I met Ruchama King Feuerman years ago, a little bit after I met my husband. In fact, I met her husband a few minutes before I met my husband (they are friends). Even though we both live in New Jersey, we are in two different communities, and we haven’t seen each other much in the past very-busy-with-family years. It is great to reconnect with this interview.
1. Your first novel was published by St. Martin’s Press. Did you have a secular audience in mind in writing your book?
Yes I did. It was an artistic and spiritual challenge – could I make the religious world — my world — accessible and compelling to unaffiliated Jews and to non-Jews. For a religious novelist, it’s a gossamer thin line, what to reveal, what to conceal, what’s the fine balance between reverence and irreverence, the artist and the yid. I wanted real flesh and blood characters, lovable, hate-able, characters with a yetzer hara and a yetzer tov*, the complexity that is our due. Much of the secular fiction I’d read about religious Jews only knew how to capture the yetzer hara.
2. When the matchmakers in “Seven Blessings” (who are predominantly women) collude to blacklist a particularly inflexible male character, are you playing out a fantasy of female power over the male who usually gets to hold the cards in the shidduch business, or is there a real basis for this episode?
Yes, there is a basis. An old roommate told me about a guy who kept turning away great young women, always citing some minor reason. Finally, the matchmaker came up with someone who met his entire list of qualifications. They dated, he agreed she fit the bill, and yet he still said no. At that point the matchmaker contacted all the other matchmakers in his circle, and together they refused to set him up. After a few months he called the young woman he’d rejected, they dated some more, and got married. I never forgot that story. It may have taken place somewhere in Canada but I can’t vouch for it.
3. Your recent anthology, “Everyone’s Got a Story” (Judaica Press) is a DIY writer’s manual and showcases the writing of your students. How do you get their stories to come out?
It’s a multi-layered, many-pronged effort. I poke from all sides. First, expose them to high-level writing. Then I trick my students into writing. Bring them to a point where they don’t care how awful they sound. That’s when the best stuff comes out. Then I do the opposite — break down the process into components, bite-size attainable bits. There’s the craft and there’s the unconscious. I try not to ignore either. In the end, though, the stories come out when the writer realizes she’s on a journey. With me, with her work, with her inner process. Many of my students have stayed with me for years. People are engaged in some kind of journey with themselves. It’s not as if they’re trying to learn how to fix the radio or carburetor. They’re tending a garden. They’re arranging for a dance of the imagination.
4. You’ve experienced the Jewish life both in Israel and USA – any events or people who had influenced you and your work?
In Israel, where I lived for ten years, I kept meeting amazing Jews – each one a novel. In Jerusalem, I guess you could say I caught the holiness bug. Not the ethereal, rays-of-light-shining-down kind, but what’s rooted in nitty gritty, everyday living. I kept bumping into the holy and ridiculous. This was a world I had to recreate.
I also was lucky to have as my teacher the acclaimed author, Alan Hoffman, who was writing from a place of great knowledge of Judaism and the Torah world with a very fresh sensibility. He definitely influenced me.
As for the matchmaking topic in Seven Blessings, I lived in the home of a famous matchmaker for two years. She was an outrageous lady, nothing like the more tame matchmakers who appear in my novel. Sometimes, you have to tone down reality to make it believable.
5) How do you balance family and writing?
Who says I do?
6) Have you used social media (Facebook, blog, Twitter, YouTube) to promote your writing?
I just started on Facebook to promote my workshops. Soon I’ll get to the books I hope. This part is challenging for me. I’ll probably be asking for your services any day now.
7) What advice would you give to other writers about marketing, publishing or publicity?
Find the medium that’s comfortable for you to build a writer community for yourself. Writers need people who will encourage them, give feedback, recommend their agent, suggest a class, be generous with their contacts, and spread the word when their book comes out. Use all the tools that are out there. There’s something for everyone.
(These questions and answers are a compilation of interviews from Ariella Brown from Kallah Magazine, Nellie Shulman from Booknik Russia, Leora Wenger, and Carol Ungar from the Jerusalem Post)
For more information, visit Ruchama King MFA on Facebook.
*yetzer hara and yetzer tov = evil and good impulses