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
I 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.
GC: When did you decide to write a novel, and what made you choose this genre?
MSR: I realized that I wanted to write a novel as soon as I began reading novels. As a child, I would go to the library in Queens, New York, and haul home ten books at a time–that was the limit. I owned an advertising agency for over twenty-five years before I turned to writing fiction full time. I enjoy stories about families and friendships so I found a natural path to Lift and Separate.
GC: Your books are full of humor, but also include some sad events. How do you keep the balance between the two? It seemed to be effortless. Was it?
MSR: I was an overly emotional kid so it’s not difficult for me to work myself up into a tizzy.
GC: While you were writing, did you have a critique group, or a trusted reader to comment on the work?
MSR: I have been in the same writer’s workshop for over ten years. Going to that workshop is a highlight of each week. Before joining the workshop, I attended conferences for writers. I liked residential programs because I lived in a hotel and left my children at home with my husband. Conferences at colleges were nice because I salivate at the thought of endless cafeteria food.
GC: How long did it take from the day you signed with the agent to the date you held a copy of your book in your hand?
MSR: It was quick—and happy. I signed in June 2015. Lift and Separate was released in December 2016. Husbands And Other Sharp Objects was published in March 2018.
GC: What surprised you most about working with a publisher?
MSR: My books are published by Lake Union, which is owned by Amazon. Because I had no experience with publishing a book, it was a tremendous learning experience, like learning a new business. I was delighted to find dedicated, talented and responsive editors who cared deeply about my novels.
GC: You have been doing a lot of author talks. What do you find to be universal?
MSR: Everywhere I go, I find women who enjoy friendships, love books, want to have a wonderful time and laugh.
GC: And, finally, what’s next?
MSR: Currently, I am writing a third novel with all new characters. Here are five things in my work in progress: a fat shaming mother, an overweight daughter, a Lyft driver, a vibrator and a plate of brownies. (GC: As I said, she makes me laugh…)
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
|I’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.
GC: 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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
With 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:
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.
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: 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.
Kate Manning’s second novel, My Notorious Life, was six years in the making, and it was worth the wait, so far as I’m concerned. It’s the story of Axie Muldoon, an orphaned child from the streets of 1870’s New York, … Continue reading