Monday, March 19, 2018

Q&A with Mario Giordano

Mario Giordano is the author of the new novel Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions. His other books include 1,000 Feelings for Which There Are No Names. He lives in Cologne, Germany.

Q: You’ve said that your character Auntie Poldi was based on your own aunt. What did you see as the right blend of reality and fiction as you wrote this novel?

A: I always had this mantra for writing: “Never private – always personal.” I never wanted to write about my private life, my family or my friends, but all my writing had to be personal in terms of feelings and authenticity.

With Auntie Poldi I broke this rule. My Aunt Poldi was just the perfect blueprint for the protagonist I needed for this series. But of course, I had to make her a fictional character. I added contrast and hue to her personality and gave her all the necessary aspects for her character. Unfortunately, she died in 2006 so I can’t ask her what she thinks about the fictional Poldi.

I didn’t actually have too much personal contact with my real Aunt Poldi, which is probably good because it freed me up to create a fictional character. (Though I found out much later that Poldi’s father was indeed a detective.)

But since the first book came out in Germany, she’s been sending me little signs of approval from above: once in a while former colleagues or neighbors of hers write to me after they discover the book. They say that the character in the book pretty much matches the dramatic, caring and kind personality of my real aunt.

Same with my other aunts and same with the other side-kicks in the story. It’s like a walk on thin ice sometimes but a lot of fun too, because as always fictional characters develop their own lives during writing and emerge with particular personalities.

With the funny effect that the originals in real life see themselves a bit like my characters now. My Aunt Nuccia, for example, answers my phone calls with “Luisa” now and is always demanding more action for her character. So, I always have to explain, “Cara zia, sorry, this is not a contest. Your character has its own life and she’s not even asking me for permission.”

Q: You’ve written in a variety of genres—why did you decide to write the story of Auntie Poldi as a mystery?

A: Well, I was a little bit like the nephew in Auntie Poldi. For many years I too wanted to write a big multi-generational family saga about Sicily, Germany, immigration, history, whatever. But it just wasn’t working, I didn't have a real story nor protagonist.

So, I thought, let me try this again, this time with a genre I am familiar with: mystery. And I wanted to make it funny. Then I remembered my Bavarian Aunt Poldi, who moved to Sicily when she turned 60 in order to drink herself to death, which she managed to do. She was a very funny, glamorous and dramatic woman. We all loved her.

At that moment I immediately knew I would write a funny mystery with Auntie Poldi as a protagonist and myself as a clumsy, nerdy narrator. 

Q: Do you usually know how your novels will end before you start writing, or do you make many changes along the way?

A: It’s tricky. I need to know beginning, middle and end. And when writing a murder mystery, you always need a lot of structure beforehand. But then during the writing process I dump most of my structure and just go with the flow, improvise a lot, follow my characters and embrace everything that’s coming to me.

The magic thing is, it only works out when I did a lot of preparation even if I dump it later.

Q: This novel is set in Sicily. How important is setting to you in your writing?

A: I see setting not only as some sort of narrative decoration but as another character. Which means that the setting has to become alive, has to interact with the other characters and has to add conflict to the story. But with Sicily, that’s easy. Sicily is always adding a lot of conflict.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Well… Poldi’s next case, of course.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You should definitely know where to get the best pistachio ice cream on the planet. So, go to Cipriani’s in Acireale in front of the church of S. Sebastiano. Have gelato or granita and order a brioche on the side or try the roasted almond ice cream and the incredible arancini al ragù.

If you’re into red wine, try the Cisterna Fuori by Vini Biondi. It’s stratospheric.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 19

March 19, 1933: Philip Roth born.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Q&A with Christopher J. Yates

Christopher J. Yates is the author of the new novel Grist Mill Road. He also has written the novel Black Chalk. Born in London and raised in the UK, he lives in New York City.

Q: You've written about how the New York Post inspired your character Hannah. Were there particular inspirations for your other two main characters, Patrick and Matthew?

A: Patrick is very much based on me, in many ways—although, at the same time, not really me at all, if that makes any sense.

However, he has very similar experiences to me. I really did have a spear thrown at me by a best friend when I was young (I write the experience almost word for word in the first chapter of Grist Mill Road) and I learned to cook, just like Patch, when my parents got divorced and I got bored of microwave meals.

Matthew is a whole different kettle of fish, however. I don't know exactly where he came from, but his section is the last third of the novel, so I had a few years for my subconscious to work on him before I had to write him down.

Q: Do you know the endings of your books before you start writing, or do you make many changes along the way?

A: I had absolutely no idea about the ending—or many other of the important details in the novel. I think I like to come up with an interesting beginning to a novel and then work out how and why that beginning happened later on. But that's just me. I think knowing the ending is another very valid way to write a novel. Valid, but just doesn't interest me at all.

Q: Some sections of the book are in first person while others are in third person. Why did you choose to write it that way?

A: I write very instinctually. It felt right at the time. I can justify it now, and explain it now, but I prefer the instinctive approach. I like going at it this way—write write write write write write write write... and then throw away the stuff that isn't working, keep the stuff that is.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Nothing, or 10 different things, depending upon the number of minutes past the hour at which you ask me this question. I write, I throw away, I go back to stuff that's 10 years old, and at some point in this process I hope for clarity. It hasn't happened yet. If you never see a third novel from me, it'll be a pretty good sign that this is a very flawed way in which to work.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 18

March 18, 1932: John Updike born.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Q&A with Daria Peoples-Riley

Daria Peoples-Riley is the author and illustrator of the new children's picture book This Is It. A former teacher, she lives in Las Vegas.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for This Is It?

A: I wrote This Is It after my family’s first trip to New York City. My daughter is an aspiring classical ballerina, and after we visited Juilliard with her, I was inspired to write her a poem to give to her on the day of her first audition.

After I enrolled in an online picture book class, I was asked to illustrate a manuscript. I didn’t have a manuscript, so I pulled out the poem to illustrate, and it became a picture book. I was able to read it to my daughter about a year after I wrote it when she auditioned for admittance into a pre-professional ballet program.  

And, though I thought I was writing a poem for my daughter, it continues to deliver me from some of my biggest fears. And yes, she was accepted into the program! 

Q: Do you tend to work on your illustrations first or the text first, or did you work on them simultaneously?

A: Once This Is It was acquired, my editor and I settled on the text first, and then I revised the illustrations. As far as new projects, illustrations and text come simultaneously. I will illustrate some spreads first, and then only write text for other spreads. Eventually, as I continue the revision process, I add text or illustrations where they are missing in the dummy.

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

A: I hope young readers are encouraged to learn how to speak life into their thoughts, and empower themselves through positive affirmations. It’s important that others believe in us, but it’s most important that we are brave enough to believe in ourselves. 

Q: Who are some children’s book authors and illustrators that have inspired you?

A: Gosh. There are so many, but most recently, I’ve been inspired by the work of Ashley Bryan. His work is rich, deeply rooted in the African Diaspora, authentic, simply profound, hopeful, and important for all generations of readers. I hope to grow into an artist who invokes his freedom of expression in both my art and in my life. 

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am finishing the art for Gloria Takes a Stand (Bloomsbury, 2019) written by debut author Jessica M. Rinker, and I am also working on my second picture book due to be released during the summer of 2019. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Doing this work is a dream come true for me. Before this happened, I’m not sure I believed dreams came true. Now, I can tell the children I meet, dreams can and will come true. With a lot of hard work, determination to never give up, and a little faith tucked deep down in their heart, dreams definitely come true. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

March 17

March 17, 1933: Penelope Lively born.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Q&A with L. S. Gardiner

L.S. Gardiner is the author of the new book Tales from an Uncertain World: What Other Assorted Disasters Can Teach Us About Climate Change. She works at the UCAR Center for Science Education, and she lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Tales from an Uncertain World?

A: Several years ago I was at a meeting to learn about the latest climate research and what I was hearing was that the catastrophe was looking more insurmountable than ever.

It’s part of my job to help people understand this science, and I’m aware that it can fill people with worry. Realizing that climate change is a problem comes with a possible side effect of feeling helpless and uncertain about what to do.

This meeting was in San Francisco and it struck me that that city was no stranger to environmental catastrophe. In 1906 a massive earthquake and fires decimated San Francisco. I wondered what people in the city did then, whether they felt helpless and uncertain, and whether there was a parallel to our current situation with climate change.

I wanted to write this book because I wanted to know how people handle other sorts of environmental change. In some ways, climate change is unique, but, when it comes to coping with environmental change, this is not our first rodeo.

We have experience with change on earth and it can be helpful to understand our strengths, blind spots, and emotions when it comes to dealing with catastrophe. I wanted to learn from these other experiences to understand why we are slow to act on climate change.

Q: You describe climate change as "the catastrophe of our time." What do you see looking ahead, and what role do you see the Trump administration playing?

A: Looking ahead I see more strife in the short term - more weird weather, more failing crops, more challenges.

But I see better news in the long term, a paradigm shift in the way we create and use energy that stops adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere - new ways to live. It might feel a bit painful but, like pulling off a bandage, it has to happen and we’ll feel better once it does.

In the meantime, we will need to find better ways to deal with the disasters that are caused by the impacts of climate change. We’ll need to find ways to adapt.

The Trump administration has been making decisions that will make climate change worse. Thankfully, the rest of the world and many people in the United States are making smart decisions that are helping quell the catastrophe.

Individuals and organizations are divesting from fossil fuels, solar panels now cover roofs in many areas, and hundreds of cities in the U.S. have adopted the Paris Climate Accord and are planning ways to limit carbon emissions. I hope that momentum keeps increasing. It’s all about the decisions we make.

Q: How did you research the book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: I searched for examples of different types of environmental change - slow and fast, caused by humans and not, geologic, atmospheric and biologic. I found locations to make observations of phenomena or their aftermath and perused published research from various disciplines and history archives.

So many things surprised me as I researched the book. I was surprised how many of the historic stories of individuals I found were humorous and heartwarming. Even in scary times, people can be very amusing.

But I was most surprised to find myself in a catastrophe. Right about when I thought I was finished with my book research, flash floods plowed through my city. I took this as a sign that one more chapter was needed and it was time for more observations and research.

Q: What are some lessons you took away from the other disasters you studied?

A: Looking into other disasters helped me understand why we aren’t all reacting to climate change in the same way. That in no way excuses people for making bad decisions when it comes to climate change, but it is an explanation of why it’s so hard for us to get on the same page about what to do.

None of us are immune to making decisions that turn out to be unhelpful. For example, in the research for this book, I found one person who ran towards an erupting volcano and another who leisurely enjoyed a glass of wine as his city lay in ruins.

But all of us alive today have the ability to learn from decisions and improve. By being aware of how we are living on earth and the impact we have, we can do our best to minimize climate change by making decisions that add less greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, by choosing products and services that have a low carbon impact, and by voting for candidates who recognize the climate catastrophe and are ready to take action.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I have a book in the early stages that will weave together science, history, humanity, geography, and first-person narrative in a way that’s similar to Tales from an Uncertain World.

In addition to writing books, I create educational resources at the UCAR Center for Science Education to help people of all ages better understand how the earth works.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb