Interview: Eric Flamm

WHAT DOES LITERARY SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?

Being able to say, “My book is out, read it, know it, love it,” is my successful finish line.

I am an anxious person. I work myself into a fine lather over the arcane and abstract, such as whether my spot infrared thermometer is the appropriate tool for determining if my tea water is actually 170 degrees, or if the damn thing is providing only an inaccurate surface temperature—and why the hell should it matter anyway, it’s just a cup of Gyokuro green tea, I’m not cooking meth, yet.

My writing life is much like my tea-drinking. I obsess over that which is largely imperceptible. When people ask about my writing projects, my mind spins into a rabbit hole of details and deadlines, and I always say something that later strikes me as inconceivably stupid. Being able to say, “My book is out, read it, know it, love it,” is my successful finish line. It means I can blissfully abstain from certain conversations because, well, I wrote the book. I put my thoughts on paper and got it out there. You, on the other hand, can bloviate all you want, but you didn’t write a book, did you? I accept the feedback this thinking gives ammunition to the smartasses (my teenage children?) who surmise that as my literary standards are so low, if this is what success looks like then what’s the point?

I suspect my literary contentment wouldn’t change much even if I had a larger authorly profile. My wife and kids would still call me out on my bullshit and I would continue to sit in my room, savoring a cup of tea that tasted pretty good but might be improved if the brewing time and water temperature were tweaked ever so slightly.

When and how did your journey with this book begin?

.I write fiction, but the core reason and motivation to write come from a desire to paint stories in the colors of my experience. The seeds for Portland Zionists Unite! began when I was a soldier in Israel in the 1990s. Even though so much of the time spent in the army was inconceivably dull, with endless shifts of guard duty at forsaken dessert outposts, it took all my energy to deal with the heat, cold, hunger, thirst, fatigue. Now having the time to reflect, the memories of Israel feel alien, like I am watching someone else’s movie. One spark that launched me typing on this project was attempting to reconcile my younger Israel self with the person presently living in Portland. An accelerant to the writing fire was the way Jewish Community engaged with the concept of Israel, positing the country as an ultimate good, no matter the political realities.

What do you hope people will take away from it?

The stories in Portland Zionists Unite! deal with, directly or indirectly, the friction generated by Israel’s militarism and the occupation of the West Bank. I’d like people to understand there is no “winning” for anybody. There is a human cost for the Israelis who have chosen to keep another population down by military force. Pointing a gun at children, even those not of your community, affects how you will interact with your own kids. Israelis grow up in a society where there are those who deserve only harsh treatment and another group who enjoy the full nuance of the rule of law.

What is your ultimate goal or wish for your book? Why was putting your work into the world important for you?

Writing should never be considered therapy, but there is an undeniable catharsis that occurs when the work is finished. I’m proud to present my own commentary on some of the issues surrounding what it means to be Jewish in today’s world. I’ve written on subjects important to me, and if a reader is given pause and sees things in a new light, so much the better.

I’ve written on subjects important to me, and if a reader is given pause and sees things in a new light, so much the better.

About Eric Flamm

Eric Flamm was raised in southern Minnesota and studied English literature and Chinese at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. After graduating, he worked as a journalist in Taiwan, and then at a startup technology company in Israel, where he became a citizen. In 1996, he was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces and eventually joined an artillery unit as a reservist. In 2001, he moved to Portland, where he still lives with his wife and two children. Since 2012, Flamm has been active in Israel advocacy, including the promotion of a negotiated settlement to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The first chapter of Portland Zionists Unite! is based on a short story which won honorable mention in the Writecorner Press Short Fiction Awards.

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