Cutting Room Floor Excerpts: Wash Day, or Did You Know an Iron had a Soul?

Introduction

Every manuscript must undergo the dreaded editing process, THE ALTERED I is no exception. In the process some of my favorite parts had to be cut from what would be the finished product. Either the narrative seemed completely random, or meandering, or just didn’t fit anymore within the story. This is called Killing Your Darlings.

However, as I was killing some of the darling parts, in the back of my mind I was planning a resurrection of sorts. I surmised that a lot of it could be re-purposed in a blog format. So I didn’t mind that a lot of superfluous stuff had to go, I always knew somehow I would bring it to light again.

I leave it to you Dear Reader to decide for yourself whether any of if should be on display. But, if you are a fan of the book and a big fan of Joe and just want to know more about him or his life, then here is an opportunity to see all the bits I left out. Please bear in mind these are unedited excerpts.

I’ll be blogging some of the excerpts from time to time and I hope you enjoy them, if not, well then killing them out of the book was the way to go.

Today I’ll be starting with one of my favorite parts (they are all my favorite parts!) cut from the manuscript. The scene is from an early time in Joseph’s life. He is not even school age yet. Wash day may seem trivial in the context of the subject of the Holocaust, but to me it is basic and yet endearing. It sheds light on a way of life no longer known, and it pictures a mother and child in the course of their work-a-day life. Also, it makes me thankful for my beautiful front loading side-by-side washer and dryer.

Joseph Kempler and his older sister Dziunka (Judy)  Laub

Joseph Kempler and his older sister Dziunka (Judy) Laub

Excerpt

Too young to be a part of the adult world my sister lived in, I was left to the world of weekly house chores with Mamusia. As a constant companion to Mamusia there was always the tasks of cooking, cleaning, mending, shopping, and of course the especially tedious task of laundering. Laundering was a multiple step process that required the partnership of  Mamusia and her maid Marysia and several days to finish the job. 

All the cleaning supplies, including the immense  wooden bucket,  had to be hauled down from the attic to the kitchen. As a small child I would sit on a stool and observe the whole, long process. An active child, I became bored and restless. I searched the house for something, a magazine or newspaper, anything I could get my little hands on to escape the tedium of laundry day.

Because the wooden bucket was large, and all the paraphernalia involved in the cleaning process scattered about, there was no room in the kitchen. It was so time consuming and space invading I don’t know when there was time for cooking anything. Perched precariously on the stool I had a good view of all the laundry action, but it wasn’t the safest place for a child. One time I was too near the rushed activity and some boiling hot water splashed on the back of my knees and I howled in pain. 

Once the boiling process was finished Mamusia and Marysia left the wash to sit in the bucket of soapy water overnight. The next day the duo took the wash out and poured warm water into the bucket, then they placed the laundry back in the bucket and scrubbed the linens up and down on a washboard. Then it was left again overnight with the starch in it. On the third day after the starching, a bluing agent would be added to the laundry to whiten it. Afterwards the clothing and linens had to be rinsed and wrung dry, placed in a basket and hauled up three stories to the clothesline in the attic. I didn’t like the attic, especially during the colder months. It was drafty and I shivered constantly.

The laundry was kept on the clothesline until dry. This could take up to two days. Once it was dry it was all taken down and brought to a place of business where they had a machine called a mangler. This machine had large wooden rollers. The laundry was wrapped around the rollers and then it was rolled back and forth to soften the fabric. Once the mangler had done its job then the laundry was taken back home to be ironed.

The iron itself appeared to be a living being, it even had a chamber called the soul. The soul was removable and placed on red hot coals. Once heated the soul was placed in the outer housing of the iron. Mamusia had two souls going at once. While one soul was inside the iron, the other was heated on the coals. I noticed that there was a certain tricky technique involved with the iron. There had to be just the right amount of heat otherwise if it was too hot it would burn the clothing. Most of the time time she used a wet cloth on top of the garment. Mamusia licked her finger and touched the iron to test the temperature. To me it seemed in order not to burn the clothing or linens, ironing was almost a science in itself. 

End

Want to read more from THE ALTERED I? Click on LeRue Press. Also available on Amazon and Google Play.

Altered I Book Club Hosts Meet-The-Author Afternoon Event

Early in February I was honored to be invited to the first Altered I book club. Although the group was intimate the questions were probing. And despite the use of the word probing, I was thrilled to answer them all!

Although this was predominately a ladies function, through a strange twist of circumstances Joseph Kempler was able to attend. That sent a special happy vibe through the guests who weren’t initially expecting to see him. Even though he didn’t have too much to say, he enjoyed being the center of attention. He sipped his wine and his eyes sparkled when he gazed at me talking to the group about the writing experience and working with him. In fact, a couple of times he said, “I never knew all this!” Even he was surprised at the level of work and determination (otherwise known as stubbornness) it took to get his story to the level of published book.

Joseph Kempler

Shelly Kilburn was Madame Interviewer Extraordinaire. She was adorable perched on the sofa asking me questions off her iPhone.

Here is a peek at some of her questions and my answers:

1.  When did you first dream of writing a book?

A: I would have to say it all started when I was in elementary school. I can’t remember my age or grade but the assignment was to plant a bean and write about the outcome. It was all done on construction paper–complete with illustrations by moi–and bound together with yarn. Ah, the 70s! I first started thinking about writing when I was in junior high to be honest. I was around fourteen years old, and I thought I would like to be a writer–or a lawyer. But, I believe a friend talked me out of writing as a serious career when she bluntly told me,”Everybody wants to be a writer.” So that was that, but I never gave up the creative writing classes or my journal, or my dream.

2.  When/how did you decide to write this book?

A: This is a little bit of a long story and I’ve written an article and a blog post already, so if you are truly interested click here!

3.  What detail touched you the most?

A: Surprisingly it wasn’t anything related to the Joseph’s Holocaust experience directly, but with his first wife. Her story touched me deeply. While I was writing it, I was moved to tears. (Of course I’m not giving anything way right now, you, Dear Reader must read the book!) While I say this I must tread carefully, as Jospeh’s second wife is sitting right over there on the sofa. She is smiling, a good sign.

4.  Did Joe sign on immediately?  How did he feel?

A: Joe really was supportive right from the beginning. Although at times I know he viewed me as a pest. I really did show no mercy. I rang his doorbell, I knocked on his door, I wouldn’t take “No, not today” as an answer.

5.  What did you hope to accomplish?

A: First, I hoped to accomplish a manuscript that could be read by the family. They hadn’t heard Joseph’s story in its entirety, or this context. I hoped they would learn things about their father and themselves. I hoped it would have a healing effect on all the family, because truly, the Holocaust put a stamp on all our lives and no one has remained unscathed by the dysfunction it has engendered.

Secondly, I really wanted to be a published author! After we had compiled all the information I knew in my heart I had to take it to the extreme level of finding a publisher and setting the story loose on the world!

6.  What was the hardest thing about writing it? The most rewarding thing!

A: The hardest thing about writing it had to be carving out the time. I had to conduct the interview, transcribe the audio, write the manuscript, then edit, edit, edit and when I thought I couldn’t stand to look at the thing edit some more. Then really, the hard part was looking over the contract for publishing, getting advice, knowing what was the right decision. This was all new territory, and also stuff I wasn’t mentally prepared for. I had to read a lot of books on the subject of contracts and in effect I became my own lawyer (dream number two fulfilled). Of course I hired a professional attorney all the same. There was just so much to think about. It was a lot of time invested.
The most rewarding thing was seeing it through. Finishing the project even when I wanted to give up. But each time I wanted to quit I would remember I had come too far to quit. I really pushed it to the end. What is more rewarding than a job well-done? And I’m not talking about reviews or anything like that, but giving this everything I had and knowing I did my best no matter what anybody thought of the work itself. It so happens that people love it, the book. And I’ve gotten several “Well-Done!” comments. Which of course thrills me. Maybe I have a future int his after all.
Book Cover for The Altered I

Book Cover for The Altered I

I wasn’t the only one to express myself that afternoon. What was more interesting to me was listening to the book club members tell me their feelings and tell Joseph what they thought of him, of how his story impacted their life. And also, what inspiration the story supplied to them. Some of them feel more brave after reading the book. They felt they could stand up for what was right despite peer pressure or ridicule. Some said they don’t fear persecution anymore. Some got together with members of their own family to ask them about their family history. The Altered I meant a lot of different things for a lot of different people.

Have you read a book or listened to a life story that made you re-think your own life or your own standards? What was it, or who was it? I would love to hear about it. Please leave your reply in the comments section!

Thanks for indulging me in my Meet-the-Author event. It was a great afternoon with some really wonderful friends.

Interested in reading an excerpt? Click on excerpt.

Want to purchase? Click on LeRue Press. It will take you right to Amazon.

Why You Should Listen to Your Grandparents Now

When asked what kind of book I wrote, I often get the same response: “Oh how wonderful. I wish I had sat down with my…(grandmother, grandfather, great-aunt, cousin, you-fill-in-the-blank). They really had an exciting life. They were bootleggers, smugglers, coal miners, suffragettes, steel workers, lumber barons, led a swing band, sang with Benny Goodman.” Clearly you can fill in the blanks here too, and I’m getting carried away!

I was explaining to a man, whom I had just met at a bar (with my husband!), how I sat down with my father-in-law and recorded everything he said and then I wrote it down. Interesting concept! The man I was speaking to sat back on his bar stool pondering what I had said. Then he went on to tell me how his father had been in World War One and, “Wait World War One?” I interrupted, “Don’t you mean Two? How old was your father anyway!?”

“Nope,” he said, “it was the First World War. My father was sixty-five when I was born and I’m in my early fifties now.” So that pretty much explained it. He went on to express regret that he hadn’t talked to his father about his past, but he said, “I was only eighteen at the time and really stupid.”  He wasn’t thinking about the past or his connections to it back then. Also he confided that he and his father didn’t get along very well.

Then he told me something even more astounding. When his father got up in years and was living in an assisted care facility, he would go visit him. Every time he went his father expressed anger at the other old guys in the place. He called them all…well, something not very complimentary. His father said, “All these guys in here are all jerks! But that guy,” he pointed a shaky finger at a fellow who looked about a hundred years old, “that one guy is all right.” He was apparently referring to one of the gentlemen in the facility who had actually served in the Spanish American War.

Not really familiar with this war (I know, shame on me) I was incredulous as first. “Wasn’t that like in the 1800s?! Just how old was the guy anyway?” I said.

To my chagrin, he explained the Spanish War was in the Teddy Roosevelt time period, nearer the 1900s. Actually, with a little bit of research I discovered it was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States. You can read about it here if you like. Regardless, he had this golden opportunity to talk with a veteran of the Spanish American War, but being young and not thinking about all that old stuff he let it go. I could tell not investigating further must have gnawed at him over the years because he remembered it vividly. Coincidentally, he was retired from the military and working as a detective in Wisconsin, where he was born and raised.

But this underscores my point. How many opportunities have we passed up to learn about our past, our personal history? Even if your family hasn’t done anything newsworthy, it’s your connection to past events. Even if you sit down with Grandma and listen to how life used to be, it is certainly different from how life is today! There is a lot to be gleaned from our relatives, but few of us are really listening. That we never took the opportunity to talk to them while we had it will come back to haunt us. Once they’re gone, that link is gone, and we can’t get it back again. And we might miss something vital. But we won’t find out until we try.

A good friend recently told me that after reading my book THE ALTERED I, she was inspired to talk to her father. She made an appointment with him, traveled to see him, and without distractions, talked with him for two days about his past, his experiences, and his reflections. Wow, I was humbled to hear it. But glad she acted on her wish to connect with her father after so many years.

What do you think? Is listening to our older relatives important? Have you done it? What did you find out? I would love to know! Please share in the comments section.

My Favorite Disaster Movies That Were Books First

Inspired by the recent Facebook update of a friend, I got to thinking of my favorite disaster movies. I was brought up during the 70s when disaster movies seemed to reign: Airport, Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Rollercoaster, to name a few. These movies terrified me, yet I was strangely attracted to them. I loved all the cameo appearances by film movie legends (Fred Astaire, Shelly Winters, Charleston Heston, Lloyd Nolan, Jennifer Jones, and the list could go on and on)! I especially remember my mom taking me to the theater to see Earthquake. I actually could feel the vibrations. Little did I know at the time but it was this movie’s sound effects that caused the sensation of feeling an earthquake (perhaps not a good idea to take a small impressionable child)! This movie terrified me! I even remember eating a Hershey bar with almonds. I don’t eat them to this day.

Each one of these movies changed how I viewed the simple act of getting into an elevator, taking a cruise, visiting an amusement park, or traveling to the top of a skyscraper for a bird’s eye view of the city.

Perhaps these movies shaped some of my literary interests as well. It might explain why I’m attracted to the subject of the Holocaust, one of the greatest disasters in human history.

Not to dwell on real unpleasantness, but I thought it would be fun instead to list the disaster movie and its literary counterpart, maybe there’s one here you haven’t discovered!

  1. The Towering Inferno (1974). Starred Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire and O.J. Simpson. This movie is based on the combination of two books: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (1973) and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (1974).
  2. Airport(1970) This one set off sequels Airport 75, Airport 77 and The Concorde or Airport 79. I saw them all.  Starred Dean Martin, Burt Lancaster, George Kennedy, Barbara Hale, Helen Hayes. The book Airport was written by Arthur Hailey (1968).
  3. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) Starred Shelley Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowell, Arthur O’Connell. Also the book The Poseidon Adventure was written by Paul Gallico (1971).
  4. Rollercoaster (1977) Starred Henry Fonda (!), Richard Widmark, George Segal, and a very young Helen Hunt. Utopia by Lincoln Child (2003) is the closest I could find about an amusement park with a disaster theme. Excellent book!
  5. Meteor (1979). While not a book it may be inspired by an MIT report in 1967 Project Icarus.
  6. The Hindenburg (1975). This starred George C. Scott, Anne Bancroft, Gig Young, and Burgess Meredith. I remember vividly going to see this film when I was a little girl. It was one of the rare times my father ever went to the movies. I only remember there was a dog on the Hindenburg and I was very concerned for it. The book, titled The Hindenburg was written by Michael MacDonald Mooney (1972) He hypothesized there was a bomber and perhaps a German/Nazi connection. Did Hitler order the bombing of the Hindenburg in retaliation over anti-Nazi opinions? I believe this is loosely based on facts. Historians disagree in a sabotage theory. Well, either way, it made for a great disaster movie.

Did I miss any? What disaster movie was your favorite. Did it start out as a book, or a screenplay? Let me know!