Monday, July 17, 2023

TBR: Off to Join the Circus by Deborah Kalb

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe.  


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


OFF TO JOIN THE CIRCUS is about an overly enmeshed, neurotic Jewish family in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, and what happens when a legendary relative returns after 64 years. Adele Pinsky ran away at 16 from her home in West Orange, New Jersey, perhaps to join a circus, and she reappears when her younger brother, Howard, is turning 75. The book features Howard’s family—wife Marilyn, daughters Sarah, Diana, and Lucy, and grandsons Max and Will—as they prepare for a bar mitzvah and the birth of a baby, and deal with Adele’s (re)entry into their midst.


Which character did you most enjoy creating? Why? And, which character gave you the most trouble, and why?


I’d like to say that I most enjoyed creating Adele. She’s a woman of mystery, and for that reason I never tell any of the story from her perspective. The seven other family members, who are all point-of-view characters, are absorbing her arrival and what it means for them—they’ve created an entire mythology given her lengthy absence--and finding that she’s shifted their perspectives about family and what really matters.


Howard and Marilyn’s oldest daughter, Sarah, perhaps gave me the most trouble because her worried state of mind reminded me too much of myself. It was harder to make the chapters from her point of view as funny as the others.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


The highs: finding a publisher, Apprentice House, based at Loyola University in Maryland. I was absolutely delighted when they agreed to publish it, and have enjoyed working with them. The lows probably center around sending the novel to dozens of agents who all rejected it.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


Keep on trying! I know it can be discouraging to get rejections from agents or publishers, but I believe persistence will pay off in the end. Something I’m still telling myself about a mystery novel I’ve been working on for literally decades now! 


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


Great question! My character Lucy, the youngest of the three daughters, is recovering from a divorce. I thought Lucy and ex-husband Jeff’s marriage ended for one reason, and then Lucy and I discovered together that actually it was another reason entirely! I won’t give anything away here, but it was one of those moments when you shake your head and wonder why that hadn’t occurred to either of you before!


How did you find the title of your book?


I’m not usually great at coming up with titles (and when I was a journalist, I wasn’t great at coming up with headlines). But this title made sense to me immediately. When Adele first leaves, 11-year-old Howie asks his dad where she went, and the dad waves his hands in the air and says, “Off to join the circus, Howie.” Being 11, Howie takes it literally, and even when he’s older, he wonders if perhaps the missing Adele could have joined the circus. The circus, and the idea of being someone who even possibly could join a circus, becomes part of Pinsky family folklore.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book?


One of my characters, Diana’s husband, Philippe, is a chef. He’s from Belgium, and runs a restaurant called Diana’s that serves various Belgian specialties. Knowing very little about chefs, Belgian food, and how to run a restaurant, I consulted a chef friend. All errors in this regard are my own. Philippe turned out to be one of my favorite characters. Marilyn, who is a retired English professor rather than a chef, also seems to spend a great deal of time cooking for huge groups of relatives who descend on her. She makes an impromptu vegan stir-fry that she finds quite delicious.










DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.