An Interview with Ruth Rotkowitz, Author of The Whale Surfaces

Ruth Rotkowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1949 to Jewish Holocaust survivors who fled Vienna, Austria when Hitler came to power. This legacy has informed her research and her writing.
Ruth earned a B.A. and M.A. in English and has taught on both the college and high school levels, in New York and New Jersey. As a freelance writer, she has published fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in anthologies and literary journals. She has also served as a staff writer and member of the editorial board of the (now defunct) Woman’s Newspaper of Princeton, where her feature articles garnered numerous awards.
She and her husband moved to Arizona in 2009, and Ruth became involved with the Phoenix Holocaust Association. In her volunteer work for this organization, she gives book talks in the Phoenix area, including for the adult education program at Arizona State University, on Holocaust-related books.
Her debut novel, ESCAPING THE WHALE, has been released April 11, 2020. Featuring a protagonist who must deal with her own painful family legacy along with the frightening news involving the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1980, the novel follows her struggle to be “normal” and present as normal in her job and love life. At some point, she will have to realize that she cannot continue with her act.
Ruth believes the novel will appeal to lovers of literature, history, and psychology, as well as lovers of an old-fashioned growing-up story!

Q: Can you summarize The Whale Surfaces in 20 words or less?

A child raised by Holocaust survivor parents absorbs their experiences. Plagued by fears, she struggles to achieve inner peace.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

After my debut novel Escaping the Whale was published, I began conducting talks and discussions with various organizations and book clubs. During these talks, many readers expressed an interest in my protagonist’s childhood, as they were curious about how she became the kind of young woman she is in the book. Thus, the idea for a prequel that would answer these readers’ questions came to be.

Q: What sort of research went into the writing of this book?

I did research on the events and trends of the time period involved. While I personally remember most of them, I wanted to be sure I was accurate with the dates and facts, and that I was presenting them as they would appear to a sensitive child.

Q: How does this book relate to Escaping the Whale?

It is a prequel. Escaping the Whale finds the protagonist at the age of 28, working as a guidance counselor in a large urban high school and living in her own apartment. The Whale Surfaces begins when this same protagonist is 11 years old and ends when she graduates from college, gets her first job, and takes an apartment, at age 22. The six years between the 2 books are left to the reader’s imagination.

Q: What did you enjoy most about developing a prequel? Was there anything challenging about it?

I enjoyed imagining how the main character, Marcia, began her mental battle with fears and delusions, and figuring out how she, as a child, would deal with her knowledge of her family’s Holocaust experiences. I felt it was important to show that despite growing up with loving parents and a safe home environment, a person can still suffer mental torment.

What was challenging was remaining consistent to her character. While all of us change as we get older, some aspects of our personalities persist. I tried to balance the parts of her that would remain and even flourish with the parts that would seem to have changed later on.

Q: What kind of feedback are you getting from readers?

I am getting wonderful feedback! Readers are telling me that they see and understand how this character developed. They tell me they feel sympathetic toward her and care about her.

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Q: What inspires you to write?

There are so many stories that need to be told, so many characters that need to be studied and understood, so many themes and messages to absorb. Human nature and people’s inner struggles inspire me.

Q: Is there a message or common theme in The Whale Surfaces you want readers to grasp?

The message from both of my novels is the same. I want readers to have compassion for people who suffer and who struggle, both with personal experiences and with mental health problems. I hope readers will realize that mental issues cannot be ignored or wished away or escaped from – they have to be acknowledged and addressed in order to result in healing.

Q: What is on your current reading list?

Lately, I have been trying to read novels that fall into the same category as mine – that is, novels that feature children of Holocaust survivors dealing with inherited trauma in the period after the war. The body of fiction dealing with this subject has only recently been growing. In that vein, I have recently read two excellent books – Lila by Rose Ross and My Mother’s Son by David Hirshberg. I am planning to read If Anyone Calls, Tell Them I Died by Emanuel Rosen, The Takeaway Men by Meryl Ain, and Hope Valley by Haviva Ner-David.

I have also been reading books on female struggles taking place all over the world.  The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Dare, which takes place in Nigeria, was fabulous and inspiring.

Q: What is your next writing project?

I have begun two other novels, and I have to decide which one to tackle next! One deals with an installation artist who befriends and then becomes obsessed with a pair of charismatic but troubled actors. The other features a woman who lives in an old, historic, falling-apart castle she inherited that she feels obligated to keep. In other words, I am leaving the world of Marcia Gold, my protagonist through these last two novels. She is on her own now!

Q: Can you provide your web address and links to your social media profiles for the audience?

Link to the prequel: The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale 

My website:




Twitter: RotkowitzRuth



Q: Any closing remarks?

I love hearing from readers with reactions to my writing. Please contact me through my website with any comments, questions, and yes, even criticisms. I am happy to discuss anything relating to my books.

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Read My Previous Interview with Ruth about Escaping the Whale

An Interview with Author Ruth Rotkowitz

Ruth Rotkowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1949 to Jewish Holocaust survivors who fled Vienna, Austria when Hitler came to power. This legacy has informed her research and her writing. Her debut novel, Escaping the Whale is currently available on Amazon. Q: Can you sum up Escaping the Whale in 20 words or…

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As a thank you for registering for our email list, you’ll receive free printable reading journal templates and a bonus 100 book reading list! Members of the email list also receive an exclusive discount code for my Etsy store: MapleStreetStudioHRS.

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