OBS reviewer Vicki is back with a new interview with three-time Agatha Award nominee and a Derringer Award nominee for Best Short Story, author Elizabeth Zelvin and her book ‘Shifting is for the Goyim’, where they chat about the inspiration behind the story, its characters and more. Enjoy!
Read the review for ‘Shifting is for the Goyim’ here.
Vicki: I’ve read Shifting is for the Goyim a few times now and I take a different message away from it each time. There is a strong emphasis upon Amy/Emerald’s duality through her real life and her fame as well as her humanity and her supernatural gift, it’s difficult to pin point which world she belongs to; she’s actually really lost, so much so that it seems like something catastrophic had to happen to her in order for her to find her place in the world. The ending really isn’t as gloomy as I initially thought it to be. For you, what’s the most important message or interpretation that readers can take away from this story?
Elizabeth Zelvin: I’m glad to hear the reviewer had second thoughts about “gloomy.” I tend to think my work is hilarious, so I’m always surprised when people find it dark. In spite of what happens in the story, I think there’s plenty of humor in “Shifting Is for the Goyim.” I suppose the message is just that: that people are complex and we can laugh and cry and care about and be moved by them in all their complexity. All my creative work–fiction, poetry, the songs in my recently released CD, OUTRAGEOUS OLDER WOMAN–is about just that. Since my “other hat” is that I’m a psychotherapist, it makes sense that I believe that love and human connections are more important than anything else, and that holds true no matter what happens, including tragedy and betrayal.
I will add that an additional duality that is of great interest to me is the one between Amy/Emerald’s Jewishness (which is secular and cultural but integral to her character) and the larger society, particularly the country music world, which is very Christian, as well as the fictional world in which paranormal powers are accepted in the larger society but not in the Jewish community. It’s not overt in “Shifting”–I haven’t gone very far in building this world–but I’d certainly explore it in writing more about Amy/Emerald.
Vicki: You also represent this theme of duality through combining the modern gothic with the classic whodunit mystery. What were your influences for this? Do you have any favourite whodunit stories that you’d like to recommend?
Elizabeth Zelvin: I’m primarily a mystery writer, so I can’t resist recommending my own work, which has been nominated three times for the Agatha Award and once for the Derringer Award for Best Short Story. The most recent novel in the series, DEATH WILL EXTEND YOUR VACATION, came out earlier this year. Readers can learn about my stories and novels on my mystery author website here. For the paranormal element, my role model and inspiration is Charlaine Harris, who has a genius for stitching her paranormal phenomena seamlessly into the real world and creating genuine and endearing people who are far more than the supernatural powers she’s bestowed on them. The Sookie Stackhouse series does this brilliantly, and the Harper Connelly series is even better.
Vicki: What is the inspiration behind developing a novella or novelette? Does the story itself call for it? Do you ever return to the story and wish you had written a full length novel?
Elizabeth Zelvin: “Shifting Is for the Goyim” is exactly the length it needed to be to tell this particular story. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to write an 11,000-word piece that would probably would have been completely unpublishable in the era before e-publishing. But I love how it came out. I wouldn’t add or subtract a word. On the other hand, I can easily imagine putting Amy/Emerald into a novel, even a series. I’m not quite sure how or when, but it’s simmering away in my brain.
Vicki: As a short story writer do you ever feel as though you are presented with additional limitations than are presented when writing a full length novel and what do you do to combat these limitations?
Elizabeth Zelvin: If anything, it’s the opposite for me. I can write a conventional short story in, say, two fell swoops; “Shifting” took a little longer, but I got through it without a lot of struggle; I could see where I was going at every point. Writing the first draft of a novel can be agonizing for me. I don’t outline or plot in advance, so I don’t know if I have a complete and fully resolved story until I reach the end. The one novel-length work that came pouring out of me–about a young marrano sailor with Columbus in the context of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and the genocide of the Taino in the Caribbean–is the one I’m finding it very difficult to sell, though it’s a sequel to two short stories that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The three novels and four of the short stories are set in New York and feature my series protagonist, recovering alcoholic Bruce Kohler. Until I started writing additional stories, I didn’t know that I had other voices in me. The short story form has allowed me to experiment with genre and voice and create additional characters. Come to think of it, I can add to my response to the last question by saying that as Emerald developed, there was more to her than I expected, and that’s why “Shifting” turned into a much longer story. But ordinarily, I find 3,000 to 4,000 words amazingly spacious. On the other hand, I love reading novels, and I re-read favorite series from beginning to end now and then.
Vicki: Without giving too much away; the story is paced in such a way that the ‘big reveal’ seems natural yet extremely unpredictable did you have different ideas about how this would end or was it always very clear to you?
Elizabeth Zelvin: As I said, I don’t plot in advance, so the ending crept up on me. But it felt inevitable. Also without giving too much away, I hope, it served not only the mystery but the larger themes of the story. I say that with hindsight, but creativity is a mysterious process, and in this case I think that inner voice every writer has came up with something organic and inevitable.
Thank you to author Elizabeth Zelvin for a great interview!