Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Interview with Nicole Dweck, author of The Debt of Tamar

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Nicole Dweck to Flashlight Commentary to discuss The Debt of Tamar. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Nicole. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Debt of Tamar.
During the second half of the 16th century, a wealthy widow by the name of Doña Antonia Nissim is arrested and charged with being a secret Jew. The punishment? Death by burning. Enter Suleiman the Magnificent, an Ottoman "Schindler," and the most celebrated sultan in all of Turkish history. With the help of the Sultan, the widow and her children manage their escape to Istanbul. Life is seemingly idyllic for the family in their new home, that is, until the Sultan's son meets and falls in love with Tamar, Doña Antonia's beautiful and free-spirited granddaughter. A quiet love affair ensues until one day, the girl vanishes. Over four centuries later, thirty-two year old Selim Osman, a playboy prince with a thriving real estate empire, is suddenly diagnosed with a life-theatening condition. Abandoning the mother of his unborn child, he vanishes from Istanbul without an explanation. In a Manhattan hospital, he meets Hannah, a talented artist and the daughter of a French Holocaust survivor. As their story intertwines with that of their ancestors, readers are taken back to Nazi-occupied Paris, and to a seaside village in the Holy Land where a world of secrets is illuminated. Theirs is a love that has been dormant for centuries, spanning continents, generations, oceans, and religions. Bound by a debt that has lingered through time, they must right the wrongs of the past if they're ever to break the shackles of their future.

What inspired you to write this story?
While at New York University studying Middle East Studies and Journalism, I was shocked to discover just how many people were of the belief that the existing tensions between Judaic and Islamic cultures were somewhat of a natural phenomenon.  The idea that this situation was “natural” or even worse, "intractable" was something I deeply wanted to disprove.  I found the political climate just so disheartening!

I went on to learn about an event in history that would not only disprove my classmates' dangerous assumptions, but would suggest quite the opposite to be true. 

What I'm referring to, is of course, the rescue of hundreds of thousands of Inquisition refugees by Ottoman Muslim rulers of the day.  By illuminating this tremendous event in history, I sought to challenge the idea of intractability, an idea that I hold to be as dangerous as it is anti-progressive. 

What research went into The Debt of Tamar? 
Researching the historical context of the novel was an incredibly fun and adventurous experience for me. Sure, it involved countless hours in the library pouring over historical documents and scouring scholarly databases, but it also included a tremendous amount of travel in order to get a feel for the landscape, climate, culture and local personalities.   I delved into traditional Ottoman cuisine, art, and literature.  In order to immerse myself in the mindset of my characters, I read literature that my own characters might have read.  I came to know great thinkers like Rumie and Gibran.  I also read as much "native" literature as I could, and through writers like Orhan Pamuk and Amos Oz, I was able to come to understand an overarching communal mood that only a "true insider" could accurately detect.

What drew you to these particular time periods and why use them as a backdrop for your story?
As a descendant of Inquisition refugees who sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire, I suppose it is only natural that I would be intrigued by this particular time period in history. It was, of course, a tremendous turning point for my own family line, and for that of the entire Sephardic (Spanish) refugee community. Hundreds of thousands of people would escape the cruelty of Spanish and Portuguese intolerance and find a safe haven in this foreign and exotic land to the East. My own family would continue to live in this region until the early part of the 20th Century, when political turmoil and economic uncertainty would drive them from the region they had come to know as home for generations.

You probably have many, but is there one scene that you particularly enjoyed writing?
Absolutely!  There are many, but if I had to choose one, if would be the scene where Ayda and Selim meet in the ballroom of a society event.  For the briefest moment in time, my characters are completely uninhibited, thoroughly decisive, and stunningly bold.  As I writer, I so enjoyed accessing that part of a character's personality, the place where there is no doubt, no fear, no shame.  Just one human being's instinctual longing for another.  There's purity in that moment when all the noise and doubt and fear just fall away.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
The most difficult scene to write (without giving away any spoilers) was the scene in which Jose makes the shocking decision that alters his family's destiny.  As a modern American living in the 21st century, I really had to try to step out of my comfort zone to understand the psychology behind his decision.  How could a character I had come to love and admire act in a way that was, at least to me, so deplorable?  This was an important moment for me in terms of understanding and exploring human nature. 
Some leaders become tyrants, some sinners become saints.  In Jose, I wanted to portray the range of good and bad that every person is capable of. I think exploring Jose was my attempt to understand how a very good person could be radicalized and do a very bad thing.

Is there a character or concept you wished you could have spent more time with or expanded on?
I really loved the character of Ayda.  In fact, she was probably my favorite character. The underdog, I was rooting for her all along, and the more I got to know her, the more I grew to love her. She was irreverent, sassy, fiercely loyal and bold. I admire so much about her.

Dual time lines present certain challenges for an author.  Why did this format appeal to you and how did you approach combining contemporary, historic and ancient time plots?
By the time I began writing this novel, I had already come to the belief that each person's life story was actually a link in a chain that stretched long before us and long after us.  When we consider that our lives are chapters in a much greater story, our burdens, no longer just our own, become that much easier to bear. As for our joys, I believe we share those too; only happiness is contagious and never spreads thin.

In order to make sure these time periods were stitched neatly together, I employed the use of various literary tools to hold my stories together. One such "tool" was the ruby ring that appears throughout the book and acts as an unending thread uniting unique story lines.  

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
One of the characters I would have loved to get to know better would be Sultana Nur-Banu. She was the mother of Murat III and the Sultan's favorite.  I would love to ask her what it was like for her, captured and kidnapped by Ottoman soldiers as a young girl, then taken away from her family and placed in the Sultan's Harem.  She started out as a slave but rose to become one of the most powerful women in the empire.  Talk about an identity crisis!  

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I suppose what I really want to say, and I hope my readers hear, is this ;  No matter what the legacy your parents leave you looks like,  take hold of it fearlessly,  grasp it in your hands , and mold it into something beautiful, something you'll pass along with pride. 

What is next for you, any new projects waiting in the wing?
With a new baby at home, my time is definitely limited in a way I could never have imagined.  For the coming year, I plan to write the sequel to The Debt of Tamar, which will explore Tamar's storyline and what comes next for her after "The Debt."  Other than that, lots of reading, skiing, and family time!

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Nicole Dweck is a writer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country.

As a descendant of Sephardic (Spanish) refugees who escaped the Inquisition and settled on Ottoman territory, Dweck has always been interested in Sephardic history and the plight of refugees during the Spanish Inquisition. The Debt of Tamar, her debut novel, was a two-time finalist in the UK’s Cinnamon Press Novel Award Competition. It has also received an honorable award mention in the category of Mainstream/Literary Fiction from Writers Digest and was the highest rated book for two weeks running on the Harper Collin’s “Authonomy” website. It has claimed a #1 Bestseller spot in the Amazon Kindle Middle East Fiction category, a #1 Bestseller spot in Amazon Kindle Jewish Fiction category, and has been included as one of the “Hot 100″ Kindle bestsellers in the category of Historical Fiction.

Dweck holds a BA in Journalism and a Masters Degree in Global Studies with a focus on Middle East Affairs (NYU) . Her non-fiction articles have appeared in several magazines and newspapers including The New York Observer and Haute Living Magazine.

She lives in New York City with her husband and son.

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Format: Paperback
Publication Date: February 4, 2013
Released by: Devon House Press
Length: 332 pages
ISBN-10: 061558361X
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check out all the stops on Nicole Dweck's The Debt of Tamar virtual book tour

Monday, February 24
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, February 25
Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, February 26
Review at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, February 27
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Friday, February 28
Review at History Undressed
Monday, March 3
Review at The Written World
Review at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Review & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Tuesday, March 4
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, March 5
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Thursday, March 6
Review at Stephanie Thornton Website
Friday, March 7
Review at The Maiden’s Court
Tuesday, March 11
Review at One Book at a Time
Review & Giveaway at The Eclectic Reader
Wednesday, March 12
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, March 13
Review at Kelsey’s Book Corner
Friday, March 14
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Monday, March 17
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, March 18
Review at Chick With Books
Wednesday, March 19
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, March 20
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Friday, March 21
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Monday, March 24
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Tuesday, March 25
Review at The Novel Life
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, March 26
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Thursday, March 27
Review at Kincavel Korner
Friday, March 28
Review at The True Book Addict
Review & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Interview at Kincavel Korner

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