Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Laurice Hartman LaZebnik author of Minnie's Potatoes.
Norm: Good day Laurice and thanks for participating in our interview.
Please tell our readers a little bit about your personal and professional background.
Laurice: I've been involved with storytelling all my life. My earliest memory of hearing stories was when I was around four or five. I remember sitting on the porch swing with my grandfather waving at cars that passed by on our dusty road. Between the cars Grandpa told me what it was like on the ship when he came to America and of the animals he encountered when he was a cook in the timber woods. My father made up stories after dinner each night to entertain us. The mutation on the gene that causes storytelling must have been passed down from them to me. Oh, I've done a few things since then … taught high school, started a storytelling festival that has run 28 years and learned to fly an airplane. Nothing has been as rewarding to me than writing stories. "Minnie's Potatoes" is my third novel.
Norm: How did you become involved with the subject or theme of Minnie's Potatoes?
Laurice: My parents died within a month of one another two years ago. They were old, 89 and 91 and had always been a big part of my life. For some reason I thought they would always be around to answer my questions. They were my connection to family and my hometown.
After they died I asked my brother if he knew our great grandfather's name. He had no idea, and neither did I. I started researching my family and learned my great-grandmother, Minnie, distilled moonshine from potatoes to support her ten children after her husband died.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Laurice: When I visited my great-grandmothers grave and found only the word "Mother" on her stone I became angry. I wanted to know why this woman didn't deserve an identity in our family plot when all the other stones had proper names chiseled in the granite. Minnie Hartman left the comfortable world she knew in Poland to start a new life for her family in America. She bore twelve children and reared them in the wilderness of early Michigan. I wanted my brother and the rest of my family to know what her life was like and to understand why she broke the law and became a bootlegger. I set out to tell her story from her point of view. It became a historical romance novel.
Norm: Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book and what are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
Laurice: I'm not an Internet genius, so I stopped by the Jackson, Michigan Genealogical Society. I found a group of volunteers who showed me how to use the different search engines. They demonstrated the short cuts… there weren't many. They gave me templates to document what I found. I paged through the archives of my hometown newspaper, starting with 1880. I photographed every mention of my family's surname with my iPhone. I ran out of energy in the year 1896, so I hired a local woman to follow through and email me what she found. I now have a record of the day in 1911 my grandfather bought a new horse. I snapped pictures of gravestones and spent hours at the Arenac County courthouse tracking deeds and death records.
Norm: What was the time-line between the time you decided to write your book and publication? What were the major events along the way?
Laurice: I started shortly after my parents died in January and February of 2014. Looking back I think the research was part of my grieving process. Interviews with family revealed some false assumptions and some surprises. I uncovered some secrets. The best part for me was making those family connections. The book came out in March of 2016, so it was a two year project.
Norm: In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers very often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point.
But how much is too much and how much of your book is realistic?
Laurice: I can't relay a conversation made a hundred-fifty years ago and call it non-fiction. Yet, most of this book is true and can be referenced by my research. Truth is always stronger than anything made up, but sometimes the truth needs a little material to help it make sense, and that's where imagination and fabrication comes into play. I did create one character to make the story work. He was a bad apple who did exist, yet no one knew his name or anything about him. I filled in the blanks.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing your book and what was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
Laurice: Writing is exhilarating. My characters sometimes took over. They said what they wanted to say and sent the story in the direction they wanted it to go. I felt like a hired hand useful as long as I could keep up with them. Editing can be drudgery and takes twice as long as writing. I can spend a day rewriting a paragraph.
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?
Laurice: Oh yes. I needed some sexually explicit details. I asked two promiscuous friends who provided me with some shocking information. it's in the book.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Minnie's Potatoes?
Laurice: I write a blog
about writing "Minnie's Potatoes" on my WEBSITE
Norm: What is next for Laurice Hartman LaZebnik?
Laurice: I'm already engaged in speaking to groups about the importance of preserving family history.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Laurice: I'm waiting for someone to ask for Minnie's recipe for moonshine.