Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with Rona Arato

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Ten Questions with Rona Arato

Rona Arato tells Open Book about her writing, reading and research. The launch for her latest book, Mrs. Kaputnik’s Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium (Tundra Books), is on Sunday, May 2nd at Chapters Bayview Village. See Open Book's Events Page for details.

Open Book: Toronto:

Tell us about your book, Mrs. Kaputnik’s Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium.

Rona Arato:

Shoshi and Moshe flee from Russia with their mother and Snigger, the baby dragon that saved them from an attack by Cossack soldiers. Five years earlier, their father had also come to New York to make his fortune, but no one has heard from him since. Through a series of adventures and misadventures, Shoshi and Moshe use their wits to navigate through New York City's Lower East Side, making new friends and even a few foes: Salty, the seaman who helps the family smuggle Snigger through Ellis Island; Aloysius P. Thornswaddle, carnival barker extraordinaire; Dingle Hinglehoffer, pitcher for the Brooklyn Slobbers; and the mysterious Man in the Black Cape. With the help of Snigger, they set out to solve the mystery behind their father's disappearance, helping to free the Lower East Side from the tyrannical rule of gangster Nick the Stick along the way.

OBT:

Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?

RA:

The book began as a series of stories I told my kids. I wrote it for kids in the 8 to 11 age range who like fantasy and adventure.

OBT:

How did you research your book?

RA:

The story takes place in New York in 1900. I used the Internet to learn about New York of that time and read other books set in the same time and place. I looked at old photos to see what New York looked like and how people dressed. As for the dragon and the other weird characters, I used my imagination and had fun creating them.

OBT:

Describe your ideal work environment.

RA:

I like to work at a desk near a window so I can look out at trees. In summer I open the windows and listen to birds singing and to children playing. These are sounds that I love.

OBT:

What was your first publication?

RA:

My first published work was an article about my husband Paul, who is an industrial designer. After that I wrote hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines. My first books were Fossil and World of Water for Crabtree Publishing. I then wrote Ice Cream Town, which takes place in New York in 1920 and is based on my father’s experiences as a new immigrant.

OBT:

What's the best advice you've received as a writer?

RA:

Believe in yourself. Most writers have a lot of rejection before we get published. If you are passionate about your subject, believe in your own ability, and stick with it, you will eventually succeed. My other rule is to be realistic. Writers are told to “write about what you know.” This doesn’t mean you can’t research new subjects, but you should write about subjects that interest you and ideas that you care about.

OBT:

What advice do you have for writers who are trying to get published?

RA:

Be realistic. Learn your strengths and weaknesses and follow your passion. Then practice your craft. Don’t be afraid to rewrite. It took me 20 years to get Mrs. Kaputnik into book form and another two years of working with editors to refine it into the finished version. That’s extreme. Now it takes me anywhere from 1 to 2 years to research and write a book.
Network. Attend writers’ conferences; meet other writers and talk about writing and the business of writing. Join a writers’ group. It can be an amazing support system. Try to find a group that is interested in the same kind of writing that you are. In my group we are all children’s writers. You don’t all have to be writing the same thing but it helps if you can offer each other valid critiques.

OBT:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

RA:

I would choose St. Urbain’s Horseman by Mordecai Richler; The Stone Angel, by Margaret Lawrence, and Runaway, by Alice Munro.

OBT:

What books are on your bedside table?

RA:

I have a revolving collection. There is usually one good murder mystery, a historical novel and a literary work. Right now I’m reading The White Tiger, by Aravin Adiga, The Constant Princess, by Phillipa Gregory, and I just finished The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill.

OBT:

What is your next project?

RA:

I just finished On a Medieval Day, Nine Story Voyages Across History for Owlkids Books. It’s the second in a series that began with On a Canadian Day. The next book will be On an American Day. I have a non-fiction book Design It! coming out from Tundra in Fall 2010 and I’m working on Michael’s Journey based on my husband’s experiences as a child during the Holocaust, and his reunion in 2009 with the American soldiers who liberated him.


Rona Arato was born in New York and grew up in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in magazines and newspapers in Canada and the United States. She taught elementary school in Los Angeles and Toronto, adult creative writing for the Toronto District School Board, and has conducted business writing workshops for profit and non-profit organizations. From 1994-1998, she was an interviewer for Survivors of the Shoa, a Steven Spielberg project that recorded the histories of Holocaust survivors. Rona Arato lives in Toronto with her husband, Paul.

Photo of Rona Arato by Lucy Granada of Envision Photography.

For more information on Mrs. Kaputnik’s Pool Hall and Matzo Ball Emporium, please visit Tundra Books at www.tundrabooks.com

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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