The search for my birth mom culminated in the fall of 2011. The book will be released in May 2021. Ten years will have elapsed from the initial idea of writing a memoir to Twice a Daughter making it into readers’ hands.

 

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

 

A: The title Twice a Daughter arose from the concept that as an adoptee I have two mothers: a birth mother and an adoptive mother. This duality makes me a daughter twice. My book title is a play on that idea.

 

In selecting the subtitle, I wanted to convey that both my mothers played a role in my formation of identity.


In spite of my birth mother relinquishing her parental rights when she surrendered my twin sister and me to Catholic Charities, I believe that I never stopped belonging to her.

 

Equally, the moment my adoptive parents signed their adoption papers, I belonged to them and to the family they put together. Identity, family, and belonging became a natural subtitle for Twice a Daughter.

 

In noodling the title, I also wanted the reader to understand how complex the adoption experience is for all the players: birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees.

 

In Twice a Daughter, I depict the conflicts that arose between me and both of my mothers. On one hand, my adoptive mother didn’t want me to search, and on the other side, my birth mom didn’t want to be found.

 

My sister and I struggled through those issues together. Together, Jenny and I, crossed the finish line. My twin is as integral to the story as both of my mothers, which is my why I selected the photo of us as teenagers for the cover of Twice a Daughter.

 

Q: What do your family members think of the book?

 

A: For the longest time, my twin sister, Jenny, didn’t read the chapters I sent her. This bugged me, and I finally quizzed her.

 

Her response, “I lived the story with you, remember? I know how it turns out.” I chuckled with her and volleyed back, “But you don’t know how I weave the parts together.” To which she said, “You are the one who instrumented the search. It really is your story to tell.”

 

My husband has always been my biggest champion. The role he plays in launching my adoption search is the substance of Chapter One in Twice a Daughter.

 

On our long drive from Chicago to Sarasota last Christmas, we listened to the final draft of my audiobook. It thrilled me to witness his delight in how I executed my story.

 

Additionally, I was present when my son finished reading an advance reader copy. His unabashed tears and lingering bear hug warmed my heart. “Mom, I remember some of this search stuff, but I really had no idea how much you went through to get your answers. It’s an incredible book.”

 

The people whose responses I worried about most were those of my mothers. I elected to change my mothers’ names to protect their privacy, but there exist some delicate subjects and exchanges with them in the heart of the book.

 

It was not my goal to embarrass them but deleting those pivotal moments would have impacted the story arc and book’s overall message.

 

Always a class act, my adoptive mother glossed over my concerns. She said, “I think you wrote the book you wanted to write.” To date, my birth mom has not acknowledged reading Twice a Daughter.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from Twice a Daughter?

 

A: The biggest takeaway is that the adoption experience is complicated. Each member of the adoption triad/triangle has a unique perspective that must be heard and appreciated in order for the healing of adoption loss to occur. 

 

And there is plenty of loss to go around! Most adoptive parents choose to adopt because they failed to conceive on their own. Birth parents lose the opportunity to parent their child, and adoptees lose connection and ties to their family of origin.

 

For those outside the adoption triad/triangle whose lives have not been touched by adoption, it’s far too easy to judge, to make assumptions, and to accept long perpetuated myths about the adoption experience. It is better to listen with your ears and your heart than to offer comments on what you have not experienced.

 

Not all adoptees feel the same about their adoption experience: Some choose not to search, to delay their search, or to avoid thinking about or discussing their adoption. Neither of these approaches to adoption search and reunion are right nor wrong. Whatever choice is made is the right one for that person.

 

When considering adoption search and reunion, having a meaningful and effective support system in place is essential for navigating the process. Participating in post-adoption support helped me to accept and forgive what I could not change, and it gave me the tools to maintain and foster new and complicated relationships.

 

Finally, I wanted to convey the nuances of each position in the adoption triangle: the possessiveness of adoptive parents, the innate rights of birth parents to maintain their privacy or to achieve connection to their biological child, and to advocate for the adoptee’s inherent right to all information that concerns them.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Besides my book launch for Twice a Daughter, I have two projects in the works.

 

For the past three years, I have been publishing two blogs on my author website. On my Touched by Adoption blog, I write about identity and belonging. I just hired an editor to help me compile my favorite adoption blogs into a book. I envision this as a companion piece to my memoir.

 

The other project is a second memoir. Twice a Daughter is about my adoption search and reunion story. This new memoir is a coming-of-age memoir, and it will address what it was like to grow up as an adoptee and an identical twin. It will culminate where Twice a Daughter begins.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Little-known facts: I still play competitive tennis, a sport I picked up as a kid growing up near a neighborhood park. Ten years ago, I bought a used Steinway and began taking lessons. I love classical music, travel, and taking pictures with my Nikon. Instagram is a bonanza for someone like me who likes to write flash memoir inspired by interesting photos.  I am also a grandmother to three grandsons.

 

I’m admittedly stubborn and resilient. I persevere often without asking the right questions. Because of this trait, I often get ahead of myself. Yet somehow the paths I undertake lead me to the intended place. I believe in serendipity and synchronicity, but my experiences inform me that hard work pays off. 

 

As I say in my memoir, Twice a Daughter: Never give up trying to find a key to a locked door. That a 2008 breast biopsy led me to undertake a late-in-life writing career is nothing short of astounding. 

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb