Author Interview Series-Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein

Ariel Bernstein is a children's book author. Her debut picture book, I HAVE A BALLOON illustrated by Scott Magoon (Simon and Schuster/ Paula Wiseman Books) is available now. Her upcoming chapter book series, WARREN AND DRAGON, illustrated by Mike Malbrough (Viking Children's) will be released Summer 2018. You can find more about Ariel at, and on Twitter and Instagram at @ArielBBooks.

Marina Raydun: Rumor has it, you have quite a few favorite children’s books. Is there one you can single out as an absolute childhood favorite?

Ariel Bernstein: If I have to pick one, it’s probably THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin. When I was younger, I identified with the character of Turtle and loved seeing the story through the chapters from her point of view. When I read it again as an adult, I appreciated how Raskin made all of the character personalities so distinct and layered. Plus, with every read I discover clues I’d missed before.

MR: What is the first book that made you cry?

AB: I don’t often cry when reading books. I imagine if I had cried when reading a book, it was when I read THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK, knowing what had happened afterwards.

MR: As a parent, what do you look for in a children’s book?

AB: I look for re-readability. If I take a book out of a library or buy one, I want a story that my kids will enjoy multiple readings of, and one that I will be okay reading multiple times!

MR: Do your test drive your ideas on your kids?

AB: I don’t. It’s hard to explain to my kids what my book will ultimately be about when I first start writing, as I often figure out a plot as I write.

MR: What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

AB: Sometimes when writing I get stuck figuring out what should come next. Taking a break and reading a few pages from another book usually help.

MR: Any unusual writing quirks?

AB: I don’t think this is so unusual, but I often get my best ideas when I’m out taking a walk.

MR: One of the most prominent features of children's literature is illustration. Do your characters, as they are drawn, match the portraits you must have had in your mind’s eye while you were writing them?

AB: Actually, I rarely have a visual idea of what my books will look like! When I write a picture book, I know the illustrations will be completely up to the illustrator and editor, so I don’t need to figure out what it should look like. When I’m writing chapter books, I don’t know which images or scenes the illustrator will choose to draw. I don’t really write with that in mind.

MR: I Have a Balloon is marketed as a book for ages 4 to 8. That’s a bit of a range in kid years, I would say. Which age, have you found, has the most to say about the book at readings?

AB: I’ve read the book to kids ages two through ten, and luckily I’ve had great experiences reading to all ages. All of the kids end up having questions, no matter their age, so I can’t really say one age group over another responds to it more.

MR: What subject would you never write about as an author?

AB: I’ve never thought to rule any subject matter out, but there are plenty I just haven’t imagined writing about.

MR: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview?

AB: What does it feel like to have had such a long career as a children’s book author? (Obviously I need to write a lot more books if I want to be asked this question one day!)

I Have a Balloon is available here:


Author Interview Series-Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza

Stephanie Laterza


Stephanie Laterza is the author of the feminist legal thriller, The Boulevard Trial. Her short fiction has appeared in The Nottingham Review, Writing Raw, Literary Mama, and Akashic Books. Her poetry has been published in Newtown Literary, San Francisco Peace and Hope, Literary Mama, and Meniscus Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

Marina Raydun: What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?

Stephanie Laterza: I probably first recognized the power of language and its resonance while reading Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein as a child. I was around eight years old when my cousin gave me a copy of the book for Christmas and never before had I read a collection of poems that was so irreverent yet familiar and lyrical in a way I hadn’t experienced up to that point. I love reading the book again, this time with my Kindergarten-aged son. I realize how much Shel’s work likely influenced my own writing and understanding of the power of language to reach and give voice to the human experience in all its tragedy and comedy.   

MR: If you could do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

SL: Reading is inextricably linked with writing, so I would have read a wider, more eclectic selection of books overall, despite considering myself an avid reader as a child. I enjoyed Nancy Drew books along with the novels I inherited from my older sister. But while I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I never read any of Tolkien’s work, for example. It wasn’t until high school that I even heard of The Lord of the Rings and I felt I was missing out on something other kids my age loved. I often wonder whether Tolkien’s trilogy would have inspired me to write fantasy one day. Maybe there’s still hope for me in that regard. As a teenager, it would have been invaluable to me as a young writer to have read the work of my favorite Latina authors as part of my high school curriculum, like Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, or Julia Alvarez’s How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents. I had to wait until college to read those and other books by Latina authors I admire. As a side note, Isabel Allende is visiting the Brooklyn Public Library on November 7th, so I am ecstatic to say the least.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

SL: Having readers learn something valuable from my writing, in particular about the intersectionality of class and multi-ethnic identity in America. It would be nice to eventually buy a house by the Adriatic Sea too. I can dream, can’t I?

MR: What do you owe real life people upon whom you base your characters?

SL: With respect to the heroes or generally kind characters, a balance between sensitivity and authenticity. With respect to illustrating villains, although I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I refuse to be censored. As Anne Lamott wisely said, “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

MR: What’s the most difficult part about writing characters from the opposite sex?

SL: I think writing male privilege has been a challenge for me in terms of first-person narration. Could I write a Holden Caulfield-esque male protagonist? I guess to do it effectively, I’d have to put myself into the head of some of the guys I dated in and after college. But seriously, although on the one hand I might be concerned with maintaining authenticity in writing from a so-called “male” perspective, I think the fact that most of the characters I write, male or female, end up being amalgams inspired by different people would help me to create a third-dimensional male protagonist rather than a mere stereotype. In terms of narrative structure, when my male protagonists differ substantially from my personality or direct experience, I’ve sometimes illustrated them through third person narration. Another helpful approach is to start from sources of conflict, which, on the one hand might be influenced by gender, but on the other, are ultimately universal and identifiable to anyone, however they identify. In my short story, The Weight of Figs (The Nottingham Review, 2016), for example, my protagonist is a middle-aged man coming to terms with the decline of his mother’s memory as his father denies his wife’s condition. Although my protagonist isn’t a cis female writer like myself, and I didn’t go through that particular struggle, I can certainly feel the pain of his internal and external conflicts, as anyone could. Pain is part of what unites us as human beings. I suppose we read to know we aren’t alone in that regard.

MR: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?

SL: Interpreter of Maladies, the Pulitzer-Prize winning short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri. She paints existential loneliness and the fleetingness of human interactions with both technical precision and emotional abandon in a way I had never seen before reading her book. The only book that came close to creating that feeling for me was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which still remains my favorite novel of all time. When I read Interpreter of Maladies, and Lahiri’s subsequent collection, Unaccustomed Earth, I identified with her characters’ profound sense of loneliness and loss on a personal and universal level. I also felt challenged to delve that deeply into my own characters when writing my stories. After reading Lahiri’s work, I realized how much reading inspires writers to take chances with technique, perspective and character development with respect to their own work. Of course, every writer will do this differently, influenced by their personal experience, worldview, and training, if any. It’s just nice to know we’re allowed to traverse the complex terrain of the human psyche because great writers before us have done it.

MR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do you help each other become better writers?

SL: Besides having the pleasure of getting to know my gracious interviewer over the past several years, I’ve been buddies since college with writer Jack Lugo, who is a James Bond aficionado and podcast co-host. Jack and I read and critiqued each other’s short fiction and poetry as English majors at Fordham and I’m psyched to see that Jack is still great at his craft. In recent years, I’ve become good friends with poet Sandra Proto, with whom I’ve shared featured readings in Queens. Also, my dear freelance writer friend, Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, and I have supported each other’s creative writing for many years. It especially rocks that we both live in Brooklyn now. Showing up for our fellow writers is crucial, whether at readings, book festivals or workshops. We’re in this together, and that means a lot.

MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?

SL: It led me to explore the power of narrative structure and forced me to edit on a larger scale. I always say I appreciate structuralism much more now than I did as an English major in college. So there’s a reason The Boulevard Trial begins with third-person narration of the young attorney Helena’s predicament and ends with her speaking for herself. I actually approached the narration surrounding the defendant Francesca and the prosecutor Alexandra in a similar way, but, as readers soon discover, one lives while the other dies by the end of the book. The trial scene is also an exercise in form as social commentary. Despite the fact that it’s somewhat in court transcript form, it’s narrated from the perspective of the court reporter, whose subjectivity comes through despite the seeming objectivity of the scene’s format. Another lesson publishing my first book taught me was the importance of revising multiple times before being comfortable with a finished product because, as Hemingway put it, “The first draft of anything is shit.” I don’t worry too much about the quality of my first draft (or my thirtieth) anymore since I know I’ll be spending a lot of time refining the book to become something awesome. I also learned the importance of a good editor in connection with subsequent work I’ve written.

MR: What did you edit out of The Boulevard Trial?

SL: The Memorial Day office party where Helena confides her violent secret concerning her ex-fiancé to her unscrupulous colleagues, one of whom betrays her confidence to her law firm partner boss, thereby setting the book in motion. I enjoyed writing that scene, and it even had some karaoke in it, but ultimately I felt it was better to start the book the following week when Helena gets called into the Partner’s office.

MR: What are you currently reading?

SL: Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende.


To learn more about Stephanie Laterza and her works, please visit:

The Boulevard Trial on Amazon

Facebook author page:


Short Fiction Link from Stephanie Laterza's Wordpress Blog


To learn more about Sandra Pronto, please visit:


To learn more about Jack Lugo, please visit:


To learn more about Jacqueline Colette Prosper-Sonderegger, please visit:


Author Interview Series-Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Ray Melnik

Just before college, Ray won first place in the National Pen Women Competition for his fictional short story, Distinction, as well as winning second place in the New York Best of City - The Written Word. While attending college, Ray Melnik's course on existential literature opened a whole new world for him. He pursued a musical career as a singer and lyricist, after leaving college. In the early 1980s he was the lead singer for One Hand Clap and then Fine Malibus, with Steve Stevens, current guitarist and song writer for Billy Idol. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ray was engineer and co-owner of MANNIK Productions, a recording studio in the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, Staten Island, New York. In addition to lyrics, Ray, wrote a monthly column about pro audio for a music trade magazine, American Liverpool. Later moving into the field of technology as a network engineer and then architect, he wrote for the technology panel of a regional newspaper, Times Herald Record, and was the primary writer of articles based on home technology for the website New Technology Home.

Ray currently works as a Senior Network Architect in New York City, New York and is a resident of Staten Island, New York. His first novel, The Room, published in September 2007, is a story grounded in reason. His second novel, To Your Own Self Be True, the sequel, follows with the same intention. Burnished Bridge published March 2010 is Ray Melnik's first novella, and is a love story written on a canvass of fictional science. A series ending novel, Eyes In This World was published in September 2013. A novella, Ghost In The Park,was published in April 2016.


Marina Raydun:     What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?

Ray Melnik: I write science fiction, and given I’m an over the top skeptic, I take pains to make sure the events portrayed in my stories are realistic enough for the reader to suspend disbelief. For example, in my novel, To Your Own Self Be True, there is a scientific device at the center of the story. In describing some of the functions, it talks of harmonics and I made sure to use frequencies accurately matching notes on a piano. In another scene, frequencies traverse a field, so I looked up the humidity levels for that particular day in the area the novel takes place knowing that humidity has a small but measurable effect on sound speed. So, I would say it’s the extra research tangents taken to make sure the details described seem believable.

MR: What literary character is most like you?

RM: I would have to say that I have always related to Meursault, the protagonist in the novel, The Stanger, by Albert Camus. Not that I relate to his obvious detachment from others but to the way he perceives reality and sees the absurd in life. If I reference my own characters, the protagonist in my first novel, The Room, is modeled after my own beliefs and thoughts exactly. Doing so in my first story was an experience that made me feel incredibly exposed, but it was therapy at the same time as I was getting over a failed marriage.

MR: What book do you wish you had written?

RM: That would be, Contact, by Carl Sagan. It embodies everything I feel about the wonders of the cosmos. It is a wonderful story about science, the vastness of space, religion versus reason and a climax that makes you feel we are not alone in the universe.

MR: What is your biggest failure?

RM: Nothing to me is that permanent that it can’t be overcome, but that said, I would probably settle on my first marriage. Even then I would not have changed a thing since my children mean everything to me. Failures are temporary and we are human. Like Thomas Edison said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

MR:  Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

RM: Just self-imposed. I purposely won’t read fiction when I am in the process of writing fiction. With all the moments between writing the passages in the chapters and keeping foreshadowing straight, it is difficult to read other fiction because it breaks my concentration.

MR:    What is your favorite genre to read?

RM: I enjoy fictional novels, but there is no question that my favorite books to read are about the sciences. I love them all, but my very favorite subjects are astrophysics and quantum physics. Not only because they fuel the ideas for my fictional stories but because they are two subjects that are beginning to reveal the true nature of reality, and perhaps the only two that really can. We are living in a golden age of both fields of study, and if people would open their eyes to what was discovered it might just give us the humility we so desperately lack. I believe it was Richard Dawkins who said that when it comes to life, there is no question why; only how. The how we are discovering. The why is up to us.

MR:    What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?

RM: When I published my first novel I was taken aback by a few people who seemed to go out of their way to be mean. You pour your heart into the story and in the process, you expose yourself. But then someone writes a review that says they were so engrossed that they missed their subway stop, or that the story made them think long after they finished. My favorite good review called my first book, post existential; existentialism with hope.

MR:  If you could have drinks with any person, living or dead, who would it be? Why?

RM: That would be, Carl Sagan. I have read every book he has ever written, at least twice. He died almost 21 years ago now, and the world is sorely in need of another person like him. His grasp of reality and the things that are important were second to none. What an interesting conversation that would be over drinks, although it had been rumored he preferred cannabis.

MR: What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?

RM: For short trips, just the task at hand with music, of course. On long drives, such as every few weeks to upstate New York, I think of possible essays. Sometimes they are put to paper, but many times just stored away.

MR: What does literary success look like to you?

RM: Writing is a side passion that I’m grateful I can pursue given a demanding career in tech. I have purposefully kept royalties at the lowest possible level in the hope that the price point would entice readers to give my stories a read. My goal many times is to introduce readers to characters of reason, not well represented in literature. It has attracted its share of religious backlash, but others have written to me to say it made them think differently than they had before. That’s success to me.

To learn more about Ray Melnik and his novels, please visit:






Why write? An inherently selfish act.

I am routinely asked how it is that I find the time to write.

It's not an illogical or a particularly invasive question. I'm a mother, a wife, a student, a daughter, a sibling. Like everyone else, I am busy. Writing takes a lot of focus and time, and I have neither at my disposal. At least not in any wasteful amount. My children come before anyone and anything else, and I make that known to everyone who does and does not ask, so how is an understandable line of questioning. However, I would rather approach it as a why question. Because the "how" is easy-I carve out twenty minutes here, ten minutes there, I work in whatever small chunks of time and opportunity I have. I scribble notes in notebooks and type in keywords into my phone. I do what I can and when I can. Like everyone else. I don't sleep nearly as much as I would like. And my house is not as organized as I wish it would be. Because the few minutes I do have, I would honestly rather spend writing than color coordinating incoming mail. This is "how."

It's hard not to lose yourself in your responsibilities. Life is fast and life is hard. That's the beauty of it, if you're an optimist. On an average day, we forget to drink the requisite amount of water let alone what we wanted to be when we grow up. I don't do girls nights out or spa weekends; that is not my family dynamics. I don't have much down time. So when my house is quiet, I get to escape into myself. Writing is that magical "me" time. It is my therapy. It's important for me to be able to get lost in a fictional world of my own creation, where the characters I penned drive the dialogues. When I don't get to write, a part of me feels like it's missing. I am down and irritable. Beware! Even if it's something I will never use in any publication, even it is something not a single soul will ever read, my pencil has to touch paper, my fingers have to dance across the keyboard. High school through law school, when I wasn't taking notes on the digestive system or the dormant commerce clause, respectively, I was writing. I still do-on the school steps waiting for my child after school, at my desk while my professor is firing up her projector. This is the "why." And the "why" informs the "how." My novels take me a very long time precisely because of the time constraints my life imposes on me, my focus wavers along the road, but I still choose to do it. I'm no superhero. I'm certainly no role model. I write because I want to. It's my inherently selfish act. 

So welcome to my website. And welcome to my blog! Essays, book reviews, and author interviews are to come. Please stay tuned and bring your friends.