I began thinking of my first book in 1977, started research in the mid-80’s, wrote it in 1988, rewrote it in 1994, rewrote it in 2007 and “Breaking News” was published in 2008.
Luckily I was employed throughout by NBC News, which enabled me to raise a family in less time than it took to write the book.
I was able to speed up my writerly process somewhat with “Walking Israel,” which from conception to execution took half the time, fifteen years.
At that point I understood that the research process of non-fiction takes too much time and decided to just make it all up. Hence, my first novel, “The List,” which took, from the dawning of the idea to the printing press, a decade.
“Jacob’s Oath,” to be published in October 2013, was a whirlwind. One year’s work.
All my writing is based on way too much research, a fault I ascribe to my journalistic background. I love the research, the fishing expeditions in people’s lives, using what I find to invent a story that is true to a character. I asked a man what he did in the war. He said he hid for two years in a hole in the ground. A man took me to his neighbor’s apartment where he showed me a brown paper bag. Inside was the bloodied dress his daughter wore when she was shot dead. “I can’t bear to keep it in my home,” he said, “but I can’t throw it away either.”
I owe it to these people, and all the others who I met on the worst day of their lives, to write the truth, even if it’s fiction.
I love writing, the attempt to express the depths within myself. I love the rewriting, polishing the stone until it at least appears like a gem.
I don’t love talking to two people in a bookstore reading, but I do appreciate them coming, and I thank the stores for their enthusiasm, sort of: “Oh, you’re the writer. It’s back there, see, the empty chairs?”
It’s a far cry from the ten million audience of NBC Nightly News where I have toiled for close to forty years. As a foreign correspondent based, in order, in London, Brussels, Israel, Rhodesia, South Africa, Paris, Frankfurt and Israel again, I’ve had the extraordinary privilege of, in that tired but accurate phrase, witnessing history.
I want to write interesting and suspenseful stories, gripping and stylish, with an edge of humor, but the subject must be real, it should be a way of understanding the real world, not to be an escape from it. I want to take the journalistic questions of who, what, where, when, why and how, one step further: Yes, but what was it like to be there? To be that person?