Writing Out of Their Depths

Well, your erstwhile Book Fair reporter is back in the saddle. It’s been a wild ride being on both sides of the corral, listening to wonderful authors and having the delight of presenting my own book as well.

First up is a bindery of novelists: SJ Rozan who penned The Shanghai MoonA Friend of the Family, written by Lauren Grodstein and Norman Lebrecht, author of The Game of Opposites.

The Shanghai Moon, Rozan’s seventh suspense novel featuring P.I.Bill Smith and fellow gum shoe Lydia Chin, takes the pair in search of hijacked jewels. Long drawn to Chinese culture, Rozan dreamed up Chin — her slight, orderly, Asian, female private investigator to be Smith’s foil. “Straight and straightforward, Bill’s the archetypal voice over P.I.,” Rozan said. “He is healthy, [hetero], white.  He’s an American male who can’t keep his soul clean.”

Creating Lydia Chin was a satisfying exercise of imagining for the Causasian, Jewish, East Coast Rozen. Characterizing Chin’s mother, however, came naturally.  “All first generation ethnic mothers are similar,” she said. “They want their kids to, ‘Eat, eat, eat!’ They want their children to excel.”

The inspiration for  Lauren Grodstein’s second novel was Melissa Drexler, the New Jersey teen who strangled her newborn son after giving birth to him in a bathroom during her high school prom. Childless at the time, Grodstein recalled creating scenes whose horror even she didn’t quite comprehend. Lost  in fiction’s make-believable world, she said that she, “Didn’t understand how her editor found the [bathroom scenes] so disturbing.”

She admitted that once she gave birth she realized that she couldn’t have written the book had she already been a parent. It would have been too horrifying  a place to enter she said. I loved how she described the wonderful alchemy of fiction writing: “It’s the paradox of the novel,” she said. “The imagination can grasp what the heart cannot reach.”

Lauren Grodstein also gets the Darvick prize for best way to find out your novel’s been sold: her agent called with the good news mere hours after the author gave birth to her first child. But since childbirth is no longer an option for yours truly, I’ll have to come up with a next best way to find out a novel’s been bought…..

Unlike SJ Rozan, who didn’t claim her writer’s soul until mid-life, Londoner Norman Lebrecht knew “from the time he was in his twenties” that he wanted to write fiction. But, he said, he turned to non-fiction because he felt he “wasn’t ready” to be a novelist. And so Lebrecht, who came to Detroit straight from London, turned to cultural and political commentary writing for the London Evening Standard, contributing to the BBC and Bloomberg News.

In town to talk about Opposites, he took attendees back to his first novel, The Song of Names, which won the Whitbread Award in 2003. The titular song of names, was a melody of memory, a way to remember the names of those murdered during the Holocaust. “It was a complete fiction,” Lebrecht said. “It came out of independent life.  Not of me.  I simply sat back and observed and fine tuned.” Only after the book’s publication does he learn of a real life situation eerily similar to the song of names his imagination  grasped while he was “sitting back and observing.”

Tomorrow is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. I shall be back at Detroit’s Jewish Book Fair, keenly grateful for the miraculous quirk of history that allows me to report on Jewish books, written by Jewish authors. Amen.

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6 thoughts on “Writing Out of Their Depths

  1. Aunt Judy

    Amen, indeed! As a very public practicing Jew who observed the “quirk of history” in my formative years I, too, am aware of the miraculous nature of my life as a Jew.

  2. Leah Rubin

    Wow– I’m putting all three on my “To Be Read” list. I love getting great reading recommendations like this!

    I hope these authors are letting others know about your delightful book, too!

  3. Debra

    Well, I hope to get to Francine Prose, Johanna Reiss and Kati Marton in the coming days. Glad you are enjoying.

  4. Jean Alicia Elster

    Ah, Debra–you’ve done it again! Your closing comment reminds me strongly of the ending lines of one of my favorite poems (by Countee Cullen, a Harlem Renaissance poet)–
    Yet do I marvel as this curious thing:
    To make a poet black, and bid him sing!

  5. martin

    You should have told your readers of your wonderful performance at the Ann Arbor Jewish Book Fair, where after being featured as a reader for the children’s session, on 5 minutes notice you were brilliant in giving an unplanned talk to a room of over 100 adults. You then sold at least 15 books as people came up to congratulate you. At the Detroit Book Fair, all of your books were sold. Love you, your very own “Debra groupie.”

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