One of the greatest things about blogging, besides the whole fame and fortune thing, is the people I’ve met. Except for you, weirdo.
Like Alina Adams, who is a Soviet immigrant (like me), lives in NYC (like me) and is a New York Times bestselling author (unlike me.) Even though I only met Alina in person this summer, I’ve been a fan of hers for years, and this article, Reading Your Mother’s Sex Scenes, is a good example of why.
This September, Alina’s story “To Look for You” will appear in The Mammoth Book of ER Romance and features a Russian-Jewish heroine. How could I resist finding out more from Alina?
Please to enjoy our Q&A, and don’t forget to order multiple copies of The Mammoth Book of ER Romance. I expect it will a lot like General Hospital, only without that douche Sonny.
Marinka: Is it hard to write a Russian heroine who is not Anna Karenina?
Alina: Very. Especially when you set your story in New York City, a place full of subways that are just begging to be jumped in front of while dramatic music (or that guy with the drums made out of milk crates) plays in the background. Very often in the course of writing, “To Look for You,” I had to stop the heroine from discussing wheat and/or the plight of the serfs and get back to making out with the hero.
Marinka: What five words would you use to describe a Russian-American-Jewish heroine? For maximum effect, please put those five words into three blog-post-length paragraphs.
Unusual: Shockingly enough, the romance novel world is not filled with women born in the USSR and raised in America (I don’t understand why; they’re the majority of the people I know). Ironically, the very first book I published was called “The Fictitious Marquis,” and dealt with a Jewish heroine in… Regency England. I think it was so unusual that the editor didn’t know what to say and went ahead and bought it while in a sort of fugue state (I’m sure the fact that she then promptly left AVON Books was utterly unrelated).
Ambivalent: I’ve written Jewish characters since then. But, you know, without making them too Jewish. Or actually mentioning it, at all. In my contemporary romance, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” both the characters are doctors (how’s that for a big clue?) and there’s one joke about Yom Kippur. And in my Figure Skating Mystery series, the lead’s name is Bex Levy. And she kvetches a lot. But, in both cases, I was talking about American Jews. Russian Jews in America, on the other hand, I think are a different breed of animal. Unlike Jews who were born knowing they were Jewish and having the option to make that mean as much or as little as they felt like, my sense with Russian Jews is that they never feel fully comfortable embracing the label, since they don’t know precisely what it means, what it’s supposed to mean or what they’d like it to mean. Russian Jews in America will never completely fit in with Russian non-Jews, or with Jewish non-Russians. It’s that sense of ambiguity that informs many of the choices my character makes in “To Look For You.” In other words, she doesn’t know what she wants. She only knows that she doesn’t want to be like her parents. And she can’t be like everybody else.
Overachieving: Alyssa joins the Army as a medic in order to play for college, then becomes a very successful emergency room doctor. Oy, what nachas!
Underachieving: And yet, at the age of thirty-three when our story opens, she is unmarried and childless. Oy, what a shanda! (She is, however, living in sin with another doctor. A goy, no less. But, at her age… who can afford to be choosy?)
Sexy: As all Russian Jewish American women are, naturally.
Marinka: You and I left the Soviet Union within one year of each other, and now we both live in NYC. What are the chances (to the nearest decimal point) and is it possible we are the same person?
Alina: For this, I turned to my husband, the nuclear engineer turned math and science teacher (not Jewish, but I was an old maid of twenty-eight when we met; see shanda above) for the exact calculations. There are eight million people in the naked city. 1.6 million of them live in Manhattan (fully clothed). 800,000 of them are women. 799,999 of them are not me. 799,999 of them are also, coincidentally not you. Ergo, my husband says the answer that they are both not me and you is e^(ipi). (Or, as we non-tech majors would say it: -1.)
Marinka: You and I are both married to American men. Did you date Russian men while growing up in America? Did you shun them?
Alina: The same way that having a Russian American Jewish heroine is unusual in romance literature, having a Russian American Jewish me is unusual… everywhere. I didn’t so much shun Russian men as stun them. My ambition to work in TV (soap operas, to be precise) was beyond their comprehension. The fact that I actually then went ahead and did it, moving away from the city where my parents still live and then not calling them several times a day to reassure that I had not been kidnapped merely added to my air of peculiarity (while working in TV figure skating, I not only left the city, I left the country, flying alone to places like Japan, France, Italy and Russia, for Pete’s sake! Also without calling to check in every day). Add to that the fact that my tendency to say anything that pops into my head at a given moment meant that I would never be able to get through even an introductory meeting with a prospective Russian Jewish mother-in-law without putting my foot in my mouth, and American men quickly became my only option.
Marinka: Is Alyssa you? If not, is it possible that she is me?
Alina: Alyssa is not me for a variety of reasons.
1) Only the first two letters and the last one in our first names is the same.
2) Her last name is Gordon, whereas mine used to be Sivorinovsky. As a result, she did not spend multiple epochs of her life bubbling in the letters of a Scantron sheet only to discover she couldn’t fit them all and thus go through her entire academic career being called Al by teachers. Not that either of us is bitter about it.
3) Alyssa joined the army to pay for college and ended up as a medic working multiple days straight on the battlefield of Kosovo. I like indoor plumbing. A lot.
4) Alyssa is a doctor. I am writer. She has the healthier 401K.
5) Alyssa lives with a perfectly respectable older doctor while being perused by a hot younger man whose life she once saved and who has been determined to have her, ever since. I have a teacher husband and three kids. And a goldfish whom we keep alive by changing his water kind of regularly.
As to whether or not Alyssa is you… I yield to your expertise (and am dying to hear the answers).
Marinka : Of course she’s not me! She’s a doctor and I faint at the sight of blood. Sheesh, who comes up with these questions, anyway?