TBF Author Q&A with Madhushree Ghosh

Madhushree Ghosh is the author of the novel KHABAAR: AN IMMIGRANT JOURNEY OF FOOD, MEMORY, AND FAMILY.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

MG: Khabaar came about to highlight chefs, home cooks, food stall owners and how through immigration, migration and indenture, we were able to move through countries and continue to save ourselves through the food we cooked and kept alive. It also was a reflection of my own life as a woman of color who came to America as an immigrant, held onto the memories of home through food while honoring her parents as refugees from what’s now Bangladesh, in a country she adopted (USA).

The inspiration was homesickness. Everything I write, it is to keep home alive–whether it is home in my adopted country or the one I left behind. The idea started with the fact that when both my parents passed away, I realized their recipes went with them. I cooked food in their memory and it was a revelation to see how much I remembered in terms of recipes, even though I had never cooked those dishes. This led to my exploration on what food means, why do we remember some recipes and how, and what it means for us to hold onto food and comfort in an alien land.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

MG: Arundhati Roy’s Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. A slim book of essays, Roy’s activism, her way of looking at the world, to continue to talk about the haves/have nots and how the pandemic sheds light on how the world treats the underprivileged is relentless, concise and raises the awareness of a country run by a nationalist fascist democratically elected government, and how systematically it is using untruths to change history, women’s rights, and non-Hindu rights. It’s an urgent book that parallels what’s happening all around the world and written with her rage, passion and lyrical style, it’s a spectacular volume.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

MG: The first book I read was a Noddy book by Enid Blyton. A problematic author, Blyton’s world was a fantastic one–of speaking animals under toadstools, imaginary friends, animals and toys befriending children. It opened my brain to a world not my own, of a country that wasn’t familiar and of characters with joy in their hearts. It was a book my mother bought me, and from a bookstore that carried only ‘foreign’ books–so it was expensive, precious and a cherished book. Only later is when I found out the problematic themes, the othering of non-white animate/inanimate beings, the imperialist bent of such writing. That too informed me of how a book can be inclusive or exclusive and how a cherished book can be a lesson in what NOT to do.

Catch Madhushree Ghosh on Sunday, November 6 at the State Capitol E1.004 from 12:15 – 1:00 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Steven Salvatore

Steven Salvatore is the author of the novel AND THEY LIVED…

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

SS: I wrote And They Lived… in order to heal my 18-year-old self and give myself the happily ever after I didn’t get at that age when I fell in love with a boy for the first time. Chase is everything I wish I could have been, and Jack is the boy I fell in love with, but better because he stays around and learns to love Chase out loud, even if it takes him some time. I was always in love with the idea of love, and Disney fairytale movies were my emotional support system growing up, but I never saw myself in those stories, as much as I loved them. So I wanted to write a contemporary, realistic, but romantic and hyper-realized queer love story with an original fairytale woven into the narrative that tackles real issues that gay folks face — from sex to body dysmorphia — so that queer readers could see themselves reflected on the page.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

SS: Jason June’s Out of the Blue was pure joy. I laughed, I cheered, I cried — and I haven’t cried at a book in a really long time, but it just made me feel so seen and valid. I’m a sucker for a well-crafted romcom. I will sing the praises of this brilliant book for years. Equal parts romantic, joy, and camp, this book had me splashing in my Big Gay Feelings from start to poignant finish.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

SS: The first book I remember reading was Dr. Seuss’ Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo, which I still use and reference as an important tool to teach consequences and ripple effects in writing classes. I remember my parents reading it to me as a child, and it became a lifelong favorite.

Catch Steven Salvatore on Saturday, November 5 at the YA HQ Tent from 11:15 -12:00 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Debbie Zapata

Debbie Zapata is the author of the children’s book UP AND ADAM.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

DZ: As a child I loved to write stories. It wasn’t until my son was born with Down syndrome, that the story concept for Up and Adam took shape. While many people focused on what my young son couldn’t do, I concentrated on his strengths. He showed me that he is smart and strong. He reminds others to practice patience, share the gift of a smile, and take time to have fun. Over the years, new story details would come to me. For example, I envisioned a seaside town for the setting. When hurricane Sandy struck New York City, where I used to live, I knew the story would include a big storm. I wrote a first draft version for my son’s student of the week project. Six years later, it is my debut picture book. In the story, Adam and his dog, Up, help their neighbors in the aftermath of a storm, lifting spirits as they go. It is a story about inclusivity and community, designed for readers of all ages and abilities.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

DZ: Bartali’s Bicycle: The True Story of Gino Bartali, Italy’s Secret Hero (HarperCollins, 2021) by Megan Hoyt is a picture book that has it all! It’s a true story about a humble man who saved many lives while risking his own. There are many painful truths about the power of evil during the Holocaust. This is a tale about the human spirit and its quest to rise above the dark. Megan Hoyt’s writing puts the reader right on the bicycle seat with Bartali. Iacopo Bruno’s illustrations take us to an era that we must never forget. This book is perfect for readers of all ages. It reminds us all that a single person can be a champion in the fight for human rights.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

DZ: My grandfather was a botany professor at Texas A&M University. During my childhood, he gave me wonderful books for special occasions such as my birthday. I treasured the beautiful hardcover copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Yet, I adored A Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The vibrant colors and the glimpse into the natural life of a caterpillar captured me. I liked the whimsicalness of a caterpillar that ate treats like cake and ice cream and ended up with a stomach ache.

TBF: Alternatively, make up some questions you’d like to be asked!


My eight-year-old self would love to hang out with Jasmine Toguchi from Debbi Michiko Florence’s chapter book series. Jasmine Toguchi is a determined, smart Japanese-American heroine. She’s not afraid to try new things and learn about family, friendship, and sisterhood along the way. I relate to her because I grew up in a multicultural household with an older sister who got to do things first.


Seeing my work in print has been a tremendous joy because I believe in a world in which all children can see themselves in the pages of a book. Only three percent of children’s picture books include a prominent character with a disability. Up and Adam features a protagonist with Down syndrome. The story focuses on the character’s abilities. Readers learn about Adam’s sincere smile, his big heart, and his kindness. On each page, we see how Adam adapts to the circumstances and thinks about what to do to help others. I hope Up and Adam inspires young readers to see how everyone can make a difference in their community.

Catch Debbie Zapata on Sunday, November 6 at the Read Me A Story Tent from 3:00 – 3:30 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival! 


TBF Author Q&A with Rudy Ruiz

Rudy Ruiz is the author of the novel VALLEY OF SHADOWS.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

RR: My son, Lorenzo, asked me to write a Western horror story set in West Texas. I thought it would be very interesting to do that and use it as an opportunity to expand on the genres, weaving in my style of magical realism and social issues that remain relevant today. I drew inspiration from Texas’ troubled history with Mexico, Mexican-Americans, the original Tejano settlers and Native Americans. In particular, the Porvenir Massacre of 1918 – during which Texas Rangers and the U.S. Cavalry murdered 15 unarmed Mexican boys and men – motivated me to reflect on the harsh racial injustices and law enforcement atrocities that have traditionally been swept under the rug by Texan and American historians and teachers. What would have happened had there been a lawman around like Solitario Cisneros, the hero in Valley of Shadows? If we could rewrite history, what might it look like? How can we build on those ideas as we examine our present state and try to solve these problems that still tear our country apart to this very day.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

RR: I’ve read some really wonderful books lately and it’s impossible to pick just one. What they all have in common is that they each give readers a unique glimpse into a unique experience that’s very different from their own. They transport you and transform you.

Books can build bridges between worlds. When we travel across those bridges and walk in others’ shoes, our sense of empathy grows. Books are bridges that help us cross borders, bringing us closer together as human beings. This is what I love to do in my writing, build understanding through immersion and empathy. The books I’ve read recently that do that include: Kelli Jo Ford’s Crooked Hallelujah, Sergio Troncoso’s A Peculiar Kind of Immigrant’s Son, Alex Temblador’s Half-Outlaw, and Jennifer Givhan’s River Woman, River Demon.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

RR: My mom put books in my hands at an early age, so early I can’t really recall the first one. I’m very grateful to her for introducing me to reading at an early age. It fueled my imagination and took me on journeys around the world and far beyond, all from my hometown of Brownsville, Texas. Reading made me yearn to experience the broader world and appreciate the cultural experiences of others. When you open a book, you open your mind. And, for being gifted with an open mind through reading, I’m forever thankful to my mom, who is also a lifelong avid reader. 

Catch Rudy Ruiz on Sunday, November 6 at the Latinx Lit Tent from 12:00 – 12:45 and the State Capitol E2.012 from 3:15 – 4:00 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Mairead Small Staid

Mairead Small Staid is the author of the novel THE TRACES: AN ESSAY.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

MSS: I spent the fall of 2008 in Florence on a study abroad program. I was 20 years old and an aspiring writer, and my time in Italy was astonishingly rich in many ways: in inspiration and productivity, in offering the possibility of connection between my academic work and the creative life I hoped to lead, in friendships and romances, in newness, in pleasure, in literature, in art. (Rich in just about every way, then, except literally! As I was pretty broke.) I was incredibly happy, in other words, and this felt like a remarkable thing, as I had begun suffering from manic depression a few years earlier and had endured long depressive episodes in the year leading up to my trip. I was drawn at the time, as I think many would-be writers are, to the idea that suffering was useful and perhaps even necessary in making art—that my depression was inextricable from whatever talent I hoped I might have, whatever might be best, most interesting and most creative, about my work and myself.

But when, years later, I started trying to write an essay about my time in Italy through the lens of depression, the work refused to take shape. Over the course of many months and many false starts, I realized that happiness had become the more intriguing question to me, and I wondered if it might be possible to take happiness as a wholly serious literary subject, to consider its role in the creation of art as consistently as I (and others) had considered the roles of suffering, sorrow, and pain. I realized, however slowly, that I wanted to explore the possibility of making a different myth.

I also realized that the essay I was writing might actually be a book, a terrifying prospect. Desperate for some guiding structure, I thought I might borrow the form of a classic travel narrative, a kind of playful update on the Grand Tour of the eighteenth century. But I couldn’t get excited about such a straightforward narrative, however referential, and instead found myself (I wish I could remember how!) rereading a book I had loved long ago, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. A travel guide to places that might not exist, Calvino’s book provided not only a structuring mechanism but a sounding board for many of the themes that had begun to orbit my central subject of happiness: place and time, memory and desire. It’s impossible, now, to imagine my work without his; the meeting feels inevitable.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

MSS: Letters to Gwen John by the artist Celia Paul, which I recommend along with her earlier memoir, Self-Portrait. I went into great detail about the evocative qualities of both books in a review for the Los Angeles Review of Books, but what makes them so good, in a nutshell, is the way they make room for the reader between the lines. I don’t really know how to describe (or create!) this effect, but I find that many of my favorite reading moments occur when my eyes drift from the page, my own thoughts unspooling alongside the author’s. A great book, I think, is one that makes you want to talk back to it.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

MSS: I’m sure I read many sweeter and more wholesome picture books, but the earliest one I remember is Heckedy Peg by Audrey and Don Wood. It’s the frankly nightmarish tale of seven children turned into items of food (a loaf of bread, a wheel of cheese) by the eponymous witch and the horrors endured by their mother in the course of rescuing them. I’m sure the beautiful, painfully realistic illustrations—the lavish table arrayed with the children-turned-food is like a Dutch still life—were part of the reason it scared me so much, a nice lesson in the virtues of verisimilitude. It was absolutely terrifying and apparently unforgettable. I have no idea who gave it to me, but bless them.

Catch Mairead Small Staid on Saturday, November 5 at the State Capitol E2.010 from 11:00 – 11:45 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Kali Fajardo-Anstine

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is the author of the novel WOMAN OF LIGHT.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

KFA: I wrote Woman of Light because my Indigenous, Mexican, and Filipino ancestors lived enormous lives, but they were never the stars of novels, movies or TV shows. My elders loved movies and storytelling, but all the classic Western films we watched portrayed the lives of white men and women in the American West. I wanted to honor my ancestor’s wildly entertaining lives. I wanted them to be the stars.

Woman of Light began with the larger-than-life stories of my elders. My great grandma Esther (Picuris Pueblo descendant) talked incessantly about walking north to Denver from the mining camps of Southern Colorado in the 1920s after she and her siblings were abandoned by their Belgian father. I heard stories of my snake charming uncle, my proudly butch auntie who provided for her siblings, and my Auntie Lucy who at seven-years-old sold hash to flappers on Denver’s streets. I heard tales of their lives in the sugar beet fields, their dance halls and beautiful handmade gowns, and the ugliness of the prejudice they faced once coming to the city.

TBF: How would you describe your book?

KFA: Woman of Light is my heart song to my ancestors. An epic novel inspired by classic Westerns and old Hollywood, this character-driven book is a tribute to my American homeland and the culturally diverse people who created me. It’s also my attempt to provide greater historical context for the lives of Latinx people of Indigenous descent in the American Southwest, as so much of our history has been ripped from us. It is a story of love, fate, desire, and what it means to be human, to make mistakes, and to learn about who we are.

TBF: How long have you been at work on this book? Did the book involve special research?

KFA: As a teenager, I dreamed of writing a family saga based on my people. I started Woman of Light in 2010, and I began heavily researching in 2015 when I taught at Fort Lewis College, a former Indian Boarding School in Durango, Colorado. I was deeply saddened teaching on that mesa of historic trauma, but it was in that place that I began to distinctly feel connected to the older generations of my family. In the past decade, my research has taken me throughout the American West, from New Mexico to Wyoming and into the archives and homes of my elders. There is a magnitude of research in this novel, but there are also moments of divine luck and awe-inspiring coincidences. I feel this is the book I was born to write.

TBF: How is this book similar or different from your previous work?

KFA: Woman of Light is an extension of the fictional universe in Sabrina & Corina. The women of my first book are the great grandchildren of characters like Luz and Diego in Woman of Light. Denver is featured prominently in both books, and my fictional town, Saguarita, makes an appearance. My writing is guided by the need to feel culturally seen and acknowledged as a vital part of the American identity. For much of my life, I felt invisible and as if the hardships of my ancestors were forgotten. This is a novel that grapples with our space in American history in a way that has never been seen before. This is my life’s work, and I will continue to write novels and short stories that illuminate the lives of my people in the American West for as long as I am capable.

TBF: Can you talk about some of the real life history behind the book?

KFA: I grew up seeped in myths of the American West. I am drawn to figures like Annie Oakley who acquired her sharpshooting skills as a child out of necessity to hunt for her siblings and widowed mother. My mother would tell stories of the Apache woman-warrior, Lozen, who could feel the direction of the enemy on her palm. My own Auntie Lucy spoke of hiding against the floorboards of their Denver tenement as the Ku Klux Klan marched by outside their windows.

And like the characters in Woman of Light, my own ancestors and many elders in my community have stories of being beaten for speaking Spanish and their indigenous languages in school or public.

TBF: Who do you see as fans of your book? What are the three things you most hope they will take away after reading it?

KFA: This book is for fans of Elena Ferrante, Isabel Allende, Anthony Doerr, Michael Ondaatje, Kazuo Ishiguro, Cormac McCarthy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and television fans of Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire. But it’s also for the many lovely and loyal fans of Sabrina & Corina.

I want readers to have a greater sense of Indigenous and Chicana subjectivity and a stronger understanding of the true history of the American West.

I hope readers finish this book feeling that we are all capable of strength and love despite the hatred of our world. But most of all, I hope my readers feel less lonely and inspired to learn more about their own family history.

Catch Kali Fajardo-Anstine on Saturday, November 5 at the State Capitol E2.028 from 1:15 – 2:00 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Maya P. Smart


TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

MPS: When I was a new mom, I was dismayed by news reports of cripplingly low reading achievement among black students. Coverage described vast numbers of children who were labeled “behind” from the moment they arrived in school and considered beyond help by the end of elementary school. That didn’t sit well with me, so I got curious about what exactly needed to happen to help parents set kids up for success. What I learned made me realize how badly this message needs to get out to all parents.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

MPS: I love and recommend Parent Nation by Dana Suskind because resolving America’s reading crisis will require transformation at the personal and policy levels. In my book, I explore how individual parents must grow their knowledge, patience, and consistency to impart the early skills and experiences kids need to thrive. In Parent Nation, Suskind digs into how the government, in turn, can bolster investment in families in the pivotal early years of kids’ life and learning. It’s a both/and scenario. Parent action and public investment are required.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

MPS: ​​I have fond memories of checking out Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain from the Ayres Branch Library in Akron, Ohio. My mom and I always parted ways just inside the front doors of the library, where I hung a sharp right into the colorful juvenile section. The library, previously a residence, was small enough and the librarians familiar enough (one lived on my block) that kids roamed freely. I remember the intimacy of that space, those shelves and the comfort of returning again and again to the same books.

Catch Maya P. Smart on Saturday, November 5 at the State Capitol E2.030 from 12:30 – 1:15 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Destiny O. Birdsong

Destiny O. Birdsong is the author of the novel NOBODY’S MAGIC.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

DOB: I wrote my book about Black women with albinism because I wanted to see myself depicted in literature as a fully-fleshed out human being. Not as a punchline, or a warning, or the result of taboo behavior, but as a person with goals, dreams, and challenges that extend beyond my condition. The idea for a book began with a conversation with a friend about African American romance novelists who often create characters that fit very traditional standards of Black beauty: fair skin, long hair, thin bodies — bodies that often differ from those of the authors themselves. I remember telling her that I’d never want to live through a female character whose body doesn’t look like mine because, for me, the stakes are much higher. Denying my own body on the page potentially means confirming the notion that my body is not good enough to be written about. At that moment, my first fictional character was born.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

DOB: The last book I’ve read that I keep talking about is a collection of essays called Like Love by Michele Morano. It’s such a smart premise: an exploration of love relationships that are not romantic. And the chapters are so fascinating: discussing relationships with passing strangers, neighbors, and her mother. It’s a really good book.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

DOB: The first one I remember reading was my illustrated children’s Bible, which was probably given to me by my mother. My favorite story was about Joshua making the sun stand still long enough to win a battle, which probably speaks to my lifelong struggle with procrastination.

Catch Destiny O. Birdsong on Saturday, November 5 at the State Capitol E2.014 from 11:00 – 11:45 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!

TBF Author Q&A with Celia C. Pérez

Celia C. Pérez is the author of the novel TUMBLE.

TBF: Why did you write your new book? What was your inspiration? Where did the idea start?

CCP: It started with my junior high obsession with professional wrestling! Tumble is a story about wrestling, about family, about identity, about learning to make big decisions and about having the ability to choose. Like all of my books, it is a collage of things I love and am intrigued by. In this case: mythology, small towns, telenovelas, wrestling families, history, archives, traditions, mysteries, and family secrets. What makes a family? How does family influence who you are and how you see yourself? It’s about how family can lift us up, but also about how family can hurt us, and how we deal with that hurt. These are the things that were tumbling (see how I did that?) around in my brain when I was thinking about this story.

TBF: What’s the last book you read, loved, and can’t stop recommending? Why is it so good?

CCP: For adults: We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry. It has so many things I love: 1980s pop culture references (I am a child of the 80s), witches, history, teen girls harnessing their power and finding their way in this world, mystery, and humor. The colors for both the hardback and the paperback scream 80s, and I love it.

For kids: Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez. Eric was at the Texas Book Festival in 2019, and I caught the end of his reading of this book. He was fantastic. I got the chance to read this in Spanish and in English to a group of elementary school students and everyone loved it. It’s funny, suspenseful, and a great tribute to storytelling, and the illustrations are gorgeous.

TBF: What’s the first book you remember reading? Who gave it to you?

CCP: The earliest memory I have of reading a book, memorable in that it was a book that was mine — of my choosing and that I loved — was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Witch’s Sister. It was the first book I remember owning. I was in Ms. Flanagan’s 3rd grade class at Comstock Elementary in Miami, Florida, and I purchased it from a Troll book order form. Forty years later, I still have this book in my possession. The original cover is missing, the pages are yellowed and smudged with years of handling and moving around with me, and there’s a literal book worm hole that goes from the beginning to the end of the book. I have read it many times in those forty years, and it still holds up.

Catch Celia C. Pérez on Saturday, November 5 at the Next Chapter Tent from 2:45 – 3:30 at the 2022 Texas Book Festival!