Thursday, February 22, 2007

Fun with Search Terms

Every now and then I find it fun to see what search terms led people here. Some are expected: my name, the name of my book or character(s), even the name of the blog itself. But some are just so interesting. They make me tilt my head and say, "Hmm..."

Recent search terms that brought folks here:

Tzedek hechsher
Makes perfect sense.

Jewish identity versus practice
Led to my post Toward Jewish Identity.

Children's mad libs
Ah, obviously resulted in the As in Days of Old spoof of "Mad Libs."

Writing on Shabbat
Also makes sense, though I wonder if my Shabbat writing post was at all close to what they were looking for.

Jealous of my husband's biological family
Uh... no idea. None at all. This earns the "Hmm..." Award for this round.

The rabbi detective
Also makes sense.

Dr. Seuss's beliefs
I did a Dr. Seuss parody to announce a Haveil Havalim. Must be it.

Purim, Esther's vulnerability
Did I ever post my Megilat Ester parody? [searching] Yep. Last year.

Is holly berry offensive to Jews
No clue. This earns the Honorable Mention "Hmm..." for this round.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Writing About Not Writing

Years ago in a college prep writing class, I wrote an essay entirely about not being able to write an essay. It actually went on to win a few awards for high school writers.

Now Yid With Lid has taken the same idea and written about not being able to write this week's Haveil Havalim... in this week's Haveil Havalim.

Check it out!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Why I Can't Watch "24"

This is probably going to get me kicked off the J-Blogosphere, but here goes.

I can't watch the TV show, "24." I used to. I watched the first two seasons and it was Addictive with a capital A. But I'm one of those sensitive souls and after several graphic torture scenes, I said goodbye to the show and haven't tuned in since.

Now it appears I'm not the only one. In the current issue of the New Yorker, an article by Jane Mayer titled "Whatever It Takes" explores the use of torture in the show.

The Parents’ Television Council, a nonpartisan watchdog group, has counted what it says are sixty-seven torture scenes during the first five seasons of “24”—more than one every other show. Melissa Caldwell, the council’s senior director of programs, said, “ ‘24’ is the worst offender on television: the most frequent, most graphic, and the leader in the trend of showing the protagonists using torture.”

Over and over, both protagonists and antagonists use unimaginably cruel torture (Howard Gordon, the show's lead writer calls them "improvisations in sadism") to gain information. Given the recent debate over whether torture - physical or psychological - is an approved method for US troops when dealing with Iraqi insurgents, the show seems to take the side that it's okay, at least when the ends justify the means. The article defines the show's credo as "Everyone breaks eventually." And in every case, except where Bauer himself is tortured, it works.

What are we learning from this? This show is incredibly popular among Jewish bloggers. Does it reflect Jewish values in any way? Or is it popular among Jews because the bad guys get it worse than they give it out in the end?

Is "24" a kind of gritty modern version of Megilat Ester?

While my life's work is tied up in an assumption that most people know the difference between real life and fiction, I am also well aware that values espoused by a fictional story can still influence its audience. In fact, when I write, I depend on that. But my writing perpetuates values of family and human compassion, obligation to self and community and G-d, leaving the world a little better than you found it. What values does 24 perpetuate?

U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, and others "had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law [prohibiting torture] must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect."

The show's creator, Joel Surnow, a political conservative, is interviewed exensively in the article and shares his views on 24's political leanings as well as his view on the torture scenes, which is pretty well summed up by his comment:

“We’ve had all of these torture experts come by recently, and they say, ‘You don’t realize how many people are affected by this. Be careful.’ They say torture doesn’t work. But I don’t believe that."
You can read the full article here:

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

When the Muse Has Left the Building

I am so incredibly tired today. Wiped out. Bed sounds like heaven. As an aside, a Christian friend of mine joked that when she sleeps in on Sundays, she refers to it as praying at "Our Lady of the Sheets." I don't know if we have a Jewish equivalent, but I usually drag my sorry self to shul anyway and take a Shabbat nap after.

So. Where was I? Tired. And there's a point to this post, actually. Because it's really hard to be creative and write when one is exhausted. But I have to write, have to finish this book. It's way beyond deadline as it is, and I'm only hurting myself by waiting any longer.

This begs the question: How do you write when you don't feel like it?

I know Jack tackled this question not long ago. Today it's my turn.

Back in the days when I took writing classes, I learned the value of the timed free write. Materials needed: timer, pen and paper or computer (preferably working), one writer who doesn't feel like writing. Set timer for 5 minutes. Begin writing. Do not stop until timer beeps (or buzzes or dings or whatever your timer does). Write about anything, everything, whatever is in your head. You can spend five minutes writing the following:

I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about. I have no idea what to write about.

Eventually you'll get bored with that and other words will take their place. The point is, when doing a free write, it doesn't matter what you say or how badly you say it. The point is that you simply write.

True, that doesn't get a book written. But think of the free write as a warmup. Now I go to the manuscript. I reread parts of it, to get myself back into the story. I reread the scene(s) just before where I need to write new material. Then I push through. I start by putting one word in front of another. Which character speaks first? What does s/he say? Does the reader need anything described to make this part of the scene work?

Word by word, it gets written.

And this is the time - the most important time in my opinion - when I do NOT edit as I write. Because editing when I'm pushing through the manuscript will just stall me even further and then I wind up certain that I'll never write another coherent sentence in my life and I should just give up now and go find a job slinging treif burgers.

I just write. Just. Write. Yeah, it may be stilted and awkward, but the next time I come through that scene, I can tweak it and reword things.

And here's the other Big Thing to remember: I love my editor. I love her because she's my safety net. The times when I had to slog through and never could find a good way to say something, she'll find and she'll probably have some good ideas. And she'll probably tag a bunch of things I thought were said brilliantly, too, and maybe weren't so much.

Any author out there considering self-publishing, a professional book editor can be your best friend and seriously can make the difference between a mediocre book and an excellent one.

So, that was my free write for today. Seven minutes instead of five, but I took time out to find that link to Jack's site so it evens out. And now, despite the fact that I'm bone tired, I'm going to reread a few scenes and, with one word in front of another, write the book.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Moving Finger Writes

Just a quick check-in post for my loyal readers (thank you, dear ones!) to say that all's going... er... well... it's going.

That quotation from Under the Tuscan Sun comes to mind:
Q: How's the novel going?

A: Not so well. But the procrastination is coming along fabulously. Soon it will breed abject self-loathing, and then I'll just become a writing machine.

I am TWO scenes away from finishing. TWO!! (Normally the editor in me is apalled by multiple quotation marks, but that one deserved an extra.) I've surpassed 80,000 words. Which is a good thing, really, if you think about it, because once my editor has me cut all the best sentences bad parts out, it will be the right length.

As it happens, I have been smiled upon and my otherwise busy week has been reduced to lots and lots of writing time. So it is my goal, my stated public goal, that I will FINISH THE BOOK THIS WEEK. And then I can get on with the rest of my life.

By the way, I have had just an awesome time writing Arik's character. More than I thought I would, though he's had me doing hours upon hours of research so I can get his dialog right. Back when I was learning Hebrew daily, hours a day, I got to the point where I was dreaming in Hebrew. And then two years of other schooling followed closely by the birth of two children and now my six-year-old knows more Hebrew than I do. It's shameful, I tell you. The next local ulpan that offers child care and costs less than $100, I'll be the first to sign up.

Anyway, back to Arik. I have decided (or he has decided for me), that there's a good chance part of Book 3 will be told from his point of view (POV). That stresses me out a bit for all sorts of reasons. Aside from the Hebrew barrier, and the fact that I didn't grow up in Israel, and the whole cultural piece he carries with him, it also means I get to learn about gun safety, how to tell if it's safe, how to make it safe if it isn't, how to fire one. Husby has said when the time is right, he can get me lesson(s) through a university or reputable gun dealer. I was actually thinking about asking Minneapolis Police for their recommendation, as well as a ride-along. After Book 2 comes out and they love it, of course!

For now, the goal is just to finish and get the manuscript to my editor. Enough procrastination. Bring on the coffee and let's get to work!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Anything but Terrible!

This week's edition of Haveil Havalim is up over at Jack's Shack. I want to thank Jack for hosting, for pouring through what had to have been a ton of submissions, and for including not only the post I submitted, but also one I didn't. Jack's a great guy, an important part of the J-blogosphere, and also a talented writer. If you haven't spent time at the Shack, it's worth it.

Thanks also to SoccerDad, as always, for keeping Haveil Havalim going and coming up with such a brilliant idea in the first place! Anyone with a Jewish blog can submit articles at the Blog Carnival.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


I found this while I was wandering around the Net, probably started as a meme. But I liked it and am rather surprised by my answers.

Things I have done are in bold. Comments are in italics.

  1. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
  2. Swam with wild dolphins
  3. Climbed a mountain
  4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
  5. Been inside the Great Pyramid
  6. Held a tarantula
  7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
  8. Said “I love you” and meant it
  9. Hugged a tree
  10. Bungee jumped
  11. Visited Paris
  12. Watched a lightning storm at sea
  13. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
  14. Seen the Northern Lights
  15. Gone to a huge sports game
  16. Walked the stairs to the top of the leaning Tower of Pisa
  17. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
  18. Touched an iceberg
  19. Slept under the stars
  20. Changed a baby’s diaper
  21. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
  22. Watched a meteor shower
  23. Gotten drunk on champagne
  24. Given more than you can afford to charity
  25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
  26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
  27. Had a food fight
  28. Bet on a winning horse
  29. Asked out a stranger
  30. Had a snowball fight
  31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
  32. Held a lamb
  33. Seen a total eclipse of the moon
  34. Ridden a roller coaster
  35. Hit a home run
  36. Danced like a fool and not cared who was looking
  37. Adopted an accent for an entire day - and convinced someone!
  38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
  39. Had two hard drives for your computer
  40. Visited all 50 states
  41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
  42. Had amazing friends
  43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
  44. Watched wild whales
  45. Stolen a sign
  46. Backpacked in Europe
  47. Taken a road-trip
  48. Gone rock climbing
  49. Midnight walk on the beach
  50. Gone sky diving
  51. Visited Ireland
  52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
  53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
  54. Visited Japan
  55. Milked a cow
  56. Alphabetized your CDs
  57. Pretended to be a superhero
  58. Sung karaoke
  59. Lounged around in bed all day
  60. Played touch football
  61. Gone scuba diving
  62. Kissed in the rain
  63. Played in the mud
  64. Played in the rain
  65. Gone to a drive-in theater
  66. Visited the Great Wall of China
  67. Started a business
  68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
  69. Toured ancient sites
  70. Taken a martial arts class
  71. Played D&D for more than 6 hours straight
  72. Gotten married
  73. Been in a movie - My line was "Toe cleavage?"
  74. Crashed a party
  75. Gotten divorced
  76. Gone without food for 5 days
  77. Made cookies from scratch
  78. Won first prize in a costume contest
  79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
  80. Gotten a tattoo
  81. Rafted the Snake River
  82. Been on television news programs as an “expert”
  83. Got flowers for no reason
  84. Performed on stage
  85. Been to Las Vegas
  86. Recorded music
  87. Eaten shark
  88. Kissed on the first date
  89. Gone to Thailand
  90. Bought a house
  91. Been in a combat zone
  92. Buried one/both of your parents
  93. Been on a cruise ship
  94. Spoken more than one language fluently
  95. Performed in Rocky Horror
  96. Raised children
  97. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
  98. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
  99. Picked up and moved to another city to just start over
  100. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
  101. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking
  102. Had plastic surgery
  103. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
  104. Wrote articles for a large publication
  105. Lost over 100 pounds
  106. Held someone while they were having a flashback
  107. Piloted an airplane - a 1929 Stearman biplane, for about five minutes
  108. Touched a stingray
  109. Broken someone’s heart
  110. Helped an animal give birth
  111. Won money on a T.V. game show
  112. Broken a bone
  113. Gone on an African photo safari
  114. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
  115. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol - I’ll be taking lessons soon!
  116. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
  117. Ridden a horse
  118. Had major surgery
  119. Had a snake as a pet
  120. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
  121. Slept for more than 30 hours over the course of 48 hours
  122. Visited more foreign countries than U.S. states
  123. Visited all 7 continents
  124. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
  125. Eaten kangaroo meat
  126. Eaten sushi
  127. Had your picture in the newspaper
  128. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
  129. Gone back to school
  130. Parasailed
  131. Touched a cockroach
  132. Eaten fried green tomatoes
  133. Read The Iliad - and the Odyssey
  134. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
  135. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
  136. Skipped all your school reunions
  137. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
  138. Been elected to public office
  139. Written your own computer language
  140. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
  141. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
  142. Built your own PC from parts
  143. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
  144. Had a booth at a street fair
  145. Dyed your hair
  146. Been a DJ
  147. Shaved your head
  148. Caused a car accident
  149. Saved someone’s life

Tzedek Hechsher Slammed by Orthodox

"As rabbis of Conservative Judaism begin work on a new, ethically motivated food certification, they are coming under attack from a number of Orthodox kosher authorities."

This from the most recent edition of The Forward, in an article called "Orthodox Slam Effort To Monitor Conditions at Kosher Factories" by Nathaniel Popper.

If you've been following the issue, serious concerns about the treatment of workers in the kosher food processing plant in Postville, IA led the Conservative movement, represented by a task force of rabbis with personal experience at the AgriProcessor plant, to create a supplementary hechsher to attest to the fact that not only were animals treated according to strict halacha in how they were raised and slaughtered, but also that those who work in the plant doing the slaughtering weren't inhumanely treated either.

"Lederman and his committee have been adamant that any new certification would be a supplement, not a replacement, for current kosher certification that looks solely at the process of food preparation. But this argument appears to hold little sway with Orthodox critics." (emphasis mine)

Condemnation of the Conservative movement's insistence that we are morally responsible not only for animal rights but also human rights in the production of the very food we are required by Jewish law to eat (if we eat meat) appeared in both the recent issue of the Jewish Press and also Kosher Today, the industry's trade publication.

The rabbinic administrator for Central Rabbinical Congress (Hisachdus Horabbonim), which is leading the opposition, has told kosher companies not to even let Conservative rabbis into their plants.

The Orthodox Union, the largest kosher supervision organization, has not taken sides, but indicated human or worker's rights issues should be left to the government, not the rabbinate.

Some Orthodox believe this entire issue will serve only to drive a wedge between Orthodox and Conservative Jews, far more than even the recent controversial decision regarding openly gay and lesbian rabbis.

You can read the full article here:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Good Question

Got this one via e-mail and thought it was a good one to answer publicly. The question was:

I understand you want to write about American Judaism and its issues. But why choose a rabbi? If you want readers to see themselves in your book, why didn't you choose a typical American Jew to be the hero?

There are three primary reasons I chose a rabbi as the protagonist.

One is that a rabbi character has more authority within the fictional construct. The possibly controversial opinions of the average person could be summarily dismissed easily enough. But if they're espoused from the bima, or as part of a response to the board, it opens up possibilities for argument and debate and criticism and praise. In other words, CONFLICT, which is always good in novels.

Two is that a rabbi character provides a vehicle to explain Judaism to those unfamiliar with it, without being condescending or boring to those who are well-versed in Judaism. I don't write for a Jewish-only audience for a reason: knowledge is the antidote to ignorance and fear, and I believe, ultimately part of the answer to hate.

I've received dozens of e-mail messages and letters from readers who tell me that they're not Jewish, knew next to nothing about Judaism except that their churches taught that it's obsolete, and after reading this they had a new perspective, a new respect, and they wanted to learn more.

And in one notable case, that she'd been toying with the idea of converting for years, and reading this led her to call the local rabbi and set up a meeting. She said reading my book helped her get over her fear of rabbis, that she hadn't really seen them as human beings with families and foibles. They were just authority figures. (I did warn her that she wouldn't be meeting with David, him being a fictional character and all, and not to expect him when she met with a rabbi. She understood and I gather the meeting went well.)

From average American Jews I've received e-mail and letters and other feedback that they identified with one or more characters, that they learned something they didn't know about Judaism, that what had been boring or too complex in Hebrew school seemed more interesting in the novel and they decided to take a Talmud class or join a Torah study or read more Jewish books.

Three and perhaps most important for me as a writer is that a rabbi character allowed me to explore all aspects of Jewish life, as well as the issues that affect us as a larger human community. In Destined to Choose, I was able to explore the lessons learned – or not – from Tisha b’Av, the effect of the Shoah on today’s kids, work-life balance, and the need for reconciliation in a society that frequently writes off relationships like so much bad debt.

In As in Days of Old, I've been able to explore hate crimes, the struggles of singles in the Jewish community, the power of confrontation and apology, Jewish self-image, and the effects of in-fighting between various Jewish movements.

Book 3 (untitled) will explore domestic violence in the Jewish community, racism, and the importance of Israel to the American Jewish community.

I can show meetings with congregants and the issues they bring in with them. I can show friendships with other rabbis that transcend the inter-movement politics. I can demonstrate some scholarly research. I'm not sure I could have done all that with a representative character of the typical American Jew.

It does mean I have to do my homework. A lot of homework. I'm not to the point yet where I can churn out a book a year because it typically takes two years to research a book. I hope as my knowledge and skill progress (and with my kids in school), and with the encouragement and support of readers, I'll be able to finish books faster.

Thanks for the question!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

One Cool Guy

I was recently on one of my frequent trips over to Renegade Rebbetzin's blog, and while I love and enjoy her wit and candor, I did decide early on that I was going to have to find someone else's perspective to serve as the model for Sara's mentor as she makes the transition from "rabbi's wife" to "rebbetzin." RenReb is just too unique, too funny, and occasionally a little too irreverent (in a good way) to be what Sara needs. (Sorry, RenReb!) And there's no way I can justify using the word "cockyhead" in one of my books, unless it's a cultural reference to RenReb's blog. Which could be a possibility at some point...

But that's not what I wanted to write about.

No, what I wanted to write about was another blog that RenReb linked to: Rabbi Without A Cause. After her glowing recommendation, and being all about PROCRASTINATION mind you, I headed over there and read his response to her post.

I nearly fell out of my chair laughing.

So since I was there and I'm all about PROCRASTINATION lately, I read a few more posts. And a few more after that. And then when I was done reading every post he'd written and I still wanted to read more, I figured I ought to say something.

I was going to post a comment to one of his posts, and I got as far as pulling up the comment screen and then I stopped cold. What in the world was I going to say?

Hi, I'm a big fan can you sign my blog for me?

Pathetic. I can do better than that. But what? I sat and thought and thought and sat and started any number of comments and then gave up. And then I realized I was nervous.

ACK! Nervous?!! I've probably interviewed about two dozen rabbis, half of them in face-to-face conversations, over the past eight years in the course of my research for my rabbi novels. The only rabbi I've ever been nervous around in person is my rabbi (and I suspect he may be slightly surprised and slightly unhappy about that tidbit) but that's a different sort of relationship. With some of the others, I've had serious conversations and not-so-serious conversations and I've not been afraid to argue or joke or warn them - albeit humorously - that anything they say can and will be used against them in a book of fiction.

But none of these rabbis are Orthodox. Because when I asked around for willing victims, er... subjects for interviews, there was serious concern and no volunteers. Concerns ran the gamut from:
  1. I'm not Orthodox myself, to
  2. I might misrepresent Orthodoxy as presented by my interviewee and my offer to have him review the manuscript was insufficient, to
  3. Fiction in general and creative license in particular are inappropriate, to my favorite one,
  4. It is inappropriate for a female non-Orthodox Jew to write about a male Orthodox rabbi

So I did a ton of reading and observing and I made one up. Well, three actually. But only one will be a recurring character.

Now here I am at RWAC's blog, wanting to say hi I like your blog, but wanting to say more than that too, and all I can think of are these four arguments for why my request for interviews went unfulfilled.

Don't get me wrong: I don't think he'd be offended by my leaving a comment or by my enjoyment of his blog. I don't think. I haven't confirmed this yet. But I'm pretty sure not.

What does make me hesitate is turning the perspective around. While my comment(s) may be welcome, would what I do be offensive? (Nobody needs to answer that; I like my delusions of total acceptance.)

Of course, this post is going to totally blow that out of the water.

It does bring up enormous issues of the role of fiction in Jewish life, the clear preference for non-fiction over fiction within the Jewish community, questions about the value of Jewish artists within the Jewish community, and the sheer audacity that someone (me) would represent non-Orthodox movements as legitimate and valid expressions of Judaism. Whether I agree with any of those expressions or not.

So, I've got mixed feelings over here about what to put in a comment, but I really do enjoy his blog and no matter what your leaning, it's worth checking out. Besides, he's an awesome writer (I know a little something about that) with a humorous, conversational tone that leaves you - well, me anyway - feeling like it's an informal chat over tea some Sunday afternoon. It's well worth the trip.

Cast of Characters

I don't know how many of you who visit here have read Destined to Choose, but I'm going to assume most have not. (Yet?) Therefore, since I'm sure I'll be referencing my characters from time to time as I finish Book 2 (Strength to Stand) and start working on Book 3 (already), I thought I ought to present you with a cast of the major and otherwise important recurring characters, who they are and what they do, and maybe a bit why this ensemble is so important to me.

Rabbi David Cohen is the main protagonist in the series and a Conservative rabbi at the fictional Beth Israel synagogue in Minneapolis, MN who leans about as far right as one can go within the Conservative movement and still remain egalitarian. David entered the rabbinate one semester and a dissertation short of a Ph.D. in clinical/counseling psychology after he found himself drawing from Judaism for all of his class projects. His father was a Shoah (Holocaust) survivor with multiple severe health problems; his mother died of a pulmonary embolism after giving birth to his younger sister, Naomi. He grew up in Milwaukee WI, living with his father, sister, and maternal grandparents. Though his first loves are family and Torah, he occasionally takes on challenges that get him into one form of trouble or another, especially when with his friend Arik.

Sara Cohen is David's wife and a stay-at-home mom to their three children. A former real-estate agent, Sara was raised non-observant and remains self-conscious about her lack of Jewish learning growing up. Sara has lived on the periphery of shul life until events lead her to want to take a more active role in both the shul and her husband's career.

Ben Cohen is the eldest of Sara and David's children, age eight in Destined to Choose. He simultaneously idolizes and resents his father and blames his father's job for the time it takes away from their family.

Jonathan and Judy Cohen are Sara and David's twins, four years younger than Ben.

Naomi Cohen is David's sister. Fiercely non-religious, she is a defense attorney in Los Angeles, CA and prefers little to no contact with David, despite his attempts to the contrary.

Rabbi Batya Zahav is a Reform rabbi at the fictional Temple Shalom in Minneapolis, MN and a friend of David's. Batya grew up Orthodox and rebelled in high school. When she announced her plans to become a rabbi in the Reform movement, her parents declared her dead and said Kaddish for her. Knowing David's personality and psychology background, Batya sought him out to help her cope while she worked to reconcile with her parents. She is firmly committed to the Reform movement and believes patrilineal descent may hold the answer to the end of antisemitism.

Arik Zahav is Batya's husband, David's only non-rabbi friend, and a sergeant with the Minneapolis Police Department. Born and raised in Israel, Arik came to the States on a sports scholarship after his army duty, met Batya, and decided to stay. After working several years in the domestic abuse unit, Arik made the move to homicide because, as he says, he "was tired of seeing the torture in action." Intensely secular, Arik tolerates religion and fails to see its relevance to his life. He first met David when he almost arrested him.

Rabbi Eli Lowenstein is David's study partner from rabbinical school and one of his closest friends. Eli has a pulpit at the fictional Am Echad synagogue in Spokane, WA and jokes that he needs to get his excitement by hearing what trouble David has gotten himself into. He is remarried after divorce and has a teenage daughter, Danielle, by his ex-wife.

Bev Lowenstein is Eli's second wife and well-loved by their congregation. She loves to cook, entertain, and teach all things domestic.

Talia Friedmann is the wife of a rabbi who teaches at several Twin Cities MN universities. She is a close friend of Sara's and considers herself a "free agent rebbetzin."

Rabbi Shimon Gerson is an Orthodox rabbi and a friend of David's who "agrees to disagree" on their differences, and is about to become quite a bit more important in David's life.

John Clausen is a pastor at the fictional Calhoun Lutheran Church in Minneapolis MN, an advocate of dual-covenant theology, and a friend and colleague of David's.

When I created this ensemble, I wanted to illustrate the struggles that rabbis have, both with their congregants and with Jewish tradition and law. I wanted to give readers something they could relate to, the possibility of seeing themselves on the pages. To that end, I tried to represent different perspectives and motivations while creating characters that were fresh, unique, and entirely human.

Monday, February 05, 2007

B'rucha Haba'a

I want to extend a warm welcome to one of the newest members of the J-blogosphere: Barbara Bietz, author of Like a Maccabee, which is a really cool book for kids and adults.

Okay, that might be just a tiny bit biased coming from me, but reviewers and readers alike have loved it, so I'm in good company.

Barbara has a new blog for those who love children's books here:

Please drop by and say hi.

A Note on This Blog's Purpose

I figured this deserved a post of its own.

This blog is NOT—neither the posts I want to put up about my books nor this blog in its entirety—I repeat NOT a hard sell or an attempt to get you to buy my book.

Of course, if you WANT to buy it, I've made links available in the sidebar. :-)

But that's not the point of this blog. The point is to talk about writing (especially fiction) and Judaism, about Jews and the literary arts, about Jewish expression through writing.

Through the medium of fiction, I also invite talk about conversations and dialogs between the various movements, about what it means to honor diversity among Jews, about how the way we present ourselves to each other and the world has an impact even if we don't see it.

I don't claim to have any answers. But I welcome the opportunity to explore the questions.

A caveat: anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, antisemitic, and let's be honest, anti-me comments will be deleted. This is my blog, after all, and comments that bash what I love have no place here. I do welcome differing, even opposing, opinions, but let's keep it respectful.

As I wrote here in Toward Jewish Identity,

"The Talmud (both Babylonian and Jerusalem) was wise enough to include dissenting opinions, even when the majority or history or innovation or even common sense produced the prevailing opinion. At no point did the holders of the prevailing opinion question the very Jewishness of the dissenters. (Their logic, values, or ability to read, maybe, but not their identities.)

"I frequently look to the contributors of the Talmud for inspiration, and I’m reminded that it would not even exist as we know it today were it not for their courage, creativity, humility, and willingness to take an unpopular stand but always continue the dialog."

B'ruchim haba'im. I hope you enjoy and are willing to contribute to the dialog.

In Case You Missed Them...

I seem to be trying hard to fight off either the effects of long-term sleep deprivation or the flu, so I can't guarantee any new posts today. However, here are some of what I consider the more important or interesting posts I've put up lately, in case you missed them.

On Books:

The Return of the Rabbi Detective

My Characters Made Me Cry

Book Burning: History Repeats Itself

Who's Paranoid Now?

Writing and Shabbat

Question Regarding Rebbetzins: Need Anonymous Help Please

On Beliefs:

On Israel: Hope, Safety, Identity, Existence

On Books and Beliefs:

Dear Rabbi, Merry Christmas - An Excerpt

On Blogging:

Do You Blog Like You Talk?

When I have the energy, I'll put up some posts about my first book, some behind-the-scenes info that hardly anybody knows, maybe a few character bios, why this series is unlike anything else out there, and why I think that's so important. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

And the Answer Is...

THE place to find the newest, best, award-winning Jewish blogs this week. (Or at least the results of bloggers' submissions.)


Yes, Sheyna?


Correct! You win 100 puppy nuggets. Congratulations!

The Dog Days of Winter

I'm two scenes away from being done with the manuscript. Of course, there's untold numbers of future drafts to be written as the editing process ensues, but at least it's almost DONE. And only a month late. grumblegrumble

Since I am so close, that means it's time for... (kulam!): MORE PROCRASTINATION!

Of my many talents, procrastination is one of my most perfected.

Okay, so here's the scoop: back in August, we adopted an 18-month-old jet black Lab/Chow mix. We took her camping a week later. She was awesome.

Until she snapped at Youngest Son (3-1/2). Granted, Youngest Son stepped on her, but still... Over the next couple of months, she occasionally snapped and bit at everyone in the family without warning, and, it became obvious, without provocation. Twice she drew blood.

I enrolled her in obedience training and we had to spend most of the class in the hallway because she was so dog aggressive that she couldn't be around other dogs, something that was NOT evident when we adopted her. The trainer referred us to a vet behaviorist, who suggested the dog might have been abused before we got her, would need a lot of time and attention and training and was probably best suited for a home without children.

The tension in the house grew and when she snapped at Oldest Son (6) when he was reaching for a pair of his socks from the laundry basket three feet away from her, I'd had enough. The kids were afraid of her, I'd been bit enough that I didn't want to pet her, and Husby was the only one who could handle her without ready treats. With heavy heart and even greater relief, we took her back to the shelter.

But we really wanted a dog. Despite the aversion many Jews have to dogs, we REALLY wanted a dog. And since I'm home so much avoiding work... er... I mean working SO HARD, and Husby grew up with dogs, and honestly, a would-be intruder might think twice if we had a dog, we went looking. And we found him:

A ten-week-old Golden Retriver/something mix, he is just as sweet as can be. (And yes, that's a photo of him outside in the snow, where the temperature is six below zero and feels like TWENTY-SIX BELOW with wind chill. In other words, darn cold!)

No signs of aggression, and he's young enough that there's no bad history and we can socialize him appropriately to people and other dogs. Oldest Son named him "Nugget" (as in gold nugget), which also happens to be the name of a Golden Retriever mix that lived next door to me when I was growing up. It's one of those come full circle kinds of things.

So, now I'm enjoying new-puppy-owner bliss while I procrastinate. Just a few minutes playing with the puppy, and then I'll get back to work. Really. Honest.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

My Characters Made Me Cry

My characters from Book 2 of the rabbi series made me cry last night. I'm not normally one for tears, so this was fairly significant.

Husby jokes that I have a sadistic streak, that I get some perverse pleasure out of making their lives not only difficult but sometimes downright impossible. I have a slightly different view. I ask them to give something of themselves that they're not sure they have. I know they can, but I created them, after all. I know just how far I can push them. But they don't know, and growth is often painful.

Last night I finished writing a major scene, the big near-book-end conflict. I've been imagining this playing out for the past couple of weeks, though I wasn't sure about the details. This far through a book, I have a general outline (I work from a real calendar) but leave the specifics up to the writing process. Last night's scene didn't happen anything like I thought it would.

I didn't think anyone was going to die.
I didn't think there'd be quite so many injuries.
I thought a different character was going to bring about the resolution.

At the end of the scene, I literally wanted to hold them. I wanted to apologize for putting them through what I did, but at the same time explain why it was necessary. I didn't get the chance.

Because before I could do anything, they reached out to each other.

And I cried.