Saturday, July 22, 2017

Q&A with Robin Merrow MacCready

Robin Merrow MacCready is the author of the new young adult novel A Lie for a Lie. She also has written Buried. She lives on the coast of Maine.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for A Lie for a Lie, and for your main character, Kendra?

A: Kendra’s story is based on a few different events that took place when I was a teen. Without disclosing too much, let’s just say that it was shocking to find out the real life stories of friends and their families.

Even more intriguing were the ways in which they coped, or didn’t cope with their new realities. These events stuck with me and over time two separate novel ideas became one. I loved these characters!

Q: The book takes place in a community in Maine. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: Both my novels are set in coastal Maine, as is my current work in progress, though half of the story takes place in the New Hampshire mountains.

Kendra (A Lie For A Lie) and Claudine (Buried) struggled to come to terms with things they couldn’t face, and though a person doesn’t have to live on the coast to go through such things, I know this place intimately and love developing my stories around the woods and water.

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

A: The original title was Snapshot. In fact, it was still Snapshot until marketing spoke up. I think they saw a snapshot as dated, since people don’t print many photographs these days. And also, snapshot sounds similar to Snapchat.

When my editor told me they wanted a change she some a few ideas and suggested I make a list of possible titles if I wanted some input. I love brainstorming titles and tag lines.

A Lie for a Lie was their favorite. It’s a play on “An eye for an eye…” and because Kendra is all about revenge as a result of what she sees, the new title worked. It left a question hanging in the air: If someone lies to you, should you lie to them, expose it, or hurt them?

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

A: My original synopsis had a different ending. The story changed a bit along the way. Characters disappeared, jobs changed, relationships ramped up, and so the ending changed, too. I imagine I’m not the only writer that revises more than once.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing a novel set in 1840s Maine and New Hampshire. My main character has special powers, but she won’t embrace them. She wants only to be a common girl with common problems. When a tragedy results in her getting to live the life of a village girl she finds that being common isn’t as easy as she thought.

I’m deep in the research stage and love the way the language of the time shapes the narrative. I love this new adventure!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Jeff Attinella

Jeff Attinella is the author of the children's sports book series It Had To Be Told. He is a professional goalkeeper for Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.

Q: How did the It Had To Be Told series come about, and how did you pick the four topics you've written about?

A: It Had To Be Told got started after my daughter, Remy, was born. She was about three weeks old and my wife and I were watching the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

I couldn’t believe that my little girl would never know about the curse of the Cubs and the “Lovable Losers.” She was born into a world where this longstanding headline in sports had come to an end.

Fast forward a few months, I was home in Tampa about to go watch my Buccaneers play and I thought to myself, “How am I going to get Remy to care about the Bucs with me?”

I started jotting down this little rhyming story on my phone and realized I might be on to something. I told the idea to my father-in-law, who is also a big sports fan and entrepreneur, and he really took my ideas and ran with them.

The first story was obviously about the Bucs, but it was very rough and unfortunately, they haven’t had any really noteworthy story lines to share, so that was tabled.

The Cubs’ World Series win was still pretty fresh on everyone’s mind and the story sort of told itself. The history of the curse and the way they won made it really fun to write. 

The Cavaliers had also just won the first championship for Cleveland in a very long time, so it seemed like a natural choice. 

The wins in Chicago and Cleveland meant so much to their cities and to the people. The misery of never winning, coming so close for so long and then to ultimately win a championship after so many years, made for a great story that deserved to be passed down to the next generation of fans.

The Super Bowl this past year fell right in line with the other stories - just a whirlwind of emotions as a fan and a huge comeback that everyone was talking about. Anyone watching would have thought that the New England Patriots had no chance of winning that game.

Yet they had Bill Belichick on the sidelines and the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, and they did the impossible. Plus, this Super Bowl win cemented the two of their legacies, which in itself makes for an inspiring story. 

Lastly, we decided to tell the story of the Space Race because it simply is an incredible story. Putting politics aside, it was two huge world powers literally racing to the moon. It was a fun process to turn this monumental moment in American history into something that younger kids would enjoy and understand. 

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

A: My hope is that kids who may not typically like reading find these stories enjoyable enough to actually look forward to reading them. I know that growing up, sports played a huge part of my life. Professional athletes were who I looked up to and aspired to become; my favorite teams were the reason I stayed up late at night on a school night.

By channeling this same excitement and influence, I hope that young kids get excited to read and learn about the legacies of their sports idols and the history of their favorite teams.

I also want them to be inspired by the incredible triumphs in sports. Not only can kids learn to read or learn about their favorite sports teams, they can also aspire to achieve greatness like the stories we tell.

I was never a kid who liked reading, but I was always interested in sports. I have friends with children that are the same way. I truly hope that my stories speak to kids like myself that are looking for a book that is different from the rest – one that speaks to one of their main interests, sports.

Q: What role do you think sports play in kids' lives today, and as a professional soccer player, do you plan to write a book for this series about soccer?

A: I’ve been around sports my entire life, whether I was playing in or attending games, and I can’t help but notice the amount of kids that attend sporting events, from professional to high school.

Professional sports emphasizes youth involvement. We are constantly working with kids in the local community and our job extends well beyond the boundary lines on the field.

Even as a collegiate athlete, I remember seeing how kids looked up to us and how their parents leaned on us to set great examples. This responsibility should not be taken lightly, and unfortunately, many professionals don’t consider the impact that their decisions make.

I can remember going to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (now Rays) games before batting practice with the hope of getting an autograph or just a chance to see some of the players. Those players never realized it, but those were some of the happiest moments of my childhood.

Now, as an adult, I am fully aware that my decisions and the choices I make have a huge impact on the children that I see or work with. I hope that my stories can ensure that the impact I make on kids is a long-lasting, positive one.  

I definitely have a few soccer stories in the works. The soccer stories have been especially fun because the sport reaches around the globe, and to women and men alike. As a new dad to a little girl, there’s a huge soccer story I’m especially excited about. 

Q: What age group do you think would especially enjoy the books?

A: Since our launch, we are realizing that these books are not just great for kids but sports fans of all ages. I’ve had dads telling me how much more they are enjoying reading time because it is telling stories that stir up an emotion and they’re getting to share moments that were really magical to them with the next generation. 

Basically, if you are a parent that loves sports and wants a book you’ll enjoy reading at night to your kids -- these stories are for you. If you’re a kid who loves sports or just wants to enjoy an entertaining and artistic picture book – these stories are for you. If you’re an avid sports fan with no kids, you’ll appreciate the history and incredible artwork of the books – so, these stories are for you.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Right now I’m working on a story about the many traditions in the Alabama football program, as well as a story about Pittsburgh, the City of Champions. Each place has such long-standing traditions and diehard fan bases. We’re hoping the stories we tell can bring joy to the lifelong fans, while providing new generations a great way to catch up on the history.  

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I started writing these stories because I want my daughter and future children to love mine and my wife’s teams the way we do. It’s where our relationship first started, and it’s one of the things that keep us close to our families, even though we live clear across the country from them.

I hope these stories help share that bond with other families, too. The books were written for children, but as we’ve grown and learned more about our audience, I’m seeing that these books resonate with the parents, as well, and that’s been awesome.  Kids grow up and people move away but having that hometown team can be one more thing to keep everyone close. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 22

July 22, 1849: Emma Lazarus born.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Q&A with Julia Glass

Julia Glass is the author of the new novel A House Among the Trees. Her other books include the bestselling Three Junes and I See You Everywhere. She is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at Emerson College, and she lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

Q: One of the themes you address in your book is artistic creativity and how it affects your characters Mort, the children’s book author, and Nick, the actor who’s playing Mort in a film. Do you think their experiences of creating art are similar, despite their different mediums?

A: I like to think that the fiction writer’s work is almost identical to that of the actor, with one difference: the writer does it in private while the actor must, at some point, do it in public. (Yes, big difference!)

But we are both tasked with immersing ourselves in hearts and minds other than our own—and in making our characters come alive for the audience we want to entertain and move.

We are soul mates, perhaps, when it comes to the way we exercise our imagination. (The Nobel Prize–winning Australian novelist Patrick White once said that the only reason he became a fiction writer was that he couldn’t be an actor.)

So in that respect, Mort’s work is parallel to Nick’s, and it’s part of why they “bond” so quickly in their e-mail correspondence, prior to Lear’s sudden death, and why Mort entrusts Nick with a secret he needs to unburden.

Yet the public quality of a successful actor’s work bestows on him genuine celebrity, which a writer’s work rarely does. I’m sure that even Maurice Sendak, who was the inspiration (though not the model) for Mort Lear, could walk down a busy street in New York City without being stopped for an autograph or its modern-day version, the selfie.

Probably most authors cherish this anonymity—but not all. I am certain some would envy the Nick Greenes of the world, who are widely recognized, even adored, by total strangers. I think my character Mort, as he aged, had a craving for true stardom, which led him toward the folly of hubris.

Q: As you mentioned, the issue of fame also arises in the novel. Why was that something you chose to explore, and how do you see it affecting your characters?

A: Fame—which comes in forms other than tabloid celebrity—is a subject I did not anticipate addressing when I started writing A House Among the Trees.

I love how dim-witted I often am at the outset of a story! Because here I am portraying an iconic, revered children’s author and a newly minted movie star. (“Duh,” as my teenage son might say.)

What I loved, as I wrote my way in and got wise to this issue, is that I accidentally created two characters on opposite sides of their fame: one just emerging into its blinding brilliance, the other fighting (if subconsciously) to keep his place in the spotlight over decades of a career following the book that made him a household name.

People often talk about achieving public recognition of their success as “having arrived.” But here’s the thing: the place at which you’ve arrived is as much like the peak of a mountain as it is like a fabulous party.

It’s a precarious place, and if you want to stay there, it takes a lot of hard work—which can lead to vanities, insecurities, and even jealousies that threaten the integrity of your work. Remaining true to the talent, vision, and plain old hard work that earned you success and fame (and maybe wealth) is never easy.

Readers of my novel see the consequences of this challenge in Mort Lear (and his loyal guardian, Tommy Daulair)—and the revelation of the challenge to Nick Greene. Merry Galarza, the museum curator who feels betrayed by Lear’s final wishes, suffers the collateral damage of fame.

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

A: Titles do not come easily to me, and they often change. This novel was, in my mind, The Inseparables right up to my turning in the first finished draft. For various reasons, that title wasn’t viable. I was disappointed.

My editor and I struggled with a number of alternatives, and then I began to think about how important Mort Lear’s house is throughout the entire story, not just as a setting but as the repository of Lear’s material and spiritual legacy.

And it stands on a property that he bought because he loved all its marvellous old trees (of which the reader gets a kind of tour toward the end of the book). I have always been captivated by trees, and whenever I visit a new place, I’m constantly bugging people to find out the names of the ones that are new to me.

What I didn’t realize when I settled on A House Among the Trees (choosing it over A House in the Woods, with its stronger fairy-tale allusions) was that I had unconsciously quoted the first line of Lear’s breakthrough picture book, Colorquake.

That fictional book begins, “Ivo’s mother kept a perfect house, a house among the trees.” Of course, my editor noticed it right away! (Again, DUH!)

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 the end of a novel till I’m well into writing it—and still I may change my mind a few times. I write my novels the way that E. L. Doctorow claimed to write his: as if I’m driving in the dark, on a long journey, and all I can see is the short stretch of road illuminated by the headlights.

Yet I have faith I will reach my destination, even if, once in a while, I get lost along the route and have to—as a newfangled GPS would put it—“recalibrate the route.”

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Speaking of long journeys, I’m currently out on the road, promoting this novel, but once my touring winds down, I hope to return to the novel I set aside when these characters (Tommy, Morty, Nick, and Merry) knocked too loudly on my door for me to refuse them entry.

The suspended (I hope not abandoned) novel is set in Vigil Harbor, the seaside town I created at the end of The Widower’s Tale, and features at least one of the characters from that earlier novel. More I cannot say at this tender juncture!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: My favorite part of being on the road to promote a new book is getting to meet the booksellers who sell it and the readers who will read it (or, to my astonishment, have done so already!).

I continue to learn new things about my own characters and themes as I answer questions and chat with fans—so far, in the Midwest and along the West Coast.

But I have several remaining events back in the Boston area, as well as in New Orleans, Nashville, and at the National Book Festival in D.C. I’ll be adding a couple of other venues to my fall schedule as well. Anyone interested in dates and details should keep an eye on my author Facebook page

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Bethany Ball

Bethany Ball is the author of the new novel What To Do About the Solomons, which focuses on an Israeli family. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Common and The American Literary Review. She lives in New York.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your novel, and for the Solomon family?

A: I married an Israeli about 17 years ago. I think whenever two people from different cultures marry there is going to be friction and a kind of culture shock, for both parties.

My husband was a kibbutznik from a large-ish family. I had not really intended on writing a book about Israelis but I had written several pieces about Israeli commandos and a story about an Israeli mother who unknowingly leaves her child alone while she travels to America.

When I wrote the first chapter of What to Do About the Solomons, which was about a kibbutznik named Guy Gever having a kind of breakdown (or breakthrough), I knew I had a book in the making. It was a lot of fun and a good way to write a first novel.

There were sparks between the stories, a kind of friction that propelled the narrative forward. And writing the book was a way for me to make sense of two things: Israeli culture and the dynamics of a large family.

Q: You tell the story from a variety of perspectives. Did you especially enjoyed writing about some of the characters in particular?

A: I enjoyed writing the first chapter very much. That was one of those rare chapters that felt completely effortless to write. It was the chapter that made me want to write the book.

Guy Gever is alien to me in many ways, and at the same time, utterly familiar. I love the idea of people breaking down and rebuilding themselves, creating a life they ultimately want. For that reason, I rooted for Maya as well.  

Q: The story takes place over many years in the life of the family. Did you write the chapters in the order in which they appear, or did you move things around as you wrote?

A: The narrative takes place over many years because my feeling about people is that you only really know them over a long period of time.

I wanted to show my characters evolving and devolving over years and years, but I didn’t necessarily want to do it in chronological order.

Memory does not work chronologically. Someone can behave to me in a certain way and maybe I’m surprised. Or maybe I will remember an incident that happened 20 years ago that illuminates the interaction. I wanted to bring that quality to the book.

Q: How was the title selected, and what does it signify for you?

A: I had a very difficult time naming this book. No one could come up with a title. It was a painful process. I kept going for sort of biblical titles, Old Testament titles, but they didn’t speak to the modern, secular nature of the book.  

Eventually, my amazing agent Duvall Osteen came up with the title. We were on the phone and she said it and I was like, That’s it! Luckily, my editors at Grove went for it as well.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m right now trying hard to get back to my second book. It’s a more traditional novel set in Detroit, the American South and New York City in the year 1999 leading up to the Millenium. It deals with the mythology of Y2K, being broke, and auto plants.

One day I’d love to revisit the Solomons, but not for this book.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: As someone who was born to Protestant parents but did a kind of conversion later, I wrote this book to help me understand this culture that was alien to me, and seemed also to be unknown to a lot of people here in the United States.

I wanted to write about kibbutz life and I wanted to write about a large sprawling family. In my mind I had Anna Karenina, Mrs. Dalloway, Bolano and even Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing as references.

A good friend of mine who’s Greek said that he had many “Solomons” in his family and could relate. As crazy and in some ways exaggerated the Solomons are, they love and support one another and as someone who comes from such a small nuclear American Midwestern family, I envy them to some degree. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Amber Isaac

Amber Isaac (L) and Cody appearing on TV
Amber Isaac is the author and illustrator of the children's book Cody: The Teeny, Tiny Alpaca, which tells the story of an alpaca she is raising. She is the owner of the Silken Suri Alpaca Ranch in Colorado.

Q: Why did you decide to write this book about Cody?

A: I actually decided to write the children’s book at the suggestion of some of Cody’s online fans. They had been following Cody’s medical ups and downs from when she was a baby and suggested that she might be a great inspiration for children. Once they put the idea in my head, the story came to me very easily.

Q: How did Cody become such a famous alpaca?

A: When Cody was born, I didn’t even announce her birth online since her chances were so slim. After a couple weeks, I started posting photos of her online. People started cheering her progress. They’ve become very loyal and supportive during the ups and downs of her medical journey.

Q: How did you first get involved in raising alpacas?

A: After working 13 years backstage on Broadway, I moved to Colorado 10 years ago to be closer to my family. I wanted to work with animals and accidentally discovered alpacas. I instantly fell in love!! I purchased six alpacas that first year and now have over 100 on my ranch.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from Cody's story?

A: Cody’s life has been unique and unusual. She really has never fit in with the other alpacas on the ranch. I realized early on that many children face the same situation at school and in their everyday lives.

I really want Cody to be a catalyst to reach children who might feel left out or different. Cody’s book can help children learn that being unique is something to be celebrated. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am currently working hard to promote Cody’s message every chance I get. My hope is to reach people across the country and all over the world. Her Facebook page has over 93,000 followers and her new Instagram account has already flown past 14,800! Her recent compilation video with The Dodo received over 13 million views.

We’d love to draw the attention of organizations who work with children who might benefit from Cody’s message: anti-bullying, special needs, foster care, etc.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Be sure to follow Cody on Facebook, Instagram (@CodyAlpaca) and Twitter (@AlpacaCody). Don’t forget to shop at 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

July 21

July 21, 1899: Ernest Hemingway born.