Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Amy Lignor is talking with Russel Lazega, author of Managing Bubbie
FQ: Bubbie was a huge part of life (quite obvious from the book): What is one lesson that you take from her?
LAZEGA: That extreme people shine in extreme times. The very characteristics that made Bubbie unmanageable in the modern world (a singular focus, an unbending refusal to do as she's told and an inability to comprehend the word “no") made her able to do the things that so many others couldn't in times of chaos. Like Bubbie,I guess I’ve been successful in life becauseI just didn’t know any better.
FQ: Bubbie asked you to write her stories down, but when did that actually begin…and how? Was there a catalyst to beginning?
LAZEGA: People often ask me, “So what made you decide to write her story?” and I have to chuckle and answer “Like I had a choice?” From the time I could first hold a Crayola Mango Tango she’d been telling me “You got to write down dis book — a million dollars they’ll pay you for it. Forget vhat dis mashuginas (Jewish for “bozos”) sell on Oprah. Mine life got a better story. Vhat I did to survive and bring mine children here to dis country.” So many of our parents and grandparents (especially immigrant families)impart their incredible sagas of struggle — mine just handed me a pencil and said “Now listen good and write." Believe me, it stuck and I’m glad that it did.
FQ: Bubbie loved President Reagan, may I ask what she would say about a “Trump” in the White House?
LAZEGA: Of course, she only liked Reagan because she had a theory that he was her long-lost brother. Otherwise, like many immigrants, she was fiercely loyal to the party that she saw as opening the door to her family's freedom (in her case President Roosevelt and the Democrats) so I expect we'd have heard something like "Oy, he's got such a big mouth that one? Ach, and that shmata ("rag") on his head. Oh no, I von't vote for him. Ve need a voman running tings here."
FQ: The research must have been incredibly interesting when it came to the telling of her locations during WWII. Are you personally interested in history/historical tales?
LAZEGA: I am fascinated by history and had a rare opportunity to see many of the sites when my family was honored with an exhibit at the French holocaust museum at Camp Desmilles. This is the place where my grandfather was interned during the war (and where my grandmother later launched his escape). It was an abandoned brick factory that the Germans had converted into an internment camp. Thousands of France’s Jews, intellectuals, gays, and anyone else the Nazis hated were warehoused there to await deportation to the death camps. Nobel laureates and world-renowned artists slept by the dozen in soot-covered 12’ x 12’ brick ovens. To say it made an impression is an understatement.
FQ: How long did the research take to put this book together?
LAZEGA: It's a story about a lifetime so naturally writing it took what feels like a lifetime. I started the project in 1998 with just some scribblings that I pushed on to an author friend who then pushed it on her agent who by the weekend was faxing me a representation agreement. From there it started to snowball and big publishing houses were showing interest . . . in my writing but not my story. "We love the writing but how do we sell this very ethnic story in Kansas?" they answered. Years later I decided to dust it off and give it another go and what I have learned from the process is that the publishing industry is far more narrow-minded than middle America. People in Kansas and other parts really DO want to hear stories that aren’t their own — as long as the stories are good.
FQ: It is extremely difficult going from humor to drama in a book – fiction or non-fiction. Was it easy to do this so seamlessly because it was a personal subject, or was it a case of trial-and-error, being the first time you have written?
LAZEGA: I think Mark Twain once said, “Comedy is tragedy plus time” and I think that rings true here. Life is full of joy and adversity. What people do with adversity and how they look back on it is what makes some people the things books are made of.
FQ: Do you have a mentor when it comes to writing?
LAZEGA: My Grandma Ana was the bookseller who never read a book and, sad to say, I’m kind of the book writer that hardly ever read a book. I am a big fan of Mark Twain, though. He had the kind of wit that you just can’t replicate these days.
FQ: Have you ever traveled to the historical sites involved in Bubbie’s tales? Seen the German’s “Holocaust” past or traveled to the locations she spoke about?
LAZEGA: I did get the opportunity to retrace some of Bubbie’s steps through Nazi-occupied Europe when the whole Mishpucha (the whole extended family) went to France to receive a recognition from the French government at the national holocaust museum. One of the striking things that I hope leaps out in this book is that in places that today would read like a dream European vacation (Brussels, Paris, the French Riviera, Barcelona) people not long ago were running for their lives. It’s a tremendous testament to the power of change and also a powerful reminder that hate can happen anywhere if you let it.
FQ: I do realize that you are a professional in a different line of business, but has the writing “bug” perhaps bitten to the point where we will one day see more titles from you?
LAZEGA: Actually, Bubbie has really taken off and I have development funding to try to make it into a movie and multi-actor celebrity cast audiobook. So, fingers crossed...There’s more to come.
FQ: If so, is there a genre you would be interested in exploring?
LAZEGA: Yes, I’m a sucker for stories about family members that love you so much that it hurts (no,I mean really it hurts). So next up on deck is a Spanish-language romantic sit-com about a grande-dame Jewish widow who learns that her darling eldest son (whom she expected to dote on her until her dying days) has fallen madly in love with a humble immigrant girl from Guatemala and Mama hen will do whatever it takes to bring him back home.