September 6, 2017
Join me Thursday, September 7 at 7pm Pacific time on The Writer’s Block on LA Talk Radio. During this two hour special, we’ll be discussing the publishing industry in general.
Hope you can tune in,
July 30, 2017
In late January of 2017, Diane Nine, President of Nine Speakers, Inc., an established literary agency based in Washington, D.C., offered to represent my future work. At the time, all I had to offer Diane was a one paragraph premise describing the novel I planned to write. I am forever grateful to Deborah Kalb, an author and journalist I admire and respect, for recommending me to Diane.
My work in progress is my fourth novel (if you don’t count the two half-baked manuscripts in a bottom drawer). I hope fans of my first three novels, The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately, and Seven Wings to Glory, will embrace my next story starring a brand new cast of characters in a contemporary setting I’ve longed to write about, my native New Mexico.
I’m about a third of the way in, and I hope to have the story complete by the end of this year or shortly thereafter. Because I’m building this new book from scratch, it’s taken me a while to get to know my characters. I’m finally at that point in the story where my characters are waking me up in the middle of the night or nudging me in church to scribble notes in the margins of the bulletin. Don’t tell the preacher. 😉
Thanks to all of you who’ve followed my career over the years, whether you’ve read my books or my work in Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Every day when I sit down to write, I remind myself that I live in a country where I have the freedom to explore controversial subjects and to express my imagination.
Thanks for reading,
2017 Purple Pride Alumni Hall of Honor Award for “Sports & Entertainment”
July 14, 2017
Last September I was invited to Senior Circle Book Club in Granbury, TX to discuss my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately. When I mentioned that my third novel was releasing a few months later, they invited me to come back with the new book.
Today I had the pleasure of speaking to this warm and attentive audience. After I read a few passages from the opening pages of Seven Wings to Glory, several members asked questions about my writing process and how long it took me to write my third novel. One lady was curious about the title. I got a kick sharing how the title came to me in a dream.
We also talked about two of my favorite subjects: dogs and the military. A few of the women in the group came up to me later to tell me about their loved ones who’ve served in the Armed Forces. One lady who’s not pictured in the photo remembers her early childhood when her family lived on land which is now part of Fort Hood, the massive Army post located in central TX.
After my talk, I signed books and we enjoyed some delicious refreshments. Many thanks to Cory Johnson, Director of Senior Circle, for making the arrangements to have me back for the second visit.
July 8, 2017
Dogs play an important role in my life and in the lives of my fictional characters. All of my dogs have served as inspiration for my canine characters in my last two novels, Johnnie Come Lately and Seven Wings to Glory.
I’m working on my fourth novel and soon a new canine friend will appear to show my characters the way.
Pets and books: they’re always there for you.
Update: June 5, 2017
Date: Friday, May 12, 2017
Time: 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Location: Clovis Carver Public Library
Location Address: 701 N. Main St. Clovis, NM 88101
Event Description: I’ll give an informal talk, read a brief passage from my latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory, and host a Q&A session.
While I’m not allowed to sell books on the premises, readers can order online in advance, and I’ll be happy to sign their copies. Books are available at Amazon, B&N, Target, and Indie Bound. I also hear that a fella in a big white Suburban out in the parking lot may have a few copies on hand. 😉
On Saturday, May 13, I’ll be receiving The Purple Pride Hall of Honor Award for “Sports and Entertainment” from the Clovis Municipal School Foundation. This is a huge honor, and I’m grateful to be nominated. My writing career began my junior year as a student writer on the high school newspaper, The Purple Press.
Hope to see you at the library,
(CHS Class of 1976)
“A nuanced portrayal of military connectedness…. Rodgers writes convincingly of relationships, foibles and struggles. Johnnie’s worry over her son is particularly tangible, informed by Rodgers’ experiences as the mother of a deployed soldier…. In Seven Wings to Glory, the author has created a satisfying story, one that reveals the variety of military family experiences.”
—Terri Barnes for Stars and Stripes
April 29, 2017
If you missed my live interview on The Writer’s Block on LA Talk Radio, you can tune in to the archived edition where I chat with radio host Jim Christina and his co-host Russ Avison. We discuss my latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory, and about writing in general. Great fun.
I’m also glad I had the opportunity to talk about our military and veterans. BTW, Jim Christina is a Vietnam Vet and Purple Heart recipient.
You can purchase the novel here:
April 13, 2017
“Why worry about each passing decade? Let’s celebrate our voices of experience!” ~ Robin Boyd, host of Passing 50
Join Robin and me for a lively discussion about the writing process and my latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory, on her new radio talk show, Passing 50. It’s always an honor when the person conducting the interview has read your work. To listen to the interview, click on the show’s homepage and our interview appears to the right under the title Seven Wings to Glory.
Have a great day.
April 2, 2017
Early in the writing of my third novel, Seven Wings to Glory, I reached out to watercolorist, Jenny Zovein, whose work I’d admired on Facebook. Her whimsical style appealed to me and I wondered if she could paint a few scenes to inspire me as I worked to bring the story to life. She agreed and we arranged a time to discuss the project by telephone. Each time she sent me a completed painting, I propped it up in front of my computer and felt the spirits of my characters come to life.
To see more of Jenny’s work, please visit her art page on Facebook.
Seven Wings to Glory is published by Camel Press and is available in print and e-book at most online booksellers:
December 16, 2016
Eastern New Mexico University’s campus newspaper, Greyhound Gazette, is the first news outlet to run a story about my third novel, Seven Wings to Glory. The article is written by Wendel Sloan, Director of Media Relations for ENMU. I’m thrilled as this was the college I attended right out of high school.
December 13, 2016
What others are saying about Baby Bailino, a follow-up to Baby Grand
“Dina Santorelli writes a terrific thriller. Baby Bailino will grip you to the end—and long after.”
—Andrew Gross, New York Times best-selling author of The One Man
“Dina Santorelli has done it again—delivering a taut thriller with believable, flesh and blood characters and a story that stays with you.”
—Anne Canadeo, best-selling author of the Black Sheep Mysteries
It’s been two years since Jamie Carter escaped captivity and saved Charlotte Grand, the infant daughter of New York Governor Phillip Grand, becoming a national hero for foiling the kidnapping plot that incarcerated reputed mobster/entrepreneur Don Bailino—the man who abducted and raped her. As Governor Grand considers his candidacy for U.S. president, Bailino inexplicably escapes from prison, and soon Jamie’s fifteen-month-old daughter, Faith—Bailino’s biological child—disappears. Jamie sets off to find her and, in the process, finds an unlikely ally in Bailino, who is on the run not only from the FBI but from members of organized crime who have a score to settle. Can Jamie trust the man who once held her prisoner? Can she rely on her instincts? And can she again find the strength to save a child when, this time, that child is her own?
My thoughts on this well-crafted story:
Dina Santorelli’s Baby Bailino kept me in a quandary from the moment I started reading until the very end: at times I wasn’t sure who to root for. Just when I thought I had the characters figured out, along came another twist and turn in an action-packed thriller full of heart and soul. Sometimes the “bad guy” might turn out to be your favorite character. As I read the last lines in this incredible story, I smiled to myself with a deep sense of satisfaction at the way things turned out.
Q&A with the author:
Kathleen: Baby Bailino is a sequel to your debut novel, Baby Grand. Was writing the sequel easier or more difficult than the first book? How long did it take you to write both books?
DS: Although it took the same amount of time to write the first drafts of both books (about a year and a half), I found writing Baby Bailino easier in one sense and more challenging in another—easier in that I felt like I was really comfortable with the characters already and felt an immediate connection, like I was reuniting with family and friends, and more difficult in that I felt the pressures of sequelhood—not wanting to repeat too much for those who read the first book, but knowing that I needed to acclimate new readers to the story. I always was conscious of that fine line between telling too much and telling too little.
KMR: Can people read the sequel if they haven’t read Baby Grand? In other words, can Baby Bailino be read as a standalone book?
DS: Yes. I wrote the sequel so that it can stand alone. However, readers of the first book will certainly get a fuller and more satisfying read—they know the backstory of these characters and bring that knowledge to the new plot.
KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a sequel? How do you decide how much backstory to include in the second book?
DS: Oh, that’s the million-dollar question! I wish I knew. I just try to include enough backstory so that new readers don’t feel completely lost. I find writing to be such a go-with-your-gut kind of endeavor. Whatever feels right, I try to do and hope for the best.
KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you write the first draft straight through and then go back and revise?
DS: Oh, I revise as I go. My modus operandi is to write a chapter or so at one sitting, and then at the next sitting look over what I did the session before, edit, and then go on to new material from there.
KMR: Early in the sequel, there are some fast-paced scenes that take place inside a prison. As a reader, I was pulled along with my heart in my throat. Without giving too much away, can you describe how you created this realistic setting? Did you visit a prison or talk to former inmates before you wrote this section?
DS: Actually, I made the entire thing up! For me, that’s the best part of being a fiction writer—just using my imagination. Because I’ve been a journalist for more than 25 years, I have always been tied to facts—getting descriptions right, getting attributions right. I feel so much freer as a novelist. I can do whatever I want! That’s not to say that I don’t like to mix a little fact into my fiction. I think when novelists incorporate factual information it makes their works more believable. For instance, when I mention that Phillip Grand (fictional character) had a photo of Barack Obama (real person) on a table, that helps tie Phillip to a certain place and time that is real. I like doing that. But to write the prison scenes, I just tried to tap into that imagination and take the reader on a really interesting ride. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” How did you get your foot in the door at publications like CNN and Newsday?
DS: I’ve always felt like a storyteller. Feeling like an actual writer came later. When I was in my teens, my head was full of stories, but I didn’t think my writing was good enough to make those stories come alive. It took more than twenty years as a journalist—working on my writing every day, learning how to make observations every day, meeting new and interesting people every day—to hone my craft. By telling other people’s stories, I learned how to tell my own.
Getting my foot in the door at any publication or with any new client meant getting myself to a place where I had enough experience to show I could do the job. I wrote for many publications and outlets that paid terribly and had small readerships, but I didn’t care; I wanted the experience and the clips for my portfolio. (Turns out, I learned a hell of a lot, as well, working for these publications and made contacts that impacted my career greatly.) Getting my foot in the door also meant hoping that the person/publication I wanted to work with would take a chance on working with someone new. I always say to my students (I teach Continuing Ed. at Hofstra University), “All you need is one person to take a chance on you.” I was lucky enough to have had several.
KMR: Do you attend many writers’ conferences these days? If so, which ones?
DS: The conferences I go to are more about publishing—the business of writing—such as Digital Book World, which I’ll be attending in January.
KMR: What was it like growing up in Queens? As a child, did you and your family go into New York City very often? And did living so close to the city have an influence on your writing career?
DS: I loved growing up in Queens. I was lucky to live with two parents who loved me and a strong friend network. It was really one of those “city” upbringings that you see on television where packs of kids are outside playing handball or punchball or playing tag and Red Rover well into the night. That was us. We all felt like family, and when I see old friends on Facebook, they say the same thing. We loved and protected one another—kind of like the kids on the Netflix series, Stranger Things. That was us, riding bikes and having adventures.
My family and I went to New York City on occasion, but it wasn’t really until I was driving on my own that I would go into Manhattan—“the City,” as we called it—to see plays and shows. I know it’s a cliché, but there really is such an electricity to New York City that is palpable—I still feel it to this day when I go there. It never gets old.
And, oh, yes, living there did have an influence on me! Not only did commuting to Manhattan for work foster my love of reading—I read thrillers by John Grisham, James Patterson, and Michael Crichton on the buses and subway every day—but it is just rich with people and activity. There’s a novel lurking on every corner.
KMR: You and your husband have three kids. How do you juggle family time with your professional duties as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter, nonfiction author, and Executive Editor of Family and Salute Magazines (distributed at military installations around the country). Do you designate certain days of the week for your editing job and other days for your freelance work? And how do you squeeze in ghostwriting other people’s books on top of writing fiction? I feel like a slacker next to you.
DS: I have no idea how I do it. I do believe, though, that you can find time for anything you want to do, if you really try. I’m a firm believer in: If there’s a will, there’s a way. To write Baby Grand, the kids were younger and demanded more of my time, so I used to set my alarm for 4 a.m. to write. I’d write for an hour or two, crawl back to bed, and then get up with them for school. It’s all about time management. I’ll designate a morning to working on a nonfiction project and an afternoon to working on a freelance article and then an evening to going out to dinner with my friends. A spiral notebook on my desk is my best friend—I write down all the things I want to get done in a day and then try to do them (my kids make fun of me for not having acclimated to Google Calendar). I may not always get to everything, but I try. Of course, as my children have gotten older, juggling has gotten a whole lot easier—at least until we got our shih tzu.
KMR: Please describe the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. In your opinion, is one more difficult to write than the other?
DS: To be honest, I’m not sure which is easier or more difficult. Both present interesting challenges. I find fiction to be an all-encompassing kind of writing. When I’m in the throes of writing a novel, I become consumed. The characters follow me around while I’m running errands, trying to sleep, taking a shower. My brain is always trying to piece together threads of plot and dialog. It can be exhausting. It’s like I am in a constant pursuit of authenticity. For nonfiction, it’s less consuming, but just as demanding. Here, too, I strive for authenticity. In a freelance article, my concern is presenting the authenticity of whomever I’m writing about. As a ghostwriter/collaborator, I strive to bring to life the authenticity of the author of the book: Am I capturing his/her voice? Am I conveying what he/she wants to say? Did I nail the lingo? Writing fiction and nonfiction, for me, is all about finding truth, whether it’s mine or someone else’s.
KMR: In a television interview you gave a few years ago, you talked about how most writers deal with self-doubt. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?
DS: Ah, the dreaded self-doubt! One of my professors used to call it the “shit bird” that sits on your shoulder and constantly tells you you’re no good. Not fun. How I push through really depends on the day. Some days, I’ll just step away from the computer—I’ll take a walk or take a shower or spend time with my kids. Usually, I’ll do this when I’m feeling particularly frazzled. Other days, I’ll just sit there and push. I usually strive for 1,000 words a day when I’m writing, so I’ll just write and write until I get there, even if I think what I’m writing is awful. I have this saying: Bad writing is better than no writing. Even if I’ve written 500 words of blah, I can usually find one or two gems in there that would not have gotten written if I didn’t push.
KMR: You’ve interviewed several celebrities over the years, both in person and over the telephone. Can you give us a peek into this process? For the most part, are they friendly and accommodating or have you ever dealt with any rascals (male or female)?
DS: Most people are friendly. Usually, they are promoting films or television shows, so I expect them to be, although there have been a few “rascals,” as you describe them. (Being from New York, I would have used another word.) Some of my favorite interviews have been with James Gandolfini (telephone), Paul Reiser (in person), and Norman Reedus (telephone).
KMR: After all these years, is it still thrilling to see your byline on a story for a national publication and on the cover of your books?
DS: Yes! But, to be honest, what’s even more thrilling is when people stop me to tell me how much they’ve enjoyed something I’ve written, especially my novels. It’s one thing to write, but it’s another to connect, and I feel honored that so many readers have taken my characters into their hearts.
KMR: What are you working on now in terms of fiction?
DS: I am currently writing the third book, titled Baby Carter, in the Baby Grand thriller trilogy. I’m planning to publish it in the summer of 2018.
KMR: In closing, is there anything else you want to share about your career?
DS: Yes, not so much about my career, but I’d like to say this to all aspiring writers: Never give up. The road can be dark (and not because you’re nutty and write in the middle of the night like I do) and sometimes you’ll wonder if it’s worth it. It is. Tell your story. Stay tough, and keep on keepin’ on. Sometimes you are the only one who can see a dream, but, really, you is all you need.
Voted one of the best Long Island authors for two consecutive years, Dina Santorelli is the author of the award-winning debut novel, Baby Grand—a Runner-up in the 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition and an Honorable Mention, Genre Fiction, in the 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards. She has been a freelance writer for nearly 20 years and has written frequently about travel, entertainment, lifestyle, bridal, and pop culture. Dina currently serves as the executive editor of Salute and Family magazines for which she has interviewed many celebrities, including Norman Reedus, Vince Vaughn, James Gandolfini, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, Angela Bassett, and Kevin Bacon, among others. She has collaborated on a variety of nonfiction book projects, including Raising Men: Lessons Navy SEALs Learned from Their Training and Taught to Their Sons (St. Martin’s Press, May 2016), I, Spy: How to Be Your Own Private Investigator (St. Martin’s Press, February 2016), Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, The Brown Betty Cookbook, and Bully, and her book Daft Punk: A Trip Inside the Pyramid has been published in several languages. Dina also lectures for Hofstra University’s Continuing Education Department and is a SELF-e Ambassador for the Library Journal. For more information about Dina, visit her website at http://dinasantorelli.com
For another great interview, check out Dina’s Q&A with author and journalist Deborah Kalb.
Dina Santorelli: 2nd Place, Best Long Island Author, 2013 & 2014 (Long Island Press)
Dina Santorelli: 1st Place, Best Nassau County Author, 2013 & 2014 (The Happening List)
Baby Grand: Honorable Mention, Genre Fiction, 2013 (Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards)
Baby Grand: Top-rated Mystery/Thriller (Amazon Kindle)
Baby Grand: Best-selling organized crime thriller (Amazon Kindle)
Baby Grand is available for purchase on Amazon: https://t.co/YCFnttLfy7
Baby Bailino is available for purchase on Amazon: https://goo.gl/JZd5qO
Join Dina’s mailing list! http://tinyurl.com/dinasmailinglist
“In the summer of 1860, when slavery ruled the heart of America, two young abolitionists discover how dangerous it can be to believe in freedom for all.” From the book jacket of Firebrand by Texas author Sarah MacTavish (Dove Hollow Books).
Q&A with the author:
Kathleen: Welcome, Sarah. Your story is so well crafted. The writing is tight, and from the opening sentence until the closing scene, you pull the reader along at a breathless pace. How did you breathe life into this emotionally charged story where your characters rise up off the page fully formed? I’m in awe of your talent.
Sarah: Wow, first of all, thank you! Well the first thing that comes to mind is just time–I started writing this book when I was a teen, so I’ve spent so many years with these characters, and I got to know them pretty well. But I think I just focused on knowing their hearts–who they were at their core. And at risk of sounding cliché, after I gave them a historical framework, I just let them drive the story. After many many revisions, they finally took on lives of their own with their own distinct voices.
KMR: The story alternates between two teenage narrators, Saoirse Callahan in North Texas (longing for a lost brother and her native Ireland) and Westleigh Kavanagh in Pennsylvania (longing for the truth about his parentage). How did these two characters come to you? Did they appear as voices in your head demanding to be heard? Did they first show up together or separate?
SM: Westleigh was definitely first. He came from a very old draft that bears little resemblance to Firebrand now, and I don’t remember much of how he first came to me. But even as the story changed over the years, his quiet voice stayed pretty constant. Saoirse sort of barged in–as is her way–many years later, after I discovered that there were women in history who disguised themselves and fought in the Civil War. I knew I had to tell that story. So then the original book I started became a series, and Firebrand became the background for why these characters will go on to fight in the war to come.
KMR: Can you talk about your process? Did you plot out the novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, or did you scribble a few notes and let the characters lead you on their journey?
SM: I did a little of both. The characters really shaped the story early on, but after a while I had to give myself an outline to keep track of the alternating POVs, and the historical timeline, etc. Plus it helped give the story focus. So I did a one-page overall outline with one sentence chapter summaries, then I would do chapter-by-chapter outlines that could be 2-3 pages of notes, character dialogue snippets, historical background, etc.
KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you complete a first draft straight through and then go back and revise?
SM: I did some revision as I went. I had an amazing critique group that met weekly, and they helped push me along by getting a chapter to them every week. And their feedback definitely helped me shape the story as I went. Later I got an editor who helped me to revise it even further.
KMR: About midway through the story, there’s a scene that grips the reader by the throat. I found myself stopping to catch my breath in places. Although you wrote about an extremely cruel act of violence, you handled it with class and didn’t push the reader over the edge. Without giving too much away, can you describe how you created this vivid scene where so much is at stake for Saoirse, her beloved cousin, Jack, and Abigail, Jack’s secret sweetheart?
SM: Oh, that scene. I absolutely hated writing it–I still cringe every time I think about it, sometimes I wish I had not written it at all, but I didn’t want to sugarcoat just how awful slavery was. And it was a way to stress how helpless these characters were, and how much power men like Reeves (the antagonist) had. It’s really a character-testing point for everyone involved–even Saoirse’s father, Brian. I think we all, when we look back at history, like to think we’d act or do things a certain way, that we’d stand up for injustice and be heroic, but it’s not always that simple, or easy, and this is the point where idealistic Saoirse begins to understand that.
KMR: There’s a lot going on in the story between Saoirse and her family in Texas and Westleigh and his Da, David, in Pennsylvania. How did you keep track of your fictional family tree?
SM: I had a literal family tree! I kept notes with names, dates of birth, places, family timelines, even a little chart with how old everyone was in certain years (because math is definitely my weakness). I referred to those notes quite often! I’m probably going to include some of this information in the second book, too, for readers’ reference.
KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a book, be it fiction or nonfiction? Most writers deal with self-doubt about their work. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?
SM: Find a critique group. Make sure it’s full of encouraging, challenging writers who will push you to finish, cheer you on, and help you improve along the way. I never would have finished without mine, especially since I did not have a deadline. My group made me brave enough to believe I could do it!
KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” And how do you handle the naysayers who tell writers, “You’ll never make a living at it?”
SM: I was probably a teenager–13 or 14, but even younger than that I knew I wanted to be one. I’ve never really had to worry about naysayers per se, I’m usually my own worst enemy when it comes to discouragement. I have had an incredibly supportive family, and as a teen I had a few powerfully encouraging teachers. They probably called me a writer before I called myself one. So it’s their words I usually try to remember whenever I’m feeling like a fraud. And I try to remember that this is my passion, this is who I am, and even when I’m feeling discouraged, I couldn’t imagine being or doing anything else.
KMR: Please tell us about the writers’ conference you hosted in Roanoke, TX two years in a row.
SM: Well, I’m also a librarian, and for years at work I’ve had this idea to put together a sort of local mini-conference for aspiring writers in our area to come and network, learn, and get fired up with their own writing… and to give them this for as little cost to them as possible. Writers conferences can be so pricey. So our library finally made this happen in 2015, and it was successful enough that we expanded this year, and hopefully will continue to expand each year. We bring in a keynote speaker and other local authors and offer classes, workshops, one-on-one critique sessions, and plenty of chances for networking. We’re also trying to offer more writing related programs like small workshops throughout the year, contests, NaNoWriMo events, grow our local critique groups, and really just make our library a hub for writers.
KMR: You end the book on a bit of a cliffhanger with “to be continued…” I saw on Instagram where you recently visited Andersonville Prison, a former Confederate prison camp located in southwest Georgia. You mentioned that you were on a research trip for the sequel to Firebrand. Can you tell us the name of the sequel and hint at things to come?
SM: Shh, spoilers! Kidding. Well, Firebrand is the first book of four, and I’m currently working on book two, which will pick up right before the Civil War starts. I haven’t released the title yet but I’d love to do that for you–Book Two will be called Paladin. Concerning my trip to Georgia, my research in Andersonville will probably be making its way into Book 4, but that’s all I can hint at right now! I can say that the next three books (including Paladin) will be following some of the main characters–Saoirse especially–as they fight in the Union Army.
KMR: In closing, is there anything else you’d like share?
SM: Just want to point out my short stories on my website–if you want to read a little more, I have three “prologues” for Firebrand available for free online, and I plan on writing three short stories for in between each of the rest of the books. So check out the ones I have now, and stay tuned for more to come before Paladin releases next year! *fingers crossed*
BIO: Sarah MacTavish is a small-town Texan with Yankee roots and a heart that belongs to Ireland. In addition to being a writer she is also a teen librarian, incurable Star Wars nerd, and proud Hufflepuff. When she isn’t writing, she’s either gaming, watching British television, or chasing down “just one more hint” on her family tree. Sarah is a member of the Historical Novel Society, and finalist in Novel Rocket’s 2014 Launch Pad Contest in the Historical Fiction category. Firebrand is her first novel.
Twitter & Instagram: @sarahmactavish
October 11, 2016
The Snow Comes Early
in the high country of Alaska.
The midnight sun
has long since vanished.
The days are now short-lived;
dawn, noon and dusk less than a handful of hours.
The birch are stripped naked;
their chocolate chip trunks
sticking out of the snow.
The hills of Tanana Valley
are like mounds of flour dumped on the floor
from an opened sack.
And we are the inhabitants
in this whitewashed land,
where sixty degrees below zero
can kill even the strongest of men.
But we are risk takers!
Riding the open road of the military…
a journey we often complain of,
but a dream voyage for others
fenced in by fate.
So let us be thankful
when winter sets in,
that we are here, at the top of the world-
Closer to our Maker,
when the snow comes early
in the high country of Alaska.
© Kathleen M. Rodgers — Alaska 1985
September 24, 2016
“Adventure, history, and the drama of school life intertwine in this engrossing tale of a fifth-grade boy struggling to find his place after his best friend abandons him. Find out what happens when Sam’s class takes a trip to Mount Vernon, where he accidentally buys a bossy three-cornered hat that sweeps him off to the eighteenth century and a warm friendship with George and Martha Washington.” Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
Q&A with the author
Kathleen: I admire how you weave historical facts into the narrative that features Sam, a modern day fifth-grader from Bethesda, Maryland, as he travels back in time to meet George Washington at various stages of his life. How did you come up with the concept for this story that is targeted toward middle grade readers but is clearly enthralling for adult readers as well?
Deborah: Thanks so much, Kathleen! I thought it would be fun to look at various presidents—starting from the beginning, with George Washington–in a way that combines history and fiction. This is the first in what I’m hoping will be a series, called The President and Me, featuring modern-day kids who end up taking amazing time-travel journeys to the past, while also dealing with their 21st century problems. For example, Sam is no longer on speaking terms with his lifelong best friend, Andrew, which is clearly very painful for him. So the story goes on parallel tracks, I guess, with the time travel interspersed with the modern-day interludes. I’ve heard positive reactions from both kids and adults who have read the book, which makes me very happy!
KMR: As a middle-age woman and reader, I found myself totally caught up in the story. How did you get into Sam’s head to create such a believable character?
DK: I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the book! To answer your question, it probably helps that I have an 11-year-old son! (The book’s wonderful illustrator, Rob Lunsford, based the pictures on my son—although my character Sam is not based on one person in particular.) Being around kids that age is certainly a plus. But part of it also probably comes from having been a voracious reader my entire life, and remembering so many wonderful books I read when I was younger.
KMR: The magic hat is an important “character” in the story. When I think of the hat, I visualize a wise but slightly grumpy old man leading Sam on a journey. Did you know from the beginning that you would use personification to make the hat come alive?
DK: Yes, I figured it would be fun to have a somewhat curmudgeonly talking hat as one of the main characters. I think some of my inspiration came from magical creatures in various books, particularly the Half Magic books by Edward Eager (some of my favorites!), which often included grouchy magical beings of various kinds.
KMR: The story held my interest from the opening line to the clever ending. How long did it take you to finish the book, say from the earliest concept to publication?
DK: I’d say overall it took a few years from beginning to end. Lately I tend to think about book projects for a while before actually starting to write them. While this is not my first book, it’s my first children’s book—and my first published fiction book! I have various unpublished mystery novels hidden away in my closet. Maybe I’ll go back to them at some point!
KMR: I admire how you introduced an important moral question in the story when young Sam asked his teacher, Ms. Martin, “How could George and the founders of this country have had slaves, anyway, when they were writing things like the Declaration of Independence?” Have you heard from any of your readers about this? And if you the author could travel back in time, what would you say to George Washington about slavery?
DK: Thank you for asking that. I’ve heard from readers that they really appreciate my including the issue of slavery in the book. Honestly, it never occurred to me not to include it. It’s such an important topic, and it’s one that I think about all the time. I would certainly want to ask George Washington—and other early presidents like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison–that very question.
KMR: What were you like in the fifth grade? Did you daydream much or were you super studious? Have you always been interested in history and politics and what was your favorite subject in school?
DK: I spent a lot of time in fifth grade reading, playing kickball, and attempting to do gymnastics. I guess I would say that I daydreamed AND was studious, although I’m sure the two conflicted at times! I have always liked history. My favorite subjects when I was in school were English, history, and languages, and I majored in history in college. So it goes way back!
KMR: You are an accomplished journalist and author. Did growing up with a famous father, renowned journalist Marvin Kalb, have an influence on your career choice? As a kid, what was it like watching your father and your uncle, Bernard Kalb, on national television?
DK: Oh, definitely! My father and my uncle have always been role models for me, both personally and professionally, and it was an incredible experience to work on the book Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama with my father. As a child, it was oddly natural for me to see my father on the CBS Evening News and wave goodnight to his picture on the TV. As I recall, the two shows I was allowed to watch back then were the CBS Evening News and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood!
KMR: Your book is dedicated to both of your parents. Can you tell us a little bit about your mother, Madeleine?
DK: Yes, she’s also a writer, so I got that gene from both sides! She is an incredibly meticulous editor, and clearly another one of my role models as a person and as a writer.
KMR: I admire your generosity in supporting countless authors through your blog, Book Q&A with Deborah Kalb.
How do you juggle your writing, reading, and author interviews while also raising a young son?
DK: It’s a challenge to balance everything, but I’m really enjoying it! I often find that I get so caught up in reading other people’s books and interviewing authors that I forget to write anything of my own. I need to set some deadlines, I think! And my husband and son are very understanding and supportive about all my hours at the computer. I want to thank you, as well, for your own generosity in getting the word out about your fellow writers!
KMR: What was it like to have a book signing at Nationals Park, the ballpark where the Washington Nationals play baseball, especially since a key scene in the book takes place there?
DK: So much fun, especially when George the Racing President, one of the Nationals’ mascots and a character in the book, showed up in the store and spent half an hour reading the book and holding it up for everyone to see!
KMR: What are you working on now?
DK: Book 2 in the series, which features Sam’s neighbors, Ava and J.P., who travel back in time to meet John and Abigail Adams. The tentative title is The President and Me: The John Adams Bobblehead.
About the author:
Deborah Kalb has worked as a journalist and freelance writer in Washington, D.C., for more than two decades. She has focused on covering Congress and politics as a writer and editor for various news organizations including Gannett News Service, Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, U.S. News & World Report, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She is the co-author (with her father, acclaimed journalist Marvin Kalb) of Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama. Deborah also has a blog, deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com, where she interviews authors about their books.
A graduate of Harvard University, where she majored in history, Deborah received a master’s degree in American Studies from Yale University. With this book for young readers (with crossover into the adult market), she is drawing on her knowledge of presidential history and taking it in a different direction.
September 17, 2016
Winner of 2016 WILLA Award and Winner of 2015 Reading the West Nonfiction Award
“Both enjoyable and edifying.”—Library Journal
“Ladies of the Canyons shows the way in which O’Keeffe and others were just the latest in a tradition of audacious women who carved a well-traveled path of freedom and challenge.”—Bookslut
My thoughts on this exceptional book:
Long before artist Georgia O’Keefe and patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan fell in love with New Mexico, other gutsy women from privileged families back east set out to explore “The Land of Enchantment” and claim it as their own. But their names were lost to history until recently.
Just as Natalie Curtis Burlin left the comfort of privilege in New York City to capture the songs of the Hopi, author Lesley Poling-Kempes left the comfort of sitting on her literary laurels to dive into the past and recreate the lives of some remarkable women who blazed new trails in the American Southwest. As I savored this engrossing and educational tale, it was almost like the author had gone back in time and accompanied her subjects as they bounced along in lumbering touring cars or trotted on horseback under the blazing sun, taking notes that would become The Ladies of the Canyons: A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest.
Even now, a year after the release of this amazing book, I like to envision the author seated at a place of honor in a tiny casita a few blocks off the plaza in old Santa Fe. “The Ladies” are all gathered around Lesley when Natalie Curtis Burlin bustles in and offers her special guest a nice cup of tea. And with piano music drifting in through an open window, Carol Bishop Stanley (founder of Ghost Ranch), stands up and declares, “Dear Lesley, we knew you would come. It was just a matter of time.”
Q&A with the author:
Kathleen: After reading Ladies of the Canyons, I am in awe of how you gathered your material buried in archives and private collections and assembled it into an intriguing story. Can you describe your process? How do you puzzle together bits and pieces of the past into a narrative that feels alive?
Lesley: For Ladies of the Canyons I knew I had to begin by finding and making sense of the stories/biographies of the four main characters, Carol Stanley, Natalie Curtis, Alice Klauber, and Mary Wheelwright. Because they lived a century ago, it meant visiting in person many of the places they lived, and also locating the physical archives that held what scant scraps they left behind in diaries, letters, journals, paintings, and music. I kept notebooks about each of the women and also a massive timeline that showed where and how they intersected with major events of their time and also with each other. It took about two years to gather the material together, and another two years to write their stories into one narrative. The ladies came alive for me about halfway into the research as my connection to their lives strengthened and I began to get a real sense of who they were as people. They began to feel alive in my life and time.
KMR: How long did it take you to write the book, and were you ever overwhelmed as you sifted through historical documents?
LPK: About four years. I was overwhelmed daily, truly, every day, by the size of the task and the amount of material involved. I never let myself look too far ahead. I just kept to the page before me. I likened it to laying track over a very long and often forbidding distance.
KMR: I’m a huge fan of your novels Bone Horses and Canyon of Remembering. As both an historian and a novelist, can you describe the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction?
LPK: The freedom I feel when writing fiction cannot be overstated. I do research for my novels, but not to the extent I do for nonfiction. And living in ‘fictionland’ for months at a time is liberating and often just good fun. It is hard work, as all novelists know, but without the sense of intense responsibility that goes with writing history and biography where getting the facts right, and documenting sources and etc., is fundamental to the success of the book. The contrast – working on a novel for a few years after working on a book of nonfiction – is satisfying and therapeutic.
KMR: When you first started researching your nonfiction subjects for Ladies of the Canyons, did you have any idea that the story would take you (and the reader) from New York and Boston to the desert Southwest and all the way to Paris?
LPK: I did. I had glimpsed the stories of the ladies while writing the book Ghost Ranch and knew Natalie’s and Alice’s stories would involve Europe, New York, and San Diego, and Carol’s and Mary’s stories would involve Boston and environs. Still, I had to give myself a crash course in the birth of Modern Art in Europe and the US, and also read up on everything Victorian, especially as that era affected women.
KMR: Art plays a big role in this book. You come across as someone very comfortable at writing about art, music, important historical events, and even former presidents. Does this come naturally to you or is it a skill you’ve acquired over your career.
LPK: It comes naturally because I’m curious about art and music and the intersection of historic events with common and uncommon folks. I live in Abiquiu within the cultural landscape that extends to Santa Fe and Taos. Many remarkable and creative people (O’Keeffe tops the list of local lights) have come to work and live here over the last century. And the making and celebration of art has been part of daily life since prehistory and the culture of the Pueblo people.
I have always admired the life of TR Roosevelt and being able to include him in the story of Ladies of the Canyons was a wonderful gift. I read most of Roosevelt’s writings about his time in the American Southwest, and studied his opinions and the evolution of his policies and thoughts about and toward Native America so that I could place his time with Natalie and Alice in the desert Southwest into historic perspective. Natalie Curtis and Roosevelt’s relationship was fascinating to piece together. And theirs is a great story, too, one that had never been told. Finding the archival photographs and rare film footage of Curtis and Roosevelt together in Hopi land in 1913 was among the most affirming and satisfying moments of my writing career.
KMR: What are you working on now? Last time we chatted, you mentioned that you were eager to get back to work on the sequel to Bone Horses. I’m looking forward to reading your next novel.
LPK: Yes, I am writing the sequel to my novel Bone Horses. Ten years have passed in the town of Agua Dulce and there are some familiar characters and also several who will be new to readers. I love being immersed in this fictional place in northern New Mexico. It’s challenging – I find the first draft of any sort of book, fiction or nonfiction, extremely difficult. But writing, completing, and publishing 6 books have given me one gift: faith in my ability to get through a messy, awkward, crappy first draft. I know how to rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) my first drafts into something coherent and hopefully beautiful.
I recently completed my first historic novel, Gallup. Set in World War 2 New Mexico, this novel is based on the screenplay written by Robert N. Singer with whom I share co-writer credit on both the novel and the screenplay. I’ll keep you updated on the development of the film and the publication of the novel, both of which I hope will happen in a few years.
Lesley Poling-Kempes is the award winning author of fiction and nonfiction books about the American Southwest, including “Bone Horses” winner of the 2014 WILLA Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction and the Tony Hillerman Award; “The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West,” winner of the Zia Award and recently optioned for a US-UK television series; “Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu,” and “Ghost Ranch.” Her first novel “Canyon of Remembering” was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist.
“Ladies of the Canyon: A League of Extraordinary Women & Their Adventures in the American Southwest” was released in 2015 and won the Reading the West Award for nonfiction, the WILLA Literary Award, the Silver Medal for US History from the Independent Publishers Association, and is a WWW Spur Award finalist.
She lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
October 22, 2016 3:00 pm-5:00 pm