Fantasy writers get to create whole worlds.
That used to be done entirely on the page, and so through the reader’s imagination. If the writer was really good, and also really lucky, that world could move to the screen – but that would come much later.
Now, though, technology allows a writer to create a world that is not confined to a flat, two-dimensional page, and the Internet can enhance and expand it.
Elisa Freilich of Englewood says that it is a wonderful time to write fantasy for young adults; she loves creating worlds, and living in them herself.
Her first novel, “The Silent Echo,” was published in September by Diversion Books; it is available both in print and as an ebook. Her website, www.elisafreilich.com, fills out the characters’ backstories, while videos there tell some of those stories. Music is vitally important to her characters. Her protagonist, she tells us, had been mute until the story starts, and her best friend is deaf, so both the reality and the symbolism of music says much to them. That’s why the website is loaded with music. And as soon as the book was published, an audio version was recorded as well.
“Silent Echo” is the first book of a planned trilogy; the next book is due in the spring.
Ms. Freilich, 42, has created worlds for herself as long as she can remember. When she was a child, she knew that she would write, but it wasn’t until her two older children went to sleepaway camp that she wrote her first book. It took only two months to transcribe the stories she had cobbled together in her head for so long. And then, with the magical ease that so rarely flows in real life, she found an agent and then a publisher.
Ms. Freilich, then Elisa Frommer, grew up in Monsey in a modern Orthodox family – happy, but increasingly out of tune with the ever-more-black-hat community around her. “It was just not the right fit for us anymore,” she said, so eventually, once she was grown, the family moved to Manhattan. Still, it was the right place to nurture her imagination, she said. “I am so happy that I grew up there.”
As a child, Ms. Freilich was a constant reader, in the classic style. “We didn’t turn on lights on Shabbos,” she said. “I had a bathroom of my own, so I would leave the light on, and I would lie on the floor in front of that light.” She went to the Frisch School in Paramus, where she was the editor of the literary journal. “In my mind, when I see something I always think to myself about how I would write about it,” she said. “I see the color red, and I think about how I would describe it.”
At Boston University, she majored in economics – “something I never even imagined myself doing,” she said, but the professor whose courses she took was so good that “I just kept signing up for them,” she said. After graduation, she worked in marketing, married David Freilich, an ophthalmologist, had three children – Abigail, 17; Charlie, 13; and Juliet, 10 – and moved to Englewood, where the family belongs to the East Hill Synagogue. Her father died 11 years ago – a shattering blow to the family – but the extended family is very close; she now lives around the corner from her mother.
Ms. Freilich is a crafter as well; she sees objects, brings them home, and makes art from them.
All this background explains why, when she finally found the time to write, Ms. Freilich produced a fantasy filled with music and art and Greek mythology, springing out of her head almost as Athena emerged from Zeus’s. (Thankfully, minus the hammer blow to the cranium.)
The music in “Silent Echo” is wide-ranging. “I’m obsessed with music and lyrics, with everything from Cole Porter to Eminem. I love Marcus Mumford. I really wanted to write a book about music, so the natural thing was to write about a siren.”
From there, she moved logically to Greek mythology. “I always loved mythology, so just before I wrote the book, I reread the Odyssey. It’s an amazing read for an adult; Harry Potter for adults.” Homer only writes about the sirens for a few verses,” she added.
“So then I took these mythological creatures and gave them my own stories,” she said. She was drawn to the Greek gods as models because “they are flawed. They have love affairs. They hurt each other. They protect each other. They are very human superhumans.”
Her heroine, Portia, has been mute since just after her birth, when she cried once. Her best friend is deaf. And then she gets her voice back.
When she first wrote the book, Ms. Freilich used lyrics from songs she loved. “And then I got wind of one very important word,” she said. “Copyright.” So instead of trying to get permission to use preexisting work – a process that can be both time-consuming and expensive – “I thought okay, I’ll just take these lyrics out and put my own in. And I did.
“There are now a few dozen lyrics that are integral to the plot, and as it stands now, we are running a contest for readers to send in musical submissions for how they imagine the music to sound. From that, we are hoping to download a soundtrack.”
Although there is nothing overtly Jewish in “Silent Echo,” it is written by an observant Orthodox Jew, and it shows. “The book has a lot of romance, but it is clean,” Ms. Freilich said. “There will be no premarital sex in my book.
“And I wanted to create an environment where it was okay for kids to be smart and enjoy their classes.
“I set it in a private school because that’s what I’m comfortable with, although not a religious one. The kids there are into their studies.
“I was that way. I often couldn’t wait to get to class. I wanted my characters to be that way too.”
On the other hand, she does live in the real world. “There are a few places where there are a few curse words. I davened over those decisions – but it has to sound natural to a 16-year-old. A 16-year-old will not say ‘Oh, shoot.’ But in terms of a moral compass, I feel that authors writing for young adults have a responsibility not to say that there are no rules.”