Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Q&A with Tameka Fryer Brown




Tameka Fryer Brown is the author of the new children's picture book That Flag. Her other books include Brown Baby Lullaby.


Q: What inspired you to write That Flag?


A: I wrote That Flag in 2015, after nine church members were massacred at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, SC, by a white supremacist who confessed his goal had been to initiate a race war. News reports showed a photo of him brandishing a firearm and clutching a Confederate flag.


Fierce public debate about the Confederate flag arose, specifically about whether it was a racist emblem or merely a symbol of Southern pride. The fact that so many adults were still ignorant or in willful denial about its problematic nature, about how it came to be and how it’s been wielded throughout our nation’s existence, convinced me it was time to share the truth with our children. Because the best way to eliminate racism is to plant seeds of empathy and truth in the hearts of kids as early as possible.


In 2015, no one was willing to publish That Flag. After the “racial awakening” in 2020, my agent, Marietta Zacker, and I sent it out again. This time multiple houses expressed interest, including Luana Horry at HarperCollins. Luana is an amazing editor, so I guess things worked out the way they were supposed to.


Q: The Kirkus review of That Flag called it “A thoughtful and age-appropriate exploration of a somber subject.” What do you think of that description, and what age group do you think would especially appreciate the book?

A: I very much appreciate the adjectives “thoughtful” and “age-appropriate”, also “brave” and “essential” as written in School Library Journal’s starred review.


I believe children in the designated age range (ages 6-10) will appreciate the emotional and historical honesty in That Flag, as they tend to have a high level of curiosity and a visceral desire for truth and understanding. Kids are naturally skilled at asking questions, so I can only imagine the insightful conversations that will occur in classrooms and homes across the country because of this story.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between your characters Keira and Bianca, and did you know how the story would end before you started writing it?


A: The dynamic between Keira and Bianca is realistic. Though best friends, there is an underlying tension in their closeness because of the Confederate flag waving in Bianca’s yard, and because of Keira’s parents’ concerns about it.


That tension is a common experience. Most Black people I know have had childhood friendships with non-Black kids that seemed completely unaffected by racism…until the day they didn’t. And it tends to be a one-sided awakening. I experienced it as a kid. Witnessed it as a mother and a teacher’s assistant. Even watched it happen on Roots between Kizzy and Anne. It’s a painful rite of passage that needs intentional disruption.


It's important to note that Bianca is not the antagonist in this story. She’s just a kid who lacks information and, therefore, understanding about the meaning and impact of the flag her parents have chosen to celebrate. Once she begins to receive said information, her understanding increases and she begins to influence change within her own family. That’s the power of truth.


While I didn’t know how the story would end before I started to write it, I quickly determined “happily ever after” would be inappropriate. Reconciliation after heartbreak is a process. I wanted to respect the collective truth of everyone who has experienced something like this and not end the story fancifully for the sake of adult comfort. I wanted to respect readers, too, by offering hope in an authentic way.


Q: What do you think Nikkolas Smith's illustrations add to the story?


A: Everything. Nikkolas is an artivist, who uses his art to inspire others to make positive change. In That Flag, he has done a masterful job at portraying the emotional journey of Keira and Bianca. His illustrations are evocative, compassionate, and, ultimately, hopeful. I feel so blessed to have worked with him on this project.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have another book scheduled to be released in 2024 called You Are: Ode to a Big Kid, that acknowledges and extols the growing independence of kids. There are a few other projects in the works, but nothing I’m free to talk about yet.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My website and social info maybe? My website is tamekafryerbrown.com. On Instagram, I am @tamekafryerbrown. My public Facebook page is Tameka Fryer Brown, Children’s Book Author. And for now, I’m on Twitter as @teebrownkidlit.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Janie Emaus




Janie Emaus is the author of the new children's picture book Easter Eggs and Matzo Balls. Her other books include the picture book Latkes for Santa Claus. She lives in Southern California.


Q: What inspired you to write Easter Eggs and Matzo Balls, and how did you create your characters Michael and Anna?


A: Easter Eggs and Matzo Balls is my second blended holiday story, my first being Latkes for Santa Claus. I was inspired to write the Latkes story based on my own experience. I am Jewish and my husband is Catholic.


When our kids were little, we celebrated Hanukah and Christmas in December and Easter and Passover in the spring. I looked for books to help my children relate to our family, but I couldn’t find any fun books. So, I wrote one. After the success of Latkes, I realized how many families related to the book and decided to write the Easter/Passover story.

I made Michael and Anna stepsiblings with different religious backgrounds. That way they could help and learn from each other about Passover and Easter.


Q: What do you think Bryan Langdo's illustrations add to the story?


A: Bryan’s illustrations are amazing. They add a playful dimension to the story. Kids can see the funny way the Easter Bunny struggles to solve Michael’s dilemma. And point out actions that are not in the text.


Q: What do you see as the role of traditions in the story?


A: I believe that traditions, especially those specific to a family, are very important. Whether you’re hitting a piñata at a birthday party, saying prayers on a Friday Sabbath dinner, or making tamales on Christmas Eve. Passed down from generation to generation, they form a framework for a family.


In this story, the traditional Easter Egg hunt and searching for the matzo during the Passover Seder are events special to Michael and Anna. They form the framework for the story. Sharing these traditions with each other bond them in a way they will always remember.


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


A: I’d like kids to see the value and importance of family traditions. And to learn that although all families are not all alike, it doesn’t mean one is better than the other. Just different. Also, that sharing with your brother or sister is always better than doing something alone. And then of course, I hope they enjoy the Matzo Ball soup recipe in the back!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Here’s a short blurb about the picture book I’m currently working on, Grandma for Share.


Edie has a big problem. She has too many grandmothers to pick one for “Dress like Grandma Day.” Ben has a big problem, too. He doesn't have any grandmother to dress up like. Edie offers Ben one of her grandmothers. But now she has two problems because Ben wants her to choose for him. After spending a day with each grandmother, Edie and Ben come up with the perfect solution.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Cara Tanamachi




Cara Tanamachi is the author of the new novel The Second You're Single. She also has written many novels under the name Cara Lockwood. She lives near Chicago.


Q: What inspired you to write The Second You’re Single, and how did you create your characters Sora and Jack?


A: This story is personal and definitely inspired by true life events. I spent eight years as a single mom, and I have some pretty horrific dating stories. Men who claimed to be single who were secretly married? Check! Men who used fake pictures AND fake names? Check! Men who also made me trail mix as a “gift” for our first date? Sadly, check.


So, like Sora, I reached a point in my dating life where I was done. Done with dating, done with searching for love, and absolutely done with Valentine’s Day. Of course, that’s exactly when I met my amazing husband, PJ, who like Jack, is a big Teddy bear, who never gave up on love or Valentine’s Day.


Jack is inspired by my husband, but he’s also his own character. I just love men with big hearts, and that’s Jack. It takes a lot of courage to believe in love in our pretty cynical world.


I also relate to Sora quite a bit. She’s been derailed by events in her life that she’s struggling to get over. Now, she's stuck, and knows it’s not working, but isn’t sure what to do next. 


I’ve been there, and I think, in some ways, that can be a universal struggle when dealing with life’s setbacks. Sora also happens to be a bit judgy, a flaw we both share. Sora might judge others, but she always judges herself the most harshly, and I do love that she gets to a place of self-acceptance by the end.


Q: What do you think the novel says about society's obsession with Valentine’s Day?


A: We are all a little too obsessed with Valentine’s Day, I think. I feel the pressure to pair up starts in grade-school Valentine’s parties! Society already puts a lot of pressure on everyone to find their “one” and having a holiday to celebrate just underscores that.


Imagine if we had a holiday celebrating professional promotions, or owning a home, or any of the other ways society pressures us to achieve? How would we all feel about that? Probably not great. That’s where I think many of us feel frustrated by the focus on Valentine’s Day.


However, my husband loves Valentine’s Day, and I do see that a day celebrating love isn’t a bad thing all on its own. I think it’s really the commercialization of the holiday, though, that puts the pressure on, and makes people feel if they aren’t paired up, then something must be wrong. Being single is perfectly fine and healthy, and there’s no one “right” way to live our lives. 


Q: You alternate between Sora’s and Jack’s 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: I spent a lot of time on Sora’s story before Jack’s story. Sora’s cynicism around love helped me with crafting Jack’s character, who’s much more optimistic and open. Ironically, the more cynical you are, I think the harder it is to give love a chance. I also think that you can’t truly fall in love or know another person unless you allow yourself to be vulnerable.


Q: You’ve written many novels under your former married name, Cara Lockwood, but you write on your website that “I’m writing under my maiden name Tanamachi now, because for me, it was time to get back to my authentic self...” Can you say more about that?


A: Yes! Cara Tanamachi is my maiden name. On my dad’s side, I’m fourth generation Japanese-American, and on my mom’s side I’ve got English, Irish and Scottish relatives.


I grew up in Texas, where both my parents were born, and I’ve always been closer to the Tanamachi side of the family, and my Tanamachi cousins. We also have a large family contingent living in California, who gather for mochi making every New Year.


Sora’s grandma, Mitsuye, is very much based on my own Grandma Mitzi, who was always so wise, so supportive, and always knew the perfect thing to say to lighten a dark moment.


Also, as a side note, Lockwood, was my former married name, and that marriage ended 15 years ago! It happened to be my legal name when I published my first book from Simon & Schuster. When my new publisher, St. Martin’s Press, gave me the option to rebrand, I jumped at it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on the spin-off to The Second You’re Single, which gives us the love story of Sora’s sister, Nami. She’s had her own heartbreak, and this book will give her her own happily ever after!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve also got a podcast, called Skip to the Good Part! I interview other romance authors, where my husband, PJ, and I talk about writing processes, inspiration, and of course – Happily Ever Afters!




--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 31




Jan. 31, 1872: Zane Grey born.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Q&A with Norman S. Poser




Norman S. Poser is the author of the new biography From the Battlefield to the Stage: The Many Lives of General John Burgoyne. His other books include Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason. He is professor emeritus at Brooklyn Law School.


Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of British General John Burgoyne (1722-1792)?


A: While doing research for another book--on the 18th-century London stage--I came across a letter Burgoyne wrote to David Garrick, the great actor and manager of the Drury Lane theatre. The letter had to do with a play Burgoyne had written and Garrick planned to produce. Until then, I hadn't known that Burgoyne was a playwright as well as an army general.


In the letter, Burgoyne renounced any profits from the production of the play and suggested they be given to a fund that Garrick had set up for indigent actors. I was so impressed by the elegant style as well as the substance of Burgoyne's letter that I began to consider writing his biography.

Q: How did you research his life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I did most of the research in libraries in London and New York. Because of Covid, I never got to the library of Knowsley Hall, the seat of the Earl of Derby, but the curator of the Knowsley Hall library sent me photocopies of letters Burgoyne had written.


One thing that surprised me was that, in addition to being a general and a playwright, Burgoyne was a member of Parliament for over 30 years, where he was a reformer who fought the corrupt East India Company.


Q: The writer Andrew J. O’Shaughnessy said of the book, “This is a fresh account of Burgoyne, and the first major biography of the enigmatic general in decades.” What do you think of that description, and do you see Burgoyne as enigmatic?


A: How could I not like O’Shaughnessy's statement? As to his use of the word “enigmatic,” if he means that there has been, and still is, much debate over Burgoyne’s share of the blame for the Saratoga debacle [during the Revolutionary War], I agree with that. 


Q: What do you see as his legacy today?


A: I see Burgoyne’s legacy as an example for us all. I am thinking of his bravery, patriotism, humaneness, talent, urbanity, sociability, generosity, loyalty to his subordinates, support of the rule of law, and common decency.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a memoir. Beginning in 1948, I have worked as a journalist, lawyer, consultant, regulator, teacher, and writer. So there's enough to write about.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Norman S. Poser.

Jan. 30



Jan. 30, 1912: Barbara Tuchman born.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Q&A with Samantha Greene Woodruff




Samantha Greene Woodruff is the author of the historical novel The Lobotomist's Wife. She was the senior vice president of strategy and business development at MTV Networks, and she lives in Connecticut.


Q: You’ve said that you based your character Dr. Robert Apter on Dr. Walter Freeman II. What initially intrigued you about him, and what did you see as the right blend between history and fiction as you wrote the novel?


A: When I conceived of this story, I was a housewife in the suburbs living the supposed American Dream; I had given up my corporate job and was floundering. And I thought I was supposed to be happy. I was taking a writing class for fun and working on a contemporary novel loosely based on my malaise.


That was when I happened to learn about Freeman and lobotomy. I was listening to a nonfiction book, Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them, by Jennifer Wright, and she included a chapter about lobotomy. In it, she tells an anecdote about Freeman going to the motel room of a reluctant court-ordered lobotomy patient and deciding to perform the procedure on the spot.


I had that horrified/fascinated feeling that I think true crime often gives you – this man was one beat shy of a serial killer. And this was happening in the middle of the 20th century! I needed to learn more. Was he just an evil maniacal doctor? Why did medicine embrace him?


From those questions, I had the “what if?” thought that became the seed of the novel:  What if you were an unhappy suburban housewife in that small moment in history when lobotomy was a reasonable “cure?” What if Freeman was your doctor?


My approach to writing historical fiction is to think of it like weaving a braid between fiction and fact. For this book, I wanted the timeline and medical specifics of the development of lobotomy to be as historically accurate as possible. That was my anchor. 


That said, I didn’t want this to be a biographical fiction about Freeman, so I changed things like the city where the story took place, the hospitals, and the details about the players. For instance, Edward is nothing like James Watts (the actual neurosurgeon who worked with Freeman), other than that they work together.


Wherever possible, I took real moments and anecdotes and wove them into the fictional narrative. Especially when it was something so outrageous like stopping mid-procedure to take pictures of patients or performing lobotomies with two hands at once. But, the relationships, the characters, the places where they live, the hospital, Magnolia Bluff, that is all made up.


Q: Your character Ruth Emeraldine Apter, the lobotomist's wife of the title, is fictional. How did you create her?


A: Freeman’s actual wife was essentially a footnote in most of my research. Their marriage wasn’t good. They tragically lost a child. She was an alcoholic. He was a philanderer. That wasn’t what I pictured for my story.


I wanted to make sense of how a woman could be married to a man who was doing such horrific things to women. Who could help the reader understand the evolution of lobotomy from miracle to nightmare.

In the beginning, lobotomy really was viewed as the “best worst cure” – this was the 1930s and conditions in mental hospitals (especially state-run ones) were dismal. If you were a violent psychotic, you were basically sentenced to a life of being chained up like an animal (if you were lucky.)


In this context, a procedure that rendered you docile and happy – possibly even able to go home to your family – was its own kind of miracle. I wanted the reader to understand that. To see the development of what turned out to be such a monstrous treatment from its origins, when it truly felt like it might offer hope.


Ruth provides that lens. She is an independent woman, with power and agency in a time when women didn’t. She didn’t need Robert, she believed in him. She was as invested in finding a “cure” for mental illness as he was, and she started off as a true partner to him.


But she is also the conscience of the novel. Whereas Robert’s approach to mental health treatment is clinical at best, egomaniacal at worst, Ruth’s motives are always from her heart, with compassion. That is the poignancy of the story, I think. The contrast between her evolution and Robert’s, and the way it plays out is, essentially the heart of the story.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that especially fascinated you?


A: Pretty much all of my research was reading. Since the novel spans two decades and multiple topics, I just kept reading until I felt that I knew enough to accurately tell the story.


I read books, articles, academic papers, parts of medical journals…the list goes on – and the topics ranged: Freeman and lobotomy, postpartum depression, the history of mental hospitals and treatments, New York in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, the postwar suburban boom…


I found some amazing things online too. For example, when Ruth and Robert go to the International Neurological Congress in London in 1935, I had found the official pamphlet for US attendees, so the ship they took and the hotel they stayed at were real.


Another way I like to research is to watch movies from and depicting the eras I’m writing about. This helps ground me in time and place, to see how people spoke, dressed, interacted; how women were portrayed. Plus, it’s fun to watch a movie and call it “research.”


I learned so much in my research it is hard to isolate one specific thing. One amazing factoid is that people may have suspected a connection between the physical brain and emotional behavior as far back as the Stone Age. Archeological findings from the prehistoric era indicate early healers used craniotomy as a treatment for the ill.


By the Renaissance, “trephination” (drilling into the skull) was a well enough recognized practice for painter Hieronymus Bosch to make it the subject of his 1494 painting “Cutting the Stone” (alternately called “The Extraction of the Stone of Madness”), which shows a man in the middle of a field while his head is being drilled.


The first modern experimentation with what would come to be called “psychosurgery,” was done in the late 1800s by Swiss psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt, who cut portions of the frontal lobes of psychotic patients. It didn’t catch on until nearly 50 years later.


Q: The writer Elise Hooper said of the novel, “Both tense and informative, this is a timely story not only of hubris and ambition, but also of empathy and the search for truth.” What do you think of that description, and do you see any echoes of the novel's events today?


A: How can you not love that description?? It’s so great and succinctly captures so much of what I was trying to accomplish with this story!


I think part of the reality of any medical advance – good or bad -- is that we only know as much as we can with the information we have at the time.


I look, for instance, at the growing use of psychedelics for PTSD and depression and I think, in some ways, it’s probably not that different from what happened during the era of lobotomy. Right now, it seems groundbreaking, a way to rewire past experiences in the brain to alter behavior in the present and future.


And maybe in 10 years it will be commonplace, and we’ll wonder why people didn’t start using these drugs therapeutically in the 1960s. Or, maybe, they will cause some other negative neurological connections that will ultimately render them a failure. It’s too soon to tell. And that’s a scary thing. It gets even scarier when ego is involved.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m in the middle of writing my second novel (hopefully out in the world in the fall of 2024). It’s another historical fiction but a complete departure from the topic of the first. It takes place in the 1920s and is the story of a twin brother and sister, poor children of Jewish immigrants, and their journey on the rollercoaster of the stock market in the era. It is really a book about a strong woman, family bonds, the complex morality of wealth and the multifaceted meaning of success. Vague enough?


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Beyond writing, I love to read, hike, practice yoga, play games and watch movies with my kids (when they are willing), snuggle with my dogs, and drink wine or tequila with my husband and my friends.


I used to work in television, and I am a huge TV fan, especially bad reality, sappy romances, soapy teen dramas and thrillers (but not horror!) I really like to cook – my specialty is NOT following a recipe -- and I love love love to sing. I was in musicals, rock bands and even a gospel choir in college (I am Jewish, it was comical), so now I torture anyone I can with karaoke in my basement.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 29



Jan. 29, 1860: Anton Chekhov born.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Q&A with Avery Flynn


Photo by Passion Pages.Annie Ray



Avery Flynn is the author of the new novel Witcha Gonna Do?. Her other novels include Back in the Burbs. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to write Witcha Gonna Do?, and how did you create your characters Tilda and Gil?


A: Well, I am a sucker for a paranormal romance and being able to toss in some magic along with shifters and mythical beasts? Oh yes, that is totally my kind of fun.


Tilda and Gil came together really naturally because for as much as they are opposites they are so much alike. And Tilda is a witch after my heart. She’s so positive even though she thinks she is always failing. I love that through the story she really finds herself and realizes that she was amazing all along (magic or no magic).


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Tilda and the rest of her family?


A: As the youngest sister myself, I know what being the baby of the family is like. I couldn’t imagine her sisters wouldn’t look at Tilda as both the one to be protected and the one to pick on all at the same time. It is the way of sisters. The thing about the Sherwoods is that despite all of the family dynamics, they really all love each other so much and really would do anything for each other.

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


A: So many changes! I knew how the book would end and it stayed that way but there were a lot of changes in the middle. I forever have trouble sticking to the plan. I’m always going on a tangent.


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


A: That we’re all a little bit magic, even when we don’t feel like it—maybe especially when we don’t feel like it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Well, there’s another Sherwood story coming and it involves a secret marriage, divorce papers that never get signed, and some second-chance love. OH! And there’s a classic Caddy named Bessie, fins included.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you so much for having me and I really hope everyone has a good time with Witcha Gonna Do!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 28



Jan. 28, 1935: David Lodge born.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Q&A with Omer Bartov




Omer Bartov is the author of the new novel The Butterfly and the Axe. His other books include Anatomy of a Genocide. He is the Samuel Pisar Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies in the Department of History at Brown University, and he lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write The Butterfly and the Axe, and how was the book's title chosen?

A: I was inspired to write The Butterfly and the Axe when I realized that after researching my mother's birth town and region for 20 years and reconstructing its fate in the Holocaust in my historical monograph Anatomy of a Genocide, I still knew practically nothing about how my own family was murdered there.


That is, my family's life and fate before and during the Holocaust is simply missing from the historical record, save for a few fragments of stories and rumors. I felt it was simply unjust that these people had vanished from history and memory, and wanted to put them back into the story by way of imagining their lives and deaths.


For me, the beauty and ephemeral existence of butterflies, of which there are numerous species in this region of Galicia, on the one hand, and the ubiquity and utility of axes there, a crucial worktool which was often also used for killing by the locals in periods of violence, represent the combination of natural beauty and murderous inclinations of my ancestral home.


It also perhaps expresses a certain kind of hope since, as someone once told me, “you cannot kill a butterfly with an axe.” Beauty, however ephemeral as a lifeform, is also everlasting. This is how I think of the little girl who contemplates her imminent liberation moments before she is murdered.

Q: You write, “This book contains autobiographical and historical elements but is ultimately a work of fiction.” What did you see as the right balance between autobiography, history, and fiction as you wrote the book?


A: I don't think there is  “right” balance between history and fiction. That is, in fact, the underlying assertion of this novel. As a historian, I believe in facts, and disdain works of scholarship that contain fictional, or even unreliable facts and speculations.


But I am also deeply aware of the limitations of historical reconstructions of the past in “rescuing” events and people who cannot be found in the historical record, or in breathing life into eras for which there is scant documentation. In this sense, I am a great believer in supplementing history through fiction.


But for me historical fiction ought to be rooted both in a deep knowledge of the recorded history, and in an understanding, a “feel” for the spirit of that time. And, of course, ultimately it should tell a good story, yet one that is historically plausible, that is, a story that might have actually happened.


Historians want to tell “what actually happened,” but must face the fact that they would never really know; writers of fiction want to tell a story that might have happened, but precisely those parts of it that elude the historian. Together, I think, in that no man's land between history and fiction, lies some truth about the past, a truth that tells us where we came from and who we are, that neither genre can retrieve on its own.

Q: The author Leona Toker said: “We do not know how it really was, and yet we know, often more than is good for us. After so many novelists have tried to write history, it is fascinating to see what happens when a historian is impelled to write a novel.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I think that every historian worth her salt also wants to write a novel, at least in the sense that writing history at its best is always an act of writing and imagination. We find an old document and imagine the circumstances surrounding its creation so as to bring it and the world that produced it into life.


And I think that the novel as a particular genre of writing since the 18th century has always been rooted in history and society. In that sense, the separation between the two is not as rigid as some would think, at least not when we contemplate the best products of either genre.


And here is also the rub: we both know about the human soul and the human capacity for creativity and destruction more than we would perhaps want to know, and at the same time we are always trying to fathom them, as poets and historians have done since the beginning of humanity in all cultures known to us.


That quest is in a sense what unites those who tell stories about the past--historians--and those who tell stories about the human soul--poets and fiction writers.


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


A: I hope readers will first of all grasp the inextricable links between us and the past and how we can never understand what motivates us and why we act and think and feel as we do without delving into our own making in past generations.


The protagonists of this book are tormented by an event that occurred before they were born, whose contours are only vaguely known to them. It is only by literally and metaphorically returning to the scene of the crime that the descendants of the killers and the victims not only find a modicum of peace but also accomplish some reconciliation, even love.


In this sense this book is about empathy rather than feeling sorry for oneself or the other, by listening to the other's story and telling one's own. Perhaps what I hope is that readers do not latch on to what they think is their identity, or believe they must seek it, but that they seek the human in those previously perceived as outside the boundaries of empathy.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: As a historian I am currently writing a book based on multiple interviews with Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel belonging to the first generation born after the establishment of the state (my own generation) focusing on how they understand their link to the place and how it has evolved since their childhood.


I just spent three months in Israel and these in-depth interviews with over 50 people have had a huge impact on my own understanding of this question and what it tells us about the seemingly intractable conflict in Israel-Palestine.


As an author I am planning a new, large-scale novel tentatively called “The Wars of the Philistines,” which will trace the life and fate of the child born from that explosive biblical union between Samson and Delilah. More to come. 

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I was born in Israel to a father born in Palestine and a mother born in Eastern Europe, and lived as a child and teenager in the US and UK, while also serving four years in the IDF (including the 1973 War) and then studying in the US and UK and living for lengthy periods in Germany and France. In that sense, I have many homes and no home, and like it that way. But I have always been curious about people's need for a homeland, however defined.


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

Jan. 27



Jan. 27, 1931: Mordecai Richler born.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Q&A with Ellen Tarlow




Ellen Tarlow is the author of the new children's picture book Becoming Blue. Her other books include the picture book Looking for Smile. She lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write Becoming Blue, and how would you describe the relationship between your characters Red and Blue?


A: Becoming Blue began because my agent (Rubin Pfeffer) suggested I try a book about color. I typically write about animal characters but I was intrigued. I fiddled for a while but couldn’t come up with a storyline I loved.  


Then one day I was reading On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. There is a sequence in which the child narrator, a recent Vietnamese immigrant, starts to copy an American boy he admires.  It ends with the American boy yelling at him from the top of a slide, “Stop following me!” It was a horrifying moment of shame and one that struck me as being very true to the inner lives of (some) children.


It immediately sparked the idea of showing this dynamic with colors, i.e., having one of the colors (Blue) want to BE another color (Red). I wanted the story to center on a shaming scene like the one on the slide in which Blue is told by Red to “Stop Copying Me!” This would give Blue the reason to go off to find himself. Having the story be about colors rather than children allowed for a light touch on a rather intense topic.


Q: What do you think Julien Chung’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Julien did an amazing job of navigating the challenges of this book: i.e., color characters who had to remain themselves but ALSO turn into firetrucks and stop signs and rivers. It was Julien’s idea to make the characters geometric (a circle and a square) and his modernist, graphic sensibility really elevates the look. 

The emotion and charm he squeezes out of a blue square and red circle surprised and delighted me. He also added many fun touches. One is a dog who appears in most of the episodes as a funny, happy-go-lucky counterpoint to Blue’s anxiety. It made me think of Snoopy and Charlie Brown.


Q: The Kirkus review of the book says, in part, “Being oneself is a great message to convey—as is joining forces with friends...” What do you think of that assessment, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: Kids today have so many impossible idealizations coming at them from all angles. It is a problem that has always been there but seems much worse now. I hoped to get across how much better off they would be just being “themselves.” I also wanted to honor the fact that it is not always easy to KNOW who you are… And to show that journey.


Q: How did you first get interested in writing children's books? 


A: It has really been a lifelong passion. I took my first children’s literature class in college (1974!) and wrote (and illustrated) my first picture book then. Since then, I have been involved in children’s books as a teacher, writer, and an editor of early childhood classroom materials. But it’s only been in the last few years that I have had the chance to devote myself more seriously to writing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Becoming Blue seems to have unlocked an affinity for inanimate objects as characters. At the moment, I have another color manuscript, a manuscript about a pair of common tools and one about shapes. (My agent might be regretting suggesting colors to me!)


In the terms of books that are actually coming out, I have three more picture books signed up with Allyn Johnston at S&S /Beach Lane and one early reader series.  


The next picture book is called The Tiny Thing, about a shy Mole and the tiny thing that helps him come out of himself. That will be illustrated by Lauren Stringer (who did my earlier book, Looking for Smile).


Then I have a book about a tree, mortality, reforestation, and some funny animals. That is being illustrated by Daniel Miyares. Both will come out in 2025.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb