The Accidental Author: Linda, I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about your work for my blog. Now, without further delay, let’s get to the questions. You clearly have a passion for research and acquisition of knowledge, and with After the Auction, it is obvious that you put in a great deal of time researching Judaica. Can you tell us a little bit about how you decide where to put the dividing line between concrete historical fact and fictionalization?
Linda Frank: History provided the factual baseline for incidents in the book, but specific details were altered for fiction. For example, I don’t know of a Seder plate (the looted treasure my protagonist searches for) that looks like the one in the novel, and the Italian craftsman who made it is fictional.
AA: As far as research goes, did the journey of discovery present you with unanticipated detours,
or was it pretty straightforward?
LF: The research gave me a foundation, but the detours came in trying to frame fiction around it without becoming so far-fetched as to make the story incredible.
AA: Who was the inspiration for your protagonist, Lily Kovner?
LF: Ask my friends who they know who swims for exercise, cooks for therapy, sends care packages to her far-flung kids, loves classical music and travel, is an Anglophile, and has connections to China. That said, the story itself is not autobiographical.
AA: You set your novel in 1990 for a number of reasons detailed on your website. Since we are now in an age of instantaneous information download through the advent of technology, did you have any difficulty taking a step back to “simpler days” when research had to be done without the aid of the Internet?
LF: Initially, yes. But not being able to Google was the point. However, I went back to my journalism roots in crafting Lily’s methodology--the library, interviews, etc. The hardest detail was avoiding the use of cell phones.
AA: Which came first in the development of After the Auction, the plot or the character of your protagonist, Lily Kovner? Which ended up driving the novel to completion more forcefully?
LF: In truth, what came first was the character Nachman Tanski. Because the original inspiration for this book was a real man on whom Tanski is loosely based, Lily arose as a device, if you will, partly to make this a woman’s story written by a woman and to provide a sympathetic dimension to the Tanski character. She did probably play a bigger role in driving the novel to completion. As for forcefulness, making Lily in action as forceful—effective, independent, self-reliant—as her self-description became difficult task, especially after she began seeing Simon. I wanted her to drive the action, not be the helpless female!
AA: In dealing with a very delicate topic like the Holocaust, was there ever a concern about the reception of this book in the Jewish community?
LF: The Holocaust remains a powerful topic in the Jewish community. I don’t mean that negatively—just that, for reasons of remembrance and “never again” resolve, the Holocaust is a focal in our global community consciousness. My only concern was not trivializing the history, especially in the eyes of Holocaust survivors or their family members. Friends who are survivors’ children have read the book, and I’ve done book events at a Holocaust memorial center in New York and for a survivors’ group in San Francisco. The response has been favorable, which pleases me very much.
AA: When you are writing, do you participate in online critiquing communities, or do you share your work with other people (friends, family, writing partners) to help you in the revision process?
LF: I have not participated in online or even in-person writers’ groups; to me, the in-person versions would be just more meetings in a life with plenty of those. Online groups, too, I’ve seen as time-consuming. A group of friends and family read an early draft of beginning chapters. However, I benefitted greatly from working with a development editor, Alan Rinzler. While hardly as economical as other critique sources, it was professionally credible, which matters to me more than the random opinions of unknown others.
AA: When you read for pleasure, do you find yourself gravitating more towards fiction or non-fiction? What are you reading right now?
LF: Much of my life beyond school, I read mainly nonfiction—mostly biography and history. As I began to approach tackling a novel—and ever since—I have read much more fiction than before. Right now Hannah Pakula’s biography of Mme. Chiang Kai-shek is a substantial presence (partially read) on my nightstand. I plan to put a few novels on my Kindle to read on a forthcoming trip. These include Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, and Nicole Mones’s The Last Chinese Chef. The China-related books are research for the next book. I aimed at making After the Auction a cross between Alan Furst and Daniel Silva, but with a female protagonist! They’re the only mystery writers I read religiously.
AA: After the Auction was published as a traditional book first, and then as an eBook through Untreed Reads. Tell us how you got plugged in to Untreed Reads.
LF: I heard about Untreed Reads before the business started, as one of the partners, K.D. Sullivan, is a friend. After the Auction came out in physical form a few months before the ebook, because I deliberately set out to stagger the launch. But the next one I’d definitely bring out simultaneously in both formats. I’ve become a believer!!
AA: Do you feel that the digital publishing will one day supplant traditional publishing, or will there
always be a market for paper books?
LF: I do think many people will always prefer to hold books, at least until no one’s alive who ever did so, and I would hate to see books disappear. But digital is the growth area, no doubt.
AA: If you don’t mind my asking, what types of projects are you currently working on?
LF: I’ve drafted an outline for another novel with some of the same characters but with a significant China connection. And I plan to publish—ONLY as ebook, I think—a book of essays related to my China family and travel experience—as a platform builder beforehand.
AA: If you had one morsel of advice for the aspiring writer out there thinking about transitioning from “writing for fun” to “writing for fun AND profit”, what would that be?
LF: Don’t let the rejection of agents and editors involved in the “conventional/traditional” publishing world deter you. Self-publishing and ebooks are more and more accepted.