A few weeks ago I read “A Fierce Radiance” (book review) and was very impressed with the storytelling and research that went into the book. The author, Lauren Belfer (website), was kind enough to answer a few questions I had after finished reading her book.
Q. It seems you did a lot of research, anything specific you can share about how you went about it?
A.I adored doing the research for “A Fierce Radiance.” Of course, research is always easier for me than sitting down to write! I started my research by reading every issue of Life Magazine for the war years, 1939 (when the war began in Europe) through 1945. I learned some amazing things, such as the extent to which people assumed that America would be bombed and invaded during World War II. I also read the New York Times on microfilm for the war years. For my purposes, microfilm was much better than reading the digital archive of the Times, because on microfilm you see the advertisements. You learn what people are wearing, and what cars they’re driving. As I wrote the novel, I wanted to forget everything I knew about the actual course of World War II and put myself in the shoes of people living during those days, not knowing what the future would bring. I wanted to feel, in a visceral way, as if it were happening to me, the anxieties of those years. This is why I went back to the actual newspapers and magazines published at the time.
A. I found many, many things that surprised me! I made a list of them for the P.S. section of the paperback edition of “A Fierce Radiance.” But just to give you a flavor, until you read the paperback: I learned that in Eastern Europe, over many centuries, people would keep a loaf of stale, moldy bread in their kitchens, and when a family member had a wound, they would cut off the moldy end of the bread and bandage it over the wound to prevent infection. These people were harnessing the power of penicillin without even knowing it! But I have to wonder, who first had the idea to put moldy bread on wounds?? I also learned that the East River Drive, now known as the FDR Drive, in Manhattan, was built on landfill created from the ruins of the bombed-out city of Bristol, England. The stones of the city were brought to New York as ballast on merchant ships. To me, this fact is very strange and disturbing to think about — that when I drive on that highway, I’m driving upon the ruins of an English city.
A. Finding the right tone and language for presenting the biological/medical information in the novel was indeed difficult. I went through many drafts of those chapters. Some drafts had more science, some had less. My editor helped me to find the right balance. As always in my work, I tried to center the material on my characters — on their concerns and interests. I believe that when readers care about the characters in a novel, they’ll follow those characters anywhere.
A. I’ve had wonderful experiences with book promotion. My books are historical, and they take years to write because of the extensive research involved. “A Fierce Radiance” took eight years to write. During those years, I rarely got out of the house during the day, except to go to the library. I didn’t answer the phone, except to talk to family. When the time came to promote the book, I adored suddenly being able to get out into the world and talk to readers — nothing is more exciting for a writer than to meet and talk with readers!
A. I think the social media age makes book promotion easier and more fun than ever before. Book bloggers bring so much enthusiasm to books and to everything surrounding books. People from all around the country, not to mention the world, are able to share their interests, and easily meet like-minded readers and exchange information. I think there’s more excitement in the air about books than ever before.
Shameless plug disguised as a question: Why do you love ManOfLaBook.com so much and often visit the website?
Wise gal answer: I’m thrilled that blogs like ManOfLaBook.com exist to bring readers together. As a writer, my greatest goal is to touch readers, to move them, to make them laugh, to try to give them insights into their own lives and families. ManOfLaBook helps me to do that!
Thanks Ms. Belfer for the interesting and complete answer, seems like she had fun answering them.
Zohar – Man of la Book