I'm always excited to share author Q&A articles with you. I'm thrilled to have another Israel-based writer joining me on my blog. I virtually met Diana after I published my first novel King of the Class and I've been following her blossoming publishing career ever since. I still hope to make it up North to meet Diana in person or to catch her when she's closer to me near Jerusalem.
Diana Bletter is the author of A Remarkable Kindness (HarperCollins), The Mom Who Took Off On Her Motorcycle, and The Invisible Thread: A Portrait of Jewish American Women (Jewish Publication Society, 1989), shortlisted for a National Jewish Book Award. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Glamour, The Huffington Post, Tablet, Times of Israel and many more.
Please welcome Diana Bletter!
GILA GREEN (GG): What brought you to write this new novel, North of the Highway? An inspiration? An experience?
DIANA BLETTER (DB): After my novel, A Remarkable Kindness, was published by HarperCollins in 2015, I wrote two more novels which my agent was unable to sell. That was tough: I felt like I was on an iceberg that was quickly melting into the sea. I was trying really hard to write something commercial, thinking more of the sale than the book itself. Then it dawned on me that even if I never sold another book, I wanted to keep writing. That realization freed me, and I rediscovered the joy in the act of writing without worrying what would happen.
A Remarkable Kindness is set in Israel. It is the story of four Jewish American women who move to Israel and are members of a hevra kadisha, a burial society, in a small village based on where I live, Shavei Zion.
My new novel is set in a fictional version of Westhampton, New York, where I lived for several years. It is the story of a struggling Jewish family who live north of the highway, which is a less desirable part of town.
GG: Are you exploring new themes in this new novel or similar themes from a different angle? What are those themes?
DB: The first book explored life in Israel: its incredible sorrows as well as joys. This novel explores the intense, powerful, sometimes troubled undertow between parents and children, and how sometimes children need to dig out from the rubble of their parents' lives to build their own.
GG: What sort of experience can readers expect from this novel? Is it humorous? dark? entertaining?
DB: I like to create a fictional world that readers can relate to—or learn from. There's a lot of dark humor, the humor of people who are trying to illuminate the darkness they find themselves in.
GG: Has anything been added or deleted from the novel so far that has surprised you?
DB: What I love about writing is when characters surprise me. That happens when I'm writing quickly—my first draft is always with a fountain pen and paper because I feel more creative and free—and one character will decide to do something that I hadn't even thought about.
What I would like to say about writing is what Amos Oz said. (I think it was Amos Oz.) He said that writing is like being a shop owner. A shop owner opens his or her store and sits there, no matter what, waiting for customers. No matter what, I go to my little office and sit at my desk and write. That is what gives me so much joy, even when it is a struggle.
GG: Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
DB: Sometimes, I use friends' names and they're surprised. In my last book, I included the name of my neighbor's dog and he was delighted. But writing to me is more about uncovering secrets. The writer August Wilson wrote, "Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing."
GG: Are there any characters in this book your readers have seen in previous novels or variations on those characters?
DB: I love quirky, funny, Jewish mothers, like my own. I had one in my last book and there is a one here. My mother is gone but I have her quips and voice in my head. That proves to me that writing is magic, because we can recreate people who have passed on, and create people who never were.
GG: Thank you so much, Diana. I'm sure many readers agree with you about the magic in writing. I can't wait for readers to discover more of your magic in your new novel.
Diana's book is available here.
You can follow Diana, who describes herself as a "social media slouch who occasionally posts something" here:
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