Jesse Kellerman had a Harvard degree and was on his way to law school when he sold his first novel, steering him from a legal career to the writing life, which might have been a good-news, bad-news moment for some Jewish parents.
But not when those parents are Jonathan and Faye Kellerman, each of whom is a best-selling novelist.
“They never pushed me toward or from anything,” in part because of their personalities and in part because of their “Free to Be You and Me” parenting era, Jesse Kellerman said in a phone interview in advance of his appearance at the Book Festival of the Marcus Jewish Community Center.
Kellerman never decided to follow his parents as a professional author because it’s unreasonable for anyone to expect to make a living from writing, he said. “It’s not a decision a writer gets to make. … We have no control over whether this gets to be our job.”
He writes books and previously wrote plays because he has always been a writer, going back to telling stories while he was a toddler. He said he has no more choice about whether to write than he does about whether anyone pays him to do it.
Kellerman, 37, appeared at the Book Festival three years with Erich Segal’s daughter, Francesca, in an event focused on second-generation writers. This time, he’ll be there as a co-author with his father.
The Kellerman men are out with the second book in their “Golem” series, “The Golem of Paris,” which focuses on Los Angeles police Detective Jacob Lev, the son of an Orthodox rabbi and a double direct descendant of Rabbi Judah Loew, who raised the Golem in the 16th century to protect the Jews of Prague.
Kellerman said Lev is interesting because he’s a cliché who breaks stereotypes: a hardboiled, hard-drinking cop who happens to have a yeshiva education.
Kellerman’s own yeshiva education helped draw him to the Golem story and its exploration of man’s limitations. “One of the central themes of Judaism is the fundamental difference between G-d’s power to create and man’s power,” he said. “That makes Him superior to us, gives Him dominion over us.”
He said Shabbat is a day of rest to force us to desist from creation. “Guess what? You don’t get to do this all the time. … It’s a little bit of a rebuke.”
The first book was inspired by a trip to Prague by Jonathan Kellerman. He then read up on the Golem myth and wrote an outline for a book but never had time to write it. Jesse Kellerman loved the outline and urged his father to write it. They decided it would be fun to do it together, even though the father is in Southern California and the son lives in Northern California.
They’re comfortable with the collaboration, which comes naturally for Jesse Kellerman because of his experience in the collaborative medium of theater. The biggest problem, he said, is keeping their versions straight as they pass the computer file back and forth after each takes his turn tackling 50 to 100 pages.
The first Lev book, “The Golem of Hollywood,” ended on a “strange and ambiguous note,” Kellerman said. “Paris” lacks the ambiguity but leaves plenty of mysteries to keep Lev busy if the Kellermans want to do more.
Kellerman said that when he was a teenager, he tried working with his mother on a story about Jack the Ripper and his mother. It didn’t go well. “I was really obnoxious. She never collaborated with me again.”
Faye Kellerman is out with her own book, “The Theory of Death,” and she’s joining her husband and son at the festival. Jesse Kellerman said they’ve made appearances together, but this is the first time they’ve worked to have books published at the same time.
“I think we put on a good show,” he said.
Someday, there could be a three-generation book event. Kellerman said his son, Oscar, has the storytelling gene. “He’s a narrative guy. He narrates the events of the day,” Kellerman said. “He’s got to tell you what he’s thinking.”