Author Interview: Rahel Jarach-Sztern
Sasson catches up with Rahel Jarach, a French, bilingual author whose first book, Yankee Yinglish, deals with Yiddish as a part of American culture. You can buy Yankee Yinglish HERE.
1. What do you enjoy when reading Jewish books? What do you hate?
I love when it is well researched and truthful to Judaism, making me feel good about who I am and where I come from. I hate when it is all about the bad things that Jews do in the name of religion, again and again, forgetting that most people try to be good. When the author obviously has an axe to grind, I would rather read a neutral, non Jewish book.
2. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
I actually had this once after reading several books that felt bland and uninteresting to me. It only went better when I received recommendations more tailored to my tastes.
3.What’s more important: writing from the heart, or writing what you think people want to read?
It depends on your goal. If you want to have as many readers as possible, go for trendy. My approach is different, I have something to say, and want to touch the heart of those who will relate, so I write from the heart !
4. What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I am extremely lucky to be married to a Jewish writer, and the daughter of one. My grandmother also writes, bis 120, but doesn’t want to publish. We beta read and help each other out, trade ideas and understand the demands of the job. Apart from those, I have several friends who write, or plan to write (some were inspired by my first book).
5. If you could give your ‘younger writing self’ a piece of advice, what would it be?
Start sending to publishers and be confident! There is nothing to lose except time if you don’t.
6. Who is your favorite Jewish author, and why?
The Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, zal, wrote books that touched my heart and soul, as she put into writing beliefs I was carrying half expressed inside my mind. It was a real revelation.
7. Who do you base the fictional characters in your books on?
People I know, or knew, but also stories I heard of growing up, Jewish archetypes… Some will have a part of my own personality and/or experience, while others are fully made up.
8. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I take research very seriously. When unsure, I will read, google, ask scholars, or even travel to wherever is needed (of course the last one is not always possible). I spent months researching before writing my academic non fiction book and it involved a trip to NY. My novel involved more research along the writing process than before I started.
9. How do you include Hashem, and / or the more spiritual dimension in your writing?
My spirituality is a big part of who I am. I like to think it pervades my books, especially my fictional ones as opposed to more factual academic. My characters will not be all religious or all Jewish, but I think every author’s world view colors their work.
10. How many hours a day do you write?
It depends. Possibly many hours, and possibly I won’t write on that day. I do try to always keep busy one way or another, writing, reading for my research, or something similar, on a quiet day when the children (kah) are at school.
11. What do you hope your readers will take away from your books?
I hope I manage to convey a beautiful, real and loving image of Judaism, its traditions and history. If someone can learn something about their origins, or end up with a desire to know more about their own family, then I have succeeded.
12. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
I do. I deal rather the same : I take what could be helpful, and leave the rest alone. Criticism is good when it is well meaning, and necessary for progress.
13. What’s the upside of being a Jewish writer?
The first thing that came to mind : I love the people I get to meet, Jewish or not, religious or not. I also have incredible occasions, like speaking in one of the most famous Parisian synagogues just recently. Lastly, I think that getting exposure will encourage more Jewish writers to bloom, and this is very important to me.
14. Does your family support your career as a writer?
I am extremely lucky that they have always done so. My parents encouraged me to read and write, and so did my grandparents. They are now very proud of my works.
15.If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I wish I had asked more questions to elderly family members, or even elderly neighbours. You can only write about a world you know, unless you are tackling fantasy 😉
Thanks Rahel, and good luck with the book! You can buy Yankee Yinglish HERE.