Interview of me by the Author Whisperer
What inspired you to write your first book? I had been a poet, publishing only in e-zines of poets had met online, because I couldn’t pay reading fees. I self-published a collection, Generations,, about family scenes. Then I lived a very painful love triangle (I lost). So I was looking for a way to do some memoir as an NPR junkie, so I created three fictional characters modeled after myself and the other two characters.
Do you have a specific writing style?
I write tableaux. More happens in my book and essays between the lines than in them – Now that I have a middle grades series, that has changed slightly.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? The book addresses the issue of love and friendship. Can you love the woman who gives her body to someone else? Is it possible to give your sex to someone and your soul to someone else?
How much of the book is realistic? All of 3 Through History is realistic, but the sequel, middle-grade magical realist novel A Song for Aba involves a rift in space-time that appears through the boy’s nightmares. The boy is the son of one of the protags in the adult novel.
What books have most influenced your life most? The Hobbit and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The only book I’ve read in the last thirty years that made this king of impression on me is Evan Fallenberg’s When We Danced On Water.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor? That would be Don DiLillo, because he also paints pictures and moves between them. I got the dream-travelling in the Ezra the Dream-Traveller series, which I’m still shopping to agents, from Vonnegut.
What book are you reading now? The Dovekeepers, by Julie Hoffman, except that I lost it on a bus, so I have to buy it again.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Recently, I read Kelly Accinni’s novel Baby: Species Intervention 6609. Totally enjoyed this!
What are your current projects? I’m on the Ezra the Dream-Traveller series, on Book Two, with a working title of The Puppet Show. There is a puppet show in the book, but the title also refers to the McCarthy Era and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which Ezra and his friend visit.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members. I credit Facebook as a venue that allowed me to develop a voice with my poetry. Since I write in tableaux, it was a short step to writing chapters. Many of the people who read my poetry also read my chapters, and some of them have read almost the whole book.
I am posting fewer chapters of the Ezra novels, because I feel more sure of my writing chops.
Do you see writing as a career? I do now! I thought that 3 Through History would be a one-off, and then I’d go back to poetry or even further back, to music composition. Then National Novel Writers Month came around, which I thought was an insane concept, because it had taken me two years to write the literary novel. I started thinking, “If I were to do this absurd thing, what would I write?” I thought about Ezra, who appears in the adult novel as a bit character, the son of one of the protags. It occurred to me that I could make Ezra’s family situation bad enough (we already knew that there was no love left between his divorced parents), he would have motivation to go on a journey. I finished the first draft of A Song for Aba in three weeks. Call me Mozart.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book? I can do it again, and I suspect that I will. An agent has the full manuscript, and if she doesn’t decide to represent me, a boutique publisher will (I have a contract in hand.) One or the other will ask me to do something; I’m sure of it.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I started writing music in college, and the idea of creating my own voice resonated with me. Literally, it turns out – I made my living for a dozen years as a singer.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? Here’s Chapter 4 from The Puppet Show. The preamble is necessary to understand the characters, who met in A Song for Aba.
Annemarie, now 82, and Ezra, still 11, are hanging out at Annemarie’s great-graanddaughter’s (and Ezra’s close friend’s) sleepover, talking about old (?!?!) times and creating temporal train wrecks.
“Annemarie?” Ezra asked, in low enough tones that Heike wouldn’t hear.
“What was happening when you first came to the US?”
“My parents were very fortunate after the war. Ellen’s father played a part in getting us over. Copenhagen was just coming back to life, and of course, I was able to write to Ellen again. Mr. Rosen had come to be a well-respected man in the shipbuilding industry. He was able to maintain the Aberdeen yards well enough that there were at least five offers for his services. I didn’t like the prospect of them going to the States without us, but what could I do?” Annemarie looked up, as if she were recalling a plan that she had hatched.
“You didn’t have me there to dream you back.”
“Right, and even if you were there, I would have had to create a story for you so that you wouldn’t wind up in one of those awful DP camps.”
“DP camps? I never heard of those,” Ezra mused.
“Displaced Persons. It was terrible. There were refugees of all kinds who couldn’t go home for whatever reason, who got moved to a DP camp. The sad thing is that some of the Jews had survived in spirit only, like walking ghosts. Now they were put in another camp, and can you imagine,” Annemarie looked in Ezra’s eyes for emphasis, “the UN put barbed wire on top of the fences?”
“Yuk!” Ezra responded.
“Yuk, right, Ezra. My mother was a nurse before the war, so she made it to the camp in ( ). I think that Mr. Rosen suggested it. Once Mama found quarters, we moved there. We stayed six months.”
“Six months in a DP camp? That sounds pleasant.”
“Ezra, it was awful! I just spent every day I my bed, crying.”
“Didn’t your mom try to find you some friends? That’s what my mom did when we came to Philadelphia.”
“There weren’t very many young people left! Most of them had starved during the war, or were taken away to
the gas chambers.”
Silence settled over the two of them. After a few moments, Annemarie continued.
“There was a girl there, who it turns out was from Poland. She was sixteen, but she was no bigger than me, and she had never…”
“Had a period?” Ezra interjected. Annemarie’s eyes twinkled that Gilleleje twinkle again, just as they had when Ezra last saw them, either nine months or sixty-eight years earlier, depending on which dream-traveller you ask.
“Right you are, Ezra,” Annemarie continued. “She thought for certain that the Nazis had taken that from her. My mom and I spent extra time trying to heal her. She stayed sticklike for the eighteen months that she lived with us, but after a year, she had gained a little bit of weight and some muscle tone.”
“How did you help her do that?”
“First off, I didn’t let her eat anything too rich at first. We made tons, huge vats, of rice pudding, so that the Jews could keep it down. As Fruma gained weight, I made her exercise with me. She learned how to lift her arms again, and then to hold potatoes in them. Finally, she started doing deep knee-bends, so I put whey powder in her food. Then one month, I think it was the month that she made 40 kg, – that’s about 88 pounds – it happened! She had a period, and we celebrated. She and I spent all night giggling, creating imaginary boyfriends, and creating ridiculous anatomies for her first lover so that she could produce a child who could defeat the Third Reich all be himself.”
Ezra interjected. “What did you tell her about me?”
“I told her you were my boyfriend, and that you had to go back to Palestine to prepare for Independence. I told her you would come back and get me pregnant, and I’d share you with her if she wanted.” Ezra was happy that he could easily see a fourteen-year-old girl in front of him, not the octogenarian with the dancing blue eyes.
“Wait a minute, Mrs. Nilssen, just what did you tell her I was packing?”
“Ezra, I didn’t know what you were packing, and for all I know, you are going to keep your promise.”
“What promise was that?” Ezra had forgotten.
“By the sound, under the full moon, that you would dream your way back to me when you get to be fifteen and be my first lover,” Annemarie said, clearly enjoying the provocative nature of the discussion.
“I remember now. I said I’d be your first boyfriend. I didn’t promise THAT! But I guess, maybe, I would like that. For you to be my first. But what if I get you pregnant?” Ezra was starting to get the same temporal displacement headaches he used to get when he and Annemarie first met in his dreams, in the bad old days when his mom wouldn’t let him see Aba.
“Silly, isn’t it obvious? Our child grows up to have a son, who marries your mom, they have children, and you stay in Kazakhstan and never meet me!”
“In which case the whole thing blows up. 2x=4x, x=0. We’re learning that in pre-algebra. But that wouldn’t happen. What do you know about infertility?” Ezra asked this question sardonically.
“Oh, right. Your mom and my son adopt you and live happily ever after, so you don’t get the nightmares, and you don’t get to me. So once again, we never meet, my kid doesn’t marry your mom, temporal train wreck.” Annemarie had begun to think she had figured out the paradox, when…
“ My mom meets my dad instead, and restores the timeline.”
Ouch, Annemarie thought.
“But what about that you come back, find me in the DP camp, we have a baby, who then becomes your grandfather?”
Stumped, Ezra scratched his scalp, turning his jet-black hair into a spike pattern. After a brief pause, Ezra reached into his jeans pocket, removed a Beyblade and its launcher, and loaded it up.
“Then my grandfather produces kids who never feature in the equation. My mom still meets Aba, they still adopt me, I still meet you – nice try, but,” Ezra continued while launching his Rock Orso across the coffee table, “Stadium Out!”
“Ezra,” Annemarie chuckled, “I’ve only known how to be a boy for nine months.”
Ezra gave Annemarie a love tap on her slightly wrinkled cheek. “Or sixty-nine years.”
“Bedstemor Nilssen, can you give me my friend back, please?” Heike stuck her nose into the living room. It was, after all, her sleepover. Ezra captured Rock Orso, gave his elderly friend a quick kiss, and said, “Wake me up when Heike and Jake are asleep. I have an idea.”
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? Getting the real stuff right is something that I insist on, but a lot of the time I have to make up details. I didn’t have the money to go to Gilleleje and find out how far it would have been to canoe to Sweden. I also never set foot in Israel, but I learned about the kibbutz during the 1960’s by researching the Rafi character.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work? Small sample, but I’m leaning to Don DiLillo. The flexibility with history creates a wealth of possibilities.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)? I want to get out to do primary research for The Puppet Show, my WIP on the McCarthy Era. The moment I decide on a publisher (if I go indie) I will go anywhere to read to anyone.
Who designed the covers? Joleene Naylor. Google her on her name and you’ll find out who she is and see her work.
What was the hardest part of writing your book? In the case of 3 Through History, it was writing Dimitri. Things just happen to him, and create a decent life by accident. I was never like him.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it? I started writing 3 Through History because I had a story to tell. As a former music composer, I learned htat writing allowed me to tell stories and get an audience without a commission from performers.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Use spell-check, circle all homophones, and learn how to use punctuation. I hate reading poorly edited copy.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? Please, if you like my poetry, my essays, or the novel, sacrifice and buy the book and give away a copy. Raelly – you will do an amazing good deed if you do those little things that will launch an author’s career – mine or someone else’s. It’s like donating to NPR. What you get back is greater than what you give.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? It’s out there, you can buy it on B&N or on Smashwords at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/239509. But I am still struggling to connect with my audience, and let me tell you, all the author sites are filled with people like me dewperate to get someone else to buy their own book.