Monday, May 15, 2017

Interview with novelist Sheldon Greene

My special guest today is author Sheldon Greene. We’re chatting about his new literary, historical, magical realism novel The Seed Apple.

Welcome, Sheldon. Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am an executive in Oak Creek Energy, a wind energy development company, and serve on the board of the Great Lakes Energy Institute. As a lawyer, I have a background of high impact public interest litigation in health care, labor law, land policy, and immigration. I have published six novels: Lost and Found, (Random House), Burnt Umber (Leap Frog) Prodigal Sons (Book Surge), Pursuit of Happiness (Create Space), After the Parch (Strategic Publishing), and The Seed Apple (KinurPub). I live in Berkeley CA.

Please tell us a little bit about your current release.
The Seed Apple grew out of a visit to Palenque, a Mayan site in the Yucatan. A cross, elaborately ornamented in a bas relief, led me to speculate on voyagers who crossed the Atlantic before Columbus and left a cultural foot print. Legend has it that Solomon’s sailors went beyond the Mediterranean and Irish Christian missionaries found the New World. This led me to speculate on Jewish builders helping to construct the Pre-Hispanic temples, whose descendants left the imploding Mayan Empire and settled an oasis in a fictional Palm Springs, preserving elements of their culture and religion.

The narrator of my first novel, Lost & Found (Random House), Mendel Traig, encounters the Binyan family, on a holiday. He is befriended by the patriarch, is exposed to their library and archive, including the narrative of the journey north. He also witnesses a generational conflict. A controversial tower, over an earlier tower, over a sacred site, is being constructed to communicate with the American nuclear submarine fleet. The son and heir to the family property opposes it, as does his girl friend, the daughter of a rival land- owner. Mendel falls for Sarah Cavanaugh, the engineer who is responsible for the innovative design. I drew from Jewish mystical sources to create a belief structure that might have evolved from a family that preserved their cultural heritage for over two thousand years isolated from their main stream. The Cold War is grist for the generational clash.

What inspired you to write this book?
The Seed Apple is one of a quartet, two of which have been written but not yet published. The third, Tamar, is narrated by a woman, Tamar Binyan, who takes over the leadership of the family during a difficult time. She must preserve the land, deal with conflicting post Civil War American land grants, American settlers, a railroad, the U.S. Army, her impulsive and rebellious husband, and an American lawyer. Beyond Canyon Springs the book exposes the reader to late Nineteenth Century California, Los Angeles and San Francisco. It draws from A History of American Land Policy which I wrote and which was published by the University of California.

What exciting story are you working on next?
The fourth book, Waiting for the Messiah, is again narrated by Mendel Traig. An old folks home is converted to a school for wayward youth. The remaining geriatric residents are enlisted as mentors. A Russian Refusnik educator takes the job as principal. He shakes up the community and changes the lives of the young and the old in positive if controversial ways. The story is a modern-day retelling of the Passion of Christ.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote my first novel, never published, while on an extended stay in Israel, on a two-year break from my law career. I got back on the career track but never stopped writing.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I don’t have a routine. I have a seamless life and fit it in when it feels right. Most of the time I met a few times a month with Mary Mackey, novelist and poet. We read to each other and critiqued each other’s fresh work.

My novels grow from the seed of an idea. Once the characters are realized in the context of the plot and the story, they take on a life of their own. I become the media for them. It’s a fascinating experience. The novels are quite different from one another.

In Lost and Found, a holocaust survivor recounts stories about the people in a small town in Pennsylvania. Burnt Umber, ties together the lives and art of two real 20th century artists. The novel spans the century, including Two Great Wars, travels from Munich to Paris and ends in Berkeley during the Viet Nam era. It explores the themes of creativity and narcissism, and the empowerment of women. In Prodigal Sons, a Jewish Partisan returns to post- war Munich to take revenge but his life takes an unexpected turn. Pursuit of Happiness, the fourth novel, is set in the American Revolution. Joshua Rutledge, a Quaker and a member of the Rebellion’s first spy organization, the Committee of Correspondence, is sent to the Caribbean to retrieve a desperately needed French arms shipment. After the Parch is the only one that is set in the future, 2075, in California Republic, after the break-up of the United States and after a long drought.

Prodigal Sons is a broad re-telling of the German myth, the Wagner Opera, Gotterdammerung, Twilight of the Gods. The story relates to the theme of the novel, the end of ideology. It deals with factual events at several levels; Jewish Partisans during WW II, the illegal immigration to Palestine, the Israeli War of Independence, Munich after the War, a clandestine Neo-Nazi organization hoarding gold, Nazi art theft, and a handful of Israelis who went back to Europe to kill Nazis. I wrote one sequence of Lost & Found as an homage to the Polish novelist Bruno Schulz who died in the Holocaust. All but After the Parch have some Jewish Cultural dimension. Pursuit of Happiness describes the community of former Spanish Jews who settled in the Caribbean after the Inquisition, La Nation. The hero of After the Parch is a modern day Candide.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a child I had more than one career objective; archeology, surgery, psychology, newspaper publisher.


Thanks for being here today, Sheldon.

1 comment:

terry said...

Excellent interview. I have read all these books by Sheldon Greene and enjoyed them. They are intelligent, well-written, and always have some weaving together of history in new ways.