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My Interview with Stephanie Silberstein
Stephanie Silberstein, the author of Winter's Silence, graciously agreed to answer some questions for me.
1) On the back cover of your book, it says that grew up as the only Jewish child in your school district. Did you face religious discrimination from your schoolmates?
Stephanie: I never faced overt discrimination (nobody called me names or anything like that), but I was subject to unintentional discriminatory remarks. For example, when I was in sixth grade, I was talking with a group of kids about the differences between Chanukah and Christmas, and another child remarked, “You don’t believe in Jesus? You SHOULD, you know.”
There was one incident of overt discrimination as far as I recall, but it happened to my sister, not me. One day she came home from school crying that a child in her class told her that she was stupid because “Jewish people are stupid.” My parents wrote a note to the teacher and she talked with the child.
2) On the back cover of your book, it also states that you work with children with disabilities. Is that how you learned so much about the way children with autism behave and how it affects those around them?
Stephanie: In part. I worked with autistic students and students who had other disabilities that resembled autism. I also have Asperger’s Syndrome which is an autistic spectrum disorder, though not nearly as severe as what most people think of when they hear the word “autism.”
3) How hard was it to write about such traumatic experiences through the eyes of a 6-year-old little girl?
Stephanie: I found it fairly easy to get into Emily’s head. The biggest challenge was staying on-topic. My first draft was full of fantasies and thoughts that were vivid and interesting but were irrelevant to the plot. I also had to be careful to develop Emily as advanced for her age without making her unbelievably so, so that I could use some vocabulary and insight without destroying her six-year-old sense of innocence. The scene where her uncle smokes pot was probably the hardest scene to write because I knew a six-year-old who had not been exposed to pot before would have no idea what was going on, but I wanted to make sure the reader understood what was happening. Similarly, I had to underdevelop many of the other characters because Emily was too young to appreciate the subtleties of adult behavior, but I didn’t want them to become one dimensional.
4) Emily escapes what is going on around her through daydreaming. Did you daydream a lot of as a child?
Stephanie: I did. It was very common for my parents to call me back to Earth or stop telling me to stare into space. Some of Emily’s daydreams are based on daydreams I remember from my childhood.
5) Each of the characters is very well developed. Did you have them developed before you wrote the story or did they develop as you wrote?
Stephanie: I had a basic idea of who the characters were before I began the story. I knew each character’s dramatic needs and motivations and how Emily felt about each of the other people in her life. Some things developed later—for example, Uncle Max’s alcohol and drug problems, Rebekah’s jealousy of his relationship with Emily, and the conflicting attitudes of her mother and father towards their son’s autism.
6) Is Winter’s Silence based on something that happened in your life or in the life of someone you know?
The difficulties Emily faces in school because of her refusal to sing Christmas carols is based on my childhood experience. We had a concert every year that contained many Christmas songs and one Chanukah song. As a child, I was fearful of singing Christmas carols because I thought Jewish people weren’t supposed to ever speak the name “Jesus” or acknowledge that Christians believed in Jesus. In fourth grade a teacher told me that it was disrespectful for me not to sing Christmas songs. That same year, my parents pulled us out of the holiday concert because my sister’s class was required to wear Santa Claus hats.
The autism storyline doesn’t come out of direct experience. Many of the parents I dealt with when I was teaching viewed their disabled children as totally incapable, but I did not deal directly with parents of newly-diagnosed children. I suppose some of my experiences came from the parents I worked with.
If you would like to purchase a copy of Winter's Silence from Amazon, I have included a link for you below.
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