We are the creation of our experience, which includes dreams and stories as well as reality. When I was young my mother, who was earning her PhD in Comparative Literature, read William Blake and Wallace Stevens to me at bedtime. The lambs grazing on the hills of industrial England and the parakeet on the rug of a modern, introspective woman taking coffee and oranges on a Sunday morning were important figures in the landscape of my childhood. After my birth family fell apart I attended a boarding school in Carpinteria, California, where I became immersed in the worlds of Hawthorne, Hesse, and Melville, among other nineteenth and twentieth century novelists.
I appreciated in particular the way Hawthorne used the novel to contemplate history. Eventually,though, I came to feel that all novels were historical. After all, the past and the present belong equally to history, as do the imagined futures of science fiction. If I had to summarize my thoughts about the purpose of novel writing, I would say that reality is a rough draft, ragged and wanting. We seek the Platonic form of history not through journalism or the mere recounting of facts, but through the aesthetic contemplation and reconfiguration of experience.
At Yale University, where I majored in Intensive English Literature, I met the author William Styron, who read my earliest efforts and told me that I had “the stuff of a writer.” He showed my work to his editor at Random House, who discussed it with me. That encouragement was precisely what I needed to take the leap and devote my life to writing fiction. At Yale, too, I received the Paine Memorial Prize for the best long-form Senior Essay submitted to the English Department.
I loved the aural and connotative powers of poetry and the ways storytelling could be used to explore the human condition. I longed to combine both in novels that would read like prose poems. This was the goal I formulated for myself in college.
Following graduation I spent seven years in Paris working as a translator, reading through the French canon with an emphasis on Moliere, Baudelaire, Balzac,Proust, Albert Cohen, and some of the nouveau roman authors, and writing the first draft of a novel set in the late fifteenth century. I showed my manuscript to William Styron’s editor, who told me frankly that it was not ready. I wept, feeling overwhelmed and daunted, and stuffed it into a drawer.
After returning to Los Angeles for my sister’s wedding, I found a job in the film industry and ended up spending eighteen years there. I worked for movie directors, producers, stars, and studios, developing a reputation as a “script guy,” offering advice to more established writers, rewriting others’ first drafts, and eventually collaborating with my wife to write and sell screenplays of our own. Hollywood was a frustrating place to work, however. Artistic creation requires the oxygen of freedom and experimentation, which the enormous financial risks involved with film-making tend to preclude.
In 2004, I finally felt ready to return to the rough-draft novel I had written in Paris. I sold my house and my Piper Archer II and devoted six years to rewriting and polishing the manuscript. I yearned to create a novel that would provide readers with everything they could desire, a compelling plot, soaring emotion, and rich, surprising, indisputable historical detail. When Other Press published By Fire, By Water in 2010, it was named Book of the Year by many One Book, One Community organizations around the country. Reviews were also reassuring, with Pamela Miller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune calling it”remarkably learned and heartbreaking” and Matt Beynon Rees of Ha’aretz writing that it “must take its place as one of the most important contemporary historical novels with a Jewish theme.” Rege Behe, writing in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, called By Fire, By Water “a grand novel”and Tirdad Derakshani, in the Philadelphia Inquirer, said it was “a beautiful tapestry.” Many reviewers named it a “best book of the year.”
By Fire, By Water received a number of awards including the2011 Independent Publishers Book Award Gold Medal for Historical Fiction, the ForeWord Magazine Book Of The Year Award (BOTYA)Bronze Medal for Historical Fiction, and the 12th annual Adelina Della Pergola Students’ Choice Prize for the Italian Edition. It was one of fifteen nominees for Best Historical Novel in the Goodreads Choice Award competition and received Honorable Mentions in the Fiction category from the New York Book Festival and the Eric Hoffer Award. By Fire, By Water was also an Amazon Kindle Editor’s Pick in November 2011 and a bookreporter.com Reviewers’ Pick for 2010.
My second novel (in order of publication) spilled out of me over eight months following the death of my father, who was an accomplished jazz clarinetist and a professor of cardiology at UCLA. His spirit participated in the writing of Rhapsody, which treats the music and times of George Gershwin; his girlfriend, the Broadway composer Kay Swift; and her husband, the banker and advisor to FDR, James Warburg. Their world, which encompassed both World Wars, Expressionism and cabaret theater in Europe, and the Roaring Twenties, gave birth to our world. In December, 2018, as I pen this autobiographical sketch, Rhapsody is scheduled for publication in Fall, 2019 by Gallery Books / Simon & Schuster.
Even before I finished work on By Fire, By Water I began researching the first-century Roman Empire and its destruction of Jerusalem. I was curious about the circumstances in which Judaism and Christianity had parted ways. I wanted to understand the characters involved and wondered why Rome felt compelled to destroy one of the great cities of the world, including its famous holy place. How does one explain why one sequence of events, and the characters involved, take hold of the imagination? Perhaps angels are involved.
I spent about an equal amount of time researching and writing my third novel, Into the Unbounded Night, as I had invested in By Fire, By Water. While writing it, I had the impression that these people and their stories, as well as the language itself, were gushing through me. Their narratives were jumbled at first; a good part of my job was to sort them out and make sense of them.
Through the writing of Into the Unbounded Night I sought clarity about the cultural misunderstandings that gave rise to post-classical western civilization. In its technique and style, I wanted to meld lyricism and compelling narrative, to achieve the goal that I had set for myself in college. I am delighted and honored that Into the Unbounded Night will be delivered into the world by Regal House Publishing.