Friday, June 28, 2024

Q&A with Penny Lane




Penny Lane is the author of the new memoir Redeemed: A Memoir of a Stolen Childhood. She lives in Mill Valley, California.


Q: What inspired you to write Redeemed, and how was the book’s title chosen?


A: I have always loved books in a way that was almost sacred--they were my first friends. They kept me sane during my abusive childhood.


When I was a child, I was so incredulous and angry at my repeated abuse, at my stepmother’s sheer meanness, that I wanted to write a book so everyone would know how I was being treated.


Of course, I never did, but as I stopped hiding it in my 30s, and told people about my story, they all said, “Penny, you have to write a book about this.” I heard that a hundred times.


To redeem means “to free from what distresses or harms,” which is how we came up with the title. My parents stole my childhood from me, but I redeemed myself from their hold. And in real life, I truly did. It’s really a victorious story.


Q: What do you see as the role of religion in the memoir, and in your life?


A: I thought it would be my “salvation,” and would provide the loving family I never had, but it turned out to be a false promise. I ended up more lost and abused.


I had to leave the (Evangelical) church, and denounce God, and abandon any faith I had in higher being or church to heal, to find myself and learn to depend only on what I believed or created for myself.


Then one day, decades later, when I was actualized, and had everything I had wanted and worked for (education, love, family, security,) I felt a pull toward Judaism.


I had always wanted to be Jewish because the Jewish kids were the ones who were nice to me as a struggling teen, and because I identified with injustice of what the Jews went through in the Holocaust. I met with the rabbi and read a few books before going to temple.


At my first service, I cried uncontrollably. Even though the songs were in Hebrew which I did not understand, and I did not know anyone there, I felt like I’d finally found home, that these were my people--the place I had longed for my whole life. A place where I fit, belonged, and was unconditionally accepted. A faith that came from inside me, as opposed to dictated externally by someone else.


I was finally home. I was complete. I had taken myself full circle--from lost child to lost Christian--to a home in Judaism.

Q: The writer Julian Guthrie said of the book, “The author's journey from victim to victor is a testament to the power of determination and our will to be happy.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think she was spot on. She and I were neighbors for many years, and our boys are similar ages so we were around each other a lot.


She was an investigative journalist, so she knew how to get a story out of people. She knew even before the book how hard I worked to overcome my odds, to be happy, and to give my son the love and security I never had.


I don’t know what motivated me through all those dark years of abuse, except that I knew how I was being treated was wrong, and I knew I wanted to be happy.


When I finally freed myself and started healing, I was way behind my peers in terms of education, relationships and stability. I had to undo all the damage the abuse did to me as a person, but I fought, struggled and sacrificed until I found my place.


I am far from perfect, but I have arrived at my destination. I am happy and successful, something my parents never were.


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


A: Part of my research for writing the book was creating a timeline of the major events in my life. As I did this, I was reminded of truly how much I have overcome, and it brought me to tears. It was a big reminder of how far I have come, and how triumphant I was over those terrible odds.


As an adult and parent, I was able to mourn that little lost girl as I couldn’t when I was in it. I felt truly validated, proud, and amazed to be alive and well, and not an addict or mentally ill because of my life.


I hope people are inspired by my story, to stop hiding their family or childhood, or any trauma, but to start talking about it, to trusted friends who won’t judge, who’ll comfort and support you, to find a therapist to validate and pick through what needs to be healed.


I hope people see they can overcome their trauma, abuse, or whatever burdens them at any age, and that they see that they get to define who they are--not their abusers, or parents, or spouses, that there is freedom, hope and healing from speaking out and telling our stories.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on getting speaking engagements to share my story, so thank you for this. I am setting up a few book tours to Colorado, Utah, and the East Coast, and learning how to parent my son who boomeranged home from college because he is just not ready yet. There’s no manual for this, we just go day by day, making the right choices to choose compassion and love as my guide.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Whenever I tell people my story--or people read my book--they start telling me about their trauma and abuse, or about someone they know who was abused as a child. I think this is more common than we know.


I think talking about it is important. It’s part of our mental well-being to tend to--to talk about--our hearts and minds and souls that have been damaged. We can’t be healthy or heal if we hide this stuff. We have to let it out, and when we do, the power and freedom we feel internally is amazing.


Invite me to your book club. I’ll go first, and we can all heal together.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Shari Green




Shari Green is a contributor to the new Anne of Green Gables young adult anthology The Annethology: A Collection of Kindred Spirits Inspired by the Canadian Icon. Green's other books include the YA novel-in-verse Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams. She lives on Vancouver Island.


Q: How did The Annethology come to be?


A: Author/editor Judith Graves had the idea for the anthology and pitched it to Acorn Press (Prince Edward Island’s longest-running traditional publisher!). The timing seemed perfect—2024 marks the 150th anniversary of [Anne of Green Gables author] Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birth.


After getting the go-ahead on the project, Judith reached out to the authors. Being a huge fan of Anne, I jumped at the opportunity!


There were very few guidelines—only that Anne needed to have red hair and be adopted, and that the original themes should run through our stories.


We were encouraged to make Anne our own, which was so much fun, and I think it resulted in a very cool collection of stories—something for everyone, really, so readers will find their Anne as well as discover other versions of the beloved character.


Q: What inspired your own contribution to the anthology, “Anne of the Silver Trail”?


A: I was only a few years older than my Anne when I arrived in a mining camp along the Yukon’s “Silver Trail” as a newlywed far from home. Memories of my years there are rich with the extraordinary beauty of the North and with an expanded understanding and experience of home and family.


Those themes—beauty and home and family—seemed to fit Anne so well, so I mercilessly uprooted my Anne from her beloved PEI and introduced her to the Yukon. I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that she was enamoured by the wild beauty and kindred spirits she found there.

Q: Did you and the other contributors coordinate about what you were planning to write?


A: When you give 10 different writers the same assignment, odds are you’re going to get 10 very different stories. And fortunately, that’s what happened!


Still, it had been possible the collection could end up weighted too heavily in one genre, for example, so Judith had us run our ideas past her, just in case. She made sure there would truly be something for everyone in this anthology.


Q: When did you first become aware of Anne of Green Gables, and what do you see as L.M. Montgomery's legacy today?


A: I first read Anne of Green Gables when I was a kid, and I fell in love with Anne and the lovely language in the books. As an adult, the ‘80s TV mini-series made me fall in love all over again. (Megan Follows will always be my favourite Anne.) I still enjoy re-reading the book, all these years later.


As for L.M. Montgomery’s legacy, I believe there are so many people who love books because they loved Anne. So many who see the world differently because of having seen it through Anne’s eyes—people who pay attention to beauty, who savour words and stories, who recognize the necessity and value of having a kindred spirit because LMM gave them the vocabulary for it along with the most delightful example.


The world is richer for knowing Anne.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m drafting a middle-grade novel, and the only thing I’ll say about it is at this point is that I love it so far and hope to share it with readers one day.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Since The ANNEthology is aimed at young adult readers, I’d love to give a shout-out for my young adult novel in verse, Song of Freedom, Song of Dreams.


It’s historical fiction set in 1989 East Germany, about music, oppression, protests, dreams, impossible choices, and hope. I love it so much and hope readers will check it out!


For more info about my books, people can visit my website at


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Shari Green.

June 28




June 28, 1891: Esther Forbes born.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Q&A with Julia Phillips



Julia Phillips is the author of the new novel Bear. She also has written the novel Disappearing Earth. She teaches at the Randolph College MFA program, and she lives in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to write Bear, and how did you create your characters Sam and Elena?


A: Bear was inspired by my feelings of stuckness and fantasies of escape during the first year on the pandemic, when how I was living seemed so impossibly far from how I thought things were supposed to be.


This book's main characters, Sam and Elena, have been grappling with that stuck feeling for a long, long time—until one day their lives are shaken up by the arrival of a wild animal. Sam and Elena are rooted in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale called "Snow-White and Rose-Red," about two sisters who meet a beast like this.


It was such a pleasure to sit in my home and imagine that visitation for myself. How stuck would I have to be to welcome a bear at my door?

Q: How would you describe the dynamic between the two sisters?


A: Sam is very much the younger sister to Elena's older: Elena is the leader in their family while Sam is supposed to follow what her sister says to do, and Elena is seen as more responsible and "good" while Sam sometimes acts like an uncooperative kid.


But underneath how they present to the world, Elena longs to rebel, and Sam longs for comfort and security. As a little sister myself, I found their dynamic to be a joy to explore.

Q: The writer Angie Kim said of the novel, “Intense, moody, fierce, and relentlessly suspenseful, Bear is a modern-day fairy tale about the tenacious bonds and complexities of sisterhood.” What do you think of that description?


A: I of course love it! Angie is not only a thrilling, brilliant writer but a dear, dear friend, and it means the world to me that she connected with this story.

Q: Your previous novel, Disappearing Earth, was also set on a remote island. Why did you choose San Juan Island in Washington state as the setting for this new book?


A: When I started this book, my ability to travel anywhere was really constrained due to both the global pandemic and my own new parenthood.


I therefore wanted to set a story in a far-from-me place that was totally gorgeous, so I could immerse myself in fantasy while writing...but not a place that was so inaccessible that fantasizing about it would become frustrating.


San Juan was—is!—perfect. It's a beautiful place, it feels magical, and its remoteness is adjacent to the Seattle airport, so getting there to research the book was possible.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm so excited to be working on another novel that's also about womanhood and isolation and threat, though no bears have showed up in it...yet!

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Only that this book was so fun and wild for me to write, and I very much hope it'll be just as fun and wild for folks to read. Thank you for taking the time to check it out!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Julia Phillips.

Q&A with Phaedra Patrick


Photo by Samral Photography



Phaedra Patrick is the author of the new novel The Year of What If. Her other novels include The Little Italian Hotel. She lives in Saddleworth, UK.


Q: What inspired you to write The Year of What If, and how did you create your character Carla?


A: I wanted to explore the idea of a highly superstitious family whose female members believe in a longtime curse on their romantic relationships.


My lead character, Carla Carter, is more practical and thinks people can find their perfect partner more scientifically, so has set up a dating agency called Logical Love. It’s how she matched with her fiancé, Tom, and Carla’s looking forward to their wedding day.


However, when Carla’s family drag her to see a fortune teller, the tarot cards reveal her true happiness lies with someone from her past instead. So, Carla sets off on a journey across Europe to revisit all the men she dated during her gap year from university, 21 years ago, before she walks down the aisle with Tom.


I’ve always been fascinated by fortune tellers and tarot cards, and whether they can actually predict the future or not. It was interesting to research clairvoyants and curses, and to discover there was a spiritualist revival after the end of World War I, with many people turning to mediums in an attempt to contact loved ones lost in the war.


I love travelling in Europe, especially the sunshine and food, and I wanted to write something warm, interesting, fun, and intriguing. All these various elements came together to form my idea for The Year of What If.


Q: What do you think the novel says about family superstitions?


A: Every family is different and it’s interesting where superstitions and stories originate from and how they pass along generations. Superstitions can be both positive or negative, and the ones within Carla’s family have reached the point where they are rather stifling.


When Carla eventually unravels the mystery of her family curse, her relatives’ romantic partnerships should improve from then on!

Q: The writer Christina Lauren said of the book, “Anyone with a meddling family and too many exes will feel right at home in Phaedra Patrick’s The Year of What If, an escapist romp that offers it all: a European vacation, an unsolved mystery, and a whole lot of love.” What do you think of that description?


A: It was an honour that Christina Lauren read and quoted for my book! I think it’s a fun blurb that really gets to the heart of the story. I feel proud the quote is on the front cover of the book.


Q: Your character Carla journeys to many scenic European locales--did you go to all of them in the course of your research?


A: I’m fortunate to have visited the majority of the locations Carla travels to in the book.


Barcelona is a favourite city of mine and I holidayed there last year. It helped me to capture the atmosphere of bustling Catalonia on the page. I love the vintage shops, amazing architecture by Antoni Gaudi, the huge flea market and how the city has a beach because it’s right next to the sea.


I’ve also previously been to Paris, Portugal, Amsterdam, and Girona. However, Blanca del Mar was a Spanish town on the Costa Brava that I created specifically for the book, and Carla’s visit to Sardinia was a late addition. It was the only place I haven’t visited, but it looks so beautiful in photographs I hope to go there one day.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m around 25 percent of the way into writing my eighth novel and am still finding my way. The first part of my books always take time to get going, because I need to learn about my lead character and their motivations. All I can say about the plot is that I’m trying to imagine what life would be like living inside a coffee commercial!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: For those readers who ask if there’ll ever be a film of my debut novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, the book is still under option in Hollywood and a script is in progress. These things take a long time and might not even come to fruition, but I have my fingers crossed.


Likewise, the TV/film rights for my sixth novel, The Little Italian Hotel, have been snapped up by a European production company.


In the meantime, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone (based on my second novel) is now available to watch on Amazon Prime.


For up-to-date news, please follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or check out my website


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Phaedra Patrick.

Q&A with Drew Beckmeyer


Drew Beckmeyer is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book The First Week of School. His other books include I Am a Tornado. He is also an elementary school teacher.


Q: What inspired you to create The First Week of School?


A: The format was the inspiration really. I wanted to try to write stories for five or six characters that were all interconnected. Where each individual had an effect on the other's storyline, but they themselves never see this impact.


Initially, it was set in an apartment building where each of the tenant's lives are changed by an alien visitor that nobody ever sees. The plot was essentially the same, but switching the setting to a school made it much more kid friendly.  I've been teaching for over a decade, so I had a lot of little details to draw from. 


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


A: With almost everything I write, the text needs to be nearly done before I start doing any sketches or art. The last 20 percent is a bit of a push and pull with the art and text, where I'll tweak them back and forth, but in general art is the last thing that happens. 


Q: The School Library Journal review of the book says that it “[c]aptures both the magic and the mundanity of the first week of school.” What do you think of that description?


A: Haha, well I think out of context I might be a little confused by that quote. But that is essentially what school is to a kid, right? It can be the most boring place in the world and immediately switch into something exciting, or dramatic, or terrifying, or hilarious, and then go right back into boring again.


It happens probably 50 times every school day for most kids and classrooms, and the first week of school always amplifies all of that. 


Anyway, the whole thing was a really nice review though, from someone who seemed to really understand what I was trying to do. I'm appreciative. 


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


A: Mostly I hope they think it is fun and funny. I hope there is a character for everyone to see a little of themselves in. I hope that all the school settings resonate with people's experience.


I hope it reminds people that we don't necessarily know the impact that we have on the people around us and we can't always see the impact that the people around us have on our lives. It's a cool social ecosystem we all live in and it's nice to remember that it isn't all about our own experience all the time.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I am finishing the school year as best as I can and tying up loose ends on my next book, Stalactite and Stalagmite, which is out next year.  Beyond that, I'm just working on new ideas for more books. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I don't think so. Thanks for checking out the book. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 27




June 27, 1880: Helen Keller born.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Q&A with Ben Pastor




Ben Pastor is the author of the new novel The Venus of Salò, the latest in her Martin Bora series. She was born in Italy, spent 30 years in the United States, and is now living in Italy again.


Q: What inspired the plot of your new Martin Bora novel?


A: Truly deceptive are beginnings and endings…This free quote from Hölderlin’s poetry sums up the historical context of Martin Bora’s experience in The Venus of Salò, set during the last months of the Second World War.


His juvenile enthusiasm at the start of the conflict turned out to be misleading; political disgrace, even as Germany rumbles toward final defeat, is nothing but the cost of his meritorious ethical choices.


It is the winter of 1944-1945, in Mussolini’s German-run puppet state near Italy’s northern border.


Colonel Bora works as a liaison between the two headquarters, and in so doing his responsibilities range from diplomacy to active warfare against guerrilla units in the mountains. A series of gruesome deaths soon forces him to try to understand why young local women are falling victim to an apparently senseless violence.


All along, as a long-time covert opponent of Hitler’s regime, he must steel  himself against the likelihood of harsh retribution.


What inspired me? We live in times when concepts like justice, equality, and peace agitate and divide the world as never before. Although the novel was first conceived years ago, its depiction of a man’s struggle to stay true to his ideals in the face of adversity makes it timely and appropriate.


How far would any of us go, physically and psychologically, to stand by our beliefs? And how will Bora investigate and confront feminicide, an issue still burning today?

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


A: When writing, my approach to research is born out of personal curiosity and an academician’s tolerance for lengthy practices of fact-finding, double-checking, digging through first- and second-hand material, maps, photographs, on site investigation, and more.


In preparation for the draft, it was useful for me to travel to the region where the novel takes place, inquire of elderly eyewitnesses, visit local libraries, ransack bookshops for reliable texts in several languages… in other words, immerse myself in that world and that historical period.


Familiar as I already was with the events and the principal players in them, I must say that a few surprises came my way.


The melancholy of a lakeside once torn between fighting armies, under Nazi and fascist occupation, is palpable even today, despite the glorious reputation Lake Garda has among tourists the world over. Its beauty, mild climate, palm trees and fine hotels cannot altogether cancel the echo of all that happened there.


The mindful visitor will readily identify Mussolini’s final residence (under German guard), the local SS and Black Shirts headquarters, let alone the markers pointing out places where patriots fought and died. Equally unexpected was perceiving the local population’s tickled embarrassment over the fame the town of Salò and neighboring communities “enjoy” in history books, 80 years after the events.


Q: Why did you decide to focus on a Wehrmacht officer in your series?


A: Twelve Bora novels have seen publication in various languages during the past 25 years. My protagonist and I have been travel companions for longer than many couples stay married!


Believe it or not, in my attempt to “push the envelope” while conceiving an out-of-the-ordinary mystery, the first idea was to create a WWII investigator who served in the Russian NKVD, Stalin’s infamous secret police. Of course, my character could not be a murderous thug, and would need a certain leeway to do his inquiries besides.


As neither possibility appeared likely under the Soviet regime, I had to look somewhere else. However, the same logic held true on the German side for a disreputable corps like the SS.  


Thus, Bora became a Saxon cavalry officer in the regular armed forces, the Wehrmacht. From a landowning background, with a degree in philosophy, he is a Catholic, although a descendant from Martin Luther’s wife. His art-loving maternal family is Scots, liberally minded and supportive.


A sportsman who gave up a chance to win the Berlin Olympic Games in order to fight in the Spanish civil war as a legionnaire, Bora is also a faithful, passionate young husband who keeps an accurate diary of his moral doubts throughout the war.


The publishing world showcases investigators of all types and sizes, from all walks of life. Choosing a protagonist from what is to all appearances the wrong side of the fence found its justification in the true stories of German soldiers who rejected the regime’s criminal orders at the cost of their careers and often their lives.


Secretly coming to the aid of civilians, especially the persecuted, and generally living on the edge, Bora saves his soul while retaining the allure of a first-rate combatant and dashing horseman.


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


A: Everyone will probably take away from this novel what in some form s/he already had inside. My hope is that at least some of the concerns I try to convey in The Venus of Salò come through and stay with the reader.


Among them I would mention a sense of hope and resilience, a strong moral instinct, the delight in physical love as an antidote to fear, and generally speaking, a hardy attitude in life, capable of grinning even in the face of trouble. Bora has lost a hand in combat, but displays all the vigor and efficiency of an individual unbowed by disability.


In my opinion, a mystery should entertain, while possibly making readers reflect not only on crime-solving and justice, but also on the way we all confront daily choices in normal times, free of the horrors known to the generations of our parents and grandparents.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Thanks for asking. In May, The Wolf Pit is coming out in Italian – the first novel I actually wrote in my native language, as I habitually write in English. I am now in the process of working with the publishers and their marketing staff to schedule readings, book presentations, attendance at literary festivals, and TV appearances.


The choice of using Italian is tied to the novel’s plot, actually a sequel to Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed, Italy’s fundamental novel – more or less as Moby Dick is for Americans. Set in Spanish-run Milan and its duchy, it takes place in the XVII century during the Thirty Years’ War, and the subsequent plague that ravaged Europe.


Taking up where Manzoni left off, the story evolves from a tale of oppression, injustice and redress into a mystery full of action and intrigue, against a backdrop of religiosity and superstition typical of those witch-burning days.


The protagonist, Don Diego Antonio de Olivares, a young and spirited lawman, is the latest addition to the team of my fictional investigators.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Well, my next project regards Martin Bora. We backtrack from 1945 to 1941, shortly after the start of the German invasion of Russia. Bora has just come out of a close encounter with the enemy in fine shape except for a broken arm.


He fears that a desk job will be his destiny for the following weeks, until he is unexpectedly shipped to Odessa, the once wild Ukrainian port city on the Black Sea. Due to the war, gone are the days when Odessan streets echoed with the cries of Greek and Italian vendors, klezmer music, sailors’ oaths, and the shooting rows of criminal gangs in the alleys of the Moldavanka quarter.


The spunky officer is given a perilous task even as the death squads of the SS move east to annihilate entire populations. It will be interesting to see how he manages through it all, of course coming across a fresh criminal case of his own.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ben Pastor.

June 25




June 25, 1903: George Orwell born.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Q&A with Antoine Laurain


Photo by Pascal Ito@Flammarion



Antoine Laurain is the author of the novel French Windows, now available in a new translation from French to English by Louise Rogers Lalaurie. Laurain's other books include An Astronomer in Love. He lives in Paris.


Q: What inspired you to write French Windows?


A: One inspiration is the view from my apartment in Paris! I can see many buildings and many windows, even some of my neighbors on the other side of the courtyard.


I thought maybe a building with all its floors could be like a book with chapters, with characters, events, lives... And why not a murder on one floor? That could be the mysterious part of it. 

Q: How did you create your characters Nathalia Guitry and Dr. Faber?


A: Nathalia saw something, and she took a pic with her camera. She pretends it's a crime. True or lie? That's the first question. Then she is going to write a story of the floors she can see from her windows, same question again: are the residents real or pure imagination? You will find the answer at the end of the book.


Dr. Faber is the person she discusses her writing with, as though they were short stories.  He tries to understand if they are real or not, like a game. I like the idea of the therapy room, the sofa, the silence for their discussions, like a bubble out of time. 


Q: What do you think the novel says about the nature of truthfulness?


A: Perhaps the novel says that everything is always true, but just “hidden” behind symbols, alternative names, masked changes you need to understand. 


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


A: I hope they take pleasure in reading about all the different lives and destinies, floor after floor, and experiencing the suspense as they approach the truth at the end. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Guess what: another book!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope you will enjoy this little trip in Paris. Think of it as a long weekend inside an old Parisian building in my city, with a mysterious plot. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Antoine Laurain.