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WHY I WRITE

People often ask me why I write … hmm. That’s a story in itself. Early on I think I longed for adventure, and if I wasn’t satisfied with what was around me, I’d create my own adventurous stories and, of course, I’d be the main character. Let me back up the clock a bit – quite a bit.  When I was a toddler I scaled a chain link fence to get to the German shepherd on the other side. I was a tomboy growing up and I looked for the tallest trees to climb. As a teen, I’d climb out of my second floor bedroom window in the middle of the night and sneak back into my house before dawn.

I kept a 500 page journal about my escapades hidden in the attic behind a trapdoor, which I could only reach on tiptoes while balancing on a tall stool. One day I discovered it was gone … my mother must have read it, disapproved, and conveniently lost it, without confronting me. Perhaps she didn’t know enough about my mischievous ways until she read about the person I really was – not a bad kid, just a bit curious and daring.

Because I was painfully shy in high school, I didn’t participate in afterschool activities; I went straight home to my fantasy world where I needed to express my innermost feelings on paper.  I dreamed of seeing the world. And eventually I did. As a stewardess back in the glamorous days of flying, I travelled to many exotic destinations. There was a whole world out there I knew nothing about. Unwittingly, when I met strangers on the road, many who couldn’t speak a word of English, they became bits and pieces of future characters in my writing.

I’ll never forget visiting the Anne Frank house in Holland, and how it influenced me. Of course, like every young impressionable girl coming of age, I had read her diary. I got through the narrow hallways and secret places the family hid in, without tears, but it was at the end of the tour where I choked up when I read a letter her father Otto Frank had written. He explained how we do not truly know each other in our families – mothers and fathers and daughters and sons. I thought that was terribly sad. Is it because we’re so close, we can’t bear to see their pain?

After raising my own two children, I became restless within my empty nest. Boring domestic distractions at home forced me to leave my comfortable computer screen and drive aimlessly to a writer-friendly location. Oddly, I’d find myself sitting in my car on a winter’s day with the heat on, parked next to a horse farm, writing feverishly, while my two golden retrievers breathed down my neck, keeping me company. Ah, the loyalty and patience of dogs.  There’s something so comforting and spiritual about the beauty of animals that I am drawn to, and that makes me feel “right” inside. Hours would pass. Once in a while, a horse would whinny and come to the fence, and I fantasized about riding him bareback. I’d say that a majority of my debut novel came to fruition in that very spot.

I felt great relief to fill so many blank pages and fill the empty pages of my heart.  It took me thirteen years to write my first book, Rembrandt’s Shadow and the sequel, Restitution. When I look back at those days, I realize I was hardly aware that I was writing two works of romantic historical fiction, or why, but it was too late to stop. It was as if the characters were controlling my thoughts, guiding my pen, and driving me to finish the story about those dark days they knew, before I was even born. The irony is that the ghosts were real characters in my husband’s family, who went to their graves with secrets they kept, which I wasn’t even aware of until years after I started writing.

If I had known beforehand that I would turn into this isolated writer for that long, I wonder if I would have made such a commitment. In the end, I am truly grateful I endured the grueling process, because every day, I meet people who are unaware of what took place during those horrific times of the Holocaust. Every time I meet a reader who tells me he or she was moved or enlightened by what I wrote I feel rewarded.

Sadly, history does repeat itself. Recently, I was touched by nine elderly women, all Holocaust survivors, who felt an obligation to remind ALL of us to remember the six million Jews who were scapegoats … because of fear, because of power. These women who looked into the faces of pure evil in Auschwitz had promised almost 75 years ago this would “never happen again,” yet it did happen again and again: the Killing Fields, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur … Syria.

The least we can do is read about it and write about it until we run out of paper.  Finally, for me, I believe I have the answer to the question I am often asked – why I write.

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Published by Janet Berg

Janet Lee Berg is a novelist and a blogger, who is known for her freelance writing on the east end of Long Island, NY, including Dan’s Papers. Keep an eye out for the release of her upcoming novel Rembrandt’s Shadow, a Holocaust-related story about Sylvie Rosenberg, the privileged daughter of a prominent Dutch art dealer, who never knows her father’s love until the day he trades his beloved Rembrandt to the Nazis in exchange for her life.

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