Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Q&A with Renee Linnell

 


 

 

Renee Linnell is the author of the new memoir Still on Fire. She also has written the memoir The Burn Zone. She lives in Colorado and in Florida.

 

Q: What inspired you to write your new memoir?

 

A: I was inspired by The Burn Zone readers who kept asking for a sequel.

 

I was also inspired by my amazing girlfriends who started laughing hysterically (with me, not at me) and said, “You have to put this story in your next book” every time I told them about one of my sex-capades (trying to regain my mojo after not dating for so long).

 

And I was inspired by a sentence in one of my favorite Burn Zone reviews (by The Plucky Reader): “If she were to write a travel memoir of just the places she’d visited, I’d swallow it whole.”

 

Q: You've said that self-love is the best way to get the love that we deserve. Can you say more about that?

 

A: We will never be truly happy when we look outside of ourselves for the things our soul craves—like love, validation, and safety. When we hand outside sources the responsibility of providing these things, we live in a state of constant anxiety and fear that those people, objects, or situations will be taken from us.

 

It’s unfair of us to not love ourselves and then expect others to—it’s kind of like selling something we wouldn’t buy. So many of us think we need a romantic partner to love us and make us feel whole, but we have it backwards: once we love ourselves and feel whole, we attract other whole people who love us.

 

Until then it’s broken people attracting broken people, hoping to fill each other’s voids, and eventually getting angry that the other person can’t. This is why so many relationships turn toxic: “You don’t bring me flowers anymore.” How about, I buy myself flowers and I love that you get to enjoy them with me when you’re around.


Q: What impact did writing this book have on you, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

 

A: As with writing my first memoir (The Burn Zone), baring my soul in this memoir was extremely liberating. I write in detail about the most intimate parts of my life, sharing with my readers all of me (body, mind, heart, and soul.) It’s scary, but I also think it’s very healing—for myself and my readers.

 

I hope that readers will feel liberated after reading Still on Fire. I hope that they will feel more freedom in being themselves exactly as they are, and I hope that they will feel inspired to go out into this world and play more, be adventurous, try and fail, make mistakes, open their hearts and risk getting hurt.

 

I hope readers will feel less alone as they see so many of their own feelings, thoughts, and mistakes expressed by me.

 

Q: How would you describe the relationship between this memoir and your previous one, The Burn Zone?

 

A: I would say The Burn Zone is an exploration of what happens when we don’t listen to our Inner Guidance and Still on Fire is an exploration of what happens when we do.

 

I also think readers of The Burn Zone will feel inspired and uplifted when they see how my life continues to improve after such a complete and catastrophic undoing. And I think readers of The Burn Zone will enjoy knowing more of my back story.

 

I think readers of Still on Fire will enjoy being taken on a wild and fun ride of magic, miracles, travel and romance, even if they have not read The Burn Zone. Still on Fire is much more light-hearted than The Burn Zone.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I am working on the third book in this trilogy, Twin Flames. That and getting Still on Fire out into the world.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Maybe just how grateful I am to be writing books that inspire, soothe, thrill, and uplift people. I’m grateful for people like you who help me get my story into the hands of those who can benefit from it. And I’m really excited to share Still on Fire with the world!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jeff Seitzer

 


 

 

Jeff Seitzer is the author of the new memoir The Fun Master: A Father's Journey of Love, Loss, and Learning to Live One Day at a Time. It focuses on his late son, Ethan. Seitzer lives in Chicago.

 

Q: Why did you decide to write The Fun Master?

 

A: I was all thumbs when I first took over the care of our infant son Ethan in fragile health. Fortunately, my mother-in-law Aleta came to help, and despite the intense pressures of the situation we shared a lot of laughs about my high learning curve.

 

She assured me that everyone struggles as a parent and suggested that I keep a journal with a view to publishing stories about my experiences one day.

 

When our son Ethan was still very young, however, I decided I wouldn't publish anything, because he did not like to be the center of attention. As he put it, “Some people like to be the main character. But I don’t.”

 

I still continued to make journal entries, so that when he was older I could remember the details of our time together. I ended up with over 4,000 pages of notes.

 

Then the unthinkable happened; Ethan drowned just shy of his 10th birthday. While we were sinking together, I was certain that we were both going to die. My last thought before blacking out was “I will not be able to tell his story.”

 

According to witnesses, I was under water for several minutes. When I finally surfaced and was pulled to shore, my hands and feet were blue from oxygen deprivation. I can't account for my survival. But I do believe that I was somehow spared to write this book.

 

I also wrote it, however, because the story itself has an important human dimension. It is often said that a good parent can make a big difference in the life of a child in need. This story shows that a special kid, in particular a child with special needs, can make a big difference in the life of an adult, especially one like me with special needs.

 

Q: I am so very sorry about the loss of your son…

 

What impact did it have on you to write the book, which deals with this heartbreaking loss?

 

A: Writing about Ethan's short life was like a form of channeling. I wasn't just composing a narrative about our time together; I was re-experiencing it. I could hear his voice, enjoy his throaty laugh, and even feel his touch. He came to life again for me on the pages, which helped me find a way to go on living without him when I wasn't writing.

 

The sad fact remained, however, that I couldn't tell his story, and mine too, without addressing his death. That meant leaving the comfort of the eternal present created in the lines of the memoir. Even five years after his death, it was still too traumatic for me to write about his drowning.

 

So, I composed a neo-Greek tragedy as a final chapter instead. Based loosely on Euripides's Hippolytus, it attributed Ethan's drowning to jealous gods conniving against one another. It was an effective distancing technique, for me at any rate. However, honest readers were compelled to say, “But people will want to know what really happened.”

 

I finally resigned myself to writing about what really happened. The downside of channeling became immediately evident.

 

Writing about his drowning brought me back to the beach. Struggling to stay above the surface; hopelessly sinking together; watching his lifeless body being pulled from the water; seeing his beautiful face, his entire body in fact, turned blue like my hands and feet; in the ambulance with my wife praying for a miracle. 

 

I couldn't think of that day without sobbing. Writing about the drowning was not just traumatic; it was also agonizingly slow. A few words a week, with some weeks nothing at all. Eventually, though, I was able to get it all down on paper.


Now, 12 years later, I can read my account of his drowning without collapsing onto the floor in tears. This is not to say that I am "over it." On the contrary. Grief for me is like a disability, something with which I will always have to contend.

 

Writing the book, however, has helped me adapt to my disability, enabling me to function well on an everyday level. In that sense, completing the story was therapeutic, and I am grateful for that.

 

Q: How would you describe Ethan’s legacy?

 

A: Ethan changed the vibrational level of all those around him. He had the instinctive ability to identify a way to connect with people, even with those who had not been kind to him before.

 

This was not because he was naive or overly eager to be liked. It was because, again instinctively, he wanted each moment with others to be a positive experience. Focusing his gaze on the things they shared brought the best out in people and encouraged them to accentuate the positive in that moment as well.

 

My instincts are different. Recent psychological and neuroscientific studies show that negative experiences imprint especially powerfully on humans. I knew this long before I taught the philosophy of happiness, which addresses such predispositions.

 

A childhood bout with encephalitis left me hyperactive, moody, anxious, and with a flash temper, among other problems. Negative past experiences have always inclined me to expect the worst from people and often to assume a defensive posture when dealing with others. Negative experiences also encourage in me a feeling of disappointment in life generally.

 

Reminding myself of Ethan's positive outlook helps me break this tendency toward negativity, or at least moderate it. He made so much of his short life by expecting little of people, which, interestingly, enabled him to get more from each experience with them than one might have expected.

 

And he never bemoaned his fate. Life had thrown him many curve balls, as it has me, and yet he never seemed resentful or bitter, for these would distract him from enjoying each moment.

 

Emulating his approach to life takes quite a bit of conscious effort, and I have had mixed results. But I have come to believe that we are put on earth to learn. Each person in our lives have something to teach us. This was Ethan's lesson to me, and I am determined to make full use of it.

 

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

 

A: A feeling of hopefulness. The Fun Master is an ode to the wisdom of children like Ethan with special needs. Though life has been hard on them in many respects, they have no time for anger, self-pity, or exclusiveness.

 

Their persistent joyfulness amidst pain and suffering demonstrates how we all can learn to live differently. Such kids are our great teachers. We should look to them for a way out of the darkness gathering around us now.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I am writing a nonfiction book for a general audience entitled Living Philosophically, Poetically, and Politically. The basic idea is that a spiritual life guided by philosophy and science can make you happy as well as a better person.

 

Sacred texts should be viewed as potential sources of wisdom, not as sets of divine commands that one must blindly follow. Religious beliefs, in other words, should be treated as ideas for effective living that can be examined as scientific hypotheses.

 

Using all the modern tools of the natural and social sciences as well as philosophy, one considers the consequences of such ideas for an individual's life and for the welfare of society. 

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Writing has brought me together with so many wonderful people. I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at jeff.seitzer5120@gmail.com. Also consider visiting my website, www.jeffreyseitzer.com, to sign up for my newsletter.   

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Aug. 17

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Aug. 17, 1932: V.S. Naipaul born.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Q&A with Gill Paul

 


 

 

Gill Paul is the author of the new historical novel The Manhattan Girls: A Novel of Dorothy Parker's Circle. Her other books include The Collector's Daughter. She lives in London.

 

Q: Why did you choose to focus on the writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) and three of her friends in your new novel?

 

A: I’ve been a Dorothy Parker fan since my teens. I can’t believe it’s a hundred years since she was quipping away at the Algonquin Round Table because her humor is still fresh and relevant today.

 

It was a male-dominated, misogynist environment and I always hoped that Dorothy had some close female friends in the 1920s, when she was fragile and needed them most. And then I read in Marion Meade’s excellent biography that she formed a bridge group with Jane Grant, Winifred Lenihan, and Peggy Leech.

 

Dorothy was the most famous of the four when the group started in 1921 but over the next few years they all achieved great things in their careers, and there was an interesting story to tell about each. How could I resist?

 

Q: How much did you know about each of the women before beginning the novel, and how did you research their lives?

 

A: I knew a fair bit about Dottie but not the others, and the research process was different for each of them.

 

There are several biographies of Dottie, and she is often mentioned in books on the period, while her short stories and poems are a wonderful window into the era.

 

Jane Grant wrote a memoir entitled Ross, the New Yorker and Me, which covered her background, the way she met her husband, and what happened in the years I cover in my novel. That was invaluable, as I could hear her no-nonsense Kansas voice coming across in the pages.

 

Peggy Leech wrote three novels in the 1920s and I managed to get hold of copies. She’s very insightful about human nature and relationships, and there’s a warmth about her writing that I loved, so that informed my portrait of her.

 

With Winifred, I knew only the bare facts of her life, and what I could glean from reviews of her performances on Broadway. I guessed from the surname that her family was Irish, and I talked to an actress friend about what might have motivated her to give up the limelight after her triumph in Saint Joan. So there’s a lot of guesswork in Winifred’s character, but it’s informed guessing that fits the facts.

 

Q: The author Liz Trenow said of the novel, “The story slips seamlessly between fact and fiction, evoking [the characters'] world so wonderfully...” What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history in the book?

 

A: My goal was to present a picture of the four women that felt emotionally authentic, so I selected events that seemed to illuminate their characters.

 

A lot of biographical information is left out, and I sometimes moved dates or invented scenes to fit the narrative, because writing historical fiction involves shoehorning facts into a novel structure with a beginning, middle and end.

 

All the dialogue and their thoughts are invented, of course. It’s my creative response to the four of them rather than a factual retelling but I hope it captures some truths about the real women.

 

Q: How would you describe the dynamics between these women and the men of the Algonquin circle?

 

A: When writing historical novels, it’s important to judge characters by the standards of their era, not the standards of ours – but even based on 1920s morality, I think the Algonquin men behaved badly. Charlie MacArthur and Bob Benchley were unrepentant serial womanizers and it’s hard to find anything positive to say about Alec Woollcott.

 

The difference between then and now is that the women accepted their behavior and didn’t call it out the way we would today.

 

Jane kept house for Harold, Hawley, and Alec, despite being a campaigner for women’s rights. Winifred would almost certainly have let theatre critics flirt with her, as in the scene where I have George Kaufman stroking her knee. And Dorothy put up with Charlie’s infidelities and Eddie’s abusiveness. Of the four, only Peggy challenged the men of their acquaintance.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’ve delivered another novel, which will come out in summer 2023. I won’t announce the subject until later this year, but it’s set in New York, Paris, and London in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s about two indomitable, trailblazing women.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: There’s going to be a virtual launch for The Manhattan Girls on Aug. 17 at which I will be joined by Hazel Gaynor, Heather Webb, and Jenny Ashcroft to talk about all things 1920s. You can sign up for it here: https://us06web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_7UOb_8BRRke65WMJhBScHw

I tried to learn the Charleston for this launch and, if I can make the technology work, I will premiere the video of me dancing. If you miss it, it will pop up later on my Tiktok account GillPaulAuthor. Should give everyone a good laugh, since I am no dancer!

 

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

Q&A with Mike Trigg

 


 

 

Mike Trigg is the author of the new novel Bit Flip. He has worked in Silicon Valley for more than 20 years as an executive, founder, and investor, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Fast Company. He lives in Menlo Park, California.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Bit Flip, and how did you create your character Sam Hughes?

 

A: I have lived and worked in the Silicon Valley tech industry for over 20 years. So, when it came to writing my first novel, I definitely opted to "write what you know" and base my story on a tech start-up. The novel actually originated as a set of anecdotes. Just amusing or eye-rolling situations I witnessed in my professional life.

 

Though none of the characters in Bit Flip are based on real people, they are all composites of the behaviors, personalities, and mindsets I've witnessed first-hand.

 

As for the protagonist, Sam Hughes, I'll admit he shares some similarities to me. We're both middle-aged tech executives, husbands, and fathers who relocated to the Bay Area from the Midwest.

 

But just like all the other characters in the book, Sam is also a composite. He has the same mixed emotions, ambitions, and infirmities I've seen both in myself and my peers at similar stages of their careers. I wanted Sam to struggle with those same situations to make the book feel authentic to tech insiders like me.

 

Q: The writer Rob Hart said of the book, "This is the kind of book that'll make you very afraid--and very angry--about the win-at-all-costs ethos at the core of our self-righteous tech culture." What do you think of that description, and what do you think the novel says about the culture of Silicon Valley?

 

A: Rob Hart is an incredible writer, and I thought his insight into Bit Flip was spot-on. His novel, The Warehouse, is a wonderful tech thriller but also a critique of Big Tech. I wrote Bit Flip with a similar goal of portraying the dark side of the tech industry.

 

The novel shines a spotlight on a particularly pernicious aspect of Silicon Valley culture. Namely, the "win-at-all-costs ethos" that Rob identifies. The mindset increasingly seems to be that if you're making money for yourself and your venture investors, that almost any behavior is justifiable.

 

Many people in tech have a real problem with that attitude, and it has led to what I have written about as an identity crisis within Silicon Valley. A recognition that we have lost sight of the original "making the world a better place" mission, and are grappling with the negative side effects that those of us in the tech industry are complicit in creating.

 

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

 

A: Actually, the original version of the novel ended very differently. In fact, the current opening, in which Sam is thrust into a last-minute speaking appearance and has a moment of unfiltered candor on-stage about the state of Silicon Valley, was originally at the end of the book.

 

In working with my developmental editor, we decided to move that scene to the start and end the book very differently. So, no, I didn't know the ending until I wrote a first draft, but I think the ending now is much more powerful. Kirkus described it as a "daring, authentic conclusion" in their review.

 

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

 

A: I named the novel Bit Flip from the very beginning. As explained in the preface, a "bit" is a 0 or 1 in binary code. When the bit changes from 0 to 1 and back again, the bit "flips." In the novel, that concept is used metaphorically to refer to a change of heart. 

 

Adam Nemett, author of the fantastic novel We Can Save Us All, nailed it when he said, "Just as 1s switch to 0s and back again, Trigg's characters challenge us to examine the complicated, false binary between right and wrong."

 

That's exactly what I was going for in the story, showing complicated and contradictory characters who change their minds, justify their actions, and blur the lines between right and wrong.

 

The concept of a bit flip also speaks to me personally, referring to the pivot I made in my career out of tech and into writing. So I used Bit Flip as the name of my blog as well.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I've just written a new novel called Burner, which I'm very excited about. There’s a sneak peek on my author website at miketrigg.com, but the story is a face-paced contemporary tech thriller.

 

It’s told through dual narrators: Shane, who has just been arrested for domestic terrorism for being the anonymous leader of a nefarious online movement, and Chloe, a tech billionaire heiress who has just been abducted by Shane's followers. Meanwhile, Chloe and Shane are secretly in love and both try desperately to undo what they've done.

 

The whole story is a plunge into the depths of how tech is contorting our lives through social media abuse, disinformation, and celebrity obsession. It's not a sequel to Bit Flip, but Burner hits many of the same themes and critiques of the tech industry.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: In addition to writing novels, I am an active writer, posting regularly on my author site and contributing articles to other outlets. I will also be doing a number of book events this fall around the launch of Bit Flip. For the latest news, sign up for my newsletter at miketrigg.com or follow me on Facebook at facebook.com/MikeTriggAuthor.   

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Aug. 16

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

Aug. 16, 1902: Georgette Heyer born.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Q&A with Susan Coll

 


 

 

Susan Coll is the author of the new novel Bookish People. Her other books include the novel The Stager, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post and Washingtonian. She is president of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.

 

Q: You've worked at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.--how much did your experiences there inspire Bookish People, and how did you create your characters Sophie Bernstein and Clemi?

 

A: I am, much to my own surprise, back at Politics & Prose part-time, helping with the transition back to in-person events, and it’s great to be back, although also a little meta. Even though the book is fiction, and the unnamed bookstore in the novel is not meant to be P&P, there are undeniable resemblances and I sometimes feel like I’m in the middle of a scene.

 

Each of those characters---Sophie and Clemi---is arguably a little bit of me. I was (and still am!) older than most of my colleagues, which enabled me to observe the occasional disconnect that Mrs. Bernstein, who owns the store, sometimes feels around her much younger employees.

 

At the same time, my job is much more like Clemi’s job – she’s the bookstore events manager, and it was fun to write from her point of view.

 

Q: The Kirkus Review of the novel says, in part, “As much fun as Coll has with vacuum cleaners—a truly surprising amount—it’s literary humor where she slays.” What do you think of that description, and how did you come up with the ideas for the books your fictional store sells?


A: Thank you Kirkus! That is one of my all-time favorite reviews. I love that line about slaying so much that I want to put it on a t-shirt.

 

I did have a lot of fun with the vacuum cleaner---the book was inspired in part by the real-life troublesome vacuum cleaner at P&P, which has apparently now been replaced.

 

The End of Day Reports sprinkled throughout the novel are based on real documents that the store manager sends out each day, and when I worked there they contained so many vacuum cleaner status updates---the hose was clogged, the belt was broken, it was back in the shop---that at some point this seemed ripe for comedy.

 

Re the books: some are fictional, some are real. The real books slipped in easily. Others I needed to make up.

 

Raymond Chaucer, the poet on a bender, and his work are fictional. The title, Kaboom!, sounded both funny and explosive, which it is given that it sparks protests. The same is the case with The Girl in Gauzy Blue, a confection of a debut novel. It has the ring of everything trendy and trending.

 

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Sophie and Clemi?

 

A: I think Sophie is protective of Clemi in a maternal sort of way, but it’s complicated. Sophie is not her best self during the week that the story unfolds. She can be domineering and judgmental, and she knows it. There is love between them, but it is strained by circumstances as well as the employer/employee relationship.

 

Q: What do you think the novel says about the world of independent bookstores?

 

A: The book is a love letter to independent bookstores and to booksellers, especially. They build community in countless different ways. (Support your local indie!)

 

Bookstores are good fodder for a comic novel in that you find a lot of highly intelligent people working very hard in what is not the most well compensated industry, and it can at times become a pressure cooker. It is analogous to academia, which of course has spawned a genre of comic novels.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: My next novel is inspired by the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1967, and the legend of the Mothman. I’ve been thinking about this subject for about 10 years, and even once went, by myself, to the Mothman Festival. I’m still struggling to find the story that I want to tell, but it’s slowly coming into focus.

 

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

Q&A with Megan Edwards

 


 

 

Megan Edwards is the author of the new novel A Coin for the Ferryman. Her other books include Strings: A Love Story. She lives in Las Vegas.

 

Q: What inspired you to write A Coin for the Ferryman?

 

A: Way back when I was a classics major at Scripps College, I visited the Getty Villa in Malibu, California, for the first time. The Getty Villa is a reconstructed copy of a Roman villa that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius back in 79 C.E.

 

As I walked around the buildings and grounds, I wondered what a real ancient Roman might think of it all. So much would be familiar, and yet so much would also be weird: the elevators, the parking garage, electric lights, air conditioning, bright blue chlorinated pools, and so on.

 

This thought stuck in my head and expanded as time went by. What would a Roman think about our world in general? In time, the ancient Roman became Julius Caesar, and a novel was born.

 

Q: You note in your acknowledgments that it took 20 years for the book to be written--how did you arrive at this version of the novel?

 

A: I wrote the novel—my first—and signed with my first agent. When the manuscript failed to sell, I went back to work and wrote several other novels. I still liked my Caesar story, though, so I decided to throw out the first version and write the whole thing over from scratch.

 

In the end, I was glad the first version of the book wasn’t published. I think the time I spent thinking about the story combined with more writing experience made it a better book. Another unexpected benefit of extended time was that I met people who gave me insights over the years, including a Scottish astrophysicist who gave me ideas for how a time machine might work.


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

 

A: I read everything I could find about Julius Caesar and the era in which he lived. It’s truly surprising how much is known about that period even though two millennia have passed. I found all this daunting until I reminded myself that there is still much that is unknown.

 

I found I was able to use the historical record as a springboard and allow my imagination to fill in the gaps with what I hope is plausible fiction. It was a challenging thought experiment to imagine, for example, the details of Caesar’s relationship with Cleopatra.

 

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

 

A: The title was chosen because coins play important roles in the story, particularly one coin that is an OOPArt—an out-of-place artifact.

 

A “coin for the ferryman” refers to the fare required by the mythical Charon, who piloted the recently demised across the River Styx to the underworld. Because Julius Caesar is transported to our world moments before his assassination on the Ides of March and will return to that same moment, the title is appropriately ominous.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: My current work in progress is the third installment in my Copper Black mystery series, a whodunit titled Graveyard Bowling. I’m also involved in a nonfiction project that’s in its earliest stages and still under the radar. So many ideas! So little time!

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: A beautiful gold coin was minted to celebrate the launch of A Coin for the Ferryman. I still have a few left, and I’d be happy to send one to anyone who’d like one. All I need is a mailing address sent to me at megan@meganedwards.com. (I promise not to use it for any other purpose!)

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jen Barton

 


 

 

Jen Barton is the author of the new young adult biography Bernice Sandler and the Fight for Title IX. It focuses on activist Bernice "Bunny" Sandler (1928-2019) and her efforts to make it illegal for federally funded institutions to discriminate on the basis of sex. Barton's other books include What's Your Story, Amelia Earhart?. She lives in Pennsylvania.

 

Q: How did you research this book?    

 

A: I spent a lot of time reading; educating myself on the history of TIX, on how Bunny was involved in the law’s creation, and also on what it was like to live and grow up before TIX was law.

 

One of my favorite parts of research was spending a week digging through Bunny’s collected papers at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute. It was incredible to see so much history first-hand.

 

I also spent time with Bunny’s daughters and had the benefit of their invaluable insight into the more personal side of their mom, as well as with Bunny’s close friend and colleague, Margaret Dunkel, who was kind enough to write the Intro for the book.


Margaret knew Bunny, which is incredible. She ran in the same circles and was there fighting for Title IX with Bunny. She was an invaluable partner and it was an absolute honor to talk with her and have her involvement.

 

Q: What do you see as the legacy today of Bernice Sandler’s work on Title IX?

 

A: It’s really a workhorse of legislation. Bunny and fellow activists fought to make it illegal for institutions that receive federal funds to discriminate on the basis of sex.

 

Yes, that means equitable locker rooms and uniforms regardless of gender, but the law also protects pregnant and parenting students from discrimination. And it protects against sexual harassment—from a creepy hand on your shoulder to assault.

 

Title IX is a powerful resource everyone should be aware of. Kids should know they’re protected, that there’s a law making it illegal for them to be bullied because they don’t conform to a stereotypical concept of masculinity or femininity, that it’s illegal for sexual harassment to interfere with their education.

 

They should know their school has to have a Title IX Coordinator. Hopefully students will never have to make use of the coordinator, but they deserve to be informed.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m currently a graduate student at Hollins University in Roanoke, working toward my MA in Children’s Literature. I’m nearing the end of classwork, and am beginning to think about my thesis, which is tentatively a MG novel about a girl with anger issues who works in her mom’s restaurant. I’m excited about the project, but have a lot of work to do!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Aug. 15

 

Photo by Lynn Gilbert

 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Aug. 15, 1912: Julia Child born.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Q&A with Shawn Nocher

 


 

 

Shawn Nocher is the author of the new novel The Precious Jules. She also has written the novel A Hand to Hold in Deep Water, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including SmokeLong Quarterly and Pithead Chapel. She teaches in Johns Hopkins University's master of arts writing program, and she lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Precious Jules, and how did you create the Jules family?

 

A: As a child, I once overheard my parents’ closest friends talking about one of their children. I had no idea the child existed. It turned out that they had placed their very young daughter in the institution I modeled Beechwood after. I was shocked to learn of this missing daughter.

 

I loved this family and they were the kindest and most loving parents to their remaining children, but I always wondered how having a banished child might affect the individuals within a family. And of course, it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that a mother, specifically, could give up a child. I’ve mulled this over for years. But I’ve done so without judgment.

 

I knew this family and I knew that giving up their child was the tragedy that defined them—each in their own way. To be clear, The Precious Jules is not their story. It is definitely a fictional work, but I hope it honors the pain that families like theirs had to endure in making such a choice.

 

Q: You tell the story from various 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 others?

 

A: For the most part, I wrote it in the order it is presented in the book. By the time I sat down to write this book the characters were so clear in my mind and I knew them so well that it wasn’t difficult to pick up the thread of a particular character as I moved on to each new chapter.

 

My challenge was deciding who knew what and who would tell a particular part of the story from their own point of view.


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

 

A: The title came to me easily once I had a family name. I liked playing with the idea that we are all of value but that sometimes we struggle to see that value in what we consider to be less than perfect.

 

On the outside, the beautiful and successful Jules family is the perfect family, though they hide—to some degree—not only what they think of as the family’s imperfection but also the decision they have struggled to reconcile. Yet Lynetta (Ella’s caregiver) refers to Ella as “a jewel of nature, a precious jewel.”

 

I think these two perspectives are so interesting and speak volumes about how we judge the value of individuals in our society.

 

Q: The Foreword Review of the book, by Karen Rigby, says, in part, “Without glossing over the challenges that are involved in taking care of a special needs child, the novel is wise about people’s reluctance to admit darker emotions, even while they ache for understanding.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: We all struggle with the big decisions and many of the choices available to us come with painful collateral damage. And so we make a choice—a decision—and then we second guess ourselves, maybe ask ourselves if the decision was a selfish one on some level.

 

We ache to be absolved of all the baggage that comes with that decision. We ache to be understood. But it’s not always possible. Sometimes, we just have to find a way to forgive ourselves and stop asking the world to do it for us.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: My next book is about a young mother who has lost her husband to an overdose and struggles to reconcile the choices she made—the ways she thinks she did and didn’t support him in his illness—and what that means for her and her children moving forward.

 

Just as she thinks she has settled around the worst of it, a mysterious teenage girl comes into her life and disrupts everything she thought she knew about addiction and her husband’s past.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I’m a serial rescuer of animals, I was once terrified of flying until I took a flying lesson, and I like rainy days because I use them as an excuse to curl up with a book in the middle of the day.

 

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