Thursday, March 5, 2009

Interview with Dave Clarke, author of Keeping Hannah Waiting

Today I'd like to welcome Dave Clarke, author of Keeping Hannah Waiting, to Diary of an Eccentric.

You can read my review of this gem of a book here.

What inspired you to write fiction about the artist Marc Chagall?

Chagall was a natural choice for my Holocaust-inspired story not only because he is perhaps the most renowned Jewish painter, but his personal history, artistically, geographically, and chronologically fit my story’s needs exactly. I was elated when I discovered his time lines meshed with my story needs.

That, and of course, his work is absolutely spectacular--full of magic and rich with vivid colors, including according to him, the single most important color of all, “love.”

“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art,” Chagall said. “It is the color of love.”

I read that your parents are Holocaust survivors. Were they open about their experiences while you were growing up? How much of their experiences are in Keeping Hannah Waiting?

My parents were open about the fact that they were Holocaust survivors but spoke about their actual experiences very little, and usually in non-specific terms.

It was a challenge for them to balance the need to keep their children informed about our family’s history, to bear witness to what happened, with the desire to have us grow up as “normal, healthy, red-blooded, American kids,” to give us a happy childhood and enable us to assimilate with our friends. After all, that was one of the promises of immigrating to America—anyone can fit in while still being yourself.

Occasionally, while watching a documentary about the war on television, my father might say something like, “I used to do that,” as we were watching rail-thin skeletal remains of victims being carried in a heap in a wheelbarrow and dumped into a mass grave,” but mostly very little was said.

It wasn’t until Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation asked my parents to record their stories on video so they could be preserved along with other Survivor’s stories that I understood the depth of their experiences. And even then, only after we received copies of the videos. My parents asked my brothers and me to be home when the film crew came, but did not want us in the room while being filmed.

I was 45 years old before I understood the depth of their experiences vis a vis those videos. They explained so many things about how we were raised and why.

An example: My father often told me “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” That was contrary to my school-based training, not in step with the American way—you succeed on your merits and knowledge. When I learned from those videos that it was friends and family throughout his six-year internment that helped him choose one job versus another, that told him to get in this line and not that line--because no one ever came back from the other line--that I understood why it was so important to him that I learn that your connections help you advance (or survive) as much or more so than your academic knowledge.

The experiences in the book are a compilation of bits and pieces of many Survivors’ stories. Some are taken from my parents’ experience, some from their friends’ experiences, some from Survivors’ stories clipped from newspapers over the years as I collected information for a book about the Holocaust I knew I would write someday even if I didn’t know exactly how I would use them or what that book would be like in the end.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

It matters not what religion a person is, the color of their skin, their gender, or their preference in lovers. What matters is who they are inside, the universal morals they carry within. It’s natural to fear people different from yourself but don’t draw any conclusions until you get to know them.
Understand the longevity of these evil acts and others like them, and their lasting repercussions. It’s been more than 60 years and Nazi evils are still reverberating and seeking resolution and closure around the world.

What happened in World War II to Jews, gays and lesbians, so-called gypsies (or Roma), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others, could happen to any group of people different from the majority. The eighteenth-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke is thought to have said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Whether he said it or not, it is true.
Each of us has the power to speak up when we see prejudice and injustice in our lives, to band together and overcome the evils that some practice. But if we choose to remain silent, nothing will change. One person has the power to make a difference but only if they speak up and take action.
And, I know it’s been said before, particularly by any number of singers, from the Beatles to Jewel, but “All you need is love” and “Only kindness matters.”
How long did it take you to write the book?
Seven years. Nights, weekends, vacations, holidays, days off, on the commute to work and back, on my down time during business trips overseas, driving to the grocery store, you name it.
Do you have a favorite space where you like to write?
When I began writing commercially (as a magazine writer and editor) I could no longer afford the luxury of waiting for “inspiration” to strike. I had to learn how to mentally extract myself from any physical environment and turn my creativity on and off whenever the time to write my novel made it possible to do so.
I used a technique I believe I “borrowed” from Amy Tan: Find a piece of music that inspires you for the task at hand and listen to it whenever you write. Using that tool, I could be inside my story and my characters in a matter of moments whenever the music played. That makes any place I’m writing and creating good fiction my favorite place.
What are your top 5 favorite books?
Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (just about anything by Vonnegut)
Are you working on another book? If so, any hints as to what it’s about?
I’m working on a coming-of-age novel blending mythology and reality at an elite young woman’s boarding school.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about writing and/or getting published?
Two pieces, if I may:
1) Read a thousand words for every one you intend to write.
2) If you know you have talent, if you believe in yourself and your story, ignore the rejections you are almost certain to get.
I have boxes upon boxes in my attic filled with rejection letters from editors and publishers who told me my work wasn’t up to their standards. If I listened to them, my career as a professional writer never would have happened.
The most objective measure I might use as an example of perseverance and success is that of a batter in baseball. The very, very best of them only succeed at hitting the ball four out of 10 times at bat. That means they fail 60 percent of the time, let alone lesser players who still succeed at a professional level by only hitting the ball 30 percent of the time and failing 70 percent of the time.

Thanks, Dave, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you much success!


Serena said...

Wow...great interview! Thanks for sharing your writing advice, Dave!

I have not read Henry Fielding since I was in high school...Argh Parson Adams drove me batty!

Sandy Nawrot said...

OK, I am sitting here with tears in my eyes. I've already got the book on my list to read for the WWII challenge, but even if I had not read your wonderful review, Anna, this interview would have convinced me. Dave's eloquence and thoughtfulness shines through in his answers. The dynamic between the parents and the kids, the protection of the kids from the ugly reality of their days in the camps, the taping of the memories. It just rips my heart out. He also gives great advice to writers. Thanks, Anna, for introducing us to him and his work!

Jo-Jo said...

That was a great interview Anna!

And thank you Dave for sharing that wonderful story about your parents.

I am definitely going to be adding this one to my list for the WWII challenge!

bermudaonion said...

Great interview. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone would read his book and come away with that message?

Julie P. said...

Fantastic interview!

Staci said...

This was a very in-depth and thought provoking interview. I really enjoyed it and I haven't read your review yet but I know that I need to read this story!!

Serena said...

psst. I've given you an award here:

though I'm sure you've seen it already

Jenners said...

This was an AMAZING interview! I enjoyed every bit of it. Great questions and wonderful answers!

The Bookworm said...

great interview! very inspirational.
and what a beuatiful book cover.

Marie Cloutier said...

Wonderful interview. The book sounds lovely.

Luanne said...

What a great interview. I think what struck me the most was his father's simple comment " I used to do that" and the realization of the enormity of that comment.

Anna - I love your blog and have given you an award. You can pick it up here!

Shana said...

Fantastic interview. I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Teddy Rose said...

What a wonderful interview! I can really apprechiate Dave's experience with how little his parent shared with him. I used to ask my grandparents about Russia. They escaped as Russian Jews. They wouldn't share there expeirences. They said, that they didn't want to remember and that I shouldn't want to know. They are all gone now and I know very little. Just bits and pieces about how the came to America.

Toni said...

Wow.. this sounds great. I have this book and need to review it.. this really lights a fire under me to read. I have been enchanted with the story since I read about it. GREAT INTERVIEW!

Kaye said...

Hi Anna, I have just given you the I love your blog award. Stop by and pick up the logo and the "rules"

Anna said...

~Serena: I remember your tales of Henry Fielding. What was that saying of yours again? ;P

~Sandy: You're welcome! I can't wait to hear what you think about the book.

~Jo-Jo: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read this book for the challenge.

~Bermudaonion: My thoughts exactly.

~Julie: Thanks!

~Staci: Thanks! I hope you get a chance to read it, too.

~Serena: Thanks for the award!

~Jenners: Thanks so much!

~Naida: Thanks! I think the cover is amazing.

~Marie: Thanks!

~Luanne: Thanks a bunch! I love your blog, too!

~Shana: Thanks! I hope you get to read it.

~Teddy Rose: Thanks for sharing your story. All of my family who was in Germany at the time of the war have passed away, so I don't know very much either. I can understand their not wanting to talk about it, though.

~Toni: Thanks! I look forward to reading your review!

~Kaye: Thanks so much for the award. It means a lot to me.

Wendi said...

Great interview, and I love the bright cover of the book. :)

Your interview has been added to About the Author - An Author Interview Index! ~ Wendi