Friday, July 15, 2011
Dishing it up with Pam Jenoff
Following her work at the Pentagon, Jenoff moved to the State Department. In 1996 she was assigned to the U.S. Consulate in Krakow, Poland. It was during this period that Pam developed her expertise in Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust. Working on matters such as preservation of Auschwitz and the restitution of Jewish property in Poland, Jenoff developed close relations with the surviving Jewish community.
Pam is the author of The Kommandant's Girl, which was an international bestseller and nominated for a Quill award, as well as The Diplomat's Wife, Almost Home and A Hidden Affair.
JET: Welcome to my blog Pam, your book is georgeous!. Can you tell us about The Things We Cherished?
Pam: An accused Nazi collaborator, a forbidden love affair, and the missing antique clock that holds the truth about what really happened during the war. These are the mysteries that Charlotte Gold seeks to unravel as she races against time to defend elderly financier Roger Dykmans from allegations that he sold out his own brother, Hans, and the group of innocent children he was trying to save to the Germans. And she has to do it all while confronting her feelings for her co-counsel Jack Warrington, who just happens to be the brother of the man who once broke her heart.
The inspiration for The Things We Cherished came from a unique timepiece, known as an anniversary clock, which my husband gave me for our first wedding anniversary. I was captivated by the question of where the hundredyear-old clock had beenand the lives it had touched. As I imagined its history a tale unfolded of a couple at the turn of the century in Bavaria yearning for a better life, two brothers in Weimar Berlin wrestling issues of with Zionism and assimilation, the desperate quest of a young girl trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and of course Roger’s own story of love and sacrifice during the war. The clock became a metaphor for the experience of the Jewish people and others in in 20th century Europe.
JET: What drew you to writing historical fiction?
Pam: I’ve always loved reading historical fiction. And I spent several years in Europe working on Holocaust issues and that had greatly influenced my work.
JET: What’s been your most challenging hurdle on the road to publication?
Pam: All of it – finding an agent, the 39 publisher rejections before my first book came out, trying to understand the changing book market. But I’m very grateful to be here.
JET: What was your favorite moment in the journey?
Pam: I think for every author seeing his or her book in print and in the bookstore for the first time are both huge. Also learning that my first novel, The Kommandant’s Girl, was nominated for a Quill award while at Book Expo a few years ago and getting to go to the Quill award ceremony (even though I didn’t win
JET: Which authors had the most influence over you growing up?
Pam:. I read a lot of historical fiction growing up: Leon Uris, Herman Wouk, Isaac Bashevis Singer. And for lessons on the writing craft, Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, was huge.
JET: When did you know you wanted to take the plunge into the writing world?
Pam: I always wanted to be a novelist. As a child, I was forever scribbling stories and showing them to anyone willing to look. But all through my years in school and abroad, I could never quite get off the ground. I became an attorney and one week later 9/11 happened and for me it was this huge life epiphany that I didn’t necessarily have forever so if I wanted to realize my dream of being a novelist, I needed to get started right away. I took a night course called “Write Your Novel This Year” and I did just that, writing from 5-7am in the morning then going off to my day job as an associate in a big law firm.
JET: What’s the craziest thing you’ve done in the name of book research? Most interesting fact you uncovered?
Pam: After I came back from living in Krakow, I knew I wanted to write a book set during the war there. I met a Holocaust survivor who told me the story of the resistance which had taken place in Krakow, on the very streets where I’d lived and worked for years – and I’d never even heard about it! I went back to Poland and walked the streets with a whole new point of view.
JET: Of all the novels and stories you’ve written - which one is your favorite? Why?
Pam: I especially enjoyed writing The Things We Cherished because it enabled me to return not only to the topics of Jewish life in Europe and the Holocaust. These are such compelling subjects for me, not only because of my experiences working on these issues as a diplomat in Poland, but also because the era provides such fertile ground for exploring complex themes such guilt, redemption and sacrifice, the gray areas in our lives and the consequences of the choices we make. I consider this book to be, first and foremost, an elegy, love poem and tribute to those who lived through those tumultuous times.
JET: Any advice (from a writer’s standpoint) for the novices out there?
Pam: I would tell aspiring writers three things. First, you have to be tenacious. For a long time it didn’t look as if The Kommandant’s Girl was going to get picked up. But with the help of my agent, I developed the attitude that if this one doesn’t sell, the next one will. You just have to keep on knocking at the door until it opens.
Second, you have to be disciplined. Writing takes a lot of time, and I’m not just talking about the first draft. There are the revisions, and then there’s the business marketing side of it. You have to make choices in order to consistently carve out the time for your writing, if it is going to be important to you.
Finally, the single biggest skill that has helped me as a writer is having the ability to revise. My books have gone through dozens of rewrites from first draft to publication. Many times I had to take broad, conceptual suggestions from my agent or editor and incorporate them into the work. Often I wasn’t sure if I liked or agreed with the changes. Sometimes I would take the leap of faith and see if the changes worked (they almost always did). Other times I would go back to whoever was making the suggestion and say, “Whoa, let’s slow down here and revisit” in order to negotiate changes that made the story better without destroying my gut-level instinct about the spirit of the book. But ultimately, I truly believe my ability to integrate those changes made all the difference.
JET: All right - now that I’ve hammered you with the big questions, let’s tackle my favorite (and geeky) quick ten. . . starting with: Paper or Plastic?
Pam: Am I still allowed to answer this? I thought we were all supposed to say reusable…
JET: Steak or Tofu?
Pam: Steak but not so much, more pasta and pesto and veggies and cheese and olives…
JET: Beach or Mountains?
Pam: I grew up an hour from the beach (or the shore as we call it in Jersey) and I met my husband there, so I’d have to say beach. But mountains are a close second (at least in summer, I’m not a skier). I’ve loved hiking in the Lake District in England and the High Tatras in Poland and campling in Shenandoah and went on a fabulous writing retreat in Banff.
JET: Country or Rock-n-Roll?
Pam: I’m pretty musically illiterate so I defer to those with better taste.
JET: Leather or Lace?
Pam: Neither. Sadly I’m so unfashionable I was once rejected from one of those wardrobe makeover reality shows for bring too boring.
JET: Angels or Demons?
Pam: Angels. I have three kids under three and I need all of the otherwordly help I can get.
JET: Paper or Digital?
Pam: Depends. I write on a laptop but I still read the old fashioned way.
JET: Silent Film Classics or Cheesy B Rated Horror?
Pam: Classics. It’s not silent, I know but my all-time fave is Casablanca.
JET: Top 10 best seller or Unknown Back Shelf Find?
Pam: I tend to find authors and read them exhaustively whether bestselling or obscure.
JET: Coffee or Tea?
Pam: Definitely coffee. Like I said, I have three little kids.
JET: Thank you for indulging me. Before we wrap this up, can you tell us what you're working on now? What's next?
Pam: I’m working on another book related to the war, it centers on some human bones found at a development site in Poland and the story toggles back and forth between present day and the past. Like The Things We Cherished, there are rich romantic relationships in it, but also themes of sisterhood and friendship.
JET: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat on my blog.
Folks, you can find out more about Pam Jenoff and her work at her website: http://www.pamjenoff.com/
Join me next week when I’ve got Kiki Howell on tap!