Welcome to TRB Lounge. Today, I’d like to welcome author of Jewbilly, Rick Rosenberg, from Atmosphere Press, for an author interview with The Reading Bud.
About The Author
At the ripe age of 9, Rick moved from the big city to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, aka the “Secret City.” It was around then he had his first experience with the literary world, publishing a short story in Grit Magazine. Somehow surviving a fraught, pimple-filled adolescence, he attended the University of Tennessee/Knoxville where he earned a Bachelors in Communications. Since then, he’s lived in multiple cities and has managed to win accolades for copywriting and screenwriting. He has one child adopted from Vietnam. Jewbilly is his first novel.
You can connect with author Rosenberg here:
Welcome to TRB! Please give our readers a brief introduction about yourself before we begin.
My first breath was taken when my mother birthed me onto the warm, wet leaves of the Borneo jungle. Although I couldn’t quite see yet, I sensed the wide, angry eyes of a proboscis monkey glaring at me. Ok, wait … that didn’t happen. How about this: I live an interesting dichotomy. For normal, everyday life events, I always show up early. Yet, for life’s big things, I’ve always been late. I was late to puberty. I got married later in life. I had a kid later in life. I wrote my first novel later in life. I’m also planning on showing up at death’s door as late as possible.
Please tell us something about your book other than what we have read in the blurb?
Yosef is the main character, and most of the book is written from his POV. But there are several chapters in the third person narrative about his parents and grandparents. Young Yosef’s mostly unaware of their histories, and I felt it was important to show why his folks were the way they were. What happens is the reader starts to understand his parents and grandparents better than Yosef himself does.
What is that one message that you’re trying to get across to the readers in this book?
The only one, true religion is love.
Who is your favourite character in this book and why?
Well, I guess it makes sense since he’s the main character, but Yosef is my fave, for sure. He’s so innocent, yet so self-centered, while being funny and impressionable. It was really fun to write him. He’s also somewhat close to who I was at that age.
What inspired you to write this book? An idea, some anecdote, a dream or something else?
JEWBILLY is a highly fictionalized version of my life when I moved from the big city to a small town in Tennessee. I didn’t have to look far for inspiration since it’s based (very loosely) on what I experienced. Over the years, I’ve also been very affected by Neil Simon’s stories. I think JEWBILLY has a similar vibe to a lot of his work. Years back, I took a comedy writing course taught by his brother, Danny. I got to know him and he used to talk about Neil all the time. So there’s a bit of a personal connection there, as well.
How long did it take you to write this particular book?
All in all, it probably took a year and a half. I had the basic story and most of mycharacters in my head before I began.
What are your writing ambitions? Where do you see yourself 5 years from today?
JEWBILLY is my debut novel, but I am working on a new one. It’s a different genre, so it’s a whole new challenge. As far as 5 years from today, I’d like to still be eating, breathing, and cutting my fingernails when and where appropriate. On a larger scale, it’d be grand to make the transition from an advertising copywriter (my current gig) to a full time novelist … that gets paid! Guess we’ll see.
Are you working on any other stories presently?
My new novel is about a Chicago couple who’ve been trying to have a baby. When they finally make the decision to adopt from Vietnam, they travel there, and something unfathomable happens. Soon, they embark on a crazy, dangerous journey in a country they know virtually nothing about.
Why have you chosen this genre? Or do you write in multiple genres?
For me, the concept chooses the genre. I have all types of ideas; sci-fi, thriller, comedy- drama – so whatever genre the idea fits best with is the one I go with. But I think JEWBILLY is proving to be a “genre-bender” of sorts. Yes, it’s a coming-of-age story, but it’s also a religious story, a family story, a love story; it’s even historical fiction. This is probably not smart from someone trying to make a living as an author, but I try not to pay too much attention to genres. I think it can be stifling. But that’s me. Also what’s been interesting is that the JEWBILLY audiences who seem to enjoy the book are varying. Several editorial reviewers have said it’s perfect for young teens. That’s fantastic, of course, but all my very positive reader reviews – so far, anyway – have come from adults.
When did you decide to become a writer? Was it easy for you follow your passion or did you have to make some sacrifices along the way?
My father wrote short stories. Although I’m not aware of any specific point where I realized I wanted to write as well, for me, it started when I was 11. That was when I wrote my first short story. It was published in a very, very, very, small children’s newspaper called GRIT. Afterwards, I started making small films. Then I went back to short stories. I eventually made the decision to become an advertising copywriter. I’ve had a successful career writing and producing everything from print ads to TV commercials to online videos. I’ve also written several feature screenplays. If I’ve sacrificed anything, it’s been sleep! Since I’ve had a day job for years, I would get up at 5am to work on the novel or a screenplay, then commute to work where I actually got paid for writing. No complaints, though. I can sleep when I’m dead.
What is your writing ritual? How do you do it?
These days, I like to write from about 9:30pm to 12:30 or so. The house and neighborhood are mostly quiet, and as long as I’m not too tired, I’m usually fairly productive. But there are some nights when I write a paragraph and that’s it. I don’t sweat it, though; the next day will be more.
How do you prefer to write – computer/laptop, typewriter, dictation or longhand with a pen?
I’m a Mac laptop guy, Microsoft Word. I also use a bulletin board with yellow sticky notes if I have a thought I want to tackle later.
What are your 5 favourite books? (You can share 5 favourite authors too.)
My favorite books are Lonesome Dove, A Confederacy of Dunces, Love Story, The Prince Of Tides and Rabbit, Run. Also, anything by Michener, John Irving.
How do you deal with Writer’s Block?
Depends on how you define writer’s block. In a sense, I don’t get writer’s block, because I learned long ago that creating a full outline and extensive character bios – BEFORE writing – would keep writer’s block at bay. And it does for me. If I’m stuck on a chapter, I just move onto the next one – it’s right there in the outline so there’s no excuse. But if I get stumped earlier, ON my outline, then that’s block, I suppose. Outline block? And yes, that happens sometimes. The best cure for any kind of writer’s block is to step away from it. If you’re a creative person, the ideas will come.
What advice would you give to aspiring non-fiction writers?
Run. Fast. Hard. Now! JK. Depends on the level of writer. If you’ve literally never put pen to paper (finger to key?), then just start writing. Anything; journaling, blogging, cursing. Whatever works, whatever you need to get words out of your head and onto your Word doc. Some people just need to write that first novel. Do it! Don’t think too hard about it. Just write. If it sucks, so what. You wrote. If you continue, you’ll either get better, or eventually quit. Either is fine. There are two amazing books I recommend for aspiring writers: “Bird By Bird” by Anne Lamott, and Steven King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” Also, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman have Masterclass courses that are brilliant.
Thank you, author Rosenberg, for your insightful answers!
About the Book
Jewbilly is a funny, heartwarming, coming-of-age story about the importance of family, spirituality (wherever a person might find it!), and how friendships can really bloom in the most unlikely of places. Get ready to experience culture clash like never before as a young Jewish boy’s life is uprooted and relocated to the South – sparking a journey of growth, adaptation, and dramatic change.Yosef Bamberger is a typical, 11-year-old Jewish kid in 1973 Brooklyn; scrawny, naive, and excited for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah. He lives with his extended family, and a not-so-extended penis that won’t grow no matter what Yosef does. Still, he’s mostly a happy kid. Until the night of his 12th birthday party. When his father arrives late, Yosef’s world is shaken beyond comprehension; a real oy gevalt on the Richter scale. Apparently, his Dad just got a new job – in a small town in Tennessee. They’re moving. Like a gefilte fish out of water, Yosef now has to not only navigate a completely different world, but he also has to find a friend. At least one. And he does. A Southern Baptist, highly-freckled, miscreant named Calvin Macafee.
With the help of his new companion, Yosef manages to balance two religions, while becoming involved in drugs, alcohol, sex, and a murder investigation – all in just under two years.
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