Thursday, February 29, 2024

Q&A with Emma Bland Smith




Emma Bland Smith is the author of the new children's picture book biography The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America's Cook. Her other books include Mr. McCloskey's Marvelous Mallards. She lives in San Francisco.


Q: What inspired you to write a children’s picture book biography of culinary expert Fannie Farmer (1857-1915)?


A: First of all, thank you for having me back on your wonderful blog! I’m very grateful, and I’m excited to share this book about Fannie Farmer with your readers.


I have always been into food and cooking (before I started children’s book writing I worked in magazine food departments and did freelance food writing), and had been thinking for years that I’d love to write a cooking-centered picture book.


Then when my daughter was in fourth grade, she had to choose an inventor to dress up as for a school project. She picked the cookbook author and cooking teacher Fannie Farmer, and the writer part of my brain immediately pinged. I started doing research on Fannie, and it all flowed from there!


Q: What would you say are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about her?


A: Great question! A simple one is that a lot of people probably think she wasn’t even a real person! They might assume she was an invented figurehead, like Betty Crocker. In fact, she was an inspiring, ambitious woman who accomplished a great deal despite a debilitating illness in her teens.


Another misconception is that Fannie invented standard measurements, like teaspoons and cups. Soundbite culture gave her the moniker “The Mother of Measurement”—which I must admit does roll off the tongue!


The more nuanced truth is that in the late 1800s, standard measurements already existed but weren’t widely used; what Fannie did was promote and popularize them through her influential platform.

Q: What do you think Susan Reagan’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Susan’s illustrations are everything! They are so warm and colorful that they make you want to step into the scene. But they’re also very detailed and accurate. Susan had already illustrated a number of historical picture books, and she takes her research seriously.


In this case, she had to research household items, cooking implements, food, clothing, and what Boston looked like in the late 1800s. She also makes the food look so delicious!


Q: The Literary Hub review of the book says, in part, “The accessible, cheerfully feminist text celebrates Farmer’s application of scientific principles to the process of preparing a meal, and the extensive endmatter is a great launchpad for any reader who wants to do more rigorous research of their own.” What do you think of that description?


A: I like that they mention the scientific part of Fannie’s methods. Fannie had a very practical side and embraced science; her recipes were based on accuracy and precision, trial and error. This was an era when new technologies were changing American life—stoves had temperature gauges for the first time!


Fannie also believed that cooking didn’t have to be about instinct. Not being born knowing how to cook did not make you any less of a woman; cooking was something anyone could learn from a well-written recipe.


She argued that that home cooking, not just restaurant cooking (a career that was almost exclusively masculine), was worthy of respect; that was the feminist angle in my book.


I learned so much about history writing this, and my editor, Carolyn Yoder, gave me a generous number of pages for back matter to really go into it.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a book for the educational market about the children who grew up on Alcatraz. There’s also a project about another cooking figure that I’m really excited about. This one was an African American woman living in New Orleans in the early 20th century. More to come soon!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: There are two recipes in the book! I had always wanted to incorporate recipes into a children’s book, so this was a dream come true!


I chose two recipes that were in the original 1896 cookbook, but that don’t feel dated and that will still appeal to children: angel food cake and popovers. I adapted them for the book and I hope kids will give them a try!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Emma Bland Smith.

Q&A with Joshalyn Hickey-Johnson




Joshalyn Hickey-Johnson is the author of the new children's picture book biography Susie Clark: The Bravest Girl You've Ever Seen: Desegregating Iowa Schools in 1868. Her other books include Travis, It's NOT Your Birthday.


Q: What inspired you to write this children’s picture book biography of Susie Clark, who as a girl helped integrate schools in Muscatine, Iowa, in 1868?


A: I first learned of [Susie's father] Alexander Clark in 2009 at my church. Our pastor is also an activist per se and works with human rights quite a bit. So he brought the story to our church back then.


When I was recommended by Rachelle Chase, Krista Regenetter to work on this book, I was very honored and inspired to say the least!


Q: How did you research Susie Clark’s story, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: I was blessed to research the story with a wonderful team that allowed me to tour Muscatine, Iowa. We looked at landmarks and talked about the things that little Susie may have seen along the way during her era.


There are historians that live in the Muscatine area who shared a lot of information about the Clark family concerning their lineage, occupations, and activism.


I was surprised to learn how busy the family was. By being involved in the underground railroad, as well as Susie’s dad being a barber, an attorney, and an ambassador, I learned that they weren’t afraid of working hard to make change. 


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


A: I hope listening and learning Susie’s story will teach children that, even though something appears to be frightening, to not be afraid to express your feelings to your family, and taking the first step with support from others, can make a huge difference.


Also, I hope they learn that they can be supportive to help others be brave.


Q: What do you see as Susie Clark’s legacy today?


A: I see Susie’s legacy as the advantage of all students studying together in Iowa far longer than other states. Also the legacy of having “a school with her name in her town, with all kinds of kids, black, white and brown.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I’m focusing on helping promote Susie’s story to all who will listen.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I think you should know that I appreciate these questions and your interest in Susie’s story. Thank you for this opportunity to answer your questions.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Andrew Moore




Andrew Moore is the author of the new book The Decarbonization Delusion: What 3.5 Billion Years of Biological Sustainability Can Teach Us. He is a freelance science writer and communications advisor.


Q: Why did you decide to write The Decarbonization Delusion?


A: Because I was ever more concerned that human economies and civilization are making themselves more and more distinct from the biological Earth that sustains us. Using that word again, I wondered about the "sustainability" of this course.


I then realized that to understand the whole thing, one does really need to go into the details of how biology works so well with carbon compounds, and see whether we can learn any lessons in sustainability from that.


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


A: It references two observations that I made.


1. Decarbonization is often seen as the drive towards the "perfection" of not relying on carbon for anything; that is clearly ridiculous when one considers how much of everyday life absolutely depends upon carbon and could not possibly be provided by another element because of carbon's special chemistry.


2. The aim of decarbonizing energy systems means replacing the energy-carrier (carbon) that biology has used so sustainably with something else, for which we have no experience, and no model from biology.


It seems to me a delusion that we can do such a massive switch in such a short space of time, or at all. In fact, the evidence is already mounting that we're failing even at the level of CO2 emissions seen globally.


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


A: I read hundreds of primary research articles in the peer-reviewed literature, and many feature articles, reports, bulletins, and webpages.


One thing that really surprised me is the energy, environmental, and human-health impact of battery manufacture. I knew it wasn't good, but I didn't realize that it was quite that bad... 


Another thing that surprised me, and gave me confidence in my title, is that waste material from products of the petrochemical industry is rapidly providing fuel for other industries -- notably the cement industry. This is actually strengthening, and not weakening our need for carbon-based fuels.


Hence I see a future where objects are made by the chemical industry from non-fossil feedstocks, burned for energy in the hard-to-abate sectors: these need constant heat via very robust technology (combustion mechanisms), and they are hence extremely hard to "electrify."


The CO2 should be captured at source (from the chimney), and re-made into useful objects -- preferably on-site to maximize efficiency. This represents an integrated economy of energy and material, exactly what biological cells and whole ecosystems do.


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


A: That we need to preserve diversity of technology, particularly at a time of crisis where there are so many "unknowns" and "unpredictabilities." We seem to be panicked by climate concerns and industry angst into a situation where we throw all our bets on just a few cards.


Even hydrogen is very far removed from the "perfect" fuel that we often think of: biology realized that 3.5 billion years ago, and used carbon to carry it in convenient forms; the latest research even shows that hydrogen leakage has a strong, but indirect, greenhouse effect.


I consider openness to technology diversity very important, also because diversity (in the form of genetic diversity) is what enabled life on Earth to survive the ups and downs on this planet: cut your diversity to a minimum, and you can hardly respond when something unpredictable happens. Biology "knows" that; we must learn!

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm working on a "pared-down" version of the book that anyone can read easily. The larger book can be nibbled at in stages, because I made very explicit section headings, basically telling people parts of the "story" in "word-bites." However, to be readable flowingly from cover to cover, it needs a bit of work.


Once done, I'll also have the book translated into German, because Germany is a very interesting case in point in the development of more sustainable economies.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: No technology on Earth will "work" without large reductions in consumption. Having written this book, I am more convinced than ever that there is no such thing as "sustainable technology," but there IS sustainable behaviour with technology.


Nothing that I have written in this book is to be seen as a one-to-one replacement for what we're currently doing in terms of consumption. Any proposed more sustainable solution will only work in concert with larger reductions in consumption - basically buying more new things and using too much of everything. 


This takes us into social sciences and psychology, even into applied philosophy, because it gets at the heart of what most humans seek in life: "happiness." Sounds a bit crass, but it's true. How much do we need to consume to be "happy"? Answer: not very much.


I strongly believe in the development of technology for improved education, healthcare, and welfare. And I strongly believe in a new kind of materialism. 


To take a concept from a book named "All you need is less," I believe that we must care more for the things we have (that is materialistic!); look after them well; service them so they last; mend them when they break; use them sparingly; only buy new when we really need it, or it provides an uncontroversial environmental benefit compared with mending/keeping. 


I marvel at the skills of people in poor countries to mend things. They do it out of poverty, but we should do it out of environmental responsibility. Can industry survive such a paradigm shift? I think so, but it would need to embrace cradle-to-cradle philosophies and almost residue-less recycling, just as biology does.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 29




Feb. 29, 1920: Howard Nemerov born.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Q&A with Fahad Siddiqui




Fahad Siddiqui is the co-founder of the Our Story Media Group, which produced the new children's picture book Mansa Musa: The Richest Man in History.


Q: What inspired you to create this picture book biography of Mansa Musa, who ruled the Mali empire in the 14th century?


A: The inspiration behind creating this book about Mansa Musa stems from good old fashioned ignorance. Myself and some of my co-founders were completely unaware of this person’s existence and that in itself was alarming to us. We concluded that if we had not heard of him, we were certain there were others who were likely to be unaware.


Mansa Musa’s story was the spark for starting Our Story Media Group, which we founded on a deep belief in the importance of a global perspective on human achievements.

We ultimately decided to use the power of storytelling to get this information to the rest of the world. Our goal is to bring to life the incredible stories of historical figures, like Mansa Musa, in a way that captivates young minds and sparks their curiosity about the world.


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


A: Researching Mansa Musa's life was a fascinating journey. We delved into various historical texts, primary sources, and consulted with experts to ensure accuracy.


What surprised me the most was the sheer richness of Mansa Musa's legacy which included his generosity. His impact on the world was profound, yet his story is often overlooked. It made me realize the importance of global history – not just a selective and partial view – in fostering a more equitable society.

Q: What do you think the illustrations add to the book?


A: The illustrations in the book play a crucial role in enhancing the narrative. We believe that powerful visuals can bring history to life and create a more immersive experience for young readers. It's not just about conveying information; it's about sparking imagination and curiosity through art.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from Mansa Musa’s life story?


A: From Mansa Musa's life story, we hope kids (and adults) take away the importance of embracing diverse perspectives. Understanding our collective human history helps break down stereotypes and promotes a more inclusive worldview.


Multicultural education, as advocated by the National Council for Social Studies, fosters critical thinking skills and encourages children to question their assumptions and biases.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently, we are working on the next installment – a book on Shen Kuo, a remarkable Chinese figure from the 2nd Song Dynasty. He discovered True North and Climate Change and had recorded many of his ideas in “Dream Pool” essays; his story adds another layer to the tapestry of global history.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Beyond Mansa Musa and Shen Kuo, we're launching a new series called "The Secret Alien Diaries." In this series, we focus on building life skills and encouraging positive habits through engaging stories and activities.


We believe that in the information age, schools need to adapt to a more skills-based and active learning approach to effectively teach and learn.


Our ultimate goal is to provide practical and holistic educational content for the next generation. We're passionate about shaping a future where young minds are not just filled with knowledge but equipped with the skills and perspectives needed to thrive in an ever-changing world.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jill Culiner




Jill Culiner is the author of the new book Those Absent on the Great Hungarian Plain. Her other books include Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers. She is also an artist and photographer.


Q: What inspired you to write Those Absent on the Great Hungarian Plain?


A: In 1999, I was in Budapest, preparing a photographic exhibition about the vanished Jews of Eastern Europe, when I heard about the Kunmadaras pogrom: In May 1946, Holocaust survivors were accused of kidnapping Christian children and using their blood for kosher sausage.


Grabbing iron bars, garden tools, any weapon they could find, the town's residents went on a rampage, murdering Jews and pillaging their homes and businesses.

How could such an absurd accusation have been levelled after the war? I was determined to travel east to Kunmadaras and investigate.


When I arrived, I was immediately accepted by a group of friendly locals who hung around a local watering hole; and although no one seemed to resent my questioning, all denied knowing about the pogrom.


Over the next few months, I returned to Kunmadaras frequently — I was doing research in nearby Romania, Germany, and Austria for my book Finding Home in the Footsteps of the Jewish Fusgeyers, and having a base in Central Europe was very handy. And, soon enough, I had the feeling that, each time I arrived, I was home.


Settling into the neighbouring village of Tiszaörs, I began looking for traces of the vanished local Jewish community. And I discovered that, although Jews had lived here for hundreds of years and had arrived in the country alongside the Magyar tribes in the 9th century, the villagers denied their existence.


Therefore, I became more determined to question, listen, observe, to ferret out the truth about the pogrom and the Jews who were so strikingly absent.


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


A: So much depended upon studying Hungarian history, Hungarian-Jewish history, and finding out about peasant life. I also had to learn, as best as possible, the language.


Luckily, I become friends with the late Attila Szabo — musician, storyteller, and amateur historian — and he gave me much information (he also urged me to write this book).

But so many other people also offered their stories: neighbors, former nobles, expropriated peasants, German retirees, teachers, black marketers, members of the Hungarian Jewish community, a former member of the Hitler Youth Movement, and Hungarians who had returned after communism ended.


What surprised (or distressed) me most? Discovering how many people still believe that Jews need the blood of Christians for religious ceremonies, and as a tonic for babies.


Equally disturbing was seeing how willing people are to accept any doctrine, and to admire power and tyranny.


Q: The writer Robin Roger said of the book, “Part memoir, part travelogue, part history, part elegy, this multi-layered homage to the Great Hungarian Plain embraces its majesty and tragedy at virtually the last possible moment.” What do you think of that description?


A: It is an excellent observation. The book is a memoir, a history, and it can also be called a travel narrative.


In order to write it, I depended upon people who had witnessed (or taken part in) the rounding up of Jews in 1944, and in the pogrom; Jews who had survived the Holocaust and created a new community; and villagers who had lost all under communism.


Most of those people are gone now, so I caught them at the last possible moment.


But I was equally lucky to be in the country at a pivotal moment. Communism had ended 10 years earlier; village life was still traditional; yet all was changing rapidly.


Flashy cars, large-screen televisions, computers, and big new houses were being advertised everywhere, but only a few could afford them. Huge new supermarkets were opening, and whole families — like poor tourists in some exotic but prohibitively expensive country — would walk up and down the aisles, staring at foods and goods they were unable to buy.


Soon enough, even my village began changing. Influenced by television’s glossy images, local life and general friendliness were being replaced by a standardized, tidy way of life, and admiration was reserved for the wealthiest, the most powerful, and the most corrupt.


Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book, and what do you hope people take away from it?


A: For me, living on the Hungarian Great Plain was a remarkable experience, for it is a unique region with a fascinating past.


And carrying out an investigation, much as an amateur detective would, allowed me to step into the country’s history, pay heed to people’s stories and opinions — even when strangely skewed.


What I offer to readers is more than a tourist’s view of Hungary. And I hope they will feel the same affection — and confusion — I did when confronting our flawed selves.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Over the 61 years of my adult life, I’ve lived in many different countries, and have had a rather amusing (sometimes dangerous) life. Although people have been pushing me to write a memoir, I can’t think of anything that would bore me more.


However, a memoir with the stories, loves, dreams and fates of the people I’ve known… well… that might be something even I would enjoy reading. So possibly I’ll be working on that next.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Although we were so certain that the old anti-Semitism with its myths, mistaken beliefs, and danger had vanished, here it is again, alive and well.


This book, I think, shows how deeply ingrained the beliefs are that fire the old hatred, and that even our closest friends can deceive us.


And thank you so much for this interview, Deborah Kalb.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jill Culiner.

Q&A with Akilah Trinay

Akilah Trinay with her daughter, Ziana Washington



Akilah Trinay is the author of the new children's picture book Potty-Training Day. Her other books include the novel Beyond the Hurt. She is the CEO of Revision Publishing, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Q: What inspired you to write Potty-Training Day?


A: In 2021, I released the initial edition of the book while going through the potty-training journey with my daughter as a co-author.


This book served as our own source of motivation and celebration during a sometimes frustrating process. Contrary to the seemingly effortless portrayals we encountered in various books, this book aimed to shed light on the reality that potty-training can be quite demanding.

As a parent, it was challenging for me to connect with the content we read.


However, this book provides a more realistic depiction of our everyday experiences, showcasing that despite numerous moments of triumph, we still encountered setbacks.


It emphasizes the importance of embracing the tough times and getting ready for your child's growth. My daughter genuinely loves it.

This book, even at her current age of 5, helped her learn and embrace potty training and reading in a unique way. Having a relatable character, who happened to look just like her (that's her, haha), kept her motivated throughout the process. 


The story shares her account of the process through her experience. We included many of her words and our experience together. It's incredible to see that she practically memorized the entire book at just 2 years old! This was definitely a success story for me.

In response to the requests voiced by several parents who have sons, I reached out to a few trusted fathers to provide their insights and experiences, as I myself do not have a son.


Although the overall process is quite similar, I made sure to incorporate certain nuances to accommodate the unique perspectives of raising boys.


I found an amazing illustrator to create the beautiful illustrations, and to keep both books streamlined, decided to re-release the original as a second edition at the same time of launching the boys' version.


Q: What do you think Stephanie Hider's illustrations add to the story?


A: Stephanie Hider's illustrations truly brought the story to life. We collaborated closely to capture the emotions and unique features that depicted the little ones' personal experiences.


Personally, I admired her illustrative style and was keen on ensuring that the characters were lively and vibrant when painted on the page.


Q: The book is being published in English and Spanish editions--how did that come about?


A: I reside in California, where there is a substantial community of Spanish speakers. It is my utmost priority to ensure that the book brings joy to everyone who encounters it.


Since my early years, I have been learning/studying Spanish and have developed a deep fondness and reverence for the language.


Q: What do you hope kids (and the adults in their lives) take away from the book?


A: I hope that parents and caregivers are aware of this incredible book that can serve as a valuable resource for those who may have hesitant or unprepared children when it comes to potty training.


This book is an excellent supplement to other potty training materials, bringing in diversity, promoting literacy, and introducing new perspectives.


I hope they feel enthusiastic about engaging in baby-led potty training and find reassurance in seeing characters that resemble them, even if their children are experiencing regression, setbacks, or slow progress.


For the little ones, I want them to be empowered, to have fun and enjoy the time they get to spend with their parents.


I want children of color to identify with the characters, while other children can see characters who may not resemble them, which can broaden their understanding and acceptance of diversity.


Parents can feel reassured they are not alone during the potty training process.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently, I am in the process of completing the follow-up to my adult fiction novel, Beyond the Hurt. The highly anticipated sequel is set to release later this year.


Additionally, I dedicate my time to assisting my clients in getting their own manuscripts published. I organize and conduct informative writing workshops focused on the intricacies of self-publishing.


Lastly, I am diligently preparing for an exciting book tour scheduled for Spring 2024.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In my opinion, it is vital for young children to encounter characters who mirror their own identity. Ensuring representation in toilet training holds great significance.


Potty-Training Day: For Boys aims to enhance the representation of BIPOC fathers who are guiding their sons through the toilet training process.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Feb. 28



Feb. 28, 1894: Ben Hecht born.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Q&A with Melanie Maure



Melanie Maure is the author of the new novel Sisters of Belfast. She lives in British Columbia.


Q: What inspired you to write Sisters of Belfast, and how did you create your characters Aelish and Isabel?


A: Sisters of Belfast is a patchwork of inspirations, really.


I come from a lineage of very strong, very stoic, very Catholic matriarchs. That is a force one cannot help but absorb.


My grandmother’s response to my getting divorced was simple and unforgettable. “I’d like to put you in a box and give you a good shake.” That was it—end of discussion. I knew, even then, that those words would be immortalized somehow, and they made it into the novel.


As did my mother’s moment of choosing between joining the sisterhood or marrying my father. Even after four children and 60 years of marriage, she still claims the decision is not entirely final.


The first time I travelled to Ireland and set foot on that land, a visceral recognition took place, and when I began writing this novel, all the scenes in my mind were clear. Ireland was the home for these characters. Just as it had been home for my ancestors.


The novel started with just Aelish’s voice, and I kept hearing this chippy unruly voice questioning everything. And that is where Isabel came barging in. The two sisters are worlds apart in personality and yet the same person at heart. They need one another, neither complete without the other.


As characters, they revealed themselves to me one scene at a time, insisting on being distinguished yet entwined. Although I am not a twin, I do have a sister and our bond was easy to bring into the writing.


Q: How would you describe the role of religion in the novel?


A: The role of religion in this novel is multifaceted. It depends on whose eyes we are looking through. For each character, religion is a challenge and a catalyst at different times in life, as is the case for many people, including myself.


For Izzy, it is a prison, literally and figuratively. The same could be said for Sister Edel, whose righteousness, and dogmatic beliefs blind her from a broader view of life. Aelish finds a hiding place in the religious life. One from which she must emerge to reconnect with Isabel.


When it comes to Sister Mike, although she struggles at times and is somewhat blind to the heinous acts of the Catholic church, in the end she has more faith in God than the Catholic religion itself.


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


A: The research for the novel happened as I went along in the writing. I knew the setting was Ireland and the girls were orphaned because of WWII.


I had not often heard about Ireland’s part in the war and was surprised that the Belfast Blitz, which killed at least a thousand Irish people, was not often spoken of.


While researching this piece of history, the opening scene with Aelish alone in the aftermath of the bombing developed in my mind.


Being raised Catholic made it easy to bring in the details of church life. Memories of staring up at the stained-glass saints, watching elaborate candles flicker on the altar, the feel of smooth wooden pews, the musk odour of incense, these are sensory details that do not leave a person easily.

The abbey and orphanage were a combination of researched images and memories from when my mother worked as a nurse in a care home for elderly nuns.


I was fortunate to have an intimate conversation with a lovely woman who decided to leave the sisterhood and re-enter secular life. This conversation gave me a view into the mental, emotional, and spiritual landscape of such a life-altering choice. A choice that Aelish faced in her own life.


Perhaps the most heartrending research began with an article sent to me by a friend. The article told of a historian in Tuam, Ireland, named Catherine Corless, who doggedly uncovered the burial of 796 children in the defunct septic system of what once was a mother and baby home.


Upon further reading, the stories of Ireland’s mother and baby homes mirrored Canada’s dark history of residential schools. These Irish institutions, run by the state and Catholic church, housed 56,000 mothers, 57,000 children between 1920 and 1998.


The abuse was horrendous. The loss of life was staggering, with 9,000 children dying, most in infancy. From that point on, I knew this to be Isabel’s story.


Q: The Booklist review of the novel said, “The use of multiple points of view adds perspective as well as emotional heft, and the hopeful ending points to a better way forward for all.” What do you think of that description?


A: Our relationships with religion, faith, and spirituality are complex. And I knew that this relationship could not be represented by one voice. The common thread that ties these women to one another is their struggle to either be inside this relationship or, in the case of Isabel, rail against it.


Technically, I found that writing from multiple points of view allowed me to fully embody each character and their truth at any given moment, and right or wrong, it was their truth. It helped me believe in each of these people, empathize with them, and hope this would translate to the page.


Surprisingly, Sister Edel was my favourite character to be with. Not the easiest, but my favourite, nonetheless.


The hopeful ending was purely selfish on my part. All my favourite novels contain hope or have a hopeful ending, and in the case of Sisters of Belfast and the dark history it deals with, I decided to take the liberty that fiction allows—to rewrite history or, at the least, offer a softer alternative.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: At this very moment, I am working on promoting Sisters of Belfast and allowing this novel as much of my energy as possible. I promised to support this creation in coming to its fullest expression.


That being said, when I have quiet moments in the morning and before starting my coaching practice, I have been softly writing what I hope is the next novel—a sweeping family saga that spans generations and is infused with secrets past and ongoing that threaten to rot the family tree.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I find it interesting how a story finds its way to a writer, at times the most unlikely conduit.


To understand me is to know that I am not a person who shouts about injustice. I care deeply about humanity and am often moved to tears by the suffering we insist on inflicting on one another (why I don’t watch the news). Still, I’m unlikely to rally the masses and join the protests.


Yet, I found myself writing a story chockablock with human rights issues—women’s reproductive rights, abuse at the hands of religious and government institutions, freedom of choice, and spiritual upheaval.


And I guess that feeds back to the reason for an ending that points toward hopefulness. I choose to add a counterweight of loving humanity to the world, if only through a handful of fictional characters and their desire to love one another, no matter the cost.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Max Seeck


Photo by Marek Sabogal



Max Seeck is the author of the new novel Ghost Island, the fourth book in his Ghosts of the Past series. The book was translated into English from Finnish by Kristian London. Seeck lives near Helsinki, Finland.


Q: What inspired the plot of Ghost Island, the latest in your series featuring Detective Jessica Niemi?


A: I began writing the story months before February 2022 when the war started in Europe, but the tragic events reminded me of 1939 when the Soviet Union attacked Finland. I remembered listening to the stories told by my grandmother: how tens of thousands of small children had to be evacuated to Sweden and other countries. This was my inspiration for Ghost Island.   


Q: What do you see as the role of mental health in the novel?


A: I think mental health plays a huge part in all Jessica Niemi novels; however, in Ghost Island we can sense a substantial change in how Jessica sees her own mind, how she interacts with her own demons and how she sees her future.


My aim during the entire series has been to normalize the discussion about mental health, to show that it can take so many different forms and that someone living with mental illness can be brilliant and highly capable.

Q: The novel is set on a remote island--how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: It is very important. Since the three previous Jessica Niemi novels took place in an urban environment, it was logical that the final installment should have a different setting.


The isolated island is also a metaphor for her isolated mind. Jessica needs the solitude to discover what she really needs and what next steps she must take.


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


A: How unnecessary war is and how greedy people destroy the lives of countless families and innocent children. Also that it is important to come to terms with and love oneself since Jessica experiences that journey of self-acceptance in this book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on a new novel with a brand new main protagonist. It’s set to be released in Finland in September 2024. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Greetings from Thailand. I’m spending two weeks in Krabi with my family. It’s a very beautiful destination and I can recommend it to everyone.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Max Seeck.