Saturday, September 23, 2023

Q&A with Rosanne Parry


Photo by Brian Garaths



Rosanne Parry is the author of the new middle grade novel A Horse Named Sky, which is part of her Voice of the Wilderness series. Her other books include A Wolf Called Wander. She lives in Portland, Oregon.


Q: What inspired you to write A Horse Named Sky, and how did you create your character Sky?


A: When I'm looking for a Voice of the Wilderness story, I always need an animal that is smart, social, and in an ecosystem accessible to me.


As much as I love elephants, gorillas, and chimpanzees, an extended trip to Africa isn't possible for me. So, I've stuck with the Pacific Northwest, a landscape I know and love with an abundance of public land.


Wild horses are so iconic to American history, they were a natural choice and there are easily observable populations of them in Eastern Oregon and Northwestern Nevada.


In a horse family the lead stallion is a fierce protector of his mares and foals, but he drives away the young male horses just as they are coming of age. The only way for a colt to stay is to fight the stallion and win. That's a dramatic moment in a colt's life.


I asked myself, what if there was a colt who wanted to stay with his family but didn't want to fight? What would he choose? Could he become a leader without fighting? A good question is often the starting point in character development for me.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Parry’s moving story follows the pattern of her recent animal tales, A Wolf Called Wander and A Whale of the Wild, chronicling a wild animal’s life in the first person, imagining its point of view, and detailing and appreciating the natural world it inhabits." What do you think of that description, and what connections do you see between this novel and your previous novels about animals?


A: Greenwillow and I have decided to call these animal-narrated novels the Voice of the Wilderness books. They are not a traditional series, but they are definitely companion books.


It's been a treat to work on books that sink so deeply into the natural world. I think that reversing climate change will be the fight of our lifetime. I believe that humans are uniquely organized to protect what we love.


My hope is that these books will help children all over the world feel a connection to the wilderness and be willing to do the hard work of defending the natural world and healing the climate. If we can do that, then that the natural world will do its work of sustaining our lives.


Q: Did you do any research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything especially surprising?


A: I love the research process. For each book I write, I read 20-30 books and find all sorts of experts to interview. I also spend time in the field, both watching the animal I'm writing about and closely observing the environment where they live.


It's not enough to say horses eat grass. I need to know which grasses they eat and which they shun. Do all wildflowers taste the same? I tasted them to find out. Some flowers are sweet and some sour and some bitter.


I was surprised to learn that sagebrush is eaten by horses but almost always in the winter when the sage changes in ways that make it easier to digest and more nutritious. Amazing!


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


A: I knew from the start that I wanted my conflict-avoiding character Sky to find something worth fighting for--and allies in the fight. Getting all the story elements to lead to that conclusion took some arranging and rearranging.


At this point in my writing career, I outline my books closer to the beginning of the process. It helps me focus my research and keep on track for my deadlines. But I also like to leave room for research and experience to lead me toward a more interesting story.


For example, I had never heard of the California Indian Act of 1850, and its provisions which made the enslavement of Indigenous people legal. When I learned about it, how it took indigenous children from their families, I knew I wanted to draw attention to this little-known part of the American slavery story.


So, I developed a stable boy character in the Pony Express who is a Paiute child, a person that Sky comes to love dearly. A person who inspires him to fight for his own freedom. Fortunately the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 ended the most egregious provisions of the California Indian Act and the entire law was repealed in 1937.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm just wrapping up work on a nonfiction picture book about the impact wolves have had on the environment in Yellowstone National Park. It's called The Wolf Effect and it is headed to stores in May of 2024.


The illustrator is Jennifer Thermes, whose work I've admired for years. I'm over the moon to be working with her!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Readers who would like a signed and personalized copy of A Horse Named Sky can contact my local indie bookstore, Annie Blooms, with directions about who to dedicate the book to and where to ship it. You can find them at or 503-246-0053 .


I will be appearing at the Las Vegas Book Festival Oct. 21 and at the Portland Book Festival on Nov. 4.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rosanne Parry.

Q&A with Lee Kelly



Lee Kelly is the author of the new novel With Regrets. Her other books include City of Savages. She lives in New Jersey.


Q: You’ve said that you came up with the idea for With Regrets after feeling anxious leaving your kids with a new babysitter to attend a dinner. Can you say more about that, and about how you created your cast of characters?


A: The actual dinner party came and went, but my related worries lingered, and eventually began to thread into the loose book idea for With Regrets. What if, during an adults-only dinner party, a worldwide cataclysmic event strikes the Eastern Seaboard . . . and all the guests become trapped, unable to get home to their kids?


As for the characters that I wanted to populate this genre-blending novel with . . . I realized most “end of the world” stories tend to feature family members or total strangers. I personally hadn’t seen one featuring frenemies.


So I started building a cast of couples, all of whom are battling their own demons, keeping their own secrets, and harboring their own insecurities and gripes. I wanted the main guests to intensify the interpersonal conflict at the dinner, so strived to make them foils of one another.


I eventually settled on the neighborhood outcast, the town queen bee (a social media influencer), a new mom, and the holier-than-thou president of the PTA.


Q: The writer Jennifer Thorne (with whom you've collaborated on writing projects) said of the novel, “By turns harrowing and hilarious, With Regrets is a nail-biting page-turner that brings the apocalypse thrillingly close to home.” What do you think of that description, and what did you see as the right balance between harrowing and hilarious as you were writing the book?


A: I love this blurb so much, as Jennifer’s words very much encapsulate what I was attempting to do with this novel. I strived to combine the juiciness, gossip, and cattiness of a neighborhood drama with the thrills of an apocalyptic survival story, but the balance of these elements was trial and error.


At first, the story was much more of a slow-burn suspense novel than a thriller, with then-now vignettes that made the pacing feel too inconsistent.


On revision, I ended up opting for telling the entire story in real-time over the course of a 24-hour period and repurposed the most crucial flashbacks as multimedia interstitials (e.g., email snippets, texts, and prior voicemails).


I didn’t want the cattiness and humorous elements to fall away completely, though, so I tried to make my dialogue work harder for me, and to ensure that every character had a secret they were keeping from the others, as well as clear emotional arcs and paths toward personal redemption. 


Q: Without giving anything away, did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I tend to have the first act and last act of a book at least loosely plotted before I officially start drafting my stories, and With Regrets was no different.


I often use Lisa Cron’s plotting suggestions in her wonderful book Story Genius during the brainstorming stage, and Cron suggests that, for a character’s emotional arc to feel satisfying to readers, there needs to be an “aha! moment,” or that moment when a character’s emotional growth comes to fruition.


I always make sure that “aha!” moment is clear in my mind before formally turning to writing, so there is a long sequence in the final act that I’d visualized very early on in the process and before I’d ever written a word. While some of the logistics did change along the way, the tone and the beats of that scene pretty much stayed the same until the final iteration.


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


A: One of the things I never realized before publishing my first novel is just how many book titles end up changing from their sale to their publication date. In fact, now that I think about it, I’ve published four novels and every single one of their titles changed!


With Regrets had been We All Fall Down when my agent had shopped it to my editor, but that title had never felt quite right. The Crooked Lane team and I brainstormed a list of alternative titles soon after they purchased the novel, and With Regrets became the unanimous favorite.


For me, it’s the perfect double entendre for this story, nodding both to the formalities of a fancy dinner party as well as the literal regret these guests experience during this fateful evening.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m amid revisions on a co-written historical adventure novel, my second collaboration with Jennifer Thorne (our first, which came out in June, is called The Antiquity Affair, a 1907 Indiana Jones-esque adventure starring sisters).


Our latest is a story set in the glamorous world of 1950s Hollywood, involving two starlets who discover untoward activity on the set of their new picture.


I’m also in the brainstorming and early stages of another suspense novel, this one set in the world of reality television.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Only a big thank you for having me! I’m so happy to have had the chance to chat with you about this book, and I hope readers enjoy it!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jonah Winter




Jonah Winter is the author of the new children's picture book Banned Book. His many other books include The Little Owl & the Big Tree.


Q: What inspired you to write Banned Book, and how did you decide on the book's format, which includes censoring?


A: In the last few years, censorship has seemingly taken over the children’s book world – and so it struck me as a very relevant and timely topic, one that very much affects the lives of my young readers.  


I have had books of mine banned in schools – exclusively due to the pressure of right-wing activists. And I have had contracts cancelled and have struggled to save my career as a children’s book author from being shut down – largely due to the activism of the illiberal left-wing social-media mobs who have taken over the publishing world, applying pressure on the publishers, effectively coercing them into cancelling certain authors and adopting new rules about who is now allowed to write about what particular subject matter.  


So, this is a very personal and very emotional topic for me.  And I think it’s something that children need to wrap their minds around, since it is indeed a phenomenon that surrounds them. 


The book’s format evolved over the course of several revisions. But the initial trope that got the whole thing started was the notion of redacted text.


As a writer, I’ve always believed that the structure of the text, whether that be in a picture book or a poem, should reinforce the central idea – that the two should work in tandem. “Form follows function,” as the architects used to say. 


Over time, I realized that the story itself should reinforce the notion of banned books – thus it is a redacted story about a banned book. (The original story was about something else.)  


It wasn’t until the final revisions that I came up with the idea of adding bracketed commentary beneath every text section. Who knows how many other tropes I may have added if I’d kept revising it for a few more years!  


Q: What do you think Gary Kelley’s illustrations add to the book?


A: Gary Kelley had a very challenging job in illustrating this book – a sort of Mission Impossible as an illustrator! How do you illustrate such a wacko book? 


I believe the approach he came up with is perfect. It gets across the fear and mood of the story – that which surrounds the story. Just as the story itself is a novel variation on what a children’s book is “supposed” to be, his illustration style is a novel variation of what illustrations usually do in relation to the text. 


It’s as if he’s illustrating the world that surrounds the text. Very inspiring. And I believe it’s something children will have a strong response to. 


Q: In a piece earlier this year for the Dallas Morning News, you wrote, “Which kind of censorship is worse for authors: The kind that increases the visibility of a book and sells more copies, or the kind that silences an author quietly, behind the scenes. The kind that restricts an author from writing about the subject matter he’s always written about, or the kind that robs a book’s right to exist. There’s no question mark, because there’s no question.” Can you say more about that?


A: I can say thousands more words about that! And have!


The right-wing book bans, so rampant now in states like Florida and Texas, have gotten a huge amount of media attention. That sells books. I in no way mean to defend this form of censorship, which is absolutely harmful to children and to democracy and the “freedom to read” in general, but it has not hurt me as an author. Just the opposite.  

The sales for my Clemente book were off the charts after the media attention given to the Duval County book ban. And, crucially, neither my book nor the other 173 banned in that school district were unavailable elsewhere. They remained available at public libraries, at book stores, through the internet.  


Compare that to the books that have been cancelled – either by the publishers or the authors themselves – after social media mobs descended on them. Those books get erased altogether. 


Self-righteous mobs of left-wing activists, many of whom by their own admission have not even read these books they attack, decide it is their holy right to decide for the rest of us that these books have no right to exist. They claim, as do their right-wing counterparts, that certain books are “dangerous” and “harmful.”  


And so, due to their social media pressure, these books get disappeared, and the authors get silenced (at least in the particular instances of the books that were permanently cancelled).   


As mentioned, I have had contracts cancelled due to the publishers’ concerns about my identity in relation to the subject matter (not in alignment with the “own voices” or “lived experience” rules now firmly in place in the publishing industry) and due to fear of controversy, negative social media backlash. 


I have been told point-blank by my main editor that they will no longer publish books by me on “people of color, women, or white men” – and that I should try writing about animals instead.  


I’ve been told by other editors that I do not have “the right” to write about Black people – this after a career spent promoting racial justice through my books, and having defended my right, to my nervous editors, to talk about racism in my stories. 


I have been called “a racist, in words, works and deeds” on the website, Reading While White, with no supporting documentation for this untrue, damaging, and libelous charge.  


I have seen a book of mine that had gotten five starred reviews, The Secret Project, basically get disappeared. Positive reviews in trade journals were withdrawn and revised.  


I have spent the last few years feeling as though a censor is perched on my shoulder, telling me before I even set pen to paper that I am not “allowed” to write about this or that topic, and that no editor will touch this. 


Were I to try and get my Roberto Clemente book published today, no major New York publishing company would touch it – because I do not share Clemente’s racial and ethnic identity.  


So yeah, that’s a lot worse, for me at least, than having that book banned in one county in Florida for a couple months (and seeing my sales for that book increase dramatically).  


I would advise your readers to check out the very important report released by PEN America in August, “Booklash:  Literary Freedom, Online Outrage, and the Language of Harm.”  


It is an extremely thorough examination of the sort of censorship I’m talking about here, coming from within and around the publishing industry, driven entirely by the activism of those who would describe themselves as “progressive.” 


Q: What do you hope kids take away from Banned Book, and what do you see looking ahead when it comes to book banning in this country?


A: I hope that my book will help young readers navigate through the troubled waters created by the censors at both ends of the political spectrum, waters winding their way through the shelves of their school libraries.


I hope it will get them asking questions.


I hope it will inspire curiosity. There is nothing more subversive (and potentially dangerous to the totalitarian state of things created by censors) than curiosity.  


I hope they will try to figure out what words have been blacked out – though I’ll never tell….  


I hope my book will inspire kids to challenge the unfair things adults do in relation to their young lives. 


I hope they will stand up for their right to read.


I think the sort of censorship that’s happening now will continue indefinitely – both in the schools and within the publishing world. 


This is basically a war being fought between Far Right activists and Far Left activists, using children’s books and children as pawns. With every passing day, both sides are getting more entrenched.  


Meanwhile, I think the majority of people think that all censorship is wrong. But the majority of people don’t have the time or the passion or the power to exert their influence over the system. And so the extremists dictate our reality. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on essays in which I describe my recent experiences with all this and defend my right to write. I’m working on trying not to let this affect my physical health as much as it has over the past few years. I’m working on trying to keep my spirits up, not sink into despair. 


I’m working on reaching the hearts and minds of fellow liberals so as to change the world – into a place where I am once again allowed to write about whatever I want to write about (and once again earn an income doing so, as I have for the past 32 years).  


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I very much admire the courage and vision of Creative Editions, which wanted to publish this book that no New York publishers would touch.  


I appreciate the integrity and support of the publisher, Tom Peterson. His company provides a light in the darkness – and reminds me of the book-loving environment I first encountered when I entered the publishing world back in 1984.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jonah Winter.

Sept. 23



Sept. 23, 1863: Mary Church Terrell born.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Q&A with John Connolly


Photo by Mark Condren


John Connolly is the author of the new novel The Land of Lost Things, a sequel to his novel The Book of Lost Things. His other books include the Charlie Parker thrillers. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.


Q: Why did you decide to write this follow-up to The Book of Lost Things, and how would you describe the relationship between the two novels?


A: During lockdown, I made a run at a movie adaptation for The Book of Lost Things, which only served to demonstrate that a movie couldn't be made; the book isn't long, but there's a lot in it.


That, I suppose, made me want to return to the universe of that book, but as a very different person from the man in his 30s who wrote the original.


TBOLT is a very personal book for me, as I put much of myself into David. It's a book about childhood and adolescence, whereas this is a book about parenthood, and to some degree the worries of middle age, when we become parents to our own parents while also being parents to our children.


Had I returned to the world of these books before I'd changed, I'd simply have repeated myself. This way, it remains personal and different.


As for the relationship between them, they share characters, and a sensibility, but you don't have to have read the first to embrace the second, although the experience will be different if you have.


Q: How did you create your characters Ceres and Phoebe?


A: I don't know how to answer that question, sorry. It implies a kind of methodical process, but for me – as someone who doesn't plan books – characters are discovered through the act of writing, and I discover more with each new draft.


All I can say is that there's a lot of me in Ceres, but then there's a lot of me in all the characters, good or bad.


Q: What do you think the novel says about the power of storytelling?


A: If the first book was about the power of fairy tales, this one looks more to folklore, and the persistence of myths. They remain ways to understand the world, and our place in it.


But the novel is also about the way stories can enable us to escape for a time into them, even though we can never really escape because we bring all of our experiences to everything we read. As someone once said of going away to "find yourself", wherever you go, there you are. 


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

A: I never know, and I wouldn't want to write a novel if I was aware in advance of anything more than a scene or two. It just wouldn't interest me. For me, writing is a slow, organic process, and my experience of writing the first draft is similar to the reader's later experience of reading the finished book. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I've just delivered next year's Parker book, have another in early draft form, and I'm trying to finish the final year of a Ph.D. God forbid I should have idle hands...


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I don't bite.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Tim Facciola




Tim Facciola is the author of the new novel The Scales of Balance, the first in his A AVengeful Realm series. Also a virtual fitness professional, he lives in Arizona.


Q: What inspired you to write A Vengeful Realm, and how did you create your character Zephrus?


A: A Vengeful Realm was born from three initial seeds. One, I wanted a rich mythology with a pantheon of rival Gods and magic systems derived from them. Two, I wanted to create a fantastical take on Spartacus’s revolt against Rome.


And three, I wanted a large cast of interconnected characters to have to contend with each other, the political machinations of a rebellion, and the apocalyptic threat of a war between the Gods. 


From there, Zephyrus was but one of seven protagonists to enter into the world. I wanted to explore the nuances of the human experience from the perspective of a gladiator slave suffering amnesia; absent the cultural biases, learned prejudices, or the pressures to conform to societal demands, Zephyrus has only his intuition to trust.


Q: How did you create the world in which the novel takes place?


A: The world evolved from the “What if…” question of, “What would it have been like if Ancient Greco-Roman culture persisted into and dominated Europe’s feudal age?”


Meshing these two very different worlds together was interesting, challenging, and a process, but a world on the brink of change and evolution is always a little messy.


Though I didn’t originally intend to capture that mess, that became my second goal: to weave together two (even three) cultures that really did not want to be woven together.


Forced assimilation tends to be messy, problematic, hypocritical, and filled with double standards. In such a world, things like honor and justice mean less and less and things like mercy and forgiveness are harder to come by.


So creating a world in conflict with itself created some great tension for the characters to interact with. 


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


A: I do like to begin with the end in mind whenever possible. A lot of the hows and whys did change; the way in which characters arrived at XYZ or how certain events impacted them certainly changed.


But the end of the trilogy never really strayed from the time I formulated it. I’m a heavy plotter, so a lot of the big moments tend to be very clear for me.


But sometimes, characters will see something, feel something that I—at the time of outlining—could not. When those moments occur, I trust the characters’ vision and go with it, then go back to smooth out the ripple-effects afterwards.


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


A: The goal is for readers to realize that who you were doesn’t determine or limit who you can become. The first step is knowing yourself, your true self—both the good and the bad. From that foundation of giving yourself grace, you can let go of retribution, forego what is just, and offer that same grace to others.


I want readers to believe that we are stronger together, not in spite of our differences, but because of them. But before that can happen, we have to know ourselves. 


Q: This is the first in a series--can you say anything about what’s next?


A: Good news! All three books in the trilogy are written—book 2 (Jan ‘24) is already in the production process, and book 3 (Apr ‘24) is in editing! So for those epic fantasy fans hoping for certain series to be completed, I will not put you through that torment.


But book 1 ends messier than it started. Book 2 picks up right after the conclusion of the first and only escalates. Since the wait won’t be long, I won’t spoil too much, but the scope broadens and the stakes rise with all your favorite characters from the first installment of the series. 


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve had the pleasure of turning A Vengeful Realm into an audiobook with the help of the very talented Landon Soelberg. As a narrator he has truly made these characters come alive in his performance and I can’t wait to share it with the world!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Sept. 22



Sept. 22, 1908: Esphyr Slobodkina born.