Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Reverse Q&A with Claudia Kalb


And now for something a little different! My illustrious cousin Claudia Kalb was kind enough to interview me about my new novel, Off to Join the Circus. It's my first novel for adults, and it's about an overly enmeshed, neurotic Jewish family in the Washington, D.C., area and what happens when a relative returns after 64 years. I've been told it's very funny! :)


Claudia: Before we get to questions, I want to take a minute to thank you for all you do to engage with authors and to promote their work. On behalf of myself and so many others, thank you for Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb!


You tell the story of the Pinsky family through multiple characters. How did you decide to organize the book this way? And how did you keep track of personalities and plot lines?


Deborah: Thanks so much, Claudia! It’s a pleasure to have you interview me about Off to Join the Circus. It was my first effort at writing from multiple perspectives, and I really enjoyed it. My eight main characters range in age from Adele, the returnee, who is 80, to bar mitzvah boy Will.


One thing about writing from so many different characters’ viewpoints is that you have a lot more opportunities for humor—as in, one character doing something and other characters seeing that action and believing (incorrectly) that they know exactly why it happened.


Another thing is that I opted not to write from Adele’s perspective. Although she’s in a sense the focal point of the novel, she remains a woman of mystery.


I did have a calendar for the Pinskys. I wrote down Will’s baseball and soccer games, and Lucy’s afterschool creative writing club, and any other event the family members would be doing during the time the book takes place. It was like being a parent with eight kids, making sure they appeared where they were supposed to and didn’t have any scheduling conflicts!


Claudia: Fiction writers often say that their characters take on a life of their own, dictating their own dialogue and directing their own plot lines. Did you have this experience while writing Off to Join the Circus?


Deborah: Absolutely. I love when that happens! In Off to Join the Circus, my character Lucy and I both were shocked by a particular turn of events around a third of the way through the book. Neither of us had the slightest idea that Lucy was about to realize what she did. It’s a kind of osmosis when you’re really in the writing zone. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s amazing when it does.


Claudia: You’ve written a series of middle grade children’s books called The President and Me, about modern-day kids who travel back in time to meet the early presidents. What inspired you to take the leap to adult fiction?


Deborah: It’s interesting, because I first tried writing fiction for adults many years ago, when I was in my 20s. And it didn’t get published. Over the decades, I’ve picked some of those manuscripts up and completely reworked them, so I still have hopes for several of them.


So then, after working as a journalist and turning to nonfiction for adults, I decided to return to fiction—but for kids. And I loved it. The three President and Me books found a publisher, which made me very happy. I’m still working on some manuscripts for kids and young adults.


Writing Off to Join the Circus, then, was not a complete leap because I had been attempting to write fiction for adults for so long. And the funny thing is that whatever age I’m writing for, my writing voice seems to remain fairly constant. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing, but it’s the way it works out.


Claudia: You end your acknowledgments by writing, “And no, we really are not the Pinskys!” Can you say more about why you wanted to tackle that question head on?


Deborah: Ha! So when I tell people the topic of this novel—an overly enmeshed, neurotic Jewish family in the D.C. suburbs--many of them smile and cast a knowing glance my way. Of course, we are the Pinskys in some ways because the Pinskys came out of my imagination and my life. But the actual characters are not my family. Does that make sense? I hope so!


Claudia: What are you working on now?


Deborah: A few different things! First, promoting Off to Join the Circus. Book promotion, as you well know, involves a completely different skill set than writing or editing, and as more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person, it doesn’t come naturally to me to be figuratively waving my hands in front of people’s faces and saying, “Hey, pay attention to me and my fictional characters!” But I do want people to meet the Pinskys, so a certain amount of hand-waving is necessary.


Second, my wonderful friend Mary Grace McGeehan and I have a new podcast, called Rereading Our Childhood, where we reread books we first read as kids and discuss the impact they had on us. Some favorites include Harriet the Spy and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s available wherever you find your podcasts.


Third, this blog, which has been going on for almost 11 years now! I’ve met so many fascinating people and read so many eye-opening books.


And fourth, returning to some works in progress and shaping them up in hopes that they too can make their way into the world one day.


Claudia: Anything else we should know?


Deborah: I love book groups and would be delighted to speak to your book group either in person or virtually, depending on where you’re located. Please contact me at deborahkalb.com.


--Interview between me and my fantastic and generous cousin, Claudia Kalb!

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