Today, I have the pleasure of sharing with you another interview. In this post, you’ll meet the funny, talented Batya Ruddell. For those of you who read Binah Magazine or Hamodia, her name will certainly be familiar. Batya is one of the foremost writers in the Hareidi world today, and her work is beloved both by readers and other writers. Next week, she’ll be presenting at the Jerusalem Writers’ Conference, and this week, she’s answered a few questions for me via email.
RK: How long have you been writing? First, as an amateur, and then professionally?BR: I think I was writing in the womb!! Seriously, for as long as I can remember I’ve had a pen in my hand. Writing was always my passion but a botched attempt at getting into Journalism school (I knew NOTHING about politics or current events, LOL), led me down a different path to a career as a pediatric and neonatal intensive care nurse. I worked in this field for almost three decades before switching tracks to my initial dream a few years ago and becoming a professional writer.
RK: You are one of the most prolific writers currently working in Hareidi media. To what do you most attribute your success?BR: Hashem!! Siyatta dishmayer!!!! Oh, and a lot of hard work and determination.
RK: You just finished one serial (in Hamodia‘s Inyan) and started another (in Binah). Do you have tips for serial writers in particular?
BR: Ah, that’s a serial in itself! I think the main thing is not to be intimidated by it. My first serial, Changing Faces (Hamodia), morphed by accident. I was asked to write a one-time fictionalized story addressing the issue of pathological lying. When I researched the subject I learned that compulsive, not pathological, lying was the topic that needed to be addressed and it would take more than one short story to do it. My editor suggested a serial and I shrieked, “Noooooo way. I can’t do that!” We agreed on an 8-week mini-novelette but once I got started I couldn’t stop…62 chapters later! So my message is: Don’t be afraid to try. On the other hand, serial writing requires a certain kind of skill and commitment which cannot be discussed properly in a few short lines. I’ll be addressing all these issues in my serial writing workshop at the upcoming Jerusalem Writers’ Conference.
RK: It’s so funny you mentioned Changing Faces. In it, you used a strategy where one of the characters does something so despicable — the reader really hates her until about a third of the way into the story, when you begin to see how and why she does what she does. How do you keep readers from dropping the serial before that transformation occurs?
BR: So I did try to invoke some sympathy for Aliza as early as possible and I attempted to show a human, vulnerable side to her. I also introduced some other likeable characters especially Reuven’s parents and Dassi, Aliza’s colleague from work. But I believe the main thing that kept readers coming back every week for more was the suspense. In all novels, but especially serialized stories, there has to be tension that keeps readers salivating for the next installment. Let me ask you. Did you read it? If so, what was it that kept you hooked?
RK: I did read it. For the first 15 or 20 episodes, I’d fling away the magazine with disgust [after reading each]. I was tempted to write hate mail — not only about the “horrible” Aliza, but about the meddling, worry-wort mother-in-law. But then — it was almost like being a “looky-loo” or a “rubberneck” at the scene of an accident. You had to see what happened next. And yes, the husband was likeable. You worried about him.
Also, I’m surprised to learn they asked you to write on the subject of compulsive lying. You’ve written on other controversial topics as well — most recently, about alcoholism and anxiety in the religious community. Do editors usually suggest you discuss these topics, or is it something you feel they are open to because you’ve handled them well in the past?
BR: I think it’s a combination of both. I try to be subtle when addressing sensitive issues. Not everything needs to be said openly and in your face. I know that editors at HamoBinah appreciate that so it could be a reason that they allow me to tackle controversial subjects. I recently published two highly sensitive pieces in Binah under a pen name. I was shocked (and impressed) when they were printed without the slightest hesitation. Again, it could be because I never spelled out the nature of the event but those with any experience would have known what it was.
4) You write in many formats and genres — essays, features, short stories, and serials — is there anything you haven’t done, but would love to do in the future?BR: Oh yeah, I’d love to be one of those war correspondents, flying in and out of danger zones to cover the front line news. I’d also like to accompany the film makers on National Geographic and disappear into the African Bush. I guess I still haven’t got the wanderlust journalistic yearning out of my blood!
RK: You just mentioned to me you have a new Quarter horse — do you find that your hobbies and interests affect your writing?BR: Definitely! But then again participating in life in general opens one up to new thoughts and ideas. One cannot always come up with ideas from the head only. There has to be something happening, a world that we experience, that makes us think. Horse riding is like therapy for me. When I’m riding out in the Judean hills close to my home, I’m in a different universe, free as a bird, soaring, and bathed in awe and gratitude to Hashem for the magnificent world He created. My creative juices are rippling just like the rivers and wadis where I ride. Hopefully, they spill out onto the page!
RK: Which of your serials are now available as novels?
Changing Faces is my first one. Picture Perfect is, iy”H, coming out around Succos time.
Batya Ruddell writes for Binah Magazine and Hamodia. As well as hundreds of shorter works and the books mentioned above, she authored The View from Ninveh: Surviving a medical tsunami with courage, faith and wit, published by Israel Book Shop Publications.