Beverly Magid, before writing her novel, was a journalist and an entertainment and celebrity PR executive, who interviewed many luminaries, including John Lennon, Jim Croce and the Monty Python gang, and as a publicist represented clients in music, tv and film, ranging from Whoopi Goldberg, John Denver and Dolly Parton to Tom Skerritt, Martin Landau, Kathy Ireland and Jacqueline Bisset.
Beverly is a longtime west coast resident who still considers herself a New Yorker. She was one of the founding members of The MorningStar Commission, a group of industry women who advocate for a more diverse, accurate portrayal of Jewish women in film and tv. She is now an active member of Jewish World Watch, a California-based organization, which is on-the-ground in Africa helping to aid and educate the women and children victims in Darfur and The Congo.
She’s a news and political junkie and supports environmental, animal and human rights issues. In her spare time, she has been mentoring elementary children in reading as well as volunteering at the Los Angeles Zoo, working with the Research Department in observing animal behavior.
You’ve self-published both of your novels, what advice can you give authors considering going this route?
If you’re as impatient as I am regarding agents and traditional publishing, self-publishing is a great venue and no longer stigmatized by either the reading public or the publishing industry. Case in point: Fifty Shades of Gray (which started out first as a self-published book), need I say more?
Doing it yourself takes more work (but even with traditional publishing, the author is expected to do 90% anyway), and you can decide on your own schedule and get the book out when you want. Many sites are available, I chose Createspace, which is connected to Amazon, which as we know makes life easier for your reader to obtain the book. With these sites you can do much of the work yourself, or in my case, I chose to have design and technical assistance, because I’m not experienced in either of these areas.
In my first go-round, I didn’t utilize social media enough, which five years ago hadn’t taken over so much of our lives. I did contact women’s groups and libraries for readings and book signings and I still maintain, that the human connection is the most rewarding (next to people actually purchasing the book).
What are you working on now?
Since the book just came out, I’ve been mostly preoccupied with the launch and getting the word out. But I’ve been playing with the idea of either writing what happened to Leah after the end of SOWN IN TEARS, or another sequel idea which I thought about when I wrote FLYING OUT OF BROOKLYN. I considered jumping twenty years and writing about Judith and her daughter, which would bring me into another of my favorite decades, the sixties. To me, the stories of women and their path to self-discovery is unending and every era has its own particular obstacles.
Final Words of Wisdom
If you love to write, don’t think about the end result or who your target audience is. Write because you love it and can think of no better way to spend your time and energy. If you love to do it you will find the time because you have to. My doctor (who is also a friend) once said to me as I complained that I might never have thousands of readers, that in medicine if he was able to save one life or change it for the better, that was miracle enough for him. And I realize the pleasure I have had when a reader tells me how much they have enjoyed my book. In Judaism, they say “if you have saved even one life, it’s as if you have saved the whole world.” If I’ve given even one reader some pleasure or insight by something I wrote, that’s enough world-saving for me.
Discuss your writing process:
I wish I could say I have a particular writing process. Then I could publish a self-help book and probably make more money than I will writing fiction. My process is putting my derriere down in front of the computer and not getting up until the sun goes down. But am I successful in doing that? Sometimes. Like a lot of writers I am easily distracted. In fact the deeper I am into a story or a problem, the more easily distracted I am. Emails, Facebook, playing with the cats, re-runs of Law & Order are all a conspiracy to keep me from my work. It’s a never-ending war fighting these forces of evil every day.
However I can say that my novels develop from images I have of characters that make me want to tell their story. I have to live with those characters a while before I’m sure I want to stay with them for the time it takes to write the novel. (And with me, it takes months, maybe years.)
You did extensive research and traveled to Russia working on your latest book. How did that experience impact you? Did the story evolve with the research, did you do the research, then the story came… or did you know the story and find research that worked?
The research and the story evolved differently with the two novels that I wrote. With FLYING OUT OF BROOKLYN, I had a short story, which I was expanding into a novel and since it was set in Brooklyn, 1943, it was easier to read up on the time and place through back issues of the New York Times and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. After I had set the place and time and I was far along into the story, I went to Brooklyn and happily found a Williamsburg neighborhood which actually matched my image of the location in my book.
With SOWN INTEARS, the idea evolved from something my father said on a tape he recorded a few years before his death. He came from Russia and he spoke of his mother trying to keep him from getting sick during the influenza epidemic of 1918. I had this strong image of a mother doing all she could to protect her child, which I couldn’t shake.
I decided to set the novel in 1905 when times were turbulent. I depended a great deal on material in the archives of the YIVO Institute in New York, which has marvelous files and photos of that time in Eastern Europe and Russia. The Institute also collaborated with Yale University on a massive encyclopedia (now online), which gives information on just about every subject of daily life of that period. Additionally, I read some biographies of ordinary citizens and military officers, as well as taking many forays onto Google.
The trip I took to Russia and the Ukraine came after the first draft and again I was happy to discover that my images of the countryside and the places of former shtettls were similar to the ones I describe in the book. Being in a place you’re writing about helps to enhance your senses about that environment and hopefully you’re able to transfer that experience to your reader.
The historical details in Sown in Tears are exquisite. When you started the story, did you already know you wanted to educate readers on a (primarily) little known historical place and era? Or did that come about solely as a way to support your story?
I feel my first responsibility is to the story, even when it’s historical. Initially I was going to set it in around 1914 or 1918, but in looking into it, I realized that the upheaval in Russia, World War 1, the influenza epidemic and the great immigration from Russia was too much for me to handle all at the same time. Not that 1905 isn’t turbulent, but a lot of changes were just beginning to happen. So I tried to immerse myself in the happenings, the anti-semitism, the pogroms, the general frustration of the people (which is why the government used the Jews as their scapegoat for the troubles) the beginnings of underground revolution and worker movement and the Russian defeat in the Russian/Japanese war. Then I had to let it go, and fashion everything around my story and the fictional village of Koritz. Since it is a novel, not a documentary, I took some liberties and composited some events into the book.
Leah is a woman of her times, but she also works as a study for contemporary women trying to work, raise a family, and have a love life – against the backdrop of what people in her community will think about her and how they can impact her life. How much did you think about contemporary readers relating to Leah – and how much did you simply write a historical figure and let the character either resonate or not with today’s audience?
I always had the time of the book in mind when I thought about Leah and her obstacles, but I really believe that women have always had some of the same problems no matter when they lived. To me, Leah’s journey will not only resonate for Jews, but the story is universal for everybody (but I guess most authors feel that way about their characters). Her having to juggle everything at the same time in the midst of chaos is a timeless story, for today’s women as well as past generations. Necessity gave her the greatest challenges, but ultimately the most opportunities. She was strong-willed, which is a trait that women have shared in many eras and forced to be resourceful, which women have been all through the ages.