Can we learn from our ancestral past? Do our relatives’ behaviors help mold our own? In Unexpected Gifts, that is precisely what happens to Sonia, a confused college student, forever choosing the wrong man. Searching for answers, she begins to read her families diaries and journals from America’s past: the Vietnam War, Woodstock and Timothy Leary era; Tupperware parties, McCarthyism and Black Power; the Great Depression, dance marathons, and Eleanor Roosevelt; the 1910 immigrant experience and the Suffragists. Back and forth the book journeys, weaving yesteryear with modern life until finally, Sonia begins to make the right choices.
SHARE YOUR BIO:
I have worn many hats in my life. My earliest hat involved music. I was trained in classical singing–not opera, but mostly ‘Art Songs’, performing the likes of Faure, Brahms, and Debussy. I soon learned, however, that I was too hindered by that rigidity, so I decided to branch out and start singing in local clubs during the ‘Disco Years’ to loosen up and get over my stage-fright. Standing up on stage, I would belt out (with an overly trained voice, mind you) light rock/pop songs to a four piece band while customers did their Polyester John Travolta and Donna Summers Thing.
After several bartenders quipped at me, “What are you doing here? Your voice is fine, but you just don’t belong”, and running home as soon as the 2am call came, leaving the rest of the musicians to jam until dawn, I realized that the life of a pop singer wasn’t for me.
I then moved onto the professional world of production art and calligraphy, followed by a long career as an award winning quilt artist/teacher and an ESL/Reading instructor. And when I tried my hand at fiction writing, I was totally hooked.
My short stories have been published in descent 2008, Snowy Egret, Transcendent Visions, The Storyteller and Down In the Dirt. Unexpected Gifts is my debut novel. Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads, a collection, is due out late 2013.
I confess to being intrigued by your days of Sex n’ Drugs n’Rock n’Roll n’cocoa. I think you’d have been great on the folk circuit with the likes of Maddy Prior or Peter, Paul and Mary.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
Without going on Ancestry.com or writing books about my family tree, I have, nevertheless, always been interested in my ancestors––what were they like? What did they have to go through as immigrants? How much a part of America did they play? I also love all facets of U.S. history, so when I decided to write a novel, these two areas quickly converged in my brain.
It would be interesting had the family kept diaries from the days when they first came to the U.S. to see how they found the differences from whence they came.
WHERE DID THE TITLE COME FROM?
The ‘Gifts’ part was suggested by a friend, the ‘Unexpected,’ by me. In hindsight, I realize I should have checked for other similar titles, because mine is a tad too popular, but hey, live and learn, no?
DO YOU ALWAYS WRITE IN THIS GENRE?
I have mostly written historical fiction, but there have been several short stories that are not in that genre and actually, I’ve enjoyed those very much. Maybe more modern work in the future?
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE WORLD, WHAT WOULD YOUR FIRST CHOICE BE?
Oh, boy. One thing? There are so many unsolved issues….okay, I’ll give it a shot. How ‘bout putting a muzzle on corporate greed for starters…(or greed in general)…I’m itching to list more things, but in deference to you, David, I shall refrain from doing so!!
Oh that’s good. I like deference since it only usually happens in my imagination. You should have scratched the itch though, I wouldn’t have minded. I have guidelines not rules.
WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION TO WRITE AND WHEN DID YOU START?
I’ve had kind of a weird avoidance about writing as an adult. Because so many family members were writers, I shied away from it, in fact I always laughed and exclaimed, “I wouldn’t touch that with a ten foot pole!” But finally, as a ‘mature’ woman, I sat down and started writing my first short story (included in my upcoming collection Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads), about the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911. It was like being injected with a heavy drug (trust me, I can only guess—I don’t know this from personal experience!!) I’ve never looked back.
WHAT WAS YOUR DESTINATION TO PUBLISHING? I.E., ARE YOU SELF PUBLISHED?
Probably because my family had always used traditional publishing, I just naturally assumed that was the way I would go. I am fast learning, however, that there is more freedom with self-publishing and certainly more income. It seems to be totally acceptable now and that is a good thing.
SHARE WITH THE READERS ONE LITTLE KNOWN FACT ABOUT YOURSELF
My main character Sonia has OCD—Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and in doing the research on that, I discovered that I, too, have some form of it. Oh, I don’t wash my hands twenty times a day or tap against tables or walls. No, mine comes in the form of a mind that never stops, which, although annoying at 4 a.m., actually, for a writer, ain’t so bad, you know?
In my case the best I can manage are shopping lists.
ARE YOU A WELL ORGANIZED PLANNER OR A PANSTER?
I am definitely a well-planned writer, or Plotter, as they say. I percolate about a vague plot idea along with characters and then, as I go along, I may write a scene or two, just to stretch my brain muscles and a feel for the story, but before I really start I need some kind of outline, even if it’s very generalized. In fact, if I don’t have an ending to my book before I write it, I get nervous, like something is rotten in Denmark.
ANY LINKS TO THE BOOK?
AN EXCERPT TO “UNEXPECTED GIFTS” – SAMPLES OF SOME OF SONIA’S RELATIVES’ STORIES
Chapter 2: Sam––Living With Fear
[From Sonia’s father’s letters]
“….crack-crack-crack! Everyone froze. “Get the fuck down!” yelled our squad leader, Sgt. Carbini.
We dropped like stones, trying to listen for snipers over our pounding chests…..”
“….Nearing the village, we passed women in their beige tunics, black pants, and Sampan hats…Most kept their heads lowered as they walked, but the few who didn’t, stared up at us with dead, black-brown eyes and pressed lips….”
“….Carbini was first. He marched over to a hooch, flipped on his Zippo, and carefully lit the underbelly of its thatched roof. It smoldered for a few seconds, a thin, rising wisp of smoke twisting in the tropical air. From that, a flame grew, nibbling at the straw with a low, blue heat before suddenly bursting into a torch, arcing up towards the sky in a yellow-hot blaze….”
Chapter 10: Tony’s Demons
[from Sonia’s great-grandfather Tony’s journal]
“…In 1930, the big city breadlines expanded by the hour, snaking around buildings like a cobra slowly choking the life out of its victims, but the farmers stayed smug; they thought they were the bee’s knees…..but when record droughts, the likes of which had never been seen, ravaged the Great Plains, farming became impossible. By 1936, storms had picked up, slamming the entire country with heavy rains, blizzards, tornadoes, and floods, and if that didn’t beat all, giant black clouds of rolling dust and grit darkened the sky over the Midwest, cocooning it like it was the end of the world….”
Chapter 12: Daria––Living With Proverbs
[written in Sonia’s Irish great great-grandmother Daria’s bible]
“….And they say I was born at an inconvenient time. The year was 1902, and the moment, the wee hours of a rain-soaked morn in County Kerry. A terrible storm it was, with lightning that crackled the sky and hoarse winds that rattled the trees. If it be true that St. Patrick had banished all the snakes from Ireland, it sure was a shame he didn’t bother with the rain. But maybe that was too big a job even for the likes of him, who knows?”
Chapter 14: Adriana––Guilty Freedoms
[from Sonia’s great Aunt Adriana’s journal]
“…Eleanor [Roosevelt] surreptitiously pulled me aside…”
“I want you to go down to Alabama…”
“….speeding off, I looked behind us at the Spanish Moss swaying in the sultry summer breeze, the porch lights on, the fireflies sparking, the cicadas sawing their song, and the memory of…double-edged gentility. We both breathed huge sighs of relief and agreed how we could now fully commiserate with the Negroes in our country, not only in the South.
BANG! My body lurched forward, my head hitting the windshield. I could hear Jim swearing.
“Dammit! They’re comin’ after us!”
Chapter16: Adriana––Sentinels Amongst the Hoi Polloi
[From Sonia’s great-great aunt Adriana’s journal when she was a young suffragist]
“…as the nurse jammed a twenty foot tube, topped off with a funnel on one end, far up into my right nostril, all my senses heightened. I could smell the stench of urine in my underwear, feel the ties on my hands digging into my skin, the hard chair under me prodding my backbone, and just before the steady flow of liquid food descended into my nasal cavity, I heard the nurse heave the tiniest of sighs.”
Chapter 18:Andrei––Escaping Icons
[From Sonia’s great great-grandfather Andrei’s journal working at the Ford Factory in 1915 Detroit]
“….The first couple of rooms were filled with drive train assembly lines, the large, metal chains hoisting and lowering engines onto chasses. The next couple of rooms were only for women building spark plugs by hand, their backs hunched over in awkward positions that foreshadowed major arthritis at too young an age…”
Synopsis for the upcoming Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads:
The eleven long short stories in “Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads combine history, mystery, action and/or romance, and range from drug trafficking using Guatemalan hand-woven wallets, to an Antebellum U.S. slave using codes in her quilts as a message system to freedom; from an ex-journalist and her Hopi Indian maid solving a cold case together involving Katchina spirits, to a couple hiding Christian passports in a comforter in Nazi Germany; from a wedding quilt curse dating back to the Salem Witchcraft Trials, to a mystery involving a young seamstress in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; from a 1980’s Romeo and Juliet romance between a rising Wall Street financial ‘star’ and an eclectic fiber artist, to a Haight-Asbury love affair between a professor and a beautiful macramé artist gone horribly askew, just to name a few.
Thanks so much for joining us Sarah and sharing the information. I am not responsible for any blackmail attempts and am not the A.N.Other that signed the demand. Oops. I hope it wasn’t too much of a trial.