An interview with author Batya Ruddell

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. 

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Mormon and Orthodox Jewish writers: Does optimism hold back fine writing?

Mark Oppenheimer, in last Friday’s New York Times, posited that the optimistic attitude embraced by Mormons has prevented them from creating literary fiction. Sure, they have succeeded in Sci-fi (Orson Scott Card), fantasy (Stephanie Meyer), and books for teens and children (Shannon Hale, James Dashner, J. Lloyd Morgan).  But how many Mormon writer’s have won Pulitzers, National Book Awards, Bookers, or Nobels?

Oppenheimer interviewed a number of Mormon writers for his article, and includes some interesting insights:

“It is a fair thing to point out,” said Shannon Hale, a Mormon who writes young adult fiction, “that there have been very prominent Jewish writers that have received a lot of accolades, and worldwide the number of Mormons are comparable to the number of Jews, so why hasn’t that happened?”

Ms. Hale’s theory is that literary fiction tends to exalt the tragic, or the gloomy, while Mormon culture prefers the sunny and optimistic.

And also:

“I’ll tell you why they write young adult,” said Ms. Nunes. “Because they don’t have to write the pages and pages of sex. They don’t want to spend a lot of time in the bedroom.”

Another author pointed out that since Mormon theology strongly identifies with the idea of a Messianic redemption, Mormon writers gravitate towards the “savior motif.”

This all got me thinking. Even though Ms. Hale correctly identified Jews as successful authors of literary fiction, Orthodox writers are not foremost among them (despite examples of some who are, like Ruchama King Feuerman and Risa Miller and even, I’d argue, Bracha Rosman and Henye Meyers). And guess what? Continue reading

How Texans lost their accents and the newly religious found one

How do we place a person? Partly by the way they talk. But the accents that we use to locate people are constantly in flux.

Apparently Texans are losing their distinct accents. Still others have mastered mainstream American dialects as well as their own distinct drawl and codeswitch according to the demands of the situation, a recent study at the University of Texas asserts. The L.A. Times article on the subject explains some of the reasons, which include exposure to mass media and immigration to Texas from a variety of sources.

The article piqued my interest in part because I happen to be reading Sarah Bunin Benor’s new book Becoming Frum which contemplates the ways the newly religious adopt the language and cultural markers of Orthodox Jews. Like with the Texans discussed above, some use of the in-group dialect is conscious, while other use is not. But in either case,  it marks the users of certain types of speech as members of a distinct group.

What this means to writers: A sprinkle of regional dialect or in-group word choice can help establish a character in the social landscape of our story/book and make them sound authentic. But misuse of language based on out-dated understandings of a community could annoy readers just as much as heavy-handed overuse. Pretty soon, we might not be able to write characters with Texan drawls anymore without sounding ridiculously retro. It’s good to have a handle on these nuances of language use before jumping in to this writing strategy.