Sunday, April 30, 2023

Q&A with Sydney Dunlap




Sydney Dunlap is the author of the new middle grade novel It Happened on Saturday. Her other books include the middle grade novel Jeremy Norbeck: Animal Whiz Kid. She is a former elementary school teacher.


Q: What inspired you to write It Happened on Saturday, and how did you create your character Julia?


A: It Happened on Saturday grew out of my work with child trafficking survivors and my realization that there was very little literature for young readers addressing this topic, even though kids ages 11 to 14 are especially vulnerable.


I decided to write a character-driven, age-appropriate novel to help middle grade readers understand the risks and the need to be careful and aware as they go online and use social media. 


I knew it would be very important to make Julia a character young readers could relate to and help them understand what makes her especially susceptible to the influence of a handsome stranger during this particular point in her life.


Like many girls her age, Julia loves animals and hanging out with her friends. She also had a previous experience with bullying and is concerned about being left out. When two of her close friends move away, and her BFF comes home from summer camp with a boyfriend, she’s worried about getting forgotten and tries to keep up.


Q: How did you decide on the best way to depict the issue of trafficking for middle grade readers?


A: I thought it was important to show how easily traffickers and recruiters can trick their potential victims.


I wanted readers to experience the story’s events along with Julia, empathizing with her and gaining a much deeper understanding than if they were just told to be careful online. By feeling like they are right there with her, they can see for themselves how anyone can say anything online and how easily kids can be manipulated.


I intentionally only went as far as I did in the book so that readers could understand how it felt to be trapped, but only for a short time. Having Julia get lured into a dangerous situation but then get away quickly felt like stopping at just the right point.


I also had the story vetted by police officers and detectives who specialize in child trafficking cases, along with a former director of an anti-trafficking crisis response organization, a trafficking survivor, and pre-teen beta readers.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Dunlap writes with compassion about factors that render adolescents particularly vulnerable to trafficking and what it takes to keep them safe; she offers insights into how excruciating self-consciousness prevents victims from seeking help or sharing their experiences. A powerful work.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: I was thrilled and honored with that description and the review from Kirkus. 


In addition to a growing awareness of staying safe both online and in real life, I hope that readers gain an understanding of how to help themselves during stressful situations and develop the courage to advocate for themselves, even when it’s hard. And I hope that they see the value of honesty and true friendship.


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


A: I had fun figuring out the title because my extremely creative nephew, Lucas Cain, brainstormed with me and helped me come up with it.


The first part of the book is told in the past tense, showing the events leading up to the Saturday when Julia is nearly abducted. The second part is in the present tense and shows the aftermath. Since everything revolves around that Saturday, it seemed like a fitting title, and I also wanted a title that raises a question.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m writing a middle grade novel that tackles another challenging topic that I feel needs to be addressed more for this age group. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m very excited to connect with readers, and I’m looking forward to school and bookstore visits this year. If anyone reading this would like to come to an event, check my website for more information! I also offer virtual visits for everybody everywhere! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Andrew Varga




Andrew Varga is the author of the new young adult novel The Last Saxon King, the first in his Jump in Time series. He lives in the Toronto area.


Q: What inspired you to write The Last Saxon King, and how did you create your character Dan?


A: The inspiration for The Last Saxon King, and for the rest of the books in the Jump in Time series, came during a long drive home from vacation. My kids are avid readers, and they’ve always shared with me the MG and YA books they loved. But as a history geek, I found that in many of them historical accuracy wasn’t a focal point.


It was during this long drive that I first had the idea of writing a series of historically accurate YA books. I wanted to show younger readers like my kids that history is not just the stuff they learn in school. There are countless other interesting and exciting stories to be told.


And, if I made the series based on time travel, it would allow me to take readers on a grand journey to different parts of the word and different time periods.


I decided that the first book in my series would be in 1066 England because that year is probably the most pivotal in the history of Western Europe. The Battle of Hastings, which occurred on Oct. 14 of that year, changed the history of England and Europe.


Another inspiration for the first book to be in Anglo-Saxon England was my fondness for the Old English language. I had taken two courses in it in university, so setting the book in Anglo-Saxon times allowed me to sneak in some Old English language into a modern book.


As for Dan, he was pretty easy to create. I was a teenage male once, and I still cringe at the memories of some of my own awkward teen moments. So a lot of Dan is just me channeling my inner teen. Of course, Dan lives in a much more modern world than I did when I was young, so I used my own two boys as role models for other actions and behaviors.


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


A: I started off by reading the primary sources—that is, the sources that were written close to the time of the actual events.


For the Battle of Stamford Bridge my two main sources were the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and King Harald’s Saga, which was written more from the Viking side of things.

For the Battle of Hastings, I used primarily the Norman sources because they provided much more detail than the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Norman sources included the Gesta Guillemi, the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, and the incredibly vivid Bayeux Tapestry, which is like a huge graphic novel depicting the events of the battle.


Once I had a clear picture of the events and people of the time period, I then did quite a bit of secondary research to see what the archaeological record had to say regarding buildings, clothing, food, etc., and I read modern historians to fill in any gaps in my understanding.


The biggest surprise during my research was how unprepared the Vikings had been for the Battle of Stamford Bridge. According to the sources, the Vikings had not expected the Anglo-Saxon army to be anywhere near them, so they had left their armor at their boats.


In addition, when the Anglo-Saxon forces first appeared, some of the Vikings were actually swimming in the river and enjoying the warm weather. Of course I had to put all these details in my book.


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’ve always heard that there are two types of writers: plotters, who carefully plot every little detail of their book before actually starting to write, and pantsers, who just start writing, and create stories by the seat of their pants. I definitely fall into the pantser variety.


Before I started writing The Last Saxon King, I only had a general idea of what Dan would endure while he was in 1066. I definitely knew he would meet Sam, and that they’d end up at the Battle of Stamford Bridge and the Battle of Hastings, but a lot of the finer details were unknown to me.


It was only when I began writing, and the characters started to reveal themselves to me, that the story began to flesh out. But, even after my first draft, the story wasn’t complete. It was only through many edits and revisions that the novel finally became what it is today.


Q: On your website, you write, “The biggest hurdle in the creation of the series was determining the rules for time travel. There was no sense in maintaining historical accuracy if the protagonists ended up creating all sorts of paradoxes and time loops.” Can you say more about that?


A: With time travel novels, there are so many things an author must think of before writing. How will the time travelers travel to the past? Once there, can they accidentally step on a bug without messing up history? How will they speak with the locals when there are potential language barriers? What happens if the time travelers reveal events from the future? And what happens if they happen to hurt or kill someone?


This last question was especially important to me since I put Dan at two huge historical battles, where he ends up fighting to save his own life. If Dan ends up killing his own ancestor, then how would he have been born?


To solve all these problems, I spent a lot of time creating the “rules” of time travel for my series. I decided that history has a bit of a self-healing mechanism, so if a bug is squished, or if someone minor (from a historical standpoint) dies, then history can heal itself.


The language problem I resolved by having the time travel devices, which are small and portable, also act as universal translators. As for the heroes of the series, their main goal in travelling to the past is to repair glitches, so the emphasis is always on making sure that history flows correctly.


Q: This is the first in a series--what's next?


A: Book two in the series, The Celtic Deception, comes out in September. It takes place in Celtic Wales during the Roman conquest of the Druids, which occurred in 60 CE. Book three, The Mongol Ascension, will be out in 2024, and brings our heroes to the steppes of Mongolia during the rise of Genghis Khan.


The next three books in the series have all been written, but do not have publication dates yet. Book four, The Spartan Sacrifice, sends our heroes back to 480 BCE during the Battle of Thermopylae when the Spartans and their Greek allies fought against the invading Persians.


Book five, The Orleans Ordeal, tells the story of Joan of Arc and her inspirational lifting of the Siege of Orleans in medieval France during The Hundred Years War. And book six, The Roman Betrayal, takes place in Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian. As for the seventh and final book, I am currently writing that one.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: It took almost a decade for The Last Saxon King to be accepted by a publisher. During this time there was a lot of rejection from agents and publishing houses, as well as a host of query letters that didn’t even generate a response.


Instead of losing heart at all the rejection, I edited, re-edited, and then did even more edits of the novel. In addition, I also kept writing the next books in the series. I had faith in my writing, and in my series. I knew that at some point, as long as I persevered and kept improving my writing, the books would be published.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Robert Lunday


Photo by Katy Anderson



Robert Lunday is the author of the new book Disequlibria: Meditations on Missingness. His other books include Mad Flights. He is a professor of English at Houston Community College, and he lives in Houston.


Q: What inspired you to write Disequilibria?


A: Disequilibria is in part an account of my stepfather’s 1982 disappearance. I have been writing about this mystery almost since it happened – first, simply to record the spare facts, and then, some years later, as a long poem that I hoped would allow me to connect deeper feelings about the experience.


The poem, which I published in a collection more than 20 years ago, is a synthesis of details about my stepfather, Jim Lewis, and his military experience; our family experience; and larger, almost-mythical reflections on the figure of disappearance overall.


In the closing of the poem, I tried to construct something slightly like a figure of a man in an orbit gone astray – partly to represent that powerful 20th-century emblem of adventure and its risks – and partly to find a poetic way to express the emotional complexity, or the inability I felt, and still feel, to properly express the meaning of someone’s disappearance.


It has taken me half a lifetime to figure out how to shape the experience in the right way (if Disequilibria is indeed the right way): as a continuum between one family’s case and the human experience of disappearance as a global, varied phenomenon.


Since I am a lover of books, stories, myths, and the mysteries of the cosmos, I can’t help but read symbolic meaning in everything. One irony of my efforts, though, is that Jim Lewis, a smart but disciplined and practical man, would likely disapprove of the way I’ve told his story!


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


A: “Disequilibria” is a chapter title. Also, it’s one of the tropes developed in the work. By “trope” I mean a series of themes that recur throughout: metaphors, I suppose, that I think of as the parts of a symbolic structure that helps me understand “missingness” as the master trope. A “quest,” for example, is a common trope in art and literature; the “orbit” figure I mentioned above is a form of the quest-trope, perhaps.


One of the ways I have tried to come to terms with my family’s unusual tale of disappearance is to intellectualize and aestheticize it, perhaps excessively: to consider what deeper, more abstract, technical, scientific, symbolic, or philosophical meanings our story points to.


It seems to me that some events in the world are not easily explained in natural terms; they represent an imbalance, perhaps even a moral imbalance of some kind, but maybe even a violation of the laws of nature. So, “Disequilibria” is my admittedly abstract way of connecting the story of a man’s fate to the deeper laws of physics – that this imponderable puzzle is somehow connected to an imbalance in the universe.


I have found, while studying the ways people experience a disappearance, that most of us find it very difficult to express what it feels like when someone we love goes missing. So, I have experimented with the language of disappearance – hoping that if we can find new ways of defining it in language, we can find ways of dealing with irresolvable experiences like missingness, and learn how to cope with the trauma of unresolved grief that is a common experience of the left behind.  


Q: The author Rigoberto González said of the book, “Disequilibria captures what it’s like to become obsessed with a mystery, as well as what it feels like to get trapped in its labyrinth. But most compellingly, it teaches us that if the grief-stricken can’t find out the truth, they can attain solace in the still-present love for those who are gone.” What do you think of that description?


A: At this point, my stepfather has been missing for as long as he was alive. His disappearance has lasted far longer than he was my stepfather, longer than he was my mother’s husband. It is a strange feeling, sometimes – as if not only James Lewis, but all of us affected by his disappearance, are stuck in time.


Still, I feel that the “relationship” I have had with my stepfather has evolved over the years of his absence, because there is something about a human life, a human spirit, that not only never dies, but also continues in some ways to change and grow – or so I believe.


When I was a boy, I feared my stepfather, because he was a tough, strict soldier (he was also smart and funny, I have to say – and a caring, loving father and husband). After he came home from his last combat tour in Vietnam, in 1970, I was 11 – old enough to see the complexity of Jim Lewis’ character, to understand that even though he was a fearsome man, he was also a mortal being capable of suffering and error.


I clearly recall when he stepped through the door after returning from Vietnam that day; I remember thinking to myself that he looked very tired, and needed me to help him feel welcomed back home. I think that was the first time, really, I allowed myself to love him as my father – not to consider him an invader or a usurper. (Maybe it’s the opposite of the tale of Hamlet, in a way!)


In any case, even to this day, I have often considered what it means to love someone, even after they are gone. I think I needed to continue learning how to love Jim Lewis, not only as my stepfather, but as a man who had suffered, and for all we know, might be suffering somewhere in the world to this day. That is part of the horror of disappearance.


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


A: Research has been a curse and a blessing in my creative work. I have been a poet for most of my writing life, and spent many years reading various topics of relevance to poetic projects: the history of the cinema, the art of memory, blindness, physiognomy and related depictions of the face in art; and with Disequilibria¸ missing persons.


The curse is that I become extremely obsessed, believing that I must explore every corner, every branching sub-topic, every source – and of course, there is no end to the exploration of any topic if one takes it on so absolutely.


The blessing, though, is that over time, I have constructed a vast realm of ideas and cultural understanding in those areas – and discovered wonderful intersections, as well. So, the research I did for Disequilibria has led me toward a desire to be an authority on disappearance as a global, multi-faceted crisis; and that has helped me see how my family’s experience is not unusual, but is in fact very meaningful in the ways it connects to the suffering of other families.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Even though I worked on Disequilibria, or versions of it, over many years, the book as it now exists is a pandemic project: the lockdown forced me to sit and write in marathon sessions, fortunately. However, after finishing the book, I realized that in its end was a beginning – that is, I saw room for much more writing on the topic.


I hope as well to organize a collaborative art exhibit in which visual artists and writers explore themes of disappearance. Also, I’m starting work on an anthology of writings about disappearance in varied forms – perhaps a collection that will cross the usual genre boundaries, including the words of people who have experienced missingness and sought to express the imponderable nature of it.


Disequilibria includes a lot of literary-critical discussion of works about missing persons. However, almost every week since I completed the manuscript, I have continued to discover other wonderful novels, poems, memoirs, and scholarly works relevant to the theme. So, I suppose I might attempt a second volume, though I don’t yet know what form it will take.


I’m an introvert, almost a shut-in, one might say. I hope, though, in my next endeavor, to go beyond books – to get out into the world and meet real people. That kind of learning provides a different knowledge and understanding from what we gain through books, after all.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As I was constructing my family’s experience, and then researching the varied forms of disappearance in the world, I became humbled at the suffering and courage of so many people.


The next steps, for me, might be to argue for the ways art and other forms of imaginative response help us understand such intractable problems as human trafficking; enforced disappearances caused by war, by governments oppressing their own citizens, paramilitary groups, and criminal cartels; child abduction and abuse; missing and murdered Indigenous women; the inequities experience by missing people of color and their families; and borderland experiences that cause unnecessary suffering.


I invite other artists to communicate with me about these experiences, not only as sociological or political crises, but as sources of artistic and literary expression.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 30



April 30, 1877: Alice B. Toklas born.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Q&A with Don Bentley




Don Bentley is the author of the new novel Forgotten War, the fourth in his Matt Drake series. He spent a decade as an Army Apache helicopter pilot, and also was an FBI special agent and a SWAT team member. He lives in Austin, Texas.


Q: Forgotten War is the latest in your series featuring your character Matt Drake--did you know from the beginning that you'd be writing a series about him, and do you think he's changed at all since book one?


A: My debut novel, Without Sanction, was purchased as part of a two-book deal, so I knew that Matt would be around for at least one more book.


Forgotten War is the fourth book in the series, and I have tried to allow Matt room to grow because I believe that allowing your characters to continue to develop as the series progresses keeps the subsequent novels from feeling episodic. At the same time, this can be a delicate balance in that you want your characters to deepen while at the same time you don’t want to lose what attracted readers to those characters in the first place.


From Matt’s perspective, his world is changing. In Hostile Intent, book three in the series, he found out that his wife was pregnant. In Forgotten War, his world changes even more as he watches, Afghanistan, the country to which he’s devoted the majority of his adult life, fall into chaos.


I think it would be disingenuous if events of this magnitude didn’t have some effect on the way Matt views the world and himself. I think it’s fair to say that the Matt Drake we see at the end of Forgotten War is a very different person than the man we meet at the beginning of Without Sanction.  


Q: What inspired the plot of Forgotten War?


A: I was in the middle of brainstorming what I wanted to do for the fourth Matt Drake book when the withdrawal from Afghanistan took place. I’m an Afghanistan veteran, so watching the 20 years of blood and treasure we poured into that country collapse seemingly overnight had a profound effect on me. I couldn’t work for about two weeks, and when I came back to writing, I knew that Afghanistan and the botched withdrawal would play central roles in my new book.


I’d also received a ton of reader feedback on the characters Matt and Frodo. Folks love their relationship, but many expressed a desire to see their origin story, or at the very least, a storyline that showed the two of them together in the days before an IED crippled Frodo. Forgotten War allowed me to do just that.

Q: The writer Nelson DeMille said of the book, “There’s a lot going on in this fast-paced and well-plotted tale, and the bonus is the sharply drawn characters who you may—or may not—want to meet in a bar or on the battlefield.” What do you think of that description, and how do you create your characters?


A: I was so humbled when Nelson agreed to blurb my book. He has been a huge influence on my writing. Reading his John Corey character gave me the courage to try something similar with my protagonist, Matt Drake. Nelson’s kind words really validated what I was trying to do with the characters in Forgotten War.


I love movies, so dialogue is very important to me. In fact, sometimes I’ll write only the dialogue in the first draft of a scene. For me, dialogue showcases the relationships between characters both in what they say and what they choose to omit. Oftentimes, I don’t have a bead on a character when I start writing them and it’s through the conversations this character has with others that I begin to understand them.


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


A: First and foremost, I hope Forgotten War keeps readers turning pages long after they should have gone to bed. As a writer of commercial fiction, I think my primary job is to always, always tell an entertaining story and hopefully Forgotten War succeeds in that regard.


That said, as an Afghanistan veteran, what happened during our tragic withdrawal was devastating to me and to others who served there. I hope readers come away from Forgotten War thoroughly entertained, but also with perhaps a better understanding of the men and women who voluntarily shouldered the burden of combat on their behalf.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just turned in edits for Weapons Grade, my fourth Tom Clancy book and eighth published novel. Earlier this year, I was selected to continue the late Vince Flynn’s legacy by taking over the Mitch Rapp series from Kyle Mills. This means that as soon as my book tour for Forgotten War is over, I’ll be diving into my first Mitch Rapp novel and I couldn’t be more excited.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I love hearing from readers. The best way to get in contact with me is through my email at or via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @bentleydonb. If you want to stay up on all my projects and be the first one to know about giveaways and other exciting news, head over to my website at and sign up for my free newsletter. Thanks!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Bridget Walsh




Bridget Walsh is the author of the new novel The Tumbling Girl, the first in her Variety Palace Mystery series. She lives in Norwich, England.


Q: What inspired you to write The Tumbling Girl, and how did you create your characters Minnie Ward and Albert Easterbrook?


A: The Tumbling Girl is a marriage between my academic background and my love of crime fiction. Armed with a Ph.D. in Victorian murder, in 2017 I enrolled on a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. I started off thinking I should create something deadly serious and writerly, but soon realised I wasn’t that kind of writer. I wrote something that I thought was reasonably funny and it struck a chord.


In terms of characters, I knew I wanted a working-class woman at the heart of the book. Growing up, I rarely saw people like me as the heroines of stories. In Victorian novels, particularly with a good Irish name like Bridget, working-class girls were servants or, if they were really unlucky, ladies of the night.


I wanted to take someone who hadn’t had the best start in life and give her independence and agency. Theatres, music halls, spaces for the arts and entertainment have long allowed those outside the mainstream to flourish. Women in Victorian London who enjoyed success in the halls could make a decent living without the need for marriage.


But I had to work within the realms of reality. There were female detectives in the 19th century, but they were rather limited in what work they could undertake. Minnie needed a partner - ideally a man.


Albert has turned his back on a privileged upbringing to commit himself to helping others - first as a police officer, now as a private detective. Between them, Minnie and Albert can gain access to pretty much anywhere.


I also wanted an emotional connection between Minnie and Albert. Minnie appears to move with confidence and ease through the world, but she has a secret from her past that is stopping her fully embracing the future.


Albert, despite the wealth and privilege of his upbringing, had a cold and unloving childhood. He feels like he never fits in anywhere, until he meets Minnie and discovers that the chaotic world of the Variety Palace is somewhere he can finally be at home.


I hope it’s obvious in the book, but I love Minnie and Albert dearly and often find myself baulking at the trials I put them through!

Q: As you mentioned, the novel is set in Victorian London--how important is setting to you in your work, and how did you conduct your research for the book?


A: As most writers would agree, setting is crucial. I’m a Londoner by birth and the city was pretty well-documented during the 19th century, so there was lots of research to draw on. I already knew a thing or two about the Victorian era from my Ph.D. The opportunity to use that knowledge while creating a fictional world has been a joy.


In terms of conducting research, that’s one of my favourite parts of writing. I read anything and everything about the Victorian era, and I also visit sites that I think might be useful. For example, Hoxton Hall is one of two surviving music halls in London that still operate as theatrical venues, and I was fortunate enough to be shown backstage, which helped form the inspiration for the Variety Palace.


Q: The writer Trevor Wood said of the book, “Delightful, dark and depraved all at the same time. What's not to like?” What do you think of that description?


A: I love it! The book does undoubtedly venture into the darker side of life, but my novels are also character-driven and to really care about a character I think you need warmth in their portrayal and an element of humour. The more you care about Minnie and Albert, the more invested you’ll be when I put them in perilous situations.


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 thought I knew how the novel would end and I also had a deadline to meet, as The Tumbling Girl was the dissertation for my Masters. So I was moving forward fairly confidently, until the day my husband, Micky, and I were walking our dogs and discussing plot as we often did.


Very casually Micky said, ‘What if X is the Hairpin Killer?’ and I just stopped in the middle of the pavement. I wanted to hug him and punch him in equal measure, because I immediately knew it was the right way to go, but it meant an enormous amount of work, going back through the whole book and laying new strands of hints and clues. It was worth it, though.


I also killed off a character in the original ending, which I regretted as they were someone I really enjoyed writing. Thankfully, I had the chance to go back and undo that and the character will resurface in book four of the series.


Q: This is the first in a series--can you tell us what's next?


A: The second Variety Palace Mystery, The Innocents, will be published by Gallic Books in March 2024. Bernard Reynolds, ex-Shakespearean actor and Variety Palace stalwart, enlists Minnies help in finding his missing brother. Before long, Minnie and Albert start to uncover the links between a series of seemingly random and disconnected deaths, all of them connected by a 14-year-old tragedy.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve completed the draft for Summerland, the third novel in the series, and that’s currently with my agent. That book centres on the Victorian fascination with spiritualism.


I have a chapter outline for book four, and I’ve just started writing it. I like to keep busy!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Donna B. McKinney



Donna B. McKinney is the author of the new children's picture book Lights On!: Glow-in-the-Dark Deep Ocean Creatures. Her many other books include Engines!. She lives in North Carolina.


Q: What inspired you to write Lights On! and how did you choose the creatures to include in the book?


A: For many years I was a science writer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. While working there, I have  clear memory of talking with a Navy scientist who described to me these deep-sea creatures that glow in the dark – the scientific name for this glow is bioluminescence. I remember being fascinated by that conversation and the scientist’s description of these creatures.


I retired from working for the Navy in 2015 and decided to try and write a children’s picture book. Writing children’s books is very different from writing about science for adults. So I spent a lot of time initially reading lots of picture books and learning about the craft of picture book writing. The first book I wrote has not sold yet. But for a second book, I reached back to that conversation about the glowing sea creatures and decided that was a book I wanted to write.


There are many, many deep sea creatures that glow in the dark. But generally, scientists believe that the creatures use their light to either attract prey (their dinner!), evade predators, or for mating. So I included creatures covering those three broad categories.


Q: What do you think Daniella Ferretti's illustrations add to the book?


A: I absolutely love Daniella’s illustrations. I am a word person, and when I submitted the book, I truly had no vision for how the book might be illustrated, apart from the fact that the creatures themselves are visually interesting. What Daniella did to bring such a dark world to life is amazing. From the time I first began to see her rough sketch ideas – I loved them!


Q: How did you research Lights On!, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I used the internet to track down papers and articles written about these fascinating creatures. Government agencies like NOAA, research groups like the Smithsonian Institution or Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and academic research papers were all great resources.


I was surprised how many creatures in the deep ocean glow in the dark. Scientists estimate that about 80 percent of deep sea creatures are bioluminescent!


Q: How did you first get interested in writing for kids?


A: I wrote for adults for many years. It’s only been since about 2015 that I turned my attention to writing for kids. I have four grandchildren and spend lots of time reading with them. That really opened my eyes to the gorgeous picture books that are available for young readers today.


I began by writing for the educational market – publishers that market their books directly to schools and libraries. These are books where the publisher assigns the writer a topic for the book.


I’ve written about 20 books on topics mainly in the science, sports, history, and current events subject areas. Writing these nonfiction books for the educational market helped me learn how to write for children and to work with an editor in the publishing process.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have two more picture books in the works. One is about the tiny Arctic tern and its amazing migration from the North Pole to the South Pole and back again, every single year. The other is about whale songs. The magnificent whales are musical creatures.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can find more about my books on my website:

And I’m on Twitter and Instagram: @donnabmckinney


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 29



April 29, 1954: Jerry Seinfeld born.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Q&A with HelenKay Dimon



HelenKay Dimon is the author of the new novel Moorewood Family Rules. Her many other novels include The Last Invitation (written as Darby Kane). A former divorce lawyer, she lives in San Diego.


Q: What inspired you to write Moorewood Family Rules, and how did you create your character Jillian?


A: This book grew out of a rewatch of the movie Ocean’s 8. Moorewood Family Rules is totally unrelated to the movie, of course, but Sandra Bullock does deserve some credit for this becoming an actual book.


There’s a scene where her character explains that everyone in her family is a con artist except for one great aunt. I began playing the “what if” game and thought about a person like that who got out of prison and returned home to fix her scamming family instead of pulling a new con.


We talk a lot about the “what happens behind closed doors” idea. I was a divorce lawyer for more than a decade and frequently dealt with people who acted one way in public and another at home. So, I thought about how a family of con artists would act when no one was watching. Could they turn off the lying and deceit? I decided no, as is obvious in the book.


Jillian Moorewood is the reluctant center of the family. She’s not exactly innocent. She could leave…if she wanted to, and that was the part of her personality I played with in the book.


I think we all take on these roles in our families—the practical one, the fun one, the smart one. It’s usually not conscious and sometimes we fight against it, but what and who defines us are universal questions.


I thought about that distance between who we want to be and who we are while crafting Jillian and decided she couldn’t escape her role any easier than some of us could. That makes her relatable even though she comes from a very different world from most of us.

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


A: I really view this book as a sort of dysfunctional family hijinks book. That’s a made-up genre, but I’m going with it.


Because the family is the prominent feature in the book—as opposed to romance or suspense—I wanted their last name right in the title. It seemed to me a family that thrived on chaos and subterfuge would need a few rules to carry off a successful generational grift. That led to the “rules” part of Moorewood Family Rules, and every chapter starts with one of those rules.


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


A: I knew the tone and where Jillian would be at the end of the book. I wasn’t so sure about the others. She had the capacity for growth, but I wasn’t totally convinced when I started writing that the rest of the Moorewood family could, or would want to, change their messy ways.


Q: Picking up what you said before, the Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Readers who enjoy dysfunctional family dynamics will find entertainment here.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love that description because it nicely sums up the book. Shows like Succession highlight how much we enjoy peeking through the window into the lives of dysfunctional families, especially dysfunctional families with money. The Moorewoods have money, some legitimately earned and some not.


One of the things I wanted to do was suck the reader in to the Moorewoods who-can-you-trust world in a fun way, with some humor. I hope I achieved that.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I also write thrillers under the name Darby Kane. They are totally different books from Moorewood Family Rules. Still filled with secrets but much darker and with a higher body count. I am finishing copyedits for my next thriller release, The Engagement Party (it sounds like a fun time, but it’s not), which comes out Dec. 5.


Then I need to work on my next HelenKay book. I have an idea for another Moorewood adventure and an idea for a totally different chaotic non-grifter family. Not sure which way I’m going to go yet.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We tend to think of books in terms of fitting neatly into a genre. I debated pitching Moorewood Family Rules to my editor because it’s not a neat fit. It has a bit of romance, a bit of suspense, and a lot of family messiness, all in a lighter tone.


Clearly, there isn’t a shelf specifically for that type of book in a bookstore (general fiction, maybe?). But, if that mix sounds good, and I hope it does, then the Moorewoods might be a good reading fit for a reader. This was a book I wanted to read, so I wrote it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Francesca Miracola




Francesca Miracola is the author of the new memoir I Got It From Here. She is the founder of Protagonist Within LLC, and she lives on Long Island.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir, and what impact did it have on you to write it?


A: I’ve always felt a pull towards healing and a desire to connect with others in a way that inspires them to do the same. My purpose called to me for decades. But I plugged away at my accounting career, paying the bills, feeling unfulfilled, not pursuing my dreams.


A significant component of my healing purpose was to write my book and share my story – deep down I just knew it. It gnawed at me for years until my breast cancer diagnosis finally motivated me to write it.


When the doctor gave me the news, my first thought was my children; I feared I would leave them too young. My second thought was the book; I feared I would die without having written it. Soon after my treatment I began writing. At first, I thought it would be an angry, vindictive telling of what my ex did to me. But as I feverishly typed away, it turned out to be a cathartic release of the past.


My eyes were opened to the fact that I was the protagonist. And the protagonist gets to decide how the story unfolds. In that instant I decided to create my business, Protagonist Within, LLC, where I write, coach, speak, and practice A Course in Miracles.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between you and your first husband?


A: Nonexistent is the first word that comes to mind. He’s estranged from our young adult sons, so we have no reason to interact. Having said that, the mental dynamic, at least for me, shifted over the years. I no longer feel hate, anger, or the need for vengeance. I’ve come to understand he was acting out from his own wounds and projecting his pain on me and our boys.


I’ve learned to be thankful for the role he played in my awakening; the ordeal inspired me to heal. I discovered A Course in Miracles and embarked on my spiritual journey, found the strength to break the cycle of trauma in my family, and decided to live in peace and joy, hoping to inspire others to do the same. Forgiveness was the key, not to give him a free pass but instead to set me free.


Q: What do your family members think of the book?


A: They love it and they’re proud of me – not only because of the effort it took to write it, but for the work I did to heal. I’m more at peace than ever before and they appreciate that. I believe the book and my raw honesty helped us process the past and move forward with love. I’m delighted to know that all in all they consider me an inspiration.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Launching my book, expanding my coaching practice, creating a podcast, and drafting another memoir.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Please visit me at my website Francesca Miracola to learn more about my book and coaching services.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb