Today we welcome Deborah Kalb.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Deborah Kalb: I’ve lived in the Washington, D.C., area for most of my life, and spent many years working as a journalist, covering politics and government for a variety of publications. I also have a book blog, deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com, where I interview authors about their books.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Deborah Kalb: I’m currently writing children’s books. The first one, George Washington and the Magic Hat, came out last year. It’s about a fifth-grade boy named Sam who finds a magic hat at the Mount Vernon gift shop and ends up traveling back in time to meet George Washington. Sam’s also dealing with various present-day issues, including the fact that he and his best friend are no longer speaking. The second in the series, John Adams and the Magic Bobblehead, should be out relatively soon!
I had the pleasure of co-writing a book with my father, Marvin Kalb, called Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama, which was published in 2011. It also involves presidents, but this book is for adults and is nonfiction, so there’s not much overlap! I’ve always been interested in the Vietnam War, and my father was a State Department correspondent for CBS News during those years, so we decided to collaborate on that project.
I’ve also edited, co-edited, or co-written various reference books for CQ Press/Sage.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Deborah Kalb: Yes, a couple of them. One is the third in the series of children’s books, which will focus on Thomas Jefferson. I’m about to start writing it, so wish me luck! I’ve also been involved with updating a mystery novel (for adults) that I first wrote half my lifetime ago. Clearly, it needs a lot of updating at this point!
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Deborah Kalb: Good question…I think it’s always hard to write the very first paragraph of a novel. It needs to draw the reader in and give a sense of what’s going on, and why you should care about this person. I generally end up revising those sections over and over.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Deborah Kalb: For the nonfiction book, we interviewed various people who were involved in foreign policy decision-making, and read dozens of books relating to the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
For the children’s books, I read a lot of biographies of the people involved to make sure I get the details right. I also interview people who might be able to help me verify certain facts.
For the mystery novel, I’ve been trying to talk to people to ensure that I’m not way off base about various topics pertaining to the plot. But as it’s set in the present day, I don’t need to do as much research.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Deborah Kalb: So many! As I mentioned, I have a book blog where I interview authors, and I post interviews daily, so I read constantly. (I’m also in three book groups!) It’s not fair to the authors to pick a favorite, but I would say that many of these authors have been very inspirational.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Deborah Kalb: My parents, who are both authors, as are various other family members. It’s kind of the family business. All my author-relatives have been incredibly supportive, and—getting back to the previous question–my parents have always been inspirations to me.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Deborah Kalb: Well, it’s probably better for someone else to answer that, but I’ve heard I’m good at writing funny dialogue, coming up with characters that readers care about, and making history enjoyable for kids.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Deborah Kalb: It depends. There are days when I’m thinking about my characters and plot, etc., days when I’m revising, and days when I’m actually writing. I’m about to start on the third children’s book, and I’m going to try once again to set a goal of 1,000 words a day.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Deborah Kalb: Oh, wow! I’d like to think I’ll have finally launched the mystery novel, after several decades. I’d like to think I’ll have written a few more children’s books. And I’d like to think I’ll try to tackle some other genres as well…
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Deborah Kalb: Don’t give up.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Deborah Kalb: I’ll go back to answer number 8 for that one!
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Deborah Kalb: Okay, here’s the opening scene from George Washington and the Magic Hat:
“Sam had no idea when that particular Thursday morning began that a few hours later he would end up back in the eighteenth century almost trampled by George Washington and his horse.
For all Sam knew, it was going to be just another ordinary day. Well, not completely ordinary—field trips were always kind of exciting. Ms. Martin, his teacher, was enthusiastically herding Sam’s fifth-grade class out of the school and onto the bus. “Mount Vernon, here we come!” she cried, causing a few of the noisier boys to start chanting, “Here we come! Here we come!”
Out of habit, Sam looked around for Andrew, his former best friend. The two of them had always sat together on field trips, ever since their trip to the US Capitol way back in kindergarten. But of course Andrew was with Ryan and Tom, his new best friends from the baseball travel team.”