Join me today for an interview with New York Times Best-selling author Lauren Belfer as she discusses her new novel -- And After The Fire.
Lauren Belfer’s passion for history shines in this well-researched story that propels readers from the elite musical world of Sara Levy’s Berlin in the 1800s through the German holocaust to Susanna Kessler’s present day New York. Fact and fiction blend seamlessly as Belfer weaves the suspenseful story of two women whose lives are linked by love, death, and a long hidden Bach cantata.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and how did you set about realizing that goal?
I decided to become a writer when I was six years old. I spent my early writing years crayoning stories about heroic pets. By high school, I was submitting my poetry to literary journals and receiving rejection letters from all the best places. Sometimes these letters included the words “thank you,” with the initials of the person doing the rejecting. I took this as a sign of enthusiastic encouragement. The first short story I ever published was rejected 42 times before it found an editor who loved it. The second short story I published was much more successful: it was rejected only 27 times. I learned early on that persistence is the most important trait a writer can have!
What do you do when you are not writing?
Although I don’t sit at my computer all day, being a writer seems to permeate every moment. Everything I come into contact with becomes a kind of research. I get ideas as I walk down the street, and as I read the newspaper. In the evening I might go to a concert, or meet friends for dinner, or simply stay home and watch TV, and small details of what I see and experience spark my imagination.
Briefly, what's your book about?
“And After the Fire” explores almost two hundred and fifty years of history through the prism of a fictional, prejudicial artistic masterpiece.
What attracted you to Fanny Mendelssohn’s story?
To me, Fanny Mendelssohn was a tragic figure. She was extraordinarily gifted as a musician and composer, but when she was a teenager, her father told her that music could never be more than an “ornament” to her true calling as a wife and mother. And she did fulfill her father’s wishes, marrying and having a child. She was also among the most gifted composers of her era. Her husband and her mother both urged her to publish her music. Alas her world-renowned brother, composer Felix Mendelssohn, discouraged her, and his opinion was the only one that mattered for Fanny. Felix did, however, publish six of her songs under his name. As I worked on the novel, I kept asking myself – why did Fanny accept this injustice?
What would you like readers to take from your novel?
I’d like readers to feel that they’d read a good story, with compelling characters who stayed with them after they finished the book.
What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on several projects, but I’m very superstitious, so I can’t reveal the details until I’m finished!
What is your writing process?
On most days, I get up early and write while the world outside my windows still seems asleep.
Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Each of my novels is separate, focused on completely different themes and settings. Once I have an idea for a novel, I think about how the issues I want to explore would play out through the eyes of my characters. Sometimes my characters surprise me, by going off in directions I couldn’t have predicted. I make a general outline of my novels before I begin, but then I put the outline away, to allow the characters and their individual concerns and interests to lead the way.
What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Dozens and dozens of writers and books have influenced my work. I’ve created several shelves on my Goodreads page, listing the books that have most influenced me at different stages of my life, and as I wrote each of my three novels.
Books that inspired me as I worked on “And After the Fire” include: “Possession,” by A.S. Byatt, “The Lost,” by Daniel Mendelsohn, “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” by Edmund de Waal, “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan, “The Blind Assassin,” by Margaret Atwood, and
“Embers,” by Sándor Márai
What are the most important elements of good historical fiction?
I believe that historical fiction should, above all, portray people living their lives from day to day without knowledge of what the future will bring. Instead of looking back at the past from the perspective of the present, I think writers of historical fiction need to begin in the past, and strive to put themselves into the shoes of their characters.
What suggestions about revising would you offer for upcoming writers?
Each writer I know approaches revising differently, so upcoming writers must figure out what works best for them, through trial and error. I tend to write my first draft quickly, straight through to the end, without stopping to revise. This gives me a sense of the overall arc of the story. Then I go back to the beginning and revise, revise, revise, usually for years!
What’s one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you’d like to pass on to upcoming writers?
The most important piece of advice I can give to upcoming writers is: Never give up.