Sunday, May 20, 2018

Q&A with Adam Garnet Jones

Adam Garnet Jones, photo by Jalani Morgan
Adam Garnet Jones is the author of the new young adult novel Fire Song, which is an adaptation of his film of the same name. His other projects include the film Great Great Great. He lives in Toronto.

Q: Why did you decide to turn your film Fire Song into a young adult novel?

A: I was always too much in awe of novelists to ever imagine myself as a "real" writer. Somehow it was easier to work in the world of film, where I could gather people together to tell stories using a vehicle that drew attention toward someone else. In film, the actors are always so much more visible than the writer or the director.

But after finishing the film Fire Song, I was approached by Annick Press to discuss the possibility of adaptation. I figured that if I ever wanted to be brave and take that step toward writing prose, I would never have a more perfect opportunity.

What I had to figure out for myself was, what would a reader gain from the book that they wouldn't gain from the film? The answer I found was that the medium of fiction is by its very nature a deeply interior experience.

In the film you see Shane dealing with the trials of his life, and the performances hint at a level of interiority, but the book really gave me the opportunity to put the reader inside his head, as well as inside the story. 

Q: How similar are the film and the novel, and which was more challenging to work on?

A: The film and the book are quite similar, although there were some key edits that had to be made in order to focus the story on Shane's perspective without losing Tara. One of the great opportunities I had with the book was to give Tara more of a voice via her diaries and poetry. I loved getting to think about her in a different way and write her point of view. 

Q: How did you come up with your character Shane, and what do you hope readers take away from his story?

A: It was important for me that Shane be someone who does well in school, with some loving people in his life and who is seen as a bright light in the community.

Since the story is one where the main character is brought to the brink, but is ultimately able to save himself, I had to have a central with a long way to fall within the story, but someone who also has a core of strength and resilience. 

Q: Who are some of your favorite writers?

A: There are so many! I love James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Ursula Le Guin, Richard Van Camp, Cherie Dimaline, Jennifer Egan, Eden Robinson, Thomas King.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a new film script about a group of teenaged boys who murder their fathers. It might become a book instead, though!

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I will soon be taking a break from filmmaking to become a Content Analyst and Indigenous Liaison with Telefilm Canada. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 20

May 20, 1799: Honoré de Balzac born.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Q&A with Gloria Chao

Gloria Chao is the author of the new young adult novel American Panda. She has worked as a dentist, and she's based in Chicago.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for American Panda, and for your main character, Mei?

A: I wanted to write the book I needed as a teen, and a book that would help Asian Americans feels seen. I hoped American Panda would show readers that they aren’t alone, that it’s okay to not feel wholly one thing or another, and that cultural gaps can be difficult.

For Mei, I wanted a conflicted, awkward teen struggling with her identity, and who loved her parents and culture even though she also had a hard time with them. She needed to be someone who was relatable to many in feeling out of place, but also specific enough to show a window into another experience.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: When I set out to write this novel, I knew each character’s arc and how things would and wouldn’t be resolved at the end. My goal was always to write a realistic but hopeful ending that reflected my life experiences and the experiences of friends and family.

Q: How does your previous career as a dentist inform your writing?

A: I try to use my past to write interesting scenes. For example, American Panda has a scene in a gross anatomy lab and a few scenes in the health center. It’s not common knowledge what a gross anatomy lab smells like, so I was honored to be able to inform everyone that it smells like Fritos.

Q: Which authors have inspired you?

A: I am inspired by the YA POC authors who unapologetically write their stories despite the extra hurdles they have to face to get them published.

There are too many to list, but just to name a few, I’m inspired by Angie Thomas, Zoraida Córdova, Adam Silvera, Jenny Han, Cindy Pon, and Ellen Oh. Also, Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star have such fabulous voices that inspired my writing.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Misaligned will be released fall 2019 with Simon Pulse, and the book follows a teen outcast, Ali, who is the only Asian in her small, predominantly white Midwestern town.

The book explores racism and prejudice, and when another Asian family moves to town, everyone believes Ali and the other Chinese boy belong together. Despite her initial resistance, she begins falling for him, the one who understands her in a way no one else can, only to learn that her mother forbids them from being together.

As Ali searches for the reasoning behind her mother’s disapproval, she unearths dark family secrets that threaten her future.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Keep writing, everyone! Dreams do come true, and I’m proof that you don’t need to know people in the business, have an MFA, or grow up knowing you wanted to be a writer. If you love it, it’s worth the rejection and the time. You got this!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 19

May 19, 1930: Lorraine Hansberry born.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Q&A with Solange Ritchie

Solange Ritchie is the author of the new novel Firestorm, the second book featuring her character Dr. Catherine "Cat" Powers. Ritchie also has written the novel The Burning Man. An attorney, she lives in South Florida.

Q. How did you come up with your character Dr. Cat Powers and the idea for your new novel Firestorm?

A: I read quite a bit in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. I got tired of reading about lead characters—all men, who often were either “gumshoe” detective types or ex-Navy SEALs.

I longed for a strong female lead—a woman who was an intelligent risktaker, a crusader for justice, and an ass-kicker if need be, but also who had with real work-life challenges such as raising a young son pretty much on her own. That’s the genesis of Cat.

I came up with the story line for Firestorm, having lived through several wildfires in California. I vividly remember the Laguna Beach Fire, which came close to wiping out my house. All that saved it and halted the fire from coming further was a golf course where sprinklers had been left running.

The arsonist in Firestorm is based on a lot of research and, to some extent, on real-life cases.

Q: Did you know when you wrote the first book about Cat that you would be writing more about her?

A: I didn’t want The Burning Man to have a typical conclusion: good cop gets bad guy. End of story. This kind of ending is neither interesting nor original. I wanted the reader to finish The Burning Man saying, “I want more” so that the story of Cat, her son Joey, and the criminal known as The Burning Man had to continue and come to some sort of fruition in a second novel.

Also, there was much more to Cat and Joey’s relationship that needed to be revealed, as well her own internal doubts and questions about the job she is doing.

Every law enforcement professional at some point in his or her career wonders, “Is what I am doing good enough?” “Am I up for this task today?” Cat deals with these kinds of internal questions, which in turn leads to more adventures and more novels.

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

A: I always have a beginning scene and an ending scene in my head before I start to write. And before I start to write I do a ton of research. For Firestorm, my research binder was thicker than the novel.

The middle of a novel is where I develop the plot. I follow a rough formula as for where and when high points in the story line will occur. As a trial lawyer, I have heard and presented so many stories of injustice in court that I know instinctually where the high points should be.

Once I have a first draft, which I write straight through without editing, then the redrafting takes place. Sometimes, this is where changes are made.

Q: Who are some of your favorite authors?

A: I read all types of genres. I am into Jonathan Maberry and Stephen King for my horror fix. For a thriller fix, I look to David Baldacci, Catherine Coulter, Vince Flynn, J. A. Jance, Charles Todd, and Jeffery Deaver. I also love Michael Connelly. I’m not much into romance novels, although I do believe love can conquer all.

I minored in Japanese and Chinese politics as an undergraduate before attending law school, so novelists such as Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha) and Mineko Iwasaki (Geisha, A Life) are also favorites.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on drafts of books three and four in the Dr. Cat Powers series.

In the third novel, which is set in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, Cat takes on a dirty international law firm dealing in sex trafficking, illicit drug trade, and the like. It draws on my extensive knowledge as a trial lawyer.

In the fourth novel, which is more of a political thriller, Cat chases down a team of international terrorist bombers who are spreading mayhem across the United States. It promises to have an explosive ending.

I also just started a horror novel, since many people have commented that The Burning Man and Firestorm push noir fiction to its limit.

I grew up in Jamaica where there is a rich cultural belief in the supernatural and “things that go bump in the night.” I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that an object can take on evil and that as the object is passed along from one owner to the next, the evil can follow and even grow in strength.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It is important to me that readers see Dr. Cat Powers as a character who embodies women’s self-empowerment. In a genre that often portrays women as victims and femme fatales, I want Cat to represent more.

In this era where women are finally speaking up about sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, I hope her character empowers women to stand up for justice and themselves. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

May 18

May 18, 1902: Meredith Willson born.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Q&A with Gary Krist

Gary Krist is the author of the new book The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles. His other books include City of Scoundrels and Empire of Sin. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Q: Why did you choose to focus on early 20th-century Los Angeles in your new book?

A: I see The Mirage Factory as the third in a trilogy of city books I’ve written for Crown, after City of Scoundrels (about Chicago) and Empire of Sin (about New Orleans).

It’s been fascinating to explore how each city has grown and developed over time, each one coping with similar issues but in different ways, depending on the particular people and circumstances in each place.

What intrigued me most about Los Angeles was the fact that this remarkable urban entity grew up in a place where no city should logically be.

The site was too dry, too far from natural resources and potential markets; it was also isolated by deserts and mountain ranges and without a good deep-water port. And yet it grew from a largely agricultural town of 100,000 in 1900 to a major metropolis of 1.2 million by 1930.

That feat required imagination, not to mention some really unorthodox tactics (including plenty of deceptive advertising), and that’s the story I wanted to tell.

Q: In the book, you look at three people: William Mulholland, D.W. Griffith, and Aimee Semple McPherson. Why did you select them, and do you see them as having anything in common?

A: I seem them as representatives of the three major factors that allowed L.A. to pull off its growth trick.

Mulholland made it possible for a major urban center to develop in this arid land by imagining and then building a technological wonder—the Los Angeles Aqueduct—to bring water from a distant part of the state.

Meanwhile, the city was limited by a lack of heavy industry, but then a brand-new industry was more or less invented—the movie business. D.W. Griffith was the artist most responsible for turning what had been a vaudeville house novelty into a major money-making and job-creating industry.

And evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson helped to establish the ethos of the city as a place of unorthodox spirituality and unconventional lifestyles—an ethos that drew visitors and would-be residents from other parts of the country in droves.

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

A: I naturally spent an enormous amount of time out in Los Angeles, going through archives and libraries, talking to local historians, and just getting to know the geography and the spirit of the place.

One thing that surprised me is how relatively homogenous L.A.’s population was in the early decades of the 20th century, compared to that of other American cities. Given its current identity as a rich multicultural center, I was surprised that the L.A. of the 1910s, for instance, still lacked large Latino, Asian, and African American populations.

That changed, of course, over the 1920s and 1930s, and especially during and after World War II. But until the 1920s, the city was drawing new residents largely from the white populations of the Midwestern and Eastern states.

Q: You've also studied New Orleans and Chicago. How would you compare the three in terms of their development during this period?

A: Chicago was at the opposite end of the spectrum in this era, with huge populations of foreign immigrants from Europe and African Americans from the South.

Its growth spurt happened several decades earlier than that of Los Angeles, mainly because it had all of the urban growth factors that L.A. lacked—a strategic location for trade, proximity to natural resources, mature industries, etc.

New Orleans, on the other hand, was another sui generis city, much older, with a French, Spanish, and Caribbean history that created a unique urban environment.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m just beginning to cast around for my next topic, but I have to say that my curiosity about San Francisco has been piqued by all of the time I’ve spent in California recently.

Talk about another unique city! Thanks to the 1848 gold rush, San Francisco developed much earlier than Los Angeles, but it had to watch its rival to the south surpass it in population and importance in the early 20th century.

I’m not sure yet that I’ve got another big city book in me, but I’m seriously considering turning that trilogy of city books into a quartet.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’ve been amazed at how many people—even people who live in L.A.!—seem to think that the city has no history of any significance, that it sprang up fully formed as an entertainment and cultural capital sometime during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Granted, L.A.’s history is compressed into a shorter time period than that of most cities, but there’s no shortage of really remarkable stories to tell. I hope I’ve done justice to a few of the important ones in The Mirage Factory.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Gary Krist.