Please welcome Stephanie Feldman to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Angel of Losses will published on July 29th by Ecco.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Stephanie: Thank you for inviting me to talk about the book! I've been telling stories and playing around with poems and essays and short stories since I was a kid, but I became serious about fiction in college. That's when I wrote my first a novel (now in a drawer), and I've been hard at work ever since.
As for why: I was born with a big imagination. I had to do something constructive with it.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Stephanie: A little bit of both. I always begin with a loose outline: an emotional arc for my main characters and a series of scenes and beats I want to hit. But when I start writing, I follow the story where it wants to go. I rely on the outline when I write myself into a corner, or find myself running out of steam. Most the time, though, my best ideas come while writing.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Stephanie: There's a Sherman Alexie quote along the lines of: "There's no writer's block, only laziness and fear." He has me pegged. These days, I'd add chronic distraction, mostly in the form of the Internet. My biggest challenges are maintaining focus and silencing my inner critic.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Stephanie: This the hardest question to answer! I've collected a lot of favorites over a lifetime of reading. If you read The Angel of Losses, you probably won't be surprised that I love Judy Budnitz, Angela Carter, Sarah Waters, and Jeanette Winterson. The Kiss of the Spiderwoman is a favorite of mine—another a story about stories, though very different in style. I also love Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and Dan Simmons' Drood.
TQ: Describe The Angel of Losses in 140 characters or less.
Stephanie: A haunted woman searches for her grandfather’s lost fairy tales in order to save her sister from the consequences of his secret past.
TQ: Tell us something about The Angel of Losses that is not in the book description.
Stephanie: One of my characters, Simon, is building a digital map that attempts to place folklore and historical accounts of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel on a single plane and timeline.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Angel of Losses? The novel is describes as "[i]nterweaving history, theology, and both real and imagined Jewish folktales... ." Do you have favorite Jewish folktales and how hard was it to create your own?
Stephanie: I first got the idea in college while studying 18th-century gothic novels. I wanted to write something similar: a tale with mysterious figures, ghosts, and family secrets that also tackles the issues of identity and social obligation. I made it my own by setting it in the contemporary U.S., and rewriting the Wandering Jew, a common Gothic character, using Jewish tradition.
I didn't have any favorite folktales coming in, but the ones that struck me the most—and which you'll see in the book—describe holy men who attempted to force the coming of the Messiah and Paradise. These men love God so much they're willing to destroy His laws for the chance to be closer to Him.
Creating my own legends was the best part! The novel is also about a family whose members love each other but make a lot of mistakes. Untying those knotty relationships was intense, and I was grateful to escape into fairy tales sometime.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Angel of Losses?
Stephanie: I read tons of legends, but also books about Jewish mysticism and the history of Jewish communities in Europe, and narratives from medieval travelers. I also studied theories of history and memory, how we record and make meaning of the past.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Stephanie: The majority of the story is from Marjorie's point of view, and I became comfortable with her voice and point of view very quickly. The challenge became writing for the characters with whom she's feuding, particularly her sister Holly. Marjorie loves Holly fiercely but is also furious with her--though most of her anger, she comes to realize, is a mask for her own hurt and sadness. It took time for me to put Marjorie's feelings and judgments aside and see Holly as she sees herself.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Angel of Losses.
"He passed a room of cobalt and gold, where a podium stood tall as a tree on cracked tile, heaped with ledgers inscribed with lists of lost things: lost shoes, lost keys, lost pets, lost nations, lost hopes. There were whole pages of names: lost souls."
"I wanted to ask him why Grandpa was coming to me in my dreams, and why the old man was coming to me in their aftermath; why Holly was painting faceless men in a maddening paradise; why Nathan was afraid of our books."
TQ: What's next?
Stephanie: I'm working on a new novel now, but I'm a little superstitious about describing a story before it's done. I can tell you it's another mix of history and magic, as well as a character study of a man trying to make a place for himself in a spiritually and biologically evolving world.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Stephanie: Thank YOU!
The Angel of Losses
Ecco, July 29, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 288 pages
The Tiger's Wife meets The History of Love in this inventive, lushly imagined debut novel that explores the intersections of family secrets, Jewish myths, the legacy of war and history, and the bonds between sisters
When Eli Burke dies, he leaves behind a mysterious notebook full of stories about a miracle worker named the White Rebbe and the enigmatic Angel of Losses, both protectors of things gone astray and guardians of the lost letter of the alphabet, which completes the secret name of God.
Years later, when Eli's granddaughter Marjorie stumbles upon his notebook, everything she thought she knew about her grandfather—and her family—comes undone. To learn the truth about Eli's origins and unlock the secrets he kept, Marjorie embarks on an odyssey that takes her deep into the past, from the medieval Holy Land to eighteenth-century Venice and Nazi-occupied Lithuania. What she finds leads her back to present-day New York City and her estranged sister, Holly, whom she must save from the consequences of Eli's past.
Interweaving history, theology, and both real and imagined Jewish folktales, The Angel of Losses is a family story of what lasts, and of what we can—and cannot—escape.
Stephanie Feldman is a graduate of Barnard College. She lives outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with her husband and her daughter. For more on her writing and inspiration, visit her at: http://stephaniefeldman.com/.