Is Pam Jenoff a Law Professor Moonlighting as a Novelist, or Vice Versa? You Decide
IN BRIEF When Pam Jenoff introduces herself to a new group of students at Rutgers Law School, she doesn’t usually talk about what she’s up to outside the classroom.
But at some point during the year, a prospective lawyer might mention that a relative is reading one of her books — and that’s when Jenoff will open up about her other career as the best-selling author of 10 novels, with another on the way in May.
Recently, her sophomore effort, “The Diplomat’s Wife,” was reissued with a new cover and popped up at No. 14 on the trade paperback list. The book was published in 2008, so its sudden stardom was an “utter surprise,” one Jenoff attributes to the tireless support of independent booksellers.
Of her day job, Jenoff says, “I bring a lot of fiction writing techniques into the legal writing in my classroom. And I also tell my students that if they’re too shy to show me their work, they should go on Goodreads or Amazon and read all the cruddy things people say about mine. I actually tell them to go do that.”
Jenoff describes herself as “one of those kids who always wanted to be an author and just never got started.” After working at the Pentagon and for the State Department, she went to law school at the University of Pennsylvania and, on Sept. 4, 2001, started practicing at a firm in Philadelphia. Jenoff recalls, “A week later, 9/11 happened. I had this life epiphany, which was: Being a lawyer is wonderful but I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. And I don’t have forever.”
She enrolled in a writing class and started working on a novel in the early hours of the morning before leaving for work. She says, “The reality of my situation was, I was still an attorney at a big-city law firm with a thousand dollars a month in school debt. So I couldn’t go write in a castle.”
Five years and 39 rejections later, Jenoff sold her first book, “The Kommandant’s Girl,” about a young woman living a double life in Nazi-occupied Poland. (“The Diplomat’s Wife” is its sequel but also stands on its own.)
Jenoff now works around the demands of three children and a puppy, so she carefully guards her writing time. She has also learned to be a tireless reviser — a skill acquired in the legal world, where “people are always marking up your work.” She says, “The only thing that separates me from the folks I started with in writing workshops — many of them were better writers — is that I just kept going.”
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