Saturday, June 22, 2024

Q&A with Susan Coll

 


 

 

Susan Coll is the author of the new novel Real Life and Other Fictions. Her other novels include Bookish People. She is the events advisor for Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Real Life and Other Fictions, and how did you create your character Cassie?

 

A: The novel was inspired by events surrounding the Silver Bridge collapse in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1967, which resulted in 46 fatalities.

 

Prior to the disaster, there were multiple sightings in the area of a gigantic creature said to be part man, part moth: The Mothman. The creature was thought to be a harbinger of disaster – not the cause itself.

 

There were said to be similar sightings of the Mothman prior to the explosion of a nuclear reactor in Chernobyl in 1986, as well as the apartment bombings in Moscow in 1999.

 

A 2002 movie starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney took the Mothman story it in the direction of horror and suspense.

 

I wanted to try to capture the same narrative from the point of view of a survivor, which is where my protagonist, Cassie, comes in. She was orphaned at the age of 2 and has always wondered why her parents were in West Virginia at the time of the accident.

 

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what do you think the novel says about storytelling?

 

A: I struggled with this title more than most. The Wonder was my working title, but Real Life and Other Fictions fits in nicely with theme of storytelling, which is at the heart of the novel.

 

Cassie is a writing instructor who is haunted by the stories her students write. Her aunt is the host of a hugely successful podcast called The Storyteller. And Cassie’s life has been shaped by a story that no one in her family will talk about.


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

 

A: I made two trips to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and attended The Mothman Festival. I watched the movie The Mothman Prophecies countless times and read anything I could find about the bridge collapse, including newspaper clips at The Mothman Museum.

 

And yes, I was definitely surprised by some of what I learned about The Mothman – there are lots of internet rabbit holes one can go down on the subject, and theories to do with aliens, with government conspiracies, and with a curse. There are also some who think The Mothman was simply an owl or a crane.

 

Q: The Washington Post review of the book said, “Real Life and Other Fictions is quirky without being saccharine. It effortlessly mixes a journey around grief, reinvention and romance in midlife with the myth of a moth and the supernatural.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: I love this description. It’s always a surprise to learn how other people read and interpret a novel, and in some ways it helps me to better understand my own book.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m working on a comedy set at a literary nonprofit in DC. It features one of the characters from my previous novel, Bookish People. I’m having a lot of fun with it. It also involves a cat, which is entirely new territory for me.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Susan Coll.

Q&A with Jennifer Berne

 


 

 

Jennifer Berne is the author of the new children's picture book A Tour of the Human Body. Her other books include How the Sea Came to Be

 

Q: What inspired you to write A Tour of the Human Body?

 

A: Well, in this case it was the first in a series of picture book tours of interesting nonfiction subjects — ones in which numbers would reveal and enhance the facts and curiosities of each subject.

 

And what subject is more interesting than our own bodies! Our bodies are built of so many intriguing systems, and yet most of us know so little about how it all works. So to launch the series, the human body— the body of the reader —  seemed like the perfect place to start.

 

Q: How did you research the book, and what are some of the facts you found especially fascinating?

 

A: This was a HUGE research project. I had towering piles of research books in my office, each one with scores of post-its sticking out of their pages. And of course there are excellent anatomy and physiology internet sites I continually used. 

 

Our bodies are a constant source of wonder to me. A couple of the most fascinating facts I discovered were these:

— Your  body renews its cells so fast that 15 million cells were replaced by new ones in the time it took you to read this sentence.

— Your tongue can only taste five flavors. All the rest of your flavor identification is done by your nose, which can detect over 1 trillion odors.

— In your lifetime you’ll eat approximately 55 tons of food. That’s equivalent to eating nine tyrannosaur rexes.

— If all your blood vessels were laid out end to end, they would measure more than 60,000 miles. That’s enough to circle the world, more than twice!

 

Q: What do you think Dawn DeVries Sokol’s illustrations add to the book?

 

A: I think Dawn was the perfect illustrator to be a partner on this book. Her background in journaling, collage, and in book design were all called into play here.

 

Because the subject was so multifaceted and had so many different elements on each spread, Dawn’s sense of design and composition were just what we needed. And then, her sense of playfulness and creativity perfectly matched the kind of playfully geeky voice I used in the text.

 

Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Before finishing off with additional, less number-centric facts about body parts and showing readers how to take personal measurements, Berne brings her selective tour of body systems to a close with a final, entirely comprehensible number: ‘We are 1 people, 1 species, 1 family’ living on ‘1 home.’” What do you think of that description?

 

A: I like that they focused on that closing sentence. It’s an important one for me. Because, in addition to describing the many wonders of our bodies, I wanted to reach for a higher truth. And that is the truth residing within our bodies, within our physiology —  that we are all one, one species on a shared planet, united in our humanity.

 

I think in today’s world that's an important thing to be reminded of.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: A couple of projects. First, the next book for Kane Press in the Number Tours for Curious Kids series...A Tour of Outer Space. It’s all written and fact-checked, and Dawn is now creating some absolutely wonderful cosmic illustrations for it.

 

Another project I’m excited about is titled Dinosaur Doomsday: One World Ends. Another Begins. It’s about the dramatic extinction of the giant dinosaurs and how that opened the world up for the little prehistoric mammals who evolved to become us. That’s for Chronicle Books and it’s being illustrated by the super-talented Caldecott-winning Brian Floca.

 

Other projects are in the works, but it’s too soon to talk about them. Stay tuned!

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: One thing I could mention is that I love to hear from my readers. Once a book goes out into the world it has its own life and its own relationships that the book creators know nothing about. So it’s great when kids or teachers or families reach out to me and let me know how my books have impacted their lives. So if anyone feels like writing to me, I would welcome it!

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jennifer Berne.

June 22

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
June 22, 1898: Erich Maria Remarque born.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Q&A with Jeffrey Dunn

 


 

 

Jeffrey Dunn is the author of the new novel Wildcat. His other books include the novel Radio Free Olympia. He is also a longtime educator.

 

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

 

A: In the Appalachian village of Braeburn, Pennsylvania, there is a road called “Wildcat Hollow Road.” It’s a good Appalachian name: free but threatened, just like the wildcats whose coughs, screams, and yowls are familiar to those who know these hills.

 

Q: The novel’s subtitle is “An Appalachian Romance”--how important is setting to you in your writing?

 

A: Crucial. Reviewers have pondered and struggled with the word “romance.” Is it sexting with your paramour? Is it a love affair with Appalachia? Is it “Romance” with a big “R,” as in fighting oneself out of the classical/industrial and into the romantic/natural? Yes, yes, and yes. Apparently, many aren’t fans of complexity.

 

I want all readers to enjoy Wildcat, but I especially want readers connected with the Appalachian Rust Belt to resonate both with the area’s industrial collapse of the 1980s and with the area’s magical potential for a sustainable future.


Q: The BookLife review of the novel says, “Dunn...strikes a graceful balance between the mystical and the everyday in this meditative reflection on acceptance and belonging.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: Spot on, really. “Everyday?” No argument there. Appalachia doesn’t suffer outsiders gladly and quickly judges people by whether they talk Appalachia’s talk and walk Appalachia’s walk.

 

“Mystical?” Yes, if by mystical you mean magical—e.g. the transformation the landscape goes through as the sun tracks through the sky as well was the unexplainable “Shadows” of those killed in mine accidents just outside a mine.

 

And “meditative reflection on acceptance and belonging?” Seems fair. Although the speaker in the novel has retired to the place where he graduated from high school, he, in many ways, remains an outsider. For him, the act of journaling about his return is a chronicle of both the town and himself weaving back together the threads that unraveled during Wildcat’s dark past.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: My new novel, Whiskey Rebel (Izzard Ink), will be out in 2025. This is the story of a shell-shocked soldier who returns home from Iraq only to question the very meaning of American freedom.

 

While panning for gold, he meets Hamilton, a barefoot, manic, obsessive drummer with a burning desire—to distill tax-free whiskey just like his forefathers during the American Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

 

They join forces, set up shop in the rugged western high desert of Washington's Columbia Basin, and begin producing Westcoulatum Good Goddamned 1794 Freedom Whiskey. As they explore their friendship, they assemble a cast of quirky characters who discover that freedom is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I am the author of the critically acclaimed novel Radio Free Olympia (Izzard Ink, 2023), have been featured on NPR, and write for Medium. I also advocate for educational reform, drawing on my award-winning 41-year teaching career, my Ph.D. in Cultural Studies and English Literature, and my experience with dyslexia.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jeffrey Dunn.

Q&A with Stephen A. Sadow

 


 

 

Stephen A. Sadow is the editor of the new book I Am of the Tribe of Judah: Poems from Jewish Latin America. His other books include King David's Harp. He is a professor emeritus of Latin American literature and Jewish studies at Northeastern University.

 

Q: What inspired you to create this anthology of Latin American Jewish poetry?


A: Since 1987, I have been studying and translating poems from Jewish Latin America.

 

With my co-translator J. Kates, the former president of the American Literary Translators Association, I have translated poems from over 50 poets, most who write in Spanish and a few in Portuguese. Some of these translations were published in literary magazines in the United States, Great Britain and Sweden.

 

We have published six book-length anthologies of work by individual poets.


In 2022, I was having lunch with my dear friend Ilan Stavans. I mentioned that I had many, many translations sitting in my files. Ilan’s response was, “Let’s do a book!” As it turned out, he had done translations of poets I’d never worked on. Ilan made a few calls.

 

Two weeks later, I was invited by Michael Millman of the University of New Mexico Press to submit a book proposal.


Q: How did you choose the poems to include?

 

A: My goal in choosing the poems was to cover as much literary and geographical territory as I could within the planned length of the book. This meant picking poems from the 16th to 21st centuries, picking poems from 11 countries, while not letting any country dominate the collection.

 

I had to make judgments about the quality of each poem. I also had to make sure that many themes of Jewish writing in Latin America. Of course, I tried to include poems written by personal friends and acquaintances, but that was not always possible.


Q: What themes do you see running through the anthology?

 

A: The dominant themes of the anthology are immigration from Europe and adaptation to Latin America, the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism, Jewish religion and holidays, the Hebrew Bible and the mystical Kabbalah, Sepharad (Spain before the Expulsion of the Jews) everyday life experiences, poetics and the question of what is a Jew.

Q: Especially given the current rise in antisemitism, what do you hope readers take away from these poems?


A: I have come to see I Am of the Tribe of Judah as a political document. It provides one more reason for pride in Jewish accomplishments. It is positive and even aggressive in outlook.

 

As a compendium of fine literature and profound commentary, the book provides a broad knowledge about Latin American Jews and their poetry, something few have heard about.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I will be spending a great deal of time this year promoting the book, through talks at Jewish institutions and a few universities. Also, I am writing an article for an academic journal about self-transcendence in the work of Costa Rican Jewish Poet Rosita Kalina for publication in Latin American Jewish Studies.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I am professor emeritus of Latin American Literature and Jewish Studies at Northeastern University in Boston. Besides translation, I did ample scholarly research in those fields. One of my books won a National Jewish Book Award.

 

I have made almost 40 trips to Latin America, and immersed myself in Jewish intellectual culture in Buenos Aires and Mexico City.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

 

Q&A with Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw

 


 

 

Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw are the creators of the new musical audiobook 19: The Musical. It focuses on important figures in the women's suffrage movement. Schwed and Bradshaw are playwrights, filmmakers, and multimedia storytellers.

 

Q: What inspired you to create 19: The Musical?

 

A: As multimedia creators, we were considering our next production after finishing a run of an immersive theatrical play about Edgar Allan Poe.

 

It was the fall of 2016, and inspired by both the storytelling elements of Hamilton and what we had assumed would be the election of the first female president, we arrived at the idea of 19: The Musical.

 

This would be an artistic homage to the women who fought and won the right to vote in the US, the 19th Amendment. So much of women’s history remains buried and we felt now was a great time to right that wrong.


Q: How did the two of you collaborate on the project?

 

A: We’ve been collaborating for over a decade, so we’ve developed a sort of rhythm to creating projects. We outline a story together, deciding on the flow and what material will be covered. Then we kind of go into our corners and tackle different parts of a production.

 

Sometimes, the creative process is just inspired--one of us absolutely wants to write a song for one scene and the other is drawn to another scene.

 

What’s nice is that you have a partner to work through tricky parts or passages, testing them out loud, trying different words and phrases. And then of course, we do write together sometimes!


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

 

A: Our research consisted of a lot of reading, speaking to many historians and watching documentaries. Almost everything we learned was a surprise as this subject is so poorly covered in most schools.

 

One of the most surprising things we learned was how often these women put themselves in harm’s way, spending time in jail, being force-fed and beaten. These women were relentless in their pursuit of equality.

 

And these suffragists were also a blueprint for the Civil Rights movement in America; they were the first group to peacefully assemble and demand their rights by marching to the White House.

 

Q: What do you hope listeners take away from the project?

 

A: We hope listeners appreciate how important it is to be involved and stay involved in politics because it impacts every bit of their lives. We want listeners to be inspired by the idea of working together and creating influence that can affect positive change.

 

And most importantly, we want to credit these women who went before us; we want to shed light on their story, their power and their perseverance. 


Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Currently, we’re reworking our immersive Poe production for other mediums, we’re outlining a noir detective series, and there are a few other ideas on the table!


Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: We would love for the audiobook of 19: The Musical to be shared in schools and used for educating children and young adults about the inspiring historical actions of the women who fought for and won the right to vote.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 21

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

June 21, 1905: Jean-Paul Sartre born.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Q&A with Catherine Bybee

 


 

 

Catherine Bybee is the author of the new novel All Our Tomorrows. Her many other novels include When It Falls Apart. She lives in San Diego.

 

Q: What inspired you to write All Our Tomorrows, and how did you create your characters Chase and Piper?

 

A: I truly enjoy writing about the rich and famous…especially when the characters are "newly" rich. Cinderella stories never go out of fashion, IMHO. So, the birth of All Our Tomorrows and The Heirs Series happened.  

 

Another big reason for this particular book with the conflicts that my characters face is the state of our country. While America has rolled back 50 years of precedence with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, I wanted to write a common scenario with the very real emotions unmarried women have when faced with an unexpected pregnancy.

 

While the secret baby trope isn’t new, it must shift and change with the times. I hope the outcome satisfies all my readers. 

 

Q: What do you think the novel says about money and inheritance?

 

A: In a simple sentence, money and inheritance don’t equate happiness. Chase and Alex inherit their late father’s estate… but they also inherit his stress and problems that come with a billion-dollar company.

 

Shouldering the livelihood of a thousand employees is a real responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. And since Chase and Alex are relatable characters, it’s easy to feel their pain despite the fancy cars and big houses. 


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Chase and Piper?

 

A: Honest and genuine. If you or I won the lottery, we’d wonder if the new people entering our lives are there for our companionship or the money.

 

With Piper and Chase, there isn’t any question why each of them are there. I love how Chase needs Piper just as much as she needs him. For both their romantic relationship as well as their business life. It’s a very equal relationship and I love that.

 

This is a bit like a reverse Cinderella story. Yes, Chase is the one with the money, but it’s Piper who teaches him what that truly means. I love that.  

 

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

 

A: Piper is the character with an uncertain future…until Chase promises all his tomorrows to her. *Sigh*

 

Q: This is the first in a new series--what's coming next?

 

A: There are two brothers and one sister in this series. Each of them has a completely different story in how they acclimate to their new “Billion Dollar” lives and the romance they find in their journeys. 

 

Book two is all about the missing blue-collar brother and the reporter who needs to uncover his secrets. 

 

Book three… All about Alex (Alexandrea) who has given up on any possibility of a life partner… Well... this is a Bybee book so you know THAT isn’t going to last. *smile*  

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Absolutely… Unlike most of my series where each book never leaves a hanging plot point, this series has an underlying issue that isn’t resolved until the end of the series. While I still strive to assure that each of my novels can be read as a stand-alone, these three will have a bit of doubt until the last page of the final book. 

 

And one more thing… be sure and read my Author’s Notes in these books. You might feel my passion for the plot twists and know where they are coming from. 

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Lynne Spriggs O'Connor

 

Photo by Douglas Lees

 

 

Lynne Spriggs O'Connor is the author of the new book Elk Love: A Montana Memoir. Also a rancher and conservationist, she lives in Montana.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Elk Love?

 

A: Pain. Loneliness. Wonder. Grace.

 

Twenty years ago, I became overwhelmed by physical and emotional pain. Struggling all alone became more than I could handle. I’d reached my limits; it felt as if I had no choice but to completely surrender.

 

In my early 40s, that meant leaving everything behind - trading in my East Coast city life of academic “knowing” and transplanting myself to rural Montana, a place of vast open spaces and beauty. It felt as if my soul demanded I stretch out, quiet down, and listen to the silence.

 

It was a rocky transition. But as I leaned into the mysterious energy of things, I fell in love - with an unusual man, a particular place in nature, and everything that lived in that place, all at the same time.

 

I felt inspired to write about those years because they were a real pilgrimage and a significant rite of passage that resonated with something universal.

 

My determination to gather knowledge shifted to a fascination with what is unknowable. I became calmer, responding instead of reacting. A lifelong feeling of separateness finally gave way to belonging.

 

To honor and express gratitude for all that I experienced during those transformative years, I wanted to share this story with others.

 

Q: The writer Pam Houston said of the book, “In prose that is by turns rapturous, bawdy, hilarious, and serene, Elk Love sings a song of relationship; with the man, yes, but also with the Earth.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: I was absolutely thrilled when she sent this to me – she gets it! At various turns in my story, I was going for soulful poetry, devilish naughtiness, hearty laughter (as in eye-rolling, you’ve got to be kidding me snorts and chuckles, and that delicious kind of belly laugh that tickles so much you cry and can’t stop), and the peace of mindful awareness.

 

Seeing what authors are going for – even if they don’t always get there – is one of Pam’s many superpowers. I tend to take things way too seriously, so I love being around people and animals who make me laugh. Humor is a subjective thing.

 

Lucky for me, Pam and I share similar perspectives beyond humor - a love for horses and dogs, the land, Iceland and the American West (Santa Fe in particular), and the great joy of our each having found an amazing man to love late in life.


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

 

A: Pam was brainstorming on the phone with me one day. After a long time of us combing the entire book for ideas, she suggested Elk Love. I had to sit with it for a while, but the title stuck. In a literal way, it signifies the surprising mystery of unexpected intimacies in life. (Never in the world did I ever imagine feeling love for elk, but I do!)

 

Metaphorically, it recalls what I was learning by being quiet in nature back then. Stalking elk led me to pay fierce attention – to listen and observe everything around me in nature, to notice and appreciate what was speaking.

 

Exposure to elk hunting and harvesting further seasoned my sensibilities, reminding me in visceral ways that no living thing is ever separate from the sacred and inevitable cycles of death and life.

 

My book centers on experiences of falling in love with what is wild – in nature and in myself. To admire elk, to be in awe of their intelligence and their power, their beauty and their vulnerability; to listen to the stunning musicality of their voices; to humbly take their body into my own as sustenance so that we literally become one; to feel gratitude and deeply comforted in their presence – all of this is woven into my title.

 

Q: What impact did it have on you to write this memoir, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

 

A: I’ve been thinking a lot about how curiosity and experiences of wonder in nature – like those I describe in Elk Love – are invitations to engage in intimacies of the Spirit. And I’ve come to believe there is nothing more important in life. Follow those glimmers of wonder, no matter what!

 

In trying to stay open - without judgement - and be with what was unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable, I began to appreciate the surprising energy and intelligence of everything.

 

Traveling by foot or on horseback through vast grasslands, sitting quietly in woods, showing up over 12 years to write Elk Love, I learned how my presence in silence could become a kind of invitational offering; patience and kindness became ways of honoring.

 

By just spending time – in a rural Montana town or in the middle of deep wilderness - I learned to listen and to care. It was a new practice of allowing what was unknown to reveal itself and to come into relationship with me on its own terms, in its own ways and time.

 

I’ve never really had much of what is called “common sense” in life. But I am learning more about how to trust life, as it is. Through a curiosity about what is wild in nature, I’ve discovered the healing capacities of coming to know what is both precious and disturbing – in myself, and in us all.

 

I hope Elk Love inspires others to listen more carefully for the mysterious voices that may be speaking to them.

 

Q:  What are you working on now?

 

A: I’ve got a roughed-out draft of a second memoir that picks up where this one ends. I’m largely a visitor in Harrison’s world of ranching and hunting in Elk Love. In my second volume, I’m initiating a lot more as the astonishing adventures in our valley continue to deepen and expand.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I’ve had a longstanding fascination with the concept of alchemy and transformative experiences in life. There is a lot of alchemy in Elk Love – in the heat of things, I’m changing into someone different.

 

Phyllis is a playful trickster figure. Harrison is half man, half beast. We construct a lantern using willow branches that looks like a butterfly chrysalis or an egg. In another scene, Harrison and I build a bridge together over the creek we must ford to get home.

 

Every Zendo and monastery I’ve been to has had a bridge to cross, symbolizing the passage from one world to another. Inviting conversations with what is different or unfamiliar, building bridges of connection through awareness, seeking relationships between what is human and not human, comfortable and uncomfortable, visible and invisible…. This is where I like to live.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with DW Gibson

 


 

 

DW Gibson is the author of the new book One Week to Change the World: An Oral History of the 1999 WTO Protests. His other books include 14 Miles: Building the Border Wall. He is director of Art Omni: Writers in Ghent, New York.

 

Q: What inspired you to create One Week to Change the World, and how did you choose the oral history participants?

 

A: Many of my interests that I’ve written about in the past—labor, the health of democracy, the challenges presented by capitalism—are all knotted up in the protests at the center of this book.

 

The fingerprints of what happened in Seattle in 1999 [at the World Trade Organization conference protests] are all over the last 25 years. It’s where we first see the internet as an organizing tool; it’s where we first see modern occupy tactics and a militarized police force; it’s where we first see the call-and-response of the “people’s microphone.”

 

These are the hallmarks of protesting today, yet what happened in 1999 has been all but forgotten. Part of the drive to do this book was a sense that we were losing an important origin story.

 

There are many reasons for this loss but here’s an important one: for most people, talking about trade or an international, bureaucratic organization like the WTO seems cumbersome at first.

 

But the protests in Seattle, at their core, were about saving democracy. It was the first time that people in the U.S.— on a grand scale of 50,000—decided to push back on corporate governance and start defending the dignity and liberty of individual citizens in the face of globalization. These are issues that still resonate today.

 

And there’s this: What happened over the course of that rainy week in Seattle is just a damn good story, on its own terms. The action starts on the first page and never lets up.

 

I picked interviewees who could help me fully develop the dynamism of story and tell it from every relevant perspective – not just the protesters but city officials, law enforcement, WTO delegates, politicians, cultural critics, everyone who could bring the action to life and help us try to process what it all means decades later.  

 

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

 

A: Titles are always difficult for me. I usually don’t come up with them until the last minute. I find it difficult to summarize a work accurately—and in a way that can simultaneously satisfy a marketing team.

 

In this case I have to give all the credit to my editor, Sean Manning, for coming up with the title. He’s one of the best collaborators I’ve ever worked with and he was the one who realized how perfectly this phrase—“one week to change the world”— encapsulates the energy and stakes of the WTO protests.

 

Q: In the book’s Author’s Note, you write, “In the end, it’s a story about saving democracy--how it’s been done in the past and how it might be done again.” Can you say more about that?


A: The media often framed (and frames) the protests in Seattle as a story about “anti-globalization,” which is not how most of the protesters I interviewed described their organizing.

 

They emphasized again and again that, more centrally, it was a pro-democracy movement. They were pushing back on corporations playing an outsized role in making and enforcing the rules of globalization—with civil society and individual citizens getting squeezed out of the process.

 

Corporate governance was the threat to democracy then and today the threat is more squarely Donald Trump. He has openly stated that he would like to govern as a dictator, floated the idea of a third term, and asked the U.S. justice system for absolute immunity.

 

These are two distinct threats to democracy—Donald Trump and corporate governance—but they share a strong connection.

 

There’s a reason why so many CEOs, hedge fund managers, and Silicon Valley all-stars have rallied around Trump’s candidacy. They are willing to embrace his authoritarian approach in exchange for normalizing and furthering corporate governance.

 

It creates the perfect framework for a totalitarian state that runs entirely on capitalism. Once a country arrives at that point, who needs democracy?

 

While every protest movement exists in its own context, Seattle does offer something of a playbook for how to envision and execute a successful protest today. In 1999, the protesters set a goal (shut down the WTO meetings) and they met that goal. How often does that happen? The story of Seattle provides a road map for activists today, a clear model of effective, nonviolent civil disobedience.  

 

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

 

A: I came to realize just how much work and community is required for a successful protest. I think everyone can recognize the importance of those two elements: working hard for something that gets you fired up, and connecting with others with whom you can relate, with whom you can work side-by-side—what could be more meaningful than that?

 

The place in Seattle where so many months of organizing and planning took place was a giant warehouse that some of the protesters had rented out. They called it the “Convergence Center.”

 

It was the perfect name to describe how the space was used. It was a place to find tools and training, comradery and ideas, food and rest.  It was a place for people to come together.

 

As one organizer pointed out to me, the protesters were trying to establish a culture of care. They cared about democracy and they cared about each other. I think we can do that today. I hope readers come away with that perception—maybe even a willingness to roll up their sleeves.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: There are so many stories related to these protests that I hope to tell:  the radical farmer activists from the 1970s and ‘80s who contributed to the action in Seattle; the role of culture—music, theater, poetry—in protesting; the ways in which we’ve accelerated the militarization of our police departments; the role of the internet in organizing.

 

These are all stories that I want to explore as I keep dissecting the outcomes from Seattle and how they reverberate today.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: One of the most important things I learned while working on this book is that a protest movement cannot have any meaningful effect without nonviolent, tactically-minded civil disobedience. It’s a must.

 

Equally important is the ability of a movement to build the biggest possible coalition. This is one of the most significant challenges of our current circumstances where so many interest groups are siloed, inclined toward administering purity tests before embracing any collaborators.

 

In Seattle, people like Tom Hayden and Sherrod Brown were there but so was Pat Buchanan. Did Sherrod Brown and Pat Buchanan agree on many policies? No! Probably few, if any.

 

But they both realized that if democracy was not preserved there would be no opportunity to have the policy fights they wanted to have. And so they came together in a Left-Right coalition that is nearly unthinkable today.

 

We have to allow our imaginations to make it thinkable. If we’re going to stop corporate governance and authoritarian rule, if we’re going to demand that government check the abuses of capitalism, it will require the kind of inclusivity we saw in Seattle. Only that kind of big tent coalition will have the muscle to overcome the current threats to our democracy.  

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb