Author Interview with Merle Saferstein
Stephanie: Hello, Merle! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion and thank you for chatting with me today about your medallion book, Room 732. Before we begin talking about your book, tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.
Merle: Thanks, Stephanie. I learned about IndieBRAG from a friend of mine who had written a novel and had become a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner. She suggested that I enter my book.
Stephanie: What are your thoughts of the self-publishing industry today?
Merle: When I first started to write Room 732, I knew that I was going to self-publish. By 2012, the industry had changed significantly. Instead of the stigma that used to exist years ago, self-publishing had become mainstream and popular.
I felt sure that this was the right choice for me. At that point in my life, self-publishing meant I was saving myself from the grueling process of trying to find an agent and the possibility of agonizing rejections. Besides, self-publishing would allow me to have complete control over my work. I could write the book, edit it, submit it and would not have to wait for a publisher’s schedule to get Room 732 into readers’ hands.
The process of working with CreateSpace, the self-publishing company I chose, proved to be easy and freeing. The cost was much less than I had originally anticipated. I appreciated that someone at the company was available at any hour to answer questions. I found it to be a positive experience in every way.
Stephanie: Please tell your audience a little about your book and your inspiration for the story?
Merle: Over the last forty years, I have greeted many mornings by walking at Hollywood Beach in South Florida. On one stretch of the beach sits the Hollywood Beach Hotel (now known as the Hollywood Beach Resort). As I passed the hotel, I would often think about its fascinating history and would wonder what had taken place in its many rooms.
In my journal in 1985, I had written that someday I would like to write a book telling different stories that would capture the essence of the famed Hollywood Beach Hotel. My hope was to bring to life a variety of characters, all of whom stayed in the same room over the years.
The hotel was built as an elegant getaway in 1926. During World War II, it was converted into a U. S. Navy training and indoctrination center. After the war, the upscale hotel re-opened. Then, in 1971, Florida Bible College moved in, followed by timeshares and condos. More recently, the ever-changing edifice was restored to the vacation resort it was originally intended to be.
Through intimate letters, journal entries, and private conversations, each story explores the threads of connection, communication, and life experiences and echoes the culture of the times. Breathing life into the walls of Room 732, the characters experience a range of emotions as they live with the effects of war, the joy of discovering faith, the death of a loved one, the challenges of marriage, and the intimacy in relationships.
Stephanie: What was the process in your decision to choose the setting and time period for your short story?
Merle: I first made a timeline of the hotel’s history. Then I decided what year I would choose for the time period of each story, making sure to include each change the hotel had undergone.
Right before I began to write the book, I met with the general manager of the hotel and took a tour of every floor in order to choose the exact room I wanted for the setting. Most important to me was that the room faced the ocean and was on the top floor. Another criterion was that the numbers in the room number added up to twelve–my favorite and lucky number. Room 732 turned out to be the perfect choice.
Stephanie: Tell me a little about the Naval Officer and his life.
Merle: Hutch, as he was known to his family and friends, comes from a small town in Wyoming. He spent most of his thirty-year career on board a ship. During World War ll, Hutch was stationed at the Hollywood Beach Hotel and trained soon-to-be commissioned officers in flight navigation.
He communicates with his loved ones through a series of letters. In them he shares his love of family, the Navy, and his country. As a sensitive man, Hutch writes about how pained he is to see the segregation in the South and to watch a fellow sailor and friend from home suffer from the traumas of war. He shows his concern for his daughters and wife who, because of the war, have been forced to work when women in those days hardly had jobs outside of the home.
Stephanie: I admire writers who write short stories. I hear in many ways it is not always easy….did you face any challenges?
Merle: Before this, I had not written short stories. In general, I did not find them hard to write.
However, the single challenge in writing the short stories for Room 732 was the one about Florida Bible College. I had interviewed eight women who had attended school there, one man who was the dean of the college and another who was the pastoral musician. Since they were born-again Christians and I knew almost nothing about their beliefs, I needed to ask a lot of questions and listen carefully. It was important to me that this story be authentic.
I stopped interviewing people when I felt that I had a clear sense of what they believed in and also what taken place at the college. However, when I sat down to write the story, I found it almost impossible. I would write a few paragraphs and then be stuck. At one point, I completely stopped writing and took a few days off. I needed to understand what was holding me back. It eventually occurred to me that I was trying to put myself into the characters. I knew I needed to distance myself and invent characters and their lives that had nothing to do with me. Once I did that, the characters wrote the story.
In addition to the stories all taking place at the Hollywood Beach Hotel in Room 732, I wanted each of them to have a connection with one another. One way I did that was to add the concept of hope to every story. I also decided that each would contain some form of motherhood. Figuring out how to do that was a bit of a challenge but one I enjoyed. The eighth story has an element from each of the first seven stories in it, which weaves them together in a subtle way.
Stephanie: Is there a particular character in your book that made an impact on you in any way?
Merle: The character who impacted me the most was the grandmother in Grandma’s Loving Legacy. I suppose the reason is that the story literally poured out of me in two days. Through letters, the grandmother shares her philosophy of life, her hopes and dreams and life lessons with her granddaughters. I didn’t realize when I was writing it how much of myself I was putting down on paper. Yet, when I think about the process of writing that particular story, I now understand that I felt one with the grandmother with every word I wrote.
Stephanie: How long did your book take to write and who designed your book cover?
Merle: I began the book toward the end of January 2012. On April 22, 2012, I had completed the first draft and had checked into Room 732 at the hotel to write the author’s notes. Originally, I had intended to take approximately a year to write the book, but once I began there was no stopping me. I slept no more than four to five hours a night. Aside from my early sunrise walks at the beach, I wrote during almost every waking moment. I pretty much checked out of my life as I knew it and focused solely on writing.
I had asked my friend, who is a photographer, to come to the hotel and take pictures, with the intent to use one of hers for the cover. Meanwhile, I had taken photographs throughout my stay there in April. After the two of us sat down to decide on the best of her photos, she asked to see mine. As soon as she saw a particular one, she said, “That’s your cover!”
My nephew did the layout of the cover and also took the photograph of me. He prepared it so that all I had to do was submit it in a PDF form, and it was done.
Stephanie: What advice would you give to beginner writers?
Merle: Probably the most important advice I would offer to any writer is that writing is rewriting. There’s little that matters more than carefully editing one’s work. I spent a total of six months reading my book over and over making corrections–fifteen times, in fact. Plus, I had six people edit it to ensure that there were no errors. It took a tremendous amount of patience, but it was well worth it in the end.
When I first began writing, a friend told me that the best thing I could do to become a writer would be to choose one person and write to him/her every day. I did that for years on end. I also think journal writing is a tremendous help in writing.
Few people talk about the vulnerability of being a writer. It’s important to understand that there will be days when we’re in love with our writing and other days when we wonder why we are even bothering. I think being aware that this is a normal part of the process is important. Long ago a Holocaust survivor who had written a book gave me some great advice. She said, “Wrap a steel door around your heart.” That being said, it’s not always easy to do.
I also think that it is wise not to share one’s work with anyone initially. If I speak about my ideas, I find that the energy gets dissipated. Also, others have opinions and some of them might not be favorable to our work. Long ago, I was shut down and not able to write for months on end after a friend read something I had written and told me she didn’t like it. So, I feel it’s best to keep the writing under wraps until it is completed.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Merle: My book is available on Amazon.com and also on barnesandnoble.com. It’s also available through Smashwords’ many listings.
A graduate of Ohio State University, Merle R. Saferstein spent the majority of her career in the field of education as both a teacher and an administrator. For twenty-six years, she served as the director of educational outreach at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in South Florida where she worked closely with Holocaust survivors ensuring that their legacy was perpetuated for this and future generations
Since 1974, she has completed over 350 volumes of personal journals in addition to compiling and editing resource manuals for the state of Florida and books for non-profit organizations. Ms. Saferstein authored Room 732, a collection of short stories, which has recently been selected as a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree. She has been working on a project in which she is reading her journals and, from them, is taking excerpts on approximately fifty topics.
Ms. Saferstein created and now teaches a course entitled Living and Leaving Your LegacySM. She is facilitating a Part Two and Part Three class for those who completed the first classes and are interested in more. She has trained hospice staffs and volunteers showing them ways in which to help patients leave their legacies. Ms. Saferstein speaks on the subject of legacy throughout South Florida and beyond.
Merle Saferstein facilitates a writing group at Gilda’s Club for individuals who have or had cancer. Recently, she had an article published in the Huffington Post.
Living in Miami, Florida with her husband of 47 years, Ms. Saferstein is the mother of two children and has two granddaughters.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Merle R. Saferstein, who is the author of, Room 732, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Room 732, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.