Author Spotlight: Mrs. Ahava Ehrenpreis
In our interview with Mrs. Ahava Ehrenpreis, author of “My Special Uncle,” she shares the deeply personal journey behind her book. Written in memory of her son Saadya, who had Down syndrome and succumbed to COVID-19, the book was both a tribute and a therapeutic endeavor for her. Mrs. Ehrenpreis discusses the challenges of writing for a young audience and the joy in creating content that resonates with families facing similar experiences. Beyond her writing, she reflects on her personal growth, her love for nature and literature, and her future aspirations, providing valuable insights into the life of a writer deeply connected to her work and her experiences.
Inspiration and Writing Process
- What inspired you to write your book?
When my son Saadya, a”h, who had Down syndrome, succumbed to COVID-19, I wanted to perpetuate his memory in a meaningful and impactful way.
- What was your writing process like?
The writing process was extremely cathartic; I was on a “writer’s high” whenever I worked on the book.
- Do you map an outline of your books beforehand? Why or why not?
I did not map an outline (I rarely do) because the scenarios I created were in great part based on my experiences raising Saadya, and his relationship with his young nieces and nephews.
- Can you describe a moment where you felt profoundly connected to your writing?
I felt most profoundly connected to my writing when I received the first galleys of the beautiful illustrations accompanying my words, and I saw the main character, Uncle Dovi, who was based on Saadya. At that point, I felt my goal was becoming a reality.
Challenges and Enjoyment in Writing
- What are some of the challenges you faced while writing your book?
It was a challenge to limit the ideas and the word count to best appeal to the age and attention span of children. It was a totally new demographic for me, and I did research into the length and format that would have the greatest impact on younger children. But it was very exciting to think that the scenarios and ideas I was putting on paper would resonate with so many families and individuals who face the challenge of being included into mainstream society despite their personal issues.
- What are some of the things you enjoy most about writing a book?
Among my most pleasurable and enjoyable times occur when I am putting words on paper and there is a flow of both prose and content. I am usually on a high when I finish a piece I’m really pleased (and often surprised) to have written.
- Have you ever had writer’s block?
On occasion I’ve faced writer’s block, but when I am sitting in front of the keyboard, words just begin to flow.
Personal Reflections and Experiences
- Which opportunities or personalities played a key role in your career path?
The challenges the Creator gave me, including personal loss and life not going according to plan A, gave me the impetus to find the possible “lamah” (why?) for my personal challenges. And since we cannot know that in this mortal life, there has to be a “l’mah” (for what reason?). Then I had to figure out what Hashem wanted me to do with these challenges. That was very much the impetus for writing articles and then books for women on their own (widows, divorcées, or never married), parents with children who have special needs, and ultimately, helping others find the path to compartmentalizing grief that can never be eradicated and incorporating it into one’s psyche in a way that allows simchah to dominate.
- Have you ever considered writing under a pseudonym, and why or why not?
I rarely write under a pseudonym because I feel that my words and ideas resonate with readers specifically because they know I am writing from my own experiences and challenges. When I say I know how they feel or the frustration or anxiety or hurt they may have experienced, it is because I have shared those or similar challenges in my own life. Writing using a pseudonym would totally lose the power this lends to my writing.
Lifestyle and Hobbies
- What do you do to relax, recharge, or simply have fun? How do you make time for that, and how often? What are some of your hobbies or interests outside of writing?
My favorite pastimes are reading and walking near the ocean. I am mildly obsessed with bodies of water; lakes, rivers, and the ocean are a balm to my soul. I love “wogging” (a walking/slow-jog combination) along the seashore. Brooklyn, New York, has some negative aspects, but it is near the ocean so (almost) all is forgiven. Readers may not know that I still consider myself a Midwesterner (Detroit, Michigan, is considered the Midwest). But I do think we should all be making aliyah!
Writing Community and Influence
- Do you read your book reviews? How do you handle positive or negative feedback?
Of course I read reviews of my book, and I hope they are positive in nature!
- Which three books have greatly influenced your life?
My favorite play is Our Town by Thornton Wilder, which shows how the minutiae of life are what we fail to appreciate until they are absent and no longer retrievable. One of my favorite books is The Bridge of San Luis Rey, also by Thornton Wilder. The message that nothing that happens is arbitrary resonates as a believing Jew.
- What is your favorite sefer?
My favorite sefer is Tehillim. David Hamelech knew it all, experienced it all, and gave us the words to triumph.
Current and Future Projects
- What are you working on next?
I would like to write a book that addresses the stage of life post-child-rearing and career building, when one can concentrate on areas of interest that could not be pursued in the humdrum of midlife commitments. In other words, if you always loved to write, start writing, if you always loved art, hone your artistic skills. It is a period when a whole new career can be pursued. Hopefully, if one is granted good health and financial security, the sky is the limit. I personally did not concentrate on writing until I left teaching and my children were grown.
- If you were granted an extra three hours per day, or a spare million dollars, what would you do with them?
An extra three hours a day? I’d read, listen to more shiurim, and have lots more time to be outdoors.
An extra million dollars? Own any size domicile in Jerusalem (or near the Mediterranean)!
Writing Practices and Routines
- Do you see writing as a kind of spiritual or therapeutic practice?
When I write, I feel pure joy, and yes, hakaras hatov to the One Above that He granted me the ability to formulate ideas, feelings, and thoughts into words I can share. And, hopefully, others are mildly interested in sharing with me!
- How did you celebrate when your book(s) reached completion?
The joy I feel cannot be put into words, ironically. No specific form of celebration, but we have a great deal of discussion!
- What do you need in your writing space to help you stay focused? Do you write alone or in a public space?
I have to write with no distractions, not even music, and quite alone, though I do love to have a view of the outdoors. Weather permitting, I love to take my laptop outside and sit on my flower-filled patio!
- What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
The best piece of advice I ever received and that I offer to others came from my wise and wonderful editor and friend: “Just write!” Even if you think you have no words, sit down, and amazingly — with siyata d’Shmaya — words will appear on the screen or paper in front of you. I often formulate ideas and phrases in my head as I walk or jog.
- Is there anything else you would like to share?
Love what you are doing and Hashem will inspire you, and don’t forget to realize that it all comes from the One Above!