Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Q&A with Jean Meltzer


Photo by Lisa Damico



Jean Meltzer is the author of the new novel Kissing Kosher. Her other novels include The Matzah Ball. She lives in Virginia.


Q: What inspired you to write Kissing Kosher, and how did you create your characters Avital and Ethan?


A: In 2020, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic and right around the same time I learned that The Matzah Ball was going to be published, I woke up with what I thought was a urinary tract infection.


Three doctors and eight rounds of antibiotics later, I knew that what I was experiencing was no simple UTI. My journey with chronic pelvic pain had begun. Once again, I found myself having to maneuver the medical system in order to find relief.

It was not an easy process. Most of all, because chronic pelvic pain—like the sexual dysfunction and intimacy issues that come with—is so rarely talked about. And yet, when I did talk about it, the most interesting thing would happen. Someone would lean into me and whisper, “Me too.”


I knew that I wanted to write a book about chronic pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction. I wanted to give voice, and visibility, to this thing so many people struggle with, but rarely feel comfortable talking about.


Q: The Kirkus Review of the novel says, in part, “Meltzer’s latest novel follows a vulnerable, authentic journey about learning to navigate pain of all dimensions—individual and generational—and the boundaries people can set for themselves while also advocating for others who might not be capable of speaking up for themselves.” What do you think of that description?


A: I love it. While I was writing this book, I was still very much processing my own experience, fear, and grief around becoming a chronic pain patient. In addition, my father died. As a society, we tend to think about “pain” like we think about disease. Something that exists on a binary, that either gets better, or goes away entirely.


But pain can be both emotional and physical. And so many of us—whether we’re consciously aware of it or not—live with chronic pain in some form.


Books don’t just change their readers. They change the people writing them, too.


What I learned from going on this journey with Avital and Ethan—in addition to research and study I did regarding kosher sex and Jewish intimacy—is that boundaries are a part not only a part of our Jewish tradition, they are fundamental to building safe and intimate love, despite the pain we carry. When one feels safe to advocate for themselves, they can advocate for others, too.


Q: Why did you decide to set the story in a bakery?


A: George Hartman once wrote, “The Jewish imagination developed in the sphere of the Hebrew Bible,” and I certainly find that to be true in my books. I can’t separate out my creativity, the tales my brain concocts each book, from the stories I was raised with. That includes midrash, Jewish law, holidays, text sources, as well as Jewish thinkers and philosophers.

One of the best tales from our tradition that explores women, sexuality, and the boundaries we erect comes from our holiday of Purim. Purim celebrates the story of Queen Esther, a woman who saved the Jewish people from annihilation at the hands of an evil man named Haman during the Achaemenid Empire.


Every year, we recount this story. We eat hamantashen, triangle-shaped cookies, stuffed with jams, reminiscent of the triangle-shaped hat that Haman wore. But also, and perhaps more relevant to Kissing Kosher, there is early evidence that these cookies represented sex and fertility. Hence their very womb-like shape.


It just made sense to have Kissing Kosher be set in a bakery, and lead into the holiday of Purim, and for Ethan to have hamantashen be his signature cookie that he eventually feeds to Avital. Indeed, our sages teach: “Purim is when we take the masks off.” Kissing Kosher is very much a story about revealing ourselves to another person in the most intimate and vulnerable ways.  


Q: How would you describe the dynamic between Avital and Ethan?


A: Wow. What a great question! I freely admit that the books I write are often chronic disability romantic fantasies. Meaning, I write stores for women like myself—women who occasionally need caregiving—women who want to be safe, and know that they are loved and values, even when they can’t get out of bed.


But I think it’s too simplistic to look at Ethan as a protector, safeguarding Avital physically, and Avital as the nurturer, cultivating Ethan emotionally.


In all relationships, there needs to be balance. There needs to be give and take. And so, what I hope people come to see in Kissing Kosher is that Avital and Ethan take turns being the person the other one needs in the moment.


That, to me, is the essence of a healthy and whole relationship. Two people who are not necessarily perfect, but who despite their weaknesses, work hard at being better together.


Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m pleased to tell you that my fourth book, Magical Meet Cute, will arrive August 2024.


Magical Meet Cute is about a proud Jewitch woman and potter named Faye Kaplan, determined never to fall in love again after being traumatized from a series of toxic relationships, who finds herself the victim of an antisemitic incident.


Desperate to reclaim her power—and after two bottles of wine—she heads to her pottery studio and crafts a man out of clay, etching all her desires for a guardian and protector, friend and lover, onto his skin, before burying the doll in her backyard.


When a handsome and mysterious stranger arrives to town the very next day, and checks every box scribbled on her clay man’s belly—including the most esoteric ones—Faye is left wondering if she’s looking for reasons to avoid falling in love, or if she’s inadvertently summoned a golem.


I'm also THRILLED to tell you that I am, once again, writing a Hanukkah romcom!!! While I can’t go into too many details just yet, my fifth book will publish in 2025, and coincide with the five-year anniversary of The Matzah Ball.


I’m so excited to bring Magical Meet Cute and another holiday romance into the world. Both books are so special, and unique, and I truly cannot wait to share them with my readers!


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I absolutely love connecting with readers, and schmoozing over all things romance, books, Judaism, chronic disability, and Siberian huskies.


You can find me on Instagram: JeanMeltzer or Facebook: JeanMeltzerAuthor. Or, check out my website: www.jeanmeltzer.com, where you can send me a message and sign up for my newsletter. Otherwise, thank you all for reading my books. And your support!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Jean Meltzer.

No comments:

Post a Comment