All Interviews

The People Remember is an exquisite book that every member of the family will appreciate. In powerful, moving verse, National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi (American Street) weaves together the history of African Americans with the seven principles of Kwanzaa. The book is illustrated by acclaimed artist Loveis Wise, whose stunning, vibrant images perfectly complement Zoboi's text. Zoboi and Wise discuss the creation of the book and how they each hope readers will connect with it.

Ibi, The People Remember is both a journey through the seven principles of Kwanzaa and a timeline of African American history. By braiding together the principles and history, did you come to see aspects of either in a new way?

Author Ibi Zoboi: Absolutely! There were specific moments in Black history that highlight each of the principles. It just so happens that I got to Ujamaa (cooperative economics) during Black Wall Street and the Harlem Renaissance. Kuumba (creativity) landed right in the middle of the hip-hop movement. There are highs and lows throughout Black history, and the Kwanzaa principles demonstrate how we've survived and thrived through it all.

The People Remember is your first picture book. What did you enjoy about this new form?

Zoboi: Since The People Remember is written in free verse, it is simply a very long poem. I've always written poetry, so it came naturally to me. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to get 400 years of Black history into 2,000 words or so. 

Loveis, you're one of the first people in the world to have read Ibi's words in this book. How did you feel after that very first read?

Illustrator Loveis Wise: I remember feeling excited, and I intuitively felt the importance and warmth of what this book would bring. At the time, I really wanted to create a body of work that focused on ancestral connections, and The People Remember was the perfect way for me to explore more.

What's your favorite illustration from the book? 

Wise: My favorite is the spread focusing on Mami Wata and the children that she's protecting underwater. This piece felt very kindred to me because of its stillness, but it also feels very powerfully divine.

Zoboi: My favorite illustration is the one where two ancestors are hugging one tree, but from opposite spaces in place and time. When I first saw it, it took my breath away. This spread perfectly captures what this book is all about.

Which principle of Kwanzaa do you feel an especially strong personal connection to?

Zoboi: Ujamaa, which means cooperative economics. I hope all Black people all over the world can get to a place where we are self-sufficient. 

Wise: Kuumba, because it highlights the creativity and the magic we create through transformation and resiliency!

What place do you hope this book finds in the homes and hearts of young readers and their families?

Wise: I hope this book inspires, answers questions and encourages readers to celebrate the beauty of Kwanzaa's principles with their community.

Zoboi: The People Remember belongs in every home with every type of family. There are lots of opinions out there about Kwanzaa, but I wanted to contextualize why it's a much-needed cultural celebration. I want educators and caretakers to ask young readers what they would do if they forgot how to play a favorite game or words to a favorite song. They would make up new ones, right? This is exactly how Kwanzaa came to be, and why it is still celebrated decades after its inception. It is a testament to how not all is ever lost. We always remember.

This beautiful picture book casts the principles of Kwanzaa in a new light and can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Combined image of author Ibi Zoboi and illustrator Loveis Wise

Kate Sweeney's debut YA novel, Catch the Light, is a moving story of healing through art and opening yourself up to a new life after suffering a great loss. Sweeney graciously shares a heartfelt look into her experiences of grief and loss, which inspired the story of her protagonist, Marigold "Mary" Sullivan.

Tell us a little bit about Marigold and what's happened in her life when we first meet her.
Marigold is a white, middle class, cisgender, heterosexual 17-year-old who is about to start her senior year of high school. She has just moved from Los Angeles to rural upstate New York with her mom and little sister. Her father died nine months before the book starts, and she's also just lost so many other parts of her life—her friends, her boyfriend, her home. She's grieving and feeling out of control but also trying to keep things together for her family. On top of that, she's grappling with the fact that she's forgetting her father.

How did this book begin for you?
This book felt like it came to me all at once. I think part of that is because so much of the emotional territory is familiar to me. I experienced a lot of Marigold's journey in my own life. When I started Catch the Light, I hadn't written a word of prose in over 10 years, I was a new mom and a full-time public school teacher, and I was feeling totally underwater, like I was losing myself. And then suddenly I got this feeling like I needed to write this story. It felt kind of like I was bringing myself back from the edge.

"When I lost my father, there was a lot of shame in feeling like I was doing it wrong, that I wasn't feeling enough or showing enough. But it's not something that we really have control over; the only thing to do is just to make space for it however you can."

You started writing when you were 16, five years after your father died. How much did you revisit your own experiences as you worked on this book?
The amazing part of writing this book was getting to relive a moment that, in many ways, shaped my whole life, as an adult person and a parent. I had this dual perspective on the experience: I could be myself and my dad at the same time. I could understand the tension of being an artist and a parent, of wanting to lose myself in my work and forget the world, even as I remembered the feeling of being forgotten. There was a lot of peace in that for me.

Marigold's grief is complex and mutable, and she feels alone in her sadness a lot of the time. What did you hope readers will take away from this aspect of her story?
I think the biggest message in Catch the Light is that grief is messy. When I lost my father, there was a lot of shame in feeling like I was doing it wrong, that I wasn't feeling enough or showing enough. But it's not something that we really have control over; the only thing to do is just to make space for it however you can. I hope that readers can feel validated in whatever their own experiences might be, no matter how imperfect.

There are more than a few secrets bubbling around in Catch the Light, which makes for some delicious suspense and dramatic conflict. What drew you to exploring the consequences of secrecy in this story?
This is actually pretty funny, because I really hate this kind of suspense! Often when I'm reading a book and the main character keeps making bad decisions and telling lies that are going to ruin everything, I can't even finish it. I think it's because I'm a huge perfectionist and grew up really afraid to ever do the wrong thing. But maybe this book is a wish for my younger self, that when everything fell apart in my own family, I would have just been able to mess things up like that. I think there's something healthy about making huge mistakes, especially as part of the grieving process.

Marigold has to adapt to not only a new home but also new ground and sky. You did a wonderful job conveying what it was like for Marigold to long for beautiful "pollution-bright sunsets" even as she grows to appreciate a sky that's "inky black and covered in stars." How did you work to craft such grounded senses of place in Marigold's story?
Growing up, I lived in a lot of different places: Athens, Georgia; Los Angeles; Cambridge, New York; Salt Lake City; and New York City. In a way, it always felt like I was longing for somewhere I'd left behind. The idea of place became very important to me, especially in all of the physical sensations that make a place what it is. I'm always thinking about what the air felt like somewhere or what color the flowers were. I'm just incredibly nostalgic in that way, so when I was writing Catch the Light, I wanted to convey the feeling of longing that I'd always felt.

"There are so many fascinating connections and parallels between photographs and memory, from our desperation to capture moments as they happen to the way we obsess over photographs when someone leaves us."

Marigold's long-distance sorta-boyfriend Bennett is a kind, hunky California surfer she's known forever—and then she meets sensitive, dreamy New York photographer Jesse, with whom she feels an instant connection. What was most fun about writing those romantic storylines?
While many parts of this book were biographical, the boyfriend part was definitely not. I was not cool in high school and people did not want to date me. I didn't have a real relationship with reciprocated feelings until I was in my 20s. 

I'm also a huge romantic. When I'm out in public and I see two people who might be on a date, I can't help but make up a whole story in my head about what's happening there. I just love romance, so creating romantic characters and storylines is one of my favorite parts of writing.

The level of detail about film photography you included was impressive and fascinating, from technical considerations to the characters' favorite shutterbugs. Did you research that element of the book? Are you perhaps also a photographer yourself?
In my early 20s, I was an avid film photographer. When I was writing Catch the Light, I wanted Marigold to be a photographer too, because of what's happening with her memory. There are so many fascinating connections and parallels between photographs and memory, from our desperation to capture moments as they happen to the way we obsess over photographs when someone leaves us. My older sister, Sarah, is a digital media artist, and her work has really inspired me to think about the ways that images can help us remember while simultaneously degrading the lived experience of our pasts.

Read our starred review of 'Catch the Light.'

You've been writing songs, singing and playing music with your band, Magic Magic Roses, for the past 10 years. What is it like for you to transition between creating songs to writing a novel? Do Kate the musician and Kate the author have a lot in common?
Songwriting and novel writing are very similar experiences for me. There is a lot of self-discipline involved for both: You have to keep showing up, day after day. I'm an early riser and a compulsive journaler, and I wrote both my music and Catch the Light by making use of tiny scraps of time I found in between working, being a partner and taking care of a small child. 

For me, the other secret to both is a certain level of truth telling. You have to be willing to put it all out there, to embarrass yourself a little. In my songs and stories, I tell things about myself that I would never reveal to a person that I know in real life.

I love the playlist on your website with songs and artists mentioned in the book. Can you share a little bit about a few of them and why they're special to the characters—and to you?
A lot of the music in the book is from my own childhood. My dad really loved bands like Talking Heads and the Doors, so mentioning those felt like they were for him. The Violent Femmes makes me think of my sister and her roller-coaster teen years, of how amazingly honest and authentic she's always been. 

In general, when I think of memories from being young, music is always at the forefront. It's what keeps me feeling connected to that time and those people.

As you're answering these questions, there's a month to go before Catch the Light will be published. How do you feel? What's something you hope for this book as it makes its way into the world and into the hands and hearts of readers? How do you hope you'll feel a year from now?
At this moment, everything feels very surreal. I'm new to publishing, so it's all a little mystifying. My hopes are very basic. Even just how you describe it, that the book "makes its way into the world and into the hands and hearts of readers," is such an exciting idea and really all I hope for. 

I have another book that I'm editing now and a baby book that I'm working on a little bit every day, and so a year from now, I hope I can just keep feeling this push to create and the magic of getting to share my books with the world.

Author photo © Kari Orvik

This affecting and personal debut novel makes space for the messiness of grief.
author photo of Karla Sweeney

In You Are Here (For Now), artist and author Adam J. Kurtz is vulnerable, wise and hilarious as he doles out advice and comfort to anyone who's really going through it.

What's the worst advice you've ever received?
Sometimes the worst advice comes from the people who love us the most. I won't go into it (oops, bad start to an interview), but someone who loves me was enabling me when what I really needed was a full reset. 

Advice is always going to be highly subjective, even when it comes from the most intuitive and special people in our lives. I make sure to be especially transparent about that when dispensing any myself, including within my books.

What motivates you to motivate others? Is motivation even the right word for it?
I don't think it's motivation so much as me continually searching for a way to be OK—yes, me, an infamously (to myself) not OK person—and then wanting to share it with as many people as possible. In the last few years, and particularly as I did more speaking, I realized that my weirdo-brain way of thinking through shit actually sounds a lot like other peoples' inner monologues, and so I began to think that maybe there's power in opening up the conversation to others.

Do you remember the first time you reached a "vibe equilibrium" (when good vibes and bad vibes can coexist)? How sustainable is such a state?
"GOOD VIBES ONLY" is tone-deaf at this point because we're all in the jello now! It's pandemic year two, and everybody is simultaneously struggling through very real hardships and loss while still experiencing moments of joy and celebrating milestones in spite of everything. That's the vibe equilibrium I'm talking about. Turns out, it's pretty sustainable. In fact, it's the only thing that works, because pure ignorance is dangerous, but focusing solely on the news cycle makes it impossible to feel good at all.

"Pure ignorance is dangerous, but focusing solely on the news cycle makes it impossible to feel good at all."

When you sit down to write, who do you imagine you're talking to? What role does the idea of an audience play in your process?
This is literally SO mentally-ill-gay-Jew of me, but at least half the time I'm just talking to myself. I mean, aren't we all? Even our most objective advice and anecdotes are still rooted in our own lived experiences. I think about a younger version of myself, or a friend sitting across from me on the couch talking through their current mix of stress and insecurity. 

I am totally a secret-keeper and confidant for people, and it's an honor to be "that friend" for the people I love. I imagine my readers as friends who are going through it right now, and since it's not always appropriate to instigate a heart-to-heart, I thought about this book as a way for readers to opt-in to talk about all the stuff we don't usually talk about—like failure, shame, anxiety and death.

What is it about being glib that helps you cope? Is this a way to reach deeper levels of honesty?
I mean, yes, in the way that my favorite deadpan, self-deprecating humor is often incredibly honest. It's also the kind of deep-level honesty that this poor barista did not ask for. So it's about finding the funny silver lining for yourself, but also making sure that you have and respect boundaries.

Has the shift in how we talk about self-care changed our lived experience of it? If so, do you think this change is for the better?
Yes yes yes yes yes. I am so grateful for the way this conversation continues to change, and I try to be very intentional about my use of the phrases "self-care," "mental health" and "mental illness." It's so necessary for us to allow ourselves and one another to acknowledge mental well-being in a mainstream, practical, actionable way. 

Seeing Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles, two incredible Black women at the top of their games, speak openly about mental health and even deprioritize their passion, pride and income to focus inward is so incredible. It means a lot to me to have a small part in this conversation that continues to unfold around all of us.

"I thought about this book as a way for readers to opt-in to talk about all the stuff we don't usually talk about—like failure, shame, anxiety and death."

It often feels like it's becoming increasingly hard to be a human being. Is there reprieve from this? If so, where do you find it in your own life?
I think we're simply seeing more ways of being and are subsequently faced with far more comparisons and possibilities than before. It's hard for me to realize I'm unhappy if I don't know how happy I could theoretically be! But many of the same tools that hurt us (hi, social media) can also bring us comfort, inspiration and community. I always think of my art as a breadcrumb trail left out in the universe to attract my people. Sharing this process has brought incredible friendships, and my husband, into my life. Not to mention a book deal . . .

What music has helped you stay alive? What's the soundtrack of your life right now?
Michelle Branch's "The Spirit Room" meant absolutely everything to me as a teen. It came out around the same time that my family moved from Canada to the USA and I was coming to terms with my sexuality and how it conflicted with our Jewish religion. "Goodbye to you, goodbye to everything that I knew," sung in such literal terms, meant the world to me as a 13-year-old. It's that album's 20-year anniversary this year, and she's rerecorded it, so I've had that in rotation, a fresh take on the words and melodies that are hard-wired into my brain.

Alanis Morissette's "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie" also must receive credit for being an incredible, dense, vulnerable look into a young, intelligent and complex mind. Sometimes I think that if Alanis Morissette could find joy and success in her art on a complicated path through teen fame and pain, I can do my thing and have that be enough.

Speaking of musicians, did you mean for the handwritten parts of the book to look like the cover of Drake's "If You're Reading This It's Too Late"?
Oh my god, get away from me!!!!!!! I'd been doing this thing for many years, and when that album came out, so many people asked me if I worked on it. That type was actually created by the street artist JIMJOE, and when I first moved to New York, he had tagged the door downstairs "OK OK OK OK NO PROBLEMS." I wish I had written THAT first, but I've saved the photo and still might get it tattooed some day.

Author photo © Michelle Mishina

Meet Adam J. Kurtz, a mental health guru you can actually relate to.

When Robin Blyth arrives at his new position in the Special Domestic Affairs and Complaints division, he's expecting a slightly overwhelming, but typical first day at a new job. What he's not expecting is to learn that magic is real, and that his predecessor might have been murdered. The deliverer of this news, magician Edwin Courcey, becomes Robin's guide to the magical underworld of Edwardian England. Freya Marske uses this imaginative framework to spin a tale of conspiracy and unexpected love in A Marvellous Light, first of a planned trilogy.  

Congrats on such a splendid debut. When you think back to the original inspiration for this book, did Robin and Edwin's story turn out the way you expected?
Thank you! A lot of the worldbuilding and plot events did change in the telling—more on that below!—but the emotional core of the story, Edwin and Robin and their romance, was the first part of the book to cohere for me. I knew who they were, and I knew why and how they would fall in love. That part barely changed at all between the initial inspiration and the final draft.

Edwardian England is rendered so vividly in A Marvellous Light. Did this story and its setting always go hand in hand when you were coming up with the concept? In a similar vein, what does this setting give to the story that other time periods might not?
Somewhat hilariously, the reason I chose the Edwardian era is because of book two's story and setting being extremely intertwined. I always knew the second book would be set on an ocean liner around the time of the Titanic. But once I started poking around and researching the time period, the manor house party-setting of book one fell perfectly into place. And the greatest contribution of this specific historical setting turned out to be the Arts & Crafts movement, which not only gave me a lot of wonderful visuals but also helped to bring out one of the most important character notes for Robin: his appreciation for art. 

What choices did you make spontaneously while drafting that added the most to the book?
I think of myself as a kitchen-sink kind of drafter. I'll snatch at whatever offhand world building or character details drift across my mind, and shove them into the text, so that when I need a spanner to fix a plot problem later in the book I can turn around and say, "Well, I'm SURE there was a spanner back in Chapter Four." Anything that gets used stays in; everything else gets painfully pruned in revisions. 

Read our starred review of 'A Marvellous Light.'

I wrote myself a spanner-detail about how a magical family makes a contract with their house and land, then found myself at the very midpoint of the book realizing that in order to be consistent with my own world building, I would have to allow a certain unplanned thing to happen. And this thing was so fun and interesting that I immediately stopped and gleefully reworked the outline to see what sort of ripple effects it would have. (Good ones, it turns out!)

When thinking back to the writing process, what passage or section do you most vividly remember?
I don't want to spoil too much, but the hedge maze scene was definitely the one I had the most fun with. I got to experiment with some more horror-esque tension, which doesn't appear to a great extent anywhere else in the book, so that stretched some writing muscles for me!

Talk to me about the magic system. Were you inspired by any systems from other works when coming up with your own?
As someone with a methodical mind myself, I've always been drawn to magic systems that have an element of the academic to them: those that require study, and patient learning, and don't come easily. (I'm a sucker for any book featuring a magical school, library or university.) Edwin as a character embodies that kind of magic. At the same time, I wanted this book to have a balance of logical magic and the wilder, more numinous, less explicable magic that lives in fairy tales. The kind of magic that upends an ordered life, just as Robin does for Edwin. 

"For me, the romantic moments in fiction that feel the most authentic are those that are also the most specific. What are the small details that one character is noticing about another?"

Some say that comedy is the hardest dialogue to write, but I imagine romantic declarations can be just as difficult. Do you have any tips for creating romantic moments that feel real and truthful?
A good love story is unique; It should feel like it could only arise between the two (or more) unique individuals within it. For me, the romantic moments in fiction that feel the most authentic are those that are also the most specific. What are the small details that one character is noticing about another, and how do those details become building blocks in the romance? What are the small things they can do for one another, or say to one another, that make the characters feel seen for who they are, and loved in their flawed entirety? Once you know those answers, you can write a line that shouts I love you! as loudly as if the words were spoken.

What work did you have to put in for this book so that the next installments would have a solid foundation to stand on?
When I got to the end of the first draft, I looked back and thought, "Oh—THAT'S what the theme of this trilogy is! And THIS is how it will play itself out in the other books!" Then I hopped on video chat with an author friend who patiently asked me questions while I wailed and gnashed my teeth until I'd properly worked out the backstory of certain characters and the solid bones of the magic system. The first and largest revision included a lot of careful work to lay the foundations for books two and three.

I also made sure to introduce one of book two's main characters; ditto for book three. The further you get into a trilogy plot, the less room you have for leisurely character introductions. I want my readers to be able to hit the ground running in the later books, and to have the protagonists feel like existing acquaintances they're keen to know in more detail.

Horrible families are fun as heck to read. I'm definitely fishing here, but will we see more of that in book two?
Horrible families provide a convenient way for a central couple to be drawn together in a you-and-me-against-the-world sort of way. Robin and Edwin are marooned in a book full of human monsters. However, I wrote book two during 2020, and for some reason I had the urge to escape into a fun romp of a book, full of basically decent people. It still has its nasty villains and its amusing assholes—and the two protagonists are definitely still products of less-than-ideal families—but the family setting itself is much less prominent.

Looking back on both the writing and the editing process, what parts of creating these characters and this story are you most proud of?
I'll be frank: This is only the second novel I ever wrote, so I'm pleased as hell that it even exists. I'm proud that it has a coherent shape, a coherent aesthetic, a heady combination of all my favorite things (magic! murder mystery! sex!), and characters who are vivid in my mind. I've spent countless hours of drafting and revision with them, and I'm not sick of their company yet. I hope I never will be. And I'm more than ready for the world to meet them too.

Author Freya Marske shares how she brought a resonant, magical romance to life within the buttoned-up world of Edwardian England.

In Our First Civil War, historian and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist H.W. Brands brings to life the families, communities and tribes torn apart by opposing beliefs during the American Revolution.

Our First Civil War is a concise history of the American Revolution told largely through first-person accounts from letters, diaries and memoirs written by the Founders, prominent Loyalists and other lesser-known participants. Why did you take that approach? Were any of the documents difficult to find and research?
I myself am most engaged by primary sources: the words of the men and women who lived and made history. So it comes naturally for me to write history that way—and indications are that my readers like it.

As for documents, as the digital world expands, historical research becomes easier. There was almost nothing I wanted to see for this book, by way of letters, diaries and the like, that wasn't available online.

You wrote The First American about Benjamin Franklin 20 years ago. Why have you now come back to the American Revolution, in a book that again looks closely at Franklin, among others?
While recently writing about the Civil War (of the 1860s), I remembered how divisive the Revolutionary War had been. And with the civil war model in mind, I took a new look and discovered how apt a model it is for viewing that earlier conflict.

You devote a considerable amount of the book to Franklin's evolution from believing in a transatlantic British empire to his firm advocacy for independence. How was he pivotal to the Revolution's ultimate success? 
No single person is indispensable in something as large as the American Revolution. But Franklin comes close. He was a great fan of the British Empire until the people who ran that empire treated him like a foolish and venal provincial. He then concluded there was no future for people like him within the empire. George Washington had a similar experience. They were both unlikely revolutionaries, but British folly provoked them beyond forgiveness.

Read our starred review of 'Our First Civil War.'

Some readers may be shocked to learn that Franklin's son William was not only a prominent Loyalist but also someone who instigated what can be seen as a Loyalist terror campaign late in the war. Why did he take such a different path from his father?
Benjamin Franklin had revolted against his own parents and against the theocrats who ran Boston when Ben was young. William Franklin came to his independence of mind honestly. In addition, where Ben was abused by the British authorities, William found his honor and honesty called into question by American rebels. From his position, loyalty to Britain was the only possible course.

You write about how people of relatively similar backgrounds and early beliefs, like Franklin and the Loyalists Thomas Hutchinson and Joseph Galloway, ultimately developed sharply different positions on independence from Britain. How much of their divergence was ideological, and how much derived from personal experience? I think, for example, of Hutchinson losing his home to the vandalism of a Patriot mob.
Every decision for or against independence was deeply personal. In some cases it was ideological, too. In almost no cases was it simply ideological. To put your life on the line in revolt requires a powerful emotional commitment.

Historians who want to examine the role of women in the Revolution often focus on Abigail Adams. In contrast, you tell us about a Philadelphia Loyalist named Grace Growden Galloway. Why was she interesting to you?
Grace Galloway suffered grievously as a Loyalist in Philadelphia, primarily from the Patriots, who confiscated her property, but also from abandonment by her Loyalist husband, who had to flee for his life to Britain. Yet Grace discovered in her sufferings and abandonment a personal freedom she had never imagined.

"Every decision for or against independence was deeply personal."

George Washington and Benjamin Franklin wrote often about how the British were treating Americans no better than "slaves"—obviously a sore point for both. But neither seemed to address the existence of slavery in the colonies, including, in Washington's case, his own possession of enslaved workers. Did they really not see the contradiction between their beliefs and the injustice in their own system?
Both recognized the injustices of slavery, but they didn't see enslaved people as their social and political equals; almost no white people at that time did. In any case, they believed that before enslaved people could be freed, the United States would have to win its freedom from Britain. The revolution in rights that they were waging wouldn't be won all at once.

How does your focus on Mohawk leader Joseph Brant address the Native American side of the Revolution's story?
Brant and the Mohawks faced the same question everyone did at that time: Which side will you choose? Brant had good relations with the British and leaned in their direction. He also supposed his tribe and the larger Iroquois Confederacy would have an easier time dealing with Britain than with an independent United States. Some of his fellows agreed with him; others did not. The war split tribes just as it did families and communities among white Americans.

Among the other fascinating but lesser-known characters in the book are two enslaved men on different sides of the war, Boston King and Jeffrey Brace. Why would enslaved people have fought for either side?
Boston King accepted the British offer of freedom to those enslaved by rebel masters if they crossed lines and came to the British side. He took a gamble: that the Patriots wouldn't capture him, that the British would win, and that they would honor their promise at war's end. Although the side he chose—the British—lost the war, King won his freedom and evacuated to Canada with the British at war's end. 

Jeffrey Brace went to war on the Patriot side because his enslaver did and took Brace along. Brace noted the irony of fighting, enslaved, for his master's freedom, yet didn't see an appealing alternative. The Patriot side won, with Brace still enslaved, but his master decided Brace had earned his freedom and let him go.

"As worrisome as the current divisions in American society are, this country has survived much worse."

At times in the book, it seems like Washington was desperately trying not to lose to the British until Franklin had negotiated an aid treaty with France. French ships were crucial to the outcome at Yorktown. Did the French really win the American Revolution for us?
French help was crucial, but France was fighting not for American independence but to weaken Britain. For a time, the interests of France and the United States coincided. Franklin and Washington capitalized on that coincidence, to America's benefit.

Another surprise for some readers will be how restive and even mutinous the Patriot army was, to the point that the safety of Congress was under genuine threat. What was Washington's role in turning that around, and how was that important for the nation's development?
Mutiny—its threat and its actuality—was a real danger during the Revolutionary War. Many other generals have taken it upon themselves to assume political power when the civil government seems feckless, as the Continental Congress often did during the Revolution. But not Washington. His authority compelled the mutineers to stand down. Quite possibly no other person could have accomplished that feat. Had he not done so, the United States might have gone the way of revolutionary France, into dictatorship.

What do you hope contemporary readers learn from this book, and how might it help them see our current political divisions in a different way?
As worrisome as the current divisions in American society are, this country has survived much worse.

Your 30-some books on American history are incredibly wide-ranging in their subjects, from capitalism to foreign policy, American presidents and recently John Brown and Abraham Lincoln. Is there a period you haven't yet explored that you want to tackle?
I'm thinking about something on World War II.

Author photo by Marsha Miller.

H.W. Brands illuminates the intensely personal convictions of the Patriots and Loyalists during the American Revolution.
author photo of H.W. Brands by Marsha Miller

Lily King has been publishing fiction for more than 20 years, but in the last decade, she has earned a new level of acclaim and success with the two ravishing, highly praised novels Euphoria and Writers & Lovers. The latter landed on shelves two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down bookstores (and just about everything else in the world), so she was unable to do much in the way of promotion. She has greater hopes—and a scheduled book tour—for her collection of 10 startling short stories, Five Tuesdays in Winter

King's new book takes the long view. The stories span the entirety of the 58-year-old writer's career, and about half of them are new material, not previously published in magazines. In a call to her home in Maine, she explains that she fell in love with short stories in high school. She's been keeping journals since fifth grade (and still has them all, lined up on three shelves in her office), but she didn't dream of becoming a published writer until her discovery of the short story form. 

"I hadn't had a happy childhood, I hadn't loved the cold. But here I am." 

"Short stories are much harder [to write] than novels," she says. "They can be more satisfying because you get to the end faster and don't have to carry the despair for years and years. If you don't like them, you can walk away from them. But you can't make the mistakes that you can make in a novel. You can't have those weird little spasms that a novel allows."

The stories here are layered, incisive, sometimes dark and often funny. The opening tale, "Creature," is about 14-year-old Carol, a nascent writer who is hired by a wealthy woman who lives in a mansion on a rocky New England coastal promontory. For two or three weeks in summer, Carol is to be the live-in babysitter for the woman's very young grandchildren. Carol's services are meant to free up the children's mother, Kay, to spend more time with her own mother. Even before the arrival of Kay's ne'er-do-well brother, Hugh, Carol observes the silences between mother and daughter. 

"Creature" exposes the divisions within families, the flinty coldness and deliberate, doting blindness of a certain kind of parent. In its surprising conclusion we understand the hard shift in awareness that will inform Carol's future as a writer. But is it autobiographical? 

Not quite, explains King, though it is set in the town where she grew up: Manchester, Massachusetts, renamed Manchester-by-the-Sea in 1989. "I feel I was straddling a lot of different worlds," she says of those days. "My parents got divorced. My mother and I were in an apartment downtown without a lot of money. My father was up in the house on the point. Then my father remarried and remarried again. My mother remarried and we moved to a different part of town in a big house. I was both a babysitter trying to make money and then a person who sometimes lived in a big house."

Read our starred review of Five Tuesdays in Winter.

King's experiences with this class dichotomy burn through this story collection, as do strong impulses instilled by years of babysitting, which she began at age 11 and continued until she was 32. "You step into somebody else's family, and you have to intuit their whole ethos," she says. "I'm interested in fitting in and not fitting in. How a situation in a house becomes very fraught. About the power, about everybody's dysfunction."

For the past few years, King and her family have lived in Portland, Maine, but the pandemic hit shortly after their move, so she still doesn't feel completely settled. They previously lived in the smaller town of Yarmouth, but when her older daughter went off to college, her younger daughter lobbied for the family to move to Portland, "the big city." 

Now their house is on a hill, and King's top-floor office gives her an expansive view of city rooftops and the Atlantic Ocean. Her husband, a writer and fine arts painter, has a studio on the top floor as well. His mother, also an artist, painted the vivid work that constitutes the cover art of Five Tuesdays in Winter. The full painting graces King's living room. 

Even after 20-plus years in Maine, King still expresses surprise to be living in New England. "When I left Massachusetts at the age of 18, I thought I would never, ever live in New England again," she says. "And I didn't for a long time. But I just kept kind of circling back and then leaving again and coming back."

King's life has taken her all over the U.S. and even to Valencia, Spain, but starting a family with her husband helped her make the decision to return. "It just seemed that I had to raise my kids with seasons," she says. "With winter, with snow. I didn't think it could happen because I hadn't had a happy childhood, I hadn't loved the cold. But here I am." 

The author of Euphoria and Writers & Lovers takes us into the memories that inspired a story in her terrific first collection.
Author Lily King wearing a white shirt against a terracotta wall

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