Whatever possessed you?

I am often asked this question by a reader: Whatever possessed you as a man to write a novel from the point of view of an 18-year-old Jewish girl living in Montreal in 1951?

Possessed is the right word. Every morning, I had coffee in a café where I read a book to unwind after commuting to my job in Boston. Riva Weiss, an elderly woman who also stopped at the café before work, introduced herself and asked me what I was reading. Over several years, we discussed authors we liked and swapped favorite books.

When I told her I was retiring, she asked about my future plans. I said I wanted to write short stories “and maybe a novel.”

Rebecca WisemanRiva began telling me several stories about her childhood in Montreal. When I said they would make great short stories, she encouraged me to ‘write them up.’ I jumped at the chance.

One morning, soon after I finished writing two stories, Riva noted that I enjoyed literature with ‘dark’ themes. When I agreed she said, “Well then, I’ve got a story for you.” Over the next half hour she talked about her engagement when she was 18 years old to a young, wealthy man in Montreal in 1951. I was astounded by her story and couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Front Cover for Echo from Mount Royal

She graciously offered me the chance to ‘write’ it up. Immediately I was fascinated but knew that this was more than a short story. Riva was surprised when I brought in chapter after chapter for her to read. “I thought this was going to be another short story.” Like the apprentice’s broomsticks, the chapters kept coming. “But you haven’t even got to the proposal yet!” Even I wasn’t prepared for the final length: 90,000 words. “We’ve got a novel,” she said.

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