Indie Monday

This week’s guest: Doris Rubenstein

This week I’m pleased to host award-winning author Doris Rubenstein. Doris is a native of Detroit and graduate of the University of Michigan. After two years in Peace Corps/Ecuador, she started a long career with non-profit organizations and in the field of philanthropy. She is the author of five books besides her newest one. You’re Always Welcome at the Temple of Aaron won the 2009 USCJ Schechter Award, and The Journey of a Dollar was a Silver Franklin Award winner from the IBPA. Doris has lived in Minnesota since 1984 and received her M.A. from Augsburg University there in 1993; her thesis won a Kenneth Clark Award for Research in Leadership from the Center for Creative Leadership (N.C.).  She has been a regular contributor to numerous local and national publications on the subjects of Philanthropy and the Arts.

This week Doris will talk about her newest book, The Boy with Four Names (iUniverse, 2021).

DL: Congratulations on your new book! What is it about?

DR: The book is an historical novel about a Jewish family, and especially their son, who fled Nazi Germany and landed in Ecuador. There are three points of view in the story: the father, the mother, and the Boy with Four Names himself. Each of them has a different path, but they come together through dangers and difficulties to find a new home that is safe, free, and welcoming.  

The book is aimed at teenagers, but—like War Horse and the Harry Potter books—adults can enjoy it, too. The boy has a really difficult time defining his identity, as do many teens wherever they may be. This makes it especially appealing to that audience. But then again, who didn’t struggle with their identity in high school?  I was amazed when I talked with many of my classmates while preparing for my class reunion four years ago; how many of them identified themselves entirely differently than I would have identified them at that time: the “cool” kids, the shy kids, etc. From what I could tell, it wasn’t until we broke away from our neighborhood roots and families that we created our own identities. That’s sort of what happens to the “hero” of this book, only he manages to do it when he’s younger than most.

DL: What inspired the creation of the book?

DR: There is a real boy with four names, only he’s about 84 now: Enrique Cohen. His family fled Europe when he was a toddler and he was brought up in Ecuador. Along the way, he attended the University of Michigan, where he met my cousin and they married a couple of years after graduation. I’m a lot younger than he is, and the difference seemed even greater when the two of them got married and headed off for a life in Ecuador. But, as fate would have it, when I was accepted into the Peace Corps in 1971, I was assigned to Ecuador. When I worked on the coast and in the Amazonian areas of the country, when I’d come into Quito for R&R (or training or whatever), I’d stay with the Cohens—either my cousin and Enrique or Enrique’s parents, who treated me like a niece. I lived in Quito for eight months during Peace Corps and saw them at least weekly during that time. I’ve been back for visits five or six times over the past 48 years. I was always curious about their story, but they really didn’t talk about it much. I got snippets here and there, but nothing close to a narrative. 

I got the idea for the book while on a visit in 2013. We were invited to an event at the synagogue there. I knew some of the other Jews in Ecuador, but didn’t know their stories, either. My Jewish (and non-Jewish) friends in the States were amazed to learn that there are Jews living in Ecuador, some for four generations now. Their exposure to Holocaust stories pointed toward those who fled to the U.S. or Canada, or Israel. Maybe some of our generation knew that Jews had gone to Argentina because of the Eichmann trial. But Ecuador? As for teens, the only “teen” story they seem know of is Anne Frank’s, and that’s got a pretty sad ending. I thought that a different story directed at them—like Enrique’s life—would shed new light on the lives of Holocaust survivors. And his true search for a unified identity certainly should resonate with many teens, too.

DL: Could you talk about your writing process? Did it differ from the way you’ve written your other works? Did the pandemic affect the writing or launch?

DR: The writing process started with research. I visited Ecuador in 2019 and did an in-depth interview with Enrique. His wife sat in on it and after it was over, she said that she’d never heard most of the stories he told—and they’d been married over 50 years at that time! I’d written a “novelized” history of my father’s family about six years earlier (printed just enough copies for my relatives and a couple copies for Historical Societies), so I felt comfortable with the genre of historical fiction. In reality, I’m a non-fiction writer—mostly histories and newspaper and magazine articles. I surprised myself that writing this book was not all that difficult: inventing dialogs, etc. seemed to flow fairly easily.

Aside from the interview with Enrique in Quito, he and I exchanged many more emails when I had questions or needed clarification. But there were numerous questions he couldn’t answer because he’d been too young to remember things, or his parents and grandparents never discussed them in his presence. So I had to invent a lot of things that seemed plausible and were historically accurate. For example, I wrote that the family got forged identification papers from the Olivetti family, of typewriter fame. They probably didn’t, but it’s a documented fact that the Olivettis (who were Jews) forged hundreds of documents for Jewish refugees from across Europe.

Even with this, I still had places in the story that could be filled in only by other Jewish refugees to Ecuador. I can’t remember how I found it, but I found a Facebook group called “Jews of Ecuador” (the JOEs, as they refer to themselves). It is a closed group for Jews who were born in Ecuador, or who grew up in Ecuador, or whose parents fit those parameters. I asked for permission to join the group, explaining my purpose. They were terrific!  The JOEs supplied me with numerous stories from their families’ experiences that were slipped into The Boy with Four Names when Enrique’s memory was deficient.

I also read two books by JOEs: one was a memoir written in English; the other is a history of the Ecuadorian Jewish community. It’s written in Spanish and is very academic, but full of good stuff! My Spanish sure got a workout with that book!

The hardest part for me was to make the language “teen friendly.” I didn’t want to write at too high a level, but I didn’t want to talk down to them. I ran a fairly late draft past two friends who taught high school and both assured me that I was right on target.

The pandemic didn’t really help or hurt me while writing. I’m retired, so my time is my own. I also was working on another project at the same time, a history of Jewish theatre in the Upper Midwest (I live in Minnesota). That came out last fall. I wrote it for the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest. So when I needed a break from one project, I would concentrate on the other.

DL: What was the best part of writing this book?

DR: Actually, I loved the research. Connecting with Enrique in an entirely different way, though I’ve known him since I was twelve. Meeting the JOEs on Facebook, reading their stories, and being so completely accepted into their world.

DL: What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

DR: The hardest parts were making sure that the events of the Cohen family coincided accurately with the actual historical events that drove them out of Europe to Ecuador. I wanted to be sure that this book could be used as a teaching tool about the Holocaust as much as a pleasure-read without making it like a textbook or, on the other hand, a totally fictional book.

DL: How can readers purchase it or get a signed copy?

DR: As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for the publisher’s rep to call so that I can order copies of books to be delivered to me for autographing and direct sales.  I’ve set up a Facebook page for The Boy with Four Names that has a link to my email address. The best way to buy it is from the publisher: www.iUniverse.com/Bookstore. Then insert my name or the book’s title in the search box.

DL: Any final reflections you would like to share?

DR: I ran a PDF of this book past the Executive Director of the Association of Holocaust Organizations. She exclaimed, “There’s NOTHING like this for teens on the market right now and this story has to be told and read!” Wow. What an endorsement! But this book is not only a Holocaust story. It tells a LOT about Ecuadorian geography and culture during the 1940s: what it’s like to have lived in a Third World country back then. And, of course, it’s appealing for the psychological profile of a teen, trying to figure out who he truly is as his own person.

DL: Thank you for joining us this week, Doris. Much luck with the new book!  

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Elizabeth Wehman

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With so many cancellations of in-person author events due to World War C, I’m devoting my blog to Indie Monday interviews for the coming months to help my fellow authors with promotion. I’ll be featuring indie and small-press authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m happy to host author, journalist, and editor Elizabeth Wehman. The President/Founder of Shiawassee Area Writers, Elizabeth is the author of five novels: Under the Windowsill (2014), Promise at Daybreak (2015), Just a Train Ride (2017), Mere Reflection (2019), and The Year the Stars Fell (2020), all published by Summit Street Publishing.

Recently I posed some questions to Elizabeth. Here’s what she told me.

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

EW: I’m a born and raised Michigander. Besides my writing, I’m a trucker’s wife and mother of three grown children. I’ve worked in the newspaper business as a reporter and editor for twelve years, and also am the President/ Founder of the Shiawassee Area Writers here in Owosso. I love to garden, mow the lawn, and be outside whenever possible. I’m smelling retirement, just around the corner, but don’t see myself stopping the creative juices of fiction writing anytime soon. I’ve dreamed of being a writer for my entire life. In first grade, I read 100 books and it was then that I fell in love with stories and story-telling. 

DL: Tell us about your latest books and works in progress. 

EW: My latest book came out on April 15, 2020, and is titled, The Year the Stars Fell. It is my first complete historical fiction and is based on the first settling family to enter Shiawassee County in 1833. I will soon be starting the second in a three-part series, continuing to tell the complete story of a little village in Shiawassee County that no longer exists, before it went extinct around 1880. The series is called, “North Newburg Chronicles.” I am also helping my writing group, mentioned above, publish their third anthology and that is titled, Summer in the Mitten. The group has previously published, Winter in the Mitten and Spring in the Mitten. We hope to publish Autumn in the Mitten in September 2021.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

EW: Like I’ve said earlier, I love to write. Creating stories from my imagination is something I love to do. I also hope to instill good hometown values, the helping hand someone gets from a neighbor/friend, and the value of lessons learned from days long ago. I like to instill good, solid beliefs in God that help us through all of life’s trials, and show that within the words of my stories. My ultimate goal is to give insights on how to maneuver through life at our best, but with the help of our Creator and to give Him the praise when we do.

DL: Please talk about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

EW: I sit and write. I don’t let writer’s block or lack of ideas stop me from writing. I like to push through those roadblocks and see what can come from the days I feel off or when writing doesn’t come easy. My favorite part is the first time I sit down and begin a novel. I love creating believable and unique characters and then fleshing them out in the story. As a newspaper reporter/editor, I loved the research part of the story. When a small tidbit would release the thoughts of…what if’s…better than anything else. That’s why I’m so excited to write about this village, and hopefully more, that once existed and now does not…for whatever reasons.

Some of my greatest ideas come while I’m in the shower or on the lawnmower. The shower is my greatest thinking place. I can often get through difficult ideas/scenes by working them out while doing those two mundane things. Also walking often helps me create as well.

My least favorite is the editing part. When I’ve gone over edited my book over and over again and then I send it off to a formal editor and she/he sends me back with a million changes. I thought it was at a successful point, until someone else takes a look and changes my mind. LOL! Hard to be critiqued on something you thought was fairly good. It somehow discourages me the most and my confidence wanes.

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

EW: Being a novel writer is a dream come true for me. I’ve always told people that someday I hope to write books. Ever since college. So this job is literally a dream come true for me. The reward is seeing my writing as a useful/helpful tool in people’s lives. If they are touched, enlightened, affected, or even changed due to something I have written, that makes the process even more fulfilling for me. I used to go into the bookstore or library and push the books aside at the location on the shelf where my name would fit. I would tell my child, if they were with me, that’s where my books will be someday. To see them there now, just makes me smile. What a gift I’ve been given to have the opportunity to now have five books on the shelf of a bookstore or library.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

EW: My website is: http://www.elizabethwehman.com.My Facebook wall is Elizabeth Wehman/Author. I’m on Twitter @elizabethwehman, Instagram at summit.street.writer and Facebook. I’m also on Amazon and Good Reads at Goodreads.

Here are links to my books:

Under the Windowsill

Promise at Daybreak

Just a Train Ride

Mere Reflection

The Year the Stars Fell

Indie Monday

Today’s guest: Marie LaPres

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With so many cancellations of in-person author events due to World War C, I’m devoting my blog to Indie Monday interviews for the coming months to help my fellow authors with promotion. I’ll be featuring indie and small-press authors who produce quality work outside the boundaries and strictures of the traditional mass-produced, mass-marketed commercial publishing world and traditional bookstore shelves.

Today I’m happy to host Marie LaPres, novelist and educator. From Western Michigan, Marie is the prolific author of books for pre-teens through adults: Though War Shall Rise Against Me: The Turner Daughters Book 1 (2015); Be Strong and Steadfast: The Turner Daughters Book 2 (2017); Plans for a Future of Hope: A Vicksburg Story: The Turner Daughters Book 3 (2018); Forward to What Lies Ahead: The Turner Daughters Book 4 (2019); Wherever You Go: The Turner Daughters Prequel Novella (2018); Beyond the Fort: The Key to Mackinac Book 1 (2018); Beyond the Island: The Key to Mackinac Book 2 (2020); Whom Shall I Fear: Sammy’s Struggle: A Gettysburg Story (2017); and A Teacher Guide to Whom Shall I Fear: Sammy’s Struggle (2019).

Recently I posed some questions to Marie. Here’s what she told me.

DL: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

ML: My name is Erica Marie LaPres Emelander, but I write under the middle part of my name, Marie LaPres. I am a Middle School (6-8th grade) teacher at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I teach Social Studies and Religion. I love my job, and am totally the teacher who will dress up in historic costumes. I love learning about history, so my focus in writing is Historic Fiction. I’ve attended historic reenactments and worked for the Mackinac State Historic Parks years ago.

I am extremely close to my family, both my parents, my two sisters, one brother, my three in-laws, and my three nieces and three nephews. Family is extremely important to me, and I feel that is reflected in my writing. I also enjoy watching sports and coaching. My faith is also very important to me and that also shows up in my writing. I help out at my church with the High School Youth Group. I also love listening to music and living in West Michigan, as I love the changing seasons and the Great Lakes.

DL: Tell us about your latest book and works in progress.

ML: My latest works include Plans for a Future of Hope, which concludes my Turner Daughter Series. This series follows the Turner family, and each of the four books takes place in a city that was hit especially hard during the Civil War (Gettysburg, PA; Fredericksburg, VA; Vicksburg, MS; and Petersburg, VA). In these books, one of the main characters is a part of the family, so the books are all linked, though they follow the same timeline. One of the main characters of each of these is also a historic figure, and these books are as historically accurate as possible. I plan on writing other books in what I call the “Turner Daughter World,” including one of my WIPs.

Another newly released book is Beyond the Island. This is the second book of four in my The Key to Mackinac series. It is a Young Adult time travel novel, all set in the Mackinaw Straits. The first, Beyond the Fort, focuses on 1775 at Fort Michilimackinac on the mainland, and the newly released one takes place in 1814 on Mackinac Island. The final two will take place at Historic Mill Creek and the Mackinac Point Lighthouse. These are individual adventure stories, but there is also an overarching story as well.

I actually have three-six works in progress: one being edited, one being written, and two in the planning stages. The one being edited is a loose retelling of the classic Pride and Prejudice. It takes place in 1928/1929 America. Ellie Bennett lives on the family ranch outside Spearfish, South Dakota, in the Black Hills. Wealthy new neighbors bring excitement and the possibility of relationships, but class differences, pride, and prejudices may cause problems. Ellie will also travel to Biltmore manor in the Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri, in her story.  It’s pretty different from any of my other writings, but I am really excited about it.

The one I am currently writing is Young Adult Historical Fiction. It follows cousins Cassandra and Matthew during the four years of the Civil War. Cassandra is left to care for the family farm in Winchester, Virginia, which was constantly changing hands throughout the conflict. Matthew lies about his age and joins up with the Confederate Army and quickly learns that it is not all glory. This book is basically everything I teach to my students in the Civil War in awesome story form.

I am also planning my last two novels in the Key to Mackinac Series.

DL: Why do you write? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

ML: I love everything about literature. Reading and writing and creating stories have always been important to me. I incorporate what I am thinking and feeling in my books, and if you were to ask me “Which main character do you think is most like you?” my response is: all of them in, different ways. Writing is a way to express myself and perhaps help others get through their lives as well. I also write to teach. My books are Historical Fiction, and I am a huge history nerd! I love to share this love of history and teach using stories. Since I am a middle school teacher, I know that a lot of people learn best through stories.

DL: Please talk about your writing process. Where do your ideas come from? What is your favorite part of the process? Least favorite?

ML: I am always writing and usually writing and planning. My ideas come from my experiences. The idea for my first book came when I was on a family vacation to Gettysburg and heard the story of Ginny Wade. I never intended for it to grow from there, but then I went on vacation and we stopped in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where I got to the idea for doing the series. I also get ideas for learning and researching current writing projects. There are characters in my Turner Daughter World that beg to have their own full stories told, so I have those ideas. I write a monthly Michigan History article for the Buy Michigan Now website and constantly get new ideas. I have an ideas notebook so full of ideas it’s crazy.

Once I get a general idea, I do my research. I use a lot of primary documents, such as journals, articles, and letters from the past. This is where I can get my actual historic characters that I like to both focus on and weave in my stories. While I am doing that, I use note cards to outline the story. I like using note cards because I can move some scenes around if I feel it is needed. I also usually write out some scenes that really stick out in my head at this time. I handwrite all of my prewriting notes, note cards, and first drafts. It is how my brain works. I then work on the first draft, then convert it to a typed document. This can also count as the first round of editing.

My favorite part is developing the characters. They really do become a part of you, and there are many times that they take the story in a different direction that I did not originally intend.

After my first draft, my mother/top editor/everything else other than the first draft writer edits it and gives her input. I edit and fix things and add things as needed. Then it goes back for another round of editing. We eventually edit it to a point and get it out to some beta readers for final read-throughs. Then on to formatting.

My least favorite part is the last draft editing, mainly because by that time I am so ready to get it out to the readers and want to feel that sense of accomplishment once again. It takes a little too long sometimes, and I often get frustrated that I didn’t catch the typos/mistakes earlier.

I have many favorite parts. Researching, creating the stories, developing and exploring the characters are all great, and I also love the feeling of accomplishment when I hold the final draft in my hand and can share it with all my loyal readers. Hearing their feedback is great too!

DL: Could you reflect a bit on what writing or being a writer has meant for you and your life?

ML: I never anticipated being a writer. While I have enjoyed writing books and telling stories for as long as I can remember, I just didn’t think I would be good enough or that anyone other than myself and my Mommy would like my books. That has been the pleasantest of surprises. It has opened many doors to me, and it has made me a better person.

I still find it hard to reach out and sell my books/myself, but I am getting better. I find it easier to small talk with people and being a part of the writing community has been a blessing in my life. There are a lot of great writers/awesome people, especially in the Michigan writing community. Because of my books and selling, I have met a lot of great people in the Civil War Reenactment world as well. I am also now able to teach in many ways I never thought possible. I can teach through my actual stories, but this has also opened up opportunities for me to give speeches and presentations on my books and research practices, as well as historic topics. Writing and traveling to events has also allowed me to deepen my relationship with my mother. None of this would have happened if not for her, and I am so lucky that we get to spend so much time together.

DL: What are links to your books, website, and blog so readers can learn more about you and your work?

Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Marie-LaPres/e/B075J5VTX6%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Website: https://sites.google.com/view/marielapres/home

YouTube Page: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMovDGPKxKKcoWQP9lT3V8g

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mariejlapres/

GoodReads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14923931.Marie_LaPres

Blog: https://authormarielapres.blogspot.com/

Thank you so much for this opportunity. I really appreciate it!