Stephanie Feldman’s debut novel, The Angel of Losses (Ecco), is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award, and finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. Stephanie teaches fiction writing in the Arcadia University MFA Program and lives outside Philadelphia with her family.
I had come across The Angel of Losses in a bookstore, entranced by its lovely cover. After a quick read of the cover blurb, I was struck the similarities between my own life and the book and delighted by the fantastical nature of the novel. I was lucky enough to have a chance to speak with Stephanie Feldman about her debut novel.
Nergal Malham (Oyez Review): The Angel of Losses features a mythological character of Christian origin–the Wandering Jew. In previous interviews, I’ve seen you mentioned that you wanted to turn this interesting character into something a little bit more removed from its anti-Semitic roots. Did you feel like you were successful in this?
Stephanie Feldman: Yes, I think my White Rebbe is very different from the traditional Wandering Jew. He’s an amalgam of Jewish searchers, historical and mythic, and that makes him distinct from his gentile counterpart. More importantly, the themes he embodies are his own. He’s not an undesirable outsider, cast out by the world. Instead, he’s in an exile of his own making, struggling with his relationships with God and family. I think he’s someone we can identify with rather than a simple villain or morality tale.
NM: In the process of getting your debut novel published, what was the most surprising part of the process?
SF: I worked in publishing briefly, so I knew a lot of what to expect, but I wasn’t prepared for how exciting and surreal it is to meet readers. I labored over this story alone for so many years–it almost feels like letting people inside my head. Last year, I met an older reader who remembered hearing stories about the White Rebbe as a boy, and that was a thrill. (There’s very little about that figure in print, at least in English, and I invented most of what’s in the novel.) It made me feel like my book was part of a larger tradition, and so touching to hear how it brought him back to his own childhood.
NM: Are you working on another novel or writing project now?
SF: I’m working on a few novel projects–I’m not sure which one will see the light of day first. They’re all tackling very different subject matter from The Angel of Losses, but I think they straddle genres in a similar way. I like to explore women characters and knotty relationships, and I like to work with magical realism/fantasy as well.
NM: When I first read The Angel of Losses, I was a bit struck by how close to home it was. My own older sister married into a Sephardic Jewish family and converted long before then. I admit to being a little hostile to my brother-in-law before warming up to him. So, I ask this: Are you a seer? How did you know this? Where did this storyline come from?
SF: I’ve heard this reaction before! I’m not writing from my own experience here, and I didn’t realize just how common this family dynamic is until I heard from readers. The storyline began in a very abstract way. I had a vague vision of Marjorie’s adversary, and decided to increase the drama by making him her brother-in-law. I also wanted to explore different ideas about religious identity, and how these lead to tensions within a community, so putting them in the same family made sense. Of course, the more I wrote and revised, the more human everyone became. I began by thinking of Marjorie and Nathan as opposites, but in the end Marjorie learns they have a lot in common.
NM: What book (or TV show or movie) is your guilty pleasure?
SF: This is a tough question–I’m not embarrassed by the things I like, even when maybe I should be. I listen to pop music and watch reality TV and all of that other stuff. Maybe I’m a little ashamed of how much I enjoy my Food and Wine Magazine subscription. I promise I would never actually buy a $250 salad bowl.
NM: Thank you again for your time!
SF: Thank you! I’m glad the book resonated with you!
Nergal Malham is a MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Roosevelt University and serves as a reader/editor for issue 44 of Oyez Review. She earned her BS in Accounting from Northeastern Illinois University in 2014.