Sunday, March 26, 2023

Q&A with Michael Hogan



Michael Hogan is the author of the new book Mexicans and Mexican Americans: Remarkable Lives, Unforgettable Stories. His many other books include Abraham Lincoln and Mexico. He lives in Guadalajara, Mexico.


Q: You begin your new book by discussing the 2019 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. How did the repercussions from that horrific event affect your writing this book?


A: When I read about the events in which 46 people were shot and 23 died, I asked myself why. Further investigation disclosed that the 21-year-old shooter from a Dallas suburb traveled all the way to El Paso with an automatic rifle and 1,000 rounds of ammunition to “stop the Mexican invasion.” He got this idea from a pundit on Fox News who used that language.


My immediate thought was: How absurd! First, the recent incursions on our southern border were from Central America (mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) where they had been displaced from their lands by global warming, violence from gangs deported from the US during a hurricane, and a massive destruction of land by American agribusinesses. Mexican immigration, meanwhile, had dwindle to a mere trickle.


My second thought was: How could a young man graduate from high school and attend several years of college and not know that the Southwest of the US as we know it today, including El Paso, was originally part of Mexico, which the US invaded in 1846 in what Ulysses S. Grant called “a wicked, wicked war” and which Abraham Lincoln called “clearly unconstitutional.”


So, I wrote a long editorial for the Dallas Morning News, the city’s largest newspaper. It was twice as long as their recommended 500 words and I thought they would ask me to edit it. Instead, the editor gave it a full page spread in the Sunday edition.


A few days later, I received a call from two people in the US, Rodrigo Aguilar and Juan Massey, who had created a new online site called the North American Project. Its purpose was to show audiences in the US the positive contributions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans have made to our history, to our economy, and to our rich culture.


The hope was the more thoughtful Americans would see the positive side of Mexicans in our country, and not focus on the hate and lies that had fostered this horrific incident.


Q: How did you choose the people you focused on in the book?


A: I wanted the readers to see Mexicans from all disciplines and all walks of life, not just men but women as well. Not only Mexican Americans, but also those who stayed in their own country but contributed to both cultures and economies and to our mutual security.

The book begins with the friendship between Matias Romero, a Mexican envoy, and Abraham Lincoln and shows how the two worked together to prevent the French from joining the Confederacy in the 1860s and how, even after Lincoln’s death and the Union victory, that relationship continued to bear fruit as American volunteers (including the African American “Buffalo soldiers”) joined the Mexicans to finally defeat the last empire in the Americas.


Q: As you researched the book, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I love oddities and this book is filled with them. For me the highlights were the woman who kissed Lincoln, the US Army camels used by the Mexican infantry for transport, and the Mexican brakeman who saved a whole town in Texas when a train loaded with dynamite went out of control.


This book has a bit of everything, and it makes the point that Mexicans and Mexican Americans have enriched the cultures of both nations and in several cases those of the world beyond the Americas.


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


A: Well, first, it is a fun book to read. Each chapter is illustrated; there are also links to all the sources. No chapter is longer than four pages and folks can read a bit when they have a 10-minute break. So, I hope the reader will find something of genuine interest that leads them to read more.


Second, as they read, I hope they will see that our culture, our literature, our cuisine, our music, even our inventions (color TV) and the space program have all been positively influenced by Hispanic contributions. They have helped to make us and the North American continent a more vibrant, more interesting, and more colorful place to live.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My most recent work, which I hope will be published in 2024, is now under consideration at Trinity University Press. It is called Walking Each Other Home. In this book I share my encounters with many of the world’s finest authors, including four Pulitzer Prize recipients, and three Nobel laureates.


Some of these I studied under when I was in the MFA program, others I hosted when they visited the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, still others I read with on stage performing throughout the country and abroad. They shared with me not only tips for writing which I have passed on to my own students, but intimations for living a fuller and more meaningful life.


There were both humorous and tragic moments along the way, including an unexpected on-camera kiss from Allen Ginsberg on television in Pennsylvania, an interrupted publicity event in Memphis when Elvis died, and an all-nighter with Ethridge Knight during which he called his ex-wives and exchanged poetry selection on the phone speaker.


There were quiet walks with Joe Bruchac in the Adirondacks, and in the Sonoran Desert with Richard Shelton. There were the philosophical exchanges with Marge Piercy and Ed Abbey, and a political tiff with Seamus Heaney.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Well, I would like to thank you, Deborah, for all the support you have provided to writers like me, and the gift you give to your readers by introducing them to works they likely might not have seen in mainstream promos. I have personally enjoyed many of the books which you have recommended and authors you’ve profiled.


Second, I invite readers who would like to know more about me or my 28 books to visit my home page at or my Wikipedia profile at


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

Q&A with Jonathan R. Kroll




Jonathan R. Kroll is the author of the new book Preparing Leadership Educators: A Comprehensive Guide to Theories, Practices, and Facilitation Skills. He is an assistant teaching professor and program director of the Professional Leadership Studies program at the University of Rhode Island, and the executive director of the nonprofit group Leadership Trainer.


Q: What inspired you to write Preparing Leadership Educators?


A: Preparing Leadership Educators began as a workbook connected to my nonprofit’s flagship experience—the Leadership Trainer Certification Program. I first wrote it in advance of our inaugural program in 2017.


This took place in Nicaragua and unfortunately, many leadership books (besides the pop-culture material) are not written or translated into Spanish. I wanted our participants to have a robust resource that included the leadership material—both leadership theories and practices—as well as the facilitation material. (Friends and colleagues in Nicaragua translated it as a workbook into Spanish.)


As it grew to 330 pages, I realized I’ve got something here that should be available to a wider audience than just the program participants.


I’m delighted with what it has become—a comprehensive, accessible, and practical resource for those who facilitate the leadership training and development of others.


When writing this version, I wanted to craft a book that could transform the leadership landscape by better enabling trainers and facilitators to be more effective and impactful in their practice—all while ensuring the material could be directly and immediately applied. I believe I have made dozens and dozens of leadership theories and practices accessible to diverse readers.


More, I focus on how to effectively facilitate training experiences that leverage experiential learning and reflective dialogue—so we can move away from boring lecture-style slide deck presentations-as-trainings. Included in that is our “Training Story” methodology and best-practices for facilitation.


The best part of the book, though, is that I include explicit instructions and my go-to reflective dialogue questions for every leadership theory and practice—more than 45 of them.


So, if you someone is facilitating a training or workshop on communication or emotional intelligence or self-efficacy (as leadership practices) or adaptive leadership, servant or transformational leadership (as theories) they have the instructions for how to facilitate an experiential activity to bring that theme to life—with the reflective dialogue questions to empower your participants to internalize their learning.


Q: How would you define leadership, and what would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about leadership?


A: One of the interesting things about leadership is that there is no single, universal definition. This means that we can each define it in any way that makes sense to us. I actually prefer not to define it. And in this book, I do not offer a leadership definition. Rather, I promote that it is essential that each of us has a laser-sharp focus regarding the assumptions, core features, and parameters of what we mean by lead­ership.


These are some of my assumptions and parameters for leadership—pulled directly from Preparing Leadership Educators:


Leadership is experiential. Leadership is about what we do—rather than the role we hold. Leadership is about the pursuit of change we drive rather than the position attained within our groups, organizations, and communities’ hierar­chical structures.


Leadership is a relational, group expe­rience. Leadership is a relationship. It involves the engagement between leaders and followers. We need to move away from the notion that successes and failures are the result of a single, solitary leader.

Leaders capitalize on their strengths and authenticity. Charisma and extroversion are wonderful traits. They do not, however, determine leadership. Effective leaders are those who exploit their strengths and lead from a place of a genuine and self-authored sense of self.


Leaders are developed. Being “born to lead” is a fallacy. This suggests only a few special individuals have the capacity to lead. This is limiting. All of us have the potential to develop leadership skills and capacities.


Leadership is a lifelong developmental journey that requires intentional practice and significant emotional reserves. If we are seri­ous about developing our leadership skills and capacities, we need to dedicate pur­poseful time and energy—over the course of our lives—to become the leaders we dream of being.


Leadership is context-based and socially constructed. Leadership is context-based and determined by the leaders, followers, situation, and interaction among these three elements in the particular time and place in question. There is no universally perfect way to lead.


Leadership is value-laden. Leadership has value—it is for good. Leadership is about creating positive change. If the work is not oriented toward the virtuous, it is not lead­ership. It is certainly something. But it is cer­tainly not leadership. (Of course, this raises the important questions of what is good, who decides what positive change is, and how do diverse cultural contexts shape differing perspectives of virtuousness.)


Q: Who would you say is the audience for this book?


A: Preparing Leadership Educators is written for leadership educators—specifically, those who facilitate leadership learning and development through intentional training experiences. Because of the publisher’s focus (Stylus) I write for student affairs educators.


However, the material is applicable for anyone who facilitates training experiences—nonprofit leaders, corporate leaders, sport coaches, and individuals who are leadership coaches and consultants who facilitate training experiences as part of their developmental offerings and regimen.


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


A: Overall, I hope readers recognize that training and development—more specifically the poor preparation of those who facilitate the training and development of others--is a serious issue. I often ask, “How can we expect the next generations of leaders to navigate the challenges we will inevitably face in the months, years, and decades ahead, if those who are responsible for their leadership training and development today are ill-prepared?” They won’t.


The global challenges we face are daunting: the climate crises, health threats, water and food shortage, housing insecurity, domestic abuse, sex trafficking, social inequality, structural racism, corruption, and more.


Current leadership development programs are proving to be inadequate to meet this moment. Although we invest billions of dollars into training and development annually, these experiences are not producing the leadership outcomes they espouse.


Research indicates that corporate trainers receive little to no training—even with basic facilitation methods. In the nonprofit and higher education sectors, where resources are limited, the data points to the same condition. Generally, those who identify as leadership trainers are ill-prepared to facilitate leadership training and development.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My focus is on my nonprofit’s Leadership Trainer Certification Program. We utilize Preparing Leadership Educators as the program workbook. In that experience, we create a one-of-a-kind, immersive, engaging, hands-on, trainer preparation experience that is guided by four objectives:


Prepare participants to facilitate amazing and impactful trainings rooted in dynamic, culturally relevant, and learning-oriented facilitation techniques - specifically  ​experiential activities and reflective dialogue; engage participants in purposeful critical self-reflection and identity exploration; utilize leadership scholarship to advance participants’ own understanding and practice of leadership; and cultivate a community of exceptional trainers and facilitators.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: First, I am so appreciative of this opportunity to share about Preparing Leadership Educators. Thank you!


Second, if someone is interested in Preparing Leadership Educators they can get it wherever books are sold – including at


Third, I hope folks recognize the importance of trainer and facilitator development. My work is both about immediate skills development for those who facilitate the training and development of others—and it is about long-term generational change by better enabling trainers and facilitators to be more effective in designing and delivering amazing and impactful trainings.


I invite those who are inspired by this work to join the movement and connect with me at


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 26



March 26, 1942: Erica Jong born.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Q&A with Jessica Bell





Jessica Bell is the author of the new poetry collection A Tide Should Be Able to Rise Despite Its Moon. She is also a singer-songwriter, a publisher, and a graphic designer.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your collection?

A: I started a little over a year ago, just by challenging myself to write a poem every time I felt like vegging in front of the TV. It had been so long since I'd written poetry. Almost a decade. Plenty of lyrics and prose, so it's not as if I was rusty, but there had not been any poetry “goal” for a very long time.


I had not actually intended to put together a collection. I just wanted to write some great pieces that I could maybe submit to literary magazines. Something else I hadn't done in a very very long time. Being the mother of a toddler, a book cover designer, a singer-songwriter, and the publisher of a small press doesn't leave much time for my own writing projects.


But I was really beginning to miss it, so I started small, without pressure. In about six months time I realized that there were very few poems that weren’t about motherhood. Initially, I thought, "jeez, you are now the epitome of domesticity," and felt negatively about it.


I didn't write again for a couple of months, but then one day, it just hit me that these poems probably have an audience. I then launched back in with a vision, and within another month, I had a book.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: I actually had a few titles that I liked, and asked my social media followers to vote--twice! It was a very close call, but I ended up choosing the title that came in second, since I felt it better reflected the contents of the book. Here's the link to the initial poll:


Even though I believe the title can be interpreted in many ways, the title to me is a metaphor for how we should have the ability to be free from the perceived constraints of our world. The meaning of everything in life can shift with a simple and small change of perspective.

Q: The writer Elaina Battista-Parsons said of the book, “It's highly universal, yet still lands in its own category of brilliance...” What do you think of that description?

A: It was such an honour to receive that review. My poems seem simple, but they're actually not once you “get” the deeper meaning in them. I'm challenging the meaning of life in every piece.

Q: What do you think the poems say about the mother-child bond?

A: It is both as solid as an iron fist and as fragile as a frayed cotton thread.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A biography of my Oma (German for grandma) in verse.

After giving birth to my mother, she'd already given birth to two boys. The father of the eldest boy, Fritz, was an American soldier, her first true love, who was reported to have died in the war before ever meeting his son. My Oma was only 16.

Not long after my Oma died in 2016, Fritz discovered that his father was in fact alive, but by the time he managed to find him and get in touch with his wife, he discovered that he'd just died, around the same time as my Oma. Just devastating.

I have, in my hands, my Oma's memoir in progress, written in very poor English, but very comprehensible. It's basically a summary of her life, and since reading Bobish by Magdalena Ball, I've decided that verse is the one and only way to really bring my Oma's past alive in a way that is true to my own creative self.


I don't want to write another typical WWII historical romance. I want to write something with passion and something unique. At this point in my career, I'm totally over trying to write the next bestseller. I am writing for me and for me only. And in this case, for my Oma and my family. If others want to read my work, then that's a bonus.

Right now I'm pulling out scenes from her notes, and deciding how to use them in a poem, and what questions I need answering, and what research I need to do, etc. So planning is well under way. It's a bit daunting, but I'm excited to learn and create something with that new knowledge.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: If you enjoy my poetry, you might also enjoy my music. You can find links to my various music projects here:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Stewart McLaurin




Stewart McLaurin is the author of the new children's picture book The White House: Designed by James Hoban, Built by Many Hands!. His other books include James Hoban: Designer and Builder of the White House. He is the president of the White House Historical Association.


Q: Why did you decide to write this picture book focused on the life of James Hoban and his role in designing the White House?


A: I think it is important for children who are just beginning to learn about our nation's history to know that James Hoban’s story marks the beginning of the story of the White House itself.


During the nine years that I have led the White House Historical Association, I have had wonderful opportunities to study and admire the home and office that Hoban designed and built for our presidents. Today, the White House is the most famous landmark in America--and perhaps in the world--yet very few people know Hoban's name.


And although there are scholarly works about Hoban, including one I authored for the Association in 2021, there has never been a book created to introduce young children to James Hoban.


Q: What do you think John Hutton’s illustrations add to the book?


A: John Hutton's colorful and lively illustrations add a special dimension to the book. He gives James Hoban an energy and personality that will likely make the book a favorite for many children to read again and again.

Dr. Hutton is also the illustrator for six other books in our children's series, as well as a special workbook that gives children step-by-step instructions on how to draw the presidents. He has a unique talent for making history fun and approachable for children. 


Q: The book's subtitle is “Designed by James Hoban, Built by Many Hands!”. Can you say more about the people who helped build the White House?


A: The book explains that it took many people to build the White House. Some people set the stones and others hammered in the nails, raised the roof, and hung the windows and the doors.


There were many enslaved laborers of African descent who did the sawing and brickmaking, and Scottish stone masons who created beautiful carvings in the sandstone exterior walls, and of course an Irish designer and builder. It was through the labor of all of these people that the White House as we know it came to be.


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


A: One important lesson kids can take away from Hoban's life story is that dreams can be achieved through study and hard work. James Hoban came from humble beginnings in Ireland, but he was so motivated by his interest in building that he studied hard, developed his talent, and took a chance traveling across the ocean to America where he proved himself and succeeded in a most historic way. His story should help inspire young people to go after their ambitions in life.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I continue to travel in the U.S. and abroad to share the story of James Hoban and the building of the White House.


And I especially enjoy sharing White House history through conversations with historians and eyewitnesses to history on my monthly podcast, The White House 1600 Sessions. The podcast explores the untold stories and personal accounts of the White House and is available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The White House Historical Association recently celebrated 60 years of publishing with the release of The White House an Historic Guide, a project that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy undertook when she founded our organization in 1961. 


Our books are a great resource for people of all ages interested in learning about the history of the White House and life as lived there. For a complete list of all of our books and educational programs, visit


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 25



March 25, 1881: Mary Webb born.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Q&A with Sophie Haydock




Sophie Haydock is the author of the new novel The Flames, which is based on the life of artist Egon Schiele and the women in his life. Haydock is also a journalist, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Sunday Times Magazine. She lives in London.


Q: What inspired you to write a novel based on the life of artist Egon Schiele and the women in his life?


A: A few years ago, I went to an exhibition of Egon Schiele’s work, The Radical Nude, at the Courtauld Gallery in London. At the time, I worked as an arts journalist, so I thought I already knew quite a lot about the Austrian artist, who was a contemporary of Gustav Klimt.


But what I discovered in the gallery that day shocked me. It wasn’t just Schiele’s provocative artworks, mostly of women posing nude or seductively in their stockings, that left a mark, but details about his controversial private life, the scandal that surrounded him, his rather intense and inappropriate relationship with his younger sister, Gertrude, who posed for her brother without her clothes – as well as details of his tragic death during the pandemic of 1918.


In the gallery that day, I was immediately enticed by the women Schiele painted – not only his sister Gertrude, but also Walburga, the woman who stood by him when he was imprisoned, only to be discarded when he met and the two wealthy sisters, Adele and Edith, who lived across the street – one of whom became his wife, while the other posed for her sister’s husband in her underwear.


All these dynamics sparked my imagination. I wanted to know what had led these women into the path of this enfant terrible, and how their lives were impacted by being his orbit. The result is The Flames, which offers each woman a chance to tell their side of the story. Sadly, none of them emerge unscathed from their encounters.


Q: In a review of the book in The Guardian, Alice Jolly writes, “Haydock has created an expansive novel of the gaze and the image that also explains how these four muses inspired and challenged Schiele, while negotiating roles for themselves in a society where they were celebrated but powerless.” What do you think of that description, and how would you characterize the depiction of women in Schiele’s art?


A: I believe that each of the women who were painted by Egon Schiele were forging their own paths in a society – Vienna at the turn of the 20th century – where women had few opportunities, no rights, and where powerful men debated whether women even had souls.


Each of Schiele’s muses defied the expectations of the era, and impressed me with their resolve, self-determination and capacity for change.


I wanted to give each of them chance to paint a portrait of themselves for the first time – to put the brush firmly in their hands – and collectively, for them to paint a portrait of the charismatic, troubled artist. He shifts under each of their gazes, whether you see him through the eyes of his sister, or sister-in-law, his wife or his lover.

Each of the women I write about has been seen very explicitly for more than a century, and I felt it was time that their voices, and their sides of the story, were heard.


It’s also fair to say that Schiele had an obsession with the human body, and rendered his women models in very raw but powerful ways – elongated limbs, protruding ribs, angular, jutting hips. Schiele was an Expressionist, and it’s worth noting that he was a teenager when he made his most memorable work.


He certainly sought to reveal more than what was on the surface and was obsessed with sex and death. He decried the hypocrisy in being imprisoned for indecency in his art (the judge famously burned one of his nude drawings during the trial), when it was in fact that “erotic” work that sold the most successfully to the Viennese elite.


Q: How did you research the novel, and what did you learn that surprised you most?


A: I spent some time in Vienna, which was a huge pleasure, and interviewed the leading Schiele scholars, including Alessandra Comini, the woman who, in the 1960s, found the cell in which Schiele had been imprisoned in Neulengbach as a young man and, spectacularly, interviewed the remaining women who had once posed for him, who at that point were in their 70s.


I also discovered a detail in my research that had never been made public before – that one of the women who posed seductively for Egon Schiele, and who was not his wife, is actually buried in the same grave as the artist, even though she lived for another 50 years after his death.


I wanted to know what circumstances had led to this happening, and I couldn’t help but imagine a love triangle between the characters, and an act of betrayal that changed all their fates. This was a leap of imagination, but not one that I felt was too improbable given the way the hints and undercurrents showed up in the works made by Schiele himself.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between fiction and history as you wrote the book?


A: As a debut author, writing historical fiction about real people, it was a difficult balance to negotiate. I felt a huge responsibility to the characters, who had really lived and who each harboured hopes and dreams, failures and fraught relationships. I tried diligently to do them justice and tell a story that I felt held true to the circumstances they could have encountered.


But I also had a responsibility to the reader, to try to tell an engaging story and write a page-turning novel – one that I hoped would appeal whether you knew nothing about the artist or had no particular interest in art.


The aim was to find that balance (and it took a long time to gather the confidence to do it successfully and let go of the swathes of research and biography that can hamper the telling of a vibrant and consuming tale) and to breathe new life into the women in Schiele’s unforgettable artworks in the process.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on edits for my second novel, which is about another artist and the complicated dynamics between the women who inspired him. This time, it’s a French artist, and he lived to be much older than Schiele, so there were new challenges in how to tell the story.


It was a pleasure to venture further into the 20th century and be submerged in a different artistic world, one that fizzed with developments and new opportunities. But still, the women who were instrumental to the artwork continue to navigate complicated paths. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m in the process of trying to secure a grave marker or memorial for the woman buried in Egon Schiele’s grave. Her name is not mentioned at the cemetery, and I feel that it’s an oversight that someone who posed for some of the greatest artworks of the 20th century should be forgotten or rendered anonymous. With the support of the Schiele community, I want to see that her name be remembered for centuries to come, just like his other muses.


Visit or follow @egonschieleswomen on Instagram.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Karen Katchur



Karen Katchur is the author of the new novel The Greedy Three. Her other books include River Bodies. She lives in Pennsylvania.


Q: What inspired you to write The Greedy Three, and how did you create your characters Noah, Eve, and Hester?


A: When I wrote Greedy, I wasn’t under contract, and we were in lockdown due to the pandemic. I wasn’t in a good place creatively, but I had a lot of time on my hands that I didn’t normally have. The combination of not being under contract and having so much free time allowed me to try something new.


I’ve always been a huge fan of dark comedic crime dramas like Fargo and Ozark, and I think writing in the genre was a natural extension of my interests. But it wasn’t until I started writing the Hester character that I realized I had something that could be darkly funny. Then when the Noah and Eve characters emerged, I knew I was onto something.


I knew I wanted each character to have their own personal motivations for wanting the money. Once I understood their backstory and internal goals, I let them dictate what actions they would take. For example, when writing a scene, I would ask myself what a normal person would do in each situation, and then I would write the opposite of that. J


It was so much fun creating characters who behave badly and who would do anything to get what they want. But even after all their craziness, they still have a lot of heart to them. I think they’re some of the most unhinged and yet relatable characters I’ve ever written.


Q: Reviewers have also called the novel “darkly funny”--what do you see as the role of humor in your work?

A: If reviewers are calling the novel “darkly funny,” it means that they totally get the characters and story, and I accomplished what I set out to do. The role of humor in Greedy adds levity to some serious topics that are otherwise just too depressing.


I think this is what dark comedy does so brilliantly. It allows you to explore violence and tragedy in a way that makes it a little more palatable and yet doesn’t take away from the seriousness of something like human trafficking.


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 did know the ending. I don’t do a whole lot of plotting, but I always know how it ends. It gives me something to write toward. However, I will say that writing the ending for Greedy was painful, but it couldn’t have gone any other way.


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


A: I knew what I wanted the title to be from the beginning. It doesn’t always happen that way, and sometimes, the title gets changed at the last minute.


Although there are several POV characters in Greedy, the three main characters—Hester, Noah, and Eve—had the most to gain and lose. It really is their story. They each deal with something in their past that has left a big hole inside them. Greed became the catalyst to fill that hole.


Plus, Hollywood loves titles with numbers in them. I think I read that somewhere. J    


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on another crime thriller, but it’s too early in the process to talk about it. But I will say that the characters are once again unique!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: For anyone who is picking up the book, I hope you have fun with it. Enjoy the ride. It’s meant to be darkly funny although tragic, and wholly entertaining.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Terena Elizabeth Bell




Terena Elizabeth Bell is the author of the new story collection Tell Me What You See: Ten Stories. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Washington Post. She lives in New York.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in your new collection?


A: Most of the stories were written in 2021, after the US Capitol attack. A handful, though, like “23,195 New Yorkers and Counting,” were written in 2020.


Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: It’s time to wake up. As of this writing, we are 797 days away from the greatest attack American democracy has ever experienced: an attempted coup encouraged and inflamed by our very own president.


And what has happened? What have we done about it since then? Nothing. The public just walked around like zombies for a while and sent some angry tweets, then everybody went on like it didn’t happen. Everybody moved on to the next rage-filled, virtue-signaling cause.


There was an attempted coup on our nation! People died! They had a bomb! And there we all were, acting like it was just one more thing to deal with: “#2020, am I right?” 797 days. Again, 797 days.


Because I had the actual audacity to remind readers of this very real fact, I’ve had a few folks call my book political. It’s not — or at least I didn’t mean it to be.


This book is an account of what I saw between March 2020 and January 2021: a public ignoring of the Capitol “events” (Events? Call an attack an attack, people), a marked difference in approaches to coronavirus in New York (where I live) and Kentucky (where I’m from), repeat climate change crises, an increase in Alzheimer’s disease cases, and other issues.


Those are the things I saw and they aren’t Democrat or Republican, they just are. We don’t all have to agree. That’s part of this wonderful, glorious democracy I wrote to protect. But each and every one of us has a personal, individual responsibility to not be willingly blind. Ignoring 2020-2021 will not make those years go away. It will ensure that we repeat them.


So I wrote what I saw. Now you tell me, what did you see?

Q: In a review of the book in Heavy Feather Review, Dave Fitzgerald said, “Tell Me What You See is working overtime to sound the alarm; to wake us all up...” What do you think of that description?


A: I was very flattered. Tell Me What You See had of course gotten great reviews before that, but this one particular paragraph made me feel seen. He got it. A man I didn’t know had picked up my book, read it, and understood exactly why it was written.


Success in writing isn’t whether you publish or how big the publisher is or any of that stuff — it’s not even good reviews. Success is when the story you write accomplishes what you wanted it to. And when I read that review, I knew I’d done it. I had done exactly what I sat out to do.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear in the collection?


A: To be honest, we make ordering short story collections far harder than it needs to be. A lot of advice on the topic only serves to make writers nervous, spending months — if not years — shifting stories around like a back-alley shell game: “your collection should flow like an album,” “group pieces together in themes,” “don’t have two stories of the same length next to each other.” It can drive you out of your mind.


So I didn’t do any of that with this. I just drank a glass of red wine then pasted them in a Google Doc one right after the other.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Isn’t that the eternal question? Tell Me What You See was a departure for me in that it’s experimental fiction. Originally from Kentucky, I normally write modern Southern gothic. My goal with this collection was to write the chaos of the times around us — as Dave said in his review, “to sound the alarm.” So now that the world is returning to normal, should the way I write?


My current work is landing in between, which I guess is sort of where we are as a nation. My fiction at least looks like fiction now (many of Tell Me What You See’s stories play with visual form), yet I find myself writing Southern gothic that experiments in subtler ways: crime fiction that incorporates physical evidence, soliloquy-like stories completely written in one character’s dialogue — things like that.


Toward this end, I’ve got a second collection I’m currently shopping (if you want it, publishers, come and get it) as well as a time-twisting, stream of consciousness novel.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In the review you mentioned, Dave also writes, “I thought I was over the pandemic—that I wasn’t ready to read fiction about it…that it was just too soon. But Terena Elizabeth Bell here proves that notion both lazily hubristic, and artistically wrongheaded. I don’t make this blanket statement often, but absolutely everyone should read ‘#CoronaLife’ [the longest story in the collection] and take some cathartic stock of what we’ve all just been through. It’s never too soon for work this good.”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb