John Wisniewski: When did you begin writing, Gila? Why did you wish to become a writer?
Gila Green: As soon as I could read, I wanted to write. I filled notebooks with poems in high school and went on to four years of write-on-demand in journalism school. Anything I’ve ever wanted to be is associated with books and writing: librarian, journalist,editor, screenwriter, novelist with the exception of two side-streets: I started an MA in International Relations at one time thinking I would move into diplomacy–until I realized my perceptions were not grounded in reality and that I’d be miserable spending my life in anything associated with politics— and another time, I considered linguistics but I was too firmly in the humanities and couldn’t completely dive off into the social sciences.
You ask me why. Besides my natural attraction to writing and books, on some level I want to give back and re-gift –there were more periods in my life when books were my only comfort than I care to share with you–I would like to do that for someone else or to think that it’s possible. Someone out there feeling similarly isolated reads a book I spent years on and is then connected, they can inhabit another life for a while–not a small gift—it’s a bit romantic and sentimental I know. Still, you asked. I also like writing because I like to shake people and short stories are particularly good vehicles to do so. One reader once told me my short stories always end with a punch in the guts. That was one of the most thrilling lines of feedback I’ve ever received.
John Wisniewski: Any favorite authors?
Gila Green: I grew up on Canadian fiction: Atwood, Munro, Timothy Findley, Michael Ondaatje, Jane Urquhart. Canada was very good at lining the curriculum with their own authors–I wouldn’t know about today. So those writers shaped a lot of my perceptions of what fiction is and my tastes in books. Now I tend to go through phases where I’m reading stacks of one genre, often by country: Russia, Japan, China, South Africa, Argentina.At this moment, I find international fiction the most satisfying and particularly like Irish authors such as John Boyne and Jamaican fiction such as, Jamaica Kincaid. Southern American fiction is another big draw for me and I still reread classics: Truman Capote, Kate Chopin, Sue Monk, Katherine Anne Porter. It goes without saying I read a lot of Jewish and Israeli fiction–way too many to list.
John Wisniewski: What inspired you to write your novel, “White Zion”? Why did you decide to
Tell a story through short stories?
Gila Green: There are two reasons why I told “White Zion” through short stories. On a technical level, at that time we were not allowed to hand in novels for the creative writing program at Bar Ilan University, so I got around that by writing a novel in stories. On another level, that was emotionally the only way I could tell this story– in pieces. That’s how they came to me. I can only describe it as coming to me in bursts. “White Zion” is almost identical to the first draft I wrote. There’s little editing. Later, I developed as a writer and I managed to carve out one section of “White Zion” (if section is the right word, perhaps I should have said: follow one emotional stream) and write “Passport Control” as a novel—in “Passport Control” Miriam and her father return but are presented in a very different light.
What inspired me to write “White Zion?”
Growing up no matter how much Jewish literature I read –and I read it by the kilo—the grandparents were always Yiddish-speakers, no one was from the Middle East, there were few Jewish soldiers, and so on. My Canadian mother fit the bill for the background of the typical character in a Jewish novel by the typical famous Jewish novelist. But, anyone remotely like my father, and anyone he associated with did not. I always wanted to round this out. To say, hey! There are millions of Jews from Middle Eastern countries who speak Arabic, Persian, and other Middle Eastern languages. Hebrew anyone? They eat different foods, listen to different music, and they are no less Jewish. How can it be that they are entirely absent from the canon of Jewish literature? Not much has changed since my childhood. “White Zion” is absolutely a response to that and the title is meant to be ironic. Remember, I chose this title 15 years ago, way before “white” became such a loaded word.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about the main character of your book “No Entry”? The book was praised for it’s stand on conservation.
Gila Green: In “No Entry” my heroine is a Jewish, Canadian seventeen year old named Yael Amar. Yael is from a close family, the daughter of a veterinarian and a zoologist, both from Johannesburg. She has recently lost her only sibling, a brother, in a terrorist attack in Montreal, from which she narrowly escaped. Because the Amars’ world is broken, they decide to take a sabbatical year in their native South Africa. On an elephant conservation program, it doesn’t take Yael long to realize that she must give voice to the voiceless. She’s overwhelmed by man’s destruction of elephants and their greed and lust for ivory and cannot look away –even when it threatens her own life. Yael is daring and gutsy and determined to face whatever’s coming at her, even though running from it would be so easy. She refuses to back down in the face of grave danger and learns to rely on her instincts. Yael is a truth-seeker, a nature lover, and a wildlife photographer. Outside of her family, her favorite people are her boyfriend, David who anchors her, her new best friend New Yorker Nadine who dares her to broaden her boundaries, and Sipho, an African forest ranger and visual artist who shares her love of nature and wildlife. I’ve already written a sequel to No Entry and Yael is back on the page with Nadine and Sipho, this time with their eyes on the sky over Kruger National Park, especially at night when poachers are most likely to be active.
John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about writing your book “Passport Control”?
Gila Green: It started as a 12 page short story in Steve Stern’s class. When it was my turn to be workshopped, I had an extremely negative reaction from the other 11 participants–mostly Americans— who more or less told me that I was a racist –a word that no longer means anything and it didn’t then either. As such, I knew immediately that I had to turn it into a novel–clearly, it made a lot of people very uncomfortable and it was easier to call something racist than to confront the actual book. The only one in the room who praised the story was Steve Stern who admitted it took him more than one reading to realize I was writing about the naivete of the West more than anything else and he was spot on. He encouraged me to do more with it and continued to be an encouragement all the way to publication years later.
I worked on it and it became a novella. It took another year for it to turn into a novel. “Passport Control” was written over probably a five year period–it’s hard for me to remember exactly and it went through many versions. I sent it to a professional editor, as I still do for new work, and received input from beta readers and kept shaping it but the foundation remained the same: I wanted to write a novel about a Canadian girl with an Israeli-Yemenite father who comes to Israel in 1992 and is completely blown away by the reality she finds herself in–she is entirely unprepared for her culture shock and for just about everything else. She must live with a Druze, a Palestinian, an Ashkenazi Jew and a Moroccan–none of whom want to be living together–to put it mildly. The past her father so much wanted to hide reveals itself and takes a bite out of her as well, but this heroine will come up fighting, no matter how many times she goes down.
Originally, there was another roommate but with time, I molded characters into one. As the novel went through a couple of publishers before the final one, the editors from those publishing houses also impacted the novel, one or two chapters remain that I had never thought of, that I wrote on editorial request, such as the firebombing of the Druze roommate (which naturally when it was passed to a new publisher or rather inherited by a new publisher, they didn’t like at all–as is to be expected)…so there are stamps from various editors in the final book, many fingerprints. The title was changed as well but I ultimately put it back to my original title.
I have always seen it as a companion piece to “White Zion.” “White Zion” was written first and I had many calls to turn “White Zion” into a novel–something I cannot do and do not believe I’ll ever do–I don’t want to for starters. But I could slice off a tiny piece of “White Zion” and expand it into a novel and that’s what I did with “Passport Control.” Thus, Miriam Gil and her father re-appear but from completely different angles. Though “Passport Control” was ultimately published 9 months before “White Zion,” it was written after and over a far longer period of time.
The cover of “Passport Control” is made up of my actual entrance visas to Israel in 1992-1993, if you look at them. I spent a couple of hours with my husband photographing them in my garden in the sunlight–so don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re crazy to keep those old passports. Those entrance stamps no longer exist today–now they stamp on a separate piece of paper so that Israelis may travel with ease to countries who may not wish to see their stamp–but in those days they were stamped directly into the passport.
John Wisniewski: What will your next book be about?
Gila Green: The next book I am writing or the next book I am publishing?
If it is the latter, I hope to have a book come out by 2021 that is my first novel written from a teen boy’s perspective. Written in my bomb shelter during the 2014 war with Hamas, this novel explores what it’s like for sixteen year old Israeli boys knowing they are next in line for the front line. That’s the backdrop. The novel follows a hero who has rejected his parents’ religious, conservative lifestyle and finds himself in lockdown school, one step away from juvenile detention.
In addition, the sequel to “No Entry” has been drafted and Yael, Nadine, and Sipho are back in the Kruger National Park. This time, Yael is on staff and she is training participants to monitor the skies over Kruger when animals are most vulnerable to active poachers. But not everyone on the program has the elephants’ best interests at heart and Yael will have to learn about her own vulnerability and friendship, and tap into her power to protect wildlife from misguided ideologies as much as bullets.
If you are asking me what will be the next book I’m writing be about, I’d like to experiment with something new, mix humor and satire and write follow a couple of characters through some of the lousy jobs we’ve all had to do in real life. This is based on a short story I published recently originally titled the “Kike Caller” but I changed it to “What We Are” before publication (still in debate on that one). Similarly, a short story I published titled “Mother, Daughter, Mercenary,” I also have partially written as a book about a daughter whose mother falls in love with a hired killer and leaves her holding the bag. I have a feeling they might end up as two characters in the same book. I haven’t decided if they should be two friends to start or two enemies. I’m open to any opinions.
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ABOUT GILA GREEN
Canadian author Gila Green is an Israel-based writer, editor, and EFL teacher. She is the author of Passport Control (S&H Publishing, 2018) and White Zion, a novel in stories forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press. Her first young adult eco-fiction novel is No Entry forthcoming from Stormbird Press, Australia. She is working on a sequel to that novel with the view of turning it into a series. Her first novel is King of the Class (NON Publishing, Vancouver, 2013).
Gila’s short fiction appears in dozens of literary magazines in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, Israel, Ireland, and Hong Kong including: The Fiddlehead , Terrain.org, Akashic Books, Fiction Magazine, The Saranac Review, Arc Magazine, Many Mountains Moving, Noir Nation, Quality Women’s Fiction, The Dalhousie Review, Jewish Fiction, Mom Egg Anthology, Tel Aviv Stories, Jane Doe Buys a Challah, The South Circular, Kunapipi, Yuan Yang Journal, Arc Magazine, 100 Pages of Canada, An Artistic Collaboration of Canadian Artists, and Boston Literary Review.
Her work has been short-listed for the Doris Bakwin Literary Award (Carolina Wren Press), WordSmitten’s TenTen Fiction Contest, twice for the Walrus Literary Award, and twice for the Eric Hoffer Best New Writing Award.
Gila’s fellowships include the Summer Literary Seminars Program (Montreal). She has lived in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Johannesburg, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem.