Author: Deborah Gaal
Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest, Deborah Gaal author of The Dream Stitcher.
Deborah abandoned a love of theater to take over the family flooring business and ended up running a wholly-owned subsidiary for E.I. DuPont de Nemours (DuPont). After leaving DuPont, she coached entrepreneurs and corporate execs in addition to creating and guiding leadership seminars for women.
She returned to her dream of living a creative life by writing. Deborah is a repeat recipient of the San Diego State University Writer’s Conference “Editor’s Choice Award.” In addition to two full-length works of fiction, her short story Weekend at the Pere Marquette, appeared in Creative Writing Demystified by Sheila Bender (McGraw-Hill) as well as in the online writing magazine Writingitreal.
Norm: Good day Deborah and thanks for participating in our interview. How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
Deborah: After I exited the business world I was looking for a way to get back into an artistic life. Not that business can’t be creative or artistic, but it’s certainly more left brain and I wanted to shift to the right side of my head. I was an actor back in the day, but I had no desire to return to acting.
I was at a stage in my life where leaving my husband every night for 8 weeks to rehearse and perform community theatre didn’t sound appealing, and I certainly had no desire to schlep up to L.A.
But I thought fiction writing might be the ticket to contentment. So I signed up for novel writing courses at University of California at Irvine and found that for me, writing was exactly like acting. It re-fired all my lost brain cells. I could emotionally relate to characters I created and stick that emotion to the page. It was intoxicating. I was hooked.
Norm: What would you like to accomplish as an author that you have not?
Deborah: I’m looking to tell a story that not only excites, but leaves a lasting imprint on the soul. I’m interested in stories that are transportive, transformational and unique. Is that too much to ask?
Norm: What helps you focus when you write and do you find it easy reading back your own work?
Deborah: Before I sit down to write, I light candles and evoke all the muses who are helping me to create story. I have different muses depending on the story I’m crafting.
In the case of The Dream Stitcher, I had spirits who were my ancestors, and Holocaust victims and survivors, Polish Freedom fighters, and even a Jewish Saint. (My son is an artist and he had done a portrait of Edith Stein, so I used to talk to her.)
I would call these imaginary souls into room (I had a speech) and invite them to help me write the scene I was crafting that day. Then I would meditate. When I felt my muses were gathered in the room, I’d start to write. I’m sure your readers will think I’m not rowing with all oars in the water. Yep, this all sounds quite strange, but this method has always worked for me.
Reading back my own work is a pleasure. That’s the fun part. I’m an actor.
Norm: For your writing, does the story come first, or the world it operates in?
Deborah: I start off with an idea or an image, and out of that comes a character. The character leads me to the story and the story leads me to the world.
Norm: What do you believe defines a character?
Deborah: Character’s actions are the things to pay attention to, just like you would with a living, breathing person. What people say is often disingenuous. Characters can lie. So I try to build in actions that reveal the characters’ authentic souls. Character should be actively pursuing goals they want more than life itself.
Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Deborah: I come from a family of actors, story-tellers, and jokesters. You’d think my writing would be funny! The wiring I received was in strong storytelling, and that’s what I strive to do.
Growing up in my family also included political and history discussions over dinner. My father had survived a pogrom when he was five—the only male Jew to escape his village. So the lessons of freedom we are afforded in this country, and the miracle that our ancestors weren’t in Europe during World War II was something ingrained into my daily life. Another important lesson was to remember the Holocaust. The Dream Stitcher is my small contribution toward that endeavor.
Norm: In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of the writing process?
Deborah: Sitting down to write is the toughest part of the day for me. I think that’s why I’ve developed so much ritual around the start of my writing process.
There is a natural fear of facing the blank page. Will I think of anything worthy to say? Will I ever write again? Will I ever be good enough? I have overcome negative self-talk in most areas of my life, but when it comes to writing, all of my insecurities rush up and greet me at the keyboard. It’s daunting. But it can also be thrilling when the writing is going well and you reach a few blessed minutes of flow.
Norm: How and why did you become interested in writing about The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and La Tapisserie de Bayeux (The Bayeux Tapestry, two of your themes in The Dream Stitcher?
Deborah: My mother needlepointed a 6 ft by 14 ft copy of excerpts of The Bayeux that hung in my home for a decade.
The Bayeux tells the story of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the Norman Conquest of England.
Why was my mother interested in re-creating battle scenes? The Bayeux is filled with dying horses, soldiers, arrows, swords: war in all its glory.
I was interested in understanding why she spent eight years of her life in almost constant devotion to this piece of art.
But she had Alzheimers and I couldn’t get answers to my questions. So I started an exploration of answers on my own.
What might lead a person toward this kind of project? Might she be the reincarnation of Queen Mathilda? (Legend has it Queen Mathilda commissioned the sewing of The Bayeux.
It’s not historically accurate, but it accounts for the title, La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde.
Might her life depend on sewing? The lives of her family members? Her country?
So I started with Queen Mathilda as a character and I wondered…If she came back to this earth, what might be the most difficult life for her? I couldn’t think of a placement more offsetting or challenging than being a young woman coming of age during World War II in Poland. That spark led me to place my character in the Warsaw Ghetto. And I wanted a strong character, Goldye, a young woman who would risk everything to help launch an uprising.
Norm: Which character was the easiest to write? Most difficult to write in the book?
Deborah: Oddly enough, Maude was the most difficult character to write. I wanted a counterpoint to Goldye’s arc, and the modern day protagonist needed to be everything Goldye was not. But at the same time, I wanted the modern story to be a sigh of relief. A bit of light-heartedness to balance the angst of the Warsaw story. I found getting that contrast the most difficult challenge. I have no idea if I got it right. I hope so.
The easiest character was Lev. I just fell in love with him, and he flowed onto the page. It was a joy for me every time he showed up. I miss him.
Norm: What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
Deborah: Boy, I hope if they start that they do finish!
I think the overall message or theme of the book is the importance and impact of legacy. If we don’t know our past it makes it more challenging to navigate our present circumstances.
Maude doesn’t know her family history, and she suffers greatly from it. Her lack of legacy has left her unmoored in the world.
She’s 65 and still searching for her father and her rightful place.
I also want my reader to feel a great deal of hope for this world. The human spirit is resilient can persevere through the worst possible horrors and come out fine on the other side. It’s a world full of endless possibilities. If today’s precarious world seems hopeless, it most certainly is not.
Norm: Did you write the book more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Please summarize your writing process.
Deborah: I’m an intuitive writer and I write towards story. I don’t know where I’m going necessarily when the story starts. I develop characters and the characters lead me to the story.
Having said that, I also depend on research to guide me towards the plot. You just can’t make this stuff up! Finding the connections between what my intuition invents and what really happened are thrilling. So my story ends up being a mix of real events enhanced with a dose of magic.
Norm: What is your secret in keeping the intensity of the plot throughout the narrative?
Deborah: I’m constantly aware that I must keep my readers attention. And I can get their attention by creating tension from actions being upended. So I have my characters doing things to get what they want. Oops, something gets in their way. So now they have go do something else. Oops, that didn’t work either.
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?
Deborah: I’m not a historian. And I’m not good at research. So the whole book was a stretch for me to get the right balance of inserting history and detail without slowing down the plot. There were times I wondered why I came up with the crazy idea. But I did, and I fell in love with it. And once that happened, I couldn’t not finish it to the end.
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?
Deborah: Of course writers owe something! They owe a good story. Otherwise, you’re asking someone to spend 14 to 17 hours of their time, our most valuable commodity, on your work. That’ s a huge commitment. I’ve got to ensure it’s worth that journey.
Norm: What is next for Deborah Gaal and how can our readers find out more about you and The Dream Stitcher?
Deborah: I’m working on buffing up my next novel, Synchronicities on the Avenue of the Saints, another story that goes back and forth in two time periods with a complexity of subjects. I’m excited about this story as well.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Deborah: When you wrote this, were you on drugs? If so, where can I get them?
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.