Saturday, April 13, 2024

Q&A with Louise Fein




Louise Fein is the author of the new novel The London Bookshop Affair. Her other novels include The Hidden Child. She lives in Surrey, UK.


Q: What inspired you to write The London Bookshop Affair, and how did you create your character Celia?


A: My inspiration for The London Bookshop Affair really arose out of the fact that, when considering what to write for my third novel, I had been researching the Secret Operations Executive (the SOE) during World War II.


A cousin of my father had been in the SOE although nobody really knew what he had done as he never spoke of it.


The SOE, also known as Churchill’s Secret Army, consisted of thousands of men and women who would never have been eligible for the regular army.


After passing rigorous training, they were dropped behind enemy lines in occupied countries in the Far East and Europe such as France, Belgium, Holland, and Greece. They aided the war effort by committing acts of sabotage and spreading misinformation.


There were some incredible acts of heroism, many of which have been explored widely in fiction, but also quite some incompetence on the part of the British which led to many deaths, which has been less well explored.


But what really fascinated me was the fact that after the war many of these women who had been incredibly skilled and brave, were simply expected to return to the domestic sphere.


It got me wondering how that must have felt to have had great agency and freedom during a time of war, only to have that taken away during peacetime.


I also read about one young widow who left her 1-year-old daughter to join the SOE. She never made it back, and her daughter was raised by her grandparents.


I caught myself thinking, how could a mother leave her very young child like that? And then it made me think, thousands upon thousands of fathers must leave their young children to fight, so why not mothers?


I realised then how much my thinking, indeed all of our thinking, is very influenced by societal expectation and convention. Hence was born the idea of my character of Celia who was going to challenge all of that.


I chose to set the majority of the novel in the early 1960s. This was because this period was just before second wave feminism, youth culture, the contraceptive pill, and the swinging ‘60s really took off, and at a time when the strict conventions of men’s and women’s roles in society had taken, arguably, a backward step during the 1950s.


It seemed the perfect time for my young heroine to be challenging those conventions.


But also at this time, whilst there was much for the youth to be looking forward to, the tensions between the USSR and the West were at their height, and with the nuclear arms race in full swing, another war was a real prospect and one which could spell the end of the world.


The tensions between social change and the very real threat of a terrible third world war was the perfect time to set my novel.

Q: Can you say more about the novel’s two timelines?


A: The main timeline of the novel is 1962. I chose this year in particular because the ramping up of tensions over Berlin and Cuba made for the perfect backdrop to the tensions between my characters in the novel.


This was the height of the Cold War and I think there is an enduring fascination with espionage and what causes some people to spy for their country.


The World War II element of the story directly relates to the main timeline, and without any plot-spoilers, its discovery by Celia is the catalyst to the action and the relationships in the 1962 story.


I think it also shows quite clearly the different expectations of society on women during the war and afterwards, and the difficulty between the generations caused by the emergence of a youth culture never seen before in the early 1960s.


Q: The Wall Street Journal called the novel “several books at once: a family chronicle, a coming-of-age tale, a love story espionage thriller.” What do you think of that description, and how did you balance the various aspects of the book as you were writing it?


A: I have to admit, I am thrilled with this description. I feel it is all of these things and I very much hope I have done justice to all of the elements of the story.


I didn’t really plan it this way. Some of the elements emerged in the writing. I never, for instance, planned there to be any love story in it, but that sprang up from nowhere. I also didn’t plan for one of the protagonists – Septimus Nelson – to have a voice in the story. Again, he emerged.


That is, I think, one of the joys of writing. However much you plan, surprises always occur.


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


A: I hope that, first and foremost, readers will find the story engaging and entertaining. I also hope that the story will generate discussion around some of the themes in the novel.


For instance, society’s expectation of parents - women and mothers in particular; our identity and where it comes from; generational tension; the freedom and choice of ordinary people, and the justification (if any) of the blurred lines between protest, disruption, and direct action in protecting the planet.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Whilst my books to date are historical fiction, I think they are all quite different to each other.


This latest one is different again and, I think, is my most ambitious book yet. It is another dual timeline novel, but this one has timelines spanning 400 years, and a geography spreading from England and France to the USA.


Writing in time periods so far from our own is out of my comfort zone and has been both fascinating and challenging. Obviously, there is all the research, but also getting that ideal balance between accessibility and authenticity.


What always amazes me about writing historical fiction are the parallels that exist in every historical period with “now” if you seek them out. This one, I feel, perhaps even more than the others, will resonate with living in today’s world.


As always in my writing, it will be based around real history, people, and events. There will be some mystery, adventure, and feisty female characters. The book will be out in 2026. I’m very excited about it, and hope that readers will love it too!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I have a reading group guide/book club questions on my website for The London Bookshop Affair (and my other books) if people might find this helpful. It can be found here:


I always enjoy hearing from readers, so do get in touch either via my website or on social media. I can be found hanging around on X (Twitter), Instagram,  and Facebook,


I also send out a newsletter to my subscribers, no more than four times a year and with the occasional perk such as a giveaway or a short story. Do sign up, again, via my website!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Louise Fein.

Q&A with J.W. Jarvis




J.W. Jarvis is the author of the new young adult novel The Phantom Enforcer, the second in his First Responder series.


Q: What inspired you to create the First Responder series?


A: I have always admired how first responders go toward danger instead of away from it. They are our community heroes but definitely don't get enough gratitude from the world. I wanted to write something in their honor.


Besides making it realistic, I wanted to make it magical, to add a bit of illusion to the story and to hype up the adventure for the kids and their family members.


Q: Did you know from the start that it would be a series?


A: Yes. What I think readers enjoy about series is they don't end quickly. Once you become emotionally attached to characters, you want to see what they do next. That is my goal with this series and it also makes it easy for readers to find their next book.


Q: What inspired the plot of The Phantom Enforcer?


A: Book 1 was about a firefighter's adventure, so naturally, Book 2 was about police officers and the type of dangers they have to deal with. I will let everyone guess what Book 3 is about. 


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


A: Firstly, I want the readers to be entertained by the story and to feel for the scenarios the characters are going through. Secondly, I would like them to appreciate some of the missions that these heroes have to undertake.


The stories use real examples, but luckily, they get a little help from a magical being. This help could make the mission outcomes that happened in the past, better or, unfortunately, worse.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Writing a technothriller for adults that will be my first full-length novel. My goal is to make it a real page-turner with lots of action and suspense, coupled with some of the coolest future technology.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I am an author that was born and raised in a suburb near Chicago. I moved to Northern California in my 20s to get away from the bone-chilling, spine-cracking winters.


My full-time job is in Information Technology, but I would love to transition someday to full-time writing. I love taking all the ideas swirling around in my mind and putting them on paper in interesting scenarios, while developing relatable characters.


My goal is to provide entertainment to the reader that will take their imagination to places they probably wouldn't ever experience in their real lives but might have dreamt of. Thank you everyone for giving my fantasy series a try. I hope you enjoy the adventure!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with J. Boyce Gleason



J. Boyce Gleason is the author of The Carolingian Chronicles series. He spent 25 years in the field of crisis management and public affairs, and he lives in Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to write The Carolingian Chronicles?

A: I had studied the epic poem “The Song of Roland” in college and had often thought that if I ever wrote a book, it would be about Charlemagne and his greatest knight. I felt that it was an underserved story and period in history. 


Q: Did you know from the beginning that you’d be writing a series?


A: No, I just started writing and when I was about a third of the way through the story, my editor asked when Charlemagne was due to appear.  I told him “Not for a while."  


He laughed and said, “You’re going to have to wrap up this portion soon.  No one will print a 600-page novel.” 


I realized that ending the first book at that point had a lot of advantages (some characters were due to be less central to the plot moving forward) so I ended it. At that point, I knew it would take three books to tell the whole tale. And in the end, I didn’t even get to Roland’s part of the story.

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


A: I found several great books on the period (which is not well-documented) and chose one whose version of the history is the most comprehensive. That said, other sources played a big role and I often had to choose between different versions of the events as they were recorded.


What surprised me was that I couldn’t find a starting point for the novel. I kept moving backward in time, hoping to find a compelling story on which to hang the book. 


I eventually found it a generation before Charlemagne was born when the great Charles Martel (Charlemagne’s grandfather) was dying. 


Charles's daughter fled his court in the middle of the night to escape an arranged marriage and traveled halfway across the continent for the love of one of his enemies. It was considered the scandal of the eighth century. 


Once I read that, I knew I had my hook for the story. Everything flowed from there.

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


A: Most of all, I hope they’re entertained. It’s a compelling story of love, honor, sacrifice, and betrayal. And while there is plenty of war and politics, the story is really about the struggles of a family dealing with an impossible dilemma.  


Readers should also come away with a better knowledge of the period which is very relevant to why our world exists the way it does today.  


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I just finished a story on young Ben Franklin and four critical years that shaped him into the man he was destined to become.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes. I took great care to ensure that the women in the story got equal billing. While the traditional view of that time is that men ruled and women spun thread, I found the premise a little naive. Women have always influenced the course of history and I wanted to portray them in a way where they drove a significant part of the story.


I should also warn readers that this is an adult novel. There are graphic scenes of intimacy as well as violence. They are an integral part of the story and I chose to follow in the steps of some of my favorite authors (Pat Conroy, and John Irving) who don’t let the reader look away.  


One final caution, despite the title (Anvil of God) these books are not about the Christian faith. They do, however, tell the true story of Christianity’s efforts to rid the medieval world of paganism and the moral implications that surround it…a very different story.


I hope your readers will pick up a copy and give it a try! They won’t be disappointed.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Noa Nimrodi



Noa Nimrodi is the author of the middle grade novel Not So Shy. Also an illustrator, she lives in Southern California.


Q: What inspired you to write Not So Shy, and how did you create your character Shai?


A: The inspiration for Not So Shy came from my own life experiences. As a child, I moved back and forth from Israel to the USA twice, and as a grownup, I moved again from Israel to San Diego with my husband and kids.


My daughter Shai (yes, I shamelessly stole her name for my main character) was 12 years old when we moved, and the fictional Shai is inspired by her.


When developing Shai’s character for the book, I “borrowed” character traits, emotions, and some true events from all my three kids, and through the process, I realized I was also tapping into my 12-year-old self.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book called it “[t]ouching, tender, and heartbreaking.” What do you think of that description?


A: I’m flattered and appreciative of these words coming from such a reputable resource as Kirkus Review.


I think this description beautifully captures the emotional aspects of the book, but for those who haven’t read it yet, I promise more than just heartbreak. You might cry, but you’ll also be laughing all the way to a satisfying ending.


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


A: I have to give credit to my critique partner, Linda Kao (shout-out to Linda and her awesome supernatural YA debut, A Crooked Mark, which came out right around the time Not So Shy did, in mid-2023).


My critique group and I were brainstorming ideas for a title, looking for something that would have a wordplay of my character’s name and its English meaning (in Hebrew, Shai, pronounced Shy, means gift). Linda’s suggestion seemed like the perfect fit. 


The title signifies Shai’s struggle to stay true to herself when moving to the other end of the world. She was never shy back in Israel, but she fears that maybe in the US, where everything seems so different, she might not be who she always was (not so shy; not quite herself—Shai).


Q: What do you think the story says about the concept of home?


A: The main thing the story says about the concept of home is that it can be in more than one place. I did not set out to write the story with this intentional theme, but I recognized through the process of crafting the story that I was exploring the meaning of home.


I hope that, amongst other takeaways readers might have, they will also find their own answers for what home means to them.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on another contemporary middle grade novel which explores the dangers and consequences of “fake news” and misconceptions.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As an Israeli/American author who wrote a book about an Israeli girl moving from Israel (who, amongst other challenges, deals with antisemitism), I would be remiss not to mention the current situation in Israel and its ramifications for American Jews.


I am pro-Palestine and pro-Israel (yes, these two aren’t mutually exclusive!). I am pro-coexistence and pro-eliminating Hamas.


War is always horrible for all sides involved, but Israel has a right to defend its existence. After the atrocities of October 7, it has been made clear that Hamas has every intention to execute its charter, which calls for the obliteration of the state of Israel, and Israel must dismantle Hamas’s ability to do so.


It saddens me deeply that misinformation and misconceptions have led many to condemn Israel, despite the IDF’s effort to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians (unfortunately, Hamas intentionally locates its forces in hospitals and heavily populated areas).


Sadly, the events also led to a tremendous rise of antisemitism, which is a threat to American Jews and Jews worldwide.


134 hostages are still held by Hamas, among them children, women, and sick elders. Please know that their lives are in danger with every day that passes. Please know that they (those from the Kibbutzim bordering Gaza) are some of Israel’s biggest peace activists! not colonizers, not settlers, not haters! Just humans wanting to coexist in peace. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 13



April 13, 1891: Nella Larsen born.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Q&A with Jonathan Santlofer




Jonathan Santlofer is the author of the new novel The Lost Van Gogh. It's a sequel to his novel The Last Mona Lisa. He is also an artist and educator.


Q: Why did you decide to write a sequel to The Last Mona Lisa, and do you think your characters have changed at all from one book to the next?


A: The idea for a second book came to me as I was finishing The Last Mona Lisa. I wasn’t ready to let the characters go. I’d grown attached to them, knew I had more to say about them, and they had more to say. Plus, I had an idea about a Van Gogh self-portrait that I thought could work.


I think Luke and Alex have grown up a lot since the first book. They’re in a committed relationship now and trying to make it work though it’s not always easy. There is some lingering mistrust between them, as well as love.


As for Smith, he finds someone special at the end of The Lost Van Gogh, and I think he deserves happiness!


For me, as a writer and their creator, it’s fun to watch the characters develop and change and I don’t always feel in control of that. I set the scenes, but how the characters act often surprises me.


Q: How did you research this novel, and what did you learn that particularly surprised you?


A: I read a lot and traveled a lot, which I always do. I needed to see where Van Gogh had spent his life. So, I went to Amsterdam and Paris and finally to Auvers-sur-Oise, a small town north of Paris where Van Gogh spent his last 70 days and where he died.


I also knew I wanted to write something about the retribution of stolen art, a topic very much in the news today, and one with serious moral implications. I read a dozen books on Nazi art looting and followed several legal cases of heirs suing to get stolen family art returned.


The most shocking thing I learned is that the buying and selling of Nazi-looted art is still going on today, almost 80 years after the end of the war, and it inspired the major mystery in the novel.


Other surprises came as I investigated Van Gogh’s life. We know a lot about him from his letters (he wrote over 2,000), but there are still gaps, times when he was in an asylum or when he had blackouts.


And there is a lot of mystery surrounding the last day of his life and his death, something Alex discovers and describes to Luke near the end of the book, a theory based on my research about what might have happened to Vincent on that hot July day in 1890 (and something I will not spoil here).


It is always interesting and surprising when the subjects of my research unexpectedly come together. While I was in Amsterdam, I met and got to know a woman whose grandfather had owned Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, a painting stolen by the Nazis, and one she has been trying to get back for 20 years. It was as if fate had stepped in and handed me the two poles of my story at once: Van Gogh and Nazi-looted art.


Q: How does your own background as an artist affect your writing about art?


A: Of course I love art, and have spent my life deeply immersed in it. I went to art school and was trained as an artist, so I tend to see the world in images. I always try to write as visually as possible, so the reader can see what’s happening.


Art school is very demanding and disciplined, and that discipline carried over into being a writer. No one forces you to be an artist or a writer, so if you want to do either, you’d better be prepared to work hard and often without feedback or recognition. I learned that as an artist and it’s the same for writers.


Q: The writer Joseph Finder said of the book, “The Last Van Gogh is a kaleidoscope — a globetrotting thriller, a lesson in art history, a reminder of a crime against humanity that will never be expunged, but most of all a tremendously entertaining read.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think Joe sums it up beautifully and I thank him for that. The novel takes the reader on a physical (and for the characters often dangerous) journey from New York to Amsterdam, to Paris, and Auvers-sur-Oise, France.


In dealing with the lost Van Gogh self-portrait, a good deal of Van Gogh’s history, his art and his life, are revealed. There is also the exploration of Nazi art-looting, not only its history but the way stolen art continues to be sold today.


I set out to write a contemporary thriller that mixed fact and fiction, that went back and forth in time, one that was an exciting page-turner while it shined a light on one of history’s darkest eras.


Q: What are you working on now? Will there be more books in the series?


A: I’m working on more than one book, which is unusual for me. But yes, a third Luke book is in the works, and I’m excited about that.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: A few exciting things are brewing but it’s too early to talk about them. Thank you, Deborah!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jonathan Santlofer.

Q&A with Michael Gross




Michael Gross is the author of the new novel Spillage. He has had a long career in crisis communications, and he lives in Brooklyn and Fire Island.


Q: What inspired you to write Spillage?


A: When I began writing Spillage, back in 1976, I was in my mid-20s, around the same age as my main characters, and living through the kaleidoscopic chaos of bankrupt New York City.


My father had just died suddenly of a heart attack, and I’d just fallen in love with the woman I’d ultimately marry, so love and death were on my mind. So what better than to write a love story where the dead come back to life, and to try to capture the spirit of my beleaguered hometown?


Q: How did you create your characters Joan and Eliot?


A: I began the novel with no preconceived notions of who my main characters would turn out to be. I wrote the first line -- “Eliot asks Joan to marry him” -- and then just took it from there, line by line, and let the story unfold.


The early drafts were fundamentally about how far I could take my imagination, how many rules I could break and get away with, how I could depict a world gone off the rails. 


It was only when I returned to the novel many years later that I focused on giving the characters greater depth and making them more emblematic of their time.


Eliot and Joan are both total fabrications, but their youthful experience of the crumbling city and their search for identity amidst the sprawling chaos mirror my own.  


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


A: The title Spillage is the name of central character, rookie pitching phenom Nick “The Swan” Spillage, who was inspired by the quirky real-life pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych. “The Bird” burst onto the scene in 1976 with a spectacular rookie season, only to hurt his arm and burn out just as fast. Spillage also represents how the novel spills out.


For a time, I toyed with the idea of changing the title to “Another Little Piece of My Heart,” since the spirit of Janis Joplin looms large in the book, but in the end, I went back to Spillage because it’s more original and authentic.

Q: Over how long a period did you work on the book, and how much did it change over that time?


A: The novel is nearly 50 years in the making. I spent the better part of my 20s writing it, then put it down to concentrate on building a career in communications.


When I stepped back from full time work around the beginning of Covid, I went back to my old office to clean out my files and found the manuscript gathering dust.  Re-reading it, I could see why I was unable to get it published.


But buried within, there was still much I loved about it.  It was, after all, a statement of who I was at the time in all my youthful, anarchistic fervor.


So, I decided to rewrite the novel with the perspective of age, tempering its excesses while trying to maintain its original vitality. The basic structure and main characters remain the same, but most of the prose is fresh.


Q: The Independent Book Review called the novel a “raucous rendition of 70's New York”--what do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s spot on. Spillage is my love letter to New York!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: When I started to rework Spillage, I simultaneously began a diary where I looked back at who I was and where the city was back in the bad old days, and contrasted that with the way I see myself and the world today.


I’ve continued to write the diary. I’m not sure what I’ll ultimately do with it.  It’s possible I’ll turn it into a formal memoir, but I also may use the material as a basis for a new novel, perhaps a sequel.   


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Writers who influenced me when I first wrote Spillage include Tom Robbins, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Hunter S. Thompson.


While Spillage’s voice is all its own, it does carry hints of these marvelously inventive influences. Spillage is a devilishly fun throwback in style as well as substance.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Ariana Mizrahi




Ariana Mizrahi is the author of the new children's picture book The Blue Butterfly of Cochin. She also has written the picture book Super Cactus. She lives in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to write The Blue Butterfly of Cochin, and how did you create your character Leah?


A: My original story was quite different from the version you are reading today. While earlier versions featured a butterfly, the original focus was to educate children about racial differences, invite dialogue, and find a common ground between children of different backgrounds.


It had nothing to do with Judaism but rather it had the objective to invite children to think and understand that what unites us is more than what divides us.


My focus changed when I began working with Julian Voloj, the chief operating officer and interim director of Be’chol Lashon, an organization whose goal is to celebrate and prioritize diversity as a Jewish value by uplifting the historic and contemporary racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity of the Jewish people.


He suggested I find a Jewish connection to the story. When I learned about the history of the Cochini Jews’ move from India to Israel, I fell in love. 


My choice to narrate the story from the eyes of Leah, a young girl, was informed by my own family’s experiences.


My grandmother, also named Leah, was a storyteller with a sensitive and graceful nature. Much like the character in my story, my grandmother also made aliyah in the 1950s–in her case, from Buenos Aires.


And my grandmother moved to the Mishmar Hanegev in the Israeli desert, a place that is about 40 minutes from Moshav Nevatim, where this story takes place.


Q: What do you think Siona Benjamin's illustrations add to the book?


A: Siona’s interpretation of the story brings a dream-like fairytale aesthetic, while at the same time keeping a focus on the authentic details of the Cochini experience. Siona is a very gifted artist. I couldn’t have wished for a more talented artist to interpret the story. She truly brought the story to life!


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


A: Indeed. Thanks to my collaboration with the Indian Jewish Heritage Center, based in Israel, which was invaluable to my research, I was surprised to learn that there has been a Jewish presence in India for many years.


Jews were respected and beloved in India and unlike in many Jewish stories of immigration, Jews didn't experience persecution in India. In fact, many rulers favored them and considered them allies.


For example, there were sultans who allowed Jews to ride elephants. This was usually an honor given exclusively to nobles. In addition, there were rulers who refused to go to war on Shabbat because they wanted the Jewish community to join them in battle.


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


A: I hope children learn to cherish all chapters of Jewish history, including the history of those communities we know less about. I hope they are encouraged to ask questions. I hope this book sparks their curiosity and invites them to explore the rich details of our Jewish past. And I certainly hope they see the commonalities of all different Jewish communities. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on two projects. One is a book that will focus on the Jewish Argentine experience. It’s a lovely story about Purim.


I am also working on another book for teens with a focus on Jewish immigration and a sensational rescue operation. Stay tuned–I don't want to reveal too much, yet.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I feel blessed that I received first-hand knowledge from the Indian Jewish Heritage Center and the many volunteers who generously collaborated with us. It gives me tremendous joy to share my book with the rest of the community at large. I hope this story will encourage people to learn more about our rich Jewish past.


I am also incredibly grateful for the support I received from Be’chol Lashon and the book’s publisher, Kalaniot Books. They always believed in the value of this project and the inspirational story of this amazing community. Now the book is available for everyone!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 12



April 12, 1916: Beverly Cleary born.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Q&A with Sarah Gristwood




Sarah Gristwood is the editor of the new book Secret Voices: A Year of Women's Diaries. Her other books include The Tudors in Love. A journalist, broadcaster, and historian, she is based in the UK.


Q: What inspired you to create Secret Voices?


A: I’ve been fascinated by women’s diaries for many years now - the way they allow you to see right into the past, and discover that our foremothers had very much the same concerns that we do today.


Q: How did you choose the women to include on each particular day?

A: I started with a longlist of all the entries I could find for that day, and then started narrowing it down. Partly, of course, the criterion was sheer readability - but I wanted also to draw on as wide a range of diarists as possible, and across as broad a time frame.


It was just my personal editor’s gripe that so many women seemed to write on, say, August 12, and so few on August 13!


Q: In the book’s introduction, you write, “The diary has been the echo chamber for a woman's own voice, as opposed to what she was supposed to say.” Can you say more about that? 


A: I took away from my research a strong sense of women’s frustration; albeit that it was often expressed wryly or humorously. I believe that women in the past did often use their diary to voice feelings - anger, ambition - that would have seemed unacceptable in their own day.


Q: Do you see any changes in how women diarists expressed themselves over the centuries?


A: The very first diary in this book - that of Lady Margaret Hoby in the late 16th century - chiefly chronicled her spiritual practices. But even there, the old Adam (or the old Eve!) keeps creeping in.


And I think the real surprise for me was how often women on from centuries ago spoke in just the same tones as we do today.


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I’d like to stay with the world of women’s voices for a bit, before returning to my other great love - the history of Tudor times.


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: Well, only that the publishers have made Secret Voices an absolute joy to see and to handle. And that a number of British readers have, very appropriately, been buying it as a gift for our (March) Mother’s Day…


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Mark David Gerson


Mark David Gerson's books include the new novel The StarQuest and the book Birthing Your Book…Even If You Don’t Know What It’s About, now available in a 10th anniversary edition. He is also a coach and screenwriter.


Q: The StarQuest is the second in your Legend of Q'ntana series. What inspired the plot of this new novel?


A: Unlike many novelists (perhaps most novelists!), I never know my stories’ plots before I start writing. I just start writing — with no outline and no advance planning. Even when I think I have some sense of the plot, I’m inevitably wrong.


That was certainly the case with Sara’s Year and The Emmeline Papers, two of my Sara Stories series novels. With both books, I began my first day’s writing with a clear picture of what the story would be. Halfway through each of those initial sessions, the stories took off in radically different directions…what turned out to be radically more engaging and compelling directions!


With The StarQuest, though, I started with a blank slate. All I had as I sat down to write was the title and the certainty that the protagonist would be the daughter of The MoonQuest’s main character. I also knew that The StarQuest would take place before The MoonQuest…although I had no clue how that could possibly work. (It does.) That was it.


Every book I write, fiction and nonfiction, takes me on two distinct but linked journeys. The first is the exhilarating journey I travel with my characters as, together, we discover what the story is about. The second is more personal; it’s the emotional journey I experience through the writing process.


Through all the books I’ve written — now more than 20 — none has matched the crazy rollercoaster of a journey I lived with The StarQuest. The plot as it revealed itself to me through two aborted attempts at a first draft never seemed to make any sense, which is why I gave up on it twice. By the time I finally completed a first draft, on my third go, 11 years had passed!

It wasn’t until I was writing the third book in the series (The SunQuest, which will be out in late summer), that I discovered the source of at least some of my StarQuest difficulties. That’s when I realized that my earliest StarQuest drafts included scenes that belonged in The SunQuest.


That head start helped me finish my first draft of The SunQuest in a record six weeks!


One of the things that always astounds me about these Q’ntana books is how unintentionally relevant they turn out to be.


With The MoonQuest, a book about censorship and the brutal silencing of stories and storytellers, readers have never stopped asking me whether I wrote it as a social commentary on the times. I didn’t. I simply wrote the story that demanded to be written. Besides, I wrote it at a different time (I started it in 1994) and in a different country (Canada).


Until I began preparing this new edition of The StarQuest, I had never asked myself whether I could claim it to be as timelessly current as its predecessor. Once I did, though, I realized that it was the perfect story not only for this extraordinarily polarized US election year but for these chaotic, tumultuous times.


Why? Because it’s a story about reconciliation and heart-healing, a story that restores a natural, heartful order to a world that has tumbled into cruelty and disarray.


As with The MoonQuest, however, I didn’t write it with any political agenda, nor did I have any country or time period in mind. Rather, I wrote the story as it came to me, rarely knowing from one day to the next (or one word to the next) where it was carrying me.


In each of my writing workshops and books on writing, I insist that my books are smarter than I am. That The MoonQuest and The StarQuest have turned out to be stories not only for our time but for all time proves that!


Q: As you were writing the first novel, did you already have this second book in mind?


A: I had no idea as I set out to write what would become The MoonQuest that it would be part of a series.


Yet by the time I was nearly finished a first draft, I had a sense — more intuitive than anything else — that there could be two more books, even as I had no idea what they would be about or how they would fit into any kind of series.


All I knew was that they would be titled The StarQuest and The SunQuest. Later on, I realized that this Legend of Q’ntana series, as I came to call it, would comprise more than those two additional books.


Q: You also have another new book — a 10th anniversary release of your book Birthing Your Book…Even If You Don’t Know What It’s About. How does this new version differ from the previous one?


A: The short answer is lots! I’ve added new material — more inspiration and many new tips, techniques, exercises, and meditations — so much that that this new edition is nearly 30 percent longer. I have also shuffled some sections and many chapters for an enhanced book-birthing flow. In many ways, it’s a brand-new book!

Why did I take on this massive rebirth at a time when I have an ever-lengthening queue of new books I want to write?


Well, by early 2023, I had already revised and expanded my four other original books for writers — The Voice of the Muse, Organic Screenwriting, From Memory to Memoir and Writers Block Unblocked. Only Birthing Your Book had been left behind.


And once I realized that 2024 would mark the books 10th anniversary, I figured it was the perfect time to revisit it.


Once I did, I was astounded by how relevant the original edition still was, including to me. Thats because I was in the midst of birthing two new books of my own!


At the same time, I realized that through my writing and teaching experiences of the past decade, I had more to offer on the subject then Id had when I first wrote the book.


Q: Do you feel your own writing has changed over the past decade?


A: God, I hope so! I’d like to think that each book-birthing journey I embark on not only expands my vision as a creative artist but contributes to my personal growth.


That’s because all my books — fiction and nonfiction alike — come from deep, vulnerable places within me. The act of releasing them onto the page and into the world is always transformative.


At a more practical level, each book — each draft of each book! — hones and refines my craft. If it didn’t, there would be no point in continuing.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: On the book side of things, I'm preparing The SunQuest (Book 3) for its release later this year, while at the same time working on The Lost Horse of Bryn Doon (Book 5) and starting to think about Book 6 (The Sorcerer of Bryn Doon). I also have a fourth book in The Sara Stories that I’m eager to get to.


More immediately, I’m getting ready for the New Living Expo in San Rafael, California, where I’ll be offering both a writing workshop (“Writing with Spirit”) and a free talk (“The Way of the Fool,” based on my Way of the Fool self-help book series). Both my events are on April 21, and I hope to see some of your readers there!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I recently recorded my first audiobook! The MoonQuest is available on Audible and Apple Books, and will be available on other platforms later this spring.


After Covid shut down my in-person workshops, I launched a project to convert all my writing workshops to video. That project is finally complete!


The videos page of my website now features nine downloadable workshops that cover a wide range of topics, from screenwriting and memoir-writing to journaling and using writing as a tool for personal healing. There’s even one based on the new edition of Birthing Your Book, and they’re all geared to both new and experienced writers.


Not only am I offering two April 21 events at the New Living Expo, I’ve set time aside on April 20 for a small number of individual in-person writing/creativity-coaching sessions, which are available to anyone who is within driving distance of the Bay Area.


Although they are discounted for the Expo, the sessions are open to all. Expo attendance isn’t required. (For details or to book a session, reach out via the contact page on my website.)


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Mark David Gerson.