Today, I have the pleasure of introducing author, Claudia Hagadus Long as the next participant in the interview series. I do hope everyone has been enjoying these posts; they have surpassed anything I could have hoped for as a new blogger. By her own description, Claudia “is a weaver of words, catcher of dreams, and chronicler of the spaces between the lines in the history books: women’s stories, women’s dreams, her-story.” She is a grandmother of “two spectacular grandsons, mother of two marvelous kids, chocolate-loving lawyer-mediator, wife and cook.”
Claudia is the author of several historical fictions, many of which reference the anusim, Jews living as Catholics in colonial Mexico. Though these works are far from being Austenesque, I am delighted to share this platform with another passionate author.
Host: Bienvenida Claudia! Welcome! I’m so glad that you were able to accept my invitation. Your bio is creative and fascinating. Please tell us more about your work and your current release.
Guest: Hi, Mirta! Thanks so much for having me! I’m excited to be on your blog. As you know, my newest book, Nine Tenths of the Law came out on April 23, 2020, from Kasva Press. It’s a mixed contemporary-historical novel, and my first venture outside of straight historical fiction. It combines pre-pandemic New York City and flashbacks to various times from 1939 to 1945. I was drawn to this era because my mother was a Holocaust survivor. She died in 2014, and the following year, on the first anniversary of her death, my father sat down with me and told me her stories. It was pretty earth-shaking. My mother had never talked much about her life during the War, and my sister and I had very different views of that time period and what she had suffered. When my father told me her stories, from his vantage point of having met her right after the War, my sister and I were stunned.
I decided to write the story of two sisters, Zara and Lilly, who discover, in contemporary New York City, a menorah that was stolen from their mother in 1939. That really happened. From there, the book departs into fiction, and they chase that menorah all over, up into New Hampshire, down into the East Village, while a modern-day thief leaves a trail of mayhem in his wake. It’s really the story of sisters, of memories and of love. And Chinese food. (What’s a Jewish tragedy without humor?)
Host: Your family’s history is compelling. I can readily understand what intrigued you about that time period. but this is not your usual focus. Correct?
Guest: My earlier books took place in Mexico in 1690-1750, and I have long been fascinated by the Crypto-Jews of Mexico. These were the secret Jews who lived after the Expulsion and Conversion in Spain and Portugal in 1492. Some converted “at the point of a sword” and kept the old religion in secret. I have three books that center on this era. I grew up in Mexico City and I am partly descended from Sephardic Jews, so I was naturally drawn to that history. I also had a mad girl-crush on Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in college, so the poetry of the time-period was a natural fit! In Nine Tenths, the era was deeply inspired by my mother.
Host: I find that many people are unaware of what occurred during the Inquisition and Expulsion. I also think it’s a common error to believe that the death, torture and persecution was contained to the Iberian Peninsula; when in fact, countries such as my own native Argentina, Peru, Mexico, most of Latin America actually, were involved in some capacity. These stories must be told, and it is why I believe Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre. What do you say?
Guest: Well, we can’t always read about Tudor England, can we? Now Historical Fiction is much broader, but when I was a younger reader that was the only era anyone wrote about. When I first read Cara Black’s Murder in the Marais I was beyond excited. And then, The Coffee Trader and A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss sent me into a tail-spin of delight. Here were Jewish characters who weren’t just “Jewish characters in other people’s books.” While it may or may not be its own genre, it is definitely a vital sub-genre and one that will provide much material for a very long time.
Host: I appreciate authors who weave accurate history throughout the storyline. While doing your research, did anything affect or move you? Did anything come as a surprise?
Guest: One of the best moments in research came when my first historical fiction book, Josefina’s Sin, was being line-edited. I had researched the book meticulously, using art, theatre and poetry as my sources for clothing and speech patterns. I was enthralled with every detail. I had checked every resource for period details. And I had Josefina sitting under a mango tree. Well. Yes, I’d checked, there was a mention of mangoes in 1730, this was 1690, so I thought I was ok. But I wasn’t! The editor informed me that mangoes weren’t introduced into Mexico until twenty years later, in1710. Luckily, papayas worked as well in the story!
On the other hand, I had someone write to me and quote Wikipedia, and tell me that what I had written didn’t happen. Historical fiction takes place in the interstices between known facts. True academic historians are always delving deeply into what’s known, to discover the details and revise accepted versions of things that border on myth. It’s not enough to say, This person was born here and died there, and so that’s all that happened. During that person’s lifetime she could have had a lover, lost a child, built a home, dreamed of travel, failed at business, longed for certainty…and no Wikipedia entry will be able to gainsay it. So research can give you what happened, but fiction will put it in context.
Host: I love that explanation! It is an accurate description of what we endeavor to do with our novels. It is a painstaking process, and for a newcomer—like me—it is rather daunting. How long have you been writing? When did you first consider yourself an author?
Guest: I’ve been writing for 35 years. I wrote a romance novel while my first child was an infant. It didn’t go anywhere, but I was enthralled with the process. I wrote mysteries for a while, and those never went anywhere either. Then I published my first mystery and the excitement of seeing my work in print was overwhelming, and I knew I was hooked! I then wrote five books under a pen name for a particular kind of publisher, and finally felt ready to tackle a “serious” novel. When Simon & Schuster bought Josefina’s Sin I felt I was really truly an author. But…that was my error. I was really, truly an author when I wrote that first romance novel 35 years ago. I just didn’t know it.
It’s a big mistake to consider publication by a “big 5” (now “big 4”) house to be the measure of merit. The Duel for Consuelo and Nine Tenths of the Law might be the best books I’ve ever written, and each had very different paths to publication. Consuelo and Chains of Silver are co-op published, The Harlot’s Pen is published by a large commercial Canadian publisher, and Nine Tenths of the Law is published by a boutique Israeli publisher (there doesn’t seem to be the emphasis on “big 4” companies outside the US.) If you’re writing, you’re a writer.
Host: Thirty-five years! Talk about experience! Tell me a little about your writing process, if you will. Are you a panster or a plotter? Do you begin with an outline, and know how the story ends from the get-go, or do you go with the flow and allow your characters to lead the way?
Guest: I’m a plotter, but that’s because I’m a lawyer. I don’t want to go into the project unprepared. But the funny thing is, once I start, the story and the characters rebel against my rigid outline (complete with multiple subparts!) and demand a life of their own!
Host: I am well acquainted with those unexpected developments and am happy to know that it happens to even an accomplished author! Tell us, Claudia, are you working on something now?
Guest: Stay tuned for the sequel—yes, an actual sequel! —to Zara and Lilly’s adventures.
Host: That sounds promising! Is there anything else you’d like to add before we sign off?
Guest: You can get all of my books anywhere and any way that you buy your books. For online ordering contact your bookstore, or go to Amazon https://tinyurl.com/yddvh2rp
Please do follow me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ClaudiaHLong
And check out my website at: www.claudiahlong.com