Today ActuallyAlethea welcomes Richard Brawer. Richard, please tell us about yourself and your novel.
I was a mystery writer, so what inspired me to try my hand at writing historical fiction?
My paternal grandparents immigrated to Paterson, NJ in the late nineteenth century. Paterson was America’s first industrial city inspired by Alexander Hamilton and became the center of the silk industry in the United States until the depression.
I was born in Paterson but my family moved away when I was eleven. I had heard many stories about my grandparents but knew nothing about the history of Paterson’s silk industry. So when I read in the newspaper the Passaic County Historical Society was giving lectures and tours about Paterson’s hey-day I went.
Those lectures and the tour were so fascinating I thought I’d try writing a novel set in Paterson during the times of the silk trade.
But the lectures only hit the highlights of the silk era. I needed some deep research which I did by going to the Paterson library and reading old copies of the Paterson Evening News. And I read biographies and autobiographies of the real people of Paterson.
During my research I started to develop a plot and characters. I thought about the stories I had heard about my grandparents and great uncles and compared those stories to my research.
My paternal grandfather had been described as stern, industrious, he owned a bar in his early days in Paterson then went into jobbing silk yarn seconds, and he was quite domineering, his way being the only way.
My paternal grandmother was a philanthropist, suffragist, follower of Margret Sanger’s ideas on reproductive freedom, avid speaker against child labor.
One of my great uncles was laid back, went with the flow, not particularly imaginative, but a hard worker. Give him a job and he did it.
The other great uncle was a radical union leader. If the U.S.S.R. were in existence in the time period this novel was set, he would have been called a communist.
Quite a bunch! I realized I could create wonderful conflict with these characters. It is conflict that keeps the reader turning the pages.
With my research and ancestors in mind I fully developed a plot. I titled the novel, Silk Legacy. The following is the book jacket:
In early twentieth century Paterson, New Jersey, dashing twenty-nine year old Abraham Bressler charms naïve nineteen year old Sarah Singer into marriage by making her believe he feels the same way she does about the new calling of a modern woman. He then turns around and gives her little more respect than he would a servant, demanding she stay home to care for “his” house and “his” children.
Feeling betrayed Sarah defies him and joins women's groups, actively participating in rallies for woman suffrage, child welfare and reproductive freedom. For a while she succeeds in treading delicately between the demands of her husband and her desire to be an independent woman. Her balancing act falters when a strike shuts down Paterson’s 300 silk mills. With many friends working in the mills, Sarah is forced to choose sides in the battle between her Capitalist husband and his Socialist brother, a union leader who happens to be her best friend’s husband.
Jealousy, infidelity, arrogance, greed—the characters’ titanic struggles will catapult you into the heights of their euphoria and the depths of their despair. Who will triumph and who will be humbled is not certain until the last page.
When I felt I had done the best I could I searched for a publisher. I found a small one who agreed to publish my book. As soon as it came out I sent out copies for review.
Every single review was positive. “Magnificent Characters” “A Tumultuous Love Story” “Remarkable Storytelling” “A Tribulation of Yesteryear” “Vivid Enticing Characters” “An Absorbing Page Turner of a Novel” “Realistic Dialogue” “The fictional family is made up of flesh-and-blood characters. They laugh, love, argue, fight, and have adulterous affairs.”
However the following are my favorite:
“I was a volunteer docent at the American Labor Museum for 5 years so I am very familiar with your book. Everyone there always bragged that you wrote such a great book about the strike. It was always recommended for students of American history as a "must read". The reason why it was recommended to students for research was because it was a good way to engage and absorb them into the nitty gritty of the silk strike of 1913 without it being in the usual text book format.” Dorothy D. G.
"I loved this book. The characters are so real. It is by far the best novel I have read on the Silk Strike of 1913." Angelica Santomauro. Ms. Santomauro is the director of The American Labor Museum in Haledon, NJ and is an authority on the labor movement in Paterson during the silk era.
What more could a writer ask for than positive reviews from the experts especially one that recommends your book to students.
You can read the full reviews for Silk Legacy on Amazon or on my website. The above two are only on my website. www.silklegacy.com
Unfortunately the publisher went out of business during these harsh economic times. The rights were returned to me. Silk Legacy is now available on Kindle and any e-reader, computer, Apple or Android tablet that has a Kindle APP or can access Kindle books.
Here is the link to the Amazon page:
You can also watch a movie trailer about Silk Legacy on YouTube. (Ignore the part at the end about being available in book stores. The trailer was made before the publisher went out of business.) The link is:
Here is an excerpt where Abe and Sarah meet for the first time.
Set up: In chapter 1 is set in Abe’s brother’s wedding. Abe had been in Paterson for six years. Abe sees Sarah across the room but does not know who she is. He asks his brother and learns Sarah and her parents had recently emigrated from Latvia. He had not seen Sarah since he was 13 and she was a child of 3. She had grown into a beautiful woman of nineteen “with a waist so narrow she would make an hourglass jealous.” But because of tradition he was not allowed to meet her. However he does re-introduce himself to her father, his teacher in Latvia.
Excerpt from chapter 2:
Sarah pushed aside the muslin curtain on her bedroom window and stared at the sidewalk. She was glad her father had invited him after dinner, rather than in the daytime. The shops had closed. The streets were empty of commercial traffic. Most people had settled into their evening rituals of reading, sewing, playing a game of cards or checkers in their parlors, or sitting and gossiping on the building’s stoops enjoying this splendid May evening. Even in the flickering light of the gas street lamps she would have no trouble spotting him coming down the sidewalk.
She first noticed him across the room at her best friend’s wedding. When their eyes met and he smiled, her heart fluttered and she almost swooned. He was so handsome, so distinguished with his sweeping handlebar mustache. He carried himself straight and tall, sure of himself, not like the other men in the congregation who cowered when they walked, as if they were trying to draw themselves into a cocoon they thought would protect them from the outside world.
She ached to meet him right then and there, but women weren’t allowed to mix with men at weddings. That Biblical edict did not stop her from discretely inquiring as to who he was. When she learned he was the groom’s brother, she was overjoyed. Her father had to know him. He had taught all the Bresslers. On their walk home from the wedding she asked her father about him.
Before her father could answer, her mother cut in and said, “He’s no one you are to concern yourself with, Sarah.”
“Why? What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing,” her father said. “He was one of my best students.” Looking quizzically at his wife, he said, “I invited him to our house Wednesday evening.”
Delight engulfed Sarah. But her brief moment of ecstasy crashed into desolation when her mother shrieked, “You didn’t!”
Her father cowered at the rebuke, and offered his daughter no help when her mother told her,
“You will be confined to your room.”
“Why?” Sarah cried.
“Because I said so. That is all you have to know.”
Despite her mother’s forbidding, Sarah readied herself anyway in hopes her mother would have a last minute change of heart. She put her hair up, and dressed in the white linen shirt-waist with flowing sleeves and ruffled cuffs trimmed in pink satin ribbon.
“Sarah, come away from the window.”
Startled by her mother’s voice, Sarah withdrew her hand from the curtain as if she had grabbed the hot handle of a skillet. “Why won’t you let me meet him?” she asked.
Her mother crossed to the bed, sat down and patted a place next to her. “Come, sit by me.”
Sarah obeyed and fidgeted with a strand of hair that had escaped from her bun.
Taking her daughter’s hand, her mother said, “He’s not right for you, my darling. He’s too old.”
“But he’s only ten years older than I. Father is twelve years older than you.”
“That’s true, but your father is a learned man—a scholar, a teacher. He is counting on you to carry on for him.”
“And I will.”
“Not if you were to become attached to Mr. Bressler.”
“Why? Mr. Bressler is an educated man. He knows the value of learning.”
“Father said he taught him.”
“But it does not mean he learned anything.”
Confused, Sarah stared at her mother.
“You know all the places you’ve read about and are aching to see—the Eiffel Tower, Rome, the Great Wall of China? You will never see them if you marry Mr. Bressler.”
“How do you know that? My friend, Cecelia, Mr. Bressler’s sister-in-law, told me Mr. Bressler makes a wonderful living from his business.”
“Yes, a saloon.”
“He’s not a shiker?”
“His father is.”
“But he’s not a drunkard?”
“Not that I know.”
Sarah sighed with relief. “Then why won’t you let me meet him?”
“Sarah, please. You knew the Bressler family back in Latvia. The father was a carouser. The uncle was an azes ponim—an arrogant man. You are aware the uncle tried to get your father fired for teaching the writings of Karl Marx?”
Sarah didn’t answer, thinking, yes the father did neglect his family, and the uncle lorded his riches over everyone. But that did not mean Abe was like them. Her best friend, Cecelia—Abe’s new sister-in-law—said her husband was a wonderful man.
“You do know what a sow is?” Sarah’s mother asked.
“Of course. Trayf. Not kosher.”
“There is a saying I picked up in this city of silk which fits Mr. Bressler very well. ‘You cannot make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.’ Let him go. He will stifle you.”
Excerpts from Chapter 3:
Set up: Abe had arrived and was talking to Sarah’s parents. The conversation was critical of Abe’s lifestyle. Abe ignored the barbs and smiled. He was there to see Sarah.
After a while when Sarah didn’t show, Abe asked, “Is Sarah going to join us?”
“She is not feeling well,” Esther said.
Grief stricken, he questioned, “Nothing serious, I hope?”
“No, just a headache.”
He let out a sigh of relief and said, “I would love to come back to see her when she is better.”
“Suppose you send us a note so we can arrange a suitable time.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Singer. I will.”
They fell into a strained silence, the Singers glaring at him as if he were the Tsar himself.
Rising, he said, “Thank you for the tea. I really must be going.”
“So soon?” Sarah asked as she swept into the room.
“Sarah!” her mother scolded.
“Mother, why didn’t you tell me Mr. Bressler had arrived?”
“He was just leaving.”
“I’m really not in a hurry,” Abe said, a broad grin lifting his lips and springing his mustache upward.
“Then you will have more tea?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, thank you.”
Sarah’s mother seethed behind her stoic face.
“Please have a seat and I will get it for you.”
When Sarah handed him his refilled cup, their fingers touched. Her lower lip quivered ever so slightly. She dropped her eyes and hurried back to the couch to sit by her mother.
Abe held his teacup in his lap. Sarah’s fragrance lingered around him. He wanted to continue to savor it until it evaporated.
“I understand you own a pub,” Sarah said.
“Yes, I do,” Abe answered gleefully.
“It must be a very exciting business.”
“It has its moments.”
“Is it true the wives of some pub owners work behind the bars with their husbands?”
“It’s true. Mostly in the Irish pubs.”
Jumping up, Mrs. Singer grabbed Sarah’s wrist and dragged her out of the room.
Mr. Singer stood up and said, “I think you should go.”
Miffed and confused, Abe asked, “Why? What’s going on?”
“It’s getting late.”
On his way down the stoop, his shoulders involuntarily jerked at the loud bang the door made when it slammed behind him.
(And then of course they have a clandestine meeting)
About the author:
Richard Brawer writes mystery, suspense and historical fiction novels. When not writing, he spends his time sailing and exploring local history. He has two married daughters and lives in New Jersey with his wife. Read about his books at his website: www.silklegacy.com