Author interview – Susan Ross

Susan Ross Headshot

Susan Ross is the author of a new novel for middle grade readers, Searching for Lottie. It’s a mystery based on her family’s past, but the main character is a contemporary 12-year-old girl, working on a family research project for school. Charlie’s curiosity and excitement come through for the reader, while at the same time shining a new light on the Holocaust. I was interested to find out how Susan Ross managed to weave such a satisfying novel from such a difficult history. Continue reading

Author interview: Debbie Levison

I met Debbie Levison at a talk she was giving to the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. Her debut book, The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice, is a true crime story, and seemed like an unusual … Continue reading

Author interview: Marilyn Simon Rothstein

044-MarilynRothsteinAuthorPortrait_14x11crop-more-retouchedI met Marilyn Simon Rothstein at the Saugatuck StoryFest in Westport, CT, and bought her first book, Lift and Separate, because she made me laugh. That novel, by the way, hit the number 1 slot on Amazon’s list of Satirical Fiction last week!

Her novels are filled with humor, as well as romance, pathos and a host of other emotions. The first book made me want to read the sequel, Husbands and Other Sharp Objects, another satisfying read. Marilyn has had a career in advertising, and became a published author relatively late in the game, so naturally I had questions for her. Continue reading

Author interview: Clare Pernice

I ran into Clare Pernice at Goldenberry, a shop in Wilton, not too far from here, that stocks British products. No surprise there, because we’re both British-born, and we were looking for a few seasonal treats. But I noticed her … Continue reading

Author interview: Leslie Connor

leslie cI’ve long been an admirer of Leslie Connor, an award-winning middle-grade author whose characters have always stayed with me after reading the last page of the book. Her latest, The Truth According to Mason Buttle, is no exception. It’s a finalist in the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and I think deserves to win. (I’m prejudiced because I loved it.) The results will be announced on Wednesday, November 14, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The character of Mason is unique in juvenile fiction, as far as I know, and yet he’s someone recognizable to all of us. Read on to find out more.

GC:  You’ve written many middle-grade novels. For this one, which came first – the character, Mason Buttle, or the plot idea?

LC: My stories generally start with a situation—an element of nonfiction, such as a news report, or an event I have observed or read about. My imagination does a lot of work on that seed idea, bending it this way and that. If it’s a story-worthy idea, a character shows up—usually in my ear—and I go from there. In truth, that character has often already been kicking around the attic of my brain for quite a while. I’ve heard it said that character is plot. I have to agree; I never know either plot or character completely until I bring them together.

indexGC: You’ve captured Mason’s voice in an extraordinary and highly readable way. Do you know someone with these kind of learning difficulties, and characteristics (honesty, emotional synesthesia) or did Mason appear fully-formed from your imagination?

LC: Thank you! Mason is definitely a composite. I’ve always been able to pick out the kid in a classroom who is having a different experience from their peers. I know about some learning disabilities firsthand, but synesthesia was new to me. When I saw Mason Buttle in my mind’s eye, I knew what he was experiencing but I had to do some research to diagnose him.

GC: How would you characterize the main themes of the book? What would you like young people to take away from it?

LC: This question is difficult for me to answer. I’m not thinking about themes when I’m writing. For me, the most prevalent character traits (always tied to theme, right?) that emerged here are: self-reliance and honesty. Takeaways from this read might include empathy, compassion, and an increased sense of self-worth.

GC:  For writers interested in writing for middle-grade – what makes an MG book different from a chapter book, YA novel, or an adult novel, for that matter?

LC: Writers are creative beings and lines are blurred, when it comes to formats. For instance, we see novels in verse and graphic novels for both the YA and MG audiences. So what separates them? For me, the single most important determinant of genre lies in the level of self and social awareness of the main character—no matter the age, no matter the topic.

GC: Your last two books have had a boy as the main protagonist. Are you planning anything with a girl as the featured character?

LC: Yes! I was surprised to be writing from a young male point of view, but the characters came to me an authentic way, and so far, I haven’t heard that they don’t work! (I chalk that up to having grown up between two brothers and having raised two sons.) My latest book (under contract) features a female protagonist, and in fact, there are very few males in this new story.

YOu can find Leslie on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and Instagram.

Continue reading

Author interview: Lynne Constantine

Lynne Constantine and her sister Valerie together form a writing partnership, Liv Constantine, whose nail-biting psychological thriller, The Last Mrs Parrish, has become a breakout international best-seller. It’s now available in 22 countries/territories, including places like Brazil, Croatia and China. … Continue reading

Author interview: Susan Hood

I was surprised to find myself at a reading given by award-winning children’s book author Susan Hood, because she’s written more than 200 books for small children, and I don’t read many of those. But I heard about her debut … Continue reading

Author interview – Linda Legters

Linda Legters’ debut novel, Connected Underneath, is unusual in several respects. Its chief protagonist, Persephone, is a confused teenager whose life becomes even more complicated when her tattooing habit, which she pays for with sex, gets in the way of … Continue reading

Author Interview – Barbara W Klein

To paraphrase the Bard, some people are born writers, some become writers, and others have writing thrust upon them. I suspect today’s author, Barbara W. Klein, falls into the last category, since it was her family that persuaded her to write this book. It bears the unusual title of a glub glub and a shake shake, and is both a family recipe book and a family project, insofar as her editor is her daughter and my friend, editor and published author, Lisa Winkler. Lisa’s sister, Madeline Taylor  illustrated it. Not only does this book form a collection of recipes, but the stories behind them pass on the kind of family history that can fast be forgotten in these ephemeral times. Of course, I had a few questions for Barbara.

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GC: First of all, how did the title come about?
BWK: The title came about while I was describing a recipe to Lisa, she’d ask me how much of a certain ingredient was needed. One time I said, a ‘glub, glub,’ referring to honey. I’ve heard this expression before and it means an unmeasured amount, to taste. With honey, you turn the bottle over and it’s a ‘glub glub!’ A ‘shake shake’ is similar with spices. You shake a little over meats to taste.

GC: Clearly this book is a family effort. How did you work out who did what?
BWK:It was easy. Madeline is a great artist and has been drawing her whole life. Lisa compiled the recipes and prepared the manuscript for the book designer. All my children and grandchildren suggested recipes for the book.

glub

GC: The recipes come from several different cultures and countries. Can you give us a few examples?
BWK: Couscous is from Tunisia, adapted from our time serving there in the Peace Corps. There are many Jewish recipes that were made by my mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law and I perfected them over the years. Lisa brought back the Anzac cookie recipe from Australia when she was an AFS student there.

GC: Who actually prepared the book for publishing? Did the illustrations make it more complicated?
BWK: Lisa’s book designer, Solveig Marina Bang, designed the book with input from all of us. She presented several cover and color options. The illustrations were easy to include in the pdf.

GC: If you could pick two recipes that are your family’s favorites, which would they be, and why?
BWK: That’s a hard question because everyone has their own favorites. If I have to pick two, I’ll say pot roast and matzo brei. But all my pies are top contenders, too.
GC: What was the most fun about doing this project?
BWK: Just remembering how the family got together and helped making meals.

 

 

Author interview: Leslie Chess Feller

coverWith the rise of self-published books, it’s hard to know which books are worth buying. So when I find one I think is excellent in its class, I like to give them and their authors a shout-out. One such is Monster In My Lunchbox,  an illustrated book of family-focused rhyme. The poems are by Leslie Chess Feller and the illustrations by her late sister, Shelley. I asked Leslie how the book came about and her answers were quite unexpected. Read on to find out why.

GC: Can you tell us something about the book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox is a collection of light verse that celebrates family. It includes simpler poems for early readers and others for kids in elementary school and beyond. But it’s also for Moms, Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas. I like to say that anyone who has ever been a kid will get a laugh out of these poems. They are meant for the whole family to enjoy together. Here’s a sample:

SCHOOL DAYS, RULE DAYS …cartoon 1
Bells ring! Books slam!
Papers shuffle! Yes, Ma’am!
Raise your hand! Get in line!
Hurry up to be on time!
Quiet please! Do your work!
Don’t be idle! Do not shirk!
Reading, writing, number stuff …
Sometimes I’ve had quite enough.
Even when I’m pleased as punch,
I think my favorite subject’s lunch

GC: How long have you been a poet?
LCF: I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, the second of five siblings. My sister Shelley, older by 15 months, was the alpha sibling and with three younger brothers there was never a dull moment. Our father was a physician who loved the poet Ogden Nash. Whenever he had something to say to our mother, a psychologist, he would do it with a clever Ogden Nash-ian rhyme. And my mother would rhyme right back.

lcf kids

Leslie (L) and Shelley

You could tell anybody anything in my family, even our father, if you did it with a poem. Every occasion became a poetic roast. Like my siblings, I began to rhyme as soon as I could write. So when my daughter Dania brought home Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic in the fourth grade, I looked at it and said, “I can do that.”

GC: How did you get your first poems published?
LCF: In 1985, a few of my Kidstuff poems ran in a local newspaper and attracted the attention of editors at a Westport, CT, magazine, Profiles. As soon as I found out they wanted me to do a monthly column and were open to me bringing in an illustrator, I called Shelley. By then, she was the world’s best middle school science teacher. But as a student, she used to get in a lot of trouble for cartooning all over her schoolwork. “Hey, Shelley,” I said. “I’m getting these poems published! Maybe you could do some cartoons?”

GC: Did you continue to publish poetry?
LCF: I did two other light verse columns for Profiles. Both Rhyme or Reason and Poetic License won Connecticut Press Club awards, but ran without illustrations. Soon my editors started assigning me articles which put my writing career on a different track. I went from local articles to the New York Times to national magazines as a freelance journalist for almost thirty years. Writing in light verse became something I enjoyed doing for family events.

GC: What made you decide to publish your poems now?

lcf sis

Leslie (L) and Shelley

LCF: This book is also a celebration of a very special sisterhood. Over decades, my sister and I cheerfully perfected the art of never, ever agreeing with each other – except that we didn’t want to fight. Agreeing to disagree was our solution, the catalyst for what became an extraordinary friendship. Shelley died of leukemia two years ago. It was a terrible loss.
Six months afterwards, I was standing in my living room feeling very black. For no reason, I opened a cabinet door. Something fell on the floor in front of me. It was a xerox copy of fifty of my poems with fifty illustrations done by my sister. I had forgotten ever writing them. The fifteen Kidstuff poems in my writer’s portfolio were what I remembered. But at some point, decades ago, I had given more to Shelley and she had chosen to illustrate them.
I felt her right beside me. “Publish these,” Shelley said. The words were sweet. I threw everything out of that cabinet in a mad search for the pen and ink cartoons. Eventually I found 110 of my poems, each with the perfect cartoon. My sister and I disagreed about everything, but clearly we shared the same sense of humor. Monster In My Lunchbox is a collaboration that includes eighty of my favorites.

GC: How are you promoting your book?
LCF: Monster In My Lunchbox was published in November, 2015.
The website is http://www.monsterinmylunchbox.com On the website, you can listen to me read the title poem. Then click links to videos of other poems in the collection.
And I’ve been giving talks and readings at libraries, and for parent groups among others.

You can see the promotional video here. And to connect with Leslie, follow her on Facebook or Google +, and Vimeo where you’ll find links to more videos.
The book is available from Blurb.