Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Q&A with Elizabeth Weiss


Photo by Becca Dilley Photography



Elizabeth Weiss is the author of the new novel The Sisters Sweet. She lives in Minneapolis.


Q: What inspired you to write The Sisters Sweet, and how did you create the Szasz family?


A: Along with everyone else in the office where I worked at the time, I spent an afternoon in 2009 riveted by the Balloon Boy story, this bizarre episode in which people feared that a 6-year-old boy had been carried off in a large, homemade balloon that had become untethered from his family's backyard.


After a massive rescue operation, the boy emerged from the attic, where he had been hiding. During an interview on CNN, he appeared to admit that his father had instructed him not to come when he heard the people calling his name.


The authorities concluded it had all been a publicity stunt. (The parents were convicted of crimes as a result, but I should note that after initial confessions they've maintained their innocence, and they were actually recently pardoned.)


This story unsettled me. I couldn't stop thinking about parents who would use their child in this way—involve them in a fraud in pursuit of fame.


I fiddled with that idea for a long time, first trying to write something with a more contemporary setting, but the story ended up drifting to the world of vaudeville, where it seemed likelier that someone could get away with a serious long-term deception.


The sisters came to me first, and the parents' stories emerged later, in response to my own curiosity about when and how things might have gone wrong for this family.


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


A: Years ago I read an interview with A.S. Byatt in which she said that she tried not to read fiction from the period she was researching for her own work, because she wanted to avoid another writer's “imaginative reconstruction” of that time. I took that to heart, and tried to stick to histories and primary documents.


It's so easy to access newspaper archives now—I spent hours getting lost in old issues of the Chicago Tribune, which gave me a wonderful sense of my characters’ day-to-day surroundings. If I got stuck on a scene, sometimes I'd figure out the date on which it might be taking place and check the weather report, and that would be enough to spark my imagination.


A collection of sermons by an early radio preacher helped me find the voice of the character Eugene Creggs.


The choreographer Ned Wayburn, who makes a brief appearance in the book, published a guide for aspiring dancers called The Art of Stage Dancing, which supplied many magnificent details about everything from stage makeup to rehearsal clothes to the audition process.


Writing a novel is also a wonderful excuse to email an expert a question, and I had delightful exchanges with the owner of a piano store about the mechanics of pushing a piano up a city street and with a librarian at the National Postal Museum about the timing of mail service in the 1930s.


Some of the best surprises in my research came from the book The Gold Coast and the Slum, a study of the Near North Side of Chicago conducted by University of Chicago sociologists in 1929.


It's an amazing record of the lives of ordinary people living in this sliver of the city, a few square miles that at the time contained an astonishing mix of neighborhoods: one of the city's wealthiest enclaves; the Bohemian district; blocks of rooming houses where single men and women who worked in the Loop could find affordable rent; the "slum," which was occupied primarily by poor immigrants.


I had spent time in the area, but I had no notion of this history, which this book makes extraordinarily vivid. We get all of these amazing details, in the neighborhood residents’ own voices: how people’s apartments were decorated, who was sleeping with whom, what people ate and drank, what the vibe was at a particular cafe. A gem on every page.


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Harriet and Josie?


A: I think Harriet and Josie love each other; they have the deep and remarkable bond of twins. But the intimacy between them is intensified to an unhealthy degree by their strange childhood, and neither of them is well-served by the family situation into which they were born.


Josie understands this long before Harriet is capable of understanding it, which means Josie’s choice to leave breaks Harriet’s heart. But it also creates the opportunity for Harriet to build something more for herself.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, "Weiss explores the intriguing theme of a woman understood only in relation to others..." What do you think of that description?


A: I think it's exactly right—Harriet's journey is about moving away from seeing herself in that way, discovering her own dreams and desires and the will to fight for them.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am bouncing between two novel ideas that I’m too superstitious to describe in any detail. We’ll see which one sticks.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m excited to connect with readers! They can find me on Instagram @lizjweiss.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jake-ann Jones




Jake-ann Jones is the author, with the late civil rights activist Florence L. Tate, of the new book Sometimes Farmgirls Become Revolutionaries: Notes on Black Power, Politics, Depression, and the FBI. The book focuses on Tate's life story. Jones, a writer, director, performer, and producer, grew up in Harlem and lives in Florida.


Q: How did you and Florence L. Tate end up working together on this book?


A: I knew her sons Greg and Brian Tate from working in the performance and literary world in New York City, and when I started spending more time in Florida Greg told me, “You should look up my mom.”


It took five years for me to finally do that, and in 2010 we met. We were at a group event, and she shared some of her wisdom and experiences, and I was intrigued when she mentioned she actually had her FBI file. I was like, “Wait – where’s your memoir?” That’s kind of how it started.


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


A: We had played around with the title “The FBI’s Most Wanted Press Secretary” for a long time, which was a bit of a joke. But ultimately, she didn’t want her memoir to be focused on the FBI matter because it wasn’t what she stood for and didn’t really reflect her total life experience or accomplishments.


She didn’t really have a title but thought something about her being born in Eads and having ended up as far away as Angola was significant. Mr. Tate would also say to me, “It needs to say revolutionary in the title because that’s what she was!”


I came up with the current title as a way to honor both her roots in Tennessee, while acknowledging Mr. Tate’s favorite way to describe her work on the Continent and in the U.S.


It was later on that, while re-reading the quote by Paul Delaney, a contributor and New York Times writer who worked with her at the Dayton Daily News, that I noticed her referred to her as a “flaming revolutionary” as well!


Q: What do you see as Florence Tate's legacy today?


A: So many of the contributors in the book whose lives Mrs. Tate touched have gone on to impact the fields of politics, Black Studies, art, culture -- and from long conversations with them, Florence’s impact on their lives is clear.


She liked to label herself “a fly on the wall” and was dubious of how relevant her story would be today, but for me there was so much importance in her being a single mother at times, a Black woman dealing with depression, and still going on to touch so many important cultural events, figures, and organizations.


I felt that, in and of itself, was the most significant part of her legacy for me: inspiring others who are trying to stand up and fight under the most challenging odds -- through her own will to survive and her activism.


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


A: To this day, when things in my life get rocky, when I’m juggling too much, I think of Florence.


I’m also a single mother -- although my sons’ father is very present, we decided to co-parent when they were toddlers and never married – so there was never that partner in the house for emotional support during the childrearing and life-battling years.


So her strength and courage as a young single mother of her daughter Geri was also very inspiring and uplifting for me.


Also, it took me a decade to complete this book and I was raising my sons during that time, and I’d often bring them to the Tates, so they became adopted “grands” to my sons as well, and that was so comforting -- that there were these two Black, elderly changemakers my sons could come to know up close and personal, even at their young age.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Just finished the first draft of a screenplay for a production company in Los Angeles and beginning to outline what a media project inspired by Farmgirls would look like.


Also, I have a bunch of other jobs, like writing for a community paper, helping to run a few nonprofits, and consulting on other folks’ writing projects. And of course, working on being a mom to teenaged sons is my most challenging but rewarding long-term gig!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Please purchase the book, share it with your friends and on social media. Her story will inspire readers, especially during the difficult times we’re all facing in America and our world.


And thank you, Deborah Kalb, for your time and interest!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Faith Kramer




Faith Kramer is the author of the new book 52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen. She is a food writer and recipe developer, and is a columnist for j., the Jewish News of Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: What inspired you to create this cookbook, and what kind of research did you do to come up with all the recipes?


A: To me Jewish food isn't static, it's adaptive, and it’s always changing. It's a shared food history. As Jews traveled through the world, they shared the food customs they had and adapted to new ones shared by others.  


My take on Jewish food continues this creativity and roots it in my taste for international food with Jewish ingredients, customs, traditions, and cooking techniques. I like big flavors and vibrant tastes and I think these recipes reflect that.


I mix Middle Eastern with Eastern European in my Pomegranate Molasses Brisket (my sons' favorite). I use falafel as a crust and bake it for an herb and feta pizza. I drizzle Lebanese garlic sauce, Yemeni hot sauce, North African chili sauce, and Iraqi-Israeli fermented mango sauce on grilled corn.  


I travel a lot and bring those flavors to my food, for example when I schmear a Cambodian-inspired lemongrass-ginger marinade on flanken (a traditional Ashkenazi cut of short ribs) and grill them.     


I read a lot and am inspired by what I read of the food ways of Jews around the world and look for ways to incorporate what I have read into dishes I want to eat, such as my Layered Chicken and Vegetable Plov (a rice dish).


I also shop at produce stores and see what is fresh and seasonal and poke around international stores and try new-to-me ingredients and learn how I can use ingredients with a connection to Jewish food ways such as silan (date syrup), berbere (Ethiopian spice mix), and more.  


The recipes were developed over the last 10-15 years, but some of them have roots that go much further back (see my Stuffed Cabbage Meatloaf which adapts two of my grandmother's specialties).


Others are much newer and were developed within the last year or two (such as Bundt Cake with Black and White Glazes (inspired by my love of the famous black and white cookie).


I am very lucky to write a cooking column for the j, Northern California's Jewish News (https://www.jweekly.com/author/faith-kramer/ ) twice a month, which means I am always researching holiday foods and customs as well as different Jewish cultures, ingredients, and techniques. 


For example, researching Jewish Valentine's Day (Tu b'Av) inspired me to cook with roses and ended up with the creation of the rose-water scented Flourless Chocolate Berry Cake.


(The book has more 100 recipes for starters, main courses, side dishes, desserts, and fundamentals, and includes some of the standards as well -- roast chicken, challah, latkes, hummus, and more. Each of the 52 primary recipes features a menu pulling everything together for a Friday night dinner.)


Q: You write, "Food, in Judaism, is often treated as a symbol of blessings, wishes, or thankfulness." Can you say more about that?


A: So much of Judaism is celebrated in the home and centers around food. Over time the food we eat at Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah, and other holidays has become intimately connected with not just the celebration but the meaning behind the celebration. Matzah at Passover is certainly one of the best known examples.

The foods and their meanings vary and reflect the time and place (certain foods are symbolic in certain Jewish cultures and not others), language (some foods are symbolic because they sound like words in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, or other Jewish languages, such as leeks at Rosh Hashanah since the Hebrew word for the vegetable is similar to the word for cut -- meaning those with bad intentions toward us will have their wishes cut or thwarted), appearance (for example, carrots at Rosh Hashanah because they are said to resemble gold and a wish for prosperity), some because they are mentioned in the Torah or elsewhere.


When we eat these foods with intention, we also are using them as a sort of prayer or message, which deepens the meaning of a ritual meal or holiday celebration.


These foods and meanings change over time and the Jewish experience. For example, latkes, fried potato pancakes, are seen as a typical Ashkenazi Chanukah food -- tied into the miracle of oil.


But potatoes were not prevalent in Eastern and Central Europe until perhaps the 17th or 18th century. Before that, pancakes made out of rye or buckwheat or shredded turnip cooked in chicken fat (schmaltz) were used, with Italian Jews favoring cheese pancakes and olive oil. 


52 Shabbats offers essays and insights into some of these topics and the different Jewish communities that exist or once existed around the world. I also try to put the food traditions in context with the celebration of Shabbat Friday night dinner, holidays, and the Jewish calendar.


Q: Do you have any particular favorites among the recipes you included? 


A: The recipes in the book are ones I make often for family and friends. It's tough to pick a favorite because I'm usually into whatever is on the stove or in the oven at the moment, but my recent go-to is Layered Chicken and Rice Plov, a rice dish with robust tastes and a dramatic presentation.


Other favorites, depending on the season or holiday, include the Pomegranate Molasses Brisket, Spicy Beef Tzimmes (especially when it is the basis for Friday Night Tamales), White Bean Stuffed Peppers with Garlic Sauce, Mostly Make-Ahead Shakshouka, Matzah Ball and Pozole Chicken Soup, Spice-Trade Fish Stew, the Charred Eggplant Dip (I make it pretty much every week) and the Chanukah-inspired Challah Fritters with Sweet Tahini Sauce. 


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


A: I enjoy sharing Friday night Shabbat dinner with friends and family and wanted to share my love for this tradition. I hope the book inspires others to celebrate this holiday that comes every week and develop a Shabbat dinner practice that works for them.


The recipes and menus are not just for Friday night dinner, of course. They work for other nights and there are suggestions for Jewish holidays as well. (The book includes some basic how-to-celebrate Shabbat choreography for those who are new to the tradition.)


The other big take away would be that Jewish food is not static; it’s not just what your grandma cooked or what you eat at the deli or falafel shop. It’s multi-flavored and diverse and always adapting. Adapting and using traditions, ingredients, and techniques can reflect customs and history but still reflect modern tastes.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am beginning to work on a cookbook focused on Jewish flavors for easy and fast prep for weeknight dinners. I’m just starting to think about recipe development for this one.


I am launching a new website at www.faithkramer.com, which will feature book, food, and Shabbat and holiday information. The site should be live by the end of November. You will also be able to find links to my twice-a-month newspaper cooking column with recipes for the j, the Jewish news of Northern California, and to my personal blog, Blog Appetit.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I like to say this book was inspired by my grandmother, who was a terrible cook but instilled a love of Shabbat in me, and my mother, who was a great cook and who taught me how to be fearless in the kitchen, but it was also inspired by the generations and generations of Jewish cooks before me whose creativity, adaptability, and sense of tradition preserved the taste of Judaism.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 30



Nov. 30, 1835: Mark Twain born.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Q&A with Edward Dolnick



Edward Dolnick is the author of the new book The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone. His other books include The Clockwork Universe. He is a former chief science writer for The Boston Globe, and he lives near Washington, D.C.


Q: What inspired you to write this book about the Rosetta Stone?


A: The story of how the Rosetta Stone was deciphered is one of the great detective stories ever, about a mysterious message that no one could decode and the two geniuses who set out to solve that gigantic, tantalizing riddle.


It's a story that people have heard of -- "Oh yes, the Rosetta Stone" -- but that hardly anyone really knows about. I wanted to tell that astonishing true story.


Q: How would you characterize the rivalry between Thomas Young and Jean-Francois Champollion?


A: The Writing of the Gods is about a race between an English genius, Thomas Young, and a French genius, Champollion.


The two men were opposites in almost every respect except that they were both brilliant (they had both been child prodigies) and they both had an uncanny gift for languages.


Young was an all-arounder who had demonstrated his genius in half a dozen fields -- he was a world-class physicist, a doctor, and a linguist, for starters, and all his contemporaries were in awe of him. Champollion was a man with a single focus -- he was obsessed with Egypt and nothing but Egypt.


They were opposites in temperament, too. Young was cool and calm, Champollion was fiery and temperamental. Each man started out thinking he was working on his own. Then each learned of the other's existence, and the race was on!


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about the Rosetta Stone?


A: The Rosetta Stone is famous because it contains a message in hieroglyphs -- which no one had known how to read for thousands of years -- and the same message in Greek -- which scholars did know how to read.


Most people today think that hieroglyphs revealed their secrets as soon as the Rosetta Stone turned up. That's what the first scholars expected. They thought that learning to read hieroglyphs might take two weeks. It took 20 years!


The story of how our geniuses managed to crack the code, and why it was so hard, is the heart of The Writing of the Gods.


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


A: My book is called The Writing of the Gods because that's how Egyptians referred to hieroglyphs. Writing was an astonishing discovery, and we tend to forget just how astonishing it was.


Humans lived for tens of thousands of years before they ever learned to write, which means that everything they thought and said and hoped and feared is lost to us.


And then a few early cultures -- the Egyptians were one of the first -- learned to make squiggles and zigzags that let people speak across the generations and across the miles!


The Egyptians were so dazzled by the power of this new invention that they thought that humans could never have come up with anything so wondrous; surely writing was a gift of the gods.


For me, the message is that writing was an invention that surpasses other momentous inventions, like wheels and engines, because once you had writing, you had memory. You could preserve stories, you could speak to generations still to come, and you could listen to your forebears.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a new book that also has to do with astonishing discoveries.


This time we're in the 1800s when people first dug up giant, mysterious bones that were far too big to have come from elephants or any other creatures they had ever heard of.


What could they be? Were they human bones, from some bygone race of giants? Were they from dragons that had once flown through the skies -- could the myths have it right?


No one, in the year 1800, had ever heard of dinosaurs. No one suspected that such creatures had ever existed. But then came the bones, and then more bones!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The Writing of the Gods is, above all, a story. It's about a mystery and a race and, best of all, it's a mystery where we have the clues right in front of us and we can work alongside the geniuses in the tale to see if we can fit together the puzzle pieces before they do.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Edward Dolnick.

Q&A with Shannon Schuren




Shannon Schuren is the author of the new young adult novel Where Echoes Lie. She also has written the YA novel The Virtue of Sin, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Big Pulp. She lives in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin.


Q: What inspired you to write Where Echoes Lie, and how did you create your character Rena Faye?


A: I was inspired initially by a visit to Cumberland Falls [in Kentucky] with my family about 15 years ago.


My husband and I took our kids to see the moonbow and it was such a special experience, being out near the falls late at night with all these other people, waiting to witness this unique phenomenon. I knew I would have to write about it someday.


Rena Faye’s voice came to me on that same trip, as a young girl feeling trapped in her small town and yearning for a way out. I took several research trips back to Corbin after deciding to write the book, just trying to soak up the history and the atmosphere of the place.


Q: What do you think the novel says about ghost stories, especially those focused on young women?


A: Ghost stories are commonly thought of as a fun, safe way to scare each other. But we also use them as parables, or cautionary tales. “Don’t go out alone;” “don’t get into cars with strangers.” These are important lessons, and stories are one way to teach them.

The ghost bride legend in the book starts out as one of those—don’t get too close to the falls because it’s dangerous. But like all stories, the lesson depends not only on the person who writes it, but also the people who keep repeating it.


While researching Where Echoes Lie, I discovered hundreds of ghost brides, from different cultures across the world. The stories differ some, but at their heart they all contain a virginal young woman who makes a foolish error that leads to her death.


Curiously, there aren’t a lot of ghost grooms or dead prom dates in tuxedos roaming the countryside. So while the stories are cautionary, they also start to feel like a means of monitoring, shaming, and controlling behavior, specifically that of young women.


Q: The novel is set in the town of Corbin, Kentucky. How important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Setting has been the inspiration for both my books – Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida, for The Virtue of Sin, and Cumberland Falls for Where Echoes Lie—so I would say it is integral to my writing.


The setting informs the characters and the plot in so many ways that for me, it would be impossible to write a book without having a firm grasp of the location first.


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 had a rough idea of the ending, but as usual, I was wrong. I ended up rewriting the ending at least three times. Endings are tough to land, at least for me. Luckily, I have a great editor who can usually see the ending clearer than I can.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on another young adult thriller about a young girl who moves into her dad’s ancestral home and starts experiencing memories that don’t belong to her. It’s very gothic and spooky and I’m having a lot of fun with it!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: People ask me about the moonbow a lot—it’s real, and Cumberland Falls, Kentucky, is one of the only places on earth where you can see one on a regular basis. If you have the chance to travel there, I definitely recommend it!


Also, please follow me on social media! No travel required. 😊

Website: Shannon.Schuren.org

Twitter: @shannonschuren

Instagram: @schurenauthor

TikTok: @shannonschuren


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 29



Nov. 29, 1918: Madeleine L'Engle born.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Q&A with Michelle Ross




Michelle Ross is the author of the new story collection Shapeshifting. Her other books include There's So Much They Haven't Told You, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Alaska Quarterly Review and Colorado Review. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review, and she lives in Tucson, Arizona.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?


A: First, thank you so much for talking with me, Deborah!


I wrote most of these stories over the course of about five years. The one exception is “Life Cycle of an Ungrateful Daughter,” which I first drafted so many years ago, I’m not sure how old it is. Maybe 15 years old? Maybe 20? This was back when I hadn’t published but a few stories.


I know I submitted “Life Cycle” to at least a few journals because I found a handwritten rejection from Zoetrope in an old file folder of paper rejections from back when submissions all happened by mail.


At some point, I put the story away—I’m not sure why except that it feels more autobiographical than most of my fiction and maybe that made me feel uncertain about it? I forgot all about it for years.


A friend reminded me of it a few years ago, and I dug it up, polished it, and submitted it again. Also, I realized it belonged in Shapeshifting.


Q: In a review of the book on Mom Egg Review, Carla Panciera writes, “In Ross’s world, motherhood is the ultimate shapeshifter, beginning in pregnancy...” How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what do you think about mothers as shapeshifters?


A: I think all humans are shapeshifters (I wrote about this some in my Research Notes for Shapeshifting, published in Necessary Fiction), but mothers especially. Pregnancy is, of course, a literal transformation of the woman’s body into something alien.


But more importantly, motherhood has the power to erase who the woman was before motherhood. It’s not just that the child sees her only as Mother, but so do many of the other people in her life. Even she may struggle to see herself as something other than Mother.


The book’s title comes from the story titled “Shapeshifting,” only at the time that I titled the book, that story had a different title.


The pregnant protagonist in the story says that as a kid she liked the idea of being a shapeshifter but that it didn’t occur to her that pregnant women are shapeshifters, too: “Shapeshifting isn’t the way I’d imagined it. I’d always pictured myself behind the wheels of other bodies I assumed. This is the opposite. I’m the wheels, not the driver.”


I wasn’t yet finished writing all the stories in this book when I decided that Shapeshifting was the perfect title. When the editors at Stillhouse Press suggested I retitle this story, which had been titled “Gestation,” to match the book’s title, I agreed that it was a better title for the story, too.


Q: I asked you about this in our previous Q&A too--how did you choose the order in which the stories would appear?


A: The editors at Stillhouse, and the contest judge, the amazing Danielle Evans, helped determine the order of the stories. The manuscript I submitted opened with “A Mouth is a House for Teeth,” for example, and they suggested it should be the closing story instead.


The editors pretty much completely rearranged these stories. I think they were right, though. This order is now so familiar to me, I struggle to remember the original order of the stories without looking back at that earlier draft.


Q: Another review of the book, by Kathryn Ordaway for The Masters Review, says, “Some of Ross’s best moments are dropping tidbits of information that make the stable become unsteady. She is expert at dispensing unexpected information at just the right moment.” Is that something you're aware of doing as you write?


A: I think carefully about what readers need to know and when they need to know it, as well as about how the arrangement of sentences affects tension, characterization, theme, and rhythm. I’m trying to get maximum effect out of the structure.


My good friend and writing collaborator, Kim Magowan, has often commented on this tendency of mine to constantly rearrange sentences and paragraphs like I’m putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The longer a story is, the more complicated this question of when to reveal information can become.


One of my favorite revision exercises for longer stories is to cut them up and physically move around the pieces. Even in flash fiction, however, I find that rearranging the pieces is often a part of the revision process for me. Sometimes a story will feel so close but not quite right, and all I do is move around a few sentences and, just like that, the story is done.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: What I’ve been spending most of my time on lately is a book that centers on a fictional Texas high school. I’m particularly interested in exploring the intensity—and sometimes barbarism—of female friendships.


I have a few other projects in the works, too, including a collection of stories that reimagine characters from classic horror movies.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My flash fiction collection, They Kept Running, won the 2020 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction and is forthcoming in early Spring 2022.


Also, Kim Magowan and I are currently trying to find a home for our collaborative short fiction manuscript, a collection of 24 stories—a mix of longer fiction and flash fiction. It was a finalist for the Hudson Prize and the Non/Fiction Collection Prize, but no takers yet.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Michelle Ross.

Q&A with L.W. Clark




L.W. Clark is the author of the new novel The Yellow Suitcase. Born in Tblisi, Georgia, she lives in Manhattan.


Q: What inspired you to write The Yellow Suitcase, and how did you create your character Alyssa?


A: When I was in Hawaii on the beautiful island of Kauai, I read The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Its simplicity and honesty was a big inspiration for me to write The Yellow Suitcase.


Since the beginning of the book is based on a true story, I created Alyssa’s basic character, such as her look and personality. It was like making a rough draft, and as the story unfolded she became a more complete character. Like a live person, or an actress playing a role.


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


A: No, I didn't know the end of the story when I started writing. It was a step-by-step building process. I was even surprised with my ideas as I was writing.


Q: What do you think the novel says about immigrating to the United States from Eastern Europe?


A: Immigrating to a new country is very difficult - I wish no one would ever have to do it. There are so many changes involved when starting a new life in a new country. It's not easy, but it's worth it. The reason many do it is to  leave an unhappy or unsafe place with the promise or hope of a better life.


The United States is the greatest country in the world in many aspects, but one of the biggest is that this country has saved many people's lives, not only for immigrants, but their families overseas. The country offers many opportunities. Dreams can come true here.


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


A: That perseverance, an open mind, and most of all love, will always win.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm collaborating on a limited series screenplay based on the story with our awesome PR team and friends, Jeremy Murphy and Brian Aker of 360bespoke.com


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If you're interested in an immigrant's story of struggle, determination, and romance, told with some drama and a lot of humor, please read the book!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 23




Nov. 23, 1923: Gloria Whelan born.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Q&A with Alec MacGillis


Photo by J.M. Giordano


Alec MacGillis is the author of the new book Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America. He also has written the book The Cynic. He is a senior reporter for ProPublica, and has worked for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and The New Republic. He lives in Baltimore.


Q: What inspired you to write Fulfillment?


A: For years, I had been wanting to write something big about the growing regional disparities in the U.S.


I had been seeing the gaps growing everywhere--between my hometown of Pittsfield, Mass., and metro Boston; between the Midwestern cities I went to as a reporter and cities on the coasts; between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, where I have split my time working and living over the past 20 years.


After Trump got elected in 2016, which had a lot to do with those regional disparities, I decided it was time to write the book. And over the course of the next year, I settled on Amazon as the frame for it.


Q: In a review of the book on NPR, Alina Selyukh said, "Ostensibly about Amazon, the book is instead an economic history of the country, shaped by an intimate introduction to people living and working in Amazon's shadow as their home cities and states transform around them." What do you think of that assessment?


A: It's a good one. My goal with the book was to give the reader a visceral, granular sense of what regional inequality looks like in our country, through a specific set of places and people living within them.


I chose Amazon as the frame for two reasons: one, it's so ubiquitous that it serves as a handy thread to take you around the country, to show you what we're becoming as a society and two, it and the other tech giants are a major driver of the regional inequality, by drawing so much commerce and prosperity that used to be dispersed around the country into the tech capitals where they are based.


But the book all along was intended to be not about Amazon itself, but about the country that lies in its lengthening shadow.


Q: You begin the book describing an Amazon worker relegated to his basement during the Covid pandemic. Why did you decide to start there, and how has Covid affected the company and its workers?


A: I had actually reported much of the book by the spring of 2020, when the pandemic hit.


Initially, I was of course very unsure about what the pandemic would mean for the book--if you're writing a big book on the national condition, it is unsettling to have a major event come along that shocks that condition.


But it fairly quickly became apparent that the pandemic was only going to accelerate the trends described in the book--social atomization, Amazon's growth, etc.


And I decided that the best way to incorporate the pandemic into the book was with new bookends, in the prologue and epilogue, that captured that acceleration, that showed readers what life was like in the warehouses as the orders ramped up from all of us hunkered down safely in our homes.


One of the book's goals all along was to reveal the consequences behind the easy one-click order, and that became all the more imperative with Covid-19.


Q: What do you see looking ahead?


A: I see three main avenues for addressing the concerns raised in the book.


One is worker activism in the warehouses, which is going to continue even after the union defeat in Bessemer, Alabama.


Another is the legislative and regulatory effort to rein in the company and the other tech giants, which is ramping up in Washington and shows some real promise, though it will of course be a real battle.


And finally, there is our response as citizens and consumers. I have not been advocating a boycott or anything like that, but I do believe that a lot rests on how all of us now emerge from the pandemic, whether we are willing to re-engage with the physical world around us, not only as shopper but in all the other ways in which we sustain our communities and make them worth living in--going to bars and restaurants, going to the movies and theater and symphony, getting ourselves out of the comfort of our one-click cocoons.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am on a fall-semester reporting fellowship in Berlin, looking into the German effort to move beyond coal. That may become the basis for a future book.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I also wrote a book about Mitch McConnell. It's called The Cynic.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Wendie Trubow




Wendie Trubow is the author, with her husband and business partner Ed Levitan, of the new book Dirty Girl: Ditch the Toxins, Look Great, and Feel Freaking Amazing!. They are physicians, and they run the Five Journeys functional medicine and wellness company, based in Newton, Massachusetts.


Q: Why did the two of you decide to write Dirty Girl, and how did you collaborate on the book?


A: We do functional medicine, and do a wide range of testing on our members, including full toxins testing. I had been doing this testing on myself, and 18 months ago completed the full panel on myself, and saw that I had metals, mycotoxins (mold strains), environmental toxins and pesticides in my own body.


When I got these results, I looked at Ed, who is my business partner and husband, and said "I am SUCH a Dirty Girl!" And then I said: And THAT is the book we need to write. Because as a poster child for healthy living, if I have these toxins, what do most people have who aren't focusing on this?


To get the book written, we worked with Scribe Media, since we knew that we would need support at all the major steps. They were fantastic at helping us organize our thoughts, prioritize the information, and make sure that it was clear, impactful, inspiring, and actionable. 


Q: Can you say more about how the book's title was chosen, and what it signifies for you? 


A: The title directly came from what I spoke to Ed. I know that saying "Dirty Girl" has a connotation that is sexual, and that wasn't our intention. But it WAS our intention to have a title that was catchy, sexy and memorable, and that allowed toxins--which is typically a very heavy topic--to be accessible to the general population. 


Q: What would you advise someone who wants to change their lifestyle and become healthier?


A: Congratulations, they're making a great choice! There are a lot of ways to make lifestyle change, and it's important to honor what works for them best. If someone does well with incremental changes, then I would recommend going slowly into it.


If it's food someone wants to level up on, then I would recommend they pick ONE meal and improve that. Once they feel like they've mastered that, then they should add in a second meal to improve. If they do well with what I call "fell swoop" where they clean the slate, then I'd recommend changing the diet all at once.


ANYTHING is better than nothing. The goal is to "level up," have a win, and then level up again.


I also recommend that people figure out whether they do better working independently or whether they need coaching support. Someone who functions well independently just needs a good plan, and someone who needs coaching support/accountability does better working with someone regularly. Honoring one's needs helps ensure that the person can be successful in making change. 


Once someone has figured out what style of change works best, then I usually recommend starting with food, since it is the foundation of our health.


It's important to recognize that this is a journey, not an end point. Start where they are and work on "leveling up." If they eat processed carbs three times a day, then the goal would be to limit or eliminate those. Or if they eat sugar every day, then the goal would be to limit or eliminate that. The journey is about making consistent improvement over time. 


Q: Overall, what do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: There are a lot of ways we're exposed to toxins and most of those toxins aren't in our favor. They're implicated in health issues that can be small (acne, rash, bloating, headaches, or any other issue someone struggles with) or big (cancer, dementia).


But there's hope!! The first goal is understanding how we're exposed, and then the next step is to work on limiting and mitigating our exposures. I hope readers are inspired and empowered to take control of their environment and health and feel better


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Probably too many things at once! We've launched our podcast "Five Journeys Podcast -- Live Like You Matter," and I'm also going on a podcast and summit blitz to get the word out about toxins.


We're simultaneously working on growing our practice so that we can make the maximum difference possible for people, and also working on programs that would allow people to work with us via online programs, too.


And we're gearing up to write our next book about gracefully navigating the transition through perimenopause into menopause (and yes, that's memoir-based, too!).


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: We reject the notion that you're meant to worsen every decade and become old, sick, and decrepit. We believe you are meant to be vital, vibrant, healthy, happy, alive, able to be and interested in intimacy until you are at least 100.


We bring data and tools to this endeavor so that each person can note significant and meaningful improvement in their daily experiences and vitality. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb