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
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
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
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
Lori: My pleasure! Thanks for all the great questions.
© 2007, Lori L. Lake