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A board-certified internist, Dr. Allen Malnak served as chief of medicine at Fort Sill, OK, and was medical director of a number of organizations, including the Emergency Department of Chicago’s Mount Sinai Hospital. During his long medical career in the Chicago area, he was also a clinical investigator in liver disease as well as an assistant clinical professor at the Stritch School of Medicine, and a practicing internist. Following retirement, he and his wife Patricia moved to Bonita Springs, Florida. His interest in the Holocaust was sparked by the fact that all the men, women and children of his father’s large Lithuanian family were sent to a death camp by the Nazis and murdered.

Thanks for this interview and congratulations on the release of your suspense thriller, Hitler’s Silver Box. What compelled you to write this story?

When my father came to America in 1906 at age 16, he had only one distant relative in this country. He left behind in Kovno, Lithuania a large family, including his parents, eight brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. They ranged in age from the elderly to babies. 

Dad died of natural causes during the Second World War and immediately following the war, my late brother Lewis and I began to try to track down our father’s European family. I was just 16 when the war ended. We wrote letters to everyone we could think of and after about a year received a detailed reply from the International Red Cross. Nazi records as well as witness reports indicated that all members of dad’s family had been murdered either in or near Kovno or after transfer to a death camp. Every man, woman and child! 

So, one entire side of my family was destroyed by the Nazis. Of course, I became interested in the Holocaust and began reading articles about it even during my high school and college years. During my internship at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, I read a short book, Doctors of Infamy, which covered many horrendous medical experiments performed on concentration camp prisoners by Nazi physicians. The book was so disturbing that after reading it, I tossed it into a garbage can. My next book on the subject was Elie Weisel’s NIGHT.  I then became occupied with my professional career as well as with my growing family for many years. When I reached the age of forty, I decided I owed it to my dead family members to engage in a real study of that terrible time. I then spent perhaps two or three years of my limited free time reading every book I could find on the Holocaust. 

Years later, I retired from the practice and teaching of internal medicine, and my wife and I moved to Bonita Springs Florida. I noticed in the Naples Daily News an article describing a course in writing fiction being held at the Naples Philharmonic. The teacher was Hollis Alpert a well known novelist, biographer, short story editor as well as a movie critic. 

I took classes with Hollis for a couple of years. He would give us assignments, often listing several subjects that we should use as the basis of a short story. He would critique each story and at the next weekly session read some of them to the class. 

One topic I picked was titled “A Silver Box.” For some reason, I decided to write it about a concentration camp prisoner at the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp who was forced by a Nazi colonel to make a silver box which would be a present for Adolph Hitler. 

After reading the story in class, afterwards, Hollis suggested that this story could be expanded into a novel, and that started the process that eventually lead to Hitler’s Silver Box—A Novel

What parts of the novel are actual historical facts? 

While Hitler’s Silver Box—A Novel is a work of fiction, it’s loosely based on the fact that during the Second World War, Nazi scientists worked up to the war’s end on a multitude of secret weapons on which Hitler pinned his hopes for a last ditch victory. 

These weapon systems ranged from very long range rockets that could be fired from underground bases to alternative physics, robotic warriors, new energy sources, radical germ warfare and of course, nuclear weapons. 

In the novel, the facts were modified to suggest that many objects which were later called UFOs were also developed by Nazi scientists in concealed locations, and various secret laboratories were set up around the world including in areas of both Arctic and Antarctic wastes where explorers had never trekked. 

What was your writing process like while working on this novel? Did you have a disciplined schedule? 

Because of various acute and chronic illnesses, I could not keep to a writing schedule. I followed the mantra of “write—rewrite—get it right.” Unlike many expert suggestions, I constantly re-edited my previous work, then edited it again and again.

From conception to typing ‘The End,’ how long did it take you?

About ten years.

The story takes the reader from Chicago to Paris to the Czech Republic. Did you travel to Europe as part of the research?

I have visited many countries in Europe and Paris is my favorite city in the world. I had many plans to visit the Czech Republic, but like Max in the book, health problems kept canceling the plans.

What was the hardest part of writing Hitler’s Silver Box?

Dialogue and careful descriptions were difficult crafts to understand and learn, but the hardest part was describing the conditions that Max went through in the concentration camp using the “particular” silver, the provenance of which nearly drove him and me mad. The dramatic ER scenes were easier because they were based on my personal experiences. Since like Bruce in the novel, I also have claustrophobia in tunnels, writing that scene caused me some discomfort.

What’s in the horizon for Allen Malnak?

If my health holds up, I just might write a sequel to Hitler’s Silver Box. If the Spielberg types come sniffin; around to make the novel into a movie, well I just might be forced to interview Charlize Theron to see if she’s “hot” enough to play Sari.

Any last words to my readers?

The incidents that pushed me to finish Hitler’s Silver Box were linked to the website of one of our local newspapers. Two anonymous neo-Nazis constantly spewed their racist, ant-Semitic slurs, bragging about their continued worship of Adolph Hitler and the murderous Waffen SS, while denying every aspect of the Holocaust.

I’ll close with a quote from a novelist, Jerry Ahern, who reviewed my book for “Gun World Magazine.”  

“Future generations have serious responsibilities, chief among these not to repeat past mistakes. Sadly, these days, there are still those who, out of ignorance or foul intentions, somehow revere the scourge that was National Socialism. That’s why, it’s good for the rest of us to get reminded from time to time, at least, how truly despicable the Nazis were.”

Read more about the author and Hitler’s Silver Box:  

http://naples.floridaweekly.com/news/2012-01-12/PDF/Page_080.pdf

http://naples.floridaweekly.com/news/2012-01-12/PDF/Page_081.pdf

Website: www.hitlerssilverbox.com

Purchase from Amazon.

This article originally appeared in Blogcritics.

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Dina’s Lost Tribe is a historical novel that weaves four different stories and spans from the 14th century to our present time.

Henner Marcus is a professor of French Medieval Jewish Philosophy based in Chicago. One day he receives a letter from his cousin, Nina Aschauer, who’s been missing for the last five years. A historian with a brilliant, promising career, she had left Chicago and travelled to France in search of the place she was accidentally born while her parents fled from the Nazis, a remote village in the Pyranees by the name of Valladine, a place not even present in maps.

In the letter, Nina urgently begs him to meet her in Toulouse with a large sum of money. Deeply intrigued and out of concern for his cousin’s safety, Henner makes the 5,000-mile trip. Once in Toulouse, he receives an unexpected package containing a mysterious manuscript. The manuscript appears to be a codex written in medieval Occitan, a language still spoken today in the area of Languedoc. Henner also meets Etoile, a historian and Nina’s best friend.

Together, Henner and Etoile begin deciphering the codex and soon become entranced by the fascinating first-person account and by its author, Dina, a Jewess born into a wealthy, pious family who falls prey to a deceitful, lustful priest and eventually ended up incarcerated in the prison of the Inquisition. Her tale describes the expulsion of the Jews from France in the early 1300s. Thus the novel moves back and forth in time and interweaves Henner’s, Nina’s, Etoile’s and Dina’s persecution stories.

Who is this Dina Miryam? Did she really exist? Is her account real? How is her story connected to Nina’s and why did Nina disappear five years ago into a presumed village no one knows about?

Dina’s Lost Tribe is an interesting, at times engrossing read. The author does a skillful job in keeping each story distinct in flavor from the other. I’m not a historian so I can’t comment on the veracity of the facts, but from a reader’s point of view, the book seems extensively researched. As I read Dina’s tale, I was transported to a time and place where horrible injustices where committed. Like Henner and Etoile, I too was entranced with Dina, a woman who tried to remain brave and strong against all adversity. The author draws interesting parallels between Dina and the old biblical character with the same name. She also explores various themes, such as the hypocrisy of religion, the capacity of one human being to hurt another, the harmful consequences of ignorance and superstition, and the power of one individual to overwhelm and control another.

This is a slow read, for the simple reason that there’s a lot to be absorbed. The paragraphs are often long and written in heavy-handed language. If what you’re looking for is a fast-paced page-turner, this isn’t the book for you. However, it is the perfect novel for those who enjoy history, meaning and depth in their stories. The premise is intriguing and original and I felt I had taken a little history course at the end, which is always a plus.

Dina’s Lost Tribe
By Brigitte Goldstein
iUniverse, Inc.
September 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1450251075
Paperback, 412 pages, $22.95, ebook $9.99
Historical Fiction
Author’s website
Amazon

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I recently had the opportunity to read Mathias B. Freese’s The i Tetralogy. You 41rg7zxwvsl_sl500_aa240_may read my review of this book at Today.com.

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A teacher, writer and psychotherapist, Mathias B. Freese is the author of two books, The i Tetralogy and Down to a Sunless Sea. His fiction has appeared on numerous prestigious publications. His short story, "Herbie," was listed in The Best American Short Stories of 1974 along with the works of I.B. Singer, Joyce Carol Oates and Norman Mailer. Readers may read my review of Down to a Sunless Sea on my blog, The Dark Phantom Review. In this insightful, fascinating interview, Freese talks about his writing and the force behind it.

It's nice to have you here today, Mathias. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

Teacher, writer and psychotherapist, I have written for forty years. Struggled for years to shed being a teacher and to regain my humanity, I have succeeded. Underestimated my self and my intelligence — benign neglect by parents and all that sob story — I have worked real hard on deconditioning myself – read Krishnamurti – so that, combined with being a therapist, has helped me to see. I am a stranger in a strange land. I thrive in that wintry landscape.

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I suppose there are those who do that. I bumped into writing by my first effort, a poem, published in the high school yearbook, gutted by an English teacher who grossly misread it. Editors! What I suggest to people who ask about writing is that they purchase Mazola oil, go into the woods, and self-anoint themselves. It works.

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

I read because I was an introspective child, an observer. Early books were romantic such as Harold Lamb’s take on Robin Hood and Jewish Legends. The books mottled my mind, romanticized me, a la Don Quixote, a false reading of the real world. I read junk, good junk and superior junk. The key to this interview, dear reader, is to realize, as you do, if over 40, that we are the last to know ourselves. And the aggravating thing is, if we meet a good person or a gifted shrink, that others may grasp ourselves better than we do. And what is to be made of that?

Tell us a bit about Down to a Sunless Sea. 

In my middle age, frustrated, depressed, I wrote to understand who I was. I am an autodidact with all the defects of that. Stories were more therapy for my self than fodder for the reader. I never was really concerned about the reader. That has helped me serendipitously to this day. It is my assumption, given credence over the years, that I write for me, not you, in the expectation that you will pick up on it. And people do. In short, I made a pact with myself. I’d publish my book of short stories if all of them were published, as a testament to my craft. It took more than twenty years for that to happen, although not all stories were published. I’m constructed in this way, for the long haul, impatient in the present, patient for the years to come, although I now near my end, boo hoo.

The stories in Down to a Sunless Sea deal with the “deviant and damaged,” well, not exactly. They are epiphanies.I write about a cousin who had cerebral palsy and died driving a cab because he couldn’t handle the wheel with skill; about my daughter who had CFIDS; a macabre story about Juan Peron who had his hands cut off in his crypt –yummy – in fact, a story appeared in the Times about that and I was intrigued. And bingo! In 1974 Martha Foley listed me in The Best American Short Stories of 1974 for “Herbie.” I was listed with I.B. Singer, Joyce Carol Oates and dear Norman Mailer. I only recognized Mailer. I was so new at it.

I was now anointed as a writer. Curiously, the story is continually misread; perhaps I was too subtle. It is the mother in the story who is the real shark, killer and manipulator. Many readers omit her toxicity in their reviews. The i Tetralogy, a historical fiction, on the Holocaust is forever my most significant work and it has garnered remarkable reviews around the world. It is a sleeper and it is contaminated, for I take no prisoners and many of us are into denial about the Holocaust itself. In Down to a Sunless Sea, the story about Juan Peron has a parallel theme about Jews in Argentina, again overlooked in reviews; and “Alabaster” is a story about a Holocaust survivor, an unsweetened, non- sanitized look, I hope. Unconsciously I was writing about the Jewish experience, all preparation for my Tetralogy novel later on in life.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of –consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

To write an outline is to maim my efforts. I write intuitively, from the gut, with passion. I write and write, knowing that it is in revision that I prune the pear tree. What is most emblematic of how I work is in the effort to write about Nazis in the Tetralogy. I sunk into my self. I dwelt east of Eden. I learned that the species is by default a murderous one. So, it came to pass that I wrote Nazi poetry; I pushed myself, I considered that and I did it. I count so very much on the unconscious that it is my belief that all conscious writing is like the penmanship teacher in primary school holding your hand to help you make that cursive letter “p.”

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

We really don’t learn much from books except other people’s smarts. Again, I do not write for you. I write for me and for my understanding. I write without expectations of any readership, but I have a world of expectations for myself. What type of writer are you – the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes? I make no such distinctions. I am. I do not write a certain amount of words each day, having heard that conditional piece of advice for years. Who said so? Why? Did Tolstoy learn that when he took his MFA in Leningrad? I don’t read necessarily to deconstruct the artifice of a novelist. Read Hemingway too much and you’ll end up as a declarative sentence, noun and verb forever glued together. Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along? I leave anality for the last. I channel my unconscious, let it flow and then I cut back as necessary. I believe that I am a dugout on the vast Amazon River. I go with it.

Do you have any favorite authors or books?

I have read a great deal of Krishnamurti. His message is in my own work – the awakening of intelligence. However, Nikos Kazantzakis has always moved me, The Last Temptation of Christ, St. Francis and Report to Greco probably the greatest confessional since St. Augustine. He wrote a sequel in two volumes, in verse, to the Odyssey and by all accounts equaled Homer. I read him because when he writes about grapes I can taste the dew on their skins.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Marguerite Young, author, said that we should put the kitchen sink into our writings. To wit, in “Mortise and Tenon,” in the short story collection, I give information about Gustav Klimt, citing a few paintings that the characters see in the museum. It enriches the story, I believe.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

As you have gathered, I go my own way – should I go your way? Publishers fled from the The i Tetralogy. I don’t need someone else — it does help, I am human — to tell me this book is masterful; they ran away because of resistance and denial. America’s great contribution to the world besides Dick Cheney is marketing. I self-publish, draw inspiration from Thoreau, who only published 75 copies of Walden. When you die and I die, does it really matter who published us, except that our efforts are published – the rest is vanity.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

It is www.mathiasbfreese.com. Under "Pages" I have short essays or “factions,” published and unpublished, so you can get a sense of my interests – an essay for PMA discussing that the artist is never poor, to wit. I have links to reviews and interviews with me, especially David Herrle (www.subtletea.com), who does a terrific job. Parenthetically, Herrle did a 25 page literary analysis of The I Tetralogy which reflects as much upon his brilliance as it does upon my book. He was the first to state that the Tetralogy was a major literary effort, perhaps a work of art as well. The blog contains short essays as I go along in life and an ongoing memoir.

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

I am into rewriting Sojourner, a historical fiction about a Chinese who ventures to California during the Gold Rush. It is a philosophical quest that he is on. I wrote it about the age of 40, revealing my existential discontent, a need to find purpose and intention in this world. All the while I taught, I wrote, and I went back to school to become a psychotherapist which again was a latent need to understand my self. I practiced as a therapist and felt purposeful. The other book is Gruffworld; the first chapter,“Covenant,” is on my website, published in a major magazine. It combines the analytic insights I metabolized as a writer and therapist and reflects my readings of Krishnamurti, especially dealing with the awakening of intelligence. It takes place in an apocalyptic world as a creature comes into self-awareness.

In your collection, you use various writing styles for the different stories. Was this a conscious decision? It also offers readers a dark glimpse into the troubled mind of the characters. What’s in the mind of the author?

I’d like to answer both questions in one amalgam. I always write in order to make sense of my life and situation, and “making sense” is both the writer’s goal and his ultimate folly After four decades I can say that I have made some headway in my craft, but existentially it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. I write to “soothe” myself and the terror of existence itself. We face two questions: life and death, and they are fierce deities, insatiable, terrific adversaries, I must add. To make sense is to give order, to be rational. “I did this because of that.” Oh, yeah.

After the Holocaust, all is farce. The species is shattered. And if I make sense, at all, it is only for me. The surprise of all my writing is that I don’t take it too seriously. I kiss no ass. I am compelled to write but the folly is in feeling that it does good. It all is in my patrimony, given to my children. I don’t care about readers per se other than the fun it provides when reviewed well or a gracious comment proffered about the book. I am greedy about life while I have it, not greedy about my books, except as an extension of whom I am and that gets awfully murky.

Short stories were written to express emotional states, and often the style was not a conscious choice. I was learning, I’m self taught, I was experimenting. I never went for a MFA (Argh!). I never took a course except one which I quickly left, the lecturer needed to be adored. I was rejected so many times that I developed a defense: arrogance, which, inn effect, said – your loss! Obviously I have been proven right. Even that haughty feeling doesn’t last.

Thank you for your insightful, thoughtful answers, Mathias.

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