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Faye Kellerman brings Yiddishkeit into her novels

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SUZANNE BELLING

In her first novel, Ritual Bath, she was inspired by a mikveh. This book featured a frum woman, Rina Lazarus, and her husband-to-be, Peter Decker (who later discovered he was Jewish himself, although he did not know it at the time). Together they solved the mystery of the rape and murder of a young religious Jewish woman.

In an exclusive interview with the SA Jewish Report, Faye says she easily identified with the frumkeit of Rina, although not on the character’s level of observance. Fay lives with her world-renowned author husband, Jonathan Kellerman, in Los Angeles.

“We’re modern-Orthodox, which means we’re shomer Shabbat, and, of course, kosher. We are affiliated with the community in Los Angeles,” she said.

“My Judaism is reflected somewhat in my novels, but the books are written to entertain. If I wanted a book about Judaism reflected in my life, I’d write non-fiction.

“Nonetheless, it is interesting to people to get an aspect of religious life and have it treated respectfully.

“I knew I wanted to write crime fiction and I wanted a little bit of my culture in there. Rina came first. But since it’s illogical to have an observant woman go around solving crimes, Decker was invented.”

For Faye Kellerman fans, it is hard to believe that the Deckers are fictional – they sound like people from Glenhazel. Peter’s fellow detectives have dubbed him “rabbi”, but he manages to fill the role of the tough top cop, while always making it home in time for Rina’s delicious Shabbat dinner.

When she started writing The Ritual Bath, she wrote from her heart, not knowing whether it would be worthy of publication. She only realised she had written her first novel once she was acknowledged by the publishing house’s editor. 

She is a former practising dentist but switched careers into becoming a writer with ease, as did her psychologist-author husband, Jonathan.

“He is the reason that I’m writing – he was always a source of encouragement. I was always a kid with an active imagination. but I never considered fiction until I met him. He wasn’t a best-selling novelist when I started writing. But when he broke into the field, he was a best-seller immediately.

“I had to work my way up and we were published within a few years of one another.”

She has written some 22 books in the Lazarus/Decker series, several “stand-alone” novels, books of short stories and has co-authored two books with Jonathan.

“But we never write in the same room – we co-wrote via e-mail and now we’re basically working on our own projects. Jonathan does write with our son, Jesse Kellerman. They’ve written three great novels together and are contracted to do others.

“The first were great mysteries with Jewish content – called The Golem of Hollywood and then the ‘The Golem of Paris’.

“The next novel that came out was a contemporary crime fiction novel called ‘Crime Scene’. It got great reviews and made the best-sellers’ list. Jon loves working with Jesse and I think Jesse loves working with Jonathan. It’s a sweet deal,” says this mother and grandmother, who calls her grandchildren “the lights of my life”.

Faye says it takes her about a year to write a book from conception to finish. “Lately, it’s been taking me a bit longer – around 18 months. Much thought goes into it and, having written so many books, I don’t want any repetition,” says a youthful-looking Faye, who claims she also needs more time as she gets older.

How does she feel about her global fame? “I write books – thankfully people buy them. I don’t think much about being a best-seller, although I am always happy when a book is successful, more so for the publisher.

“I am really in the moment when I write. I think about the story, about my characters and don’t think about its future. The book has to be written without any thoughts of its future. If you get too involved with how it will perform, your writing suffers.”

Faye was experiencing jetlag at the time of the interview, having just returned from a visit with her husband to Israel for the Oud Festival in Jerusalem, as Jonathan plays the oud, a central instrument of Arabic music. The oud is a stringed instrument said to have originated over 3 500 years ago in Persia.

“It was a world-class festival of Mid-Eastern music.”

Besides bringing home memories, the Kellermans bought about 60 bottles of fine Israeli wine, most of which they brought back to the US. “I think there are more than 350 wineries [in Israel] to date. One of the places we visited has an ancient wine press from biblical days on site.”

 

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