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5 Minutes 5 Questions With… Diana Spechler author of Who by Fire

JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire
(Harper Perennial)

diana spechler headshot
who by fire book cover

(click on the above pictures to see reviews of this book on Amazon.com)

Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister Alena, an incident for which Ash blames himself, caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again: Alena’s remains have finally been uncovered.

Now Bits is traveling across the world in a bold and desperate attempt to bring her brother home and salvage what’s left of their family. Told from the alternating points of view of the three family members, Who By Fire is a searing commentary on guilt, grief, and the inescapable bonds of family from a fresh and extremely talented new voice in American fiction.

Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the idea and inspiration to write Who by Fire?

Diana Spechler: I wanted to explore the way it makes me feel as a Jew in America to hear about a suicide bombing in Israel. It’s so horrifying, yet there’s a disconnect because of the physical distance. Originally, I wrote a story about Bits, a secular Jew in America, and her brother, Ash, an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. At the beginning of the story, Bits hears about a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. By the end of the story, she still hasn’t heard from her brother. It’s very unsettling, which is probably why I felt compelled to return to it a few months later and start expanding it into a novel.

JP: Kidnapping and world traveling to bring a family back together are some pretty heavy things for the average person to deal with. How have your readers reacted to what you offer in Who by Fire?

DS: Fortunately, readers don’t seem to find the book too heavy, even though the subject matter is. In fact, I’m more often told that the story is funny. The truth is, no matter how you spin it, kidnapping is heavy. But dysfunctional families have plenty of funny moments. The Kellermans go to great lengths to avoid communicating with one another. There are many secrets and deceptions, some of which the reader picks up on, even when the characters don’t. There’s plenty of comic relief.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that lead to Who by Fire getting out to the public?

DS: I have a great agent and I’m with a great imprint, Harper Perennial, at HarperCollins. Both of those things help tremendously. My publicist is always working to get my novel into the light of the mass media. Beyond that, a lot of it is up to me. I’ve forced my friends and family members to become foot soldiers for me, talking about and recommending my book to everyone they know. I’m counting on them to get the buzz started. Fortunately, I also have a fabulous book tour lined up, and Target was kind enough to choose Who By Fire as a “Breakout Book.”
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take for you to start and finish Who by Fire?

DS: The writing of the novel took me four and a half years. Then we had to sell it, wait for it to come out, etc. My process? Writing furiously, then staring at the screen for hours on end. Checking my email. Going for a run. Staring at the screen. Crying about the futility of life. Having insomnia. Writing furiously, then sending the mess to my readers (a few writer friends I made in grad school with whom I exchange work). Getting feedback. Crying. Revising tirelessly. Walking a constant line between inordinate self-love and dangerous self-loathing. Writing furiously. Revising. Staring at the screen. Repeat.

JP: What’s next for Diana Spechler?

DS: People have asked me if they can expect a sequel to Who by Fire, and the answer is no. I feel like the characters in the book need to go on with their lives without me. I only cause them grief. Currently, I’m working on a new novel. This one is a story of transformation through loss set at a weight-loss camp in North Carolina.

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