The Brandeis Questionnaire
Jackie Diamond Hyman '71
At age 5, Jackie Diamond Hyman ’71 scribbled her first short story, which was one sentence long.
Six decades, more than 100 novels and legions of devoted readers later, Hyman is a powerhouse in popular fiction. Working under several pen names (“Jacqueline Diamond” and others), she has authored novels in genres that include mystery, fantasy, medical romance, romantic suspense and romantic comedy, published by Harlequin, William Morrow and other big houses.
Hyman’s first novel, “Lady in Disguise” — a romance set during the years of the British Regency (1811-20), aka the Jane Austen era — was released in 1983.
Thirty-three years later, Hyman is celebrating book No. 101, “The Case of the Questionable Quadruplet,” which launches her new medical-mystery series, featuring a murder-solving obstetrician.
As if divining the scope of her writing career, Hyman majored in sociology as a Brandeis undergrad, recognizing, she says now, that “writers need to know about more than just literature.” After graduation, she spent a year in Europe on a Thomas J. Watson writing fellowship, working on a play about Lorenzo de’ Medici. She moved to Southern California, where she and her husband still live, working as a journalist before switching over to full-time fiction writing.
Her literary successes came after years of getting mostly rejection slips, starting when she was a Nashville teenager submitting stories and poems to periodicals. “Rejections hurt,” she says. “But something drove me to keep sending off manuscripts.”
Brandeis, where Hyman happily “dove into the library and read like crazy,” honed her ability to research, she says. Now, in addition to fluency in Italian and French, she’s conversant in Regency-era manners; modern medical issues; the details of police procedures; even, for an ongoing series subplot, the challenges faced by the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
This down-to-earth passion for vérité gives her happily-ever-afters a depth that’s become her trademark.
When or where were you most miserable at Brandeis?
First semester, when I butted heads with reality. There was that calculus class, of which the less said the better. Also the fear I wasn’t going to make it as a writer, my goal since age 4.
Who was your favorite Brandeis professor?
Definitely my adviser, Irving Zola, whose medical-sociology class still helps me write novels with medical settings. Also Howard Nemerov, who allowed me into his graduate-level poetry-writing class when I was a first-year. He would ask us to read our poems aloud. One day, he said, “I’m going to read this one myself, because I think it’s lovely.” And it was my poem. After that, I never again felt the same doubts.
If you could be any other Brandeisian, who would it be?
Someone so confident she wouldn’t read other people’s Brandeis Questionnaires to see how they answered, so as not to make a complete fool of herself.
What is the most important value you learned at Brandeis?
When you discover you’re swimming against the tide, take a deep breath and go for it anyway.
What was the most important shortcut you learned in college?
Share your notes with fellow students. Help others. Network. People you meet along the way are not your competition, even if they think they are.
If you could go back to college, what would you do differently?
I’d spend more time enjoying the present.
What is your blind spot?
Like most writers, I’m too close to my work to be objective. I rely on a critique group I’ve belonged to for more than 40 years, an editor and beta readers.
What book do you read again and again?
“Winnie-the-Pooh.” Doesn’t everyone?
What movie changed your life?
A 1980 adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” on PBS motivated me to read Jane Austen. Then I discovered her books had inspired an entire fiction sub-genre called Regency romance. After reading dozens of these novels, I began researching and writing them myself.
Which possession do you most like to look at?
A trompe l’oeil sculpture called Books by Our Daughters, created by my mother, Sylvia Hyman, an internationally acclaimed ceramic artist. Two of her pieces are in the Smithsonian’s ceramics collection.
Whom would you like to sing a duet with?
Plácido Domingo. He’s been my favorite singer for decades, and he sings loud enough to drown me out.
If you could climb into a time machine, whom would you like to hang out with?
Samuel Clemens. His witticisms contain an edge that seems totally modern (“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please”). And he possessed a rare degree of honor.
On your deathbed, what will you be most grateful for?
A dark-eyed, dark-haired man, now with touches of gray, who’s been my husband for 37 years. Our two sons, a wonderful daughter-in-law and a terrific soon-to-be daughter-in-law. Also for the chance to work hard, find friends along the way, survive cancer (five years so far) and enjoy the benefits of incredible scientific advancements.
What three words of advice would you give to current Brandeis students?
Think for yourself.