I am very happy to welcome Joanne Levy to gilagreenwrites today. I love this interview. It's packed with valuable information for readers and writers alike about a very important topic. Thanks so much, Joanne for stopping by. Please drop me a line when you're ready for another visit.
Joanne Levy is the author of the Sydney Taylor Notable and Canadian Jewish Literary Award winning, SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS. Her other books include SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, THE SUN WILL COME OUT, and three titles in the Orca Currents ultra-readable line:, THE BOOK OF ELSIE, FISH OUT OF WATER, and DOUBLE TROUBLE. She can usually be found at her computer, either creating spreadsheets (sometimes just for fun) or channeling her younger self into books. Joanne lives in rural Ontario, Canada with her husband and several pets, one of whom vomited during the writing of this bio. The best link to include for people to find her is: www.joannelevy.com
"I wanted to sort of pull back the curtain on what happens to our loved ones after they die to demystify the process and hopefully give some comfort to others."Author: Joanne Levy
JL: First of all, thank you so much for having me, Gila! Sorry For Your Loss is a middle grade book set in a Jewish funeral home, inspired by the one my father manages. This book came out of my own grief after losing my mom in 2013. While it was a terrible time, as you can imagine, I felt oddly comforted by knowing what happens behind the scenes of a funeral home and realized not many people – and especially not kids – have that access. I wanted to sort of pull back the curtain on what happens to our loved ones after they die to demystify the process and hopefully give some comfort to others.
The book is also an homage to my dad and the important work he does. He's modest by nature but people like him are so necessary and quietly and diligently work behind the scenes to help us at the most difficult times.
GG: What are your thoughts about the book industry for middle grade? Do you think it is getting harder for authors to compete with screens?
JL: I think it's harder to compete with the allure of screens and immersive video games for sure. But I do think that it's a bigger challenge for YA authors as kids become teenagers and turn more to their peer group for influence. That's when they really get sucked into screens and can turn away from the stories that swept them away as kids. I think middle grade readers are a slightly easier audience to capture as they are more influenced by teachers and parents who read and read to them. That's my hope, anyway. I hope that kids are able to find books in their formative years that have a lasting impact on them the way books I read at that age have stayed with me all these years.
GG: Do you sometimes reach audiences you never imagined reaching?
JL: Absolutely. I write for my tween self which means my target audience is kids. But I've surprisingly had a lot of adults contact me to tell me they found comfort in Sorry For Your Loss. They often share their stories about loss and funerals. I love that. It means I did a good job with the book and that readers related and felt comforted and safe in sharing with me. That is no small honor. I truly hope people of all ages find what they need in the book.
GG: Was there any debate about the title: Sorry for your Loss? Was there an alternate title?
JL: Yes! When I first wrote the book, I called it Tree of Life. There are so many references in it to trees and trees of life that it felt like the perfect title. Also, the tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue happened when I was still working on the book and it felt like an homage both to the people lost there and the members of the Chevra Kadisha who took care of them. But time passed and the book sold and the team at Orca—my publisher—didn't love the title and looking back, they were right to think we needed to find a better title. In fact, the publicist (thanks again, Olivia!) came up with Sorry For Your Loss and it felt absolutely perfect. There is no doubt that the book is about grief and loss when you hear the title and it does exactly what a title should do.
GG: Making characters you come to love like they're real people is one of the great things about writing. I cut and pasted this quotation from one of your interviews. Could you tell us more about HOW you go about doing that?
JL: The how is the million-dollar question, isn't it? The truth is that I write for and about me in many ways. I channel my tween self and dredge up all those messy feelings and put them in as best I can. I am brutally honest and I think that is what makes relatable characters – including all those things you hate exposing about yourself – doubts, insecurities, fears, feelings about awkwardness, doing or saying the wrong thing, and just not knowing yet how to be a human. But all this is precisely what makes you human. And thus, relatable to other humans. I think kids really see that honesty and are looking for connections between themselves and characters they read about so it's my job as author to make those characters as real and as three dimensional as possible. Warts included.
GG: What's next for you? Please tell us anything you wish to add.
JL: Thank you for asking! I just had another hi-lo (high interest, low reading level) book come out, again from Orca Book Publishers and that one is called THE BOOK OF ELSIE. It's about a girl who is determined to be strong and fierce as she helps save her Purim party and her beloved synagogue, even in the face of hate and prejudice. This is my response to the rise of antisemitism in our world. It's a book I wish I hadn't felt I had to write but nonetheless was compelled to. Despite some heavy themes, it also contains what I think is one of the funniest scenes I've ever written so I'm hoping kids find some light and hope amid all the darkness.
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