You might not have heard of author Steve Luxenberg if you haven’t been following me long, but for me, meeting him was kind of a big deal. Steve is the author of Annie’s Ghosts, a book I read for two different book clubs which gives you the chance to look at my book review and both book club reflections. So yeah, I was excited.
The event was an embarrassingly long time ago (March 21) and I’m sorry that I’m only getting this posted now. This draft has been sitting in my folder for much too long. There was a moderator who was part of the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace organization; a group that grew out of Germany after World War II which sends youth abroad to work for understanding and peace as a result of Nazi actions during the war. The panel consisted of Steve Luxenberg (Washington Post) and Dana Nemeth, Director of the Wood Co. Historical Center and Museum in Bowling Green, OH. Dana was selected because of her work with the asylum in her county.
It’s interesting to me how different it is to see a fiction writer versus a non-fiction writer. A fiction writer talks about process and inspiration whereas a non-fiction writer talks about their topic even further and maybe touches on how they do their research. A lot of this post will reflect Steve’s research and ideas.
Steve says that his book is ultimately about identity. He felt that Beth lost her identity by denying her sister for so long, Annie carries her identity as a physical deformity with her at all times, and that he gained an identity through his research into his family. I can see this as a theme and I think it’s interesting that in a book I perceived as being about mental illness and family, Steve saw something more universal in his writing. That showed me that no matter what you think a book is about, the author might think something completely different. His perception might be different because it deals with his own family so directly. Steve talked about how writing about your own family and friends can be challenging because you’re presenting this person to your readers in a manner in which they can be judged. What if the readers don’t like your family? There was one woman in the audience who really didn’t like Steve’s mother and said so. I think this would be hard for me to deal with, but Steve took it in stride. He told me later that, “All readers are right.” So the woman who disliked Beth, and another who thought she was strong are both right. We as writers just have to choose who we’ll listen to and make sure to bring the scene to life as much as possible. Steve recommends remembering to bring the five senses into each scene to give the reader an experience.
Anna Oliwek is a distant cousin of Steve who he found living in Michigan. Anna is actually in the Portraits of Honor gallery for Michigan Holocaust Survivors so you can check out her profile. Her son, David, attended the event and Steve recognized him, thanking him for coming and thanking his mother for helping him so much in his research. It was really cool.
The Portraits of Honor memorial is one of many that are active to this day. Another that was mentioned was the Shoah Foundation, which has visual memories of the Holocaust such as video and photos. It was mentioned that Steven Spielberg is active in this memorial. The host location for the event was the Holocaust Memorial Center and they strive to bring in speakers and events like this, Steve, and many others, to continue remembering those who lost themselves to the Holocaust.
Returning to mental illness, it was brought up that a small film is in the making that will focus on Eloise and what happened to those that lived there. The film is supposed to be filming currently in the actual location in Westland, MI. You can read more about it here.
As when I meet any author, I asked him the same question; “I want to be a writer. What should I do?”
Steve gave me my favorite advice; “Read.” When you read, recognize when something works and think to yourself, “Why?” When something doesn’t work, ask yourself the same question. By knowing what does and doesn’t work in books you read, you’ll know what will and won’t work in your own writing. I try to do this in my book reviews, giving a few points about what I thought was unique about the book or why the style wasn’t my favorite. I hope those help you all as well.
Until next time, write on.