The imaginative catalysts for Pale Mother can be traced to my experience of living and working in Germany from 1993-1994. I found compelling the way Germans deal with the shadow of World War II. I met widows of Nazis, Jewish women who survived Auschwitz, the descendants of Nazi leaders, and former members of the resistance. Every day I passed the old Nazi headquarters in Munich. The war’s shadow was almost palpable to me in attics and antique stores. Munich reminded me of my Civil War-obsessed hometown.
After a few years of working in the film industry, I started writing screenplays and stories. I began Pale Mother after my first workshop experience at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. I began to thoroughly research the social and personal aspects of daily life in the Third Reich. I spent years studying the motivations of ordinary people under an oppressive regime and the vague lines of culpability and innocence. I’m fascinated with writing from the point of view of a character who is morally challenging. (With regard to this sort of challenge, please refer to my essay about writing from the inimical point of view, “Who is the Enemy.”) Although Pale Mother is a literary historical novel with a portentous setting, it has broad appeal.
What drives me as a novelist isn’t just theme, but character. Max Elban, the lead character in Pale Mother, came out of a recurring dream I had when I returned from Germany. I saw a man in uniform pulling a little girl through a plaster wall
in an apartment in Munich. I became fascinated with that man. I wanted to know what he was doing in that apartment. I wondered how he knew to reach for the girl. Had he been there before? Before long, I gave him a wife, a child, a past, and
a big problemMagdalenethe little girl behind the wall.