The paperback version of ANYA’S WAR is being released TODAY. Andrea very generously offered to give away a copy of her book. So if you leave a comment here between now and April 3, I will announce a winner on Monday, April 4.
Being a San Francisco native, I must ask: Which part of San Francisco did you grow up in?
I spent my first nine years in Lakeside Village a few blocks away from SFSU (where I would eventually get my BA in Creative Writing).
My father moved the family to St. Francis Wood in 1969 where I am again living in my childhood home with three generations of women. (My Mom, Donna, and my 17 year old daughter, Lily…four generations if you count our Golden Retriever puppy, Lola.)
I was famous amongst the SFSU college students for greeting them as they walked back to their cars after class. I stood at the base of the driveway in a lemon yellow dress, white bobby socks, and black patent leather Mary-Janes.™ I also have such fond memories of the stacks of books my Mom brought home from the Merced Branch Library. I was a voracious reader. This habit set me up as a reader who writes.
What was something extremely valuable that you learned from your Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University?
How to write scenes without “filtering" which emphasizes a character's observation of external action rather than directly presenting the thing seen. The key to eliminate filtering is to search the manuscript for words such as see, saw, watch, observe, notice, hear, and feel. Delete them, and what remains is the character’s immediate experience, and robust writing.
Did you conduct most of the research for the novel, especially about the way of life for the Jews in China’s Frenchtown, based on family interviews? How else did you conduct your research?
Yes, I spent over a decade researching while raising my two children. I pored over family documents (correspondence and photo albums), conducted oral histories of my family members and their friends, and was admitted into the reference stacks of the Judah Magnes Museum. I also read every memoir written by Shanghai Jews and consulted with Tess Johnston, a local historian, author and storyteller living in Shanghai who is an expert in the history of the Western presence in Shanghai.
What made ANYA’S WAR a particularly unique book was that the story intermingled three backgrounds to create an extremely rich setting. What aspects of the Jewish religion and the Russian and Chinese cultures did you make an effort to bring out in the story?
My father and aunt spoke four languages fluently—Russian, French, English and Mandarin—by the time they sailed from Shanghai to attend college in America. (My father at UCLA; my aunt at Juilliard) Throw in a little Yiddish, and the superstitions, proverbs, artifacts, food, rituals, and mysticism of Jewish, Russian, and Chinese cultures, and you have the rich soup I was brought up on. I wove these elements and symbols into the characterizations and the story world I created for ANYA’S WAR.
What challenges, if any, did you have composing a work of fiction with threads from true stories in your family?
To the contrary, I was not challenged. I was called to write this story from early childhood. I listened to my father’s exotic stories of his childhood in the French Quarter of Shanghai and began weaving a plot. I love research. It was a seamless and joyous process for me. My Aunt Lily had documented family life in albums full of captioned photos. She kept a carbon copy of every important letter she wrote and saved those she received. This treasure trove provided the flavor and voice of a long ago era.
Would ANYA’S WAR, in its paperback form, be translated into different languages to be sold internationally? If so, which countries?
I hope so. Translation rights are handled by a special department at Macmillan. My dream is that the first translation will be in Mandarin.
My favorite books were: Now We Are Six and Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith; every book written by Beverly Cleary; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; The Secret Garden and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig; The Oz books by L. Frank Baum; Diary of Anne Frank; and The Phantom Tollhouse by Norton Juster. I can actually visualize where these books were shelved in my school library. Reading was my delight and my escape. I was known for checking out five books at a time each week, lying on my bed all weekend reading while munching on Red Delicious apples. I tossed the apple cores under my bed. My father asked me to break the “littering” habit after discovering a dozen brown, shriveled cores providing a feast for a long line of ants.
Congratulations again on the re-release of ANYA’S WAR. What other projects are you currently working on?
Thank you! I am thrilled that my publisher, Feiwel & Friends, deems ANYA’S WAR an ‘evergreen” title for their backlist. The book is finding its way onto many middle school, high school, and university bibliographies around the country.
My next projects are: a picture book entitled PONYDOG: A tale of a dog and his boy. And a novel in verse set in 1968 San Francisco about a sixteen year old girl who sues her fractured family for emancipation, amid a backdrop of university student riots, Women’s Lib bra-burning, and Martin Luther King’s assassination.