Thank you for having me!
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.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
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 is facing 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.”
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.
Five hundred years later, it’s August in Bryant Park, New York City. Shira, a young romance writer, is 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.
Trees Cry For Rain leaps through generations until time suddenly freezes. Something unthinkable is about to happen.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
My characters live within me. 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.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
I love this question because every writer has her or his own unique way of constructing a story. My characters tell me their stories and I generate a loose outline after I know their basic plot. Since I like to incorporate metaphor, I often sketch out “hidden connections” to keep track of where I’m going. My most detailed plot outlines are after the book is written, when I check timelines, accuracy, consistency and plot strength. Ironically, editing and rewriting takes longer than writing the original draft. With that said, I allow my book to follow its natural path. If the plot changes or a character appears I have to adjust!
Q: Your book is set in 15th Century Spain and modern-day New York City. Can you tell us why you chose this?
Years ago, I read about a group of people in New Mexico who followed odd customs, similar to the Jews, in their Catholic community – lighting candles on Friday night, refusing to eat pork, and playing Christmas games with a four-sided spinning top. 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? It took me four years of research, travel, interviews and writing to answer those questions.
I chose New York City as the point of convergence – where the past crashes into the present. As a native New Yorker, I have always loved the mystery, challenge and contradictions of the city. It was a natural environment for my characters to find closure.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
In Trees Cry For Rain there are several “major characters” that aren’t people. The most powerful is “time.” My other settings are also characters – Spain, Sao Tome, Lisbon and Bryant Park in New York City – all crucial participants in the story.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
This is a great question! One might wonder whether its charming randomness has a meaning unknown to all of us? Page 69 in Trees Cry For Rain describes Rozas’ final torture by the Inquisitors. Today we call it “water boarding.”
Without warning, an unspeakable pain sears through Rozas – a red-hot iron burning everything within.
Tomás, the Chief Inquisitor, is trying to learn where Rozas’ daughters have fled.
“So,” Tomás grins. “Do you have anything else to tell us?”
Rozas cannot speak.
“Convicted,” Tomás says gleefully. “Heresy.”
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
Spain – 1492
At the end of the street is the entrance to the Inquisition
dungeons. I shiver. I’m nearing the most dreaded place in Spain, where torturers use the name of their God to inflict pain and evil.
I try to control myself. I struggle to contain the fear. My body
denies my mind; my blood turns to ice and my knees buckle.
They drag me toward the dark, stone entrance. My mind crumbles in terror. My feet scrape the cobblestones as we approach. Five words break through the fear.
“Please God, save the children.”
I descend deep into the bowels of the Earth. Darkness and stench
surround me; cold, damp stone forms the deadly corridors of
dungeons. I hear the sounds of human misery – cries, moans, and
demented voices of people already broken. The soldiers pause; one opens the heavy door that will be my home for the rest of my life. Another soldier rips off my clothes, laughing loudly. He shoves a coarse shift into my arms.
“That’s what you wear now, Marrano,” he taunts me. “Clothes
suited for a Christ-killer.”
They shove me inside and lock the bars.
I’m engulfed in complete dark. It holds me in a tightly wrapped
pouch. I wait, trying to understand what has happened. I cry; I wail; I beg for God to hear me. The dark is unrelenting. Finally, I sleep, exhausted. My dreams are wild and incoherent. When I wake, fragments float through my head – pieces that I can put together into a whole. It’s still dark and I quickly discover that here, time passes without meaning. I’m trapped . . . moving from coldness inside to hot terror that lingers, like a wild predator, outside. I know the road, although this is the first – and last – time I will ever travel it.
Bryant Park, New York City – present-day
Where were the words coming from? For a brief moment she
was confused, as if strangers had invaded her mental space. She shook her head angrily. Now she was even thinking like a horror movie character.
She glanced at the clouds, distracting herself.
The tiny French Classical kiosks were busy with the crowds – tourists, people leaving work early, others browsing, enjoying the midsummer sun and the cool breeze. ‘Wichcraft was serving its usual sandwiches, and ice cream. Dressed in summer business casual, office workers carried
large plastic cups filled with iced mochaccino and bottles of yellow,
pink, and blue Vitamin Water.
Bryant Park was like a window in time, moving in its own jagged frames.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Jeri. We wish you much success!
Thank you. It was my pleasure.