Naomi Gal’s novel, Daphne’s Seasons, is about an Israeli woman who loses her husband in a suicide bomb attack. She moves to rural Pennsylvania where grief plays out against the protagonist’s first experience of four seasons. Daphne’s Seasons is Gal’s 16th book, and the 5th novel. This is the first one available in English. Gal is a Creative Writing professor at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA.
JW: Could you tell me about how your life experience as an Israeli informed your novel, Daphne’s Seasons?
NG: The first part of the book is immersed in pain. Having lived most of my life in Israel, I know about pain. I have seen time and again parents bury their children who paid with their lives for the ongoing war. Since Israel is a small country, there is one – sometimes zero – degrees of separation. So pain was always close and I could express it in my novel.
JW: Give me an example of a scene in the book that reflected your own life.
NG: My favorite chapter in the book really happened to me. Very much like Daphne, I was sipping my morning espresso at my window seat gazing at the green lush meadow, counting my blessings. Then, at leisure I went up to my computer and the news was screaming at me from the screen: there was a suicide bombing in Jerusalem and all the beauty around me disappeared, I was back on the traumatic scene of death, carnage, destruction, agony and pain. In the novel, Daphne lost her husband in a pretty much similar kind of blast, and she, like me, realizes that no matter how far away you run, and how glorious nature is, you cannot escape the horror of terror.
JW: How did it feel to write about that pain?
NG: When I started writing Daphne’s Seasons (my own title for it was Changing Seasons) my life was better than Daphne’s. But when she was recuperating, my life was falling apart so I went back to review the parts of my manuscript that described pain, and added, and added. It was so strange that it was almost funny, the way life was imitating fiction.
JW: Did this writing about Daphne help you deal with the pain of your memories?
NG: I did feel catharsis. Writing is an amazing way to let go of pent up feelings and turn suffering into a story. Weaving my threads of agony freed me in a way only art can.
JW: How does your real-life move to Pennsylvania enter into the experience of your fictional character?
NG: She moves to rural PA and slowly starts a process of healing with the generous help of lush mother nature. Daphne, very much like me, is a daughter of the desert. Israel is an arid country and except summer there aren’t really other seasons. So I could easily write about the solace Mother Nature bestows on Daphne.
JW: That’s funny. I grew up in Pennsylvania and I know a lot of people who want to move away get away from the seasons. Your perspective might help them come to peace with being here.
NG: Yes, seasons were an amazing revelation for me. Their healing power was good to me as it is to Daphne. I am still awed by the lush flowers of spring, by the unpredictability of summer, by the changing colors of fall leaves and by the serenity of snow in winter. Nature allows you to feel deeply the change of seasons in your own life cycle, it gives one hope since there is a constant renewal and change.
JW: What else can you share about how you have used your life experience in your fiction writing?
NG: All my fiction is based on memory one way or another. I am thinking back to all my novels, even the unpublished ones I wrote in my teens and twenties. It is always about me, even when it looks different. Daphne, as Nora, the protagonist of Soap Opera, my first novel, written in Hebrew. These were “un-liberated” women who go through transformation thanks to dramatic events in their lives. I guess my life was always a quest for freedom mainly as a woman. Fiction allowed me more dramatic changes, my life was more of an evolution than a revolution. Daphne’s husband has to die tragically so that she can grow out of the shadow he cast over her, and the same goes for Nora, in Soap Opera, who is confined to a hospital bed after a car accident and can at long last look at her life from the outside. I guess fiction is a condensed form of memoir, a more dramatic one. You can skip lots of mundane details.
JW: So if someone was wondering if it’s okay to weave their life experience in their fiction writing, what would you tell them?
NG: When Gustav Flaubert, who was very different from his protagonist Madam Bovary was asked how could he write with so much credibility and accuracy about a woman so different from him in every respect he allegedly said: “Madam Bovary is me.” So yes, I believe we always write about ourselves, even when our characters seem different. We can only rely on our experiences and system of beliefs no matter how and what we write. Everything we write is a memoir to some extent. At times a wishful one. All my protagonists have daughters. I have sons but always wanted a daughter. Daphne, as well as Dea, the heroine of my novel Lovend are accomplished pianists. I love music but I can’t play.
Virginia Woolf in “Room of one’s Own” cites a passage from the novel “Jane Eyre.” Woolf complains that Charlotte Bronte is talking for herself and not for her character, but I really can’t see the difference.
JW: Have you thought about writing a memoir?
NG: I prefer fiction to memoir because fiction allows me to better hide. Many years ago I had a personal column (this was before internet and blogs) and every week I would write about personal matters, and then all of a sudden I couldn’t do it any more. I needed privacy, so I started hiding behind characters in novels. That way I could improve, change and give free rein to my imagination. I love inventing. I can embellish and ameliorate reality.
JW: As a writer and a writing teacher, what other advice would you like to pass along to people who are thinking about writing their memoir?
NG: Everyone has a story is what I say when I teach creative writing and every story is worth writing and reading. I wish my parents, my grandparents and my great great grandparents would have written their memoir, but they didn’t and they are all dead and there is no one to ask the many questions I would love to ask. So write, write, write. Don’t discriminate. Just write as much as you can, editing will come later. Go back into your past and start with memories that are vivid, you will find out that as you write less vivid memories will surface and find their way to the paper (or computer). There are techniques to overcome your fear of writing or what I call your ISJ (Interior Supreme Judge) who sits there criticizing and prevents you from writing. Learn to tame her (or him) and one of the ways to trick your ISJ is with automated writing, early in the morning, before ISJ wakes up or late at night when she is tired. Write even if you don’t like what you are writing. Later you will be able to discern the good from the bad. For now, just write. You can record your voice if you are computer shy, but writing your memoir is a great opportunity to befriend this practical contraption.