In My Hand came out of a desire to tell my paternal grandfather’s story of survival during the Holocaust. He had come from a small town on the Czech-Hungarian border called Veritsky before the Nazis invaded his country. He fled to Budapest at the incredible age of 12 and was eventually captured, enduring unimaginable suffering and horror in three different concentration camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Mathausen and Sauschenhausen. It’s hard–nearly impossible–for any of us to imagine going through these tragedies at such a young age when most young Jewish boys are studying their Torah portions deciding on what appetizers should be served at the cocktail hour of their Bar Mitzvahs. Sadly, this coming of age ritual was denied to my grandfather who lost his youth, family and sanity in one fell swoop. While the fates of his loved ones are gruesome, one has stuck with me all these years after hearing it repeated so often by my father like some kind of morbid poetic refrain: Both of his sisters were raped before being thrown off a building to their deaths and his brother was killed when being forced to sweep for enemy mines that might have harmed German soldiers without any detection equipment. If anything encapsulates the unspeakable crimes and complete disregard for human life demonstrated by the Nazi war machine (and there are many things that do), it’s these macabre anecdotes my siblings and I grew up hearing over and over again.

But that’s the thing: I’ve heard all these stories from my father who heard it from his father. I was never particularly close with my grandfather whose terrible suffering made him unreachable to most people. In fact, there was no relationship between him and I whatsoever (no love lost, right?), unless you count him coming around the house a few times when I was little when I did not have the mental faculties to ask him about his experiences during the war–and even then, I doubt he would have told such a small child. After the war, he would move to America and end up marrying a Moroccan woman (my dear grandmother or “savta” as we call her) from Israel with whom he would have three children, one of them being my father, which is a whole different tale in and of itself that I hope to tell someday as well. Still, I was determined to base the main character of my first novel on him, or at least the bits and pieces I knew and heard about his life and eccentricites before and after he came to the United States. That’s when Morris Baker was born, a man very loosely modeled after a man I hardly ever knew.

My father has always been a student of WWII, filling our living room bookshelf to bursting with books on the subject over the years. Whether or not it stemmed from his own father’s personal experiences, I’ve never asked, but it wouldn’t be such a long shot to use that as a hypothesis for his scholarly nature toward the constant study of the greatest conflict our world has ever known. As I grew, I became fascinated with the topic myself, particularly the Holocaust, and it is now something that we share in common along with our love of collecting vinyl and the song “Lady Jane”–just kidding, he loathes that particular Stones song with a roiling passion. However, where he prefers to take in pure fact, I have discovered an incurable and feverish passion for the science fiction subgenre known as alternative history.

The vast majority of the works within this literary genre deal with WWII and like to ask what the world would look like if the Nazis and Axis powers had been victorious. Philip K. Dick, Harry Turtledove, Robert Harris, Tony Schumacher, Len Deighton and countless other authors have all tackled this question in their own unique ways to great effect, the most famous of which being Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. Nevertheless, one is not limited to the Nazis and World War II. They offer so many juicy possibilities, but for the enthusiastic writer, any time period is fair game with its own set of endless avenues.

That’s why I decided to tackle the Cold War, that non-conflict conflict that took place right after the atrocities of the Holocaust. The juxtaposition between the two fascinates me and not just the Cold War, but the second Red Scare that took place in America; the crippling fear and unshakable hatred of Communism that shook the nation for the better part of a century, exerting a major influence on both domestic and foreign policies. The Congressional hearings, arrests, witch hunts, paranoia and executions were a dark part of our country’s history, but what if, I wondered, these things had been cranked up to eleven? What if our main character, who had lived to see the rise and fall of the Nazis, been subjugated to their sick whims, was seeing the birth of an eerily similar police state in a place that was supposed to be the definitive cradle of democracy and freedom? What an interesting scenario indeed, I thought and that’s when the writing began to flow like a geyser of water from a busted hydrant. In My Hand is a meshing of two worlds both real and imaginary. It’s my personal family history entering the hardboiled mystery worlds of Chandler and Hammett, of Bogart and Cagney. It’s a remembrance of an America that could have been.

I’ve never been to Los Angeles, but it seemed that it needed to be the setting of the book, that skin-deep, glamorous town that goes so well with the noir story. I would like extend a huge thank you to Google Maps and Wikipedia for helping me find my way around LA and its rich history. They, unlike other sources I reached out to, do not carry a bias against a first-time novelist with no credibility. In addition, I want to thank my parents who have been my biggest supporters, editors and critics when it comes to every new draft of the book that comes along. I do hope to see this book in print one day, but until that glorious day comes (and I’ve accepted the fact that it may never come), I present to you the beginning of the thing that I have toiled over for the past year. In a way, it’s been my child, my lover and my enemy. As a writer, you’re never totally happy with your work; it can seem like genius one minute and total crap the next. Still, it’s high time to share that crap with the world. In the words of Jake Gittes, “I don’t want to live in the past … I just don’t want to lose it.”

JH Weiss

December 2016