When Dana Reinhardt set out to write A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (Random/Lamb), she knew she wanted to write something about Jewish identity that didn't have anything to do with the Holocaust or anti-Semitism. "I knew I wanted the novel to be about an adopted girl who discovers her biological mother is Jewish, and I knew that sometime during the course of the novel the mother would die. But that's all I knew," the author reflects.
The details of the book, including the protagonist Simone's budding relationship with a Jewish boy, and her relationships with other friends and family members "filled themselves in" as Reinhardt wrote at remarkable speed, completing her manuscript in only two and a half months.
Reinhardt had never really planned to be a writer. She graduated from Vassar with a degree in American Culture, "a major that exists for people who don't know what to major in," she jokes. Before becoming an author, she tried her hand at several jobs in such varied fields as social work, publishing and broadcasting. At one point she even went back to school (NYU) to pursue a law degree, although she never became a practicing attorney. According to Reinhardt, "Everyone thought that my father, a judge, was the one pushing me into law, but the opposite was true. My father didn't want me to go to law school. He said I should write, and I thought, 'If I did that, how would I pay the rent?' "
It wasn't until she was married and had a child of her own that Reinhardt heeded her father's advice. During the same year she quit work at PBS to be with her daughter, she also began writing A Brief Chapter. After completing the first few chapters of the book, in which a liberal teen learns to embrace traditional Jewish traditions, she sought the opinion of longtime friend Douglas Stewart, a literary agent with Sterling Lord Literistic, to see if it would be worth her while to continue. Stewart's enthusiastic "Keep writing!" was all the encouragement she needed to finish the manuscript by late summer of 2004.
"I sent him the [completed] manuscript on a Friday afternoon, expecting him to spend some time with it and make suggestions," Reinhardt remarks. "But I heard from him the following Monday, and he said he loved it!" Stewart, who became Reinhardt's official agent, sent the manuscript to five publishing houses, four of which responded favorably.
Once her book found a home at Random House, Reinhardt says she enjoys a "fantastic" working relationship with editor Wendy Lamb. "She has a perfect ear," states Reinhardt. "Every comment she makes is right." While waiting for the book's release, Reinhardt kept busy, working on her second YA book, Harmless, which is due to be released next February. That book, told from the point of view of three girlfriends, traces the "fall-out" that occurs when a lie gets out of control.
Reinhardt, currently working on her third book, has practical tips for beginning writers that reflect her own work ethic and optimism. "Write all the time, rather than thinking about it or reading about it. It's the only way to get better," she advises. "At first, writing a book may seem like an insurmountable task, but if you write two or three pages a day, you'll eventually have a book. Maybe it'll turn out to be no good, but if that's the case, you're sure to do better the next time around."