KL: So you have a law degree...What made you decide you wanted to write novels instead of practice law?
HP: In truth, I do practice law. So far, I don’t make enough money from writing to stop! I became a lawyer to try and change things, but when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I started looking for something creative to do. When I quit a job after only two days, the story was so funny I wrote it down and a passion was born.
KL: What inspired the idea for "Wings of Hope"?
HP: My father. He did all the things that Sol tells about in the book. He had an amazing life. He passed away seven years ago. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wanted her to hear all my dad’s stories. I started writing them down and pretty soon found I had an idea for a novel.
KL: Without giving too much away, tell us a little bit about your book.
HP: When Sol, the father, finds out he is terminally ill, he asks his daughter, Jules to come and stay with him. He and her mother divorced when she was little and lived on opposite ends of the country. Her life isn’t really what she wants, so she gives it up and moves to stay with her father. Her father tells her about his life and imparts one of life’s greatest gifts—the power to try to achieve her dreams.
KL: Do you have a favorite scene from "Wings of Hope" that you'd like to share?
HP: My father had always been a serious early riser. I, on the other hand, could sleep until 9 or 10 any day of the week. Without an alarm, I couldn’t possibly get up. Staring at the clock when I went to bed, I vacillated about setting it. There was nothing we had to do; I’d asked my father before we went to bed. With the three hour time difference, I worried whether I would wake up before noon. In the end, I figured it couldn’t hurt to sleep late, so I didn’t set it.
Blearily, I looked at the clock, 9:45, especially since I was still on San Francisco time. Not as bad as I had anticipated. Pulling on some comfy red and white drawstring pants and thick graysocks, I padded down the hall toward the kitchen, praying there would still be some drinkable coffee.
When I saw my dad sitting at the table with a cup of coffee and the Times still in his robe, I knew that besides dying, he actually didn’t feel well. I couldn’t recall another time in my life that if I rose after 8 a.m. He wasn’t already in a custom tailored shirt and pants with Gucci or Prada shoes (always new, my father loved shoes more than any woman I’d ever seen). Concern flooded through me.
“I got smoked white fish and bialys yesterday. There’s still plenty of coffee.” He motioned toward the cabinet. Worried gnawed at me. My dad and I take our coffee the same way--three or four sugars (depending on the size of the cup) and enough cream to make it almost white. For years, my dad had made me coffee when I got up. Tears pricked at my eyes. I closed them to make them go away.
Instead, I tried to be cheerful. “Thanks! I can’t wait to have bialys--can’t get those anywhere but New York.”
As we sat at the table sipping coffee, I ventured my first question, “Dad, what were your parents like? You haven’t told me much about them, except that your mother had more brains in her pinkie than you’ve ever had.” I worried I wouldn’t have time to find out all I wanted to know.
He looked up, surprised. “Haven’t I told you about them?”
I shook my head. “But I’d really like to know more about them--especially what they were like.”
A smile spread across his face, “Really? I can’t believe that. My mother would have loved you--eaten you with a spoon. Remember when I took you to Fiddler on the Roof?”
I nodded, not wanting to break the spell by speaking.
“You were horrified that Golda hadn’t even met Tevya before they were married?”
I nodded again. That had horrified me, I couldn’t imagine not falling in love, courting, all that comes with the fun of meeting someone special, dressing up to go out, etc. The coffee mug warmed my hands, as I listened enraptured.
“Well, my parents were married like that.”
Rather than actually seeing it, I felt my jaw hit the floor. “You’re kidding!” I exclaimed without thinking.
“Nope.” He shook his head, watching me with amusement.“They’d never even seen one another. Married in a little village in Poland called Tarnapole. It is gone now--burned to the ground by the Nazis, I think.” His eyes misted over, but continued anyway. “My mother got pregnant with your Aunt Rebecca almost immediately. My dad was a barrel maker--and a fine woodworker. He made furniture for people as well. Six months after Rebecca was born, my mother got pregnant again--with Aunt Rachel. The pogroms went on at that time, and getting worse every day from what I gathered from my parents. Money and food were running out. It was quite desperate. My father decided to come to America, make some money with my mother’s brother who already lived here in New York, then send for my mother and the two girls. He left taking nearly two months to get to New York. It was barely three weeks after he stepped onto Ellis Island when World War One started. My mother and your aunts were trapped for the next three years. For a while, my dad could get in touch with them. He sent money, but after about a year, the lines were totally cut off. He didn’t know where they were, if they were even alive. As far as I know, he kept working, saving money. My mother on the other hand, was starving. The pogroms were continuing. The Cossacks were riding through villages, raping women and running everything that moved through with a sword.” He licked his lips, concentrating, clearly thinking about what it must have been like for his mother. My hair stood on end.
“One day, my mother was in the town rather than at their farm when the Cossacks came riding in. One grabbed my mother around the waist and lifted her onto the horse while he was moving. He intended to rape her in the saddle and kill her. She grabbed his pistol from out of the holster around his waist. She shot him dead as they rode.”
My mouth was open and my eyes were far bigger than saucers. My dad laughed at my expression. “I know. Totally amazing--she was an amazing woman. She never told me that story. Her brother told me after she died. I remember saying to him, ‘My Mother?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
“What happened?” I asked mesmerized. “How did she get away with it?”
He nodded solemnly. “I asked the same question. She rode back to the farm. Her brothers buried the body. They slaughtered the horse and ate the meat—they couldn’t keep it, even though it would have been great for the farm, because it would have aroused suspicion and questions--but it was no longer safe for her or your aunts. People had seen it happen. They knew it wasn’t long before someone turned her in for a loaf of bread.” He bit the inside of his cheek, just a bit; frightened for them even though he knew it turned out alright.
“So she took what she could carry, along with my sisters and started walking to America.”
“Walking? Are you serious?” I literally could not imagine walking thousands of miles.
“Yep. She and my sisters hid in the woods during the day and walked at night for months. Eventually, she joined a refugee line.”
“How long did it take?” I couldn’t imagine. The fear I felt hearing about it was palpable--what must it have been like to go through something like that?
“Two years--are you kidding me? She walked for two years.” I was incredulous.
He nodded. “Unbelievable, huh?” He clasped his hands and looked down at them, trying to imagine what those two years would have been like.
I was speechless, thinking of the small things—nothing to eat, nowhere to sleep, no privacy for anything.
“The most amazing part is that she made it.”
“Wow, I wish I’d met her.”
“Me, too. She was something else. She spoke eleven languages. When she arrived in America, she would go through the streets looking for broken furniture and bring it back for my father to fix and resell. They built up quite a furniture business. When the Depression hit, they lost it all. My dad had to take a job as a window washer, earning $9 a week, to feed a family of six. I never saw him in the morning, he was up and gone before the sun.” There was a dreamy quality to his expression. I imagined him as a little boy looking up to his father.
“He fell off his ladder once. Your uncle and I were young teenagers. For two weeks, we did the window washing route. The two of us couldn’t do together what he did in a day. After the two weeks, my dad was up with only a broken hand. Your uncle and I went with him for two more weeks. With a broken hand, he did twice as many windows as your uncle and I did in a day.” His smile was rueful.
With a small chuckle, he continued, “My mother was the brains of the operation. After six years, my dad came home--I’ll never forget it--she said, ‘You don’t work for Jakob anymore. ’
My dad turned white, ‘My God! He fired me? ’ I was terrified he was going to drop dead right there; he was stricken.” Dad’s face blanched at the memory. He had really been frightened.
‘No, ’ she responded looking horrified. ‘I bought the business. ’
Can you imagine? She was able to save the money for that? Let me tell you, we never went hungry--or at least the kids never went hungry. As I think about it, I’m not certain I ever saw my parents eat. We did eat dinner together, but I imagine that was actually the only meal they ate.” His face was sad, realizing this now.
He shook his head in wonder. “I don’t really know if they were happy. People didn’t think about that then. Life was just too hard--but they knew they wanted a better life for their children. My mother wouldn’t let me speak anything but English. She said, ‘You’re an American, speak English! ’” The recollection brightened him. I felt a stab in my chest, thinking that he wouldn’t be with me much longer.
Each of us took a sip of our sweet, milky coffee. Quiet. Dad sat his coffee back on the table and gently stirred it. “I remember after I graduated from medical school, she came to my first office in Newark. She looked around, and when she left, she dusted off my shingle--my name at the front door.”I’d never seen my dad so sentimental. His eyes had tears in them, and he was clearly too choked up to talk. Slipping my hand over his, I waited.
After a few minutes, he looked up at me and smiled. Squeezing my hand, he said in a husky voice, “that was one of the best days of my life. I knew I had made her proud. I’ve been trying to recreate that feeling since then. I wanted to make the world proud by doing something significant. Now, I’m dying, and I don’t know exactly what I’ve accomplished.” Dad cleared his throat, and I knew the moment was over.
KL: What made you decide to choose self-publishing? Would you do it again?
HP: I got tired of sending my novel out and getting letters that said how well I wrote, but it wasn’t right for this editor or publisher or agent. I thought if I really could write, maybe I could make it by publishing it myself.
Before I self-published, I would spend a whole year trying to do traditional publishing. I don’t think I gave it enough time.
KL: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Greatest achievement?
HP: Promotion is super hard! I’m trying to figure it all out, but I’m still barely getting the hang of it.
Achievement? I’ve written three novels!
KL: Is there a message you'd like readers to take away from this book?
HP: Yes—it is always worth it to try and do what you want in life. It is better to fail than never to try.
KL: Do you have any interesting writing quirks?
HP: The strangest thing I do is write the story and then go back and fill in descriptions. I find them hard to write because I skip them in my own reading.
KL: What is your favorite non-writing pastime?
HP: Yoga—someday I hope to be a master yogi.
KL: What do you have in store next for your readers?
HP: I’ve just finished a legal thriller entitled “Justice Scorned.”
“Today, I received a black world.” Randall Taylor tells his mentor as he pulled the tiny globe out of his pocket. It is black on black, with the oceans matte and the landmasses glossy. Randall’s certain he is going to receive all the money and power he seeks, but long sought after revenge puts him in prison instead.
The letter said he was dying, that’s all Jules Weinstein knows when she leaves her life in San Francisco and moves to New York City to be with her father. She goes for the remarkable opportunity to really know her father. She never dreamed he had liberated a concentration camp, dealt cards to Bugsy Siegel or saved the life of a Black Panther. Wings of Hope is a road trip through the memories of a man making peace with his life. Little does she know that by getting to know her father, she will find herself. While her father struggles with whether his life was meaningful, Jules discovers that her father’s last gift to her is the ability to reach for her dreams. Her journey teacher her that “the goodbye” is sometimes the most heartbreakingly beautiful part of life.
***Giveaway***Hillary will be giving away a $10 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky person who leaves a comment on this post! The winner will be announced tomorrow:)