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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Authors To Watch: Daniel A. Blum, author of The Feet Say Run




Daniel A. Blum grew up in New York, attended Brandeis University and currently lives outside of Boston with his family. His first novel Lisa33 was published by Viking in 2003. He has been featured in Poets and Writers magazine, Publisher’s Weekly and most recently, interviewed in Psychology Today.

Daniel writes a humor blog, The Rotting Post, that has developed a loyal following.

His latest release is the literary novel, The Feet Say Run.

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Title: THE FEET SAY RUN
Author: Daniel A. Blum
Publisher: Gabriel’s Horn Press
Pages: 349
Genre: Literary Fiction

At the age of eighty-five, Hans Jaeger finds himself a castaway among a group of survivors on a deserted island.  What is my particular crime?  he asks.   Why have I been chosen  for this fate?  And so he begins his extraordinary chronicle. 

It would be an understatement to say he has lived a full life.  He has grown up in Nazi Germany and falls in love with Jewish girl.  He fights for the Germans on two continents, watches the Reich collapse spectacularly into occupation and starvation, and marries his former governess.  After the war he goes on wildflower expeditions in the Alps, finds solace among prostitutes while his wife lay in a coma, and marries a Brazilian chambermaid in order to receive a kidney from her. 

By turns sardonic and tragic and surreal, Hans’s story is the story of all of the insanity, irony and horror of the modern world itself.  

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Tell us a little about yourself.
grew up in the exotic hinterlands of Long Island, New York.  For the most part, it was the sort of run-of-the-mill, suburban background that I have little desire to write about.  (The old adage, “Write what you know” sounds great, but what if “what you know” is lot really all that remarkable?).  The most unusual part of my background is that my my immediate family are all either psychiatrists (father and brother) or psychologists (mother and sister).  So I suppose I could either be at least marginally introspective or go crazy. 
These days I live outside Boston with my own family. 

When did you begin writing?
Well, I tried writing in high school.  But those efforts have thankfully been lost to the ravages of time. 

My first passably decent piece of writing was actually letter I wrote to in college to a girl who I was interested in.  It was a long, rambling, comic description of a train ride I was on, and it was something of an “aha” moment about how to inject life and wit into descriptions of the everyday world around you. Thinking back, it is not really surprising that my best early bit of prose was born of an effort to impress a girl.

The letter itself was definitely a success with its target audience.  Unfortunately, the ensuing love affair was rather less successful.  It lasted all of a month.  Yet my love affair with the written word is still going strong. 

Describe your writing process. Do you plot or write by the seat of your pants? When and where do you write?
I have no particular pattern.  Although wife assures me that I write best when there are dishes in the sink, when the trash needs to go out, or when there is an errand that needs to be run.   
I try to plot out a storyline, but I like big, complicated plots, so I am always going back and revising.  The first version of the plot is pretty much unrecognizable by the time I’m finished. 
 
Can you tell us about your most recent release?
The Feet Say Run is not an easy book to describe or classify.  It’s really the story of the twentieth century told through a single, long, extraordingary life.  The narrator, Hans, is an eighty-five year old castaway, reflecting on his past. 

Hans grows up in Nazi Germany and falls in love with Jewish girl.  He fights for the Germans on two continents, watches the Reich collapse spectacularly into occupation and starvation, and marries his former governess.  After the war he goes on wildflower expeditions in the Alps, marries a Brazilian chambermaid in order to receive a kidney from her, and keeps reliving his war experiences.  There are many, many interwoven stories. 

I think of it as a literary novel that is also a page-turner - full of comedy and tragedy and suspense.  

What would you say is the message or meaning of the book?
It seems that survivors of Literature 101 assume there is always a hidden meaning of sorts to a serious novel.  Yet few novelists go around planting secret messages, symbols, like so many Easter Eggs, waiting to be discovered.  (Perhaps some modern poets make a habit of this, but if you ask me, it’s a pretty annoying habit.)  In my own experience, what a good novelist wants to say, in almost every case, is pretty much right there in the story itself:  What it feels like to be alive, to have this odd thing we call consciouness, to have this or that extraordinary experience, to be alive in this time in history and in this particular place.  

In The Feet Say Run the plot is intricate and involved, but what it says is not: That humans are capable of extraordinary cruelty and kindness, stupidity and brilliance; that life is chaotic and complex;  that this sturdy-seeming thing we call civilization is in truth desperately fragile.   

Of all your characters, which one is your favorite? Why?
That would have to be Hans, the narrator.  I’m pleased to find that most readers are quite drawn to him.  He has seen humanity at its worst, and has a sort-of worldly pessimism, yet he is also a romantic, an adventurer and a lover, flawed in ways that are very human and recognizable. 

What was your favorite chapter to write and why?

There is a scene in The Feet Say Run that is just after the end of World War II in the ruins of Berlin.  The narrator takes his lover to the first concert at the re-opening of the Berling philharmonic.  There is still no heat inside.  Everyone is more-or-less hungry and in rags.  But the settle in to hear a Beethoven symphony, and it fills the narrator with this sea of emotion – grief at the horror of the war and this desire to turn back time, but also a sense that it was truly over, that it was possible again to think about something besides pure survival, to marvel at human achievement instead of human brutality. 


Tell us a bit about the road to publication?

It was more a roller-coaster ride than a road. 

This is actually my second novel.  My first novel was Lisa33, which was published by Viking over a decade ago.   I actually went from a long string of rejections to having publishers suddenly in a bidding war for my novel.  That was quite surreal.  In the end, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, book was not promoted at all by the publisher.  They took a financial bath on it, and I soon returned to obscurity.   Ironically, my agent, who had assured me I would be famous, later came out with his own memoir and found fame with it. 

For years after that experience I ceased writing fiction entirely and even reading it.  Yet one day I found myself working again, crafting this new story, and before I knew it I was in deep and – as they say in a military campaign – the only way out was forward.  When The Feet Say Run was completed, I had few connections left in the publishing world.  But I had posted a few poems to a public website, and my publisher had read an admired them there.  She emailed me and asked what else I wrote, and I sent her the manuscript.

In a way I feel I am one of the few writer to be “discovered” twice. 

 What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?
First, forget everything anyone has “taught” you about writing.  Nobody knows.  There is no assembly manual.   There is not carefully marked trail.  You must find your own way through the wilderness.  Second, a novel is not just a long short-story.  You must have an ever-advancing plot-line, and you must make the reader want to find out what happens next.  Many writing classes seem to work from short stories, yet the requirements of a short story and a novel and qualitatively different.  Third, please please please, forget, “write what you know”!  Worst advice ever.   Write the type of book that, as a reader, you would most want to read. 

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