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. 

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Tracey Enerson Wood, The Engineer’s Wife

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, Tracey Enerson Wood and her novel, The Engineer’s Wife. Release date April 7th, 2020.

Tracey Enerson Wood has always had a writing bug. While working as a Registered Nurse, starting her own Interior Design company, raising two children, and bouncing around the world as a military wife, she indulged in her passion as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She has authored magazine columns and other non-fiction, written and directed plays of all lengths, including Grits, Fleas and Carrots, Rocks and Other Hard Places, Alone, and Fog. A New Jersey native, she now lives with her family in Florida and Germany.

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Reviews and Praise for The Engineer’s Wife

“Well-researched with great attention to detail, The Engineer’s Wife is based on the true story about the exceptional woman who was tasked to build the Brooklyn Bridge. Though the great bridge would connect a city, it would also cause division and great loss for many. Tracey Enerson Wood delivers an absorbing and poignant tale of struggle, self-sacrifice and the family transformed by the building of the legendary American landmark during the volatile time of women’s suffrage, riots and corruption. A triumphant debut not to be missed!” – Kim Michele Richardson, bestselling author of The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

“The Engineer’s Wife is just the sort of novel I love and-I hope-write. Against all odds, a dynamic, historic woman builds a monument and changes history as she and her surrounding cast leap off the page. What a life and what a beautifully written and inspiring story! ” – Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of The Queen’s Secret

“This important work of historical fiction brings to life the strength and resolve of a nineteenth-century woman overshadowed by men and overlooked by history books.” – Booklist

“Wood’s satisfying historical feels true to its era yet powerfully relevant to women’s lives today.” – Publishers Weekly

From the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark

She built a monument for all time. Then she was lost in its shadow.

Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally—she knows who she is and what she wants, and she’s determined to make change. But then her husband Wash asks the unthinkable: give up her dreams to make his possible.

Emily’s fight for women’s suffrage is put on hold, and her life transformed when Wash, the Chief Engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash’s vision becomes her own, and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily’s direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building—hers, or her husband’s. As the monument rises, Emily’s marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it?

Based on the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Engineer’s Wife delivers an emotional portrait of a woman transformed by a project of unfathomable scale, which takes her into the bowels of the East River, suffragette riots, the halls of Manhattan’s elite, and the heady, freewheeling temptations of P.T. Barnum. It’s the story of a husband and wife determined to build something that lasts—even at the risk of losing each other.

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Mini Interview with Tracey Enerson Wood

Q: What inspired you to write The Engineer’s Wife?

A: Some years ago, I was writing theatrical plays, and had a concept in need of a story. Coming from a multi-generational military family, the theme I wanted to explore was: What family dynamics are in play, when the very occupation that sustains them, and binds them together, may also kill them?

I wanted to write a fictionalized version of a real family, from the female perspective, and wanted to stray from the well-worn path of military and war. In my research, I discovered the Roebling family, and most especially, Emily Warren Roebling. 

I was immediately fascinated by this woman, and the times she lived in. Her pluck, bravery, and sheer determination, in the midst of an enormous task that was destroying her beloved family, was irresistible. I was driven to write her story.

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

A: Not knowing much about bridge construction, I had a steep learning curve there. I also dove deep into the era, the fashion, politics, current events, and of course New York City history of the time. Having had an excellent college course in Women‘s Studies, which delved into issues such as how fashion affected women‘s progress, I knew this had to be included. And so much more-the history of suffrage, of P.T. Barnum, the Civil War experiences of my historical characters. I looked up the etymology of many words to ensure they were in use at the time, and that the meaning was the same as today. I had to make sure every business and product mentioned was around at the time.

Luckily for me, I grew up in the surrounding area, so at least the geographic features, flora and fauna were familiar to me.

2020 Debut Book Feature and Author Interview: Jennifer Rosner, The Yellow Bird Sings

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, Jennifer Rosner and her book, The Yellow Bird Sings.

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Praise for The Yellow Bird Sings

“Desperately moving and exquisitely written. If you only read one book this year, make it The Yellow Bird Sings. A beautiful story with achingly memorable characters, for me Jennifer Rosner’s novel stands alongside The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Code Name Verity as one of those profoundly special World War Two novels you know you will never forget.”
–AJ Pearce, author of Dear Mrs Bird

“Music and love course through this beautiful novel, twin rivers of wonder. The Yellow Bird Sings is a powerful hymn to the resilience and determination of a mother’s love in the face of the inhuman horrors of war. Jennifer Rosner has written a book that will break your heart, and then put it back together again, a little larger than before.”
–Alex George, author of the #1 Indie Next pick A Good American

The Yellow Bird Sings is a beautiful book in so many ways. Like Shira’s imaginary bird, Jennifer Rosner’s prose is lilting and musical, yet her tale of war’s grave personal reality is gripping, heartrending, and so very real. Told beneath an overarching sky of the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter, this is a story readers will continue to ponder long afterward.”
–Lisa Wingate, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours and Before and After

Room meets Schindler’s List in The Yellow Bird Sings, a beautifully written tale of mothers and daughters, war and love, the music of the living and the silence of the dead. Jennifer Rosner is a writer to watch.”
–Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network

“Imagine a mother hiding in fear of her life.  Then imagine she is also hiding her lively daughter whose smallest sound may betray them. With wonderful tenderness and imagination, Jennifer Rosner evokes the dangers Roza and Shira face and how, in the midst of those dangers, love and music survive.  A brilliant and transporting novel.”
–Margot Livesey, New York Times bestselling author of Mercury and The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Yellow Bird Sings is a captivating novel about the power of music, the human voice and what we sacrifice in order to survive extraordinary circumstances. Absolutely riveting.”
–Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty and No One is Here Except All of Us

From the publisher, Flatiron Books

In Poland, as World War II rages, a mother hides with her young daughter, a musical prodigy whose slightest sound may cost them their lives.

As Nazi soldiers round up the Jews in their town, Róza and her 5-year-old daughter, Shira, flee, seeking shelter in a neighbor’s barn. Hidden in the hayloft day and night, Shira struggles to stay still and quiet, as music pulses through her and the farmyard outside beckons. To soothe her daughter and pass the time, Róza tells her a story about a girl in an enchanted garden:

The girl is forbidden from making a sound, so the yellow bird sings. He sings whatever the girl composes in her head: high-pitched trills of piccolo; low-throated growls of contrabassoon. Music helps the flowers bloom.

In this make-believe world, Róza can shield Shira from the horrors that surround them. But the day comes when their haven is no longer safe, and Róza must make an impossible choice: whether to keep Shira by her side or give her the chance to survive apart.

Inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during World War II, Jennifer Rosner’s debut is a breathtaking novel about the unbreakable bond between a mother and a daughter. Beautiful and riveting, The Yellow Bird Sings is a testament to the triumph of hope―a whispered story, a bird’s song―in even the darkest of times.

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Interview with the author.

Interview was conducted by, and originally posted at www.sissireads.com. Reposted with permission granted from Sissi Reads via the author Jennifer Rosner.

Q: The Yellow Bird Sings is your debut novel, following on the heels of your memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard, about raising two deaf daughters in a hearing, speaking world. How was the process of writing a novel different from writing about your own experiences?

A: My memoir-writing began as a way to process my feelings, thoughts, and experiences as a mother raising our girls. It was—obviously!—deeply personal; it was creative, too, and demanded my imaginings of the lives of my deaf ancestors in the 1800s.  The Yellow Bird Sings is wholly fictional, yet I identified very closely with both Roza and Shira (especially their longings for connection), and felt tied to the yellow bird and to the music running through the work. Writing fiction and writing memoir bring different freedoms and different constraints. For me, both tapped into personal material and were extremely nourishing to write. 

Q: In your novel, a mother and daughter struggle to survive in wartime Poland. What drew you to this time in history, and these characters in particular?

A: Years ago I met a woman who, as a child, hid with her mother during WWII. Her story stuck with me; I became fascinated by the notion of a child’s hiding (and also: a mother’s challenge, keeping her child hidden). I began interviewing other “hidden children” of the Holocaust, amazed by their resilience and ingenuity. My novel project grew from there.

Q: What inspired you to include the “character” of the yellow bird in your story?

A: As a mother of two children, I’ve been well-versed in the world of attachment objects (special stuffed animals, blankets) and of “imaginary friends.” My eldest daughter had three such “friends” who would often pop up while she played on the swings. One day I heard of a little girl who, in response to a trauma, ceased speaking and cupped her hands around empty air. I imagined that the girl conjured a pet bird to soothe herself. The image stuck with me. When Shira’s character began to form, having a little bird to bring comfort and to sing her music felt right.

The yellow bird expanded my writing process too. It provided me a device for deeper sub-textual expression and for the introduction of certain magical elements.

Some readers express uncertainty as to whether the yellow bird is “real”—I think this is because Shira conjures him so richly in her imagination, and the stories her mother tells validate Shira’s imagination, and her coping strategies.

Q: This story, written from the perspectives of Roza and Shira, is about the deep love and unbreakable bond between a mother and a child. What was the most difficult part in writing it?

A: The most difficult part in writing had to do with the content of certain scenes; these were challenging because of the terror and pain involved. I had less difficulty inhabiting each character’s perspective (mother and daughter), as I felt deeply identified with both. At the heart of the story is a profound longing for closeness, and I have personal roots to this. As a child I longed for a steady closeness with my mother; but for various reasons my mother could be present to me only intermittently. When I became a mother myself, I was determined to be steadfastly attentive and bonded to my daughters (especially in light of what I’d longed for and missed). So, in a visceral way, I understood the basic need of both Shira and Roza to stay connected throughout.

Q: While I was reading it, it felt like music was another character in Shira and Roza’s story. Why music and why did it play such an instrumental part in this book?

A: From my extensive reading and research, I came to believe that creativity (and the recognition of beauty wherever it could be found) was a key to survival in hiding. In the face of crushing silence and the absolute need to vanish, music—even if never expressed aloud—asserted an aspect of one’s experience, one’s expression, that could not be stolen, silenced, or stopped.

On a more personal note, my childhood was marked daily by the sound of my father practicing the violin. I studied voice (opera, specifically). My mother loved to listen to me sing; she was at her most attentive then. I grew up steeped in the transportive, connective power of music, so it seemed natural for Shira to be musical, for her to connect with Roza through music, and for music to play a role in connecting them even when apart.

Q: What are some of your favorite books?

A: Some recent ones:

  • Lila by Marilynne Robinson – because she renders the ordinary extraordinary and makes even the quietest moments sing.
  • All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – because with his amazing word choices, he makes language new.
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison – because she showed that magic, woven into reality, shakes loose fresh truth.

Q: Do you have any special writing rituals? Snacks? Playlists?

A: Tea and chocolate. Tea and chocolate. Tea and chocolate…..

Q: What’s up next for you?

A: I’m at work on a new novel!  It’s at the earliest stages—exciting and also daunting. All I can say for now is, it’s taking the form of a fable, and it is about truth-telling, rising waters, and a girl trying to find home.

2020 Debut Book Feature: Nicole Mabry, Past this Point

In an attempt to help some of my fellow 2020 debut authors, I will be 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. First up is Nicole Mabry, author of Past this Point.

Nicole Mabry is an award winning photographer, retoucher, and writer who lives in New York City. She manages photography post production at NBCUniversal, working on USA Network, Syfy and Bravo. Nicole’s photography has graced the covers of books internationally and has been featured in shows throughout the city. Nicole is an animal lover, avid book reader and horror movie junkie. Her love of the macabre led her to write Past This Point, an apocalyptic women’s fiction novel.

Connect with Nicole:
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Reviews and Praise for

Past this Point

“Past This Point is realistic and terrifying, sad and rewarding. Pour yourself a glass of wine and snuggle up in front of a cozy fire and prepare to read this perfectly chilling novel from cover to cover in one sitting. You absolutely can’t put Nicole Mabry’s book down!” –Indies Today

“What an incredible story. It is truly a hidden gem and needs to be more widely read.” –Wine Cellar Library

“Engaging and profoundly riveting.” – R.C. Gibson, Editorial Reviewer

“The best book I have read in a long, long time.” – Steve Quade, Editorial Reviewer

“I loved this book, it was emotional and heart-poundingly thrilling. This is in my top three for apocalyptic genre along with Z for Zachariah and The Wolf Road.” —Hannah’s Words

From the Publisher, Red Adept Publishing

Karis Hylen has been through the New York City dating wringer. After years of failed relationships, she abandons her social life and whittles her days down to work and spending time with her dog, Zeke. Her self-imposed exile ends up saving her life when an untreatable virus sweeps the east coast, killing millions.Alone in her apartment building, Karis survives with only Zeke, phone calls to her mom, and conversations with two young girls living across the courtyard. With the city in a state of martial law, violence and the smell of rotting corpses surround her every day. But her biggest enemy is her own mind. As cabin fever sets in, vivid hallucinations make her question her sanity. In addition to her dwindling food and water stash, Karis must now struggle to keep her mind in check. When a mysterious man enters the scene, she hopes she can convince him to help her make it to the quarantine border. With the world crumbling around her, Karis discovers her inner strength but may find that she needs people after all.

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