This is the first of what I hope will turn into a regular series of author interviews on the 'Jewish Book Review' blog, bringing you the inside story behind the book. First up: Dassie Dahan, author of: 'The way to becoming Yaelle'. If you're a Jewish author and you'd like to be interviewed, please drop me an email.
1)How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing since I was pretty young, and I wrote my first novel in fourth grade. I was actually a little slow about learning to read in kindergarten, but when I noticed my younger sister reading at age 3, that’s what got me into gear.
2)What excites you the most, about the written word?
Great question! I guess I feel I express myself best that way. It’s always been a way to express what I really want to say, to convey powerful messages in life. I also tend to be powerfully impacted by what I read, too, so it’s also a way to receive wisdom. And in some ways, I think an authentic and better part of myself comes through in my writing.
3)What inspired you to write this book?
When I was at the pre-teen and early teen stage of life, I was desperately looking for something like this to read myself. I was looking for meaning, I had a lot of questions, and my childhood encounters with mild anti-Semitism were very disturbing, but I couldn’t find anything to help me effectively deal with it all. I wanted to know more about what it really means to be Jewish and to have a path in life, and to understand more about God.
Also, I usually couldn’t identify so much with the characters in the novels I was reading – especially the Jewish characters – even in my favorite novels.
I think that pre-teen/teen girls live in two dimensions: On the one hand, they’re obsessed with the stereotypical stuff like fashion, friends and boys. But on the other, they’re also thinking a lot about deeper stuff, like why are we here? What’s up with God? What’s the meaning of life?
I get the impression that the more existential part of what makes teenage girls ‘tick’ isn’t really represented in the YA or Middle Grade literature. Even if a character in a teen novel deals with the death of a family member or friend, for example, it’s about dealing with that specific loss and not really about the existential issues that come along with it, even though real girls do struggle with this. Real girls, even young girls, are deeper and capable of more complexity and maturity than I think society gives them credit for – and maybe even more than the girls themselves realize.
To borrow from Tolstoy, ‘The Way to Becoming Yaelle’ is partially a spiritual and emotional autobiography.
4)What was the hardest part of the writing process, and why?
Finishing! And feeling that the book is ready for publication. There’s always this feeling like it could be better, or that something else needs to be “tweaked.”
5)What are you hoping that your readers will take away from ‘The Way to Becoming Yaelle’?
I hope that they’ll find themselves in the characters and their experiences, and that they’ll be less lonely within their own experiences. I also hope that they’ll learn something worthwhile, and that they’ll come away from the story with things they can actually use in their own lives.
6)What other books have you written, and why?
I wrote a book about Jews from a cultural and social perspective, because I think that a lot of people out there – Jewish or not – are interested in that aspect of Jewish life as well, and not just facts and philosophies. I’ve also written some other novels, too, that I haven’t gotten around to publishing yet.
I tend to write about inner growth and transformation, and even though I am not a Breslover chassid, I tend to have a very Breslov attitude of hope and belief that comes through in my fiction. I believe that people can change and improve and that ultimately, things do get better, even if it takes a long time and a lot of grueling work to get there. I want to encourage people to believe that they can be better than they realize, better than other people think they can be.
7)What’s your next writing project?
I want to concentrate on novels for adults, or ones that are ‘crossovers’ that are primarily for adults, but accessible to young adults, too.
8)If you had to sum up your literary style in one sentence, what would it be?
I’m not sure. I guess it’s real with a bit of subtle, tongue-in-cheek humor throughout.
9)How does your relationship with God / spiritual dimension / beliefs inform your writing?
It really shapes it tremendously, because I feel like just writing for enjoyment or self-expression or to entertain others could otherwise be a little meaningless or self-indulgent. If the writing doesn’t contain a deeper message, then I feel like there’s almost no point. All the great novels and probably even all your favorite novels have some kind of moral message seeping through all the exciting scenes and great writing – even if it’s actually an immoral message. But it’s still there.
10)If there is one thing you’d want readers to take away from reading this book, what would it be?
That there’s meaning in life and that life is a spiritual journey. We just need to embrace that idea, and start hiking towards being whatever kind of person we were originally created to be.
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