South Tahoe author helps pen WWII novel

Laney Griffo
Cal Orey, co-author.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — A local author has taken part in writing a new young adult novel which takes place during World War II.

“The Caged Bird Sings” is told from the perspective of Benjamin Cohen, a 13-year-old Jewish boy living in France at the start of the occupation. Benjamin lives in the shadow of his doctor father and his older brother, Emile, who is following in their father’s steps by attending medical school.

Benjamin finds refuge in the neighborhood Catholic cathedral where he is taught to play carillon, a pitched percussion instrument that is played with a keyboard and consists of at least bronze bells in fixed suspension.

Cal Orey is a South Lake Tahoe resident who is more well-known for her food and beverage books and columns. She frequently ghost writes for authors, so when The Caged Bird Sings’ author James Channing Shaw approached her to help with this novel, she was happy to oblige.

James Channing Shaw

The novel was originally told in third person but as Orey continued to help Shaw, she recommended the book be told in first person.

“I tend to get too passionate as a ghostwriter. And yes, in the past I’ve been credited as a co-author. The creator of The Caged Bird Sings wowed me with his well-written historical story based in Rouen, France during WWII,” Orey said. “However, I found a fatal flaw. It was originally penned in a third person narrative. I thought, ‘It’s too dry. The protagonist Benjamin Cohen faces so much drama. I want to hear his feelings, get the real deal.’ I channeled into the character and yes it was easy-peasy. I morphed into the teen and felt his erratic world spin out of control through his eyes.”

Readers follow Benjamin’s story through his diary entries, letters from Emile, who leaves to join the resistance, and conversations with his closest companion, a bird named Frère Jacques.

Orey said she looked back at her own teen years for inspiration for Benjamin.

“My ‘wonder years’ on the surface were normal, growing up in ‘suburbia.’ However, I did cope with the Vietnam War and its effects. I still have scars of sibling rivalry, and a father with his vision for my career — a dental assistant. I grew up Catholic but I was open-minded, like Benjamin. My family saw me as the ‘underdog’ but like Benjamin I grew up fast during the rebellious post-hippie era and was on my own in many ways,” Orey said.

In addition to changing the perspective of the book, Orey also brought in the Frère Jacques character.

“The bird may be seen as a young man’s best friend, especially in the end. As an animal lover since a kid I always had a dog or cat,” Orey said. “Since I was shy it was easy for me to bond with a constant companion like Benjamin does with his parrot.”

Orey found strength in the characters she helped form during the Caldor Fire, which started while the book was in production.

“As an evacuee like thousands of Lake Tahoe residents who witnessed our town being threatened, I gained strength from both Benjamin and Emile. They do what they have to do to deal with the invasion,” Orey said. “When the family is separated and the brothers are on the run, their amazing courage is inspirational. Also, Benjamin’s creativity to help others paired with his resilience to be proactive during uncertainty inspired me to deal with nature’s wrath and the possibility of loss of life, home, and our town.”

Orey said she’s always enjoyed writing historical fiction, but she’s currently working on a romance novel set in the present day.

The novel can be found on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.

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