Author’s success no mystery
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Author’s success no mystery

Rochelle Krich to speak locally

Rochelle Krich is not Molly Blume. Nor is she Jessie Drake. But, says Krich, creator of the two series detectives, she shares some qualities with each of them.

"Like Molly, I’m curious," Krich told The Jewish Standard, "though not as brazen. I think brazen, but I don’t do brazen. I’m the ‘good girl,’ probably from my European upbringing," added Krich, who was born in Germany to Polish survivors who met after the war.

The author — who also said that "like Jessie, I share a passion for justice" — will discuss her book "Now You See Me" (Ballantine, $13.95) at a meeting hosted by the Young Israel of Teaneck Sisterhood on Feb. 6. The book, which has been nominated for a Barry Award, highlights the danger of Internet chat rooms.

"Everyone is attuned to that subject now," said Krich. "While the Internet can be wonderful, it can also be very dangerous," she added, citing the case of the 13-year-old Missouri girl who hanged herself following a posting on MySpace.com.

Krich’s heroine, Molly Blume — whose name is a deliberate echo of James Joyce’s Molly Bloom — is an Orthodox Jew, like the author herself. And while Jessie Drake is not identified at first as a Jew, she discovers early in the series that her mother was a hidden child.

"Most of my work now deals with Jewish characters or Jewish issues," said Krich, who taught English in California for 18 years before writing her first novel. In addition, the author said, "I’m drawn to social issues, and my writing is an attempt to be an advocate within the framework of an interesting story. People can be brought to think about these issues," she said, noting that sometimes she has more questions at the end than when she began.

She pointed out, for example, that Drake is a "darker character" than Blume. "She was abused by her mother. I wanted to show that abuse comes to excellent homes as well."

The mother of six — and grandmother of 10 — Krich moved to Los Angeles in 1960 from Lakewood, where her parents owned a chicken farm.

"They found Washington Heights too urban," she said of their first American home. The author said she has "memories of a dog and of blueberry-picking" — a far cry from Los Angeles and the exciting lives of the fictional Drake and Blume.

Krich, who holds a master’s degree in English from UCLA (and wrote her thesis on Joyce and Joseph Heller), taught high school English for 18 years, chairing the English department at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools. While she enjoyed great success in the academic world — she received the Milken Families Foundation Award for Distinguished Educator of the Year and the Samuel Belkin Memorial Award for professional achievement — she said she hadn’t intended to become a teacher. It was only after subbing for an absent teacher at her child’s school that she discovered "I loved it, although I had the usual nightmares" before entering the classroom for the first time.

"It was wonderful training for connecting with audiences," said Krich, who said she had loved mysteries "ever since I was a kid" and that "writing was something I dreamed about." In the late 1980s, her husband finally told her to "stop kvetching already" and write something. Her first effort "was way too long," she said, "and I got a lot of rejections."

Her first published novel, "Where’s Mommy Now?," came out in 1990 and, unlike later works, had no Jewish subtext. "I was leery of Jewish content," she said, noting that one rejection letter indicated that the publisher already had someone writing Jewish stories.

"I find writing about Jewish issues satisfying, but it has instilled a certain caution," she said. "If I am the voice of Orthodoxy, setting forth what the religion is like, I have to be careful of the facts and the perceptions I create. I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes." Yet, she said, she has to walk a "fine line," showing that some Jews can act in an immoral way — "even commit murder. There are fewer complications in a generic world."

Krich pointed out that in writing about Molly Blume — a fictional true-crime writer who gets her information from the LAPD — "it’s a challenge to get non-Jews to identify with her." But, said the author, she has gotten many e-mails from non-Jews who say they can relate to the character — and, she added, "they’re not all female."

In addition, she said, she recently realized that she has a Holocaust survivor, or someone who knows a Holocaust survivor, in most of her stories. "It would be facile to say that being the child of survivors made me write mysteries," she said, adding, however, that there is probably "some connection. The world turned upside down, the need to have stability, this happens in mysteries," she said. "Someone is killed and the question is why?"

While the author acknowledged that she is sometimes prone to procrastination, she has already produced 14 novels as well as short stories, garnering critical praise and numerous awards. In addition, "Where’s Mommy Now?," which won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original, was filmed as "Perfect Alibi," starring Teri Garr, Hector Elizondo, and Kathleen Quinlan.

"My family has been incredibly supportive," she said, recalling that when one of her sons was small, he identified himself by providing his name and adding, "My mother is a famous writer." Still, she said, there have been some tensions. "You can’t be perfect at everything," she said. "I haven’t been Julia Child in the kitchen. I made a lot of macaroni and cheese."

Despite this, she said, one of her daughters continues to serve as her "first reader," while her husband has been a "willing victim," helping her enact murder scenes ("without the gun," she added) so she can figure out the "physicality" of the act.

Krich, who said she is looking forward to her talk in Teaneck, said she "loves the Q & A part of my talks. I like to hear what people are interested in." She also loves to hear that people are interested in her characters. "I think of [my characters] as real people and I get an incredible high" when others do as well, she said.

Krich will speak at 8 p.m. at the Young Israel of Teaneck, 868 Perry Lane. The cost is $’0 in advance, $’5 at the door. Sponsors will be able to attend a private meeting with the author. For further information, call Rachel Schechter at (’01) 86′-1144.

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