Footprints in the Forest – writing about the Holocaust

footprints-in-the-forestAuthor Jeannette Katzir offers her perspective on writing historical fiction. She is the second child of five children born to two Holocaust survivors. Jeannette rode horses for almost thirty years until a fall put an end to something she truly loved doing and has now turned her energies and passion to writing.

Footprints in the Forest, is her second book in this genre. Her first book, Broken Birds, the Story of My Momila, received positive reviews, and was spotlighted by Jesse Kornbluth of Head Butler and The Huffington Post. She lives in Los Angeles.

What are the ‘magic ingredients’ that make historical fiction unforgettable/irresistible? And in your opinion, what do the best historical fiction writers do to ‘get it right’?

Memorable historical fictions have the ability to artfully interweave a manufactured story thread into an actual historical event, all the while, maintaining the integrity of that historical occasion. This new thread must be skillfully written, so it feels real while remaining within the constraints of an event already known to us.

Are historical novels inherently different from contemporary novels, and if so, in what ways?

They are different because when a reader opens an historical fiction novel, they already know the beginning and the ending. In contemporary novels all of those events are manufactured with any and all endings possible.

What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novel(s)?

I consider myself a Holocaust-aholic and so in my book, Footprints in the Forest, I highlighted the horrors of that atrocity. I then shined a light onto those perseverant souls who survived at the cost of losing almost everything and everyone they held near and dear.

In writing historical fiction, what research and techniques do you use to ensure that conflict, plot, setting, dialogue, and characters are true to the time period?

Fortunately for me, I speak a smattering of Yiddish and German, so I was able to infuse the spoken language(s) of the day onto characters who were based on people I knew and grew up with, (my momila (mother) and tatinke (father). I also had a time-line sitting on my desk so that I could make sure I always backed into the dates and events that occurred. This can be helpful and also limiting. It caused me to be sure and plant storyline seeds along the way so in the end, the book made historical as well as fictional sense.

What aspects do you feel need to be included when you are building a past world for your readers?

The spoken language of a particular period of time is crucial to a book, as reading is not a visual medium. In my particular case I felt it was important for the reader to feel what our heroine was feeling. They needed to trudge along side Chana as she marched through a near pitch-black forest. They needed to understand the additional terror of slogging through a waist high marsh when you can’t swim a stroke.

When she was in 1948’s Brooklyn, I wanted the reader to experience a drastic difference. I wanted them to travel back in time with her to a place outside our current time. I wanted them feel her conflicted feelings when she had the opportunity of getting what she most wanted, if she was willing to give up something she never thought she’d have to.

Do you see any particular trends in HF?

I am pleased that much of the historical fiction has become so personalized. History can sometimes be rather dry, but historical fiction allows us to step into history and feel the feelings of that time. We are invited along that thrill ride, all the while pretty much knowing how it will all turn out.

Please tell us a little about your latest novel.

Footprints in the Forest, is about a fourteen year old Jewish girl who is ripped from her mother’s arm and thrown into a Russian otriad, Partisan group. Our heroine, Chana, comes of age under the worst of conditions, and even though she is underweight, starving, and running from a terrifying enemy, she finds love. There is a concurrent story line of her as a young woman assimilating to Brooklyn New York in the late 40’s. She feels a out of place as she is still governed by the rules and laws of her upbringing. But she must let the past go if she is to find love.

Many thanks, Jeannette for sharing your thoughts on historical fiction. Best wishes for your latest novel and future writings.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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8 Responses

  1. Interesting, but I take issue with this comment: “They are different because when a reader opens an historical fiction novel, they already know the beginning and the ending. In contemporary novels all of those events are manufactured with any and all endings possible.” Perhaps true for the focus on Holocaust novels. However, I read historical novels to learn about gaps in my education, especially events in eras and parts of the planet not covered in World History courses. Not to take anything away Ms. Katzir’s interesting comments, but she read the question too narrowly. Thanks. Chris

  2. Chris I understand your remarks. What I meant by my statement was that with well known historical events, i.e. WW1, WW2, etc, history has taught us the why it happened and how it ended. With contemporary novels which are created, of course the be story is as the author wishes it to be. And I understand and agree totally that the gaps that we didn’t learn in our history classes is open for interpretation. I am currently reading a book about Kind David. Of course there is no hard and fast historical evidence that what occurred in his chambers is completely factual, but I enjoy the reading anyway. I think we are closer of mind than I might have appeared.

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