Marisel Vera, Author of If I Bring You Roses, 1 of 3

I met Marisel Vera at the Printers Row Literary Festival this year.  She and Tayari Jones were meeting readers after a panel discussion.  We connected briefly over Marisel’s debut novel, which has now been published.  I’m very thankful to put her before you on my blog and suggest that you go and get her novel, If I Bring You Roses.  And I want you to know that you can meet Marisel.  She will be meeting friends and readers, signing books if you have them on August 28, 2011 at 8 pm at The Nervous Breakdown Reading Series co-sponsored by Sunday Salon Chicago.  The location is Katerina’s, 1929 W. Irving Park Rd., Chicago, IL.

This is a three-part blog series featuring Marisel where she’ll be telling us about her novel, her experience publishing it, as well as a bit about her life as a writer…

When I was 13-years-old there were a rash of house fires in the Pilsen neighborhood over on Chicago’s South Side.  Families with children died in the fires because the victims couldn’t speak English and when they shouted “¡Ayuda!” the firefighters couldn’t understand that they meant “Help!” Community leaders called for the firefighters to learn Spanish, but that infuriated many Chicagoans. I remember an on-air editorial about how everyone should learn English. This was America!  People wrote letters to the Chicago papers saying how the victims were at fault because they should have learned English like their parents and grandparents.

I was shocked and disheartened particularly because I didn’t have a voice as a young Puerto Rican girl in my own family. To my young self, what mattered most was that innocent people had died. Wasn’t it a good thing to learn a few words in another language if that would help prevent a tragedy?  I determined that one day I would write something to help people see how we were all the same whatever race, whatever nationality.

My novel If I Bring You Roses is a story about two people who marry and move to Chicago in the 1950s and how things happen and how they deal with it. That the novel is set partly in Puerto Rico and the couple is Puerto Rican is juice of the pineapple, the sauce of the beans, the ajo en mofongo.  Having said that, some readers will read If I Bring You Roses as a straight story about a man and a woman and a marriage while others will notice how the United States presence and control over Puerto Rico had severe economic repercussions that resulted in events that led to the mass immigration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. I tried to be historically accurate and also captivate the reader’s attention with my storytelling.

I wanted to tell the novel in two voices, both female and male, because the immigrant experience is different for Latin Americans depending on gender.  In If I Bring You Roses, Aníbal is always wishing to be a man like his father. Aníbal comes from a culture where the man is king but in America, he is disrespected in the workplace.  His feelings of powerlessness compromise his sense of manhood.  In turn, the humiliation that male immigrants experience creates a cycle of privilege and subordination that ultimately disrespects women.  For Felicidad, who was a second class citizen in Puerto Rico and in her own family, immigration is the best thing that ever happened to her.  She can be independent and speak up for herself and for others and she is respected for doing so. The status of immigrant women from Latin American tends to rise in the U.S. while men lose their privileged status.

If I Bring You Roses is set in Chicago because I wanted to write about the first wave of Puerto Ricans who came in the 1950s like my parents and my uncles. I am a fan of multi-cultural literature and there is very little of Puerto Ricans in Chicago.  The closest I had to any literature about Puerto Ricans when I was growing up was Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets and that was non-fiction and set in NYC.  Being Puerto Rican in NYC is not the same as being Puerto Rican in Chicago and as we Chicagoans know, New York City is not Chicago.

It was very liberating to write from Aníbal’s perspective. Loved it, loved it, loved it.  I do have to admit to a slight concern about how people who know me will think of me once they read how Aníbal thinks about sex. But not for a moment did I think of silencing him. I had to be true to him and Aníbal is a very sexual guy.  Sex is how he expresses how he feels. I found Felicidad’s character more difficult to write.  I thought a lot about her and what made her the woman she became and that helped me to understand her and to empathize and love her.

Conflicted With The Help

Have you read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help?  I haven’t.  I told my close friend, Maggie, last year when she was reading it that I had my challenges coming to the work.  I asked if she was enjoying it and was happy she said that she was.  She resonated with much of the novel because of her background and because of her experience growing up a white woman in the South.  I celebrated the book.  I loved that she could find the portrayal in it credible when gauged by her own personal story.  But I was off center.

I told Maggie and David and Dawn (we were all together at the time) that my conflict with the novel was with my desire to support and celebrate books in general and fiction in particular with my learned-over-the-years suspicion that my story–that story that I own collectively with all other black folks in this country–can so readily be accepted, supported, purchased, and promoted when it’s written by non-black folks.  I continue to experience that conflict as the movie is now being promoted.

I’m careful not to take these conflicts too far on this blog.  But my conflict is my conflict.  In fact, I’m very thankful for the humility Ms. Stockett exhibits on her website when responding to the question, “Were you nervous that some people might take affront to you…writing in the voice of two African American maids?”  She says,

…I was very worried about what I’d written and the line I’d crossed. And the truth is, I’m still nervous. I’ll never know what it really felt like to be in the shoes of those black women who worked in the white homes of the South during the 1960s and I hope that no one thinks I presume to know that. But I had to try. I wanted the story to be told. I hope I got some of it right.

Having not read the novel, conflicted man that I am still, I appreciate the author’s hope.  I share it.  And I also hope that the success of her novel continues to grow in relation to her posture around the issue of telling someone else’s story.  Indeed, novelists always tell another character’s story.  I hope she’s done that well.

That said, the other day I read the comments from Rosetta Ross, a religious studies scholar at Spelman, over at Religion Dispatches.  I share some of her biographical experiences, reactions to The Help, and sentiments about the acceptance of African American culture when its ushered to the wider world through the pen and hands and submission processes of white publishing professionals in this case.  Now, to be clear, I love white folks.  Some of you all are white, and I hope you know I love you.  And I hope you have a comment or two about this, especially if you’ve read the novel or seen the screening.  And still, I’m intrigued by how often and constant black authors or, more pointedly, African American authors, try to tell stories that cannot be accepted and embraced as cultural stories, as stories for the wider reading public.

Dr. Ross identifies three messages from the embrace of The Help.  Three reasons she won’t see the movie.  She says,

The first false message says: The real agents of the world are white….This message is false because black women, from a variety of stations in life, have voices and live and demonstrate to the world fulfilled lives every day—without the assistance or interference of white people.

The second false message is this: The really important point of all cultural production and activity is for white agency and dignity to be actualized. The overarching plot of this book presents the narrative of a young white woman finding herself and her voice amidst cliches, circumscriptions, traditions of the South during the 1960s. Against this background, the black women are instrumental in Skeeter’s journey into adulthood. Skeeter’s journey is the more prominent message of the book, and, I suspect, of the film as well. I will not go to see the movie The Help because I do not wish to view yet another production that tells me, a black woman, it is all about whiteness.

…the third, and most detrimental false message: Black persons—perhaps people of color, generally—exist primarily to serve of enhance the lives of white people….A predominant element of the Western imaginary, the idea that black persons ultimately exist as servants for white life, has long been supported by rhetorical constructions of Christianity. The most obvious examples, of course, were rituals such as catechisms about the necessity for [black] servants to obey [white] masters…

What do you think about Professor Ross’s comments?  Have you noticed some of the biases and patterns she speaks of, some of the messages she’s read and heard in the buzz around the novel and the film?  What experience have you had around hearing your story told through someone else’s lips?

Finally, I hope you read the novel.  One day I may.  I’ve read many representations of black people written under the hand of non-blacks, and this novel may join that shelf.  And, again, my conflicts aside, I can support the work of an author reaching the world with a good story–and upon the great experience my good friend had of the work.  I can easily separate my experience of the novel (or my perspective of the novel as I approach it from a distance) from my hearty suggestion that it should be read by others.

By the way, if you’d like to see Professor Ross’s full essay at RD, click here.

Closing Books

Last week I went to Borders with my son, and it was sad and exhilarating at the same time.  We strolled into the store, me refusing to press the silver button with  the blue chair in the middle, Bryce trying to help.  He’s into opening and closing doors these days.  Somebody waited for us to pass into the store.  The second door was propped open so customers could come and go easily.

The place was packed.  I had the sense that it would be full of people all day.  It was around 2:30 in the afternoon.  I scanned the place.  I had never been to Borders on State.  We had one in the neighborhood which we frequented before it met the same fate dressed in yellow with bold black block letters.  Bryce was immediately captivated.  He’d glance up at me and then to the shoppers.  He looked from left to right, nervous and a little thrilled that we were there.  People scanned titles.  They hoisted novels, stacking them in their hands and holding them in a line over their bellies.  One lady called somebody and read the back cover copy over the phone.  She asked, “Have you heard of this author before?”  I pressed ahead into aisle and ignored the conversation after that.  It felt like people were looting, excited over the broken glass of ten thousand authors’ dreams.

Before we left, the boy gave me the signal that he was ready for a snack.  He, like me, tired at the scene and needed nourishment.  I couldn’t blame him.  The writer in me, the reader in me, wanted something to eat after that.  I wanted something to sustain me after seeing another bookstore close.  Books are the things that have built me and built many of the people that I love.  Books have taught me and us.  We should buy them, in stores large and small.  We should rent them from our public libraries.  We should.

I thought of my usual places to buy books.  I thought of Azzizzi Books in Lincoln Mall and Powells in Hyde Park.  I recalled my last visit to the Seminary Co-Op and to it’s relative, 57th Street Books.  All of sudden, pushing the boy back toward the bridge we’d cross to get to our car, I felt like the closing of Borders was, in part, my fault.  I was like those readers, those scavengers in that store.  I, too, looked for the best price for a book when I shopped.  I chose and do choose to buy most books for a discount because my book budget comes mostly when I get an honorarium of sorts that I don’t expect.  I’ve changed that over the last four or five years as I’ve learned how to buy an author’s work for the toil that’s seen and unseen.  I don’t mind–in fact, I enjoy–buying a book for retail or from an author directly since it comes under a habit I think the world is poorer without.

I’m not into e-readers.  I’ll protest them as much as possible.  I will take my books, open, and read them.  I will crave and consume the spines and jackets and covers be they soft or hard.  I will smell the pages and rub my fingers over the corners, turning that page slightly when my eyes are half way down.  I will flip the page or pages to see how long it is until the chapter is finished.  I may scribble a note to the author, continuing what feels like a conversation between us.  I’ll move my bookmark to the page I want to stop at for the night, never counting and only judging by whether I’ve started at 11:30pm or 1:00am or by how far I think that night’s insomnia will take me.  I will laugh and squint and sigh and hold my breath.  I will sit my book on my table by that glider or in my bag or on the desk.

I’m sad for the funerals happening for all the Borders stores across the country.  I’m sad for the careers that have been upset and altered and forever changed because another company has failed.  But I will keep reading and renting and buying books.  You should too.

Interview with Rabbi Zoe Klein & Book Giveaway

I am happy to bring you the next author interview with Rabbi Zoe Klein.  Rabbi Klein’s novel, Drawing in the Dust, tells the story of an archaeologist who risks her reputation to excavate beneath the home of an Arab couple to make a miraculous discovery.  I’d like to give away a copy of the novel, so look into that at the bottom of the interview.  Rabbi Klein inspires me.  As a spiritual leader and writer, she gives powerful answers to how she thinks about what she does, how she wobbles all her plates.  Enjoy…

MW: When did you first know you would be both a writer and a rabbi?

RZK: Hi Michael! Thank you for bringing these questions to me, it is an honor to participate in this interview! Long before I ever could imagine that a little girl like myself could grow up and become a Rabbi, I knew I loved to write. I wrote stories all the time. I remember writing stories on those beige thin sheets of paper on which the lines were two inches apart, filling in scenes with chubby crayoned letters. I even remember one of my first stories, about a magical species called the Giringos, half giraffe and half flamingo.

I remember a powerful moment, the first time I told my father I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. He is an artist and I remember standing beside his dawing board while he worked and saying I wanted to be a writer. He said, “That’s great. But you cannot call yourself a writer until you finish a book. Even if it is never published, even if no one reads it, once you finish a book you will be a writer, but until then you are not.” It sounds like a strong thing to say, but it was a valuable lesson. For my father, it was very important that I learn the value of taking a creative idea to its completion. Lots of people have wonderful novels in their souls, but very few put in the tedious effort to realize it. When I finished my first novel in college, an as-yet unpublished story called “The Goat Keeper”, it was such a proud moment to hand it to him and to become a writer!

It wasn’t until I was in my Junior year in college that I truly understood that the path to the rabbinate was even a possibility for me. I had always thought that it was something only men could do. Even though there were female rabbis around, I hadn’t met any. However, I always loved religion, studying faiths and myths and cultures. The kinds of conversations and debates I had with people with strong faith identities in many ways mirrored the conversations I’d hear between my parents and their artist friends. The artists would always talk about such things as mortality, man’s fragility, the futility of monument, shattering dogmas, the supremacy of blank space…it was art they were discussing, but it filtered into my mind as theology, and I loved it.

In many ways I think of myself as a rabbi with the heart of a novelist, rather than the other way around. I started as a writer and then expanded my material from the confines of pen and ink to people and community. As a congregational rabbi, I have the opportunity to help craft the story of a community of families, engage in their sacred and profound moments, adding our chapters to an ever-unfolding scripture of a people.

MW: I realize both roles relate to one another, if I’m reading your interview in Drawing in the Dust correctly.  But does writing serve your role as a spiritual leader? If so, how?

RZK: Sometimes I think my rabbinate is almost like fieldwork for writing, and my writing is soulwork for the rabbinate. Writing is interesting in that it is done in physical solitude, and yet it is never lonely for me. I am full up with characters, with vivid dreams and scenes, demons to wrestle, I’m haunted and vexed and also ecstatic and weeping. In contradiction to that, in the rabbinate there is no solitude, you are continually working with people. It is a very social position, and yet for me there is loneliness there. There is a lot of what the mystics call “tzim-tzum,” a kind of spiritual contraction one does to make room for others. You retract yourself enough to allow space for other’s voices. You become an expert active listener. When I write though, that part of me that contracts in order to give center stage to others’ stories and needs, suddenly unfurls its great wings and jets about wildly.

The short answer to your question is that I think my writing allows me to be a whole person as a spiritual leader. Without it, I think I’d be fragments of a mosaic, chipped with no clear design. I think when you take the time regularly, whether through writing or meditation or running or whatever, to reflect on your decisions and desires, face your darkness, and emerge with a burning but joyful heart, you can better take others by the hand and lead them through a courageous process of reflection and growth.

MW: Talk about your experience as a person of faith—indeed a leader—writing biblical fiction for a broad audience.  Were you concerned that you wouldn’t be received well, that you might misrepresent yourself, or that your story might be misperceived?

RZK: While I was perhaps concerned about the story being misperceived or not received well, it was not a deterrent for me. I was encouraged by a great editor Al Silverman to forget while I wrote that I was a rabbi, a mother, a wife, and just write from a place of uniqueness, without titles, and I’ve always tried to do that. I am a person of faith. I believe that stories which are filled with metaphor and myth are a form of prayer. I never feel far from God when I write, in fact I feel close, even if I’m writing a scene that is sexual or violent or both. It is a process of exploration into human nature, into fantasy, into longing and fear, and it is not too different than the best kind of worship experience, where you are completely honest and raw, repentant, mournful, terrified, awe-filled, trembling with humility, romanced and swept up in all your smallness into the impossible arms of the infinite. There is no doubt that it is scary to write for a broad audience, and that no matter how much you try to hide your truths under layers and layers of plot and characterization you always end up realizing that despite your efforts you ended up publishing your very private diary, but it is also freeing to realize that the things that you say are the honest voicing of your humanness, what a relief to not be a spiritual leader hiding behind a façade, with word locked into routine platitudes! How refreshing to be real, to have a faith that wrestles, breathes, challenges and confounds!

MW: How has your congregation responded to your writing life?

RZK: My congregation has been celebratory and wonderful. I am fortunate to share this journey with them! We have many writers, thinkers, professors and experts-in-their-field in our community, people who love and appreciate art and don’t shy away from its darker sides…

MW: When I connected with you about this interview, I mentioned my gratitude for the seen and unseen work behind this novel.  I’m glad you’ve labored in all the ways you have to give us this work.  What don’t people know about what it takes to write a good story for publication?  Will you give us a sense of some of what it took for you?

RZK: Ah, that’s a good question. I don’t think people understand the sheer mass of hours that it takes. People don’t realize that once the book is finished and you feel completely beaten and your hair is grayer and thinner because of the process, and your eyes are dim from staring into the computer, and every time you blink you see bright blue squares, and your wrecked with fatigue after months of not sleeping, once you’ve gotten that far, you have to STILL muster the strength to face rejection after rejection after rejection…years of rejection and pitching your story, and trying even after years have gone by and you’ve already become passionate about a NEW idea retaining the freshness about the book that no one seems to want…and then after you finally find an agent and an editor, realizing that there are two of three or four more Everests to climb with revisions, revisions that keep tearing out your heart and then sewing it back in. Every time I’d get to a new mountain where it would be so easy to just drop the whole thing, I would think to myself, “This is a filter, and only the most determined get through.” And I was determined to be determined enough! I think people understand how steep the climb is from conception to publication, but I don’t think people know how long it is, how much stamina is involved.

I also tend to like to write stories that have a lot of different characters and layers of interpretation, and it is hard to keep track of all of those little pieces over the course of 600 hundred pages, which was how long DRAWING IN THE DUST originally was. When I was editting it at one point I realized that if one added up the years and scenes carefully for one of the very peripheral characters and tried to figure out her age, she would have to be something like 130 years old. Keeping track of all these strands of lives is hard!

MW: I’m pretty sure you have many things to do.  I could be wrong.  I’m probably not.  How do you serve both these areas in your life well?  And how do you do anything else?!

RZK: Sometimes I feel like one of those cirque-d’soleil contortionists with the spinning plates on top of sticks, except that while they make it look so graceful and beautiful, all the plates spinning perfectly, my plates are often pretty wobbly! And some of them crash. If I were to label my plates, there would be the Writing Plate, the Rabbi Plate, the Children Plate, the Husband Plate, Friend Plate, and of course lots more. I think while I’ve made time to keep the Writing Plate spinning by devoting Mondays, my one day off, to writing, and the Rabbi plate I devote much time to, and the Children Plate keeps spinning even though it’s hectic, I admit the Husband Plate often wobbles and falls (luckily it’s a sturdy, rebounding plate!), and I haven’t been able to devote much time to the Friends Plate (I have friends, we just don’t see each other at all, I haven’t been able to nourish that part of my life)…there are a lot of sacrifices! As I’ve gotten older, I am trying to redistribute my energy, focusing more on my family and building relationships, and trying to approach work with less frenetic energy and more joy and appreciation. Everything is not always in balance as people like to believe! But up until now I think I’ve lived my life is a giant rush, and I really want to learn to slow down and appreciate BEING instead of eating up every hour with DOING.

MW: I read Eugene Peterson who is a pastor and writer, and he encourages clergy to read fiction.  He says that artists have become his allies and have taken a place next to theologians and scholars in his formation as a pastor and as an artist.  You talk about the power of fiction in your provided interview.  How does fiction nurture a person in general and a religious leader in particular?

RZK: That is beautiful. I think that fiction unlocks people’s hearts in a particular way that nothing else can. You take fiction under the covers with you, give it the heat of your breath, and like the genie in the lamp it has an enchantment. Somehow entering the world of fiction, our vault of tears is more easily unlocked, particular drama reflects universal understanding. There is an intimacy in fiction, partly because of the intimacy it took to create it. In terms of a religious person, I think that today we tend to sterilize the idea of a person of faith, turn that person into a kind of sexless judge. Piety is purity. But dancing with God is an intimacy, it’s a cosmic affair, filled with subordination and abuses, mastery and humility, and of course love. I once wrote a new definition for love — Reverence for Mystery. I think fiction nurtures a person in general and a religious person in particular because there are very high truths that can only be expressed in metaphor. God, for example, can only be expressed in metaphor, as shepherd or teacher or lover or parent or guide.  I believe Fiction, ironically, is Ultimate Truth’s master key.

MW: What are you reading these days, by the way?

RZK: To be honest, I’m reading a lot of Science Fiction! I just printed out the top 100 Science Fiction books, and right now I’m reading Ender’s Game. It’s just a field I had never read before, and I am surprised at how much I’m loving it! Before this new kick though, I read Cynthia Ozick’s novels, The Shawl, The Putterman Papers and Heir to The Glimmering World, and my goodness, her language was like cashmere, so rich and sumptous.

MW: You’ve talked about God as the Reader of All Life—language that I love.  What are you working on, preparing, and “offering skyward”?

RZK: I just finished a novel called Origin of Color which will be released in summer of 2012; it is going through its editing process now. I went to Swaziland and Tanzania to research for it when I was on sabbatical this past December. The book is about an American couple that accidently falls into the middle of a crime ring of witchdoctors and politicians in East Africa who sell albino body parts to be made into potions. I met with East Africans with alibinism and families whose children with albinism had been butchered. I wove these experiences into this novel. It was an emotional novel to write, it is a thriller, and it even scared me as I was creating it. I’d be writing in the middle of the night and leaping up to make sure the doors were locked…jumping if I thought the curtain moved! The “offering skyward” part of it is that it is also a contemplation about perception. I am very excited about it.

I am also leaving in two weeks to go back to Africa, to Ghana, with the American Jewish World Service. I will be in Winneba, Ghana with American Jewish World Service’s Young Rabbis’ Delegation. The Young Rabbis’ Delegation brings together a group of rabbis from all over the country to experience first-hand the power of grassroots development and explore issues of social justice and global responsibility from the perspective of Jewish texts and tradition.  The group is working at Challenging Heights, an AJWS-supported NGO devoted to providing education to former child slaves and resources to families whose children are at risk for slavery and human trafficking.

MW: How can readers stay in touch with you and support your work?

RZK: On my website, or by emailing me at Thank you so much for inviting me to participate on your website. Abundant blessings to you and to all of your readers!

As for the book giveaway, if you know of a clergy person who would benefit from reading this novel, post a comment, a sentence or two, about why they would.  Do so by Friday, midnight, CST.  I’ll choose a winner randomly and you can give a copy to your clergy person.

Book Giveaway and Interview with Tayari Jones

I am grateful to have Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow, for an interview.  If you’re interested in getting a free copy of the novel, those instructions are below.  I’ve been following this writing professor’s blog for a few years, learning about the writing life, reading her critical analysis of events, and enjoying how she presents publishing and life as a woman of color.  I’m a student and fan.  I think you should be too, which is why I’m commending Silver Sparrow.

I think you should go buy this novel from the closest bookstore or rent it from you local public library.  I’ve made several recommendations like these in the author’s interviews, suggestions I hope you’re considering.

Here’s the interview:

MW: Congratulations on the multiple-weeks tour promoting Silver Sparrow.  How are you holding up during your book tour?

TJ: I’m holding up, but I have to say that I am tired. 40 cities is a lot of traveling, but I love connecting with readers to actually talk. It’s really inspiring.

MW: You had an interesting and maybe horrifying experience with the title.  Will you mention how you came to it?

TJ: Well, the short version is that my original title, SILVER GIRL, was already in use.  Another book with the very same title was just published. I had about a week to come up with a new title.  Everyone in my life jumped in.  I was just cleaning out emails and found some potential titles from brainstorming sessions.  It’s funny, but it wasn’t funny at the time.  And then a friend mentioned the hymn, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” and I knew that I had found my title.  It was a real blessing.  A gift.

MW: Your novels detail girlhood, picture femininity, and in my wife’s words describing Leaving Atlanta, “take me back to my childhood.”  How do you continually offer such real, honest, strong, brilliant characters?  How do you replenish yourself to keep seeing women for who they are rather than what’s often popular and visible if that makes sense?

TJ: First off, thank you to your wife for that compliment because that really was my goal with Leaving Atlanta–to remind people what it was like to grow up in the 1970s, to record our history.  To make a record that we were there.  I think the key to writing solid characters is to be a loving but honest observer.  When I write I think of real people, not people I have seen on TV or in movies–or even other books.  I want to make close replicas of actual human beings.  I don’t want to make a replica of a replica, getting further and further away from real and you can see how looking the way society wants you to look is like having a part-time job. I think we really squander our resources chasing down that ideal–trying to be show ponies.  But at the same time, we deserve the right to enjoy our bodies, our faces, our hair.  I wrestle a lot with keeping balance.

MW: You dedicate the book to your parents.  If this isn’t too personal–and I can’t recall whether you’ve blogged about this–how did your father respond to the story?

TJ: My dad emailed yesterday saying that he loved the book but he thought that James Witherspoon got off too easy.  My dad is my biggest cheerleader.  He is proud of me, not just for the text of the book, but for being brave enough to go my own way.  I feel like I should say, for the record that he’s not a bigamist!

MW: The women in this novel seek love.  They give it and seek it.  The ways the daughters sought their father’s love jumped out to me.  How was it writing two daughters with such competitive experiences?

TJ: Everyone in the novel is seeking love.  This is a book about how far people will go to keep their families in tact.  Even James, the bigamist.  Everyone in this book makes bad decisions for the right reasons.  The key to writing it was not to take sides–to write with as much affection for Laverne, the lawfully wedded wife as for Gwen the mistress “wife.”  The same goes for the daughters.  Everyone wants to be loved.  You can’t blame them for that.

MW: Are there any intersections between your life as writer and as professor?

TJ: I teach creative writing, so I feel like I am helping shape the literature of tomorrow.  I love watching a young writer grow.  It’s really inspiring.

MW: Among the many entertaining things about this story was the use of lies and the movement toward truth.  I imagine writing a story cloaked in deception was fun and challenging.  Any reflections on that?

TJ: There was so much pain in this story and I had to really keep my eyes open as I wrote it.  The stakes were so high for all the characters that none of them could compromise, and as a result, everyone was compromised.  I didn’t take pleasure in watching the lies unravel.  I feel really attached to my characters.  I knew that at least one of the characters would lose everything and everyone they loved.

But I think that the pleasure in this story comes in the pleasure of reading a difficult story on a difficult topic.  There is a sort of joy that comes from facing the truth, and looking it in the face.

MW: If you had to keep one of your characters with you on your book tour, who would it be and why?

TJ: I would chose Dana’s running buddy Ronalda. I like that girl.  She’s funny and she knows how to keep a cool head.

MW: How can readers keep in touch with you, learn about other works in progress when they come, and support the growing reception ofSilver Sparrow?

TJ: I would love for folks to come out and say hello to me when I’m on book tour. You can see my whole schedule here

If you’d like to enter my contest for a free autographed copy of Silver Sparrow, leave a comment with a book title and the author’s name that you recently enjoyed or one that simply stays with you.  I’d love to know what about the work stuck with or struck you, though that’s not required for the randomly selected winner to be chosen.  Post the comment by midnight, CST, June 13, 2011.