Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Q&A with Rebecca Kaiser Gibson

 


 

 

Rebecca Kaiser Gibson is the author of the new novel The Promise of a Normal Life. Her other books include the poetry collection Girl as Birch, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Slate and AGNI. She lives in Marlborough, New Hampshire.

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Promise of a Normal Life, and how did you create your protagonist?

 

A: Many of the sections of this novel were written separately, quite long ago, as stories, over many years and what inspired me then was just a need to shape what was in my head.

 

However, I can point to an external event that prodded me to form the pieces into a whole. In the recent flourishing of MeToo confessions, made long after the assault described were to have occurred, and, pointedly, watching the Kavanaugh hearings, I was intrigued by the forces that keep women and girls silent and even in denial, for years.

 

Through that lens, I saw my character’s upbringing, her relationship to her family, her private conclusions about things, all could be seen to contribute to her acquiescence, her secrecy and her micro rebellions.

 

Q: Why is the protagonist unnamed?

 

A: While some speculate that the protagonist “refuses to share her name” in an act of self-negation, my thinking is almost the opposite. I wanted to create a world, her world, in which she is the subjective center. If I’d given her a name, I’d have added an external perspective, made her one of many, and removed an aspect of her experience.

 

Q: The writer Margot Livesey said of the book, “Rebecca Kaiser Gibson writes with a poet’s precision and a novelist’s sense of character as she deftly evokes her narrator’s family, childhood summers, friendships, travels, and love affairs.” What do you think of that description, particularly as it relates to the idea of being both a poet and a novelist?


A: I admire Margot’s own precision and her varied and fascinating characters. I think I understand what she’s getting at with her observation.

 

What I associate with writing poetry is a sensation of working in four-dimensional space – creating a being of which the elements of echo and assonance, reach and retreat, pause and plunge etc. interact on both a sensed/felt level and a literal one of the “meaning” of words. 

 

The sensation in writing the novel was more like taking a long walk: the terrain was varied but the steps had to land on the ground, and progress had to be made and even noticed. It was a great pleasure to try to manage both impulses in some sort of harmonic tandem. It was fun.

 

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

 

A: Confession time. I didn’t come up with the title. A friend did – not as a title even, but casually in describing her reading of the book. At first, I resisted. But very quickly I felt the power of it.

 

Of course, one’s first reaction is What’s Normal?  But from the character’s perspective and behavior, there’s a steady, if subtle, attempt to “normalize”, i.e., often justify what she witnesses. And then there’s the issue of The Promise of….  I hope the thread of books, movies and various stars that offer her what she incorporates as “normal” is understood by my readers.  

 

Additionally, I liked the notion that even if much of what’s expected to be normal is artificially manufactured, there is some kind of innate promise that keeps her moving, if haltingly, toward more acknowledgement of herself as a person among and with others. 

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I have two new poetry manuscripts underway – I’m sure you’ll see that there are correspondences with the novel.  Their titles are “Linked” and “What if My Waking is a Dream.” Also, I’m working on a series of stories that, like the novel, have hidden, dormant or dozing in my closet for decades and are ready to get finished.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Well, here’s an amusing thing: A designer wanted to surround the book announcement with plants and I was aghast. Where did these fronds come from? I asked, sort of confrontationally. I supported my objection with a quick word search for the word plants – and found very few instances. 

 

I mentioned the conversation to my daughter who said, Mom, they are everywhere. Sure enough, gardens, blossoms, vines–– they are all over the place. I realized then that I am so inclined to find connection in what we call “nature” that I’m unaware that it’s the air I’ve given the character to breathe.  Now I’ll need to be aware of that habit I guess…

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with K.L. Cerra

 


 

 

K.L. Cerra is the author of the new novel Such Pretty Flowers. She is also a marriage and family therapist, and she lives in the Los Angeles area.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Such Pretty Flowers, and how did you create your character Holly?

 

A: I had just unsuccessfully queried my last manuscript (that is, sent it out to agents looking for representation) and wanted to turn my attention to something new.

 

I was having trouble coming up with a premise, though—so my sister, who is an editor, recommended I try writing down snippets of inspiration and pair them together. I jotted down a bunch of terms in a notebook and did just that. Such Pretty Flowers came about from a combination of “obsession,” “Savannah,” and “florist.”

 

Holly emerged pretty organically. I suspect I pulled from some of the feelings I had at her age—feeling lonely and kind of purposeless and adrift—which of course set the perfect stage for Maura to swoop in.

 

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Holly and Maura?

 

A: Twisted, but addictively so. Holly is entranced by Maura: her confidence, poise, beauty, and mystery. And yes, there’s something dangerous about Maura, but Holly can’t quite put her finger on it. This fascination quickly morphs into an obsession.

 

And on the other side, Maura drinks in Holly’s attention—she really feeds off the feeling of being needed and is desperate to secure it. It’s a very unhealthy, co-dependent relationship, but like a car crash, it’s almost difficult to look away.

 

Q: The writer Layne Fargo said of the book: “A lush, seductive Southern Gothic that’s deliciously queer in every sense of the word. Holly and Maura’s mutual obsession made me shiver and sweat in equal measure, and Cerra’s gift for gorgeous, gruesome atmosphere had me spellbound.” What do you think of that description?


A: I was so utterly flattered to hear such high praise. Layne really seemed to get what I was trying to do with the novel. Yes, it’s a story about a woman investigating her brother’s mysterious death, but at its heart, it’s about this very dysfunctional, obsessive relationship between two women.

 

As for the compliment about the “gorgeous, gruesome atmosphere,” I felt really proud to hear that. When my agent and I went out on submission, an editor who passed on the manuscript mentioned that she wished it had been “lusher.”

 

I challenged myself to do that—I had a trip planned to Savannah for a family wedding and I went around obsessively writing down every detail about the city (down to the way I saw an oak tree root making the sidewalk buckle). Then I wove all those details into the manuscript during my next round of revisions. So whenever anyone calls Such Pretty Flowers atmospheric, I’m thrilled!

 

Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

 

A: I made many, many changes throughout. In fact, I would say that 30-40 percent of the manuscript was scrapped and rewritten from the draft I queried with agents, to the final version of the book that’s about to be published.

 

The ending was one of the parts that changed along the way. Originally, it was much more open-ended, and my agent (rightly!) encouraged me to give readers a more satisfying ending that offered closure.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m currently knee-deep in edits for my second book, another gothic suspense I’m super excited about. It centers around a coven of modern-day witches/artists working under the guise of the wedding industry to “save” women from losing themselves to wife- and motherhood. They are single-minded in this mission—and in their fierce commitment to creative living—and, like Such Pretty Flowers, it gets pretty dark.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: No, I think these were some great questions! As a therapist, I love that you asked about relationship dynamics, since that’s (clearly) an interest of mine. Thanks so much for interviewing me!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Roxana Arama

 


 

 

Roxana Arama is the author of the new novel Extreme Vetting. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Extreme Vetting, and how did you create your characters Laura and Emilio?

 

A: The idea for Extreme Vetting came up in a conversation I had in October 2018 with my husband. A few months before, I had watched a video of the president of the United States at a rally, where he compared immigrants to venomous snakes that should be crushed underfoot. The crowd loved it, and I was horrified. Dehumanizing the other is the first step toward violence.

 

When I later talked to my husband, he suggested I write a book about what it feels like to be an immigrant. I immediately started envisioning that story. It wouldn’t just be my next project. It would be a way for me to push back against that hateful rhetoric and to reassert the humanity Trump had denied people like me.

 

Laura Holban is an immigration lawyer and a single mom. She’s dedicated to her clients, her teenage daughter, and her mother back in Romania. I used some of my own experience as an immigrant for her backstory and for her day-to-day interactions, but she’s a fictional character. I’m a former software developer; she’s a lawyer.

 

I knew right away who she must be, because an attorney working for a client whose life is in danger has the potential for a page-turner. Plus, courtroom drama is always compelling.

 

For Emilio Ramirez, I studied news articles to understand the tragedy of forced migration. In an early draft, Emilio fled Guatemala because of a drug lord, but an editor I worked with challenged me to find something other than drugs and weapons to use in my story.

 

So I came up with a black-market data broker and the subplot of stolen Mayan artifacts. Which helped me further explore the theme of ancestral purity, which negatively influences our current political discourse.

 

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 know what would happen with each character beforehand. Once I approached the climax in my outline, I realized some of my characters couldn’t survive it. I hated making those decisions, but I knew that, without them, the book wouldn’t authentically depict the current state of immigration. If things weren’t that bad for people forced to migrate, why would they put their lives in danger and flee?

 

I also needed some closure in the end—because this is a novel, not a reportage—so I tied up some plot threads that most likely wouldn’t be resolved so neatly in real life.

 

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

 

A: I did a lot of research for Extreme Vetting, followed by rounds of sensitivity reading. I started by interviewing an immigration lawyer, who then answered follow-up questions as I edited the manuscript. I also studied court documents about two criminal cases prosecuted in Washington state against ICE officials, who were later sentenced to prison for defrauding undocumented immigrants.


I read news stories, some recommended by friends and family. I read books about the native cultures of my characters. I continued studying Spanish (which is a Romance language, like Romanian). And I was alert to any developments in US immigration. I even interviewed a real estate agent for the conflict over Emilio’s house.

 

It surprised me that, even though I’d gone through the permanent residency process twice, I still needed help understanding when something in my novel fell under the jurisdiction of one federal agency or another. Immigration law is complicated, and it’s quite different from criminal and civil law.

 

For instance, someone is considered innocent until proven guilty, right? Not in immigration law. A person is considered guilty if they crossed the border illegally or they overstayed their visa, and the lawyer must convince the judge not to deport them, while accepting removability.

 

This aspect changes court dynamics, where the burden is not on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, but on the defense to convince the judge their client deserves legal status.

 

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

 

A: I hope readers get a sense of what it feels like to be part of the US immigration process. It’s a slog, with many moving parts, in which people’s lives get crushed every day. It’s not at all the easy process politicians describe in their polarizing speeches.

 

People don’t just leave their homes and families behind for fun. There’s always trauma involved in abandoning your native country and trying to build a home in a new land. Many immigrants never feel at home in their adoptive countries, no matter how long they live there. Children of immigrants are trapped between two worlds, unable to find role models and to feel like they belong in their native country.

 

Immigration is a complex, heartbreaking subject, and I hope my novel helps readers grasp some of the nuances that are left out in our current public discourse.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I completed a historical fantasy about a princess who lives in a kingdom on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, a realm based on the ancient maps of Romania and Ukraine. When she is sent away by her father, she ends up changing the religious order of her new kingdom. She’s the archetype of the immigrant who alters the culture of their adoptive country.

 

And I’m now revising a sci-fi about the creation of androids in an alternate history where the Roman Empire lasted another thousand years. When the androids can’t get basic human rights on Earth, they must find a new home somewhere else.

 

It’s another immigration story, but this time with androids and spaceships. It was inspired by recent developments in AI and neuroscience and informed by my degree in computer science with a major in artificial intelligence.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: The publication date of Extreme Vetting is Feb. 7, 2023, exactly 22 years since the day I arrived in Seattle as an immigrant from Romania with a job in software development. The story in the thriller also happens mostly in the month of February, another coincidence.

 

There were moments when I thought I couldn’t get this book published. But with the help of my family and friends, and also people in the publishing industry who believed this was a story worth telling, we managed to make Extreme Vetting a reality. But it couldn’t have happened without them.

 

As an immigrant, this sense of belonging to a supportive community and of working on something timely and meaningful kept me going. I’m grateful to everyone who helped me along the way.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with James Ponti

 

Photo by Elena Seibert Photography

 

 

James Ponti is the author of the new middle grade novel City Spies: City of the Dead, the latest in his City Spies series. A former TV writer and producer, he lives in Orlando, Florida.

 

Q: This is the fourth in your City Spies series--what inspired City of the Dead?

 

A: With me, it’s rare that there’s a singular inspiration. My process usually involves elements that I want to use and trying to figure out how they fit together.

 

I wanted to set the mystery in Egypt and open with the team pulling off a heist. The first connection was the British Museum. It holds tons of Egyptian artifacts and there’s great debate about whether the UK government should return them. I knew that would provide fertile storytelling ideas, but I still needed a deeper connection. 

 

Next, I tried to figure out how to break into the museum, which led me to Bonfire Night. Every year on Nov. 5, there are raucous celebrations throughout the UK that celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605. I thought the noise from one of these celebrations might mask the break-in. It turns out that King Tut Day is celebrated on Nov. 4. The fact that they were a day apart was the second connection. 

 

Finally, Guy Fawkes has become a symbol for computer hackers. I decided to begin the book with a cyberattack timed to coincide with celebrations marking Tut and Fawkes, which gave me a very modern crime blended with an ancient setting. Once I had those ingredients, it was time to start cooking. 

 

Q: Do you think your characters have changed from the first book to this new one?

 

A: I think it’s the nature of all teenagers to change as they try to find and understand themselves. But I also think that change is often about chiseling away at what’s obscuring who they truly are. That’s what I’m striving to do with the characters in my books.

 

There are five kids on the City Spies team and the biggest challenge I have as a writer is making sure that each gets the proper amount of attention in every book. While I’m not much of an outliner with regard to plot, I do map out their character arcs before I start writing. Hopefully, this has led to characters who continue to grow and develop as they move from book to book. I want them to change while still staying consistent. 

 

Q: Did you need to do any research to write City of the Dead, and if so, did you learn anything that especially intrigued you?

 

A: I did a lot of research about ancient Egypt, all of which was fascinating. I interviewed Dr. Kara Cooney, a leading Egyptologist, and she said that when you stand in front of the Great Pyramid, you feel very small, which is exactly what the pharaohs wanted. That got me thinking a lot about intent. Then I began to read about the present-day search for more tombs in the Valley of the Kings and that intrigued me and became a key element of the plot. 

 

Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end before you start writing them, or do you make many changes along the way?

 

A: In the epic battle of plotter vs. pantser, I fall directly in the middle with the plantser crowd. I tend to outline the first quarter or third of a book before I get started and then figure out the rest as I go.

 

I liken it to a cross country road trip from New York to Los Angeles. I know where we’re staying the first few nights, but try to leave the rest of the trip open for exploration. That said, we’re going to Los Angeles and having that ultimate destination is important.

 

The same is true with a book. I need to know where I’m headed before I write. I think this is especially true because of the mystery elements of the stories. I have to know the solution, if I really want to layer in the clues properly. 

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: A week ago, I turned in the first draft of City Spies 5, which was a huge relief. Now, I’m taking two weeks off of writing to go on a book tour with City Spies City of the Dead. As soon as I get back from that, I dive back into writing the first book in a new series that’s set to debut at the end of Summer 2024. 

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: My new series is called the Sherlock Society, which is set in and around Miami. Starting next year, I’ll have two books a year come out, which should be great fun. (And extremely tiring.) Thanks for the great questions!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 8

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
Feb. 8, 1851: Kate Chopin born.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Q&A with Martin Puchner

 


 

 

Martin Puchner is the author of the new book Culture: The Story of Us, from Cave Art to K-Pop. His other books include The Written World. He is the Byron and Anita Wien Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University, and he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

Q: What inspired you to write this history of culture, and how would you define “culture”?

 

A: Friends and I were sitting around the dinner table, bemoaning the decline of the humanities. That fall, only 8 percent of the incoming class had declared an interest in the humanities. Ouch.

 

Suddenly, while wallowing in self-pity and a general sense of malaise, it occurred to me that I actually had no idea what the arts and humanities were. So, I started asking everyone I met. The responses were all over the place.

 

After a while, I realized that I was asking the wrong question. What I was really after was culture, the special things humans keep making, from cave paintings to sculptures to epic stories. Those things are useless, strictly speaking, except that they aren’t: they have helped the people who created them, and the people who interacted with them, to make sense of the world.

 

So, I started asking a different question: how does culture work? And what can we learn about us as a species from the history of these special objects? The result was Culture: The Story of Us.

 

Q: Your book The Written World also covered thousands of years. Did you use the same research process this time around, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

 

A: The main reason why I write books that cover a lot of material is the sense of discovery. In this book, I wanted to understand how cultures develop and change over time, so I started assembling a lot of case studies from different time periods.

 

I love this part of the process because there are so many small and larger surprises along the way. How Ashoka, the Indian King, tried to write messages for the future by inscribing extremely solid and visible stone pillars, but also how quickly these inscriptions became illegible because the writing system he used fell out of use.

 

Stories that should be much better known such as the Ethiopian sacred text, Kebra Nagast, which tells a fascinating story of the theft of the Ark of the Covenant, the shrine in which the Ten Commandments were kept. Once you take a dive into the ocean of culture, there isn’t a dull moment. The sheer variety and ingenuity of what humans have wrought is exhilarating.

 

And then, a second process starts: I slowly abstract from all the case studies and a bigger picture emerges, and I start to see patterns and developments.

 

What surprised me in this phase was the sheer variety of ways in which cultures borrow from one another. Often, it’s the work of unusual individuals, travelers, translators, traders, artists, storytellers, people curious about other cultures. Sometimes it’s a matter of groups of people, of one group imposing its own culture onto a defeated foe, or, conversely, it's a conqueror adopting the culture of the defeated, and most of the time, it’s everything in-between.

 

I started to keep a list of all the ways in which borrowing happens and then selected episodes that show that variety.


Q: The writer Anthony Doerr said of the book, “Culture is a breakneck, utterly captivating survey of the cultural transmission of ideas, stories, and songs—how they survive, change, vanish, and are borrowed, refined, coopted, and grafted through time.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: I’m blushing with embarrassment (and am secretly pleased) because Anthony Doerr is a writer I admire immensely. I read Cloud Cuckoo Land the day it came out, in the fall of 2021, which was just around the time I was finishing my book, and I thought: this book does exactly what I am trying to do--but is so much funnier.

 

Usually, when people ask me about the difference between fiction and nonfiction, I say that I write nonfiction because it’s much more surprising, that you couldn’t make up half the things that really happened. But Anthony Doerr is an exception: his powers of invention are boundless.

 

Anyway, it’s a perfect and generous and brilliant description. I feel that, above all, it’s a description of Doerr’s own work, so I am thrilled that he sees my book in a similar light.

 

Q: You write, “The history of culture sketched in these pages has plenty of lessons for us today.” Can you say more about that, and about what you see looking ahead?

 

A: When I look at the incredibly rich and varied history of art and culture, the main lesson I take away is humility. If you include cave painting, the book covers some 35,000 years and still mentions only a tiny fraction of what humans have wrought. But even that tiny fraction is astonishing.

 

So, when confronted with that richness, I find myself bracketing many of my own opinions and values and beliefs, they suddenly seem much less certain and much less important.

 

A second lesson is closely related to the first. We all know that we live in a very censorious, judgmental age, an age of “culture wars,” and there are plenty of culture wars in the book. Again and again, I found that it’s people beholden to a misguided idea of purity who wreak the most havoc.

 

Why? Because culture thrives on borrowing and mixing. There is a lot of destruction in the book, either deliberate sabotage or strategic neglect, and almost always it comes a from deeply held puritan beliefs in moral superiority against which the past is judged and found wanting.

 

But then an interesting thing happens: history turns against these purists very quickly because their strict and restrictive value systems don’t last. I always try to keep that in mind now when I find myself censoring other cultures or the past for this or that presumed transgression.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Culture: The Story of Us is supposed to have a second life as an introduction to the arts and humanities, which is why I am in the process of turning it into a book teachers might assign as a textbook.

 

In many ways, this is a response to the steep decline in humanities enrollment in the US I mentioned earlier. Norton thought that what’s needed is a new, genuinely global textbook that gets students excited about the arts and culture.

 

Now that I’m doing this work of expanding, I’m finding it very hard, to tell you the truth. Textbooks need a certain amount of coverage, more coverage than I currently provide, but above all I want to immerse students in moments of culture, to help them envision how extraordinary works were created. I feel that the whole pedagogical enterprise will stand and fall with my ability to communicate that excitement, that sense of discovery.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: A book such as this one could not be written without the help of countless scholars on whose more specialized work I rely. Of course, all books have acknowledgment pages, but in this case, the acknowledgments are the core of the book.

 

I have been fortunate in that I have been involved in many collaborative projects such as the Norton Anthology of World Literature, so I know a lot of scholars working in far-flung fields and was able to consult them. But I also approached scholars whose work I admired but who I didn’t know at all, and they were incredibly generous with their time as well.

 

The fact that a book such as this one exists is an expression of collective scholarship. Often, I felt like I was simply a conduit, channeling the story of culture rather than actively telling it. When I look back now, perhaps that’s the answer to the question I started out with about the humanities, the one I couldn’t answer: they are the collective work of re-making culture in each generation.

 

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

Q&A with Margaret Verble

 


 

 

Margaret Verble is the author of the new novel Stealing. It focuses on a Cherokee child taken from her family in the 1950s. Verble's other books include the novel Maud's Line. An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, she lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Stealing?

 

A: I didn’t really write Stealing so much as it wrote me. It dropped out of the sky, and I flexed my fingers to get it into the computer. Most books don’t come that way. At least, mine don’t. So I wouldn’t say I was inspired. I’d say I was used.

 

Q: What are the stakes of the legality of the Indian Child Welfare Act currently before the Supreme Court?

 

A: They’re enormous in my opinion. There’s a long history in this country of taking Native children away from their families and out of their cultures. It’s another way of killing NDNs off. In fact, there’s a famous quote about that, “Kill the Indian, save the child.” This kind of kidnapping is often done under the disguise of “helping,” or of “educating,” or with some other sanctimonious justification.

 

With the exception of Justice Gorsuch, I suspect most of the people sitting on the current Supreme Court don’t know anything about this history. Or, maybe, they do, and won’t care. I hope I’m wrong about that. But I don’t have much faith in them doing the right thing.


Q: How did you research the novel?

 

A: The only research I did for the novel was on the different types of charges for criminal homicide, what books about baseball were available in the 1950s, and where to find Jezebel in the Bible. I knew all of the rest it. Have known it all my life.  

 

Q: You note that you wrote much of this book in 2006-07. What happened with the manuscript over the years?

 

A: After making a few attempts to find an agent or a publisher for the book, I realized the people I was sending it to didn’t know I was writing about a real problem. They seemed to think the manuscript was well-written, but not marketable, or current, or something.

 

Anyway, I understood fairly quickly that they didn’t have a clue about how often Native children are removed from their families, or the damage that’s done to countless people for well over a century. I’d already tried to get Cherokee America published again and again, and had realized that the people I was sending that novel to didn’t have any appreciation for Native American history.

 

I didn’t want to walk down that same depressing path again, so I just stuck Stealing in a drawer (metaphorically). It stayed there until the boarding school scandal broke up in Canada. I knew then it would only be a short while until somebody in the United States finally figured out the same thing had been going on down here. About time, I might add.  

 

Q: Did you make many changes to it more recently?

 

A: I told my agent, Lynn Nesbit, about the manuscript in June of 2021. She wanted me to send it to her immediately. But I hadn’t even looked at it in years. So I asked for time to go over it again, and I worked on it for three weeks, from June 28 to July 20, 2021. (I keep records on daily word count.) Then I sent it on with just a tweak here and there. Basically, it’s the same novel it’s always been.

 

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

Q&A with M.J. Rose

 

Photo by Doug Scofield

 

 

M.J. Rose is the author of the new novel The Jeweler of Stolen Dreams. Her many other novels include The Last Tiara

 

Q: In your new book's author's note, you write, “The Jeweler of Stolen Dreams is a work of fiction, but one that features the very real and important jewelry designer, Suzanne Belperron...” How did you first learn about her work, and at what point did you decide to write this novel?

 

A: In 2009 I was window shopping in Paris and saw three pieces on display that mesmerized me. Their style was so unique. I had to know more.

 

I’d never heard of Belperron but the woman who owned the store — a jewelry designer in her own right — told me all about Belperron and I became fascinated. Nonetheless I didn’t wind up deciding to write this book until 2018. 

 

Q: The novel also features your fictional character Violine, part of the family that’s featured in your Daughters of La Lune series. Did you know the entire family tree when you began the series, or did you continue adding characters over the years?

 

A: Both. I knew when I started that I would be adding people so I made sure I gave myself enough members of the family that I could keep going.

 

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


A: It was very difficult to research this book because there is so little about Belperron’s personal life that is known. Partly because she was very private but also because French privacy laws are so strict and so much of her personal life is not for public consumption. There are two coffee table books about her work, and I scoured them for the tiniest details as well as every article I could find written during her lifetime that even mentioned her.

 

But the biggest break came when I tracked down her grandniece who was gracious enough to get me a lot of the information I hadn’t been able to find out on my own.

 

Q: What role do you see magic playing in the story?

 

A: I believe that mystery and magic are all around us – in great and small ways – and by exaggerating it in my books, I draw attention to it in ways that will hopefully bring people joy and wonder.

 

To me the magic in this book is in so many things — from the beauty of a single gemstone that Belperron looked at and saw as the impetus for a stunning design to the ability Violine has of touching an object to learn its history. I want to delight readers as well as entertain them and magic plays into that.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: The ebook will only be $7.99 – we’re keeping the price low so more people can buy it.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with M.J. Rose.