When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I never had that "eureka moment." However, I loved writing poems and stories from the time I was in elementary school. When I became a journalist, the stories I enjoyed writing most were features about interesting people. That led me to begin writing books. My first historical novel, The Leveller, grew from a newspaper article I wrote.
What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
I love the freedom to pursue an idea or a historical moment that interests me. Time spent on background research is pure pleasure. I relish the moment when I can finally let my imagination soar and visualize my fictional characters. I jump right into their world. Then come the most perfect days when I spend quiet time choosing just the right words to express each character as the story unfolds.
How has your Jewish heritage affected your writing?
I have wonderful memories of growing up as a Sephardic Jew. For example, my grandfather conducted the Passover Seder with Sephardic prayers and rituals, and we ate haroset made of apples, dates, and apricots. However, I had never seen my family's Sephardic heritage explored in books for young readers, so I turned to filling the void of books about Sephardic Jews. I find it fulfilling to learn more about this history and then make it come alive through fiction.
What inspires you to write your stories?
I am a great reader, and I often find story ideas when something I read makes me wonder what it would have been like to be part of that event. In Out of Many Waters, I imagined what it might have been like to be kidnapped by the Inquisition and then end up journeying with the first group of Jews to settle in the New World.
What's your favorite Jewish book?
Leon Uris's Exodus leaves me breathless every time I read it. Not only is the writing powerful, but each character seems as real as if I had met each one. The story recreates the world as it was on the eve of the settlement of Palestine by European Jews, and their struggle to establish the State of Israel.
If you could meet one leader from Jewish history, whom would you choose?
Asser Levy, who was a leader in the group of 23 Portuguese Jews who fled Brazil in 1654, and endured terrible hardships before landing in New Amsterdam. He demanded equal rights of religion and citizenship for Jews in the New World. I wish I could hear about his journey and the group's struggles in his own words. Wouldn't that make a wonderful book?
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
Be an avid reader. The more you read, the more you will feel how a book comes together and what makes good writing. You will also be learning expressive words to help create your own stories. Write down things that happen in your daily life in a journal. Be sure to include your thoughts and feelings. These journals will give you unique ideas for creating stories and characters. Your interests and experiences can all become part of exciting new books that only you can write.