Monday, August 8, 2011
Author Interview with Pam Jenoff
Today we're talking with Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandant’s Girl and The Things We Cherished.
FQ: Where did The Kommandant’s Girl originate from? Were you setting yourself up to be a writer for years, or did this idea come out of the blue?
I had always wanted to be a novelist. I was one of those kids who was always scribbling stories and showing them to anyone who would look. But I never quite got going. Then, when 9/11 happened, I had a life epiphany that: I didn’t have forever and if I wanted to realize my dream of writing a book I had to get started now. I took a course at Temple night school called Write Your Novel This Year and began to write.
FQ: Do you have an interest or personal link to the WWII period? Your books are riveting in that time period.
I spent several years as a diplomat for the State Department in the mid 1990s living in Krakow Poland and working on Polish-Jewish relations and Holocaust issues. I also became very close to the surviving Jewish community. I came back very moved by those experiences and wanted to write a novel that reflected them. I met two Holocaust survivors who told me the true story of the Krakow resistance which I’d never known, although I’d lived there, and that became the inspiration for The Kommandant’s Girl. I’m so excited to return to the era with The Things We Cherished.
FQ: For all our discouraged writers out there, did you have a hard time with agents and query letters when you began?
The hardest time! I queried well over 100 agents before finding mine. And The Kommandant’s Girl was rejected by 39 editors before being accepted.
FQ: I have one author who has had agents say her female character is too strong; and then the next letter say she’s not strong enough to carry the book. Does this mean, in your opinion, that they haven’t even read the book? Being as that the remarks are so completely different? Any advice for her?
You have to know what feedback to trust and when to listen to yourself. If you are getting the same feedback over and over then that’s a good sign to pay attention. I do think that being able to incorporate feedback and revise is one of the things that makes all the difference as a writer, but it has to be the right feedback.
FQ: There are many who are moving to self-publishing or eBooks. Do you consider this a good prospect for writers?
I think that it’s a personal decision whether to go with self-publishing. But it’s certainly very exciting that writers have so many avenues available to them to reach readers directly. And it’s changing the game for all of us – the interactions with readers, with publishers, with one another as writers. As long as we approach it with respect and open minds, we all stand to benefit.
FQ: How on EARTH do you get time to write with three little children in the house?
I’m going to borrow and butcher a quote which I think came from Anne Lamott but I’m not sure. “Before kids I couldn’t write if there were dirty dishes in the sink. After kids I could write if there was a dead body on the floor.” Funny but true. I used to have lots of rules about when I wrote, and the environment I needed. Now if you give me fifteen minutes in a doctor’s waiting room, I will use it to write. Because the writing doesn’t care if I’m tired or busy; it only cares if the writing gets done.
FQ: Is your favorite genre historical? Are you a research fiend?
I’ve never paid much attention to genre – I write what I love. But I’ve always read loads of historical fiction and I’m really excited with The Things We Cherished to return to the historical terrain of The Kommandant’s Girl. Research can mean so many things – revisiting places I’ve been, spending time in a dusty archive, or simply surfing the internet.
FQ: Who would you say is the absolute most inspirational writer for you?
I love so many authors, I really can’t pick just one. Natalie Goldberg had a huge effect on my writing.
FQ: Are you amazed by the YA market right now? Everything seems to be vampires. Are you, yourself, a fan of stories like that?
I don’t read ‘vampire,’ but I’m thrilled that YA is so hot (some of my favorite books are YA although I’ve never been able to write them myself.) It’s great that young people are reading.
FQ: Are your books being ‘looked’ at as movie material? As a huge fan, I would love to see them on screen.
I’d love that to happen too! There’s been some interest but all film rights are presently available.
FQ: And…I always end with the questions that all fans love. You can call it an "Ode to James Lipton." Other than writing, what career would you like to try?
My other job as a law school professor is pretty awesome.
FQ: What career would you NEVER like to try?
FQ: What is your favorite word?
Not sure. Probably 'epiphany,' but I already used it in this interview.
FQ: What is your least favorite word?
Suddenly. Because I always overuse it and my agent has to edit it out for me.
FQ: And, finally, If Heaven truly exists, what would you like God to say when you enter the Pearly Gates?
That I did right by my children. Because that is pretty much my obsession since they’ve been born.
To learn more about The Things We Cherished please read the review at: Feathered Quill Book Reviews.