Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Q&A with Susanna Bailey




Susanna Bailey is the author of the middle grade novel Snow Foal. Her other books include Raven Winter.  She is a lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University, and she's based in the UK.


Q: What inspired you to write Snow Foal, and how did you create your character, Addie?


A: I wanted my first book to feature Looked-After children (those in foster-care) in central roles, in a vivid story that could be enjoyed by any child (at their own level) but that might open discussion – and empathy – around the experiences of children in Care, who often have a difficult time in school, both educationally, and socially.


I hoped that such a story of loss, change, and ultimately, of enormous courage and resilience, would also strike a chord with children outside of the “system,” many of whom will have experienced similar things, albeit in a different context.


Equally, I wanted my story to offer a degree of healing and hope: a way through, if you like.


The introduction of the abandoned foal meant that I could promote the healing bond that can exist between child and animal, whilst also telling Addie’s story of separation, learning, and new possibilities “in parallel,” via this tiny, motherless creature.


That I chose a new-born foal, rather than any other animal, arose from a writing exercise in my MA class. I “saw” a dishevelled foal in a barn, “heard” a winter wind whistling through the rafters there, and “noticed” a child standing hesitantly in the doorway.


The child – who I initially thought a young boy – became Addie, whose lonely isolation in a strange environment, as she comes into Care, could be graphically suggested by the move to a remote winter-white setting. That thought brought me to the wilds of Exmoor, and made the foal a wild pony.


Addie herself developed naturally, I think, in some ways a “composite” of real children with whom I’d been privileged to work, but also, she just “arrived and spoke as herself,” if that doesn’t sound too mystical!


The name Adelaide popped into my mind, and I just knew that my girl would be known as “Addie” – her mam’s name for her. That she would insist upon it!


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book said, “Emphasizing parallels between Addie’s longing for home and the wild pony’s displacement, Bailey’s third-person narration follows a fiercely resolute heroine on a gradual arc of hard-won acceptance around the challenges of her mother’s recovery.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m extremely pleased with it, because it picks up on the central messages - and complex realities - that I so wanted to communicate.


Given that Addie’s story reflects aspects of the lives of children in the real world, I felt a huge sense of responsibility in writing it. Her emotional journey needed to come through with authenticity and nuance, out of respect for such children and their families.


Whilst thrilled if readers fall in love with the snow foal himself, it was important to me that the novel not be simply received as a “sweet pony story,” or one that suggested neat, unrealistic endings that are essentially dishonest and unhelpful.

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


A: I didn’t! I’m not a writer who plots and plans, although that might make life easier and less stressful!


I very much let the story take me where it wanted, led, I suppose, by a strong sense of who Addie is, how her feelings would direct her to act, and the ways in which the Care system processes (and her mother’s recovery) might roll out in the circumstances.


In fact, the ending we now have arose in collaboration with my editor. My initial ending saw the foal re-settled at the farm alongside Addie. The re-written version (not to give too much away, just in case!) better indicates Addie’s learning about “best interest” decisions, and her emotional growth.


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


A: The natural world around Addie is very important in her emotional journey – as it is for little Jude, Sunni, and Gabe, the other child characters in the novel.


The turning of the seasons, new growth after winter, plants thriving in the correct soil; the blooming of spring flowers planted by the children all support their newly forming understandings and emotional healing.


As Addie’s foster placement is on a working Exmoor farm, I needed to research not only which trees and plants would be found there, and at which point in the year, but also to research the farming calendar: to know what would be happening when.


Addie witnesses the birth of lambs, and although I could draw on first-hand experience of the birth of puppies and kittens, getting the lambing right necessitated watching several live videos, and a visit to a local farm. I also read books on sheep farming across the year. It was fascinating!


My research into the wild pony herds of Exmoor was both thoroughly enjoyable, and yes: surprising. I was able to spend time at an Exmoor Pony show, chatting to breeders and learning about the different herds, their coat colours, character, and aptitudes.


Google searches revealed their long history, as well as the physical adaptations that have enabled them to survive – and thrive – for hundreds of thousands of years. Fossil remains trace the presence of horses on Exmoor to 50,000 BC!


I was also interested to learn of the protective winter-round-up of new foals and their mothers; of the concerted efforts to preserve the purity of the ancient Exmoor line, rather than for it to become diluted by inter-breeding with the wild herds on neighbouring Dartmoor (as sometimes happens).


I particularly enjoyed researching the legendary Exmoor beast: the great cat that is said to wander the Exmoor hills. The mysterious sightings, and unsolved “disappearances” on the same ground…


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently finishing my fourth middle grade novel, which publishes in the UK in July 2023. I’m not at liberty to say too much about quite yet, but I can tell you that it features siblings in the UK Care system and is set on the historic North Yorkshire coast. And, of course, there is an animal at the heart of the story…


I also have a novel for adult readers “in my drawer,” partially written, which I am keen to complete. This looks at the impact of adoption of a traumatised child on a fragile marriage and is also at its centre, a love story. (Title: “If Not Madness…”) So, if I can just create a few more hours in the day….


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I lecture in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University, teaching aspiring new writers for young readers. I have five children, two grandsons, and a first granddaughter soon to arrive, out in Spain. My second grandson is USA born, and living in LA. He can’t wait to see his Nana’s books in the school library and bookstores…


Thank you so much for your questions and for your interest.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Peter Rupert Lighte




Peter Rupert Lighte is the author of the new memoir Straight Through the Labyrinth: Becoming a Gay Father in China. He also has written the book Host of Memories. He is the founding chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase Bank China, and he lives in Princeton, New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write Straight Through the Labyrinth, and what impact did it have on you to write the book?


A: It dawned on me that as our daughters were growing up, the delightful ordinariness of our family—a product of the velocity of new times—not only spoke volumes about social progress, but was diluting the power of our daunting saga; and the girls need to know about how our family was created.


Then unexpectedly, the story of our hard-won family only grew all the more important as social progress began to look fragile.


It was the very writing of the book which ambushed me with insights, propelling this author in both unexpected and enlightening directions. Had I not written it, I might never have understood my very own story. Time well spent, indeed.  


Q: The writer Shai Oster called the book a “tale highly specific but also universal, about the search for love and family and redemption, told with candidness and sharp wit.” What do you think of that description?


A: In a most tidy fashion, his words do capture the book. Mr. Oster not only recognizes that there is nothing provincial about love, but grasps the power of my quest to become a father.

The word “redemption” intrigues me. In fact, I had no desire to relive my imperfect childhood through my children. Rather, I wanted to retrieve it by living alongside them as I was hoping to get things right for our family; and without rewriting my own early history, I was able to write a better one because of my daughters.


When one canny editor read an early draft, she took me to task for leaving myself out of my own story; thus, I gingerly introduced myself into the narrative, realizing that I needed to give of myself as it pertained to our story. My girls—and readers—needed to know how I got this way; Hattie and Tillie will now also know more about themselves.


As for wit, I am pleased that my own insistence upon having a good time writing the book morphed into a good time for Mr. Oster.    


Q: Did you need to do much research to write the book, or was most of it written from memory?


A: Sometimes I feel like Trollope. Words just pour forth from my propelling pencil into my notebook!


But unlike my other books which simply recounted memories, I wanted this good read to be a narrative of record, as well; thus, I dug out some accounts written along the way to help me fill in the blanks without burdening the story with the details of a beancounter.


By the way, my daughters, who are now 24 and 26, have absolutely no interest in the book. One glibly commented that she will read it when she turns 80. Can’t think of a better reason to have written it.


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


A: I am a big fan of the oxymoron; thus, zooming through a maze—an apt description of my handling of Chinese bureaucracy—delighted me. Furthermore, the word “gay,” appearing in the subtitle, just got better with “straight” appearing above.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Over the course of the pandemic, I wrote another book of vignettes, very much in the style of Host of Memories: Tales of Inevitable Happenstance.


There’s more to me than memory lane, though. I am a sinologist and am preparing a series of lectures on China. I am fortunate in having studied Chinese history and philosophy and having lived in Beijing over the years.


By the way, at Princeton it was said that “Everything after the Ming was journalism.” It was my good fortune to have lived on both sides of that divide.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Of all things, study of the I Ching, Jung’s synchronicity and a current obsession with quantum mechanics has made life a lot simpler. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Beth Harbison




Beth Harbison is the author of the new novel Confessions of the Other Sister. Her many other books include the novel The Cookbook Club


Q: What inspired you to write Confessions of the Other Sister?


A: I was originally inspired by an experience I had coming to California from the East Coast to ghostwrite the memoir of a former child star. It was a fascinating, if expensive, experience - she never paid me. But as a personal experience it was still worth it.  


My first draft had a lot more about the interaction with the flakey star, but as I went along I found I was more compelled by the relationship between the sisters and, in particular, their shared past.  


As I’ve gotten older and my sisters and I had to move our mother to memory care, I’ve found those early memories are some of the sweetest and no one fully understands like a sibling who was there for it.


Q: How did you create your characters Frances and Crosby, and how would you describe the dynamic between them?


A: Frances and Crosby’s positive rapport is a lot more like that of my daughter and myself than of my sisters and me, actually. I had her when I was young and we’re very close.  


But all close relationships have their moments of tension and even some deeply held resentments and perhaps even over-protected secrets. So I culled stories from all around my life to build their relationship.


Q: You tell the story from both characters' perspectives--did you write the novel in the order in which it appears, or did you focus more on one character before turning to the other?


A: Actually I did write it in the order in which it appears - for me, switching points of view really keeps the writing fresh and allows me to slip into different mindsets and even react to the previous chapter with new feelings.


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


A: I really hope that what people take away from the story is that NO secret, no long-held resentment, no bruised ego or battered heart is so big or long lasting that a relationship with someone you love and respect, who loves and respects you, cannot be healed. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve learned not to describe ideas in progress, because it really dilutes the energy, but I will say that suddenly I’ve gotten a whole bunch of fun ideas that I want to pursue, and I’m working through them!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Beth Harbison.

Q&A with Deborah Levison




Deborah Levison is the author of the new novel A Nest of Snakes. She also has written the book The Crate. She has worked in public relations and as a freelance writer, and she lives in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write A Nest of Snakes, and how did you create your character Brendan?


A: A few years ago, there was a spate of lawsuits in Connecticut, where middle-aged men came forward to allege abuse at the elite private schools they’d attended as boys.


I read through several complaints and I was just horrified. I couldn’t believe what had happened to these children, how vulnerable they were, how they’d been preyed upon, and how many adults were complicit.


The leadership turned a blind eye. Literally everyone at the schools knew what was happening and no one intervened. No one reported the abuse, and no one protected the victims.


And of course, the abuse wasn’t limited to New England by any means; it happened everywhere, from Horace Mann in New York City, to Exeter in New Hampshire, to Upper Canada College in Toronto, to Dublin, Johannesburg, Sydney.


And it hasn’t stopped. Earlier this summer the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark pulled their 16-year-old son Prince Christian out of his prestigious boarding school amid allegations of rampant abuse.


And in November of this year, Prince William and Kate pulled Prince George and Princess Charlotte out of a private school where a teacher pled guilty to distributing indecent images of children.


I thought this was such an important story to tell. And a part of me is hopeful that the book might actually be a catalyst for someone to tell their story. Maybe it can help someone who has been abused and feels alone.

My main character, Brendan, experienced something terrible as a child. I didn’t have to look any farther than my own parents, who survived the Holocaust, and their wide circle of Hungarian friends, for examples of people who survived childhood trauma.


But while the experiences of my parents and their friends—in concentration camps, ghettoes, as hidden children, on death marches, or even as “patients” of Dr. Mengele—certainly scarred them forever, the vast majority went on to build families and live fulfilling lives.


Brendan, on the other hand, is broken. Even at the age of 47, he shows clear signs of PTSD: chronic depression, nightmares, agoraphobia. He can’t stand to be touched. He’s estranged from his wife and son. And eventually the reader learns that on top of the abuse he experienced, Brendan is crippled by guilt.


He was such an interesting character to write, especially as I majored in psychology, which made the research part fun. I feel very protective of Brendan, and I want him to triumph.


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


A: The New York Daily News ran a very glaring headline that called one of the real-life schools “A Nest of Pedophiles.” That headline stuck with me. Then, a few years later, an aide to Trump referred to the White House as “a nest of vipers.”


To me this was such powerful imagery, so I extrapolated the title A Nest of Snakes, and my publisher kept it. And, of course, Freud called snakes phallic symbols. In the book I talk about how historically, monsters in all kinds of legends have had serpentine qualities.  


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


A: In A Nest of Snakes, I actually started with the twist, which I think many thriller writers do. I knew the twist, and the end; I knew the beginning; I had all the backstory; and then I had to figure out the plot in the middle, which for me is the hardest part.


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


A: The importance of speaking up against injustice; the need to tell our stories, both to preserve them and to educate others; and the importance of shining a light on social issues like bullying, physical and sexual abuse of children, and the machismo culture that still permeates our society.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m a few chapters into a new thriller and I’m excited to see where the plot goes. Unlike my first two books, this one seems to be surprising me with its direction. I have a very dark ending I’m hoping to keep!


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

Nov. 30



Nov. 30, 1835: Mark Twain born.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Q&A with Deborah R. Prinz




Deborah R. Prinz is the author, with Tami Lehman-Wilzig, of the new children's picture book The Boston Chocolate Party. She also has written the book On the Chocolate Trail. She served as a congregational rabbi for three decades, and she lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired the two of you to write The Boston Chocolate Party, and how did you collaborate on the book?


A: The Boston Chocolate Party (Behrman House, October 2022) started with a brilliant association by my co-author, Tami Lehman-Wilzig.


Tami read my first book, On the Chocolate Trail, and as she absorbed the chapter titled, “Jews Dip Into Chocolate in the American Colonial Period” about Sephardi Jews in the chocolate business and how chocolate drinking supplanted tea after the Boston Tea Party, “Boston Chocolate Party!” popped into her head. That title stayed with her.


She also checked the date of the Boston Tea Party (1773) in the Jewish calendar to find that the last night of Hanukkah coincided with the Boston Tea Party.


I met Tami four years later when she was looking for content for the February pages of the Jewish children’s calendar that she edits. She recalled On the Chocolate Trail and reached out to me for material.


Then, I reached out to her to see if she wanted to collaborate on a children’s book since I like to share the stories of Jews and chocolate to as many audiences as possible. That’s why I co-curated the exhibit “Semite Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” for the Bernard Museum of Temple Emanu-El, NYC (now available to travel around the world).


Similarly, a children’s book about Jews and chocolate would expand the Chocolate Trail. That initiated our own “party”: Tami focused on plot development, I contributed my chocolate expertise with plenty of brainstorming. Now we get to celebrate the recent release of The Boston Chocolate Party!


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially fascinating, especially about the Jewish community in the US in the 18th century? 


A: My research for On the Chocolate Trail built the foundation for the historical context of The Boston Chocolate Party. That was supported by a Starkoff Fellowship and a Director’s Fellowship from the American Jewish Archives, as well as a Gilder Lehrman Fellowship from the Rockefeller Library. For the Chocolate Trail, I explored in Europe, Israel, and North America.

In addition, Tami and I investigated many details for the illustrations in The Boston Chocolate Party.


We wanted the images to reflect an authentic Sephardic home and Hanukkah, so we sought out a Sephardic style Hanukkah oil menorah. We also worked to insure the accuracy of clothing and carriages for the period. Also, the shape of the moon at the end of Hanukkah needed to be precise and consistent.


Most surprisingly, members of the Jewish community in the US in the 18th century engaged in the trade, manufacture, retail, and consumption of chocolate. Some of those families were also major contributors to the establishment and maintenance of their local synagogues and communities.


Q: What do you think Fede Combi's illustrations add to the book?


A: We hear very positive feedback about Fede’s illustrations. He deftly portrays emotion and movement, in addition to interior/exterior views. He fulfilled Tami’s vision for a double spread of the home chocolate “factory” to portray pre-industrial chocolate making and also the children working together. Behrman House staff also attended to details in the visuals and enriched the book. 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story, particularly about the idea of freedom?


A: I hope that kids and their adults will enjoy this unique Hanukkah story set in Colonial America at multiple levels.


First, there’s the coincidental timing of the Hanukkah and the Boston Tea Party to highlight the parallel stories of freedom sought by the American colonists and the ancient Maccabees.


Second, it’s also a story of friendship modeled by ingenuity and risk-taking to help others.


Third, readers learn about Jewish diversity through the Sephardic Hanukkah customs practiced by many of the original Jews who settled in America.


Finally, especially during these times of increased anti-semitism, the story reminds everyone that Jews have been part of America’s history since the very beginning of our country.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next book, On the Bread Trail (Behrman House, 2023), serves up explorations of heritage Jewish breads. Puffy yeast doughs, as expansive and mysterious as the survival of the Jewish people, mix with Jewish celebrations to yield surprising and diverse stories for all seasons.


The spirit and creativity of our ancestors through their migrations and adaptations surface when we dig into the background of these diverse doughs. It will also include approximately 25 historical and contemporary recipes.


Tami’s also working on multiple projects, including the forthcoming Luis de Torres Sails to Freedom (June 2023, Kar-Ben) and On the Wings of Eagles (Fall 2024, Apples and Honey).


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love that The Boston Chocolate Party offers up opportunities for home and school choco-Hanukkah celebrations through the activities posted at the Behrman House website and also at my blog.


Readers can devote one or more Hanukkah nights to light an oil lamp, taste the buñuelos and hot chocolate from the book’s recipes, discuss the questions in the activity guide, and toast the shared values of freedom sought by the Maccabees and the American colonists at their own Chocolate Parties.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Deborah R. Prinz.

Q&A with Ginny Myers Sain


Photo by Resolusean


Ginny Myers Sain is the author of the new young adult novel Secrets So Deep. She also has written the YA novel Dark and Shallow Lies. She has worked with teens in a theater program for 20 years, and she lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


Q: What inspired you to write Secrets So Deep, and how did you create your character Avril?


A: I've spent most of my life so far working in the theatre, first as an actress and then as a director and teacher, so I've always wanted to tell a theatre story. There's so much magic and mystery inherent in what happens in the theatre, it just seemed to lend itself perfectly to a supernatural mystery.


And Avril is one of my favorite characters I've ever written. Although she wasn't inspired by any one person in particular, there are pieces of so many amazingly talented, brave, and passionate students I've worked with over the years all blended together in her.


She's the best of a lot of different people, but she also has a skepticism and a wariness that's very much me. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, "The atmosphere of Whisper Cove is palpable, the fog-laden shore haunting and heavy at night." What do you think of that description, and how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Setting is really everything to me, so I love that description! The setting is usually the first thing that comes to me when I sit down to tell a story.


I love "in between" the swamp in Dark and Shallow Lies or the coastline in Secrets So Deep. Those places are in between the land and the water, and that makes it easy to also blur the lines between what's solid and what's not...what's real and what isn't. 


Q: What do you see as the role of ghosts in the novel?


A: There are so many different kinds of ghosts in Secrets So Deep! At its heart, this is a book about people that are haunted by regrets and loss. It's as much about the ghosts that live at the edges of our memories as it is the ghosts that live at the edges of the ocean. There are definitely supernatural things that happen in the book, but it's not a traditional ghost story. 


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


A: I had a good idea of what the main ending would be, but there were smaller aspects of it that I had to decide along the way. And, yes, lots of things changed!


I always start out with a plan, but I think about it like being on a road trip. If you have a route mapped out, but then you discover a better route as you're driving along, you don't stick with your original route just because you had it mapped out. You take the better route!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm currently working on revisions for my third book, One Last Breath. It's another YA thriller/mystery that should be out from Razorbill/Penguin Teen in early 2024. I'm really excited about it!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Michelle A. Barry




Michelle A. Barry is the author of the new middle grade novel Moongarden, an updated version of the classic children's novel The Secret Garden. Moongarden is the first in a new series. Barry lives in Connecticut.


Q: What inspired you to write this updated version of The Secret Garden, and how did you create the world in which your novel is set?


A: The Secret Garden has always been a favorite of mine, and I wanted to capture the magic of that story, but in a new setting, and with actual magic!


As a kid, my dream was to be an astronaut, and I’ve always been fascinated with outer space, so I was excited to blend these two treasured aspects of my childhood passions into one book, and really enjoyed getting to explore a little more of our corner of the galaxy through this story, even if just in my imagination!


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, “Debut author Barry smoothly incorporates contemporary—and perhaps perennial—issues of elite education, pressure to succeed, corporate corruption, class divides, systemic prejudice, and environmental depredation while delivering a boarding school story in a believable off-world setting.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m thrilled that the off-world setting felt believable and that the various issues and conflicts I wanted to highlight came through on the page as well. There is a lot going on in the book besides just the central focus of the garden and it was important to me that all facets of the story, and the characters’ journeys, resonated. 


Q: What did you see as the right balance between the classic Secret Garden story and your own version as you were writing the book?


A: My goal in writing Moongarden was to include some of the central themes from The Secret Garden, like the transformative power of nature, but put my own spin on them so that the story still felt fresh and new.


I hoped that readers familiar with The Secret Garden would catch my nods to the original book and cast of characters, while feeling like Moongarden’s story was still captivating and unpredictable. 


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


A: As we grow, we don’t always end up how we expect to, or how other people expect us to be. Interests can change, friendships can change, and that’s completely okay. However, while it’s happening, it might not always feel that way.


I hope that kids can see themselves in Myra’s journey and know that their magic, whatever it is that makes them special, is important and valued. And even if the people surrounding them don’t appreciate that magic like they should right away, they will come around, or you will find people that do.  


Q: This is the first in a series--what's next?


A: After Moongarden, the kids’ adventures will take them off the Moon to new parts of the solar system. There, the kids will have a bit of a “we’re not in Kansas anymore” moment as they find that the world they grew up in is very different from the other settlements, in particular, the applications of science.


I’m excited for the magic to branch out into new areas and explore how the kids will handle that. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In addition to exploring new settlements, I’m excited for Myra to experience more dimensions of friendship. In the first book, she is learning who she wants to be friends with and how to make those kinds of friends.


In the next book, her challenge will be learning how to keep a friend, and how to handle new people joining their friend crew, something I think is really common for kids in middle school, when friendships can really start to evolve and change.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Amanda Sellet




Amanda Sellet is the author of the new young adult novel Belittled Women, a retelling of Louisa May Alcott's classic Little Women. Sellet also has written the YA novel By the Book. A former journalist, she lives in Lawrence, Kansas. 


Q: What inspired you to write this modern take on Little Women?


A: For a long time, I assumed all retellings came from a place of unadulterated fandom, as in: “This is my favorite fairy tale; I’m going to do a modern version.”


What I’ve learned in talking to author friends, and in writing a retelling of my own, is that stories that get under our skin and stay there are often the ones that spark frustration or outrage as well as affection. That was certainly the case for me with Little Women. (Laurie marrying Amy? Come on!)


It was a book I knew intimately, with moments that had bugged me for decades, through every new screen adaptation or think piece. I also felt like there was a lot of comedic potential in playing fast and loose with a book generally regarded as a sweet and sentimental classic.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, that “the premise’s cheeky inventiveness—a remix within a remix that both enacts and interrogates the source material—buoys this playful jaunt.” What do you think of that description, and what did you see as the right balance between the original Little Women and your own version as you were working on the book?


A: That is a wonderfully pithy description of what I was going for with Belittled Women. There are plenty of excellent retellings of Little Women, including recent titles like So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow and Great or Nothing by Jessica Spotswood et al.

Instead of engaging directly with the plot of the original, my take is a little more meta and a lot more tongue-in-cheek. In a way, it’s about the act of retelling stories and how we take meaning from narrative, while still touching on the same themes Alcott wrote about: family, duty, identity, growing up.


I tried to make my version accessible to people with only a passing familiarity with the source material, though the better you know the story, the funnier I hope the jokes will be. Unless you’re horribly offended that anyone would make light of the March sisters, in which case: sorry!


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Jo Porter and her sisters?

A: Jo is a bit of a grump. I say that with love, having been a teen curmudgeon myself. In Jo’s case, some of her annoyance with her sisters is justified and some is the product of viewing other people’s actions in the worst possible light. (I suspect she, too, will mellow with age.)


Underneath the sarcasm and bickering, however, there is a baseline of loyalty. They may not always understand each other, but when the chips are down, the Porter girls have each other’s backs – as Jo learns by the end.


Q: Why do you think Little Women has remained so popular for more than 150 years?

A: I think this quote from Little Women, about the story Jo writes after giving up her racy melodramas (which – speaking of meta – sounds a lot like Little Women) gets at the heart of the enduring appeal: “There is truth in it, Jo, that's the secret. Humor and pathos make it alive, and you have found your style at last. You wrote with no thoughts of fame and money, and put your heart into it, my daughter. You have had the bitter, now comes the sweet.”


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on something new for a non-YA audience. It hasn’t been announced yet, but I can say that it’s funny, and romantic, and (unlike my first two books) doesn’t have anything to do with 19th-century literature. Though it does pay tribute to one of my other great narrative loves!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Belittled Women hits shelves Nov. 29, which also happens to be Louisa May Alcott’s birthday. So have some cake with your book!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 29



Nov. 29, 1832: Louisa May Alcott born.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Q&A with Kimberly Garza



Kimberly Garza is the author of the new novel The Last Karankawas. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Copper Nickel and DIAGRAM. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Texas at San Antonio.


Q: What inspired you to write The Last Karankawas, and how did you create Carly, Jess, and the rest of your cast of characters?


A: The first kernel of the story came when I visited my family in Galveston in late 2008, only a few months after Hurricane Ike devastated the island. I was driving down Broadway with my uncle and he pointed out that the tops of all the trees, beautiful live oaks that lined the highway, were brown—they were dead.


I couldn’t get that image out of my head, along with many others from that day there: trash heaps, debris, boats tossed on the sides of the road. When I sat down to write a new story, I started with place—Galveston, post-Ike—and I worked backwards to figure out the characters.


Carly came first, and her grandmother Magdalena after that, and then Jess. The story kept building over the years I worked on it, and the rest of the cast evolved at different times along the way. I was motivated to write not just a novel about Galveston and Hurricane Ike, but one of this neighborhood, the places and the types of people you can find on the island as well as in other corners of Texas.


Q: As you mentioned, the novel takes place in Galveston, Texas, during Hurricane Ike in 2008. Can you say more about how important setting is to you in your writing?


A: Setting is crucial to me. I often start there as an access point into a new story. I sit in a space, think of all of the nuances of a place and setting—geography, landscape, weather, specific details. And from there, I think of characters—the kinds of people found here, for whatever reason, and what their lives and desires and fears might look like.


It was that way when I considered Galveston for this novel, which is a place made up of both locals and tourists at any given moment. So many origin stories of the people who find their way there.


Q: The Booklist review of the novel says, “Written in lyrical, nearly hypnotic prose that makes the reader feel the Texan humidity, this is a brilliantly plotted, startling, and richly rewarding exploration of the myths that bind people together, generational traumas, and the remarkable adaptability of humans.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m honored by this description, and so many good ones I’ve received! I was genuinely concerned with the idea of “history” in this novel—whether that’s history of record or the kind passed down through family, and how much of our histories are comprised of myth as well. Where do we draw the lines there? How much of our ancestors’ history is bound up in us, and do we have a responsibility to that?


And most of all, I love knowing that this book spotlights the many ways people adapt—to weather and environment, to migration, to loss and love. How we survive.


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


A: The novel is told in stories, and I got the title story’s name from a dear friend, writer and poet Sebastián Páramo (the original story was called “The Warriors”). But when I sat down to title the novel, I didn’t hesitate to name it after this story.


Not only is it central to the narrative—in that it concerns Ike, and Carly and Magdalena and Jess, the main three characters—but I love the way it plays with truth. In Magdalena’s mind, she and Carly are the last Karankawas. But Carly has her own doubts, and in reality, the Karankawas are not extinct or wiped out at all. So I like that this title signifies some of that shifting “truth,” mythology and history. It can be read with an asterisk or a question mark!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m at work on my second novel, a story about two American adult sisters who have become estranged from each other and their larger family in the years following the death of their mother. But when they learn they have inherited ancestral land in the Philippines, they have to travel together and reconnect with their mother’s family on the islands, to decide what to do with the land.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb