Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Author Interview-Diana Spechler

Diana Spechler is the author of Who By Fire and here is a brief summary of her book from her website:

Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister Alena, an incident for which Ash blames himself, caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again: Alena’s remains have finally been uncovered. Now Bits is traveling across the world in a bold and desperate attempt to bring her brother home and salvage what’s left of their family. Told from the alternating points of view of the three family members, Who By Fire is a searing commentary on guilt, grief, and the inescapable bonds of family from a fresh and extremely talented new voice in American fiction.

Diana is the first author that I have had a chance to interview on Jo-Jo Loves to Read. So thank you so much for this opportunity Diana, and here is the interview:

What was your inspiration for writing Who By Fire?
I wrote a story about two of the protagonists, Ash and Bits. It was a disturbing story with an unsettling ending, so I found my way back to it. I wanted to know what was up with Bits' brother, Ash. Why was he living in Israel? Why wouldn't he call his sister?

What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?
I love Passover, which falls in the spring. The two first nights are "seders," huge ceremonial dinners with lots of wine. We usually do Passover at my grandma's house, and there are usually about fifteen of us, and I have a game that I devised that I make everyone play every year, and it gets everyone talking and staying up late, instead of eating too quickly and passing out.

Did you grow up in a family that believed in following Jewish traditions as closely as possible? Also, do you think it is more difficult to try to follow these traditions in today's society?
My family is more religious than I am, but I wasn't raised with Orthodox practices. Rather, we had Shabbat dinners every Friday night, we went to Jewish summer camp, and our parents encouraged us to go to Israel (they met there back in the '70s). I liked the Judaism I grew up with, but I'm much more invested in the religion in a cultural way than in a faith-based way at this point. Yes, religion is difficult in today's society. Of course. It's pretty incongruous. I think that's why many people go either balls-to-the-wall or give it up entirely.

What kind of research was required of you to write Who By Fire?
I did a lot of research. I read and read and read. I went to Israel. I toured men's yeshivas. I worked in a girls' yeshiva high school. I worked in an Israeli restaurant. I made frequent use of, a website where people can chat live with Orthodox rabbis twenty-four hours a day. (How great is that?) I love research. It's a great way to procrastinate from writing. It's like leaving a really dirty pan in the sink "to let it soak."

Could you please explain your writing process to us, including whether you know the ending of your books when you begin?
My writing is character-driven, which means I not only don't know the ending when I begin, I also don't know the beginning or the middle. I wrote several drafts of Who By Fire before I thought, "Diana, the time has come. You need to tell a damn story." Constructing a plot feels so unnatural to me. I think of it as the math-and-science part of the process. I was never very good at math and science.

Do you attend any workshops or belong to any writing groups that have helped improve your writing skills?
I got my MFA degree in fiction fom the University of Montana, and a big part of my education there was "workshop," where my short stories were critiqued by my professors and my peers. I learned almost everything I know about writing during those two years. Since then, whenever I write something, I give it to my "readers," friends of mine who are also professional writers. They are the best. They have saved me a lot of embarrassment. They'll read something I've written that I'm excited about because it's hot off the press and I don't have perspective on it yet, and they'll say, "Um. Why don't you put this one away for a while? It's not your best work." They're always right.

I have heard from several author interviews that the publishing/editing process can be a very humbling experience. What was this experience like for you and do you have any suggestions for aspiring authors to help them deal with this process?

Make the work as good as you can possibly make it before searching for an agent to represent you and sell your book. Then make sure you're getting a good agent. I am hopelessly in love with my agent. She has gone to bat for me every step of the way. I'm very lucky. I'm even luckier because I wound up with a terrific editor, too. So I'm kind of in the minority in that I have very few complaints about my experience. My book got a lot of attention from my publisher, partly because my publisher (Harper Perennial) gives all of its books a lot of attention. So the whole ride has been pretty great.

Did you have moments when writing Who By Fire that were plagued by writer's block? If so, how did you stay inspired to continue writing?
Um...only for about a year. It felt like someone was hitting me in the forehead with a hammer over and over again, day after day. It finally went away when my agent sold my novel. Go figure.

From some of your other interviews I noticed that you enjoy yoga, which explains why you look so fabulous! What are some other hobbies that you enjoy to do during your down time? (If you get down time, that is!)
Ah. Bless you, Joanne. I don't have much down time because I work about 29387402398659283430987650 jobs. But I love all things social. My friends are the best. I hang out with them as much as I can. And of course, I love to read.

Well you tell me if you don't agree with me that Diana looks fabulous!

What is an average day like in the life of Diana Spechler?
No such thing. But I try to make writing the centerpiece of it.

What would an ideal "night on the town" in New York consist of for you?
A good dinner. A good dive bar. One of my favorite restaurants is Hane Sushi on 38th and 3rd. One of my favorite bars is the beer bar Burp Castle in the East Village. The locals call it the monk bar because there are murals of monks on the walls, and the bar features beers brewed by Trappist Monks, and when it gets too loud in there, everyone puts their fingers to their lips and says, "Shhhhhhh."

I don't know about you but this bar sounds like a fun place to check out!

To find out more information about Diana Spechler or her book you can check out her website here. Thanks again Diana for taking the time to share on such a personal level and I wish you the best of luck with your future novels!

There have been a few blogs that have reviewed Who By Fire and also had interviews with Diana. Here are just a few of them:
Ramya's Bookshelf recently posted a review.
At Home With Books posted an interview.
Seaside Book Worm Blogger also had an interview.


Anonymous said...

Great interview, Jo-Jo! Diana Spechler sounds like a really cool author with a great attitude! (And yes, she does look good, but I won't admit it coz I'm jealous! LOL!)

Anonymous said...

Fantastic interview!! You asked some great questions. I had the pleasure of meeting Diana at the Book Group Expo last year...she's a wonderful person.

Toni said...

What a fantastic Interview. I have been reading other interviews with Diana also. I am more than half way finished with this incredible book. I had to stop for another commitment. I just can't wait until this weekend to wrap up. I am chompin' at the bit to finish. It is captivating. If I could have called in sick to finish I would have!!

YES.. she looks great!!

Michele said...

Loved this interview, Jo-Jo! Always nice to hear about another U of M alum!

Meytal Radzinski said...

Nice guiding questions. Good questions lead to good answers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Joanne! This was so much fun. Everyone else, thanks for commenting! I'd love to hear from you if you want to feature Who By Fire on your blog.
-Diana (the author)

Kaye said...

Hi Jo-Jo, I just wanted to make sure you read the second e mail from me about your address to ship the book. I am having e mail probs so use the yahoo one I sent you. Thanks. I have the other four already.

Jo-Jo said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone! Especially you Diana--i also would like to add that I appreciate the fact that you seem so down to earth!

Softdrink: I've heard so much about that Book Group Expo that I may have to look into it this year.

Toni: I can't wait to see your review on this one.

Betty: I think she sounds like the girl next door--someone you could open up to.

Michele and Anonymous: Thanks for the compliment...hopefully I have the opportunity for more interviews in the future.

Kaye: Thanks for popping in, I sent a new email this morning.

TexasRed said...

Great interview! Thanks for asking about her writing process.

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to read her book!

Anonymous said...

What a fun interview! I LOVED *Who By Fire*, all that "soaking" of research really worked well for her when it came time to write ... I want to read more of her work.

Diana wrote a Spotlight on Bookstores post about Three Lives & Company (bookstore) in NYC.

Anna said...

Great interview. I loved this book!

Diary of an Eccentric