iUniverse’s Sylvia Smoller discusses her second book, Chance and Consequence, as well as her inspirations and message.
How much of our lives are determined by coincidences, how much by the choices we make? And how do those choices reverberate through time to affect those we love? Chance and Consequence is a sweeping, historically accurate novel that tells the story of people caught in the momentous upheavals of World War II, their destinies driven by chance, by the force of their characters and by the courage of a Japanese diplomat.
Set in the period from 1918 to 1945, the story explores the impact of historical and political events on individual lives, on friendship, family ties and love. Against the backdrop of Poland, London, Moscow, Japan and America, the three central characters, Rachel, consumed by opposing desires to be independent and be taken care of, Aleks, her intellectual husband, fallen from status, and Roman, her powerful lover, struggle in their own ways with war, escape, survival, displacement, to find balance in love and decency.
Chance and Consequence is an expanded version of a previous book, Rachel and Aleks, and it includes additional material in the form of an epilogue about a special trip to Poland I took with 12 members of my family. We visited the places where the characters in this book were born and grew up and lived. We also visited Auschwitz where members of our family perished. This epilogue also includes a series of photographs, from the times depicted in the book as well as from our recent trip to those places.
I am both a scientist and a novelist. In my day job I am Professor of Epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine where my research has spanned both cancer and cardiovascular disease. Most of my writing has been for scientific journals. I’ve written a textbook on research methods that is in its fourth edition, but this novel I wrote, Chance and Consequence, was something completely different. It came from the heart. But my research background helped and I did a great deal of research in order to be historically accurate. I felt I had to show how history affects the personal and how adversity both shapes and reveals character.
My son’s father, my first husband, died at the age of 39 when my son was six years old. Despite this traumatic event in his early life, my son became a well-known scientist and a wonderful man of the highest integrity. Despite this tragedy in my own life, I was fortunate to find love again and re-marry. I feel very lucky to have a wonderful family that includes my daughter-in-law and little granddaughter, and caring stepsons. As my mother used to say, “Don’t despair. You never know what’s around the corner.”
Now I live in New York City and I love living here and enjoying the many concerts, museums and cultural events the city has to offer.
Do you have any particular literary influences? What inspired you to write your book?
I read voraciously and I am always drawn to historical novels. I love this genre because it both gives a personal story that engages me on an emotional level and also teaches me about historical events and how they may affect ordinary lives.
I wrote this book because World War II is part of my personal history and the history of my relatives and many friends. It was the cataclysmic event of the 20th century. It shaped our world and our civilization far into the future.
One day I was going through some photographs and I came upon an old sepia photo of a young woman. What was she like, I wondered. She was beautiful. Wisps of hair fell across her face. Her neck was long and graceful and her chin raised. She had deep, smoldering eyes. She seemed proud and determined. This was a woman who had dreams. This was my mother. I started writing about the woman in the photograph and became increasingly fascinated with the historical background in which she lived, with the interplay of chance and the consequences of choices both large and small and how luck, coincidence and personal character all interact to help us to survive, and even flourish.
What is the one message you would like to convey to your readers?
Much of life hangs on small coincidences, but along the way, we make choices in our lives and these choices accumulate to form our character. Our lives are shaped by the interplay of chance and character.
Are you working on a sequel to Chance and Consequence?
I am working on a memoir – the theme is about overcoming adversity and knowing in the bleakest moments that happiness can return again, and again.
Please feel free to mention any accolades you have received.
I have received a number of prizes based on my professional work, including:
The Presidential Medallion from Yeshiva University – the equivalent of an Honorary Degree, The Faculty Mentoring Award from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, as well as The Spirit of Achievement Award from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Women’s Division. I have also received some awards for the predecessor to this book, including Editor’s Choice and Publisher’s Choice from iUniverse, as well as ReaderViews Reviewers Choice award.
Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Joining a writing group – it can be very helpful. One can get feedback for what works and what doesn’t. The size of the group is important – 6-8 people seems about right.
When writing a novel, it helps if you can put yourself in the scene you are writing about. Imagine you are there. What do you observe? How does it look, sound, appear? And if you were there, how would you feel?
And of course the usual and always right advice, is to keep on writing. Then after you’ve done it, re-write.
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