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KxBurns
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Questions for Zoë Heller

We are delighted that author Zoë Heller and her editor Jennifer Barth will be kind enough to join us starting next week! Please post your questions for Zoë here, and go here to post questions for editor Jennifer Barth.
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KxBurns
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Zoë, thanks so much for your time!

 

The character Audrey has elicited really strong reactions in most of us. I'm curious to know how you feel about Audrey.

 

Like you, Audrey is a transplanted Brit living in New York; do you feel any kind of connection with her on that, or any other, level? How sympathetic of a character did you intend her to be?

 

Karen

 

 

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Everyman
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

I assumed, as I read the book, that the aspects of Jewish life and belief were accurate and authentic for the Jewish traditions presented.   Was this a fair assumption, or did you add in some elements for the sake of the story that might have differed from actual practices or traditions?  

 

Also, it would have been nice if you had added a glossary to save those of us who were unfamiliar with these terms the frequent recourse to the dictionary that was required if we wanted to know what was being said. 

_______________
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debbook
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Hi Zoe. I was wondering if Joel and Audrey or maybe a compilation of the two of them are based on people you know? Have you met a lot of people with extreme liberal views yet such rigid and unforgiving personalities? Did you like Audrey and Joel?
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Popper19
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Hi Zoe - I very much enjoyed The Believers.  Karla's character had weight issues and I was wondering how you were able to write about those issues - where you pulled your ideas, etc. from.
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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

[ Edited ]

Hi there Ms. Heller.   Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to discuss your novel with us.  It's much appreciated.

 

You make a compelling argument for nature vs nuture in "The Believers".  To quote Karla, "being a nurturer occupied a very low rung on her parents' hierarchy of valuable life pursuits."  I find that Audrey and Joel's children are basically forced to make their own way in the world.  Although it is valuable for young people to learn from their mistakes it seems that any input they receive from their parents, especially the girls, is politically motivated or personnally negative.  Do you think that Audrey & Joel felt that being parents was beneath them?  That there were many more important matters in the world that needed their attention?

 

Thanks again........I am sincerely enjoying this read! 

Message Edited by Carmenere_lady on 10-22-2008 08:53 PM
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Hi Zoe.  I want to add my thanks as well for giving us the opportunity to preview your novel, I'm really enjoying it. My question concerns Rosa's visit to Monsey. I was wondering why you chose not to refer to the community there as Hasidic.
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thewanderingjew
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Hi,

Let me add my thank you to you for taking the time out to join us and answer our questions. 
First, I was wondering how you researched the book. Did you draw upon the background of your parents or your experiences in the US? You have depicted the American Jewish culture so well and yet you were not even born the year your book begins? Did you immerse yourself in any particular neighborhood as your wrote the book?
Second, I have only just begun Part 2 which had many humorous moments to which I related. I am really interested in how you discovered some of the incidents you included in the book, notably Rosa and the bathroom light, the scene in which Audrey is concerned that people might mistake Jean and herself for lesbians, Mrs. Reinmans's concern for her light colored carpet, etc.
Many of my friends could have stepped between the pages of your book when it began and remained there right up to the present time. You have really captured the heartbeat and the tone of the "sixties" and the people and the extended families it produced, right up to the present, showing how the passage of time and the changes in values effected them all.
I have had many nostalgic moments and bursts of laughter as I read the book. So many of the personality traits of the characters plus the incidents they experienced, were part of my background and experience. I am loving the book.

twj

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Choisya
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Thank you for your time Ms Heller and Hello from over the Pond! 

 

Karen asked you:

How sympathetic of a character did you intend her to be?

 

As a Brit who finds Audrey a very objectionable character, I am interested in this question too. Was there a reason for making the only Brit in the novel change from being acceptable whilst in her own country to pretty nasty when she got to New York?  Is this a comment on what emigration can do to people?   

 

Also, I found her language to be very working class, considering the middle class milieu into which she moved and it is not my experience that political intellectuals in the UK use such bad language, not in the left wing circles in London in which I moved/move anyway.  Was there a reason for using it once she got to New York?  Is it your experience that it is used amongst such people there?  

 

 

 

 

 


KxBurns wrote:

Zoë, thanks so much for your time!

 

The character Audrey has elicited really strong reactions in most of us. I'm curious to know how you feel about Audrey.

 

Like you, Audrey is a transplanted Brit living in New York; do you feel any kind of connection with her on that, or any other, level? How sympathetic of a character did you intend her to be?

 

Karen

 

 


 

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mwinasu
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

I have so many questions.  Which character are you most like?  What are your religious and political affiliations?  Is this book about the evolution of the liberal movement through the American Jewish community and the societal changes that it caused?  Are you mad at liberals?  Oh, I really liked the book.  Thanks for being with us.

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MSaff
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Hi Zoe, 

 

  First of all I would like to say that The Believers is a wonderful book.  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it and found myself pulled in with each chapter and section.

 

  My question to you is "What was your inspiration in writing this story and how did you come up with the characters  ? 

 

 

Mike
"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind." Dr. Seuss
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sylvia387
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Hello Ms. Heller and thank you so much for the opportunity to get a "read ahead" on The Believers.  It is a very "visual" read for me.

 

My questions are more personal, rather than book specific, as I'm only into Part 2 of the novel.

 

First, who is Mary Parvin?  I'm always curious how one warrants a dedication.

 

Second, concerns editing.  Sometimes I can read a book that's 800 pages and when it's over think, "Lord that could have been about half the length and still told the story!"  Other times, I wish a book could have more volume for pure pleasure.  How do you yourself, edit?  When is too much apparent?

 

And finally, what is your writing practice?  A set location?  A set number of hours a day?  Self dictated deadlines?

 

Take care,  Sylvia in COLD Minnesota

Sylvia

No expectations..No disappointments
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fordmg
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

Ms Heller,

After reading your note in the intro section, I wanted to comment on "liking characters" in a novel.  I don't necessarily need to like a character to understand the message the author is telling.  Actually if I needed to like all the characters, there wouldn't be much conflict to make the story interesting.  I truly enjoyed your book.  I read it through in the first week.  I didn't like Audrey in the story, but I could see her character evolving.  I felt deep empathy for Karla.  She didn't have a chance, really.  She only wants to please and is non confrontational.  I liked the ending when she just took off, but I wonder if she only did it because Audrey "gave her permission". 

MG

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Zoe-Heller
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller


KxBurns wrote:

Zoë, thanks so much for your time!

 

The character Audrey has elicited really strong reactions in most of us. I'm curious to know how you feel about Audrey.

 

Like you, Audrey is a transplanted Brit living in New York; do you feel any kind of connection with her on that, or any other, level? How sympathetic of a character did you intend her to be?

 

Karen

 

 


Hi Karen, 
Well this follows on neatly from the introductory remark I just made about "nice" characters in fiction. Let me be clear: Audrey is a terror and I certainly don't expect my readers to adore her. However - and it's a big however - I do hope to inspire some imaginative empathy for her plight. For 40 years, Audrey's been the unsung helpmeet to a beloved, charismatic Great Man. (Several of you have commented on how much more agreeable you find Joel. Precisely! All of her adult life,  Audrey has been the less popular, less sought-after spouse: the one people climb over in order to get to beguiling Joel.) Add to this, the fact that her husband has been a serial adulterer. She's had a tough row to hoe! Part of the reason for showing her as a young woman in the Prologue is to reveal the vulnerable, drastically insecure creature that lies beneath all the layers of her monstrousness. Have you ever found yourself behaving abominably and wanted to stop, but been unable to figure out how? That's the permanent situation that Audrey is in: she knows she's being awful, but she doesn't really know how to rescue herself. (When I was writing about her, I often visualised one of my young daughters having a tantrum.) 

 


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Zoe-Heller
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller


Everyman wrote:

I assumed, as I read the book, that the aspects of Jewish life and belief were accurate and authentic for the Jewish traditions presented.   Was this a fair assumption, or did you add in some elements for the sake of the story that might have differed from actual practices or traditions?  

 

Also, it would have been nice if you had added a glossary to save those of us who were unfamiliar with these terms the frequent recourse to the dictionary that was required if we wanted to know what was being said. 


As far as Jewish religious practice goes, I certainly haven't invented anything. (Any inaccuracies are unwitting, I'm afraid, and not for the sake of story.)
I take your point about the glossary. Whenever you're writing about a subject that will be unfamiliar to many readers, there's a question as to how far you should go in providing explanations and translations. My decision regarding the more abstruse parts of Jewish observance was to do as little as explaining as possible. I didn't want the novel to end up reading like a work of anthropology or sociology. In most instances, I tried to make the gist clear - so that even if the reader didn't fully understand the ritual or law mentioned, she/he would understand enough for the purposes of the story. Am I wrong? Have a lot of you had trouble following what's going on in the Jewish scenes?

 


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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller


debbook wrote:
Hi Zoe. I was wondering if Joel and Audrey or maybe a compilation of the two of them are based on people you know? Have you met a lot of people with extreme liberal views yet such rigid and unforgiving personalities? Did you like Audrey and Joel?
I don't think I've ever based a character in a direct way, on someone I knew. Obviously, bits and pieces of people I've met find their way into characters, but neither Joel nor Audrey are portraits of anyone real. I have spent a lot of time among liberals - my own political positions qualify me as a liberal.  I don't regard rigid and unforgiving personalities as the special preserve of those with progressive political opinions. In this book, I'm interested in examining the way in which all kinds of belief - religious, political,  liberal, conservative -  have a tendency to become rigid and shut down. 

 


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Zoe-Heller
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller


Popper19 wrote:
Hi Zoe - I very much enjoyed The Believers.  Karla's character had weight issues and I was wondering how you were able to write about those issues - where you pulled your ideas, etc. from.
Well, I've never been obese, so there's no direct autobiographical basis for Karla's problems. I tend to write about people and situations that - ostensibly at least - have little to do with my own life. (My first novel, 'Everything You Know" was narrated by a middle-aged man; my second novel, "What Was She Thinking?" was narrated by a lonely, unmarried woman in her late fifties.) Still, I rarely write about things entirely exotic to my own emotional experience. In the case of Karla, for instance, I feel I know something (both second- and first-hand) about physical self-loathing.

 


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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller


Carmenere_lady wrote:

Hi there Ms. Heller.   Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to discuss your novel with us.  It's much appreciated.

 

You make a compelling argument for nature vs nuture in "The Believers".  To quote Karla, "being a nurturer occupied a very low rung on her parents' hierarchy of valuable life pursuits."  I find that Audrey and Joel's children are basically forced to make their own way in the world.  Although it is valuable for young people to learn from their mistakes it seems that any input they receive from their parents, especially the girls, is politically motivated or personnally negative.  Do you think that Audrey & Joel felt that being parents was beneath them?  That there were many more important matters in the world that needed their attention?

 

Thanks again........I am sincerely enjoying this read! 

Message Edited by Carmenere_lady on 10-22-2008 08:53 PM

Thanks for this, Carmenere lady.
It's certainly true that neither Joel nor Audrey are model parents, although I think it's wrong to conclude that they don't care about their children. Joel loves his girls. (His Sunday morning breakfast lectures don't suggest a man entirely detached from and uninterested in his offspring.) It's just that, like a lot of his parents, his love takes a rather narcissistic form. He wants miniature replicas of himself, or at the very least, children who gratify his own sense of what's important, and he finds it hard when the children in question don't comply. As for Audrey, I think she too, is more invested in her children than her horridly dismissive manner may at first imply. She's too fraught with her own frustrations and disappointments to be a very understanding or helpful mother. And - again, like a lot of parents - she tends to be toughest on those flaws that she fears most in herself (eg Karla's obesity). But, in her twisted way, she is deeply involved with them.
 One other extenuating point:  Joel and Audrey do their child-rearing at the height of the "Me"-era when the sort of zealous, hands-on parenting that is ubiquitous today was far less common. My sense is that for the liberal middle classes of the 60s and 70s, the emotional/psychological/educational welfare of their children, was much less of a day-to-day priority than it is for their contemporary counterparts.   
 

 


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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller


minyades wrote:
Hi Zoe.  I want to add my thanks as well for giving us the opportunity to preview your novel, I'm really enjoying it. My question concerns Rosa's visit to Monsey. I was wondering why you chose not to refer to the community there as Hasidic.
Monsey is home to a large Hasidic community but to many other other sub-sections of the Jewish religious community also, including the Modern Orthodox.  

 


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nbaber
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Re: Questions for Zoë Heller

I am delighted that the characters of the children are so diverse in nature.  Each has something I can identify with.  Karen - her weight issues, Rosa - her fierce independence and thirst for new knowledge.  I am a little over halfway through the book and I find I am really hoping that Karen gains the self esteem necessary to leave her husband and stand up to her mother.  Nice work on character development.