Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Q&A with Rektok Ross

 

 


 

 

Rektok Ross (the pen name for Liani Kotcher, a trial attorney and writer) is the author of the new young adult novel Ski Weekend. She lives in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

 

Q: You write that the inspiration for this book came from a TV show about a family who became lost in the snow. How did you end up writing this novel?

 

A: I’ve always been fascinated with survival stories because they make you question what you would do if you were in the same situation as the people in the stories, and they also make you question life itself and how fragile it is.

 

I used to devour my mother’s Reader’s Digest magazines as a kid because they always had exciting, real-life adventure stories inside the pages.

 

With respect to the story that ultimately inspired Ski Weekend, I was home alone one weekend after I’d just moved to San Francisco and hadn’t made many friends yet so I spent my night watching one of those true crime news shows.

 

The story that night was about a family in the local area that got lost in the Pacific Northwest coming home from the holidays and it had such a tragic ending I couldn’t stop thinking about. When I was still thinking about the family and their horrifying ordeal weeks later, I knew there was something there that I had to explore.

 

Plus, I grew up in Florida and didn’t see snow until I was 17 so there has always been something eerie about the mountains in winter for me.

 

Q: You also cite the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club as an inspiration. How would you compare your cast of characters with the film's?

 

A: I am an ‘80s baby so, of course, a huge John Hughes fan.

 

I’ll always love the romance of Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles but for me The Breakfast Club is the most interesting story because it explores stereotypes and why putting people into boxes is harmful to them and to us because we miss out on getting to know some really amazing people based on untrue preconceived notions.

 

In The Breakfast Club there are five characters: a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. There are six characters in Ski Weekend (seven if you include Champion the dog). I wanted to update my cast to make them relevant for this decade and more diverse to explore the world we really live in today.

 

That said, I still wanted to maintain a lot of the essence of these famous stereotypes—so I could later pick them apart—and generally kept a brain (Lily), an athlete/dumb jock (Hunter), a basket case (Sam), a princess (Britney), and a criminal/bad boy (Gavin). Sam’s brother, Stuart, is the sixth character and is a happy-go-lucky, geeky gamer.

 

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 always outline before I start to write since I am a “plotter” (not a pantser), but I was never totally sure who would live and who would die, and these deaths have changed multiple times through multiple drafts.

 

I was kind of a wimp in the earlier drafts in that I fell in love with all my characters and didn’t want to kill any of them. Of course, that makes for a pretty boring survival story so I had to fix it.

 

There is also a surprising ending, in my opinion, and I didn’t see it coming when I first started writing and was very resistant to making happen because it’s not the way I saw things in my head.

 

I don’t want to spoil it, but things are more open-ended than I originally envisioned and my editor encouraged me to make this change. But now I’m really happy with how things end up. It’s probably more true to real life and will definitely invoke more questioning in the reader, which is good. I love books that sit with you after you finish.

 

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

 

A: There are so many themes to explore in the book. First and foremost, I hope it is a thrilling read for folks as I always love a good thriller to escape into myself purely for entertainment value.

 

Beyond that, I hope the book opens a dialogue about the dangers of harmful stereotyping especially in today’s diverse world. I hope it also encourages people to explore new friendships and relationships with people from different backgrounds who they don’t think they have anything in common with and learn to appreciate each other’s differences—and commonalities.

 

Also, I spent an enormous amount of time researching real-world survival skills for the book, and I hope readers take those away and keep them in the back of their mind if they ever need them.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Next up for me is a summer thriller, tentatively titled Summer Rental. I don’t want to say too much as it’s still very much in the early stages, but it’s basically my love letter to the ‘90s slasher with some added romance because I love mixing thrillers with romance. It’s kind of my thing!

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I appreciate all my readers so much and love to hear from you. I am very active on social media, especially on my Instagram at @RektokRoss so feel free to connect there and also in my Facebook reading group The Book Nook.

 

I also love to support fellow writers and the writing community and host a weekly writing chat on the Clubhouse App called Level Up Writers along with my co-hosts, bestselling author Mary Weber and Emmy-award winning journalist Sorboni Banerjee. Writers are always welcome to join us any time!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Nicci French

 

 

Photo by Johnny Ring

 

Nicci French (the pen name for wife-and-husband writing team Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) is the author of the new novel The Unheard. Their many other novels include the newly reissued What To Do When Someone Dies. They live in Suffolk, England.

 

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Unheard, and how did you create your character Tess?

 

A: We spend much of our lives talking about possible ideas. Could this be a thriller? We have to find something that hooks both of us and won’t let us go, something we want to live with for a year.

 

We remembered when our children first went to nursery school and would come back with some scrawled drawing. We would ask them what it was and they would give some strange explanation. We suddenly thought: what if one of those drawings seemed to show that the child had witnessed a murder? What would happen next.

 

It was clear what Tess, the little girl’s mother, needed to be. This is a story about everyday vulnerability. How much do we really trust those closes to us?

 

Tess is a single mother, just out of a failed relationship, and quite fragile. She is her child’s sole protector. And then she has to face the possibility that a terrible crime has been committed and that her child is the only witness - or that she is being so overprotective that people close to her will think she is unstable.

 

Q: Why did you decide to make Tess's daughter Poppy 3 years old?

 

A: Poppy’s age was crucial. It’s at that strange moment in your life when the child leaves the house and starts to have a life slightly separate from her parents, with her own friends, her own experiences.

 

But she is still too young to give a coherent account of them. She’s too young to be a reliable witness, and there’s a very porous boundary between her vivid imagination and reality.

 

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

 

A: This is the story of a little girl who is trying to communicate [something] horrible but nobody can quite understand what it is. And it is the story of a mother trying to fight for her daughter, but she is surrounded by people who think is wrong or misguided or mad.

 

The Unheard felt like this perfect description of this dark situation.

 

Q: Your 2008 novel What to Do When Someone Dies was re-released this year, and the Publishers Weekly review of the book says of your main character, “Obsessed, embroiled in deception, and unable to move forward, Ellie may destroy her own life before she understands [her late husband] Greg’s.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: It feels right. We’re fascinated by what might be called the madness of ordinary life: the madness of falling in love, of being the perfect mother, or of trying to deal with the sudden death of your partner.

 

In this book, Ellie has to mourn her dead husband while investigating whether he is the man she thought he was. We’re also fascinated by people who are willing to risk everything, their sanity, even their life, to get at the truth.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: The starting point of the book after The Unheard is a young woman who meets her first love after a gap of 11 years. He asks her to do a simple favour for him and she says yes, instantly. It turns out to be a very bad decision.

 

It’s an idea we’ve talked about for years, the thought that you might owe someone for something they did for you in the past and when the time comes to repay them, you have to do it, whatever the cost.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Everyone should know that we’ve taken a solemn vow never to write a thriller featuring the pandemic.

 

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

Q&A with Annabel Abbs

 

 


 

Annabel Abbs is the author of the new historical novel Miss Eliza's English Kitchen. It is based on the life of 19th century cookbook writer Eliza Acton and her assistant, Ann Kirby. Abbs's other books include the novel The Joyce Girl. She lives in London and in Sussex, UK.

 

Q: You've said you first learned of Eliza Acton when you inherited your mother-in-law's cookbook collection. What made you decide to write this novel based on Eliza's life?

 

A: There were lots of fascinating food writers in my collection but research suggested that Eliza Acton had the most interesting backstory.

 

She was also one of the most successful cookery writers – and a pioneer in her own right. She invented the recipe that we use today, with a list of measured ingredients and instructions on time and temperature. Before Eliza, recipes were little more than a string of often haphazard instructions.

 

Moreover, I discovered that a third of Eliza’s recipes had been plundered and plagiarized by the much better-known Mrs. Beeton. I decided that Eliza needed to be restored in some way. As much of the information about her lacked sources, a biography was out of the question. So my research became a novel, as rooted in fact as I could make it…

 

Q: How would you compare Eliza to some of the other women you've written about?

 

A: My previous protagonists lived in the 20th century, but Eliza is early Victorian and was actually born at the tail end of the 18th century, so the time period is very different.

 

But like my later characters, Eliza wanted to make a life of her own and a name for herself. In this respect, she’s very similar – but more radical because Victorian women weren’t supposed to want a public life, or to want independence.

 

Most poetry and cookery books were published anonymously at this time, but Eliza was determined to have her name on both her poetry and her food writing. I loved how feisty and determined she was. She had real courage!

 

Q: How did you research Eliza's life, and also that of her assistant, Ann Kirby?


A: I read a lot of old cookery books – both those in my collection and those in public libraries with antiquarian cookbook collections. And I cooked using the sorts of implements that Eliza and Ann would have cooked with (which was exhausting!).

 

Food history books were essential so that I could understand the tastes and flavors of the time. I also read Eliza’s poetry and her own two cookbooks, all of which showcase her voice beautifully. I read novels set in the same period or by authors writing at the time, and I steeped myself in the work of early Victorian female poets.

 

There are a couple of short biographies of Eliza that were useful, but Ann Kirby left nothing of herself, so she is largely fictitious.

 

I also spent time in the town where the two women lived and cooked for 10 years, attempting to follow in their footsteps. The town has changed beyond recognition so I also spent some time delving into its past and trying to imagine how it would have looked, sounded, smelled, and felt 200 years ago.

 

Finally, I visited as many “old” kitchens as possible. Luckily the UK is rich in historic buildings, many of which have authentically restored kitchens.

 

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two, and also their legacies today?

 

A: The relationship between Eliza and Ann struck me as unusually close. We know from census reports that Ann lived in Eliza’s house for 10 years and that, for some of that time, she was the only other person living there.

 

We also know from historic accounts that very few servants stayed as long as a decade with one family – staff turnover was usually very high. And throughout Eliza’s debut cookbook she refers to “we,” so I knew she wasn’t working alone (which would have been impossible back then anyway because of the sheer amount of work required to prepare a meal!).

 

In my imagination, the relationship developed along certain lines – which I won’t mention to avoid any spoiler alerting. But I figured that working every day in a kitchen for a decade would have fostered a bond of some depth between the women.

 

There’s an intimacy and rhythm to cooking together, which I felt would have enabled the two women to transcend their huge class differences. I think preparing food with other people lends itself to friendship. And the experience is nourished by then eating together.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m currently working on a book about insomniac women – I can’t say more than that!

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Only to say that cooking as our Victorian forebears cooked is very different from cooking today – it was much more physically grueling and demanding, as well as hot, smoky, and smelly.  

 

Temperatures were inconsistent, water had to be carried from outside, pans were huge and made of iron. No Magimixes, Kitchenaids or electric whisks. No overhead lights, extractor fans or microwaves. No fridges, freezers or out-of-season blueberries. Eliza thought all her kitchen work destroyed her health – she may have been right.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Annabel Abbs.

Q&A with Sallie H. Weissinger

 

 

Photo by Courtney Flavin

 

Sallie H. Weissinger is the author of the new memoir Yes, Again: (Mis)adventures of a Wishful Thinker. She is based in Portland, Oregon, and Berkeley, California.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Yes, Again?

 

A: Yes, Again started out as a personal journal, with the possibility it might become a memoir if the story and the writing turned out to be good enough. I thought I had something to say about the breadth and depth of a fully lived life. I hoped readers would resonate to my experiences and observations on life, love, loss, and gain. And risk-taking.

 

I was inspired to stick with the writing part when I saw a message emerging: “Don't give up.” “Don't lie down as long as you're still alive and kicking.”

 

Q: You describe some very difficult times in your life, as well as much happier ones. What impact did writing the book have on you?

 

A: I'd like to say that, while writing, I relived more of the happy times than the difficult ones, but that's not true. Revisiting the painful times flattened me.

 

Before starting to write, I had managed to divert myself, occupying myself with medical interpreting in Central and South America, teaching Spanish, and doing volunteer work with rescue and service dogs. I kept dizzyingly busy going to movies, plays, and the gym; walking and hiking; doing anything I could to distract myself.

 

Writing about it brought it all back. Ultimately, it was a relief to shake off the numbness, sit down, put pen to paper (well, put hands to the keyboard), and allow myself to cry.


But it wasn't all grief and misery. At some point, as I engaged in a superannuated version of the online personals, I began to see the ridiculousness of some of my misadventures.

 

How else to describe meeting a man at a coffee shop for the first time, only to have him talk about his hemorrhoid operation? There were encounters worthy of Saturday Night Live skits for the AARP crowd.

 

Dana Carvey would have been great as the guy telling me about his operation. I can just see him trying to get comfortable on the donut cushion he placed on the chair at the coffee shop. 

 

Q: How did you come up with the system you call PASTRAMI, and can you describe it for people who haven't read the book?

 

A: PASTRAMI was an extension of what I'd done professionally. I started my 23-year career at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco as a recruiter and, before that, was a vocational counselor for injured workers reentering the workforce.

 

In my heart of hearts, I've never stopped being a recruiter, matching people with jobs. But this time it was personal. I put my recruiter hat back on, interviewing applicants and finding the perfect person from the candidate pool to fill the job, fill the empty chair at the dining room table, fill my heart and my bed.

 

One morning, it hit me like a bolt of lightning what I had to do. I sat down at my computer and developed a list of the necessary skills a candidate should have.

 

I came up with PASTRAMI, with each letter of the acronym referring to a quality I was seeking:  Politically liberal, Animal lover, Spiritual (but not religious), Tender (yet strong), and so forth.

 

PASTRAMI ended up being PASTRAMI ETC because I was looking for a partner with a few more attributes (Emotionally stable, Travel enthusiast, and Communicative). Then I “posted” the job opening by going to my friends and offering a “referral award prize” to a nonprofit to be chosen by the Love Liaison who came up with the winning PASTRAMI Candidate.

 

And guess what? It worked. And therein lies a juicy tale in my memoir.

 

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

 

A: Well, I gave that away in the first question. The takeaway message is “Don't stop hoping, wishing, and working toward what's possible.”

 

And there's a little more:  “If you feel discouraged, take a break. Stay close to your friends. Do rewarding volunteer work. Pet your dog or cat.  And prune your roses – your garden needs you and you need it. Cultivate your garden.” (I know, Voltaire said it first.)

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Right now I'm taking a break, but I’ve talked with my editor to see if she’ll work with me on a story that warrants telling - I don’t want to discuss the topic because it would give away too much about Yes, Again. If my editor is up for it, I am too. 

 

Writing is a solitary process, and I’d like to do it with my friend Courtney.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I can’t think of anything. But if anyone wants to know more or ask me questions, my email is on yesagainmemoir.com. Thank you for letting me take this space and your time.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Patricia Lakin

 

 


 

Patricia Lakin is the author of Made by Hand: Guitars, a new middle grade book for kids. The Made by Hand series also includes books about bikes, skateboards, and steel drums. Lakin, the author of more than 50 books, is a former elementary school teacher. She lives in New York City.

 

Q: Why did you decide to focus on guitars in your new Made by Hand book, and what inspired the idea for the series?

 

A: Previously, I worked with Karen Nagel, my editor at Simon and Schuster. She is a fan of handmade objects and knew I too felt the same way.

 

She confided that she had an idea for a series and if it became a reality, she asked if I’d be willing to be the writer. I thrillingly said yes and was delighted when we got the “go ahead.”

 

The idea was to focus on two objects used for transportation, one of steel and one of wood (bike and skateboard) and two books on musical instruments, also one of steel (steel drums) and one of wood.  And that was how Made By Hand: Guitars was born.

 

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

 

A: My home is very close to Lincoln Center where the New York Public Library’s Performing Arts Branch is located.  This library has a wealth of circulating books available that deal with the history of the guitar as well as books on guitar greats.

 

Luckily, I am also a weight lifter as I carried home easily 10 reference books all relating to some aspect of the guitar. Those books formed the basis of my research.

 

I also did research at New York’s Historical Society’s Library where I found a key article by a noted musicologist who discussed his beliefs of the history of the guitar.

 

In doing my research I discovered that there is no clear consensus in who created the first guitar or where it originated. But all musicologists agree that it is an ancient instrument.


And, as I state in the book, it has many musical “cousins” found in almost all parts of the globe. All one needed was a wooden neck, animal intestines to create strings and either an animal skin or a dried gourd for the instrument’s body.

 

Beside reading extensively, I listened to all forms of guitar music to get the feeling for the range of styles, beats, and moods that this simple, yet elegant instrument conveys.

 

And I did watch some online videos to see just how animal intestines can be turned into guitar strings (although steel is by far the more commonly used material these days).

 

I discovered that this elegant instrument is ancient, has “cousins” in all parts of the world, is central to such a range of musical styles, from classical to flamenco to jazz, to blues and to rock and roll. Finally, I learned just what a work of art it is to create an acoustic guitar entirely by hand.

 

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

 

A: I would be thrilled if readers learned some new facts about the guitar—especially its ancient and diverse history.

 

I hope readers appreciate guitar-maker Meredith Coloma’s accomplishments. She is a highly respected luthier in a male-dominated field.

 

It is also my wish that readers marvel in the skill and artistry involved when any acoustic guitar is made by hand.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I am currently working on a humorous fictional book about four friends who face various obstacles, all of which call for real-life engineering skills. Thus, the STEM elements in the story are grounded in real-life science.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Sure! It seems to make an impact when, as a published author, I visit an elementary school and share with students the fact that I never thought I would become a writer. My early education was the cause.

 

I went to a very strict school where creative writing was an afterthought. What was expected for each writing assignment was perfect penmanship and perfect spelling.

 

I mastered the handwriting but was and still am a very bad speller. After college, I became an elementary school teacher and often learned spelling tricks from the second and third graders I taught.

 

As an adult, after taking a creative writing workshop, I realized that my imagination and ability to dream up story ideas shouldn’t be dictated by my poor spelling. Besides, these days I have spell check on my computer.

 

Now as a full-time writer, I still get to do something I also love—being a guest teacher for elementary school students, these days via Zoom. During those visits, instead of discussing spelling hints, we discuss the writing process.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 26

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Oct. 26, 1947: Hillary Clinton born.

Monday, October 25, 2021

Q&A with Andrew Larsen

 

 


 

Andrew Larsen is the author of the new children's picture book The Thing Lenny Loves Most About Baseball. His other books include A Squiggly Story. He lives in Toronto.

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Thing Lenny Loves Most About Baseball?

 

A: I’ve loved baseball since I watched my first Montreal Expos game as a kid. I remember trying to figure out how a pitcher does their wind-up. I couldn’t figure out which foot to lift or how to kick or how to throw. I had to practice for a while to get it right.

 

My son started playing baseball when he was in kindergarten. We became a baseball family and spent many mornings, afternoons, and evenings at the ballpark. It’s a lovely way to spend time.

 

Many have remarked that baseball is a game of failure. The best batters are successful less than half the time. Recognition that failure is part of the game can be liberating. It can take the pressure off. It can also inspire a desire to improve.

 

As a baseball parent, I spent a considerable amount of time soothing my son when he felt like a failure. I spent even more time practicing with him, recognizing that he wanted to get better and that the only way to get better was to keep playing.

 

I wanted to write a story about a kid who realizes that, in baseball, good enough is actually good enough. You don’t have to be a superstar. You don’t have to be the best.

 

Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, “This motivational tale, set against the potent backdrop of a compassionate parent-child relationship, will remind readers that improvement requires persistence.” What do you think of that assessment, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?

 

A: I hope kids can see themselves in the character of Lenny. I hope they will come away from the book feeling that they don’t have to be the best at anything. A general lowering of expectations can go a long way towards reducing anxiety and increasing enjoyment in all aspects of our lives.

 

I also want kids to recognize that the quest to improve can be fun, whether we want to get better at drawing or writing or catching fly balls.

 

Q: What do you think Milan Pavlovic's illustrations add to the book?

 

A: I love the world Milan has created. As an author, it is an amazing thing to witness my words come to life through the art of another. I think Milan captures Lenny’s joys and frustrations wonderfully.

 

Q: How do you think the Toronto Blue Jays will do next year?

 

A: One of the things I love most about baseball is that there is always a next year or a next season. I hope the Blue Jays do just a tiny bit better than they did this year. This year they were so close.

 

One of the other things I love about baseball is that it can be fun. I’ve enjoyed watching the Blue Jays’ players have a ton of fun this year. Their “homerun jacket” is worthy of its own book. I hope the tradition continues.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m working on a bunch of different projects and each is at a different stage. I have just started writing a picture book biography about an ordinary person who has done extraordinary things.

 

The next book I have coming out is a sequel to A Squiggly Story. It comes out in Spring 2022. It’s called (wait for it…) Another Squiggly Story. The narrator’s class is assigned a project in which they have to write a story about themselves. We follow the narrator’s trials and tribulations as they are immersed in the creative process.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I am excited about the books I have coming out over the next few years. Each book is like a season of baseball. Some are successful and some are less so. Some are great and some are good.

 

One of the things I love most about being an author is that there are always more stories to tell, more books to publish. There is always another season…

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Andrew Larsen.

Q&A with Nicole Zelniker

 

 


 

Nicole Zelniker is the author of the new novel Until We Fall. Her other books include Mixed. She is a podcast producer and managing editor for The Nasiona, and she lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Until We Fall, and how did you create your cast of characters?

 

A: Part of the reason I wrote a dystopia is just because I had never done it before. It started with me thinking about one scene toward the middle of the book and then spreading out from there.

 

With the characters, it was important for me to incorporate a diverse cast. If the government tomorrow looked like it does in Until We Fall, it would be largely people of color, queer and trans folks, and people with other marginalized identity that would be most hurt. I wanted to reflect that reality.

 

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 from the beginning. I'm a plotter, so the events of the books I'm writing don't usually change so much. Sometimes the characters and their motivations change, though. They sort of write themselves.

 

Q: How would you compare the dystopian world you create in the book to today's world?

 

A: I don't think dystopias are ever very different from today's world. That's part of the appeal, that we can see twisted elements of our own lives in the text.

 

In The Hunger Games, for example, the idea that we would send children to fight each other to the death feels distant, but District 12's relationship with the Peacekeepers isn't so different from many marginalized communities' relationships with police.

 

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

 

A: I'm terrible at titles, but Jaded Ibis Press was incredibly helpful. We went back and forth on titles for a while and they were incredibly patient with me.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Right now I'm working on querying an adult fiction novel that takes place at a grad school in Erie, Pennsylvania, and I'm editing my first YA manuscript.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Yes! Until We Fall will be widely available, so folks should support local bookstores! Bookshop is my favorite place to buy books online because every time someone purchases a book, that money goes to local shops.

 

Also, if you want to know more about me, my other books, and my articles, you can check out nicolezelniker.com.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lauri J. Fitz-Pegado

 

 


 

Lauri J. Fitz-Pegado is the author of the new memoir Dancing in the Dash: My Story of Empowerment, Diplomacy, and Resilience. She has worked as a foreign service officer, a telecommunications executive, and an advocate for domestic and international clients. She is based in Washington, D.C.

 

Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir?

 

A: After retiring from my day job in 2018, and returning to my passions in the creative sector, I wanted to memorialize my rich professional and personal experiences for my children, grandchildren, and close friends.

 

I began looking at journals I kept throughout the years and things I had written about events in my life. Encouraged for years to write a book by a good friend, Karen Cox (she wrote the prolific Foreword to my book), I took the time to write my story.

 

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

 

A: I wanted to approach my story creatively and knew that dance was a defining dimension throughout my life, no matter the many directions of my career. I decided to use dance as a leitmotif for my memoir and made each chapter title a dance reference that evoked a relevant story or period of my life.

 

Dancing in the Dash became the perfect expression of what I wanted to convey—moving through life with the urgency, and exhaustion of running a hundred-yard dash, and being present in the moment, in the dash between life and death, as reflected on a tombstone.

 

Q: The writer A'Lelia Bundles said of the book, "Dancing in the Dash will challenge us all to do more and will inspire young women to dream and dare to make a difference." What do you think of that comment, and what do you hope readers will take away from the book?

 

A: A’Lelia’s generous and insightful comments captured exactly what I hope the book will do, inspire and encourage younger people to pursue their dreams through professional pursuits while never losing sight of their passions.


My book explores and provides commentary on many relevant and universal themes, which should be of interest to readers from every walk of life — race, religion, the arts, politics, diplomacy, something that resonates with everyone.

 

Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book?

 

A: I had to research my family history and was able to engage relatives in fascinating discussions and recollections that they had not explored previously with me, perhaps not with anyone.

 

I engaged friends in sometimes uncomfortable conversations about current events and issues. It was an enriching journey for me and I think for many of them.

 

Everyone was generous with their time and information. It reminded me and gave me an enhanced appreciation for the importance of communication, of storytelling in ours and the world’s many cultures.

 

I was grateful for the uninterrupted periods of time and tranquility to reflect and write during the COVID pandemic, in contrast with tragic events — the loss of family and friends to COVID, the wakeup call inspired by the death of George Floyd, the protests, the end of Trump’s presidency, the federal and state campaigns, January 6th, and a new Biden-Harris administration.  

 

There was a lot to absorb and process, to find ways to reflect, include, and give justice to those realities and emotions in my memoir.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Reactions to my book at speaking events, launch parties, and outreach to me by the readers and so many who have learned about it on social media, has impressed upon me the importance of stimulating conversations about the themes and experiences in Dancing in the Dash.

 

I have speaking engagements, book clubs, and readings scheduled and plans to continue engaging with groups and individuals who are finding my story informative, instructive, inspiring, and interesting.

 

I also continue teaching ballet at my alma mater, Jones-Haywood Dance School, coaching, advising, facilitating relationships, and creating projects with dance schools, instructors, management, and most importantly students.

 

I continue to mentor many and to remain engaged in activities with my faith community. I miss international travel which has been a consistent part of my life for work and pleasure. I look forward to resuming visits with family and friends throughout the world while returning to a new tranquil and soothing home environment.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I have been moved deeply by the responses to my story. I am discovering how transferable, valuable, and relevant my decades of experience and my network are to creative and resonant approaches to urgent issues in our country and the world.

 

I am excited and inspired by the possibilities ahead of continuing my lifelong commitment to making a difference, particularly in the areas of social reform and inclusion.

 

I always have known that writing a book can be a pathway to opening doors. Now that the door is open, I want to ensure that I exercise my newfound freedom to employ my passions constructively.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb