Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Q&A with Jacquetta Nammar Feldman


Photo by Kim Francois


Jacquetta Nammar Feldman is the author of the new middle grade novel The Puttermans Are in the House. She also has written the middle grade novel Wishing Upon the Same Stars. She lives in Austin, Texas.


Q: What inspired you to write The Puttermans Are in the House, and how did you create your characters Sammy, Matty, and Becky?


A: I began this novel during the first stages of the pandemic in 2020. I had been working on another middle grade story at the time, but the interactions of those characters, going about their days in a pre-pandemic environment, no longer felt relevant or true to me. Several of our kids had come home from college unexpectedly and we were sequestered in our house together, the same as everyone.


I put the story I was writing aside and brainstormed one to work on that would better reflect the way I was feeling in our new reality.


I had already written a short chapter about Sammy, a girl who loved baseball and dreamed of playing in the MLB. And one of my nieces had celebrated her bat mitzvah on the same weekend as the 2017 Houston Astros World Series, though she’s nothing like my character Becky and her simcha was nothing like the one I wrote into this story! Matty came to me one day as Sammy’s twin brother, and I immediately knew that just like Sammy, he wanted to be supported for everything he was and hoped to be.


As I thought about how the pandemic forced all of us inside during a time of great uncertainty and strife, and the silver-lining opportunity my family had to spend more time together and work on our relationships, my story began to take shape.


Q: The writer Gary D. Schmidt said of the book, “A sad and sweet novel that takes a hurricane and turns it on its head: instead of leaving only destruction, this one becomes the crucible for restoration, when all the members of one family are forced to live together to survive the effects of Houston's Hurricane Harvey.” What do you think of this description?


A: I think it’s an apt description for sure! I was so honored that Gary D. Schmidt read and reviewed my novel. At the heart of it, this is a story about the change and growth that can happen during times of upheaval and adversity and how family members might rise in love and support of one another. Though this story revolves around a hurricane, we’ve all seen in recent times how other hard circumstances can bring us together.

Q: Baseball is a huge part of the story--why did you decide to make two of the characters baseball players and the whole family baseball (super)fans?


A: I didn’t grow up in baseball fan family, but I married into a family of Houston Astros fans. When my husband I lived in Houston, we had season tickets to the Astros and cheered them on at so many Minute Maid Park games. It was the perfect place for us to spend family time with our three sons, who were all little league pitchers!


I learned a lot about team spirit and fandom during those years, and it has always stuck with me. We live in Austin now, but the Houston Astros are still a big part of our lives. I wanted to channel our family’s team spirit and baseball experiences into this story through Sammy and Matty and the entire Putterman family!


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


A: The book’s title was chosen for its layered meanings. On the surface, it’s the greeting that the kids’ friend Mack gives them every time he sees them at what they affectionately call their “home away from home,” the Houston Astros Minute Maid Park.


The title also references the house that the Putterman family must live in together in after the destruction of Hurricane Harvey.


And for me personally, the title holds a metaphoric meaning because the story was written during the pandemic when my family, The Feldmans, was in the house just like Puttermans!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m finishing up my MFA at The Vermont College of Fine Arts this month, which I’m really excited about. My degree has been a deep dive into the world of children’s literature, and I’ve been able to work on so many different projects. Right now, I’m in the throes of writing two more middle grade novels and a bunch of picture books, both fiction and nonfiction. I hope some of them will find their way into the world soon!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Deborah, thanks so much for featuring another one of my middle grade books on your blog! I can’t wait for it to release from HarperCollins on 1/17/2023 and be in the hands of middle grade readers!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jacquetta Nammar Feldman.

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