Monday, September 26, 2016

Authors to Watch: Eva Ungar Grudin & Eric Joseph, authors of 'Save the Last Dance'

Eric Joseph and Eva Ungar (Grudin) were teenage sweethearts in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who set a wedding date when they turned 15. The last time they saw each other they were 21 years old. Three years ago they reunited, around the time of the 50th high school reunion. Although their book is a work of fiction, it's about a couple like them, who fall in love again, almost instantly, via email.

Eric is in public health, a consultant/educator at hospitals and clinics, concentrating his career on Native American health services across the country. Eva is an art historian who taught at Williams College in Massachusetts for 40+ years. She specialized in African and African-American art; the history of European painting: also Holocaust Studies - memorials and museums; In addition, she has performed in and written Sounding to A, a multi-media work about inheriting the Holocaust. It premiered at the Ko Festival of Performance in 2004.

Learn more about Eva and Eric and their history together by visiting - At the website you'll find memories about their time together in the late 50s, early 60s, as well as interviews from today.

Their latest book is the literary fiction, Save The Last Dance.

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Title: Save The Last Dance
Author: Eric Joseph & Eva Ungar
Publisher: Hargrove Press
Pages: 360
Genre: Literary Fiction

A tale of the power and peril of first love rediscovered.
Adam Wolf and Sarah Ross were teenage sweethearts who grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in the late 50’s and early 60's. They set a wedding date when they turned fifteen. The day came and went. For most of their lives the two were out of contact.
With their 50th high school reunion approaching, Adam and Sarah reconnect. Email exchanges - after the first tentative "hi", then a deluge- five, ten- by the end of the week twenty emails a day. Soon Sarah admits, "All my life I've been looking for someone who loves me as much as you did".

Written entirely in email and texts, Save the Last Dance allows the reader to eavesdrop on Sarah and Adam's correspondence as their love reignites. It also permits the reader to witness the reactions of significant others, whose hum-drum lives are abruptly jolted by the sudden intrusion of long-dormant passion. Can Sarah and Adam's rekindled love withstand the pummeling they're in for?

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Welcome! Tell us a little about yourselves.

We co-authored Save the Last Dance, our late-in-life debut novel. Though fiction, the lives of the characters parallel our own. We were sweethearts for most of our teenage years in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. After high school graduation our lives diverged. Then, around the time of our 50th high school reunion, a couple of years ago, we reconnected. We not only rekindled our romance, but also our passion for writing fiction.

Eric:  I attended the University of Chicago and have remained in Chicago ever since. I hold a graduate degree in public health from the University of Illinois. For most of my career, I've travelled the country as a consultant and educator for hospitals and clinics. Much of my work has been out West with the Indian Health Service, on Native American reservations. Writing is not foreign to me. Although I've had the chance to write more than thirty publications in my field, I've always looked for a chance to write fiction.

Eva:  After high school, I stayed in the Midwest briefly - and then migrated to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the mid- 1960s, New England suited me more than Cleveland. Young women seemed to be freer there, more confident. They went to restaurants by themselves, movies alone. And you weren't expected to be cute and play dumb. I stayed in New England and became an art historian. I've been teaching at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts for more than half my life. Now I've put that aside for a second career - as a writer.

Don't get me wrong. Like Eric, I wrote a lot - articles about art and exhibition catalogues to shows I curated. And I've even written and performed a two-person multimedia piece called Sounding to A. It's about coming to the United States from Europe as a kid and inheriting the damage my parents carried with them from the Holocaust. My reunion with Eric prodded me to step away from academia in order to concentrate on writing our novel.

When did you begin writing?

Eric: I wrote short stories and poems back in high school. Eva reminds me that I wrote a novel when I was 15. Neither of us can remember what it was about. Probably about a wannabe cattle-rustler from Pittsburgh who goes out West, only to be captured by aliens from the planet Mongo.

Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? 

Of course we began with a story-board. And sometimes we wrote 20 pages and had to start over when we hit a dead end. Like many fiction writers, though, we discovered that no matter how diligently we structured your plot, the characters had their own say about it. They cut a path, while we tried to keep up with them.  On our best days of writing we felt as if we were merely channeling their words.

What was it like to write collaboratively?

You know, there are actually very few novels written collaboratively. But collaboration for us was natural because the idea for the book originated with our own correspondence. Save the Last Dance is told entirely through email and text exchanges among the characters. 

Even though writing fiction is an arduous process, creating something together made it less daunting. And more consequential. We each wrote for the other. It kept us going. We trusted each other and knew that it was okay to be honest and point out what did or didn't work for us. We could say, " I think we can put it better." And together we would throw out options and when one of us hit on something the other liked, we'd squeal with glee.

Our collaboration was not without barriers. For over a year of the two years it took to write the book, we were over a thousand miles apart. In addition, we were in a situation where our writing was relegated to phone calls, to and from work, and Skype sessions on weekends - from public libraries, Panera, and the parking lot of the local Dunkin' Donuts. 

Collaboration bonded us in a way that enabled us to complete the hard task of writing a novel. Perhaps independently we might have become discouraged on rough days of writing and abandoned the whole idea. Together, we kept each other on course.

Can you tell us more about the book?

Save the Last Dance is about the reunion of two older people who had set a wedding date when they turned fifteen. The book doesn't only recount the power of first love regenerated, but it also deals with the consequences - the anger, disapproval and interference from friends and family, whose lives their reunion derailed. We love that our readers who posted to Amazon found the characters "real", "authentic". And we're heartened that even at the darkest moments in the book, we could make our readers laugh: "a finely-tuned hilarity", "sharp-cutting and hilariously funny", "Many LOL moments. The combination of sweet, tender, pain, humor, and suspense".  

Did you have a certain audience in mind when you wrote this book?

We didn't have any readership in mind when we wrote Save the Last Dance, but we're not surprised that the book has a particular appeal to older people who are looking back and examining their lives. Because the book is more of a psychological exploration than a swash-buckling adventure, it seems to appeal to women more than men. Don't get us wrong, there are many men who have written to say they've enjoyed the book immensely, but our most enthusiastic readers have been women. Actually, Reading Groups seem to be the perfect audience for this book because there's much to debate. Our characters face quandaries for which there are no perfect solutions.  When we're able to participate in book group discussions, it's been particular gratifying. We like to hear what our readers think and always learn something from them. We've taken part in person and on Skype. In fact, if any book clubs are interested, they can contact us at

Which authors have inspired your writing?

Eric:  Let's start with James Thurber, the gifted comic writer. I've always admire his ability to discover what was hilarious about everyday life. He inspired me to pepper our novel with humor. Nelson Algren inspired me as well - his specificity and precise descriptions. I remember a passage in Somebody in Boots, his first novel, where he recounts in small detail how desperate homeless people scavenged the garbage cans at the 1933 World's Fair. Then, of course, there's Jack Kerouac - the energetic musical language. 

Eva:   When I've answered this question before, in other interviews, I didn't quite get it right. I spoke about my admiration for Nabokov and Henry James. I loved reading them, but I don't write like them. When I really, really dig deep and think about it hard, the greatest influence on my writing has been Susan Coolidge, an author who wrote for young women. I devoured the Katy Did series and latched onto every word, rereading it the way kids now read and reread Harry Potter. I simply adored the way she put things, how she revealed the character of Katy Carr in such charming and specific ways - through showing who Katy was, not telling us. This is the writer who has been the model for me.Now here's the funny thing. Because the Katy Did books were sent to me by my aunt in England, I always thought Coolidge was a British writer. That, I thought, was why the language was a bit formal and too polite. But I was wrong. I looked her up last night on Wikipedia. I had no idea she was actually born in Cleveland, where I lived.  And I thought she was a contemporary writer, but wrong again. She wrote these books in the 1870s! That's why it sounded the way it did - old-fashioned and charming. Until now I had no idea Coolidge's books had been around that long, had become classics. I never knew anyone else who read them. It makes me happy that others liked her too.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

Everyone tells you to write every day. And that's good advice. 

Prepare to spend as much time editing the book as you did writing it. You need to give up the notion that your prose is sacred text. It may have been Flaubert who said that writing means he would spend the morning coming up with the word "that" and the afternoon erasing it. Good writing is good editing. 

There are easy ways to say things. And then there are writer's ways to say things. Good writers avoid cliches, don't they? Don't be satisfied with bland ways to describe a scene. Aim for specifics.  We think, for example, you can tell the reader a lot about a character who wears blue jeans by describing the jeans - What shade of blue? Are they frayed, and where? Do they fit comfortably? Do they ride high at the waist or are they low slung? Do they fall off at the ass?

Search for verbs that gallop. Verbs like "is" "was" "did" can drag. Read Maya Angelou or, if you can, listen to her read to you. She activates almost all her verbs and the prose moves along.

What project are you working on now?

We have two projects:

One is The Prostate Monologues

The other is a sequel to Save the Last Dance - a more menacing story - our main characters, Sarah Ross and Adam Wolf remain and some minor characters in this book step forward to create havoc. Stay tuned.

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