Riva Pomerantz gave up most of her privacy when she became a renowned novelist and journalist for the Jewish world. Making her home in Ramat Beit Shemesh for the past five years with her husband, Joel, and five children ranging from toddler to preteen, she occupies two worlds at all times – the world of her imagination, and that of her family home in Israel. Her loyal readers, many of whom have probably read every book she’s written, eagerly look forward to her next book, and she doesn’t disappoint, because there is seemingly always another one on the horizon.
Her popular books, Green Fences, Breaking Point, and Breaking Free are now available on Jewish e-Books. “I’m so excited to be part of this move to e-readers—I feel so tech-savvy and progressive!” she exclaims. “I also think it’s great that people can buy my books at reduced prices. It’s hard to lay out $25 for a book—I know that. This way, people can enjoy my books and it doesn’t hit them in the wallet. I get pleasure out of people reading my work, so the more who can access my books, the better!”
Now in her early-thirties, Riva says she began her writing career in kindergarten (!), but her first book, Breaking Point, was penned when she was 21-years-old. She was working for Feldheim Publishers at the time and she recalls: “Someone wrote in that there was a need to write about ’kids at risk‘ (although she didn’t use that term—it wasn’t invented for another several years) in a novel form. When I read that email, the idea really clicked. I had wanted to write a novel for years, but couldn’t seem to find the right topic. But that night, I went home, sat down at my computer, and the words just flowed right out. I have done a lot of teen mentoring and I am very, very familiar with real stories of at-risk youth and the story unfolded before my eyes—it was astonishing. When I had the manuscript all finished, which took only a few months (!!), I looked for a publisher. Well, what do you know? No one wanted to touch my book with a ten-foot pole. It was too risqué; it was a taboo subject. Yes, it’s hard to believe, because today, ’kids-at-risk‘ is probably a clichéd term, but then, about twelve years ago, no one wanted to talk about it.”
Several years later, Targum Press published Breaking Point, and it was the first novel that addressed kids-at-risk for the Orthodox reader. “The reactions I got were very interesting, ranging from teens who loved it or hated it, and parents who were afraid of their children reading it or were very supportive. The book is very, very real.” The characters became so real to Riva, and her readers, she felt obliged to write a sequel so she, and they, would find out what happened to her main character, Avrumie Faber. “Did he suddenly turn around and become yeshivish? Did he come back home but languish in his bedroom? I wanted to explore the process of ’life after at-risk‘, because it’s a huge part of what people experience when leaving Yiddishkeit is part of their journey,” she explains.
It’s not “politically correct” to admit to favoring one child over another, and Riva enjoys all of her books, but she does admit to having a special place in her heart for Green Fences: “The plot is very nuanced and dramatic, but it doesn’t have any of the darkness that some of my other books have. Breaking Point is, well, wrenching at times, as is Charades, my newest book, which will hit Jewish e-Books in a few months from now, b’ezras Hashem. Green Fences has a lot of sensational drama and really complex characters and plots twists that are just…intense and a lot of fun.”
Running a household with a husband and five children, it isn’t always easy to produce such voluminous work, and the serial novels she has become known for help keep her on track. “I’m a horrible procrastinator,” Riva admits, “so I am rarely more than a few chapters ahead of myself. I have found, though, that writing serials is a wonderful opportunity for me as a procrastinating writer, because it’s less intimidating to write a chapter a week than to create a whole manuscript. Having done both serials and whole books, the experience of writing each type is totally different. I do start out with a pretty good idea of where my plot is going. However, there are lots of surprises along the way—my plots tend to have a mind of their own!” She also listens to her readers, who often have no problem telling her where they think she should take the story!
Riva didn’t set out to be a career novelist and journalist, but she is enjoying the ride. Making aliyah from Cleveland, Ohio has shaped her writing in often-inexplicable ways. “Living here affects every aspect of my life,” she reflects. “My life in America was too rooted in materialism to enable me to do the kind of deep exploration and connect with the kind of creativity and spirituality I can tap into here. As a frum woman, everything I write reflects my own life experiences.”
Although Riva knows that some of her most ardent readers put her on somewhat of a pedestal, she is eager to dispel any myth that she is worthy of such kavod. “I’m just a regular person. I burn my gefilte fish. I have a messy house. My kids misbehave. I think there’s a tendency to think, ‘Wow, this person writes all over the place—she must be perfect!’ When you meet me, you’ll probably be struck by the fact that that perception just doesn’t hold true. I’ll probably have chocolate smeared on my shirt by my baby, or my sheitel will be crooked J. I’m just a regular person with a very cool job.”