A few months ago, I connected with Ellen Brazer on Twitter. Can’t recall now who tweeted whom first but the result is this morning’s discussion of her writing. Ellen Brazer has written three novels, the latest, And So It Was Written “travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found”.
Have you always been a writer or did you begin with a different career? My first career was in retail. I had a boutique on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables, Florida that I opened when I was 24 years old. I also worked for many years helping to raise money for the State of Israel.
You have written several novels from different time periods under the banner of Jewish Historical Fiction. Why did you choose these stories? Clouds Across the Sun is Holocaust related. Before the end of WWII, Hitler charged a group of his most trusted and brilliant comrades with a mission—educate your progeny and then elevate them to positions of power throughout the world. This is the story of just one of these children. From Naples, Florida, New York City, and Washington D.C., to Israel and then the killing grounds of Vilnius, Poland (Lithuania) this story is one of great romance, discovery, redemption, and enlightenment as Jotto Wells discovers her Jewish soul and unravels the intrigue surrounding a plan to take over the government of the United States.
I did not have any family in the Holocaust and yet I always knew that when I wrote it would somehow be related to those horrific events. I wanted this generation to understand what happened from a different point of view. The history of the Holocaust is too big and overwhelming for most of us to comprehend. And so, my goal was to have the readers care about my characters so deeply they would cry with their horrors and applaud their triumphs.
And So It Was Written travels to a time when a Third Temple is built and the Ark of the Covenant holding the Ten Commandments is found. The year is 132 CE, and the proclaimed Jewish Messiah, Bar Kokhba, has defeated the Roman army and rules Judea. As the Romans prepare to reclaim Israel, the book follows two sets of brothers–one Roman and one Jewish–whose friendships, hatreds, and lives intertwine. You will smell the spices in the markets, see the blood on the battlefields, rage with the injustice of brother against brother. From triumph to defeat, this is a saga of courage, conquest, familial loyalty, honor and love–showing man at his best and his worst.
This is an obscure time in Jewish history and I wanted to write a story that shifted the perception of Jews, showing how they were warriors long before the creation of the State of Israel.
What do you think attracts readers to your books? I write to educate and entertain. I try to create stories that drive the reader from page to page. I cannot tell you how many letters I receive and how many comments I get that always say the same thing: I couldn’t put the book down.
Do you have a particular approach to research and writing? History can be so obscure. My goal as a writer of historical fiction is to take real people from our past and give them a voice.
Have other writers of historical fiction influenced you and, if so, how have they influenced you? As a very young girl, I read Leon Uris’ book Exodus. He brought the birth of modern Israel alive for me. That was my greatest influence but I adore Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, and so many others.
What ingredients do you think make for a best-selling historical fiction author? Bringing the period you write about alive! It really does not matter if the time period in sixty years ago or two thousand years ago, there is always that connection with the now. We may have worn different clothing but beneath the surface we are simply the continuation of all that ever was and ever will be.
What techniques do you employ to write productively? When I am in the zone, I write and do research every day. I think it is known as obsessive-compulsive behaviour. 🙂 The problem is that being creative is a process and I have just come out of a huge “writer’s block.” I was miserable and not easy to live with! But I am BACK to writing now.
If your brand is Jewish historical fiction, what do you do to reinforce it? I love this question. It is the best part of my journey. I study Judaism and its precepts of Torah and Talmud with a brilliant Rabbi-Scholar.
How do you connect with readers? I have spoken to over 5,000 people all over the country in the last few years. This has happened because I identified groups and organizations that would have an interest in what I write. I then wrote letters contacting them, sent free books and then they “booked” me. My philosophy is that I will go anywhere, any time!
What do you know about your readers? I know they are intelligent and curious. They talk to their friends about what they read and they want to know more.
What data do you collect about your readers? So many times someone in my audience will raise their hand and then proceed to tell me a story from their lives relating to the Holocaust. When I meet a survivor, I always stop whatever I am saying or doing to give them a hug and to say thank you for surviving.
What strategies guide your writing career? I write what I am interested in and what I love, NOT what I know. The fun is in the learning.
What would you do differently if you were starting again? Start when I was a lot younger. I turned down the opportunity to work with a fabulous agent because I didn’t want to wait a year for And So It Was Written to be published.
Do you have any advice for writers of historical fiction? Be accurate. Our goal should never be to misinform.
Is there a question you would like to answer that I haven’t asked? I just want to say that I love to speak with book clubs, talking with people that have already read my books. I did a Skype book club with Texas recently and it was really fun! They had me in an auditorium on a big screen. I am only glad I could not see myself!!
Many thanks for telling us about your writing, Ellen. I’m sure you’ve given some pearls of wisdom to other writers.