Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Tour: Interview with Elisabeth Amaral, author of 'Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup'

A native New Yorker, I have lived in the city for much of my life. My first jobs after graduating from NYU were jewelry design and case worker for the Departments of Welfare of New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was followed by co-ownership of a children’s boutique (Czar Nicholas and the Toad) and a restaurant (Duck Soup) in Cambridge near Harvard Square. I then worked as an industrial purchasing agent in New Jersey, and for the last 25 years have been a real estate broker in Manhattan, accumulating stories of the wonder and madness that is this city. I published a book of short stories (When Any Kind of Love Will Do), wrote two children’s books and a memoir (Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup), and am currently working on a novel.

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Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I read a lot, everything from mysteries to travel adventure to natural disasters. I enjoy movies,
especially in a mostly empty theater in the afternoon. And I love to explore the sections of New York City that I’m unfamiliar with, even after having lived here for much of my life.

When did you start writing?

I started writing in college, short stories and the dreams that I was able to remember in the morning. And in 1984, after being laid off from a job that I had thought would be mine until my retirement, decades in the future, I found solace in writing (on a huge, red Selectric IBM typewriter) a romance novel called Kiss of Fire. My nom de plume wavered between Gladys WhyMe and Felicity Glands. By either name, it was truly dreadful, but it was great fun to do. I also began to write short stories, but with no sense of purpose or discipline until I took a Method Writing class in 2005. That turned it all around for me. I began to write for several hours each morning before work, and there was a new determination, with an end result. I published my first book, a short story collection called When Any Kind of Love Will Do, two years later.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

Seeing that first book in print was pivotal for me. The excitement of seeing it in print was so thrilling that I would stop strangers on the street and show them a copy. If they had a nice face I would beg them to buy it! I’m not kidding. At the time, I was a real estate broker in New York City, and those were peak years for the market. I often worked six or seven days a week. Then in 2008 the market crashed, and there was no work for months. At the same time, my mother’s health began to fail, and I took that time to be with her and to reassess my life. Writing became my true focus.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

I could see myself starting a new book in Madrid. It has an energy that I’m comfortable with, food that I like, fast trains to the rest of the country, and I speak passable Spanish. 

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

Four extra hours a day would give me fewer excuses for avoiding the gym, so there goes an hour of that free time. But then I would have three extra hours a day to browse in bookstores or to read.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

Montreal or Quebec City, in the dead of winter.

Back to your present book, Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup, how did you publish it?

I self-published it. I had first sent it to an agent, who had called it a little gem. Another agent liked it but suggested changes that I couldn’t agree with. She also advised me how long the process would take. I compiled query letters and agent lists, but before I was able to send them out I had a heart attack. My outlook changed. I wanted my memoir to be published on my terms, with the photographs and recipes as is, and I felt an urgency to complete the process as quickly and professionally as possible. I went with iUniverse, and it was a joy. They awarded my book their own internal recognition, and I received excellent editorial advice. My husband and I did the proofreading, which was tedious but ultimately rewarding. My ex-husband supplied most of the photographs, including the cover, of me as a young mother with our ten-month old son.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

I did not. I had planned to go to Cambridge, where my ex and I had our children’s boutique (Czar Nicholas and the Toad) and our restaurant (Duck Soup). However, I was able to locate enough people from that era who were able to fill in or verify my memories.

Why was writing Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup so important to you?

The mid sixties to mid seventies was a truly remarkable era in which to be young. It was the Woodstock generation. The sex, drugs, rock and roll generation. To have been a part of that, and also to have been fortunate to operate two unique, ahead-of-their time businesses while raising a son in and around Harvard Square, was too much of a legacy to ignore. I wanted this story for my son, and for his little girl. Becoming a grandmother made me wish I had known more about my own grandparents. Their journey from Belarus to Brooklyn. Their dreams and their fears. In effect, I have written a family history, be it a bit bizarre!

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

I’m a child of the sixties. The source of many of our best ideas wasn’t always legal.

Any final words?

My actual final words will be “Thanks for stopping by,” but that’s for the urn. For my readers, and I do hope you are out there, stay strong and hopeful. My coming-of-age story represents a real journey. There were great times and there were potholes. My first husband was gay, my second wasn’t so nice. I learned to leap, and that’s how I met my third husband. He is my charm.

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