Interview on Historical Fiction

A bit of background

Have you always been a writer or did you begin with a different career?

My first career was in retail. I had a boutique on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida that I opened when I was 24 years old.  I also worked for many years helping to raise money for the State of Israel.

Your Writing and Brand

You have written several novels from different time periods under the banner of Jewish Historical Fiction. Why did you choose these stories?

Clouds Across the Sun is Holocaust related. Before the end of WWII, Hitler charged a group of his most trusted and brilliant comrades with a mission—educate your progeny and then elevate them to positions of power throughout the world. This is the story of just one of these children. From Naples, Florida, New York City, and Washington D.C., to Israel and then the killing grounds of Vilnius, Poland (Lithuania) this story is one of great romance, discovery, redemption, and enlightenment as Jotto Wells discovers her Jewish soul and unravels the intrigue surrounding a plan to take over the government of the United States.

I did not have any family in the Holocaust and yet I always knew that when I wrote it would somehow be related to those horrific events. I wanted this generation to understand what happened from a different point of view. The history of the Holocaust is too big and overwhelming for most of us to comprehend. And so, my goal was to have the readers care about my characters so deeply they would cry with their horrors and applaud their triumphs.

And So It Was Written travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found. The year is 132 CE, and the proclaimed Jewish Messiah, Bar Kokhba, has defeated the Roman army and rules Judea. As the Romans prepare to reclaim Israel, the book follows two sets of brothers–one Roman and one Jewish–whose friendships, hatreds, and lives intertwine. You will smell the spices in the markets, see the blood on the battlefields, rage with the injustice of brother against brother. From triumph to defeat, this is a saga of courage, conquest, familial loyalty, honor and love–showing man at his best and his worst. 

This is an obscure time in Jewish history and I wanted to write a story that shifted the perception of Jews, showing how they were warriors long before the creation of the State of Israel.

 What do you think attracts readers to your books?

I write to educate and entertain. I try to create stories that drive the reader from page to page. I cannot tell you how many letters I receive and how many comments I get that always say the same thing: I couldn’t put the book down.

Do you have a particular approach to research and writing?

History can be so obscure. My goal as a writer of historical fiction is to take real people from our past and give them a voice.

Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you?

As a very young girl, I read Leon Uris’ book Exodus. He brought the birth of modern Israel alive for me. That was my greatest influence but I adore Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, and so many others.

What ingredients do you think make for a best-selling historical fiction author?

Bringing the period you write about alive! It really does not matter if the time period in sixty years ago or two thousand years ago, there is always that connection with the now. We may have worn different clothing but beneath the surface we are simply the continuation of all that ever was and ever will be.

What techniques do you employ to write productively?

When I am in the zone, I write and do research every day. I think it is known as obsessive-compulsive behavior. (:  The problem is that being creative is a process and I have just come out of a huge “writer’s block.” I was miserable and not easy to live with! But I am BACK to writing now.

If your brand is Jewish historical fiction, what do you do to reinforce it?

I love this question. It is the best part of my journey. I study Judaism and its precepts of Torah and Talmud with a brilliant Rabbi-Scholar.

Connecting with readers

How do you connect with readers?

I have spoken to over 5,000 people all over the country in the last few years. This has happened because I identified groups and organizations that would have an interest in what I write. I then wrote letters contacting them, sent free books and then they “booked” me.  My philosophy is that I will go anywhere, any time!

What do you know about your readers?

I know they are intelligent and curious. They talk to their friends about what they read and they want to know more.

What data do you collect about your readers?

So many times someone in my audience will raise their hand and then proceed to tell me a story from their lives relating to the Holocaust. When I meet a survivor, I always stop whatever I am saying or doing to give them a hug and to say thank you for surviving.

Strategies

What strategies guide your writing career?

I write what I am interested in and what I love, NOT what I know. The fun is in the learning.

What would you do differently if you were starting again?

Start when I was a lot younger. I turned down the opportunity to work with a fabulous agent because I didn’t want to wait a year for And So It Was Written to be published.

Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction?

Be accurate. Our goal should never be to misinform.

 A final question

Is there a question you would like to answer that I haven’t asked?

I just want to say that I love to speak with book clubs, talking with people that have already read my books. I did a Skype book club with Texas recently and it was really fun! They had me in an auditorium on a big screen. I am only glad I could not see myself!!

 

What does it mean to be religious?

I had a conversation today with a very good friend. We were talking about what it means to be religious. Not by other people’s standards but by our standards. To put this in perspective my friend observes all the Orthodox rules for the Sabbath: no driving, no TV or electronics, no turning lights on and off etc. Yet, if you ask her she will tell you she does not feel religious.

I go to synagogue 7 days a week still! That is how far I have come since I began saying Kaddish for my beloved father 16 months ago.  I study Torah on Saturdays and spend 2 hours a week in lectures at Talmudic University. And if you ask me if I feel religious I have to tell you no. I don’t know what it really means to feel religious. I eat kosher style but I do not keep kosher. I drive on the Sabbath and I shop too. So how can I be religious? Worse yet, as much as I want to follow the precepts of the Torah I still talk about people, say mean things, loose my temper, swear (but I NEVER use G-d’s name in vain) and certainly do not do enough mitzvahs (good deeds). 

Then I ask myself, if I am not Orthodox how can I be a really good Jew? But I can’t be Orthodox because I just don’t believe what they believe. It doesn’t work for me and not because I am lazy. Maybe I have just too many questions, maybe I don’t like to be told what I have to do. Or just maybe I am too independent a woman who believes that I am equal to any man. And by the way, if you ask an Orthodox woman she will tell you she is respected and honored as a woman. So please don’t feel like you have to defend yourself if you are an Orthodox woman. You have my greatest respect.

So now please tell me what does it mean to be religious in any religion?

 

Life Never Ceases to Amaze me

I want to share two experiences with you that I had over the last few days. Both took my breath away and reminded me that there is always something new to learn and experience. The first took place when I went to the Reform Synagogue on Saturday. I have one foot in Reform and another foot in Conservative. The Reform Synagogue I belong to is unique in many ways. In its 90 year history it was the only Synagogue that for years did not have one member living in its zip code. It is located in an area that was considered dangerous. But a rebirth in the downtown and midtown area of Miami is underway and things are changing! Temple Israel has opened its arms to the incredibly diverse population that spills over from South Beach. There are no judgements. I go to services on Saturday in jeans unless I know there is a Bar or Bar Mitzvah. And that leads me to this past weekend. I watched a young man embrace his Judaism. He began his speech with “I am black, white and Jewish.” The parents are divorced and the father lives in Hawaii. The grandparents are longtime members and devoted to this young man. Family members stood to speak and before long I found myself crying. What moved me as well is that over half the guests where black. When the cantor began singing the hallelujah chant the energy in the room turned electric and people were joyous and clapping. The spirit of celebration and Sabbath made my heart sing. We are one.

Yesterday I was invited to a bris an hour and a half drive from where I live. The new mother is in her middle 40′s. Unable to have a baby she and her husband found a surrogate. The woman who carried the egg and sperm of the parents was at the bris with her husband and 9 year old daughter. During the service, as the infant was passed between grandparents and parents the surrogate also held the child she had carried. This little boy was brought into the arms of Judaism because a young woman wanted to give the gift of life to a family that could not do it for themselves. The surrogate and the new mother have become best friends. 

Life can still amaze. We must always remember that. In the span of just a few days I saw with my own eyes, “from generation to generation. la dor le dor. 

The Portrait of a Writer (1)

Ellen Brazer:

This is a young man worth reading.

Originally posted on Cristian Mihai:

I began writing in my most vulnerable years. I was dumb and arrogant, as most teenagers seem to be, and I did my best to pour greatness into every sentence I wrote. But I was also lying to myself, writing about what I didn’t know, pretending to know, and I got caught and people could see that I wasn’t willing to let them in – I  was building this wall to protect my true self from anyone who would be searching for it behind my words. There was nothing that belonged to me in the stories I wrote.

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My Jewish Journey

The Torah

What I don’t know about the Torah could fill volumes. Call this blog Torah for Dummies.  The Torah consists of the five books of Moses. I did not know that 4/5 of the Torah covers only two years in the history of the Jewish people. That was a huge surprise to me although I can’t tell you I ever spent much time contemplating it. 

The first book, Genesis, is about creation and it covers from the beginning of time until  2,300 years before the common era. Exodus covers the sons of Israel, who went to Egypt and the year that Moses spends trying to convince Pharaoh to let our people go! It also covers the plagues and the detail. Then we are taken to Mt Sinai in the year 2,448 when the Torah is given to Moses. There is nothing written about the thirty-eight years the Jews wandered in the desert. Image 

The books of the Torah are a discussion of history, and the laws. It can’t be more simplistic than that about a subject that could not be more complex. 

What is the focus of the Torah? G-d’s teachings. The Torah is the Tree of Life-access to the infinite. G-d always was. 

I was in a class yesterday and the rabbi spoke of how Moses could have helped us become infinite. That was so over my head I would not touch that subject with a ten foot pole. But he did teach something we all know are truth: we die. In the death process our bodies get tired, and we loose physical and mental abilities. We can spend our years terrified of death or we can find our faith. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to truly believe there is more? I don’t know about you but I want to learn to embrace the limitations I can’t conquer, and to overcome my fears of both failure and success. I want to live in the now and not be afraid of the future. 

 So let’s go face the day with confidence and love. Do something nice for yourself and for someone else today.

The Torah

The Torah

Jewish Angels and Reincarnation

Jewish Angels and Reincarnation

I always believed angels were a Christian thing. I know we always read about angels of G-d speaking to our prophets. Abraham certainly comes to mind. But I just thought that only happened when G-d wanted to show man a miracle.

 

Jewish angels? I just never knew! In the morning Shacharis service the following words are read everyday: Then the Ofanim (varieties of angels) and the holy Chayos (angels) with great noise raise themselves towards the Seraphim. (angels) Psalm 148 says: Praise Him, all His angels.

 

Let me quote a moment from the Artscroll Siddur commentary: The varieties of angels are not translated since we lack the vocabulary to define them. Maimonides the most prolific and influential Torah Scholar of the Middle Ages notes that there are ten levels of angles. 

When my mother of blessed memory passed away eight years ago I had no doubt that she had become my guardian angel. At the time I did not think this was a Jewish thing, and maybe it isn’t but it was my truth. I had difficulty understanding all the G-d stuff but I understood MY mother’s love. And I knew that my mother was going to watch over me. Was it weird to pray to my mother instead of G-d? Not to me. I know I am pushing the envelope when I ask the rabbis if my mother could be my guardian angel. They always  kind of roll their eyes. But so many things have happened in my life, things I choose not to call coincidence. I believe my mother has communicated with me, sent me messages when my eyes and mind are open. (Did you just roll your eyes?) Then when my father of blessed memory passed I felt that another angel was attached to me. 

A short story. The young and very special rabbi that leads the morning services said that whenever we do something good a good angel attaches itself to us. When we do something bad. . .we get a bad angel. So, what is the point of all this? At least now I don’t have to feel guilty for believing in angels. 

Reincarnation: So many Jews search for answers within other belief systems. Perhaps that is because for so long the answers to our questions, the questions every generation asked seemed hidden away from us. I remember asking about Judaism to my grandparents and my parents. Why do we do this? Why do we do that? What do we believe about this? The answer was always “because.” I believe they told me that because they did not know. This generation is different. This generation wants answers. I am certainly not talking about proof. Faith is proof as seen from the heart. The Orthodox rabbi who heads the Yeshiva teaches that we are reincarnated in various bodies to perfect ourselves. Souls are judged individually on each incarnation. He says “A soul is Not a truly Divisible Entity.” He also said, “We have no choice with our circumstances but we have free choice what we will do in those circumstances.” I looked at it like this: you might have been born to an impoverished family in Outer Magnolia. That is your circumstance. How you live that life is your free choice. Each of us has a UNIQUE GIFT AND GOAL. That is our challenge, to identify and then work to fulfill that mission. G-d placed us in our roles because we are uniquely qualified to achieve our roles. 

I know this is simplistic, and maybe I am insulting the more intellectual amongst you. But if I can open the door a crack and make you want to learn more on your own: then I am accomplishing what I am trying to accomplish. 

Now go have a wonderful day.

 

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