Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Ralph Webster to my blog. Ralph is the author of a Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other, self-published in June 2016. Ralph very kindly agreed to answer my questions and I’m sure you’ll enjoy his answers….. For those who don’t know already, could you tell us […]
This past week I was featured on the Australian book blog published by Rita Lee Chapman. Since she has moved on to feature another author, here is the complete interview.
Please introduce yourself to my readers and share something about your life.
I am a first time author. As a 65 year old retired guy I never entertained the notion of writing a book. The vast portion of my working years was spent behind a computer writing software. I started an accounting software company in 1980 and was fortunate to sell it to my employees in 1997. Since then my wife and I have become active volunteers in our community. We both became Emergency Medical Technicians and drove the ambulance and fire trucks for a number of years. We have been involved in historic preservation projects, local fundraising activities and the like. My wife Ginger is a strong advocate for coastal protection. Since we live in a coastal area we have driven ATV’s in search of turtle nests. We live on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the Wright brothers flew the first airplane. No, writing a book was never part of the plan. My aptitude was always numbers – never words. Of course, I never thought I would play tennis either!
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
A Smile in One Eye is my first book and I am certain that it will be my last book. By writing the book I was able to tell the story I wanted to tell.
Last year my wife and I took an extended trip across Europe. We were mostly there to hike. Our trip took us from Croatia to Sweden and all parts in between. At the time the international news was flooded with discussions about the refugee crisis. Thousands of people were fleeing Syria and Afghanistan. Most were headed to Germany in search of employment and opportunity. The issue of immigration and how to cope with the influx of refugees was a very significant issue at the time and it remains so now.
Both of my parents were refugees. Of course, it was a much earlier time, right before WWII. During our trip, we encountered many refugees – mostly on trains and at train stations. This was the impetus for the book. I wanted to tell the story of what my father went through when he fled Germany. To be forced to leave the country where you grew up is a horrible thing. And, to arrive in a new place, with a different language, is complicated – particularly in this day and age
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
I can’t say that I really had a distinct plan. I started out by collecting old family records – passports, birth certificates, and pictures – things like that. I needed to create a timeline so I could see what I didn’t know. Actually, I knew very little. My father was a very quiet man. He did not like to talk about his past. While I knew him as a person, I really did not know the details of his journey to America.
As I started to write, for me, the most difficult thing was to connect the dots, to figure out how one event lead to another. I wrote the story through his voice and his eyes. He is the storyteller in the book. I had to learn to be him.
I did not want to put together a picture book. There are no pictures in the book – just the story. This is not a memoir. I hope it reads like an historical novel.
Would you like to give us a short excerpt from your book?
It is November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass, when synagogues throughout Germany were destroyed and thousands of Jews imprisoned.
“I had just gotten up to go out back to check on the chickens when we heard heavy footsteps on the porch. Then, there was a loud pounding on the door. It was unusual to have unexpected visitors at the farm anytime, and particularly in the evening. Father went to the door.
As long as I live, I will never forget that moment when Father opened the door. There were seven men dressed in SS uniforms. They told Father that he, Mother, and I must go with them immediately. This was an order, a command, much more than an instruction. It was clear that this was not a conversation, not a discussion. Protesting or failing to comply was out of the question. We took nothing with us. We were marched out of our house and told to get into one of their vehicles. The entire exchange, from the time they knocked on our door, took moments, hardly more than a blink of an eye.
No one said a word. In silence, we rode the few kilometers into town. These men were known to us. Two were our neighbors; others had been Father’s business customers; another had been Lotte’s boyfriend in school; one was a World War I veteran who had marched in the parade with Father only a few years before. They had once been our friends. I had played with their children.”
What is the best marketing tip you have received?
Write a genuine and sincere story. A good story will take care of itself. Think more about the reader than the writer. Encourage people to read it. If they like it they will tell others. Ask your critics to be critical.
I hope that is what is happening with this book. It is a serious and emotional story. I have tried to add humor when humor is needed. I have tried to make it compelling and uplifting. So far, so good. The reviews are positive.
How would you describe yourself?
What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
Since we live on the coast, I spend lots of time on the water. When the weather is bad, I like to take on-line courses. Tennis keeps me humble. We like to travel all over the world. We always enjoy walking and hiking – most of our travels are on foot. These days we spend a great deal of time with our grandchildren. They live about 6 hours from our home so we try to get them away from their parents and to the beach as much as we can!
If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
That’s a hard one because I always forget some place important. High on our list is a return to Tasmania. We spent a week there 20 years ago and have always wanted to return. Iceland is on the list and so is Sardinia. Hiking in Switzerland is a favorite. While we are still active, good hiking is always the draw. We have been fortunate. We have spent much of our free time during the last 30 years travelling all over the world.
If you have owned pets, do you have a funny story you would like to share with us?
For me, travelling and owning pets are not always compatible interests. So, I am not big on having a pet. That being said, there is a chapter in the book which discusses Alice and Udo, the pet parakeets. You have to read the book to find out more!
What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?
I like biographies and relatively recent history – mostly about newsworthy things. I like interesting reads.
Do you have your own website?
I do. It is www.smileinoneeye.com. I hope readers will visit it!
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
No. I think I am a one and done kind of author. I am not sure what I will do next. It may be time to buy a van and spend some time driving across America.
Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I believe my book is a great selection for book clubs and I have already been asked by several local book clubs to participate in the monthly meetings. I even have one scheduled for Chicago. They want me to participate via Skype. I hope to do more of these.
Best Holocaust Literature #3 of 56 books
Good Books Concerning the Holocaust #4 of 52 books
Biographies of Ordinary People #5 of 65 books
Best Books of July, 2016 #2 of 10 books
Consider for your Book Club – Author Available for Video Participation
Looking for a good book to read? Take a look at a Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other.
One Amazon reviewer writes…
“This book clearly defines racial persecution during the Holocaust. As you are introduced to the Wobser Family in the book, you will fall in love with them. Each member is connected by love, mutual respect, and devotion to one another. This is a family you would choose to be born into. As a result of the 3rd Reich, this affluent family is separated during this horrific time and possessions are taken. They must try and save themselves and their children for survival. Each member uniquely experiences their own tragedy and is always in the pursuit of finding each other again. Their lives will forever be changed by this persecution.”
This book is relevant and compelling!
North Carolina Outer Banks author Ralph Webster tells a stirring story of courage and endurance in his first book, A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other. Under the brutal Nazi regime, the Wobser family – Jewish by blood, Lutheran by choice – struggle to survive. The Third Reich is rising. And in Nazi Germany, they have the wrong blood. Ten percent of the net profits from his book over the next 12 months will be donated to UNHCR – the United Nations Refugee Agency.
One Goodreads reviewer writes “I read this book in two all-night binges. I could not put it down, it was so compelling. The emotional journey of the Wobser family from post-World War I Germany, through the Holocaust and beyond is gut-wrenching, touching, funny and relevant – all at the same time.”
Another writes “What a beautifully-written, touching story. I found this book deeply compelling, with themes that resonate so closely with the struggles we’re facing today. ‘A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other’ traces one family’s journey from a comfortable, privileged life to one where they are forced into becoming refugees at the onset of World War II.”
Webster became intrigued with telling his family’s journey to the United States as he and his wife hiked across mainland Europe in 2015. Often traveling by train, they saw many refugees from Syria and Afghanistan streaming across the continent in search of safety and security. They watched this crisis unfold, witnessing a silent procession of people in search of a new life. His book “A Smile in One Eye: a Tear in the Other” is an historical novel based on a true story.
Kate Lyons in the Guardian reports that the six wealthiest countries in the world host less than 9% of the world’s refugees. There is no question that this is a complicated issue for any number of reasons. I’m not about to argue who is right and who is wrong….but the question remains, what should we do? All nations must protect themselves and care for their own citizens. All the world’s people deserve the right to freedom, security, opportunity, and dignity. We must find a way to bridge the divide. History keeps on repeating.
So excited! I am pleased to announce that the Kindle version of “A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other” has been released. Softcover and ebook versions are now available worldwide. Reviews are being posted on Amazon and Goodreads. I am grateful to the critics – kind and gentle so far! Here is the link for more information.
During the fall of 2015, my wife and I took an extended trip across mainland Europe. This was a pleasure trip. We were hiking. As we went from place to place, there was something significant happening around us that we couldn’t help but notice. The refugee crisis was escalating. Thousands of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan were streaming across Europe in search of safety and security. We watched the international news broadcasts each evening as they displayed image after image and discussed the many sides of the burgeoning, and often complicated, controversial refugee situation. Throughout our trip, we met people from all over the world, and the conversation would frequently continue. There were many varied opinions, sometimes finger pointing, and even a few heated exchanges. It was and is a complicated issue.
On a few occasions, at train stations and on trains, we encountered groups of refugees trying to make their way north. Most were headed to Germany. And, in various countries, there were times we watched the police board our train and remove refugees from our midst. We never felt danger. We saw no disturbance. What we watched were people striving to communicate through the medium of different languages. We saw the stress, the toll that leaving one’s homeland takes. Every interaction we watched between police and refugees was civil and polite; we never viewed anything less, only a silent procession of people in search of a new life. We saw mothers, fathers, children, and groups of young men. There was no avoiding this. It was in our face, in front of our eyes.
I am the son of a refugee family. Watching this crisis unfold gave me reason to consider my family’s journey to the United States and to telling this story. In doing so, I have learned much that I did not know about this issue and my family. I sympathize with the simple truth that today’s refugees become tomorrow’s aliens and recognize that can be a complicated topic too. Of late, there has been much political discourse about refugees: where they should go, who should take them, the danger they could bring to our way of life. Many believe that refugees and aliens may be wolves hidden in sheep’s clothing. As with anything, I suppose there is truth in everything.
Common sense dictates that nations must concern themselves with their own internal security. Who would argue against that? It is a critical issue in today’s unsettled world that we must all care about. But it also is not unreasonable to suppose that some might overreact and generalize in their response. Like most complex issues, usually the best answer is not as simple as it may first appear.
My book makes no claim as to who is right and who is wrong. That’s not the point. As some would say, I have no dog in that hunt. I would only offer that most refugees, are people like you and me, except for that one single difference. They were forced to leave the land of their fathers and mothers, and for most, this was through no fault of their own. Many had created successful lives and have raised incredible families. Now they hope to live with freedom, dignity, security, and opportunity. They have made sacrifices. They have traveled far. Most ask only for a hand up and not for a handout. Most, given the chance, offer more than they would ever take. I have compassion for these people.
Available next month! This is the true story of a prosperous, proud, and patriotic German family living in a small town in East Prussia. Baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church, suddenly they were told they were Jewish, a distinction that made a life threatening difference. It was no longer a matter of faith or religion; their lives were to be defined by race. It was a matter of bloodlines. And, in Nazi Germany, they had the wrong blood.