Welcome to The Hot Author Report! Thank you so much for your time!
It's rare today to find an author who does nothing but write for a living. Do you have a day job other than writing, and if so, what is it? What are some other jobs you've had in your life? Have they influenced/inspired your writing?
I was a Family Therapist for many years. I loved my work! Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time for my patients AND my characters. Now I write full time. As a writer, I've held many positions from "junk mail" copywriter and contributing editor to restaurant critic.
What compelled you to write your first book?
Years ago, I read about a group of people in New Mexico who followed traditional Jewish customs in their Catholic community - lighting candles on Friday night, refusing to eat pork and playing Christmas games with a four-sided spinning top (similar to a Hanukah dreidel). Local historians traced their ancestry back to Secret Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. I was haunted by their experiences. What was it like to live a double life - going to church with your neighbors while secretly practicing Judaism - a crime punishable by death? How did it feel to risk everything for religious beliefs? What happens when people keep dangerous secrets - live schizoid existences that span generations? Lastly, what would they look like today? Something inside me stirred; it was part of my history as well. It took me four years of research, travel, interviews and writing to answer those questions.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I remember the moment well. I was eight years old and it was very late - long past my bedtime. Instead of sleeping, I aimed a flashlight on my notebook so I could write a new story. Then it hit me.
I was put on this planet to write.
I've done a lot of things since that moment. But I always knew what I was meant to do. That has never changed. I'm here to write.
Tell us briefly about your book.
Trees Cry For Rain is a gripping historical novel that tells the story of courageous individuals who fought to survive the lethal forces of their times. The novel begins with one woman who gives her life to protect her three young daughters. Five hundred years later, this past ruthlessly crashes into the present where the ghosts of yesterday await them.
What are you working on at the moment?
During the two years between signing the contract and publication of Trees Cry For Rain, I completed another book - a psychological thriller called Jakob: A Perfect Psychological Storm. My next project is a historical novel that begins in 17th century New Amsterdam. I'm doing the research now.
Do you have a favourite character? Why is s/he your favourite?
All my characters are my favorites because they live within me, for better or worse! When the time is right, they reveal themselves. Each character is a blend of people I know, people in my imagination, my conscious memories, and perhaps most significantly, genetic memories. Their stories often feel more real than the people I see on the street.
The main characters of your stories - do you find that you put a little of yourself into each of them or do you create them to be completely different from you?
There are two "related" sets of characters - those who live in 15th century Spain and those who live in today's New York City.
The story begins with Rozas, a Secret Jew in Spain. Secret Jews were people who went to church with their neighbors, professed to be Catholics, and secretly practiced Judaism - a crime punishable by death. They were known as "Conversos" or New Christians because they or their ancestors had been forcibly converted to Catholicism.
Rozas faces a horrific fate. Someone has betrayed her to the Holy Office of the Inquisition. She has to act fast, or they will all be tortured and burned at the stake. Rozas uses herself and her husband Lucas as decoys so her three young daughters, Marianna, Catalina and Zara can escape. She says a quick prayer:
"Please God, save the children."
Rozas reflects my fierce need to protect children at all costs.
Rafael, a Christian friend of the family, arrives before the soldiers. He begs them to "run." Instead, Rozas gives him the responsibility of leading her children to safety. Rafael chooses to protect the Converso girls rather than remain in the safety of his own family.
Rafael emerged from my dear friend, Craig Oldfather. He's an Arizona "cowboy," sensitive actor, and a deep, amazingly perceptive soul. Craig's loyalty to his friends is gentle, old fashioned and heroic all at the same time.
Five hundred years later in my book, it's August in Bryant Park, New York City. I love Bryant Park - the space is alive with drama, conflict, and the overwhelming sense that one is in a magical urban canyon. Shira, sitting in Bryant Park, is a young romance writer - a loner experiencing life through odd characters that see and hear visions from the past. She scans the busy park and several faces stare back. They're strangers yet oddly familiar. She's drawn to them - as well as the priest who strides across the Great Lawn in medieval clerical garb. Shira listens as Cole, a street performer, sings old Spanish folksongs. Many people see powerful similarities between Shira and me.
Trees Cry For Rain leaps through generations until time suddenly freezes. Something unthinkable is about to happen. Rozas, Rafael, Shira, Cole - they're all part of me - genetic memories, collective unconscious, shared experiences and those difficult-to-define stories that roam my consciousness. The plot, the characters and their stories are inseparable from who I am.
Is there an established writer you admire and emulate in your own writing? Do you have a writing mentor?
Donna Paltrowitz. She's a children's book author and my friend, co-author, editor and mentor. Donna has a long list of books to her name in very different genres. Her subjects range from computer storybooks and real estate to the I Hate To Read series and Matthew's Web. Perhaps the most significant thing she taught me was to use all my skills and not to be afraid to think "outside the box." Donna certainly works that way. Once, I interrupted her when she was editing. She was saying strings of words out loud.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
Donna looked up and smiled. "It's the only way to edit. I read everything forward . . . and backward."
I realized that as a writer, editor and friend, Donna is one of those remarkable people you meet once in a lifetime. She often works in non-traditional ways that break rules and at the same time, enhance the story. For example, she starts at the end of a story. She thinks of details before the global picture. She's fixed on the rhythm as well as the content of language. And her grammatical skills are staggering. She knows more rules about language than I can imagine. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Donna.
What about now: who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?
There are so many good books and authors - I want to read everything and everyone. Although I prefer some genres, like historical fiction and psychological thrillers, I try everything. Some of my favorite modern classics are by Steinbeck, Hemingway, Faulkner, Uris and Michener. Mark Twain was one of my earliest muses. As a teenager, I cried with Anne Frank and Pearl S. Buck, and read every word Kurt Vonnegut and Tolkien wrote. I'm a loyal J.K. Rowling fan. These days, I make sure to read books written by some of my favorite contemporary authors like Greg Iles, Naomi Regan, Jodi Picault, Harlan Coben, Michael Crichton, Nelson DeMille . . . the list goes on, as long as authors are writing good books. My favorite journalist is Marge Mendel. Her work is awesome!
Where you have lived and what you have experienced can influence your writing in many ways. Are there any specific locations or experiences that have popped up in your books?
I grew up in Bayside, Queens - a quick ride to Manhattan. The excitement and drama of city life always intrigued me. There were so many faces, so many different lives, each with a story to be told. It stimulated an already active imagination bringing me to places, real and imaginary, that live in both my fiction and nonfiction.
I went on a family trip to California when I was twelve years old. When we entered Sequoia National Park I knew my life would never be the same. I fell in love with the timelessness of the mountains, the stature and beauty of the giant trees, and the rugged, uncompromising power of nature. That's where I learned how to find inner peace.
What is your writing space like? Do you have a designated space? What does it look like? On the couch, laptop, desk? Music? Lighting? Typing? Handwriting?
I write in two places - my home office and at my kitchen table (usually with a takeout order of sushi). Sometimes I travel with my laptop or carry hard copies for editing. I always write in my head and dreams - wherever I am and whatever I'm doing. Sometimes, my husband has to poke me so I'll pay attention to what's happening in the moment - not in my head :-)
In my experience, some things come quite easily (like creating the setting) and other things aren’t so easy (like deciding on a title). What comes easily to you and what do you find more difficult?
Finding my voice. It sounds simple, but the process is really quite complicated. A writer's voice is about storytelling - conversing with readers as if we're sitting together over a cup of steaming latte. First, I have to know what my characters need to say. As a Family Therapist, I'm used to writing psychological reports that include everything from infant behaviors to adult mental status. I do the same for my characters. Most of the details don't appear directly in the story - only the essence of how she or he feels and behaves. "My voice" also includes how I will structure a book to create the greatest impact. In Trees Cry For Rain, I wanted to juxtapose two time periods - the present and the 15th century. The reader needed to feel that time was flexible, a living construct. I chose to experiment with subtle alterations in structure. For example, everything in the past is written in first person, present tense. That imparts a sense of immediacy - the stories feel like they're happening now. Everything in the present is written in third person, past tense - the traditional structure. Writing the past as if it was happening now and the present as if it had already happened, became my voice - my way to demonstrate that time was fluid and my 15th century characters could easily show up in midtown Manhattan.
It’s one thing to write a book and another to edit it. How do you feel about the editing process? What was it like to edit your book?
I'm an obsessive editor/rewriter. I review a manuscript dozens of times before I will show it to anyone. The next step is to have at least six "readers" evaluate it and suggest changes. That generally leads to long discussions and analyses. Since my readers come from very different states and lifestyles, I feel I get a good cross-section of opinions. Now - to answer your question. When I hate it completely, when I can't read another word, then I know it's ready to go. It's like having a child, whom you love dearly but are thrilled when he or she leaves for college!