I call Laurie Friday afternoon, Oct. 22, 2006.
Laurie: "How did you end up picking up my books? It's usually such a girl thing."
Luke: "There's a lot of the woman in me. And my friend Marc W. recommended your website and I went from there."
"Do you ever lie when people ask you if something you wrote about is true?"
Laurie: "No. I try to be as honest as I can without giving my soul away."
Two years older than her brother, Laurie grew up in Sunnyside, Queens. Her father left the home when she was five.
"His absence was a big presence in my life.
"My mother started working at the Jewish National Fund right after highschool and she worked there until her retirement, over 45 years later."
"At age twelve, I decided I wanted to be an actress. I remember announcing it.
"I like the limelight, the attention, the glamor.
"I did work on Broadway. I was in a Neil Simon play. I did these commercials. On the other hand, I did not break through. I didn't wind up with my own sitcom.
"As a writer, I am getting to do so much of the media stuff I though I'd do as an actor. I am my own persona."
Luke: "How much did you get what you wanted as a 13 year old?"
Laurie: "Emotionally I got all of it. Financially, I got about half of what I wanted."
Luke: "What have you sacrificed to get where you are?"
Laurie: "A normal life. In my head, I've thought that having this sort of career, if I married somebody, they would take me away from it. It's there in my diary at age 14. I thought it was a choice between marriage and the theatre. I've never married. I meet a lot of guys but I can only think of one that I would've married. And he died four years ago. My book [You Have to Kiss a lot of Frogs, which sold about 135,000 copies] sold right after. I feel he led me to these books, and these books will now lead me to love, because I have a different settled feeling inside me having made peace with the loss. Unconsciously, I've sacrificed marriage and family, but if there is a marriage meant for me, it will find me. Having kids was not on the top of my list. If it was, I'm sure I would've."
Luke: "What kind of reactions do you get?"
Laurie: "'Oh, she couldn't find anybody.' Or: 'Oh, she's such a slut.' Or: 'Oh, she's too picky.'
"I added up the number of guys the character Karrie Kline had slept with -- 13 in 17 years. That to me doesn't sound like a promiscuous girl. She's dating."
Luke: "How many men would be too many for Karrie Kline in 17 years?"
Laurie: "Let's say that six a year for 17 years would be a lot of guys. But I wouldn't call her a slut."
Luke: "What meaning do you ascribe to sex?"
Laurie: "I don't want to say mystical or spiritual."
Laurie: "Because that will sound like b---shit, don't you think?"
"I have to have a compelling desire for someone."
Sept. 29, 2008
* How did you choose this topic?
Nov. 16, 2008
I call novelist Laurie Graff Nov. 16.
Her new book is called The Shiksa Syndrome.
She lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Luke: "Do you still do performances?"
Laurie: "I haven't really acted since all this book stuff started. There's only so much time in a day.
"It's six o'clock at night here and it feels like midnight. It's been so gloomy."
Luke: "I love LA with its sunshine. I'd like to live in Israel. I always thought that if I became a successful writer, people would fly me all over the world."
Laurie: "When I did the audition for the Jewish Book Council, I thought they were going to grab me. About 20 people came over to me afterward and said they wanted to have me to their synagogue. And only this Irvine JCC booked me."
Luke: "I wonder if it is the downturn in the economy."
Laurie: "No. This was in July. In fact, two substantial cities came over to me that night and said, 'You did a great job presenting this but there's no way we're going to say the word 'shiksa' in our congregation. It's pejorative.'
"Are you kidding?
"She said, 'We can't use those kinds of Yiddish words.'
"I grew up with those Yiddish words. I'm a New Yorker.
"Well, New Yorkers... (phew).
"I was careful in how I dressed. I mentioned in my speech I was an actress. And as I walked around all night, they said, 'There's the shiksa actress!' I was called that years ago; it started the whole idea.
"One woman actually said to me, 'This is just too controversial a topic.'
"And in 2008."
Dec. 4, 2008:
Graff, who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side, dropped her pet at doggie daycare on Highland before coming tonight.
Laurie: "It's my brother's birthday this Saturday. He has a big party. I was coming out for this party. My book was released last month. How could I come to Los Angeles and not do things? You need to have friends in high places. My really good friend Terry Feinstein's husband Danny Maseng is the cantor here. I lost my good neighbors from upstate New York. They moved out here in July and hooked up with Stefanie [Steingold].
Laurie: "The origins of this book were born when I lived out here in Los Angeles. I moved out with a bunch of friends... My friend Ellen came out and brought me into a writers group that Susan Mercin (sp?), a member of this synagogue, leads.
"I was having dates out here with some of the identical men I had dated in New York. Everybody moved out [here] to break into television, etc. I had played all the counter girls in TV commercials. It seemed like I was from Pennsylvania. It was very nice. People would say, 'She's cute! The shiksa!' It was always a compliment. Nice. Then I came here and it was like I was wearing a neon sign saying, 'New York Jew!'"
"I had a date two weeks ago...and I offered to get some cookies and he said, 'Don't be so Jewish!' Would somebody say, 'Don't be so Italian'?"
"There are all these assumptions that happen and they keep people separate."
"When I was out here and noticed this, I started to say, 'Hmm, maybe this guy has a bissel shiksa syndrome.' I started to write about it. I wrote a four page essay that turned into a short story that turned into the arc of my first novel, You Have To Kiss A Lot Of Frogs."
"When it came time to write another book, my agent said to me, 'What do you want to write?' I said, 'It's such a pity. I used 'Shiksa Syndrome' in 'You Have To Kiss A Lot Of Frogs' as the arc. It would've made a great stand-alone piece.' She said, 'Do it! Keep the same premise. A Jewish girl pretends to be a shiksa to catch a Jewish guy. And make up a whole new story and a whole new character.'"
"I started to think, what kind of girl would do this, aside from an actress? There's a certain amount of fantasy in this book where you just stretch because the girl goes deeper and deeper... She digs herself into this lie that happens quite accidentally."
"I've been working in PR these past half dozen years. I started to think about branding and back to the assumptions. People buy brands... This girl represents a girl I'd want to be."
"In the original Heartbreak Kid with Charles Grodin, nobody said Jewish but if you watch carefully, when he marries Jeannie Berlin in the first scene, he is wearing a yarmulke and they break the glass, and Jeannie Berlin is portrayed as this awful whiny nasal kvetchy [wife]... Maybe that's what they had to do to this Jewish woman so that you would buy that he didn't want to stay married to her. Then he meets Cybil Shepard on the beach [the quintessential shiksa]."
"I pitched this book to Shape magazine last week. I told this editor the title of the book. She laughed. I asked her if she knew what a shiksa is. She said, 'I sure do. A shiksa is a very attractive blonde woman who likes Jewish men.'"
"I was talking to Luke Ford. He has a great blog. He was interviewing me for Good Frog. We were talking about stereotypes... You can identify. So much of what I write has to do with New York. That's why I felt like a fish out of water when I lived here... After the traffic here today, I'm never coming back. I can't handle it."
Laurie talks about her childhood. "We all went to the Young Israel of Sunnyside. It was close. It happened to Orthodox but nobody paid any attention to that.
"We had a very small kitchen. I'm at Young Israel one day and the rabbi said one day, 'Who has two sets of dishes?' Everybody raised their hand... I raised my hand to say that we only had one set. He said, 'You? Star pupil? You only have one set?'
"There was so many cracks like that, I had to leave.
"I went to the Sunnyside Jewish Center. It was Conservative but Rabbi Alber was Orthodox. When it came time for me to be bat mitzvahed, I got a lot of mileage out of this in my books Shiksa Syndrome and You Have To Kiss A Lot Of Frogs. He wouldn't let me daven. He wouldn't let me chant the haftorah. He wouldn't let me sing. I was a show-off. It was very disappointing to me. I'm not over it yet."
"I was a really good girl. I didn't rebel about anything until I was 15, 16... The orthodontist said don't chew gum with braces, I stopped chewing gum at 11. I've never chewed another piece. The rabbi said you were supposed to come every Saturday, I did it... It became a part of me. I was surprised to find out it wasn't part of the rest of the family."
"This is my first temple [on The Shiksa Syndrome book tour]. I've done bookstores. It's different."
"There's a big product launch in this book because she's [the protagonist] in consumer PR. I got this real guy Romi, who has a cosmetics company, I wrote all his products in, then I had him create a lipstick called Shiksa Goddess that I wrote in fictionally. That was part of the mail-in I wanted to do to give it a more universal appeal."
"People have shied away... The women, it depends where they are in life. If they're with somebody that they're happy with, they're not [happy with the book]. Some of the interviewers I've had have been very interesting. This Jewish Book World reporter said, 'I started your book at 10 p.m. and finished it at 5:30 a.m. I love it but in the end I found it a little hopeless, a little depressing, that I'm not going to find that kind of Jewish guy.' I don't know that I will. I don't feel so bad about it. Out of all the Jewish men I've dated, which have been tons and tons, most of them have had little connection and it has been very difficult. I couldn't even get them to come to Rosh Hashanah for an hour."
Cantor Danny Maseng: "I hope you don't get over the fact that the rabbi didn't allow you to pray Saturday morning. Maybe Judaism would more relevant to a lot of people if they didn't get over it. How much of a number do you think that did on the men? If the message is that you don't count, why would I want to date you?"
Laurie: "That's very interesting. I told you how brilliant he is. I never thought about that in that way."
"Every week, I wrote this in Frogs, Rabbi Alber came and at the end of Shabbat services there are all these prayers that conclude the services. This rabbi played the guitar, which was a big deal in Sunnyside, Queens. It was very joyful, it was wonderful. They would split up the concluding prayers into eight things. They would always come in and ask people in Hebrew school who's going to lead Anim Zmirot, Adon Olam... I'd always say me, me, but they'd say, oh, very cute... When my brother was bar mitzvahed, he'd chant the whole Mussaf service."
Question: "Do you have controversy here in this temple?"
Laurie: "Was there? I don't know."
Danny: "Yes. Yes."
Stefanie Steingold: "There was a little bit of controversy here from a couple ends. An older generation, the word [shiksa]. When the event was brought to me and Terry and I talked about it, shiksa to me as a 25 year old woman is not pejorative at all. It's funny. It is what it is -- a non-Jewish girl. Some of our older staff members did not look at it the same way and immediately saw it as offensive. Then we had people in the congregation who saw it as offensive, one woman said it was offensive to her as a non-Jewish woman. So, yes."
Laurie: "But she didn't read the book, so she doesn't know."
Stefanie: "Right. That's, honestly, based on the cover."
Laurie: "It's crazy. I thought I was going to write an interfaith thing, which I didn't. I called the JCC in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side. I wanted to sit in on this inter-faith class. I got a message back from this female rabbi.'A. I'd never let anyone sit in. B. I'd never support any book with that title, The Shiksa Syndrome.'
"I thought, 'Who's in her class? Tons of Gentile men becoming Jewish? I don't think so. It's non-Jewish women.' My friend Jamie thinks this is a very feminist book.
"I met this morning with the with agents trying to sell this as a movie and they're having a hard time, finding it's too Jewish. The Big Fat Greek Wedding is not too Greek? Angela's Ashes and Roots, but Jewish? Becomes too Jewish."
Woman in the audience: "A lot of the producers are Jewish."
Laurie: "A lot of the men who would produce this film are exactly the men with this thing."
Danny Maseng: "The amount of Jewish boys I knew in New York who'd say that they'd rather eat nails than date a Jewish girl..."
Laurie: "Most Jewish people I know don't care [what denomination a non-Jew] is. He's not-Jewish. Who cares what he is?"
"In the first scene, Peter [her first boyfriend] says, 'You never ask me how I feel about being Episcopalian.' And I wanted to write, 'That's because I don't care. You're just not-Jewish.'
"I had to look at myself and it was horrible."
Woman: "You're marginalizing someone..."
"You weren't comfortable here in LA..."
Laurie: "And I didn't get a TV series. I wasn't even close. That might've swayed me."
Laurie says she's never been to Israel.
"If you want to be my friend, add me to Facebook. It's all very very important now to get elected, to sell a book. I will confirm you. If you read the book and have something nice to say, please a review to Amazon. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. That's an old Jewish phrase. That's why I'm still single, because I say things like that."
There is a tall slim model named Brandy in the audience.
And there's a girl, in this harbor town
Author Laurie Graff: