Our Long Lineage of Seers and Fortune-Tellers. Who Knew?

images-214980000-214989676By her own description, Toby Devens was a “Broadway baby”‘ who had a successful early career of acting on stage and television.  But by the age of twelve, she had hung up her dancing shoes and picked up a pen.  Early efforts included fairy tales, detective stories in the manner of Nancy Drew and a staged version of Little Women.  Later, she turned to poetry and short fiction; she also wrote restaurant reviews and theater criticism.  Her first novel, My Favorite Mid-Life Crisis (Yet) came out in 2006 and is now followed by Happy Any Day Now.  Devens chatted with Fiction Editor Yona Zeldis McDonough about what Jewish and Korean moms have in common, her lifelong passion for music and the particular pleasures of finding love in the middle ages. 

Yona Zeldis McDonough: You’ve created an unusual character–a Korean-Jewish female, Judith Soo Jin. Why?

Toby Devens: Sometimes stories come about in strange and wonderful ways. Happy Any Day Now began when my granddaughter was born and I felt this surge of longing to find out about my own maternal grandmother. She died eight months before my birth. I’m named for her and when I went to Ellisisland.org and saw her listed on a 1900 ship’s manifest, I felt incredibly close to this woman I’d never known. That’s when I started asking my family questions about her: how she became American, learned the language, weaved the old the world with the new. As I put together my grandma’s story, I realized that much of the immigrant experience was universal, and I wanted to write about that. But how? The answer came with a friend request on Facebook from a relative I barely knew: the daughter of my first cousin and his Asian wife. Seeing that young woman’s photo—the beautiful blending of two cultures—produced my eureka moment, and my protagonist Judith Soo Jin Raphael, a cellist with the Maryland Philharmonic. In Happy Any Day Now, we meet Judith as she’s approaching her 50th birthday and her past invades her present to make magic and mischief.

4 comments on “Our Long Lineage of Seers and Fortune-Tellers. Who Knew?

  1. Kathryn Kimball Johnson on

    Loved hearing more about this fascinating author. I loved her first book and look forward to reading her latest!

  2. Chassie on

    How sad that we spend so much time and energy on our differences that we fail to recognize and acknowledge how many parallels there are among diverse cultures. Toby Devens has given the reader great insight in that in Happy Any Day Now, so deftly handled that only after you’ve reached The End do you sit back and say, “Well, yeah.” As her interview attests, we’re so much more alike than we aren’t. Happy Any Day now is a warm and heartfelt reminder.

  3. Toby Devens on

    Thanks so much, Chassie. I did try to explore some universal experiences and sentiments in Happy Any Day Now. My main character, bi-cultural Judith Soo Jin Raphael, yearns to be an “All-American,” kid, but grows to prize her mixed Korean-Jewish heritage and celebrate it. It’s tricky to preserve the old traditions while building or adopting new ones, and Judith’s journey to achieve that elegant balance is among the main themes of the book.–Toby Devens

  4. Toby Devens on

    Appreciate your comment, Kathryn. That first novel, My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), was also fun to write. Its plot and characters are very different from those in Happy Any Day Now. But the books share a tone –humorous, intimate, sometimes poignant –and my fascination with the way women overcome obstacles to achieve personal and professional fulfillment.

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