Dr. Malnak’s father emigrated to the US from Lithuania when he was sixteen, leaving behind a large family. They were all subsequently sent to a Nazi death camp during World War II and were exterminated. As a result of that tragic familial history, Dr. Malnak developed a keen interest in the Holocaust and has read widely on the subject. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Florida with their whippet, Paige, and parakeet, Kiwi. Hitler’s Silver Box is his first novel.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Hitler’s Silver Box. When did you start writing and what got you into a historical thriller?
I did not start writing fiction until after I retired. Perhaps twelve years ago, I took an adult education class in fiction writing and that started the process. As for historical fiction, I kind of fell into the area because of the way my short story evolved into a novel.
Did you have a mentor who encouraged you?
The teacher who taught the fiction writing class was a very experienced novelist and biographer who also had been the short story editor of the New Yorker magazine. He assigned topics for short stories. One was “A Silver Box.” I wrote the story about a young Jewish silversmith who had been captured by Nazis and forced to make a special silver box for Hitler’s Birthday, as the Second World War was coming to an and. The teacher read the story out loud in class and told me it would make an excellent basis for a novel. He was my mentor.
Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing
The Holocaust part of the story became a small but important part of the novel, which revolves around the silversmith’s nephew, a young emergency room physician. He’s in his element in the ER, which I know well, but is in way over his head when confronted by neo-Nazi types, who will go to any extreme to find the silver box with its dreaded contents. I immediately realized a lot of research would be necessary to understand the silversmithing process as well as details about the concentration camp where the silversmith was held.
What was your inspiration for Hitler’s Silver Box?
My father left Lithuania for America at age sixteen, leaving behind a large immediate family. All of them were taken to a concentration camp by the Nazis and murdered.
I keep detailed descriptions of each character and summaries of each scene as soon as I come up with an idea for a scene. I don’t outline per se. I purchased several types of software, but did not find it particularly useful.
What do you tell your muse when she refuses to collaborate?
I usually take a break and let my subconscious mind deal with her. Trying to force my ideas on her when she is uncooperative is kind of like herding cats.
Many writers experience a vague anxiety before they sit down to right. Can you relate to this?
Absolutely. I’m sometimes glad that the anxiety is vague, since at times it begins to approach a panic state.
Do you have a writing schedule? Do you set yourself weekly goals for your writing?
During my long professional life as an internist and a medical school professor, I had to be very disciplined. In my writing, I’ll admit to being a tad sloppy. I’m a morning person, so my best work is done early in the day. I often tell myself to hold off editing until a project is finished, but my compulsive nature won’t allow that. I start each writing session by editing my previous session. Then I try to write without allowing my censor to have her say. Since I deal with a number of chronic diseases, I have not set rigid writing goals. I’m happy to make slow, steady progress.
How do you celebrate the completion of a novel?
Take my wife and some friends out to a champagne dinner.
What do you love most about the writer’s life?
When people come up to me or write me to tell me how much they enjoyed reading my novel. Great reviews also bring me pleasure.
Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
My goal is to put the reader into each scene. Let her smell the smells, hear the shrieking brakes. My mantra is “write, rewrite, get it right.”