Q: The perennial most-asked-question: Where did the idea for Never Mind the Goldbergs come from?
A: I was invited to be on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, which, if you don't know, is where slam poets are filmed live in front of a few thousand people. I'd been doing poetry for a year and a half before that -- mostly at bars and tiny, tiny rock clubs, where, if you were lucky, ten people were there and five were listening to you. And suddenly, I was in front of a camera, doing my little rhymes about my life -- and then, five minutes later, I went offstage and the next poet came on. It was like, that's it, you made a caricature of yourself and packaged it for HBO.
And then I got to thinking, what would it be like to play yourself on TV? In a way, that's what being an Orthodox Jew is like – everyone looks at you like you’re an alien. It's also what being punk is like, or being a teenager. You wear different clothes. You have different priorities. You say what you mean, instead of trying to behave like
Q: How do Hava's feelings about religion relate to your own? How are your upbringings similar/different?
A: Hava and I are alike in a lot of ways. We're both really into Judaism, and Orthodoxy, but neither of us really likes most Orthodox people. We both love G-d, but we're both kind of sick of people telling us that loving G-d means you have to wear a white shirt and a black hat and never listen to secular music.
I grew up with a pretty strong Jewish identity, but not an Orthodox one. When I was fourteen, I started listening to Jane's Addiction and the Dead Kennedys and became an anarchist. I totally dropped the religion thing. I always knew I'd come back to it one day -- which, eventually, I did -- but I came back on my own terms.
Q: One of the best things about the book is how it plays with notions of gender and sexuality (as well as notions of religion and faith). What was it like to slip into a girl's voice and thoughts? Did you have Hava Consultants to make sure you got the details right, or was it all observational?
A: When I was seventeen, all my close friends were girls. I didn't care about whatever it was that other guys cared about. I don't even think I knew what other guys cared about. And, when I started getting the idea for the story in my mind -- a seventeen-year-old who's Orthodox, but outside-the-box Orthodox, and gets shipped off to LA to star in a sitcom of her own life -- I could hear her in my mind. I didn't sit down and say, I'm going to write about a girl. I just knew who Hava had to be, and that's the way I wrote her.
Q: The book also thrives on the NY/LA contrast. I know you've spent a lot of time in both ... which one do you think is closest to your heart?
A: Oh, man, I love them both. I hate them both, too -- city love is hard love. I spent a year hitching rides down to L.A. once a month, crashing on friends' couches, walking around and getting totally lost. Both geographically and socially. Everyone you meet either is famous, or they think they are. But it really is the land of dreams -- it's the only place I've ever been where everyone's life is devoted to making art. All the crappy movies come from here, but there are so many amazing artists and writers and musicians, too. And they all really believe they can change the world. And sometimes, someone hears them, and it actually happens.
But New York is crazy, too. It never shuts off. I've been coming here since high school, for concerts or friends or just to hang out. One winter, I came for three months, knocking on agents' doors to show them Never Mind the Goldbergs. And you know what? It worked. So New York is kind of a city where dreams come true, too.
Q: Readers can get a really insiderish view of a TV show in the book. How do you know about such things?
A: Partly, I was really lucky -- a friend of a friend wrote for one awful, awful sitcom, which was fortunate, because she had lots of experience that I could exploit. I'd email her and ask, like, "Hava's on the sitcom set and she wants to do this, can she?" and she'd tell me exactly why that would never happen, and what I could do instead. Of course, a lot of it was just me making things up.
Also, I had the good fortune to meet David Sacks, who's a TV writer and producer (he wrote for Malcolm in the Middle, he used to write for The Simpsons) who's not only Orthodox, but also teaches at a synagogue in L.A. and gives some amazing classes (which, by the way, are online). He talks about things you'd never think of as holy -- sitcoms, geometry, the Fantastic Four -- and uses them to talk about G-d. He kind of utterly rocks.
Q: Hava's family has a very mixed reaction to her celebrity – some anguish, some pride, some resentment, some more pride. How has your family reacted to your life as an author?
A: With a lot more goodwill and enthusiasm than is logically possible. I get up on stage, do poems where I'm talking about getting beat up and going to dance clubs and having a crush on my girlfriend, throwing curses left and right, and they hang around and blush through it all and don't stop loving me. My mom is great.
Q: Besides being an author, you're also a frequent performer. What's that like? And what's it like when the two worlds meet, when you read from your books?
A: It's a little bit frantic. But it always is. When Never Mind the Goldbergs came out, I wasn't used to having an actual book to read from -- I just got on stage and yelled for three minutes, and called it a poem. So at first I was very nervous. I ended up writing a slam poem that's kind of like a music video for Goldbergs, the essence of Hava Aaronson in two minutes. Of course, you don't get the plot or the other characters…or all the sexy descriptions. So you can buy the book, too, and you won't feel cheated.
Q: Never Mind the Goldbergs is clearly a book with a soundtrack. What music would you suggest readers listen to in order to get in a NMTG mood?
A: Something jumpy, shimmery, and a little bit of funky. Songs that you can jump on a bed to. Ani Difranco. They Might Be Giants. Q and Not U. Weezer. Weston. Prince. And, if you don't mind a dose of egotism – my favorite soundtrack to L.A. is my band, Chibi Vision (www.myspace.com/chibivision), which is basically a science-fiction hip-hop band.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I just had a kind-of autobiography published by Cleis Press, Yom Kippur a Go-Go. It's a memoir but it isn't really true. My next novel is called Candy in Action, and it's kind of a departure -- it's about supermodels who know kung-fu.
And I'm working on a story that's kind of a Hasidic Lord of the Rings…but, well, that would be telling.