By Alaina Leary
Today we’re pleased to welcome Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman to the WNDB blog to discuss their anthology It’s a Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes, and Other Jewish Stories and their careers as authors.
Get ready to fall in love, experience heartbreak, and discover the true meaning of identity in this poignant collection of short stories about Jewish teens, including entries by David Levithan, Nova Ren Suma, and more!
A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush’s Hanukkah party.
From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.
Where did the inspiration initially come from for this anthology?
Laura: Growing up, I never encountered books with Jewish characters unless a book was about the Holocaust. And even today, Jewish representation can be hard to find. I looked at my bookshelf a few years ago and only found a couple of YA novels featuring Jewish characters (Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited and Rachel Solomon’s You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone). The representation in those books meant so much to me, and I wanted even more of that representation to be available to Jewish teens. An anthology was the perfect tool to get a variety of Jewish stories and perspectives on the shelves all at once.
Katherine: Laura and I knew each other because we debuted the same year (2017), and she reached out with an idea that in a time of rising antisemitism, we could counter it with Jewish teens living contemporary, hopeful, funny, joyous, contemplative lives. It came together better than either of us could have dreamed, honestly. I’ve never felt MORE Jewish and LESS Jewish at the same time while working on this! And by that I mean, I’ve literally never seen such a wide range of Jewish stories in one book—where there’s not genocide. And I learned so much too. It was such a joy to work on this project.
From the range of stories in the anthology, it’s clear that you were intentional in representing diverse Jewish experiences and intersecting identities within the Jewish community. Why did you feel this was important?
Laura: There is no singular Jewish experience, but as Jewish people, we are all connected. We wanted Orthodox and Reform characters to sit side by side, as well as characters of different sexuality, ability, and race.
Katherine: Growing up, I had two types of Jewish friends—secular and Reform. I was vaguely aware that I had cousins who observed differently than I did, but I had no representations of Judaism beyond what I can now see is the narrowness of my own Jewish world. Now as an adult, I have friends who celebrate and observe and interact with Judaism in a huge variety of ways and it is a really incredibly fulfilling part of my life.
I wanted Reform Jewish teens like myself to pick up this book and connect with Orthodox teens that they might have felt they couldn’t have connected with, and then start making those connections in real life, off the page, too. Additionally, there are a lot of teens who’ve never met a Jewish person before! And they might have a preconceived idea of what that person does, or what they look like, or who they love, or how they interact with the world. We wanted to show that reader a wide variety of Jewish people. We’re not a monolith. We’ve never been a monolith. And we wanted to celebrate that on and off the page.
How did you choose the authors for this anthology? Did you have any specific themes in mind for their stories or did you allow them to choose on their own?
Laura: We wanted to make sure we had a wide range of religious observance in the anthology, so we were careful about keeping track of that while inviting authors. But for the most part, we invited authors whose work we admired and wanted to have in the anthology. We asked for the authors to write #ownvoices characters and to connect the story to Judaism, but other than that the story topic was up to them!
Where does the anthology’s title, It’s a Whole Spiel, come from? Was it inspired by a particular story and why do you think it’s a fitting way to connect all the stories and authors in this collection?
Laura: “It’s a Whole Spiel” is a common Jewish phrase used to describe a long or complex story. For example, when someone asks what happened with the fight at work, a person might wave their hand and say, “Oy, it’s a whole spiel.” Since an anthology is a collection of stories, we felt it was a perfect fit!
What other anthologies or YA novels do you think It’s a Whole Spiel is in conversation with?
Laura: It’s in conversation with the wonderful variety of other anthologies taking a closer look at shared cultures, like Black Enough and Once Upon an Eid.
Katherine: I would LOVE to do a panel with the Once Upon an Eid authors—that anthology is amazing and so so joyful and loving and I get the impression that Aisha Saeed and S.K. Ali’s goals with Eid were the same as ours were with Spiel. They’re definitely in conversation with each other. I also think that Spiel’s in conversation with a lot of the ‘identity-based’ anthologies, including Black Enough like Laura mentioned, Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijkamp, and All Out (and All Out Now) edited by Saundra Mitchell.
Each of those anthologies serves to celebrate an identity in a variety of different ways, showing that an identity isn’t singular and that one identity–be it religious, sexual orientation, race, gender, disability, etc)—intersects and engages with all these other aspects of your identity. I can’t pull being Jewish away from me being queer—my queerness has shaped my Jewishness and my Jewishness has shaped my queerness. And all of these ‘identity-themed’ anthologies acknowledge that and step into that space. I love that they do that too because publishing can be so weird about “oooh, that’s too much, don’t you think? That character can’t be Black and Jewish and queer and autistic! That’s so MUCH.” Except there are real-life people who are Black and Jewish and queer and autistic! It’s not too much–it’s their life! And those identities are all tangled up in each other. These anthologies celebrate in short stories what publishing might consider “too much” in a novel. They give space and life and joy to a story and identities that publishing might worry can’t be pitched in one line. Anthologies are really vital that way.
Q&A With Laura Silverman
In You Asked For Perfect, your main character Ariel struggles with the pressure of getting into college. Why did you want to explore this? Do you think today’s high schoolers are experiencing an intense level of pressure to be perfect for their college applications?
I think many teens (and younger kids as well) today are under an immense amount of pressure to excel academically. Ten years ago, I went to a high-pressure high school. At the time, loading students up on AP classes and extracurriculars was somewhat out of the ordinary for a public high school, but today it’s become more and more common. I think colleges are increasingly more difficult to get into, and so more pressure is being put on creating the perfect college application. Seeking perfection is a dangerous road to go down and often leads to anxiety and depression. I wanted to send teens the message that their grades do not define them and that perfect is overrated.
Recommended For You, a YA romance, is coming out in September and it takes place at a local bookstore. Why were you drawn to an independent bookstore as a setting?
My agent, Jim McCarthy, tweeted that he wished he saw more books with teens working part-time jobs. That struck a chord with me because I always had a job as a teen, and so did most of my friends. It also made me excited because I love nothing more than a good workplace comedy. From there, I had to decide where my character was going to work, and of course, my bookworm heart decided an independent bookstore was the perfect setting.
RFY is also a classic rivals-to-lovers workplace romance. What do you love most about the rivals-to-lovers trope and why do you think it’s so compelling?
Love/hate romance is definitely one of my favorite tropes. I love the friction between two characters who can so easily get under each other’s skin. And I love banter. I could write and read banter all day long, and a love/hate romance let me indulge in that!
Can you tell us anything about Up All Night, your forthcoming YA anthology?
I’m so excited to share Up All Night with the world! It’s a YA fiction anthology featuring stories about what can happen in the hours between sunset and sunrise. Those were always magical hours when I was a teen. We have everything from rom coms to ghost stories in the anthology, and I’m truly in love with every contribution.
Do you have any recommendations for books that are published or upcoming?
I loved Rachel Solomon’s upcoming Today Tonight Tomorrow. Speaking of love/hate romances and Jewish books, this is an incredible one I recommend to everyone!
Q&A With Katherine Locke
You’ve written two series, District Ballet Company, a romance series, and Balloonmakers, which is a historical SFF. How did you tap into different aspects of writing for these two series and what about writing them was very much the same?
Oh gosh, this is a great question. I think in both cases, I wasn’t expecting to write a series! District Ballet has a direct sequel, and I learned my lesson from that—that was hard. So for The Spy with the Red Balloon, I knew I wanted a companion novel, not a direct sequel. I had more fun that way playing with a new cast of characters and fleshing out a new plot where they’re developing the magic that’s used 45 years later in The Girl with the Red Balloon. Each of these series is pretty different—District Ballet is a pretty internal, emotional book that hinges on recovery and therapy and reconciling change. The Balloonmakers is much more about grappling with one’s role in history and historical moments, and what individuals can do in those historical moments to make a better world. Very different questions being asked!
What kind of research did you do for both your series? Did you have to learn a lot about the time periods featured in the Balloonmakers duology? Or about professional ballet for the District Ballet Company series?
I love doing research. I’m a hardcore Ravenclaw. If I’m not careful, I’ll do research forever and not write the book. For the Balloonmakers books, I did deep dives into all the times touched in the books—1941, 1942, 1943, and 1988—and into the areas. I went out to Oak Ridge, Tennessee where Ilse works during The Spy with the Red Balloon and I stayed in a house built for the Manhattan Project workers, the exact kind of house that the girls in Spy would have lived in. That was really great. For the District Ballet series, I watched a lot of ballet videos, livestreams, and classes on Youtube, talked to ballet dancers, and sat in on a professional ballet class. I’m not a dancer and so I had to learn a whole new language for those books.
You’ve both edited an anthology (It’s a Whole Spiel) and had your short story published in one (Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens). What are the differences between the process of editing/curating an anthology and writing a single story?
There’s a lot more pressure and anxiety riding on editing and managing an anthology! When I write a short story for an anthology I’m not editing, I don’t feel like other authors’ careers are riding on my back. That’s definitely how I feel about editing one. Editing has a lot more responsibility, a lot more conscious choice associated with it, and a lot more management skills. I love it, but it’s a lot more brain space.
Can you tell us anything about This Is Our Rainbow, your forthcoming MG anthology?
Yes! I can! I’m so so excited for this anthology. I’m co-editing with Nicole Melleby, author of Hurricane Season and In the Role of Brie Hutchens, and it’s been a lot of fun to work with her and Marisa DiNovis at Knopf. We have such an incredible line up of authors (Justina Ireland, Mark Oshiro, Claribel Ortega, Ashley Herring Blake, Molly Knox Ostertag, Shing Yin Khor, Lisa Jenn Bigelow, Lisa Bunker, Alex Gino, Eric Bell, A.J. Sass, Mariama Lockington, Aida Salazar, and Marieke Nijkamp). The stories span a variety of genres and topics. Not all of them have crushes or first love, but some of them do! And all of them have characters whose identities reflect those of their authors. And there are two comics! Shing Yin Khor and Molly Knox Ostertag both tell their stories through comics and they’re both really different. We think there’s something for everyone in this book. I’m so excited for everyone to read it. I can’t believe I have to wait a year for that!
Do you have any recommendations for books that are published or upcoming?
Yes! I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Nicole Melleby’s In the Role of Brie Hutchens which comes out on June 30 of this year. Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen by Sarah Kapit is a really great middle grade about an autistic Jewish girl written by an autistic Jewish author. I also think that Kacen Callender has two incredible books out this year that every single person has to pick up. King and the Dragonflies, their middle grade for 2020, and Felix Ever After, their YA. Absolutely stellar. I don’t know how they do it but I’m so glad they do. Honestly, the books coming out are so good, I can’t even keep up with them. I just ordered The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar this morning and that looks spectacular.
What’s one question you wish you were asked more often (and the answer)?
This is a great question! I really love talking about the process of writing, and the process of editing anthologies, and the decisions that go into them. I think that’s a whole other interview though! But I also wish I was asked more about what flaws and strengths I see in publishing, and how we can share the strengths and mend the flaws.
We’re all part of this literary ecosystem and we all have a stake in seeing it survive and thrive. Publishing’s moved remote due to the COVID-19 crisis, and I hope we see publishers realize that there’s a lot of work that can be done remote, or mostly remote, in ways that open up more jobs to people living outside of New York City (which will diversify publishing in such a vital way) and more jobs to disabled people. Surviving and thriving means thinking outside the box—and outside ‘the city’—and I hope publishing takes the lessons learned from this moment seriously. Not just the cost-saving measures, but the lessons that allow them to be more resilient to the challenges facing us in the coming decade and the lessons that allow them to reach and serve more readers better.
Katherine Locke lives and writes in Philadelphia with their feline overlords and their addiction to chai lattes. They are the award-winning author of The Girl with the Red Balloon and The Spy with the Red Balloon, as well as editor and contributor to It’s A Whole Spiel: Love, Latkes and Other Jewish Stories. They also contributed stories to Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens and All Out Now: Queer We Go Again. They not-so-secretly believe most stories are fairytales in disguise. They can be found online at @bibliogato on Twitter and Instagram and at katherinelockebooks.com
Laura Silverman is an author and freelance editor and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She earned her MFA in Writing for Children at the New School. Her books include Girl Out of Water, You Asked for Perfect, It’s a Whole Spiel, and the upcoming Recommended for You. Girl Out of Water was a Junior Library Guild Selection, and You Asked for Perfect was named to best teen fiction lists by YALSA, Chicago Public Library, and the Georgia Center for the Book. You can contact Laura on Twitter @LJSilverman1 or through her website LauraSilvermanWrites.com.
* * * * * *
Alaina Leary (Lavoie) is the communications manager of We Need Diverse Books. She also teaches in the graduate department of Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College and is a book reviewer for Booklist. She received a 2017 Bookbuilders of Boston scholarship for her work in the publishing industry. Her writing has been published in New York Times, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery29, Allure, Healthline, Glamour, The Oprah Magazine, and more. She currently lives in Boston with her wife and their two literary cats. Follow her @AlainasKeys on Instagram and Twitter.