Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Worldly Wednesday: BLUE THREAD Author Ruth Tenzer-Feldman

It's Worldly Wednesday!  Normally, it's my favorite day of the week because I love all things global.  But this week is extra special because I got to read an Advanced Copy of Ruth Tenzer-Feldman's debut novel BLUE THREAD while I was in Gambia–and today, she's "here!"

BLUE THREAD is published by Ooligan Press
BLUE THREAD tells the story of Miriam Josefsohn, a sixteen-year old Jewish girl living in 1912 Portland–who is thrust even further back in history to biblical times thanks to a fantastical prayer shawl that her father and uncle kept hidden from her. 

That's right folks, BLUE THREAD in a nutshell is historical fiction of the women's suffrage era meets Exodus, with a romantic plot twist and plenty of feminine perspective (my kind of story!).  Just a few chapters in, the pacing quickens as the plot thickens and I found myself unable to put it down for the latter half of the book.  It's one of those quotable books with several amazing lines, and for me, reading it in an arid Sub-Saharan climate with the "lingering smell of goats" constantly wafting,  the book seemed to come alive (plus in Gambia I'm known as "Mariama Sibo" so I kept getting interrupted with "Mariam! Mariam!").  The depth of Tenzer-Feldman's knowledge of the historical subjects combined with her clever imagination and good character dialogue makes for a fantastic read that I would definitely recommend to anyone interested in history, fantasy, religion, and other cultures.  Oh–and antique hats (which I used to collect, ironically enough).  Five stars, five stars, five stars.

Now that I've told you about her fantastic historical fiction/fantasy novel...welcome, 


Photo courtesy Ruth Tenzer-Feldman

About Ruth Tenzer-Feldman
Ruth is an award-winning author of books and articles, mainly for children and young adults. She has been an attorney, editor, research analyst, ticket seller, and keypunch operator. Her 10 nonfiction books focus on history and biography, while her articles range from leeches to Einstein’s refrigerator.  Blue Thread, her debut novel, entwines the struggles of two teen girls across the millennia. Ruth lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, dog, and innumerable dust mites.

Miranda:  Welcome, Ruth!  So nice of you to agree to do an interview.  As it's Worldly Wednesday, I'll start by focusing on 'place.' Your novel is set in two distinct and very different places. Where did you get the idea for each? What was it like to write a story with two different settings?

Ruth:  Blue Thread grew in part out of the photograph of a banner in a woman suffrage parade in Boone, Iowa, in 1908. The banner reads: LIKE THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD WE ASK FOR OUR INHERITANCE. The daughters mentioned on that banner come from a story in the Bible set near the Jordan River at the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. The parade was in early twentieth-century America. Two distinct times and places. I knew little about Boone, Iowa, in 1908, but I did know about the successful 1912 campaign to give Oregon's women the right to vote. So Iowa 1908 became Oregon 1912.
            Writing the story in two distinct times and places required more mental gymnastics than I had for my other nonfiction books. I found it easiest to take a writing break (at least an hour) between settings. 

Miranda:  Mental gymnastics!  I bet!   Did you travel anywhere to get a sense of place while writing this story, too? Or had you traveled somewhere in the past? 
Ruth:  I live in Portland, in virtually the same neighborhood as my protagonist. Years ago my family and I traveled to Israel/Palestine, with a trip to Petra in Jordan. That was extremely helpful to get a sense of place.

Miranda:  I see.  Now let's talk 'character.' Your main character is a bit rebellious. Were you like that as a teen?
Ruth:  I was the opposite of rebellious, at least outwardly. If my mother told me to put on a sweater when I went outside, I did. And then, when she wasn't looking, I'd take it off. I usually tried to stay under the radar screen. I am much more rebellious now than I used to be!

Miranda:  Aren't we all?  Too funny.  On the more serious, grown-up side of things,  let's talk research.  Did you know all that about Hebrew before you wrote the book? How about printing presses? 1912 Oregon? Tell our readers (many of whom are writers) what the research process was like.

Ruth: Research. Oh, my, did I do research! Before I started Blue Thread, my Hebrew was rudimentary, and my knowledge of printing presses was nonexistent. I had a handful of facts about Oregon in 1912, and knew practically nothing about the 1912 campaign. 

I devoured books and tapped into the expertise of others via the Internet.  And I found two gems along the way. The first was Edmund Gress's 1910 typography book, which Miriam refers to in Blue Thread. []. The second is the letterpress print shop not far from me. One of the printers who works there has an old [small insertion] press of her own, and I spent a couple hours at her studio doing some hands-on research. []

I was also lucky enough to look through Portland's city directory for 1912, as well as insurance maps form about that time. Just to make sure I'd gotten everything correct, I sent relevant portions of the draft manuscript to a professor of women's studies in Oregon, a professor of Jewish studies, and my professional printer.

Miranda:  And it shows in the book you've done your homework as the facts and setting are integrated seamlessly into the plot.  Which brings me to wonder something... If you had a prayer shawl with a blue thread, and got to CHOOSE exactly which place and time, to where/when would you travel and why?
Ruth:  Yikes!  This is the most difficult question any interviewer has asked about Blue Thread. My first thought is that I'm quite happy to be where I am right here and right now. But there is another time and place that haunts me. I am named for my Jewish great-grandmother, who was very much alive in Poland or Hungary in 1936, but was not heard from since then. By the time I was born after World War II, it was assumed that she was dead, and it is a custom among some Jews to name a child for a loved one who has died. I would use my blue thread to locate my great-grandmother, to find out the true circumstances of her death, and to tell her that she has not been forgotten.

Miranda:  Amazing and chilling - wow, wow, wow.  I have goosebumps right now!  Quick, can you tell us something fun or silly so we can end on a lighter note?  Like random things about yourself?

1. When I go into hat stores, I put on the zaniest hats I can find, and then pretend to be the person who would wear them.
2. I adore Daddy Long-Legs "spiders" (they are technically arachnids but not spiders).
3. I learned to knit when I was eight years old and haven't stopped since.
4. I love the smell of coffee, but I don't drink it.
5. A food parody I wrote to the French national anthem was once aired on National Public Radio.
 Miranda:  Great!  You're such an interesting and inspiring person, Ruth.  Thanks for stopping by.  And if my readers want to meet you and learn more about BLUE THREAD and your other books, where can they 'find' you?

Ruth: (has a reader's guide in the blog)
Twitter: @ScrivaRuth
FB: Blue Thread

Comments are open!  Please feel free to leave a question or message for Ruth Tenzer-Feldman.

BLUE THREAD is published by Ooligan Press


Joanna said...

I am pretty sure I would love this book. I would love visiting these two cultural settings and two eras.

I hope one day the true circumstances of your great-grandmother's death is discovered.

Thank you for both the interview and introduction to this new novel.

Eric VanRaepenbusch said...

Sounds like a great book! I loved your description of your experience reading the book in Gambia.

Ruth, I wish you best of luck with your book!

Cathy Mealey said...

"Her articles range from leeches to Einstein’s refrigerator..."! I just love the variety!

Look forward to reading Blue Thread - thank you for featuring it here!

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