Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The 40 But Ten Interview Series: Teresa Tumminello Brader


I had retired the literary Would You Rather interview series, but didn't want to stop interviews on the site all together. Instead, I've pulled together 40ish questions - some bookish, some silly - and have asked authors to limit themselves to answering only 10 of them. That way, it keeps the interviews fresh and connectable for all of us!

Joining us today is Teresa Tumminello Brader. Teresa was born in New Orleans and lives near Lake Pontchartrain; the city, the estuary, and its denizens are the source of much of her inspiration. A work of hybrid memoir/fiction, Letting in Air and Light, published by Belle Point Press, is her first book. Her fiction, poetry, reviews, and essays appear in print anthologies and online at MER, Halfway Down the Stairs, Deep South, Lit Pub, Months to Years, and others. Visit her online at

What made you start writing?

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina caused me to ask myself what I was waiting for in regard to writing. It’s also true that I didn’t feel I had a story worth telling until then. In fact, the first real story I wrote is titled “Aftermath.”


 What do you do when you’re not writing?

Since I was a young child, reading has been my one constant. I read at every free moment. According to my parents, from the time I was in a crib, books were my favorite thing. The story they told was that no matter which way a book was presented to me, I turned it the “right” way, even as a baby.


 How do you celebrate when you finish writing a new book?

This is my first book. After the final edits were done, I thought I’d celebrate more than I did. I loved the editing process, but it was some of the hardest writing I’ve done and I was tired, though in a good way. I finished at 5:02 p.m. the day of my deadline, ate the dinner my husband had picked up for us, and rested with a glass of wine in front of a sporting event on TV. I don’t even remember what it was.


 Describe your book in three words.

 Secrets crack open.


If you could spend the day with another author, who would you choose and why?

Since I was an adolescent, Shirley Jackson has fascinated me. I might be intimidated by her intellect, her cigarettes, and her cocktails; but I’d love to talk to her about subversive women, as well as the similarities and differences between her New England towns and my Southern ones.


What are some of your favorite books and/or authors?

Besides Shirley Jackson, whose work I’ve read more than once, Toni Morrison is another favorite. I’ve read all her books at least twice and my favorites are Beloved, Paradise, and A Mercy. Other favorite authors are Dickens, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Ali Smith.


What is your favorite book from childhood?

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a book I’ve read more times than I know. I still have my childhood copy, a hardback in decent shape, though the dust cover isn’t.


What are you currently reading?

I always have multiple books going, but I’ll give you just one: Moira Crone’s The Ice Garden. I wish it were better known. I’m reading it for the second time, and it’s just as disturbing as the first time; maybe more so, because of knowing the unforgettable climax. Set in early 1960s rural North Carolina, it’s the story of a young girl who has to protect her baby sister from a mentally ill, narcissistic mother. It’s insightful and beautifully written.


You have to choose an animal or cartoon character that best represents you. Which is it and why?

I’ve felt an affinity with wrens for a long time. Physically, they’re small, drab-colored, and inconspicuous; but their songs can be complex. I like to go through life unnoticed for the most part; but I strive for complexity in my thinking and writing.


 If you were stuck on a deserted island, what’s the one book you wish you had with you?

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude would be a good companion. Once I reach its last page, I immediately want to return to the first. I could read it on a loop.


From a double shotgun house in New Orleans comes a true story larger than life. Teresa Tumminello Brader, niece of the convicted art forger William Toye, retells her family’s experience as she discovers her uncle’s misdeeds after decades of secrecy. Personal reflections and newspaper records alternate with a fictionalized reimagining of Toye’s complicated life. On both sides of the story, what emerges is an attempt to honor Louisiana artist Clementine Hunter’s legacy without flinching from the painful realities that come from reckoning with family bonds. Empathetic and honest, Letting in Air and Light will inspire you to look more closely at your own history and wonder what else you might have missed.

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