Escape Route is set in New York City during the tumultuous late 1960s. The story is told by teenager Zach, a first-generation son of Holocaust survivors and NY Mets fan, who becomes obsessed with the Vietnam War and with finding an escape route for his family for when he believes the US will round up and incarcerate its Jews. Zach meets Samm, a seventh-generation Manhattanite whose brother has returned from Vietnam with PTSD. Together they explore protest, friendship, music, faith, and love during a time littered with hope and upheaval around the globe.
I first read Elan’s writing in the Running Wild Anthology of Stories, Vol. 2. His short story about these same characters, “Just Be,” was moving and memorable; it was based on a section of Escape Route. I’m so pleased the full story has now been told and can be read.
Here is an early review:
“Elan Barnehama has given us a powerful coming of age story set against the tumult of the 1960s, the War in Vietnam, and the power of memory and Jewish identity in a family of Holocaust survivors. This is a beautifully rendered novel, populated by unforgettable characters in an unforgettable time. Barnehama is a literary craftsman at the top of his game. Superb.” — Frye Gaillard, author of A Hard Rain: America in the 1960s, an NPR Great Read 2018
From Ashes to Song by Hilary Hauck is a gentle, yearning love story about a young composer, Pietro, who loses what he loves most in Italy, and comes to America for a new start. On the voyage over, he meets Assunta, whose warm heart and beautiful voice touch him, though she is married to another man. Never letting his feelings show, from a chaste distance Pietro is inspired by Assunta, even as he works in the depths of the Pennsylvania coal mines.
Pietro and Assunta both endure grievous losses, but these losses are told gently, subtly, and nonetheless poignantly. What was most vivid to me in this story is how Pietro finds music in everything: in the grapevines of his old-world home, in the voice of Assunta, in the ring of hammers and picks in the darkness of the mines. That music blossoms even amidst the coal dust of the mining towns, just as Pietro and Assunta’s love blossoms and comes to bear fruit in the fullness of time.
Hilary Hauck’s writing is delicate and elegantly understated; she brings the true story that inspired her novel to life. On her website, I was quite happy to find photos of the actual people who inspired her characters; it was very gratifying to see their faces, and they look a lot like I imagined them. You can also read the story about the beautiful cover art.
I recommend From Ashes to Song, especially for readers who enjoy literary fiction, particularly with a taste of history, and for musicians and other lovers of music.
Even more importantly, Amelia’s book Legendary is a story where kindness, love, and courage shine light through a time of fear and uncertainty. I loved it, and it’s a good book to read in these uncertain times.
It took a series of unexpected events to bring this novel to life. This is the story of my story.
I love to cruise writing websites to look for contests and calls for submissions, as many of us probably do. I saw a call for submissions for an LGBT romance anthology called Heart of Steel. The submission guidelines requested an LGBT romance featuring knights. As a lover of fantasy and someone who understands the importance of representation, I was ecstatic to write something for the anthology, and read the stories others had written.
I wanted to write something different, something unexpected. How could I include a knight without setting my story in medieval Europe or some kind of Lord of the Rings rip-off fantasy setting? The idea came to me that a character in the story might not be a literal knight, but could have a heart of steel regardless. What if someone in modern times found a suit of armor and put it on?
I thought about the kind of story that I needed to read as a young person. A story with LGBT protagonists who were realistic, not stereotypes. A story with a same-sex romance that ended happily. So happily it was cheesy, like a fairy tale. A legendary ending. Because LGBT characters deserve the chance to have such an ending, and readers need it in their minds and hearts as well, especially those struggling with their sexuality and how their families and society might react.
So, I wrote a story about two outcasts who find each other, and the legendary love that blossoms. James and Arthur are bullied by their peers for different reasons, and this cruelty increases tenfold when they are sent out of London with their classmates to avoid the Nazi Blitz. Arthur, empowered by the legends of King Arthur Pendragon, finds the courage to don the armor and stand up for James.
Authors often love the things they write, their darlings, I suppose — but there was something about this story that gripped me and wouldn’t let go. I rarely cry, but I cried as I wrote the ending, and simply talking about the story would get me emotional. Imagine how I felt when the story was rejected by the anthology.
I continued to submit it, even though it was an awkward length and a niche genre. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Then, I heard about Running Wild Press’santhology of stories. Expecting a rejection, I sent them my story “Idylls of the King.” When it was accepted, I cried again. At last, James and Arthur’s story could reach readers.
I thought my heart would explode right out of my chest when, one day, I got an email from Lisa Kaestner, editor of Running Wild. She said, simply, that she’d like to see a novel based on the characters I created in “Idylls of the King.” I worked closely with her to develop an outline that she felt would produce a book that Running Wild would be interested in publishing. I brought readers forward in time to James and Arthur as young men in 1950s London as they struggled with prejudice and rough patches in their relationship as they travel cross country to solve the mystery of a close friend’s dying words. I included the original short story as a flashback. Three drafts and two beta readers later, I had a manuscript for Running Wild’s Benjamin White to edit. Long story short, my book was published in November of 2019.
I wanted to share my journey for a couple of reasons. First, if you are a writer, don’t give up after a few rejections. Often, you’ll hear stories about famous writers being rejected multiple times until finding success. Yet, there’s always some part of me when I read those stories that doesn’t believe them. But I’m here to tell you as a real person that you shouldn’t give up. Keep submitting! Keep querying!
Secondly, if you truly believe in representation in fiction for a marginalized community, it’s your duty to keep submitting until someone says yes. We need these stories in the hands of readers who come from these groups, especially young readers. Write the book that you needed in the past. You never know what kind of impact you may have on someone’s life.
Meanwhile, I’ve been hard at work on my fantasy novel. If you look deeply into my author photo, you can catch a peek at early lines from my first draft.
All right, honestly, I haven’t been writing it with quill and ink, but I do write the first drafts longhand. I like the ease and physical contact of writing with pen and paper.
During this year, Running Wild Press has been busy with many awesome projects – just check out their twitter. Among their latest offerings are writing courses.
From RWP: we’re launching a fully online creative writing program.
Want to join a supportive, online writing community for feedback and encouragement? Take a Running Wild Press writing course.
These fully online courses will be taught in 4 to 8-week formats entirely online by experienced instructors from higher education institutions from around the country.
Three of these courses will be taught by my anthology colleagues Elan Barnehama, Nick Mazzuca, and Amelia Kibbie. I heartily vouch for their writing abilities, because their stories are honestly some of my favorites. Check out my interviewswiththem for more about them and their stories.
A fourth course will be taught by Dr. Lisa Montagne. I’m not acquainted Lisa, but if you’re interested in reading and writing poetry, have a look! You can check out all the courses here.
As for me, check back soon for more interviews with new authors, and of course I’ll keep you posted with any news!
To close this chapter of interviews with my Running Wild Anthology colleagues, I’m very pleased to feature Amelia Kibbie. Her story, “Idylls of the King,” moved and enchanted me.
Is there a part of the Anthology’s cover collage that reminds you of your story?
The image that I think reflects my story the best is on the far left. It looks like a person with dark pants standing with their hand open but facing back, perhaps to take someone else’s hand. The figure is wearing a black glove. It reminds me of “Idylls of the King” because the picture does look historical, and my piece is a LGBT WWII romance, and it could also represent James reaching back to take Arthur’s hand so they can stand together.
Would you add anything to the cover to hint at your story?
A sword. In the story, Arthur is given a sword that represents the mythical Excalibur, and it inspires him to reach his full potential and be true to himself in declaring his love for James.
What do you like best to write?
That’s funny, because honestly I would have to say horror and fantasy, which is a pretty far cry from “Idylls.” But to be real, I love to write pretty much everything if I’m invested in the plot and characters.
What’s the biggest stretch for you to write?
I don’t typically write things I don’t like to write, but if someone paid me to write a traditional hetero romance where the proper girl falls for the bad boy, or a Twilight style scenario where the guy’s actually a stalker with no boundaries and the girl defines her existence based on her relationship, I would have a really hard time writing that. But, if you’re offering me money, I’d make it work.
Where do your stories fall on the plot-driven vs. character-driven spectrum?
I’d like to think they’re equal. Typically I come up with the plot idea, and then develop the characters after that. When it’s brewing in my mind they tend to develop relatively simultaneously.
What authors did you love most as a kid? Now? What authors have influenced your writing most?
As a younger kid, I was way into Patricia C. Wrede, Betty Wren Wright, and Brian Jacques. My teen years focused on Stephen King and Anne Rice. In college, I got into Chuck Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis. Now I read anything and everything I can get my hands on and I’m not all that particular. I learn something from everything I read. I’d have to say my current favorite author is Hillary Mantel.
Is there a place that you’ve lived (or visited) that most influences your writing?
I’m from Iowa, so there are a lot of Midwestern culture and themes in my work. However, I’ve done a lot of traveling, and visited France and New Orleans several times. I’ve been to England, and did quite a few historical tours of WWII sites, which helped in the writing of “Idylls of the King” and the follow up novel, Legendary.
What’s the first piece you wrote that you’re still proud of/happy with?
The first place I was really published was on the website BigWorldNetwork.com. They publish stories in installments as serial fiction. I have a fantasy novel there called Harvest of Ash. The first two seasons are available on the site. I have the third season written, but the new managers of the site don’t want to see anything until the series has concluded. I still have to write Season 4. When I turned 30, I decided that it was now or never to accomplish my dream of being a writer. When I was 31 I had my daughter, and I used her nap time during my maternity leave to write Harvest of Ash. I love that book and I hope to finish it someday. It’s a gritty retelling of Cinderella with echoes of Game of Thrones.
What have you been up to since the Anthology came out? Any other news?
I have written a follow-up novel to “Idylls of the King” called Legendary. It takes place about ten years after the short story, though the short story is included in the narrative as a flashback. The plot revolves around James and Arthur as they journey to find someone given up for lost many years ago. On the way they grapple with society’s judgmental treatment of gay people, and some rocky aspects of their own relationship.
What do you plan to work on next?
Man, I have a to-do list! I need to finish Harvest of Ash, as well as a story I have on Wattpad that some of the students I work with are reading. I tell them if they get their homework done and pass their classes, I will write another chapter. I owe them a chapter right now! I’m also working with a filmmaker on a screen play about the Holocaust.