Pam Jenoff: On Writing About Isolation While Isolated

Bestselling author Pam Jenoff shares how she explored themes of isolation in her latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, while writing during the 2020 pandemic lockdown.
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Pam Jenoff is the author of several books of historical fiction, including the New York Times bestsellers The Lost Girls of Paris and The Orphan's Tale. She holds a bachelor's degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master's degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff's novels are inspired by her experiences working at the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia, where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

Pam Jenoff

Pam Jenoff

In this post, Jenoff shares how she explored themes of isolation in her latest novel, The Woman with the Blue Star, while writing during the 2020 pandemic lockdown and much more!

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Name: Pam Jenoff
Literary agent: Susan Ginsburg, Writers House
Book title: The Woman with the Blue Star
Publisher: Park Row
Release date: May 4, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
Elevator pitch for the book: Inspired by actual events, The Woman with the Blue Star is the story of a young woman who is forced to live in the sewers of Krakow, Poland to survive during the Holocaust and her unlikely friendship with a girl about her own age who she spies through the sewer grate on the street above.
Previous titles by the author:

  • The Lost Girls of Paris
  • The Orphan’s Tale
  • The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach
  • The Winter Guest
  • The Ambassador’s Daughter
  • The Kommandant’s Girl
  • The Diplomat’s Wife
  • The Things We Cherished
  • Almost Home
  • A Hidden Affair
The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

The Woman with the Blue Star by Pam Jenoff

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What prompted you to write this book?

While looking for an idea for my next book, I discovered the incredible story of the Jews who had survived the war in the sewers of Lviv, Poland. I was fascinated by their remarkable story and decided to write about it.

(Is It OK to Write a Fictional Story About a Historical Character?)

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? 

My process is about 18-24 months. And yes, it changed! I turned in a first draft of this book to my editor which wasn’t at all right, and I had to rewrite 90 percent of it. Starting nearly over was a very daunting process, but I’m so glad I did. The book gained a second character’s point of view and shifted focus, and I am much happier with the end result.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title? 

Everything about publishing feels different due to the pandemic: for example, no book tours or in-person trade shows. Yet I am amazed and gratified by the ways in which readers, authors, booksellers, librarians, influencers, bloggers, and everyone in the book world have come together to connect and share their love of reading in ways that are broader, deeper, and more meaningful than ever before.

(How to Write Historical Fiction: 7 Tips on Accuracy and Authenticity)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

I was writing this book when the pandemic hit, and the whole world seemed turned on its head. For a while, I was not able to write at all. But when I did return to the page, the experience was like a homecoming, and returning to my beloved writing world has been part of what has kept me going. I have also learned that despite the many demands the pandemic has placed on us, it is important not to apologize for taking the time to write because it makes me a healthier, more whole person on every level.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

While our present situation does not begin to approach the horrors people faced during the Holocaust, I discovered many parallels between the isolation of the people who had to hide in the sewer and the isolation so many have felt during the past year of quarantine. Similar, too, are the ways in which people seek and manage to find human connection despite these isolating circumstances. I hope that readers will draw strength from reading about these remarkable individuals and that will help them find strength in their own struggles.

Pam Jenoff: On Writing About Isolation While Isolated

If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?

I am going to cheat and share three: Protect your writing time (no one will give it to you!); be tenacious (it took me five years and 39 rejections to get my first publication offer); and develop the ability to revise (take others’ feedback and incorporate in your work in a way that remains true to you.)

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