Interview with Linda Press Wulf, author of The Night of the Burning

A couple days ago, we posted a review by Joyce Moyer Hostetter of THE NIGHT OF THE BURNING by Linda Press Wulf. Now, we get a special treat!

An interview with Linda Press Wulf – author of THE NIGHT OF THE BURNING: DEVORAH’S STORY

Joyce: I am wondering about your mother-in-law’s story. Can you share a few sentences about how her story was kept alive and why you were moved to tell it in The Night of the Burning?
Linda: My mother in law died while my husband was in medical school, when she was in her 60s, and I never met her. I knew only the bare bones of her story, told to me by my husband as she had told it to him. The initial coincidence that attracted me was the part about the Isaac Ochberg prize but that was soon eclipsed by the rest of the extraordinary story.

Joyce: I’m sure very few witnesses are still living, huh?
Linda: I did interview an elderly woman who was one of the last survivors of the group of children forming the core of the book. Her mind was sharp, her memories vivid, and I not only made her a character in the book but I also turned her stories over and over in my mind until they became background material for the main character, a different girl in that group.

Joyce: When you were writing The Night of the Burning, what were your favorite or most helpful resources?
Linda: I did some formal research in a wonderful institute in Manhattan called YIVO, which is a wide-reaching collection and library concerning Yiddish life, and in the Jewish Community Library in San Francisco . It actually thrills me each time I find that librarians are so willing to give of their time to help those with questions, without any condition being placed on the competence of the questioner or the importance of the question.

Joyce: How hard do you have to work to make time for writing?
Linda: I write very quickly when I sit down and begin, but, like many people, I’ve always found it very hard to take that first step. While I was writing my first book, I told myself that Tuesdays were my writing days. Before I took my little boys to their morning “nursery school” nearby, I would dress in a pair of white wool pants and sweater, which were a symbol of getting away from spilled children’s food and sticky fingers and being a professional for the day. Then I would write from about 9.30 until about 12.30. That once-a-week commitment actually took me through the bulk of the first draft of my manuscript, which I hope will be encouraging to others.

After a few years I found it too distracting to write at home (the fridge can draw me several times an hour with its magnetic power, not to mention the phone ringing), so eventually I started writing in a café, where the considerable background noise is strangely undistracting.

Now… I have had to find an alternative – a quiet and attractive library in my older son’s high school, where I can tuck myself at an out-of-the-way desk, stare occasionally at the beautiful old trees on the sidewalk, and write uninterruptedly. This location has the added benefit of not selling muffins and lattes, although I do sneak in a little pile of coffee candies. The librarians are welcoming (if I were a librarian, I would enjoy having people write in my library), and I like this new place very much.

Joyce: What do you love most about the writing life?
Linda: I write because I’ve thought of myself since elementary school as a writer and it’s one of my few talents. And because I love writing. When I go into that trance-like state, all the niggling little things of life disappear and I feel pure and focused. My writing companion expressed it as a private island, where only you, the writer, can set foot. The affirmation I received from the fact of my first book being accepted for publication was a waking call. That must mean I CAN do it, I reason, and therefore I SHOULD do it.

There’s a powerful little story about Rabbi Y. who was very harsh on himself because he was not as pious or as learned or as good as Rabbi A. Then he was told, “At the end of your life, God will not ask, ‘Why were you not like Rabbi A?’ Instead, God will ask, ‘Why were you not like Rabbi Y?” That influenced me to believe that we have to find what we do best and actually do it, so as not to waste a skill that we were born with, which we did nothing to deserve.

Joyce: I understand you’re writing another historical novel. Have you been surprised to find yourself writing about history or did you always know you wanted to do this?
Linda: I loved reading historical fiction when I was a child, influenced by my older brother, who had a deep interest in history. I think the two of us knew much more about the Catholic Church, the dominant factor in European history for so many centuries, than any of our Christian friends! The pleasure of it for me was (and still is) that I was reading about real people, in a real period of history, well packaged in an exciting story.

Thanks Linda Press Wulf – you have given us just that - a well packaged exciting story abut real people in a real period of history!

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