My guest is contemporary fiction author, Benjamin Berkley. Ben has written several legal non-fiction books but this is his fiction debut. He talks a bit about finding inspiration and weaving a story around factual happenings and fiction.
As for any novel, you need inspiration. And that inspiration came many years ago when a beautiful, white haired older lady came into my office. Her name was Irene Opdyke and she had a story to tell. But as she spoke, I was mesmerized by her voice, her hand gestures and her eyes. She spoke so softly and calmly though I could feel the torture that she endured.
My Rabbi thought that I could assist Irene in negotiating a contract for her story about how she saved the lives of Jews while working as a housekeeper for a German commandant. Well, after a lot of legal wrangling, her book was published and the ABC show, 20/20 eventually did a story on Irene. And as a result of her story going public, Yard Vashem recognized her as a Righteous Gentile. Several years ago, Irene passed away. But her story survived.
And in 2010, shortly after the release of my last book, and wanting to transition from writing self-books to a novel, I began thinking about Irene. Irene would be a character in my book and it would be her wisdom as one of the themes.
But I didn't want my book to be strictly historical. I needed to make my story modern and contrast what happened in the concentration camps with a young person today who was going through her own struggles to survive. And a few morning jogs later, the character of Danielle was born.
I love Danielle. She is not based on anyone I know but I know her very well. In my book, Danielle is raised by her grandmother and her Dad as her mother passed away when she was only three. She is bright and opinionated and motivated to succeed. But she always has to choose between herself and pleasing her father.
So now I had Irene whose story is told in the first person by her journal entries that she composed in the hospital where she convalesced after she was liberated from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. And Danielle is the young woman; closely approaching 30 and who has more bridesmaids dresses in her closet than diplomas on her wall.
But I needed a bridge. A bridge between the past and the present. And that character was Rose, Danielle’s maternal grandmother. Rose lived around the corner from Danielle in a very similar looking apartment building in Jackson Heights, NY. And when Danielle’s mother died, Rose was there to help her son in law raise Danielle. As a result, a very special bond developed between Danielle and her Nana as Nana was always there. And as a young girl, Danielle often turned to her Nana for comfort when she was scared.
So now you have the three main characters but I needed to weave a story, which took me about a year to research and write.
AGAINST MY WILL
Danielle Landau knows she should feel lucky, but she can't feel anything but dread. Not only did she pass the New York Bar, but she married the man her father says is just right for her and lives in a fashionable new loft in Queens. But the man who seems like the perfect catch is a perfect nightmare at home. Jacob tries to control her career, her daily routine, and even what she eats. He ignores her desires and belittles her every chance he gets. Soon, Danielle doesn't recognize her husband or herself, and she struggles to find a way out.
As we follow Danielle on her journey of terror and recovery, we see her story intersect with the diary entries of a young girl from more than fifty years ago, and the full weight of the family's secrets becomes clear. This is a story of survival, self-discovery, justice, and ultimately about love.
Growing up in Long Beach, NY, young Ben Berkley was fascinated by daily black-and-white re-runs of the TV lawyer show Perry Mason. After getting a B.A. in Speech and Hearing from Adelphi University in Garden City, NY, Berkley earned his law degree from Western State University in Fullerton, CA.
Against My Will is Ben Berkley’s fifth book and debut novel. He is also the author of four self-help books: “My Wishes, Your Plan for Organizing Your Family’s Needs” (Sourcebooks, June, 2006) “The Complete Executor’s Guide” (Sourcebooks, June 2007) “Winning Your Social Security Disability Case” (Sourcebooks, February, 2008) and “Before You Say I Do Again, A Buyer’s Beware Guide to Remarriage.” (Frederick Fell Publishers, September 2009).