Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Introducing Pamela Schoenewaldt, USAToday Bestseller, Part I

Please note this interview has been update with the drawing info. You'll want to enter for a chance to win a copy of Swimming in the Moon!

Today it is my pleasure to introduce Pamela Schoenewaldt to you.

Pamela’s first novel, When We Were Strangers (HarperCollins, 2013), was a USA Today Bestseller, a major book club pick, a Barnes & Noble Great Discovery, short-listed for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and has been translated into Polish, Dutch, and Russian. Swimming in the Moon(HarperCollins, 2013) was cited by the Pittsburgh Examiner as a “a must read for anyone who enjoys beautiful, richly drawn characters, and a historical setting so realistic that one would believe they had been transported to another time. A glorious, unforgettable novel, A+.” It was a runner-up for the Langum Prize and connects powerfully with those who struggle with the impacts of mental illness in their families.

To Novel PASTimes
Thank you so much for the opportunity to connect with the Novel PASTimes community. First, in a general way, writing is so darn lonely and sometimes scary. It’s a little like throwing a rope across a gorge and walking on it. You don’t know until you reach the other side if the rope will hold. Of course, when you do, when you connect with readers, when they get involved with your characters and share their journey and tell you about the experience (!!), that’s pure pleasure. And of course, the chance to connect with others who are intrigued by the historical novel form is wonderful.

We're so delighted to have you with us today, Pamela. Congratulations on the success of your books! What do you hope readers will find between the cover of your books?

Like any novelist, I hope that readers will share the journey of my protagonists, feel for them, and rejoice for them. My first two novels are about the immigration experience and immigration is, obviously, a huge issue in the world today. So I hope that readers can enter into the world of two young women who faced a new world alone and have some empathy for those on this journey today. I hope that readers may connect with those in their family who have been strangers in a strange land. We’re all immigrants at some time in our lives, in the sense of moving from an environment in which we are comfortable and known into a new world: going to college, changing jobs, entering or leaving relationships, and so forth. I hope readers will enjoy the experience of reading my books, and know that I worked very hard, sentence by sentence, to make their time worthwhile.  

I know as a reader I always appreciate when I can tell that a writer has crafted the best book they can. One thing I found interesting is that your books have a tie to Naples, Italy. Have you lived in Italy? Or what created that connection between your writing and Italy? 

Yes, I have a pretty strong relationship with Italy. I lived outside of Naples for ten years in a little town called Fusaro. My husband is Italian (hence the 10 years), and I’m a dual citizen. So I had a strong experience of being the outsider, Even though I learned Italian pretty well, I was always L’Americana to my neighbors and that sensitized me to the issues of past and present immigrants. It’s also a gift for any writer (or anybody) to live in a different world for awhile: it forces you to observe more closely, note your reactions, and see how much of our lives and assumptions are shaped by our culture. The food’s pretty good too.

One of my dreams is to visit Italy, especially after setting my latest book Shadowed by Grace there.  Now your first book opens with quite a startling sentence: “Don’t die with strangers!” That’s quite a warning that the heroine in your debut novel receives. How did Irma Vitale’s story come to you?

We used to go cross-country skiing in Opi in Abruzzo, which is the setting of When We Were Strangers. It’s a tiny mountain town: a child could walk around it. It’s very isolated, even from the “big city” of Pescasseroli (which you’ve probably never heard of) which is visible from Opi. While I was walking around Opi, buying bread for dinner, I got to musing what it would be like to live here, to know nothing else of the world, and then be forced to leave, alone. Sometime in that walk, I imagined Irma, standing veiled on the edge of town, looking out to the road that led beyond, and that was the start of my novel.

Readers certainly seem to have resonated with it. In your second novel, Swimming in the Moon, your character lives with a mentally ill parent. What caused this issue to be one of the threads in this book?

Demographics, for one thing. One American family in four is touched by serious mental illness. So I know many people in this situation and had major experiences in my own life of living with those with such problems. So many of us are, or will be torn between our own needs and those of someone we love who has a permanent mental or other illness. I was interested in posing this challenge to Lucia, and making the challenge more intense because, as hard as it is today to take care of a mentally ill family member, imagine a century ago, with so much less understanding and so few treatment options!

Be sure to join us tomorrow for the rest of the interview. To be entered for a chance to win a copy of Pamela's Swimming in the Moon, please answer the following question along with your email. The winner will be drawn this Saturday (due to the last notice this week) at 8AM EDT. US addresses only are eligible.

Question: What makes a book about early 20th century immigration relevant today?


traveler said...

The struggles, trials, tribulations and triumphs makes the novel relevant and meaningful. I can relate to their hardships and difficulties since life is a constant battle. What I do enjoy though, about the immigrants early twentieth century stories is how they are portrayed and the changes which they have to adapt to. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

Cara Putman said...

Immigration is still such a key issue. It's timeless even as who we are as shifted.

Brittany Keating said...

To me, it's because immigrant stories are relatable from a family history perspective. We can imagine our own ancestors and what they experienced when first coming to America (in my case, from Ireland in the 19th century).