The perfect beach read just out from local author Pam Jenoff
On July 28th, local author Pam Jenoff published her eighth book, The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. "This is a book two decades in the making, and very much a homecoming to me," she says.
To prepare to interview Pam Jenoff, I had to teach myself a new word: prolificacy. Because what I most wanted to know is how this talented and dedicated local writer manages to create books in such abundance. After all, I'm on her Facebook feed: I see that she has young children. I know she has a law degree and teaches law school. What's with all the books?
As it happens, this past April marked a significant anniversary for Jenoff: it has been ten years since her first book was accepted for publication. She remembers the moment very clearly. "It was April 8, 2005," she says. "It was a Friday afternoon and I was at the firm (Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, where she worked at the time) when my agent called and told me they sold my first book."
That book was The Kommandant's Girl, which became an international bestseller. On July 28th of this year, Jenoff published her eighth book (not including a story in an anthology), The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. "This is a book two decades in the making, and very much a homecoming to me," she says.
"I actually started it when I lived in Poland," says the author. In 1996 she worked for the U.S. Consulate in Krakow. "It was one of my first forays into trying to write a novel." Jenoff had never written a book before, and the effort wound up being put away in drawer (as writers did back when manuscripts were actual stacks of paper!). More recently, she dug the idea out again and added some new elements to the story, such as making it take place on the home front during WWII. Her main character, Addie, escapes war-torn Europe for Philadelphia. While summering at the Jersey shore, she meets and becomes connected to the Connallys, an Irish family with four sons. While the book has changed, she says, "the characters have been with me since 1996."
She calls the book a homecoming because it is her first to take place in the US. Her mother, who grew up in South Philly, was her research consultant for historical details about the neighborhood, and she did extensive research in Atlantic City, where her father grew up and her grandparents owned hotels. She enjoyed digging through old newspapers and postcards at the Atlantic City library, and she learned details she hadn't known, such as how the lights were dimmed on the boardwalk during the war. "They called it Camp Boardwalk because there were so many soldiers training there."
Jenoff's writing career began in Philadelphia. "I've been here since I was two," she says. She was raised in south Jersey, and lives there again now with her family. She left the area for ten years, during which she was in Washington, DC, New York, and Europe. She's been back since 1999, and during that time she got her law degree from Penn Law, and lived and practiced in Center City.
It was at a certain point, while working at the firm, that she decided she wanted more. "Being an attorney is great but I also want to be a writer." Jenoff signed up for a class at Temple University Center City called "Write Your Novel This Year," taught by Janet Benton, and that got her started. "Without Janet's workshop it never would have happened," says Jenoff. What followed was hard work and a disciplined schedule of writing that has led to her becoming a successful author with now eight books to her credit.
How does she do it all? "I really love everything I do," is the reply. "I do three things I like: I write the books, I teach at Rutgers [School of Law in Camden], and I raise my kids." She's grateful for love, help, and support from her husband Phillip and her mother Marsha and she feels privileged to have many connections among the Philadelphia writing community. She wouldn't want it to change: "If I hit the Powerball I'd still do all these things!"
Note to readers: Catch Jenoff at three upcoming readings: August 4th at the Avalon Free Public Library, August 5th at Beth El Synagogue in Margate, and August 6th at Harleysville Books.