Q&A: 'Night in Jerusalem' Historical Fiction Author Gaelle Lehrer Kennedy @GaelleLKennedy

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.”



Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

The love story in Night In Jerusalem came to me on a movie set. We were filming on a blazingly hot day, dressed as lightly as possible while complying with the dress code of the location, which meant long sleeves, pants and skirts. One of the crew opened his shirt revealing his handsome, muscled chest. An orthodox woman in long black clothes and a wig kept coming out to look at us from her Night In Jerusalem – are questions that have remained with me vividly ever since.
balcony. I sensed how strongly she yearned for contact. The gap between us could have been crossed in a few paces, yet we were centuries apart. I imagined what it was like to be her, what courage it would take for her to break free, how she might do it. Decades later I wrote the book. So far as setting the love story during the Six Day War, Winston Churchill wrote that there is nothing so exhilarating as when someone shoots at you and misses. When the Six Day War erupted. I experienced it firsthand. I spent days in shelters with other 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. We were to live! Jerusalem was re-unified. Now, that was exhilarating! At the same time, the search for peace, the endless arguments about what it should look like, and the courageous, impossible loves that thrived despite all odds - the themes of

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

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 show on the screen. I was drawn to writing a novel because the canvas can be so much larger –as big as you like -  and 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. The sex scenes were the hardest to write. Aside from adjusting to the form of a novel, I also had to be very deliberate about my writing style. I studied creative writing at Columbia and appreciate the virtuosity of many writers, but I love novels that are told simply, where the writer is unobtrusive and the characters and plot say it all. I think it was Einstein who said it is easy to make things complicated, but it takes genius to make them simple. It is hard to write stories that are so clear and transparent you can see right into the souls of the characters. That’s what works for me, and it is what I strive for.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I self-published Night In Jerusalem.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

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.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I am working on a novel about the middle class in America and what happened in the last recession when millions were thrown into life altering changes they are still trying to work out. I expect to complete the first draft by the end of this year. Based on my experience with Night In Jerusalem, it is likely to be eighteen months before it is published.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

It is not uncommon for visitors to Jerusalem to fall under the spell of an unseen presence that pervades the city. They can have compelling visions of religious archetypes and become convinced they are experiencing a spiritual breakthrough.  Psychiatrists call it the “Jerusalem Syndrome,” and think of it more as a breakdown than a breakthrough. I have always been affected by the energy of place, and never more so than in Jerusalem. Its mysterious world is the wellspring of Night In Jerusalem.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

The themes in Night In Jerusalem have been with me my entire life. I do not have answers to the questions they bring up: why does it take such courage to truly love, how impossible it seems to bring peace to the world, and, of course, why “God works in mysterious ways.” The characters in the book, and their responses to the challenges they encounter, express different points of view that I share, even as they conflict with each other. I want the book to show how these differences can be contained in fulfilled and inspiring lives, and how happiness depends on us embracing our individual destiny, not on following any prescribed path.

Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Thank you for interviewing me and for your interest in new books and writers, and the amazing world we are making together.

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