Sunday, September 10, 2023

Q&A with Rachel Sharona Lewis



Rachel Sharona Lewis is the author of the new mystery novel The Rabbi Who Prayed for the City. It's a sequel to her novel The Rabbi Who Prayed with Fire. Also a community organizer, she lives in Watertown, Massachusetts.


Q: At what point did you know you wanted to write a second novel about your character Rabbi Vivian?


A: Toward the end of the publishing process of my first book, The Rabbi Who Prayed with Fire, I started to sense Rabbi Vivian contending with new challenges, and to envision her within new scenes grappling with choices that she would have to make in response. A lot of my questions centered around the concept of home, and where Jews feel most connected and invested.


And so I started to write out those new scenes, get a feel for the new characters, the evolution of original characters, and how everything might connect in order to tell a different story using both familiar and newly-relevant voices. Rabbi Vivian was never just going to exist for one book. There are too many challenges for a contemporary progressive, queer woman rabbi .   


Q: How do you think she's changed from one book to the next?


A: In The Rabbi Who Prayed for the City, we encounter Vivian seven years into her time serving Congregation Beth Abraham. She is both newly empowered as she is about to step into the role of senior rabbi, but also quite tired and unsure of how feasible her grand vision for her community truly is.


I think in some ways she is both more grounded in her role, but also more cynical, and she is additionally figuring out how to balance dreams of her work, with possible dreams of a growing family with her wife, Karla.


But while much is different about this book, many key elements of Vivian's personality, life, leadership, and relationships are the same. She is still quite sarcastic, still more inclined to open doors rather than close them, and of course, always trying to work a good sports metaphor into a Jewish teaching. 


Q: Why did you decide to include the topics of climate change and artificial intelligence in the novel?


A: Writing these Rabbi Vivian mysteries is my own way of making sense of the real questions arising in my own community and in our broader world.


The real impacts of climate change are a part of our everyday lives now wherever we are. This feels even more true now that it was in 2020, when this story started to take shape. The role of AI has also really evolved and become something not even a Luddite like myself can avoid.


And of course the ways each of those storylines in this book intersect with Vivian and some of her community members' positions related to Israel/Palestine is also often live for 21st century Jews.


And to have a constant practice to be imaginative about how all these big challenges and questions play out, and what we do about them as a community, has felt like a life-giving way of engaging with them, rather than just scrolling through the news and feeling despair. 


Q: Was your writing process the same this time around, or were there some differences?


A: Yes, the writing process was basically the same. I wrote almost every morning for an hour before going to work. As someone who fell into writing novels rather than aspiring to do so for many years, the key has been making a habit of writing in bite-sized chunks. And somehow, over the course of a few years, those handful of hours each week turned into a whole book!  


Q: What are you working on now? Will there be more Rabbi Vivian mysteries?


A: A few months before the book was officially available, my wife and I had a baby (which explains the storyline of Vivian and Karla considering whether or not to have a child!). I was so glad to just get to the finish line with this book given that a new baby really eats into the 6:30-8am timeslot I relied on for writing. So as of now, I don't have a plan to write another book.


But writing in the voice of Vivian Green and others in her world has provided me with such an incredible outlet to make sense of the world around me, and I do imagine that the time will come when I hear her voice commenting on the issues of the day once again. And perhaps I will just have no other choice but to start writing down what I hear. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Rachel Sharona Lewis.

No comments:

Post a Comment