Thursday, July 18, 2013

Writing Our Lives: Interview with Deb Levy, Author of Bury the Hot

TZ: First, describe your book.

DL:  Bury the Hot is the true story of a boy who hid from Hitler, but could never escape the memories.  I grew up celebrating the holidays with Sal Wainberg and his family.  I trick-or-treated with his daughter.  He and his wife attended my wedding.  Yet I knew nothing ab out his past until he called out of the blue and asked me to write his story.  There was a reason I didn't know.  He hadn't even told his wife the details of his childhood.  Bury the Hot is the Holocaust story few have the tenacity or courage to share and explores both a traumatized childhood and how the repression it impacts a marriage.

TZ:  This is a story of someone else's life in great detail.  Do you think it's harder to write about someone else than about your own life:  With another person's story, there's some objectivity and emotional distance that I think would be hard to have when you're telling your own story.  What do you think?

DL: Writing about someone else has its challenges as well as its benefits.  On the one hand, I was beholden to Sal's memory and/or willingness to divulge emotions and details.  So I could only write what he was able to tell me, having not (thankfully) shared the experience.  But on the other hand, like you said, there is emotional distance and objectivity.  So perhaps I was able to delve deeper into painful moments that Sal might have if he were working on the memoir himself.  I couled also see, in some cases, a wider view of a situation or history that he may have had living it.  One of the first things Sal said to me when he asked me to write his story was, "Do not create some Hollywood version of my experience.  Do not embellish it for the sake of storytelling.  Do not make me into a hero.  I just want the truth."  So I felt a keen responsibility to honor his request and had somewhat strict parameters.  Also he was so young when the war broke out--he was only 8.  I had to find a way to draw out the details that would allow me to paint a picture for the reader, instead of using the typical journalistic "wh" questions (who, what, when, where) I asked sensory-based questions.  "What color was the sky?"  "What did the air feel like against your skin?"  "What did your shul smell like?"  These are the things that young children notice and these are the memories we carry with us into adulthood

TZ:  Was it difficult to make the decision to write this book?  Or did you agree right away?

DL:  Not at all.  after over half a century of repressing his past, Sal was finally ready to talk and leave his legacy behind.  When he asked me to write his story, I felt like i was given a gift.  I was honored, humbled, surprised that he asked me, and immediately said yes.

TZ:  You knew nothing about this man's background before he told you his story.  Was his family aware of it?  What has been the reaction of people who knew him to the book?

DL:  Sandy, his wife, knew when they got married (in the 60's) that he was a Survivor.  But that's all she knew.  She didn't quite understand what that meant, and at that time, no one talked about it.  There was a desire amongst American Jews to move beyond the past, and Sandy could sense a pain inside Sal that she wanted to protect him from.  It wasn't until 8 years into their marriage that he told her any of the details.  And even then, he left quite a bit out.  After that, they only spoke of the Holocaust a handful of times.  It was like the white elephant in the room of their marriage.  His kids knew he was a Survivor, but didn't know much beyond that.  Their daughter knew I was writing his story, but he didn't want her to read any drafts of the manuscript until it was completely done.  I was worried about her reaction the entire time I wrote the book--how will she feel reading about her father's suffering?  How will she feel reading about her parents' marriage?  How will she feel that I may have learned some of this history before she did?  As it turns out, her reaction brought tears to my eyes.  She said, "I fee like you and I are now related. I somehow absorbed this over 40 years.  But you got it in 1/10th that time.  And now you are my sister.This is why he chose you."  As far as non-family members who have known Sal for years--they have been incredibly touched by his story, and feel as if by gaining insight into his past, they can finally understand who he has been throughout his adult life, and why.

TZ:  What part of the book are you most proud of?

DL:  I'm proud of having written a full-length book.  I've always wanted to write a book and I did it!  I'm proud of how it turned out.  I'm getting rave reviews from readers all over the country and from all religious backgrounds.  But I'm most proud to have added to the preservation of history.  Every day that goes by, we get closer to a time when there will be no one left to give a first-hand account of this horrible and multi-faceted chapter of our human story.  We may think that when it comes to the Holocaust, we've heard it before.  But the truth is, we can never hear enough.  We must listen to those who survived; we must read their personal accounts.  We must recognize that the collective suffering is nothing less than six million and more unique stories of struggle, determination, tradition and fate--every single one of them incredible, all of them heartbreaking.

TZ:  What was the most difficult to write?

DL;  There were certain points of Sal's life that were incredibly difficult to ask him about.  And when our interviews moved past the war and to when he left Poland, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.  But I don't recall the writing of those moments as being difficult.  Maybe it's because I was so intensely focused on finding a way to get it on paper in an honest and compelling way, that I was weighed down by the process but not by my own emotions.  What I did find difficult was writing about a young boy in peril while raising three boys of my own.  I found myself constantly comparing and contrasting their lives with his, and wondering if my own sons would have survived the horrible things he experienced.  In trying to give my sons a good life, I worried that I was somehow diminishing their ability to stay alive if, God forbid, the world turned upside down.

TZ:  What is your writing background?

DL:  I am an advertising copywriter/creative director, which comes in two varieties--the one who wants to write a screenplay, and the one who wants to write the Great American Novel.  I was the latter.  I've also written articles and essays that have been featured on many parenting websites and in Lilith Magazine.  Bury the Hot is my first book.

TZ:  Any advice for writers, especially non-fiction and memoir writers?

DL:  For any writer, I'd say:  read a lot.  Take your writing seriously, even if you feel no one else does.  Introduce yourself as a writer.  Put writing time on your calendar; put it before all the other distractions that will keep you from doing your job.  For writers of memoir/non-fiction:  when it comes to telling the story, the craft is only half of it.  The hardest part is finding the framework in which to tell the story.  What are the themes that hold it together?  Where do you begin the story?  (It may not be at the beginning.}  From whose point of view will you tell it?  With what voice? (Will it be from a place of reflection and understanding?  Or will the reader have a greater insight into the events of the story than the narrator?  Don't expect to get it right on the first or second draft.  Just get it on paper, and then go back and move things around. Solicit feedback from other writers and from readers whose opinion you respect.  Listen to their critiques with an open mind and with gratitude.

TZ:  What are you working on now?

DL:  I'm working on marking and promoting Bury the Hot :)

TZ:  Where is the book available?

DL.  The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle format.  It's also available on Barnes and And I hope that readers will support their local, independent bookstores by asking them to order Bury the Hot and purchasing it there.  Here is the Amazon link 1 1?ie=UTF8&qid=1371350808&sr=8 -1keywords=bury+the+hot

TZ:  I hope the above link is okay.  If not I'm sure readers can just go to Amazon and type in the title.

DL:  My website is



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