I’m often asked when I began writing. I have always been a writer, beginning with my parodies of nursery rhymes when I was about 8. My first nationally published work was a eulogy of John F. Kennedy accepted by Ingénue Magazine when I was 15. I was a publication major in college, concentrating on journalism, and my goal was to be the first woman editor of the New York Times. Despite a bit of a detour, I continued writing, but most pieces were academic or newspaper columns or reports or other forms of nonfiction (although some people consider grant applications to be a form of fiction). Then, during a lull in my paid employment history, I turned my hand to fiction. I’ve been a voracious reader most of my life, and I discovered how much I enjoyed writing as well as reading fiction.
I now have 3 fiction books in print, all in the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery series: CHANUKAH GUILT, UNLEAVENED DEAD, and YOM KILLER. I was fortunate enough to find traditional (i.e., royalty-paying) small presses to publish the books, and they have all received positive reviews.
Another frequent question is what I would tips I would give to aspiring writers. I have four bits of advice. They’re not original with me, but have stood me in good stead.
- Don’t give up. If you can’t find an agent – and remember, it takes only one who believes in you and your book – or if the agent can’t find a publisher, try querying small and mid-sized publishers that do not require agent submissions and are willing to take a chance on an unknown. And if you still are not successful and are sure your book is publishing-worthy – and has been ruthlessly edited, preferably by strangers, and formatted by a professional, and read by people who recognize and appreciate good writing – then self-publish.
- Grow a thick skin; but don’t get overly confident. There will be critics who will hate your book for the same reasons others love it. Accept all of it – the good and the bad – with equanimity.
- Don’t expect to get rich. The reason there are news articles about writers whose blogs are optioned for Hollywood or writers who sign seven-figure multi-book contracts is because those occurrences are so rare.
- Get out there and push yourself. The days of the reclusive writer slaving away in an attic garret – or, more likely these days, parents’ basement – are over. As are the days of publisher-financed book tours and advertising blitzes, unless you’re a bestselling author who doesn’t need the extra hype. If you don’t have an internet presence, if you don’t spend part of your writing time on social media, if you don’t participate in Listservs, if you don’t attend writer and fan conferences at which you participate on panels, your book, no matter how good, will remain unknown and unread.
And finally, why do I write? It’s so I can answer the question “What do you do?” by answering, “I kill people.”
But, of course, there is a much more important and serious answer: the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when people tell me how much they enjoy reading what I write, the chance to entertain others. When UNLEAVENED DEAD was published, a woman who serves with me on the board of our local library bought the book. She was a big fan of CHANUKAH GUILT, and had been waiting patiently for book #2. Her husband of many years had died just a few months before, and she was still mourning the loss. When she came to my book launch party a few weeks after she had bought the book, I asked her if she had read it and enjoyed it. She said, “Enjoyed it? I got home and began reading it in bed. I went to sleep with a smile on my face for the next three nights.” That to me is not just satisfying, but a symbol of success. It was the best praise I could have received.
BLURB FOR YOM KILLER: No time is ever good for a family emergency, but for a rabbi the period just before Yom Kippur is especially difficult. Yet despite the approach of the Holy Day, Rabbi Aviva Cohen rushes off to Boston to be at the bedside of her mother, who was found unconscious in her apartment at an assisted living facility. The big question is: was it an accident or an attack? The search for the truth uncovers everything from old grudges to family secrets to fraud - and possibly murder.
BIO: Rabbi Ilene Schneider is the author of the award-winning Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries: Chanukah Guilt, Unleavened Dead, and the recently-released Yom Killer. She also writes non-fiction. The best-selling Talk Dirty Yiddish will be re-released in a new version soon. She edited Recipes by the Book: Oak Tree Authors Cook, and created a website of questions and answers about Chanukah.