13 March 2019

Lori Kaufmann: ‘I felt an obligation to the real historical figures’

Lori Kaufmann, author
by Katie Smart Author Interviews

Lori Kaufmann studied on our online novel-writing course taught by Suzannah Dunn in 2017. We were thrilled to hear the news this week that Lori’s debut YA novel Daughter of Jerusalem — a tale of forbidden love set in 70 CE Jerusalem — will be published by Penguin Random House imprint Delacorte Press in 2020!

We caught up with Lori to hear about everything from her time on the course, how she approaches historical research, and the decision to sell her novel to a YA imprint…

You took our 6-month online course back in 2017. What did you get out of it?
I enjoyed getting to know a wonderful group of writers. They were great beta-readers – both honest and kind (an important combo!). I credit our tutor, Suzannah Dunn, with creating this incredibly supportive online space. Suzannah, a successful author of 10 books, shared her insider view of the publishing industry — and that was really enlightening.

You’re still in touch with members of your student group, how important is it to talk to other writers when you’re working on a novel?
It’s important to get feedback from readers, whether or not they’re writers. I learned something from every reader. I’ll never forget when one of my first readers pointed out that a character who died in Chapter 5, later danced in Chapter 10…oops!

Still, sharing your work too early — or with the wrong person — can be disheartening. So tread carefully! Sometimes it’s better to let your ideas gel before exposing them to sunlight.

Your debut novel, a tale of forbidden love, is set in 65 CE Jerusalem. Tell us a bit about the story and how you went about your historical research?
Daughter of Jerusalem is based on the true story of a young woman taken captive after the failed Jewish revolt in the first century and sold as a slave in Rome. She is freed by her master, who falls in love with her.

I was captivated by this ancient love story and spent years researching the historical events of that period. I worked closely with some of the world’s leading archaeologists and scholars to bring my characters, and this time period, to life. Professor Jonathan Price, Chairman of the History Department at Tel Aviv University, served as my consultant.

In retrospect though, I see that my passion for uncovering the “truth” – from the actual events, to what my characters ate, wore and believed – became an obsession. I felt an obligation to these real historical figures (and to my readers) to get it right. It makes me proud of the book I produced, but it was, admittedly, slightly crazy.

You didn’t initially set out to write the novel as a YA but now you have a book deal with Penguin Random House’s MG and YA imprint Delacorte Press. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
My agent suggested trying YA publishers — both because the US YA market is robust now with “cross-over” adult readers, and because YA books have a long shelf-life, especially if they find a place in libraries or schools. My protagonist is 14-19 years old in the book, so it fit the YA criteria.

How did it feel when you found out your novel was going to be published?
It was thrilling, especially for it to go to Random House.

Can you take us through an average writing day, do you have any rituals?
This is the kind of question that makes me laugh (and then pinch myself!). You have no idea how many author interviews like this I devoured, looking for the secret.

I drink coffee, do a little work, email my mother, do a little more work, make grocery lists, do more work, delete all the work I did, pick up my daughter from school, throw in a load of laundry, feel guilty about not getting more done … and on and on.

Some writers can sprint the whole way to the finish line; others, like me, may limp and arrive bloodied and bandaged. But it doesn’t matter, you just have to get there.

What’s next for you – any new projects on the horizon?
Yes, I’m working on a story about an immigrant family set in the American south during Prohibition. It explores the question of how far we will go to fit in.

If you’re writing a YA novel take a look at our tailored Writing YA and Children’s Fiction course with Catherine Johnson, closing for applications soon.

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