Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Q&A with Miranda Paul

Miranda Paul is the author of the new children's picture book Are We Pears Yet?. Her other books include One Plastic Bag and Water Is Water. She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Are We Pears Yet?, and did you need to do any research to write this book?

A: I wrote Are We Pears Yet? several years ago. My husband and I were prepping our children for an upcoming 2,000-mile road trip. One day, while waiting to pick up my daughter, my son kept expressing his impatience. Why did we have to wait SO VERY LONG for her to come out? (We were only in the car for 10-15 minutes, by the way). I worried we’d never make it through a 15-day trip.

So I injected humor into the situation. I said, “Are we there yet?” wouldn’t be allowed on our trip. Then I began brainstorming acceptable alternatives. “Are we bears yet? Are we chairs yet? Are we pears yet?” I suggested. He giggled.

I realized there might be a book idea in that last one, and began making up a story on the drive home. Once I’d written the book and revised it, I’m happy to say my agent and editor loved it immediately.

My editor Neal Porter even wrote, “Soooo....Having just told an author that among the inanimate objects that should never talk are fruits and vegetable, I'm ready to break my rule.” It’s fun to break rules.

Although that all sounds so rosy, I did do a fair amount of research (thanks for asking!). I had to learn how long it would take a pear seed to grow into a tree, for starters. Since most pears these days are grafted, I included that in the author’s note along with facts about pears in the back matter.

Since illustrations proved a special challenge for this kind of book, the text did change from the original submission. I have a newfound appreciation for pears of all kinds now!

Q: Who do you see as the perfect audience for this book, and what do you hope kids take away from the story?

A: The “pear”fect audience? Kids who love theatre or acting, or humorous picture books. It’s also useful for teachers in grades K-3 who teach about plant growth and life cycles.

In addition to the science connections, there are the underlying themes of patience and tolerance. The two pear seeds are not alike, but must learn to get along and they eventually become a pair of friends. I like my books to be well-rounded. (Ha! “Pair” of friends! Well-rounded!)

Q: What do you think Carin Berger's illustrations added to the book?

A: Carin Berger is incredible. An artist in the true sense of having a vision and executing it with style. This book wouldn’t be set on a literal stage without her vision and diligence. Imagine cutting out dozens of tiny little shoes and buttons, etc. All of the art in Are We Pears Yet? is three-dimensional and the shadow boxes were staged, lit, and photographed.

I know humorous books (especially with an educational tie-in) aren’t always looked at for awards, but I hope that people will look at the art and realize what a production it is. What an extraordinary model for children to study!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: My husband, Baptiste Paul, and I recently completed a book that includes 14 extraordinary stories of children around the world who have a very interesting journey to get to school. It's called Adventures to School, and it's scheduled to come out May 1, 2018. 

I just saw final art from Paige Kaiser for a book called Mia Moves Out. It’s about a girl who outgrows a shared room with her little brother. It will be published in Fall 2018 from Knopf Children’s at Penguin Random House. And it’s just adorable and sweet!

I’m also in final stages for two 2019 nonfiction books—one called I Am Farmer, co-written with Baptiste Paul and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon (Lerner), and a book called Nine Months with Jason Chin (Neal Porter Books).

Now that I put it all out there, it seems like a lot of projects! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love making books for children, and it keeps me focused in a world full of unhealthy distraction.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes! First of all, thank you to anyone who reads or shares my books, or gives me feedback on how they are used in the classroom. I am grateful for all the support and encouragement as well as all forms of feedback.

I’d also like to let educators know that there are many resources for librarians, teachers, and homeschooling parents on my website. From science and social studies activities to new vocabulary quizlets, there are dozens of ways for students in PreK-grade 5 to interact with my books. Those resources are online at www.mirandapaul.com/for-teachers.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Miranda Paul.

Q&A with Jan English Leary

Jan English Leary is the author of the new story collection Skating on the Vertical. She also has written the novel Thicker Than Blood, and her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Pleiades and The Literary Review. She lives in Chicago.

Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Skating on the Vertical, and do you see common themes running through them?

A: These stories were written over nearly 20 years. I’ve revised them, of course, but they represent years of my development as a writer. Common themes would be family harmony vs. dysfunction, maternity vs. infertility, intimacy vs. isolation.

Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories appear in the collection?

A: I had a sense of which stories should anchor the collection at the beginning and the end, so I placed them before the others. Then I tried to vary the length and to avoid placing similar themes and ages of main characters too close together.

I wish I had a clearer reason for the order. It was mostly a sense of trying to balance them. When I open a collection, I rarely read straight through, so I figured the order wasn’t a magic puzzle I had to figure out. I’m sure someone else might order them differently.

Q: How did you choose the book's title, which is also the title of one of the stories?

A: I knew I wanted a title of one of the stories. I considered several different stories before landing on this one. For a long time, the collection contained a story, “Frequent Losers,” that was going to be the title, but then I removed it from the collection and rewrote it as a chapter in my novel, so I had to find a new title.

I toyed with calling it Eunuchs because I like that story a lot, but Marc Estrin at Fomite didn’t think it reflected the collection as a whole. And he was right. I realized that Skating on the Vertical gives a sense of disequilibrium that speaks for the whole collection.

By the way, my husband painted the cover image. I told him I wanted something that conveyed verticality and instability, and he came up with the painting that I really love. I am glad he didn’t have to figure out what to do for Eunuchs.

Q: The stories vary in length. Do you have a preference?

A: For a long time, my stories ran just around 15 pages. During my MFA program, I became interested in flash fiction. Those very short stories tend to be my more experimental ones. The stories I’ve written in the past few years have tended to be longer. I have no preference. The story pretty much dictates its own length.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am working on a novel with two points of view of two young women who grow up in the same rural college town. They exist on parallel tracks due to social class, but their lives intersect over a shared experience.

I am interested in the ways by which two people can grow up in the same small town but because of income and family expectations, their lives take very different paths. It’s a novel about forgiveness and what constitutes home and family.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It’s kind of a personal mission to be a champion of the short story because I feel the form isn’t given its due. In MFA programs, they are tacitly seen as the starter form for beginners whereas the novel is for the big kids. So wrong.

I put Munro, Chekhov, Beattie, Cheever, Dybek, Eisenberg, Barrett, O’Connor (Flannery and Frank), Welty, and Mansfield on the same level as the great novelists. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Laurence Westreich

Laurence Westreich is the author of the new book A Parent's Guide to Teen Addiction. He is an addiction psychiatrist, and he also has written the book Helping the Addict You Love. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Q: How would you define addiction, and what are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about it?

A: I define addiction as an ongoing compulsive use of a substance which causes problems for an individual. Often people have the misconception that it’s how much you use, or what time of day…

Q: You advise parents to “wage guerrilla warfare against the substance habit that’s invading your teenager’s life.” What are some of the strategies you suggest?

A: Collaborate with other people trying to help your teen, a clinician or teacher. Drop the secrecy that festers around addiction. Focus on what’s most important. If it’s life-threatening, it’s more important than schoolwork, or whether [your teen] gets a tattoo. Focus on priorities.

Q: There’s been so much focus lately on opioid addiction. How has the situation changed regarding teen addiction over the years?

A: Unfortunately, over the last 10 years, the entire Eastern seaboard has been flooded with opioids. It has changed—it’s much more available. In past years, heroin was seen as deviant. Now it’s seen as a party drug, accessible and cheap.

Q: In the book, you ask the question, “Where does the line between casual [substance] use and misuse lie?” Where would you draw that line?

A: That’s the kind of question parents have to make the decision about himself or herself. For example, if your child smokes marijuana sometimes. First, it’s illegal. You could have a legal problem. Second, it could cause problems with brain development and problems in school—that’s very subtle.

The more obvious things—if your child is doing poorly in school, quitting activities, you’re getting calls from other parents—once you have an actual, not potential, problem, you draw the line.

Q: What about the changes regarding marijuana laws? What impact has that had on teens?

A: They have changed teen perceptions that it’s much less harmful. It’s not unreasonable to think the government is not thinking it’s as harmful and that’s why they’re decriminalizing it.

Marijuana has become much more potent, there are more sophisticated growing methods, it’s more available. And if you’re 18 years old and you can buy it, 16-year-olds can. No one thinks adolescents should be able [to buy] marijuana. But the fact is, they will.

Q: Looking at alcohol addiction, what has changed there, especially with binge drinking on college campuses?

A: It has changed. Colleges have been more effective in getting the message across about binge drinking. Drunk driving among teens is decreasing, most I work with have a designated driver, but attitudes are going the opposite way on marijuana. That being said, there is still plenty of binge drinking on campus.

Q: In addition to drugs and alcohol, you also discuss addictions to sex, food, and gambling. How do those fit into the patterns you describe?

A: The science is pretty clear that the compulsive do-it-again drive is pretty much the same. The same part of the brain lights up. With sex and food addictions it’s not healthy to be abstinent from these things [for life]. You could go the rest of your life without marijuana, but no one expects that with food or sex. In a way, it’s harder—it’s hard to do a little bit. You know it’s problematic when it’s compulsive.

Q: Are you working on another book now?

A: My last book was for families of addicted people. This is for [parents of] teenagers. Now I’m looking at the Prometa clinics around five or six years ago. It used a cocktail of meds. It was a scam, but patients were excited.

Some of the people [involved] were scam artists, but some were well-intentioned. It spoke to the hope clinicians and families have about the desperation they may have for a quick fix. I was fooled. I’m very skeptical and it didn’t quite make sense.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Treating addiction in teenagers is a very hopeful experience. The likelihood of a good outcome is very high. The vast majority of kids who have addiction problems get better. For most of them, it’s getting them to some treatment. It’s a long-term problem—you monitor it and look at it as a chronic condition, but your personal life shouldn’t be impaired, with some efforts.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Will Wootton

Will Wootton is the author of the new book Good Fortune Next Time: Life, Death, Irony, and the Administration of Very Small Colleges. He was the president of Sterling College in Vermont, and also worked at Marlboro College and Montserrat College of Art. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Burlington Free Press. He lives in Craftsbury Common, Vermont.

Q: You write, “This book began as a meditation in the style of a textbook…” Did you initially see it as a memoir?

A: Not at all. Initially I planned and began writing something closer to a textbook with literary ambitions, employable, I imagined, in graduate and undergraduate courses in non-profit management.

I planned to concentrate on the core administrative practice areas of higher education, which regard, essentially, students, faculty, alumni, regulatory agencies, government, culture, community, history, and, centrally, money.

I began with mission statements, then moved on to boards of trustees and college governance. But really, I was off course almost immediately. I was citing statistics, documenting my research, but also telling stories. Once you start telling stories, those stories tell something about you, the writer, and even as you attempt to minimize that it affects everything.

There were only two paths forward: document and illustrate what I had learned using elaborate but usually laborious and tedious to read case studies of administrative practice, triumph, and folly, or draw upon my own experiences, which contained the same elements.

Just because I didn’t feel memoir apparently wasn’t enough to avoid it. With this realization and help from John Elder, a far more experienced writer, and then from an inquisitive and persistent editor/publisher, I succumbed to the reality of memoir and the course of writing began to take shape, and even make sense.  

Q: You note that the biggest challenge in writing the book was “the conflict between writing about higher education administration, and writing about myself.” How did you resolve the conflict?

A: I didn’t, really. I learned to live with it. 

I had no intention to write about my father, for instance. But John Elder, had patiently helped me understand that it makes sense the reader wants to know something about the memoir writer. Less obvious, however, John spoke about how in the course of writing the writer is changed – that is, the act of writing changes the writer.

I would not have begun writing about my father had I not found myself writing about the importance of place – physical, geographic place – for small colleges, and realized I had some place-based issues in my life that were reflective of my father’s proclivity to move.

Towards something? Away from something? I wondered about that, and wrote it, finally understanding for myself a family mystery that ran from pre-war Japan, to Yale, to the High Rockies of Colorado.

Q: Did you need to do a lot of research to write the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?

A: Much of the research involved fact checking my own life and career. I discovered you can’t juggle chronology as I felt I had to unless you understand the actual chronological order of things, and that memory alone is a most unreliable source.

I discovered my research methodology was awkward and inefficient. Regarding subject matter – mission statements, for instance, or endowment campaigns or institutional marketing – I’d do some research generally to see where things stood, then start writing.

Then, when reading what I’d written, I’d say, “Does that happen that way?” Or, “Is that really fair to say?” And I’d have to back track and prove to myself what I had written.

Q: What changes did you see over the years you spent as a college president, and what do you see looking ahead for small colleges?

A: Yikes! What a question. The history, cultures, and practices of liberal arts higher education institutions of under, say, 600 students (of which there are about 500 in the nation) is in ways even more fascinating than the development of American higher education generally, which itself is reflective of every facet of U.S. history.

In this sense it’s notable that nearly all of today’s great colleges and universities were at one time, and often for a long time, small institutions.

I’m particularly interested in these small schools because of their (often) ruralness, wild diversity, curricula, and practice – their very Americanism – as well as their apparent fragility and dogged independence.

Their general reputation, however, suffers, not regarding the education students receive, but in the perceived economic unsustainability of the colleges themselves.

But I don’t believe small institutions are fundamentally any more uneconomical than higher education is in general. And if they were truly unsustainable due to their small size, they all would have closed mere decades into their lives. Instead, many small colleges are institutions of considerable age. 

There are plenty of folks who despair when they perceive the future of small colleges: there are predictions that some large percentage of them will disappear in the near future. But a few things are clear to me, or clearer than they were even a few years ago.

First: Small colleges fail through short- and longer-term leadership failure on the part of boards of trustees, sometimes with and sometimes without presidential collusion.

Leadership failures that impact larger, bulkier institutions are absorbed like celestial bodies barreling into Jupiter. They create a little hole which is soon swept clean by the planet’s massive atmosphere. The same impact on my sorts of places can result in oblivion. Thus, an axiom: The smaller the institution, the greater the negative effect of leadership failure and institutional error.

Second: Money alone can never guarantee a small institution’s long-term survival.

But here’s the rub: Under the broad and friendly umbrella of the liberal arts, newly founded, independent colleges are as rare as moon rocks.

As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a new undergraduate liberal arts college founded in New England in decades. Certainly, they are not popping up like rocks in a frost heave, as they were in the post WWII GI Bill higher education boon, to succeed or fail as their fate would have it.

That’s how startups work. But despite their overall success in providing a dynamic alternative to university-style undergraduate education, and in the face of a nation that breathes – or pretends to – entrepreneurship, few individuals today seem to have the drive or vision to try their hand and become a founder of a new college.

My research is not complete. Maybe it never will be. But I suspect this dearth of “foundership” – if you will – is as much cultural as it is financial and regulatory. It’s bound to be complicated, but what isn’t?

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m absorbing the trauma of finishing this book. Other than that, for the past four or five years – the same length of time it took to write and get Good Fortune Next Time published – I’ve devoted an unconscionable amount of time to what used to be a slow-burning passion – sculpture. I get a similar intellectual satisfaction from making art as I do from writing. But I’m perceiving a difference.

If you are lucky enough to sell a piece of art, it goes away. There’s a good chance you’ll never see it again. That’s a good thing, as opposed to a book, which I suspect will never really go away. Already, I see sentences I’d change. I recall stories that should have been included. I’m seeing instructive opportunities missed. I’m thinking a finished book is like one of those magnifying mirrors in hotel bathrooms – I don’t want to look, but I do.

At the same time, I look forward to a new writing project. I’m tempted to try writing a novel. I outline plots and characters on a regular basis. I work on large sheets of paper and sketch timelines and notes. But really it’s just like before, I’m waiting for a voice and after that to get hooked, not like a fish, like a fisherman.  

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Nov. 21

Nov. 21, 1694: Voltaire born.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Q&A with Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig is the author of the new biography Ali: A Life, about Muhammad Ali. Eig's other books include Luckiest Man and Opening Day, and his work has appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times and The New Yorker. He lives in Chicago.

Q:  You note that one day you realized that despite Ali’s fame, no one had written an unauthorized biography of him. What made you decide to take on that task?

A: No one else was doing it, and I couldn’t think of anything that could be more fun or rewarding. Ali was my childhood hero, but as an adult I found even more exciting. His story touches on race, religion, politics, war…oh, and it’s got a little boxing in there too.

It seemed like the perfect moment, not only because of what’s happening culturally but also because so many of Ali’s contemporaries were still alive, including three of his four wives, his brother, several of his managers, and so on.

Q: What did the research involve for this book, and what type of cooperation did you receive from his relatives and friends?

A: I interviewed more than 200 people, dug through Ali’s old business records, found court files showing that Ali’s grandfather was a convicted murderer, listened to old audiotaped interviews with Ali from the 1960s, got the FBI to release case files on Ali, did original research counting every punch of Ali’s career, and conducted a study with speech scientists at Arizona State University to measure the effect of all those punches on Ali’s speech rate.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This was more than four years of work. I poured everything I had into this. Ali’s second and third wives sat for multiple long interviews. His fourth and final wife coached me and answered a few questions but declined to do a long session.

Some of his kids cooperated, some didn’t. Almost all his close friends and business associates agreed to interviews. With the exception of two or three people, I got interviews with everyone I wanted.

Q: You write, “The thing that surprised me the most was this: He was humble.” What accounts for the discrepancy between this quality and his public persona?

A: It’s true he had a massive ego. His personality bordered on narcissism. But he was also humble. That was part of Ali’s greatness—contained so many contradictions.

When I say he was humble, I mean that he showed genuine respect for others, especially strangers. He not only signed every autograph that was requested of him, he engaged with the people who approached him, and often formed lasting friendships.

He also humbled himself before God, and genuinely believed that his own importance paled in God’s light. 

Q: What do you see as Ali’s legacy today?

A: Ali’s should be remembered as a fearless fighter—in and out of the ring, but mostly out of the ring. When black men and women in America were told to accept what they were given and keep their mouths shut, he spoke out. He said he would go to jail or face a firing squad if he couldn’t be free to express his opinions and worship his religion.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working as a consultant on an Ali documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon at Florentine Films. And I’m doing the first round of interviews on the next book, although I’m not yet announcing the subject. Oh, and I’ve started a series of books for readers in 7-to10-year-old range.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: You should know that Ali marks my fifth book, and to me each one of them feels like a gift. I can’t believe I get to do this every day—and that I sometimes even get paid for it. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jonathan Eig.

Q&A with Frederic Block

Frederic Block is the author of the new novel Race to Judgment. He was appointed United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York in 1994 and assumed senior status in 2005. He also has written the book Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Workof a Federal Trial Judge, and co-authored Professionally Speaking, an Off-Broadway musical.
Q: You based your main character, Ken Williams, on the real-life lawyer Ken Thompson. Why did you decide to write about him?

A: Ken Thompson tried what might have been his first trial before me back in the mid 1990s in the Brooklyn federal courthouse when I was a new federal district judge and he was a young Assistant United States Attorney. A few years later he left the U.S. Attorney’s office for private practice and soon became a successful high-profile civil rights attorney.

Years later I drew the Jabbar Collins case. Collins had been in jail for 16 years for a murder he did not commit. He sued the long-term Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, his chief prosecutor, Michael Vecchione, and the City of New York for millions of dollars after he was released from jail for being wrongfully convicted on trumped-up evidence.

After I wrote a lengthy decision denying the City’s motion to dismiss the case, it was settled for 13 million dollars. Ken Thompson then ran against Hynes - who had been the unchallenged DA for over 20 years - and upset him in the decisive Democratic 2013 primary to become the first African-American Brooklyn District Attorney.

The centerpiece of Thompson’s campaign was the Collins case, and a bunch of other wrongful convictions by the DA’s office against African-Americans which had thereafter surfaced. When Thompson took office he appointed a special investigative committee which to date has uncovered 23 other wrongful convictions of blacks who had been in jail for many years.

Tragically, the new DA died from colon cancer - at the age of 50 - just two years after getting elected. In the short time he was DA Thompson initiated significant reforms and was hailed as a true breath of fresh air.

When I found out that Ken Thompson was dying, I decided to dedicate the book to him. He was told that by his former law partner the day before he died and Ken asked him to “thank the judge.” It makes the book extra special to me, and I’m glad I fashioned the Ken Williams character after Ken Thompson’s meteoric rise as a civil rights advocate to unseat the reigning DA.

Q: Your book also was inspired by many cases in which you were involved as a federal judge. What did you see as the right balance between reality and fiction as you wrote the novel?

A: In addition to the Collins case, the book plays off of two other major cases I presided over: One was the trial of Lemrick Nelson for killing Yankel Rosenbaum during the infamous Crown Heights riots in the 90s.

The other were the trials of a young African-American, who had been leading a law-abiding life, for allegedly killing someone six years earlier; if convicted I would have to have sentenced him to life without parole. He was tried twice. The first trial ended in a hung jury, with 8 jurors voting for conviction; he was acquitted on the second trial.

I was fascinated by this human drama and it gave me the idea for the character Troy Jackson - a happily married 23-year-old star guidance counselor, expecting his first child - who Ken Thompson represents after Troy is charged with murdering a Hasidic rabbi’s son seven years ago.

Thus, the idea of “reality-fiction” popped into my head, and I realized that I could tell a good story by taking literary license with these - and other - real-life experiences as a judge to develop the plot lines of my novel.

As for your specific question, I really never thought about the right balance between the reality part and the fictionalized part, and the reader will not know which is truth and which is fiction as they read the book; that is exactly the point.

In the epilogue I explain what is reality and what is fiction but caution the reader to resist the temptation to read it before the end of the book “since I think it might spoil what I think is a good read.”

Q: Did you plot out the book before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: I jotted down the basic story line on my laptop in a handful of pages a couple of summers ago on a beautiful island in Greece, and I started to write it when I returned to New York in September.

I’m always asked “how long did it take you to write the book? But the writing part for me was the end of the line; the story was already written in my head (most of the best parts came to me at 3 in the morning when I was sleeping). When I tell people it took me just six months to actually write it, they are surprised. But once I know where I’m going, the writing for me comes pretty easily and the story just flows. Anyway, I tell everyone that at my age you have to write faster.

I did make some changes along the way, but not too many. For example, I had a great car chase across the Brooklyn Bridge which, upon reflection, l thought was too commonplace (I’ll save it for the movie - hopefully). The drama now takes place in a church, and it’s much better.  

Q: The book focuses on racial tensions in Brooklyn. Why was that one of the themes you chose to include, and what do you hope readers take away from the story?

A: In addition to the Crown Heights riots, Brooklyn has had its share of racial tensions between the police and its minority communities (think Abner Louima). While I think the book standing alone is a gripping crime story (no one I know has guessed the ending yet), it is much more.

I speak through Ken to raise issues which are important today to give the book a lot of substantive content: the importance of judicial independence; Black Lives Matter; stop-and-frisks, death threats to the judiciary, and, of course, the spate of wrongful convictions against African-Americans because of egregious prosecutorial misconduct. Ken Thompson’s election has gone a long way to assuaging racial tensions.   

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Terrorism. The Brooklyn federal court has had more terrorism cases than any other court in the country. I have one right now of a young radicalized American-Muslim who was caught trying to leave the country to learn how to make “jihad” here, and a few years ago I sentenced one of the defendants in the aborted plot to blow up the City’s subways.

It’s a perfect opportunity for another “reality-fiction” story. It starts with a packed courtroom being blown up during a sentence; 275 perished, 156 survived (thank God this is the fiction part). The reader will have to read the rest of the book to find out who died and who did it.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I wanted to also make Race to Judgment a fun read so Ken Williams has a hobby; he’s a jazz musician with a love for country music, and spread throughout the book are eight songs that he has written which are performed by him and his musical buddies at Arturo’s in Greenwich Village.

He gets the hooks from things that the characters say, like when his private eye, Mickey, says “boss, there ain’t no fun I’ve had when I was good instead of bad.” I wrote the songs and actually sing three of them. They can all be streamed on any platform, and the charts are at the end of the book. They can also be accessed through my website.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb