February 09, 2022
Columbia Fiction Foundry Member Debra Green Publishes Debut Novel with She Writes Press
CFF member Debra Green Feldman’s The Convention of Wives, will be published in September 2022 by She Writes Press. Debra, whose pen name is Debra Green, has always been drawn to good storytelling, especially historical novels and Broadway musicals. While motherhood, hospital administration, and community volunteering were all rewarding, none fulfilled her creative longings. A graduate of Rutgers University and Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, when not writing, reading, or traveling, Debra can be found working in her ever-expanding vegetable garden. The Convention of Wives is her first novel. She lives with her husband, David, in Scotch Plains, New Jersey where they raised their three children.
The Convention of Wives
A sweeping saga that follows generations from a shtetl in Odessa to the comforts of Scarsdale, an uprising in Glasgow to servitude in the Caribbean, and a trek through the Alps to a displaced persons' camp in Italy, The Convention of Wives is a story about the ever-evolving messiness of friendship and marriage, and the wonder of survival. The novel crosses two genres, both contemporary and historical fiction, with a medical mystery to boot.
Now available for pre-order.
Amazon. The Convention of Wives
Barnes and Noble. The Convention of Wives
How do your novel’s themes connect to your Columbia public health education?
There is major interest in genetic identity/disease right now, a topic featured in the book. Each year world-wide around eight million children are born with structural defects or functional anomalies (for example, metabolic disorders) resulting in 303,000 newborns deaths and long-term disability, which has significant impacts on individuals, families, health-care systems, and societies. My background in public health encouraged me to seek out national and local organizations with which to partner such as JScreen and The National Gaucher Foundation to use the book as a vehicle to encourage public education about genetic diseases, screening, and treatment.
What is your connection to CFF?
I have been a part of a CFF group that meets on Saturday mornings every month or two to share our work and provide constructive feedback. I’ve never met any of these folks in person since I joined the group during Covid. However, I have developed a real sense of connection to these fellow writers. They have been direct, generous, and kind with their comments. I have learned as much if not more about my own writing by reviewing and giving feedback about their work. I highly recommend this type of workshopping for all authors. It is very worthwhile. It’s also been very nice to meet fellow Columbia grads.
Where did the idea for the book come from and is it autobiographical?
The idea for this book started about ten years ago when I was attending a medical convention with my husband in San Diego. Sitting by the pool, I noticed many women like me ‘convention wives’ all propped up on lounge chairs reading their novels. My adult children might be shocked to hear this, but it hasn’t been that long since most of the spouses were women. I wondered who they were, what they did with their time when not busy being ‘wives’. I outlined the book that day, started writing, then began taking a writing class. The book has gone through several revisions, and here we are. I am hopeful that the book may prompt discussion about issues that strike home for women such as friendship and the complications of long-term marriages and living within the values and expectations imposed by the era into which they are born.
Although I am the ‘wife’ of a physician, and the book certainly pulls from my experiences, the book is not autobiographical.
How long did the book take to write and were you ever discouraged?
The biggest challenge was the editing of the book which I did with the help of a developmental editor. Moving, cutting, and killing chapters was hard. Writing new chapters that the editor felt were ‘missing’ was difficult. Lastly, ‘killing my darlings’, eliminating those meandering paragraphs that sounded magical but didn’t move the plot or character development along was, at times, painful.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
My journey to publication has been going on for several years. The writing took about six, and the editing another year and a half working with a developmental editor. Workshopping in writing class was an important step along the way. After about six months of attempting to find an agent, getting nibbles but no commitments, I submitted my novel to She Writes Press, a hybrid publisher, and my work was accepted. I was excited to be chosen as one of their authors. This is a complicated business and my decision to partner with She Writes Press was made with the express purpose of helping me learn more about publishing as I went through the process.
What do you enjoy reading?
I enjoy reading anything written by Alice Hoffman—The Museum of Extraordinary Things, The Marriage of Opposite, The Dovekeepers are some of my favorites. Historical fiction is almost better than dark chocolate. I also value stories that include women playing roles as healers and value that women played a major role in the foundation of modern medicine by bringing folk knowledge of medicinal plants to the field despite being shut out of playing a formal role for so long. This is partly why I love the characters of Claire Fraser in Outlander and Talisa Stark in Game of Thrones.
When did you start writing stories? What did you do professionally before writing?
My earliest memory of writing a story was in Kindergarten at Highland Avenue Elementary School in Linden, New Jersey. We were working with black markers on large pieces of art paper writing words and drawing matching pictures. I threw up all over my work. It was not a confidence builder, but I’ve recuperated nicely.
Do you have a personal connection to Gaucher or Jewish Genetic Disease?
That’s an interesting question. As a health care professional for many years, I always had an interest in genetic diseases. But more specifically, I wanted to provide a plot twist that required a Jewish genetic disease. In doing my research I became much better acquainted with the amazing strides the Jewish population had made combatting Tay Sachs and then learned more about Gaucher and the treatments that were refined during the 1970’s. It was all fascinating to me. I did a 23andMe Medical panel on myself out of curiosity and am not a carrier of either. But a few years ago, my daughter, who had recently gotten married and gotten screened, called to tell me that she was a carrier. It was a surprising and impactful piece of information—information that I then shared with my husband’s family.
I am very hopeful that the book will spur interest in pan-ethnic genetic screening and disease treatments.