Breakfast is over on the Grande Caribe cruise ship. Picking up her Mac laptop computer from her cabin, Lillian Herzberg heads to the ship’s lounge where her husband Ernie sets up a card table.
While the Cumberland River flows peacefully outside the lobby windows, Lillian starts working on her newest book – “Escape From Girona.”
“I’ve got it all written,” the 85-year-old author said. “I’m just editing it now and then I will turn it in to a publisher.”
The book tells the fictional story of a Jewish family and their progeny and how they survived the Spanish Inquisition. “Jews in 1400s Spain had to be covert or die,” Lillian said. “That’s why many of them left the country and escaped to somewhere else.”
The story idea came to Lillian while she was on a trip to New Mexico and heard about Spanish Jews who had left their homeland to start a new life.
To research her book, Lillian and her husband traveled to Spain and Portugal. “I love to do research and to write,” Lillian said, adding with a grin. “My husband says that writing keeps me out of the psychiatrist’s office.”
Although she worked on the school newspaper when she was in high school, Lillian put aside her writing when she got married and had three children. “I didn’t go to college until I was in my 60s. I first sent my three children and my husband to college, then I went,” she said. “It was an advantage to be going to college at that age. The young students all thought I must be so smart because I was older.”
Attending San Diego State College and Grossmont College in La Mesa, Lillian discovered how much she enjoyed writing. But it wasn’t until she joined a local San Diego organization – The Rancho Bernardo Writers Group – about 20 years ago that Lillian really hit her stride.
“They taught me so much,” she said. “That’s where I really learned how to write. We help each other and critique each other’s work … There are only three of the original members left in that group now.”
When she was 75 years old, Lillian had her first book published in 2001 – “Kindness of Strangers.”
“I tried to be blasé when my first book came out but I was so excited to actually hold a book of my own in my hands,” she said.
As for him, Ernie says he isn’t surprised at all to be married to a published writer. “She is very talented,” he said. “All of her books are good.”
That first book was followed in 2003 by “Stephan’s Journey” and in 2006 by “Artemisia: An Outrageous Woman: A Woman’s Struggle for Recognition.” Lillian also had several other stories published, including one about her husband’s life in Germany for the book “Chicken Soup for the Kid’s Soul.” She plans to compile some of her short stories into an anthology.
Enjoying her third cruise on Blount Small Ship Adventures, Lillian says she likes the camaraderie and informality of the cruise line. She also enjoys writing while on the water.
“I do find that I need background noise to help me concentrate,” she said, gesturing to fellow passengers chatting, reading and working puzzles in the lounge. “I like to write because it taxes my brain and challenges my memory.”
After the 12-day cruise from New Orleans to Nashville, the Herzbergs will stay on the Grande Caribe for another week to Memphis. “By the time we get off the ship, I hope to have my book finished,” she said. “It’s nice to take the ride, eat the delicious food and visit with the warm and friendly people. It’s very relaxing to me.”
And for the next writing project? “I don’t have a specific book in mind,” Lillian said. “But I’m sure something will come to me.”
For more information: Contact Blount Small Ship Adventures at (800) 556-7450, www.BlountSmallShipAdventures.com
March 31, 2012
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch