Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An interview with Sonia Taitz, author of DOWN UNDER

Who hasn't drooled over Mel Gibson before?... I know I have. Buff, slick, rugged. But these are all descriptors of what Mel is like in the movies, as an actor. What is he like in real life? Or rather, what is his real life really like?

To answer those questions in the best possible way - via fiction - I have with me Sonia Taitz, author of the newly release novel DOWN UNDER
Sonia Taitz, author of DOWN UNDER
An interview with Sonia Taitz, author DOWN UNDER

Lia Mack: Is it true that your new novel, DOWN UNDER, is based on Mel Gibson?

Sonia Taitz: Yes. I made it all up, but some aspects were inspired by reality. Mel actually grew up in upstate New York, and so does the hero of DOWN UNDER, Collum Whitsun. They both move to Australia and become international superstars. 

Lia Mack: Where does the fiction come in?

Sonia Taitz: That’s where the real fun begins. I made up a passionate, fraught relationship between young Collum and Judy, a girl he meets and falls in love with in high school. He’s Irish-American, with an abusive, fanatical father; Judy’s Jewish, with a conventional bourgeois family.  It’s a Romeo and Juliet set up, with a twist. The teen lovers break up just before Collum has to leave for Australia (both Mel and Collum’s father wanted their boys evade the draft, so their families emigrate).

For the next many decades, as his star climbs, Collum carries a torch for Judy. Sometimes the flames burn higher, sometimes lower. But the spark is always there, ready to ignite. This is big love, but as is so often the case, big love is tinged with hate,  which perhaps makes it burn hotter. Collum nurses a longstanding grudge --  he feels that Judy betrayed him by not running away with him before his father whisked him away “down under.” After years apart, his star in decline, Collum comes looking for his deepest love. He’s on a quest, with questions in his heart that must be answered. Judy is by then a middle-aged suburbanite (who calls herself  “Jude”), with a lukewarm marriage and two difficult twin teen boys. She’s ripe for romance, and off they go.

Lia Mack: Why did you choose to base your character on the now notorious Mel Gibson?

Sonia Taitz: Mel was always my favorite movie star. I loved his gumption, his slight air of madness (tinged with machismo), and the obvious fact that he was easy on the eye. In fact, People magazine officially named him the Sexiest Man in the World.  At the height of his fame, by weird coincidence, Mel Gibson actually shot two movies on my block in New York City. It was fun to have my hero hang out on my block for days on end. My husband joked that Mel was stalking me.

Lia Mack: So basically you’re saying that Mel Gibson stalked you? ;)

Sonia Taitz: Not even in my own conspiracy theory or sweetest fantasy. It’s actually better not to be stalked by a man with gumption and that touch of madness. Years later, Mel made a few controversial movies, and a film critic (who lives near me) made some disparaging remarks, which Mel did not take well. Mel said he wanted to yank this critic’s intestines out, put them on a stick, and feed them to his dog.

So no, I didn’t want this man to stalk me. Especially not when, soon after the plan to disembowel my neighbor, Mel also began to make sexist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic remarks.

Lia Mack: I suppose with your parents’ holocaust background – which you describe in your memoir, THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER, you’d have felt especially bad about that last one.

Sonia Taitz: That’s very perceptive! I’m not only female and tolerant towards gays, but my own parents suffered the horrendous consequences of anti-Semitism. As I write about THE WATCHMAKER’SDAUGHTER, both were survivors of concentration camps in Europe. Mel’s hysterical accusations about Jews (which I won’t repeat here, but do in DOWN UNDER) hurt me deeply. He was said to be drunk at the time (and much of the time), and I’d heard that he suffered from a crippling personality disorder, but even so, it was jarring to have my beloved star morph from Braveheart to Rottenheart.

And then there was the troubling interview in a national magazine, where they asked Mel if his father really denied the Holocaust, or its extent. Gibson senior was quoted to that effect, and his own website was a bit alarming. Mel seemed to dodge the question by saying, “My father never lied to me.” It was all an ugly jumble, a tangle of abuse, of victims and victimizers starting in childhood. I began trying to discover which factors might have led to such rage in Mel’s case – and then in Collum’s.

Lia Mack: What do you think led to it?

Sonia Taitz: I’d worked with abused children as a lawyer, and wondered if perhaps Mel’s hero worship of his father -- who had made disparaging statements, not only about the Holocaust but about the Catholic church (Vatican II in particular) -- might well be the result of a painful, repressive childhood. Most haters – the worst kind – have suffered extreme abuse. They’ve been taught about cruelty firsthand, and such victims do frequently become victimizers, projecting their own self-hatred onto others.

I remember hearing that Hitler himself had once been a painter – a would-be artist -- who’d been rejected by a Jewish dealer. That, and his own awful childhood, somehow paired up disastrously to create a deep and murderous rage, directed toward a entire group of people. The rest is history – my history in particular. But it’s the history of the world. I believe that most evil can be traced back to the nursery, to the absence of love.

Lia Mack: How did you use these perspectives in the novel?

Sonia Taitz: I created a backstory in which Collum’s breakup with a Jewish girl – his utter love for her, and the conviction that she “betrayed” him by not fleeing with him – lights a very long fuse, which blows up years later. When his life falls apart – marriage, career – he begins thinking about finding Judy again. Is he looking to reconnect with his first, deepest love? To be healed by her? To get closure? Revenge? Or some combination?

Lia Mack: So the young lovers do meet again?

Sonia Taitz: Oh, yes. It takes a while. Collum has to find Judy. It’s his mission. Facebook helps, and that is how they first contact each other. Then the journey begins. Collum, like Mel, is very good at disguises and accents, so as he wends his way to Judy, she hardly notices these strangers who are encroaching on her life. But one day, there’s a knock at her door. It’s a Chassidic man with a surprisingly winning way, deep knowledge of Judaism, and a hard body under those black clothes.

Lia Mack: How does the meeting go?

Sonia Taitz: It takes a while for Jude to even open her door, but when she opens it, she does open itYou’ll have to read DOWN UNDER to find out what happens. Let’s just say it’s passionate, and you might miss a night of sleep over it.  But in the end, you’ll ponder what you know about good and evil, love and hate – how they intersect, and whether they are ultimately balanced and resolved.

Lia Mack: Do you personally believe in pure, absolute love?

Sonia Taitz: If I didn’t, would I be writing books like this? Though it’s the cause of so much of our folly, yes. I hold true to that ideal, even if we all so often fall short of it. The secret is never to shut down. Maybe that’s why I keep writing – it keeps my better self flowing and alive. Reading does that, too. 
Lia Mack: Thank you so much for visiting us here at the BB B&B! Definately a unique and interesting read taht I can't wait to get into.
Where can BB B&B readers find you online? 
Sonia Taitz: For more on Sonia Taitz, go to 

Sonia Taitz is the author of, among other books, the New York Times-praised novel, IN THE KING’S ARMS, the award-winning memoir, THE WATCHMAKER’S DAUGHTER, and DOWN UNDER, just released.

Sonia Taitz, author of DOWN UNDER