Local author Kenneth Wishnia kicked off Temple Isaiah's Authors Speak series on Wednesday, August 4. In an intimate setting he discussed the writing process, his new novel The Fifth Servant, and answered questions.
A scribe at an early age, his innate gift for storytelling presented itself in elementary school when he was told to write a one-page tale. The precocious second-grader filled an epic 15 pages instead. From then on his narratives flourished.
Any aspiring novelist knows it's an accomplishment just to complete a first draft. After writing 20 drafts of his first 50 pages, and 14 of the entire manuscript, Wishnia candidly expressed the challenges that come with writing a book.
"I know I'm one of the lucky ones," said the author, who was nominated for the Edgar and Anthony awards. "It's a dream come true."
Wishnia recounted his trials and triumphs in the industry like an old friend telling a witty story of a bad date. From his nine years of rejection letters, to learning to compromise with agents and editors, the audience leaned in to listen, laugh, and most importantly, learn.
The success of his Filomena Buscarsela mysteries introduced a new type of heroine, who was inspired by his Latin Catholic wife.
"It was marrying a Catholic that got me to delve into Judaism," he said.
After reading the Bible to learn more about his wife's religion, he realized that he already knew more about her faith than his own. His "reverse revelation" sent him down a path of discovery that led to The Fifth Servant.
In his new novel, the reader is transported through time to 16th century Prague. During the Inquisition, the body of a young Catholic girl is found in one of the Jewish shops on the eve of Passover. Newcomer to the ghetto Benyamin Ben-Akiva has only three days to find the murderer.
Weaving the languages of Yiddish, Czech and German into this historical tale of persecution, mystery and ancient superstition, Wishnia provides a smart and engaging read. His years of extensive research became his Jewish education, which included a pilgrimage to Prague. There the past revealed itself to him through maps of streets that faded out of existence four centuries ago.
"Ken provided significant insight to what constructs a book and how to jump through time to bring us back to a fascinating place," commented Larry Epstein.
When he's not concocting his own mixture of intriguing characters and plots, Wishnia encourages other young authors as a creative writing teacher at Suffolk Community College.
"I'm in awe of Ken, his presentation, and his depth of scholarship," said the Temple's Membership Chair, Carole-ann Gordon.
At the close of the session Kenneth Wishnia reminded everyone that "we all have a story in us."