Author Interview: Melissa R. Schorr on Goy Crazy

Melissa R. Schorr on Melissa R. Schorr: “I was born and raised in New York City, and still consider myself a New Yorker at heart, but it’s become more of a love-hate relationship–I love that I get to live everywhere else while my editors live there. I studied journalism at Northwestern University outside Chicago, and started out working at Working Woman and GQ magazines, before heading out to be a feature writer and columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. I spent a year at M.I.T. near Boston as a Knight Science Journalism Fellow studying health writing, then moved to San Francisco and wrote for The Oakland Tribune and San Francisco magazine, and have written freelance articles for People magazine, Self, the Wall Street Journal and many other publications. Most recently, I’ve been living in Seattle with my husband, my baby daughter, and our Westie, Bailey. Goy Crazy is my first novel.”

Goy Crazy by Melissa R. Schorr (Hyperion, 2006). From the promotional copy: “Rachel Lowenstein can’t help it. She’s got a massive crush on a goy: Luke Christensen, the gorgeous star of the basketball team at St. Joseph’s prep. But as the name implies, he’s not exactly in Rachel’s tribe. Rachel just knows her parents would never approve. Then Rachel’s Jewish grandmother issues a stern edict––’Don’t go with the goyim!’-– sealing Rachel’s fate and presenting her with a serious dilemma. Everyone’s got an opinion–from her annoying neighbor Howard to her newly social-climbing best friend. Should Rachel follow her heart and turn her back on her faith? Or should she heed her family’s advice and try and find a nice Jewish boy? With an unforgettable cast of characters and razor-sharp wit, Melissa Schorr’s debut novel is an engaging comedy about a girl’s decision to go goy crazy.” Ages 12-up.

How did writing first call to you?

Growing up as an only child, I had no siblings to play with–and this was back in the stone ages before GameBoys and Xboxes, IMing and cell phones, of course. My mother was a music teacher in upper Manhattan, and every day after elementary school, I would walk to the local library across the street to wait for her to pick me up. That’s where I discovered books.

Everyone knew I was a voracious reader–I think one year, for my birthday, I was given four copies of Little Women, which at the time, made me cry. My favorites series books were C.S. Lewis, Little House, Wizard of Oz, the Great Brain, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew.

I began writing short stories in fifth grade, and filled four diaries growing up, all of which I still have. Somewhere along the way, I was informed (misinformed, maybe) that you couldn’t just get out of school and become a novelist–you had to do something practical first. So, I became a journalist.

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

My path is really more like a marathon. It goes back almost a decade, when I was a journalist fresh out of college working as a researcher at GQ magazine. The editors ran an article by a girl about how she loved dating Jewish men. And I marched into the editor’s office and said, “I need to write the flip side –why I’m a Jewish girl who never ends up dating Jewish men.” To be honest, I don’t know where I got the chutzpah.

When that essay came out, it was called, “The Joys of Goys.” And it got a lot of attention–angry letters from rabbis, marriage proposals from prison inmates–and one letter from a literary agent named Steven Malk, who was also just starting out.

He suggested I expand the essay into a non-fiction book. But there were two problems. No one wanted to buy it, because it–gasp–joked about religion. And the other problem was that around the same time, I ended up meeting this great guy, ironically, a nice Jewish boy, who ended up being my husband. So that book wasn’t meant to be, and we let the proposal lie dormant.

And this is truly a great story of faith by an agent in a writer, because years later, we were talking about another project, when Steve offhandedly suggested that I would have a great voice for writing a YA book–and I could even revive that old concept. And it was like a light bulb went off–bing!

And I spent my entire summer, which is the only sunny time of the year in Seattle, so no small sacrifice, writing the first 75 pages, which he was able to sell in about a week, to my editor at Hyperion. Believe me, as a first-time author, I know how truly incredibly lucky that was and how unreal this story must seem. I was also glad that my agent’s belief in me all those years ago finally paid off.

Congratulations on the publication of Goy Crazy (Hyperion, 2006). What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

As you might have guessed, this is a very autobiographical story. My parents also always pressured me as a teenage to date Jewish boys, and my own grandmother, like Rachel’s, once actually said to me, in her thick European accent: “Mal-ees-ssa, don’t go with the goy-im.”

So of course, like every teenager, I did the exact opposite–I dated lots of guys in college, none of whom were Jewish. Another reason I wrote the book is because this is an issue that has definitely affected my life–I think everyone’s family these days includes someone in an interfaith or interracial relationship. And I think the book tries hard not to make any judgments about interfaith dating, which is a reality, but will help teens and parents talk about the issue, and maybe help any teen also dealing with that feeling of pressure.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

After the book sold, I was given around nine months to finish writing the manuscript. And a few weeks later, I found out I was pregnant! A major event, you could say.

So, suddenly, I had two very pressing due dates that August–my manuscript and my baby’s impending birth. But thankfully, my daughter waited until I handed in the book to my editor–and arrived two days later. Very thoughtful of her, don’t you think?

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

For me, the main challenge in creating it was being a first-timer in writing fiction, coming from an exclusively journalistic background. I don’t have an MFA. I’m not in a writer’s group. It was a whole new world I had to teach myself–things like plot, dialogue, pacing. I just figured it out as I went.

Once it came out, there were new challenges. Aside from worrying that my parents would disown me, there was the subject. Most people find the concept hilarious, but some don’t like it–my hometown bookstore, where the book takes place, has declined to host an event for me, because they find the title offensive. Others have seemed scared to talk about the issue, or to joke about it, I guess, which is sad.

What do you love about your writing life?

What I’ve always loved about the life of a writer is not having to wake up early for a 9 to 5 job. I’ve never been a morning person, and publishing hours always suited me. But with the arrival of a baby, I’m up at 7 a.m. every day, anyway. So, I guess, I love not having to wear pantyhose or suits, ever. What I love about writing itself is the giddy feeling when a really good line or idea comes into your head, and gives you the giggles.

What are its tougher aspects?

The realization that, really, this is just the first hurdle. Yes, getting published is an amazing accomplishment–until you realize your challenges aren’t over. Now, you have to worry about having your book get noticed among the gazillion other books coming out each year, continuing to stay published, and getting comfortable speaking in public at schools and book signings.

What do you do when you’re not reading or writing?

I wish I could say something inspiring or intriguing, like doing Triathlons or collecting Pez dispensers, but honestly, I’d have to admit, walking my dog and changing diapers.

What can your fans look forward to next?

I’m really looking forward to writing my next YA book, I’m noodling on a couple of different topics, but am waiting for inspiration to strike to tell me which to do first. Also, I wouldn’t be averse to writing a sequel to Goy Crazy.