I’ve been crazy busy this week getting ready for the New York premiere of our new play, Wave Me Good-bye, based on my children’s book of the same name. So, since that’s all I can think about right now, I thought I’d share with you the fascinating story behind the story.
Way back in 1998, I was researching my book, Dancing in Combat Boots: and Other Stories of American Women in WWII, and reached out to the Advertising Research Foundation in New York City. The woman who answered the phone, Roslyn Arnstein, did her best to answer my specific questions. Then she said, “But if you want to hear some stories about New York during World War II, I could tell you a few things.” She started to share some memories with me about growing up as the only Jewish girl in her Bronx neighborhood, and her stories were captivating. I asked if I could conduct a formal interview with her for my book, and she agreed.
Then, as writing projects often do, the direction of my book changed, and a child’s view of the war just didn’t fit. Still, I never forgot Roslyn’s stories, and they began to stir my imagination.
At the time, I was involved in a truly amazing writers group filled with incredibly talented writers. One day, I told them I was going to write a short story entirely in dialogue, with no narrative and no exposition at all. They said it couldn’t be done. But dialogue is my strong suit and I was in the mood for a challenge.
Roslyn had briefly mentioned talking through the fence to some English kids living in an orphanage in her neighborhood. They’d been sent to America to escape the bombings in London. She even remembered the name of one of the boys, Christopher Gifford. So, my short story, As You Wave Me Good-bye, was written as a series of conversations through a fence between a Jewish girl and an orphan boy. Entirely fictitious conversations, of course, based on what I thought children of that time period might have talked and worried about and the secrets they might have shared. I loved the end result. My writer’s group was impressed that I pulled it off, but thought it too “unusual” to get published. They were right. Traditional literary magazines weren’t sure what to make of the format and structure and turned me down.
But the story had life in it yet. When I conceived of the concept of my Home-Front Heroes series of middle-grade books, I knew I wanted to include this New York story. The novel, now titled Wave Me Good-Bye, came out in 2012. It was the fourth book in the collection and was well received by parents, teachers, and children alike. It even won an award. And still the story had legs.
Fast forward to 2019. My daughter, Lydia, who had a degree in theater education, suggested we turn one of my books into a stage play, and I knew exactly which one to start with. Lydia got to work adapting Wave Me Good-Bye as a Theater for Young Audiences script. We worked on the project for months, and in the early days of the pandemic lockdown, we workshopped the script with various actor/educators via this new platform called Zoom. You can’t imagine how exciting it was to hear my characters’ voices, which had always been so strong in my head, brought to life by actors who wound up loving the script.
And that brings us to the upcoming world premiere of Wave Me Good-Bye in New York City on Oct. 7 and 8, 2023, at The Kraine Theater! My daughter is directing the play, and she and I both ran the audition process and are producing and promoting the show. I even got to zoom in for the first rehearsal, a table read, and felt that thrill, once again, of hearing my characters words in the mouths of some very talented actors. I can’t wait to see Miriam, Chris, Rachel, Ruthie and all my other literary darlings walking the stage in New York, so close to where Roslyn grew up.
It’s crazy to think that a phone conversation with a stranger twenty-five years ago sparked so many creative projects. It’s a testament, really, to the power of story – any ordinary person’s story told to anyone who is willing to listen. It’s a testament to the power of imagination to take a snippet of something that actually happened and give it a whole new existence. It’s a testament to the belief that some artistic projects choose us and, once they get their hooks in us, never let us go. And it’s a testament to how art and history bring us together.
There was a time when I thought what mattered most was the story I wanted to tell. As a writer, I’ve come to accept and cherish the belief that my words are not sacred; that every reader, through their own experience, reads my books in their own way.
And now I see that each and every time our play gets produced, it will be a new and different story. Each director, each actor, and every audience will bring their own experiences to the staging of this story and it will continue to grow and evolve. It’ll still be my words, and my daughter’s adaptation, but it will never be the same thing twice. And that’s exciting.
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