Today on gilagreenwrites, I'm deilghted to host author Deborah Kalb. I'm excited to share Deborah's new novel with you as she plunges forward into the world of adult books. I hope you enjoy this thoughtful conversation that explores Deborah's writing process and some behind-the-scenes thoughts regarding her new novel Off to Join the Circus. Welcome, Deborah!
Deborah Kalb is the author of the novel Off to Join the Circus, her debut novel for adults. She has written fiction for kids and nonfiction for adults; she's the host of the blog Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb, where she interviews an eclectic range of authors; and she's the co-host of the new podcast Rereading Our Childhood. A former longtime D.C.-based journalist covering Congress and politics, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
The Pinskys divide people into those who are "circus"--who might run off and join a circus--and those who are "not circus"--those who would never dream of joining a circus.
GG: What made you move into adult books?
DK: I had written nonfiction for adults before, and had attempted to write fiction for adults (I have a variety of unpublished manuscripts that have accumulated over the years!). So it was something I had been working toward for a long time. Having this novel out in the world is a true joy for me!
GG: Your book description mentions an "overly enmeshed" family. Could you please expand on this term? Overly enmeshed in what?
DK: In one another. The Pinskys have a need to know so much about one another's lives. But "overly enmeshed" is in the eye of the beholder. Readers have told me they see nothing at all that's overly enmeshed about the Pinskys; that the Pinskys are just like their own family. Other readers do see a certain overly connected relationship among the family members. But when it comes right down to it, the Pinskys care deeply about one another, and that's something to celebrate.
GG: Could you tell us something about the inspiration for this novel?
DK: Yes--I was thinking about what happens when a family member is estranged for a long time. What stories or legends grow up around them and are passed down to generations who never knew the person? How does the "hole in the family fabric" (as one of my characters puts it) affect those left behind? And what might happen if this person returns after an incredibly long time? Those were among the inspirations. And then the characters led the story in directions I hadn't considered before.
GG: Describe your writing process? Did you write an outline and stick to it?
DK: I didn't write an outline, but I did know what the first and last scenes of the book would be. This is my first attempt to write from multiple perspectives (and I really enjoyed it!), which involved a lot of organization. I made charts for each character's weekly activities (i.e., Lucy teaches afterschool creative writing on this day, Will has soccer on that day). It was like having seven children and having to get them to their activities on time.
GG: Is the circus symbolic of something else or are we to take it as face value?
DK: I think it's symbolic of a way of life. The Pinskys divide people into those who are "circus"--who might run off and join a circus--and those who are "not circus"--those who would never dream of joining a circus. When Adele Pinsky ran away from home at age 16 back in 1954, and her younger brother asked their dad where she went, the dad waved his hand in the air and said, "Off to join the circus, Howie, off to join the circus." A figure of speech, yes, but at 11, Howie took it quite literally. And so the circus takes on various roles in the book.
GG: How does your Judaism influence your writing in this book?
DK: Very much so. On a very specific level, at the time I wrote the first draft of the book, back in 2018, we were preparing for my son's bar mitzvah. My character Will is also getting ready for his bar mitzvah, so all the details surrounding bar mitzvah preparation are quite specific. On a broader level, I think the Pinskys and their love for one another and the way they live their lives seem very much in the Jewish tradition.
GG: Have you had any reactions that surprised you? In the writing of the book?
DK: Yes! My character Lucy and I discovered something about a third of the way through the book about her ex-husband that surprised both of us. It's amazing when that kind of thing happens.Or if you meant reactions from readers, not surprising really, but interesting. A lot of discussions about family connections and the presence of absence. I've really enjoyed hearing what readers think of the book.
GG: Was anything edited out of the book that you originally wanted in the book?
DK: No, not really, I'm glad to say!
GG: What are you working on now?
DK: I'm revising some other manuscripts and hoping to get them published. I'm continuing to work on my blog, Book Q&As with Deborah Kalb. And my friend Mary Grace McGeehan and I recently started a podcast called Rereading Our Childhood, where we reread books we enjoyed as kids and discuss them. Among them: Harriet the Spy and Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. It's been a lot of fun.
GG: Anything else you wish to add?
DK: Yes! If you're in a book group, I'd love to come and discuss Off to Join the Circus with you. And thanks so much, Gila, for your thoughtful questions!
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