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Today, I’ve had the enormous pleasure of chatting with author Eric Houston about his passions, inspirations and his own writing advice, so let’s delve a little deeper into his mindset to see what makes him tick.
Thanks for reading folks and as always enjoy the show 🙂
Hi there Eric, thank you for joining us today to discuss your writing endeavours further.
Let’s start with your Non-Fiction memoir novel “The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1)”, based on an inspiring true story of the exploits of your father who served as a highly decorated Jewish WW II Palestinian soldier in the British Army. The memoir reveals little known historical insights into pre-state Palestine and World War II too. Please tell us more about themes and setting of your book that are explored as you cover the adventures of your father throughout the course of the novel.
I knew my father had a remarkable story, but I felt too far removed to write it. Besides what he told me, what did I know about the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, Palestine before the State of Israel, WW II’s North African Campaign, the No. 2 Commando, etc.? I’m used to researching a subject until I’m comfortable enough to write about it, but this seemed overwhelming.
Then, in 2010 I received an email from Einat Amitay, a top computer scientist with a chair at IBM Israel, saying, “You may not know this, but your father is very famous in Israel.” At first, I assumed it was a scam, but as I read on she talked about a children’s book that my father had illustrated, And There Was Evening (Vayehi Erev). I knew the book because my father had brought it back from his one trip to Israel in the early 90’s. In early 1948, he had turned in the illustrations right before leaving Palestine/Israel for New York City.
When he showed the book to me, he said in disbelief, “It’s a miracle. The book was actually published, and this one little bookstore somehow got the leftover copies from the 1950’s printing.”
I told Einat that during our first Skype conversation. She laughed, saying, “He could’ve walked into any bookstore and found it. It’s everywhere.” It never crossed his mind that the book could have had more than one printing, much less become a bestseller and timeless classic, now in its 42nd edition, referred to as the pearl of Israeli children’s literature. After a sixty-year ongoing search for the artist, Einat, dying of breast cancer, had joined the mission and, against all odds, finally solved the mystery.
The story was now too much for me to resist. Einat was a great support. I was very moved by her story of finding my dad and wanted to tell it as a present-day backdrop to telling his story. We became close friends as we often Skyped over the next year. I began researching to better understand his experience of growing up in Germany, escaping the Nazi in 1934 at the age of 13 by going alone to Palestine, entering the Haganah at age 14 to help save countless illegal Jewish immigrants, befriending many Arabs, including King Abdullah of Jordan, in an attempt to unite Jews and Arabs so that they could build a great nation together, and WW II’s North Africa Campaign.
The Lost Artist (Part 1) ends at the decisive moment of WW II; July 3, 1942, El Alamein, 65 miles west of Alexandria, Egypt when the Nazis had won the war, but they just didn’t know it.
Part 2 will complete Einat’s mission of finding my father as a present-day backdrop to telling his story of becoming a British commando and highest decorated WW II Palestinian soldier in the British Army, his love affair with a beautiful English professor while recuperating from critical injuries in Italy, and his tumultuous years in Palestine after the war, up until the formation of the State of Israel.
Regarding your choice to write a Non-Fiction novel, can you tell us what attracted you to the medium of Non-Fiction over fiction and why you chose to tell this tale in this particular manner?
To research, I read countless history books on Israel and WW II with an overwhelming amount of facts, numbers and names. Great novels, such as Dr. Zhivago and The Agony and the Ecstasy (even with its inaccuracies) really pulled me into the history, pushing me to find out more. I felt that my father’s story had that potential, and there was nothing else quite like it.
The history of Israel is important to me. It’s a part of my father story, but the Middle East crisis affects us all. I was hoping that the reader could experience this important history through his remarkable journey. Perhaps most of all, I wanted to write a book that I would love to read.
If your novel was to be made into a film (or even a TV series), who would you cast in the lead roles?
Reviews keep saying that it should be an epic movie or mini-series. In my opinion, the actor to play my father hasn’t been born yet. In truth, it would just be very strange for me to watch an actor playing my father. But knowing how much awareness a film could bring to my father’s stolen Distinguished Conduct Medal, I would do nothing to stop it. I just probably wouldn’t be involved in the casting.
However, for the part of Einat Amitay, any of these actors would be terrific:
Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Hilary Swank, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Angelina Jolie, Drew Barrymore, Michelle Williams, Naomi Watts, Rebecca Hall, Keira Knightley, Cate Blanchett, Marion Cortillard, Anne Hathaway…to name a few.
What do you find the most difficult thing about writing? And what do you find the easiest?
I enjoy dialogue. It’s fun reacting as the characters, which is probably why I started as a playwright, then ghostwriter. This is the first book I’ve written in my own voice, and it was the hardest writing I’ve ever done. It seemed like the absence of voice. But once I got used to it, I was over that hurdle.
The hardest thing for me is the first draft. That’s not what I first show people, which could be the 50th draft. Getting down those very first words can feel like pulling teeth. But once down, I’m driven to work them until they seem acceptable. It’s exciting finding solutions/ideas that make up the pieces of the puzzle. Reading should seem simple and natural. I’d like people to think that it just pours out of me, and there are moments when it does, but for the most part writing for me is rewriting.
Even though The Lost Artist is a true story, I didn’t find it easier than writing fiction. Stories, fiction or non-fiction, are just the blueprint. All of the moments have to be realized. My father’s story is so incredible that I didn’t know if people would believe it. Some have thought that I made a lot of it up. I couldn’t. Not having been there, I wouldn’t even try. My job was to make it believable. All of the research really helped me make sense of it. My father felt that his survival was just due to incredible luck. To me, it seemed miraculous, and it was, but by researching, I was able to understand the events that led to those miracles. Really knowing your subject makes it much easier to write.
Who are some of the authors, musicians, poets and/or historical figures that inspire you?
Jane Austen. It’s amazing that Pride and Prejudice was written over 200 years ago. There are so many reasons why it’s a timeless masterpiece; perfect three-act structure (not coined until 1979 by Syd Field), compelling drama with characters you care about in unfair situations, brilliant dialogue that is always true to the characters, and of course her timeless sense of humor that seems to flow so naturally. Many writers inspire me: John le Carré, Daphne du Maurier, Graham Greene and Moss Hart, to name a few. Some I’ve recently discovered: Dov Zeller, Lara Lillibridge and Jennifer Haupt. Since they inspire me, I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane Austen hadn’t also inspired them.
My favorite artist is probably Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I believe he gave his life to tell the corruption of Philip II’s reign through his beautiful art. My favorite period is probably the Italian Renaissance. It was such an explosion of creativity. I know that some are disappointment by the Mona Lisa. I’ve heard, “It’s too small and dull,” and “She is not pretty enough.” But a masterpiece doesn’t have to be a big, colorful painting of a super-hot chick. Great art is simple, saying a lot with a little. Mona Lisa just sits there, but she does so much. No painting had ever before communicated so intensely with the viewer. It revolutionized art. With Da Vinci’s inventive shadowing around her eyes, she watches you as much as you’re watching her, and the shadowing around the mouth created the most famous smile. Michelangelo’s David also communicates so much with so little. It may at first appear that he’s just standing there, but it’s the moment when David has decided to kill Goliath, and we sense his anxiety. Those great works always inspire me to attempt saying a lot with a little.
Living in New York City, music not only inspires, it also helps drown out the noise. Much of The Lost Artist was written with Evgeny Kissin and Yuja Wang playing in the background the Rachmaninoff second and third piano concertos and Vengerov playing the Sibelius violin concerto. They were very popular in the 30’s and 40’s, and though while writing, I barely heard those exquisite performances, they acted more like lush, romantic soundtracks that really helped set the mood.
The most inspiring historical figure to me is Winston Churchill. He may have been an alcoholic, bad tempered, mediocre artist, but he was a great man with a brilliant sense of humor. Without him, it’s hard to imagine where the world would be now, but a Nazi flag would probably be waving over Buckingham Palace.
What sort of research did you do to write this book?
As I’ve mentioned, research for The Lost Artist was overwhelming. Between pre-WWII Germany, pre-State Israel and the North African Campaign, you could spend your life researching. I interviewed, read and watched everything I could. The Internet is an amazing tool. With Google Translate, I could search through German, Hebrew and Arabic sites, which explained so much, such as what really went down with the destruction of Beit Nabala.
Why do you write? What inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve heard people say that they love to write and write and write and don’t care if anyone ever reads it. That’s not me. I care. But I also love escaping into other worlds. When it’s going well, time disappears. With my father’s story, there was another motivation.
My father was the highest decorated WWII Palestinian soldier in the British Army, the only one to earn the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), the highest gallantry award for a non-British citizen in the British Army, making it the most important WWII medal to Israel. In 2014, I discovered that his DCM was stolen by a crime ring within the British Ministry of Defense and is now in the possession of billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft. Lord Ashcroft knows he was ripped off by The London Medal Company, who sold him the entire group of my father’s medals, even though we have all of his other medals. Since he refuses to get his money back from the crooked dealer who sold it to him, I’m hopeful that the book will help bring enough awareness to get all of the medals stolen from within the MoD to their rightful owners. We’ll then donate my father’s medals to an orphanage in Israel, which takes in refugee children, so that they can sell them to a museum.
What keeps you motivated during creative slumps? How do you deal with Writers Block?
These are puzzles with countless ideas making up the pieces. When struggling, sometimes you’re better off doing anything else than trying to write. Take a walk and the answers may come.
Also, if waking up in the middle of the night with ideas, I find it’s better to immediately write them down, rather than obsessing through the night.
You have access to a time machine. What advice would you give to your younger self?
A wise, older friend once confided, “I’m going to tell you the secret of life. Someone had to tell me because it’s too simple for idiots like us to figure out. The secret of life is, just do what’s in front of you. That’s it.” Now, whenever feeling overwhelmed I try to remember to just do what’s in front of me, and it always helps. I think “Just do what’s in front of you” should be stamped on every crib.
How do you spend your free time when you are not writing?
I love to eat, but also like to stay in shape, so I spend a lot of time working out and eating. Enjoying to escape into different worlds means spending free time reading, travelling and watching a lot of classic movies, to the point where it’s an obsession. I think my love for movies from the 30’s and 40’s helped in writing The Lost Artist.
Tell us more about your upcoming projects. Are you working on anything specific or have plans in the pipeline?
There are so many books that I want to write, but right now, I’m trying to just do what’s in front of me and focus on Part 2 of The Lost Artist. After that, I really want to write my mother and especially my aunt’s story. In 1938 Vienna, immediately after the Anschluss, the Nazis placed my mother’s family under house arrest. My mother was only a child at the time, but my aunt was 16, and I think it’s amazing what she did to save her family. I hope to have the chance to tell it.
Finally, are there any nuggets of wisdom that you can impart to other aspiring writers?
Yes. Write shitty. Trying to write brilliantly can be paralyzing. Keep the bar low. Take the pressure off. Write shitty, and if you’re good, you’ll work it until it’s done. So just try to write shitty.
And that’s a wrap! Thank you for joining us Eric, along with sharing with us your writing experiences and the intriguing story of your Father, we can’t wait to dive into your book soon to find out more about his gripping adventures 🙂
The Lost Artist author Eric Hausman-Houston has been a concert pianist, playwright, and ghostwriter.
As a concert pianist in the 1980s, Eric Hausman-Houston was offered a Julliard scholarship by Abbey Simon. He was signed by Global Records, who changed his name from Hausman to Houston. His first album, Beethoven Sonatas: Moonlight Pathetique Appassionata, received critical acclaim and won the Grammy for Best Producers. To promote his second album, Tonight and Forever, a collection of popular classical piano pieces, Houston went on a one hundred concert tour. Responsible for all travel expenses, he went into debt. Planning to sit out his four-year contract, Houston wrote his first play, Playing with Fire. Playing with Fire was picked up by Earl Graham of the Graham Agency and optioned for Off-Broadway by Lois Deutchman, producer of Oil City Symphony. Houston never returned to the piano.
Houston’s play, Becoming Adele, the recipient of the Key West Theater Festival Award, was produced and directed by Gerry Cohen at the Court Theatre in Los Angeles, produced Off-Broadway by the Gotham Stage Company with director Victor Maog, and optioned by Warner Bros. Television. His play, Sweet Deliverance, was given an extended run at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles, and was the last play optioned by legendary Broadway producer, Alexander Cohen. Edward B. Morgan of Washington County News called Sweet Deliverance “the funniest play to come out of the Barter Theatre.”
After having worked as a ghostwriter, The Lost Artist marks Houston’s first book written in his own voice and name.
All proceeds from The Lost Artist will go to reuniting Fred Hausman’s Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), and other medals stolen from within the British Ministry of Defense, with their rightful owners. The Hausman medals will then be donated to an orphanage in Israel so that they may sell the Hausman medals to a museum.
You can connect with Eric via the following Social Media channels:-
You can buy his books here:-
If you too would like to be interviewed on my blog at TooFullToWrite and you have a book or a series of books that you would like us to chat about then fill out the Contact Me form here with your details and we can arrange a future interview slot.