Today, Norm Goldman Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is pleased to have as our guest, Sandra Shwayder Sanchez. Sandra is a retired attorney and co-founder of a small non-profit publishing collective with whom she has published her novel, Stillbird and two short fiction collections (A mile in These Shoes and Three Novellas). Her most recent novel The Secret of A Long Journey has just been published by Floricanto Press.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background. As a follow up, how did you get started in writing?
I was always
interested in writing, since I read Wuthering Heights over and over
again when I was twelve. I was so inspired by how the author
transported me to the time and place of the book. I felt like I'd
lived the story and wanted to be able to tell stories like that
Later I had poems and short stories published in literary journals that I no longer remember and once won a prize. I corresponded with Anais Nin after reading her diaries which I loved and she read some of my work and said I wrote better than she did at my age which was very flattering and encouraging. I was by then a young mother and our little family was homesteading in West Virginia as part of that seventies "back to the land" movement.
I wrote an article on weaving for Mother Earth News and was paid rather well for that but mostly I sold my weaving at crafts fairs in W.Va. and Md. Later I taught weaving as a guest teacher at both public and private alternative schools.
After a "return to civilization"
and a divorce I finished college with a degree in Psychology planning
to go into counseling but then, with some encouragement from
professors and friends, became a different kind of "counselor":
a counselor at law. I represented women who were victims of domestic
violence and also worked in the Denver Juvenile Courts sometimes as
court appointed G.A.L for children removed from homes for perceived
abuse or neglect and sometimes as the court appointed lawyer for
adolescent parents (themselves grown up in the social services
system) struggling to become good parents themselves and be able to
keep their families intact.
I also worked in the Mental Health court and the Criminal courts, mostly representing political protestors. Being a voice for actual clients in the court system inspired me to be a voice for people who were marginalized in our society, and I hoped through my fiction to make readers aware of people too often ignored. I would not invade the privacy of actual clients but created my own archtypal characters based on many clients.
How and why did you become interested in the Marranos and Conversos and could you briefly explain to our readers who are these people?
I traveled to the town of San Luis, Co. to represent one of dozens of native hunters caught in a Federal Wildlife Sting operation that many perceived as politically motivated. When I asked directions to the church meeting house where the volunteer lawyers were being paired with defendants, the man at the gas station responded in a very interesting way, wondering why I didn't ask for the synagogue and this scene I recreated from reality in chapter 4 of my novel. This Mexican gentleman had been researching his own Jewish roots and told me about the interesting historical mystery of many families in that region. Their ancestors, fleeing the inquisition in Europe, had come to this part of the New World and over the generations the secretly practiced Jewish rituals were handed down until sometimes the rituals themselves were practiced without explanation and children lost track of and then rediscovered their legacy.
Before writing The Secret of a Long Journey, what was your creative process like? What happened before sitting down to write? How did you decide you were ready to write the book? Could you briefly tell our readers something about the book.
First I did research, going to libraries including the library at the Alamo to find out more about this history. Then I began to write various pieces from various centuries and organize them into chapters. I alternated historical chapters with chapters about the modern day politics of the region and gave the final 20th century character my professional if not my personal life. An editor at Bantam was interested in the idea and wanted to see a "substantial portion" but by the time I had perfected a substantial portion she was no longer employed there, having taken a job with a publisher of text books.
A couple of literary journals were interested but went out of business before they could serialize the novel. During the process Peter Burnham emailed to ask me for a long story (roughly 11,000 words) as he had not found enough that he liked from the submissions he received to fill out the 2003 issue of his annual literary journal The Long Story. He knew I was working on this novel and wondered if I could send him a chapter tweaked to stand alone. I removed chapters that involved two of my character's clients, put them together differently and Danny and Joe, A Friendship was published as a short story and I removed these two characters from the novel, making the novel more concise and creating a better story about those two characters.
Your characters in The Secret of a Long Journey seem almost to walk out of the pages. How did you go about creating them? Who is your favorite character in your book and why?
The characters in my stories are like my children (since I created them) and I have to say I have no favorites but love them all.
Are there experiences in your book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
All my characters are based on people I've known, observed or heard about and once I start writing about them, sometimes they take on lives of their own and I just follow where they take me. It is a process I cannot explain but can only be grateful for. I think the empathy I have developed over the years in my own life is what allows me to imagine my characters so vividly. And then of course, the character of Lois Gold is based on my own legal experiences and I have to say I did base Juan Carlos Gonzales on my own wonderful second husband, Juan Eduardo Sanchez.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Writing fiction is a process that I love because I feel like it increases insight into human motivation. When I was younger I would write a story, read it and discover things as if I were reading the work of another person. I can't remember now the name of the French author who said: "I write in order to learn who I am" and I think that the inspiration for writing does have that result. In this case, I also learned a lot about history in order to make sure that what I imagined happened could have happened (i.e. to give the book authenticity).
What was the most difficult part of writing your book?
I have to say that writing fiction has never been difficult for me. What is difficult has been to find the time to give my imagination free uninterrupted reign. Once I know I have the time ahead of me to immerse myself in the world of my imagination, the words just flow.
Where can our readers find out more about your and your books?
Information about The Secret of A Long Journey can be found HERE, about my second novel, Stillbird and the
short fiction collections FOLLOW HERE, and about
my first novel, The
Nun, recently re-issued in a second edition by the original publisher FOLLOW HERE
What is next for Sandra Shwayder Sanchez and is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
I think you've covered everything. As a co-founder of The Wessex Collective I have devoted less time lately to my own writing and more time to editing, publishing and promoting the work of other authors. But should there be demand for another book I have a lot of interesting ideas in the gestation phase, that is a constant condition of my life.
Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors