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Interview: Melissa Schorr

February 4th, 2007 (12:04 pm)
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Current Song: A Day in the Life by Brie Larson

Though GOY CRAZY is Melissa Schorr's debut novel, it is far from her first byline. She has worked for various magazines. In fact, one of her pieces for GQ magazine served as inspiration for her first novel. That, and her real life.

Did you always plan for GOY CRAZY to be for teens, or did it initially have an older audience? How long did it take to write the book?

The idea to write a book about interfaith dating started almost ten years ago, when I wrote that essay while I was working at GQ magazine, based on my own experiences. At first, my agent and I thought it was going to be a non-fiction book about my own 20something dating life, a real-life "Sex in the City" about dating a slew of non-Jewish guys. Then – whoops! – I met this great guy, who just so happened to be Jewish, and (even bigger whoops!) I ended up eventually marrying him. So, that basically killed that book project. (sob, sob)

Luckily, it only took about seven more years of letting the idea germinate in my mind until I realized my story could be fictionalized, and set back in time, before I met my hubby – in my teen years, when my parents were always pressuring me about who I dated. So while literally, GOY CRAZY took about a year to write, I like to say that it took ten years to actually get it published and that in a sense, I've been writing it my whole life – by living it.

I truly feel as if GOY CRAZY has a wide appeal. Who do you hope will take away the most from this book? Who do you hope will pick up this book?

Jewish teens may recognize a little of their own families, but I think that really, this is a story everyone can relate to -- about the experience of dating someone from a different background, whether that difference is religious, cultural or ethnic. It's also about wanting to date a guy you just know your parents won't approve of – and who hasn't felt that way? I hope that anyone reading it that is going through this will laugh a little, and learn they're not alone. And by the way, I also hope that parents who read it get the message to relax as well, and not put too many expectations on their teens – this is the time in life when teens are supposed to experiment!

Rachel's Bubbe is a driving force behind this story. Is she based on any of your own relatives?

Bubbe is based on my own grandmother, Clara, who I never called Bubbe. I felt there were already so many books with the hip grandmother – you know, the one who understands the teen better than her own parents or jets off to Europe halfway though the book. It felt clichéd, and wasn't anything like my own experience. I wanted to portray a grandmother who maybe isn't that close with the granddaughter, where there is a big generational and cultural gap, and explore that little bit of regret about a relationship that might have been.

What advice do you have for a teen struggling to balance his or her own beliefs with those of his or her parents?

Some people may assume the book has an agenda, either for or against interfaith dating, but I never felt it was my place as an author to take a stand on what teens should do. I'm just presenting a situation that I went through, that I think a lot of people can relate to, and resolving it for my character. In real life, unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this issue. I believe teens should listen to what their family has to say, but ultimately, they're going to have to figure this one out for themselves. I do think parents can often come on too strong, by trying to order their teen what to do, or seem hypocritical – emphasizing religion in who they date, but not in how they raised them to begin with. But teens need to understand why their parents care so much -- maybe they are worried about the continuity of their faith, or maybe they really think you'll end up marrying your high school hookup – a crazy idea, I know! Scarily, parents are right in some ways – religion often does get more important when you get older and being in an interfaith relationship has its challenges. Overall, I'd just say to teens, remember that it's your life to live -- but your family is going to be playing a big part in it (hopefully!) for a long time.

Growing up, who were your fictional role models and favorite characters? What books did you read over and over?

When I was very young, I was a total book nerd, I read EVERYTHING. I loved mystery series, like Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown, historical fiction like Little House on the Prairie and the Great Brain, and fantasies like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Wizard of Oz series. I devoured all the Sweet Valley Highs, my generation's equivalent of Gossip Girls. I sobbed my way through Where the Red Fern Grows. And my secret guilty pleasure was the Flowers in the Attic books by V.C. Andrews. I somehow got addicted to Cherry Ames, a series about student nurses written way back in the 50s. It made my feminist mom so mad – she said, don't be a nurse, be a doctor!

When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I think I always knew. In elementary school, I began writing short stories. I also always kept a diary, and today I have about five full journals covering the highlights of my adolescence – I should say, lowlights, because 99% is mostly insane ravings about boys I liked at the time. But, along the way, I was told that no one just "becomes" a novelist, and that I should start off in journalism to get a good foundation. So, I became an editor at my high school newspaper and studied journalism in college at Northwestern. I spent ten years as a magazine and newspaper reporter, so it was a giant leap to write a novel – I hadn't done any fiction writing since I was much younger. I don't know if that initial advice was good or bad, but I've loved all the writing I've done, and I did end up where I wanted to be, eventually.

Will you continue your dual career as a journalist and novelist? What's next for you?

I'll still do some freelance writing, since you never know what interesting assignment will come your way, but I'm starting to focus on my next novel. I'd be open to writing a sequel to Goy Crazy, but I'm also toying with doing something really, really, different next – nothing I can state here because you'll think I'm stark raving mad. But stay tuned!

Read my review of GOY CRAZY.

Drop by Melissa's website!