As you probably know by now, my second novel, Roman Glass, came out this week.
But I still don’t have a publishing contract. Meaning that, among other publicity problems, no one is beating down my door for an interview with the author yet, so I figured I’d do my own interview for my readers. You can just print this out and glue it into the back of the book like one of those book club guides when your copy arrives from Amazon.
Q: Roman Glass is set in Israel, which is kind of an odd choice, considering that you live in the DC area. What inspired the novel?
A: What a great question! I’ve been to Israel three times now and the most recent trip, in December 2007 for my cousin’s bar mitzvah. It was kind of horrific timing as my uncle on my dad’s side of the family was dying at the time, but my mother, uncle and I were already committed to go and everyone on both sides of the family told us we should go.
|My mom, my uncle Mike, and me in Israel, December 2007|
It was an interesting trip, to say the least. I won’t go into too many details to avoid being axe murdered by angry relatives (which yes, is likely to happen. Especially when some of them read the acknowledgments). But the idea for the story hit me as we were sitting in the airport, New Year’s Day 2008, waiting for our flight home. We were in the terminal and there was this super hot guy, who was clearly orthodox (meaning he wouldn’t have given me the time of day), putting on tfillen. (If you don’t know what that is, don’t ask me because I can’t explain it. That’s why we have Google.) And I remember asking myself, “What would it take to get me to stay here? What would have had to have happened this week to make me wonder if I should be getting on the plane today?”
I started scribbling in a notebook then and there and began creating my characters/the scenario of Danielle going to Israel for a family event that she wasn’t thrilled about. Then, on the flight, I pulled out my laptop and wrote the final chapter. Just as I was finishing it, my mother turned to me and said, “You know, there’s a book in this trip somewhere.” And I started laughing and told her I’d just written the ending for it. She asked what it was about and even though I usually avoid those conversations until the book is close to done, I started discussing the idea and fleshing it out verbally with her.
And Roman Glass was born. (Although it was called Reason to Believe at the time and for a long time after. Then Beshert. Then Random Untitled Novel about Israel Because I Can’t Come Up with a Goddamned Title. Then Roman Glass. It was a REALLY tough call between the last two—I’m still not positive I made the right choice.)
Q: Your first book, Beyond the Palace, was pretty Springsteen-heavy. Is this one the same way?
A: Nope! TOTALLY different concept in this one. I mean, the characters in Beyond the Palace meet following Bruce because they say to write what you know. I branched out from that in Roman Glass. This one actually required a LOT of research. I lived with Israeli tour books and books on Israeli history on my coffee table for about a year. There’s one direct Bruce reference in it, which is more of a joke than anything else. And a couple of indirect references that only the hardcore fans will spot (For example, Eyal does what Spanish Johnny does in one scene—if that means anything to you, you’ll spot it. If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.)
Q: How much of you is there in Danielle? Is she a similar character to Laura from Beyond the Palace?
A: I’d argue that there’s a lot of me in ALL of my characters, not just Danielle. But Danielle is probably the most like me out of any of the characters I’ve written. Except that she doesn’t believe in anything she can’t see or touch and I believe in plenty of things that I have no proof of (especially after watching horror movies when I’m home alone… then I’m 100 percent convinced that everything evil from the movie is living in my house and waiting to kill and eat me. Danielle would never believe in any of that!). She and Laura share some of my characteristics—for example, they’re both insomniacs and they’re both runners. But overall, Laura and Danielle would HATE each other. Like if they were real and you put them in a room together, only one would survive. And my money is on Danielle.
Part of my motivation in creating her though was that I wanted to branch out from Laura. Laura is utterly screwed up as a result of other people. When it came to writing Danielle, it was very important to me to write a character who was screwed up on her own. I didn’t want anyone to have done anything horrible to her. I just wanted her to have a sense of disconnect about who she felt everyone wanted her to be. And because of that, I feel that she has more room to grow than Laura does, which, at least to me, made her a more satisfying character.
Q: Israel is kind of a touchy subject. How did you handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the novel?
A: CAREFULLY! I wanted to show the extreme distrust on both sides, because that IS a huge part of life in Israel, but I also didn’t want to make the novel a huge political statement. And while, as a Jew, I’m obviously pro-Israel, I really wanted to show that the extremists on BOTH sides are wrong. Eyal points out in the novel that his mother believes that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab.” I’ve actually heard Israelis say that! And while I’m in no way ever going to condone any of the acts of terrorism perpetrated by Palestinian extremist groups, I also cannot condone the idea that every Palestinian is evil and needs to be destroyed. Danielle’s cab driver in the beginning of the novel goes off on an anti-Arab rant to illustrate the attitude that you can find running rampant in Israel, but I think I make it pretty clear in the novel that it’s the extremists who are in the wrong, not the entirety of any group of people.
|My mom and me, outside the Old City of Jerusalem, December 2007|
Q: Are readers going to be able to relate to this book if they’re not Jewish?
A: I definitely think so! It’s less of a book about being Jewish than a book about a character figuring out how she fits into her own family and her culture and I think a lot of people have felt a disconnect from who everyone else wanted them to be at some point in their lives.
I also had my characters spend a lot of time at sites that were holy to other religions as well as non-religious historical sites. Because it doesn’t matter what you believe in, Israel is one of the places where the world has changed for everyone quite a few times. And that’s what one of the most crucial scenes in the book is about—that we’re all connected and we’re all part of something bigger. Even if we can’t see what it is from where we’re currently standing.
Q: Beshert seems to be a big concept in the book. What is your definition it?
A: There are a couple of definitions actually. The literal translation is “fate,” “destiny,” or “meant to be.” But a lot of people use it as a noun describing a soulmate. I kind of use both versions in Roman Glass. And it’s a concept that I find extremely comforting. If you can believe that life is going to work out the way that it’s meant to, then it means that even when it feels like you screwed up big time, you’re just taking another step on the path you’re meant to take.
But I don’t think it’s ALL beshert in life. Which is why I started with the quote “Somehow we choose our own destiny” (and thank you Jesse Malin for letting me use that—That line was the first thing that I wrote in that notebook in Ben Gurion airport when I came up with the idea for the book, so it’s kind of cool that I later met him and actually got permission to use it). I think that at least some of the choices you make DO matter. I’m not sure that we’re all part of some master plan, and there are a lot of days when I’m pretty sure we’re not. But as Eyal explains to Danielle in the novel, that’s the definition of faith: being able to believe something without definite proof of it. And I have faith that things ARE going to work out in the end, which is my definition of the word beshert.
|On top of Masada, with the Dead Sea in the background|
Q: What’s on the agenda for the next book?
A: Geez, I just put this one out! Give it a rest already!
I’m mapping out ideas for the next one now. I’ve spent the last couple of years kind of mulling over the idea of the Arthurian love triangle. Guinevere usually gets blamed (TH White is kind of the exception, but she still came across as a whiney shrew in The Once and Future King), and I’ve been toying with the idea of three characters who ALL genuinely love each other (no, not like THAT—not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s not going to be an actual King Arthur story, but I’m working on that relationship angle.
But my mother keeps telling me to write a funny book, so I don’t know. I’ll bring a notebook to the pool with me once school ends and see what inspiration strikes me. Either way, when I’m NOT laying by the pool this summer, I plan to be working.
Q: Do you have a contract yet?
A: NO! PLEASE tell your friends if you like Roman Glass. I need all the new readers I can get!
If you have any other questions you’d like answered, post them in the comments section and I’ll be happy to answer them. Just no spoilers for the book please!
Peace, love, and rock and roll,