An Interview
By June & Jessie Chandler

© 2007 by Lori L. Lake

June & Jessie Chandler: What precipitated your interest in the Roma during WWII and before?

Lori: In 2002, I had a dream about an elderly Gypsy woman who wanted to tell me a story about WWII. I couldn't figure out where this voice was coming from because I can't recall ever knowing a Roma person in my life. But I kept dreaming about her, so I did some research online to find out more about Gypsies in WWII, which led me to learn that the European Roma were all but murdered out of existence. That interested me, so I started to read books that talked about this, and a picture of the world Mischka lived in came into focus.

I'd had experience before with various characters coming to me in dreams, and I've learned that those characters are somehow important, so I've definitely paid attention. In fact, the mystery series I've begun is led by a woman character, Leona, who came to me a dream.

J&JC: How did you come up with names for your characters?

Lori: Mischka's name was part of my dream . . . but the other names revealed themselves as I researched. I found websites and information in books, and various names seemed to fit. I had a very strong sense of who Emil was, by the way, and again, I'm not so sure where that came from. He just seemed to be an Emil. Same with Pippi. I named her Pauline, but very quickly Emil was calling her Pippi, so she just ended up with that nickname.

J&JC: How did you learn about conditions in a concentration camp? Have you visited one? Mom (June) witnessed one, and it was life changing for her.

Lori: Since I was a kid, of course I've seen movies and photos and read descriptions of the camps. I've talked to people who were in the camps, too. My mother was married for a time to a Dutch-Indonesian man who was a survivor of Auschwitz. The wife of a guy I worked with many years ago lived from age 5 to 8 in a labor camp with her mother. I've been to the Holocaust Museum twice. I've never been to Europe (though I would sure like to visit there someday). I also remember clearly the descriptions my partner's uncle gave of a camp he liberated. Uncle Roy was part of the military ground forces who fought in eastern Germany. One of the most exciting things he said he ever did (exciting in a GOOD way) was shoot the chains off the front gate of a camp. Then he and his troop went in and started the process of feeding and hydrating some two hundred raggedy scarecrow men who were half-dead from hunger and lack of water. He said he'd never in his life felt like a god before, but those men were so grateful to see the American troops. They touched him reverently, and though he didn't speak a word of German, he felt like he knew just what they were saying to him in thanks.

J&JC: Mom loved the way you so gently introduced the girls getting together and then carried on the transitions throughout their relationship. It was never overblown. Throughout the book Mom developed a great caring/empathy for the girls and felt you did a remarkable job throughout. (I guess this wasn't a question so much as a comment from her).

Lori: I've had a couple of people ask me why I didn't just make Mischka and Pippi good friends and then shop this book to a NY press. From the beginning, I felt that Mischka was not the marrying type of gal. From her earliest childhood, she was a tomboy, and she never wanted to be involved with men --- but in the 1930s/40s, how was she supposed to describe her feelings or live a life that would be that far outside the family and community traditions? The Roma were an extremely patriarchal society. The men ruled all. Women weren't treated very well. Mischka was a woman ahead of her time, and there was no place for her. If she couldn't/wouldn't go along with the rules, she would have been shunned, and though she had tremendous skills and ingenuity, she hadn't been brought up to believe that she could survive on her own. (Of course, her life experiences eventually showed her that was not so.)

To be honest, I am (and was) aware that I invested Mischka with the same problem within her family/community that I myself had while growing up. Despite the fact that I was raised in a strict Catholic environment which was completely opposed to homosexuality, I was born the way I am - just as Mischka was born the way she was. What does a woman do when her interests and yearnings simply are not accepted by those around her and all must be secret or completely unacknowledged?

So I wanted to show that Mischka - just like many woman in the 1950s and onward - finally managed to find a place of comfort and love. But also, that was only PART of her journey.

J&JC: How did you come up with the moon idea? It was compelling and fascinating.

Lori: The Roma really do/did measure time by the moons. They were definitely an agrarian bunch, and though many of them learned to read, they didn't bother much with a calendar. The moon and the changes of seasons guided their travels. When I hit upon the idea that I was going to start the story in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, I realized that that was Snow Moon . . . and I had also already determined that Mischka was born then. She was captured in November as well. November just seemed to poke its nose into too many angles of the book, so I named the book Snow Moon Rising and crafted it around that theme.

J&JC: Another comment...the clan held no ill feelings toward Pippi's son. When Mom was in Guam teaching for a year, there were a number of illegitimate kids from GI/locals, and the kids were really looked down upon. She loved the way you handled the situation in the story.

Lori: The thing is, by the time the ragtag bunch led by Mikhail and Emil made it to Miskolc in Hungary, they were no longer the clan at all -- just one bit of an extended family that was made up of Romas and half-blooded European/Romas. The Roma traditions were broken, their way of life shattered. And at that point, there was only one thing left for them to do, and that was to emigrate to a new land where they could build something new.

But also, the Roma had a history of taking in outsiders, of picking up "strays," so they weren't so concerned about that issue.

I didn't go into their lives much once they got to NYC, but obviously they settled in one place and no longer traveled anymore. The women worked outside the home, the men no longer had as much power as they'd had in Poland (as evidenced by the fact that when Mischka decides to find her own quarters, nobody stops her). Emil's influence on the men would also have been sizable. In some ways, he was a modern man willing to look at things a little more broadly than the Gallo men. And he and Mikhail, Gyorgy, and Stevo had lost so much! Wives, children, friends, animals, their vardos, almost all their possessions... I think when something so dreadful, so traumatic, happens and completely upends people's lives, they can often end up being somewhat open to change in other parts of their lives because the thought of going back to what they used to have isn't something that seems realistic or possible. A lot of the significant women in their lives - along with some of the kids - are dead. Their families are decimated. Their clan is gone. They have much to mourn, and if there's anything I know for sure, it's that grief can crack people open in ways that they'd never expect.

So the Gallos and Pippi and her mother and son didn't have many problems with one another. So few of the kumpania had survived, and they were just thankful to be able to re-create some semblance of clan and family --- even if it was never going to be the same as in the past.

J&JC: A last comment from Mom...she remembers when the war was over seeing pictures of the ovens and charred bones in the papers. She was a kid but lived that history. She felt greatly connected to the story and really felt what was going on at each step, especially the WWII stuff because she lived through it.

Lori: Here we are 60+ years after the end of the war, and it STILL has a huge affect on people. The brutality, the hopelessness, and the utter futility of Hitler's bloodthirsty quest for power remains a frightening specter even today. You'd think the world would have learned a lesson, but we've still got terrible things going on all over the world. Wars of aggression, in my mind, are wrong, and here the US is, right in the middle of one.

Unfortunately, despite all the recorded history, people still haven't learned how to solve problems without murder and bloodshed. I find that to be a very sobering thought. I also think about the fact that it's really only been the last hundred years (and certainly not all over the world) that any person could feel a real sense of security. (Of course, now the cult of the suicide bomber has thrown that out the window.) But there was a brief period of time in America where if one just worked hard enough, most people could have a good life, free from poverty, and definitely free from military interference. Other countries aren't so lucky. We really live in relative peace here in Minnesota. Yes, there's crime, but you don't see armed guardsmen and military troops wandering the streets and picking off people at will.

Anyway, I feel connected to the struggles that ordinary people go through when things outside their control are interjected into their lives. Actually, that's the heart of good fiction --- as I keep saying, "Terrible Troubles!"

Clearly, Mischka and Pippi and Emil had more than their share of Terrible Troubles, and somehow, some way, their story came to bloom in my mind. I'm not sure where exactly it came from, but there you have it.

J&JC: Thanks for talking with us about this great book, Lori!

Lori: My pleasure! Thanks for all the great questions.

© 2007, Lori L. Lake