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An Interview with Efrem Sigel

Efrem Sigel
Photo courtesy Efrem Sigel.

Efrem Sigel has been a journalist, editor and founder, with his wife Frederica, of two business publishing companies. He is the author of four nonfiction books about communications technology, hundreds of magazine and newsletter articles, and, in recent years, a score of published short stories. The stories, which he began publishing in the late 90s, have won a number of prizes and have garnered six Pushcart nominations from various literary magazines where they have appeared.

Efremís first novel, The Kermanshah Transfer, a novel of Middle Eastern intrigue, came out in 1973. Now, 35 years later, The Disappearance is being published by The Permanent Press. Mysterious Reviews had the opportunity to talk to Efrem recently.

Mysterious Reviews: The disappearance of a child, the subject of your new novel, The Disappearance, is a tough subject for some readers to confront. Is it also a tough subject to write about?

Efrem Sigel: The subject itself is tough but that doesnít mean the writing is tough. Actually, the stark simplicity of the plot -- a 14-year old boy disappears from a tiny hamlet and for months no one knows what has happened to him -- set against the very small town in which it occurs created the tension that propelled the story forward. I felt there was a built-in momentum to the story that kept me moving in the right direction.

What is your process for writing such a novel? Did you see the beginning and end clearly, from the outset?

I saw the beginning clearly. As for the ending, I knew what had happened; I didnít know who and more importantly, how and why until I got into it. It was very much trial and error to find a resolution that fit both the characters and the setting.

Efrem Sigel: The Disappearance

What exactly is the setting, and how did you choose it?

The story takes place in Smithfield, a fictional town of 500 people in western Massachusetts. Itís an area of natural beauty, of hills and farms and vistas, but surprisingly isolated from the larger world around it. Itís an area I know well, and the fascination for me was the question of how and why a terrible event would take place in such a bucolic setting.

It's been noted that The Disappearance is both a character study and a mystery. Was that always your intention or is it something that developed in the course of the writing?

Daniel Sandler is the child who disappears but the story really revolves around his parents, Joshua and Nathalie. From the outset I knew that I could not just write another ďChild disappears, who did it and why?Ē mystery. Iím the father of two sons, and as soon as I began writing the book, I knew the real drama involved the parents: Can they cope? Can their marriage survive? Out of tragedy can there be love and hope? By creating two characters with very different feelings and motivations, I was striving for a degree of tension between the parents that would parallel and even accentuate the tension of not knowing what had happened to their son.

What is your writing routine? Did you encounter any periods when you were stymied and unable to work on the book?

When I am really into something I try to write every day or at least six days a week. The problem is that you inevitably hit days when you produce words and pages but know that youíre not making progress. Iím not the kind of writer who can move a story along day by day so that in six or nine months itís done. It really took seven or eight years and many drafts until I felt I had finished the book. For me itís write and revise, write and revise, and only when I look back on it do I realize that some of my most creative work was simply discarding what didnít work.

Thirty-five years between your first novel, The Kermanshah Transfer, and your second, The Disappearance, is a long time by any reckoning. Can we expect to see a third novel?

During those 35 years I wrote four nonfiction books and started and managed a couple of business newsletter companies, so I was always writing. I only went back to fiction in a sustained way about 10 years ago, first with short stories and then The Disappearance. And yes, I have started on a third book and I have promised myself it will not take anything like 35 years.

What advice do you have for people who want to write a mystery?

Why arenít you writing it today? Lots of people say ďI have a book in me.Ē But the work is getting the book out.

Was it hard to find a publisher for The Disappearance?

Donít ask! Iím just lucky to have found The Permanent Press, whose co-publishers have a great love of fiction and the guts to publish it against all odds.

We'd like to offer our thanks to Efrem Sigel for taking the time to visit with us. For more information about the author and his novel The Disappearance visit EfremSigel.com.

Date of Interview: February 2009