It took Jane Isenberg a number of years to find a publisher for her just-released Seattle-based historical mystery, “The Bones and the Book.” While frustrating, there was a hidden benefit to working without a deadline. “I could just wallow in the research…It was fun and exciting.”
A retired teacher, Isenberg is the author of the Bel Barrett mystery series and an award-winning career memoir, “Going by the Book.” When she arrived in Issaquah in 2003, the new book idea “about a Jewish fortuneteller” was already in her head.
“I love to write about women who break the rules,” she adds.
She got the idea at New York’s Tenement Museum where she saw a business card for an actual Jewish prognosticator who lived in that building.
Her arrival coincided with the publication of “Family of Strangers,” the seminal history of Jews in Washington State. Absorbed and intrigued by this account of her new home, Isenberg calls the coincidence “a message from God.”
While Isenberg found the move here challenging — she “felt like an outsider” for quite a while — she realized how much more challenging it would have been 100 years ago. She decided, “by George, I’m going to move that girl out here.
“All the research I had to do put me in contact with lots and lots of people.” It was “very therapeutic,” and ultimately she was no longer an outsider. The acknowledgments at the end of “The Bones” testify to all the help she got and new friends she’s made.
“The Bones” cleverly incorporates two sets of history. The novel takes place in 1965, but protagonist Rachel Mazursky is translating a 19th-century Yiddish diary discovered with a bag of bones in Seattle’s underground. Isenberg transports us back and forth across the decades, weaving in local sites and institutions (including this newspaper).
Isenberg was especially interested in tensions between established German Jewish families and newly arrived Eastern European and Sephardic Jews. Readers often ask what part of the author is in a book, and Isenberg says those tensions existed between her German Jewish mother’s and Ashkenazi father’s families, but it was years before she knew that it was common to all communities.
Isenberg was fortunate to have two meetings with a Seattle police department forensic anthropologist, who taught her that the bones in question would not have survived in the underground much past the 1960s. This led Isenberg, who had planned a contemporary sleuth in Rachel, to double the history. Isenberg also sought help from Rabbi Yechezkel Kornfeld, who translated English to Yiddish.
“The Bones” is an on-demand print book, available wherever Isenberg is reading, on Kindle or Nook, and on the independent e-reader KOBO. Observing that the book world is in upheaval, Isenberg says she ruled out self-publishing pretty quickly.
“Publishing is complicated,” she says. Design, as well as “copywriting, editing, marketing — I really appreciate those services from a publisher.” She’s very happy with Oconee, and glad she waited. “I was determined to find a publisher who loved the book…and I did.”
Find Isenberg’s upcoming readings and contact info on her website, www.janeisenberg.com. She’d love to visit your book group in person or by Skype.