Question 1: If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would it be?
Aha, you see, I am the champion of complex, mystical, evocative, and wildly gesticular run-on sentences. I could tell you my whole life in a single sentence (correctly punctuated, too) with all the major events to date and not a single misplaced modifier. Really, I swear. But actually I’m just going to let that first line stand as it is.
Question 2: What are the three most important things should we know about you?
The three most important things? Hmmm. I’m pretty sure there’s only one: all you need to do for me to be putty in your hands is offer me a really excellent snack. (Both my parents and my boyfriend can corroborate this.) Add a moderately nice-looking garden/museum/café/armchair in which to enjoy it and I’m yours forever. I’m like an especially dopey puppy who’s hungry all the time.
Question 3: You talk about the Museum of Joy project on your website. It sounds like an awesome project, can you tell us about it? Are you close to realizing this dream, or is it something you’re working toward for the future?
The Museum of Joy is my life’s work, and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a museum dedicated to the experience of joy. (And yeah, okay, also wonder, delight, glee, exuberance, longing, and a general feeling for the marvelous. I’m not fussy.) What the heck does that look like? In my head, it looks like a piece of conservation land with a hand-built complex of low-impact buildings making some kind of fabulous pattern on it, each of which would be home to a riotous conflagration of art, dance, poetry, performance, music, imagination, cookery, and other general joy-inducing stuff. I’m nowhere near it, but I’m working on it. Why, exactly? Because I have an overdose of love for the sheer glory of existence, and I’m pretty sure that if I don’t do my very best to build something really, really awesome centering around the sharing of joy, I’ll end up wearing an orange robe and chanting nonsense syllables in some yippie cult in the Marin Headlands. And I really, really don’t want that.
Rach - Wow, this sounds so intriguing! You told me you'd love to build it on the Californian coast - I'm going to wish you the best of luck with your dream and hope one day I can come visit :)
I never thought I’d be a fiction writer. I’ve written all my life, and I love words, but I stopped bothering with stories after I was fifteen or so. I wanted to be a filmmaker and then I wanted to be an artist and writing was just something to help me put my thoughts in order. Then last November my dad and my sister were both doing NaNoWriMo, and I thought hell, I should at least try. I actually have no idea why I thought that, given that I didn’t have the faintest idea what I wanted to write about, but then a novel fell out of me kind of by accident and I stopped asking questions. I have no idea if I’ll ever write another one – I’m still in that one up to my eyeballs.
Honestly, I think of myself as someone-who-builds, not a writer or even an artist, really, despite what my website says. All my art centers around making spaces that feel magical to me, microcosmic and macrocosmic dream worlds and houses and castles in the air, that kind of thing. The first thing I ever wanted to be was an architect, and everything else has just been a variation on the basic theme of architecture as I understood it when I was eight: make something that people can walk into and feel transfigured, moved, shifted, altered forever. That's what I want, now and in ten years and probably in fifty years as well. Writing is a marvelous thing, but honestly, I just not-so-secretly want it to become a fantabulous bestseller so I can buy a piece of land already. If that doesn’t work I’m going to have to try something else. Maybe lawyering. Or chartered accountancy.
Question 5: What WIP are you working on at the moment? Can you share your premise with us?
I’m deep into my second rewrite of the NaNoWriMo novel I mentioned above. Here, let me give you my new pitch! The Book Doctors, whose amazing book The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published has become a quasi-Bible for me, told me I had to practice my pitch. Let me know what you think, guys. Be harsh.
Somewhere in the heart of in a nameless city falling slowly into the sea, George Kepler, a shy bookbinder, is sitting in his attic with his books. He lives alone. He reads the books he binds. He doesn't have adventures. He dreams of alchemy and harmonies and devils in the chimney. His prayerbooks are the texts of old mathematicians and astronomers. He drinks coffee. He sighs a lot. He wonders if there is anyone left who remembers to praise the works of God but him. He wonders if maybe love's a better option (at least it's companionable). He chronicles the marvelous workings of the cosmos meticulously each evening, and wonders why divinity seems so very far away.
But just when he finds himself distracted by the black eyes of his local barista, Lilya, a peach of a girl with sharp elbows and an obligatory dose of snide, two strangers come a-knocking who know a lot more about him than they should. Before he knows it, they've whirled George out of his sleepy life of prayer and sent him on a series of harebrained and beautiful adventures. As he pursues an unseen Klezmer orchestra through a driving snowstorm, falls off cliffs, uncovers the unlikely friendship of a Danish alchemist and a famous mystic rabbi , stumbles across a secret synagogue, and discovers a forgotten manuscript that might just be about the Golem, he's left with hardly any time to ask himself - are his new friends fun-loving fools, or are they after something? Are they angels sent from God or a pair of tricksy demons? Is he having the time of his life or beginning to lose his mind? Does Lilya think he's nuts or a just lovable schlemiel? And did he leave the front door hanging open?
A Fool For God is an old-fashioned mystical romp, a brooding Eastern European meditation on belief thrust into a San Franciscan carnival of merry, drunken adjectives, a fantastical Christian allegory and a Jewish folktale busy birthing a love child on a festive night in the back alleys of a city that just might be your own.
Question 6: What similarities do you have with your main character? What differences? If you could meet your main character the day before an important event from your WIP occurs, what would you tell him/her???
Well, what I started with was a question for myself: can I, a nonbeliever who can be very impatient with religious belief and especially, generally speaking, the kinds of people who have religious beliefs, can I write a character who believes really and truly and fervently in God without me thinking that he’s basically, well, an idiot? And George kind of sprang up full-fledged in answer to that question. He’s like me in that he’s a Jew with unorthodox ways of looking at the world, I suppose, and his love for beautiful things and books and the mystical aspects of the universe are all certainly things we have in common. But there are fragments of me in all my characters, without any of them being me, or even a version of me. I wanted to write people who I didn’t understand and see if I could get into their heads. But the book is about faith, and the question why is beauty, and that’s certainly me. Me and almost everyone I’ve ever met, actually.
If I met George on the street (and I would love to, I think), the only thing I’d be able to say to him is I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer either. One of the major themes of the book is the mysterious, and what happens to the sacred when you ask too many questions. Or the wrong kind of questions. I’m all for questioning. But part of dealing with faith, no matter what kind of faith you’re talking about, is the battle between the part of you that wants a tidy answer and the part of you that wants to experience wonder. George would be looking at me all crazy-eyed, and I’d be shaking my head and going, “I got nothing, dude. Sorry. I’m not God, I’m just the writer. You’re on your own with this one.”
Rach - That sounds pretty intense. And I'm thinking you've got some great characterization going in your WIP, so go you!
Question 7: And the most important question of all—chocolate or cupcakes???
Oh, chocolate. Hands down. I remember that good dark bitter chocolate is a miracle every time I eat it. Cupcakes are not miracles; they’re too bloody sweet to be miraculous. Miracles are things that make you sway on your feet. Cupcakes are nice, but seriously, who wants nice? Joy isn’t nice, it’s a kind of transcendence, and transcendence is a wild, strange, wonderful thing. And really good chocolate is one of its many manifestations.
Rach Haha, I think that's one of the most unusual answers I've ever got to this question!
Thanks so much for taking the time to be interviewed, Jericha. I hope everyone pops over to her blog to say hello and give her a hug from me :)