Thursday, April 19, 2018

Q&A with J.H. Diehl

J.H. Diehl is the author of Tiny Infinities, a new novel for older kids. Her other books include the picture book Three Little Beavers and Loon Chase. She lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Tiny Infinities and for your main character, Alice?

A: One day, when my daughter was in third grade, she brought home from school a picture she’d drawn of a fantastical bug, that she’d titled “Bugfire.”

The moment I saw it – I have no idea why – an image appeared in my head of an older girl standing over a younger girl, outdoors in the dark, with their hands cupped together around glowing fireflies. The smaller girl was saying “bugfire,” and it was the first word she’d spoken in years.

I knew the story behind this scene belonged to the older girl. And that she was babysitting, and unrelated to the younger one. I saw her as a newly turned teenager, again I don’t know why. Except that, when I finally began to draft the book, it turned out that 13 was an age I had something on my mind to write about.

Among the reasons she’s called Alice is that I liked the classic associations the other characters might make with her name, versus the reality of her namesake. My Alice is named after her dad’s beloved childhood family dog.

Q: Why did you decide to have her be a swimmer?

A: It had to be a summer story, because the season for fireflies is summer. My kids participated on our local community pool summer swim team for more than a decade.

Just like I knew swim team was a great activity for my kids, I knew it would be wonderful for Alice. Swim team is an opportunity to build physical and emotional strength, and to experiencing setting goals, achieving, failing, and persevering.

A swimming goal doesn’t have to be  - like Alice’s in Tiny Infinities – to set a team record. Even if you never actually win a race, you can improve your own best time in an event.

There’s almost always a way to find something positive about swimming. You may race against other teams, but you’re really competing with yourself. As a member of the team, you get to be a part of something that’s larger than you, a wonderful community, of kids and families, with many fun traditions.

I wanted Alice to have a positive activity and community outside of her family structure, and I wanted her to have goals that were appropriate for a kid to have – unlike the impossible goals she set herself at home, to fix the things she has no control over: her parents’ decision to split and her mom’s depression.

She swears that since her dad is moving out, she’ll move out, too, and live in a tent in the back yard as long as it takes him to agree to return.

Alice cooks, picks up prescriptions for her mom and does household chores, all in the hope that she can help her mom get better. Over time, she realizes that she can’t control or fix what’s going on in the life of her parents. But she can commit herself to, and achieve goals in her sport.

As I wrote the story, it became partly about how a sport can anchor a kid through tough times. That’s true, too, for many other activities kids pursue with passion: art, music, community service…writing!

Q: What do you think the book says about parent-child relationships?

A: As Officer Gina says near the beginning of the story, every family and every situation is different. However, when parents’ lives are troubled, I think it’s not uncommon for kids to end up, in some senses, parenting their parents. It’s not a healthy situation; it’s too much responsibility in childhood.

Tiny Infinities depicts one version of what it’s like to navigate life as a child with a parent going through a period of depression. In this story, Alice bears up as best she can, and makes plenty of mistakes.

For a child of troubled parents, part of growing up is realizing that you can’t fix their situation and that it’s not on you to try. In the end, Alice – like her young babysitting charge – has to find the spark in herself, has to create her own resilience to move forward.

All that said, I don’t know if that’s what readers will take away from the story. One thing I love about novels is that each reader for whom a book resonates finds something unique in it.

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title "Tiny Infinities" comes from a conversation Alice has with her odd, new friend on the swim team, Harriet. Harriet is very into math and science. She’s fascinated by the infinite number pi, and finds it strange that pi gets rounded off to 3.14 regularly in math problems.

“Shouldn’t there be a huge difference between infinity and any number that has a definite end?” she asks. “Isn’t it interesting that the real difference between an infinite number like pi and a finite one like three point one four turns out to be a very tiny decimal? An infinitesimal decimal, to be as exact as possible about that inexactness? Shouldn’t the difference between something and nothing be the same?”

She demonstrates the classic acting exercise of transitioning from laughter to tears, with no clear delineation between the two.

Alice can’t help wondering at what “point my parents had gone from loving each other to not loving – was that a teeny tiny change, too?...What had made the difference between deciding we could all be a family of five, and my dad living someplace else?”

Alice discovers that, in order to move forward with her own life, she has to draw the lines in herself.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Another MG novel, but intended as a lighter entertainment.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: There’s a lot of science in Tiny Infinities, and I hope the story will appeal to kids interested in S.T.E.M. subjects. Alice, Harriet and their friend Owen recreate firefly bioluminescence in a make-shift basement lab.

If any readers on swim teams want to use Tiny Infinities as a summer reading book, I’m offering to come to their pool to answer questions and talk about the story if they’re in the DC-Metro area. Or to Skype in, if they’re further away.

I hope the book will be meaningful to kids whose parents have parted ways, to kids who may have experienced life with a parent suffering from depression, and to readers who may have a sibling coping with a developmental delay.

My characterization of Piper, the little girl who can’t speak, is based on my research into a rare childhood seizure disorder, sometimes mistaken for autism. I was fortunate enough to be able to consult with a pediatric neurologist who had treated kids with this rare problem.

I’m in awe of the parents, medical professionals and educators working so hard to help children suffering from seizure disorders, autism and other developmental delays.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog. It’s an honor to be here!

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Roma Tearne

Roma Tearne is the author of the novel Brixton Beach, which takes place in Sri Lanka and England. Her other books include Mosquito and Bone China. Born in Sri Lanka, she is based in the U.K.

Q: What inspired your character Alice and the story you tell in Brixton Beach?

A: I suppose the answer is simply my mother. Long ago when I was still a young teenager she told me, “No one will ever hear my story. Why should the world care?”

At the time I was going through teenage battles with my mum but the words pierced my heart. Trying to show indifference I tossed them aside.

But then many years later soon after her death, as a mother of three children myself, I remembered what she had said in a moment of despair. It was to take another few years but then with wiser, sadder eyes, I saw how she had suffered with each child that was murdered.

The dedication in Brixton Beach is to her with the simple statement that her story would not be lost. Indeed, it hasn’t been. Of all my books it is the one that has sold the most around the world. And at last I felt her life had not been in vain.

And the character of Alice? Well she came out of my head really. The paintings described are some of my own but that is the only link with reality. 

Q: Many readers may come to the novel without much familiarity with the history of Sri Lanka. What do you hope they take away from the book in that regard?

A: I didn’t set out to write a political novel. In politics it is the human story that matters, always. People can judge the politics of Sri Lanka as they wish. I merely wrote about the things we do to one another.

I also wanted  (rather passionately I admit) to highlight the plight of the immigrant and how hard they have to work at integrating how long the journey is.

I address this in Simon’s thoughts in the very last paragraph of the novel, which I rewrote about 15 times. Alice brought the beach to Brixton in the end. What a triumph! 

Q: As a writer and an artist, how do you see the two coexisting in your work?

A: Well, you know, I describe the paintings and installations in the book from the inside out. And the funny intense way of seeing that an artist has, well it sort of slips into the writing too. 

Q: Are there other novels focused on Sri Lanka that you would especially recommend?

A: Look, this is a tough question. I don’t like novels based on a specific country. I would if I may recommend an atmospheric book I read recently. A Pale Views of Hills  by Ishiguro springs to mind. A wonderful, luminous novel. I could go on in this vein but won’t. I have a real horror of novels by countries! Really sorry.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Well, something entirely different. I’m dealing with the same issues that I’ve always cared about; migration, the effects of conflict, the human price, that sort of thing, but this time I’m treating the subject in a totally different way. Fingers crossed, I hope it works!

Q: Anything else we should know? 

A: Oh, okay, as you are twisting my arm…I’m working on a series of small paintings, my first in 16 years! (Gulp!) You can see the drawings on my Instagram feed.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 19

April 19, 1900: Richard Hughes born.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Q&A with Lorie Langdon

Lorie Langdon is the author of Olivia Twist, a new young adult novel inspired by Charles Dickens' classic book Oliver Twist. Her other books include the Doon series.

Q: You note that Olivia Twist “was thirty-five years in the making.” How did the concept for the novel change over the years?

A: This book started out like the first fan fiction. Back when I was a kid, my grandma took me to see the rerelease of Oliver!, the musical. I fell in love with it.

My mom bought me the double album, and I’d listen to it and look at the album cover and come up with stories about the orphans. I was about seven, and I thought the boy who played Oliver was a girl. In my fantasies, I pretended Oliver was a girl so I could be that character and put myself into the story.

I developed my first celebrity crush on Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger. I thought the two would grow up and fall in love. As a teen, I fell in love with historical literature. I read Oliver Twist, and it was different from the musical.

I started writing novels in my 30s—I was in the corporate world and was feeling unfulfilled. I wrote two other books before I started this. The characters wouldn’t leave me alone. I decided to create a continuation of Oliver Twist—a combination of the musical and the classic.

Q: So how did you balance your own version of the story with the original?

A: I went into this with a strong vision of the characters and what I wanted it to be. I thought of it more as my own story, not that this is a retelling of Oliver Twist. So finding the balance was not difficult.

I had this vision in my mind of the characters and the story they’d had after [the end of Oliver Twist]. People were amazed—they’d say, how can you take on this classic story and not feel pressure? I didn’t feel pressure. Dickens was a romantic himself, and I think he’d feel honored by this.

Q: What do you think Olivia’s story says about women in the Victorian era?

A: That’s part of the reason why as an adult I loved the idea of doing a gender swap. I wanted to give the story more of a sense of modern agency, and give the character some power.

The adventure may be unrealistic, but she is able to get around the constraints the Victorian era put on her. But it could be realistic—I wanted to show teens who think the Victorian era was more medieval that this wasn’t the case. I wanted to show a feminist hero, and that Jack’s views changed over the course of the book.

Q: What kind of research did you need to do to write the book?

A: Research is something I love. It can be a rabbit hole for me. It can also be a reason not to write! I research as I go. I do read a lot of historical literature, and that gave me enough of a framework that I could begin to write, and when I needed details, I would research.

Now I’m working on a spinoff and have books from the library that I’ve renewed ten times! I have reliable websites for fashion and slang.

Q: Can you say more about the next book?

A: It features Brit, the leader of the orphan gang. There’s a female character in the next book who’s trying to become the first female doctor in London. There were female doctors in America before. This character trained at the Nightingale school [for nurses], but wanted to be a doctor.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Readers don’t have to know the original story to enjoy and understand this book.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

Q&A with Cris E. Haltom

Cris E. Haltom is the author, with Cathie Simpson and Mary Tantillo, of the new book Understanding Teen Eating Disorders: Warning Signs, Treatment Options, and Stories of Courage. She also has written A Stranger at the Table: Dealing with Your Child's Eating Disorder. A Certified Eating Disorders Specialist and a lecturer at Ithaca College, she's based in Ithaca, New York.

Q: Why did you and your colleagues decide to write this book about teen eating disorders?

A: We chose to write about teens with eating disorders because they continue to be an under-served population. Despite excellent new evidence-based treatments and prevention programs, rates of eating disorders have changed very little in the past two decades.

While the rate of full-blown eating disorders among teens remains at approximately 5-6 percent, more recent evidence indicates closer to 20 percent of teens engage in disordered eating behaviors like dieting, vomiting, and binge eating on a regular basis, posing significant risks to their health. 

Recent research indicates only one in five adolescents with eating disorders actually seek and receive treatment specifically for an eating disorder. 

The majority of eating disorders start in adolescence so early intervention is critical. Eating disorders tend to be a major threat to health with a relatively high mortality rate. And they tend to be enduring and difficult and costly to treat. As such they are a public health burden.

By writing our book, we hope to spread the word about the dangers of eating disorders and the importance of receiving evidence-based, multi-disciplinary treatment. 

Q: Who do you see as the audience for the book, and what do you hope readers take away from it?

A: Our book is directed toward both families and multi-disciplinary treatment professionals in order to promote evidence-based treatments for adolescent eating disorders and specialty training for clinicians. 

We recognize one size doesn't fit all when it comes to specialty treatment so we offer a look at a number of treatment options in the context of a variety of family circumstances.

Each chapter ends with a Q and A that reflects typical concerns of parents, loved ones and treatment professionals. It is our hope that carers of those with eating disorders will walk away inspired and motivated by the many treatment options and prevention strategies described in our book.   

Q: Most of the case studies you discuss involve girls. What are the statistics on girls and boys developing eating disorders?

A: This is a great question because recent evidence supports the notion that eating disorders occur across sex and gender-identity groups.  

Our book's case studies reflect the nature of our own cumulative clinical cases. They are not necessarily representative of national statistics about the sex and gender of teens with eating disorders. 

Old data suggested that the ratio of eating disorders in men compared to women was between 1:10 and 1:6.  However, more recent data suggests men and boys are less likely to be discovered to be ill, included by health care professionals, and less likely to come forward for treatment when compared to women.  

A better estimate for the rate of eating disorders among men compared to women is probably closer to 1:4. Further, when we broaden the definition of eating disorders to include sub-clinical eating disordered behaviors such as engaging in patterns of dieting, vomiting, using laxatives and diet pills to control weight, the National Eating Disorders Association estimates the rate of disordered eating may be similar for men and women.

When addressing sex and gender and eating disorders, we would be remiss not to point out statistics for eating disorders in a special population of transgendered youth. Recently, transgendered college students were found to be roughly four times as likely to report eating disorders as their cisgendered counterparts. 

Q: How did you choose the particular cases on which you focus in the book?

A: We chose cases that represent experiences and approaches consistent with adolescent eating disorder literature and our own clinical experiences. 

We selected cases that were rich with a variety of interpersonal and family dynamics, heritability factors, life stage variables, personality factors, motivational factors, medical issues, psychiatric co-morbidities and social-cultural influences.

In other words, we wanted a representative sample of varied biopsychosocial patient backgrounds combined with a diversity of best practices in child and adolescent eating disorder assessment, diagnosis and treatments options.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am currently working on an article tentatively entitled "Getting teens with eating disorders to specialty-trained treatment". 

This article was inspired by an alarming finding cited in our book - that is, only 20 percent of adolescents with eating disorders seek eating disorder-specific treatment.

I am reviewing a number of topics related to treatment-seeking including assessment and screening for teen eating disorders by health care professionals, public literacy about eating disorders and their treatment, availability and accessibility of eating disorder treatment, barriers to treatment such as societal stigma against both the diagnoses and treatment, motivation for treatment including attitudes toward treatment, and the role of co-morbidities in treatment-seeking.  

Dr. Mary Tantillo has extended and refined the Multifamily Therapy Group presented in our book and will soon be writing a new book, Multifamily Therapy Group for Young Adults with Anorexia Nervosa: Reconnecting for Recovery.

Her upcoming book targets clinicians and describes a new and innovative approach to treatment for young adults with Anorexia Nervosa. Multifamily Therapy Group’s innovation comes from its reframing eating disorders as Diseases of Disconnection.

The group model, described in Nick's story in our book, was developed in partnership with patients and families over a decade and is based on relational and motivational theories, research and clinical observation.

In this model, the group teaches patients and families that Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by intra- and interpersonal disconnections and that these disconnections can perpetuate the illness and obstruct recovery. The goal of group meetings is to identify these disconnections, repair them and restore connection with oneself and others.

Multifamily Therapy Group for Young Adults with Anorexia Nervosa: Reconnecting for Recovery will promote emotional and relational skills that foster relational repair and reconnection with the self and others.

Dr. Tantillo's book will include protocols, case vignettes, and other information that translate theory and research into practice, all things that are invaluable for clinicians.

She points out the majority of training programs across disciplines do not train professionals on multifamily therapy group, and Multifamily Therapy Group is not routinely included in family training.

Having accessible, practical and clinically relevant information available in a book of this type should be very helpful to clinicians. Many professionals are uncertain about what treatment to offer young adults/adults with Anorexia Nervosa because there is no definitive treatment yet.

Dr. Tantillo's new book provides an effective treatment option and one that can serve as an excellent adjunct treatment to individual or family therapy. Her book will remind us of the power of family work and the resources families bring to bear on treatment and recovery.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: There are promising new treatments for teen eating disorders on the horizon related to the neuroscience of eating disorders, e.g., deep brain stimulation and cognitive training therapies.

We know the brain circuits of those with eating disorders don't work effectively. New treatments informed by recent scientific discoveries about the neurobiology of eating disorders may increase treatment effectiveness when added or adapted to more established treatment models described in our book. 

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

April 18

April 18, 1959: Susan Faludi born.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Q&A with Fran Leadon

Fran Leadon is the author of the new book Broadway: A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles. An architect, he is the coauthor of the fifth edition of the AIA Guide to New York City. He teaches at the City College of New York, and he lives in Brooklyn.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the history of Broadway in your new book?

A: I was involved with the AIA Guide to New York City, an architecture guidebook to New York City, and I was the co-author of the last edition, which came out in 2010.  There were originally two authors. One died in 1990 and I was working with the surviving co-author, Norval White. He was elderly, and he died right before we finished the book.

In doing that, I got to know the city, but I was frustrated because I could never write more than a few lines on one place. So I just wanted to focus on one street. I thought about Park Avenue. I thought Broadway must have been done before, but I realized [that wasn’t the case]. The David Dunlap book [focusing on Broadway] is beautiful, but it was out of print, and it was mostly photos. So it seemed like an obvious choice.

Q: The book’s subtitle is “A History of New York City in Thirteen Miles.” How do you see the relationship between this one thoroughfare and the city as a whole?

A: It seems to me it’s one street that unites everything in Manhattan. It goes from the southern tip to the northern tip. The FDR and the West Side Highway do that, but aside from that, it’s the only street. It doesn’t hit the Lower East Side, but I managed to talk about that anyway!

It’s the city’s Main Street…The subtitle was a title I latched onto which dictated the structure. Then I had to do it—all 13 miles!

Q: The book includes an incredible amount of detail about hundreds of years of New York City history. Did you already know much of this from working on the AIA book, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The funny thing was that I knew virtually nothing about Broadway, so it was all surprising. I read a book from 1911, The Greatest Street in the World, and it was incomprehensible. I realized I didn’t fully understand the street or the city. I had to do some digging and figure things out. That’s why it took so long.

Q: How long did it take?

A: I started in the summer of 2010. The proposal took me two years. Then Norton got me in 2012. That’s when I met John Glusman, my editor. I turned in a draft in 2015, which was terrible, and I rewrote for two years. It was a good six or seven years. From start to finish, eight years.

Research was another reason it took me so long. Not being a historian, not having a Ph.D., I didn’t know where to go to look for things. I was fascinated by the research. I had never done anything like that. You have to know where to go and who to talk to. It’s more collaborative than I’d thought…

Q: So what did you find that was especially fascinating or startling?

A: I was curious why Broadway suddenly swerves at 10th Street. I had heard stories about why, and I ended up writing a whole chapter about that. The answer was gratifying to figure out why. It wasn’t about drunk surveyors!...

The most surprising thing is that you hear Broadway described in this exaggerated [way], which is certainly true today—it’s become so famous, it’s not just a street anymore. I thought that was a 20th century development, but back to colonial times, they’d talk about it that way.

What I realized is that the way people described it made it what it is. They willed it into existence. They thought Broadway had potential, and therefore Broadway became Broadway. I looked at 1800-1835 land values, and even when there were no buildings there, [the land was] already more valuable. They were guessing on Broadway.

Q: You divide the book into sections based on each mile of Broadway. Were there any sections that particularly fascinated you as an architect?

A: Things were definitely weighted toward the southern tip. That’s where it started. The first mile is 400 years of history. By the time you’re on the West Side, virtually all the buildings were built at the same time. Below 59th Street, the buildings tend to be more astonishing—the Woolworth Building, the Flatiron Building. And the Ansonia on the West Side.

The Woolworth Building is one of the great buildings—the original [version of the book] had a chapter devoted just to the Woolworth Building.

The Ansonia might be my favorite—an apartment hotel on the West Side. It’s so well designed. It’s built like a fortress, and designed like a Parisian apartment house. I was able to go through the building with a realtor. I got to go to the rafters of Grace Church. Those are some of the buildings I was able to explore.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb