By Ryan McPherson
For fans of adventure, history, and a fight against all odds, chances are Robert Sharenow has something to offer you in his new novel, The Girl in the Torch. Sharenow, a television executive, author, and history buff, delivers the story of a young woman, in a new world, struggling to survive in one of the unlikeliest of places.
You’ll see in his responses just how passionate he is about his work, something that couldn’t be more apparent in the pages of his novel.
Stories about girls doing amazing things are really at the forefront of YA literature right now. Many are tales of dystopian societies where these young ladies are fighting both for happiness and survival. Your novel however, is historical fiction. With these types of struggles being prominent throughout history (especially for women), do you feel a certain kinship to your contemporaries, even though the genre might be considered much different?
Great question. I certainly think there are lines of connection between my heroine, Sarah, and characters like Katniss from The Hunger Games and Tris from Divergent. They all have to overcome serious adversity, experience loss, and grow stronger and more self-sufficient. Those character attributes can apply to stories set thousands of years ago or thousands of years in the future. Some people have implied that the inspiration for Katniss may have been drawn from Ayla, the heroine from Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear, which was set in prehistoric times.
It seems like a lot of what you write is based in history. What do you find satisfying, and challenging for that matter, about writing historical fiction?
I’m fascinated by history, so I always enjoy immersing myself in different time periods. I’m also drawn to moments in history that present extreme challenges for the characters in my stories, like the Civil Rights Movement or the rise of the Nazis in pre-war Germany. These circumstances push people to extremes, so they have to make hard, life-and-death choices.
What went into the decision to choose the character and time period you did in writing this novel?
The Girl in the Torch was directly inspired by the journey of my own great grandparents at the turn of the last century. They came to this country fleeing the anti-Jewish violence of Czarist Russia. Like my character Sarah, my great grandfather had no money and very few possessions when he immigrated. But he did carry with him a fine pair of tailoring scissors, because he was a buttonhole maker. Those scissors helped get him a job that help set the foundation for our family in America. My character Sarah also has a pair of scissors, and she has to use it as a weapon as well as a means to get a job.
How much research goes into preparing for a novel like this?
I work on my books for many years and the research is always going on. I read dozens of books, look at historical photographs and films, and listen to music and eat food from the time period. For this book, I was also able to walk in the footsteps of my characters and visit the Statue of Liberty, Chinatown, the Bowery, and the Jewish Lower East Side. It’s amazing how much of the history is still standing all around New York City.
The novel has been out for a couple of months now. What has the response been like?
The response has been great. I’m most fascinated by readers who connect the story very directly to their own family history. One woman told me that her great grand father had come from Italy and had been orphaned on Ellis Island, just like my character. He had to fend for himself and make his way alone in New York. Another boy told me that his great, great grandfather had been an Irish immigrant and as a boy, became a newsie who lived on the streets of Manhattan, just like my character Tommy.
You also work in the television industry and seemingly keep quite a busy schedule. How do you mange having so many irons in the fire all at once? Is one the passion and the other a job, or do you just have a motor that never quits?
I’m extremely lucky to have a challenging and creative day job in television. I certainly have passion for both worlds. That said, although writing is more purely creative, it also can be more of slog when I’m grinding through a rewrite or trying to meet a deadline, because I can’t delegate any of the responsibility to anyone else. In my job as a TV executive, I’m really only dealing with the most big picture decisions on creative projects. As to my schedule, it’s not easy. When I’m in a writing groove, I get up very early to have quiet time to focus (5:00 AM to 7:00 AM). Often that means I crash by 9:30 PM and my children tuck me in at night, rather than the reverse.
Do you envision The Girl in the Torch making it’s way to film or television?
I could certainly see it as a film. The visual image of a girl living alone in the Statue of Liberty feels very cinematic to me.
What are you hoping young people, maybe especially young girls, learn from Sarah and her story in The Girl in the Torch?
As the father of two girls, I definitely want readers to take inspiration from Sarah’s resilience and her evolution into a strong, self-sufficient person. I also hope that readers will connect the story in some way to their own family history, but also understand the story in the context of the immigration stories that are still happening every day in our country.
Find Robert Sharenow’s The Girl in the Torch now on Amazon.
Photo courtesy of Amy Psaila.