A Kehila News Israel (KNI) writer recently launched his fourth novel, the retro-romance comedy Sunny Side Up!, now available for sale in paperback and Kindle versions at Amazon.com.
Author Cliff Keller, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, now resides in Jerusalem. In addition to keeping busy with his numerous contributions to KNI, Keller has been actively researching and publishing novels.
Keller’s work has been well received, garnering almost exclusively five-star reviews at Amazon. Before Sunny Side Up! became available, a fan wrote on his website, “Because this book is written by Cliff Keller – it’s going to be good!”
We recently had the privilege of learning more about Keller’s life and latest book in an exclusive interview.
Let’s talk about your writing!
The Three Prophet Series and Sunny Side Up! were all published after we moved to Israel. Sunny Side Up! was initially written and completed over 20 years ago but, although generally commended by publishers as an entertaining story, it was roundly rejected as lacking commercial appeal—which I interpreted to mean lacking graphic physicality, vampires and gratuitous violence. A few years later I sold my business in the states to devote more time to writing and produced several other secular novels, all of which were similarly found lacking by publishers.
Then, around 14 years ago, my wife, Marcia, challenged me to write something completely different and the Three Prophets Series came about. Again, we encountered hurdles. My literary agent at the time literally told me that she “did not know what to do” with religious fiction. I changed agents (no small challenge for an unpublished author) and, subsequently, a publisher of religious fiction showed mild interest in For the Sake of His Name, the Prophet Daniel’s Miraculous Life in Babylon, but then asked, to improve its marketability, if I would consider changing the story to give the Prophet Daniel a love interest!
The Daniel story was the first published of the three but was the last, chronologically, in the series. Book one of the series, The Ivory House – the days of Elijah, was published next. Book two, Faithless Heart – a love story, is about Hosea and Gomer. The main, recurring themes are the restoration of Israel in prophecy and, of course, the everyday nature of miracles.
What was your in influence for your latest novel?
Sunny Side Up! is set in fictional Vireo, Florida, not very different from Naples, Florida where my grandfather ran a motel and diner, long ago. In 1951, Warner Brothers Pictures visited there to shoot action scenes in the Everglades for the feature-length film, Distant Drums, starring cinema legend, Gary Cooper. The arrival of the film crew increased the town’s population by 9 percent. Sunny Side Up! is a lighthearted romance based on the Warner Brothers month-long invasion, reconstructed from archival news accounts as well as my vivid memories, years afterward, of how exciting and impactful the brief, Hollywood visit had been.
I migrated between Wisconsin and Florida as a child, ended up attending Florida State University to pursue a degree in Engineering Science and, while doing so, worked as an engineering cooperative student for NASA at Cape Canaveral. After graduating, I moved to Texas where I worked for then defense contractor, Texas Instruments, in Dallas. While at Texas Instruments I earned a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Methodist University then moved back to Florida and spent the next 18 years in the construction business. After selling the company, Marcia and I moved to Israel in 2011, where we have been learning about the land and trying to improve our Hebrew.
How did you come to live in Israel?
My maternal and paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Europe in the early 1900s. My paternal grandmother’s family came from the old Orthodox Jewish enclave at Gateshead, England, with rabbis in their past. My grandfather, an orphan, left Hungary for the states unaccompanied as a teen.
Aside from an occasional visit to shul, they led entirely secular lives. There was, however, plenty of corned beef, criticism, bagels, lox and Yiddish—and most of the women played mahjong—so in some ways it was a normal American Jewish upbringing.
Marcia and I applied for Aliyah in 2010 under the “Jewish grandparent provision.” During an interview in the U.S., the shaliach (emissary) from the Jewish Agency indicated that my belief in Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah would be problematic. Our application was, as hinted, rejected at first, but, shortly afterward, perhaps coincidentally, it was accepted after the U.S. State Department complained to the Israeli Interior Ministry about their treatment of Messianic Jews.
What led you to make Aliyah?
When Marcia challenged me to write the first novel based on the book of Daniel, I spent a lot of time doing research to develop a timeline for the story—which initially I knew almost nothing about. After a year passed I had read the first six chapters of Daniel several times in many translations and also, by necessity, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk and Zechariah. Reading these (as well as a ton of extra-biblical material about the period from 720 to 539 BCE) amounted to my unintentionally reading scripture every day. The result was quite a surprise. Very slowly, my eyes began to open to scripture’s complexity and truth. As I increasingly grew to understand Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah, Marcia and I also experienced an amazing number of unlikely references to Aliyah in our reading and through others whom we met.
By the time we actually applied for Aliyah it seemed less like our decision than as having received supernatural marching orders. It was a special time and, of course, our coming home to Israel has never disappointed. Without ever having visited, we arrived in March of 2011 to stay. And we love it here.
What keeps you here in Israel?
Despite the ongoing challenges of learning Hebrew and adjusting to a dramatically different culture, we have never been happier or felt that our lives have been more meaningful. Everyone in the land seems to have a fascinating story and even the most diverse of us share something important and eternal. Though we visit the States periodically to visit family, we wholeheartedly embrace the phrase, “Ein li eretz acheret” (I have no other land). Israel is our home.