What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelors Degree in Music and majored in Piano Performance and Music Education in Boston and Jerusalem. I later received a Masters Degree in Teaching in Wheeling, Illinois. I continue to foster my love of writing through multiple Writer's Workshops in the Chicago area.
Who is/has been the most inspirational person in your life?
The first person that comes to my mind is my older sister Ronnie Patlen Lira. Ronnie passed away in 2019 after struggling with a long and debilitating illness, yet she lived through it with an infinite amount of grace and courage. I'd completed three-quarters of my manuscript by the time she passed. The most compelling women in my book are inspired by my beloved sister. Ronnie had a unique sense of humor and an uncanny ability to "get" people. Anyone who knew her, was drawn to her compassion, her depth and her love of life.
How do you spend your free time?
I participate in local yoga and Pilates classes. Yoga helps me clean out the "clutter" that accumulates in my mind and focus on my writing. I also love digging into a good book, spoiling my poodle Gigi, and binge-watching my favorite Netflix or Amazon shows.
If you weren't writing a book, what would you be doing?
I'd travel. I've visited Russia and lived in Israel, which is where I drew inspiration for my book. I've also been to England, Spain, France, and Italy. I'd like to go back to Italy and spend more time in Venice. My most recent "find" was touring and hiking around Taos, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The scenery is breathtaking, and immersing oneself in Native American Pueblo culture opens the mind and heart. I can see why artists are so drawn to Taos and Santa Fe!
Who are some of your favorite authors?
I enjoy historical fiction writers, as I am one myself. Alice Hoffman, Michael Chabon, Dani Shapiro, Talia Carner, Paullina Simons, Amos Oz, Dianna Gabaldon, Tatiana de Rosnay and Marina Fiorato are some. I also like a good thriller, now and then; Tom Clancy and Daniel Silva come to mind.
Knowing everything you know now, what would you tell your younger self?
Don't let perfectionism and trying to please others get in the way of following your dreams. Take a deep breath and let your inner critic go. In my book, my protagonist, a young pianist tells herself before going on stage, I am enough, meaning my essence is worthy enough in this journey called life.
How long have you been writing?
I've been writing since my teens. I started journaling in a "stream of consciousness" style, which slowed me down and allowed me to process conflict and feelings. I continued journaling and writing poetry in college and into my working life. By doing this, I discovered my unique voice and continued finding it when working on my book.
Do you have a writing routine?
After my morning exercise and walking my dog, I get down to work. I'll spend a chunk of my day writing and doing my research.
Do you have advice for writers who are just sitting down to write their first book?
I wrote my first few chapters while teaching full-time in a local school. The process was slow, but I refused to let go of my dream. Always carve out time for yourself and you'll find a way. Twenty-five years ago, I read "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. She addresses the issues creative people have who want to follow their dreams. I recommend the book.
How did you know you would write a book on Soviet-era Russia?
The idea evolved. I wanted to create compelling characters whose lives were disrupted by a regime that kept a close eye on them. The dissident and refusenik era of the 1970s became a perfect backdrop for my characters.
How long did it take you to write Dissonance?
It took me six years to complete, including the research.
For a historical fiction novel, you've incorporated a lot of truth into your writing...can I double-check to make sure your facts are correct?
Absolutely! Check out my bibliography for my references. I also traveled to Israel in 2015 and spent time in Tel Aviv's Museum of the Diaspora's archive department (and lived there in the '70s) to triple confirm my accuracy.
What was the hardest thing about writing Dissonance?
The historical topics were challenging. At the same time, the more I researched, the more I became intrigued. In my story, Natalia's father landed in the Gulag. Not only was I meticulous in my research through historical texts, dissident diaries, memoirs, and video archives; as a writer, I found myself becoming my characters. It's like acting, in that respect.
What makes your historical book unique?
There are many WWII historical novels out there, but few I know of that are written within the context of 1970s Soviet-Middle East political events. (To the End of the Land, by David Grossman is one novel that deals with the aftershocks of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.) At that time, the Soviet dissident and refusenik movements gained world attention, and I wanted to include those social issues in my book. I also wrote about the shifting attitudes that took place in Israel prior to the 1973 Yom Kippur War; the country was not as invincible as many had thought following Israel's swift victory in the 1967 Six Day War. Having endured a devastating number of casualties in the 1973 war, the country now had to live with the pain and reality that mistakes were made within Military Intelligence. These and other world events provided an interesting backdrop for my book, and my main characters' lives were altered as a result.
Are there any parallels between yourself and your main protagonist, Natalia Aronovich?
I lived in Israel in the mid-1970s - I was a young woman trying to find my way in the music world while navigating a new culture. In that respect, yes, there are parallels. I also weave into the narrative Natalia's thoughts when she plays piano; through prose, I connect the mind with music. My past experience as a pianist gave authenticity to Natalia's experience as a musician.
How and why does feminism play a part in your book and in Natalia's journey?
My protagonist, Natalia, grew up in the mid-twentieth-century Soviet Union where any qualified person, including a woman, could get a university education, then enter the workforce. Still, women took on the traditional roles as homemakers while, as a rule, men held higher status jobs in government and industry. As a young Soviet musician, Natalia managed to excel in the competitive music world due to her tenacity and talent.
In the early 1970s, Israeli society officially treated women as equals; women served (and continue to serve) in the military and were allowed to enter the job force and hold professions. But the Women's Movement was secondary to survival; Israel's number one priority was to defend itself against hostile neighbors.
In Israel, Natalia had to contend with a foreign culture and men who held on to traditional attitudes toward women. Through sheer wit and perseverance, traits she drew on from her experience as a musician, Natalia proved a capable contender to the men in her life.
You talk a lot about music in your book...Where can I hear a full soundtrack of the pieces and songs described?
You can listen to the Dissonance soundtrack here.
What's next for you?
I'd like to write a historical novel, possibly a sequel to Dissonance, and work on my craft of writing short stories.