People self-publish books all the time. But for Heidi Shertok, writing a romance novel while also living in the orthodox community in St. Louis Park came with no shortage of personal risk. Shertok talks about her novel, “And Along Came Layla,” her family, and balancing being orthodox with being herself in this week’s Who The Folk?! Also don’t miss her next piece for TC Jewfolk tomorrow morning!
You’re a self-published author. How did you get into writing?
I think it’s just in my blood. My mother was a writer and my grandmother was a writer. My mother was more of an editor. She worked for the Chabad paper back in the day in St. Paul. My grandmother lived in Nashville, and she wrote back in the day too. She was more of a poet.
You’re from St. Paul?
Yes. Technically, I was born at HCMC. A lot people think I’m from South America. Or maybe Europe. I’m like ‘I have a Minnesota accent; don’t you hear me?’ I’m from here.
You don’t have any sort of South American sort of accent.
I don’t know what that’s about. I’m like: ‘Hi, how are ya?’ ‘You betcha.’ Do you not hear me?
When did the book publish and what’s it about?
A year-and-a-half ago. It’s a love story about a nanny who falls in love with her employer.
Yeah. There’s a twist in the story. It’s scandalous because I’m in the orthodox community and I’m writing romance, and there’s one naughty scene. But I kept it to the one. I wrote one piece, the “sex-ed” one – I didn’t call it that, the editor did – and this woman in the community said I need to meet with you. And then she yelled at me. She didn’t raise her voice at me, but she said I was making us look bad.
You got a stern talking to.
Yeah! And then I’m like do you want to read my book and she said ‘No!’ So that didn’t go over too well.
Is it risky to do the writing you do being in the orthodox community?
A little bit, but that’s why I use a pseudonym. I’m a woman of many names. Some of them four letters.
Why do you think people might take umbrage?
Because they are kind of anal retentive? There’s a lot of things they don’t approve of. Romance, sometimes a sense of humor; they don’t have that. I think, really, if I hadn’t been born into it, I would be more of a conservative Jew. But this is how I was raised and I’m close to my family. There’s certain things I like about it. But not the anal retentive part. I’m more modern. I’ll go to movies and I’ll go to concerts. But I’ll still do the orthodox Jewish part. I keep a strict-kosher home. Kosher with food; some people would say it’s not kosher spiritually.
I have secular books; I listen to secular music. We had a really bad experience when we first moved here when my son’s best friend wasn’t allowed to come over to play. I’m like ‘WTF?’ It turns out because we had the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” [book] series and he wasn’t allowed to read it. We’ve made peace and I sort of have to play police officer.
Do you stick with it because it’s how you were raised?
I don’t want to disappoint my parents. My husband didn’t grow up religious, but he chose this way. But he didn’t become anal retentive about it. There’s a lot of cool stuff about it.
How many kids do you have?
Three and one dog. He’s like a child who will never be potty-trained. He’s a little dog. He’s a Maltese and I researched what number he is on the intelligence scale and he’s like 75. But He’s small and white and Jewish, so we have that in common.
What is your favorite Jewish holiday?
Probably something where I don’t have to starve. Let me think.
You know it’s just the one; the whole catalog is open to you but the one.
Pesach. I’ve just always liked it since I was a kid. Everybody’s out of town relatives come in. But really there’s not a whole lot to like about it once you become an adult, the truth is, because of all the cleaning. I like having to be forced to clean the house because otherwise I don’t want to do it. It’s a good feeling afterwards when your house and your car are clean. So there’s that.
Favorite Jewish food?
Challah, because I’m a carb girl. I make my own; it’s the one thing I don’t mess up.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!