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Deeper into the Forest

Deeper into the Forest

Some writers do their best to avoid all feedback from readers. I get it; they want to write without letting the opinions and perspectives of others affect the trajectory of their work. Personally, though, I find reader feedback heartening. Whether it’s positive, negative, or some original blend, feedback from readers signals that the story in question made some sort of impact—left a mark, if you will.

The new Tim Green novel—number three, not that anyone’s counting, says the writer whose hard drive folder for this project has been labeled “3” since the day I created it—traces its origins to two distinctly different sources of inspiration. The first was, indeed, reader feedback.

When Never Break the Chain, the sequel to Believe in Me, came out in 2017, my friend and fellow novelist Richard Fulco commented that the one thing he wished that story had more of was Tim Green’s music-writer father, Bernie, who had a significant supporting role in the first book. That comment stayed with me for a long time, tickling my imagination—What would a Bernie story look and feel like? What aspects of his life would be interesting to dig into and explore?—until eventually I started to scratch. (Thanks, Richie.)

As I considered these questions further, my imagination led me down a logic trail that wound deeper and deeper into the forest:

So… why did Bernie become a music writer?

Because he loves rock and roll.

And why did Bernie fall in love with rock and roll?

The same reason most of his boomer generation did—as a way of rebelling.

What was he rebelling against?

A lot of things… but mainly, his father was a hard case.

(Fathers and sons again—yup. Okay, that’s a decent start, but let’s keep going…)

And why was Bernie’s father a hard case?

Hmm… Bernie was born in 1953, so his father probably would have grown up during World War II. Sure, that tracks: Bernie’s father was a hard case because of what he went through during World War II.

What did Bernie’s father go through during World War II?

Right. Hmm. No, wait…

What did Bernie’s father—who was Jewish, the whole family was Jewish, with Bernie the rebellious and least observant one—go through during World War II?

Wait. Jewish during World War II? Are you…?

WHOA. Yeah.

That’s how a story that began as a way to explore Bernie’s life before Tim entered it morphed into a century-spanning tale of a family whose experience of a historic trauma continues to reverberate down the generations.

That’s how I came to realize that Bernie’s father was a Holocaust survivor.

At which point I gave serious consideration to dropping the entire concept. Who was I—a child of the 1960s, born of a Jewish father and Christian mother who divorced before I turned three, after which I was raised by my mother with only a vague sense of my own Jewish identity—who was I to try to tell a story like that?

A story that I knew, for all the reasons we’ll dig into further next time, I absolutely had to get right.

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