A freelance illustrator and journalist, Yael Levy has been published in numerous venues, including The Jerusalem Post during her three-year stay in Israel just east of the bustling capital city of Tel Aviv.
She holds a degree in Illustration from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. But it’s the questioning journalist inside her that has launched a new career in writing literature. Her debut novel Brooklyn Love homes in on Levy’s interest in the underlying thoughts and expressions of the Orthodox Jewish culture.
A native New Yorker, Levy currently writes for The Times of Israel about her experiences as a Jewish mother now living in Atlanta. She is also studying for a Masters in Law at Emory University.
The Whole Megillah (TWM): How did you come up with the idea for Brooklyn Love?
Yael Levy (YL): I was writing freelance articles for City Lights, the weekend edition of the Jerusalem Post when my editor asked me for an article on how Orthodox Jews date. Thinking about how best to approach the project, I played around with different fictional characters and realized I couldn’t do the topic justice in one article — what I had to write, was a book!
TWM: Were there any obstacles in writing this novel? If so, how did you overcome them?
YL: Many obstacles came up writing this novel though working through them over the course of many years is what helped me hone my craft and skills as a writer. The first challenge was taking a first draft and then trying to figure out how to polish it so it would be ready for publication. This led me to taking classes at Gotham Writers’ Workshop, studying many books on writing, joining the Shomer Shabbat Children’s Book Writers’ & Illustrators group and volunteering for a few years in P.R. for their annual conference. I also formed an online critique group with some fabulous women I met through SSCBWI, and all of these experiences contributed to helping me grow as a writer and a person! Later, when the book was ready in terms of my writing, I had to learn how to present a very closed community to the broader American public. This led me to studying the romance genre and ultimately taking a one year mentorship with some of the top romance writers in the country. It was an amazing experience and while the process of becoming an author was very long and difficult– I am happy with the outcome.
TWM: The book includes several character viewpoints. How did you decide on using multiple points of view? How did you decide whose to use and when?
YL: I wanted to express a community, made up of people with somewhat different experiences, so it was important to show various viewpoints.
TWM: Did you have a favorite character? (I did.) Why?
YL: I love Hindy because she is so kind…I wish I was a better person like that! I also love Suri — she is very complicated though has her reasons.
[TWM note: Hindy was my favorite.]
TWM: What was your greatest satisfaction in writing Brooklyn Love?
YL: When young adults tell me they read my book and that it has them thinking differently about relationships…If even one person makes a better decision in how she relates to others (especially in terms of dating!) then I feel all the years of very hard work was justified.
TWM: Your novel is layered with several themes — Holocaust legacy, ethics, career vs. learning, and more. Did you have these in mind as you wrote or did they come about organically?
YL: It was an organic process. I was compelled to express what it was like being a young adult and trying to find a spouse and pursue one’s dreams in the context of that community and ended up discovering how much all these other broader issues affected the lives of individuals.
TWM: What’s next for Yael Levy?
YL: I have two books coming out this year which are lighter romantic comedies, both with Crimson Romance:
A. Starstruck: What happens when a frustrated Jewish homemaker’s life (literally) collides with a soap opera star.
B. Touchdown: What happens when a difficult New York Jewish woman gets murdered on her wedding night, becomes a dybbuk and possesses the soul of a Southern football hero– refusing to leave only if he helps her break up the wedding between her fiance and the witch who killed her.
Then I plan to finish up a Women’s Fiction novel based on a memoir I’ve been working on (page one was a winner of the memoir contest on this blog!) although I’ve decided to craft it into fiction in order to be free to express what needs to be said. I’ve found trying to write a memoir to be stifling in terms of wanting to protect others’ privacies…so it is much easier to use that as a springboard for rich fiction.
Finally, I have a YA rom-com set in the same community as Brooklyn Love, about a religious teen who dreams of going to a prom, only she isn’t allowed to fraternize with boys, let alone dance with them!
I guess the theme that ties all my work together is that I enjoy writing about a much lighter side to Orthodoxy than is ever expressed in the media — and yes, there are American Orthodox teens who dream about going to a prom!