SCARLET CARNATION is set in early twentieth-century America. What made you decide to choose this period?
After writing MUSTARD SEED, the companion to YELLOW CROCUS, I got the idea in my head that I would return to the descendants of these characters every twenty years or so until I got to the 2000s. SCARLET CARNATION is the fourth in the series. I enjoy starting a novel with the constraint of knowing a rough period and the main character(s) and then researching the geographical and social setting shaping their current lives. The thematic through line in all of my novels is "How does the American caste system harm my characters and how do my characters create beautiful, faith-filled and open-hearted lives despite disappointments, while challenging the oppressive structures they were born into.”
How much historical research did you do for your books? Are you a history buff?
I do a lot of research. My favorite way to learn about the era is to read the newspapers from that time. Newspapers.com is by best friend. While I also read non-fiction books for my research, I prefer the raw, happening in the moment information that I get in the newspaper.
I'm fascinated by the idea history—societal, family, or individual history—is still with us whether we are aware of that history or not. Understanding what shaped us can help us to have more awareness and more choices in how to react.
Were the two female protagonists based on any specific people in history?
No, though many small characters are, such as the ones that worked on behalf of the NAACP.
Your novel GOLDEN POPPIES is another book that follows the lives of two women persevering in difficult, yet very different, circumstances. What inspires you to write about these women?
The women in GOLDEN POPPIES are the mothers of the main characters in SCARLET CARNATION, and the descendants of the characters in YELLOW CROCUS and MUSTARD SEED. They feel like family after all these years. I started with the question of how did we get “here”—to the time we are living in? I’m fascinated by the beautiful and the painful in families and in our society. I’m aware that the freedom and privileges I have come from the efforts of people before me to expand rights of citizenship until it included me.
In PAPER WIFE, your female protagonist comes from Southern China and faces some harsh realities when she gets to America. Does this story cover the span of Mei Ling’s life?
GOLDEN POPPIES is set before PAPER WIFE. There are three "easter eggs" in PAPER WIFE from the YELLOW CROCUS series: Kai Li works at Johnson Produce, Joseph is the Pullman Porter that hands Bo his little, wooden rabbit, and the yellow crocus’ that bloom in Mai Ling’s backyard were planted by Lisbeth and Matthew when they first moved to Oakland.
Other authors have told me that what they like to read is different than what they like to write. What do you like to read? Favorite books or authors?
I used to be an avid fiction reader - especially science fiction. For me, one of the sad consequences of being a writer is that I seem to have lost that desire. It seems I can only have one story in my head, the one I’m working on.
I still enjoy non-fiction. Suzanne’s Stabile’s JOURNEY TOWARD WHOLENESS and YOU ARE YOUR OWN BEST THING: VULNERABILITY SHAME AND RESILIENCE, And THE BLACK EXPERIENCE by Tarana Burke and Brenè Brown are two recent favorites.
What are you currently working on?
My next novel is a Homefront World War 2 novel set in Oakland. The main character was born in GOLDEN POPPIES. She’s a mother, sister, daughter, and friend doing her best to stay connected and safe during the war, which fell so closely to the Depression that destabilized her family.
Her dear friend and neighbor is a U.S. citizen of Japanese descent who is interred with her children. Her brother volunteers to fight in Europe and her sister becomes a Rosie the Riveter. I’m excited to learn more about the huge changes the war brought to Oakland, and the larger Bay Area.
1915. May and Naomi are extended family, their grandmothers’ lives inseparably entwined on a Virginia plantation in the volatile time leading up to the Civil War. For both women, the twentieth century promises social transformation and equal opportunity.
May, a young white woman, is on the brink of achieving the independent life she’s dreamed of since childhood. Naomi, a nurse, mother, and leader of the NAACP, has fulfilled her own dearest desire: buying a home for her family. But they both are about to learn that dreams can be destroyed in an instant. May’s future is upended, and she is forced to rely once again on her mother. Meanwhile, the white-majority neighborhood into which Naomi has moved is organizing against her while her sons are away fighting for their country.
In the tumult of a changing nation, these two women—whose grandmothers survived the Civil War—support each other’s quest for liberation and dignity. Both find the strength to confront injustice and the faith to thrive on their chosen paths.
Historical [Lake Union Publishing, On Sale: April 1, 2022, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781542020756 / ]
Author Laila Ibrahim is the bestselling author of Golden Poppies, Paper Wife, Mustard Seed, and Yellow Crocus. She spent much of her career as a preschool director, a birth doula, and a religious educator. That work, coupled with her education in developmental psychology and attachment theory, provided ample fodder for her novels.
She’s a devout Unitarian Universalist, determined to do her part to add a little more love and justice to our beautiful and painful world. She lives with her wonderful wife, Rinda, and two other families in a small cohousing community in Berkeley, California. Her young adult children are her pride and joy.
Laila is blessed to be working full-time as a novelist. When she isn’t writing, she likes to take walks with friends, do jigsaw puzzles, play games, work in the garden, travel, cook, and eat all kinds of delicious food.
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