May 16, 2021

From her book “Chasing Portraits” to the platform ”Authors Answer,” Author and Documentary Film Producer Elizabeth Rynecki Seizes Passion in Passion Projects

What are you working on—on the side?

I’m kind of a side project addict. You originally asked me about Authors Answer, so I’ll start there.

During the March 2020 pandemic shut-down in California, I realized that many authors might not be able to get out into the world to promote their books. Getting your book into the hands of just the right reader is hard enough without further obstacles like a worldwide pandemic. I’m a fan of author interviews, but had grown weary of formulaic classics like “What books are on your nightstand?” or “What book inspired you to be a writer?” and even “You’re having a dinner party … which three authors (dead or alive) do you invite?” I thought it would be fun to give authors a platform to wax eloquently about the influences on their writing lives off the written page. I wrote a list of 20 questions and decided participants should answer FIVE. The project is now a year old. Over 200 authors have participated, including: novelists, memoirists, academics, poets and picture book authors. I hope authors continue to submit answers because while they get to promote their backstories. I learn about so many new-to-me authors and their books.

For more than a decade, my bigger side project has been “Chasing Portraits.” A book and documentary film, the project is about my quest to find the art of my Polish-Jewish great-grandfather, who perished in the Holocaust. Spanning three decades of my life, and three generations, it’s a narrative about the richness of one man’s art, the devastation of war, and my family’s unexpected path to healing. The book came out from Penguin Random House in 2016. The film premiered in 2018. I continue to do virtual book club events and film Q&A events.

My personal pandemic side project is a multimedia journal. In a spiral bound, 9” x 12” sketchbook, I document life. Sometimes I write about the day’s events or make black-out poetry. Other times I draw. Occasionally I paste things onto the pages. Mostly it’s just for me, although sometimes I share pieces of it on my Instagram account. I’ve now hit the one-year anniversary mark and while I thought about stopping, my family encouraged me to keep going. It’s interesting to flip back and remember some of the crazy, scary and stressful things that happened to our family, community and the world over the last 12 months. Maybe in a few generations, someone might be interested in what I recorded.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

I am fortunate enough to have a great deal of flexibility in my schedule. I’m also exceedingly grateful to have a family that supports and encourages all my part-time creative ambitions. The house is a mess, the dishes don’t always get done, and the laundry piles up, but no one seems to care too much.

Why have a side project?

They bring me joy … mostly! Creativity is HARD WORK. I stumbled a lot in my own projects. I wish I had a new Authors Answer blog post every day, my drawings aren’t great (a well-meaning friend called them childlike … which they are), writing does not come easily to me, I get frustrated and jealous of other people’s awe-inspiring work, and frequently feel like a failure. [By the way, a lot of creative people have Imposter Syndrome.] But you can’t wait to do a project until you’re an expert, because they only way you get better at the tough things is to KEEP DOING THEM. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” Plus, life without passion projects just isn’t life enough for me.

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Diptych courtesy of Elizabeth Rynecki.

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