Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Q&A with Eileen Garvin


Photo by Kate Schwager



Eileen Garvin is the author of the new novel Crow Talk. Her other books include the novel The Music of Bees. She lives in Oregon.


Q: What inspired you to write Crow Talk, and how did you create your characters Frankie, Anne, and Aiden?

A: I was first inspired to write Crow Talk in the summer of 2020. I’d just turned in the final revision of my first novel, The Music of Bees, to my editor. Right about that time, pandemic restrictions suddenly closed all the trails in and around my hometown.


I’ve taken great comfort in nature since I was a child, and my parents bought a summer house on a lake. Without the (wonderful) distraction of my manuscript to work on, having no access to the woods (my best way to cope with stress) felt like a double whammy.


About a month into those restrictions, I had a chance to return to the old family place at the lake. I felt such relief and gratitude at being there alone and out under the trees. That’s when I got the first glimmer of an idea for Crow Talk.


I thought, what if I took a few wounded people and placed them in a remote, beautiful place? How might proximity to the natural world help them heal?


The characters came to me later, each wrestling with a unique problem, but united in their need to find a way out of grief and isolation.


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

A: Setting is hugely important to me. For one thing, I love where I live, and I feel the Pacific Northwest lends itself to beautifully as a stage for storytelling.


When writing my own stories, that attention to physical location and sensation is automatic because it’s what I seek in the stories I like to read. I want a book to communicate the setting viscerally. Where am I? What does it smell like? What do I hear?

Q: The writer Shelby Van Pelt said of the book, “Eileen Garvin deftly explores our human connections – with each other, with nature, and with ourselves. Crow Talk will leave you in awe at how the smallest, most tender moments can hold the power to transform.” What do you think of that description?

A: Well, I think Shelby Van Pelt’s description is incredibly generous! And yet she captures so deftly what I hope readers will find in this story. I do believe that in life and in stories the seemingly inconsequential moments can change our lives.


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

A: The title was chosen by me as a “good enough” title for the manuscript. I fully expected it to be changed! Neither of my other two books was published with the title I started with. I trust the marketing folks on these sorts of things.


But the title seemed to work for everyone. It’s short and simple. Most obviously it refers to the communication among the crows that Frankie, the ornithologist, begins to discover.


More broadly speaking, Crow Talk refers to the ongoing conversation among birds and other creatures in the world that we can tune into if we pay attention.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new novel that’s also set in Hood River, Oregon, like The Music of Bees is.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’m on going on tour for Crow Talk starting in April. If folks want to come to one of my events, they can check out my tour schedule here. I also love to pop into people’s book clubs when my schedule permits. Send me a message from here if you’d like more info.


Thanks so much for the chance to chat!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Norah Woodsey




Norah Woodsey is the author of the new novel The States, a modern retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Woodsey's other books include The Control Problem.


Q: Why did you decide to write an update of Jane Austen’s Persuasion?


A: To be honest, The States did not start out as a Persuasion retelling. The manuscript began as a NaNoWriMo in Fall 2020, when I needed a break from my hard sci-fi novel, The Control Problem.


I revisited it after that book came out, and I realized what was best in the manuscript was all very referential to Persuasion. I decided that I needed to either commit to making it a Persuasion retelling, or change it into something else. 


I reread the novel and thought about what to do. Like many of Austen’s works, Persuasion has interesting commentary on class, gender, and family dynamics, but on rereading the novel again, I focused more on a mystery.


Who was Lady Elliot? Why would someone so kind and rational end up with someone so abusive, vain, and irresponsible? And her death instigates Anne’s misery but we never learn details.


When I thought more about Lady Elliot and her relationship to Anne, I decided to push forward with an honest retelling. I kept portions of my original manuscript as Tildy’s dream sequences and many scenes in her romance with Aidan, but essentially rewrote the rest, motivated by this relationship between Tildy and her mother.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between Austen’s characters and your own version as you were writing the novel?


A: Modernizing an Austen story is so tricky. Many of the social limitations and motivations experienced by those characters no longer exist. Women can have their own lives independent of their fathers and husbands.


But some things, like familial abuse, vanity, and irresponsible wealth remain the same. Anne’s sisters and father were very easy to translate to modern society.


Mr. Elliot, whose cousinhood had to be abandoned (of course), was an interesting challenge to tackle. What would motivate a person who sees through this family to ingratiate himself with them? And what would a modern Anne Elliot see in a person like that?


There were some challenges from a storytelling perspective. Saving a Mrs. Smith to nearly the end of the story would be a hard sell. I wanted this book to be enjoyable even if the reader were unfamiliar with Persuasion, and so I kept with modern character introduction expectations.


Still, this is a Persuasion retelling and I needed to honor Austen’s work. With that in mind, it was crucial to start with Patrick Sullivan, the Sir Walter of my story, right from the get-go. He is a black hole that Tildy cannot free herself from, like Anne and Sir Walter.


You can’t appreciate the story without really knowing the patriarch of this family, and how he affects everyone in his orbit. 


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


A: I chose The States pretty early on. “The States” was how Irish friends and family referred to the USA, but I also wanted to reference how the characters exist in various states of being. Dreaming and awake, acceptance and rejection, romance and perpetual estrangement.


Navigating these fluctuating modes is part of the challenge for Tildy and, to a certain extent, Aidan.


Q: A review on IndieReader.com called the book a “beautiful and thoughtful modernization of Jane Austen’s Persuasion that explores a modern heroine’s discovery of the difference between fantasy and agency.” What do you think of that description?


A: First off, I am very flattered! The goal of this book, even before I realized it was a Persuasion retelling, was to bring beauty and escape to a reader. I wanted to create something that showed a path through self-inflicted isolation to acceptance and joy.


A common theme in all of my work, from dark science fiction to romance, is a woman’s self-discovery, seizing her own power and letting go of what holds her back, whoever she is.


That was one of the things that drew me to Persuasion as a reader. Even though marriage is, as always, the escape hatch for the heroines in Austen stories, in Persuasion Anne reclaims power she had forsaken. It’s so compelling and joyful, and I hope readers find that in my version as well. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m writing a sequel to my 2018 sci fi novella, When the Wave Collapses. I don’t want to give too much away, but it is a woman’s breakup/roadtrip story set within modern space travel. I’m excited to use my history degree again! It’s been a long time since I published my last historical novel. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: For those who prefer audiobooks, that version of the novel should be out in May. This came together pretty quickly and I’m so thrilled! It is performed by an actor from Galway and it sounds fantastic so far. Can’t wait to share more soon!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Quinn Diacon-Furtado




Quinn Diacon-Furtado is the author of the new young adult novel The Lilies. They are also an educator.


Q: What inspired you to write The Lilies?


A: I’m interested in stories that look at our present-day world and acknowledge its faults while imagining something more authentically hopeful beyond it.


I wanted to write The Lilies because I was interested in how the public conversation about “safe spaces” for women hinges on this notion of “who belongs.”


For generations, notions of belonging and womanhood have been weaponized to exclude women of color and gender-nonconforming people from safe spaces. This is patriarchal violence in action, and it is often the norm at single-gender institutions such as girls’ boarding schools and universities.


With The Lilies, I wanted to write about young people who found creative ways to reject this precedent, even when it seems like it's inescapable.


The book grapples with the trauma of both physical and exclusionary violence, and what that looks like from the perspective of women and nonbinary teens, whose voices are often lost in this conversation.


Q: How did you create Archwell Academy?


A: Growing up, I changed schools quite a bit. I really withered in institutional environments as a neurodiverse person who was labeled “learning disabled/reading disabled.” I was fortunate to have a mom who was a former educator and could recognize when I wasn’t getting what I needed at school.


Transferring a lot in primary school, secondary school, and even college gave me insight into what different school environments were like—but whenever I didn’t quite fit in or I didn’t excel academically I always assumed that I was the problem.


It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized exclusionary institutional culture was the problem. Whether it’s in a college prep environment, women’s schools, or higher ed, exclusionary attitudes and entrenched power often sideline and silence students’ voices.


Archwell Academy isn’t a real place, but its shadow culture exists in many schools, particularly those who pride themselves on being “elite” or exclusionary in some way.


Q: The writer Laura Steven called the book a “fresh, modern take on the time loop trope, exploring trauma cycles, the butterfly effect, and what it means to be truly seen.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love it! I appreciate that it highlights how the story offers up authenticity as an antidote to a culture of trauma. This is something that Dr. Gabor Maté talks about in his book, The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture.


Maté’s work was top of mind while I was writing this book. In fact, the writing process prompted me to do quite a bit of research on trauma cycles, even unpacking some of my own family history and trauma in the process. 


I think it’s interesting how folks have picked up on the butterfly effect metaphor to talk about this book because it’s often framed as a highly unusual, almost mystical phenomenon.


My view: the butterfly effect is not a phenomenon--it’s happening all the time. Every action produces a reaction, sometimes with generational impacts that we could never anticipate.


I don’t mean, be careful about the way you butter your toast because it might end up causing a flood one day. I would encourage people to look to the past instead: consider why you might make certain choices that aren’t particularly good for you because of a misbelief you inherited from a family member who you may have never met.


For me, this story isn’t about the woo-woo of the butterfly effect, it’s about the lasting impacts of the choices our ancestors made, and the choices we have to make today to rectify them.


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


A: I hope that readers think about the notion of “safe spaces” a bit more critically and expansively: just because a place is supposed to be safe, doesn’t mean it’s authentically safe for everyone.


I also hope readers recognize that people who do hurtful things to others usually have been hurt by something themselves—authenticity and self-forgiveness are key to healing from these things.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m still toiling away in speculative fiction land. Currently, I’m working on a project set in the near future that deals with the intersection between dreams and technology. I’m also working on a novel for young readers about power in late-stage capitalism but…you know…it’s still magic. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I read a lot of nonfiction while I was writing this book, much of which is thematically related to The Lilies.


Readers interested in the notion of generational patterns might like It Didn't Start with You by Mark Wolynn or My Grandmother's Hands by Resmaa Menakem. If you want to add a gender analysis into that mix, bell hooks’ books Feminism Is for Everybody and The Will to Change were both super influential for me—I highly recommend them!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lally Pia




Lally Pia, M.D., is the author of the new memoir The Fortune Teller's Prophecy: A Memoir of an Unlikely Doctor. She is a psychiatrist, and she lives in Davis, California.


Q: What inspired you to write this memoir?


A: I had an unusual life spent in four continents, with significant setbacks that occurred in each country. These were character-forming. My experiences battling hardships significantly affected my life trajectory and gave me an overriding positive approach to life as each obstacle was navigated.


The biggest push to write the memoir came from a constant exhortation from friends to “write about your life... It’s such a great story... it will inspire others.” I have always been more interested in fiction and action than memoir, but to please my friends I pretty much put the story skeleton down under duress!


Then, I got involved in the craft and began editing. I also sought critique and the process became more cerebral and fun, especially when I realized that the story could be inspiring to others. I wrote page-long entries into a diary from ages 13 to 20, so it was helpful to have a resource to keep the dates straight.


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


A: My daughter Shanthi, age 29, came up with the final title. I’d gone through dozens of other potential titles in discussions with my publisher, Brooke Warner.


The original title, carried with me from the memoir’s inception, 10 years back was: “Doctor of doctors,” which was the prophecy that I had carried with me all my life. It was thought to be too lofty for the main themes of the memoir of a naive girl!


I finally settled on “The Fortune Teller’s Prophecy” because it was a theme that ran through the memoir and the prophecy was something I clung to when life was rough. 


The second part of the title, “A memoir of an unlikely doctor,” was important to me, because there were so many times along the way that I was under such hardship that I scoffed at the prediction. I almost quit medical school even after I finally made it in!


I thought it would be important to give hope to those who struggle in med school like I did, especially those who are older, like I was. I started med school at age 36!


 It sends a message of hope that you should not give up, which is the most important thing that I want the memoir to symbolize. Even in my psychiatric practice, I want most of all for my child patients to feel hope for the future. It is amazing how optimism can be curative.

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


A: I struggled with restricting the book to its current size of just over 100,000 words, as I had to decide which threads to emphasize and which to clip. Because it is a complex story, this was very hard. 


I noticed, as I read the audiobook out to my husband, that unexpectedly I broke down several times, and we had to do several takes in order to get through the reading. It struck me that perhaps I was not quite as healed as I thought I was, and it definitely connected me back to a vulnerability I thought I’d outgrown. 


I realized, however, that if the writing had the power to take me down, perhaps it would reach into the emotions of my audience. 


It was very difficult for a very private psychiatrist to expose feelings of helplessness and poor decision making to my readers, but having heard from them it helps them to better relate.


My first few “takes” at the book cut out much of the emotion. I see now that I was struggling to save myself from going back into the uncomfortable spaces, but it also distanced my audience. So I added back the tough incidents and my early readers have told me this helps them to feel more connected.


Q: Can you say more about what you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I want my readers to treasure and value resilience. I want them to keep thinking about all the different options they have to get out of a feeling of entrapment (such as within a toxic marriage). I want them to catch the subtle warnings that they are in a bad relationship.


I want people who are immigrants to this country to be inspired by my story and to help them understand the value of culture and family and friends in the paths we take. 


I also want to share how important it is to be vulnerable and dependent on others at times (like I was) as I simply could not have made this journey without the many, many hands that helped me through, from welfare to friends providing financial assistance, to all my mentors along the way.


I am so grateful for all the help and support, and yes, dependence on others, that made my journey possible.


In this country of standing up for yourself and individualism, I hope my story will help readers understand that our beautiful tapestry of welfare support is occasionally not utilized just to “scam the system” as many believe. For people who were in my position it can actually make great things possible. 


I want to inspire a feeling of patriotism in readers that will make them appreciate that this is a truly magnificent country I am proud to call my own, and that sometimes your dreams really can come true.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on several different stories in different stages of completion.


One is almost completed: Andorea is a story of psychological suspense which follows a female psychiatrist who works in a jail. Should she say what she knows to help a condemned man go free, or should she remain quiet so she can protect her medical license? 


This is based on my work in a jail in Redwood City and in Folsom Prison, when being with imprisoned people had a profound impression on me. It raised many ethical dilemmas. 


Another novel is one in which an embalmer is suspicious about the fate of some of the bodies she receives at the medical school (based on my work as an embalmer at UC Davis medical school).


Finally, I am working on a suspense novel called The Letter from Grandma in which a child is getting letters over the years, supposedly from her dead grandmother, but who is really the author of the letters, and what is the purpose of the letters?


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My experience of having a stroke one year back moved me to write an article about gratitude for those who help out when you are at your most vulnerable. I was in a difficult and vulnerable place to have my role as doctor switched to patient.  


“A Letter to Brock Purdy” received publication in the local paper and an extended version was published in Doximity’s Med Ed (an online publication for medical professionals). I feel that the account is an example of my best writing, as it came from my heart, late one night. It epitomizes my values of thankfulness.


I composed “My Last Reserve,” a song about a person struggling to find a way. I composed the lyrics and my husband helped with the music accompaniment. A friend’s daughter sang what I wrote one afternoon.


It is up on my website, but has not received much air time or traffic. My dream is to have someone pick up the song and sing it to motivate others.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 30



April 30, 1877: Alice B. Toklas born.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Q&A with Alice McDermott




Alice McDermott is the author of the new novel Absolution. Her other books include the novel Charming Billy. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to write Absolution, and why did you decide to set the novel in Vietnam in 1963?


A: No one thing, of course. But Graham Greene's The Quiet American was much on my mind as I started out.


A novel I first read as an undergraduate, and have read many times since, always marveling at its political prescience, but also always dismayed by its failure to give any depth to its female characters, the Vietnamese women as well as the briefly-noticed American "girls" working in Saigon.


1963 was pivotal in Vietnam, in the U.S. as well. I'm not the first to notice what an incredible year it was.


Not just the assassination of Diem in Saigon and JFK in Dallas, but the year of Medgar Evers's assassination, the March on Washington and MLK's speech, the changes of Vatican II and the death of John the XXIII, the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique. A year on the precipice of many changes.


But, of course, the entire novel is not set in Vietnam in 1963, and it's a memoir of sorts, recollected from a present closer to our own. 


To my mind, then, it's not so much about time and place but about the permutations of time and memory and the way time and memory can test our assurances and intentions.


I think the novel is more about our (human beings) troubling, noble, complicated notions about selflessness, and self-sacrifice, than it is about Vietnam in 1963.


In fact, even before I had the notion to riff on Graham Greene, I knew the story would be about Dominic's love for his adopted child.


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


A: I began by revisiting all the Vietnam novels I knew and admired: Tim O'Brien's, Robert Stone's, Denis Johnson's. And then I reread the histories and memoirs of the war that I already had on my shelf. 


Of course, these were all war stories - and I knew from the start I wasn't writing a war story - but they gave me an immersive sense of place.


As the novel began to take on its own life, I read and watched news reports from the early ‘60s, just to be reminded of how we thought and spoke in those days. Our naiveté, as well as our gobsmacking biases - especially regarding women - were always surprising.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between your characters Patricia and Charlene?


A: Don't know that I can describe it in a few words, thus the whole novel. But I guess I could say they are mentor and mentee, a "dynamo" and her reluctant side-kick. 


They share, of course, the constrictions of that time and place and culture, so in some way they're both making the best of their chains.  They're also friends, women friends - with all the complications and implications the label involves, if you can shake off the "Mean Girls" cliches. 


Q: In a review of Absolution for NPR, Maureen Corrigan said, “McDermott possesses the rare ability to evoke and enter bygone worlds — pre-Vatican II Catholicism, pre-feminist-movement marriages — without condescending to them. She understands that the powerhouses can dominate the helpmeets. She also understands that playing God is the role of a lifetime — and every human actor should turn it down.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I don't read (or listen to) reviews of my work, so while I'm grateful for intelligent assessments - and Maureen's reviews are always intelligent - I can't take them to heart. 


But, for further discussion, I'd wonder about how one is to do good in the world (alleviate the suffering of children, say) and still avoid the accusation that you are playing God?


Do right intentions absolve wrong outcomes? Does hindsight give one generation the permission to condemn those who came before? Is it better to say (as the Generals sing at Charlene's cocktail parties) "What will be will be?" Or are we meant to "repair the world."


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Another couple of novels. Always. I've been at this long enough to know that is just what I do.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Alice McDermott.

Q&A with Angie Elita Newell




Angie Elita Newell is the author of the new novel All I See Is Violence. She is a historian and she belongs to the Liidlii Kue First Nation from the Dehcho. 


Q: What inspired you to write All I See Is Violence?


A: My inspiration for this novel circumvented me through a tumultuous point in my life. I was at a crossroads in my academic career and trying to process what had been done to my ancestors. I was at a feast and an elder turned to me and said, Did you know that there were female warriors?


I was not aware of that; here I was an academically trained historian in my own history and I was ignorant to that information. When I started to look into it through archival research I found out not only were there women warriors but there were battles fought against the United States military in which half the American Indian warriors were women, and they won the battle.


Given the female size discrepancies to their male counterparts, they learned to fight differently to make up for the strength and size advantages of the men that they faced, often becoming very sure shots, and when in hand-to-hand combat, the same thing, they would immediately strike to kill with a cunning accuracy.


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


A: I am an American Indian from Fort Simpson, located in the Northwest Territories of Canada; we are directly related to the Navajo and share the same linguistic family, Dene.


As an Indian you come to the understanding very early on that we’ve lost everything. Reservations are prison camps and the governments of North America have broken every treaty they have ever made with us and then took it a step further and launched a hundred-year campaign that forcibly stole our children to reeducated them to a “Western standard,” called boarding schools in the United States and residential schools in Canada.


Here every imaginable atrocity was inflicted upon the stolen children by the church and government-appointed care providers, physical, mental, and sexual abuse, medical experimentation, and murder were commonplace.


I know these truths from a personal level because my mother was sent to one of them, La Pointe Hall in Fort Simpson; she persevered and went on to become an air force pilot for the Royal Canadian Armed Forces.


The level of trauma within the indigenous communities, the fallout of colonialism, and a calculated genocide within North America leads to more often than not a chaotic childhood for indigenous children as suicide and substance abuse are rampant and my childhood was one of turmoil.


I found solace in English literature. I learned to read at a high level from a young age and immersed myself in the writings of Mark Twain, Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett, and Charles Dickens. Books such as Huckleberry Finn, The Secret Garden, and Oliver Twist were stories I went back to repeatedly, bringing me comfort in a world that was very unstable. 

As a young adult I was led to academia through my incessant wondering as to why all these things had been done to us, the American Indians. As my knowledge base grew, I matured into an understanding that this oppression isn’t something that is necessarily unique to North America but is a pattern being enacted on a global stage and it is through awareness that we can put an end to it. Who controls the past controls the future and every single being deserves a peaceful life full of abundance and joy.


Then I lost my own son, and my very faith was shaken to its core, I completely left my academic life and started writing stories, my people’s stories and it is there I found not only god but love, a universal love, an understanding that regardless of everything this earth is wondrous and spectacular and she’s worth all of us coming together to protect and have reverence for.


Q: I’m so sorry about the loss of your son…


I know that the novel was based on a true story--what did you see as the right balance between history and fiction as you worked on the book?


A: All I See is Violence is about 75 percent factual, with a speckling of fiction brought through the characters, Little Wolf and Nancy.


Their relationships are also fictitious but they are set amongst very important points in modern historical, defining moments that have shaped our current reality, so it was important to me to keep so much of it grounded in actual happenings.


I am a mother and I have daughters and just as my ancestors taught me, I teach them our history through stories.


When I was researching the last battles of the Indian Wars, I was drawn to the story of General Custer. His life is like a Shakespearean tragedy. The more I researched him the more inconceivable it became and shocking that he died the way he did.


He was a valiant and talented warrior, and some readers are taken aback by his inclusion. If you read his autobiography, you’ll find a vain, confident human and he had every reason to be.


I wanted Custer to be the juxtaposition to Little Wolf to illustrate the 19th-century cultural differences and to weave alongside one another like two steam engines about to hit head-on. And I needed a vehicle for this information, and I couldn’t have asked for a more sensational one.


So, I chose to use Custer to include the academic knowledge of governmental policies of the 19th century. Readers who struggle with him need to still their mind and see past any sort of projection. Friction is our greatest teacher. It is here you can learn a deeper version of yourself, and you will come out with a greater wisdom.


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


A: What I hope readers take away from my work is that the only thing that will ever matter is love, and some things can be fleeting, a moment that passes you by, but love is eternal, it can withstand anything thrown at it and I see this in my people, despite everything that has been done to us, here we are, here I am, still standing, still telling our stories.


And to every person who is willing to read my story I want to thank you. It is with an immense honor and gratitude to share our history with you, for we are all one and our story, our history is also yours, and may we all forge a better future together.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am currently working on the life story of the Apache warrior Geronimo. He evaded the American military for close to three decades and won battles against a thousand-armed forces with 50 warriors at his side and one of the most important being Chief Victorio’s sister, Lozen, a female warrior with supernatural capabilities. Their allies were Magnas Colorado and Cochise. This is their story, the return of the Bird Tribe.   


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Janice Lynn Mather




Janice Lynn Mather is the author of the new young adult novel Where Was Goodbye?. Her other books include the YA novel Learning to Breathe. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Q: What inspired you to write Where Was Goodbye?, and how did you create your character Karmen?


A: It feels cliched to say that inspiration struck, but it really did. In November 2019, I sat down to make plans for projects and goals for the following year, and Karmen’s character and dilemma—the loss of her brother by suicide, and her drive to find out his why—popped into my mind.


It wasn’t a topic I had immediate experience with, though, like everyone, I’d heard of tragic situations like the one Karmen and her family face.


2020 hit, and it was an intensely stressful time. The news was on my radar more, including news from The Bahamas, where the story is set, and where I grew up. There were a number of well publicized deaths by suicide, and some frustratingly insensitive and ill-informed comments made publicly, which fueled my passion for telling Karmen’s and Julian’s story.


My own son died soon after he was born, very unexpectedly, right as I was about to begin working on the novel in earnest.


I would never have chosen to write a story about coping with death while I was living through the very early, very raw days of losing my own son.


The circumstances are totally different than those of Karmen’s brother’s death, but the experience of raw, bewildering grief and the confusion of looking for answers, felt and still feels very much the same.


Karmen’s character has always simply felt meant to be. I wish I hadn’t had so much immediate personal experience to pour into her, but in writing her story, I hope to be able to honour and represent those of us grieving without answers—and those who aren’t here, whatever the circumstances.


Q: I’m so sorry about the loss of your son…


I wanted to ask you about the novel’s title, about how it was chosen, and what it signifies for you?


A: Where Was Goodbye? emerged in thinking about how to encapsulate Karmen’s journey. Her brother’s death was sudden and unexpected, so she’s not only grieving and searching, but in shock.


It’s not only Where is my brother? and Where are the answers? but Where was a farewell? There’s also Karmen’s struggle with her feelings of responsibility, regret, and guilt.


I don’t want to give the story away, but, like many who are grieving, Karmen is looking for answers, asking whether she played a role, and grappling with unanswerable what-ifs as she wishes for a different outcome for Julian.

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


A: This story’s tragedy is presented up front, and in that way, I knew the ending before I began to write. I also had an idea of destination in terms of where Karmen lands in her quest for knowledge.  


The bigger changes lay more in the specific steps and turns Karmen takes as she looks for understanding and information. Characters like Robbie, Pru, Layla, and Isaiah also shifted in prominence, through the process. It took a while to land on who were the more involved supporting characters.


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


A: Every reader is different, but I think of two broad categories: those who have lived or are living through grief, and those who haven’t.


For those who’ve lived through grief, I hope they come away feeling heard and seen. For those who haven’t, I hope they’re able to extract a bit of understanding of what it means to lose someone—and how to love and support them thoughtfully.


Q: What are you working on next?


A: For now I’m shifting to working on projects for older readers. The most current one is a historical fiction piece, Madame Dee’s Luck Dream Emporium.


It follows four families over hundreds of years, dipping from past to the present, where an overbearing mother goes to extreme lengths to reveal a secret to her semi-estranged daughter, through dreams.


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: This story could never have been told without the empathy and kindness of my editor, Catherine Laudone and Rachel Letofsky, my agent.


Both provided gentle generosity in helping me rework logistics like deadlines, because I was in the thick of grieving as I wrote, just as you’ll find Karmen in the thick of grieving as you read. There were times when I really needed to pause, and their understanding made it possible to continue.

There are several resources at the end of Where Was Goodbye? pertaining to suicide prevention and mental health support, and a note at the beginning letting readers know that the story handles grief, death, suicide, and loss.


As you read, be kind to yourself. Take time if that’s what you need. I did.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 29



April 29, 1954: Jerry Seinfeld born.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Q&A with Cynthia Harmony




Cynthia Harmony is the author of the new children's picture book A Flicker of Hope: A Story of Migration. Her other books include Mexico. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.


Q: What inspired you to write A Flicker of Hope?


A: A few years ago my sister worked with the indigenous communities in Mexico to develop and brand sustainable crafts, products, and tourism offerings within the Monarch Reserve region and produce videos.


Watching this footage and listening to her experience inspired me to share the story about monarchs and the community in Mexico that welcomes them back every winter.


Q: What do you think Devon Holzwarth’s illustrations add to the story?


A: To me art in a picture book is more than 50 percent to the story. The art is what first grabs the reader’s attention from the cover, endpapers and through each spread.


Devon is incredibly skilled in visual storytelling and she created a beautiful and impactful emotional journey. She elevated the story creating the type of book that moves you and stays with you long after you’re done reading.

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


A: I did a lot of research on migration, the butterflies, and on the Mazahúa indigenous community that lives in the Monarch Reserve area in Mexico.


There was not one surprising fact since I grew up in Mexico; what I found surprising, however, was how all of these facts were so closely connected, making the parallel story flow even better than I first imagined.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it a “beautiful story about cycles and traditions that shines a light on migration.” What do you think of that description?


A: I agree it’s absolutely a beautiful story. :)  We are so thankful and happy with this starred review! It is an accurate description since natural life cycles and traditions are interwoven with migration patterns in the story.


Another sentence I love from that review that I think really captures the heart of the book is: “The love between Lucia and her father reverberates deeply through subtle echoes.”


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m translating a picture book that will be my first fully bilingual edition, both English and Spanish text on the same spread for an unannounced project.


I’m also revising another manuscript to be able to send something new to my agent soon and I’m drafting a fun chapter book.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb