Turning the bitterness of the past…
Into a sweet future!
Home For the Challah Days Holidays, Heart and Chutzpah Book 1
by Jennifer Wilck Genre: Contemporary Romance
Turning the bitterness of the past…
Into a sweet future!
When big-city advocate Sarah Abrams returns home for the High Holy Days, she’s got a lot on her mind—especially whether to marry her perfect-on-paper boyfriend. The last person she wants to encounter is Aaron Isaacson, her first love and the one who broke her heart. But after Aaron and Sarah join forces to fight an act of hate, it’s clear that their deep connection never abated. If only they could forgive one another for the past…in time for a sweet new start!
From Harlequin Special Edition: Believe in love. Overcome obstacles. Find happiness.
Aaron wiped the counter with a rag, scrubbing so hard he wouldn’t be surprised if he wore a hole in the old Formica. Easing the rag away from the superclean area, he placed a piece of wax paper on the counter and grabbed two slices of rye bread. The din of the packed deli faded into the background.
His stomach clenched. Of all the people to walk into his deli, he’d never expected her. He’d hoped at one time that she’d change her mind and decide this is where she belonged. Dreamed about her for longer than he’d like to admit—how her long, dark hair brushed his chest when she leaned over and kissed him, how her soft lips teased his, how her olive skin slid smoothly beneath his hands. He’d even broken an engagement with another woman because he couldn’t get Sarah out of his head. But expected? It had been ten years.
“I asked for pumpernickel,” the wizened old man complained across the counter.
Aaron looked at the sandwich, swore under his breath and threw the rye slathered in mustard in the trash.
“Gloria!” He shouted down the line toward an older woman with a brown apron covering her T-shirt and jeans. She patted the shoulder of the woman she was speaking to and strode over.
His six-foot frame towered over her, and she craned her neck to meet his gaze.
“Can you take over for me? He wants…” He turned to the customer. Age and disappointment conspired to make the old man resemble a shar-pei. Aaron shook his head and ushered Gloria forward. “Sorry, she’ll make your sandwich. And it’s on the house.”
Wiping his hands on his apron, he weaved through the staff behind the counter. When he reached his tiny office tucked in the back, he shut the door and sank into the rickety-wheeled desk chair. He ground his teeth until his jaw ached. Other parts of his body used to ache when he was around Sarah in high school and college. They’d been inseparable. Her smile, with the one tooth a little crooked in the front, brightened any bad day. Her husky voice soothed him. Now, though?
Disappointment simmered. She’d promised him forever and broken his heart, walking away from this town—from him—without a thought for the people she’d left behind.
Jennifer Wilck is an award-winning contemporary romance author for readers who are passionate about love, laughter, and happily ever after. Known for writing both Jewish and non-Jewish romances, her books feature damaged heroes, sassy and independent heroines, witty banter and hot chemistry. Jennifer’s ability to transport the reader into the scene, create characters the reader will fall in love with, and evoke a roller coaster of emotions, will hook you from the first page. You can find her books at all major online retailers in a variety of formats.
Jennifer started telling herself stories as a little girl when she couldn’t fall asleep at night. Pretty soon, her head was filled with these stories and the characters that populated them. Even as an adult, she thinks about the characters and stories at night before she falls asleep or walking the dog. Eventually, she started writing them down. Her favorite stories to write are those with smart, sassy, independent heroines; handsome, strong and slightly vulnerable heroes; and her stories always end with happily ever after.
In the real world, she’s the mother of two amazing daughters and wife of one of the smartest men she knows. She believes humor is the only way to get through the day and does not believe in sharing her chocolate.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I started telling myself stories as a little girl when I couldn’t fall asleep at night. Pretty soon, my head was filled with these stories and the characters that populated them. Even as an adult, I think about the characters and stories at night before I falls asleep or while walking in my neighborhood. Eventually, I started writing them down. My favorite stories to write are those with smart, sassy, independent heroines; handsome, strong and slightly vulnerable heroes; and my stories always end with happily ever after.
In the real world, I’m the mother of two amazing daughters and wife of one of the smartest men I know (please don’t tell him that). When I’m not writing, I love to laugh with my family and friends, am a pro at finding whatever my kids have lost in plain sight and spend way too much time closing doors that should never have been left open in the first place. I believe humor is the only way to get through the day and I don’t believe in sharing my chocolate.
I’m an award-winning contemporary romance author for readers who are passionate about love, laughter, and happily ever after. Known for writing both Jewish and non-Jewish romances, my books feature damaged heroes, sassy and independent heroines, witty banter and hot chemistry. My ability to transport the reader into the scene, create characters the reader will fall in love with, and evoke a roller coaster of emotions, will hook you from the first page. You can find my books at all major online retailers in a variety of formats.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I’m an only child.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in New York City but grew up in northern NJ. I went to college in St. Louis, MO where I met my husband, as well as some of my best friends. We both returned to NJ where we still live and raised our two daughters (and multiple dogs).
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
With my family. As much as they might drive me crazy sometimes, they’re the people I love the most, and I wouldn’t want to spend my last day with anyone else. Hopefully, we’d reminisce and laugh about all the silly times we’ve spent together.
Who is your hero and why?
I think I have several heroes, but the first one that comes to mind is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was strong, independent, intelligent, and strove for justice. She’s an amazing Jewish role model. She understood the meaning of compromise and managed to forge friendships and respect even with people with whom she disagreed.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
Oof, probably a terrible one. I hate conflict—I have the hardest time maintaining conflict in my books because I want everyone to be happy. My critique partners are constantly telling me to up the conflict and not to rush to solve everything right away. I’d like to think that I’d attain consensus and bring about world peace and equality, but I suspect that I’d be pretty ineffectual, especially with the way the world is so polarized today.
What are you passionate about these days?
Women’s rights. As a woman and a daughter and a mother of daughters, I am learning every day how fortunate I am to live where I do. But I’m also dismayed to see the rights I’ve taken for granted my entire life being whittled away by those who are afraid of people who are different than they are. I encourage my daughters to be strong and to fight for what they believe in, and I fully support them in their endeavors.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I spend a lot of time with my family. We watch TV, play board games, and read. My husband and I like to go hiking on the local nature trails—well, he and I have different ideas of “hiking,” but we both enjoy getting outdoors and spending time together. We work on crosswords and other word games together—or we compete against each other to see who can get a higher score. I also love going to art museums and gardens. To me, the beauty I find there fills my soul and helps inspire my creativity.
How to find time to write as a parent?
My kids are grown now, so it’s a lot easier for me. But I started writing when my oldest was around seven years old and my youngest was five. I’d write in the evenings after they went to sleep. I was a stay-at-home mom, so I was lucky not to have to juggle outside employment. As they got older, I’d write during the school day or anytime they were out of the house. Now that they’re gone, I find I have to be more disciplined because I don’t have time constraints. Without the set amounts of time scheduled throughout the day, I find I have to be more self-motivated and create my own writing schedule in order to get the words down.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’ve always loved to write and would constantly start stories as a kid. But I had a hard time with dialogue, so I rarely finished them. I think the first time I thought of myself as a writer was when I signed my first book contract. It was legally written on paper that I was going to have a book published, and it was then I knew I was a writer.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Oh, I’d be happy with any of them, but the one I can most easily imagine is my latest, Home for the Challah Days. It’s a cross between Gilmore Girls and Crossing Delancey, so for me, it’s easy to picture as a movie.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I haven’t gone on any literary pilgrimages, but I saw the Virginia Woolf exhibit at the New York Public Library this spring. The exhibit was fascinating, with her handwritten journals, her book covers that she and her sister designed, and of course, the story of her life. It was interesting to read about her life and then to see her diary entries and her writings together.
What inspired you to write this book?
An agent who I was pursuing at the time wanted me to write a “Jewish romance” after hearing I had published others. She didn’t give me any instructions other than that. So, I did, coming up with a small, diverse town and the people who populated it. I made the hero’s family deli one of the pillars of the community, and the heroine someone who went away but was drawn home despite her dreams of making it in Washington, DC. The agent didn’t end up wanting the book, so I started shopping it around. I got bites from editors, but it was never quite right for them. After lots of revisions and work with my critique partners, I tried one last time for an agent. This time, I found one who loved it! She had me make some minor adjustments, shopped it around, and almost immediately found its home with Harlequin Special Edition. The editor there liked it so much, she asked for two more books, turning it into a three-book Jewish romance series.
What can we expect from you in the future?
Home for the Challah Days comes out Aug. 22 and takes place during the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, our day of atonement. The next book in the series, Matzah Ball Blues, comes out in April 2024, just in time for Passover, and the third book in the series, as yet untitled, comes out in November 2024 for Hanukkah. I was also asked by Harlequin to write a Jewish romance for Harlequin’s Fortunes of Texas series, and that should come out in the winter of 2024 as well.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
I wanted to make the small town in Home for the Challah Days as diverse as possible. I want it filled with immigrants, people of various religions, backgrounds, and races, and I didn’t want to make anything stereotypical. Plus, I wanted to show all of the side characters dealing with real-life issues, even issues that are tough to handle or unexpected in a romance—like antisemitism, racism, crime, etc,—but show how things could be if we work together.
With so many different people, I was able to add multi-generational people into the families, and the grandmother was one of the most fun characters to create. She has no filter and provides a lot of the comedy in the story.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Home for the Challah Days?
Sarah Abrams lives in DC and has a job working to better the Jewish community. Her boyfriend, who wants to marry her, is an up-and-coming political lobbyist, who tries to mold her into what he wants. She tries to convince herself that he’s her future. When he proposes, she’s unsure, so she goes home for the Jewish New Year and tells him she’ll give him her decision when she returns.
Aaron Isaacson is Sarah’s high school sweetheart and still lives in Sarah’s hometown. His entire life is tied to his hometown and his family. He’s taken over his family business and takes his responsibility very seriously. His heart broke when Sarah left for DC, he’s resistant to change, and he takes care of others.
How did you come up with the concept and characters for the book?
I like to think the book is a cross between Gilmore Girls and Crossing Delancey. I wanted a Jewish book that wasn’t “another Hanukkah book,” even though I write those, too, and enjoy them. But there are other Jewish holidays that are just as much fun to write about, and that’s what I was trying to do with this story.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I wanted the characters to have Jewish Biblical names so readers could identify them as such from the very beginning.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I love the relationship between Sarah and Aaron, as well as the family relationships. Aaron’s grandmother and her friends in the senior center were so much fun to write. They’re sweet and comical and meddlesome. And I enjoyed tackling the antisemitism issue because with the way the world is today, I think it’s important to address, even in a romance.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Sarah is all about trying to mesh what she thinks she wants with what her heart is telling her. She’s been focused on being successful and getting ahead for so long, she’s forgotten or ignored the values she was raised with, and coming home brings that all back.
Aaron is all about family and responsibility. He takes it seriously, sometimes to the detriment of himself. He has to learn to accept change, especially in himself, and to depend on others.
How did you come up with the title of your first novel?
My agent and I worked on this title for a long time. We wanted something attention-grabbing and fun. My editor told me it was what made her open the file to begin with, and once she started reading, she couldn’t stop. I was surprised, and pleased, that Harlequin agreed to keep it. In fact, the title has been getting a lot of attention, and Fated Mates podcast just talked about how much they liked it in their Best Titles of Summer episode.
Who designed your book covers?
Harlequin designed it. I filled out their enormous art form, describing my characters and setting, and then their cover designers go to work.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, honestly, I love it. It went through a ton of editing to find a home, and no matter how hard that work was, it was worth it in the end. I can’t wait for readers to discover Aaron and Sarah.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I had to figure out a way to tackle a tough subject—antisemitism—in such a way as to keep readers engaged.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Scott Patterson and Olivia Munn.
If you could spend time with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
Grandma Sadie. She’s a hoot—she listens to rap music, rules the roost in her senior living facility, and gives great advice. I think we’d go out for lunch, maybe hit a museum or two, and possibly shop.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Entirely from my imagination.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story,or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
They definitely hijack the story. I have a really hard time writing from an outline for that reason. In fact, if given my choice, I let the characters tell the story as they want to, and then when I go back to edit the book, then I create the outline. Making an outline after I’ve written the first draft helps me make sure the story has a beginning, middle, and end, the characters have a story arc, and that I didn’t change anyone’s hair color in the middle of the book.
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Nora Roberts. She’s got such class, she’s an amazing writer, and she just owns it. I want to be like her, or at least sit down to coffee with her and have a fangirl moment or three.
What are your top 10 favorite books/authors?
The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Wizard of Oz by L Frank Baum, This is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Peony in Love by Lisa See, The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro, The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
What book do you think everyone should read?
Banned books. If they’re banned, you should read them. Find out why they’re banned and decide for yourself whether or not they are valuable to you.
How long have you been writing?
All my life, but seriously with an aim to publication, about twelve years.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
They come to me at all different times. Sometimes I hear voices in my head and write them down and that conversation develops into a character. Other times I know the hero and have to figure out the heroine. I usually have an easier time with the hero, honestly. Not sure why.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
Unless I’m assigned a book to write, like I’ve been by Harlequin with their Fortunes of Texas series, I don’t do research ahead of time because the story happens more organically. I’ll get a hint here or there about what I want to write and develop the story from there. Obviously, during the writing process if I discover something I need to research, I do, but I don’t usually start out that way. Most of the things I have to research are jobs or locations.
Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely! I put too much time and effort into it for it to be anything else. However, unlike other careers that I’ve had earlier in my life, I understand that this one will develop slowly. I’m in it for the long haul, rather than immediate gratification.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
My favorite genre to read is women’s fiction. I like the depth of character development and how it makes me think.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
Silence. It’s easier to concentrate. However, I was just at a writer’s conference, and it was noisier than I’m used to. I found it forced me to focus a little more, and I was very productive. But given my choice, I will choose silence every time.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I’m currently writing three, but I have to admit it’s challenging. I prefer to have one that I’m writing and one that I’m editing, but currently with deadlines, I can’t do that. It makes it even more necessary to keep track of the characters looks, names, jobs, and all the little details.
If you could have been the author of any book ever written, which book would you choose? Pen or typewriter or computer?
Computer. I type way faster than I write, and when the ideas strike, I need to get them down right away.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
My favorite character that I’ve written is Grandma Sadie from Home for the Challah Days. She’s a feisty senior who loves her family and doesn’t take any crap from anyone. She rules the roost at her senior living facility and is not above a little grandmotherly manipulation to help her son find his happily ever after.
What made you want to become an author,and do you feel it was the right decision?
I’ve always told myself stories, and I finally decided to write them down. When I was able to complete an entire manuscript, I knew this was what I wanted to do. Although it’s hard and frustrating, I haven’t looked back since.
A day in the life of the author?
I try to divide up my day so I can keep to some sort of schedule and also be productive. My mornings are usually spent marketing, whether that’s social media, or blog posts, or interviews, or preparing for a release. After lunch is usually when I start writing, and I hop from one manuscript to the other—writing one, editing another, etc. I set myself a daily word count based on my deadlines and try to hit it each day. I write on a laptop, so I move around the house—the dining room when it’s near a mealtime, the family room when I want to stretch out on the couch, or my office when I need the discipline of sitting at a desk. In the nice weather, I like to sit out on my deck, but I live in NJ and when it’s not raining, it’s sweltering, so that won’t be happening any time soon.
Advice they would give new authors?
Make sure you love it, invest in your craft, and don’t give up. This is not the job for people whose main focus is making money. Hopefully that will come in time, but you’re writing because you have a story to tell. So write it well, make contacts, and sell yourself.
Describe your writing style.
I have a journalism background, so my style tends to be more concise. I tend to write it down first, and then layer it with more details later.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I’m a pantser, so I don’t like to write from an outline if I can help it. I prefer to do a first draft, then outline, and then edit based on the outline. It helps me keep attributes consistent and also to figure out where the story lags and what needs fixing. When I’ve written from an outline in the past, the story tends to come out stilted, so I try to stick to my process as much as possible.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I write what I want. If I can tell a good story and write it well, readers will enjoy it. It’s not that I don’t want to write what readers want, but if I’m pushed into a box then it won’t come out right. And by the time what I write is published, the readers’ minds may have already changed anyway.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t give up. Focus your marketing on your particular reader.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I love writing male characters, but I have to be sure they don’t sound stereotypically female. I’ve tried asking my husband for advice occasionally, but he often is uncomfortable with that idea. So I do the best I can on my own.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
On average, about six months.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
Yes, but I don’t believe it’s insurmountable. I believe writing is like a muscle. You need to stretch it and exercise it frequently. When I get stuck, I try sprints where I put aside my editing brain and just write for twenty minutes at a time. Or I blog.