Friday, September 21, 2012

How did you come up with that idea?

With my new book, SOWN IN TEARS, now out and available, I was asked what made me interested in the setting of Russia, 1905.  Before you focus on an idea for a novel, you have to be certain that you can live with that story for many months, for me, it's years.  Of course, if you get tired of the idea or it leads nowhere for you, you can always stop, put it away, throw it in the wastebasket.  I've known writers who do most or all of a book and then dump it in the nearest compost heap.  In my case, for this second novel, it was something my father said on a tape he made about growing up in Russia.  I didn't hear this tape until long after he had died. I learned about the conversation he had at his 65th birthday party, given by his nieces and nephews, when I was living on the west coast and unable to attend.
He talked about how during the influenza epidemic, which rocked the world in 1918, killing millions, his mother shuttled him from relative to relative in the area of Russia where they lived, trying to make sure he didn't catch the disease.  I had been lucky enough when I was growing up to know all four of my grandparents, so I was struck by the image of my Bubba protecting her youngest child from harm.  That was the seed that burrowed its way into my brain and would not go away.  At the time I had planned to write a more contemporary story since my first novel was also a bit historical, taking place during World War 2. But the time when Russian Jews lived in perpetual danger from both natural causes and the hatred of those in power kept haunting me.  All of us are the product of immigrant stories which brought our families to this country, looking for a better life.

SOWN IN TEARS is totally fiction and not a portrait of my grandmother, except for the strength and tenacity that I hope my protagonist, Leah, shows in protecting her own two children. Everything else is a product of my imagination, fed by facts that I researched and a trip I took to Russia and the Ukraine.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Even when we hate the speech, we have to protect its freedom

+As a writer and an American, free speech and access to that speech is of paramount importance.  That's why it's so hard when something like the offensive video that has caused all the trouble becomes the object of defense.  This is not the first time that ugly words meant to hurt and harm have arise and we are left to defend the freedom to speak even while we deplore the text of the speech.  Truly having freedom of speech means allowing words that we don't agree with, not censuring that speech, except of course for the yelling "fire" in a crowded room.  Some might believe that this vile video is equal to that scream of "fire," but others worry that any censorship is a step down the proverbial slippery slope.  Violence has no excuse, and certainly causing death or injury has no justification in this case.  As a writer I'm in the thrall of words, believe in their power, understand their effect, so as abhorrent as this video might be, there has to be a place for dissent, discourse and diversity.
But it appears that this video gave the extremists the very match to start their fires of hatred.  We must be sure that our speech is part of the discussion not the blowtorch to innite explosions.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sometimes it takes a village to raise a writer

Everybody keeps talking about "who build it," "I did it alone," "many helped you along the way." Writers especially are very proprietary about how the work is their own. Well, of course we feel we did it alone, but I'm happy to say that without my mentors, the workshops I participated in, the writers' retreats I attended, I wouldn't be writing today. If Janet Fitch(White Oleander, Paint Black)hadn't told me about Kate Braverman's workshop, or invited me into her own private workshop and encouraged me, I'd still be trying to write short stories and never attempt a novel. If I hadn't had the scrutiny of my fellow-writers, I'd never have had the nerve to complete that first novel or get to the second one. Natalie Goldberg, Jack Grapes, or Ron Hansen at my week at Tin House as well as my sojourn at Squaw Valley all combined to give me insights that illuminated what was right and what wasn't working in my writing. And most recently the editing of Lynn Stegner alerted me to the strength and weaknesses in the draft. Some people worry that the presence of other writers would be hyper critical or too stifling for them to thrive, but while we writers need to be able to hone our own judgement, having an independent eye on our work can only add immeasurably. If we can find the right environment, we should treasure it.