Thursday, November 20, 2008


Along the lines of my previous post about being on Facebook, I've decided to stop hiding behind my avatar. Don't get me wrong -- I love my avatar. I even went so far as to take a printout of my avatar to my hair stylist and say, "My hair is really close to this, but what can you do so that it can look exactly like this?"

My stylist said she's had a lot of people bring a lot of different photographs in before and say, "I want my hair to look like that," but no one had ever before brought her a cartoon...

But I have decided that if I'm going to bare my face to the world on my Facebook page, I can afford to do it here, too. And so, a fond farewell to the avatar that served me so well.

This is the real me.

Not now, honey, I'm Facebooking

I've done it. I am now socially networked. And there must be something wrong, because I am having WAY too much fun with it.

Whoever thought that throwing a sheep at a shul friend or sending flair to Husby when I'm sitting four feet away could be so fun? Okay, more to the point, this takes the term "global community" to a whole new level.

I'm pretty much an introvert. This is why I write instead of the myriad other things I could be doing that would actually make money (that, and the voices in my head won't leave me alone). So putting myself "out there" seemed a little scary at first. I'm okay with it now. No stalkers have appeared outside my home, at least 50% of the email I get is still junk (I'm not interested in cheap meds, fake handbags, or lengthening my organ), and all of the readers who have identified themselves to me seem to be nice, stable folks.

I have a full profile for people whom I know (more or less); I have a page for those I don't. And if you're on Facebook, I'd love it if you'd swing by and become a fan. (Because we all need fans and it looks really sad otherwise.)

Meanwhile, I'll work really hard on my part and keep up with the blogging again. Deal?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Jews and Halloween - some personal thoughts

Today is Picture Day at school. Yep, on Halloween. The reminder explicitly states "No costumes, please." Now, it is a Jewish school, so I asked Oldest Son (7) if they'd talked at all about Halloween and why the school doesn't recognize it. He said no, which I thought was too bad, because it would have been a great learning experience about what constitutes a holiday and the difference between religiously-based "American" holidays and purely secular American holidays.

We started out not celebrating Halloween at all. I have nothing against it; it's just not my holiday to celebrate. I have friends who follow earth-based religions and celebrate the original meaning of Halloween. I have secular friends who simply enjoy dressing up in costume and participating in the sugar rush. And for my kids? Well, it's complicated. Sort of.

I could say that the lure of dressing up and getting candy was just too much for the boys, but that's not entirely true. We have our own holiday where we dress up in costume. And we give treats to friends and those in need (though we get treats from friends, too). 10 points to the first person who guesses which holiday this is. But that's different from Halloween, according to the kids, because we don't go around our neighborhood. Would they feel differently if we lived in a Jewish neighborhood? I don't know.

But that's not all. We live in one of those old-fashioned neighborhoods where everyone knows everyone, where we watch each other's homes and dog-sit and run next door to "borrow" a cup of sugar when you run out while making cookies. We have block clubs - neighborhood-defined monthly get-togethers primarily for social purposes, but if there are crimes in the area, we work together with the city and law enforcement to deal with it.

I'm the block club captain for our neighborhood, and I feel a certain amount of obligation to the neighbors to participate. I don't want our house to be one of those that the neighbor kids can't go to on Halloween. And the best way to designate our house a "Halloween-friendly" house is by having a lit jack-o-lantern. At the same time, I'm not convinced it's fair to give out candy and not let the boys go trick-or-treat themselves.

So we compromise. The kids pick out their Purim (whoops! I gave it away) costumes in October, and get to use them twice, once for Halloween and once for Purim. We carve pumpkins and talk about how pumpkins are part of the fall harvest that we celebrate during Sukkot. We hand out kosher candy, even though we're the only ones in the neighborhood who care.

And we acknowledge that there are commonalities among our seemingly disparate holidays. Pagans believe that Halloween is a time when the barrier between the spiritual realm and the earthly realm is thin enough to cross over. It's easy to initially dismiss this as superstitious, but Jews believe the same thing during another holiday, when the barrier between the heavens and the earth is thinnest and prayers are most likely to reach their Destination. 50 points to anyone who can name that Jewish holiday.

Tonight will be more than a CandyFest, even if that's the most important part for the kids. It will be an experience in identity, community, and comparative religions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Yes, But Did It Speak?

Oldest Son came home from Jewish summer camp today with the question, "Guess what we had today?" Before I could answer, he continued. "We had a big storm and lightning struck a bush and it caught fire. But everyone's okay."

I couldn't ignore the opportunity. "You had a burning bush at camp?"

"Yeah. The fire department was there and everything."

I was still finding this amusing, since no one's safety was in question. "Did anyone speak from the bush?"

A big smile beamed from his face. "No! Not that kind of burning bush. This was a real burning bush. I didn't see it but I heard someone tell my counselor. People were in the building and saw the burning bush and called the fire department and they put the fire out before it caught anything else on fire."

I guess they go all out for having Jewish experiences at camp.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Back to Work

The kids are off to day camp on Monday (for three weeks), which means I can get back to work! Ergo, also back to the blog.

I have such ambitious, noble intentions.

Strength to Stand is in the hands of my editor. It's progressing more slowly than I'd have liked, but it's still progressing and I can't complain about that.

I've been working on the business end of things for a while now and my creative side is yearning to come out. This balance thing, it's so hard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Strength to Stand

Todah rabah to everyone who wrote to me! The overwhelming vote was for Strength to Stand: A Rabbi David Cohen Novel.

Initial bound galleys have been sent to four beta readers with two more going out within the next week (due to their schedules). One the beta readers who graciously volunteered is the J-blogosphere's own Mother in Israel! I'm a teeny tiny bit nervous (read: I'm terrified) about this part of the process because it's the first time the book is "public." It's the first time with this book that I get criticism. But the idea is that critical comments will help me do Edit #2 so the book is even better when it gets to my book editor.

Someone asked me why I call them beta readers. I use the term in the same sort of way that an initial version of computer software is called "beta" and those who use it and check for bugs and problems with the software are "beta testers." Beta readers are looking for bugs and problems with the book.

While they're reading, my job is to: 1) start Book Three in the series; 2) work with the designer on a cover - which you'll all get to see and vote on; 3) round up names for possible pre-publication blurbs, 4) work with marketing on a catchy pitch and summary, and 4) think about ways to let everyone know about the book when it hits the store shelves.

Anyone interested in hosting a blog tour next summer/fall? Okay, it's a bit early for that, but file it away somewhere because I will be asking more earnestly later!

Come to think of it, if you know a prominent author, rabbi, Jewish educator, or someone else with a nationally recognizeable name who you think might be interested in reading an advance copy of Strength to Stand and writing a short endorsement (provided they like it, which, of course, they will - I hope!) - or if you fit any of the above criteria - send me names by email or in the comments. I'll email you to get contact info on where to send the advance copy.

Onward and upward!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Strength to Blog

With thanks, Haveil Havalim #149 is up at Life in Israel. Many, many thanks are also due to SoccerDad, who started HH and is handing over the reins to Jack.

Now that the important stuff is out of the way, let's get to the real reason I'm here.

I need more feedback, people!

Those who've written, thank you! Your opinions are quite valuable since I am, after all, writing for an audience. (The books, that is. Well, the blog is for an audience, too, but I'm not selling the blog. Who would want it anyway?)

With the help of those who have commented and emailed, I've been able to narrow down the choices. Here's what didn't make the cut, and why:

  1. Anger Avenged - nice alliteration, but negative overall; closely related to the plot but not clearly so
  2. Broken Pact - not as related to the story as other titles; too close to Jodi Picoult's The Pact
  3. For the Miracles - taken from the Chanukah liturgy and known to many Jews, it's an unclear title for non-Jewish readers and has more to do with the timing of the plot, not the story itself
  4. In Your Midst - taken from the beginning of the Haftarah portion read on the first Shabbat of Chanukah, it's actually very much related to the plot as well. However, not quite intriguing enough
  5. Payback - a great title, which explains why there are at least 20 other books out there with the same title. I'm sure I can be a little more original than that.
  6. Rededication - related to the meaning of Chanukah (and its definition), it's too ho-hum (as opposed to ho-ho-ho, which would be a book titled "Christmas")
  7. Rewards of Vengeance - again, negative sounding and perhaps not quite the value readers would go for
  8. Faith and Fear - too similar to other titles, sounds like "Tales from the Inquisition," still negative
  9. Chosen by Faith - suggested by Steve (thank you Steve!). I like the thematic connection and choice is something we all face every day. When it came down to it, though, I had to rule it out because Judaism is far more about action than faith. Plus, I don't want Barnes & Noble to shelve it in the Christian Fiction section like they did with Destined!

Now the short(er) list:

  1. As in Days of Old - taken from part of the Shabbat liturgy, it originally had a great deal to do with the plot, but, as often happens when a book is being written, the characters take over and go in other directions. Such is the case here and I'm not sure it targets the plot well enough; also kind of ho-hum
  2. Safety From Within - taken from the book text, it is both descriptive and ironic, but I'm not sure how well it really captures "suspense"
  3. Strength to Strength - a common Jewish phrase, a wishing of wellness, can't say it isn't "strong" but is it descriptive enough?
  4. Strength to Stand - also taken from the book text, it has everything to do with Chanukah, the plot, and gives an image (to me anyway) of a battled hero finding a way to continue on; probably one of the finalists
  5. Strength to Prevail - similar to Strength to Stand, but less alliterative, suggests the ability to win the war, not just the battle, definitely conjures up a struggle (good)

Meanwhile, as I'm being all self-absorbed with getting this book ready to launch and doing my other wifely and motherly duties and fighting off a bad case of bronchitis, many of those around me are probably not happy with my timing. A whole bunch - and I mean a really... lot of people... are having major life cycle events lately. B'nai mitzvah, births, deaths, moving, changing schools.

I'd planned this for a relatively quiet time of year (no one wants to beta-read a novel a week before Passover, for instance), and now lots of folks have lots going on. Well, lots of people have lots going on a lot of the time. I have a lot of things going on a lot of the time, which is why I'm having to make some hard choices about going to the lots of things that lots of others have going on.

So that's the update. Keep your feedback coming!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Vote for a Title

Note: Additional potential titles added 1/10, 1/11! Plus updates! See below.

Now that I've written a bit more about what Destined to Choose is about, I want to share what Book #2 is about.

I have an in-progress 25-words-or-less summary of Book #2, working title: As in Days of Old, which is:

"Minneapolis Rabbi David Cohen intervenes to help catch a violent stalker while David's wife decides to get more involved in his career."

22 words. Not a lot to play with there, but I'll keep trying.

Now for the longer version of what it's about:

It's almost Chanukah, and Rabbi Batya Zahav, a Reform rabbi, David's friend, and wife of Arik, an Israeli-born Minneapolis police sergeant, is being stalked. It begins with threatening letters but quickly escalates. No witnesses, few forensics, and no idea who the stalker is or why he's targeting Batya.

Frustrated by the lack of progress, Arik involves David in his own investigation, leading them through a chain of fundamentalism and hatred hidden beneath the city's facade of "Minnesota Nice."

Simultaneously, David's wife, Sara, decides she no longer wants to be on the sidelines of David's career, and initiates actions that could jeopardize his future as a rabbi. While balancing all of this, David is also hosting a friend from rabbinical school and his wife, who find themselves dragged into the middle of a crime scene instead of enjoying a vacation.

That's off the top of my head, so it will change (dramatically, I hope) before it gets to any sort of official print.

And here's where I can really, really, REALLY use your help. I need some feedback on potential titles. What do you like? What do you not like? Why? Do you have a better title? (Acknowledgement will be given for anyone who comes up with the published title!)

You can leave comments or email me, because I really want to hear from you!

Here's what I have:
  1. As in Days of Old (working title)
  2. Anger Avenged
  3. Broken Pact
  4. For the Miracles (modified)
  5. In Your Midst
  6. Payback
  7. Rededication
  8. Rewards of Vengeance
  9. Faith and Fear (new)
  10. Safety From Within (new)
  11. Strength to Strength (new) (also a common Jewish phrase)
  12. Strength to Stand (new)
  13. Strength to Prevail (new)

The published title might be one of these, or might be none of these. I'm too close to it and have been calling it one thing for too long. So knowing what you now know about the book (ask questions here if you need something more - except the ending, which I won't give away), what's your vote? (You may vote for more than one.)

Update: As of Thursday, 1/10, I've had quite a few responses both in the comments below and through email. THANK YOU! The general consensus is that title prospects 1-8 are likely not high in the running, but based on various suggestions, five more (9-13) have been added. I will note that I have a new favorite for lots of reasons, but I'd like to hear what you think first.

Update #2: Having just answered the comments I've received on the blog so far, I realized that I wrote something rather key:

"this book is less about choice than it is about standing up for what you believe in, especially when that belief is threatened."

While Judaism is certainly more than just a set of beliefs, the above statement really is the heart of the book.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Bonus Features 1: Behind the Summary

I said earlier that I thought books ought to have a bonus features element like DVDs do, with input from the director, outtakes, deleted scenes, the-making-of featurettes and so on.

And then I thought, well gosh, those are great things to put on a blog!

I've also been thinking about Batya's comment that a pitch for the second book must be for those who are new to the series, not for those who have already read Destined. And she's right.

In fact, when I started Book #2, I wanted it to work as a stand-alone novel, where you could read it without having first read Destined, or read them out of order, or whatever, and it would still make sense. (I read mystery series all the time out of order.)

And then I realized I had failed to do one very important thing: I don't have a summary of either book on the blog! (Bad Sheyna)

Until now.

Which brings us to the first in a whole bunch of bonus features, some of which I'm really excited to share because they were part of the research I did (hours and hours of research) for the series and while readers get to see the result of all the research, you don't always get to see the cool details.

The text on the back of the book reads:

When Anna Rosenfeld writes a college philosophy paper, she never expects it to jeopardize her relationship with her grandfather, Avram, or leave her alone and afraid on the streets of Minneapolis. Help comes in the form of Rabbi David Cohen, spiritual leader of Avram's synagogue, who is struggling with his own personal demons admist difficulties with both his family and his congregation.

Trained in both psychology and Talmudic argument, and armed with his faith in G-d, David must help Anna and Avram face the real issue that divides them before time runs out. Set against the backdrop of Tisha b'Av - a time of mourning commemorating multiple instances of causeless hatred - they bring together their memories and experiences as they confront evil itself and answer a cry for help that no one expected.

That was the official "teaser," though now, some four years later, I'd tweak it a bit.

In my experience life is complex, so there are several subplots as well:
  • David's family is feeling the effects of him rarely being home, resulting in an unhappy wife (Sara) and his oldest son (Ben - 8) acting out at school and in synagogue
  • The adult son of a prominent board member wants to marry a non-Jewish woman who is more intrigued by Wicca than she is by Judaism, and David is caught in the middle
  • The board president (Billy) is far more interested in increasing the shul's budget than the spiritual quality of the lives in the congregation, and when David refuses to abandon ritual for fundraising, Billy is determined to find a different rabbi for the shul
  • The cantor exercises the at-will clause in his contract and leaves for a large, influential synagogue on the West Coast, giving David and the board less than two weeks notice and no one lined up for the High Holy Days

A Jewish bookstore owner called Destined to Choose "Rabbi Small [series by Harry Kemelman z"l] meets Faye Kellerman," which was awesome praise, I thought. I need to get her permission to use that as a blurb!

What more do you want to know?

Setbacks Are Just Alternatives to Success

Today was the deadline to have the manuscript ready for beta readers, having allegedly gone through the out loud reading I mentioned earlier.

Minor setback: I got sick and this is the second day I've had no voice. (I only wish I could say it was all that new year's cheering, but alas, I was in bed early due to aforementioned illness.)

Wanting to press on, however, I found an alternative. I couldn't read anything aloud, but Husby could! And, it turns out, this may well turn out to be an even better way of checking the ms for understandability, word use, and so forth.

And so we read on...