Monday, December 9, 2013

Ilene Schneider, CHANUKAH GUILT

AUTHOR: Ilene Schneider                 
BOOK TITLE: CHANUKAH GUILT: the 1st Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery (2nd edition)
PUBLISHER: Oak Tree Press
BUY LINK: will be available shortly on and for Kindle; the 1st edition, published by Swimming Kangaroo Books, is available at (Kindle) and (Trade Paperback)

Tell me a little about your book. Rabbi Aviva Cohen is a 50-something, twice-divorced rabbi living a fairly uneventful life in South Jersey. True, she has a family that is rather unconventional. And her first ex-husband is moving to her town. But her life takes a truly interesting – and sinister – turn when she agrees to officiate at the funeral of an unpopular land developer. She doesn’t expect to be told by two different people that he had been murdered. Nor does she expect that the first funeral will result in a suicide. Her search for the story behind the suicide (or was it murder?) will lead her to discover the truism “appearances can be deceiving” is accurate, while putting her life in jeopardy. The second edition will have a bonus extra (is that a tautology?): I rewrote sections so I could add an “alternate solution,” while the original ending remains the same.

What gave you the idea for this particular story? Many years ago, some artifacts were stolen from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology; they were later spotted in the window of an antique store. The story had stuck with me, and I had wondered why they had been taken and by whom. One of the objects was a small statue of a Canaanite goddess, and it became the “McGuffin” of the story. As a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of her pants) rather than a plotter (one who outlines and plans every aspect of a plot), I wasn’t sure where my speculations would take me. The characters let me know.

Why did you choose to write a story with a Chanukah theme? The story could have taken place at just about any time of the year, but I began writing it around Chanukah, 2002, when Chanukah began very early, the Friday night after Thanksgiving. (Similar to this year, when it began the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.) The title came to me before the story, so I set it at Chanukah, and decided to set all the novels in the series during or near Jewish holidays. The 2nd book is titled UNLEAVENED DEAD, and takes place during Passover; the 3rd, a work-in-progress, is YOM KILLER, and occurs in the days leading up to Yom Kippur.

Do you see special challenges to marketing a book with a seasonal theme?  If so, what are they? Ironically, the 1st edition of CHANUKAH GUILT was published in April, right after Passover; UNLEAVENED DEAD was published in November, just before Chanukah! The challenge can be if the book is seen as niche, rather than one that can have a broad appeal at any time of year.

How long before December did you submit to your publisher? I had submitted the manuscript in the late winter or early spring. It was accepted in August, and published the following May, so about 15 months from query to publication. Despite not coming out in the “proper” season, it sold (and continues to sell) well. The 2nd edition is just about ready to go to press, but will not be in print until after Chanukah has ended.

How and why did you choose this publisher? I went the usual route of querying and being turned down by agents. I then decided to try small publishers instead. I “knew” the owner of  Swimming Kangaroo Books through email lists and sent her an email. She expressed an interest in seeing the manuscript, and then made me an offer. I found my second publisher, Oak Tree Press, in a similar way: I had chatted with the acquisitions editor online, and when I asked if I could send her the manuscript of UNLEAVENED DEAD, she said yes. Networking is, in my opinion, the best way to find the right people to help with a book.

What about your book makes it special? So far as I know, my books are the only ones that have a woman rabbi as the protagonist and amateur sleuth.

What does winter mean to you? Cold weather, driving on icy roads, and shoveling snow! Or, these days, finding someone else to shovel. I grew up in Boston, and even though I have lived in the greater Philadelphia area since 1971 (since 1981 in South Jersey, near Philadelpha), I still look at houses and think about how hard it would be to clear the snow off the front steps and/or the driveway. And my first thought on driving on a winding, narrow, steep road is what it would be like in the winter. (In the interest of full disclosure, I also complain in the summer about the heat and humidity.)

What is your favorite Christmas memory? I actually do have a Christmas one. Just before I turned 6 years old (my birthday is New Year’s Eve), I became aware that my non-Jewish classmates had these strange things called Christmas stockings. I wanted one! My parents were very wise, especially for being as young as they were (mid-20s), and instead of arguing with me and forbidding me from having one, they acquiesced. Imagine my disappointment on Christmas morning when I found some fruit and one candy bar in the stocking. If that’s what the fuss was about, I wasn’t interested. I never asked again.
What is your favorite stocking stuffer? I may not have had a stocking in 60 years, and my kids never did, but I do recommend as the perfect stocking stuffer my nonfiction book TALK DIRTY YIDDISH. It’s small, inexpensive, very funny, and perfect for anyone Jewish or not. (How’s that for injecting some blatant self promotion into this blog?)

What was your favorite Chanukah present? Hmmm … probably the full boxed set of Rocky and Bullwinkle VCR tapes from my husband. It showed that he really knows me! But I can’t recall what the occasion was for the gift.

Where can people learn more about you and your work? My website/blog is at Or you can follow me and my bon mots on Facebook; search for Ilene Schneider Rabbi-Author.


  1. Nice interview! I'd think holiday type books would sell well for years on the holiday you're writing about!

  2. Thank you, Cheryl. I am finding the CHANUKAH GUILT is outselling the 2nd Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery UNLEAVENED DEAD. I'm not sure if it's because it's closer to Chanukah than Passover right now, or because people like to read a series in order, so are buying the 1st book before the 2nd. We'll see what happens with sales when it's Passover!

  3. As a colleague and admirer of the author, let me say, MaZeL Tov and Happy HoliDAZE! - Claire Green

  4. Wonderful interview of a special author and friend!