In the summer of 2010 I took a SEPTA bus pilgrimage, multiple times a week, to the Free Library of Philadelphia Central Branch on the Parkway to research a novel. It was there that a friendly librarian, after helping me find countless texts, gave me her email address for when the book came out (I still have it attached to my notes). It was there I learned that the Nazis euphemistically referred to the prisoners of death camps who were not exterminated immediately upon arrival as Permanents.
A few months later, on a pilgrimage to Europe for more research, I stood at the gate of Auschwitz-Birkenau with my dear German friend who said, “Now I must face my history” while I, part Jewish, felt but could not say, the same thing. I felt transient, my impermanence there wedded to a persistent hunger that I knew, when we left (in the injustice that we could leave) would be sated in the nearby Polish town.
I never intended on writing a Holocaust novel. The subject matter too complicated; the morality of the attempt too questionable; the utilization of such unthinkability too potentially immoral. What I wanted to do with my second novel, Permanent for Now, was closely tied to how I view myself as a writer in general: I am not interested in creating, but in sustaining. I do not cast bells, I strike them to continue the ringing. In other words, as a writer, I wish to no more than sustain the mythological and social pondering that literature as an art form is so capable of doing. I wish to take the ideas that came before me and recast them for new readers. As such, I wished to extend a tired trope: the conflict of good and evil within the human. The Holocaust was simply too appropriate a subject for this discourse to ignore.
In high school, I had a Military History teacher who warned, “If we hadn’t won the war [WWII], we’d be speaking German right now.” His historical and cultural awareness was as short as his crew cut, but I had the gull then (I had mohawks then too, so I had a lot of gull) to posit that we wouldn’t know the difference, that English is a foreign language, that to be a young man in Germany in the early 20th century meant that you didn’t have much of a choice about becoming a Nazi, that these men were victims of circumstance more so than prone to evil. These thoughts were unrefined (my teacher rejected them outright—American education!) but they got me thinking. We often attribute Nazism to monsterousness, to evil. But the Nazis weren’t monsters, nor were they evil. They were human; men. And so am I, a man. This all means that what was done to 6 million people of my ethnic ancestry by Nazi men could just as easily be something I would decide to do, if my circumstances warranted it. In other words, the “evil” inside their man souls is, likewise, in mine. This is a hard and complicated thought, but it was the driving force behind my writing Permanent for Now. How do we rectify and live with the knowledge that we contain great capacities for good and evil? Again, a tired trope, but nevertheless relevant considering who we are. And in the wake of a time in the United States where Nazism has become once again relevant and hatred is the status quo, this book hopes to push its finger into the wound to instigate stinging.
I finished the first draft of the manuscript in late 2010 and spent the next two years revising it. The subsequent four years are simultaneously a testament to the difficulties of the publication industry as well as the staying power of my narrative’s thesis. In 2012 a publisher agreed to buy the book. After discourse, edits, and plans, said publisher—like many fledgling organizations of the day—went belly-up. In the course of the next few years, no less that two publishers were so interested in the book that we got to the copy-editing phase of the novel before it, too, was either rejected or the publisher could not follow through. Then, this year, I signed another contract with a new indie publisher for the novel and for its winter 2016 release. Last week, I received the regretful email that they, too, had become financially insolvent and would not be able to publish the novel.
It’s difficult to not feel that Permanent for Now is somehow cursed. For a novel I’ve worked so hard on, believe so deeply in, and has become so relevant today (how I wish it was irrelevant), of course it is discouraging to once again realize that I must initiate the draining process of submission (oh, how accurate, that word). But it also occurs to me that in a world where so many books are written and so many get no chance, this little novel of mine got so close so often. That means there’s something there. It means I have to keep putting it out there, that it will find a home, and it will eventually be read.
I’m no big fan of Stephen King (though he sort of is my guilty throwaway beach read on occasion) but in his book on writing, On Writing, he mentions that regardless of the circumstances of a manuscript, the writer has to believe in their work. This is something I do not take for granted. I believe in Permanent for Now. And though I’ve written a lot since then, and written better things since then, I believe that it needs to be. That those things inside of us need to be examined further. That, somewhere, a librarian in Philly is waiting for her free copy in the mail.