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Author Interview: Barbara Stark-Nemon

Please welcome author Barbara Stark-Nemon to gilagreenwrites.

Barbara Stark-Nemon bio from her site

An undergraduate degree in English literature and Art History and a Masters in Speech-language Pathology from the University of Michigan  led Barbara to a teaching and clinical career. She's come to appreciate the way different languages impact the form of narratives, and the need to be heard and seen that we all share. Barbara is the author of two novels: Hard Cider and Even in Darkness. She lives in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan.

"I am very conscious that this very different Holocaust narrative from the one many readers expect may be difficult for some, even as it is inspiring and opens new avenues for others"

by Barbara Stark-Nemon

GG: I have a largely Jewish audience. Can you tell me how Judaism informs your work?

BSN: I am the daughter of parents who each escaped from Germany as teenagers during the late 1930s.. My Mother's family were very assimilated in their wealthy life in Berlin- she didn't really know she was Jewish until she had to attend a separate religion class at school when she turned 10. Her father's sister is the basis for the main character in my first novel, Even in Darkness. My father's family were strongly identified Jews from southern Germany and his enlightened commitment to both the spiritual and intellectual aspects of Judaism informed my identification as a Jew and my love of learning. Tests of faith, human bonds, and how we form families are themes in my novels that derive from my Jewish upbringing and the family stories that gave birth to my career as a writer. All that said, I am very conscious that this very different Holocaust narrative from the one many readers expect may be difficult for some, even as it is inspiring and opens new avenues for others.

Although my second novel, Hard Cider, is not specifically Jewishly themed, the centrality of family derives from that emphasis in my own upbringing.

GG: There's so much intersection in literature between Jews and Germany. Do you think there is a fatigue with this topic? Do you think that's a myth or a real possibility?

BSN: I keep hearing that there's that kind of fatigue, but I don't see it in the numbers of new books published about Jews' lives in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. I also think that stories about overcoming adversity amidst unexpected and traumatic events are particularly welcome after the events of this year, and will always find an audience. My great aunt's story was so inspiring to me, particularly at a challenging time in my own life, that I was convinced it would inspire others… and the many readers who have written to me or posted reviews bears that out!

GG: "Perhaps that is why I see what seems to be an explosion of articles and books by and about women over 50 who have much to say, as writers, about their experience at this time in their lives." I took this line from an article about you in Read Her Like an Open Book. Could you expand on this please? Do you still agree with it and do you think you would have written something entirely different if you had written a book ten or fifteen years earlier? If so, what do you think that would have been?

BSN:That quote came from an article I wrote about women who come to encore careers as writers after succeeding at first careers, and perhaps also having families. I discuss what it is that makes us feel empowered, confident and resourceful and therefore eager to do this work rather than defining ourselves primarily through retirement to hobbies, travel and grandparenting, (though I happily do all three as well!) We are sometimes the first generation in our families to have worked outside the home, and have been challenged by social upheaval, and redefinition of our roles as women. To quote another part of the article, "with our hard-won knowledge, we have written books—memoirs about our experiences and novels peopled with characters whose arcs reflect our challenges and our wisdom. I believe that our characters and the experiences we write about reflect the refiner's fire of the lives we've lived and survived–and often even managed to thrive within." So I do believe that my place in life now gives me so much perspective and knowledge from which to write about the characters in my novels. I'm not sure I could have done justice to either of my novels earlier in my life, but if I'd tried, I think they would have been darker, less complex works.

GG: I teach autofiction. I'm curious why you chose fiction to tell your stories as opposed to memoir or autofiction. Was it an automatic choice to choose fiction or did you debate? Were market forces/trends a factor?

BSN: The simplest answer is that the top item on my bucket list when I retired was to write a novel. Considering that about 80 percent of what happens in my first novel is based on a true story, I could have written it as a memoir or some other form of creative nonfiction. When I first began writing Even in Darkness I worked with a famous author at a writers' conference and she had me write in novel form for the first half of the week, and then in creative nonfiction for the second half of the week. At the end, it was clear to me that I wanted the immediacy that fiction brings to me. I wanted my own narrative voice out of work, letting the characters and the story tell themselves.

GG: "Everywhere, she found stories and has come to appreciate the way different languages impact the form of narratives, and the need to be heard and seen that we all share." I took this quote from LitChat. As someone who grew up in a bilingual household and a trilingual environment, I found this quotation fascinating. In addition, I teach English as a Second Language, so I am always considering how other language speakers hear and understand me. Can you tell me more about "the way different languages impact the form of narratives?" Can you give one or two examples? Would one of your stories have been different in another language in terms of form?

BSN: I also grew up around two languages, and a lot of storytelling in each. I tuned in early and often to the ways German differs from English, but also how they are similar. I loved trying to translate idiomatic expressions from one language to another. When I later studied linguistics and became a speech-language pathologist, I learned so much about how our communication is influenced by, for example, where the verb typically comes in a sentence. (in German it comes at the end, so a listener has to hold onto a lot of information before understanding the action) Then, as part of my work, I learned American Sign Language which is entirely visual/conceptual rather than auditory/sequential like most spoken languages. So a narrative in sign language is set up in a signing space between communicators, and is very hard to translate to the page because its nuances don't lend easily to our alphabet and written language rules. Working with kids who have communication challenges fit right into my fascination with the importance to everyone of being able to hear and tell our stories. I can easily geek out on this topic, so I'll leave it here!

Although Even in Darkness is written in English, I worked hard to bring some German inflection into the dialogue by writing it with the kinds word order changes and formal usage that a native German speaker might make when speaking English. This made it very interesting to find a narrator for the audiobook, but I really lucked out in Jilly Bond, who speaks German and understands what I was trying to accomplish.
In Hard Cider the story quest is one of origins.. who do we come from? How will a life script be rewritten based on the revelation of a shocking secret?

Thank you so much, Barbara for visiting my site today. Your work sounds intriguing and I look forward to reading it. 

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Twitter: @bstarknemon

Instagram: bannstark

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Thursday, 18 April 2024

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