Category Archives: Writing

Speculative Poetry

So Chicago Literati published five of my poems today, and it felt like a celebration. Not that my poems haven’t been published elsewhere, they have been – often, and in a variety of different literary magazines and websites. But this group of poems to me really feels like that start of a collection. For a long time I have admired speculative poets. I’ve also admired genre poets who write Fantasy and SciFi poetry, some great examples of poets that have inspired me are Matt Bialer (whose most collection – Tell Them What I Saw was published recently by PS Publishing,) Tracy Brimhall (whose collection Our Lady of the Ruins,) was a true inspiration, and also poets like Roz Kaveney (who I heard speak about genre poetry at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton last year and she truly inspired me as well.) All three poets are really different in style, but I admired them for different reasons.

ruins brimhall cover  bialer cover  Kaveny_2012a-212x300

It was hard for me to break out of realism. It’s hard for me in general because even though I studied Poetry in university, I started out as a Nonfiction Writer – I loved Literary Nonfiction – so much so that I combined it with a history degree. But I’m a big lover and reader of fantasy. It’s been a process this year. In my poetry at least, I’ve been trying to break free, trying to be a little less afraid not to tell the truth. I’ve been working on it in my fiction too – with a collection of short stories that are based in magical realism and that have speculative elements, but this is really the first set of poems that I am truly proud of.

I feel, for the first time since I started writing poetry again (after a long hiatus of about ten years,) that I’ve really found my voice and that these poems are the beginning of a collection. They are five poems that tell a story, they all speak to each other, they are all sort of set in the same “village” in my mind, they describe the desert and the surrounding area in which I live, but they take elements of that natural world and play with them, all in all I’m just super excited about them.

You can read them here:  http://chicagoliterati.com/2014/06/18/five-poems-by-rena-rossner/

 

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Blog Hop: What Do I Write and Why?

Helen Maryles Shankman, author of one of my favorite books I read this year: The Color of Light, a sweeping and romantic Jewish vampire novel about the Wissotzky Tea family and some incredible art and the Holocaust, graciously tagged me to come along on this blog hop. Be sure to visit her blog at helenmarylesshankman.com!

the-color-of-light-trade-paperback

What am I working on:
Well, my novel MASTER OF THE MIRACLES is out on submission with my agent (the fabulous Josh Getzler) and in the meantime, I’ve been writing a series of linked short stories about the mystical city of Safed – they all have elements of magical realism and Jewish fantasy in them, and hopefully it will all come together in a collection at some point. (Here are some examples: Kissing the Messiah, The 614th Prophet, The Ari) my more recent ones include a story (forthcoming in an anthology) about the 12 dancing princesses retold as a zombie story, (oh, and the princesses are yeshiva students.) I recently wrote one about a little girl named Malka who raises a dybbuk army.

I’m also working on a Middle Grade Science Fiction story that is sort of like: The Truman Show meets The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds mixed with a little bit of Walk Two Moons.

Then there’s the BIG SECRET YA FANTASY SERIES PROJECT (in which I’m struggling with voice in a big way so I’ve put it aside for now) but it involves the retelling of some of my favorite stories, and that is all I’m going to say about that.

And a crazy post-apocalyptic vampires vs werewolves novel set in the Holy Land which I’m calling Jim Butcher meets The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, but it remains to be seen if I can pull it off.

I also really want to write a magical realism series of Urban Fantasy Cozy Mysteries set in Jerusalem’s shuk with a coffee-ground reader who runs a café, but that’s only in planning stages for now.

Here and there I write poems too.

I like to keep busy.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
This is why Helen Maryles Shankman and I are friends because she said: “I wish I belonged to a genre! I seem to hopscotch around Horror, Jewish Fiction, Magical Realism, Paranormal Romance, and Literary Fiction.” I guess the only one of those that doesn’t apply to me is Horror. Yes: Fantasy, Jewish Fiction, Literary Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Paranomal Romance, Biblical Fiction, Upmarket Women’s Fiction, Magical Realism and SciFi, and also Young Adult and Middle Grade Fiction.

My work is different than others because I feel I bring a really authentic voice to my work that’s not just Jewish, but part-Israeli, steeped in a deep familiarity with biblical sources and a knowledge of Jewish tradition across the spectrum of Jewish observance. I’m also a poet (and I think the best novelists were poets first,) and you can see that in my work. I love language, especially lyrical language, and that’s reflected in the way I write.

Why do I write what I write?

Well, MASTER OF THE MIRACLES is a novel that I’d been taking notes about for the past 15 years. It’s the story of Bruriah, but set in both the present day and the Mishnaic Era, but it also explores the idea of Jewish stigmata – it’s part historical fiction, part literary fiction, and part fantasy, and its a super-feminist novel – and that’s almost all you need to know about me.

I don’t think I can run from how Jewish I am so I don’t try to. Almost all my fiction is Jewish fiction. I’ve also written a biblical cookbook called EATING THE BIBLE, which speaks to my love of food and my love of the rich heritage of Jewish texts (and food!) that I grew up on. I think that all my work involves women who break stereotypes – religious, Jewish, societal and otherwise – which also probably says a lot about me.

How does my writing process work?
When I’m seriously working on a project I have to do it the Nanowrimo Way: 1000 words a day. More than that is a miracle. I force myself not to write less than 500 words a day at the bare minimum – but that only happens in spurts of 2-3 months at a time and then I need a break. I’m also a mom to 5 kids so…yeah. It’s not really possible in the long-term. I always write at night. Late at night. I’m a night owl. I need my house to be asleep and quiet and then I slink into my bedroom and crawl under the covers, prop my laptop on my lap, and enter my writing “cave.”  Sometimes I lock myself in. With coffee.

On to the tagging!

I want to tag two of my clients (since I am both an agent and an author) – I am so proud of them and so in love with what they write. I’ll add their blog posts when they get around to them:

LEAH SCHEIER, is the author of THE SECRET LETTERS (Disney-Hyperion, 2012) and now, YOUR VOICE IS ALL I HEAR is forthcoming from Sourcebooks Fire in Spring 2015. Her website is: http://www.leahscheier.com

RACHEL MARKS is the author of DARKNESS BRUTAL, the first book in a YA Urban Fantasy Series. Watch this space for news!! She’s also an incredibly artist. Her website is: http://www.rachelannemarks.com

And one more who is not a client but is a dear friend: Kristin Gleeson. Not only has she published two books in the past year, but they are in two different genres! Literary Fiction: Selkie Dreams, and Non-Fiction Biography: Anahareo: Wilderness Spirit. Read more about her and her works in progress here:  http://www.kristingleeson.com/blog

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On Historical Fiction, Epic Fantasy, and Knowing Your Stuff

I’ve been thinking a lot about my writing this month. Partly because it’s Nanowrimo season, partly because I’m always thinking about my writing. But maybe this month I’m thinking a little more.

For most of my life I have been captivated by stories of the fantastic. Though my taste skewed more to the fantasy side of things, SciFi crept in there too – as it has been known to do (and vice verse with SciFi readers and fantasy,) but for some reason when I studied  writing in University I took only classes in Non-Fiction and Poetry. I even declared a triple major: Non-Fiction Writing, Poetry, and History. And I thought that was my triumvirate.

I never took a class in fiction.

Fiction scared me. Fiction was MAKING STUFF UP.

Of course, that’s part of what I was doing in poetry, and in non-fiction writing, and even in history, because telling it like you see it – any take we have on the world – is inevitably a fiction of sorts. But even though I loved fantasy with all my heart, I didn’t think I could write it.

I knew I had a way with words. And I had interesting things to say, but I felt dwarfed by the greats, and I looked around me and thought, the world is far too interesting to make stuff up, I can just describe what I see. And I did so, but in poetry and prose. No dragons or monsters, no golems or dybbuks, no fairies or wizards or trolls or witches.

For ten years I wrote non-fiction. For ten years I was a pen for hire. And it took me ten years to realize that was all I was. And I say this with the greatest respect for journalists and non-fiction writers out there. Literary journalism and literary non-fiction will always have a very special place in my heart, for it’s what I strove to write for years. But slowly I began to realize that fiction is just non-fiction in another guise. And I realized that speculative fiction encompasses much more than just fantasy.

And so without even one fiction workshop under my belt I set out to write a novel. There was a tingling of magical realism in there but no more than that, I couldn’t allow myself that. And then I wrote another novel which could have been and may still end up being completely speculative, but I still wrote in some psychology, some window to explain the unexplainable.

At the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton two weeks ago I attended a panel about historical fiction and epic fantasy. Two of the women on the panel had PhDs in history. (I was particularly impressed by Helen Marshall who won the “Best Newcomer” award)  And as I listened to everyone talk about all the research that informs their work I realized that what separates historical fiction from epic fantasy is but a hairs breath. That the same work that goes into one is needed for the other. And I had this epiphany moment that I realized: everything in my life has led me to this point.

I have a masters degree in history. I have a keen eye for narrative description and observation. I have lyric language from poetry. I CAN write the stories that I grew up loving. I just have to make that leap of faith.

The difference between the true and the fantastic – between science fiction and science fact, between history and myth and fantasy and reality, is really just a hairs breath. And I have everything I need to take the plunge.

I’ve been working on a series of linked short stories about the city of Safed (also called Tzfat or Tsfat) and I’ve been writing stories set in that mystical city – almost every one so far could have been a dream or a vision: Kissing the Messiah (in which a young woman has sexual encounters with Elijah the Prophet), The 614th Prophet (in which a wannabe vegetarian prophet tries to sacrifice a goat, and succeeds but not in way that you’d expect), The Ari (forthcoming from The Rampallian, which tells a tale of the ghost lion of Safed), and a few more as-yet unpublished ones. But last night I wrote about zombies.

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