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December 14, 2005

Now You See Her

Now You See Her

Susan’s Interview with Rochelle Krich

I’ll admit upfront that Rochelle is a friend of mine, one whose advice I always take to heart.  She’s also an incredibly snappy dresser, has lovely manners, and is deadly serious about her work.  If you ask anyone in the business about her, the first word to 111_1200_r1a pop out of their mouths would likely be “professional.”  The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Rochelle was born in Germany and lived in New Jersey and in New York before moving with her family to Los Angeles in 1960. With a master’s degree in English from U.C.L.A., she taught high school English for eighteen years, chairing the English department at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools, and received the Milken Families Foundation Award for Distinguished Educator of the Year and the Samuel Belkin Memorial Award for professional achievement.  She’s the author of the wonderful Jessie Drake series and, more recently, the Molly Blume books, the latest of which is NOW YOU SEE ME.  So let’s talk about that first, shall we?

Susan:  One of the topics you deal with in NOW YOU SEE ME is Internet chatrooms, as Molly Blume is asked to look for a girl who may have met a nefarious character online.  I've seen enough editions of "Dateline" to realize this happens more often than we'd like to think.  How did you research the subject?  What did you find?

Rochelle:  I'd been contemplating writing a novel about teens at risk and had a folder thick with articles I’d clipped from newspapers and magazines: Teens and the Internet. Teens and chat room predators. Teens who self-mutiliate. Teens who cheat. Teens with eating disorders. The risk of suicide for teens taking antidepressants. I Googled. I talked to parents, to teachers, to high school principals.

I learned that while teens use cell phones extensively, at home they hardly use the phone to communicate. They use the Internet - chat rooms and instant messaging. I learned that teens use acronyms that sound benign but aren't. Like POS—parent over shoulder. Or L2M—love to meet. Or POP—parent on patrol. SOS—sibling over shoulder...or NIFOC—naked in front of computer.

Susan:  Yipes!  So that’s what that means. Nancy did that the other day while emailing the Tarts, and I was very confused. 

Rochelle:  I learned that parents can—and should—download free versions of teen acronym dictionaries, and install spyware that will tell them every keystroke their kids take—and tell their kids they're doing it.

When I was touring for NOW YOU SEE ME, I was on a panel with William Lashner (Falls the Shadow) and Phil Rosenthal and Shlomo Koenig, two investigators for the Rockland County Computer Crime Task Force. Phil and Shlomo's job is to catch Internet predators. They go on AOL, where they pose as fourteen-year-olds (Phil's "profile" says he's a cheerleader), and are invited almost immediately into chat rooms. The chat rooms lead to Instant Messaging, then a face-to-face meeting. The good news: Phil and Shlomo told me they have a 100% conviction rate. The bad news: For every predator they nab, there are thousands out there.

In NOW YOU SEE ME, my protagonist, Molly Blume, shares with the reader some tips for parents about teens and the Internet. Rule number one: Keep the computer out of your teen's bedroom and place it in a family room.  And if your teen suddenly goes off-Nysmsmall line when you pass by—worry.

By the way, in the realm of eerie coincidence: Last night I did a phone chat with a book group in Conway, Arkansas—and learned from the group that Kacie Woody, who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a forty-seven-year-old man who befriended her in a Christian chat room, and whom Molly thinks about in NOW YOU SEE ME, was from Conway.

Susan:  Did you ever have to deal with anything like that while raising your six kids?  What scared you the most about being a parent?

Rochelle:  I didn't even own a computer until our youngest, who just turned 21, was two years old. (I was looking through a Sears holiday book and salivating over a typewriter that erased two lines of type. My husband said, "It's time." We bought a Leading Edge.) I knew nothing about e-mail or the Internet until five years ago. Now I'm addicted.

But you never stop worrying about your kids. Who they're with, what they're doing. Are they safe? One of my daughters—she was fourteen at the time—was on a flight returning from camp when the distinguished-looking man sitting next to her propositioned her. He told her to meet him in the bathroom and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She promptly informed the flight attendant—thank God! FBI agents arrested him when the flight landed.

Susan: There are seemingly infinite subjects for you to tackle with Molly, seeing as how she's a crime reporter.  What're you working on next?

Rochelle:  I have several ideas for Molly, and am working on a proposal for a stand-alone.

Susan:  You've had four Molly Blume books out thus far, and you wrote five featuring police detective Jesse Drake.  If I asked which you prefered, would it be like asking which of your children is your favorite?

Rochelle:  Absolutely. As to which of my children is my favorite—it's the one who isn't giving me something to worry about at the moment. :-)

I love writing Jessie. I love writing Molly. Writing Jessie is more challenging because I have to step into the mind and shoes of a police detective, and I have to research all the details of police procedure—details Jessie would automatically know. Writing Molly doesn't require research. Molly and I share Orthodox Jewish backgrounds and similar family dynamics. We're both writers. Like her mother, I taught high school English. We both love mah jongg and chocolate. So I'm very comfortable in Molly's skin.

Susan:  What stands out about each character to you?

Rochelle:  Jessie is struggling to overcome the legacy of living with an abusive mother and an enabling father—and anxious to break the pattern. She is examining her newly-discovered Jewish identity (in the second book in the series, she learns that her mother was a hidden child during the Holocaust). She is compassionate, thorough, intelligent—tough when she needs to be.

Molly is lighter-hearted than Jessie—she isn't burdened with her angst or baggage. She's buoyant, stubborn, persistent, inquisitive. She makes mistakes.

Both women are loyal and passionate about justice.   And both are more willing to take risks than I am. Two months ago I witnessed something that validated why I write crime fiction. I was in Nordstrom, waiting to talk to a sales clerk. Sitting in front of the register was a woman--kind of goth-looking, heavily tattooed—who was trying to convince the clerk that she had bought the item she was returning and had simply misplaced her receipt. Standing next to this woman was her companion—a tall, stern-faced man, also heavily tattooed.

I walked around them and noticed a boy who was with them. My heart stopped. His face was battered. One eye was shut. I thought, "They wouldn't be crazy enough to come to a public place with a child they'd battered....Would they? Maybe he fell in the schoolyard, or got into a fight with a bully.  I smiled at the boy. No response. There was no expression in his eyes. They were flat, dead.   I was chilled.

I approached a sales clerk and, turning my back to the woman, man, and boy, I said, "Did you see that boy?"

"Yes. A few of us saw him, and we're upset, but we don't know what to do."

I asked to speak to the manager. I asked her about the boy.

"We're all upset," she told me, "but we don't know what to do. The store has a liability problem...."

I'm not sure what I would have done, but when I turned around, the trio had disappeared. So I left the store, the boy's face haunting me. But see, Molly wouldn't have left the store not knowing that boy's story. She would have found a way to locate him, to make sure he was safe.

Susan:  You are one of the calmest, most pulled together authors I know.  Okay, I realize there's always something bubbling beneath the surface, but you are the epitome of professionalism on the book scene.  Any tricks you can share to those of us who aren't always so serene?

Rochelle: Chocolate? I guess I put on a good act. :-) It's probably my European upbringing. Actually, I'm a perfectionist. I obsess about details and mistakes and missed opportunities. They gnaw at me. Lately I've made a conscious attempt to accept "what is" and let go of "what should be" or "what could be." When I'm disappointed or frustrated, I take a deep breath, count to ten, and tell myself: "This is what was meant to be." It's a challenge, and it doesn't work all the time, but I'm making progress.

Susan:  I know your strict observance of Orthodox Judaism does affect your travels.  How has it been to deal with that on the road? 

Rochelle:  The physical challenges are manageable. I take along kosher food when I attend mystery conventions. On the Sabbath I make sure I’m on a low hotel floor—I can’t use the elevator—and arrange to have a guard open the door with the electronic key. And there are disappointments—events I can’t attend because they fall on the Sabbath or other Jewish holidays. In a way, those disappointments help ground me and remind me that, while writing is my passion, it’s not the entirety of my existence.

Ironically, becoming a published writer helped me “come out” of the Orthodox Jewish closet. As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, and having led a relatively sheltered life for almost forty years, I was reluctant to broadcast my Orthodox observance. The warm, respectful reaction I received from readers and booksellers quickly alleviated my concern. Although at my first mystery convention, when I was inadvertently placed on a Friday night panel and couldn’t use a microphone, one woman in the audience thought I refused to use the mike to show off my thespian talents. Oy.

Susan:  You taught school before you started writing, so I'm wondering if that makes you approach your novels any differently than the rest of us.

Rochelle:  Honestly, I have no idea. It's an interesting question. I fantasized about writing long before I began teaching. I'll tell you what I did learn once I began writing: the grammar texts are wrong when they encourage kids to use words other than "said" in dialogue. I should probably issue a blanket apology to every student I've ever taught!

Susan:  Is there anything that teaching taught you about writing that helps your creative process?  Or your organizational process?

Rochelle: Not teaching, per se, but the literary analysis that formed part of the curriculum. The more you read, the more you appreciate the rhythms and music of good writing.

Susan:  Our quintessential TLC question:  do you believe there's a "girl ghetto" in crime fiction?  Have you ever felt like "the boys" got something you didn't?  Better treatment or wider exposure from reviewers?  Juicier panels at cons?

Rochelle:  I remember at one local (Los Angeles) Sisters in Crime meeting years ago, our guest speaker, a crime fiction reviewer for the L.A. Times, was embarrassed because in that week's review column he hadn't reviewed any mysteries by women. Lots of men. No women. He apologized profusely. :-) I'm not sure there's a "girl ghetto," but there's definitely a perception that cozier mysteries aren't as important or serious.

Susan: Now for fun:  some quickie questions!  Favorite movie of all time?

Rochelle:  I can't choose just one! Sabrina, Gone with the Wind...

Susan:  (Ah, Gone With the Wind is on my list, too.  Good choice!)  Favorite book of all time?

Rochelle:  Pride and Prejudice

Susan:  Scariest thing you've ever done?

Rochelle:  Dropped my first child off at nursery school that first day—and left.

Susan:  Five guests at your fantasy dinner party?

Rochelle:  Do I have to cook? Honestly, I'm blanking....

Susan:  Of course, you don’t have to cook, silly!  That’s what caterers are for.  I’ll let you pass on that.  Onto the next question:  Extravagance you can't live without?

Rochelle:  Jewelry

Susan: Girl from high school you'd most like to murder in a book?

Rochelle:  I don't harbor murderous thoughts towards anyone from high school—disappointing, huh? But I can easily flash back to my teen years and my insecurities, and to a girl who was my best friend for years until one day I suddenly didn't exist for her. Just like that.   Now you've made me sad. I think I'll get some chocolate.

Susan:  Then my job is done.  Thanks so much, La Belle!   Always great to chat with you.


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Great blog- Rochelle Krich is terrific, and so are her books. Molly is a very cool character who sheds light on a religion most people don't know much about.

Rochelle was one of the first authors I know of to fully use the Internet to communicate with readers - she's been sendigng e-notes and updates for years.

Plus, she's very nice in person. That's always a bonus - not all good authors are good people....

This was a pleasure to read--thank you!

P.S. Rochelle/Molly - is that only once a month thing really true?

Ah, a lovely interview, but no one mentioned that Rochelle is the snappiest dresser this side of the Rockies. It's worth going to mystery conventions, where Rochelle is always nominated for some award or other, just to see what she'll wear.

Thanks, Cornelia! It was a pleasure to interview Rochelle. Always easier to do that with friends, I think. And, Kathy, you're right. Rochelle is such a nice person...and very Internet savvy! She can do things with her own web site that I would be afraid to even try (which is why I pay someone else to do it).

Well, Ms. Harley, I did mention it in the blog itself. Does that count?

Somehow it always comes back to clothes, doesn't it? :)

Great interview! I've had one of Rochelle's books on my TBR pile for quite a while, and I think it's time to move it up to the top.

Snappiest dresser this side of the Rockies? Harley, Rochelle gets my vote for the NATION'S best groomed mystery author (granted, the competition may not be that tough--Lipstick Chronicles gals aside!).

Seriously, Rochelle is doing great work with her Molly Blume series. More power to you, Rochelle!

Hey, guys. Thanks for the nice words. I'm blushing!

Kathy, what "once a month" thing are you talking about?

I'm in Omaha, where it's kind of cold....

Everything is about clothes, Rob. Despite rumors to the contrary, Newton's first and second laws were based on a pair of velvet peep-toe pumps and World War I was caused by a darling little hat belonging to the Archduchess Ferdinandia.

What I don't understand, Rochelle, is the six kids part. How did you manage to write and do it with all those children to look after?
A mother of two wants to know ---

Rock on, Rochelle.
Now You See Me is a must read for any contemporary writer, reader or parent.
An elegant book like the lady.

mary alice
PS I'm sending the Shiksa Pot Roast recipe this week-end. A happy hanukkah.

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