I'm delighted to welcome author Ruth Feldman to Yellow Brick Reads today. Ruth is here to talk about her latest book, Blue Thread, which is a curious blend of historical fiction and fantasy. To date, Ruth has published ten non-fiction books for children and young adults, so the fictional Blue Thread's marks a new departure in her writing.
Blue Thread tells the story of Miriam Josefsohn, a sixteen-year-old girl living in the Portland, Oregon of 1912, at the height of the women's suffrage movement. Desperate to take control of her life, Miriam decides to dedicate herself to the movement, but the arrival of the mysterious Serakh draws her attention back to her great-grandmother's Jewish prayer shawl. With Serakh acting as guide, the shawl transports Miriam back thousands of years into the past, where she will encounter the Daughters of Zelophehad, the first women to own property in the bible. Using her courage and determination to help alter the past, Miriam builds the strength to forge her own destiny.
I'd like to begin by asking you about the initial idea for Blue Thread. Did the story come to you as a moment of inspiration, or had you been interested in writing about these topics for some time?
I'd been mulling over aspects of Blue Thread for years - the concept of nonlinear time; the idea of pursuing justice throughout the ages; the ways in which a person is influenced by his or her circumstances. The woman suffrage side of the story grew out of research for several nonfiction books and articles. But there was one inspired moment while I was speaking with an editor at a writer's retreat, when everything fell into place. Allyn Johnston, if you are reading this post, thank you!
Who was the most interesting character for you to write about?
That's a good question. While I found Serakh to be the most challenging, and Miriam to be the most enjoyable, the character that kept tweaking my interest was Ephraim Jacobowitz. What did I have in common with this 20-something man from Bialystok, Poland, who had recently come to America? More than I thought. My main editor at Ooligan Press coaxed me into making more of Ephraim than I had in the original draft. On her advice, I explored more of his background and motives. I got to know him better. I respected him more. By the time I finished writing Blue Thread, I had decided that he and I would enjoy something in common - a taste for garden-fresh baby lima beans.
Could you talk briefly about your use of symbols in the book?
Briefly? Okay, I'll stick to shoes. I tend to think in symbols, linking an object with an idea or sometimes a person. So it's not surprising that symbolism creeps into my writing. In Blue Thread, Serakh's "old-fashioned" high-button shoes are a clue that she's not of Miriam's 1912 world. Miriam straddles two world when she buys an almost-identical pair of shoes to replace the ones left back in "the Bible." She inadvertantly enrages her Israelite pursuer by throwing her shoes at him (an insult or act of protest in some cultures), and she disrupts the sterile orderliness of her parents' bedroom by placing her father's left slipper where the right one should be. Serakh wobbles in her ill-fitting "modern" shoes. Miriam is unsure about how to tie her biblical sandals. Ephraim, that Polish immigrant in America, wears cowboy boots to his first Halloween costume party. And Danny is fatally infected when a rusty nail penetrates his shoe. Shoes are about groundedness and vulnerability, and about stepping into the life of another, and, well, a whole lot more. I'd better stop there!
I'm interested in the way that you blend historical fiction and fantasy. Could you describe the relationship between fact and fiction in your writing?
Fact is my foundation. Having written ten non-fiction books, I first look to the real aspects of a time and place, even in the details. So, for example, Miriam goes to a library that existed in that spot then. She attends a suffrage rally that happened exactly where and when it's described in the book. When reality could advance action and colour in Blue Thread as well as fiction might have, I opted for reality.
Fictional aspects of the story naturally grew out of the imagined characters I placed in a real setting. The fantastical aspects developed organically from putting my imagined Miriam and the Biblical characters in an imagined setting (I had no accurate description of the area near the Jordan River 3,000 years ago) and from using the magic of time travel.
In general, only my imagined characters speak words that the reader sees and hears. I try to avoid putting imagined words in the mouths of real people. The newspaper articles are taken from actual newspaper clippings from the time. I've tried to keep the relationship between fact and fiction at least a cordial one.
Blue Thread expresses a common bond among women through the ages. Do you feel it is important for contemporary women to connect with their historical counterparts?
Absolutely! History opens a thousand and one opportunities to make connections, to find inspiration, to share experiences, to get angry and joyful or determined. Why settle for now when you can have now and then? One spot on the Web definitely worth exploring is Women's History Month Blog for 2012. You're just in time to read all the postings for March.
You're currently working on a sequel to Blue Thread. Can you tell me a little about this project?
First off, Ephraim Jacobwitz is part of the sequel - see how well we bonded! The story entwines the civil rights era in the U.S. of 1964 with the aftermate of the First Crusade in medieval France (1099). I can't wait to see how everything turns out.