I first had the pleasure of meeting Pia Wolcowitz at one of my Highlights Workshops, Writing Jewish Children’s Books. Here is my recent interview with her about her novel, The Nurse, published by Shaar Press in 2015.
The Whole Megillah )TWM): What prompted you to write this novel?
Pia Wolcowitz (PW): I was always drawn to medicine, even as a small child. While others were scared when visiting sick people, I was drawn to the mystery and puzzle of medicine. Like Rechy, I am in fact a Visiting Nurse, a Hasidic wife and mother with a Bais Yaakov education who went to nursing school. As I wrote about my journey, I fell under the spell of creative invention, a liberating spell.
Once my main character Rechy became fully formed—and that was very soon in the process—I was able to give her a life of her own and depart from the facts and people in my own life.
TWM: Are you a nurse yourself or did you base this on someone you know?
PW: I am a Visiting Nurse and I have great material. But at the end of the day, considering the federal HIPAA regulations or…the responsibility to maintain every patient’s confidentiality, I couldn’t go home and talk about any of this. Any of the challenges. [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ]
TWM: How long did it take you to write this novel?
PW: Six years. At first I wrote like a beginner, for ‘self expression.’ Then I wrote to work out some of my everyday experiences and of course that meant writing about my day job. Then I had to gain some kind of intelligent craft level and that took time. I’m a quick learner but there was—and is—always a lot to learn.
TWM: Did you need to conduct any research? If so, how?
PW: Yes, even though I am a nurse, about three years into the novel I needed to dig into alternative medicine because alternative medicine creates a large plot line in my book. Obviously, the internet is the easiest and quickest way to research, but I clearly remember your very sound advice from the Highlights workshop I attended where you spoke about traveling to the locations where our story takes place and interviewing people who know about the things we write about. In fact, I contacted an Alternative Healer from the internet and consulted with him specifically about the Bach remedies and autoimmune diseases which appear in the book.
TWM: Did you ever consider a secular publisher? Why/why not?
PW: Sending this book into the hands of any publisher was a little scary. A little like marrying off your child. So I decided to stay within my community as I had yet to grow myself as a writer too.
TWM: What was the most challenging scene to write? The most satisfying?
PW: The most satisfying and fun scenes in The Nurse were the scenes where people made shidduch (matchmaking) inquiries. Kind of a delicious fun to create those scenes.
The most challenging—and here is when I felt my growth as a writer—was writing closely from my experience but finding myself writing characters who were, on the other hand, nothing like their real life inspiration. I then had to live up to my obligation to story, to their story. I wasn’t writing for self expression anymore.
I will quote the great William Faulkner here and say that “I am not interested in facts. I am interested in the truth.” I had to get to that place in order to go forward with this book.
TWM: Do you have more plans for this book?
PW: Although this book can be passed along to secular readers as it is written sensitively and smartly for all audiences, in fact, I am looking into creating a glossary.
TWM: What’s next for you?
PW: I am working on a YA spin off, a prequel to The Nurse, with a main character who is a child in Romania during WWII. She is, in fact, the grandmother of the main (nurse) character in The Nurse. I also have begun an adult novel concerning that same woman who as an adult made her way to America.
TWM: I can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much, Pia. If any The Whole Megillah readers are interested in helping Pia with The Nurse‘s Yiddish/Hebrew glossary, please send me a note at barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net.