Thursday, June 8, 2023

Q&A with Victoria Benton Frank




Victoria Benton Frank is the author of the new novel My Magnolia Summer. She lives near Charleston, South Carolina.


Q: First of all, I wanted to express my condolences on the loss of your mother, author Dorothea Benton Frank; I had the pleasure of interviewing her in 2017 and really appreciated the opportunity. The writer Ann Patchett said of your novel, “Victoria Benton Frank shows that she is the rightful heir to the crown of summertime storytellers. Her mother would be so proud.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: Well, after I picked myself off the floor from fainting…. Listen, that’s about the nicest thing anyone could ever say about me. It’s probably all downhill from that comment, so I’m glad it’s in print! Thank you about my Momma, I miss her every day. I hope this book makes her proud… I hope everything I do does.


Q: How did you come up with the idea for My Magnolia Summer, and how did you create your character Magnolia and her family?


A: I took the advice of my mom, and decided to attempt to try and write a book I wanted to read. I have always been very drawn to multi-generational stories taking place in the American South, such as Steel Magnolias or Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I felt like it had been a minute since we got to enjoy voices like those.

Magnolia, or Maggie as she goes by in the book, is an extension of myself to some extent. I was a chef before I sat down to write, but to be honest that life was too difficult to do with two kids. So the whole theme of restaurant life is my way of dealing with that break-up.


Q: The novel takes place in South Carolina—how important is setting to you in your writing?


A: Very. Setting is a character within itself. I would love to one day entertain writing in other places, but for the foreseeable future it’s going to be the Lowcountry. I mean, it’s so dramatic, temperamental, rich with history. It’s like it gives you plot on a silver platter! Space has memory and if you listen closely, you can hear it talk to you.


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


A: No, I didn’t. I let the characters tell me how to end it. There were many endings planned, but the plot took me elsewhere. There were a lot of changes and edits made to this book. I truly believe that writing is self-taught…with the help of brilliant editors, like mine, Carrie Feron. So, my first novel is basically a journal of my journey on learning how to tell a story on paper.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Violet’s story! I am envisioning this to be a series. I am just not done with these women. They lived in my head for so long that I am just not ready yet to say goodbye. I am so excited about the new book!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: That above all I am so grateful for my chance to share my stories! This is absolutely my dream come true and I really hope I make the readers, new and old, happy and proud… and maybe hungry. I hope to become your author to take to the beach in the summertime.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with J.A. Wright




J.A. Wright is the author of the new novel Eat and Get Gas. She also has written the novel How to Grow an Addict.


Q: What inspired you to write Eat and Get Gas, and how did you create your character Evan Hanson?


A: My father had a quirky sense of humor and often referred to the roadside café and gas station his parents owned in the mid-1960s as Eat and Get Gas. It wasn't the correct name, and my grandparents didn't like it when he said it, but I did. It made me laugh, and I often wondered what kind of family would run a place with that name.


It’s never been difficult for me to create characters. Evan was easy to create once I caught her voice.

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


A: I only spent a few weeks researching the long arm of PTSD on veterans. Growing up close to several active military bases in Washington state when the Vietnam war draft was initiated, I experienced first-hand the impact it had on families around me.


Several boys from my neighborhood were drafted, and it seemed to me that every adult around me was on edge from then on. When a school friend's older brother went to Canada to avoid going to Vietnam, she told me about it and made me swear never to tell anyone because he might go to prison if I did. When she moved to Texas at the end of the school year, I was relieved.


Then, when I was 13, my mother married an Army officer who had recently returned from his second tour in Vietnam (infantry). For the rest of his life, he often experienced vivid war flashbacks and night terrors.


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


A: I did not know. The ending arrived one afternoon while I was writing something unrelated to the novel. At first, I wasn't sure it would work, but after several rewrites and a good editor's help, it came together. 


Q: Author Anne Leigh Parrish called the book “A powerful story about a sad chapter in America's history that is thoroughly modern, relevant, and inspiring.” What do you think of that description, and how do the events you write about tie into those of today?


A: I think her description is spot on. It's evident to me that Anne caught Evan's sadness and frustration in the first few paragraphs. She followed the thread of Evan adapting to an uncomfortable living situation brought on by her dad's involvement in the Vietnam war.


Political decisions were made in the early 1970s that caused great discord in the USA, which is not so different from what's been happening lately.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Short stories and flash fiction are my new interest.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: My website address is I’ll post news about interviews, PR updates and where to buy as often as possible. I do hope that readers who are users of Goodreads will review Eat and Get Gas; a novel and advance reading copies can be requested from my publicist,


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Julia Franks




Julia Franks is the author of the new historical novel The Say So. She also has written the novel Over the Plain Houses. She lives in Atlanta.


Q: You write, “I was pro-choice and unreligious, but for complicated reasons, many of them naive or cocksure, I decided to bring my child to term and relinquish him for adoption.” How did your own experiences lead you to write this novel?


A: I was curious about the things other women had experienced in relinquishing their children to adoption, so I started reading a lot of oral histories and personal accounts—I mean a lot, and many of those accounts were self-published.


And boy, once you spend years delving into this forgotten history, you feel compelled to write about it. There are just so many women out there whose stories were never heard. So many. It felt like a chorus of people who’d been silenced.


As well, I’ve always been interested in the way people’s beliefs or ideologies, no matter how well-meaning, can end up causing harm when they’re put to the test in the real world. (The main character in my first book, Over the Plain Houses, is an extreme example.)


In The Say So, lots of characters, including the character of Meera, allow their beliefs to blind them in some way. This is also true for Edie’s parents’ goal to be part of a respectable middle class, for Luce’s quixotic goals about how easy it will be to change race relations, and especially true for the women running the maternity home, who actually do believe that the programs the Home offers are universally beneficial.


Q: How did you create your characters Edie and Luce?


A: Once you start researching, characters sort of show themselves, maybe from the history you’ve been reading, or maybe from your own subconscious mind. I saw Edie as someone who hadn’t yet questioned the status quo, and Luce as someone who’d been questioning it since early childhood.


And for me, their very differences were the basis for their friendship. From the get-go, Luce opens Edie’s mind to all these other ways of looking at the world. On the other hand, Edie offers Luce some of the stability and love and middle class acceptance that Luce secretly craves.


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


A: For me, the novel is ultimately about women’s choice, agency, empowerment, self-determination, call it what you will. But I was looking for a word that wasn’t already freighted with culture-war baggage. (At one point I actually entertained the idea of calling the novel “Agency,” but too many people told me that it sounded like a spy novel. Thankfully I listened to them.)


Q: The writer Wiley Cash said of the book, “It's rare that a novel speaks so eloquently to the contemporary moment as The Say So does. The years may pass but our stories stay the same.” What do you think of that assessment?


A: I love Wiley Cash’s description because it implies both the novel’s timeliness and its timelessness. I like to think that the novel has both qualities, so I was thrilled to read that.


I do think we’ve forgotten how constrained so many women’s lives were. We’ve forgotten that sex meant pregnancy and pregnancy meant that your role in life would now be prescribed by other people.


And a lot of people are unaware of that period in American history, when many thousands of girls “in trouble” were channeled into maternity homes and then coerced into relinquishing their babies.


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


A: I did. But that was the only thing I knew. I didn’t know how it started or how I was going to arrive at the end. I guess I worked backward, and not in a very methodical way either.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I appreciate this question, but I’m also superstitious enough not to want to answer it! I have this fear that if I start talking about it too soon, I’ll somehow be jinxing myself.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Samantha Leach




Samantha Leach is the author of the new book The Elissas: Three Girls, One Fate, and the Deadly Secrets of Suburbia. It focuses on the lives and deaths of Leach's friend Elissa and two of Elissa's friends. Leach is the entertainment editor at large at Bustle.


Q: In your Author’s Note, you write that you “first started trying to tell some version of this story back in 2011” and “began in earnest in the fall of 2019.” Can you say more about why you decided to write the book, and about the impact of your friend Elissa's death?


A: I first started trying to write about Elissa’s loss in the months that followed her death, in the creative writing workshops I took throughout my time in college. My grief was all-consuming; I didn’t know where I began and it ended. And as such, it was the only thing I could write about.


However, I kept trying to find different mediums to express my pain. Whether it was the ethnography of her Facebook page I wrote in my anthropology of media course or the story of a woman obsessed with the memorial profiles of the deceased for a fiction class that sounded way more like Ottessa Moshfegh than my own writing.


For a long time, I kept hiding behind these modes of storytelling — until 2019 when I finally decided to embrace my own voice, and tell the story of Elissa’s life through my own perspective. 


Q: The writer Nancy Jo Sales said of the book, “Leach’s investigation into how the Elissas perished adds much to our understanding of how dangerous misogyny can be to the health and well-being of girls and young women.” What do you think of that description?


A: I was extremely touched by Sales’ description of the book, as exposing the dangers of misogyny was very much my aim throughout writing.

I was particularly interested in the concept of “upper‐middle‐class white morality.” Because women have the potential to become mothers, we moralize their choices. If they use drugs, abuse alcohol, are promiscuous, etc.


Especially when it comes to white women, such deviations from the “domestic realm” may lead to the penalizing, sidelining, and shaming that I believe each of the Elissas experienced during their time in the Troubled Teen Industry. 


Q: How would you define the Troubled Teen Industry, and what do you see as some of the perceptions and misconceptions about it?


A: The Troubled Teen Industry is a network of private, for-profit, unregulated residential programs designed to quell the behaviors of wealthy, wayward teens.


I think one of the biggest misconceptions about these programs is that because they’re expensive — often costing upwards of $10,000 per month — that they must be good. But, as I show time and time again throughout The Elissas, these schools specifically target wealthy families in order to profiteer off of them and their desperation to help their children.


Q: How would you describe the legacy of your friend Elissa, and those of her friends Alyssa and Alissa?


A: I think the best way to describe the legacy of Elissa, Alyssa, and Alissa is through the phrase “save our souls.” Save our souls was the inside joke that was tattooed onto each of their bodies, and was what Alyssa and Alissa used to sign off on the messages they posted on Elissa’s wall after her death.


For a long time, I sought out to find the true meaning behind Save our souls. But when nobody in their life could remember it, I attached my own sentiment to it in the book. “Save our souls was their catchall: for all the pain and punishment they were put through in the pursuit of being fixed. For their ability to survive rather than surrender,” I wrote.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now I’m primarily focusing on the work I do at Bustle, as their entertainment editor at large. I’ve recently published profiles on Rachel McAdams, Alison Roman, and Tina Brown. I have a few other exciting entertainment-focused features in the works at the moment, but you’ll just have to stay tuned to see what those are!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

June 8




June 8, 1947: Sara Paretsky born.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Q&A with Eliza Knight




Eliza Knight is the author of the new historical novel Starring Adele Astaire. Her many other books include The Mayfair Bookshop. She lives in Maryland.


Q: You’ve said that you ran across a letter from writer Nancy Mitford--the subject of one of your previous books--in which she mentioned an acquaintance named “Delly.” How did you learn that “Delly” was actually the performer Adele Astaire, and at what point did you decide to write this novel?


A: My journey into the life of Adele Astaire began in early 2020 while reading a letter Nancy Mitford wrote to her sister when I was researching my novel The Mayfair Bookshop. Of course, I had heard of Fred Astaire many times and knew he had a sister, but had never really studied her history or realized that in the height of their theatrical career Adele was the more famous sibling.


In Nancy’s letter from 1933, she wrote after having had lunch with Adele, “Delly said I don’t mind people going off and f***ing but I do object to all this free love. She is heaven, isn’t she?”


Of course, after reading that rather shocking statement, I thought, my who in the world is this Delly and how have I not heard of her before? The footnote stated that Delly was Adele Astaire, sister to Fred Astaire. I was immediately intrigued and spent the next two days in a deep research dive learning everything I could and then determining that I had to write about her.


In 2021, I was finally able to write the pitch for the book, and fortunately my agent and editor agreed that Adele’s story was one I needed to write.


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Adele and her brother Fred Astaire?


A: Adele and Fred had incredibly close relationship. Not only as siblings but as dance partners. They grew up dancing together, relying on each other. Because of their performing schedule they often had only each other for friendship as children. I think they relied heavily on each other and valued each other’s opinion greatly. They were also extremely protective of each other.

Theirs was a close and loving relationship throughout the duration of their lives. When they weren’t in the same city together they wrote letters to each other constantly, made long distance phone calls, chatting about everything down to their favorite soap operas. Adele continued to spend her summers in Ireland until 1979 and was sometimes joined by her brother as well.


In 1981 when Fred Astaire was presented with the AFI Life Achievement Award, he thanked his sister, who had already passed away earlier that year, and told the audience how his sister was the reason he was a dancer to begin with. It was very touching and just goes to show how much he truly adored and respected her.


Q: Your character Violet was based on an actual historical figure--why did you decide to include her in the story?


A: Violet Wood, though a fictitious character, was based off of other historical performers of the time like Daisy Violet Rose Wood (aka Marie Lloyd), whom I took part of her name from. Through her character, I wanted to explore the juxtaposition of Adele’s journey. You’ll notice often when one is up the other is down, and vice versa. Both of them started with meagre means, and they both struggle in different ways to reach their goals.


Q: The writer Madeline Martin said of the novel, “Starring Adele Astaire peels back the layers on Adele Astaire’s life beyond the stage while highlighting how ferociously an intrepid dreamer must fight for an edge into the spotlight.” What do you think of that description?


A: I think it’s lovely and I’m so grateful she had such nice things to say about the book. One of the goals I had in writing Starring Adele Astaire was to peel back the layers of Adele’s life and present her not only as a performer but as a woman with dreams both on and off the stage, and I’m very pleased with how the book turned out.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m currently working on the edits for two novels that will release in 2024. Lady Ella and Norma Jean, a novel of the friendship between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe, will release in February; and The Queen’s Faithful Companion, a novel of the Queen’s corgis, will release in the summer. I’m very excited for both of these books!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! I’ve created a fun reader supplement. It has a playlist, some yummy recipes, and a deleted scene from the book. On the playlist are actual songs that were recorded by Adele and Fred singing together in the ‘20s and ‘30s! Loads of fun J The supplement can be found here:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Eliza Knight.

Q&A with Mona Alvarado Frazier




Mona Alvarado Frazier is the author of the new young adult novel The Garden of Second Chances.


Q: What inspired you to write The Garden of Second Chances, and how did you create your character Juana?


A: More than half of women in prison are mothers, and most are not incarcerated in a facility that makes it viable for caretakers to take children to visit. The separation of mothers and their children is a significant issue and impacts their mental health.


Most girls experienced trauma, addictions, neglect, and abandonment. A significant trauma results from Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) or Domestic Violence. The issues of IPV are not reflected in many YA books, although 12 percent of American high schoolers experience emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from their dating partners. And transgender teens and gender-nonconforming youth are disproportionately affected, so that percentage is probably higher.


Amid these difficulties, many of the girls tried to deal with these issues the best way they could. I wanted to tell their stories.


The character of Juana is a composite of those girls who experienced domestic violence, were mothers, and proved resilient during the hardships of their incarceration.


Q: You’ve worked for many years with incarcerated youth. Did you need to do additional research to write the novel, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: Since this novel was set in 2003, I had to do additional research on immigration laws, the regulations of California’s Department of Juvenile Justice, and the statistics on intimate partner violence. The area that alarmed me was how high the incidence of IPV is among teenage girls.


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


A: I only knew that Juana would survive her experience, but I didn’t know exactly how that would happen. The beginning changed a few times, the middle numerous times, and the ending a couple of times.


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


A: The three working titles I originally had didn’t quite fit Juana’s journey. As a child, Juana’s happiest memories are when she spent time with her mother in their garden. After losing contact with her sister and her baby, along with her depression after being incarcerated, she loses hope.


But when the warden grants Juana’s proposal to make a garden in the backyard, she recalls the wisdom her mother imparted during their time together. This motivates her to try again against all odds.


I sought to find a title that inferred progress toward the hope that grew within her and a place that held special memories. The process of cultivating rocky soil, sowing seeds, growth, and harvesting symbolizes what Juana goes through.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My second YA novel is scheduled for the winter of 2024. It is set in 1972 against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the rise in feminism, and the Chicano Movement. A 17-year-old girl deals with the aftermath of her father's death in Vietnam, her family's expectations, and the social justice issues in her community.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes, I have a couple of things. If you have a story to tell and it won’t let go, keep writing. A writer is in it for the long haul.


If you’re a reader and chose to read this novel, please support the author by leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or wherever you bought the book.


Please keep in touch via my website,, where you can subscribe to my monthly newsletter and find updates on the novels. My links to Twitter and Instagram are also listed there.


Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk about The Garden of Second Chances.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb