There was an article after the Boston Marathon bombing that mentioned in passing the 3-year-old daughter of one of the bombers. As awful as the events themselves were, and the aftermath, I kept thinking about that girl – she was too young to understand what her father had done, so when would she find out, and how, and how would she react? How would others react when they recognize who she is? That basically launched the idea for What Makes Us, to try to answer those questions.
2)What started you on your conquest of obtaining as many free honorary free titles as you can? What does a Baron in the Principality of Sealand do? Where is Sealand (I could google it but it’s much more interesting to ask)?
What title is next on your list of conquest?
When I was in college, I found out you could get ordained online, and my friend Aruna and I decided to go for it. She declared that we would officiate each other’s weddings. I thought she was joking, but apparently, she wasn’t, because we actually did officiate each other’s weddings.
As a birthday gift one year, my brother bought me the title of Baron of the Principality of Sealand. I hadn’t heard about it before then, but it’s an abandoned WW2 sea fort off the coast of England. Some guy then squatted on it in the 1960’s and claimed it as his and founded Sealand as a micronation. The UK has never recognized its independence and almost certainly never will, but they also don’t care enough to do anything with it, so the founder’s family runs it as if they have sovereignty, including selling titles to whomever wants one. There’s way more to the history than that, though!
The next title will be whatever other one I can get.
3) Is the picture on your about me page from the same place as Margaret Owen (@what_eats_owls) avatar on twitter?
It might be! Mine is from a trip to Space Center, Houston, which is basically a public-access section adjacent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. It’s a 10-minute drive from my parents’ house and where I grew up.
Margaret Owen’s photo is a different spacesuit, but it might be from the same visitor center, or maybe from another one next to one of NASA’s other centers.
4) I completely adore your sense of humor. I would say that I share it but I’m not sure I am nearly as witty or good at it. Your retweets make me cackle regularly. Where does it stem from and how does it help you cope with life?
Thank you – that’s sweet, but don’t sell yourself so short! Humor has always just been important to me, and especially in how or whether I form relationships. A good sense of humor is the most important trait I look for in others. Weirdly, though, my books so far are both very serious. For some reason humor only makes small appearances in my writing, and I’m not sure why.
I absolutely use it as a coping mechanism, too. It feels like as long as you’re laughing, things can’t be that bad.
5) Apparently, we share a love, admiration for and need to be made fun of John Oliver on Last Week Tonight (or hit by his salmon cannon). Talk to me about why you think he stands out in this field and your favorite segment that he’s done.
A long time ago, when asked about fans who actually got their news from The Daily Show, Jon Stewart said he thought that was crazy. I don’t know if he still believes that, but I hope not. Starting with Stewart’s takeover of The Daily Show and then amplified by The Colbert Report, the entire genre of news satire programs has changed dramatically over the last couple decades.
Maybe they used to exist for the sake of humor only, but that’s changed: they are now much more humorous analyses of news than they are just trivial jokes. And the analyses behind them are often of surprisingly high quality.
John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight is a pretty mind-blowing example. It’s crazy to look at it now and compare it to Craig Kilborn’s first few episodes of The Daily Show. Each LWT episode takes an in-depth, investigative look at an issue of importance that people don’t really think about, and John Oliver’s team is stunningly thorough. It’s weirdly great journalism! You could strip out all the jokes and have it read by Anderson Cooper or Barbara Walters, and no one would even know.
What Makes Us Synopsis
A viral video reveals a teen’s dark family history, leaving him to reckon with his heritage, legacy, and identity in this fiery, conversation-starting novel.
Eran Sharon knows nothing of his father except that he left when Eran was a baby. Now a senior in high school and living with his protective but tight-lipped mother, Eran is a passionate young man deeply interested in social justice and equality. When he learns that the Houston police have launched a program to increase traffic stops, Eran organizes a peaceful protest.
But a heated moment at the protest goes viral, and a reporter connects the Sharon family to a tragedy fifteen years earlier — and asks if Eran is anything like his father, a supposed terrorist. Soon enough, Eran is wondering the same thing, especially when the people he’s gone to school and temple with for years start to look at him differently.
Timely, powerful, and full of nuance, Rafi Mittlefehldt’s sophomore novel confronts the prejudices, fears, and strengths of family and community, striking right to the heart of what makes us who we are.
What Makes Us Book Links and Praise
Praise for What Makes Us
What Makes Us is a heart-stopping, heartbreaking read — a book full of heart. Mittlefehldt’s thoughtful, nuanced exploration of identity pulled me in from the very first page, and I could barely put it down. Eran’s story takes a universal coming-of-age theme — finding out your parents aren’t who you thought they were — to a tightly wound and thrilling extreme. Most important, this book provides satisfying, much-needed representation of a contemporary, complex Jewish teen and his family.
―Lisa Rosinsky, author of Inevitable and Only
Provocative. ―Kirkus Reviews
About Rafi Mittlefehldt
Rafi Mittlefehldt is a writer who has worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance theater critic, and children’s author. His debut novel was It Looks Like This. Rafi Mittlefehldt lives with his husband in New York City.
A Note from Rafi Mittlefehldt:
Shortly after the horrific Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, I read an article that mentioned one of the bombers having left behind a wife and three-year-old daughter. It was a throwaway line, but it stuck with me — I couldn’t stop thinking about that girl, who was too young to understand what had happened. When would she find out who her father was, and how would she process that? How would others react to learning about her family history? Would she keep it a secret? Would her mother?
What Makes Us began very simply as a story exploring those questions. But as I fleshed out the two main characters, Eran and Jade, their personalities took the story deeper, toward matters that are personal to me but relatable to so many. Eran’s volatility and tendency to react instinctively force him to confront issues of impulse control and anger management. And both characters’ uncertainty regarding their own pasts compels them to wrestle with self-determination and to ask, What makes a person? As the novel switches between Eran’s and Jade’s perspectives, we see them reluctantly frame and then try to answer this question, all against the backdrop of a community on the brink of chaos.
How to Find Rafi Mittlefehldt
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