In February this year I read and reviewed Tutti’s Promise by K. Heidi Fishman, a harrowing and hopeful novel about her mother’s experience as a Jewish girl in the Netherlands during WWII. I was lucky enough to be contacted by Heidi through NetGalley with the opportunity to talk to her and ask her questions about the book. I can’t thank Heidi enough for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope you enjoy the answers as much as I did.
- When did you first become aware of your mother’s experience during WWII?
I don’t remember my first awareness of my mother’s experiences. I was definitely very young. It was just a fact – my mother and grandparents were German Jews and survived the Holocaust. My mother didn’t dwell on it but she would answer questions if I asked. She told some stories – which were mild as far as Holocaust stories go – so I grew up thinking it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t fully understand what she went through until I was an adult.
- What inspired you to put your mother’s story to paper?
My mother often goes to schools and tells her story. When my daughter was in middle school, my mother came to her class. I watched the children’s reactions and that was when I knew there was something special and important here. I didn’t want the story to be lost when my mom stopped telling it. At first I thought I might find an established author to write the book, but I quickly came to realize this was my responsibility. I knew the personalities of the family members and I was close enough to mom to ask her all the questions that needed to be asked.
- What was the writing process like?
This is my first book and I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started. The writing process was chaotic – research, writing, taking writing classes, attending workshops, revising, more research – I did whatever I could when I had time and opportunity. The book took five years from start to publication.
- What is the main message you hope people will take away from Tutti’s Promise?
I love this question! I would like readers to embrace the idea that we need to treat each other with compassion and understanding. I’m hoping Tutti’s Promise shows how important it is to not discriminate against anyone because of religion, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or any other external label. Instead we need to accept each other and see that we are all human and basically want the same things – to know we are safe and our families have clean water, plenty of food, and a warm house to live in.
- Do you think the human race will ever fully learn from atrocities such as the
I truly wish that the answer to this question was simply ‘yes’. However, I’m afraid it isn’t. Look how many genocides there have been since 1945 – the rule of Pol Pot in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the situation in Sudan Darfur. There is so much rhetoric against people who are different in some way. Politicians speak of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ and accuse refugees of being terrorists. If our leaders don’t model positive human relations how can we expect our children to learn the importance of these concepts?
- What inspired you to become a writer, or did you always know you wanted to be
This story is what pulled me into the world of writing. When I was young I never aspired to be a writer. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school and college I avoided classes with a significant amount of writing. I was much more drawn to the world of numbers. I started as a math major in college and then switched to psychology. I believe my experience as a psychologist working closely with people and their emotions is extremely helpful to me as an author as I can ‘get inside the heads’ of my characters and understand their motivations.
- What is your favourite thing to write about?
I like to make observations of the people and world around me and I do it by noticing my own reactions to what I see. I learn through my writing and I hope my readers do as well. This might sound a bit circular, but if you read by blog — which can be found on my website at www.PopjeAndMe.com — you will get a sense of what I am talking about.
- Is there any advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and listen to criticism with an open mind. I shared drafts of Tutti’s Promise with many people along the way and I took their feedback to heart. That meant the book went through many, many re-writes. Each time I re-wrote a chapter it improved and the hard work shows in the final product.
- Do you have any more books planned for the future?
Yes! I met two historians, Arnoud-Jan Bijsterveld and Myriam Daru, while doing research for Tutti’s Promise. The three of us are collaborating on a non-fiction account of the “metal Jews” that are introduced in Tutti’s Promise. This is a fascinating piece of history that has not been written about anywhere to my knowledge. This will be very different from Tutti’s Promise, which is a fictionalized account of true events.
- What is your favourite book?
Right now I can’t get enough of Frederik Backman. I love how he creates characters who start out unlikeable and then, without their trying to, become loveable and pull their communities together in a positive way.