Welcome literary fiction writer and fellow She Writes Press author, J. Dylan Yates, as my FEBRUARY “Author Spotlight.” I met Dylan with the rest of the Spring 2014 SWP authors almost a year ago as our group of authors prepared for our debut launches. I was especially intrigued by Dylan’s book when I saw her cover, and the fact that it had something to do with angels (Hey, we know angels are my thing!). I’ve been slowly but surely chewing my way through my TBR pile, and Dylan’s book finally came up. One of the interesting things about our author group is that I’m the only paranormal genre fiction writer among us, and as a result I’m reading books that I would’ve never normally purchased. Everyone that know me, knows I’m not a big non-fiction or literary fiction reader, but holy mackerel, I would have missed some really great books if I hadn’t met these fine women.
So, besides my rave review down below, here is some of the praise for THE BELIEF IN Angels:
THE BELIEF IN Angels is a 2014 USA BEST BOOK AWARD Winner. Prior to publication, THE BELIEF IN Angels won the Alexis Masters Scholarship for Spiritual Writing at the February 2012 San Francisco Writers Conference as well as a Los Angeles Book Festival Award.
“Dylan Yates' novel,The Belief in Angels,is an auspicious debut. The characters are well-developed, and their lives progress so realistically that the book reads like a memoir rather than a work of fiction. The Belief in Angels is beautifully written.”
– Reviewed by Marsha Kaplan for THE JEWISH VOICE AND OPINION
“The Belief in Angels by J. Dylan Yates is one of the most haunting stories I have read in a very long time and I think it is going to stay with me for a long time now. The way that the story goes back and forth from Jules to her grandfather is seamless. You can tell that a great deal of research has gone into every aspect of this book and the writing just seems to flow together. I felt invested in this story and truly felt a connection with the characters. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a solid, enjoyable but emotional read.” – Reviewed by Kathyrn Bennett for Readers' Favorite
Did that excite you? I hope so. Without further delay, let’s get started. Welcome, Dylan!
The book seemed semi-autobiographical. Are the experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I'm thrilled when I hear that readers want to know if the story is real. It should feel that way for the story to resonate. While I definitely mined the beauty of the little New England town I grew up in, the story is not mine. Jules is a synthesis of the lives I was involved with for as a C.A.S.A. back in Boulder, CO. The kids I was assigned had heartbreaking stories. In some cases, the stories were so horrendous that when I originally presented the manuscript to my writing group, the feedback was pure disbelief. I was instructed to tone down the reality. As a result, I can't present this piece as a true story in any fashion, for many reasons.
Samuel's story was written in reaction to my own lack of information regarding my maternal grandparents. My mother was adopted and my grandfather refused to tell her who her real parents were and never spoke about the family he left behind in the Ukraine. His personality is similar to my own grandfather but the only characters in the story that resemble people in my own life are David, (who is truly like my own brother) and Ms.Westerfield, who was one of those adults that made a difference in the lives of many kids. Sadly, she passed away before the book was published. I think she's one of my angels.
Where did you get the inspiration and message for the Book?
I would love for the reader to draw their own messages. I'm fascinated and encouraged by the takeaway readers share with me.
There were many reasons for writing this particular book but, probably because the novel was written over several years, the reasons shifted as my life experience led me to new realizations. I've shared in other posts that head injury was the single biggest contribution to my happiness. I believe it helped me finish this story and also shaped the ending to TBIA since I wrote most of the last chapters after my injury with the help of Dragon Dictation.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The hardest parts of the book to write were the dissociative experiences Jules and her grandfather Szaja describe. It felt important to relate this in the most honest way possible. As a result, I interviewed several people, watched online video, YouTube, documentaries, movies and did a lot of research on PTSD and Dissociative behavior. It was terrifyingly intriguing.
What are your favorite top five books of all time?
Favorite books of all time include: The God of Small Things- Arundhati Roy, The Unbearable Lightness of Being- Milan Kundera, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close- Jonathan Safran Foer, White Oleander- Janet Fitch, Tipping The Velvet- Sarah Waters, Are You There God, It's Me Margaret- Judy Blume, The Sun Also Rises- Hemingway and Brave New World- Aldous Huxley. My seventh grade social studies teacher gave me the BNW to read and it changed my life forever. The social satire and irony in the book were perfect to read as a teenager. It was the first book I felt related to the world in the same way I found myself thinking and it helps me remember why dystopian novels are particularly fascinating to teenagers.
What is your best marketing tip?
Do your research! Ask questions! Have authors had success with the avenues you are considering?
What are you working on now?
The YA version of THE BELIEF IN Angels and the audiobook version of the original.
I hear you are pursuing a film option. Is that true?
I am. I have the entire book plotted out in screenplay beatsheets. Two movies came out of the book. First, Jules' story, and then Szaja's story. We'll see what happens.
Do you have any favorite conferences to recommend?
I thought the San Francisco Writers Conference was spectacular!
Thank you, again, Dylan! It was great chatting with you. Looking forward to your next book!
THE BELIEF IN ANGELS REVIEW
Growing up in her parents’ crazy hippie household on a tiny island off the coast of Boston, Jules’s imaginative sense of humor is the weapon she wields to dodge household chaos. But somewhere between routine discipline with horsewhips, gun-waving gambling debt collectors, and LSD-laced breakfast cereal adventures, tragedy strikes with the death of her younger brother—a blow from which Jules may never fully recover.
Jules’ story alternates with that of her Grandfather Samuel, a man with a sad story of his own. Samuel, once called Szaja, is an orthodox Jew who lived through the murderous Ukranian pogroms of the 1920s and the Majdanek Death Camp—but whose survival came at a price that’s haunted him for years.
A literary coming of age novel, The Belief in Angels is a finely crafted story uniquely told through the eyes of Jules as she ages from 6 to 18, and her grandfather Samuel / Sjaza. A middle child and the only girl, Jules has a strong and likable voice that takes us through the narrative of her journey growing up on Cape Cod with abusive and narcissistic parents starting in the late 1960s. Forced into an early adulthood, she is the caretaker of her two brothers—and sometimes her parents. We root for her every step of the way as she navigates her way through an unstable home life trying to find friends and some semblance of a normal life. Above all, we hold on living each day with her, counting the moments until she is old enough to escape.
Samuel story takes us from a small village near the Teteriv River in the UKraine during the 1920s where family members are butchered before his eyes by the Russians, through the atrocities of the Holocaust, his escape to Turkey, and later his journey to reunite with his remaining family in America. He exists on the fringe of truly living, shaped by his pain and the guilt of all he’s seen and was powerless to stop. He lives by the mantra instilled in him by his father: survive.
Layered in among both stories is the belief in angels, and their influence at pivotal points in both of their lives.
Both stories are iconic, highly textured and deeply moving. So much so that they had me wondering how much truth was buried inside the pages. Kudos to Ms. Yates for her brilliantly rendered tale.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
THE BELIEF IN Angels, Dylan's debut novel, was written over the course of many years while she attempted a number of BFA-related jobs, including: waitressing, teaching, corporate training, real estate, nursing, interior design, directing, acting, producing, library science parenting and reluctant housewifery. Dylan volunteered with Boulder County's Voices for Children program as a CASA for 15 years and now volunteers with the Girls Rising program as a mentor.
Dylan's next novel, SZAJA'S STORY, focused on the character created in THE BELIEF IN Angels, invites the reader back to the Ukranian orchards of Szaja Trautman's tragic childhood, tracing his ultimate journey to America via the desperate Ukranian refugee work camps of the '20s, his amazing survival of both the Majdanek death camp and the torpedoing of refugees aboard the Mefkura, and his fascinating experiences in the post-war Parisian couture houses.
For speaking engagements and book clubs: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay in touch via her webpage: www.jdylanyates.com