YZM: We never learn the religion of Nina, the main character, but we do find out that her best friend Leslie is Jewish; care to comment?
JS: When people in my family have died, the religion they were practicing at that point in time affected the way that they were mourned and buried. By the time my father died, he had converted to Judaism, so his funeral was in a synagogue and we sat shiva for him. I read a lot about Jewish death rituals at that time, and his death, for me, was connected to Judaism, so I wanted to be able to work that into Nina’s story. But I felt that making Nina Jewish would make her story too difficult for me to write, because it would be too close to my own. Making Leslie Jewish seemed to be the way to work in Judaism without feeling too connected to the main character’s story.
YZM: Nina sees herself chiefly as a daughter at the outset of the novel; how does she see herself by the end?
JS: I think Nina will always see herself as her father’s daughter, but not as her primary identity. At the end, she sees herself as her own person who, while shaped by her father, is not defined by him.
YZM: Is it Nina’s task to learn to love her father despite his failings? Or because of them?
JS: I think love is complicated–and often involves choosing to (or not to) love for various reasons. Nina learns, in the novel, that part of continuing to love her father means understanding him and forgiving his mistakes, even if she doesn’t approve of or agree with what he’s done.
YZM: Where do you see yourself heading next as a writer?
JS: I love writing about love–of all kinds–and am working on a new novel now about a few different kinds of love I haven’t written about before. The novel is called Everything After and is about marital love, maternal love, and love of music, too. And it’s about how decisions we make in our 20s can come back to haunt our lives later on. And the main character in that book actually does happen to be Jewish.