Welcome to the three hundred and forty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author and autobiographer Abbie Lipschutz. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Abbie. Please tell us something about yourself.
Abbie: 90 years old, handicapped, been writing for many years, published in four languages. Most recent memoirs, published August 2011, surprising success.
Morgen: You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Abbie: I am a veteran of WW-2 and Israel’s Independence War 1948-’49, so I had a colourful life.
Morgen: Wow, hence the (surprising) success. You mentioned four languages?
Abbie: I have been published, both self published and published by publishers, in English, Dutch, Spanish and Hebrew.
Morgen: I speak two out of four. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Abbie: Paper all the way.
Abbie: Definitely important.
Morgen: They grab me. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Abbie: Editing my Memoirs for a second printing. Collecting dozens of short stories.
Morgen: Ooh, I love short stories. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Abbie: No, but I have to hurry. I am 90. Was stopped for speeding. Officer asked, “What’s your hurry?” I am 90 and don’t have much time.” He laughed and let me go.
Morgen: I would have done too. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Abbie: A fair amount.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Morgen: That’s a shame. Maybe they will at some stage. Do you pitch for submissions and / or are you commissioned to write?
Morgen: Oh great. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Abbie: Shrug my shoulders.
Morgen: The best way – it’s only the right thing for the wrong person. Agents are the way to go for many writers, do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Abbie: Yes. I think agents can be helpful. Too many are full of themselves.
Morgen: How much of the marketing do you do for your published works?
Abbie: My recent Memoirs have spread by word of mouth. Caused a sensation. Orders from all over the States and from Europe.
Morgen: I do think reviews are important. I received another for my short story collection on Smashwords (a very good review, which made my day) and I do think it’s how people are going to decide what to buy with so much on offer, although I can’t imagine many books like yours out there. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Abbie: Lack of time, mulling over details at night.
Morgen: Time is the devil to us all. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Morgen: Absolutely. They say a writer is one whom never gave up. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Abbie: The late Isaac Babel, the late Saul Bellow, President Obama. I am talentless cook.
Morgen: Me too, although my mum says my flapjacks are better than hers. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Abbie: Luck is a talent (my grandfather).
Morgen: I love that. If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Abbie: Nathan Englander, “What are we talking about when we talk about Anne Frank”
Morgen: You write some fiction as well, do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Abbie: My characters tell me where to go.
Morgen: So do mine, that’s got to be my favourite aspect of the ‘job’. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Abbie: Have certain persons in mind. Many are composites.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking?
Abbie: Both first and third person. Depends on distance from characters.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Abbie: Sure. Personal interchange. Sniffing out other’s intimate feelings.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Abbie: Science; history; WW-2; Soviet history under Stalin.
Morgen: I was always more interested in arts at school. My physics teacher told my parents at my first secondary school’s parents evening that I should give up physics so I did at the first opportunity. Are there any books that you find useful?
Abbie: Contemporary Israeli fiction. French literature. Chekhov, Babel.
Morgen: Are you on any forums or networking sites?
Morgen: Very wise, they’re humongous time-suckers. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Abbie: Go with the flow. Self-examination. My inner life is a museum exhibit.
Morgen: I love that. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Abbie: My website is http://www.abbielipschutz.com and my book is available to buy there.
Morgen: It’s a very handsome looking book. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Abbie: The secret of passionate love.
Morgen: My dog loves me passionate (especially when I have his bowl in my hand) does that count? Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Abbie: Tell me where you come from.
Morgen: The short answer (because I’m very good at waffling): originally from south Buckinghamshire, at the end of one of London’s underground train routes then I moved to Northamptonshire 20 years ago (the grand sum off 55 miles north) and have lived in four different houses, the latest (my second house that I’ve owned) for 12 years. Thank you, Abbie.
I then invited Abbie to include an extract of his writing…
In 1935 my mother took me to Poland to visit the only one of her sisters still living there. We visited the city and then crossed the river into the little town where she was born.
I was too young to know it then, but we had arrived in a shtetl. The streets were crooked and dusty, women carried heavy loads from cramped shops, the men wore black caftans, the boys had long earlocks and wore yamulkes. Chickens ran in the streets. The sound of Yiddish around me was as strange as the sound of a gamelan orchestra. My aunt’s father, a dark and intense man with an absent look, measured and sold material in his small store, his mind on God.
On the second story of an old and leaning house lived my great-grandfather. The room was dark and smelled of gribbenes (rendered chicken fat). We stood on the balcony, Grandpa and I, his arm around my shoulder, looking down at the courtyard where yeshiva bokhrim in flowing frocks talked earnestly and boys from kheyder ran around, peyes flying, yarmulkes falling, as they shouted in high-pitched voices. Against the wall, old men sat and shook in prayer, reciting chapters from Proverbs. Chanting came from dark openings. A smile crossed the kind creases of Grandpa’s face as he turned his old and bent body to me, stroking his white beard. “See how we live here?” he said.
We left, my mother and I, and on the square we hired a droshky, a ramshackle horse-drawn carriage with a sleepy driver, who drove us to the cemetery. Over cobbled streets and then rutted country roads we went, a dull sky overhead, the horse breaking into a canter only when the balegole woke up long enough to give it a disinterested smack with his frayed whip.
We stood before the grave of the grandfather I’d never known. Old tombstones were alive with crowded Hebrew scribbling; small rocks on top left word they had recently been visited. My mother covered her face the way she did when lighting the shabbes candles. When she lifted her hands she was crying and dark memories flooded her eyes. I didn’t know I had glimpsed at the last flickers of an old tradition that day.
The rest of the summer we spent in the country at the foot of the forested Carpathians. The sun was warm and every glorious day I came to the swimming pool. Over the loudspeakers the latest hit played, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
To reach the pool we took the train, then walked a mile from the railroad station. The station was Auschwitz.
I then invited Abbie to include a synopsis of his book…
I am a voyeur of Life. A Peeping Tom. I stand in the corner wondering with an open mouth about the strange and surprising things those adults around me are doing, recalling the astounding acts of the generations that have passed on, watching those of my own generation who are still around and those of their children and grandchildren in Israel who have moved eons away from the old roots in the shtetl.
For nine decades, Abbie Lipschutz has been a fighter, lover, writer, dilettante musician and classical music commentator. He is a clinically happy soul who possesses Offensive Charm and Unjustified Arrogance, qualities that have served him well over the years. He was a kibbutznik in Palestine in the early 40s, a veteran of the Dutch Prinses Irene Brigade in World War II, and a volunteer in Israel’s War of Independence, 1948-1949. By then he had long lost his beliefs in the Zionist-Socialist dreams. Nonetheless, he joined, feeling that 2000 years of persecution had been enough. Having made a living for 50 years as a wholesale diamond peddler throughout the American South, he discovered the vastness of our land, its Big Sky and its multi-colored characters. He ended his diamond career in 1999 after being held up at gunpoint. Seeing van Gogh’s painting, “The Potato Eaters,” at age 14 changed his life by turning him into a political radical, which he has still remained. Thoreau’s phrase,” Most men live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them,” confirmed what van Gogh’s painting had conveyed to him years before. Husband, father, and grandfather, he has written a memoir filled with the sights, sounds, scents, songs and surprises of a soulful, vigorous life well-lived. His book connects the generations in one grand sweep of hope, love, and peace.
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