News room: Monte and Christina Jaffe - A CompletelyNovel Couple

Monte and Christina Jaffe - A CompletelyNovel Couple by Jessica Barrah

This week we’re focusing on a couple of CompletelyNovel writers – who are literally a couple. Monte Jaffe has published 5 books with us to date, and is working on his sixth. His wife Christina started publishing more recently. They told us about the inspiration for their writing, and about their writing processes.


How it started

My writing experience extends back to my early days in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where I was born. While in high school, I wrote short stories and songs, and later in college, I wrote for TV. Having won scholarships in music, I concentrated on a successful career as a free-lance opera singer, which brought me to Europe.

During my college days, I devoted more of my time to supporting the civil rights movement, working and living with the Highlander Folk Group, followers of Martin Luther King, than actually attending university classes

Writing Inspiration

A firm believer that war and hate are the biggest enemies of mankind, I went into hiding to avoid the draft into military service during the Vietnam War. These years when I “went underground” taught me about life in the streets of New York, where I had no known address, slept with friends, earned my living by doing “off the books” roofing and other construction work, worked as a social worker in the notorious Hell’s Kitchen. Memories of these challenges supply me with story material. My philosophy is to draw on a deep awareness of the pool of human energy which unites us all.

Why Self-Publishing?

I decided to self-publish because I was unable to find a regular publisher. Having discovered CN, I felt extremely lucky to have found colleagues who support me so generously. The experience of self-publishing is very exciting. As an artist I’ve always enjoyed working with my fellow artists, and the interdialog is an enriching part of the writing experience. I am thankful to have found colleagues in CN who have supported me on this journey from an idea to a book in the hand. And we’ll see how it goes from here!


Hidden anecdotes

During my 40 years as an English teacher and Holocaust educator in Germany, I spent a lot of time correcting other people’s writing, so there was no energy left for me to do much creative writing of my own. Yet I have written almost all my life, small snatches of texts to record something that moved me, frustrated or amused me. These jottings were never properly filed away as they were only meant for my eyes. They were tucked into “memory boxes” or inside books and languished there without being expanded on.

My first intentions

When I retired from teaching, I intended to evaluate and record my experiences with my Holocaust awareness project, which was based on research and dialogue with several generations of Germans and Americans, the children of the Nazi perpetrators (now senior citizens of the town and Holocaust survivors who had escaped, mostly to the USA.) Over the years this work had been rewarding, but sometimes extremely difficult and painful, so in order to reflect or assess it in some way, I found I needed some distance before starting work on that.

My brother, the muse

When I moved house, the above-mentioned forgotten family anecdotes, some of them dating back to my own school days, surfaced to the light of day, and I spent more time reading through them than packing for moving day. My brother was to turn 60 around this time, and I hit on the idea of developing some of the family stories and collating them into a “Book For My Brother Bert”. I copied it in the local Copy Shop and bound it with plastic binding spines. The feeling of holding this slim hard copy in my hand hooked me on the publishing idea. Having spent hours editing and polishing my old texts, they had to have the best presentation possible, at least the best I could do at the time. His reaction was encouraging. He pronounced, “You’re a writer! I’m waiting for more!”

From Copy Shop to Completely Novel

In the meantime, further encouragement came from the Buchan Heritage Society (an organization that keeps the cultural tradition of the North-East of Scotland, my home area, alive). They had asked me to contribute some stories written in Doric (the local dialect) for their annual magazine, “Heirskip”. Words in real print! My husband, Monte, was already an enthusiastic and successful user of the CompletelyNovel publishing platform, so I hopped aboard. I found the tools easy to use, and in cases where difficulties cropped up, prompt and efficient help came, usually from Jessica, who manages to bring a human touch to the digital world. From then on there was no looking back. I managed to publish my loosely connected short stories, Goodbye to the Bay. They are a self-ironic look at a teacher’s life and work, showing how pedagogical ideals sometimes have to be abandoned when real life keeps butting in.

Autobiography or fiction?

A lot of carving and re-writing went into this volume of stories before I could let it go.
I made an interesting discovery that writing in the first person limited me. By taking a step back and using the third person, I freed myself from the cramping feeling I had to report my experiences faithfully. Finally I let them fly even more freely by changing the main character’s name to Catriona. I already knew theoretically what fiction is, but I’d never felt its development in my gut before this experience. I am now following Monte’s advice on another approach to writing: not paying any attention to structuring at first, just letting the imagination flow on the blank page, following impulses. Some surrealistic themes are emerging, but it’s an exhilarating adventure. Let’s see what develops!

Writing Lives

Our experience in writing is different: Monte has much more experience, has written since he was in high school, although he followed another profession (opera).I have only had the time and energy to write since I retired from teaching. It was Monte who infected me with the writing bug!
We write separately, but show each other what we’ve written as we go. This has become an exciting part of our lives these days. Neither of us has a regular schedule, but Monte tends to write for longer periods (5-6 hours without noticing time passing) than I do. I like the short story form, concentrating on only one or two characters, whereas Monte writes novels often with intertwined stories and with several main characters. One remark he made recently shows the joy he experiences when writing: “When you write, you are the director, the stage designer, the conductor, the actors….. you’ve got it all in your hand.”

Christina and Monte’s books are available on CompletelyNovel to buy.

Click here to buy and read excerpts from Monte’s books. Monte also has an author’s profile on his website which includes audio samples.

Christina’s book Goodbye to the Bay and Other Short Stories is available here.

Monte and Christina will be reading from their work on Tuesday 18th July, 3pm, Peterhead Library, St Peter Street, Peterhead, Scotland.

Further reading:

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Written by
Jessica Barrah
Published on
Writing, Authors, Self-publishing, Couple, Married, Novels, and Short stories