Today, I have the great pleasure of interviewing multi-published author, Bruce Judisch. He’s going to tell us about his upcoming novel, For Maria. Bruce also generously offered to give away one copy of its prequel, Katia. The drawing is open to readers worldwide! So at the end of the interview, please leave a comment along with your email address before Thursday, July 19th. The winner will be announced in the Sunday Edition on July 22nd.
An introduction to For Maria:
December, 1939: The Gestapo haul Izaak and Maria Szpilmann away to the Lublin concentration camp, leaving their twin infant daughters behind to die. But the twins do not die. Rescued by a neighbor couple, Gustaw and Ròsa Dudek, they escape occupied Poland to Salzburg, Austria. They are not heard from again.
Today: Maria Szpilmann has survived Lublin, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen. She is now grandmother to Madeline Sommers, a young journalist who, despite the odds, passionately clings to the belief that the lost twins are still alive. She makes it her single-focused mission to find and reunite them with her failing grandmother before it’s too late.
Welcome, Bruce! First of all, where are you from?
Originally, Canton, Ohio. I enlisted in the Air Force when I was 18 and, after a 21+-year career, I retired in San Antonio, Texas. I guess that make me a closet Yankee deep in the South. J
What kind of novels do you write?—and how were you influenced to become a novelist?
Actually, I never envisioned myself as a novelist. I’d been affirmed in my writing abilities, but it was all non-fiction. What got me started—rather, who got me started was my wife, Jeannie. I was teaching a course through the Minor Prophets at our church, and when I began my research on Jonah, I was struck by how unique he was and how little we actually knew of him. There were also several questions left hanging in the Scriptural account of Jonah’s ministry, and they intrigued me. When I introduced the study on Jonah to my class, I said, “If I were ever to write a novel, it would be on Jonah.” I had no intention of ever writing a novel; however, my wife was in the class, and afterward she elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Well…?” So, in 2002, returning from a business trip to DC, I typed the first lines of Ben Amittai, intending it to be a single novel beginning with the first reference to Jonah in the Bible (2 Kings 14:23-25). Well, being a seat-of-the-pants writer, I soon lost control of my story, and eight years later, again on a business trip to DC, I typed the last lines of The Word Fulfilled, the third work in “A Prophet’s Tale.” The bug had bitten, and from there I went to write Katia (it flowed from the pen; first draft of 78K words in 30 days). For Maria was much more difficult; the first draft taking well over a year, due to the intense research and emotional exhaustion of the subject.
Not only are we a global group here at ICFW, but we appreciate fiction that takes us around the world. In what countries have you set your novels thus far?
Katia is set in Berlin, Germany. For Maria travels from Stettin, Poland (1940), to Salzburg, Austria, through Vichy France, Spain, and on to Lisbon, Portugal. If I tell you much more, I’ll spoil the story. J
My earliest work, “A Prophet’s Tale,” is set in ancient Israel, Judah, and Assyria.
In today’s featured book, For Maria, you chose a very complicated issue surrounding WWII and the Holocaust—and I admire you for that, as well as handling it so sensitively and well. Please share what led you in this direction, to tackle the topic of the Hidden Children. What’s the story behind the story?
For Maria, as the sequel to Katia, follows two characters who really only receive brief mention in the previous work. It was in researching the logical progression of the story I had in mind that I came upon the Kindertransport and the work that the Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE) did on behalf of displaced children before and during WWII. Some of these children escaped Europe, others—like your Hidden Children—did not. The story is incredibly poignant; I still tear up at scenes after over a dozen full edits of the manuscript. The ending is satisfying, but the journey is painful.
It’s evident that For Maria is well-researched. The facts and details you incorporated are impressive. I love how you integrated real life characters with your fictional characters. Yet, this all couldn’t have been easy. So I’m curious, how did you conduct your research for this book?
I bought several books written by alumni of the Kindertransport, as well as interviewed two of them. I’ve since, to my unlimited joy, have befriended them (in fact, I chatted with one on Facebook just before beginning my reply to these interview questions). Interestingly, if you study the documents on the cover of the book closely, you’ll see the name of one of them. I also contacted organizations like the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society in New York and others for information on the times, events and people. It was exhausting, emotionally draining, yet at the same time wonderfully satisfying.
Many characters’ lives were changed in a profound way within the context of your plot. Did this project change you in anyway? If so, then how?
Oh my, Tessa, you know how to ask interview questions, don’t you? I don’t really consider myself a softy, but I actually got misty eyed when I read this question. There are no words to express the emotions I encountered in writing this book. For those who do read For Maria, the Author’s notes at the end of the book will tell it all—but please don’t read them until you’ve read the story! J
Any surprises—good or bad—along the way?
Hah! It wouldn’t be much of a novel without surprises, would it? And I wouldn’t be much of an author if I gave them away, would I? ;-)
What would you say is the overall spiritual theme, if any?
Wow, another great question. I don’t think there is one. There’s food for thought along the way, nuggets to mull over—as there were in Katia—but an overall theme? No, that would be a little bit limiting for a book like this. Sorry.
For Maria is the sequel to your novel, Katia, which I also had the privilege of reading. Here’s a blurb of Katia (OakTara Publishers/2010), the book offered in today’s giveaway:
“Seek the truth, embrace the pain, cherish the freedom.”
Spirited Madeline “Maddy” McAllister is a twenty-one year-old journalism major completing her year as an exchange student at the Freie Universität, in Berlin, Germany. She has a career to launch.
Stalwart Katia Mahler is a sixty year-old German invalid who grew up in post-World War II East Berlin. She has a story to tell.
Enigmatic Oskar Schultmann brings together the journalist and the storyteller. Maddy’s task: to chronicle Katia Mahler’s life.
All three of them discover more to Katia’s story than they bargained for.
Cultures and generations clash, as the young American and the German matron strive to understand each other’s present and past. Maddy learns more than a personal history; Katia receives more than a memoir. And always in the background is Oskar, who gets drawn into the story in ways he never intended.
Peek behind the Iron Curtain and over the Berlin Wall as Katia’s story—the story of a lost generation from a failed state—comes to life through the scribbled notes of a girl struggling to grasp the significance of what she has written for her own life as well as for future generations.
Without giving too much away, how are these two stories, For Maria and Katia, tied?
I’ve alluded to the fact that the two primary historical characters weave a thread between the two books. However, as this is a hybrid contemporary/historical work, the characters in the contemporary setting—especially Madeline—are very strong carryovers from Katia. Although it’s not necessary to read Katia to appreciate For Maria, I honestly think the experience would be fuller for the reader if s/he would read the prequel first. That’s not a veiled marketing ploy, just an honest assessment.
What’s next for you, Bruce?
I’m working on some non-fiction Bible studies in eBook format through Cape Arago Press. As far as fiction goes, how’s this for a seed? (This is a genuine news article. I have the brittle yellowed newspaper on the desk in front of me.)
Rangeley Lakes, Vol. II, No. 13
Rangeley, Maine – August 20, 1896
The center of attraction Thursday was at the railroad station after the arrival of the 1 o’clock train. There came on that train a “bridal trunk,” anyway, one of the cards attached said: “I am a bride,” another announced, “We are married.” There was a drawing of a loving couple with wedding bells and a cupid. But the happy couple didn’t come. There was a crowd awaiting the train at night, and again they were doomed to disappointment, but they have the pleasure of looking over the trunk just the same.”
So, who were the newlyweds and why didn’t they show up to claim their trunk? Or maybe this wasn’t a bridal trunk after all...hmmm.
This won’t be international per se (although there may be Canadian connection), but it’s pretty cool anyway, don’t you think? J
Pretty cool, indeed! Thanks, Bruce! J
BRUCE JUDISCH is a senior information operations analyst on contract to the Department of Defense. His fiction includes the above-mentioned prequel to For Maria, Katia. He is also the author of “A Prophet’s Tale” (The Journey Begun and The Word Fulfilled, as well as Ben Amittai: First Call, the prequel), a novelization of the story of Old Testament prophet Jonah. He is also published in a Department of Defense professional journal, the IO Sphere. His unpublished non-fiction includes more than 18 Bible-study booklets, as well as topical studies on the Seven Churches of Revelation, the Resurrection, and Discerning God’s Will.
Bruce’s work can be found on his Web site at www.brucejudisch.com. He also reviews Christian fiction on his blog at www.brucejudisch.blogspot.com.
He lives in San Antonio, Texas, with his high school-sweetheart wife, Jeannie. They are parents of three and grandparents of fourteen.
For a chance to win a copy of Bruce’s novel, Katia, the prequel to the soon-to-be-released For Maria, leave a comment and include your email address replacing @ with (at) and .com with (dot) com, before Thursday, July 19th. The winner will be announced in the Sunday Edition on July 22nd.
“Void where prohibited; the odds of winning depend on the number of entrants. Entering the giveaway is considered a confirmation of eligibility on behalf of the enterer in accord with these rules and any pertaining local/federal/international laws.”