Are there any tips about writing a book you wish someone told you before you wrote THE ASSIGNMENT?
I first wrote and revised The Assignment in third-person omniscient. When I submitted it to a few book agents, each one told me that I needed to write it in first person. I ended up rewriting the novel. Now, my two main characters, Cade and Logan, are written in first person. The secondary characters are written in third. I wish I’d known that writing in third-person omniscient isn’t preferred for YA novels. But, I did learn from the experience and it brought me to where I am today, so no regrets.
Was there anything as a Jewish person that you didn’t know about the culture/religion or relearned as an adult while doing research for your main character/novel?
I had thought I had a lot of knowledge of the Holocaust, but what I knew was just a drop in an ocean. I could spend the rest of my life researching and learning about this topic and still not even begin to fully grasp the magnitude of what transpired. Every person who was murdered had a story. Each one deserves to be honored.
Were there any specific instances of antisemitism that you have experienced in your life that have translated into your work?
Writing this novel forced me to confront the antisemitism that’s always been a part of my life. I experienced it in my childhood and throughout adulthood. I must have rewritten my “Dear Readers” note six or seven times before I realized that I had to share my own experience. It wasn’t easy, but it absolutely was the right thing to do. Remembering how I felt being treated like an “other” unearthed memories I’d buried. My maiden name was Goldberg, and it revealed to the vast majority of people my Jewish identity. That, alone, made me an outsider in a school where I was most definitely in the minority. Slurs like “Jew them down” and “dirty Jew” were commonplace.
Do you have a favorite thing about being Jewish?
Other than antisemitism, I love pretty much everything about being Jewish. I love Shabbat. It enables me to recharge and be productive during the rest of the week. I love cooking meals for people and inviting them over for holidays. Because of Covid, I deliver food to people. It’s a way for me to nurture others. I love my close-knit community and how they look out for one another. We helped start a synagogue and it was an amazing way to raise our sons—surrounded by people who always kept an eye on them and relished in watching them grow up.
Do you have a favorite Jewish holiday?
Probably Shavuot because my elder son, Justin, was born on that holiday. It’s a joyous holiday commemorating the Jewish people receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. (And traditional foods are dairy. I love cheesecake!)
Growing up, was there ever a book that made you feel “seen” for your Jewish identity?
No. There weren’t any books that reflected my experience. The majority of Jewish books that I read were Holocaust related. Because antisemitism was a part of my life and becasue I knew Holocaust survivors, they had a profound impact.
I will say that I adored Barbra Streisand and had to see every movie she was in. I also loved the movie, “Crossing Delancy.” Even though I can’t sing, I admired everything about Barbra and “Crossing Delancy” was relatable, especially the grandma. I was extremely close to my grandma and I loved the matchmaking she did in the movie. 🙂
Can you tell me a secret about THE ASSIGNMENT?
The character of Yankel was based on my former neighbor and Holocaust survivor, Jack Dygola.. The story of what he endured has stayed with me long after he passed away. He sat at my dining room and told me what transpired. At times, he cried. He shed those tears without shame. Despite the nightmare he endured, he was an optimistic person and didn’t hold grudges. Jack and his wife Renee would come to our home for Passover seders. Jack would recite the four questions in Yiddish, something he hadn’t done since his childhood. To learn more about him, check out: Holocaust survivor’s life took many turns.
If your characters had instagram accounts, what would they be posting? Inspirational quotes? Cute baby animal photos? Mood boards? Photos of their friends? Or something else?
Logan would post books and book reviews. She also would post favorite quotes from books famous people she admires, especially relating to social justice.
Cade would post pictures of his family’s inn, including some of the awesome bakery his nana baked for guests. He’d also post pictures of his hometown, Riviere.
And, of course, they would post pictures of the two of them together.
Was there a specific type of music you listened to when writing?
I listened to a lot of music with social justice lyrics to find the perfect song to include for one of my favorite scenes. It occurs toward the end of the novel, which was inspired by a New York City event that I watched on the news. I spent days listening to different songs and finally, I stumbled on “Hallelujah,” which was written by Leonard Cohen. It was perfect. There are many versions available on YouTube. My favorite was a performance on Oprah with The Canadian Tenors and Celine Dion. As I worked on this interview, I listened to it again. It still moves me to tears.
Is there anything you want people to know about your book before they start reading?
This book is about what it takes to speak up against bigotry, hatred, and injustice and so I hope readers will find themselves thinking about what they would do if confronted with a similar situation. Although it’s a work of fiction, the book was inspired by true events. If readers want to learn about how I came to write this novel, the incredible story is on my website: lizawiemer.com
About Liza’s book, THE ASSIGNMENT:
In the vein of the classic The Wave and inspired by a real-life incident, this riveting novel explores discrimination and antisemitism and reveals their dangerous impact.
SENIOR YEAR. When an assignment given by a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution, a euphemism used to describe the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people, Logan March and Cade Crawford are horrified. Their teacher cannot seriously expect anyone to complete an assignment that fuels intolerance and discrimination. Logan and Cade decide they must take a stand.
As the school administration addressed the teens’ refusal to participate in the appalling debate, the student body, their parents, and the larger community are forced to face the issue as well. The situation explodes, and acrimony and anger result. What does it take for tolerance, justice, and love to prevail?