Library hosts Algonquin authors at recent luncheon
Weighty topics prevailed as two Algonquin Publishing Company's authors discussed their respective novels last Wednesday afternoon at New Canaan Library's Authors on Stage series.
Former magazine editor Betsy Carter discussed "The Puzzle King," a fictional tale based on her great uncle's heroic actions which helped German Jews escape the Nazis during the Holocaust. After making a great deal of money in the United States inventing jigsaw puzzles, he "used his fortune," Carter said, to bribe German officials and help hundreds of Jews to escape the growing anti-Semitic rule. Now living in New York City, Carter is working on another novel about the life of immigrants who arrive in America in 1938.
In "A Friend of the Family," author Lauren Grodstein, of Philadelphia, writes about a middle-age doctor living in suburban New Jersey whose obsession about his son's future leads to tragic consequences. Growing up in similar upper class surroundings, with a father and uncle employed as doctors, Grodstein said she felt comfortable writing about the medical community. An assistant professor at Rutgers University and director of its Masters in Fine Arts program, Rodstein is also working on another novel when she is not teaching or caring for her 2-year-old son.
Both books were published last year and recently re-released in paperback. After reading excerpts aloud, both authors answered questions from 20 or so audience members.
When Carter was asked about the decision to reveal her family's history as a fictional novel, as opposed to penning a non-fiction memoir, Carter explained that she chose this genre because all of the main characters -- her great-uncle and parents -- are deceased. "It would've been difficult finding out facts about our family's history," she explained. While her parents were alive, they didn't speak about immigrating to the United States. In penning a fictional tale based on real life events, she had more leeway to tell the story creatively and dramatically. However, to assure that it was accurate historically, Carter spent years researching all of the events that took place leading up to World War II. She read letters from Jewish immigrants about how they fought to get out of Europe during the Holocaust, she said. Carter also spent a great deal of time researching the time period 1892 to 1936 in which "The Puzzle King" is set.
During the two-and-a-half years she was writing, Carter read old copies of Time magazines so that she could accurately describe the political and social tenure taking place.
"You could see how anti-Semitism was progressing," Carter told those gathered in the library's Lamb Room. "At first, the writers at Time were very glib about the Nazis."
Despite her donning the role of `author,' writing "The Puzzle King" was also personal and emotional. Carter said that she kept her aunt and uncle's photos pasted near her computer so that as she crafted her story she would constantly be reminded of their presence.
"I stared at them for so long that I felt like I knew them," she said.
Extensive research was also an important part of Grodstein's creative process. In fact, she told the audience that even minute details -- such as what type of fish could be caught in the Hudson River and what birds flew over the Long Island beaches. "If you make the tiniest mistake, someone will find it," she noted. "When the book was in gallies, I gave it to my father to read and check over."
Raquel Stabinski-Leib, a frequent attendee at the Author on Stage series, said she enjoyed reading "The Puzzle King."
"I read your book so quickly," she told Carter. "I couldn't put it down."
Also a writer, Stabinski-Leib said that she finds it "stimulating" to listen to fellow writers discuss their work.
"When your muse is gone, it really needs waking up," she added.
An avid reader, New Canaan resident Simin Zendehrouh said that she has also attended several lunchtime events at the library.
"When the authors talk, you learn more about the subject of their books," she said. "I find them all to be very interesting."
Spearheaded by New Canaan Library's Assistant Director Cynde Lahey, the next Author on Stage event features Lisa Birnbach ("True Prep: It's a Whole New Old World"). The book signing and discussion is on Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m. in the Gallery. "The Authors on Stage program, which takes place at lunchtime and in the evenings, has been very successful," Lahey said. "We get anywhere from 20 to hundreds of people."
Elm Street Books, co-sponsors of the author series, has autographed copies of the books available for purchase.
Two children's programs are scheduled for December: Anna Dewdney, author of "Llama Llama Holiday Drama," will visit New Canaan Library on Sunday, Dec. 5, at 1 p.m. Jane O'Connor, author of the "Fancy Nancy" children's book series, will read her newest installment, "Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique" on Saturday, Dec. 11, at 1:30 in the Lamb Room.
For more information about the Authors on Stage program, call 203-594-5040. Events are free, registration is required since a complimentary lunch is served during the noon talks.