Saturday, March 30, 2024

Q&A with Martine Leavitt




Martine Leavitt is the author of the young adult novel Buffalo Flats. Her other books include the YA novel Calvin. She lives in High River, Alberta, Canada.


Q: Why did you decide to write a novel, Buffalo Flats, based on your family history?


A: I think everyone should write a novel based on their family’s stories! They are uniquely your stories to tell, and you would begin the story already knowing so much about your characters!


My husband’s pioneer ancestors had a family tradition of writing their life histories (or if they didn’t, their children did it for them after they were gone).


A Dr. Clark Leavitt gathered these personal histories and published them in a hard-cover volume of about 900 pages, which we lovingly call “the big red book.”


When I married my husband, I poured over these stories and was inspired and enchanted. There had to be a novel in there, or maybe even two.


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


A: You would think that if someone handed you a big red book with all its treasures, you wouldn’t have to do research. But people living over a hundred years ago don’t stop to describe their world. They assumed we would know.


Perhaps they took for granted that in 2024 we would still be riding horses to school – why would they need to talk about horses, what breeds they had, how they cared for them, how to put on a saddle…?


I was always having to stop writing and dive down into rabbit holes: what did they feed their cows in the winter? why kind of hay? how did they build their houses? how did they stay warm through the bitter winters? What was a wedding reception like in those days?


In some ways I was continually surprised by what I was learning about the late 1800s in what is now Southern Alberta, Canada. Research was a challenge for me – I am not a historian by inclination or temperament. But it was great fun!

Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book said, “Leavitt…presents Rebecca’s faith as a tender, sometimes fraught, ever-evolving dynamic that honors those struggling to define themselves within religious traditions.” What do you think of that description?


A: Well, I’m always glad to be reviewed by Publishers Weekly, so there’s that. But I would disagree with the idea that the story is somehow about Rebecca struggling to define herself within a religious tradition.


First, the story is shamelessly seeped in faith – Rebecca encounters God in the first chapter. She spends the rest of the book trying to purchase the land where she had that epiphany so she can always be reminded of it, have a connection with that moment.


She never questions the existence of God, but she also isn’t afraid to question God at times, such as when her baby nephew dies. I think the fact that she is willing to ask God the hard questions is an affirmation of her faith, not a challenge to it.


As for the religious tradition, Rebecca doesn’t struggle with that, either. She’s a little bored and restless in church, but she never resists church. She finds it hard to live up to the admonition to love one another, but she never questions the admonition.


When I began this story, I was asking the question, “what is goodness”? Rebecca sees ultimate goodness in her parents, especially her mother, and in her friend LaRue. She wants to emulate them.


But as the story goes on, she learns that they are not perfect in the way she had thought they were. Still, she learns, their goodness, their beauty of soul, goes much deeper than unfailingly adherence to a set of rules.


I think “what is goodness?” is a question with no one easy answer, and those are the questions I like to ask in my stories. Rebecca comes to an answer for herself, but not necessarily the answer.


This is what she grapples with. This is how she evolves. She doesn’t “define” herself within a religious tradition – the religious tradition frees her to discover her true self.


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


A: I recently received an email from a woman who was undergoing some painful medical treatments. She took Buffalo Flats with her to her appointments as her “comfort book.” I hope they take away comfort.


Another reader said she felt “seen.” I hope they take away feeling like they have found themselves on the page.


Many tell me they laughed or they cried, or both. I hope they take away laughter or tears.


I just wanted to tell a good story. That’s what I mostly hope for, that my readers will close the book at the end and say, wow, that was a good story.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Currently I’m working on a book called AD SEG, which is short for administrative segregation, which is a euphemism for solitary confinement in juvenile detention facilities.


It’s about two boys in ad seg who are allowed to meet one another for one hour a day for yard. One of them tells the other that he has a time travel portal in his cell.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Patricia Ward




Patricia Ward is the author of the young adult novel The Cherished. Her other books include the novel The Bullet Collection. She lives in Vermont.


Q: What inspired you to write The Cherished, and how did you create your character Jo?


A: The idea for The Cherished started germinating when we moved to Vermont. I’ve lived most of my life in cities and towns, and I found myself captivated by the fields and flowers, mountain horizons, dirt roads winding through thick forests.


As I explored this new landscape, I imagined other worlds beneath the fields and hidden inside the old, falling-down barns . . .


At the same time, I was feeling uprooted and anxious, once again fighting to feel at home in a new place, and struggling to understand what “home” means at all.


Being half-American, half-Lebanese, I’ve never fully belonged anywhere, and I’ve moved so many times in my life that I’ve never had a chance to put down roots, as they say.


All this gave rise to the central idea of The Cherished, in which a girl who feels she doesn’t fit anywhere—in her family, her house, her town, her skin—inherits a mysterious old farm in Vermont.


She senses this might be where she truly belongs, but the place holds a terrifying secret that’s linked to her recurring nightmares about events that took place at this very same farm when she was little . . . the source of Jo’s trauma is magical, but in terms of creating her character, I can draw a direct line to my own history of war and displacement.


So all those elements—the move, the landscape, my perennial quest for home, and my childhood experiences—served as inspiration for the story and the main character.

Q: The writer Robin Roe said of the novel, “For fans of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Lebanese-American author Ward draws from her experience to create a frightening story exploring identity, grief, and what it means to be family.” What do you think of that description?


A: I appreciated it very much, because she got to the heart of what The Cherished is about, for me. While the books I’ve written over the years are very different from one another, they all share the same themes of nostalgia, loss, trauma, and fractured identity, and I’ve always used fantasy or elements of fantasy to explore those themes.


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 did envision that violent end early on in the writing process, and I knew the general arc of the story.


The most changes actually happened around Jo’s character. First she was a woman in her 30s, then she was a mother with a teenager, and then, at last, she became the teenager.


The story is fundamentally about discovering where you fit in the world, and it made more sense to explore this through a character on the verge of adulthood. Once I’d understood this, the story really took shape.


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


A: That where you are born and the family you are born into do not define you. You can heal from your trauma, and you can make your own place in the world.  


As I was writing The Cherished, I realized that both the human and the magical beings suffer from many-layered hurts of loss, displacement, and broken identity. I understood that this book was about finding a way to heal, and that healing isn’t always tidy or clear.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m in the final editing stages of a new YA supernatural novel with a teen narrator who is living under a curse. I am super excited about this one. I think of it as my Scooby Doo book, with a mystery to be solved and a mask to be ripped off at the end.


I’m not sure where I’ll go next—back to some unfinished projects, or onward to another YA. I’ll figure that out in September, once the edit process is finished.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I still don’t know where I belong, or if knowing that even matters . . .!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Julie Farnam




Julie Farnam is the author of the new book Domestic Darkness: An Insider's Account of the January 6 Insurrection, and the Future of Right-Wing Extremism. She was the acting director of intelligence for the U.S. Capitol Police, and she lives in Arlington, Virginia.


Q: Why did you decide to write Domestic Darkness, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: I wrote Domestic Darkness because I saw a lot of people trying to shape the narrative of that day either for political gain or to minimize what truly happened on January 6. 


There was also a lot said about me in the aftermath of January 6. People were speaking for me and I wanted the opportunity to speak for myself and tell my story.


Q: Did you need to do additional research to write the book, or was most of it written from memory?


A: The narrative parts of the book were written from memory, though I did look up emails and other documents to provide the evidence behind what I was saying. 


For the parts about the groups present on January 6 and the historical elements of racism and conspiracies, I did research.


Q: What were you doing on January 6, 2021, and how did those experiences affect you?


A: On January 6, I was in the Capitol Police headquarters building. The building is on Capitol grounds, next to the Dirksen Senate Office Building and about two blocks away from the Capitol building. 


It was a very busy day. In the morning we were dealing with protests at the residences of some members of Congress and then there were the two pipe bombs found outside the DNC and RNC, and of course there was an insurrection in the afternoon. 


Throughout that I was listening to the police radio and watching videos in real time. As the insurrection began, I, along with my team, were capturing online videos and images of some of the illegal activity we were seeing. This became very valuable in the days after January 6, and that information was turned over to the FBI.


As far as how the experience affected me, that day really changed the whole trajectory of my life. I hadn't wanted to leave my job at the Department of Homeland Security (I left because I was going to be furloughed during the pandemic), and then I ended up becoming part of a horrible day in our country's history.


The experience of working for the Capitol Police and being there on January 6 forced me to receive attention I had never wanted. I was content just doing my job quietly behind the scenes. But here we are today talking about a book I wrote about the experience.  


Q: The writer Trevor Aaronson called the book a “stunning insider account of how the Capitol Police failed to heed warnings about the insurrection and how federal agencies remain ill-prepared to defend against far-right political violence.” What do you think of that description, and what do you see as the legacy of January 6?


A: I hope the legacy of January 6 is that we realize how fragile democracy is and how important it is to protect it. But I don't think we've fully realized its impact just yet. I don't know if federal agencies are prepared to address the enemy from within, even after January 6. 


As for the Capitol Police specifically, I don't think the cultural elements that contributed to the failures of that day--poor communication, a lack of trust in leadership, and not valuing employees--have been adequately addressed.    


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Today I am running for a seat on the Arlington, Virginia County Board. I also own my own business, Pandorus Intelligence, LLC, which assists attorneys, private investigators, and others with their open-source intelligence needs.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Daniel Victor




Daniel Victor is the author of the novel The Evil Inclination. Also a lawyer, he lives in New York City.


Q: What inspired you to write The Evil Inclination, and how did you create your characters Lev and Angela?

A: I chose to write a novel about interfaith star-crossed lovers because I wanted to explore the challenges of living a religious, observant Jewish life in the modern world.


I’ve noticed over the years that many highly educated Jewish young men and women fall away from Jewish observance as they become independent young adults. The novel refers to this phenomenon as “falling off the derech,” a term which loosely translates as “leaving the path.”


I wanted to examine in depth what it means to fall off the derech—what motivates it; how it affects those who experience it; and how it resolves itself, if it ever does.


The male protagonist, Lev Livitski, starts to drift away from his Orthodox Jewish orientation when confronted by the allure of the secular world—as personified in the female protagonist, Angela Pizatto.


Angela, a feisty, sexy, and headstrong Italian Catholic, not only introduces a chaste Lev to sex, she relentlessly challenges the assumptions and platitudes of Lev’s religious beliefs, as well.


Both Angela and Lev are pure products of my imagination invented to enable exploration of the above themes.


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: I knew from the outset that the two protagonists of the novel had embarked on different paths to self-discovery and spirituality, and that their paths would diverge at the end of the story.


I am not, however, a writer who outlines the plot of the book before setting pen to paper. Accordingly, much of the story unfurled intuitively as I followed the characters deeper into their passionate relationship.


The end of the book attempts to tie all the various strands of the narrative together, but the final scenes were driven by the characters and the choices and mistakes that they made in the course of the novel.

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

A: The novel’s title, The Evil Inclination, is a term taken from the Babylonian Talmud, a Jewish text of more that 5,000 pages that is roughly 2,000 years old. The Talmud serves as the primary source of Jewish law and thought that is observed today.


The term “Evil Inclination” in the Talmud describes forbidden erotic desire. The Rabbis of antiquity understood the pervasiveness of erotic desire, although they struggled to understand why sexual attraction exercised such powerful influence over human behavior.


The romance between Lev and Angela is fueled by their erotic infatuation for one another, and because the novel is punctuated by quotations from the Talmud about sexual attraction, the title was a natural fit for this love story.


Consequently, the Rabbinic conception of the Evil Inclination is not only the title of the book but serves as the narrative and conceptual framework for the novel.


Q: The writer Judith Shulevitz called the book “a captivating love story pitting passion against faith.” What do you think of that description, and can you say more about the relationship between your characters?

A: Both Lev and Angela are the products of insular and clannish upbringings in two ethnic Brooklyn enclaves, one from Jewish Flatbush; the other from Italian Bensonhurst.


Lev is steadfast in his devotion to faith, observance, and family—at least until he encounters Angela at Brooklyn College. Sultry, seductive Angela knocks Lev of his axis. What’s more, she leads prudish and sexually inexperienced Lev into an erotically charged, passionate romance.


As their illicit affair progresses, Lev and Angela begin to wrestle with the question of whether they can transcend their very different backgrounds and faiths and find a path forward together.


Judith Shulevitz’s characterization of the novel is right on target because the novel is first and foremost a tale about the struggle of these young lovers to reconcile the burdens of their respective traditions against the power of the passion they feel for one another.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have just finished a sequel to The Evil Inclination, which follows Lev and Angela into the future, and I hope to publish it within the next 12 months.


Unlike many writers, before publishing my first novel, I wrote three other novels, plus two novellas and a collection of short fiction. I hope to turn my attention to preparing my other works for publication, but only after the sequel comes out.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: One of the unique aspects of The Evil Inclination is its use of Talmudic texts. The novel is divided into nine parts, each introduced by a quote from the Talmud about the Evil Inclination that foreshadows what occurs in the ensuing chapters.


Lev also engages in sporadic dialogue with the Sages of the Talmud throughout the novel, particularly at times when he is engaged in distinctly inappropriate and “un-Talmudic” behavior. There are few novels that so thoroughly integrate traditional texts into the story.


Despite the fact that the novel is steeped in Jewish sources and concepts, I have [heard] from Christian readers who identify with Lev’s struggle to come to terms with his loss of faith. The positive reaction of non-Jewish readers has been a wonderful surprise.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Tom Llewellyn



Tom Llewellyn is the author of The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith, a new novel for older kids. His other books include The Bottle Imp of Bright House. He lives in Tacoma, Washington.


Q: What inspired you to write The Five Impossible Tasks of Eden Smith, and how did you create your character Eden?

A: What inspired me? I don’t have a neat-and-tidy answer. I remember once hearing J.K. Rowling claim that Harry Potter “just strolled into my head, fully formed,” or something like that.


I always assumed that was a lie created for marketing purposes, as I feel like I have to wrench my stories and characters from my skull tiny piece by piece, as if they were splinters I was extracting with a pair of Vice Grips. Then I have to slowly glue all those splinters together into some sort of rough-hewn beast.


Nothing I’ve ever written has ever strolled into my head or anything else, fully formed. How is that even possible?

So maybe it’s appropriate that my original idea for the story was to create a sort of anti-Hogwarts.


If Hogwarts is the hoity-toity private boarding school of the fantasy world, the Guildhall of Smiths Local 292 is its blue-collar, industrial stepsister, where the magicians are replaced by crusty old metalworkers and the magical meals that appear on the tables are replaced with creamed ham and plain vanilla pudding and other foods easy for old people to chew and digest.


Magic wands and flying broomsticks are replaced by forges, blowtorches, hammers, and swords.


I sat down to the challenge of intentionally choosing this unappealing locale—an old folks’ home for metalworkers—and then making it a remarkable, lovable, crave-able world for a reader to visit and hopefully long to revisit.


I think I succeeded. Or perhaps I should say that I succeeded for myself. I love spending time in the Guildhall, as both a writer and a reader.


But there are many other messy inspirations jammed in. The impossible tasks come from five of the 12 labors of Hercules. The story arc of Vulcan, Eden’s grandfather, is based on the myth of Hephaestus, the Greek god of smithing.


And the beginning of the story, where Eden gains hope by finding a supportive grandfather, only to have him imprisoned on the day they meet, comes from the colonial American short story of Washington Irving, "My Kinsman, Major Molineux."

Where did Eden come from? Eden is inspired by my youngest daughter, Genet, who was born in Ethiopia. In fact, nearly all of the characters in the story are based on family members. Lots of beloved aunties and uncles appear in the pages, including my great aunts, Nellie and Irma.


This inclusion of family members did not happen right from the beginning of my writing process. It probably took me six months of banging my head against the wall until I sort of found the characters within my own family tree.


Once I did that, the writing became so much easier, as I wanted to spend time with the characters. It was sort of like attending a family reunion, except that all the family members in attendance had to do whatever I wanted them to.


I recommend you try this next Thanksgiving with your own family. Especially during an election year.


Q: How would you describe the relationship between Eden and her grandfather?

A: I always saw that relationship as the collision of two very strong wills. Eden and Vulcan are cut from the same cloth. There’s a good and a bad to that.


The bad is that they both want to be in charge, are both stuck in their ways, both struggle with showing emotion or even admitting they need help from anyone, and both are unwilling to give in on anything.


The good is that when they finally do manage to come together, they feel a very deep kinship—a level of connection that each was longing for, even if they were unwilling to admit it.


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


A: Yes.

By that, I mean I had a very basic idea of how the story would end, in that I knew it would be either happy or sad, tragic or triumphant. But oh my lord, did I ever make changes along the way. I can’t imagine a writing process where I knew everything that would happen before I began. That sounds more like dictation than writing.


I’m a firm believer that writing, done correctly, is an act of discovery—that the author’s job is to grind and grind and grind and grind away at the basic idea of a story until all the surprising nuances and twists emerge.

Editing and rewriting—that is writing. The basic first-draft plot is step one in a 20-step process for me. I probably had that first draft done in 10 months—by the summer of 2018—but the final story wasn’t done until the summer of 2023, five years later.


And major surprises were created right up until the end, surprising (and hopefully delighting) even me.

It's also important to realize that writing is not nearly as solitary of a sport as most people believe it to be. I had two amazing editors on this book.


The first is my agent, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, from Red Fox Literary. Abi has been editing my stuff for more than 15 years.


The second was my editor from Holiday House, Kelly Loughman. Kelly is annoyingly right. I mean, she tells me to do something I don’t want to do, like remove an entire key chapter, rewrite a character, or make other major moves like that. And when I finally give in and do it, the book is always better. She’s annoying. And priceless. Luckily, Kelly is a lovely human, so it’s bearable.


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

A: I hope they are swept away in the adventure. That’s really my main goal—to delight. I hope they laugh. I hope they turn the pages with nervous anticipation at what’s going to happen to characters that I hope they love.


As far as a deeper meaning, it’s all about family, in the broader sense of the term. The book opens with a strange little chapter of genealogy, which traces generations of Eden’s family tree. That little chapter is meant to set up the challenge, as many of Eden’s ancestors died attempting the Impossible Tasks.


But it is also there to establish that theme of family. Of connection. Of the fact that none of us accomplish anything meaningful all on our own. I believe strongly that family comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s more than genetics or biology.


In Eden’s case, she longs for that sense of belonging, to love and be loved in return.


I think that’s probably the most universal need there is—to belong. I hope readers relate to that idea and maybe look around and think about how they can work on building that larger family for themselves. Because it takes work. Family is precious, which means it’s worth fighting for.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: Do I have to tell you? Works in process are so fragile. Most of mine perish. And their fragility seems to increase the more I discuss them. I need to get them to a meaningful tipping point before they can survive on their own.


Let me say that I have a few things in the works. The one I’m most excited about involves a dead parent who may also be a crow.


I’m unwilling to say more, as I have a tenuous relationship with my muse. If I keep talking, she may flee. If that happens, and you see her, please tell her I’m sorry and to please come home. Tell her I’ll make tacos.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: You should know how much I personally love this book. I don’t say this as any sort of promotional gimmick. I love the world and I love the characters. I really long for this book to do well enough to justify sequels.


I don’t care that much about book sales—I really don’t. I’m sure I should care more. But I love these characters so much that the thought of getting to spend more time with them—writing about them—that idea sort of thrills me. Is that weird? It probably is. I’d better stop talking now.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Beth Kander




Beth Kander is the author of the new children's picture book Do Not Eat This Book!: Fun with Jewish Foods & Festivals. Also a playwright, she lives in Chicago.


Q: What inspired you to write Do Not Eat This Book!?


A: Three of my favorite things in the world are 1) my kids, 2) stories, and 3) food – all of which certainly inspired this book.


But more specifically, I wanted to write a read-aloud picture book that had rhythm and opportunities for call-and-respond moments for young readers that celebrated the things that bring us together.


The way foods literally bring us to the table, to share celebrations and traditions around a meal or special snack, is so relatable. Do Not Eat This Book! is about Jewish foods, but it also emphasizes that every culture has special dishes and traditions. I want it to be fun and appetizing for all readers, no matter their background.


Q: What do you think Mike Moran’s illustrations add to the story?


A: The playfulness, energy, and bright colors in Mike’s illustrations add so much to the book. I was so grateful to be paired with such a talented artist, and especially appreciated how open he was to input and inspiration.


It was important to me, for example, to have really representative, inclusive illustrations, and Mike delivered on that beautifully.

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “lighthearted introduction to traditional Jewish holiday foods.” What do you think of that description?


A: It’s pretty accurate! I think it goes a bit deeper than that, though. My hope is that readers experience the book as a joyful celebration of how food can bring people together—through the particular lens of Jewish holiday foods, widening to include all cultures and communities.


One of my favorite lines in the book is: “Every culture in the world has special festive foods, reflecting hopes and histories in every bite that’s chewed!”


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


A: I hope it deepens their curiosity about their own family’s favorite foods and traditions around festive meals, and plants early seeds of appreciation and interest in other cultures, too.


I hope they have fun calling out “Do not eat this book!” when they read the book with their caregivers. And, of course, I hope they try the recipes.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My debut novel for adults is coming out this fall from Mira Books (HarperCollins). I Made It Out Of Clay is about a woman at the end of her rope who makes a golem to solve her problems… what could go wrong?


It’s been a definite change of pace to go from working on picture books to a bittersweet comedy for grown-ups, but I’m really excited about this debut.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ll probably keep writing stories for readers of all ages, so stay tuned! My website is, and while I’m on a couple of social media platforms, I’m most active on Instagram, if you want to follow the upcoming journeys: @bethkander.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Phyllis Gobbell




Phyllis Gobbell is the author of the new novel Notorious in Nashville, the latest in her Jordan Mayfair mystery series. She lives in Nashville.


Q: Why did you choose Nashville as the setting for your new Jordan Mayfair mystery novel?


A: Notorious in Nashville is the fourth in the mystery series. The other three were set in foreign locations: Provence, Ireland, and Italy. I had spent time in all of those exotic places, soaking up the ambiance, and I assumed I’d travel somewhere for the fourth.


But COVID changed my plans. I wrote another book, not in the series, during the pandemic when I wasn’t traveling anywhere, but I wanted to do another Jordan Mayfair mystery.


My friends convinced me to set the story in Nashville, where I live. I’ve spent my adult life here and know the city well. I also had some things I wanted to say about what is happening here. So Nashville became the setting of the latest book in the series. 


Q: How do you think your character Jordan has changed over the course of the series?


A: In the first book of the series, Pursuit in Provence, Jordan was turning 50. She had raised her children as a single mother and was an accomplished architect, but that 50th birthday was daunting. She was never a risk-taker until this first trip with her travel-writer uncle.


Each book requires Jordan to show more courage than she believes she has in her. She met Paul Broussard, patron of the arts, in the first book, and their long-distance romance has not been easy. That’s a thread running through the series.


Possibly Jordan has not changed as much as simply revealed herself, so that readers continue to see her many dimensions.


In Notorious in Nashville, readers find out the lengths to which she will go to save a daughter who is in danger. It is the most perilous situation she has faced.

Q: What inspired the plot of Notorious in Nashville?


A: There had to be music. After all, Nashville is Music City. But there is a collision of the old and the new in Nashville that informs the book. An old, washed-up songwriter and a young, hopeful singer. Historic buildings and new sleek towers. Old money and new money. I could go on.


A reporter writes about skyrocketing taxes, crooked developers, housing that Nashville residents can no longer afford, and he becomes the murder victim.


Much of what Nashville is experiencing has to do with architecture and real estate. So I used the conflict between old and new that is real, and put Jordan, an architect, in the middle of it all. Once again she uses her architectural skills, even as she is trying to save her daughter.


Q: Did you need to do any research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: I used authentic locations in almost every case (one exception being the studio that I imagined). Scenes take place in many Nashville neighborhoods, restaurants, and businesses that I know well, so it was not like being in a European city where everything is new to me.


But I always research online sources for added details, like actual street names and items on the menu. I made several trips downtown, for the flavor of Lower Broad, and I’ll leave it to Alex, Jordan’s uncle, to talk about what it’s like now in the heart of downtown Nashville.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My Southern novel, Prodigal, will be released this fall, so I am working on pre-production publicity, and I am writing another Southern novel, The Princess of Almost Alabama. I will go back to Jordan Mayfair’s adventures in a fifth mystery, but for now I have these two other books in the works.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: In addition to writing books, I write short stories and creative nonfiction. A memoir-type piece came out in Well Read Magazine last year. “What We Keep, What We Throw Away” will be in an anthology, due for release in April: Well Read, Best of 2023. The anthology will be available on Amazon.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Karl Widerquist




Karl Widerquist is the author of the new book Universal Basic Income. His other books include The Prehistory of Private Property. He is a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University-Qatar.


Q: What inspired you to write Universal Basic Income?


A: I've been writing about UBI since the 20th century, but I was doing it as a philosopher and economist, writing research that's not necessarily very accessible to nonspecialsits.


I'd thought many times about writing an introductory book, but it never got high on my agenda until MIT Press contacted me and said that they'd like to have me write a book for this series.


On a deeper level, I've been inspired to write on Universal Basic Income because I think one of the central injustices of our times is the treatment of disadvantaged people.


We have so many myths we tell ourselves about the virtues of the well-off and the vices of the disadvantaged. But in the end, they're just myths.


The reality is that the system is set up to have a bunch of disadvantaged who will do the crap work and who will do it cheap. That system harms everyone. That has to change. Universal Basic Income helps give lower- and middle-income people the power to change that system into one where we can all thrive.


Q: What are some of the most common perceptions and misconceptions about universal basic income?


A: The biggest misconception is that Universal Basic Income is something for nothing. The opposite is true.


We have made a system of rules that disadvantage low- and middle-class people, rules that say that a few very advantaged people own most of the Earth that was here before all of us, and the rest of us don't get a piece until we spend 40 hours a week working for more advantaged people.


Only when those who have more pay those who have less in the form of UBI or something very similar will we have a society built on the concept that if you take something you have to pay for it.

Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to the adoption of this concept?


A: We have to change the power structures in the world. We don't live in a true democracy. Our campaign finance system is essentially a system of legalized bribery and corruption. Our legislation is responsive to the wants of the wealthiest few not to the average person. Money speaks louder than votes, partly because it controls the dialogue, and it controls which candidates are “viable” in advance of voting.


The countries with the best social support systems are also the ones with the most genuinely democratic political systems—places like Finland, Norway, and Iceland.


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


A: I hope they come away with an understanding of what UBI is and why it is so important to a growing movement of people around the world. If they actually gain some sympathy for that movement, that’s a bonus.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: After focusing on books for more than 10 years, I’m getting a lot of little projects out the door. I recently published an article on the cost of Basic Income in the United Kingdom. I have one that is about to come out on the “Functional Finance” theory of economics and the sustainability of UBI.


Another one—an expanded chapter from the book—on automation and UBI will probably come out soon. And I’m also working on one on the question of whether cryptocurrencies can support a UBI and bypass the government.


I also have some big book projects I want to get back to after I get the small things out the door. These include a historical book called the Political Philosophers: The Lives and Ideas of the People Who Shaped the Western Cannon of Political Philosophy and a foundational theory of justice called Justice as the Pursuit of Accord.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: People need to know that UBI is for everyone. The system we have now is based on the stress and fear of almost everyone who works for a living. This system is only good for wealthy people who like to pay low wages.


UBI is good for all workers because the worst thing you can do for a worker is to put them in the position in which they have no other choice than to take a job. Workers need the power to say no, not just to any one job but to all jobs if they so choose.


When the 99 percent have this power, we’ll see better wages and working conditions for everyone. We’ll see less sexual harassment on the job. We’ll see healthier children. We’ll see a kinder and more humane society.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb