What inspired you to write AT VITORIA?
I was inspired by the beauty of how two diverse peoples, the Basque and the Jews, could live together in harmony and help each other while the cities around them were in turmoil with Inquisition trials and pogroms against Jewish communities. To stay true to my inspiration, during the time I was writing the book, I did not read any literature or see any films that I might later unknowingly plagiarize in some way. I only read history books and original source documents that informed me about such things as the history of the era, about the typical lives of medieval Jews and Basques, the Inquisition, life and lifestyles during medieval times.
Tell us more about your childhood. Where did you grow up? How did this impact your career? Was your mission to help everyone be understood?
I was also inspired by my own childhood, growing up in South Chicago in a pluralistic neighborhood with families of many different religions and ethnicities. On the streets surrounding my elementary school were houses of worship for Lutherans, Methodist, Catholics and Jews. I went to an inner-city high school and my friends were of diverse ethnicities and races. We all had fun together regardless of our different backgrounds, and some of these “kids” became life-long friends. This background enabled my career to prosper because I felt comfortable with people no matter what their backgrounds were, and it also set me on a path to be kind and helpful to all people. As a strategy consultant in the financial services business sector, this was very important. This background also set me on a path of philanthropy and created the desire to contribute and volunteer wherever I could.
What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
My advice to a new writer would be to start somewhere, anywhere. Get your thoughts out of your head and onto paper or a keyboard. And I encourage writers working on their first book to participate in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month .
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
I have the most trouble consistently finding blocks of time to write. I have found that the distractions from phone calls, emails and other interruptions have to be walled off. When I’m writing, I have to resist the urges to answer the phone, respond to emails and be generally responsive, which is my basic nature. I try to write for at least two hours each morning, very early in the morning when distractions may be less prevalent.
What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
The rape of Cassela was definitely the most difficult chapter to write. Cassela was a child, doing an errand for her mother just as many children do. As a child, she was not just naïve, but innocent. She believed in the goodness of all, but this belief led to her downfall. Creating the scene where Cassela is deceived into believing that her rapist is good-hearted was a mix of emotions for me. The rape takes place in a dark, damp building that had been the home of a Jewish family before their conversion to Christianity, a place that symbolically could be described as a “place of betrayal”. It was here that Cassela was betrayed by the young man who raped her and the Jewish family had betrayed their ancestors and their heritage.
What part of the book was the most fun to write?
I loved writing the chapters that took place in Bayonne, France. The dialogue flew out of my head through my fingers and onto the keyboard. The final chapters which tie everything together were a blitz of words going onto the page. It wasn’t just wonderful that I was ending the book, but I was giving the raison d’ être, that is, the reason for why I knew 12 years before At Vitoria was published, that I had to write this book.
What are the last 5 books you read? What books have you read that truly impressed you? Favorite genre?
I have aways loved biographies. Two books that I found interesting, educational and insightful were Lioness about Golda Meir by Francine Klagsbrun and A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion by Tom Segev. The authors “pulled the covers off” these two Israeli giants of history and gave the reader an in-depth look at the good, the bad and the ugly. Just as I like to re-watch movies for the nuances I’ve missed, I like to re-read books. A book that I have read several times is Ron Chernow’s The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. J.P Morgan was brilliant and brutal and all sides of him are revealed in Chernow’s book. For lighter reading, I read Pops, the biography of Louis Armstrong, who was amazing in how he navigated the segregated South and the Jim Crow era yet succeeded in becoming a musician of iconic status.
What was your path to publication?
I’m not very good at self-promotion so I took a hybrid path of self-publishing and traditional publishing. By going through a large, well-established and well-respected company, I had at my disposal a large buffet of tools and services that a traditional publisher would offer. This approach taught me about publishing and helped me learn what I liked and disliked about each approach.
Who was your favorite character to write, and why is that person your favorite?
Without a doubt, Agamit, the sister of Benjamin, Vidal, Rofeh Michah and Yosef. Her bellicose and bossy style was the most fun to create dialogue and descriptions for. She had a controlling personality and was a bit of a bully to her brothers. But when she realized she was not going to get her way, she knew to back off. Readers who have ever been bullied by a sibling were rooting for Agamit to back off and get her comeuppance.
What characters in your book are most similar to you or to people you know?
Would you and your main character get along?
This is a difficult question to answer because there were several main characters: Vidal, Rofeh Michah and the city of Vitoria, which was not just a location or setting, but a virtual character in the book. Furthermore, the entire Crevago family can be seen collectively as a character in the book. However, the character most similar to me might be Rofeh Michah, a community leader who advocates for the Jewish community and the populace at-large, a well-respected member of the community, a person of integrity and kindness. He was capable of showing determination when facing unforeseen circumstances and tragedy.
Knowing that this book was inspired by true events, how much of this was backed
by your research, and how much was inspired by your imagination?
Once I visited the old cemetery area in Vitoria, now called the “Judizmendi”, which translated from Basque means the “mountain of the Jews,”the story grabbed me and I couldn’t get it out of my head. Many of the events cited in the book actually happened, for example, the coronation of Queen Isabella in Segovia. Although I read various historical books and source documents about this event, I embellished the descriptions. The same was true for the Inquisition trial. I created the dialogue and descriptions based on original source documents describing such an event. I created the Crevago family so I could write the dialogue between characters to move the story along, create intrigue and push emotionality into the timeline of events.
What perspectives or beliefs challenged you with this book? What perspectives or beliefs have YOU challenged?
I did not have any perspectives or beliefs challenged by writing the book, and I don’t know if I challenged any perspectives or beliefs. What I can say is that writing about Vitoria and the events that happened there confirmed my belief that diversity is better in life than uniformity. The more different types of people that you know and interact with, the more well-rounded you become as a person. Diversity broadens one’s ability to see the world as it really exists.
At what point do you think that someone should call themselves a writer?
When a person sets pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, he or she is a writer. I don’t believe labels are very helpful or important, but if a person wants to be a writer of any sort, all one needs to do is write.
What different do you see between a writer and an author?
I don’t believe there is a difference between a writer and an author. Any time someone writes something the person becomes a writer, and when they sign their name to what has been written, the person becomes an author. On a technical level, I don’t see much difference.
What impact did you hope to make with AT VITORIA getting published?
My purpose in writing about the events in Vitoria was solely to get the story out and have more people learn about how the Basque and Jews worked together for a stronger community. I hope as people read At Vitoria, they will perhaps be more welcoming to people who are different from themselves. The world tent is large and we can all fit inside it.
What’s next? and when can we expect that?
I’m working on a book about growing up in South Chicago and events in my childhood that changed my thinking and nurtured my perspectives on life, my goals and how I behave as a human being.