A theme running through my books is my sense that people's lives are formed not only by their childhoods and the events of their lives, but by their family history and often its secrets. I’m fascinated by the ways in which the desires, ambitions, and personality traits unique to one generations’ characters and their eras become manifested in unexpected ways in ensuing generations.
DEEDS, for one, embodies in full several themes I often find weaving themselves through my novels: how the dynamics of family life shape identity and how one generation often unconsciously imprints itself on the next, with the dreams and sins of parents emerging in new forms in their children and the children who come after.
Those elements are embodied in the lives of DEEDS’ major protagonists, the third generation of two intertwined families. Ralph Behr, is a charismatic and visionary NYC real estate developer ambitious to build the world’s tallest buildings. Gail Benedict, fiercely moral and independent, detests what she assumes she knows about Ralph. Because of secrets buried in their fathers’ lives, even their grandfathers', they must enter into a sham marriage that forces them together for the two years that must pass until their divorce will raise no suspicions.
Because the book stands on the bedrock of my family background, although Ralph and Gail’s story is not my own, its themes and characters resonate personally for me. I found myself slipping in small pieces of my own history. My father came to America as a boy with his father. Although he said that their first day in America and their reunion with Nissim, his roguish uncle, who appears in the book, was not quite as I depicted Raphael’s, he understood the transformations necessary to create a better story.
In a small way this updated version of DEEDS honors my father. When Ralph wanders through Saratoga’s Museum of Racing during a charity event, he comes upon the exhibit for the 1951 Kentucky Derby winner, Count Turf. The colt’s owner was my father, who believed both in his horse and the jockey, although no one else did. When Count Turf galloped to an easy four-length victory, my father achieved his personal American dream and became a part of the history of a sport he loved. Years later, on a different Derby day, ESPN paid tribute to him and Count Turf in a piece about them and their victory. The narrator was the legendary sportscaster Jack Whittaker, who recalled that his interest in horse racing was initiated by reading the newspaper report of the race. He called it “the essential Kentucky Derby story.”
Thinking as I am about the effects and ironies of a family’s past that materialize in its future, I’m reminded of an incident in my own life. In our family’s tradition, my son is named after his grandfather. When he was eight years old, I informed him that I had decided to become a full-time writer. Worriedly and very practically, he proceeded to interrogate me as to whether I could support our family pursuing that precarious profession. Ironically, he grew up to be a writer, in his case of movies and TV shows. I hope I’m around long enough to see enough of the life journeys of his and my daughter’s children to satisfy my curiosity as to how their lives will evolve. And I certainly hope that my wife, to whom the book is lovingly dedicated, is by my side.
A QUESTION OF PROOF likewise incorporates much of my own family's background in the background of the protagonist, Dan Lazar, a touch, street-smart lawyer in love with a Philadelphia socialite who is suspected of having murdered her husband and implores Dan to defend her. But he isn't sure that she's innocent. For the launch of A QUESTION OF PROOF, I drew on my film-making experience to create a video book trailer, which aims to capture the essence of the book's drama. It is available here and on YouTube and my website JosephAmiel.com.
To dwell on only one more of my books, BIRTHRIGHT, an international bestseller, is the story of a woman adopted into a fabulously wealthy British banking family who fights her treacherous father for control of the bank, which is hers by right and comes to America to build her own fortune. She is in love with two men who hold keys to her mysterious past hidden in an earlier generation of her family: one is a British nobleman and the other a U.S. entrepreneur.
Also linked to events in the past is a mystery at the heart of STALKING THE SKY, my latest thiller to be launched as an ebook. That secret changes everything as the story moves toward its powerful surprise ending.