Mid-Week Field Notes | April 14, 2021

Three quick things this week:

HGHR.center.intent.to.destroy.4.22.21

 

 

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#52snapshots–Week 15

In the past week, I’ve revised a non-snapshot essay about a friend who died, trying to understand our relationship, and how perhaps her sometimes erratic behavior was driven by her illness that she didn’t talk about, at least not to me. I think it may now be ready to send out. At the same time, I have drafted something about my step-grandmother.

(This photo shows my childhood home in northern New Jersey as it stands now, not at all what it looked like when my family lived there from 1959-2008. For one thing, the big oak tree near the curb is done as are the under-window rhododendron bushes.)

I have also done my online research about my mother’s cigarette brand and posted a query to H-New Jersey, an online group of scholars interested in New Jersey history, about speakeasies in private homes for my snapshot about the basement in my childhood home.

This Week

This week I have many snapshot options: writing about hiding in the upstairs bathroom as a kid; writing about failing my driver’s test my senior year of high school (a humiliating story); and/or writing about visiting my grandmother’s shtetl in Poland. Whatever I don’t write about this week, I can pursue in future weeks.

Other Work in Progress

This week I dedicate to revisions on my bio in verse, still undergoing the contract process. If there’s time, or if I need a break, I may try to revise my “basement” snapshot.

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Mid-Week Field Notes | April 7, 2021

Three quick things this week:

  • For the next few weeks I will be deep in revision on various projects, especially my bio in verse. I’m reading other novels in verse and just good poetry to keep me inspired. Any suggestions?
  • Today is Yom HaShoah and there are so many online events to commemorate the Holocaust today, this week, and this month.
  • Last Chance to Register: Coming up this evening at 6 pm ET to commemorate Yom HaShoah: The Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Center is hosting a conversation with Scott Miller, retired Director of Curatorial Affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and co-author of Refuge Denied; Hans Fisher, professor emeritus of Rutgers University and MS St. Louis passenger; and me, Barbara Krasner, director of the Mercer Center and author of 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939. Attendees can take advantage of a 20 percent discount on the purchase of my book from publisher Kar-Ben.

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#52snapshots–Week 14

I think the trick to fueling these snapshots, at least for me, is research. I wanted to revise my piece on the basement of my childhood home. Rumor had it that the basement had been a speakeasy. Using Ancestry, I delved into city directories to see who first owned the home when it was built in 1925 (in fact, the street was new, too–part of the development of a previous Schuyler estate, Fairlawn Manor). The man who owned it had been a pharmacist. Would a pharmacist be involved in perhaps distilling his own liquor? Maybe. He and his family lived in this house until about 1942, well after Prohibition was repealed. I posted a query to H-Net New Jersey to see if any scholars can lead me to other resources about speakeasies in private New Jersey homes during Prohibition.

Spurred by this research approach, I’m reconsidering the piece I started abut my mother and her cigarette smoking. The brand she smoked, at least in my lifetime, was Kent, which was introduced in 1952 (before I was born but probably years after she started smoking). I had to laugh when I researched the brand. A paraphrased tagline in a 1956 TV commercial: For people who smoke a lot, smoke one whole carton and Kent will help you moderate your smoking. Does that make sense to anyone?

This Week

This week I have far fewer Amherst Writers & Artists sessions and editorial comments have come in for the bio in verse. These demand my immediate attention. But, I may try to work on a piece about my step-grandmother, my paternal grandfather’s second wife. I’ve written about her in poetry but not prose. Living only a block away from us, she was so accessible for impromptu visits vs. my mother’s mother in Brooklyn and then Queens.

Other Work in Progress

I submitted one piece about my grandmother and her older sister. I revised a non-snapshot essay about a friend who died and it’s now in the hands of some writer pals for feedback.

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Author’s Notebook | The Woodcarver’s Daughter by Yona Zeldis McDonough

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Woodcarver’s Daughter. Kar-Ben, April 2021, 128 pp.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): What inspired you to write The Woodcarver’s Daughter?
Yona Zeldis McDonough (YZM): I had gone to the Museum of American Folk Art to see a show of carved carousel animals—mostly horses. Because the museum has a mission to promote the work of women—particularly unsigned, unattributed work, like embroidery, quilts, rugs etc.—there was a wall note to explain why there were no women carvers included in the exhibition. The answer was that girls were not allowed to join the guild, and so would have been unable to gain the necessary experience, tools and materials to become woodcarvers. Well! When I read that, Batya, the main character, came bounding into my mind, wanting to tell me her story.

Yona Zeldis McDonough

TWM: What was your research process?
YZM: I did research about how Eastern European woodcarvers, many of whom were Jews and who worked on synagogues, bimas, Torah scrolls and the like, were hounded of their homes by pogroms and other forms of anti-Semitism and then reinvented themselves in a secular context in America. I also read about the Golden Age of Carousels, and the importance of the carousel in American leisure life, as well as the factories that produced them.

TWM: What was your greatest challenge?
YZM: Some books are harder to write, and kind of resist their own creation. This was not one of them. But I did have a hard time finding a publisher—I was told that it was “lovely,” “ moving,” “original” and “touching,” but also that it was too quiet and dealt with a historical period that was not especially popular. Yet I felt strongly enough about this particular manuscript to keep trying. Moral of the story: persist!

TWM: Greatest satisfaction?
YZM: Reading the book when it’s all finished and between two covers and thinking, now this is a book I would have loved when I was young.

TWM: Was the process in writing this story different from writing your other novels for young readers?
YZM: Not really. I feel like the nine-year-old girl who loved and devoured books is still alive and well in me, and it’s that girl I channel when I’m writing for kids.

TWM: Who inspires you?
YZM: I turn a lot to the past—stories that moved me when I was a young reader. Interestingly enough, they were stories that took place in earlier times—I had a taste for the by-gone days even then. Some favorites include Anne of Green Gables, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, A Little Princess, Understood Betsy. I read these books again and again—they were like old friends, and I was always happy to spend time with them.

TWM: How do you receive feedback on your manuscript? For instance, do you participate in a writers’ group?
YZM: No, but I do have a few trusted readers with whom I share manuscripts while they are in progress.

TWM: Do you have an agent?
YZM: Yes, I do have a wonderful agent, Susanna Einstein, and she has been enormously helpful in an editorial capacity as well as in finding great homes for my work.

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Mid-Week Field Notes | March 31, 2021

Three quick things this week:

  • My books arrived! 

37 Days at Sea package of books

  • Summer plans: I’ll be working on my database of Holocaust children’s literature, expanding it from the 1960s and through 2021. Then, I’ll take guidance from a statistician colleague to code the database so we can run the statistical analysis. By the end of the summer, I hope to have written up the “results” section of my dissertation.
  • Reminder: Coming up on April 7 to commemorate Yom HaShoah: The Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Center is hosting a conversation with Scott Miller, retired Director of Curatorial Affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and co-author of Refuge Denied; Hans Fisher, professor emeritus of Rutgers University and MS St. Louis passenger; and me, Barbara Krasner, director of the Mercer Center and author of 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939. Attendees can take advantage of a 20 percent discount on the purchase of my book from publisher Kar-Ben.

 

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#52snapshots–Week 13

I think I may be running out of steam on #52snapshots. I need some breathing room to jot down a list of questions I have about my own family history–what do I want to know more about? It could be certain people, places, events, backstory about objects. I could scrounge around in the family photographs and use those as prompts, too.

I did no more work on my mother moving to New Jersey when she married.

This Week

I started writing a piece about my mother and her cigarette smoking. But then it veered into her school years and sounded a lot like a piece that’d been published already. I started writing a piece about Passover seders of the past, but it lacked in so many ways. What I wanted to get at was a feeling I had yesterday morning about Yontiv and how celebrating Passover by myself just didn’t feel like Yontiv at all. Growing up, even our house seemed to know it was Yontiv. This week, I might try the piece again. Maybe it’s just a matter of form. I also started writing about how I got into family history in the first place, about how all roads–my interests in history and language and a bout of bacterial meningitis–led to it.

Other Work in Progress

I wanted to send out one of my snapshots to a lit mag with a themed issue, deadline April 1. I don’t think I’m going to make it. Do I give up my first time back at the gym to work on revising?

This week’s priority is book revisions as soon as I get the feedback from two editors.

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Mid-Week Field Notes | March 24, 2021

Four quick things this week:

  • I’ve signed up to support Amherst Writers & Artists in their Write around the World fundraising event. I’m facilitating a session on May 9. 
  • I received an offer of publication for my bio in verse in January. Still working out the details of the contract. This is how long it can take. 
  • Summer plans: I’ll be taking a course at Gratz College, Reading Yiddish for Holocaust Research, and right now I’m slated to teach English Composition II and U.S. History II at the community college. In my current Yiddish class at YIVO, I now have a study partner in the great tradition of Jewish learning. He’s a doctoral student in Virginia.
  • Reminder: Coming up on April 7 to commemorate Yom HaShoah: The Mercer Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Center is hosting a conversation with Scott Miller, retired Director of Curatorial Affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and co-author of Refuge Denied; Hans Fisher, professor emeritus of Rutgers University and MS St. Louis passenger; and me, Barbara Krasner, director of the Mercer Center and author of 37 Days at Sea: Aboard the MS St. Louis, 1939. Attendees can take advantage of a 20 percent discount on the purchase of my book from publisher Kar-Ben.

 

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#52snapshots–Week 12

I know I will have to bring my “basement” piece through a revision process to find a core throughline and finesse it to a literary level. When I will do that, I just don’t know.

This Week

I’ve been wondering about how my mother felt leaving her homogenous Brooklyn neighborhood to marry my northern New Jersey father and live among his family. Even their Yiddish dialects differed. This week I’ll be exploring possible emotions my mother may have had.

Other Work in Progress

I need to work on revisions requested by my agent and my editor on two works in progress. The first is more addition than revision–poems to flesh out secondary character motivations. I don’t know yet what the second entails, but I know it’s coming this week. Maybe in April I’ll have more time to revise some of these #52snapshots.

Anyone else revising?

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Thursday Links | March 18, 2021

Here are this week’s links:

  1. Want to know what to do with flotsam and jetsam of raw creative writing material you generate? Check out Emily Stoddard’s demonstration at Ruminate Happenings.
  2. What do you consider when sending your creative work out into the world? Here’s a take by poet Sherre Vernon.
  3. The Poetry Society of America hosts a great conversation with Nicole Krauss.

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