Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy worked as an actress and writer in film and television in the United States and Israel. Night in Jerusalem is her debut novel, which she has adapted to film. She lives in Ojai California with her husband and daughter.
She writes, “I lived in Israel in the 1960s, a naive twenty-year-old, hoping to find myself and my place in the world. The possibility of war was remote to me. I imagined the tensions in the region would somehow be resolved peacefully. Then, the Six Day War erupted and I experienced it firsthand in Jerusalem.
I have drawn Night in Jerusalem from my experiences during that time. The historical events portrayed in the novel are accurate. The characters are based on people I knew in the city. Like me, they were struggling to make sense of their lives, responding to inherited challenges they could not escape that shaped their destiny in ways they and the entire Middle East could not have imagined.
I have always been intrigued by the miraculous. How and where the soul’s journey leads and how it reveals its destiny. How two people who are destined, even under the threat of war and extinction, can find one another.
Israel’s Six Day War is not a fiction; neither was the miracle of its victory. What better time to discover love through intrigue, passion, and the miraculous.
Writing this story was in part reliving my history in Israel, in part a mystical adventure. I am grateful that so many who have read Night In Jerusalem have experienced this as well.”
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Thanks for letting us interrogate you! Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?
I started writing at about 30, pretty much as soon as I got a sense of who I was. I had been working as an actress and knew the arts were for me. The thing that drew me to writing was that I could do it all myself without anyone telling me what my part was or where I had to fit in. I’ve always responded best to the beat of my own drum, which I can hear loud and clear most days! Night In Jerusalem is my first novel. Previously, I have written screenplays. They are, of course, visually-oriented and provide limited opportunity for the writer to describe the characters’ states of mind - everything has to be revealed on the screen. I was drawn to writing a novel because the canvas is so much larger –asand the story does not have to fit a budget. However, the relationship with the reader is more intimate and complete, and there’s a challenge to meet there.
Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be? I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?
I love the creative side of writing – developing the story and characters and being open to surprises as the characters take on lives of their own and show me where they want to go. For this, I need to stay in close touch with them, which means writing every day. They are with me the rest of the day, but more in the background, where they evolve and explore alternative futures. Writing every day keeps the story moving forward, which is the main thing for the first draft. After that, I am more relaxed about re-writing and editing, which is good because I don’t enjoy it as much – and there is a lot of it! All in all, I find it hard work, but there is nothing I would rather be doing.
Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?
I decided to self-publish. As I mentioned earlier, my previous work has been in film and television, and I was not involved in the promotional side of things. I don’t know much about book promotion and there is a whole lot of work to do there. Fortunately, I have a partner who is well-versed in it, otherwise I would be lost. Also, going into this project, I had no idea how pivotal an editor is. After working for months, on and off, with the editor of Night In Jerusalem, I would never consider publishing a book without a strong and talented editor. So, for me, self-publishing does not mean going without professional support; it means you must take the initiative yourself to find the right professionals to partner with.
What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry?
I had an agent tell me she liked my writing, liked my story, but didn’t like my book. Go figure. But after working in Hollywood, I’ve not encountered much by way of new craziness in the publishing industry – and it’s fantastic that authors can now publish and promote their own books, without having to genuflect to the “industry” – not an option with movies.
Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?
They say I disappeared for two years while I wrote and re-wrote the book and, like me, they look forward to its success.
What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?
I’ve never had a lot of interest in “meetings.” There are people who live for them. A friend of mine was hired to write a movie about Peter the Great. At a script meeting, he was told the studio thought he had made Peter “kind of unsympathetic.” “Too autocratic, is that what you’re saying?” “Exactly!” “And you want more of a czar-next-door feeling?” “Yes!” One of the things that drew me to writing a novel is that I would not have to go to any more script meetings – and the same applies to self-publishing – no meetings required!
How about the social networks? Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?
Facebook lets you get your posts (or ads!) in front of very well-defined audiences. Personally, I think it is well worth it. It lets self-publishing authors get in front of different audiences for not a lot of expense, and to see quickly who is responding and who is not. I think Twitter is likely very helpful, too, but I don’t have much enthusiasm for it.
Book sales. Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)? How are you making the sales happen for you?
I’m advertising on Facebook and Amazon, I do book clubs and I’m doing a virtual book tour. Reviews are important. They mean a lot to people who are thinking about buying or reading Night In Jerusalem, and, depending on where they are published, they can generate a lot of exposure. I sent a copy of the finished manuscript to people I know who have a reputation in their fields and asked them if they were open to reviewing or endorsing the book. I incorporated comments from some of them on the cover of the book, posted them to Facebook, and put them on the book’s web site. Getting reviews is an on-going process.
What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?
Night In Jerusalem is set during a war. I was there and experienced it firsthand. I spent days in shelters with women listening to Arab news reports on the radio proclaiming victory while we contemplated how we would end it for ourselves. It turned out, of course, that the war went the other way. If I were to scream from the rooftops, it would be “Rejoice in your life! And rejoice in every other life! May peace prevail on earth!”
Okay, too much sugar for you today! Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in. Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above doesn’t matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
The search for peace, the endless arguments about what it should look like, and the courageous, impossible loves that thrive despite all odds are themes that have been with me my entire life. I do not have answers to the questions they bring up. The characters in Night In Jerusalem express different points of view that I share, even as they conflict with each other. Writing lets me take a deep dive into how these differences can be contained in fulfilled and inspiring lives, and how happiness can be found by embracing our individual destiny, not on following any prescribed path. Night In Jerusalem speaks with the voice of my heart, and writing keeps me in touch with it.