Monday, November 27, 2023

Q&A with Gail Tsukiyama



Gail Tsukiyama is the author of the new novel The Brightest Star. It focuses on the life of actress Anna May Wong. Tsukiyama's other books include the novel Women of the Silk. She lives in California.


Q: What inspired you to write a novel about actress Anna May Wong (1905-1961)?


A: In many ways, The Brightest Star and Anna May Wong comes full circle for me. I was intent on becoming a filmmaker when I was young. I spent much of my childhood watching movies, hoping one day to make my own films.


It wasn’t until I started taking film courses at SF State University that I realized what I really loved was telling stories, and not the technical aspects of film making. I quickly moved over to the writing department.


So, while the idea of writing about a movie actress may have stemmed from those early filmmaking dreams, the motivating reason I was drawn to Anna May Wong was when I began watching the limited series Killing Eve in 2018.


It was a British spy thriller that followed Eve Polastri, who was played by Asian-Canadian actor Sandra Oh, as a British intelligence investigator tasked with capturing psychopathic assassin Villanelle.


I was both intrigued and delighted that they’d chosen an Asian woman actress to play the lead role of Eve. It was a role that would have usually been given to a British white actress, but they’d chosen an Asian-Canadian. It finally felt like a step in the right direction.


It also had me curious as to who was the first Asian-American actress to make a big impact in Hollywood.


I already knew of Anna May Wong from having watched Shanghai Express during my youthful aspirations of wanting to be a filmmaker.


I also felt the door was inching open for Asian-American actors, so I wanted to go back to the beginning, only to find out it was Anna May Wong who made the biggest impact on the early days of Hollywood. And still, so many people didn’t know who she was.


I really wanted readers to know how Anna May Wong had fought to be a Hollywood star during a time when anti-miscegenation laws, the Hays Code, and racism was part of her everyday life. She could never be a leading lady because she could never kiss the white leading man.


She spent three years in Europe making movies and doing theater because she was tired of having to die at the end of every film in Hollywood. And still she braved on.


I was also interested in what kind of life she lived outside of what we’d seen in the movies, where she had no choice but to accept movie roles that perpetuated the very same stereotypes she fought against. At the same time, her father forbade her becoming an actress. How did she persevere?


Anna May Wong’s courage and persistence in her fight against racism, Hollywood dictates, her father’s prejudice against her acting career, as well as China’s constant accusations of her shaming the motherland became a constant thorn in her side.


The Brightest Star chronicles Anna May Wong’s survival through not only the injustices of being an Asian-American woman in Hollywood, but also her ongoing struggle for approval from both her father and her ancestral homeland of China.


Anna May never felt Chinese enough in China and never American enough in America, a burden she carried throughout her life.


Her life story is not only about Anna May Wong and early Hollywood, but also the complexities of family and ambition and survival within a culture of racism. And yet, against all odds, she continued to pave the way for Asian-American actors today.


In a world where anti-Asian hate has been on the rise, I can’t think of a better time for her story to be told. 


Q: The writer Marie Benedict said of the book, “In the riveting pages of The Brightest Star, Gail Tsukiyama once again invites her readers into an intriguing historical realm that remains in the shadows but should be widely known.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m happy that Marie caught the fact that I love to write about people, places, and issues that have been kept in the shadows historically.


For me as a writer, a story always begins with a seed of curiosity that leads me to choose a subject to write about.


Early in my writing career, I was fascinated by subcultures, groups that lived aside from the general society, whether it be a sisterhood in China in Women of the Silk, or a young man whose illness sends him away from family and friends to Japan in The Samurai’s Garden, or moving through the sumo culture in The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.


I’m fascinated by the shadow worlds of those who find a way to persevere and survive against all odds. And in the same context, I wanted Anna May Wong’s story to step out of the shadows and be widely known.


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


A: During my research I read many interviews and quotes by Anna May Wong. One in particular left a big impression as to who she was and how she viewed the spectrum of her life and career.


It gives a good explanation of why I had chosen The Brightest Star as the novel’s title, along with the realization of how difficult it was to stay on top, and yet, for a short time in her life she was the brightest star.


      “Success is not a jewel that you can purchase and keep for your entire life. On the contrary, the brightest star can fall down at any time for short-lived reasons and can miserably fade away into the dust.”

                                      -Anna May Wong


Q: How did you research Anna May Wong's life, and did you learn anything that particularly surprised you?


A: I read everything I could find on Anna May Wong, from articles to the few biographies written on her at the time, to tracking down her archived letters to close friends.


She made close to 60 films in her 40-year career that crossed over from silent films to the talkies, and which included The Toll of the Sea, The Thief of Bagdad, and Shanghai Express.


Still, what really surprised me was how much her talents went beyond acting. She never finished high school yet was a great businesswoman who kept her name and studio photos in movie magazines.


She starred in numerous theater productions in the U.S. and Europe in which she sang and danced, and was also known as a fashion icon and for her dinner parties where she showcased her Chinese cuisine.


Anna May was also a great reader who wrote articles and essays, spoke several different languages, and filmed and documented her own trip to China, which was later shown on the television series Bold Journey. She was quite the renaissance woman.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m just beginning research on a new novel set in Japan, which I don’t feel settled enough to talk about yet. I do hope to carry on with my ongoing themes of family, love, sacrifice, nature, and beauty.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m also happily continuing to work on my nonprofit WaterBridge Outreach: Books + Water, which provides books and literacy materials in English and local languages, supports schools, mobile and stationary libraries, and finances clean water and sanitation projects for children and communities in extreme need in the developing world.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Gail Tsukiyama.

Q&A with Yermiyahu Ahron Taub




Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the translator, from Yiddish to English, of the writer Frume Halpern's story collection Blessed Hands. Taub's other books include the novel in stories Beloved Comrades. He lives in Washington, D.C.


Q: Why did you decide to translate these stories by Frume Halpern (1880s-1965)?


A: Translation is a rewarding as well as a challenging and labor-intensive process. When considering a work for translation, I have to be drawn by its themes and how they're treated, the authorial voice, and a sense of kinship, or a kind of emotional connection.


With Halpern's Gebentshte hent, I found all of these. Halpern writes about individuals living on the margins, chiefly but not entirely, in the United States, and how they navigate conditions of hardship and struggle and seek to create lives of meaning and purpose.


Their marginalization is often due to factors of race, class, or gender. Others do not meet societal expectations of attractiveness and are considered "plain."


As the book's title suggests, many of these stories are about people who work with their hands. Halpern's protagonists include a shoemaker, a hairdresser, a butcher, a workshop worker, and a cleaner of homes. Many of the stories feature immigrants to the United States who haven't at all or quite achieved the American dream.


In one story, "Hello, Butch," the aforementioned butcher, despite his financial success in the New World, yearns to escape his seemingly predetermined profession and to protect his son from following his own path. 


Other stories focus on the lives of the sick or those with (or developing) a long-term health condition, challenge, or disability.


Long before the terms "anorexia nervosa" entered the public consciousness, Halpern wrote about two young women (the title characters in "Clara and Mary") essentially starving themselves to death in a public hospital ward.


In "They Came to See Each Other," a story about two blind protagonists who fall in love, the themes of handiwork and health converge in the character of the blind Pauline, an expert knitter and embroiderer.


Halpern's voice is at once tender and dispassionate. She takes us into the lives of her characters with an almost clinical precision. There is a deep sense of caring here, and her work has never relinquished its hold on me since I initially came across it. 


Q: What can you tell us about Halpern’s life and her writing career, and what do you see as her legacy today?


A: Frume Halpern was born Frume Tarlowski (Tarlowskwa, Tarloff, among other forms). Her gravestone has 1885 as the year of her birth, but I've encountered other dates, as well.


The documentation indicates that she immigrated to the United States in 1904 from Bialystok. Her father was Yikusiel (Kusil), and her mother was Rejzel Tarlowska. Her siblings were Nochin (Nathan) Kuszelew Jankelew Tarloff and Feige Rachel Yolken.


She also had half-siblings from her father's second marriage following her mother's death. 


According to a family member, she had studied to be a nurse in Europe, but couldn't practice in the United States due to the language barrier. Halpern worked in the workshops and eventually as a massage therapist in the Bronx Hospital.


This work may well have inspired the title (and first) story of the book as well as the various stories set in hospitals or healing institutions.


Her husband was Isaack Halpern, and they had two daughters, Nora and Vera (Yetta). Frume Halpern died in the Bronx in 1965. Nora's grandsons, Victor Linn and Robert Linn, as well as Victor's wife, Judith Linn, provided a great deal of information about the author, and I am extremely grateful to them for their generosity of spirit and support. 


Frume Halpern's work appeared in left-wing publications such as Morgn frayhayt [Morning Freedom] and Zamlungen [Collections]. Prominent leftist writers such as Ber Green, Itshe Goldberg, and Isaac Elchanan Ronch championed her writing.


Indeed, Ronch wrote the foreword to Gebentshte hent, and my translation of his foreword appears in Blessed Hands. A group of Halpern's friends, advocates, and admirers pooled resources and brought these stories out in book form.


Without their efforts, we would not have had the original Yiddish book, and thus, this translation into English.


According to a remembrance by I. Fisherman (translated by Immanuel Klein and Nora Linn): "... Frume Halpern was "devoted to progressive movements. The literary club in the Bronx, of which she was a prominent member, felt very proud that this beloved and talented writer was one of them and shared their philosophy and dreams." 


Q: The author Rhea Tregebov said of the book, “Taub's nuanced translation brings Halpern's stunning and moving words fully to light; his extensive afterword helps contextualize Halpern's remarkable accomplishment.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I am extremely grateful to Rhea Tregebov for her generous words on behalf of the book and indeed, for her enthusiasm for this project as a whole from its very inception.


Tregebov is the editor of the anthology Arguing with the Storm: Stories by Yiddish Women Writers (The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2008), in which several of Halpern's stories appeared in translation (one by Roz Usiskin and two by Esther Leven).


Tregebov conveyed to me her admiration of Halpern's writing, and learning about her enthusiasm was inspiring to me as I set about this project.


As I progressed, I encountered other Yiddish scholars and translators who expressed their love of Halpern's writing and thanked me for doing this work. To me, it felt like I had discovered and entered a community of Frume Halpern super-fans.


I'd also like to express my deepest gratitude to Amelia M. Glaser, Irena Klepfisz, and Aviya Kushner for their blurbs. While my belief in Halpern's writing has never wavered, it's been immensely meaningful to find out that others share this belief.


And of course, there are many others to thank. My acknowledgments in the book are extensive. 


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


A: Halpern explored difficult life situations with great insight, originality, and empathy. She wrote about the marginalized and overlooked in a way that brings the reader into her protagonists's struggles and joys, too.


Halpern is an author of great courage. There were many times as a reader when I gasped, even shivered, in recognition and shock, thinking, "Wow! She really went there!" I felt that Halpern was speaking to me, and it is my hope that other readers will experience that same feeling.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am currently translating the autobiography of the folksinger Lifshe Schaechter-Widman, born and raised in the Bukovina region, which is now divided between Ukraine and Romania. It is an extraordinary account of an extraordinary life. I am also working on a new manuscript of my own poems. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Blessed Hands is full of surprises. There are a number of deeply moving meditations on aging, including one entitled "The Fate of a Strand of Hair."


In "An Orphaned Synagogue," a young rabbi struggles to keep an Orthodox synagogue going as the congregants age and decline in number.


Halpern was also a master of the interior monologue (e.g. "Blume") in which a protagonist addresses an individual, often from the past. These read like prose poems and are composed in an incantatory, strikingly intimate tone.


I think a number of stories in the collection, such as "In the Garden of Eden," "Susan Flesher," "Hello, Butch," "The Mute Mother," "Rusty, My Friend," and "By My Mother's Sickbed" deserve to be included in the Jewish short story canon. 


Of course, there's much more to say about Frume Halpern's life and work, but I hope I've given you and your readers a taste. Thank you so much for this opportunity.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Yermiyahu Ahron Taub.

Q&A with June Smalls




June Smalls is the author of the children's picture book Hear Them Roar!: 14 Endangered Animals from Around the World. Her other books include She Leads. She lives in Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to write Hear Them Roar, and how did you choose the animals to include?


A: Hear Them Roar was actually an idea that the publisher had. Familius publishing, which published my Leads series, said they were tossing around an idea of a sound book featuring endangered animals and did I think I could come up with something.


I said, “Of course!” and then had to dig in and research.


They didn’t have an outline or even a list of animals. They just gave me that awesome idea and let me run with it.


I tried to focus on as many different species, areas of the world, sizes, colors, from water, land, and sky – some familiar, some unknowns – everything to make the story as widely encompassing as possible in a great browsable format.


Each animal highlighted shares information about the animals, fun facts, the sounds they make, and what we are doing to help protect or bring them back from possible extinction. We end with hope, always.


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


A: I learned that megabats are pollinators like bees, rhinos squeal, cotton-top tamarins give birth to twins more often than single offspring, and that some animals are so rare, that even though we had one in captivity 50 years ago, there are no recordings of it, and so it didn’t make it into the book.


I ended up researching about 18 animals due to the fact that we couldn’t get rights on sound clips for some of the original animals. Novelty books add another layer that the author needs to keep in mind!


Q: What do you think Becky Thorns’s illustrations add to the book?


A: While the Leads series was more realistic, for Hear Them Roar, the publisher wanted a more colorful and whimsical feel to match the vibe of their other sound books.


There are maps, primary art, and smaller pieces that show more about the animal on each spread. The bright colors and textures of Becky Thorns’s illustrations make the animals pop from the page and even on the small sound buttons those animals are really engaging.


Q: How did you collect the samples of sounds that are included?


A: I found clips on documentaries or zoo clips from their sites or YouTube and included them when I sent in the finished manuscript.


However, the publisher was the one who reached out to various zoos and conservation groups to purchase the rights for each of the final sound clips on the sound bar.


These novelty books are more expensive to produce and manufacture. I never even entertained the idea that I’d get to work on a listen and learn book!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just turned in a manuscript for the follow up to this book. Hear Them Sing will be a sound book about birds in North America. Fourteen birds that you can find right in your own backyard. 

I’m working on some final edits for a lift-the-flap series I have coming out with Sourcebooks eXplore called Digging for Dinosaurs. This novelty format has taught me a whole slew of things as we have to work around the flap placement and size.


It’s tons of fun, super cute, and just wait until you see the art by Grace Habib.


I’ve also been working on a magical chapter book series that I’d love to get out into the world!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You can find me online at

Twitter “X”: @June_Smalls



--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with June Smalls.

Nov. 27



Nov. 27, 1936: Gail Sheehy born.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Q&A with David Rickert




David Rickert is the author and illustrator of the new children's graphic novel Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie: The Stories Behind the Foods We Love. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.


Q: What inspired you to create Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie?


A: I love food and I love to cook. I always wondered about what certain ingredients did.


For example, when I was making chocolate chip cookies I wondered what baking soda did. And why you needed eggs.


This prompted my curiosity about the history of foods and why we started eating them. I started with sandwiches, and it just grew from there.


Q: How did you choose the foods to include in the book?


A: I wanted to focus on foods that were commonly eaten. I didn’t want it to be a book that had an agenda to promote healthy eating, although I do touch on that a bit in the book.


Beyond that, I chose foods that had interesting stories behind them, and I tried to have a variety of food that came from different cultures. 


Some foods, like pretzels, didn’t make the cut for space considerations. Others, like ketchup and tacos, didn’t really have any interesting stories behind them. Not enough to fill a chapter, anyway. 


Q: How did you research the stories behind these foods, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I started with the internet to get a feel for which foods kids would be interested in learning about. I also got books from the library and ordered a few used books online that were really helpful.


Surprisingly, there aren’t that many books out there about the history of food, but I managed to find some good resources. And there were a few food experts I contacted that were able to help me. 


I wasn’t exactly surprised by it, but I did learn that many of the foods we eat today were born out of necessity and resourcefulness. They were made from what was naturally growing around communities, and served practical purposes, like the ability to travel long distances or lasting  a long time in the days without refrigeration.


We take it for granted that we have a large amount of choice in what we eat and can decide based on what sounds good to us at the moment. But for centuries, that wasn’t the case. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “broader perspective for readers who think no further than cupboards and fridges when asked where their food comes from.” What do you think of that description, and what do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: I’m happy with that. I’d love for kids to think about my book that way, and come away with a deeper understanding of how food is affected by culture and tradition. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My next book is on medicine--all the reasons why kids might go to the doctor and how we figured out how to solve medical problems.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I just hope that kids and adults enjoy Pizza, Pickles, and Apple Pie


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 26




Nov. 26, 1912: Eric Sevareid born.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Q&A with Nadine Bjursten




Nadine Bjursten is the author of the new novel Half a Cup of Sand and Sky. She is also a journalist, and she lives in Sweden.


Q: What inspired you to write Half a Cup of Sand and Sky, and how did you create your character Amineh?


A: I grew up with Persian poets Hafiz, Sa’di, and Rumi and then when I was working at Arms Control Today, I witnessed firsthand the power of three words "axis of evil" and how quickly it passed over the political leaders in question to the country's citizens, religion, culture, and history.


There is little nuance in the word evil, and it took barely two weeks for a single story about the country to form. This novel is a response to that.


Amineh as a character existed before the story was developed. I saw her in front of me as a child, young woman, wife, and mother. The writing process is adding flesh and bone and soul to the character, but it is fair to say that pieces of her come from women I know or met, even myself.


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


A: Both sand and sky represent Amineh’s journey of self-discovery, love. She is burdened by trauma, her grandmother’s blame, and her own blame.


In the beginning of the novel, Amineh relates not to the falcon above her, but to the sand, earth, rocks underneath her feet. Her life is weighted by her need for approval from the people closest to her, and of course, she doesn’t get that approval in the way she wants it as life doesn’t work that way.


But tender moments and love are also there. Cooking is one metaphor for connection. She expresses her love through delicious, beautiful meals. Cooking, that service to the other, helps her mature and awaken to the love inside herself.


Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, in part, “Bjursten's prose is clear, polished, and touched with poetry and insight but never getting in the way of the heart of the story: a woman fighting for her family, love, and freedom from political injustice.” What do you think of that description?


A: I like that quote as it touches on the care I took with the language but not at the expense of the story, which is as described: a woman fighting for her family, love, herself, and freedom.


Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything especially surprising in the course of your research?


A: This book is heavily researched. I read more than 60 books to prepare for this novel and spent time in the country. The nuclear backstory is from my work at the Global Security Institute and Arms Control Today.


What surprised me most was how important poetry is to the Iranian culture of today, and it is not just poems of Hafiz, Sa’di, Attar, and Rumi: it is expressed in cooking a meal, speaking to a stranger, welcoming friends into your home.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a novel about an idealistic, quirky pastor August Holck who lives in an old university town in Sweden and has never been able to find his footing among his strong women colleagues, particularly one of them who makes him lose his words.


The refugees arrive and the whole town is thrown into turmoil. August is determined to take Malek, Sami, and Hassan into his charge, and soon they begin a journey that will end up changing all their lives forever. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In addition to many other concerns that we have in the world, we are seeing two developments: the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the demonization of whole groups of people for the actions of a few. I hope this novel in its small way is able to speak to this.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 25



Nov. 25, 1909: P.D. Eastman born.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Q&A with Jeffrey Dunn




Jeffrey Dunn is the author of the new novel Radio Free Olympia. His other books include Wildcat


Q: Radio Free Olympia has been described as a combination of prose and poetry, fiction and history. What did you see as the right balance as you were writing the story?


A: Balance? The concept didn’t concern me. Balance assumes form before content, which in the case of writing Radio Free Olympia would have been putting the Olympic Peninsula and me in a straitjacket.


This response then begs the question, what writing process did I employ? I started writing Radio Free Olympia because I felt compelled to give voice to the Olympic Peninsula.


Although there are characters and plots, it wasn’t primarily about character or plot. It was about place, and when folks see, feel, listen, touch, and taste places, they become a multitude—a caw-caw-phony, as Raven likes to say.


My goal was to let each voice take on its most natural form. Something similar? Read James Joyce’s Ulysses, his collection of voices that represent Dublin.


Of course, combining these voices in a way that preserved each voice’s integrity while also providing clarity for the reader was a challenge. I spent 10 years tackling that challenge, and now the proof is in the reading.


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


A: When I was growing up, the radio was always on in the kitchen and in the car. A bit later, I worked as a radio DJ and music director and wrote music reviews. The nature of sound, its vibration which we feel internally, was deeply affecting.


When I initially imagined giving voice to the Olympic Peninsula, the idea of radio broadcasting seemed to be the obvious form of transmission. Even better, what if someone took a pirate radio transmitter into the Olympic Peninsula that broadcast not only human but also historical, folkloric, and spiritual voices?


I also like the association with Radio Free Europe, the idea of voices for freedom, which leads one to ask whose voice is being broadcast and for what purpose?

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


A: I want readers to enjoy moving from one word to the next as the different characters and narrative threads emerge and are woven together.


My hope is that readers become so immersed that they lose the need for a single character-driven narrative and enjoy swimming in a fuller depiction of ecosystem and culture.


Ultimately, I want readers to wonder about how much of our humanity is lost if we divorce ourselves from the wild.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Wildcat, An Appalachian Romance (early 2024) is set in the rust belt of Appalachia and follows a retired English teacher who returns to his hometown, where a once-closed hotel has been reborn as a collective.


As he explores the transformed community, he unearths a world of sustainable industries and rediscovered friendships. But amidst the triumphs, dark shadows of the past and personal history resurface, weaving a narrative of love, loss, and magical transformation.


Wildcat knocks the rust off Appalachia.


Whiskey Rebel (late 2024 or 2025) is set in the untamed landscapes of the Columbia Plateau and follows two drifters as they embark on a daring quest to distill tax-free whiskey and redefine the meaning of freedom.


Whiskey Rebel challenges societal norms, delves into the complexities of the American experiment, and introduces a cast of quirky characters on a journey to discover their own unique recipe for freedom.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am one of the 15 percent of the human population who are dyslexic. We dyslexics prefer to live in our right brains, a place of imagery, narrative memory, and associational thinking. 


Why? Because the back left corner of our brains, a major site of language production, has an overgrowth of neurons, a place where our words get lost in the swamp.


Some dyslexics want to move completely out of their left brains and live in the visual right side where life is always a movie. Other dyslexics like me harness the power of our right brains to create fun word salads.


Our narratives usually have short chapters and read like movies. We love writing free verse poetry, although our free verse can be quite lyrical. We don’t mind misspellings and malaprops because these “mistakes” often suggest new ideas worth pursuing.


All this is to say, I was a natural born storyteller but have developed over time my control of words. I’m in my late 60s and still enjoy adding new contexts, word meanings (especially different meanings for the same word), and literary techniques. Puns? Can’t get enough of them.






Amazon Author Central: Dunn/author/B07QDF3RB3


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with A.D. Levine



A.D. Levine is the author of the book The Seeds of Scripture: The Beginnings of the Bible. A retired research librarian, he lives on the East Coast.


Q: What inspired you to write The Seeds of Scripture


A: I attended a “Bible Drama” class during a meeting of the Jewish Theatre Association. Participants chose a scene from the bible. Since we knew the characters and the plot, we could improvise the dialog. 


I chose the scene where Jacob meets Pharaoh. Originally, I thought this was going to be a play, but I realized it would work better as a book. 


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


A: I wanted to combine the facts of biblical scholarship with Jewish folklore. There is no shortage of books on biblical scholarship. I consulted E.A. Speiser, Nahum Sarna, Robert Alter, Hirsch and others.


For the folklore side, I found a valuable reference in the series Me’Am Loez by Rabbi Jacob Kuli. It is an encyclopedic series on the bible written in Spain in the 1700s. The original purpose was to preserve the knowledge, customs, and folklore of what was left of Spanish Jewry. 


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


A: The original title was Dawn of Scripture. An article I read suggested the best titles used alliteration. Example, The Wind in the Willows, The Prince and the Pauper, Of Mice and Men.


The word “seeds” seems to suggest beginnings and yet-to-be realized potential. So “seeds” it was, and I think that fits the bill.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from The Seeds of Scripture?


A: I would hope that, after reading my book, readers would gain a different perspective on the book of Genesis. 


For Genesis readers, I would hope my book would illuminate background and details of the personalities and customs. I hope readers will gain a new appreciation of the book of Genesis.   


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a series of young adult novels, Seraphina Katz: Building Israel. The main character, Seraphina, time travels along with Elijah the Prophet. In each novel Seraphina becomes an eyewitness to momentous or important events in Israel’s history.


The first book in this series, Seraphina Katz In the Land Before the First Aliyah, has already been completed.  


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve been reading reports of antisemitism on college campuses for the last few years and noticed how the Jewish students were woefully unprepared to answer the accusations against Israel.


I started writing the Seraphina series as a way for middle schoolers to have a bit of fun and gain the knowledge they need to counter the misinformation so prevalent on the campus today. 


When I started writing it, campus antisemitism was an issue flying under the radar. Since Oct. 7, I think the need for such a series has grown.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 24



Nov. 24, 1849: Frances Hodgson Burnett born.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Q&A with Odessa Rose




Odessa Rose is the author of the novel Kizmic's Journey. Her other books include the novel Water in a Broken Glass. She lives in Baltimore.


Q: What inspired you to write Kizmic’s Journey, and how did you create your character Kizmic?


A: What inspired me to write Kizmic’s Journey was a desire to read about a little girl like me.


A lot of the coming-of-age stories I read as a child and as an adult focused on little girls who couldn’t wait to reach puberty. They were obsessed with growing breasts, starting their periods, and having crushes on boys.


I wanted to read about a little girl who dreaded all these things happening to her. A girl who not only didn’t want to experience these things, but who didn’t want to grow up, period. A girl who viewed adolescence as a life-ending experience.


How did I create Kizmic? I created Kizmic by trying to figure out how a little girl who did not want to grow up would react to the children growing up around her.


What would a girl like Kizmic want to do instead of worrying about when her breasts were going to develop? Kizmic would worry about if her baseball, football, or basketball game would be rained out.


What would a girl like Kizmic fret about instead of counting down the days when she would begin menstruating? Kizmic would be counting down the days when the next marble or skully game would take place.


The biggest question of all that helped me create and shape Kizmic is why she didn’t want to grow up? What happened to make her view puberty as the grim reaper?


Q: The novel is set in Baltimore--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Setting is very important in my writing. It sets the boundaries for characters so that I understand why they move the way they move, why they think a certain way, why they speak a certain way, why they exist.


I grew up in Baltimore City. When people hear that, they automatically think of crime, because of the negative way the city is portrayed in the media, films, books, and the local and national news.


Are there issues that need to be addressed in Baltimore? Of course, just like every other city, big or small. But the majority of films and books that are based in Baltimore do not focus on the wonderful folks and communities in the city.


In my writing, I want to introduce people to the Baltimore that know, in particular 1970s Baltimore. There wasn’t hardly any crime that I was aware of as a child. We stayed outside playing all day.


We rode bikes, skateboards, roller skates; we played basketball, football, baseball, skully, four square, dodge ball. We hula hooped, played jacks, bat-n-ball, hopscotch, jumped rope. We had block parties with music and games. We had cookouts, basement parties.


The older folk looked out for all the kids, which we didn’t like because they told your parents about things they caught you doing. It was a nice place to live and grow. I developed friendships with people that I’m still close with today.


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


A: I knew how Kizmic’s Journey was going to end. Getting there was a huge journey, though. And probably took longer because in some ways, I didn’t want it to end the way it did.


I was looking for outs along the way, but while my characters are made up from my imagination, they have minds of their own. Their lives are their lives, not mine. Their journey is their journey. So, I had to let the story play out the way it was meant to be.


Of course, a lot of things changed from the first draft to the last, but every draft ended the same. That let me know that the story was telling was genuine.  


Q: What was it like to write about a child protagonist?


A: It was so much fun to write about a child protagonist. Kizmic’s Journey is not autobiographical, but I did draw upon my childhood for certain things, like the games we played, the friends I had, the schools I attended, the teachers, the neighborhoods, and the stores in the community. I got to go back down memory lane, and that was awesome.


But there were certain challenges to writing about a child protagonist, the biggest being keeping a child’s perspective. I had to keep the innocence of a 9-year-old girl, and that’s hard to do when you’re in your late 50s.


I’m looking back on the ‘70s with an understanding of the world that Kizmic does not know. That had to stay in the forefront of my mind. And I believe I pulled it off. Kizmic is a child, and she thinks like a child, she talks like a child, feels like a child. I absolutely love her.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I am working on my fourth novel, entitled The Subway. I hope to have the first draft by the end of January. That’s pushing it for me, because I am a very slow writer.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I just released a short horror film that I wrote and filmed with my family and friends. It’s called Stay Your Butt Out Da Woods. It’s a funny little film that I had on my mind to do. I have a few more that I hope to film soon.


I have to remind people not to expect the same quality for my short films as they experienced with the movie Water In A Broken Glass that was based on my first novel of the same title.


I did not film that movie. A filmmaker named Jamelle Thomas created that film. All I did was give her the rights and stand around on set in complete awe that someone was making a film based on my book. That being said, my little film is pretty good. LOL


Also, thank you for allowing me to share my work with you and your audience. I truly, truly appreciate this wonderful opportunity.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Kim Shapira


Photo by Laura Isé



Kim Shapira is the author of the new book This Is What You're Really Hungry For: Six Simple Rules to Transform Your Relationship with Food to Become Your Healthiest Self. Also a dietician and nutritional therapist, she lives in Los Angeles.


Q: What inspired you to write This Is What You’re Really Hungry For


A: I have always felt that there is so much pressure and wasted time and energy on many things in the weight-loss arena.


I have always felt it is easier than people think, and based on all of my experience, I know this to be true when there's conviction, when there's intention, people just want to be healthy. And they don't realize how much time and energy is wasted on following what other people are doing.


I couldn't wait to get this book into the public to help ease the burden, and to get people on the right path. 


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


A: Well, to be perfectly honest, it was a long process and there were hundreds of names. But during all the brainstorming this line kept showing up: This is what you're really hungry for, this is what people really want to know.


And the answer is how to have peace with the relationship with food so they can have a healthy life and burden by disease and weight stress.


Turns out the answer is a lifestyle with the six simple rules which ultimately become a set of values that are non-negotiables in a person's life on a daily basis.


Q: Can you talk about how you came up with the six rules that people can follow to have a better relationship with food?


A: Our physical bodies are brilliant, uncomplicated, self-healing, self-regulating, and most importantly, efficient. The six simple rules lay out exactly what we need to do to help our body thrive.


I'd often say we live inside of our bodies and our bodies give us messages all day long. We need to be more mindful so we can communicate and honor what our body needs when it needs it.


It's quite simple. Hunger is just simply a message. It's time to fuel our body which requires outside sources to keep going.


The inner workings of our body thrive on blood sugar. Stress, overconsumption, underconsumption, alcohol, and many other things disrupt blood sugar regulation, wreaking havoc on our body's natural system to self-regulate.


These six simple rules help your body thrive. They will regulate your blood sugar, they will regulate your hormones, they will regulate your detoxification system, and they will improve your digestion. All of this will decrease your body stress, so it can give up what it isn't needed.


The six rules are simple, heavily layered in emotion, and when we remove the emotion and turn to adjust the mentality, it works short-term, long-term, and always.

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


A: I can't wait for my readers to see that they are in control. And they have always been in control.


I hope my readers find peace in their relationship with food, and their body and ultimately health. I hope my readers begin to find joy in this journey, and are not looking only at the end result; it takes inner power and confidence to keep going, and I believe everybody is capable of this.

Q: What are you working on now? 


A: Right now I'm having a lot of fun promoting the book by doing a lot of podcasts, I'm having so much fun being a guest on different shows I'm even loving being a guest expert in articles. I love meeting everyone and having the experience of witnessing these aha moments for people.


I recently launched a webinar on the six simple rules. It's available on my website and it's four and a half hours with a private Facebook group. I've been invited to be a guest expert on a documentary on sustainable health.


And I'm loving the direction this is all going because I finally feel like I'm getting my message out there and I'm going to help so many people. 

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I answer all my DMs on Instagram and would love to connect with anyone regarding any questions on the six simple rules in any way that I can help. I have weekly groups and I see clients privately on my website at


I have a few handouts in the shop that are complimentary and will help you stay accountable: the wellness, tracker, and the arc (the accountability report card).


--Interview with Deborah Kalb