Q: Why did you decide to write this novel?
A: My grandfather left cassette tapes of his life story and my mother made copies of them for me. When I listened to his adventures, they spoke to me and I decided they were worthy of sharing with others. Also, my grandfather introduced the first tape by stating that if there was a writer in the family who wanted to do something with his words, so be it. I took that as a direct message to me, a calling, so to speak, as I was the only professional journalist in the family. So I transcribed the tapes and did a lot of research to turn my grandfather’s words into this novel.
Q: Why a novel and not a biography?
A: Considering that I’m a nonfiction writer by trade, that would have made a lot of sense. In 1995, I wrote a column for the Atlanta Jewish Times, where I was a reporter at the time, titled “Giving Memories a Voice: My Grandfather Left a Piece of Himself Behind as a Legacy to his Progeny.” I stressed in the column how seniors should leave recordings of their life stories for their descendants. But I knew there was much more to write about my grandfather’s life than could be captured fully in a single newspaper article. So I pulled upon my skills as a journalist, the facts, and made up the rest, taking me down a whole new literary path. More specifically, I interviewed my uncle and a few other family members to fill in some missing pieces, and I did extensive research through genealogy and historical references – both online and physical archives. Fiction helped blur the lines between what I could back up as truth, at least my grandfather’s perception of it, and what might have been. By categorizing the book as fiction, I was free to take literary license to fill in the gaps and bring the stories to life more vividly. Plus, I could protect the identities of the main characters by changing their names and admitting that the stories were creations of my imagination, not necessarily the truth.
Q: What was the hardest part of switching from nonfiction to fiction?
A: Inventing realistic dialogue was the hardest part for me and a whole new medium for someone trained to create stories from facts and interviews. Easier for me was drawing connections between the facts and the history and how it related to my main character. I was accustomed to research so I used what I could find and what I was given and weaved the rest together as best as I could.
Q: How long did it take you to write the novel and get published?
A: It took me nine years to write. I started in 2000, soon after my daughter was born, and I became an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest quarterfinalist in 2009. It took me another 10 years to get my first publisher. I counted 50 rejection letters, and that’s only the ones that wrote back. After working with my first publisher for two years, we had a falling out and it took me six months to land my current publisher.
Q: How did you come up with the title?
A: The original title was Meet Me in Heaven based on my grandmother’s request for my grandfather to “tie up loose ends and meet me in heaven,” which she states early in the novel. Upon further research on the working title, I determined there were other books by the same name on the market already. So I came up with Hands of Gold, which has several meanings in the novel and in my life. I always admired my grandparents’ hands. My grandmother once gave me a gold hand of God, also known as a hamsa amulet, on a gold chain. And there’s a gold watch that features prominently in the novel, which is also a nice metaphor for the hands of time we all battle. Plus, gold for the golden years and goldene medina, Yiddish for golden country, often used to refer to America. All of these symbols figure into the book.