Jay Neugeboren is the author of 20 books, including two prize winning novels, two prize-winning non-fiction books, and four collections of award-winning stories. His most recent books are “The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company” (March 2013) and “The Other Side of the World” (December 2012). His blog posts are featured on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
Although my novel, “The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company,” is set in the silent film era — it begins in 1915, in Fort Lee, New Jersey, where a Jewish family that makes one and two reel (silent) films is making a new film on a frozen lake — its origins may lie in the spoken word. When friends ask how and why I came to write a novel about the silent film era, the first answer that comes to mind is that the novel is inspired not by my love of film, but by my childhood love of listening to stories on the radio.
During my years in high school, in Brooklyn in the early ’50s, the New York City Board of Education’s radio station, WNYE-FM, regularly broadcast radio programs into elementary, junior high, and high school classrooms. And during those years I was a child/teenage actor at the radio station. I played some wonderful parts — Tom Sawyer, Hans Brinker, Willie the Whale, young Abe Lincoln, et al — and what the director of the station, Marjorie Knudsen, taught me on my first day there has stayed with me throughout my life. The most important element an actor has at his or her command for creating character, she said, were not words, but silence. The way you pause before a word, or between sentences, or after a particular phrase, or in the middle of a word — this, she said, is what makes listeners pay attention so that they can, in their imaginations, transform what they hear — and do not hear — into credible characters and scenes. The mystery of character — and the essence of what made listeners want to know what-happens-next, lay in those moments when there was no sound.