Helene Wecker is the author of the The Golem and the Jinni. The debut novel follows the converging stories of two mythical creatures who must find their place within turn-of-the-century immigrant New York.
Dani Crickman: I love the simplicity of the title The Golem and the Jinni and how well it encompasses the story. How did you come up with the title? Were there any others you considered?
Helene Wecker: The title never was anything other than that in my mind, from the first twelve pages that I wrote which was back when I was at Columbia and it was for a workshop. I thought it would be a children’s book or a novella or something short, and it had that fairytale feel to it. It was meant to have a simple title, like those of the stories from The Thousand and One Nights.
When it started to become apparent that this was going to become a long, more adult book, and it was going to take me a while to write it, I had a number of people tell me, “You’re going to have to change the title before it gets sold. No one knows what a golem is, not as many people know what a jinni is as you think.” There were a couple of times when I started to think of other titles, and I just couldn’t come up with anything. Everything was too vague or metaphorical. Later on, my editor, my agent, and I were all working on titles, and we still couldn’t come up with anything. For some reason, this book was just completely resistant to any other title. So that was what we ended up going with. It’s a conundrum we resolved by not doing anything about it in the end.
DC: The golem and the jinni have believable personalities that are both admirable and flawed, as well as opposite yet compatible to each other’s. Was it difficult to find characterizations for them that worked?
HW: Yes, it was. During the seven years it took me to write the book, it went through a number of iterations, and the characters themselves went through a number of iterations. Especially the golem. At first she was very much more like an automaton. She had her own free will, but she had much less insight into other people. Her ability to hear other people’s desires and fears was added in three or four years after I started writing the book, because it was clear that she did not have enough agency. She did not interact very well with other characters because she didn’t understand them well enough, and because of that she wasn’t as interesting a character herself. It was like watching a robot move around and have to learn about people, which could be an interesting story, but it wasn’t enough. Not for this.
The jinni was also hard to pin down because I wanted him to be arrogant and mercurial without being a total jerk. I wanted him to still be someone a reader could relate to or be interested in. With him, it was finding that balancing point. He was fun to write, in that it’s sometimes fun to write the bad boy, but I didn’t want to go to nuts with that.
They both took some fine-tuning, and it helped to think of them in relation to each other. They weren’t created in a vacuum. I was thinking, How am I going to get them to spark off each other? What about the one is really going to piss off the other?