Saturday, September 30, 2023

Q&A with Sarah Peyton




Sarah Peyton is the author, with Roxy Manning, of the new book The Antiracist Heart: A Self-Compassion and Activism Handbook. Peyton's other books include the Your Resonant Self series. She is a certified trainer of nonviolent communication and a neuroscience educator.


Q: What inspired you and Roxanne Manning to write The Antiracist Heart, and what do you see as the relationship between that book and Manning’s book How to Have Antiracist Conversations?


A: The inspiration for How to Have Antiracist Conversations was the body of Roxanne Manning’s work, the convergence of Roxy’s decades of study of Nonviolent Communication with her work with systems and antiracism.


Using the book How to Have Antiracist Conversations as a jumping-off point, The Antiracist Heart was inspired by the need to support and renew the energy of the community and the world for the work of antiracism through a deep practice of self-compassion. 


Q: How would you define Beloved Community, and what do you see as the keys to trying to achieve it?


A: We define Beloved Community in accordance with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision, in which all people belong, and the Community unites against the systems of oppression that produce ills such as poverty, hunger, racism, and houselessness.


Racism is identified and action is taken to remedy it where it exists, and as we become aware of these problems, we work together to rectify them.


The work is both internal and external. We address racism, indifference, burnout, and apathy within us, and we take action together on a systemic level to change the system.  

Q: How did the two of you work together on The Antiracist Heart? What was your writing process like?


A: We worked together over the course of a year, each writing our own parts, and each reading each other’s parts, and making suggestions to improve them.


When serious illness developed in Sarah’s family, Roxy found ways to get outside support for both of us in the editing and proofreading process. It was a lived experience of care, shared effort and Beloved Community throughout the creation of the book. 


Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to the possibilities for antiracism in the United States?


A: As we look ahead, we see an important period of work and commitment, and we see the importance of inspiring self-compassion to support the work of antiracism in the long term. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At the present time, we are working on getting the word out about these books!


And we have a creative antiracism podcast series with artists, composers, filmmakers, actors and political figures, all doing antiracism work in their own way. You can find it on our website at


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: We want to acknowledge the commitment to and care for this issue in the larger community, and to catch anyone who is exhausted, burned out or overwhelmed, and to invite compassion for one another and self-compassion for ourselves.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Sept. 30



Sept. 30, 1924: Truman Capote born.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Q&A with Cindy Fazzi




Cindy Fazzi is the author of the new novel Multo. Her other books include the novel My MacArthur. A former Associated Press reporter, she lives in Sacramento, California.  


Q: What inspired you to write Multo, and how did you create your characters Domingo and Monica?  


A: I wrote the first draft of what became Multo back in 1995. It was my first attempt to write fiction. I was a green-card holder at the time. I felt very lucky that I was about to get my U.S. citizenship as opposed to the millions of other immigrants who were undocumented.  


I started with the character of Monica Reed, a biracial Filipina who travels to the U.S. and stays on illegally to look for her American father. I meant to focus on Monica—until I read a New York Times article about a bounty hunter who specialized in deporting undocumented immigrants. That story was the inspiration for the character of Domingo the bounty hunter.  


I was writing Multo as a literary novel from the point of view of Monica. Domingo was a secondary character. But the manuscript wasn’t working. No literary agent wanted to represent the book. Everyone said immigration was a tough sell, especially with a Filipino protagonist.  


Many years later, I experimented by writing a short story titled "Domingo the Bounty Hunter," a first-person story about the first time he caught Monica. I wanted to see if changing the story’s POV would make a difference. The Snake Nation Review accepted and published it in 2004. My experiment was successful; I found the right POV for the story.  


I rewrote the manuscript in 2008 and again in 2017. Using Domingo’s POV completely changed the book’s structure and pacing. It became a thriller organically. Multo was acquired by Agora Books last year – 27 years after it was conceived!

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two characters?


 A: Domingo and Monica are compatriots who speak the same language and share the same belief in the American Dream. But he’s a naturalized U.S. citizen, while she’s undocumented. The difference in their legal status, plus the nature of his job, makes them de facto enemies. The book pits a dogged bounty hunter against a desperate woman in hiding.


Q: Your website says of the book, “Full of action and humor, Multo is also a meditation on what it means to be unwelcome and unwanted in a country you love and the sacrifices such love requires.” Can you say more about that?  


A: Both Domingo and Monica came to the United States because they wanted to. They want a life in America. In their own ways, they are both trying to belong. Obviously, Monica’s struggle is harder.  


The book shows that for many immigrants of color, regardless of status, feeling wanted and accepted in their adopted country is a fundamental desire. It drives their goals and ambitions, but it also causes them a lot of pain, especially when they are told time and again, in so many ways, that they don’t belong here.


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


A: My primary resource for the novel was Bail Enforcer: The Advanced Bounty Hunter by Bob Burton, a well-known bounty hunter and an advocate for the profession. The Department of Justice uses it as a training manual on finding and arresting fugitives.  


I learned a couple of things that are noteworthy. First, there are only two countries in the world that allow bounty hunting: the United States and its former colony, the Philippines. Second, bail is a constitutional right provided by the Eighth Amendment. That’s where the authority of bail bonds agencies and the bounty hunters they hire come from.  


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


A: In the sequel, Domingo investigates a mysterious Mexican migrant who saved the life of a white American heiress and the object of her romantic obsession. Uncovering the Good Samaritan’s real identity could get both of them killed. Book two is called Mulat, meaning “aware” or “with eyes open” in Tagalog. It’s the one thing the heiress needs but lacks because she’s in the grip of obsession.  


Q: Anything else we should know?


 A: When I first wrote Multo in 1995, there were about 3.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Today that number has grown to 10.5 million. Sadly, immigration reform is as elusive as it was in 1995. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lyn Squire




Lyn Squire is the author of the new mystery novel Immortalised to Death. It's the first in his Dunston Burnett Trilogy. He worked at the World Bank for 25 years, and he lives in Virginia.


Q: Why did you decide to write a novel based on Charles Dickens and his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood?


A: Actually, it was a huge surprise that I wrote a novel at all. Throughout my 25-year career as a development specialist, I wrote over 30 articles and several books on poverty in the developing world, including the 1990 World Development Report, which introduced the metric – a dollar a day – that is still used to measure poverty worldwide. Nothing here to suggest I would ever write a novel.


And then I read The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I had always been an avid reader of whodunits, but it was the thrill of solving Charles Dickens’s unfinished story that convinced me to put aside my development pen and turn to fiction.


Charles John Huffam Dickens died on June 9, 1870, leaving The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the novel he was then writing, only half finished. He penned the words that closed the sixth installment (of a planned 12) on June 8; the next day he was dead.


The basics of the story as set out by Dickens are these: The sinister John Jasper, choirmaster at Cloisterham Cathedral, is plotting to do away with Edwin, fiancé of Rosa Bud, so that he has a clear field to pursue his own mad obsession with the delightful young lady. Edwin disappears during a storm after a dinner with Jasper. At this critical juncture, Dickens dies, leaving the reader hanging. Was Edwin murdered by Jasper? And, if so, how was Jasper brought to justice?


Everyone who reads the completed half of the Drood mystery inevitably tries to guess what happened in the story’s unwritten half and, with luck, solve the mystery.


Imagine my delight then when a clue that had not previously been explored by anyone popped up before my astonished eyes. That clue led me to a fresh solution to Dickens’s story and that in turn became the plot for my novel, Immortalised to Death.    


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


A: I first read several biographies of the author (including John Forster’s 900-page monster) and several biographies of secondary characters.


I also read all of his novels because I wanted to make sure that when my protagonist wrote his continuation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, he stayed true to the literary tendences of the great author himself.


And I visited Gadshill Place, Dickens’s home in Kent, to make sure that the book’s description of the house was as faithful to the original as possible. I actually stood in his study where the murder in my novel is supposedly perpetrated.


I also walked down the drive and crossed Gravesend Road for a glass of ale in the 17th-century Sir John Falstaff Inn, the scene of another incident in my book.


By the time I’d finished my one-day visit, I felt comfortable that what I wrote about the novelist’s home and its setting would be accepted without question by most readers, even those who have toured Gadshill Place themselves.


This may sound like a lot of work, but to my mind it was more of an opportunity to learn about a truly fascinating man who accomplished so much in his 58 years.


And there was a surprise. Dickens’s separation from his wife of 14 years and 10 births is well documented. But it took an incredible 60 years after his death, and then it was only by chance, before his illicit liaison with Ellen Ternan, a former stage actress, came to light.


A diary of his was found in New York that, although written in code, made clear his relationship with her from their first meeting in a Manchester theatre in 1849 – she was 18, Dickens 37 – to his death in 1870. It’s extraordinary that the affair was kept out of the public eye for such a long time in news-hungry London.      

Q: What did you see as the right balance between Dickens' life and work and your own take on the two?


A: As attested by my account of the research I undertook for my story, I definitely wanted to stay true to Dickens’s life and writings, and of course to the completed half of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Dickens wrote over a dozen marvelously sprawling stories and introduced the world to some wonderful characters.


That said, and this is obviously a matter of personal taste, I find many of his novels rather long-winded and too wordy. I like best his shorter books like Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities (my number one choice) and Hard Times, and this, I believe, is because I like stories with a strong plot, whereas Dickens built stories around his characters.


Think of The Pickwick Papers, his first major literary success. The monthly installments of this story recount a series of humorous incidents and embarrassing adventures linked, not by a continuous storyline laid out in advance, but by the foibles and eccentricities of the Pickwick Club members.


While this tendency to let the characters drive the story remained throughout his career, he did introduce more structure into his later novels and eventually adopted the practice of preparing notes outlining each story, the earliest surviving set being for Dombey and Son, published in 1848.


How did I square my desire to stay close to the Dickensian “truth” and yet end up with a tight story? I employed three writing devices in Immortalised to Death for this purpose.


First, I made sure that all references to Dickens’s life and work, and to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, were historically accurate.


Second, I kept to a tautly scripted plot even when I made a change in the ending late in the day (see below).


And third, I glued everything together with some Dickens-echoing humor brought in through both secondary characters (such as the twin-like Burt and Gert Mawgsby, the grasping pair who run Heaven’s Haven, a home for orphans and foundlings) and minor scenes (such as Dickens’s cook using her pie-making skills to attract the romantic attentions of Stingo Pete).


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


A: The story was carefully plotted from start to finish before I began writing. I did however make one change as the novel unfolded.


Immortalised to Death opens with the death of Charles Dickens, his latest tale only half told. Believing the novelist was poisoned to prevent him completing The Mystery of Edwin Drood, my protagonist scours the half-finished manuscript in search of pointers as to how the story might unfold and whom it might threaten.


Knowing the writer’s storytelling tendencies better than anyone, he eventually figures out the intended ending -- a chilling, prison-cell confession. Better yet, he recognizes the real-life counterpart behind the damning portrait of the villain.


But has he found the killer? A second murder opens the literary sleuth’s eyes to the real confession in the story’s final chapter -- the author’s disclosure (as envisaged by Dunston) of his own shameful secret. Armed with this new insight, Dunston follows a series of tenuous clues across London until he finally tracks down the guilty party. 


The above was the complete story as envisaged in my original plot. As the writing progressed, however, I saw the opportunity for one final twist. Dunston’s suspect is far from guiltless but is not the person who dosed Charles Dickens’s drinking water with strychnine. The real culprit is finally revealed to the reader in the penultimate chapter and to Dunston not until the very last one.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m completing two more stories in The Dunston Burnett Trilogy.


I wanted a protagonist for Immortalised to Death who was far from typical detective material. This thought led to the creation of Dunston Burnett, a diffident, middle-aged, retired bookkeeper. For a quick mental image of him, think of a latter-day Mr Pickwick.


He does, however, have two talents. He has what his policeman friend calls “pre-ductions,” insights that jump well beyond the known facts and may or may not prove prescient. And once he gets his teeth into something, he has the perseverance of King Bruce’s spider.


The question confronting Dunston (and the reader) then, is this: Are his limited detective skills – pre-ductions and tenacity – anywhere near enough to unravel the apparently perfect murders he encounters?


This tension between Dunston Burnett’s limitations as a detective and the apparently unsolvable mysteries confronting him is carried forward into two other stories comprising The Dunston Burnett Trilogy.


How does Dunston fare? Suffice it to say here that the picture is mixed. In Immortalised to Death (published by Level Best Books on Sept. 26 of this year) Dunston’s envisioned conclusion to The Mystery of Edwin Drood takes him a long way towards solving a bigger mystery surrounding the death of Dickens himself, but perhaps not quite all the way as mentioned above.


Book number two, Fatally Inferior (forthcoming in September 2024) is set against the furor generated by the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species. In this story, Dunston unearths the motive behind a woman’s disappearance but is that enough to lead him to the killer?


The third, The Séance of Murder (forthcoming in September 2025), has as its backdrop the spiritualist movement that swept through Victorian England in the late 19th century. Here the issue is more dire: can Dunston expose the murderer of the heir to the Crenshaw Baronetcy before he himself is done away with?


If any of these stories generate interest, I will look for a new character and start another series. If they turn out to be duds, I’ll take up golf.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes. If you want to know more about my books and about other authors’ mysteries, please visit my website at Here you will find updates on my books and reviews of my favorites among recently released mysteries by other authors.


And, if you want to read Immortalised to Death, it is available at I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Audrey Gale




Audrey Gale is the author of the new historical novel The Human Trial. She also has written the novel The Sausage Maker's Daughters. She spent more than 20 years working in the banking industry, and she lives in Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write The Human Trial, and how did you create your character Dr. Randall Archer?


A: Given how much research and learning was required to complete this book, I often wondered whether the universe had blessed or cursed me with the experiences that were my inspiration.


When I arrived in Los Angeles over three decades ago, my very sick Golden Retriever ultimately led me to a holistic veterinarian after multiple regular vets told me to put her down. The holistic vet even looked like Einstein, which should have been my first clue as to what was coming.


He seemed to practice weird science but was very forthcoming about his methods and upon whom they had been based. And my old dog lived another three years to 16, a very ripe old age for such a dog. I was intrigued and began researching, not terribly seriously at first.


Not long after, my father was diagnosed with leukemia and came to my house after his first—and last—chemo treatment, swearing he’d rather die than go through another.


When I suggested he come with me to my veterinarian, Dad said, “Well, what have I got to lose?” It was my vet who gave him a recording of sound vibrations related (through a scientific/physicist term, “harmonics”) to his disease that completely reversed his situation.


When he went back to his MDs, they pronounced his case to be “the damnedest case of spontaneous remission they’d ever seen.” His cure from my vet had to remain secret then as my vet would have been shut down, fined, and even jailed for practicing medicine on a human without a license. The AMA really frowns on that.


As for my main character, Dr. Randall Archer, he is a complete figment of my imagination, inspired by two men of science who worked together in the 1930s and whose collaborative discoveries took them far afield of medical science, then and still today.


I like him having so much to prove to himself and the world that he’s led astray. He is flawed but somehow, perhaps due to his tough beginnings, strangely sympathetic and with an admirable arc. Or at least, I hope, he’s interesting.


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


A: First I read everything I could about the scientists themselves and their discoveries. Then I attended a conference that dealt with those discoveries and their application. Then I worked with two professionals in the same fields as my fictional scientists: physics and medical pathology. All the while the reading had been ongoing.


And now the movie Oppenheimer is shedding light on part of the subject matter: quantum physics. What is surprising is quantum physics itself: there is nothing solid in the universe. We are all widely varying densities of energy.


And regardless of what our senses report to us, everything in creation is mostly empty space in which those energy packets (quanta) float, either repelling or attracting each other to coalesce. If you’re like me, it takes a while to wrap your head around all that! It is extremely counterintuitive.


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


A: Yes and no. Given that the real-life characters which inspired my story ended badly, I was pretty sure there was no way around that ending, but I did veer from their bad endings for reasons of drama as well as continuity in the upcoming sequels.


The female lead was great fun to imagine from scratch. She’s not just a love interest but a very privileged woman well ahead of her times and station. The class distinction angle plays in other unexpected ways as well.


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


A: I hope someone in the position to carry the scientific discoveries forward after they’ve been suppressed for 100 years—and counting—steps up to the table and does just that.


But I also hope all readers will become their own best advocates for their health and well-being. Question, read, study, be open-minded, and fight for themselves and each other, and while they’re at it, this earth as well.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Truthfully, I’m spending most of my time now finishing the publication process and subsequent public relations and marketing of The Human Trial.


I’m anxious to get back to a fleshed-out sequel that moves the continuing story to the 1970s, when activism is still rampant, Nixon is about to leave the White House unceremoniously, and Vietnam is drawing to a humiliating close.


It’s another era like that of The Human Trial, the 1930s, fraught with enormous problems affecting everyone, and adding a nice backdrop of added pressure on the characters.


Q:  Anything else we should know?


A: I love history and historical fiction that brings it alive in a visceral way, and there’s plenty of that in The Human Trial. The decade of the 1930s went from the Great Depression and its far-reaching and devastating effects to its ending as another world war was breaking out.


I’m always concerned in life and in my writing with women, how they’re treated and judged, how they find their places regardless of that treatment. That will always be an element in my writing.


There are also factual hints at how medicine actually operates in the US throughout the story if readers look closely.


And in this novel, class distinctions also added additional pressure on my characters.


All of this is about building suspense to a climax that I hope will give readers a surprising and satisfying ride, and if I do my job well, food for thought.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Sept. 29



Sept. 29, 1810: Elizabeth Gaskell born.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Q&A with Nora Fussner




Nora Fussner is the author of the new novel The Invisible World. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh, and she lives in Pittsburgh.


Q: What inspired you to write The Invisible World, and how did you create your characters Eve, Sandra, and Caitlin?


A: When I was getting my MFA in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College, I was scraping together a living out of different freelance jobs.


One of those jobs was for a reality TV post-production company, logging footage for shows like The Haunted and Psychic Kids. Logging means I saw all the raw interview footage and transcribed it, word for word, to make the editors' jobs easier.


In one episode I worked on, a husband and wife disagreed about the severity of the paranormal activity in their home. This was curious to me--they lived in the same house, so how could they have such different experiences? That disconnect was the seed of inspiration for the novel.


As for the characters, I put aspects of myself into all the characters in the novel, but the three women most of all. 


Eve is a potential version of myself. Like Eve, I was living in New York when I started the book, and never would have guessed I would actually move to Western Pennsylvania before finishing it.


I have a supportive husband and friends and all the resources I need in order to work, but Eve is definitely a version of myself if for some reason I couldn't write. I imagine that the built-up energy and angst around it would come bursting out of me in unpredictable, possibly catastrophic ways. 


Sandra is closest to the version of me when I was initially writing the book. I was teaching developmental reading/writing at a community college in Brooklyn, and while it was an excellent job in many ways, I wasn't teaching literary analysis or writing at the level I would have liked to.


At the same time, I knew I was good at the work and worried that I wasn't a good enough teacher--or a good enough writer or analytical reader--to teach at a higher level. I grappled a lot with that uncertainty: is there a next step in my career? Or is this where I actually belong?


Caitlin is definitely a young me in many ways--she's drawn to spooky stuff in a way I have been my entire life. I can remember tormenting my friends at sleepovers by wanting to watch scary movies. When I was in fourth grade we did a unit on the history of New Jersey (where I'm from) and my favorite part was the Jersey Devil.


At the same time, teaching for so long has given me a bit of perspective on young women, and former students have crept into her mannerisms. 


Q: The writer Helen Phillips said of the book, “Part ghost story, part love story, part exploration of a woman’s relationship to the powerful force of her thwarted creativity, The Invisible World is an eerie and virtuosic debut.” What do you think of that description?


A: It's incredible praise, and I'm very thankful for it, especially from a writer I respect so much. I like that Helen narrowed in on Eve's thwarted creativity.


I struggled with the "origin story" of the house--all haunted houses have some tragedy at the center, but I couldn't come up with anything that satisfied me. Considering Eve as both victim and source of the haunting ended up feeling right.


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 not know how the book ended when I started writing it! In fact, the ending came to me very, very late in the process--I had already sold the book to Vintage and was working on edits with my amazing editor, Ellie.


What I've found in my work is that often what I think is the ending is actually about 75 percent of the way through the book--I might tell myself I "like an ambiguous ending" but in fact I haven't fully thought through all the characters' arcs to their conclusions.


In discussions with my editor and through a ghost hunt I attended with my husband at an old mental hospital in West Virginia, I was able to find a more satisfying ending (I hope!).  


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


A: I struggled quite a bit with the title. For a long time, the draft on my computer was called "Untitled Haunted House Reality TV Show Project," which is a bit unwieldy.


The title of the novel came to me around the same time as I came up with the title of the reality show in the book, which is "Searching for... the Invisible World."


For me, the title signifies not just the spirit realm that characters in the book are looking for, but the unlived lives we carry with us, the weight of our expectations and failures and disappointments, our pasts and the lives we envision for ourselves in the future.


I think that for many people, certainly for myself, the potential is so much larger than the actual, so much more attractive, and that can be as dangerous as it is consoling, in terms of living our real, tangible lives.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on my next novel. I am a bit superstitious about sharing the plot until the draft is at a certain point, so that's all I'll say for now.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I just want to express my deep respect to all the ghost hunters, psychics, and paranormal researchers I encountered while researching and writing this book (I've thanked some specifically in the acknowledgements).


This work has been relegated to the margins of scientific inquiry, but they're out here asking the really big questions about what it means to be alive, and I am forever changed by my experiences learning from them.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Alison Li


Photo by Diana Renelli



Alison Li is the author of the new biography Wondrous Transformations: A Maverick Physician, the Science of Hormones, and the Birth of the Transgender Revolution. It focuses on the life of Dr. Harry Benjamin (1885-1986). Li is a historian of science and medicine. Her other books include Women, Health, and Nation.


Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Dr. Harry Benjamin?


A: Harry Benjamin is now best known for his work in transgender medicine but the funny thing is that I became interested in him for quite another reason.


In the 1920s, he gained fame as the doctor who gave glandular rejuvenation treatments to the author, Gertrude Atherton. Atherton was so delighted with the results of her treatment that she wrote the best-selling novel Black Oxen. The main character is an intriguing woman whose secret turns out to be that she has been rejuvenated.


I’m an historian of science and medicine and have long been fascinated with the history of hormone research.


Initially, I had envisioned interweaving the stories of several physicians and hormone scientists during the “Roaring Twenties,” but I kept turning up at our dinner table to report some exciting new detail I’d dug up about Harry Benjamin in my research. His story was clearly the most significant and interesting strand that emerged.


My agents, Tisse Takagi and Peter Tallack, were invaluable in helping me find, shape, and stay true to my vision over the many years it took to get from proposal to publication.


Q: How did you research his life, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: The best part of doing history for me is diving into the archives. I had the chance to work with wonderful collections of papers in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and most importantly to spend weeks at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana, which houses Benjamin’s own papers.


In addition to 1,400 archival folders of documents, there are also boxes of objects and framed portraits. I found it quite moving to hold material items that had been used by Benjamin and to see the pictures of his colleagues and loved ones that had hung on his walls.


It was also a great privilege to interview some of Benjamin’s colleagues, who were able to share with me personal reflections of the kind that would probably never surface in the written record.


I think the most magical moment for me was when the archivist at the Kinsey Institute helped me open a diary with a tiny brass lock on it. Benjamin first wrote in it when he was 19.


I already knew quite a bit about Benjamin as an older professional, but it was a delight to gain a window into his swirl of emotions as a young man, his aspirations and frustrations, his pining after an unattainable woman, and his puzzling out who he was and where his life might lead him.


Q: The writer Susan Stryker said of the book, “Alison Li has produced a highly readable, authoritatively researched biography of Harry Benjamin, whose contributions to transgender medicine are not as widely known as they should be.” What do you think of that description, and, if you agree, why do you think Benjamin's contributions are not as well-known as they might be?


A: I’m really grateful to have these comments from a scholar of such eminence. I completely agree with her that Benjamin’s contributions are not as well-known as they should be.


He is a pivotal figure in the history of trans medicine, but his name is not very familiar to people outside of the trans community, and many who recognize his name may not know a great deal about his life and work.


Researchers in trans studies and history of medicine have contributed important scholarly work on particular aspects of Benjamin’s thought and career but no one had written a full-scale biography.


I suspect there are a few reasons for this. First, although Benjamin’s name is associated with transgender medicine, he actually spent most of his career doing something else: he was working with aging patients using what he termed “gerontotherapy.”


Second, people may have mixed feelings about Benjamin. Susan Stryker explains that the trans community remembers him as a compassionate though somewhat paternalistic advocate. His name is associated with the treatment protocols--the Benjamin Standards of Care--that many now regard as offensive.


And then, of course there is the simple fact that he lived so long and worked until he was 90, so his career spanned huge changes in sexology, science, and medicine.


I found Benjamin’s story fascinating and thought it deserved to be read by a wide audience.


I was curious about how the disparate parts of his long and shifting career fit together and believed that, by framing it against broader developments in hormone science, I could provide meaningful context. I thought this was something worthwhile I had to offer as a biographer.


It has been really gratifying to hear from scholars since, that they had been hoping for a long time that someone would write this book.


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


A: I find many people are surprised to learn how long ago gender-affirming ideas and practices began in medicine. Trans people today are experiencing tremendous challenges to their access to appropriate medical care. I hope this book will contribute to putting current debates in historical perspective.


What impressed me most about Harry Benjamin was that he treated his patients with real kindness and respect. Many became his friends, and some became valued collaborators.


At the time, most medical professionals were very unsympathetic to trans people. For many of his trans patients in the 1950s and ‘60s, meeting him was one of the first times they felt truly understood.


Over the years, Benjamin was able to learn and grow in his understanding of trans people, and, whatever the shortcomings of his theories and methods, his humane approach did an immense amount of good.


Benjamin’s ability to look his patients in the eye—whether young, old, cis, or trans--and to appreciate their full humanity, is a characteristic that continues to inspire me. I hope readers will be similarly inspired.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next project is not yet pinned down but I can say that it will be about hormones.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Through the many years that I have been working on this project, I’ve been very grateful for my writing group.


Over a morning coffee or an afternoon glass of wine, my fellow writers and I have shared ideas and critiqued each other’s novels, plays, and nonfiction. More importantly perhaps, we’ve just been there every month to say, “Keep going!”


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Glenda Goodrich




Glenda Goodrich is the author of the new book Solo Passage: 13 Quests, 13 Questions. Also an artist and art doula, she lives in Salem, Oregon.


Q: What inspired you to write Solo Passage?


A: This book took on a life of its own and demanded to be written. I received the call to write it while walking on a trail alongside a meandering creek.


It was my fourth wilderness quest and I had just experienced an unexpected and thrilling visitation from a great horned owl (the experience is described in a chapter of my book titled, “Finding My Medicine Name”).


The notion to write a book about my wilderness quests entered my mind that day loud and clear like a Tibetan gong: I need to write a book. Really? Me?


I wasn’t an author at the time, so I committed myself to four years of studying and practicing the craft of writing (which, of course, never ends if you want to be a good writer).


I then worked one-on-one with a writing coach for a year revising and improving my stories. I wanted to become a good enough writer that the results of my effort would be what I described as worthy of my questing stories.


The book took six years to write, and I still don’t know if it’s worthy, but it’s my love offering—the best I have to offer.


At times I felt like my family lineage both back in time and forward in time was cheering me on to write the book—all my ancestors and all those who have yet to join us in this beautiful place called Earth.


I wrote the book as a pathway for my beloved descendants to follow and find their way back to their connection with Mother Earth. Who knows what will be left of the wilderness by the time my beloved ones become septuagenarians?


Through these stories, they can know how one of their ancestors lived, what she loved, and how the seed of wilderness questing was planted in her, took root in her life, and changed how she lived.


Q: The author Ann Linnea said of the book, “Glenda’s honest memoir about her personal wilderness vision quests is a powerful statement about the relevance of this ancient form to those of us in modern life…” What do you think of that assessment?


A: The wilderness quest, also known as a vision quest or a vision fast, is a centuries-old rite of passage intended to awaken personal vision and purpose. It is an act of courage and determination that involves solitude, fasting, and prayer.


I honor the people who have held this ceremony and passed the teachings on through the generations so that non-native Native people like me could experience the power of questing in wild places.


Throughout history people have practiced some form of fasting and isolation as a rite of passage. Most of us who take part in questing today have been called to the ceremony from somewhere deep in our DNA, beckoned by ancient and enduring memories of our connection to Mother Earth. We long to be held by her. We long to re-member ourselves back to her.


Modern life is so full of distractions from quiet introspection and is divorced from nature. My book opens the door to thinking about these two very important things for anyone wanting to expand their life, from sitting on your small patio next to a potted plant to going out on a multi-day hiking experience in the wilderness.


I went to the mountain over and over again to be with Mother Earth and find guidance from her that helped me tackle very specific issues my life.


My time in the wild helped me circle back to the events of my life and sort through them, find deeper meaning, and make peace with my past. This is the restorative and healing power nature offers if we are willing to be quiet and pay attention.


My dream is that my book will empower a whole host of readers—from those who are just curious to learn more to those who might sign up for an entire wilderness vision quest.


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


A: The title went through several iterations. The problem as I saw it was that there are so many books out there with the word quest in them, from graphic novels to murder mysteries. I wanted something more distinct and descriptive.


I created a word cloud (free on and made a list of the words most often repeated in my book, then I added others that I felt described what the aboutness of my book, words like ceremony, isolation, nature, healing, wilderness, adventure, intention, and so on.


That list included solo passage and 13 quests, 13 questions. I narrowed the list down to my favorites, then sent it to my publishing team at She Writes Press and let them choose their favorites.


Together, we came up with the combination of Solo Passage: 13 Quests, 13 Questions, and I loved it. It perfectly captured the idea that the rite of passage of a vision quest is done alone.


Plus, the number 13 is intriguing and has spiritual and numerological significance (I write more about this in the chapter in the book titled “Healing the Mother Wound, July Full Buck Moon”).


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book?


A: Each time I combed through my journals and memories to reconstruct what happened on a quest, I relived the experience.


It was surprising to discover that I had memorized the physical location of every one of my solo questing sites—the trees and rocks, the type of soil beneath my feet, altars I had created, the 360-degree views from my power site, everything.


I could reconstruct the place in my mind and that helped me remember the details and experiences more vividly. I also consulted my journals for information.


I knew going into the writing what each of my quests had been about, but writing the various scenes, summaries, and reflections expanded my understanding of the experiences and teachings I had received.


Diving more deeply into my questing experiences, helped me find the threads of meaning and tease those out into a finished piece with a beginning, a middle, and an end.


Some of that deep diving was painful to relive, like growing up with an alcoholic father and regrets about mistakes I’d made with my own children. But I kept asking myself, what’s the point of a memoir if you don’t tell the whole truth? So I stuck with it.


Even now after all the revisions and edits I still can’t read some parts without tearing up.


When I finished the book and looked at it whole, I was surprised to discover how often birds had shown up as allies and teachers on my quests. And I was also surprised to realize how many amazing and wonder-filled things had happened to me out there in the wild. Truly miraculous.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a section of my website that invites my readers more personally into the 13 questions presented in my book.


As a virtual vision quest guide my website will offer resources, book lists, stories about the healing and restorative powers of nature, art and creativity suggestions to deepen your connection to nature, and tips and tools for how to get the most from the time you spend in nature.


Q:  Anything else we should know?


A: It’s never too late to find and live your life purpose. I have been a janitor, a nurse, a foreman in a sawmill, a corporate executive, a women’s adventure guide, an artist, a teacher, a ceremonialist, and an author.


Spending time alone in nature to get clear on who I am and what I want from life has taken me places I never dreamed possible. Get outside. The earth says much to those who listen.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb