The Story Behind the Book by Eric Joseph & Eva Ungar Grudin


Like the characters in our novel, we too were teenage sweethearts who set a wedding date when we turned fifteen. After high school we lost track of each other for decades. A couple of years ago, though, around the time of our 50th high school reunion, we exchanged emails. Three the first day. Four the second. Twenty-three the third day. By the fourth day we were writing lines like this: Eva: “There has always been a chamber in my heart reserved for you.”  Eric: “We were lost in the stars Save The Last Dancewith love.” Yeah, that’s how it happened. That fast.

Before long, as our new relationship continued, we recognized that the story might make a compelling novel. From the outset we envisioned a plot that unfolded entirely through email and texts. We wanted readers to feel as if they were eavesdropping on people caught in such an extraordinary situation. Using our own experience as a basis, we let our characters, Sarah Ross and Adam Wolf, cover the same terrain, but travel their own paths. We believed the novel needed to be more complex than the usual lost-love romance. The narrative is kept authentic because it includes the responses of those who disapprove, and seek to disrupt, the reunion.

We sometimes wonder where the confidence came from to write a debut novel at age 68. Frankly we’re not sure. Although each of us published in our own fields, neither of us had written fiction, not for quite a while. In his teens, however, Eric had been a prolific writer – short stories for the high school literary magazine, and even a novel at age 15. (Eric can’t remember what it was about – probably some cowboy shoot-’em-up in Pittsburgh.)  Just as we reached back in time to rekindle our romance, we also revived our dream of becoming novelists.

I’m not sure if, in the end, we would still be together, had it not been for the book. It bonded us. The collaboration was seamless. Exciting. We wrote together. We wrote separately. In the end we passed every word by the other and shaped the prose jointly. We took turns writing the voices of different characters – invented some out of whole cloth – and laughed at their bumbling ways. One of the benefits to us in writing the book was the ability to use our characters’ words to communicate with each other. When Sarah, for instance, grows anxious about how, at 68, she may look to Adam when they finally meet, Adam reassures Sarah/Eva that it doesn’t matter. His love can see through the mask of age.

Age, of course, is a major player in our story. On some days we feel like teenagers again, but we realize the needle is at the far right of the timeline for us. This is the dichotomy – the infirmities and obligations that accompany you into your 70s are weighed against the chance to nab vitality again. In the end, the novel has kept us young. It is not just a product of our new life, but an affirmation that new adventures can await us at any age.

About the Authors

Eric Johnson Eva UngarEric Joseph and Eva Ungar (Grudin) were teenage sweethearts in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who set a wedding date when they turned 15. The last time they saw each other they were 21 years old. Three years ago they reunited, around the time of the 50th high school reunion. Although their book is a work of fiction, it’s about a couple like them, who fall in love again, almost instantly, via email.

Eric is in public health, a consultant/educator at hospitals and clinics, concentrating his career on Native American health services across the country. Eva is an art historian who taught at Williams College in Massachusetts for 40+ years. She specialized in African and African-American art; the history of European painting: also Holocaust Studies – memorials and museums; In addition, she has performed in and written Sounding to A, a multi-media work about inheriting the Holocaust. It premiered at the Ko Festival of Performance in 2004.

Learn more about Eva and Eric and their history together by visiting hargrovepress.com – At the website you’ll find memories about their time together in the late 50s, early 60s, as well as interviews from today.

Their latest book is the literary fiction, Save The Last Dance.

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