Wendy Warren likes to write books that remind her of the movies she grew up watching with her mom–stories about ordinary people who find the courage or the love or the humor or the faith (or all of the above) to make their lives extraordinary. She lives with her bustling two-and-four-legged family in a (too-) small house previously owned by a woman named Cinderella, who bequeathed them a garden of flowers they have cruelly murdered and a pink GE oven that makes them feel as if they’re in an I Love Lucy episode. Which is just fine by them!
Interview by Elise Cooper
Q. Tell us a bit about the Jewish characters and Jewish theme?
Wendy: One of the books that turned the tide was Jean Meltzer’s, The Matzah. Ball. We are committed to writing Jewish themed stories that are forward-looking. My best-selling special edition book had a Jewish family at a time when there not many Jewish characters. Back then the idea was to homogenize the characters more. But now we want to share different worlds and show the Jewish culture. From now on, more and more of my books will have Jewish characters. I mentioned Shabbat, Latkes, and Challah.
Q. Did you base any of the stories on your life?
Wendy: There are so many misconceptions about the Jewish faith. My family is interfaith. I married my husband who is Christian. Many years ago, we found a Church that I felt welcome to besides going to a Synagogue. But then, they had speakers that were distinctly Anti-Semitic. After pointing it out, half the congregation was supportive, while the others were not. It became evident to me, that the stereotypes still existed. This is one reason why I will write romances but centered around a Jewish theme. Therefore, it is important that when diversity is explored in commercial fiction, there must also be religious and cultural diversity.
Q. Where did the idea for this story come from?
Wendy: I knew I wanted to write about a town called Holliday in Oregon that celebrated every holiday, to have the town diverse. As time went on, I wanted someone finding bashert, a person’s soulmate. I wanted to follow that as they searched for wholeness, where the romantic partner would be a witness to it.
Q. What does Chanukkah mean to you?
Wendy: It is about being marginalized. Standing up to a tyrant. These characters had an internal tyrant. The heroine, Eden, had a lack of self-esteem that comes from having scars as a teenager. For the hero, Gideon, it is the self-blame that he did not do enough to save his wife.
Q. How would you describe Eden?
Wendy: Witty, ballsy, and uses that to cover her pain. She is also strong, sarcastic, optimistic, humorous, adventurous, empathetic, sassy, and irreverent. All these point to ‘I do not want to be vulnerable’.
Q. How would you describe Gideon?
Wendy: I thought of him as Severus Snape from “Harry Potter.” He is this man who has this tremendous capacity for love, but it has broken him. He has walled himself off. He is caring, has integrity, but cynical.
Q. What about the relationship?
Wendy: It was frenemies to friends to lovers. She loved to push his buttons. They end up being partners that want to be a witness to the other’s entire life: the ups/downs, friends forever. They relationship is solid. They will never outgrow each other. They want to explore every facet of life together. They are enthusiastic and hopeful about their future because they embraced a bittersweet past.
Q. Assisted dying is a heavy topic. How did you go about exploring it in this plot?
Wendy: Both of my parents had terminal cancer at the same time. The topic of assisted dying came up. I thought of what would happen if the healthy family members cannot bring themselves to help and then the ill do it themselves. I just wanted to touch on it. I did have friends who have done it for their parents. It is excruciating when it is done for a beloved pet, no less a parent. It is awful. Sometimes with people and animals the spirit is still strong, but the body has given out.
Q. What do you want readers to get out of the book?
Wendy: I hope they will see themselves in the very ordinariness of Eden and Gideon’s lives. They are imperfect; yet they overcame the past to find a beautiful partner. I wanted to do an opposite course to the “Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” TV shows. I hope readers understand that they can be the hero and heroine of their own story. I learned it with my mom who had cancer my entire life, constantly in pain. To be truly beautiful nothing must be perfect.
Q. What’s next?
Wendy: The heroine is a Guatemalan child adopted by a Jewish family. Just like my oldest daughter. Now as an adult she has pursued perfection but was dumped by her fiancé. She meets someone else. The tentative title is Pretending Your Mine. It will come out sometime in the summer of 2022.
Review by Elise Cooper
Moonlight, Menorahs, and Mistletoe by Wendy Warren has Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights, as a subject. In the story there is a mystery, but readers also get a glimpse of what Chanukkah is about, its meaning, customs, and traditions. Beyond that is a theme of finding a soulmate, knowing they will be together their entire life.
Chanukkah celebrates an ancient military victory of the Jews over foreign rulers. While the Jews were hiding in the Temple, they found a lamp that had just enough oil to last one night, but miraculously it lasted eight. To celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah people light candles on a branched candlestick called a Menorah. They start with one candle and add a new candle each night. A book quote helps to understand, “Think of your cell phone with 10% battery, but it lasted eight days.”
The heroine, Eden Berman, has visible and invisible scars, but has not let them damper her spirit. The hero, Dr. Gideon Bowen, represents the mystery of the story. He is very reserved and quiet. Both start out as antagonists, but after he rescues her from a medical incident, she suspects there is more to him than meets the eye. They grow to be friends and eventually lovers.
Just as readers do not have to be Christian to enjoy the Christmas stories, it is also true that readers do not have to be Jewish to enjoy this story. They can take a journey with the characters as they overcome their vulnerability and strive for a lasting relationship.
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As a new landlord, Dr. Gideon Bowen is more irritating than ingratiating. Eden Berman should probably consider moving. But in the spirit of the holidays—and curiosity about Gideon and his enigmatic past—Eden offers her friendship instead. As their relationship ignites, it’s clear that Gideon is more mensch than menace. With each candle of Hanukkah burning brighter, can Eden light his way to love?
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