Friday, July 19, 2024

Q&A with Ari Berman

 


 

 

Ari Berman is the author of the new book Minority Rule: The Right-Wing Attack on the Will of the People--and the Fight to Resist It. His other books include Give Us the Ballot. He is the national voting rights correspondent for Mother Jones, and he lives in New Paltz, New York.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Minority Rule?

 

A: I’ve been covering voting rights since 2011, and as I got deeper into my reporting I began asking myself why Republicans were making it so difficult to vote. Was it simply about gaining an electoral advantage, or was there a deeper strategy at play?

 

I realized their goal was to enshrine minority rule, so that a shrinking conservative white minority could hold on to power even as the country shifted demographically and politically in the opposite direction. I wanted to be able to tell the story behind the democratic crisis we face today and show how it goes all the way back to the founding of our country.

 

Q: In an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, you said, “We venerate the Constitution as a civic religion. I think we would be much greater served to look at the Constitution as a whole document and say, there are some remarkable parts of this document, but there's also some really flawed parts of this document that we still haven't corrected.” Can you say more about that?


A: Yes. There are some fundamental flaws in the Constitution that have never been corrected. The president is still not directly elected by the people and can be chosen by a minority of Americans. Each state gets the same number of senators regardless of population, which gives far more power to smaller, more rural, more conservative states. The Supreme Court is a product of the undemocratic way we choose presidents and senators.

 

In all of these ways our fundamental governing institutions violate basic notions of every vote counting equally. These compromises were meant to hold the new nation together but in many ways they have had the effect of making the country much less democratic and our ostensibly democratic institutions much less reflective of the people.  

 

Q: The Publishers Weekly review of the book says, “Berman pairs wide-ranging and historically grounded analysis of America’s minoritarian political system with a trenchant critique of its departures from democratic common sense. The result is an eye-opening dissection of partisan manipulation.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: I like it!

 

Q: What do you see looking ahead when it comes to American democracy?

 

A: I think we’re at a pivotal inflection point where the question is whether America will embrace multiracial democracy or turn its back on it. We’re facing a potential authoritarian takeover of our democratic system. My biggest fear is that a second Trump term will make minority rule impossible to reverse any time soon.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m covering the election and the high stakes for democracy. I want people to understand that while Trump is certainly an accelerant to the democratic crisis we face, he’s also a product of a broken political system that enabled Trumpism in the first place.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: There’s so many important elections happening in 2024 beyond the presidency. I hope down-ballot races like state legislative elections, state supreme court elections, and ballot initiatives on issues including abortion and voting don’t get overlooked.

 

So often these days the quickest and most impactful change happens at the state and local level, where democracy can be protected and expanded far more easily than at the federal level.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Ari Berman.

Q&A with Georgina Warren

 


 

 

Georgina Warren is the author of the middle grade story collection Tales of Virtuous Stepmothers. She works at the Library of Congress, and she lives in Washington, D.C.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Tales of Virtuous Stepmothers?

 

A: As a child, I grew up hearing countless adaptations of fairy tales in books and film, particularly those produced by Disney. It was easy to assume that all stepmothers were wicked villains because these traditional archetypes were the most visible and prominent examples I knew.

 

When my parents separated, my sister and I lived with our mother in Winston-Salem, and we only saw our father and stepmother on weekends. I was homeschooled and spent my days painting and exploring books in the local public library.

 

Later I moved to Washington, D.C., with my father and stepmother and started attending schools there. My experiences in the British School of Washington and the Field School awakened a deeper, lifelong passion for the visual, literary, and performing arts.

 

While growing up with my father and stepmother, I realized that traditional fairy tales like Cinderella and Snow White, stories that featured a “wicked stepmother,” did not reflect the life I shared with my own family. This revelation led me to develop a better narrative for modern readers.

 

My stepmother has always been an innovative, loving, and brave woman. When I started writing Tales of Virtuous Stepmothers, I imbued my stepmother characters with all the virtues that every good parent should possess like patience, creativity, compassion, loyalty, resilience, courage, and intelligence. 

 

Q: Were you influenced by any particular style of fairy tale or folk tale as you wrote the stories in your collection?

 

A: Obviously, the three famous fairy tales that inspired me were Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and Snow White! This trio of stories codified the wicked stepmother and their subsequent adaptions have continued to portray the character of the stepmother as cruel, vain, and negligent.

 

My style of writing evokes that of classic fairy tale authors like the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Anderson, Charles Perrault, George MacDonald, and Oscar Wilde. But I also strive to bring a modern sensibility to my narratives so that the lessons in each story resonate with modern readers. My approach has been to blend traditional elements with modern ideas to help my audience relate to the narratives.

 

Q: What would you say are the most common perceptions and misconceptions about stepmothers?

 

A: At first glance, many people assume that stepmothers have the same traits as the ones they know from the traditional stories. The stepmother only cares about herself, she will always love her biological children more than her stepchildren, she is replacing the biological mother, etc.

 

Our culture idealizes the nuclear family with two happily married parents and children. When couples get married in real life, they usually hope to maintain a fulfilling, lifelong relationship while they raise their children, watching them grow up and attend school, get married, start a new job, and have grandchildren.

 

People apply the same standards to romantic couples in fictional settings. Keeping couples and parents happy together forever is an idealized vision. But in real life, there are many reasons why two people cannot stay together forever.

 

At the time the traditional stories were created, mothers often died in childbirth and fathers needed another wife to tend the children and the house while they worked at their jobs. Women were only expected to be wives and mothers. Young boys could attend school and learn trades while young girls could only hope to leave their family homes when they found a new husband.

 

But the modern world that we know is very different. Divorce was once considered a taboo, but many more couples now separate and remarry when they experience interpersonal conflicts that damage a relationship.

 

None of the fairytales I heard in my childhood told me that some divorced couples manage an amicable co-parenting arrangement with the children dividing time between visiting each parent in separate homes. All I learned was that children that got a stepmother needed to escape from her abuse, marry a prince and find a better home because their fathers were stupid enough to marry the wrong women!

 

Modern stepmothers can experience some of the following challenges when they are trying to establish their roles in a blended family: alienation, isolation, emotional burnout, manipulation, imposter syndrome, and struggle to mediate conflicts with step-siblings, in-laws, or the ex-wife.

 

Readers always felt sympathetic to the children of these traditional fairy tales, but in the modern world, the stepmother has always been treated as the true outcast of the family. 

 

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

 

A: Writing this book allowed me to express my own ideas about stepmothers and their families in more creative ways. I have also woven aspects of my family’s history into the narratives to pay tribute to everything that I learned from them.

 

Creating the stories helped me gain more closure on the emotional pain that I felt as a teenager. In addition, I felt a sense of turning the page and starting a new chapter in my life.

 

After the book was published, I felt a great sense of accomplishment because I made stories that would allow other readers to celebrate all the virtuous stepmothers they know and remove the stigma that has always affected modern blended families.

 

The “wicked stepmother” stereotype is a curse that has affected families for generations, I wrote this book as the first step to end that curse.

 

Stepmothers can feel vindicated because they now have a fantasy book that recognizes their daily struggles and celebrates their achievements. Children from blended families can feel affirmation that their family is normal, and they can feel proud of their unique heritage. 

 

Other readers will gain a deeper understanding of some common dynamics in a blended family from these imaginary worlds. Future authors might even be inspired to write new stories that depict a more authentic portrayal of the modern stepmother in fiction and in reality.

 

With this book, more stepmothers can wear their titles with pride, and children don’t need to be ashamed to tell other people that they have a stepmother.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: Tales of Virtuous Stepmothers is only the first part of a three-volume set I planned to write. Some of these short stories grew bigger and they will be released as companion novels later. I have one pirate story and one circus story in the works as well.

 

This summer I’m working on the stories and pictures for the second volume in this Virtuous Stepmothers treasury. I’m planning to take the next step of processing the manuscript with my editor soon.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Each story has a heraldic crest incorporating stained glass elements which I designed myself. In the medieval era, noble families used different colors and motifs to serve as their “signature” to set themselves apart. The motif of the stained glass represents blended families as a mosaic of different people with diverse backgrounds combining into one entity.

 

The book is for middle grade readers (ages 8-12) but teens and adults can also enjoy the stories. I designed the stories to speak to the young and the young at heart. Readers can find Tales of Virtuous Stepmothers on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats. They can also follow my author links on Goodreads and Instagram for the latest writing news.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jaclyn Westlake

 


 

 

Jaclyn Westlake is the author of the new novel Dear Dotty. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Forbes, and she lives in California.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Dear Dotty, and how did you create your character Rosie?

 

A: I remember my early 20s so vividly – I felt alive, hopeful, and excited for my life to start but was also completely lost. That phase of my life was filled with lots of “fake it til you make it” moments, which I think is a common experience for a lot of younger adults (older adults, too if we’re being honest!). Early adulthood is when most people finally start to meet their true selves, which I find fascinating.

 

I wanted to capture that experience in a book, and that’s where Rosie came from. She’s an amalgamation of my younger self, my friends, and so many of the recent graduates I met throughout my career as a recruiter. Rosie is doing her best to be a grown-up in the traditional sense but doing it everyone else’s way doesn’t quite fit. I thought it would be fun to revisit that phase of life and also to give Rosie an older, wiser, kookier mentor to light the way.

 

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Dotty and Rosie?

 

A: Dotty and Rosie’s relationship is honest, pure, accepting, supportive, fun, and authentic. They may not always agree with each other or understand where the other is coming from, but they love and respect each other unconditionally. It’s a really beautiful dynamic.

 

It’s a bit of wish fulfillment for me, too. I would have loved to have a Dotty when I was Rosie’s age and I hope to be a Dotty for someone else someday.

 

Q: The writer Swati Hegde said of the novel, “Equal parts heart and humor, Dear Dotty is a tribute to family, friendship, and becoming the person you were always meant to be.” What do you think of that description, and what do you see as the role of humor in the book?

 

A: Swati captured the essence of Dear Dotty more beautifully than I ever could! Becoming an adult is such an interesting process – you’re working toward being the most authentic version of yourself while also gaining a new understanding and appreciation for your family and friends.

 

We’re all constantly evolving and I think the best relationships are the ones that allow for space and understanding as those changes happen, which Rosie and the people in her life ultimately do – albeit imperfectly.


I love finding humor in everyday situations, so infusing moments of levity into the story felt natural. The book deals with grief, evolving friendships, career setbacks, and shifting family dynamics, which can be heavier topics and I think the humorous portions serve to keep the story from feeling too dark. It’s ultimately a hopeful, uplifting book, which I think is buoyed by the occasional dose of comedic relief.

 

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 knew that the novel would end with Rosie back at Dotty’s house and that she would find a unique way to honor her great-aunt, but I didn’t know how she would get there or what it would look like when she did. I think that’s more or less my writing process – I know the general direction of where I’m trying to end up and I get to discover the story along the way.

 

The book changed drastically from the first to the second draft – I’d originally written Rosie into a love triangle but cut one of the guys (RIP Nathan) so we could focus on her relationship with Donovan.

 

I also had Dotty passing away much later in the story (now she dies within the first third) and I’d written a storyline where Dotty had a secret career as an erotic novelist (which I cut for time). None of those are spoilers – they’ll never see the light of day!

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m working on my second book, which will be out in the summer of 2025. This story follows Eliza Colletti, (who is a bit older than Rosie) as she tries to build a new life for herself in a quirky Midwestern lake town on the heels of a broken engagement. I’m really excited for readers to meet this new cast of characters – Eliza’s neighbors are especially fun! She also finds herself adopting a three-legged dog named Potato who loves watching CSI Miami and hates corn.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: I’m so grateful to anyone who decides to pick up my book. I hope it makes you feel seen! Whatever your life looks like, you’re doing fine. You don’t have to be like everyone else. Honestly, it’s way more fun to be unique.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 19

 


 

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY

July 19, 1875: Alice Dunbar Nelson born.

Thursday, July 18, 2024

Q&A with Brendan Gillen

 


 

 

Brendan Gillen is the author of the new novel Static. His other work includes the chapbook I've Given This a Lot of Thought. He lives in Brooklyn.

 

Q: What inspired you to write Static, and how did you create your character Paul?

 

A: This is the only time this has happened to me, but the seed for this novel came to me in a dream. I dreamt that there was a band, a duo, comprised of a bassist named Bunky and a guitarist/singer named Eloise. Bunky and Eloise… I have no idea why those names came to me in my sleep, but they did, and they lingered.

 

I tried and failed several times to write a story about this duo trying and failing to make music while also trying and failing to make it as a couple.

 

The story gained momentum when I began to write about a third band member named Paul, who gave their relationship dimension. Paul’s presence leads the trio to realize they all share quite a bit in common, namely their pursuit of making music as a way to escape family traumas.

 

They also happen to mesh really well as musicians, and some of the most fun I had writing this book was developing these moments of creative inspiration and music-making—those fleeting, ineffable moments of creative flow.

 

Ultimately, Paul became the main vehicle/protagonist to tell this band’s story because he had the most to lose at an existential level. He has no Plan B. He’s never considered a life outside of making music. And so, if this doesn’t work out? He’ll drift into adulthood completely unmoored.

 

As the novel took shape, I kept returning to the last sentence of  “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff, which I (like Paul) straight-up jacked for They Is, the band’s name in Static:

 

“Time for the shadows to lengthen on the grass, time for the tethered dog to bark at the flying ball, time for the boy in right field to smack his sweat-blackened mitt and softly chant, They is, they is, they is.”

 

Q: The writer Elizabeth Gaffney said of the book, “Static is a heartfelt, moving debut about the downtown New York music scene, brimming with wasted talent, floundering ambition, broken hearts, and betrayals -- and wonderfully redeemed by the possibility of second chances.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: First of all, I can confidently say that Static would not be in the world without Elizabeth’s edits and guidance. She runs a fantastic novel workshop that’s an offshoot of A Public Space, and her espousing of “editorial empathy”–meeting a novel where it is, rather than imposing authority–made room for shaping the book that exists now. All to say, I’m flattered by her praise. 

 

I love her take on the novel’s central themes, particularly the notion of “floundering ambition.” What do you do with all the restless energy of your youth when you know you have something to say, but can’t quite figure out the best way to channel that message?

 

This question can lead to a lot of dark nights of the soul and anxiety and disillusionment. Like Paul, it me took a lot of trying and failing (and flailing) to realize that even if you do manage to achieve what you set out to, whether that’s making a song or an album, or a novel (ahem), it’s never going to save you or deliver the contentment you’re seeking.

 

So, what do you do then? Particularly when your pursuits have alienated those around you, or kept you from enriching relationships. 

 

Which is why the “second chances” Elizabeth alludes to are even more important. Not so much the second chances that have to do with traditional notions of “success,” but rather second chances with the people in our lives that we love and who love us, regardless of what we make of ourselves.

 

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

 

A: To me, Static has a few meanings, the first of which signifies the sound of a needle hitting the groove of a record, that anticipatory, papery static before the music kicks in. This will sound corny, but to me, it’s one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. So full of possibility and promise.

 

Static can also mean animosity or “beef” between two people, and there’s certainly plenty of that to go around in the novel–between Paul and Bunky, between Paul and his family, between Bunky and his parents, between the band and their manager, Stevie Reese. A music novel can’t exist without some real band drama.

 

And lastly, Static alludes to a sort of arrested development, which Paul struggles with. He’s on the cusp of 30, well past time to grow the hell up. But what does that mean, exactly? Particularly when your dream is to make art in a world that doesn’t always make room for it.

 

Do you abandon your dreams in the name of stability? Do you keep pushing even though life might pass you by as you do so? These are all questions I struggled with, especially when I was moving through my late 20s and early 30s as these characters are. 

 

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

 

A: With Static, I hope readers encounter an authentic portrait of  the music industry and trying to “make it” as a young person in New York City, or anywhere, really.

 

And beyond that, I hope readers engage with what “success” actually means. When you’re young, especially in the social media age, success can seem like it’s all around you, that there’s some kind of race to “arrive”...whatever that means. I think as you get a little older, you begin to realize that “success” is a myth, that you never really arrive. Hopefully you grow and keep growing.

 

It’s something of a cliche, but what really matters is family, friends, your health, and trying to live a lift of grace and empathy and kindness.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I’m currently querying a coming-of-age novel for adults called Dust, about an anxious and sensitive boy navigating deep family trauma and charting his own path toward manhood. It’s set in mid-‘90s Georgia, a time when mental health and masculinity were still on the cusp of the cultural lexicon.

 

As I say in my pitch, Dust is a novel of ghosts and family secrets, Little League baseball and the lies we tell ourselves to survive. If any agents out there wanna give it a read, holler at me. :)

 

I’m also working on a draft of a novel that delves into the world of major college basketball, again returning to themes of mental health, specifically anxiety and insomnia, which I’ve struggled with at different points in my life.

 

It’s a novel centered around a tragic incident that happens on a big-time program and the resulting legal and emotional fallout. I’m envisioning the basketball version of The Secret History. We’ll see!

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Thank you so much for the space to share more about Static! I hope people have fun reading it. At the very least, I hope it inspires you to go hit your local record store. Pick something out, bring it home and really listen to it. Crank up the volume. You won’t regret it.

 

Much like your local indie bookstore, record stores are vital to the arts community of a place, full of stories waiting to be discovered and shared.

 

When I travel, I always make a point to hit at least one record store, because beyond the music itself, the staff will almost always have a great recommendation for a place to get a coffee, a drink, or to see a show, and usually a place you’d never have discovered otherwise. Just thinking about all of this is giving me the itch to do digging. 

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Dean Monti

 


 

 

Dean Monti is the author of the new novel The Monosexual. His other work includes the novel The Sweep of the Second Hand. He lives in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

 

Q: What inspired you to write The Monosexual, and how did you create your character Vincent Cappellini?

 

A: I think my novels evolve from multiple inspirations. Certainly, one question I was asking was: If we have soulmates, what happens if the relationship ends? Can you still call that a “soulmate”? And even if you can, where do you go from there?

 

But there were other things bubbling in my head early on like fear of change and fear of air travel that inspired some of the early work on it. Sinatra was also an inspiration. The power of those love songs and songs of longing.

 

In the beginning, I was mostly writing scenes, putting Vincent in a series of conflicts and seeing how he responded to them. Then it just evolved organically from there, with new inspirations coming every time I sat down to type. Different and escalating problems became catalysts for moving the story further.

 

The book is fiction, but I’m sure people I know will see and hear some of me in Vincent, since we share some things in common, like jazz, cocktails, and being easily embarrassed.

 

But, like my last novel, The Sweep of the Second Hand, it’s steeped in exaggeration. It’s a bit like how a comic approaches everyday experience for material. Like “what’s the most absurd choice one could make in this moment,” or “what is interesting about this bit of minutia?” etc. But I always keep it grounded in reality so that it seems like it could have happened.

 

The name “Vincent” means “conquering” but in the sense of persevering and prevailing. That fit for me. And it’s a form of my father’s name.

 

I don’t know where Cappellini came from. The side of a pasta box, perhaps. Cappellini is a very specific pasta shape among many, much like Vincent is a very specifically shaped kind of person. I frequently spelled his last name incorrectly while editing. There’s no spell check in Word for Cappellini.

 

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

 

A: The invented term “monosexual” is about singularity, a one-ness of romantic and sexual attraction, and romantic idealism. The classic “hopeless romantic.” It’s like monogamy but taken to a higher degree because the main character doesn’t believe it involves choice. It’s more like a condition.

 

And I like the clinical sound of it. I love unusual words and I like that there are specific terms for specific kinds of love.

 

For example, there are sapiosexuals, a term for people who are attracted to smart people. The New York Times recently wrote about “polycules,” a structure of people with overlapping attachments: romantic, sexual, and platonic. Something for everyone, I guess -- and it can get very complicated. So, the idea of “monosexual” seemed to me like a word that didn’t exist, but certainly should or could. For Vincent, anyway.


Q: The writer Jonathan Dee said of the book, “Vincent's need to pathologize his own lost love with a self-diagnosis involving a made-up clinical term...strikes a nice 21st-century note and makes The Monosexual seem wittily suited to its times.” What do you think of that description?

 

A: Well, for a start, Jonathan Dee is a wonderful writer and does an excellent job of describing in a few effective sentences what took me several pages to explain to myself!  

 

But yes, he’s absolutely correct. Vincent treats it like a pathology. He’s “afflicted” with monosexuality. But it’s also a badge of distinction. He’s very protective and proud of it.

 

Vincent would like to believe his love is so strong and special that no word exists for it – that indeed he needs to create a word for it himself. And once he latches on to this idea, he can’t let go of it. It’s the core of his being.

 

And while self-identification is very much a part of today’s culture, the idea of monosexuality in 2000 makes Vincent a bit eccentric. No one is asking Vincent about his romantic or sexual identity, but he feels the need to declare and explain it.

 

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 never know how a novel is going to end. It wasn’t until I completed early drafts that I got my beginning.

 

Some writers need to know where it’s going, or they need an outline and I completely get that for some forms of writing, but I like to come at it fresh every time I write, react to what I see on the page, and then create whatever comes next in my head. It’s very in-the-moment and Zen-like for me.

 

And then the universe helps by pointing to odd and random things along the way that may be interesting. And then many changes occur as it takes form. Not so much to the story itself, but in how to tell the story and in the details. Some writers hate revision, but I enjoy it because I’m open to new ideas in the process. And that often happens.

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I have several novels that I’m completing and revising. As a literary author, I don’t have a fictional “lane” or genre that I work in. So, I’m all over the map.

 

I have a novel about a man with Jesus’s fingerprints. I have a darker, twisted work about a man who seeks out his childhood bully. I have a novel about a man who may have been an ant in his last life. It’s quite an eclectic mix.

 

And now I’m also working on my first screenplay. I see these things – in my mind’s eye – very cinematically, and recently I’ve been working on a novel with a screenplay adaptation. The story involves several real-life events that took place in and around New Jersey in 1915, including a small, abandoned town, the first adult film, and the birth of Frank Sinatra. It’s all woven into a very absurd, fictional novel and screenplay.

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: As much as I look forward to publication and the satisfaction of being able to put it out into the world, I really enjoy the creative process. I thrive on the flow experience of getting lost in these stories. Allowing the ideas to come out of me freely and onto the page without any pre-conceived plans. But I also enjoy the act itself -- the sound and rhythm of the keys as I type (I often start on a manual typewriter).

 

I enjoy when the universe provides little facts and items. Like when I read about albino shrimp, or details about Frank Sinatra, or the fact that James Madison was the shortest president. These are all very random things that came into my consciousness during the writing of The Monosexual that ended up in the book. But they are also the fun elements that make the book unique.

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Marina DelVecchio

 

Photo by Simon Baier

 

Marina DelVecchio is the author of the new memoir Unsexed: Memoirs of a Prostitute's Daughter. Her other books include Dear Jane. She is also an educator, and she lives in North Carolina.

 

Q: Why did you decide to write Unsexed?

 

A: I wrote Unsexed because I wanted to trace the trauma that manifested in my body back to its origins. I knew my reactions to my body and sexuality came from my mothers (the birth mother, a prostitute; the adoptive mother, a virgin), but I wanted a roadmap of sorts to understand how it was showing up in my marriage and in my resistance to have sex for 10 years while I was married. 

 

Q: The writer Adrienne Moore called the book “a searingly honest, painful, beautifully expressed, and ultimately transcendent story about the damage caused by the absence of love, and the healing that becomes possible with truth and courage.” What do you think of that description? 

 

A: Adrienne Moore is a wordsmith, so her praise is quite meaningful to me.

 

I always write the truth, no matter how painful it is for me. I use my writing to grapple with the experiences women have that are not given voice to.

 

I think that this absence of female confessions about sex, motherhood, and marriage made me feel very alone and abnormal in my own marriage, sexuality, and my role as a mom.

 

A lot of women don't want to talk about these issues -- they're too private, painful, and disarming. There is a lot of shame in our marriages, in the sex that we have been taught to have, and in the mothering of our children, and women fear the exposure and shaming that comes when we reveal how difficult these experiences are. 

 

My writing has always been described as "raw," "searing," and "honest," because I want to bring the shame out into the open and show us women that we have nothing to be ashamed of.

 

It is harmful to live in silence, and the more we speak out about our experiences, the more we are likely to see that the problem is not with us -- it's with the social constructs and contracts that are being imposed on us because we are women; this includes marriage, the sex scripts we are forced to abide by, and all the complexities that come with motherhood. 

 

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

 

A: Unsexed has two stories of origin for the title I chose.

 

First, unsexed means not having a sexuality, and 10 years of my 22-year marriage consisted of no sex because, I realize now, I did not feel safe with my then-husband.

 

Sex has always been problematic for me because my birth mother was a prostitute and I grew up observing her with johns and her pimp. Everything I have done since my childhood was to prevent myself from ever having to make that kind of choice.

 

Completely opposite the whore construct was my adoptive mother, who was a virgin -- she never dated, and I grew up in a world with no men.

 

Both of them had an impact on me because even in my late teens and early 20s, I had to have complete control of my body. Controlling it during my marriage was not a new concept for me. I can only have sex when I feel loved and safe. 

 

This brings us to the second meaning behind my title: fear. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth prays to be unsexed before committing murder for her husband's rise to power.

 

When she says, "unsex me here," she is asking that her sex, her femininity, and all the weaknesses ascribed to females be removed so she can act the way a man does -- with power, vengeance, and strength.

 

I was unsexed in my marriage by withholding sex from my husband, but I was also afraid to leave him, to break my family apart, to live without the one person who had saved me from my adoptive mother's abuse only to replace it with his own.

 

Unsexed had to end with me finding the courage I needed to leave my husband, and I needed to "unsex" myself -- to shed the fears, insecurities, and feelings of guilt often associated with women -- before I could leave him and the life I had known since I was 23 years old. 

 

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

 

A: Writing the book gave me the courage I needed to leave my husband. After laying everything out on the pages, staying would have been a coward's choice.

 

In writing about my experiences and how they manifested in my marriage, I was also able to see how my staying in a toxic marriage was hurting my children, and in the end, I had to leave. I had to end it all and start from scratch. 

 

For women readers, I hope they see that writing out our pain, our marriages, our mothering, and our sexuality sheds light on the complexities but also the choices that we have to be honest about our lives and our relationships.

 

That leaving a bad marriage is hard -- the hardest thing I've ever done -- but it is possible. It's reaffirming and shows how powerful we really are. We are worth the love and respect we want, and it's never too late to start over and manifest a healthy, positive life for ourselves. 

 

For male readers, I want them to see what it is like to navigate this world in our bodies, inside our skin. It is hard. Men make it harder because they don't realize how scary and disarming it is for us to trust them, sleep with them, and forge a life with them.

 

Even if not all men are the culprits of violence and abuse, verbal or physical, they contribute to the silence that exists around women's complex lives by not standing up for us, not believing us, and not doing their part in their roles as husbands, fathers, and lovers. 

 

Q: What are you working on now?

 

A: I am finishing up a novel titled "As You Lay Dying," about a woman's visit to her comatose, dying mother in a hospital. In the six days that make up their reunion, a "searing," "raw," and "honest" conversation takes place in which the daughter tells the mother everything she never said aloud when it came to her mother's callousness and denials of love or affection.

 

It is a (love) letter to my own adoptive mother, all the words I cannot say to her and never will because she cut my tongue off early in my childhood, metaphorically. I write because I was not allowed to speak my truth to her.  

 

Q: Anything else we should know?

 

A: Thank you for this opportunity to share my life and my book with you and your readers. I encourage all women to say the unsayable and to write the unwritable in women's lives. Write your stories.

 

We have to share our truths with each other to see that we are not alone in our experiences, but also to become aware that our lives and experiences mirror each other's lives and experiences.

 

Our lives are universal, and when it comes to our bodies, our sex, our mothering, we have a lot in common--even if our origins are vastly different. 

 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb