Spotlight on Claudia H. Long
What writer hasn’t heard of NaNoWriMo, the nonprofit that challenges creative people around the world to write 50,000 words towards a new work of fiction every November? Our own Claudia H. Long, who is a celebrated dispute resolution lawyer as well as a prolific writer, could be the NaNoWriMo poster child. Every November—unless she is otherwise engaged in completing the novel she began the previous November—Claudia starts a new novel, and over the next eleven months she polishes it, perfects it, and moves it toward publication. Here she is to tell us about her newest work, her writing habits, and what’s coming down the pike.
What is your most recent novel, Nine Tenths of the Law, about?
Two sisters, Zara and Lilly, see a delicately fashioned menorah in a museum. Zara remembers seeing that same menorah in the same museum with her mother thirty-five years earlier and realizes that the menorah had once belonged to their mother. It had been ripped from the family by the Nazis during the terrible raids of World War II. The sisters decide to get it back, but that decision sets off a chain of events that leads to murder, theft, and wild adventures throughout New York City and the mountains of Vermont.
Zara and Lilly also have to come to terms with the memories of their mother, which play out in haunting flashbacks, almost possessing Zara in terrifying ways.
Like any book about Jewish tragedy, there’s humor, love, tears, and Chinese food, all while dealing with an historically fraught past and a politically difficult present.
What inspired you to write it?
Four years ago, after my mother died, my father sat down with me and told me my mother’s stories. The secrets that she had carried through life form the basis of the mother’s memories in the book. But my father’s memories colored his tales as well, and my sister and I had our own stories interwoven with theirs. It was the perfect time to write the book.
So many of your books have had sequels. Will this one have one, and if not, why?
Big secret!! You’re the first to know! Yes, there will be a sequel. At first I thought it was impossible, as the story was wrenched from deep in my heart. But Zara and Lilly have more stories to tell, and they will be on the page and in your hands, hopefully in late 2021.
You’ve written a number of books over the years, all while practicing law and raising children. Please talk about how inspiration works in the life of a very busy person.
Inspiration is an ephemeral thing, isn’t it? I write all the first drafts of my novels in November, during NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month). The discipline of writing 50,000 words in 30 days gets the story on the page, and NaNo provided structure to me back when my legal practice competed with bringing up my two children. Now that my kids are grown, I have a bit more time, but I don’t produce a novel every year. If the November siren call isn’t there, that year there’s no new book. It usually takes me a year to revise the novel I drafted and get it into shape to submit to my agent, so at the very most these days it’s every other year.
Before I write, I get the idea, I walk around (really! Each novel wears out a pair of sneakers!) until the idea takes shape, and then I outline and wait for November. I’ve got five mainstream novels out, and a few non-mainstream romances, and all were written in November.
As someone who writes mostly historical fiction, do you find that events going on in the present try to sneak into your plots?
Well, they sure do now! Nine Tenths of the Law is mostly in the present, and politics certainly made their way into the story. For the sequel, which doesn’t have a name yet, I struggled with current time. Do I write in mid-pandemic, knowing that things change so fast that by the time the book comes out it will be passé? Do I ignore the pandemic and the election? Do I put the book in the future and maybe get it all wrong? It’s a tough call, but I think I’ve got the right blend. Only time will tell, and there’s a whole year to edit what I wrote if I’m totally off. Historical fiction is easier: we already know how their plagues and politics turned out!
Where are you now with your new project?
I’m in the middle of November as I write these answers, so you know I’m working on the sequel. But I’m also trying to get the word out about Nine Tenths of the Law. As you know, launching a book mid-pandemic is tough. I’m used to doing so many events for each of my books, and Zoom-to-Facebook isn’t the same.
So if folks wanted to do something for writers, the formula is so clear: buy the book, post a review, and tell two friends to do the same. That’s it!
Claudia Long, a lawyer, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to Nine Tenths of the Law and The Harlot’s Pen, she has written three novels set in late 17th- and early 18th-century colonial Mexico: Josefina’s Sin, The Duel for Consuelo, and Chains of Silver. Find out more about her and her books at www.claudiahlong.com.