Hello everyone and welcome to another Saturday Spotlight– where every month I feature an author and their recently released work. For the month of April I am thrilled to spotlight Rena Rossner and her new release The Light of the Midnight Stars.
About the BookThe Light of the Midnight Stars by Rena Rossner
Published by Redhook on April 13, 2021
An evocative combination of fantasy, history, and Jewish folklore, The Light of the Midnight Stars is fairytale-inspired novel from the author of The Sisters of the Winter Wood.
Deep in the Hungarian woods, the sacred magic of King Solomon lives on in his descendants. Gathering under the midnight stars, they pray, sing and perform small miracles - and none are more gifted than the great Rabbi Isaac and his three daughters. Each one is blessed with a unique talent - whether it be coaxing plants to grow, or predicting the future by reading the path of the stars.
When a fateful decision to help an outsider ends in an accusation of witchcraft, fire blazes through their village. Rabbi Isaac and his family are forced to flee, to abandon their magic and settle into a new way of life. But a dark fog is making its way across Europe and will, in the end, reach even those who thought they could run from it. Each of the sisters will have to make a choice - and change the future of their family forever.
For more from Rena Rossner, check out The Sisters of the Winter Wood.
About the Author
Rena Rossner hails from Miami Beach, Florida. She is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars Program and holds an MA in history from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Her debut novel, The Sisters of the Winter Wood was listed as ‘One of the 100 Best Books’ of the year by Publisher’s Weekly. She currently lives in Israel with her husband, five children, and a pug, where she works as a literary agent. Her grandparents and great grandparents are from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Hungary, and Romania. Their stories inspire her work.
1- For readers who haven’t read The Light of the Midnight Stars can you tell us what the book is about and the inspiration behind it?
The Light of the Midnight Stars is a fairy tale retelling of Boys With Golden Stars – a Romanian fairy tale. It is also the story of three sisters who each have magical abilities that they trace back to King Solomon himself, and what happens when tragedy strikes and they are forced to flee to a new land and remake themselves. It was inspired by the story of my grandmother who was from Romania and her family who was from Hungary before that. She used to light Shabbat/Friday night candles in a closet and I wanted to find out why. But along the way I discovered all sorts of incredible stories – both true and fantastical, which all found their way into my work.
2- As someone who minored in modern Hebrew in my undergrad, I absolutely adore the Hebrew language and Jewish culture/myths you incorporate into your books. Does your knowledge come from family traditions, research, or a mix of both?
Definitely a mixture of both. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home and I went to a Jewish school. I grew up bilingual (Hebrew and English) but my grandmother spoke a lot of Yiddish, so I picked up some of that too along the way. My father and mother were also both Jewish educators and my father loved to tell a good story. I was raised on stories of the Wise Men of Chelm and all kinds of Hasidic tales, alongside sadder tales about the Holocaust and Jewish history. I love reading old obscure texts in Hebrew and falling down rabbit holes of historical research – so there’s a lot of that too in my work.
3- Both of your novels have featured sisters. Do you have any siblings? Did your own relationships infuence the writing of your stories?
I have one sister and one brother. I think that sisters feature prominently in my work more because part of what I want to do in the stories I write is to re-insert women into the pages of history and the easiest way to do that is to tell sister stories – that way I get more women that I can insert! But I also do have a great relationship with my sister – we are a lot alike in a lot of ways, but also very different. She’s ten years older than me and I spent most of my childhood looking up to her and learning from her, she was almost like a second mom to me.
4- As with so many Jewish stories, one of the key themes in your novels deals with the Diaspora and Jewish identity. Can you speak to the role of this theme in your novels and what it is for those who may not be familiar with the term?
Unfortunately a large part of Jewish history is the story of expulsion and return. A large part of Jewish history also deals with trauma, and with the different choices that Jews had to make in order to survive. We are a nation of storytellers, but the stories that we have to tell are often cautionary tales and they rarely have happy endings. Every single Jew alive today is alive because someone in their family survived. It’s a dark legacy, but one we all carry in our bones no matter where in the world we live. Jewish history is mostly the story of diaspora – of movement and expulsion from one country and one continent to the next. The stories that we tell as a people – Bibilical tales, myths, Hasidic folktales and legends, oral law, are all things that have been passed down from generation to generation but that have at their core the same tale, the same legacy, the same traditions. While my stories are set in Eastern Europe, because that is where my family is from, the core and heart of my stories could have happened anywhere, because in Jewish history, stories (and tragedies) have a way of repeating themselves.
5- Hannah, Sarah and Levana all have very distinct voices. Did you always want to write Light of The Midnight Stars from three perspectives?
Actually, the book was originally written in six (yes, six!) perspectives! I wanted three modern women with the same magical powers in the modern day to have their stories entangle with and engage with their own magical legacy and the stories of the sisters that came before them. In the end, it was a bit unwieldy and the modern day POVs were cut. I seem to like writing stories this way, and I do think that I will likely continue. I like to look at the same events in different ways and through different eyes.
6- Along a similar vein, did you find one POV harder to write over the others? What is your writing process like for writing multiple perspectives?
I definitely found one voice the hardest to write – Sarah/Stanna’s story was the one I struggled with the most. Levana’s voice was the easiest for me to write, and Hannah’s voice was a bit of a struggle, but once I found the idea of the diary format her voice really came together. Sarah is the most like me, I think? And perhaps that was what made her the hardest to write. I think I am always still asking myself who I am, so it was hard for me to figure out who Sarah was – I think we were on a road of discovery together.
I don’t usually draft in a linear way – I write scenes down as they come to me. I’m a mom to 5 kids and a literary agent – so, a very busy person – and often the only time I have to write is snatched moments here and there in the middle of other things. So, when a scene comes to me, I get it down. It’s only later that I work hard to stitch everything together and write the parts that connect the scenes that I already have down.
7- What surprised you most in the writing of your second novel compared to your debut?
On the one hand, you often have all the time in the world for your first book – it can be a thing that you’ve been working on, on and off, for ten years. When you write a book that’s under contract, you have a deadline, and for me at least, it was really hard to force the story into the time allotted to me. It took me much longer than I expected, and I had to rewrite the story multiple times. I guess in writing this book I discovered that I’m really just not a fast drafter, that my stories need time to percolate, and that that’s okay.
8- Since Light of the Midnight Stars is a standalone, can you share anything about your next project?
I am working on a few projects. But in terms of what’s next for me in the adult fantasy space – I am working on a sea-based fantasy set on a fictional island that is also a fairy tale retelling, and also incorporates different Jewish myths about magical sea creatures and monsters. I’m also working on a story based on Jewish demonology – a kind of dark Gothic academia book but set in a Yeshiva and about a young woman who experiences a Jewish version of stigmata. And I’m also working on a story based on the fairy tales of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
8- Do you have any reading or writing quirks?
I keep Shabbat, so I don’t generally use electricity from Friday night to Saturday night which means that on the weekends I read physical books only. It’s my favorite part of the weekends. I like to sit down with a stack of 5-10 books and read the first page of each of them and then decide which one I am moved to read next. In terms of writing quirks – I used to write late at night when my kids were younger, but now that I have teenagers I find that my best writing gets done first thing in the morning when the house is quiet. I like to light a candle while I write – it used to a be a kind of “burning the midnight oil” kind of thing, but now I guess it’s how I greet the day?
9- What are some books that shaped your love of reading? What books made you want to become a writer?
Definitely Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books, but I was also very influenced by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale series which included books like Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose, Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin and anthologies like Snow White, Blood Red. I also loved Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Chaim Potok’s novels.
10- As an author, what would you like readers to know about author life, writing books, etc?
That writing is revising and revising and revising again. And that imposter syndrome never goes away so the best thing to do is ignore it and just write the books in your heart.
Rapid Fire Questions
1- Favorite season? Summer
2- What is your go to snack? Roasted salted pecans
3- What was the last book you read? Melissa Albert’s THE NIGHT COUNTRY
4- What are your reading essentials?– outside of a good book of course!
A soft blanket and a cup of coffee
5- What are some 2021 releases you are excited about?
SISTERSONG by Lucy Holland
THE WITCH’S HEART by Genevieve Gornichec
THE JASMINE THRONE by Tasha Suri
6- What do you hope readers will take away from The Light of the Midnight Stars?
The power that stories carry to help us understand our past, and the way that we can choose how we tell our stories in the present and for future generations
7- Lastly, where can readers learn more about you and your books?
I’m most active on twitter: @renarossner, but readers can also find me on Instagram, also @renarossner, or on my website: www.renarossner.com
What About You?
Do you have any questions for Rena? Have you read Sisters of the Winter Wood or The Light of the Midnight Stars? Let me know in the comments!