Today we welcome Rochelle Wisoff Fields.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside of writing.
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: My husband Jan and I have been married for 46 years this November. We raised three sons who are spread from Upstate New York to Chicago to California. Our granddaughter Olive is 6 and her little sister is soon to make her appearance. When life closes in on me, the best way to de-stress is to walk (or drive if the weather’s inclement) to our nearby fitness center and swim laps. Between the fresh air and water, I always come back rejuvenated and ready to be creative. Besides writing, visual art is one of my passions. I was asked in another interview which I preferred, writing or painting. My response was that they’re on equal footing. Not only do I paint on commission, I also sketch and paint for pleasure.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: My first book, published in 2011 is entitled This, That and Sometimes the Other is an eclectic anthology of short stories. There’s no central theme. Hence, the title. I’ve written a trilogy of historical novels entitled Please Say Kaddish for Me, From Silt and Ashes, and As One Must, One Can. My publisher has referred to them as “The Havah Gitterman Saga.” I call them, “The Dark Side of Fiddler on the Roof.” The series spans a 10 year period from 1899 to 1909 and revolves around Havah Cohen, who survives the pogroms, government sanctioned massacres of the Jews in Eastern Europe. My reason for writing these was two-fold. First, I wanted to learn more of my own heritage. All four of my grandparents were immigrants from that part of Eastern Europe called the Pale of Settlement, the Jewish ghetto. I felt very close to them as I wrote. My second reason for writing the books was to educate the reader to the fact that the Holocaust wasn’t something that Hitler thought up on a whim. One article I read about the pogroms called them the dress rehearsal for the Holocaust. The Cossacks under Czar Nicholas II were as brutal as the Nazis but their heinous acts were not as well documented. As the few survivors of the concentration camps are passing away, memories are fading and deniers are increasing. The horror of the Pale of Settlement is becoming and even fainter memory. While my books are works of fiction, they are meant to be reminders. To quote George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: I do. It’s a coffee table book, A Stone for the Journey. It will be a large glossy book of illustrations, character studies and excerpts from the trilogy. This is a childhood dream so I’m pretty excited about it.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: Probably the most difficult section I’ve written was a graphically violent scene in Please Say Kaddish for Me. It involved the mutilation and murder of children. Not just any children. These were part of a family I myself had come to love.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: The internet is a wonderful resource, although it’s always a good idea to substantiate findings by using more than one source. I found another great tool to be newspapers on microfiche at the main Kansas City Public Library. Those gave the feel for the fashions trends and products of the day. Virtual Jewish Library and Jewish Gen were two invaluable resources for characterizations and making sure the dates of the Jewish holidays of the day were correct.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: It’s difficult for me to narrow down the list as it has varied over the past few years. Currently I’m reading Chaim Potok. I read Davita’s Harp and My Name is Asher Lev. Next on my list is The Gift of Asher Lev. Geraldine Brooks truly inspired me with her magnificently researched historical novels, beginning with People of the Book.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: There have been so many along the way, that it would be a challenge to zero in on one particular person. Probably the most influential were the ladies in a small, close-knit group called “The Dinner Writers” ten years ago. I was the novice of the group and these seasoned writers mentored, critiqued and encouraged me. Thanks to Polly Swafford, Julie Harris, Annette Williamson, Annie Withers and Pat Clothier, of blessed memory.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: Another writer once told me that the depth of my characters could be a detriment in selling my novels. Given that and the feedback I’ve received from readers, I would say that my greatest strengths are characterization and dialogue.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: Strict? Routine? I’m not sure those terms apply to me. My best time is early morning before the sun shows itself. Since I facilitate an online flash fiction challenge called Friday Fictioneers I’m always writing something.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: I wonder if I’ll still be leading Friday Fictioneers. I’ve been doing it for five years, what’s another five, right? Of course right. I would like to think there are a few more novels waiting to be born. So I’d say that I see myself doing more of the same.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: Be willing to slaughter your darlings. The reader will never miss them.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: I’ll share a recent compliment I did receive from a reader of Please Say Kaddish for Me:
“All your stories resonate with me, Rochelle, in some way or another, I think because your show compassion and empathy in all you write.”
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Rochelle Wisoff Fields: This is the prologue from As One Must, One Can edited to be used as the epilogue for A Stone for the Journey.
“I’ve reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it,” said Edward R. Murrow in his radio broadcast after the liberation of Buchenwald. “For most of it I have no words.”
World War II ended in 1945, the year I turned twelve. To celebrate, Dad treated my grandmother and me to a movie at the Uptown. Today, seventy years later, I can’t recall what was playing. All I remember is the newsreel.
Emaciated men and women stared at me from the screen. Bodies were stacked like pencils in mass graves. Images of skeletons in brick ovens flashed before me. Nazi murder mills, the newsreel announcer called the death camps.
The stunned silence that filled the theater was broken only by scattered gasps and sobs.
My father, Dr. Lev Gitterman, who had survived the atrocities of the Odessa pogrom in1905 and treated the wounded on the battlefields of WWI, turned ash white. He dropped his head into his hands. “The war’s over, but it never ends.”
Later that night, Dad had to rush to the hospital to perform an emergency C-section. Since Mom had gone to visit family in Oklahoma and I was too young to be left alone I spent the night with my grandparents.
I couldn’t sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw hollow cheeks and empty stares. I slipped on my bathrobe and padded to the living room where Bubbe sat at the piano and played Chopin’s Nocturne in C-Sharp Minor. She stopped and smiled. “You, too?”
Curling up on the sofa I nodded.
She looked younger than her sixty-two years. In the dim lamplight her brown eyes glittered. Her dark hair, too thick to pin up, cascaded around her slender shoulders and her ivory cheeks shone with tears. Sitting erect in her chair she wheeled it to the couch and stopped beside me. She cupped her soft hand around my chin. “I wasn’t much older than you—sixteen. The Cossacks burned our village and murdered my family before my eyes.”
“That’s the night you escaped in just your nightgown, right, Bubbe?”
“Then I nearly died in the Kishinev pogrom in 1903. Fifty people—some of them, babies—died that weekend. What was their crime? They were Jews.” She dropped her hand into her lap. “You’ve heard this a hundred times already. But I want you should never forget, Edith Gitterman.” Her eyes were suddenly faraway clouds. “Czar Nicholas was cut from the same cloth as this Hitler monster. As King Solomon said, ‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’”
Thank you and Shalom,
Trailer for PSKFM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1wr9oEhHyo