Pam Jenoff speaks to the Women’s Alliance


Internationally famous author featured at the celebration

Pam Jenoff at her book signingIf the envelope-stuffing party at the Jewish Alliance office is any indication, the Women’s Alliance Campaign Celebration at the Ledgemont Country Club on November 20th promises to be filled with friends, both new and old, mixed in with lots of laughter and a love of reading! Internationally known author Pam Jenoff will be the featured guest and I had the pleasure of getting to know her through Facebook and emailed questions.

Q. You will be in Rhode Island for the Women’s Alliance event right in the middle of Jewish Book Month. What is the audition process for The Jewish Book Network?

A. The Jewish Book Network is incredible – I always joke that I’m one of their Borscht Belt performers because I’m back for something like my fifth time in six years, but it is quite the phenomenon. Hundreds of authors come to New York in May to speak for two minutes each in front of Jewish Book Fair reps from all over the country; the committees in each town then decide which authors to invite. I have been to so many cities for book events and it is an incredible, cost-effective way for publishers to tour authors. I’ve already asked my publisher to sign me up next year.

Q. Travel is central in your bio and your writing. Was this something that had always been important to you or did attending college in Cambridge for your masters inform that travel going forward?

A. My family never traveled, even for vacations, but I’d always had this burning desire to go to Europe, especially Britain. Books like “Mary Poppins” and works by Charles Dickens filled my brain with images [of England], but I didn’t get to Europe until college. I received a fellowship to England – getting to live there and getting to graduate school realized two of my biggest dreams. And the experience didn’t disappoint – before having kids, my years at Cambridge were the happiest of my life. The UK is also a big publishing market for me; I’m thrilled that my books have been popular there and there is nothing better than going back for a book release where I get to see college friends and my books in the shops.

Q. Where are some of your favorite travel destinations and what’s up next on your list?

A. For me it has always been Europe. I lived there for almost five years. Closest to my heart are the two places I’ve lived there – Cambridge and Krakow, Poland. They are like having two kids I can’t choose between. Beyond that I love Central and Eastern Europe: Prague, etc. “The Wild East,” I used to call it, right after communism ended. I just connect with the earth and the people there on a very gut level. I think it is my Slavic roots and also a feeling of Yiddishkeit from our people living there for centuries.

Now for a true confession: these days my wings are clipped by three preschoolers and I have no plans to travel anywhere soon. I hope to return to Europe someday. But for now the only travel I do is for book events. Jewish book month will take me all over the US and to Canada this year and it takes the whole village (husband, my mom, nursery school, etc.) just to get me out of the house and to the airport.

Q. How old are your children?

A. I have twin girls who are three and a son who is four and a half. It is a party all the time – we never close!

Q. Are they big readers? Which of your favorite childhood books do you enjoy sharing with them and which are you looking forward to sharing when they are older?

A. My son is just starting to read and that is a thrill. I have read to them since the day they were born and it is wonderful both to introduce them to some of my childhood favorites, like Dr. Seuss books and “Madeline,” and to discover new ones, such as, “Is Your Mama a Llama?”

Q. The “how do you do it all?” question is so tired. Do you get asked that often – how to balance the kids, husband, teaching, writing, traveling?

A. I get asked that and I also spend a lot of time asking myself that. I joke that I do too many things and none of them well. But Anne Lamott said it better than me: “I used not to be able to write if there were dishes in the sink, until I had a child. Now I can work if there’s a corpse in the sink.” You just do it.

Q. We have many Facebook friends in common. Not to play favorites, but let’s! Who are some of yours? Who do you enjoy following and, not to name names, but do you ever get the sense that there is a lot of “humblebragging” going on in the authors’ status?

A. I do think it is very hard to have so many authors out there talking about their amazing achievements and productivity and not compare them. Recently, when I was juggling my life, I was seized by the notion that all of the other writers I know are just fairy princesses who sit in castles and write all day. Then you put it aside, because you have to play your own game. As to my favorites, I will say that my very great joy is being part of the “Grand Central” anthology, which will come out next year. The other authors – Kristina McMorris, Melanie Benjamin, Jenna Blum, Amanda Hodgkinson, Sarah Jio, Sarah McCoy, Alyson Richman, Erika Robuck and Karen White, are the most amazing and supportive group of women. I love them and I love their work.

Q. Are any particular writers more generous with their support and advice?

A. The “Grand Central” sisters, above. Also, I’m so grateful to some of the Mira authors I’ve met over the years – Susan Wiggs and Deanna Raybourn, just to name a few.

Q. How do you handle it if a writer you are friends with writes something you are not in love with and you are asked for a blurb?

A. I have been asked to blurb a handful of books and I always try to do it if at all possible. So far, they’ve been wonderful! I often decline to read other writers’ works-in-progress because I’m not an editor and I don’t want to interfere with my own writing choice.

Q. The last time you were in Rhode Island was 2006 for the New England Independent Booksellers Association show? You mentioned to me that it was the first time you had ever seen one of your novels in print and what a fond memory that was. Now seven years later, does it still give you that same feeling?

A. The first time I saw one of my books, “The Kommandant’s Girl,” was at the New England Independent Booksellers Association show in Providence – I walked into the hall at the trade show and it was sitting on a table. I autographed my first copy there. I still get shivers thinking about it. Seeing someone reading my books on a train or the beach is a big wish list item of mine, but it hasn’t happened yet. I want to walk up and ask how they like the book, incognito.

Q. Do you believe in “writer’s block”? What do you do when you’re feeling creatively stymied?

A. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Writing is my job. When I was at the law firm, I couldn’t say, “Oh I can’t write this brief today because I’m blocked.” You just do it. That said, there are days I’m more productive than others. And there are ways to head off potential blocks. My routine is to take notes the night before either on ideas I have or from something I’m reading for research or a book on craft and that way I have prompts to get me going when I’m bleary-eyed at five the next morning.

Q. Has anyone ever insisted that a character in your novel is based on him or her? How do you react when it does?

A. Once a character in a book referred to her mom as not cooking meals from scratch and my mom is convinced I meant her. “Funnier” is when people take my characters as autobiographical. My brother called me once and asked if I had a tattoo because my protagonist did (I don’t.) I also had the fun once of seeing an ex-boyfriend after many years and joking “I’m killing you off in my next book. What do you want your name to be?”

Q. What has been the most memorable reaction you’ve ever gotten from a reader?

A. The most moving are when people tell me they’ve gone through a tough period, such as illness or grief, and that my book helped them escape for a bit.

Q. Do you enjoy the author signings held at bookstores?

A. Bookstores are tough – you sit in the front of the store, and maybe a few people come by if it is your hometown and others just look at you sadly and you never know whether to say hi or if passersby think you are stalking them. I’m much happier at book events like the one I’m doing in Providence – a room full of smart engaged readers, ready to talk.

Q. Love the recent titles: “The Kommandant’s Girl,” “The Diplomat’s Wife” and “The Ambassador’s Daughter” Are you going to keep going with this pattern? What’s up next?

A. “The Kommandant’s Girl” was my first book, then “The Diplomat’s Wife” and we made the most recent one, “The Ambassador’s Daughter,” similar because they are part of a series. Titles are always a complicated mix of what I come up with, alternatives the publisher may like and reaction by bookstores and others in the business. I have two publications coming out next year. The first is the “Grand Central” anthology in July and I’m beyond excited about that. My next novel will be out in September – it’s called “The Winter Guest” and it is the story of twin Polish sisters who are struggling to raise their three younger siblings during the war. One of the sisters finds a downed American paratrooper wounded in the woods. It is a book that goes very much to the heart of the war and will appeal to readers who liked “The Kommandant’s Girl.”

Q. I am always interested in the research for a novel – mostly field research. What was the process for “The Ambassador’s Daughter”?

A. Research varies for each book. For “The Kommandant’s Girl,” I’d just come back from years of living in Poland so it was somewhat instinctive. For “The Ambassador’s Daughter,” I had written my masters thesis at Cambridge on the Paris Peace Conference so I loved the era, but the research was harder – combination of books, Internet, maps, periodicals, photos, etc. There are always mistakes no matter how hard I try and always readers ready to tell me about them!

The Pam Jenoff presentation is Wednesday, Nov. 20, at 7:00 p.m. at Ledgemont Country Club, 131 Brown St., Seekonk, Mass., and follows the Lion of Judah dinner at 5:00 p.m. It is free with a minimum donation of $118 to the Jewish Alliance, or $54 for first-time donors. Desert reception and book signing to follow the presentation.

For more information, contact Danielle Germanowski at 421-4111, ext. 109.

Robin Kall Homonoff hosted Reading With Robin on WHJJ 920 AM for just over ten years. She is current-ly hosting author events around the state as well as keeping up with all book related events on her blog