Michelle Cameron and I met when I interviewed her years ago. She was helping me with one of my projects, but that chat introduced me to her own wonderful historical novels. Now I’m thrilled to introduce her – and her upcoming BEYOND THE GHETTO GATES – to you. Because in these strange times, what could be a better escape than to dive into a rich historical about a long ago time (the Napoleonic era) and a far away place (Ancona, Italy). Prepare to be transported…
How does a book start for you?
As a historical novelist, it always starts through reading. I’ll come across something in a book and recognize that it might make a wonderful novel. With Beyond the Ghetto Gates, I was reading Michael Goldfarb’s nonfiction book, Emancipation: How Liberating Europe’s Jews Led to Revolution and Renaissance, and was struck by his description of Napoleon’s encounter with the Jews and ghetto in Ancona, Italy. That was where everything began.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most – and why?
My main character, Mirelle. She started out as a passive, culturally appropriate 18th Century young lady – and ended up (after many revisions) as a much more feisty, assertive young woman. In addition, at first I made her artistic, but eventually realized that wouldn’t work for the plot. So she evolved, ending up with a managerial and quite pronounced mathematical bent. Since I myself am nearly always befuddled by numbers, that was a huge surprise. But at least I have a mathematically adept son that I could model her on.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
As mentioned above, the novel is set primarily in the harbor city of Ancona, Italy, because that was the first Italian ghetto gate Napoleon tore down. Ancona was new to me, and my research into the city gave me two amazing gifts. The first is that Ancona was then the world center of ketubah (Jewish marriage certificate) creation – beautiful illuminated documents that were hugely sought after. The other was that, right before Napoleon and his forces arrived, a portrait of the Virgin Mary in the city’s cathedral was reported to move her head and cry. I read a compelling anecdote of how, when Napoleon saw the portrait, he turned white and threw a gold cloth over it. That was too good a story to pass up, so I expanded upon it – fictionally – as part of the plot.
What are you working on now?
The next book in the series, when Napoleon and his forces – including two of the characters who played major roles in Beyond the Ghetto Gates, will travel on a somewhat bizarre yet historically accurate expedition to Egypt and Israel.
Which question didn’t I ask you that I should have?
This novel, like your previous historical, The Fruit of Her Hands, are Jewish historical fiction. Why did you choose that as a genre?
I think it chose me, not the other way around. It did help that I spent most of my high school years in Israel, where my phenomenal Jewish history teacher gave me more depth and breadth of knowledge than most American Jews have. My first book – a verse novel on the fictionalized life and loves of William Shakespeare called In the Shadow of the Globe – aligned more closely with the type of history I thought I’d be writing about. But then I discovered the story of my 13th Century ancestor, Meir of Rothenberg, which plunged me into an era of medieval Jewish history that was largely unknown. Having written that, turning to this other unfamiliar point in Jewish history just felt natural.
MICHELLE CAMERON is a director of The Writers Circle, an NJ-based organization that offers creative writing programs to children, teens, and adults, and the author of works of historical fiction and poetry: Beyond the Ghetto Gates (She Writes Press, 2020), The Fruit of Her Hands: The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz (Pocket, 2009), and In the Shadow of the Globe (Lit Pot Press, 2003). She lived in Israel for fifteen years (including three weeks in a bomb shelter during the Yom Kippur War) and served as an officer in the Israeli army teaching air force cadets technical English. Michelle lives in New Jersey with her husband and has two grown sons of whom she is inordinately proud. Visit her website for more information https://michelle-cameron.com.
Advance praise for Beyond the Ghetto Gates:
“A gripping peek into a bygone Italy and an astute look at the era’s prejudice.” — Kirkus Review
“Beyond the Ghetto Gates is a timeless coming-of-age story.” — 4 Star Foreword Clarion Review
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