Interview With Barbara Baer, Author of THE ICE PALACE WALTZ
June 21st, 2020 by Liza Wiemer

About THE ICE PALACE WALTZ from Goodreads:

In The Ice Palace Waltz, two Jewish immigrant families—the rough and ready Western pioneers and the smooth, “our crowd” New Yorkers—come together in a riveting family saga amid the financial and social tumult of early twentieth century America. Baer’s moving multigenerational novel traces the American Jewish experience and the enduring power of family and love.

1. Why did you want to write a novel about immigrants?

Unless you’re a Native American, everyone is an immigrant. My Jewish family’s story has, I believe, the added interest because of where my paternal half settled, in the hardscrabble, dangerous mining community of Leadville CO where silver promised fortunes…gave to some like the Guggenheims and original May Company. Though my family didn’t get rich, somehow my paternal great grandfather who had a grocery and dry goods store m1. Why did you want to write a novel about immigrants? Unless you’re a Native American, everyone is an immigrant. My anaged to send two sons to medical school and a daughter to get a teaching credential, quite amazing for that time–pre 1900–and that place.

2. Do you have any novel secrets you can share? Something readers would never know just from picking up the book?

I did a lot of research into social and economic history between 1880 and 1930 but “The Ice Palace Waltz” had a ‘plot’ that I didn’t have to invent: family history. I didn’t know 3 of my 4 grandparents so had to invent them as characters from hints my parents gave. I’ve been twice to Leadville and hoped to go this June to present my novel at the shul where my grandparents married, but covid canceled that. I drew on their lives, even incorporated some of their writing–from my paternal grandmother’s wedding book and her entry when her husband died and the poem at the end of the novel. I only included a few stanzas from my mother’s ditty about escaping the German destroyer just outside the port in Columbia but I’d found the whole epic poem, written for fun on the moment when the freighter she was on escaped the German warship.

Bonus round: What do you prefer?

Brisket, matzoh ball soup, potato kugel, gefilte fish, blintzes, bagels (with or without lox, cream cheese), or other?

My far ahead favorite bagels with lox and cream cheese, can eat every day while kugels and briskets are for special nights. In Santa Rosa, CA, near where I live, a new Jewish deli/restaurant was just opening when virus happened. Grossman’s. Bagels are said to be out of this world and I can’t wait to try.

Desert, rainforest, beach, marsh, urban park, forest, other? I adore the beach and the forest.

We live in redwoods, and especially on the CA northcoast, Mendocino County where we have property with redwoods and a trailer, the forest is generous with mushrooms and fragrant and beautiful..

Movies, musical, play, ballet?

I’m an inveterate dance lover, ballet first of all (novel “The Ballet Lover” I wrote after witnessing a drama on stage between Nureyev and Makarova) and then Indian dance (“The Last Devadasi”, also a novel, came from the experience of studying bharatanatyam in India.)

Laundry, dishes, dusting, vacuuming?

The only household chore I truly hate is vacuuming. I hardly dust but don’t hate it, laundry is bad if you forget to check pockets and get kleenex everywhere. Dishes, alas, have to be done. 

About Barbara L. Baer:

Barbara grew up in California, got her BA and MA at Stanford University before going to South India to teach, study dance, and have experiences unlike anything in her American life. She taught in Madras (now Chennai) and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, then part of the USSR, which gave her the inspiration and voice for her novella, Grisha the Scrivener. After a decade of encounters and adventures, she returned to the US, taught at Dennison University in Granville, Ohio, worked for newspapers, and wrote fiction and travel pieces.

In India, she’d studied and fallen in love with the culture and classical forms of dance, but in America, her passion for ballet returned. She honed her skills reviewing classical and contemporary dance for newspapers and periodicals in America and France. Back in America, she also wrote political pieces and won a national journalism prize for her reporting on the United Farm Workers. Barbara’s fiction and non-fiction has often been reprinted in anthologies and she has spoken on national and regional public radio and on Voice of America about books as diverse as the life of a dissident Russian to a Soviet Jewish pomegranate botanist who led her to her own amateur horticulturalism. She helped create book festivals and started a small press to publish women writers, as well as one man.

Credits include fiction in RedbookNew American ReviewConfrontationNew Letters, 34th Paralleland other publications; non-fiction in Orion MagazineThe NationThe ProgressiveNarrativeSaisons de la DanseThe Massachusetts ReviewDance MagazinePersimmon Tree and more. Her work appears in collections from To Eat with Grace100 years of Writing from The Nation, Traveler’s TalesWreckage of ReasonAmerica’s Working Women. Her novella, Grisha the Scrivener, was published in 2011.

Barbara has lived many years in Sonoma County, California, where she writes, edits and teaches through the county jail program, tends a garden and an orchard of pomegranates and olives, and is active in environmental and political causes. She lives with her husband, Michael Morey, also a writer and bricoleur, jack of all trades, who keeps things going.

Find Barbara: Website | Facebook

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