Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Writers' Wednesday: An Interview with Ilene Schneider

Welcome to another Writers' Wednesday! Today I'm talking with Ilene Schneider, author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery Series.

Hi, Ilene! Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was one of the first six women rabbis ordained in the U.S. I also have a doctorate in education, and most of my professional life has been spent in education and academia. I’m currently coordinator of the Jewish hospice program of Samaritan Hospice in Southern New Jerseey.

When did you first begin writing? Was there an event or moment in your life that triggered your desire to write?

I’ve always loved to write, and my undergrad degree is in journalism. My goal was to become the first woman editor of the New York Times, but I got a bit sidetracked.

Tell us about your latest writing project or published title.

My first novel, a cozy mystery called Chanukah Guilt, is, not surprisingly, about an aging baby boomer rabbi in So. Jersey. (Sound familiar?) When a young woman Rabbi Aviva Cohen counseled commits suicide, Aviva is drawn into investigating what may have led to the suicide. But it's not a grim book, or a thriller. It's got a lot of humor (I hope) and realistic situations. You can read all about it at I’m also currently working on a non-fiction book called Talk Dirty: Yiddish, slated for release November 2008 by Adams Media. And I’m developing the next in what will be a series of mysteries featuring Rabbi Aviva Cohen.

How do you go about developing your characters?

The ubiquitous "they" say to write what one knows. Physically, Aviva resembles me, but otherwise our lives are different. I did not base any of my characters on any one person (a point I emphasize to the members of my husband’s congregation – he’s also a rabbi), but they are composites of types. Sometimes the characters turn out differently from what I first thought, but I let them dictate to me, not the other way around.

What advice would you give to new writers just starting out?

While writing Chanukah Guilt, I read lots of advice, and then ignored most of it. Find your own voice. And persevere.

Great advice! What kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

Mostly fiction, mostly mysteries with strong female protagonists, interspersed with “literary” fiction. I have too many favorites to pick just one.

What do you find most difficult about writing? What do you find most exciting or rewarding?

Most Difficult: sitting down and actually writing. I compose largely in my head, but then have to remember what I came up with and get it down on paper, or, rather, hard drive. Most exciting: when I’ve gone off on what seems to be a tangent, and it turns into a major plot point.

How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

I don’t.

Do you ever suffer from writer's block? If so, what do you do about it?

I sometimes find myself in a plot dead-end, but I can often come up with a scenario that solves the dilemma when I’m in the shower. I was very clean while writing Chanukah Guilt.

Describe your writing space for us.

Usually, I write on a laptop on the dining room table, where I can spread out any research materials (for the non-fiction) and stare out the window at my bird feeders. Sometimes, I use the desk top in the very cluttered second floor study. Other times, I take the laptop to a place like Border’s and look impressive (or, more likely, pretentious). And everything is backed up on both computers and on a flashdrive.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?

I’m a birder and a sort-of gardener.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book(s)?

That I could actually write something longer than 200 pages.

Thanks for joining us today, Ilene! If anyone's interested in finding out more, or inviting this author for a book-signing, leave her a comment here or visit her website. And have a great day!

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