Sunday, September 24, 2023

Q&A with Kate Albus


Photo by Jennifer Riley Photography



Kate Albus is the author of the new middle grade novel Nothing Else But Miracles. She also has written the middle grade novel A Place to Hang the Moon


Q: You write of your protagonist, “Dory’s world is very much the world of my father and grandmother. I grew up on their stories of old New York...” How did their stories inspire the creation of Dory?


A: In many ways, Dory is based on my grandmother, whom I loved with my whole heart. She was fiercely loyal to her family, profoundly tender, and very funny. I think Dory shares those qualities.


And several specific passages in Nothing Else But Miracles are ripped straight from the headlines of my grandmother’s childhood. She once confessed to a friend how she wished she had ringlet curls like the friend did, and the friend promptly cut one off and handed it over.


She once penciled an ‘I’ between the words ‘TO’ and ‘LET’ on a sign, to make the word ‘TOILET.’ And she loved to tell me about Jocko, a gorilla who used to throw things at patrons at the Staten Island Zoo.


Dory recounts all the same incidents in her own history (though Dory’s Jocko is in Central Park, not Staten Island). I like to think that my grandmother would see herself in Dory, and would love her.


Q: You write in your Author’s Note about learning of the hotel where much of the story takes place. How did that discovery fit into your research, and what else did you learn that especially fascinated you?


A: I stumbled upon Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel while researching the New York City waterfront for an entirely different story idea, and I was immediately captivated by the notion of a secret, hidden space in New York City.


Nothing Else But Miracles sprouted directly from that seed, but in the course of researching wartime New York, I uncovered all sorts of other tidbits about what life was like in that place and time.


Perhaps my favorite is about the Statue of Liberty, whom Dory treats as a sort of confidante throughout the story. New York City, like much of the rest of the world, spent World War II in a “dim-out,” her famous lights kept low at night so as not to provide a target for the Nazis. And the Statue of Liberty was no exception to the dim-out.


But on June 6, 1944, the night of the D-Day invasions, the statue was evidently illuminated, and blinked the Morse code for the letter V – “victory.” I found that event utterly thrilling and inspiring, so I wrote it into Nothing Else But Miracles as a pivotal moment for Dory.

Q: Your previous novel, A Place to Hang the Moon, also dealt with children during World War II, but that book was set in London. How would you compare the two?


A: World War II is a time that is endlessly fascinating to me, so I’m awfully glad to have had the opportunity to write stories set in two different places during that extraordinary moment in history.


In A Place to Hang the Moon, the characters were in many ways protected from the most harrowing parts of the war. Because they had been evacuated to the countryside, they never had to experience the horrors of the Blitz in London.


In fact, for Anna, Edmund, and William, the war is seen as something of an opportunity, as the evacuation affords them a chance at finding a forever home.


In contrast, the Byrne siblings in Nothing Else But Miracles are all too familiar with the awful costs of the war. Their father is away fighting, and they are surrounded by classmates and friends in mourning for their own families.


Service flags – blue stars for family members who are currently serving, gold stars for those who have died doing so – hang in windows throughout their Lower East Side neighborhood.


That is probably the primary difference between the children’s experiences in the two novels. In one, they are somewhat insulated from the most terrifying parts of the war, whereas in the other, they daily fear the worst.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from Nothing Else But Miracles?


A: I hope Nothing Else But Miracles leaves young readers with a sense of appreciation for the everyday gifts that surround us—especially the sorts of treasures that come from being part of a supportive community.


I wrote Nothing Else But Miracles during the darkest part of the pandemic, when it felt like, rather than coming together to support one another, many people were acting without thought for the common good.


I think a part of me really yearned for that sense of shared community, and of everyone looking out for and genuinely caring for their neighbors. So I hope kids will be reminded of the value of everyday kindness and generosity.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I wish I had a good answer for you! I’m fighting with a few different ideas. They’re all historical, and none of them is set during World War II!


But as someone who feels her way into a story (I so wish I could work from an outline), I’m still trying to find the characters I want living in my head for the next year or so. I’ll keep you posted!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just how thankful I am. This whole bookish ride has been such a joy, and I feel nothing but gratitude toward the whole kidlit community for making it so.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Kate Albus.

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