Interview with Bernard Beck, author of One American Dream
29 Mar 2017
What can you tell us about your new release, One American Dream?
One American Dream is about aspirations. The first character in the book, Jack, who arrives from Poland as a ten-year-old aspires to be an authentic American. Frequently, as he grows older and moves into the middle class, he pauses to evaluate his status. He yearns to be an “authentic American” but that amorphous goal is constantly beyond his reach. Similarly, his wife Rose, and their daughter Ruthie yearn for the same thing, but each from their own perspective. In the end, after years of striving and struggle they realize that the essence of being an authentic American is to dream and aspire – always aspire to make life better for themselves and their fellow man.
What or who inspired you to become an author?
Ever since I was a child, my mother wrote short stories and articles, some of which were published. She always encouraged me to write, but I always deflected her efforts. I studied business and became an importer, but the creative seeds had been planted and when it came time for me to retire I took up writing. Surprisingly, I not only enjoyed it but I was pretty good at it and my first two books were published by reputable academic publishers.
My mother had written both fiction and non-fiction and after my first (non-fiction) books were published I decided to try my hand at fiction. This proved to be both extremely difficult and emotionally draining, yet I persisted. When I thought the manuscript was finished I sent it to Amberjack Publishing who agreed to publish it if I would accept their editorial modifications. The changes that Amberjack suggested transformed my novel in many important ways.
Name a book that you feel has impacted your life significantly. Why was it so impactful?
The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan. I had been trying to write a book about my mother for many years and The Rise of David Levinsky showed me how to write a story of personal development within a historic context. I learned that a character does not develop in a vacuum but is shaped by seemingly unimportant everyday events. I tried to convey the ambitions and anxieties that each of the characters in One American Dream experienced. The adversarial tensions became, for me, an essential part of the narrative. There is no linear path in life, but we must all believe that we are progressing in the right direction.
If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would you choose and why?
This might seem a little prosaic, but I would choose my wife, Judy Beck. She has been my friend for more than 60 years and we have grown up together. In those years we have soared and fallen, succeeded and failed. But in the end, just like Jack and Rose in One American Dream, we have moved far beyond our beginnings.
What fictional literary world would you most like to visit?
I think I would probably like to visit the world of Hemingway. Especially during the Spanish Revolution. Although, in the end, it was a world of smashed dreams, it represents for me a time of hope and renewal.
If you had an extra hour each day, how would you spend it?
Not really a relevant question for a retired person. So, I will report how I spend my free time – writing and thinking about writing. I am very slow and meticulous in my writing, and I rewrite everything over and over. I try to hear the voices of the characters and to accurately reproduce them. I want to avoid artifice, which I believe comes from using shortcuts, and I want their voices and sentiments to be as genuine as possible. I want them to reflect, not only their personal aspirations, but also the tenor of the time – I want them to be accurately portrayed and I obsess over this portrayal.
What scene in One American Dream was your favorite to write?
Ruthie – the character that represents my mother – has moved with her family from working class Williamsburg, where she had had many teenage friends to middle-class Borough Park where she has none. The only value that has traveled with her is her love of books. She is an insatiable reader. My favorite scene is where she goes into the “adult” section of the library to choose a book and is ejected by the librarian. Eventually she stages a passive protest – and wins! She is permitted to read adult books as selected by the librarian. This victory presages all of the battles that she fights in her growing maturity.
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
Yes! I believe that everything always works out for the best. Sometimes, that “best” takes a long time to reveal itself, but in the end, it is there and I am able to understand the necessity of the trials and tribulations that led to it.
Bernard Beck is the author of the new book One American Dream.
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