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Jewish Journal

Nice and Gruesome

by Gaby Wenig

November 15, 2001 | 7:00 pm

Perhaps the most disarming thing about Jonathan Kellerman -- best-selling author of gruesome crime mysteries that deal with the seedier aspects of human nature and society -- is that he is nice and charming.

The pyschotherapist turned author has his 17th thriller "Flesh and Blood," coming out on Nov. 20 (Random House). The 15th novel featuring Alex Delaware, Kellerman's psychologist protagonist, tells the story of a patient whose therapy has gone awry, and who ends up murdered in a trash container after a life lived as a high-class prostitute. Delaware, obsessed with finding out who killed her, takes us on a journey through the meaner streets of Los Angeles. ("Flesh" is already crawling up the charts at Amazon.com, even though it has not yet been released.)

It's hard to believe this best-selling author's road to success was paved with what he terms "hundreds" of rejection slips.

"I had 13 years of rejection," Kellerman told The Joural recalling when he was trying to get his first novel, "When the Bough Breaks," published. "I was a failed writer with a really good day job as a psychotherapist. I quit writing very many times. I said, 'Obviously, I am not good enough, and I am deluding myself.' But when I stopped writing, I got depressed, and I realized that I need to be writing, one way or [another]."

Musing on the craft of writing, Kellerman says: "I think that is what separates the serious writers from the dilettantes. You need to have the drive in order to write. There are some writers who write one or two books that become bestsellers, and then retire on their fortunes. But I don't think that I could quit writing, because for me, writing is the means, not the end."

Kellerman's books are acclaimed for their page-turning suspense and fast-paced plots. He is also well-respected by authors, such as Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, Ruth Rendell, and someone else whom he is very close to -- his wife, best-selling writer Faye Kellerman.

Living with Faye "is like living with an in-house writers' group, and one that is very supportive. When we first started out writing, we used to show each other our weekly work -- about one chapter a week. Now that we are more secure about our work, we tend to show each other 100 pages at a time."

He's laudatory about his wife's achievements. "Not only do I love my wife, but I love her writing, and the frustrating thing is that I only get to read 100 pages of her books at a time. So it is mostly being a fan, rather than a critic."

Both Jonathan and Faye Kellerman are committed Jews, though he hesitates to call himself Orthodox. "I have the yeshiva background, but I am not sure that those men in black hats would call me Orthodox. I think I am very modern. But I am very Zionistic, and proud of it."

When it comes to communal activism, Kellerman tends to shun the limelight, preferring to quietly give money rather than accept public communal honors. To this end, he and his wife have established a foundation that gives to a number of worthy causes, such as cancer research, synagogues, schools and chesed organizations, but these are things Kellerman prefers not to discuss, he says, "because the highest level of tzedakah is to give secretly."

Nevertheless, Kellerman agreed to chair the Israel Emergency Solidarity Fund's Los Angeles Walk-4-Israel on Dec. 9, explaining, "These people in Israel -- the survivors of suicide bombings and shootings -- are suffering, whilst I am safe in my house in L.A..... There is a concept in Judaism that I don't really own anything -- that God leases it all out -- and I really believe it. You have to share what you have."

In an effort to share his literary expertise, Kellerman offers this advice to aspiring writers. "Don't make excuses, just write. Don't say 'I want to be a writer,' just write. If you have to fight it to write, then you are in the wrong profession."

Kellerman says he feels blessed that he is in the right profession.

"Every morning I get up and thank God for the best job in the world."

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