Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Author Interviews with B&b ex libris

Q&A with Laura Schaeffer
Author of The Teashop Girls:


What is your favourite tea? Do you drink different teas at different times of the day? Do you worry about caffeine intake, or do you just sip away?

I have lots of favorites. Lately, I like to begin the day with jasmine bloom, Masala chai, or English Breakfast. I don't really worry too much about caffeine, but I try not to have any after 7pm. That's when Salada green tea comes in handy, because it is decaffeinated. Another tea I tried recently and loved was the French Breakfast variety from cha cha tea. Cha Cha is a local Madison tea company and has some really delicious tea.

When did you first fall in love with tea, and who was it that shared that first cup with you?

I didn't experience quality tea until after college. A whole new world opened up when I finally tried it! My best friend Aimee and I went to high tea at several places including teany in NYC and Sherlock's in Florida. I realized then how special good tea could be.

My two little boys love tea parties, we use my fransiscan china apple tea cups and they love the little saucers. We drink licorice root (mostly because they love the natural sweetness of it and I love that it doesn't have any stimulants). What are the best teas that you know of which are naturally sweet for little kids like mine?

I agree that sticking to herbal teas is probably a good idea for children, because most herbals do not have caffeine. I'd recommend peach ginger tissanes, or herbals that include dried berries or mango. It also never hurts to add a little honey for extra sweetness! I find I enjoy most teas more with just a little honey.

The Teashop Girls:

Lets move on to your book, The Teashop Girls. Personally I can't wait to share it with my daughter when I have one who is old enough to read it. You are an amazing writer and even though it is a YA book, I was engrossed like crazy!

What books did you read when you were that age (between the ages of 8-14) that really inspired The Teashop Girls?

I loved Anne of Green Gables, The Babysitter's Club books, Harriet the Spy, books by Ellen Conford, and the Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry. I also liked reading some classics like The Secret Garden, Little Women, and Gone with the Wind. I read all the time when I was a tween.

I personally loved the purity in this book, the girls acted like girls and yet they were honest, kind, and it was clean and wholesome. Was that a goal of yours while writing it or is that naturally your style for that age group? Did you consciously remove things that you found questionable for young girls to read?

Writing this way came naturally to me, but it is also a goal of mine to write books featuring girls who I'd want to befriend. There is plenty of time to be a grown-up, why rush it?

Also, books have always been a peaceful escape for me, and I wanted to create a warm world for my readers to enjoy. That's part of the reason Annie has such a great family and lives in such a wonderful neighborhood.

I cannot describe how excited I was to read a novel for girls in which the girls have their faults but are still very secure in themselves. They didn't question everything and were loving to their parents. Did you intend Annie, Genna and Zoe to be three role models for young girls (not that we all can't learn from them!!)?

Yes, I did. I believe that everything we read, see, and consume becomes a part of us in some small way, so I wanted my characters to be respectful and interesting girls. It's completely normal to be a bit self-conscious when you're 13, but I wanted to convey that the Teashop Girls where doing amazing things, not just putting their energy into looking good. It's SO much more interesting to be a tennis champion, an artist, a loving part of a crazy family, or a new barista than it is to just worry about how "cool" you are.

Annie is a very mature girl, thinking about things way beyond her age, worrying about the teashop that she has grown up in and really is home to her. Did you write her character from experience? Do you find you have a lot in common with Annie when you were that age or even now?

Well, first of all, I think there are a lot of 13 year olds out there who are extremely sensitive to the world around them, perhaps more than adults even realize. Annie is mature, but I also feels she's realistic. Tweens live in the world, and want to change some things and have a voice, just like adults do at times. I did have a lot in common with Annie at that age. I think it would be hard to write a main character who isn't, at least in some ways, me.

The Making of The Teashop Girls:

I'd like to ask you about the writing of this book. When did you start writing The Teashop Girls?

I began in the summer of 2005.

I know first second and third drafts are common, did the story change drastically from when you first wrote it?

Yes, it did. The first draft was set in Florida instead of Wisconsin. Can you believe it? I'm so glad I "brought it home," so to speak.

Besides tea and cupcakes where did you find your inspiration?

I've worked for a local restaurant called Imperial Garden for nine years, so I have a good idea of how food service jobs work! I also found inspiration among my family and friends. For example, my best friend Aimee is in to yoga, and my good friend Stefan is a Zen Buddhist monk.

I already have gushed over how much I loved this book, how great I think it is...so tell me, is there a sequel!?! Do you have a title for it and release date or am I getting ahead of myself!??!?

I would love to write a sequel. I have an outline, but no title or release date yet. I will say that I plan to have Annie become involved in Madison's amazing farmer's market and learn more about the local food movement.

Laura, thank you so much for this interview. I wish every book I read had this stature, this quality and the appeal that this one did. I can't say enough just how much I liked it. Thank you for writing a book that I think should be on every young girl's shelf and I will hold onto my copy in hopes of a daughter to share it with. Thank you.

Bethany (b) from B&b ex libris Interviews Author
Kathryn Maughan
posted: 25th of September, 2008

Kathryn Maughan! I loved her book and reviewed Did I Expect Angels? already (and LOVED it). I asked if Kathryn would do an interview with me. Can you believe it, she agreed!!?!?!

Interview with Kathryn Maughan by Bethany Canfield (of B&b ex libris) enjoy:

How did the idea of Did I Expect Angels? come about?

This is a long story, actually. I got so many different ideas from so many sources. The most notable is September 11, as I’ve written about. There was so much grief and death all around us, and I couldn’t help but think about what the rest of these families’ lives would be...how long people would tolerate their grief before feeling uncomfortable and telling them to “get over it”...what holidays would look like from now on. I got the inspiration for Henry from a Cuban man. He and his family came to the US from Cuba in the sixties and had some of the same struggles Henry did, though his path turned out very differently. He told me of the three jobs he worked to support his family, how tired he was, how hard he worked; and he said over and over again, “But we had children. What else was I going to do?” I was so impressed by his determination and stoicism and willingness to do whatever he needed to keep going, and I wondered if I could directly contrast him with a main character. The character of Diego I got from my friend Marisol, whose family came from Puerto Rico in the fifties. Her father acted as a beachhead to his friends and family, doing what Diego did for Henry: getting him established, taking care of his needs, paying his bills. I asked her why he would do that, and she said, “It’s family. That’s just what you do.” Wow.

Of course, the most direct inspiration for the book was my dad. He and I were talking one day and he told me that, for my own good, I needed to get myself together and write a book. I told him that, for his own good, he needed to get himself together and join Weight Watchers. He said that if I’d write a book, he’d join Weight Watchers. Well, I wrote a book...and he didn’t join. So he still needs to fulfill his part of the bargain.

Besides writing books, what are some of your other favourite things to do?

I love most "artsy" things -- theater, movies, opera. There's a lot of this in New York, and I have to ration myself or I'd go broke, but I really enjoy the occasional Broadway play or musical and the opera. I took voice lessons for about 10 years, and while I'll never be a professional singer I do love to sing. I was in a semi-professional choir for a few years, and now I have to content myself with a church choir and the occasional amateur solo performance. However, when I sing karaoke, I kill.

I'm also a really good cook and baker, if I do say so myself. Cooking and baking are the perfect antidote to being a writer: you have an immediate finished product, and no one ever turns it away!

What is a typical day for you? Have you had many of these since you wrote and published your book?

I still have a day job; I'm finding out firsthand just how difficult it is to make a living as a writer, published or not! So my alarm goes off at 7:45 and I hit snooze until 8:10 or so (that is, if I consciously register that my alarm is going off, and don't dream I'm turning off an alarm over and over and just can't figure out why it won't quit blaring) and then go to work. At work, I set up meetings most of the day: phone meetings, in-person meetings, out-of-town meetings, travel arrangements. I do fit in some time to look at manuscripts now and again, but I can't really address the writing full-on until I get home at night. I always try to make time to go running or go to the gym, after a day sitting at a desk, and then it's time to write. I usually don't get into a groove until 10 p.m. or so, and I try to get to bed by midnight, so I have to be really focused during those hours.

Of course, sometimes I just turn on the TV. :)

Is being a published author different than you expected? In what ways?

I think most people who get into the arts believe that it's going to be easier than it is. Sure, everyone says it's hard, and sure, you know they're right...but you don't know HOW right they are. With most projects -- with most PEOPLE -- nobody wants you until everybody wants you. The trick is sticking with it to get past the initial phase and make everybody want you. I'll let you know how to do that...once I figure it out.

For anybody just starting out, I can't emphasize enough the importance of stability. For me, this means having a solid job (and benefits) that I fit my writing around. It might be different for some people, but you're not doing yourself any favors by not having a job and not having insurance and desperately hoping you don't get sick and your book hits the big time soon. Everything goes much more slowly than you'd like it to, even when it's "hot," and desperation is no fun.

What would your perfect day look like?

I’m such a night person...I get my best sleep AFTER 7 a.m. So I’d love to sleep until 10 a.m. or so, get up and have a run or a class at the gym, do some errands, see some friends, work on new hobbies (a new language, learning to paint, etc) and then start writing. Write until late, late, late (3 a.m. or later) and then go to bed. Sigh. I don’t have many of these days.

I am guessing you can relate to many characteristics of the different characters in your book, but who do you relate to the most?

Jennifer polarizes people; they either really relate or they think she's terribly irresponsible and selfish. I have to say, I really relate to her. She is real to me, and her struggles are real. She's being very honest -- a little TOO honest -- with her pain, and dwelling on it to the point that she can't focus on anything else. People want her (need her) to step up to the plate and deal, and all she can say is, "I hurt." She was on one particular journey with her husband, and that journey was wrenched away in the worst way possible, and she doesn't want to take the new journey that she's suddenly been put on. I can relate to that, too. That said, I've learned so much from other people and the way they deal with their own pain; I’ve figured out a bit more how to “step up” and be stronger than you sometimes feel like being. Susan is an inspiration to me. Initially I had thought that Susan would be a prototypical awful, overbearing mother-in-law, but immediately she spoke to me; she practically told me that no, she was an example and she would step in.

Do you have ideas for your next book? Have you started writing your second book? What can you tell us about it?

I started writing the second book a while ago...a long while ago. And I know a lot of what happens, but I don’t know what happens to the main character. I feel like I don’t know her yet. And meanwhile I’ve been working really hard on a screenplay, so I haven’t had time to delve into her character and what she would do. But I can tell you that it is very, very loosely inspired by a true event that rocked my little Utah community back in 1982, so I have to do a lot of research on (and try to remember) my growing-up years. I have also made friends with a now-retired policeman, who is my go-to source for legal research. These are the only hints I can give you. :)

What would you say to any budding authors out there who are interested in taking on the adventure of writing their own book?

First, I’d say that you just have to write. A lot of people want to write a book; very few people (comparatively speaking) actually do. You’ll never get it done if you don’t start. You’ll always find reasons not to start, to criticize yourself, to feel like you can’t do it. Give yourself permission to write—even to write badly!—and just write. Natural talent will always come out.

Once you’ve written...there are other things to remember. One is that it is an adventure, and you have to savor the small victories along the way. Managed to write for two hours today? That is a victory. Managed to finish a chapter? Ditto. Managed to finish an entire book? You rule. Take a moment and realize, you did something that so many people want to do and very few people actually do. There’s a musical by Stephen Sondheim called Sunday in the Park with George, and the painter, Georges Seurat, sings, “Look, I made a hat where there never was a hat.” It is an achievement. There are plenty of roadblocks and difficulties along the way (Rejection! Rejection! Rejection! Bad reviews! No sales! No one shows to your reading! More rejection!) but you have to say, yes, I made a hat where there never was a hat. And that means something.

What do you think of book bloggers??? :)

Ha ha, I’ve addressed this question already. See a guest blog I did:


Thank you Kathryn for the interview!!!

Find out more information about Did I Expect Angels? and Kathryn

Bethany (b) from B&b ex libris Interviews Author
Niloufar Talebi
Posted: 16th of August, 2008


About a month ago I wrote a review of BELONGING: New Poetry by Iranians Around the World. Since then the author, Niloufar Talebi contacted me and I have had a chance to meet her (in Portland) and also to interview her!! I love the work that she is doing, and wish to share it with you all.

Questions for Niloufar Talebi, author of BELONGING and founder of The Translation Project:

b:Tell us about The Translation Project:

Niloufar:The Translation Project <www.thetranslationproject.org> is a nonprofit, nonpolitical 501 (c) 3 organization dedicated to bringing contemporary Iranian literature to wide audiences through literary translation, and multimedia projects based on the translated literature. Presenting the literature through theater, videos, etc. is our expanded notion of translation, a further means to familiarize audiences with a (contemporary) literature which has been rather invisible on the world stage so far. Our mission is to include this literature in the modern global conversation.

b:What was the hardest part about birthing BELONGING? When did your dream for this book begin?

Niloufar:The research on this book began in late 2002 when I first discovered and fell in love with the art and craft of translation. At the same time, I began to wonder why the treasures of contemporary Iranian literature (20th and 21st Century) were not known and celebrated in other countries in the same way that, for example, Pablo Neruda is. That's when I founded The Translation Project, and began work on BELONGING, which is a selection of Iranian poets who live outside Iran AND recite in Persian. It took several years to compile a list of them, a list of 140 poets which I make available in BELONGING. I translated about 30 poets over the course of the 6 years, 18 of whom are featured in BELONGING. Translations were done with the assistance of Zack Rogow and Daniel O'Connell.

The most difficult aspect of putting BELONGING together was composing a cohesive idea behind the anthology. As I mention in the 'Notes on Selection', few have dedicated themselves to collection and discourse in this young field, so my challenge was to put the works I found into perspective: to read their work not only within the context of their own work, but within the context of the greater 'modern and contemporary' Iranian poetry, as well as that of world poetry, which is where I think these works ultimately belong, since the poets live the world over. These poems are told from the prism of the iranian experience, but leave a universal emotional impact.

b:How did you select what poets would be translated and which of their works put in BELONGING?

Niloufar: It was a long process. We translated many more poems and poets than ended up in BELONGING. To whittle down the list, I sent out translations to literary publications, to translation competitions, read them at dozens of events, created theater from the poems, made short films based on them, and sent them to other poets and translators for feedback. I took note of which ones made the most impact on readers. Over the years, a cohesive manuscript, a balanced composition of poems of various styles and themes came together. On a practical note, to keep the anthology accessible, I included 6 poets from each of the three generations who live and recite currently, with 5-6 pages of poetry per poet, plus a biographical sketch.

b:Do you think that poets and writers have a different story to tell than what the news media would cover on the nation of Iran? What do you notice as the largest difference?

Niloufar: What appears in the media is rarely about the PEOPLE and CULTURE of Iran; otherwise we would watch shows about Iranian hospitality, cooking, love for the outdoors, family values, the mountain ranges of Iran, miniature paintings, Iranian love for poetry, the art of story-telling (Naghali), the art of the Persian carpet, their celebration of the seasons, and so on. But there are no such show! What is produced and broadcast in the media are convenient snapshots of a manufactured enemy. So it becomes even more urgent to celebrate the arts and culture of Iran, the voice of its people. Poets tell the human story.

b: Reading about different nations is empowering, it rids us of the fear of the unknown just a little bit each time. Thus the world becomes a smaller place. What is your goal for the American audience with the poetry that you translated in BELONGING and that you perform? Has that dream changed as this project gained momentum?

Niloufar: I am always learning in this process. It remains to be seen what an impact the bilingual volume of BELONGING makes on readers, both American and Iranian-American. I hope the average reader, and not only the poetry connoisseur, is able to connect with BELONGING. That is a personal goal for me, to make 'high art' accessible. No one should be intimidated by poetry; it should be FOR readers, not an alienating force against them. Iranians recite poetry on a daily basis, which they use as proverbs, expressions, etc. Accessibility was one of the guiding principle by which the poems in BELONGING were selected. In shaping our projects, responding to audience trends plays an integral role. We know that folks are not reading as much, but are sharing content on Youtube, for example, so we created films based on the poems ('Midnight Approaches'), which appear on our Youtube channel <www.youtube.com/translationproject>. We have also created two multimedia theatrical pieces ("Four Springs' and 'ICARUS/RISE') based on the poems in BELONGING, reaching out to wider audiences. Not only do unlikely audiences gain access to the poetry, but we also provide an opportunity for artists who collaborate with us to engage with the poetry on a deep level, available to them by and large for the first time as a source of inspiration. I would say this has been the innovative aspect of our work, expanding our notion of translation, instigating collaborative projects based on the translated literature to encourage their longevitiy in our cultural consciousness.

b: I see a sense of deep pride in the arts when I read BELONGING, and when I watched the introductory video and the performances. Persia has a deep rooted artistic talent, could you tell me a bit about the impact that legacy has on you?

Niloufar: I was lucky enough to have a direct route to this legacy. Spending time with the iconic poet and thinker, Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000), who visited my parents socially in the 1980's, has no doubt shaped my dedication to this legacy. As T.S. Eliot said in 'Tradition and the Individual Talent', tradition is a two-fold concept: what we may think of as 'traditional' was actually in its time art that broke with 'tradition', art that forged a new way ahead. This is what any artist of significance, in any culture achieves to then become part of the 'tradition' of that culture. I hope BELONGING inspires readers to acknowledge and fill in the gap between the great 13th Century Persian poet, Rumi, and contemporary poetry, to examine the poets of the modernist movement in Iranian poetics, which produced a number of other iconic Iranian poets, such as Nima Yushij, Forough Farrokhzad, Ahmad Shamlou, Sohrab Sepehri, Simin Behbahani, and Mehdi Akhavan Saales.

b: Has the movement been silenced (and gone underground) for a while in Iran during the wars and the differences between neighboring nations, or is it due to a lack of translation that I personally have not had much experience with Persian arts?

Niloufar: Iranian literature inside Iran has found ways to survive new (and sometimes brutal) forms of censorship, and has flourished, in fact. The number of women writers has multiplied, for example, contrary to what might be expected. And though there have been both scholarly and literary translations of Iranian works, somehow few works in translation have captured the imagination of the foreign readers, at least in this country. The poet, Forough Farrokhzad is becoming more and more known. Shahrnush Parsipur has two books in English translation. Dick Davis has translated classical Persian poetry, as well as the Pezeshkzad novel, My Uncle Napoleon. Moniru Ravanipur's new book is due to be translated into English. Shahryar Mandanipour's work in English translation is due to be published soon. Ibex Publishers has published love poems by Ahmad Shamlou in English translation. A translation of Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's Missing Soluch was just published in the US. And there must be other projects I don't know of yet. So the works are out there. Remember that in the US, only between 0.3% - 3% of books published annually are works of translation, so we must actively look for them. A great resource for world literature in translation is <www.wordswithoutborders.org>

b: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about, or tell us about?

Niloufar: I am working on our next multimedia theatrical piece, due to premier in 2010. Like ICARUS/RISE, it also draws on the Iranian tradition of Naghali (story-telling), adds contemporary content to it and fuses it with western dramatic elements to reflect the true hybrid-Iranian experience in contemporary society. For periodic updates on our next piece, visit www.thetranslationproject.org

The poetry in Belonging is stunning, see for yourself:

A Bird Is a Bird

When I draw open this curtain
A TV antenna
And often
A few robins
Decorate my morning.

But it is not a scarcity of windows
That has brought me here;

This rectangular blue
I could have had
Anywhere else.
Birds too
All over the world
Sit in such a way
That their velvety breasts
Are within eye's reach.
Now, red robins of black crows,
What difference does it make?
A bird
Is a bird.

To be honest, I don't remember
What I've come here for.
Surely, must have been an important reason.
One doesn't just
Make a vagabond of oneself
For no reason.
When I remember
I will finish this poem...

(BELONGING, p. 83 Abbas Saffari)

Conversation in the Dark
To my dear Jaleh

Mid nights, when I'm ill and awake
And no light is visible even from a pinhole
And the soft song of your deepest breaths
Accompanies the treble and bass of my heart
To the constant ticking of the clock,
Then I see that even if my thoughts are alone,
My heart, in the hollow of my chest , is not.

Softly, I bend my head over your bedside
And lightly kiss your lashes, joined in sleep.
You feel the weight of the kiss on your eye and smile.
I kiss your cheek warm
And although the clamor of your laughter echoes in my ear,
In the dark waves of night,
Your laughing face does not manifest.

Quietly, I strike a match
To illuminate your face,
But soon, the red sulfuric spark,
Rising and falling upon my two blackened fingers,
Dies in the twist and turn of its dance
And again, dense darkness
Settles in our little bedchamber.
I tell myself: Aside from that brief instant-
The moment I glimpsed youf dear face
-My eye does not have fortune to see.

Like a child fearing darkness,
I pave a path to your embrace
And petrified of something I can't name,
I steal this wisper in your ear:
Kinder than all the world's kindliest creatures!
Oh friend, sweetheart, mother, companion on this voyage!
Scream away so even stone-hearted death
Does not undo us in the promisted moment!
For we both know that in a riotous
World of swarming crowds,
And of all that avails on the endless horizon,
If we have a destiny, it is our loneliness.

And this house, smaller than a boat, sails us-
The distressed-into the sea exile.
But on the alarming horizon of this sea,
Night prevails
And reveals no path in darkness
To tomorrow.

(BELONGING, P. 25 Nader Naderpour)

Don't you love it!?
I have a copy of BELONGING for one lucky commenter thanks to Niloufar Talebi and North Atlantic Books!

Do you want it? Here is how to get it: Comment on this post, telling me what you love about poetry and get one entry, blog about it on your blog and get two more (but make sure you tell me that you did :)! You have until the 14th, I'll pick a winner on the 15th.

I honestly really want to keep this copy, as the one I have is an advanced readers copy, and this one I just got is much nicer than mine, but I won't be greedy, I will give it for someone else to enjoy :)


Anonymous said...

Bethany, I rarely get to read reviews of poetry books let alone author interviews. I loved reading this. Writing poetry is my passion apart from reading!

Please Count me in for this. I would read Niloufar Talebi's poetry!


BTW, I loved reading Did I expect Angels? I consider it one of my best reads of 2008.

Anonymous said...

Oops! It should be com not om! I am dyslexic!