About the book
Could you tell us a little about your book, where we can buy it and who is the publisher
My book, We Were the Lucky Ones, is based on my family history. It tracks my grandfather, his parents, and his siblings—a family of Polish Jews—as they scatter at the start of the Second World War, doing everything in their power to survive and to reunite. It’s been published in the U.K. by Allison & Busby, and by Viking in the States—U.K readers can find it through Allison & Busby, AmazonUK, Waterstones, and on Audible.com
How long did the process take, from making your first notes until publication?
Almost a decade! I flew to Paris for my first interview in February of 2008, and the book was published in February of 2017. It’s based upon your own family, generations past; how much of the book is fact and how much is fiction?
Each of my relatives’ storylines—who was where/when—is based on facts uncovered in oral histories or through outside research (I did change a couple of names, but only for the sake of clarity). Where I took creative license was in the connective tissue: the details that helped to bring a setting to life, or that allowed me to step inside the hearts and minds of my characters, to imagine what they were thinking and feeling at the time. I wanted my story to feel visceral and relevant; I wanted it to read less like a history book and more like a novel.
Did you have to travel much to research the various countries/continents which are involved in We Were the Lucky Ones?
I’ve traveled quite a bit to unearth my family’s story. I flew from coast to coast in the States and to Brazil and to France for interviews. I visited dozens of archives and museums, including the Sikorski Museum in London, for records, and spent two summers following in the footsteps of my ancestors through Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, and Italy.
What were some of the most emotionally difficult things to deal with when researching this book?
While my family was, indeed, lucky in the end, what they endured from day to day throughout the war was often unfathomable. The scene with Mila and Felicia in the killing field, for example—that story was relayed to me by Felicia with incredible stoicism, but trying to imagine what it must have been like to go through it was gut wrenching. Mila and her mother Nechuma’s scenes (in general) became especially challenging, as well, when my son arrived in 2011. I was about half way through my research/writing and suddenly I could relate to these women at a much deeper, maternal level—which was helpful, but also heartbreaking.
The cover photo really is beautiful. Did you always have an idea, in your mind, of what you’d like the finished product to look like?
I’m glad you like it! I love the cover, too. The idea was the publisher’s. It can be hard as an author to let someone else bring your story to life with a single image—I was worried, with a story as personal as mine, that the art wouldn’t resonate—but I think Allison & Busby did a gorgeous job depicting the era, along with a strong sense of movement, mystery, and foreboding in the design. And I love the pops of red!
Have you any other books in the pipeline and will they be in the same genre/along similar lines to We Were the Lucky Ones?
I’m still brainstorming ideas for book #2. I love the historical fiction genre, and I have a soft spot for protagonists who somehow manage to persevere, despite being faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. I recently saw the film Lion and, while I bawled my eyes out, I left thinking that’s the kind of story I’d like to write next.
About you as a writer
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
One of my first memories as a child is listening to the sound of my father’s typewriter banging away from his second floor home office. My father published Softly Walks the Beast when I was three years old and a year later I “wrote” my own first novel, which I titled Charlie Walks the Beast. I thank my dad for teaching me at a (very) young age what it means to be a writer.
Are you a reader and, if so, who are some of your favourite authors?
While finding the time to read has become a bit of a luxury, there’s nothing I love more than settling in with a good book. Some of my favorite authors in the WWII/historical fiction arena are Paula McLain, Julie Orringer, Anthony Doerr, and Markus Zusak. For fiction I love Jhumpa Lahiri, Ian McEwan, Anne Patchett, and Dave Eggers. Erik Larson and Bill Bryson at the top of my list for non-fiction and my favorite how-to book of all time on writing (and on life) is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
It varies, as I have a five-year-old, which means deadlines have to wait on snow days and sick days! That said, I have a small office and I try sit myself down at my desk every day for at least 3-4 hours. Mornings are when I’m most productive. When I’m not plugging away on the book, I work as a freelance copywriter, helping clients in the adventure travel industry craft their marketing materials.
Would you say you have an interesting writing quirk?
Even if I’m in a quiet space, I find I do my best work when I’m wearing headphones. And they have to be the big, soft, noise-cancelling kind. I just got a new pair for my birthday this year, as my old pair had practically disintegrated from so much use. There’s something about the feeling of slipping the headphones over my ears that lets me tune out the distractions of the outside world and puts me in a good headspace to write.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I write on my laptop. I love having the flexibility of working from home, the office, the library, a coffee shop, an airplane.
We have a huge book community on social media platforms nowadays. Do you think this type of promotion/recommendation/reviewing is better or worse than the traditional newspaper reviews/advertisements or do you think there is merit to both methods?
I believe there is merit to both. I think some audiences will always resort to the more traditional promotional avenues, but with social media so prevalent today it makes sense to utilize that outlet as well. For me, keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Litsy, Goodreads, etc. can be a challenge (I wasn’t big on social media before my book came out, so it’s been a bit of a learning curve). But I understand the power of these platforms, so I try my best to keep myself up to date.
Quick fire questions
Dogs or Cats?
Dogs. Although our neighbor’s cat “adopted” us when I was growing up, and I loved him. He was a really cool cat.
Tea or Coffee?
Coffee. Preferably from one of my favorite shops in Seattle.
Fall. I love the long days and the cool, dry weather.
Coke or Pepsi
My parents didn’t let me drink soda as a kid (boo!), so I never acquired a taste for it.
Gold or Silver
Both. I like to mix and match.
Lilies. I find the smell irresistible.
We Were the Lucky Ones, published by Allison & Busby is available in all good bookshops priced £12.99