Today we're talking with Pam Jenoff, author of The Things We Cherished
FQ: Where did The Kommandantís 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 didnít 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 Iíd never known, although Iíd lived there, and that became the inspiration for The Kommandantís Girl. Iím 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 Kommandantís 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 sheís not strong enough to carry the book. Does this mean, in your opinion, that they havenít 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 thatís 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 itís a personal decision whether to go with self-publishing. But itís certainly very exciting that writers have so many avenues available to them to reach readers directly. And itís changing the game for all of us Ė 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?
Iím going to borrow and butcher a quote which I think came from Anne Lamott but Iím not sure. ďBefore kids I couldnít write if there were dirty dishes in the sink. After kids I could write if there was a dead body on the floor.Ē 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 doctorís waiting room, I will use it to write. Because the writing doesnít care if Iím tired or busy; it only cares if the writing gets done.
FQ: Is your favorite genre historical? Are you a research fiend?
Iíve never paid much attention to genre Ė I write what I love. But Iíve always read loads of historical fiction and Iím really excited with The Things We Cherished to return to the historical terrain of The Kommandantís Girl. Research can mean so many things Ė revisiting places Iíve 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 canít 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 donít read Ďvampire,í but Iím thrilled that YA is so hot (some of my favorite books are YA although Iíve never been able to write them myself.) Itís great that young people are reading.
FQ: Are your books being Ďlookedí at as movie material? As a huge fan, I would love to see them on screen.
Iíd love that to happen too! Thereís been some interest but all film rights are presently available.
FQ: AndÖI 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 theyíve been born.