What books have most influenced your life most?
There are so many it's hard to chose! I prefer to talk about authors and their work rather than specific examples. Mark Twain, with his humor, realistic characters and skill of putting the reader in the environment, has had a lifelong influence on how I view the world. Colleen McCullough's Creed for The Third Millennium is a masterpiece of what I call social science fiction. Jodi Picoult's style of jumping between characters in first person is captivating. No one can spin a page-turner like Greg Iles. Michael Crichton was a role model demonstrating that authors can move between multiple genres and write great books. I love Hemingway for his simplicity and William Martin for his complexity. Naomi Ragen touches the souls of Jewish readers, while a memoir like The Jew Store by Stella Suberman reveals a lifestyle I never knew existed. I could continue indefinitely . . .
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a 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 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 was 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 the language than I can imagine. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Donna.
What book are you reading now?
Right now I'm researching my next historical novel. It means that all my fiction and nonfiction reading is geared toward studying the subject: New York City. I'm reading Caleb Carr's The Alienist and Edward Rutherfurd's New York: The Novel. In nonfiction, I'm reading 97 Orchard by Jane Ziegelman and A New Promised Land by Hasia R. Diner. My Kindle and print book library is filled with books I will read next!
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
There are many new authors that have written excellent, contemporary novels that are so good, I hate to see them end. Sometimes I purposely read slower or restrict how much I read each day because I don't the book to end. I savor every page. The names that come to mind are "new" to me - not necessarily the rest of the world - like William Martin, Jonathan Safran Foer, Sarah Gruen and David Wroblewski.
What are your current projects?
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. The next project is a historical novel that begins in 17th century New Amsterdam. I'm doing the research now.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
An entity is defined as "something that exists as a particular and discrete unit." My answer has to be "my world" of people, places, experiences, travel and books. Each day is a new adventure; a different way to taste the world. From Howie, my computer guru who regularly rescues me from digital death to my expeditions to Antarctica and The Galapagos, everything large and small supports my writing. Recently, I met a ex-Wall Street banker, who now makes his living as a street performer. I asked him questions about his life. He told me stories about people who are kind, people who are rude and the worst - uncontrolled children who disrupt his act. I listened carefully and realized that one of the characters in my new book had just revealed himself. He reminded me of a similar experience with a hot dog street vendor in the city. Not only did I talk to the vendor but I followed up with researching his world. Do you know there's something called the "Vendy Awards" which honors the top city street vendors? It also helps support the Street Vendor Project - a "non-profit organization that stands up for vendors’ rights." It's no surprise that one of the main characters in Trees Cry For Rain is a hot dog vendor.
Do you see writing as a career?
Writing is my career. I was a Family Therapist for many years and loved my work. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time for my patients and my characters. I miss my patients but now I write full time.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
NO. Once a book is published, it's done. Even thinking about "changes" gives me the chills. It would be the most hopeless path to follow - after all, you can't change anything once it's in print. With that said, I can use what was frustrating in Trees Cry For Rain to improve certain aspects in my next book. For example, when I researched Trees Cry For Rain, I traveled to Spain, Portugal, Israel, New Mexico, Arizona and California. The research was often a challenge because I don't speak Spanish, Portuguese or Hebrew. My next historical novel is located in New York City (my hometown) where I can explore, research and immerse myself as much and as often as I want. I'm part of the living history of the city. It's so much fun! There's even a website, called The Welikia Project, where I can plug in a city address and see what it looked like in 1609. Amazing.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
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.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Jakob: A Perfect Psychological Storm emerged from my quest to understand the psychology of a mass murderer. Jakob was "born" when I was visiting my friend Fern in California. We love to tell each other stories. “I have an awful story," she said, "about a fifteen year old mass murderer from my town.” I listened carefully. Too carefully. "You're not going to write a book about him?" She asked. It was too late. "Let's take a look," I mumbled. We sat at her computer and did the initial research that would eventually grow into the novel. Suddenly everything began to roll like waves in the ocean. "We're having an earthquake," Fern observed, never leaving the computer. "We have to do something," I cried. Of course it was over before I had the chance to run under the nearest door jamb. I like to say that even my first earthquake didn’t stop Jakob from being written! Writing the book demanded enormous fortitude. Jakob was complex and forbidding; living in a dark, chilling space. I spent many days fascinated, yet frightened, by Jakob’s actions and the blank eyes of all psychopaths. I searched for answers that would form a “perfect storm.” Cutting-edge research helped me develop my own theory of what makes a psychopath. It was very intense. When it was finished, I returned to historical novels. I'm writing one similar in structure to Trees Cry For Rain. I have this feeling that somewhere in the next four hundred pages, Jakob will show up . . .