welcomes as our guest Elyce Wakerman author of Father Loss: Daughters Discuss the Man That Got Away, and Air Powered, The Art of the Airbrush. Elyce has contributed articles to The Los Angeles Times, The Jewish Journal, and The Los Angeles Daily News. She recently published her debut novel, A Tale of Two Citizens.

Elyce has taught writing at California State University, Northridge for fifteen years, and lives in Sherman Oaks, California with her husband, filmmaker Jeff Werner. They have two grown children.

Norm: Good day Elyce and thanks for participating in our interview.

How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Elyce: I think making up stories became an early source of comfort for what was a rather sad childhood.  I don't mean telling lies, but creating a world where things were better than they were in reality.  My father died when I was  three years old, and that left a gaping void that needed to be filled.  Making up characters and stories, and also finding a tremendous amount of solace in books, once I learned to read, set me on a path that found unending comfort in the written word - whether I was daydreamer, writer or reader.  Continues to this day. Of course, the encouragement I received in college and afterwards, suggesting that it wasn't entirely unrealistic to think I could actually have a career as a writer, kept me going as well.

Norm: What do you think makes a good memoir or biography?

Elyce: First, always, good writing.  I picked up a biography of someone I greatly admire a few years ago, and the writing was so banal that I couldn't continue.  On the other hand, a historical figure about whom I know very little can become a captivating read if the writing, pacing, and insight are there.

Norm: How did you decide you were ready to write A Tale of Two Citizens? As a follow up, would you say that the publication of your first novel is the culmination of a life long dream?

Elyce: I had written about the impact of my father's death in the past - a nonfiction study of the impact of father absence on girls, called Father Loss: Daughters Discuss the Man That Got Away.  Years later, after my mother died, I came upon an envelope that contained letters, photographs, and documents from my father's life. 

One of the documents was a transcript from a United States Congress Deportation hearing, with my father's name on it!  If in the past I had written about his absence, I knew I had stumbled on a tremendously dramatic story that would fill in his life.  I had been thinking about trying my hand at fiction for a while, and I knew that this could be the kernel of a very good novel. 

Going from kernel to nutshell: Having my first novel published has been a dream-come-true.  I started out as a dreamer, remember, and now some of those dreams are between two covers and people can read them.  It's just wonderful. And I am very grateful.

Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?

Elyce: In this time of controversy over immigrants, and horrific images of refugees risking their lives to breathe free, all these people just trying to make a better life for themselves, my protagonist can provide insight into what the newcomer wishes for, faces, the aspirations and obstacles that he or she must be strong enough and determined enough to withstand.  And kindness from people along the way is another very important aspect of this drama.

Norm: How much of your book is realistic?

Elyce: Using the photographs and documents I found, and speaking to people who had lived during that tumultuous time - both in the U.S. and eastern Europe - and doing a heck of a lot of research to get the 1930s absolutely right, I'd say the success of this particular novel depends on the accurate picture of the times in which the narrative takes place.  I appreciated your pointing that out in your review, by the way.  Meant a lot to me.

Norm: What was your main focus when you created Yankel (Harry) Himmelbaum?

Elyce: The most challenging part of writing a character based on my father's experience - not him, but his experience - was making him not the Hyman Wakerman I preserve that is based on a child's memory, but a young man. Not wise, but innocent; not strong, but vulnerable.  And, not perfect.

Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing your book and did you learn anything from writing your book?

Elyce: In addition to making Harry a young man, I'd say that interweaving the times - little things, like was there air conditioning: paper towels: phones in people's kitchens presented the greatest challenge.  Every aspect of the times, large and small, needed to be utilized accurately AND seamlessly. 

How did the dustbowl affect the characters and the story? The Depression? FDR and RCA radio?  We all live inside the times we inhabit and I wanted to convey all those things without losing the flow of the story.

Norm: It is said that writers should write what they know. Were there any elements of the book that forced you to step out of your comfort zone, and if so, how did you approach this part of the writing?

Elyce: Imagining the lives of Harry's Polish wife and son forced me to face woeful events and circumstances. This was emotionally difficult, but necessary.  And of course, whenever you're dealing with the Holocaust - in this case, the years leading up to it - the characters' inability to even imagine what was in store was painfully poignant. And then there are the characters whose beliefs cause so much trouble. I didn't want the reader to hate anyone or find them "villainous." I accomplished this by loving my characters.  Each and every one of them is someone I care(d) about. Even those whose beliefs were so very counterproductive, and in some cases, downright destructive.

Norm: How much research did you do before writing your book and where did you find the information needed for the story?

Elyce: I read many books - about the 1930s; Poland; New York.  I used Google like mad if I got to a passage where, for instance, I wanted to know what song would be playing on the Hit Parade on a March night in 1937.  I really enjoyed this aspect of writing the book.

Norm: Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?

Elyce: I think writers owe readers a good read.  A story that drives them forward; characters to care about; and language that is carefully considered.  One good sentence leading to to another  good sentence should really be a crucial aspect of every writer's craft.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and A Tale of Two Citizens?

Elyce: I have a BLOG : a book page at AMAZON: a Goodreads Author Page, and a Facebook page.  I hope people will come and visit.  As you can tell, I am happy to chat about the book, interact with readers; it's very gratifying.

Norm: What is next for Elyce Wakerman?

Elyce: I have a draft of a novel that tells the story that leads up to Harry's eventual life in America that is told from the point of view of the woman he marries.  It is currently called, A Place at the Table, and explores the first generation of Jewish women allowed to make their own romantic choices. Kind of Fiddler on the Roof from the daughters  point of view.  In addition, my husband and I are developing a documentary about the completely surprising resurgence of Jewish life in Poland that is currently underway. It is called, Morning. The Polish government will be sponsoring a Study Visit for us in November.

Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.

Elyce: Q:Do you think it would be all right with your father that you imagined his life in this very personal way?

           A - I have been given to understand that my father valued language, particularly the English language, very highly. I think, I hope, he would be proud of me.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

Elyce:Thank you!

Follow Here To Read Norm's Review of A Tale of Two Citizens

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