First off, before I begin with the questions I want to thank both of you for doing this interview! And for putting together this novel and writing the stories you wrote, this book is by far one of my favorites and has meant the world to me. You can check out my review here Its A Whole Spiel Edited by Katherine Locke and Laura Silverman (ARC Review)
What inspired you to put together this anthology?
Katherine: Laura is the best one to answer this because SPIEL is her brainchild. But when Laura called me and pitched me the idea of co-editing this, I was really drawn to the idea of a collection that was contemporary, without tragedy, that pulled from Jewish experiences from a variety of backgrounds. That would have meant so much to me as a teen and I hope it means a lot to teens now.
Laura: I saw and loved the diverse books movement. It put so many incredible stories into my hands of perspectives I’d never read before. But I noticed there was still a lack of Jewish stories. I realized an anthology was the perfect way to put a multitude of Jewish stories on shelves all at once!
Growing up is there one book that ever made you feel like you as a Jew were seen?
K: Oof. I really was only aware of Holocaust books as a kid in terms of Jewish representation. So I suppose Devil’s Arithmetic is probably the one from childhood.
L: I also was only aware of Holocaust books, so there were never any that mirrored my experience as a Jewish person today. However, I loved and still love The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. I instantly felt a kinship with her voice. It’s still one of my favorite books, and I wish everyone would read it.
Is your story based on an event in your life?
K: I do write fanfiction, but alas I do not have an internet BFF who runs a Jewish-headcanon website! I wish I was friends with YaelLouder! But for Gabe’s background, I pulled from my life a little bit, and Gabe’s mom is based on my mom. My mom isn’t Jewish but she trucked us down to Hebrew school three days a week and took us to all our classes and attended all the services with us. She was an essential part of my growing up Jewish.
Laura, you write about conventions. Did you go on any as a teen? Were you part of any youth groups?
L: I did belong to a Jewish youth group as a teenager, and my story was absolutely inspired by that experience. I loved belonging to my Jewish youth group. It was a really solid tie to my Jewish community, and it was fun! We took some really great trips. And it was a nice way to stay connected to my Jewish friends who went to different high schools than me. My character is a little more introverted than I was at that age, but I definitely pulled from some personal anxiety experiences as well.
Katherine, you write about a jewish fan fiction site. How did you come up with this idea?
K: I wish Milk and Honey existed as a real fanfiction website! I got the idea because a lot of the 20th century comic book creators and geniuses were and are Jewish, and a lot of comic book heroes’ concepts about their role in the universe are rooted in that Jewishness. Despite all of that, we see very few of them being explicitly Jewish and I thought it’d be fun to have Jewish teens reclaiming that…and all of it. Make it all Jewish. Why not?
What’s your favorite jewish holiday?
K: Passover. I’m a storyteller! I love the act of telling this story again and again.
L: Same! Passover! But mine is mostly because the food is so good. Mom always pulls out matzo ball soup and brisket. It’s also the holiday we usually have the biggest family gathering for, so it feels really warm and festive.
Do you have a favorite thing about being jewish?
K: Honestly, finding other Jews. Whenever I find out someone else is Jewish in the room, it’s like instant camaraderie. It’s the most genuine smile (even under a mask!) that I’ll ever show in public when I’m like are you? me too! I also really love the commitment to justice–and justice as a path to peace instead of the inverse–that’s central to Judaism.
L: Again, same! I love being part of our tribe. I love finding so many similarities between myself and fellow Jews and just getting each other on a level other people don’t understand. Also, again, the food.
Let’s talk about the number one conflict. Applesauce or sour cream? I’m an applesauce gal all the way.
K: SOUR CREAM.
L: APPLESAUCE. Congrats on being right, Kayla!
Both of you have written books about Jewish characters, do you have any advice for Jewish writers who want to write about Jewish characters?
K: Write Jewish characters into a variety of stories. The book doesn’t have to be about being Jewish to include Jewish characters. I want to see big commercial contemporary fantasies with Jewish characters and dystopians with Jewish characters and fantasies rooted in Jewishness and more. And historical fiction not about the Holocaust with Jewish characters! I want all the books but make it Jewish.
L: Don’t be afraid to make the story “too Jewish” (even if you get reviews that say things like “we get it, she’s Jewish,” no I’m not quoting from experience). There aren’t many of us in the world, and we deserve to make our voices as loud as we want. Take up that space!
Something I’ve been thinking of is how sometimes it’s scary to be so open about being Jewish. Have you ever been scared about the backlash or pushback from readers and other people about your characters being jewish?
K: Sometimes. I think in most cases so far, I’ve been prepared for more pushback than’s actually existed. I think some of the pushback I wasn’t prepared for was pushback from within the community (queerness in SPIEL, choices I made about my characters’ somewhat distant relationship to their religious Jewish identity in SPY, etc.) When I go to public festivals, at libraries for instance, sometimes I get Holocaust deniers. That’s happened once or twice. But I think that overall, my fear of pushback has always been greater than the reality of pushback, and the love and hunger for Jewish books from Jewish readers (and a lot of non-Jewish readers) always always outweighs it. I will never forget at Northern Virginia Teen Book Festival, a middle school girl comes up to me, her arms wrapped around a copy of THE GIRL WITH THE RED BALLOON, and she told me that she loved the book, and that she, like the main character Ellie, was the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. I cried. And then I got to hand her the very very first ARC of IT’S A WHOLE SPIEL I ever got to share with anyone. Alex London, one of our contributors, was at the festival too, and we both signed it for her. And Alex signed it with “Shehechanyu!” which was very clever and I was so mad I hadn’t thought of it. But seeing this reader’s face when I said there are fifteen stories here, they’re all Jewish, none of them are sad, and we wrote this for you…that outweighs any pushback I’ve gotten. I am so grateful and thrilled I get to do this job, and I cannot wait to keep writing Jewish characters for all readers, but especially Jewish ones.
L: That’s such a lovely story, Katherine! Now I feel teary-eyed.
I do have a whole history with Internet nazis attacking me, but I’ve told that story a lot now.
This connects to what you posted on Instagram recently, Kayla. I actually have more of a fear of silence than of backlash. Absolutely my books get recognition for being Jewish. But often, they don’t. There will be a list of the types of diversity in my book, and the Judaism either won’t be mentioned or will be thrown into the list of more minor threads. I notice this for friends’ Jewish books as well. I’d love for Jewish voices and the importance of these stories to be given a little more spotlight.
Thank you SO much Katherine and Laura for doing this interview! I have linked purchase links to the book if anyone would like to check it out and I HIGHLY recommend you do!
Includes a special introduction by Mayim Bialik, star of The Big Bang Theory and author of the #1 bestseller Girling Up!
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.