Tag Archives: author

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!


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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Cin-quain-on and a Goobye Poem

I’m still behind, doing the challenges now for days 5 and 6…

The first is a Cinquain – a structed metered poem that really appealed to me in a way that somehow Haiku’s don’t. It was stuctured enough but unstructured in the sense that it did not require rhyme which is perhaps why I enjoyed the form more – freedom within constriction and all that, as well as the serious challenge of putting the words together in a way that makes sense and follows a pattern – a great jigsaw puzzle, and I so do love a challenge.

The second is a goodbye poem – this one has a lot of meaning for me personally, but I like the concept of it’s ambiguity – a writer saying goodbye to his/her story – or is it something more? The intimacy of the relationship between the creator and the created…

By Rena Rossner

It’s now,
when day is done
that I can hear my voice
In silence thick as night I play
with words.

By Rena Rossner

I make a study of your letters
the words you formed
that ran across the page
away from me
sometimes they form
a concrete poem
your face in the morning
over coffee
you were always
far away.

Remember me like a window
open or shut, translucent,
full of glass and sunshine
I never meant to be a cage
I am but another demon
from your past
a face you pass
you turn your head as you go –
Was that just? No. Move on.
Keep moving. But you recognize
the echo.

Do you feel it still?
As I do? A low grumbling
like thunder, hungry,
an itch that you can’t scratch
a lonely angel, trailing you
ghost-like, calm, you turn
again, you hear a song,
a tear comes out of nowhere
unbidden, it falls and wets
the page. There is no pain,
it’s compensation, a mark
of cain, a passage back
into the intimacy
of silence.

Perhaps you are as glad
to be rid of me
as one who finally snuffs
the buzzing of a fly.
I am danger, keeper,
watcher, lover
of all your stories
you loved me best.

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Q&A with “The Qualities of Wood” author, Mary Vensel White

Mary Vensel White’s debut novel The Qualities of Wood is part of a very exciting venture by HarperCollins into a digital-first imprint in conjunction with the HarperCollins slushpile website Authonomy. Mary’s book came out on January 31st at a special introductory rate, leading as an e-book and will eventually have a print run as well. Not only is the cover of this book visually stunning, but the book itself deals very much with the idea of art and visual perception – both in the way that it is written – so very lush with detail, and in the way that the characters grapple with their life circumstances. Things are not always what they seem in this stunning world that Mary’s created….or are they? Read this wonderfully rich debut novel to find out.

Mary – you have written a novel that is rich in atmospheric detail. Did you grow up in similar surroundings or have a country house somewhere in the woods?
In short, no! I grew up in the high desert of California. Sagebrush, Joshua trees, lots of dirt. A very sparse landscape. We used to travel to West Virginia to visit my grandparents in the summer, and the difference in scenery was always stunning to me. There were hills and lush trees and grass everywhere. I dreamed of living somewhere green. Many people find the desert quite beautiful, but I think part of us always aspires to something different than what we know.

I find that every writer has a starting point. Something that inspired them to write that first word. What inspired you to commit your first word to the page of this novel?
The initial inspiration was just that—the setting, the countryside. I had just moved to Chicago, my first experience in an urban surround, and as much as I loved the city, I sometimes craved open land and nature. The first image became the first scene of the book, Vivian’s small airplane touching down amidst fields of green.

I was bothered by Vivian’s relationship with her husband Nowell. I think that author-spouse relationship is inherently problematic, but in their relationship it feels like something more. As a writer, I sympathized with Nowell, as a woman, he infuriated me. Was that your intention?
I would rather write a character that inspires a reaction, even if it’s fury! Married couples start out as two individuals but soon, they play off each other and their paths become tangled with the other’s, as it should be. The novel takes place after they’ve been at it for some time, this fusing of paths, and it’s hard to say what the nature of their relationship was in the beginning. But it has veered and they must decide the path for the future. I wouldn’t say I wanted Nowell to be infuriating, but I’m glad he inspired feeling. In the end, I wanted characters that were flawed and multi-layered, as people are.

One of the other major issues in the novel that Vivian grapples with is finding her place within the creative spectrum – figuring out what is “special” about her. I personally think that everyone has a creative space inside of them, much like Dot says, but Vivian seems content for much of the novel to just “be average.” What are your thoughts on this?
For me, the specialness or purpose in life is related to happiness. Because all human wants and needs are basically in service to a pursuit of happiness—the quest for knowledge, engaging in relationships, and creating art, we do all of this to find happiness. For some people, simply taking care of a family makes them happy and they don’t want much else. Others need to travel or learn; artists need to create. Vivian grew up in the shadow of two people who were very fulfilled in their pursuits, and Nowell has been distracted working on his writing. She has no idea what she might like to do, where she wants her life to go. This is a basic part of growing up, I think, and just being human.

There is so much art in your novel. Not just in the way that you paint pictures for us with your words, but also all of the paintings that keep popping up in Vivian’s mind. Do you yourself have a background in Art History?
I have a meager background, which consists of several courses in college, but I do consider myself a visually-influenced writer. Colors, layout, impressions of things—these are all important to me when considering how to “paint” a story on the page. And I’ve always felt that different art forms only enrich each other.

Well. Enough about the novel. Tell me something about you. I’m always interested in hearing about what books and authors inspired someone as I often find new reads that way myself! What books would you say had a significant impact on your life and work?
I’ve always been a huge reader. As a child, I loved the author Ruth Chew. She wrote what we’d call fantasy now, stories about kids coming into contact with some sort of supernatural force. A lot of them had witches. Through these stories, I learned that books can really do just about anything you want them to. Little Women was a lesson in characterization and structure, and as a young adult, Lolita just blew my mind. I read it every few years and it still has that effect. It’s not really a matter of the subject matter, although it is shocking, but it’s more the style of it, the verve, the voice. Life-changing, that book. Also a work of history called Imagined Communities, the basic premise of which is that nations were formed, in part, because people started to imagine themselves as a community. This is a very simplified statement of the book, but this idea—that our very history could be altered by our thoughts (again a simplification of my thinking)—this had a huge impact on my writing and still does. Lastly, The Qualities of Wood was very influenced by Winesburg, Ohio, a novel that employs a direct, simple style to relay universal truths and longings.

Do you write like Nowell? Secreted behind a sheet-curtain? What is your writing space like?
Well, I’m writing this as three men are sawing and hammering in our bathroom about ten feet away. I have four children. If I expected seclusion or quiet to write, I would probably never write a thing. I have an open desk, crowded with papers and empty mugs, with photos of my kids and husband all around, school calendars, coupons, etc., etc. I use two monitors for one computer and usually have a second computer on too. This speaks mostly to my organization and the fact that I have things on both hard drives and am always going back and forth to see where something is. My oldest son says “Why do you have so many computer screens? You don’t have that much to do.” Kids always keep it real.

I’ve read a few chapters of another novel of yours, “Fortress For One,” is that your next project? Or is there something else in the pipeline?
I finished the second half of Fortress in November of last year. I’m letting it stew for a while but am just about ready to dive back into it. I wrote notes on that book for over ten years, so once I sat down to write, it felt fully formed in some ways. I’m also working on a collection of interrelated stories, an experimental sort of project called Human Stories. The idea is that all stories are based on certain archetypal outlines (i.e. Boy Meets Girl, Boy Grows Up, etc.), but in modern times, these archetypes can be upended. I began the first story after reading the collected stories of Lydia Davis, who really is an innovator of form, a maverick. Oh, and I’ve got an idea for another novel brewing…

You can buy Mary’s debut novel here or here
And visit Mary’s website or blog to find out more.

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May 19 – The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Though I have to say that I thought this book would be more about birds than it was (and I was looking forward to reading about various species of birds and how the sisters in the book took care of them and treated them), The Bird Sisters truly impressed me. Not just because the writing was breathtaking in many places, but also because the book was not what I expected at all. In the end, I think, it was the idea of a bird – caged vs free – that was more important than the story of the actual birds themselves. The cages we create for ourselves. Often these are cages of our own making. The concept of what it means to “fly free” and how there can be many interpretations of what that means – allowing yourself to be free – giving others the opportunity for freedom – even at the expense of your own – and how that can be a form of freedom for yourself too…

As a writer myself, I am spellbound by books that are written in such a different voice than I could ever write – it totally amazes me and makes me feel smaller and more insignificant as a writer because I feel sometimes like, “Wow. I could never write this.” And that humbles me. In a good way. I sometimes have a hard time reading books that sound too much like my own voice or books whose characters and voice I identify with too much or wish that I could sound like – sometimes that just makes me depressed because I either feel like, “I could do that! Why am I not published yet.” Or alternatively, “Wow. I could never do that but I wish I could.” But with The Bird Sisters I didn’t feel that way at all. I was just wowed by the writer. Wowed by the story. It’s a story I could never have told in a voice I could never master and that was its charm and beauty.

One thing that bothered me a little bit – but I always feel this way in books that I read that don’t necessarily have “happy” endings – was that I wished I could have changed the ending. Perhaps widowhood/spinsterhood suited the sisters. Like I said above, perhaps for them – their choice was “freedom” – but the choices that they made could also be interpreted as creating “a cage of one’s own.” I was bothered by the ending, I wanted a different life for them – but I guess if the novel hadn’t bothered me so much it wouldn’t have stayed with me as much as it did – and that is what we want from good literature – to be challenged, to be bothered, to think.

I’ve been participating in a book club discussion of this book over at TNBBC on Goodreads. Check out TNBBC’s blog for more book giveaways and discussions. Thanks so much to Rebecca Rasmussen for participating in a discussion of the book – she has been busy traveling the country promoting her book and you can find out all about her and her book at http://www.thebirdsisters.com/.

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May 5 – Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

I enjoyed this book almost as much as I enjoyed The Glass Castle: A Memoir. I found Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novelless shocking, but no less eye-opening and enjoyable. I felt like I was introduced and transported to a completely different world and found it intriguing and vivid and real. Jeanette Walls is truly a talented storyteller. The book is hailed as “Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults” and while I see no reason why the Little House books are not for adults, I certainly agree with that assessment. Life on the prairie, on ranches, learning about the nitty gritty details of the lives of real ranchers and cowboys was not a topic I ever thought that I would find enjoyable or fascinating and yet in this book, they were both. In truth, it is a good idea to read the books in tandem, as Half Broke Horses explains a lot about Rosemary by way of Lily and in turn, Jeannette as well.


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May 3 – The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

My oh my. Now this was an amazing novel. So amazing that I couldn’t read it in one day because I didn’t want it to be over. It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made my heart yearn to be an author more than ever. What more could you want in a book? Love stories, intrigue, mystery, amazing art, an aspiring author, social commentary, misery and disappointment. There was nothing this novel did not have. Barbara Kingsolver seriously outdid herself in The Lacuna and I only hope it doesn’t take her nine more years to write her next novel! I don’t think I can wait that long!

What amazes me most about Barbara Kingsolver is how different her novels are now. Her first few: Pigs in Heaven, The Bean Trees etc. were okay. But then she took off as an author and now each novel is really an entire universe unto itself – each one a magnum opus (though I think The Lacuna so far takes the cake). This novel is seriously Pulitzer worthy. I know it won the Orange Prize, but in my mind it deserves so much more.

Here I must share one of my favorite quotes from the novel: “I should like to write my books only for the dear person who lies awake reading in bed until page last, then lets the book fall gently on her face to touch her smile or drink her tears.”
Yup. That just about sums up my writing philosophy right there.

Read this book now and let its pages touch your smiles and drink your tears.

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May 2 – The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

I have to admit that this was a re-read, but I read the book so long ago that I felt as though I was reading it for the first time. I certainly enjoyed it as much if not more than the first time around! What I enjoyed the most this time was Wall’s engaging command of language – she kept me reading and interesting and enjoying her prose all at the same time – which is no easy feat. I was no less amazed by her story and her triumph against the odds than I was the last time I read it. I continue to be blown away by the way she was raised, by what she made of herself from the wreck of her childhood, but mostly by the grace and sympathetic way with which and in which she tells the story – never quite disparaging her parents, always finding the lesson, the silver lining or the lesson learned from every experience.

The Glass Castle: A Memoir is worth reading again, and again, and for the first time if you haven’t read it yet.

Now I’m off to read her newest book Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel in advance of my Wednesday night book club. The book club actually only read The Glass Castle: A Memoir but I would like to have read the newer book too so that I can recommend it as well. Will report back pronto with that review when finished!

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