2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Kelly Duran, Can’t Take it Back

About Kelly Duran:

Writing has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I love to create characters and stories and see where my imagination takes them. When I’m not writing or reading, you can find me hanging out with my husband and two daughters with—depending on the time of day—either a cup of coffee or a glass of wine in my hand. And a book in my purse.

Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Can’t Take It Back?

A: The primary inspiration was the strength and importance of my female friendships. Throughout my life I have leaned on my friends to see me through good times and bad and I know I did the same for them. I wanted to celebrate them with a story that showed four women each going through their own personal issues but relying on each other for support. The story evolved into something a little more dramatic but at the core there are the four friends, helping each other, guiding each other, and never judging. I’ve also always been drawn to stories that have intersecting storylines, where what is happening to one person is affecting another but they just don’t know it yet. Think Big Little Lies meets Love, Actually.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: Nothing too intense. One of my characters explores the idea of an open marriage so I did a lot of research on that topic. There is a scene where Avery visits a local library to find books on the topic and that was something that I did myself. Other than that most of my research was focused on places. I used a real city called Lake Forest Park, just north of Seattle, as the location but took some pretty significant creative liberties on the layout of the town so I wound up changing the name. But my family and I did take a road trip there to drive around and get a feel for it. That was pretty cool.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: Reading and parenting. We have two daughters that are fairly active with school and sports so playing chauffeur takes up a lot of my time. The good thing about spending a lot of time in the car waiting for them is that I get a lot of reading done. I’ve usually got one book and one audiobook on the go at all times. I love to spend time wandering a bookstore with a coffee in hand or exploring one of our amazing parks or trails with my family. 

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: It’s really all over the place and the easy answer is “whenever I find some time”. I work from home so it’s nice to escape to a new setting to get focused. Most of CAN’T TAKE IT BACK was written at a variety of local coffee shops between the hours of 8 and 11pm (aka when the kids were in bed). With my next novel I’m trying to become an early morning writer. I’ve been waking up around 6 and managing to get about 1,000-1,500 words written before my family wakes up. I almost finished my first draft and, hopefully, when it’s done I don’t go back and realize all those early morning words written before I had coffee were complete gibberish. 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication? 

A: I went a little bit backward actually in that I had interest from an editor before signing with my agent. I participated in PitMad in June and Lara from Audible liked my pitch. After reading the full, we had “the call” about producing CAN’T TAKE IT BACK as an exclusive audiobook. With that offer in hand I reached out to all the agents I had queried and gave them a little nudge. At that point I had been querying for just over four months and had contacted 58 agents. One of the agents at the top of my wishlist responded right away, read my full manuscript and I signed with her a few days later. Katie finished the negotiations with Audible and my deal was announced in November. I learned that audiobook publication moves a lot faster than traditional publishing. It only took four months from the deal being signed to the release. So it was a whirlwind of edits, cover approval, narrator approval, production and release.

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From the publisher, Amazon Audible (exclusive)

A perfect next listen for fans of Abbi Waxman and Katherine Center, Can’t Take It Back is a fast-paced and relatable debut telling the interconnected stories of four women over the course of a kindergarten school year.

Huddled on their favorite park bench in a quiet Seattle suburb, Holly, Avery, Zoe, and Sasha might look like they’ve got it all figured out – but there’s more to their stories than meets the eye. When Avery’s husband Carter suggests they open up their marriage, she’s shocked and appalled – but could this new arrangement be the breath of fresh air she never knew she needed? Zoe and Aaron, whose connection has long been the standard by which their friends measure their own relationships, feel that their lives are taking them in different directions, but worry over how a divorce might affect their two young boys. Zoe turns to her best friend Holly for guidance, but as it turns out, this year has tested her own marriage to Jake in ways neither of them ever anticipated. And meanwhile, Holly’s sister Sasha – the no-nonsense PR executive and eternally single girl of the group – must decide if joining the ranks of motherhood is the right step for her

Captivating and immersive, Can’t Take It Back is a deeply emotional novel that celebrates the complex bond of female friendships.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Anita Kushwaha, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters

Anita Kushwaha grew up in Aylmer, Quebec. Her road to publication included a fulfilling career in academia, where she studied human geography at Carleton University and earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. A graduate of the Humber School for Writers creative writing program, her work has appeared in Ms. Magazine, The Globe and Mail, Quill and Quire, The 49th Shelf, Open Book, Word on the Street, and Canadian Living among others. Her first novel, Side by Side, won an Independent Publisher Book Awards’ Silver Medal for Multicultural Fiction in 2019. She is also the author of a novella, The Escape Artist. Her latest novel, Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters, released in January 2020 by HarperCollins Canada, was named a “Books With Buzz” by Canadian Living, chosen as Word on the Street’s March Book of the Month, a Most-Anticipated Spring Fiction selection by The 49th Shelf and Savvymomdotca, and a recommended read by The Girly Book Club. She lives in Ottawa.

Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Secret Lives of Mothers and Daughters?

A: Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is a mother-daughter story told in alternating timelines. First, we meet Asha, a young woman of eighteen who is about to start university and is excited about the future, when her parents reveal to her a long-kept family secret – that she is adopted, her birth mother died shortly after she was born, and her father was unable to raise her on his own. Her birth mother leaves behind a letter for Asha that raises more questions than it answers. This thrusts Asha on a fraught journey of self-discovery as she confronts the big questions: Who am I? What happened to my birth parents? Why didn’t they keep me? Am I loveable? Can I ever trust my parents again? Asha discovers that the answers to her questions are far more complicated than she could have imagined.

Next, we have Mala, a bright young scholar who is returning to her doctoral studies after being on leave following the sudden and tragic death of her father. Her plans are interrupted when her mother, who is increasingly worried about securing her future in the wake of her father’s death, asks something of Mala that places her in a difficult position. From that point onward, Mala feels torn between duty and desire, struggling to meet her mother’s expectations while also being true to herself.

As the story unfolds, we see how these two timelines intertwine. More broadly, the book is about the ties that bind mothers and daughters together, and the secrets that tear them apart, and the particular social and cultural pressures faced by the South Asian characters in the novel. 

In terms of inspiration, I knew I would write a book having to do with arranged marriage someday because growing up in a small town, it was one of the characteristics that distinguished the origins of my family from that of those around me, and was often misunderstood, which at times became a source of shame for me and made me feel like our family was somehow less authentic than those around us. In writing the book, I wanted to explore the idea that all relationships, regardless of their origins, are arrangements of one sort or another, with their own particular advantages and disadvantages, freedoms and constraints.

The other themes that I wanted to explore in the book are those that seem to make their way into my writing—immigrant experiences, intergenerational conflict, the consequences of silence, identity, belonging, and mental health examined through a cultural lens.

I also knew I’d write a tragic love story someday, and wanted to give a nod to my love of Victorian novels, especially the works of the Brontes, hence the influence of Jane Eyre in the book, which also speaks to another subtle theme, that is, the ability of fiction to connect people through time.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: This book wasn’t research-heavy at all. It was more about mining my life and background to get to the heart of the issues like cultural expectations, authenticity, the costs of not living one’s truth.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: When I’m not writing, I often find myself engaging with activities that help fill my creative well. I love to run, listen to music, practice yoga, spend time outdoors with my husband, bake, nap with my cat Noodles, binge on Netflix, and of course READ!

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: I’m the type of person who likes to feel productive every day and who also loves structure.  I suppose my approach to the day is my habit. A typical writing day starts early with a cup of tea. I try my best to stay away from social media until I’ve gotten a couple of solid hours done. Then I usually like to go for a run or a walk. After lunch, I’ll either write for a couple more hours or review what I wrote earlier in the day. Not glamorous, but it gets things done. In terms of where I write, I like to give myself the ability to wander, but having said that, I do most of my writing at our beautiful handmade dining room table, most likely in the company of our cat, Noodles.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication? 

A: The short answer is LONG! I knew I wanted to be writer from a young age, but growing up in an immigrant household, pursuing the arts wasn’t an option. So, it took me a long time to play catch-up and find the self-belief to pursue my dream. Meeting my husband really changed things for me. He’s always had this unwavering faith that I could do it and he’s been such a tremendous support. He also works in a creative field, so we’re able to bounce ideas off each other. In the acknowledgements, I thank him for being my first reader, plotting partner, therapist, and cheerleader. Before committing to writing full-time, I had a career in academia, which was actually great training for my life as a writer, for instance, the collaborative process of writing and defending a dissertation has quite a few things in common with some of the editorial experiences I’ve had.

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From the publisher, Harper Collins

For readers of Shilpi Somaya Gowda’s “Secret Daughter” and Nancy Richler’s “The Imposter Bride,” a breathtaking novel from Anita Kushwaha about the ties that bind mothers and daughters together and the secrets that tear them apart.

Veena, Mala and Nandini are three very different women with something in common. Out of love, each bears a secret that will haunt her life—and that of her daughter—when the risk of telling the truth is too great. But secrets have consequences. Particularly to Asha, the young woman on the cusp of adulthood who links them together.

On the day after her eighteenth birthday, Asha is devastated to learn that she was adopted as a baby. What’s more, her birth mother died of a mysterious illness, leaving Asha with only a letter.

Nandini, Asha’s adoptive mother, has always feared the truth would come between them.

Veena, a recent widow, worries about her daughter Mala’s future. The shock of her husband’s sudden death leaves her shaken and convinces her that the only way to keep her daughter safe is to secure her future.

Mala struggles to balance her dreams and ambition with her mother’s expectations. She must bear a secret, the burden of which threatens her very life. Three mothers, bound by love, deceit and a young woman who connects them all.

Secret Lives of Mothers & Daughters is an intergenerational novel about family, duty and the choices we make in the name of love.

Release date: Out now in paperback, ebook, and audiobook.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Barbara Linn Probst, Queen of the Owls

Barbara Linn Probst is a writer, researcher, clinician, and “serious amateur” pianist living on a historic dirt road in New York’s Hudson Valley.


Author Interview

Q: In a sentence or two, what’s Queen of the Owls about? 

A: Queen of the Owls is the story of a woman’s quest to claim her neglected sensuality and find her true self hidden behind the roles of wife, mother, sister, and colleague. Framed around the life and art of iconic American painter Georgia O’Keeffe, it dares to ask a question every woman can relate to: what would you risk to be truly seen and known?

Q: Why Georgia O’Keeffe? 

A: Truthfully, the notion of framing the story around Georgia O’Keeffe—her little-known Hawaii painting, and the photos taken by her husband Alfred Stieglitz—simply “came to me.” 

I’ve always loved O’Keeffe’s paintings. They called to me, especially at a particular time in my life, in a way that felt very connected to the question of what it means to be a woman, so there was that seed. And then, in starting to do some preliminary research, I learned so much about O’Keeffe that ended up enhancing the story in ways I couldn’t possibly have anticipated. After a while, it became clear that there was no other way to tell this story!  

O’Keeffe herself isn’t a character in the book, as she might be if this were historical fiction. Yet she’s present throughout as Elizabeth’s inspiration, the person whose blend of austerity and voluptuousness Elizabeth longs to emulate. And, of course, in seeking to understand O’Keeffe, Elizabeth comes to understand herself. 

O’Keeffe has been a figure of endless fascination for over a century—not only for her artistic genius, but also because of how she lived. She was the quintessential feminist who rejected the feminists’ attempts to turn her into their matriarch, the austere desert recluse who created some of the most sensuous art of all time. A pioneer, full of contradictions. No wonder she fascinates Elizabeth!

Q: You mentioned research. Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: Did I ever!  Not only did I read everything I could dig out of the archives at the Georgia O’Keeffe Research Center in Santa Fe, but I went to view her paintings for myself, visited the places where she lived and worked, talked to experts and people who knew her. 

And I got really, really lucky because there was a special exhibit of O’Keeffe’s Hawaii paintings—which is a central focus of the book—brought together for the first time in eighty years, and on view only thirty minutes from where I live! It was such a wild coincidence. Then again, so many things like that happened that I could only conclude that this was a book I had to write. 

Q: What was it about this particular story that drew you? 

A: Ah, time for a bit of self-disclosure! Queen of the Owls is a work of fiction, but the story is close to my heart.  I know what it’s like to be seen as a “brain” instead of a whole woman and to find my way to healing and wholeness. Maybe it sounds corny, but I wanted to help others to do that too. Not by preaching at them, but by “incarnating” an inner quest within a darned good story. 

I also wanted to address some important issues facing women nowadays— privacy, consent, feminism, , the power of social media to upend our lives—in a story that would resonate with women regardless of age, region, background. 

Q: What are the most challenging and most rewarding parts of writing for you?

One of the challenges of writing is my own perfectionism!  I labor and labor over the rhythm, the phrase, the precise word or image. Then, at some point, you just have to let go and trust that you’ve done good work. That can be really hard, because there’s always the sense that you could do more, polish it even further.

What’s most rewarding for me is the sense of being a kind of midwife to a story that I truly believe will speak to readers and perhaps help them to see and experience something new. 

I love the total immersion that happens when you’re deeply connected to the story and characters. It’s a special state when your subconscious mind and your conscious mind (the part that can give form to what the subconscious understands) are perfectly connected.  When I’m in that zone, it feels like the story is coming through me, rather than me inventing it.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: I’m what they call a “serious amateur” pianist—which totally love because it engages a completely different part of me that has nothing to do with words!  I also love to cook, hike, and travel. I’ve spent extended time in Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, Iceland, Italy—well, you name it! I think it’s really important to get out of your comfort zone and see life in different ways.

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From the publisher, She Writes Press

A chance meeting with a charismatic photographer will forever change Elizabeth’s life.

Until she met Richard, Elizabeth’s relationship with Georgia O’Keeffe and her little-known Hawaii paintings was purely academic. Now it’s personal. Richard tells Elizabeth that the only way she can truly understand O’Keeffe isn’t with her mind—it’s by getting into O’Keeffe’s skin and reenacting her famous nude photos.

In the intimacy of Richard’s studio, Elizabeth experiences a new, intoxicating abandon and fullness. It never occurs to her that the photographs might be made public, especially without her consent. Desperate to avoid exposure—she’s a rising star in the academic world and the mother of young children—Elizabeth demands that Richard dismantle the exhibit. But he refuses. The pictures are his art. His property, not hers.

As word of the photos spreads, Elizabeth unwittingly becomes a feminist heroine to her students, who misunderstand her motives in posing. To the university, however, her actions are a public scandal. To her husband, they’re a public humiliation. Yet Richard has reawakened an awareness that’s haunted Elizabeth since she was a child—the truth that cerebral knowledge will never be enough.

Now she must face the question: How much is she willing to risk to be truly seen and known?

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Sara Rauch, What Shines From It

Sara Rauch is an author, editor, book reviewer, writing coach, and teacher based in Western Massachusetts. Her prose has appeared in several literary magazines, including Split Lip, Gravel, So to Speak, WomenArts Quarterly, Hobart, and Luna Luna, as well as several anthologies. A long-time book reviewer for Lambda Literary Review, she’s also written reviews and author profiles for Bitch Media, WBUR, Bust, Curve Magazine, The Rumpus, The Establishment, and more. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Pacific University and teaches at Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop.

Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write What Shines From It?

A: It took me a long time to come around to short stories – I resisted learning the form forever. But in 2012, I was working with Christine Sneed, who really loves short stories and recommended I try writing some to help open up the novel I was drafting. As it turned out, I liked stories so much I dropped the novel (though two of the novel characters appear in “Seal” in What Shines from It). I didn’t really set out to write a book of short stories, but I kept writing them, and then, eventually, when I wrote “Kintsukuroi” (which was originally the title story) I knew I had a full collection. Most of the stories are about human relationships, and the pain and beauty of connection, because I think I’m always trying to understand that particular collision.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: I don’t do any research during my early drafts, because I find it slows me down too much. I stay with the characters and plot, and mark places in brackets where I need to find out more information. Once I have a story in place, I then set out to dig into specific details that help lend authenticity. Several of the stories in What Shines from It take place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and some of the moments within were things that I had hazy memories of and needed to clarify, and I had many fun trips down memory lane via Google. 

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: I have two young kids, so when I’m not writing, I’m usually with them. But beyond being a mom, I love to read, be outside, explore new cities, browse bookstores, do yoga, sit in the sun and drink coffee, have long conversations with my husband, snuggle my cats. I’m all for the simple pleasures in life.

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: When I wrote What Shines from It, I had the luxury of writing almost full-time. I remember those days fondly! Now, though, my life is much busier, and I write for a half-hour every morning (in bed, with a cup of coffee; I write all my first drafts longhand, and I cherish this particular ritual) while my husband hangs out with the kids, and then, depending on where I am in a project, I write again after bedtime. As much as I miss the long, blank days of my pre-kid life, I am far more productive in these constricted bursts. I know I don’t have time to waste and I use every minute as best I can.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

A: It was a long one! I spent two years on the manuscript, and then another two years shopping it around. It was rejected a resounding 33 times, and I was very close to giving up when I saw Alternating Current Press’s call for submissions and decided to give one last push. I was thrilled they accepted! After that, it took about three years for production. I definitely had my moments of impatience, but now, holding the finished product, I know it was worth the wait!

From the publisher, Alternating Current

The eleven stories in Sara Rauch’s What Shines from It are rife with the physical and psychic wounds of everyday life. In “Beholden,” girl meets boy meets the unsettled spirits of post-9/11 New York City, but her future can’t hold them all. In “Kitten,” a struggling veteran and his wife argue over adopting an abandoned kitten, deepening their financial and emotional rifts. In “Abandon,” a ghost-baby ravages a woman’s body following a late-term miscarriage, marring her chances for new love. And in “Kintsukuroi,” a married potter falls for a married geologist and discovers the luminosity of being broken. What Shines from It is populated by women on the verge of transcendence—brimming with anger and love—and working-class artists haunted by the ghosts of their desires. Abiding by a distinctly guarded New England sensibility, these stories inhabit the borderlands of long-established cities, where humans are still learning to embrace the natural world. Subtly exploring sexualities, relationships, birth and rebirth, identity, ghosts, and longing, Rauch searches for the places where our protective shells are cracked and, in spare, poetic language, limns those edges of loneliness and loss with light.

What Shine From It won Alternating Current’s Electric Book Award, and Christine Sneed has called the stories “lit from within: they glow with intelligence, pathos, and startling insights into the human tragicomedy.”

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2020 Debut Book Feature: Sweet Jane, Joanne Kukanza Easley

Joanne Kukanza Easley, born in Chicago, Illinois, has adopted Texas as her home. She lives in the Texas Hill Country on a small ranch with her husband, three rescue terriers, and abundant wildlife. Retired from a career in nursing–with dual specialties in the cold, clinical operating room, and the intense, emotional world of psychiatric nursing, she devotes her time to writing fiction. She is hard at work editing her next novel, Just One Look, set in her native Chicago, and is looking forward to her next project, Lauren Eaton.

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From the publisher, Black Rose Writing

A drunken mother makes childhood ugly. Jane runs away at sixteen, determined to leave her fraught upbringing in the rearview. Vowing never to return, she hitchhikes to California, right on time for the Summer of Love. Seventeen years later, she looks good on paper: married, grad school, sober, but her carefully constructed life is crumbling. When Mama dies, Jane returns for the funeral, leaving her husband in the dark about her history. Seeing her childhood home and significant people from her youth catapults Jane back to the events that made her the woman she is. She faces down her past and the ghosts that shaped her family. A stunning discovery helps Jane see her problems through a new lens.

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2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Barker House, David Moloney

David Moloney worked in the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections, New Hampshire, from 2007 to 2011. He received a BA in English and creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he now teaches. He lives north of Boston with his family.

Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Barker House?

A: In my early twenties, I worked as a corrections officer in NH. While working there, I never considered writing about the job. I was writing some poetry, but the work inside the jail really left my brain with zero bandwidth for any kind of meaningful writing. When I was promoted in 2010 to Field Training Officer, I told myself that if the promotion didn’t make me want to stay in that line of work, then I’d leave and go back to school. Three months into the new position, I felt as disillusioned as ever, and quit. I majored in Creative Writing, and began to focus my writing on my experiences at the jail.

When I was writing the book, I tried to find any other novels in prison literature that gave a voice to the corrections officers. There weren’t many. I decided then to show, or attempt to show, an unbiased view of the system from their perspective. It is a thankless job, one which changes you for the worse. I didn’t like the person I’d become while I was working there. I think it is important for people to see what it is like to work in a jail or prison. In pop culture, officers are usually depicted as mean, heartless, sinister. For some, that is a fair depiction. But many officers struggle with what the work does to their humanity.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: I used my work experience as the research for the novel. The only research I did have to do was about doll restoration. There’s a passage in the book where a character is watching her mother restore a composition doll. I’m not quite sure why I gave the mother this job, but once I did, it felt so right. I wanted to get all the details correct. I had no idea what went into doll restoration. I watched YouTube videos, read old manuals. I called a local doll restorer and spoke with the woman at length on the phone. I tried setting up a time where I could meet her, but she seemed a bit sketched out, and I didn’t blame her. In the end, the hours and days I spent researching this skill only amounted to one paragraph in the book, but it was worth it.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: I teach creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University. During the semester, that eats up much of my time. I also have a wife and two children, so they get the rest of my attention. I read a good deal, but I tend to go through cycles where I don’t read for a few days, then I’ll read a book in a few sittings.

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: I write in the late morning after I’ve had a gallon of iced black coffee and scrolled through the news. I’ll pull up what I wrote in my previous session, read a paragraph, and then dive in. I set my writing sessions at a 500-word cap. I find that is my limit. Once I pass 500 words, my dialogue becomes lazy, my scenes become shorter, characters not as fleshed out. I hit 500, and I move on with my day. At night, when the house is quiet, I may be guilty of reading what I wrote earlier in the day and sneaking in a few words over the cap.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

A: I wrote the novel during my MFA, finishing it in about nine months. I spent the third semester revising with a mentor, Tony Tulathimutte. Once he gave me the green light, saying it felt ready, I queried agents. I looked up my favorite writer’s agents, and started there. Tony sent me in the direction of an agent, one from where he’s signed, and she requested the manuscript rather quickly. After I signed with her, we spent a year working the short story collection into a novel-in-stories. We sent some chapters/stories out to literary magazines. One was picked up by Guernica. It was then we decided to send the manuscript to publishing houses. Round one was quiet. A few rejections came quick, saying the book would be better off as nonfiction. I was a bit disheartened, and two months went by. We went out with round two, and Bloomsbury, among a few others, were interested. It was an easy decision to go with Bloomsbury. They were excited the book was fiction that felt like nonfiction, which was the opposite of why it was getting passed on.

If I were to give advice to a writer with a finished manuscript, I would say do not rush. Even after signing with an agent, the process is slow. You want to make sure the manuscript is clean, proofread, as finished as you think it can be. You may only get one shot at the agent you want, so make sure you take your best one.

From the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing

“HERE is a voice to listen to! Moloney’s voice is as true as a voice can be. Concise, with the right details rendered perfectly, these sentences come to the reader with marvelous straightforwardness, clean as a bone.”–Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge meets The Mars Room in this powerfully unsentimental work of fiction–a portrait of nine lives behind the concrete walls of a New Hampshire jail.

David Moloney’s Barker House follows the story of nine unforgettable New Hampshire correctional officers over the course of one year on the job. While veteran guards get by on what they consider survival strategies–including sadistic power-mongering and obsessive voyeurism–two rookies, including the only female officer on her shift, develop their own tactics for facing “the system.”Tracking their subtly intertwined lives, Barker House reveals the precarious world of the jailers, coming to a head when the unexpected death of one in their ranks brings them together.

Timely and universal, this masterfully crafted debut adds a new layer to discussions of America’s criminal justice system, and introduces a brilliant young literary talent.

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2020 Debut Book Feature: Mimi Lee Gets a Clue, Jennifer J. Chow

Jennifer J. Chow writes multicultural mysteries and fantastical YA. Her Asian-American novels include the Sassy Cat mysteries, Winston Wong cozies, Dragonfly Dreams (a Teen Vogue pick)and The 228 Legacy.

She lives in Los Angeles, where she hunts for all things matcha.

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From the publisher, Berkley

Mimi Lee is in over her head. There’s her new Los Angeles pet grooming shop to run, her matchmaking mother to thwart, her talking cat Marshmallow to tend to—oh, and the murder of a local breeder to solve…now if only Mimi hadn’t landed herself on top of the suspect list. 

Mimi Lee hoped to give Los Angeles animal lovers something to talk about with her pet grooming shop, Hollywoof. She never imagined that the first cat she said hello to would talk back or be quite so, well, catty—especially about those disastrous dates Mimi’s mother keeps setting up. 

When Marshmallow exposes local breeder Russ Nolan for mistreating Chihuahuas, Mimi steals some of her cat’s attitude to tell Russ off. The next day the police show up at Hollywoof. Russ has been found dead, and Mimi’s shouting match with him has secured her top billing as the main suspect. 

Hoping to clear her name and save the pups Russ left behind, Mimi enlists help from her dreamy lawyer neighbor Josh. But even with Josh on board, it’ll take Mimi and Marshmallow a lot of sleuthing and more than a little sass to get back to the pet-grooming life—and off the murder scene.

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2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Sara Bond, Gravity’s Heir

Born and raised in Atlanta, Sara is a southern tall-tale teller with a terrible poker face. So, she writes fiction to better conceal the difference between truth and imagination. After dabbling in careers in academia, politics, and even a lucrative job in high-end fashion, she always found her way back to writing.

Sara lives with her husband and two children, who think communication is best achieved through volume, repetition, and pure conviction.

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Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Gravity’s Heir?

A: In the early 2000s there was a brilliant, short-lived science fiction show created by Joss Whedon, who also did Buffy, Angel, and the first two Avengers movies. That show, Firefly, was funny, heart-wrenching, and featured a small cast of characters who made their living on a decrepit old spaceship called Firefly. The show was about this very diverse group of characters who made a family and the challenges they faced as they made a living smuggling. As distant as the concept was, the show was incredibly relevant, because the characters dealt with over-reaching governments, unforgiving class structures, and lingering personal traumas. 

I’ve watched the show at least once a year since it released, and I really wanted to create my own story about a found family struggling to make ends meet and deal with their own internal demons while sailing amongst the stars. As my book found its footing, it veered into some unexpected directions, but at its core, it’s still a story about negotiating one’s own identity in a universe that may or may not be hostile to that journey.

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: Quite a bit. I wanted to have a war that threw my characters’ lives into upheaval, one that touched them personally and provided a huge existential threat. I wanted it to feel real and inevitable and deeply political. So I researched World War I, how it started, how the basic conflict spun out of control and threatened people’s entire concepts of who they were as members of communities, as citizens, and as people. I probably spent two or three months reading WWI histories and first-person accounts. While not all of the research made it into the final draft, it underlies most of the story.

I also wanted my science to be as real as possible, so I spent several months more learning about different theories of gravity, space time, and quantum mechanics. My system of flight is based on an idea of controlling gravitational forces in a precise way. There’s a little bit of hand-waving to bring the theories to life when there’s a lot we don’t understand about how gravity warps space around it, but I did my best to make it read real. I also had a friend with a background in physics check it over and confirm I wasn’t making too many mistakes. 

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: Currently like many Americans this month, I’m isolating at home with my family. I have two kids, a one-year-old daughter and a five-year old son. Learning how to homeschool and still keep an eye on the one-year old has been quite the challenge. There are a lot of breaks to enjoy the good weather outside, lots of Disney+ on rainy days, and we’re playing a lot of Uno, Yahtzee, and video games.

I’m also trying to step up my craft cocktail game. I run a blog series on my website where I pair book reviews with a carefully selected cocktail. Sometimes I go with traditional cocktails that help evoke a certain feel found in the book I’ve read. For others, I make up my own cocktail and name it just for the book. I enjoy the creativity of coming up with a drink that captures a certain character or mood, and I’ve been known to spend an entire week driving all over Atlanta to get just the right ingredient for a drink. It’s a lot of fun to combine my love of cocktails and love of great books. I’m trying to get through as many of the 2020 Debuts as I can, but with two kids, it’s sometimes a struggle.

When I can leave the house again, though, one of the first things I’m going to do is hit up a karaoke bar. I love singing, I love performing, and I love getting to make a fool out of myself on stage with my friends. I even have my own Spotify playlist where I collect new songs to sing, and while I don’t have the best voice, I make up for it with enthusiasm and unabashed enjoyment in the whole thing.

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: I like to write out in public, around people. My favorite place is a bar near my house, where I can post up with my laptop, a snack, and a cocktail. It gets super loud in there, and they even have a DJ who comes in to spin old school hip hop and dance music on Friday nights. Other people might find all of that too distracting, but I find it helps me focus on what is in front of me. All of the stimulus around me fades away, becomes white noise, and while I can step out of my groove to order another drink or answer yet another question that “Yes, I am working on a Friday. At a bar. No, I’m not distracted until I have to answer questions.” *pointed stare*, I am usually quite productive.

While I’ve been stuck at home with the kids, I’ve made do with some improvisations. I turn on a DJ set on Spotify and combine it with an ambient noise generator. My favorites include Coffitivity which provides coffee shop sounds, or Ambient Mixer. Ambient Mixer offers hundreds of background noises generated by users, and can be as general as a coffee shop or nightclub or as specific as The Gryffindor Common Room. Give me some noise to tune out, lower the lights, and give me a cocktail, and it’s almost like I’m out and about, getting words on the page.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

A: Though I had been thinking about the idea and researching elements of it for years, I actually started writing Gravity’s Heir in 2014, after my son was born. I finished a first draft about a year later, and started shopping it around to agents in 2016. In late 2016, I entered it into an online mentoring contest PitchWars. Though I didn’t get picked for the chance to work with one of the mentors, I did get some great feedback and gained a group of critique partners that worked with me to improve my book. Rather painfully, I deleted the first 50,000 words of my book and completely rewrote it.

When I finished again in late 2017, I started querying again, hoping for a literary agent with whom I could build a career. Though I got a lot of interest, I ultimately didn’t sign with anyone. After I exhausted my list of agents, I was ready to shelve the book and get to work on the next one. My critique partners refused to let me give up. They believed in my book and convinced me to try my luck with some small publishers who didn’t require representation. At the end of 2018, I queried about a dozen publishers, and got immediate interest. Within a few months, I had an offer with Black Rose Writing. They gave me an accelerated publication schedule, and within nine months, my book was out in the world. It was a crazy fast publication schedule, but it’s gorgeous, it’s done, and it’s not just on my shelf, it’s on others’ too!

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From the publisher, Black Rose Writing

“Legacy is nothing but history, if it doesn’t have a future.”

When her father threw her out, sacrificing his only living daughter for the good of his shipping conglomerate, Lena Lomasky swore she could make it on her own. But now she’s broke and desperate, and pride won’t fuel her spaceship. Her latest job is simple: carry a datastick of state secrets home to her father. The same man who cut her off without a cent. Whatever. She can do this. Pass the whiskey.

An ill-timed royal assassination ignites a war and Lena’s crew is blamed. When she thinks to use her cache of state secrets to save them, Lena discovers she’s actually smuggling the only known plans for her father’s invention: a gravity bomb that can vaporize entire cities.

Lena must decide: continue on and hope her father can design a defense to save millions of lives, or leverage the plans to save the only people who really matter.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Megan Walker, Lakeshire Park

Megan Walker was raised on a berry farm in Poplar Bluff, MO, where her imagination took her to times past and worlds away. While earning her degree in Early Childhood Education from Brigham Young University, she married her one true love and started a family. But her imaginings wouldn’t leave her alone, so she picked up a pen. And the rest is history. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and three children.

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Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Lakeshire Park?

A: I always hesitate to answer this question because my answer is so personal. We as a society generally shrink away from talking about child loss, but I actually started writing after a therapist told me to. My son Simon passed away at five months old, and I was dealing with the pain of bereavement mixed with PTSD, and struggling with sleep. After writing about Simon’s life, I wanted to escape to a world in my imagination. I wanted to write about a heroine who’d lost everything, whose circumstances seemed hopeless and were out of her control, so I could give her the world. And that’s how I met Amelia. 

Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?

A: Well the first thing I had to do was research how to write a book! I attended an awesome writing conference, made some incredible friends, and learned my craft. And because Lakeshire Park is a historical romance set in the Regency era, I spent countless hours studying dresses, hairstyles, forms of speech, titles, everything from curling papers to lip salves, and proper etiquette to what a lady could get away with during a parlor game. The reality of their lives is often a far stretch from what movies portray.

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: I have three living children who keep me busy! Currently we’re getting creative with our time home during COVID19. I love baking, which there never seems to be enough time for, and photography–so cliche, I know. But when you capture the light just right…I have so many pictures of my kids!!

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: Right now it’s scattered. Usually I write in the late evening hours when my house is quiet. I’m hoping to get better at waking up early to write before my kids wake up. But with my 9 month old Henry, that seems impossible. Plus, I love my bed too much. My best writing actually comes by using the Google Docs app on my phone. I steal minutes cuddling my kids when they’re watching tv, or after rocking Henry to sleep.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

A: I couldn’t have made it without my critique partners who are all amazing writers (Arlem Hawks, Joanna Barker, Heidi Kimball, and Sally Britton). They taught me how to be a better writer and a better human, and they gave me tips on where to start after I finished my first draft. It takes a village. I’m lucky to have such a supportive one. We talk every day.

But I ultimately got to pick between two wonderful publishers, and I think Lakeshire Park fits perfectly with Shadow Mountain. 

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From the publisher, Shadow Mountain:

Brighton, England 1820 Amelia Moore wants only one thing–to secure the future happiness of her younger sister, Clara. With their stepfather’s looming death, the two sisters will soon be on their own–without family, a home, or a penny to their names. When an invitation arrives to join a house party at Lakeshire Park, Amelia grasps at the chance. If she can encourage a match between Clara and their host, Sir Ronald, then at least her sister will be taken care of.  

Little does she know that another guest, the arrogant and overconfident Mr. Peter Wood, is after the same goal for his own sister. Amelia and Peter begin a rivalry that Amelia has no choice but to win. But competing against Peter–and eventually playing by his rules–makes Amelia vulnerable to losing the only thing she has left to claim: her heart.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Rashi Rohatgi, Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow

In an attempt to help some of my fellow 2020 debut authors who have had book launches and events cancelled because of the coronavirus, I am featuring several of them and their books over the coming weeks and months. The hope and intent is to help build awareness for new authors and their titles releasing this year. Up today, Rashi Rohatgi and her novel, Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow.

Rashi lives in Norway with her partner and son. When she’s not writing, reading, or teaching, you can find her at one of the glorious Arctic beaches she insists are perfect in any weather.

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From the publisher, Galaxy Galloper Press

It’s 1905, and the Japanese victory over the Russians has shocked the British and their imperial subjects. Sixteen-year-old Leela and her younger sister, Maya, are spurred on to wear homespun to show the British that the Indians won’t be oppressed for much longer, either, but when Leela’s betrothed, Nash, asks her to circulate a petition amongst her classmates to desegregate the girls’ school in Chadrapur, she’s wary. She needs to remind Maya that the old ways are not all bad, for soon Maya will have to join her own betrothed and his family in their quiet village. When she discovers that Maya has embarked on a forbidden romance, Leela’s response shocks her family, her town, and her country firmly into the new century.

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Author Interview

Q: What inspired you to write Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow?

A: Where the Sun Will Rise Tomorrow is the story of a girl’s estrangement from her community, and the extreme consequences that has. Growing up in Pennsylvania, we were often encouraged to leave town in two ways: firstly, by people telling us to ‘go home’ (because we didn’t look the part) but also by well-intentioned people suggesting that once we left our small town we’d find where we ‘truly belonged.’ Both were extremely frustrating, and when I returned to my hometown as an adult to teach at a local university and saw that this two-fold refrain was still going strong, I felt moved to write about it. I’d spent the past several years in London, where the news had recently been dominated by three young women who’d left school to join ISIS, and so overall I really wanted to write about what it means to be a teenage girl about to leave. Leela and Maya aren’t based on specific people per se, but Leela is a little bit based on Beyoncé’s ‘Becky with the good hair.’  

Q: Did you have to do any special or particular research for this book?

A: The novel is set in a fictionalized version of my mother’s hometown and so I did a lot of the research before I conceived of the novel, just out of personal interest. When I sat down to write, I realize I’d never talked to my mom about turn-of-the-century Patna, and so I called and asked her and found she’d never learned about it in school. I’m not sure why I was surprised – at this very time in my life, my husband was writing a book about an author who’d gone to the same small school I attended and while we’d spent a lot of time on local history in grade school she hadn’t made it onto the syllabus at all – but it made me want to include the characters’ thoughts about how and what they’d teach their pasts and their present. I was also a bit surprised by how much research I felt compelled to do to write a novel that does not purport to be historically accurate. If Leela was alone somewhere she’d never have been left alone in 1905, I still wanted that anachronistic experience to sound right, smell right, feel right. 

Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

A: I teach world literature in English in Arctic Norway. Like many other colleges and universities around the world, my workplace has gone fully online for the rest of the semester, so I’ve recently spent a lot of time getting my courses up and running. I don’t mind working online, but I already miss the rewards of campus life – particularly unplanned conversations. On the other hand, like many other parents, I’m getting to spend a lot more time having unplanned conversations with my kid and I’m not going to lie, I think he’s great. He’s not old enough to care about WHERE THE SUN WILL RISE TOMORROW, but he’s got great taste in picture books. Recently, he’s gotten really into The Story Orchestra’s Swan Lake. Jessica Courtney Tickle’s drawn the story with a diverse cast, which I appreciate. So now we spend about three hours a day listening to it and dancing along and discussing whether or not Odette should have forgiven Siegfried for dancing with the nefarious imposter.

Q: What does your writing routine look like?

A: Right now it’s fallen apart! WHERE THE SUN WILL RISE TOMORROW centers, in part, on Leela’s desire to have a conventional life at a time when global events are destabilising conventions in her corner of the world. She’s living in the aftermath of her mother’s death, but also the death of her boyfriend’s sisters, to what in real life is known as the Bombay plague epidemic of the 1890s; when the British started using really intrusive methods to block the spread of the plague, lots of Indians were furious and ten years later, when the novel takes place, that revolutionary spirit is still alive. Today most of us are not colonial subjects, and I hope we’re all helping to flatten the curve. Yet I hope that we are furious at the systems we have in place in the USA that make this pandemic particularly awful for Americans: lack of universal healthcare, lack of worker protections, and politicians who are more passionate about their investments than their constituents, and I hope that in ten years – when, with any luck, I will have a writing routine again – we have channeled our anger into positive change. 

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

A: Living in Europe, I’d gotten very into reading novellas, which are more widely published there. As I revised my novel drafts, I found myself making the story shorter and shorter – if anyone’s interested, I can tell them what happens to Leela and her descendants for the next 100 years, but ultimately it wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. But as an American, I wanted a US publisher. When I found out that Galaxy Galloper was trying to bring novella culture to the States, I jumped at the chance and applied for their contest.