This time i am talking to historical fiction writer Sara who was born in the United States and raised throughout the States and Europe. Sara has spent her life since early childhood being a student of life, culture, history, and people. Having both parents as immigrants from Poland, she is the first American-born in her family - and as a first generation Polish-American, she finds it detrimental to shed light through her writing on the trials and tribulations people faced not only in WWII, but in their journeys escaping political and religious persecution to freedom. Her grandfather was actually a survivor of a concentration camp – so history has always been an important factor in her family’s life. Sara's parents used to reward her with trips to the bookstore when she received good grades in school. Thanks to that, she has developed a thirst for knowledge that cannot be quenched, and is obsessed about learning as much about history and culture as she possibly can.
During the times she is not writing, or her nose is not stuffed between the pages of the current fantastic read she cannot get enough of, she keeps busy training for a marathon (her 2012 resolution is to compete in one competition a month; She has already signed up for Warrior Dash, A Race for HOPE (5K), Gasparilla Half Marathon, the Race for the CURE, and Tough Mudder), runs a photography business, coach U7-8 Soccer, fish the glorious Florida waters, develops new recipes in her sea-friendly kitchen, cares for her dog (who runs with her), two cats, and hubby, or work with the local non-profit assisting families in crisis. Yea, she keeps pretty busy!
She is also represented by Pauline Vilain, of Vilain Innovations Literary Agency.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Sara: I actually do! When I was in the fifth grade, my mother convinced me to enter into a writing competition that was being held for fifth graders in the State of Florida (she had been reading my poems and little scribbles I was writing on the sides of my homework). The competition was to write the best story about children and why education was important to them. I ended up writing a loosely based on my life fictional piece about the importance of books, reading, and education – and ended up winning the competition! The prize was a $20 bond.
Books & Writing: What attracts you in history?
Sara: I have always been fascinated by history. The idea of the human race being on planet Earth as long as we have and all of those stories and experiences is overwhelming! I first became obsessed at an early age, due to all the books I was reading. Then, when I started asking people about their lives, it amazed me at how much someone could have gone through and the fact that their memories stay within their minds – never to be spoken of, unless asked. My domestic partner (Stephen) was floored when he read Chasing Borders – the idea that the story was taking place during the time he was in Elementary School learning fractions and that he had no knowledge of it whatsoever, was baffling to him. The only thing I love more than learning history, is sharing it with others.
Books & Writing: What got you interested in writing about history and implementing that in a fictional story?
Sara: Whenever I read History books in school – they were always so factual. I would daydream about the possible conversations and situations that lead to these historical events. Every time I purchase a new book, I think to myself “what am I going to learn through this book?”, and then I usually find a new obsession about a specific time frame in history. My most recent obsession revolved around the War of the Roses. I literally felt like I had to read every book that was written in a Historical Fiction/Literal fashion on the subject – and I’m pretty sure I did.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us something about your book “Chasing Borders”?
Sara: Rumors of the Soviet's impending return to attack on Poland in 1981 causes Jakub to flee the country in terror of a repeat of WWII, only to discover the attack is from government officials imposing a state of war upon its own people – exiling him permanently and forcing him to forge his own path to safety and freedom from political persecution, from country to country, border to border, battling bullets, police, border patrol, thieves, lovers, maximum security prisons, the Italian mafia, and impending death on a path which test the strength, courage, and friendships of a man with an incredible will to survive.
Chasing Borders is a complex, dangerous, sexy and funny historical fiction novel about a man who risked everything in escaping from the Communist oppression created by Poland’s Government officials’ decision to declare Martial Law on its people. He encounters the harsh reality of his decision on the first night of his escape, when he and his friends are robbed of everything but the clothes on their backs, in the dead of winter in Romania. Jakub’s intense survival instincts kicked in as they were forced to leave Romania and cross the deadly border into Yugoslavia, a country torn in pieces after the death of President Josip Broz Tito the previous year. Thrown into a maximum security prison after prison, he is finally released and told to head towards Italy, the only country that would harbor political refugees. After the assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II earlier that year, once more Jakub was faced with a less than friendly welcome into another foreign country. Finding safety in a camp for refugees in Latina, Italy, Jakub takes advantage of President Ronald Reagan opening the doors to Poland’s political refugees and offering them safe passage to the United States, but has the misfortune of entangling himself with the 'Ndrangheta mafia in the Calabria region of South Italy prior to his departure, leaving him with a deadly decision – to leave or to stay.
Books & Writing: Are the characters in the book based on people you know or knew?
Sara: They absolutely are! There is a fictional element to it, of course – names have been changed and the conversations are not word for word – but the actual events, dates, and occurrences are real. There was no need to embellish – the story is fascinating enough all on its own.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Sara: Chasing Borders is still in the process of finding the perfect Publishing House, but in the meantime, people can check out my webpage www.chasingwriting.com – which has a link to my blog http://blog.chasingwriting.com. There you can find my latest ramblings and even excerpts of Chasing Borders!
Books & Writing: Which writer(s) inspires you?
Sara: What a loaded question! There are so many! Philippa Gregory has definitely been my main influence and inspiration over the last several years – her writing is simply amazing. Growing up I believe authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Margaret Mitchell, L.M. Montgomery, and Edgar Allan Poe were inspirational when I was younger. More recently, aside from Philippa, I have followed the writings of Dan Brown, Joanne Rowling, and Anne Easter Smith have been influential.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Sara: Write what you know and what you love. My personal mantra is “Passion. Patience. Persistence.” Don’t get discouraged by rejection letters – throw them in the trash. You can receive 1,000 “No”’s, but all you need is one “Yes”. Don’t let anyone edit your manuscript with a red pen.
An excerpt from Chasing Borders:
Copyright © 2010
Warsaw, Poland - 1944
Footsteps sounding like grenades thundered from the ground above, jolting Tadeusz into a silent alert as his eyes tried to focus through the blurriness of unconsciousness. As his eyes began to adjust to the darkness, he quickly scanned his surroundings. He locked eyes with his grandfather, who had either also awoken from the sound or had never fallen asleep in the first place. Rigid with determination, his grandfather knelt on one leg with his back slightly arched as he held a shotgun firmly in his left hand with his right index finger ready on the trigger, aimed at the small tunnel that the family utilized to get above ground from this room of darkness. The footsteps faded although the finger on the trigger of the shotgun never relaxed. He stared at the strong, ox-like shape of his grandfather that he had always known to be the symbol of proof that the men in his family were warriors. Though his hair had faded to a dull grey and his skin had begun to turn slightly leathery, his cold blue eyes revealed a young heart in nature when crinkling with a deep rumbling chuckle; although Tadeusz mournfully realized the sound of that laughter was becoming a distant memory. His hands were worn, dark, and wrinkled, the tell tale sign of a laborer who was a slave from sun up to sun down to the nature of hard work. His fingers had dark stains from years of tobacco use. His walk was stiff and rugged, from years of abuse and neglect. His nose was large with the perfect raised arch indicating his decent from a long line of Israeli’s and a curved tip stemming from his line of Polish blood. His forehead had deep creases from many long nights of political and religious studying and strategic planning of how to keep his family untouched and unharmed from the sins and tragedies of the decades passed.
His eyes then shifted to the figure just behind his grandfather, where his grandmother had fallen asleep gripping one of her thousands of books tightly in her hands. Tadeusz squinted to read the fading lettering on the binding of what she had been reading prior to dozing off into a light sleep and was able to decipher the letters forming the words Folwark Swierzecy and his eyes widened at the translated title of the popular Animal Farm, which was under a fierce unofficial ban from the Stalin Government. Her hair was nearly white, pulled back into a tight bun with not one strand out of place. Her dark brown eyes reminded Tadeusz of coffee beans that are ready to be roasted and her thin lips were pressed tightly against one another in a strained frown of stress. Her thin frame betrayed by years of malnutrition and starvation, her fingers were long and boney, those of an artist. He could see her rib cage through the thick brown cotton dress that hung loosely on her frame, which used to wrap around her body so tightly that it left nothing to a wandering imagination. The skin underneath her hands and feet was coarse and dry, hardened from walking on stone with no comfort. Tadeusz stared at his own blackened feet. He had almost forgotten what it was like to own a pair of shoes.
His mother was nowhere to be seen, which was unsurprising. She worked wherever and whenever she found an opportunity. Not for money – no one in Warsaw had seen a penny for their hard work in years – but for the occasional scrap of food that she would be able to provide for her family, or the chance to collect clothes or shoes off of those that perished in the constant fighting and uprisings. She was not proud of herself as she roughly pulled the pants off of a small child that had a bullet wound in his head so massive that the top half of his head had literally been torn off from the close range shots that had been fired. She was not ashamed, either. She did what she had to do in order for her son, family, and herself to survive these dark ages. Her blonde hair was hidden underneath a black scarf with the exception of a few stray strands that had come loose during her run between streets and doors to get from work to what could barely be called a home. She had blue eyes that were older than her age with high set cheekbones and a strong jawline. She had the face of a woman that was used to sacrifice.
Water trickled slowly, one pea sized drop at a time, down the wall until it reached its final destination in Tadeusz’s hair. He raised his hand to touch the back of his head and realized that his hair was half wet; the water must have been dripping onto his head while he had fallen asleep. Wincing, he touched his fingers to his lips, hoping the miniscule amount of moisture might soothe the dried blood on them that cracking from dehydration had caused. Confident that the immediate danger had passed and knowing that the constant pressing danger was unfortunately nowhere near to being over, Tadeusz wrapped his arms around his knees and laid back into the corner, hoping that sleep would fade back in.
Silence settled once more into the stale air of the cellar. The smell of mold, dirt, and rotten garbage clung to every object, crevice, and molecule in the eight by eight safety cellar that had been dug below the sewers that lay underneath the streets of the city. Tadeusz was unsure if they had been there for days, weeks, months, possibly longer. The only light that penetrated into the hole in the ground was that which was reflected off of the constant vigil of candles that the family had lit. There were books piled in nearly every corner and alongside the walls, collecting dirt and holding a slightly musky smell from the water damage they were undergoing from the current condition in which they lie. There was no furniture, only tattered sheets that were used as blankets, pillows, and at times – clothes. No storage of food supplies existed; no family in Poland had seen enough food that allowed storage since the Soviets, then Germans, then Soviets, then Soviets and Germans together had marched through the streets, torching buildings and slaughtering people where they stood in the street.
The cellar provided the family with a safe haven as well as a death sentence. It was well known that if the Soviet Army managed to discover a cellar with a family hidden inside of it, that unlike the Germans - who preferred to prolong the death of families with methods of sadistic torture and then ship the survivors off to concentration camps - the Soviets preferred a more immediate gratification type of an approach: launching a grenade into the cellar and creating a blockade surrounding the hole’s point of entry. If a Pole managed to escape the hands of both enemies with enough warning, they were then able to hide underneath the city in the sewer lines which were filled with limbs or heads that had either been torn off or blasted into pieces, and occasionally salvageable scraps of food. Survivors learned not to look at the faces on the bodies; too many were friends, family members, or past co-workers. Vomit stained the sides of the sewers, a common reaction from those that felt they were brave enough to attempt to decipher whom a body, face, or limb belonged to. The smell of iron from pools of blood and mutilated decomposing bodies was so constant that it was no longer even noticed.
“Savages,” the Grandfather snarled, waking Tadeusz once more. His mother had apparently returned with news from the world above. He sniffed the air. His stomach rumbled as it recognized the familiar smell of bread and potatoes.
“Hush!” the Grandmother hissed urgently. “Do not make the mistake of forgetting that your grumbling can be heard through sound vibrations in the pipes.”
“Let them make the mistake of finding me. I will make sure that their blood stains the same ground as ours!” he exclaimed, although more hushed than before. “I am a disgrace and a coward to my family. To my country. Hiding here beneath sewers, smelling of piss and shit!” He spit in disgust. “There will be an uprising in Warsaw soon. Mark my words dear, I will be joining those men.”
The sound of footsteps returned, closer than before. The cellar became instantly silent. As silent as death, Tadeusz thought to himself, as his ears attempted to calculate the distance of the sound. Suddenly the pounding halted as quickly as it had begun. The steps had halted in front of the pipeline that lead straight to their cellar, he realized, as his heart began to race and the hairs on his arms rose with fear. The four people became statues, paralyzed, unbreathing.
“Вонючий запах еврейской крови проникает даже через канализационные трубы.”
The words reached the cellar and Tadeusz noticed beads of sweat bursting out onto the brow of his Grandfather’s forehead. His face burrowed in concentration, he tried to recall the language lessons his Grandmother had patiently impressed upon his mind. The sense… No, The smell of … something … through the sewers. Frustrated, Tadeusz willed his mind to think quicker, more accurately. He stumbled over the direct meaning of the words and gasped as he finally grasped what was said. The stench of Jew blood penetrates through the sewers.
Everything transpired in a handful of seconds that seemed to stretch out for an eternity. Blinding white light burned into Tadeusz’s eyes as the hole suddenly crumbled before his eyes. It was silent with the exception of the agonizing ringing that blasted through his ears. He felt arms around him. He wondered how they were able to cross the cellar with such speed as he peeked between their arms and could see the flare at the end of the barrel of the shotgun in his Grandfather’s hands but surprisingly could not hear the sounds. His Grandmother clamped her hand around his mother’s mouth as it opened to scream. Something that looked similar to a pear, but strangely mutilated and bumpy, flew into the cellar and landed at his Grandfather’s feet.
Big thanks to Sara for answering my questions and be sure to check out her site!