I’d like to welcome Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D as my guest-blogger today. She tells me she hasn’t decided yet what (or who) she wants to be when she grows up! In her current incarnation, she is Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, NJ, near Philadelphia. She was one of the first six women ordained as a rabbi in the US, back in 1976. Interested in nature and conservation, she is a member of the New Jersey Audubon Society and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, and, as an avid reader, is on the board of the Friends of the Evesham Library.
MA: Welcome, Rabbi Schneider! You have an impressive résumé of some great professional and personal accomplishments. How did you ended up in the writing realm?
RS: I’ve always been a writer – my original goal was to be the first woman editor of the NY Times, but I got a bit sidelined when I became a rabbi instead. My career has been in education and non-profit agencies, so my writing was mostly academic or other forms of non-fiction (unless you consider grant applications to be a form of fiction).
MA: It sounds like your writing experience started out in the non-fiction realm…how did you end up writing novels?
RS: I’m a voracious reader, and was often heard to wonder how a book ever got published, not to mention become a best seller. I often said that if I had the time, I would try to write a novel. I was on a “temporary hiatus” (i.e., unemployed) and realized that I did have the time. If I were going to continue criticizing published authors, I had to try to become one myself. I chose to write a cozy mystery because I wanted to write something I’d enjoy reading.
MA: What inspired your writing? Did you model any characters after real people you know?
RS: The ubiquitous “they” say to write what you know, so my protagonist is a woman rabbi in South Jersey. I don’t work in a congregation, but my husband does, and I had to be very careful not to base any character on a congregant. I even wrote in my acknowledgement (as the beginning, not the end, of the book): “… this book is a work of fiction. The characters, the town of Walford, the plot all came from my imagination. None of the characters are based on anyone I know.” Nevertheless, people I know are constantly trying to figure out who is who
MA: I bet! I can imagine you have your local community buzzing over this. So, tell me about your first novel.
RS: Chanukah Guilt is my debut novel. It is a cozy mystery in which a woman rabbi in a suburban synagogue becomes involved in investigating the apparent suicide of a young woman she had counseled. The woman’s mother does not believe it was suicide and asks the rabbi to find out what had been going on in her daughter’s life the previous few months. The book’s not as grim as the subject sounds, and has (I hope) a lot of humor.
MA: Tell me about your protagonist?
RS: She grew out of me, and then took off on her own. There are a lot of things about her that people say remind her of me – her dry wit, her physical appearance, her “voice” – but most of the other details are different.
MA: I have to admit that a rabbi hero is a unique approach. What makes her special or gifted in terms of solving mysteries?
RS: She makes a good amateur sleuth, because people tell her things. She’s independent, stubborn (which is good and bad), and nosy (good and bad). She’s also complacent and doesn’t really want to do anything she doesn’t have to.
MA: So is the debut novel it? Will you continue writing more mysteries?
RS: The novel is the first of a series, and I’m in the midst of writing the second one (Unleavened Dead – each novel will have a title that is a pun on a Jewish holiday and will take place during that holiday). I also have plans for future books for after the protagonist retires. (She’s in her mid-50s.) In addition, last year I had a non-fiction, humorous book published: Talk Dirty Yiddish. I also have plans for two other non-fiction books, and am developing a proposal with a co-writer for one of them. Chanukah Guilt was planned as a series, and many of the characters will recur, some as main characters and others mentioned in passing.
MA: That’s great to hear that you will continue writing. I want to thank you for spending some time with us today and for sharing your stories with us. If anyone wants more information about Rabbi Schneider’s books, please visit her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/rabbi.author