Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bookish Confessions: Interview with 'Save the Last Dance' Eva Ungar Grudin & Eric Joseph

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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About the Book:

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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What inspired you to write a debut novel in your late 60s?

In Save the Last Dance we tell the story of one-time teenage sweethearts who renew their romance after fifty years apart. We've constructed the narrative using email and text correspondence - not only of the two main characters, but also of those whose lives have been impacted by their reunion. Yes, it's a work of fiction, but one that was inspired by our own extraordinary reunion three years ago. We lived far apart and wrote a torrent of emails to each other every day. At one point we recognized that these emails and our situation had literary potential. Our exchanges had reawakened the writer in both of us.  Eva: " I have always reserved a chamber in my heart for Eric Joseph." Eric: "When I was together with you in those days, we lived in color and the rest of the world in black and white."  You know, we said to each other, this should be a book. Yes, the characters in our novel were created from our own story. They inhabited the same terrain, but soon took their own paths.

Did you always have a passion for writing?

In our day, we had always wanted to be writers. We rediscovered that passion for writing when we rediscovered each other. As teenagers we were constantly writing short stories and poems. Eva even remembers reading a novel Eric wrote when he was 15. Neither of us remembers what the novel was about. Something about cowboys in spaceships, most likely.

Do you have a day job? What do you do?

Eric is a healthcare consultant and educator. Much of his work has been in Native American hospitals and clinics. Eva is a freelance art historian who, for many years, taught at Williams College in Massachusetts.

We've each published articles and books in our professional fields. But writing fiction has always been our dream. Granted we're late bloomers, but we believe you stay young by never thinking you're too old to revisit your dreams.

Are you avid readers?

We've always been enthusiastic readers. Some of our favorite works are: Eva: Vladimir Nabokov's Speak Memory, an extraordinary memoir; Eric: Nelson Algren, The Man with the Golden Arm, precise description of people and scenes; Eva: Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost, stunning, the search for what really happened to the family in Europe he never knew, when they disappeared during the Holocaust; Eric: Jack Kerouac's On the Road, breathless, rollicking, innovative use of language.

At the moment we admire and recommend:

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction
Alain de Botton, The Course of Love
Roland Merullo, Breakfast with Buddah
Maria Semple, Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

One of our great pleasures is reading to each other. We even edited our novel by reading passages aloud. It helped us ensure the phrasing was authentic and the rhythm of the language compelling.

Can you name three writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?

 I'm sure you, and all your readers, recognize good writing when you see it. We've often talked about what we admire in writers. Here are some of our observations:

1.  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?

2. 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.

3.Edit. Edit. Edit. Cut extraneous words. Find the one word that would replace five, We learned that when you're tempted to use three adjectives to describe something, you should pick one, even if it takes all afternoon to find exactly what that word should be. That word will make you more precise and, therefore, more readable.
In the end don't we want our readers to think our book came to us full-blown, from pure talent alone? Getting that kind of response means we have to work doggedly.

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