This interview first appeared in our Spring 2006 issue.
When did you start writing?
I first started writing as soon as I was able to write — at about the age of seven. I loved to create poems back then, and would pester family members for a topic when I ran out of ideas. I wrote my first short story at the age of 14, in the ninth grade, for a class assignment. The story was later included in that year’s high school yearbook. It was only much later, as a mother with young children, that I ventured on my first book — a “young-adult” novel called Shira’s Summer. Its success encouraged me to go on and write more books for kids — and eventually, to start writing novels for adults as well.
My first book was published in the year 1988. And what an exciting day that was for me!
How do you get the ideas for what you write about?
My ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. A snippet of conversation overheard, a scene glimpsed from a window, an interesting turn of phrase, a memory — anything can trigger the kernel of an idea. Then comes the hard part: “fleshing out” that kernel into a full length story.
Tell us a little about Jewish publishing.
I know something about the world of Jewish publishing, as I worked as senior editor at Targum Press for six years. As you may guess, the guide- lines that Orthodox publishers use in accepting manuscripts for publication are a little different from those of the secular world. We want books that reflect Jewish values, while at the same time telling a good story in an engaging style. This is a challenging task in our time, when there is such a great need for quality literature for all the voracious young (and not so young) readers in our market. But I think that the various Orthodox publishers are rising beautifully to the challenge, and doing a fine job of providing us with reading material we can enjoy without compromising our values.
Do you have a role model? Who?
My professional role models are all the writers whose books I loved reading as a child. As for my personal role models, there were a number of teachers and relatives who embodied traits that I would like to emulate — and am still striving to do so, after all these years!
Yes, I’ve always loved writing. I think that, by nature, I am a storyteller. Besides the magic of creating a fictional world and characters, I also find tremendous pleasure in making “music” with words — that is, using language to say something in the best and most beautiful way that I can. My father, z”l, was a talented writer, though he never published a word. I like to think that I take after him, in my own small way.
How long does it take to write a story/book?
It takes me one day to write a story (the size of two newspaper pages). As for novels, how long it takes to write it depends on what age group the book is meant for. A young adult book can take about six months to write, while a novel for adults usually takes much longer, because the book is much longer — say, about a year and a half.
How long does it take for a book to get published?
Once a book has been accepted for publication, it is placed in the “pipeline” along with other books being prepared by the publisher. If there is a need to get it out quickly — for example, to be in the bookstores in time for a certain holiday – the publisher can move very quickly and have it ready for printing in a week or two. More commonly, it will take several weeks to several months for a book to go through all the necessary stages before it sees the light of day.
Describe the publishing process.
The publishing process includes copyediting the manuscript to see if there are any errors in the plot or language of the book; proofreading the manuscript for technical errors such as grammar, spelling and punctuation; preparing a cover (this is done by a graphic artist), preparing the “blurb” on the jacket or back of the book that describes what the book is about and tells a little about the author; printing, binding, and then shipping it out to the bookstores all over the world.
Which do you prefer writing: novels or short stories? Why?
It is difficult to say which I prefer, as each has its own unique pleasures. A short story is obviously quicker and easier to write, but there is much less scope for expressing oneself. The challenge here is writing with enough focus to get the message across in a short format. Writing a book, on the other hand, takes a long time and sometimes feels endless. But sooner or later, if I stick to it, I begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And then the first draft of the book is finished, and ready for revising. This is the really enjoyable part – taking material that’s already been written and polishing it until it “shines”: that is, getting rid of unnecessary words, finding a better description, adding a touch of dialogue, and so on. The work is hard and very demanding, but I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction out of every stage of the process.
What do you want readers to learn from your books?
I always try to have my characters grow through their life experiences. As the characters learn about life, about growing up, about making the right choices, about friendship and responsibility and all that good stuff, I hope that my readers will pick up the messages, too…
Are you writing any more stories/books now?
My latest short-story collection was published very recently by Targum Press. It’s called, All About You: Great Stories for Great Kids. Another book — this one a young-adult novel entitled Beginner’s Luck, also published by Targum — is slated to be in the bookstores shortly, iy”H. I am also hard at work on an adult novel for ArtScroll, but it’ll be a while before that one sees the light of day…
Do you have any advice for Jewish girls?
My advice to young girls who like to write is: Practice your writing! Everything gets better with practice. And don’t be afraid to sit down and spend some quiet time, just thinking. It’s amazing what wonderful things come out of our brains when we actually bother to use them!
That advice goes for everyone, writers or not. Think. Dream. And don’t be afraid to try. Nothing great was ever accomplished unless someone had the courage to take a chance. Go for your dream, whatever it is. Good luck!