It's a Journey .
Age 5: Juvenile Plagiarism Saves the Day
When my first-grade teacher hopped on the telephone to tell my mother I showed great promise as a budding writer, she was, in fact, referring to my first thriller, written at age 5. My mother still has it, btw. I should probably frame it.
“And then the robber chloroformed the boy,” wrote I, drawing on my wealth of knowledge gleaned from the prolific, award-winning writer I so idolized at that tender age…ahem, Herge—aka. the fair writer of Tintin comic books! Yes, you Tintin fans will surely recall that our friend Tintin has had several encounters with chloroform in his adventurous, young life, and that word—used in context—found its way proudly into my first-grade story. I don’t think I’ve ever had an opportunity to use it again. Pity, really, because it opens up so many possibilities. Character not behaving well? Just put ‘em out with a dose (or is it “douse”?) of chloroform. Plot a bit stuck? Chloroform to the rescue! Thank you, Miss Krantz, for believing in me so early on. And thank you, Herge, for kindling my imagination and earning me my first A+.
Age 21: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night
No—really! With thunder and lightning bombarding our cold, slightly creepy Jerusalem apartment. My husband was out learning Torah and I was in, vacillating between sheer boredom and a strong determination to ignore the dishes in the sink. Our baby daughter was fast asleep, oblivious to the storm raging that night, and it was nearly midnight when IT happened. Something that had been bouncing around my brain fell into place with a thud. Ouch. But seriously, it had all started with an email. I had read it weeks ago and I thought I’d forgotten about it, but apparently it had lodged itself in the back of my mind. See, I was working for Feldheim Publishers at the time, and a kind woman had written in with an interesting suggestion. Why not write a book about teenagers struggling with their heritage? “It’s becoming a widespread problem, and it would be best addressed with fiction since it is a sensitive topic.”
I don’t recall whether I forwarded her email to another party, whether I printed it out and left it on an editor’s desk, or whether I simply replied with a sincere “Thank You very much”. Whatever I did, however, would pale in comparison to what I would do next. Back to my dark and stormy night, my boredom and the decaying dishes. Somehow, that “random” email clicked right into place. Teenagers. Tumultuous times. Struggles with Torah and mitzvos. Yes, no question about it. I knew those teens. I’d been mentoring them for years and years. I had heard their struggles. I’d attempted to answer their many questions. I had stayed up long hours with them, listening to their woes, feeling their torment. It was true. Their story needed to be told. And fiction was the most marvelous vehicle to do it.
Now here’s the thing: For a long time, I had longed to write The Great American Novel. Kidding. Well, about the Great American part. A novel of any kind would do just fine for me, in fact. But somehow, despite my burning desire, I could never come up with enough topic tinder to get it going. Suddenly, on that memorable night, it all fell into place. I would take that woman’s suggestion and run with it!
That was the beginning of Breaking Point, a book that was both ground-breaking and a tipping point in many ways. It was written before the term “kids-at-risk” had even been coined, and it swept lots of “stuff” out from under the proverbial carpet. It took me just a few months to write the novel. Actually, the novel pretty much wrote itself. But it would be a full three years before my manuscript could finally appear in print. The topic was just too volatile to be brought to market. Only after the now-defunct Jewish Observer magazine courageously published its explosive piece on frum teens leaving observant Judaism, was the path paved for the release of my book. It was a sunny day in 2003 when the package arrived in the mail. I tore off the brown paper and snatched up the precious volume inside. My baby. My labor of love. OMG—MY NAME IN PRINT!!! Huge moment. One of those “Pinch me—is this really happening?” moments in life. Surreal. So real.
Age 28: Green Fences Make Great Neighbors
Our family was moving East. As in Middle East. Between the packing up and the settling down of Aliyah in Israel, things were hectic, to say the least. After having begged, bargained, and pleaded for months straight, the editor at Mishpacha Family Weekly finally got sick of me stalking her, wanting nothing more than the opportunity to write just one tiiiiiiiiny article for her magnificent publication so they could see my stuff. She threw me a bone. Bit of a measly bone, to be honest. My assignment? Writing a fascinating article on the esoteric subject of…Carpool! See, Mishpacha, in those days, was just getting started with their English edition, and the magazine audience was largely comprised of Americans living in Israel, where carpools are as rare as Macy’s sales. I gave it my all, and voila! Got my foot in the door and started writing articles for the magazine on a regular basis. Yay! I was living my dream! Except that I was totally unprepared for the phone call I got, a mere few months after landing in Israel.
“We’re wondering if you’d like to write a serial story for us,” came the question.
I think I fainted.
Me? A serial story? I’d never written fiction on-demand. And could there be anything scarier than needing to come up with a brand new chapter each and every week? Me? Disorganized, go-with-the-flow me who couldn’t even commit to a lunchdate with a friend? How on earth would I manage?
Yet the offer was truly tantalizing. If anything, for a sporadic, undisciplined writer like me, the structure and pressure of weekly deadlines was just what the doctor ordered. My head screamed NO! My heart cried GO! And I heard my mouth say, “I’ll do it.”
A few weeks later, Green Fences was born. It’s a complex, relevant story. About female friendships. About the destructive power of envy. About materialism vs. spirituality. In creating it, I also—providentially—crafted a new genre in frum literature: the kosher soap opera, complete with weekly cliffhangers. Total siyata diShmaya. It was an enormously exhilarating ride. And it was just the beginning.
Age 40: On a Dream and a Prayer
My husband Joel once prophesied that I’d write a whole shelf of books and I laughed. But when Book #11 was born in 2018, I stopped laughing. I lie. Actually, I laughed even louder than ever—with pure joy and gratitude to Hashem! My eleventh book, 6 Degrees, has a special place in my heart as it pulls together several of my favorite themes: relationships, connection, love and letting go. I hope my readers enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Yet unbeknownst to me at the time, as I wove the plot together for this special serialized novel, something else was happening in tandem. An idea, like a gossamer tendril, was spinning its way through my very core, pulling with it some critical components that had been simmering in my mind for years.
Here’s a sneak peek of the kind of mental artifacts I’d been collecting:
- If I had a dime for everyone who told me they wanted to be a writer but didn’t know how to “start”, I’d have retired years ago.
- More and more writers had confided in me that they felt alone and adrift. The craft is solitary. We sit behind our computer screens and put our thoughts out to the world, but very little filters back to us.
- If I had a quarter for every person who asked, “Can you make a parnassah from writing?” I probably could have bought a yacht. Maybe even a small country.
- And then the biggie, “But I can’t write! I’m terrified of rejection!”
Yes, these bits and pieces of thought had danced and played in my head for over a decade, tangling together in curious exploration, until one day I woke up and realized that I had a dream. A BIG dream. I dreamed of launching an online community for frum women writers of all ages and stages where they could come together to weave and hone their craft in a supportive, professional, exclusive environment. Where they could showcase their work, get feedback, brainstorm, brag, laugh and cry.
That was just the beginning. I realized that we also needed some great tools for the wonderful writers out there. Tools like online classes to break down various aspects of writing in a vibrant, practical way so that every woman, regardless of where she lives, could up her game and become the writer she wanted to be. Classes on building confidence and becoming strong and rejection-proof. We needed a safe, quality space where writers could truly write and shine.
Fast forward nearly a year. Well, guess what? My dream has come true. With Hashem’s help, my Academy and my Community have fully launched, bringing me into the next stage of my life journey as a teacher and a mentor. What a heady experience!