It’s a great deal warmer here in Southern California than it was last weekend. Because of the weather I took dog lover and writer, Christoph Fischer, for an outing to Corona del Mar beach to enjoy a spectacular view of the ocean where we could enjoy the scenery and talk about his book, The Luck of the Weissensteiners.
I’m curious. What made you want to tackle the anti-semitic politics of the 1930s? I mean, it’s fascinating but did you ever think twice about approaching that particular subject? And how long did it take you to pen The Luck of the Weissensteiners?
I was interested in the history of Czechoslovakia because my father came to Germany from there in 1945. Learning about the history led to the Jewish question. I felt that the subject had already been done enough until I found so many small eye-witness reports about the particulars in Slovakia that I realized that there were still many angles and personal misfortunes to tell.
It took me three months to write the story with a few minor re-writes. I spent six weeks prior to that reading books set in the period and history books.
I love reading history. The eye-witness reports would have fascinated me which was probably the reason I was so drawn to all your characters. Since it’s the first book of The Three Nations Trilogy, I have to ask, how challenging is it to write a trilogy with such massive amounts of research?
The research was interesting, mainly because of the family connection at first. I always wanted to know so the questions came naturally. I never felt it was a chore, I wondered too much myself how life would be like under those circumstances and just wanted to know more, so it was never hard work but felt more like a hobby. While I was writing I kept re-checking every single data, just to be sure. I was very scared that I would get something wrong and kept reading books about the period long after I had finished writing, just to ensure there would be no embarrassing moments when the book was out there. For once my punishing perfectionism paid off.
The second part of my trilogy, Sebastian, was a little easier to research but again my curiosity was the leading factor to get started in the first place. It takes place in Vienna in the 1910s and the storyline is much less complicated.
Even though I realize the statement you were making with Wilhelm’s character, you really made him such a weak man. I so wanted him to think for himself, appreciate what he had in Greta and his children. Were you ever tempted to make him less of a jerk?
He started off as a nice guy in my head and I meant for him to fall victim to outer circumstances but then he became a workaholic and like in real life one thing led to another. As with all of my characters I try to give them excuses and there are some for Wilhelm – his grief and his insecurities – but I couldn’t make myself give him too many redeeming circumstances. It is the way I write, my characters take on a life of their own and what I plan for them often never happens.
Who influenced you the most to take that fire in the belly and become a writer? A teacher, another author, a parent?
This will sound very odd but I was foretold by a tarot card reader I would write and it was her persistence that made me try and realize that I could do it. Long before then I used to write for the school newspaper, little funny stories. One of my teachers, incidentally my German literature teacher at the time, Alois Pfaller, encouraged me and whenever I doubted myself while writing The Weissensteiners I could hear his words spurning me on. I worked in a library and a colleague who organized author readings there, Madlon Kopfler, she also encouraged me; and the team at my local bookshop in Bath. All of them are mentioned in the acknowledgments in my book.
A tarot card reader? How unique! Maybe I should try that, see what she/he says. Did you always have the confidence to put your work out there for the public, or did it build slowly over time?
That confidence came and went many times. Once I had written more than 100 pages and could read it without worry I began to entertain the idea of publishing. I was so excited about being able to write a book and getting it published at all that I never thought enough beyond that moment. Only when the first people bought it did I start worrying about the reception. I still wait for the first reviewer to tell me that I am a terrible writer.
Oh Christoph, we will not encourage the naysayers, not today. What did you do before you became a writer? And how were you able to suppress that urge to write before you discovered an outlet?
I didn’t have a creative outlet like this before I started writing. I read much more than I am able to do now. I walked my dogs and led a pretty quiet life. I trained to become a Reiki master and was actually writing the manual for a course I was going to give when the idea for The Weissensteiners came to my mind.
Do you pay attention to negative reviews or criticism at all?
Yes, of course I do. If the criticism is not written with hate or intended to hurt me then I certainly welcome constructive criticism. I think it is a great opportunity to learn and to improve. It takes guts to be honest and that needs to be honored. Someone has just spent several hours paying attention to your story, if they did not like it the least I can do is listen to what they say. You cannot please everyone so there will always be readers who are disappointed with what you write, but some of what these people say might be true and could be a real help.
I’m so glad writers realize they can’t possibly please everyone. So on the flip side of that, how do you handle praise when people gush over your work?
I love it, I often worry that it is not genuine and people are just being kind. Mainly it is a great relief when I feel that someone else has taken the time to read the book and has enjoyed it. I also like it when people read and like my book recommendations. It is great to share a story and moving if the story is the one you wrote. It is very interesting to see what it is that people liked about it, too.
Are you ever tempted to write outside the genre you’re best known for?
Yes. I have written six other novels already. They are in various stages of editing or still in draft versions. I needed to take a step away from historical fiction ever so often and in those moments I wrote contemporary fiction. One book is about Alzheimers, one is set in Africa and one about mental health. I guess if it is boring for me to write the same thing all the time it might be boring to read nothing but historical fiction.
What kind of environment do you prefer around you when you write? Complete solitude or a bit of static noise in the background? Does that include listening to music?
I prefer total silence and I write usually in a room overlooking the garden with as little distractions as possible. Music would be a distraction too. Although I never have experienced serious writers block I continuously worry to lose the thread or an idea. Writing at home however brings lots of distractions.
Total silence? What is this total silence of which you speak? It does exist then? Good to know. I plan on putting that on my wish list. What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t at the laptop writing?
I love reading, fiction and non-fiction – usually history, philosophy or psychology, I love films, walking the dogs, exercise, jigsaw puzzles, Tai Chi ad Chi-Gung. Needless to say, there is never enough time in the day for most of this.
There’s never enough time for what we love doing, is there? Do you need to listen to music in order to set the mood for a scene while you’re creating it?
I read a lot about the times, novels by other authors, to get me into the setting of my novels. Music is a distraction and it has little to do with my writing. What does happen however is that a tune will come to my mind during the day and the theme of that song gives me an idea of how to develop the story or write a scene in my current project. So music does have a place in my writing life.
What is your own favorite character or storyline in your work that you love more than anyone else’s, more than any other author you’ve ever read that’s all yours?
I loved Jonah, he seemed such a gentle father figure. He had all of the wit and irony of my own father and was a kind and liberal mind. Jonah’s humbleness being rewarded many times from unlikely sources was one of the threads in my book that I enjoyed most. Many of my proof readers loved the Countess and they infected me with their love, so she is now a close second.
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Weissensteiners-Three-Nations-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00AFQC4QC/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1360592170&sr=1-1
Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/The-Luck-Weissensteiners-Volume-1/dp/1481130331/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360592210&sr=8-1&keywords=luck+of+the+weissensteiners
Barnes and Nobles: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-luck-of-the-weissensteiners-christoph-fischer/1113932211?ean=9781481130332
My Blog: http://writerchristophfischer.wordpress.com/
Thanks, Christoph! Now how about we take the dogs for lunch and grab a couple of mojitos?