Naomi Milliner

Bits and Babbles

Essential Maps for the Lost

Deb Caletti has done it again, in what is perhaps her best book yet – and that says a lot. Her beautiful YA books are always a cause for celebration, and this one is no exception. In Mads and Billy, she has given us two star-crossed teens who are perfect for each other: both yearn to rescue others (in her case, a baby; in his, a dog), and both share a deep love for E.L. Konigsburg’s classic, FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER . The catch is, their unorthodox (and unknown, on his end) connection is a haunting and painful one. Yet, it is impossible not to care about, and root for, these captivating and deserving leads. And the writing? It was hard to pick just one sample, but here it is: ““Happy” is never a just. It’s not a destination you reach, a place to finally set down your bags. There are large happys and a million small ones and a bunch of awfuls and daily smashups and successes and droughts and rainfalls and perfect, dewy spiderwebs on a sunny morning and creepy, sticky spiderwebs in your hair in a dark attic. Life is always everything, all at once.” So, do yourself a favor, and read this book – then do your friends a favor, and tell them to read it, too.

Holding “Court” with Michelle Brafman

This month’s blog is with an award-winning local (at least, to folks in Maryland) author, Michelle Brafman, whose latest book is hot off the press. BERTRAND COURT is a spellbinding collection of seventeen intricately interwoven short stories. The stories span roughly eighty years, and a cast of characters linked both by family and location (hence the title). Michelle, who has been called “a Jewish Anne Lamott,” has been praised by critics for her empathy and honesty.


Her haunting first story– which is one of my favorites – is in the unusual format of second person. It is powerful, poignant and unforgettable. Every story is unique and memorable, but for me they all share several qualities: luminous writing; universal themes; and compassion for her characters, and for us all.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to find out more about Michelle’s book, and about her fascinating journey to publication.

Why did it take 15 years to write BERTRAND COURT? Were you writing other things in-between? Mulling them over? Or other reasons?

I actually wrote what I thought was the finished book fifteen years ago, but numerous agents advised me to write and publish a novel first. Tall order! I set BERTRAND COURT aside and wrote and sold my novel WASHING THE DEAD. My publisher, Prospect Park Books, asked to see BERTRAND COURT, and here we are. I proceeded to spend a good six months tightening the connections between the characters, writing new pieces to bridge the stories together, and leveling out the quality of the writing.bertrand-court

Way back when, I was devastated that I couldn’t find a home for BERTRAND COURT, but now I’m grateful for the marination time and the chance to hone my writing skills. It’s a much better book.

What made you choose 1st person for certain stories and 3rd person for others?

I picked the point of view that I felt best served the story. For example, I was going for a confessional tone with “Sylvia’s Spoon,” so the first person point of view felt right. I chose third person when I was trying to insert a little more space between the reader and the story, meaning pull back the camera a bit for a wider shot. And in the opening story, I selected second person, because I wanted to bring the reader so tight into the story that he/she would believe that the narrator was a fetus.

Are any sections based on your own experience?

Not factually, but I certainly felt some of the emotions I ascribed to my characters. For example, when I was pregnant, I did not yearn to visit my old urban haunts, but I did have moments when I realized that the gap between my newly domesticated life and my roaring twenties was widening daily.

Is any character closest to you/most like you?

There’s a piece of me in every single character!

What was the most challenging thing about writing this book?

Some of these stories took years to mature because I simply did not have either the insight or the chops to tell them. Of course, I was antsy to publish them anyway. But now I realize that sometimes I have to back away from a story (or even a novel) and let it grow up all on its own.

Had you always planned to link the sections together?

Not at first, but then I found myself drawn to linked story collections, and soon I found myself exploring various characters’ takes on a specific story. Soon these characters started popping up in other pieces, and before I knew it, I’d created a universe of people with shared histories, secrets, and conflicts. I’m always humbled by how connected we all are to one another and how much these connections matter.

How did you decide on 17 stories? Were there any others you wrote but chose to leave out? If so, why?

I initially wrote 13 stories, but when I returned to the book years later, I realized that I had some holes to fill. I kept adding stories until I felt the book cohered.

michelle-at-ppThere were two stories that I had to drop because the characters were too peripheral to Bertrand Court, and hard as I tried, I couldn’t shoehorn them into the book. One piece was published elsewhere, and the others served as the springboard for my new novel.

Was one story harder to write than the others? Do you have a personal favorite?

“Minocqua Bats” was really hard to write because the story turned out to be about something entirely different than my initial errand for it. I kept fighting the material, so I had to put it away for a while and then open up my mind and heart to what was happening on the page.

I do not have a favorite. I love them all equally!

If you could add one more story, which character would you write about and why?

That’s a really good question. I’d probably write more about Maggie, the former cheerleader who lets herself go and marries a Jew to spite her mother. Poor Maggie gets the most airtime when she’s at her absolute worst. I’d be curious to see her during a moment when she’s a bit more settled into herself, yet on the brink of returning to her old sanctimonious ways. Oh, boy. That would be fun.

You mention wanting to revisit “poor Maggie” – do you think you might write a sequel of sorts, seeing what happened to the characters 5 or 10 years later? I’d love to find out! 🙂

That’s an intriguing idea! I hadn’t considered it, but maybe I will now.

How did you come up with the concept for this book?

The concept evolved over time, as I grew more curious about these characters. Who were they when they were pushed to their emotional brink? When they were on more solid footing? How were they perceived by their family members, friends, or enemies?  For example, the same character who in one story steals the family silver, emerges as the family matriarch in another, or the rock sold dental hygienist who serves as the glue for both her family and Bertrand Court, steals a leather jacket from Nordstrom when her husband’s business goes bankrupt. I can be quick to judge others and myself, and writing helps me to take a step back and embrace the complexities and inconsistencies that make us all so frustrating, loveable, disappointing, funny, and ultimately, human.

Lastly, would you like to talk a bit about your first novel, WASHING THE DEAD? You spoke about the BERTRAND COURT journey, which was fascinating, and it made me wonder if it was easier to get WTD published? Did you have to submit to a lot of publishers? Did you have an agent? Why do you think you were able to sell that one first (besides BC needing to marinate)?

I did go through a rather lengthy process, seven years total, to write and revise Washing the Dead and in turn find the right agent and publisher. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t have published Bertrand Court had I kept trying, but I think it all worked out the way it was supposed to. Of course, it’s easy to say this now!!

Thank you so much, Michelle, for, taking the time to answer these questions.

I hope you’ll all run to your local bookstores, or to one of the following sites on your computer:






Travel Back into the Past with Author Nomi Eve

I first “met” Nomi Eve thanks to the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). Her latest novel, HENNA HOUSE, was one of our Great Group Reads candidates. With its elegant prose, meticulous research, and fascinating glimpse into a little-known world, it was so well-loved that it became one of our 2015 selections. As one of her many fans, I contacted Nomi and she was kind enough to grant an interview for this blog.NOMI EVE-2

Specializing in historic fiction, Nomi’s first book, THE FAMILY ORCHARD, is a unique multi-generational saga based on her own family’s history. It was a Book-of-the-Month club Main Selection, and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award. It also received starred reviews from both Kirkus (“Lyrically overpowering”) and Publishers Weekly (“…sensual, spiritual, and humorous…”). One of my favorite lines is, “When he spoke he waved his hands wildly as if he had extra vowels in his fingers and verbs in his fists.”  Another favorite, which – perhaps – is the heart of this book, is “…what is family but a living hall of a loved one’s many faces?”

HENNA HOUSE begins in 1920 Yemen, and features an unforgettable heroine and the tremendous role the art of henna comes to play in her life. In addition to being a GGR selection, it was also selected as the One Book One Community Selection for the Philadelphia Jewish Community Read program, and is rated 4 ½ stars on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. One of my favorite lines is, “Without henna, I wouldn’t know how to read myself.” Another is, “I wondered what it would feel like to speak a weapon, and to forge a word.”

One of Nomi’s goals was to reach 100 book clubs; she has already surpassed that with 139! Her new goal is to have 100 Skype visits (she’s already at 69). If you’re interested in Skyping with Nomi, you can sign up at her website:

And now it’s time to let Nomi speak for herself.

THE FAMILY ORCHARDfamily orchard

  1. It looks like the first two stories/chapters were published separately; had you always envisioned them as part of a larger novel?

Yes, I always envisioned those chapters (and all the chapters) to be part of one unified narrative.  But because each generation in The Family Orchard  is treated separately, those early chapters were easy to excerpt for publication in literary magazines.

  1. How much of this book, these stories, are true? Are you father’s recollections 100% based on fact, and yours mostly fiction?

I tell people that at the beginning of The Family Orchard that the “My Father Writes” passages are taken almost word for word from my father’s actual notebooks.  And in the beginning the “I write” passages are completely “fictional” or imagined.  But somewhere towards the middle of the book this flips, and truth comes to reside in my voice, while my father’ voice embroiders and covers over the essential facts of the family narrative.

That is so interesting! Did you expect this to happen, or were you surprised? And why do you think it did?

What I was interested in as a writer was the following:  How do we know who we are, where does truth reside in family stories?  And how do you form an identity when family history isn’t what it seems to be.  The structure of The Family Orchard represents how we figure out who we are – we inherit stories from our parents and grandparents.  But the stories inevitably have holes in them – holes left intentionally or by accident of memory.  The process of growing up is a process of fashioning our own narratives as a way of filling in the holes and coming to terms with all that has been left out.

I guess that’s something we all do, one way or another – even if we don’t write a book about it.

  1. Did you draw more from research of your own imagination?

Both.  I can’t write without researching and I can’t research without imagining.

I love the way you phrased this, Nomi.  


  1. The co-writing with your father is so unique, how did it come to be? Had you planned to collaborate with him all along?

No, I never planned to write this book in this particular way.  But I did plan on writing a book that wrested with our family history. As a young novelist I think that I felt both blessed and burdened by my father’s family tree-notebooks. One day I just opened one up and copied out some words.  Then I found myself writing “I write…” and this novel was born.

Okay, this just begs for more explanation! When did you first learn of your father’s family tree-notebooks? When did he first begin writing them? How many were there? How much did you draw from them in writing your novel? Do you think your father ever envisioned them being used in such a public way? What was his reaction when you first discussed it with him?

I grew up with the notebooks. They, and the family tree map, were his passion. He was always working on them.  They were an essential fact of my growing up. I drew from them tremendously. Whole passages I took right out of them. And in other cases I assimilated information and imagined the lives of the people he had researched. No, my father never envisioned what I was going to do.  He was incredibly gracious and gave me leave to do whatever I needed to do with his work.

There’s no denying you put them to great use.

  1. Did you consult with him as, or after, you wrote each section? Did he ever ask you to add, delete, or change anything?

No, I never consulted with my father to ask permission for anything.  But I did consult with him for help in my own research.  My father gave me the greatest gift.  He didn’t judge and he didn’t ask me to delete anything.  He gave me his blessing to confront our family history on my own very public terms.  I will be forever grateful to him for this.

It is an incredible gift. And now you have shared this gift with your own children, as well as your readers. Thank you so much.


  1. Have you ever thought of writing a companion book around your mother’s family tree?

No, but maybe now that you’ve suggested it, I’ll have to go and do that!

I hope you do; I would love to read it!

  1. Is your family name really “Sefer,” which would be very appropriate considering it’s Hebrew for “book”!

No, it isn’t.  But I did choose that name on purpose J

  1. What is the distinction between “I write” and “I tell”?

The “I write” sections are fictional 3rd person constructs.  The “I tell” passages are first person memoir-style touchstones that trace my own struggles with the journey of writing this book.

  1. One your heroines, Miriam, is an excellent seamstress who weaves stories into cloth. This reminded me of the use of henna in HENNA HOUSE – coincidence?

No coincidence!  I’m really interested in women’s traditional arts and crafts and realms of household expertise.  I’m really interested in women’s gathering rituals.  Both henna and sewing/embroidery fit that bill and inspire me as a writer.  Miriam is based in my grandmother Rivka who was rarely without a crochet needle or embroidery needle in her hands.

HennahousepaperbackHENNA HOUSE

  1. What inspired you to write this story?

I was inspired to write Henna House by my love for a close relative.  A Yemenite Jewish woman named Ahoova.  I’m named for Ahoova’s late husband and we have always had a special bond.

  1. Is historic fiction your favorite, both to read and write? If so, could you name some of your favorite works, and writers, of historic fiction? When did you first become interested in it, and what drew you to it?

I’m a very eclectic reader but yes, I do love historic fiction.  I certainly love writing it.  I think that one of the reasons I gravitate towards historical fiction in my work is that I love to learn things as I write.  Doing the research that I need to do to write my books keeps me engaged in my own process.  I grew up reading Gone with the Wind, Little Women, and other works of a different era (other than the one I was living in.)  My list of historical fiction fav’s is quite long, so I’ll just mention a few – The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles, The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, The Piano by Jane Campion and the first Outlander book.  Okay, Outlander also falls into Fantasy, but I think it fits the bill.

  1. Why did you choose to tell us the fate of two main characters at the beginning of the novel, rather than let it unfold?

Henna House is a first person narrative.  I love reading and writing first person narratives, but I always struggle with beginning them—the reason is that I always want to know “What is the reason for this outrageous act of speech?”  Because no one really narrates their life – no one spends 300 or so pages telling you everything that happened to them. So I always feel the need to give my first person narrators a reason why they have decided to do this rather outrageous thing.  The dark fate that two of my main character’s meet is that compelling reason for Adela.  She needs to let her readers know that their fate is what has set her on this journey of narration.

I think that makes a lot of sense, and is a novel approach (no pun intended).

  1. What was the most difficult challenge of writing this book?

Getting it published.  There is nothing easy about getting a book published.  I’m so grateful to Scribner for taking my book out of manuscript pages and binding it between covers.

  1. What was the most satisfying part?

Seeing that beautiful cover image for the first time and then getting the opportunity to meet with readers in my book club visits.

The cover is exquisite.

  1. Any hint as to what your next book will be?

No, I’m still keeping it close to my chest.

Fair enough. I’m already looking forward to reading it, though! Thanks so much for giving us these glimpses into your creative process, Nomi.

Debut Novelist, Laura Shovan: Poetry, Pitch Wars, and the Path to Publication

What better way to start the school year than with my excellent friend, Laura Shovan, and her glorious debut novel-in-verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, coming out April 12, 2016! Here’s the link to pre-order.

Laura Shovan

Laura’s journey to publication began back in 2008, when she first crossed paths with her dream agent, Stephen Barbara. She just didn’t know he would represent her – until five years later. Laura explains here:

I met Stephen at a local SCBWI conference in 2008. We sat down to lunch with author/editor Aimee Friedman and local author Lois Szymanski. I was impressed with how knowledgeable and what a fan of books Stephen was. When the topic of novels in verse came up, it turned out Stephen and I were both fans of Spoon River Anthology. Four years later, I wrote a letter telling him about my MG verse novel, loosely based on Spoon River. I asked if he remembered our conversation. We emailed back and for for about a year and a half before The Call.

Over the years, I heard from several agents who passed because they weren’t interested in verse novels, or felt unsure about the number of voices in TLFG. Because Stephen is a fan of Spoon River, I knew he would get what I was trying to do. My book wasn’t quite ready when he first read the full in 2012. The next 18 months were about staying in touch, making revisions, and being politely persistent. I sent him several emails that said, “I think you’re the right person to represent this book.” Stephen and I are both glad that I didn’t give up. He is a wonderful literary agent and we work well together.

The next turning point in Laura’s journey was one we shared: a little thing called Pitch Wars. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? If you’re an aspiring children’s book writer, do yourself a favor and check out: It may change your life; it sure changed Laura’s and mine.

Laura and I entered Pitch Wars together and – as “luck” (read: years of hard work) would have it, we were both selected to be mentored. Afterwards, with a shiny, polished version of her novel-in-verse, Laura was finally ready for Stephen – and he was ready for her.


What inspired you to write this book?Last-Fifth-Grade-cover-323x500

When I began writing the book, I’d been visiting elementary school classrooms as a poet-in-residence for several years. Everywhere I went, each individual class had its own sense of community. The children had certain fixed views of each other. They knew specific facts and traits about one another: who was athletic, who was funny or fashionable, who had little siblings. But writing and sharing their poems often changed those fixed views. A child’s classmates might know her parents are Asian, but when she writes a food poem, we all learn that her family has a beautiful New Year’s Eve tradition of gathering together to make dumplings. Poems provide these little windows into the lives and minds of young writers. I think that’s why Spoon River Anthology was such an inspiration. Edgar Lee Master’s book gave me a model for writing about how people interact with and influence one another. The community of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is one of children. Unlike Spoon River, the characters have a common goal: saving their school.

What kind of revisions were you asked to do, and what was the reasoning behind them?

My editor, Wendy Lamb, suggested adding depth to the Save Our School storyline. I had been reading about food deserts in Baltimore and some of its suburbs, so I added a few poems where Ms. Hill’s class writes about the pros and cons of tearing down their school and adding a supermarket to the neighborhood.

I think there were 20 characters in the manuscript when it sold. We pared that down to 18, which meant merging four characters into two. Wendy is an amazing editor. Originally, the manuscript had six focal characters, who spent more time on-stage than anyone else. One of the most important things she guided me toward was more balance between the characters, so that each one has an impact on the story of the class.

What was the hardest thing you had to change?

The hardest change happened about a year before my manuscript sold. Agent Stephen Barbara read the full and had questions for me about the book, but our conversation fizzled out. I took a break for several months, then went back to look at notes from my CPs. They all said the same thing: They loved the book, but it lacked a strong narrative arc.

During the summer of 2014, I did a complete rewrite. For a few years, I’d been asking myself,”What if the school were being razed?” I’d always tabled the question, because it would mean pulling the whole book apart. But ultimately, that was what made the book work.

laura's notes3

Are any of the characters based on people you know, or knew?

In early drafts, I had two characters based on my children. Both merged with other characters over time. A portion of Mark Fernandez’s story arc is based on a grade school classmate whose mother died. Even though we never hear from Ms. Hill directly, she is loosely based on two friends of mine who are both educators and poets.

Which character is most like you were in 5th grade? (YOU HAVE TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION, AS IT’S MY FAVORITE.) 

That is so difficult, Naomi! I was pretty nerdy and a huge book worm in fifth grade. I was obsessed with The Muppet Show and Wind in the Willows. Let’s say I was a combination of the quieter girls, especially Sydney and Rachel, and Edgar.

When you wrote the poems as each character, did you think more about content or style? In other words, did you deliberately choose a limerick for Katie, and an acrostic for Norah? Or could you just have easily given the limerick to Sydney and an acrostic to Newt?

The first draft of this book included 30 poems. Each poem represented one child in a large fifth grade class. There was no real plot. The poems were character driven. It took me several revisions to find a story that worked well.

All that time, I was refining the characters—adding poems, looking at the cadence of their voices, working on their individual story arcs. Some of the characters do gravitate to form poems because of their personalities. Katie has a great sense of humor, so a limerick was a natural choice for her. Most of Newt’s poems are formal because he likes rules. A Newt acrostic is a great idea, Naomi! I’ll have to get started on bonus materials.Laura's Seating Chart

What was the biggest challenge in writing this book? What was your favorite part of the process?

One of the biggest challenges was changing how I saw the novel. Spoon River Anthology was my initial inspiration. That book is a collection of persona poems, with over 200 characters telling the story of their small town.

When someone suggested that my collection of poems should be a full length novel, I almost couldn’t believe it. It was really hard for me let go of the one poem per character concept. The summer that I lengthened The Last Fifth Grade from collection to novel, I was writing three or more new poems per day over several weeks. (Can you tell I do my best writing in the summer?) It was exhilarating, but definitely challenging.

Did you ever consider writing a poem (or 4) for Ms. Hill? 

Yes, there were a few drafts where Ms. Hill had an opening poem explaining the year-long poetry project. (Insider secret: The opening poem of Spoon River Anthology is titled “The Hill.” It sets up the idea and setting of the book.) I am crazy in love with Sharon Creech’s verse novel LOVE THAT DOG. Miss Stretchberry is a huge presence in that book, but we only see her through Jack’s poems. Let’s say Sharon Creech gave me the confidence to create an off-stage, influential teacher.

You introduce readers to many types of poetry. Do you yourself have a favorite type to write? Which do you find the most difficult?

I don’t have a favorite. Choosing free verse or a traditional form is often dictated by the poem’s content. Some poems need the structure of a form. For instance, in the poem “At the Movies” Shoshanna complains about how controlling her best friend Hannah is. I chose a sonnet for that poem because it is a tightly controlled form. The form mirrors the way Shoshanna is feeling, like she always has to follow Hannah’s rules.

When I write with children, we compare writing in a poetic form to doing a drill if they play a sport, or practicing scales if they play an instrument. Formal poems help you learn rhyme, rhythm, and structure. And sometimes you get a good poem out of the exercise.laura and me2

What is it you love most about writing poetry/being a poet?

Whether I’m working with kids or at an event with other writers, what I love most is being part of the literary community. There are all kinds of poets, but most are keen observers of nature and of human nature. I’m so grateful when schools invite me to visit. Engaging in creative writing with children is a blessing because it values what they bring to their writing: their experiences, their likes and dislikes, their personality traits, and their imaginations. It sends a message to the students that the adults want to hear what they have to say, that we want to know who they are beyond their role as student.

Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

Read a lot of poetry. Get involved with your local literary community. Keep at it.

When did your love of poetry begin?

My father used to recite lines from Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha” and “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” to us. But my first memory of a poem is reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. It’s such a strong memory that I can still picture sitting in my brother’s bedroom, with the book open on the floor.

In the poem “The Swing,” the speaker describes swinging in an English meadow, and how the view changes as he or she flies through the air. My mother is from a small town in Nottingham, so I had a deep connection with the English countryside. I think what that poem did was what many great poems do, communicate a shared experience between me and the poet. It was a Cupid’s arrow moment. Poetry has had a grip on my heart ever since.

A magical thing happened on the way to Pitch Madness…

I first posted this interview a few years ago, but since several magical things have happened since, it seemed time for an update:

One: My Pitch Wars book – now called SUPER JAKE & THE KING OF CHAOS – will be released May 7, 2019!

Second: The super special guest star at my upcoming launch for that book… is none other than Vick himself!

A few months ago, when I began planning for my launch, the idea of having a magician was the very first thing that came to mind. What could be more fun? And, of course, who would be a better, or more appropriate choice, than my friend Vick?

I am so happy to repost this interview for those of you who missed it the first time around – and even happier to know that I will FINALLY meet him in a few short weeks.

Thank you Vick. You are truly magical in every way.

“Magic isn’t a game or a trick or a puzzle to be figured out. It’s an experience to be shared.” – Illusions Vick


A little over a year ago, I participated in my first Pitch contest run by the fabulous Brenda Drake. If you aren’t yet familiar with Pitch Madness, it’s a contest where writers enter for a chance to win requests from participating agents by submitting a 35-word (max) pitch and the first 250 words of their completed manuscript. (Note: If you’re an aspiring children’s book writer, do yourself a favor and check out: It may change your life; it sure changed mine.)

So, there I was, frantically struggling to send out short-but-compelling pitches about my middle grade hero, Ethan, an aspiring magician. Unbenownst to me, my good friend and fellow writer, Laura Shovan, retweeted one of my pitches… and a real-live magician responded, offering to give any technical advice needed! His name is Illusions Vick, and he is very magical indeed.

Since we “met,” I participated in a second Brenda Drake contest, this one called Pitch Wars. I was lucky enough to win a mentor – the amazing Veronica Bartles. One thing led to another and, five years later, I was blessed with Liza Fleissig as my agent… and Julie Matysik as my editor, at Running Press Kids. And my debut novel, Super Jake & the King of Chaos, will be released May 2019!!Illusions Vick

I plan to re-interview Vick closer to my book launch, where he will be my special guest. In the meantime, here’s the original interview. I hope you enjoy it.

Q&A With Illusions Vick

1) You reference “very challenging” past performances – could you discuss one of them?
For 3 years I was part of the live entertainment at a Movie Theater Multi-plex (24 screens). The theater complex was very popular but had patrons waiting upwards of an hour to see their movie. The theater thought live entertainment would be a good idea. We (myself, another magician and 2 stand up comics) did some crazy stuff. At first it was incredibly challenging, walking into a theater of 500 who have been waiting in their seats for 20 minutes for the film to start, they have no idea what you are there for and then try entertaining. After 6 months we were (somewhat of) a hit (patrons would come in and ask for us and the company tried to replicate what we were doing in their other multi-plexes). For the next 2.5 years it was just myself and 1 stand up comic. We created characters and played characters from hit films (launching a side business of appearing as Professor Snape). We were given free rein to preform what we wanted. We wrote our own scripts, became more skilled at improv and did our own costuming. There is nothing like the experience of performing a new routine 25+ times a day, 3 days a week for live audiences. On top of that we had to keep the material fresh as there were patrons who came to the theater every week.

For 6 months I was the featured Illusionist in a 1940’s theme weekly burlesque review at a nightclub in Washington, DC. Imagine being the magician on before the very popular featured burlesque artist, in front of inebriated patrons, in a DC nightclub where patrons are paying $40 for a seat. 2- 3 times nightly. I was lucky and it went well.

These challenging situations gave me great experience that you can’t get any other way. To be good a magician has to have a place to be bad first, I already had that, these challenges made me a very good performer good very quickly

2) Who are your favorite magicians, and why?
Teller ~ (of Penn & Teller) he’s brilliant, incredibly talented, dedicated and a great man.
S.H. Sharpe ~ Sharpe wrote the most important books ever on performing magic and theory, absolutely brilliant.
Rocco (Silano) ~ One of the most real performers anywhere, the man you see on the stage is the man you get in real life. Had the opportunity to speak with Rocco for a bit after a lecture he gave. Funny, insightful, smart and very well versed in magic.
Denny Haney ~ Denny performed all over the world for 30 years, then semi-retired and opened a magic studio (magic shop). His caring and passion for the art are evident. He won’t sell poor quality effects and he’s more concerned about helping someone in the art than making a buck.

*On January 23, 2019 our world got a little darker as one of it’s brightest shining lights, Denny Haney left.  Am incredibly fortunate to learn from and to be friends with Denny. I owe Denny more than I could ever give back, so the thing to do is keep performing and sharing the gifts Denny shared and keep Denny’s memory alive.

3) Who are your heroes, and why?

Anyone who raises their children well, to be intelligent, caring, decent human beings.
I don’t get star struck and really don’t understand the American obsession with so called celebrities.

4) What is the hardest thing about being a magician?

Overcoming the stereotype of magic being entertainment for children. As great as it is to see children laughing and a spark of imagination light up in their eyes I’ve often thought  adults need magic the most! Adults most need their imaginations sparked, their funny bones tickled, their imaginations engaged, their perspective refreshed and their hearts touched. Adults appreciate a celebration where all their concerns are forgotten. Immersed in a beautiful, funny, amazing and unique art form and entertainment experience.

Magic is an incredible art form. Where but in magic can an artist share miracles, enable others to laugh, to think and feel a spectrum of emotions? A journey into the incredible. A good performer will create and share an atmosphere where anything can and might happen, where the boundaries of normal existence fade away and our minds are wide open. This is entertainment for everyone. I talk about this often and struggle against the typical “magician” stereotype.

The trip home after a great show, it’s an incredible high to being a normal human, well maybe never a normal human.

The other hardest thing about being a magician is the time away from my family.

5) What is the most satisfying, gratifying thing about being a magician?
Making people happy. I have the greatest career in the world. Am invited to all the best parties and events, meet the most interesting people, have fun, share smiles and laughs, touch hearts and tickle funny bones and that’s my career (the part of it everyone gets to see).

6) Do you have any advice for young magicians?
Don’t. Really. It’s a tough life.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have achieved the small amount of success I have.

If you find that you must, there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist or collector. I find that hobbyist have it the best as they don’t aren’t concerned with bookings, travel, clients, advertising and so and can concentrate solely on the magic. For every minute on stage I invest 90 minutes in rehearsal, practice (yes they are 2 different things) working with clients, marketing, advertising and more. Being a professional magician is a full time business and needs to be treated as such. It’s not only about the time on stage, it’s about what you do to get you to that time.

Also if you must disregard my advice and you still want to become a professional magician LEARN THEATER!! Work with a director for your show, do live theater, plays any stage time you can working with a crew. Look to other arts for inspiration. When you can think about what you want the magic effect to be, then find the way to build it instead of picking up a trick and trying to make your personality fit around it (even though in the beginning that is what you would have to do until you learn methods).

Stay away from walk around or so called “strolling” magic, it cheapens the art. Your work should command an audience, the audience should be there to see you, you shouldn’t be forcing magic on someone to create an audience. It shouldn’t be you walking up to a stranger, interrupting their social interactions and saying something to the effect of “Hi I’m a magician, can I show you a trick?”

Be prepared to work almost every holiday and be away from your family often.

7) What is one of your favorite magical moments to date?
I am so incredibly fortunate to have so many. So many wonderful people and events. I’ll relate one of the most beautiful moments of magic ever in one of my shows… and I didn’t perform it.
I had been hired to perform 45 minutes parlor (magical entertainment) at a 50th Birthday Celebration. The gentleman (Eugene) who hired me to perform for his wife’s 50th birthday celebration and I had been communicating in email, along the way I suggested if he had a small present to present I could show him a magical way to present it. He liked the idea. We took a few minutes before the show to go over the presentation, I believe he had be practicing on his own (when I gave instruction on where to place it he made a remark that lead me to think he had been trying on his own).

I brought Eugene and his wife Katherine up to perform Anniversary Waltz (a card trick that can be a beautiful, fun moment) and when I was done Eugene said he had a trick that might top mine. (I sat down and directed a person with a video camera to a good spot for their special moment)

He did it perfectly, when the flash died away there was a very, very beautiful ring hanging from his hand on a fine chain. There was an amazing outpouring of love and joy, not just from his wife but from everyone present (about 30 guests). The laughter, applause, love and hugs went on all night as part of this very special celebration

Sometimes I say I perform because it makes others better people (when someone is laughing, enjoying themselves, amazed or having fun that is about the best someone can be); that night they made me a better person.


Thanks so much, Vick, for your generosity and friendship.

Below is a link to one of my favorite videos of Vick in action – I hope you find them as magical as I do!

And his beautiful floating butterflies…

Want more Illusions Vick? Go to:




by Veronica Bartles

          What do you get when you add FIVE years’ worth of unrequited love, TWO sisters, and a FIVE-way entanglement worthy of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM? TWELVE STEPS, of course! You also get a funny, sweet story that anyone who has ever felt like an inferior sibling will identify with.

Seventeen-year-old Andi is saddled with older sister Laina, who “set the bar so high it’s impossible to reach” – or so she thinks. The great thing about Andi, though, is this doesn’t keep her from trying. And, despite occasional resentment towards, and jealousy of, her big sister, Andi is always there for her, willing to sacrifice her own happiness for Laina’s. Even more impressive, despite a deep, desperate desire for Jarod (who, of course, is in love with Laina), Andi has enough pride, intelligence and self-respect to keep him at bay when he vacillates between her and her sibling.

First-time author Veronica Bartles has created a rich, one-of-a-kind heroine, full of relatable emotions and complex contradictions. Andi is clever yet oblivious; confident yet terrified; wholesome yet not a goody-goody. The heroine – and the author’s – originality is exemplified in Andi’s casting in CINDERELLA. Not only is she a wicked stepsister rather than the lead (an ironic mirroring of her sibling dynamic), but Andi transforms the role, tempting the prince to woo her instead. I predict TWELVE STEPS is only the first step in a sweet and successful career for Bartles.



Book Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Andi is tired of being a second-class sibling to perfect sister Laina. There in Laina’s shadow, Andi’s only noticeable feature is her pretty awesome hair. And even that is eclipsed by Laina’s perfect everything else.

When Andi’s crush asks her to fix him up with Laina, Andi decides enough is enough and devises a twelve-step program to wrangle the spotlight away from Laina. After all, great hair must count for something.

Step 1: Admit she’s powerless to change her perfect sister, and accept that her life really, really sucks. OK, maybe that’s two steps in one.

Step 4: Make a list of her good qualities besides great hair. There have got to be at least three good qualities, right?

Step 7: Demand attention for more than just her shortcomings, and break out of her shell. Easier said that done, but worth the effort in the long-run. 

When a stolen kiss from her crush ends in disaster, Andi finds that her prince isn’t as charming as she’d hoped, and realizes she may need a new program–perhaps with less steps!

As cracks in Laina’s flawless façade begin to show, the sisters work together to find a spotlight big enough for both to shine.

Buy Links:

Amazon –

About the Author


As the second of eight children and the mother of four, Veronica Bartles is no stranger to the ups and downs of sibling relationships. (She was sandwiched between the gorgeous-and-insanely-popular older sister and the too-adorable-for-words younger sister.) She uses this insight to write stories about siblings who mostly love each other, even while they’re driving one another crazy.   When she isn’t writing or getting lost in the pages of her newest favorite book, Veronica enjoys knitting fabulous bags and jewelry out of recycled plastic bags and old VHS tapes, sky diving (though she hasn’t actually tried that yet), and inventing the world’s most delectable cookie recipes.  TWELVE STEPS is Veronica Bartles’s first novel.

Author Links:


Blog Tour Organized by:

YA Bound Book Tours

Interview with Jillian Cantor, Author of MARGOT

As part of the Great Group Reads Selection Committee for the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA), the best part of “the job” is finding fantastic books, then getting to recommend them to everyone I know (once the list is out, of course).

One of the books on our Hot-Off-The-Press List is MARGOT by Jillian Cantor, and it’s my honor and pleasure to share this interview with you.

Jillian Photo 

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the author of award-winning novels for teens and adults including, THE SEPTEMBER SISTERS, THE LIFE OF GLASS, and THE TRANSFORMATION OF THINGS. Her latest novel for adults, MARGOT, a re-imagining of Anne Frank’s sister in post-war America, is fresh-off-the-press, published by Riverhead Books. It’s already receiving rave reviews. Her next book for teens, SEARCHING FOR SKY, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2014. Jillian was born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia (which, coincidentally, is where MARGOT is set), and currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Here is the review I wrote for Jillian’s latest novel, which has received rave reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly & Kirkus, as well as numerous other publications, a modest smattering of which can be found following the interview.


By Jillian Cantor

If you have read The Diary of Anne Frank, seen any of the movie/TV/stage versions, or heard of World War II and anything related to it – this book is a must-read.

Set in 1959, Margot is a stirring, thought-provoking novel with the premise: What if Anne Frank’s sister, Margot, didn’t die at Bergen-Belsen? What if, in fact, she found her way to Philadelphia, changed her name to Margie Franklin, and became a legal secretary?

What if she had gone from one kind of hiding to another?

A frequent refrain throughout the book is “hiding who you are… so much easier than hiding where you are.” This notion was first voiced by Peter, the young man who lived in “The Annex” with Margot, Anne, and five others. According to the famous diary, Peter and Anne were an item; according to Margot, she was the one he favored. And it was mutual.

Fourteen years after surviving the Holocaust, Margot still fantasizes about finding Peter. It had been his idea to move to Philadelphia, “The City of Brotherly Love” – surely no harm could come to them there. Yet, even as part of Margot yearns to build a future with Peter, another part knows he is most likely dead. And another part of her is in love with Joshua Rosenstein, the Jewish lawyer for whom she works.

Margot is a rich, complex character full of contradictions: a non-practicing Jew who still lights the Sabbath candles and refuses to eat ham; a sister who feels both resentment towards, and guilt over, Anne; a survivor struggling to build a new life, yet unable to escape her past.

Towards the end of the novel, one of Margot’s few friends suggests an outcome that – finally – offers a way out of her immense survivor’s guilt: “Ilsa has given me a story I may be able to cling to.”

Jillian Cantor has given us a story “to cling to” as well. Haunting, powerful, heartbreaking yet hopeful, Margot is an excellent companion with The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as a stand-alone of great depth and power. It will stay with you long after you turn the final page.


These words, from Jillian’s own blog, are an excellent explanation as to why she chose to write MARGOT in the first place:

“The new book I’ve been working on takes place against the backdrop of an enormous historical tragedy, yet the story I am choosing to tell is a deeply singular and personal story of one woman’s loss. I’m finding the best part of writing it is in the details of this one particular woman and the people closest to her who she has lost and loved.

And I keep thinking about this one professor telling my class about how his dog died on 9/11, how it’s the smallest of tragedies that are worth writing about.”

Now, please sit back and enjoy the interview! If you’d like more information afterwards, check out

Margot Q&A

Q:      In the author’s note at the end of Margot, you wrote, “In creating Margot/Margie, I wanted to give back what was stolen… her voice, her life, her happy ending.” How happy do you envision that ending to be? Do you believe anyone who has survived the Holocaust can ever truly be healed?

A:      Well, without giving away the ending of the book, I do envision that my character, Margie Franklin, has found a certain peace with her situation and her life in America by the end of the novel. I think that different people react to tragedy and horrors in different ways, so I don’t know that I can truly answer that second question. I think over the course of the book Margie finds ways to deal with the atrocities of her past, but I don’t think she’ll ever forget them and move past them completely. Part of what I was interested in exploring in the novel is the way tragedy can resonate and affect a person, even so many years after the fact.

Q:      How accurate are Margot’s memories? Is the reader meant to believe her point of view? Question it? What’s the truth and what’s reality?

A:      I’m fascinated by the idea of memory, the accuracy of it, the way, in time, memories start to fade and you can’t remember what really happened and what’s a story you tell yourself about what happened. I think in some ways memories are always fictions. I also think point of view and accuracy is an interesting question. You can ask two people at the same event to tell you what happened, and their stories are often different. What’s truth and what’s reality? I think we all have our own truths. Margie believes her memories are accurate, but then with time and distance and opposing accounts, she honestly doesn’t know what is true and what is not. I think the reader is along with her for the ride, questioning alongside her.

Q:      Do you see Margot as courageous or cowardly?

A:      I see my character Margot/Margie as courageous, which is the opposite of how she sees herself for most of the book. The things she did to survive, to make it to America, to start over, all take enormous amounts of courage. I’m not sure I could’ve done the same in that situation, though I would’ve wanted to.

Q:      What was the biggest hurdle you faced in writing Margot?

A:      This is the first time I’ve ever written historical fiction or really had to research to write, so I think the biggest hurdle was trying to find the balance between truth and fiction. I wanted there to be some historical accuracy to the scenes I wrote about the annex, but I also wanted to fictionalize Margot and her story – this is definitely a novel! At a certain point, I’d revised the book so many times and read and re-read Anne’s diary so many times that the lines between truth and fiction began to blur in my head. I also had trouble with pacing the book in the earlier drafts because I was including too much historical information. So finding the balance between writing a good novel and including the historical pieces of it was my biggest challenge.

Q:      If – as I hope! – students read your novel alongside Anne’s diary, what would you want them to take away from the comparison? What do you think would resonate most with today’s teens? And what aspect(s) of Margot herself do you think they could identify with?

A:      I hope students will read the novel alongside Anne’s diary too! I think it would be interesting for them to think about point of view, as well as the accuracy of diaries in general. Also, to consider what Anne and Margot were like as real people, real teenage girls, real sisters. Any teenage girl who has a sister can, I think, relate to the complex feelings Margie has for her sister in the novel. The novel is also very much a love story and a coming of age story. Margie is in her thirties, but she is still coming of age in America, learning to accept the things that have happened to her, the things she has done, who she has become. She’s struggling with her identity, which is definitely something I think teens can relate to.

Q:      If you could somehow meet Margie, what would you want to tell her?

A:      I’d tell her to take her sweater off, especially in the summer – just like Shelby does!

Q:      If you could go back in time and ask the real Margot one question, what would it be (besides asking where her diary is!)?

A:      That’s tough to answer, on so many levels. If I really could go back in time, then I have to imagine that I would’ve been hiding in an annex too or sent to Auschwitz right alongside them. I think that’s what made this such an emotional story for me to write. I envisioned Margot and Anne as me and my sister, only fifty years earlier and in Europe. The difference is, my sister and I had the fortune of being born in a different time and a different place. It’s terrifying to imagine being back there, in that time, during the Holocaust. But if Margot had lived, and I had the opportunity to talk to her now, I’d like to ask her how she feels about The Diary of a Young Girl, and how the accounts of the annex in there differ, or not, from her own memories.

Q:      Did your role of being an older sister have any impact on – or change in way because of – this book?

A:      It definitely had an impact on this book. When I read the diary as a teenager, I really identified with Anne. I felt I was like her, Jewish, a dreamer, a budding writer, and if I’d lived where and when she did I could’ve been her. But when I re-read the diary as an adult, I really noticed Margot for the first time. I barely remembered her from my earlier reading. I’m the older of two sisters, like Margot, so it occurred to me that if I’d been there, at that time, I wouldn’t have been Anne at all. I would’ve been Margot. I think the sister relationship is a special one and a complicated one. When I read the diary as a teen, I thought of the story of the annex as Anne’s story, but coming back to the diary again as an adult, I realized it was Margot’s too. My younger sister and I are so different and we have such different memories of our (very same) childhood. So yes, all of this impacted my writing of the book!

Q:      You wrote that your children make all your “stories worth telling, but most especially this one.” Care to elaborate?

A:        That phrase we often hear about the Holocaust: never forget — I think, in a way, this is my small contribution to that, and to my children, too.

Q:      You mentioned that you’re working on a new YA novel. Care to give any information about it to whet our appetites?

A:        It’s called SEARCHING FOR SKY and will be published in summer 2014 by Bloomsbury. It’s the story of a teenage girl and boy who have spent nearly their entire lives on a deserted island, only to be “rescued” and brought back to California where they learn that the island they were raised on may not have been the paradise they thought.


Some of the Much-Deserved Praise for MARGOT:

People Magazine gives it 3.5/4 stars: “a convincing, engaging might-have-been.”
Also add: Selected as one of the Women’s National Book Association’s Great Group Reads!

“…Psychologically subtle, satisfyingly suspenseful, and sensitively written.” – Margaret George, New York Times bestselling author of Elizabeth I: A Novel

“…a compassionate imagining of what might have happened had Margot Frank survived…a tour of the emotional nether land so often occupied by those who have survived the unimaginable and an example of extreme sibling competition—and love.”  — Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers

“A moving, spellbinding book about sisters, memory, and love… Spectacular!” — Jen Lancaster, New York Times bestselling author of The Tao of Martha

“This beautifully told sister narrative is more than an intriguing what-if? It’s a meditation on the nature of survivor guilt and the legacy of invisible wounds. Margot takes on big questions in an intimate story, and carefully considers whether it is possible to survive–and thrive– after unspeakable horror. A moving, affecting novel.” — Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Crescent and Birds of Paradise

“Cantor brilliantly channels Anne Frank’s sister Margot…. A haunting meditation on who we really are versus who we wish we had been, regret, loss and how we love in the face of sorrow. Glowing as a rare jewel, Margot is about discovering the truths of our lives, no matter what the cost.” — Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow

“This is a haunting book—emotionally raw, beautifully written, and so close to the bone that it’s jarring to remember, when you come to the end, that Margot Frank isn’t really alive and well and waiting somewhere in Philadelphia to answer all your questions.” — Gwen Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of Homer’s Odyssey and Love Saves the Day

“The kind of story that will leave you breathless, both because of its ambitious subject matter and its deeply arresting storytelling. Cantor has created a stunning reimagining of Anne Frank’s sister.” — Ilie Ruby, author of The Salt God’s Daughter and The Language of Trees

“…The novel not only feels like a prayer for Margot and Anne, but for the many voiceless men and women whose memory deserves recognition.” –Erika Robuck, author of Call Me Zelda

Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay

Another must-read in Hilary McKay’s charming series about the eccentric Casson family, with its – literally – colorful family of artistic parents, Eve and Caddy's WorldBill, and their tremendously likable kids: Caddy, Saffron, Indigo and Rose. Just as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor took her beloved Alice back to her younger years, here McKay does the same, taking Caddy back to age twelve, and Rose back to her premature birth. It’s a credit to McKay’s masterful writing that she manages to wring humor alongside Rose’s life-and-death struggle. Knowing Rose will ultimately survive makes it easier on the reader, but takes nothing away from the very real emotions surrounding her perilous beginning. If, like me, you’re already a fan of this terrific series, you’ll especially enjoy this prequel. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of knowing the Cassons, this is the perfect place to start. Either way, you’re in for a treat.

He’s Gone by Deb Caletti

he's goneAs a long-time fan of award-winning author Deb Caletti and her outstanding young adult books, I was curious about her first “adult” novel. I’m happy to say, it did not disappoint. On the surface, this is a mystery: Dani wakes up from a haze of pills and alcohol to find her husband missing. As she struggles to find the truth, Dani looks back on an abusive first marriage, and the affair that – after a long and unpleasant journey – led to her current marriage. Her story is compelling and thought-provoking; her voice authentic and heartfelt. As always, Caletti’s prose is poignant and lovely: “…water-torture love – the small, every day drips of disillusionment and loneliness.” And here’s another example: “They call an abusive relationship a cycle of violence, when really it’s a cycle of hope. It’s a cycle of misguided optimism.” This is a story worth reading that will stay with you long after you reach its very satisfying conclusion. It also includes an insightful and candid author interview. So read it, then pass it along to your friends.

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

running dreamBeginning with “Finish Line,” and ending with “Starting Line,” this is beautiful book resonates with hope, courage, kindness and triumph. Well-deserving of the Schneider Family Book Award, its difficult subject matter is handled with the perfect blend of humor and sensitivity. The story is about 16-year-old Jessica whose life, and identity, revolves around running – until a catastrophic accident causes her to lose a leg. Told in five parts, we journey with her as she copes with loss, achieves one small, miraculous victory at a time, and ultimately has “some of the best days” of her life. One of my favorite characters is Rosa, a classmate whose sweet, unselfish nature and mathematical genius were previously unnoticed by Jessica, because Rosa was in the back of the room, in a wheelchair. Although she has cerebral palsy, Rosa’s dearest wish is not to walk, but for others to see her, not her condition. Some of the interaction between the two friends is reminiscent of Cindy Lord’s Newbery Honor-winning Rules (one of my all-time favorite books), but Van Draanen brings some fresh twists to it as well. The Running Dream is an inspiring novel. Read it on your own or in the classroom for a great discussion.