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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Melissa Schorr - Goy Crazy

Melissa Schorr began her writing career as a journalist. Her first book is GOY CRAZY (Hyperion,2006) is a thought provoking young adult novel that explores a delicate topic for many families – interfaith dating. In the book, Rachel Lowenstein tests her own beliefs, and the traditions of her family. Teens and adults are falling in love with Rachel in this warm and funny debut novel. I was excited to have the opportunity to interview Melissa, and to share the story behind her story.

Your book, GOY CRAZY, deals with the issues of interfaith dating. Why were you drawn to write about this topic?
Big surprise: like many first-time novelists, Goy Crazy really mirrors my own life story. Like Rachel, I had parents who weren’t too happy at my talent for dating non-Jewish boys in high school. And a lot of my friends and family members did end up in interfaith relationships. The great irony is, in my own life, I somehow did end up marrying the nice Jewish boy of my parents’ dreams. Go figure. But what I love is that this is a universal story many teens can relate to – dating someone your parents don’t approve of, for whatever reason.

Did you consider this a controversial topic?
Yes, but unfortunately, not controversial enough to, say, land me on the front page of the New York Times! As a novelist, I tried to be pretty clear that I really wasn’t advocating for or against interfaith dating, just telling one girl’s story, and I think most readers got that. I do think this is a powerfully important issue, and one that is affecting a lot of people today from all backgrounds.
Unfortunately, what I tell teens who ask what I believe is that there is no easy answer – this is a struggle between wanting to see your faith perpetuated, and wanting to make the best decision for your own life, and it will be up to you to someday make that choice.

What has been the most interesting response to Goy Crazy?
Actually, the only thing that has been controversial has been the use of the word “Goy” (which simply means Gentile, or not Jewish) in the title. Most people have had a sense of humor about it, but some think that word has a negative connotation and shouldn’t be used. We actually applied for a trademark, and at first, the government turned us down, saying the word was salacious and offensive. We appealed, and got that overturned! As a writer, I believe that you have to consider the context of the word, and realize it’s being used here in a fun, affectionate way.

As a Jewish author, were you inspired to write about a Jewish issue?
It was a lot of fun to be able to reflect on -- and poke fun of -- my own upbringing and experiences in the book, from bat mitzvahs to the High Holidays. But ultimately, I don’t see myself as solely a “Jewish author,” although I’m sure my background will always affect my writing.

Will we see Rachel, the main character, in any future books?
I’m not sure. At this point, there are no plans for a sequel, but who knows? Right now, I like the idea that the religion of the person Rachel ends up marrying someday is left unresolved.

Why did you start writing children's books?
Sadly, probably because I’m still mentally a teenager. Seriously, I was an obsessive reader all throughout my childhood and teens, so actually writing one of my own was a secret dream come true. Also, I didn’t think there were too many books out there dealing with interfaith dating from a teen’s perspective – especially in a funny way.

What are you working on now?
I am working on another YA novel, but something completely different than GOY CRAZY. The best I can describe it is as a doomsday, chick-lit romantic-comedy set in the near future, if that makes any sense.

What is the best thing about being a children's writer?
Getting enthused emails from teen girls, having to do “research,” like poking around YouTube and Facebook and Seventeen Magazine. One highlight was getting to go back to my own high school, Bronx Science in New York City, and reassure them that I was a nerd, too, back in my day, and look! I turned out fine. Sort of…

What is the hardest part about being a writer?
Motivating and being a perfectionist.

What do you like to read?

Really good YA fiction. It makes me insanely jealous and then helps me get motivated.

What is your favorite question you have been asked by a reader?
“Will you please write another book?”

What is your favorite holiday?
A non-existent one: “Chrismukkah.” Last year, for my book launch, we held a “Chrismukkah” holiday party – it was the best of both worlds: eggnog and Manischewitz wine, chocolate gelt and candy canes, latkes and mistletoe.

Do you have hobbies besides writing?
Seeing Broadway musicals, playing volleyball, walking Bailey, my Westie, and mostly, running after my toddler.

What are some fun facts about you?
In my previous life, I was a reporter in Las Vegas. I got to write about everything -- brothels, boxing matches, high-profile murder cases, casino openings and celebrity weddings. The craziest thing I ever did for a story? Visit a nudist colony.

Melissa, thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts. It's been great visiting with you!

GOY CRAZY will be available in paperback in the Spring of 2008. To learn more about Melissa, visit her web site at

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Confessions of Sarah Darer Littman

I am delighted to welcome Sarah Darer Littman, author of the award winning middle grade novel, CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC. When I met Sarah at the Jewish Children's Literature Conference in Los Angeles, I was already a huge fan. (Note: CONFESSIONS OF A CLOSET CATHOLIC appears in a previous post on my list of favorites.) Sarah is warm, funny, and fabulous - everything a children's author should be! In addition to writing children's books, Sarah is a political columnist and active member of the organization "Authors Supporting Intellectual Freedom." She is mom to two kids and one dog. I'm tickled pink that Sarah took the time to stop by for a visit!

Your book, Confessions of a Closet Catholic, deals with the struggle of faith. Why were you drawn to write about this topic?
I wrote "Confessions" as an answer to my teenage self. I grew up with the unspoken message of "Be Jewish - but not too Jewish." I found that very confusing - and still do, for that matter. I give the example of how my dad gave me Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks’ book, “Will our Grandchildren Be Jewish?” when my son was born, but years later when I put mezuzahs on all my doorways made a comment about how I was “going overboard.” (We’ve come to terms on that, you’ll be happy to hear!) I think for my parent’s generation there was a post-war “Don’t stick your head above the parapet” anxiety and that meant not being “too Jewish”.

As a Jewish author, were you inspired to write about a Jewish issue?
Although I wouldn’t dispute that “Confessions” is a Jewish book, I think it is more generally a book about faith – and that has been borne out by the fact besides winning the 2006 Sydney Taylor Award for Older Readers by the Association of Jewish Libraries, it was also listed as one of “10 Books Suitable for Christmas Gift Giving” by the Catholic News Service and has just been nominated for the 2008 Rodda Award (given out by the Church and Synagogue Library Association) by a Methodist librarian. I derive tremendous comfort from having faith – as Jussy says, “I don’t know if any of my prayers will do any good, but I feel better for having said them. Maybe that’s what praying is all about. Maybe it’s not just asking G-d to forgive us for bad things or asking Him for good things. Maybe it’s just the act of praying and feeling that there’s someone up there listening that makes us feel better and less helpless.”

Will we see Justine, the main character, in any future books?
I’m not sure at this point. There have certainly been requests!

Why did you start writing children's books?
I joke that I’m still so traumatized by my middle school experience that writing for this age group is cheap therapy.

Seriously, I finally came to writing at 40, after stints as a waitress, financial analyst and dairy farmer’s wife. Now I get to use my “kid brain” writing books and my “grown-up” brain writing about politics. Thus far I’ve been receiving MUCH nicer letters from readers of my book than from readers of my political columns!

What are you working on now?
My second novel (an as yet untitled YA coming out in Spring 2009) was bought by Scholastic and while I’m waiting for the revision letter on that, I’m working on a middle grade. It’s in the early stages so I don’t want say too much!

What is the best thing about being a children's writer?
Getting e-mails and letters from kids who have been touched by my book, who say, “Wow, I could relate to Justine because I feel just like that sometimes!” It’s at times like that when I feel like “it ain’t been in vain for nothing”.

I also LOVE going out and speaking to kids in schools. After sitting alone in my basement lair in front of a computer all day, then getting the Rodney Dangerfield treatment (“No Respect”) from my own kids, I get a real charge from being with a group of kids who are all excited to meet a real live author!

What is the hardest part about being a writer?
Is there a word count limit to my answer? :)

The self-doubt. The feeling of “OMG, my (first, second, third) book(s) was/were total flukes and I’ll never be able to repeat the process again.”

Oh and the waiting.

The WAITING! Waiting to hear from your agent (waiting to GET an agent if you haven’t been published yet) waiting to hear from your editor, waiting for the contract, waiting for the advance, waiting for the book to come out, waiting for reviews, waiting for people to show up at your book signing so you don’t feel like a complete and utter loser like you did in middle school…it reminds me of that Tom Petty song: “The Waiting is the Hardest Part”.

What do you like to read?
My reading tastes are very eclectic. I read a lot of middle grade and YA, because a) I have kids in middle and high school b) it’s my field and c) there are so many excellent books out there in the land of children’s literature these days.

But I also read plenty of “grown up” books too, both fiction and non-fiction. Because of my political writing (I’m a columnist for the Greenwich Time/Stamford Advocate newspapers here in Connecticut) I read a LOT magazines, newspapers and blogs

What is your favorite question you have been asked by a reader?
I was doing a terrific event in Detroit – they’d decided to start mother/daughter book clubs at most of the Jewish organizations in Detroit as part of Am Echad, Am Sefer (One people, one book) and they chose Confessions as the first book. They flew me out there and had a terrific event, which in honor of Jussy included lots of chocolate, yay!! During the Q & A, a girl asked me: “If you could write your book over, is there anything that you’d change?”

I thought that was a terrific question – because as a writer there’s a temptation to revise ad infinitum but there comes a point where you just have to let it go and get the book out there. I think that’s where my “grown-up” work as a newspaper columnist has aided me – because when I write the columns I’m a) on a deadline and b) limited to 720 words, so it’s helped me learn to self-edit and then push the send button.

My answer to her question: I would remove all the adverbs. In his marvelous book about the craft, On Writing, Stephen King says: “The adverb is not your friend.” Unfortunately I read his book after the final copy edit on “Confessions”, because when I read the book aloud to my kids after publication, I could really hear how the adverbs were redundant and slowed things down. I wanted to slap myself for using so many!

What is your favorite holiday?
Secular holiday: Thanksgiving - by a mile. I love it because it’s a truly national holiday. I also think that we’re all so used to complaining about everything, it’s good to focus on being thankful.

Jewish holiday: I’ve got kind of a love/hate relationship with this holiday but I’d have to say Passover. I hate eating matzo because it does horrible things to my digestive system, and it’s a huge amount of work changing dishes and koshering everything, but I love the seder. My sister and I always used to end up in fits of hysterical laughter when we read the psalm about how “The Mountains skipped like lambs and the hills like rams.”

Do you have hobbies besides writing?
I took up tennis again a few years ago after not playing for about a decade while I was married, and now I’m obsessed. I play twice a week – it’s my sanity break. As a writer I spend so much time in my head; for me it’s essential to get out of my head and into my body on a regular basis. Otherwise I’ll suddenly realize that my shoulders are at ear level from stress and sitting hunched over a computer for too long!

I also love reading (duh!), gardening, travel, going to the beach and heading into New York City for some live music and dancing – as long as the latter isn’t in front of my kids, because even though I’m a good dancer, they’re at the age where the slightest shimmy of my hips causes them to expire from embarrassment!

Also, I’m not sure if politics counts as a hobby, but I’m very active in the progressive blogosphere here in CT, under the name “Saramerica.”

Sarah, it's been a pleasure getting to know you. Thanks for sharing your insights!

If you would like to know more about Sarah, check out her web site at

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Monday, October 15, 2007

DANGER BOY - Mark Williams

Mark Williams is the author of the DANGER BOY (Candlewick) books, a time-travel series that chronicles the adventures of Eli Sands and his friends. The newest title, DANGER BOY CITY OF RUINS, is set in Ancient Jerusalem. Through Eli’s adventures, readers are taken on an exciting action-packed ride that will thrill kids (and adults) ages 9 and up.

Mark is my SCBWI colleague, and I am thrilled he was willing to share thoughts and insights about his work. Aside from authoring highly acclaimed books, Mark is a columnists for a Hollywood trade paper, and his work has appeared in numerous publications. He is also a Judaic studies teacher at Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles. Most importantly, Mark is the proud dad of two boys who were the inpiration for the Danger Boy books.

In your latest book, DANGER BOY:CITY OF RUINS, Eli travels back in time to Ancient Jerusalem. What inspired you to choose this setting?
Multiple, overlapping reasons: I'm Jewish (well, a lively mix, between mom and dad, of both Jewish and Celtic traditions!), I was sitting in my Sunday school classroom one morning after teaching about the prophets Jeremiah and Huldah, and thinking about ideas for future "Danger Boy" books, but mostly thinking about how rigid adult belief structures, and old inescapable grief, lead to "cities of ruin" for our children. That, plus the fact that particular region was again keeping the world dancing on the edge of the abyss.

How extensive was your research?
Did I get to go to Israel? No. I asked a lot of the Israelis I teach with questions about how the weather feels at certain times of year, what the "air" is like, etc. That and a lot of Internet, a lot of reading, etc.

When writing a time travel story, how concerned must an author be about accuracy?
Being as accurate as you can is the payoff for the stuff you make up -- especially when the "real" history is more incredible than the "storytelling" parts, which is usually the case. And it's also relative -- I had to be really accurate in my "Lewis & Clark book" (DB #3: Trail of Bones), since they all kept journals!
As for Jeremiah and Huldah -- there are no records, outside Tanakh, of family names, any kind of life outside their described mythic roles. Which made it simultaneously easier and harder because they are already large, mythic, etc.

Do you have any advice for authors who are interested in writing time travel stories?
Emphasize the history, over the quantum science. As fascinating and great as the quantum science is. In other words, what's the reason your characters are time traveling in the first place? Where are they going?
Of course, if you have them traveling *ahead,* to a still unchartered future, forget I said anything.

Why did you start writing children's books?
I'd been writing comics and videogame scripts (in the early Jurassic era of the medium), and then became a dad. As I revisited early/mid-90's picture books, there seemed to be a renaissance similar to what comics went through in the 80's! But nothing new appeared to be happening in series fiction, for when readers "graduated" from picture books (never mind that I still like a good Chris van Allsburg offering...)

So I thought, "what if you had a series that was interconnected, somewhat dark, where people aged and came and went -- like in life?" Apparently, I was looking for psychic real estate in the suburbs of J.K. Rowling's zeitgeist, but hadn't heard of Harry Potter when I sat down to start "Danger Boy" (the title coming from my then toddler -- now a teenager -- as he ran up and down the halls one night proclaiming himself, yes, a "Danger Boy!")

However, the year I was shopping chapters and proposals around, the adventures of a certain young British wizard at boarding school took off, and other editors and houses thought, "hey! yeah! darkish interconnected series!" So -- thanks, J.K.!

What are you working on now?
I' m revising the last contracted "Danger Boy" book, "Fortune's Fool," about Shakespeare, Marlowe, the Elizabethans, and their fondness for political intrigue, rendition, torture, etc. (Plus, you know, I get to write about "King Lear.")

And then there's the post "Danger Boy" stuff -- a YA set in Jamaica, a mystery series, still nascent, and, well, another stand-alone, set in the SoCal desert, involving, well, the cosmos again, kinda.

Plus, I'd love to get back into graphic novel writing, and have some feelers out.

What is the best thing about being a children's writer?
It's just such a fun thing to be! I get to write stories about baseball and dinosaurs and Shakespeare and Marlowe and Sacajawea and the secrets of Alexandria, and it's my job!

Well, of course, I have to take on some other jobs, too -- did I mention I teach writing classes?

What is the hardest part about being a writer?
You actually have to sit down and write.

What do you like to read?
I love reading new work by my various colleagues. On a recent panel with Lisa Yee, Kerry Madden, Amy Koss, Cecil Castellucci and Sally Nemeth, I likened the LA YA scene with late 60's rock (well, you know, I couldn't resist) -- i.e., everyone "hearing" each other's work, learning from it, pushing past what's been done, everyone helping amp up everyone's chops, etc.

I read news all the time, online, still read comics, been rereading some Kesey and trying to make new sense of "Sometimes a Great Notion," and lately, on a mini-Cormac McCarthy tear.

Do you have hobbies besides writing?

Watching baseball. Taking long walks, preferably, in wild or semi-wild areas(a.k.a. hiking) whenever possible.

Thanks, Mark! It was a pleasure blog chatting with you. See you in the "future!"

If you would like to know more about Mark,or the adventures of Eli Sands in the DANGER BOY series, check out

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Like a Maccabee Honored by Midwest Book Awards

Like a Maccabee was honored with the 2006 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Merit Award for Children/Young Adult Fiction. I was so delighted to hear the news, and even more thrilled to see the certificate. I wasn't able to be at the awards ceremony, but I was well representd by my publisher Sheyna Galyan, my editor Leslie Martin, and illustrator Anita White. These terrific women helped bring Like a Maccabee to life, and I am thrilled they were able to accept the award!