Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Ralph Webster to my blog.
Ralph is the author of a Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other, self-published in June 2016. Ralph very kindly agreed to answer my questions and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his answers…..
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book please?
I am a first time author. As a 65 year old retired guy I never entertained the notion of writing a book. The vast portion of my working years was spent behind a computer writing software – a different form of writing and composing. I started an accounting software company in 1980 and was fortunate to sell it to my employees in 1997. Since then my wife and I have become active volunteers in our community. We both became Emergency Medical Technicians and drove the ambulance and fire trucks for a number of years. We have been involved in historic preservation projects, local fundraising activities and the like. We travel a great deal. Hiking is a passion. We make it a priority to spend quality time with our grandchildren. My wife Ginger is a strong advocate for coastal protection. Since we live in a coastal area we have driven ATV’s in search of turtle nests. We live on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the Wright brothers flew their airplanes. No, writing a book was never part of the plan. My aptitude was always numbers – never words.
A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other is the story of my father’s family. They lived in the German state of East Prussia. They were proud, prosperous, patriotic, flag waving Germans. Baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, their ancestry was Jewish. They never denied this heritage but they were never taught to embrace it. They did not consider themselves Jews. When Hitler came into power, suddenly they were told they were Jewish. It was a distinction that made a life-and-death difference. This wasn’t about religion. It was about race.
Where did you get the idea from?
Obviously, there have been many written accounts of the holocaust. The world is replete with tragic stories and writing a holocaust story is certainly not a new idea. Writing the book using my father’s voice allowed me to present the story through a different lens. How can an entire family be Lutheran one day and told they were Jewish the next? Their entire world changed overnight. A lifetime of dreams and accomplishments was taken and there was nothing they could do. They were helpless.
Last year my wife and I took an extended hiking trip across Europe. Our trip took us from Croatia to Sweden travelling by train to all parts in between. At the time the international news was flooded with images of the refugee crisis. Thousands of people were fleeing Syria and Afghanistan. Most were headed to Germany in search of employment and opportunity. We saw this firsthand. Much like World War II, the world continues to be confronted with issues of ethnic cleansing, immigration and how to cope with the influx of refugees. Seeing this prompted me to write this story.
We saw history repeating itself. There is no end to the story of people forced to leave the homes of their mothers and fathers through no fault of their own. I wanted to make the reader feel that sense of helplessness – what it is like to have to run for your life – what it is like to leave the country where your family has always lived – what it is like to leave family behind – what it is like to be totally disconnected and not know who has survived and who has not – what it is like to try to survive in a place with a different language and culture. In today’s error of terror and violence, I believe we too often forget that the refugees of the world are not the enemy. They are the innocent victims. They are the bystanders. They are people like you and me.
Tell me about your characters. How did you create them? What was your writing process?
The people, the places, and the timeline are all real. None of the names have been changed. To create the story I had to connect many dots and imagine the reality. Think of it this way. I had all the reminders and visuals – old pictures, old letters, various documents like military records and passports. I had the broad outlines. What I had to do was bring the personality to paper – to convey the feelings. My father never shared his story. He was too busy living his circumstance.
To write the book, I needed to get into my father’s head, to see the world as he saw it. The process required a lot of digging and figuring out how to connect the pieces. The actual story was real. The written story had to be genuine and believable. I have been told that the final result reads more like a historical novel than a memoir or biography.
Do you have a favourite author?
There are so many past and present. Carlos Ruiz Zafrόn always jumps out. I thought the Shadow of the Wind was an absolutely wonderful book.
If you could meet any author, who would it be? And, what would you ask?
Tough question. Certainly Carlos Ruiz Zafrόn would be high on the list as would be Leon Uris and John Le Carre. I would ask how they could start with a blank canvas and create what they created. And, with all that imagination rolling around in their heads how could they ever sleep?
Were you a big reader as a child? What about writing?
My mother loved to read and always encouraged me to learn about the world through books. I never saw my father read a book. I suppose I was somewhere in the middle. As for writing??? Most would tell you that I excelled at talking and never writing. Like I said at the beginning, numbers were more my style.
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
No. I think I am a one and done kind of author. I am not sure what I will do next. It may be time buy a van and spend time driving across America. When my head swells, Ginger tells me we could put a sign on the side of the van that says Author Inside – Please honk for a signed copy.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
Thanks to Ralph for joining me on my blog today 🙂
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (28 Jun. 2016)
Near the edge of the Baltic Sea, in a small East Prussian town, lives a happy and prosperous family. The Wobsers are patriotic Germans and faithful Lutherans with four beautiful children: chatty Trude, fearless Lotte, careful Ilse, and precocious Gerhard. The decade-older sisters treat Gerhard as their little prince. He is the apple of his father’s eye. Then, one day in 1933, their world falls apart. They have been identified as Jews, a heritage never denied, but a religion never embraced.
This chilling true story follows the four Wobser siblings as they struggle to survive a Nazi regime intent on their extermination. Even those that manage to flee will find themselves without a home or country to call their own.
From Edinburgh to Shanghai, the Wobsers will travel the world in search of a place they belong. Author and historical chronicler Ralph Webster (a descendent of the Wobsers) deftly connects their story and survival to the struggles modern refugees face every day. In addition to serving as a fascinating piece of history, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other is a passionate call to arms for organizations and individuals to properly protect and help the world’s refugees.
Buy your copy here – a Smile in One Eye by Ralph Webster
Watch this space for my review!