Friday, June 16, 2017

Writing for Change: Rachel Lynn Solomon Speaks

2017 remains a year with a particularly charged political atmosphere, and I've found myself drawn to those like myself for whom current events can not be extricated with their work.

Today I've invited Rachel Lynn Solomon, author of You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18), to share with us the ways in which the political climate has shaped her writing. Take it away, Rachel!


I never thought I'd see a swastika outside a World War II movie. In fact, I avoid books and films about WWII partially for this reason. When I was young, my parents filled my bookshelves with Holocaust literature. I never grew desensitized -- I don't think that's possible -- but I did grow weary. It was too much. Too much hate for a child to try to process. Too many questions without answers.

In the days and weeks after the election, I saw them. Swastikas. Not in my neighborhood, but in news stories, scrawled across brick walls and painted on synagogue doors. It seemed the election had given racists, bigots, misogynists, and anti-Semites permission to go public with their hate.

My first revisions for YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE were due a few weeks after the election. On November 9, I couldn't get out of bed. I'd cried myself to sleep the night before. Finally, finally, I forced myself to brush my teeth, let my dog drag me onto a walk, wept with a friend into coffee mugs. I signed up for monthly donations to the ADL, CAIR, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, numerous others. I started calling my representative and senators.

Then I opened my book, and I turned my rage into words.

YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE is my fifth completed novel. Strangely, it's also my first book with Jewish characters. I figured I never read books about Jews that weren't about the Holocaust, that those kinds of books didn't really exist. It seemed as though there was no way to write about our rich traditions, beautiful languages, and cultural history without it being wrapped up in tragedy. Characters in YA novels celebrated Christmas. I did not. That's just how it was -- despite how Other it always made me feel.

When I began drafting YOU'LL MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE about four years ago, I wanted it to feel more personal than any of my other books. My characters, I decided, had to be practicing Jews. Through the revision process, YMMWIG grew into even more of a challenge to the current administration. The book is unapologetically feminist, sex-positive, liberal, and Jewish. My characters pray, observe Shabbat, and speak Hebrew with their Israeli mother.

Eight months after the election, I am still in mourning for our country. I am still fighting back in small, perhaps not always visible ways. And while I still struggle with Holocaust literature, what I've learned in recent years is that tragedy is not our only story as Jewish people. I want more stories about Jews in the modern world, about JDS and JCC and B'nai B'rith and Birthright. About the holidays we observe. About the feeling you get when you meet another Jewish person and you feel in your bones that you understand each other on some deep level. Klal yisrael, a phrase I include in my debut: we are all connected.

And there is the story about my relationship with Judaism, too -- one I am still figuring out how to tell. One day, I'll get there.

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Rachel Lynn Solomon is the author of the contemporary YA novel You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Simon Pulse, 1/2/18), available for preorder now. A former journalist, Rachel currently works in education and loves tap dancing, red lipstick, and new wave music. You can find her on Twitter @rlynn_solomon and online at rachelsolomonbooks.com.

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Thanks so much, Rachel! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena, Samira Ahmed, and Pamela Courtney.

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