Friday, January 30, 2009

Contests, Conference, Confidence

Some contests and a conference:

1) Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. It is open to residents of Canada - yay!

2) The 2009 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize
This has one awesome requirement: Your story must have a title
One potentially difficult requirement: Submit a single short story that contains a surprise

Initially, I thought, well, EVERY short story contains a surprise, but no, they don't. What do they mean by "surprise" anyhow? Can it be about a surprise, or must there be some kind of twist ending? I say, harrumph. This contest has a $10 entry fee and is hosted by one more thing to love about NY - this website.

3) The New York Round Table Writer's Conference is open for registration. They max out at 200 writers, so register early if you are thinking of going. The conference is put together by The New York Center for Independent Publishing, Gotham Writers' Workshop, and the Writer magazine. It's not cheap ($350 for two days), but it's cheaper than some, and hey, if it's awful, at least you're in NYC!

Today I got nagged very nicely by someone who told me to submit my work to an agent, already! I do not fully agree that my work is ready - it could stand much improvement, but if I only allow myself to be the judge, how will I ever really know?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

R.I.P. John Updike

New York Magazine's culture blog reports on the sad passing of John Updike. He was seventy-six.

Here's a Salon interview with him from when he was sixty-four.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hollywood Star System

Images, an online film journal, has an interesting essay about the Hollywood star system (from 1910 - 1960) by Brian Gallagher.

It's a bit academic, but very readable - and you can sound all clever at your Oscar party.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inaugural Balls... and Bats and Dolls and So Much More!

Today I received emails from two separate people on a very similar topic:

The merchandising of Barack Obama.

Not the marketing of the man (and now President) himself, but the merchandising opportunities that his likeness seems to inspire.

One was a link to a commemorative "pop-art" portrait of Obama by a company called Paint Your Life. Mind you, that link might expire 'cause the offer is only good for three days. (!) However, if you can't see the Obama art, you can look at their other "pop-art" examples and imagine just how good the Obama one looked. Art ostensibly in the style of Andy Warhol, but done by handy whore-alls. (Thank you, I'll be here all week.)

The other email notified me that Obama rubber masks - with no discernible likeness to Obama at all - are selling like hotcakes (or mochi?) in Japan.

Which all makes me wonder if I am not missing this amazing opportunity. For change. Small change. Big bucks.

What other completely unappealing products will people be willing to buy to commemorate this presidency? Oh.

But perhaps those are not really gaudy enough? Where are genuine Swarovski crystals?

The artist "14" at Gallery of the Absurd created spoof Obama & McCain dolls during the election, but maybe it's time for one of her Thomas Kinkade/Bradford Exchange spoofs. How about a White House of Light, Obama Family Commemorative 2009 Snowglobe? It would have to have 22K gold accents, real twinkling lights, and red, white and blue parade confetti in a gleaming orb with a solid mahogany-like base!

Who knows? Maybe collectibles will save the economy. You keep buying them (stimulus), you don't throw them away (thrift and ecology), and you show them to your fellow collectors (community-building).

Now, before you get mad, please know that I do have a special place in my heart for all some that is tacky, and I do love the US of A. I just have my limits.

Unfortunately. If I didn't, I could start a tidy little business right about now.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Politics, Not Chocolate

I can't blog in detail about the war Israel is fighting right now, because I become an emotional wreck. I usually avoid politics on this blog, because I am no good at debates (see, "emotional wreck", above), and I am not well-read or well-versed enough to enlighten you on anything.

Usually my mom says, "You must stay on top of the news", but today she said, "maybe you should watch a comedy".

Anyhow, my astute sister has a "sticky" post on her blog, Maspik Teruzim, where she has links to posts from other blogs (like IDF Spokesperson and The Muqata to keep you up-to-date on the Israeli news you do not hear from the mainstream media.

For what it's worth, I was born in Be'er Sheva.

Israeli flag courtesy of 4 International Flags

Chocolate, not Politics

My cousin went to Israel recently and returned with some Elite chocolate-covered biscuits and some Mekupelet chocolate bars for me. Hurray for cousins!

Anyhow, I was particularly cheered by the Mekupelet chocolate bars. (Mekupelet means "folded" in Hebrew.) I hadn't had them for years (even though you can buy mini-versions here) and I wondered how they would stand up to their ubiquitous twin, the Cadbury flake. I naively thought they were the same bar, just licensed by Cadbury or something. Anyhow, I am not the only one to ponder such things, because blogger Marcos Kirsch has an entire play-by-play adjudicated comparison.

It is hilarious (especially if you are familiar with both bars):
A small crumble bounced into my eye causing temporary discomfort. I bet you’ve never had chocolate in your eye and I don’t care if the Cadbury marketing drones spin this crumbliness as a good thing. It’s a freaking hazard.

בתיאבון (Bon appetit)!

I can't believe I didn't have a "chocolate" tag already!

Who am I and what do I write - Part II

In my last post I discussed whether I should "write what I know" in reference to my Judaism, and I posed the question, "What are my stories?".

Here is another look at an answer.
The problem with "my stories" is that I am reticent to claim ownership. Are they really mine?

They are my parents', my aunts' and uncles', my grandparents' stories. Do I ask for them and begin tape-recording, listening diligently? And then what? Would I have what it takes to shape them with the respect and finesse they deserve? Why do it? Can I give my relatives back their own memories? Would I be a writer or a ventriloquist?

Would I be honouring my genealogical history or exploiting my family for material?

I would guess that to a storyteller in the oral tradition, like Dan Yashinsky, stories can belong to one person (or group), but can be told by anyone as long as they are told faithfully. He is quoted as saying,
"Stories show you that other people have traveled before you," he says. "They show you that no matter what is happening in your life, someone else has gone there before you. Someone else has been there, come back, and at least has a good story to show for it."

Some of these stories (like those of my family) have already been told by writers like Andree Aciman in Out of Egypt, Hisham Matar in In the Country of Men, and Lucette Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit. Aciman's memoir beautifully and painfully renders Alexandria and the expulsion of Egypt's Jews, and Matar (whom I have not yet read), tells of the fear of his (non-Jewish) family during Khadafi's rise to power. Lagnado relates the contrast of her father's dashing life in Cairo society till Nasser's rise, and the cost on the family of delaying their departure from Egypt.

Some of my own childhood feels "told" in the first story (about Russian Jews in 1980s Toronto) in Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmosgis. What my parents may have felt upon their arrival to Canada was projected so intensely on top of my own memories that I found it hard to breathe.

If I am to record the stories I have heard all my life, I must do it soon. These inherited stories are not mine directly, but I am free to try and preserve them or keep them in trust for future generations.

My friend, an Egyptian Christian (Copt), who introduced me to "Out of Egypt" says that even though it is not exactly his story, nothing comforts him and takes him back to his youth like the description of old Alexandria in the novel.

Maybe I won't know who the stories belong to until they are read.

Who am I and what do I write - Part I

When I visited my sister in Kansas the week before last, we went to services at a synagogue she was thinking of joining. I met a women there who ran a book group that focused mainly on books with Jewish themes.

"Are there any Jewish themes in your writing?" she asked.

"No," I said. "But I don't know why not."


If I'm supposed to write what I know, shouldn't I be writing... Jewish?
What are my stories? I am not a product of Ashkenazi Montreal in it's heyday - that incubator of Jewish literature. I am a transplanted Israeli, who came of age and happily assimilated in Canada. I can't (or won't) throw around "Bubbie" and "Zaidi" with any authenticity, and I don't want to be writing some kind of Jewish schtick. (Which, when I tried to read Goy Crazy on the recommendation of a friend, found that I couldn't choke down the first page. Sorry.)


So far, I have worked on chick-lit, YA, mystery and short stories. There is nothing overtly Jewish about any of the writing I've completed, and it would be far-fetched to say there are any "hidden" Jewish themes.

I don't want to create grotesque stereotypes, but I don't want to create two-dimensional Jews either. (In this 2003 article by Kera Bolonik , Grace from Will & Grace is lauded as a positive Jewish character on TV, but I had no idea the character was Jewish till the words "bat mitzvah" flew out of her mouth one day. I see Bolonik's point, but I always found Grace's Judaism superficial.)

Howard Engel's detective, Benny Cooperman, on the other hand, believably goes to his aging parents' house for Shabbat dinner, and reads like an authentically-drawn character whose Judaism is a fully integrated part of him.

As I've worked on this post I wonder if my problem is with my protagonist's name. If she is Jewish, then I've given her an Ashkenazi name: Mara Liefe. This means that I've set myself up for writing out of ignorance (or relying on popular representations of Ashkenazi culture to a large degree). Giving her a Sephardi or Mizrahi last name might allow me to create a more realistic Jewish protagonist - I could truly write what I know.

For now, as I revise structure and plot, this is a moot point, but soon Mara will have to leap off the page and into an agent's (or publisher's) heart. I will need to figure out whether writing Mara Jewish will make her a stronger character - or me a better writer.

Friday, January 09, 2009


Last week I went to Kansas to visit my sister. Hurray for sisters and God bless America (and Boxing Week sales). Came home. Caught a cold. Stayed home for three days. Went out today to see humans and go to the library.

One day I will write a post about how much I love libraries, but today is not that day. I took out a book about cooking with your toaster oven. I am a big fan of toaster ovens, but that deserves a separate post too. A toast post. (I'm hilaaaarious.)

Any writing done?

Finally, yes! One fairy tale written (needs another pass or ten), and five chapters of Novel #1 revised tonight. Hurray!

Otherwise, I'm on a Michael Chabon reading kick, and a Cary Grant watching spree. (You don't really need an html link for Cary Grant, do you?)

As for 2009 - I have no goals, no impressions, no visions, no nuthin'. 2009 is a blank slate. 2009 is so blank it is practically see-through. And that's as deep as I get at 4:00am.