I am honored and pleased to present an interview with Efrem Sigel, author of the recently released novel The Disappearance. This is my very first author interview, and I am very grateful to Paula Krapf of Author Marketing Experts for this amazing opportunity and to Mr. Sigel for taking the time to answer my questions.
I really enjoyed learning more about how and why Mr. Sigel made some of the choices he did in The Disappearance, and I found his advice to first-time novelists to be very helpful and down-to-earth. I hope you enjoy the interview, and take the time to check out Mr. Sigel’s book. You’ll be glad you did.
A Brief Overview of The Disappearance: When Joshua and Nathalie Sandler’s only child, 14-year-old Daniel, disappears one flawless summer day in a tiny hamlet in Western Massachusetts, their world changes in an instant. Over the next year, Joshua neglects everything else to search ceaselessly for their son, while Nathalie, a beautiful and gifted cellist, withdraws into herself, unable to play even a note of music. While the mystery of Dan’s disappearance deepens, Joshua and Nathalie struggle to find a new meaning to their existence and to discover, finally, whether a marriage that has come apart piece by piece can ever be made whole again.
Interview with Efrem Sigel
Your first novel The Kermanshah Transfer was published in 1973. And now 2009 brings us The Disappearance. I’m wondering what inspired you to write The Disappearance after such a long hiatus from writing novels?
After The Kermanshah Transfer, I became an editor and publisher and started my own business newsletter company. I was writing constantly: newsletter articles, magazine articles, four nonfiction books. I always wanted to return to fiction; in fact I started two different novels and wrote hundreds of pages before discarding them. But when I got the idea for The Disappearance I knew I couldn’t discard it. I knew this was a book I had to write.
The towns of Smithfield and the Hollow are almost a character in The Disappearance, and the ins and outs of small town life play such a major part in this novel. How did you decide on this particular setting?
Western Massachusetts with its hills and farms and glorious fall vistas is an area I know well. And the contrast between this bucolic setting, these little towns where nothing ever seems to happen, and this horrible event, created the tension that enabled the story to develop.
Nathalie is a professional cellist and the sections dealing with her love of music seem to come from experience. Are you a musician yourself? Why did you choose this profession for Nathalie?
I’m not a musician but some of my closest friends are musicians. I marvel at their devotion to making music, and the enormous effort this entails. And I realized that for such a musician, being unable to play one’s instrument would be an enormous tragedy in its own right. A major theme in The Disappearance is whether Nathalie will be able to surmount the depression that has robbed her of her ability to play the cello
Joshua and Nathalie react so differently to Daniel’s disappearance. Why did you choose to have Nathalie withdraw and Joshua become almost manic in his search for answers?
In every marriage, good or bad, there is the tension of divergent personalities and motivations. Bad times can exacerbate those differences to the point that a marriage fails. In The Disappearance, I wanted to explore those differences. I wanted to find the breaking points and the healing points in a marriage, and then to see which would prevail.
Although the Sandlers do eventually find out what happened to Daniel, I wondered if you considered leaving the mystery unsolved
For my own sake I needed to know what happened to Daniel and why. And once I knew, I had to share that with readers of The Disappearance. But I also wanted them to read the whole book before they learned those answers.
The sub-plot of the building of the Tall Pines resort is woven throughout the book. How do you feel about resorts being built in “unblemished areas”?
In The Disappearance, Smithfield and The Hollow are not exactly unblemished. They are poor areas that have a lot of rural blight to go along with great natural beauty. The more pertinent issue in The Disappearance is not development vs. nature, but how a town reacts to outsiders who seek change, and whether that reaction can explode into something truly ugly, even evil.
I’ve always been fascinated with the actual process of writing a novel. Can you describe your process?
Usually my fiction starts with a physical setting, something I can see and hear and smell, and the germ of a story. Then I have to find characters to populate that setting and animate the story. If all three elements make sense—setting, story, characters—I’m off and running. If I get stuck at one point in the story, I jump to a completely different point. Whatever weaknesses crop up in the early writing, I have to believe I can correct and improve on in the second, third, fourth, fifth and subsequent drafts. With The Disappearance, I was amazed at how much better it got every time I cut another 25 pages.
How much of your own life experience is reflected in your novel and short stories?
It’s not just my life experience. It’s also my daydreams, perhaps things I never dared to do, as well as the life experiences of others. The important thing is that out of my own life experience I have the capacity to imagine the life experiences of fictional characters.
What advice could you give to someone who would like to write their own novel?
First, have a story to tell. Too many people (and I’ve been guilty of this myself) write and write, creating settings and characters and situations, but never finding the story. Find a story that you believe in passionately and wholeheartedly. Second, work at it every day, not when the mood strikes. Third, if you are new to writing, show your work to people whose opinions you value (not agents, not editors, not publishers) and listen to their critiques. If their evaluation confirms your own, don’t give up.
Given the long gap between your novels, when can we look forward to your next one? Can you share anything about it?
It will absolutely not take me 35 years. I’m conscious of the calendar and the clock, and am hard at work both on a series of new stories and on sketching out a new novel. My guess is that it’ll once again be about ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances—and I hope that it will be suspenseful. But I’ll only know it’s for real when I know it’s for real.
Efrem Sigel’s Blog: http://efremsigel.blogspot.com
Efrem Sigel’s Website: www.efremsigel.com