Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Claudia H. Long

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.”

author, Claudia H. Long

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

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Felicia Grossman

I’m excited to bring you another post in my author’s interview series. Joining us today is Felicia Grossman, author of American historical romance novels Appetites & Vices and Dalliances & Devotion. Felicia is a Delaware native. She now lives in the Midwest with her family and two dogs. When not writing romance, she enjoys eclairs, cannoli, and Sondheim musicals. Sounds like a girl after my own heart!

Author, Felicia Grossman
Photo credit: Allison Liffman Photography

I spend a significant amount of time hurling myself down the notorious rabbit hole in search of reading material specific to my genre. There is a plethora of historical fiction that speaks to the horrifying events of the Holocaust. These narratives are closely followed by tales of the Inquisition and, of course, biblical stories. On the other side of the historical fiction/romance coin, we usually find ourselves in an English setting, though sometimes we get to go to “the continent.” Imagine my surprise when I discovered Felicia Grossman’s work! Here we have an author that introduces Jewish protagonists in the context of early American history. I have to learn more about her. Join me, won’t you?

Host: Welcome to my blog, Felicia. I’m delighted to get to know you. Tell us a little about your work.

Guest: I’m so excited to be here. Thank you so much for having me. In 2019, I released a historical romance miniseries with Carina Press called The Truitts. The two books in that series are Appetites & Vices, which takes place in 1841 and Dalliances & Devotion which follows the next generation of the family in 1871. I also had a contemporary romance short story called The Sweet Spot in the Love All Year anthology this past September.

Host: Sweet spot, indeed! My favorite eras tend to be the Regency, Victorian and Edwardian periods. Tell me why you were motivated to set your stories in this time frame?

Guest: The historical romances I write are primarily set in the middle of the nineteenth century. I think I keep going back to that era because, due to emerging technology, a great deal of changes occurred all over the world. Travel became easier, both by land and water, as well as communication with the advent of the telegraph. There are a lot of parallels between that era and the era we’re in now. Additionally, the theory and philosophy written during that time period, especially in central Europe is extremely interesting and exciting to me.

Host: This time was certainly an important period for Jews, particularly in the field of philosophy. The Jewish Enlightenment movement, the Haskalah, was in full swing then, though there doesn’t seem to be enough focus on the subject—much to my chagrin. Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre?

Guest: Because Jews have mainly been a diaspora people for the last few eons, and thus have generally lived as a minority subject to a majority culture’s rule, our history is over looked. For example, saying something like “American,” or “western,” or “non-western,” history doesn’t necessarily include or capture our experience. Jews have lived in all those locations but had a completely different experience than the dominant class/culture/nationality. Thus, you could set a book 19th century historical novel in the Russian Empire or the Austrian or even the Ottoman, and while I had ancestors who lived in all those places during that time period, unless your characters were Jewish, the depiction of life would not be the same as what my ancestors experienced. It wouldn’t be our story. So I think, to get those stories, you need to need that more specific focus, if that makes sense?

Host: Yes! That completely makes sense to me and I applaud you for your efforts. I have long said we need to shine the light on our ancestors lives and celebrate their achievements, as well as their obstacles. I champion Jewish protagonists in lighter narratives, because I feel we do a disservice to our community by only speaking of the tragic and horrifying events of our past. Do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?

Guest: This is my favorite question because no one has ever asked me this but I truly think this book is why I write—or at least the feeling it gave me is what I want to create for other people. So the book is Out of Many Waters by Jacqueline Dembar Greene. It’s an MG novel I read in second grade, a few years after it came out. It’s about a Jewish girl who was taken aware from her parents by the church during the Portuguese Inquisition and she ends up on the ship that will bring the first group of Jews to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1655. It was the first time I saw myself in history before the late 19th century. I was always a history person but I always sort of knew that the stories were never about me or anyone I could have been that wasn’t either centered on the Holocaust or a very small recent experience. I wanted roots deeper than 1881 and I got it.

Host: It is amazing, isn’t it, how a book can have such an impact on our young lives. An extraordinary amount of time is spent researching for interesting facts and those small, important details that make our novels so affecting. Were you moved by any of your own discoveries? Was anything particularly surprising or touching, in a way you may never have expected?

Guest: For especially Appetites & Vices, I relied pretty heavily on Rebecca Gratz’s letters for both daily life references as well as what sort of Judaism my Jewish characters practiced. What initially surprised me was how similar Gratz’s observance level is to my own as well as her relationship to with emerging formal Jewish institutions in Philadelphia despite the fact she lived in the late 18th and 19th centuries. I would probably argue that Judaism for me now is much more similar to hers and my characters than it is to my own ancestors during that period who didn’t live in the U.S. It’s something I should have realized, both because a great deal of the current American institutions as well as the movement of Judaism I belong to were created by and for that initial small group of Jews from western Europe. And when the bulk of the American Jewish population came as refugees from the former Pale of Settlement between 1881 and 1924, assimilation into the existing Jewish culture was heavily pushed. I’d argue that it wasn’t until after the Holocaust that concerted, concentrated resistance to that sort of assimilation and the preservation of certain spiritual based Jewish movements from Eastern Europe took hold in the U.S. in a significant way. Thus, it make sense that my family would adopt the customs brought from those early generations and make them ours as well.

Host: I remember reading a quote—it’s on one of my Pinterest boards—that says: ‘You will always leave something behind: Your influence’. Rebecca Gratz is one of the many people who highly influenced American Jewry; though sadly, many in our community are not familiar with her work. There are so many men and women who have had a tremendous impact on our lives today. Needless to say, they would serve as great building blocks when creating characters for our story lines. Do you have a favorite character? One who particularly resonates with you?

Guest: While I’d say there’s always a part of me in all my POV characters, Ursula Nunes in Appetites & Vices was based on and written for early teenage me. All the frustration, all the loneliness, and yes, all the, for lack of a better word, bullying, were based on my own younger life. Her personality, her strengths, her likes and dislikes are also very much based on little me. The biggest difference is her hair and eye color. I wrote her and her HEA and arc for the girl I used to be and all the girls like us, who I think, deserve to see themselves win.

Host: Have you visited any of the locations you have written about?

Guest: I’m from Wilmington, Delaware and set both Truitt books as well as The Sweet Spot, in the Wilmington area and yes, I’ve literally been everywhere I’ve described. The Truitt house is supposed to be Winterthur (even though Winterthur was built later) and the Nunes house is a specific house on Old Kennett Pike. The Levy house is based on a combination of houses in South Philadelphia near 4th and Delancey. Bedford Springs, the spa David and Amalia visit in Dalliances & Devotion, existed then and existed now (it’s owned by Omni). All the places in Pittsburgh and Gettysburg are also based on real places I’ve visited. That was what actually made those books so easy (and fun) to write, the setting was home.

Host: I completely understand. My experiences and familiarity with Buenos Aires and the other provinces in Argentina helped immeasurably when I wrote my first few books. The writing is richer, I would think, when the author is connected to the settings and events in the story line. Can you recall a favorite scene or setting from your work?

Guest: My absolute favorite scene I ever wrote was the carriage ride (on what is now Route 52) at the end of Appetites & Vices, with Ursula, her father, and her Uncle Bernard, where we learn that not only were they trying to marry her off to half of Jewish upper class Europe (I have an entire head cannon of actual specific people they had in mind, which gets mentioned a little in Dalliances & Devotion), but that, to protect her reputation, Uncle Bernard had used some fun quirks in Jewish law (which got threaded in earlier) regarding marriage (I took a Rabbi Michael Broyde course in graduate school and that particular area of Jewish law is his expertise).

Host: I am a little in awe of your academic background! Sometimes I have to pinch myself (figuratively speaking, of course!) when I have the opportunity to interact with educators, historians and published authors of renown fame. As I am relatively new to this craft, I often wonder how others got their start. How long have you been writing? When did you first consider yourself and author?

Guest: I’ve always been writing. I actually wrote my first full length manuscript my first year of college (it was WF/suspense). However, I didn’t decide to look into doing anything besides saving things on a disk and putting it in a drawer until the beginning of 2016, when my youngest started sleeping through the night. I’m not sure I considered myself an author until I opened that box from Harlequin with the physical, promotional samples of Appetites & Vices that I could actually hold in my hands because it all didn’t seem real until that moment.

Host: Ah! I know that feeling well! There’s nothing like holding that freshly printed book in your hands and knowing that it’s the culmination of your blood, sweat and tears! Let me ask you another question along those lines. Are you a “panster” – flying by the seat of your pants and writing come what may, or a “plotter”- starting out with a plot, and an outline and numerous spreadsheets?

Guest: I would say I’m a combination. I start with a pretty lose synopsis with a few tent poles but things often change while I’m writing. I love tropes and structure. While I totally get that people can find them limiting, I find them comforting. They’re like a guide that makes the entire task seem more manageable. So even when I play and twist them, I still have touchstones so I don’t get too lost.

Host: So tell us, are you working on something now? Perhaps something Downton-esque? Hint, hint…

Guest: I’m always writing and hoping to have some fun good news to share soon.

Host: I have no doubt that you will! Felicia, is there anything else you’d like to add before we sign off?

Guest: Thank you so much for interviewing me. I had so much fun! If you want more information about me or my books you can find me at:

https://feliciagrossmanauthor.com/

Twitter: @HFeliciaG

GR: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18443358.Felicia_Grossman

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Carola Dunn

Joining us today is author Carola Dunn. And when I say author, I mean AUTHOR.

Carola Dunn, author

Ms. Dunn has penned 32 Regency novels, several collections of Regency novellas, 23 Daisy Dalrymple mysteries set in England in the 1920s, and 4 Cornish mysteries set in Cornwall around 1970. She was born in England but has lived in the United States for many years, presently in Oregon.

Though I am presented with a wide selection of titles, it can come of no surprise that I choose to focus on one of the author’s novels in particular: Miss Jacobson’s Journey. Set during the Napoleonic wars, Miss Miriam Jacobson finds herself in quite an imbroglio with Jakob Rothschild, Isaac Cohen and Felix, Viscount Roworth. There is adventure and intrigue, of course, along with romantic angst and personal growth. There is a significant nod towards 19th century bigotry which the author addresses with honesty, and even, humor.

Host
:     Thank you for participating in this series of interviews. Being that you are such a prolific author, I’m especially interested in learning how Miss Jacobson’s Journey came about?

Guest:   Thank you for inviting me, Mirta. Let me give you some back ground, starting with the Jewish connection:   My father was Jewish, born in a town then in Germany, now in Poland. I never learned about Judaism from him, as he was not religious and my parents split up when I was 6. My mother was an English Quaker and I went to a Quaker school. A friend there also had a German Jewish father and English Quaker mother. We both had relatives in Israel, and we spent the summer there between school and university.

Now on to the Regency background:    I started writing Regency romance in 1979. (The Regency was the period in England between 1811 and 1820-21 when George III was mad and his son reigned as Prince Regent; it spawned its own genre of romance.) In pursuit of historical accuracy, I did a lot of research, both specific to whatever book I was writing and general reading about the period. I wrote about 20 before Miss Jacobson’s Journey was conceived.

In the course of research, I came across a mention of the Rothschilds, upstart international bankers who smuggled gold across France to Lord Wellington’s forces fighting Napoleon’s army in Spain. This immediately struck me as an intriguing background for a story. The Rothschilds being Jewish suggested the possibility of creating Jewish protagonists.  Traditional Regency romances tend to be set among the British upper classes. But I already had middle-class people among my heroes and heroines, and black characters, and the heroine of The Frog Earl is half Indian. It didn’t seem like too much of a stretch. My editor gave her approval. Miriam Jacobson and Isaac Cohen were born.

Host: That’s why I feel your novel is an important addition to the genre! As you say, traditional Regencies tend to be set among the British upper classes; but at that point in time, it didn’t necessarily mean they were all Anglican. The contributions to society by the Anglo-Ashkenazi and Sephardic communities should not be discounted or ignored. So, I say to you: Well done, indeed! I understand Miss Jacobson’s Journey has two sequels. Does the Jewish theme continue throughout?

Guest: To a lesser extent, yes.  In the second, Lord Roworth’s Reward, Miriam and Jacob are no longer the main characters, having been happily married off to each other. Felix, Lord Roworth, who travelled with them through France, is the hero. The heir to an impoverished peer, he is now working for Nathan Rothschild. Part of the reason I gave him the job is that, while researching the Rothschilds, I came across some wonderful stories about Nathan, the brother who settled in London. I simply couldn’t resist using them, which became possible with Felix as his employee.

Miriam and Jacob do reappear in this book. Mr. Rothschild has sent Felix to Belgium to await the result of the impending battle between Wellington and Napoleon. There he meets a young soldier, Frank Ingram, and his sister Fanny. When Frank is seriously injured in the Battle of Waterloo, Felix helps them get to England and takes them to the Cohens, as Miriam is a healer and the Ingrams have nowhere else to go. In the third of the trilogy, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance, Miriam appears only off-stage.

Host: I will make sure to read them both! I have always been an Anglophile, even as a child, and am inexplicably drawn to the culture. As a native Briton, what intrigued you about this time period?

Guest: Miss Jacobson’s Journey takes place during the Regency because that was the period I was already involved with and, obviously, that was when the initial impetus for my story occurred: the Rothschilds’ coming to the rescue of the British government when their ships carrying the army’s pay were regularly being sunk in the Bay of Biscay by Napoleon’s navy.

It was an interesting time for European Jewry. Many were influenced by the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, moving away from the customs of their forefathers, while others clung to the old ways.  On the Continent, Napoleon was attempting to free Jews from the ghettos (Boney wasn’t all bad). In Britain, they still endured the restrictions shared by Catholics, Quakers, and other dissenters from the Anglican church—they couldn’t attend Oxford or Cambridge universities, nor stand for Parliament, among other disabilities. Yet, like the Quaker founders of Barclay’s Bank, the Jewish Rothschilds were able to start building a highly influential business in Britain as well as on the Continent, and were eventually ennobled. David Ricardo, a Sephardic Jew who married a Quaker, wangled a seat in Parliament and became an important economist and reformer and, fictionally, a friend of Isaac and Miriam Cohen!

Host: I don’t want to give away any more of the storyline and can only encourage others to take up this charming book! Thanks again for joining me today. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest: I’ve enjoyed sharing this time with you. I’d like to include my social media links, Mirta, and an excerpt for your audience.

CarolaDunn.Weebly.com

facebook.com/RegenciesByCarolaDunn

facebook.com/Carola.Dunn.Author

facebook.com/CornishMysteries

facebook.com/DaisyDalrympleMysteries

Amazon/CarolaDunn


Excerpt: Paris, 1811

Lord Felix, a caped greatcoat of drab cloth now concealing his elegance, watched in angry puzzlement as Herr Rothschild showed an impassive Mr. Cohen some papers.

“These are your passports,” he explained in Yiddish.  “You are Swiss admirers of Napoleon, traveling for pleasure to see the country.  You and the Fräulein are brother and sister, and milord is your cousin.”

With a mocking grin, Mr. Cohen glanced at Lord Felix.

“What is it?” demanded his lordship.  “What is the wretched little Yid up to now?”

“According to our passports, you have joined our family.”

“The devil I have!  Do I look like a bloody Jew?”

“Jews come in all shapes and sizes.”  He shrugged.  “You have a different surname–we’ll be Cohens but you’ll be Rauschberg—so perhaps your father was a goy.”

“Rauschberg?  Why not my own name?”

“Roworth is too English by half, unpronounceable in any other tongue.  I trust you are not going to expect to be addressed as ‘my lord’?”  The last words were a sneer.

“As relatives,” Miriam pointed out, “we ought doubtless to address each other by our first names.”

They both turned to glare at her.

 “I can’t see why I must be related at all!” Lord Felix objected furiously.

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with D.B. Schaefer

Hello and Happy new year everyone! I hope you’ve had a chance to read the previous posts featuring authors of Jewish Historical Fiction. Joining us today, I’m pleased to present D.B. Schaefer. The author was born and raised in the American Midwest, but she headed to more exotic locales after university and has flourished there ever since.

Author, D.B. Schaefer

She has worked as a journalist, newspaper editor, and a technical communicator at various stages of her life. Schaefer also wrote many novels in her dreams before completing Me & Georgette, her quirky time-travel homage to famed Regency historical author Georgette Heyer.

This book was an absolute must read for me. The creative narrative brought Regency and Yiddishkeit successfully into a shidduch and married the two worlds beautifully. I couldn’t wait to read the end, not because I was eager to set down the book; but rather, I was dying of curiosity to see how the time-travel issue was dealt with…Jewishly.

Host: Let’s get right to it, shall we? Tell us how this book came about.

Guest: I was first introduced to the Regency romance genre decades ago. I read several Georgette Heyer novels at the time, but it wasn’t what one would call an obsession. Fast forward several years, and I was married and living in Israel. One day while browsing in a used bookshop in downtown Jerusalem, I came across a bin of old books marked a shekel a piece (about 50 cents at the time) and found several Heyers. I purchased them all. They were perfect reading for the time: clean (because I was a nice religious lady by then), fun, and literate. I became an instant Heyer addict, and the search for more Heyer novels was on. I actually found a different used bookstore whose owner traveled to England several times a year to purchase used books. He had a following of Heyer fans and would hide her novels under the counter. “Do you have any books by Georgette Heyer?” I’d ask, and Dani would surreptitiously pull one or two out for me. Soon I also had friends in American searching for Georgette Heyers to complete my collection. One friend sent me a box full of Heyers that included A Civil Contract, which is one of Heyer’s more mature and serious novels.

After I read it, it occurred to me that there were many similarities (aside from Almack’s) between match-making and marriage in Heyer’s novels and in the orthodox Jewish community. My imagination was fired, and I soon came up with the idea of a nice Jewish girl from Boro Park who is “on the shelf” and “past her last prayers,” but whose best friend still hasn’t given up hope of finding her a shidduch. When the friend invites her to the Purim meal to check out a possible match, she falls off a chair, bangs her head and is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in Regency England. Me & Georgette was born.

Host: There seems to be a wide variety of genres these days, what with the advent of fan fiction and indie books. Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, subject?

Guest: History is usually written by the side of the victor or the politically correct. Jewish historical fiction gives a real voice to our history, which has been generally ignored, suppressed, or rewritten by non-Jewish historians and Jewish historians with an agenda. Jewish historical fiction is especially important in light of the younger generation, many of whom do not know where we originate and where our wanderings have taken us over the millennia. Due to their lack of education and anything to Jewish to latch on to, they are in danger of losing their Jewish identity. Historical novels provide an easy entry point into researching more about our history.

Host: Well said! To that point, I think it must be mentioned, at least as a brief aside, Georgette Heyer has been deemed an anti-Semite. In her book, The Grand Sophy, she fashioned a Jewish character to resemble every stereotype imaginable. He was a moneylender, “a thin, swarthy individual, with long greasy curls, a semitic nose, and an ingratiating leer.” The man even sported full, long peyot when, in reality, most Jews of the Regency era did not observe this commandment. Heyer published her book after the atrocities of the Holocaust were well known throughout the world. She deliberately exaggerated caricatures to enforce the idea of Jewish “otherness,” in a time when Regency Jews were striving to acclimate and fit in with their Anglican counterparts. I learned of Heyer’s predilections after reading your novel. I must admit, I felt some satisfaction in thinking that positive, well-rounded Jewish characters had made their way into a Heyer fan fiction. It would be equally satisfying to know her thoughts on the subject!

But, back to your comment regarding our history, do you remember your first Jewish fiction that was non-Holocaust related?

Guest: Two novels stand out for me, both taken from my father’s library. I think one was called A Dangerous Madness or A Type of Madness, although I am not sure of the name and I’ve never been able to track it down. Even many of the details of the plot elude me. But it was about a Jewish sailor who traveled to Elizabethan England to track down the man who betrayed his wife to the Inquisition. The second was a stunning, sweeping historical novel by Brenda Lesley Segal, The Tenth Measure, which is set during the Jewish-Roman war in the Second Temple period.

Host: Even though I grew up a “Pan Am brat,” my father’s airline benefits only afforded us trips back and forth from Los Angeles to Buenos Aires. As an anglophile, one day soon, I hope to make it to England and the Jane Austen circuit. Have you had the opportunity to visit any of the locations you have written about?

Guest: I’m a Kansas girl. I’ve never even been to Boro Park! I have been to London, but not to Gloucestershire, where Me & Georgette takes place.

Host: Curiosity begs me to ask: are you a panster or a plotter? Do you outline your story and know how it will end, or do you go with the flow and allow your characters to lead the way?

Guest: With Me & Georgette, I started as a “panster,” although I knew how the story was going to end (and even what the climax, which is one of my favorite scenes, would be). At some point I realized I needed to develop the plot that would get me to that end point. Somewhere along the line that plot took on a life of its own, and it was great fun getting from A to Z.

Host: That’s the best part, isn’t it—when the plot takes on a life of its own? The characters practically tell you what they want to do or say. Do you have anything in the works now? I enjoyed your book very much and hope there are more to come!

Guest: I have a Regency sequel to Me & Georgette I’ve been writing on and off for the past several years. Because I am employed full time in another profession and have a complicated home life, I don’t have much time or head space to devote to this newer novel. The sequel, which takes place at Ravenscourt (the central location of Me & Georgette), isn’t a Jewish novel, although there are still some Jewish elements to it. But I hope eventually to weave the Jewish characters in and out of the series, possibly through more time-travel in either direction.

Host: Sounds intriguing! I look forward to reading it. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest: Thank you for hosting the interview, Mirta. I wrote Me & Georgette during a difficult year when I needed FUN. And writing it was indeed fun. This year, too, was difficult–perhaps the most difficult in my life. Baruch Hashem (thank G-d) I had my job, my health, my family, and a roof over my head. That is more than many people can say. But for personal reasons I don’t want to go into, it was unbelievably difficult. And so I found myself reading mostly escape literature. Once again, I needed fun. Friends I spoke to told me the same thing. They were unable to read anything heavy and reverted to their comfort reads.

Just like there is a real place for Jewish literature, escapist literature also plays an important role in our lives. We don’t always need to be pompous or heavy, philosophical, or political. We authors who write light literature also have something important contribute: a welcome release in a cataclysmic world. In this new secular year, may we all share in the fruits of the efforts to control, heal, and stop this horrible virus. The vaccines are rolling out, but many additional advances have been made in medicine and science as a result of the pandemic. May we all merit many more years of the opportunity to read Jewish historical literature.

I’ll just leave your audience now with a short excerpt to whet their appetite.

Devorah returned slowly to consciousness. She became aware first of smells: the odor of fresh sweat, followed by the more subtle scents of earth and grass and wildflowers and, perhaps, weeds. Next came a feeling of extreme warmth, as if a ray of heat were pounding down, enveloping her. She was so hot, so very, very hot and thirsty. Then came the excruciating throbbing at the back of her head, as if she had been viciously battered by a sledgehammer. She moaned and tried to open her eyes, only to be blinded by a blaze of sunlight. She shut them again and tried to rest, to ignore the brutal pain in her head and the parchedness of her throat.

“Look, Adam, she’s coming to,” said a disembodied voice with a precise British accent.

“She appears to be slightly disoriented, as if she has a concussion. She must have sustained a blow to the head, though how the deuce—?” an older, more arrogant voice answered in the same, elegant Queen’s English. “Brandy is what’s needed. Do you have any on you?”

“No, but Mother, you know, always keeps a flask in the carriage for just such emergencies as may arise. I see the team rounding the bend now. Shall I signal John Coachman to spring ’em?”

“No need. Just go wait for them and explain what has happened. The lady—if I may call her that—appears to have gone off again. I’ll see whether I can rouse her.”

Devorah made a supreme effort to open her eyes and focus on the figure crouched before her. Dark, piercing eyes set in a harsh, unfamiliar face stared back at her. She took in the strange cut of their owner’s black hair, then her gaze traveled wonderingly down to the white cloth tied at the stranger’s neck, the uptilted points of his exaggerated shirt collar and the antiquated cut of his blue jacket. Involuntarily, her gaze traveled still further down, and she saw with some embarrassment that he was wearing tightly fitted buff breeches fastened with buttons.

“Oh!” she exclaimed, startled, as her eyes flew up quickly to meet the stranger’s own.

“Come, that is better now,” he said in a slightly amused voice. A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth.

Devorah struggled to raise herself, and he reached out to help pull her into a sitting position. “Much better,” he said coaxingly. “How is your head?”

Devorah, still trying to assimilate the stranger’s unusual costume, felt the back of her head at the exact spot where the sledgehammer was battering her and realized with some shock that a lump had sprouted there. “Better, I guess,” she said. But where was she? Who was this man? If only she didn’t feel so confused.

A coach and four came rushing into view and, obeying signals from the younger man, slowed to a halt. This latter person, too, was clothed in knee breeches and boots and an antiquated coat, and when he turned toward his companion, Devorah saw that he sported a similar neck cloth and shirt points. Where had she seen that dress style before? It was strange, but—at the same time—familiar. It looked like something out of Regency England, she realized, the thought coming to her out of nowhere.

“Oh, no!” she cried out, falling backward. She knew, then, what had come of reading too many Georgette Heyer novels.

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Caroline Warfield

A few weeks ago, as you know, I decided to launch this blog. As an indie author it is imperative to market and promote your work and to remain in the public eye. But maintaining a blog is time-consuming and takes a toll on the limited brain cells (and creative juices) I have left remaining after a 10-hour workday. Just writing about my books wasn’t going to cut it; and to be honest, the blog would certainly not keep anyone’s attention for long. By inviting other authors to share their work, I hope to shed light on this genre of Jewish Historical Fiction. Its diversity and educational significance, as well as its entertainment value is sure to please. Having said that, I couldn’t be happier to present today’s guest.

Caroline Warfield, author

Caroline Warfield is an award-winning author of family-centered romance set in the Regency and Victorian eras. She has been many things, but above all she is a romantic. She began life as an army brat who developed a wide view of life and a love for travel. Now settled in the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act.

When she isn’t off seeking adventures with her Beloved or her grandson down the block, Caroline works happily in an office surrounded by windows where she lets her characters lead her to even more adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart, because love is worth the risk.

Host: Caroline, you will forgive me, but I’m a little star struck. I’ve read your work and appreciate your standing in the Regency world. It goes without saying, I pretty much loved everything about your book, An Open Heart. There was a certain lightness to it, similar to any other Regency romance, but there was no denying the substantive material in the narrative. I was bursting with pride when the storyline touched upon the contributions and achievements of Anglo-Jews, but I believe my favorite scene had to be the impromptu Shabbat service held in the Duchess of Haverford’s drawing room. What motivated you to write this book?

Guest: I belong to The Bluestocking Belles, an authors’ support group and marketing co-op. We do an anthology or a “boxed set” every  year, often with loosely connected stories. The year I wrote this we had a house party theme. The Duchess of Haverford invited young women who worked with her on charity projects to sponsor a holiday ball for charity. We all added characters to her committee. Jewish characters popped into my head that year; stories sometimes happen that way. Esther, a wealthy, but not aristocratic, young lady was part of the planning committee from the beginning. An Open Heart is a standalone book, but there are minor characters who appear in the other stories, and Esther and Adam appear in some of the others. The collection as a whole was called Holly and Hopeful Hearts.

As an aside, we’re a multi-faith family. While Beloved and I are Catholic, we often celebrate with our daughter and her family who are Jewish. Our grandson celebrated his bar mitzvah last year.

Host: Mazal tov to the Bar Mitzvah and to the whole meshpucha! I love the name, “Bluestocking Belles.” Sounds like my kind of group. But my goodness! A boxed set every year? Tell us, why do you think we are so fascinated with this particular time period?

Guest: The Regency era is a mythical Romantic era. I say that because of the sheer volume of stories classified as “regency.” They don’t always necessarily reflect history. I like to hope mine do.

Host: I, for one, can attest to the historical content of your work. In fact, I am striving to achieve that educational and enlightening component myself! Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone, genre in my view. What are your thoughts?

Guest: Good question! I’m not entirely sure I’m qualified to answer that. Insofar as it contributes to the body of truth about history—emphatically yes. My own concern is that the historical romance genre in general realistically portray the diversity of previous eras. Realism matters, and, frankly, all that white bread story telling gets boring.

Host: Since we are speaking of weaving accurate historical events into our storylines, tell us about your research. Were you surprised by your findings?

Guest: I was struck by the efforts of the Jewish community of London to make certain their sons had access to high quality education. They were less concerned about educating their daughters, a blind spot they shared with the rest of England, one my heroine complains about vociferously. Women’s education has always been a passion with me. Several of my books touch on it.

Host: Ah—I think I may know the answer to my next question. Which of your characters resonate with you most?

Guest: Actually, Adam does. His struggle to maintain his identity, his faith, and his attachment to tradition while working in the larger culture was something I relate to strongly. My daughter once told her rabbi that her mother can’t have too much tradition, and she was right. We best appreciate the traditions of others when we cherish our own. The richness of sharing is dear to me.

Host: I would have thought you’d choose Esther; but having read your response, I can clearly see why you went with Adam. To be honest, either character would have been a great pick! Here’s another question along those same lines. Do you have a favorite scene in the book?

Guest:  I love the scene in which Adam arrives at the home of his former teacher, Rebbe Benyamin Nahmany, “the finest Talmudic scholar in Europe,” who lives in a house nestled on the French side of the Pyrenees with his large family. Adam and an English officer are on a mission to bring funds to Wellington and the family is helping them. He realizes with surprise that he has forgotten Chanukah (which after all was a minor feast) when he sees the mother lighting five candles. He enjoys the warmth of the family’s celebration, and I love that he gets his comeuppance by the scholarly learning of one of the daughters. Afterward he is forced to rethink many of his assumptions.

Host: Yes! That was a great turning point in the story and your research served you well. Tell us, are you working on something now?

Guest: I’ve reached the point of projects accumulating in my mind faster than I can write them. I’m working on two new series at the same time.  One is set in a small village in England and centers on two interrelated families. It has less of that diversity I value, but a lot of strong family ties, which are also important to me. The first book The Wayward Son will be launched in July.

At the same time, I’ve been working on a new series that continues my Children of Empire series. The hero is an English archaeologist working in Egypt and Nubia.  The heroine is a French woman who is also a hakima, a medical professional trained to treat women, more of a nurse practitioner than a midwife. It is heavy on history and has a very diverse cast of characters, including Muslim colleagues of the main characters. That will be published by a different publisher, also in July. It is called The Price of Glory.

Host: I’m in awe, Caroline. I can’t imagine undertaking two projects at once. I currently have a Work-in-Progress that started off with a bang, but now is competing with everyday life and a million other distractions and commitments. Which brings me to my closing point. I appreciate your time and thank you once again for your participation today. I’m delighted you’re sharing an excerpt and your social media links with the audience.  

Guest: Thank you for inviting me, Mirta.  A last note: I will happily send an eBook copy of An Open Heart to one person (randomly selected) who comments.


An excerpt from An Open Heart:

“—I don’t understand how your father could send you to that school. Your parents are entirely too secular in their outlook. The Talmud suggests—”

“I wouldn’t know what your precious books suggest. I’m excluded from that kind of learning.” There. She had given voice to her greatest resentment. Let him make what he would out of that.

“Your Mother—”

“Leave my mother out of this. My mother taught me what I need to know about Shabbat and the holy days. And who are you to criticize?”

Adam colored, red blotches staining his cheeks. “Of course, I have no right. I had hoped before I left—”

Esther felt light-headed for a moment. Had he spoken to Papa? Breath rushed back into her lungs, but she raised her chin. “What is it you hoped, Mr. Halevy?”

Adam’s eyes softened, and Ether found herself leaning slightly toward him. A moment later, he stiffened and took a step back.

“My wife will respect our traditions and keep a traditional home,” he announced.

“I wish you luck finding such a paragon, Mr. Halevy,” Esther responded, pulling herself up as tall as she could. “My home will respect tradition and the people we meet.” When he simply glared at her outburst, she went on, “And my daughters will know as much about our faith as you do!”

 “Good luck to you in that endeavor, Miss Bauman,” he said with a jerky nod. He tapped his hat on his head with more force than needed.

When he stepped out the door, Esther couldn’t control the urge to dart out after him. “Adam—Mr. Halevy—wait!”

His frown looked more puzzled than angry when he turned to her.

“Where you’re going—it will be dangerous.” Her lack of breath made the words sound uneven.

Adam nodded.

“I—” The expression on his face stopped her before she could continue. “I’ll pray for you,” she finished at last, “and the success of your journey, of course.”

A sad smile transformed his face. “I would be grateful for your prayers, Miss Baumann.”

Website http://www.carolinewarfield.com/

Amazon Author http://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Warfield/e/B00N9PZZZS/

Good Reads http://bit.ly/1C5blTm

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/WarfieldFellowTravelers

Twitter https://twitter.com/CaroWarfield

Email warfieldcaro@gmail.com

Newsletter:   http://www.carolinewarfield.com/newsletter/

BookBub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/caroline-warfield

You Tube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCycyfKdNnZlueqo8MlgWyWQ

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Libi Astaire

I’m delighted to welcome today’s guest. Libi Astaire is the author of the award-winning Jewish Regency Mystery series; Terra Incognita, a novel about modern-day descendants of Spain’s secret Jews; and The Banished Heart, a novel about Shakespeare, secret Jews, and 1930s Berlin. She lives in Jerusalem, Israel.

Libi Astaire, author

As an avid fan of all things Austen and being hot-wired for Jewish historical fiction, I was thrilled to discover Libi’s collection of Jewish mystery novels. The Banished Heart most certainly does not take place in London’s Regency period; my heart was not all aflutter for a Mr. Darcy or a Captain Wentworth, but there is a certain Austenesque quality to Astaire’s story about Herr Hoffmann that set my heart pounding. Austen was known for her shrewd observances of communal mores. The biting social commentary within Astaire’s The Banished Heart cannot be denied. Without further ado, let’s get on with today’s author’s interview.

Host: Libi, I’m excited to hear about your new release. Please tell us all about it.

Guest: The Wreck of Two Brothers, the sixth novel in my Jewish Regency Mystery series, is about two young men who share the same name, Judah Herzveld, but different fates. One is a member of London’s Jewish community, the other is a visiting non-Jewish Dutch diplomat. When the diplomat is found murdered in London’s Great Synagogue, suspicion naturally falls upon his English namesake. But is there really some long-buried connection between the two men that has led to the fatal encounter? Or is the shared name just an unfortunate coincidence that threatens to destroy the life and happiness of an innocent man? As usual, my detective, Mr. Ezra Melamed, has only a few clues to help him unravel the tangle of lies and deceptions behind the mystery of who killed the young diplomat.   

Host: Number Six? Kol Hakavod! I’ve enjoyed following Mr. Melamed throughout your previous novels. What draws you to this particular time period?

Guest: When people think of the Regency, which lasted from about 1790 until 1820, they usually think of the novels of Jane Austen. Even though Austen’s novels are wonderful, there was much more going on than young people getting married! For instance, the Industrial Revolution was beginning to make changes in everyday life, including the creation of an increasingly prosperous middle class, while the Napoleonic Wars were very much on people’s minds. So, the Regency was a time of change and social instability, in many ways, which creates lots of possibilities for mystery and intrigue.

I was also intrigued by the Ashkenazic community living in England at this time. While many people are aware there was a Sephardic community, most don’t know there was a sizeable Ashkenazic community too. So, I’ve really enjoyed researching this community and sharing this information with my readers.  

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: I used to write about Jewish history for several publications, and I was often asked to write about the Holocaust, which is of course very sad and moving; but it’s hard to stay in that dark place for long stretches of time. I therefore looked upon my mystery series as a kind of escape. Yes, it’s Jewish history. But it’s fun! Of course, there was plenty of poverty—the vast majority of the Ashkenazic community in London was extremely poor. And there was anti-Semitism, as well as discriminatory legislation. All that is in my series. But I’ve also tried to capture the positive energy and optimism of an immigrant community on the move—hopefully upward, although some of my characters do stumble. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a mystery for my detective to solve.      

Host:  That is exactly what attracts me to your work and storylines. Your characters are nuanced and diverse. Do you have a favorite among them?  

Guest: I started writing the series a decade ago, and there are about a dozen characters who have recurring roles in the stories—sometimes playing a major role and sometimes appearing in just a scene or two.  It’s a little community, and I love spending time with all of them. Having said that, I do have a special place in my heart for my two narrators, who take turns narrating the stories—Miss Rebecca Lyon, a Regency miss who aspires to being an author, and General Well’ngone, a young Jewish pickpocket who aspires to eating a good meal by a warm fire.

Host: Have you visited any of the locations you have written about?

Guest: I’m a big believer in visiting locations you write about, and I’ve been to England several times, including a year I spent studying theatre in London. Unfortunately, many of the Jewish locations I write about no longer exist or they look very different today. For instance, the Great Synagogue was destroyed during the Blitz of World War II. Fortunately, there is an abundance of visual history from the period—maps, aquatint prints, etc.—and so I’ve been able to reconstruct some of my locations from these images.      

Host: As I’m relatively new to the craft of writing novels, I am curious to know your process for putting “pen to paper.” 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 definitely a “pantser.” I do write a brief synopsis before I begin writing—and have a good laugh when I read it over after the book is finished. The kernel of the story is there, but the personality of the new characters is usually different from what I originally imagined. And then there are the characters who appear out of nowhere and end up playing an important role. I think if I knew “whodunnit” from the get-go, I’d never write the book. Part of the fun of writing the series is that I’m often surprised by what happens.

Host: Are you working on something now? What was your motivation for this new project?

Guest: I’m about to begin work on two holiday-themed novellas for a new collection of short mystery stories. I like the challenge of the novella—writing a satisfying story in less than 40,000 words—and I like the challenge of including information about the Jewish holidays without sounding too preachy. I hope to have the collection on sale around Purim.  

Host: I wish you the best of luck with your projects and applaud your dedication and creativity. I’m excited to read the excerpt you’re sharing today! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest: Thanks so much for inviting me, Mirta! Please see the links below:

Websitehttp://libiastaire.weebly.com

You can get introduced to the Jewish Regency Mystery series for free with the first volume in the series, Tempest in the Tea Room



Excerpt from Chapter Four of The Wreck of Two Brothers:

“I AM NOT AGAINST PROGRESS,” said Mrs. Lyon, “but I do think some young women today are much too forward. I should hope none of my daughters would rush to view a dead person’s body.”

Mrs. Lyon cast a stern glance in the direction of her daughter Rebecca, who had been gazing intently at the sketch of the Dutchman’s face. It was not because Rebecca thought she knew him, but because, being something of an artist herself — as the collection of painted dishes in the breakfront in her family’s drawing room testified — she wondered how the Bow Street Runner had achieved so much with so few strokes.

Mr. Melamed had returned to his home on Bury Street, bringing with him a copy of the sketch the Bow Street Runner had made earlier. This sketch he was now showing to those still gathered in his drawing room: Mr. and Mrs. Lyon and their daughter Rebecca, Mr. and Mrs. Baer, and Daniel and Mordechai Deerfield. Esther Deerfield was upstairs in the nursery, where her son and the younger Lyon children were having a light supper.

While the servants had cleared away most of the remains from the party, the drawing room, which was usually kept in immaculate order, was still in a state of casual disarray. Those who had remained were also making themselves more at ease than a visit in that drawing room usually permitted. For while their degree of intimacy with Mr. Melamed differed, the tragedy had created a connection between them more quickly than a purely social engagement could have done. Thus, a stranger looking upon the scene could have been forgiven for thinking he was observing an extended family at rest on a long Sunday afternoon at home instead of a gathering discussing a murder.

“If you had been blessed with more sons, Mrs. Lyon, you might be more charitable,” said Daniel Deerfield, politely coming to the defense of his absent sibling. “If Eva seems unusually bold for her sex, I am afraid it is because Mordechai and I treated her more like another brother than a sister.”

Mordechai Deerfield, who had already consumed several small fish sandwiches and had now drifted back to the buffet table to see what else there was to eat, commented, “Yes, the fault, if any, is entirely ours. But in one respect I do agree, ma’am, her behavior today was odd. Eva never struck me as the fainting kind.”

“I doubt she has had a wide experience with viewing human corpses,” said Daniel.

“And I hope she does not intend to remedy her lack of experience,” said Mrs. Baer, who had assumed the duties of hostess and was busy with pouring out more tea. “I cannot think why she insisted on going to the synagogue before going home.”

“She said she had misplaced some notes she had written during the previous committee meeting, which she needed to help her prepare for the meeting tomorrow,” said Mr. Melamed, who was looking fatigued from the long day. “She thought someone might have found them and placed them in the cupboard in the upstairs room.”

“Were they there?” asked Mr. Baer.

Mr. Asher Baer and his wife were the owners of a kosher coffee house on Sweeting’s Alley. Like his wife, he possessed an abundant supply of plain common sense. That, along with his ability to think through a knotty problem with clarity, had made him a welcome confident when Mr. Melamed was confronted with some puzzling crime affecting the Jewish community.

“No, they were not,” replied Mr. Melamed. “Thankfully, the Runner accepted her explanation and allowed the Deerfields to go home.”

“I am sure that is all very well,” Mrs. Baer commented. Then, turning to Daniel and Mordechai Deerfield, she said, “But you, gentlemen, are her brothers, and you might drop a word in Miss Deerfield’s ear that now she is engaged she should be more worried about finding ways to please her fiancé than finding committee meeting notes.”

“Herzveld surely knows what he is in for,” said Daniel Deerfield. “He practically grew up in our home. By the way, sir,” he said to Mr. Melamed, “you did not mention the murdered man’s name. Is the information being kept secret, or have they not yet identified the body?”

Mr. Melamed had been expecting the question. In fact, he was mildly surprised no one had asked it earlier, while they were passing around the sketch of the Dutchman’s face. It could be explained, he supposed, because the murdered man was not a member of their community, and so no one in the room expected to know him. Therefore, the man’s name was just one detail among many — and not one of the more interesting ones. As for why he had not mentioned it, on that point Mr. Melamed was clearer. First, he wanted to know if anyone had seen the young Dutchman — where, at what time, and with whom — and for that the sketch was enough. Mention of the name would only lead to useless speculations, after a suitable period of stunned silence.

But because his son-in-law had voiced the question, Mr. Melamed replied, “It is no secret. He carried a card-case. And he was identified by an acquaintance, a Mr. Hendriks, who is a member of the delegation from Holland. His name was Judah Herzveld, and he was also part of the Dutch delegation.”

As he expected, his announcement was greeted with astonishment — looks which ranged from slightly puzzled to outright, open-eyed amazement.

“There are probably dozens of Judah Herzvelds in Holland,” said Mr. Lyon, the first to recover and break the uncomfortable silence.

“Still, it is a strange coincidence,” said Daniel Deerfield.

“It is positively ghoulish,” said his younger brother. “Almost like a ghost rising from his grave to—”

Miss Lyon gave a little gasp. For an admirer of the Gothic novel, which she was, this surprising turn of events was thrilling — almost like one of Mrs. Ann Radcliffe’s stories come to life! She could almost hear the iron chains, which had surely been wrapped around the poor ghost’s legs, clanging in the hallway when —

“Stuff and nonsense,” said Mrs. Baer. “If it had been a ghost, it would not have allowed itself to be killed.”

“I stand corrected, ma’am,” said Mordechai Deerfield, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “What would a ghost have done?”

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with L. Bordetsky-Williams

As a “newbie” in the blog world and an independent author, I was excited when L. Bordetsky-Williams contacted me for the purpose of marketing her new book; but I have to admit, I vacillated before going forward. Why? In all honesty, it was because the scope of the author’s work differs greatly with the theme of my site. While the premise for my blog is Jewish Historical Fiction, this novel cannot be considered light reading and it certainly is not Austenesque. I therefore need to alert sensitive readers to the darker subjects discussed in the interview. Now that I’ve done my due diligence, allow me to introduce today’s guest!

L. Bordetsky-Williams is the author of the newly released historical novel, Forget Russia (Tailwinds Press), the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf (Hamilton Books, 2005, http://www.letterstovirginiawoolf.com); The Artist as Outside in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf (Greenwood Press, 2000); and three poetry chapbooks:  The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press 2014), Sky Studies (Finishing Line Press 2014), and In the Early Morning Calling (Finishing Line Press, 2018). She is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.

L. Bordetsky-Williams, author

Host:  It’s an honor to host such a prolific author and educator. The world of Jewish fiction encompasses a diverse field of narratives. Please tell us all about your current release. 

Guest: Forget Russia tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews, journeying back and forth from America to Russia, during the twentieth century, as they search for a home.  From before the 1917 Revolution to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, this is a tale of unlikely heroes and the loss of innocence.  It is a story of love, murder, revolution, and betrayal. The novel is set to be published by Tailwinds Press on December 1, 2020.

Host: My own ancestors were fortunate to escape Imperial Russia prior to the revolution. What was your motivation in writing about this time period?

Guest: I wanted to understand the lives of my ancestors and how their lives intersected and influenced my own.  My great-grandmother was raped and murdered in a pogrom in a small Ukrainian shtetl by Cossacks shortly after the Civil War between the Red and White armies ended.  When the Red army finally was able to take over the Ukraine from the White and Ukrainian Nationalists, the retreating and defeated armies went into the Jewish shtetls and killed many Jews, who they equated with the Bolsheviks.  I wanted to understand how this initial trauma affected the subsequent generations of women in the family.  My grandmother came to America in 1921 after losing her mother in such a tragic and violent way.  She settled in Roxbury, where her father, who had deserted the family years ago now lived with a new wife and children.  It is not surprising that shortly after arriving, at the age of seventeen, she married a man approximately eighteen years her senior. 

Then, in 1931, she and my grandfather actually returned to the Soviet Union with my mother and aunt, ages five and three.  My grandfather, a carpenter, had come to America before the Revolution and had radicalized here.  Life became incredibly difficult here during the Depression. It had always been a dream of his to return to the Soviet Union, the land of his birth, and build the revolution.  While much has been written about Jewish Eastern European immigrants coming to this country, the experience of those American Russian Jews who returned to the Soviet Union to build the revolution in the early 30’s has been relatively unexamined.

Host: That certainly holds true for me. I have not read much about Russian Jews returning after the revolution. My paternal grandfather, zeide Manuel, always insisted the family supported the White Russians. My understanding was there had been hope for a democratic monarchy prior to the Bolshevik uprising. Childhood memories can only recall my grandparents’ gratitude for having been able to immigrate. Have you had the opportunity to visit the area yourself? 

Guest: Yes, I was a Russian language student in Moscow in 1980 at the Pushkin Institute.  When I was there, I had the opportunity to meet the Soviet Jewish grandchildren of the Bolsheviks.  Many of their ancestors had been imprisoned, killed, or exiled to labor camps by Stalin.  It was heartbreaking to see how their ancestors’ dreams for a better, more equal society had been betrayed during Stalin’s purges.  I also, for the first time, saw first-hand, how anti-Semitic Soviet society was.  On Rosh Hashanah Eve, we went to the only functioning synagogue in Moscow, and a car dashed across the cobble-stoned streets in an effort to intimidate and frighten the Jews gathered there.

My trip as a student to the Soviet Union truly changed my life.  I spent three and a half months there, and from the moment I returned, I struggled to find the right form to express the ways that journey changed me.  Finally, I realized the novel form would give me the freedom to intertwine the three generations’ stories.  I also wanted to weave in a love story with an epic, historical setting, so the novel was the best form for that as well.

Host: Did any particular character resonate more than others in your novel? 

Guest: My character Iosif, a young Soviet Jew, who has a photograph of Leo Tolstoy hanging in his room.  He is a true intellectual within a distinctly Russian and Soviet context.  While he hates the absence of freedoms in his own country, he sees America as a sick and decadent place and imagines Americans only talk about business. For him, America is soul-less in its materialism, and yet the Soviet Union is as he calls it a nightmare where nothing works, and everyone worries that life will get even worse after Brezhnev dies.

Host: Iosif sounds like a troubled soul, grieving for his country and mourning for humanity. As the granddaughter of Russian Jews, and a second-generation Argentine, I recently commemorated Thanksgiving Day by acknowledging my gratitude for living in the United States of America. Such a day gives one pause to reflect on the meaning of the words: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Had my ancestors remained in Russia, they would have had to suffer through the revolution and the tumultuous period thereafter. If they survived Lenin and the Bolsheviks, they would have faced the Nazis. The horror is unimaginable. And so, I gave thanks that my ancestors fled their homeland and that my parents had the wherewithal to leave behind the corruption— and destruction— of Peron’s Argentina. The courage that our ancestors demonstrated in their pursuit to survive is astounding. But I seem to have taken over your interview. Before I go off on a tangent again, let me take this opportunity to thank you for sharing your story with us. 

I understand you have an excerpt from Forget Russia. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest: Thank you, Mirta. Here are the links to my social media and website:

Forget Russia website: https://www.forgetrussia.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BordetskyL

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/forgetrussia/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/ForgetRussia

Forget Russia Book trailer:


It was only five hours from Heathrow to Sheremetyevo. We flew through more than time zones. Outside the clouds obscured the sunrise. It seemed we were descending into a new realm, perhaps to seek advice on how to reach our destination. But before I knew it, the plane started to arrive, to dip down until I saw the trees through the small window—Russian trees, thickets of pine. The plane bumped down noisily onto the runway.

The doors opened and I stepped out of the plane into a dim, flickering passageway. I moved into a gray darkness. Military men in brown uniforms were everywhere in the Sheremetyevo airport, their rifles slung across their chests. The American students nodded wordlessly or else walked very close together, speaking in half-whispers.

The first stop was a glass partition where another man in brown sat and asked for my visa. He looked first at the picture stapled to the document and then at me, his eyes inspecting every aspect of my visa; he stared at my face and then the visa photograph over and over again. Just when I was expecting the military men to escort me somewhere, he nodded and returned the visa to me, so I could proceed with my suitcase to customs. I looked backward and saw the American students standing in a line, one by one, as they approached the glass divider, our first greeting in the Soviet Union.

In the USA, the group leaders had said: The Soviets may search your bags. Don’t bring in a Bible. Don’t bring in Time magazine. Don’t write addresses of Russian friends in a book that is easily read. The customs official only opened one of my two suitcases and looked quickly inside before closing it up. But one student, Barry Moskowitz, had all his clothes dumped in a heap for him to refold and squash back inside. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I wanted to help Barry repack, but we were kept moving in a line. No one dared speak above a whisper.

The driver of the yellow school bus waited for the American students outside the airport. Two by two we entered. It should be morning, my body told me, but I entered evening and when the bus began to move all I could see was highway and cement pavement.

I had come back to the land where my great-grandmother died, thrown off a boat into the Guilopyat River.  Her spirit, it seemed, was in the cracks of cement, in the wide streets and lights rising in the evening, in the thin branches of trees visible before we entered the highway. I wanted somehow to find her.

Darkness was falling on the outskirts of Moscow. I peered across the highway into the center of the city, where Cyrillic letters glittered across the tops of buildings, Power to the Revolution. As the bus ambled along, I saw a poster of a man in a dark suit, a torch raised high in his hand, a red hammer and a sickle behind him and the words, XXVI Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union above his arm. Then another one of Brezhnev—his slicked-back hair emphasized his widow’s peak, his wide face, and glasses; the circular hammer and sickle with a star hung above him and printed below, Following Lenin’s Course. There were no advertisements anywhere, no rugged Marlboro man, no Let Your Fingers Do the Talking, no Light My Lady Cigarette, no Coca-Cola Pepsi feuds or Minute Rice. I was relieved to get a break from all the flashy slogans everywhere in the USA, and yet the city looked so stark and austere without them.

I glanced up at the Hotel Rossiya, a rectangular building; its name lit up in all that darkness.

Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Sherry V Ostroff

Sherry V. Ostroff, author

I have invited Sherry V. Ostroff, author of The Lucky One, a memoir, and award-winning Caledonia, a historical novel, for today’s interview. Sherry earned a Bachelor’s in education from Temple University and a Master’s in history from Millersville University. She taught all levels: elementary, secondary and college. Sherry devotes her time to writing, family, reading, and traveling. She lives with her high school sweetheart in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

I have had the pleasure of reading Caledonia. I was drawn to the storyline as it encompasses the history of Iberian Jews settling in, of all places, Scotland. The added intrigue of a modern-day woman, sort of floundering in her world of loss and mystery, connecting with her 17th century Jewish ancestor reeled me in. Throw in a couple of Highlanders and I was hooked! Let’s get started, shall we?

Host: Sherry, tell us what you’re working on these days.

Guest: My upcoming release is called Mannahatta. It is the sequel to my first historical novel, Caledonia. I expect the sequel to be out in the spring of 2021. Caledonia and Mannahatta are twin inter-generational stories covering two different time periods: 1696-1712 and 2205-2008. Both stories are in Scotland, Central America, and New York City.

Host: I am drawn to non-Holocaust, Jewish Historical Fiction. What motivated you to write about this specific time period?

Guest: This all started when I was drawn to an obscure historical event when the Kingdom of Scotland wanted to create a colony in the New World, in what is today, present day Panama. When I asked history teachers, history enthusiasts, and the Scots I’ve met on my many trips to Scotland, almost no one was aware of this remarkable event. I decided it was time for the world to learn about it.

Host: Why do you think Jewish Historical Fiction is an important, stand-alone genre?

Guest: Someone a lot smarter than me once said, if you follow the course of antisemitism, you, you will understand world history.

Host: Sherry, your books deal with heavy subject matters. I am curious. While doing your research, were you particularly moved by anything you discovered? Did anything come as a surprise?

Guest: It is important to me, as a historian, to keep the facts. I know this is historical fiction, but my writing weighs heavily on the history side of the genre. Thankfully, in my research, I always come across interesting bits of information. For example, on a trip to the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth, England, I learned that Admiral Nelson had a fear of dying at sea and his body tossed overboard. Therefore, he always had a barrel of rum set aside for such an event. When he died during the Battle at Trafalgar, he was preserved in the rum until the ship returned to England three months later.

This anecdote was brought to life in Caledonia by Cook Innes. This has happened many times while writing Caledonia and Mannahatta. My readers love these stories.

Host: Have you ever visited the locations you feature in your stories? 

Guest: For Caledonia, I have visited almost every place mentioned in the book and that includes most of Scotland. For Mannahatta, I have also been to lower Manhattan and have gone on tours which describe what the area was like in its early days. Since half of the book takes place at the end of the 17th and early 18th century, I try to visit places, like living history museums and historical societies that will help me understand the time. The only setting I couldn’t visit was Darien National Park in Panama. There are State Department warnings and restrictions because it is one of the most dangerous areas in the world. Therefore, I rely on the writing of others, those more adventuresome than me, and Google Earth is helpful.

Host: Which of your characters resonate with you most? 

Guest: The characters in my book are like my children. It is hard to say that I favor one over another. It’s interesting when a reader contacts me and tell me how much they hate arch-villain Nathan. I just smile because he’s also my creation, and I’m fond of him.
Some characters are fun to write. The one that fits that description is Cook Davey Innes. He befriends the main character, Anna, on a ship set for the New World. I didn’t mean for him to stick around. He was meant to bring some levity to the awful conditions on board, but his character kept growing and revealing more and more layers; a gift that kept on giving. And so, he makes a return engagement in the sequel, Mannahatta.

Host: Do you have a favorite scene or event in the book? Don’t give anything away!

Guest: In Caledonia, the scene that brought me to tears was the final chapter. It tied everything together: a man of integrity, a proposal, and a death bed. But one of my favorite scenes was the removal of the botfly that had infected one of the colonists in Caledonia. It was a gruesome description, but wonderful to write.

In Mannahatta, there are so many scenes. But I guess my favorites are two. Early in the book, the discovery of a 300-year-old artifact that was believed to be lost and held so much meaning in the book. Another favorite is at the end of the book, when the mysteries that started in Caledonia all come together in a very satisfying ending.

Host: Are you already onto the next project? Are you able to share what you’re working on and when we can expect to see it in print?

Guest: I have started the research for another project. Presently, I’m in the “read for enjoyment” phase. I can only say that my next book will be an historical novel. Again, it is something that not many know about.

Host: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest: I am available to meet with book groups and I offer 3 different book talks. They are not the usual kind of talks where the author reads an excerpt. These are discussions on the art of writing. One is called, “Fanning the Spark, The Creative Process.” This is about how an author gets an idea for a story and where they take it from until it is a book on a shelf. Another talk, my newest, is “The History Behind the Historical Novel.” In this talk I trace where the historical novel genre came from.

Host: I understand you are offering one signed book and one eBook (Kindle) each of Caledonia and The Lucky One. Readers, your comment, in the field below, is your entry in the giveaway. I will announce the winners next week, so stay tuned! Sherry is leaving us with an excerpt. Enjoy!




It was time. All my dad’s affairs were taken care of except for one last thing, a safe deposit box at a large bank in lower Manhattan. I put off emptying the contents because it was the final act of a tragic play with no encores. I feared if I wrapped up this last bit of business, I had accepted his death.

That’s how I found myself in a dank subterranean vault. I gathered up the contents of the box, balanced them in my hands, and walked out of the small room made available for the customer’s privacy. Wiping away a tear and sniffling quietly into a tissue, I handed back the nondescript key to the gray-haired bank clerk.

She eyed me sympathetically over her half-rimmed glasses attached to a chain around her neck, as I fumbled my possessions. “Miss Duncan,” she said, “maybe this will help.” She held out a plastic grocery bag. I guess she’d seen many come unprepared.

“Thank you,” I mumbled through my tears hoping she heard me.

I just wanted out of there. I ran up the steps and exited into the blinding sunshine, flipped on my sunglasses, and worked my way to mid-town and Penn Station.

My grandparents let me know beforehand what the box contained. There were no surprises, nothing of consequence: three $100 EE United States savings bonds, a copy of a title for a car sold years ago, a Boy Scout badge, a locket with my baby picture and a few strands of hair, and an envelope.

I held the plastic bag close and boarded the train that plied the northeast corridor of the New Jersey Transit. It would take over an hour and sixteen stops to reach the end of the line in Trenton. The train was full of people returning home after a day of working, shopping, or sight-seeing. A short elderly woman, who reminded me of my grandmother, sat next to me.
She smiled and complained at the same time, “My feet. These shoes are killing me.” She kicked them off and leaned back in her seat.

I nodded. I wasn’t in the mood for talking. Not today. Unfortunately, older people talk to almost anyone. The woman tried once more. “Hi, I’m Rose. Wasn’t today beautiful? If I had comfortable shoes, I would’ve done more shopping.”

I didn’t want to be rude, but all I could manage was a weak, “Hanna. Yes, today was nice.” What I wanted was to be left alone, lost in my thoughts remembering my dad and another perfect summer day that seemed to mock a national tragedy. On that day there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky to block out the sun or diminish the sky’s brilliant blue. For me, it was the coldest and dreariest day of my life. The day my dad was murdered.

The woman gave up, pulled out a book from her bag, and began to read. After a few minutes the train jerked forward. I settled in for the long ride home and tried to make myself comfortable even though there was never enough room for my long legs. Late arrivals scurried from car to car hoping to find a seat, only to be grateful to lean against a wall or a door. Some passengers were immersed in their phones or newspapers. Others stared blankly out the window. But the car filled with chatter as passengers discussed the latest gossip or the events of their day.

As the train lumbered toward its first stop in Secaucus, I clipped back my unruly hair, leaned my head against the cool glass, and gazed at the New York skyline. I would never get used to the missing twin towers. Their absence was like a gaping hole in a mouth full of teeth. No matter how you tried to cover it up, the smile was never the same.

A conductor collecting fares interrupted my thoughts. The snapping sound of his punch announced him, and quickly he was gone. The train continued southward to Newark, Elizabeth, and Linden while my thoughts returned to New York.

For twenty years my dad had worked at the World Trade Center as a senior accountant for one of the top firms on the east coast. He was well-liked and respected; he loved his job. He looked forward to going to work. Whether I was awake or not, his morning routine included a kiss on my forehead, a readjustment of my blanket, and a whispered, “Good morning, Sunshine,” before he slipped quietly from the house. He always arrived at his desk before anyone else, with a box of glazed doughnuts and fresh coffee to share with the overnight cleaning crew finishing their shift. His routine ended on September 11, 2001.

No one saw it coming, totally out of the blue, like the sky that morning. Everyone was in a state of shock. For me, it was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life. Although four years have gone by, I’ve still not accepted it. The gut-wrenching part — my dad wasn’t even supposed to go to work that day.

As the train arrived in Princeton, a taped voice on the train’s intercom continually reminded departing passengers, mostly college students, to “watch the gap.” They jostled their way to the exits and quickly disembarked. The elderly lady, my co-traveler, left without a word taking her lemon scent with her. After the first few stops the crowd thinned, and I had the luxury of the entire row to myself.

The next stations were Hamilton, then Trenton. From there it was only a half-hour on the Trenton Line to Philadelphia. If I had a few minutes to spare, I’d call my grandparents. They were anxious about my trip to New York.

Dad’s parents were my only remaining family. My mother’s parents died before I was born, and I lost my mother when I was very young. My grandparents became my guardians for a few months after my father was killed. They were good to me but were a bit overwhelmed with the shock of losing their only son and assuming a parental role once again. I vowed that as soon as college was completed, I would go out on my own but live nearby, so we could visit often.

I exited the train, mindful of the gap, and tucked the plastic bag under my arm. Fortunately, the Philadelphia train was waiting at the platform. I entered, quickly grabbed a seat, and continued to think how different my life would be today if events had been altered.

Dad had helped me move in the weekend before the start of classes. By the time we were halfway down I-95, I realized I forgot my new cell phone. He offered to return in two days with the errant phone. It was a great opportunity to spend the day together before I got too busy with classes, papers, and friends. He checked his schedule to confirm the day.

“Hanna, Tuesday works for me. My new assistant, Carly, can manage the workload. I want to give her some space without always being there to get her out of a jam. She’s got to learn and gain confidence.”

“Great. Let’s go where you and Mom used to hang out when you went to school here. Show me some of the highlights of downtown Philly and the best place to eat in Chinatown.”

“Yeah, sure. I’d like that, Hanna. It will be our day, just the two of us.”

Just the two of us. I didn’t want to tell my dad I was homesick. But then, maybe he already knew. I looked forward to our day together.

I was so disappointed when Dad had to cancel. He was expecting some important client, and Carly wasn’t experienced enough to handle it alone. The parents of my roommate Jess lived near Dad and were coming down to replace a broken monitor. They offered to bring my phone and save my dad the four-hour, round-trip drive. Yeah, saved my dad the trouble, but it hadn’t saved him.

Thinking about the “what-ifs” really gets me down. What if there had been just one minor fluctuation in the order of events leading up to 9/11? What if Jess’s parents couldn’t make the drive, or if Carly had more experience? My father used to tell me that hindsight is twenty-twenty. In this case, exploring all the possibilities was especially painful. There are no satisfying answers to the “what-ifs.” There are no do-overs — period.

 

 

Coming soon in 2021
Author's Interview

Author’s Interview with Michelle Cameron

I am pleased to introduce today’s guest, Michelle Cameron. Michelle is a director of The Writers Circle, an NJ-based organization that offers creative writing programs to children, teens, and adults, and the author of works of historical fiction and poetry: Beyond the Ghetto Gates, which won the 2020 Silver Medal in Historical Fiction in the Independent Book Publisher Awards (IPPYs), The Fruit of Her Hands: The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz, and In the Shadow of the Globe.

Michelle Cameron, author

She lived in Israel for fifteen years (including three weeks in a bomb shelter during the Yom Kippur War) and served as an officer in the Israeli army teaching air force cadets technical English. Michelle lives in New Jersey with her husband and has two grown sons of whom she is inordinately proud.

Host: Michelle, that is quite a fascinating bio. I’m excited to learn more of your work. Please tell us about about your latest project.

Guest: My Jewish historical novel, Beyond the Ghetto Gates, was published this past April. It tells the story of the 26-year old General Napoleon’s military campaign through Italy in 1796-7. When he reaches the harbor city of Ancona, he first encounters locked ghetto gates, and sends his Jewish soldiers to demolish them and emancipate the Jewish residents. Beyond the Ghetto Gates is also the story of two women – Jewish Mirelle, who must choose between her duty to her family and faith or her love for a dashing French Catholic soldier and Catholic Francesca, who is trapped in a marriage to an abusive and ultimately murderous husband.

Host: Why were you motivated to write about this time period?

Guest: My earlier historical novel took place during the rise of antisemitism and, as it included blood libels, book burning, torture, and more, in many ways it was a difficult book to write. I was explicitly looking for that rare beast – a joyous moment in Jewish history.

Host: Ah. Now you are speaking my language! Tell me more.

Guest: While reading about the Jews of the French Revolution, I happened upon Michael Goldfarb’s nonfiction book, Emancipation. In it, he describes the scene of Napoleon’s happening upon the ghetto gates. This highly dramatic moment had “novel” written all over it. One of the themes that runs through much of my writing is the tension between assimilation and safeguarding religious belief, which is why I was motivated to write about this time period. It also intrigued me because it was a historical episode many readers (and this writer) had never heard of before.

Host: I appreciate authors who weave accurate history throughout the storyline. In particular, I enjoy discovering, and highlighting, the beauty of our Jewish heritage. While doing your research, were you surprised at your findings?

Guest: While I could anticipate much of what I found in my research, there were actually two substantial surprises, both of which contributed mightily to the plotline.  The first was discovering that Ancona, Italy, was the world center of ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate) making during this time. The artisans of Ancona were the first to illuminate these documents, and the ketubot (plural) had a highly distinctive shape. This shape – called an ogee arch, a rounded top culminating in a peak – allowed me to recognize when a ketubah came from Ancona in such far-flung exhibits of Judaica in Toronto, Edinburgh, and New York. It also gave my heroine a purpose and a desire: to contribute to her family’s legacy, as makers of these exquisite documents.

The second surprise was stumbling on the story of the miracle Madonna. In June, about eight months before Napoleon arrived, a portrait of the Virgin Mary in Ancona’s Cathedral purported to turn its head, smile upon the congregation, and weep. This was all documented in a Vatican recounting of the event, which included the fact that Francesca Marotti and her daughter Barbara – both characters in the novel – were the first to see the miracle.

Part of Napoleon’s campaign was the systematic looting of Italy’s artwork and religious artifacts. An anecdote tells of him denuding the cathedral in Ancona and seeing the miracle portrait. According to the story – which may be fabricated – something he saw as he stared at the painting shocked him. I couldn’t resist adding this scene! I should add that everything that happens to the portrait after Napoleon sees it is purely my invention. But the portrait itself became a critical plot device.

Host: Which of your characters resonate with you most? 

Guest: I think in many ways both of the main characters have a bit of me in them – Mirelle in her feeling toward her family and conflicting desire to accomplish something that is nontraditional, Francesca in her internal sense of rightness.

Host: What is your writing process? Do you know how it will end, as you get started?

Guest: Because research is such a critical part of my novels, I begin with a three-month “deep dive” into the material, just to get my arms around it. This is when I discover what parts of the story can be derived from the research. But since I love historical research so much, I make myself limit it to that three-month period. Otherwise, I might never emerge! But I do still keep researching, of course, as I hit the many, many times when I arrive at a scene where I don’t know what I need to know – and even consult my books and other research materials when I’m in the midst of revising.

In fact, I revised Beyond the Ghetto Gates more than I’ve ever revised any other novel. I thought I did know the end when I started – but my beta readers convinced me that I didn’t! In fact, I changed both the beginning and the end of the novel multiple times. The end itself is somewhat unusual, and many of my readers have been surprised by it. (Frankly, so was I!)

Host: How long have you been writing? When did you first consider yourself an author?

Guest: I’ve been writing since the fourth grade and always wanted to become a writer. It didn’t come easily. My first three novels never saw the light of day – thank goodness! When the third was rejected, I decided that I had tried and failed, and took a hiatus from writing. It was my youngest son whose love of writing brought me back to it – which is one of several reasons that Beyond the Ghetto Gates is dedicated to him. I first considered myself an author with the publication of my first work – a verse novel about William Shakespeare and the Globe theatre, called In the Shadow of the Globe.
 

Host: Are you already onto the next project? When will we see it in print?

Guest: Yes, I’m already deep in research for the next novel – a sequel to Beyond the Ghetto Gates in which Napoleon does something unexpected: takes a military expedition to Egypt and Israel. So we’ll be continuing with the same cast of characters. This novel took me about three years to write, so my earnest hope is that the next book will be out in 2023 – or earlier. But we’ll see.

Host: You are certainly keeping busy! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Guest:  Here are the links to my website and social media:

Website: michelle-cameron.com Facebook Author page: /michellecameronauthor
Instagram: @michellecameronwriter
Twitter: @mcameron_writer
In addition, Beyond the Ghetto Gates can be found at all online and brick-and-mortar booksellers, including: ​  Bookshop.org| Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Kindle | Books-A-Million 

Host: Thank you, Michelle, for spending some time with us today. I believe you are leaving us with an excerpt. I know we will all enjoy the read!

Guest: Yes, the following is from Chapter Two.  Thanks so much for this interview, Mirta!


Tall buildings loomed on either side of the street. Mirelle was used to the narrow space, but today the air seemed more fetid than usual, the close-packed homes more menacing. The buildings—many built centuries before and precariously expanded upward—were crumbling at their foundations. Apartments exuded the smells of a hundred cooking pots, paint curling under the sweat and filth of packed living.

Toddlers played in the streets, ignoring the refuse running down the center sewer. Housewives stopped to gossip, straw baskets crushed against their sides. The market was bustling, with vibrant oranges and lemons piled into pyramids, cut citrus samples sharp in the spring air, bundled chard and spinach, flowery clusters of cauliflower and broccoli, and long spears of artichokes piled high. Crusty breads, fruit-filled flans, and boxes of biscotti wafted enticing odors. But today all Mirelle felt were the centuries of dirt and sweat trapped inside the enclosed ghetto. The walls pressed in on her, making it difficult to breathe. On impulse, she decided to visit a different market—the one outside the gates, where she could feel sea breeze and sunlight on her face.

During daylight hours, the ornate, wrought-iron gates at the ghetto entrance were flung wide. Because her friend Dolce often designated them as a meeting spot, Mirelle knew their every nook and curve. As she’d wait, she’d run her fingers over the peeling patterns, twisting and curling. From dawn until nightfall, ghetto residents moved freely through the stone archway into the city of Ancona. As the sun dipped behind the horizon, however, city guards slammed the gates shut and chained a heavy padlock to the bars. The clang of the closing gates always raised the hair on the back of Mirelle’s neck.

It affected her generally carefree brother even more. Jacopo often railed against being imprisoned inside the ghetto.Just once, I want to see what the sea looks like under the stars,” he’d said one night as they stood outside, straining to see more than a few inches of night sky. “Just once, I’d like to walk freely out the gate and not have someone stare at me because I’m Jewish.”

Something had stirred in her chest as he spoke. A whole world existed outside the ghetto. If only they could both walk out of the gates freely!

But they were trapped. Day or night, whenever the Jews left their homes, they were required by law to don the yellow hat and armband that branded them as different. For as long as she could remember, Mirelle had covered her brown locks with a yellow kerchief before walking in the streets. She always wrinkled her nose in the mirror as she adjusted the badge of her faith. They make us wear yellow because it is the color of urine, she’d think distastefully. And of cowardice.

Her brother might feel caught inside the enclosure of the locked ghetto gates, but she felt doubly trapped—as a Jew and as a woman.