Monday, July 31, 2023

Q&A with Sophie Overett




Sophie Overett is the author of the novel The Rabbits. Also an editor, podcaster, and cultural producer, she is based in Melbourne, Australia. 


Q: What inspired you to write The Rabbits?


A: There’s a smell the air gets in my hometown of Brisbane right before a storm hits. Something fresh and earthy and impossible to really describe. It worms up your nose though and licks at your skin, the humidity synonymous with a sub-tropical city making it somehow tangible, and it’s a smell, a feeling, I’ve always really loved.


Brisbane spent a lot of my adolescence in pretty intense droughts, so that feeling meant a break, it meant relief, even if only for a day or two.


It's a feeling that I found The Rabbits in, both literally and figuratively, as Brisbane’s relentless summers are the stage for this family story, but it’s also that sense of the emotional drought that happens with a fractured family in the long tail of grief. The past, and all the feelings held within that past, can’t be held off forever. The storm’ll hit, and despite yourself, you’ll feel it coming.


Q: In a review in The Guardian, Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen wrote that “what makes the novel surprising, and different, is the magical realism that unexpectedly appears in this otherwise ordinary setting a third of the way in – and largely drives the narrative from that point forward. The result is a whirring, breathless tangle of reality and unreality, forcing the reader to question the truth, then question it again.” What do you think of that description?


A: It's a really lovely one! I adore magical realism. Isabel Allende, Kelly Link, and Ruth Ozeki are three of my favourite authors, and I love the way that they interweave moments of magic to reveal and conceal in equal measure. It’s what I hoped to try and emulate with The Rabbits.


Genre writing can sometimes get a bit of a bad rap, which is always a shame to me. I think there’s a real thrill to writing that utilises fantasy or science fiction or crime or romance to explore themes in different ways, and a deliberate and purposeful ambiguity is something that appeals to me a lot as a reader and was fun to experiment with as a writer. The fact that it’s resonated with people feels like its own sort of magic.

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


A: Yeah, the ending was pretty set in my head, but I did make a few changes in terms of how I got there. I’m something between a plotter and a pantser. I do outline fairly extensively before I write, but I’m also really willing to let the story and the characters lead me too.


Some of my favourite scenes I’ve ever written have been ones I haven’t planned for at all, and so being open to pivoting from the plot (while also giving myself space after to work out what that means for the story) has been an important part of my creative process for a while, and was definitely something utilised with The Rabbits.


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


A: I don’t know if there’s anything I hope they take away, actually. One of the things I love about reading is that I can give a book to a friend and when we talk about it, we’ll have taken completely different things away from it.


If anything, I do hope that readers might feel a part of this family, for better and for worse, and feel the loneliness and exhaustion and hope at the heart of each of them. Most of all though, I hope they might feel that very human need to be understood and seen by those closest to you, even when those relationships are tangled.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently I’m elbow deep in writing an historical fiction novel which is set during Harry Houdini’s 1910 tour of Australia’s vaudeville circuit.


In a lot of ways, it feels like the polar opposite of The Rabbits, which is letting me cut my teeth on a whole new genre and set of themes, but in others, it sort of feels like it’s in conversation with it. After all, if The Rabbits is about finding magic where you least expect it, this new project is all about finding none where you’d expect to find it the most.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope you enjoy this story of magic and Brisbane and family secrets as much as I enjoyed writing it!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Gary Sernovitz


Photo by Pableaux Johnson



Gary Sernovitz is the author of the new novel The Counting House. His other books include The Green and the Black. A managing director at a private equity firm, he lives in New Orleans.


Q: What inspired you to write The Counting House, and how did you create your character known as “the CIO”?


A: Like a lot of what I’ve written, The Counting House came almost fully formed in broad shape, but only after I had spent years thinking about addressing the same themes in a completely different format—as a nonfiction book.


I was definitely reading a lot of Rachel Cusk at the time, and inspired by her structuring of novels (even if this novel has very different themes and voices and approach to humor). Some Cuskian spark sort of allowed the format to click into place.


I have a strong propensity to enjoy reading, and writing, fiction in which the main character is a lens to see the contemporary world from a very similar vantage as the author—but not necessarily auto-fiction (although I like some of that, too).


So the broad demographic outlines of the CIO, and some of his sensibilities, clearly overlap with my own. This is the case even if my working life has had me in lots of rooms talking to chief investment officers—but far from one myself.


Q: The writer Tom Bissell said of the book, “The Counting House takes its place alongside William Gaddis’s JR and Richard Powers’s Gain as one of the most absorbing and entertaining novels about American business ever written.” What do you think of those comparisons?


A: Well, I’m flattered, first of all, and I also don’t know if I’m up to that level. I think the similarity is rooted in those books and mine treating the ideas of investing and business as ideas with inherent, and deep, value in and of themselves as an equal part of the human condition.


So many novels, especially when they have “business” settings, treat the ideas of the work at a remove: satirically, glibly, or with a smell of research done to achieve some verisimilitude for books with other preoccupations (oftentimes important and juicy ones like class, money, sex, inequality, America!)

That being said, while JR in particular and The Counting House share themes and books told mainly in dialogue, mine intends to be much more accessible: literary without the avant garde aspects to Gaddis’s work.


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’m pretty sure I knew the ending, for which I used the shorthand of The Grand Inquisitor meets The Portrait of a Lady. That is, I always saw an everything-at-stake intellectual showdown scene between the CIO and Michael Hermann as part of the book.


Separately, I’ve always been heavily influenced by the work of Henry James, particularly in his innovations in creating interior, moral dramas as gripping as exterior plots.


And the sign of a successful Jamesian novel, to me, is that you are at the edge of seat until the end, particularly at the end, with the author so completely drawn a real, complex inner life that the reader doesn’t know until the final sentence what Isabel Archer will do—or the CIO.


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


A: I have “fiction” and “nonfiction” hopes.


The fiction hopes are straightforward classic ones: an exploration to how life is lived now, a sympathy with and critique of another human life, an appreciation for the writing at a sentence level, and an entertaining, funny, and gripping book. I want this to be gulped in two to three sittings.


The nonfiction hopes are split into two. For people completely unfamiliar with the world of investing or university endowments, I’d hope for them to barrel through some of the more technical (but not too technical!) passages and understand better, as citizens, the importance and mechanics and fundamental questions of finance and how universities work.


For insiders in those worlds, I’d love for the shock of recognition, the delight in the “names named” (or maybe hinted at), but also wrestling with some of the ideas on investing and the meaning of it all on a moral level.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on work. One of the reasons I was able to write this book is that I’ve worked full time in finance for most of last 28 years, first at Goldman Sachs and for nearly two decades in a senior position at a private firm. While I can carve time out to write novels, I can’t carve out too much time!


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve noticed early readers in two types, particularly those who are not steeped in finance. A few get intimidated very quickly by the finance and declare the book “not for them.”


More have understood what they understood and don’t worry too much about what they didn’t. That’s definitely the intention, as was a care to make sure that finance neophytes have enough to make this book readable, worthwhile, elucidating, and entertaining.


I compare it to when I go to a restaurant, and the waiter goes on about an ingredient I’ve never heard of a source farm of which I don’t really care! I don’t leave the restaurant. I just ignore them, eat, enjoy the meal or not, and forgot about what I don’t know. Or maybe I learn something new. Hey, I kinda like sorrel!


So I’d just encourage readers to allow that to happen, in the case of The Counting House, too.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 31




July 31, 1919: Primo Levi born.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Q&A with Jasmine A. Stirling


Photo by Anne-Elise Lansdown




Jasmine A. Stirling is the author of the new children's picture book biography Dare to Question: Carrie Chapman Catt's Voice for the Vote. She also has written the picture book biography A Most Clever Girl. She lives in San Francisco.



Q: Why did you decide to write a children's picture book biography about suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947)?


A: After hearing the remarkable story about the tie-breaking vote that enfranchised 27 million women, I became intrigued with Carrie Chapman Catt’s life and legacy. The more I learned, the more I wanted to share who she was with young readers.


Although Carrie was the most famous woman of her time, we seem to have completely forgotten about her and her legacy. Hopefully, my book will help us remember. Carrie was one of the most inspirational leaders in American history; her story deserves to be told.


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


A: My editor, Tracey Keevan, selected the title. It became a unifying force throughout the book, and I re-wrote many key moments to anchor around the concept. It fits Carrie perfectly. Carrie was not a rebel, she was a thinker. A questioner. A logician. A strategist.

Q: How did you research her life, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I did a great deal of primary research into Carrie’s life, from delving into archives at the Library of Congress and the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room at the NYPL, getting access to special collections in Nashville, slogging through hundreds of newspaper articles from 1915-1920, and interviewing a living descendant of [Tennessee politician] Harry T. Burn.


I was surprised at how lively and edgy the lives of the suffragists were, how close-knit their community was, and how many of them were openly involved in same-sex relationships.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from her story, and what do you see as her legacy today?


A: I hope that young people get the sense of the celebratory nature of the suffrage movement; that the suffs in their long dresses and big hats don’t seem boring, dusty, and ancient.


I also hope that young people understand that there are many ways to create change and be an activist. Over the years, the suffragists tried a huge array of tactics. In their way, each strategy and attempt added something to the movement.


And in the end, one letter won the vote for American women. What if Febb hadn’t written that letter? If everyone did just one thing to make the world a better place, think about how much we could achieve.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a book out in 2025 about the first woman who circumnavigated the world. She was a botanist, and she made the journey disguised as a man. She was also an entrepreneur. Her story is breathtaking.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You can buy signed copies of Dare to Question from my local indie,
here, or on Amazon, here. The book just got a starred review from Booklist! I hope you will check it out, tell your friends, and request it from your local library.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jasmine A. Stirling.

July 30




July 30, 1818: Emily Brontë born.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Q&A with Jacqueline Crooks


Photo by Marie James



Jacqueline Crooks is the author of the new novel Fire Rush. She also has written the story collection The Ice Migration. Born in Jamaica, she lives in the UK.


Q: What inspired you to write Fire Rush, and how did you create your character Yamaye?


A: In 2005 I was living in an isolated mountain village in Andalucia and something about that place reminded me of the dub reggae subculture I had once been a part of. Perhaps it was the very distinctive culture of the village that had its own music (verdiales) and dialect.


I started journaling, writing down my memories of the underground dub reggae dances and I began to realise that I was writing about a lost world because mainstream society did not know that subculture had existed. At that point I decided that I wanted to write a novel and bring that world to light.


Yamaye is very much based on me. In creating Yamaye, I wanted to explore my experiences - good and bad - and write about real and fictionalised events as a way of processing some of the things that happened to me as a way of transmogrifying them. 


I also consulted with Black women from that subculture to get their feedback on their experiences in order to make Yamaye a more representative character, so it's not just about my perspective. 


Q: A review of the book in The Guardian, by Colin Grant, says, in part, “For her debut, Crooks has set herself a complex task, especially in conjuring a spirit world just beyond Yamaye and the reader’s grasp. She succeeds with great aplomb, mapping lives ‘caught in the contractions of the past, trying to find their futures.’” What do you think of that description?


A: I think that description is accurate, I am exploring the impact of history and the past on the lives of Black men and women. How it affects family relationships, friendships, and intimate [relationships]. How people can move forward after historic trauma or family trauma. 


I grew up in a Caribbean Pentecostal church where we prayed to the “Holy Ghost.” As a very young impressionable child, I experienced the world of church and praying and speaking in tongues as a kind of spirit world. And my family believed in premonitions and visions and dreams as a kind of connection to the ancestors.


So I wanted to bring that aspect into the book because I have experienced life as an interplay of the real world and the spirit world.  


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


A: At the outset, I knew the beginning and ending of the story. I had vague ideas for the middle section but the middle section changed a lot. I tend to know early on what the ending will be. How I get there usually takes a lot of experimentation. 


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


A: The title came to me very early on. It signifies the energy and radical energy of dub reggae music. It also represents women's rage. This is very much the story of dub reggae gold from a woman's perspective. I don’t think women from the dub reggae scene have been represented in literature before. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a story I’m working on. I’m experimenting with language, form, and genre so I can’t say much about it right now.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 29




July 29, 1869: Booth Tarkington born.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Q&A with Rebecca Dimyan



Rebecca Dimyan is the author of the new memoir Chronic. It focuses on her experiences with chronic illness and holistic healing. She teaches college writing in Connecticut. 


Q: What inspired you to write Chronic, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: The book began as a series of shorter pieces published in various online publications. There was such a strong response to these essays—women reaching out to me with their own stories, experiences, and questions—that I felt I needed to write Chronic.


I wanted something concise, catchy, and comprehensive for the title. I felt that Chronic captured the essence of my experiences and would also appeal to others suffering from chronic conditions.


While this book is specifically about my experience with endometriosis, I feel that anyone who has suffered from chronic illness or loved someone who has suffered will relate to this book.


Q: The writer Sonya Huber said of the book, “With research, perspective, humor, compassion, and emotional insight, Dimyan explores the tracks that endometriosis leaves on her body, life experiences, and her spirit, offering an essential addition to the literature of women's pain.” What do you think of that description?


A: I am absolutely honored by this description. I adore Sonya Huber, a writer and teacher whose work I have admired and respected for years. I am grateful to her for the high praise and so happy that she felt that I accomplished these things.


Writing this book honestly felt like ripping my heart open and spilling it onto the page, so to have it received so well by someone I think so much of is the ultimate compliment.


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


A: I read many articles, interviewed experts, and listened to the women willing to share their stories and experiences with me. I spent a lot of time in online support groups as well.


Although I knew that 1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis going into my research, it became a much more tangible idea when almost every single person I spoke with was impacted in some way by endo.


Q: In your Author’s Note, you write, “Let me begin with a confession: I never wanted to write this book.” What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope others take away from it?


A: It was (and still is) terrifying to share so much of myself with the world. I wanted to leave out the messy, unflattering bits, but I quickly realized I needed to tell the whole story—all of it. It is liberating in a strange sense to have it all out there, but I’m still very anxious about it.


I hope that others feel like they are not alone in their experiences. I hope people find comfort and, I suppose, a new friend.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have my debut novel coming out in three months! Waiting for Beirut (Running Wild Press), set in early 1950s Lebanon and Connecticut, is a story of forbidden love and broken dreams. It was inspired by family history, and I spent 11 years researching and writing it.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am also an editor and adjunct professor. I teach college writing courses at two universities in Connecticut, and I love it as much as I love writing! :) 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Peter Maeck



Peter Maeck is the author of the new novel Zänker. His other books include the poetry collection Aperture. He is also a playwright and photographer.


Q: What inspired you to write Zänker, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: Before Zänker was published I had written two novels that were not published. Rather than let the characters in those two unpublished books die unreported deaths, I decided to make them all suspects (and potential victims) in a murder mystery novel where they would have a chance to live (and maybe die) another day.


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 had just a vague idea of how the novel might end, and was glad to let it remain vague as I proceeded with writing the book.


That's because it's not until I get near the end of a book that I become aware of how the book should end. Not until then have my characters and the elements of my story developed to a point where a resolution to the narrative literally suggests itself.


To begin writing with a pre-determined ending, and to aim straight for it precludes – for me, at least – spontaneous jolts of inspiration along the way that push the story toward its most fitting and satisfying conclusion.


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


A: In the novel, a character who is German acquires the nickname "Zänker" which in German means "brawler." As the book's title, "Zänker" intimates violence, and certainly a murder mystery is keyed to the ultimate act of violence.


But, aside from its central physically violent event, the book is by no means all rowdiness and riot. It is most interested in the envies, jealousies, and resentments – of all its characters, including the narrator – that inflict wounds less on the body than on the heart and mind.


Q: The novel takes place in a college town--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: The college in Zänker is a fictionalized version of my own college.


I emphasize "fictionalized" because while the book's setting and academic milieu are true-to-life, and while any college environment rightly and necessarily churns with intellectual skirmishes, the conniving intensity of my book's characters as they pursue their goals does not reflect my experience with the brilliant and generous persons I learned from and befriended during my own college years.


As a writer of fiction, I take poetic license, trusting that mine has not expired.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: A writer's personal experiences are grist for his or her literary mill. I am currently experiencing life on cruise ships as a lecturer on photography and creative writing.


As such, I am amassing vivid and fascinating details about seagoing passengers, staff, and crew, and am recording my own perceptions of life aboard ship and onshore at round-the-world ports of call. So I am not just making notes for my next novel which will be set at sea, I am living it now every day.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Zänker is my first published novel after decades of writing plays, poetry, and other people's memoirs as a ghostwriter-for-hire.


I'll take this opportunity to cite two recently published books of my poetry – Remembrance of Things Present: Making Peace with Dementia, about my journey with my father during his years with Alzheimer's Disease; and Aperture, a collection of my most recent poems.


I'll add that I have a parallel career as a photographer, being named one of the "Hot 100 Photographers of 2021" by the Duncan Miller Gallery in Los Angeles.


To pay my mortgage over the years I've written sales and management training programs which, far from draining my energy from my "creative" writing, actually provided valuable – even inspiring – insights into realms of human enterprise which I would not otherwise have had. 


At age 9 I told myself that when I grew up I would be a writer. In college I determined to be a novelist. Becoming a published novelist rather later in life than I'd anticipated, I acknowledge the benefits of spending so many years doing other things, literary and otherwise.


For fulfilling one's keenest aspirations, it's never too late, as it was not for another of my aspirations, to learn to drive a race car, which I did in racing boot camp last summer.


I'll never be Formula 1 World Champion nor win the Indy 500, nor is my Nobel Prize for Literature pending (last I checked), which is fine because the long and winding road toward the glittering prizes is where all the real fun is at.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 28




July 28, 1866: Beatrix Potter born.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Q&A with Sarah Birnbach




Sarah Birnbach is the author of the memoir A Daughter's Kaddish: My Year of Grief, Devotion, and Healing. She has worked as a human resources management consultant and a family therapist. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about saying Kaddish [a Jewish mourners' prayer] for your father, and what impact did writing the book have on you?


A: I wrote this book for several reasons:  to show the importance of prayer and a supportive community (in this case minyaneers) to help a mourner to heal; to inspire others to support mourners at their times of sorrow; and to inspire those of any level of observance to appreciate that Judaism’s mourning rituals offer a caring community and stability at times of chaos. 


I also hoped that my story would inspire rabbis and lay leaders to encourage and open opportunities for women to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish after the death of a loved one.


I believe it was a Chinese poet who once said that “to create something in words is like being alive twice—once when you live it and again when you write about it.”  


Transcribing my journal entries from the year after my father died (which started me thinking about writing a memoir) enabled me to reflect on my experiences, and to interpret the events and my feelings about them in a way that was impossible as I was living that first year of intense grief.


I saw my journey—and my determination and perseverance—through a new lens. I was able to appreciate all the support I had gained from others, and recognize the many blessings I had received. I learned ways to comfort other mourners and discovered that a quiet presence can sometimes speak louder than words.


Q: How would you describe your relationship with your father, and also your relationship with your mother?


A: My relationship with my mother was very conflictual. She angered easily and became physically and emotionally abusive. 


My father was the complete opposite—gentle and kind with a light-hearted sense of humor. My devotion to him rose from the safety I felt in his presence, as my mother never displayed anger when he was home.


It is this devotion that motivated me to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for him for the full 11 months, as he believed that reciting the Kaddish would elevate his soul to Paradise. 


As an adult, I can now understand my mother’s struggles as a working woman with three small children who received little support from her husband, a fact due to two realities: 1) Dad worked six 12-hour days each week, and 2) my parents fell into the post-WWII stereotypical roles.


I also now understand how the lack of nurturing parents left my mother without a role model for tender and patient parenting. I have much more compassion for her now than I had growing up.

Q: What do you think the book says about the role of women in Judaism, particularly when it comes to the act of saying Kaddish?


A: In an early chapter of A Daughter’s Kaddish, I relate the story of my father’s request that I hire a man to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for him after his death. My immigrant paternal grandfather maintained his Orthodox views about the role of women in Judaism and he transmitted these views to my father.


In the extensive reading I shared in my memoir, I found conflicting perspectives about a woman’s ability to recite the Kaddish—everything from being forbidden to being permitted. Since my father had no sons, I undertook this responsibility to elevate my father’s soul, unaware of the challenges that lay before me.


I belong to an egalitarian Conservative synagogue where women have equal rights and responsibilities as men, including inclusion in the minyan. However, I traveled extensively for my job and was often in unfamiliar synagogues where my gender precluded me from reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish.


My memoir recounts my experiences—some where I was embraced for my prayer practice and other places where I was denied. I hope my story shows readers that it is possible for women to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish in the traditional way if they want it badly enough. And I did.


I am glad to say that, since the time of my father’s death, more opportunities have opened for women to be counted in the minyan, and to recite the Kaddish. Now, more and more women are undertaking this responsibility. I hope my memoir vitalizes this momentum and that this progress continues.


Q: Rabbi Mindy Avra Portnoy called the book “A heartwarming, sometimes heart-wrenching, and always honest story.” What do you think of that description?


A: I appreciate Rabbi Portnoy’s description of my memoir; I think it perfectly characterizes my story.  Well-written stories of loss can be heart-wrenching. Similarly, stories of love and devotion can be uplifting.  


If my love for my father and my devotion to honoring his soul elicit a response from other readers similar to that of Rabbi Portnoy, I will have succeeded as a writer.  


It was important to me to ensure that my story was honest. Some people ask how I was able to remember all the small details in my memoir. While some details (such as wearing Mary Jane shoes with little white ankle socks on the High Holy Days) are etched in my memory, I relied heavily on my journals to inform my writing. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working diligently on book promotion. As I can, I am doing research for my next book—about my father’s frontline infantry experience as a Jewish soldier in WWII Germany. 


In 2022 and again earlier this year, I retraced his footsteps from the frontlines of Germany and I’m reading memoirs of front line soldiers to better understand the life of an infantryman. My father, like most infantry soldiers, never talked about his war experiences.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The power of journaling, daily prayer, and an understanding community supported me through my grief.


After the nodal events of the first year pass, significant dates (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries, Father’s/Mother’s Days) will continue to generate memories and longing. I hope readers will reach out to friends and family on these days even long after the death of a loved one, because grief has no expiration date.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 27




July 27, 1916: Elizabeth Hardwick born.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Q&A with Christine Gallagher Kearney



Christine Gallagher Kearney is the author of the new historical novel What We Leave Behind. She lives in Chicago.


Q: Why did you decide to write this novel based on the life of your grandmother?


A: The story in What We Leave Behind has been a part of my life since I was a child.


I took a memoir workshop for a few years at StoryStudio Chicago where I wrote a piece about the first time I met Ursula, my maternal grandmother. I wanted to turn that experience into a longer work, but I didn’t have enough material to include.


The more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be possible to explore Ursula’s world better if I wrote a novel inspired by her life instead.


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


A: Originally the book was called “I Will Find Her” because I was trying to find out more about Ursula and her life. The team at She Writes Press, my publisher, suggested other names that would be more suitable.


I felt that “What We Leave Behind” encapsulated a major theme of the novel, Ursula leaving behind her family in Germany to start a new life in America. The title also gives a nod to the ending of the book (which I won’t give away here).

Q: How did you research the book, and what did you see as the right balance between history and fiction?


A: Ursula’s fictional character drove the research process. Once I knew the general outline of the story and Ursula’s character arc, I was able to dig into primary sources (e.g., the archives at the University of Minnesota) and I read extensively about the time period, especially as it related to war brides, immigration, polio, womanhood, and motherhood.


Q: A review of the book in Foreword Clarion Reviews said, “Ursula is a resilient heroine who persists through gargantuan travails. The narrative’s focus on her dogged pursuit of dignity and independence as a polio survivor is refreshing and noteworthy.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: The Foreword Clarion Review is beautiful. I was delighted to read about Ursula from the reviewer’s perspective and I think she captured her essence so well.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm about three-quarters finished with the manuscript for my second novel. It's about a dead whale, climate change and grief.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Thank you for the chance to share more about What We Leave Behind with your readers. I hope that anyone who reads the novel will come away with a curiosity about lives lived before them and the complexities that their own families faced.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb