Thursday, April 16, 2015

Interview with Elisabeth Amaral, Author of Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup

A native New Yorker, I have lived in the city for much of my life. My first jobs after graduating from NYU were jewelry design and case worker for the Departments of Welfare of New York City and Cambridge, Massachusetts. This was followed by co-ownership of a children’s boutique (Czar Nicholas and the Toad) and a restaurant (Duck Soup) in Cambridge near Harvard Square. I then worked as an industrial purchasing agent in New Jersey, and for the last 25 years have been a real estate broker in Manhattan, accumulating stories of the wonder and madness that is this city. I published a book of short stories (When Any Kind of Love Will Do), wrote two children’s books and a memoir (Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup), and am currently working on a novel.

For More Information

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Brooklyn and moved to Woodmere, on Long Island, when I was five. We moved to New Jersey when I was twelve.  

What is your fondest childhood memory?

Reading Nancy Drew books and walking with my father to Moishe’s to get a walk-away. Chocolate ice cream with cold chocolate syrup smothered with chocolate sprinkles, served with a small wooden spoon and a tall paper cup.
When did you begin writing?

I began writing in college. I was having amazing, Technicolor dreams and began to fill small black and white composition notebooks with them. I began to carry paper and pen with me at all times, and to have them within reach when I went to sleep. 

Do you write during the day, at night or whenever you can sneak a few moments?

I write during the day, and the most productive hours are from the time I wake up until eleven or twelve. If that doesn’t work out, I try for mid-afternoon until suppertime.  

What is this book about?

Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup is a memoir of my mostly spontaneous life as a young wife and mother in the mid 60s to mid 70s. I eventually realized that my husband was gay, in a era where homosexuality was barely understood or discussed. Our situation caused my self-esteem to plummet, which set me on a sometimes risky search for fulfillment. Yet on every other level, the relationship with my husband flourished. We shared child-rearing, designed jewelry, owned a children’s boutique and a restaurant in Harvard Square, and together enjoyed that thrilling era. At its heart, my story is one of friendship, love, and family.

What inspired you to write it?

I was in line at a Writer’s Digest Conference in New York City, waiting to pitch a mystery novel I was working on when it dawned on me that I couldn’t pitch it after all. It was giving me too much trouble. With minutes to go before it was my turn, I realized that what I could pitch, what I suddenly and fervently wanted to pitch, was my life during the sex, drugs and rock and roll era. The agent loved the idea and I sent him chapters as I wrote them, but ultimately I self-published.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My husband is not only my biggest supporter, he’s also my in-house tech guy.  

Are you a member of a critique group? If no, who provides feedback on your work?

I joined a critique group the week after Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup was published. My memoir took almost three years to complete, and during that time both my first and current husbands provided feedback. My first husband also provided many memories, as the first half of this story is really our story. He also provided the photograph that became the cover, and he brought me back into contact with people who had shared those years working for us in Duck Soup, our Harvard Square restaurant. And as I renewed those contacts, the enthusiastic contributions of those old friends and colleagues were an enormous source of feedback for me.

Who is your favorite author?

Oh, that’s a question I’ll never be able to answer. I’ve had so many favorites, including Erik Larson, Hans Fallada, Jim Thompson, Lily Tuck and Alexandra Fuller. My favorite genre is true adventure and natural and unnatural disasters; books like Annapurna, Into Thin Air, Tracks, The Boston Molasses Disaster, Isaac’s Storm, The Children’s Storm.

Do you have an agent or are you looking for one?

I don’t have an agent. I had sent Czar Nicholas, The Toad, and Duck Soup to an agent who called it a “little gem” but said it wasn’t for her. Another agent said I’d have to make too many changes. It took almost three years to finish the book and I wanted it my way, with all the photographs, recipes and contributions from friends of long ago. They are all here. But the deciding point for me was when I had a heart attack near the completion of the book. Self-publishing was certainly the quickest way I would see my book in print. The process was painless, and it took about five months.

Was the road to publication smooth sailing or a bumpy ride?

It was smooth. I went with iUniverse, because they had done an excellent job with a short story collection of mine, When Any Kind of Love Will Do. With my memoir they offered excellent editorial advice. Each step of the process went smoothly and more quickly than anticipated.

If you knew then, what you know now, is there anything you would have done differently?

As far as the book is concerned, there is nothing I would have done differently. I had a great time writing it when I wasn’t pulling my hair out, and I truly am proud of the result.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

Readers can purchase my book at,, and in either paperback or eBook format.

What is up next for you?

I am working on a mystery novel that takes place in lower Manhattan.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thanks for the opportunity to share a bit of the book with you and your readers.

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