It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Malve von Hassell, author of The Amber Crane.
About Malve von Hassell:
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has published two children’s picture books, Tooth Fairy (Amazon KDP 2012/2020), and Turtle Crossing (Amazon KDP 2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945, as well as a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany, Tapestry of My Mother’s Life: Stories, Fragments, and Silences (Next Chapter Publishing, 2021), and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy. Visit her website at https://www.malvevonhassel.com to learn more about her work.
Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered.
Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army.
Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?
Author Interview with Malve von Hassell:
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- What is the first book that made you cry?
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I read this novel when I was about 12. For months on end, I was haunted by scenes of Zhivago stumbling through a war-torn winter landscape, his feet wrapped in rags, and icicles dropping off his beard. Scenes that made me cry—too many to relate here.
- Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I don’t set out consciously to be original. The books I have written to date revolve around themes and topics I feel strongly about—whether that is the portrayal of a particular historical character, a historical period I find fascinating, or a piece of history with intensely personal relevance. I have published several young adult historical fiction novels. Sadly I suspect that these hardly fall under the category of “what readers want.” Meanwhile, I believe that while this is certainly not a popular genre, it is one that is very necessary. You need to learn about history in order to be able to move forward. And a lot of history makes for truly great stories if you can just move beyond the barriers of the unfamiliar and start reading.
- What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Years of Nazi rule had a profound impact on the German language and lent this facility for double-speak or ambiguity an additional layer of complexity. Victor Klemperer, a renowned scholar and writer, described how the Nazi era had perverted the impact of formerly innocuous words like mother, father, loyalty, truth, honor, faith, home, country, and countless others to the point that those who had lived through those years would always stumble over them, unable to shake the unwanted association like a bitter taste on the tongue or a stench one can’t forget. For people of my parents’ generation as well as the next one, the very act of speaking was filled with emotional minefields. My father recommended Klemperer’s book to me. “There is nothing the Nazis haven’t managed to stain,” he said with an expression of helpless despondency.
My mother reacted reflexively when confronted with particular terms. The word “Mother’s Day” is a case in point. When I was about three years old, a nanny helped me to collect wildflowers and told me I should present the bouquet to my mother for Mother’s Day. I don’t remember what my mother said at the time. Her rejection must have been more than explicit. I never dared to do that again; however, it wasn’t until much later that I began to understand why. The Nazis certainly didn’t invent Mother’s Day. In one form or another, it had already existed as a venerable tradition in many countries. However, during the 1930s, this day became indelibly linked with notions of women bearing children for their Führer. It was declared a national holiday, and women were awarded medals for bearing children. To this day, the very word makes me uncomfortable.
- If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
I never made a living as a writer. On the other hand, writing was always a part of my life and work. That is, I started out as an academic and wrote several books based on my research. Later I became a translator and made a career of that; as a translator one writes, always careful to stay true to the original text. When I began to write fiction, I continued to make a living as a translator. My recommendation to anyone setting out to become a writer is to keep your day job. That security helps to free you up to concentrate on writing without feeling that one has to sell it.
- What is your favorite childhood book?
My favorite book was a German classic by Tamara Ramsay, a woman of German, Ukrainian, and Scottish descent. She wrote an unforgettable tale of a girl who through a series of events is able to understand the language of animals and simultaneously to time travel. Thus, she journeys through the land in which she was born in the company of animals, while also learning about the history of her own country and region in the eastern portion of Germany. The author managed to weave real history into the story, with an emphasis on local elements and tangible evidence of historical events. I loved this book so much for its moving story and magical tales that I translated it as an adult and published it under the title Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012).
- Do you have a favorite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special.
My favorite character in The Amber Crane is Master Nowak, a master in the amber guild in Pomerania. He is not the main character in the book, but he plays an important role. He lived through the worst years of the Thirty Years War, lost several of his children to the war, and experienced the heartbreaking and relentless destruction of his homeland over several decades. Yet, he remains positive, calm, wise, and compassionate with the people around him, especially with his apprentices, always trying to teach them what is truly important in life.
- Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
Where can readers find out more about you and your books? I have a website with a historical fiction blog “Tales through Time.” I welcome questions and comments.
- Have any of your books been made into audiobooks? If so, what are the challenges in producing an audiobook?
One of my books, Alina: A Song for the Telling, has been made into an audiobook. The voice is that of Penny Scott-Andrews who did a marvelous job. The publisher had decided to do this. I had no control over it at all, but am very grateful for how it turned out.
- Which of your books were the most enjoyable to write?
So far, I have loved writing every one of my books. Admittedly, I am always happy once I have a first rough draft in hand. The editing process is enormously satisfying. When writing The Amber Crane, I loved drawing the details of a region and a history that I know from a personal perspective. It lends an emotional punch to the work that I had not expected when I first started it.
- Do you have any new series planned?
I have begun to work on a trilogy framed around Adela of Normandy, the daughter of William the Conqueror and the mother of two kings of England.
To learn more about Malve von Hassell, here’s where you can find her:
- Website: www.malvevonhassell.com
- Twitter: twitter.com/MvonHassell
- Facebook: facebook.com/malvevonhassellauthor/
- Email: email@example.com
- Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/malve-von-hassell-02b61517/