Monday, November 4, 2019

Interview with writer Paula Wagner

Writer Paula Wagner joins me today to tell us a little bit about her memoir, Newcomers in an Ancient Land.

Paula and her twin sister were born in London but grew up moving across the US until their English mother and American father finally settled in northern California. Always fascinated by languages, Paula has lived in Israel and Europe where she learned Hebrew and French. She holds a BA in Women’s Studies and a Masters in Career Development with a focus on cross-cultural communication. Along with writing and career coaching, Paula enjoys swimming, singing, biking, and yoga. She and her husband currently live in Albany, CA.

Welcome, Paula. Please tell us about your current release:
Newcomers in an Ancient Land is a lyrically written coming of age memoir about leaving home with my twin sister to study Hebrew in Israel when we were eighteen. But soon, seduced my love of the land, the language, and a man, the adventure leads me to France. Spreading my wings, I learn far more than two new languages as I emerge from the chrysalis of twinhood in search of home and identity.

What inspired you to write this book?
I wanted to dig deeply into a youthful adventure in Israel, a vision quest that set me on my lifelong path; also to share the beauty of the land all its people; and lastly, to hone the art of memoir writing.

Excerpt from Newcomers in an Ancient Land:
Chapter 5 – Hitchhiking
The Negev Desert was a land of extremes – by day a white-hot griddle; by night a blackened skillet; at dawn a copper pot; at dusk a painted gourd. Its unforgiving rocks and sharp scent reminded me of my early childhood in Texas and Kansas, where the harshness of the land had somehow made me feel strong. Did the Bedouin woman trudging along the road feel that way too?
But the gloomy Northern California coast where I’d later grown up had zapped my strength under a depressing blanket of fog. I knew without knowing that to dry up all my tears, I had to escape to a hot place. Now the merciless desert was restoring the strength I’d known as a child. I could feel my life energy surging up into my bones. Or was it the rumble of a giant semitruck grinding to a halt as I stuck out my thumb on the side of the highway?
            “Climb into the back,” the driver shouted over the idling engine. Catapulting over the tailgate, I clung to a rough wooden bench as the colossus lurched forward. Like a prairie schooner, a canvas tarpaulin offered shelter from wind and sun. From its oval opening, the road spool out behind me like a wide-angle screenshot. Here and there, the greenhouses of an agricultural outpost broke the monotonous beige of rock and sand as the road wound ever deeper into a narrowing chasm and the hours slowly passed. Just when I thought we’d reached the end of the world, the brakes hissed and the truck ground to a stop at the top of a ridge. I had just enough time to scramble out before it barreled downhill, showering me with dust in its wake.

What exciting story are you working on next?
A sequel to Newcomers describing my experience living in post-war France in a zany but resilient Jewish family. I want to honor their amazing stories of survival during the Holocaust and the German occupation during WWII.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After winning a poetry contest at age eight I always knew I would write “someday” – and now that day has come! But as an active child I didn’t have the patience to write more than poetry or school essays. Now I realize that writing has played a large part of all my work.

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?
Yes, pretty much full time although I still love my work as a Career Coach. I’m a binge writer so once I feel inspired I can type for hours. As my own boss I’m flexible, but I love deadlines for motivation and structure they provide.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I imagine myself zooming back to the past in a time machine to retrieve my memories and breathe them back to life through the power of language.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was growing up, girls were mostly encouraged to become teachers, secretaries or nurses – until they married – and then to become traditional wives and mothers. So beyond my family’s lofty values of helping others and making the world a better place, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I could be or do. I did have many interests like travel and languages that led me to explore the world and gave me much to write about.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’m so grateful for this chance to connect through this interview. Every word I write as a well-chosen gift to my readers.


Thanks for joining me today!

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