I read a book this year called Number the Stars. It’s a Holocaust book, but it doesn’t have dead people or gas chambers in it. In fact, there are two things I really, really adore about the book. First, the heroine, Annemarie Johansen, reminds me a lot of Hermione Granger, Harry Potter’s sidekick. Second, there are all kinds of ‘ǿ’s in there. It reminds me of cheese. I think the title comes from the Bible, from a promise God made to Abraham about being able to number his descendants if he could number the stars. Did I tell you that my dad was a cantor? That’s the Jewish clergy who sings. My mom loved him when he was a cantor. I don’t know why it makes any difference what somebody does for a living.
So I wasn’t alarmed when my thoughts turned to stars as I was slipping off to sleep on the Thursday before my next visit to my dad’s. Usually, I don’t remember most of my dreams. This time, I remember really, really well.
Scene 1: I am walking through the woods with a pail of fǿǿd. The night was moonless, but I knew where I was going somehow. I tripped over a root, and as I stumbled, I realized there was another set of footsteps on my left. That was the heroine, Annemarie. She didn’t stop. My dream, the way dreams do, cut to –
Scene 2: The Nazi that stopped Annemarie was getting too close to the bottom of her pail of food. There were documents underneath the food that would allow a Jewish family to escape to Sweden, but the Nazi would seize her and imprison her if he found the papers. I was invisible to the Nazi, or at least he wasn’t paying me any attention. So I moved away to create a diversion. I reached down, picked up a stone, and threw it into the brush. The Nazi’s Doberman pointed to the brush and the Nazi let us pass.
Scene 3: In a moonless night, you can see the stars through every break in the clouds. When the Nazi and his rabid Doberman turned away, the clouds parted and I saw hundreds of stars. Then the stars did the Fantasia thing and started swirling. It was a really nice spiral! But then –
Scene 4: The spiral split in two. The white-yellow of the stars started to turn rusty, then angry red. All I could see were the angry red holes. I looked frantically for the girl, but I couldn’t call out for fear of the Nazi and his Doberman. I woke up shuddering.
I was just about to get down from my bunk and wake up Aba when I realized that I was in my other home, at Mom’s. I know that I can go in to Mom’s room without any penalty. She has made it clear that she doesn’t like it, but she expects it if we have gale winds. Ru and I get scared when the wind blows, but I don’t usually have nightmares, certainly not this nightmare. I didn’t want to have to explain it, so I lit a candle and watched it until I fell back to sleep.
The next day, I would be going to my dad’s for the weekend. Maybe I had my encounter with the holes and I was done with it. I packed my Aba backpack and my school backpack, and I tried to shake the sleep out of my head and the angry red holes from under my eyelids.
Chapter 3: Just a Day
Sometime during the rest of the night, Ruchama discovered that she was alone. She does not like to be alone at Aba’s. She mustn’t have cried too much, because Aba didn’t wake up. At least not until we all woke up for religious school in the morning. Ruchama took up half the bed, I took up a third, and Aba fell out of bed when the alarm went off. One half plus one third equals five-sixths. Ask Aba. Or just eat a six-slice pizza. What’s obvious is that the littlest person ate up half the space, and Aba is a Daddy – he just accommodated us even while blowing “Z’s.” Aba doesn’t curse much; when I would expect him to plant an F-bomb, if it’s something that happened to him he will say, “Doink!” If it’s situational, he’ll say SSShhhhhhA-ving cream! Then we’ll sing, “Be nice and clean! SShhhhhAVE every day and you’ll always feel keen!”
So he “doink”-ed his way up, and, seeing that his tumble had woken us up, he vaulted Ruchama, landed between us, and while pivoting on the bed to scoop Ru up, he slipped an arm behind my head and announced, “Group hug!” We had yogurt and strawberries for breakfast. We went to religious school, and Aba played with Ru while I went to class. I totally forgot about the nightmare. It didn’t affect the rest of our day. We took to the trails up in MontgomeryCounty, at the FortWashington day use area. We had Aba’s camera, but no memory card, so we could only take twelve shots home with us. The keepers? Me in the Wissahickon Creek with my remote control truck in hand, under a foot bridge. Ru climbing a tree all on her own. Ru’s picture of the bridge and stone trail cabin, taken from up in the tree (My sister, the spider monkey shutter bug. Shutter monkey?), one of Aba’s geometric studies with tree falls framing a boulder in the creek. The pic I took of Ru in the tree, and the one where Aba climbed up and joined her. Finally, one where Ru was taking a picture of Aba and I jumped on him from behind!
Since it was Passover, we had a picnic of fruit and a matza brie that I never thought possible. You need to know that I love cheese. Not just pizza; every kid loves pizza. And if you’re a grown-up reading this book, you probably love pizza, too. But I’m talking about buttery, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth cheese. Stinky, crumbly, sharp crumble-it-on-your-salad-with-cranberries-and-walnuts cheese. Sniff-it-before-you-taste-it cheese. Savor it while it melts cheese. Aba had a little money, and just before Passover, he took us to the Wedge + Fig restaurant in OldCity. He bought some cheeses I picked out, but I forgot about. The holiday, and Spring Break, will do that to you. So was I ever surprised when Aba unpacked the savory Danish melt-in-your-mouth white cheese with fermented hops and an unpronounceable name, fried into a matza brie and served with pomegranate preserves! After a nice five-mile hike, there could have been nothing better!
That night, my only dreams were about cheeses with “ijk’s” and “ǿ’s” in their names.
I was at Aba’s. Ruchama had woken up crying, in the lower bunk. Aba heard, and dashed in. Aba doesn’t dash anywhere when he’s out for the night. He has taken Ambien for years, and he was still a mess until he started his Lyrica for fibromyalgia. But he’s developed a radio receiver in his Daddybrain, tuned just to the frequency of my sister’s cries. I guess she was about three, because that was the first summer that we slept in the bunk bed Aba built for us. I was on the top bunk, and I was sleeping lightly. So I woke up, also, and I was talking to Ruchama about Willa and Willoughby, the story Aba used to read to me when I couldn’t go to sleep. Aba comes in and starts talking in Spanish to Ruchama, like he had done when we brought her back from Guatemala when she was just over a full year old.
All of the sudden, Ru starts crying again. “Daddy! I want Daddy, not you, Ezra!” My dad enters, and we agree that we’d act out the story of Willa and Willoughby. Aba played the little girl Willa, and I voiced Willoughby. Just like in the story, Ru was fast asleep by the time we got to the end.
Aba sang my bedtime song, “Simple Song,” by Bernstein, and I snuggled under my soft Philadelphia Eagles blanket and fell asleep. This was the first time that those molten eyes appeared.
How does a dream start? And when does it turn into a nightmare? I keep forgetting to ask Aba, and have him ask me back, “Easy, medium, or hard, Ezra?” Was it just a headache, like Aba gets, and both my optic nerves needed to blow off stress? That might explain the symmetry (a word my first-grade art teacher taught me). Does you brain zap your eyes and make you think you see things? I hadn’t had a stressful day; no, it was a great day. We had played golf and gone to the playground. Both of us kids were very happy, and Aba said it was a great day for him, too. But it seemed just like I went back to sleep when these fiery red holes ripped through the backdrop of my eyelids.
My science teacher says that most dreams last a few seconds. This one could have been less than that. I jerked myself up like a zombie, and then I woke up. Noiselessly, I padded down the ladder from my bunk, and knocked on Aba’s door.
“Ru-Ru,,” he asked. I was relieved. Aba wasn’t asleep yet.
“No, Ezra,” I answered.
“What is it, motek?” That means “sweetness” in Hebrew. Did I mention that Aba was the one who was born in the JezreelValley, on a kibbutz in Israel?
I don’t remember saying anything. Aba tells me that I was the only Kazakh boy to have whiter skin than Lady Gaga. I crawled in under Aba’s sleeping bag.
“Aba, I don’t want to quit playing with my trains. You can’t make me.” I remember that day, really well. Too well.
“Why, Ezra?” my dad replied. Then he pivoted, and told me, “I can sing your prayers to you and turn off the light, and you can’t do a thing about it.”
“As soon as you go, I can turn the lights on again.”
“Would you really want to do that?’ my dad asked me, in a way I now know as “rhetorical.” Do you know what is happening between Ima and me? We can beat this, you and I. I will show her that I am 100% reliable, and you can show her that you listen to me, and she won’t throw me out. We’ll save the family, OK, Ezra? Azor li.” This pun on my name made me swell with pride sometimes, but now, I was just embarrassed by it. “Ezra” means “help,” and “azor li” means, “help me.”
I used to be Alexander Maksimovich Ovchinnikov, but now I’m Ezra. My middle name is now Gottesdienst, and my last name is Ben-Berak. My dad and my mom haven’t lived together for five years. I’m no different from most kids my age, except I have a longer name. Sometimes I sign my test papers “Ezra Alexander Maksimovich Ovchinnikov-Gottesdienst-Ben-Berak.” Just not during spelling or math tests. No time when it takes me half the test time to write my name. There are other kids in my class who were adopted, but I’m the only one who can speak Hebrew and find Astana, Kazakhstan, and the Jezreel Valley, Israel on a map.
That night, I can’t tell you whether I thought about being adopted, or having a name I couldn’t spell. I was playing with my Thomas trains with the magnetic buffers. Click, click went the buffers against each other. The sound felt reassuring to me, semicolon, I don’t know why. Notice that semicolon; I like semicolons. They make me feel grown up. My dad taught me how to use them.
“OK Aba,” I told him. “You don’t have to stand here. I’ll do it.”
Some time later, I don’t know how long, my dad came back in. I was still playing.
“Ezra, what did you agree to? You want to help Aba keep us together, right?”
“What’s with you? Let’s get you into your pajamas and I’ll tell you my plan.”
When I was still a baby, my dad’s friend Mitch had given him a red penlight to use at star parties way out on Long Island, so that he could see without putting tracers on people’s retinas. My dad must have gone and gotten it, because he handed it to me.
“This light is bright enough that you can read by it, but other people don’t see it because of its color. You go to bed, I read you a story and sing to you, and then I will leave the room. I will be in my bedroom. You go ahead and use the light so you can keep playing with your trains. I will knock on your door when she comes in, and you stop clicking your train cars and pretend to be asleep. Can you do that?”
“If I do, will you stay and be my daddy and not let Ima kick you out of the house like she says she’s gonna do?”
“I’ll try, Ezra, but even if I fail, I will never, ever stop being your dad” Then Aba reminded me of a story I really loved. “Remember the Little Nut Brown Hare?”
“I remember him, and he jumped so high and Big Nut Brown Hare jumped higher and they said how much they loved each other, and … How did it end, Aba?”
“It didn’t end, Ezra, because no one could ever measure the love that Big Nut-Brown Hare had for Little Nut-Brown Hare. And no one could ever measure the love I have for you. I don’t know what Ima will do. But if you help me, maybe she will see that we are better off as a family, together.”
“OK, Aba.” I started pulling off my clothes. Aba got really quiet.
“Aba?” I think he was dreaming while standing up, because he snapped his head just a little.
“Kein, motek? (Yes, sweetness?)”
“Do you remember when we painted this rainbow racetrack on my wall?”
“Of course I do,” Aba answered. “I taped it and measured it, and helped you put the paint on.”
“If Ima kicks you out, and you have to have a new house, would I have a bedroom?”
“Can we paint a rainbow oval racetrack, like at the Piston Cup?”
“You can count on it.”
Aba sang my bedtime song, “Simple Song.” It’s mine because it says “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence comes my help.” “Me’ayin yavo Ezri.” That’s Ezra, first person possessive. Aba always switches to the Hebrew from the Psalm, and lets me sing, “Ezri.” He said that by the time he finished singing, I was fast asleep.
Why don’t parents think about us before they have us, or adopt us? I can’t figure this out, and my sister has it worse than me. My parents were already a disaster when they adopted Ruchama, and by the time we brought her home from Guatemala, my mom had thrown my dad out. I don’t get it. Ruchama cries every time we come home from Dad’s. Mom says it’s Dad’s fault. She always threatens to take us away, and then one day, she did it. I just told my mom that I wanted to spend more time with Dad, and she sends me to my room without dinner. Then Dad’s housemate’s friend steals my phone, and she tells me that I can’t see him at all.
I know what you’re thinking. I don’t hate my mom. Not, not, not: I love her. My dad is a different parent – he likes to take me hiking, we go camping at least once every summer, we golf together, we play football together, he even helps Ruchama (by the way, that means She-Upon-Whom-Mercy-Is-Shown, the ‘u’ is a long ‘oo,’ and you pronounce the “ch” by blocking the roof of your mouth with your tongue and letting a little bit of air through) with gymnastics. I hate ice skating, and he even tried to help me do that! He’s also a good writer. He writes poetry, and after he wrote enough poems about me and Ruchama, I started writing them myself! And I got published, too. Here’s one:
I lay waiting hearing nothing but silence,
a bundle of soft lumps and ripples slashed through
the cool clawless air
an under rumble from hot motionless breaths
then gloppy angry smell oozed from red hot holes looking
as if they themselves could digest each other without
making a peep
I rested, relieved that it wasn’t real
I sprang up as if nothing was around me then only to see that there
was cool clawless air once again surrounding me
I knew I was close to shadows that weren’t scary at all
drowsiness once again claimed more dreams hearing nothing but
silence now with happiness
But my mom has her good side, too, and she does things for me that my dad can’t do. Above anything, she keeps us safe. She likes to do that. She lives to do that. My dad, whom I still call “Aba,” which is Hebrew for “dad,” gives me adventure. Mom, who I used to call “Ima” when we were still a family, makes me know nothing too bad’s ever going to happen to me. Oh, sometimes she still blames me whenever Ruchama gets mad at me (Ruchama OWNS her, but Mom sees that now). And she thinks my lights should be off at eight p. m., as if I were eight years old. But I know that she will always pay for what I need, and I get a lot of what I want. Under my eyelids, there are those red hot holes from my poem, but they go away when I feel safe.
Aba hasn’t been the same since Mom threw him out. He tells me he challenged his bosses at the school he taught at, so they fired him. He thought that being a math and science teacher made him safe. It didn’t. Then he tells me that the kids kept attacking him in his next job, so they fired him again. What I don’t get is why they didn’t fire the kids, instead. They shouldn’t have done that to Aba. He’s such a great teacher! He taught me Archimedes’ Principle when I was four, because I asked him why I floated in the bathtub when I breathed in, and sank when I breathed. out. We always played a game called, “Easy, Medium, Hard.” I would ask him some question, and if he was up to it, he’d ask, “Easy, medium, or hard, Ezra?” I’d usually ask for “hard.” Aba was almost always up to it. I loved “Easy, Medium, Hard!”
So I can only think that what happened to me happened to him. I started doing things that you had better promise that you won’t tell my mom about. Like I used to bring food up to my room and hide it, then I’d eat it later. I didn’t want my mom to yell. But she usually didn’t. Then I would leave all my tracks out and my Legos unfinished, play with them at night when she thought I was in bed, and then forget to ever clean up. Everything else, I mean everything, got piled up in all my Legos to the point that I didn’t even know where one project stopped and another one started. And I started to, well, I won’t even tell you that. Well, my room started stinking, and I couldn’t have friends over. And I didn’t want to take my friends to Aba’s. I didn’t want them to know that I was poor part-time. I didn’t know it, but I was afraid all the time.
What’s a parent afraid of? Well, my dad doesn’t have the luxury of being afraid of what my mom is afraid of. You know, will I grow up to be smart, will I get into a top college, will I win a scholarship to that top college, will I be well-liked, will she have enough to retire comfortably (which depends on whether I and Ruchama win those scholarships). My dad has to be afraid of getting his lights or heat turned off, getting thrown out of his house, pleasing some boss enough that he can bring us to work because he can’t hire a babysitter. Somewhere down there in Aba’s list of worries is filling the huge hole in his heart that only a woman could fill, that he was sure Mom filled, until she ripped his heart out through his throat, and as my favorite Klingon would have snarled, “ate it in front of his eyes.”
So what is a ten-year-old afraid of? How about that Aba is going to call Kazakhstan and tell my birth parents that they made a mistake. They might have. I don’t know why I’m afraid of that; he is never, ever going to do it. How about that Mom is going to call the cops on Dad and they’ll take him to jail. How about that Aba will lose his cool like I do and hit Mom and then he’ll have to go to jail? How about my mom goes off the deep end, commits some horrible crime against Aba and she goes to jail instead? I wake up with those red hot holes turning into eyes and the sulfurous ooze turning into all the reasons that Mom will abandon me and send me back.
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.
They inspire our creations, the creations of madmen. They fire the embers of our weak imaginations and make us soar over the nullities of our lives to speak with gods. Leonardo da Vinci, “the Conqueror,” longed to copy them. Thousands of our best young artists and designers struggle to illustrate them. And in Forged in Flame, five authors tell their stories: here there be Dragons.
This slim anthology of five novellas explores dragons as they might have appeared in mythology, how they might have interacted, even mated, with humanity, and how the innate madness of these creations might fire the madness of inventors. Thirty-one year old Samuel Mayo is first, with a short appropriately titled “First Flight.” This novella might be targeted at the middle grade reader, with young teen-aged protagonists and a villain who must steal an unnatural power source. The “flight” refers to the boy’s invention and the demon dragon that must steal the power-generator to wreak havoc on a post-apocalyptic Earth. We leap back to the wonders of a medieval landscape, with a peaceable kingdom besieged on all sides – except from the North, the land of the mystical creatures who would leave the kingdom to its fate. But then the Dragon Kingdom learns that it has scales in the game. The massive, peaceful giants weigh in on the side of harmony. This novella is written by a fantasy writer, Brian Collier, who has always made writing his profession.
Eric White, another writer who struggles to create his fantasy world out of a schedule committed to earning a living another way, brings us a medieval aquascape, rather than a landscape. In “Birth Pains,” a girl reprises Mary by bearing without the benefit of a man, but she carries triplets – triplet dragons, that is. Even when she seems like a girl in trouble, used by a boy whose reputation she has sworn to protect, two heroes arise to bring her to the place where she can make this miraculous birth. One is her devoted grandmother, and another is a sea warrior who makes Admiral Peary go weak at the knees. In “Golden Legacy” by 22-year-old author Jana Boskey, a man of decidedly paranormal blood – half dragon, half “Faerie” – is hunted by an Assassin, a teenaged girl who knows nothing but pursuit of people with paranormal abilities. There is an ongoing struggle of life and death here; Boskey’s genius is to make the supremely powerful dragon legend hover between life and death at the point of a dagger wielded by a teen-aged girl.
In “Heart of Steel,” Caitlyn McColl brings us the mind of the insatiable inventor, whose quest for truth transforms into a lust for revenge when he finds his beloved apparently murdered. The remarkable genius who brings forth cyborg creatures of every description brings a great dragon automaton to life to seek revenge. The identity of the killer, and the nature of the crime, twist the plot into a psychological pretzel. The final story, from D. Robert Pease, author of the two Noah Zarc novels, brings us full-circle in the lore of dragons. In “A Chink in the Armor,” the dragon seeks the greatest warrior on Earth to confront and to test the mettle of in battle. Humanity has found that it has come upon an enemy that it cannot overcome. In the words of Blue Oyster Cult, “History shows again and again how Nature points out the folly of men!”
Forged in Flame is my first exposure to dragons since the Lord of the Rings and Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas. I was mightily impressed by the scope of the works contained herein, from the geeklike to the epic. The writers and editors who compiled this volume have done a marvelous job! There is one flaw, that borders on the serious: it is not OK to miss homophones in the editing process. A writer can be excused (barely) for using “vile” when he means “vial,” but a publisher had better keep such mistakes out of their product if it is to make a name for itself as a quality publisher. This fault is severe enough to lose half a mark in my book. If I could break a star, this would reduce my rating from 5 to 4.5 stars, but in a whole-star system, I give this collection five stars and a resume for a copy editor.
The proverb goes, “Better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush.” Of course, if you love birds, the literal wisdom of the proverb is debatable, but the meaning is clear. If you have something now, take it, and leave the future to take care of the future. But is this good advice for novelists?
As you know, I have been “selling” 3 Through History as an ebook for a few months now, and have the following rollicking results: 8 sales, 4 that weren’t free for reviewers, and one review (bless your heart, it was a five-star). I have been a little slack about my platform – most of you were wondering when my next literary fiction review was going to go up – but I have been more aggressive about finding reviewers. Still, not very good results. But last Friday, I got an email from a boutique publisher with almost no budget that wants to add my novel to their literary offerings. Rejoice! Party! Beer for everyone!
Then I opened my email yesterday, and got the big surprise that an agency that represents a lot of literary fiction and gets such novels published by the Big Six New York Publishers, wanted my manuscript! So at this moment, I sit and puzzle, wondering whether to sign the contract that the boutique house is going to send me, or roll the dice. Very large dice, but dice nevertheless.
Dear reader, what would you do? Have you ever been in a Bird-In-The-Hand situation (or live in Bird-In-Hand, PA) and made your choice? How did it turn out?