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Today I’d like to welcome Dave Clarke, author of Keeping Hannah Waiting, to Diary of an Eccentric.

You can read my review of this gem of a book here.

What inspired you to write fiction about the artist Marc Chagall?

Chagall was a natural choice for my Holocaust-inspired story not only because he is perhaps the most renowned Jewish painter, but his personal history, artistically, geographically, and chronologically fit my story’s needs exactly. I was elated when I discovered his time lines meshed with my story needs.

That, and of course, his work is absolutely spectacular–full of magic and rich with vivid colors, including according to him, the single most important color of all, “love.”

“In our life there is a single color, as on an artist’s palette, which provides the meaning of life and art,” Chagall said. “It is the color of love.”

I read that your parents are Holocaust survivors. Were they open about their experiences while you were growing up? How much of their experiences are in Keeping Hannah Waiting?

My parents were open about the fact that they were Holocaust survivors but spoke about their actual experiences very little, and usually in non-specific terms.

It was a challenge for them to balance the need to keep their children informed about our family’s history, to bear witness to what happened, with the desire to have us grow up as “normal, healthy, red-blooded, American kids,” to give us a happy childhood and enable us to assimilate with our friends. After all, that was one of the promises of immigrating to America—anyone can fit in while still being yourself.

Occasionally, while watching a documentary about the war on television, my father might say something like, “I used to do that,” as we were watching rail-thin skeletal remains of victims being carried in a heap in a wheelbarrow and dumped into a mass grave,” but mostly very little was said.

It wasn’t until Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation asked my parents to record their stories on video so they could be preserved along with other Survivor’s stories that I understood the depth of their experiences. And even then, only after we received copies of the videos. My parents asked my brothers and me to be home when the film crew came, but did not want us in the room while being filmed.

I was 45 years old before I understood the depth of their experiences vis a vis those videos. They explained so many things about how we were raised and why.

An example: My father often told me “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” That was contrary to my school-based training, not in step with the American way—you succeed on your merits and knowledge. When I learned from those videos that it was friends and family throughout his six-year internment that helped him choose one job versus another, that told him to get in this line and not that line–because no one ever came back from the other line–that I understood why it was so important to him that I learn that your connections help you advance (or survive) as much or more so than your academic knowledge.

The experiences in the book are a compilation of bits and pieces of many Survivors’ stories. Some are taken from my parents’ experience, some from their friends’ experiences, some from Survivors’ stories clipped from newspapers over the years as I collected information for a book about the Holocaust I knew I would write someday even if I didn’t know exactly how I would use them or what that book would be like in the end.

What do you want readers to take away from the book?

It matters not what religion a person is, the color of their skin, their gender, or their preference in lovers. What matters is who they are inside, the universal morals they carry within. It’s natural to fear people different from yourself but don’t draw any conclusions until you get to know them.

Understand the longevity of these evil acts and others like them, and their lasting repercussions. It’s been more than 60 years and Nazi evils are still reverberating and seeking resolution and closure around the world.

What happened in World War II to Jews, gays and lesbians, so-called gypsies (or Roma), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and others, could happen to any group of people different from the majority. The eighteenth-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke is thought to have said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Whether he said it or not, it is true. Each of us has the power to speak up when we see prejudice and injustice in our lives, to band together and overcome the evils that some practice. But if we choose to remain silent, nothing will change. One person has the power to make a difference but only if they speak up and take action.

And, I know it’s been said before, particularly by any number of singers, from the Beatles to Jewel, but “All you need is love” and “Only kindness matters.”

How long did it take you to write the book?

Seven years. Nights, weekends, vacations, holidays, days off, on the commute to work and back, on my down time during business trips overseas, driving to the grocery store, you name it.

Do you have a favorite space where you like to write?

When I began writing commercially (as a magazine writer and editor) I could no longer afford the luxury of waiting for “inspiration” to strike. I had to learn how to mentally extract myself from any physical environment and turn my creativity on and off whenever the time to write my novel made it possible to do so.

I used a technique I believe I “borrowed” from Amy Tan: Find a piece of music that inspires you for the task at hand and listen to it whenever you write. Using that tool, I could be inside my story and my characters in a matter of moments whenever the music played. That makes any place I’m writing and creating good fiction my favorite place.

What are your top 5 favorite books?

Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (just about anything by Vonnegut)

Are you working on another book? If so, any hints as to what it’s about?

I’m working on a coming-of-age novel blending mythology and reality at an elite young woman’s boarding school.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about writing and/or getting published?

Two pieces, if I may:

1) Read a thousand words for every one you intend to write.

2) If you know you have talent, if you believe in yourself and your story, ignore the rejections you are almost certain to get.

I have boxes upon boxes in my attic filled with rejection letters from editors and publishers who told me my work wasn’t up to their standards. If I listened to them, my career as a professional writer never would have happened.

The most objective measure I might use as an example of perseverance and success is that of a batter in baseball. The very, very best of them only succeed at hitting the ball four out of 10 times at bat. That means they fail 60 percent of the time, let alone lesser players who still succeed at a professional level by only hitting the ball 30 percent of the time and failing 70 percent of the time.

Thanks, Dave, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I wish you much success!

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Keeping Hannah Waiting by Dave Clarke is a fictional story of the real-life artist Marc Chagall, but it also is a Holocaust story, a love story, a story of using what we have–whether we have a little or a lot–to reach out to others.

The book begins with Kate McBride, a young woman who works in a bakery shop in Brooklyn, N.Y., cleaning out her childhood home following her mother’s death. Her mother collected a lot of books over the years, and Kate is getting them ready to be donated. Hidden in the spine of what appears to be a log book written in German is a painting, which Kate takes to an art expert and later learns is an early work of Marc Chagall. When no one claims the painting, Kate is deemed the owner, and she finds herself wealthy beyond imagination when the Louvre buys “Girl With Flowers” for $50 million in an auction.

Kate doesn’t know what to do with all that money, so she leaves her job and flies to Europe with her best friend, Connie, to try to figure things out. When they arrive in Munich, a trip to tour a castle doesn’t pan out, and they visit the Holocaust memorial in Dachau instead. Kate happens upon a photo of a young woman who looks exactly like the woman in the painting…and “Girl With Flowers” is hanging on the wall in the background of the photo. This begins her quest to find the woman in the painting or her heirs to ensure they receive the money from the auction. What follows is the story of Marc Chagall and a young woman drowning under familial obligations and in love with a man she can never have.

I was captivated from the very first page, and I won’t give away more of the plot because you really need to read it for yourself. Kate is a woman with a big heart, and something inside her changes when she learns the story of the painting. From Kate and Hannah’s stories, we learn that life is not about money–it’s about taking a chance on love, freeing yourself from the chains imposed by your situation, making peace with the past, and keeping hope alive.

It took me only two days’ worth of commutes to finish the book. I felt attached to the characters, and by the time the Holocaust story was told, I was in tears. I marked a couple of passages to share:

‘We were the one of the last to go in June, 1942, Lilly and me, to Thereisenstadt. The whole time we were in the ghetto we would get postcards from there saying how nice it was, how they played music, great symphonies, outdoors. But of course, when we got to the camps it wasn’t like that at all. The only music came from the gypsy women they forced to play naked in the bitter cold. The louder the screams from the gas chambers, the louder they were forced to play. After that, there wasn’t much to say.’ (page 231)

‘And then, we tried to lead our lives. To be like everybody else. To have a job, a family, to be normal. But normal for us was not like normal for everybody else. We could only fit in so far. People asked what the tattoos were,’ she said showing Kate the faded blue numbers on her wrinkled arm. ‘I used to tell people ‘We had a big family, we needed the numbers to keep track of who’s who.’ When they asked what it was like, what do you tell them? That you had to break apart your grandparents’ gravestones and use them to make roads for the Nazis to run over? . . . That we watched people throw themselves against the electric fence just to stop the pain? Where do you begin? You don’t, that’s not how you fit in.’ (page 235)

Now you know why I cried. Clarke is the child of Holocaust survivors, and his intimate connection to such a tragic period in history really comes through in his writing. Keeping Hannah Waiting pulls at your heart, makes you angry, but best of all, it leaves you with a feeling of hope. And I must say, the cover ranks among my favorite of all covers I’ve ever seen.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Keeping Hannah Waiting from the author for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2009 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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