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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Interview with Jeff Gottesfeld, author of The Tree in the Courtyard

Today Jeff Gottesfeld, author of the beautiful new picture book, The Tree in the Courtyard, visits The Hiding Spot for an interview about the book, his process, and more!


I love that The Tree in the Courtyard shares the story of Anne Frank from the perspective of the horse chestnut tree outside the annex.Why did this unique point-of-view from which to share Anne’s story appeal to you? Why the chestnut tree?
Those who know me well know that I read everything. Every day, just about, several newspapers online and a bunch of magazines and long-forms, political and social websites, psychology and sociology academic papers; I devour information. I remember reading the story of the tree in the courtyard coming down in the storm, and getting choked up by it. I’d seen that tree. Now, her life was over. There was just something holy about the moment. When I read that scientists were looking to sprout the seedpods and the saplings that were growing off the smashed trunk, I thought, “Whoa.” Here was this pure and undying symbol of life – after all, going back to the Bible, trees were the embodiment of knowledge of life and death, and of right and wrong. It was also a mute witness – Dr. Beth Leedham recently pointed that aspect out to me – because of what it was. There were too many other mute witnesses who didn’t have to be mute, because of what they were.

Anne from the point of view of the tree was a good story. When the seedling and seedpods sprouted, it turned into a great story. The question was, whether I could tell it or not.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process: Do you outline? Start at the beginning? The middle? The end?
You’re talking to a person who spent a lot of time writing episodic television, which should give an instant answer to that question. I believe in outlines. I live by them. I always say that if the structure of an outline doesn’t work, then there’s no way the writing can save the narrative, because the framework isn’t going to hold up. You should see my outlines. Chapter by chapter, bullet point by bullet point… And the thing about outlines is, the better that one gets at doing them, the easier it becomes to create a story.

Natch, I shattered my own outline rule for The Tree in the Courtyard. I think it’s because I only had 900 words or so with which to work, but the structure of The Tree… was right in front of me. The tree was born, it lived, it died naturally, it lives on. Anne was born, she lived, she died because of the worst that mankind can be, her words live on. Plus, I had the spine line, which was just about the first line I thought of when I sat down to write. “The tree recalled how few had tried to save the girl.”

My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Name a notable book or author that has provided you with a hiding spot.
The one book that I have read, read again, and re-re-read ad infinitem is George Orwell’s 1984. It’s perfect. Now, it may say something about how I feel about the world to call my hiding spot Winston Smith’s tiny apartment in Victory Towers in London, Oceania, but it is true. I know that novel better than I know any other. Maybe it is because I love people but have serious doubts about the soul of humanity.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Share three people, places, or things that inspire your creativity.
I surround myself physically with inspiration. There is a large framed photograph of Orwell, taken in the year before he died of tuberculosis in his 40s (!), hung where I can see it when I write. I know he writes better than I ever will, but it is something to shoot for. My parents gave me a wonderful triptych by Romare Bearden, after the mural of Billie Holiday he did for the Baltimore train station, which also hangs in my very modest apartment in Los Angeles. I know he created better than I ever could, but it is something to shoot for. Finally, there are the candles that Beth and I light on Friday night at sunset, when we tell ourselves to just stop for a while and focus on the sacred. When that struck match erupts into flame, I calm. When I calm, there is space to dream.

What can your readers look forward to next?
The Christmas Mitzvah 
Inspired by a true story

Al Rosen was a Jewish man who loved Christmastime. It wasn’t his holiday. He had Hanukkah, the festival of lights. But what could be bad about peace on earth and goodwill to mankind?

As he made his rounds selling pots and pans, he’d wish his customers Merry Christmas. He especially loved Christmas Eve; how the brightly lit homes on the street announced the good news:

“It’s tonight! A child is born in Bethlehem!”


That’s the start of what comes next.


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About the Author

Jeff Gottesfeld is an American novelist, screen and television writer, and playwright. He writes for young people and grownups, and has a lot of publishing pseudonyms. Some of them you'd expect. Some, you might not.

He has written for such television shows as Smallville, The Young and the Restless, and As the World Turns. He co-wrote Toby Keith's feature Broken Bridges for Paramount. As one-half of the writing team behind the original ten The A-List books by Zoey Dean, he made a lot of teens happy and a lot of their parents wonder why their teen daughters were burying themselves in books.

After the itinerant life of a writer, he now lives and writes in Los Angeles, California.
About The Tree in the Courtyard
Told from the perspective of the tree outside Anne Frank's window—this book introduces her story to a young audience.

The tree in the courtyard was a horse chestnut. Her leaves were green stars; her flowers foaming cones of white and pink. Seagulls flocked to her shade. She spread roots and reached skyward in peace.

The tree watched a little girl, who played and laughed and wrote in a diary. When strangers invaded the city and warplanes roared overhead, the tree watched the girl peek out of the curtained window of the annex. It watched as she and her family were taken away—and when her father returned after the war, alone.

The tree died the summer Anne Frank would have turned eighty-one, but its seeds and saplings have been planted around the world as a symbol of peace.


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