A Chanukah Mystery

Happy Chanukah everyone! As a Chanukah gift to myself (and hopefully to you as well) I’m starting a new Q&A section on the blog. Every so often, I’m going to invite other writers with new books out to share a bit about their own journey.

I’m launching this new segment with Ellen Roteman. A debut author, Ellen’s first book, “The Case of the Disappearing Chanukah Candles,” was released recently from Menucha Publishers. Turns out we have a few things in common other than just our publishers; we both won Rockower Awards from the American Jewish Press Association for our work in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent newspaper!

Congrats on your first book, Ellen! What was it like to hold the book in your hands for the first time?

It was almost as exciting as holding a new grandchild in my arms! (After all, I dreamed as long about both becoming a reality.) Writing for children is something I’d always longed to do, but I got sidetracked over the years by a hectic life and demanding career. That career, however, in writing/marketing for Jewish agencies, was not only very rewarding, but also helped me define who I wanted to write for. So, as we say, “all things in their right time.”

How did you come up with The Case of the Disappearing Chanukah Candles? Can you tell us a little about the book?

The book is about five siblings who join forces to solve the mystery of how Chanukah candles are disappearing from the menorahs of a sweet elderly lady who lives alone in their neighborhood. I wanted to create a story and characters that would be not just fun and interesting, but “real.” Each sibling has his/her own quirks (loosely based on my immediate family growing up), which adds a lot of humor — and the others are challenged to accept, even celebrate, those qualities. One sibling tells bad jokes. Another is always taking notes, whether the so-called facts are important or not.  And the family dynamics are realistic and familiar: one child is compassionate, attentive to everyone’s feelings. And the oldest boy, the leader, is tempted to take credit for solving the mystery, but instead he helps the others arrive at what he’s already figured out and makes them think their contributions are invaluable. The action takes place around Chanukah, but it’s not just a Chanukah story. There are universal lessons around Jewish values of kindness, compassion and judging favorably, as well as mutual respect and working together to reach a common goal.

What are you working on now?

I’ve got two big projects going right now. I participate in a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators critique group, and several of my fellow writers work on novels for young adults. As we’ve critiqued one another’s work, I’ve pondered how writing for an older audience would be an interesting challenge: developing more nuanced characters and a more complex and sophisticated plot. At the same time, there is the additional challenge of keeping the novel appropriate for Torah observant youth. I’m partway through this story, for Orthodox teen girls, with the manuscript in the later stages of editing. In addition, I’ve just started another mystery for my detective siblings. Writing again about these characters I love is like coming home. I feel as if they’ve been “waiting for me” to come back and see what they’re up to now, and tell another of their stories.

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