Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Q&A with Emily Ruth Verona




Emily Ruth Verona is the author of the new novel Midnight on Beacon Street. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Pinch and LampLight Magazine. She lives in New Jersey.


Q: What inspired you to write Midnight on Beacon Street?


A: I love horror movies and I love the babysitter trope. With Midnight on Beacon Street, I saw a way to interact with both of these.


I am also fascinated with stories that take place in one setting over a specific amount of time. The movie Rope (1948) is a prime example. The entire thing takes place over the course of a single dinner party.


I was really interested in the idea of exploring one household on one night, with a limited cast of characters. It makes for a very intimate little puzzle. 


Q: Why did you decide to set the novel in New Jersey in 1993?


A: I'm from New Jersey and set a lot of my fiction here, when possible. I know the area well. The 1990s were a very formative time for me.


I am 12 years younger than my two older siblings. When I was a little kid in the 1990s, they were full-fledged teenagers. That meant a lot of the pop culture I knew growing up was a mix of the kid-friendly and the not-so-kid friendly.


I picked 1993 specifically because that is the year Jurassic Park was released in theaters. That film is foundational for me as a movie-lover. It's one of the first live-action movies I can remember watching as a child. I still get goosebumps when I hear the theme! 


Q: The writer Polly Stewart said of the book, “The shade of Shirley Jackson haunts this page-turner, which abounds in classic horror movie references, both revisiting and critiquing the tale of a babysitter left alone with kids she may or may not be able to protect.” What do you think of that description?

A: Honestly, I'm tremendously honored by Polly's words. They are so kind!


I'm particularly glad she sees the book as "revisiting and critiquing" the babysitter tale, because that's exactly what I was going for with this one. I wanted to take this very recognizable horror concept and turn it around in my hands a little bit. Examine all the edges.


It's always exciting when someone reads your work and gets out of it exactly what you'd hope they would get out of it. 


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: Both, sort of? Haha. This happens to me a lot but especially with Midnight on Beacon Street. I knew the beginning and the very end.


It was the middle, mostly that last stretch of middle before the end, that I struggled with for a long time. I wasn't sure how to achieve what I wanted to achieve with it.


None of the solutions I came up with felt right for the story. They either felt uninteresting to me or too easy. I wanted to do something very specific there but I wasn't sure what that was yet. It took me a few years of revision to get the story right.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished a short poetry collection and I am currently revising another thriller! This novel is set in the present with New York State as the backdrop instead of New Jersey.


The entire thing centers around one family and that family's complicated history. I've always been fascinated by family dynamics and so it's an exciting project to work on. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I've got some short fiction out at the moment! "Three Nights with the Angel of Death" is a western in Along Harrowed Trails from Timber Ghost Press. "Moonshine" is a bootlegging story and can be found in Monster Lairs from Dark Matter INK. "Tashlich" is an epistolary tale in Dead Letters from Crystal Lake Publishing.


I also have some work in a few magazines and a poem in the Under Her Eye anthology from Blackspot Books. That one is really special because Blackspot has partnered with The Pixel Project for it in the effort to end violence against women on a global scale.


My full bibliography can be found at I'm on most social media platforms under @emilyrverona


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Chantal Bourgonje




Chantal Bourgonje is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book Searching for Home. Her other books include Fierce Grey Mouse. Originally from the Netherlands, she lives in the U.K.


Q: What inspired you to create Searching for Home?


A: A friend of ours was the caretaker of a crumbling old 16th century stately home. The house has more than 100 rooms and our friend lived in two or three of the few still habitable ones.


It was a magnificent place, with lots of things to find: old paintings of lords and ladies, tattered drapes and fraying curtains, ancient books, and many other old things.


In winter it was a cold and lonely place. Grey, damp walls, no heating, dark and a bit spooky too, with creaking floorboards and large cavernous halls.


But in summer the sun would shine through the windows, friends would visit and there’d be parties in the old orangery. The cold house transformed into a home.


Sitting there amongst friends, it suddenly struck me that I wanted to write a story about what makes a house a home.


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


A: In Searching for Home, as with most of my stories, I started with a sketch, a doodle, some scribbling that turns into an appealing character.


Then I think about the character. Who are they? What do they like? Where do they live? Is there anything they don’t like or are scared of? Is there a big problem in their life? And so on. The more I learn about them, the more their story comes through.

Next, I work on the text. I write everything down, including things that can be replaced by illustrations. Then I see where the page-turns could fall.


Although I’m thinking of pictures as I’m working on the text, I only start on sketches when I have a good idea of the page-turns.  It’s a question of moulding the pictures and the words - big chunks of text can be cut and new images appear.


To check the flow of text and illustrations I make a rough storyboard and once I’m happy that it works, I draw and paint the pages and eventually create the final, coloured illustrations.


Q: What do you think the book says about the concept of home?


A: It doesn’t matter if you live in a palace, a hut, a haystack, or a hollow tree. If you don’t feel safe or happy, or if you’re without your loved ones, your house won’t feel like a home. Friends and family (and pets!) can make even the loneliest place special.


Q: How did you develop your artistic style?


A: Your artistic style is a bit like your handwriting and like handwriting, the more you do it, the better - and more distinctive - it becomes! I draw something most days and have been doing that since my childhood. Even if it’s just a little sketch of my dogs or the birds in our garden.


The materials you use impact your style as well. Over time I’ve experimented with different materials and methods. Especially when studying for my illustration degree.


During that time, I found that pen and ink, watercolour and pencil feels right for me. There’s something joyful about flowing watercolours on wet paper, and scribbling with pencils and pen and ink over the colours.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I’m working on the sketches for a new picture book dummy and at the same time am getting to know a new little character that appeared in my sketchbook the other day. I just found out yesterday what he’s worried about. We’ll just have to see how he gets to solve his problems.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I can’t think of anything in particular. I just feel very lucky to be doing something I love and hope that children will enjoy Searching for Home!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Eugene M. Helveston




Eugene M. Helveston, M.D., is the author of the new book Death to Beauty: The Transformative History of Botox. It focuses on the work of the late Dr. Alan Scott, a colleague of Helveston's. Helveston is the author or co-author of three ophthalmology textbooks, and he lives in Indianapolis.


Q: What inspired you to write Death to Beauty?


A: As a strabismologist colleague of Alan Scott from the ‘60s, I followed his work with the drug from the beginning, joined his clinical drug trials in the ‘80s, and was an early user of the drug that became Botox.


I realized Scott had had accomplished a monumental feat on his own, but few knew about the man and fewer understood the obstacles he faced.


By 2021 there were few of us who knew Scott and were involved at the beginning. If his remarkable story were to be told it must be done now. To the best of my knowledge nobody had done it, few could, and no one was in the process.


This urgency was validated with Scott’s death in December 2021 at 89. In the six months that he cooperated with the book project we communicated with email, letters, phone, and Zoom conferences. The book contains first-hand accounts from Scott that are available nowhere else.


The immediate acceptance of the book proposal by Indiana University Press in June was the start of the three-year project.


Q: The writer Dana Berkowitz said of the book, “A riveting text that bridges biography, history, and medicine, Death to Beauty is a must-read for anyone interested in the story of how Dr. Alan Scott, working almost independently and with few resources, transformed the world's deadliest toxin into a wonder drug...” What do you think of that description?


A: It does justice to the book.


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


A: The opportunity to speak with Alan Scott was the most important research. Next was my own recollections of meeting with Scott in the early ‘80s when I watched him treating patients and subsequently joined the clinical trials that I participated in for seven years.

Later I had a brush with the new owner of the toxin when I was recruited to join a panel overseeing the development by Allergan of a new culture to produce the toxin, but this offer was rescinded.


I spoke with two researchers who dealt with the toxin in their laboratory at the University of Wisconsin and Johns Hopkins Hospitals. I discovered that the father of a colleague made an important discovery of how the toxin worked while in his 20s at the Army Biological Warfare facility at Camp Detrick Maryland in 1945.


The history of the toxin from 1793 is well documented and available. One valuable nugget from Scott was that his mother, who was a biologist, was offered a position working with a key researcher who was solving puzzles about the food processing in California plagued by outbreaks of botulinum poisoning in the 1920s.


Key in the research for this book was the direct route of the botulinum toxin molecule from being embedded in a fatty substance in blood sausage to the diluted, stabilized, and freeze dried powder Scott prepared to perform the first injection of billionths of a gram of the world’s deadliest toxin in a human in 1978.


During this process, the focus of this toxin ever narrowed until Alan Scott was the only “game in town.” There was no race to the wire. Scott was it. If he hadn’t done what he did, the toxin might have simply died out in the lab at the Wisconsin Food Safety Institute.


The final irony is that Scott’s sole interest in Botox (I find it hard to use this name over Scott’s choice, Oculinum) was to treat strabismus. It was as if he invented a needle and thread but only wanted to sew on buttons.


Scott left the myriad of other applications to others and there were dozens. The number is only growing, from calming overactive bladder to drying sweaty palms, to doing something to help migraine and more.


Q: How would you describe Dr. Scott’s legacy today?


A: Alan Scott was a selfless professional who started out “asking questions and seeking answers.” He continued on that path, never wavering. He remained humble and self-effacing as he freely shared what he learned.


He used money to support his research and had no ambitions when it came to lifestyle. “I had all the fun and Allergan made all the money” were Alan Scott’s own words, uttered with a smile and free of rancor.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ll be writing a regular feature on my author’s blog: I have no big project in the works. I just turned 89!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Not really, except for this. I started practice in the ‘60s as did Alan Scott. While at Indiana University I conducted clinical practice with a specialty in ophthalmology concentrating on strabismus (eye muscle imbalance) and children’s eye disease.


My work included teaching, and clinical research (of course, not approaching the scale of Alan Scott’s efforts and accomplishments). My life and associations make me the ideal apologist for the greatness of Alan Scott.


Not an attempt at hagiography, Death to Beauty is a sober account of an ordinary man who did something that was amazing, and he deserved to be recognized.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Jan. 31



Jan. 31, 1872: Zane Grey born.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Q&A with Donna Hemans



Donna Hemans is the author of the new novel The House of Plain Truth. Her other books include the novel Tea by the Sea. She was born in Jamaica, and she lives in Maryland.


Q: What inspired you to write The House of Plain Truth, and how did you create your character Pearline?


A: The House of Plain Truth is inspired in part by my paternal grandparents who went to Cuba around 1919 and returned to Jamaica in 1931 with several of their children.


As a child I knew just the basic facts, including which of my aunts and uncles were born in Cuba. But I didn’t know specific details about my family’s time in Cuba—why my grandparents went, where they lived, why they returned.


By the time I was interested in learning more from the perspective of a writer, my grandparents were long gone.


The second part is that one of my grandmother’s brothers also went to Cuba and never returned to Jamaica. So I wanted to both understand my grandparents’ experience as well as the idea of spending a lifetime wanting to reconnect with a long-lost sibling.


When I first thought of Pearline pining to reconnect with siblings she hadn’t seen in 60 years, she reminded me of older women in my family—settled, calm and purposeful.


I wanted to create a woman who embodied those characteristics, who knew what she wanted and what she was willing to lose to find what was meaningful.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what role do you see truthfulness playing in the story?


A: When the book opens, Pearline has returned to Jamaica to help take care of her ailing father. He asks her to find her long-lost siblings and to be his memory.


What Pearline uncovers is the true story of how her family came to own the house at the center of the book and which her parents named La Casa de la Pura Verdad (The House of Plain Truth).


The title, which was my publisher’s suggestion, centers what is key to Pearline carrying out her father’s wishes and it is the house itself that helps Pearline uncover the truth about her family’s story.

Q: In our previous Q&A, about your novel Tea by the Sea, you said, “I think of fiction as one way of preserving my heritage. In this case, I wanted to preserve my grandparents’ house in writing.” Was that true of this novel as well?


A: In this case, I was driven primarily by a desire to understand parts of my family story that I knew very little about. My family didn’t speak much about the Cuba years and I wanted to understand that part of our story.


I was surprised to learn, for example, about the many attempts in Cuba to forcefully repatriate laborers who migrated from English- and French-speaking Caribbean islands and that many who returned home did not do so willingly or on their own terms.


When I began writing, my goal was to understand my family’s experience in Cuba and to invent a sort of history for them. While The House of Plain Truth is not my grandparents’ story, writing and researching it helped me to understand their experiences a little bit better.


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


A: First, I hope readers love Pearline but I also hope that it encourages readers to look at their own family stories.


And second, many stories about the Caribbean immigrant experience tend to focus on migration to North America and Europe. But there’s a wealth of stories about regional migration and life at home that are also worth telling. So I hope the book generates some interest in the broader experiences of migrant communities.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’ve returned to a manuscript I started ages ago and set aside. With time and distance from the manuscript, I think I’m now telling the story I wanted to tell in the way that I wanted to tell it. Finishing it is my big goal for 2024.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The biggest surprise of writing this book was coming to terms with the fact that I wasn’t quite ready to write this book in 2006 when I wrote the first draft. In the first few drafts, I told Pearline’s story through her 18-year-old grandniece’s perspective.


Writing Tea by the Sea, which was in part a book about agency, was one of the catalysts that helped me rethink how I told Pearline’s story. It wasn’t until I shifted the perspective and gave Pearline control over her own story—gave her agency—that the story fell into place.


This process reminds me of the broad connections across a writer’s body of work.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Donna Hemans.

Q&A with CJ Wray



CJ Wray is the author of the new novel The Excitements. CJ Wray is a pseudonym for Christine Manby, the author of more than 40 books. She lives in London.


Q: What inspired you to write The Excitements?


A: I started my career in romance fiction but in 2018 I was finding it hard to feel excited by my work.


That year, I met Squadron Leader George “Johnny” Johnson, MBE, DFM, a veteran of the WWII RAF squadron immortalized in The Dam Busters. Talking to him got me interested in researching women’s roles in the services during that period.


Shortly afterwards, I was commissioned (under my real name, Chris Manby) to write the memoirs of two fabulous sisters and WWII veterans, Patricia Davies and Jean Argles (both nee Owtram).


Working with the sisters was an absolute riot. We had a wonderful time. I was inspired by their wartime service but also the wonderful careers they’d had since.


I decided then that I wanted to write a novel which celebrated the women of “the greatest generation” both as the young servicewomen they were and the formidable dames they became.


Q: The writer Lucy Dillon said of the book, “Penny and Josephine are heroines in every sense of the word, being both ordinary and extraordinary, and their personalities leap off the page so energetically that I missed them the moment I finished the final line.” What do you think of that description, and how did you create Penny and Josephine?


A: I was over the moon to read that description! Lucy Dillon is a writer I very much admire. She really knows how to create characters.


When creating Penny and Josephine, I gathered inspiration from a variety of people, both from my daily life and from the history books. While working with Pat and Jean, I’d delved deep into the history of WWII and read dozens of memoirs from the time.


I became especially interested in Christine Granville, Churchill’s best-loved spy, who was a woman of great courage and daring. I wanted the character of Penny to have some of Christine Granville’s chutzpah.


I also wanted her to have an element of my very favourite fictional heroine, Little My, the frankly sociopath elf-like creature from Tove Jansson’s Moonminvalley books.


The character of Josephine is much quieter and calmer. At the same time, she knows how to have some fun. In my head, she has an air of Dame Judi Dench to her.


The sisters’ affectionate, bickering relationship might owe something to my own relationship with my lovely little sister Kate.

Q: Can you say more about how you researched the novel, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I read very widely. I devoured every WWII memoir I could lay my hands on. I also delved into the stories of several real-life female criminals, to help create a post-war back story for Penny.


I was fascinated by “Diamond” Doris Payne, who was born during the Depression in West Virginia and went on to become the world’s most notorious female jewel thief. She was still stealing diamonds well into her 80s.


As a novelist, I often come up with a plot point then tell myself, “Nah. That’s too outlandish,” only to Google the idea and discover it’s happened in real life.


When I was wondering whether it would be possible for one of my characters to gulp down a three-carat diamond, I googled and discovered that a Chinese woman had recently stolen a six-carat diamond worth more than $250,000 from a Bangkok jeweller by swallowing it while the store assistant was distracted.


The police recovered the jewel in what must have been a deeply unpleasant medical intervention.


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


A: “Excitements” is a word several of my older friends use when referring to social engagements. It’s a lovely term, I think. Very 1940s.


Rather than asking, “What are we going to do this weekend?” asking ‘What excitements do we have for the weekend?’ already sounds like so much more fun, even if you’re only going to the supermarket.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on the sequel to The Excitements, which is called Jinx. It’s another dual timeline novel, flitting between the present day and WWII in the Far East, where Jinx, the heroine, is a child internee in a Japanese POW camp.


I very much wanted to write about the war in the Far East, the history of which is much less well known here in Europe. I think it’s important that the men, women, and children who served and suffered during that conflict are remembered.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I had the very best fun writing The Excitements. I hope that my readers will find it the perfect, lighthearted comfort read for these tricky times.


Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Talia Carner


Photo by Ron Carner



Talia Carner is the author of the new novel The Boy with the Star Tattoo. Her other books include the novel The Third Daughter. She is the former publisher of Savvy Woman magazine.


Q: You’ve said that an inspiration for The Boy with the Star Tattoo was a visit you made in 2018 to the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum in Haifa. Can you tell us more about that?


A: More accurately, I was already deep into researching the 1969 boats’ escape from Cherbourg, which is why I visited this museum at the invitation of Hadar Kimche, the retired rear admiral who had commanded this spectacular feat.


What hit me on this visit was the realization of how close, time-wise, was this event to the clandestine immigration before the establishment of the State of Israel—and to the Holocaust that had just preceded it.


In the spectrum of human history, and even in the shorter arc of the Jews’ exile for 2,000 years from their homeland, these three time stamps—the Holocaust, the clandestine immigration, and the escape of the boats—took place in the span of less than 30 years. Only the blink of an eye.


I had known the facts, of course—they had been drilled into me all throughout my school years—but with my now mature perspective, I grasped how extraordinary this history was for people whose life experiences had straddled all three events.


That insight led me to peek behind the scene into the histories of the characters I was developing, and that’s when the story began to take shape and came to life with side plots and depth.   


Q: The writer Kelly Rimmer said of the novel, “The Boy With the Star Tattoo is a heartfelt testament to the power of determination and belonging.” What do you think of that description?


A: Part III of the novel is titled “Belonging.” The accompanying epitaph, borrowed from Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence, quotes a very interesting phenomenon that I found to be more true to Jews than to any other ethnic group: “Some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not.”


The need for belonging is one of humanity’s primal instincts, whether on the micro level to a core family, or on the macro level to a particular segment of humanity.


For 2,000 years, Jews had been praying “Next year in Jerusalem.” They had been yearning for this land from which their ancestors had been cast by invading armies.


But beyond the sense of belonging to the land, there is the strong bond that is rooted in being a part of what we call among ourselves “the tribe.” Most of us share an ethnic identity regardless of how we observe, or not, religious dictates.


It became apparent yet again after the recent October 7 Hamas slaughtering, raping, and kidnapping of Israelis and the war that ensued.


So many Jews whose daily lives had had no Jewish relevance or content suddenly felt the horror in a personal way. I’d catch a stranger’s glance in the supermarket, and at that instant we united in a mourning that wasn’t evident to the outside observer.


In The Boy with the Star Tattoo, I show how the most secular or agnostic Jew may feel the sense of attachment to our people’s fate—past, present, and future.


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


A: The research was more intense and deep than any work done for my previous novels. The numerous interviews, the many books I read, the meetings in person or via Zoom with scholars, historians, journalists, tour guides, archivists, and naval personnel were interwoven with what turned out to be five trips to France.

Three of these trips were absolutely necessary, and the other two were the icing on the cake, yet the information I gathered in each of these extra trips yanked me out of my research orbit into a new track of investigation.


And when I couldn’t travel—such as during the pandemic—I visited villages of the Loire Valley with the help of drones (!) .


What surprised me was not how I was stumped by some questions relating to Youth Aliyah, but how academics, archivists, and authors of nonfiction books about this topic had no answers to these questions either. I spent a lot of time digging deeper until I found satisfactory explanations.


I must add that this experience reinforced my belief that the purpose of good writing was not necessarily to spill out “what I know,” but rather that the journey into what I didn’t know was far more interesting, thought-provoking, and, at the end, better served the story and the reader.


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


A: I must admit that I had relatively little knowledge of the Holocaust in France. My exposure from history books, films, and Hebrew poetry had focused on the tragedy of Eastern Europe communities.


Perhaps because “only” 25 percent of the Jews of France had perished during the Holocaust, somehow it passed under my radar. Furthermore, I had been “Holocausted-out” and certainly did not wish to ever write about it.


I managed to avoid delving into it in The Boy with the Star Tattoo as my storyline led to a Catholic woman and to the more beguiling setting of Château Valençay.


In the process of researching, though, I read dozens of memoirs and had to consult with experts on questions of the political and religious mood in France as it related to the Third Republic, followed by post WWII’s Fourth Republic. Most of that stuff stayed out of the novel, because my topic was about what happened afterward to Jewish orphans.


That said, I couldn’t unknow the facts and tragedies I’d learned.


You asked me earlier about “belonging.” Now that the information is lodged in my psyche, my heart also belongs with the Jewish refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe who had found a safe haven in France after WWI, only to be betrayed.


In France, they were sent to their death not by the Nazis, but by the French people, whose smoldering amber of anti-Semitism only needed a huff of Nazi air—not even Nazi presence—to reignite.


The romantic France I’d known all my life, starting with my French high school, where we adored French poetry, theater, and literature—even nicknamed or jived each other in French—has been forever tinted for me under this dark cloud of history.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Do you mean beside planning dozens of in-person presentations and Zoom talks for The Boy with the Star Tattoo? My book tours have so far lasted three years each—or until I burned out, whichever happened first.


In the midst of this very busy time, a surprise protagonist has recently found me, with an incredible story reflecting a major social issue. My problem is that the story that has hit me takes place in a country I had purposely avoided visiting.


I am not yet ready to say more, but I now keep myself open as I’m curious to see where the protagonist’s journey will take me.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Let’s keep this one secret, but fans of my 2011 novel, Jerusalem Maiden, may brace themselves for a pleasant surprise: Esther’s granddaughter, who only had a cameo appearance in the epilogue of Jerusalem Maiden, is the protagonist of The Boy with the Star Tattoo.


The two novels are totally unrelated and take place 44 years apart, but in this new novel readers get to meet Esther again, in a minor role as Sharon’s aging grandmother.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Talia Carner.

Jan. 30



Jan. 30, 1912: Barbara W. Tuchman born.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Q&A with Paula Delgado-Kling




Paula Delgado-Kling is the author of the new book Leonor: The Story of a Lost Childhood. It focuses on the life of a former child soldier in Colombia. Delgado-Kling is originally from Colombia and lives in New York.


Q: What inspired you to write Leonor?


A: When I was in graduate school at Columbia University, I began to research a policy paper about child soldiers in Colombia. I could not find any information about it. I decided I would go home to Bogotá and start to collect my own testimonies.


Initially, I had thought that it would be an article. Nineteen years later, I still followed the same woman, whom in this book I call Leonor. I found myself wanting to return to Bogotá to hear the latest in Leonor’s recovery.


The events in her life were a testament of how something that may seem political can be very personal. For example, access to birth control, which is frowned upon by the Catholic Church that is predominant in Colombia, could have made a big difference in helping Leonor’s mom and in turn, in Leonor having a more tolerable childhood.


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


A: I first met Leonor when she was living in a government home in Bogotá. She was living in an NGO, under the care of a loving couple. She was 17 years old, and two weeks prior, she had been part of the revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the FARC.


My research involved staying in touch with her, through 19 years, and patiently listening to her story. It was initially hard because she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, and it was difficult for her to recall dates and places with context.


With the help of her mother, and as Leonor received government-sponsored therapy, she put her memories back together and shed new light on past traumas. 


One summer, a couple of years into writing this book, my agent asked me to corroborate every single fact in the book. I spent 10 days sitting on my tush and produced 65 pages worth of footnotes. This is all to say, Leonor’s is a true story. I hope that I have gotten to the absolute truth of what she thinks her story is. 


What most surprised me was that young children, maybe as young as 8 or 9 years old, become involved in illegal drug gangs because they start out as messengers relaying information without being noticed by authorities, or they happen to overhear a key bit of information and suddenly, because of this, they are involved.


I was also surprised that women are the silent victims, and are targeted simply for being the girlfriend, wife, sister, or daughter of a man who actively participates in the conflict. 


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “In the end, Leonor’s story has no neat resolution, but Delgado-Kling never wavers in her devastating portrait of unspeakable suffering.” What do you think of that description?


A: My mentor, the wonderful editor Tom Jenks, always told me: write cool what is hot, and hot what is cool. In other words, as a writer, widen the scope and give space to devastating events, and provide a solid narrator to guide the reader. 


From Leonor’s point of view, for her to have trusted me with her story, which contains “unspeakable suffering,” is special.


I think it helped, as we combed through details year after year, that sometimes we spoke on the telephone. and it was easier for her to speak her mind without having a face on the other side, a face that likely revealed emotions as she spoke and that would signal to her the distress and painfulness of what she was telling.


For us to speak on the telephone gave her freedom to say whatever she wanted without a face on the other side reacting. 


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


A: This is a story about a real person. I hope to bring some light to the darkness of so many children who are forced into these circumstances.


A woman like Leonor is a life of resilience and grit. She worked for two decades with therapists to find her way back to life and happiness, and to do it out of love for her two daughters. Leonor’s is a story of hope, and I hope people read it that way. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a novel, and I’m finding it absolutely liberating to be able to lose myself in the fiction of it. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If any book clubs or students want to reach out to me, I am always available. Any messages that come through my website,, come straight to me and will be answered by me. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb