Blog Hop~What I Write, and Why

The great Jean Naggar, agent extraordinaire as well as author of Sipping From the Nile, the haunting and lyrical memoir of her enchanted childhood in Egypt, graciously tagged me to come along on this blog hop. Be sure to visit her blog at Jeannaggar.com!

In the Land of Armadillos

What I am working on

In the autumn of 2008, my mother’s illness, in remission for so long, took a turn for the worse; in the middle of phone conversations, she would drift away, and I would be left talking to the ether. Within a couple of weeks, she stopped speaking altogether. For me and my family, it became a terrible kind of waiting game; was this the end? Or would some miracle intervene, some magic drug awake her from her endless dreaming, and bring her back to us, to the land of the living?

In this space of time—it was the days leading up to Halloween—I wrote my first short story. It was called The Partizans. In brief, two children grow up next door to each other in the village of Wlodawa, Poland, just before World War II. The boy runs away and joins the army, the girl stays behind with her family. The war begins. As the SS lead the Jews out to the forest to be executed—taking the girl and her family with them—a ghostly band of creatures, half-animal and half-human, descends upon the planned massacre and…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself.

Story after story came to me in this way. A thread of my mother’s life—my parents are both Holocaust survivors—would be woven into a plot. Characters—my grandfather the saddlemaker, and Selinger, the German chief of the Adampol labor camp—found a way to pop up in every story. There was always magic; I can’t seem to tell a story without magic. Soon, I began incorporating my father’s experiences as well.

Some of them were picked up by a variety of very fine journals and magazines; The Kenyon Review, JewishFiction.net, Cream City Review. Soon I had a series of linked stories that I call In the Land of Armadillos. And since my background is in art, I am tinkering with the idea of adding some illustrations. (You can tell me what you think.)

In my stories, the actions of a tailor’s wayward wife save the snobbish inhabitants of an underground bunker; the Messiah appears in a little boy’s bedroom to report that he is quitting; a particularly cold-blooded SS officer dedicates himself to rescuing the creator of his son’s favorite picture book; a young man shows up at a Jewish-owned grist mill in the middle of the night, claiming to be the Golem, ready to be put to work; a little girl is hidden with the biggest anti-Semite in the district and his talking dog, Fallada. Weaving in and out of these tales are the enigmatic and silver-tongued Willy Reinhart, German Commandant of the forced labor camp at Adampol Palace, and Soroka the saddlemaker, Reinhart’s favorite Jewish craftsman. To Reinhart, Soroka is that rarest thing of all in a totalitarian regime, a man who will tell him what he really thinks.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I wish I belonged to a genre! I seem to hopscotch around Horror, Jewish Fiction, Magical Realism, Paranormal Romance, and Literary Fiction. (I spent my entire childhood buried in Holocaust novels, superhero comic books and Stephen King. I guess there’s no real surprises here.)

Why do I write what I write?
It wasn’t a choice, it was an epiphany.

It could be related to my religious roots in midrashic tradition…or perhaps it’s because the Holocaust was so profoundly horrific, illogical, enormous and chaotic that I needed to exert some form of control over it. We say that World War II ended in 1945. But in truth, the Holocaust reached out its long arms to infect my childhood, and, I suspect, the childhood of many thousands of other survivors’ children. For me, writing about it, with all its facets of comedy, horror, and humanity, just seems necessary.

How does my writing process work?
I’m a slowpoke; I aspire to Graham Greene’s famous goal of 500 words a day.

With butterflies of excitement flitting in my belly, I sit down at the computer after the kids leave for school. First I attend to correspondence and social networks. When I’m all Tweeted and FB’d out, I switch to the computer that isn’t connected to the internet, situated in front of a window that overlooks my neighbors park-like property. There, between sentences, I watch the seasons go by and feel guilty about not exercising more often.

I begin each story with some kind of a rough outline. I write mindfully, editing as I go along. I borrow from my art background; I weigh each sentence, each scene, for color, texture, light and dark, composition. I always ask myself if it’s visual enough; if there’s too much tell and not enough show; is it alive; does it matter. I read each line out loud to hear the music and rhythm; and finally, I ask myself if whatever I just wrote is necessary to the story.

I stop when the first of my kids gets home. After an evening of dinner, homework, carpools, Little League, and kid-centered conversation, after the table is cleared, the laundry done, the kids in bed, I return to the non-internet computer and re-read what I wrote earlier in the day. Sometimes I am happy. Sometimes, I despair that I will ever write anything decent, ever again.

On to the tagging!
Watch this space for the terrific and talented authors I’ve tagged. I’ll post them as I hear back from them!
EMILY KATE MOON, is the author and illustrator of JOONE. Click on the link to read her (sweet, hilarious, charming, happy) blog: http://emilykatemoon.com/blog/blog-hop/

ELANA MARYLES SZTOKMAN is the award-winning author of Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools and The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. Her blog is: http://www.jewfem.com

The multi-talented RENA BUNDER ROSSNER is the author of EATING THE BIBLE. She is a novelist as well as an agent at the Deborah Harris Agency. Her blog is http://renarossner.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/blog-hop-what-do-i-write-and-why/

6 thoughts on “Blog Hop~What I Write, and Why

  1. Iza, you are so kind! Thanks for being so supportive! Hearing it from an illustrator as gifted as you is the greatest of compliments. :)

  2. Pingback: Blog Hop for writersEmily's Blog

  3. I absolutely love this! Especially the part about your writing process. (“There, between sentences, I watch the seasons go by and feel guilty about not exercising more often.” hahaha!)
    Your writing is so beautiful, I can tell that you write it mindfully, carefully choosing each word, sound, and feeling as you go. I love your description of weighing each sentence like a visual composition of art. What a talent you are!

    • Oh, Emily, thank you! You are just the nicest! What about you? Do writing and art feel like the same process for you?

      • I do them both simultaneously, so I don’t know that I can really separate the two for children’s books! But they are surprisingly similar: both expressions of the heart and mind, and both requiring color, detail, contrast and balance. I’ve never thought of writing that way, but it is true. When I write my novel (sans illustrations) I’ll let you know how that feels!

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