April 9, 2021

Joan Lipinsky Cochran

Joan Lipinsky Cochran

Linda Hengerer is talking with Joan Lipinsky Cochran, whose Becks Ruchinsky Mysteries explore subcultures of American Judaism.


Linda Hengerer is talking with Joan Lipinsky Cochran, whose Becks Ruchinsky Mysteries explore subcultures of American Judaism.

Joan Lipinsky Cochran is a former journalist who has written for such publications as Family Circle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, Florida Design and South Florida Magazine. Her food articles have also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Moment Magazine, and The Forward, among other publications. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she received her MFA from Florida International University in 2008.

Since receiving her MFA, Joan has focused on writing crime-related novels that explore subcultures of American Judaism. 

In The Hasidic Rebbe’s Son, the second in The Becks Ruchinsky Mystery series, the murder of an ultra-religious student seeking refuge in her home forces the investigative reporter to explore the seedy underside of South Beach’s glitzy night club scene and the insular world of Hasidic Judaism to find his killer. Along the way, Becks’ most basic beliefs — and her son’s life —are threatened.

Website: JoanLipinskyCochran.com

Available Now: The Hasidic Rebbe's Son

Sign up for Joan's newsletter/mailing list and get a FREE COOKBOOK of Jewish recipes

Get to know Joan: The Tart Words Baker's Dozen

1.   Plotter or Pantser? Combo? pantser

2.   Tea or Coffee? coffee

3.   Beer, Wine, or Cocktails? cocktail

4.   Snacks: Sweet or Savory? Sweet 

5.   Indie Published, Traditionally Published, or Hybrid? indie

6.   Strict Writing Schedule: Yes or No yes

7.    Strictly Computer or Mix It Up? Mix it up

8.    Daily Goal: Yes or No no

9.    Formal Track Progress: Yes or no No

10.  Special Writing Spot? yes

11.   Writer’s Block? No 

12.   File of Ideas: Yes or No yes 

13.   Favorite Author(s)? Jame Harper, Louise Penney (at least this week) 

Transcript

Transcribed by Otter.ai; Lightly edited by Linda. Please forgive typos and poor grammar.

Episode 113 - Joan Lipinsky Cochran

16:25

Linda 00:00

Welcome to Tart Words. I'm your host, Linda Hengerer. And I'm a writer, a reader and a baker. I talk to writers about their latest book and what inspires them, chat with fellow author Suzanne Fox about what writers can learn from reading their favorite authors, and share fast and easy recipes for anyone looking for a sweet treat. Join me as I share Tart Bites, Tart Thoughts, and Tart Words. 

Today on the Tart Words podcast I'm talking to Joan Lipinsky Cochran, the former journalist who has written for such publications as Family Circle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, Florida Design and South Florida Magazine. Her food articles have also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Moment Magazine, and The Forward, among other publications. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she received her masters in fine arts from Florida International University in 2008.

Since receiving her MFA, Joan has focused on writing crime-related novels that explore subcultures of American Judaism. 

In The Hasidic Rebbe’s Son, the second in The Becks Ruchinsky Mystery series, the murder of an ultra-religious student seeking refuge in her home forces the investigative reporter to explore the seedy underside of South Beach’s glitzy night club scene and the insular world of Hasidic Judaism to find his killer. Along the way, Becks ’ most basic beliefs — and her son’s life —are threatened.

When she's not working on a novel Joan is testing recipes and writing food columns, playing classical and Irish violin, sailing, bicycling, traveling and reading. A Miami native, she lives in Boca Raton, Florida with her husband and cats. I first met Joan when we were both members of Mystery Writers of America-Florida chapter and I've seen her many times at chapter meetings and at SleuthFest, the Florida chapter of MWA’s annual writers conference. 

 

Welcome to the podcast, Joan and I'm looking forward to hearing more about your books.

 

Joan 02:01

Well, thank you so much for having me.

 

Linda 02:02

Tell me about your latest book.

 

Joan 02:04

Well, my latest book is called The Hasidic Rebbe’s Son. Basically my protagonist Becks Ruchinsky is a former investigative reporter who's now freelancing as a food writer. She has two college age sons, one of whom has Asperger's syndrome. So when this boy brings a Hasidic college friend home to Boca Raton and asked Becks hide him she's skeptical but agrees. The boy, Menachem, claims he left his religious community in New York years ago, and now someone from that community has shown up on campus and intends to kidnap him. Well, Becks again agrees to take the boy in but doesn't take his threats very seriously. Then three days later, he leaves the house to pick up dinner at a supermarket and doesn't return and then two days later, his body is found floating in a canal near Becks home. Police insist the boy's drowning was an accident. But Becks isn't buying it, she's beside herself, of course with grief and regret and guilt but keeps hitting a stone wall with you know, law enforcement. So she begins her own investigation ultimately and that again takes her from the glitzy South Beach nightclub scene to secretive Hasidic enclaves in New York State. And you know, being a mystery at all, what she uncovers is a much bigger scandal than she ever imagined.

 

Linda 03:18

Does her background as an investigative reporter play into her investigation? 

 

Joan 03:24

Absolutely. She knows how to search databases. She has connections in the police department. And she has in particular one friend that she worked with who had been a researcher at her old newspaper, who she's teamed up with, as she's a private investigator named Maya, the two of them worked very closely together to identify who they think the killer is.

 

Linda 03:45

And she's a food writer now. So does food play into this? Or do you have recipes? 

 

Joan 03:51

One of the things she's doing to try to become more independent from her husband, who she's been having problems with this. She's trying to write cookbooks. And of course, she writes for newspapers as well. So she discusses food a lot in the book. And then I separately created - I initially had the recipes in the book, but took them out and made them available to readers. Certainly a very important part of who she is.

 

Linda 04:11

How did you get the idea for her?

 

Joan 04:14

For the character in the first place? 

Linda

Yes.

Joan

It's interesting. I just started writing. And in a way she came, it came to me, I was writing in the first person and really one of the most useful tips a professor gave me while working on my master's was to find a picture of a person or identify someone who looked like I imagined my character looked and then assign her distinctive qualities. So Becks Ruchinsky was initially based on a very determined dogged woman, actually a lawyer I greatly admired, who went after what she wanted, and usually got it and then I went on to add characteristics of other people I knew or who I met or saw on television and movies, you know, both physically and mental characteristics and emotional care personality. Oh, yeah. The personality associated an amalgam of a few people all sort of dark, tall, shaggy-haired unselfconscious women who don't waste much attention on on their appearance. And of course, she's smart and decisive and forthright, while still managing to be kind and nurturing. I like her very much.

 

05:15

She's very tall to something I'm not I often wish I was, or at least taller,

 

05:20

to my desire to be unselfconscious and to be taller or play out in Becks.

 

Linda 05:25

To care less what people think about you. Exactly. And she's got a family…

 

Joan 05:30

She's got a family, she has two sons. One has Asperger's. And he's the reason she's no longer working for newspapers, it was too much trying to manage his life while trying to work full time. So food writing is just a way for her to keep her hand and until she can go back to work. She said she expected to take six months off. But that of course, turned into many years.

 

Linda 05:51

How old are her children?

 

Joan 05:52

Gabe just started college. So he's a teen. And then he's at the university in Miami, I should name one, then Josh is up in Georgia going to university and he's he's a senior. So he's 21/22. And they're very different people.

 

Linda 06:07

And you mentioned that she's having problems with her husband.

 

Joan 06:10

She's been resentful of him for quite a while because, you know, when they work things out, she ended up being the one who had to take time off from her career. And she tried to be understanding about that. But he really didn't take on the responsibility she expected him to. When he has an affair with his nurse, she's totally outraged. She basically throws him out of the house, that happens in the previous book called The Yiddish Gangster’s Daughter. In this book, she has taken him back, but she's finding him a bit overbearing, he's a little too involved in her life. She wants to be independent, but he's very frightened that she'll be hurt that something will happen to her or that something will happen to their children because of her investigations. And he's not far off base.

 

Linda 06:54

Is she capable of taking care of herself?

 

Joan 06:57

She's quite capable taking care of herself. Like I said, she's smart, and she has the connections. Occasionally, she'll do something pretty stupid. But usually she bounces back from it. She comes back from it. She's she knows how to take care of herself. There's no question about that. She's tough,

 

Linda 07:13

I like tough female characters.

 

Joan 07:15

Oh, I do too. I do too. Like I said, she's dogged, she's determined, but she's also smart enough to take care of herself.

 

Linda 07:22

How did you get the idea for this story?

 

Joan 07:24

Oh, that's that's an interesting story. In and of itself, it actually happened at a dinner party. I was actually at a friend's house and a young man started telling me about how he had left he had grown up in a very Hasidic, very religious community in London, you know, caused a big stir when he left the community, his father had been a important Rabbi there. What he left, you know, was a big stink, but he could just speak English, because all they spoke was Yiddish, he'd never seen television. And as with most Hasidic Jews, and you know, London, and in New York, and in many places, he had had no secular education, he'd only studied Torah. So he had gone through some pretty remarkable hoops to become educated. And to I mean, he ended up he was going to MIT when I met him. So he was obviously a smart boy, smart, young man. And since then, I mean, of course, that was the starting point, of course, then I started reading a great deal about the subject of Hasidic Judaism. And it's, it's a very interesting subject, it has some very good points and some very bad points. Leaving there is a particularly painful, agonizing choice for people from that community, because they're basically excommunicated, and can't come back. And if they're married, they can't see their children. So I thought a mystery would be a good way to sort of paint a picture right of the Hasidic community, because, you know, it gives Becks, you know, Becks has a really good reason to for going into the community and asking questions and discovering things she might not otherwise discover, right, as an outsider. And she ultimately finds out that she didn't expect to be an outsider. And I think, you know, one of the biggest changes she goes through is that she realizes that these doctors are not, you know, he said, they're not her people, right, which comes as a big surprise. And it sort of challenges her basic belief system.

 

Linda 09:11

Does she have a problem getting people in that community to talk to her? Well,

 

Joan 09:16

She does it first. But ultimately, she meets, it's kind of funny, just sort of this character just showed up on the page, so to speak, that she's in Crown Heights in New York on the way to talk to the boy's family when she looks into a store, a little store that you call the Judaica store has all sorts of Jewish objects. And this little old lady named Faigy starts talking to her and they start chatting and Faigy's a bit of a gossip, but she's a very nice person. She actually escorts Becks to Menachem’s family’s house, they're more accepting of her because Faigy’s accepted her and then they have to go to a very, very isolated little village about an hour and a half from New York City. They have these very isolated villages up there. It's a very close world and they don't talk to strangers but because she's with Faigy and Faigy’s very dear friend lives in the village, people open up to her a little more than they might otherwise.

 

Linda 10:08

So basically Faye has vouched for her and given her legitimacy in the community. 

 

Joan

That's right. 

 

Linda

Do you have a writing routine or schedule?

 

Joan 10:17

Well, I try to, but it's been pretty messed up with the COVID. You know what we've been going through lately, I've always gone for 10 or 15 years, I mean, even before I started writing, when I was in graduate school, I would go to the library, we have a beautiful library, and I can sit at the table by myself and look out over a lake and go into a zone. So I would do that, you know, I would exercise in the morning, have breakfast and go over there, bring my lunch and just stay until I couldn't write anymore, say till two or three o'clock. And now I find that I'm able to write if I go into my son's room where I placed my childhood, rolltop desk. And that seems to be one place I can write. So I try to write when possible early in the morning in my pajamas, you know, while I'm in still in a sort of a half dream state, right? You know what I'm talking about.

 

Linda 11:02

Before your editor wakes up and tells you how crappy your writing is. 

 

Joan 11:08

Exactly so while I'm still in that state, I can do some pretty good writing. And if I'm not interrupted, I can go on for maybe two or 3000 words.

 

Linda 11:17

That's a really good day's work.

 

Joan 11:19

It is I mean, it's not like that every day now. But that's that's a good day. Yeah, it's a very good day.

 

Linda 11:24

Yeah, in the main library in Vero Beach, where I live, I would like to go to the second floor. And there are two different tables that I like to write at, both are next to windows, have trees right outside, and it's almost like I'm in the trees, and it's just very relaxing. Any of the noise doesn't have anything to do with me. So I'm able to get into that flow state.

 

Joan 11:47

That's exactly are you are you able to go back yet.

 

Linda 11:50

I've been writing from home, which is fine. But it's just different. 

 

Joan 11:55

It's very different. I think, I don't know, I mean, I can't put my finger on it. What was really wonderful was my library and Spanish River library, had a cafe downstairs, so I could go there and pick up coffee. I didn't even have to stop at Dunkin’ Donuts right on the way over. That would carry me through to lunch, right. I really miss it a lot. Yeah, you know, you get to know people there too.

 

Linda 12:14

Yeah, the thing with working from home is there's things that I feel like I could be doing, like I could be doing laundry. So in theory, that's great. But when I'm writing, and then if I hear the washing machine stopped or the dryer stopped, and it breaks my concentration, when you're deep in the story, and you're writing when you get an interruption like that, it's hard to get back into that mindset again.

 

Joan 12:38

Isn't it? I hate that during this whole thing. But since I've been working on the marketing of this book, I've gotten no writing done, because I'm so focused on this marketing that I can't even think about writing and I really miss it makes me sad.

 

Linda 12:51

I had interviewed Sue Grafton and she said that when she's on book tour, she can't write - like they're different skills. So she can't be geared towards talking to people and signing books and meeting people and then go to her hotel room and write.

 

Joan 13:06

I don't get that at all. Yeah, that can people can do that. I've met people who can do that when we've been at conferences, right, like go to their room and write and I'm like, I don't know how I just I admired them so much.

 

Linda 13:16

I think it would be easier to get up early and right first thing before, right.

 

Joan 13:20

Exactly, exactly. Yeah. What I'd like to do is what Isabel Allende does, she has everything done. You know, I think it was easier when you know her in a previous marriage. But she would have everything done in a worksheet to Jen on the house. Anything that would take her away from writing she would do and then for three months, nobody could bother her. She would just write and I think that that would work really well for me.

 

Linda 13:41

Yeah, same for me, but probably not so much for my husband. 

Joan

Yeah, exactly.

 

Linda 13:49

When you finish the marketing for this book, do you have an idea for your next book?

 

Joan 13:54

Yeah, I'm about five chapters into another book, my books explore subcultures of American Judaism. The first one dealt with gangsters, Jewish gangsters from the 40s and 50s, in Miami, in New York. And then the second one, you know, Hasidic is a very, the Hasidic, are very different subculture. Now, I grew up in Miami among Cuban Jews. I was growing up in Miami at the time of Castro's revolution. So we had many, many Jewish people coming over, but they never really mixed with American Jews, which is curious. You know, I've learned a lot about that. So I've been talking to a lot of people in that community reading a lot. And I'm sort of combining it with another book I had started but decided not to finish. One of my cousin's was a very successful artist. You probably heard of Amy Winehouse. Yeah, you know, the whole thing about her being famous was just also all very sort of foreign and weird to the family. But when she died, and all these really famous people came to her funeral is sort of when when everybody realized that Amy was famous, and there were a lot of kind of strange and interesting things that happened at that point that I wanted to write about it, but it wasn't working out for me. So I decided to sort of combine that book with this book. So I'm dealing with a well known Cuban Jewish musician, who I guess is a murder mystery so I can give it away. She's killed. Becks is her cousin. Okay, a long lost cousin. So it provided an opportunity for me to explore that community and also explored the world of music. I was having a whole lot of fun with it. But then when this book came out, I just had to drop that. So it's gonna take a while to get back into that mental space

 

Linda 15:29

Becks sounds like an interesting woman I'd like to spend time with and I look forward to reading your books. I'll have a link to your website in the show notes, so anyone can find out more information about your books. Thank you for coming on the podcast, Joan, this has been a pleasure.

 

Joan 15:44

It's been a pleasure speaking with you as well. And thank you for having me. 

 

Linda 15:48

Oh, you're quite welcome. 

 

Thank you for joining me this week. To view the complete show notes and the links mentioned in today's episode, visit tartwords.com/tart113. Follow now in the app you're using to listen to this podcast, or sign up for email alerts through an easy signup form for bakers, readers and writers at tartwords.com/about. Thank you again for joining me, Linda Hengerer, for this episode of Tart Words.

 

Joan Lipinsky Cochran

Guest

Joan Lipinsky Cochran is a former journalist who has written for such publications as Family Circle, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, Florida Design and South Florida Magazine. Her food articles have also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Moment Magazine, and The Forward, among other publications. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she received her masters in fine arts from Florida International University in 2008.

Since receiving her MFA, Joan has focused on writing crime-related novels that explore subcultures of American Judaism.

In The Hasidic Rebbe’s Son, the second in The Becks Ruchinsky Mystery series, the murder of an ultra-religious student seeking refuge in her home forces the investigative reporter to explore the seedy underside of South Beach’s glitzy night club scene and the insular world of Hasidic Judaism to find his killer. Along the way, Becks’ most basic beliefs — and her son’s life —are threatened.