Blog posts about the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries and their author Rabbi Ilene Schneider

Archive for the ‘WRITING’ Category


I’m having my car serviced today, and I’m going to wait there for it to be done. I’m taking my laptop so I can work on Killah Megillah, book 4 of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries. And it’s not for Nanowrimo.

I have decided not to sign up for National Novel Writing Month for a few reasons. For one, you have to be starting a new manuscript from the beginning, not continuing a work-in-progress. I am not about to discard all the pages I have already written.

Related to that reason is the goal of Nanowrimo and my goal are different. Nanowrimo’s purpose is to encourage participants to produce a 50,000 word rough draft. My goal, OTOH, is to complete a polished 90,000 word manuscript to send my publisher.

Here’s my plan:
Step 1: Stop procrastinating.
Step 2: Reread what I’ve already written and edit it.
Step 3: WRITE.
Step 4: Repeat.

Will I finish the book in 30 days? Unlikely. But by the beginning of 2021? Possible.

How can you help? Ask how I’m progressing, not constantly, but enough to remind me “my posse” is waiting. The fear of public humiliation is a great motivator.


I’m a cultural Anglophile. If it a cast member of a movie or TV show has a British accent or a book is set in the UK, it must be high culture.

There are a lot of differences between American English vs. British English: some I’ve known for years: e.g., pissed (drunk); flat (apartment), boot (car trunk), bonnet (car hood), lift (elevator). With the help of Chef Google, I have even figured out foods, like saveloy (a spicy sausage) and bubble and squeak (a cabbage dish). I can sometimes manage to decode Cockney rhyming slang (trouble and strife = wife).

But there are two Britishisms which are either new or I’ve only recently become aware of.

One is a strange grammatical usage, saying “I was sat” instead of “I was sitting.” Example: “He was sat in the chair reading a book.” It just sounds “wrong” to me. It wasn’t as if an usher had come in and sat the person in the chair.

The other is more humorous. I became aware of it when a character on a show mentioned buying a pot plant as a gift. My first thought was, “How interesting. They sell marijuana as house plants in London.” Then I realized it wasn’t a pot plant but a potted plant (and not in the sense of drunk).

Anyone have other examples that have puzzled you?


National Novel Writing Month begins, as it has since 1999, on Nov. 1. I have always resisted joining, not that the resistance was so difficult, as I really dislike giving in to peer pressure, nor do I enjoy being told to write a certain number of words or else. The “or else” in this case is potential peer embarrassment.

So, what has changed, besides everything else, in 2020? You can see how well self-motivation has worked for me this year, during which I have added exactly zero words to my work-in-progress. I need external motivation, namely, a deadline. I have always found that when I have a deadline, I can get the work done early. No deadline gives me permission to procrastinate. And feel guilty about procrastinating, which leads to even more procrastination, in an endless loop. The ouroboros theory of writing is a lesson in futility.

As we say in Yiddish, I need a potsch in den tuchus in order to get my tuchus auf den tisch – a kick in the ass to get my ass off the table. IOW, it’s time to shit or get off the pot. And I’m not referring to cannabis.

So, who of you out there reading this blog have participated in Nanowrimo?What were your experiences? Did it give you that potsch in der tuchus that you needed to get moving?


I believe we are witnessing climate change. Yes, it is true that weather fluctuates and even climate has changed over the eons. But weather refers to short term conditions; climate to long term ones. And those long term ones become the norm over the course of millennia, not in the 150 years or so since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Extremes of high and lows temperatures have increased and so have the frequency and severity of “weather events,” such as hurricanes and tornadoes, droughts and floods.

I am a birder and a gardener and have empirically observed (is that a tautology?) changes because of climate change. For example, 25 years ago, it used to be a big deal to see a Black Vulture here in So. Jersey; now I see them frequently all year. And I put up my hummingbird feeders earlier in the spring and remove them later in the fall. (“Hope is the thing with fathers.” – Emily Dickinson.) Plus, our frost-free date is earlier and first frost date later. I have roses still blooming, milkweed seeds germinating, and hibiscus and goldenrod blooming simultaneously.

The “new normal” is in constant flux.


I’m happy to announce my essay for a symposium on Jewish writing has been published in the summer issue of the RRA Connection, the newsletter of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Am I a Jewish writer? Are my books Jewish books?

And what determines a Jewish book anyway?

I am a rabbi. My protagonist is a rabbi. My Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries are Chanukah Guilt, Unleavened Dead, and Yom Killer. My work-in-progress is Killah Megillah. One of my nonfiction books is Talking Dirty — in Yiddish?

When I first was trying to find an agent for Chanukah Guilt, an interested agent, Jewish, told me I had to change the title, that no one outside of the two coasts would get the pun. A friend of mine, then an aspiring novelist, was advised by another agent to make her novels “less Jewish,” to take out the Yiddish words and make the characters more, for lack of better word, pareve. I think those two agents underestimated the extent of cultural literacy in the U.S. I have yet to meet anyone who has not understood the pun in the title. I also doubt anyone told Michael Chabon to change the title or tone down the characters in The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.

But what makes a book a Jewish book? Is any book by a Jewish writer, no matter the level of his or her commitment or observance, automatically a Jewish book? Faye Kellerman’s mysteries have Jewish protagonists, but those written by her husband and son do not. Are her books Jewish, but theirs are not? Is a book with a Jewish theme or protagonist or setting automatically a Jewish book even if the author is not a Member of the Tribe? Is Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers a Jewish book because it is essentially a midrash on the stories in Bereshit?

When we think about Jewish books, we think about “literary fiction” — Bernard Malamud, Chaim Potok, Philip Roth, Eli Wiesel, Primo Levi. We think of ponderous, serious books with philosophic themes that make us reflect. We do not think of a humorous cozy mystery featuring a woman rabbi with a sideline as an amateur sleuth in a small, fictional town on the edge of the South Jersey Pine Barrens.

I sometimes wonder if the plots of my books could still be written in the same way if Rabbi Aviva Cohen were Father Sean Donohue or a college professor or a supermarket cashier, if the setting were a Puritan town in Vermont or in the Midwest. It might be difficult — after all, people don’t confide in a supermarket cashier the way they do in a rabbi — but, yes, with modifications, the basic plots could be the same even if there were no Jews among the characters.

So what makes my books Jewish? It is the ambience, the gestalt: the settings, the activities the characters engage in, the words they use, the cadence of their dialogues. There is a certain ta’am, a kind of Jewish aesthetic that marks the books as Jewish, even if it is just the titles, the names, the synagogue, the Jewish rituals described. While it could be possible to use the same suspicious deaths at the heart of the books, the same motives, the same solutions, the books would not be the same without the details that make them uniquely Jewish.


“Miami Snow,” winner of Public Safety Writers Association best published short story of 2012, originally published in Mysterical-E, Fall, 2013: [republished in Kings River Life: ]

“Peanut Butter and Glitter,” originally published in Suspense Magazine, October, 2015: [republished in Kings River Life:]

“Perfect,” PSWA winner for best published flash fiction, 2013, and among top ten entries in Lee Loftland’s Golden Donut Entries, 2013, posted at:

“We Were Slaves,” originally published in Kings River Life, Dec. 29, 2018:


In time for Yomim Nora’im (the Days of Awe) and Yom Kippur itself, the Kindle edition of the 3rd Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mystery, YOM

KILLER, is on a limited time special sale for 99¢.

Buy it now so you’ll have one fewer regret to atone for. 😉


I am thrilled to announce my short story “Triangle” been accepted for inclusion in the anthology Jewish Noir 2, edited by Ken Wishnia and Chantelle Aimeé Osman, to be released September, 2020. The signed contract is in the mail (for real). My thanks to David Gerrold for allowing me to steal a line he posted that gave me my ending and to Terri Weiner for suggesting I use the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a theme.

I’ll remind all of you when the book is published.


You know you’ll need to take a break from your Pesach preparations. You know you’ll need to unwind after the Seders are over. What better way than with a Pesach-themed humorous cozy mystery? Especially when the Kindle edition of UNLEAVENED DEAD will be on sale for 99 cents.

Start: Tuesday, April 16 at 8AM Pacific time
End: Monday, April 22 at midnight, Pacific time.
Two members of Rabbi Aviva Cohen’s congregation are found dead, victims, they say, of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. But Aviva has info that leads her to doubt it was an accident. Then, police suspect Aviva’s niece’s partner in a hit-and-run death. Aviva is sure the woman is innocent, even though her SUV has a body-sized dent on the hood. As she looks into t
he two disparate cases, Aviva discovers they may be connected, and her amateur sleuthing takes a sinister turn that involves sexual abuse, money laundering, stolen identities, and an FBI investigation. Once again, her curiosity has put her life in jeopardy.





A complete departure from my usual humorous, cozy mystery novels and humorous, noir-ish short stories, “We Were Slaves” looks at a possible alternate reality in which Isabella and Ferdinand’s army was defeated in the Iberian peninsula, leading to the fall of Christian Europe.