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Excerpt from The Red Thread

Peter thought he'd lost Mira forever.

I’ve collaborated with other writers before, and it’s always taken me places I wouldn’t have ventured on my own. My forthcoming novel, The Red Thread, is no exception. I’d never written magical realism before, and I’d never dreamed of tackling a topic as sensitive as the Shoah. I would never have juxtaposed the elements that make this novel unique and memorable. For that, I have my coauthor, Henri Marotz, to thank.

When I came to the project, the book’s outline had already been drafted. I had a path to follow, but there was a lot of open space in the second act. I started to think of that section of the book like the old cartoon in which two scientists are putting a complex formula on a chalkboard and in the middle, one of them wrote “then a miracle occurs.”

It also reminded me of when I used to teach dance lessons. Just as jazz musicians learn the art of improvisation, so do tap dancers. Some of my students absolutely loved the opportunity, and others shrank from the very thought of dancing without structure.

But there is always structure—and that’s what sees the dancer, or the writer, through to the end.

To be effective, the dancer must study technique, understand the music, and know what to expect so they can be comfortable creating something on the fly.

As the writer, I also had to study. I watched hours and hours of documentaries about World War II and the Holocaust. I familiarized myself with locations I’d never visited. I hopped over to Google whenever I had questions, which ranged in scope from what kinds of personal items would a young man have possessed in the 1930s to German folk songs, to flight schedules from Newark International Airport to…well, I don’t want to give spoilers.

Instead, I’ll share the opening scene.

Theresienstadt Ghetto, Occupied Czechoslovakia

June 1944

I sat between my parents on a hard bench while the orchestra tuned its instruments. In the violin section, Mira’s chair stood empty. I’d been listening to her practice for weeks. She wouldn’t have missed this performance unless something awful had happened.

When I turned to scan the crowd behind me, my mother nudged me to be still. Her face showed no emotion, but her eyes pleaded with me not to draw attention. I knew I risked being singled out for punishment later, but at the moment I didn’t care about myself—only about Mira.

As soon as my mother’s gaze returned to the front of the room, I glanced over first one shoulder, then the other, trying not to be obvious as I craned my neck. When I caught the eye of one of our guests of honor, my heart jumped, filling my throat until it was hard to breathe. I gulped as he smiled and nodded at me. Cold, clammy sweat broke out all over my body, and I looked away.

“Peter.” That one word, that whispered plea, stopped my fidgeting.

Everyone in the camp was ordered to attend this performance. Our four guests, a delegation sent by the International Red Cross, were the only ones in the auditorium who were not part of the show. The rest of us were performing as though our lives depended on it. Because they did.

For months, the Nazis had used us as slave labor for their Verschönerung—the beautification project meant to prove to the world how well we were being treated inside this ancient, walled fortress. As soon as the beautification was complete, a German film crew had arrived to shoot newsreel footage and a documentary about the town Hitler had given as a gift to the Jews.

The Nazis used us to fool the rest of the world, and carried out the deception with their customary, cold efficiency. Before the film crew arrived, the camp director dispatched seven transport trains away from here, bearing tens of thousands of people who were sent away to relieve the overcrowding. Mira’s father was among them. A sudden stab of fear, like an icicle, pierced my heart. What if Mira had tried to speak to a member of the delegation about her father’s whereabouts?

I clenched my fists in my lap and tried to keep my face from betraying my inner turmoil. Before the delegation arrived, we had been instructed how to behave, and Mira knew the rules as well as I. Our captors watched us constantly, and if one of us said too much, punishment would be meted out as soon as the delegation was gone—likely deportation to the east, and the unknown.

As the house lights dimmed, the Nazi officers took their seats. The conductor raised his baton in a hand that did not shake. The first note sawed across my nerves, and I blinked back tears.

I never laid eyes on Mira again.

***

If this excerpt from The Red Thread has piqued your curiosity, you may be interested in becoming part of the team of advance readers who help spread the word about Peter and Mira’s story.

Respond to this email at tracylawsonbooks@gmail.com and let me know if you want a chance to read this book before it’s released. As part of the team, you would be responsible for posting an online review of the book the week it’s released (October 2020) and talking it up to people you think might also like to read it.