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An Interview with Erica Perl, Picture Book Author of THE NINTH NIGHT OF HANUKKAH
Sep 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links: Bookshop|B & N IndieBound|Amazon

About The Ninth Night of Hanukkah from Goodreads:

A heartwarming picture book with a fresh twist on a Hanukkah celebration: celebrating a ninth night with new neighbors and friends!

It’s Hanukkah, and Max and Rachel are excited to light the menorah in their family’s new apartment. But, unfortunately, their Hanukkah box is missing. So now they have no menorah, candles, dreidels, or, well, anything! Luckily, their neighbors are happy to help, offering thoughtful and often humorous stand-in items each night. And then, just as Hanukkah is about to end, Max and Rachel, inspired by the shamash (“helper”) candle, have a brilliant idea: they’re going to celebrate the Ninth Night of Hanukkah as a way to say thanks to everyone who’s helped them!

This book is not only a heartwarming and fun story, it’s also an invitation to join in a beautiful new Hanukkah tradition!

Interview:

The premise for The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is so clever. Share with us some book secrets, things that no one would know about this book just from picking it up and reading it. It could be an inspiration, reasons why you named your characters etc.

One Hanukkah, my daughters observed that the shamash works hard every night helping to light the other candles, but never gets a night of appreciation. The idea stuck with me. And then I thought about all the people who help others, yet so often go unappreciated (and sometimes even unnoticed). I realized how great it would be if we could honor the shamash as well as people who give of themselves and share their light with others. This led me to write The Ninth Night of Hanukkah.

What was it about the holiday of Hanukkah that made you want to create a picture book about it?

I love the feeling of togetherness that comes with Hanukkah. And I was excited to write a book that creates a new Hanukkah ritual in honor of helpers and helping. To me, although it is brand new, it is a natural outgrowth of existing Hanukkah traditions. We all help each other, and helping is more important now more than ever. Just wearing a mask is a great way that you help those around you every day! So, it makes sense to set aside a day to celebrate helpers at Hanukkah time. And the shamash is the perfect symbol because it is the hardworking yet unsung hero of Hanukkah.

I looked at Goodreads and your blog, and if I counted correctly, The Ninth Night of Hanukkah is your twenty-eighth book. Mazel tov on such an incredible accomplishment!!! What writing or publishing wisdom have you gained through your journey that you wish you would have had when you first started out that might be helpful for other writers?

Thanks! It’s actually my thirty-first published book. I have two pieces of advice. First, read constantly and critically – not just in your genre, but widely and inclusively. There’s so much we can learn from other writers, about the world as well as about the craft of writing. Second, be open to revising beyond the point when you think a piece is “done.” I often find that beneath the surface of a “finished” project is something more, which – if I’m lucky – I’ll unearth through additional revision. That was definitely true of The Ninth Night of Hanukkah, which benefitted from some wonderful editorial feedback along the way. 

Fun bonus round. Feel free to explain if you’d like.

What do you prefer?

Favorite Hannukkah treats: Chocolate gelt (coins), Potato latkes (pancakes), donuts, a different type of latke like zucchini or sweet potato? Other?

I am a bit of a chocolate gelt snob – it has to be 100% milk or dark chocolate. My favorites are made by Lake Champlain chocolatesSee’s Candies, and Trader Joe’s. I also like traditional potato latkes with sour cream, salt and pepper. My husband is the best latke-maker on the planet and I am not biased in the least.

Books to read: romance, thrillers, historical fiction, picture books, YA, MG, sci-fi, non-fiction, fantasy, horror, fiction, other?

I read a lot of picture books as well as realistic middle grade, YA, and graphic novels, though I am always excited when I read something excellent that’s outside my comfort zone (like A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers, which I read on my daughter’s recommendation – who knew I could love sci fi?).

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other? 

All of the above. I love the great outdoors! 

Winter, spring, summer, or fall? 

I’m a fan of summer, with a sweet spot for autumn in New England (where I grew up… I miss those early fall apples the most!).

About Erica Perl:

Erica S. Perl is the author of popular and critically acclaimed books for young readers.

Her most recent middle grade novel, ALL THREE STOOGES, won the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature and the Sydney Taylor Award Silver Medal. Erica’s novels for young readers include WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU O.J. (Sydney Taylor Award Notable Book, ALA Notable Book, P.J. Our Way, multiple state book award lists), ACES WILD (NPR Best Book of the Year, P.J. Our Way), and THE CAPYBARA CONSPIRACY: A NOVEL IN THREE ACTS (innovative script format).

Erica also writes picture books – including CHICKEN BUTT!, GOATILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS and FEROCIOUS FLUFFITY – early readers, transitional chapter books, and chapter books – TRUTH OR LIE!, ARNOLD AND LOUISE, and the CRAFTILY EVER AFTER (written as “Martha Maker) series.

Erica is a crowd-pleasing presenter at schools, libraries and community events. She honed her skills working as a trial lawyer in New York City, and also worked for many years for First Book, the national non-profit organization that provides books to children in need.

She lives in Washington, D.C. with her family.

Find Erica: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook

Interview with Tziporah Cohen, Debut Middle Grade Author of NO VACANCY
Sep 9th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links:

Canada: Mabel’s Fables | Indigo

US: Bookshop | Amazon | Audible

International: Book Depository

About No Vacancy From Goodreads:

Buying and moving into the run-down Jewel Motor Inn in upstate New York wasn’t eleven-year-old Miriam Brockman’s dream, but at least it’s an adventure. Miriam befriends Kate, whose grandmother owns the diner next door, and finds comfort in the company of Maria, the motel’s housekeeper, and her Uncle Mordy, who comes to help out for the summer. She spends her free time helping Kate’s grandmother make her famous grape pies and begins to face her fears by taking swimming lessons in the motel’s pool.

But when it becomes clear that only a miracle is going to save the Jewel from bankruptcy, Jewish Miriam and Catholic Kate decide to create their own. Otherwise, the No Vacancy sign will come down for good, and Miriam will lose the life she’s worked so hard to build.

Interview:

1. Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

What surprised me most was how much I learned writing it. I started the novel during my MFA and continued to work on it for several years afterwards. While I learned tons during my MFA, I now understand how much of writing you learn while writing. Even in the final editing stages, my editor pushed me to dig deeper, and showed me how the tiniest of tweaks could bring the characters and setting even more to life. The characters and plot of the book also evolved a great deal over the many drafts. I started the manuscript in the summer of 2013 and it was acquired in spring of 2019. Miriam, my main character, went from age nine in the first draft to eleven in later drafts. Kate, her new friend, took on a much more important role. The tone of the book went from a bit slapstick to more serious, with humor still an important part. And all this needed time. You can’t rush the creative process, even if you want to.

2. Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I did weave in a few little secrets and will be curious to see if anyone notices! A few times throughout the story, Miriam squeezes her mother’s or brother’s hand—one, two, three—to say “I love you,” which is something my grandmother taught my mom and she taught me. I know this is something that other families do, so I hope it feels like a gift just for those readers too. Rabbi Yael is named after a friend who is the rabbi at one of the large synagogues in Toronto. (She’s just as wise as the Rabbi Yael in the book.) Miriam is only supposed to eat sugar cereals on Shabbat morning, which is a rule my husband and I made for our own kids (though I know they cheat from time to time!)

On the less pleasant side, Miriam’s mom talks about having pennies thrown at her when she was a kid—an anti-Semitic act. This happened to me in the hallways of my junior high school many years ago. Like Miriam’s mom, I remember feeling ashamed. I wish I could redo that moment by confronting the person and—best case scenario—educating them about the hateful origins of that stereotype. And I would have liked to have felt proud rather than ashamed.

3. What inspired you to write a novel set in a rundown inn?

The inspiration came from spending a couple of nights in a tired motel on vacation one summer. There was a young boy hanging around, asking us questions, and I eventually learned he had moved there with his family and they were running the place. I was doing my MFA and needed an idea for a novel, and thought, what better setting than a motel for a middle grade novel? I didn’t know any other novels for kids set in a motel (Kelly Yang’s wonderful Front Desk, hadn’t come out yet) and I realized there would be unlimited opportunities for interaction with guests. I started the novel during that vacation. Luckily, my MFA advisor loved it and encouraged me to keep working on it. (Thank you, Sarah Ellis!)

Bonus round: 

Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, water, sparkling water, juice, other?

Tea – more specifically, mint herbal tea. I can’t write without it.

Winter, spring, summer or fall?

Spring. I love watching the plants and trees come back to life. It gives me hope.

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn?

Onion rings, but the kind made from slices of onions, not the chopped-up-and-reconstituted-into-rings kind.

Ideal vacation: Beach, major city touring museums and landmarks, national park, skiing, staying at home?

National park, hands down. 

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction?

I’m pretty eclectic in my reading and pick up different types of books depending on my mood (and my book group.) Picture books of all kinds and middle grade contemporary fiction are high on the list, since that’s what I write, but I love diving into adult fiction and non-fiction to exercise other parts of my brain.

Favorite “Jewish” food? Matzah ball soup, potato kugel, noodle kugel, gefilte fish, brisket, challah, bagel, bagel and cream cheese, bagel with cream cheese and lox or other?

Matzah ball soup! 

About Tziporah:

Tziporah Cohen

I was born and raised in New York, spent eighteen years in Boston after college, and then landed in Toronto, Canada, where I live with my husband, three kids, two cats, and one dog.

I studied French and Theater Arts at Cornell University, where I was one of a lucky handful of Chimesmasters who performed chimes concerts in the campus bell tower three times a day. I was sure I was going to be a veterinarian from the time I could talk, but then decided to be a people doctor and went to medical school. About ten years after graduating from Harvard Medical School, I took my first course in writing picture books, which led some years later to an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Now I split my time between working as a psychiatrist and writing, interspersed with mom duties and walking the dog.

Find Tziporah: Website | Twitter | Facebook

An Interview with Evan Wolkenstein, Debut MG Author of TURTLE BOY
Aug 13th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

It’s my honor to have Evan Wolkenstein on my blog. See my five star Goodreads review to learn more about what I thought of this incredible debut MG novel.

From Goodreads, About Turtle Boy

This middle-grade debut, which will surely appeal to fans of Wonder, explores self-image, friendship, and grief, while highlighting the importance of taking chances. It will make you laugh and cry, and you will be eager to share it with someone you love.

Seventh grade is not going well for Will Levine. Kids at school bully him because of his funny-looking chin. His science teacher finds out about the turtles he spent his summer collecting from the marsh behind school and orders him to release them back into the wild. And for his bar mitzvah community service project, he has to go to the hospital to visit RJ, an older boy struggling with an incurable disease. Unfortunately, Will hates hospitals.

At first, the boys don’t get along, but then RJ shares his bucket list with Will. Among the things he wants to do: ride a roller coaster, go to a concert and a school dance, and swim in the ocean. To Will, happiness is hanging out in his room, alone, preferably with his turtles. But as RJ’s disease worsens, Will realizes he needs to tackle the bucket list on his new friend’s behalf before it’s too late. It seems like an impossible mission, way outside Will’s comfort zone. But as he completes each task with RJ’s guidance, Will learns that life is too short to live in a shell.

A strong debut novel about grief, loss, and coming out of one’s shell.” —School Library Journal

“Turtle Boy–both boy and book–is a winner.” —Booklist, starred review

“A beautiful debut that wears its heart on its sleeve” —TheNerdDaily

A masterful mingling of deeply resonant themes, including self-esteem, loneliness, loss, and the rewards of improbable friendships.” —Publishers Weekly

“A satisfying arc, from sadness to dawning hope and strength.” —Kirkus Reviews

Interview:

Share a novel secret or secrets about your book. It could be anything that readers would never know just from reading it like your inspiration for a name, the reason why you chose the setting, something humorous that took place while writing.

Turtle Boy began as a kind of therapeutic art project – I’m an amateur illustrator and a fan of comics and graphic novels, so I drew an autobiographical comic called How I Learned to Love My Face about growing up with a facial difference, the process of having it corrected, and how the echoes of that experience still reach me, three decades later, in unexpected ways. 

I’ll also mention that the entire book was written with a single musical soundtrack on my headphones. Music for Cats. Yes, a musician-composer named David Teie wrote a gorgeous album of music intending it to be listened to by cats. Apparently, it also soothes my inner writing feline. Okay, and before you laugh, try giving it a listen. Seriously, it’s peaceful and lovely and also, David is a really nice person. I emailed him to thank him for writing the music that helped me write a novel and he was very, very gracious. 

You narrated your own audiobook, which received a starred review from Booklist. I am in awe. Tell us why you wanted to do the audiobook and what that experience was like.

I’m an auditory person – I sing constantly, drum on every available surface with my hands (it drives people crazy), and experience the world through music and rhythm. For that reason, music and rhythm play significantly into Turtle Boy – from the rock beats Will learns from RJ, to the chanted Jewish prayers. I wanted those sounds to reach the ears of my listeners authentically – from the “Boom-Pack Boom-Boom-Pack” of RJ’s homemade drum set to the Aramaic mourner’s prayers. Beyond this, while Turtle Boy isn’t pure autobiography, it is heavily influenced by my past, and sharing the story with my own voice meant a great deal to me. 

Bonus round: What would you prefer?

Chanukah, Passover, Purim, Sukkot, Shavuot, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Shabbat, other?

I love this question – every Jewish holiday I love, because they’re so close to me. There are also things I dread about them! In that way, they are like family members whom you adore to pieces… but they also get under your skin! That’s part of having a life-long connection to anything — the relationship is always deep and ambivalent and nuanced. I start worrying about Yom Kippur a month before it happens, I get anxious about my own preparation, but year after year, I reach some deep, deep spiritual places when surrounded by the songs and prayers of my people. And Passover, sharing the taste of Matzo Brei with my two year old is delightful, the themes of liberation – so powerful. Then again, the physical effects of that much processed flour? Not great. Still, these are my holidays, my memories, my nostalgia, and my family identity. I need it all. That said, I’m experiencing every holiday through my little girl’s eyes – and so Shabbat, which comes every week – plays a bigger and bigger role, as does the puppet we use to add joy to Zoom Shabbat services. 

Writing, revising, reading?

REVISING. Writing is painful, painful, painful. Every new scene feels like an exercise in imposter syndrome. BUT! The best feeling is when you take a couple of scenes that are limping along, remove some baggage, sharpen the language, lash them together and then there’s the VROOOM!!! as they supercharge each other and start driving off in a cloud of dust…and you type and type and type to keep up with them! So exhilarating! 

Introvert, extrovert or ambivert?

Ambivert. I love being with students, in a crowded synagogue, chatting with colleagues, and I’m drawn to the spotlight. But it depletes me. I also need a lot of quiet time — me and my writing, a comfy chair with a nice view, a mug of coffee. Noise cancelling headphones. And no, you can’t join me! Get out!

Matzoh ball soup, bagels, cream cheese (with or without lox), brisket, gefilte fish, challah, noodle kugel, chummus, pastrami or corned beef (on rye), other?

Oh, wow. That’s a great menu. As a kosher-eater in Marin county, a hot pastrami sandwich is impossible. And the stuff out of packages isn’t great. But the bigger problem is that there’s a platonic sandwich already floating around in my mind. 

I was vegetarian until I was about 35. One day, on a trip to NYC with some students, I brought a group to 2nd Ave Deli. I ate some vegetarian thing – who knows what it was – and after all the students got their pre-ordered sandwiches, there was one leftover hot pastrami on rye that no one claimed. It seemed silly to let it go to waste, so I took a bite and was immediately shlorked into a dream world of magical pastrami-eleves who danced around me singing Hava Nagila. Once we left the deli, the spell wore off. And since that fateful day, I’ve been chasing the Kosher dragon.

Actor, stage crew, director, or audience member?

ACTOR/DIRECTOR: As a gemini (I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but hey, I’m gonna start with that), I inhabit two roles: I find deep joy in sharing my voice with the world. It’s what drove me, year after year, to write and complete a novel. That’s my actor side. But in my work with students, I frequently take on the role of director: supporting, focusing, guiding and cheerleading my students as they perform various feats of talent and daring – sometimes at their desks and sometimes on actual stage. It’s deeply meaningful to me. I’m not sure I could sustainably do one without the other.

About Evan Wolkenstein:

M. Evan Wolkenstein is a high school teacher and author of YA novel Turtle Boy (Random House, May 2020). He attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Hebrew University, and the Pardes Institute for Jewish Studies. His work can be found in The Forward, Tablet Magazine,  The Washington Post, Engadget, My Jewish Learning, and BimBam.

He lives with his wife and daughter in the San Francisco Bay Area.  

Find him on:

Twitter @EvanWolkenstein, Instagram EvanWolkenstein, Goodreads or at EvanWolkenstein.com

From Evan’s autobiographical comic, How I Learned to Love My Face

Little kids are like the first humans in the Garden of Eden. They don’t know about good or bad, beautiful or ugly. When I was little, I got lots of attention for my long eyelashes and pinchable cheeks. I didn’t know or care what the fuss was about. I loved stuffed animals and Pac-Man. 


Interview with KayLynn Flanders, Debut YA Author of SHIELDED
Jul 23rd, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

About Shielded from Goodreads:

For fans of Sorcery of Thorns and Furyborn comes a thrilling new fantasy about a kingdom ravaged by war, and the princess who might be the key to saving not only those closest to her, but the kingdom itself, if she reveals the very secret that could destroy her.

The kingdom of Hálendi is in trouble. It’s losing the war at its borders, and rumors of a new, deadlier threat on the horizon have surfaced. Princess Jennesara knows her skills on the battlefield would make her an asset and wants to help, but her father has other plans.

As the second-born heir to the throne, Jenna lacks the firstborn’s–her brother’s–magical abilities, so the king promises her hand in marriage to the prince of neighboring Turia in exchange for resources Hálendi needs. Jenna must leave behind everything she has ever known if she is to give her people a chance at peace.

Only, on the journey to reach her betrothed and new home, the royal caravan is ambushed, and Jenna realizes the rumors were wrong–the new threat is worse than anyone imagined. Now Jenna must decide if revealing a dangerous secret is worth the cost before it’s too late–for her and for her entire kingdom.

Interview:

Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book.

Awesome question! Okay, here are some fun behind-the-scene details for Shielded:

  • I chose Turia’s kingdom colors to be brown and gold because those are the school colors of my husband’s high school. 
  • Jenna’s eye color is based off my daughter’s.
  • Cavolo, a curse used in Turia, means cabbage in Italian.

What drew you to writing a fantasy novel?

I’ve always loved fantasy novels. They were the books that sucked me in when I was a teenager. And while fantasy novels are pretty complicated with worldbuilding and magic systems, etc., it was a lot of fun to put Jenna in some fantastical situations and see what happened next.

What have you enjoyed the most about the publishing process?

The people! My agent is extraordinary, my editor is a complete champion of my book and me, authors and bloggers have reached out and given guidance and support, and it’s all been amazing. Book people are the best.

Bonus round: (Feel free to explain if you would like)

Dancing, walking, sailing, running, ice-skating, snowboarding?

Ice skating! I took lessons when I was little, and can still skate backwards and do a *very* little jump.

Soups: chicken noodle, egg drop, French onion, lentil, split pea, tortilla, other?

Tortilla! I love Latin food (even if it’s not authentic). I used to speak Spanish fluently, but it’s been a lot of years since I spoke the language daily. 

Concert, movie, musical, play?

I’ve been social distancing since Feburary—can I choose all of the above? 

Music: Classical, hard rock, soft rock, hip hop, jazz, country, other?

I listen to a wide variety of music, but my favorites are usually alternative or soft rock—my favorite band is Keane. Since becoming a parent, I mostly listen to Disney soundtracks with my kids. 

About KayLynn Flanders

KayLynn Flanders has a degree in English Language and editing, and has been a freelance editor and book designer for over twelve years. Her debut novel, a YA fantasy, will be published by Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House) July 21, 2020. KayLynn and her family live in Utah between some mountains and a lake, and she is directionally challenged without them. She loves reading, writing, traveling, and volleyball, and thinks there’s
nothing better than a spur-of-the-moment road trip.

Connect with KayLynn on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook

Interview With Claire Swinarski, Debut Middle Grade Author of WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Jul 17th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

About WHAT HAPPENS NEXT from Goodreads:

In this heartfelt and accessible middle grade novel perfect for fans of The Thing About Jellyfish, a young girl throws herself into solving a local mystery to keep from missing her older sister, who has been sent to an eating disorder treatment facility.

Astronomy-obsessed Abby McCourt should be thrilled about the solar eclipse her small town of Moose Junction is about to witness, but she’s not. After her older sister Blair was sent away for an eating disorder, Abby has been in a funk.

Desperate to dull the pain her sister’s absence has left, she teams up with a visiting astronomer to help track down his long-lost telescope. Though this is supposed to take Abby’s mind off the distance between her and Blair, what she finds may bring her closer to her sister than she ever thought possible.

Q &A:

1. Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what? 

Something that surprised me was how easily the characters voices were able to come to me. I’ve written plenty of stories, but these characters felt so real to me that this was the easiest writing project I’ve ever done! 

2. Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text?  

The town of Moose Junction is based heavily off of Boulder Junction, a northwoods resort town that my family has a home in. Many of the small places mentioned, like the Cranberry Patch Gift Shop and the Ice Shanty, are real! Sadly, I’ve never actually been to the library–ha!

3. What do you love about your cover and how does it connect to your story? 

Pascal Campion is the illustrator who made the cover, and I’m absolutely obsessed with it. He drew the main character, Abby, looking at the stars, which makes sense–she’s a total astronomy nerd and there’s a solar eclipse happening during the story. Abby can frequently be found with her telescope, so I love that the cover captures her in her natural habitat, and the feel of a summer night just buzzes through the illustration! I can almost smell the s’mores just looking at it. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Coffee, Tea, or Hot Chocolate?

Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall

Fries or onion rings? Neither–cheese curds! I’m a Wisconsin gal through and through! 🙂 

Movie at a theater or watch a movie at home?

Ice cream: Chocolate, Strawberry or Vanilla?

About Claire Swinarski:

The short version: Claire Swinarski is the author of multiple books, including What Happens Next (coming in 2020 from HarperCollins) and Girl, Arise: A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World. She’s also the founder of the Catholic Feminist Podcast, a top-ranked spirituality podcast with half a million downloads that discusses the intersection between faith and women’s issues. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Seventeen, Milwaukee Magazine, and many other publications. She lives just outside of Milwaukee, WI with her husband and two kids.

Find Claire: Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Instagram

Interview with Ellen Birkett Morris Author of LOST GIRLS: Short Stories
Jul 9th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links:

B & N | Carmichael’s Bookstore |Amazon

About Lost Girls: Short Stories, From Goodreads:

“A dazzling collection of stories that showcases Morris’ impressive ability to hide devastating truths within seemingly small moments.” —Jenny Offill

Lost Girls explores the experiences of women and girls as they grieve, find love, face uncertainty, take a stand, find their future, and say goodbye to the past. A young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried woman wanders into a breast feeder’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. Though they may seem lost, each finds their center as they confront the challenges and expectations of womanhood.

PRAISE for LOST GIRLS

“The stories in Ellen Birkett Morris’s collection, Lost Girls, are memorable for the way they see the lasting truths that reside within the familiar. These stories are full of imaginative leaps that capture the wildness that lies beneath our seemingly ordinary lives. Morris is a writer of extraordinary talent. With elegance and precision, she can turn a story into something luminous and unforgettable.” —Lee Martin, author of Pulitzer Prize Finalist The Bright Forever

“Ellen Birkett Morris is a skillful literary pointillist. In Lost Girls, her debut collection, each spare sentence is as considered as a poem; step back a little way, and you behold a world.” —David Payne, author of Barefoot to Avalon

“This collection of stunning and original stories kept me turning the pages, eager to meet the daughter who eats the sins of others, the 30-year-old virgin who rents a breast pump, the bereft mother drumming away her grief. Ellen Birkett Morris’s Lost Girls draws us so close that before long, we are inhaling the same air, making the same unexpected discoveries, and deeply longing for each of these girls and women to find their private rainbows.” —Masha Hamilton, author of 31 Hours and The Camel Bookmobile

Interview:

1. Explain why you wanted to write this collection. 

I was working on another collection about a male photographer traveling through the south that was getting interest from publishers, but no bites. I started wondering why I kept writing about this guy. 

I realized then that I had written and published a lot of stories about women. Quirky stories about women finding their way in the world and trying to be seen. The voices of those women wouldn’t leave me alone. The young woman creates a ritual to celebrate the life of a kidnapped girl, an unmarried woman wanders into a breast feeder’s support group and stays, a grieving mother finds solace in an unlikely place, and a young girl discovers more than she bargained for when she spies on her neighbors. 

These women were flawed and wonderful, just like the women in my life. I couldn’t wait to put the stories together and see if they worked as a collection. The stories dealt with struggles but also finding your way, surviving, thriving. Lost Girls was born. 

2. Share a story secret, something readers wouldn’t know about this book just from picking it up. It could be a name you gave to a character, research you did, setting.

There are so many story secrets. The title story “Lost Girls” was inspired by a kidnapping in my community and a desire to honor the memories of girls who have gone missing. 

Inheritance was sparked by my frustration with the politics of the day and the way people without resources are exploited. 

As far as character names go, I often use the names of friends and family for my characters, and it doesn’t mean there is any real connection between them and the way that character behaves. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Brisket, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, gefilte fish, blintzes, bagels (with or without lox, cream cheese), or other?  Nothing like lox and bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes to get my day started just right. 

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other?  The forest because it is lush, quiet and full of secrets.

Movies, musical, play, ballet? Movies. I love sitting in the dark watching something moving on the screen. I love the collective nature of it. How alone/together we are. 

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming? I love to cook, so I’ve grown used to dishes. I think back to when I was a kid and pretended it’s fun to play in the water. 

About Ellen Birkett Morris:

A native of Louisville, Ellen Birkett Morris is the author of LOST GIRLS (June 26, 2020), a short story collection, and SURRENDER, a poetry chapbook. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from Queens University – Charlotte. Her short stories have appeared in Antioch ReviewShenandoahSouth Carolina Review, Upstreet, and elsewhere.  

Connect with Ellen:

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | LinkedIn | Goodreads

Interview with Anna Solomon, Author of THE BOOK OF V.
Jun 29th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links on Anna Solomon’s Website

About THE BOOK OF V.—

Anna Solomon’s kaleidoscopic novel intertwines the lives of a Brooklyn mother in 2016, a senator’s wife in 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther, whose stories of sex, power and desire overlap and ultimately converge—showing how women’s roles have and have not changed over thousands of years.

Lily is a mother and a daughter. And a second wife. And a writer, maybe? Or she was going to be, before she had children. Now, in her rented Brooklyn apartment, she’s grappling with her sexual and intellectual desires while also trying to manage her roles as a mother and a wife.

Vivian Barr seems to be the perfect political wife, dedicated to helping her charismatic and ambitious husband find success in Watergate-era Washington D.C. But one night he demands a humiliating favor, and her refusal to obey changes the course of her life—along with the lives of others.

Esther is a fiercely independent young woman in ancient Persia, where she and her uncle’s tribe live a tenuous existence outside the palace walls. When an innocent mistake results in devastating consequences for her people, she is offered up as a sacrifice to please the king, in the hopes that she will save them all.

Following in the tradition of The Hours and The Red TentThe Book of V. is a bold and contemporary investigation into the enduring expectations and restraints placed on women’s lives.

Q & A:

1. What made you decide to write inspired by The Book of Esther?

I’ve been fascinated by Queen Vashti since I was a girl. She’s banished early on in the The Book of Esther and never mentioned again, and in traditional tellings of the story, during the Jewish holiday of Purim, she’s depicted as being very bad. But it was never clear to me how she was bad. And then as I grew up I became more interested in the question of what bad even means, and whether these categories we often apply to female characters—bad, good; wanton, virtuous; aggressive, meek—reflect actual women, or just our ideas of women. I decided to explore this by playing around with the original Esther story. I wanted to rewrite it, and also to bring it into the heyday of the second wave women’s movement in the 1970s, and then also into the present. So I wound up with these three different timelines, and I made them converge.

2. Please share any novel secrets—something behind-the-scenes that readers won’t know just from picking up the book.

There’s this embroidery sampler that plays kind of a big role in the book. It says, “A Well-Kept House is a Sign of an Ill-Spent Life” and one of my characters, Lily, grew up with it hanging on the back of her bathroom door. Her mother hung it there and the message of it kind of hangs over Lily, who has become, in part, a homemaker. And late in the book the sampler also leads to a plot revelation, which I won’t share here. But I will share this: My mother hung the same sampler on the back of our bathroom door, and like Lily, I must have read it thousands of times. I didn’t know how much I had to say about it, though, until I started writing this novel. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy? Dairy. I mean, I like all these things, but I especially love cheese, ice cream, butter, and whipped cream.

Dancing, walking, ice-skating, skiing, running? Dancing. I don’t dance enough but when I do it makes me so happy.

Movies, musicals, plays, books? Books. All of these things are excellent but there is nothing like entering the private world of a book and losing myself in an alternate reality. 

About Anna:

Anna Solomon is the author of three novels—The Book of V., Leaving Lucy Pear, and The Little Bride—and a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize. Her short fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Ploughshares, One Story, The Boston Globe, Tablet, and elsewhere. Anna is the recipient of awards from MacDowell, Yaddo, Bread Loaf, the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, and The Missouri Review, among others, and her short story “The Lobster Mafia Story” was chosen as Boston’s One City One Story read. Anna is co-editor with Eleanor Henderson of Labor Day: True Birth Stories by Today’s Best Women Writers. Previously, she worked as an award-winning journalist for National Public Radio’s Living on Earth.

Anna is a graduate of Brown University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches writing at Barnard College, Warren Wilson’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, and the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center. 

Anna was born and raised in Gloucester, Massachusetts and lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and two children.

Find Anna on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her website

An Interview With Rocky Callen, Debut YA Author of A BREATH TOO LATE
Jun 26th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying Links

About A BREATH TOO LATE from Goodreads:

For fans of Girl in Pieces, All the Bright Places, and Girl, Interrupted comes a haunting and breathtaking YA contemporary debut novel that packs a powerful message: hope can be found in the darkness.

Seventeen-year-old Ellie had no hope left. Yet the day after she dies by suicide, she finds herself in the midst of an out-of-body experience. She is a spectator, swaying between past and present, retracing the events that unfolded prior to her death.

But there are gaps in her memory, fractured pieces Ellie is desperate to re-assemble. There’s her mother, a songbird who wanted to break free from her oppressive cage. The boy made of brushstrokes and goofy smiles who brought color into a gray world. Her brooding father, with his sad puppy eyes and clenched fists. Told in epistolary-like style, this deeply moving novel sensitively examines the beautiful and terrible moments that make up a life and the possibilities that live in even the darkest of places. Perfect for fans of the critically-acclaimed SpeakI’ll Give You the Sun, and If I Stay.

Q &A:

1. Share with readers a novel secret—something that readers will never know just from picking up the book. It could be a place you included in the novel, a name you gave to a character inspired by another person, special research you did.

Answer: What a wonderful question! There are lots of little subtle things that are in the book that have significance. Let’s focus on the names! Ellie’s mother’s name (Regina) means Queen. We see Regina’s power get stolen, bit by bit, from her abusive husband. We also see her, bit by bit, take it back. The idea of a throne and crown lost and reclaimed. I think it is important that we always understand that our lives are choices made minute by minute and so many of them are decisions to give our power away or take it back.  Ellie’s name means Light. I gave her a name with that meaning for many reasons. She was a light to her mother. A light to her best friend. A light in her own life. A light in the dark. And ultimately, like the candlelight at a vigil, a person lost who will be remembered. We are all bits of light in this world and I wanted Ellie’s life to be a reminder that even in the darkness, even when we can’t see it, there is hope. 

2. You wrote this book in a unique way. Can you share what inspired you to write it in an epistolary-like style?

Answer: The structure chose me and this story. I really didn’t have much say in it. From the very first page, it tumbled out as letters. Letters to life, to death, to Ellie’s mother and father and best friend, her depression, to so many things/people in her life. I wanted there to be an intimacy with the reader by using “you” and I wanted the reader to understand on a subconscious level that they could be anyone in Ellie’s story–the friend, the bully, the light, the pain–just like they can be anyone in their own. I also feel like last letters embrace all of the words we never get to say. These are Ellie’s final words and even though no one will ever hear them, they matter to us and to her. 


3. Suicide is a tough topic to write about. What message do you want readers to take away?

Answer: Books that grapple with this cannot ever be everything an author wants it to be, but I hope A BREATH TOO LATE is this:a reminder that even on the hardest, most devastating days, there is a life full of possibility worth fighting for. 

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Type of music: Classical, R&B, hip hop, soft rock, hard rock, punk, jazz, musicals ? ALL of it! Just depends on my mood. 
Banana, orange, kiwi, pomegranate, apple, pineapple, cantaloupe? Toss up between bananas and oranges 🙂
Walking, jogging, ice-skating, sledding, dancing? Walking (it is very meditative to me) and DANCING. I dance every day. In PJs. When no one is looking. 
Potato chips, tortilla chips, popcorn, rice cakes, bean chips? I don’t really eat snack-y things but tortilla chips would be the winner (but only with salsa:).  

A Breath Too Late BOOK CHAT with the Rocky: https://youtu.be/eKzx2OS8oHU

About Rocky Callen:

Rocky Callen, the daughter of an Ecuadorian immigrant, has long lived a life of service ever since she was a 13-year-old advocating for the undocumented immigrants in her community. She interned at NASA at 12 years old, started lobbying congress at 13, and wrote and produced student radio stories at NPR at 14. She was a behavioral therapist for over ten years. She received an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and lives outside of Washington, DC with her husband, daughter, and baby boy. Rocky founded the Bleed Ink Foundation, a creative hub and resource center for writers, and the HoldOn2Hope Project, which unites creatives in suicide prevention and mental health awareness. A Breath Too Late is her debut novel. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram or visit her website.

Interview With Barbara Baer, Author of THE ICE PALACE WALTZ
Jun 21st, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

About THE ICE PALACE WALTZ from Goodreads:

In The Ice Palace Waltz, two Jewish immigrant families—the rough and ready Western pioneers and the smooth, “our crowd” New Yorkers—come together in a riveting family saga amid the financial and social tumult of early twentieth century America. Baer’s moving multigenerational novel traces the American Jewish experience and the enduring power of family and love.

1. Why did you want to write a novel about immigrants?

Unless you’re a Native American, everyone is an immigrant. My Jewish family’s story has, I believe, the added interest because of where my paternal half settled, in the hardscrabble, dangerous mining community of Leadville CO where silver promised fortunes…gave to some like the Guggenheims and original May Company. Though my family didn’t get rich, somehow my paternal great grandfather who had a grocery and dry goods store m1. Why did you want to write a novel about immigrants? Unless you’re a Native American, everyone is an immigrant. My anaged to send two sons to medical school and a daughter to get a teaching credential, quite amazing for that time–pre 1900–and that place.

2. Do you have any novel secrets you can share? Something readers would never know just from picking up the book?

I did a lot of research into social and economic history between 1880 and 1930 but “The Ice Palace Waltz” had a ‘plot’ that I didn’t have to invent: family history. I didn’t know 3 of my 4 grandparents so had to invent them as characters from hints my parents gave. I’ve been twice to Leadville and hoped to go this June to present my novel at the shul where my grandparents married, but covid canceled that. I drew on their lives, even incorporated some of their writing–from my paternal grandmother’s wedding book and her entry when her husband died and the poem at the end of the novel. I only included a few stanzas from my mother’s ditty about escaping the German destroyer just outside the port in Columbia but I’d found the whole epic poem, written for fun on the moment when the freighter she was on escaped the German warship.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Brisket, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, gefilte fish, blintzes, bagels (with or without lox, cream cheese), or other?

My far ahead favorite bagels with lox and cream cheese, can eat every day while kugels and briskets are for special nights. In Santa Rosa, CA, near where I live, a new Jewish deli/restaurant was just opening when virus happened. Grossman’s. Bagels are said to be out of this world and I can’t wait to try.

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other? I adore the beach and the forest.

We live in redwoods, and especially on the CA northcoast, Mendocino County where we have property with redwoods and a trailer, the forest is generous with mushrooms and fragrant and beautiful..

Movies, musical, play, ballet?

I’m an inveterate dance lover, ballet first of all (novel “The Ballet Lover” I wrote after witnessing a drama on stage between Nureyev and Makarova) and then Indian dance (“The Last Devadasi”, also a novel, came from the experience of studying bharatanatyam in India.)

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

The only household chore I truly hate is vacuuming. I hardly dust but don’t hate it, laundry is bad if you forget to check pockets and get kleenex everywhere. Dishes, alas, have to be done. 

About Barbara L. Baer:

Barbara grew up in California, got her BA and MA at Stanford University before going to South India to teach, study dance, and have experiences unlike anything in her American life. She taught in Madras (now Chennai) and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then part of the USSR, which gave her the inspiration and voice for her novella, Grisha the Scrivener. After a decade of encounters and adventures, she returned to the US, taught at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, worked for newspapers, and wrote fiction and travel pieces.

In India, she’d studied and fallen in love with the culture and classical forms of dance, but in America, her passion for ballet returned. She honed her skills reviewing classical and contemporary dance for newspapers and periodicals in America and France. Back in America, she also wrote political pieces and won a national journalism prize for her reporting on the United Farm Workers. Barbara’s fiction and non-fiction has often been reprinted in anthologies and she has spoken on national and regional public radio and on Voice of America about books as diverse as the life of a dissident Russian to a Soviet Jewish pomegranate botanist who led her to her own amateur horticulturalism. She helped create book festivals and started a small press to publish women writers, as well as one man.

Credits include fiction in RedbookNew American ReviewConfrontationNew Letters, 34th Paralleland other publications; non-fiction in Orion MagazineThe NationThe ProgressiveNarrativeSaisons de la DanseThe Massachusetts ReviewDance MagazinePersimmon Tree and more. Her work appears in collections from To Eat with Grace100 years of Writing from The Nation, Traveler’s TalesWreckage of ReasonAmerica’s Working Women. Her novella, Grisha the Scrivener, was published in 2011.

Barbara has lived many years in Sonoma County, California, where she writes, edits and teaches through the county jail program, tends a garden and an orchard of pomegranates and olives, and is active in environmental and political causes. She lives with her husband, Michael Morey, also a writer and bricoleur, jack of all trades, who keeps things going.

Find Barbara: Website | Facebook

Interview With Niki Lenz, Middle Grade Author of THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP
Jun 16th, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

Buying links

From Goodreads:

After Grace’s mom died, she and her dad grew extra close. They have special nicknames and are always busy with new projects-like building a puppy condo for their dog, Potus- and they love learning random facts about the US presidents. Grace thinks her little family of two is perfect.

Then some committee members at church suggest it’s time for Dad to start dating again. And Dad agrees! Grace knows that adding a new member to the team will end in disaster.

No problem! She and her best friend have a plan: Operation Stepmoom Shake-Up! But what if a little shake-up is exactly what Grace’s family needs?

Reverse PARENT TRAP-like antics offer a hilarious and heartwarming look at what it means to be a family.

Q & A:

  • Was there anything that surprised you while writing this novel? If so, what?

THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP went through a much bigger transformation than my debut novel, BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN. I did a huge round of edits with my agent, then another before acquisitions, and then a big round of edits with my editor. At this point, I thought the manuscript had to be close to its final form. Haha. How wrong I was. The next round of edits involved a whole new outline. I cried every time I opened that thing. It involved several brand-new scenes, and one morning, in a moment of desperation, I grabbed my eleven-year-old daughter by the shoulders and with wild eyes asked her “How would you get two grown-ups to fall in love?” She replied, “I’d give them one milkshake with two straws.” I rushed off to write the scene and later was surprised and delighted that the title changed to THE STEPMOM SHAKE UP, and the cover was also inspired by that scene! I feel like my daughter should get her name on the book.

  • Any novel secrets? Something that readers wouldn’t know just from reading your book like special inspirations, places or people you interwove into the text? 

I think the thing readers wouldn’t know about the book just from the flap copy is that it is chocked full of presidential trivia, particularly stuff about the coolest president we have ever had: Teddy Roosevelt. When I first started writing this book, I knew that Grace and her Dad would have a shared love of presidential history. What I didn’t know is that Teddy Roosevelt and his daughter Alice added a stepmother to their duo after Alice’s mother died just like the family in my story! It was one of those very happy accidents that can only happen when the universe is on an author’s side.

  • Writing about a step-mom—step-parents—can be a huge challenge. What was your motivation for writing about this topic?

I am a teacher, and so I know that my students come from all kinds of different family structures. I didn’t feel like I’d seen very many books with blended families. And also, I have been obsessed with The Parent Trap since I was a kid. I always loved the idea of the kids getting involved in the parent’s dating life. I just never liked the part about the parents separating and lying about the twins. So, I thought to myself, what if I wrote something like the Parent Trap but without the creepy twin aspect??? And a story was born.

Bonus round:

Fries, onion rings, potato chips, pretzels, popcorn? Mmmm… Fries, with campfire sauce.

Ideal vacation: Beach, major city touring museums and landmarks, national park, skiing, staying at home? Beach all the way. The more remote and quiet the better.

What do you prefer to read in your spare time? Fiction, memoir, romance, young adult, middle grade, fantasy, sci-fi, biography, historical fiction? I read a lot of middle grade and young adult, and when I do read books for adults, they have to be happy reads. I can’t handle books that make me worried or scared at this point in my life. 

Rock ’n roll, classical, soft-rock, jazz, a cappella, punk, R&B, country, hip-hop, music theater? Oldies music is my jam. We listen to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Supremes and Johnny Cash at my house.

About Niki:

Niki Lenz lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband and children. She studied elementary education at Southwest Baptist University and taught kindergarten for six years. She enjoys reading, travel, glamping, polka dots, red lipstick, and oldies music. She is the author of BERNICE BUTTMAN, MODEL CITIZEN and THE STEPMOM SHAKE-UP. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or visit her website: nikilenz.com.

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