10 Things That Might Surprise You About NYT Bestselling Author of The Orphan’s Tale Pam Jenoff
by Pam Jenoff, author of The Orphan’s Tale
My writing career began with 9/11
I had wanted to be a writer for a long time, but for many years I couldn’t get started. I graduated from law school and started practicing on September 4, 2001 – exactly one week before the 9/11 attacks. That fateful day caused me to have a life epiphany: law was a fine profession, but I had a deeper dream of being a novelist and if I had been a 9/11 victim, I never would have realized my dream. I had to get started right away. I took a night course and began writing.
I’ve had some really unusual jobs
My first job out of graduate school was at the Pentagon, working as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. It was an amazing experience to see the world, as Sir Isaac Newton said, “from the shoulders of giants.” I then moved over to the State Department as a diplomat and I was sent to Poland for several years, where I had the opportunity to work on Holocaust issues and become very close to the survivors. These experiences continue to inspire my books.
The Orphan’s Tale is the book that it broke me to write
When I came across the heartbreaking story of the train of unknown children (infants taken from their parents too young to know their own names), I knew that it would be one of the first scenes in my book. But I waited a long time to write it because I knew that to do it justice, I would have to metaphorically put my own children on that train. It was the hardest thing I’ve done and for a long while after it was hard to write anything at all.
I don’t like the circus
When I discovered the story of the rescuer’s circus (a German circus that saved Jews during the Second World War), I knew that it would make a great story. I was even more captivated when I discovered centuries of Jewish circus dynasties before the war. But I’m not a huge circus fan by nature; I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a year writing about it, or even go see a show for my research. I developed tremendous respect for the art and skill that goes into circus arts. And I learned that these are not circus stories, but human stories of friendship and redemption and finding home in the least likely of places.
I consider “busy” a relative term
Although writing has gone well, I have always done it alongside a day job. For the past seven years, I’ve been a law school professor at Rutgers. Though it is hectic (sometimes being a part-time writer is like fighting with one hand behind your back), I adore teaching as well. I also have three small children. I often joke that I do too many things and none of them well. But in truth, I’m blessed to have a husband that can juggle children and my mom a mile down the road.
I don’t believe in writer’s block
I used to be a lawyer and if I had said, “Oh, I’m just not inspired to write a brief today,” I would have lost my job. The writing has to get done. I try to take that same business-like approach to my novel writing.
I can write anywhere
I have written in mountaintop retreats and castles. I have also written in my doctor’s waiting room and in my car and I can tell you which coffee shops in my neighborhood open at 6am on Sunday morning. You can’t be too precious about writing space when you are on the go.
Writing style: pantser
Some authors (“plotters”) write in a linear fashion, making each sentence perfect as they go, with a detailed outline. This is not me. I turn on my computer and go, “blah!” and out comes thousands of words of the worst junk imaginable in no order whatsoever. Someone described it as “throwing up on the page” (sorry!). This is known as being a “pantser” – writing by the seat of one’s pants. It is the very worst way to write a book because the editing is hell. I recommend it to no one, but it is the only way I can do it.
The road to publication was not smooth
It was five years and 39 rejection letters until my first book was accepted for publication. The manuscript sat dormant for 11 months until the last publisher reading it made an offer. Now that things have gone well, lots of people in publishing like to act like they knew it all along…but I have rejection letters from all of them.
I’m an overnight success…ten years in the making
Although my first two books did well, I have traveled the highs and lows of publishing, including editors retiring and options not getting renewed. The Orphan’s Tale hit the New York Times Bestseller List exactly 10 years to the day after my first book was published!
About The Orphan’s Tale:
Sixteen-year-old Noa has been cast out in disgrace after becoming pregnant by a Nazi soldier and being forced to give up her baby. She lives above a small rail station, which she cleans in order to earn her keep… When Noa discovers a boxcar containing dozens of Jewish infants bound for a concentration camp, she is reminded of the child that was taken from her. And in a moment that will change the course of her life, she snatches one of the babies and flees into the snowy night.