Meet Rich Shifman

R.B. Shifman is a husband, father, writer, and contract market researcher by day. Raised in South Florida, he studied Creative Writing at the University of Miami. Thirty years ago, he moved to Pennsylvania, and, after earning a graduate degree at Temple University, R.B. settled into a quiet suburban life befitting a market researcher.

R.B. lives with his wife, son (20), and daughter (18) near Doylestown, Pennsylvania. Both his children attend college, which leaves him plenty of time to spend with his wife and write his stories.

“Everyone Leaves This Place” represents R.B.’s debut YA contemporary fantasy novel.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW BOOK.

“Everyone Leaves This Place” is about an eighteen-year-old young woman, Evee Salazar, who undergoes an out-of-body experience. In her senior year, Evee butts heads with her mom and wavers between two guys, one of whom she thinks might be stalking her. To slow her down, her mom sends Evee to sit with her Gramma Cynthia at assisted living on Friday nights. To teach her granddaughter some gratitude, Gramma, who’s descended from Pilgrims/witches, decides to switch bodies with Evee temporarily. Mayhem ensues, and, worse, a mysterious figure steals Gramma Cynthia’s spell book and threatens to ruin Evee’s life forever.

The story starts off sort of light and fun, Freaky Friday-ish, if you will. However, I pleasantly surprised myself at how heartfelt the last third of the book turned out. Beta readers thought it’s funny too.

 

HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE TITLE FOR THIS BOOK?

My mom resides in assisted living—a wonderful place near our home. A while back she started saying to me, “Everyone is leaving this place.” I kept asking her who ‘everyone’ was, but she didn’t seem to have an answer. The phrase stuck in my head. 

 

WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK? IS IT PART OF A SERIES?

In mid-January 2019, I tweeted a piece of flash fiction for #Satsplat, which is a weekly writing-prompt Twitter game. The topic of the week was to write a twist-ending into the tweet. My tweet depicted a young woman feeding her infirmed grandmother. However, the end of the tweet revealed the young woman was trapped inside her Gramma’s body and vice versa. And Gramma seemed to delight in the girl’s predicament (although, in the novel, a further twist is that Gramma is trying to comfort the girl but doing a poor job of it). People on Twitter seemed to like this chilling little tweet, and one of my Twitter friends, author Carol Beth Anderson, encouraged me to write a novel about it.

This book is part of a series, Savage Spells, and the series becomes darker and more deliciously devious and mystical with each novel. The simple witch story takes some wicked turns.

 

HOW MUCH OF YOUR BOOK IS BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES OR THOSE OF SOMEONE YOU KNOW?

As a somewhat-past-middle-aged man, with a son in college, daughter who (at the time I wrote the novel) was a senior in high school, and a mother in assisted living, I feel uniquely qualified to write this story, which showcases three generations: a younger generation (Gen Z), the Silent Generation (who grew up shortly after the Great Depression), and Baby Boomers/Gen X, who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s.

As a Gen-Xer, I tap into the interactions and feelings I’ve noticed bubbling up among the three generations. For example, take the notion that kids become much more difficult the year before they leave for college—this is a real thing. I have friends who’ve experienced this as well. There are many reasons for it, and I try to give it a fair airing in the book, not necessarily taking sides.

Also, virtually all my stories, in some way, at least reference the fictional, idyllic (and somewhat magical) suburb of Dairytown, PA. Dairytown is inspired by real-life Doylestown, PA, which is the town near where I live and where my kids went to high school. I’m fond of Doylestown, PA, and I enjoy setting my novel in its fictional counterpart and outlying unincorporated areas. But, of course, everything and everybody in the story is made up.

 

WHAT KIND OF RESEARCH WENT INTO WRITING YOUR BOOK?

I researched the Salem Witch Trials and the Pilgrims to help create Gramma Cynthia’s backstory. An expert on late-seventeenth-century English helped me with dialogue for a short, ‘cut-scene’ chapter in 1692. I researched online how people lived in the colonies in the late seventeenth century. But most of the rest of the novel is inspired or informed by my real-life experience. Though of course, as I said earlier, everything in the story—people, places, and situations—is fictional!

WHAT CRITERIA DID YOU USE WHEN SELECTING THE COVER FOR YOUR BOOK?

I wanted the cover to somewhat accurately portray my main character, Evee and to be inviting-- intriguing and engaging--like the story and Evee. I wanted it to convey Evee’s beauty but also carry a hint of danger/foreboding, which is why she’s looking down and reading the spell book (Or is it Evee reading the spell book there? Hmmm…) I love the cover we picked, which has a nice contrast of light and dark that creates a mystical, eerie atmosphere.

 

WAS THERE A MESSAGE IN YOUR BOOK THAT YOU WERE TRYING TO CONVEY?

There are a couple of key messages. First, virtually everybody is fighting a battle you can’t see, so be kind and unpresumptuous to family, friends, and others. On the inside, people are often not how they appear on the outside, body-switch or not. Second, our familial and friend relationships are time-bound. Recognize what you’ve got before it’s gone. Tell that person with whom you’re fighting that you love them…if that’s true. Tomorrow may be too late.

 

IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD CHANGE ABOUT YOUR BOOK?

No. The story is true to the arc of my character and the way I envisioned it turning out. The book is not for most younger teens, given the mature content (some cursing, drug and alcohol use, and moderate-level romance), and that’s purposeful.

 

IF YOUR BOOK WOULD BE MADE INTO A FILM, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY THE LEADS?

Ha ha. You know there isn’t an author alive who hasn’t thought about this. Okay, here goes:

  • Evee Salazar (18) – either an unknown, Isabella Gomez from One Day at a Time, or perhaps multi-platinum, award-winning singer, Camilla Cabello (if she can act, because Evee is a singer with a mezzo soprano voice).

  • Mark Perrino (Evee’s new boyfriend, who is 19) – probably an unknown who is sort of Christian Slater-esque. I feel like the actor for Mark should come out of nowhere.

  • Joan Salazar (Evee’s mom) – Emmy-award winning & Academy-award nominated actress, Laura Linney. I’ve loved her since The Truman Show.

  • Oscar ‘Ozzy’ Salazar (Evee’s dad) – Emmy-award winning actor, Bobby Cannavale. Gray the hair above his temples!

  • Gramma Cynthia (87) – Academy-award winning & Emmy-award winning actress, Maggie Smith, if she’s still working.  How’s that for high hopes?

  • Denise (works front desk at assisted living) – Emmy-award winning actress, Ann Dowd or Emmy-award winning actor, Henry Winkler (if we turn Denise into Dennis)

  • Agnes Miller (Cynthia’s 92-yr-old friend) – Academy-award winning and Emmy-award winning actress, Helen Mirren (in makeup to make her look older)

  • Alex Miller (Agnes’ son) – Emmy-award winning & Academy-award nominated actor, Paul Giamatti

  • Simone ‘Monie’ Young (Evee’s best friend) – I’ve never seen Coco Jones act, but she looks like I pictured Simone in my head. Or maybe an unknown.

  • Head of Dining Services at Still Waters Residence – me in a cameo

There is one other character for whom I’d a like a well-known star to make a cameo. I won’t name the character or the actor/actress. This has to do with the plot. I won’t say anything more.

 

WHEN AND WHY DID YOU BEGIN WRITING?

I wrote some stuff in my early teens, but I truly began writing with a passion when I hit my mid-thirties in 2002. At this time, I felt compelled to write a novel that harkened to the nostalgia of my childhood – “Riverwood: Remembrance.” This story is out there on a free site, but it would need some work to publish it. I wrote four books in that urban fantasy series from 2002-2018. I’m most proud of “Dark Water & the Maiden,” which I wrote last, from 2013-2018; this story is a prequel. That book, set mainly in 1973, represents some hard stories and experiences from my life, and it could be the most emotionally resonant work I’ve ever created. Again, it would need some work to publish.

 

WHEN DID YOU FIRST CONSIDER YOURSELF A WRITER?

Age fourteen. I finished a novel on my typewriter. It was high fantasy, inspired by Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. It was REALLY bad.  I don’t even recall the name, but the pages are stashed in my basement. It’s junk. Haha.

 

DESCRIBE YOUR WRITING STYLE.

Inspired. If there’s a muse out there, she shows up, grabs me, and slaps me around until interesting stuff comes out. Music inspires me too.

I will generally, by the time I’ve written two-three chapters, know how the story ends and have a rough outline of the narrative. But I “pants” a lot of stuff in the middle. I do tend to get quirky in places. That’s me. Unexpected but, I hope, interesting and engaging.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST LESSON YOU HAD TO LEARN AS A WRITER?

My hardest lesson was learning, early in 2018, that, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. I still know next to nothing about writing. But now I know that. You know?

As a result, I stretched myself and learned more in 2018 about how to write well—receiving advice from beta readers, professional editors, and others on Twitter—than I’d learned in the prior fifty-one years of my life. Good thing I listened. If I hadn’t, my debut wouldn’t be published now.

 

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACE AS A WRITER?

Same as everyone, my challenges are consistently finding time and energy. Trying to be patient about the process is always a challenge too.

 

NOT INCLUDING FAMILY, WHO SUPPORTED YOUR EFFORTS TO BECOME A PUBLISHED AUTHOR?

My beta readers were key: Katy Nicholas, Barry Litherland, Kari Arthur-Joyner, Greg McLaughlin, Jacinta Horgan, Dominic Breiter, and Sarah Joy Green-Hart. I’ll single out Katy Nicholas, who really gave me a lot of great advice at every stage. I mentioned my online friend, Carol Beth Anderson, who is such a supportive person and truly encouraged me and believed in this story and me. I must mention Craytus Jones for moderating #SatSplat. Mark Schultz, from @WordRefiner, helped edit my query draft. One of my best friends, Joel Bradus, always believed in me and imbued me with positive energy. And, finally, my editors and support at Solstice Publishing, Kathi Sprayberry and Melissa Manes; they’ve been awesome!

Above all, I feel God has been kind to me, in allowing me to get to this point in attaining my lifelong goal. There’s probably a reason for it.

 

WHO WAS YOUR FIRST PUBLISHER AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THEM?

This is my debut. I’ve learned so much about the process, the industry, and editing. My editors taught me to trust the process.

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR NEW WRITERS?

See above. Trust the process. Be patient. Remain open.

 

WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS?

When I was younger, C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, E. Nesbit, Dianne Wynne Jones (e.g., ‘Dogsbody’).

As for current writers, I don’t know that I can pick one. I have so many books I love. I loved some books most people have read, such as ‘A Man Called Ove’ (Fredrik Backman), ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ (Anthony Doerr), and ‘The Nightingale’ (Kristin Hannah). I’m obsessed, this year, with ‘We Are Okay’ (Nina LaCour),’ and ‘The Possible World’ (Liese O’Halloran Schwartz). These are perhaps my top-5 in the last 5+ years. Though there are probably dozens more books I love if I were to check my Kindle carousel. I love Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.”

 

WHAT ARE YOU READING NOW?

I just reread ‘We Are OK’ by Nina LaCour and continue to believe it’s brilliant. I’m also reading a Solstice mystery called ‘Dark Secrets’ by Judi Getch Brodman.

 

WHAT MAKES YOU CRY?

In books or in life? People reaching out and taking care of vulnerable people when you’re unsure that’s going to happen. People who are alone and then find love. There’s so much loneliness in the world. When we see people making connections in a poignant way, it should take our breath away.

Also, endings. People realizing they’re moving on.

 

IF YOU COULD MEET ANYONE WHO EVER LIVED, PAST OR PRESENT, WHO WOULD THAT BE?

Jesus.

 

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE TV SHOWS AND MOVIES?

My top-two TV shows of all time are recent ones: The Leftovers & The Americans. Nuance, mysticism (in the case of the former), marvelous characters, emotional depth, intrigue, phenomenal acting, great musical scores, and amazingly tight stories that left me with a satisfying ache at the end. Also, we just finished Season 2 of Dark on Netflix, and my mind is blown by that show.

 

WHAT KIND OF MUSIC TOUCHES YOUR SOUL?

A lot of music touches my soul. Check the songs from my book. Every one of them. I have a thin skin, and it doesn’t take much to ignite a fire in me. It’s taken me a half century to better appreciate my sensitivity. People and life will often try to beat sensitivity out of you—"Oh, stop being so sensitive.” But as a writer, if you aren’t a sensitive soul, your stuff is probably not worth reading.

Right now, two beautiful songs that are eating at me are May the Angels by Alev Lenz, which is a song from Dark and July by Noah Cyrus.

 

WHAT DO YOU WANT WRITTEN ON YOUR HEADSTONE?

“Rich Shifman: A for Effort”

Eighteen-year-old Evee Salazar undergoes an out-of-body experience! She’s feeling the stress of senior year and butting heads with her mom. Worse, Evee secretly falls for Mark Perrino, the new guy in her friend group, even though she suspects he’s stalking her.

To slow Evee's roll, her mom sends her to sit with Gramma Cynthia on Friday evenings at an assisted living residence. Sounds like an easy task, but Gramma, who’s descended from a long line of witches, decides to switch bodies with Evee on three separate evenings. Goaded by a mysterious friend, Gramma brews up this temporary body-switching remedy to increase her granddaughter’s gratitude. But it only leaves Evee fuming.

Gramma’s body-switching plans lead to mayhem, but the madness doesn't end there. Evee discovers somebody else with malevolent intentions is casting spells behind the scenes. This shadowy figure has stolen Gramma’s dark-magic spell book. And if Evee can’t figure out who it is, they may destroy her life.

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