Q: Where do you get your material?
A: In writing fiction, I am fascinated by the thought of what it is like
to live inside another body, to have a completely different set of reference
points, from cultural allegories to music, food and dress. I am intrigued by the
way the physical landscape shapes the people who are either confined--or
freed--by it. (This is true especially for my two yet-unpublished novels, one
set in Russia and one in China.) Therefore, while I have traveled extensively, I
don't always belong to the places in which my novels are set, nor am I always of
the people that materialize in my fiction. For me, the most exciting part about
writing is discovering all that imagination within me and using it, then
researching places, customs, food, plant life, weather, political system,
linguistic syntax, architecture and geography. However, as did in Puppet
Child, I incorporate into my writing emotions with which I am familiar--the
power of motherhood, the commitment to friendship, the pain of personal growth.
Writing is an outlet for my outrage over injustice, prejudice, and ignorance.
Q: It's hard not to wonder how much of PUPPET CHILD story is
A: None of it. Years ago I was in Family Court in what should have been a
simple divorce case. Almost two years later, with my parents' savings depleted
and my children's lives almost destroyed had I not put up a fight, I was left
wondering how women and children with real problems--and none of my resources
and stamina--could ever survive the justice system. I started paying attention,
feeling enormous compassion for children whose mothers lost the battle. On a
more global note I must say that the forces that shape our lives--political
upheavals, big governments, or the legal system--intrigue me with the infinite
possibilities with which the human spirit can be either broken or rise above
them. I bring to Puppet Child the profound compassion I feel for children
and parents betrayed by those who are supposed to protect them.
Q: How did you conduct your research?
A: I sat in family court and spoke to the judges, who allowed me to sit
at closed hearing proceedings. One judge even gave me his files to take home to
study. I also I posted an 800 number where victims--mostly women--called me to
tell me their heart-breaking stories. As the plot and subplots of PUPPET
CHILD unfolded, I spoke with lawyers, judges, law enforcement personnel and
family law activists I either knew personally or met on the Internet. People
love to help novelists.
Q: How did the plot come into being? How did you structure the novel?
A: Actually, the characters wrote the story for me. They simply took
over. I had first started exploring the character of the judge. He was the most
complex and intriguing for me. Then came Phil, the young law clerk with his own
personal history and agenda, who challenged him. Rachel, the protagonist,
squatted in my head from the start, and in the rewrites, as she encountered new
dramatic events, she pushed her way into the forefront.... In the first draft, I
never knew which of the characters would tell the next chapter. However, the
three of them could only interact in a certain way as they plotted their way
around one another. The danger in allowing characters to take over is that they
often lead the writer astray. And sure enough, at the end, I had to cut many of
their side stories in order to focus on the storyline.
Q: What were the moments of defeat and triumph in the process of writing
A: There were many sad moments as I listened to stories of women who,
along with their children, were the victims of the justice system. These were
people's lives, years hijacked from children and mothers, never to be
recaptured. I had some interesting moments of enlightenment when judges
cooperated with me and gave me free access to their files, which included their
personal notes. I was amazed at how these gregarious, well-meaning men were
simply clueless as they victimized the victims. Sometimes it was hard to sit
still in court when they handed down insensitive or harsh rulings.
Later, I experienced moments of doubt when major publishers opined that Puppet
Child, was a "very well-written page-turner, but readers don't buy
books with child abuse in it." To me, Puppet Child is not about
child abuse, but rather about a mother's struggle against the legal system--and
about all the other forces that play in such situations-political corruption,
corporate indifference, family dynamics, media feeding-frenzy. Nevertheless, I
discovered that what was OK for memoirs and other non-fiction books, was a
"no-no" for fiction. "A novel is meant to entertain,"
mainstream publishers claimed, "not to be a soap-box."
Q: You have proven that you can tell a story that is entertaining while it
carries an important social message. How did it finally come about?
A: I had learned a great deal from having established Business Women
Marketing Corporation, at that time sidestepping the media giants, and, with a
solid idea, my company actually become a competitor they had to reckon with.
With my agent's blessings, I signed up with a small publisher that, while
standing behind me, offers me the freedom to make decisions. For example, the
novel was published both in hardcover and soft cover almost simultaneously
because I insisted on making Puppet Child price accessible to the broader
number of readers. I am also making myself available to reading clubs--in person
or by phone--and am accepting speaking engagements that cut on my writing time,
but which give me enormous satisfaction. I am unwavering in my belief that, like
me, many readers enjoy "intelligent women's fiction" that teaches
something while being engrossing, exciting, unforgettable. First and foremost, I
am a mother, and while writing this work I allowed myself to be carried away
with the emotions of indignation, courage and despair my protagonist, Rachel,
was feeling when taking on the giant adversary in order to save her daughter.
The reviews so far have proven that my trust in the readers has been well
placed. Puppet Child has been picked by several reading groups who
unanimously loved it. Every such positive feedback is a moment of triumph--not
only for me, but also for the message that finds yet another home.
Q: Women's issues are the themes in your novels. Do you believe that the
job of a writer is to educate?
A: Perhaps. For me, writing is another way of bringing women's issues to
the forefront. It was my experience in Russia, where I went twice in 1993 to
teach women business skills that jump-started my writing career. Matryoshka Doll
was written as the cry and the triumph of the spirit of the women I met there.
For many years I was active in women's civic and professional organizations.
Over $1,000,000 of the proceeds of my company, Business Women Marketing
Corporation, went to benefit professional women's organizations that, in turn,
invested in educating women in their respective industries. Since financial
independence is the prerequisite for all other forms of independence, I taught
entrepreneurial skills to women as a volunteer at The Small Business
Administration's affiliates programs. When I traveled to the International
Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995, it was to participate in economic
seminars. However, my attention was hijacked by the issue of violence against
women worldwide. In Beijing, after watching a video about clitoridectomy, I
helped African women to develop a campaign geared toward educating their
governments and their people on the brutality of the procedure.
Puppet Child is a protest against our justice system, which betrays
and destroys our most vulnerable citizens who come seeking help from this last
resort. If the public learns about this shameful secret, then I have educated
them. But my goal-the conscious one at least-had been to write a good suspense
novel I would have loved to read.
Q: What does developing the writing craft involve? Can one learn it?
A: It seems that talent is distributed in a pyramid shape. At the very
narrow top you'll find the outstanding writers who have shaped the world of
literature. Below them, making up several layers, are those of us who toil at
the keyboard with varying results, with the bottom layer being the widest, but
also, naturally, the least accomplished. I am not referring to either the
enjoyment of the craft, which can be enormous regardless of one's abilities, nor
to marketability, which has to do with venues, relevance and tenacity as a
promoter, not as a writer.
Since I began writing in 1994, I have read two dozen "how-to"
books, attended many serious workshops and conferences such as the prestigious
Iowa Writing Festival, Bread Loaf (VT), Sewanee (TN), The International Writing
Guild at Skidmore (NY), the University of South Florida, and The New School in
New York. While I worked with some wonderful authors such as Alice McDermott and
Robert Boswell and had professional editors advise me about my novels, my
writing buddies--both online and in my face-to-face writing group--have been my
Oh, yes, a writer must also engage those little pesky things called
"muse" and "discipline," which I don't find elusive, because
what I want most of all is to write.
Q: Where do you see yourself heading next, as a woman and as a writer?
A: Besides seeing "China Doll" published in 2004? Since I have
been surprising myself, I plan to continue to be surprised.