Monday, March 4, 2019

Interview with Planaria Price, Author of Claiming My Place

Planaria Price went to public schools when the San Fernando Valley of Southern California was still a rural suburb. She had a fairly sheltered happy childhood. After graduating from Berkeley and earning a master’s degree in English Literature from UCLA, she followed her passion and started teaching English to adult immigrants in the public schools of Los Angeles. While teaching for forty years, she wrote several ESL books about American culture, folktales and myths and has lectured at more than a hundred conferences and schools. In addition to this, she has worked with her husband to save and restore over thirty Victorian and Craftsman homes in a historic Los Angeles neighborhood. Claiming My Place is her first book for young adults. Her website is and her Instagram is @planariaprice. She is on Facebook as Planaria Price.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California.

When did you begin writing?

I had always been an avid reader. I clearly remember a day when I was eleven. I suddenly threw down the book I was reading and decided I was going to write a book, too. I got out a blank notebook and started writing.... maybe a sentence or two. Then realized, to my utter surprise and sadness, that I had no clue what to write about; I had no plot. I had only an imagination that went nowhere. Throughout school, especially middle and high school, I excelled in English and often won prizes for my imaginative writing. But, alas, all my school papers were imaginative re-tellings of the lives of famous historical characters. I have now accepted the fact that I am solely a nonfiction writer and of my seven published books all are nonfiction. But hooray! I now have a genre classification: creative nonfiction.

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

Alas, my writing has landed at the bottom of the to-do pile.   Life keeps getting in the way. When I am able to grab unbroken spaces of time, I write………. whenever I can “sneak” in a few moments”.

What is this book about?

Claiming My Place is a unique Holocaust biography because my subject, Barbara Reichmann, had such an incredibly vivid memory from the time she was three. Therefore, the book is not just about that horrible time when the Nazis took over Poland in 1939. I was able to write a book that encompasses her whole life. It is the full picture of what normal middle-class Jewish life was like in Poland in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Barbara is an extraordinarily smart and feisty child, a thinker, a doer. The book details her life from kindergarten, describes Jewish traditions, normal family life, her teen age years with her friends and boyfriend Heniek, as well as her university life. When the war comes, it details what happened to the Poles and the Jews as the Nazis arrived, the labor camps, ghettos, the deportations. Barbara was able to escape just before the deportations……. she had false papers and was able to “pass” as a Polish gentile. The book then details her life in hiding, getting a job in Germany as a “Polish” worker, the liberation in 1944 and her life in America as a refugee. It runs the whole gamut so that the reader gets a chance to meet a fascinating person and at the same time the reader learns about that time in history. Reviewers say that the book is unique, a riveting and fast read that seems like fiction but is 100% true.

What inspired you to write it?

As I describe in the preface, it was truly a dark and stormy night in April 2005. My husband and I were eating dinner at the bar at Nepenthe in Big Sur, California. For some reason, (neither Helen nor I remember why) the woman sitting next to me, Helen West, turned to me and started telling her mother’s Holocaust story. It was so incredibly unique and fascinating, I urged her to write it down. She said she was a psychotherapist and not a writer. My husband said “Planaria’s a writer” and I gave her my card. She evidently googled me and a few months later emailed “Let’s do it”. In October 2005, I flew to Washington DC, stayed with Helen for a week and interviewed ninety-year-old Barbara Reichmann for five days. She was such a delightful vibrant woman with the clearest of memories that went back to when she was three. The collaboration process was that I would be the writer and Helen would be sure that everything included in the book was 100% accurate. Wanting Helen to be a major part of the process, I ended my part when Barbara got to America and asked Helen to write the afterward about her memories of their life in the USA from 1951 until the death of Barbara in 2007.

The fact that Barbara’s memory of her childhood was so fascinating and vivid made me realize that I had the makings of a totally unique book about the Holocaust. No other Holocaust book that I have read follows the protagonist from peacetime early childhood to the onslaught of the Nazis and describes the refugee experience as well. I realized I had a wonderful medium to show readers what normal middle class Polish Jewish life was like in the 1920’s-1930’s. I knew it would be a marvelous educational possibility as well as emotional—to portray the tragedy of what has been lost.

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

I started writing the book in 2005. I finished the first draft within 3 months and spent 2006 re-writing and re-writing. From the beginning I wanted a real publisher so that this story would get out, especially to schools and libraries. I am hopeless and helpless at self-marketing, so not interested in self-publishing. I had sent a chapter of the book to about 50 literary magazines and it was published in two. From 2007 to 2015 I queried 87 agents and of the few who actually wrote back, they were rejections. I attended writing conferences and joined the SCBWI.

I was not going to give up, but it was so depressing and hard. Finally. In 2015, query #88 to the Deborah Harris Agency got a nod. Within a few months’ time it had been sold to Farrar Straus Giroux. The editing process took about two years, but since I have six other published books, I expected the frustrations of that process.

Editors will remove your favorite words, sentences, topics. You will fight back, sometimes you will win. After our back and forth, I was able to have them put back a lot of my favorite parts. They were absolutely right when they took out my excessive adverbs and excessive melodrama. In truth, the editing process with FSG was lovely and they helped with quite a lot of research and finding photos. They edited it with a fine tooth comb, for sure.

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

Actually, no. I learned there is a hard world in publishing out there and finding the right agent is an often-insurmountable task. I can’t think of anything I could have done to have made the process go easier or faster. Maybe I should have eaten more dark chocolate.

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

The book is available on Amazon, and Barnes and Noble and at a lot of Independent book sellers.

It’s also available on Macmillan’s website.

What is one piece of advice you would like to share with aspiring authors everywhere?
Don’t quit your day job, but never give up

What is up next for you?

I’m currently working on a YA travel memoir called Before McDonald’s Ate Europe. I feel quite hopeful about this one because I think my 88th agent will love it.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Just thanking you for considering Claiming My Place.

1 comment:

Amy Bruno said...

What a great interview, thank you Cheryl! We appreciate the support!

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