Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Q&A with Aaron Lewis Krol


Photo by Lizzy Mason



Aaron Lewis Krol is the author of the new children's picture book A Cloud in a Jar. He also works for the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, and he lives in Lowell, Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write A Cloud in a Jar, and how was the book's title chosen?


A: I’d love to say I had a carefully orchestrated idea board with key plot points overlaid on a map of Walton Wharf West, Firelight Bay and the surrounding waters. But no, I just got a few lines of nonsense verse stuck in my head.


They’re not in the final book as printed, but they started, “We left in a rowboat, Lou Dozens and me, / And Salman the cat, who was leading the way…”


The story was improvised from there. I like children’s books with some symmetry, but also some twists, so I hit on the refrain “This is a job for…” as the heroes run into and overcome obstacles out on the water, and then thought about how the last “this is a job for” could be quite different from the first.


I also needed somewhere for the characters to be going in this rowboat. Pretty early on the line “We were going to bring them a cloud in a jar” shouldered its way into my head, and the story—and title—all fell into place around that.

Q: How did you create your character Lou and her friend?


A: Lou had a name before she had anything else! I really liked the name Lou Dozens, and I thought maybe she’d carry dozens of toothpicks and safety pins and rubber bands around with her.


As a kid I always signed up for Odyssey of the Mind and Camp Invention and all these activities where you’d be given a mess of craft materials and told to make a bridge or carry a weight down a track.


That became the defining part of Lou’s character: whatever the sea threw at them, she’d have dozens of objects ready to whip together into a solution. So she was inventive, bold, definitely the one egging this journey on—and that meant her friend the narrator should be the one dragged, a little reluctantly, along for the ride.


Q: What do you think Carlos Vélez Aguilera's illustrations add to the story?


A: They completely deepen and enliven it! This story called out for an illustrator with a lot of different talents.


It’s got big action scenes that need to look thrilling and just a little bit scary; a fantastical setting to litter with little details that keep you searching the page; animals who need to be as lively and expressive as the humans traveling with them; scenes in the deep of night that still need to burn with color.


Carlos can do it all. Every page he sent me was better than I had imagined. They’re scenes you want to linger over, to find every detail hidden inside.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “This imaginative, sea shanty–like tale is narrated in quatrains, employing the ABBA rhyme scheme, each one concluding with a couplet with the rhyme scheme BA; these rollicking verses, packed with bold action verbs, mostly scan well and echo rocking-boat rhythms.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m glad so many reviewers have dug into the rhyme scheme! I really wanted it to stand out.


Not so many picture books rhyme anymore, and the ones that do are almost always in simple couplets, but a lot of the books and poems I remember most distinctly from when I was a kid are ones that chart out the farther spaces of poetic form.


I used a variation on ballad meter, which has a real adventuresome, charging-ahead rhythm to it, so it’s great to read reviews that connect the verse to the feeling of being out at sea on a quest.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a children’s novel I’ve been slowly toying with when my kids give me a chance to write, riffing on folktales from around the world.


And I also write for my day job—if you’re interested in short, jargon-free introductions to important climate change topics, look up the TILclimate podcast from MIT. We just started our fifth season and I’m proud of the work we do making this stuff approachable.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just that Page Street Kids, and my editor Kayla Tostevin, deserve a lot of credit for how this book turned out! Kayla really helped me sharpen this manuscript to grab and hold a kid’s attention while keeping my poetry intact, and Page Street, among many other things, found Carlos for me, who brought so much life and magic to my story.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. This post is in partnership with Page Street Kids as part of a virtual blog tour. They are offering a giveaway for A Cloud in a Jar--please see this link for more information!

Q&A with Clar Angkasa



Clar Angkasa is the author and illustrator of the new middle grade graphic novel Stories of the Islands. She was born and raised in Indonesia, and is based in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to create Stories of the Islands?


A: I started this book as an independent study project when I was still a student at Rhode Island School of Design. I came up with a project that combined multiple interests: comics, folktales, Indonesian culture, female empowerment.


I decided to illustrate a feminist retelling of the folktales I grew up with because it felt the most personal and meaningful to me.


Thinking back on the narratives I grew up, I became very determined to create the type of stories that I felt was missing in my childhood, ones where girls are so much more than a mother, or a daughter or a love interest, and women’s choices aren’t limited to stereotypical gender roles.


I want readers, especially Indonesian girls who have lived their whole lives in an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture, to be encouraged to take control of their own lives regardless of what others expect of them.


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both simultaneously?


A: Simultaneously. This is what I love most about adapting folktales, the bones of the stories are already there so even before putting things on paper, there were already words and images in my head that I had to start with.


After that it just depends on what comes to mind first. Sometimes I think of the visuals first and then I add the corresponding text, and other times it was easier to write the words down first and then create the image that goes with them.


Q: The School Library Journal review of the book calls it “A beautiful collection of folktales that succeeds in depicting strengthened female agency while promoting a healthy consideration for others.” What do you think of that description?


A: It makes me very happy because this was exactly what I was hoping to do with this project. Female agency is something I often feel is missing in folktales so if I was going to achieve anything through Stories of the Islands, I’m glad it was this and I am hopeful that young readers will be inspired by it.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between the original folk tales and your own interpretations of them?


A: Folktales with female protagonists generally revolve around the tropes I’m trying to subvert in this book (the damsel in distress, the evil stepsister, the sad and lonely widow) so I had to take a lot of creative liberties.


However, it was still important for me that Indonesians familiar with these stories are able to recognize the specific folktales.


For the interpretations to have the most impact, readers had to be able to make the direct comparison with the original tale so I made sure to keep the core magical aspects of each story like the snail princess, the jewel-filled pumpkin, and the baby in the cucumber.


I also kept the central themes of good deeds being rewarded, love overcoming evil, and most importantly, the value of the relationships you nurture.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: More books! Stories of the Islands opened the doors for me to bring to life a lot of the stories I’ve had living rent-free in my head and I hope to someday bring them to the shelves too


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Stories of the Islands was a labor of love that took over five years to complete. It’s basically my baby. Many tears were shed, many breakdowns were had, but I’d happily do it all over again and I can’t wait for this book to finally be available in bookstores.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Carolyn Hays



Carolyn Hays is the author of the new book Letter to My Transgender Daughter. Carolyn Hays is a pen name for an author who has published more than 20 books.


Q: What inspired you to write Letter to My Transgender Daughter, and how was the book's title chosen?


A: What happened to our family in the Deep South, shortly after our youngest transitioned, upended our lives. Someone had made an anonymous call to Child Protective Services accusing us of child abuse for supporting our child.


We quickly learned that if our case went to court and we found ourselves in front of a Republican-appointed judge, we could lose custody.


For a long time, there was huge progress in trans rights. Things were looking better all the time. Then there was a swift backlash. While once I'd thought that what happened to us would become a strange story, something no one would ever believe, instead it became a new law signed by the governor of Texas.


This year alone there were 574 anti-transgender bills introduced in the US. The book wasn't simply something to share with my daughter. It became urgent. 


Q: In an article for LitHub, you wrote, “It was hugely liberating to write the story with anonymity. I wonder now, if I hadn’t written it under a pen name, would I have been so raw and honest?” Can you say more about that, and about why you chose to write the book under a pseudonym?


A: We decided as a family — in particular what felt best to my youngest daughter — to have this book published under a pen name for our safety. We don't regret the decision, and I am still thankful for the freedom that the pen name allowed me.


It allows the writer to be one step removed from perceived reactions and therefore to go where they might not have. It might be a good tool for people to use, especially when writing first drafts. 


Q: What do you see looking ahead for trans people in the United States, given the current political climate?


A: We are putting off a lot of decisions until after the presidential race in 2024. It could be catastrophic for trans people, their loved ones, their families and friends, their relatives and communities. (When you target a minority, you don't just target them. There is untold collateral damage.)


We talk a lot about how we live not in the United States but the 18 States of America because those 18 states are the ones where our daughter is protected by law and allowed her full civil rights. She'll be looking at colleges in those states and Canada. We're also just unsure of what's coming next and that uncertainty is difficult. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book, and how have readers responded to it so far?


A: It was impossible to write the book until I figured out that I was writing it for my daughter. Writing for a wider audience was impossible. How to address an audience that could know nothing about the trans experience and, at the same time, writing for someone who is living the trans experience? And so I don't have any one singular take away.


I will say that I've loved the feedback from trans people who have been moved by the book. The direct address — those moments when I talk to my daughter — can become a door that swings wide open, and I want the person on the other side of the doorway to feel the love I have for her. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've published many novels under my own name and continue to publish. My husband and I are currently working with state legislators to shore up protections in our own state and working with families who need support. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: This country is suffering from a hysteria around trans people, and transphobia has spiked. I want to be clear about who's to blame.


Politicians are running anti-trans campaigns and drumming up fear in order to win votes. Conservative social media influencers and talk radio personalities, far-right pundits and podcasters are stoking fear in people in order to gain followers. These folks are creating fear and hatred for their own personal gain.


Meanwhile my daughter is a joy to be with. She's funny and smart, doing well in school. Even during her teen years, she's really a delight. She's not someone to fear or to hate.


We need to hold the fearmongers accountable, those in power who are targeting trans people. There's nothing to fear. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Garnett Kilberg Cohen

Photo by Garret Buckley



Garnett Kilberg Cohen is the author of the new story collection Cravings. Her other books include Swarm to Glory. She taught creative writing at Columbia College Chicago for more than 30 years.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Cravings


A: The oldest stories in the book were written over 10 years ago; two of them were published in literary journals in 2011. That isn’t to say that I was working steadily on this book all of that time.


In 2014, I published a collection of short stories called Swarm to Glory. I didn’t feel every story I had at that time was the right fit for that book so I held onto some of them until now. I’m glad that I did.


No matter how much I love a story, it has to be right for the collection at hand. Those two older stories work better in Cravings than they would have in the previous book.


Plus, during the years I’ve been writing Cravings, I have also been writing (and publishing in individual magazines) nonfiction, mostly essays, and have started a novel. Since Cravings was accepted, I’ve finished a couple of new stories that need more revision.


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


A: The title refers to the fact that all the characters in the book crave something—be that food, love, understanding, friendship or success. Still, it took a long time to come up with this title. During the 10+ years I worked on it, I played with various titles.


I submitted the collection to the University of Wisconsin Press under the title Slow Dance, named for the second story in the book. I love that story—it won an Honorable Mention from the 2022 Curt Johnson Awards at december magazine.


However, the director at the University of Wisconsin Press, Dennis Lloyd, thought we could find something stronger.


First, he pointed out that having the word “slow” in a title might not be the best draw as it could have a different connotation for potential readers than it did for me (I connected it to sensuality along with the consequences and complexity of the movement of time).


Also, he was not a fan of the traditional practice of naming a book after one of its stories because it implied the title story was the best one in the book. I thought he had great points.


For a while, we batted ideas back and forth in emails, not every day or even every week, but I really appreciated that he was so invested. 

He recognized that every story seemed to focus on something that was “unquenchable,” though he didn’t think that was quite the right word. To me “unquenchable” implies desires that are difficult to satisfy—just out of reach. I agreed with his assessment. I played around with the idea and came up with the word “cravings.” 


On reflection, I think a lot of what defines the strongest characters in fiction and makes us care about them is what they want, and what they are willing to do in order to get it. When I look back over my favorite novels and stories of all time, the main characters all wanted something desperately.  


Q: The writer Elizabeth Kadetsky said of the book, “Each story in Garnett Kilberg Cohen's gorgeous new collection is a tour de force in subtlety and indirection.” What do you think of that description? 


A: I think Elizabeth is an astute critic (along with being a fabulous prose writer) and captured the essence of what I’m trying to do in stories. Most of my stories are subtle—no heavy plots or car chases!—and focus on language, the inner lives of the characters and what sometimes appear to be their understated actions.


The “indirection” comes in, I think, with the fact that these actions usually result in unexpected revelations or consequences or character transformation.


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear in the collection? 


A: Like finding the right title, establishing the order took a long time.  I feel that the best story collections need to have a thematic bond and arch of some kind, along with a paradoxical mix of consistency and variety.


Deciding the order is part of the creative process. I changed the order several times before submitting the manuscript. After the manuscript was accepted, I was given some time to revise it on my own.


One of the initial readers had said she didn’t think the first story, “Maternal Instinct,” in that draft gave the most accurate impression of what was to follow. I don’t act on all criticism but I consider it when it comes from sources I respect and her observation seemed apt.  


“Maternal Instinct” is one of my favorite stories in the book (yes, I have favorites) but I understood her reasoning. It is one of only three stories in the book with a male point of view and, more importantly, its content has a speculative element. I didn’t want the readers to be expecting more speculative writing or magical realism in the ensuing stories.


I played around with lists and charts of the stories, moving them around, and decided that beginning with “Hors d’oeuvres” and ending with “Feast” provided a familiar structure (loosely a full meal with courses in between) to hold all the stories, that was also a unique arrangement for a collection.


I tried to vary the voices so the narrators were different in age and gender, and so that the essence of their internal conflicts/desires varied.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Both fictional stories and short pieces of nonfiction. I am a long way from having another story collection but I have enough essays to assemble two nonfiction collections, one focusing on my mother, an artist, who faded away in her final years from Alzheimer’s.


The second memoir is more about my life, and plays with the idea of time and the importance of brief moments in the shaping of one’s life.


Memory and time are important themes in my work. I ascribe to what Virginia Woolf said in Moments of Being about some moments of really intense feeling standing out from most moments of one’s life that are rather dull, hiding behind a haze of “cotton wool.” 


Though I have a lot of finished essays on both these subjects, I need to configure them and fill in some holes.


I have a partially finished novel, about aging artists, which I hope to return to within the next year. However, I realize I get a lot of inspiration and energy from jumping back and forth between different projects and different subjects. A novel requires a sustained amount of time, where I will probably need to put everything else aside for a while.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Just how fortunate I feel I am to have had (and continue to have) a writing life. Yes, it can be frustrating and few writers make enough money off the actual writing, itself, to live but there are many ancillary things (teaching, readings, etc.) and opportunities. The important thing is how enriching the writing life can be—making and creating.


Finally, I want to mention that if you have a book group or class where you would like me to speak, I would be happy to visit in person if it is a close enough distance, or if it’s not, meet on Zoom.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman



Rabbi Hillel Zaltzman is the author of the new book The Jewish Underground of Samarkand: How Faith Defied Soviet Rule. Zaltzman, who also has written the book Samarkand, was born in Ukraine and grew up in Uzbekistan. He is based in Israel, and is the president of the group Chamah, which provides Jewish social and educational services.


Q: What inspired you to write The Jewish Underground of Samarkand?


A: My son asked me, “How did you manage to maintain Jewish life under the watchful eyes of the KGB?” My entire book is an answer to his question.   


Q: The book's subtitle is “How Faith Defied Soviet Rule.” In what ways did faith affect your family and the other people you write about?


A: We scrupulously studied the Torah and the chassidic texts authored by our rabbis, and those teachings gave us the inner strength to remain firm in our convictions. 


One of our inspiring stories is how Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn (1880–1950), the sixth Rebbe of Chabad, stood up to the KGB. He was mercilessly brutalized and tortured for his “counter-revolutionary” activities—the creation of an underground network of yeshivahs, mikvahs and other banned Jewish institutions.


Time and again the Rebbe was dragged into the interrogation room. In the dank darkness, where brutes and cutthroats were regularly brought to their knees, the Rebbe openly defied these savages.


It was on one such occasion that one of the Rebbe’s interrogators pointed a revolver at the Rebbe and smirked: “This toy has a way of making people cooperate.”


Calmly the Rebbe replied: “That toy is persuasive to one who has many gods and only one world; I have One G‑d and two worlds.”


Q: The writer Cynthia Ozick said of the book, “You have in your hands a cultural treasure!” What do you think of that assessment? 


A: I felt there was a great and urgent need to share with the world that page in Jewish history. After all, those of us who lived it, are getting on in years. 


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


A: One one hand, it felt wonderful to relive those years, but at other times I found myself crying as I wrote of the pain and suffering of so many. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am publishing chapters of Samarkand as comics for children. We must let the next generation know.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If you remain strong in your faith and your resolve, you can overcome all difficulties in life.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Oct. 31



Oct. 31, 1795: John Keats born.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Q&A with Shari Green


Photo by Pedersen Arts Photography



Shari Green is the author of Game Face, a new middle grade novel in verse. Her other books include Root Beer Candy and Other Miracles. She lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. 


Q: What inspired you to write Game Face, and how did you create your character Jonah?


A: I’ve been a hockey fan since I was a kid, cheering on the Habs in the ’73 playoffs. A couple decades later, I’d become a “hockey mom” as well as a fan, so when I eventually found a hockey story brewing, I wasn’t the least bit surprised.


I was excited to tell a story that included this sport I love, but it wasn’t until I got to know Jonah that I felt compelled to write Game Face.


For me, character creation comes by “writing my way in”—into the character and into the story—by freewriting snippets of internal dialogue that reveal the character’s heart and wounds and hopes, and mini-scenes that hint at what may become key moments.


So for Jonah, basically I just started writing! When I realized how much anxiety impacted Jonah both on and off the ice, I knew I needed to tell his story.


Q: The writer Lorna Schultz Nicholson said of the book, “Everything about the novel is honest and real — from the hockey action, friendships, family dynamics and anxiety that Jonah and his father face.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think anytime a reader says a book rang true for them, that it resonated with their heart or knowledge or experience, it gives the author a huge lift.


Partly, it’s just a relief to know all our research and writing and rewriting somehow managed to hit the mark for that reader. But it also speaks of connection—a connection that feels magical, and storytelling is about making that connection, isn’t it?


This is all a long way of saying that Lorna’s description of the book felt like a gift, and I’m grateful.

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 personal experience gave me a good starting point—my experience as a hockey fan, as a person with anxiety, and as a nurse—but I still needed to do some research.


I’m not sure anything came up that was truly surprising, but I always love the learning and discovery along the path of writing a novel.


I researched anxiety in kids and teens, and read personal stories of competitive athletes with mental illness.


I also connected with a medical specialist about Ty’s condition, talked to others about their experiences with anxiety, and talked to a school counselor about their role and approach when working with a student with anxiety. I also ran the manuscript past a few hockey players for their feedback on all things hockey.


Then, I just let Jonah be Jonah, experiencing anxiety (and hockey, and relationships) in his own unique way, trusting that the background research I’d done would ensure Jonah’s experience felt authentic to readers.


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


A: Generally speaking, whatever they need. A bit of entertainment? Great. A bit more understanding and compassion toward those dealing with mental illness? Excellent.


But the thing I really hope readers take to heart is that it’s okay to need help, and it’s a brilliant and wise thing to ask for help when we need it. We don’t have to do the tough stuff alone.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I have a YA verse novel coming out next year—Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams, about protest, hope, complicated first love, and the power of music, set in East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.


And a short story, "Anne of the Silver Trail," in an Anne of Green Gables anthology, also in 2024.


And as always, I’m at work on a new story—another verse novel—but I’m not sharing any details yet!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I love connecting with readers and verse-novel fans (or really, bookish folks of all sorts!). I’m not terrific at keeping up with social media, but I try. Your best bets for finding me are Instagram (@shari_green) and via my website (www.sharigreen.com).


Thank you for the wonderful questions, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Shari Green.

Q&A with Guadalupe García McCall


Photo by Michael Mercado Smith



Guadalupe García McCall is the author of the young adult novels Echoes of Grace and Secret of the Moon Conch. Her other books include Summer of the Mariposas. Also an educator, she lives in Texas.

Q: What inspired your novel Echoes of Grace, and how did you create your characters Grace and Mercy?


A: TRIGGER WARNING: Grace came to me out of a very sad experience. Years ago, I heard about a tragedy in our neighborhood wherein a young child had gotten away from his young aunt on the porch and rushed out into their yard. The mother, who was backing out of the driveway, ran the child over and he died.


This event traumatized me, and I remember thinking this tragedy was going to affect these young women very deeply. And I wondered, How will these sisters ever recover from this loss? How can they ever come back to love and sisterhood?


The tragedy resonated with me because, when I was in college, my sister and I were young mothers and we often entrusted each other with the care of our children.


Soon after the tragedy, Grace shared with me an image of a caterpillar changing, morphing, turning into a giant leopard moth, and then perishing and decomposing in her hands. She didn’t know what it meant—but I knew I had to find out. So, I wrote it down, along with all the other “images” and bits and pieces of narrative she gifted me.


This went on for years until, one day, I had to turn in a story idea for my thesis novel and I opened the file with all my notes on Grace and put it together. And that’s how the story was born, I had to make something out of all those images, all those little scenes and bits of dialogue.

Q: How would you describe the relationship between the two sisters?


A: SPOILER ALERT: I think the relationship between Grace (Graciela) and her sister, Mercy (Mercedes), is tenuous, at best. Even before the tragedy that took Mercy’s son’s life in that first chapter, Grace and Mercy had issues.


After that, however, they have so much more to contend with—like regret, grief, and forgiveness—not to mention the persistent ghosts and echoes from the past, generations of trauma, begging to be dealt with. It’s all very intense and dark, but also full of love and eventual hope.


Q: You also have another new novel, Secret of the Moon Conch, which is coauthored with David Bowles. How did you come up with the idea for this book?


A: This one is more fun. Somewhere in the middle of revising Echoes of Grace, I came up with another story idea. I was sitting on the couch, watching the credits roll by on The Lake House, when I mused aloud, “Now, why can’t someone write something like that for YA?”


My husband, who was in the kitchen nearby, said, “Oh, I don’t know. If there was a YA writer in the house, maybe we could ask her.” It was funny, but also meant to challenge me.


Which is exactly what happened, because I immediately asked myself,
“Now, what would it look like if I wrote that book?”


In a flash, I knew that “She” (named Sitlali later) was from a small village in Mexico, and she would be traveling to the US to at once find her estranged father and get away from the low-level criminal who wants to take advantage of her grief and possess her (as she’s just lost her grandmother).


At the same time, I thought that “He” (named Calizto later) was a fierce young warrior, fleeing from the Spanish invaders, Cortez and his forces, during the Fall of Tenochtitlan. And that’s how the story was born, because I watched a Rom-Com.


Q: How did you and David Bowles work together on the book? What was your writing process like?


A: David and I “talked about” the book, the characters, the plot points, what we wanted to do with it, for two years before we sat down to plot it together. Using the 3 Act structure, we formulated a graphic organizer that put several factors into play.


First, we wanted to make sure we had alternating chapters, with two different points of view, so we had to create three columns (to help orient us).


We also had to make sure the phases of the moon were included because the moon conch is magical. It used to belong to Calizto’s mother who’s a priestess, so it works with the moon to help the lovers connect mind to mind and heart to heart.


As the moon becomes more visible in the sky, the two can hear, see, and eventually fall in love, touch, hold hands, and, yes, kiss.


After we plotted the whole thing in a 45-page, single-spaced document, we started writing in sequence. It was an interesting process, because we would write our alternating chapters then send it to each other.


However, when we got it back, we had to 1. “Review” our previous chapter, read the notes we left each other, and make revisions, 2. Read the other person’s last chapter and give them notes, 3. Write our next chapter, and 4. Return the manuscript so that we could continue this cycle.


It was an interesting, complex process but, because we revised/edited as we went along, it allowed us to have a pretty solid first draft when we were done.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: David and I are putting the finishing touches on our second book collaboration, Hearts of Fire and Snow, coming Spring 2024 also from Bloomsbury.


HOFAS, as we like to call this book, is a re-imagining of the myth of the two volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (also known as Sleeping Woman), named after the warrior and princess fated to rest beside each other as landmarks in eternity near Mexico City.


We reimagined it in Reno, Nevada, with two affluent, very worldly teens who find out they are the reincarnated Popoca and Lady Itza of ancient times.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Right now, I am in the middle of writing Spring of the Cicada, which is the 2nd book in Seasons of Sisterhood, the sequel series to Summer of the Mariposas.


This book is Juanita’s story—wherein she discovers that life is a god(s) given gift. That’s all I’m going to say about it other than to share that it features many more myths, gods, and monsters from Mexican American lore and the Mexica pantheon.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Guadalupe García McCall. 

Q&A with Jessica Doyle-Mekkes




Jessica Doyle-Mekkes is the author of the new book I'm Speaking: Every Woman's Guide to Finding Your Voice and Using It Fearlessly. She is the Head of Musical Theatre at East Carolina University. 


Q: What inspired you to write I'm Speaking?


A: I'm Speaking was inspired by the women in my life: educated, brilliant, strong women who found themselves needing to speak up, and not knowing how. The canon of books on public speaking is huge, as is the canon on female empowerment; however, there was very little crossover.


I wanted to write a book telling women how to use their voices to change their lives and the lives of those in their family, their community, and the world.


Your voice is with you each and every day of your life. I like to say, "If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the voice is its hype-woman," and yet most women aren't aware of how it works, how to care for it, how to make positive changes to the way they sound, and the enormous impact those changes can have on their lives personally and professionally. 

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


A: I owe the title to the Peloton Mom's Book Club on Facebook! I'm a Peloton lover and an active member of the group, so when I was trying to narrow down titles I gave the group a brief synopsis and asked for ideas. They came flooding in!


I'm Speaking: Every Woman's Guide to Finding Your Voice and Using It Fearlessly is a combination of their ideas and also an ode to our Vice President Kamala Harris during the debate when Mike Pence repeatedly talked over her. I don't know a woman, regardless of political affiliation, who can't relate to that moment. I know I can. 


Q: You begin the book's introduction by saying, "This is not a book on public speaking. Public speaking is a middle-aged white guy standing in front of a podium, telling you details you don't need to know about a topic you're not all that interested in...This is a book about finding your voice and using it fearlessly." Can you say more about the contexts in which you hope readers will use their voice?


A: First of all, I need to say that that quote, which ends with "He thinks he's funny, his mustache is funny," was taken from a student feedback form my dad got once when teaching that I, as a fellow professor, found hilarious. I adore my father (and his mustache) and his work on how the brain learns is integral to this book. 


The book gives readers the exact tools necessary to first, realize how their voice sounds to others, and second, make positive changes to their voice in terms of pitch, pace, resonance, volume, etc., so they love the way they sound.


The exercises that correspond to these changes are specific, they're effective, and they're incredibly efficient. Real, lasting change is possible in less than 20 minutes per day if you commit to putting in the work during those minutes consistently. 


The book also gives real world examples of how to speak up personally and professionally. Publishers Weekly called the final chapter, which takes everything learned throughout the book and puts it to use, "a bible in standing your ground without trepidation."


I can best summarize how I hope my readers will use their voices in these five points, inspired by Dr. Tracy Brower's 5 Types of Courage


Speak with authenticity. Speak with a voice that is clear and full of life. Speak with power and poise. Speak with the confidence that your words deserve to be heard.


Speak up when you see someone wronged. Speak up against toxicity in all its forms. Speak up for those who are still too afraid to speak for themselves.


Speak for yourself. Ask for what you want and get what you need.


Listen. Listen to your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your community. Listen to the women in your life, especially women of color. Know when it’s time to speak and when it’s time to create space so others’ voices can be heard.


Still speaking. Skill up on resilience. Skill up on commitment.


I often ask my students when they’re working on a solo song, “If this was real—if you really were this person, and you were really saying these things—why doesn’t anyone cut you off?”


The answer must be that what you have to say is so important, and you are saying it with such passion and conviction, that you don’t give them the chance to. Why don’t they cut me off? Because I’m speaking.


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


A: Writing a book was a goal of mine for a long time. Writing this book was an idea I had that I pursued without much knowledge of how beyond what I found in a Google search.


I like to say that my superpower is "action." I want to do something, so I do it. Writing this wasn't nearly that simple and wouldn't have been possible without the support of so many people, first and foremost my incredible agent Katharine Sands, who took a chance on a new author with a big idea, but that's where it started.


The biggest impact this had had on me, other than making me a morning person—as the working mom of two little girls I did most of my writing between 5am and 7am—is that it helped me find my voice as an author.


I knew the information in this book really well. A lot of the information on anatomy and the vocal exercises I took directly from courses I've been teaching for years.


Making that information sound less academic and more, not only available but also enjoyable, for readers was my goal and I think I achieved it. The book is educational, it's actionable, but it's also a really fun read. 

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I recently inked a deal with Broader Horizon Entertainment to write a female-centric documentary. I can't say much beyond that in terms of content, but I'm working with Broader Horizon CEO Anna Wilding, who is a legend in that space, and I'm really excited about what we're putting together. Hopefully I'll be able to say more about it soon. Stay tuned. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can find me on my website: www.jessicadoylemekkes.com and also please connect on LinkedIn where I'm very active. I'd love to connect. Cheers!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb