Monday, April 1, 2013
An Interview with Rabbi Ilene Schneider
Tell us about yourself, including where you grew up, where you went to school.
I grew up in Boston, mainly in Mattapan, and attended Girls’ Latin School from grades six to twelve. All I remember from my six years of required Latin classes are enough words to do crossword puzzles. I graduated from Simmons College with a major in Communications. My goal was to become the first woman editor of The New York Times. Those plans changed in December of my senior year when I decided to apply to the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. It took me another forty years to get back to writing (other than academic papers and some columns), when my first novel Chanukah Guilt was published. It was followed by the non-fiction Talk Dirty Yiddish and recently by the second Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery Unleavened Dead. Currently, I am coordinator of the Jewish Hospice Program and a spiritual support counselor for Samaritan Healthcare and Hospice, in Marlton, NJ, where I live with my husband, a rabbi in a synagogue, and our two sons.
1. What inspired you to become a rabbi?
As an undergrad, I was very involved in Jewish student groups in the Boston area, and was interested in working in the Jewish community. I wanted to have a deeper understanding of Judaism, and the rabbinate (despite there not being any women who had yet been ordained in the US) seemed to make a lot of sense to me.
2. What inspired you to become a fiction writer?
I have always loved to read and write, but I’d never written fiction. It was beginning to bother me that so many works of fiction I considered of poor quality were making the best seller lists. I realized that, unless I tried to write a novel, I had no right to complain. I read a lot of cozy mysteries, and decided to write something I would enjoy reading.
3. How do your two careers impact on each other?
Mostly it’s a matter of time management. I used to do so many grant proposals and curricula, reports during my work day that I was too tired to do any “recreational” writing. Now that I’m working part-time, I still have the same time management problems, trying to juggle an emotionally-draining job, family demands, marketing of my three published books (blogs, guest blogs, social networking, conferences, public appearances), and writing my third Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, Yom Killer.
I also have to be careful not to include any descriptions of people that could be misconstrued as someone I know or work with – or who belongs to my husband’s synagogue!
4. Do you like to travel? If so, what are a few of your favorite places that you visited?
I love to travel, but I hate the process: the packing, unpacking, getting to the airport (or driving a long distance). Seeing new places makes it worthwhile, though. My favorite location is, not surprisingly, Israel, but, perhaps surprisingly, I haven’t been there in over twenty years (cf. above re: time management issues). As an avid birder, I particularly enjoy going someplace where I can find birds that don’t normally visit New Jersey. The highlight of a great vacation to Nova Scotia for me was the boat trip to Bird Islands -- I finally got to see Atlantic Puffins.
5. Why do you write mysteries?
I decided to write what I enjoy reading. And I enjoy mysteries, especially cozies.
6. Tell us something about your books. Where can readers find them?
Chanukah Guilt, the first Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, is about a twice-divorced, mid-50s, beyond zaftig rabbi of a small synagogue in South Jersey, on the edge of the Pine Barrens, about fifteen miles from Philadelphia. A young woman comes to her for counseling, convinced she’s caused her father’s death. Distraught, the young woman runs out of Aviva’s office and is later found dead in her dorm, supposedly a suicide. Aviva looks into the events that preceded the young woman’s death and puts her own life in jeopardy.
In Unleavened Dead, Aviva becomes involved in two sets of deaths – a deliberate hit-and-run and a couple who has died of carbon monoxide poisoning. In the course of both books, Aviva also deals with the day-to-day operations of her synagogue and her duties to her congregants, while keeping her sense of humor and rather acerbic wit. Oh, and did I mention that her first ex-husband is the new interim police chief?
Talk Dirty Yiddish is a humorous look at the Yiddish language, with explanations, sidebars, and practical ways to use Yiddish expressions and words. And if you don’t know what zaftig means, it’s in the book.
The books are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. online, plus some bookstores – both as print books and e-books (Chanukah Guilt and Talk Dirty Yiddish are on Kindle and Nook; Unleavened Dead is on Kindle).
7. How do you get the word out about your books to readers? How much time do you spend on marketing and publicity?
A few weeks ago, I came home from my day job and spent several hours on marketing tasks – checking emails, updating my blog, knocking out a couple of guest blogs, posting on Face Book. Afterward, I complained to my husband that marketing is becoming a full-time task. Fortunately, it’s one I enjoy. Networking, whether virtually or face-to-face, really is the only way to get the word out.
8. What are you working on now?
Marketing! But I am plotting out (in my head at least) the third Rabbi Aviva Cohen mystery, Yom Killer. It will take place in a Boston assisted living facility, where Aviva’s nonagenarian mother lives. She seems to have suffered a stroke, but, once again, all is not as it seems.
9. Do you have any thoughts regarding the future of publishing?
The current situation reminds me of the Betamax vs. VHS shakedown. It doesn’t matter which is the best method, only which one wins the marketing battle. All the various types of publishing currently available have their good and bad points. At this time, I am happy to have a publisher. There’s validation when someone has enough faith in you and your product to gamble their money, time, and efforts to publish your book. And it means I don’t have to worry about formatting! To me, it’s equally important to have books published as e-books and as printed books. If my books didn’t come out in print form, I would lose the majority of my fan base: my parents’ friends!