Guest Blogger/Author Interview with Rachel Stolzman (+ Signed giveaway copies!)
Posted by Sheila (Book Journey)
When Anna is eight years old she witnesses the tragic drowning of her younger sister at the beach. While her parents frantically search the waves for their child, Anna watches alone from the shore. Desperate for hope, Anna begins silently communicating with her sister, begging her to resurface.
As an adult, Anna makes her living working with hearing impaired children, and she develops a close bond with a deaf foster child she works with, Adrea. As Anna makes the momentous decision to adopt Adrea, she is driven to face her conflicted desire to hear her daughter speak and she is forced to delve into the connections between Adrea and her own, lost sister.
I was born in New York and at the age of seven moved to Los Angeles with my family. My sister and I told everyone we were moving to a swimming pool. I began writing poetry in my journal when I was about ten years-old. My first poems were about children, a phony fortune teller, the question of an afterlife, and an anti-war poem called Warheads. I attended the University of California in Santa Cruz. It was during my college years that I began working in the HIV/AIDS field, work which I continue to do to this day. At UCSC, I took numerous poetry workshops, participated in readings, and I had my first poems published. Looking back, these poems were about solitude, escapism, and drunken love. A year after college, living in San Francisco I decided to apply for MFA programs in creative writing. I was surprised to see that the applications required you to choose between poetry and fiction, and I marked ‘poetry’ on each. But while completing my applications, I thought- I don’t know how to write fiction, if I’m going to go back to school it might as well be to learn something I don’t know. I sent for new applications and applied to three programs in New York. I went to Sarah Lawrence College, and received my MFA in creative writing- Fiction. An early draft of The Sign for Drowning was my thesis. In 2008 my first novel, The Sign for Drowning was published by Trumpeter. I am still writing about children, impermanence, loss and the workings of the heart. I currently live in Brooklyn and am working on my second novel.
I want to thank Rachel for taking time to join us here at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books. I have really enjoyed talking with you these past couple of weeks and I am excited to hear more about you and your books.
S: As I read your biography on line about how you were really writing from about the age of ten, it reminded me of the books of short stories and poetry that I had written at about that age. Did you feel at such a young age that writing would be a part of your future?
Rachel: As a kid I had a closet in my bedroom with sliding doors. One side held clothes, and the other held a bookcase with all my books. I was infinitely more interested in the book side of my closet. I read my favorite books over and over. I do remember thinking that these writers were leaving something in the world that would be here forever, long after the writer was gone. It only now occurs to me that I was thinking about immortality. Luckily, I didn’t know then about going out of print!
S: Your book, The Sign For Drowning sounds wonderfully deep and dramatic. I just read the synopsis again and I am so excited to actually get a chance to read and review this book. How did the idea for this book begin to develop?
Rachel: I had written a short story based on an actual event that happened to my family. When my older sister was two she was washed out of a small boat in the waves, while playing with my father. She was only underwater for a minute, but they couldn’t see her and it was very scary. My mother was filming them playing as well. A friend in the water felt my sister, Dana, brush against her leg and she pulled Dana out. In the story I wrote, there is an older sister watching and narrating the story, and the child is not recovered, but drowns. As an MFA student I returned to this story and became curious again about the family, especially, Anna, the sister who tells the story. I wondered what happened to them afterwards, and if and how this loss would affect Anna as an adult.
S: This book centers around sign language. Is this something you knew about before you wrote the book or something you learned to write the book?
Rachel: While I was writing the book, I was taking American Sign Language classes for the fun of it. I had always been interested in sign language and I stuck with it until I was pretty fluent. I really enjoyed learning from my deaf teachers, not just the language but about deaf culture and history. I decided to make Anna, in her grief and loneliness, develop a fantasy that she could communicate to her lost sister through sign language. This childhood fantasy grew into an alternative family and home for her and a career working with deaf children. And it would ultimately lead Anna to her adopted deaf daughter, Adrea.
S: What sort of background prep work did you find yourself doing to write this book?
Rachel: I read a lot of books about Deaf culture, and about the history of ASL and deaf education. After becoming proficient in ASL, I got a job in New York City working with deaf people at Fountain House. I was around interpreters everyday, a co-worker who was the child of two deaf parents, a deaf co-worker and many deaf members. I was told amazing stories about being deaf in hearing families and vice-versa, living in deaf boarding schools, surviving during World War II- deaf and alone, and the many ways people learn to communicate and cope. Those stories helped shape the lives of my characters.
S: I just love that you are blogging your journey from your first book signing to the arrival of the paperback version. How did you decide to do a blog?
Rachel: I think I started blogging very hesitantly. My agent and publisher had recommended I launch an author website, but I had declined to do so just feeling it wasn’t necessary. Then I took a course on book promotion and it was heavily encouraged there too, especially blogging. And the final push came when I did an author interview on the radio with Reading with Robin and she actually reprimanded me on the air for not having a website for my readers to go to!
S: You are currently working on your second book. Would you share a little hint about what that is going to be about and when we may expect to see it in print?
Rachel: My current book is about a pair of twins born in NYC in the early 70’s. One twin, David, is born a reincarnated enlightened Buddhist. The Dalai Lama is a character in the novel, and he becomes David’s teacher. Jamila, the twin sister, struggles to find her soul, her purpose and her own journey as a bodhisattva’s twin sister.
I will definitely let you know when you can find it in stores, and thank you so much for having me as a guest at One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books!
♥Rachel has generously offered two signed copies of her book, The Sign For Drowning to the readers here at One Persons Journey Through a World of Books.
To enter your name to win:
1. Leave a comment here about Rachel’s interview
2. Receive 2 extra chances to win if you blog/twitter about this giveaway
3. Earn a BONUS chance by commenting on any other of my posts
US only and no PO box numbers. Please be sure to leave me an email so I am able to contact you if you win.
The Giveaway will end August 16. Have fun and good luck!